I have been to Varuna several times now, and each time induces a different emotional response -- sadly, often characterised by an existential crisis on the first or second day that finds me wandering the streets of Katoomba in a state of panic about my neglected creative "practice".
Between full-time work and my family's needs, my life feels almost entirely controlled by external demands, so time at Varuna is usually the first chance I've had to stop and really think for months. This time, after a particularly busy period at work, I also seemed to have completely lost the ability to structure my own time and felt completely at sea!
Of course once you finally get your bearings, you realise it's already Wednesday and what felt like a luxurious surfeit of time stretching out in front of you suddenly seems to be spiralling rapidly toward the inevitable end date. But a luxury it still is. A chance to once again glimpse the possibilities, if nothing else. Each time helps me remember that to write is really just to pay attention to what's around you -- so simple, but so easily lost in the chaos of "normal" life.
Angst-ridden moments aside, each time I'm at Varuna there are also lovely instances of synchronicity. Years ago, I was doing a residency alongside poet Kylie Rose, who left a book outside my door: Object Lessons by Eavan Boland. It was the perfect thing at the perfect time. Boland provides such an acute description of the new relationship with the sensory world (and therefore, peculiar form of creative power) that comes with mothering that she almost single-handedly inspired the conclusion to the book I was working on, which became The Divided Heart.
|Julienne van Loon|
I recall discussions with Julienne and the other residents about the feared threats motherhood might pose to a successful writing life. So it was doubly fascinating for me to not only discover that she had had a baby but that her experience had been characterised by such blissful surrender to her son's agenda-free pace, amid all the risks that that state poses to our "selfhood", which she describe so beautifully in her essay:
I have taken twelve months leave from my usual work to be home with a new baby, and one of the biggest adjustments I had had to make is to arrive at a new understanding of time, one measured only by the fragile, mutable pattern of basic human needs: sleep, food, warmth, contact. ... And it doesn't matter. Unless you can't shake the itch for something more meaningful to do.
Yep, that pesky itch...