Gifts of Time: Ingrid Norton on Her Residency
May 18th-June 2nd, 2011
My third day here and already a blur of thought and reflection, the work spooling out of me, the wonderful attention of reading, the thin wispy trees and subtle changes of light, the clarity of thinking about my life, the way Detroit settles and is so deep and real to my memory.
--Journal Kept at Hill House, May 2011
The depth and yield of my days at Hill House stagger me. Hill House is where I finished the rough draft of a novel and where I printed and read through the manuscript for the first time. Each day at the residency was dense with thought and creation. Journals from my two weeks at Hill House contain obsessive notes about my own novel-in-progress, dissections of the half dozen books I read while there, descriptions of walks in the woods and of Michigan’s tumultuous spring weather, recollections of meals I cooked, and memories and ideas I reflected upon. Each day, I discovered anew the rich current of work that flows from dedicated space and time…
A huge thunderstorm broke forth after I finished drafting a dramatic scene. Doors slammed with the changing air pressure. I ran out to my car to retrieve a Sherwood Anderson novel before the downpour began. Inside, the lights flickered and then went out completely. I stood out on the deck listening to the thunder and watching long shots of lightning blaze through the blackened air. That night, I read myself to sleep by candlelight.
The next day, returning from a walk along the Jordan River, I scraped the title of my manuscript, BACK IN D, into the dirt road that leads to Hill House.
My hunger for concentration was fortified by the small, harmonious pleasures of the house itself. On another morning as I chopped ingredients for an omelet in the kitchen, the way a difficult chapter should resolve came into my mind. I jotted it down in the open notebook I’d placed on the counter and, after eating, carried my notes upstairs and began an afternoon of work.
That moment--the notebook beside the cutting board--symbolizes for me the subtle and renewing creative process that occurred at Hill House. When distractions are dispersed, each moment begins to merge with one’s work. To support that process is its own generosity and art. I remain astounded at how wonderfully Amanda and Brad Kik (and the whole ISLAND team) cultivate the residency program and labor to promote wisdom and community in northwest Michigan. Hill House resounds with creativity and love: that is true of the large principles of sustainability, local food, and attentiveness to region which animate the space and program. It also manifests itself in countless small, considerate details: the fresh local food, stack of regional maps, readied printer, extra guitar picks, and carefully chosen library of literature and cookbooks.
Most salutary to the experience is a sense of trust. To be given freedom to work is a tremendous gift. It is essential--but also extremely rare. To vouchsafe one’s energy to artistic creation--whether of literature, art, or music--is a demanding and uncertain proposition. It requires negotiation, sacrifice, and invention: Not only on the page or canvas, but in the prosaic domains of scheduling and finance; in the intricate arena of one’s relationships and mental states. There are many forces that act to circumscribe ambition, blunt imagination, and discourage risk. It can be difficult to feel one has the world’s permission to devote energy to projects of uncertain outcome. Even in the most nurturing of circumstances, an artist continually pushes against the grain to find time, space, and self-belief. By clearing the usual obstacles, the residency at Hill House creates terrain open to reflection and endeavor.
One’s great task is to carry that energy forward. As I prepare to rewrite the manuscript and take on new projects over the coming year, I am aware of needing to steel myself and gather all the support I can. I’m deeply fortunate to call on Hill House’s bounty of time and trust as I continue down that long and wending road. Equally comforting and enlivening is the knowledge that as I embark on new ventures in my own work, Hill House continues to spread its light and expand its mission.