I’m at Mineral School, an artist residency in the town of Mineral, WA (population 200), just off the highway that leads to Mount Rainier.
My writing studio and my living space is an old classroom. That’s 800 square feet of classroom, bigger than the apartment my husband and I recently moved into. If I knew how to do cartwheels, I would do them. I settle for doing lunges the length of the classroom while curling dumbbells to my chin. (Note: Dumbbells are not among the many amenities of the classroom. After ascertaining that no one else was using the dumbbells, I temporarily removed them from the school gym to my classroom.)
My bike is parked in a corner, but I could probably ride laps in the classroom. No need because there’s a fit desk (in addition to the traditional teacher’s desk) and I can sit at it and pedal while I edit pages or read a book.
I never have to fold up my yoga mat because space abounds, and I can drop and do a few vinyasa flows on my way to bed or out the door to the Girls bathroom down the hall. Or I can get up and just pace or skate across the floor in my socks. Sometimes, I just sit and think about writing because there’s space to do that too.
My teacher’s desk faces the window and I can see a jigsaw piece of Mineral Lake through the trees. I can see the steeple of the church. I can watch logging trucks roll by stacked with freshly cut timber going one way and empty going the other.
Every morning at 6:50 a.m. I do a 40-minute bike ride. Sometimes, I stop and take pictures.
Sometimes epiphanies happen on bike rides. Epiphany 1 happened on the first full day of the residency on my first bike ride in Mineral. I got back to my desk and rearranged chapters, cut out a minor and (as it turned out) not-so-pivotal character, and eliminated one of the three points of view.
Epiphany 2 happened on the second full day of the residency, again while on my bike. Did I mention I’m working on two novel manuscripts? It’s because the size of this work space almost demands it. It’s like your brain must expand to a space commensurate with the size of the room. This second epiphany showed me the reason for this other novel’s existence and led me to a structural fix. This novel is the perfect manuscript to be working on in a classroom, since many of the scenes take place in school or at least a schoolyard – like these excerpts in The Adirondack Review and Santa Ana River Review.
So far, no Epiphany 3. Maybe the rule is one epiphany per manuscript. Or one epiphany on average per week of residency. But, hey, in this space, anything can happen.
The Mineral School residency was founded and is run by the very smart and wryly funny Jane Hodges who is also performing chef duties during this August residency. Every meal has been delicious, and at every meal I eat a lot because, you know, sitting at a desk for much of the day squeezing out words is a calorie-burning enterprise.
Not all residency time need be spent at a desk. Inspiration time can be spent in pursuits such as
- a late-night walk to the cemetery to gaze at stars with Jess Martin, Mineral School board member, teacher, marketer, and outdoors woman who knows a lot about a lot.
- a Tarot reading. Yay for wands in golden light, boo for swords and the anguish of indecision, yay for golden cups that are upright and receptive to gifts.
- an excursion to the Ashford Creek Pottery and Gallery where the owner Rick Johnson, a lover of Northwest art, gave a personal tour of his collection that includes photos by Mary Randlett, and paintings by Jacob Lawrence, George Tsutakawa, Kenneth Callahan, Amy Nikitani, and James Martin. Johnson also has a collection of books and artifacts about the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.
- a visit to Mount Rainier!
All of the above and more are made possible by the volunteer staff, which during this residency, includes
- the charismatic Urban Waite, “a good guy who writes evil things,” who was dorm dad for the first week of this residency.
- the luminous Katy Hannigan, Artist Trust program manager, who is doing dorm mom duty this week, and also shedding light on the grants application process in a workshop in nearby Morton.
And of course, a residency provides the opportunity to meet other artists. Check out the work of my fellow residents, essayist and memoirist Judy Bolton-Fasman, poet Linda Malnack, and visual artist Gage Opdenbruow.
Applications for next year open December 15. Donations to support this residency can be made here.