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Him: I have an itchy knee!
Me: Itchy knee sun see queue jew hitchy hatchy.
Me: Go rock. Not in that order. It was a phone number.
Him: You really don’t know numbers in Japanese, do you.
Me: Itchy knee sun see go rock hitchy hatchy queue jew.
Me: I tried to fart but poop came out.
Me: I learned to say that in Japanese recently, but I forgot the Japanese part. So I just say it in English.
Him: So actually what you did was learn to say it in English.
Me: Yes. But I can do it perfectly.
“If you had a two-sided chalkboard in your living room I’d write humility on one side and surrender on the other for you. That’s what I think you need to find and do to get yourself out of the funk you’re in. The most fascinating thing to me about your letter is that buried beneath all the anxiety and sorrow and fear and self-loathing, there’s arrogance at its core. It presumes you should be successful at 26, when really it takes most writers so much longer to get there. It laments that you’ll never be as good as David Foster Wallace—a genius, a master of the craft—while at the same time describing how little you write. You loathe yourself, and yet you’re consumed by the grandiose ideas you have about your own importance. You’re up too high and down too low. Neither is the place where we get any work done.”
When I first tried to do one of Marianne Elliott’s yoga videos I lasted about five minutes before I started laughing maniacally, and another ten before I gave up and watched the rest of the video while lying on the floor. In the past I’ve practised Iyengar yoga, a style in which you move into a pose, and then release it, move into another pose, and release it. In the style Marianne teaches the poses flow together, so instead of taking a tiny break between each pose you move from one pose straight into the next. Coupled with wrists and ankles not used to bearing a lot of weight and five years of sitting on my arse and I was so tight and tense and inflexible that Marianne’s video just seemed totally ludicrous to me.
That was back in June, when Marianne released a ‘Yoga for Writers’ video to coincide with a 21-day yoga and writing practice led by Bindu Wiles. I tried that video the one time, collapsed partway in, and didn’t try it again. God knows what made me come back for more with October’s 30 Days of Yoga, but something drew me back and I signed up.
In my last post I described doing (doing? taking? lying in?) savasana for ten minutes as my practice for day one of the program. The next day, I did the full session I had chosen for the program – one focusing on balance. I’ve been having a lot of problems with my feet and ankles and legs and I wanted to stretch them and strengthen them.
I didn’t give up this time. But I did laugh incredulously at some of the sequences, and my stiff body failed many times to come even close to what was Marianne was describing onscreen.
I got through to the end of the video, but I started to wonder if I’d made a silly mistake in thinking Marianne Elliott’s teaching was for me.
On day two, in the spirit of scientific enquiry, I did the practice again. And it was fine. Not easy, not by a long stretch, but my body had loosened up enough with that first session that, after working out a couple of adjustments, what seemed almost impossible the day before was perfectly simple now. The change I felt in my body was ridiculous. And awesome.
I didn’t do the full sequence every day – I skipped bits on some days, and others I did a wrist and shoulder stretch instead. But after a week I felt incredible – fit and strong and flexible. I waking up in the morning with a sore back. I did some non-sucky yoga one day when I wanted my practice to feel more like a nap, and was able to go deeper into the stretches than ever before.
Then I fell off the wagon. I was too tired, my body felt sore, the repetition was getting to me, whatever. I stopped practising every day, and then I stopped altogether. My sore back came back. My feet started playing up again. I got miserable.
I lost track of how many days of yoga I missed. I think it’s been about a week. On Thursday last week Marianne sent an email for those of us who have drifted off, which included the message, ‘So, this week, I’m inviting you to bring your beginners mind and body back to the mat. Whatever you have or have not done in the past two weeks is now gone.’ I felt better, but it still took me until today to get back on the mat.
Tonight I did the Yoga for Writers sequence for the second time in my life, and compared to the balance flow I was ‘meant’ to do for these 30 days it was *so easy*. All the stuff that seemed completely out of my reach in June was simple. I feel pretty good, and I know that if I keep it up in a few more days I’ll feel fantastic.
I’m doing Marianne Elliott’s 30 Days of Yoga program, which began yesterday. Thursday is my last work day for the week, and yesterday I also had an appointment with my accountant in the afternoon to do our tax returns and a show in the evening to review for an arts website. I had no idea how I was going to fit in a yoga session, at least not in a mindful, open way, and I was tired and sore (but quite content) after taking a long stroll home from my appointment. So when I got in the door and took off my shoes I decided to start my 30 days very simply, and laid down on the floor of the loungeroom in savasana and waited for my mind and body to settle. It was exactly what I needed. It brought my attention right into the present moment. Once the chatter in my brain stopped and my body relaxed I realised that what I needed right then, in that moment, was a deeper rest, so I slowly got up and went to bed for a nap. Perfect.
Time has passed. Things have changed. Not all things, but some.
“I imagine Judgement Day to be God calling you into a tiny white room w/ an uncomfortable wooden chair that you sit in & splinter yourself as you shift anxiously. He comes in smiling like a train conductor who found you without a ticket & he says I don’t care what good you did or what evil & I don’t care if you believed in me or in my son or in any other member of my extended family or if you gave generously to the poor of if you gave to them stingily with closed fists but here is a minute-by-minute account of your time on earth. Then he produces a piece of paper 10,000 kilometres long & says, Read this & explain yourself. Mine would read as follows:
9:00 am woke up
9:01 am lay in bed, staring at the ceiling
9:02 am lay in bed, staring at the ceiling
9:03 am lay in bed, staring at the ceiling
9:04 am lay in bed, staring at the ceiling
9:05 am lay in bed, staring at the ceiling
9:06 am lay in bed, staring at the ceiling
9:07 am lay in bed, staring at the ceiling
9:08 am rolled over onto left side
9:09 am lay in bed, staring at the wall
9:10 am lay in bed, staring at the wall
9:11 am lay in bed, staring at the wall
9:12 am lay in bed, staring at the wall
9:13 am lay in bed, staring at the wall
9:14 am lay in bed, staring at the wall
9:15 am doubled over pillow, sat up to see out window
9:16 am sat in bed, staring out window
9:17 am sat in bed, staring out window
9:18 am sat in bed, staring out window
9:19 am sat in bed, staring out window
Then God would say Life is a gift & you never even bothered to unwrap it. Then he would smite me.”
Steve Toltz, A Fraction of the Whole, pp. 247-8
So 2008 is about to wink out like a candle, and as far as I’m concerned it’s not a second too soon. This year was really hard, for me and seemingly everyone else I know – and, apparently, everyone Jess Friedmann knows too. Milena Thomas recently blogged about how 2008 has aged her, and I feel the same way. I’m ending the year mentally, emotionally, physically and financially exhausted.
This time last year I mentioned that I was trying to move on from my entry-level publishing job. I’m still looking. I’ve had about ten job interviews this year. I rejected a couple and the rest rejected me. I was told when I finished uni that once I was in the workforce it would be easy to move around within it. Not true. If you’re in the throes of a shitty job hunt, I send you virtual hugs and bottles of gin. (Virtual gin.)
All that said, my job hunt has been pretty deranged. I’m not looking for a linear career move from where I am right now and I’m mainly looking at part-time jobs, which are hard to find. Also, my capacity to take risks has been curtailed this year by the fact that my partner was studying full-time in a postgraduate course with a huge practical component, making it difficult for him to spend time earning the sweet money. So hopefully in 2009 I’ll be able to look at a wider range of possibilities.
Thanks to all this stress and an unusual amount of pollen, things really went wrong for me in September when I developed asthma. I never had asthma as a kid but now, after this year’s horrendous hayfever season, whenever I take a deep breath it just suddenly – stops. Like it’s hit a wall. Which is probably exactly what’s happening. My immune system has been low, leading to several throat/chest infections and the annihilation of all of my sick leave. I have wanted to be in bed for most of September, October, November and December, and wherever practicable I have given in to this urge. If I missed your birthday/housewarming/bar mitzvah/engagement party/goat sacrifice this year, that’s probably what I did instead.
Somewhere along the line I invoked a new rule – when in doubt, go to sleep. I’ve done lots of resting. I’ve watched lots of TV. I’m starting to feel like I might be ready to get up.
But enough whining. It hasn’t all been bad. I’ve had a freaking great year for writing.
This year I realised my long-held dream of having an article published in a national newsstand magazine. In fact, I published four articles in the last three issues of frankie that came out in 2008. (I’m slowly getting them all up here if you want to read them.) It was the first time I’d written for a paying market. Here’s the weird thing: after years of dreaming about this goal, in the end it was fecking easy. The editor, Jo, spoke for five minutes at the Emerging Writers’ Festival about what she was looking for in a good pitch; after the session I went up, introduced myself, and pitched an idea, to which she basically agreed on the spot. Too easy.
A while back, to motivate myself, I decided that when my first article was published I’d go on a hot air balloon ride. So now I owe myself a hot air balloon ride. I’m not sure what my next goal is or what the reward should be.
I also had a couple of major achievements in the fiction writing department. My favourite short story, ‘Escargot postel’, was published in the Sleepers Almanac 4 at the start of the year and then republished in Best Australian Short Stories 2008 in November. That little baby’s brought in over five hundred bucks now. I also had another story, ‘Rock is dead’, republished by an American small press publisher in The Subatomic Anthology 01: One Step Beyond.
The other awesome career/media/creative thing I did this year was chairing the Creative Entrepreneur’s Toolkit panel in Vibewire.net’s 2008 E-Festival of Ideas. The panelists and website members had a great discussion about forging a career in the creative arts and we had the most active panel of the festival. You can still see the festival content on the Vibewire.net forums, but you need to sign up as a member and log in first.
If anything, this year has taught me that I really am a writer. I don’t know if that’s a life thing or just a career thing. Maybe things will get clearer in the coming year.
So that’s my year in review. Bring on 2009. I’ve been looking forward to it, with growing desperation, for four months now. I’m nervous to set any ‘goal’ goals because the start of this year was all ‘push push push’ and the second half all ‘crash crash crash’. So for the time being I’m just going to go with the flow.
My new year’s resolutions are about developing habits: regular exercise, regular writing practice, regular art making. So instead of saying, ‘In 2009 I will exercise every day’, I’m saying, ‘In 2009 I will learn to exercise every day.’ There’s less pressure that way. I recommend it.
Happy new year.
This post was originally published on my other blog, The Art of Work.
So here’s how it breaks down: I have this blog you’re reading right now, and another one on Wordpress, and an all-but dormant LiveJournal that I won’t link you to. I also have a folio website for my freelancing work, which is basically also a blog where the posts are my articles, and a Twitter feed. In the non-virtual world, I have a hardcover notebook for my innermost thoughts (read: whining), another one for ideas and drafts of ‘real writing’ (whatever the hell that means), the notebook I carry in my handbag, and if I dug around I could probably find the Hipster PDA I made at the start of the year when I was quite sure I did not want to carry a notebook around in my handbag anymore.
I have numerous sketch books in sizes ranging from A3 to A6 for those rare times when I feel the urge to make art and then actually follow through. Recently I bought another one to use a visual source book so that I can collage all the pretty pictures I collect from magazines, and I have notions of buying yet another to turn into a kind of multi-page vision board.
And that’s not even all of my notebooks. There are more. Many more. Needless to say, with so many options and so little time to actually fill any of them, none of these gets much of a workout. So it’s time for some consolidation.
For a long time now I’ve been making plans to move The Art of Work to its own domain, change the name to something more easily Googled, monetise the pants of it and then spend my days blogging and rolling around in all the (American!) dollars I would obviously make from AdSense and affiliate programs. I might still do that one day, but in the meantime I think it would be best to bring my personal and professional musings together in the one place. My favourite blogger thinks you should only have one blog, and I intend to take her advice. (Ironically, she made that statement on her ‘other’ blog – her main blog is here, in case you’re wondering why my favourite blogger ever only has two posts.)
So changes a afoot, and as a result The Art of Work will probably disappear into obscurity. For posterity I will probably move the old posts over to their new home, wherever that may be, and I will still mainly be talking about creativity and having a crack at a fulfilling career in this big, mean world. But I might also occasionally want to talk about wine, or cats, or weird things I’ve seen in the street. And gentle reader, you can only benefit – where else are you going to hear about dogs that pee upside down?
The moral of the story: stop obsessing over your tools and materials. Simplify and get on with the real work of producing things the world has never seen. Now, go get rid of some notebooks.
This post was originally published on my other blog, The Art of Work.
When you give up one thing, for example a day of paid work or bothering to keep your house clean, in favour of spending more time and energy on your creative work, apart from the logistical issues involved it’s quite common to find you have another problem to solve – guilt.
Some of it comes from within – feeling guilty about letting the dishes pile up, or because you’ve been painting watercolours instead of doing something that will top up your retirement fund, or more insidious, guilt that you get to do more of what you love than those around you who are still slaving away doing things they hate. Sometimes, though, it gets laid on by other people, and laid on thick – like when they ask when you’re going to get stop messing around and get a real job.
Aussie wordsmith Kate Holden talked about the former, in a tongue in cheek sort of way, in this article for The Age a while back.
The Germans, bless them, have a word for it. Kunstlerschuld means “artist’s guilt”; that is, the gritty niggling of remorse for getting to have fun whacking paint and words around when honest citizens are banging away at retail counters, sticking their arms down toilets and putting up with boring Nathan in accounts. It is a perfectly reasonable feeling. After all, getting to do what you like is a privilege in this world and the chap out there who heroically devotes his time to designing a product to gently heat Baby Wipes to perfect bum temperature is no doubt doing a fantastically useful duty, whereas some plonker like me, sitting pretty pondering adjectives while sipping a caffe latte, is the very picture of degeneracy.
Philip Larkin talks about the latter, the guilt-trips you get from others, in his poem ‘A Life With a Hole In It’. (If you click on that link, you’ll have to scroll down a bit to get to the full text of the poem.) It seems the women in Larkin’s life were a bunch of banshees:
When I throw back my head and howl
People (women mostly) say
But you’ve always done what you want,
You always get your own way
– A perfectly vile and foul
Inversion of all that’s been.
What the old ratbags mean
Is I’ve never done what I don’t.
Those bitches! Granted, he may well be talking about women who worked their arses off to get his dinner on the table and his socks darned, so it’s possible that their complaints were legitimate to a degree.
Then we have the famous lines in the second stanza, where he talks about
…the shit in the shuttered chateau
Who does his five hundred words
Then parts out the rest of the day
Between bathing and booze and birds
I’m undecided on what’s happening here. On the one hand, this could be more on the way others perceive his life and his choices. If that’s the case, though, it’s not really fair. Larkin worked as a university librarian his whole life; he was an artist with a day job. He was also a prolific writer. What I reckon might be going on is that Larkin is dishing out a bit of the guilt-trip to someone else, maybe even someone in particular – a dilettante living off a nice little stipend and not doing much work is what I picture in my mind.
If you choose a creative career there will be many people who will ask you to justify it, politely or not. So why should you paint watercolours instead of work the extra day at your ‘normal’ job? Go and read Larkin’s third and final stanza for the answer. I tell you what, I fear the ‘havings-to’ and ‘the unbeatable slow machine/That brings what you’ll get’.
I don’t know enough about Larkin to know if my interpretations are correct, but I’ve become obsessed with this poem.