Ark Ramsay shares a blog post about week two of their Fresh Milk ‘My Time’ Local Residency. As last week was about trying back on the title of ‘Barbadian writer’ after time apart, this week Ark began working through what it means to reclaim that, setting things in motion for the start of a new novel while also undergoing personal transformations; all of which are part of the journey towards reckoning with and expressing their authentic self. Read more below:
My work is always far bolder than I am.
I think of it as this separate, wilding mare (possibly why I distrust horses?), who occasionally bolts. And I, person-separate-from-writing, has to make my way after it.
I ‘came out’ (beyond a handful of friends), in 2014 at BIM LitFest, during a fiction writing workshop led by Erna Brodber.
She asked us to write a paragraph that encapsulated our Caribbean; I wrote two. I wrote something I desperately wanted to read, and something safe, sedentary. Something not mine at all.
When she called on me, I read–and it was halfway into the paragraph that I realized that my mouth was stumbling over a description of two men intimately entwined. The words themselves didn’t matter–I remember them being full of teenage angst and ennui–but the moments after–when I said, “Yeh, sure I’m gay,”–to a group of strangers, who then picked that up as fact (because I had said it as fact, and not in a small tremulous, backpedalling voice).
At that workshop I felt this impossible, unsayable, shameful wall–not exactly tumble down–but suddenly I was on the other side of it–not sure how, and not really prepared for my arrival there. It took me years to learn to navigate what the work had known all along.
This week, at Fresh Milk, that strange convergence of work leading life happened again.
I am writing a novel here.
It is in its newborn baby period–colicky, demanding–and like every newborn baby, it sheds its skin each night and is a different color come morning.
On Monday, I was trying to work through a puzzle within the text: how do I talk about the main character stumbling into the realization that their gender is somehow not what they had always thought it was? The earliest pulling apart of intertwined threads that re-entwine when you look away (or look too close)? It has to be grounded in the Caribbean imagination; filled with the richness of being part of this place; and void of the platitudes marketed for mass consumption. In short, I want it to feel honest, mine.
I puzzled, and puzzled, and by Tuesday–I wrote something. And set it aside–feeling nothing but flux and uncertainty. Wednesday came, and I followed through with a promise, to model for a photoshoot celebrating Pride month, by being painted in high femme, high glam makeup. It was border-crossing makeup. It was a thick beard against smokey eyes and a full lip.
Wearing a new face transforms you, but it can also reconcile you to yourself.
The work at Fresh Milk this week eased the psychological tension of that transformation–and then when I returned to writing–it felt like I had found a new way into the work.
I don’t think this will change, and I’m not sure I want it to. Sometimes I think that I would be trapped if it weren’t for my writing–an ouroboros where I am both head and tail–stepping back at the moment of crisis–and therefore never stepping out at all.
This week was about stepping out–saying yes in an emphatic voice that shelters a baby-bird-voice underneath. On Thursday, the ‘trio of residents’ (à la Katherine Kennedy’s nickname for us), were invited to a small gathering at the house of Fresh Milk patron, Dr. Clyde Cave. In a home where every surface is anointed with Caribbean art, and surrounded by community, I read my work for the first time in years.
Whenever I performed before, I was never present. It was a fugue state. I disappeared into a recurring anxiety: when will this be over.
This time was different. I was present–I was alive in the reading.
Week 2 at Fresh Milk was about transformations, but from this point, the way forward requires that I think about structure. Most of my writing, up to this point, has been short stories. A story under 7000 words has to have one defining arc, and all of the smaller, extraneous pieces are slotted together within this word-budget. A novel is expansive, with interconnected pieces that have to function independently–its many threads woven together—it’s a tapestry.
And I have little experience weaving.