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.