I am just back from a week at Cove Park, an artist’s retreat on the Rosneath Penninsula. Strangely this beautiful haven of peace and quiet lies right in the heart of MoD country, about an hour and half’s drive north of Glasgow.
The morning I left for the retreat I was in a frantic craze trying to get myself packed, get the house in some semblance of order for the lodger and for my own return, to not just buy food but to pack it in an organized way so that I could easily slip myself and my stuff into a car with two others headed on the same residency. After a horrific experience giving away almost 20 kilos of my personal belongings in Heathrow when I arrived for my flight to Australia with overweight baggage (the memory of me sitting on the floor of the airport with my stuff everywhere as I organized/prioritized while passing strangers looked on and picked things up, sometimes asking sometimes not) I have been sure to pack modestly. I didn’t want to pack too much – it was a week in the woods by myself, surely I didn’t need very much. Left to my own devices for three days I don’t change….out of my pajamas much less into other clothes. So that was no problem. But after returning from Lidl, knowing I had about 4 major emails to write, an application to finish, dishes to do and I still had to pack this food in a respectable way I committed to the food. I yanked out a box and taped a week’s worth of healthy food in. I knew we’d be stopping on the way so I could pick up some wine on the way north, but I wanted to have my detox-friendly foods (no coffee, 50 g. chocolate, wholewheat pasta, green tea, etc.) ready to go.
I was frantic about the application until I realized there would be internet available – though very limited. This was one of the virtues of Cove Park as far as I was concerned but in this instance I knew I’d need the net connection and was grateful there was one concessionary connection in the “main house.”
At the supermarket the other artists driving with me up stopped for last minute items. I wanted to buy some wine, knowing that we’d be having social evenings after busy days and there would be a particularly social evening during the week with National Theatre of Scotland people. I walked up to the cashier with 4 bottles in my basket, all stupendously delicious looking wine and had my ID on me just in case. Now after 3.5 years living here no one has ever ever EVER asked me for my ID, but growing up in the States you are always prepared for some smart ass 16 year old boy to abide his manager and ask everyone. So I brought it – as if I need it. She took one look at me and demanded a proof of ID. WHAT? Well, good thing I’m American and as we do I came prepared. I whipped out my Illinois driver’s license and showed her where she could find the date of birth. “See, 1981.” Well, they don’t take American licenses, do they? Do they? DO THEY? No. Do I have a passport they asked. I’m a tax payer, I don’t need to carry around my passport. Do I have a license here? If I had that I could drive to Odd Bins where they don’t ask stupid questions. So, no wine then eh? For a week? I’ll be the group mooch. And bored when reading my postmodern theory! You need lubrication for that sort of reading!
Well, my compatriot sorted me out, bought the booze for me, like I was some kind of teenager trying to score Cider before the big match. Or some shit.
Luckily this would be the only negative experience I’d have all week. After a terrifically animated conversation getting to know these other artists (who I should have met long ago, brilliant as they are) we arrived in Cove Park. It was an extremely misty drive and there was no seeing 30 yards ahead, this included the pasture land around the house that welcomed us when we pulled in the drive. A little sign the only indication this was Cove Park. But in no time we were welcomed into our cubes, all three of us lined up like half a half dozen eggs, in cubes, micro-homes beautifully designed for efficiency and solitude. Sound proof, solid spaces with calm souroundings – man made but perfect. The water feature outside out cubes, like all the other cubes, pods and studios, was mounded up and formed synthetically – but this meant that cars, the paths and driveways were obscured. There was nothing but the water and, on the day I arrived, a wall of mist. When the mist cleared it was just the water outside beyond the deck (where I spent many happy hours) and across the way a view of Loch Long and the hills beyond.
Most of the visit the weather was a murky mix of low cloud and rain, that soft, spitty rain that is quite nice when you’re tucked up inside with no reason to be going out. And that was the plan, to stay in my cube, furnished simply and sparsly by Habitat, to cook healthy meals for myself on my little range, with the electric heat cranked up (making up for the cold November I’d been suffering in Glasgow) and to write. To tuck myself away with myself.
And what a way to focus the mind. To relax. To enjoy the freedom of time, endless, uninterrupted time. The days expanded. I no longer judged the day according to the hour (“Half twelve? That’s the day gone.” “Almost 6, that’s the day over.”) Nope, be it 9 when I woke or 3 when I showered or 11 when I wrote, the day was mine. For the most part I did sleep very well in the comfy double bed but I would sleep looking forward to the morning when I’d open the gaping portal window at the back of the cube and the sliding doors at its front and enjoy the fresh air while I sat at my desk and…..
Learned not to fear the computer. Or the blank page. Or the unfinished line. Or the unedited moment. I was free to come and go from the key board as I pleased because I had the time and because I was eating and pissing and sleeping and lounging and cooking and crapping all in that cube I stayed in the zone. I must have had 10 cups of tea a day, must have had 3 square meals, must have done the dishes at least once a day, and I showered in that hot hot hot electric shower just for the novelty of consistently scorching water – but I never finished doing any of those things and felt like I didn’t want to get back to what I was doing. Writing has never been so alluring when it’s free of pressure.
And so it was an incredibly productive week. It has made me appreciate Cove Park hugely, it’s a special place and the resource is unparalleled. I haven’t felt that relaxed when writing in a long long time. And to be without the internet? It seems hypocritical here, but being without a constant feed of news, without a barrage of disparate conversations, and without the responsibility to be in touch – I was clear minded.
Maybe what I wrote is a bunch of shit, but I hope it’s good. I hope to shape into material I can send to theatres and friends and produce myself.
What this time also gave me, besides these new pieces, was perspective on myself as an artist – who I am in the Glasgow scene, who I am compared to myself and my practice when I moved here, before that, and what I could become if I pursue the work with the vigor I discovered at Cove Park. I was able to see also why status is total horse shit – because me and the other artists all confessed to doubt, insecurities, worry and pride. The process is precarious for everyone and in that way we are all equal. The ways our various careers (that is, mine and the other writers at Cove that week) are defined by producers, critics, and our peers is important to understand – this hierarchy is the way of the world. But the trick is, I think, not to let it affect my practice. To pursue a happy and productive process, that needs to be at the heart of what I do, not worrying about the long game, who I’m in with, who I’m out with, who is seeing my work and who is not. I just must do the work.
And at Cove Park I was able to do the work. How simply gratifying. And, on top of it, I know it’ll come to something. I hope to find myself there very soon.