At the MacDowell Colony

At the end of 2017, I completed a month-long residency at MacDowell, where I stayed at Heyward Studio, editing a novel and starting work on a new fiction project.

Being a city dweller from a tropical country, I’d never experienced winter quite like the one that quickly descended on the Colony soon after my arrival. I was surprised at how quickly I got used to wrapping up myself in layers of wool before heading outdoors and walking through seemingly endless snowfall, which at night turned into a windy haze of silvery streaks illuminated by the circular shine of my headlamp.

Along the road I sometimes discovered tracks of animals strange to me that I was told potentially included deer, moose, bobcat, coyote, and fisher cat. The prospect of running into fanged beasts whose ferocity I played up in my imagination didn’t deter me from often taking a walk after breakfast on one of the hiking trails that led through the woods on Colony grounds. What drew me was nature that was frozen and yet very much alive. Beads of ice coated thin pine branches above sagged boughs, with rays of light refracting through them so that sometimes I felt as if I’d made a pilgrimage to a crystalline cathedral, and every so often I’d see ahead of me brown dots that were thrushes, somehow surviving this weather by their delicate feathers and hollow bones, swoop down to peck at exposed dirt on the path. I even once spotted the deathly silent wings of an owl spread out as it glided through the trees, away from me, its primal terror.

After getting back indoors, the cold did compel me to stay in and work. It took me a few days to get started on my projects, but I slowly gained pace, fighting suddenly clogged lungs that slowed me down for over a week, to make regular progress. I sat either at a desk at my studio or at the Savidge Library, where I could take breaks every hour or two, flip through books by past fellows, and then return to a sentence or scene where I’d stopped or a previous blankness waiting to be filled.

In the evening, the fellows convened. I’d met amazing, talented people from many disciplineswriters, painters, poets, playwrights, choreographers, and composers at a wide range of career stationsand I found reliable joy in meeting up with everyone for our nightly dinners and perhaps attending a post-meal reading or performance or studio visit to check out what kind of fruitful madness we each were cultivating. We knew we were living an ideal haven for community and art and productivity that, as much as we would like to disbelieve, was ours only for a time. Sooner or later, we’d have to return to the dreaded, familiar unknowns of our lives in the outside world and make way for the next wave of fellows to arrive and also do what they must do. I left after having signed my name on a customary “tombstone” at my studio, thankful.