notes from a writing residency

written specifically for great weather for MEDIA


When I first landed in Grand Island, Nebraska (population 50,000), the first thing I said out loud was:

dear nebraska, I want my chest to be flat like you.

all photos taken by Raluca Albu

(all photos taken by Raluca Albu)


My roommate and I (Selina Josephs, the magnificent collage artist/painter) was traveling with me. We both got accepted to the writing/artist residency called Art Farm and were venturing to the town of Marquette (population 228) to spend two weeks savoring the flatlands and creating like mad.

Ed Dadey, the owner of Art Farm, picked us up at the tiniest of airports where only one conveyor belt rotated luggage. There were no skyscrapers here. All the clouds roamed without interrogation of bolts and metal. The sky was like an open stadium.

After a trip to purchase groceries, we made our way to this curious land in the middle of nowhere, where the grass stretched tall like preening models. Ed dropped us off by the house we’d be living in called Victoria.

photo by Raluca Albu

Victoria house

Three stories tall, many walls unfinished. It was vast and haunted and magical and overwhelming. Throughout my days there, I got accustomed to the sound of mice traveling above me. These rodents were bold; chasing each other around the house; sipping water out of available mugs. There were also the raccoons. A family lived in the house. In the house. We could hear the babies chatter and the mother, we called Ricki, left each night at dusk and came back at dawn. I saw her once, as I rocked back in forth in a beautiful rocking chair in Selina’s art studio, while I typed away words gathering momentum on my computer. I heard the scratching of nails against wood, looked up and saw Ricki: climbing up the wall, slinking into a hole in the ceiling.

Add to the mix of wildlife: chiggers (mites which burrow beneath your skin, lay eggs, and create a monstrous display of itchiness), ticks (resilient– even landing on a citronella candle meant to ward them away), flies, flies, flies, ants, mosquitoes…….

Monday through Thursday for three hours, we worked on the farm. Tasks included gardening, moving furniture, digging holes, planting trees, and my personal favorite: carpentry. I picked wood, measured it, cut it down using a beloved and sexy band saw, sanded it down, then hammered into place.

by Raluca Albu

photos by Raluca Albu


Then, the day was ours. Each artist worked in their studio; I alternated writing at the desk in my bedroom overlooking the farm, writing in the library or at a cafe called Espressions & More in Aurora (population 4,000). At the cafe, I drank delicious coffee, ate homemade sandwiches and met several locals. Here is where I found much inspiration for what I was working on. I wanted to infuse this Nebraska in my work. Hear stories of the humans who lived here.

During my time at Art Farm, I wrote over 15,000 words, ten poems and several letters mailed away. I skinny dipped in a beautiful lake beneath (what felt like) a million stars and called out my spirit animal (elephant) at a bonfire where the planet Venus glowed above us.

I (semi) conquered my fear of heights as I climbed a ladder that went to nowhere (an art installation by a previous resident), played my ukelele on a rooftop and swung from a very high swing shaped like a unicorn, hung in a floating barn.

Here in Nebraska, I found bits of my wild. A wild that had been stifled and punished and hidden for many years. A wild that always got me in trouble. A wild that put me in rehab at nineteen. A wild that knocked me out of relationships. A wild that bullied me back into drugs many many times.

I thought the wild inside me was bad, so I ignored it. Stopped going to parties, talking to strangers, trusting people. But in Nebraska, I was reminded that there is a good wild too. One which reminds me other ways I can celebrate my body, even my nude, in ways that won’t make me feel tarnished and scraped. A wild that reminds me the impact of words and creativity. A wild that encourages real friendships, allowing me to fall in love everyday with the humans around me. A wild that validated my existence.

I’m writing a novel. For years, I would not say this “n” word, for fear of what that meant. I’ve been writing this novel for over eight years. By the end of this summer, I will be done with my first draft.

On my final night at Art Farm, we opened up our studios and went on a creative crawl……viewing everyone’s art, hearing the words of the writers. It was incredible. I presented some of the words I had written during my two weeks, while Laura from Aurora (an enthusiastic local and wonderful human) played guitar.

Processed with Moldiv

presenting my work, with accompaniment by Laura from Aurora

I cried while viewing the art of my favorite oil painter called Lindsay. She captured many of the spaces on Art Farm, infusing each painting with the energy one can not see in each room, but it is certainly felt. During my time at Art Farm, Lindsay was the one who kept reminding me the importance of being present. So much of my wild came out because of her.

Processed with Moldiv

brilliant oil painter and human, Lindsay Peyton

Art Farm residency woke up so much of me, that I am still trying to articulate. Being back in Brooklyn has been an adjustment. The sky is zipped up in ways I never really noticed before Nebraska land. People move a lot faster here and when they ask you how you’re doing, they do not wait for the answer. I’ve been writing less, but trying not to be too hard on myself. I learned that I may not be that hippie I thought I was, but I am a hybrid of farm skin/city scum/open-road eyes. I’m still not quite sure where I belong or even how to be. But this residency taught me about resilience, facing my fears and the magnitude of trust. What a beautiful, powerful realization.


Lindsay, me, Z, and Selina

Lindsay, me, Z, and Selina (photo by the wonderful fiction writer and Brooklyn resident, Raluca Albu)

Read more Aimee in meant to wake up feeling 

an ode to the flatlands

photo by Raluca Albu

photo by Raluca Albu

Dear Nebraska,

I coveted your squares. They were unshaky and so green. And brown. And itchy. In New York, I notice the bricks and windows that shield the sky from full-frontal nudity. But your sky was a true nudist.

I inquired about your routine. How you got to be so…flat. I have been pushing myself down for quite awhile now, training my body to be like you (even before I knew you) and when I remove my clothes at night, my curves always come back. How do you keep yourself so smooth, Nebraska?

I wanted to lay in your grassland, but there were the chiggers. And ticks. So I fantasized about your blades of green against my back, tickling my ankles, which I always had covered because….well…..the chiggers & the ticks.

I wanted to tell you that I didn’t think we’d get along, but by the time I left, I wanted to ask if we could be exclusive. I was ready to try monogamy with you. But I never said this because I knew New York would always slip its way into my mind.

I wanted to tell you that I stopped being so afraid of your mites and insects. I stopped fearing heights and loneliness. I gave away some of my secrets. I even let you see me naked. That night in the water with several other planets watching without judgment.

There is still so much I want to say to you. So I write them down and float them toward your flatlands. Toward your birdsongs. Toward the artists.

how to find (your) wild

Dear Art Farm,

Here in Nebraska, the ticks confuse beauty marks, but humans grow closer through each inspection of skin and lift of cotton and hair.

In Nebraska, mosquitoes engage in foreplay. Ignore signs of disinterest (bug spray and swatting) and stick to skin until until    until    penetration

Here in Nebraska, a poet falls in love with a band saw, meditates on the circular movements of electric sander.

In Nebraska, the stars wallpaper the sky.

Here in Nebraska, mice collaborate with an oil painter through midnight parade of paws on paper

In Nebraska, happy hour is whenever one calls on it, as wine drips onto tongues, slow and tired from farmed imaginations.

In Nebraska, the poet’s body (shy coward in the city) digs itself out of clothes and skinny dips in a lake. Breaks up with binder, pressing down gender of flesh just for a moment in order to free the wild within.

In Nebraska, shovels become totems. Holes are dug to remind the humans how deep this earth goes. To remind the humans how trees begin.

In Nebraska, raccoons replace house pets. So do spiders, wingless flies and mice sneezing on cayenne pepper.

In Nebraska, artists & writers find themselves as they find each other.

In Nebraska, stories are pressed into palms and given away over cups of coffee and long drives from one town to another.

In Nebraska, we become the wild life. We become wild. We become. We become. Free.

fear of / no longer fearing

Sometimes we need to say yes in order to remember that we can. That fear is just a stamp we can remove because perhaps the postage has expired. Perhaps fear is just a word now, with all the meaning thinned out and ghostly.

How long have you been haunted by STOP signs and hiding places.

On a sunday in june, you put on your rain boots to walk in the tall grass, which hides tiny mites which crawl beneath skin. Yesterday, this fear would have kept you inside.

On this sunday in june, you walk with a group of artists into an open field where somebody one day built a ladder going to nowhere, rooted into the ground with concrete and soil. And on this sunday, you slowly ascend with eyes gazing forward. With each climb, you think of yoko ono. Her curled staircase twisted and trembled. But even then, on that thursday in may, you traveled. Up and past fear.

Also, on this sunday in june, you swing from a carved unicorn hanging from a barn, floating without ground. High up, you swing. Thin, pointed horn made of wood between your legs, which you stroke and remember.

On this sunday, you say yes and forget about what frightens you. You take off all your clothes and rub your scars into nebraska. You kiss the wind with your toes. You remember how to be alive. Like this.

how skinny is your swim…

dipping skinny         
          venus spotlight
 two billion ways to
         locate stars
limbs fly through water
        : propellers of flesh strokes
        singed from mosquito wings
soft water dried from ember
         flight of bonfire spirit animals
moon light too shy
         to compete with planets
but if it were to slide
         into view
its gleam would stop
          on breasts, milky drips
terrible swimmers, but 
nipples like hooks digging in
         to tread the rest along

the sexual orientation of my hands

My hands cannot remain straight.

I am constantly aware of this each time I try to cut a piece of wood using mighty band saw. I am wavering.

I’ve never wanted to be more straight in my life. Here, in the midwest flatlands, where nyc sirens have been replaced by scratching paws of raccoons living inside the walls of this house called victoria, and crickets and frog gulps and ticks singeing beneath flames, I am deeply aware of the way I measure and move.

When I use electric sander to smooth out the wood, my hands dance freely. I do not need to move in straight lines, instead I glide in circles.

But when drilling holes, which must be perfectly symmetrical from one side to the other, I notice how deeply un-heterosexual my line is.

Does this make me an incompetent not-quite-but-wish-i-was carpenter. Must things really be so straight all the time?

When I walk, my stride shifts. My crumbs, if dropped, would create a jagged pattern documenting where I’ve been. When I speak, even my words curl, somehow making their way into coherency, but definitely not (and I assure you) through a straight line.

Perhaps I only want to be straight because I think this is the direction things should go. But so much of nature is not straight. Even the fields, perfect one-mile radius on each side, may appear straight but if studied long enough, one would see it’s homosexual (queer) lines. Because of footprints and the tall tall grass. And the ways in which the earth just shifts sometimes.

OK. I’m cool with my homosexual shake. My meandering zigzag lines. Even with the uneven slicing of saw, I still installed some beautiful, smooth shelves. Installed in free-standing cupboard, originally meant for coats. Now, a home for ceramic plates and bowls.

Onward: Nebraska to Art Farm Writing residency!

With large blue backpack packed, I head to Nebraska for two week long writing residency.

When I first decided to be a writer (does one actually decide this?), I never thought I’d be awarded with the biggest gift a writer could get (besides a large box of black-ink extra fine pilot pens!):  TIME. Time to write. Uninterrupted time. An expanse of land to wander, to work, to gather, to meditate.

I began applying to residencies a few years ago. I didn’t know much about how; I just tried to follow the guidelines, submit my poems and hope for the best. It’s definitely a challenge for me to explain what I write or even how I write.

I found myself dressing in the rejection letters, replacing shirts and jeans with printed out form letters, kindly saying thank you, but no.

But a few months ago, I got my first yes. I immediately sent a message to my friend/accountability partner/mentor to tell him of this news. He was excited and also cautious. He wanted me to make sure this was what I wanted and how I wanted it to be. He told me to sit on it and give it a day or two before answering.

I walked around. I imagined myself writing in a state I’ve never been before. I imagined working on a farm, doing various forms of construction/carpentry/gardening/upkeep. I imagined sitting in front of my computer (INTERNET OFF!) and just writing. Working on poems and neglected prose.

Then, a little over twenty-four hours later, I made my decision.

YES. Of course! This has been my dream. And such validation as a writer to be granted this. YES. YES. YES!

So, here I go. Off to the 37th state admitted into this country in 1867. A state known for its tornadoes and thunderstorms. Major producer of beef and corn and writers!

My goal is to……well, write. But also to meditate on life and this existence and this privilege to go to a place specifically for writers and artists.

My goal is to poem and to sentence and to edit and hike and create and share and nourish and soak in this beautiful new (to me) land.

Thank you, Art Farm, for this amazing opportunity.

And writers, artists, creators of various sorts, you can do this too!

Do your research and find out residencies that are a good fit for you. Make goals. Search out deadlines. Find some land to spread your art on!