Writing: A Typical Day at WISC

One of the reasons writers crave time away to write is that so much of our daily lives isn’t actually spent writing. We all have family, friends, community work, administration (answering inquiries about writing assignments, talks, workshops; publicity, paying the bills, reminding people to pay us, accounting, etc), and so on.

If you asked the average fulltime writer how much time they actually had to put pen to paper or hands on keyboard, the answer is likely considerably less than 8 hours a day (except in the days or weeks immediately preceding a big deadline, when we panic and make those words fly!).

Two hours of actual hands-on, uninterrupted time is a figure I hear. I’ve been writing a long time, so I have more practice in focusing and ignoring interruptions than many writers, which means on a good day I might get in three or four hours. But that’s a lot. 

So when we have the opportunity to leave our daily routine behind and just focus on our writing, we’re ecstatic. Or terrified, because then we have to actually produce something. Or both ecstatic and terrified. 

Which I think describes how I feel having a whole month here in Santa Fe at the Women’s International Study Center, with few responsibilities besides writing. I’ve gone through the whole gamut from over-the-top excited to what-the-heck-am-I-doing-here? And that was just the first day… 

So what’s a typical day of my writing fellowship like? 

Pretty ordinary. I get up at my usual time, around six a.m.. (Which is easier now that we’re past daylight savings time and those very dark mornings!)

An especially lovely dawn

I take a moment to appreciate the dawn out my windows, and then I do half an hour of yoga (which reminds me to be in my body while I write, not just in my mind), and my morning gratitudes, which include a salute to the four directions, plus earth, sky, and self, in place wherever I am; plus sending out love and good wishes to friends, family, and my far-flung community, human and moreso. 

After yoga I write in my journal for half an hour or so, and then I bathe, dress, and eat my simple hot breakfast cereal of organic whole oats and other grains, plus organic dried fruits, and cinnamon for sweetness and blood pressure/ blood sugar control. I read the news online over breakfast (although some days I wonder why I even want to know), and then head back to work. 

Breakfast (earthenware bowl by Jim Kempes–see below)

I do my best to focus and write until early afternoon, usually about one-thirty or two. Usually that means I write for a while, then have to stop to think, pace around, check my email, resist the obsessive urge to read the news, and then sit back down at the keyboard again. 

When the stream of words dwindles to a trickle and nothing I try restarts it, I break for a late lunch, answer more messages, and then go back to the writing to see if there’s anything else I can say. If not, I need to move, so I head out for a walk. 

Sometimes I have an errand (like walking to the grocery store for food!), but mostly I just ramble at random, letting the writing rest in my subconscious while I look at interesting walls, gates, gardens, sculptures, plants, and other sights, and listen to bird calls or ravens croaking, people talking in different languages, traffic whizzing past, cathedral bells… I smell tortillas frying or chiles or spicy piñon smoke. 

Eye-catching details in a woodbine (Parthenocissus vitacea) vine with blue berries and red stems

When I get tired, I come “home” to this quiet casita on a dirt side street and read a book from my stack, or check the news or answer emails… I usually eat my simple dinner early and then read until bedtime, do a bit of yoga and am asleep by ten. 

Yesterday I played hooky all afternoon and drove out to the Chama River Valley (Georgia O’Keeffe country) near Abiquiu with my agent, Elizabeth Trupin-Pulli. Our mission was to visit Lesley Poling-Kempes and Jim Kempes, she a fine writer (and another of Liz’s clients) and he a ceramic artist. (Lesley and Jim stayed with me last month in Salida and brought me one of Jim’s wonderful ceramic vessels.) 

Jim’s large sculptural ceramic forms issue from the desert along the dirt road leading their house; I could have spent all day finding and sitting with them. (And I so wished Richard could have been there to delight in them and talk art with Jim.)

See it?

As it was, we had just time to admire the beautiful adobe house they built with their own hands (building the studio first, as is proper for any artist, and then the house), and then we followed Lesley to the house of a member of her writing workshop. We had tea with Peggy and another poet and workshop member, Ginger, and talked writing and women’s history and elections, and life. 

And then, all too soon, the sun set to the south of Pedernal Mesa, and it was time to head home to Santa Fe, tired but full from the time with friends and art and beautiful landscapes. 

Sunset from Peggy’s house

Today was an ordinary day, which meant I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote, a joy in itself. 

Thank you to my Santa Fe friends for understanding my need to write, and also making sure I get out of my cave from time to time, and to Laurel and Jordan of the Women’s International Study Center for the blessing of this time. It is rare and precious, and I am using it well!

Thank you, Peggy Thompson, for the gorgeous hand-knitted wool scarf as well… 

The Gift of a Month in Santa Fe

I’m back in Santa Fe and beginning a month-long fellowship at the Women’s International Study Center. It’s an honor–really a miracle–to have the gift of time and space to simply research, read and write for a month, with no obligation other than to give one program on my work, tentatively scheduled for mid-November at my favorite Santa Fe bookstore, Collected Works

The casita where I’m staying is around the corner from Acequia Madre House, the home of the Study Center, and the real-life historic adobe that was home to three generations of interesting and talented women–artists, businesswomen, preservationists–whose Santa Fe legacy began in the 1880s.

The three women of Acequia Madre House

Even though none of them lived in Santa Fe year-round, the three, Eva Scott Féneys (1849-1930), her daughter, Leonora Scott Muse Curtin (1879-1972), and her daughter, Eva’s granddaughter, Leonora Frances Curtin Paloheimo (1903-1999), were influential in the arts and cultural life of the city they adopted as their own. 

My bedroom at the casita

The casita where I’m staying is an adobe house bigger than my place in Salida (it’s got three bedrooms and two baths) that looks to have been built in the early 1900s, and has been well-kept up. The center has furnished it with everything a resident might need to be comfortable, down to books and a wifi network, dishes, and even art, including some by the three women. 

The living room (yup, that’s a working kiva fireplace!)

The kitchen, my favorite inside hang-out… 

I’m fortunate to be sharing the casita with one other fellow at the end of her month-long residence, Stanlie James, a feminist scholar of african-american studies and gender studies at Arizona State University, and the new Vice-provost for Inclusion and Community Engagement. She’s as warm and funny and smart and interesting as the picture suggests, and after 24 hours of sharing the casita, I feel blessed by her perspective and company.

Stanlie James

The third fellow, playwright, composer actress, and poet Deborah Magid will arrive sometime in the coming week, overlapping for a few days with Stanlie.

This heavenly gift of “time out” in a wonderfully comfortable setting to focus on just one project is thanks to both WISC and the Paloheimo Foundation. Huge gratitude to WISC and its Executive director, Laurel Savino, and Program Associate Jordan Young, for the opportunity!

So that’s where I am, and what I’ll be doing for the next four weeks. I’ve had a great first full day of my fellowship, including writing the first 500 words of a piece called “Imagine Being a Plant,” partly inspired by friend and extraordinary author Craig Childs‘ book, The Animal Dialogues. The essay will go into the book I’m here to work on, so it’s a great start. And I walked about five miles, exploring the neighborhood. 

Now it’s time for dinner (a ham and green chile croissant with a salad of baby organic greens–yum!) and then some reading before bed. Tomorrow I may spend some time in the little back yard, sketching fall leaves. I could get used to this life… 🙂

The sunny little backyard with an apricot tree just losing its leaves