The motto on the kerchief I bought at the MacDowell Colony gift shop - "To once again be enfolded in the warm embrace of your tender shelter" – pretty much sums it up. This retreat was one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I spent the first week finishing up a long profile of Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields and the other four weeks on a new novel about a girl boxer. The novel's going to take a while, but I got 125 pages of a first draft, the most I've ever written in such a short time.
I couldn't get enough of Sprague Smith, my little cabin in the woods. It had the best desk I've ever seen, a comfy chair, and a Steinway baby grand. Tombstones on the wall bore the signatures of past occupants, including friends like Fred Hersch, Darcy James Argue, and Louisa Thomas. Classy company. I made myself coffee every morning and didn't do anthing else until I'd written at least 1000 words. Sometimes that took all day. Deer came by my window and a flock of 20 wild turkeys, and once a fat, magnificent skunk. A Boddhisatvic man named Blake delivered lunch in a picnic basket every day.
Dinner was communal, at long tables in Colony Hall, and the food was lovingly prepared. My fear that everyone would be the annoying academic type who only talks about awards proved unfounded. I met brilliant and kind people whose spirits made their way into my manuscript. Some of the friends I met – like the great performance artist Penny Arcade, whom I'd seen perform 20 years before, or novelist Amity Gaige, with whom I'd taken acting class my very first semester at Brown –gave me the feeling of circling back to an earlier version of myself.
Re-entry has been a little rocky. My first day back at the boxing gym, I saw what appeared to be a dead cat on the road in front of the gym. I got closer. It was indeed a dead cat. There's a whole family of feral cats outside the gym. A few months ago I got one of our families to take a kitten home. It was a high quality kitten, born for the good life.
Anyway, a man on a motorcycle was cursing the car driver who had apparently just driven off without stopping after hitting the cat. The father of one of our pee wee boxers watched impassively as the motorcycle driver grabbed a plastic bag from the trash and dragged the dead cat by the tail off to the side of the road, where it is probably still rotting.
Inside the gym, the odor was unbearable. I soon discovered that the trash had leaked garbage juice across the entryway and the boys' bathroom smelled like the kids had basically been pissing on the floor. I mopped and burned incense, and just when the place started to be bearable this huge, sweaty Belarusian coach took off his shirt and everything smelled awful again.