Building slowly – trying to balance writing with all the other things

I’m sure the dogs I’ve had over the years have enjoyed chasing their tail. They’ve all seemed able to turn the activity into a game. One of them – Gillespie, a bull terrier/labrador cross – could spend hours trying to pin down his own tail. Then again, he also like to try to thump his paw down on the cat’s tail as she flicked it in front of his eyes. He rarely ‘caught’ it. At the end of the day, he was actually her – Jemima’s – plaything.

Working, playing

I finally made it to this post at the end of a busy but good weekend at the end of a long and busy week. There hasn’t been a lot of reading. There’s been a bit of writing – on a project I’m not ready to discuss, but its deadline is looming. Mostly there’s been playing. (Over the weekend, that is.)

After a week of mostly chasing my own tail – and NEVER catching it – a weekend of play can’t be a bad thing.

The highlights have been catching up with an old friend at an exhibition, taking one of my nieces on a belated birthday adventure and wrapping up the weekend with a family dinner.

I’m finishing off the weekend knowing precisely what I need to do over the coming week. I’ve scheduled my time and set my goals. Having this level of clarity is always helpful. Feeling refreshed enough to feel excited about the to-do list is great.

One of the few things I remember from Early Childhood Studies in high school is ‘play is a child’s work’ . (The other thing is that responding to an essay question that asks ‘what are the three stages of labour?’ with ‘first, second and third’ will not cut any mustard…none at all…).

I think play should also be a big part of a grown up’s work.

Would I be happy with work that is child’s play? Perhaps not so much.

I have to admit that I get to play with ideas a fair bit. I love it.

Even driving along today, the chatter from the back seat (I had such a chatsy-patsy as a passenger) was a litany of ideas and images that I think will work as a poem. Something of a further belated* birthday gift I guess.

Finding time to pull it together enough to have it a as a polished product might be a tad tricky. I need to stop thinking about this idea that time is something that can be found.

Time is there. So are opportunities for the type of play that lifts and sustains ‘work’.

Empty swing at playground
Waiting patiently

Levels and layers

Scheduling a specific time for creative writing is something that I have settled on, though. That’s a decision that has come from my extensive, and perhaps over documented, review of the collection of notebooks that I refer to as the scrawl. 

The big thing reviewing the scrawl has done is confirm what I already knew. Although I’ve written thousands of words over the past few years, there was a period between 2011 and 2013 where the only poetry I was able to produce was one sonnet.

Just the one. Single. Solitary. 140 syllables. Flip those syllables into single characters and I’d have a tweet.

I’ve sighed at length over that paucity.

There are all sorts of notes and sketches that are coming together – and will continue to do so – but the actual output of the those couple of years is a lone poem. Anything that eventuates from the notes and sketches counts for the year that they come together.

The dozens of essays and reports don’t seem to count in my work-tally.

There were thousands of words.

There were reasons (some of them pretty good) for choosing not to persist with a number of poems.

Still, I find myself sighing. Despite it being pointless and not making any real sense to do so.

No matter how I try to spin it, I keep coming back to ‘how many poems did I write?’

It’s about as useful and as useless as that.

Not that I really see it as useless.

For now I’m reflecting on how it is just a matter of how everything sits together. How it ties in.

I’ve written most of this post at a cafe in South Freo – Ootong and Lincoln – sitting beside a feature wall of exposed brick.

Thinking about the rough work that lies under painted and papered render hasn’t been a big leap. That said, it has been helpful in providing a visual – as much for me to reflect on as to pop in here.

Working back through the scrawl exposed a lot of rough working that didn’t seem to lend itself to a great deal of substance. Despite what seems to be just rough is, however, a good beginning. Now that I’ve pulled it together, it is a solid beginning.

Exposed brickwork
Brick by brick

The process of rebalancing the different parts of my life may be moving slowly but it is going well.

On that note, I must post and run. Here’s a lesson in the peril of departing from a schedule. Monday morning’s aren’t for rounding off a post. My day-job is calling and then there’s a lecture at Uni and Voicebox in Freo. I’d better get out into the day.


* It probably doesn’t count as belated in my family because we tend to run with the idea of birthday festivals. Celebrations can last for up to four weeks. They’re reasonably low key but extensive affairs.


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.