As I've stated many times on this blog and for those who know me in-person, heck random people on the street may have also been informed, that last month I returned from one of the greatest experiences of my life at the Jentel Artist Program Residency. June 13th marked the one month mark that I've been home and attempted to re-enter my everyday life in New York City. A couple weeks ago I met up with some writer friends who have and were about to embark on a residency. For Ennis his current time in Upstate New York serves as the longest that he's been away from the home he's made in Harlem. He asked my friend Kim and I for any advice as to how it is to be with other artists (and only other artists) as well as what he may look forward to (sarcasm!) when he returns.
Kim is a veteran in regards to residencies. She was the one who implored that I apply for them. She mentioned it was hard for her to re-immerse herself into life at work, especially when she returned during a really hectic time in the office.
Another friend of mine returned from her residency this year a few weeks before I left for mine. At present time she is still having a rough time of being back at work as a teacher and working on her novel preparing to send it out to agents. She's re-evaluating life after her residency and I'm sure is antsy to do another one.
Me, I just applied to another residency program for the beginning of 2012 and am lining up applications for more come the last quarter of this year. I believe the week of June 5th, a week before my LIU Summer Writers Lab workshop, I just got back to life and the productivity level I was at before I headed off to Jentel.
Let me try and summarize the first four weeks back:
Week 1: Reeling, and I mean reeling, from being home. I was picked up from the airport and I was glad to enter a clean apartment. Went food shopping and I got to eat some old faves, Chipotle & Dani's Pizza, before mentally preparing to return to work on Monday.
Returning to work entailed me having to deal with rush hour and wondering why I work in the first place. I kept comparing my surroundings to what I'd just left and found them extremely lackluster, especially my apartment which does not compare in scope to the large bathroom I had to myself at Jentel and the huge room, lovely open kitchen, and spaciousness, spaciousness, spaciousness.
In dealing with co-workers I was met with many who were happy about my return and excited about my experience. I also experienced a few who asked some arcane questions that I'm sure many artists in general cringe at. Ones like "If you're a writer, why do you work here?" "Oh, you're a writer what books have you published." "Oh, if you're a writer that means you've been published in The New Yorker?" And so on and so forth.
Week 2: Sorting through photos, updating the blog on my experience, and just sleeping and being lazy for the most part. I was not ready to be social with friends and pushed off many invitations to see people upon my return. I was lethargic and didn't cook, only re-heated, and didn't bake a lick. My usual routine of baking for people's birthdays in the office was non-existent and I just went from bakery to bakery to purchase goods I thought they'd like.
The upswing to this week was Book Expo which lead to attaining a lot of books, attending some book events, and standing a lot. But it was a good time!
Week 3: A friend's wedding and another work week. Mind you in these weeks that I'd been home I didn't do a lick of writing outside of e-mails and updating my blog. I wrote an article for Book Expo for AroundHarlem.com. I started reading a very good book that gave me a great amount of inspiration (see Goodreads list). I barely cleaned, leaving someone else to kindly pick up the slack when it came to sweeping and scrubbing the bathroom regularly. I hadn't done a full overhaul of the kitchen, usually my domain to clean, but couldn't muster the will to do so. I did start hanging out with friends more regularly, but still begged off some events and now had to worry about money since I wasn't saving as much by simply writing and staying in. I actually had to go out, look at my checkbook, and pay bills as well as for groceries and household needs again.
Week 4: Slowly getting back in the swing of things. I actually sat for a whole five+ hours to read and review all the stories I revised while away and started to make edits during my free time in the office. I attained some freelance work and did this as well. I made self-imposed deadlines for myself as well as submitting an application for a residency. I decided to enter some contests due at month's end and submit a YA piece for consideration. I'm also looking into revising pieces for a friend's anthology which is due by month's end. In addition to this I am starting other residency applications due in September, making contacts for references, and researching places to submit my more complete flash fiction pieces as well as compiling a list of places to hopefully submit a piece from my collection at the end of this year.
What helped during this time is having friends who've been through this. Fellow Jentelian Heidi Durrow was kind in asking how I was dealing with my return on Twitter and said she related but to give it time. This seemed to be the main piece of steady advice: just give yourself time to get back into the swing of things.
It took three weeks for this to happen but it did. During the fourth week I no longer looked at those on the subways as my enemies but as my equals just as I had prior to my leaving. I didn't look at work as a prison anymore, but a means to an end. I didn't think badly of those ignorant comments, though they still irritate me, of how I could be an artist when it wasn't how I was making my living. I got back into my routine and even tried to be more of a stickler to my craft by denying invites during the weekend so that I could stay home and focus and work. Whether it be on my own projects or ones assigned. I got back into cooking and just baked some blondies for a friend and the LIU SWL group.
At the Summer Writers Lab Akashic Publisher Johnny Temple said he was irritated with the thought that we should "just write." "With everything going on in the world" why would anyone feel a sense of "entitlement" at just writing. He was right. That's how I felt upon my return. That I was entitled to just be an artist and not have to work a full-time job or do freelance or do the work to make myself successful and support myself so that I could focus on my art. The dream is to make a living solely on our work because we enjoy doing it enough without pay, so how much more awesome would it be if we were getting paid. Well, that's not a reality for a crapload of artists.
I've come to terms with what I've been doing and look forward to the light at the end of the tunnel. It doesn't pain me to wake up and not see the vibrant colors of Neltje's decorated home. I'm up early and to bed early and slowly getting back into the swing of exercising regularly. I'm being kept awake by my work and have been blocking off time to work on it. It's been good these past few weeks and in giving myself the time to get there I feel reinvigorated to pursue my work.