September 05, 2006
All's Fair in Love and Austerlitz
Hello from Millay. It’s taken me a few days to write, and it’ll be days and days before I write again; but I thought at least one report would be fair.
The drive to Austerlitz, New York, after 11 hours flying from Hawaii and a set of storm delays, was a bit harrowing. 8 hours that took me into the heart of New York City (navigating the upper versus lower levels of the GW bridge had NOT been part of my plan), encountering head-on a car speeding the wrong way down the Taconic State Parkway (I went from a clipping 65 mph to a slothlike 30 mph after that), and arriving on the grounds of the colony at 11 PM—which were modest, dark, and seemingly deserted. I walked around for 20 minutes and found no people, only an empty kitchen and a set of claw marks in the pavement, with a chalk identifier: “BEAR.”
Wandering down to an equally tomblike barn, I finally stumbled across a door to an open bedroom, with a piece of paper thumbtacked up that read SANDRA. I fell asleep, exhausted and a bit demoralized, in a bed I assumed was meant for me. I woke up, looked around at the neatly pined-and-linened room and beyond, out the window into a rural hill covered with goldenrod. My nose was sunburned and peeling from Hawaii, and my head ached. It was dead quiet, and thought: don’t know if I’ll stay here. Don’t know at all.
Two hours later was an immeasurable improvement. Calliope, our director, found me and shared a strong pot of coffee and a tour of the grounds. I found the odd room to go for an internet signal, the odd bend in the road to walk to for a cellphone connection. Hopping into my car, restless to see the countryside in actual daylight, I found…the Chatham County State Fair. So my first day at the Millay Colony included a tractor pull, a sheep auction, riding the Trapeze of Flying Chairs, buying a baked potato and fresh apple cider, enjoying the 4H display “How to Keep Your Amphibian Hoppy” and the music of the Squeeze Accordion Band, and winning three goldfish with the toss of a pingpong ball. At dinner I finally met my Colony-mates—five kind, funny, creative people. Wine flowed. We named the fish Edna, Norma and Kathleen, after the Millay sisters. After dinner, the true test: going back to my studio, turning up the track lights and the space heater, and trying to actually write.
And today, pinned to me door, a first draft: “The Fish.” So I’ll stay. Once the sun comes out, I'll go find that rumored Poetry Walk and get to know the woman of the house, Ms. Millay.