Last July, Cristian Flores Garcia, in her capacity as the 6th Letras Latinas Residency Fellow, spent a month at the Anderson Center in Red Wing, MN. Letras Latinas Blog sent her a few questions: some room for her to reflect upon her experience. —FA
Letras Latinas Blog:
You arrived at your Anderson Center Residency on the heels of attending your first CantoMundo retreat. I’m guessing that perhaps you were, therefore, in a good space. Could you briefly share something about your CantoMundo experience? How was it?
Cristian Flores Garcia:
CantoMundo was everything I didn’t expect. Conferences and retreats are usually fast-paced-hectic events where the focus and most of the energy goes to the work one brings, the work generated while there, and methods to help create new work once the event is over and everyone goes home. That’s what I expected from CantoMundo. But CantoMundo wasn’t just about producing work and building community. What I found so refreshing was that CantoMundo is about nurturing a family; it is about listening and empathizing. CantoMundo was about poets, poetry, academia, publishing, networking, and all that good stuff every poet, writer, artist needs to survive and move a career forward. But what surprised me and humbled me was the comfort I found there because our conversations were not restricted to writing and poetry. It was like meeting relatives I knew existed but hadn’t had the opportunity to meet in person and once we were face to face, we talked about food, music, novelas, and El Chavo del Ocho. CantoMundo is about bilingualism, about the cultures we inhabit and contribute to, it is about the duality and complexities of being Latino, and it is about our intertwining roots, the loudness and enthusiasm we Latinos exude. I felt at home. I felt comfortable. I left knowing that at any time I can pick up the phone, call out to the CantoMundistas and say: “I need you,” certain that there will be a voice responding: “I’m here, I’m listening,” and it doesn’t have to be only about writing, or poems, or career opportunities, but anything concerning life.
My understanding is that this was not your first residency experience (the one at the Anderson Center). With that in mind, what expectations/goals did you set for yourself for your Letras Latinas Residency?
I have learned not to set expectations/goals in stone, because as it is well known, life happens while we are making plans. An artist’s residency is a gift, a granted surprise waiting to be unwrapped. When I knew for sure that I would be able to accept and attend (thanks to the generous help of Eduardo C. Corral) the Letras Latinas Residency, I had one goal: write new poems. I have a manuscript that I’ve been working on for quite some time now. It is a manuscript that I am in love with. It is, at times, a manuscript that is painful enough for me to have to set it down and leave it alone for a while. It is a manuscript that has changed me. It is a project I believe will teach, impact, and empower other people, as much as it has impacted and empowered me. And although I want this manuscript to be out in the world, I wanted to take the time at The Anderson Center to let go of the poems I have and force myself to write new work. I half succeeded, because I did write new work—some flash fiction that has already been accepted for publication and new love poems—however, I couldn’t stay away from my manuscript and basically reconceived, redrafted, and revised some of those poems.
You were in Red Wing, MN for a month. Could you give readers of Letras Latinas Blog a taste of your time there? In other words, did you settle into any sort of routine? If so, what was it?
I am a person of rituals and routines. Rituals and routines give me a sense of control and at the same time provide a creative freedom that arises at those moments when I am going through the motions of a task that my body already knows how to perform without me thinking much about it. So I settled into a privileged routine of at least six straight hours of sleep at night, and going for a run every morning. New ideas came to me while alone, pushing my body to take a few more steps than the day before. And after I finished my run, still sweating and catching my breath, I would go straight to the desk and try to write down as many ideas and images as I could recall that came to me while I was running, fighting mosquitoes, listening to the birds sing, stumbling upon a turtle, or being frightened by slithering snakes, and waving hello to bike riders and other runners.
I get distracted very easily—by a spider crawling along the windowsill, by the wind playing with a feather caught on a tree branch, by the mosquito drowning in the blue cup of green tea resting next to my computer—so after an hour or so of writing I had breakfast and I read. I don’t get distracted when I’m reading, because I love reading, and at home where life happens, I don’t have as much time to be in solitude and enjoy the passing of time reading aloud. I read as much as I could while at the Anderson Center. Most days, in the afternoons, I wrote. Some days I worked on new poems, other days I only wrote in a journal, or spent my evening writing out by hand poems I admire, to know what it feels like to write those poems.
Every night, dinner was at 6:30p.m. Dinnertime was a delight. I looked forward to the food and the conversations. There were only six of us fellows, so we all bonded quickly. We had opportunities to talk about out lives, art, our projects and how all of these play a role in the world.
I also had the grand opportunity of spending time with the other fellows doing crazy fun activities, like bike riding, hiking, learning about print making, singing out of tune, and eating a lot of ice cream. Every moment there taught me a little more about attention, devotion, intimate understanding of process, and tenderness.
This residency was very spiritual. I dealt with many fears and demons: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I allowed myself to get lost in the beauty and serenity of the Anderson Center.
It’s my understanding that all residents at the Anderson Center have to do some sort of activity in the community (I remember when I went, I visited a high school). What was your activity? Could you tell us a little about it?
My community service was to give a reading as part of the Anderson Center’s Summer Celebration of the Arts. It was a lovely day filled with music, art, food, and the community so eager to see, hear, and ask about the work produced by all, established and emerging scholars and artists. After the reading, I had people come up to me saying how much they enjoyed the poems I read, how humor and sadness went hand in hand so perfectly, how the poems helped them see something they hadn’t seen before, and how they wished I had a book that they could buy. I was ecstatic. I felt lucky for the opportunity to share my work with these people and feel their appreciation. I couldn’t stop smiling that day. It was one of the highlights of my residency.
What advice would you give a writer who hasn’t been on a residency, but is ready to give it a try?
Be ready for anything. Be ready for your plans to be forgotten. Be ready to meet people who will change your life forever. Be ready to have days when you forget to eat or shower because you can’t stop working on something you had no idea you were going to work on. Be ready to have days when you do nothing but eat junk food, dance, sing, and share childhood stories that make you laugh and cry at the same time. Be ready to feel yourself changing, moving closer to nature and art, because most residencies offer these first and foremost. Be ready to forget about the life outside the residency, and not feel guilty for doing so. Remember that the moments lived while in residency, can never again be replicated to be exactly as they are when you’re there, because even if you’re so lucky to go back to the same residency, the chances of the same staff, the same fellows, the same ideas, happening again are like winning the lottery when you most need it with a found ticket. And just be ready for anything.
Previous Letras Latinas Residency Fellows:
Michelle Otero (2008)
John Chávez (2009)
Diana Marie Delgado (2010)
Jacob Saenz (2011)
Sara Campos (2012)