Monday, December 30, 2013

12.30.13 ~ the journey, iii: the gift of time ~ playa

The creative community of Playa sits at the base of Winter Ridge and the edge of Summer Lake in Lake County, Oregon.

Where I was headed was Playa, a residency program for creative individuals.

And what is a residency program?

A residency program is the priceless gift of quiet, of time. Time away from appointments and commitments and social obligations. Away from the inner-ear ping of devices, of knots of power chords, of the clatter of updates and news streams and text messages and comments and "Likes"; of the foot-stuck-on-the-accelerator of mindless, depth-less interactions.

It's a place to hear yourself think. 

To breathe.  Again.  And Again.

And do so deeply.

It's a place to work, to concentrate.

A place to take risks. To challenge yourself and meet those challenges.
A place to dream and to come closer to those dreams...

It's a place where creative minds — painters, sculptors, film-makers, writers, poets, musicians, and, in the case of Playa, even scientists, can come and focus uninterrupted on their heart's work.

Founded in 2009, Playa first accepted residents in 2011 and entered my radar in late 2012 when I read Cherly Strayed's brilliant Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Life and Love from Dearp Sugar. In the acknowledgement section (I always read the acknowledgement section), she thanks Playa for her time spent there.

"Playa? What's that?" I wondered, but didn't really give it another thought until my friend Shawn Demarest — an gifted painter in Portland, Oregon — attended a fellowship residency there about the time I was reading Strayed's book. 

Shawn's photos on her blog of Playa were beautiful. But desolate.
Too desolate, it seemed to me, to draw me there. Just so FLAT. And maybe even — dare I say it? — a little boring.

 So much horizontality, with hardly a tree to interrupt the long line of FLAT _____________________________________________________________ .

Not the kind of landscape that could excite or inspire me — of that I was sure.

Distant alkali dust clouds draw a white curtain, connecting land to sky on dry mud flats of Summer Lake.

But then.

But then come June, Shawn asked me if I might like to go to Playa. For the 2013 autumn residencies, Playa was interested in inviting people nominated by alumni. She thought I'd be a good candidate, and was willing to nominate me if I was interested.

Despite all the excuses raging through my head telling me not to apply, I did anyway.

And thanks to letters of recommendation from Shawn and Joan Fullerton, I was offered a five-week fellowship residency, beginning November 3rd and ending December 6th.

So for thirty days I lived on the edge of prairie grass and white alkali silt, staring out on the shimmering horizontal line of Summer Lake, and falling in love not only with that incredible horizontality, but with peace and quiet and thinking and writing and painting and breathing — deeply — again.

Looking out across the mud flats to the grey-white line of Summer Lake.

Monday, December 16, 2013

12.16.2013 ~ the journey, ii: of high deserts and alkali lakes

Walking the dry, alkali mudflats of Summer Lake in Lake County, Oregon

Passing through eastern Utah.
I cut the same path across the Rand McNally Atlas that My Man and I had done in June when we road-tripped to the Pacific Northwest: Route 160 skirting southwest Colorado, Routes 491 and 191 and I-15 north through Moab and the SLC metro-complex of Utah, then I-84 across southern Idaho, hooking eventually into central Oregon by way of the isolated — and beautiful — Route 20.
Coursing along the beautiful banks of the 
Malheur River on OR Route 20

Making the drive solo this time in a car that's getting long of tooth, with new snow chains I was hoping to never have to use, I was nervous, checking the weather constantly. Chance of rain or snow 30 - 40%, which in New Mexico means no chance at all, but where I was headed was different. Bend, Oregeon, where I was bound my third day of driving, receives an average of 24 inches of snow, whereas Santa Fe gets 14 inches — and lately it's been a whole lot less.
But the fact that I'd just made this drive for the first time in my life just months before was a small but real comfort; at least I was familiar, if vaguely, with the terrain.

[And how weird is that? I'd never in my life been to Idaho or eastern Oregon or Bend, and the very year I make that trip, I'm making it AGAIN, just a few months later. Life's funny.]

The point on the map I was bound for this time was mile marker 81 on Hwy 31, 100 miles south east of Bend, Oregon, twelve miles south of the hamlet of Summer Lake, OR (population 90) and eighteen miles north of the village of Paisley, OR (population 250). A mere point in a large field of.....nothing. Or so it appeared on the map. A single road on a big swath of cartography. "Do not use Google Maps, Mapquest or GPS devices to locate us; they are often inaccurate or unreliable," the instructions warned.  "Should you be delayed more than an hour, let us know."

Lake County, Oregon range land.
Descending from Bend, I drove through timber forests thick as knives. Snow banked the shady spots, and sunlight flickered through brewing clouds, streaming patterns on the narrow road.

Skirting the base of Summer Ridge, 
on the eastern flank of the Cascades.
An hour passed and the trees thinned. The road descended and the land opened, spilling into miles of range land: prairie grass, yellowed sage brush, arid buttes, a dirt crossroad here and there anchored by an abandoned gas station or boarded store front.
Easing south, the road skirted the lower hills of Winter Ridge — an eastern tier of the Cascade Mountains. Bumpy and textured with evergreen and scrub, the ridge loomed darkly purple and grey in the cloud shadows. Tumbling eastward, the foothills spill eventually into the alkali mudflats and twenty-mile long mirror of Summer Lake.

This vast and seemingly desolate country would — for me plus two sculptors, a film-maker and three writers — become home for the next five weeks. I could hardly wait to arrive.

Like a massive puddle, at high water (winter and spring) Summer Lake expands to 15 miles long and 5 miles wide, 
with a depth of about 3 feet.. Come summer, it dries up.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

12.11.13 ~ the journey, i: copping out. .....or not.

To think I almost didn't do it.

Almost copped out from even trying.

But the logistics of it all made my head hurt.

To do it would mean so much planning, so much strategy...

    •    I was going to California the weekend before to attend a writers' workshop. I'd get back from one trip and leave immediately for another, much, much longer one. I hate back-to-back travel; it unravels me. Or at least the thought of it does.
    •    It would mean having to find canine coverage. My Good Man could likely do it, but six weeks is a long time for a guy to adjust his schedule in order to walk a dog at 5:30a.m.
    •    And then what about Thanksgiving? What about Thankskgiving?
    •    I'd have to figure out art supplies. What the hell to bring? What to work with? Cram all of that plus my printer and copier and winter road emergency stuff and food and books and clothes in my little Subaru? HOW?
    •    And what about food? Two dinners per week would be provided. The rest would be my own responsibility. Fresh groceries would be in short supply out there; they caution to bring at least two weeks worth of food. And then what?
    •    And then what of that long journey — three or four days of driving to get there — and back — across pretty desolate country, in possibly dicey weather. 

I haven't made a solo drive like that in close to twenty years.

It was all too much.
Too much to think about. Too much to figure out.

Never mind I'd be provided a large, uncluttered studio in which to paint.

Never mind that I'd be provided a charming and cozy cottage in which to live.

Never mind that I'd be interacting with brilliant creative minds and making new friendships.

Never mind I'd have the chance to learn about and explore an extraordinary corner of the world and interact with the kind and generous people who live there.

Never mind that I'd be able to paint, unplugged and totally focused for five weeks.


Never mind that I could do all of this.... for free. If I could just get my act together.

But ACK!! It was all too much to think about. Too much to coordinate.

I didn't apply; decided to not even try.


And then.

And then...

And then a brick hit me in the back of the head. 
I think my parents or my grandmother or someone from that rowdy corner of the afterlife heaved it at me.

Are you KIDDING?

You're going to bail on the chance for all that because of logistics?


Where's the young woman who used to drive across the country solo to teach backpacking?

Where's the artist who believes in taking responsibility for the success and development of her own work, of her career?

Where's the artist who believes in challenging herself? The spirit of the young woman with the sense and desire for adventure?

I submitted my application.

And on the first day of November, wedged in my little Subaru between reams of paper, paint brushes, tubes of acrylic paint, pounds of quinoa and brown rice and tea and
kale and apples and a winter emergency kit that would make the Donner Party come back to life with envy, I found myself embarking on a 1,500 mile drive to the Oregon Outback. 

Art supplies — CHECK. Road emergency kit — CHECK. Clothes — CHECK. Books — CHECK.

Food for 2 weeks — CHECK. Room for me in the car ?— Hmmm...Not so sure....