Nonfiction

New England River, photograph by windflower

In the Company of Others

I was a published writer of nine books as well as poetry published in Cosmopolitan and Woman’s Day who became a mid-life social worker. I went from an office in my home to an office in a hospital unit specifically for survivors of violent crimes, where I remained for twenty years. In addition to providing individual counseling and group treatment I also wrote clinical presentations, training manuals for colleagues, “how to” guidelines for survivors, and speeches for social justice issues.

Retirement left me with a part-time private psychotherapy practice and a desire to return to my first love: a life filled with writing. I began by subscribing once again to all the “writer” magazines. Months passed as I tried to develop a work routine. Crafting poems describing the trauma of domestic violence, which had been a social work specialty, became my focus. I quickly learned that the editors I once knew had aged out.

I longed for connection to other writers—for the shoptalk and camaraderie. To catch up, I went to conferences and attended class. I was older than the other participants and realized this plan was only a transitory fix. I began to feel I needed something more, a jump-start back into the writing profession. I’d read about residencies, an immersive experience for artists, but they seemed way beyond my reach. For younger writers? For prize-winners? A little too precious?

It took four years of regularly receiving the same residency application from the Vermont Studio Center (VSC) before I applied. I’d stare at the requirements, think of ten poems I might anonymously submit; then, fearful of judgment, I wouldn’t follow through. Finally, after much arguing with myself, I submitted the requested two sets of poems and settled in to wait for a verdict.

On a Friday afternoon exactly three months later, I plucked a fat envelope from the mail with the VSC return address and left it unopened as I made dinner and watched the news. I was sure I’d been rejected. The heft of the envelope obviously contained the return of the ten poems. Hours passed. I did laundry, watched television, spoke to friends on the phone with no mention of the envelope, which remained propped against the fruit bowl on the dining room table. At about nine, I decided to open it to see if someone might have written that all-important comment on the rejection letter. But hey! There were no poems in the envelope!  There were only congratulations, information, and further instructions. I read through everything. Twice. I was ecstatic! But, but wait a minute. Now that I was in, I suddenly wondered if I would actually be able to work in Johnson, Vermont, for a period of two weeks?  Where exactly was it? How would I get there?

I did get there. The Vermont residency was an enormous gift of people, place, and time. I had my own writing studio (desk, chair, bookcase, bulletin board, wing chair) with a window overlooking a river. My bedroom was in a house on campus on a floor shared with two other residents. I met men and women of all ages from around the country during meal service in the dining room and on walks around the very large campus. It was on these walks, stopping to say “Hello,” that when people asked “What do you do?”  I would answer, “I’m a poet.”  The more I repeated that assertion, the greater my confidence that it was, indeed, true.

Although I spent the majority of my days and evenings in my studio, I did explore the surrounding grounds and the main street of  the town. I saw my first skunk! More happily, I visited with other artists (painters, textile makers) in their workrooms. For a daily break in my art-oriented routine, I would walk the short distance from my studio to the Meditation Center every afternoon at three and just sit quietly for thirty minutes. I was alone. It was peaceful. I was calm.

There was an additional bonus during my stay: a consultation with a prize-winning poet/mentor who red-lined my ten admission poems. He was extremely encouraging, told me I was a natural storyteller, and suggested better titles for the poems.  When I left the meeting I was so overcome with gratitude at being seen that I burst into tears. I had to stand still on the path for a moment and just breathe.

The major goal of this time away was to write. And so I did. I’d brought a mass of poems to complete and edit. I found many were able to sing and dance, and I was grateful. I shredded others that refused to join the party. (These remaining poems eventually became the book, Witness to Resilience: Stories of Intimate Violence.) Before my residency ended, I had an opportunity to read my work before an audience of fellow residents and townspeople at the local church. Standing at the lectern looking at the audience, I realized I’d been given a chance to retrieve a missing part of my life.

Not everyone in this residency period became my friend. But I learned much from the experiences related to me from some of the 34 artists and 16 writers who shared and enhanced this period of creative renaissance. It is said you need two qualities to succeed in such a residency: to be self-motivated and to work and play well with others. Successful in both these areas, I returned home with the knowledge that I still had stories to tell. And I’m still telling my stories after age sixty-five!

A Place Like This
Finding Myself in a Cape Cod Cottage
by Sally W. Buffington
 
A book for anyone who's ever loved a house.
When newly engaged Sally Buffington is introduced to Craigville, she meets an expansive Cape Cod cottage that is virtually a family member itself. She quickly finds herself competing for airtime among the talkative, assured band of brothers—and her new mother-in-law, the cottage’s lively and confounding matriarch. Sally, a Cape Cod local, soon wonders how she’ll ever maintain her independence, let alone her sense of self when the day’s agenda and every detail is already set in stone. But she navigates her new life with quiet persistence and a boundless curiosity that guides her to explore life through the creative lens of her camera and her pen. Sally writes with a whimsical candor that is both honest and humorous. Through poetic prose and heartfelt reflection, A Place Like This reveals the beauty of Cape Cod and shows us that sometimes the simplest of moments brings us the most lasting joy. Sally Buffington is a writer and photographer, also a classically trained musician. From her home in southern California, she migrates back to native ground in Massachusetts, especially her spiritual homeland of Cape Cod. Writing lyrically and imaginatively, ever aware of sensory experience and memory, Buffington takes the reader into her thoughts wherever she finds herself. Buffington can “see things other people don’t see” in everyday scenes and find them beautiful. But her prose is where that ability most shines through. This memoir paints a vivid and lasting memory of a home with as much personality as the family who lived there.
- Book Life
"Punctuated by sensory delights, the author’s prose can prove particularly mouthwatering" …. "An elegantly observant account that transports readers to a beloved place."
- Kirkus
To learn more, and order the book, go to Amazon, Bookshop.org, www.sallybuffington.com, or your local bookstore.

Bios

Jane Seskin is a psychotherapist and writer. Her personal essays and poems have appeared in more than 40 national magazines and journals, as well as in the Chicken Soup for the Soul Anthology: Get Out of Your Comfort Zone. Her most recent poetry collection is Older Wiser Shorter: The Truth and Humor of Life After 65. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2022.
windflower lives in verdant western Massachusetts with her wife, on the unceded homelands of the Pocumtuc, Nipmuc and Nonotuck people. Her camera is a bridge to the poetry in nature and her own spirit. Her work has been shown in several exhibits and has been published in literary magazines and journals, and in her poetry chapbook, Age Brings Them Home to Me, published this year.

One Comment

  1. Wonderfully and movingly told!!! Inspired me to be more in the world about my artistic goals and struggles.

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