The International Writers Magazine: Travel Tips
Travel for Artist’s Sake
Part 2: The Art of Moving to New Places
In my last post, Part 1 of “Travel for Artist’s Sake,” I wrote about how valuable it is to get away from home temporarily. In this post, I want to talk about what happens when an artist moves away from home permanently.
Six years ago, I had the great pleasure and challenge of moving from New York City—population 8 million—to New York Mills, Minnesota, a hamlet of 1152 people in rural, west central Minnesota.
The move rocked my world, and my art.
It all started at an artist residency (see “Travel for Artist’s Sake, part 1” for more info on artist residencies). I was invited to take a month away from my Brooklyn life and spend it writing songs at the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center in Otter Tail County, Minnesota. A thrilling opportunity: I was able to leave the concrete jungle for four whole weeks to compose in the pristine sanctuary of springtime in the countryside. It was a marvelously productive time. In four weeks I wrote the early drafts of fourteen songs.
And, while composing, I met the man who would become my husband.
The story of my romance includes a three-day overnight canoe trip (that I didn’t know was a blind date until later), ten months of cross-country dating, and introducing my country boyfriend to New York City via a No Pants Subway Ride. To read more, keep your eyes open for my upcoming memoir, Hundred Miles to Nowhere: An Unlikely Love Story.
But back to the topic at hand: I want to make sure that I do not give the impression that artist residencies or travel are the solution for lonely hearts or struggling artists. Finding love while travelling happens, but there is no guarantee. And most artists will not solve their long-term problems by moving: the geographical cure rarely works. However, sometimes a move is unavoidable. Considering that moving is one of life’s most challenging experiences—there’s no reason not to try to get something positive out of it. Why not use the move to create something new?
That’s what I did. In addition to writing my memoir, I wrote and recorded an album based in my move. My album Concrete is about the many shades of the emotional transition I underwent in moving from New York City to New York Mills. “100 Miles to Nowhere,” is my song about how isolated and depressing it is to feel like you in the middle of nowhere. “Color Me In” is my love song to the man who inspired me to move. “Know Better” is about how sometimes you think you know the right answer to a conundrum (like a relationship, or a move), and then you realize that the right answer was the one you thought was wrong.
Concrete depicts how changing my home to a place so different than anywhere I had lived before was a lot more difficult than I expected. Having lived abroad and travelled the world, I was under the illusion that the transition from one part of my own country to another would be no big deal. Oh, how wrong I was. I learned that there is a lot more similarity between New York City and London than there is between New York City and New York Mills. Moving to a completely different culture changed the way that I thought and the way that I lived on an everyday level. This helped me to create new works that I couldn’t have created before the move.
Furthermore, I was able to see my own country in a new way. From the unique perspective of being a foreigner in my own country, I wrote songs and stories that I couldn’t have imagined. I also had new opportunities that expanded my creative world and challenged me as an artist. The Minnesota Sesquicentennial Commission commissioned me to write songs about unique and oddball Minnesotans in history. This turned into my story-and-song performance and live album Minnesota’s Ordinarily Unsung Concert. The show, in turn, led me to work with Prairie Public Broadcasting to create music video modules based on my songs and stories.
When people are concerned about my loss of career opportunities in moving out of the artistic hotbed of New York City, I smile and tell them about all the things I am able to do in rural Minnesota.
My new life might seem entirely different from my old one. Instead of a one-bedroom apartment in downtown Brooklyn, I now live in a three-bedroom house on six acres in the middle of miles of farmland. Instead of taking the subway to get to yoga class, I do yoga on my veranda or walk down my gravel road to watch egrets wading in the marsh. Instead of going to ethnic restaurants anytime I want to, I have had to learn to cook tamales and moussaka in my own kitchen. But my creative life is still as rich, if not richer, than it was before.
Artful activities for a move and its aftermath:
- Carry a small notebook and pen with you wherever you go. You never know when you will see or hear something worthy of remembering. Memory is fickle, and you might not remember what it was you wanted not to forget. Most of us are not able to drop everything and create in the middle of doing other things. (Prince is the exception—I’ve heard he has recording devices in every room, including his bathroom: Come up with a new riff while on the toilet? No problem, just press record!) Writing it down in your trusty notebook is the best solution I’ve found to capturing inspiration. I love both the tiny blue-lined spiral notebooks that you can get at any drugstore and also the beautiful handmade notebooks that inspire me with their design, such as those at Etsy.com
I also highly recommend gel pens for speed of writing and their ability to give your ideas some color.
2: Write down anything that jumps out as different, interesting, or strange. In one of my notebooks from the early days of my life in Minnesota, I wrote down a conversation I had with the local plumber about how a guy he knew was named “City Joe” because he lived in a town of 500 people rather than the country. Being a New Yorker, it still makes me laugh to think that, when you live in the country, the nearest town seems like a city. That plumber’s comment became a scene in my memoir.
Don’t rush the creative process. Let the experiences sift through you and come out when, and as what, they want to. A writer friend once told me that you can’t write a memoir until years after your experiences, otherwise you don’t really know what your book is really about. I’m not sure what the appropriate hiatus is for making art from experience, but I know that some of my songs take years to move from seed of insight to song. Also, you never know what form of art an experience will want to take. I am primarily a songwriter, but I found myself writing prose to capture some of my experiences. Stay tuned for my book, Hundred Miles from Nowhere: An Unlikely Love Story, for which I am presently searching for a publisher.
Where have you moved from and to? What has come out of your move(s)? Let me know at www.elisakorenne.com/blog .