MFA Alum Offers a New Writing Retreat
This summer I launched Idlewild Arts, a new organization created to connect people with the arts and with each other. We’re holding retreats for writers and getting ready to start a podcast and book subscription service later this year. Starting Idlewild is something I’ve thought about doing for years. As we get ready for our inaugural Idlewild Writers Retreat this October 14-17 in the Quiet Corner of Connecticut, we’re reaching out to writers at all stages of the writing process, and designing a program that offers both creative space to write and community with fellow-writers.
I started Idlewild, in large part, because these opportunities for creative space and community have been so valuable in my own life and writing. Four years ago this November, I spent two weeks at the MacDowell Colony, writing in a cabin studio in the woods of New Hampshire. My studio was called Star, and the names of all the other writers who had worked in the studio before me were written on wooden tablets on the wall. This connection with other writers moved me so much that I spent an afternoon transcribing their names, including that of our own Richard McCann.
In the evenings I listened to composers play newly-written music on a grand piano, and gathered at farmhouse tables with filmmakers and visual artists and fiction writers and poets. In the mornings, I wrote pages toward my book, slender sheets that I did not know would turn out to be the cornerstones of my stories. During those creative weeks, I knew and did not know that my life was about to change. In the months afterwards, my marriage ended, I lost one home and found others, my life opened, became more challenging and also more expansive.
Two years later, my divorce behind me, and the saving grace of a grant in hand, I went to rural southwest Virginia for a residency at VCCA. It was then that I pulled out all those pages from MacDowell and discovered in them small glimmering signposts pulling my work forward. At VCCA I wrote at a pace that left me breathless and astounded: hundreds of pages in the span of a few short weeks. I had to take myself for walks to try to catch my thoughts before they escaped me. I ate dinner each night with fellow artists and writers, and we would laugh for no reason at all, laugh for the pure joy of our long creative days and the miracle of each other’s company in that lengthening springtime light.
To this day, I am in touch with many of the writers and artists I met at these residencies. I have traveled to visit them in Seattle and Western Massachusetts, Southern France and the suburbs of Boston, New York City, and Washington, DC. They have become dear friends and, more than that, they have become my creative tribe.
For well over a decade now, I have worked as an educator and arts administrator, a winding, circuitous career that found me interviewing retirees on local television, planning art shows and conferences, teaching high school students, and directing development for an arts council. My career has always been ambitious but, for a long time, its trajectory has felt difficult to explain in a cocktail conversation or a resume.
I started Idlewild, in part, because after years as an arts administrator and educator, I’ve wanted to build something entrepreneurial and creative – to start something of my own that allows me to grow, to bring all my experiences and interests to bear.
Sometimes our journeys only make sense in retrospect, sometimes experience unfolds after the fact.
Our lives as writers and artists can be likewise fluid, in need of time and space. The slips of paper we fill with notes one year two years later turn into a book; our workday consists sometimes of a dozen new pages, and other days of a long aimless walk. And in the day-to-day of life, that fluid, variable experience of art-making, of writing, can be difficult to carve space for, difficult to explain.
At the Idlewild Writers Retreat this fall, we will gather at a historic house in the Quiet Corner of Connecticut and enjoy this creative space and community. During the days we will have ample time and space to write on our own, participate in optional guided writing sessions, or attend workshops on integrating mindfulness and creative practice. In the evenings we’ll gather for dinner — simple meals sourced from local farms and markets — and readings, perhaps even a small house concert. The house where we’re gathering, a former bed and breakfast, backs directly to a hiking trail so our writers can escape for walks, can experience autumn here in New England.
For a new small arts organization and a longtime dream, this feels like a promising beginning.
We welcome all writers to join us for this inaugural Idlewild Writers Retreat, whether to continue work on an existing writing project or explore a new idea. Writers who are interested in attending can learn more at www.idlewildarts.com, or by contacting me directly. And with new programs launching later this year, and another retreat in the works for next spring, we invite you to follow us on Facebook or join our mailing list to stay in touch and learn more.
Melissa Wyse received her MFA from American University in 2012. She has been awarded fellowships at the MacDowell Colony, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Ragdale. She is the recipient of an individual artist Ruby Grant from the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance. Her writing appears in publications including Shenandoah, Urbanite, and decomP, among others. She is the founder and director of Idlewild Arts and teaches writing at the Pomfret School. Melissa is currently finishing a collection of linked short fiction titled Moon Over Sand Island set in World War II Hawaii.