Readers. Dear, dear readers. I have received a very interesting piece of mail. Generally I don’t like the word “interesting”, because of the way it’s so often used as a meaningless descriptor, like “nice”. How was the play? Interesting. How was your meal? Interesting. How was that triple bypass surgery? Interesting. The word “interesting” doesn’t tell you much about a thing, except that it supposedly generates interest, and that’s really something for the person who might or might not be interested to decide. In this case, however, that person is me, and I was interested. I remain interested, in fact. Let me tell you why.
The first thing that interested me about this particular piece of mail is that it was unsolicited. That isn’t really much of a recommendation as far as mail goes, I know. I would even be willing to argue that more bad things arrive through unsolicited mail than good things. Now that I think about it, I’m starting to feel like most bad things come through unsolicited mail: letters from the IRS, legal summonses, anthrax, and invitations to birthday parties for cats all arrive by mail whether the recipient desires them or not. This letter did not appear to be from the IRS, a court of law, or a terrifying maniac, but those can all be hard to spot just by looking at the outside of a letter. And because I was not expecting any important mail, the manilla envelope waiting in the entryway of my building had gone unnoticed for some time, possibly sitting around for weeks before the guy downstairs caught me on the stairs and said, “Hey, you got an interesting-looking letter”.
The envelope was quite thick, and addressed to me at home, and neatly typed, all of which served to increase my level of interest. I wondered what sort of materials might have made this envelope so thick. I wondered how whoever sent the letter learned my home address, where usually the only letters I receive are from my landlord and the cable company. I wondered who out there was still typing envelopes on an old typewriter, because that appeared to be the case with this one. Perhaps it was merely printed using an ingenious computer font capable of mimicking the irregular smudges and faded ink of an old typewriter, but either way, I was interested.
The envelope’s contents were more interesting still. There was a cover letter, addressed to me, and fifty or so pages of additional materials labeled “Guidelines and General Information”. Readers, I will now depart from my excessive use of the word “interesting” to describe these fifty or so pages as “fantastic”. More on them in a moment. First, I would like to include the full text of the cover letter—or letter of invitation, for that is what it proved to be:
Readers, dear readers, have you ever seen such a charming letter? Just so you can actually see it, I’m including a few pictures taken with my digital camera. Those of you adept at spotting computer font might be able to confirm its presence here, but to me it looks very much like the work of an old typewriter, and that is, I think, only the first of this letter’s abundantly charming features. Let us continue with the respectful yet wry tone of the prose, which left me greatly endeared to the writer. Next, there is the unusual means of marking time: dating the letter “The First of May”, for example, and describing a residency running “from two weeks before the summer solstice until the last week prior to the autumnal equinox”.
Most charming of all, in my opinion, is that this is a letter of invitation. I do enjoy receiving invitations, even if, as with the invitations to cat birthdays I mentioned earlier, I am not always able to attend the corresponding events. I must admit, however, that I had some trouble figuring out precisely what I was being invited to. What exactly is “the Hemlocks on Prism Bay”? The Internet had conspicuously little to say on the subject, which came as quite a surprise, knowing the Internet as I do. There is an indie rock band from Columbus, Ohio, called “the Hemlocks”, and a housing development in Roslyn, New York, by the same name, but neither are located very near Prism Bay, Maine, possibly because—again, as far as my associate, the Internet, is concerned—no such place exists. And yet, here was this letter, inviting me there, beginning two weeks prior to the summer solstice.
My current front-runner, guess-wise, is that I’ve been contacted by some kind of artists’ residency. As you know, dear readers, I am a writer, and in some cultures, writers are also considered artists. And it is not unusual, or so I’ve heard, for artists—including writers—to be invited to communities in places like Maine, pristine and peaceful places, where their art will have the opportunity to flourish. That would be a reasonable explanation for this interesting letter, wouldn’t you say, readers? The word “residency” is right there in the first paragraph, after all. And while I’ve never been to an artists’ residency, I’ve always wanted to attend one, and I think that ought to count for something also. It is troubling that I’ve never heard of this particular residency—that it not only lacks a website, but any electronic presence at all. Then again, the invitation was written on an old typewriter (probably), so it would be easy to believe technology is not the focus here. Possibly the focus is bringing tranquility to the souls of artists, even writers, so that they might produce great works of art.
Any reservations about this artists’ residency raised by its lack of web presence—whether in the form of a website, Twitter account, or evidence of filing for tax-exempt status as a nonprofit organization under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code—were, however, largely assuaged by those fifty-or-so pages of “Guidelines and General Information”. I said I would return to these pages, readers, and now I shall. In format, the pages are not much different from any normal orientation guide—as for a resort, school, or corporate office. I’ve seen my share of similar packets, readers, but the contents in this case were… let us say, unusual. For example,
Unusual, wouldn’t you say, readers? At first, it isn’t unlike a dress code for a fancy-pants hotel, club, restaurant, or similarly stodgy institution—until you get to the part about “diners of bestial aspect”, whereupon it begins to sound like you’ll be eating with visitors from Narnia. I suppose it’s a clever way of adding levity to a lot of dull and old-fashioned rules; I certainly found myself chuckling over certain parts, especially the deadpan reference to children with horns—anyone who has been forced to spend time with unruly youngsters can relate, I think, if only metaphorically. This is not the only section of the fifty-or-so pages of “Guidelines and General Information” to strike such an irreverent pose, either. Some, to be sure, seem perfectly normal. Others, well—I’ll let you read for yourself. Take a look at this section from “Facilities and Amenities”:
Again, it reads like the handbook from any well-run place of hospitality, but with a peppering of strangeness throughout. I’m almost certain I’ve seen the phrase “unable to offer accommodation to X at this time”, except where X is “pets” instead of “aquatic residents”. Oh, and speaking of pets!
I can only assume, dear readers, that whoever wrote these fifty-or-so pages of “Guidelines and General Information” is having some fun with us. Possibly, this delightful individual became bored with writing page after page of rules and regulations, and decided to add a bit of pizazz. I must say, I was grateful they did, for this unknown writer (the mysterious Mrs. Henriette Sylvester, perhaps?) brightened what was turning out to be a dreary day indeed. Readers, if you can get through this excerpt from “Personal Belongings” without at least cracking a smile, well, you have more composure than I:
It sounds almost like I’ve been invited to a Harry Potter themed bed and breakfast—and if such a thing does not already exist, it should. (Any readers in a position to appropriate licensing for an HPB&B, take heed!) If nothing else, I am convinced the Hemlocks on Prism Bay is a place of genuinely creative people—for who else would send a letter like this? And what more could a person desire in an artists’ residency than to be among creative people? Well, readers, I can think of at least one thing, and here it is:
There you have it, readers: free. The best price. Now then, it’s entirely possible this whole thing is a scam, even if it’s unclear just what the endgame would be. Get me to drive up to Maine and then… what? Sell me a timeshare? Finding out the answer would in itself be reason enough to see what this Letter of Invitation is all about. And what if it really is for real? What if I really am being invited, by dint of my artistic potential, to a summer of tranquility in some lovely little town in Maine? I don’t know about you, dear readers, but I could certainly do with a bit of tranquility about now.
By my calculations (and reference to the Internet), “two weeks before the summer solstice” would be June 7—not very far away, but if I am to believe my Letter of Invitation, I can show up just about any time I want, so I thought I might take advantage of another section from the fifty-or-so pages of “Guidelines and General Information”:
In my view, there is one simple question not answered in the entire fifty-or-so pages: put simply, “Is this for real?!” I will post this question to the esteemed Mrs. Sylvester by the method suggested, and see what happens. In the interests of hygiene, and because I’m passable at sketching, I’ll be mailing by walrus rather than bodily fluids (today, in “sentences I never expected to write”). Stick with me, dear readers, and we will see what happens!
(And what was that bit about having me with them “again”, by the way? Because, in case it is not already apparent, dear readers, I have never been to Prism Bay, nor ever heard of it. Perhaps this will all turn out to be something disappointingly mundane—a summer camp I attended for two days when I was eight, now reincorporated under a new name and planning to hit me up for a donation once they’ve triggered my nostalgia for summers past. But I intend to find out, readers, yes indeed.)
Until next time, dear readers!
And now, as practice for my two-cm-square postage: a drawing of a walrus.