Visiting Red Cloud 2.0

Two weeks ago at this time I was taking in my first experience of the annual Willa Cather Spring Conference. For months my excitement grew for the event, which included a 700-mile solo road trip each way.

I gave my presentation over her novel My Antonia the first day of the conference, and for the rest of the conference, I listened to other presentations on Willa Cather and on this great novel. I visited the various shops in Red Cloud, and wandered excessively in the gift shop and exhibits in the Willa Cather Foundation building.

I took a walk on the Willa Cather Memorial Prairie. The morning was sunny, breezy, and everything I expected for a journey across the open landscape.

On the Saturday of the conference, along with many other attendees, I visited Grace Episcopal Church for a worship service, a church in which Willa Cather had been a member. It was a cool morning inside the small church whose wooden pews creaked and whose lovely stained-glass windows glowed in the sunshine. It was wonderful to sing hymns along with pump organ, to hear so many voices packed into the church, to take communion.

The three days left me excited for future iterations of the conference, and you can be confident that I’ll share more picture from my future visits.

(If you want to see pictures from my first visit to Red Cloud, you can check out this post.)

Plainswriter outside the home of Willa Cather

outside Willa Cather’s childhood home

Living room of Willa Cather childhood home

living room

Upstairs of Willa Cather childhood home

upstairs

1892 Calendar from office of Charles Cather (Willa's father)

1892 office calendar from Charles Cather’s insurance office

Willa Cather Memorial Prairie sign

Willa Cather Memorial Prairie #1

Willa Cather Memorial Prairie #2

Willa Cather Memorial Prairie #3

Sign for Grace Episcopal Church

Inside Grace Episcopal Church

way early for the worship service at Grace Episcopal

From exhibit in the Willa Cather Center: Red Cloud, NE

#truth from an exhibit in the Willa Cather Foundation

Slowing Down

To observe that contemporary American society is fast-paced and frenetic is stating the obvious, but in recent months I’ve contemplated the ways I feel rushed and the ways in which I might push back against that pressure.

Two weeks ago, a writer I follow on Twitter quoted this statement from Junot Diaz: “The whole culture is telling you hurry, while the art tells you to take your time. Always listen to the art.” I thought, that’s exactly right.

In a post from early January, I shared how I adjusted my writing process so that I am not working simultaneously on multiple pieces at different stages of development. Rather, I work on a first draft or a revision of piece for however long it takes to complete the next draft. Then I move to the next piece.

I’m happy to report that I’ve maintained the focus, and I find myself less hurried and less harried. When I do write, I find that I delight it in the act, a return to that love and excitement I felt when I was a younger, less-experienced writer.

I’ve transferred this idea of slowing down into a related area of my life. I used to pride myself on having between six to eight books I was reading: different genres, bouncing from one to the next. Reading poetry one night, followed by a short story, maybe part of a chapter from a historical book. I’d have a book of criticism going, too, maybe a memoir, and even a novel.

When I noticed was that my ability to immerse myself in the world of the text had weakened, so considering my writing-approach adjustment, I cut back on the books that I’m currently reading. I can say that my enjoyment of the books (and of reading in general) has only deepened.

I’m no longer trying to read a certain number of books in a year. When I was younger, I was trying to beat my record of books read from the prior year. Now, however, I’d rather read fewer books in a more focused way and in a way that involves a richer understanding of and appreciation for those books.

Beyond these two areas, I’m applying the principles of slowing down to my internet usage, my time on social media, my approach to teaching, my relationships, my spiritual life. I’m finding that those other elements are even more fulfilling when I don’t try to rush through activities, when I don’t hurry from one thing to the next.

Slow down. Be present. Pay attention. Be all there. Don’t rush. These are the words I tell myself.

 

 

Visiting Red Cloud

Last week I had the opportunity to visit the childhood hometown of Willa Cather. As I wrote about in an earlier post, she is one of my favorite writers. I had been dreaming about this day ever since we made plans to travel through Red Cloud, Nebraska, on our vacation to visit family in Minnesota.

The afternoon was full of the blue sky and puffy clouds that I associate with her novels O Pioneers! and My Antonia. While my wife and kids played at a nearby park, I toured the inside of her childhood home and visited the newly opened Willa Cather center. This was my first literary pilgrimage, and it was everything I hoped it would be.

IMG_2068

Exterior of house

FullSizeRender 2

Official dedicatory plaque

IMG_2071

Dining room and Willa Cather’s highchair

IMG_2072

Her bedroom (with original wallpaper)

IMG_2075

One of Willa Cather’s writing desks

FullSizeRenderWilla Cather and Plainswriter