Many writers I know have asked me about the Norman Mailer Writers Colony workshop experience. I had planned, on some point, at posting specifics about the workshop I attended this summer—Fiction: The Protagonists with Marita Golden—but fellow writer and workshop attendee Len Joy beat me to it, and has done a fantastic job! If you want detailed insight on what it’s really like to attend a Colony workshop, you can read Len’s blog—and see some great photos—here.
I’d encourage any writer to apply for these fabulous week-long workshops; they’re offered all summer long in a range of disciplines and are taught by some of the most accomplished writers working today. Attendees are chosen on merit and the application period usually opens sometime in January.
And I won’t forget to mention that you meet some pretty neat kindred souls. Not everyone in my group has a blog or website, but here are the ones that do if you’re interested in “meeting” them:
Douglas R. Dechow http://www.douglasdechow.com/
Lofty Ambitions: Douglas R. Dechow’s Blog
Marita Golden http://www.maritagolden.com/
Do Not Go Gentle: Leonard Joy’s Blog http://lenjoy.blogspot.com
To see a schedule of this year’s workshops so you can get an idea of what’s offered, visit http://www.nmwcolony.org/workshops/workshop/2/31/2010. To bookmark the site and check back frequently for 2011’s offerings and open application period, it’s http://www.nmwcolony.org/ and select the Fellowships/Workshops/Programs tab.
And, of course, although you’re working—we had class every day and yes, there was homework—there’s still time to enjoy what Ptown has to offer. In my opinion, a little daily recreation—especially experiencing new things—is always what makes these workshops so rich. Here are a few pix from my great week. Links from the places I visited (those places that have websites) follow the photos. Enjoy!
We had rain once the whole week, and I enjoyed it on the skylights in my writing room.
The speakers work!
Norman Mailer Writers Colony
The dunes (information only)
Provincetown Art Association and Museum (PAAM)
Truro Vineyards of Cape Cod
Pepe’s Wharf Waterfront Restaurant
Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum
Provincetown Jazz Festival
Provincetown Municipal Airport
I’ve lost lots of things over the years, but there are three items in particular which really bother me: a set of thumb-sized dolls with bright blue and pink accessories I had when I was around three, a scrapbook of The ClioPlayers, a small theatre troupe I ran at URI in the early 1990s, and most recently, a rare Christmas ornament—Bernard from Disney’s The Rescuers. Every once in awhile, I think, one of these things’ll just show up in the most unexpected place—like a set of keys, an earring’s mate, or a favorite pen often does.
But that never happens. They’ve just vanished, as though they’ve blinked out of existence.
When I went to the Norman Mailer Writer’s Colony in Provincetown in January for a month, I’d brought a knit winter hat with me. I hadn’t owned it long and it wasn’t expensive—I’d bought it in late 2007 at Old Navy for $1.99—but it had become my favorite: since it was brown, it went with over half my wardrobe and both my winter coats, and in my opinion, it was stylish. It was also very warm.
I wore it pretty much everywhere the whole time I was up there, but I didn’t need it the last week—the temperatures has risen to the high forties and even the low fifties, so it wasn’t necessary. When it came time for me to leave Ptown, I was packing my things and noticed it was missing.
I looked everywhere. It wasn’t at Mailer’s house, nor was it at any of the bars, restaurants, galleries, or shops I’d been to. It wasn’t at any of my daily haunts, and it also wasn’t at any of the apartments I’d visited. I was able to figure out the last time I’d worn it was when I’d been crawling through a foundation on Commercial Street the day before my birthday, but I had a picture of me later that night with it on, so I knew I hadn’t left it in somebody’s sub-basement. It had simply disappeared.
I came back to Connecticut and shrugged it off, reverting to an older hat I didn’t like as much for the remainder of the winter. I had plenty of hats, so it wasn’t like I was going to purchase another one—nothing could replace the special brown one, anyway. The hat, however, hovered in the back of my mind like a love affair gone bad: what happened?
Last week, I was back at the Colony as part of the Norman Mailer Center for a workshop. We met every day around a table in Norman’s living room, and had, as people do, adopted a “seat” for the week. I sat with my back to the sea, facing my new friend and fine writer, LuLu Johnson. She was making a poignant observation about someone’s work, but for some reason my gaze drifted beyond her right shoulder and settled in the corner.
There, perched on a curved umbrella handle, was a brown hat.
My first thought was oh my God is that it? It certainly looked like it—it was that milk chocolate color, it had the small basket weave, it was a little pilled all over and frayed on one edge. That can’t be it, I thought. That has to be someone else’s. But it was August, and who the hell would bring a hat like that to a beach community at the height of a record-hot summer? I blinked. It was still there. I studied it some more.
It was my hat.
I was overwhelmed with the urge to leap out of my chair screaming, “my hat! I’ve found my hat!”—but I didn’t, knowing that not only would everyone not know what I was talking about, it would disrupt class. When workshop was over, I took a couple of photos and clutched it as I would a lost lover.
It wasn’t until the next day when the group was having dinner at Pepe’s that I related my story.
“Oh, that’s your hat!” LuLu said. “It was in the middle of the floor. I thought that was really strange, because, you know, it’s a winter hat, and I didn’t know whose it was, so I just picked it up and hung it there on the umbrella.”
Marita Golden, our instructor, noted she was convinced objects have a secret inner life—that they need to go away for awhile sometimes, disappear completely, go on their own journeys. That they come back to us when we’re ready.
Later that night, the hat was on my white coffee table. It looked so out of place it was eerie—the ghost of the winter when my own incredible journey had begun.
I’d left Ptown in February in a state of confusion and unrest about my life, what I wanted from it, where I was going. At that time, doors weren’t just closing or opening—they were slamming or blowing off their hinges, and it had been so chaotic and emotional that none of it made any sense.
August was the opposite. In the middle of the week—literally, on Wednesday—everything resolved. I knew where I belonged, what I wanted to do with my life, where I was headed. Doors were barely hishing closed and opening like their hinges had just been oiled, and what I’d been through in the last eight months seemed logical. Everything had come full circle. A journey had been completed. I was going home a settled, happy, optimistic person. In fact, I had so much optimism I could start blowing open doors all on my own.
And the next day, the hat showed up out of nowhere. Weird.
Coincidence? Maybe not. Marita might have been on to something. Do things disappear and materialize again when we’re ready? Is there some alternate dimension they haunt until the timing’s right? This is much like life. We can want things, we can try to force things to come about (or not), but in the end—and I believe it applies no matter what religion or spiritual orientation you are—these things don’t happen until we’re ready. Until the time is right.
So what about my dolls, my scrapbook, my Christmas ornament? Perhaps they’ll still turn up. I could’ve begun a journey at the point where each of those items disappeared, and I’m not done yet.
Now I just have to figure out what happened to my favorite towel, which I remember packing before I left Ptown, but it wasn’t in my suitcase when I got home…
 I don’t remember word-for-word what she said, so this is a paraphrase. I just remember being struck by it, and thinking, ‘yes! Yes, yes, yes!’
There was always something magical about a treehouse, and I have often wondered what it would be like to stay in one.
The last time I was in Ptown at the Norman Mailer Writers Colony, I stayed in a cute little beach-themed apartment, full of light. This time around, I’m in a three-floor two-bedroom condo under the trees—and the room in which I sleep, as well as the spacious attic where I work, seem like they’re tucked up in the boughs. Childhood fantasy number umpteen—someday I’m going to live in a treehouse—complete!
Have I spent much time in it? Not much. For those of you wondering why I’ve fallen off the face of the earth, my days here have been filled with swimming, sitting on the beach or on Norman Mailer’s back porch, doing homework, attending workshop, and spending time with the other attendees, all fine writers. Instructor Marita Golden is amazing; since the workshop is all about protagonists in fiction, I’m finding I’m learning as much about myself and other people as I am about the ones I create on the page. Each of us also gets a private meeting with Marita to discuss our work, and, as a group, we’ve been out to dinner at Fanizzi’s, had a pleasant cocktail hour, and attended a jazz concert at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum [PAAM]. We have plans for the rest of the week to include a visit to the famous Pilgrim Monument and a trip to Truro Winery. Oh, yeah—I’ve also managed to cram in a visit to the Wellfleet Drive-in.
Here’s pix of my palace in the trees, where right now I’m sitting as the ocean breezes pour through the open window and skylights, and where each night, I fall asleep to the sound of rustling leaves and marvel at how, when I was a child, I never thought a dream like this would come true.
You can click on each thumbnail to get an enlarged image. Enjoy!
Toni Logan is a writer based in northern Westchester County, New York. Her work has appeared in newspapers and magazines including the San Francisco Chronicle, the Oakland Tribune, Forbes ASAP, Business 2.0 and Wired.
Intuition: Don’t Ignore It
by Toni Logan
After five years of not writing, I was at wit’s end. My long career in California as a technology and business journalist had ended in 2005 (for a variety of valid but depressing reasons) and now I was living with my husband in a rural outpost of Westchester County, New York.
We had a lovely home and good life: freelance editing work, loving family and friends, lively participation in the community, a nearby train station and hourly trains to Grand Central Terminal. City girl at heart, I took advantage of these one-hour rides to New York City for intellectual and cultural stimulation whenever possible.
Still, I was unhappy and felt vaguely lost. I had an idea for a book I’d long wanted to write but couldn’t seem to wrestle pen to paper. The will to shift gears as a writer just wasn’t there. One hot July day in 2009 while out on a country-road stroll, I suddenly thought of an old acquaintance I hadn’t pondered – literally – in eighteen years. Jake was a friend I’d known in San Francisco during my time as a single student. He was an architect, artist, and musician then – a creative powerhouse with the drive and ambition of three average humans. As I walked quietly along the road, a voice in my head said very clearly: “Google him.” The force of it blew me off the blacktop.
This seemed a strange harbinger, a major disconnect from everything else happening in life. Still, I obeyed. The Google search revealed a music web site that sold CDs recorded by Jake’s former rock band. There was a contact link on the site. I shot a two-sentence note to him. He replied. We exchanged email addresses and began a chatty catching-up period that launched a renewed friendship. Jake became my unexpected and very effective creativity coach. This contact, delivered via intuition, changed the course of my writing life.
In addition to architecture, art and music, Jake had written two or three books since I’d seen him – one of which was published. He sent me one of his unpublished manuscripts to read. It inspired me to start writing my own book in a new genre.
I quickly cranked out four chapters of the book I’d been trying to begin for five years. The crushing case of writer’s block mysteriously dissolved.
It’s not that my husband, friends and former colleagues hadn’t TRIED to get me writing again. They had told me many times, “You should write books! You are a natural author!” For some reason I just couldn’t do it until Jake appeared on my cyberspace radar. It’s a mystery, I’m grateful, and I don’t try to figure it out.
One day last fall Jake sent me a note about a fundraising dinner in Manhattan to benefit the Norman Mailer Writers Colony in Provincetown, Mass. I replied: “Sounds wonderful! Wish I could afford to attend and schmooze with A-list authors and editors.” He shot back: “Toni, I think you should apply for a writing residency at the Mailer Colony.” That had not even occurred to me. Sure, I knew writers colonies exist but hadn’t heard of this one (it was fairly new). Also, I didn’t consider colonies an option for someone like me. Nevertheless, I applied, was accepted for April 2010, and spent one glorious month writing and meeting other writers in Provincetown at the Norman Mailer Colony. This summer, I’m going back there for a week-long workshop titled “Historical Narrative” with six other lucky writers who made the cut. The first draft of my book will be finished by early fall.
Treading this new literary path feels so right. My soul has renewed purpose; the universe feels like home. When you get a strong message or hunch like mine on that July day, don’t ignore it. That’s your intuition showing you the correct path. Nurture it. Stay open to both new and renewed friendships. And, of course, just write. You’ve got nothing to lose.
It’s back to the Norman Mailer Writers Colony for a week in August! I’m pleased to announce that I’ve been accepted to a week-long workshop—Fiction: The Protagonists—at the Norman Mailer Writers Colony from August 8 – 15, 2010. The course will be taught by Marita Golden, author of the memoir Migrations of the Heart whose most recent novel, AFTER, received the Fiction Award from the Black Caucus of the American Liberty Association.
The course description is amazing — this is sure to be an enriching experience. If you’d like to read the course description, you can find it here.
Workshop participants, as well as fellows, are chosen on merit. For more information on the Norman Mailer Writers Colony and how to apply for upcoming opportunities, visit http://www.nmwcolony.org.
My ghost story “Crossing Guards,” which first appeared in Newport Round Table’s Walls & Bridges anthology published by Millennial Concepts and edited by Mark and Melissa Martin Ellis, has just been selected for inclusion in Pill Hill Press’ Haunted anthology, which will contain stories about haunted houses and structures, specifically. It is edited by Jessy Marie Roberts and publication is tentatively slated for this fall.
I’m honored to be a guest on writer Tamara Linse’s Blog, and my post is now up! The top tips I learned at the Norman Mailer Writers Colony for pulverizing pressure and plussing productivity. Check it out now at http://02e9d7b.netsolhost.com/Blog/archives/408.
For those of you who don’t know I’m back from P-Town. It was the most productive month full of interesting adventures! Re-adjusting to the real world will be a long, slow process. It’s all good. And so is my recent news!
“Paisley Surprise” was accepted to Lame Goat Press’ upcoming Inner Fears Anthology due out a little later this year.
“Punctuation” is now available in the Winter 2010 issue of ESC! Magazine. If you’d like to read the story, you can click this link and read it for free: http://media.libsyn.com/media/escwebs/ESCv13n2w_contrib08t67.pdf
I do, however, encourage everyone to support the small presses that give writers’ works a home. If you’d like to purchase a hard copy, you can head over to this link here: http://www.escmagazine.com/
It hasn’t snowed much at all since I’ve been here; there has been only occasional “glitter snow”–a barely-noticeable afternoon squall that glints in the sunlight as it drifts to the ground. Here in P-Town’s East End, my daily experience has been that the sun shines and the temperature is crisp, but not unpleasant.
Back home, this would translate into people out and about and cars on the go. But that’s not the case. Perhaps it’s because it’s winter and the town has pretty much emptied—many businesses close and the homes around me are stalwart and silent. There is an eerie stillness in all this sunshine.
Yesterday, though, I got up, and could see out my bedroom window that the character of the morning light was different: it was dark and close. I pulled back the drapes and was startled to see the dormant rose bushes dusted with white and my tiny yard and picnic table frosted with a quarter-inch or so of the stuff.
I went outside, expecting it to be cold and more silent than usual; expecting what we get at home: the wind cuts through me, and it’s so quiet I can hear the flakes landing on those that had fallen before them.
But it was quite the opposite. It was so warm I only needed a sweater. The birds were singing. A couple of guys were chatting in front of a fence across the street (and one of them waved to me). And in the span of five minutes, a cable van, a heating truck, three passenger cars, two people riding bicycles, and someone jogging all sped past me. At the house across the street, two or three construction workers were banging boards around.
Apparently, there is a paint color called “Cape Cod Gray”—and it’s relatively standard. Behr, Olympic, Cabot Stain, Pittsburgh Paints, and several others (or maybe even all of them) have this color in their palettes. What’s odd is that when this place is the grayest, that is when it seems to come to life.
My yard and picnic table.
The sleeping rose bushes.
I like to call this the Lord of the Rings canopy. It’s in the garden adjacent to my house.
The view out my front door.
The view out my living room window.
My writing space — much darker than usual. I had to turn the interior lights on to work.
This is the house across the street. I love its monolithic quality in this light.
A similar shot, but I included it because, if you look closely, you can see a spot of the sun high above the house.
This is actually the front of my house. My condo is in the back.
Commercial Street, looking toward the Mailer house. Notice how well-traveled the street looks, and that it’s clear even though, at this point, the snow was still falling.
The sea beyond.
The Norman Mailer Writer’s Colony in the snow. It hasn’t looked like this since I arrived.
The beach at low tide in the snow.
Another shot of the beach. I love the wasteland look of it.
This view, especially with the spot of sun above, reminded me of the ice planet of Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back.
Well, the Norman Mailer Writer’s Colony invited me to stay on for two more weeks, and thanks to the incredible generosity of several people—particularly those at work (who the hell is luckier than me?)—I could accept the offer! I’ll be here, working, until February 14!
The Norman Mailer Writer’s Colony.
My writing place — I’ve totally nested!
A cute new wine I discovered! Yummy!
I’ve had a few awesome adventures in the past week. I had a lovely lunch at Fanizzi’s with Guy (administrator of the NMWC), where I had FRESH Fish ‘N’ Chips. Wow. I grew up thinking they were greasy, heavy, and mealy. Yeah. Not so much. That comes from living in a land-locked place, I guess.
Guy and I at Fanizzi’s.
View from our table at Fanizzi’s.
I helped Peter change batteries in the smoke detectors in a few local apartments, and also, when it was brutally cold, go and check all the water pipes in the sub-basements (it’s just beach sand and dried seaweed for flooring. Totally wild!) Pete and I are Michael Jackson fans, and we were lucky enough that The Cape Inn’s Whaler Lounge was playing This is It. What does that mean? It’s a local thing. It’s a cozy lounge with comfy chairs, cocktail seating, FREE movies, and awesome eats (we had a pizza, and then ended up leaving the leftovers in my trunk for a day. Good thing it was cold out. It probably kept better than it would have in a refrigerator).
Me and Pete the next-door neighbor. We don’t have to look for trouble. It finds us.
The Cape Inn Whaler Lounge. This is the photo from their website; I didn’t take this. It’s actually so much more classy and elegant than this photo suggests. They’re playing Zombieland next week and we plan to go, so hopefully I’ll get a few shots then.
Charles came up to visit over the weekend, and we had dinner at Michael Shay’s (among Norman’s favorite places to eat) and brunch at Fanizzi’s ($12.95 and it’s breakfast AND lunch – I’ve never eaten mussels over pasta at brunch before). We also visited Norman Mailer’s grave and explored the cemetery, and I have to say, I’ve never seen such interesting stones. It may be because this is such a highly creative town, but many of the stones are quirky works of art.
Mailer’s grave. Note the sea shells and other items which were left behind as tributes by prior visitors.(Please note — I don’t feel funny posting a photo of his grave here, because the link above will take you to FindAGrave with more specific details, including a photo and location. So this is considered public information).
This is a really cool shop downtown.
DEFINITELY my kind of place!
I just loved this window display. Charles did the best he could to capture it, but with the bright sun and the reflections, it was hard.
Isn’t this cool? It’s all Lobster Traps. They light it up at night and it’s gorgeous.
My short story “Screams of Autumn” is now available at Spilt Milk: an online literary journal! You can read this story at http://warmmilkpress.blogspot.com/. It should be at that link, right on the front page, for a couple weeks, and then after that they’ll move it to the archives, which is down at the bottom of the page. To those of you who’ve read it already, thanks for all the awesome comments you’ve left! You guys rock! It’s especially inspiring to get such great encouragement when I’m up here churning out more.
“Ragnarok” by Patrick Scalisi is our most recent selection for Read Short Fiction and is up on the site now at www.readshortfiction.com. If you love Norse mythology—and especially if you’re a fan of LOKI—don’t miss this hilarious twist on an old tale told in contemporary language. If you liked my short story “King of Bull,” especially, you’ll DEFINITELY go for this one. And if you read it and have something thoughtful to say, please feel free to comment. We like to hear from our readers!
The storm we’re having up here right now is nothing short of AWESOME. The wind is so strong the house creaks, groans, and thumps. Last night I could swear I felt my bed move. This must be, I thought, the type of weather ships sink in.
It’s one of the many magical things about Provincetown in January.
When friends first heard I would be here in the winter, several of them asked me, “wouldn’t you rather be there in the summer?” I’m sure it would be nice in the summer, but a Coastal New England winter does wonders for my work because of the types of stories I write. It is gray. It is windy. Everything has a sodden look to it. And the shrubs and trees are skeletal.
And there is something else.
When I first arrived here, the guy who lives next door noted “this place is a ghost-town in the winter.” The last couple of nights that I’ve had to walk two miles round-trip to events in town, I’ve had the privilege of experiencing this first hand. There are sections of streets where there isn’t even one light on in any of the homes, probably because they are summer places. There are also shops and restaurants that appear to only be open seasonally as well. They are closed down, their outdoor furniture stacked neatly in the corners of hibernating gardens and cobblestone patios.
But of all the shuttered houses and shops, the creepiest ones by far are the seasonal hotels and B&Bs. I passed three of them in a row the other night, and it happened to be on a portion of the street that wasn’t well lit. One building was a white, manicured Victorian, probably majestic and warm in the daylight. In the dark, though, its black windows seemed wickedly intelligent. The furniture stacks on its front porch seemed to mutate into huddled beings. As I passed, the inn’s sign swung slightly in the wind. NO VACANCY.
That, to me, is the most atmospheric part of these closed places; I’ve noticed this same phenomenon not only here in town, but on my drive in through Wellfleet and Truro. The owners of these places, instead of putting out CLOSED FOR SEASON signs, put out their NO VACANCY signs. It implies that the empty buildings are indeed not really empty at all. The people move out at the end of summer. And that is when the ghosts, or God knows what else, move in.
I didn’t grow up where there were sidewalks, and I don’t live where there are sidewalks now. I usually love a place where I can walk on a sidewalk. But here, I prefer walking in the street. These temporarily closed businesses are right on top of me. The tangles of dead vines and hedges look like they could reach out and seize me. It’s a bit claustrophobic.
I suppose I should consider myself lucky there’s NO VACANCY.