Prairie Center: Having Something to Show

It’s been one week of “commuting” to “work” on a “schedule” at Prairie Center of the Arts and, so far, it suits me. The commute is, of course, riding with my fellow residents from our house in Germantown Hills, IL in the Prairie Center van to the studio in Peoria (11 miles away). The work is my three-part goal–explorations of place, development of my arts writing and editing business, and completion of applications/submissions–none of which are new to me but all of which I’ve never tried squeezing into each full day. The schedule is 8:30am-6pm. By the time I work out, cook dinner, and shower it’s around 8:30pm, a 12 hour day, and that feels about right.
What I haven’t experienced before is sharing an open studio space with visual artists when I’m not in a generative mode. That is, I’m not actively writing new stories or essays every day. I don’t have a word count or a printed draft or a major new insight to share at the end of my day in the studio. But twenty or thirty feet away from me, all day long other artists are crocheting and cutting and hammering and painting and filing away–paintings, wall hangings, conceptual sculptures–and their progress is visual with every stroke. It’s inspiring to be around and it makes me nostalgic for the highly generative mode I resided in for so long when writing the war stories.
All of that said, I’ve just spend 2 1/2 years on the road writing about war. There is no way that I can turn around and switch genres (from fiction to nonfiction) and switch topics (from war to place) without filling my well back up first. Thankfully, I know enough about my own process to understand that reading about place, studying place, looking at maps, and reviewing old notes about places I have been are all part of my writing process. So although it’s a little intimidating to sit down each day and stare at this blank screen and this mostly blank bulletin board (at right), I also know that–in time–both of these will start to fill up.
In the mean time, I’m making lists: of Midwestern terms, of form-based craft concepts employed by nonfiction authors I respect, of numbers of applications or presses submitted to, or places within driving distance I need to go so, of meanings of words…and so forth. Doubling as book marks or wall art, these lists don’t resemble much in their current form (and they’re certainly not as cohesive or lovely as a neighboring painter’s fresh work on canvas) but I know enough to understand the slow and steady composting of the writers’ subconscious. Everywhere I look outside things are bursting into bloom. All of this, I tell myself, was once just a little seed with nothing to show. But now look at the abundance of color and life!

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