Jentel Artist Residency: Week 4 (Heading out)

As much as it pains me to write this, we're in our last week here at Jentel and man did that get the creative juices flowing! Our regular gatherings diminished (though we did cook regularly for the group) in lieu of everyone wanting to work, work, work. Me, I definitely pursued morning (kinda), afternoon, and evening hours. Where as we started on a kind of 9a-5p grind that quickly moved to a 9a-10p grind with the reality settling in that we wouldn't be here much longer! (insert sad face here) So what have I been working on while in Wyoming? What is this Collection I've mentioned? Well, in my attempt to summarize, I am writing a linked collection of stories based on a biracial family in Long Island (where I was raised for the first eight years of my life) that transcends generations. Consider it Contemporary Literature akin to Olive Kitteridge (a tome that inspired me during the revision process) and even A Visit from the Goon Squad. This Collection became my passion project soon after I finished a novel that got lukewarm responses and continues to be after more than three years. The Collection began as one short story about a girl trying to find out more about her deceased mom and sprouted into a beast within itself. In the past year I have to credit my peer group buddies and workshop group with helping me whittle down fifteen imprecise stories to eight focused pieces. I have to credit Writer's Digest with reminding me to start from the latest point allowing experimentation as I pursued revisions of every story in this collection (and thusly thank my aunt for her gift subscriptions over the years to Writer's Digest). I have to credit the Postgraduate Writers' Conference and Ellen Lesser for helping me see the full potential of this project and to streamline what's happening. And also to Ellen, Jeff Renard Allen, and April Davis for recommending me for this residency.

I have to say the surroundings here in Banner and via Neltje's great skill in design and comfort, inspired me with the collection and I feel like I have a lot more focus on it than I did a year ago. By the end of this trip I completed complete revisions for each story and am pretty confident at least three are near completion. I've also been inspired being around such phenomenal visual artists and another great writer in that I found myself writing some poetry (April was National Poetry Month after all) and Karen's son is a poet so she shared some of his work and others she really liked with me which fueled a fire.

But, enough about me, there were good times to be had! Lisa, Joyce, Karen and I went to the Occidental Hotel in Buffalo for their weekly jam session and met some wonderful people. The food was your usual bar food fare, no more no less. I ordered a grilled Caesar salad and was brought a hunk of iceberg lettuce charred around the edges. This, I had to send back. And my options were few. I ordered coconut calamari and was informed they don't cut it up, they serve you the squid whole. (sigh) Okay, so fried shrimp and onion rings it is!

The music was great and the jam session was just that, musicians coming in and out for songs and slipping into the rhythms easily. They all know each other and upon speaking with a fiddler the following day was informed that sometimes musicians just stop by for a week, jam, then leave. Awesome? Yes.

The weekend brought the rare opening of Neltje's antique shop to the public (no appointments necessary). I hoofed it up the hill for 1.6 miles to the destination in harsh winds. When I got there it was like a mini mall but more homey. The staff was uber friendly and I went in with the intention of buying nothing. This did not happen. And for an antique opening they know how to welcome you! There were snacks and offerings of dip they sold so you can taste it. There's everything from cards to pocketbooks to cookbooks to scarves to all kinds of furniture and homemade art by Neltje herself. And everyone is really nice! A couple who passed me on the road offered me a ride back to the residency and we talked about their son who happens to be a sculptor. I urged them to urge him to apply to go here.

Yet again, the kind people of Wyoming never fail to astound me with their generosity. A good day.

We headed to Lulu's Cafe in Sheridan on Saturday. A place we've been trying to go to since week one. They serve all organic food, homegrown. I had a salmon burger that was ridiculously good. I dreamt about it the following night and had a nice mint blueberry margarita (though it tasted more like a mojito). Either way it was very satisfying and sweet. Everyone loved their food. The gluten free desserts left a bit to be desired texture-wise but you can't beat the service and feeling like you're being welcomed in someone's home. The owner, Lynne (not Lulu), was like a mom who wanted to make sure you were comfy at all times. Small and exquisite describes Lulu's to a T.

And then came Open Studio! This is kind of tradition where everyone welcomes the other residents to their studio to see/hear their work. Lorraine and I went to the artists studios and were astounded by how much they've done and the differences in everyone's work. Karen worked on many black and white items, large and small. Joyce had a variety of intricately painted nests as well as adorable matchbook paintings that we got to have. Rachel did some amazing work with fabric in vibrant colors, also doing a trek around the land where she photographed one of her pieces in the midst of the terrain surrounding the residency. Brilliant. And Lisa showed us her work on a smaller scale that had a lot of vibrant colors of red and green (one of my faves). The artists each gave us gifts to take with us. Here's Rachel's.

She made a Jentel/Neltje brand for us to have. I'm so excited to show their work in my office.

After snacks (see gratuitous food shot) we went to the media room where Lorraine and I read work we completed (thus far) while here. Lorraine's also working on a linked story collection so we got to hear more of the travails of her protagonist. And Lorraine is an amazing reader, she inflects the right words and also acts out moments. I love the times we've gotten to hear her read. She knows how to paint a picture with words.

I read the ending of a story I completed here and am quite happy with the voice and tone. Apparently, I captured the angst of a seventeen year old boy pretty well.

Monday and Tuesday were cloudy and rainy and windy unfortunately. But we looked forward to sunny skies that came upon us slowly on Wednesday and full on on Thursday post-errands. There was hulu hooping and dance music and more cooking on our last evening with Lynn. We each got gifts! Here's mine:

Since Joyce was a second-timer she got something even cooler!

As we consider everything it's been an amazing time and I feel extremely blessed to be surrounded by such amazing artists and women. Great! Some things I want to make you aware of when/if you come to Wyoming:

1) Winds are way worse than the "wind tunnels" in New York City.

2) Buy hiking boots (props to Northface for their wonderful boots that got me through many excursions.). No, seriously, buy hiking boots and good ones.

3) Be nice to everyone. Pay it forward, people.

4) Bring bug repellent in the warmer months.

5) Cows and horses will stare you down, so show no fear.

6) For God's sake enjoy the landscape and relax! There be mountains!

7) When driving, beware of wayward deer, moose, antelope, and wild turkey (not the drink).

Below are the links to the websites of the artists I got to spend time with in Wyoming during these past four weeks. People I admire, and respect, and miss terribly.

Lisa Buchanan: Joyce Ely-Walker: Lorraine M. Lopez: Karen McAlister Shimoda: Rachel Meginnes:

Check their work out, buy it, follow them (on social networking sites, not in life per se), contact them, visit their gallery openings or readings and continue to support the arts! If it weren't for amazing residencies like Jentel (and amazing people like Neltje, Mary Jane, Lynn, Matt, Donna, and Debbie) many of us would never get our foot in the door. So it means a lot to have this support and acknowledgment that you have a story to tell whether it be in words or illustrations.