By Rae Hadley
I got it.
I got the place.
I can’t believe it, I got accepted.
Oh hell, I got in!
And so begins another chapter in the story of my unconventional life. Well, what is convention other than a different sort of dream, a narrative chosen by the many when I like to party with the few!
The journey to The Content Castle has been a long one, fraught with tussles in tightly coiled spring-like relationships between head, heart, and soul–between intellect and creativity and between artist and pragmatic determinate. The internal wars of high ego and low self-esteem have seen creativity, ideas, morals, and intellect dismembered and strewn across the bloody battleground of ‘process.’ However, that self-same process has finally brought me to the Castle door and I have launched myself inside, ready to tackle dragons only to find princes and princesses with open arms, kind words and who are ready to soothe and welcome me into a familial system I know in my heart yet have only just met.
As I said … it’s been a long and tiring journey.
And where does that journey begin? To be honest, I could wax lyrical about the years of personal process, the emotional road less travelled and the ‘breadcrumbs’ that have led me here. I could lay all the pieces of the fate-or-coincidence jigsaw puzzle out on the table and laboriously look for edge and sky to make them fit. But that is a different conversation for another time.
Let me just acknowledge the fact that the recent physical journey I have taken has involved tens-of-thousands of kilometres of bicycle touring, a year-long hiatus teaching English in China, boats, trains, buses, and ,very occasionally, a kind truck driver who really couldn’t fathom why I would possibly want to be on a solo bike tour, in winter, up a mountain. So with heaving heart and with tears in his eyes, he lovingly demands that Tilly (my bicycle) and I ride in the cab with him for awhile.
Four years after leaving the UK, I find myself on a Thai pier looking at the large, steel, blue and white ferry, which is about to dock, and which will transport me away from my grubby, challenging life of bicycle touring. No more cycling up hills or across deserts, sleeping in a tent for long, hot nights. No more sweating, swearing and accepting that water is scarce and therefore more for drinking and less for washing. I am on my way to living my dream as a writer, creative, and artist on a paradise island.
Being me, I have a complete meltdown on the ferry. I’m standing at the edge of the map, on the border of my world and I am petrified, listening for the heart-wrenching scream of dragons. Transitions, such as these, are wonderful opportunities to challenge my outdated models and expectations of myself while opportunity surges all around me.
Years of self-identity as a person who is not ‘worthy’ to attend anything artistic, let alone a writing residency, bubble to the surface in the wake of the ferry’s passage. Years of self-identity as a person not worth the expectation of what an island paradise entails, swarm in on me. The mind-bendingly beautiful, panoramic view of its expensive resorts, swaying palms, and brochure blue sea, beats down on me with the force of the unrelenting midday sun.
The umbilical Internet attaches me to a part of my heart which resides in a different body and one of my dearest friends pours soothing words directly into my soul. I am quite literally and emotionally beside myself as we converse. My reflection in the ferry window is cracked and almost unrecognisable as tears stream down my cheeks and I draw strength and solace to face and battle my sneaky and unexpectedly powerful, Jungian adversaries.
To ‘see’ and ‘feel’ concepts and ideologies, which have formed my foundations, rise up as clearly as the rock and vegetation-covered islands we pass and then watch them disappear into the distance as new, positive concepts are tectonically birthed in the sea of my (un)conscious are momentous. Although it’s a turbulent passage it is incredible and joyful in its acceptance of the moment. I am privileged to be ‘present’ at my own (re)birth.
As I get off the ferry I can barely contain my excitement and explode with the energy of the Duracell bunny or an over-sugared wallaby before dissolving into a pool of laughter. Passers-by warily eye this evidently crazy woman so I hastily pedal off towards my destination before I am incarcerated and miss the ‘chance of a lifetime’.
Waves of shock hit me like a super-powered defibrillator.
The Sea.The Sky. The Heat.The Palms.
The long, straight, asphalt roads (yes, I still think like a cycle tourer … that remains).
Oh. My. Goodness! What have I done?
On reaching the Castle I hit the maelstrom and fear I may be lost in the spectacular waves of sensory and intellectual richness which assail me.
The vibrant colours of the curtains, the bright, clean whitewashed walls, pristine tiled floors, and the enticing library of books, it’s more than I imagined. I haven’t read in so long that I think I might drown in their sea of words.
My room–I have a ‘my room’; with a shelf, a double bed, a door, and a lock. A solid, dependable, retreat and container providing privacy, safety and style–oh, the luxury of the place seen through eyes accustomed to a tiny, flimsy, dusty, portable home.
The surreality of the situation is swept aside and I am blown ashore with a slow settling of “oh hell … I hope I can do this”. There is an ebb and flow of fear and yet, there is also an undercurrent of certainty that this is my place.
As I take time to adjust to my new surroundings, I see that the bubbling, melting pot of talent in the Content Castle is nourished artistically, socially, and physically by its residents, it’s Castle keepers, it’s charming environment and by the ever-cheery Cherry who provides (without knowing it) an immediate balm to my simmering soul through her grounded nature, comforting cooking, and pragmatic, sunny smile.
Assignments trickle in slowly. I have time to adjust to my new environment and role; my new self may take longer. The determination and focus on the act of creation lends the air an almost palpable buzz. The Content Castle is a house, a home, and a nest for fledgling feathers to settle, strengthen and shine. It is also a school for me to try my wings out and see if I can fly.
And so, dear ones, you have journeyed a long way with me.
But do you want to be here with me?
Come from anywhere. Get here by whatever means possible and follow whatever process is necessary or desirable to do so. Grab a Greyhound bus, jump aboard a passing ship. Boats, bikes or trains, it doesn’t matter how, only that you arrive.
Allow yourself the luxury of shedding old skin, peeling back those sometimes stubborn layers and emerging fresh, new, and maybe a bit raw, only to find out who you really are and what magnificent feats of which you are capable.
The Content Castle is a place for dreams to become reality, where old expectations and ideologies are overturned and where fortune favours the brave. Facing your dragons can be frightening but ultimately bestows the capacity for transformation, for knowledge and awards you the opportunity to intellectually and linguistically soar through moon-bright skies, studded with stars, safe in the strength of your determination and capacity to fly ever higher.
The old ways are dead–long live the Content Castle (and all who sail in her!)