The Story Economy Blog

Dispatch From a Writers’ Colony


dairyhollow1I came to the Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow to write. That’s a given. I’m here now. As I type, it’s a postcard-worthy fall day. I’m sitting on a deck about 30 feet high, with tall trees all around, swathed in various shades of orange, red, and yellow.

It’s everything I thought it would be: Uninterrupted time to write! All 24 hours of the day are mine and only mine. No deadlines. No children. No husband. No clients. No TV. No obligations. It is pure freedom to write. So I’m writing—as I knew I would. I’m cranking away. I got more done on revising my novel in three days than I probably could have done in three months at home. I have another project I’m turning to tomorrow for the remaining four days.

So, it was a pretty terrific decision to come here.

But that’s not actually the most interesting thing about this experience.

The most interesting thing is where I am. I don’t mean on this deck right now (although, I feel bad for you that you’re not here, because it is breathtakingly beautiful). I mean in this town: Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

This is easily the quirkiest, most geographically-interesting town in America I’ve visited.

I had no idea I was coming here. I mean, I researched the writers’ colony and saw pictures of the suite where I’d be staying. I just didn’t look up anything about the town. I only knew it was in Arkansas and was about 10 hours away. I punched in the address in my car’s navigation system Thursday morning and went.

The last leg of the journey, a twisting 76-mile drive through the Ozarks on a two-lane highway, clued me in that I might be headed somewhere interesting.


I pulled into this mountain town Thursday evening, wondering where in the world I was.

I spent the first few days here walking around with my jaw open, snapping picture after picture, marveling at the structural engineering, but worrying that the town was going to fall right off the mountains. I found myself worrying as I walked, gasping around corners at the crazy, gravity-defying sights.

Today on my daily walk, I realized—I mean, deeply and profoundly realized—that my worry was a colossal waste of time. And that is the most interesting thing about being here.


Big Hills + Big Worry

dairyhollow2I could tell you the whole history of the town, but that would take too much time, plus I don’t actually know it. I’ve pieced together that it involves healing springs in the late 1800s, and then at some point in the sixties, the hippies came, and then, I don’t know, it became this.

This is what you need to understand: the entire town is a series of impossibly steep switchbacks, and everything is built into, on top of, and around steep hillsides, deep hollows, and truly frightening drop offs.

I mean, it’s crazy. Everything is old. Everything! (Though much is beautifully restored.) So many buildings are perched precariously, extending off steep hillsides, often supported by weatherworn stilts, or huge beds of rock. Houses spring right out of huge slabs of rock on the hill (literally—they are part of the rock, as far as I can tell). Where architecture stops and nature begins is very hard to discern. The multiple levels cascade like an Escher illusion, and it’s nearly impossible, in one glance at least, to understand where the bottom or top of anything is. As for terracing? Let’s just say, I have a feeling the last real terracing efforts were made by the glaciers.

The many S-curves that form the town hide numerous sets of steps, some more like giant rock paths through the woods. All roads and paths are ultimately connected (though on a map, it makes very little sense). There’s a ramshackle, shaky quality to all of it. It’s completely unapologetic about its perilousness.

Look, I get hills. I’ve from the city of seven hills. I’ve spent my life running up and down them. I’ve just never seen people living on and in them like this.

I’m bothering to tell you all of this for one reason: this town is like a living model of all of my fears.

So often, I think: my little family is one car wreck or major house repair away from losing our financial cushion. One disaster away from financial ruin, one life threatening illness away from emotional ruin, one bad day away from everything falling apart. It all feels so precarious. It could all change at any minute. These feelings tend to come up around the money the most. We’ll have a particularly tricky month with irregular cash flow, and I’ll think: this is all so wobbly. We’ve built our entire life on the side of a mountain, and one strong wind could knock it down! I worry. I worry so much. I may seem like I don’t, like I have it together. But I can’t even express to you how much I worry. I worry about my kids getting some awful disease. Or being in a school shooting.

I can’t watch the news anymore. I can’t handle seeing the houses (as in, people’s lives) go careening off the sides of mountains. It’s too scary. Even NPR headlines traumatize me. I barely even know who’s running for president.

And then I come here, totally open to creativity and inspiration and everything I need to write. It finds me. But this town and its ramshackle audacity finds me, too, while I’m in this completely open, completely uninterrupted state. It can’t be a coincidence. (Also, the town is haunted, so I’m pretty sure some spirits are messing with me.)

Writing is such a given. There’s more craft to learn, sure. But I don’t need to change one thing about who I am as a writer. What I would like to change is how much I worry.

I would really like to worry less.

That’s what I realized today while walking. Sure, I thought about my characters and my plot. But mostly, I was hit, square on, with this desire to release my stinkin’ worry.

I decided to start by releasing my worry over this town.

So . . . I am not worried about you anymore, Eureka Springs.

I am not worried about you anymore, crazy falling-down 150-year-old house on 50-foot stilts into a ravine.

I am not worried about you anymore, 100-foot high deck with slats that clearly a small child could fit through.

I am not worried about you, extremely untrustworthy-looking bent metal guardrail that seems incapable of preventing anyone from falling into the hollow.

Consider yourself released, worry. At least for this week.

I knew I was here for a reason.



  • Cynthia Erb

    Posted by Cynthia Erb on 10/30/15 5:38pm

    Wonderful essay, Judi! I've been trying to write about Eureka Springs myself, but you've done a much better job. "Ramshackle" is definitely the word. It was fun visiting with you! Happy Halloween!

    • Judi Ketteler

      Posted by Judi Ketteler on 11/02/15 3:31pm

      Thank you, Cynthia! I hope the rest of your stay is productive!

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