For the month, I’m changing the emphasis of my blog from “wondering” to “wandering.” That’s because I’m in Prague, Czech Republic, on a writing residency. Residencies vary in their context. Some simply provide a place to sleep and work, with a venue to show or read what you’ve done. This one, associated with Western Michigan University, is more of a “study abroad” program. Twenty writers of various genres from all over the US will live in community for 4 weeks of seminars, master classes, peer reviews, one-on-one conferences and readings.
The residency begins Sunday, June 29, with a kick-off dinner and orientation. We dig into the writing on Monday. However, there will be lot of time to explore this inspiring city and surrounding areas. So I’ll be posting lots of photos.
The problem with Prague is that it’s so photogenic. It’s over a thousand years old, with a varied topology and mix of architecture. People call it “Golden Prague” because of the ornate gold work found everywhere–on its buildings, statues and monuments. It’s also called “The City of a Thousand Spires,” due to its many churches.
Prague crackles with vitality as well. It’s hilly and scenic. A river runs through it. People enjoy the beauty in a multitude of ways. They stroll under sweet-smelling lindens that line the river walk, listen to musicians, eat at outdoor cafes, shop at open-air markets, and boat on the river. Runners, bicyclists, skate-boarders and segway-ists keep up a steady stream of activity along the walkways. The trolleys clang, the train whistles blow and, each hour, a bell-tower somewhere chimes.
There are photo ops everywhere–up, down, in the distance and up close. Prague is always posing. You get a shot, and five steps later there’s another. Or the same shot, with different lighting. I hope the photos I post this month give a glimpse of this most amazing and alive city.
When I was granted a summer 2014 writing residency in Prague, I knew I would have to start admitting to people I’m one of those, you know, writers. That, while others spend their non-working hours attending birthday parties, growing tomatoes or spelunking, I’m happily hunched over a page, creating characters and searching for exactly the right dialog for those made-up characters in my made-up stories.
Usually, I’m pretty outgoing. But I don’t say too much about my own writing. For one thing, people who aren’t familiar with the long, solitary process often equate writing with publishing.
“What have you written?”
“A couple of novels.”
“I don’t think I’ve heard of them.”
“They’re under my bed.”
This is when I get the raised eyebrow, the look of pity. And I suppose writing can seem like a sorrowful endeavor. At the end of a lengthy road, what we have in our hands often does land under the bed. Or, buried in a stack of spiral notebooks we’ve been filling while squirreled away in garrets. Or even in the reject pile, when we finally try to market what we’ve worked on so diligently.
Yet writing, like any other activity we pursue for love, is an end in itself. As with knitting, gardening or playing soccer, there’s a comforting familiarity in handling the tools. There’s an understanding of how things have to come together. There’s growth over time, and an ability to draw back and look at what we’ve created. Finally, there’s a headiness in getting something exactly right and a triumph when we finish–even if it doesn’t go anywhere but under the bed.
And so, when I received the news that I’d be going to Prague with nineteen writers of all ages, genders, genres and experiences, I mentally prepared myself to reveal to others that I write. That, if you count the weepy poems of my youth, I’ve been writing for half a century. I got ready to discuss the joys and disappointments of working for hours at a keyboard. And I braced myself for the question of how widely I’d published.
As I knew they would, the comments came. Like rapid fire.
“Wow, Prague! Where’s Prague?”
“Wow, Prague! Got your passport?”
“Wow, Prague! Who’ll take care of your dog?”
It appears that the only person surprised by my revelation was, um, me. I have been uncloseted as a writer, apparently for some time.
When one of my students heard the news, he said, “Wow, Prague!” And then he repeated to me what I say to students and colleagues before we part for an extended amount of time. “Come back with stories!”