Laying Fallow

I arrived yesterday at a residency up in Vermont late in the evening. I check in and take my bags to my small room in the living quarters. Taped to the wall above the desk I see this:

tiny cal sq

It’s a tiny January calendar cut out and taped to the wall.

Because it might be difficult through just the picture to get a sense of size here is the same tiny January calendar as I see it if I back up a few feet:

tiny cal with desk

See? So tiny.

From the moment I saw it, this tiny little calendar tickled me. Centered as it is above the writing space it is both a focal point and a small bit of data in a vast empty room. In moments like this residency time can feel this way – present but distant and contained. In spaces like these my sense of deadlines and schedules is always more fluid. I feel myself moving on the order of human to human rather than human to institution.

When I lived in Paris for three months while studying Roy Hart voice work I became a kind of monk. I woke every morning at 6:30am and made myself breakfast and lunch in a slow methodical fashion. I placed a book and a notebook in my bag and got on the train for classes. At the end of the day I rode home and placed these same items on a table in the exact same place. Every Wednesday, our one half day during the week, I opened the notebook to a list of places I’d determined would be interesting to see and I went to one of them. At night I exercised according to a schedule taped to the wall, made myself dinner and drank a glass and a half of wine, listened to a podcast and then wrote in a journal before going to sleep promptly at 10:30.

The three months I was in Paris I was cleaner than I’ve ever been in my life. Each weekend I washed my tiny apartment from top to bottom. I cleaned floors and backsplashes and under beds. I made all my meals (but for two at the start and end) by hand. I ate slowly. I took an hour on Sundays just to stretch. I walked a ton. I wrote and wrote and wrote.

When thinking about my days there was a kind of familiarity in such repetitive scheduling that was comforting. There was a way in which I never had to plan beyond a 12-hour stretch at a time. I made small changes to my workout schedules, added or took away attractions on my list. I listened to an extra podcast or wrote only a few lines of “I have nothing to say today” if it was true. And I say this to point out that this routine didn’t feel punishing. Quite the opposite. It was perhaps the calmest I’ve ever been.

In certain kinds of ways it was a very productive time. I wrote a lot and learned a lot and thought a lot and was in great shape. But it was also a kind of fallow period. I had lots of projects on the horizon that I knew I would return to but I didn’t make much contact with those collaborators. I didn’t write up plans and ideas for rehearsals. I didn’t think much about the specifics of the actual pieces.

I just sort of readied myself to be ready.

I wonder if I hadn’t been in classes, hadn’t had an obvious check mark for the “I’m being productive” box, if I could have given myself that kind of schedule and time to be ready…

I wonder if I’d tried to fill every moment outside of those classes with high intensity activities and meetings and stuff if the class work would have sunk in quite as deeply…

I wonder if the insane burst of things that came after this quiet fallow phase would have been quite as insane or quite as much of a burst.

If I look at the past few months there are ways in which things have had a similar shape to that time in France. My days are filled with the deepest kinds of interactions and lessons and then I stay in most evenings. I have been cleaning far more often and with far less angst than usual. I stand over the sink and wash each dish and feel the water on my hands. I eat carefully, with great choice, and make almost all of it from scratch. For the first time in a long time I read for pleasure and catch myself talking in long slow monologues and writing and writing and writing.

And, weirdly, I worry if this is enough of a life. If such smallness is catching. If I must stare at the clock and the calendar and rev myself up for more.

For now I will content myself to stare at this tiny calendar that will carry me through the weekend and thank whoever left it for making it so small.

– A

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