Carly-Jay Metcalfe: Being at KSP was quite the sensory experience
On the afternoon I arrive at the ‘Aldridge’ cabin, storm clouds were moving in, which seemed to slow the cadence of city life.
Rain was what I needed to merge into this new relief, and for the first few days, concrete coloured skies gifted us idyllic writing conditions; the sound of rain on the tin roof reminiscent of home, and battalions of birds tearing past my window, playing skirmish – flying headfirst and steely-eyed into the rain.
Once the sun popped out from sheaves of cloud, I took in my new surroundings, spotting a rambling ‘raspberry ice’ bougainvillea, the thick inflorescence of lolly pink Rondeletia blossoms – their sweet perfume stirring on the breeze – and the rusted scythe outside the old bathhouse. Opening my cabin door each morning was a joy. Nestled into the spine of the Perth hills, I felt the minutiae of my life back home peel away.
As a happy consequence of a La Niña winter, the gardens were lush – the understorey thick with shrubs, weeds, and sprawling ground cover. Towering green-grey gums stretched into the sky like lightning rods, and it was a treat each morning to see fallen pinecones that had been feasted upon by nocturnal scavengers. Time difference aside, I felt like I was on an alternate march; like the clocks had slowed.
The three residents were spoiled for choice with sunsets that flushed the sky pink, violet, and tangerine, as well as a full moon under a shimmering mantle of stars. Each morning, birdsong rang out like a lament, ringnecks (‘twenty-rights’) and red-capped parrots jostled for space in the trees, as well as some of the biggest magpies I had ever seen, plundering the earth of its worms. Then there were the ravens (my favourite of the corvidae family) who would leave behind gifts of fuel-coloured feathers.
Pre-dawn cups of tea became my daily ritual; poking my head out of my cabin to feel the cool air prickling my cheeks, as well as listening to the gaggle of my own private aviary which pulled me back into my body after a good night’s sleep. Being at KSP was quite the sensory experience.
Most of the time, I was happily ensconced in my warm and cosy cabin which brought to mind ‘Wuthering Heights’ with the rain and towering trees that bowed into the gusty winds. Seated at my desk, my neck would reflexively snap as squadrons of birds whipped past my window – on their way to a place I did not know – and I’d hear the occasional ‘thud’ of a pinecone falling on the roof of Katharine’s cottage.
I visited the library most days to learn more about Katharine – a renegade and a disrupter – and as such, I found myself becoming a little more intrepid in my writing. As part of my M.Phil. thesis, I’m writing about topics that are unsettling and polarising, and Katharine’s spirit seemed to shake me out of my reverie. I imagined her writing and sweating it out in her cabin – her skin prickling under the brutal Perth heat.
I’m possibly more hermetic than I should be, and I regularly remind myself that there can be hubris in stasis, so I spent time with the trees, picking my way through the detritus of the understorey for kindling. Nature has an unparalleled way of humbling a human, as I discovered when I was nearly neutralised by an errant gumnut as I hiked around the botanic gardens which culminated in standing at the base of a 750 year-old Boab tree.
Planting my feet on the bare earth is a daily practice at home, so walking outside, wiggling my toes in the red dirt, and crushing some gum leaves between my fingers to inhale their scent was how I placed myself in this unfamiliar environment that didn’t take long to feel like home. Every afternoon, I tipped my head backwards so I could see the overstorey, then I shifted my gaze to the fury of a western sunset. A few things I’ll not forget are morning dew on the grass, the great skeins of half-light falling between the trees, late afternoon vestiges of dappled sunlight and clusters of stars under an inky black sky.
The two weeks flew by in a rush of words, cups of tea, peals of laughter, and blazing sunsets. Over the last few days of the residency, my fellow resident Esther suggested that a firepit would make for ideal sunset spotting, and this was organised by KSP’s beautiful coordinator, Sofija. Esther, Alida, and I gathered around a fire on the coldest night of the residency, sharing stories as we clutched our glasses of wine.
Top ten tips:
1. Greet the morning with a grateful heart (and a cuppa). Breathe in deeply and take in the sensory delights of your surroundings. Relish being in nature. Get some sun, plant your feet on the earth, get grounded.
2. Have a plan but be prepared to deviate from it. Use the pomodoro technique to your advantage.
3. Move your body. Going for a walk or having a solo dance off in your cabin will get you out of your head and back into your body. Walk, stretch (each cabin has a yoga mat), and if it’s possible, leave your work behind for the day and head to the beach for some vitamin sea.
4. Nourish from within. It’s clinically proven that eating nutrient dense food, staying hydrated and getting enough sleep is more important than we think. Your brain cannot fire on cylinders if you’re depleted.
5. Read voluminously – it’s just as important as writing.
6. If you’re feeling stuck, look at your goals and break them up into bite-sized pieces. Don’t guilt yourself into churning out great numbers of words. There is nothing more reductive than unnecessary pressure.
7. Give yourself space for the deeper work of writing – creative reflection, journaling, morning pages.
8. Monitor your inner critic and be open to offering and receiving feedback. While I was unable to share my writing due to the sensitive nature of my project, I was delighted when my fellow resident Esther sent me grabs of her graphic novel each day.
9. Back yourself, hold your nerve, and press on. Trust whatever your creative process is. Have another cup of tea.
10. Have a set time to ‘down tools’. I found this got me into a routine which helped me make the most of my time.
Endnote: the conference paper I wrote at KSP has been accepted for The International Auto/Biography Association World Conference in 2024 in Reykjavik.
Carly-Jay Metcalfe, KSP Fellow 2023