Most workshop days there is no tortoise, most weeks even. Some days he—or she—can be found near the motel-like double row of artist housing. Once I came across possibly the same tortoise on the public road behind the tiny library. He tucked inside his shell, beady eyes suspicious, while I snapped him for Instagram.
I think of him as an omen. If there is a tortoise, it will be a good writing day, or week, or residency. I will say something profound in beautiful words, my classmates will greet my work in hushed silence, the teacher will pull me aside after class to ask if he can send my pages to his agent, “no promises, of course, but I think she’d love to know about you.”
What privilege. To choose a fickle reptile as muse. To have good writing days and bad writing days, not required to show up at a designated location for a real-world job for three weeks (I am still editing). To not apply for financial aid this time because I think I can still make the grocery bill and my husband pays the rent. This is not the writing life I want. This is the writing life I want. And there’s the rub—what’s a ‘real’ writing life? That I jaunt off to residencies and workshops and have long, uninterrupted swaths of time? Or spend a single writing hour in the morning of this supposedly dedicated time, filling the rest with paid editing, freelance deadlines, podcast recording, afternoon class, emails, sometimes even staying after dinner (healthy, delicious, cooked by someone else) chatting with other artists as if I have a right to a social life when my book’s not done? Or to be at home, writing punctuated by laundry, lunch, dinner, deeply irritated by the supportive question from the man who loves me, “How was your work today?”
My work was fine. To tell you would be boring.
My work was frustrating. To tell you would be frustrating.
My work was transcendent. To tell you would tarnish it.
My work was bad. To tell you would manifest failure.
I would prefer to draw inward. To tuck my legs and arms into my talismanic shell, glare beady-eyed at the world outside the page. If I must be surrounded, to be surrounded by fellow writers, who know not to pry, who know to listen when something must be bragged or rued, who are not allowed to be offended or take it personally when adultery or anger flushes the page. Who instead creep into their own shells and discuss from within the use of modal verbs to convey distance or how “all good creative nonfiction is clear thinking about mixed feelings.”
One week to go at artist camp, in paradise. One week to make the time matter. I hoist up my little shell, cracked and mended, torn and patched. A few polished places still gleaming. White dirt, white page, small tracks marking passage. Stump on, writer, stump on.
I highly recommend Atlantic Center for the Arts. The financial aid is excellent and the tortoise is probably plural.
He--or perhaps she--is engaged in the upright business of being a tortoise. Grazing in the parking lot, watchful eyes, ready to enshell at any moment--the ultimate retreat while also standing ground. I would like a carapace. I would like an attractively patterned helmet and breastplate, something in which I can be here, now, watching and listening and yet impervious. Maybe it's time to up my Wellbutrin. But a shell would be more graceful. #nothingisordinary #nofilter #Florida #aca #depression #instamood #turtle #tortoise #wildlife #travel