I’m Not Afraid of my Big Bad Manuscript

…so what the hell’s wrong then?

I have been thinking a lot about fear the last week or so. I’ve been trying to understand why I can’t begin the second draft of my novel. I assumed I was afraid, after all, it’s fear* that usually roots me to the spot and renders me incapable of forward momentum. When I burrowed under ‘fear’ to try and find out exactly what it was that was holding me back, I came up with nothing. (And no, honestly, I wasn’t deluding myself!)

THE ART OF DISSECTION

Confused, I started to look at the problem from a different angle. I know a lot of what I wrote is last November is crap, but I also know there are some awesome gems in there, I know the story absolutely has legs and I know you have to start somewhere. I know the manuscript is riddled with plot holes and half-baked characters but I know with time, research and patience, I’ll work out how to fill the holes and round out the characters. In summation I know its going to require a lot of work to get it up to speed. I also know I have done it before and I will do it again.

BEYOND KEEPING IT SHORT

When I read through Dalhousie, the first thought was: oh shit I’ve done it again. Thrown words at the page in record time and now I have to make sense of it. Just as I did with Elyora. Sheesh, you don’t learn, woman! Six drafts is what it took to get Elyora up to standard. The idea of six drafts of a 80K length novel is absolutely daunting.

The moral of the story, which I pointed out to myself, is: I’m not lacking in a track record or the skills. I did it with Elyora and followed it up with Post Marked:Piper’s Reach. I have no doubts whatsoever the PMPR manuscript got at least six passes over it. Yet it never felt difficult, or arduous or consuming. I always came out of an editing session filled up, rather than emptied out. It came out better for all the rewriting.

So honestly, what the hell is my problem?

NOT DROWNING… MUCH?!

Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 7.05.32 PMI’m overwhelmed (not scared) of what awaits me. There’s 79K crappy words and just me to get it tidied into a solid second draft. No one has my back. There will be no kooky Skype sessions. No-one but me will leave humourous or insightful comments in margin bubbles. While I have friends like Rob Cook to assist in untangling things, it’s just me and the manuscript right now.

I want to work smarter, not harder this time. I don’t want to have to do six drafts (but you know, if that’s what it ends up taking, so be it!) For a start, I want to somehow have it all straight in my head when I sit down to do this next draft to expedite the process; understand the characters and their motivations intimately, know how the clockwork mechanisms and the house works. I don’t want any more huge gaping structural holes at the end of this draft.

Consequently I’ve been kind of floundering. And as I’ve floundered I’ve let myself drift into any form of procrastination that will keep me safe from having to front up and sort out the mess. I’ve blamed it on fear, but fear has a new name. It has the correct name: overwhelming.

BEYOND THE NAVEL GAZING

What does this change? I’m still overwhelmed. A novel is big, really bloody big and I might not be able to fix everything right now. But… I can incrementally stick plot holes and characters in my head and mentally masticate them into shape.

Indries Shah’s said: Enlightenment must come little by little – otherwise it would overwhelm. Oh damn, don’t I know it! So I welcome enlightenment to come slowly and I’ll be ready for all it drops.

Then there was the wisdom of a midwife friend almost ten years ago: How do you eat an elephant?

I can take small, mindful bites at the manuscript. Not choke, trying to force more than I can cope with down my throat. I will do what I can, something small every day, until the momentum picks me up, my home life settles and my confidence bolsters. I’ll be the consummate nibbler and know, sooner rather than later, the second draft flow will be upon me, replacing this horrible sense of being buried alive by my own words! Then nothing will stop me.

*Thank you Adam for your article today, prodding me to articulate what was swirling in my head!

Writing Around The Block

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 7.43.27 PMI have an article up at The Writer’s Bloc today, the first non-fiction piece I’ve written in a long time.

Editor, Samantha van Zweden asked me several months ago if I would be interested in writing about collaborative partnerships, given that not many authors did it and I’d been neck deep in them for a while.

I go through a little of what’s good, bad and potentially ugly. And there’s a couple of photos of what it looks like to work collaboratively (it’s all about the feet, hands and random bits of paper!)

Many thanks to Adam and Rus who helped me brain storm the initial dot points and looked over early drafts of it. Thanks also to Stacey who gave me the nod to talk about our work-in-progress.

Have you ever considered a collaborative writing partnership? If not, why not?

Farewell, Year of the Serpent

IMG_5589What can I say? Apparently the Year of the Serpent is meant to be an auspicious year for Oxen folk like me. It is known as a year of rebirth and transformation in all areas of life. I themed it ‘the year of consolidation’ as I set out to strengthen and solidify my writing life, setting aside business to allow me to do this. It was intended as a year of bringing all my skills together, all the experiences, lessons and connections and making them work for me.

What was the reality of it all?

A tangle. An implosion. A life that resembled the Poseidon Adventure, just with a better soundtrack.

A Dramatic Run Down, Sans Bad Acting  [*Cue Appropriate Music*]

The year began in the aftermath of ex-tropical cyclone Oswald and three days without power. Then there was the return of the school shit bearing down on us as Mr D’s anxiety and school refusal peaked in aggressive and violent behaviour. We ended up with five broken weeks of attendance in first term and our household became a tempest of broken promises and expectations, a sense of drowning, hollow hopes and minor wins and more set backs than any human in their right mind can remain stoic in the face of.

Woven through this was the successful submission and sale of my novella Elyora (River of Bones) to Endeavour Press in early March, followed several days later by its inclusion on the Aurealias short list. It was like riding a rollercoaster that never ended.

By the end of April River of Bones had been released, Adam and I had completed the final season of Post Marked: Piper’s Reach, I’d enjoyed (as best I could with the family issues and the first horrendous head cold in more than a year) NatCon and Mr D had been withdrawn from mainstream school and enrolled in Distance Education. Whatever hopes I had left of a year of writing went out the window.

My brain barely functioned creatively as I worked to wrap my head around Maths and English and Science plus weathering the full force of Mr D’s anger and apathy as I worked to have him re-engage with the learning process again, while he emotionally detoxed from mainstream schooling. And dealing with my own version of cabin fever through it all. Working to maintain my own mental health.

IMG_4677In July we got out of Brisbane and spent two weeks in Longreach and the surrounds. It was the reset we needed as a family. I spent the first few days in bed with a fever and then the second week bunking off in the morning to mark up the completed Piper’s Reach manuscript. I returned with the manuscript completed, an idea for a rural romance and the resolve to complete the steam punk romance story I’d penned the opening sections of in Brisbane airport in April waiting to fly out to Sydney. It sucks though how the verve that accompanies you into the first week of ‘real life’ rarely stays put for more than that first week.

Through July and early into August I was a diligent Distance Ed tutor. I did what I was told, I was upbeat and positive with Mr D. We made all our deadlines with work and in some respects, were ahead. I worked hard on the weekends at my steam punk romance, forced myself into the headspace and kept at it even though it kept beating me at every turn. And we became parents again… to a spoodle named Duke.IMG_5375

Mid-August I got glandular fever as my body’s last hurrah to being young, or perhaps my body giving in to eight months of emotional turmoil and the physical exhaustion that comes with. I spent three weeks bed ridden. I had to ask for help. I was so sick it didn’t bother me to ask for help. It was the lowest point in a year of low points, but also the point where I decided enough was enough. In the midst of all the sickness I managed to finally find a pendant for the year, and once I had it, it felt as though the year turned for me as I hung the silver and red coral serpent around my neck. As I crawled my way back to health, I let go of the need to abide by Distance Education’s stupidity. I found a way into my steampunk romance and wrote like a demon. In the end I submitted ahead of the due date but with the fear a rejection of the story would crush me.

October I railed hard against Distance Education, with the repetition and the lack of creativity. I became ‘one of those parents’, even though I knew I was angry with all the wrong people. I despised the way English was conceptualised and taught. I found myself in a pitched battle I was never going to win. I hated what it took from me. I hated how it bored Dylan and how I was responsible for making it engaging and interactive when it was none of that. I was on the verge of the next big decision.

IMG_4910And throughout this, Adam and I chipped away at the edits of Post Marked Piper’s Reach. I got up early each morning and spent an hour editing and revising and every week or so, we got together to revise our revisions, read aloud the letters and deconstruct at a deeper level what was actually going on in the letters. It kept me going when I was able to sustain any other kind of writing.

At the end of October I decided to do NaNoWriMo. I was jacked off with Distance Education, we’d reached THE END as far as I was concerned and I’d decided I was going to withdraw us at the end of the year and do autonomous home schooling. It was partly rebellion against everything Distance Education had sucked out of me, partly hearing Rus Vanwestervelt was doing NaNo that had me decide several days before the end of October to take the plunge and write my steampunk romance out as a novella length work.

I did what Jack Dann advises: give writing the best part of your day. So I wrote in the morning before life and school cluttered my head. I wrote with the aim of getting 2000-2500 words a day, to enable me to enjoy my 40th birthday party later on in the month. And I wrote with the intention of finishing the manuscript. Within the first week I knew it was not going to be a novella, as I suspected and kept writing. And I wrote and wrote and wrote and ended up on November 29th with a 79,000 word completed first draft manuscript of my first solo novel. This meant when the rejection letter came in December for ‘Between Minutes’ it fell with far less of a blow.

In December my head broke and poetry came out. I gave up on Distance Education, surrendered to home schooling and when I did the opportunity for Mr D to attend Brisbane Independent School came to us. It was Mr DIMG_6849’s decision to return to school and while we counted down to school starting across December and January, with twinkles of hope and possibility, I spent the festive season in lock, down-burn out wondering what the hell had happened (another loss of confidence despite having just completed my first novel). The upside was hours spent gazing into the glass water of the water hole at the bottom of the hill at my mother-in-laws.

But come the turn of the new calendar year, a new story came, and I’ve been writing poetry and tackling my birthpunk novella, now entitled “Encursion”. After five years, the writing was fun, and fast-paced and a bit mental! While I didn’t complete the novella as I had set out to do (albeit with a bit of a tight deadline) I’m in neck deep and I will continue until I type: THE END. And Piper’s Reach is finally there. Edited up and ready to send to Toni and Rus. Ready for us to take the next big leap of faith!

Write A List, Before You Beat Yourself Up

The Year of the Serpent wasn’t the year I expected, it wasn’t exactly the year I wanted, but it was a year that was productive despite all the challenges thrown my way. Despite having to give away my dream of a year of writing. I can say that now. Several months ago I was treating myself as an absolute failure.

The year’s work looks something like this (and I am a bit astounded when I actually look at it all):

  • 555 and Nothing New to Begin accepted at Tincture Magazine
  • Completed short stories: Twice Forgotten (4500), Between Minutes* (7800), First to Hundred* (4200) and At Arm’s Length (2200) *Submitted and rejected.
  • Completed first draft of gothic horror novel
  • Completed first draft of The Griefing Yard (with Stacey)
  • Worked on shorts Tag Hubert’s Requiem and The Indictment of Portia Simpson
  • Completed writing Post Marked: Piper’s Reach (87,000 all up)
  • Completed the editing of Post Marked: Piper’s Reach (92,000)
  • Pitched (unsuccessfully) Post Marked: Piper’s Reach to Hachette during GenreCon.
  • Submitted first page of Post Marked: Piper’s Reach to First Impressions with positive feed back
  • Delivered my first editing workshop for QWC
  • Did my first mentoring through QWC
  • Sat on panels at Conflux/NatCon
  • Chaired my first panel (GenreCon).
  • Completed 28 days of Post-It Note Poetry in February
  • Wrote poetry throughout January (2013) for Month of Poetry
  • Read my first poem in public for At The End, Poetry event
  • Participated actively in both my online writing groups, including beta reading on a regular basis.
  • Submitted my first poem to a journal.
  • Partnered with Nicole Murphy to publish In Fabula Divino (launched April 2012) and Prana Writer’s Group to publish The Gold Coast Anthology (for launch in May 2013)
  • Released through eP Tom and Mike’s book The Machine Who Was Also a Boy
  • Was offered several exciting editing and publishing opportunities (that I am, for now, sitting on patiently waiting for the right time!)

When I look at the list, it’s hardly a year of doing nothing, though it felt at times like nothing was happening; a consequence of working on longer pieces that will bear fruit further down the track?

Social Consolidation, In The Best Kind of Way

While it is easy to bemoan the Year of the Serpent as a really tough year, the year that almost broke me, I was blessed in so many other ways: I was surrounded by caring, compassionate and encouraging friends.

IMG_5261Thank you to The Furies: Stacey and Helen (sisters-in-words and so much more!), to Rob (the untangler of knotted narratives and ever-ready coffee partner/cheer squad/all round awesome person), Sean (the wish enabler), Adam (insert bestest before writing partner, friend and chooser of new music), Nicky (the bringer of wisdom and chicken soup), Angela ( fairy godmother in disguise), Kevin (unexpected hoarder of brilliant new friends and ideas), Lois (catalyst for awesome), Rus (Zen master of the mental reset and agent provocateur of the creative), Alex (party planner extraordinaire and generous giver of business wisdom), Tom (partner in beer, sanity disher and listener to obscure narrative ideas) and Emily (the girl voted most likely to inspire Mr D to shower, brush his teeth and leave the house!)

It was the kind of ‘social consolidation’ I wasn’t expecting but I am ever so grateful for.

Thank you also to Dave and Mr D who let me escape on weekends to regroup my sanity and chase words; who were caring, kind and considerate throughout all our travails, especially when I was at my worst.

There are many other people who assisted in small and large ways; if you are reading this, you are probably one of them. Thank you!

The Take Home Message

We rarely get what we want. Instead, the Universe sends us what we need. And I give thanks and gratitude for everything, small or large, brilliant or devastating that the Year of the Serpent wrought; I have changed, evolved and perhaps been rebirthed in some areas of my life, as is the manifesto of a Serpent Year.

Now to welcome in The Year of the Green Horse, with all it’s dashing derring-do.

Accidentally Post Marked Piper’s Reach

…or how I came to hold the hearts of others in my hand.

When I started work as an editor I thought it was all about the words on the page. Perhaps it was the nature of the projects I was working on, perhaps it was the sheer amount of blood, sweat and tears I ground out of authors to get the best story possible, perhaps it was just circumstances or the fact that eP’s unpublicised motto has always been ‘life happens’…but I quickly found editing was more than just words on a page. I became privy and confidante to much of what went on in the lives of the authors I worked with. Things they didn’t publicly talk about as versions of their world fell down around their ears.

I always said I was there – an open door policy for email or Skype. I held whatever was told to me in a sacred trust. Over the years I’ve travelled death, disability, unemployment, depression, illness, relationship break ups and family problems (to name a few) with authors, but on the flip side I’ve been able to rejoice as babies were born, new relationships blossomed and careers took off.

UNEXPECTED MISSIVESIMG_3408

Like embarking as an editor, I was perhaps a little naïve about what writing Post Marked Piper’s Reach might actually entail further down the track, or under the obvious layers of ink on paper. When we started writing it was all about me: finding a writing niche again, rediscovering my love of writing and doing it with someone I trusted and admired. Letting it all play out in a medium I missed.

The first email that arrived was a bit of a surprise, as one of our readers opened up to share their experience of the one that got away. I should at that point have had an inkling of what was to come.

This morning another email arrived. I’m not sure how many that brings us up to now, but there have been a few since April last year.

It is humbling to be entrusted with these very intimate stories of love lost, of regrets, of yearning, guilt and wondering. The pull of the past and the question ‘what if’ is powerful. In these emails are best of times and the worst of times, the best of humanity and the worst of it. The memories are still vivid, feelings raw despite the time elapsed.  The writers tell of their own piles of paper and ink held together with faded lengths of ribbon, decaying sticky tape and disintegrating rubber bands. Letters accidentally stumbled upon, letters purposely found again.

Like Ella-Louise and Jude’s letters, the emails received are filled with songs, lyrics that echo across decades with such resonance they are accompanied with the sting of tears when I read them. A lot of the time these lyrics could be pulled straight from one of Ella-Louise’s letters. There are confessions of playlists from that time, of music hoarded to be played across the strings of badly mended scars.

Each email throws up new questions about how Ella-Louise and Jude respond and react to each other, of the mysteries of the past, present and future. Most recently themes of resurrection and motivations for stirring sleeping dogs are in the emails as Ella-Louise and Jude ponder the same things. If I ever have moments of doubt, or question the authenticity of Ella-Louise and Jude’s narrative, I only have to turn to these missives to know it nails it in the most confronting of ways. It’s why our readers react the way they do.

A RESPONSIBILITY BORN OF INK

I understand with deepening compassion and empathy and intrigue, the public response our readers have to each letter. And those whose stories I know, I want to crawl through the screen to their desk, or where they sit reading the letter on their phone or computer or the pages they printed out, on the bus, in a cafe or on their couch and give them a hug each week.

See, it’s not just Ella-Louise and Jude’s hearts we hold in our hands.

This charges us with responsibilities beyond just throwing words at a page and doing it with a degree of finesse (and legibility). The responsibility doesn’t lie just in writing authentically (ie. we’ve said many times, there will not be a happily ever after for these two regardless of the outcomes of their affair) and avoiding falling into the needs of our readers, to have the ending they didn’t get in real life, to stay true to our characters. The responsibility extends further: to be there to offer sanctuary for those tossed upon their own retrospective storms as they read the letters. To hold a space, bare witness and sometimes, to just be there at the other end of an email.

One day, when it is all over, perhaps I’ll take up Ella-Louise’s pen and dip it in the ink of my own story and let those who have written to me know I understand. I so absolutely understand.

 

The Twilight Land of the Luddite

Earlier this week the following text message came through…

IMG_2399

My immediate reaction was: where the hell do I get my movies from now?

LOOKING BACK

I remember my Dad hiring beta movies in the early 80s from a store in Bridge Street, Ballarat. It was the only one with a half decent selection of beta tapes. I remember us joining Blockbuster Video in Cairns when we moved there in the late 80s… and the summer that followed gorging on a bunch of movies I had been previously banned from watching (Rocky Horror Picture Show, Flash Dance, Footloose and being underwhelmed and wondering what the big deal was with them all). I remember finding a tape tucked away in the back of our TV cabinet when I lived in Leeton–a new release–and discovering our movie had gone back to the store (gratefully it wasn’t anything like one of ‘those home movies’) and how they’d kept our movie but still charged me late fees. I remember borrowing all six of Children of the Corn movies from there, American Gothic and Nudist Colony of the Dead–their B Grade horror film selection was top notch. I remember being drunk and walking with my best friend to the local Blockbuster in Mulgrave Road singing snippets from 10 Things I Hate About You. Gratefully the bottle shop was right next door and armed with more movies and more wine, the night continued on.

THE END OF AN ERA

Our local video store is attached to the same strip of shops we get our fish and chips from. It also houses the pizza shop, the noodle shop, the bakery and a bunch of other small and larger business. We got there every Tuesday on Cheap Tuesday (perhaps we’re the reason they are closing down?) Mr D gets a bunch of kids movies, I get one or two and we’re set for the week. It’s just what we do on a Tuesday.

It was where Mr D learned an important lesson about honesty–when he accepted responsibility for a broken disc when he was four and discovered if you tell the truth, bad things don’t happen to you (and I only had to pay a $5 fee!) It’s where two years ago they asked in November if they’d be getting rumballs again that year. Of course they were, I always made them. But they were just making sure!

Two and a half years ago we returned from Malaysia to find the video store had halved in size. A partition wall had gone up and the electrical store and taken over the cast off space. The films went from being displayed face out, to be stacked spine out. And I got that horrible sick feeling in my guts that the end was coming.

And now it has.

Is this what it’s like to be a Luddite in a digital world?

WHOSE CONVENIENCE?

Like buying books and records, hiring a movie is going to become a committed effort on my part. At the end of January it will no longer a down-the-road-convenience.

I don’t download (legal or otherwise),we don’t have Netflix here in Australia, I’m not interested in buying everything through iTunes or else where (sometimes its nice to watch on a screen larger than my lap top…and no, I don’t want to buy an Apple TV adaptor thing), I hate YouTube, I don’t want to have to sign up to have my films posted to me or have them dispensed from a little red box, or delivered through a T-Box. And here’s why…

IT’S PERSONAL

Like the bookstore and the music store… it’s more than just buying a product. It’s the experience of discovery that’s just as important as reading/listening/watching. So is the discussion with those who work there. These stores are community hubs–they are not just product dispensers.

Jordan, the guy who works at the video store, saw me in there on Tuesday night and came up to apologise personally for not telling me the store was closing down, “It’s just been so long since I saw you.” Yeah, the Christmas period will do that. And then there was the issue about the missing rum balls this year–I had to apologise—there had been friends visiting and they’d eaten them all! (The apocalypse came to the local video store because I didn’t get the rumballs there last year!)

Over the years Jordan and I talked about all kinds of movies. He erased the missing Ninja Turtles video from our account and told us it didn’t matter.’ But it’s not just Jordan… I can think of half a dozen people who have worked there and who have shared small parts of their lives with me, their tastes, their opinions. Remembered who I am and let me get by without having a card for years even though the account was in Dave’s name (who has been to the store less than five times in six years!)

I know I am one of a small and diminishing sub-section of the community who gives a shit about this…who wants the kind of convenience and experience of the local [insert what you want in here] store. Someone who sees convenience as much a dismantler, as an enabler. Who yearns for things to just stay as they are.

Perhaps it’s okay for the time being, that hiring a movie will become an outing (like buying a book… gratefully we still have a record store just down the road). While there is still another DVD store within an reasonably easy drive (ironically the store we used to go to before we moved) to hire films from and the effort required adds to the ritual and enjoyment of the experience, I can’t help but worry, ‘for how much longer.” When they close…

…then what?

LOVE/HATE

There are so many things I love about the digital landscape and the opportunities technology is opening up. But at the same time, I’m not yet ready to let die many of the other things that belong to the old world: a world of real life people, of tangible objects, shared passions and conversations, differing opinions, of the physicality of leaving your home, going somewhere else and becoming immersed for a short period of time in a different world

And as if the folk at Apple or Telstra or Amazon or going to give two tosses whether they got rum balls at Christmas or not.

DEAR PA

I understand better now the terror my Pa experienced in a world rapidly changing as he aged; especially in the early 90s, in his twilight years.

He was understandably leary of ATMs…he wanted to go into the bank and talk to the tellers—the same people who had been managing his accounts, in the same location, for decades. Someone to ask after my Nanna, us grandkids…how the bowls season was going, the fact Essendon won or lost the weekend past.

He wanted the security of handing over his deposits to a real person with a deposit slip (how many hours of fun did I have filling them out as a kid!) He wanted the safeguard of withdrawals handed to him by a real person inside his stamped and initialled, dog-eared passbook that fitted in the back pocket of his trousers. He didn’t want to have to remember a pin number or carry a card in his wallet. The fact the bank closed at 4pm never bothered him, he went via the bank in the morning when he walked down to buy the paper.

I never understood at the time, what bothered him so much about the ATMs appearing everywhere. You could get money out any time. It was convenient and quick and easy. I was never going to get to the bank before 4pm…especially when I became a shift worker.

This week I’ve suddenly realised I’m getting old. How quickly the world around me is changing. And how resistant, more and more, I am of it. How I want some things to just goddamned stay the way they are.

I wish my Pa was around now, so I could tell him: I understand.

Commencify the Decomposition

Adam's Apple by dimitri_c via StockXchng

The title of this blog post alone must have you scratching your head. After all… it’s a brand new year. What the hell is this decomposition you speak of?

For half a decade I’ve been running my New Year counter to most of those around me. I start my business and creative year with the Chinese New Year (the second new moon after the solstice). This now is what I’ve called “The Pause”… the four to six weeks of tidying up unfinished projects, reflecting, releasing, plotting and planning for the coming year.

December is a particularly bad month for doing any of that.

If I needed any additional confirmation I’m doing (and have been doing) the right thing, New Years Day rolled around yesterday and I felt anything but revived, focused or ready to attack everything. In fact, it was the complete opposite. I started to wind down and take stock of everything left to complete.

The Year of the Water Serpent

This coming year–The year of the Water Serpent–kicks off on 11th February. Serpent years, under the Taoist philosophy, are considered years of introspection, planning and seeking answers. A time to ponder and think before acting. It’s a year of good taste and elegance.

When combined with my own sign it’s meant to be a great year… a time of opportunity, expansion, good luck and growth. I’m not sure where else I read it, but it’s also a slower year, one where there’s less busyness of mind going on. The ability to stop and focus on one thing at a time.

No Resolutions Here

I’m still searching out my theme and intention to bless the year with. Like running my year left-of-centre, I gave up making resolutions around the same time and began to theme my year. As I wrote back in 2008:

While New Years Resolutions are a good guide or map as to the direction in which you want to travel in the following year, they are often so discrete that they don’t give much room to move. You’re either ‘doing it’ or you’re ‘not doing it’ … in which case often before the end of January the gym membership is already gathering cobwebs in your wallet/purse, the fridge is full of chocolate again, or in a weak moment you’ve had a cigarette/fought with your sibling … you get the gist.

I’ve always liked to set intentions that could be built on over time, some that were achievable in the immediate term, some in the short term, others in the long term. After all – you don’t just build a house … foundations need to be laid, a structure erected so and so forth. Small victories lead in to larger ones further down the track.

Five years on I couldn’t agree more.

I’d like an intention or a theme that fits with the energy of the year as well as what I’m angling to achieve. Last year’s “Year of Falling in Love With Writing” and the “Year of Writing Dangerously” fit nicely with the slightly reckless undercurrent of the Year of the Water Dragon. It was a year that returned bounties I could barely have imagined or hoped for when it year  (a break down of all the year was in a few weeks).

I think I can dare to think The Year of the Water Serpent will be as good, or better!

What does your New Year herald for you?

Image: Adam’s Apple by dimitri_c via stockXchng

Rediscovering Creativity Through The Eyes of a Child

GomaWe spent the afternoon at the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA), soaking up the 7th Triennial Asia Pacific Exhibition. There were stunning pieces and plenty of my kind of art: visual feasts that challenge social, political, economic and cultural mores. We ooo-ed and ahhh-ed in all the right places (the right places being different for all of us) and moved with the best kind of questioning wonder and amazement through the paintings and sculptures, the installations and masks, the short films and photographs.

But the most fun the four of us had at the exhibition was producing our own art it in the dedicated kids’ area: masks based on Hahan’s work, crazy family photos from Kazakhstan, Parastou Forouhar’s zoomorphic calligraphy animations*. We adults got into it more than than Mr D.

It reminded me of what Julia Cameron says in The Artist Way, that we produce some of our best creative works before we reach primary school. That we are at our creative peak at kindergarten!

Junking Notions of High Art

Society delineates between ‘high art’ and ‘low art’, ‘art’ and ‘craft’, ‘professional’ and ‘amateur’, ‘commericial’ and ‘cottage’. All arbitrary terms created by someone who wanted to sell something to someone and make a little extra dosh. And don’t get me started on elitism.

The thing with ‘high art’ though–whether it be a professional theatrical or dancing production, a gallery showing, scoring that illusive commercial deal for a book or album– the creation of ‘high art’ is beyond the reach of most of us. And it’s marketed as being beyond us… it is art made by experts, highly trained professionals who have dedicated their life’s work to doing what they do. Not nufties like you and me.

It didn’t start of that way for us though. As kids we are oblivious to this tripe! The older we get, the more we understand this dichotomy between ‘high’ and ‘low’, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ (we see it in all forms of artistic pursuits—think the age old argument between literary fiction and genre fiction—high and low art!) and the more we feel separate from it.

We see it in the way ‘talented’ kids are singled out and nurtured, to the exclusion of others. We learn creative success is earned by a lucky few, and is not intended for everyone. Creativity is an exclusive club not meant for us.

What kids create is often seen as ‘junk’ or disposable (outside of their adoring parents and family members/close friends) in comparison to the ‘high art’ adults make. But childlike creativity is accessible, fulfilling and available to all (regardless of age) to engage with and enjoy. That’s priceless. Not junk!

A Life Time Ago

The best thing about my kindergarten was the old red telephone box in the playground (yes, I was raised on healthy Dr Who, just like my son!). When I wasn’t inside making phone calls or flying away to faraway lands, I was painting and playing in the coloured water trough, typing things on the typewriter. I loved glitter, the more the merrier (and I still have a soft spot for it now, especially when its going on someone else’s floor!)

I remember I made a magenta leather bookmark for my father, weaving leather strap through holes punched in along the sides. Dad used it for years and years and years. I also remember a dried flower collage on a cork coaster… it hung on the wall for years and years too.

Reclaim The Childlike Wonderment

childlikewonderThe pure joy of a child’s creativity is well within everyone’s reach. What we have to do is step up and embrace being kids again. It’s the best antidote to exclusivity of ‘high art’; to feeling beyond, frozen out.

We were all creative at kindergarten—cut and pasted, nailed, sewed, weaved, painted, constructed, coloured-in, sang, danced, played instruments, dressed up and put our dreams into motion through play.

Some of my most treasured moments are not on a stage in front of a paying audience but in a lounge room or front lawn in a semi-organised concert with my cousin and my sister. I remember many holidays dancing on a platform in our potato packing shed with just the dust and rats looking on (I can still remember several dance moves from the Footloose number we did!). And other holidays with my Nanna and Pa, making smiley faces on Marie biscuits from smarties, orange segment lollies and icing.

I wrote notes to Willy Wagtails on the back of gum leaves at my cousin’s and weighed them down with pebbles atop fence post so they wouldn’t blow away. I sang loudly in the toilet (my parents joked it was the acoustics) and when I got older, in the shower (they may have been right about the acoustics of small spaces!). From scraps of material I sewed Barbie clothes. I knitted jumpers for dolls from wool I scavenged.

My love of colouring-in lasted long past its age-appropriate used-by-date. The last colouring book I owned was of Ewoks during the summer of my last year at primary school in 1985.

As a teenager I bound my book reviews as tiny books with staples and gaffa tape, accompanied by hand drawn covers. All my assignments had colourful borders–one on my family history had a stone paved border that after page three didn’t seem like such a good idea, but I kept going with it. I sketched Wendy James and Patrick Swayze when I wasn’t scribbling stories. I skipped out on classic piano music to play jazz standards and old show tunes from organ books I borrowed from my Grandma. My friend Kim and I performed Chicago’s “Hard To Say I’m Sorry” for a school arts day. For drama a drew detailed character mock ups to accompany the scripts I’d written.

But the older I got, the more the other creative pursuits petered off until I was left with dancing and writing. Then just writing. Then nothing.

There’s No Secret Password

We make excuses for not doing the things we want to do. The things we know will make our heart sing; bring lightness and variety into the otherwise dull, monotony of life.

There’s all the excuses under the sun by the time we’re adults, not to be creative: I’m tone deaf; I can’t draw a stick figure; I have two left feet; I burn water. But as a four-year-old did any of that matter to you?

You sang loudly and off key, knowing only ever fourth word, but did it with gusto. You splashed paint on a piece of white paper or smooshed it between your fingers and smiled proudly when your folks unpegged it to take home at the end of the day. You danced the hokey pokey and it didn’t matter which was left of right. You poured pink water into weird shaped containers and created fountains and rivers, you formed up the best mud pies in the world with no thought to if it was under done or over cooked or if anyone else liked it but you.

As adults we need to embrace our inner child and re-approach creativity with the open-minded wonder of a four-year-old who doesn’t care what others think, who has all the time in the world to be absorbed and dissolved in colour, sound, movement and all degrees of imagination.

We need to step away from the awareness of  skill, experience, status, money, critical acclaim or any other of the external accruements that attach themselves to creative endeavours beyond childhood. It’s time to get back to basics: the simple act of doing something creative for the sheer enjoyment of it.

So, what did you really enjoy doing as a kid? Now go out and rediscover the joy all over again.

* Yes, that’s the goat I designed with the computer program!

Extended Reading: For more great reflections and ideas on rediscovering creativity dip into Adam Byatt’s three part serial:

  1. Reflection: Why Did you Stop Being Creative
  2. Resurrection – When To Shut Down a Creative Life (And When To Resurrect It)
  3. Recreation: Becoming A Creative Person Again