Three Things...

Three Things About My Fellowship at Ragdale

I stayed here!

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 sing.

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.

God-Almighty-Is-In-A-Lower-Tax-Bracket 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.

Family and/or Autobiography, Three Things...

Three Things I Do That Drive My Wife Insane (Sorry, Honey!)

My beloved wife, Ellen and I will be celebrating our 15th anniversary later this week. (According to Ellen, the traditional 15th anniversary gift is a kitchen remodel. I, on the other hand, think a more appropriate 15th anniversary gift is to pay a kid to cut the lawn.) Continue reading “Three Things I Do That Drive My Wife Insane (Sorry, Honey!)”

Three Things...

Three Things On My Bucket List

Harumph!
Harumph! (Groundhoggy grumpiness courtesy of International Business Times.)

The term “Bucket List” has become so common these days that most people have forgotten that it was popularized by one of the worst films of Jack Nicholson’s career. Since I don’t believe in inadvertently promoting bad movies (that is why you’ll never hear me say “something’s gotta give”) I would like to replace “Bucket List” with a term of my own:

The-Things-I-Would-Like-To-Do-At-Some-Point-In-My-Life-But-Have-Nothing-To-Do-With-My-Family-Or-Career-So-If-I-Don’t-Get-To-Do-Them-It-Really-Won’t-Be-A-Big-Deal List

As you can see, I prefer accuracy to brevity.

For your convenience, I’ve turned this term into a simple acronym:

TTIWLTDASPIMLBHNTDWMFOCSIIDGTDTIRWBABD List

Here are three things that top my list:

Visit Punxsutawney Phil

Phyllis would be great, too!
Punxsutawney Phyllis would be great, too!

I love groundhogs. They are cute, cantankerous, and always wear a “Now, what the hell do you want?” expression on their faces. So it seems only logical that I would want to go to Pennsylvania, get up at the crack of dawn, and stand in the frigid cold to catch a glimpse of the most famous groundhog of all time.

My wife, Ellen, thinks I’m insane for wanting to do this — and she has told me in no uncertain terms that she would never, ever, ever in a hillion-jillion-zillion years accompany me on such an excursion. My son, Alex, is more open to the idea of such a trip, but I think that’s because Groundhog Day often falls on a school day.

When I tell other people about my dream of visiting Punxsutawney on the groundhoggiest day of the year, their reactions range from mild amusement to a horrified, “I don’t know-you-anymore!” style of bewilderment.

There is one exception: My mom. She not only endorses such a trip, but also insists on going with me. This is kind of surprising because Mom is whimsically challenged. (She would loudly and proudly agree with this assessment, by the way.) Yet going on a several-hundred-mile journey to see an animal that Mom can find in her own backyard… And then listening to this animal pretending to predict the weather… Well, that’s about as whimsical as it gets.

So I don’t understand Mom’s motives, but, someday soon, she will be welcome company.

Run For President

Let me clarify straightaway that I don’t want to win; I just want to run. My reasoning is simple: I like meeting people, Ellen says I look good in a tie, and a presidential campaign seems like a great way to promote non-presidential things. You know, like a book.

I could certainly do better than this scumbag
Even if I accidentally did win, I could never be a worse president than this guy.

Since I have no intention of winning, I can say whatever I want during the campaign. In fact, saying whatever I want will pretty much guarantee that I won’t win. (I am a student of history and can assert that no presidential candidate ever won an election by calling another candidate a “poopie head.” My first campaign promise: I will publicly and repeatedly call every xenophobic candidate a “poopie head.” You’re welcome. God bless America!)

I also want to run because I came up with a nifty campaign slogan:

Get a Leg Up With Allegra!

I look forward to your lack of support in 2020.

Cuddle a Capybara

Weighing in at about 100 pounds, a capybara is the world’s largest rodent. Capybaras are social, curious, friendly, and adorable. Considering my pro-rodent (prodent) beliefs, I should – scratch that – I must find an opportunity to hug this Godzilla guinea pig.

So what do you have on your Bucket List?

Write me a comment and let me know!