Spring hail – making plans but remembering to stay flexible

It is just gone 8:30 on Sunday. I’ve been up for hours and I don’t know that I have that much to show for my efforts.

I’m in a bit of a rush…

I have a stack of writing to do. Some of it will be fun. Some of it I’m dreading – but I have to do it. (I should possibly have started with the must-do writing rather than this post.)

I’m dressed to go to the gym.* I must go to the gym. I must, I must, I must. I’m not convinced this afternoon’s weather will be walk-friendly. I could take one of my little notepads and pencils with me so I can jot down ideas for this afternoon’s writing. That would make sense.

Finally, I’ve decided to reinforce the sense of being in a rush by passing over my regular Mozart, Vivaldi, Beethoven options for writing. Instead I’m listening to The Black Eyed Peas. The idea there is that I won’t settle into the mooching about that is so tempting on a Sunday morning.

Mooching is especially tempting today after yesterday’s storms.

Light hail falling on the Reid Library moat
I always want to stop and watch hail as it falls

The photo I’ve chosen doesn’t really show the hail shower from yesterday. It is, however, one of my favourite views from the reading terrace.

The hail stones that fell outside the Reid were just pebble sized. They fell and bounced on the turf. The water lilies closed in protest. Everyone on the terrace stopped to watch the shower. The hail melted in minutes.

The storm was much more severe in other suburbs. My social media streams have had a flurry of images showing flooding and destruction. Some of us were able to have fun with the storm. My thoughts are with those who didn’t have that luxury.

The last hail storm I was caught in was terrifying. It was back in 2010 and a freak storm hit Perth. I’ve never been so scared.

Yesterday’s storm – for me – was ‘gentle’. One of my favourite people had called by uni for a quick chat and cup of tea. The booming thunder made us jump and laugh. We took pictures of the hail. We sat back and talked about various approaches to study and revision. We planned blog posts.

The storm went on around us. The air cooled and after a while we went inside, but for the most part we sat on the terrace with our tea and enjoyed the weather.

We passed the time. The storm passed.

Hitting twenty

Despite the louring clouds, yesterday’s storm took me by surprise.

So did the realisation – despite the regular ‘You’ve posted your xth…’ message that pops up after posting – that this is my twentieth post.

Twenty posts seems as good a time as any to step back and think how things are going.

My original plan was to create a space to ‘think out loud’. I think I’m doing that.

I’ve realised that the space I wanted wasn’t just about the physical space of the blog. It was also about the time that I made in my schedule – for reflection and planning as well as writing.

I know that I spend a lot of time – perhaps too much time – thinking.

I like the processes that go with analysis and planning. I like putting ideas together. I like just playing with them – for no reason or purpose other than the moment of play.

Riffing on an idea is my idea of a good time.

Turning up to write a post is proving to be a useful tool for reflecting on whether I’ve made any progress and setting out what I’m planning to do next.

There’s also the bonus of being part of a community of bloggers. I can see that reading, liking, commenting on, following other people’s blogs is part of being a member of the community.

I’m afraid I’m not a terribly good community member, though.

I’ve just finished Blogging 101 and I have a lot – read most – of the activities left to do. There are people whose blogs I follow and I don’t get to check in on them nearly as much as I’d like. I hardly ever leave a well constructed, thoughtful comment. There never seems time and I worry about being trite.

I like to take time to think before I write. (There it is again. That whole thinking it over before making a commitment thing. I do a lot of paper-free drafting before setting words down.)

The community element is so important, though. Otherwise, I can see this blog might be just self-indulgent alternative to a personal journal. That’s not my intention. I’m happy to be a part of conversations. I like conversations.

That said, I can also be pretty quiet during face-to-face conversations. You might know how it is; I listen and find myself just thinking things through. Sometimes the conversation ends, people move on and then, then, I work out what I want to say.

I might need to take a moment to sign. I tend to sigh a fair bit. I should stop.

Fully blown yellow rose
A week on and fading

I took another picture of the rose bud I used for last week’s post yesterday morning. It doesn’t look like the same flower but it is.

Time moves on. Roses fade. Hail melts. Opportunities to relevantly articulate a thought drift away.

Where am I going with this?

I don’t want to be wasting time. Mine or anyone else’s.

In the past week I’ve been thinking a lot about how quickly time goes. Whether you’re having fun or not. I’m fortunate in that I mostly have fun.

It is one of the most helpful things about having an irreverent sense of humour. I don’t always share it but I do tend to amuse myself.

It’s just over 10 weeks to the New Year. That’s ok. I’ve made pretty good progress with the goals I set myself earlier in the year but longer-term planning is critical for me right now.

If I take the full 8 years maximum as a part-time student for a PhD I have 416 weeks. I’m three weeks in, so there are 413 weeks left.

If I can do it in the minimum 312 weeks as a part-timer, I have 309 weeks left.

I think I’ll need to spend more than the 309 weeks. I hope I don’t need to use up all 413.

As I move through the next 350 weeks (splitting the difference, more or less, seems like a fair thing), I think that the thinking out loud element of this blog is going to be important to me. I’m aware that I lost touch with reading for enjoyment and just plain fun while I was completing my MMEMS. I prefer that not to happen again.

The fact of the matter is there is reading and writing that I want and need to do that is outside my topic.

I’ve been loving reading on public transport, for example.

My car is back from the repairer and I need to use it to get to appointments after work. I’m one (short) commute from finishing Slaughterhouse 5 and I’d really like to report back on how that went for me once I finish it.

Plain clock face showing 8:00.
Time flies

The year is ebbing away. Today is slipping away. (How is it nearly 10:30 now?) I’ve reached this twentieth blog point in almost no time at all. Or, so it seems.

Thank you for stopping by to read – and for reading (skimming, skipping) to the end.

Thank you for letting me think about all this out loud.

*Apart from my shoes. I tend to leave putting on my shoes to the last possible moment. I take them off as soon as I can. There’s no getting around the fact that I’m not a huge fan of shoes.

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Words in transit – reading and writing on public transport

I don’t use it as much as I could but I quite like public transport.

This is fortunate.

I’m waiting for some mechanical work to be done on my car. While it’s off the road, I’ve been catching buses and trains.

It isn’t always convenient. It can be confronting and discomforting. In the mid of winter and at the peak of summer it can be less than pleasant. At this time of the year the weather in Perth is generally pretty good.

Breathing space

Getting places without having to engage with traffic gives me a wonderful sense of freedom. Being on a bus or train with strangers means I don’t have to be sociable. I can cocoon myself in (silent) words. I can listen to the words of the people around me.

I deal with time differently. I work out schedules more rigorously than I would normally do. I take time en route to pause and notice my surroundings. Rather than just zipping by I stop to smell the roses, or lavender, or even the dank stink of the Moreton Bay figs at uni.

The lavender in Freo this morning was particularly beautiful.

Lavender in bloom with butterflies
A heady scent

I like the opportunity public transport presents for being productive.

When I’m catching buses and trains I deal with time differently. It’s not just because of the timetables and having to be in the right place at the right time.

There’s the time walking and waiting that’s great for thinking.

I’m far too sedentary. I’m considering one of those treadmill desks that let you walk while you work…

Reading

I’ve decided to use my daily commute – on the bus/train it’s less than half an hour – to read novels. I’m wondering whether I should, perhaps, change that to research articles now that I’m formally enrolled and have some deadlines. That said, I also know I need to read for fun.

One of the novels I read this week, Ian McEwan’s The Comfort of Strangers, didn’t turn out to be much fun. Not to worry. It’s read now. I’m considering whether I want to keep it on my shelf or send it the way of last week’s cull. I suspect it is too soon to decide. I should let my memory of the story settle. My gut feeling, though, is that it’s not going to take space on my shelf for too long.

The other novel I read was Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. There were moments when I wasn’t sure about how I felt about the novel but in the end I loved it. I’ll definitely read it again…and again. It is one of those novels that I want to know more about – from my own and others’ reading. My regret is that my pristine-for-years copy is now battered from kicking around in my bag for a couple of days.

My next book-for-the-train is Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5. I first encountered a passage from the novel in my Year 12 Literature exam and then came across it as a whole as an undergrad. I remember that moment of recognition when I realised I’d ‘met’ the book before.*

I know we often talk about our first experiences of books. I’m also interested in the ways our experiences of reading a particular novel changes over the years.

On that note, I think I’d like to reread Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. My copy from first year is, sadly, in pieces. Even the rubber band I tried to contain it with has perished. Clearly I need to hunt out a new copy.

I wonder if I have it in my kindle?

I wonder where my kindle is…

Writing

The other thing I love about public transport is huge time and space it allows for writing. Not, as a rule, on a crowded weekday commute. That can be tricky. There are times when words have to be set down and it doesn’t matter where you are.

I know I’m not alone in this.

I find trains easier than buses for writing.

Fremantle Port from train
Coming into Freo

I remember one day travelling up from Freo to Subi and there were three of us that I could see drafting away in notebooks of various shapes and sizes. I quite like catching up with friends for writing dates at cafés. Anonymous writing with random strangers while in transit also appeals.

Knowing I’ll have a given chunk of time means I can plan for writing and not just drift away from it because there are dishes in the sink or laundry in the washing machine. The walking to stops and stations is a chance to map out the piece to be written. I stop. I take a posture break. I move. I breathe.

Knowing the end point of a journey means I can’t fluff about too much in getting the words down.

I find that can be very helpful.

Coming up roses

The trick with writing on public transport is not to tall into the trap of reviewing everything for a couple of hours when it actually time to be at the library.

That said, I should head for the Reid now and get to work.

On the way back to the bus stop, I must stop again to take in the glorious roses outside Winthrop Hall.

Winthrop Hall and roses
Winthrop, roses and a blue, blue sky

*A late post script. I’ve been meaning to make this update for a while. I realised as I finished reading Slaughterhouse 5 that my moment of recognition had been for Cat’s Cradle. Sometimes that happens, I guess; the details of an author’s works merge together and confuse themselves in your memory. I must remember to slow down and leave space between books. (Perhaps I should write that out fifty times.)

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.

 

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…