Prairie Center: A Room of My Own

A bedroom. It’s a simple thing, really, but here’s the deal: my bedroom in the residents’ house at Prairie Center for the Arts isn’t just a room I throw my stuff down in. After two and a half years on the road and, most recently, 9 weeks in multiple locations in Alaska followed by 3 weeks in a small cabin with my parents (love you, Mom and Dad!) this room is a place I can actually unpack in, exhale, and see the end of the road (metaphorically) from. After this there’s just one more stop on the tour–Interlochen Center for the Arts–and then the fates decide where I settle for a year or two or more…

Perhaps even simpler than the notion of the bedroom is the notion of the work day. Being in residence at Prairie Center, the residents’ house is 11 miles outside the city and each morning we can catch a ride with the Director at 8:30am to the studio, then a ride home at the end of the day at 6pm. It’s the first time I’ve really “commuted” into a “city” for a “job” and I’m fascinated by this notion that my art could be contained within the confines of a sane work day. Sometimes, of course, all schedules and reasoning are lost to the wind–in the flurry of a new story or under pressure of a deadline–but I’ve come this far in The Writing Life and I need to know what a “typical” schedule looks and feels like. Being at Prairie Center for the next two-and-a-half months will help me live this dream, practice a saner pace of creativity, and–perhaps even more importantly–see how I use my time before 8:30am and after 6pm to achieve a more balanced existence.
My goal is three-fold: First, use mornings to explore and study place. This means studying Peoria and the surrounding area through research and occasional outings. But it also means reading and studying respected authors in the field of place-based nonfiction essays in anticipation of my next book. I’m filling my well back up, as they say, and I’ve learned enough about my own process to know that this is a crucial time. I need to be patient and curious, and not put too much pressure on myself to “create new material.” I’ll know when the time comes and until then, it’s my job as a writer to keep on exploring conceptually and physically until I’m ready to breathe something out onto the page.
Second, use mid-afternoon to fulfill my duties as an editor and distance educator for the magazines and students that I work with.
Third, use late-afternoon (or on some days all afternoon, as deadlines will demand) to expand my career as an arts writer. This is something I have been doing since 2006 but put somewhat on hold during this tour so that I could focus on my creative work and complete Flashes of War. But the book is done now, and in August I’ll face the prospect of fully supporting myself–without residencies or stipends–as a writer. In order to do that, I need to bring back the arts writing. I’ve got some exciting work going on with a handful of artists now and I couldn’t be more grateful for their work and financial support. It feels good to help creative people put their best selves forward by providing them with honest, unique website content, artist statements, and press management.
Here’s to springing into a new path and new focus. ‘Tis the season!

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