One of the most valuable gifts that writers, composers, and visual artists can receive is an extended stretch of time to focus on their work without the usual daily distractions. I just spent two weeks in a pilot program for a new artist residency created by the Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts. These residencies will take place in a lovely area of the 13,000 acre Brush Creek Ranch, located in a fabulously beautiful part of Wyoming.
Most of us are usually so surrounded by instantly available distractions and obligations that we sometimes forget what it is like to work with singular focus for days at a time.
The Brush Creek residency buildings are log structures, some of which were found locally, then dissembled and rebuilt in their new location. They were modernized with new roofs, electricity, and electric heat in the process. Each resident is assigned a work studio, and in a long log building each are assigned a bedroom with a bathroom—all of which were nicely furnished. There was a common library, kitchen, and dining area.
Everything was set up to let us work without distraction. Our meals were provided, with dinner being the only meal we were expected to eat in common. The other residents are not allowed to come to your studio unless invited. There were no televisions anywhere. The location is remote enough so that only one cell phone service worked (in this case AT&T). There was Wi-Fi internet which provided a way to stay in touch when necessary, but not with the blazingly-fast high connection speed many of us have at home.
For me, while at the residency, the distractions of daily life seemed remote and out of sight. Things such as bills, grocery shopping, chores, choosing where and what to eat, attending meetings, being on time—all such problems were temporarily absent. I could go to bed thinking about my project (finishing an opera) and wake up thinking about it, knowing that I could spend as many hours of the day as I wanted working on it.
If as a resident you became mentally exhausted, you could take a walk in a stunningly beautiful landscape—seeing marmots, mule deer, horses, cattle, hummingbirds, goldfinches, swallows, hawks, and vultures. In my case I sometimes took a couple of hours to fly fish in some of the area’s world-class creeks and rivers.
In two weeks at the residency I finished work I had calculated would probably take more than a month. Much of that work efficiency came simply from staying focused. Books on time management sometimes say that in order to do some things, we need to deliberately choose not to do others. In our constantly plugged-in world, sometimes it is valuable to be reminded of what it is like to work when we are unplugged from everything except the one most important project we are trying to accomplish. Being reminded of that might just help us seriously reevaluate the way we spend our time once we get home.