This summer, I have been availing myself of the use of the College of Charleston’s Addlestone Library’s study rooms to focus on several writing projects.
This is the first summer that the library has offered reserved study rooms to faculty, and it all came about in response to popular demand and the advocacy of the Faculty Writer’s Retreat facilitator, Lynn Cherry.
The retreat itself, held during most school breaks, is quite a boon and one that I participate in every chance I get, which has been four times thus far. Unlike a writing conference, which usually involves craft lectures, panels, readings, seminars, and, perhaps, workshops, the College of Charleston’s Faculty Writers Retreat simply provides a distraction-free study room, daily lunches, afternoon snacks, and a sense of accountability. Faculty can apply for a 2, 3, or 5-day stint and available spots fill quickly. Participants agree that they will not use the time to prep for classes, grade or browse social media. Most everyone finds they get a lot done during their selected time period, and even when there are struggles or blocks, most faculty are glad to have had the time to deal with those, too, as it actually helps them move forward.
Though I come away from the Faculty Writer’s Retreat with a different kind of same kind of high that a conference might generate, I always come away feeling productive, and centered and with plenty of evidence of my hard work. The difference is subtle but important.
This year, after a number of participants expressed just how useful it was having access to a study room, myself included, the retreat facilitator inquired into the matter on our behalf. Thanks to her initiative the good folks at Addlestone agreed to set aside three rooms for faculty to reserve for up to three days at a time during any given week this summer, up until the week that classes begin.
And I have been in one of them every week that I’ve been in town.
The first several weeks of the summer I worked almost entirely on the New Mexico Poem anthology, since that was my focus during the retreat in May, and more or less wallowed in rereading every contribution and reconsidering the organization and title of the sections. What I found interesting about the process was how I paired some of the same poems together in the revision as I had paired in the first collection, which I discovered after reviewing both manuscripts. In other instances, and maybe because of the new section titles and focus, poems wound up in very different locations.
I’m sure I’ve spent over 100 hours reconsidering the collection in detail, not including the breaks I took to remain as fresh and as objective as possible. It’s no lie that being hungry, angry, lonely, or tired will drastically affect one’s judgment, so I made sure not to deliberate while experiencing any of those states.
I sent the manuscript off to my co-editor in mid-June, right before taking off for Kansas City to visit family. As is usually the case, I found it very difficult to shift my mental state from contemplating poetry to focusing on family for those few days but finally let go and shifted my focus to the present moment and to enjoying my time away from Charleston. Now that I have returned home, the opposite is more true and I struggle to ease myself back into a life groove.
To help with my re-entry, and in the spirit of easy does it, I “suited up and showed up” to my reserved study room on Wednesday, after three weeks away, determined to work on something. I set no specific goal or objective – just brought with me a hard copy of my own manuscript and my computer. After getting settled in, I was able to revise a few poems, rearrange my MS into sections, and, eventually, assemble and submit a six-page manuscript for a literary magazine In which I would very much like to have my poems appear. I think the day was more productive than it would have been had I fallen into either of the two habits that are most common to me: 1) overwhelm myself with a list of a dozen possible projects on which I might focus, or 2) frustrate myself with an improbable goal. It is much better, I am learning, to have an open mind as I approach one small project at a time.
I did wind up canceling my Thursday study room reservation, however, to meet with an exterminator regarding the Yellow Jackets that have taken residence in my yard, most likely as a result of our neglecting yard work those seven months we were living in an apartment while repairs were being made to the house after Hurricane Matthew. (Yes, I can find a way to drop that bit of info into most conversations.) Yellow Jackets, I decided, are just a little more pressing than having a study room for the afternoon.
The week ahead is a busy one. I am to attend a Writing Across the Curriculum conference and have about a half-dozen appointments to see to. I was tempted to cancel my study room reservations for the week, seeing how I will only get a few hours here and there to utilize the space, but decided against it, for when things are especially busy it is especially important to hold space open for my writing. I may not get as much time as I would prefer, but any time I do capture will go under the column for successes this week.