Halfway point

Wilson's Orchard. #Iowa #nofilter #summer #latergram #flowers #chrysanthemum

As several writers and residency staff have noted, today marks exactly one month since the International Writing Program started. We've had a month to unpack, set up bank accounts, attend readings and panels, prepare for readings and panels, meet students, meet other writers, buy books, watch films, explore the library and the river and the town, drink wine, drink beer, play pool, befriend the wine guy, dance to a jukebox, go to music gigs, attend a barn party, drink apple cider at an orchard, go rambling in the woods, celebrate Grito de Dolores (Mexican independence day), and soak up lots and lots of sunshine.

Oh, and write. Lots of that too, truly. My own writing is proceeding at a snail's pace, as usual, but I can't say I don't have the time to sit down and think and read and write.

I tweeted quite early on that being in this programme "is like being at a really great writers festival everyday." Which it still is. It's rare to be in a social group where everyone intuitively understands what everyone else does, even though we all do it in different genres and languages and styles, and in such varied and contrasting social situations. If nothing else, these are all fascinating people whom otherwise I would have never had the chance to meet. And the nice thing about it being such a long residency, in addition to giving us time to write and develop ideas, is that there's also time to sit and chat and develop conversations and friendships, in ways that are simply impossible at regular literary festivals when people are always dashing from one event to another.

Tomorrow we're off to Chicago on a mid-residency trip. I've heard that they insert this trip so that people don't go stir crazy from being in Iowa City for ten weeks straight.

The things you find on an urban ramble. #IowaCity #latergram

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Passion, near and far

Tonight, I saw what is, as far as I can remember, the first Mongolian film I've ever seen : Passion (2010), by fellow International Writing Program participant Byamba Sakhya. It was at once about Mongolia and about  art in the world, and also about politics and archives and history and why creative types of people do the things they do.

As you watch the film, you sink into what I imagine (though I might be mistaken) is a state of mind that is nurtured by the sway of the steppes and the lull of the big sky (and despite having seen Nebraska as part of the programme last week, I did not truly think of the sky being so impossibly big until I saw Passion tonight). What I mean is: time slows, breathing eases, the story rolls on but at its own unhurried pace, one that is far from frenzied modernity and the madding crowd.

I said to another writer afterwards that the Mongolia of the film --- which Byamba said looks very "natural" to him, the landscape he's known all his life --- looks very alien to me (and then I had to whip out Darren Soh's photographs on my phone, to show her the Singapore landscape I've known all my life). But in a good way. You sink into it, and also the story it tells, and it feels like it could keep going for eternity, just like the Mongolian horizon seems to.

The film trailer is on YouTube, but you really have to see movie on some kind of big screen to appreciate the scale --- great and small --- of its story.

I really want to drive across Mongolia now.