I must confess when I applied to the Ulysses Shelter Program way back in 2019 one of the draws was a romantic idea of seclusion. That I might isolate myself, get away from “The World” for a couple of weeks, and finally be as creative and productive as I always vainly imagined I should be were it not for the constant harrying of my employer.
Laptop perched on my knees. Morning rays refracting through the apartment window. Heat rising from a fresh tea filled ceramic mug. Relaxed and yet somehow still getting a whole bunch of work done (I feel this is a self-contradictory desire many creatives can relate to).
Three years later, having actually done the residency, I realise now what a silly, pompous fantasy this was.
For one thing I wasn’t getting away from “The World” (i.e. the tiny handful of locations in the UK that directly involve me). I was entering a new one.
And there were lots of things I’d have to learn and adapt to during my stay.
Where do I get groceries? No. I mean cheaply.
Where do I get medicine? Really!? That much?
How do I safely cross the road? Oh. So this isn’t a zebra crossing? Just a regular crossing. Better dive out of the way of this car then.
And so on. A long list of things I instinctively know how to do back home were subtly different in Ljubljana. By the time I had adjusted my residency was nearly over.
I suppose that is the learned arrogance of the British1 Tourist. To see another persons country and deem it a wilderness you can just “unwind” in. The Ghost of Colonial Chutzpah Past. Early on in my trip I nearly got flattened by a moped driving on the side-walk (they don’t do that back home). The mild heart-attack I suffered was an appropriately humbling punishment. Never make presumptions in someone else's country. Keep your eyes and ears open. Ask stupid questions. You’re at least 200% more stupid than you are back home.
Of course my head was halfway back home most of the time anyway. After all I had brought my tiny version of “The World” with me – via the internet.
And, truth be told – as evocative and inspiring as Ljubljana was – my most cherished memory of the residency involved a little electrical signal arriving invisibly, materialising from air, from “The World.” I was in the Museum of Contemporary Art admiring some photographs illustrating the historical squatting and reclamation of the nearby army barracks. A message came through from my partner. After nearly two years she’d finally landed a new job and would be able to leave her abusive and much reviled employer at the end of the month.
I had a lovely time in Ljubljana and do not regret my stay. But I wanted so desperately to give her a hug in that triumphant moment.
What is a hazy romanticised dream of creative isolation compared to witnessing a loved one banish a real living nightmare?
Here’s something I made from footage of a traffic light and some deer relaxing at Ljubljana Zoo.
1 Naturalised rather than by birth of course. I’m not authentically anything. Other than weird.