stars and dogs and Prometheus

A week in January at Osage Arts Community (condensed)

The drive from Austin to Osage was indeed long, going north. But then, I had to abandon the stress and strain that creeps up on me during the weeks while at home. I am a working mother, clocking three jobs, raising a boy, figuring out how to seize opportunities for more financial security such as, well, a retirement plan. That seems antithetical to an artist’s Pollyanna dreaming. Who cares about financial planning and retirement because when I hit it big (someday, soon, surely) I will not have to worry about such matters. This way of thinking is bullshit. And I am having to make decisions more and more from a place of solid grounding and reason instead of passionate pursuits that fizzle out before they begin.

However, there is project that I have been sitting on for ten years. And, within the span of a couple days in November 2014, I made a decision. Do the project or let it go forever. I decided to move forward. I made a timeline, got some dates for workshops scheduled on the theater’s calendar, and have been compiling all my notes and ideas that have accumulated in my mind and various digital files.

It was absolute synchronicity to then meet Mark and the Osage folks at the theater (of which I am Associate Artistic Director). I ventured out into the brisk fall night after reading a simple, little Facebook invitation from a couple acquaintances. I was curious and had no idea what to expect. Something deep in my belly, that silent, soft place that I often tell to shut up because I got more “important” work to do, that spot there, I listened to it that night.

After hearty conversation with Mark and others, I knew that in order to get my project off the ground, heading into the wild to begin devising this piece was essential. Mark was generous and supportive and understood how frustrating it is for an artist just to set some time to one’s work in the hustle of day job duties and parenting. He invited me to the farm. I was honored and scared.

I checked my calendar and fretted about the practicalities of heading up there. Do I fly? I had just been on several long flight journeys for a documentary project I am co-producing and co-directing. My buddies who have been up to Osage encouraged me to drive. I deplore long car rides, especially alone. But, I used whatever cash I had at the time to get my 2006 VW Golf TDI in good shape, with tires rotated, oil changed, and brakes repaired. I packed light, made a cozy bed for my rescue wonder dog, Olive, stocked up on audiobooks, kissed my son goodbye for a little while, and off we went.

The journey up north in the winter was challenging in the beginning. Austin was in an “ice scare” kind of mood and my mother was nervous about me driving. Pshaw. After I passed through Dallas, the weather was all clear. I sped through Oklahoma during sunset on the plains, and spent most of Missouri driving a dimly lit highway.

I arrived after midnight but the two artists on site were ready and welcoming. I was exhausted but elated. Once I stepped out of my car, I was greeted by the best welcoming committee ever. The gods of Osage Arts Community snorted and sniffed and rubbed and bounced at my presence. Zeus, Aphrodite, Murphy, and Miley. Olive found a pack and I found new canine friends!

So, to be very clear, my version of bliss and happiness involves deep woods, water, and a pack of hounds running up and down hills with me. Serenity in being left the hell alone, to walk with the aid of a sturdy oak branch, and listen to the dried leaves crackle under our feet and paws.

My accommodations felt luxurious as I had left home with little expectations. I took the bedroom that overlooks the Gasconade River. The first morning I awoke only slightly groggy but in awe of the beautiful, silky river outside my window. I slowly roused the energy to make my first cup of coffee, feed Olive, and have a light breakfast of yogurt and banana. I was here! Hard to believe.

I spent the morning setting up my studio space. I was smart to pack light but with the essentials. I did, however, bring my viola along to exercise an almost ancient memory of my first chair position in the school orchestra. I brought only 20 books, instead of the 50 I was tempted to bring, a laptop, and a couple hard drives. I also brought a small and relatively inexpensive video camcorder. Last year, I bought a 32GB memory card for that sucker, so I was going to take a lot of footage, I promised myself. The camera also records in time lapse, my latest videographic obsession.

For the next week, I had a routine. Breakfast, some yoga and stretching, write, walk in the woods with the hounds, lunch, write, play viola, read, write, another short walk with hounds, taking more photographs and video, dinner, read, write, read again, then sleep. I was happy, happier than I had been in a year. Of course, I missed my son, but that feeling is always with me whenever I travel. I cope.

On one of my last days at OAC, Mark took me on a tour of the closest town, Belle. With a population barely topping 1500, it was every bit of rural America as I had imagined. But the potential of Mark’s ideas of creating a community centered on artist cultivation and presentation is powerful and endearing. I think many of us share this dream which is why when Mark begins to describe his vision, my face goes into stoic non-expressive emotion. You see, it is amazing, beautiful, rewarding and awesome to be a part of such a vision. So wonderful that I try and stay very, very, very calm. It is like the stirring of a great magical stew–one doesn’t want a drop to escape carelessly from the container. Keep the magic and the vision carefully proportioned and delicately cooked. Every artist contributes to this great cauldron of ideas and as time tick-tocks along, the broth will enrich and delight with perfectly balanced flavors.

Okay, that metaphor might be too much.

I got work to do. I start my workshops in a month. See you next Winter, OAC!

Oh, and here are some photos for your viewing pleasure.

 Check out my OAC photo gallery

Heather L. Barfield

February 6, 2015

Austin, Texas