20.9.17

Residency routine

Rainy and gray again today, so here's a pic from inside the #MaverickWritingStudios building from two days ago. • #latergram #VermontStudioCenter #Vermont #JohnsonVT #insideout #fromawindow #fromthewindow #reflection

At Vermont Studio Center, they feed us three times a day: 7:30-9:00 am, 12:00-12:45 pm and 6:00-6:45 pm. At home I usually wake up at 8 am, but here I try to be at breakfast by 7:45 am and try not to linger beyond 8:30. I figure since the dining hall is a one-minute walk from my residence (two minutes in the morning if I have to wait at the T-junction for the elementary school buses to pass), and since the residency has freed me from the time I would spend cooking or thinking about what to eat or ordering food, I should make the most of what they're providing and get up earlier to extend my work day.

After breakfast, I pop a slice of lemon and bag of Earl Grey tea into the forest green coffee mug they gave us on the first day ("write your name in permanent marker on the bottom, or you'll get them all mixed up"), top it up with boiling water, then fill my black Zojirushi flask with boiling water, so that I can make more tea in my studio later, and I'm ready to go write. In my second-storey studio, my desk is about a meter wide, bisected by the dictionaries on which I place my laptop (I prefer to keep the laptop screen at eye level, while typing on a Bluetooth keyboard on the desk). To the left of my laptop are my sprawled, handwritten notes, folders and a desk lamp that gives off a warm yellow light; together with the dark wood of the desk, it makes the place feel cosy and writerly (I am captive to Western, Romantic images of what it means to write, I know). To the right of my laptop is an even messier hodgepodge of teabags (Earl Grey, genmaicha, camomile), snacks (nuts, cheese, fruit, Reese's peanut butter cups) and personal items like headphones, lip balm, tissues and a microfibre cloth for cleaning my glasses. I keep nothing in the desk drawers because I'm afraid of forgetting them when I leave at the end of the residency.

The first week I was here, it rained every day, almost all day, and I kept looking out of my window (to the left of my desk) to listen to the rushing water in the Gihon River. From the second week, it has been sunny every day and the water levels have fallen significantly. I could go wading in the river, I suppose, and feel the curve of its rounded, cool stones under my feet. But the river seems to be the domain of the ducks, who show up every mid-morning and every evening around 5 pm and honk to each other, dive underwater to feed or perch on a rock to groom their feathers if the sun is out (there is a rock directly in the middle of the river, that is also directly at the centre of my window view). Often one or two ducks swoop dramatically down from the sky like divebombers. The loud splash with which they land---which is what usually snaps my gaze to the window, I have not yet witnessed the actual dives---belies their panache as they surface, paddle nonchalantly and greet their friends (or maybe rivals, sometimes there is truculent honking and an uncertain fluttering of wings).

Single-digit temperatures and dreamy fog this morning, but by 9 am the sun was out. • #VermontStudioCenter #Vermont #JohnsonVT #sunny #viewfrommywindow


I tried to look up what kind of ducks they are on Whatbird.com, which suggests that they might be garganeys (they don't have the white stripe above the eye, although it could be that my ducks are female, or that my vision just isn't good enough to discern the stripe) or greater scaups. After further observation and listening to the bird calls on that website, I think they might be the latter. I might just refer to them generically as ducks, since I don't actually know any better. At any rate, the majority of them don't seem to have colourful plumage, so they are mostly females.

Last Friday morning, there were two female ducks sunning themselves on the rock in the middle of the river. A male who had been chased by them earlier was loitering around, and eventually dislodged one from the rock. She complained and paddled around the rock to see if there was another spot for her, but there wasn't any space so she was reduced to sulking nearby (she stood on a smaller rock in the water, so she that she could get some sun but her feet stayed wet).

It's noon, I have to go eat.

I'm back from lunch. It's not that I have to eat during the stipulated mealtimes. I could eat at a cafe in town (um, the only cafe in town) or buy something at the supermarket. But the Studio Center provides good food, great company, and after two weeks it's still so nice to be among people to whom you can say, excuse me, I'm going to go work in my studio now, and they say, uh-huh, yeah, okay, because if they wanted to do the same, they would too.

As I walked across the river to get to the dining room, I thought about the last river I was in: Pa'Lungan, in the Bario highlands in Sarawak. I was in that river because we took a boat during the dry season and when the water level was too low for the boat to pass, we had to get out so that our boatmen could push and carry the boat over the rocks and then we got back in again. This usually meant standing up to our knees in the river---although memorably, my colleague jumped out at an unexpectedly deep spot and sank up to her chest.

In Singapore, you don't hear the river. There is too much traffic noise and also too much concrete on its banks, which I'm sure that affects the sound of the water. If anything, you may hear the otters in the river---or, more likely, humans squealing at the sight of otters in the river.

Afternoon reading spot. • #notanartinstallation #VermontStudioCenter #JohnsonVT #MasonGreen #redandgreen

After lunch, I write for the rest of the afternoon, and sometimes if I've had a big breakfast and a big lunch (like today), I skip dinner and keep writing. There is little else to report. Once or twice a week, there is a slide presentation by artists or a reading by writers, which is a great way to visit the imaginations of fellow residents; I always come away with my mind feeling very full. On Sundays, I have gone for hikes (so far, one short, one long). I took all of last weekend off, in fact, because I'd been writing for nine days straight and needed to rest that part of my brain. But I suspect I will write through this weekend because next Friday this sojourn comes to its stipulated end (of course we all wish we could just stay a bit longer ...).

In the late morning today, about eight ducks were in the water, then suddenly they did the thing where they propel themselves to take off, and for a few seconds they were both flapping their wings and using their feet to kick powerfully on the surface of the water, and for those instants they were fantastically both in the air and in the water at once---and I, the city dweller, was amazed.

Ten more days of this. Go!

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