I used to caretake a residency program. For five years, I watched new artists - come, create, expand, and go again - each month. Despite the pattern of a "typical residency month" repeating itself every 30 days, I'd empathize with participants' experience every session, vicariously living each week of the artists' development with them.
More often than not, an artist would bring him or herself to the residency to gain "time and space" to develop a body of work, to research a particular project, to do something outside their normal vein, and not often (but I think just as important) to clean the space in one's head. I've even known artists who've created their own "residency" on a trip, in their own studio or home just to capture a time and space which allowed them to intensify their focus and minimize distraction.
And that's precisely what I need now: an actual (not vicarious) space and time to do some art/work. You see, in the last year I've moved from caretaking that artist-in-residence program to caretaking the residential properties of a family. And since the physical and mental move, I haven't been able to unpack a space in my house, or in my mind, to work on making art. So I knew I needed a residency, my first residency, and I am proud to say that I've been accepted into the Artists Off Grid 2018 program this summer.
Even with insider experience, it's as though I'm peering past the edge of the fantastic map where "dragons" are rumored to be. (I shouldn't really have a reason to be nervous, I know the lay of this land - in fact, I wrote three articles on it!) Because this residency is atypical, situated in the wilds of Colorado where there is no electricity, running water, or cell phone service, the Artists Off Grid director, Caitlin Hurd has generously provided us participants with practical resources, connecting personally with each of us, as well as introducing us to each other. This has opened up a sense of welcome camaraderie before we all set foot on the ground. But there's pit in my stomach - it sounds like a boulder heaved into a still pond: the swallow, not the splash - that I'm missing something. A deep ker-whlump where... where giddy anticipation should be.
Being off-grid is terra incognita for me; with eyeballs usually focused on a panoramic or hand-held screen, this will be extraordinarily out of my comfort zone. As an antidote to my anxiety, I make lists: Not just any old packing list though, I have a super-deluxe Who's Bringing What spreadsheet which has captured comments and ideas of discussions that we participants have shared in our online group. Then there's the Priorities: Things To Buy/Do Before I Take Off list. Carts from online purveyors like Amazon/Moosejaw/REI/Ebay/Target/EMS with items on hold. Projects I MUST GET DONE For My Boss list. (Come to think of it, making a list of all of my lists isn't soothing those anxious undercurrents.)
Nevertheless I forge ahead with the external trappings of preparation, anyway. An assortment of art and camping supplies are piling on a pop-up table by my front door. Day by day closer to departure, I think I may need to take a minute to inhale, exhale... maybe arrange the sleeping bag and protein bars and plein air painting box in still life fashion. Picking up each item to consider do I really need this?, I'm digging closer to the bottom of that empty hole. I've not been giving myself permission to fully ENTER INTO any art-making space and time for the last year.
As beastly selfish as I tell myself that sounds, perhaps that's what I'm really nervous about - not the unknown entities at the edges of my plans, the dragons inside of me. Not how much art I'm going to focus on making without distraction, but HOW I'm going to focus WITHOUT distraction? Not what will keep my short attention span excited, but how will I engage my attention to span hours of slowly changing light? I've been on travels before, where the different environment and time with myself was so profound that the fitting into and unfolding of my experiences were indeed life-changing. Not only am I earnestly looking forward to exploring this new location through my sketches, hikes, and breaths in the middle of the country, but I now also realize it will describe parts unknown in the middle of me.