Friday, 21 February 2014

Working like a dog

A friend of mine employs eight full time employees and one volunteer. The volunteer is there most days and he’s one of the most popular members of the business. He’s only young, around nine years, but he’s smart and big for his age. He’s willing, and he's friendly to other staff and clients. He keeps his mouth shut; you won’t find him gossiping or running down the boss. He’s got a nose nudge and big wet lick for everyone. Oh…did I mention he’s a dog? Sorry. It’s easy to forget that because he’s so much part of the human team.  

Rufus has developed great relationships with everyone in his work circle. He greets the Postie at the door, takes the mail and trots it to the office. He visits the workers throughout the building workers on a regular basis, sometimes looking for a treat (well always looking for treat) but he’ll settle for a pat or a neck rub. Rufus is a great stress reliever. He makes people laugh. He pulls his weight by running delivery errands in the building. Clients love him too. He’s certainly a conversation starter.  It’s a smart move to have him there.

I envy my friend his dog friendly workplace. Every time I hear a story of Rufus’s latest exploits, it reminds me of my dog, Ferrari, who would sit at my feet or on the study chair opposite my desk while I wrote. Just having him there seemed to give me more focus. He looked at me as if I could do no wrong (clearly he’d never read my work). When he was well enough, we’d take walks, which would help me clear my head if I was stumped by a piece of work. I'd often come back with my head full of stories and new ideas. Ferrari died some years ago and I miss him chronically.  

There is something about having a dog (or a cat if you can work with a furry beast draped across your keyboard) in the workspace. They bring a sense of calmness to the environment. You can confide any problem to them, knowing it will never be repeated. They let you know you're okay, even when you’re full of doubt. And that’s a big thing when you’re a writer. So all you scribes, if you have a pet to sit with you while you spend those long sessions at the page, you're a step ahead of the game.  

As for me, I'm going to see if I can borrow Rufus for a while.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Treat yourself to a writing spa

On the eve of my return to teaching for this year, I was reflecting on all the different ingredients that contribute to a student’s learning. I don't just mean in the neurological sense, there are other eloquent experts already contributing to that discussion. I was thinking of in-class, online, intensives or residential, formal or informal places to learn. 

Classrooms allow students to interact with each other and bounce of the collective input. They have their down sides too. There’s many a teacher who has tried to coax the too shy students in the corner, or battled to stop the unruly student who seems determined to disrupt everyone else. Online can be a wonderful place for those who want to manage their own workload, given other commitments. It can also be a lonely place for some and it just doesn’t work for others.

In a sense there are many classrooms around us. Life in general being the largest. While we are gathering all our data and assimilating it, we sometimes need an opportunity to really focus on what we are trying to improve. Enter the residential workshop. For writers, these are opportunities to mix with like-minded people in an intensive situation where the main focus is on writing. The world outside is left behind for a while and the only thing participants have to think about is their craft and how to develop it. There are opportunities to bond with other writers, develop networks and come away inspired with new ideas and directions. Just like a spa day works on the body, the residential writing workshop works on the writer’s mind.  

My writer friend Sherryl Clark runs a number of these events. The next one coming up in May is a Writers’ Residential Weekend. Might be worth escaping for two days and soaking yourself in words.

In the meantime, as the new higher education year starts, happy learning to those enrolled. To those still taking lessons in Life’s School, I'm a student along with you. 

Soak it all up and remember to give yourself a spa day every now and again. 

Friday, 14 February 2014

A Valentine’s Day confession (Don’t tell my husband. This is my true love!)

Long before I met my husband, I would often fall asleep in the arms of another, many others actually.

My bed was shared with old and new loves. Even when I finished with one and moved onto another, I never let go of the one before. They shared my bedroom, resided on shelves, dripped off the bedside table or leaned in assorted sized towers on the floor. Books. Books were my first love and my world. They gave me what I often didn’t get from reality—a sense of place, a sense of belonging. Books allowed me to step away from everything else to tumble into worlds where nothing else mattered. They never let me down.

My mother was proud of the fact that I began to read very young, but she was frustrated by my insistence on taking books everywhere – the loo, on car trips, the table at dinner time. I refused to give them up. What kid doesn’t want her best friends to tag along everywhere? My mother coped by accepting my love affair and buying more bookshelves.

Television wasn't allowed in my home until I was twelve years old and even on its introduction, I was restricted to one hour of viewing a day. It made no difference to me. My relationship with books was already entrenched. At night, I fell asleep with my nose buried in between open pages that caressed my cheeks like leafed hands. There I would sleep, taking the characters into my dreams. When Mum came in to turn off the light, even in my dreamlike state, I’d wrestle her for the book she tried to remove from my hands. No one was going to break us up. I cuddled hardcover books like other children cuddled soft teddy bears.

My bed is still surrounded by these wonderful friends. I don’t expect my relationships with them to change. I get too much out of them. I'm nourished and feel like I'm being showered with gifts with every new story that I read. I’d rather receive a bouquet of bookmarks to use with novels than receive a bouquet of roses. We’re joined at the hip and there will be no separation.

As for my lovely husband, he accepts that he has to share me with these past and yet-to-be sweethearts. He knows I will regularly rant to him about the time I've spent with them, how happy they’ve made me, what they’ve taught me, how they’ve become part of me. He doesn’t seem to mind, so there’s no threat really. And, why would there be?

He and I have been together so long, I can read him like a book.