Building slowly – trying to balance writing with all the other things

I’m sure the dogs I’ve had over the years have enjoyed chasing their tail. They’ve all seemed able to turn the activity into a game. One of them – Gillespie, a bull terrier/labrador cross – could spend hours trying to pin down his own tail. Then again, he also like to try to thump his paw down on the cat’s tail as she flicked it in front of his eyes. He rarely ‘caught’ it. At the end of the day, he was actually her – Jemima’s – plaything.

Working, playing

I finally made it to this post at the end of a busy but good weekend at the end of a long and busy week. There hasn’t been a lot of reading. There’s been a bit of writing – on a project I’m not ready to discuss, but its deadline is looming. Mostly there’s been playing. (Over the weekend, that is.)

After a week of mostly chasing my own tail – and NEVER catching it – a weekend of play can’t be a bad thing.

The highlights have been catching up with an old friend at an exhibition, taking one of my nieces on a belated birthday adventure and wrapping up the weekend with a family dinner.

I’m finishing off the weekend knowing precisely what I need to do over the coming week. I’ve scheduled my time and set my goals. Having this level of clarity is always helpful. Feeling refreshed enough to feel excited about the to-do list is great.

One of the few things I remember from Early Childhood Studies in high school is ‘play is a child’s work’ . (The other thing is that responding to an essay question that asks ‘what are the three stages of labour?’ with ‘first, second and third’ will not cut any mustard…none at all…).

I think play should also be a big part of a grown up’s work.

Would I be happy with work that is child’s play? Perhaps not so much.

I have to admit that I get to play with ideas a fair bit. I love it.

Even driving along today, the chatter from the back seat (I had such a chatsy-patsy as a passenger) was a litany of ideas and images that I think will work as a poem. Something of a further belated* birthday gift I guess.

Finding time to pull it together enough to have it a as a polished product might be a tad tricky. I need to stop thinking about this idea that time is something that can be found.

Time is there. So are opportunities for the type of play that lifts and sustains ‘work’.

Empty swing at playground
Waiting patiently

Levels and layers

Scheduling a specific time for creative writing is something that I have settled on, though. That’s a decision that has come from my extensive, and perhaps over documented, review of the collection of notebooks that I refer to as the scrawl. 

The big thing reviewing the scrawl has done is confirm what I already knew. Although I’ve written thousands of words over the past few years, there was a period between 2011 and 2013 where the only poetry I was able to produce was one sonnet.

Just the one. Single. Solitary. 140 syllables. Flip those syllables into single characters and I’d have a tweet.

I’ve sighed at length over that paucity.

There are all sorts of notes and sketches that are coming together – and will continue to do so – but the actual output of the those couple of years is a lone poem. Anything that eventuates from the notes and sketches counts for the year that they come together.

The dozens of essays and reports don’t seem to count in my work-tally.

There were thousands of words.

There were reasons (some of them pretty good) for choosing not to persist with a number of poems.

Still, I find myself sighing. Despite it being pointless and not making any real sense to do so.

No matter how I try to spin it, I keep coming back to ‘how many poems did I write?’

It’s about as useful and as useless as that.

Not that I really see it as useless.

For now I’m reflecting on how it is just a matter of how everything sits together. How it ties in.

I’ve written most of this post at a cafe in South Freo – Ootong and Lincoln – sitting beside a feature wall of exposed brick.

Thinking about the rough work that lies under painted and papered render hasn’t been a big leap. That said, it has been helpful in providing a visual – as much for me to reflect on as to pop in here.

Working back through the scrawl exposed a lot of rough working that didn’t seem to lend itself to a great deal of substance. Despite what seems to be just rough is, however, a good beginning. Now that I’ve pulled it together, it is a solid beginning.

Exposed brickwork
Brick by brick

The process of rebalancing the different parts of my life may be moving slowly but it is going well.

On that note, I must post and run. Here’s a lesson in the peril of departing from a schedule. Monday morning’s aren’t for rounding off a post. My day-job is calling and then there’s a lecture at Uni and Voicebox in Freo. I’d better get out into the day.

 

* It probably doesn’t count as belated in my family because we tend to run with the idea of birthday festivals. Celebrations can last for up to four weeks. They’re reasonably low key but extensive affairs.

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Spring hail – making plans but remembering to stay flexible

It is just gone 8:30 on Sunday. I’ve been up for hours and I don’t know that I have that much to show for my efforts.

I’m in a bit of a rush…

I have a stack of writing to do. Some of it will be fun. Some of it I’m dreading – but I have to do it. (I should possibly have started with the must-do writing rather than this post.)

I’m dressed to go to the gym.* I must go to the gym. I must, I must, I must. I’m not convinced this afternoon’s weather will be walk-friendly. I could take one of my little notepads and pencils with me so I can jot down ideas for this afternoon’s writing. That would make sense.

Finally, I’ve decided to reinforce the sense of being in a rush by passing over my regular Mozart, Vivaldi, Beethoven options for writing. Instead I’m listening to The Black Eyed Peas. The idea there is that I won’t settle into the mooching about that is so tempting on a Sunday morning.

Mooching is especially tempting today after yesterday’s storms.

Light hail falling on the Reid Library moat
I always want to stop and watch hail as it falls

The photo I’ve chosen doesn’t really show the hail shower from yesterday. It is, however, one of my favourite views from the reading terrace.

The hail stones that fell outside the Reid were just pebble sized. They fell and bounced on the turf. The water lilies closed in protest. Everyone on the terrace stopped to watch the shower. The hail melted in minutes.

The storm was much more severe in other suburbs. My social media streams have had a flurry of images showing flooding and destruction. Some of us were able to have fun with the storm. My thoughts are with those who didn’t have that luxury.

The last hail storm I was caught in was terrifying. It was back in 2010 and a freak storm hit Perth. I’ve never been so scared.

Yesterday’s storm – for me – was ‘gentle’. One of my favourite people had called by uni for a quick chat and cup of tea. The booming thunder made us jump and laugh. We took pictures of the hail. We sat back and talked about various approaches to study and revision. We planned blog posts.

The storm went on around us. The air cooled and after a while we went inside, but for the most part we sat on the terrace with our tea and enjoyed the weather.

We passed the time. The storm passed.

Hitting twenty

Despite the louring clouds, yesterday’s storm took me by surprise.

So did the realisation – despite the regular ‘You’ve posted your xth…’ message that pops up after posting – that this is my twentieth post.

Twenty posts seems as good a time as any to step back and think how things are going.

My original plan was to create a space to ‘think out loud’. I think I’m doing that.

I’ve realised that the space I wanted wasn’t just about the physical space of the blog. It was also about the time that I made in my schedule – for reflection and planning as well as writing.

I know that I spend a lot of time – perhaps too much time – thinking.

I like the processes that go with analysis and planning. I like putting ideas together. I like just playing with them – for no reason or purpose other than the moment of play.

Riffing on an idea is my idea of a good time.

Turning up to write a post is proving to be a useful tool for reflecting on whether I’ve made any progress and setting out what I’m planning to do next.

There’s also the bonus of being part of a community of bloggers. I can see that reading, liking, commenting on, following other people’s blogs is part of being a member of the community.

I’m afraid I’m not a terribly good community member, though.

I’ve just finished Blogging 101 and I have a lot – read most – of the activities left to do. There are people whose blogs I follow and I don’t get to check in on them nearly as much as I’d like. I hardly ever leave a well constructed, thoughtful comment. There never seems time and I worry about being trite.

I like to take time to think before I write. (There it is again. That whole thinking it over before making a commitment thing. I do a lot of paper-free drafting before setting words down.)

The community element is so important, though. Otherwise, I can see this blog might be just self-indulgent alternative to a personal journal. That’s not my intention. I’m happy to be a part of conversations. I like conversations.

That said, I can also be pretty quiet during face-to-face conversations. You might know how it is; I listen and find myself just thinking things through. Sometimes the conversation ends, people move on and then, then, I work out what I want to say.

I might need to take a moment to sign. I tend to sigh a fair bit. I should stop.

Fully blown yellow rose
A week on and fading

I took another picture of the rose bud I used for last week’s post yesterday morning. It doesn’t look like the same flower but it is.

Time moves on. Roses fade. Hail melts. Opportunities to relevantly articulate a thought drift away.

Where am I going with this?

I don’t want to be wasting time. Mine or anyone else’s.

In the past week I’ve been thinking a lot about how quickly time goes. Whether you’re having fun or not. I’m fortunate in that I mostly have fun.

It is one of the most helpful things about having an irreverent sense of humour. I don’t always share it but I do tend to amuse myself.

It’s just over 10 weeks to the New Year. That’s ok. I’ve made pretty good progress with the goals I set myself earlier in the year but longer-term planning is critical for me right now.

If I take the full 8 years maximum as a part-time student for a PhD I have 416 weeks. I’m three weeks in, so there are 413 weeks left.

If I can do it in the minimum 312 weeks as a part-timer, I have 309 weeks left.

I think I’ll need to spend more than the 309 weeks. I hope I don’t need to use up all 413.

As I move through the next 350 weeks (splitting the difference, more or less, seems like a fair thing), I think that the thinking out loud element of this blog is going to be important to me. I’m aware that I lost touch with reading for enjoyment and just plain fun while I was completing my MMEMS. I prefer that not to happen again.

The fact of the matter is there is reading and writing that I want and need to do that is outside my topic.

I’ve been loving reading on public transport, for example.

My car is back from the repairer and I need to use it to get to appointments after work. I’m one (short) commute from finishing Slaughterhouse 5 and I’d really like to report back on how that went for me once I finish it.

Plain clock face showing 8:00.
Time flies

The year is ebbing away. Today is slipping away. (How is it nearly 10:30 now?) I’ve reached this twentieth blog point in almost no time at all. Or, so it seems.

Thank you for stopping by to read – and for reading (skimming, skipping) to the end.

Thank you for letting me think about all this out loud.

*Apart from my shoes. I tend to leave putting on my shoes to the last possible moment. I take them off as soon as I can. There’s no getting around the fact that I’m not a huge fan of shoes.

Moments of clarity – making the most of opportunities for writing

I’ve known for days what I wanted to write about for this post.

Do you think I could set it down? Did anything come to me any of the times I sat down to write?

No.

Nothing.

Well, nothing that I’ve kept.

As I left my mum’s house yesterday I stopped to smell the gorgeous roses growing among an admirable crop of weeds. I thought about last week’s post. I remembered the roses at uni. I thought about this week’s post. My plan had been bubbling away at the back of my mind throughout the busy week. It all made sense.

I then jumped in the car to run errands that would have been tricky on public transport and forgot it all.

Not that forgot is the best word. I still knew what I wanted to write I just couldn’t get it to work.

Two cafes, a sushi train and a (regular, because I spend too much time at my desk) remedial massage later and I still didn’t have the words.

Yellow rose in mid-bloom
A moment in time

In the air

Last week, as I walking through the High Street Mall in Fremantle, I passed a juggler. He had just dropped one of his clubs and cheerfully observed, ‘so long as I catch most of them.’ We laughed. He picked up the club and started again. I kept walking. I’m hoping he doesn’t mind if I use the moment in a poem. I suppose that when it is I could go back an ask him if it’s ok. Or not.

The moment has been on my mind. There have been more than a few conversations in recent times about juggling…work, family, study, friends, life*… Tightropes and contortionists have also featured, but to a lesser extent.

I’m taking that passing exchange in the mall was serendipitous. I need to remember that it’s ok to drop things once in a while. It’s picking them up and going on that’s important.

Looking at the past couple of  weeks, I’ve been unsettled.

I had been working towards enrolling for months. I’ve been thinking about my topic, one way or another, for years. There’s still an element of transition. Suddenly, it’s serious.

Ok. It’s not that sudden at all. It turns out that knowing and feeling are quite different. I need to get my eye in.

Ongoing ‘eye-in’ challenges: juggling (balls, clubs, knives…), running in for skipping games, slicing a crusty loaf of bread. The list could go on.

Lessons and connections

Even though I’m feeling as though I’m behind, I have made progress. There’s a lot going on and I’ve been getting things done. The fact that there is still a whole lot more to do doesn’t take away from progress that has been made.

I was feeling a shade guilty yesterday when I resorted to social media rather than persisting with a (putative) draft of this post.

The draft went to the recycle bin. My reading went to The Paris Review’s interview with Carolyn Kizer from the Spring 2000 issue. Kizer passed away yesterday at the age of 89. It was a great interview. I read it on my phone while morsels of raw fish drifted past me and I considered how brave I might be. (Not terribly, again, as it turns out.)

I finished reading wanting to know about Kizer and her work. The bookstore I wandered into – guiltily, because there was a lot on my to-be-done list yesterday and mooching in bookstores was not – didn’t have any copies of her work that I could see. I’ll try at the library during the week.

An unexpected boon in reading the interview is the reference Kizer makes at its close to Chaucer’s Criseyde when she quotes, “I am meyne own woman wel at ease.”

Although I had promised myself there would be ‘no Chaucer’ when I signed on to my Masters (it’s a long story and for another time) there is plenty of Chaucer on my to be read/reread pile at the moment. Criseyde is one of the characters I’ll be looking at in terms of a number of writers. The quote Kizer hit on sits beautifully within some of the planning I’ve been doing.

A moment of knowing

It seems as though everything is coming back to sorting myself in relation to the study-project. Of course, there are other things going on in my world. There is another birthday celebration today, for example. I should be running the vacuum over the floors. The ‘happy birthday’ banner needs to be hung (it turns out people take it personally when it isn’t…). I have work to finish for work…

While today’s birthday doesn’t signal any of the introspection of the birthday lunch of a few weeks ago, the direction of that post has been reinforced in the past week.

I haven’t focused as much as I would have liked on the research I wanted to do this week. That’s ok. I’ve made progress and come across useful things. I might even be able to share a freshly drafted poem in a week or two.

The concerns about balance and juggling come down to a moment at the library last week.

I was on the reading terrace at the Reid, celebrating my newly functioning library card by dipping into Elizabeth Fowler’s Literary Characters: The Human Figure in Early English Writing (Cornell University Press, 2003). I was on page 2, reading the footnotes, and experienced a moment of clarity that this is what I want to be doing. I love following the ideas of one writer into those of another and connecting them with my own.

Is it odd to note that I teared up?

I was just so happy to be there, so excited to be doing this work.

It is going to take me years. I need to keep up with everything else in my world – and I have to admit that there’s a lot.

I have no doubt that I’ll drop a club or two from time to time. But, like the man said, ‘so long as I catch most of them’ then pick up the rest and keep going…

Stack of books for research
My starting points for the week

I think I should acknowledge that I am blessed with an amazing support network of family and friends to and for whom I’m thankful. Some of whom I think have just arrived for lunch and I haven’t done that vacuuming…

*Obviously, this is in no particular order…

Words in transit – reading and writing on public transport

I don’t use it as much as I could but I quite like public transport.

This is fortunate.

I’m waiting for some mechanical work to be done on my car. While it’s off the road, I’ve been catching buses and trains.

It isn’t always convenient. It can be confronting and discomforting. In the mid of winter and at the peak of summer it can be less than pleasant. At this time of the year the weather in Perth is generally pretty good.

Breathing space

Getting places without having to engage with traffic gives me a wonderful sense of freedom. Being on a bus or train with strangers means I don’t have to be sociable. I can cocoon myself in (silent) words. I can listen to the words of the people around me.

I deal with time differently. I work out schedules more rigorously than I would normally do. I take time en route to pause and notice my surroundings. Rather than just zipping by I stop to smell the roses, or lavender, or even the dank stink of the Moreton Bay figs at uni.

The lavender in Freo this morning was particularly beautiful.

Lavender in bloom with butterflies
A heady scent

I like the opportunity public transport presents for being productive.

When I’m catching buses and trains I deal with time differently. It’s not just because of the timetables and having to be in the right place at the right time.

There’s the time walking and waiting that’s great for thinking.

I’m far too sedentary. I’m considering one of those treadmill desks that let you walk while you work…

Reading

I’ve decided to use my daily commute – on the bus/train it’s less than half an hour – to read novels. I’m wondering whether I should, perhaps, change that to research articles now that I’m formally enrolled and have some deadlines. That said, I also know I need to read for fun.

One of the novels I read this week, Ian McEwan’s The Comfort of Strangers, didn’t turn out to be much fun. Not to worry. It’s read now. I’m considering whether I want to keep it on my shelf or send it the way of last week’s cull. I suspect it is too soon to decide. I should let my memory of the story settle. My gut feeling, though, is that it’s not going to take space on my shelf for too long.

The other novel I read was Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. There were moments when I wasn’t sure about how I felt about the novel but in the end I loved it. I’ll definitely read it again…and again. It is one of those novels that I want to know more about – from my own and others’ reading. My regret is that my pristine-for-years copy is now battered from kicking around in my bag for a couple of days.

My next book-for-the-train is Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5. I first encountered a passage from the novel in my Year 12 Literature exam and then came across it as a whole as an undergrad. I remember that moment of recognition when I realised I’d ‘met’ the book before.*

I know we often talk about our first experiences of books. I’m also interested in the ways our experiences of reading a particular novel changes over the years.

On that note, I think I’d like to reread Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. My copy from first year is, sadly, in pieces. Even the rubber band I tried to contain it with has perished. Clearly I need to hunt out a new copy.

I wonder if I have it in my kindle?

I wonder where my kindle is…

Writing

The other thing I love about public transport is huge time and space it allows for writing. Not, as a rule, on a crowded weekday commute. That can be tricky. There are times when words have to be set down and it doesn’t matter where you are.

I know I’m not alone in this.

I find trains easier than buses for writing.

Fremantle Port from train
Coming into Freo

I remember one day travelling up from Freo to Subi and there were three of us that I could see drafting away in notebooks of various shapes and sizes. I quite like catching up with friends for writing dates at cafés. Anonymous writing with random strangers while in transit also appeals.

Knowing I’ll have a given chunk of time means I can plan for writing and not just drift away from it because there are dishes in the sink or laundry in the washing machine. The walking to stops and stations is a chance to map out the piece to be written. I stop. I take a posture break. I move. I breathe.

Knowing the end point of a journey means I can’t fluff about too much in getting the words down.

I find that can be very helpful.

Coming up roses

The trick with writing on public transport is not to tall into the trap of reviewing everything for a couple of hours when it actually time to be at the library.

That said, I should head for the Reid now and get to work.

On the way back to the bus stop, I must stop again to take in the glorious roses outside Winthrop Hall.

Winthrop Hall and roses
Winthrop, roses and a blue, blue sky

*A late post script. I’ve been meaning to make this update for a while. I realised as I finished reading Slaughterhouse 5 that my moment of recognition had been for Cat’s Cradle. Sometimes that happens, I guess; the details of an author’s works merge together and confuse themselves in your memory. I must remember to slow down and leave space between books. (Perhaps I should write that out fifty times.)