Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A non-writing day at the writing residency

I’ve been at the Art Farm for six days, and I think I’ve seen every type of spider known to man. As of today, I have declared war on spiders, and after a nasty bite on my ankle I have no regret smashing one beneath my tennis shoe or even, since I’m a hardcore NE artist now, between my fingers if given the chance.

I’ve been walking the cornfields, on average 8 miles a day, and working the land. I haven’t been wearing any makeup, which is a sobering thing—amazing how ingrained that part of my routine was—and I’ve been making decisions based on the experience I’ll have, rather than the practical or easy thing to do (I don't have to squeeze twenty things into twenty minutes right now. I can do one thing, and that's okay.). There’s some life lesson here, I’m sure.

But I want to talk about Grand Island. I went into town with an artist-friend
who was planning to pick up two bison skulls that play some role in a traditional Native American sun dance, which, she says, she’s done ten years running. She invited me, but I don’t want to commit myself for so many days of my residency. That said, I was tempted and I was glad to spend a day with her to pick her brain a little. Experience is everything, and mine has been so limited in general.

We went to a thrift store that was open. The man who greeted us did so by saying they were closed. His wife yelled from the back, “Get them out of there! We’re closed.”

“But they’re just looking around,” he said in our defense. When I told the woman I was here from San Antonio, she softened and said that was a hell of a long way.

We went to more thrift stores after, then antique stores, metal recycling (see image), then plastic recycling (“1-7 only, not sure where you can get rid of anything but 1-7”), then the hardware, then Hi-V (the local grocery), and by the end of our travels I believe we may have seen all of downtown Grand Island.
One of the most notable stops was at Quality Industrial Sewing, where a man named Ron showed us a sewing machine that could penetrate eight layers of leather. My friend bought it, and in turn Ron showed us his back room, where he has restored three hot rods. He told us how the design for a bachelor’s car differed from that of a family man’s, and how his air conditioning was reserved for those cars, to keep them in good shape when we asked why it was nice and cool in that room but not where we entered (the official store part).

Finally, after some light grocery shopping, we went to an Antique Mall, where I bought a book that will find its way into my writing for many years to come, I believe. Here’s a short excerpt from the Manners at the Table section:

“Do not blow food to cool it. Do not pour hot drinks into saucers to cool them. Hold a bone on both ends with the tips of the fingers on both hands when it is necessary to pick it up. Do not let crumbs or liquids cling to the lips. Do not lick the lips conspicuously. Do not ask for something on another person’s plate…”

Or this one from The Attractive Figure:

“Our mode of living during this twentieth century has established the ideal figure for a woman as one that is slender without being scrawny; lithe, sure, and quick-moving. Women do things nowadays. They are champions at sports, they follow careers, they drive cars, they keep homes and personal interests thriving side by side. The fragile woman, or the woman with too much avoirdupois, cannot keep pace with the present mode of living.”

—Capper, Arthur (Editor), The Household Searchlight Homemaking Guide, 1937

This book tells one everything from how to properly eat vegetables to how to throw a successful “Hobo Get-together” party. My life is changed forever. (Talk about endless material!)


Verdict: Downtown Grand Island, which is the big city compared to Marquette, NE where I am staying, is charming. The people are kind and, more, content. I was struck, in fact, with how content everyone seemed, right down to the woman who didn’t want us shopping her thrift after-hours (but ended up letting us buy things after all). There are some parts of the US in which folks don’t always want to be elsewhere and where you can find antique gems and recycle with gusto while maintaining a slow and steady pace.

I enjoyed my non-writing day, my company, and the town of Grand Island so much, in fact, that I may have to have another non-writing day at some point during this residency.  

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