Friday, December 29, 2006

Yesterday, I was one of 8 people who squeezed into a 6-person van to take the much-hyped tour of the entire campus given by Blake, the astonishing MacDowell spirit guide and do-everything man. Three hours later, we had learned more than we ever expected and got a real sense of the history and importance of this place, how close it had come to going under, and the exciting plans for its future. 2007 marks the Colony's Centennial, and we are all very fortunate to be here for the New Year's! We think we'll be having a mini-reading by whoever wants to participate, then Bobby Previte, a composer who just joined us, told us he will be setting up the DJ-quality sound system that inexplicably lives in the library and treating us to the "7 hours of dance mixes" he has brought with him. I will keep you all fully posted.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The faces with wings were called "soul effigies", and were meant to resemble the deceased.

This morning, a woman who works part time at the Colony and the rest of the time at the Peterborough Historical Society took three of us on a tour of the graveyard where Thornton Wilder drew his inspiration for Our Town. It overlooked a hill, as the play says, and there, in "Avenue F" was the Gibbs family plot. Amazing.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Yule Log, accompanied by the vat of bourbon that Suzanne bought for a song at the local liquor store. Suzanne. Not Amanda. Amanda wishes there to be great clarity on the matter. It's Suzanne's hooch. Suzanne.

The 3 1/2 foot Yule Log, Julia Child's own recipe with almond extract and meringue mushrooms. Awesome.

Christmas Dinner!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Beatrix Gates, Judy Stone and Wendy Walters at Christmas breakfast
It's 8:15 on Christmas evening, and it feels like it's very late, mostly because we had dinner at 4:00 (see pic). After delicious chicken with pomegranate seeds (an Iranian dish in honor of one of the colonists) and the world's longest yule log, one of the filmmakers here presented a few selections from the vast MacDowell library of avant-garde films, some more accessible than others. (One started, and after a few minutes, one confused colonist asked "Is this the film?" He had a point.)

The past few days have been somewhat peaceful, as about a third of the colonists either left for good or went home for the holidays. I've started writing the first music of my time here, and it's a great relief to be using that part of my brain. One song I actually wrote most of on the guitar, which ended up great, very different from anything I would've written on the piano.

Christmas Eve, I decided to join the 21st Century by creating a MySpace page for myself (and one where I can upload music). Several colonists suggested other equally pathetic Christmas Eve activities, like calling exes and "seeing if they're doing anything" or hanging out on I ignored them, and I already have 10, count them 10 friends. If you want to be my friend (and are on MySpace), please click here immediately. You will be treated to an embarrassingly out-of-date headshot, among other things.

I've also been reading a collection of the writings of Lorraine Hansberry, author of "A Raisin in the Sun", all written before she was 34 (my age), when she died of cancer. (The title of the collection is "To Be Young, Gifted and Black", which inspired the iconic song by Nina Simone.) The fragments of essays and personal correspondence are so dazzling, so assured about the responsibility of art in the world, and specifically her place in the art and voice of her time, it makes me sit in awe and wonder if I have any idea what I'm doing. And if I do know what I'm doing, could I sit and articulate it, and if I could articulate it, I'm pretty certain I would never have the self-confidence to set it down on paper and show it to anyone. When writing for characters who are very different than oneself, from backgrounds worlds apart, I guess it's only natural to think "What business have I putting words in their mouths, or even inviting them to walk out on stage?" But then I don't know anyone else writing about the subjects in Gloryana, certainly not in musical theater, so I guess I'll keep on trying to "say what I can say", as fellow Colonist and poet/librettist Beatrix Gates said on my first night here.

At some point, I guess one has to realize that no one will give you that kind of license if you don't have it yourself. I can't decide if it's more important to cultivate that assurance and risk seeming like an egomaniac (what if what I write doesn't measure up?), or if a sense of humility and reverence for everyone I respect keeps me open to growth (or will that self-effacement hold me back from "breaking open the form" and other pretentious obsessions that keep me up at night? Actually, they don't, I sleep very well. Do I sleep too well to be great?)

The echoes of these piteous thoughts reverberate off every other young writer of the past 1000 years and make an insipid and un-festive noise this Christmas night. I'll return to the couch area and listen to the writers argue about the fantastic young novelists I've never heard of and most likely won't have time to read.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The lane leading from the woods to the back of Colony Hall, this afternoon after the storm had passed.

I took a different way to dinner last night, and walked by The Lodge, one of the residence halls.

Today was a foul, rainy day, so I slept in and... built a fire! After a wimpy start, I finally just threw a lot of kindling in and got it going. Very soothing, but I couldn't help obsessively checking on it, so it ended up being a bit distracting. A sense of accomplishment, though. Yes, that's my guitar. No, I haven't really touched it. But it's sexy, right?

This is evidence of the party circuit here. This is post-Electric Slide, I believe.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

I've now been here a week, which has really sped by. My first, tentative junior-high approach to the dinner table was just a week ago, and now there are several new people and I'm no longer the freshman. Tonight after a couple Fellows presented some of the their work, I played ping-pong and then felt the urge to lie down on my back in the middle of Colony Hall and stare at the ceiling, which I did for about 15 minutes. It was very comfortable and therapeutic. I felt like I was somehow owning my time here. Everyone told me it would take about a week to acclimate, which I found hard to believe— nothing to do but work! How hard could it be? But it's true; I've felt somehow unmoored from life, the life I've always created around, and it's hard to tell what I've actually accomplished.

Compounding this feeling is the fact that for the past few days I've been preparing for my own presentation, which was last night. I gave it in the library, which is a beautiful, small building holding works by past and current Fellows. I sang about 8 songs, some of which (especially "The Public Library") were a little hard to get through, given the surroundings and the wonderful, creative artists listening. But I finished with "Me Artist, You Rich", dedicated to all of us, and everyone had fun.

Today I shook things up and spent the afternoon writing in the library instead of my studio. I chose some minimalist avant-garde jazz from the collection to listen to as I wrote, and it was, strangely, perfect working music. I don't know if it just kept me focused, or if it was the fact that I was in a public space where anyone could come inat any time and I'd better look busy, but I got a lot of work done. I'll try it again tomorrow.

Last night was the third(!) dance party since I've been here, not exactly what I was expecting, but what the hell? Odd bottles of alcohol keep surfacing from previous Fellows; last night featured not one but two enormous bottles of off-brand Triple Sec, Martini & Rossi Extra Dry, Jim Beam, blueberry juice and bitters. Yum! Perhaps that explains why at one point everyone was doing the Electric Slide...

Tomorrow is the solstice, after which the days will start getting longer, which is good, because right now the sun has been setting at around 4:00 and it's totally dark by 4:30.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Mr. T, the Colony cat. He's not really possessed, just unphotogenic.

Barnard, my live-in studio

One of my porches

The field across the lane

The lane to my studio.
Had a much more productive day today than yesterday, which was distressingly nap-ful. Finished a pretty detailed scene-by-scene outline of Act I, solved some problems which seemed intractable yesterday—why is this character so boring? Answer: because you made him a saint. Oh, right. A couple of my characters, however, are really terrible people—why is it so much fun to write them?

Tonight was taco night, where I gorged myself, then I took over for someone in a Scrabble game, where I appropriately made the bingo "OUTEATS". One of the Fellows has been reading his (long) novel aloud (!) since yesterday morning, and that's continuing tonight, so I'll head on over and see what's happened since I left. I believe the title character is poised to lose his mind "for good this time".

Friday, December 15, 2006

My lunch basket.

The Haywards.

The tombstones.

My front room.
Here's the way my day is shaping up:

Wake up, dress, walk the 15 minutes through the woods to Colony Hall dining room.

Eat a huge breakfast (pancakes, omelet, yogurt & granola, bacon, muffins, scones) and chat with other Fellows.

Walk back to studio.

Start working. Mostly, I'm working on a new musical, Gloryana, an original story based loosely on a racial shooting in Tennessee in the '80s and the circus that erupted around it. Not as gloomy as it sounds, really. For now, the work is structure, structure, structure— my floor is covered with index cards.

11:00AM or so
Switch gears, read some research materials or listen to some music.

Some more writing.

Listen for the truck that delivers my lunch in a brightly-colored picnic basket.

More writing as I snack on the contents of the basket.

Break, shower, nap, pluck at my guitar which I'm trying to learn.

More work.

Get ready to go back to Colony Hall, to where I must return the picnic basket by 6:00.

Walk to Colony Hall.


Delicious dinner and sparkling conversation. Tonight was about a popular Philippino musical about a transgendered superhero who saves the country from aliens.

Varies. Hang out time, ping-pong, Scrabble, pool, go into town to the local bar; sometimes a Fellow will give a presentation, or sometimes just more writing.

Go to bed.
Wow. Today was my second full day here at the MacDowell Colony, and I'm still getting into the swing of things. Let me start at the beginning.

Two days ago, I took a 5-hour bus trip from NYC to Keene, NH, watching the landscape become rockier, foggier and birchier as we travelled north. Note: avoid the Springfield, MA bus station. Not nice. I was met by the Colony minivan, driven by overall Helpful Person and tour guide Blake, and we drove the half hour back to the Colony, which is in Peterborough, home of the Peterborough Players theater and the inspiration for Grover's Corners. First, I toured the grand Colony Hall, a wood-timbered lodge with ping-pong and pool and a piano and an enormous Christmas tree, where I sit now (also the Colony's only wireless internet). Then, I was driven to my studio, a rare live-in cabin called Barnard, which is perfect. A bedroom, a front room (both with fireplaces) and a bathroom, plus two(!) screened-in porches. Pictures above.

Most amazing is the wall of "tombstones" in the front room, the wooden tablets where every previous tenant has signed their name and dates. One of the first entries is Dubose and Dorothy Hayward, who I believe were working on the Porgy and Bess libretto at the time. I literally placed the tablet on the piano and backed swiftly away like I had opened the Ark and was in danger of immolation. Also on the tablets is Michael Chabon, one of my favorite authors, who was working on "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay" while in Barnard, one of my favorite novels. I know this because he told me over beers last night. Yes, kids, he's here, and wears Justice League of America T-shirts.

I'll post some pics, then continue.