Lania Knight is a mother, a writer, and a traveler. She ran away from home at the age of 16 and has lived in several states across the US ever since. After falling in love with England during a semester abroad at Harlaxton College, she moved to Cheltenham in the fall of 2015. Lania currently teaches Creative Writing at the University of Gloucestershire.
I talked with Lania about moving abroad, dreadful European winters, authenticity, and Tinder.
Daria: You made the big move from America to England a year ago. What made you take the leap?
Lania: I went to Harlaxton College as a visiting professor in 2014, which changed everything. The big thing about moving to England is that this is the first time I feel like I’m able to be my authentic self. All my life, people had their ideas of who they thought I was and who they wanted me to be. I’ve been in relationships and a mum since I was really young. I had to be strong, I had to earn money, I had to be not too crazy, not too radical. I felt like I had to get away from the States and all these people who had ideas about who I was. In England, I get to just be my eccentric self.
D: This is your second time teaching at a UK university, only this time you’re a full-time Senior Lecturer. What has changed for you?
L: I’m now working in a Creative Writing department where we all have the same goals as a team and with the students. There’s also a lot of mentoring which is something I always wanted. When I’m struggling, someone or several people will step up and say, “Do you need anything? Are you okay?” I’m taking a post-graduate class of Teaching Practice right now. I’ve been teaching for 15 years so in some ways it feels like I don’t need it. But I’m teaching in a totally new environment and system, and people are actually really interested in my ideas and how I do things. They hired me because of my commitment to students but also because they thought I’d bring something new and interesting to the group. So that’s really cool, that they love what I have to contribute.
D: Moving to another country can be very different from visiting. What was (or is) your biggest adjustment?
“This is my first time of living on my own – ever.”
L: I have hit some dark, dark spots. This is my first time of living on my own – ever. When I was in Harlaxton I lived in this big manor house. I had my own room, but I took all my meals with other students and faculty. That was the first time I was kind of living on my own, so when I moved here my goal was to really live on my own. I lodged with this great family when I first got here and honestly, I should have just stayed with them! I have a beautiful, beautiful flat that I got last year. But living alone… I don’t think I’m made to live alone. My lease will be up in April and I don’t think I will stay here. I’m going to try to get a room in a house with other people. And I want to travel more, that’s just my favorite thing to do.
D: I saw some amazing photos – you’ve been traveling quite a bit lately.
L: I had a lot of family come over. My daughter Morgan came for about five weeks last summer. My dad and his girlfriend came and we travelled to Paris, Sweden, and Norway together. I went to Cornwall as well, which is just in the south of England – I want to see more of England as well. It was so beautiful! I went to Amsterdam for my birthday, and then to Spain. I presented a paper at a Cervantes conference which was an incredible opportunity.
D: Speaking of writing and conferences, how has this move challenged you creatively?
L: I started writing poetry! I have written so many poems, and I don’t care if they’re good or not, they’re doing what I want them to do. Fiction is something I have to teach my students, it’s something I have to articulate – here’s how you write, here’s how you set up a story. I don’t have to explain poetry to anyone, so it’s something I get to keep for myself.
“I don’t care if my poems are good or not, they’re doing what I want them to do.”
I often write poems to individuals, to capture how I feel about them or just a moment that I got to have with them. When I went to Cornwall a friend suggested that I study with Roselle Angwin. I absolutely loved it and I found out she was doing another retreat in the Cevennes in Southern France. We had two weeks, and it was only partly structured. During the first week, Roselle gave us writing prompts and you could write in any genre you wanted, and in the second week you could work on your own manuscript.
D: What are you currently working on?
L: Just before I left the States last year I went on a fellowship for a month-long residency at Vermont Studio Center, which was awesome. I finished my novel and sent it out to a handful of small presses and maybe ten to fifteen agents, and one of the small presses said yes in December. They wanted me to do some revisions, because the book was really complicated and they wanted me to simplify it a little bit. It’s science fiction and each chapter is told by a different character.
My first book is super straight-forward: one character, ten days, first person point of view. And this book is just totally different, it just came to me. I would have never set out to write something this complicated. The story felt like the baton needed to be handed from character to character because they each saw the world in such a unique and different way. And by seeing things through all these different characters’ eyes you could see what’s been happening inside this building, what’s been happening outside, what’s happening with people who are clones and buying into the system. There are also people who see what’s going on. You needed to see all these different points of view.
D: How has the revision process been going for you?
“I had no idea what it meant to live in England during winter.”
L: Burlesque Press gave me some revision notes, and I tried to do it. But I had no idea what it meant to live in England during February, March, April – it’s grim! I had not worked hard enough to make friends. In the fall all my colleagues were there for all these fun things to do, but then everyone disappeared in January. Now I understand the cycle but at the time it was awful.
I went back to the States in December to finalize my divorce and to sort the last of my things. I said goodbye to my children, not knowing when I would see them again. I had started dating someone about a month before, and I really liked him. We were getting really serious, but then he picked me up from Heathrow airport and broke up with me. He drops me off, I’m living alone, it’s January, it’s the middle of winter, in the middle of England, no classes on yet because the semester hadn’t started. I had never lost it like that before. I was so completely sad.
“You’re not giving him your address, are you?”
D: European winters can be brutal! How did you deal with this new and unexpected challenge? Have things changed for the better?
L: Around February I got on Meetup and found a single’s group through that. The men were a bit odd, but the women were fantastic! So I made several female friends and that saved my life. I got out to listen to some live music, which is something I would have never done by myself. Doing that with a group was really fun – I love dancing, I love music.
After that I started online dating: I got on Tinder, which may also be my next writing project – I had so much fun. Tinder is super-fast, it happens right away, and I was excited. Morgan was here when I first started and I showed her this guy who was my first “Super Like.” I was typing something in the phone when she asked, “You’re not giving him your address, are you?” And I was like “Umm… Maybe?” So she was like, “Put the phone down, we need to have a talk.” It was like our roles had reversed and she had to talk to me. So there began my amazing Tinder adventure.
One of the crazy things I decided to do was writing a poem to every guy I met up with. I wrote poems and I would tell the guy “I’m a writer, and I might write you a poem.” Some turned out really great. I also wrote an essay. When I was in France I was reading Japanese poetry called Haibun, which is prose with haiku embedded inside of it. So I decided to write an essay and to embed my poetry within the essay. I sent pieces of the essay to each person, and we just started to talk back and forth. I kind of want to write an entire book about that time: getting through a divorce and dating too soon and getting my heart broken, all within the context of moving to England.
“I decided to write a poem to every guy I met up with.”
D: I admire the intimacy that is palpable in every aspect of your being. How do you bring up the courage to create art evolving around such personal topics that a lot of people might be uncomfortable with?
L: I think it’s a mix of things for me. If I can write something that keeps somebody from suffering, I’m going to write it, I’m going to say it. If someone recognizes themselves in my writing and they feel less alone – that makes all the difference for me. But just in general, I’m not a person that has a lot of filters. Sometimes that doesn’t serve me so well and I get in trouble. I just make a mess. But there is just not enough time. We’re not here long enough to bullshit.
Here in England, people are more restrained. I’ve also gained a little more restraint, which is something I like. I just had an essay come out in Post Road about how I left home at 16. Some really hard things happened – the essay is brutal. When I got my copy and read it, part of me was stunned. I wrote that when I was in what feels like an American way of seeing and sharing things.
“I moved to England so that I can be authentic: to say what I want to say when I want to say it, or to be quiet if I want to be quiet.”
It’s kind of a dance, it doesn’t always feel brave to me. Sometimes the harder thing for me is saying less. I just want to connect with people. I love hearing about other people’s struggles or funny stories. I don’t ever want someone to feel trapped within themselves just like I don’t like myself feeling stuck within myself. Generally speaking, I don’t like people whom I can’t be authentic with. I moved to England so that I can be authentic: to say what I want to say when I want to say it, or to be quiet if I want to be quiet.