Dr Octavia Cade | Writer in Residence | Final blog

Jun 29, 2020 | News


Octavia Cade

After 12 weeks, my residency is over. It’s been nothing like I expected. Pandemic changed a lot of things for a lot of us, and I’m no different. Yet, back home now and looking back on my time in Palmerston North, I can’t honestly say that I was sorry for the change. I’m sorry for the reason for it, of course – covid-19 is an unpleasant wee beast, and the sooner we have a vaccine the better – but I’ve always tried to look on the bright side of things.

I arrived in Palmerston North four days before we went into level four lockdown, and I left the week we went to level one. A lot of what happened was watching. Writers are observers by nature, but with the sudden emptiness of the city centre, a lot of what I was watching was what wasn’t there.

Watching things that aren’t there is different from imagination. The two things come from the same place, though: they both involve filling in missing bits. There was a lot missing during lockdown, and the things that built up around the empty spaces were worth looking at, just as it’s worth picking up one of those little spiral shells from the beach and looking at the calcium carbonate built up around that central helix of nothingness.

Pandemic gave many of us a space to look differently, not only at what we didn’t have, but what we could have. One of the pieces I wrote during my time at Square Edge was a result of this “could have” – Stuff asked me if I was interested in writing a short story for them about climate change, and how our experience of pandemic might encourage us to look at our possible climate future differently.

One of the most interesting effects of pandemic and the natural world, widely noted, was the level of interest people had in engaging with animals. The albatross camera down at the colony in Dunedin suddenly had a lot more people watching it, for instance. The story I wrote, “Resilience,” was about the type of city environment we could have if we started building cities that animals could live in as easily as we could. It just came out, by the way, and you can read it for free here: https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/climate-news/300026244/resilience–a-clifi-short-story-by-octavia-cade.

So, that’s what I’m taking away from my time at Square Edge – absence and possibility and how the two things can revolve around each other and transform absence into presence. It was a wonderful experience, and I’d like to thank everyone involved for giving me the opportunity.