6.2 Not Without… Adam

Not Without…

What can a creative person, a writer, not do without? I would have said pants but pants are optional; I only wear them out of mundane perfunctory obligation. Jodi once sent me a second-hand pair of trackies while I was on long service leave to write.

What can I not do without?

My Music

I am a metal head of old. I am nostalgic for the days of my long hair, when it was REALLY LONG. Once I was introduced to someone who upon finding out I played drums said, “Looks like one.” I am a “meat and potatoes” drummer; plain and simple.

Music is my meditation and prayer for peace, for anger, for contemplation, for melancholy, for sorrow, for confusion, for nostalgia, for hope.

My current binge genre is post-rock, which is instrumental music ranging from intimate and ethereal to heavy and loud, and simple to progressive. Often in the same piece of music. I like music that forms a narrative, and post-rock does this for me. My current home-town heroes of the post-rock scene here in Sydney are sleepmakeswaves, We Lost The Sea and Meniscus. The new album from We Lost the Sea is getting a regular listen because it is a piece of artistic majesty. I was in the crowd for We Lost The Sea gig and it was a spiritual experience.

The music acts a filter to bring me focus and clarity; to provide a soundtrack for a scene; to prompt a mood or vibe. I listen to heavy metal in a similar way because I can filter the vocals out, make them another instrument in the mix rather than get caught up in the lyrical narrative happening. I will get caught up sometimes in a song and listen to the lyrics to understand the power of that moment and to find the words to express the power of the emotion of the scene I am writing.

And a set of noise cancelling headphones are a blessing.

My Doubt, My Insecurities, My Fears, My Faith

I have made creativity a central part of my life because I believe in its philosophy as a physical, spiritual, emotional, mental, intellectual and emotional act. I teach because I believe in the power of relationship. There is tremendous power in sharing creative acts. Connection through, and via, art, establishes relationships.

Since my early teens I wanted to write because I loved how I was moved by the stories I read. I wanted to be Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, Julian from The Famous Five, Obelisk and Tintin, The Phantom and any number of participants in war stories, fantasy epics, sci-fi embroilments. I wanted to use language to explore the power of figurative language to engage and to teach through the power of parable and analogy.

And I live with the uncertainty and doubt and fear that I am completely and utterly rubbish at this writing gig. I am afraid that one day I will wake up and the creativity will not be there. That I will not be able to write, or to draw, or to play drums, or to read. I will be the emperor standing naked in front of the people, exposed as nothing. At least I won’t be wearing pants.

Yet…

I persist. I pursue. I proceed.

This is faith.

I create what I can, when I can, how I can. The doubt and insecurity and fear never truly leave. They are a pebble in my shoe. Irritating and leading to blisters but nonetheless a reminder I am moving forward.

My Network

The JAR Collective is a gestalt entity of three people. We live in different cities, in different countries. We share similar (and different) aims and visions in regard to writing and the creative arts. And we work brilliantly together. We encourage, support, share, laugh, cry, whinge, swear, question, answer, and write together.

We are divergent, differentiated, maybe even debonaire.

We kick each other up the bum as motivation.

We hold each other’s hands when times are tough, and the candle doesn’t push back the darkness.

We hold a space for each other.

We celebrate the victories together, from the insignificant to the momentous.

We champion each other.

And I could not do it without their support.

Find your tribe. Find your people. Cherish and love them. Support and encourage them.

 

Lastly, not without doughnuts. I can’t do without doughnuts.

6.1 Not Without…

Every writer has essential traveling partners to assist them on the journey: a favourite beverage, pen, notebook, playlist or perhaps something more esoteric. Here are my top three ‘not withouts’.

MY HEALTH

her blood was
red like summer roses
fragrant and in bud

is this the thread that binds me to you
wherever you go

Written on the Body #10 (Jodi Cleghorn)

 

In 2002, I studied medical anthropology and did a major essay on the experience of chronic pain. One of the source materials was a book called The Absent Body by Drew Leder, and his chapter ‘The Dys-appearing Body’ was an eye-opener. For the first time I thought deeply about ‘body as a silent invisible vehicle’ (this was long before ‘body as temple’) and how it is only when we are sick or injured the body ‘dys-appears’. The year previous I had spent more than six months unable to walk. While my ankle and foot eventually healed, it changed forever the way I walked (less of those long sassy strides…plus a mortal fear of walking on grass). The experience of being in my body, in the world, was forever altered.  Leder’s work has persistently called me back into reviewing my relationship with my body, through the lens of physical change and illness.

For the last decade, I’ve been at varying places along the tired-exhausted spectrum—from mildly to completely incapable of functioning.

Even when my son was older and I stopped burning the candle at both ends with eMergent, some level of fatigue became my norm. Over the last decade, fatigue has ridden shotgun with many of my physical and mental health challenges: depression, anxiety, chronic pain and insomnia. I simply got used to not being full of energy and put it down to something that would go away if I mindfully managed the other core issues or was finally spat out the other side of these spiritual upgrades. Like a continually lowering affect (depression/anxiety), I learned to accommodate and habituate to persistently diminishing physical energy. As it lowered, I adjusted and adjusted and adjusted, while at the same time being hyperaware that without my body in strong, healthy functioning order, there was no way I could do the things I wanted to do: the priority of which was always writing. I believed if I kept trying to manage my mental health and chronic physical issues, the fatigue would eventually right itself.

Then it didn’t. In fact, it crashed in the most spectacular of ways over the course of a month, and I have spent the last few weeks rethinking what I know about cause and effect.

The body is an amazing ecosystem. After years of persistently ignoring the gentle (and let’s be honest, not so gentle nudges), it fired an unmissable shot across the bow—I thought I was having a heart attack, and finally I took myself off to the doctor to discover (gratefully) my heart was fine. My ferritin and iron stores, on the other hand, were the lowest my doctor had seen in a patient. “Spectacularly low,” she said to me. “No wonder you feel so rotten.”

This is the start of a new deepening into my body and my relationship with it, and how to be more responsibly* responsive to what it is telling me. Because as I have discovered (I’m actually breaking my ‘no work’ rule to pen this), without this most fundamental level of health and wellness, there is no writing. There’s no anything. In fact, I was hurtling toward something far more significant and life altering than a temporary health crisis.

Without my health—this fundamental foundational wellness—there is no spark, no life force, no impetus to create, be brave, take risks…much less what is needed in reserve to finish what I start.

Writers birth characters and create their lives—we are givers of life. This a sacred transference of life force. Without an overflowing reserve of that essential life force, there is nothing but ever deepening and eroding levels of dead, hardened, creative earth and zero energy to even try to chip into it, much less till, plant, care and prepare it for a coming harvest.

MY SOVEREIGNTY

my life is not my own
I shall have to haggle
over my reality

an ordinary miracle
to believe in the obvious
surprise
deepening, quickening
loving the shell laid out
before me

I’ve been sitting in
my memories
changing

no longer the crude lever
of passion
beginning from a fixed perspective

Written on the Body #2 – Jodi Cleghorn

 

In 2007, I was talked into doing NaNoWriMo for the first time by two amazing women I was completing The Artist’s Way with. My son was 3 ½ at the time, yet to start kindergarten; while I was a SAHM, I was also doing the equivalent of a full-time job for the homebirth association here in Brisbane as a volunteer. The allure of NaNo arrived at a time in my life when there was no space for anything new—let alone a 50K manuscript. I had done nothing more than scribble a few thousand words here and there for the previous three months, and 50K felt like a marathon when I’d only just learned to walk with maybe a few dance steps when I was really brave.

But I wanted to give it a try. I wanted to see if I was up to the task. I sat down and explained what I wanted to do with my partner and son, and we made a deal: if the clothes were laundered every week and dinner appeared every night, then I could ‘clock off being Mum’ at 8:30 to sit and write. It was the first time I had specifically asked for something just for me. It turned out to be the best thing I could have done at the start of my writing career.

They held up their end of the deal. I held up mine. Despite all manner of trials and tribulations (including taking my partner to emergency with a suspected heart attack two days before the end of NaNo), I crossed (crawled/staggered?) over the 50K mark on the final day. It was a minor triumph in writing: a pretty average draft and story idea which I never returned to for completion. However, it was a major triumph for me as a writer. It cemented within my family dynamic the importance of writing, and while my family have felt abandoned at times, they have never begrudged my creativity and have always made space for me within it. No one has ever dared suggest that maybe it is getting in the way or that I should give it up (if we discount my MIL in the early days who was adamant it was getting in the way of taking ‘proper care’ of my family).

That first NaNo showed me writing and the mundane could be complimentary to each other (and we all laugh that when I am in full writing swing, the domestic landscape is a far more organised affair than usual because cooking and pegging clothes on the line are essential thinking spaces for me). It showed me that ‘writer’ was not mutually exclusive to other parts of my life.

Writing is the one aspect of the last 12 years which has been absolutely non-negotiable. It has given me something important enough to learn how to create boundaries and stick to them. It has given me a barometer for what is healthy and what is detrimental in my life, i.e., anyone or anything impeding my ability to write nor misaligned with my creative pursuits. (My former boyfriend managed to find a loop hole in the ‘limited shelf-life’ for the non-aligned…and I let him. I’ve learned the hard way, detrimental is detrimental—period!)

 

MY EARBUDS

unreconstructed as I am
I’d rather walk through the damp
outer layers of movement
when movement indicates life
and life
had a hole that let the rain in
because my love for myself
let the rain in
to make something
entirely new
by the fire

Written on the Body #10 – Jodi Cleghorn

 

Stephen King talks about two types of doors in his book On Writing. There is the metaphysical door—you write with the door closed and edit with the door open. Then there is the more obvious physical door; the one to the room you write in that you shut to the world as a psychological prompt to the self to say: right, now it’s time to write. Plus, it is usually an effective way to signal to others ‘do not disturb’ (but for anyone with experience of small children, they will know a door is only a momentary obstacle to your full attention, even in the toilet).

For years I yearned for a door. If I was still writing letters to Santa for Christmas, a door would have been the top of my list for years. My at-home writing space was in a weird alcove corner of our writing room, and my away-from-home space was often a loud and crowded indoor playground. My earphones/buds became my doors. Nothing has changed, even though I now have a writing room, and it’s been years since I last graced Lollipops Indoor Play Centre.

My earbuds are essential. All the best playlists in the world or access to favourite writing music on a fully charged phone are useless without something to listen to it with. I have arrived at my favourite cafe, more times than I care to admit, to discover they’ve been left behind, destroying a much anticipated writing session. I have two pairs now in an attempt to avoid this happening.

I’ll push them in even if I am at home and everything is quiet. They are like my essential Pavlovian prompt ‘now, write’; who am I to argue with classical conditioning at its best?

 

*Please please please—if you have been experiencing persistent, long-term fatigue/exhaustion or generally low physical functioning without a known contributing condition, please see your doctor. It is not normal. We are here to thrive, not merely survive. The world needs us right now. Our vitality. Our equanimity in a world thrown into extremes of polarity. And as always, our words as beacons of hope in a pervading darkness.

Words As . . .

‘Words As’ is our regular guest posting. We invite creatives of all ilks to respond to the prompt ‘words as’. This month we welcome author Lois Spangler to the page to share her thoughts.

Welcome Lois.

Words as. . . .

Words as what? Fundamentally, words are the bits of language that mean a discrete thing. Go any smaller, and now you have sounds, which are important, but don’t convey a concept themselves. Even prefixes and suffixes don’t quite do it — they rely on the trunk word to have any relative meaning.

Like atoms, you string them together into molecules and you get sentences. A word is potential; it’s informed by other words in a cluster of themselves, and each one contributes to a communicative quality. So, words as chemistry?

Maybe. The word as an atom, the sentence as a molecule. The paragraph as a matrix, and the chapter as a recognisable component of a larger and relatively homogeneous whole. Can a book be a slab of limestone? Or better, can it be a near limitless combination of things — wood and plastic, a carburettor and a smartwatch, separate but near enough to each other to build some meaning? Stephen King has described writing as an act of personal archaeology, revealing things in one’s own mind in the building of a story.

But this approach is limited. Why? We’re talking about stories, which is a separate subject, but stories aren’t the only things words can convey. In this metaphor, where does poetry fit in? Words in poetry convey story sometimes, but often they convey a feeling, a deep inchoate sense of a moment or a state. And they often do it while flouting the rules of prose language. These things aren’t story, but they are just as important.

Poetry aside, we haven’t even considered the quotidian roles for words, like contracts and technical manuals. How do they fit in? In a sense, the chemistry metaphor still stands. A contract tells a story in the imperative, in a way, and so does a manual. The former sets up expectations, and the latter offers guidance.

Maybe we’re still too narrow, or maybe we’re still too broad. Let’s try again.

Words as. . . .

…Words as currency? This implies that words have value, which isn’t entirely incorrect. But it also implies that they can be offered in exchange for non-word things, and this isn’t incorrect either. But can you hoard words? Shore up words like you would in a bank, giving you clout in society in the same way money would? Can you invest words and expect a return?

In a sense, yes. And this is where we’re beginning to narrow in on the metaphorical heart of words. Words as wisdom. Even the emptiest phrases stand to teach us something, defining meaning through the negative space of their own intentions. And the things words teach can be very small in scope, or very large; and that scope doesn’t need to be directly related to stakes.

But even though words contain wisdom, can be hoarded and exchanged, they don’t come into being on their own. They need authors. And for words to function at all, they need an audience. They need us.

Words as us.

Words are some of the closest things to magic we have in this world. I want to share something that is in my mind, a thing that is separate from other living beings. Words let me do that, however imperfectly. They let me offer a little bit of me to you. They’re not proxies, they’re not representatives; they are an imperfect mosaic of myself that I send out into the world, and that you interpret under your own contexts and experiences.

While words can divide, they can unite. While they can alienate, they can also welcome. So with these final words, I welcome you to this shared space, with words as us, and invite you to continue the conversation.

Lois Spangler is a writer, editor, and translator who’s been making stuff up since 1976. When not knee-deep in words, she’s hanging out with friends or stabbing other friends in an historically Spanish style. She maintains a very infrequently updated blog at storytrade.net, and sometimes says things on Twitter as @Incognitiously. Learn more about that historical Spanish style at bsis.club.