Re Hill house
December now, October then, 2011
Dear Amanda and Brad,
Bellaire, Traverse City, Petoskey,
Poor Mancelona and East Jordan, even take pity on Charlevoix,
Hello little Jordan River, Grand Traverse Bay, grand Lake Michigan, hi, reader
Quite an audience~
I do miss it there! I barely left the hill house during my stay, but the entire region is so vivid in my mind; I don't know why exactly but I'm moved to remember all the places, floating in bigger places, and how they're peopled. In part it has to do with the writing project I was working on at the residency, about the gray-green area between nature and culture especially characteristic of the Great Lakes region. So I wandered about the whole area a lot, every day in fact, even though I was practically always just roaming around the log house up the hill there from Graves Crossing, pacing down from the loft where I worked onto the back porch to the porch swing or right out into the yellow woods with house-shoes on to shuck the leaves a few minutes before drifting back in to the computer.
The area's called Northwest Lower Michigan in deference to the Upper Peninsula I believe. This past October was a beautiful time to be there - so mild but vibrant. The first nine days were perfect and identical in every sense - the light and sky looked the same, the air felt the same, the trees and brush smelled the same, the birds and road sounded the same, and my cooking tasted the exact same. Then it rained. And within a couple days a wide view appeared where before birch and maple and a couple other trees' leaves I didn't know had spent their one year aloft. It was a view to the west where I could see a long ridge, and I always imagined Lake Michigan was right over it, though in fact it was almost two hours past. But the closeness of thing is so proportional to its size I think, and Lake Michigan is felt all over northwest, lower, Michigan. I made a habit of stepping out back to watch the sun set over that ridge into the unseen lake almost every day around 5:30, before giving another hour of work a go, thinking of dinner and internet.
Really the most notable thing, the only thing about I wrote in the log book, is this other ridge, the top cliff-side of the hill that Hill House is on, about a 7 minute walk through the woods due south. You keep the place directly at your back, walk in the trees, hit a little gravel road, walk up, and there, there’s a clearing with a drop and beautiful vista that seemed almost purely metaphoric and moving in ‘perspective.’ What else is there to say?, except I even baked and slept well, and most importantly, didn’t fret when I didn’t work. The process behind creating work is volatile and needs neither pampering nor depravity, and it’s easy to err on both sides. I’m really thankful to and encouraged by ISLAND’s residency in part just for its balance of support and warmth, independence and straight-forwardness.
The challenge is really then redefined for the artist-in-residence, who’s free to be more grounded and accomplish what they want in quiet deals with themselves. I don’t know if I was extra-ordinarily ‘productive’ in my time at Hill House, but I’ve never come closer to that place where you can sustain a real creativity without a bad preoccupation with the final product – special thing; and I’ll continue to call up the place of that place and hope to get back there again.