Friday, 30 November 2012

Hanging onto every word

There’s a mountain of paperwork on my desk; mainly bills, filing and any piece of paper that looks like it requires action. I don’t understand the physics behind it, but the pile grows at an exponential rate. No matter how much zealous attention I apply to scaling it down, it mocks me with its size. Every week or so, I steel myself to tackle the task of whittling it down to manageable proportions. In my history of whittling, I’ve only managed to disperse it entirely on about two occasions. Sad.

The bills and filing are easy to deal with. They are the mundane aspects of an orderly life. But, in my excavations, I also regularly uncover scraps of paper on which I've written story ideas or lines that have come to me at odd hours–usually in the middle of the night or after a dream. In those instances I write the note in the dark. I figure that after getting my ‘pen license’ decades ago in primary school, I would know how to form the letters without the benefit of light. Yet the next day when I look at the page, not only is the writing hard to read, I have no understanding of what it was that at 2 am seemed to be my life’s greatest discovery.

Occasionally the line alone makes sense, but my 2am brain hasn’t allowed for context so the words have nowhere to go. Here’s a few example of my more recent erudite offerings and in parentheses my reactive thoughts on reading them later:

·  You have to have a cymbal bash at the end of a drum roll (No idea what I meant)
·  Blue apples (unlikely in nature, maybe I was nursing a sci-fi moment)
·  Groovy sponge (No idea)
·  What is the link to Monty? (… and Monty would be…who?)
·  Need to make it more expansive (Er…make what more expansive?)
·  He’s not the coolest dude (There’s heaps of them around so I'm none the wiser)
·  House (?)
·  With the extra money (??)
·  Call it the guilt room (???)

You get the general idea.

Despite being unable to decipher my coded insights I can’t bring myself to throw them out just in case by some miracle of linguistics or graphology, the meaning becomes clear at some later point and the moment of ‘great understanding’ returns. So the bits of paper go back in the pile. It brings a whole new meaning to hanging on to every word.

Given that the alarming growth rate of my paper pile, when the scraps of paper have been in residence for some months, I’m forced to find them alternative accommodation so I paste them into an ‘ideas’ book. Anyone trying to read the ideas book would be forgiven for thinking it was compiled in moments of delusion. There is no sense or logic to it at all. Yet something in me won’t let me waste the words.
I consult the ideas book regularly even if it’s just to laugh at myself.  

One night I dreamed that I was in conversation with someone (no idea who) and during that conversation I had a revelation about life’s meaning. In the dream I felt elated. I had the answer! It’s a pity it wasn’t at 2 am and I didn’t rouse to write it down. If I had, instead of waking and remembering the dream but not the revelation, I could have found the answer in my jottings. Based on my above list it might have gone something like this:

If Monty was linked to a more expansive house, even though he’s not the coolest dude, with the extra money he could buy the blue apples and the groovy sponge and keep them in the guilt room. Drum roll, cymbal bash.

Yep, a bit like that. Can’t waste the words!

Friday, 23 November 2012

Small moments of everything

This afternoon I took advantage of the sun in my back garden. I'm trying to be more in the moment and doing that requires me to stop the clamour of musts, have-tos, shoulds and shouldn’ts in my head. Since I've been keeping my creative anxiety awareness journal I've realised that those racing thoughts are like rubbish strewn across the road. My thoughts can't travel straight and they collide with one another, tripping me over my own thinking. Instead, I choose to sit with a faint sting of heat on my arms and despite dark sunnies, my eyes narrowing slightly against the sun’s intensity. The water I sip is tart with a generous squeeze of lemon juice. It only takes a few minutes for a pleasant drowsiness to come over me. I want to lean back against the outdoor chair and enter into the relaxation—the thing that goes missing most often in this frantic thought world. I sense the tension draining away from my neck and shoulders. In a dreamlike state, the warmth soaks though my flesh and bone until the even the anxious thoughts in my head melt away. 

In the stillness I become aware of sounds: a distant broom scraping a neighbour’s concrete driveway; the grunt of trucks straining against the speed limit and the spirited debate of birds. If I close my eyes and concentrate, I can hear the rhythm of the ocean waves just a few blocks away from home. A hint of fresh paint glides past with the breeze; there’s the scent of the local burger joint and freshly cut grass from the adjacent school oval. My drift into that safe zone continues; into the place where I'm not asleep yet far from awake. Time becomes shapeless.

There is nowhere else I need to be in this moment. In this moment, there is everything I need. It's full of thoughts of my family and friends and stories I want to write. That’s what matters to me. Even an indignant car horn and the high-pitched shouts of children leaving the school grounds across the way, don’t break my calm. I remain in the stillness until my body, alerted by the breeze stroking my forehead, says it’s time to move. The peace of the moment accompanies me as I enter the dull light of the house. The remnants of the outside brightness blur my vision but I can see where I'm going. I'm taking those moments to my desk. To the empty page that’s been waiting to be fed.    

Friday, 16 November 2012

Teach a girl to fish…

What’s the old saying? ‘Give a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you’ll never see him on weekends…’

I’ve been in a writing group for some time now. It comprises four women and we call ourselves Big Fish. The name was an off the top of the head idea from one of our members. At the time it had no particular meaning for us but it stuck.

Big Fish meets for a few hours every 4 to 5 weeks subject to changes due to work, childcare, illness, appointments and life in general. Our agreement is that for each  session, we all commit to producing a piece of writing that we can workshop. We email the pieces to each other a few days before and when we come to the session, after the obligatory coffee and gossip, we get down to business.

The group brings discipline to our writing and for me in particular with chronic health problems, it's an anchor. My output and quality of writing would not be the same without the support of my Big Fish colleagues. While each of us is at different stages in our writing careers, we all bring something to the table not the least of which is our commitment to our work and to each other. We share resources with one another, offer encouragement when one of us feels like giving up and when one of us has something published or another writing-related success, we celebrate. A writing group is an effective strategy for pushing the word output along. Firstly, there is a deadline—always a great incentive for getting the work done. Secondly, there is a readership interested in the work and in making the work better. Thirdly, there is constant learning from the feedback.

We a true ‘school’ of fish; learning with every critique we take on-board. Some days we are sardines and some days we are sharks. We let each other know if we are using the wrong line, if we are missing a good hook and we talk about where to fish deep and when shallow is best.

As it turns out, the group name was inspired. I find I’m a better writer when I take time out to go fishing.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Full marks for learning

Most of today I spent marking assignments for my online writing students; exhausting and exciting at the same time. It’s encouraging to find people who are enthusiastic and committed to learning, who ask questions, who do the work, who take on board feedback and apply it. Who come back for more! When I think of 15-year-old Malala Yusafzai, shot by the Taliban because she campaigned for girls’ education, it reminds me how often those of us with access to education take it for granted. Many a parents are familiar with their kids groaning about school; how school is boring and where, according to many teens, they generally do nuthin’ and learn nuthin’ all day. I acknowledge that for some an academic environment doesn't suit their learning style and that for others life circumstances make it hard. Yet missing out on education is often a profound regret for many as they get older.

At the end of my high school education, my English Lit teacher, Rod Daniels, encouraged me to write professionally. To my everlasting regret I didn't listen and it took another 30 years before I had an opportunity to write. Now I've come full circle. It’s not just that I learn from having been a student but I also learn from being a teacher. Interaction with students forces me to examine my own work, what I am sharing with them in terms of my knowledge, my experience and what I know of the writing craft. It's thrilling to see students thrive and develop and to know I've played a part in that.

The older I get the more I value learning. Partly because the older I get, the more I'm aware of how much there is know. Lifelong education is important at many levels. It's not just about skill development. It's also about adapting to a changing world. It's about keeping our minds fresh and alive with ideas. As we are living longer, we are challenged to face new ways of working, in fact extended ways of working and often across a number of different careers. All of this involves learning in some form. So get yourself into an online course, go learn a language, teach one if you can, get onto U3A, go to TAFE, do a community course, get into your local library for one of the many free sessions they run. Share what you know. Keep learning.