Yaddo (rhymes with shadow) is an exciting community of artists of all stripes in upstate New York, just outside of Saratoga Springs, the racing Mecca. It is famously the place where Carson McCullers, Truman Capote, and John Cheever wrote much of their work, and played.
In the spring of 2009 I was a resident writer at Yaddo. In the community of 35-40 preselected peers, there was a brief breaking-the-ice period (i.e. telling about yourself), but no one was jockeying for fame. Others were a London barrister-turned-novelist who relaxed by trouncing down three flights of stairs in the mansion to beat out a dozen notes of "The Moonlight Sonata" on the grand piano in the music room-during the "quiet hours"; a performance artist of no known address who led a Ibsen-like trek to the castle in the woods where she hung by a twisting sheet; and a composer from Africa intrigued by the odd sounds in the spaces. A 70ish photographer enlisted several sinewy young men to pose as upper body models for her project, and another artist stood on an 8 ft step ladder in her studio to work on an interwoven piece. .
There are "haunted" rooms and two large bat nets available, as needed. I stayed in Spencer's Den, a two-room suite on the second floor of the mansion. Its heavy antique furniture included a brass bed and large executive desk. A black rod iron chandelier hung overhead, and a tall floor fan circulated the air. The view from the panoramic leaded stained glass windows overlooking the grounds was conducive to creativity. From them a coterie of joggers could be seen on the paved roads below, their only hazards the roving skunk and tics carrying Lyme disease.
The "Yaddish" met for breakfast in the large downstairs dining room. My favorite selection, eaten while engaged in rousing conversations, was poached eggs topped with mandarin orange slices and a single sweet violet. Everyone took a box lunch to work during the enforced silent period from 10-5. In this atmosphere I could refine my thoughts onto a blank page, while another resident wryly said, "I'm sick of too much freedom to create." Most of the residents accomplished a great deal away from their usually humdrum lives, having the time to look critically at their work.
A 6 o'clock sharp, the community met on the backyard verandah for BYOB gatherings. A SAP (special assistant to the president) facilitated the conversations among the European smokers and American whiskey drinkers-artists can be shy and sometimes naïve. Poker, scrabble, and late-night conversations, or hook-ups, were common.
Yaddo is on private property, but frequent curious intruders looking to site famous artists stopped near the lower rose garden to gawk, being perfunctorily warned off by the groundskeeper who pointed out deer droppings (tics). The mansion and outlying studios all have entry codes to guard their priceless contents.
Yaddo, as a working community, provided an intensity I needed during my two-week stay, giving me time to outline part II of my biography. I had started to deflect from devotion to my twelve-year project, wondering if I should get back to my own life. But I realized, after so long, that I am what I write. Yaddo takes applications on-line.