Tuesday, August 11, 2015

From My Desk in the 505, A Week at the Writer's Colony at Dairy Hollow.

I came to Writer's Colony to see if I could write a novel. What I found was... well, myself.

The Writers' Colony at Dairy Hollow is a special place for me and other writers.  I've been longing to spend a significant amount of time here for ages.  My first stay here was in July 2012, for just one night.  I was a guest speaker at the Colony for the Fleur Delicious Festival, and I was kindly offered a place to stay.  What I didn't realize then was this would become my secret bedroom, my lair for when I really needed to get the words out.

I was given space in the 505, a Frank Lloyd Wright designed Usonian house that was in the process of being renovated for writers to stay at the Colony.  The demand from interested writers had been so great that the three suites in the original Dairy Hollow house weren't going to be
be enough.  Thanks to gifts from Elise Roenigk and her late husband, Marty, the house next door was purchased and renovated back to its 1950 glory.

As I mentioned, this was in July 2012.  The structure was still being renovated at the time, and I went downstairs and had a look at what was going on.  This shot is from what's now Dupp's Den across the stairwell through Muse 4.

My suite was Muse 1.  Somehow in the transition, the decor here ended up somewhere between the 1950s and the 1980s.  And... well, I'll get to that in a moment.

Muse 1, when the property was acquired, wasn't the beauty it is today.  This photo shows the ridiculous floral wallpaper.  Thank goodness that's gone.

I was only able to stay one night, having to get up the next morning and get back to my day job.  Strangely enough, it was on that
drive back (which was slowed by construction and an accident and ended up lasting six hours!), I got a phone call... that was the first time I talked with Will McKay, and that's when I found he was offering me a chance to write a book.  A few weeks later, I'd write Arkansas Pie; A Delicious Slice of the Natural State in a month.

I wanted to get back from the moment I left.  There was something about this place.  But it would take two years and a decision to leave a steady day job for a permanent life of freelancing to get me back.

It was August 1st, 2014.  At five that afternoon, I walked out the door for the last time at the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism.  Around nine that night, Grav and I picked up keys and opened the door at the 505.  It was a rare weekend where no one else was at Dairy Hollow.
We'd come up to cover the Big Gay Wedding Reception and for me to spend some time sorting through the notes on my third book, Classic Eateries of the Arkansas Delta.

I do need to point out, it is not usual for couples to come to Writer's Colony.  We both appreciate the exception.  We're working journalists, and Writer's Colony has been extraordinarily accommodating for us.

Sadly, that was just a couple of days... there were a lot of things I had to handle before the book was done.  But sitting at my desk overlooking the lush green patch between the 505 and the Dairy Hollow house allowed me to get my thoughts together and properly outline and set the book.

We came back in February, another slow time for Writer's Colony.  This time, we were covering Mardi Gras and the Eureka Springs Chocolate Lovers Festival.  That Sunday evening, it rained and then it snowed, and we were snowed in at the 505.
Grav went out the next morning and walked for miles, capturing Eureka Springs in the snow.  I stayed in, wrote and relaxed watching the lava lamp against the white background outside.

Still, I hadn't had my chance yet to do what I really had hoped to accomplish -- actually spend time as a writer, not a journalist, in residence.  My schedule is often a hairy one, and I have to work hard to juggle everything -- from childcare to out-of-state assignment work.  On the morning of August 2nd, Grav and I set out from Magnolia Springs, Alabama and drove to Little Rock.  I went from there to Vilonia and spent time with Hunter, then dropped her off and arrived at Writer's Colony around 4:30 on the afternoon of the 3rd.

When I opened the door of Muse 1, I felt like I'd returned to my bedroom.  This is my place of solitude.

But this time, I did not come alone.

I brought the trunk.

For 25 years, I've towed this white trunk from place to place.  It is a time capsule.  Inside, there were momentos of my junior high and senior high years.  From the time I moved it into my first rent house, I knew I'd get a novel out of it.

But first, there was dinner.  Jana, the chef at Writer's Colony, prepares dinner Monday through Friday evenings.  You meet your fellow writers at 6pm each evening, then sit down to dinner.  And that dinner with Jackie, Aurora and Joe lasted
three and a half hours.  We had a lot to share!  Jana's cooking didn't hurt.  She's a diva.

I didn't really get into writing until late Tuesday morning.  I had assignments to finish up for a few clients, and I worried my way through them.  But then it came time to open the trunk.

Maybe someday I'll share what I found in there.  What I can tell you is over the course of four days, I wrote 26,000 words about what I found and the memories doing so had jostled.  I would break out of the reverie around 5:30 each day, put on my shoes and freshen up and join my fellow writers.  It was... cathartic.

Yes, there was a lot of writing.  Maybe someday some of it will end up in a book or memoirs, but not this time.  It doesn't matter.  Something far more valuable came of it.

These two deer were just standing between the 505 and the
Dairy Hollow house at six in the evening on August 3rd. They
weren't at all bothered by me.
See, I came here at this time for a specific reason.  I've been roaming this past year, trying to figure out where I'm supposed to be.  When I took that day job in January 2012, I was doing what I was meant to do, or so I thought.  I had established myself as an expert in food for the area, and I had my loyal following and my set routes and all these restaurateurs that would contact me with news to share.  When I left that behind, well, nature abhors a vacuum.  There are a lot of people out there now covering Little Rock, and doing an excellent job of it.

Writing books about food has sorta pigeonholed me.  When I jumped back into this, I felt I needed to regain my hold on that world.  But that's not where I belong.  Hear me out.

Reading the poems and stories I wrote in my youth opened up a lot of ideas to me.  First, I was not as good as I thought I was in high school back then.  Sure, my grammar was pretty swell and I had good story form.  But what I did with those stories was pretty ludicrous.  At one point about halfway through, I crawled into bed with the idea that I had been a real monster.

But finishing the trunk brought the realizations that I had grown, to the point where I didn't remember a lot of the things that had happened.  I used to scoff at the soap opera idea of someone forgetting an old lover or friend, but here I was, looking at photos and desperately trying to jog memories of those times.  And when they came, I realized how much I left behind.

I felt a bit bad about the friends that I only recently reconnected with, and some of the circumstances that I just let drop.  I also feel better, though, knowing I'm not the person whose memories are stored in that trunk any more.

And it opened up a whole lot more.  I switched gears and started writing and writing... blogs and articles and things I'd been meaning to get around to.  I finally left the confines of the house and went to the city's Yards and Yards of Yard Sales, had breakfast at The Filling Station, drove to Green Forest and enjoyed the musical stylings of Loree Pound Blackburn, had dinner with Jackie and introduced her to Caribe, headed out to survey The Farm ahead of next week's Hillberry Music Festival and dined late in the evening at Ermilio's.

I know my place again.  I may not be the novelist I always thought I'd end up being, but I am a pretty decent storyteller, and I have a talent for sharing my slice of the Earth.  This is what I was put here to do.

I'm leaving out in a few minutes.  Everything's packed.  The trunk is ready to go back in my car, where it'll once again return to its place in my library.  I may open it again someday.  Or maybe, it'll be Hunter's to open.  Who knows?

I don't think I could have had this look back at my childhood years of the late 80s anywhere else.  A hotel room would have been too antiseptic, and home has so many different distractions.  The Writers' Colony at Dairy Hollow provides a welcome oasis for people like me who feel compelled to write.  It is a beautiful resource, and I am so glad I had the chance to return.

And I expect I'll be back again soon.


Chef Jana’s amazing dinners at The Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow.


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