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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
I have one more week. Flying solo.