Back on board – thinking planning for writing

Hey there. It’s been a while. Longer than I expected. I meant to check in with a seasonal greeting weeks ago. It was part of my all-planned-and-ready-to-go list…and I missed it. Now the news shows that the world is bruised and anxious. I know our challenges and sorrows don’t just stop because a calendar ticks over. Even so, the New Year is a marker that reminds us that we can begin again. I hope it’s not too late to hope for good things and to share compliments of the season and best wishes for the year ahead.

I hope the year improves for everyone. I hope 2015 treats you well. I wish you and your loved ones all the best.

Lime tree dressed for Christmas
Bright and shiny

Wrapping up 2014

Like a lot of people, I find myself frantic in December. Fortunately, my family has been taking a calmer, more measured approach to the festive season in recent times. We haven’t quite gotten it down to brown paper packages yet, but we’re on our way.

Brown paper package
A favourite thing

Simplifying the festivities makes everything easier to deal with.

It also happens that I have a December birthday. It tends to get lost in the lead up to the 25th, which is ok. I keep the celebrations low key. I may have indicated before that I find birthdays a good time for personal reflection. Dinners and cake and the like are a bonus. I’m a fan of a bit of quiet time with a few special people. On this last birthday, I was in Melbourne with a friend for her graduation and we didn’t quite manage cake that day. (I must hasten to add that there was cake later in the week. It was exquisite.) Did I mention I was going to Melbourne? I don’t think I did. I should have. I love Melbourne. Really. It’s one of those places that feels right.* I meant to post once or twice while I was there. I wandered around the CBD snapping the occasional photo and ducking into cafes to jot down ideas.  I made some plans but, in the end, I couldn’t settle to commit myself to drafting out the content. I find committing to the page can be tricky.

Breathe

The hiatus of the past six weeks hasn’t just been because of the festive season and jaunting about the place. I also really just needed a break. I’ve had ‘bigger’ years than 2014. I’ve certainly had more traumatic years that the last turned out to be. Despite that, I found that I really needed to stop. I was so tired by the time I got on the plane to go to Melbourne I was barely lucid. While I was away I played with some writing in fits and starts. It’s not the writing I expected to do but I hope it will be useful at some point. Most of all, it was good to take some time to just breathe. That said, it was hard to switch off. I am hopeless when it comes to checking work emails, for example. Even on holiday on the other side of the country I was trying to take photos on my phone in between checking emails and responding to meeting requests… Hopeless. One of the things I love about Melbourne is that walking is such a good option. It is true that I kept finding myself walking to bookshops and the State Library but I’m ok with that!

La Trobe Reading Room at State Library of Victoria
Light and air

Libraries and bookshops are important elements in holidays in my world. I spent some time being very happy near the poetry shelves in the La Trobe Reading Room at the State Library of Victoria. There were familiar volumes just nearby.   It was a calm, beautiful space. I had looked forward to my time there for weeks before arriving. What more could I want? I could have spent more time just hanging out in the reading room. In the end, I was lured outside by the promise of independent bookstores and the temptation of a possible return to coffee.** As far as weaknesses go, I don’t think I’m doing too badly.

Hitting the books

Obviously, I can only imagine what the year 2015 has in store. I’m still working on setting some goals for myself. There’s plenty to be done, as always, with the day-job (I have a new contract, by the way…yay!) and family. I also have plans – big plans – for writing and for reading. There will be more writing. There will be more reading. I’m sure I can work it in to the schedule I’ve drawn up. Books feature everywhere I look, to be honest. To start with, I’ve been working on sorting my home library over the past week or so. I’ve become quite adept at assembling flat pack furniture in the past few years. Now I’m trying to work out how to arrange books on the new shelves. It is taking longer than I hoped and has become something of a mission.

It probably shouldn’t be as hard as it is turning out to be. I’m probably over-thinking the question of where to put particular texts.

Certainly, I know that there is plenty of study to be done in 2015. I finally made it back to the library at uni today. It felt like it had been closed for ages. It hasn’t. It was only for a few weeks and I could have gone earlier this week but…other things, other plans, various responsibilities, the (wow, wasn’t that a good one!) Big Bash League Perth Scorchers v Brisbane Heat game on Thursday… TODAY was LIBRARY day.

View of UWA Arts building weather vane
In the bright quiet

The day dawned bright and sunny (then, again, every day in Perth seems to dawn bright and sunny at the moment…summer tends to come across as relentless…). Packing my bag for the day (afternoon, in fact, because it is still vacation and the library opening hours are limited) was a joy. It felt good to be back. There was hardly anyone around and the library was quiet. I found some material that I think will be useful. I even managed to stay focused on the list I’d prepared. Is it just me that finds tangents tempting when the catalogue just unfurls with the flick of a switch in front your eyes?

I should possibly confess, at this point, to jumping from drawer to drawer when using the card catalogue decades ago. Tangents are not a new thing for me…

In amongst all the ‘not-writing- time’ I’ve spent over the past few weeks, I’ve managed to work out some of the questions I want to focus on. Most of all, I’ve worked out that there’s an awful lot to do. Tangents are not likely to be helpful. I’m planning on making 2015 a year of being organised. Any tangent chasing needs to be scheduled and mindful. I’m wondering whether the image of the simply wrapped parcel will be useful to carry with me.

I need to minimise distractions. I need to keep things simple. I need to not fuss.

If I can do that, I think I will be on the way to making the year a good one.   *This feeling of ‘right’ places is important to me. I might try to explain it one day. Or, perhaps, it’s for a poem… **I haven’t had a coffee for nearly three years. (Just two or three weeks to go until I get to the three year mark…) I don’t know why I was tempted. I don’t miss it that much on a day-to-day basis.

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…

A moment in the sun – reading and writing when the sun is shining

Yesterday, I took some time out.

When I packed up my laptop and headed out the door in the morning, my plan was find somewhere to write. It was a beautiful day and I thought it would be good to be in the fresh air.

I can’t begin to describe how much I like fresh air. Or, at the very least, air to be moving across my face. I think of a walk in a bracing wind is one of life’s pleasures. I need a fan on my desk while I work.

There was no bracing wind in Perth yesterday. Well, not the parts of Perth I was in. It’s a sprawling city. It could well be that there was a bracing wind somewhere in the area but I didn’t come across it.

What I did find was sunshine. Beautiful, spring-time sunshine. In a few months the searing heat will make asphalt melt, but this was a gentle warmth that was just right for basking. The sunshine in Perth at this time of the year is delightful, the stuff of rhapsody and odes.

I burn easily, so I wasn’t in the sun for long but I did take the time to sit and feel its warmth on my skin. I enjoyed how different the day was from last weekend’s storm. I watched the gentle movement of the flowers in the garden outside a shopping complex. I sat and was still.

Random flowers from a sunny morning
A moment in the sun

Just thinking

I didn’t end up writing very much. Some days are like that. Yesterday, I was in a reflective mode.

Even when I was looking at the shelves at New Edition I was thinking about other books. There were titles I was looking out for but I couldn’t see, authors who reminded me of other authors. It was one of those free-wheeling episodes that bookshops offer up. I found it really hard to work out what I wanted to buy.

I was trying a new approach to book buying and reading: select one book and commit to reading that book over the week to come.

I was on my way to an appointment and only had half an hour or so to spare. That in mind, I’d parked in a fifteen minute bay. As I tried to find a book … the book … I became aware that I must have been in the shop longer than the fifteen minutes. Perhaps not. I find bookshops are places where time can be particularly elastic.

I thought the ‘one book experiment’  would be helpful.  Just the one book on the, frankly overwhelming, to be read pile has its enticements. I was backing up last week’s successful enterprise of reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog.* Repeating the experiment seemed a good idea.

It turned out to be quite pressuring.

I eventually settled on A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro because I’d been thinking about how much I like Never Let Me Go in the light of my previous ‘top ten’. Faced with all the possible choices it made sense to settle on an author whose work I’ve previously enjoyed.

Later, when I went to enter my purchase into my Goodreads list I found out I already had a copy. The annoying thing about it was that I had been flicking through Goodreads while I was scanning the shelves. Clearly, I hadn’t been paying attention. There had also been the over-time in the parking bay issue to consider.

I walked back to Henry Street to exchange the duplicate copy. I still had plenty of time to spare in my new parking bay. Staying with my initial decision seemed the best (and most time-efficient) option so I picked up an alternative Ishiguro. This time it was When We Were Orphans. I haven’t started it yet, but I’m looking forward to it.

Ishiguro's When We Were Orphans and stamping material
Accessioned and ready to read

In the meantime, I can’t find the copy of A Pale View of Hills that I gather I should have on my book shelves. Perhaps it is lurking somewhere unexpected – waiting to ambush me? A sentinel gone AWOL?

There is a substantial pile of books waiting for a new bookcase. I guess it must be in there – buried deep in the middle.

Paying attention

Although there wasn’t any actual writing done I did make some progress. I walked away from the day – and the week – with more fodder for the (recently disciplined scrawl of notebooks. I’m not a fan of lifting people and their habits or situations from their daily lives and dumping them into stories. I’ve never been able to work like that.

That said, I do find it useful to pay attention. I’m happy to make a note of tiny things that catch my eye and might be useful, ideas especially from images and phrases. They can sometimes be assembled at a later point. Mostly, however, I springboard from a note into something that has no obvious relation to the original observation.

I like how that works for me in my writing.

There are images that stay with me for ages before I work out how to use them.

I’m not ready to do anything with yesterday’s but I have been thinking about one from quite some time ago: as I reversed out of my driveway I looked out of the window – to check for traffic. I remember the morning was already hot and my eye was caught by a crow. He was black and glossy. In his beak he carried three coloured chocolate balls (the type with the glossy sugar crust on the outside…the logo was still clear on one). There was a blue, a red and a yellow. They were vibrant against the blackness of his beak.

This happened years ago and I think that – finally – I might have a way to use it. I’m still not sure whether it will be whole image or just a shadow. I hope I’ll be able to resolve it soon, though. Perhaps I’ll be ready to share the ‘final’ (things are never really final) product next time I post.

Patience

I can be impatient for the weekend to come. The two days loom as opportunities to do everything that I didn’t get done in the week. Sometimes I try to schedule too much in. I always have high hopes of getting a good amount of reading and writing done.

The promise of sunshine and fresh air lured me out of my study and I didn’t quite do what I planned but that’s ok. It is probably more than ok.

Instead of the planned writing, I

  • solved a problem (well, worked out how to use an idea that wasn’t really troubling me, but … let’s go with the concept of a problem solved)
  • thought about my response to The Elegance of the Hedgehog (not that I’ve decided whether I like it or I don’t – I have some issues with the penultimate chapter and I’ve been thinking about that, and how my attitude fits in with my own approaches to structuring stories – since I finished it last weekend)
  • felt the sun at my back and a gentle breeze in my hair.

Not a bad day to end the week at all. Looking at the day ahead of me now, I have plenty to be going on with.

Here’s to a fruitful week of reading, writing, thinking and mooching.

 

*I’m not sure I would have finished The Elegance of the Hedgehog if it hadn’t been my book for the week.

Playing favourites – the trouble with settling on favourite books

I love alarm-free mornings. I drift into awareness that I’m ready to be awake and I don’t have anywhere that I need to be in the next few hours. They are golden.

Today was a case in point.

I listened to the rain. I skipped about the internet on my tablet. I wandered out to the kitchen and ate a bowl of cereal.

No rushing. No fretting. A pleasant change of pace.

This week I’ve been thinking about reading

This week I found myself at the Millpoint Caffe Bookshop. I used to go there a lot and it was lovely to walk back through those doors.

It got me thinking about reading – especially about how my reading habits have had to change over the years.

Black and white bird searching for crumbs
A bookshop companion

I’ll be honest. It can be hard to get to my reading pile. I’ll be honest, again; there’s more than one.

There are pillars of books that threaten to topple. There are books that have been shelved without being read. They wait. I think of them as hidden sentinels. They lurk.

I take comfort in knowing I’m not alone.

Well not as far as the multiple reading piles go. I suspect others might be reluctant to admit to allowing a degree of anthropomorphism to their libraries.

Then again, books are companions. They function as tokens – in the sense of standing in for something bigger or less permanent. I run my fingers along the spines of books on my shelves and I remember where I was when I bought them or read them.

I remember who was with me. I remember conversations. I remember if I laughed or cried.

One weekend, at the start of my first teaching job, I sat down to read all the books that had been assigned my classes. I was stepping into someone else’s reading plan and the assigned texts were all new to me. All five books left me in tears. Two of them escape me just now but I distinctly remember finishing first Bridge to Terabithia then The Chrysalids and, straight after that, I Heard the Owl Call my Name. I wept my way through all of them.

I haven’t read them for years but I know I’ll go back to them. Even taking them off the shelves today brought back memories. There was the frangipani by my window, the brilliant stars when I went outside at midnight to force a break in the reading and its impact.

Picking favourites

A friend asked me for my ‘top 10 books’ during the week. – It was one of those ‘you’ve been tagged in a post’ things…

As I hit post to share the list I felt that regret that I knew I would have as soon as I started to pick and choose.

The list I put up was:

  1. Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader – Anne Fadiman
  2. Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro
  3. Nights at the Circus – Angela Carter
  4. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
  5. L’Etranger – Albert Camus
  6. To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf
  7. The Lost Thoughts of Soldiers – Delia Falconer
  8. The Patron Saint of Eels – Gregory Day
  9. Shipwrecks – Akira Yoshimura
  10. Pearl – Jane Draycott

As soon as I read back over the list I realised that I’d missed including The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. Instant remorse. I know I had specifically meant to include it because it was the reason Jane Eyre made it onto the list. (The only reason Jane Eyre was in question was because I’d set myself a rule about not including books I’ve taught. L’Etranger made it because I cheated with that rule a smidge…I haven’t taught it in French…)

Then – and I back to the anthropomorphic potential of books – I spun the chair in my study and looked straight into the spine of Fly Away Peter by David Malouf. If books could glower…

Even with the (broken) rule about not including books I’ve taught I knew it was a book I probably wanted to have on the list.

It would be cheating to have a top 10 in point five increments, I suppose.

What I’m reading now

For the past few months my posts have focused on writing (and not writing) and buying books. It occurs to me that I haven’t dwelt on reading.

At least, not in any great detail.

Perhaps I should review my posts to check this is correct but I know I don’t really need to.

I never seem to have the time I’d like for reading. By that I mean the sort of reading where I kick back and read a novel just for the pleasure of the ride.

I’ve been re-reading Silk by Alessandro Baricco. It is such a slim volume I could have ripped through it in a flash. Instead I’ve been making myself take my time. Just a chapter at a time, spaced out over days. The measuring out of the reading has been a great way to engage with Baricco’s story.

When I picked up Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer a few weeks ago I planned to save it for the Christmas break. I’ve been dipping into it but I think it does need more space than I’ve been able to give it so far. I suspect I need to be more focused and reflective than I’ve been able to be just lately.

When I found myself in a bookstore last weekend I decided it was time to buy a book that I wanted to just read. With that in mind, I made myself settle on just one book as THE ONE that I would commit to for the week. I chose Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog (as translated by Alison Anderson).

It won’t just be the book I remember, but the people I met up with and  the bird that pecked at crumbs by our table. I’ll also remember that we were sitting a table where I’ve sat with those and other people over the years. People who are no longer with us and people who I’ll meet up with at other times.

It’s made for a rare and wonderful day. I had been dipping into the novel on and off for a couple of days. Today I’ve been able to concentrate on reading for decent chunks of time. I took it with me when I went to run the usual Saturday errands.

Cafe table with novel and refreshments
A lovely spot for reading

I don’t tend to read before bed. I find that, rather than helping me unwind, late night reading leaves me wanting to read until the end of the story – and perhaps the end of another.

It’s not a school night, though, is it? It’s  late but I only have a hundred or so pages to go…

I think I’ll make sure tomorrow is another day that begins with the alarm clock staying silent.

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.