Another new beginning – thinking about what I want to write

I saw in the New Year watching Bright Star (Jane Campion, 2009), one of my favourite films. It was a quiet start to the year but I have to say I was more than happy to end 2015 calmly and ease my way into 2016. 2015 was relentlessly busy. There was so much thinking to be done, so much musing, I could have been thinking out loud on this blog a lot. But I kept thinking the better of it. The result? Just the one post for 2015. There were many words elsewhere and along the way but I found it hard to commit to them.

Something of a love affair

Perhaps ‘affair’ is not the right word. It was more a love-hate scenario, I’m afraid. I found myself really quite liking the delete button on my keyboard. I spent more time that I ought to have communing with the delete button. Not just the delete button, I’m afraid. There were also untold numbers of erasers (I started writing in pencil specifically so I could rub words out), shredders and wild ripping of pages in half and then half again. … Not a lot of what I wrote in 2015 survived.

There was writing for work, of course. I’m not thinking about that. The main issue was writing for uni. That was fraught, more so than I expected. I danced about my ideas for everything, finding it all frustrating and didn’t really want to bring that to this space. I’m only bringing it up now because I’m in the process of regrouping and making some plans for changes.

This is not just about the New Year

I’m not just posting this today because of it being 1 January. That is a nice coincidence. Today also happens to be a day that I have taken off. I wasn’t going to. I had planned to head to uni and get some work done. In the end, I just couldn’t resist. A day off is golden, such a beautiful thing and I’ve fallen into the trap of the public holiday. They can be so alluring, so glamorous – in its archaic sense of casting a spell.

Ensnared I may be but I’m pleased that I have not frittered the day away. I’ve pottered about in my study which is not before time. As I tend to race in and out there is a lot of ‘sorting my environment’ to be done. Filing and cataloguing books and DVDs are tasks that I know should be routine but … Let’s just say it is good to have dealt with a couple of the piles that were teetering precariously. I’ve been able to tick off a few jobs and tomorrow beckons as a productive day back at my desk. Yay. Seriously.

Refreshing this blog has  been on my list of things to do for months. Some of the planning I did for the 2015 revamp that never happened is sitting nicely in a file, ready to go. I sketched out a project last night for the year ahead.

The plan – as it stands at the moment

I acknowledge it is possible that I don’t need another project. I’ve just handed the first 10 000 or so words of my thesis and they need to be radically reworked before I head into the next chapter I’m writing. I’m looking at it more as a recreational pursuit. It is sort of ‘studyish’ but also my kind of fun … Have I mentioned before that I’m a bit of a nerd? I am.

I’ve started the year with Bright Star. I’m thinking it would be nice to watch a film that links to poem on a regular basis. Read the poem – watch the film – engage in some related (but not too much) associated readings – write about it a bit. As I’ve already indicated, I know this is my sort of fun and certainly not for everyone. I haven’t sourced copies of all the films yet so there might need to be changes. I also don’t know how I’m going to go for time. That said, here’s my list so far. You may notice I’ve gone for an eclectic mix and am open to versions that received less than glowing reviews…

  • January Bright Star (Jane Campion, 2009)
  • February O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2000)
  • March Jabberwocky (Terry Gilliam, 1977)
  • April The Raven (I’m not sure which version … Charles Brabin, 1915; Louis Friedlander, 1935; Roger Corman, 1963; James McTeigue, 2012?)
  • May Howl (Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman, 2010)
  • June Lady Lazarus (Sandra Lahire, 1991)
  • July Winter Days (Kihachirō Kawamoto, 2003)
  • August Beowulf (Robert Zemeckis, 2007)
  • September Beowulf and Grendel (Sturla Gunnarsson, 2005)
  • October Under Milkwood (Andrew Sinclair, 1972 … or, Kevin Allen, 2015?)
  • November The Nightmare Before Christmas (Tim Burton, 1993)
  • December How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Ron Howard, 2000)

My year is packed already but I’m looking forward to knowing there is poetry on my horizon.

Ducks in a row
Ducks in a row

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.

A trio of lectures – feeding my mind, filling the well

Deadlines are coming at me from all directions. They’re flying in thick and fast … and there’s no dodging them.

I’ve been a touch frantic in the past week. This, perhaps, explains how a whole mug of tea ended up on the study rug rather than by the computer. Perhaps.

As I’m not known for my coordination, it is possible the rather promising brew was always doomed.

The present collision of deadlines is unusual.

I am no stranger to the intersection of a few due dates but the current fortnight is a doozy.

My response? Set-up to-do list, remember that fretting about timelines makes me tetchy (sorry, loved ones), catch up with friends, remember to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air, sit on a couch by the window in a favourite cafe and write while waiting for an appointment,* take in a few lectures.

Pakenham St trees
Remembering to enjoy the sunshine

Why? Breaks that require me to stay alert and give time for reflection and planning are more helpful than simply ‘switching off”.

I find that if I choose television as a break activity I struggle to get back to working effectively. Engaging with other people and ideas creates space between one set of tasks and the next. So does the processing time that driving across town allows. I gather I’m not alone with this.

The bonus: once I’m on campus I find I am ready to focus and I tend to be quite productive. I think I’ve made that observation previously.

It was tricky, but I made it to three lectures this week. I’m glad I did.

The Bodleian and the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays

Wednesday was Pip Willcox’s talk for UWA’s Institute of Advanced Studies: ‘for Harry, England, and … everyone: the many lives of the Bodleian First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays’. Pip Willcox is Curator of Digital Special Collections at the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford. She gave an account of the Bodleian’s ownership of a specific copy of the book, the physical features of the book, and the project to digitise the Folio.

It’s probably no surprise that I’m a book geek. I find the history of books as objects – and the history and process of creating books – fascinating.  I wanted to make it to the lecture as soon as I saw the abstract. The story of this particular copy has drama and intrigue. I wish I had time to go into the details.

The digitised product Willcox was speaking about looks to be a wonderful resource. The project website is still available at http://shakespeare.bodleian.ox.ac.uk and the digitised version of the folio is available at http://firstfolio.bodleian.ox.ac.uk. I can’t wait to have some free time to get in and look around properly.

Bresnick on Blake, Goya and Kafka

Thursday brought another presentation sponsored by the IAS featuring the composer Martin Bresnick, Professor of Composition, Yale School of Music. The title of the talk was ‘Listening to Images, Hearing the Text: new music that engages the visual and the literary’.

Bresnick spoke about his work as a composer – particularly in relation to the development of his multimedia piece developed from ‘For The Sexes: the Gates of Paradise’ by  William Blake and his response to Francesco de Goya’s ‘Caprichos Enfaticos’.

The evening included a live performance of ‘For the Sexes: the Gates of Paradise’ by Lisa Moore. The combination of music, spoken word and a projected animation of Blake’s illustrations of the poem was intense and visceral. It left me wanting to go back to Blake and read more by and about him. I’ll also look out for an online version of the multimedia piece. Not just yet, though. I need time and space for that.

The recorded  extracts from ‘Caprichos Enfaticos’ were powerful, and disturbing. Again, I want to go back to look at the full piece. That will definitely be down the track.

There wasn’t time for a performance of the third billed piece, on Franz Kafka’s ‘A Message from the Emperor’ but Bresnick’s account of the piece was intriguing. Something else to look into … again, at a later date.

Qaisra Shahraz on Building Bridges

The final lecture in the trio was an author talk by Qaisra Shahraz on ‘Building Cultural Bridges through Literature’ that was sponsored by the UWA Centre for Muslim States and Societies.

Shahraz moved to Britain from Pakistan when she was nine. She writes novels and has a commitment to building bridges, using literature to celebrate diversity. Identifying as as British, Pakistani and Muslim, Shahraz spoke about how each of these identities is important to her as a person and a writer. Reading from her novels, she shared a world that is alien and familiar.

This third talk came as a welcome change of pace. Making the dash from work to uni didn’t appeal and I was tempted to cut my losses and head home. I’m glad I braved the freeway at peak hour.

I walked away with a copy of her first novel. I’m afraid it will linger on my shelf before I get a chance to read it. I will want to take time and not be distracted by other things.

Even if I’m tempted … I must resist for at least the next few weeks!

 

Playgound
I need time to play

*The window in question for this particular post was at Bread in Common. On Saturday morning the sun was streaming in, the sky was clear. It was perfect for writing and working out a plan of attack for the weekend and the week ahead.

 

A familiar dance – processing time is not always procrastination

My desk is tidy. Well, when I say ‘tidy’ I mean the half of the L-shape that is devoted to ‘technology’ is organised. I’ve washed and dried my hair. I’ve made my fingernails look a little less ragged. I’m about to finish my third mug of tea for the morning.

This is a dance I do. It would be quicker if, like the dog, I could just turn three circles, sit myself down and settle into the business of the day. For the dog that business is dozing. For me it is a to-do list.

This weekend’s general list includes emails, start week one of a mooc – before week two arrives, read articles for a research project, draft some notes for a talk I said I would give, complete essential chores, ignore non-essential chores, spend some time with family and friends, go for a walk  – preferably by the river where I’m confident there will be pelicans and I’m hopeful there will be dolphins.

Striking through

I do like crossing off items as they are done. It works for chores, projects, ideas that are acted on. I’ve been able to pull a couple of cards from my projects list in the past few weeks. They were among the smaller projects but it still feels good to have moved them to the ‘done pile’.

I also like to cross through titles in lists, verses in stanzas and paragraphs in prose. I can end up making a fair mess of any given page. For the most part, I’m comfortable with some untidiness on the page. There comes a point, though when too much mess becomes too fraught.

Making space

My mini-project of revising old notebooks – the scrawl I mentioned a couple of weeks ago – is in full swing. Putting sentiment to one side, some of the scrawl must give way. Space is at a premium.

The focus of today’s attention was made of recycled paper bound with string in a corrugated card cover. I liked the book when it came to me, but it has its quirks. The threading on the spine makes it hard to keep open. The texture of the leaves entices. It promises more than struck-through notes and drafts. I’ve always been aware that I didn’t choose as wisely as I may have liked when I started out with it as a place for early workings.

One draft is dated ’98, so this book has been hanging about for a while. All but one of the notes in this particular notebook have been acted on. Most of the worked on pages have been folded to show they are finished. On balance, I have to admit not that many pages have been used. I’d like to start over with it. I think the remaining leaves can be repurposed.

Old notebook made of recycled paper with corrugated cover
Step 1: Initiate
struck through pages
Step 2: Check
ready for reuse
Step 3: Repurpose

Repurposing and renewing

My habit of making lists and roughing out brainstorms of ideas is a useful strategy. It makes for wonderfully productive days. This was especially the case when I worked as a teacher. I had a holiday routine that involved reviewing the lists and notes I’d made during term. If pieces of writing weren’t finished I’d work on drafts and commit to finishing things off. Not all holidays allowed for the routine to be evenly productive but there was certainly a rhythm to the process that helped it along.

I’ve had to modify the way I approach lists. Sometimes there is too much time between the note of the idea and the point of writing. Well, too much time in being up to pick up with the reason for making the note. Sometimes they just have to be repurposed. At at other times, the note is as vivid as when first written.

Looking through a poetry file today, I saw a poem I finished in 2001. It’s ok but not for sharing here. The point about the poem (‘Faithless’) is I first noted the opening line in my first year teaching. That was 1992. In the years between the note and the poem there was little shift in the intent of the idea I hoped to explore.

Other ideas and images need to sit for a while – steeping like tea – before they are ready for use. There’s nothing worse than tea left for so long it becomes bitter and unpalatable. That said, even stewed tea is good for the roses.*

A rueful acknowledgement

I can be quite precious about notebooks. I let them kick around for decades, long enough to end up looking tatty and disreputable. I don’t often attack them with scissors. This poor stablemate was doomed from day one. Happily, I think it has a promising future now it is free of its binding.

I’m sure the next notebook taken from the scrawl for review will fare better. In fact, I doubt many of the notebooks in the scrawl would do as well if I attempted to repurpose them.

*Ooh. There’s a poem there. What luck!

The flutter-by effect – reflecting on my writing process

Years ago, I called one of my sisters ‘grasshopper’ in response to a question. In turn she called me ‘butterfly’ and then at some point – I’d obviously been a little scattered and not as focussed as (she thought) I could have been – I became ‘flutter-by’. I like to think it is a term of endearment rather than frustration. Sometimes it is, often … I just know that it isn’t.

The thing is, I know that there is an element (a whole table of elements probably) of truth my being called ‘flutter-by’ by my nearest and dearest.

malachite butterfly
Beautifully ragged … I hope it can fly

Is there a (fun) collective term for notebooks?

I quite like collective nouns. I love that you could have a rabble or a kaleidoscope or rainbow of butterflies. I’ve lived in a town where there was more or less a plague of butterflies for the first few weeks I was there. They were certainly a rabble.

(I won’t go into the plague of cockroaches that followed a few months latter. It is the stuff of nightmares. By the by, the collective noun for roaches is intrusion. That’s just about as perfect as you can get.)

When I tidied my desk last weekend I was struck by the sheer number of notebooks that had accumulated. There were stacks. It’s the right collective noun, but it just isn’t fun.

Perhaps I could suggest a drafting of notebooks or even a scrawl of notebooks? I’m actually prepared to just go it alone and start referring to having a scrawl of notebooks. – I’m sure collective nouns are still collective nouns if there’s just the one person who uses a particular term as the collective?

Flicking through some of the scrawl, I realised that I’m certainly prepared for any paper shortage that might hit suburban Perth. I also realised I have a plenty of work that I need to review, edit and commit to settling on as being finished. To be honest, I knew this already. Having the work in and out of my hands just made it real.

The work I need to complete ranges from poems and short stories to a couple of articles and reviews that I meant to finish months ago. I have – in short – been as blithe as my ‘flutter-by’ moniker would suggest. In fact, the  fifth sense of the OED (online) entry on blithe cuts a shade deep. (I suppose that’s the risk you run when you decide to do a quick check of the appropriateness of a word before you commit to it. I was more on the money than I first thought.)

New deadlines come in all the time …

In the end, I had to corral the notebooks into boxes. My plan is to work through each box systematically to review and sort the contents. My hope is that by ‘dealing with’ grouped units of books – one book at a time – I will be more effective than trying to sort the whole lot at once. It will also ensure I don’t fritter too much time away at the expense of work that I know I need to be doing now.

The danger – of course – is that it will now be the boxes that multiply exponentially.

Escaping the pinboard

In the end, what I know I need – as an inveterate flutter-by – is, I hesitate to say, pin myself down. But that seems a shade too violent, and not a lot of fun. So, I’m hoping that my approach to my writing/editing to-do list will help.

In no particular order ... but that red card looks urgent
In no particular order … but that red card looks urgent

Image of butterfly from mcamcamca