Two Saturdays ago some twenty former residents and members of our Advisory Board gathered at our house in Austin for what we hope will be the first of many annual “Resident Reunions.” We envisioned this gathering as a chance for them to get acquainted with each other (and each other’s work), and also an opportunity for us to thank them for being willing to take a chance on what is still, after all, a fairly new and ad hoc residency program. (We’re in our fourth year of accepting residents.)
The gathering was also a reminder of how many things have changed since we first came up with the idea for a residency program at Madroño Ranch. Our naïve original vision involved hosting eight residents at a time, gathering around the table every night to eat, talk, and listen—to receive and offer nourishment, both literal and conversational.
That vision, we realized fairly quickly, was not practical, for a number of reasons (have you ever been asked to be witty and brilliant every single night for two weeks in a row?), so we scaled back; now we usually have one or two residents at a time, and we don’t require them to report for dinner and be witty and fascinating. Communal connection cannot be forced, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important.
Hence the idea of a residents’ reunion. We’ve had forty-three residents so far, from a range of disciplines, including poetry, fiction, painting, journalism, paleontology, film, music, photography, forest history, oceanography, drama, book arts, and environmental law. In the future, we hope to have even more: theology, architecture, choreography, who knows?
At the gathering at our house, five former residents—visual artists Mary Baxter, Stacy Sakoulas, Bill Montgomery, and Margie Crisp, and environmental writer David Todd—volunteered to do brief presentations on their work and what a Madroño residency meant to them. (Many thanks to Margie, who’s also a member of our Advisory Board, for putting the slide show together!) Three other former residents—writer Spike Gillespie, paleontologist Julia Clarke, and science writer Juli Berwald—got up and talked briefly about their work without visual aids. (Juli ended with a limerick of her own composition about jellyfish.) Wonderful food (from caterer Brandy Gibbs of Austin’s Fine Home Dining), beer, and wine were consumed, stories were told, and connections were made.
But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what poet Sasha West had to say:
What a wonderful and inspiring evening! Everyone I talked with was so interesting—and doing such worthwhile work in the world. Worthwhile and beautiful…. Madroño has been a catalyst for so many people at this point. And as their (our) work goes out into the world, hopefully it will be a catalyst for many more.
And here’s what Margie said:
I had the chance to meet writers whose work I’ve admired for years, chat up old friends (and, yeah, get a little gossiping in too), meet my hero [and fellow Advisory Board member] Tom Mason, and yak with other visual artists. So much fun.
“Good food, good wine, good conversation, and great, great work coming out of the residency” was the assessment of Advisory Board member Shannon Davies, the Louise Lindsey Merrick Editor for the Natural Environment at Texas A&M University Press. David put it even more pithily: “tasty food and drink, fun company, and great show and tell.”
It was everything we had hoped it would be, and more. Because while part of the point of a residency program like ours is to offer an opportunity for reflection to creative people who need it, and while we may need time and space away from the demands of the quotidian to brainstorm, reflect, and create, we are also social animals, and we need other people to talk and listen to. We need to hear ourselves articulate our own arguments; as Oliver Sacks put it, “We speak not only to tell other people what we think, but to tell ourselves what we think. Speech is a part of thought.” We need to bounce ideas off others so we can hear what they sound like and assess their effect. I believe that community is or should be as much a part of creativity as is individual inspiration; the most brilliant idea in the world is useless if it is not brought forth and shared. That’s why our mission statement mentions “solitude and communion” (emphasis added).
It was a pleasure and a privilege for us to host the first annual residents’ reunion—these are the coolest people we know!—and we hope that at future gatherings even more of these fascinating, thoughtful, creative folks will come to meet and share their work with their peers. It was one of the most enjoyable parties we’ve attended in years, and we can’t wait for the next one.