Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Jentel, Day 13

Revelations made while at Jentel:

• Wyoming weather, much like Colorado, switches at will; snow one day, sun the next.

• with a dishwasher, kitchen clean-up is less a chore, more a game of Tetris.

• turkey vultures, from afar, look like big dogs.

• Steve Madden boots were probably not designed for use in actual snow and/or mud.

• SyFy shows the most god-awful made-for-cable horror movies ever, but I'll still watch them, enraptured.

• water softeners makes your post-shower skin feel like it has a sheen of oil on it. 

• one can mark time by measuring the amount of snow that has filled the bootprint since the last time you went to the restroom.

• this shit won't write itself; and yet, shit remains exceedingly easy to write.

Current WCPD ration:  615.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Jentel, Day 11

Current word count per day ratio (WCPD): 567.

Sheridan, the closest town to Jentel, is still a good 20 minute drive, mostly along a winding road up and down the Wyoming hills. The whole gang ventures out every Thursday to provision up for the week, but today, we smaller group of 4 headed into town to enjoy civilization, other people, and blazing high-speed Internet. The Internet came courtesy of Java Moon, the independent coffee shop on Main Street of downtown Sheridan, and when we arrived at noon, almost all the tables were occupied by the lunch crowd. There seem to be a large number of entrepreneurs in the area, because I always see someone sporting a business plan in a manila folder or a start-your-own business book. Laptops open with bar graphs and metrics mapped out one after another. Men huddled conspiratorially, smiling their way to a prosperous future. And while my companions used their quick Internet -- quick in comparison to the satellite-based Internet Jentel employs -- I watched Dionne Warwick sing "Walk On By" on YouTube again and again.

The downtown of Sheridan plays up its frontier trappings: boot stores, a Wild West mall, and, best of all, King's Saddlery, a shop that specializes in rope and riding equipment. The helpful ladies at the counter showed me the correct placement of a cowboy hat (down low on the forehead, just above the eyebrows) and how it should feel (tight, to prevent it from blowing off). My hat size: 6 1/4 to 6 1/2, depending on the manufacturer. Further back, the store sold a glitter-spray for horse manes and a mega-sized Furminator, made especially for livestock. Or, in my case, for one of my cats.

Across an alleyway, King's Saddlery continues into a warehouse-sized building that specializes in rope. Rope of all sizes, of all materials, wound up on huge spools and tended to by genuine-looking cowboys. And just past the rope depot, to the left, is what can only be described as a Saddle Museum. I learned the difference between the Sheridan-style floral leatherworking (tight florets, a single connecting vine weaving through the flowers, concentrated design) and California-style floral leatherworking (larger flowers and more space between them, open design pattern). Usually when I think of the smell of old leather, I imagine English Leather aftershave -- I attribute that to my father's moustache-trimming days -- but inside the museum, the scent had an oily tone to it. The tannins were weathered, but not musty or smoky. For a town that's known for its polo as much as its rodeo, there was something joyously authentic about seeing rows upon rows of saddles, with their attendant spurs driven, prong-deep, into the wood of the staircase.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Jentel, Day 9

The first week of the residency was so warm that I thought to myself, "This will be a piece of cake." All those dire predictions about winter in Wyoming were off the mark, I told myself. I wasted precious luggage space packing heavy coats when I could have gone with more shoes.

Today: the snow. I can't tell if the snow is actually falling, since the sharp wind makes everything whip horizontal in the air and run in serpentines along the ground. I'm not cold in the studio -- far from it -- but the run from the house to the writers' studio (and from the writer's studio to the artists' studio, where the bathroom and microwave oven are) seem fraught with peril. Cold, white peril. Sort of like Massachusetts.

Here, the snow doesn't accumulate as much as it re-deposits. I can imagine myself getting trapped in the studio as the snow piles against the door and blocks my exit. But -- I have snacks, I have a source of hot water, and I have two teabags left. That'll last me... 3 hours? I could perhaps crush some Oreos and create a chocolatey sludge soup but can feel the enamel on my teeth peeling off already.

After a week at the residency, I've had to drastically scale back my expectation of what I would get done in a month. Though I've never been one to whom the words "overly ambitious" could be applied -- look at how often I update this poor, neglected blog -- finishing a novel was probably too far-reaching. I've gotten into the bad habit of looking at my work and averaging how much I've achieved over my stay thus far. Sort of the like obsessive word counters of NaNoWriMo, but with much, much less ambition. (My average: about 500 words a day.)

Incidentally, why does the new version of Microsoft Word even have an auto word count feature? It's going to drive me nuts. But it's okay for now. When those 500 words consist of nothing but variations on "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," then I'll start revising.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Jentel, Day 6

So this is where the magic happens: my writing studio!

We chose both our sleeping quarters and our studios at random -- sort of like a key party, but without the swinging. It doesn't matter much for the writers, however: there are only two writing studios. Mine (named Sunset for what I assume to be a west-facing view; I'm really bad with cardinal directions, folks) faces the mountains, and at the moment, the sun is setting, with some low-lying clouds just above the peaks, glowing the sort of pinkish-orange that keeps pastel makers in business. From my window, as well, I see the occasional barn cat (named Grey Kitty) and overly energetic dog bounce by in the snow.

The visual artists get all the perks, of course; each of their studios is outfitted with a bed, and their studio complex has a bathroom and kitchenette. We writers have to trek out into the Wyoming tundra just to pee, and while the recliner is comfortable... come on, a bed! (Of course, if I had a bed, I'd get absolutely nothing done.) I keep my studio at a toasty 65 degrees, and there's an industrial-sized Thermos for me to replenish my tea.

Strangely, though, both of the writing studios have been invaded by flies. Big black flies, the size of pennies. When I walk into my studio first thing in the afternoon, little black corpses litter the floor, and I use the handy Dustbuster to suck them away. Perhaps they're attracted to the Oreo and Mint Milano crumbs that ring the area around my desk chair. Maybe it's the beef jerky. Maybe the growing pile of used tea bags. But it's a war of attrition. I dread the day when I have to empty the Dustbuster.

The other writer, a poet, and I cross paths in the studio rarely, mostly because I prefer the late nights. When I walk out of the house towards my studio, the stars seem preternaturally bright. Huge things in the sky, and so wonderfully crisp. I'd stand and stare at them, but nighttime bring the promise of hypothermia. The melted snow puddles during the day become ice hazards at night, and it's a mad dash from one door to the other.

I think my period of adjustment has now passed, and despite the promise of terrible, made-for-cable horror movies on the SyFy channel, I'm being semi-productive.

Ah, look. The sun has gone down behind the peaks and the clouds have gone from pastels to charcoals.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Residency-a-logue: Jentel, Day 4

I know, I know, I'm already three days behind in talking about my residency experience. But, as a wise old friend (Cruce Stark) told me, it usually takes about a week to adjust to your new settings and to get the creative juices flowing. But, with January in full effect on the cold Wyoming plains, those juices have become viscous and are in danger of freezing.

I suppose the desolation is good for the concentration. Even better: spotty satellite Internet, which means no streaming movies, no YouTube, and no World of Warcraft. There aren't any nearby coffee shops into which I can just pop. No cell phone reception. There is, however, satellite television, but I've limited my media consumption to CNN coverage of the Haitian earthquake, the occasional horror movie, and episodes of Robot Chicken and the Venture Brothers.

But desolation does have a certain beauty. Jentel, nestled as it in near the Big Horn mountains, is located down a dirt road, past cattle and horses and wild turkeys. The mountain range stretches in the distance, in defiance of the brown, flat land all around it. If I really wanted, I could hike up the large hills that are part of the 1000 acres attached to Jentel, but I'm not sure my boots could handle it. The snow pack stands at maybe only 4 inches, and it's mostly frozen solid, crunching underfoot.

So far, I'm getting along swimmingly with the other five residents (four visual arts & one writer; or, four women & one man). We're taking turns cooking -- this isn't your mother's cushy, hand-delivered meal residency. We've leaned more towards the vegetarian fare lately, but tonight black bean and chorizo soup is on the menu. My turn to cook comes in 2 days.

As for productivity, it hasn't quite hit me yet. I've been dithering, rearranging the papers on my desk or editing previously written sections of my novel or engaging in research, all while listening to the entire output of Saint Etienne. But I'm ready to push past it the procrastination, I think.

Late at night (or early in the morning, depending on your point-of-view), when I'm returning to the house from my studio, the stars hang large in the sky, and I hear coyotes far in the distance. I use a flashlight to guide my way, trying to find the non-snow path for my delicate, fuzzy slippers. The darkness seems entirely complete.