The best laid plans – turning up to do the writing

I sat down earlier this week at mapped out my plan for this post. My mind was clear on what I wanted to cover. In theory, at about 7 o’clock yesterday I should have made it to my desk bright eyed and bushy tailed, raring to go.* Yesterday.

But as it turned out, that didn’t quite work for me. I didn’t make it to my desk at all yesterday. I missed it. All day I was thinking about when I would be able to make it back to my dad’s old office chair and I just didn’t.

I’ve been thinking about why. I wanted to be at my desk. I sort of knew what I was going to be writing about. I just didn’t turn up to get it done.

Is planning for me?

I don’t always take the opportunity to indulge in the luxury of planning. A lot of the time I just sit down, power up the computer and jump straight in. A bit of thought as I go about where I move things around, but no first, second … third drafts.

You may have noticed this. I hope you don’t mind.

I have to admit that I do feel a shade guilty about rushing through. Sometimes.

Other times – for the most part – there’s that rush of adrenalin that comes of writing under pressure. There are days when I just love that.

My plan for this post was all about being tired after a series of deadlines. There was plenty of writing under pressure and this week I was pretty much over it.

Dominos and cards

One of the things I did get done this week was submitting (at last) the assignment for a Cert IV on Project Management I’ve been working on. There’s a (slight) irony that I didn’t manage to complete it on time, I suppose.

Another thing was collecting my form for enrolling in a PhD with its signatures from my proposed supervisors and walking it across to the office that processes the applications. Once I get started I will have to be meticulous with my planning throughout the years it will take me to get to graduation. My life is going to be a delicately wrought schedule.

I am not going to insert an image of a house of cards here.

I am not.

I suspect it is the most appropriate image.

I’ve also had some work done on my house that is going to lead to more work. Seriously. It is how it is: you get one thing fixed and then all the other repairs and improvements on the list-that-never-ends start up a clamouring chorus that will not be ignored.

I had actually been doing well at ignoring the list for quite a while but now I’ve given it a little bit of attention…

I’m not going to insert an image (appropriate though it might be) of a line of dominos.

No, I am not.

Not a line of tiles lined up and waiting to be tipped into a cascade of falling pieces.

Dominos in step sequence from double six to double blank
Step by step

As dominos requires that the double six – the dog tile – begins the game, I guess it is the first in a series of steps.

Recharging

My notes for this post include plenty of points about drained batteries and emptiness.

I was – I have to admit – exhausted by the end of the week. My flutter-by mind just wanted to find some verdant spot and sit in the sun.

There were moments during the week when I did manage to have a bit of that.

Admittedly, on Tuesday that ‘verdant spot’ was the built environment of Perth Cultural Centre. I took a few minutes to just sit and observe the world passing. I listened to a man playing the marimba at the soundgarden outside the museum. Such complex and beautiful melodies.

When he left, a child took over. The sounds simplified, melody was no longer the thing. I had to head for home but I could have listened for hours.

Stools and a pigeon at the PCC
A favourite spot for world watching

Turning up

The good thing about this week is what it has shown me about myself, where I’m at with books and words and work.

My life is about deadlines. It is how I’m programmed. I’m hard-wired for them – even if that wiring sometimes seems to short out.

I need to turn up in order to get them done. Sometimes I need to walk away to be able to get them done. Taking a break from the desk is ok so long as I go back to the desk. (Caveat: sometimes the desk doesn’t need to be the desk…)

Submitting my project for the Cert IV, taking the walk from Arts to the Graduate Research School, starting the huge project that is ‘the house’ each brought the idea of balance to mind.

Looking down the barrel of a project as big as a PhD means I need to be tracking how I’m going with the deadlines in my life. I’ve been thinking about that – especially how to keep the reading and writing that will be a part of it in balance – has been part of my musing for a while now.

The thing to remember is how much I like it once the words are flowing.

Planning is all well and good but the best thing is the doing. Settling in to get the words down (and then playing, cutting, reshaping) is the best bit.

Turning up is the thing.

 

*I must find out what animal is the source of that phrase. At some point. Later.

Book addict ahead – the joy of book shopping

It is a beautiful morning. There is a fair bit of cloud but, at the moment, the sun is streaming in through the window. When it gets too bright, I find myself typing  with my eyes shut. (Thank you, dad, for making me do that touch typing course during my honours year!)

When I was thinking about what to write today my first thought was my haul from the Save the Children Book Sale that has just finished at UWA. I posted a  picture on Sunday to Facebook with the comment ‘A picture of restraint’.

Secondhand books on coffee table
Last Sunday’s effort

Books v shoes

Have I mentioned before that I live in the midst of a bookshelf crisis? There are worse things. Much worse.

That said, I am aware that I need to deal with the books I have before adding too much more. My ambition for the day was to be restrained.

So, I walked into the sale at the Undercroft of Winthrop Hall with a plan. I was going to be restrained. I was going to just look out for something special.

I had limited time: I was parked in a 30 minute bay, I was meeting a friend for a writing date in 45 minutes.

I didn’t bring a carry bag and I promised myself I would only purchase what I could carry comfortably in one trip back to the car.

I set a budget. A modest one.

It was nominal.

Who knew what I might find and whether such a bargain would mean that the budget would need… NEED…to be revised?

It is lucky I don’t enjoy shopping for shoes. Imagine how that could play out. That said, I often wander around in the morning thinking I’d like to have more/different shoes. I just don’t want to go shopping for them.

And where would I put them?

Accessioning

It is only a couple of weeks since I posted a different picture of books picked up on a whim.

The thing is, they don’t just need to be housed. They need to be accessioned. They are lined up and waiting.

Stack of books with bookplates ready for labelling
Books stacked, ready for the next step

Perhaps I should have been a librarian. It was tempting. That whole must-be-quiet and must-share-books-with-anyone was a concern.

I’m not the only person who checks  with a friend – a friend, not a stranger – that they will take care of the volume they are about to take into their custody, am I?

I don’t know about how other people handle their home-libraries. I have a spread sheet that I try to maintain. I use an online service that helps me to not double up on purchases when mooching turns serious.

Helps, but doesn’t always prevent…

At the moment, the spread sheet and the book list don’t match up. There’s a discrepancy of probably about a 100 books between them at the moment. The only way to know where the problem is would be to do a full stocktake.

That won’t be happening this weekend, or next.

To be honest, it’s the sort of dusty chore that I like to take care of over the summer holidays with fans cranked to high and the promise of a swim at the end of the day’s work. Bring on the summer break!

Moderate, and not

As I welcomed the latest additions into the family by adding them to the spread sheet and the online service I discovered that I had doubled up on a volume, the 2006 edition of Best Australian Essays. My first copy is one of those books that hadn’t made it into the online list. Not to worry, I think I have a friend who will like the spare copy.

I already knew that I had a copy of The Faerie Queene. The copy already on my shelf is battered and does need replacing. Well, not replacing as such. It has my notes as an undergrad. Along with someone else’s. I can’t jettison those. The scruffy and much-better-looked-after will need to reside companionably on the shelf. Once I figure out how to fit them in.

There are a couple of books that I brought home that I have been looking for for ages. Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer is one of those. I am looking forward to reading that!

Some of the others I picked up specifically for friends and family. I can’t wait to see the reaction to the edition of Shakespeare’s Love Sonnets illustrated by Caitlin Keegan when I hand it over.

I must hand it over.

I must.

Perhaps I should write that out a hundred times…

Bibliophilia and logophilia

So here I am, loving books and words. I’ve thought about this a bit over the years. I even started to sketch out a play called Logos years ago. (I was living in the Pilbara. The days were long and, often, hot…)

There is the material aspect of the books. The layout and design. The bookplates and stamps that I use for labelling. There is the flow of words through the pen or keyboard, under the eye, on the tongue.

Any time spent with them is a joy. Even when they don’t come easily. Even when they threaten to cascade over the desk and knock teacups to the floor.

I have to go out for the usual Saturday things-to-be-done reasons.

It is a bit of a wrench today. I look forward to coming back to my desk to finish this latest round of accessioning and working on the scrawl.

Of course, I’ll probably add to both while I’m out and about.

 

Writing … spaces and places – conditions for writing

My plans for the day have just changed. I’m now working out how to best spend the time that has opened up.

This is, obviously, a bit of a furphy. The time will fill itself without any help from me.

There are the usual suspects. I have plenty of regular chores and errands to fill in the space. There are also some tasks that were deadlined during the week that I need to finish off.*

Spaces

One of the big things that I need to take care of is sorting the space where I write and study.

After intensive writing weeks, like this one just past, my space tends to look a shade wrecked. It’s not at all photogenic at this point.

Looking around now, there is a considerable amount of filing and shelving to be done. You may remember that I’ve been buying books. (I’m always buying books.) They need to be stamped…catalogued…shelved. The danger there is that I might stop to read them. There’s definitely no time for that. Even with that bit of extra time, there’s no time.

I will HAVE to work on my space at some point this weekend. That’s a given, but I don’t want to waste daylight on filing and shelving. That’s the sort of thing I like to do at night; in that settling down time while I’m waiting for the world to calm itself and become quiet.

Once my space is sorted, I enjoy the work I do when the world is sleeping. Writing into the night while I’m on holidays is one of my favourite things. I ease into the ideas and words. I don’t worry about distractions or obligations.

Small desk set up with laptop, reading lamp and notes
Writing in the still of night

The important thing I need to remember, though, is that night writing needs to be balanced. It needs to be relaxed. I need time freed up around late nights so they are manageable. (I do still need to sleep…)

In the deadline frenzy of this week I made the mistake of engaging in some pressured night writing. It’s not something that works for me. This week’s late night (in the midst of a couple of days of annual leave) was disastrous. The result: a missed deadline. Lesson learned and noted. Night writing can’t be panicked. Not for me at least.

Places

I’m a fan of working ‘elsewhere’. It’s not just the chaos of home that drives me to be somewhere other than my study. Finding a spot and settling myself into it is part of the fun.

Of course, there are times when I seem to wander aimlessly looking for the spot. That’s a risk that needs to be mitigated on a regular basis. I need to run my own interventions some days…

Once I find a spot to be the spot for a chunk of time, it is worth it.

Picnic bench at The Whaling, Flinders Bay set up as a writing desk
In the sun by Flinders Bay

This found space was just delightful. I was in Flinders because a friend had whisked me away from the debris of a broken heart. Angst of those days aside, working at this bench felt so good. The writing was for my day job and for uni. Even so, it was pleasurable. It was a beautiful space to be. The sun on my face, the wind in my hair, the sound of water lapping on sand…I won’t go on.

I often find that the spots I choose for writing feature water, in one way or another. I lived in inland for a couple of years. I liked where I was and I was happy there but the absence of ocean and river were disconcerting. Whenever I went home to Perth I would head straight to the ocean ‘just to check’. I still choose routes that take me along the river or coast – even if it adds time to the journey.

The plan

It’s time to run some of those errands, do a bit of the family thing and then stop by the water on the way home. I fancy working on some bits from the scrawl and perhaps add to it.

I can see the spot now. It’s quiet, it’s beautiful and, as usual, there’s the possibility that there will be pelicans or maybe even a dolphin.

 

*I met one with a minute to spare. Literally. The date stamp on the submission receipt is 3:59 for a 4:00 deadline. That was cutting it a shade too fine. Even for me.

A trio of lectures – feeding my mind, filling the well

Deadlines are coming at me from all directions. They’re flying in thick and fast … and there’s no dodging them.

I’ve been a touch frantic in the past week. This, perhaps, explains how a whole mug of tea ended up on the study rug rather than by the computer. Perhaps.

As I’m not known for my coordination, it is possible the rather promising brew was always doomed.

The present collision of deadlines is unusual.

I am no stranger to the intersection of a few due dates but the current fortnight is a doozy.

My response? Set-up to-do list, remember that fretting about timelines makes me tetchy (sorry, loved ones), catch up with friends, remember to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air, sit on a couch by the window in a favourite cafe and write while waiting for an appointment,* take in a few lectures.

Pakenham St trees
Remembering to enjoy the sunshine

Why? Breaks that require me to stay alert and give time for reflection and planning are more helpful than simply ‘switching off”.

I find that if I choose television as a break activity I struggle to get back to working effectively. Engaging with other people and ideas creates space between one set of tasks and the next. So does the processing time that driving across town allows. I gather I’m not alone with this.

The bonus: once I’m on campus I find I am ready to focus and I tend to be quite productive. I think I’ve made that observation previously.

It was tricky, but I made it to three lectures this week. I’m glad I did.

The Bodleian and the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays

Wednesday was Pip Willcox’s talk for UWA’s Institute of Advanced Studies: ‘for Harry, England, and … everyone: the many lives of the Bodleian First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays’. Pip Willcox is Curator of Digital Special Collections at the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford. She gave an account of the Bodleian’s ownership of a specific copy of the book, the physical features of the book, and the project to digitise the Folio.

It’s probably no surprise that I’m a book geek. I find the history of books as objects – and the history and process of creating books – fascinating.  I wanted to make it to the lecture as soon as I saw the abstract. The story of this particular copy has drama and intrigue. I wish I had time to go into the details.

The digitised product Willcox was speaking about looks to be a wonderful resource. The project website is still available at http://shakespeare.bodleian.ox.ac.uk and the digitised version of the folio is available at http://firstfolio.bodleian.ox.ac.uk. I can’t wait to have some free time to get in and look around properly.

Bresnick on Blake, Goya and Kafka

Thursday brought another presentation sponsored by the IAS featuring the composer Martin Bresnick, Professor of Composition, Yale School of Music. The title of the talk was ‘Listening to Images, Hearing the Text: new music that engages the visual and the literary’.

Bresnick spoke about his work as a composer – particularly in relation to the development of his multimedia piece developed from ‘For The Sexes: the Gates of Paradise’ by  William Blake and his response to Francesco de Goya’s ‘Caprichos Enfaticos’.

The evening included a live performance of ‘For the Sexes: the Gates of Paradise’ by Lisa Moore. The combination of music, spoken word and a projected animation of Blake’s illustrations of the poem was intense and visceral. It left me wanting to go back to Blake and read more by and about him. I’ll also look out for an online version of the multimedia piece. Not just yet, though. I need time and space for that.

The recorded  extracts from ‘Caprichos Enfaticos’ were powerful, and disturbing. Again, I want to go back to look at the full piece. That will definitely be down the track.

There wasn’t time for a performance of the third billed piece, on Franz Kafka’s ‘A Message from the Emperor’ but Bresnick’s account of the piece was intriguing. Something else to look into … again, at a later date.

Qaisra Shahraz on Building Bridges

The final lecture in the trio was an author talk by Qaisra Shahraz on ‘Building Cultural Bridges through Literature’ that was sponsored by the UWA Centre for Muslim States and Societies.

Shahraz moved to Britain from Pakistan when she was nine. She writes novels and has a commitment to building bridges, using literature to celebrate diversity. Identifying as as British, Pakistani and Muslim, Shahraz spoke about how each of these identities is important to her as a person and a writer. Reading from her novels, she shared a world that is alien and familiar.

This third talk came as a welcome change of pace. Making the dash from work to uni didn’t appeal and I was tempted to cut my losses and head home. I’m glad I braved the freeway at peak hour.

I walked away with a copy of her first novel. I’m afraid it will linger on my shelf before I get a chance to read it. I will want to take time and not be distracted by other things.

Even if I’m tempted … I must resist for at least the next few weeks!

 

Playgound
I need time to play

*The window in question for this particular post was at Bread in Common. On Saturday morning the sun was streaming in, the sky was clear. It was perfect for writing and working out a plan of attack for the weekend and the week ahead.

 

A week of bookshops, mooching and poetry – my readerly-writerly idea of bliss

It’s been a busy week. There has been oodles to do with family, work and study. I may not have been productive as far as outside-of-work writing goes, but I’ve been busy. It’s been good.

I’ve taken a break from the scrawl. Also, I’m nearly done with the jottings I can find in notebooks. This is not to say more notebooks aren’t lurking. My study is chaotic and I suspect that not all the notebooks were in there in the first place. That said, there’s only so much backwards looking I can do in one hit.

Note to self: it might be good to read some of the books on dealing with clutter that are taking up space on the book shelf.

Despite not much to show for it, I’ve been showing up at the page a bit. When I’ve done so, I’ve made a conscious effort to keep the writing on loose leaves. That way I can avoid adding to the scrawl I’ve been working so hard on clearing.

While there’s nothing substantially ‘useful’ in these latest pages, a few lines here and there look as though they might be worth mining for later. I’m happy with that.

Late in the week I found myself writing in cafe. I got so caught up I lost track of the time and was nearly late for a conference/seminar.

I have to admit it’s been a while since I was immersed to that degree.

Photo of poured tea on a metal tray in a city coffee shop
I managed to find time for some cafe writing

Mooching around bookshops

Saturday was a cracker. I made it to not one but two bookshops: New Edition Bookshop (Freo) and Bookcaffe (Swanbourne). I was tempted to make it three when I went to go to the library –  the Coop (UWA) – but I figured I had some work to do.* I kept myself to just the two.

I’m excited that NEB is back. There’s been a bit of an hiatus while they’ve been moving premises. I don’t know what the full story is but I’ve missed them while they’ve been away. I know ‘they’ are a different ‘them’ but I’m sure you get my point.

I like mooching about Freo. I love mooching about Freo going from bookshop to bookshop. That’s been a tad tricky in recent times. The Freo bookshop count is generally in decline, NEB hasn’t been around and my mooching opportunities are decidedly outside working hours.

Swanbourne isn’t too far from Freo. I zipped up the coast to catch up with a friend on my way to uni. Books, chatting, hot chocolate, sitting by the window. It was lovely.

One of the books that made its way home with me is My Brother’s Book by Maurice Sendak. It is a beautiful, meditative riddle. I don’t feel as though I’ve managed to nut-it-out and I need to spend more time with it. I’m not sure when that will be.

Poetry night

Monday was great because it was, as we say in my family, ‘poetry night’. Yes, I made it to Voicebox again. This is starting to be a habit.

There are worse habits.

Again, I enjoyed all three guest poets. I’m afraid the titles have escaped me but Dick Alderson’s poem about almonds, Dennis Haskell’s about oranges and Kylie Stevenson’s about Deep Water Point all stuck me at the time as beautiful explorations of imagery and emotion and they’ve stayed with me for the week. Rose van Son’s ‘Meatworks, Caversham’ is one of the poems from the open mic readers that keeps coming back to me.

I’ve been thinking not just about the poems that were read, but the usefulness of poetry for narrative . The distillation of words and ideas carries an emotive power for telling story that I find visceral. A bit further along from these thoughts is how much I enjoy the poetic within prose.

That’s led me on to reflecting on novels that I read as poetic. Yesterday I picked up a spare copy of David Malouf’s Fly Away Peter so I could dip into it on the train ride home for precisely that reason.

In the end the train station was a shade too hectic for the way I wanted to read the novel. Instead, I started the copy of Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist that I picked up from the same sale shelf.

A stack of books
The outcome of bookshop mooching

I now find myself with two copies of Fly Away Peter. Possibly not the best outcome for book-case space crisis of 2014 (which is very much like the book-case space crises of 2013, 2012, 2001…1975 – when I was given my first bookcase for my birthday…) but that particular thread of thinking – the poetic in prose – is always tantalising. I hope I can hold onto it in the face of a week which, I already know, is going to allow very little time for musing as such.

*I didn’t go into the library either to be honest. I sat in the sunshine while I looked for useful articles online. Being able to work remotely is such a bonus.