MAN MAKE HIS PLANS, GOD LAUGHS: ONE MONTH IN ILHABELA

September 27, 2018

In the interest of transparency and restarting this blogging venture on an honest note, I should confess that my title is misleading...it has not technically been a full month in Ilhabela. I've been in Brazil for 27 (going on 28) days, 22 or so of which were indeed on Ilhabela, but for the headline's sake we'll just call it a month.

 

So with that out the way, let me begin by telling you about Casa Na Ilha. For those of you that don’t speak Portuguese, it translates to “house on the island”, the “i” in ilha capitalized because its short for Ilhabela, the formal name for the archipelago off the coast of São Paulo (the state, not the city - this will be important later). Casa Na Ilha is a Res-Artis accredited artists residency, located on the ecological conservation area/Brazilian vacation spot of Ilhabela. Away from the distraction of daily life (cooking, laundry, the MTA, to name a few), artists can fully dedicate their days to working on specific projects or searching for other avenues of inspirationThe only requirement for attendees is their presence at a daily, sit-down dinner where we eat together and share our accomplishments (or lack thereof) over the course of that day. Oh, and "Ilhabela", literally, "beautiful island" is no exaggeration. 

 This was the view from my BATHROOM. Seriously. 

 

I started the residency with characteristically manic goals. I would write 2,000 words per week day, up to 1,000 on the weekends if I failed to hit my word-count during the week. When the residency was over, I would have at least (literally...lmao) 45,000 words, at which point I could spend the rest of my time editing and filling-in all the gaps. WRONG. 

 

For the first few days, I was hitting this goal with consistency, sometimes even surpassing it. I had a clear outline, some pre-written bits of dialogue and prose to work with, so it was easy to start there and let my imagination run wild. I would chain myself to my desk from whenever I woke up around 7 or 8 (this is much earlier than usual because of the natural light that poured into my room at sunrise making it difficult to sleep past this point), pausing only to retrieve meals or snacks and then return to my desk containing a stack of books: Jesmyn Ward's Sing Unburied Sing, The Everything Essentials of Brazilian Portuguese, and Jorge Amado's Captain of the Sands and Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon; all that I kept there in hopes to absorb the art of narrating poetic prose, the subjunctive tense, and sense of place writing about Brazil. 

 

 

 

At around the halfway mark in residence, I was expecting a visit from one of my best friends from high school, Latoya. This turned into hilarious situation (I'm laughing aloud writing this) because of a terrible (and probably avoidable) logistical mishap. Because my accomodation at the time she'd be here was not open to the public (only accepted members of the residency could stay), I suggested that she use Workaway to find a short-term housing situation and sent her a few (well, one) options. I thought this would work out perfectly because then I could use the 4-5 hours per day she spent working (as was a standard Workaway barter-arrangement) to meet my ridiculous word-count goal. Perfect. WRONG. 

 

If when man makes plans, God laughs, He certainly got a good laugh out of our attempt. Days before Latoya's departure from NYC, I checked in with her to confirm where she would be staying. My WiFi had been acting up the last few days so I wasn't up to speed on anything that existed outside of Google Docs but was finally able to check Maps the day before her departure. The Workaway she had elected was in the city of São Sebastião da Grama in Sao Paulo (the state), easily confused with the port city of Sao Sebastiao, a 15-minute ferry (or balsa) ride from Ilhabela. This city was the requisite 5-hours from Sao Paulo (the city), but in the opposite direction. With little time and her commitment made, Latoya boarded her flight, then her bus to the north of Brazil to teach English in a little town called Divinolandia. The Poço de Caldas-São Sebastião da Grama-Divinolandia region is so small that there are usually only 2 buses running from there to the main Sao Paulo bus terminal, or rodoviária, Tiete, at 8AM and 12PM. Because covering my distance from Ilhabela to São Paulo was dependent on everything from taxi availability to bus times to the wind (the balsa would stop running when too windy), it would be impossible to make visiting Latoya a one-day trip, given that the journey from where she was to where I was (or vice versa) would take 12-hours one-way. So we decided to link up halfway in São Paulo for a whirlwind weekend. 

 

We made our plans but this time, God didn't laugh (actually he definitely did, because our guardian angels were booked and busy). Latoya had a short laundry-list of things she wanted to do, and contrary to the unspoken rule that you can get TWO and no more things accomplished in a single day out in São Paulo, in the 30 hours we had, Latoya's Mini-Brazilian-Bucket List was more than complete by time she was off to her 11PM Sunday flight. 

 

 

It was if after that weekend, my shoulders relaxed in the same way as the South American winter's grip on the spring. The weather warmed and my idea of the residency and productivity shifted to an idea that I've found in the process of many artists from this continent (Amado, Pablo Neruda, Diarios de Motocicleta-era Che Guevara, Casa Na Ilha founder, Marina Caamano, to name a few): that productivity and leisure are not mutually exclusive and can, in fact, exist simultaneously. I got to a place where I could enjoy the meandering conversation over our nightly dinners without feeling I should be writing instead, I could enjoy a hike, a watermelon, the ten minutes expensed watching the hummingbird that flew into the studio....all this without the terrible, lingering guilt I've internalized where I always have to be doing something. There was more to life, more to me, than being constantly productive.

 

 

As I came to my last days in my residency, I decided to see if I could meet a modified version of my original goal but as I forced myself to continue forward, it felt like trekking through mud to get the words out. In the few months prior to applying, I'd read a lot about process of writers in Paris Review articles and interviews and I'd heard many say to fight through writer's block, you must keep writing. Maya Angelou said even if it's only "the cat sat on the hat..." over and over, if the muses know you're serious they will come, another said write 20, 30 minutes non-stop even if nothing comes out of it,  keep shoveling sand into the sandbox so that later you can build castles...but I think what I was truly feeling was that I had done all I could do for the work in that place, so it was time to move on. Some writers like Faulkner in As I Lay Dying who said from the beginning "he knew every word" and others like Jorge Amado (and now I'm thinking myself) needed to go to a place, be immersed in it, then walk dripping wet to his desk to be able to write about it in the truest way possible. I'm proud of the 25,000 or so words that I do have and that whatever happens to them, whoever sees them (or doesn't) I'm proud of myself for writing them. 

 

 

I would be remiss to conclude this reflection without mentioning my housemates, residency cohorts, and now, friends. At first, I'll admit I was intimidated to share a studio with people who studied their crafts at institutions, were excellent at them and it seemed everyday produced beautiful things. It became apparent soon enough, that everyone was open to sharing their work, their processes, their influences and I realized through different media we did much of the same thing: interpreting the world around us.

 

In the picture above, from left, is Kasia Suro (@kasiasuro) an illustrator, muralist (one who paints murals?) and capoeirista-in-training who will tell you that you are going to a capoeira "lesson" when really it is a training session at an MMA dojo. Go with her anyway.Reis Turnbull (@reisturnbullartist) is a printmaker with the technical knowledge of a chemist and the last person you want to sit next to on an hour-long choppy boat-rideCarley McHenry (@carleymch)  is a (prolific) painter with the relentlessly positive disposition characteristic of the Midwest disposition with a forthcoming solo show in April 2019; Andrece Brady (@qolden_1) is a painter and mixed-media artist whose solo show "Black Pussy Power" is in the works, but you can purchase her prints made in Brazil (with a special gift!) here; and finally, Tori Lassman (@clit_o_patra), is a playwright, incest-joke enthusiast and co-founder of After-School Special Theatre,who will make you read the parts of both the smart-ass factory line worker and her pervy boss but don't read into it. Links to all their work/websites are embedded.  

 

 

That's all for now folks, but you can hit me on the site's contact form, on WhatsApp (same number), NOT iMessage (new number) with questions or just to say you miss me. I'll try and post one of these again (maybe?) but like don't get used to it. 

 

Com muito amorrrr e saudadeeee, 

Jas

 

 

 

 

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