Monday, April 24, 2017

Mediations on Water

This is Essay #16 (a little late) of The 52 Essay Challenge, a series in which I write a new (unpolished) essay each week during 2017.

Every day these past three weeks, I have sat at my desk in a small writing studio in Vermont, looking at the Gihon River outside my window. I watch it flow by with ease. The part of river I see doesn’t seem affected by the rains and the snowmelt (that’s further upstream) so the current has been pretty consistent. At least from where I’m sitting.  Some days I hear “Row Row Row Your Boat” in my head, imagine an empty tiny rowboat float by with its tiny oars. Most days, I just hear the waters flow by, calming my heart. If I am still enough, I can feel the river’s energy.

There are days I think about going into the water. To step outside of my floor-to-ceiling studio window, onto the brown grass, clumps of leftover snow, and down the short slope of riverbank studded with rock and weed. To step in, shoes off, clothes on, hair loose. To feel the water’s force around my ankles, then my shins. To wade into the river’s center and let the current carry me to wherever it goes. Despite the freezing cold temperature. What would it be like to surrender like that? To allow yourself to be taken? To be just a branch floating downstream? Or to sink to the bottom as the water polished away your edges, smoothing the very the stone of you?

But also I think about drowning. I am terrified of drowning. I won’t go off the diving boards at the community pool. I know how to swim, but when I’m in the deep end of a lap pool, a tiny tremor of panic rumbles through by body. Yet I am fascinated by it. By drowning. Is that a messed up thing to admit? Morbid, yes. Terrible? Probably. But don’t get me wrong: I’m not suicidal. I am curious about what it feels like to be submerged in freezing water. What it feels like to have that cold liquid fill your lungs like an ice tray. Like so many snowflakes crystallizing you from within.

To suddenly become fish.

I think of Ophelia.


I am drawn to water.


I just completed an online flash workshop with Winter Tangerine literary journal. The workshop’s theme: Dissolved in Water.

What dissolves in water?
Water carries memory
Does memory dissolve
But memory changes, shift shapes
Just like water
Does memory make home? Or home make memory?
What shape does water take in order to make a home?


Chirping in the trees. Wing flap. What if a bird flew in the open window of my studio?


When I sit next to the window and look to the right, I can see a bit more of the river, the way the water spills over rocky terrain: part waterfall, part rapids. The way the current curves out, away from me, streams beneath the bridge with its stone-railed edges, only to slingshot back, bringing with it a big white water rush, pouring forth like froth, before slowing down into a ease of water and light.


Lately, I've been thinking about home & identity & diaspora & water & memory. A lot of big things. Thinking about how water needs something to hold its shape. (And conversely, how it shapes other things, like landscapes.) How a bowl can hold the water's shape but also spill it out to change water's identity (via volume). Also: how is the bowl's identity changed by the presence of water? The unfinished surface of turned wood allows water to seep through to the other side of the bowl. But not only that – what about the presence of a word or phrase etched into the bowls? What happens to words & language when they are etched into bowls? Then submerged and/or soaked in water? How are their identities & meanings changed, if at all? Changed by its existence in wood (wood as word) but also in water?

Other inquiries can be found in last week's essay.

So with all of these questions, I created an art installation with the help of my writer-turned-artist wood-turner, Michael Badger. I wanted to explore the answers to these questions but felt that actual answers through language was limiting. Verbal and written language feels limiting here. I wanted something physical. And thus: “Cartography of Water: Home, Memory, and Identity in the Diaspora” was born at Vermont Studio Center.

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