Jessie Tu on writing, space, and new ways of seeing
What many people don’t think about when they think about writers writing is that the exercise is an extremely physical endeavour.
You sit on a chair, or a seat, or a bed, wherever a writer finds their most comfortable situation, and you must restrain yourself from moving out of this position.
Our bodies are not designed to sit on a chair or be still, or in any position for hours on end. But that is precisely what writing requires of the writer. We must dull our sense of urgency and compulsion to remove ourselves from the seat and go for a walk, a stroll, or anywhere else — away from the table.
What many people don’t understand about writing, is that because it happens in our mind — writing is the act of transferring the stuff inside our minds down onto the page or the laptop, which cannot happen without the body and its moving, agile limbs.
Writing requires us to be aware of our bodies. We must dull the compulsion to leap off the chair and go to that dance party. It’s an act of settling one’s other compulsions. At Springfield, for two weeks, I found myself moving about in a large space my body was not accustomed to.
Back home in Sydney, I’m usually turning and twisting my body to avoid sharp corners of tables, or sliding between thin walls because that is the reality of living in a small, inner-west terrace.
At Springfield, I felt my body move through uninhibited space — space that allowed my body to fling itself in every direction it wished. Each morning, I’d leap between the corridors of our house and do pirouettes on the smooth wooden floorboards just because I could. The last time I could swing my legs with such unfettered freedom was when I was a child, living in my parent’s suburban home.
For two weeks at Springfield, I sat on the same chair at the same table in a small cottage adjoining the main house, writing for eight hours each day, with a short lunch break between. In my usual life in Sydney, I could never do that. Every now and then, I’d look out through the window and peer at the distant landscape — the flicker of cows roaming the vast greenery. The trees that decorated the edges of the frame. For two weeks, my eyes readjusted towards a new sort of normal. I was not used to staring out into the long, long distance, because in the city, the furthest my eyes could cast was the building a few streets away.
Seeing this made me see things in my own writing differently. Moving the body through a different space altered something in my own writing, my way of thinking about what I put down on the page. This is the gift of a residency. A traversing to another realm. A different way of moving the body, and therefore, the mind. A different way of seeing, which spurred on new ways of writing. Which is what the writer is always looking for.