Thursday, July 19, 2018

Can the Joy of Time Away from Home Inspire Joy upon Returning?

I am spending a blissful week at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia, where I taught in the Graduate Programs in Children's Literature for the six-week term last summer as well as for six weeks in the summer of 2014. I'm not here to teach this time, however. I'm here just because I couldn't bear to stay away. Our beloved founding director, Amanda Cockrell, is retiring after a quarter century in the position. My dear friend Lisa Rowe Fraustino now takes the helm. I wanted to be part of the gala farewells to Amanda and to spend time with colleagues and former students returning for reunion week.

So here I am. I'm writing this while sitting at "my table" in the Hollins library, looking out at a grassy hill rising toward the Blue Ridge Mountains.
It is such a perfect place to work! So far since arriving on Monday evening, I've sat here and typed up minutes for last weekend's Church Council meeting, written a review of a scholarly article on child author Opal Whiteley, written comments to deliver on a philosophy paper on the ethics of using photographs as tools of moral persuasion for the Rocky Mountain Ethics Congress next month, and read part of Perry Nodelman's brilliant book The Hidden Adult that will help me revise and resubmit a children's literature paper of my own. Today I'm turning to creative work - revisions on my current chapter-book-in-progress (the one about the girl attending an after-school comic-book-making camp).

I love work. I always have. And I especially love working at a beautiful table in a beautiful library on a beautiful campus in a beautiful city. Plus walking twice around the permimeter of that campus at sunrise. Plus eating scrumptious cafeteria breakfasts (how I love made-to-order omelettes, and hash-brown potatoes, and biscuits with butter and jam.). Plus attending luncheon talks on craft, and an inspirational talk last night by visiting author Guadalupe Garcia McCall. And a pool party Tuesday night, dinner party tonight, and Francelia Butler Conference all-day Saturday.

I'm so happy here, and so productive here, too. Maybe I'm so happy partly because I'm so productive. And maybe I'm so happy and productive partly because I'm so intellectually and creatively stimulated. So now my question for myself is: can I find a way to be this happy and productive at home?

At home I take a lovely walk each morning at 6 am with a dear friend and a faithful dog. So I already have that. At home I make myself breakfast - maybe I could go to a little extra effort to make a more lavish one? But maybe that's not worth it. At home I have lots of creative and intellectual friends - maybe I should make sure to have regularly scheduled breakfasts and lunches with them, or to find stimulating talks to attend together. Still, I do have all these delightful Hollins-y things already in my life.

The main thing I lack is a place to work that is as inspiring as this table - so quiet, with so much room to spread out my books and papers, in a room so full of light, with a view so serene. I have an acceptable little office at home, with a desk I keep fairly uncluttered, and a view out into a tree where squirrels scamper and play. But . . . it isn't THIS quiet, and THIS beautiful, and THIS sacred a spot consecrated to doing the work of my heart. So I think I should give myself the pleasant challenge of trying to find one.

The one thing I can't find a replacement for at home is the whimsical little children's literature characters, created by Hollins faculty member Ashley Wolff, which are hidden all around campus.

I can stumble upon bread-and-jam-eating Frances and wild thing Max only at Holllins. But a quiet, uncluttered, serene table with a view? I bet I can find that somewhere in Boulder if I set myself to seeking....

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