Last week I had the great pleasure of being the writer-in-residence at Mathew Gallery in Chinatown, thanks to a sponsorship by the wonderful Montez Press. I had intended to spend my week of writing creating a new, probably lengthy, story, but that felt ambitious in my limited time frame that included planning and executing a launch party at the gallery for one of my authors.
While talking to the residency coordinator, she inquired whether I might want to create something more visual and inspired me to make my very first chapbook. The only visual writing I’ve ever created has been by taking forms or legal documents and rewriting them creatively. I had three already created, the legal contracts “THIRD-PARTY AGREEMENT” and “INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR AGREEMENT,” along with my “Church Exit Interview.” I ended up creating one brand new piece and spent three hours one evening printing, folding, and stapling pages that eventually became Sign Here. I’ve never been involved with the physical act of putting together a book. Touching my work and folding the pages helped me connect with the visceral experience of a book. The process reminded me that a book is not simply a set of ideas but a tangible object.
The first night I sat alone in the quiet, white-walled gallery, I felt the emptiness of the room as heavily as the emptiness of my new blank document. There was something very strange about spending hours alone in the gallery with nothing but my work. I spend plenty of time each week alone in my apartment with nothing but my work, but being in a new setting with a deadline hanging over me to finish a new piece added an immediacy to my work that I really valued. I’m thankful I had this opportunity because it forced me out of my comfort zone, both the literal comfort zone of my apartment as well as my narrative/structural comfort zone of writing straightforward short stories.
I can’t wait until the next residency, whether it’s a gallery located on a busy city street or a retreat in a coastal town. It’s important as a writer to push and challenge yourself as much as possible, and sometimes that happens simply by placing yourself in a new environment.