This is my first time at a writing residency. It was not free, although it used to be–an article in Our State magazine featuring the Weymouth Center’s Writers-in-Residence program hangs on the wall outside the kitchen downstairs, and describes the residency as a two-weeks stay for (invited!) writers, who then would also give a reading in town and teach a workshop at the local community college. This was in 1997–almost a different world. Nonprofits everywhere have suffered since then. Now it costs $250 a week to stay at Weymouth Center, in Southern Pines, NC. The cost helps to pay for the groundskeeping of what is now a historic Southern estate with, you guessed it, historic and extensive grounds.
Real talk about childcare and homecare: my partner took our children to a family reunion while I’ve been away, and I paid a friend to housesit our pets and garden while we were all gone.
What’s Weymouth like?
The first thing I want to say is that this residency is quiet. So quiet. That seems to me to be a factor that a writer would either love or loathe, depending on temperament. The Boyd Tract (part of Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve) is located next to Boyd House, and has an easy 1-mile loop, Round Timber Trail, and many trails circling and intersecting horse trails you can also walk. The longleaf pines are resplendent in these woods. We are talking hundreds of acres. The house has beautiful flower gardens, frog ponds and fountains, and ample benches everywhere. There are picnic tables throughout the meadow by the Boyd Track, and I’ve gone out reading there some evenings.
The residency doesn’t provide food, but does have a small kitchen with a full size fridge and freezer, a microwave and stove, a drip coffee pot (with cone filters) and french press and grinder (I consider this essential information). There are tea towels and sponges and soap, and dishes. No tea to be seen, but there are some oils, soy sauce, salt and a couple scant cooking basics.
I have my bike with me, and have biked to both Food Lion (about 2 miles) and Lowe’s Food while here. The first time, my GPS directed me down some busy roads (Highway 1) and that was a little surprising/terrifying for me, a new cyclist! Motorists were really gracious to me. The next trip, I took backroads, which resulted in more like a 3-mile ride through residential Southern Pines–lots of right and left turns, and uphill for a fair bit of it. It is hard work to carry your groceries back in a backpack! A car would definitely make this residency easier–or bringing all of your groceries. But of course, one always forgets something.
What have my days been like?
Lovely as hell, haha. I have a cozy room (The Max Perkins room–one of the smaller rooms, but right next to the kitchen and a bathroom, and the lighting is good, the bed comfy, everything ample), and I’ve slept well but not as much as I thought I would!
The first day I arrived, last Monday, I took a brief nap. I didn’t really know what resting would be like–after all, a residency is time to write. So balancing rest and writing is something you have to approach rather generously, I think. Listen to what your body says it needs! I needed that little nap. I woke up, and started an essay that night. My wifi wasn’t working at all that day (it was fixed, apparently), so I hotspotted my computer to my phone for any googling I needed to do.
Most days I wake up, make coffee, and write for a few hours. I usually take afternoon breaks to read a couple books I have been wanting to read, but couldn’t find the concentration for at home with children chiming every few minutes (Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! and Stephanie Jones-Rogers They Were Her Property–I read about a chapter in each every day). I have taken so many walks in the longleaf pine woods, and visited the oldest-known living longleaf pine (473 years!) and the second largest longleaf in the state (I love this tree!). The meadow that is also part of the Boyd Track has mowed paths through it, and it lovely walking as well. I’ve seen so many deer, pileated woodpeckers (and the red cockaded and red-headed woodpecker!), and other birds. The wood trails have sand put down, so sneakers+socks are recommended. I haven’t encountered a single tick while here, though there are red ant hills to watch out for.
I wrote two new essays, several poems, read three books total (Christopher Kempf’s gorgeous new What Though the Field Be Lost, LSU Press, 2021). Some evenings I was tired, so I watched some films I needed quiet space to watch: Agnes Varda’s Vagabond (1985) and Mur Murs (1981), Eric Rohmer’s A Summer’s Tale (1996).
What most surprised me?
The inability to revise. I just couldn’t. I’m really happy with the new work I’ve done this week, and feel like these essays are going to be a part of my WIP essay collection Confederate Monument Removal. Something about the new physical space triggered a new mental space for me–I couldn’t return to drafts I’d written at home. Which is fine, they will get revised, but new work does not always get written! Our best laid plans, etc.
What is the item I’m happiest I brought with me?
I’m a terrible homebody, so my pillow with its familiar flannel cover and my favorite fuzzy blanket. These made my bed instantly homy, and frankly, reading in bed is one of my favorite things in the world. I’m a Taurus, ha.
What was this week’s deepest pleasure?
The woods, the pine woods. Just soaking in them. The “pine barrens,” the change and difference of environment (and yet an environment absolutely connected to my writing, and thus really inspiring for my work. I had never considered before that WHERE you do a residency really, really matters for your work. If you’re working on essays on the South and pine poems for a poetry manuscript, well then: this is it! You don’t necessarily want a desert or mountain residency, or an urban one). Walking anytime I felt like it has been wonderful, freeing–no cats or dog or children needing anything. Silence. Time with my thoughts. I love being able to chase down every single thought I had, every line that popped into my mind. Such a privilege to have that space and time.
It’s also been great to meet a writer I had never met before, the poet John Hoppenthaler. John and I exchanged books, and have sat out on the porch in rockers at night and talked. After so much isolation from other writers (the weird, screen world of Zoom excepted), it has been a real joy to connect with a writer as experienced and also committed as John. We are both ghosts in this old house, keeping to our rooms or quiet writing nooks outdoors most days. (The Weymouth Center can house up to four writers in residents at any given time, though this last week in June/July is their final week before closing until October, I believe, when they open back up to writers).
If you’re a Carolina writer who has given a lot of their labor to others recently, but have not experienced space and time for yourself and your writing, I highly recommend Weymouth. If the cost is an issue, let me know and I will help you set up some funding.
I want to note that this old building is not accessible–lots of stairs (all the rooms are upstairs), narrow hallways, etc. If you have any questions, please reach out.
Here’s a link to their application: https://weymouthcenter.org/writers-in-residence/writers-in-residence-apply-here/