Ark Ramsay’s Fresh Milk Residency – Week 2 Blog Post

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:

In a moment of serendipity, I had read Brodber’s most famous book a few days before the workshop.

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.

I titled this for the reading on Thursday (apologizing for its incomplete state even though nobody would see it)

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.

Model: Ark Ramsay
Photographer/#Lightweaver: Risée Chaderton-Charles of eye one visuals
Make-up: Mandy Cummins
On set assist: Artemis M Benn

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.

I bring my new (and old) questions to the ocean

 

Ark Ramsay’s Fresh Milk Residency – Week 1 Blog Post

Ark Ramsay shares their first blog post about the 2019 Fresh Milk ‘My Time’ Local Residency, which for the first time is focusing on research and writing practices. Ark speaks about the anxieties and concerns they have around returning to Barbados after completing an MPhil in Chinese Philosophy in Shanghai, while embracing the possibilities this residency has to offer and learning to re-inhabit the role of “Barbadian writer”.  Read more below:

Sonia Farmer’s “A True & Exact History of Barbados”

Honestly, I was worried about coming to Fresh Milk.

In the weeks before arriving, I burdened the space with a whole pantheon of anxieties. There were the familiar deities: Will-The-Work-I-Produce-There-Be-Any-Good (horned, feral, a biter); Is-This-Work-Even-Worth-Producing-At-All (tentacled, perpetually bored), and Will-I-Make-My-Page-Count (incarnated as everyone’s least favorite Primary School teacher).

I set about packing up my life in Shanghai, trying not to take notice of the fourth entity–larger than the others, skewed by perspective until all I could make sense of were the cracks in a cloven hoof–How-Do-I-Really-Return.

When I left Barbados, I abandoned writing altogether. I thought: “I’ll make a fantastic something-else”. I ditched narrative, dumped characters, and abandoned plots. I dislocated from the part of my brain that thought of itself as a ‘Barbadian writer’.

Or at least I tried to.

I still bought journals. Still scribbled notes in them. Still planned and orchestrated worlds. I could not seem to discard the machinery I had oiled so diligently for a decade.

So I returned to the island in the dark of memory. I smuggled back entire ships, boardwalks, car crashes, love stories, robots (who walked the length of Bathsheba), and dysfunctional families. I did all of this like a cat burglar until there were clear partitions between myself and the island. There was Ark the writer. Ark the islander. I began to feel like a tourist in my own dialect.

Arriving at Fresh Milk, under old-growth mahogany trees, I ruminated on what I hoped to achieve (and not achieve as in the ‘I’ of productivity, but achieve as in the summit that you reach in tandem with someone else)–I came to a realization. I wanted to be inundated with influences. To be upended.  To walk the long path home.

On the first morning, Annalee handed me a red box.

Even the design mirrors Ligon’s–even the paper feels like this text

It was Sonia Farmer’s strip-mining of Ligon’s “True & Exact History of Barbados”. She took his ‘accounts’ and reworked them, using his own words to uncover the silent-underneath. She questions the audacity of a “true” and “exact” anything. It was a simple gift: a reminder that the way back is via new trails in the oldest paths.

It liberated me into the rest of the week. I realized that this could become an artist’s retreat. The sense of retreat as wound-licking/marshalling the remaining forces/recalibrating. I looked around to find that the space was peopled not by anxiety-gods, but cows, and Mica–who must be some kind of Obeah Dog–because her presence brings with it an overwhelming calm.

Guarded by Obeah dog, Mica

I began to devour the library. It seemed to contain the exact mixture of books that I needed. I was handed a captivating review of Paulo Nazareth’s work–particularly News from the Americas (2011-2012)–where he left the state of Minas Gerais and travelled by bus and foot, traversing 15 countries before arriving in New York. He did this, without washing his feet, until he reached the Hudson. He carried the Americas on his body. Art as dirt that can be washed away.

This flowed into “Learning to Die: Wisdom in the Age of Climate Crisis”, meditative essays that try to retool traditional Socratic virtues so that they’re useful at the end of times–when the dirt of man catches up to the rest of us. Dirt. Dust. Carried on our skins or washed away forever. I read, surrounded by impossible beauty (and the lowing of cows), trying to bank all of these impressions.

No longer thinking, will this be useful, but trying to trust in the process.

On Wednesday, we were visited by Ewan Atkinson (visual artist/most engaging person in a room), who showed off one of the pieces from his mind-bogglingly intertextual work, “The Neighbourhood Project”. He built a board game that is a kind of ‘found object’ within the narrative of this fictional neighbourhood. While setting it up he reiterated what had become gospel by this point, that the filtration process–the coming together of ideas–is a slow, slow burn. Something found today can be used in twenty-five years.

The “unbeatable” Neighbourhood Game, “Peregrination!” by Ewan Atkinson

The lesson of week one seemed to be: time.

So I tried to give myself time, and space, to hack away at what I am working on. Hack being the right word, but a cruel word. To move from short story writing, to novel writing, feels like stripping naked in Broad Street–but forgetting (halfway through) how buttons on clothes work. It’s a fumbling, stumbling, soul-baring process.

But this seems a good place to begin.

Most complex problems become solvable if you add a dog to the equation

Fresh Milk Welcomes a Trio of Residents for June 2019

Fresh Milk is excited to announce that we will have three writers/researchers in residence with us for the month of June, 2019: Bahamian writer and photographer Ethan Knowles (June 10th – July 5th) as part of our international residency programme; Barbadian artist Kia Redman (June 10th – July 5th) as the selected participant in the Colleen Lewis Research/Writing Residency; and Barbadian writer Ark Ramsay (June 17th – July 12th) as the sponsored participant in this year’s ‘My Time’ Local Residency Programme.

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About the Residents:

Ethan Knowles

Ethan Knowles is a writer and photographer from The Bahamas. His work, largely tied to the islands of the Lucayan archipelago on which he grew up, aims to decolonize and sensitize, paying particular attention to topics of cultural erasure, environmentalism and identity in the Caribbean. After completing his high school education in Nassau, he spent two years in Italy at the United World College of the Adriatic and graduated with his International Baccalaureate diploma in May 2018. He is now enrolled at Colorado College in the United States, working part-time as a photographer while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in Italian. Over the past few summers, he has published writing on tourism, culture, and neocolonialism in The Nassau Guardian, worked as a curatorial attaché for and exhibited at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas and, most recently, been awarded the James Yaffe Prize for Short Fiction by the Colorado College English Department for a story set on the Bahamian island of Eleuthera.

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Kia Redman

Kia Redman is a creative professional living and working in Barbados. She attained her BFA in Studio Art from the Barbados Community College where she received an award from the Lesley’s Legacy Foundation for the highest GPA.

She has worked as a scenic painter for Operation Triple Threat, taught video marketing at the World University Service of Canada Caribbean, participated in an open studio residency with Punch Creative Arena and taken part in local group shows and screenings internationally. In 2018 her short film Roots|Routes won six awards including Best Short Film at the Barbados Visual Media Festival.

Kia currently works as a designer and videographer for Acute Vision Inc. and Bajans in Motion Inc. whilst cultivating her creative practice.

Being born into a post-independent nation in formation, Kia’s work focuses on issues of identity, defining culture and documenting histories. She aims to rewrite the blanket definition taught to be her Caribbean identity and discover the things unique to her lived experience.

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Ark Ramsay

Ark Ramsay is a 25-year-old Barbadian writer, currently completing an MPhil in Chinese Philosophy at Fudan University in Shanghai. Their short fiction has been published in Small Axe (50) in 2016, after winning that journal’s emerging writer’s contest. Ark’s writing is centered around queer, Caribbean identities and coping with the reality of a warming earth–the fragility of an island ecosystem that cannot fight back.

Ark will begin an M.F.A in creative writing at Ohio State University in the Fall.