a. raymond johnson

gadabout | bon vivant | writer

The Colony

The month of September was spent at the Millay Colony, doing a writing residence.  For those who aren’t familiar with “writing camp”, there are residencies all over the place where you submit an application — generally a writing sample and a one-page proposal for what you want to work on — and then if the committee happens to like your stuff, you are picked to come to live and work, usually for free (though some cost a modest amount and a few others give small stipends).  All I had to pay for was a plane ticket, then I got to spend a month up on a small mountain, living and eating for free while I wrote everyday.  You don’t have to attend any lectures, there are no presentations or readings, it’s just time and space to do your thing.  It is, in a word, a privilege.  One that I soaked up and enjoyed every second of, even as it wore me the hell out at other times.

At the Colony, I had a bedroom and a studio.  The tradition is that artists and writers who’ve stayed and worked there carve their name and date into the doorframe, and one of the first names I noticed on my studio door was a friend from a residency stay at Ragdale last year (hi Nora!).  I started to make my way around the etchings, looking for other familiar names and contemplating where I would leave my own mark, when I noticed off to the side, by the hinge, was another name I knew:  Peter Hedges.  In 1991, I checked out What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? from the library because of a profile on Hedges I read in Sassy magazine.  I loved it and checked it out from the library two or three more times throughout high school to re-read (it was the only way I knew to get it, the book was absent from the shelves of Waldenbooks and B. Dalton in the mall, my only other source of reading material).  One of the greatest gifts I received during a courtship several years ago was a hardcover copy with the same familiar cover I knew and loved, tracked down on ebay for me.

The date on his name is 1992, so I imagine him working on his second novel, An Ocean in Iowa, which I also enjoyed.  He quit novels for a while to go have a wildly successful screenwriting career in Hollywood, but turns out he just released a new novel this year, which I’m now really looking forward to picking up.  Most of the measures of success in writing have to do with publication, but last month, I got to enjoy a small marker of progress: writing my name in the doorframe next to an author I adore.

Posted in writing by a. raymond johnson on October 14th, 2010 at 5:05 pm.


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9 Replies

  1. Sounds amazing, Raymond. Great pic and I can’t wait to read the fruits of your labor!

  2. Sherry Oct 15th 2010

    I saw the name Peter Hedges carved in your photo, and I got all gushy with butterflies in my stomach. I read that same Sassy profile – but my public library didn’t have the book, so I picked up my copy of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? at the Waldenbooks in the mall. Now I want to go read it again. Maybe it’s just a cool coincidence, but good things will come of it for you, I hope.

  3. a. raymond johnson Oct 15th 2010

    Sherry! thank you for reading this: I thought of you too when I found his name, because I remember us discussing our shared love for Peter Hedges in college! I decided to take it as a good omen as well, glad you agree.

  4. Dear A. Raymond Johnson,

    I loved my days at the Millay Colony and, yes, I was working on my first draft of “An Ocean in Iowa” at that time. I also started writing the screenplay for GIlbert Grape on my second day there, so it was a busy, happy, snowy month. I’d forgotten that we all carved our names on the doorframe. Thanks for your kind words about my writing. I wish you all the best.

    Peter Hedges

  5. a. raymond johnson Oct 17th 2010

    I am flattered you took the time to read what I wrote about you! Thank you, and I selfishly hope you continue writing great things.

  6. love this. love you.

  7. Wow, that’s pretty cool! You’ll probably cringe when you read my blog, my grammar is… let’s just say… not up to par! lol I try! *sigh* ;-)

  8. hsofia Nov 1st 2010

    Don’t know why it took me so long to realize you had your own blog, but I love it. This is a sweet post, and a little serendipitous for me because I was at a used books store this weekend and came across a copy of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?. I’ve never seen the movie and thought, “I should read this.” But I wasn’t sure if I’d get to it in a timely fashion, so left the store empty handed. I’m gonna go back and get it.

  9. a. raymond johnson Nov 1st 2010

    Thanks, Hafidha. I don’t blog here frequently, just post something once or twice a month, it’s more my online calling card with compiled writing samples! This reminds me I need to get my copy of The Heights.

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