So you want to go on a writing residency?

In just a few weeks I’ll be heading to my third writing residency in Nerac, France. I can’t tell you how much I look forward to residencies for the dedicated and selfish time of writing. At home it feels like there are a million things that distract me and pull me away from it, and none of those exist on a residency or at least they just get less important.

I’ve been so lucky to be accepted to residencies and sponsored to attend some so I wanted to share some tips for anyone else who might want to go on one, but isn’t sure how to, or where to start looking.

Where to start looking

My absolute best place to start looking for residencies is Aerogramme Studio – they provide a list each year of residencies to apply for. Their 2019 list is available here.

Submittable is also a great place to look for calls for residencies, competitions, and opportunities for writers.

ResArtis also has a regularly updated list of upcoming deadlines. Not all of these are for writers – some are for other artists – so make sure you read the full description.

Africa Centre has an annual Artists in Residency call. Keep your eyes out here.

Erika Krouse made an incredible list of free residencies for writers, here.

Are there any South African residencies for writers?

I’ve spent some time looking and whilst there seem to be a few residencies for artists, there aren’t any that I can find for writers. That being said, there are a number of workshops and retreats you might like to try. For example:

This year my husband took himself on a writing retreat to Bramleigh Manor in Fort Nottingham, KZN, where he thoroughly enjoyed the forest, the peace and quiet, and the wonderful fresh produce.

Costs and Funding

The cost of residencies vary significantly. Most of the time you have to pay your transport costs at the very least, as well as some fees for the time you’re staying there. Some places offer partial grants or funding too. Some organisations, like Africa Centre who I mentioned above, award residencies.

I found success in crowdfunding in 2017, and also in approaching the local consulate of the country I was visiting.

The National Arts Council also has a funding applications portal for projects, as does the Academic and Non-Fiction Authors of SA.

On the plus side, if you’re thinking of travelling to a country anyway, writers residency accommodation is normally WAY cheaper than your average hotel / AirBNB / hostel. So you might want to tick things off your bucket list and write about them too.

What can you expect?

This is also super variable (in my humbly limited experience)

For example, at the Vermont Studio Centre you get your own office to write from complete with desk, lovely view of the river, and printing facilities. You also get three meals a day cooked for you (I cannot quite express how good the food was here – phenomenal!) and talks a few nights a week to draw inspiration or technical skills from. I also got a room in a shared house with shared shower facilities. It was below freezing for most of my time there, and these were all so comfortable, warm and cozy.

At the CAMAC centre for the Arts in Marnay-Sur-Seine, which is sadly no longer operating, we got a fridge stocked with food, a workspace either attached to our room or separate from it, and incredible meals cooked for us by visiting chefs. We didn’t have to go to any talks, but we did have to give one reading of something that we’d be working on whilst we were there.

This year I’m visiting Studio Faire for the first time and I will be provided with a working space, and comfortable room, but I have to cater for myself.

Most of the websites where you apply tell you what you can expect, so make sure you read them. The last thing you want is hungry writing or an awkward presentation you don’t feel happy about doing.

Pros and Cons?

Pro: Unfamiliarity. I can’t really explain the difference you feel when writing in an unfamiliar space. You’re suddenly aware of all your senses, you don’t give two shits if the dishes are dirty, the people are interesting, the food is new, even the grocery store has different things in it. I find this wakes me up.

Con: Writing residencies are not often free. At the very least you have to pay for transport to get there. Sometimes you have to pay for some or all of your food. You’ll probably have to take leave from work too.

Pro: You will be surrounded by people who believe you are a writer, who believe in the value of the arts and of writing, and that is just truly magical.

Pro/Con: You are far away from everything and everyone you know (no judgment here – you do you!)

Pro/Con: You have to take yourself seriously as a writer. I normally find that I take a few days to settle in to being on my own, getting used to letting go of the dictates of a 9-5 work schedule, and then I’m A-for-Away. Taking yourself seriously as a writer means different things for different people. I find that residencies are like a letter I write to myself, giving myself permission to write. You might be able to write that letter at home, or feel free enough or dedicated enough in your day to day to just do it. I applaud you. I need space and time.

So now?

I hope that some or all of this information is helpful to those of you out there who have been thinking of this.

There are literally hundreds of residencies you can go to all around the world. Good luck!

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Dear new parliamentarians,

Congratulations.

You have been given the honour of serving your country, and serving its people.

Very few people get this chance to make laws that change lives, change lived realities, give or take away access to justice and health and safety. Yours is a job that comes with extreme power. I hope you use that as positive power to do things and make change, rather than power over people and progress.

I worked at the South African Parliament between 2013 and 2017 and I had the pleasure of working with some of you. I worked as a researcher and my job was to provide non-partisan evidence and information that could support Members of Parliament in making the best decision for the South African people. My work was focussed on women’s rights and gender equality.

During my four years at Parliament I encountered politicians from across the political spectrum who took their mandate seriously – they thirsted for evidence-based research, and they listened to civil society and individuals who told them their stories or shared research in public hearings or at Parliament to the People events.

The parliamentarians who I saw make the greatest difference were the ones that listened not just with their ears but with their hearts and minds. I was inspired by the long hours that often had to be worked, and by the distances that parliamentarians travelled to get input and to listen to the people affected by their decisions. There are many Members of Parliament who we owe a great debt of thanks to for this work.

For so many South Africans, it is hard to make our voices heard and many previous Members of Parliament were committed to giving us that opportunity and to taking seriously our ideas. This happened even at times when political parties were at ideological war in public. In private and in the committee rooms, Members put differences aside and worked hard to make the right choices. Thank you to all of you who have served in this way.

But, it would not do a service to reflect my time at Parliament as a bed of roses. That would be an incomplete picture. During my time I also encountered parliamentarians who did not, in my humble opinion, put the people they served at the core of their work.

I worked with parliamentarians who were caught up in scandals of violence, I worked with parliamentarians who did not treat those that worked with them with respect or dignity, and I worked with parliamentarians that ignored the evidence that myself and other researchers and content advisors gave them because it was not in line with their party or personal position. I worked with parliamentarians who were known for sexual harassment and who were never disciplined. I worked with parliamentarians who did not listen to the people, the academics, the organisations, or the movements who came to share the truth with them. There were people in Parliament at the time I worked there who did not uphold the constitutional values that they had a duty to uphold.

It often strikes me that when we enter a job we do not enter it on a blank slate. We bring with us our own opinions, experiences, personal grievances, and knowledge sets. Sometimes these are advantageous – they help us to make decisions based on a bigger picture. Other times the things we know can obscure the things we don’t know, or make it more difficult for us to ask for help or advice because we are afraid that being vulnerable, or showing that we don’t know everything, will make us appear weak.

As you start these five important years I have a few requests for you — our new legislators — as you do your work:

  1. Listen to the ordinary people who are affected by the laws you are considering. It is your duty to take their views back to your political parties and your committee rooms, and to hold those views as essential and paramount. If people express something that is contrary to what you had planned, be open to hearing it and seeing what a common ground might be. Please listen, with your hearts, and not only your ears.
  2. Use the resources you have at your disposal at Parliament. You have some of the brightest minds in the country working on your precinct. In the library, the communications department, the committee section, and the research unit. All of those people are working there because they know how to help you find out what you need to know to make a non-partisan informed decision. They are paid for you to ask them for information. Please ask them. And when they provide information, consider it with an open mind.
  3. Partner for progress. A committee works best when its members talk to each other as people, not as party members. It works best when you use all the skill you have in the room to process issues and make decisions. You are each other’s resources. Draw on each other.
  4. Address the corruption at Parliament, including the issues related to the former Secretary. During my time at Parliament, working relations soured as it became clear to us all working there that the way the institution was being run was not transparent or fair, and did not advance its purposes. Many incredibly valuable employees left Parliament because the working conditions were fraught, exhausting, and difficult. Last year a person took their own life because of this. This must urgently be addressed, because as I said earlier, you have excellent people there who can help you to do your job well, but many of them are unhappy and suffering.
  5. Take gender equality seriously, and make good on South Africa’s commitment to equality by thinking creatively about how to schedule and address gender equality in your committees. Over the past twenty-five years the South African Parliament has been a leader in the world in terms of women’s representation. The previous Parliament has previously had two primary committees that dealt with women and gender issues – the Multi-Party Women’s Caucus and the Portfolio Committee on Women. In the NCOP, gender issues were allocated to the Select Committee on Cooperative Governance, Traditional Affairs, Intergovernmental Relations, Women, and Youth. I think that if you can’t fit the name of a committee on a single line it’s pretty unlikely that it’s going to get to all of those issues. If, as many of you have said in your manifestos, women and gender issues are a priority, then make them a priority. Make sure that each and every committee includes a gendered analysis in their work. Make sure that the NCOP has a dedicated committee addressing women’s issues and that it is not an add-on. Make sure you are thinking about the gendered impacts of the budgets you review and pass, and of the work the department(s) you monitor undertake.

I am hopeful as this new Parliament begins its work that it will recommit to its duties, and take them forward with energy and enthusiasm. I am grateful for the work you have all done before, and I look forward to monitoring your work over the next five years.

Jen

10 tips on marriage

Yesterday my husband and I celebrated ten months married. When you read that you might be laughing at the fact that I’m dishing out advice like a seasoned married person – don’t worry, I’m laughing with you.

Last month I had the honour of being asked to speak at my uncle’s wedding. He asked me to write something from the heart for him and his future husband, and so I put my mind to the past few months of my own life and tried to be honest about what I had learned. Disclaimer – this could all be wrong. Except for the bit about the psychic.

First – here is a picture of the happy couple ❤

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Brayden and Andy (Mr and Mr Slezak)

1: Your partner is not, except on rare lucky occasions, a psychic

This means you need to learn to explain what you need, rather than assume that your partner knows just because they love you. (Thanks Alain de Botton for this bit of advice, by the way).

2: Love is a second chance

Love is a chance to be the very best version of yourself. To amplify the goodness and kindness in you, and share that with another person. Marriage allows you to do this for the rest of your life. That being said…

3: Nobody is perfect

At our wedding, Sam’s cousin Kevin gave us some very valuable advice. He said

“You choose your partner not because they are perfect, but because they are perfect for you. There is a big difference. They have what life wants and needs to teach you. Some lessons are hard, especially the ones that deal with your ego and insecurities…Marriage will bring out the best in you, it will also bring out the worst. No one will make you happier, and no one will be as proficient at pressing the wrong buttons as your partner.”

4: You must own up

See 3 (above) – nobody is perfect. At a friend’s wedding a few years ago the pastor said there are two phrases that are essential to make a marriage work. The first – I love you. The second – I’m sorry, I was wrong, please forgive me. Hopefully, you get to say the first more than the second, but just in case I’d suggest practising in the mirror.

5: Be honest – to yourself and to your partner

Love and marriage require you to be incredibly vulnerable – to acknowledge that there are parts of you that sometimes feel unlovable and to ask another to love them. This is an act of radical bravery.

6: Don’t worry about how anyone else does ‘being married’

Love is not a competition. There are no marriage Olympics. Your marriage doesn’t have to look a certain way to be good. It has to meet your specific needs as a couple. Love is not in grand gestures – though they can be very nice – it’s in the little things that only the two of you notice. Treasure those.

7: You are not alone

Though the wedding day is a day about just you two, if you look around you’ll notice that everyone at your ceremony is there because they love you, both separately and in your togetherness. This is your support system, and they are not only there for the wedding day.

8: Marriage is not just the wedding

I know that at the wedding you feel like your hearts might explode with love, but amazingly there is still room for more. More love and more happiness. Put as much effort and thought into each day of your marriage as you have into today.

9: Write down your vows

Keep them somewhere special so that you can look at them often. Remember what you’ve promised, and keep your promises.

10: Marriage is magic

Always feel grateful that in the world of billions of people, you found each other and chose each other. Enjoy the adventure and never forget how lucky and wonderful it is to love and be loved.

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Total babes ❤

South Africa hates women – are you fine with that?

This morning I’m sitting with a heavy heart.

The past years months weeks have been full of news that would make even the unobservant reader realise that South Africa is not a country for women. On paper we are equal. Yet, in the day to day, we are living with the constant threat that we will become the victim of violence if we have not already become one.

I don’t believe we’re hearing more about this just because it’s women’s month, and if women’s month is just an opportunity for everyone to remind us of how truly traumatic and tiring it is to be a woman in this country then I’d really like us to forget about women’s month altogether.

As a society at large, South Africa is fine with women’s suffering.

In the past 24 hours, three stories that would have other countries starting commissions of enquiry and plugging resources into social crime prevention will simply disappear by the end of the week amidst the many other stories of violence against women. I don’t want these stories to disappear.

One – almost half of Khayelitsha school learners have experienced sexual violence and girls were more likely than boys to report abuse. Two – a young woman who reported her rape to Rhodes University committed suicide before returning to campus for further discussions following her report of the rape on July 30th. The alleged rapist was only suspended this morning according to a press release sent by the university. Three – police charge protestors raising awareness about violence against women because they demanded that the President of the country they live survive in listen to them and their demands.

To be born a girl in this country and make it to your old age unharmed is a statistical improbability. The definition of female might as well be ‘afraid.’

Are you fine with this? I can’t be.

So what are we going to do about it?

 

 

 

 

What would a world where women weren’t harassed look like?

This morning I finished reading Jessica Valenti’s Memoir Sex Object. The book is a collection of personal reflections on topics such as street harassment, abortion, drug use, sex, and child raising. Throughout, it explores the way that the world treats women, casting them as objects for men’s comment, pleasure, and enjoyment. It also explores the very powerful physical, psychological, and political effects this categorisation has. I found the book painful and difficult to read, not because of the writing but because of the content. Despite this difficulty, the book is important in that it raises important questions that we need to consider.

Valenti considers what it means for her to be raising a daughter in this world and the qualities that she would like her daughter to have. She wants her daughter to be brave, to still be the girl who wants the best part in the play when she’s older, and most of all she wants her not to have to endure the constant harassment, abuse, and assault that most women are exposed to on a daily basis. She wonders what it might be like if that was not the world that existed, and what women would believe about their own potential if we had the space to live our lives un-objectified.

It’s a powerful question that bears reflecting on in South Africa, where street harassment, domestic violence, sexual violence, abuse, and gender discrimination remain the norm. Sure, we have the laws that say it’s not allowed, and the Constitution says we all have the right to feel and be safe, but for most of us, those are just pieces of paper with good intentions.

Last year I spent three months out of the country on writing residencies. It was an amazing time, not least because I had uninterrupted time to write, and my meals were mostly cooked for me, which feels like #livingthedream. What I loved most about the residencies, that took place in two small towns, was my ability to walk alone, for long periods, on the road or in the wilderness, without being harassed. This simple pleasure, an hour long walk a day where I didn’t feel like I had to be afraid, where nobody said anything to me about how I looked or what I was doing alone, and where I could be in nature and consume the beauty of the natural world, was something that I treasured. It helped me sleep better. It helped me write better. It made me feel more human.

The first week back in South Africa after the first residency, I was sexually harassed by a man while walking down the street to visit some old work friends. When I ignored him, which is my instinctive reaction (sometimes my instinct is to keep walking with my middle finger in the air), he took the liberty of crossing the road in case it was a matter of his lewd suggestions being unheard rather than deliberately ignored. He wanted to make sure that I knew he was there, looking at me. It was only when a kind male stranger walked next to me and told him to go away that he stopped. But even this didn’t make me feel better – he didn’t stop because he realised it was vicious, destructive, or offensive to shout comments at me. He stopped because he believed I belonged to another man. I was still an object to him.

I’m at the age where I think about what it might mean to raise a little girl in this world and to be frank, it terrifies me. I wonder how I will tell her that she has the rights and power to do anything she puts her mind to, but simultaneously explain that she should also probably be hypervigilant when crossing the street at night or when choosing an intimate partner. I don’t know that this double-think double-living is psychologically tenable.

I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where women could go on a walk every day for the sheer pleasure of it, and what women would be capable of doing if they were really free.

What a year! 75% and counting.

I can’t believe it’s October. Only a quarter of the year left to meet all the goals that were set at the beginning of the year. Now that we’re 75 percent done with 2017, I thought it would be cool to reflect on some of the fun things that I’ve been working on this year, and write down some of the stuff I’d still like to get done. You know – to make it public so I can’t slack off!

The year to date

At the end of February this year I resigned my full-time day job in gender research. After four years in the same job, I needed some new challenges, and a less toxic work environment. Burnout and high stress levels had dogged me for the six months preceding my decision to quite, and to be honest some of the symptoms still linger behind almost seven months out of the job. I’m using a really great meditation app called Calm to manage those niggles, and to try to generally live a more happy and peaceful life.

In March I travelled to Vermont, to pursue a residency at the Vermont Studio Centre. I had three days in New York before I went, where I experienced jet lag, the subway, the world’s largest bagels, and the hustle and bustle of a city that is electric with energy. Vermont was the exact opposite – chilled to the max. Literally – on one of the days I was there the temperature dropped to -24 degrees. My eyes, nose, and smile froze on my face. The writing was good, and I managed to get a large chunk of the novel I was working on done. The company was great too, and its so amazing to follow the journeys of the other artists and writers that I shared my month with.

During this time I also worked on a collection of feminist essays, and completed the first draft to be sent to the publisher. More on that later.

In April and May, I was back home in South Africa. I was lucky enough to be working on some really exciting projects. One was with Triangle Project and the Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute, looking at LGBTIQ political participation and influence in South African politics. This included qualitative and quantitative research, including interviews with South African politicians and civil society leaders. The report was finalised in September, and I’ll share it on the site as soon as I get the final copy. I also did a little bit of work with Mthente Research and Consulting Services, looking at an evaluation of the Cape Town Refugee Centre political participation project. Very interesting!

In June I jetted off to France for a two-month writing residency at the Camac Art Centre in Marnay Sur Seine. As you’ll have seen from some of my previous blogs, this was generously sponsored by my friends, family, and the French Consulate in Cape Town. I had an amazing time writing there, and wrote over 50 000 words of my new novel. So it’s really on the way. It was incredible to live with the other residents, learn from their skills and just generally to enjoy their company. My little cottage was a paradise and haven, and swimming in the Seine most nights was a definite highlight.

Even during this time the grindstone continued. I worked with the OECD on doing a legislative review of the gender rights laws of five African countries for their SIGI database. It’s a great resource for researchers so check it out. In this time I also worked with the Shukumisa Coalition on drafting a history document for the coalition looking at its history from its inception in the early 2000s, to the work it does now. Having been a member myself since 2010, it was a really rewarding project. In addition to this work I kept up with my blog and opinion piece writing for W24.co.za and Women and Girls Hub. More on that, here.

At the end of July I met my fiance in Copenhagen and after a few days there we took a two-week trip to the Faroe Islands to check out the puffins and the scenery. It is a breathtaking place that is definitely worth a visit. This was a sort of pre-wedding honeymoon for us after two-months apart, and it the perfect place to reconnect with one another and spend some time walking in nature.

August and September were filled with work of a different kind. I finished up the Triangle and Victory Institute report on LGBTIQ political participation, and went straight onto editing a book on Colombian Transitional Justice. I didn’t know very much about the conflict in Colombia, and it was a really stimulating experience.

With the help of editor extraordinaire, Helen Moffett, I also finalised the collection of feminist essays called Feminism Is, which you can expect to see on shelves in 2018. This collection features 31 contributions from South African feminists and you will need it and love it. I’m so proud of it.

October forwards

Last weekend I married my true love in an incredible setting near Helderstroom. We did things our way, which is usually a little weird, and it all came together perfectly. It was a happy, emotional, and wonderful day and I’m still basking in the glow of the love and support that all our friends and family sent our way.

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Thanks to Dearheart Photographers for capturing our day!

Although it was a total bummer to get back to work after the happiness and celebrations of this past weekend, I’m still glad that I’ve got some fun to look forward to in the coming months.

I’ll be working with the Women’s Legal Centre over the next month to deliver them an Annual Report that reflects their new strategic focus, and the amazing work that they do. I’m also doing bits and pieces of editing for a few clients, and some article writing work. If you’re in need of some writing, editing, or research work, get in touch with me!

Most importantly though, I’m committing myself to finishing the novel I’m working on, polishing it up, and sending it off for consideration. It’s the scariest part of writing, but I didn’t spend my time all over the world this year to keep something in my computer.

I turn 33 at the end of this month. Each year I normally set myself a reading project to try to keep the creativity flowing, as well as to be a bit more mindful about my reading choices (i.e. not just reading the white male western mainstream). This year my challenge to myself is to read at least two short stories a week, and to blog about them. It’s my weakest area of writing, and there’s no way I can get better at writing short stories if I don’t read more of them. So expect more of that in the weeks to come.

It has been a year of my life that will be VERY hard to top. Feeling like a lucky fish in the happiest of seas. I hope you do too!

Permission

 

After reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic this week I have been thinking a lot about the idea of permission. In the book she says something along the lines of ‘if you’ve been waiting for the slip that gives you permission to pursue your dreams, here, I’m giving it to you.’ (sorry if that was wrong Elizabeth Gilbert, love your work).

It took a really crazy job that I survived (truly, at the end that is what it felt like) for four years to allow me to give myself permission to spend this month in Vermont writing. In fact, if it had been a better job (you know, one where they like … value you you in ways other than money) I probably wouldn’t be here writing away each day and having the best time.

How come? How come it’s so hard to do what you want to do and so easy to tell other people they should?

I don’t really have the answer to this question. Even after writing one whole book and having it published and feeling good about it afterwards I spend most of my between writing time thinking – can I actually do this? The emphasis varies each time. Can I actually do this? Can I actually do this? But the point is the same.

In that same book, Big Magic, Gilbert talks about the way that fear and creativity are intertwined. She says rather than avoid this fear, she’ll acknowledge it and take it along with her on the creative journey. She invites fear along for the drive, but tells it that it can’t take the wheel. I liked this analogy, especially because I really hate driving so I’m cool for fear to sit in the back, and I’ll sit in the passenger seat whilst creativity is the boss of things.

In all seriousness though, for the first few nights here I had THE CRAZIEST NIGHTMARES involving weird people doing weird things. I woke up a lot thinking – who the actual eff is living in my subconscious? I’ve been talking to some other people here who have also been plagued by strange dreams, and saw that a friend on instagram felt the same, and for me it just confirmed what Gilbert was saying. Fear and creativity are linked because they force us to reach inside ourselves.

If I am going to do this creative thing, then fear is coming with, and it will try to be in control in whatever way possible. But, I’m kind of stubborn. Don’t know if fear knows that. And when creativity is around, it’s a cool vibe.