Leeuwarden City of Literature invited writer Rasha Khayat from Hamburg to live and work in the city for a month. Today part 1 from her diary as a writer in residence.

That magic space

I think about displacement. Writers’ residencies are a strange and wonderful concept of willingly and readily getting displaced for a period of time, out of our regular lives, away from our regular worlds, and to hopefully write, think, get inspired in a new and unfamiliar space. Some might say it’s a little bit like a holiday. But then again, we come to these places we are so lucky to be invited to, and of course, there is also so much to see, so much to do, so many people to meet.

So as I now settle in to my residency in Leeuwarden, having figured out how to get around town, where to buy food and all these other essentials, now that my mind has pleasantly calmed down and I can feel the slower flow of Fryslân taking over my body, I am finally able to put down some thoughts. 

So I think about displacement. It’s one of the topics, probably THE topic that is featured most prominently in most of my writing. Feeling alien to places, spaces, groups. Being put into places, not by choice but by life, accident, destiny. It’s a feeling I know well, yet, only from a very privileged point of view. Never have I been forcefully displaced, by a war or a natural disaster. And just as privileged I am now settling into my temporary displacement in Leeuwarden.

With writers’ residencies, I never know what to expect or what is going to happen. You need to be open, at least that’s how I came to experience this strange and wonderful concept. Because the minute you come into this new displace with a plan, it will just combust for whatever reasons beyond your control – too much to do, too little to do, too noisy, too quiet … who knows what will happen. So in coming to Leeuwarden already I knew: “Just don’t plan on anything and see what happens.”

In these first ten days, I have met extraordinarily nice people, I have met up with local writers, with students, with local book enthusiasts. I have learned about the multilingualism of Fryslân, of languages that are only spoken by a few thousand people at best, and yet, people put in so much effort to keep up these traditions. I am trying to chat to people with a mix of German, English and sprinklings of Dutch and everyone is exceptionally friendly to me and I feel thoroughly joyful. So maybe for this first week I already thought I would resolve to treating this residency more like a networking and research opportunity, getting to know local structures of the literary landscape and looking into concepts to maybe collaborate. And that would have been just as wonderful as writing 50 pages during this month.

But then I was invited to go on a little day trip of the Frisian coast line and I found – accidentally – what I have probably been looking for all along. Space. The wideness of the coast, the seemingly endless horizon, the light and shade on the ground through the clouds, and – the quiet. The glorious quiet and freedom from almost all humans. The light breeze. And – again – the space. This wonderful, wide, open, welcoming space. The next morning I woke up very early, as I usually do – and words and thoughts just fell into place. Like a weight had been lifted, a weight of having done too much, thought too much, worried too much these past months for various reasons, my mind was suddenly as clear as the sky I was admiring the day before. Words came, words went onto the empty pages of my notebook.

“You mention the word stuck a lot,” the person who took me on the trip says to me. I didn’t even notice, but maybe that’s true. Maybe I do feel stuck a lot, in my thoughts, in the spaces I inhabit. And maybe that’s why this kind of displacement suits me just fine every now and then. To get un-stuck. And to be embraced by a magical open, wide and empty space.