My time at Elsewhere has drawn to a close, and tomorrow, I leave the little hamlet of Paonia that has been my home for two months. Here's a recap of the last few weeks!
With incoming and outgoing residents, each month at Elsewhere brings transitions and a chance to meet new artists. My fellow May ladies- Janet, Patrice, and Elyse- were replaced by three new June residents. This month, I have been getting to know Nick Collier, Hannah Sepúlveda-Davis, and RY King.
Nick is a sculptor and photographer from Florida. He served as an Afghanistan combat veteran in the Marine Corps and later earned his BFA and MFA. Drawing on his military experience (and sometimes subverting it) Nick's work investigates the American socio-political landscape, at home and abroad. It's been very interesting and inspiring to listen to his experiences and perspectives about not just the military, but also about veterans and art as a tool for communicating war experiences.
Hannah is a drawer and painter from Texas, who got her BFA from the Cleveland Institute of Art. She manipulates images from fashion ads, music videos, and celebrity photography to subvert the popular depictions of the female body. She uses a lot of bright color, glitter, flashy materials, and contorted or strange body positions. I've been poking my head into the studio to check her stuff out and it's always cool to see what she's working on.
RY is a writer, translator, and photographer. She has a PhD in experimental creative writing and is also a scholar who works with German philosophy translations. RY has been making some wacky cameras out of beer cans and experimenting with long-exposure photographs (as in, exposing the film between one and thirty days!) She still has another month at Elsewhere but so far it's been neat to watch her construct these rough-and-tumble cameras and set up pseduo-darkrooms in the studio closet.
Keeping up the traditions of last month, I went to two writers' workshops to get feedback on works-in-progress. The workshop is hosted by Jeanine Devlin, a local woman who owns a vintage and consignment collectible store called the Green Cottage, and is also an occasional bartender at Louie's Pizza (she happens to be engaged to Louie himself.) The workshop meets bi-weekly on Monday afternoons. Usually we are a small group of four or five people. Everyone brings a short piece of prose or a poem to share.
This workshop has helped keep me accountable for my work, but it also reminds me how much I have missed the Burlington Writers' Workshop (where much of this journey to a life of writing began.) Discussing and dissecting writing (whether my own or someone else's) is so cathartic, and often leads to broader conversations.
I felt like I really got to know the people in my workshop here, even though we only met a few times.
I also went to the monthly open mic nights at Louie's, because who doesn't love sharing your soul with slightly inebriated strangers? Again, Jeanine is our host, and she often shares her own poetry or songs. Open mic is a medley of original songwriting/music, poetry, and prose. Everyone gets about seven minutes to show what they've got. It's a fun night out, and a good place to practice your reading.
Another staple of my evenings has been playing pool. This might sound unremarkable, but if you saw my pool game prior to coming to Paonia, you'd understand. I've never been a pool shark (or even a minnow) but recently, I've been playing once or twice a weekend at Waldo's, the town dive that is literally across the alley from Elsewhere. The games are free, the pitchers are cheap, and the jukebox is (sometimes) decent. Waldo's is the only true watering hole in town, and it's open till 1:00 on weekends, so people tend to post up.
What is really special about these pool nights, however, is the person who has been teaching me the game. I met Larry at the brewery on one of my first nights in Paonia. Larry is an old-timer, not a native Paonian, but someone who has lived here for many years. He volunteers at the town museum (indeed, he is the only volunteer) and is active in a lot of town events. He hasn't missed an Elsewhere event since I've been here, and is always happy to support the new artists.
Larry has quite the life story. He's served in the Navy, traveled to 40 countries, ridden the Trans-Siberian railway, camped at the base of Kilimanjaro, swam in the Galapagos Islands, raced streetcars and been pulled over doing 95 during a 1,000 mile drive from Vegas to Tulsa... and probably countless other things I haven't heard yet.
He is also a mean pool player, and has been imparting his wisdom onto me. We usually play Friday or Saturday nights (or both) and rotate games with other locals. It has been such a joy to get to know Larry and learn about his life. And I'll admit, it felt good when I finally beat him in pool (just one game though, before he reclaimed his crown as king of the tables...)
A Contemplative Month
Besides these fun outings in town, I haven't been up to my usual outdoor adventuring and have been feeling restless for the trail. I was able to do one last hike at Lost Lake (blog post to follow!) and it was sublime.
However, staying closer to home has allowed for more exploration of Elsewhere's charms and time to write and consider my upcoming plans.
Grad school is right around the corner, and I've been attending to some of those formalities (forms, health insurance, immunizations, syllabi and reading lists, the never-ending avalanche of bureaucracy, etc.) I've also been giving thought to the substance of what I'll be doing at school and trying to get back in that studious mindset.
My writing the last month has shifted from poetry (which is mostly what I wrote in May) to short snippets of non-fiction. Scenes from my hikes, my travels, my relationships. Little storybooks of life.
I've been trying to work on propelling a scene, rather than merely describing it in a lyrical, often vague, way. Trying to tease out meaning from something that has, inexplicably, stuck with me for years. Sometimes I become so intent on describing the physicality of a memory, the literal senses and surroundings, that I fail to give emotion its proper place.
Then again, maybe the things that remain on my mind, those tactile qualities of land and air and water and space, are what make the memory. The weight of the piece becomes how distant I am from this memory. Whether intentional or unknown, I carve a separation, cleave myself clean, exist as a third-party, eyeing from above. I think my writing tends to reveal that distance, expose my reluctance to enter my own thoughts or emotions. I'm trying to resist that impulse, to peel back the curtain just enough.
I still struggle with fiction and have made inchworm progress on some stories that are constantly idling in my brain.
But I doubt I'll ever call myself a short-story writer.
At my core, I find more meaning in exploring the world that already exists, not one that I have yet to imagine. I'm drawn to non-fiction because there are so many shocking, incredible, raw, visceral, intelligent, unbelievable, beautiful, human stories waiting to be told. It's why I want to pursue journalism, albeit with a literary, narrative bent.
So, this last month at Elsewhere has helped me cement these interests.
It is with a full and happy heart that I leave this little town behind. I've met so many characters in Paonia. This town is rich in quirky people, but it's the cheer and spirit of those people that makes this place sink into your skin. I can say with some certainty that I'll keep in touch with a few of the Elsewhere residents, and some of the townsfolk, in the years to come. And I know I'll be back to this valley one day.
Until then, I'll miss so many things. I'll miss Elsewhere's bizarre and charming property, from the off-kilter Gingerbread House, to the half-string of Christmas lights that brighten up my little loft room, to the hidden pieces of art carved into floors and walls and ceilings. I'll miss Tomatoes, who is more than a cat. He's a companion, a mouse-hunter, and a heart-stealer. I'll miss conversations with fellow residents, over coffee or beer or both, gathered in the studio or relaxing in the living room. I'll miss the rush of peering into canyons, the awe of eyeing the distant red desert horizon, or the calm of watching rivers cascade past me.
I'll miss quiet things, too. The babble of ditchwater running behind the house; the contrast of scorched days and chilled nights; the cradle of mountains that rise around you like a cupped pair of hands; the ubiquity of fruits and ciders and juices from the valley's orchards, always ripe and ready to delight your tongue.
Goodbye, Elsewhere. Goodbye, Paonia. Thank you.