Retreat! — Early Musings From My Willapa Bay Arist Residency

The daydream had a pronounced hold on me for many years: disappear into a cabin in the woods for a couple of weeks to write my next album. I took it for granted that I’d emerge with brilliant, pathbreaking material—more importantly, however, I’d get to bury some cryptic, legacy-building disclosure in the liner notes (remember those?) once I’d recorded everything, something like “Conceived over ten days and two quarts of huckleberries in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.”  Who could resist buying that?

I attempted half-baked versions of the idea a handful of times, ultimately discovering two important things: one, when I’m in the woods I like to do woods-things, and I struggle mightily to focus on cultivating ideas when there are trails to hike, creeks to ford, and berries to pick; and two, if I’m going to take this career seriously (and these days I do), with output trumping perception, I have to learn to be productive at home and in the absence of special circumstances. Inspiration can still strike with a change of setting, but the process that transforms ideas into refined content via patience, focus, and edit after edit—the things that make an album more than one pretentiously-obscure sentence in a booklet no one bothers to read anymore—requires an everyday discipline that can’t always wait for the next romantic excursion.

Careers and standards evolve, however, and last fall I found myself in position to accept the offer of a month-long stay with Willapa Bay Artist in Residence —exactly the kind of opportunity I’d stopped actively seeking. I accepted.


First-night sunset, Pacific Ocean

Some key differences are in play this time. First, every detail here shows intentional and thoughtful execution, from the beautiful little cottages facing away from one another that allow for working solitude to the lunch basket that appears on my porch at noon each day, bringing sustenance without interruption. (Chef Darice Grass’ offerings are themselves delicious works of organic, in-season art—man, did I win the mealtime lottery here!)  Dinners are served family-style with all of the artists in attendance, fostering peer contact and shop-talk after a day of creative inward focus. There is no set expectation of output at the end, though there is every opportunity to succeed, but it’s still up to me to avoid potential pitfalls and generate results.

So here I am for a whole month in historic Oysterville, WA. In four full days I’ve picked a lot of berries, ridden a lot of bicycle, and strolled a lot of beach. I’ve also played a lot of guitar, organized a lot of thoughts, and felt a lot of affirming connection with the other artists-in-residence this month: writers Diane Mehta (Brooklyn) and Mariko Nagai (Tokyo); painter Pirjo Berg (North Dakota via Finland and Seattle); and photographer David Lorenz Winston (Oregon)—delightful souls and committed craftsmen/craftswomen each of them. (Thanks, gratitude, and acknowledgment of support must also go to visionary founder Cyndy Hayward and residency director Nina Macheel.)


My Den of Productivity

My to-potentially-do list is large and diverse. Geoff Larson, of course, has sent me with a stack of books so that I may emerge of more value than ever to The Bushwick Book Club Seattle.

Thrilled as I am to list this on my résumé, I’m even more thrilled by the chance to really get down to it. Whatever I produce—and I will produce!—won’t singularly define me; this is the current, lovely leg of much-longer journey.