From the Eastern Frontier

5 Jul

As someone who has put a considerable amount of energy into “writing” in the past half decade or so, going so far as to take classes, attend workshops, get an M.F.A., submit to things, and apply to things, I’ve been aware of the phenomenon of the writer’s residency and been rejected from a handful of them, from sea to shining sea. So it felt like a miracle, when this past spring, I heard I’d finally been accepted. I’m happy to say hello from my first residency, hello from Norton Island. Where is that, you ask? I don’t really know.

See, what happened was I left Richmond, Virginia where I live and work and play on Sunday, drove up I-95 for two hours to the DC-suburbs, where I had lunch with my family, then dinner at a barbecue with my friends. I drank too much, then got home and had the usual sort of existential conversation with my dozing dad, then tipsily arranged the things I thought I’d need for the next two weeks.

I slept a few hours, woke up at 3:45 a.m. and at 4:30 my now-caffienated and cheerful dad drove me to the airport. Upon saying good-bye, he said it was as if I was going off to prison, which sort of felt true. My flight was supposed to leave at 6 a.m. There was only me and another lady waiting to get on it, which seemed like some kind of odd dream. But then the airline people gave us a taxi voucher to get to the area’s other airport, where I caught a later flight to Philly instead of La Guardia. I got off, went to the bathroom, and walked down what must have been at least a half mile of airport to my gate. I missed my connection by two minutes, and I was ready to burst into tears. (I was tired and hungover and distraught!) But the guy at the counter was being harassed by another passenger and he told me right away the next flight was in two hours and I went from irrational to calm. I got myself some food.

On the plane, I sat next to the harassing passenger, but ignored him, trying all sorts of cramped space sleeping situations, including my all-time favorite of resting my head in my lap. We landed in Bangor, Maine soon enough. And even though I hadn’t been able to contact the people who were supposed to be picking me up to say I’d be late, they magically appeared. The politest and most knowledgeable 16-year-old I’ve ever encountered (who told us about the towns we drove through, the lobster industry, the blueberry fields, etc) drove me and two other Norton Island guests an hour and a half down the coastal highway and into a fog, to a pier in Jonesport. We met a few folks who had come off the island, including Steve Dunn, our host, and piled our stuff into a little boat.

The island was just a quarter mile across the water, we were told, but we couldn’t see it because the air was thick with swatches of gray and white. Then finally we got the boat running, and I sat on the front of the thing. The water was thick and gray. The air was salty and cold. And the island appeared out of the fog, got bigger and bigger, realer and closer.

Two incessantly honking geese and a basset hound/pug mix greeted us and we said other hellos. I took the best nap I’ve had since I can remember and enjoyed a dinner with new friends, where we laid out basic schedules and expectations, with the main idea being that besides helping keep the main house neat, there aren’t really rules, that this time is for us, completely and without question.

It’s been about twenty-four hours. I’ve explored some (the moss makes the ground springy and the mosquitoes are beasts) and written just a little, but it’s only the beginning. Here, there is a lack of everything: no boyfriend, no house we just moved into, no friends, no job, no bicycle. No errands, no restaurants, no city streets, no car sounds, no power lines, no things to attend to. Barely any Internet and even less cell phone. What there is: my cabin with a bed, a desk, three electrical sockets. My cabin down a path through the woods to the main house—the bathrooms inside, the library, the kitchen, the big porch out front looking out at the sea and the fire pit beyond that where last night we watched someone set off six pretty fireworks, where I will cook and eat and converse with the other writers/artists who have been invited here. You can see the windmill that provides most of the power here from my door. You can hear the generator that picks up the slack when the wind isn’t enough. You can hear the wind and the sea and lots of different bird calls I don’t think I’ve heard before—one so lovely and strange I had to turn off my soft music to make sure it wasn’t coming out of my speakers but from real life.

How did I get here? Where am I? I feel like I don’t exist, and it’s nice.

Thanks to a love of ideas and language and bareness, and thanks to Steve’s dream of having this place like this and thanks to the writers and artists who apply to come here, for the next two weeks, I will have nothing to do but explore more, read more, and write more here, with the world beyond the sea surrounding us on this tiny rock completely invisible and also in the forefront of my mind.

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