End of Year

Before writing this post, I decided that I’d have a look at what I posted here this time last year. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the general gist of it was very similar to what’s in my mind as I approach the end of the year now. Last year I said I’m not big on resolutions, but I do like to think of New Year’s Eve as a chance to reflect a little, and to let go of some things that have passed to make room for things that might be. This year I feel much the same. I probably won’t make any specific resolutions, but there are some things I’d like to let go of, and some small changes in attitude and behaviour that I’d like to encourage in myself.

Today I’ve read two very different things that have contributed to the Let Go and Look Forward ideas in my head (I was going to call them lists, but that implies some kind of logical structure that just doesn’t exist). Rather than share those half-formed ideas, I’ll simply link to the two posts; one written by my cousin Julia, and another by a yoga teacher, Yogitastic, I’ve become friendly with on Twitter.

In last year’s post, I included this quote from a book I’ve got — and often refer to — on Yoga for Anxiety. The last two months or so have been frustrating for me, and I’m not entirely sure why (which probably means it’s no one thing — although it could just mean that I really needed a holiday), so this is a good reminder for me.

“Perhaps the simplest and most profound practice for deactivating old patterns,” say Mary and Rick NurrieStearns – a pyschotherapist and yoga teacher, and meditation teacher respectively, “is taking the time to be still and quiet. Sitting down and doing nothing gives you a chance to unwind and let your mind relax. You literally stop moving long enough to get your bearings, to see where you are and what’s going on.”

In that spirit, I’m going to spend at least a little time today or tomorrow just sitting quietly, encouraging reflection.

Happy new year.

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.

Letting things settle

I had thought I’d write a whole lot of blog posts while I was in Melbourne. I thought I’d be so excited about what I was doing that I’d want to share it.

And I was excited. But I worked out pretty quickly that I wouldn’t be able to share it for some time, even if I wanted to. More and more lately, I find I need to let things settle before I can approach them again in writing. This is true in my personal life as well as the stuff I write that I call ‘work’ (the line between the two is often very difficult to distinguish).

It’s nearly two weeks since I came back to Sydney, but I still don’t really feel like things have settled. A number of things have shifted, in subtle but important ways. I’ve tried to find an appropriate analogy for what’s going on in my head, but they all sound far too dramatic, when the action that’s caused the shift wasn’t really anything special.

The first yoga class I taught when I got back to Sydney was strange. It was one of my corporate yoga classes. At lunchtime I found myself in a very familiar office building, sitting on my mat in a very familiar empty wing of the fourth floor, chatting to regular students. Then the little travel alarm clock I use to keep time in yoga classes ticked over to midday, and I suddenly realised that I was the one who had to teach the class. For some reason, it came as a surprise. And then when I did start teaching, I found myself making changes to my usual way of sequencing poses, and the words that came out of my mouth focussed on different things: the spine instead of the arms, the feet instead of the legs. I found myself walking around more, watching, really watching my students. Most of my classes are made up of regulars, but that first week back it was as if I was looking at a whole lot of new people — not because of any real change in the way they moved, but because I was looking at them differently.

The strangest part of all of this was that it all happened without me even thinking about it. Usually when I make these changes to the way I teach (or the way I do anything, really), it’s a conscious decision, but this wasn’t conscious at all. It just happened. I don’t know yet whether they’re good changes or bad changes or changes that make no difference at all, and I don’t know whether the fact that they’re unconscious is good or bad or has no meaning at all.

This teaching anecdote the best way I can think to describe what I feel is happening in every part of my thinking and behaviour now. I’m doing things differently, just subtly, in my writing and in my general life stuff too. To be honest, the fact that it’s happening without any conscious thought on my part is driving me a little batty. I have no idea how any of it is going to turn out, or why I’m even doing it in the first place. I just have to have patience. And, let’s be honest, patience isn’t exactly my strong point. (Just to prove that to myself, last weekend when I was in Canberra with my family I had a couple of little tantrums. The first involved surprise tears before breakfast and a fair bit of confusion for my poor Dad, and the second involved ranting at Mum while I stomped around reluctantly packing my bag to go home.)

I’m sincerely hoping that things do settle (at least a little) sooner rather than later. I think they will. I’m working on a number of exciting projects at the moment — some writing, some yoga — and they seemed to have at least calmed the frustration to below tantrum-causing levels. It’s a better mental place to be.

So I might eventually get to sharing some of the half-complete drafts of posts I wrote about the MWF sessions I went to in Melbourne. I hope I do; we saw some pretty great stuff. But I might not either. And, actually, as frustrating as it has been, not really knowing how things will turn out, even with whether or not I press ‘publish’ on a blog post, is also kind of exciting.

Cities and food

I’ve spent my entire adult life living in cities. And at the moment I seem to be spending every spare waking moment reading about them — part of some research I’m doing on how cities are fed.

Cities are complex — an extension of the human beings they house, I suppose. I’m finding the research fascinating, even though I’m still in that stage of not really knowing what I’m going to pull out of it. Most of what I’m reading suggests that we should treat cities as living things, allowing room for them to develop organically.

Geoff Mulgan, from the Young Foundation, says their research suggests that we need to practice “designing in incompleteness, recognising that the best cities evolve themselves rather than just following somebody else’s master plan… the more perfectly planned and conceptualised the new city, the more certain you can be that it will fail.” (You can access the transcript of his presentation, The Social Life of Cities, on the Grattan Institute‘s website.)

Allowing for uncertainty and growth, I guess. As a teenager, I was interested in architecture, and briefly considered going down that path when I left school. Design on that scale — and broader still, looking at urban and suburban planning — still interests me. What we see around us, in urban and suburban environments, is very rarely there arbitrarily. Mulgan (and a number of other people whose work I’m reading at the moment) suggests that much thought needs to be given to how our built environments impact our social lives, because one of the very basic human needs is interaction with other humans.

Food, of course, is another basic human need. I think the two can and should cross over.

But enough for now. Back to work for me.

Whimsy and web-spinning

After a weekend with my family — a weekend of stories, memories, tears and laughter — I feel like I’m brimming with words. Characters I’ve written about before, and new ones, are floating in the air around my head, as if they’re attached to the end of spider webs caught in my hair.

I hope I can gently capture some of them and spin them into something before they float away.