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.

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.

The Inevitable

Every playlist on Youtube finds its way to the Arctic Monkeys. I start off listening to gothic cabaret playlists thirty songs in the autoplay function will kick up Do You Want to Know?

I realise it’s been a long time since I heard a Stiff Little Fingers song, and the algorithm works its way through The Clash and The Buzzcocks and The Sex Pistols before the next logical thing appears to be Do You Want to Know? as well.

Leonard Cohen finds its way to the Arctic Monkeys. Jeff Buckley. Courtney Barnett. The Pixies. David Bowie. Hell, starting with Justin Timberlake or the fucking Spice Girls seems to do it. All of them end at the same place.

I don’t particularly care for the Arctic Monkeys, but I have no way of telling the algorithm to stop it. And so every repeated play tells Youtube that it should bring that clip up a little more. I have no way to fight back against it. It is always there, like a replacement for the Rickroll that no-one has ever told me about.

Back At The Day-Job Today

Brisbane has, inexplicably, decided to be cold this evening.

Well, not cold, but cool. Chilly enough that I sat out on my balcony in shorts and a t-shirt earlier this evening, intending to make notes while I read, and found myself retreating back into the muggy warmth of the living room.

It will change its mind soon. We will all burn to a crisp before the day is done. Brisbane cannot help itself in the midst of summer.

I was back at the day-job today, beginning the four-week countdown until I finish up my contract and transition into full-time study for the first time in twenty-odd years.

I spent my lunch break trying to put together a draft post about productivity and time management, since the number of conversations I’ve had about my process has reached double-digits in the space of two weeks. It’s an incredibly hard topic to write about, because people mostly ask about the tools rather than the strategic process, and the strategic process is really the valuable bit. Learning how to think about projects, and break them down, and pay attention to the time I’ve got available rather than the time I think I’ve got.

When you get right down to it, bullet journals and white boards and my obsession with Trello are just the equivalent of being given a hammer, and learning how to use a hammer is not the same thing as learning to build a house.

It’s better than nothing if you need to cobble together shelter, but you want an architect and plans if you’re going to build something pretty.

Notes from the first day of the year

It’s six o’clock in the evening as I write this, sitting out on the balcony of my tiny apartment listening to the train line and the bird song and the upstairs neighbours drunkenly mispronouncing the words ‘mortar and pestle’ over and over as they talk on the phone. Which makes a nice change from the screaming argument on the street that kicked off the afternoon, reminding me why spending time inside the apartment generally trumps sitting out in the muggy summer heat.

The wind is piking up and the clouds are hanging low. It doesn’t smell like rain yet, but the rain is coming later this week.

This is how we start 2017.

The rest of the day was exactly the kind of productive first day I always want out of a new year and never quite achieve. I wrote the first two scenes of a new novella draft; I read a bunch of things; I acquired new notebooks through nefarious means; I folded laundry; I washed dishes; I cooked food that required prep work and ingredients, rather than simply eating toast or throwing a vegetarian schnitzel into the oven.

I am fretting about getting things done this year. I am wary of slipping into bad habits once I wrap up the current day-job and head off to do the PhD full-time. I know how easy it is to look at a day devoted entirely to study and writing, yet still do very little.

My sole goal for 2017 is to guard against that slippage.

Reboot

I think it’s Wednesday. It feels Wednesday-ish. I don’t know for sure because I’ve slipped into that blissful, holiday fugue where you lose track of days and time and schedules. I’ve watched a lot of television since finishing work for the Christmas break. I’ve finished reading a bunch of books. At random intervals, I leave the house to collect food and see the outside world and celebrate things.

Today is pulling me out of that. Today I have read stories for friends and engaged with page proofs and generally started thinking about what’s going to happen when the holidays are over. I am preparing to rewrite a white-board and outline the projects that need to get done in January.

Time to shake off the holiday inertia and reboot.

Liminal

I’m rolling into plans for 2017 now that the broad strokes of the coming year have been defined. Planning things this late is weird for me – ordinarily I have ambitions and schedules and goals already mapped out in my head.

I am burning through books that I’d left half-read, thinking through ways that I can start arranging notes, building a mental to-do list when it comes to my thesis topic so I’ve got some relatively clear research goals when the lights turn green and it’s time to go.

December has become a weird, in-between state. I’m working out my contract on the current day-job, counting down the days until I can stop wearing real shoes and go back to my sneaker-clad existence. I’ve not yet started the thesis. Writing projects are scattered about, waiting to be corralled and planned.

These are the ways I trick myself into thinking I can assert control over the universe.

This morning I spent some quality time looking back at the tenets I tried to apply to 2016 and realising I did really well on two of them, okay on the third, and not so good on the fourth. I blame people far less for things that I watch or read. I don’t use the television as background noise as often, although I have slipped back into the habit of using social media while watching movies or NXT. I finished a handful of stories this year, but none of the bigger projects.

And so I start looking ahead. Figuring out what to try next year that will enact changes in my life. I’m pretty sure one off these will be fail more.

But probably not the way you’re thinking.

I Recognise That Tree

Back in November I posted about going into a mild depressive episode. As many folks may have surmised from the Friday post a few weeks back, it turned out to be not-so-goddamn mild. I lost the first half of December to an incredibly irritating funk, which only really clicked as a more-than-mild depressive episode when a friend messaged me last week and asked how I was doing.

At the time I’d just come home from a book launch, after what had already been a pretty kick-ass day at work, and I’d settled into my couch to cry for the third evening that week. I had not written anything creative for the better part of a month. I’d been cancelling or avoiding social events for two straight weeks. I was not sleeping properly. I avoided going to bed until very late in the AM, then woke up a few hours later. And since the friend who asked how I was doing is one of the handful of people where I don’t automatically try to answer with yeah, okay out of misguided defensive instincts and crushing self-stigma, there was a minute or so where I looked at everything that was happening and went oh, right, instead.

I forget, sometimes, that this is still relatively new. That just being on antidepressants is not automatically going to fix every goddamn thing, and that just having a name for what’s happening is not automatically going to stop it from happening. It also doesn’t stop me from using this idealised vision of what I should be capable of as a tool for the kind of self-flagellation that can make things considerably worse.

The diagnosis may be new, but this thing with not writing? It’s agonisingly familiar. I’ve spent years getting incredibly frustrated with myself, again and again, because every time I found a process that was productive and consistent, it would eventually fall apart for no real apparent reason. The Other Peter would come out, and his process was not terribly efficient. It starts with doing less new writing and more rewriting, pulling apart the beginnings of things because nothing was right. When that didn’t fix things, he started writing new projects. When that didn’t fix things, he retreated into the most mindless distractions he could find.

When that didn’t work, he loathed himself. He assumed the failing was his, and as he emerged from the endless meh he’d start rebuilding his process from scratch to try and prevent that failure from happening again.

As they say in Waiting for Godot: We’ve been here before. I recognise that tree.

I did not write this week, not really. I tinkered with blog posts or did a page or two of scribble in a notebook, but I wasn’t really pushing to finish things or make them good. I was just keeping the muscle memory alive, or revisiting old projects to make sure they were still viable. I spent what would have been my writing time cleaning the house, or clearing email programs, or clearing out systems that had been clogged up when I started retreating from writing, social media, and the vast bulk of the world.

I worked on improving my sleep hygiene and went to bed on time. I finished my Christmas shopping. I drafted some blog content for my personal blog. I patched together all the little things, minor drags on productivity that I never truly get around to doing, and waited calmly for things to pass and the desire to work returned. I started looking at all the things that need to be done, like exercise and eating right and getting enough sleep, that will keep me relative even and productive instead of disappearing into the mire.

And if I’m looking for silver linings right now – and I am – there are two. The first is that I’m going back to the things that have worked for me, for the bulk of the year, and resisting the urge to rebuild anything. Because it’s possible that it was never anything wrong with the system, aside from the shit bouncing around inside my head.

The other is that it’s finally occurred to me that managing this shit isn’t easy, and I should probably stop expecting it to be. There will always be options that are far more seductive than practising self-care – options that are more fun and seem like a better short-term solution for propping up my mood – but the math never quite works out.

Monday Notes, 19 December 2016

A black-and-white photograph of traffic by Woolloongabba stadium, with all the lights on.It is Monday morning and I am sitting on my balcony, listening to the trains and watching the greenery sway in the breeze and letting Brisbane warm up to its crazy Summer weather. There is a storm coming. Christmas is almost here, which means my local cafe will soon shut down for a few weeks, and I will be forced to eat breakfast at home like a monster. This would bother me less if my talent for coffee was better, and I had the patience to shave my own beetroot to go on my avocado on toast.

It’s not the war on Christmas that bothers me. It’s that those fuckers on the Christmas side refuse to capitulate.

Anyway.

I have not blogged regularly for a long, long while. I spent a good chunk of last night stuck in traffic, waiting for the crowds to disperse around Woolloongabba stadium after the cricket was done, and I kept coming up with things I should probably mention while I started drafting this in my head.

And so I’m going to cram a lot into this one. Personally, I blame sports.


Things I am involved in that I should probably mention:

The Things You Do When the War Breaks Out went live over on Daily Science Fiction, should you wish to see the kind of story I write I’m trying to weave together dinosaurs, space trains, the moon, and Kathleen Jennings’ post-it illustrations that occasionally roll past on Twitter. The link to the original image didn’t actually get posted on the Daily SF site, so I’ll quietly link it here for anyone who is curious. The post dates on that link bewilders me. In my head this story took forever to write, on account of doing most of it on Google Docs on my phone over months of lunch breaks and morning commutes.

One of these days, I’ll get around to finishing the story about the flying crocodile…

GenreCon 2017 has been announced over on the Australian Writers Marketplace website, running November 10-12. Tickets won’t go on sale until the middle of February, with guest announcements taking place early in the year, but it’s out there for anyone who wants to include it in their 2017 calendars. I’ll also stress to everyone that while I’m involved this year, I am not the best point of contact for details about the conference – I basically show up for meetings and give advice, while the QWC/AWM team do the bulk of the heavy lifting in terms of making things happen.

The Queensland Health blog is live, which means the stuff I’ve been writing for the past couple of months is starting to get rolled out at pretty high speed. Working on this stuff for Queensland Health has been incredibly satisfying on a lot of levels, since getting paid to just sit down and blog is pretty much my dream job. Getting access to a bunch of content experts who well tell me to pull my head in when I’m talking shit is even better, particularly given there’s the space to start looking at all sorts of default health advice and pulling apart why it works rather than just taking it as given.

Not technically a project yet, but…well, this morning I hit accept on a scholarship offer to go do a PhD in writing at the University of Queensland next year. This one’s the culmination of a bunch of set-up that was done through 2016, and I figured it was a long shot given my history of…well, not finishing a PhD. Fortunately, my proposed supervisor was enormously supportive of my application and I published a whole lot of creative work and articles about writing in the ten years since I walked away from my last thesis.

I’m also considerably more excited about this topic:

One of the central concerns for writers working on a series is the dual state that the text must inhabit: each story must satisfy as a stand-alone narrative, as well as a part of a larger whole, regardless of whether a reader brings with them prior assumptions about the text or is coming to the series for the first time. This duality presents a unique set of challenges for a writer, particularly when filtered through Jauss’ theory that all readers come to the text a “horizon of expectations” that affects their assumptions about the way genre’s operate.

If the reader’s relationship with a text is productive, rather than passive, and their horizon of expectation can be informed by previous engagement with the work and characters, how do the expectations of readers potentially influence subsequent narratives in the series? How do the demands of continuing or shared story structures change how each novel or story is written?


Things I am not involved in that I would like to mention:

The inimitable Kathleen Jennings has launched a Patreon for some of the artwork projects she puts together, with the bonus of getting some free glimpses of works in progress and discussion about creative process. This is all kinds of awesome and you should totally throw money Kathleen’s way – there are three people I will basically sit down and talk process with any time I see them, and Kathleen is one of them. If you’ve got a few bucks to spare every month, I fully endorse spending them here.


I went to the bookstore to pick up the first book in Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Boys series, ‘cause this year has basically been twelve months of people talking about that book in earshot of me and I eventually hit the point of wanting to make sense of the conversations. The bookstore only had the last book in the series, or book three of four, so I picked up a copy of Forever so I didn’t have to start reading at the tail end of a series. It’s a goddamn pretty book. The cover design is incredible and the interior is damn pretty.

I start reading. Forever doesn’t read like the first book of a series. I’m not entirely sure what tips it off for me, but I suspect it’s the speed with which we cut back-and-forth between characters.

I hit Google and search out some details, and lo, Forever is book three in a four part series.

So that goes back on the to-read shelf until next year.


On the list of things I have read lately:

These Old Shades, Georgette Hayer
I started reading this for an upcoming meeting of The Georgette Heyer Book Club I belong too, but illness meant the session where we were going to discuss the book got cancelled and December meant that it hasn’t yet been rescheduled. So I’ll talk about it here, to keep my notes fresh, and to save me re-reading the bits I do not care to re-read when it’s time to discuss things in person.

To get it out of the way: I adore Heyer. They were my introduction to romance and really got me on-board the genre. There’s a reason I’m a part of the book club. About half of These Old Shades is composed of all the things I really love about Heyer’s work, which is basically watching the interplay between reprehensible Corinthians, the women thrown into their orbit, and the sparks that tend to fly in ways that aren’t what you’d expect. These Old Shades is basically that particular Heyer trope mixed in with a liberal dose of Twelfth Night, and the beginning is just glorious. The bits where its separates its protagonists isn’t quite so interesting, largely because it follows the less interesting of the options for the bulk of the time.

What really interested me this time around, after reading a Heyer book a month for the last half of 2016, is starting to notice the way that Heyer deploys friendships as a means of getting you to like otherwise awful people. When we first meet the Duke of AVon in this book he is basically referred to as the Devil, determined to manipulate a young woman to take revenge on an old enemy, and purchases someone fro their brother. There’s a level of charm to mitigate that – in Heyer’s world, you can always be awful and still remain likable if there’s enough charm – but his friend is the otherwise formal (and not-quite-so-charming) Hugh basically lets you know that he’s not so far down the road as to be deplorable.

It’s not the best Heyer I’ve read (hello, Cotillion) or even one that I’d normally recommend people start with (hello, Vinetia), but I think I settled down on the side of being a fan of the story despite my misgivings.


Right. That’s a blog post then. See you all anon.