When I first landed in Grand Island, Nebraska (population 50,000), the first thing I said out loud was: dear nebraska, I want my chest to be flat like you.
My roommate and I (Selina Josephs, the magnificent collage artist/painter) was traveling with me. We both got accepted to the writing/artist residency called Art Farm and were venturing to the town of Marquette (population 228) to spend two weeks savoring the flatlands and creating like mad.
Ed Dadey, the owner of Art Farm, picked us up at the tiniest of airports where only one conveyor belt rotated luggage. There were no skyscrapers here. All the clouds roamed without interrogation of bolts and metal. The sky was like an open stadium.
After a trip to purchase groceries, we made our way to this curious land in the middle of nowhere, where the grass stretched tall like preening models. Ed dropped us off by the house we'd be living in called Victoria.
Three stories tall, many walls unfinished. It was vast and haunted and magical and overwhelming. Throughout my days there, I got accustomed to the sound of mice traveling above me. These rodents were bold; chasing each other around the house; sipping water out of available mugs. There were also the raccoons. A family lived in the house. In the house. We could hear the babies chatter and the mother, we called Ricki, left each night at dusk and came back at dawn. I saw her once, as I rocked back in forth in a beautiful rocking chair in Selina's art studio, while I typed away words gathering momentum on my computer. I heard the scratching of nails against wood, looked up and saw Ricki: climbing up the wall, slinking into a hole in the ceiling.
Add to the mix of wildlife: chiggers (mites which burrow beneath your skin, lay eggs, and create a monstrous display of itchiness), ticks (resilient-- even landing on a citronella candle meant to ward them away), flies, flies, flies, ants, mosquitoes.......
Monday through Thursday for three hours, we worked on the farm. Tasks included gardening, moving furniture, digging holes, planting trees, and my personal favorite: carpentry. I picked wood, measured it, cut it down using a beloved and sexy band saw, sanded it down, then hammered into place.
Then, the day was ours. Each artist worked in their studio; I alternated writing at the desk in my bedroom overlooking the farm, writing in the library or at a cafe called Espressions & More in Aurora (population 4,000). At the cafe, I drank delicious coffee, ate homemade sandwiches and met several locals. Here is where I found much inspiration for what I was working on. I wanted to infuse this Nebraska in my work. Hear stories of the humans who lived here.
During my time at Art Farm, I wrote over 15,000 words, ten poems and several letters mailed away. I skinny dipped in a beautiful lake beneath (what felt like) a million stars and called out my spirit animal (elephant) at a bonfire where the planet Venus glowed above us.
I (semi) conquered my fear of heights as I climbed a ladder that went to nowhere (an art installation by a previous resident), played my ukelele on a rooftop and swung from a very high swing shaped like a unicorn, hung in a floating barn.
Here in Nebraska, I found bits of my wild. A wild that had been stifled and punished and hidden for many years. A wild that always got me in trouble. A wild that put me in rehab at nineteen. A wild that knocked me out of relationships. A wild that bullied me back into drugs many many times.
I thought the wild inside me was bad, so I ignored it. Stopped going to parties, talking to strangers, trusting people. But in Nebraska, I was reminded that there is a good wild too. One which reminds me other ways I can celebrate my body, even my nude, in ways that won't make me feel tarnished and scraped. A wild that reminds me the impact of words and creativity. A wild that encourages real friendships, allowing me to fall in love everyday with the humans around me. A wild that validated my existence.
I'm writing a novel. For years, I would not say this "n" word, for fear of what that meant. I've been writing this novel for over eight years. By the end of this summer, I will be done with my first draft.
On my final night at Art Farm, we opened up our studios and went on a creative crawl......viewing everyone's art, hearing the words of the writers. It was incredible. I presented some of the words I had written during my two weeks, while Laura from Aurora (an enthusiastic local and wonderful human) played guitar.
I cried while viewing the art of my favorite oil painter called Lindsay. She captured many of the spaces on Art Farm, infusing each painting with the energy one can not see in each room, but it is certainly felt. During my time at Art Farm, Lindsay was the one who kept reminding me the importance of being present. So much of my wild came out because of her.
Art Farm residency woke up so much of me, that I am still trying to articulate. Being back in Brooklyn has been an adjustment. The sky is zipped up in ways I never really noticed before Nebraska land. People move a lot faster here and when they ask you how you're doing, they do not wait for the answer. I've been writing less, but trying not to be too hard on myself. I learned that I may not be that hippie I thought I was, but I am a hybrid of farm skin/city scum/open-road eyes. I'm still not quite sure where I belong or even how to be. But this residency taught me about resilience, facing my fears and the magnitude of trust. What a beautiful, powerful realization.
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