The two week fairy tale that was Ragdale

How does one describe how great Ragdale is? Let’s start with the house. Houses, actually, since my group was the first to settle in since the main Ragdale house reopened for residents after two years of  renovations. And what a house it is! We spent many an afternoon there, either drinking Bora’s world-class mojitos in the kitchen (among other libations) or relaxing on one of the many screened-in porches, or attending readings in the vast living room during our second week.

I was in the Barn house, the Playroom specifically, with its practical sink and bay window and private stairwell to a cupola. My very own cupola! I felt like Rapunzel. A sweaty Rapunzel, since it was usually too hot to spend much time there. The barn house had the great Ragdale library, the office, and of course, the main kitchen, with all the Greek Yogurt and tea and jellybeans and trail mix a guy could ask for, not to mention a leftovers selection fit for the White House.






Which brings me to Linda, Ragdale’s resident cook, the Goddess of cuisine, the lady who juggles allergies and vegans and every dietary restriction known to man and still manages to concoct a feast worthy of kings six nights a week, every week, for over ten years now. That she does so with such grace and passion, that she isn’t sick to death of her (really long) commute and the fussy eating habits of artists and writers, that she can go two months without repeating a meal and make all of us feel like we are inspiring her, well, it takes a special woman. I could start listing each of her memorable meals but we’ll be here all day. Thank you, thank you, Linda!












Next up: the Prairie and it’s quiet remove, the Queen Anne’s lace and tiger lilies, the light of the setting sun, and how when you walk either in the open or in the shady paths on the perimeter, how that serenity is exactly what allows certain pieces to come together in your mind. On our last night, right after Rich gave his inspirational reading about the letter he wrote to his nephew explaining how he writes because it’s “fun” and how even the hardest parts can be fun, a bunch of us went out to the Prairie for one last time, and the fireflies were out in full force, creating a symphony of light. It was the perfect image to encapsulate our time there.

We were a social bunch. By day five we had started our tradition of 5:30 happy hour, then dinner, then our evening constitutional. We all participated in after dinner readings and everyone seemed really engaged in each other’s work, asking questions and making great observations. Joanne read some very moving pieces from her collection of essays about her mother. Lori cracked us up with tales of her all-donut diet and a woman who brings Slimfast with her on a first date. Adam’s poems were rhythmic and playful, with a lot of emphatic repetition and concrete imagery. He also read from his book of translation of the Uruguayan poet Marosa di Giorgio. Bora read an excerpt from her novel that was intense and violent and so, so gripping. Ann read excerpts from her non-fiction pieces, about a spider and also about her father. Rich read scenes from a few of his very funny but also thoughtful one-act plays, and Bora and I even got to act one of these scenes out. Jesse’s poems focused on the concept of a “house” and several of them were constructed by erasure, using a source material and then removing certain words and using what remained to construct the poem, much like collage work. Our lovely resident liaison Rita also read a few short pieces, and like me, one of those pieces was in the 1st person and another was in the 2nd, and both were precise and poignant. (Pics below)

The visual artists each had open studio time and explained to us their processes. We learned about Nazy’s devotion to black and white and her passion for photographing doorways, windows and other openings/passageways. She’s always trying new things, from painting to drawing to sculpture.

Deanna works with a soon-to-be-if-not-already obsolete material, medical diagnostic film. She paints the films and then cuts them up and staples the pieces back together to create these images that are simultaneously beautiful and unsettling. While at Ragdale she experimented with new forms, which look like this:

I’m not good at remembering the names of the material or the process, but I do remember it involves melting things onto the canvas. These were inspired by the foliage in the prairie, and for a while Deanna thought they might be too “pretty” but I for one see menace behind that prettiness 😉

Chris’s work is saturated with color and form. What I love about his art is that it couldn’t have been created ten years ago. He photographs his pieces and then runs a Google image search on them, and then he uses the images that show up and incorporates them into new images, which he then cuts out and makes collages with, creating these trippy textural abstractions:


Charles is inspired by nature and form. His work focuses a lot on color and his palette is both unexpected and soothing. I loved seeing the drawings he made in the prairie on the wall above the abstractions that were inspired by them:

Ragdale’s motto, on its mugs, t-shirts and stickers, is time and space. It’s both true and essential. I could never have written three stories and started two more in two weeks back home. It’s not just that I was free of distractions. It’s that everything about Ragdale made me want to keep working, to sit in a chair for hours at a time and get past the self-doubt and the fear and just create. We all felt particularly productive there.

Lake Forest is a ritzy town. Like Southampton, very chi-chi, and apparently the third wealthiest in theUS, per capita. The ginormous forty-room homes sit in immaculately tended, several acres large properties, many of which are shrouded by an army of colossal hedges. The most common vehicle you see on the street is a gardening truck. It’s very quaint and tranquil, but also a bit disconcerting: things are almost too perfect.

We had access to beach passes, which I used a few times. The beach is quiet and picturesque and never crowded when I was there. I also went down to Lake Forest college gymnasium quite often since they have an impressive weight/cardio room. And the town’s library is beautiful and has a sizable fiction collection.

The staff, including Regin, Melissa, Simone, Leah, and the soon-to-depart Susan, were always friendly, helpful and relaxed. I couldn’t have asked for a better two weeks. I thank them for making it possible, and thanks also to the greatest bunch of fellow residents a guy can ask for–you guys were generous, supportive, kind, witty and I hope to see you all soon!

Unnameable Books Reading

Monday night was great! The rain cleared just in time as we gathered in the gravel-strewn outdoor space in the back of Unnameable Books for our reading. It was nice to see most of the chairs filled up, and really great to have our little reunion of sorts: Anna, Anne-E and I all met in Rick Moody and Kathryn Harrison’s class at the New York State Summer Writers Institute at Skidmore College six years ago.

Anna North read first, from her novel, freshly out in paperback. Love the new cover, Anna! I followed with a new piece, a prosey-poem called “Instruction Manual.” I’ve done so many readings from the collection in the past two months so I was eager to gauge audience reaction to something new. (Really new. “Unvetted” as I called it. Sloppy perhaps, but I think it went over fairly well)

Anne-E. Wood then read from her novel-in-progress. She really knows how to captivate an audience. I know I’m a pretty forceful (i.e.,loud) reader but Anne-E. is inspiring. She really commits to her prose and brings the words to life in such an engaging way.

Unnameable is the type of bookstore all neighborhoods crave: intimate, relaxed, and full of charm, and full of new and used books in categories both familiar and quirky. (Anna  told us the “Used Drugs” section may have disappeared, something which used drugs tend to do) Adam and Penelope do an awesome job running it and since they also buy used books there’s no better place for all your book-buying needs.


Featured Writer of the Month at Connotation Press

Very excited to be this month’s featured writer over at Connotation Press. Click on the link above to check out my story, “Author’s Journals to the Dictionary of Hannibal Schaumberg, the Language of Non-existent Words” as well as my interview with the editor-in-chief, Meg Tuite, where we talk about the failure of language, the grandiose inner dialogues of Russian writers, and one of my favorite inspirational quotes. Meg is one of the most enthusiastic and positive people I’ve had the pleasure of working with, and she’s also a great writer.

I mentioned this on Facebook a few months ago, how surprised I was to receive the acceptance letter from Meg less than twenty four hours after sending the story out. I had a lot of feedback on this piece, and a great deal of it wasn’t positive, so it was heartening to have someone feel so strongly about it. Only three days later, another magazine asked to publish the story–I hadn’t gotten around to withdrawing it from consideration–so I felt even more heartened that I hadn’t given up on it. In a later post, I’m going to discuss how the process of workshopping and receiving rejection (and yes, even acceptance) letters can dramatically affect how we perceive our own work.

Thanks for reading!

Folding Chair, you so fine

What a pleasure it was to read last night as part of Oana Marian and Prudence Peiffer’s fifteen month old reading series, Folding Chair, named after all those chairs that are set up in the room upstairs at 61 Local, a really great new-ish bar in Boerum/Cobble Hill. The room was pretty packed, which is always a relief, and it was great to see some familiar faces. Many thanks again to my friends who came out to support me and to everyone else who braved the rain. The vibe was super relaxed and warm and friendly. The series usually happens on the first Tuesday of every month, so you should check them out and like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter and do whatever it is you do on Tumblr (I don’t have a Tumblr account, so pardon my lack of terminology)

There’s nothing pretentious or highbrow about this reading series, and that’s probably why they get such a healthy turnout. Just a group of great readers and an engaged, supportive crowd. Not to mention Rowland, our MC, who apparently is one super talented musician. I was so pleased to read with Rachel Cantor and Marie Helene Bertino, ladies whose impressive credentials and excellent stories were only outdone by their warmth and kindness.

I read last, which turned out to be a good thing, since unlike Rachel and Marie, I was going to use up my allotted twenty minutes and then some. It’s rare to be allowed twenty minutes to read, and since I’ve never read “Floating” at a reading before, I was happy for the opportunity. Unlike the other stories in the collection which focus on the men traveling, “Floating” takes the perspective of the hotel manager receiving guests. The piece was inspired by someone whom I met while I was in Arequipa, Peru, who told me, off the cuff, that the manager of my hotel was gay. I wanted to imagine what his life was life in a small, conservative town.

Turns out last night was Oana’s last as organizer of the series for a while, as she is taking a sabbatical to work on a screenplay in Los  Angeles. Best of luck, Oana! And a special shout out to my friend Mike, who just moved back to NY from Seattle. It was great seeing him and catching up.

Afterwards, a few of us went to La Vara, which is a Spanish tapas restaurant on Clinton that is part of the Alex Raij Txikito empire. I would go into detail about how good the food is there–how for instance they have a semolina-walnut date cake dessert which tastes exactly like my Grandmother made it twenty five years ago when she was still alive–but I worry that you’ll all rush there and I’ll have to wait longer for a table when I go, which is often. So I won’t mention how incredible everything is. Of course not :)

The pics below are kind of blurry, but the video ain’t bad, mostly because I don’t look as fat as I thought I would. Thanks for reading!