By STEPH AUTERI
For Montclair Local
Steph Auteri is a full-time freelance writer and editor who has written for The Atlantic, the Washington Post, Pacific Standard, VICE and other publications. Her memoir, “A Dirty Word,” was released in October 2018. She is a member of Montclair’s The Write Group. For more, visit stephauteri.com.
Uninterrupted quiet. It’s the dream. Not having to get up to deal with the dishwasher when it begins to incessantly beep in the middle of an editing shift. Not having to press pause on a post in order to switch loads of laundry. Not having to push reluctantly away from my desk when it’s time to pick my daughter up from preschool. Not being interrupted in the afternoon every time my daughter wants a snack, needs to poop, feels needy.
“Go ask your father,” I told my daughter the other day. (My husband also works from home.)
“But he’s working!” she said.
I feel spoiled by the flexibility my work-at-home life affords me. But at the same time, I often wonder what it might be like to focus on my writing for longer than five minutes at a pop. How much more quickly would I make my way through various assignments? How much more capable would I be at pulling off larger, pie-in-the-sky projects? Would my career look different if there were clearer boundaries between work and home?
Writing residencies have always felt out of reach to me. Who are these writers who can afford to take time off from both their jobs and their families in order to focus solely on their works in progress? I could never!
Then I went on a Disney cruise with my husband and daughter. By the end, I was sick to death of all the togetherness, and itching to get away from my family. I found a one-week-long writing residency within driving distance of my home and applied. Several months later, I received an acceptance letter.
It’s been about seven months since I impulsively sent out that application and, now that my residency is only a week away, I’m freaking out. It’s going to hurt not having that week’s worth of income. It’s going to eat away at me knowing my husband is likely ordering in pizza every night. But even more than that, I don’t know how in heck to pack for this thing. What does one bring to the dream writing getaway they always assumed would be out of reach?
Outfits (seven). The residency week will be a mix of quiet writing time, daily workshops, local tours, and communal meals. Do I wear what I always wear even though I will now have daily contact with other human beings? (Jeggings. It’s always jeggings.) Do I invest in a week’s worth of sundresses, the ultimate in looking cute while simultaneously not having to worry about one’s expanding waistline? Should I bring a bathing suit and yoga gear, or am I kidding myself by thinking I’d actually have the time to use them? Should I even be wasting time on swimming or yoga when I will likely never get an opportunity like this again? Does my preoccupation with my wardrobe mean I’m not a serious writer?
Makeup. As mentioned above, I will soon be forced into intimate contact with other human beings. And, lately, I have the skin of someone who is clearly going through puberty. Do I leave the serum, foundation, bronzer, lip gloss, and exfoliating facial wash at home and let it all go to hell? Do I let these complete strangers see the unvarnished me in all its work-from-home, reclusive horror? Will anyone even be looking at my mid-life acne, or will they be too immersed in crafting the perfect sentences and shaping their narrative arcs? (God, I hope it’s the latter.)
Books. There’s the book I’m using in order to do preliminary research on my subject. There are several other ebooks loaded onto my Kindle for the same purpose. If I bring fun, breezy, non-work books, will they only lure me away from the research I’m supposed to be doing? If I don’t bring fun, breezy, non-work books, will my brain melt? And how many fun, breezy non-work books should I bring? One? Ten? One physical book plus the eleventy-billion egalleys on my Kindle? What if I run out of reading materials like that one time I was in Europe and couldn’t connect to the WiFi via my ereader??
My WIP. At the moment, my “work in progress” is just a collection of scattered research notes and an unfinished book proposal. What if I accomplish nothing during my week away? What if this nascent project falls apart at the slightest prodding? Is it possible to fail at a residency?
Oh, well. See you on the other side, readers.