Design research. Social good.

As a Writer-in-Residence at Wildacres Retreat in the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina, I was awarded a cabin for a week to write in peace and seclusion.

Dedicated “to the betterment of human relations” Wildacres is a wilderness destination and public foundation for nonprofit groups, musicians, artists, naturalists, and writers. The generosity of the dedicated staff makes the place feel like a second home.

Deep in the woods in Owl’s Nest, I spent most of the week binge writing, making progress on my book manuscript which details the work of the Beautiful Social Research Collaborative, where students lead digital research projects with local nonprofits and community-based organizations.

There is no internet or cell reception in the cabins – which is the kind of isolation I need to get writing done.

A short hike up the mountain there is a thriving retreat center, where the Kumandi drum group convened for the week. I listened to their West-African rhythms into the dark nights. I heard their drums in my sleep.

Although Wildacres provides meals to all at the lodge, I mostly worked in seclusion and cooked in my cabin, living on spinach omelets and frozen cheese pizzas.

When I wasn’t writing, I hiked trails along the mountain ridges lined with rhododendron and mountain laurel. If all this sounds too pastoral, I also spent an inordinate amount of time killing stink bugs in my cabin. There were also crickets, black flies, bees, wasps, and giant wild turkeys, but no brown bears or snakes —  at least not ones that revealed themselves.

One muggy afternoon I headed to Asheville for a much-needed break. I had been charmed by Asheville a few years ago during an ACE Camp filmmaking workshop.

I arrived in Asheville without a plan, which was in the whole spirit of the week. However, I soon found myself following a woman in bright blue scrubs and her friend. The woman in scrubs was placing an order for lunch on her phone:

. . . I’ll have the avocado taco.

. . . Do you have plantains today? Those, too.

. . . Okay!

This has to be good, I thought. She obviously knows what’s what in Asheville. In anticipation, I followed them from a distance past the artsy shops and galleries.

Through a park.

Behind a brewery.

Across a parking lot.

Around a hotel.

Alongside a stream.

Through a pedestrian walkway.

Past a residential neighborhood …

Finally, as they moved toward an industrial complex, I wistfully gave up the mission.

Heading back the way I came, I sat for a while at a café and then perused Malaprop’s bookstore. An hour later, saw them return from their walk with two plastic shopping bags from Lowe’s. And no tacos.

All was not lost. I discovered 12 Bones Smokehouse and Wedge Brewing Co.

I also drove the Blue Ridge Parkway and stopped at every single scenic overlook.

In the cabin journal, past residents left their accounts of their week, each seeming to have an equally productive time.

I feel a strange, unexpected affinity to those who have stayed here in this place before me. Here are some snippets from the cabin journal:

“Dearest Cabin Dwellers, Collaborators – Welcome to the lineage and don’t worry about a thing. You made it here and the rest is gonna take care of itself.”

“This is a special place where time has the ability to stand still, where you have the ability to become invisible, like the animals and really become part of the forest.”

 “I think this was the most alone week of my life. Every bride should do this before getting married.”

“I left my journal entry in song. You can hear it in the creak of the wood floor, the acorn percussion on the tin roof.”

“I hope this solitude does its work in you and that you discover good and new paths to creativity and love of who you are.”

“Be open to whatever species chooses you as a friend. (ha!)”

“Look for GIANT TURKEYS. If your thoughts start getting too serious, they will appear.”

 “When I walked into this magical cabin, I totally felt like Ma Ingalls.”

“Laughed a lot at night – all alone.”

“I needed this week.”

“It’s a special place that cannot be described—only felt.”

The Wildacres Residency Program has my highest recommendation. Please let me know if you apply or have any questions.

 

 

One Response to “A Writing Residency”

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