9½ Things I Learned as an Artist-In-Residence at Willapa Bay

As I wrote back in August, I spent the entirety of that month as an artist-in-residence with Willapa Bay AiR in Oysterville, WA, on the Long Beach Peninsula. It was truly a special time, with extraordinarily special people, and I learned many things about, well, many things: art; process; community; shellfish… Here, then, are some of my findings, presented in internet-ready, Buzzfeed-y ‘arbitrary-number-of-things-in-list-form’ fashion (missing only the ‘#7 is Totally Crazy!’ teaser)—enjoy:

1. A Healthy, Encouraging Environment Matters

For one month I got to live in a world where what I do was as important and recognized as any career pursuit—to my artist-peers and the staff, certainly, but in the community as well.  With lovely grounds, comfortable quarters, on-site chef, and nearby ocean, everything was relaxed and easy, which in turn led to sustained productivity! Two of the five songs I finished, including one very much co-inspired by setting, even made their way into Read & Destroy’s October library sets.

Afternoon Visitor

Afternoon Visitor

 2. People Matter, Too

Certainly to me, at least. What a gift to have drawn Pirjo Berg, Mariko Nagai, David Lorenz Winston, and Diane Mehta as my co-residents for the month! I’m sure each month’s artists (the residency runs from March through September) create their own, unique dynamic, but it’s difficult to imagine better company than these lovely peers (mixed with the capable and companionable staff). When every conversation begins with understanding and accepting the premise that creating is indeed a passionate, full-time pursuit, there’s more time to get after it or connect around it. I used the word ‘affirming’ in the August write-up, and it absolutely holds.

3. A Full Month is Just Right

I don’t think that pressure is an unequivocal negative—I often thrive on Bushwick’s tight timelines—and I think the ‘special’-ness I feel about August within the context of my broader life comes, in part, because the experience was finite. A month is long enough to settle in, but not so long that you have to mortgage too much ‘normal’ life to pull off attending, though I understand many in the writing world go from residency to residency year-round. I’m awfully glad I chose to really ‘do’ this thing completely, resisting the temptation to book weekend gigs or otherwise schedule myself so that I would be coming and going (though I regret nothing about disappearing for a day to catch Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers in Portland). I got more out of it by really committing to it fully, however it was going to look.

 4. You Can’t Get to Oysterville From Anywhere

I imagine this is part of the charm for many locals. You’re 2½ hours from Portland, 3½ from Seattle, and none of the roads are what you might call ‘fast.’ So settle in once you arrive!

5. Despite #4, Willapa Bay AiR Won’t Stay Under the Radar for Long

In fact, word’s already leaking out, as evidenced by AiR’s #1 position on this list.

6. If Geoff Larson Mails Me Books, I’ll Read ’Em

Well, most of ’em—there was just so much to do with the days! There’s something utterly charming about having your address (at Washington’s oldest post office operating continuously and under the same name, FYI) be ‘General Delivery’—“Suddenly it’s 1920 again,” one friend remarked. Geoff took advantage of this to make sure my month away wasn’t a month entirely lost in service to The Bushwick Book Club Seattle. Smart guy, that Geoff.

Books For the 2014-15 Bushwick Season, Sent c/o General Delivery...Plus a Few of My Own

Books For the 2014-15 Bushwick Season, Sent c/o General Delivery… Plus a Few of My Own

7. What Sea-Level Folk Call Huckleberries are Not What I Call Huckleberries

And they don’t taste as good, cute (and plentiful) as they are. My kind need mountains, which I didn’t expect to find on a two-mile-wide peninsula made of sand. The salal, though, make a nice addition to a mixed-berry fruit leather.

8. I Can Ride Impressive (To Me) Distances On My Bicycle

…when everything’s flat and paved—even in considerable wind!

9. Oysters are Still a Pretty Big Deal Around Oysterville

I watched a whole film about it—narrated, oddly enough, by the mayor of my hometown (note: I did not grow up particularly close to any saltwater bodies). But alas, ‘August’ has no ‘R’ in it. (True confession that I kept to myself all month: I’m not really that fond of oysters; I’ll take the August weather!)

9½. Having a Personal Chef is Pretty Sweet

I know I touched on this in #1, but: seriously. ’Twas a well-fueled month—thanks, Darice! Re-entry’s been tough without a daily knock on my door at noon bearing lunch delivery.

Lunch Arrives on My Doorstep

Lunch Arrives on My Doorstep