Letting go – giving in to the pleasure of reading

It is Sunday afternoon and on the way to my desk at Uni I succumbed to the temptations of the delights of a pot of tea (or two) and a seat outdoors at Little Way, an eatery near campus that opened a week ago.

It felt good to be outside in the fresh air. I fluffed about with some work but not much. The tea really was very good and I enjoyed the crumbed squid I opted for.

On reflection, tea and squid doesn’t make a lot of sense as a combination and I will be more thoughtful with my ordering next time but each was lovely in their own way.

Mostly, I was excited by the coolness of the fresh air.

Newly opened eatery Little Way, on Broadway in Nedlands
Fresh and inviting

 

A cool change

I seem to be inside all the time of late. This is partly because Perth has been so hot and the air outside has been like warm soup but also because I’ve either been at either my day job office or at Uni. To be outside with a cool breeze against my face was delicious. To switch off, frankly, joyous.

I don’t often goof off on a weekend afternoon. Even over the Christmas – New Year period, I kept the work going as much as I could. I’ve studied part-time while working full-time for most of my working life and, as a result, my weekends have been ‘golden’ for years. If I haven’t been studying I’ve been writing.

Catching up with friends and family punctuates the routine.

Knowing how I ‘should’ be spending my weekend time and not doing so tends to leave me uneasy. Last week, though, I’ve realised I’m at peak capacity and I felt I needed to step back a little. The year is just a couple of weeks old and I’m thinking of a holiday; just a week away, somewhere quiet, somewhere without a library.

I tend to measure a good holiday by the quality of the libraries I spend time working in. The idea of a library-free holiday feels unusual. I’ve also been weighing up the idea of making the week technology free. I don’t know how that will go. Surely it couldn’t be as hard as it feels it would be? I

’m also not sure how I’ll put together a week away. I suspect it will come down to a compromise. A week off with just a couple of days away may do the trick?

While this will go down as one of my most ‘unproductive’ weeks on record, I have made some inroads. While reflecting on my thesis topic, I’ve made links between a range of unexpected sources and influences that will be useful for further exploration. This is more exciting than I can explain, other than to say it is always heartening (yet also, on some levels, disappointing) to identify connections between the world today and what I’m looking at in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

My next step is to confirm how to make them work. They aren’t ready for public consumption but I’m looking forward to developing my explanations of the connections. That my awareness of these connections has emerged through serendipity is a bonus. What seems to be serendipitous may, of course, just be that I left my mind free for some processing space.

Using poetic forms as a means to make notes and work with ideas continues to be helpful. I haven’t ‘finished’ anything but I have jottings that are promising. At the very least, they are useful as notes and starting points for the next piece of work. I’m still in that space where any words on the page are exciting; that those words might take on a pleasing shape gives me joy.

The calm of reading

I love reading but I lately I haven’t been reading fiction for pleasure. With so much else to be doing I just let it slide. This weekend I’ve indulged in some pleasure reading. I (finally) finished A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale and I’ve nearly finished Careless by Deborah Robertson.

I enjoyed the Gale and can’t explain why it took me so long to read it. The practical reason is possibly that I put it down for a minute and it got buried under papers for a bit, languishing until I uncovered it. I had been meaning to read Careless for ages. This morning seemed like the perfect time to crack into it. I’m expecting to finish it tonight.

The thing that has pleased me about this weekend’s reading is that I’d (somehow) forgotten how different reading for pleasure is from reading for information. It is wonderful to remember that reading can be calming. I love what I’ve been reading for Uni but, for the most part, it hasn’t been relaxing of late. This weekend I have revelled in immersing myself in stories and how refreshing that can be.

As the weekend comes to a close I am still tired. The dream of a modest holiday lingers as a necessary goal but I have to admit that I’m feeling more relaxed. I let go of the routine and, while I may later be tempted to rue the day that I did, it is delightful to feel this relaxed.

Lilies in the moat at the Reid
Memory of calm

 

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.  

Poetry, memory and readiness – daily life and poetry

As I walked back to my car after last week’s symposium there was a kookaburra scrabbling for its dinner in the dirt under a tree. I stood for a while to watch. It was getting on for dusk and the campus was quiet. I was tired but happy. My head buzzed with ideas.

That brief moment watching the bird was calming. I took some time. I breathed.

I’m sure the memory of that moment will find its way into a poem at some point. I tend not to keep a journal as such but some (not all) of my writing contains snippets that are memories I want to keep. They are incidental – loading that word in a way I’ve not considered before.

It would be lovely if I had a photo to share of the kookaburra. Unfortunately, I don’t. (My phone – and therefore my camera – was in a bag of rice at the time.)

A week of poetry

Reading, writing and listening to poetry gives me joy. I think it is the play of words on the page and in the air.

Words were certainly in the air at Voicebox Fremantle on Monday night. Voicebox is a poetry performance event that comes around on the last Monday of the month. The format is generally three guest poets who read for about 20 minutes each.  Then there are about ten five-minute open mic spots that are slotted in around breaks. It’s a format that works well.

I don’t get to go as often as I would like. This time around I was feeling pretty tired with plenty to be working on after the symposium but I dragged myself to Freo. I’m so glad I did.

It turned out it was Voicebox’s birthday – and a year since the Voicebox performances moved to The Fly Trap, the side-bar at the Fly by Night .

The three guest poets for June were Allan Padget, Anne Elvey and Murray Jennings. I enjoyed each of their readings. I would happily listen to their poems again, and read them on the page. Elvey’s poems stood out for me, I think because of the way she was using some complex vocab in interesting ways. She’s reading again this afternoon – at the Perth Poetry Club – but I need to crack into some research and can’t make it.

Some of the open mic spots were particularly good. Anna Minska’s a capella performance of a new poem that ‘insists’ on being sung was outstanding. It mesmerised the audience. I was in awe of the poem and her performance.

After effects

The thing about going to events like Voicebox – even if I am just quietly sitting in the corner – is how they energise and connect.  I had felt so tired after work (and the busyness of the weekend) that I had considered not driving the half hour to get to Freo. At the end of the evening, I walked back to my car – this time well into the night – feeling calm and just that little less fatigued.

I’m back to filling the well really.

In the days that followed I reflected on the performances. I talked about them, and about writing. I also followed up on some poems from the symposium: Byron, Coleridge, Marvell. I thought about Keats for a bit.

Papers, notebooks and text
Bits of poetry taking shape

One of those conversations I had led to a request that I share some poems. I was reluctant but I found myself looking through my ‘finished’ poems. That, in turn, led to something of a mini-stocktake.

On taking stock

My heart sank a little when I saw the hard evidence that I haven’t had a lot of poems make it into a ‘finished’ pile in the last few years. I’ve done plenty of writing (thousands of words for uni, for example) but I’ve steered clear of the personal and the poetic.

That’s ok – it’s too bad if it’s not, to be honest. I’ve made choices and I’ve been aware of doing so as I’ve gone along and not committed to finishing poems. (I also haven’t finished other bits of writing. The poems are not alone in this.)

It strikes me, though, that this week’s stocktake went deeper than just flicking through. I wasn’t simply looking at what was there. I was looking for what I considered to be ready for sharing. It was material that I’ve shared before, why would it no longer be ready for sharing? The question seemed silly even as I thought about it.

I know that there has to come a point where I draw a line under a piece of writing (again, it’s not just the poems) and say ‘enough, it’s done’.

Drawing a line

So, in the spirit of sharing and drawing a line, here’s a poem (from 2009) that I consciously wrote as a memory piece. When I was writing it I really enjoyed the idea I was playing with. I was at the window of a room at the back of the Art Gallery of WA, at the Á propos poetry conference. It might not be ‘ready’, but here it is…

Falling

At the window
a tree lets loose
its blooms

To rain soft white
in overcast
morning

Autumn coming
a touch ahead
of time.

This brief prelude
heralding the
season.