EWF blog post ~ Move it or lose it: exercise and writing

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.

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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.

Read more here.

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Spring, Change, and The New Lightness

There are two phrases that are getting a work out in my house right now.

“Should we?… Ah, fuck it. Let’s just do it.” My housemate and I say this to each other every other day. Something about knowing we’re about to leave the shiny city has made us each more likely to make decisions we might otherwise be hesitant to.

Which brings me to the second phrase.

“It’s The New Lightness,” we say when wondering at our sudden tendency to spontaneously head over to Newtown late on a Sunday night when we both have to work the following day, or to buy that thing we’ve been putting off getting for so long because we’ve been saving up to move interstate.

Everything right now feels like it’s in an odd state of flux. Routine? What is that? Everything feels both heavier with meaning and like it doesn’t really matter at all.

Knowing that we’re leaving soon tinges each yoga class I teach here with a little sadness. Many of my classes are made up of regular students, many of whom I’ve been teaching for a couple of years. I’ve got to know these people, and, on occasion, supported them in small ways through some challenging things, on and off the yoga mat. They in turn have supported me as I’ve built up my yoga teaching work, and learned more and more about how to teach. I’m immensely sad to leave them. Yesterday, a student who will be away from now until after I leave gave me a little farewell present. When I got home I opened it and read the thank you note she’d included and cried.

And, of course, I’ve started having last brunches, breakfasts, coffees, lunches, dinners with friends here in Sydney. I can’t even… Well, I can’t even write anymore about that yet. Let’s call it avoidance. I think that’s acceptable at this point.

On top of that, I will miss this place. Oh yes, pretty Sydney, I will miss you.

But simultaneously, I’m hugely excited to be moving to Melbourne, and about all the adventures that might await me there. There are so many possibilities.

And so the heavy sadness about leaving is balanced out by what our household has dubbed The New Lightness. Suddenly, even while we’re still here, the world seems more open, full of possibility. With limited time left here, I’m spending as much time soaking up the spring air (oh, the jasmine, the jasmine!) as I possibly can. Taking my research reading to the park instead of sitting in an office chair, giving myself time on the weekends to just sit and stare wistfully at the sky, or out across the water.

The other day I came across a photo of some Tibetan monks making a sand mandala, and thought, ‘Yes, of course’. The monks spend hours and hours making these very detailed artworks, all the while knowing they will just blow them away once they’re done. It’s an exercise in mindfulness and impermanence. The New Lightness.

Old houses

Yesterday I wandered, on a whim, over to the south end of Newtown. I’d arranged to meet up with a friend in a cafe on King St, and to get there I chose a route that would take me past a house I lived in for two and a half years.

Pearl Street.

A house that will forever be the source of an enormous amount of nostalgia for me. It was the house in which I rediscovered myself after a major relationship breakup, it was the house in which I began to form an idea of what I wanted my adult life to look like, and in which I began to take steps toward that life. My Pearl Street housemates became like family (which I wrote about here when we all moved out of that house).

The house, when I came to it yesterday, had changed a lot. And it was for sale. Its cracked and worn cement front path had been replaced with neat pavers; the front garden we’d grown veggies in had been restructured and reduced; and the entire house, which had been a sunny yellow when we’d lived there, had been repainted a very mild off-white. Pearl Street as I knew it was gone.

I stood at the front gate, still the old green cast iron thing I knew so well, and stared at the place, trying to take in all its changes. Trying to let them sink in. It was sad, but not devastating.

And it seemed somehow appropriate that this place that is so meaningful in my story should have moved on, when I’m about to do so myself. A month from now, my current housemate (and dear friend) and I will pack up our lives in Sydney so we can move down to Melbourne. I’ve been saying for years that I wanted to move back to Melbourne. In fact, I’m sure I came home to Pearl Street more than once from a trip to Melbourne announcing that I was going to move back down south. But something about that house (and many other things besides) kept me in the sunny city. Somehow, I always knew that while I lived in that house I’d not be able to commit to moving away from Sydney.

My housie and I have been preparing for some months now for this move, and the whole time I’ve been swinging wildly between immense excitement and equally immense sadness. I am sad to leave this city. I am sad to leave all the people I love who live here (and near to here). But seeing yesterday that Pearl Street has moved on has somehow helped me to let go a little, to be sure that it is time for me to move on too. It’s not so much that my sadness at leaving has gone, it’s just that I’ve worked out how to hold it so it doesn’t colour everything else.

Home

A few days ago, my friend Sam posted this essay about his impending move away from Adelaide. He’s moving to Sydney (which means I’ll see more of him — hurrah!) sometime in February.

Although it’s about different places, the essay quite aptly describes my own struggle to figure out where to call home. I’ve lived in Sydney now for as long as I lived in Melbourne. In between the two, I lived in Canberra for a few short months. Growing up, I called Forbes, a small town in Central West New South Wales, home.

In a way, all of these places are still home for me. It’s like they contain different versions of me — almost as if, visiting, I might run into myself. And in a way I miss all of these places. Or maybe I just miss those versions of me. Nostalgia is a funny thing.

When it comes time for me to bid Sydney farewell, I’m not sure how I’ll feel about home.