No friends, no fear. (part two of an in-progress series)

Newark Penn Station, before boarding Amtrak to Albany.


People were the problem.

Four weeks in the Adirondacks were the solution.

No wifi. No cell phone service. No accessible town with coffee shops or bars or bodegas that sold fistfuls of Laffy Taffy and Swedish Fish for fifty cents.

One month at a lake-front artists colony in a small hamlet two hours north of Albany and one hour south of the Canadian border. Me, 15 other artists and one rule.

“No friends.”

My husband B was confused.

“Yeah, well you said you don’t know any of the other residents who’ll be there.”

“Exactly. And I don’t intend to know them.”

Twenty-two years together has taught me that silent B = need for enlightenment by me. B continued to navigate the morning traffic from our home to Penn Station in Newark while I explained the opportunity offered by the residency.

“I’m going there to work, not make friends. I’ll be polite, but people are a time-suck. They breathe my air. Making friends will keep me from getting my work done. I’ll end up hating myself for being a slacker.”

B exhaled. Translation: My wife has issues.

I needed to make clear I knew what was best.

“This residency is a gift. I will disconnect from everything and everyone. It’s going to be me and my work, 24/7, for four weeks. That’s it.”

Priority numero uno during my residency was to be revising my second fiction manuscript. It was daunting, but it was familiar work and the obvious choice for the top slot of my to-do list: I had tons of experience futzing with my fiction. I had also packed the rough and incomplete script for my one-woman show. I resented that project. That project reminded me of the dangers of opening my big mouth: 12 months prior I’d announced I was taking my stories to the stage.

I hadn’t thought anyone would take me seriously. I was an on-the-page fiction writer, not a writer for the stage, and not a performer. Yet the one-woman show was the project that kept gaining momentum and earned me an invitation to the NJ Womens Playwright Program. The project scared me. It was going to be the body of work that would finally reveal that I was not a writer nor playwright nor artist, but a fraud. And thanks to my big mouth, people knew about it—including the playwright program that expected a rough draft before the fall—and there was the expectation that I would return from my residency with something to deliver.

The residency offered me four weeks to tackle these projects. I was going to make the most of the opportunity by being completely disciplined. I needed to be a machine and produce. As much as I feared my work, I knew the lack of output would also reveal my greatest fear: that I was not up to any of the tasks before me.

I needed to transform myself into Wonder Woman: able to work in isolation, eliminate all distraction, and detach emotionally. I did not need friends. Making friends required too much time, revealing, and risk of rejection. It would be safer and more efficient to keep people at a distance.

B drove us closer to Penn Station where I would catch the 10:32 am Amtrak that would begin the journey to that remote property on a lake in the Adirondacks region of New York state with a bunch of strangers. The disconnection from my daily life and my goal to remain detached throughout the residency were the answers to my wish for uninterrupted time for my work. Yet if people and connections and contact were the problems I was leaving behind, why was I scared shitless?

(End of the second in a series of related posts.)

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