Rain and Restlessness

It’s raining outside. Really raining. This morning I walked to the shopping centre to get some groceries, and by the time I got home again my boots and socks were soaked through, and so was the bottom third of my pant legs. My planned work this week — other than teaching my regular yoga classes — is research and reading. So rain outside and a bit of chill in the air is perfect, right?

But I’m restless.

I’ve handed in my uni work, my week isn’t anywhere near as full as it has been for the last month or so. I’ve been planning various exciting things for next year — writing, yoga and general life stuff. I think the combination of those two things has led to this restlessness. This desire to be doing something that means I can’t actually do anything properly. I read half a page of the neurology text I’m looking at for a piece I’m writing, then I get up and wander to the kitchen. I stand in the kitchen, just looking at the bench tops, for a minute or so, then I go back to my computer and start watching a video on gardening. After two minutes, I find my way to the piano and play half a song… You get the picture. Not very productive.

I’m not sure how to let myself settle. And I’m not sure if I really need to. Perhaps this restlessness is good, for now, even if it means I’m not getting much done. Perhaps all the doing is happening between my ears; my mind is slowly processing all these plans I have.

Patience — especially with myself — is something I’ve always struggled with. Perhaps another cup of tea will help.

Gratitude, Writing, Future and Past Selves

I’ve been pretty quiet here for a while now. As usual, it’s because I’ve been anything but quiet everywhere else. I’m teaching lots and writing lots, and it’s left very little time to write here, and sometimes it feels like I’ve also very little time to breathe. But I shouldn’t complain, because I’m enjoying every minute of it.

I’ve given myself this week off writing though. I’ve told myself I can read, if I want to, but no writing. (This doesn’t count, right?) I handed in my major uni project last week (15,000 words), and immediately felt drained. I need a week away from words. In fact, it’s taken me at least four days to even turn my computer on, and I’ve not yet started the tedious task of tidying up the mess of my desk.

But, tidying up my thoughts (if not my desk), I came across this. I’m always pleased to see a post from Claire Bidwell Smith pop up in my reader feed. I actually read this post last week, but haven’t had a chance to process the thoughts or write about them until now. I’ve been reading Claire’s blog now for… I think about four or five years. I’ve read about her engagement, her marriage, her pregnancy, her steps into motherhood. Claire lost both her parents to cancer by the time she was 25, and she writes often about grief — in a way that’s both clear and accessible for someone who’s not experienced the kind of grief she’s describing.

Claire’s words have changed me, there’s absolutely no doubt about it. The way she writes about her life has reframed the way I think about mine. Such is the power of words, fiction or otherwise. And she uses them so beautifully.

Next year Claire’s memoir about her experiences with grief will be published by Penguin (Text Publishing have picked up the Australian rights). I cannot wait to read this book.

I spent most of the last week sitting at my desk, forcing words to make their way out of my brain and onto a page. The essay I was working on was proving particularly difficult to pin down — the ideas were many and varied; I had too much I wanted to say. After finally coaxing out a full first draft, I came to read this post of Claire’s. She’s written before about having a sense of past lives within the one that she’s currently living, past selves within herself, and it’s an idea that resonates with me. I’m often astounded at all the lives I appear to have already led within this one. The way she describes her present-day self talking to her 23-year-old self is just wonderful. And her description of her more youthful self’s determination gives fuel to my own. I wonder what the Future Me would say to the Present Me.

Quiet time

Last time I wrote here, I wrote about how lots of things were shifting, lots of things were up in the air, and I was hoping they’d settle soon. Yeah. It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen anytime soon. In fact, things seem to be picking up, rather than settling down.

Don’t get me wrong — it’s all exciting stuff. But I do feel like I’ll be in desperate need of a very quiet holiday sometime soon.

While I wait for that opportunity, I’ve been rising ten or fifteen minutes earlier than usual most days, and just letting myself sit in the quiet for a bit. There is, of course, a whole lot of research about the benefits of meditation (and, being a yoga teacher, it’s not like I’m new to the idea that it’s beneficial), but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by just how much of a difference to my day ten short minutes of sitting still and quiet can make. Doing this with some kind of regularity (my meditation practice has always been sporadic, at best) makes those benefits even more noticeable.

Of course. It’s obvious. And I knew it already. It makes me wonder why it is that we avoid doing something even when we know for sure that it’s good for us — or, even more than that, that it will make us feel better immediately. Not some time down the track, not even in an hour, but straight away. Why avoid it? It’s very strange.

To Melbourne…

Tomorrow morning a very lovely lady writer friend of mine and I are off to Melbourne for the week. We’re heading down to attend various sessions at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival, and because we both love to be in that city.

The picture above is one I took when I went down for a visit last December. I took it because I so often stood in that spot when I lived in Melbourne, watching the trams cross the intersection at the corner of Flinders and Swanston Streets, waiting to meet one friend or another. “Meet you under the clocks at Flinders Street,” we’d say.

I’m fully expecting this trip to be full of nostalgia and whimsy. Our eight days there will be the most time I’ve spent in the city since I left it three and a half years ago.

Tomorrow can’t come soon enough.

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.

Sodden feet

Last night I ventured out just as it started to pour with rain. I quite like rain. And I’m rarely without an umbrella.

My umbrellas are always bright and cheerful. I’ve had yellow, green, blue. My current umbrella is pink with polka dots. This choice of gaudy umbrellas is completely deliberate.

There’s a picture of me as a small child standing at the bottom of the front steps of our house in Goulburn, peering out from under an umbrella. The expression on my face is one of happy fascination.

On a good day, that’s still how I feel about rain. Choosing a brightly coloured umbrella is my way of reminding myself that it’s possible to forget about the inconvenience of rain, to forget to worry about whether I’m getting wet. It reminds me that I’ve inherited my Dad’s fascination with weather, and brings out that part of me that wants to jump in the puddles rather than carefully step around them.

Because let’s face it: I’m probably going to end up with sodden feet anyway.

Thinking about the toes of my boots, which are still damp from last night’s rain adventure (no puddle-jumping, but I did give up on trying to avoid the puddles), I remembered that I once posted a little piece here about rain and umbrellas and ruined shoes.

‘Nevermind,’ she said quietly to herself as her suede shoes were rapidly ruined by the rain. At least they had character now.

She stood under her broken umbrella on the unfamiliar street corner and marvelled at the genius of the contraption she held above her head.

Somehow the rain never made her sad anymore. It reminded her of a place she missed dearly but was also glad to be away from. It reminded her of him, of that street, of that house and of the wet-cold winters. And it always brought a smile to her face, even if her shoes had become its victim.

Finding this piece immediately reminded me of all the other times I’ve been stuck in the rain — sometimes with an umbrella, sometimes without — and how each of those moments still sits in my mind, linked in no other way except by the phenomenon of water falling from the sky. It also reminded me of just how many pairs of shoes I’ve lost, standing out in the rain, and how it’s not that ruination that I remember first, but the freedom that comes from realising each time that I can’t do anything about it.

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)?


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?

Monday Project: Canberra Autumn

She lifts her shoulders closer to her ears in an attempt to close up any gaps around the scarf. Hands gloveless, they are buried in her pockets among the folded and rolled up bits of paper she resists throwing out because she likes to have something to do with her hands.

“It’s not that cold,” her brother will say. But he’s used to it.

She is on her way to meet him at an outdoor cafe in the shade. They will order hot chocolates because they’re both trying to avoid caffeine so they can focus. In the colder months, the cafe lends out small blankets to its customers — an idea she will praise endlessly, huddling underneath one while her brother shakes his head and his bare arms make her feel even colder.

The path towards the cafe is lined with trees that are shedding their leaves for winter. The ground all around her is red, orange, yellow and brown. It strikes her suddenly that these trees do the opposite of most animals to prepare for the colder months: they shed rather than gain layers. A leaf, she thinks, must use up more energy than it brings. Her brother will know.


This is my (month-late) response to last month’s Monday Project theme. I really shouldn’t be trusted to organise these things! I’ll be posting up my response to this month’s theme later today.

Capsule: Practise

I’ve had a flash fiction piece published over at Capsule Fiction.

His fingers moved across the piano keys, again and again hitting the same wrong note. That same section, again and again. The keys were smooth under his fingers, worn from years of his sisters’ treading similar paths, and from the family who had owned the piano before theirs did.

Read more here.

Stalking… I mean, observing

The other week at uni, instead of a tutorial, we were asked to make our way to one of a list of places in the city and make some observations. With the brief ‘cities at night’, we were to produce two 150 word pieces — the first a description of the place, the second a description of a person within that place.

I chose the supermarket at Broadway. I chose it because I’m writing about supermarkets for one of my feature articles, and because I really dislike the place. Actually, most supermarkets make me vaguely anxious. And that fascinates me. What is it about them that makes me anxious?

My written pieces for this exercise don’t really attempt to address this question, but I thought I’d share them here.

    The place is full of people, but not their voices. A hum fills the space – the cooling system for the fruit and vegetable section. Beep, beep, beep; items scanned and placed in bags. “Next waiting, please.”

    On the whole, it is a place devoid of smell. Only the bread and meat sections have a scent: both vaguely sugary.

    There are few Supermarket Rushers at this hour. People move in a dream-like state, eyes sliding over the shelves, occasionally stopping to peer more closely. To speak to someone is to wake them.

    Away from the hum of the fruit and vegetable section, people’s footsteps can be heard on the bright white hospital floors. The high heels and heavy business shoes have gone for the day, left are those who have had time to slip their feet into something more comfortable. White light — a Hollywood yellow in the cosmetics section — shines down from above. This place seems both small and enormous; with no windows there are no landmarks for perspective.


    Phone between her shoulder and ear, basket dangling from her arm, she puts two heads of broccoli into her basket. Her grey sneakers take a few steps away. She is not speaking English on the phone, but her sigh is clear; she returns to remove one head of broccoli from her basket.

    The white phone now hangs in her hand. She has moved to cosmetics. Her eyes amble over the face creams on display, looking without really looking.

    In her basket she has a box of oats, a carton of soy milk and the green vegetable. She seems unsure what to add next, moving briefly back towards the vegetable section before drifting in the opposite direction towards the frozen foods. For several minutes she stands in front of the garbage bags, squinting at the many choices. She decides on purple bags a shade or two darker than her shorts.

    She scuffs towards the self-checkout. Basket down now, she gazes at the screen a moment before moving to scan her first item. She has not brought her own bags.

It was an interesting exercise. I ran into someone I knew at one point, and had to pretend I was doing some last minute shopping — even though I was at the opposite end of the supermarket to the milk and cheese, which is what I said I was there to get. And I discovered that stalking is really quite difficult.

But the exercise was fun. I had trouble keeping to the word limit because I had many, many notes. Being asked to observe something almost always has me listening harder than I normally do, and I had lines and lines about the sound of the supermarket.

As much as I dislike these places, supermarkets are fascinating. People behave strangely in them. This observation exercise was as much an exercise in trying to find the kind of compassion for other people I ranted about in my last post. People are rude and vague, tired and careless. Maybe they dislike the place as much as I do.

In last week’s class we got back an edited version of our pieces and discussed the exercise. There were some fairly heated discussions about some of my classmates’ observations of other people. I won’t discuss those here just yet (they relate, again, to my last post and I want to give them a little more time when and if I do write about them).

When I got mine back it was covered in notes, questions, underlines and crossings out. I love the way something looks when it’s been edited. I’m not really sure why.

(Excuse the terrible photography.)