There's Not Even Room to Unzip the Luggage

To begin this blog post with the sentence, "So I'm sitting in a manor house in the South of France looking through beautiful mid-18th century window panes at mountains and typing on my macbook air," would be totally snarky and should probably induce some self-loathing.  However, that is exactly what I am doing, and I'm not fucking sorry.

I've been at La Muse Retreat ( for a couple of weeks now, writing and reading and sucking in the silence through a straw.  La Muse is in the Pyrenee mountains, up a road that no-one would drive on if they didn't have to, in a teeny-tiny village where people keep chickens and bees and the loudest sound I have ever heard is the beeping horn of the grocery truck that visits town each week.  I've been sleeping late, drinking strong coffee brewed on the stove, and re-discovering the simple pleasures in life.  Among these: reading for pleasure, without interruptions, eating as much butter and cheese and bread as I want, writing postcards, sitting in front of fires that I spend far too much time making and staring at them, and letting my imagination run wild.  To get drinking water that tastes better than the tap, I have to walk for a few minutes on sometimes treacherously steep mountain roads to reach a source (well).  As any of my high-school French comrades will remember, there is a French film called Manon des Sources, which is the only reason I know that word, and which I think of almost daily.


I love London, don't get me wrong.  But I hadn't fully realized how loud it is.  My student housing is located right next to train tracks which screech with abandon every time a damn train passes through.  Even when things are quiet, there's still some sort of latent hum, a reminder that you are in the same place as millions of other people, and even if you all sat perfectly still and silent, you might feel somehow crowded.  Which brings me, I guess, to the subject of this post: the important role devoted personal space plays in creative development.  I think that our thoughts and dreams tend to be constricted when we're in a crowded or over-stimulating area.  Much like you can't stretch out your legs or cock out your elbows on a full airplane, your mind can't be fully expected to let ideas run rampant in a place where you are constantly adjusting yourself into a smaller form so you won't have to brush up against someone in the tube, or where the tables at a restaurant are barely big enough to hold the plates your food is served on.  I know it's a little new-agey, but if you imagine our ideas or creative processes in little clouds above our heads, how much can they really grow if they are constantly running into other people's thought clouds.  Guys, I'm not even drunk, I promise.  Just try to visualize it.


It's all starting to make more sense to me as I view things in this way.  It explains why I feel creatively suffocated every time I go back to my hometown, and why I often choose to go write in parks and nature reserves (the Arb, how I miss you).  It explains why it always felt calming in college to escape my sorority house (which I dearly loved, btw) and go work at Tecumseh Land Trust, which was basically surrounded by fields.  Perhaps it explains the warm feelings I have for the city of Detroit, with all that space for so few people, for the opportunity to climb a high-rise and feel the wind swoosh through the old window-frames.  I think it is also why I loved going to Long Island Sound by my grandmother's house.  Like it or not, a large component of my happiness is being able to create.  I am starting to recognize that, I create best when I have dedicated space to do so.  I am so thankful for the time I have had here to reflect and make things up (away and beyond my favorite activity).


This also allows me to pinpoint one of my biggest frustrations with my graduate program.  There is no dedicated space.  No studios, not even a same classroom for all of our sessions.  CSM is the educational equivalent of my student accommodation apartment: made to look nice and expansive, while actually being tiny and restrictive.  Oh, the irony of a lecture about emotional unpacking in a room that we would have used for fifteen people max in my undergrad, stuffed with the 50-60 in my program.  There's not even room to unzip the luggage.  I don't believe in criticism for the sake of it, so I can only hope that the learning I have done here in the mountains can come back with me to London, and be a part of something constructive moving forward.  Fellow students who read this:  how can we create physical space to allow our imaginations to expand?