Notes from Skriduklaustur #5 – on being alone

I have got 4 days left of my writing residency at Skriduklaustur, in East Iceland.

I feel bowled over with gratitude for such an amazing and rare opportunity to take so much time to work on my writing, and in such a uniquely beautiful place.

The Fljotsdalur valley is one of the most beautiful places that I have seen in real life. Despite getting to travel more through writing and performance work in recent years, I still would not call myself a confident traveller, and I must admit I was daunted by the idea of coming all this way on my own, and staying in a place with no transport links or nearby amenities (I’m 39k from the nearest town).

People have been super kind and friendly, and in truth it has not been as scary or isolating as I was worried about, but still a challenge for a woman who grew up in a big,  noisy household and has always lived in cities!

I’m still ruminating on the effects of being alone on my creative process.

On the one hand, I have undeniably got lots of work done. I have managed to not only fully draft, but also start to edit and appraise and re-edit, this piece ‘Like The Water’ (mentioned in my previous post) which I have been trying to carve out the time to work on for years. I feel excited and intrigued by the results, and confident that I’ve got an interesting body of work which I can continue to work on back in the real world (it so much easier to work on and develop something which already exists than it is to create fresh work, in our busy lives). I have also finished a few articles (more on that later) that I had been commissioned to write, and had the creative time and space at explore other new writing – not attached to any particular project, just for the joy of making new poems, notes and ideas and squirreling them away until they’re ready to see daylight or be worked on later.

On the other hand, I have been second-guessing myself at every turn of the creative journey. Is this any good? Is it actually completely awful? Am I wasting this precious time by working on the wrong thing, weighting my time wrongly, pursuing work which is not high enough quality? In some ways, I still have no idea of the answer to these questions, and I don’t feel like I will know until I am back in my real life. It is as though being away from my reality – my friends, family, artistic community, and indeed any people at all, for the most part, has switched off my calibrator of what is and isn’t good writing, in my own work. It is interesting to realise, as a poet (ostensibly a very lonely pursuit) how actually collaborative my writing-mind is. I listen to and discuss and engage with other people at every step of the process of gathering ideas and creating work, often implicitly, and much more than I had realised.

There have been three undeniable advantages to working here, and working in solitude, though, and for those I am most definitely a better writer after this experience; this incredible setting (this house, the people who curate it, its resourses and this landscape around me) and the chance to explore it, the time and space to read everyday (and so much)*and of course, the lack of real-life distractions, meaning that I have now got those precious actual words on actual paper (and MS Word files) to work with, going forward!

index

Ramya Chamalie Jirasinghe’s 2010 collection ‘There’s an Island in the Bone’. I bought this copy in Columbo in 2011 and it has been everywhere with me on my travels ever since; south-east Asia, Australia, Iceland.

*I have re-read Jackie Kay’s collection ‘The Adoption Papers’ and Ramya Chamalie Jirasinge’s ‘There’s An Island In The Bone’, two of my favourite books of poetry, both of which remind me what kind of writing I might one day create if I keep trying and learning. I have also read ‘The Good Shepherd’ and ‘Black Cliffs’ by Gunnar Gunnarson, two very different styles of novel, but both full of rich, loving, scary, and awesome descriptions of the Icelandic landscape, making them so brilliant to read whilst staying here, in the Fljotsdalur valley and in Gunnarson’s house! I  borrowed the english translations from the library here at the culture centre, and should you ever come across a translation in your own language then I really recommend both novels.

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