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.