Posted on by Sandell Morse

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend. We met a few years ago, at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA), an artists’ retreat in Amherst, Virginia. We joke that we are the same age—if she adds twenty years and if I subtract twenty. But that’s the way it is with composers, painters and writers, age melting inside of something intangible that we share. At this moment in a coffee shop in Kittery, Maine, we fork up lettuce, feta cheese and olives—a Greek salad. We have come together because we are lonely inside our busy and full lives. At home, friends and family surround us; yet, each of us longs for a different kind of companionship. That is why she has driven seventy miles to see me and why she will drive another seventy miles back to her home in Massachusetts.

Today, K. wears her usual black along with a maroon cardigan sweater and a jaunty black beret. She has pulled strands of her blond hair from under the beret toward her face. She fingers a curl. “The virtual contact doesn’t do it,” she says.

Always, she has a way of untying a knot inside of me. I’ve been in contact with my artists’ community on line, particularly, a photographer and a writer, not the usual casual emails, but something deeper. Still, I have been feeling isolated and alone.

So what is it about an artists’ colony that feeds our work and our souls? At the VCCA, my life is on hold, a cloud floating and storing appointments, the dentist, the hair dresser, a trip to the supermarket, a meeting of my book group, phone calls, grocery lists, plans for supper or a movie. I don’t even walk the dog. I pour all of my energy into my work. I am alone, but not alone. I am in community, sometimes silent, sometimes, not. Always, in my life, I’ve felt a little off, as if people don’t get me. They nod. They try. But really, they want to know what I’m doing at my computer for all those hours every day. Am I still writing that essay? Where’s my book? What’s taking so long?

At an artists’ colony, everyone understands, as my friend, K., understands, that art is long, and that a book, a painting or a musical composition takes as long as it will take. Three years of constant work before K.’s book took shape. Three years and finally, my book is taking shape. But that doesn’t mean we’re finished. We nod. We smile. We carry cups to our table, espresso for me, tea for K. And two peanut butter cookies. More than two and a half hours go by as we talk writing, talk books, talk life. In these moments, we have stepped back inside that place where we met, the VCCA, my friend, who was not yet my friend coming up to me and introducing herself. She knew my work. And now, I know hers. Generations apart, we are contemporaries inside the spaces where we create.

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