When I was granted this three-month residency at the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, I had no idea what to expect, no idea at all. I wasn’t worried: I had three months alone to concentrate on my writing, and plenty of writing I wanted to get done. I couldn’t wait. Yes, there were going to be eight or ten other writers and artists, but they might be anything: tormented genii, workaholics, wasters, misfits. Doubtless there would be personality clashes, cliques and stony silences. It goes with the territory. But what the heck - at 65, I have learned to be self-contained when I need to be. I like solitude. I seek it out. I’m an artist: why wouldn’t I? At the same time I enjoy good company – just so long as I can close my door when I’ve had enough. Okay, thanks for coming by… and see you later, guys.
What I didn’t expect – it never entered my head - was to be part of a group who got on so well. Since the end of January we’ve met every Wednesday and, each week, have had progressively better times together. Three months later I really think we have decided that, you know what, we like each other. For creative artists that is little short of miraculous. We have supported each other, we have cross-fertilised ideas, and I’m pretty sure that we have all come to respect and admire each other’s work. There has been a generosity of spirit, a joy in the air.
And what about ability? Ah, that. I simply had not the remotest idea, when I arrived here, that I was going to be exposed to such an amazing wealth of talent. Over the past few weeks we have had the artists, one by one, open up their studios and show us their work to date. Each of those evenings has been an education for me. I have seen examples of genres I knew little about – and had my eyes opened; I have been exposed to techniques largely outside of my experience, and I’ve learned of personal (artistic) journeys which bespoke complex lives fully lived. I came to understand that I was in the company, not only of serious, accomplished professionals, but of magicians. These people are just very, very good at what they do: inventive, resourceful, highly skilled. Well, of course: they’ve been doing it for decades, and what’s thrilling is that I have heard each of them say that, yes, during their stay here they have moved on into new areas, opened up new possibilities. In a word, they have grown. We all have.
What I’ve also realised, as we approach the end of our tenure, is that I am surrounded by people who are all - no question about it - aglow with something that looks like fulfilment. That can only come from hard work. Yes, we have socialised once a week and drunk wine and talked a blue streak, but in between times we have retreated to our casitas, closed the doors and produced. (What I should also have said about the artists, back there, is that the mere volume of their output has been staggering. If the occasional snippet of conversation – usually en route to the laundry - is anything to go by, I would say that their biggest vice has been listening to NPR.)
Last night it was, finally, the turn of the writers to go under the spotlight. We had a dinner planned in town, so we were going to restrict ourselves to five minutes each, reading aloud. No question about it, the prospect was frightening. Five minutes? To represent twelve weeks’ hard graft? That's a challenge.
I needn’t have worried. I think it worked for all us. I think in fact that it worked very well indeed. What I heard in those four brief sessions was of the highest quality, every line of it. We had extracts from two novels-in-progress, we had non-fiction and we had poetry. I’m not going to attempt a synopsis of what we heard, let alone an assessment: I’ve not had time to absorb it. However, I’m heading home in a couple of days’ time and I feel compelled to go on record as saying it was just damned good. All of it. The hardest part of listening to the work of writers you know and like is that awful tension: is their work going to be, you know, any good? Ha. This stuff simply sparkled.
As we drove home from a great night out (Love Apple, just north of town – definitely worth every penny) I found myself wondering what some of the previous Wurlitzer groups might have been like. And then I dismissed the thought. Who could possibly tell us? What I do know is that this group, in the late winter of 2015, has given me far, far more than I expected in terms of creative stimulus, friendship and education in this wonderful world of creativity we have chosen to inhabit. I thank them, and I thank my lucky stars.