I hadn’t envisioned that particular start to my residency here in Vermont. In fact, I hadn’t allowed myself to envision much at all, for fear of being told it was all a dream. So when I found myself sleeping in the lobby of the Red Mill after such an absolutely grueling journey, I still couldn’t be too sure I was actually there. The extreme cold that pierced through my extremities coupled with the unrelenting hunger and exhaustion had a strange effect on my perception of reality. I spent the moments I could manage to muster a few coherent thoughts trying to recall anything I had said or done to warrant that level of karmic retribution. Surely the universe must’ve been mistaken.
When the lobby door burst open and my eyes finally convinced my brain (or was it the other way around) that I wasn’t imagining someone standing in the doorway, I was both dumbfounded and ecstatic. Everything at that point seemed scripted. There was no way things could unfold the way they did in anyone’s life. But they did for me.
I struggle now to remember the conversation I had with the person in the doorway. Two things seemed to echo loudest from that night: her name was Kelly and in a “truth is stranger than fiction” way, we realized that of all the resident houses in the area we were both assigned rooms in the same house. I might’ve screamed “Praise Jesus!” in my head or out loud. Again, I can’t be quite sure. Either way Kelly, my savior, walked me back to our house where I passed out until noon the same day.
Kelly, I later found out, is a writer and it was her insomnia that led her to me that night. More specifically, it was her search for a hot cup of tea. Ironically, after escorting me to the house and walking back for said tea, she got lost herself. We later laughed at the silliness of it all once we realized how impossible it was get lost, having seen the area in daylight. For a little while I was known as the girl who had a terrible time getting here. It seemed everyone I met had heard about my nightmarish journey. I didn’t mind. It made for an interesting icebreaker, cheesy pun intended.
It’s difficult sometimes to not feel like I’m being pushed further back than the next person. In those moments I try to let go and remind myself that these challenges are merely preparatory training for what’s to come (it’s incredibly cliché but also very true). It’s also important for me to remember that it’s not just about enduring. I don’t want to be the person who, when asked, describes their life as one they had to “endure.” Like any good foundation, those challenges should be there but they shouldn’t be the first/only things someone notices.
And I feel like that should be the take away for everyone reading this. Yes your struggles make you stronger but be mindful not to give them too much power by glorifying them. Otherwise you would always find yourself experiencing those types of situations. No one wants to live a life where their struggles outweigh their successes so make a habit of practicing speaking only good things into your life.
Having said all of that, things have taken a really good turn in my residency. The airline found my suitcase and had it delivered to VSC. It was quite nice to have the option of changing the clothes I’d been stuck in for three days. Even better was finally being able to have a real shower. I felt human again.
We also survived the dreaded day one jitters that were to be expected when meeting everyone for the first time. I had secretly wished Issa Rae was there to hold my hand and help me wade through the sea of social awkwardness that filled the dining room of about sixty persons. Because I made such a late entrance, it seemed as though everyone had already made connections and had their “person.” The seats were all filled. Everyone was chatting and laughing, and then there was me, standing awkwardly, plate in hand. My bloodshot eyes searched the crowded room for an empty chair until I finally found one.
Of course the awkwardness didn’t last very long. But for a while it was difficult to keep track of everyone’s names and faces. I don’t recall ever identifying as South American first and Guyanese second but here it came instinctively (cue the Ghana/Guyana mix up). No one had made the Jim Jones connection either and for that I was grateful. I really didn’t and still don’t want to unpack the burden of that particular history. They were, for the most part, completely unaware of Guyana. Even after I said, “We’re above Brazil” the confused look lingered a bit longer before dissolving into a version of “Oooh.”
Even so, I was just happy to finally be settled and living with such a dynamic group of creative individuals. I was excited to learn about everyone’s practice but more importantly I was anxious to see how my own work would develop over the course of the month since I decided not to come into this residency with a plan. This was my way of challenging myself to be more receptive to the possibilities this new environment could present. I was about to find out if that was a smart decision.
In September of last year I was nominated for a Vermont Studio Center residency fellowship and sponsored by the Reed Foundation. Notes from the Vermont Studio Center Residency is intended to be a series of articles chronicling my experiences at the U.S. residency starting from the issuance of the fellowship award until the conclusion of the month-long program in February, 2017.
This article was first published in the Pepperpot magazine of the Sunday Chronicle newspaper on January 22, 2017. Click on the link to be redirected to their website: