Lately I’ve been remembering my solo journey in 2016 that was the longest I’ve ever taken. That year I traveled to Kentucky, to a rural area that was an hour, northeast of Lexington. There I attended an artist’s residency at Artcroft, a program that provided living quarters and studios for artists– including writers. I’d learned of these residency programs at a writing conference and was amazed they were offered either at a low cost or free– as was the case at Artcroft. Since I was in my last year as a school nurse, I felt the nudge to go– not knowing what I’d be doing the next summer after my retirement the upcoming March.
Artcroft was on a 400-acre tract of land surrounded by pastures and forrest. According to the website, there was a working farm with animals and gardens. During the residencies for up to six artists at the time, participants would work on a goal with their art and be expected to do farm and household chores. To encourage the relationship between Artcroft and the community, the artist may be asked to do a program in the nearby towns of Millersburg and Paris.
When I read the description of some of the artists who’d been there, their accomplishments– their resumes, I doubted my application would be accepted; a couple of the writers had been from Oxford and Stanford and had published books. Even if I earned a spot for a residency, what would it be like to share the living space with more accomplished artists for two weeks? The voice of Doubt filled my head, that undermining that never fails when you’re wanting to take a risk, to step forward before your confidence can counter Doubt’s demeaning, mocking tone.
I pushed through and completed the application that included four letters of recommendation: two from personal acquaintances and two from professional writers. In the blog post entitled, “The Rhythm of the Day,” I described that process:
“I’d put a lot of energy into the lengthy application for the residency. I started not to apply because I’d felt intimidated by the accomplishments of previous artists. I was such a humble writer with only small publications to my credit and wondered if I’d feel ‘less than’ the others artists that would be with me.”
“I arrived at the two-week writer’s residency in central Kentucky, expecting to have to juggle my time between farm chores, shared kitchen duties with fellow artists, providing a community educational program, and writing. But when I got there, nothing was as I expected. The herd of cows had been sold, there was no garden, and there were no residents but me. I had the run of the small two-story house.”
And that’s what happened; when I arrived, everything was different than I expected.
The founder and director, Robert told me, “We just want you to write.”
Never before had I been given such a generous gift; two weeks lodging for free in a beautiful setting without the work that is ever-present on a farm; how well I remembered from my childhood.
In the quiet of that space, I gradually settled into a rhythm of writing in the cool of the early morning–since the only air conditioner was a window unit upstairs. On my walks along the hilly road, I stopped to clip bunches of the bountiful thistle that were later made into an arrangement for my table. I loved the form of the plant and the cheerful pink flower that made the kitchen seem more like home.
Since there was no wi-fi and no television, the space was quiet and allowed me to hear my own thoughts. My weeks were supposed to be spent working on the sequel to my book. But in reading about the craft of writing a memoir, I realized my draft of He Heard My Voice, that I thought was finished, had a serious omission; I hadn’t told the whole truth.
I described the difficulty of going through eight months of cancer treatment, but I’d glossed over the impact of working in a toxic environment, the backstabbing and undermining that was Piedmont Clinical Trials. I’d not told the truth– that they fired me from my job as a research coordinator; I had been too ashamed.
I have to go back and tell the whole truth, I realized late one evening, sitting in that red living room chair.
The next morning, I made the kitchen table my writing desk and began reworking those chapters, re-experiencing the pain of that job, reliving my shame, and trying to forgive my offenders. Each day I followed that pattern. By noon, it was time to get out and explore the area and take a break from all that introspection. This was what I later wrote in “The Rhythm of the Day” post:
“My days of writing, mostly at that kitchen table, were balanced with long walks across the hilly countryside in the cool of the early morning and at dusk. I took breaks from my solitude to visit horse farms and a racetrack in Lexington. Never had I been able to work with such concentration. I came to see it as truly a gift, one I wouldn’t have received if I’d insisted on feeling ‘less than’ and had not taken the risk of applying.”
By the middle of my residency, Artcroft felt like home. I had nice conversations with Robert– who sometimes stopped by the library in the town of Paris, when I was using their wi-fi. He invited me to join him and his wife, Maureen for brunch in the building that had once been a cafe’ in the town of Millersburg. That was where Artcroft had purchased abandoned buildings that faced the town square and were emptied when the manufacturing business left that area. The buildings were slowly being restored and one day would house the artists residence and studios that had been out in the country–the place where I was staying.
For all that I’d read about Robert on the website, his accomplishments and his work as a visionary for the arts, he was very casual and friendly. He had a voice like Burl Ives that immediately put you at ease.
“Great that you’ll join us for breakfast. Are you okay with Eggs Benedict?”
I’d only eaten that once and I immediately recalled the taste of runny egg yolks–one of the few foods I had an aversion to. But I couldn’t refuse what he’d offered; it must be his specialty.
“Sure, that sounds good,” I responded.
I looked forward to spending time with Robert and Maureen. After a week of eating alone, it would be great to share a meal with them.
That Sunday morning in July was so beautiful with a clear blue sky and the air a bit cooler. I was excited to prepare their bouquet of flowers and dress for my meeting with these new friends– these ‘people in my path.’
When I arrived, they greeted me like a family member. Robert said Maureen would show me around while he’d go back to the kitchen and finish the Eggs Benedict and home fries. He added that we’d have vanilla ice cream and strawberries for dessert.
The colorful house smelled of good coffee–probably a dark roast. Maureen gave me a tour of that interesting place that was built in the early 1900s and had been a lumber and coal distributor. The machine to measure the coal had been left in place in the front window. I loved the architectural details–the old wood floor and bead board. They’d painted it with cozy colors and art was displayed on the walls– that had been done by Artcroft residents.
Soon Robert called us to the table and graciously served us the meal he’d so carefully prepared. I looked at the Eggs Benedict and tried to prepare myself to eat that soft poached egg with the hollandaise sauce that had those runny egg yolks. How could I keep from making a face? I’d never been good at hiding how I really felt. I didn’t want to hurt Robert’s feelings because he was obviously proud of his culinary skill.
I filled my fork with some of the egg and more of the home fries. Hopefully if I put them in together and followed quickly with coffee, the home fries and dark roast would cover the nasty egg yolk.
It worked; I was able to hide my distaste. I listened to Robert tell about the lunches they’d served in that building and the evening concerts that had once been regular offerings– before the town shifted when they put in a bypass.
Maureen shared, too about her work with the Artcroft project. She had a lovely voice with a some of her native Scottish accent remaining after many years of living in Canada and the US. They were in their mid-seventies and talked about their dreams for Artcroft that they hoped would be realized while they were still able to do the work.
Yesterday, I called Robert. I hadn’t talked with him in a long time and wondered how he and Maureen were doing– how things were going at Artcroft. I was relieved that his voice sounded strong and that they’ve been in good health. They’re continuing their work and have now made their home in Millersburg– an easier place to live than out on the 400 acres. They’re continuing to offer artists residencies and now have provided an Air B & B type lodging.
I told him I’d published that memoir that I reworked during my two weeks in that quiet gate house. He said I was the last resident to stay out in the country–which had been perfect for me. Robert told me someone had just donated book cases to the the center.
“You’ll have to send me a copy of your book, Connie. I’ll place it there with other books written by our residents.”
I thought of my memoir, going on a shelf next to the books by the guys from Stanford and Oxford; mine had a place on that shelf, too.
If I’d listened to the voice of Doubt, I wouldn’t have experienced the luxurious gift of two weeks with permission to “Just write.” I wouldn’t have made friends with Robert and Maureen, generous visionaries who welcomed all, who loved art– whatever the form. I wouldn’t have received those four letters of recommendation that were like hearing your eulogy before you died.
Now, when I go back to my “Rhythm of the Day” post, I have the advantage of looking back after five years. I see the purpose that residency had in my life and more than ever, I agree with my last sentence:
“When I arrived at Artcroft, nothing appeared as it had seemed. When I departed, everything felt like it was as it was supposed to be.”
I’m thankful for that solo journey to Kentucky, for that gift that I received. My hope for you is that you’ll step forward and take a risk that’s calling you, and not let that loud voice of Doubt stop you from moving forward. And one day, I hope you’ll realize that everything was as it was supposed to be.
Blessings to you!
Check out the wonderful resource of Artcroft: