Thea Astley. She’s dead, but she’s still winning prizes. That’s how good she is. Yes, Thea Astley’s piece “Hunting the Wild Pineapple” has won the final of the Meanjin Tournament of Books. While I would have loved for my piece to have won the final, I certainly didn’t expect that it would make it so far through the competition. Congratulations, Thea Astley, and thanks to the Meanjin team for including my short story in the competition!
I recently found out that I was turned down for a residency. Damn. I really wanted that one. The focus and structure of that particular residency is so suited to my project.
That said, it has undoubtedly been easier dealing with that rejection while being on another residency. I am currently on Toronto Island doing a residency at Artscape Gibraltar Point. I love it here and I get to spend the whole month at this facility. The building was once an old school. Here’s my little writing cave:
And here’s a glimpse of what’s outside:
If that picture looks a little grainy, it’s because it was taken from inside my room, behind the flyscreen of the window. I have not actually left this building for almost a week and that has been fine by me.
I have come to realise how much I value the monastic nature of how I approach a self-directed writer’s residency. Eating and sleeping aside, my task is simply to write. Of course, much hangs on that word “simply”. I have never had a residency that wasn’t an emotionally mixed affair: an experience of the pleasure of having no task other than to simply write and the excruciation of having no task other than to simply write. Because simply writing is not simple. Yes, sometimes the words do connect up in a happy way and this makes me feel in a happy way. But frequently, there are many unhappy ways that lie on the way to getting to a happy way.
Take, for example, my previous residency at Vermont Studio Center. My intention had been to do some research and to make a start on a new piece. I did actually do my research but, instead of writing a new piece, I found myself questioning various structural and other macro issues relating to my manuscript. Eventually, I decided to not only restructure the manuscript but to do a major revision of one of the pieces that I’d already written — and all this after more than a year of not writing any new work too. It felt like I was going backwards. Worse still, I didn’t even get to finish revising the piece. But then — and here is something I have been thinking a lot about lately — sometimes one doesn’t know what progress is supposed to look like.
After my residency in Vermont, I was anxious to resume revising that piece and to attend to some of those other macro issues. This why I’m here on Toronto Island. And after a week here, I’ve been building on what I’ve since realised was crucial work done in Vermont. I feel that I’m making progress… whatever progress is supposed to look like.