I’ve got a podcast up on the Emerging Writers’ Festival blog about how important it is for writers (and people generally) to remember their bodies.
Have a listen here.
I’ve got a podcast up on the Emerging Writers’ Festival blog about how important it is for writers (and people generally) to remember their bodies.
Have a listen here.
It’s May. I’m not sure exactly how that happened… but I am excited that this month is here, mostly because it means the Emerging Writers’ Festival is just around the corner. And this year I’ll be involved in some sessions at the festival, which makes it doubly exciting.
This year, the second weekend of the festival will be held at the beautiful Abbortsford Convent, which is one of my favourite places to wander around on a weekend anyway. That weekend, The Writers’ Retreat, is focused on wellbeing for writers, and the program includes events on parenting and writing, health and writing, balancing writing with life, and nature writing. You can view the full list of events here.
I’ll be involved in two events on the weekend.
Workshop: Yoga and Writing
11am-12.30pm, 1 June 2013
The Salon, Abbortsford Convent
Tickets $15, $12 concession
I’ll be running a workshop on yoga and writing on the Saturday morning. I can’t even begin to articulate how excited I am about running this. For me, yoga is an absolutely vital part of my writing practice. I use it in all sorts of ways, from a remedy for the physical ills that come with sitting hunched over a desk, to supporting and enhancing (I hope) the intellectual and emotional wrangling necessary to get words on a page.
The workshop will be an opportunity for me to share some of the ways that I use a yoga practice to help my writing, but I also want it to be a pretty open format. I’ll be running the class through some of the yoga postures and other practices, but questions and discussion will be most welcome.
I always hope in my yoga teaching to help people develop sovereignty with their own bodies (and minds, for that matter), so that they can begin to use on their own the tools yoga offers for whatever it is that they need. This workshop is no exception. So come along and ask me as many questions as you like!
Seriously. I love it when people ask me questions about yoga.
Symposium: Keeping Active in the Arts
2.30-4pm, 2 June 2013
Rosina Auditorium, Abbortsford Convent
Admission is free
I’ll also be involved in a symposium-style event on the Sunday called ‘Keeping Active in the Arts’. In this session we’ll be talking about the benefits of staying active, and how to actually do that.
Having recently gone back to a job that keeps me at a desk three days a week (as opposed to teaching yoga full-time, like I was in Sydney), I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few weeks mulling over exactly these questions. I’m really looking forward to discussing some of the ideas I’ve had, and getting some new ones from others.
But honestly, the whole weekend sounds like it’s going to be wonderful, so even if you can’t make it to my events, do come along. Here are some pictures I took on a recent visit to Abbortsford Convent — it’s worth coming just hang out in the place.
I’m a bit behind the eight ball with posting this here — my latest post on the Emerging Writers’ Festival blog was published more than a week ago. But here it is!
I’m afraid I’m going to pick on coffee. I’m sorry. I know, I know, coffee is a writer’s friend. It’s my friend too, often, but I have an ongoing debate with myself about coffee. Most of the time I love it, but often it does strange things to my head, and occasionally I’m repulsed by it. That I could have such complex feelings about a drink fascinates me.
I probably spend far too much time thinking more generally about what I eat and drink. Which I suppose isn’t surprising, given that I currently get paid to write about food a few days a week, and am working on a larger writing project about food and eating. But really I blame my fast metabolism for the amount of time I spend mulling over what I put in my mouth — and indeed it’s probably why I do the work I do. For much of my life, I’ve been the type of person who finishes a big breakfast and is immediately thinking about what I’ll have for morning tea when I’m hungry again in two hours.
Many people don’t believe me when I tell them I eat a lot. I watch them eye my slender frame and raise a skeptical eyebrow. They think I’m joking about second (and sometimes third) breakfast. But hunger for me comes quickly and frequently, and can bring with it dizzy spells along with the kind of raging anger I wrote about in my post on running.
You can read the rest of the post here.
I’ve got another essay up on the Emerging Writers’ Festival Blog. This one’s about sleep, sleeplessness and the brain.
It’s 3.37am. My bedroom is dark, the edges of all the things in it are fuzzy. I’ve been woken by the whirring of a forklift driving around inside a chicken wholesaler warehouse two doors down from my place in a semi-industrial part of Melbourne’s Brunswick. It beeps as it reverses. Every now and then, someone throws solid objects into a skip that sits outside the business’ front door. I lay awake for hours, fuming, despairing, turning from side to side. I get up a few times to look, unsuccessfully, for the earplugs I know I own.
It’s not a particularly warm night, but at about 4.15am, my body temperature soars, and I have to throw off all the covers, lie in a starfish shape in the middle of the bed, and consciously slow my breath down. I’m overheating because I’m angry. I’m seriously considering going outside in my pyjamas to yell at the forklift driver about noise rules in mixed-zone areas, but then I start to worry about what, exactly, a business is doing moving stock around at that time of day. What is it? Is it part of their legitimate business? Do I live a few doors down from a ‘business man’ rather than a business man? Might I be risking my safety if I complain? And the paranoid spiral continues until the noise finally stops at 6.30am.
Eventually, some time around 7am, I drag myself out of bed and stumble through the day not entirely sure whether I’m awake or asleep. My limbs are heavy and I can feel my body’s exhaustion like the very beginning of pins and needles. I manage, somehow, to call the council and make enough sense that they understand I’m making a noise complaint.
Every now and then I have a bout of sleeplessness, although I’d not go as far as calling myself an insomniac. Most often my sleeplessness is related to noisy neighbours — jackhammers at 7am on a Sunday, idiotic first-home-away-from-homers exploding aerosol cans in a barrel fire under my window late at night in their tiny inner-city back courtyard. Not sleeping fills me with dread; a long-lasting anxiety that, ironically but unsurprisingly, makes it more difficult for me to sleep. I worry about being as useless as I was the day after the all-night forklift.
After that night, I set out to find out what the relationship between my writing work and my sleep (or lack thereof) might be, and ideally to figure out how to encourage a good night’s shut eye.
This week my next Emerging Writers’ Festival CAL Digital Mentorship Program blog post went up. This one’s on the way exercise changes our brains and how that, for me, relates to writing.
When I was a teenager I loved to run. We lived on the edge of town, not far from where the road turned from bitumen to gravel. Every afternoon I’d head for the gravel, and often I’d close my eyes as I ran, just to listen to the sound of my feet crunching, the sound of my own breath, sometimes the sound of my heartbeat.
I ran for physical fitness, in part. But mainly I ran because it made me feel good mentally, because it calmed my mind.
On days when I was particularly anxious, or even angry, I’d sprint the section between where the bitumen ended and the end of the street. While I caught my breath after those sprints, I’d stretch my legs on top of the white wooden reflector poles, gaze out over the paddocks and feel the tension — the anger, the anxiety — loosen and drop away.
I was one of those angry teens. I was angry for reasons I didn’t understand, prone to outbursts where things were yelled, doors were slammed and where I lashed out at my family. Running calmed me. I didn’t know how it worked, all I knew was that it did. I knew that when I got home I’d be better equipped to do my homework or study, less likely to blow up at the antics of my younger brothers.
My relationship with anger is still one of the strongest driving forces in my life. Anger motivates me to do things, to write things. Expressed in a helpful way, anger can carry passion and fascination, so I don’t think of it as a bad thing. But it can also become a (rather terrifying) hindrance too — it can cloud my judgement, it can leave me full of energy but with no idea where to direct it, rendering it and me effectively useless. None of this is particularly conducive to working or writing or living well.
Anger is why I’ve always been a highly active person; exercise helps me to turn anger into something useful.
Late last year, I was excited to become one of three mentees in the Emerging Writers’ Festival Digital Mentorship program. I’ll be writing about a post a month for them for the next six months or so (you can read more about the program, and the other writers on it, here.)
My first post, an argument for armchairs and an exploration of how posture affects thinking, went up yesterday. You can read it here.
Sometimes being in Melbourne makes me feel haunted, like I might run into a younger version of myself at any moment. Being here for a festival, something that is so intellectually expansive, only serves to heighten that feeling—like somehow the fact that there are new possibilities opening up in my mind might make a meeting like that possible. It’s not exactly unpleasant, but it is unsettling.
Because I feel like it’ll be some time before any of this stuff settles enough for me to make sense of it, I’m going to continue with the barely-edited-selection-of-notes format. Here’s some impressions of yesterday’s Emerging Writers’ Festival Town Hall Conference panels.
A selection of tips from Seven Enviable Lines
Emily Maguire: Writing full-time will not necessarily make you a better writer, & it may make you a worse one. You may begin to lose touch with the world—”I don’t believe you need to write what you know, but I do believe you need to know about what you write.”
Christy Dena: “Let others breathe on your baby.”
Ali Alizadeh: Writing is an extension of reading. Writing is always a dialogue with other writing.
Anita Sethi: Sit down, & the inspiration will come. Writing is very hard work. The inspiration is a spark, but the perspiration is so important.
Lawrence Leung: Listen to feedback, but don’t let it rule your life. If you want to write, no one can stop you except you.
A selection of notes from other panels throughout the day
In Writing on Tough Topics, Sydney Smith suggests that exposing oneself by writing about something tough is also a way of making amazing discoveries. I’m reminded of this TEDtalk on vulnerability.
In a session on Structure, Ali Cobby Eckerman says the structure of her writing is often imposed by her Indigenous cultural background. I wonder how much of the way I put stories together comes from cultural structures I’m hardly aware of.
In a session on Cross Platform writing, I am completely fascinated by the gesticular communication of Deaf writer, Asphyxia. So expressive—perhaps more so than any spoken communication can ever be. This is itself cross-platform communication, if you think of the human voice and body as media through which we tell stories.
I’ve been writing this post for weeks, on an off. It seems appropriate to finish it now — a death in the family always lends itself to remembering and nostalgia.
For a couple of months now I’ve been carrying around a little vial of nostalgia, everywhere I go. Sometimes I really do feel as though it’s rattling around in the bottom of my handbag, and when I go searching for something else I come across it.
The thing about nostalgia (at least for me) is that it’s so unspecific. I can’t really say where it’s come from, or even what it’s about. Or maybe it’s that I can say where it started, but then I’m unable to contain it to that. Nostalgia breeds nostalgia.
Sometime last week I found myself sitting on the couch, home by myself for the night, with a huge pile of recipe books, flicking through pages, making mental lists of things I’d like to cook next time I find half a day to spend in the kitchen. As I turned the pages I came across recipes I’d marked months ago, and finally worked out the root of this bout of nostalgia: I love my new house, but I’m also missing my old one. I miss my old housemates, I miss the house itself, I miss Astro the cat, I miss living down the south end of Newtown. I’m not despairing in the missing, it’s just a lingering sense of… sadness at the finality, I guess.
We cooked a lot in my old house. I cooked a lot. It wasn’t a great kitchen — it had a huge oven, but we also spent the last six months in the house cooking by lamp light — but it’s where I really feel like I cemented my love of cooking. I spent hours and hours cooking in that kitchen, sometimes many dishes at once, often on my own. Cooking became a kind of meditation; thoughts about other things popped into my head during big cook ups, but the focus always came back to whatever was on the stove top.
I also spent many hours in that kitchen, sitting on the step between the lounge and the kitchen or perched gingerly on the barely-held-together stool we’d borrowed for a party and somehow never returned, chatting to one of my housemates about life — work, boys, politics, religion, music, books, writing, cats, dogs, babies, family. We cooked, we talked.
The kitchen in that house will always be somehow special to me.
Thinking about that kitchen inevitably leads to thinking about the garden at that house, my little room and the neighbours whose backyards my windows overlooked, the creaky floorboards in the upstairs hallway, the sunny lounge room, the cracked walls, the ballroom-sized bathroom… the list goes on and on. And then spills over into other parts of my life, occasionally going as far back as childhood.
That my trip to Melbourne happened in the middle of all this nostalgia really hasn’t helped things. I miss Melbourne with such a visceral ferocity that it’s sometimes overwhelming. Going back there, I wander around the streets, amazed that I still feel so at home there, even though I’ve now lived in Sydney nearly as long as I lived in Melbourne.
Strangely, I also feel nostalgic about writing (this is far harder for me to explain). Spending time at writers’ festivals, like I have this last month — especially ones like EWF where I spent a lot of time in the company of other writers — exacerbates this kind of nostalgia. I think maybe what I’m trying to do when I write (fiction, at least) is capture that feeling of nostalgia, that little twinge of melancholy. So somehow thinking about or talking about writing brings about those feelings I’m trying to capture. Does that even make sense? I don’t know.
Perhaps this nostalgia, and its settling in for a lengthy stay, is why I’ve found myself wanting to write more fiction. For the last six months I’ve been working steadily on a big non-fiction project. I love it, and I don’t want to put it away, but I think maybe I need to let myself venture a little more into whimsy from time to time.
Last weekend I went down to Melbourne for the Emerging Writers’ Festival, a festival that really is a writer’s writers’ festival. To borrow from the EWF’s ‘about’ page, “Each year the Emerging Writers’ Festival brings writers, editors, publishers and literary performers together with the reading public for a festival that is fast becoming an essential part of Australia’s literary calendar.”
It’s hard for me to know where to start describing my experience of the festival. I tweeted over the weekend that I felt like the conversations I was taking part in, and the panels I was attending, meant I was collecting thoughts in an in-tray, to be processed later. I feel like I’m still working through that in-tray. This, I think, is at least in part a reluctance on my part to ‘finish’ with EWF for the year — the logic being that if I process Thought In-Tray, I’ll have to face the fact that it’s over and deal with the post-festival blues I’ve just managed to keep at bay all week. (So basically, I had a good time, and I’m not ready for it to be over, even though it already is.)
Yogic philosophy would tell me that everything is impermanent, and that holding onto it like this is just going to make eventually letting it go more painful. So here I go, whisking the band-aid off. I’ll try to express some of the major points I took from the conversations and sessions I found myself in.
On Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights I found myself at bars and restaurants, talking through the problems of the world (literary and otherwise) with various emerging writers. I think we solved a few of them, at least in theory. On Sunday evening I also found myself sitting on a futon with my three hosts (A, G and S) flicking through art history and mythology books, wishing I had enough time in my life and space in my head to pursue these minor interests of mine with more gusto.
On Saturday and Sunday I went into the city for the Town Hall Writers’ Conference. When I bought my weekend pass for this I really wasn’t sure what I’d attend. I found myself in sessions about writing and health, blogging, typecasting and different voices. I wish now that I’d gone along to a few other things as well, but I’m actually not sure that I would have been able to contain all the thoughts safely inside my head.
I’ll try to give you a snapshot of each session.
Writing and health: If you’re a writer with health problems, chances are it will have an impact on your writing — sometimes good, sometimes bad. Sam Twyford-Moore, whose brilliant essay on writing and mental health can be found here, made an excellent point about the treatment for health problems (mental or physical) having a negative impact on your writing: if you don’t seek treatment, especially for serious health problems, your death is going to have a very negative impact on your writing indeed — to risk avoiding treatment because it might dampen our ability to write is not really worth it.
Blogging: This ‘in conversation’ was fun, because it was run by a blogger who blogs only for fun, and a blogger who also blogs for money. They both agreed that blogs need to have a personal voice, or they’ll not find readers, but didn’t necessarily agree on whether bloggers should be paid. Philip Thiel blogs because writing about himself forces him to actually do interesting things, and feels like the experiences he has as a result are payment enough; Jessica Au used to contribute to Meanjin’s blog, Spike, and thinks bloggers who write for organisations should be paid, and that perhaps it is the origin of blogs as (sometimes very personal) online journals that means this financial arrangement between organisations and their bloggers hasn’t quite been worked out.
Typecasting: I feel like I’m not going to do this session justice, despite having taken pages of notes during it. (Just in case I don’t, Angela Meyer and panellist Ryan Paine have both blogged about this session.) The panel included Anita Heiss (the ‘indigenous writer’), Julian Leyre (the ‘gay writer’), Ryan Paine (the ‘young writer’) and Karen Pickering (the ‘feminist writer’), and was chaired by Dan Ducrou (a ‘young adult fiction writer’). Each panellist discussed the benefits and pitfalls of stereotypes. Anita said that “being in a category called ‘chicklit’ somehow devalues your work. It says that your stories don’t have value… if the work of a chicklit writer is devalued, then so too are the lives of the women I write about.” Julian spoke about the freedom he has in the ‘queer writing’, because that category hasn’t been properly defined, so he’s able to bring into his writing other things he’s interested in, like cross-cultural issues and racism. Ryan addressed the problematic idea that young writers are less qualified to write about the world because of their inexperience (in life and writing), and said that he’s found that maybe the opposite is true, because young writers are far more likely to consider new ideas, perhaps because of their inexperience. He warned though, that even young writers need to be vigilant in questioning commonly-held beliefs, saying, “By pedalling the same opinions to one another because we’re too timid to question our friends we are actually inhibiting the very progress of human thought we claim to advocate.” Karen sees writing mainly as an idea delivery system, but hopes “to reach out beyond [her] natural allies and engage”.
The ideas from this panel in particular are hanging around in my head. I’ve always found it really grating to be typecast as anything, but I can see there are advantages to finding a particular niche. With all the changes I’ve made in my life in the last year or so, I sometimes think that being typecast might actually help me work something things out about myself. I’d just like to be able to shed that stereotype when it was no longer useful to me — and perhaps that’s exactly where the problem lies: shedding the stereotype is really difficult to do.
Different voices: I think perhaps I’ve written here before about the people that live in my head. I have fiction characters sitting in there, and occasionally they pop into my thoughts as if they’re real people. Sometimes I wonder whether I have the right to write from the perspective of an elderly man with dementia, or a young boy whose brother has drowned, so I was interested to know what other writers thought. Perhaps I will elaborate on my thoughts from this panel at some point over the next few weeks (I have pages and pages of notes), but for now I’ll leave you with the summary agreed on in the question time: to write from the perspective of someone who is not like you, you need a healthy curiosity (which might mean lots of research) and a genuine feeling of empathy for that character — only then will you write with a voice that sounds authentic and avoids condescension.
I also want to write a little about the TwitterFEST discussion I hosted on Tuesday (when I was, sadly, back in Sydney), but this post is already far too long. I’ll try to get to writing about that discussion later this week.
Now excuse me while I go off to nurse myself through my post-festival blues.