November happenings

These past few weeks have flown by so quickly, I still can’t quite believe that it’s so close to the end of the year. With nothing very profound to say at the moment, I thought I’d simply share a little of what’s been happening in my world …

A night with Radiohead

:: The land of 9 to 5 is a struggle, but earning money for grand plans is pretty neat.

:: Thom Yorke recently reminded me that I will never be as cool as him.

:: My car was written off, with a nice new car since taking up residence in the garage.

:: There hasn’t been much writing happening, but a few lovely projects are ticking over.

:: The Mr and I have become Saturday morning breakfast regulars at a great local cafe.

:: I’m back into my boxing class routine.

:: Dark chocolate-covered cherries are rather delicious.

:: Inspiration arrives in the most surprising of places.

On that last point, take for instance the (fantastic) tv show Louie. Its freeform approach to plot and character arcs often makes for interesting and unexpected moments of insight. I recently watched the episode which features Joan Rivers talking about the up-and-down career path which most comedians (and many people in creative professions) experience. What she said really got me thinking:

‘Listen. I wish I could tell you it gets better. But it doesn’t get better. You get better. You think it’s been easy? I’ve gone up, I’ve gone down. I’ve been bankrupt. I’ve been broke. But you do it. And you do it because…because we love it more than anything else. That’s why you’re doing it.

You want a real job, honey, there’s a million things you can do. But what we do is not a job…it sounds so stupid…but what we do…is a calling, my dear.’

‘…it doesn’t get better. You get better…’ Love it. And so very, very true.

Trying to find a new balance

A recent return to a full-time working week, has reminded me that I’m extraordinarily bad at finding balance. You could say that I’m always swinging perilously close to one extreme or another.

“I either feel 100% in control or not at all, and while an all or nothing approach can work in some circumstances, I just don’t think it suits a writing lifestyle.”

I get frustrated when I’m not able to dedicate as much time as I’d like to my writing, and perhaps that feeling is intensified right now because up until recently my weeks were ALL about the writing.

My owl has better balance than me.

The main trouble with getting frustrated at my lack of writing time, is that I often don’t make the best use of what time I actually do have available. I tend to get caught within a frustration bubble, where I’m always wanting more and not just making do. I’m trusting that as I settle into a new work routine, that I’ll eventually accept and adopt a more flexible writing rhythm that squeezes itself into the space between my other commitments.

For now though, I’m doing my best to just go with the flow and stay positive. Every day I try to do at least one thing that will progress my writing – whether that’s to start a story, write a blog post, send off a pitch, book in for a course, clean up my portfolio, or join a writing community – whatever it is, big or small, it makes me feel that I’m at least achieving something.

I’m reminded of Henry Miller’s 11 Commandments of Writing & Daily Creative Routine, all of which are great but one in particular has been of real help:

“When you can’t create, you can work.”

Word up, Mr Miller. Incidentally, if you’re not already a regular reader of ‘Brain Pickings‘, you really should be. However be warned…you’ll probably end up adding lots and lots of books to your already lengthy wishlist (I know I have).

So until some sort of manageable balance miraculously appears in my life, I’ll be applying the simple philosophy of ‘doing something is better than doing nothing’. Unless you have any tips for walking the tightrope of life without losing your balance? All I can say is, thank goodness for safety nets.

Australian authors – thoughts and memories

The first book I read cover-to-cover in one sitting was ‘Pinquo’ by Colin Thiele. I sat awkwardly perched on a dining room chair, hungrily turning the pages, and putting everything else on hold. There were no breaks, no timeouts for food, and no pauses to indulge in idle family chit chat. It was impossible for me to put the book down until the story of that incredible little fairy penguin was complete. While it brought many tears to my eyes, Pinquo was my first book love and I therefore recall only the very fondest of memories of that intense reading session.

The day Colin Thiele visited my primary school on a promotional tour, was the happiest day of my then short-lived life. In typical fashion I had forgotten to bring my copy of Pinquo to school for him to sign, and so instead I bought a copy of ‘February Dragon’ (the only book of his that I had yet to read). I was probably too shy and awestruck to say anything beyond a quiet ‘thank you’ when he signed my book, and in any case I probably wouldn’t have been able to express exactly what his books meant to me.

Favourite authors ... old and new

Not too distant from that event, for my birthday one of my uncles gifted me a beautiful hardcopy edition of ‘Playing Beattie Bow’ by Ruth Park. Here then was another story to fall in love with. With a plot set in Sydney, a young girl as the main character, and time-travelling elements of the fantastical, it was a book I connected with in many different ways. I was smitten.

Recent Australian reads ... both of which I'd recommend.

I’m sharing these memories because I’d always thought that I’ve never been much of a reader or supporter of Australian writers, but of course as it turns out that’s not at all true. Over the years I’ve enjoyed many works by other local authors such as David Malouf, Joan Lindsay, Markus Zusak, John Marsden, John Birmingham and Geraldine Brooks. More recently I caught up with Kate Morton’s novels, and I’ve just finished reading Anna Funder’s ‘All That I Am’, and ‘Foal’s Bread’ by Gillian Mears (both of which I enjoyed).

Just last week I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of Kate Morton’s upcoming novel ‘The Secret Keeper’. It’s next on my ‘to read’ list and I’m so looking forward to continuing my love affair with her words. What a happy occurrence this is, to be reading the latest work of a Brisbane author, given that it is currently ‘Queensland Writer’s Week‘. The only downside is that it’s quite a weighty tome to carry on my daily commute, but when it comes to books I’ll happily sacrifice personal comfort for a good story.

Do you remember your first book love?

Life beyond a dirty window

As you’d expect, when I’m writing I spend a lot of time at the desk in my home office. My desk faces a wall, and there is a window positioned to my left. Throughout much of the year I keep that window wide open, allowing the fresh air to flow across my desk while my fingers dance across the keyboard.

Every now and again I’ll take a break from looking at the computer screen and turn my head to watch the world outside.

Life beyond the dirty window

Most days my eyes focus in on how dirty the windows are, notice that the garden beds below really need a tidy, and spot that the fence palings are coming loose of their support beams yet again … but not today. Today the sun was shining brightly, the sky was a happy shade of blue, and I finally noticed the red and yellow flowers which had come into bloom. Spring has most definitely arrived.

Sometimes I get so preoccupied with the negative things that are happening right in front of me, that I fail to see the bigger, more positive picture a little further beyond. Thank goodness then, for the wisdom found to be found by looking through a dirty window.

On doing and becoming (a writer)

The act of writing is easy enough. One simply puts pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and repeats as necessary. In making the journey from writing to writer however, things can start feeling more complicated.

Unlike professions which require completion of a certain qualification, or training in a particular set of skills, there are many different paths you can take to become a writer. For me such a realisation has been both wonderful and challenging. Wonderful because it means the door is theoretically open to anyone who wishes to write, but challenging because with such opportunity comes an extraordinarily generous measure of crippling self-doubt.

Writing and a writer

Writing has always been something I’ve pursued in the background, treating it more like a dream than a serious venture. Being a writer seemed to be a thing that other people did, and it never really occurred to me that writing is something I could and should be focussing on. So I’ve spent many years in professional wilderness – working in jobs I didn’t like, wishing I could just be ‘normal’ and be happy working in a corporate nine-to-five kind of job.

Having the past ten months away from work has honestly been the best thing I have ever done. Instead of it being time ‘off’, those months have very much been time ‘on’. I have learnt so much about myself and my writing during that time, and I finally feel like I have a clear sense of my future goals.

Even though I still have some unfinished business to take care of back at the day job, I have decided to completely embrace this writing life and all the ups and downs that come with it. While I may not always be comfortable expressing it, I know that in many ways I have always been, and will always be, a writer.

Strange days

Yesterday was the strangest day.

The thing about strange days is they remind you about the fragility of connections – something that as a writer, I’m growing to appreciate more and more.

My anxiety levels were running at about 300% because I was catching up with a work colleague in the city, and being in the city reminds me of my day job, which then reminds me that I need to act on some important decisions I’ve made about my working future. Stress!

Given that my anxiety levels normally run at about 120%, I was on serious high alert. Not quite an all out panic attack, but I felt like it wasn’t far off. My poor heart was rapidly thud, thudding in my chest, and despite the spring-like warmth in the air, my hands felt cold and clammy. Even the beautiful sunny day, bright blue sky, and my new polka dot handbag weren’t enough to calm my mood.

hello, friends

I had some time to kill before my lunch date, but where to go? Hmm…in the end my feet knew exactly where I needed to be, and I found myself seeking the comfort of a bookstore. Just the process of browsing the shelves and surrounding myself with those familiar faces was enough to make me feel a little better. I was about to leave for another store, when one of my oldest school friends (who I hadn’t seen in years and years), suddenly appeared in front of me. As it turned out, she happened to be in the city catching up with another one of our school friends.

We talked and laughed over cups of tea, wondering at the seemingly random series of events which found us in the same place at the same time.

Timing really is everything.

Because…

::: I was busy writing, I was overcome by a sudden desparate need to bake a loaf of bread from scratch (a sourdough rye loaf if you’re interested). All that mixing and kneading, getting the hands alternately sticky and flour-covered as I worked the dough, is calm therapy for an overactive mind.

The finished loaf

::: I was hungry and the loaf was still warm from the oven, I couldn’t resist accepting the invitation to partake. So (after eating the end crust) I took a knife to that delicious crunchy exterior and cut two thick slices.

The first few slices

::: I am Australian, and it makes perfect sense, I spread one side of those slices first with butter and then with vegemite. It didn’t take me long to fill my stomach and return that plate to empty.

The perfect serving suggestion

::: I associate this meal with being a child on holidays from primary school, reading a book at the dining room table while waiting patiently for my dad to bring home a fresh loaf of bread (he works for a bakery you see). In thinking of this memory, I felt nourished and comforted in ways that go well beyond the simple act of satisfying a hungry appetite.

Knowing isn’t everything

So I know this person who always wants me to tell her how things end. If she hears that I’ve seen a particular movie or read a certain book, she isn’t interested in knowing whether I thought it was any good or if I’d recommend it. Instead she wants a full account of the plot and to know if I’d describe the story as ‘nice’.

I’ve never understood her logic, and as someone who enjoys the experience of watching a movie or reading a book without necessarily knowing the storyline, well I find her whole attitude bewildering. What’s the point in knowing precisely how everything unfolds and how it’s all going to end BEFORE you decide to watch a film or read a book? Personally I think that having a complete (or even partially complete … GRRR spoilers) prior knowledge can detract from the entire experience, and therefore has the potential to make it less enjoyable.

Knowing the end isn't everything

The other thing that makes no sense to me is her decision to only watch or read things that are ‘nice’. From what I’ve been able to determine, her definition of nice basically means the story needs to have a happy ending with no loose ends, that no characters should die, and that things should never get too real, too sad, or too gritty. That seems more than a little restrictive to me.

I can’t imagine a life without surprises or exposure to a full range of emotions, and that’s the same when it comes to books, movies, TV shows … and pretty much everything. Sure, not knowing everything may sometimes be uncomfortable or challenging, but taking a journey into the unknown or into the realm of the not so ‘nice’, can also be exhilarating and you know … maybe just a little bit fun. Isn’t life too short to know all the answers before you even begin?

Book therapy

So this week I had one of those days where for no particular reason I felt a bit down. Actually it was probably caused by a combination of things like not getting enough sleep (staying up late watching Le Tour), not doing my usual exercise (I’ve had to take a break from running recently), and receiving a writing submission rejection the day before (you win some, you lose some).

I was out and about going about my usual day, when somewhere between searching for engine coolant and posting some letters I found myself ‘just having a look’ through the book store. I should know by now that putting myself in the path of new books when I’m feeling a bit vulnerable will make resistance practically impossible.

New books

So this is what happens when I should be doing other things … I buy books. I’d been meaning to read ‘All That I Am’ by Anna Funder for a while now, so when I spotted it on the shelves, well I couldn’t really say no. Even though I should have finished there, I couldn’t stop my eyes from wandering further along the stack of fiction titles. That’s how I found ‘The Tiger’s Wife’ by Tea Obreht … I’m not really sure why it caught my eye, but when I read the blurb on the back I thought it may prove to be interesting.

Jones likes books too.

After a long period of not really reading much fiction, it feels good to be making time for it again. Books provide such comfort to me, and especially when the weather outside is cold and grey there’s really little better than curling up and escaping into those pages for a while (particularly if those books are kitty approved). And just like that I don’t feel so down any more…

Just lately… (the coffee and cake edition)

Being on extended leave means that I’ve been happily spending more time at home. Winter is always a favourite time of year for me, so it’s been extra nice to enjoy the best of the season without also having to deal with daily commutes, office politics and day job blues.

Each day begins (of course) with a steaming hot cup of coffee. While I know purists would say that coffee shouldn’t be served at too high a temperature, to that I say ‘rubbish’. I like my coffee to be hot – REAL hot. Imagine how hot you think would be too hot, take that thought and then double it … you’d then end up pretty close to my temperature preference. I like to linger with my cup for a while, so if the coffee is too cool I have to hurry to drink it. There’s something so disappointing about having to rush through a cup of coffee.

Coffee

While most winter days in Brisbane are really quite mild, our house is particularly cold. So I layer up with warm clothes, enjoy the company of a regular parade of hot drinks, and keep my hunger at bay with a good measure of comforting food. My current treat of choice is a healthy banana bread that I’ve now made a few times. It has very quickly become a favourite – it’s heavy on the banana, has a dense yet soft texture, and is filled with all sorts of good things. I top my version with a blend of crushed walnuts and a heavy-handed sprinkle of cinnamon. Bliss!

Homemade banana bread

I’ve taken to warming thick-cut slices under the grill for a few minutes, and then serving it with a generous dollop of ricotta and a serious drizzle of honey. It’s the kind of food that keeps me going for at least a few hours. While I normally pair it with a huge cup of tea, some days another coffee just feels more appropriate. But then again everything is better with coffee, right?