where the writers are
Ad Astra Per Aspera: Create Your Own Residency

By Henriette Lazaridis Power

The letter sat on our kitchen counter next to the fruit bowl (which really should be called the Vessel of Neglected Fruit—but that’s another story). It was printed on crisp, gray paper, with an impressive letterhead and a bold signature. One of my kids picked it up and began to read it. “Cool, Mom,” he or she said, in a surprising display of pride. “You got a fellowship?” (I’m protecting said child’s identity for reasons you will soon understand). “Wait, Kelley administers the fellowship? That’s cool.” Kelley is my best friend.

The letter announced that I had been granted a residency by the Ad Astra Per Aspera  Foundation. The AAPA was pleased to offer me a stay of up to two weeks, with meals, room, and board included—and, most of all, peaceful undisturbed time in which to work on my novel. My kid was suitably impressed.

But my kid was also sweetly gullible. No, Kelley had not suddenly gone to work for a writers’ residency, and no, she had not violated all kinds of ethical principles by offering a spot to her writer friend.

What she had done, though, was to offer me some much-needed time away from my own household. And hassle-free time to write.

I did my AAPA for only three days that year (as much as I could get away for). Each day I got up at six and settled down to work at Kelley’s dining room table while she was at her office. I took a break to join her for a workout at her local YMCA, then went back to write or revise until she returned at the end of her day. After a nice social dinner, I went back to work, usually until well after midnight. They were long and exhausting days, but there were only three of them. I got a lot done, my momentum unstopped by things like errands, school pick-up, cooking, and, well, children.

The message here? Who wouldn’t want the Macdowell lunch basket? Or the YaddoYaddo-ness? Sure it’s great to be somewhere where the beauty of unspoiled nature can inspire you to create great art. But why not take a modified Dorothy approach? There’s no place like your friend’s home to get your creative juices flowing. All you need is a willing friend—and a willing spouse, dog-sitter, or boss (or all of the above), and you can set up your very own residency. With some nice paper stock and a bold, blue pen, you can even produce an impressive acceptance letter to leave out on the kitchen counter.

Have you created a residency for yourself? Where? How did it go?