It's an adjustment. And I mean that in terms of comparison. Speaking with several other residents who have done other residencies and will be going on to others in the next few weeks/months like myself we have been doing a bit of compare and contrast. But thus far the reviews on Ragdale are quite positive.
Let me give you a quick breakdown though:
Ragdale's history stems back to the 1800s. This is sacred land, y'all. It was the vacation home to big time architect Howard Van Doren Shaw and his family. It served not only as a place to live but as a place to work, his wife Frances being a poet, writer, and traveler and his daughters being artists as well who inherited the land. It would be Alice Judgson Ryerson Hayes, granddaughter to Howard Shaw, who would create the Ragdale Foundation and be it's director for many years before making the City of Lake Forest and the Open Lands Association guardians of the conservation and property.
Ragdale is smack dab in Lake Forest about a mile or two away from the town of Lake Forest and a 20 minute drive from Chicago, specifically O'Hare International Airport and even farther from downtown Chicago.
Lake Forest is a nice and small town and those who own homes also own land. Ragdale has many acres to itself as well as a path that runs into a prairie. The visual artist studios are outside away from the main Ragdale House which holds several residents and the Ragdale Barn which also holds about six residents along with the Ragdale office and main area where we dine for dinner Monday through Friday.
There is a Friend's Studio which houses two residents, one of which is usually a composer and is a live-in studio space. Between all this is lots of ground to cover which at the moment is a bit tattered looking with the oncoming spring. The prairie is muddy due to patches of still melting snow but you can navigate around the prairie path and see the Skokie River which runs through the prairie and many landmarks/benches dedicated to those who have been dear friends and dedicated conservationists.
The writers' space is within their rooms rather than being a separate studio. Meaning we have a nice desk and swivel chair as well as a reading chair. I am in the Yellow Room in the Ragdale Barn, which is that because it is yellow. There is also the very spacious Play Room which has a doorway that leads to a cupola upstairs. Jealous? Indeed I am.
There are other rooms such as the Beach, Hayloft (which used to be an actual hayloft since this building used to be a barn), and the Sewing Room which I assume was an actual sewing room. So for the most part the Barn seems conducive to writers while the Chandelier studio is more so for a visual artist. The same layout may be said for the Ragdale House though I have yet to explore it.
During my time here I'm surrounded by many writers and a couple of visual artists. I've spoken with poets, nonfiction writers, and fiction writers alike about our work and our progress. Since the sessions break up some people will be leaving while I'm here and I'll be leaving before others arrive. But so far the vibes are very good and the fact that we have dinner together during the week is aiding in bonding and necessary breaktime from writing. I've spoken to many artists from the Chicago area and a few who have come to Ragdale not once or twice but as many as twenty times. Yes, Ragdale has no limit on how many times you may stay upon acceptance. This may be because it's a paid residency and relies on residents payment and donations and the city funds to stay afloat.
How productive have I been since I arrived? Well, the first day is always a wash. With traveling, which wasn't even that intense since I had one direct flight at 10 in the morning and the time shift is just an hour behind. But the simple act of going to an airport and coming from can be so intense that one does not want to deal with anything else. So day one was about settling in, walking around, absorbing how cold it is here, and meeting others. We had orientation, a delicious fish dinner from the great and sweet chef Linda and wine and talked with director Regin Igloria.
One of my priorities was also gaining access to the wifi which I did in minutes. Victory!
Day two I edited my entire YA manuscript, all 79k words of it and cut, cut, cut. I spent most of the morning, afternoon, and some of the evening doing so taking breaks to talk to other residents and eat and take a few pictures. But my mind was on the entirety of finishing the young adult book so I could send a refined part 1 to my critique partners and I can dedicate the rest of my time here to my story collection and an essay I want to initiate.
Day three was me needing vitamin D, namely sun. After spending the whole day prior writing and editing and looking at my laptop screen I needed to get out. At breakfast I spent over an hour talking to residents, one of whom was a new arrival. And then went out to walk for almost 2 hours in the prairie. At some point I saw prints in the mud and had a mini freakout over whether these were deer prints (since we've been told repeatedly that deer are all around us) or if it was something more dangerous. I was told that big dogs tend to also roam these parts, but I dunno. I saw the Skokie River, took many pictures, and in the midst of many benches tucked away along the prairie found one that made me so comfortable I quieted my mind and just listened and watched and absorbed nature, and sun. It was necessary. After hiking a bit more I took an alternate path along the route and then panicked again that I may have been going the wrong way. But I had had many assurances since I arrived that you cannot get lost on the path, it will always lead you back and upon seeing the familiar Meadow studio for one of the visual artist's I was relieved that I was home free.
After that I read for three hours. In concluding my Cheryl Strayed trifecta I am almost done with Tiny Beautiful Things, which will definitely be on my 2013 fave reads list.
So that leads me to a new day where I hope to get a good bunch done but won't beat myself up if I do not. Speaking with many of the residents here many are taking this time seriously as work time. As well we should. But as I learned from Jentel you have to do what you need for yourself. And if that means sleeping for 12 hours to refresh your mind or taking a day with nature and not even looking at a computer screen or notebook. If that means reading all day or just hanging with friends then you have earned that right to do it here. Your work is important but if you aren't intact your work will falter.
Let's hope I can also keep this in mind.