Ark Ramsay’s Fresh Milk Residency – Week 4 Blog Post

Ark Ramsay shares a blog post about their fourth and final week as writer-in-residence at Fresh Milk.  With the official residency coming to an end, the question that is asked both internally and externally looms: what is the value of this experience? Ark thinks about the tangible and intangible responses to this question, recognising that residencies are in many ways immeasurable. They allow for the sowing of seeds that bear fruit in multiple, sometimes unforseeable ways over prolonged periods of time, and give creators the too-often denied permission to deeply and unapologetically invest in their practice. Read more below:

Photo by Dondré Trotman

I am terrible at goodbyes.

I preempt the pain of separation by inducing small shocks–inoculating myself against the final disruption–so that what arrives is already marrow-sucked.

I grow nostalgic for things that have not yet ended. It’s a feeling similar to déjà vu, in that I become a passenger in my body–aware of the artifice–trying to hold onto things–knowing them to be transient. I think, I will miss this; outcome being, I do miss this.

I have never walked on stilts, but my mind is well-trained at balancing conflicting mechanisms. It tight-ropes between trying to soften the now, and trying to seal it off in amber.

This was my last week here at Fresh Milk. I did not want it to be subsumed by my familiar patterns.

I slowed down at this farm.

I spent hours sitting amongst the quiet caucus of trees that I had no formal names for.

I contemplated, watched myself in my contemplation, and eventually (growing tired of the intruding me) learned to trust in silence again. There is a deep and penetrating silence (even with the lowing of cows, and the sometimes-intrusion of mahogany pods on a corrugated iron roof) which I had missed entirely while living in Shanghai. It is the kind of silence that May Sarton claims (writing in “Journal of a Solitude”), will force one to confront the starved face at the window–starved cat, starved person–simply put: in the silence are the questions you are running from.

I wanted so badly to push forward this week. To write ceaselessly. To unearth new. To shore up old. But there was a raggedness–the bucket of myself was overflowing with Bathsheba swampies–toppling each other in their quest to be rid of me. Uninspired, tired, I wrote. I wrote what was functional and necessary. I wrote because the ‘job’ of writing must persist even if the muses are late–or never arrive at all. Because you have to go through many roughnesses to reach the roughness that matters–the thousand words that delivers up one usable paragraph. Writing too carefully, I have learnt (am learning), feeds only the overbearing perfectionist–not the nascent manuscript.

And when that was done I retreated fully to silence. I stayed at the farm until the sun set, and the unresolved work of cows was put to bed. I stayed until the St. George noise had backgrounded to a hum, and even the mahogany pods were reticent to fall. I stayed until I could not even remember what it was like to sit in my apartment in Shanghai and hear the forever-din of city life. This resolved the raggedness.

Another form of quiet came to us this week in little Roo. A three-legged rescue puppy with a penchant for nuzzling into the softest parts of someone, and sleeping.

He took up the entire day–not in his need for me–but in my curative need for him. I was reminded of a Joy Williams quote, from one of her strange short stories, “Shepherd”: many things that human words have harmed are restored again by the silence of animals.

That ‘harm’ is always soiled up in our attempts to collate worth, value, the immediate return on investment of all things. For a writer this equates to: page count, characters built, scenarios polished, contacts made, submissions finalized.

What is the payout on a month in the bush?

Why should an organization be structured to support (what sometimes looks), like an artist’s retreat (read: vacation)?

What. Is. The. Value.

I can only recount my own process. What I, in my ruminations, consider to be returns.

What a residency does (I have found out), is provide this buffer against the anxiety of production. It cuts into the noise of ‘value’, and demands that one return to the font of all things–tend the garden–not force (an unforcible) germination process. I have a friend who talks about her work by saying: it’s still cooking. And I imagine a fragrant Caribbean one-pot, full of plantains, beans and everything else in the fridge–but it’s not ready. It needs time. The insights into my work, discovered here, may take two years to prove themselves useful. A story I began writing when I was nineteen needed the addition of the Bardo Thodol (Tibetan Book of the Dead) to reach full coherency–something I only came to see when I was listening to an audio version of that text at four a.m. in Shanghai. What is given now cannot always be used now. But all things are banked, and returned to.

Without time, nothing is given.

Without a buffer against the anxiety of production. The treadmill of value. Nothing valuable is made.

At the risk of overpowering this blog post with quotations, indulge me one last time:

Yet, how do you relax without the safety net of organizations and people who understand that the process of art runs contra to the process of production (as in product; as in consumer)?

What I want to do in these final days is be an active participant in the unfolding. I do not want to sorrow an ending that has not yet ended (though this is inevitable for me). I do not want to contest the value of a thing that I know to have imbued my work with indelible value. I want simply to be here. In the silence. In the nurturing.

The thing about this writing life that I am coming to understand, is that what it takes from you–it also rewards you with.

In time.

Thank you, and goodnight

Ethan Knowles’ Fresh Milk Residency – Week 4 Blog Post

Bahamian writer Ethan Knowles shares his final blog post about his Fresh Milk residency. Written a week after his return to the Bahamas, Ethan looks back on his month in Barbados, particularly the building crescendo of his last few days which culminated in the event FRESH MILK XXII: Residency Readings on his last night. A visit to the East Coast was the catalyst he needed to solidify his ideas for the short story he presented at the event, adding a twist to the interpretations and expectations of the frequently asked, loaded question islanders get – what is it like to live here? Read more below:

East Coast antics

It’s been a week since I left Barbados. Since I’ve sat under a zinc roof, surrounded by good souls and the slow billowing serenade of idle cows.  It’s been a week since four weeks of reading, writing and fish cake crawling. It’s been a week, and what a few weeks it’s been.

Week four came right after the Barbados Pride parade, an endlessly inspiring event that brought water to my eyes and liquified my thighs. I walked and wined and smiled and sung and all the while felt welcomed in space I had only known a few weeks. What struck me especially about the parade (my first of the kind) was, frankly, how well it all worked out. It brought together people from separate walks on the same walk: a walk through Bridgetown meant to bring together what, for so long in our region, has not been allowed to be.

Love in all its forms filtered through the streets of Barbados and for making it happen leading organizer RoAnn Mohammed of Equals Barbados must be applauded.

In the days that followed, the whole cohort got to work preparing for FRESH MILK XXII: Residency Readings. Kia, Ark and I gathered our wits and began crafting a range of stories to read and perform on what would be my last night on the island. All the while I began to wonder. Who would my story follow? What would happen? And how would it all intersect with my month of study? These questions hovered around my head like hummingbirds as I went through the week in search of the right words and who would say them.

In the meantime, the whole Fresh Milk team had the opportunity to tour the wonderful work-in-progress multi-use creative ecosystem that is Union Collaborative, an ongoing project spearheaded by designer Israel Mapp. The soon-to-be urban hub for arts and design sat two stories high on a city block in Bridgetown, and hidden away at its core was a beautiful sunbaked courtyard. After moving around its eccentric rooms, we made our way over to Norman Centre to chat with Kraig Yearwood about his forthcoming exhibition “Retro-Future Landscapes” and eventually share a vegan meal with a side of mafia stories.

East Coast antics

Later in the week I took a trip to the east coast.

It felt like the edge of the world. Long sweeping breaks of surf faded away at the foot of steep slopes and a haze like held breath hung around the edges. It was mythic, haunting even.

It was just what I needed.

And with that I began to write My First Vacation, a story which draws from Isaac Babel’s My First Fee but reads unmistakably Caribbean. It deals with topics of class, grief and space on a small island. There are more than a few touches of humor written into it, but they slip and slide between deeply somber and even morbid moments. In writing it I was thinking a lot about the question of “What’s it like to live here?”– a question I get fairly often at home in New Providence. What is it like to live on a small island? Does the here of the visitor translate to the here of the local? And, if there is a disconnect, who is allowed to cross that divide? Is the question a rhetorical one? Does it beg for an answer, or require a confirmation? What might it miss?

Writing the story was for me an attempt to think through, if not answer, these questions. I feel we tend to believe that you think and then you write. That you have this thing you want to express and that all you need to do is find the words that fit. For me, it was quite a different experience altogether. I didn’t know what I thought. I had no answers. But I did want to make my way toward finding them, to stumble upon something. And so, I set about writing. And that’s how I found my way.

Many thanks to Annalee, Katherine, Ark, and Kia for all the love and support they’ve shown me since I arrived at Grantley Adams International Airport.

Fresh Milk Family. Photo by Dondré Trotman

Kia Redman’s Fresh Milk Residency – Week 4 Blog Post

Barbadian artist and aspiring writer Kia Redman shares her final blog post about her Colleen Lewis Research/Writing Residency at Fresh Milk. The last week was somewhat stressful as she prepared for her first public reading at the event FRESH MILK XXII, while also offering moments of relief through outings and interactions with her fellow residents, the Fresh Milk Team and the wider creative community. Spilling over into a 5th, unplanned week has been just the thing for Kia to comedown from the intensity of her performance, continue her research, and even embark on a new visual work to complement her written/spoken word piece. Read more below:

This last week was stressful. I spent the entire time completely dreading Friday night, when we would have to read what we wrote in front of people. It wasn’t the public speaking that bothered me. That is a necessary evil in life. I just had no idea what I would write. I tried for days, and I ran myself around in circles. Ideas would fly out of my brain, imprint themselves on a page and just as soon disappear when I scrapped them. I was embodying a clichéd rendering of writer’s block.

Eventually, I settled on a concept. I was spending a lot of time researching ‘How to Escape from Paradise’ and I knew I wanted to write something from the perspective of the island. When I thought of all the possible instances from history I could reference, there were so many players and so much turbulence and trauma surrounding them that it seemed like the island was having a series of terrible relationships. Initially, I was only going to have the island reminiscing about her past paramours, but the voices of her current lovers kept invading my mind. This is how “A Paradise Escape?” was born. I read the part of the citizen, and with the help of Ethan reading the tourist and my mother, Donna, reading the Island, we performed the piece.

While most of the week had me in a panic, the beginning was amazing. We had a town-adventure day and visited Israel Mapp at the incredible Union Collaborative space and Kraig Yearwood in the midst of setting up his installation “Retro-Future Landscapes” in Norman Centre. It is inspiring every time I witness contemporary art purposefully intertwined with everyday public life. Our adventure day was no letdown. Creativity ran rampant, in tune with the frenzied pulse of the city. The perfect day ended in much the same fashion. We sat upstairs Norman Centre, looking down at the city as we ate some delicious vegan food, family style.

I couldn’t have asked for a better final week. While it did incite a massive amount of stress, it also helped me get over the mental creative block I have had for a while. There’s nothing like the threat of public embarrassment to light a fire under your ass. I’m still humming from the thrill of that experience. So much so that I’ve now found myself back at Fresh Milk for another week, keeping Ark company as they finish up their final week.

My work for this time isn’t going to be strictly literary. I loved the way the performative-like presentation of “A Paradise Escape?” left room for me to incorporate this and other future literary works into my visual practice. This is what I’ll be experimenting with in my bonus week at Fresh Milk and back in my space in the time to come. But it hasn’t all been work. The stress of the last week really made me crave curling up with a good book. Earlier in the residency, Annalee had placed a copy of Jean Rhys’ “Wide Sargasso Sea” on my desk, telling me it was one of Colleen’s favourite books. It’s certainly been on my ‘to read’ list for a while and seemed like the perfect way to end off my time as the inaugural Colleen Lewis Research/Writing Resident. The addition of the beautiful, sweetheart Roo made it impossibly better.

I didn’t know how much I needed this residency until it came. The peaceful surroundings were a great escape from the bustle of my everyday life in the city, but it was the camaraderie that made it a truly unforgettable experience. Spending time connecting with Ethan, Ark, Katherine and Annalee has been healing in a way that’s as vital as it was unexpected. While I have been in the company of people who have encouraged my writing before, I have never been in a space so devoted to celebrating literature. It made me distinctly aware of how much I rely on the visual to translate my experiences, and how out of my comfort zone I was. It was great to be pushed. I’ve felt my perspectives broadening each day in the last few weeks. It almost feels like I have developed a new way of seeing…of being. I’m excited to explore this new addition to myself and see where it takes me. I’m sure it’ll be somewhere I could never imagine.

Thank you to all who made this journey possible. You are appreciated in ways I can’t express.

Ark Ramsay’s Fresh Milk Residency – Week 3 Blog Post

Ark Ramsay shares a blog post about the third week of their Fresh Milk residency, beginning with Barbados’ second Pride Parade  organised by Equals Barbados on Sunday, June 30th; punctuated with a midweek visit to Bridgetown to see the developing creative hub Union Collaborative and the exhibition ‘Retro-Future Landscapes‘ by Kraig Yearwood; and ending with the event FRESH MILK XXII: Residency Readings. Read Ark’s poignant thoughts on the intense and challenging week, which required strength and vulnerability to absorb and process both publicly and in private:

Ethan and I celebrating Pride. My sign says “protect the non-beenary baes” with a little bee on it.

I was putting my mouth on the future in my last blog post. When I wrote: the way forward requires that I think about structure–I might as well have said, the way forward requires that I live in a week other than this week.

Sunday was Barbados’ second Pride Parade.

And I don’t want to siphon the joy/abandon/celebration out of that–or sit here and tell you that I did not get on wild and dutty–or claim that the light in me did not flare up at the touch of the light in my Bajan queer family.

And I don’t want to deny ‘bravery’, or ‘resilience’, or ‘beauty’, or ‘at-homedness’.

And I think it ironic that I have to preface the somber and vulnerable with a defense of pageantry. But I do.

Come Monday, sore and filled to the brim with love for this place, I was sitting on the deck at Fresh Milk–video-chatting a queerabian artist-friend who could not be at the parade in person. We started out the same way this blog post started out. In defense of love and glitter. Halfway in, this became untenable.

“Me and belonging just don’t pitch marbles,” they said, as we lamented the long (pothole-filled) road we had taken to arrive at this shifting place. And the cows, chickens, and small dogs all around this farm made effortless song–lampooning our attempts to ground ourselves, or think through the vast human-centeredness of ‘belonging’.

The price paid to dance to “I’m Coming Out” by Dianna Ross in front of Cave Shepherd on Broad Street was (and still is) steep. I pay it every day. All queer Barbadians do. And for some the charge is pulling from a sum they don’t have (and may never have), and whittling away–a slow, drain–until ‘bravery’ is rendered skeletal and impotent.

I volunteer to pay the price, knowing it has to be paid, knowing what’s asked of me is a fraction of a fraction of what is asked of others.

The truth is, all I have to offer is open heart writing surgery, performed on myself. And, the question is not whether it is ‘enough’ (no, possibly not), or whether it can effect change (how egocentric)–what remains is the stubbornness to root through these questions despite their nature–despite the manifold unknowns.

I am reminded this week, after getting back “Cereus Blooms at Night” from Ethan Knowles–and leafing through it–that it appeared for me right when I needed it. I read it when I was nineteen and leaving the island for the first time. I felt then (as I feel now), how unpayable the price of this book must have been, its very existence, the toll it must have taxed out of Shani Mootoo. Her expense is my enrichment, and so the circle of the word continues. I guess all I want to do is pay forward what I was given.

This rambling, guilt-ridden, wishing-I-could-do-more, lamenting-things-as-they-are, swarmed my week. I moved in careful silence, rebuilding what was knocked down, knowing that what was really happening (within me) was the fermentation of things that I could (gratefully) rage back into art–motivated by a Rainer Maria Rilke quote given to me by someone long ago: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart, and try to love the questions themselves.”

So I repeated that quote like a mantra, knowing it is a rickety bridge from unsurety to unsurety.

At Union Collaborative for a tour of the site

On Tuesday, the whole Fresh Milk family visited “Union Collaborative”, this newly developing hub that seeks to create a space for dialogue and side-by-side creative flow–all within the remnants of a gutted commercial mall.

As Israel Mapp walked us through his vision (fashion designers working across the courtyard from metalworkers and chefs), it seemed like he, and his team, were inexhaustible. That the abundance of love they have for this place, and the whole idea of a revitalized, artistically-thriving Bridgetown, was enough to power the lights. His whole energy seemed to suggest: this is happening with or without anyone else’s input. I was bowled over by the whole enterprise because it was the complete antithesis to the questions that I had been carrying around. It was so rooted, so part-of-things, so not-in-your-own-mindcell.

Yearwood’s work “Aquifer”–inviting us to question the bedrock

Afterwards, we went to Norman Centre, where artist Kraig Yearwood had installed his work “Retro-future Landscapes”. It was right next to a leatherworking stand, and beside the gutted space where a shoe store used to be. Here was this room (fitted for a boutique store), filled with Kraig’s huge pieces rendered from concrete and found items. He cast these objects with the innards of cellphones and plastic detritus–creating these sediment layers that reflect what we may leave behind in the bones of this island. It seems like everyone this week was pondering island, in some form. Who we are, what we build, what we leave behind.

On Thursday, jackhammering at my work (revealing nothing of substance), the rains came. The roof at Fresh Milk is itself a drum–inconsistently played by mahogany pods–but here was this persistent percussion. Annalee (convinced that she practices some sort of Obeah) appeared with “Calling a Wolf a Wolf” by Kaveh Akbar, a book of poems that I’ve been trying to hunt down (or wait to arrive), for years now.

“We all want the same thing (to walk in sincere wonder, like the first man to hear a parrot speak”

Kaveh is an Iranian-American poet, whose work is staggeringly beautiful. In fact, the latter half of this week was about reconnecting with old collections that I treasure and champion (“Everyone Knows I am a Haunting” by Trinidad’s Shivanee Ramlochan), and finally getting to read this work. I was able to put them side-by-side. Their work, so different, yet both so brutal and honest. They both stare it down. They both inhabit ‘bravery’, ‘resilience’, ‘beauty’, and ‘at-homedness’.

I channelled them when I was called upon to perform.

On Friday the trio of residents decided to host an open house, where we would pull from work-in-progress and untested writing. We would essentially give what we had never given before.

I read a short story that I have been carrying with me for years. Every time I changed as a writer, a transformation would be stimulated in my personal life, and I would see a new way into the story. But I had never read it. I had kept it safe, kept it mine.

Sharing it, and then inviting the audience to engage with me afterwards (when I was rawest and shaking), was one of the most rewarding experiences of this entire residency. My Q&A moved from ‘process’ questions into the realm of climate-sorrowing–and because of this–I felt less like I was going through the motions, and more like I was trying to share something I feel deeply kinned to. Less like I was manufacturing something artificial, and more like my soul was on the line.

This is Ethan and Kia’s last week at the residency, and the space will be worse off for their absence. I will miss what was created here (even if it lasted a few weeks), with the strange interplay of personalities (including Katherine and Annalee)–who all helped me return to this island. Physically. Mentally. Creatively.

Thank you.

I have one more week. Flying solo.

Kia Redman’s Fresh Milk Residency – Week 3 Blog Post

Barbadian artist and aspiring writer Kia Redman shares a blog post on her third week in residence at Fresh Milk. In addition to activities such as attending a reception for the ‘Trio of Residents’ held by one of Fresh Milk’s patrons, returning to Workman’s Primary School to reveal the result of their group time capsule project and taking part in a collage workshop about Caribbean identity hosted by Ethan Knowles, Kia also began the daunting task of venturing into creative writing – something she has not done in a very long time, but that she is eager to take the leap to explore. Read more below:

Creative writing has been a big fear of mine for a long time. I remember it being something I fearlessly enjoyed once, but that time passed so long ago I can barely remember the words I wrote and the feelings they conjured within me. It has been so long that I don’t even know where to find the stories, and if I did, the papers would probably be in tatters, darkened and consumed by time. So many years have passed since then that it almost feels like another person’s story; another person’s path not taken. But the best thing about life, at least mine, is that the path is hardly ever straight and easy. There are steep inclines, rugged terrains and winding roads that if you’re lucky, wind back around to give you a second chance at exploring a previously untrodden path.

This unfamiliar journey started with this residency. I spent the first couple weeks researching for a critical essay that I hoped would inform my visual work. It was what I had planned to do, it was what I felt comfortable with, having written strictly academically for the last few years. It was the safe option. However deep down, something just felt a little off. Residencies are supposed to push you out of your comfort zone and encourage you to explore and experiment – something I love to do – but I was resisting it. It has been a long time since I’ve felt truly afraid to do something creative.

My visual work still scares me, and I hope it never stops. Having to learn and discover, fail and adapt is what excites me. Yet, while that has become a fear I have learned to embrace and use as fuel to push my visual practice, this fear is as yet uncharted. There is no evidence that the failures I’ll endure along this path will result in something fruitful. It has not yet proven itself to me, nor have I proven myself to it. It is my hope that this confrontation will clear the way for a bridge between my visual and literary work. I love combining different techniques and art-forms in what I create, and the challenge of merging both of these worlds into one thrills me. Sonia Farmer’s “A True and Exact History” stands on that bridge. The fusing of visual, tactile and literal is simply breathtaking and stole away much of my time this week.

This third chapter has been packed full of reading, thinking, creating and socializing. I’ve walked and explored with Ethan and Ark and stood beside them at Dr. Clyde Cave’s house for the vibrant yet relaxed evening he hosted for us, amongst his incredible art collection. I returned to Workman’s Primary to show them the video they shot and give them copies. Ethan’s collage workshop on Wednesday was a fun experience that allowed me to tackle my topic in a lighthearted way without the pressures I usually inadvertently place upon the process of creating. It was a breath of fresh air just being able to enjoy the act of making without all the strings that somehow get attached along the path of being an artist. Perhaps it was the reminder of that feeling that made me finally agree to confront my fears to write creatively. It is a feeling I must remember in the final week as I commit to setting pen to paper.