The last week of the residency was intense. There was a sense of the clock ticking. Just as we were coming together as a group, forming close friendships and connections, we became aware we’d soon be going our separate ways.
During the first week people worked away in their studios and houses, settling into the work they would do. At our house, Le Capanne, writing time was spaced out with afternoon sunbathing on the lawn (with a glass of wine and some great Italian cheese) and walks down to the village café. By the second week, as we had one-on-one sessions with the writers and artists in residence, the pace intensified. This was where the rubber hit the road creatively, and people began working late into the night and missing meals once the muse struck.
Each night we’d walk up the road to the hamlet to join the group in the Courthouse for our craft talks. In our second week talks Michael Salu challenged us to find intersections between image and words. He shared examples of his innovative work and inspired me to integrate image into text. Cheryl Tan talked about the business of writing, and how to create a social media presence. She generously shared her experiences, inviting us to join the brazen “cupcake brigade” schmoozing with booksellers to promote ourselves and our work.
After the craft talks we’d visit some of the artists’ studios, and later writers would share readings with the group. Then it was cocktail hour with fabulous spreads of cheese, fruit, and Katie’s (hot out of the oven, melt in your mouth) focaccia bread before we headed down to dinner.
The range of work being done at the residency was incredibly diverse. Writers were working on memoir, fiction, non-fiction, poetry and essays and artists worked in large and small scale, in a range of mediums. In the short time we were together we began to see our work evolving. I was working on a novel as well as fine-tuning a picture book manuscript. My one-on-one sessions with Cheryl, Rosa and Erinn were more than I could have hoped for. They were incredibly generous with their time and provided insights, ideas and questions that will move my writing forward. I am tremendously grateful for the inspiration I’ve taken away from these sessions.
Our last day together was bitter-sweet. It was hard not to feel sad that this magical time was coming to an end. From the day I arrived I enjoyed support, generosity, inspiration and wild fun in this amazing community of artists, and I didn’t want it to end. None of us did. There were many tears shed at dinner and we were all deeply grateful to Erinn, Julie, Cheryl, Michael, and all the artists-in-residence and staff who made our residency such an extraordinary experience.
Groggy-eyed, I left Camporsevoli early Saturday morning and headed off to Rome with Lydia and Fizza. We left Fizza at the airport and I felt a heaviness in my heart as she headed back to Pakistan, knowing that it was unlikely we would meet again. I am grateful to have met such an amazing person and talented artist. On one of our last nights the group visited Fizza’s studio to view images and an installation which had been inspired by the violent death of the daughter of her close friend just weeks before she arrived at Lemon Tree House. The work was powerful, and emotional and a beautiful tribute to lives lost too soon.
Fizza gave me a parting gift of an image, a mother and child sharing the joy of reading, that I will always treasure.
When I first landed in Rome, at the beginning of this journey, I was met by U.S. artist Lydia Dollar, and together we made our way to Lemon Tree House. It seemed fitting that we were together at the end for a last dinner at the Rome airport. We tried to put into words what the experience had meant to us, but there simply were no words.
On October fifth, I packed my bags and set off on a journey that I somehow felt would not be a round trip so much as a crossing over. I am in a time of transition, the beginning of the third act of my life. After working full-time since I was 18, I’m ready to step away from what I have to do to what I want to do.
Last night I landed back in Halifax and was met at the airport by my beautiful son Sean. Feet back on home soil and embraced by my family. But, I am changed. I’m not the same Carol who left October fifth. During my time at Lemon Tree House I felt seen and valued, supported and embraced by an amazing community of writers and artists. I felt safe to explore and challenge myself to express the world in a way that feels authentic. I saw a way of life that I can choose – a way to spend my days, in this third act of my life, that will feel right for me.
I remember how scared I was before I set off on this journey. How my knees were shaking as I walked out the door into the airport limo. But I faced the fear – and I crossed over.