Artist residencies are a lot like freshman year at college, with better food and accommodations. The first conversations are easy and predictable, with “What are you here to work on?” replacing “What’s your major?” Everyone seems exotic and interesting and a little intimidating. Then come the awkward in-between moments, when your extrovert energy starts to wane and you wonder which acquaintances, if any, will turn into actual friends.
At least that’s how it works if “you” are me.
I spent my freshman year bouncing between outrageous homesickness, unconvincing displays of outgoingness and devastating realizations that the friends I’d thought were my soul mates after a handful of late-night conversations actually didn’t like me all that much. Have I told you about the time my roommate told me to stop secretly gorging myself on her chips?
These flashbacks aren’t totally welcome, although I like to think I’ve learned a thing or two in the past seventeen years. In the past ten, I’ve adopted a strategy of being too busy to make friends, which is a rude and terrible strategy, but one that’s mostly worked. The friendships that have grown in spite of my neglect are the hardiest plants in the garden.
So when I go to a reading, I can get away with waving at a handful of people, then retreating to my house and AK and whatever’s next on my to-do list. It’s one part introversion, one part really needing to stop by the grocery store on the way home. Maybe I’m creating demand by limiting the supply of Me? Maybe not.
But part of my Not Going Crazy All Up In My Own Head plan at MacDowell was to aggressively make friends. I chatted with two younger campers today, a musician and a memoirist who I tried to imagine as interns at my organization so as not to be overwhelmed by the fact that they’re twenty-three years old and already Those Artists. (It wasn’t a huge stretch because most of the people who intern for Jamie and I are scholarly and inspiring, and don’t spend nearly as much time watching the Style Network as I did when I was twenty-three, my feet propped up on a stack of unopened New Yorkers.)
What did I do after tonight’s presentation by an amazing conceptual artist and a jazz musician who is probably also amazing, although with any kind of non-lyrical music I just really wouldn’t know?
I floated around the main hall for a few minutes, thought about doing yoga in my studio and made a quick break for it.
Now I can just picture some dinner conversation a week from now, in which someone will casually refer to me as “the quiet one.” And it will be too late to live down my non-reputation.
One of the biggest lessons of adulthood has been: You, Cheryl, always think everyone else has their shit together, and you’re always wrong. In all likelihood, other people feel a little shy too, and even though one woman said she’s writing six thousand words a day, another said she felt awesome for having written a thousand today.
I love collecting people’s processes. The variations in word count, the golden times of day and the dark times. Pounding out a draft vs. reworking each chapter as you go a long. It’s a nice reminder that it takes all kinds, maybe even mine.
But since I’m here in my little cabin while, across the dark meadow, Colony Hall is still lit up with mysterious and therefore fabulous conversation, I guess I better do some fucking yoga.