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

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

 

Marianne Keating – First Blog Post

Irish artist Marianne Keating shares her first blog post about her Fresh Milk residency. During her time in Barbados, Marianne’s focus will be  on the migration of indentured labourers from Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales who arrived in the island in the seventeenth century. She intends to explore this complex history both through the physical and social landscape of the country, beginning by conducting site visits and reflecting on the journeys of those who have long since traversed this space. Read more below:

Marianne Keating presenting to the students at Barbados Community College

During the last six years, I have spent my time as a practice-based researcher exploring and tracing the multiple trajectories of the migration of the Irish to Jamaica during Ireland’s colonial rule by Britain. My beginning point in the complex histories of Irish emigration to the Caribbean is the movement of Irish indentured labourers from Ireland to Jamaica beginning in 1835 until its abrupt end in 1842, and their resulting legacies in contemporary Jamaica.

My practice-based research combines many hours spent in national archives, libraries, onsite research, interviews and location shooting before combining all these research methods in my studio, where my multi-disciplinary outputs include a series of video pieces and written accounts. My research has now expanded to include the Irish diaspora in Barbados – bringing me back once again to the beginning –with a new direction in my research in an unknown land, surrounded by a new landscape, history, culture and people.

Although my research subject is the same, there are vast differences in all aspects between the Irish migration to Jamaica and Irish migration to Barbados of which I am still attempting to wade through and come to grips with during my first few weeks of onsite research.

To Begin
LAND – Ireland, Jamaica and Barbados

“By land is meant not merely land in the strict sense of the word, but the whole of the materials and forces which nature gives freely for man’s aid in land, water, in air and light and heat.” – Alfred Marshall.

I have always been fascinated by the geology of land, how the soil under our feet has been formed, who has passed this way before and the frequency of such movement. I think of our homogeneous desire to follow the same, well-worn path and manoeuvre inside the marks created in the landscape by those who have come before. These lie in stark contrast to the rawness of other areas, where few now walk allowing the natural world to continue ownership or reclaim the land back to its original form; removing all traces of life that passed through before.

Path of migration within a cane field, St. George, Barbados

As economist Alfred Marshall discusses, the word ‘land’ refers to not just the soil beneath our feet, but instead encompasses all of nature’s resources including the minerals underneath the soil and the trees above. “The term ‘land’ thus embraces all that nature has created on the earth, above the earth, and below the earth’s surface.”

Land holds the memories of past lives. The coral and limestone sediment on which we stand embeds what has come before and consumes the archives of past experiences, leaving us with few traces with many details never to be recovered. We trail through all manners of the past archaeology, anthropology and sociology to attempt to reconstruct the narrative, but often the land holds onto more traces than it reveals.

I think of the importance of our place in the landscape, and its gradual erosion by the constant migration of people over thousands of years, crossing the land back and forth on daily journeys and the eroding and erasure of the ground by natural or human-made means. It highlights the experience of all who have emigrated and continue to migrate from one country to another whether by choice, necessity or force. The formation of land over millions of years is a culmination of its coral and limestone structure and the inedible marks left in the soil by those that have passed through.

Many conflicts have been fought, whether on global or localised scales, over the ownership of land. But as Mason Gaffney discusses in his essay Land as a Distinctive Factor of Production, we are all only present for a time before the land is handed down over and over again, recycled as the limit of land is determined; its value may change due to circumstances, but its supply is finite. “Land is reusable. All the land we have is second-hand, most of it previously owned. Our descendants, in turn, will have nothing but our hand-me-downs. As there is never any new supply, the old is recycled periodically, and will be in perpetuity, without changing form or location.”

The importance and weight of land can never be diminished, and people’s connection to the land is universal. As each new generation is born, their attachment to the land continues, both of the lands of their birth and of that of their ancestors.

There are many points of connection between the three countries of my research through which I trace the migration of the Irish to Jamaica and Barbados. They all have the collective experience of being island states, their connection by the Atlantic Ocean and their colonisation by Britain till the 20th Century. This is not where these connections end, but it is instead the starting point for my exploration in Barbados.

To look at the lands of Ireland, Jamaica and Barbados, there are vast physical differences. Barbados, the eastern-most Caribbean island, was created by the collision of the Atlantic crustal and Caribbean plates, along with a volcanic eruption. It comprises low-slung terraced plains, separated by rolling hills, with eighty-five percent of the island’s surface consisting of coralline limestone. The island is small in comparison to the others, measuring 23km at its widest point, 34km long and a small surface area of 430 square km, with Mount Hillaby – the highest point on the island – at 340 meters above sea level.

Barbados is geologically unique, being two land masses that merged over the years with the deep ravine visible across the island. The distance by sea between Ireland and Barbados is approximately 6,357km, and I am imagining time spent by the Irish on their migratory path travelling across the Atlantic Ocean, knowing there was little chance of returning to the soil of their birth.

________________

This residency is supported by the Arts Council of Ireland

Ronald Williams’ Fresh Milk Residency – Week 4 Blog Post

Barbadian artist Ronald Williams, the recipient of the 2018 Fresh Milk ‘My Time’ Local Artist Residency, shares his final blog post. Ronald describes the last stretch of his residency as “bittersweet” for a number of reasons. Taking part in the second session of fellow resident artist Daisy Diamond‘s reading group yielded fruitful discussions, but was coupled with having to bid her farewell shortly after. Ronald also felt a renewed sense of clarity and conviction about the work he has been creating, but this was catalyzed by an unfortunate event that is telling of serious societal issues in Barbados. Read more below:

Last blog post I stopped at the end of Tuesday afternoon’s meeting with the class 4 students at Workman’s Primary. That same evening turned out to be an equally enjoyable exercise of a different sort. I had the pleasure of being a part of a sacred reading session, spearheaded by Daisy, where we engaged in a critical dissection of a few paragraphs of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. I thought the discussions that arose from the text, as well as the tangential ones, were all pretty dope. Reading and learning like this is something I’d recommend to any person(s) seeking an in depth appreciation for what they are studying.

Unfortunately, the rest of the week took a bittersweet turn with an emphasis on the bitter portion of that concoction. Tuesday evening was to be the last day I saw Daisy, as her time in Barbados came to an end shortly after. A shame, as I felt I had gotten to know more about her in the last few times we were in the space together. I wish her the best.

Then on a heavier note, serious, senseless but thankfully not tragic events unrelated to Fresh Milk occurred on what was to be my last day of the residency. While not affecting the space, these events did have a negative effect on my state of mind and mentality. It also got me thinking about the multiple times I’ve been asked why my work deals with certain subject matter by strangers and even family members. If I needed something to galvanize the conviction I have for what I’m trying to do with my work, it was what happened that morning.

I did manage to finish the piece I’d been working on the week before. That’s the silver lining from the latter half of week 4. I called it Noose-sense. An obvious play on the word nuisance, but I don’t think the reading of the piece will be as obvious. I like that.

All in all, what can I say at the end of these 4 weeks? It was quick, much quicker than I thought it’d be. I didn’t get as much done from the production side as I intended, but it doesn’t feel like a waste. If anything there’s a significant clarity in exactly what I want to do; now it’s just a matter of execution.

Daisy Diamond’s Fresh Milk Residency – Week 3 Blog Post

Fresh Milk shares the third blog post by US-based international resident artist Daisy Diamond. Daisy recounts her return to the Nidhe Israel Synagogue in Bridgetown, where she contemplated the Jewish mikveh ritual and related it to her wider experiences in Barbados. The first session of her sacred reading practices group also took place this week, and the collaboratively chosen text for thoughtful reflection was Paulo Freire’s ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’. Read more below:

I returned to the Nidhe Israel Synagogue early this week to visit one of the oldest mikvahs in the Americas. Mikvahs are traditionally used for ritual purification practices in Judaism and ones like this with fresh running water are said to contain “living water.” According to the Old Testament, the spiritual (rather than physical) cleansing power of this natural water source moved through this bath. If the water became blocked within the vessel, it became “drawn water” and was invalid for mikveh rituals. This reminded me a bit of other rituals of immersion, whether in literal, social, or mental spaces and how stagnancy or movement affect those processes.

There are also connections between these ritualistic, religious submersions and the intentions of those doing them. Some people say pre-written prayers of intention or individual prayers from their heart, like what they hope to experience from their immersion. In some ways, I felt a parallel again between this and the experience of feeling submerged in unfamiliarity with specific intentions to learn and create.

Later in the week, I held a sacred reading practices group at Fresh Milk. I tried to create a space with intention for the folks who showed up to have an engaging conversation. After discussing several religious reading practices, we collectively chose to read Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, a book about education, humanization, relationships within society, and so much more. We took turns reading out loud and tried out some of the sacred reading techniques. These naturally led to conversations about how to define oppression, understand/address disparity, and take responsibility for action.

By framing this conversation in a certain way, we meaningfully engaged with a text and had a very challenging, thought provoking discussion that will be continued at a second reading group during my last week. I have been thinking about how these conceptual frameworks translate to visual symbols or could be explored further in images. I have also been looking at encyclopedias of sacred symbols and myths in the Colleen Lewis Reading Room and taking notes. Visuals are slowly coming together and writing/reading has been a huge part of that process…

A quick drawing of fires in the sugar cane fields I passed while driving near St. George.