Interview with Evelyn Wong, Writer in Residence at Rud AIR, Sweden
If you’re reading this with the intention of going on your first residency, you’re probably not thinking of leaving everything behind and going nomadic! However, there are more and more people nowadays living nomadically, going from one place to the next and working from the road, and artists are no exception to this. Having said that, I’d never actually met one(besides myself) until this autumn, when I met Evelyn Wong at Rud AIR in Sweden.
Evelyn is a Canadian writer, she writes fiction stories that deal with different layers of reality. Fitting, as she seems to have come from a different reality herself. In a ‘previous life’, Evelyn worked in marketing at a fashion brand in Vancouver. Going from a corporate job in marketing to a residency hopping writer is quite a jump, but through talking with her I found out that’s just how she is-jump into a new adventure head first, before you can second guess yourself. I think this is something to be learned from her, as too many times we hold ourselves back by over planning or over researching and end up getting ‘information paralysis’. Sometimes you just have to do it and accept that not everything will turn out as expected, but it’ll bring something good either way.
Let’s jump into it then, and read about an adventure!
You can read some of Evelyn’s work on her website here
Can you start with a bit about you and your background?
I wasn’t always a writer. Although..I used to dabble in it, and in high school I took a creative writing class and it was my favourite class. But my parents believed it wasn’t the smartest and most financially stable career, so I went into marketing instead. It wasn’t until last year in November.. I had a really bad infection and that made me realise how much I didn’t like how my life was going. I decided to change that, so I quit my marketing job and decided to start writing full time.
So things in your life were kind of just going along and you needed a kick to realise this was not what you wanted?
Yeah..basically I was just coasting through life.
How did you go from ‘I’m going to be a full time writer’ to also ‘I’m going to be nomadic’? Because that’s another jump to make.
Haha yes! I did that mostly because I wanted to come to Europe, and the easiest and cheapest way for me to do that and being able to stay here for a long time was to apply to all these different residencies. I had heard of residencies before, there are quite a few in Canada and the States, but I wanted to go to Europe so I figured this would be a good way to just go and spend this time honing my craft and finding the voice I wanted to find in my writing.
So you hadn’t been on residencies before?
No! I had no idea what it was going to be like before I jumped into this, but I figured, I’m just going to do it and if it turns out to be crappy I’ll have an adventure to write about!
Worst case, it’s going to be a good story, right?
So, how did you find out about residencies?
I just started looking up residencies in Europe online. Resartis came up first, I looked at that and applied to a few there and then somehow I found Residency Unlimited, and then Transartists after that.
And then you see the map on Transartists…
Yes! It was a lot of fun to see how many residencies there were!
Why did you decide to come to Europe?
I’ve always loved coming to Europe. When I first came here, about fifteen years ago, I fell in love with Sweden because I went to Lund University. From then on, I just wanted to keep coming back to Europe. It’s almost as if I feel more at home in Europe than in Canada sometimes.
How do you pick residencies to go on?
Well..the first few that I picked, there was one by the Carmargo foundation in France, I really wanted to go there. It was beautiful, by the seaside, they had beautiful photo’s, I’m sure that helped. After that, I wanted to stay in Europe for as long as I could, so I just applied to many residencies in many European cities and places I found interesting. The first one I attended was in Bulgaria, I only went because they accepted me! I thought, hey, what better way to introduce myself to this than..a residency in Bulgaria?
How did that go?
I would have to say..it was their first time doing it, so there was a lot of room for improvement. I left feedback for them, not sure if they appreciated it, but it was just my opinion as an artist and as someone experiencing this for the first time. It gave me another perspective on how residencies are run, but every other residency I’ve been on has been a lot better!
So it’s going upwards?
Yes, it’s getting progressively better!
I can imagine when you first get off the plane, you start on this adventure and then the first experience in Bulgaria isn’t what you’re expecting..when that happened, did you start second guessing what you were doing?
Originally, I was supposed to stay there for two months and I cut it down to one month. There was something about Bulgaria that didn’t fit with me and my values so I decided, you know what, hopefully the next one in Germany will be better. Although I approached going to the next residency with a bit more apprehension, I feel that it exceeded my expectations for sure. So..just start with low expectations!
Why did you decide to stay at residencies instead of renting apartments or something, was it because of the interaction with other artists?
Hmm, yes, well, the big draw for me was definitely interacting with different people from different countries. Mostly because I’m really curious and as a writer I have to stay curious and keep meeting new people. It can also be a challenge, because obviously I’m used to living a certain way and then when you come across people from different cultures you don’t always match with everyone. It’s a challenge for me to see how well I can adapt to different situations and how much I can just go with the flow. That is kind of my theme for this year; just go with it, just see what happens.
Related to that, how much did you plan before you took off?
I was in Australia in March, and I just started applying when I got back..probably the beginning of April, and that’s when I got accepted into these residencies. So let’s say..a couple of weeks of planning?
So in November you quit your job, then you went to Australia in March, then you applied for residencies in April and then in May you left?
Yeah! So it was very..this is generally how I do things though, don’t think too much about it, just go. Otherwise I will second guess and I can’t be doing that.
The people around you, how did they respond to this plan of ‘I’m going to quit my job and become a nomadic writer in Europe?’
Hmm..well, quitting my job was several months before the nomadic part..some people were surprised about the quitting my job part, but not that many. The nomadic part, a lot of people don’t understand it. They feel it’s really strange, or they feel I’m travelling to ‘find myself’, and I’m like, no, it’s to actually work on things.
It’s not Eat Pray Love.
Yes, exactly! That’s it precisely and I was thinking, oh my god people, I’m not going through a midlife crisis! This is something I’m consciously choosing to do because I want to meet people, I want to see how artists live amongst themselves, a step away from regular society. It’s a different reality, too, and that’s something I write about, how many layers of reality there are in life, what is real and what isn’t real? When you’re in a residency, you’re removed from everyone else’s reality.
But if you do it long term like we do, it becomes in a way normal life.
Right, it becomes your real life, it becomes a different reality.
Is there anything that has surprised you so far, about yourself or about something that happened?
I’ve loosened up a lot about the rules I have for daily life. I try not to be, but I’m usually extremely hard on myself if I don’t reach a certain goal for a day and it’s surprised me how much I’ve let go of that. I think what also really surprised me is the amount of inspiration you get when you’re around so many different types of artists. I’ve realised now it helps to converse with people constantly instead of holding up in my room and burying myself in work. You have to have the social interaction.
How do you balance work, life and travel?
I like being stationary in one place for a longer time. The longest I’ve been at one residency so far is only two months, but I’ve found it very helpful to take that time and ease into the life of wherever I’m staying at. I felt it was really beneficial.
So, take it slow?
Yes, instead of taking one week residency, which I haven’t applied to because I feel that wouldn’t be that helpful. In terms of balance, there are days I will get up and my mind is just completely blank and I can’t do anything that day. I try to take it easy and don’t be so hard on myself on those days. It’s something I have to practice more often.
Do you have a routine you made for yourself?
I think the most routine thing I do is to always meditate in the morning. Nowadays, I try to do more yoga in the morning because it’s so cold here and I’m trying to loosen up my limbs a bit more. That’s pretty much all I have at the moment..oh, and whenever I write, I always, always listen to music and it has to be orchestral.
As a writer, is it harder to find residencies than a visual artist, you think?
Maybe..what I really liked about Transartists is that you can search specifically for literature and I found that extremely helpful, so I’ve been looking for that in the beginning. Now, I’m looking for literature residencies where you receive a stipend.
What are some of the challenges of this lifestyle that you’ve found so far?
There are the occasional bursts of homesickness, and there are moments when, even though I speak Swedish, I find it frustrating I don’t hear English all the time. Even though you’re living in an international artist residency, there’s just times where you need to be around familiar surroundings. Oh, and I really miss sushi…I miss sushi so much..
What do you do when you get homesick?
I will generally call one of my friends, and we’ll just chat. There was even a time time when I was questioning..what am I doing this for? Am I even an artist, what am I doing here? And I messaged one of my friends who I met at the last residency, in Germany, and she helped me through it. She said don’t worry, everyone goes through this, everyone questions it from time to time.
How does the place and the residency you are at that moment influence your writing? Like, being here in Dalsland, Sweden, does that influence what you write right now?
I would say that it does. For instance, I’m working on a monster story at the moment and when we went for that hike the other day, it was just so beautiful to see what these remote isolated areas are like in Sweden. The setting definitely plays into a lot of my writing. For instance, for another part for a novel I’m working on I’m using Bulgaria, I’m going to sprinkle some Bulgaria mafia setting in there!
So your Bulgaria experience will come in use after all!
Oh yes, definitely.
What is your dream residency?
That’s hard to say..I’ve found I respond better to remote areas, but I also like to sit in a cafe and just watch people in their regular lives. It’s so fascinating to me to watch people go through that, because I’m not living that life anymore. It helps with creating these different layers of reality.
I guess..I would like to be in a place where it’s not too cold, not too warm, like temperate..Germany or Switzerland would be fine. Actually…imagine if you could sign a contact with a residency for six months and then you can stay there, just live and work there and then go back to Vancouver for six months. You’d just go back and forth, I would immerse myself into the society in Vancouver for a bit and then go back to Europe on another residency. That would be perfect.
What’s some destinations you’d like to go to, just for travels sake or for inspiration?
Let’s see..just for fun, I would like to go to Cambodia or Laos, I’ve heard so much about it and the food is supposed to be amazing. I’d also like to go to Tokyo and Seoul, at some point. In Europe, I would love to go to Budapest, and I wouldn’t mind going back to Prague to see how different it is now from fifteen years ago, I’m sure it’s changed a lot.
What is your most memorable residency experience so far? It can be positive or negative.
Most memorable..In Germany, we, five of the artists, were asked to do live performance art. It’s something I’ve never done before so it really brought me outside of my comfort zone. I found that being there and performing in front of people in that way, it was fascinating. I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I was going to be and people responded well to our performance. It was just a small crowd, but it was a different experience. Normally, as a writer, you’d just do a talk or a reading, instead of actually performing for people. I really enjoyed that.
Negative..there were quite a few in Bulgaria! But generally, it was the misconception of how much a residency should cost. And I found that really surprising, for Bulgaria it was really expensive and I didn’t really get my moneys worth so that was disappointing.
What do you hope for the future?
Hmm..if someone could design a type of residency where you could have a contract with them, what I described as my ideal residency, where I could be in Europe for six months and then be in Canada for six months, that would be amazing..or just find a rich benefactor, that would be nice too! Yeah..but aside from that, I’d like to actually find a place in Europe to live, and perhaps go on residencies from there.
Do you think you’ll go back to Canada at some point?
When the money runs dry, I will, but for now I feel I want to stay in Europe for as long as I can and that’s the goal right now.
Thank you, Evelyn, for letting me interview you about your experiences as a nomadic writer! It was very interesting to meet a fellow nomadic artist and I hope you’ll be able to keep going for as long as you wish!
If you want to read some of Evelyn’s work, check out her website, and you can read her published story Reaching Beyond here in Fireside Fiction