Once upon a time the Hallgrímskirkja clock struck 03:00 and, on her way to the bus that would take her to the airport, a South African girl lost her hiking boot in the streets of Reykjavik. She did not mean to, and it happened swiftly, the shoe slipping off much easier than it had been to put on. As if it had a will of its own, forcing her to leave a piece of her behind so that she might have to return one day.
In the airplane, on the final stretch of the trip towards Iceland from Munich to Keflavik, I watch an Icelandic crime series and listen to the language. The words I hear and see at once seem so familiar to the tongue, yet so foreign:
“neyðarútgangur” (Icelandic), “nooduitgang” (Afrikaans) – emergency exit
“kirkja” (Icelandic), “kerk” (Afrikaans) – church
“Mánudagur” (Icelandic), “Maandag” (Afrikaans) – Monday
Upon arrival at Keflavik International Airport I meet with one of the other retreat attendees and we are met by a glacial wind unlike any I had ever experienced before. We stare through the window of the bus at a foreign landscape.
I had never seen snow before.
Iceland is unyielding, stark, cold, sublime.
The sublime: an aesthetic value judgment – that which is linked with both pleasure and pain. With danger, extremity. The experience gives a type of pleasure that is riddled with anxiety, with an awareness of something that transcends the ordinary sense of beauty. The sublime is the experience of the limits of understanding and reason.
The sublime threatens one’s existence and is a delightful horror.
Iceland is a mythical mistress, forcing one to face beauty, tragedy, and catharsis.
Oddities reveal the truth. Staircases and landings. The senses are the strings of an instrument. Rubbish. Dogs and cats and old people and children.
Just past midnight I stand on the bow of a boat and I try to focus my camera in the dark, the North Atlantic wind blowing against my jacket. The cold had taken hold of my hands. It is nearly impossible.
I await her. The Aurora Borealis.
She is mischievous and I sometimes wonder if I ever truly saw her shimmering green satin dress for a brief few minutes that final night in Reykjavik.
Carien Smith will be a JIAS Writing Fellow in 2020 after which she will pursue her PhD studies in Climate Change Ethics and Epistemology (Philosophy). For more information, visit her website: https://www.cariensmith.com and https://www.facebook.com/Carien-Smith-166234987540871/ .
We did it — thanks to your support!
Thanks to the generosity of our wonderful alumni and friends of the Iceland Writers Retreat, we have once again achieved our goal and will be able to offer Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Awards for deserving writers to attend our event in 2020, at least one full and one partial award.
(Full funding covers all participation in the Iceland Writers Retreat, as detailed on our website, as well as accommodation and round-trip flights to Iceland. Partial funding covers the participant fee only, and neither accommodation nor round trip flights.)
Details for eligibility and how to apply for will be published from 1 September, with applications accepted until 31 October. It will be free to submit an application, but follow the instructions carefully, as incomplete submissions will not be considered. (We will post full details on how to apply on 1 September.)
The recipients will be chosen based primarily on two factors: a) The potential they demonstrate (or have demonstrated) as writers and b) Their need for financial support to be able to attend. We will also evaluate based on the other questions in the application, though, so make sure to tell us about yourself and why you think you’d be the perfect match for the Iceland Writers Retreat. (Please don’t just tell us how you have always wanted to visit Iceland.)
If you’re not eligible to apply for the scholarship, but wish to attend the Iceland Writers Retreat, you can register now. Anyone can register to attend, but spaces fill on a first come, first served basis.
A special thank you to our contributors:
Jose R. Garcia
Erica Jacobs Green
Felicia L. Mason
Martine van Bijlert
Janine Vici Campbell
*Names in bold denote individuals who contributed EUR 110 or more to the campaign.