Elissa Bassist is an essayist, humor writer, and editor of the Funny Women column on TheRumpus.net. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Marie Claire, NewYorker.com, NYMag.com, and more, a lot more. Currently, she is a writer's assistant for The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, filmed annually at The Kennedy Center. She teaches humor writing at The New School and Catapult in New York.
Did the retreat meet your expectations?
Above and beyond. I could not have imagined a more inspiring, tranquil, and conducive environment to writing and to not writing (as in: napping, drinking, eating, hiking, marveling).
What was the most unexpected part of your stay?
I saw a turkey and his whole family walk across the vineyard. Often I would look up from the screen and catch something like a sunset to rival all sunsets, or a blue sky that couldn’t be bluer. I knew I was staying in wine country, but I didn’t realize I was so close to the coast, to the Redwoods, to small towns with infinite character, to In ’N Out.
What did you work on during the retreat?
I worked on—and finished—my book proposal, a collection of essays about modern media’s affect on modern womanhood, how entertainment and distraction shape and bend our identities, relationships, and mental and physical wellbeing over time.
No one can write 24 hours a day! What other activities did you do during the retreat—any napping, hiking, or exploring the local area?
I hiked in the Armstrong Redwoods and on top of cliffs overlooking the Sonoma Coast. Every night I tried a new restaurant in Sebastopol and Guerneville, and every day I found a new hike in a state park. I read next to waterfalls and on the beach and at sunset. I successfully forgot about my phone and everything associated with it.
Did you participate in any activities or events arranged by the host winery?
Tara Bella hosted a catered wine-tasting for locals, and they generously invited me--but my day trip to Sonoma Coast State Park went long into the evening, so I couldn’t make the party. My only regret!
Any other comments, impressions, and surprises about the retreat you wish to convey?
Mostly I wish to convey my gratitude. Thank you to Writing Between the Vines and to Tara Bella for the generous gift of time, space, beauty, red wine, and access to oysters.
I remember walking on the beach in Sonoma while a blizzard shut in my friends in New York, and marveling at the fact and fortune that my writing got me to Tara Bella. I’d applied to, and been rejected from, a handful of other residencies, and I was one application away from never applying again. Now I know to keep the faith. And I also know some of the best writing comes from dedicated time away, when all there is to do is write, eat/drink, sleep, marvel, and be in nature.
To sum up: I hiked hard, I drank harder, I ate well, I finished a project I began years (and years) ago, and I made new friends whose work inspires me. I was semi-devastated to leave, but I left knowing I got the most out of the once-in-a-lifetime gift. The time was refreshing personally and beyond productive professionally.