Sunday, December 27, 2009

Writers at Soapstone: Jessica Lamb

Jessica Lamb just finished a week-long residency in December of 2009.

“I try hard to keep my writing alive while I’m teaching, but I typically end up without a lot of juice by the end of the term. The prospect of a week at Soapstone gave me a huge lift during those busy weeks when I wasn’t finding energy for much of my own writing–I thought about it every day all fall, looking forward to feeding my need for solitude and creative renewal. I was aware, too, having spent time on retreat in the past, that there’s a danger in pinning one’s hopes and expectations on a particular outcome.

“I was careful not to have any lofty goals for the week–I told myself I just wanted to read and write and walk–but what I forgot to factor in when I pictured being there was my exhaustion. When I finally arrived there was a big brain-dead part of me that frankly didn’t want to read and write at all. If I’d been home I probably would have watched a lot of movies and baked a lot of cookies. But the truth is, I would have been avoiding writing not just because I was tired but because it can be damn hard to start up after a dry spell. The enormous value of being at Soapstone for me was that I stuck with myself and kept writing.

“I spent a lot of time just watching the creek. The water was clear with ice on the fringes for the first several days. Every so often a piece would break off and float serenely away. Details of the surroundings began appearing in my writing immediately–the changing sounds of the creek, the ticking of the wood stove, the stirring of the wind in the alder branches. After a few days it began to rain–hard–and the creek was soon hurtling downstream at a frenetic rate. Being next to moving water made me very aware of my own pulsing circulating blood and the flow of energies and emotions and thoughts. When the writing felt most satisfying, I was responding effortlessly to that flow without trying to move it in a certain direction. But the days felt expansive enough to apply myself in many different ways; I did some very focused revision as well.

“I’m amazed at all the careful thought that’s been put into making this refuge for women writers, and I’m forever grateful for the chance to spend time there.”

Jessica Lamb has taught writing for many years through the Northwest Writing Institute, Portland Community College, and the Literary Arts Writers in the Schools program. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Poetry, The Southern Review, and Willow Springs. Her first book of poems, Last Apples of Late Empires, was published in the spring of 2009 by Airlie Press, an Oregon publishing collective of which she is a founding member.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Writers at Soapstone: Phyllis Thompson

Phyllis Thompson was in residence for a week in February 2004. In reply to our standard evaluation question, "How did being at Soapstone affect your writing?" she wrote: "A hundred details the Soapstone community has constructed directly supported my writing. The shape and size and arrangement of the spaces. The amenities provided (variety of chairs, rugs, blankets, vacuums, wood, fans, olive oil left by a previous writer, dishes, refrigerator, and on and on). The careful organization of the relationship with the other writer. Combined, these details created my own ideal conditions for work: A comfortable and convenient protected space where I could concentrate on writing only, yet providing opportunity for enough meditative activity (like wood hauling and feeding the stove, attractive places to walk) that I could stay healthy, and the option of unforced interaction with a congenial person when that happened.

"I was in residence with someone I didn't previously know, and it worked out wonderfully. We shared interests in hiking, birds, and China, and differences in the exact nature of our work and experience which made for interesting conversation. More important for me, however, was the complete freedom I felt not to interact with her most days and nights. I'm sure our compatibility was partly a factor (for example, we found it easy to agree to cut back on our water use and how to do that when Soapstone Creek started to rise). Also, the Soapstone guidelines cautioning us to come ‘without expectations for spending evening or other free time with the other writer’ made me feel quite free to stay in my room as much as I liked, and to take my adventures out of the womb alone."

Phyllis Thompson has just finished the manuscript she began during her Soapstone residency about her seven years living on a sailboat, The Journey: A Philosopher at Sea. She has been a creative nonfiction writer (also cartographer, archaeological illustrator, and intercultural communication teacher) since 1980. A particular interest of hers is the creation of dramatic readings of her own work which she has performed in Oregon, Colorado, and Arizona, sometimes in collaboration with other artists. The Six Voices and a Gong group, created to perform pieces from her book Dear Alice: Letters Home from American Teachers Learning to Live in China, won the International Association of Audio Information Services Program of the Year Award for Entertainment in 2006.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Writers at Soapstone: Anjie Reynolds

Anjie Reynolds had a two-week residency at Soapstone in January of 2008. She came home to “kids’ birthday parties, house guests, my job, and a hubby stressed by dental school,” struggling with feeling frustrated that she didn’t get more writing done on her novel, but realizing that she had made headway, nonetheless.

“With all that thinking, I saw places where I needed to do more information-gathering and how the arc of the story should work.” Recently she headed to Eastern Kentucky, where the novel is set: “something I discovered I needed to do as I sat in the Wind Studio—I just had to get my husband through dental school and our family through a re-location to Ashland, Oregon, first.

“Since my novel wasn’t flowing, I turned to nonfiction. I sold 'Emergency' to NPR's San Francisco station, and it aired a month after I left Soapstone. It focused on a family health emergency that gave me a heightened awareness of the need for healthcare reform. Its airing led me to work with the Children's Defense Fund,, and the 100% Campaign. Not long after it aired, I testified in Sacramento before the California State Senate Budget Subcommittee with my kids at my side, urging the state not to cut children’s medical coverage.”

Anjie Seewer Reynolds currently lives in Ashland, Oregon, where she teaches courses at ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum and writes. Her work has appeared in The Sun, is forthcoming in The Christian Science Monitor, and has aired on KQED, San Francisco's NPR affiliate.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Writers at Soapstone: Rosalind Bell

Rosalind Bell wrote at Soapstone for two weeks in the winter of 2003. She wrote about her time there:

"I arrived expecting to bring my story to conclusion. What happened instead was that I realized the story was not ready to end. Words rushed out like that river roaring in front of my window as the story opened up. I left with sixty pages of new material.

Gwen Morgan and I didn’t know each other before we arrived, but we nixed the kitchen times starting on day one and co-habited the space like we'd been roomies for years. It was non-intrusive and worked well for us. The guidelines are ideal for most people who don't know each other; for renegades who like to color outside the lines when the feeling is mutual, they were still handy.

Back in Tacoma, I was not prepared for the comedown from such an exhilarating high. For days I wandered about in a sort of no-woman's land, searching for my bearings, longing for Soapstone. Sometime during our last week, Gwen and I fantasized about boarding up the place, refusing to leave, and threatening the two newbies with buckshot if they came any closer! Yes, we had it baaaaaad.”

Rosalind Bell has authored five screenplays, two novellas, a novel and a collection of short stories. She received a Callaloo Literary Journal Fellowship. A short film of one of her stories, "Tootie Pie," was screened at the Seattle International Film Festival in 2006 and The Port Townsend Film Festival in 2009. In 2007, her play The New Orleans Monologues was produced by the University of Puget Sound. She is currently an artist in residence at the university and is working on 1620 Bank Street, a play about love, family and integration at her Louisiana Catholic high school.


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Step Right Up!

Construction was completed last month on the new stairs to the Wind sleeping loft in the Soapstone cabin. We're extremely pleased with the project, which involved not only replacing the ladder to Wind with stairs, but also adding a bay to the meadow side of the cabin, including two round windows for additional light.

A special thank you to Stephen Slusarski, who did a wonderful job on the construction. You can also read about Andrews Architects, who designed the remodel, here and the Spirit Mountain Community Fund, which helped to fund the project, here.

This season's residents are now at Soapstone enjoying the newly enhanced cabin. Come on out and see it at our next
work day on June 26, 2010.