Posts from my Vermont College of Fine Arts winter residency.]
Here’s the thing: I can’t speak with any certainty about how the culture of Puerto Rico has influenced me. It’s just too soon. I probably won’t know until I embark on my next writing project and find myself infusing the work with the saltiness of codfish, the stickiness of thick, red rainforest mud, or the ethereal sadness of an angel’s face from the Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery. But I have made some important discoveries, and I can discuss those here.
This is Raphe. He’s a poet and we will graduate together next summer, but we never met before at our previous residencies in Montpelier. In this photo he’s sleeping near my chair on Luquillo Beach. It may sound odd, but Raphe sleeping in my presence, usually while I’m writing in the common room of our shared villa, is the foundation of our new friendship. We appreciate the peaceful nature of each other’s personalities. I’ll come back to Raphe in a bit.
Our last full day in Puerto Rico began with a simple generative workshop using as writing prompts the concerns we voiced at the beginning of the residency. We had to choose one and use it as the first line of a poem or prose piece. The one I picked wasn’t my personal concern, but I thought it was interesting: “I’m scared of the rainforest.” Many of us worked on our pieces even as we awaited the time to load the vans for our journey to Luquillo Beach. Yes, this was the glorious day I’ve been waiting for–beach day!
Five of our group went on a boating/snorkeling excursion, but I was done with adventure activities. I wanted to rent a beach chair and umbrella and sit and stare at the water, which is exactly what I did all day. Well, not quite– I went for a lovely walk on the beach with Richard McCann, Mary Ruefle, and fellow student Maggie Kast.
I spent some time soaking in the ocean. Saltwater draws out negative energies–yes, I do believe in such things! Then we walked down to the kioskos, little vendor storefronts in a long concrete structure, and found delicious food: oatmeal frappes (topped with whipped cream, 2 Oreo cookies and a vanilla wafer!), salted codfish, and plantains split down the middle and stuffed with spiced ground beef. Mary also found a kioskos that sold candy, but I had no room left in my stomach!
Our time on the beach was deeply satisfying because it was more time spent simply talking–about compassion, parenting, developing your own voice in a narrative, and where a person might be meant to live in the world. We could have stayed there well into the evening, but Luquillo Beach closed at 5pm–much too soon for me. The day melted away so fast.
When we returned we held our celebratory dinner where we thanked Pam Taylor for being an awesome coordinator, and Carmen who cooked our amazing meals at Casa Cubuy. We also went around the room and responded to two questions: What did the trip teach us that was new? What did the trip remind us of that we already knew, but had lost or forgotten?
Here are my two responses:
My “new” thing I learned was that I could write daily about a current travel experience. I’ve never been able to do that before–in fact I’ve taken blank journals on trips for the purpose of chronicling my adventure only to return home with the book empty. While I may not be able to immediately process Puerto Rico’s influence on me, I suspect what I’ve written this week will help me recognize the seeds this culture has planted within me when they begin to sprout.
And my reminder? That brings me back to Raphe. I remembered I am a peaceful person, and that peace can be a comfort to myself and others. I forget this sometimes because, though I regularly sit in prayer and meditation, I don’t always get to see the effects of my practice. If one exercises, you can see and feel the results in your increased stamina and muscle tone. It’s harder to understand the results of a contemplative practice which, I suppose, is why it’s so easy to let it go for periods of time. But Raphe’s unexpected and delightful friendship is a really nice affirmation and it helps me say this: I’ll keep praying and meditating. I’ll keep seeking. I will appreciate this aspect of myself more and not take it for granted as I return to my home and family tomorrow. Thank you, Raphe.
And thank you to our faculty, Richard McCann and Mary Ruefle. They were the best teachers, even more than I could have hoped for on this journey.
Thanks too to the rest of my fellow travelers/students: Daniel McGinn, Josephine Hughes, Partridge Boswell, Lillian Kwok, Brittany Rathbone, Shanalee Smith, Maggie Kast, Carolyn Walker, and Judith Ford.
Thank you for reading this, and journeying with me on this marvelous adventure. Take care and be well,