Ragdale Residency 2017: Day 16

Time: Sunday, final day of residency. Tired bodies need sleep. Exactly what I did, staying in bed until around 10 am after dancing with my session 7 group late into Saturday night. Some even howled at the moon. We hung out in the barnhouse kitchen area until 2 pm afterwards, unwilling to let go of our unity, while we listened to New Orleans jazz then broke it off as we went our separate ways to find sleep. Space: Spent much of the day writing poetry then dabbling now and then with the piano in Dorothy's Room. The studio has been a blessing, its porch an aperture to flaming green inspiration, and I'm just a few feet away from full sunshine if I want that.
Chef Linda with Cynthia and me at dinner.

Chef Linda with Cynthia and me at dinner on Friday.

Front door knocker

Front door knocker

Heart: Missed Linda's cooking on the weekend, but here we are, Friday evening, and guess who's the star? Ragdale's very own. So today there is excitement about having an Indian dinner; we're going to order takeout from the Curry Hut in Highwood just south of here, and they deliver, wonderful! Ragdale's resident liaison said he's got a bunch of okra he hasn't cooked yet, so I thought up a plan to prepare the okra like my mama taught me in India, sukha-style (dry) with carmelized onions. I offered to make raita with cukes and yogurt, even though milk isn't a popular item with our session 7 paleo folks, myself included. The Curry Hut did a good job whipping up several curry orders including lamb, chicken, fish tikka, dhals, curries, saffron rice and other accompaniments. In the end, the food was more than adequate for all of us and no one went hungry. The resident liaison whipped up four flavors of pint-sized gelato and a strawberry-melon sorbet, yum. A visitation by a stag horn beetle, shown below, is evidence of this. The 2 inch stag horn beetle is a common inhabitant of the prairie behind Ragdale and joining up with the Skokie River Valley forestry there. The presence of this beetle is a good sign that the air is good and moist, healthy. But clearly the visitor has his pincers on the ready, and they look menacing enough to cause damage. I placed the stem of a flower between his pincers, and he/she/it did nothing...nada. So I presumed it either knew I was trying to fool it into believing the stem was prey and do something, or it was a bit dense. How then does it get so big? It's lovely to look at, but I wouldn't want to sit on it by mistake. Linda, I took home some cilantro with green seeds from your garden, and I've hung them to dry in the kitchen. 🙂 ~Ignatius
2-inch-Staghorn-Beetle keeps me company on the porch.

2-inch Stag horn Beetle keeps me company on the porch.


Ragdale Residency 2017: Day 15

Time: Saturday. Penultimate residency day, although I have the choice to stay on for the rest of the week here at Ragdale if my partner and I so choose, when the residency period ends for all session 7 residents. But we must return to teaching next week and to our very busy lives outside the serenity and unhurried indulgences of this place of creativity, of imagination, and fellowship. Assured silence and focus. This morning is starkly different, however. This morning, and just as the sun comes up, the crushing, serrated attacks of a chainsaw and shredder bring down a tree, to return it to the earth, re-formed, reconstituted. The catatonic activity disturbs the quiet hour, and I wake up. Something, a new channel of thought and discovery lies in wait for a writer. Let's see where it goes.
Our post-dinner visit to the Lake Forest beach on Saturday.

Our post-dinner visit to the Lake Forest beach on Saturday.

Space: The piano bench. A few chords, small sounds, some notes, and I have the sheer pleasure of music right here in Dorothy's Room, a space that calls for more focused thoughtfulness and a light touch. I am conscious though of Kate, the new resident artist who just moved into Sylvia's Room next door, the vast open studio space we occupied for two weeks. She can hear what I'm playing and says she doesn't mind my playing at all. Perhaps it inspires her, or maybe it doesn't, but I'm at the keyboard once in a while, so I hope it isn't impeding her own creativity.
Sushi with spicy tuna maki.

Sushi with spicy tuna maki at Sushi Kushi Toyo, Lake Forest.

Gomae_appetizer. Crossing chopsticks!

Gomae_appetizer (spinach w/ a sesame soy sauce). Crossing chopsticks, oh my!

Heart: In my heart a door has come ajar to allow the monstrous intrusion of my routine back home to remind me about all that I must return to. I have enjoyed the time here, and began the day with writing poetry then switched to the novel sequel. I need sunlight, heat, open air, the outdoors. I put down the blog to drive home with some of our art materials, and so the day proceeded in this manner, with chores and group plans for sushi or pizza dinner, followed by a sunset visit to the beach, then back to Ragdale House for cocktails and a dance party, which by the way (now that I'm writing in past tense) turned out to be a blast. We kept the jams (with a handful of DJs) and bluetooth/iPod boxes to select from, and we danced in Ragdale house for a good long time until our bodies could take it no longer. Then we retired to the barn house to settle down with tea and more conversation. Hunger got to me after the dance, and so I rifled through the fridge in the barnhouse and served myself some of Linda's vegan moussaka. This is Session 7 Fabdale group, signing off. Yes, we are officially Ragdale's only Fabdale group, dig it. ~Ignatius

Ragdale Residency 2017: Day 14

Time: Friday. Took in the artists' studio tours on Thursday evening; so excited to see and experience their work, including my partner Cynthia's work. Today is a day to hunker down even more, to get work done in the blistering heat, which I love, and despite our interruptions to gather up our materials to move next door. I focused on poetry, b/c the path to poetry called me with its need for profusion, jest, anxiety, and simple pleasures of nature.
View of music studio Dorothy Room from the loft.

View of the music studio in Dorothy's Room from the loft.

Space: For the remainder of our stay through the coming weekend, Ragdale has kindly offered us Dorothy's Room to work, the smaller music studio right next door at Friends Studio. This is a more intimate space with the same design as the larger space of Sylvia's Room that we loved and occupied on the other side of Friends Studio, and the layout of this room is flipped, except that the beautiful spiral staircase seems to be a newer model. Heart: A baby Yamaha grand sits in one corner here, and already I'm tickling the keys and trying to recapture my piano-playing days of the 90's, when I performed and sang with an electric piano (with weighted keys) and a band on stage. It has been a long time, and I can tell how rusty I've become on the piano, but the sound of this gorgeous instrument now is like an arrow aimed at my heart.
Cynthia Kerby's studio tour for residents.

Cynthia Kerby's art studio tour on Thursday for us residents. She's on the left in the Indian outfit.

Cynthia Kerby presenting her work.

Cynthia Kerby presenting her work Thursday evening.

Really enjoyed the artists' studio tours, a sample pic above showing Cynthia Kerby's space with her work and session 7's attending residents. Artists Molly Aubry and Melissa Pokorny also showed their wonderful body of art. So much talent here, it's amazing and inspiring. Then dinner afterwards, with our varied conversations, once again, rising again to newer heights. We began with our photoshoot around 5 pm, all gussied-up and loving the evening light behind Ragdale House, where Amy Sinclair helped take the pictures on the house iPad. The grassy earth offered more trouble to the sturdy tripod than I'd expected, but the photos and poses turned out to be so much fun. Glorious! The studio tour began next, followed by dinner. Here then is a picture of Amy and Chef Linda below.
Ragdale's Amy Sinclair and Chef Linda William in the dining hall. Dinner is served!

Amy Sinclair and Chef Linda Williams in Ragdale's dining hall. Dinner is served! Hearts and stomachs happy, we are ready to dive in.

I took this pic rather quickly in the dining hall at 6:30 just as dinner was served. A good and delicious spread!
Friday's delicious meal for paleos.

Friday's delicious meal for paleos.

We walked back from Mel Pokorny's presentation in the Meadow Studio where she spends her working days and arrived in time for dinner. Cynthia bought a vegan chocolate mousse cake from Blind Faith Cafe in Evanston and put our wedding cake top ornament on it, reason being that it relates to an entertaining story about our wedding, one of many that caught the residents' attention. Some of us stayed behind at the dining table sharing stories and listening to Ella and Louie streaming from Amazon on my laptop and through a Bass Egg bluetooth device. A really pleasurable evening. I decided to sleep in the loft in the new space. ~Ignatius  

Ragdale Residency 2017: Day 13

Time: Thursday. Subterranean awakening. A life at the crossroads of discovery and implementation. How days of the residency go by when I am fully embedded and somewhat removed from my external reality, which I cannot escape. The early morning light greets Friends Studio in a special way that is warm and welcoming, and I want to step across the front porch and reach for the screen door in the middle. I don't know how the winter treats this place, but for now time hasn't been altered much, it seems.
Friends Studio front porch long view

Friends Studio front porch long view

Poster_of Sylvia Shaw and Dorothy Hackett at Friends-Studio

Poster at Friends Studio of Sylvia Shaw and Dorothy Hackett. The music and art studio is named for the friends, and the two rooms here are also named after them.

Space: It's our last full day here in Sylvia's room at Friends Studio. I have enjoyed using it, and the experience for both of us in this space has turned our minds towards imitating the  spaciousness of this studio, with its high ceilings, windows, loft, spiral staircase, and big screened-in French doors. Where and how this will take place for us is a mystery right now, but it's fine to dream, yes? Starting tomorrow, we will occupy my room in Ragdale House (or occupy Dorothy's Room next door in Friends Studio) until the end of the day Sunday, after which we end our residency and return to our busy lives of teaching and coping with the pressures of the external world during the summer and beyond. Heart: Today is our gussied up photo shoot and artists' studio tour, all informal and exclusive to our whims and choices, release time from the day's work; so let's see what the evening will bring. Afterwards, there is cake for dessert from the Blind Faith Cafe. A kind note to Chef Linda: Thank you for the jackfruit dishes. I am enjoying the leftover roasted seeds, and have swiped the jackfruit with red sauce dish clean from the main kitchen fridge, in case you're wondering. There is no evidence of it at all. Thank you for your hard work, care, and love that you put into your sumptuous cooking. The meals are always a treat. 🙂 ~Ignatius

Ragdale Residency 2017: Day 12

Time: Wednesday. Post-Independence Day. Slept until 8 am in Ragdale House, and woke up thinking of poets and posterity, of freedom fighters, arsenals, and armageddon. I have always believed that I have no fear, but I am frightened all too privately of my own fatigue, of running into walls, and facing the ravages of time, of the sad movement of this world. "For who knows where the time goes? Who knows where time goes," sang the inimitable Sandy Denny, of The Strawbs and Fairport Convention, and again, "Before the winter fire, I will still be dreaming." Today, time looks me in the eye and says, "I am your agent. Stop searching, hide your desperation, show me the volume of your work. I am your muse."
Cast-iron-lion, a proud doorstop witnessing Ragdale history

Cast-iron-lion, a proud doorstop witnessing Ragdale history

Space: My exit from Sarah's Room in Ragdale House at dawn introduces me to the east, the awakening sun. The place is still so quiet. All residents stir gradually. The painted wooden front door feels like it might be the original, heavy and painted a shade of emerald, held open to the stone porch by a wee-bit bronze lion. Giants will be miniaturized, will become common; their stature and pride lowered to within a few inches from the grounds, bronze-made and tarnished, looking away.

Roasted-jackfruit-seeds. When shelled, they taste like water chestnuts

Heart: Here we are at midweek, and the effort to plunge into creative routine is never more urgent, never more necessary, and I remain willing to let all faucets pour out their wares into me, whether poetry, prose, music, or art. And food! Yes, good food most of all, because the right meal, the right preparation of it, the right ingredients augment the blue-flowing veins of life and ideation in a way that's crucial to creative production. Take, for instance, the roasted seeds of the rare and massive jackfruit, which are so full of vitamin C, iron, fibre, all good things for body and health. I eat them, welcoming them, their taste like shelled water-chestnuts. My lunchtime is a casual affair; I eat what's available then, am never picky, but I eat little so I can keep working. I've gone through a lot of espressos day in and day out, it seems, and sweetened with agave.
Chef Linda laying out our Mexican-themed dinner

Chef Linda laying out our Mexican-themed dinner

Dinner brings more wonderful things in Chef Linda's kitchen. This evening we have enchiladas prepared for the paleo diet, with turkey or turkey and cheese, and tofu, and accompanied by a fresh jicama salad, verde sauce, avocado-lime-tomato salad, and roasted baby potatoes and sweet peppers. The residents are working hard, I can tell, as I am, and we are all a bit tired from weeks of focused effort. We look forward to dinner. ~Ignatius  

Ragdale Residency 2017: Day 11, July 4th!

Time: Tuesday, Happy Independence Day! Early morning fireworks and booms of light and sound aiming to tear open the pre-dawn silence into a new frenzy. From Lake Bluff in the north comes the hushed, delayed collective drumbeats of a marching band, of kick and snare, horns, over the growing rush of vehicles on Green Bay Road right in front of the grounds at Ragdale. Do I hear voices sneaking through on bullhorns? Even the Jewel/Osco in Lake Forest is open. I need avocados, strawberries, date rolls, organic apple cider vinegar, a soap bar.
Chef Linda's homegrown cilantro

Chef Linda's homegrown cilantro in the garden near Friends Studio. Summer is awesome here.

Jackfruit on your plate

Jackfruit on your plate

Space: Friends Studio is quite a hopping place this morning. I came down here around 6:30 am, and shortly thereafter, a seemingly young group of runners ran across the grounds on their way back from the prairie and then turned around and came around the studio building again, chattering up like firecrackers on the ground. Sheesh, didn't that tire them out? They weren't an energetic lot, kinds sloppy on their feet, so that must be it. Then a guy with his dogs off their leashes came scampering around the studio, and he poked his face through the screen a few times with as much curiosity as his dogs, as if to engage us in conversation b/c he probably had a question or two, but we said nothing to engage him. Guess he was looking for a hose to give his tired animals a drink. Perhaps for himself too.
Cut jackfruit

Cut jackfruit

Heart: Spent most of the day engaged in poetry, either reading or writing it, and knowing that I need to try harder to make my prose do more, not an easy task for me. While reading Hermann Broch on the porch, I fell asleep for a bit and woke up to the sound of Chef Linda's voice at the screen door. She had a generous sprig of cilantro in her hands, which she'd picked (cut) from Ragdale's garden. Her own homegrown cilantro, tall and green, with coriander seeds ready for drying. Dinner had a surprise on the menu: jackfruit baked in tomato sauce, with roasted seeds on the side that tasted like water chestnuts. I hadn't met anyone who had jackfruit in over thirty years, and it had to be here at Ragdale under Linda's direction. The pulp of the jackfruit isn't a favorite of most palettes, b/c it has a strange aroma and is definitely an acquired taste. Thanks for the 4th of July surprise, Linda. Delicious, and I'll make sure to get some for lunch tomorrow. BTW I took the rest of the jackfruit seeds back to my room. My personal stash, ha! Cynthia joined the other residents to take in the Lake Forest fireworks display. ~Ignatius

Ragdale Residency 2017: Day 10

Time: Monday. Pre-4th! So that means something. I think of Phyllis Wheatley over all the others, and how this very young nameless girl on a slave ship arriving from Africa to the US, awakens homeless, scared surely, and in her simple clothes—those rags of regal courage—to take a new name and take on the oppressors' world with a voice of ink that simply refused to sleep or go silent. A voice louder than bombs. Tonight the lightshows begin everywhere around Ragdale, and loud music will move across the night air in waves and muffles to celebrate America's freedom. In spite of their freedoms, America's oppressed freedom fighters from the late 1700's also learned how to oppress others in turn. This is the human cycle, the chains of containment. Tomorrow will be even bigger and brighter, louder. This is independence. Let the fireworks come, and I am ready in Trumpland.
A hard copy of The Death of Virgil in my hands.

A hard copy of The Death of Virgil in my hands.

Space: From the porch of Friends Studio light and dew shimmer in the early morning green. Rain has done its work, but the mosquitos are disturbed, buzzing with unwelcome candor. They aren't really bothering me on the porch, except when I try to focus on reading. There are emails to return, but I'm not ready for that just yet. The sunlight and I are getting to know each other a bit better right now, and I wouldn't want to interrupt that. Heart: Engagement, again, and thankfully so. There's always something about a day like today that means I will do some good writing which will affect the rest of the week. Monday is a kindling day, a startup day, a day reasonable enough to want meaningful action and focus. The sequel to Fishhead is brewing somewhere in my head and down to my wires locked against bone, against nerves calmed by sleep. I have begun, the words come, and I am pleased though never sure they will stick in the end. Trust begs me to follow. I allow the day to unfold in determined silence and practice. A few residents leave for a few days, visiting friends or family in the area, or choosing to spend a couple of days exploring downtown Chicago. Yes, there is so much else to see. I am done with writing by 4 pm and must get showered and ready for the evening with the others.
A pre-4th Moroccan dinner.

A pre-4th Moroccan dinner.

I think of Chef Linda's meal and must go down to the kitchen in the barnhouse and say hello to her when it's time for our cocktails to begin at 6 pm on the porch of the barnhouse, just outside the conference room. I get a kiss on the cheek and warm hug from dear Linda. And at dinner, we are served a Moroccan theme that's gluten free, with baked, shredded zucchini as the base, over which there's tagine or maraq, a tomato stew made with chickpeas which I love, (and one with chicken), and a hearty salad with baby spinach, walnuts, and sliced cucumbers. An olive medley. Tabouleh made with quinoa instead of bulgur wheat, yea. Oh, goat cheese! And dark chocolate, and sweet baking/eating peaches later that Linda obtained from a family-run co-op near where she lives near Wisconsin. Conversation at the table starts up gradually to a full boil, ha! but only after a few complaints are put out there about the lacking accommodations in some barnhouse rooms (but rarely in the fully refurbished Ragdale House, with its dripping kitchen faucet), and assurances by the new resident liaison to improve things. And a resident covers both ears in response to the high-engagement and laughter among us all that comes again. This is how it must be, because can you imagine the death from silence at dinner or from an adverse mood? Where's the fun in that? Writers and artists are often a brooding mass while deep in their work. A bit of levity hurts no one. Furthermore, I am noticing a resident or two pulling away into their self-involved worlds, building surprising intimacies. Oh well! Must stay focused on my work, while hints of chaos ring their aftermath like a disguised fallout. ~Ignatius  

Ragdale Residency 2017: Day Nine

Time: Sunday. Early, early riser leaves the comfort of a bed and ambles on to the studio to get some work done, or continue with sleep. Time is precious to the sleep deprived. Count me in. I do not know this pilgrimage of quiet seconds emptying into a forever lake, a cauldron rising from the center of the earth, moving toward eternity.
Heart-shaped bird's nest on the porch at Friends Studio

Heart-shaped bird's nest on the porch at Friends Studio

Space: I know that 5 am isn't too early for some folks. I am not one of them. I crawl into bed in the studio loft, hoping to get more sleep, but already the sun is pushing down against the glass of the rectangular skylight, just a few feet above my head. I think of many things, of poets, musicians, wordsmiths, lovers, birds, because Sunday morning is remarkably quiet. Already the kitchen in Ragdale house is showing signs of activity. Today is the scheduled pot luck arranged by us residents at Ragdale, which I will miss because Cynthia and I are attending a lovely dinner outside at the Broten's in the next town. Really looking forward to that. Their daughter Christine will also come up from Chicago, and she, a promising Art Director, is a current student of mine from the Chicago Portfolio School. Heart: I post this image of a heart-shaped birds' nest resting on a corner of the porch because its form and essence is stunning at first glance; it isn't being inhabited by the birds now, and appears to have dropped from a joist of the porch roof above a while back, although I cannot determine when, and saved by someone, perhaps a former Ragdale resident. What is the history of this nest? Did it leave behind little victims? The heart shape is natural, but clearly a shape pressed in by something, the fall itself? If so, this is too sad. Or is this a sign of human intervention, an artist imposing human affection on the inanimate. ~Ignatius

Ragdale Residency 2017: Day Eight

Time: Saturday. Time hangs between the dream and dreamer, a lustful silence mocked by birds in blue and white, cardinal red, earth brown; the hungry growl of yard machines and sleeplessness. You do not know the wave of the future, but it begins here, thankfully, not posthumously, but in the sunlit caverns of thought and experimentation, quietly alive in each room. Listen, those rhythms, literary and artistic, both doused in research, overflowing with honey spun from language and matter, mixed media. The paper corset from the corner of my eye, sketches on her wall.
Spicy Korean, with brown rice, bok choy, egg, and okra.

Spicy Korean, with brown rice, bok choy, egg, and okra.

Space: Kitchens of Ragdale—aromas and dirty dishes. A day off can be anywhere on these grounds. Do something, anything, play your guitar, sing. Read, read, read. Czeslaw Milosz: "The Gates of the Arsenal" is tender and compelling, from Paris 1934. The poem is nourishment.
A Korean dinner, going paleo

A Korean dinner, going paleo

Heart: Missing Linda's food on the weekends. She cooks dinner for more than a dozen residents at each session on weekdays (not an easy task, I'm sure), and somehow conjures up a delectable spread to meet the varied food restrictions of the group. In this case, paleo-pescatarian is the leading food choice, uh...which has something to do with yours truly. Nut allergies abound, and meat and egg restrictions persist. But drink flows instinctively each evening, and the volume of conversation at the table rises quite nicely and rapidly while we all serve and eat and serve again. We're clapping for Linda, and rightfully so. I don't believe I've seen a single wheat product on the table, although there's a meat dish at times, and a variety of cookies and candy do get passed around. Time hangs around masterfully in my bowl of vegan broth and brown rice. ~Ignatius

Ragdale Residency 2017: Day Seven

Time: Friday, a day full of sunshine and pleasant heat. Something like a tropical paradise. This is Ragdale in Summer. Why shouldn't the birds also sing? Is waking up at 5 am too early? That want for sleep which will never happen now. There's an idea kicking up dust in my dream state, a specific sentence reverberating in my sleep, and this is what I wake up to. At least the sun knows what it must do.
Friends Studio sign on porch

Friends Studio sign on porch.

Space: David, Ragdale's hardworking groundskeeper is just outside the Friends' Studio, where I have come with my laptop, books, and continuing drowsiness, with that sentence and its associated ideas all swarming in my head like a buzzsaw. I make coffee and get right down to work on the starting draft of the novel's first pages. An uncertain thought and endeavor, but here goes, oh well. There's no better hour than now, no better place than here: Ragdale—it leaves me no choice, no option to slack off. I cannot not do nothing here; this is its inspiration. Time goes by, the morning sun shifts, and the only thing constant is the chatter of birds. As I focus on the writing, I lose sense of time. Cynthia joins me, ready for her latte and a continuation of her installation. Then the smell of fresh dewy grass, a thumping sound, and, when I look out the west window with the AC, I see earth coming up in the teeth of David's hoe. Already he is at work, his body bent forward, focused on his task. I take him an orange and banana, which he accepts with pleasure. I am glad. Grab lunch from the fridge in the barn house. The good stuff Linda makes that keeps us all happy and well fed. How does she do it? Just amazing. Heart: The desperate push to get a few pages written to a point where they are readable, presentable to an audience unaccustomed to my new work, begun here, tortured and fired up here. The pain of creation is a wonder residing in the soul. What is the sight and sound of my prose? How does it appear in the twilight to the attentive ears of my new audience? How shall I begin when my turn arrives, these first six pages of poetic prose let out into the post-vernal space for the first time, so that even I am not sure if it's right to kick these creative doors open. When the world is ready. When the world is ready to listen. When the world is ready to accept. When the world is ready to make permanent these new blossoms of scarlet and blue and gossamer wails. I do not want to know if the world is ready for me yet; that is not for this heart to understand. In my unrelenting drive and effort, I create as much as I can, that is all, and in this way I continue to trust in the value of time. Ragdale is an idea that becomes a generous and galvanizing host, and so present among us, me, strangers in the flesh who are reminded of its scope and size. This evening, Venetian Spritzers abound. Thanks, Cynthia! The porch at Friends' Studio entertains, and as we sit around and contemplate the day, the hour, the spaces of creation and friendship, so also the mosquitoes come, uninvited guests, to hear then claim their prizes as we drive them away. The Lost Parchments of Valmiki. An experiment in metafiction with a different and all-encompassing narrator, a new voice. How is it going to work? Sooner than later, Fishhead will emerge as the protagonist to this emerging sequel. ~Ignatius