This is the profundity I have arrived at when it comes to writing residencies: there must be a bike.
I go to residencies for the same reason as others—to have some extended, focused periods of writing. Normally, my writing time is limited to an hour or so in the evening and lunch hours during the day. Sometimes, I’ll spend fifteen minutes of my bus ride to work scribbling on a revision. Writing for me, as it is for many, is done in bits and pieces of time.
It’s a luxury to have an entire day to write and another day after that and so forth for two weeks. It’s also an obligation. I feel duty-bound to use just about every minute (aside from eating and sleeping) writing. Or trying to.
The problem is I’m a slow writer, and I’m an easily distracted one, too. I never get into the zone described by other writers for whom the temporal world falls away leaving them in a transcendent state of creative frenzy. I’m a plodder for whom words on the screen appear like a grudge.
But I persist in my plodding because I operate on the reward system. This is actually a term in neuroscience. From Wikipedia: It’s a collection of brain structures which attempts to regulate and control behavior by inducing pleasurable effects.
At the residencies I’ve attended the bike has always been the reward to regulate my time at my writing desk. And the bike has always led me to water.
At Hedgebrook, located on Whidbey Island near Seattle, it’s a short ride to Useless Bay where the tide can go out for a mile. At Anderson Center in Red Wing, Minnesota, five miles on the Cannon River Trail will get you to the downtown waterfront. You can sit on a bench and watch barges plow along the Mississippi.
At the Atlantic Center for the Arts, it’s a five-mile bike ride to the ocean. During my stay at ACA, I reversed the behavior-reward system. I was on a bike at seven in the morning. I wanted to bike hard before the air got sticky with heat, take Flagler Avenue with no traffic, and be on the nearly empty beach to see the sun light up the water.
The bike is an escape. The manic self-propulsion compensation for the slow progress at the writing desk. When I get to the water, I stop and catch my breath. There’s something about bodies of water— rippling surfaces and unknown depths— that makes me believe I can return to my desk and the words will come a little less sluggishly.
In a few days I’m heading to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts for a two-week residency. Its website lists its offerings: Serenity. Light. Space. Privacy.
And there’s a bike. And a lake.