Guest Blog: Joanna Chen, Entry Five

The following is reprinted from Garnet News. VCCA Fellow Joanna Chen, who lives in Israel, is writing a six part account of her residency at VCCA. (All images, Joanna Chen)

I’m sitting out on the front step of my studio, writing and listening to the music of Eileen Edmonds. She was in the studio below mine, and her sweet voice would ring out every day from her front door as I walked by to make coffee for myself in the kitchen we shared.
I watched her one morning, playing her guitar in the middle of the field that leads to the forest. She was in the zone, creating music with a voice as clear as the water that streams down through the forest this springtime. Eileen’s gone, but she’s left me the music she made here on my laptop. Now, I’m listening to her music again, and I miss her.
My time here is fast coming to an end. I’m beginning to get emails about work that awaits me upon my return. Part of me, quite a big part, wants to ignore them. I resent the intrusion although I know that the real world is closing in on me faster than ever. It’s making me aware of every precious hour I have here at VCCA.

My time here is fast coming to an end. I’m beginning to get emails about work that awaits me upon my return. Part of me, quite a big part, wants to ignore them. I resent the intrusion…

A friend told me now is the time to put everything else aside, including all the writing I have done here, and write my heart out — to uncover all the things I have not yet dug down deep enough to find. I thought I had been doing that, I said, surprised to hear this and a little miffed. Now, as I sit here, I think of the words of Walter Benjamin, who talks exactly about this: He who seeks to approach his own buried past must conduct himself like a man digging.” Or a woman. Yes, I must dig deeper through the layers of my life to get to the good stuff.
Last night, the visual artist Katherine Kavanaugh showed her work. She dug down deep and came up with a video of a woman walking through the very same field outside my window that Eileen had walked through that morning. The video shows a blurred woman wandering along. Lurking in the background are the rickety towers made by Katherine from old wooden pallets and fallen branches.
The woman’s repeating indistinct phrases as she walks, over and over again. The words, I think, are unimportant. It’s the image that strikes me so — a lone woman traversing a space, lifting her skirts, lowering her head, stepping through grass that grows wild, mumbling a phrase, an utterance that only she can decipher, searching for a way. I, too, am searching for my way here in Amherst, and no doubt I will continue when I return home. I need to think what the words are that I have not yet said, and I need to repeat them to myself, in a loop, until they are down on the page.
It’s difficult. I’m already thinking about home, already checking the status of my flight back, eyeing up all the books accumulated here and wondering whether I’ll have overweight bags when I get to the check-in at British Airways. I am on a journey and the road ahead has never looked longer.
Joanna Chen
In NOTES FROM AFAR, writer Joanna Chen sends us weekly dispatches from Amherst, Virginia during her six-week residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. In Notes, Chen explores challenges and advantages particular to women writers, the allure and the reality of leaving her partner and children to write and the importance of personal space as she charts her own creative process in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains far away from her home in Israel’s Ella Valley.
NOTES FROM AFAR is the first in a pilot series focusing on women in the arts and one that we hope will become a regular feature. 


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