Here are the things I miss most about Austin, Texas (besides my family and friends, of course): margaritas and avocados. Maybe it sounds silly, but I feel the most homesick back in Scotland when I am hankering for an ice cold frozen margarita (with salt) from Gueros, or a breakfast taco with tons of guacamole and sautéed Portobello mushrooms from Taco Deli. Which is why I was so delighted, on my first night back in Austin, when I was invited to a friend’s retirement party, and upon arriving, found there were jalapeño margaritas to drink and an entire avocado bar, where you could pile a ripe avocado high with cilantro, red onions, salsas, tomatoes. Anything your heart desired. Sheer bliss for this ex-pat!
I’ve been back in Austin for about three weeks now and while the sky high temperatures (100 F = 37 C!!) have been unpleasant, I’ve had a nice time seeing family and friends and also meeting my parent’s new dog: Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Ruthie). Isn’t she adorable?
However, I didn’t exactly come here for vacation. I came back to Texas for a number of reasons. One of those reasons being – and I can finally talk about this now – I’ve been given a special UK visa which means that I can continue living in Scotland for another five years as an author and poet. I’ve been working on the application for many months and part of the process required me to come back to America for a few weeks. I am thrilled beyond words (and I do words for a living!) to have finally gotten it. I’m so excited that I can continue living and working in the country that I love so very much.
And I have also learned a valuable lesson (which I keep learning again and again): if you want something, apply for it. Do not ‘self reject’. Do not shy away, just because you think you are not good enough. Especially women. As my friends and I often say: ‘Have the confidence of a mediocre white man.’ Put yourself out there and ask for what you want. All the best things in my life have happened when I did this, so ASK. APPLY. SUBMIT. TRY! You never know what might happen. (Okay, min-pep talk done).
In other news, there are some other things I’ve gotten up to while in the USA.
I went to Williamsburg, Virginia for annual Omohundro Institute’s conference on Early American History. I was on a panel about Creative Writing and Early American History, where I got to join such literary and historical titans as John Demos (Yale University) and New York Times bestseller and all-around lovely human Deborah Harkness. My friend Chet’la Sebree (who held a fellowship at the International Centre for Jefferson Studies at the same time as me. Check us out trying on 18th century corsets!) and has a poetry collection coming out next year, was also on the panel.
It was chaired by Jane Kamensky and we had a lively discussion (in front of around 200 people!) about the intersections between creative writing and traditional academic history, and how novels and fiction can explore truths about the past that perhaps non-fiction cannot. I read aloud a very brief extract from my novel and talked a bit about my PhD too. It was fascinating and I was so thrilled to be part of it.
On our final night of the conference, we were bused out to Jamestown Island (site of the first permanent English settlement in the Americas, where John Smith met Pocahontas etc.). There was an insanely beautiful purple sunset over the river that night and historical interpreters bringing to life the 17th century.
While back in Austin, I’ve been hitting up some of my favorite haunts, including South Congress and the ever delicious South Congress Café (South Congress is a great area to stroll around if you’re visiting Austin).
My Doctorate of Fine Arts is due by the end of September and I’m currently editing the third draft of the novel, which will be finished soon. But July and August will be nose-to-the-grindstone time, putting finishing touches on the novel and the essays. Wish me luck!
I will leave you with a photo of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (the beagle), because she’s so darn cute. I have learned that it’s a good thing I don’t have a dog of my own because like 80% of the pictures I’ve taken on this trip have just been of Ruthie. If I had a dog, I wouldn’t photograph anything else!
Happy start to the summer. Let me know what you’ve been up to!