I find myself at a loss. There is no excuse, really. I’m at Public and Co, in South Freo. It’s comfortable. The music is fun. As a found-space for writing, it is perfect.*
Yesterday, I knew precisely what I was going to write for today. It was a glorious day on campus. The sky was that blue you get on a warm, clear day in winter. The air was crisp. I remember the weather and where I was as I thought ‘yes, that’s it’ (I was passing the Oak Lawn on my way back to Arts before heading for the Club). The idea has evaporated.
The story of my life. Ideas come and go. If I’m lucky – i.e. sensible – I make a note. Often, I just get caught up. As I move on to the next thing I let go of an idea to take in something new.
So, here I am. My Saturday posting is a self-imposed and arbitrary deadline. It only matters because I’ve decided it does. There’s no other reason. Still, I need to meet it.
I remember the air was crisp.
Chaucer to Manson by way of Coleridge
Earlier this week, I found myself in front of a (thankfully small) group of strangers. I needed to give a presentation and I hadn’t prepared. There had been some confusion and I wasn’t sure I needed to … I should have. Being prepared is always helpful. I had said to my colleague that I would probably talk about poetry. When the moment came, poetry was what I latched onto.
I was lucky that I have been thinking so much about poetry of late. The other topics in my sights at the moment are women’s agency in late medieval and early modern English writing, impoverished knights and the experience and expression of shame – again late medieval, style guides and project plans. Looking at it, poetry was the friendly option.
I had tried a couple of times to make some notes. Nothing I came up with seemed to be at all promising. I had rehearsed some ideas – in a vague way, unable to settle on any form or content. I hadn’t written anything down.
In the flurry of the introduction and no knowing what I was going to talk about I launched into storytelling. I took my audience on a whirlwind ride. I remember I began with a joke – which I worried may have been inappropriate but couldn’t stop to check or apologise for – and I headed to Coleridge, his mariner and a funeral for a pen in a Literature class when I was in Year 11. I zipped backwards to Chaucer and I ended with Marilyn Manson.
I’m not entirely sure what I said – or how I got from one poet to the next – the whole thing is a blur. I know I mentioned haiku and Ezra Pound couplets. I think I spoke for 5 minutes. I’m not sure what my time limit was.
I’ve told the funeral-for-a-pen story before, I’m pretty sure I know how that bit went.
Luckily, they laughed with me
I dread speaking in public. I used to speak quite a bit but I don’t do it that much these days. The further away I got from regular presentations, the scarier they became. It makes sense to me – more or less.
Apparently the talk this week went ok, though. While I can’t remember precisely what I said, I do remember that the audience laughed. I like it when that happens. Well, when an audience laughs with me. That’s quite nice.
The timer had flicked the panel of lights from green to amber. I knew the switch to red had to be on its way. I realised I wasn’t sure of the rules. Did I need to finish before the red? Was it ok to finish on the red? That’s the moment when I really began to panic. I was trying to find a way to finish off. That’s how Marilyn Manson got pulled into the whirlwind. It was a straw I happily grabbed at. It pulled everything together. I think. I trust.
It would be nice to remember what I actually said. It would be helpful to remember what the evaluator said. The words, like so many ideas, have evaporated.
I do remember that it felt good when the next person stood to speak.
The habit of over-thinking
So, where do these musings fit?
It’s not just that I’ve forgotten my initial idea. Nor that I mourn that it has escaped my grasp. I’m sure it will come back to me. At an inconvenient time. Probably the dead of night.
In the meantime, I have been thinking about the role over-thinking plays in my writing. There are areas where I think I just need to let some of go. While I don’t think unprepared talks are necessarily advisable, my Coleridge-Chaucer-Manson talk from this week probably worked because I just launched into it.
The imperative of getting to my feet and getting the words out meant that I got the talk done. Could it have been better? Probably. Would it have been better with drafting and rehearsal? Possibly.
Where it was tempting to over-think, not thinking (as such) seems to have had its merits. That’s something to think about.
*I have no intention of writing about food on this blog. It isn’t really my ‘thing.’ BUT … as I wrote this I indulged in an early lunch that took the form of a very late brunch … wild mushrooms done in sherry butter with really crispy bacon and toasted ciabatta. Wow.