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 long weekend – a golden time for all things ‘bookish’

As a republican – of the Australian let’s-cut-those-antiquated-ties variety, not the American political party type – I realise my excitement about a long weekend for the Queen’s birthday is not quite right.

I can’t help it, though. Long weekends are like gold and I’ll take them where I can get them.

My idea of a well-spent long weekend is not about relaxing and kicking back. I cram long weekends with things-that-need-to-be-done. I (try to) to catch up with the things-I’ve-missed-doing.

I have plenty to be keeping me busy over the next three days.

There are the usual chores and regular appointments. I have some bits and pieces from work that I need to play around with. I’m catching up with a couple of friends for a screening of the RSC production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona.* I want to do some writing. I need to do some reading. I’d quite like to catch up on the exercises for Blogging 101 that I haven’t managed to do.

My priority for this long weekend, though, is to finish sorting my study. My ‘Authority to Enrol’ letter arrived this week. I can’t wait to get started.

Before I do, I need to be sorted.

My desks need to be clear. My filing needs to be done. My books need to be ready.

I need to make some space for library books because as soon as I have a new library card…there will be guests to accommodate.

Looking towards the Tropical Grove from the reading terrace at the Reid Library
View from a favourite working space

The home library

I’ve spent the last few weekends pulling my library into a semblance of order. It’s a long way from where I need it to be, but it’s coming along. The real work will happen over the Christmas/New Year break. In the meantime, I’ve been sorting and shelving.

I’ve been thinking about a cull. Thinking. I must stress that. It’s just thinking so far. I can’t remember the last time I cleared space on shelves…

There are a two or three titles that I know I will never go back to. Never. I didn’t enjoy reading them and I wouldn’t suggest to my friends that they sit down with them, either. They should probably go. The only emotional attachment I have to them is negative.

Now that I think about it, they can leave the premises this afternoon.

There are also some books that are in an appalling condition. They should probably go. Probably. Some of them. Maybe.

I’m wondering whether others could reside in an archive quality, acid-free box for a bit.

Would that do them any good? Would it do them any harm? Should I already have done this?

The books I’m thinking most concerned about are my grandparents’ prayer books and missals. They are old and in poor condition. I have no plans to cull them. I just don’t know what to do with them. I use them sometimes when I’m writing. They are a link back to people and beliefs that I’ve lost. I treasure them but they are not looking well.

Even if I had them rebound, I think they’d need some better accommodation than I am currently offering them.

Two Books of Common Prayer and two Missals
Family relics

Let the games begin

Signing up for a PhD while working full-time is a tad daunting. It’s not an impossible task but it will be tricky.

I gather I have about six-eight years to get the work done. I’d like to think I can get it done perhaps a little ahead of time. If not, I’d like to be done within the six years.

I might be dreaming. I might not. We’ll just have to wait and see.

It would be an awesome 50th birthday present to myself if I’ve kept to my planned timeline.

I’ll need to maintain a pretty structured approach to my weeks. Weekends will need to be guarded jealously. Long weekends – especially when uni is open – must be utilised.

I’ve said it before, long weekends are golden.

Family, friends and fun…all need to be in the mix as well.

I’m excited about my topic. For now – because I know it might need to be tweaked as I get into the research – I’m working with the title Representations of late medieval and early modern English women’s agency.

Here is my overview.

This project will explore the forms of agency available to women through examination of historical and literary representations in vernacular texts from the late medieval and early modern period in England. For the purposes of this project, agency will be taken to be the capacity of an individual to act of their own volition. Women’s actions and responses will be examined to investigate the proposition that agency is available within specific ways and contexts; that historical and literary texts test social structures. A particular focus will be the experience, description and expression of agency in the context of emotional communities – where the domestic as well as the civic is politicised and emotionally discursive.

While women in positions of privilege are likely to offer the greater amount of direct textual material, examples representing women in less privileged positions will be sought. In particular, textual representations of opportunities for women to actively respond to situations, engage in negotiations and decision-making processes, and determine access to their bodies will be explored. It is in these activities that the forms of agency available are directed by context.

Texts about, for and by women will allow for the consideration of a broad evidence base. The late medieval component will use texts ranging from romance and lyrics to legends of women saints and accounts of pilgrims, letters, wills and testaments, and sermons and treatises. Consideration of the early modern period will expand the project’s focus to include plays, poetry, creative prose and life writing.

There are some great texts and references that I came across during my Masters and I’ve found some more while doing the preliminary reading and developing the topic. I can’t wait to get started properly.

Would it be too keen to be at the enrolment office when they open on Monday morning?

 

*I’m never sure about films of stage productions but I’m looking forward to it in any case.

Time to reflect – taking stock and making plans

The idea of ‘where to next?’ has been keeping me busy.

It’s that time of year where I like to take time and consider where I’m at and where I’m going.

Although it felt a lot like summer in Perth yesterday, it’s spring. Trees are in bud. Ducklings are trying to fall into line behind their parents.

Distant shot of duck with four ducklings
Ducks in a row … of sorts

To celebrate the season, I’ve indulged in some low-level spring-cleaning. It’s probably not a surprise that that’s code for I’ve been sorting through books and paperwork. I’m trying to sort wardrobes, too.

I should probably take it up a notch and clean some windows. Perhaps even pull some of the flourishing weeds.

Looking around, I can see I’m not alone. Introspection and planning are the order of the season.

The year is nearly done and I’m not sure I’ve done enough with what January promised.

I should turn that around.

I’m not sure I’ve done enough with what I promised January.

It’s not just my promises to January, though. I’m coming up to a half-milestone birthday just before Christmas. How am I going with what I thought I’d do with my forties?

Milestone birthdays are a bit of a focus in our family just now.

Work-life balance and aspirations

I think it it fair to say that my twenties and thirties weren’t particularly balanced. Not as such.

I spent a lot of time working. It wasn’t about money but I prioritised my career over pretty much everything else. I had fun but I was locked into work and the idea of a career. I still tend to prioritise my day-job tasks over the other parts of my life. Back then, though, I made my choices on the basis of a career path.

In my twenties and thirties, I fed my passion by writing when I could. It was almost by stealth. I looked for windows when I could fit activities (and people) in. I studied externally – choosing courses that fed into my passion for the written word. My favourite example of this is that I wrote a Masters dissertation on Henry James, E. M. Forster and Michael Ondaatje mostly so I could spend hours reading Forster. I picked up a graduate certificate in professional writing because units in creative writing hadn’t been available during my undergraduate degree.

In my spare time, such as it was, I participated in writing groups and – when I could – collaborated on theatre projects and community arts activities. I miss rehearsal rooms and workshops. I miss performance nights. I even miss that come down when the season finishes and it’s not quite time to turn to the next project.

It made for a frenetic pace.

I juggled time and, when I wasn’t juggling it, I guarded it. Ferociously.

One day, as I neared forty, my friends and I were kicking around ideas for what we’d do if our lives were responsibility-free and we could do anything. It was a bit of ‘lotto dreaming.’  Travel, houses cars were high on priorities. My dream? … I said I’d want to go back to uni and pick up my studies in medieval literature from my Honours year.

Of course, you don’t need to win the lottery to go back to study* and I didn’t want to wait until I retired before studying in the area that fascinated me. Besides, part-time study and full-time work had become the norm for me. The obvious thing was to enrol in a Masters of Medieval and Early Modern Studies and just get started.

As far as that goes, I think I’ve spent the first half of my forties being fairly productive. Work-wise I’ve been busy as well.

The irony that my Forster dissertation is on travel narrative has been pointed out to me on more than one occasion.

If you’ve been read other posts on this blog, you’ll probably now I’ve worked out the next step as far as my academic plan goes.

I also need to work out my career options.

A lot of my self-definition is tied into my career and the way I work. Perhaps I do need to vary my approach, though. Feeding passions by stealth is (probably) not my best choice. It will do at a pinch. It has served me well in the past. In the meantime, I’m working towards greater integration in my fifties.

I figure I’m giving myself a good run-up.

Ebb and flow

While I haven’t quite worked out my where to next destination, I have come up with a visual concept for the next steps I want to make.

It comes down to constancy and change; like the solid presence of this shoreline rock and the always changing water.

I love the paradox of constancy in change, change in constancy. The rock  is steady but it changes imperceptibly with every lick and lap of the waves. The waves are coloured and flavoured by the rock.

Gentle waves lapping at shoreline rocks
Movement and stillness

I may not have solved my question where to next but I do think I may have found a poem.

*Well, perhaps it would make life easier … and there are the proposed changes to tertiary education funding and fees to consider …

Postscript: I’m not sure of the etiquette here. I made a couple of tweaks to this post after waking up far too early with a case of poster’s regret. I couldn’t resist. I’m not sure it’s the best way to do things, but … I just couldn’t leave it alone.  

Filling the well – inspiration, creativity and productivity

The idea of ‘filling the well’ is one of the best things that I took away from working through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way (Pan, 1994).

It is years since I worked through the book. I remember making myself all sorts of commitments at the time. The one that has stayed with me is ‘filling the well’. If I’m drawing from the well then I need to make sure it isn’t going to run dry. I also need to make sure I can get to it. That’s pretty obvious. It makes sense.

Part of me would like to hunt out the notebook where I worked through Cameron’s exercises. I’ve no idea of where to begin to look for it now, though. It’s too long since I’ve seen it. There might be a chance that I jettisoned it in one of my (thankfully rare) I-must-not-hoard-this-clutter purges.

To be honest, I don’t need the notebook in my hand to remember what is in it. Especially for the ‘filling the well’ exercise. I know what, who and where I identified as keeping the well I draw from fresh.

Why am I thinking about it now?

This has all come to mind because this is the week of the medieval and early modern studies symposium that I try to get to each year. Many of the topics are often out of my direct area of expertise. Sometimes it’s hard to shift my schedule around, but it’s always worth the effort. It is one of the events that come up that I move my life around to be able to get to.

While most of my commitments from ‘the way’ have slipped into (fond) memory – morning pages and regular ‘artist dates’ used to be regular features of my creative life – making the time and space in my life to get to the symposium has stayed.  It is part of my filling the well.

The symposium brings together a lot of the elements of the list I came up with for the exercise: what – medieval and early modern literature (and now history), where – there are some places which help me focus on getting down to work, the UWA campus (and the general area of the river and King’s Park)  is one, and  who – my original list included individuals but also acknowledged how being a part of a community of writers is important to me, the symposium reflects (and creates) a community of scholars and writers that I enjoy being a part of.

Invariably, my understandings are deepened or my awareness extended by the papers given and conversations had at the symposium. There will always be something new that I will want to look up, even if just to satisfy my curiosity or find a point of clarification. I find links to my work – academic and creative – that I would never have thought of or, if I did, would have come about much later. Sometimes I find that I walk away with a bunch of ideas and images that will end up in a poem or a story. It all makes me happy.

In the past couple of days I’ve had the good fortune to participate in a master class on chivalry and the first day of a symposium on emotions and warfare in writing in the medieval and early modern period. It’s all been fascinating. I’m looking forward to today’s programme – most of which will be completely new to me. There are some poems being discussed which I’ve looked at a bit in the past – Andrew Marvell’s ‘Upon Appleton House’ I’ve thought about but done nothing with, the Alliterative Morte Arthure I’ve dipped into – but the other papers look like new territory. I can’t wait.

Not in the least distracting
Not in the least distracting

 A funny thing about the well

As I’ve been writing this a new idea has come to me for a spot of research (that I possibly should leave until later, because I already have a few projects on the go). I think I’d like to look at moments in medieval romances to see when knights ask for water. There are a couple I can think of where they stop in mid-fight to drink – or ask to be allowed to drink. I wonder how much work has already been done on that.

Perhaps there’s a poem/story that I want to work, too. But it will have to wait until later…