I mentioned in an earlier post that I was recently awarded a Creative Access Fellowship. This meant that I would take part in a monthlong residency at Ragdale House, located in gorgeous Lake Forest, Illinois.
I chose to go in January, because I am dumb.
Due to a family emergency, I needed to cut my trip shorter than expected. (Everything’s fine now.) I was sorry to leave, but at least my departure allowed me to be in New Jersey for the second half of the month—thereby avoiding a liquid nitrogen-like cold front that gripped the Midwest by its nether regions.
Here are three things I took away from my truncated residency.
Ragdale is Quiet
The great people who run Ragdale are singularly focused on making sure that the artists in residence can concentrate in silence. (Their efforts begin in the parking lot, where a sign admonishes anyone who might dare to speak above a whisper.) Ragdale is such a silent place, a writer can’t help but notice how loud he is.
I am a loud writer.
I have a habit of pounding the laptop keyboard as if it’s a manual typewriter.
I also talk to myself when I write.
I also tap on tabletops.
And bounce in my chair.
And walk around.
And dance around.
I am a living, breathing fidget spinner—and the tomblike silence of Ragdale made me notice each and every of my writer tics for the first time. It was quite a wake up call.
I did my best to wrestle my many noises under control. I succeeded mostly. Except for the typing. I ardently believe that typing should always be noisy—and you will never convince me otherwise.
Residency Living is a Lifestyle
This was my very first residency. This made me unique. Almost all of the residents at Ragdale had done residencies before.
A few of them had been at Ragdale before.
One had been at Ragdale three times.
Another resident had been living the life of a nomad since August—hopping from one residency program to another without once stopping off at her permanent address.
People discussed common residency friends whom they met at different times in different residency programs in different states and (on occasion) different countries. It was a little surreal. I think this was the way hoboes conversed back in the 1930s:
Hobo 1: Oh, sure, I know Hobo Joe Junkpan! Last I saw ’em, he was in Seattle or thereabouts.
Hobo 2: Have you come across Fred ‘Bean Can’ Abernathy?
Hobo 1: Yep. He was restin’ his bindle in Santa Fe jes’ last week.
Hobo 2: Santa Fe! At the Old Promenade near Miss Mary’s?
Hobo 1 & Hobo 2: Where else?
[Hobo 1 and Hobo 2 share a long hearty, boozy laugh.]
This did not make any of the residents stuck up or cliquey. Not at all. Everyone was friendly and nice and funny and we all had a fantastic time trading stories over dinner. But the shared bonds of the residency lifestyle made me want to invent a phony residency, just to see if I could get away with it.
“I just finished up a residency in North Korea,” I’d say. “It was really secluded. Food wasn’t so great. Beatings were common. Come to think of it, I’ve might have been in prison.”
Lake Forest is Wealthy
I have never been to Lake Forest before. That means I had never seen Real Wealth before. I’m not talking about McMansion Wealth. I’m also not talking about I’m-A-Dentist-And-My-Wife-Is-A-Lawyer-And-We-Renovated-This-Charming-Old-Victorian Wealth.
No sir. I’m talking Charles Foster Kane Wealth.
Windsor Castle Wealth.
The wealth was stunning—and it took me a while to not feel like I should kneel down and start shining everyone’s shoes.
Even the Lake Forest public library oozed prosperity. The periodicals room—the Skid Row of most every library—had a fireplace as tall as me. And it had an actual fire merrily burning away! As I sat there in a wingback chair watching the fire and admiring the 18th century art on the walls, I thought: My library’s periodical room is peopled by old men in saggy sweatpants reading The New York Post.
In short, you should totally go to Lake Forest just to sit in the library. Every library in the country should be just like it. Let’s get on that, America!
There’s about a jillion more things I can say about Ragdale—all of them great. The food? Great! The comfy rooms? Great! The residents? Great! The incredible staff? Super great!
So if you can find a way to stay at Ragdale, do it!
Just not in January. Because that would be dumb.