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.

5.3 The Next Story – Rus

Every time I publish a piece of writing with a larger audience, one of the most common questions I hear is “What’s next?”

It’s a loaded question, for sure, especially with Fossil Five releasing to the world in a matter of days. Most people don’t really care about the behind-the-scenes writing I am doing on a daily — sometimes hourly — basis. What they really care about is what I plan on releasing to the public in the near future.

I have several in the running for the next six months. There’s the creative nonfiction piece about the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904 and my research disputing the young mayor’s death being ruled a suicide. I firmly believe he was murdered, and I’m on a good track to prove it.

Then there’s the new novel idea about a small-town college that shuts down in the late sixties after a series of unsolved murders on campus. The abandoned college receives a financial windfall from an anonymous donor, and when it reopens for artists in 2020, the murders resume. The story follows several students who begin to unearth the secrets of the college’s bloody history, leading them to become the primary targets for the killer’s next victims.

I also have an inspiring series of essays in the works on living a more fulfilling life through authentic journaling.

The truth is, though, that the “next” story is whichever one rises from the myriad ideas, scribbles, and drafts that I have been collecting in my journals for the past 4 decades. In other words, when you sneak a peek behind the writer’s magical veil, there is no official “next story.”

In addition to the three titles that I listed above, I’m working on stories that matter the world to me, but may never see the light of day in my readers’ worlds.

These are just a few of the ideas ripped from my daybook’s pages. Some of them are developed more than others.

  • Sail Away– a novel about a time portal in the basement of a family’s house that leads to the late 18th century, where some of the individuals of yesteryear have come back to cross-populate the two worlds over a three-century period.
  • Daily Prompts of Inspiration- I have written and shared many hundreds of writing prompts to lift up, inspire, and encourage others. This would be a journal where each page begins with a new thought, and plenty of blank space to reflect.
  • Anthology of Ghost and Horror Stories- I have always loved the genre of terror, and over the years I have written enough short stories to put together an anthology of horror. It’s quite antithetical to my inspiring posts and essays; I guess that’s what makes them all the more interesting.
  • My Poetry- This is something that I have very, very rarely shared with anybody, even my closest writer-friends. I think this would take the most amount of courage. As vulnerable as I feel about my fiction, I keep my poetry very close to the vest. One day, that will change.
  • The Memoir of Rus- I thought about doing this when I turned 50 (my writer-friend Bernadette did this as a series of reflective pieces, and it resonated deeply with me), but it never happened. I don’t think I need a particular anniversary or milestone birthday to share these; I do think, though, that I need to finish and share these essays comprising a larger picture of me sooner than later.

And then, of course, there are the collaborative works with Jodi and Adam here at the JAR that are always in line to be “next.” The Glass Marionette with Jodi is ready to embark on an adventurous turn as we surrender the continuation of the plot to the universe. The JAR Story with Jodi and Adam is nearly complete and ready for the world to enjoy in 2020. I’m also teaming up with Adam on a new work of fiction that evolves around metaphysical labyrinths.

The “next story” has always been, and will always be, in the works. Writing is not sterile, clean, or tidy when it comes to finishing one project and then beginning another. As Fossil Five makes its debut in this world, it just opens space for the next story to rise, much like a newly discovered patch of light in a forest of competing stories. Which one will reach the light first? Fill the space with outstretched leaves soaking up the sun and the energy to be the next?

We shall see. For now, I give light to all my works, and see each of them as having an equal chance to be “next” for my readers. If anything, I know — as I hope my readers do as well — that I will never stop writing, or sharing, my stories with the world.

 

5.2 The Next Story – Adam

The Next Story

Part 1

How long has it been since I have written anything from start to finish?

Too long.

Far too long.

“Post Marked Piper’s Reach” was published in July this year. It was written seven years ago.

What has happened in-between? Between 2013 and 2018, the grounds lay fallow. I started a verse novel. Began the drafting and ideas for a novella. Started collaborating with Jodi and Rus on a novel. At the end of 2018 I finished the draft of a novella that will exist in the Piper’s Reach world but be separate from it. It’s now awaiting an edit. And in-between all of this, I have penned scraps of sentences and handwritten pieces for Instagram, and random poems for Twitter and Facebook.

I have not sat down to write for a variety of reasons: moving house, ill health, work commitments. Other personal reasons. I read books. Kept a record of what I had read and challenged myself to improve on it. Kept adding to the compost heap.

But nothing complete or completed.

Looking back on the past few years it appears I’ve been throwing manure on the compost heap in the hope something other than tomatoes will sprout from the pile of grass clippings, vegetable scraps and garden trimmings. At some point you have to turn the soil, keep turning it, shovel it around the base of an idea and see what grows.

Those works in progress mentioned above have sat idle but I return to them occasionally, turning the soil and adding more thought to them.

Part 2

The question is always of, “What next?”

This year was a focus on getting Piper’s Reach into the world and to an audience. Publication was the end of the cycle and a new cycle has to begin.

But where to begin with that new cycle?

In my head, and in my planning, it is the novella, followed by the verse novel and working with Jodi and Rus to finish our collaborative novel, plans for a collaborative novel with Rus, and thinking of another collaboration with Jodi.

Left to my own devices I have to think about the next story. Snippets of sentences and half-formed paragraphs are easy. Bringing them to fruition is difficult. I write better in collaboration as iron sharpens iron. But I had to prove to myself I can do it by myself. The novella was the first step. My verse novel will be the next step after that. For myself, I am unsure. The horizon is a long way off.

Part 3

But I see a way forward. Beyond plans for completing and finishing, there is the desire to write again. I have felt blocked lately in writing but I think I have a way forward: writing my way into it.

I’ll start by writing anything.

With abandon.

With reckless care for sense or understanding.

To write without fear or favour.

To play with language and experiment with words because no one else will see it.

The freedom of not having eyes to cast a glance and question the structure or word choice.

Part 4

But there is something else that sits with me in terms of thinking about the next story: Why do I want to tell this story?

This is what is pushing me lately. I have a couple of unfinished works on my computer and I circle back to them from time to time to ask why do I want to tell this story? Have I worked out what the story is in order to tell it? The same question applies to my novella and verse novel because the question will help frame the narrative and edits in the future.

The “why” will be the driving force to keep me throwing compost onto the heap and tilling the soil.

The next story will always be there.