Back to Iceland- Writing Residency Pt. 1

Remember when I got accepted to two international writing residencies in the middle of a pandemic?

While it is certainly not the most ideal time to be traveling at all, the news came at a perfect time during my career and personal life. I wanted both of them to work out, but I didn’t have high hopes of getting across the border of a country that I wasn’t a resident of. As everyone knows, traveling isn’t really possible right now.

Still, I had to continue accordingly. I’d planned to go to the Iceland residency first, and then to the Finland one, and then return home. However, my flight from Reykjavik to Helsinki got canceled due to Covid/border control changes. The residency in Finland ultimately fell through because there were too many unknowns. I could’ve deferred to next year, but again- too much is up in the air for me to commit to that. Yet, Iceland was still a go! I was so happy to come back here! [Read about my first visit to Iceland back in 2016 here.]

The folks here at the Gullkistan residency prepared me with a list of paperwork I would need to provide not only in order to enter the country, but to even get on the flight here. I was so nervous, I printed two copies of everything and held my breath the whole time at the airport. Everything went seamlessly, and those worries quickly were replaced with excitement for this new adventure and complete awe to be in such a beautiful place.

I was tested upon arrival and then went straight to the residency, which is in the town of Laugarvatn, a little over an hour from the capital of Reykjavik. It is mandatory to quarantine for five days and then get the second test. Everything was so streamlined and easy to track through the Rakning C-19 app. I arrived at 6 a.m. on Monday, February 1st and received my negative test results later that evening. I quarantined for longer than five days, actually, because they don’t test on the weekends in Selfoss (the town we are closest to) so I had to wait until the next Monday. Once I got my results back, I was then free to visit shops and restaurants. I was so impressed by how organized the entire process was!

For the month of February, there is only one other resident here. Her name is Kristel, and she is a visual artist from Estonia, and will stay for two months. We are great company for one another, (the only company, actually!) but it’s been so peaceful here and nice to be tucked away from everyone. We are also able to have our own spaces: she stays in the studio center while I stay in the cabin. The majority of my time is spent inside working, and since it’s cold out (very similar to back home in Pennsylvania) I didn’t mind being in quarantine. In fact, I loved it. The cabin fills with the most gorgeous light at sunrise, which is usually around 9:30-10 a.m. Kristel and I kept sane and active during quarantine by going for a walk early in the day, which is a routine we are still sticking to. There’s always so much writing to do and books to be read, and I even started a 30 day yoga challenge, which is steadily kicking my ass. I am learning to “find my breath” and realizing that I should take care of my body much more than I have been. It’s important for me to stretch, too, since I spend so much time sitting and with my head bent (thanks to typing, reading, and phone scrolling) and to work on my balance (which anyone that knows me can attest to being pitiful at best).

A typical day might look like this:

-Wake up, sometimes morning yoga
-Morning hike for sunrise with Kristel
-Return to cabin for coffee and meal
-Listen to writing podcast or craft talk while eating/doing dishes
-Check e-mails, submissions, etc.
-Reading craft book, maybe trying my hand at some prompts
-Journal writing
-Dinner
-Free writing and/or editing
-Finish the journal entry for the day
-Yoga before bed (if I didn’t do it in the morning)

I have my manuscript from my MFA program that I finished, but it needs revised and reordered. It is currently spread out on the floor of the top room of the cabin. I’ve been working on that and will submit it when I feel it is ready for publication.

I keep saying it, but to really sit with your work is such a beautiful thing.

I wanted to dive deeper into craft books this time, so that’s one of my goals. And always reading and discovering new work from contemporary poets, of course. I’ve had a couple Zoom meetings with my writing groups, and have attended several readings, though this also is a bit tricky with the time change. Often, they don’t start until 7 PM, so if I stay up for it, I don’t go to bed until after 2 AM my time. But I’ve also caught the northern lights this way 🙂 They came out several times my first week here and I felt so strongly that this is a sign that I am right where I belong:

Not a bad view to stay up all night writing to 🙂

Of course, it isn’t all work. We’ve done some amazing day trips so far as well. My friend Ævar who I met as a tour guide back in 2016 took us on an adventure where we visited not only Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss but two lesser known waterfalls that are right nearby: Nauthúsagil and Kvernufoss!

Fun fact about the village of Laugarvatn: if you’ve seen Down to Earth on Netflix, you probably saw the episode in Iceland where Zac Efron and Darin Olien go to where they bake bread in the ground.
That’s actually right across the street from where we are! And we got to experience that. The rye bread bakes for 24 hours. It’s delicious, like the texture of cake almost, and often paired with Icelandic butter (which is to die for), trout, or herring. Even plain, it is mouthwatering and I want it as we speak!

Laugarvatn has lovely geothermal baths, which we’re trying out this weekend, as well.

And who knows, the work that comes from these dramatic landscapes may just be pointing me into the direction of a new book.

Again— I am so happy to be here. 🇮🇸

I hope these moments of Iceland’s natural beauty bring you the same peace they have given me. Keep well, everyone. ❤

To writing on,

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