Ten Thousand Little Words

This is the first in what I hope is a series of posts about my goals for 2018. Knowing my tendency to start these things and never follow through, I am incredibly skeptical that any of them will come to fruition (including the completion of this series), so I expect you to come into this entry with the same frame of mind.

1. Write 10,000 words a month.

I have tried NaNoWriMo twice now, and both times have been an absolute failure. I wasn’t even trying to do it properly – both times I had an idea that I had already started working on. The second time, I wasn’t even reaching for the full 50,000 words. Instead, I set myself what I thought was a more suitable goal of 20,000 words on top of what I’d already written (from memory, about 3,000 words). A month on, and I’ve reached 10,000 words of varying degrees of quality on what I believe may be no more than a novella. At this stage, I don’t really care. I just want the damn thing finished.

My last job was a “creative” one, writing advertising for radio. I’d spent my entire life working towards it, but after ten years of work experience, study and working in the industry, I was sick of the job. I was writing for the local street press, and it was scratching my itch to write, but it didn’t feel particularly creative. I had a short story sitting in my To Do pile, and my major project to finish, but nothing was coming to me anymore. I was thinking up ideas in the shower, or dreaming amazing things that set my mind alight with possibilities, but I wasn’t putting any of it on the page. It just stayed in my head, and I did nothing with it.

When I had The Seizure That Turned My Life Upside Down in March 2016, I lost the will (and the ability) to work on anything. I tried to keep my column up for BMA, but it wasn’t giving me the same pleasure it used to. It had become a chore. I thought about blogging again, and did a few times to try and get my anguish out, but it felt hollow and narcissistic. I needed a new project, a new drive, and a new job that wasn’t going to wring all my creativity into 30 second chunks for a wage that was almost half the average wage for the city I lived in.

I achieved the third thing on that list last August. I’m now working for significantly more money, in a (very) challenging job, surrounded by the kind of work culture I could never have dreamed of in the radio industry. The people I work with are incredible, the support I’ve had despite my significant health challenges over the last few months have been beyond my wildest dreams, and I’m learning new things all the time. I’m so incredibly lucky to have stumbled into this organisation. (For a number of reasons, I won’t be sharing the name of my employer here.)

But what about the other two? That need for a project and for that drive to move me forward in terms of my writing?

That’s why I’ve set this goal. Broken down, it works out to be a little under 350 words a day. It doesn’t matter why I’ve written them, what they’re about, or whether I intend to publish them. They just have to exist on the page.

Just 350 little words. Or 2,500 a week. However it happens, a total goal of 10,000 a month.

Even if I only achieve it in January, I’ll be happy with that. Because hell, it’s a start.

And I’ve got 616 words to prove it.

Advertisements

At Risk of Being Wrong, Here’s To 2017


I feel like being optimistic about 2017 is foolish, but here I am, doing just that. Looking through my journal the other day, I found exactly the same optimism in my first entry for 2016, and look where that got us.

While 2016 was shitty for a lot of people because of wonderful people who died (I’m still not ready to believe Carrie Fisher is gone), or because of certain election results (there’s the obvious US and UK cock-ups, but the Australian election and its repercussions for Centrelink and Medicare scare me more), but the biggest issue for me was my health.

For most of 2016, I was ill. It wasn’t a physical malady, so even I’m a little reluctant to use the term, but there really is no other description that fits the bill.

In March, my epilepsy took me from a place of optimism and drive, to somewhere dark I hadn’t been since 2012. The ensuing depression was some of the worst I’ve ever dealt with, but this time I was willing to be open with those around me about what it was doing to me and the kind of help I was in desperate need of. I can happily say that has started to pay off over the last few months, and I’m getting the medical help I need to move towards the more even keel that will make the shift into the real world and employment a reality.

Last time it took me 10 months to recover; so far I’m clocking in at 9, but I’m in a better position now than I was then. I’ve not been working full time, but I’ve got a couple of freelance clients, and doing those occasional projects has really boosted my confidence in my own writing and in the idea that I might be able to do this as a side project.

Last time, serendipity delivered me back into a radio gig, but now that I’ve decided I need time away from that industry, where I have spent almost my entire career, that won’t be so easy. I’m working with my neurologist and GP to make sure I’m not going at it too hard, and working with Employment Services Group in Braddon to assess what my skills and strengths are so that I can find a job where I will be a good fit. I’m still in the process of completely re-writing my CV for temp work, and I’m still trying to work out what the hell I’m going to apply for, but the cogs are finally turning and I feel like I’ll get to where I’m going in the next month or two. (With the job market in its current condition, that might be a little over-optimistic, but I think I can do it.)

diary 2017In previous posts, I’ve talked about the symbolic importance the New Year holds for me. I like beginnings, but in the past I’ve often struggled to see them through in my personal life. Resolutions fall over in 24 hours, and my optimism barely lasts the week. So why is this time so different to previous years?

This year, I’m taking the advice of Joe Biden, and I’ve made a plan. It could fall through, but I’ve been slowly integrating it into my life over the last month or so, and it seems to be gradually working. I’m getting things done and creating healthy habits, and I’ve not forgotten my medication in at least three weeks! I’ll write a post about it next week (oh yes, I intend to write here a lot more in 2017).

And resolutions? Sure, I’ve made a few, but I’m going to keep them to myself for now. Hopefully I’ll spend 2017 writing about how I’m achieving them rather than reflecting on how I haven’t come close to achieving them…

Getting me through 2016 was a team effort, so there are many thanks that need to be said. Mum and Dad have been the best parents a girl could ask for, looking after me in their home, keeping a roof over my head in Canberra and supporting me as I’ve taken my first shaky steps back into the real world. My sister Justine has given me a lot of hugs when I need them, and I can’t overstate how wonderful that is. Thanks to my best mate Miranda for always being there for a chat and giving me kindness and well-deserved tough love in relevant measure. My housemate Karina, for being incredibly tolerant of my untidy and lazy ways being amplified by my less than ideal condition, and my constant travelling back and forth over the last few months. BMA’s editor Andrew Nardi has been an absolute saint in terms of my struggles to reach deadlines, and so many of my Canberra-based friends – Nigel, Beth, Ali, Cam, Rhonda, David, Josh, Justyna, Bondy, Chris, Nick, Emma, Gerry, Kath and so many more – have been much loved and appreciated connections back to the life I love to live. My former work colleagues have been incredibly kind during my illness, with special mention to Kirstan, who has been the best co-copywriter I’ve had the pleasure of working with, and a bloody good mate who has inspired me with the goals she keeps on kicking. Dr Kaitlyn Parratt at the RPA epilepsy clinic and Dr Chowdury Beg, my GP at Dubbo Medical and Allied Health Group, have both have been absolutely critical in my long term treatment and recovery. To my extended family: I count my blessings every day that I was born into our mad mob. Finally, a massive expression of love goes out to my Internet Party buddies who have been on the front line of most of my expressions of anguish this year: Alex N, Alex B, Fin, Britt, Tim, Lizzy, Beth and Lauretta.

I know 2017 is going to involve a lot of hard work, personally and politically right around the world, but for the first time in a long time, I not only think I’m ready to do it…

…I’m absolutely going to.

Happy New Year.

Ready to go… nowhere?

Clean desk. A good start.
Clean desk. A good start.

Today is the last day of my week off work. I turned 26 last Sunday, and since that was a strange sort of milestone (one that deserves its own explanation) and I had been working my arse off at work for the last month, I figured I deserved a Break with a capital ‘b’.

It’s been an odd nine days: delightful most of the time, but more sobering towards the end. I spent Saturday through Thursday in Sydney, seeing bands and Men of Letters, going to a neurology appointment (not as dreadful as it sounds), hanging out with my wonderful mum, seeing friends I haven’t seen in ages and meeting new ones.

Friday and Saturday were spent almost entirely in bed, with a brief writing sprint on Saturday morning, before whiling away the late afternoons and evenings by binge listening to The Black Tapes Podcast or jumping between series on Netflix. It was these two days that marked the biggest shift in my mood; I had gone from blissfully plodding through my daily itinerary to flipping between being edgy and numb in the space of what felt like no time at all. Such are the perils of having a neurological condition, I guess.

Despite all the wonderful things I’ve felt and experienced over the last week, I have found myself frustrated. Part of the reason why I took this week off was to work on personal projects: writing blogs, recording audio for a new podcast I’m working on, finishing diaries and getting a new study space in order. This post means I’ve got the first one done (although I guess you could also count the two pieces I wrote for BMA), the second has gotten absolutely nowhere, and I’ve barely made a scratch on the diaries and writing space, even if I did finally manage to get hold of a desk (see above).

One of the projects I wanted to get done... More to come.
One of the projects I wanted to get done… More to come.

Now that I write all that down, I realise I’ve done a lot more in the last few days than I initially thought. It’s definitely far more than I have managed over the last few weeks and months, but I feel like that’s more of an indictment of my laziness, poor mood and terrible management of non-work time and energy rather than any great recent wave of progress.

This frustration has caused me to revisit the memories of the dark days of 2012/13, when I was living at home, depressed and disillusioned. Even though they were the worst ten months of my life, towards the end I was starting to work out how to manage my own time and energy to build personal projects. I was building Gigs Out West in a very slow but steady fashion, starting to do copywriting and voicing jobs for my dad, and I had enough confidence to start applying for jobs again. At the time, I knew that this ‘floating’ time was important, but now I’m stuck wondering what it might have turned into had I stuck with it rather than returning to the conventional workforce.

Until recently, I was sure that I probably would have got absolutely nowhere, but now I’m starting to wish I’d taken it a little bit further. I wish I had more time and far more energy and drive to develop freelancing skills and a resilience that could open new options outside the usual employer/employee working dynamic.

Coming to the end of this week away from the office, I feel like I am ready, just like I was as I came to the end of that ten month period in 2013, to start doing things off my own back. I’m refreshed enough that I have the energy to write my first blog in months, and I’m keen to start sitting down and making stuff at the times that suit me best, like late at night without the worry of having to get up in the morning. I’m ready to explore new ways of thinking and making content, reading and writing and trying to make myself into the person I want to be.

But all the optimism in the world won’t make the following facts go away:

  1. I have to go to work on Monday morning.
  2. I don’t have the money to make that leap into the unknown.
  3. Even if I did have the money to make that jump, would I really be able to afford to take the time I’d need to recalibrate and refresh beforehand?

That’s what has really bothered me for the last few days: just as I’m getting ready to start work on reaching for new horizons, the reality of employment obligations and my financial situation comes up and taps me on the shoulder to remind me that I don’t have the right or the ability to go forth and be an explorer.

The idea that this is how I’m going to spend the next 40+ years of my working life terrifies me even more than the concept of death.

For now, I’m refreshed and ready to get things done, even if it’s a feeling that only lasts for another 24 hours or so. It feels like a waste to use this new energy on housekeeping, but if I can do that, maybe I can get to the next stage?

So despite my misgivings, I am spending today cleaning my room, moving my new desk into place, doing washing and cleaning my bathroom. I have to learn to celebrate the little successes I have when I’m up and going, and then try to keep them rolling. Once I’ve got those sorted, then hopefully everything else will be that little bit easier.

Let's roll.
Let’s do this.

Let’s Start At The Beginning – Blog Carnival 2014

You Can Do This

I’m not good at making plans. I’m someone who lives so much in the present that I’ve found myself at a point where I don’t know where to go with my future.

Yeah, we’ve been down this road before, but hear me out, just one last time. (At least, I hope it’s the last time…)

I am currently working on a plan like nothing I’ve ever done before. Okay, it’s kind of like something I’ve done before, but it’s different. It’s going to need organisation and plotting and vision and the kind of drive and work ethic that I’ve seen so many of my friends apply to their creative projects but has always eluded me. It’s a new project that I’ve only told a few friends and family about. I’m not quite ready to tell everyone the details yet, but it’s something that has been bubbling away in my brain for a good few months.

Now I’m finally ready to start putting my back into it.

To be honest, it’s not the ideal time to be starting seriously on something like this. I’ve been pretty emotionally fragile lately, and I’m pinning a lot of hope on this being something that drags me out of my funk. If it doesn’t, I’m going to be in quite a spot of bother, but optimism is the key right now.

I don’t know how I’m going to fit it around the fact that I really need to clean my bedroom and my bathroom, make sure I’m feeding myself decent home-cooked meals rather than buying fast food on the way home, or maintain the kind of social life I rely on to make sure I don’t slip into feeling completely isolated in the way that has been slowly creeping into my heart lately. I don’t know how I’m going to budget it around some of my newer financial commitments, or how I’m going to fit it around the fact that I really do seem to need a lot of sleep at the moment. Like I said, this is an endeavour fueled by hope that I can do it, with the occasional burst of I need this to work so that I can get a little bit closer to doing what I want to do full time as a booster.

I’m taking a week off work at the start of August to go home and spend some time with my family, but I’m hoping that it will also be a good time for me to get up and get some work done on this. I want to have the bare bones all laid out by the end of August so that I can start saving for and purchasing the equipment I’m going to need to make this thing work.

Right now, I’m marking out my process, the steps I’m going to have go through in order to get on the right path for this to work. I have to set up a work space and allocate the time I’m going to give to this, whether it be small chunks on weeknights or an extended period once a week on a Saturday or Sunday. I have to do an inventory of the resources I currently have, work out what I need to buy to fill out the rest of my requirements and start looking at the financial options I have to acquire them. I need to start looking for guides and mentors who’ve done this before who are going to be able to help me. I need to start plotting out the format, the progression of thoughts and phases of development. I need to see if I can actually turn this into some kind of business plan, but even if I can, that’s a long way off.

These are all things I’m not used to, and I’ve never really done before. Until now, I’ve always flown by the seat of my pants. I’m trying to totally change the way I work through things, and it’s a shift that I have to make in order to get this thing to work in the way I want and need it to.

My mum has always been keen on planning-related sayings. Fail to plan and you plan to fail. Proper planning prevents poor performance. She’s rattled them off to me a bunch of times, but it’s only now that I’m in enough of a career rut that I’m really starting to see just how important it is sometimes to get past just planning a day or a short term project with a deadline that finishes once it’s completed. For the first time in a long time, I’ve started thinking about longer term goals and how I’m going to reach them. This is me starting to play the long game, with 6 month and 12 month and 5 year goals and all that other stuff that I have always thought to be a pile of wank. Unlike back in high school, when the decision had to be made swiftly and securely, I now know myself well enough to understand what those goals are, how realistic they are and just how I can go about achieving them. I have more knowledge, more contacts and more resources than ever before, and now if the time to use them.

It’s new and it’s scary, and I’m almost inevitably going to fuck it up. But planning is not only necessary to the execution of this idea, it’s one of the core concepts behind it. I’m making a new adventure for myself, but this time I’m not just running blindly into the woods in the hope that I’ll find the things I’m looking for just by flailing around.

For the first time, I’m leaving home with a map. It won’t be perfect, and I’m sure I’ll fall off the trail from time to time, but the idea of being my own personal cartographer is intriguing and challenging and just what I need right now.

I can’t wait to see where it takes me.

*****

It’s taken almost a year for me to get there, but this blog post marks the end of my contributions to Alexandra Neill’s Blog Carnival collaboration project. THEY SAID IT WOULD NEVER HAPPEN. (“They” = me.)

If you want a refresher on what Blog Carnival was, this is where you need to click your mouse.

Siren Songs

Image: zen Sutherland.
Image: zen Sutherland.

I live about a block and a half from a fire station. Because we’re on a relatively busy road (not the main drag, but a street many people take to avoid it), we also get a lot of other emergency vehicles going past on the way to events elsewhere in the Inner North.

The sirens are nowhere near constant, but they aren’t entirely irregular either. They don’t wake me up when they go off at night, and they’re almost always still novel, and kind of reassuring, even after living in this house for almost 2 years. I don’t know any people who drive them, and I can’t quite tell which sound belongs to which vehicle from which service (although I am getting better at picking it). Yet strangely, they feel like home now.

Where I am currently living is as close to city living as I have ever been. I’m about to get even closer, moving into a flat closer to the CBD and the main thoroughfare in a matter of weeks.

As time ticks away to my move, I begin to wonder: am I a city person now?

I don’t think I am. I still crave being able to look up and see the stars without the glare of millions of streetlights. I still find comfort in the green paddocks that separate Canberra’s haphazard patchwork of suburbs, and I don’t mind that the middle of town doesn’t seem to have any buildings higher than about ten storeys.

But then I hear the sirens. I hear the rumbling of cars going down the avenue out the front of my house. I see the planes humming as they come into the airport. I hear the fireworks from the lake. I wander the streets and find little nooks and alleyways I hadn’t noticed before. I hear my heels clop on Civic’s tiles; I feel the cobblestones of Manuka’s back streets through the thin soles of my flats. I wander into familiar pubs and don’t see a single face I know beyond the bar staff. I taste new things. I hear new things. I read and talk and find places to hide from those whose opinions I find distasteful. I find new people when I cannot find a place to hide. I have discovered so much here, and I have found so much of myself in its grey and in its colour.

But Canberra is a safe city. Its enclaves and cliques, once infiltrated, are warm and comfortable and safe. I want to foster what I have here, but I don’t want to put down roots.

Not yet.

I want to hear more sirens. I want to hear the way the police come to your aid in other countries, the sound of panic in so many languages. I want to listen to hear if the sound of car wheels on asphalt is different in other climates, on different kinds of road.

When I go Home to visit my family, I notice the silence left by the lack of sirens. I wasn’t in this house when my parents lived on acreage, so I can’t compare that silence with the quiet they still have now they live in town. There, the only real noise is the screaming matches the neighbours engage in on a semi-regular basis, but even that can be blocked out with their fancy new roller shutters. It seems strange to be locked in by an invention made for the city in a town of just over 30,000 people.

The quiet of Home doesn’t help me sleep. I miss the drone of occasional traffic. The silence unnerves me now. It reminds me of how I want to run. It makes me want to run back to my City With The Man-Made Lake.

But I’m here now. So why am I thinking of running again, but to somewhere even grander?

I wonder if a bigger city would lull me into the land of slumber better than where I am now. More trains, more cars, more planes, more sirens. Would it be my lullaby, or the soundtrack to newfound insomnia?

I wonder when I’ll find out. I wonder how long I’ll live with it.

I know I will come back here eventually. Back to where the occasional sirens mark my safety. I will always come back to this city I have come to love.

But right now I want to chase the engine to the fire, so that I can throw my soul in and send it flying with the embers, up into the night.

Charting Success – Blog Carnival 2014

From "Before I Die".
From “Before I Die”.

I’ve been trying to work out how to write this blog entry for months. Literally, months. It seems like a simple enough premise: write about something I’m good at.

It should be simple, but it’s actually really bloody hard, for a number of reasons.

The first is that I am enough of a self-doubter that I initially couldn’t think of anything that I was good at that wasn’t actually a negative trait. I’m very good at procrastinating. I’m really good at forgetting things. My ability to make a mess is really, really impressive. These are all (not necessarily) secret talents of mine, but none of them are things I want to crow about from the rooftops.

The next thought I had was just to ask someone what I’m good at, but that felt like false modesty. I should know what I’m good at! I shouldn’t need someone to tell me, and even if I do, it would sound like I was fishing for praise if I was to ask. So that was quickly ruled out.

Finally, I saw down and scribbled down dot points about things people had complimented me on lately. None of them were particularly grand, and none of them were really anything I felt I could wring a sizable amount of words out of. So, I just left it and tried to ignore the fact that despite my best intentions, I was still stuck on this one topic. So close, yet so far.

In the end, I gave up on writing about something I was good at. Instead, I just drew a brainstorming chart and decided to let that do the talking.

IMG_0670

 

In conclusion: I appear to be good at writing about not being able to write about being good at something, and brainstorming charts.

 

tumblr_mbjfbwVzvW1rbavngo1_500

The End.

*****

This blog is the latest in a series of really, really late additions to Alexandra Neill’s Blog Carnival collaboration project. And by god, I’m going to get them all done eventually, mark my words.

While you’re waiting on the next installment, why not read what some other (more timely) folks had to say on the matter:

If you want a refresher on how Blog Carnival works: this is where you need to click your mouse.

In Which She Has The Confrontation Before It Happens

Click for source.

 

The following is a letter to an unknown subject, and a conversation that is yet to happen.

*****

Why do you keep doing it? Why do you have to share all our secrets with the internet?

I don’t have a satisfactory answer for him/her/them, but I don’t have a satisfactory mind for fiction at the moment, either. All I have right now are memories. So many of them are ripe for retelling, reworking and reinterpreting. There is nobody else living in my head right now, so I only have my own stories to fall back on.

You don’t have to tell everyone everything. You don’t have to write something every day.

Oh, on the contrary. I’ve let myself lie idle for far too long. I need to practice everyday if I can. I need to experiment with form and the way I think about stories, and oil the cogs so they can start turning more easily, all so I can get back to trying to tell the stories pulled from the lives of other characters, rather than being stuck in my own musings.

I don’t need to publish, certainly. But I do need feedback. I need criticism. I need advice and guidance. I’m not going to get that by keeping it all to myself, or by keeping it to those who think I’m already doing well.

Strangely, it’s a lot less confronting throwing it into the online ether than finding a one-on-one mentor. That said, I probably need one of those more than anything else. Until I find one and the courage to ask them, I will simply continue to practice in the public space. I am sure it will open more doors than it closes.

I don’t want to get caught in truncated, unstructured, rambling memoirs, but that’s where I am and I’m running with it. You work with what you’ve got, and these memories are what I have.

Can’t you write non-fiction about other things? You could write about politics, or famous people, or music! You’ve done it before. Why does it have to be about us/your family/your friends/yourself?

I will, and soon. But those things take time, research, resources, passion, and more. Again, my supplies are limited, but I’m trekking towards solutions for most of them. Baby steps, baby. Itty bitty baby steps.

And anyway, nobody even knows it’s you. Nobody knows how many lies are interwoven with my truth. You gave me these moments and I gave you fair warning that they would visit us again from time to time. And here they are.

I know that some will hurt, but maybe some will heal. Perhaps there will be a new peace now that it’s all been pulled apart and laid out like bike parts on the pavement. Maybe you’ll learn something. Maybe I will.

Don’t worry, baby. Don’t let it cloud your thoughts. Let it darken your opinion of me, if that’s what you want, but don’t fret about the marks on your screen. Nobody is paying attention.

Through it all, remember this: it’s just a phase. It will pass and soon I won’t need you to fuel my musings any more. There’s a box of letters under my bed, and that is where I’ll put you, along with all those other wonders, and once you’re there I promise I’ll never share you with strangers again.