The muse is perched firmly on my shoulder here in the snowy woods of New Hampshire. MacDowell was founded by Marian MacDowell, a pianist and the widow of composer Edward MacDowell, in 1907, making it the oldest artists' colony in the U.S. It's an ideal creative haven, over 400 acres of pristine land dotted with 32 artists' studios and some larger houses that serve as dorms. I have a tiny room in one of those, but almost all my time is spent in my studio, which is called Veltin (I'll have to find why, but I suspect some generous Veltin or another — Vladmir perhaps, and his lovely wife Natasha — gave the money to have it built) and is about a half-mile away from the dorm and Colony Hall, where we eat and gather. Veltin is a nearly picture-perfect woodcutter's cottage from a Grimm's fairy tale, apart from the outdoor electric lights and the Volvo with the "Republicans for Voldemort" sticker parked in front. There are plaques in each studio dating from the colony's founding, signed by the arists who worked there. This was Thornton Wilder's favorite studio — apparently he insisted on having it every time he came, and wrote a good part of "Our Town" in this very room, which gives me a lovely frisson every time I think of it — as well as the poet Edward Arlington Robinson's. Veltin has also frequently been a composer's studio, hence the piano, which is currently underutilized as an overlarge, oddly shaped shelf for my coat, gloves, and lunch hamper. I arrived the 364th day of 2009 and celebrated New Year's Eve with a half-complement of residents (16 initially, but new arrivals this week have nearly doubled our number). New Year's amongst virtual strangers was strange but fun. We did a studio crawl where each host served one drink and played one song, to which we all danced. In my case, Prosecco and "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough," in honor of our bonkers but brilliant fallen comrade, Michael Jackson. Afterward we gathered in front of the big common fireplace in Colony Hall, and Katya, who is Dutch and was one of the youthful organizers of the night's festivities, inducted us into a fascinating fortune-telling ritual from Finland, called "Einan Sulatus" or "Uuden Vuodentina." She took a roll of 1/8th-inch tin cord she bought at the hardware store, cut it into small twists and gave us each one, which we melted in a spoon over the fire and then plunged into a pail of cold water or snow. Then she helped us interpret the shapes. A random sampling: a heart, a footprint making a big mark, a mitten holding a snowball, an ear, a couple embracing, a shrimp/seahorse/fetus, depending on who you asked, and two linked eighth-notes which were eerily perfect, and which of course belonged to one of the composers. Mine can best be described as a wild twisted tortured amorphous mass, from which protrudes a well-defined fat little tongue. My interpretation: my crazy brain, which somehow manages to produce decent, lucid prose. However I welcome any further insights into this great mystery.
I must take a moment to rhapsodize about the food. In the interest of brevity, I'll limit this first paean to breakfast: the homemade muffins and coffee cakes and bacon and French toast and frittatas and blueberry pancakes and mushroom crepes and eggs Benedict and popovers we are served in luscious rotation, by a staff cheerfully dedicated to satisfying the myriad culinary restrictions and whims that artists tend to have in disproportionately high numbers compared to regular human beings: no meat, no dark meat, nothing with legs, no shellfish, no dairy, no berries, no gluten, no sugar, no yolks, no goat cheese (mine). The hot portion of breakfast is served between 7:30 and 8:30, and I make it there by 8:29 at least half the time: a true testament to the talents of the chefs.
Last but most important: All this nurture is benefiting RED tremendously, and I'm writing incredibly well here. The book feels inexorable now: a rough beast, slouching toward Bethlehem to be born. Or, for the more cheerful souls amongst you, a beautiful flower daintily unfurling its petals in the midst of winter.
Below: Colony Hall, Veltin, Thornton was here, my fortune for 2010