riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


Catskills: First Impressions

After a 3-week, 4500 mile road trip across the U.S.A. with my dog, I’m finally in the Catskills of upstate New York. Yay!

And OH MY G-D.

Ever since arriving last Tuesday, I’ve been in a pleasant but no less real state of culture shock. Not surprising for someone who just traveled from a city of roughly 9 million people to a town with less than 5,000. I had fantasized what it would be like to be here countless times. Now I’m here and it’s… sort of everything I imagined it would be, and a few things I didn’t.

It’s only been a few days but these are some initial impressions (and images):

It’s quiet. So quiet I can literally hear the buzzing in my ears. This is great for concentration (why I came here), and also great for sleeping. Oddly, I’ve been sleeping like a rock and waking in the middle of the night for no apparent reason. Unable to fall back asleep, I get on my computer to write (tonight at 2:30 a.m.) then go back to bed a few hours later. During the day, I’m full of energy.

It’s loud. Yes, it’s both quiet and loud… with the sound of insects, birds, wind, rustling leaves and the occasional passing car, truck or motorcycle.

It’s remote. The other day I had to drive 45 minutes (one way) and pay $2.00 in tolls to get to my bank. So much is done online these days, it might not be that much of an issue, but it’s definitely an adjustment. I’m thinking I’ll have to coordinate trips into the larger towns to coincide with other errands.

It’s beautiful. I’ll post some proper pictures later, but let’s just say I’ve had to stop the car a few times to take in some of the scenery. This is only a small hint of what’s to come.

Durham - nature 2

It’s green, so very green. I’m grateful to have arrived in early fall so I can witness the leaves turning. Right now, I’m really enjoying all the lush green.

Durham - lush green

It’s alive. Farm animals, wildlife, critters… even the dead skunk on the side of the road was interesting.

Durham - ruby looking at sheepDurham - deer in roadDurham - deer

It’s clean. I haven’t seen one piece of litter or trash — which is not to say I haven’t seen junk in people’s yards, but that’s different.

Durham - free stuff

It smells good. The air is pure and fresh. On rainy, chilly days like today the air was filled with the scent of burning firewood and wet grass. The other day I walked by someone’s house and smelled the sweet buttery scent of an apple pie baking. I actually paused in front of the window and when the lady inside looked at me, I waved. “Smells delicious!”

It’s motorcycle friendly. There are bikers everywhere. In fact, this weekend there was a motorcycle festival in town, complete with live music, spaghetti wrestling and other activities. I didn’t go. But my bike just arrived yesterday, and I can’t wait to ride!

motorcycle in durham

It’s really dark at night. The other night I drove home after dark and needed my high beams the whole time. I try not to think of slasher movies when walking at night. Actually, I try not to walk at night.

It’s friendly. Some people are quicker to talk to me than others, but those who have were extremely friendly. People have given me their phone numbers, invited me to events and introduced me to other folks within minutes of meeting.

It’s intellectual and creative. I’ve received more bookstore and library recommendations in the past five days than I have in 19 years living in Los Angeles, and heard there are many other writers and artists up here.

It’s cheap. Not only are the prices of necessities and services lower, but there are fewer opportunities to spend money. I’m not eating out, going to the movies, walking by stores or cafes. I literally haven’t reached for my wallet to buy anything in three days.

I’m excited to learn more about my new home, meet more people, and get a ton of work done.

Here’s to settling in. 🙂




First Impressions (aka Got Popsicle?)

So, I’m here. In Vermont. Today is the fist official day of the residency, but I’ve been in the state since Friday night. My mind is mush. Partly because I’m slightly overwhelmed (to put it mildly). Partly because it’s 5am and partly because I’m hungover. They gave us wine last night at the reception, but I also had a bottle of my own (a parting gift from my sister), which I brought to the traditional “first night bonfire.”

I’ve said one phrase more than any other in the past 24 hours: “I’m a writer.” Since VSC accepts people from all disciplines, the first question people ask is “what do you do?” Or “where are you coming from?”

“I’m a writer,” I tell them. “I come from LA.” I might as well say I’m from a distant planet, because that’s how it feels. I’m in another world. A very white world – the ground, the trees, the sky, the people (I’ve seen one person of color in 3 days).

Other impressions:

Everything is made of wood. I’m sure there are exceptions, but I don’t recall seeing a concrete or brick building yet

The rural roads seem to go on forever… long, gently curving two-lane roads with few stop signs and even fewer stop lights. Someone mentioned that I would want to come back and ride a motorcycle in the summer? Absolutely.

People are super friendly, but in a pragmatic, no-bullshit way. I think that’s called  being genuine.

There’s a quirkiness too.  Or a sense of humor. Or both. All I know is I passed a handwritten sign on Route 15 that said “Got Popsicle?” followed by another sign for “Popsicle Contest.”

It’s really quiet. No sirens. No buses or trains (or planes for that matter). No helicopters. The loudest noise so far is the snow plow, which passes by at least once ever 30 minutes. There’s  A LOT of snow.

Perhaps because of the quiet, it feels safe.

It better be safe. Our rooms don’t have locks. Rather, they only lock from the inside, so when we’re away the room is protected only by the moral code of our neighbors. I heard a couple of people quietly fretting about it at dinner. One lady was especially concerned because she has a bunch of computer equipment. I told her, “Well, they’re not going to suddenly put locks on the doors. I think we just have to trust. Maybe that’s the whole point.”

Coming from the person who wrote “Packing for Paranoia-ville”. Ha!

There is definitely an aspect of letting go. The founder of the studio, who wore a tunic and several beaded bracelets, mentioned this in his closing/opening remarks last night after dinner. He encouraged us to not only let go, but forget our past lives and disconnect from all our electronic “lifelines” to fully be present with our mind, body, soul and art during our stay here. He was very eloquent and compelling.

After dinner I asked a couple of others if they were going to heed his advice and turn everything off. One lady said, “I can’t. I have a baby at home.” Another said, “I’d like to, but I’m sort of addicted to that stuff.” A third lady said she was going to compromise by leaving her phone in her room while she’s working in her studio. We all agreed the founder’s suggestion was valid and everyone has to figure out what’s best for him/herself.

I had said I would try to blog daily, but we’ll see. It might be less frequent. If you don’t hear from me, it’s because I’m zoning out.

Until next time.