Friday Filibuster: Writing habits.

I’ve been trying to write a few vignettes of my home town lately in preparation for writing my crime novel (Nanowrimo is looming large) and I thought, in a moment of fancy, I would buy a pretty notebook and write by hand. But I’m a bit annoyed by the use of pen and paper. For a start, I can’t edit without crossing out and starting the sentence again. It’s slow and my sentences don’t get any better by handwriting them. And, sadly, I’m annoyed by the notebook I bought. The lines are made up of the stories of famous authors and are too legible for comfort. I may give up my attempts and transfer what I have to a writing folder in my Dropbox. The notebook can become the working notebook for my cabaret. And I’ll hightail it back to my lovely lovely Moleskin notebooks. Moleskins are great. They might be expensive, but they hold their shape, don’t fall apart, and have narrow lines. I don’t know why I abandoned them! No, hang on: I do. There weren’t any at the shop I went to.

I’m wondering if anyone else has the same frustrations as me? Has the long term use of your computer disabled your patience with long-form hand writing?

Sadly, I’m also really really bad at typing. I did a simple online typing course a few years ago and I developed some very good habits, but my typing speed never went above 50 wpm, and I make terrible, horrible typos. I’ve long since lost the skill and now I just look like a wanna be typist without talent or speed.

This morning I read a blogpost by a favourite scholarly blogger of mine: Patter, who wrote a light-hearted piece about what she wears when she writes. Upon awakening and before she has a shower, she gets into tracksuit bottoms and slippers and a sloppy joe. Hair goes up in a messy bun, cups of tea/coffee are made, and she writes for a couple of hours in the morning before planning her afternoon activities. Her habit describes mine to a T. I’m not an early morning person. So when I have a writing deadline, this is the best way for me to meet my targets.

Hilary Mantel does the same. In her words, published a few weeks ago in The Guardian:

I used to be a late starter, but now I get up in the dark like a medieval monk, commit unmediated scribble to a notebook, and go back to bed about six, hoping to sleep for another two hours and to wake slowly and in silence. Random noise, voices in other rooms, get me off to a savage, disorderly start, but if I am left in peace to reach for a pen, I feel through my fingertips what sort of day it is. Days of easy flow generate thousands of words across half a dozen projects – and perhaps new projects. Flow is like a mad party – it goes on till all hours and somebody must clear up afterwards. Stop-start days are not always shorter, are self-conscious and anxiety-ridden, and later turn out to have been productive and useful. I judge in retrospect. On flow days, I have no idea what I’ve written till I read it back. It’s a life with shocks built in.

You can read the whole article here. She doesn’t mind which writing medium she uses and she writes every day: The most frequent question writers are asked is some variant on, “Do you write every day, or do you just wait for inspiration to strike?” I want to snarl, “Of course I write every day, what do you think I am, some kind of hobbyist?”

It occurs to me that depression* breaks these hard-won habits. Depression and melancholia can disturb flow, and will power is meaningless when confronted by the miserable mind’s contrary bleakness. Which is why, I suspect, blogging is such a panacea for those with depression. It helps maintain connections, it promotes healthy habits, it helps to unburden the mind. And it keeps a writer writing.

 

*I don’t have depression right now. But I really do need a job to give me a sense of purpose, even though I’m starting to see the joy in having time to write, make music, compose and create again without being too worried about money. I’m not sure why I want a Proper Job. Maybe it’s the underlying middle-class Presbyterianism I was raised in!

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Holiday Funtime 

DH and I are on hols right now, although it doesn’t feel very holiday-like to me. Last Friday we flew south to my home town Melbourne for my son’s engagement party on the Saturday and I’ve been schlepping about so hard I’ll need a holiday to get over the holiday. 

Friday am we arrived and promptly went to bed for a bit, because I’m tired all the time. In the afternoon we dragged ourselves into town to visit Whistler’s Mother, which (who?) was on show at the NGV International. Then it was an early dinner at a Korean diner before 2 comedy shows at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Folks, there were 500 shows at this festival. Unbelievable. Then cocktails at my favourite little bar Double Happiness, which is quiet yet buzzing. Not too loud and shouty there. 

   
 
Saturday was the engagement do, but not before DH and I went back to the NGV to see Warhol and Wei Wei. An amazing exhibition. Then it was a delicious Mexican lunch at a great place on Chapel St before seeing another silly show at my favourite venue Chapel off Chapel. This time it was Songs for Sarah Connor, terminated. Not as original as I’d hoped: I wanted more original songs rather than rewrites of well known show tunes. 

Then, Sunday morning after the engagement party we borrowed my sister’s car and headed to Aireys Inlet for a brief respite from the world. It’s quiet here and you can hear the ocean from the house. 

  
Then on Tuesday I headed back to Melbourne for my sister’s PhD graduation. Very proud. We now have 2 doctors in the family, neither of the life-saving kind. 

  
Of course, a real doctor would have come in handy for when my newly minted Dr sister decided to have a mild allergic reaction to the shellfish at lunch and get an itchy redness. I didn’t leave town until well after 7pm, so am in bed today recovering. 

Tomorrow we must leave my favourite place but I’m pleased to announce that not only am I writing a cabaret but I’m also starting my crime fiction novel. At the moment I’m just writing a bunch of disparate scenes to see how I write fiction. There’s no plot yet. Mostly descriptions of Brisbane. I think I haven’t read enough crime fiction set in hot climates; mostly the books are set in temperate zones or cold climates. Time for some steam heat. 

So I’ve decided to do #2

That’s not a poop, folks. It means I’m gonna do the cabaret. Out of a list of 7 creative things, 2 was the consistent front runner. I did a straw poll on FB and my friends loved them all except the academic numbers, which I’ll save for quiet time. 

In the meantime I’m calling my cabaret “A Bagful of Crazy”: women on the margins. Or something like that. My problem is I’m not funny. I’m actually quite a serious person (which is why my husband is so good for me; he cracks me up every day). So it’s no good me doing a funny comedy show. I won’t be on my own; I’m roping in an ex-student, plus a woman in her thirties if I can get takers. They can do the funny songs and keep it fresh. I’m all tragedy. Pathetic really. 

I’ve already started the planning. Women in musicals are always written by men. There are perhaps 4 women I can name off the top of my head who’ve cracked the scene: Jeannine Tesori (Thoroughly Modern Millie; Fun Home),  Lucy Simon and Marsha Norman (Secret Garden), and Cindy Lauper (Kinky Boots). Women in musicals can be written well. Sondheim is pretty good once he got over being lambasted for his poor portrayal of women in A Funny Thing…Forum. Marc Shaiman and Stephen Schwartz  draw women pretty well and each champion strong women such as Elphaba or Galinda. But there are a fair few women drawn as monstrous caricatures, such as Rose in Gypsy, or Margaret in Carrie. If played badly, they are rightly awful. I want to reclaim these women. They weren’t bad. They were lonely, sad, ignorant, prejudiced. Marginalised and maligned. They had their reasons for being awful. 

So the first challenge for me is to select the songs. I have about 10; I’ll need 12, and I’ll be culling as the cabaret takes shape. I’m thinking of doing a 2-week course in creating cabaret down in Sydney in July. Exxie but my business hasn’t had overheads this year, and I need a creative kicker to help shape the story and patter. 

I’m also writing some of my own songs. This will provide links to disparate songs and help shape the drama. 

For the first time in forever, this feels like a fun, creative thing. So, look out, folks. A Bagful of Crazy. Coming to a cabaret near you. 

Weekend Coffee Share

If we were having coffee I’d be telling you that this is the second time I’ve tried to upload a weekend coffee share but my internet connection is so crap (thanks OPTUS and the Australian Federal Gov’t for your shit, misinformed policies on internet capacity and speed) that I lost the first one due to dodgy internet connection. WordPress doesn’t like interruptions and tends then not to save drafts. I’m racing against time to finish this post before the linky closes.

(Actually, how about this: I’ll post it now and edit as I go. Sounds fair. Back soon.)

And….that was quick. I often upload my shares on a Monday morning which is still Sunday night in other hemispheres so I think I get away with it!

Righty-ho.

Now, I could tell you about my three chookies Euphemia, Josephine and Iolanthe who are very dear little girls, but who are not yet laying consistently (in fact, I’m pretty sure 2 of them haven’t started at all as we’re only getting one egg a day). I sit and watch them every day. Or I could tell you about my doggy girl Poppy, who is a bit smelly and not eating very much. I think she’s overheating in this crap weather and needs another trim. Or I could tell you about my cat Lucy, who manages to piss someone off nearly every day. However they are self-sustaining little creatures, mostly. I could tell you that my attempts to manage our herbs are coming to no good. I can’t manage the water issue or the sun issue. They either get too much sun or not enough, or I manage to drown them in water or dry them out. I wish they’d let me know what the problems are without just dying on me. On the plus side, the basil seems to be growing well and the possums have finally stopped eating the chilli leaves.

I could also tell you about the umpty-hundreds of concerts I’ve seen this week, very excited by all the offerings at the Brisbane Baroque festival, including Handel’s acclaimed Agrippina (who knew 4 hours could go so fast?!); a Bricolage of Heavenly Bach, a Vivacity of Vivaldi with Vivica Genaux and tonight a Purcell treat called King Arthur with some wonderful ex-QLD CON graduates in the roles.

But no. Feeling the pinch of unemployment. And no recreational or legal drugs to while away the hours. Sigh. Except coffee. Here, have a brew.

My last post revealed I’d finished the book chapter. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out, even if it WAS 10,000 words long. Plus a 165-word Abstract, and a 1000-word reference list. But that leaves me in that awful pit place of no job and few prospects. I’ve applied for 2 jobs OS: one in New Zealand (a 3-hour flight away, then a 2-hour drive), and one in Singapore (7-hour flight). There’s nothing here except a Head of Music at a couple of high schools, for which I think I’m uniquely unqualified, because I don’t like children. Much.

I’m having a hell of a time staying positive and actually I just think I’m not very. I have a couple of creative ideas, but that would mean actually doing them. And when I’m low (depressed because no job= no value in the world, and this is literally the ONLY reason I’m low: I don’t have a fulfilling job) I’m not very proactive about creativity. I pretend to be a social constructivist but in reality I think I’m a pragmatist and I feel a lot more useful being gainfully employed.

Oh, to hell with it. Creative ideas are below in list form. Because that’s how I roll. Have another coffee. And here’s some delicious ginger cake I made a while back. Do have a slice, and enjoy the read:

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  1. Oily Rag Opera. A chamber opera company for small productions that only need 4-6 singers and a decent pianist. It could not pay for performers or players or personnel. How can it? The cost of putting on an opera is so high that even to stage a community production can cost upward of $50,000. And that’s just for the performance space! But I’d like to do a chamber opera: perhaps Suzanna’s secret or something like that. With actual proper opera singers who in this state are mostly out of work, and a good MD and D. If we could get a black box performance space this thing could have legs. There is some opportunity in this state for such ventures.
  2. Badly, sadly, madly.  Crazy women’s cabaret. A 55 minute cabaret with 3 female performers, one female MD, and one female D. Has it been done before? No doubt. There’s a few cabaret shows springing up in Australia – when I say a few, I actually mean shit-loads. There are hundreds. We have decent cabaret festivals in every major city, plus a heap of fringe festivals and comedy festivals too. So. 3 performers, 10 songs. Some self-penned songs (yes, I do this too), and some Musical Theatre favourites, and a few trios/duets. Obviously the theme being bad, mad or sad, all the songs have to relate in some way to a woman’s internal crazy. You know, stalker chick, psycho killer, manic depressive, abandoned woman, that sort of thing. With a half-decent patter and stage direction.
  3. Write a novel. Don’t know what about. Feeling a bit bereft of ideas for this one. I’m a bit plot driven, so perhaps a crime thingy. I love crime noir styles and have a peculiar fondness for a fellow called Peter Temple, who in my book writes some of the most compelling Australian crime fiction ever. His prose is sparse, hard to unpack at times (no problem with this: he writes for an intelligent audience), and he really GETS the bleakness of some Australian landscapes, whether of the human mind or the natural world. The only problem I have with it is that Temple writes with a strongly male focus, and all his main characters are male. He doesn’t write women well at all, really – they’re usually caricatures of what he thinks women OUGHT to be. Which isn’t so bad, exactly, just that I’d love to have some female protagonists in my reading. So, perhaps I could write my own.
  4. Write some more songs and compositions. This is not so hard if I’m doing pop and folk-inspired music. When it’s more classical or cabaret inspired it’s harder because my keyboard skills just aren’t up to it. And I actually believe good keyboard skills are what makes good composers. They know how to put chords together. Anyway, I could certainly write a few songs again. About fricking time. Or I could fix up some old ones.
  5. Write me my fricking monograph from my thesis and get me to a publisher, stat.
  6. Write a couple of research articles I’ve been putting off because.

So there you have it, folks. Yes, I have some creativity. No, I don’t feel like using it right now. Have another coffee, or perhaps a tea.

Brought to you by Diana here

newcoffee

Of chooks, waistlines and Things to Do.

So the chickens are going well. I love my chookies. They are terribly cute, cautious and  scare easily. Divine. Poppy my groodle wants to eat them. Not pretty, so we’re planning a fox-and-dog-free chook run so that Poppy can hang out in the back yard again. Not fair to confine her to the front yard when the chookies barely use the back.

We’ve had the first few eggs. They’ve quite a pale yolk: more butter-coloured than orange. So I’ll be supplementing their feed with some appropriate food to give their yolks a colour lift. I ate some for the first time today. Scrambled, they were remarkably creamy. Much more so than the free range eggs I normally buy. And even better, one of the eggs was a double yolk. Win!

After I took my folks to the airport on Tuesday I realised my capacity to lose weight was in direct proportion to my care-factor. It’s never going to happen unless I get all serious about it again. Which I can do, I promise. Just not now. The weather is STILL too hot and I’m not really prepared to get out of bed before 9.00am. So I took me shopping and finally succumbed grumpily to the needs of my expanding waistline: I bought 3 pairs of size 12 trousers, and half a dozen t-shirts and tops. In QLD clothes deteriorate really fast because they’re always being washed. I looked at my own clothes: they looked tiredly at me and promptly sagged into grottiness and worse still: torn in parts. Plus, I only had about 3 pairs of sad old pants I could wear (2 pairs of WHITE pants, y’all, and 1 pair of 2-years old totally grotty navy pants that I wear EVERY SINGLE DAY when I’m not wearing the white ones), and it was beginning to get desperate. I’m not paring back my wardrobe to bare bones: I WEAR IT ALL.

Every so often I buy a bunch of t-shirts but 6 months later they’re always pretty woeful. Doesn’t matter which brand, either. They can be super-dooper expensive or quite cheap. They just lose shape and look old. On the plus side, I rarely throw out my t-shirts because I repurpose them either as pj tops, painting tops, or cleaning cloths. So there you have it. Instead of removing the fat from my body I’ve taken the easy way out. At least now I’m comfortable in my clothes again, and mildly stylish.

Things to do for the end of March and all April: finish off some book editing (tomorrow’s job), finish my book chapter (tomorrow as well), create a chook run, and go to the gym. Perhaps write some job applications too. I’m learning how to keep busy, and I’m starting to enjoy slowing down a bit. Perhaps I’ll write some fiction, as I promised myself so many moons ago. And I’ll definitely read a book. I’ve not read a single novel since I joined Goodreads. Unlike me. And I’m starting to think about being artsy-fartsy again. Perhaps I’ll join an art collective and do some arty-crafty things.

Happy Easter everyone. See you on the other side.

Friday Filibuster: From little things big things grow. Some Australian protest songs.

From Little Things Big Things Grow is a song by my favourite muso and serial adulterer, Paul Kelly and his mate Kev Carmody. It’s about how one man’s actions can galvanise a nation into shame for its appalling treatment of indigenous Australians, and begin a “reconciliation” (given that we never had a conciliation in the first instance I’m not sure how we can be reconciling, but whatevs), a recognition of wrongdoing, where a People’s country can be returned to them in a gentle, yet powerful ceremony that is both as profound and as prosaic as pouring earth into a person’s waiting hands.

 

Given the current parlous state of Australia’s ethical and moral stance against refugees and asylum seekers I’m hoping that some small Australians, those ordinary people who work in hospitals and banks and schools and police stations and offices, will rise up and say to our two major parties (Liberal National Party and The Labor Party) that enough is enough. Stop treating these people as criminals. Be humane. Be mindful of international law. Follow that law. Actually, they are doing this, but the right wing goons, who are a small but self-important bunch, are holding the parties hostage. Here’s a song by our beautiful Missy Higgins called Oh Canada that evocatively illustrates the plight of refugees and asylum seekers everywhere.

 

 

Another great artist, Tim Minchin (composer of Matilda the Musical), has written an angry song about our Cardinal George Pell, who seems to have become strangely too ill to travel to Australia to answer a Royal Commission into the Catholic Church’s years of wanton cover up over a string of appalling paedophilic priests who ran rampant around Australia. Heads have rolled over this one but more will roll as more is uncovered.

 

Anyway. This post wasn’t going to be about protest songs. It was going to be about weight loss. Hah. Got you! So it’s just that I’ve started going to the gym every day, swimming. I swim for 30 minutes, or 14 laps of a 50 metre pool (yes, I know that’s super slow. I don’t care). I swim breaststroke, and today it took me a little while but I finally got into a beautiful Zen state, where time disappeared for a while. As I say to DH, it’s my daily meditation, swimming.

I’m back to calorie counting, but not too much – I’m not cutting out carbs and I’m being more circumspect about how I count those calories – in other words I’m not sweating the small stuff like I used to. I’ve also cut out snacking and most sweet foods. It seems to have worked: I’m already down 500 grams in 5 days. A nice start. Tomorrow I’m going to a proper gym class at 8am (yuck), followed by a swim to cool off.

So, from little things big things grow. A daily gym routine to get me out of the house, more thought about WHAT I eat, and the results show that little things can have a big impact. Go little me.

muffintop

 

Getting Gritty with it: the real thing

So here’s a thing. I’ve begun some long overdue editing work. It’s kinda boring, because it’s editing, y’all, but I discovered something. In doing this, I want to start writing again. The editor of the book is a personal friend and writing colleague, and the book is about a particular form of qualitative research called Narrative Inquiry, which is my thing.

Narrative Inquiry methods “story” the data and findings. In lay terms, we make meaning of social science research by putting raw data into a readily readable narrative for humans to connect to. In true terms it’s of course a rather messy and frustrating approach to analyse data but in meaning-making it beats most quantitative studies in the social sciences, because in the end quantitative researchers, with all their numbers, still have to put their discussions of the findings in ways that make it meaningful to humans. In narrative form. Often in the form of storied case studies, that sort of thing. Which Narrative Inquiry does from the get-go. Does it make the research any less rigorous? No, however, there may be ways of interpreting the research that quantitative researchers find using other means. Now, remember folks, I said the SOCIAL SCIENCES. NOT medical or earth sciences, or biotech or any kind of tech, really. Medicine and biological sciences need quantitative data much more than, arguably, the social sciences do.

As I’m sitting here doing the editing (which has to be done in little increments because it’s impossible to focus for more than an hour at a time on the stuff without losing the will to live), I’m all fired up and excited about writing again. I’ve offered to write a chapter in the book – according to my friend the volume’s a little short, so I’ve taken the bait. I had originally offered to write something about 100 years ago but I wasn’t in a good emotional space to be doing that, so I never submitted an abstract. I’ve given myself a 2 week turnaround for a rough draft of 8000 words. This doesn’t seem overly onerous, but there’s a whole heap of extra research and reading to do.

For every article I reference, there’s about 5 I read and discard. So if I include 50 references then I’ll need to read up to 250 articles for this chapter. Luckily I already know the field so more than half of the references are stored away in my brain somewhere, to be dragged out as a hoarder drags out his favourite rusting, teensy doo-dad from under the piles of equally rusting detritus, which he kept just in case. I’m going to send my friend the rough draft in early March and she can make the decision as to whether it’s good enough for inclusion. It’s a tight turn-around but it’s doable. The review process might be problematic because it’s usually very slow but the editors will no doubt send it to someone in the field who is known to do things quickly.

Seriously. It’s not as if I have better things to do with my time.

On the the Live Below the Line thing. I’ve been having another think about my starchy foods, and I’ve taken a little inventory of the food I usually eat on a normal day. Toast, eggs, sandwiches, pasta. I’m thinking I could buy a loaf of day-old bread from the bakery (cheap as chips), and some ready-made pasta, and this will do me just fine for 5 days with the other things. I’ll need to get fighting fit for the challenge. Perhaps a 2-day challenge to see how I cope with no coffee and wine? Not that this will hurt me, as my girth is back to its old chubster state.

I’m thinking on it. As you may have noticed, I’m a problem solver and this problem is rather delicious to play with. Also worthy. And as a cis-heteronormative white woman living near the 1% dream, I have very few excuses to shirk my duty as concerned world citizen. 😉

Sayonara!

Gritty

Today’s thought.

If I say I’m a writer, does that make me one?

I’ve written 2 blog posts in 24 hours, I’m planning a monograph, I write mini fiction, I write grants. I’m a published author. Am I a writer?

A recent opinion article by Australian author Nicki Gemmell talks about “grit”. She talks about an experience she had doing her Masters of Creative Writing, where she noted plenty of participants wrote much better prose than her. But she could kind of tell that they didn’t have the stamina, perseverance or resilience to keep writing that she possessed.

I know what grit is. I have grit because I’ve gritted my teeth and driven myself to the end of the path for certain things, like finishing my tertiary studies. But I don’t have grit in other areas, such as singing. I wonder whether I have the grit for writing.

Grit

(I love this image from F*****.com which I’m going to say is a bitch because it doesn’t want you to use an adblocker, so screw you stupid website.)

The image implies grit is gripping, gritty, dirty and hard won. It certainly is. Grit is a difficult thing to master. But when you succeed, it’s like you’ve held on through the dirt and the mud and the piss and the shit, and you’re now allowed to have a really long soaking bath with bath salts, candles and champagne. Hola champagne!

So. Grit. Do I have it for writing? Should I reinvent my identity and travel down a different path? Do I have the luxury of this in 2016? Well, short of getting a lovely paying job, I say hell yeah. Why not.

Grit. You don’t like it in your food, between your toes or in your teeth. But in your soul? It’s the necessary sandpaper to your complacency.

 

And now Alan Rickman? 

2016 is not being fair. 

My favourite movies starring Alan Rickman begin with Truly, Madly, Deeply. They continue through Galaxy Quest and Love, actually, and end with everything Potter. I am so sad today. 

Damn you universe. And cancer.