Snapshots and Scrapbook Entries

Where I post about the things that happened in my life. Sometimes they’re diary entries, sometimes works of non-fiction, sometime just random photographs.

Brain Popcorn, July 11 2017 Edition

  • It’s eight-thirty nine in the evening as I write this. It’s cold and I’m not wearing socks and my life is far, far better than I deserve right now.
  • My brain is mushy as hell thanks to spending the last eight hours writing a plan for a novella so detailed that it’s approximately one-quarter of the novellas total word-count, because I will figure out this planning thing if it kills me.
  • I also spent far more of my day researching the processes of dry cleaning than you would expect given how relevant it is to my overall story.
  • Yesterday Roxanne Gay posted How to Be A Contemporary Writer over on Tumblr – a post about being a writer that is so on-point and common sense that it should be read by everyone, and will be ignored by all the people who should be paying the most attention.
  • It’s been over a year since I taught a writing workshop or conducted a seminar, and it seems that I am unlikely to break this streak any time in the next six months. I am scheduled to host an In Conversation with CS Pacat on the 28th of July, though, and she’s running a two-day workshop on Writing Fantasy for Queensland Writers Centre starting on the 29th. Pacat is one of the smartest, most interesting writers I’ve come across in recent years and if you’re an aspiring fantasy writer in Brisbane I really recommend that workshop.
  •  I asked people to speak about their GenreCon experience yesterday and lo, people spoke out. Thanks to everyone who did so – there was a nice healthy spike in registrations over the last twenty-four hours. To everyone who is still thinking about it – there is also a nice, healthy chunk of registrations still waiting to be sold, and the social proof of other people saying “yo, this con is great” definitely beats out me saying it.
  • Angela Slatter’s book launch for Corpselight is this Friday. You should totally come.

 

Addendum to “You Had One Job” at Writerly Scrawls

The nice thing about being a writer is that you do things and you send them off and they frequently appear in the world at unexpected times. Case in point, my guest-post-turned-essay about writing processes and mental illness went live at Kylie Thompson’s blog over the weekend, giving me a little snapshot into the way my life was running a few months back.

So, here’s an addendum to that essay: I wrote You Had One Job back in April. At the time I was writing a novella that didn’t quite come together the way I wanted, and I’m not sure whether that was because it was actually bad or because anxiety got its hooks into me and started me obsessively rewriting the opening scenes over and over.

And despite ending my guest post on a relatively positive note, the days that followed writing that post were all kinds of not-good.

I knew this was coming, to some extent. Back when I was blogging for Queensland Health, I discovered that writing about depression and anxiety frequently caused me to become depressed and anxious. I thought I’d prepared for that, but I hadn’t.  I sank. I flailed. I panicked.

This is the challenge of writing about mental health. Stories and essays and blog posts end, because they have a structure. Life…it just keeps going. Good days turn into bad ones, and bad days turn into dark periods before you’ve noticed what’s going on.

Towards the end of April I finally pulled my shit together and called the psychologist my GP had recommended way back in January, which I’d been putting off for months because I kept getting an answering machine (I hate answering machine. They make me incredibly anxious. Making this call meant spending a week writing a script I could follow, even if I ended up ignoring it, and keeping a lid on the anxiety that then told me I should call back consistently until I got an actual person on the line).

Things got better, after that.

It’s been a familiar rhythm over the twelve months since I first went to my GP and said there’s something wrong.  It’s rebuilding stage by stage, fixing things as they crop up. And so the pattern continues: Things are okay, then things get worse, then steps are taken and things get better. Where I once felt broken, I started feeling merely cracked. Then, where I once felt cracked, I started feeling merely dented.

I’m remarkably okay with being dented, given where I was last year.

The Narrative Demands It

I’m on the highway, heading south, on a particular June winter morning. I’m doing hundred and the sun is shining and the road is almost empty. Just a few cars, far ahead, well past my turn-off, which means I get some space to myself in a world no longer fond of space.

I’ve had the stereo playing ever since I left home, and I find myself listening to the Stranglers Golden Brown for the first time in years. It occurs to me that I love this song. I’ve got things turned up a little louder than usual, and I turn it up a little more, and the music fills my head and obliterates everything else. I’ve got the car and the road and the ¾ rhythms of the keyboard and the harpsicord, Hugh Cornwell singing about the texture and sun and finer temptresses, that slow rise-and-fall of the music wrapping itself around my day like the last touch of a dream.

I feel good. I’m in the moment. I’m not thinking about the things I’ve done wrong, or the things I’d like to do right. I’m just driving a car and singing off-key and god, it’s so bright out there. The road is so empty. It’s perfect, in a way, for the length of a verse; the kind of scene that appears in movies, right before a character has a heart attack, or gets attacked by zombies, or finds themselves blindsided by a truck. Happiness as a portent of doom, because happiness does not last unless it occurs at the climax and becomes part of the denouement.

It occurs to me, any moment now, I need to die quite horribly. The narrative demands it.

Lull

I turn off Lutwyche Road and follow the street as it curves towards the baseball fields. Cross the road to avoid someone young and angry kicking the shit out of a chain link fence. It’s ten o’clock. I’ve walked down to the Valley and back again, just because I’m feeling restless. I don’t want to be in my apartment. Up ahead, the young, angry person kicks the fence six times, starts walking down the street again. They don’t swear or mutter or do any of the shit angry people usually do when walking through my suburb. I want it to be colder. Brisbane has been ignoring winter. I want it to be colder and I want to be thinking clearer.  The fence-kicker goes towards Lutwyche Road. I head towards home. When I’m around the curve, a safe distance away, I start whistling Ani Difranco ‘s Out of Habit underneath my breath. I tell myself that work is coming. That I will not have to think about how to fill the time anymore, sooner than I think.

Sleep

I woke several times over the weekend and went to work on my thesis prospectus in the wee hours of the morning. Solutions to problems kept coming to me as I dozed off, found their way into the work in progress because I didn’t trust myself to remember them later. Going to bed at 11 PM quickly turned into working until 5 AM, then sleeping until later in the day.

It was great. Incredibly great. It’s been nearly a decade since I worked those kind of hours. It happened all the time before I started working in offices, but the demands of being somewhere at a certain hour meant adapting to other people’s patterns. Getting up early has become such a habit that I’ve organised much of my life around it.

I meet a friend for breakfast once a week, at an hour based on the fact I used to rise at 6 AM without fail. I have a certain degree of flexibility over when I go to the office and work on GenreCon, or agree to meet with my thesis supervisor, which would theoretically make it possible to start later in the day, yet I still default to starting at 9 where possible.

 

But for the first time in years, I can look at the fact that I prefer to work in the quiet hours of the morning and sleep late and see it as semi-regular possibility.

Words to go

Three years ago I bought an apartment and began the process of moving in. I remember thinking, at the time, that I should probably stop buying new books because the ones I had already didn’t actually fit in my one-bedroom apartment with its outright rejection of right angles.

Obviously, I failed at that. It’s not really a surprise. I’d made a similar promise when I moved into my previous place, crashing in a friend’s spare room for a few years, and the bulk of my book collection went into storage. That promise resulted in nearly thirty boxes of books getting moved when I left.

 

Part of me resents the fact that I don’t get to move any more. I’m used to living like a hermit crab, always searching out a new shell when the one I’m in starts to feel restrictive. In another world, where I stuck with renting, I’d be spending the next month searching for an apartment on the far side of town that’s more convenient for getting to university.

Part of me watches friends moving out of their rental, quite unwillingly, and admits that I’m kind of fond of having a place that’s mine and will stay mine until I decide otherwise or I fail to pay the mortgage (which, quiet honestly, is so much goddamn cheaper than any rent I’ve ever paid).

So I stay. Quietly figuring out new places where books can be stored, or what can be thrown out in order to make more room.

And occasionally, just to keep myself focused, I sit down and figure out how many words I’d need to write and sell in order to pay this place off. Not that I’m relying on writing alone to do it, but writing is how I measure everything.

Current status: 2,984,186 words to go.

I really should get back to work.

 

 

Planning

Tomorrow I’ve cancelled my usual Wednesday plans and set aside some quality time to tidy my flat, revisit my quarterly plan, and generally wind the key on all the systems I rely upon to keep my life running. There will probably be white boards. There will definitely be laundry.

I’m not a natural born planner. In fact, I kinda loathe the process. I’m totally on the pantser side of things, when it comes to writing, and I will generally defer any kind of collaborative planning to the other person as much as they’ll let me. I dislike making decisions, and I dislike being responsible for things.

Worse, I resent time given over to planning. It always feels like wasted time that could be spent doing other, more useful things. It doesn’t matter that planning always saves me time, ’cause I get bogged down in fewer dead ends and panic spirals and I-don’t-know-what-to-do-next apathy…

My gut tells me that planning is a waste of time right up there with reading the instruction manual for a new DVD player, but my head knows that reading the manual saves all sorts of time once you have to do anything more complex than pressing play. I am doing complex things at the moment. I acknowledge the necessity of planning, and make time to do it.

And then I will go see Kong: Skull Island. Because, you know, giant apes and Tom Hiddleston with a machine gun.

Trash Day

I’m cleaning up digital spaces this morning. Clearing out the current projects folder on the portable drive, which ceased holding current projects back in November and simply became the place where narrative detritus and applications gathered. Clearing out the RSS reader, assessing which feeds I’m going to keep and which I’m going to cut because they have ceased being useful. Clearing out writing systems, so I’m not randomly switching between Word, Google Docs, and Scrivener for various projects based upon whatever random thought I’ve had about “fixing” my process while in a state of high anxiety.

And I keep streaming the film clip for Fiona Apple’s Not About Love, because Zach Galifianakis and his magnificent beard are hypnotic with their lip-syncing.

Forward

On Monday night I finally sat down and rebuilt the white-board that tells me where I’m meant to be going and what I’m meant to be doing over the course of the week. I sat down and wrote out the long-term plan for the next three months, identifying all the commitments and distractions that will keep me away from work. I spent some quality time looking at the next month, identifying what needed to be done and who I needed to see. I spent four hours re-reading Work Clean, making notes and fleshing out ideas, figuring out what I can apply. Realised I’m now through the parts of the book that’s really useful, so I can skim-read the rest and move onto the next book.

Some habits are like an engine you’re trying to start in mid-winter. It may take a few attempts to get the thing warmed up, but it’ll work fine once you’re up and running.

Yesterday I went and enrolled at University, which means I’ve now officially given up my nice, well-paying blogging gig in exchange for a nice, much-less-well-paying gig where I get a lot more time to research and write things. Turns out the enrolment process is particularly slow, so I still can’t do useful things like borrow research books or go work at the RhD office or get discounted movies with my student card just yet.

Today, I go write things.

Wish me luck.

Reading and Annotating

My relationship to non-fiction reading changes immediately when I make a point of reading with a notepad and pen in close proximity. It slows down my reading, but I retain a lot more: core phrases and ideas; stray thoughts that come up in response to the content; ideas that will eventually become stories and blog posts.

This morning I picked up William Woods The History of the Devil, which I read a few weeks back without annotating at all, and immediately realised I am going to end up re-reading it because all the dog-eared pages don’t actually mean anything anymore. There are too many bits, too little context.

It’s a book that would have been far more enjoyable, had I actually read it right, but I was distracted by other things and it was read on trains, or over lunch, or in-between other things.

Of all the things I’m looking forward to about doing a PhD, having the time to read things the way I like to read them is right at the top of the list.