Hello Adelaide! Hello lovely studio! Hello long-awaited and twice-postponed May Gibbs Creative Time Residency!
I am so grateful to be here, to have the luxury of spending the whole of November ensconced in ‘The Burrow’, the cozy and beautifully appointed studio apartment owned and administered by the May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust.
Since 2000, The Burrow’s sole purpose has been to provide a home-away-from-home for children’s authors and illustrators seeking time and space or a change of pace – an incredibly generous gift to our community.
On its website, the Trust writes:
Some Creative Time Residency fellows will spend the entire month working on their creative project quietly alone; some may have a mentorship component to their CTR fellowship; some may be provided with paid speaking, teaching and promotional activities by a MGCLT partner; and others may arrange their own speaking, teaching and/or promotional activities.
If you know me, you can probably guess which option I’ve chosen! What is a burrow for if not burrowing?
But perhaps you are wondering why I need this? As a wise woman once said to me, narrowly avoiding being punched in the face, “But, Meg, what do you actually do all day?”
In all honesty, I have asked myself the same thing. From the outside, my creative life looks pretty cruisy these days. I’m not working another job, I’ve pulled right back on speaking commitments, I have the proverbial empty nest. In that nest, I have a room of my own – a lovely, light-filled study that looks out on to my native garden, full of honeyeaters and cockatoos and the occasional glorious pardalote. I have time and space and loveliness.
But I have something else too.
I have a very messy head. And I’ve had a difficult few years. And somewhere along the line, this lovely light-filled space has become a place of avoidance and procrastination, of self-doubt and recrimination and wondering whether I’m even a writer any more or maybe this whole thing has run its race. The garden has become a place I decamp to, obsessively pulling weeds and trimming things because it is so immediately satisfying and so much easier than writing.
The thing is – it isn’t always about time and space, at least not in the obvious ways.
Still, as Covid restrictions eased, and my family issues settled to the point where I could commit to taking the re-re-scheduled residency, and as the date approached, and I said enthusiastic yeses and made plans, I did wonder what I was doing. Did I need this? Did I have the right to need this? Wasn’t I just being self-indulgent and should just give myself a good slap in the face and stay at home where everything was set up so beautifully for me if I could just get my messy head right? Which surely I could do by myself, being an adult person who’s always managed to do that in the past, and possibly even free up a residency for someone who actually, truly needed it!
Friends, I will just say this: If you find a good psychologist, hang onto them for dear life. And when they somehow manage to open up a space in which you can give yourself permission to stop trying to march doggedly onward, to stop treating creative work like some kind of battering-ram production line in whose service you must BUTT-IN-CHAIR WORDS-ON-PAGE DEADLINE-DEADLINE-DEADLINE, and instead send you right back to the heart of things, to the reason you started this writing thing, to just noodle about and play and see what shakes loose … when that window appears, open it. Climb through.
So here I am, in Adelaide, in a burrow. Noodling and playing and feeling more like myself than I have in a long time. I have a project but I’m not thinking of it in those terms, and I’m beginning by simply messing about, which right now looks a bit like this …
It is early days, but I’m not going to think about days for now; only moments. In this one, I offer a huge thanks to the May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust. And if you need any proof that being here is surely my destiny, I offer these images from my distant past. The year: 1975. The occasion: The Decorated Bicycle Competition, Eaglehawk Dahlia and Arts Procession. The winners: ME AND MY BROTHER! (or, more accurately, our mother, who went above and beyond to make not only our costumes but also hundreds and hundreds of crepe paper flowers and cunning wire frames to weave them through. We won a transistor radio. What a time to be alive!)