Ragdale Residency 2017: Day Five

Bronze plaque in the prairie for architect Howard Van Doren Shaw.

Bronze plaque in the prairie for architect Howard Van Doren Shaw.

                    Time: Wednesday, way too cloudy and a bit cooler than the day before, a presage of the day's final outcome, resulting in the heaviest downpour at night that I've experienced at Ragdale, with a few leaks here and there. How the hours have folded into each other without notice. Bring out the umbrellas and raincoats. Walk through water. The sound of rain is music to my ears. Space: But I've stayed busy, reading a lot and doing some writing, while I continue to work out the novel sequel in my head in the Friends' Studio; Cynthia worked on her installation. We have a nice arrangement of space, although I don't need much. Ragdale is quiet today mostly; the writers and artists are busy in their chosen enclaves everywhere, and there have been admin meetings in the conference room. Chef Linda appeared more focused in the evening than usual in preparation for our group's dinner, which was delicious. Ahi tuna, pozole, goat cheese, tortillas, and celery salad, yum! Perhaps I should be talking about the food more often, and presenting pictures, too. The visual whets the appetite. Heart: But yesterday morning brought a welcome voice to the mix in Ragdale's Tea and Talk presentation of visual artist Hu'o'ng Ngô. An SAIC graduate and upcoming Ragdale resident, she discussed her Fulbright work in Vietnam and Paris on identity and the "other," and showed related work from her current show at the DePaul Art Museum, which has a large glass window and neon sign ("Who Owns the Light?") that can be seen while facing east on the CTA Fullerton Avenue platform. Hu'o'ng spoke of her own Chinese and Vietnamese lineage from the point of view of oppressed women, and women who dare to go against the ruling majority. I became curious about how her research and creative effort changed her personally, and posed this question to her. Later, I engaged with Hu'o'ng briefly and invited her to the Friends' Studio afterwards, where Cynthia was working on her installation and agreed to talk about her own work and show some of it to her unexpected but pleased and inspired audience. I still think of the prairie at the edges of this place. The Shaw family took great care of the prairie and welcomed others to inhabit it. There's a marker set in stone to honor the famed Chicago architect who built Ragdale and made it his family's summer home. There's a similar marker elsewhere in honor of Alice Hayes who turned Ragdale into an artists' residence and worked hard with the town of Lake Forest to preserve this place. The prairie is what it is in all its stark beauty and primitive expanse, but lately there have been tick sightings and cautions. I found one on me. So should I use Deet? This is the question on everyone's mind. ~Ignatius  

Ragdale Residency 2017: Day Four

Time: Tuesday, a day that seems to have just slipped from under me and through several cups of espresso. Warm and sunny, as I spent all of four-plus hours around lunchtime driving into the city and back in a broadside of traffic. Personal matters. Stuff to do. Give my car a ride, y'know, that sort of thing. Stress myself out. I was raised Catholic. But it's hard leaving Ragdale, even momentarily.
Friends' Studio-Dorothy's Room-long view

Friends' Studio: Sylvia's Room-long view

                                Space: Hanging in the Friends' Studio and watching my partner's installation work come alive gradually and wonderfully, while I take the couch in this big room and pour over research for the sequel to my novel on Fishhead. The epic 5th C. poet Valmiki will play a role, I know this for sure, I'm just not sure how for the moment. Hence, time and space at Ragdale. The openness of the large installation room in the Friends' Studio is helping to release my self-made restrictions, whatever that means. Heart: Can you read several books at once? Can you? I'm trying, I'm trying, I'm focusing...and I keep reminding myself that I can still do such a reprehensible thing that surely isn't good for the welfare of my brain. What's key here is that I absorb as much research information as I can that will, I hope, feed the writing of my sequel. I've been raiding bookshelves (is rifling a better word?), and have come across a couple more interesting works: Hermann Broch's The Death of Virgil, and I, Claudius by Robert Graves, the latter perhaps more difficult to read, I'm presuming from the title alone, and also b/c I'm liking the prose poem framework of Virgil (Northpoint Press/Pantheon, 1945, trans. by Jean Starr Untermeyer), a book that's been blurbed by George Steiner to be "the only genuine technical advance that fiction has made since Ulysses." And from the corner of my eye, on the overstuffed yellow chair in front of me, I catch Hundred-Year House, Rebecca Makkai's novel that has a few intimate ties to Ragdale. Hey, Rebecca, I'm certain there are a few copies floating about here. 🙂 I don't want to countdown the days, but time is irrepressible, the obstinate one, always there to remind me of its constancy and use. What's in your wallet? ~Ignatius

Ragdale Residency 2017: Day Three

Arcadio, a novel by Wiliam Goyen IMG_9704Time: Monday, a somewhat mixed day of moving clouds and bright sunlight. That cool, pressing air. June has its surprises; it is an erratic and playful month. When I move a metal chair on the lawn, it's because I want to experience the best of both worlds: to feel the lawn under my feet and to take in a full sun. In the end, I left the chair sitting on the grass all day in anticipation of constant sunlight, which wasn't about to happen. Space: Spent most of the morning inside Friends' Studio engaged in my experimentation on Valmiki and Fishhead and the notion of naga, the serpent. The contained mind wants to explore its given space, take in as much of the unknowable and the unknown as it can. And time ticks away without reprobation. The studio is big, so big that a body moves within it as if searching for walls to touch and lean against. We keep the framed glass doors open all day and shut the swinging screen doors to keep away the wasps and other bugs. The chipmunks are always present and curious. Heart: I found Arcadio, a short novel by William Goyen on a shelf in Sarah's room at Ragdale House, and began reading it immediately. He is a fabulist writer I'm very interested in. Sadly, Goyen passed away in 1983, but left behind an impressive body of work (and he was married to Doris Roberts, who plays the mother on Everybody Loves Raymond). The connection here, which impresses me is that poet and novelist Reginald Gibbons (director and founder of the MFA program at Northwestern U) first introduced me to William Goyen while I studied there. And after some conversation about novel writing, Gibbons suggested I read William Goyen's novel, Half a Look of Cain, which he let me have. My finding Arcadio now brings this full circle for me. I contacted Reg Gibbons and emailed him some iPhone pics of Arcadio, hoping to jog his memory a bit, and was pleased to hear back from him this morning. Turns out that Reg Gibbons worked more closely on Goyen's writing than I first thought. Says Reg Gibbons of Arcadio and Goyen's writings: "It's a wild book.  I edited it--I was the literary executor of his estate, and also got several other works into print for the first time--his unpublished second novel from the 1950s, HALF A LOOK OF CAIN, and also a 50th-anniversary edition of his first novel, THE HOUSE OF BREATH, and also a collection of interviews, journals, etc. that I edited..." Ragdale brings connections like these. Here are books and creative minds and conversations to make their own universe. What contribution do I make? I wonder. ~Ignatius

Ragdale Residency 2017: Day Two

Friends-Studio high ceiling image.

Friends' Studio with high ceiling.

Time: Sunday, June 25. A beautiful day this time of year, with the occasional clouds moving in and out to give us a mostly sunny day. Clear blue skies and loads of drive to start the day. There are ideas and thoughts brewing in my head. What am I responding to? What do I respond to? Space: My partner Cynthia is also here to do her artist residency. She occupies a large live/work space in a separate structure (about 300 feet to the west?) called the Friends' Studio that's created for installation artists, dancers, musicians, and architectural designers, etc. We've both decided to share this installation space and make it our work studio, which is nice b/c I can also bring my electric guitar and do some writing on the porch if I want. The Friends' Studio faces a large lawn and is surrounded by trees and a sculpted Ragdale garden. Nice! Heart: Thoughts of Borges and the epic Indian poet Valmiki emerge first thing, and so I respond. My dreams, my dreams prompt me to do something. I am aware of them and thread those voices along, wanting assistance and anchoring to create new work here, whatever is meaningful and possible that could lead to a bigger project. I am thinking of my novel sequel to Fishhead. Republic of Want. I slip away to the Friends' Studio in the morning to start writing with no particular framework in mind, no direction, just loads of ideas swarming in my head. I am drawn to these things. My heart says go. Later in the day, we take a walk through the prairie out west and pause until we arrive at the edge of the woods and an T-bone path leading elsewhere. The Botanical Gardens and Chicago to the south, with Milwaukee to the north. We are near Gurnee Mills. I resist all distractions; it's the only way to commit myself to writing and creating. So I spend most of the day doing just that. Along the way, my thin E string pops out of the floating bridge locking mechanism on my B.C. Rich Mockingbird electric guitar and I cant' get it to stay put as I tune it up with the rest. Oh well! Time to move on. I practice my harmonic minor scales anyway. Grocery shopping for dinner in downtown Lake Forest results in sesame ginger veges and portabello mushrooms with a lame prepared Caesar Salad. Enjoyed diner though. Quiet. And then we went to see Rufus, a pet Guinea Pig belonging to another resident. He's cute. Rain afterwards. ~Ignatius

Ragdale Residency 2017: Day One

Archway leading to garden

Archway leading to garden.

Time: Saturday 8 am. A day in mid-June. I wake up rested. A body that's fresh and drowsy at the same time, here in this place of inspiration. A complete inspiration, that feeling of being free from distractions. The hour is quiet. Birds begin; they make their promises, they gossip, speculate on the mimesis of need, bred to stay alive another worldly day, do what demands to be done. I listen. Space: Sarah's room on the corner of the 2nd floor at the restored Ragdale House, an impressive place reminiscent of the Old World and yet so modern, a space I am not willing to give away yet, to you or anyone else. Let me absorb it first, describe it later, make it mine for the brief time it possesses me and holds me within. Heart: I return to Ragdale, anticipating nothing, expecting nothing in return except life and the unburdening of it so I may enter an innerworld of creativity, which the external threatens to snatch from me at any given moment, caused, of course, by my busy-ness. What may happen here? I am willing to let go and find out. This is the nature of my residency. I see sunlight beat against the green lawn, the trees, my window. That is more than sufficient. ~Ignatius