My husband Ken has come to Mineral, Washington, to help me bust out of the eponymous Mineral School. I’m a student of sorts here, but now I’m not sure I want to leave the place. I’ve been at the school for two weeks as the Erin Donovan Writing Fellow where I have had precious time to write and think and to write some more. And I’ve been treated like a queen thanks to the magnificent Jane Hodges, Mineral School’s founder, and her incredible team.
This is Jane’s fourth year running the school’s residency program. She bought the building in 2013 expressly for the purpose of transforming it into an artist’s retreat. She’s pretty much a one-woman show who will tell you that the Mineral School works because she has an incredible board by her side. Practically speaking, this means Jane has a cadre of amazing, can-do volunteers. I have to pause here for a moment to tell you that Jane cooked almost all of gourmet-style meals for me and the three other residents who lived and worked in these old-style classrooms.
Yes, you read that correctly. We lived in classrooms with wood floors and several feet of chalkboard. This could have been triggering, but it wasn’t. It was mostly amusing and always cool. These classrooms are their own counties—800 square feet that tempted me to do cartwheels. It’s a shame I don’t know how to do them. I mostly doodled on my blackboard, but the visual artist here used his board efficiently to tape his drawings in progress accompanied with descriptions of the work. Another resident finished her novel and another is almost done compiling her poetry manuscript. And as for me, revision was the watchword during my stay. I’m deep into the next round of edits on my memoir.
I have to point out that the chief feature of my room, and I am including my large bed in this accounting, was the rocking chair. I’ve been self-soothing in rocking chairs for most of my life. As soon as I saw the rocker in my room, I knew everything was going to be fine. That implies that I had my doubts. Not about the Mineral School, but about me roughing it in a sixty-year-old schoolhouse that hadn’t been in use since the early 2000’s. I am not a great traveler—flying across the country by myself was not something to which I was looking forward. Flying to a place that I heard had intermittent Internet and no cell service was downright frightening to me. Never mind that I don’t like to do things like share a bathroom down the hall or have to find it in the middle of the night, something I haven’t done in almost four decades since I went to college. (The Mineral School to the rescue on that one: they provided a flashlight!)
Many of my neuroses fell away the moment I saw Jane. She hugged me and I knew I would be comfortable and productive in this place. All Jane and her volunteer staff wanted were for my fellow residents and me to be our best, creative selves. It turns out this meant something beyond just producing work—it meant reveling in our work. And how I’ve reveled. I read books that fed my soul and stimulated my brain. I have started on revisions that I know will revitalize my book and me, and I have been preternaturally calm. Calmness does not come easily to me. Nor does contentment. But content I have been these past two weeks.
After I received the notice of the Mineral School residency, Ken and I planned to go to Seattle together afterwards. That entailed him coming to the school and rescuing me after two weeks. He arrived this morning, and I could not be happier to see him. But I hardly needed saving. In fact, I wanted a few more days here to keep working on a knot of an essay that I’m just beginning to untangle. I have this big classroom where he can easily stay out of my way and hang out with me when the spirit moves me. I was devising a plan as he and I lay in bed staring at the acoustic tile ceiling and the fluorescent lights. Although he was trying to nap, I asked him if this was the oddest place to which I had ever brought him to stay. “It’s the coolest place,” he said sleepily.
I’m not quite ready to leave for the big city yet—the city being Seattle. But maybe it’s time. I admit that I have a touch of homesickness and I miss my family and friends back home. But the Mineral School has given me incredible gifts: direction and independence. And the Wi-Fi connection; I only told everyone back home it was intermittent so they wouldn’t bother me in my beautiful, spacious classroom.