A Writer’s Residency: Like Fishing?
Guest Post by Tele Aadsen
Six weeks into my time with the North Cascades Institute, I’m thinking that a residency is something like a fishing season. As on the F/V Nerka, I rely on routine here in Dogwood 2. Instead of getting the gear in the water at first light, though, I’m working on each day’s opposing end, tap-tapping my way into tomorrow. I’ve second-guessed this process – you’re supposed to get up early and working first thing in the morning; all the Real Writers say so! – and trust me, I’ve tried. But my words are nocturnal creatures. If writing memoir is to roam murky trails of memory, casting a light for those stories that glimmer and wink back through the darkness, perhaps there’s a grace in welcoming the new year’s lengthening days this way, sitting with words long into the night.
An admission: my first full week up here, I didn’t walk a single trail. Not to check out the waterfall at the top of Sourdough Creek Trail, not dainty quarter-mile Deer Creek Trail, and I didn’t even know about Peninsula Trail, just outside the dining hall. I told myself I was here with a book to write, no time for walks! That, too, was like the fishing season, when we fling ourselves at the July king salmon opening until our bodies must impose their own limits. We leave them no other choice. Now, after too many days of sitting, I take time to appreciate these surroundings. Hopeful of seeing another bobcat, I move slowly, testing each footfall for stealth. (And once succeeding, accidentally sneaking up on the poor Christmas Bird Count gentlemen.) There’s always a rainproof notebook in my back pocket, ready to corral the ideas that inevitably appear when you step away from your desk. One day I walked in the snow. It didn’t stick – little has – but turned my hair white and refreshed one of my earliest memories: pressing my face against the window to watch enormous flakes surge down, stunned to learn that snow could steal the black from the night sky.
Late at night, when I don’t think I have anything more to give, I step away from the desk and curl up on the little green loveseat on the other side of the room. If you’ve sent a letter, this is when I open it. At the end of the day, as a reward. Even if we’ve never spoken and wouldn’t know each other’s timbres, your voice fills this little haven. The voice of a friend. I lean into your pages like a conversation, then, with Amy Gulick’s Salmon in the Trees as an inspiring desk, I write you back. It is a conversation, and like any good visit with a friend, I feel renewed when we say goodbye. Envelope sealed, stamped, and leaning against the jade plant on the coffee table where I can’t miss it, I go back to my desk and write one more thing.
It’s been said in so many ways that writing is lonely, solitary work. No one else can do this for us. Whether in moments of triumph or despair, we’re all staring at our screens, our notebooks, alone. Yet I don’t feel alone. From the work of favorite authors lining the kitchen counter (“Your literary bloodline,” novelist Jim Lynch calls them), the postcards brightening the fridge, to the North Cascades Institute’s explicit expression of belief through opportunity, I feel all of you here with me. This, too, like fishing: it’s when we’re able to step away, tossing phones into a drawer and sliding laptops into their cases, that I feel most connected to my surroundings, the people in my heart, myself.
Tele Aadsen is NCI’s Artist-in-Residence, where she is writing her first book, Hooked: A Season of Love, Sex, and Salmon (Riverhead Books, 2015). You can follow her work at www.teleaadsen.com, and find writing-related resources on her Facebook page. Her name is pronounced “Tell-ah,” and she is overly fond of corvids.