Writing with Insects

Writing with Insects

The writing retreat reminded me of childhood summers

05-09-2022 · Column

I feel ambivalent about the idea of writing retreats. Part of me thinks that the idea of relegating writing to idyllic conditions isn’t very realistic for getting writing done on a practical day-to-day level. But at the same time, there is just something to be said for the retreat part. No email. No constant context-switching. No airless office. Domestic duties amounting to making another cup of coffee on one of those press-button machines, or a simple meal with my co-writer in residence. Time for focus. For reading. Tranquility by the bucket load. Oh, and insects.

Plenty of them, in/around/within our lakeside house (designed in the 70s, all concrete blocks and built-in furniture, including writing desks). On the second day I got a wasp sting on my foot, the critter’s last act as it lay dying in the carpet, causing a delicious itch for the rest of the trip. Spiders created intricate web-curtains on the outside window sills, flies circled confused in corners, butterflies fluttered by. One day a dragonfly visited, got stuck behind the museum-like glass and received a lift out on a wooden spoon. Ants crawled in and out of holes in the concrete blocks.

What I realised, noticing this insect life around us, was that the writing retreat reminded me of childhood summers, of nights filled with the sounds of crickets rubbing their legs together and endless novels from the library, of short stories composed in little exercise books. A time when writing and reading felt free and unconstrained.

So for six days I woke up, sometimes wrote in pyjamas sometimes proper clothes, chased the sun through the birch trees, living and writing with the insects. It helped remind me of what we do, in an ideal world, at universities. Not go to holiday houses! But think, work slowly, recalling the reasons why we found ourselves here in the first place. Something to remind myself of next time a fly buzzes into the room when I am trying to write.

Anna Harris, associate professor department of Society Studies; Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences


Author: Redactie

Photo: AH

Tags: anna harris,writing retreat,column

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