A writer meditates on walks though Yaddo, designing a writing retreat, the overlooked beauty of tiny homes, and how seeing your literary idols drinking martinis can make one a more productive writer.
I lived in Saratoga Springs for a year after college. In between working the copy desk at the newspaper and befriending bartenders along Caroline Street, I spent a lot of time at Yaddo, a residential retreat for artists and writers. I’d walk past the horse track, through the rusty gate, and down the long driveway, glimpsing the massive stone mansion through the trees. A small chunk of the property was open to the public. There was a fountain, a bench, and the Yaddo Gardens. The place would be imposing even if you were unaware of its role in American Letters, a sort of literary Hogwarts. I was never completely comfortable there, but I was an intruder, a potential distraction, a tourist, a pilgrim.
I have no way of knowing which writers were there during the year I spent wandering the grounds, but I certainly spent a lot of time wondering and imagining chance encounters. I asked along Caroline Street, but those conversations must have been protected by writer-bartender privilege. I did once see an author I greatly admire at a local martini bar, chatting with two beautiful women, which didn’t make my approach any easier. I let them finish their drinks and watched them leave with flushed cheeks.
I resolved to go straight home and get cracking on whatever creative project was most likely to result in threesomes and prestigious residencies. Until then, though, I have to be content with insider articles and novels like Jonathan Ames’ Wake Up, Sir!.
In many ways, those walks through Yaddo were an inspiration for Words After War. A very early vision of our organization involved a cluster of cabins in the woods behind my parents’ house. That plan is on hold (for now).
The genesis of our idea remains the same: provide writers with the time, space, and support they need to tell their stories most effectively. We just call it something else. It is our hope that Words After War will become a stepping stone to places like Yaddo, a key to all the mysteries and opportunities they contain.