Too many things

Last week I finished a masters degree that I’ve been doing on and off now for four years. It’s a degree that I’ve enjoyed immensely at times, and loathed at others, but that, overall, I’m so glad to have done.

I wasn’t sure what to expect of myself when I finished. I guess I expected some relief, and maybe some sadness. But actually what I’ve ended up with is a kind of confusion about what to do now, and about a million suggestions from within my own mind about how to manage that confusion. Since Thursday (the day of my last class), I’ve had this odd excitable (bordering on manic, actually) energy.

“Energy”, when your day job is teaching people yoga, is a troublesome word to use. When I say it, people sometimes look at me strangely, thinking, I suppose, that I might start talking to them about hippy-dippy energy healing or something. I do know (and respect) people who work in that kind of therapeutic field, but when I use that word, I’m aware of those links, but that’s not really what I mean. I’m just talking about the feeling that tells you whether you’re tired or sluggish, or likely to burn through a long To Do list in five minutes flat. And for the last few days, my energy has been the latter. Well, it would be if I could only pin it down long enough to focus on something.

Yesterday morning I half-made myself three separate breakfasts because I couldn’t focus long enough to decide what I wanted. I made plans for some exciting stuff happening later in the hear, I did some reading for some writing work I’m about to start, and i planted some new green-leafy stuff in my garden. Today I made pies for some friends for afternoon-tea-lunch, but I also made a loaf of bread and a bunch of other small things. And walked around in circles in the kitchen because I kept forgetting what I was doing. Tonight I’ve started no less than four writing projects, some small, others not so. I’ve started reading about three different books since Thursday.

As I wonder which of these various projects I’ve started will actually get off the ground, I’m reminded of this talk on the paradox of choice. Because right now I feel a little like that’s what finishing uni has left me with—too much choice (yes, I know: first world problem).

I worry too that at some point I’ll crash, because that’s usually what happens for me. In fact, I’m a little surprised it hasn’t already. What I would love to learn is how to sit still with this energy and just watch it, but I so often feel like I need to use it while it’s there. I wonder how much that feeling is dependent on the pattern of energy-burn-crash-energy-burn-crash, and if I could learn to even it out a little.

This is why I do yoga. Focus. Learning to sit still. Learning to do nothing. (Which, incidentally, is what my essay in this lovely book is about.) Or, at the very least, to be aware of what’s going on and try to work with that. I wonder if it’s something I’ll ever be good at.

Hand-painted maps

I’ve been thinking, reading and writing about maps lately (the adventuring to Coogee in my last post was, in part, research related to the map work I’m doing), and I came across this video on Brain Pickings. Fascinating. I love that Jerry’s work on the map is so systematic, and yet there’s such wonder and imagination involved in its creation. It reminds me of some of the reading I’ve done on designing cities, and the idea that we should be designing incompleteness, to allow for some organic development in our urban places.

Jerry’s Map from Jerry Gretzinger on Vimeo.

(There’s also an article about Jerry’s map on The Atlantic website. And if you’re interested in more map-goodness, also check out this Brain Pickings post on the BBC series The Beauty of Maps.)

Adventure

Looking back over the last few posts here, I’ve realised that I seem to spend an awful lot of time writing here about not doing things. Or at least about needing to do nothing because I manage to keep myself busy and occasionally need a rest. But I rarely write about the things that I actually am doing.

So I thought today I would write about something that I’ve actually done. Today I went adventuring with a friend — a kind of research project for both of us. We caught the bus from Newtown to Coogee with no real plans, except to look around and maybe find somewhere we could eat pancakes. We wandered along the beach, in the rain, and took pictures of sand, boats, trees. We found a cafe in which to eat pancakes (yum!), and we wandered around a local green grocer without shopping baskets, trying to resist the temptation to buy any food. We walked up hills into the residential streets, gazing at all the interesting houses and interesting gardens.

We talked a lot, and I got damp toes. And we took pictures. Here are some of mine.

A little bit of nepotism…

My brother Tom is nearly finished a Captain Planet degree — that is, a Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies in Sustainability. As part of the degree, he’s pulling together what’s called a Sustainable Marketing Project, with a particular focus on a post- or low-carbon future. Because he’s just as much of a food nut (pun intended) as I am, he’ll be looking specifically at food.

It’s interesting, I think, that the two of us have both come to be writing and thinking about food, and that we’ve come at it from such different educational backgrounds (at least on a tertiary level). A large part of Tom’s degree has been necessarily science-based; I, however, have not studied any science since the hopefully-named ‘Physics is Fun’ semester I did at the end of year ten. My background is in arts and communications.

And I guess that’s why I’m particularly interested in this project. I think it’s safe to say that I’m obsessed with food; eating it, yes, but also thinking about where it comes from and how it gets to be on my plate. These questions are sometimes questions about process, and they’re sometimes questions about ethics. Tom’s project is attempting to cover both: how carbon is embedded in our food, and how to calculate that, but also why knowing that is important or relevant. This project is about information, but it’s also about telling a story.

The marketing element to this project, I think, is what makes it so interesting. Information about this thing we call ‘sustainability’ (what does that word even mean anymore?) is so often tinged with negativity, or completely overwhelming because of its sheer volume. It’s something I certainly struggle with in my non-fiction writing on food. The story-telling element is so important to get right, or you lose your reader (or viewer or listener) after about half a second.

Have a look at Tom’s first few posts on this project here. He’s just getting started, and I’m sure he’d really appreciate some feedback. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with.

Your Words Can Change the World

As part of my research into urban agriculture, I’ve just stumbled across The Lexicon of Sustainability. Lots of fascinating people doing a huge variety of different and interesting things to find and produce food.

This is their ‘About’ video. And the last sentence really struck me: “Your words can change the world.”

Introducing … The Lexicon of Sustainability from the lexicon of sustainability on Vimeo.

The idea is to try and explain some of the terms we see bandied around — ‘sustainbility’, ‘organic’, ‘locavore’ — in a way that’s accessible, and lovely to look at. I have to say that I’ve often found that this kind of information is not presented in a way that makes you want to keep looking at it. Which I’ve always thought is counter-productive. The Lexicon, however, manage to be informative and beautiful at the same time.

Take a better look here.

I have a feeling I might end up playing around here for hours…

~

PS. I found this through Milkwood‘s blog. They’re a small organic farm just near Mudgee, who also run a permaculture education, design and consultancy firm. I’d love to visit them sometime soon.

Putting the pen on the page

I’ve got this little ball of frustration sitting in the muscles just at the top of my neck, and the tension is making its way down into my shoulders and back, and up and over my head into my brow. Something like eighty or ninety per cent of headaches are caused by tension in your neck and shoulders, apparently (which makes sense if you know a bit about anatomy, and which muscles are attached to which bits of bone), so it’s not entirely surprising that lately I often feel as though I’m just on the edge of a headache. Thankfully, I rarely get them, but the threat is there.

I know why I’m frustrated. It’s because I’m doing a lot of reading, and not a lot of writing.

Don’t get me wrong — I love what I’m reading. I mean, writers are lucky in that they’ve got a pretty damn good excuse to read a huge variety of stuff, and at the moment I’m taking full advantage of that excuse. And I think that I’ve needed this time to do this research.

Even so, over the last few days I’ve started to miss writing. That is, I’ve started to miss actually putting the pen on the page and making words come out. I’m impatient to get started on a new draft of this thing. But part of me knows that I’m not quite done with the research, and that anything I write now is just going to annoy me because it’ll feel ill-informed and incomplete. And then I wonder whether I really “know” I need to do more research — or at least allow the research I have done to sink in — or whether that’s just a clever disguise for procrastination. You know, a way of avoiding the fact that once I put my pen on the page I won’t be able to hide from my limitations as a writer. And I know there are plenty.

Sam Cooney recently wrote an excellent piece on the gap between ambition and ability over on the Southerly blog, and I think this small section probably accurately describes my feeling towards my own writing:

I’ve been repeatedly diving out into the gulf that exists between my ability and aspirations, and ending up smashed on the jagged rocks at the bottom. It makes it hard to sit at the desk/on the couch/in the café/at the park and try again.

I know I’m frightened of that gulf, and of being smashed at the bottom of it — I’ve known this for a long time. I feel like some of the stuff I’m working on is pretty ambitious, at least given what I perceive my talents to be, and I wonder whether all this time spent researching is also time spent putting off that dive into the gulf.

It’s probably a bit of both, to be honest.

But I wonder how best to decide when to stop researching and start writing. Or can I do both at the same time?

It probably doesn’t help that I have a bit of a guilt complex about reading. I really don’t know why that is. Part of it is that I really enjoy reading, and I feel guilty about doing something that I enjoy during work hours (even though this reading is also work). But — aside from the fact that it’s a stupid reason to feel guilty — that explanation feels like it falls so far short of what’s really going on. I mean, I’m reading government reports that are hundreds of pages long, for gawd’s sake — if that’s not work, what is?

So why do I feel guilty about all this reading? Is it because I feel like I’m procrastinating? Is it that I’m worried about getting bogged down in this fear of my own limitations because I’m reading stuff that’s really well written (with the exception of the government reports — they need some serious editorial attention)?

Sigh.

Maybe ‘why’ doesn’t really matter at this point. Maybe explaining it wouldn’t really help. Maybe trying to explain it just gives me an excuse to continue wallowing in the guilt and frustration. Perhaps it’s enough that I’ve just noticed that those things are there.

As for the neck and shoulder tension… Anyone want to give me a massage?