Monday, 30 June 2014

Drafting along

Day one of my adventure
I have officially started the draft of the travel memoir. I decided to start at the start. Not so obvious as you might imagine given that it is now tucked away the furtherest in my memory. But it was kind of waiting to be set forth on the page. It was all going swimmingly, I had about a page – at one and a half line spacing. And then suddenly there was a halt. My mouse wouldn’t move, I couldn’t scroll up or down the page. The cursor was still blinking but the mouse had died. It was 10 years old, that’s probably quite a long life for a mouse. I was not a little mad at the timing – it could have happened in the middle of a job application and I really wouldn’t have minded so much. I needed help not obstacles in taking the first steps with my draft. But I surprised myself by remaining calm – there was no swearing - and methodically working through the options.

Breathe deeply
I was worried that my lovely free flowing words would be wiped away if I had to reboot. So I hunted around for a ‘save’ keyboard shortcut to press. I found one and pressed, nothing happened. Then I thought maybe I could print it and if necessary retype it later. I turned the printer on, lights flashed, wheels whirred, it looked and sounded fine but it was having no luck talking to the computer. I was all out of ideas for saving my work and moved onto the next issue – fixing the mouse. Very simple really – go to the store and buy a new one!

A work in progress
So after the mini technological drama I got going again. On my first day I managed 889 words. I can tell you this because I have made a spreadsheet to track my progress and to cheer myself up when I feel stuck. I can generate weekly and monthly totals, allowing me to compare weeks and months, as well as a cumulative total. Before I started I wondered if I would have much to say. I had already written a skeleton form in the blog and I wasn’t sure if there was too much to add. Turns out there is, quite a lot in fact. At this point I have just over 13,500 words and I am only up to the first farm. I am rather enjoying not worrying about the length; it feels like quite a luxury after the short form of the blog and postcards. I will have to come back and edit but I shall worry about that later. While the words are flowing and I have time I am keen to keep going. Structuring, cutting, fact checking and grammar corrections can all wait until later. Perhaps when I have a little more distance.

My first birth
I have been remembering and writing about the first few days at the farm when everything was new and overwhelming. I am surprised by how easily it all comes back – the initial fears about getting there, worries about fitting in, frustrations of not being very useful and more positively the amazing moments – seeing a baby goat being born, helping with the cheese, even standing in the sun washing the moulds. It is more than a year ago that I left the first farm and yet it is still so clear in my mind.

Together with being accepted into my course, starting the draft is shifting my identity – well at least how I see myself. Not as unemployed, or as the mobile guy euphemistically put it ‘on home duties’. I am a student (again) and a writer. There I said it. I am a writer. In training.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Seismic shifts

On the way to the charity shop
As part of the experience of coming home I have been sorting through the contents of my cupboards. I started doing this as I unpacked the kitchen, there were utensils and platters which I had not used or which I had too many of. I set them aside for donating to the local charity shop. This process continued with the clothes in my wardrobes. My tastes had changed a little and some things just didn’t fit anymore. I took my evening dresses out and put just one back. Somehow it looked right - I know that it fits and the style will not date too badly, I hope. It also clearly identifies that I really don’t go out to fancy places where I will need to dress up, and that feels like the real me.

The way home
I then began tackling the boxes of wool and fabric. I had lots of baby wool left over from when my nieces were much younger than they are now. There was also piles of fabric from my patchworking phase. I donated the baby wool to the charity shop and have two patchworking friends who will be receiving a donation to their respective collections in the near future. It was surprisingly easy to let this go and I wondered why. Then I realised that I had already moved on. I was now focusing on photography and writing. My chosen art forms had changed without me realising.

Lion head art
At the same time I noticed several other changes. I have always been a keen reader and gallery goer. I had established and run a bookclub for several years. I enjoyed taking a long weekend and flying interstate to go to an exhibition. So consuming the written word and visual art was never a problem. But I hadn’t spent much time producing it. Lots of family and holiday snaps to be sure, but I don’t think that is the same as photography as an artistic expression. This clearly satisfied some need, but it’s a bit like the difference between watching and playing tennis. I could appreciate the fitness and skill of the players but I wasn’t out there getting hot and sweaty, I wasn’t stretching myself to reach the ball.

From the first project
Enter the first 365 day photo project. Looking back it was a bit of a leap into the unknown. There really weren’t any rules beyond posting one photo each day on Facebook. And therein lay one of the surprises – I suddenly had an audience, people looked at my photos, ‘liked’ and commented on them. It was an incredibly interesting to get feedback. It gave me confidence that I was producing something of value, something which people looked forward to seeing each day.

From the second project

Writing the travel blog was the next venture. Sharing my thoughts and feelings about situations as well as what I was seeing was a quite different experience. I was required to be more present and with this came a greater risk of how people would respond. But I was 15,000 kilometres away from most of my audience and this distance gave me courage. I took the responsibility of ‘reporting’ seriously but also wanted to be authentic and real. The blog really helped me discover my voice in a way that the photography hadn’t. I do have lots of ideas for series with the photos which I hope will take them from being memories to something else.

Pursuing my own ideas
So along with my move into having an audience I also realised one other boundary had been crossed. I was no longer in the terrain of recipes or patterns. I wasn’t following directions to produce a jumper or a quilt. It was all becoming a lot more free form. I was doing what I wanted - taking photos of things that caught my interest and writing about the things that mattered to me. This process is more about discovery. I dream up ideas, explore them a little - sometimes they get discarded, sometimes they need a bit more time to ‘bake’ and sometimes I know instantly that I will follow one through. I love this business of sorting ideas, it keeps me thinking and engaged. The challenge then becomes to deliver on them. 

And I have saved the best til last, one action has been fulfilled – I got onto my uni course! I am so thrilled. I can’t wait to meet all the other budding writers and talk about our experiences, share tips and give each other feedback and support on our new journeys.

Friday, 6 June 2014

The great distractions

Gallery hopping
In Paris I didn’t have any external structure to my days. I was okay for the first few weeks as I typed away to update my blog, but then I began to flounder. If I could spend my time doing what I wanted, then what did I want to do - a very good question? Looking for inspiration I spent many hours reading, wandering around galleries, walking the streets looking for interesting photos and cooking up a storm in the kitchen. Slowly I began to relax into a rhythm of filling my well of creativity.

The gas bottle series
After visiting the tourist spots of Morocco I arrived in Essaouira, a small fishing village with a bustling port. Suddenly I stopped, I had more time and felt less pressure to rush around and see everything, maybe because there wasn’t so much to see – just lots of sea! I walked for hours on the sand and the ideas started to flow. I began taking more series photos – donkeys, shuttered shops and gas bottles. Each morning I would sit at a cafĂ© and note down ideas, developing them a bit more each day until I had a rough sketch of a couple of characters and a bit of a story trajectory.

Port safari
Back in Melbourne it is quite a different challenge altogether, there are a lot more distractions. On my pilgramage I had worked out that the things which stifled my creative efforts before were too much work, television and wine. These were often causally linked – too much work led to too much TV or too much debriefing with friends over a glass or two of wine. I rarely found the time and energy to be creative after work or after a working week. In reality I didn’t prioritise my creativity and I didn’t guard my time and energy well enough.

The real world
And on my return I once again found myself falling back into the same traps. My most pressing need is to find a regular job, because well… let’s be honest I need the money. I had nodded sagely and said nothing when friends had said “…looking for a job is a full-time job…” Now I understand the truth of this. Looking for a job doesn’t just soak up hours; it also takes emotional energy – to convince yourself that this next job looks really interesting and that you stand a good chance and then to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep going when it doesn’t work out quite as you hoped.

Local markets
Then I had a breakthrough, a brain wave of inspiration - hereafter known as the quadrant solution. I discovered that my job search efforts were swamping all my other intentions. I had all this time but I still couldn’t get around to finishing my blog or sorting my photos. So I decided to divide my to do list up into four sections – all on the same page so I could keep track of it – under the headings of work, flat, creative and social. My idea was to make sure that each week I got to tick off at least one thing in each box. So far it’s working very well - I got the last blog finished, my writing course application submitted and this blog started all under the new regime, so I think I’m going to keep going as it certainly feels like it’s working!

After the pop up bar
The television is no longer a great distraction either, it is gone. I am now living ‘tv free’. So what does it feel like? I have done it before, a long time ago. Then, I cracked after nine months because I wanted to watch the tennis. And I guess most of last year qualifies too as I rarely saw a tv and if I did it was usually in French – which of course turns it into language practice rather than just hanging out being brain dead. Now, my quiet evenings at home are spent curled on the couch with a book. I have been back and forth to the library many times, returning my books before they are due back because I’ve actually finished them. And as for the wine, well you can't drink in Melbourne's bars if you don't have a decent income. So whilst I'm not on the wagon, it's a pretty close call.

Monday, 2 June 2014

My starting points

Walking and thinking
I went to a talk by Irvine Welsh (author of Trainspotting and other things) last Monday night and was struck by one comment in particular. He remarked that if you haven’t grown up in a family which is creative then it can take a long time to own your creativity. This made me reflect on my own experience. I know how to cook, sew and knit because my mother taught me. When I was a teenager I enjoyed choosing recipes, shopping for ingredients, spending all afternoon in the kitchen, with the radio turned up loud, cooking up a storm. Equally I loved skimming through patterns, gazing at the colors and patterns of fabrics and reaching out to feel the texture of wool. It was a riot of possibilities. I made jumpers and dresses for me, clothes for my sisters’ Barbie dolls, fabric boxes to sell to the neighbours and bread, casseroles and desserts for my family. I remember being entranced in Home Economics class learning how to make fried rice including turning out a perfectly moulded mound onto a plate and garnishing it with a curled top of spring onions. If Instagram had existed then, a shot of this dish would certainly have made it onto my wall. I also flirted with patchwork, Florentine embroidery and friendship bracelets.

Color and movement

Creativity has always been a part of my life, although from time to time I do lose track of it, but then it sneaks back in again. I remember being asked by a colleague what I was passionate about and after some thought, answering “color and patterns”. Clearly I hadn’t paid enough attention to the context as he looked at me with some surprise. It was a bit of a clue to the fact that I wasn’t quite on the same page as everyone else there! 

Performance art with nieces

As an adult I had a long patch of knitting. When I was studying I would knit blankets for relief from having to think with my head all day. It kept my hands busy and I could see something real resulting from my work. I then moved onto baby knits as my sisters and close friends starting having families. This was followed by a picture framing phase where I covered nearly every wall in my then flat with my multi-colored efforts. It was an attempt to cheer up the cream rental walls. Most recently it has been the morning pages exercises (stream of consciousness writing by hand for three pages), the 365 day photography projects and the blog. So looking back over all these endeavours perhaps it is time to own that I am in fact quite creative.

Winter playground series
Recognising this is not too much of a shock, it is fairly clear. The bigger, more intimidating challenge is to work out what to do with it - is it just a hobby, an extra-curricula activity, something to do when I’m not busy, or is it something else? Once upon a time I had dreamed of going to fashion design college, but didn’t get much further than making a few inquiries. I stood on the sidelines as a friend pursued his photography course. I was always rather jealous when I met people who had seriously committed to studying and practising their art. I thought that after my year away that I was looking for a better balance in my regular life between work and creativity. Now I’m not so sure...

Walking and talking
I have recently been blue sky talking about my future with various friends and family. This ideal life involves having the freedom to write books and travel. I think perhaps what I’m now looking for is a way to transition to a creative life as a profession, not something I have dared dream of before. I realise it will take a while, years probably, but I like the idea of having a goal to stretch for and an interesting journey to go on to get there. I’ve taken what I think is a useful first step and put in an application to do a uni course on writing and editing. Fingers and toes are crossed that I will get in!