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.

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.

Novel Challenge update

Reading for the Novel Challenge has been an interesting experience for me. I’m not sure if I’m the only weird one, but I have this strange guilt complex about reading fiction, despite the fact that I enjoy it immensely. On top of the idiocy of feeling guilty about enjoying something, I’m a writer, and reading fiction is invaluable for my writing, both as inspiration and as some kind of subconscious learning. Yeah. I don’t get the guilt complex either. It’s stupid. Something to do with being an incredibly proactive person — the not-so-great flipside of which is that I’m very bad at relaxing.

Anyway. I’ve got a pretty good excuse to read fiction at the moment and it’s been really wonderful. I’ve spent a couple of Saturday mornings curled up in my favourite armchair, winter sun shining through the window, nose in a book. Sigh. Why don’t I let myself do this more often?

As well as the relaxation factor, I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed starting to pick apart what, exactly, it is that I enjoy (or otherwise) about what I’m reading. I’m getting a bit of extra practise at this at the moment, because I’m tutoring a year 12 student in English, and a lot of what we’re doing is recognising literary techniques and trying to understand what their function is in the text. In our last session we looked at a book I read recently, The Anatomy of Wings, and tried to pull apart a very small section of it, discussing what some of the techniques might be trying to achieve.

I find it very hard not to just point out all the techniques I can see, because I enjoy the process so much (not a great teaching move). I want to do year 12 English again. I think I might be a dork.

In other news, I’m slowly picking up bits and pieces of yoga teaching work as well, and I can’t even begin to describe how much I’m enjoying it. Such a rewarding experience. Hopefully I’ll have a website up soonish that I can share here (and if you’re in Sydney you can come to some of my classes!).

But for now, back to reading fiction — guilt-free!

(PS. Pop by my page and sponsor me — it’s for a good cause.)

Reading: And the Rat Laughed

I don’t normally have an urge to write about a book I’ve read. I’m not sure why that is — something to do with internalising the ideas, the atmosphere. Perhaps I’m a bit protective of the world a fiction book has created in my head (although my brother reminded me the other day that I used to constantly steal books he’d started, so I’m obviously not as concerned about other people maintaining those worlds in their own heads — sorry Tom!). I’m perfectly willing to talk endlessly about non-fiction, but I find it more difficult to articulate my feelings about fiction.

And so I was surprised when my reaction to Nava Semel’s ‘And the Rat Laughed’ was to write about it. It’s an unusual book. Essentially, it’s about remembering the Holocaust — how a story should be told, if it should be told, how to tell a story of trauma to a young family member without traumatising them too, how to avoid diluting the story so much that the essence of the experience is lost, how to then continue passing the story on without it turning into a warped game of Chinese whispers. Memory fascinates me, which is possibly why I loved this book so much, despite whole sections that simultaneously irritated me with their format or style.

The book is in five sections.

The first is the old woman’s story, told in bits and pieces, at times difficult to decipher among her wondering about the damage she might do to her granddaughter, to whom she is telling the story, her guilt about telling her granddaughter when she has never told her own daughter, and through the cloud of her own memory loss.

In the second section, the granddaughter apologetically tells her teacher that she failed to get a story from her grandmother, and could only elicit from her a seemingly meaningless legend about a rat that desperately wanted to laugh and a little girl in a pit who could not help him.

The third section is a series of poems. Short, simple. Devastating to the reader having already read sections one and two. They sound like poems written by children, and in a later section we discover that this is exactly what they are.

In part four I found myself skipping sections and forcing myself to go back and re-read them. It is set in 2099, in a time where people can communicate with one another through their dreams and send ‘b-mails’ (brain-mails, like emails). All the futuristic stuff was a bit far-fetched for me, but this section did serve to explore what can happen to a personal narrative once it’s removed from the person who had the experiences, and becomes a sort of myth.

The fifth and last section comes back to the original story, and shows us the diary of the priest who eventually saved the little girl (who became the grandmother) from the pit and tried to rehabilitate her.

At times I couldn’t help but feel that the Girl and Rat myth became a bit gimmicky, and took away from the devastating story of darkness and abuse, but then perhaps that’s the point. What does happen to our stories when they are told and retold in less and less accurate ways? Do the important parts disappear? Do they become myth? And if they become myth are they necessarily less emotionally potent?

And this, perhaps, is why I felt compelled to write about this book: it left me with questions.

Again, reading

I’ve only just realised that I didn’t actually hit, you know, ‘publish’ when I wrote this. I’m clearly a computer genius. This is a post I wrote about the Saturday of the National Young Writers’ Festival.

The first session I attended on Saturday was called ‘When You Were Young’ and featured a number of Young Adult (YA) writers talking about books they read as children, and how those books influenced their writing. Philip Gwynne, Margo Lanagan, James Phelan and Christine Hinwood made up the panel, with Bethany Jones facilitating.

Reading. It’s important to read. Read fiction. I left this session wanting again to get lost in a book, like I did as a child, to find another world. Childhood reading is something entirely different to reading as an adult. It’s less analytical, less cynical. No less thoughtful though, I think. Childhood reading is all about imagination, about questions and wonderment. I think that adult writing can be like that too. At least I want to think it can be like that. Perhaps that’s what I was nostalgic for when I watched that man reading a book on the train platform.

Discussion moved (probably inevitably) to the occasional tendency for young adult and children’s fiction towards being overly didactic. I actually think adult fiction can be like that too, and I find it incredibly irritating. I try (the operative word here) to remember when I’m writing that readers will expect to do some work themselves, and to be able to make their own decisions about whether a character or situation is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Children are capable of that too, and I sometimes wonder if people forget that.

The best books for me as a child were those that just presented a situation and the ideas that came along with that; presented multiple views on an event or person, and let me think about it myself. Possibly there were subtle pushes towards a particular conclusion, but they were just that: subtle. I loved stories that captured my imagination, and if they inadvertently taught me something about the world then great. It was interesting (though not surprising) to hear the writers on this panel say that, when they write, the story itself is what they think about, not its potential to teach someone something. Margo Lanagan in particular was quite passionate about the idea that children are capable of complicated thought and a story that encourages questions simply because it has presented an interesting (or disturbingly intriguing, as the case is with much of Lanagan’s writing) situation is not a bad thing.

James Phelan mentioned that reading to children when they are very young is important. Big tick for my parents. I remember Dad reading me The Hobbit as a five-year-old. I’m fairly certain that would not have been the starting point! My youngest brother is seven years younger than I am, so I got to see more of his coming to reading. ‘The Hungry Caterpillar’ and ‘Whose Legs Are These?’ were two favourites that I was able to revisit in reading to him.

My all-time favourite childhood book though was ‘The BFG’. I felt an affinity with the main character. No, I was not an orphan girl who was taken away by a friendly giant. But I was a seven-year-old girl with glasses named Sophie when I first read it (I haven’t changed my name, no, but I am a fair bit older than that now, and have invested in contact lenses). My year two teacher let me read parts of ‘The BFG’ out loud to the class.

I really must find an old copy of that book again.

What did everyone else read as a child?


I know my last post was about needing a break from reading and writing, and I stand by that, but the other day I was standing on the platform at the train station and really missed reading. It was as if I were somehow nostalgic about it, even though I really still read every day.

There was a guy standing next to me reading a book and something about the layout of the words on the page, the font, the colour of the paper, made me yearn for the experience of reading a book that looked like that. I didn’t want to read that particular book (I can’t even remember the title, it was obviously so important to me!), but it must have reminded me in some way of a book that I must have really enjoyed.

I love old books, like a lot of people. I love them for their smell, the slightly damp texture of their softened pages, the tiny text that sometimes bleeds a little, the beautiful fabric hard covers. But most of all I love them because they are someone else’s world. Someone else has lived through the experience of reading that book. Perhaps carrying it around with them, perhaps loving it, hating it, not even really remembering it. The characters and story world have formed a certain picture in their minds. The book might have moved them to tears or made them laugh.

But the man on the train platform was not reading an old book. The book was new, so it (probably) didn’t have that history. What it did have was a layout I’ve found common to new books coming out of small publishing houses. I’m not a typesetter, or a graphic designer, so I don’t know font names, but it’s a particular font, simple to look at but definitely computer-, rather than typewiter-generated. The page margins are wide. The spaces between lines are generous. Does anyone know the layout I mean?

I haven’t picked up a book yet this week. I’ve stuck to magazines. I think I’m trying to make myself really hungry for it. I’m sure this weekend at the National Young Writers’ Festival will help!