Writing and Drinking Whiskey in the Forest

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I have been back from the mountains for two or three weeks now. It’s hard to tell, really. The summer days all tend to run together. But still, on June 13, I packed my shit up and headed west toward the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Earlier this year, I applied for a residency in those mountains at a spot called Azule. Azule can play host to three artists at a time in almost any discipline. It’s fifteen minutes from the nearest town, and that town–Hot Spring, NC–has a population of just around 300 people. There is a tavern there, though, at the foot of the mountain. It got a good bit of business from us in the week I was there.

2016-06-13 18.09.26But the house–the house was really something. I don’t really know how to even write about it–though some version of it has crept its way into my second novel. It was situated way off the main road, which could barely even be called a main road. It was asymmetrical, but everything about the design suggested that every angle and curve was a deliberate choice. If you spend very much time talking to the architect and landlady, Camille, you would know that it was all very on purpose. Sitting on the benches outside at night and listening to her stories is one of my favorite memories from Azule.

Camille and her husband bought that plot of land in the 1970s. I won’t tell you her whole story, though it’s worth writing and reading. But she is essentially a self-taught architect. Jeremy, the composer who shared the space with me that week, said she had been playing “real life Minecraft for decades.” And that’s a pretty good way of describing it. It seemed she was making it up as she went, but it all worked. The house is really her greatest work–a cathedral where other artists come to worship.

I will tell you one thing about Camille, which I learned from reading a profile in The Collective Quarterly, which I think demonstrates her compassion and her artistic/architectural mind in one anecdote. When her husband was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the 90s, she converted the den on the first floor into his bedroom so that he didn’t have to climb stairs. And as his health deteriorated, she put in a skylight right above his hospital bed in the living room so “he could see the stars.” His final word to her were, inexplicably, “Drive me there.” His old car is now on the front lawn of the property–angled up at the sky. Later, she would dedicate the house to its current mission.

I shared the space with Jeremy, the composer, and Betsey, the artist. We spent our days working, mostly. Sometimes Betsey and Jeremy wandered down to the secret swimming hole, and sometimes I drove down to Marshall–a slightly larger town than Hot Springs–to the coffee shop. The days early in the week got hot, and there were only windows and a ceiling fan in the house–no A/C.

jeremy and betseyAt night, we ate pizza and drank whiskey or malt liquor or Busch Lite and talked art and politics. Jeremy liked to remind us that it was the most bohemian shit any of us would ever do. And then there was the night we wandered through the wilderness at 2 AM and thought we stumbled across witches and a bonfire. We’ll save that for another time, though.

It was nice to get away from the familiar things. It was nice to meet new people who were serious about their work. Betsey and Jeremy and Camille worked all day in their respective spaces in the house. I could hear the piano from my spot upstairs on the back porch, and I could wander through the house and find Camille working on mosaic or Betsey painting. It was rewarding, and I wrote a shit ton. I definitely wouldn’t be finished with this draft right now without Azule.

Even though I didn’t see a bear–which is really what I wanted to see–I still think there were enough trees and wildlife and booze and writing to call it a success.

Until next time, here are a few shots from my week in the mountains:

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