Fruits of the Estate: Reflections on How My Last Year as a Writer in Residency at The Deering Estate Has Creatively and Academically Impacted Me

I have just spent last year, growing, like a Red Mangrove sapling, into the Deering Estate at Cutler’s historic harbor. My roots are entrenched. I recently accepted a marriage proposal on the Estate’s historic sea wall.

Throughout this past year of development, I have seen manatees, egrets and comorants stroll in and out of this portal to Florida’s history. I have read many of the Florida books inside the studio such as Michael Grunwald’s The Swamp and Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ autobiography. These not only ignited my course design at the University of Miami (I designed an ENG 106 course entitled, The Pursuit of Paradise, and made The Swamp required reading), but also inspired the start of a new novel. While the novel still waits for its christened title, its birth took place in the carriage house at the Deering Estate. It begins, “I was never afraid of alligators.  They lived underneath and around us, their coarse skin polished by red wine hues…” The novel takes place in both Miami and the Everglades; the Big Cypress elicits its mystic history on the protagonist, shedding light on her mysterious Miccosukee past, aiming to end at catharsis and concretization of her identity.

The idea for the novel came only after I had spent some time at the Estate. Since the start of my residency, I have had two poems published, painted numerous paintings (two of which are inspired by the Everglades’ aesthetics) and displayed them for visitors at my studio. My goal to compile my Florida-landscaped poetry manuscript is nearly met. I have since restructured the collection. It will be ready to be sent out for publication at the end of next month.

In addition to my creative expansion, I have also enriched my professional development. I earned a promotion at work this past January, becoming a fulltime professor at the University of Miami. While adapting to my new position at work, I performed multiple readings at the Deering Estate, and very recently, I took part in designing as well as hosting the Literary Lounge at the Festival of the Arts 2015.

I have fortified my linkage to the Estate by allowing myself to trust in the Deering Family’s Floridian legacy. I am a Florida native. Protective of my home and self, I always wait to come out of my shell, examining the true purposes behind anyone’s use of Florida rhetoric. This topography is mine. Spoil islands, sea horses in sea grasses, the stench of a mangrove biome all produce a sense of sanctuary within me. Though I’m the daughter of exiles, I have my own homeland, and it is Florida. This past year, I have invested my time and energy into understanding the aims of the Deering Estate, as always, weary of too much promise. I have come to find that the Deering Estate is one of the few places left in Florida with uncorrupted aims of real preservation– environmental, architectural and cultural. It is Florida as it once was. It is secure and Floridian.

I look forward to my second year as an Interdisciplinary Artist at The Estate as well as the Estate’s many mango trees and mangos…

The Crossover

Semester Fall 2015 is waiting for the gun to go off. I keep finding myself hashtagging #fall2015 more than usual. I’m stoked for it. This is the first time I’ve ever started a college semester without some heavy weight on my back. Today, I’ve got my ducks in a row, and I’m reaping the benefits.

What you have to understand is that after high school I belly flopped into independence–which was fantastic, but choppy. I worked so hard in food and beverage service. My feet would hurt (as in “I need advil right now because even with my feet up I can feel the throbbing of my blood pumping”) for about six hours before becoming normal again after double shifts.

But, every month I had my rent on time even if it meant living on two dollars for two days. I smiled so hard for all those patrons, carried scary-heavy treys of drinks with one hand, counted change, laughed at bad jokes I had already heard, swept the sticky straw wrappers and broken tortilla chips. I strategized for more tips at every table or bar stool. Each table or sad man at the bar carried the potential for the best tip of the day. I knew how to work a table without losing my dignity.

How I am adjusting to becoming a full time professional...

Renowned actress, Jessica Lange, conveys an exemplary attitudinal transition into a professional career, with a nice dose of confidence and healthy nostalgia.

I can pour a perfect beer. I know how to get rid of fruit flies. How to text inside my apron. How to run back and forth, back and forth, back and forth and then, back and forth. (Side note: I somehow managed in my 8 year long career in food service to avoid opening a champagne bottle–it terrifies me).

Today, work is not abusive. I have my own office space. Men can’t make you flirt with them, and women don’t try to screw up your head. Your money goes to the bank, instead of on your lap when you’re driving home or clutching the little stack in the parking lot after a shift, all the while, never forgetting that waitresses carrying their own hard earned cash are prey for night robberies.

This Fall 2015, I have a right to be the master of my own designs. I can share. I can listen. I can help. I have a right to not pick up the empty Splenda packets scattered around the coffee machine. I’m now organizing and preparing for this fall with one thing on my mind: the life of this semester. I sound like a college kid. There’s no trying to sell old watches on e-bay or watching Anne Sexton on YouTube on the floor of my sofa-less apartment; it’s now my own desk and shelves, my business cards stacked neatly under a shell, a break for lunch, water, neon paper clips and fresh face students (they’re like the best blueberries in the basket). I found the perfect binder, the perfect textbook for the class, (The Allyn & Bacon Guide to Writing), a nice smelly thing for my office and a cool book called, The Wave. 

“The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change.”  –Carl Rogers

“The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.”  —Aristotle

Featured Image Credit: Artwork by Dalton Massamitsu