Monday, March 12, 2012

The Hill House Residency: Time on the River

English poet Sir Henry Wotton called fishing "idle time not idly spent." I would venture to say the same of my residency at the Hill House. While Wotton cast a line in hopes of luring speckle-backed trout to his hook, I wished to catch something much more slippery and elusive: a serious case of inspiration. If it could be found anywhere, it would be found there, I figured.


But the task proved more difficult than anticipated. In that quiet solitude, thoughts unreeled from my head into a big messy pile so confoundedly entangled that I broke the line, balled up the mess, disposed of it, and made a fresh start. Which invariably re-tangled itself and had to be broke again and again, until finally all those loops and twists and knots started making sense to me and I was able to unravel them down to one straight, sleek line.

I would like to say that with my thoughts thus ordered, inspiration poured forth from the heavens and I immersed entirely in my work. But that's not the way things function in reality. (Or at least that's not the way I function in reality.) Instead, I found myself floating down a serpentine stream of occurrences: dyeing pounds of wool for spinning into yarn, then reclining on the couch with WNMC's Afternoon Jazz issuing from the radio; coaxing the "Moonlight Sonata" from the piano, then wandering along the snow-clad lands of the Jordan River; scribbling thoughts in my journal, then heading to Short's Brewery for the foot-stomping Orpheum Bell show. Alternately laughing over the antics of chickadees, crying over freshly lost love, boisterously singing to the German Biergarten record, solemnly reflecting on disturbing world events.

I did find inspiration, but not where I expected. It was not stretched across the expansive uplands of Antrim County with its panoramic vistas, nor suspended in the brilliant sunset for all the world to see. Rather, inspiration appeared in fleeting glances like those quick silver fish darting through the Jordan. The timeless rushing of the river; decaying stumps of a long-gone railway bridge; a short glimpse of the largest, most magnificent raven ever imaginable- these things pulled inspiration wet and squirming to my hand. Allure lay in poignant details, not in panoramic pictures.

Ultimately, that is what made my experience so valuable- the details. A crock of home-made chocolate chip cookies waiting on the table, the spacious living room with its rich wooden tones, an eclectic collection of vinyls, soft beds covered with warm quilts. A confluence of countless elements enveloped my senses and put my mind at ease in that unfamiliar setting, dissolving my fears and worries.

And so, I can assuredly say that my "idle time" passed in a manner that served me best. I certainly was not hyper-productive, but I feel that too much emphasis is placed on productivity in these modern times, anyways. Life should not be about maximizing outputs and crunching time into efficient little blocks. Just as the value of fishing is not measured by the cubic inches of meat brought home, so the value of my residency is not measured by the pounds of wool I spun into yarn. There is an ethereal quality that factors in, so light and airy that it bears no calculable weight in the material sense; yet holds considerable gravity for the mind and spirit.

I know that this intangible something will continue to inform my decisions long after leaving the Hill House. Those two weeks will brightly bob along the surface my memory for as long as I'm able to remember. They were truly a gift.

—Maria Wesserle


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