Category: Poetry

Sam Rit Artist Residency: The Anti-Thesis


Sam Rit, Thailand

Monday, 2nd January 2017

For the next 30 days, I’ll be living in Sam Rit in rural North-East Thailand at the Sam Rit Artist Residency. For the first two weeks, I’m joined by Jackie Moss, an Australian artist and illustrator. The following two weeks, I’ll be the sole artist at the residency.

That’s 30 days of writing, and exploring: a great way to ring in 2017.

This morning, I unpacked my things into my cabin, and unpacked my supplies into my studio space:


At Andrew’s recommendation, I brought a backpack instead of a suitcase (though it was still packed with the same volume of books. I said to Andrew: “Do you think I’d take less things with me if I had another discipline besides writing?” Andrew said: “No.” Which is unfair, because I’m getting much better at packing lightly and only taking with me what I can carry on my back).

My initial intention was to write the fiction book I’ve been dreaming about for 2 years (literally: it came to me in a dream, and I’ve been sketching out the rough skeleton of it without the direct opportunity to sit down and write it). This is the project I talk about my in Sam Rit Residency artist profile. But much of the work I’ve focused on recently has to do with the question of how we relate authentically to our work, to our careers, and to our jobs: how we align who we are with what we do.

On the flight, I read “The Crossroads of Should and Must” by Elle Luna (a fantastic Xmas present from Andrew Y). Even though I finished the book in one swift sitting, I’m not finished with it. It’s the kind of book everyone should return and come back to, and I want to investigate it, experiment with it, question it, and take it apart. And part of me thought: well, there’s that authentic-self-work book written: Elle’s already done it!

That sounds like a washing-of-hands. Let me clarify: I’m not swearing off the project of how we can meet work with our whole self. I know I have more to say on that topic. I know I have different, and potentially useful things to say on that topic. But I’ve decided not to make that the set goal for the residency while I’m in Sam Rit.

Instead, I’m going to write my anti-thesis.


80c86ee99d6737cbe39620cf12e121d9Last week, Andrew and I were having a vigorous discussion about something, when he described something as the ‘antithesis’ of what we were talking about. The thing is: he pronounced it anti-thesis. I don’t know where this quote has emerged from on the internet, but I love it: “Never make fun of someone if they mispronounce a word — it means they learned it by reading.”

Not only do I subscribe to this guideline completely (I may help you correct grammar, but I will never judge for mistakes made through reading) — it also reminds me of Penelope Bloom in “The Brother’s Bloom” acquiring all of her hobbies through books:

Stephen: “What kind of stuff do you do?”

Penelope: “Nothing. Maybe you should go.”

S: “All right, I’ll just finish my…”

P: “I collect hobbies. I see someone doing something I like, and I get books and I learn how to do it.”

S: “You just learn this stuff here by yourself? How do you plan to use all these skills?”

P: “I don’t know. I’m not a planner. I just do stuff.
Like, look at this watermelon.
It’s a pinhole camera.”

(The book-learning becomes apparent when she first meets The Belgian:)

The Belgian: “Book-learned. You know your languages but not your accents, mademoiselle.”

Besides reminding me of our favourite movie, I loved Andrew’s new term because as soon as he said it I thought: oh my god, that’s exactly what I need. I don’t need a new project. I need an anti-thesis.

18 months ago, right before we moved to Sydney, I finished my PhD thesis, sat my viva, defended my work, and graduated. Last Christmas, one of my best gifts was when the mailman brought me my diploma. I’ve come a long way through the path of academia. It has become a home to me, and I am always — always — going to be grateful for that.

But I’ve written exactly one poem since I graduated out of the academic world. And I haven’t written any poetry in Australia (a fact that became horribly apparent to me right before my book launch last month). What I do have in spades, is the loud voice of an inner critic. I’ve strengthened the muscle of judgment and forgotten about discernment, forgotten the quieter voice of intuition and lateral thinking.


I told Simon about the anti-thesis a few days before I left and he asked, “What does that mean?”

“It means sometimes academia trains people to be too cognitive,” I explained,”Too rational and researched and deliberate. Too calculating. Too clinical.”

Simon said, “Surely that doesn’t happen as frequently with creative writing?”

We cut to a story I recounted from the previous night when — discussing magic eye pictures with Andrew (the optical illusions that shift as you view them from different angles) — I reached for my poetry book to read him a poem that references magic eye pictures. A line of elephants holding tails.

After reading Andrew the entire poem (“Peripheries”) I looked up and verbally recalled: “Oh, that’s right. Alan suggested I should take out that part.”

I sat there wondering: if I remember this poem most by the stars (which are still there) and the magic eye pictures (which didn’t make the cut), what other core sections of my poems have been left on the cutting room floor in order to make them stronger poems?

I’m not arguing that the poems are any less because of how they survived the editing process. But there is material still ready to be used. There are frameworks ready to be loosened. There are analytical responses that don’t need to fill my head as readily anymore. I’ve taken over 6 years to focus on little else but honing my writing craft. I like to think that enough of those muscles are ingrained enough to still produce good writing, even if I step back from the academic hat.


In any exercise, it is most beneficial to do a workout and its opposite. To stretch out the muscles you have just worked and developed.

The anti-thesis is my stretching out.


I’m writing an anti-thesis because I don’t want to argue a position anymore.

(“Today a doctoral thesis is both an idea and an account of a period of original research.”)

Because I am my own idea and I am my own original research.

(“It is an introduction to the world of independent research — a kind of intellectual masterpiece, created by an apprentice in close collaboration with a supervisor.”)

I am also my own student and my life is my supervisor.

Because I don’t need an introduction to the world of independent research: I need an reintroduction to the world.

Because in trying to become a master, I forgot the devotion of being the apprentice.

(“A thesis can be dozens of pages in mathematics, or many hundreds in history. As a result, newly minted PhDs can be as young as their early 20s or world-weary forty-somethings.”)

What are the requirements for my antithesis, my return to the world? There are none, formally. Informally, it is an unwinding. A retrospective. A mirror and reflection.

It is the heart beneath the theory, the life within the work.

(“Whining PhD students are nothing new, but there seem to be genuine problems with the system that produces research doctorates (the practical “professional doctorates” in fields such as law, business and medicine have a more obvious value).”)

I’m writing an anti-thesis because I do have value, but it has taken a lot of negotiation and reflection to realise that my value doesn’t correlate with whether I’m teaching in academia or even in my subject matter. My value is transitive and lateral and intuitive and no less significant. And also a place I may not have gotten to specifically without the PhD path.


To travel is to take a journey into yourself.

I invite you to join me on this journey while I’m away in Sam Rit. You can follow along with me here on the blog by subscribing (on this page, any blog post page, or the homepage). Photos will be shared. Stories and anecdotes. I’m also building a Sam Rit Spotify playlist of the music I’m listening to.

So: read along. Listen along. Come along.

More soon,

Day 9 – Work Journals

Wednesday, 9th November 2016

Day 9:

3611 words today. Today and today and today. The day that never ends. I had a November 9th in Sydney, one in New Zealand, and another one entirely in San Francisco. This is my own personal Groundhogs Day and I would never have chosen it to be this day. 

3611 words is only what I wrote on the ipad. I also bought a copy of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” and spent the first 30 pages reading it and writing everything on top of it. Like a palimpsest. I lay down all of my fears, my anxieties, my questions, my associations, my heart. I lay my heart down on someone else’s words. And because it is Harry Potter, I’m confident it will hold up under the weight of my grief and distress.

I needed a book to read, pages to hold, another narrative to read in my head. But the more I read of this narrative, the more I want to lay my experience down on top of it. Take your More pictures later. I don’t know that it has to do with the Work Book. But I do know that it has everything to do with me trying to work out my purpose in the world. And how I can best serve others, and how I can bring light. And how I can bring fire. And how to best keep us all warm.

Warm your hearts tonight, my friends. I’m going to drown some sorrows.

Day 13 – Work Journals

Sunday 13th November 2016

Day 13:

236 words. Short one. But sweet. I had a fantastic weekend out at Lake Tahoe on retreat in a beautiful cabin, a weekend that came at both the best and worst time, with the whole gambit of emotions: joy, grief, happiness, sorrow, disappointment. It was the mini stabilising roller coaster of tides. It was incredibly beneficial to be processing through some things in the company of 6 amazing women, who were perfectly happy to let me show up however I came. But it’s been a hard week. And it was difficult to not feel disappointed at how I was/wasn’t (perceiving myself, projecting myself) showing up, when I wanted so badly to connect. On the ride back into San Francisco, there was a deluge of venting (I can only imagine the things our Uber driver thought about what he was patiently witnessing. Gratitude to him). And later, when I said, “THIS is what I wanted the weekend to be like, and I’m sad and disappointed that I had those kinds of expectations for my own experience,” R replied: “It’s still the weekend right now. This is still the weekend.”

Day 11 – Work Journals

Friday, 11th November 2016

Day 11:

874. (Later revised to include blog post: 1469). I’m watching the Hamilton’s America Documentary for the second day in a row tonight. I’m planning on watching it tomorrow, and the next tomorrow, and so on, until it stops being able to be streamed on the 18th of November.

I’ve never been a person to watch TV in the background of things (like sleeping, like working, like writing, etc). I don’t need TV for company. But this is different. I feel this way with songs sometimes, or books, or people’s poetry. LMM is a muse to me. I just want him to sit next to me while I work, whether that’s in the form of this documentary, or the soundtrack, or the book. I could fall asleep to this. I could watch it every day and still get something new out of it.
What is the writing showing up as today? Guys. I have so many books in my head. And they’re all churning up and coming out. I’m paying attention. I’m listening. I’ve actually almost fully abandoned the idea of working on the Work Book this month. I am getting it all out, whatever comes. I’m funnelling it out of my head, and once a month’s (or more) worth of material is out in a physical space, I will parse through it and figure out where all of these creative pieces want to live.

Day 12 – Work Journals

Saturday 12th November 2016

Day 12:

2553 today. And, again, that was only the words on screen. Lots more on paper. I feel like I’m just downloading out of my brain. Insights, thoughts, reflections. Whenever I talk about the Work Book to anyone, their immediate reaction is: “Write it. How can I help you? What do you need?” It makes me feel like I should be focusing my writing more, but that’s an unhelpful, unnecessary should-ing. All of this is leading somewhere. All of this content makes many books.

Day 10 – Work Journals

Thursday 10th November 2016

Day 10:

800 words. Still not story? But it’s life, and there is story there.

I’m spending the weekend (including tonight) in other people’s houses, surrounded by discussion and conversations and relationships. This is part of the challenge of November: to retain the focus while I’m weaving in and out of physical space, mental space, emotional space, relationships. To remember to come back to the screen, to the keys, to the letters, and the words, and to construct the thoughts together. Weaving. It’s all a kind of weaving in and out.

Day 8 – Work Journals

Tuesday, 8th November 2016

Day 8:

5709 words today! Zendesk article, notes on an article, notes from text messages, and a few notes from my phone call with Ben. 

Tomorrow, I’m on a plane. Which means that Day 9 is actually like two days long for me! (and, in the reverse problem, I’m pretty sure I’m losing the 21st of November entirely). 

Feels good, but still feels hectic due to all the other things going on that I’m trying to simultaneously accomplish. Like packing. And work. And deadlines. And travel. On the phone with Ben last night, I promised him some epic email letters while I’m away. I’m also pretty sure they’ll be applicable to the NaNoWriMo I’m doing here, so I’m going to include them in daily writing too.

Does anyone else have this problem — as the Work Book is becoming more and more clear, there are other themes and other books arising too. I’m taking note, and getting all the thoughts down (because why not catch them and sketch them out while they’re coming through as well?). But it feels a little like my brain is trying to write 3 books at once. 

I’m not in the writing phase of the Work Book yet, so it doesn’t matter if it’s getting assuaged with other ideas. NaNoWriMo for me is just about getting the raw material down on the page. Thoughts, questions, reflections to articles and videos and other people talking about similar topics.

But still.. It’s very present. “It” being: at least 2 other books. And ideas and content and questions for those books.

Day 7 – Work Journals

Monday, 7th November 2016

Day 7:

My people. I only wrote 400 words. Tomorrow’s word count is going to be astronomical. I can feel it. 

I’m pretty exhausted. I’m still trying to get through Monday and Tuesday as the most insane days of this week. SO much work to pack in before I leave. And the writing. Always comes back to the writing. I’m realising it gets much easier to do all the other things if my mind gets the chance to unload all of the insights and questions and inquiries it’s hoarding and holding onto. 

Day 6 – Work Journals

Sunday, 6th November 2016

Day 6:

I need to be working on an article for Zendesk right now. Deadline is tomorrow (though, it’s actually in two days, because of US deadlines vs Australia deadlines). But, still. It’s due, and soon. 

This is a section from my 331 words today, mostly journalling (with some book reflections thrown in there): “I should be working on the Danielle Di Masi article to submit to Sarah Reed tomorrow. I’ll just have to edit it on breaks at work, and during lunch. Work will be hard for two days straight (with an info night in between for Annie Get Your Gun). And then, I’ll be out at the airport, and on a flight, and actually with quite a lot of time on my hands to write and reflect, and keep the momentum rolling.

Maybe that’s what most of life is: recognising the cycles and patterns of habits, time, circumstance. What we feel we can do, when, and how. Why we feel pulled out of sync. What happens to bring us back into resonance.”