20 lines: Dispatch from Sedona, Day 1

Thunder and lightning this morning. Torrential rain for a time. A few hours of sleep (does anyone sleep well anymore?) and then waking to the storm helped calm some of last night’s anxieties. The beauty of the landscape is undeniable.

I leapt at this opportunity because I have come to recognize the discomfort of the unfamiliar as necessary to growth. I have tended, in recent years, to be in constant motion, to crave it. To tell myself that it is the motion, the activity itself that propels growth. I want to avoid stagnation at all costs. Although I subscribe – at least in theory – to the maxim I’ve seen attributed to John Cage (“The only rule is work”) I think perhaps I have at times conflated activity for activity’s sake with seeking out and participating in meaningful experiences. It is not enough to just take action. If there is not at least some level of intentionality, it is too easy to fall prey to frenetic motion.

All of which is to say I am aware of my own discomfort. Last night, as I lie wide awake in the narrow dorm bed, on the verge of tears (what have I done? what have I dragged my family into?) I was reminded of the first few nights when I began my low-residency grad program. There is nothing quite like the desolation of shuffling down the dingy carpeting of a dorm hallway, low fluorescent lights overhead, toothbrush and toothpaste in hand, to make one question one’s life choices. But ultimately, I was not there for the comforts of home; I was there to immerse myself in my chosen craft. The investment was of time and money, yes, but also of my own belief in myself, in what I was capable, under the right circumstances, of accomplishing. During that residency and the four that followed, I cried a lot. I don’t like being away from my home, from my family. There were at least four or five times that I seriously considered leaving the program. But I stayed with it, and I graduated, and in some ways, I feel as though the body of work I produced during that time was the hardest-won, most meaningful accomplishment of my adult life. At least, in terms of my development as an artist. (And yes, after decades of doubt, I claim “artist” without hesitation. I claim “writer,” “poet” without regard to whether my list of formal markers of success measures up to some externally-imposed notions of success. I claim these things for myself. Come at me.)

Is this a little self-pep-talk for my time here? I think it may be. In the weeks leading up to our departure, I had whipped myself into considerable froth over whether we all had the right clothing and gear (bought new hiking shoes for everyone like a complete and utter novice); how we would all fare in the dorms between the two daily dining hall meals (shipped 25 pounds of cereal, granola bars, coffee, and kitchenware to myself in advance); and gave myself nightmares in which one or all of us suffered one or more of the following fates, death resulting: falling off some rock formation, drowning in swimming hole, scorpion sting, heat stroke, javelina attack, tarantula-induced heart attack, accidental ingestion of poisonous flora, etc. None of these possibilities has been ruled out yet.

The drama of the morning’s storm has subsided and there’s a light, steady rain. For the past couple hours (yes, we’ve all been awake and on eastern time for hours), we’ve been reading and working independently in companionable quiet (which is at least one of my ideas of perfect happiness). The day is still ahead and I have hiking shoes to break in, but for this moment at least, I’ll gladly accept the comfort I am offered.