A residency requires two things from oneself:
stopping slapping yourself that you finally got it.
the ability to say no to all the usual requests for freelance work that you normally say yes to because ‘god knows when you’ll get work again’.
It’s been nearly 2 months since we set sail (literally, on the Interislander ferry) for Dunedin. In this time, our ancient cat has not apparently died, or even missed us. He’s going to be so annoyed when our doting house residents leave and we come home. We bought 6 months of Chef and Whiskers cat food for the duration and he is determinedly working his way through it all. All hail the cat of 9-12 lives.
Dunedin has been warm and sunny and welcoming, and we venture forth in the weekends to visit beautiful places like Nugget Point Lighthouse in the Catlins. St Clair remains our favoured spot for the moment, but we may change our minds as the cold weather sets in. Today I donned the puffer jacket, but the students are still sporting bare legs and jandals, so maybe I’m a Wellywuss.
I’ve settled into a new normal as far as the work goes. I set out in the morning from the Robert Lord Cottage, leaving my husband with strict instructions to enjoy his free time and not spend too much on coffee or Lime scooters for the day. I walk across the park to the University and find one of 2 or 3 cafes to have what I’ve coined as my ‘flat write’. The coffee restriction directive does not apply to me, as it’s very necessary to the process. My favorite spots are in the Polytech Hub or the Otago Student Union. Here I can eavesdrop on young people and watch them in their unnatural environment called Tertiary Education. The moult has finished and their full coats are on and pretty soon I think there will be some mating rituals to observe as they try and keep warm. My hide is a laptop and I keep very quiet so as not to disturb them.
By late morning I get to my office at the College of Education. By this time the sun has gone off my desk and it’s easier than squinting or drawing the curtains. The whole tower block is about to undergo a refurbishment and so the next writer in residence may have spivvy blinds and new carpet!
I field emails, requests for work and follow ups on things I said yes to before I knew I had the residency- the truism is, that when you are busy, people want you even more. This is a good thing for both the ego and the bank balance. Of course, being a freelancer, I never expect this to last. All self employed people will know this fear. The one that has you never plan for a holiday/new clothes/car repairs more than one month in the future, because you never know if you’ll have work to pay for it.
So, now with a salary (be still my unaccustomed heart) it’s possible for me to say no. But I have to exercise that muscle fiercely. Because now all I want to do is my project. I draw in the afternoons when the light is best in my office. I’ve set myself a herculean task that involves two different drawing styles to be combined into kind of graphic novel, but with all the prose as well. I am making contact with students who can both inform me and read over what I have written for authenticity and tone. I’m meeting people who are welcoming me into their arts and literary lives. I have my formal Fellows welcome next week at The Hocken Library with the other Arts Residents. I’m presenting at the Dunedin Readers & Writers Week.
I’m being resident.
This is what it’s all about. Making connections, joining the dots, exploring new work, that one day, with the greatest of luck and fortitude, may become published. And if nobody wants it, I will put it all up on some platform so it can be shared and, hopefully, enjoyed. Because it’s no use to anyone in the bottom draw of my cloud storage waiting for someday. Never wait for someday, do it now, with the Residency Application for 20/20 open, if you are a kids lit author/illustrator, apply.
Join those dots.