The Writing Life

A RAGDALE RESIDENCY

When I opened an email in mid-December, I felt like people probably do when they learn they’ve just won the lottery, utter shock. “Congratulations! I am pleased to inform you that you have been accepted into Ragdale’s Residency Program for the Winter/Spring Session of 2014.”  My euphoria was soon followed by a middle-of-the night uh,oh – what am I going to do with such good fortune? A whole month with nothing to do but write? Could I do it?  Do the thing I craved yet had hardly ever let myself imagine? 

When I told people about the residency, I always added – “and they feed you!”  – as if this was the best part; not the room of my own, the focused time, the small community of 8 writers, 4 artists, and 1 musician, not the 50 acres of prairie with its meandRagdaleering paths on which the Ragdale estate is built, not the comfortable country elegance of an artist-craftsman era house.  No, it was the food:  a kitchen stocked with my food preferences in mind, a guarantee of well-prepared communal dinners each evening with the other residents.  Somehow this fact symbolized everything that awaited – a deeply nurturing experience with my very own cloister, tailored to my specific needs, with no expectations except that I take advantage of the time and space to nurture my writing. 

Driving past the jaw-dropping country estates that line Green Bay Road, in Lake Forest, Illinois, a left turn took us to Ragdale.  Designed and built as a summer house in 1897 by a well-known Chicago architect, the building and grounds were instantly welcoming – a generously proportioned dark beam and warm white stucco with gray slate shingles, that looks almost exactly as the early 1900’s photographs show; two stories, two roof peaks, an inset porch with columns –a non-imposing Craftsman style dwelling.  The circle in front of the house is home to a granite sculpture of two lambs made by the architect’s daughter.

Upon arrival, I was shown my room, which brought me to tears.  The eponymous, Top of the Stairs, on the second floor had originally been a nursery.  With a cozy, sloping timbered ceiling, William Morris inspired wallpaper, a window seat, a comfy double bed, and a full bathroom, what more could I want?  A screened in sleeping porch!  O.K. it’s not quite April and still quite chilly, but I am sure I will use this. My room

Patricia Hampl, in her memoir, Virgin Time, writes: “Strange, the rooms that strike one as perfect. They needn’t be beautiful, but they must somehow register, touch a core of harmony. A room, after all is an interior: it speaks to the inner self.”

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