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Sam van Zweden

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‘But Still’ on The Lifted Brow

[Content note/trigger warning: self-harm]

Some pieces are difficult to write, but they get written anyway – because there’s no other choice. My essay ‘But still’ started as a seed of an idea about two years ago, when I ran into someone I used to know, who immediately raised the topic of my history with self-harm.

I tried to write this down and write it out, but all I managed for the longest time was to write about my body: its reality, its contradictions, its undeniability. While this is where most of my writing comes from, I also knew that in order to make the thing sing and reach some new sense of truth, it would need to more than just describe what my body is. And so ‘But still’ became a project of gathering evidence and parallels, and searching for something on the other side of my confusion and frustration.

As the piece grew, I started submitting it to prizes, and it was shortlisted (in different iterations) for the 2016 Lifted Brow & non/fictionLab Experimental Non-fiction Prize and the 2017 Lord Mayor’s Creative Writing Awards.

The essay has finally found its forever home at The Lifted Brow, who published it yesterday. People’s support post-publication has been overwhelming, as has the generosity with which people have met me in this open and vulnerable place.

Many thanks, much love, go gently.

Some writing up online

I’ve had a few pieces published in the last few months.

After my Hot Desk Fellowship at the Wheeler Centre, an extract of my work-in-progress was published. During the fellowship, I was working on my nonfiction work, Eating with my Mouth Open. This is a collection of lyric essays which consider our complex relationships with food, family and memory. I read this extract at a public reading at The Moat. I’m thrilled it’s up online, and have found all the feedback on the piece so encouraging. In the long journey of writing a book, it’s these kind of milestones that keep me going.

More recently, I wrote a piece for ArtsHub about how important it is that we make an effort in creative communities to normalise the idea of doing less. While I recognise that not everyone is in a position to make this decision, it’s one that I’ve found has helped me immensely. By cutting down my workload, I’ve opened up space in my brain for good work to be done. I’m happier overall when I put restrictions on my creative output. It seems backwards, I know. I also interviewed some amazing creative babes (Jessica Alice, Estelle Tang and Sophie Allan) for this, and they were articulate and insightful.

The most eye-opening thing about writing this piece was the response I received after it was published. A whole bunch of people – some I know well, others I don’t – got in touch to tell me how overwhelmed they often feel, and how much they feel like their creative lives are unsustainable. Mostly these people contacted me privately, and every one of them is someone I admire for their work ethic. This really underscores the fact that there’s a problem – we’re all overwhelmed, and we all feel like it’s taboo to say that we’re overwhelmed. I don’t have an answer for all this, apart from suggesting that we talk about it.

Please, please. Take care of yourself.

xx

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