Time away at home, addendum

Yesterday was a perfect time-away day at home.

After spending the first hour of the day letting friends know about new pieces added to my blog (a task that gives me a satisfying sense of completion), I put some notes, my laptop, and an umbrella in a small pack and, with my pack on my back, headed out for a long walk. Despite a weather forecast of clouds and rain with a possible thunderstorm and hail, I planned to be out much of the day on a course I would determine as I went.

I walked a few blocks before stopping for breakfast at a neighborhood coffeeshop, where I also read through past notes for a complicated piece I’m trying to write. Part-way through the longer next leg of my walk, the sun began to prove the forecast wrong. What a gift! After a couple of miles of steep, winding streets and views of the Cascades,  I stopped  for coffee at a tiny coffeeshop where I struggled to find a path through the ideas in the writing. I didn’t actually pull out my computer, but I found at least a preliminary place to begin and started out again. The sun had taken over completely as I headed down the hill attracted by a set of stairs I hadn’t walked before and then headed straight east toward the Aboretum.

A map of my walk made after the fact

Just before reaching the park, I stopped at a cafe/coffeeshop for lunch. I fiddled with my notes as I ate, but forced myself to actually begin before I left. By the time I walked out, clouds covered the sky and the rain had begun. Umbrella up, I headed into the Arboretum and followed a trail along the west edge that I hadn’t walked before, with pines at the start and hollies toward the end. The treat at the end of the trail was a bakery/cafe just outside the park entrance. Over another cup of coffee and a treat, I made pretty good progress in my writing, at least getting a few thoughts into a document on my computer. Sheets of rain came down while I worked.

A bit later, bright sun pulled me outside again, this time to walk an almost straight line home. The straight line I’d walked before reaching the park was level, this one definitely was not. My quick estimate of the elevation gain on one specific block – a short one, at that – was about 65 feet, though it felt like a 45 degree angle. After I got home, the energy of the walk continued and I worked for another hour or so.

The piece I’m writing is far from done, but the day convinced me that interesting places to walk and let my mind wander are another requirement of a satisfying time away.

Ah . . . for time away!

Lately I’ve been longing for a time away but haven’t managed to pull one off for way too many months. So, inspired by my friend Mary, I’m trying to create a short one right here, where I live.

Mary and I go a long way back. In the ‘70s and early ‘80s, she and I each headed up an artist-centered organization, she in New York City, I in Seattle. From time to time we’d threaten to exchange jobs, each convinced that it must be easier in the other’s city. Today she’s an artist in her own right, a writer of poetry and librettos who often collaborates with composers, video artists, and others.1 Once, when we were talking about my need for retreats and times away, she declared, “What I want is a retreat right here on Montague Street!”

Montague Street

Today, my calendar opened up with at least three, maybe four, absolutely blank days. With no time to plan a trip out of town, it was finally time to take up Mary’s challenge.

Reflecting on what makes a rewarding time away brought back memories of the one I consider to be my first. In early 1989, I had just finished two large projects that ran consecutively, each of which alone could have been all-consuming. “I deserve a reward,” I thought to myself. After events involving many smart but strong-willed people, project deadlines, and financial pressures – the gift I gave myself was a retreat, a chance to get away, to be quiet and alone for a while, to think and walk and read. My partner of the time thought I was a little nuts, wanting to go off and spend time by myself.

Madame Marie’s Suite (from Palace Hotel website today, it’s a little fancier than in 1989)

I didn’t go far. I got a room for a week at the Palace Hotel in Port Townsend. Built in 1889, the Capt. H.L. Tibbals Building housed the hotel, which, according to the hotel’s literature, operated as a brothel from 1925-33. I spent the week in “Marie’s Suite,” named for the Madame of the house. From her corner room on the second floor I had a nice view down to the intersection of Tyler and Water Street, Port Townsend’s main downtown drag. I moved the furniture around to put a table in front of the window. Natural light and some sort of view, I now know, is an important aspect of my times away.

Palace Hotel with Marie’s suite on the corner behind a tree that wasn’t as big in 1989

Among the essentials I packed up to take along was the first computer I ever owned, a Mac 512 acquired in 1985. Weighing 16.5 pounds, it was fondly called “the luggable” back then, as “portable” was not yet an adjective used to describe computers.

Other essential materials for a time away are a few books, paper and pens, and good walking shoes. Without having to pack them in, I have all these things, albeit slightly updated, here at home.

What I don’t have here is the focusing isolation offered by being in a different space and a less familiar community, away from the many daily little tasks that are always present at home. My will power will be tested.2


1 Mary Griffin and “Blue” Gene Tyranny, “Recollections: Songs from Aphasia,” presented at Roulette last year.

2 Of course, now I’ve used up most of one of my days making this. Is this how I meant to spend my time away? Or am I procrastinating?  Hard to say.

Time away 4, the Headlands 1991

Rodeo Lagoon with Headlands Center for the Arts, photo by Andria Lo
Rodeo Lagoon with Headlands Center for the Arts, photo by Andria Lo

Notes from the Headlands, Artists and Economics

In August 1991, the Headlands Center for the Arts1 gave me a room, a food stipend, and most importantly about a week and a half away from the constant demands of my office.

I arrived with the intention of mulling over questions of artists and economics that had been on my mind for several years. Many of my thoughts on the subject had been prompted by specific writers, and at the Headlands I took time to re-introduce myself to their work. I carried a pile of books with me and used a computer that was considered “portable” in its day. I lived and worked in one room of a big house full of other artists on their own journeys.

Headlands residency housing

Every day I took at least one long walk, to Rodeo Lagoon and the ocean beach on the other side of the sand bar, or up and over the low windswept hills, past cliffs and coves, decommissioned officers’ quarters and sites of former military installations, to views of San Francisco across the bay. I especially loved the smell of the head-high wild fennel.

about_place crop

But except for the walks and time out to prepare my meals, I buried myself in the books, mostly resisting the temptation to join the other artists in community-oriented activities. Every day of reading and writing was precious.

The books I took with me examined economics from a range of perspectives. They included: Cities and the Wealth of Nations (1985) by Jane Jacobs, The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property (1983) by Lewis Hyde; Redesigning the American Dream: The Future of Housing, Work, and Family Life (1984) by Dolores Hayden; If Women Counted: A New Feminist Economics (1988) by Marilyn Waring; an anthology edited by Paul Ekins, The Living Economy: A New Economics in the Making (1986); a short book, Behind the Veil of Economics: Essays in the Worldly Philosophy (1989) by Robert L. Heilbroner; and Economics in Perspective: A Critical History (1987) by John Kenneth Galbraith. Because I was intent on exploring ideas about artists and economics not just by writing but also by finding ways to take action in my own life, I also used a few experiences from my own life.

Stack books, economics 1 crop

I recorded my engagement with these writers’ ideas in a paper, Artists and Economics: Notes from the Headlands, that contains short excerpts from their writing, paraphrases of their ideas, and some of my own thoughts, especially about artists and economics, that the writers provoked. The first book I considered was Cities and the Wealth of Nations by Jane Jacobs. That section is posted on this site as “Jane Jacobs ­– Economics and messy inefficiencies.

The paper remained open-ended and, for 10 days’ work, it felt finished enough. At the end of my time there, I made a few copies and presented them to a small group of artists and others at a gathering organized by the Center.

All in all, it was a very satisfying time away.


1 Headlands Center for the Arts offers residencies and other programs to artists in all disciplines to support independent and collaborative work. The Center took over the property in the early 1980s and since then has rehabilitated its historic buildings through artists’ commissions. Much has happened since I was there.

About the photos. In 1991 I didn’t carry a camera in my pocket as I do now (that is, my phone), so I have no images of the Headlands that I took myself. I’m grateful to the website of the Headlands Center for the Arts for the photos here. Even though taken several decades later, they bring back the spirit of the place I experienced.

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Time away 3, a rolling retreat

Amtrak ticket jacket crop, text onlyMy ticket jacket expressed my ambition, even though I didn’t actually notice its message until a few days before leaving.

Amtrak ticket jacket crop 2

Too many years had passed since I’d visited good friends and family in California. It was time to go – I missed them. When I realized the trip could also include four rolling days of time away to write and read and daydream, the decision was made.

working in roomette 1 color adjI splurged on my Amtrak ticket and got a “roomette” that comes with wide seats that make into a bed, a little table, meals, “room service” if desired, and a power outlet to keep my “devices” charged. It’s a quiet, private place with a constantly changing scene out the window.

river through a passing freight

Scittery skySanta Barbara wall 2Sunset by bay 2

From Seattle, my first stop was Oakland, the Bay area station, one full day and night on the train. My second stop was the Los Angeles area, another full day farther down the tracks. My assigned room wasn’t on the “scenic” west side of the train in either direction, though on the way down I talked my way into a spot on that side for the most classically beautiful stretch right along the California coast from Pismo Beach almost all the way into Los Angeles.

Calif coast at distance 2The train was full. I liked being able to move back and forth between my own quiet little cubbyhole and lively spaces shared with others – the “parlour” car, dining car, observation car.

I spread out my papers and books and computer in my roomette or took my computer and a few papers to a table in the parlour car or propped my notebook on my knees in the observation car. I didn’t write as much as I’d fantasized I would, but that’s almost always true of my “times away.” The reading and especially the daydreaming filled hours.

working in roomette 2 color adj

working in parlour car 2 color adj

I woke early on the last morning of my trip and intended to roll over for a few extra minutes of sleep, but thought I’d take a quick peak out the curtains first. And there was Mt. Shasta, high above us just before sunrise. Sleep vanished as an option.

Mt Shasta 1


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Time away 2, “a pair of eyes walking”

I look and look.
Looking’s a way of being: one becomes,

sometimes, a pair of eyes walking.
Walking wherever looking takes one.1

excerpt from “Looking, Walking, Being,”
by Denise Levertov

Long, meandering walks are one of the great joys of time away. Time for exploring with my eyes and ears, letting thoughts drift and ricochet against what I see, losing myself in the weather and the sounds of whatever’s around.

Walk 4-16-16 aerial 3.5 mi crop

Two walks, April 2016, drawn as remembered after the fact
Two walks, April 2016, drawn as remembered

When the itch to escape for a week struck this spring, Kathy and Mark offered their home in Port Townsend at a time they’d be away. My daily walks began there.

North Beach

Fort Worden2 is an easy walk from their home, and the park’s proximity was irresistible.

Path from beach to fort

Fort Worden battlements-1

In a recent New York Times piece, Teddy Wayne worries that we’re losing opportunities to be alone with our thoughts, both physically and mentally.3 We’re so distractible, and electronic devices that provide immediate gratification are so often close at hand. He provided data about our increasing use of these devices and brain science suggesting that they interfere with our capacity for introspection. He quoted Nicholas Carr contrasting a state of mind that values speed and quick answers with an “open-ended way of thinking where you’re not always trying to answer a question. You’re trying to go where that thought leads you.”

Path in trees next to Chinese Gardens

As I head out to walk, with my phone safely in my pocket, I leave my questions behind for a while and settle into simply looking and walking and being.



1  Excerpt from “Looking, Walking, Being,” by Denise Levertov, published in 1996 by New Directions Books. I return to the whole poem frequently, and the book itself is a well-worn volume in my library.
2  I introduced Fort Worden in an earlier post, “Home – a confabulation.”
3  Teddy Wayne, “The End of Reflection,” The New York Times, June 11, 2016.


Time away 1, a gift I give myself

The garden at Tieton Lofts 2/21/16
Tieton, February 21, 2016

Lofts garden

Every now and then, since at least 1985, I’ve given myself the gift of time away. I leave Seattle with a few books, lots of notes, a computer, and plans to rearrange my molecules by walking, reading, writing, thinking, maybe meeting new folks or visiting with old friends and maybe not seeing anyone, surrounded by new scenery and a different context. I’ve rented cabins and hotel rooms, stayed in friends’ second homes, shared rentals with a friend, traded work for a little house, and a few times, even stayed in actual, official artists’ residencies. I always set my expectations way too high for what I’ll get done, but I’ve never been disappointed.

This past week I’ve been in Tieton, Washington, home of Mighty Tieton, in the highlands west of Yakima.

  Mighty Tieton Warehouse

Here’s where I’ve been working.

Loft #13, where I worked

Facing the other direction, in the evening I see a wonderful large wood screen…

Loft #13, at night 3

and in the morning, I throw the doors open to the street, and the light pours in.

Loft #13, daytime 2


I’ve chosen to do this. I want to be here, writing/thinking/planning, but the work is difficult and slow, no one’s paying me to do it, and I have no guarantee the result will be any good. But I claim it as real work, work all mixed up with play but work nonetheless. I wish everyone’s work felt like this. Following Jonas Mekas‘s advice in my own way, it keeps me dancing and singing and doing what needs to be done.

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