Tuesday, March 11, 2014
As I mentioned last week, I submitted a revised draft of my novel to a publisher last week. If I'm going to be honest, I had not looked at it since finishing the first draft in last May (before we left for the US), despite receiving some really positive and useful feedback on it.
When I saw that there was an opportunity to submit it as part of a call for unsolicited manuscripts in exactly the genre I've been writing -- and that I met all the other criteria -- I knew I couldn't let the opportunity pass. Then there was also the home truth that the deadline fell exactly ten days before my baby's due date... after which time, it was very unlikely I'd look at it again for a long time.
So, after ticking off practically everything else on my To Do list (e.g. prepare nursery, organise little un's birthday parties/presents, pack suitcase for hospital), I set aside a week to polish my manuscript.
I don't really know what I was expecting but, in the final analysis, there wasn't an extreme amount of work involved. I added a whole new chapter to the beginning and tweaked some of the details for consistency and wrote a synopsis as required. The latter was probably the bit that hurt the most.
I did find myself stumped, however, on how to liven up the middle of the story. It felt like it "slumped" a little -- a concern echoed by both of my expert readers -- and the protagonist (not unlike me) was floundering in absence of more concrete clues as to what he was supposed to be doing.
I sat at my computer but nothing came to me. The clock was ticking. I really did want to submit the best manuscript possible. Dammit, what was I supposed to do?
[Insert all sorts of unhelpful comments from my inner critic here.]
Then it occurred to me. What if I intuitively knew the answer to my conundrum but by trying to force it was just getting in my own way?
What if I could just sink into the question and see what answer arose? For example, what if I asked myself what the story needed just before I went to bed that night and see what my dreams yielded?
In the end, I decided to try something a little radical (and more than a little "woo woo"). I had recently purchased a new tarot deck, inspired by some lovely readings shared by my friend Cathy. What if I consulted the tarot? After all, the Motherpeace deck is based on ancient motifs from traditional tales, not unlike some of the themes in my novel.
I took some deep breaths, focused and asked -- lovingly, respectfully -- what the story needed.
At first, it seemed to be that the cards wanted to tell me some stuff about what I needed in my life, beyond my writing conundrum. For a deck known for its gentle message, these messages were something of a kick in the pants, it's fair to say.
But they also told a story that totally fit with the scene I wanted to rewrite. They showed me a way of imparting some new information to my protagonist in a way that was exciting, original and more than a little bit frightening.
I went with it. And it worked.
I think I may be using this method for some time to come! And I reckon I'd recommend it for anyone who is stuck in the midst of a creative conundrum.
In fact, I'd even go as far as to say, if you ever find yourself in this sort of situation email me (my email address can be found in the "contact me" tab). I'd be happy to draw some cards for you.
You just never know: you may find the novel ending you've been waiting for!
Sunday, March 9, 2014
I wish I were a greater photographer so I could do this beauty justice. Because the truth is, I am seriously in love with this cocktail cart! But, as with so many of my object attachments, it kinda has not much to do with the cart per se (even though it is a beauty).
Indulge me for a moment.
It's no great secret that I am a sucker for Danish Modern. It's also a well known fact that I love trawling through exquisite coffee table books, pretty blogs and quirky instagrams to brighten my day with tiny snippets of visual beauty. (It's a good thing I'm not on Pinterest, methinks. I'd not get a single other thing done ever.)
One of my favourite pretty blogs to read is A Beautiful Mess. Other than being continually gobsmacked by how hard this team works and how clever they are to keep finding amazing DIY projects to post, I love the cocktail recipes they are constantly inventing.
Maybe it's the nine months of abstinence and the thought of a few more due to breastfeeding (although try and stop me from having a few sips from the bottle of Moët currently chilling in our fridge to celebrate our bambino's arrival!). But I've really missed coming home or going out and relaxing with a few drinks and good conversation.
And over the past few months, I've been thinking, nay obsessing, about owning a cocktail cart.
It felt like the luckiest day ever when my husband found one online that had just arrived at a local purveyor of Scandinavian furniture, a mere five minutes' drive from our home and small/light enough for me to collect in my car. That same day, it was mine!
But I don't think it's about the cart so much. It might not even be about the alcohol.
In truth, I want to create a ritual. Say, for example, a Friday night. Like a date night for me and my husband (and perhaps/occasionally a friend). Once the littlies are safely settled in bed, the chance to sit back, relax, play some music, sip something delicious, maybe munch a few cute canapés, light the fire if it's cold enough and generally ease into the weekend.
I haven't been able to let this idea go. I think it's partly an acknowledgement of how busy our lives are about to become and how a lot of our interaction in the household is about to become pedestrian, domestically-focused and transactional.
I love the idea of carving out a little space for a pair of tired adults to enjoy just being together and remember what we enjoyed about each other's company in the first place (which always tends to happen on our date nights). I also like the idea of going to a bit of effort for this, getting new ingredients and trying out a new recipe, maybe even dressing up a little.
At the end of the day, we're just talking about a couple of drinks. And sure, I could have scheduled in a weekly date night with a cheap bottle of plonk, with no cocktail cart purchase required.
But somehow, going to a bit of effort helps it feels more than a little sacred.
Friday, March 7, 2014
What I want to say
Well, I was playing, see
in the shadow of the tabernacle.
I was decorating mud pies
with little brown balls
I found scattered on the ground
like nuts, or berries.
Until some big boy came walking by
and laughed, "Hey,
don't you know you're puttin' goat doo
on your mud pies? I bet
you're gonna eat 'em, too!"
That day, I made a major error
in my creative life.
What I want to say is this:
I liked those little balls
on my mud pies. I was a sculptor,
an artist, an architect. I was
making pure design in space and time.
But I quit
because a critic came along
and called it shit.
How the Light Gets In:
Writing as a Spiritual Practice
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
As I stand on the precipice of a whole new life, I notice that a whole lot of old stories are holding me in their thrall.
They go something like this:
If you want something done properly, you have no choice but to do it yourself.
If you want a thousand things done properly (and let's face it: you do, every day), you'd better just suck it up and get on with it, no matter how exhausted you are.
People who tell you that you really should be resting and that there's no point trying to be a "superwoman" are well-meaning but frankly don't know a thing. Because basically, there's no time to rest and actually you DO need to be a superwoman if you're going to keep all those balls up in the air.
Some folk will always find a way to let you down.
Shut down. Shut out. You're angry and there's not much point, so just clam up and get on with it already.
I see that there's not a lot of joy to be had in these stories. I also see that shutting down and shutting out leaves no room for any form of joy to be savoured at all.
And they don't leave a whole lot of room for other people and the contributions they are able to make.
But mostly, these stories reinforce the ancient attitudes that I am on my own.
One of the things that I regret from the time when my daughter was born was that I don't remember just sitting down and holding her a whole lot. I just recall running like a Very Busy Person, making up errands, trying to do the right thing by everyone else and trying to be the Perfect Mum. It was five years ago and it was a foggy, intense time so the "truth" has been buried in the sands of time... and by that, I mean that I probably did sit and just savour my beautiful baby more than I remember doing.
My therapist and I agreed, many years later, that my ability to sit still and enjoy my baby would have required a great deal more support than I actually received at the time. In preparing for this baby, I have tried to open up to greater levels of support whilst setting boundaries that honour my comfort levels with this.
Perhaps all these old stories just come with the turf: I've done all I can and I've done my best but now I don't have a choice but to go with whatever happens. And part of that is probably a bit of healthy anxiety.
Whatever the case, I want to thank those old stories for trying to protect me from disappointment and spurring me on to do my best for my family.
But, sincerely, I see that it's time to let them go.
Sunday, March 2, 2014
This week, I have been grateful for:
1. Hosting no fewer than three birthday parties to celebrate my daughter turning fine: one with her friends, one with my family and one with my husband's. I'm so glad we're continuing the tradition of multiple celebrations, even though it was pretty exhausting this time around. It was also the first time we'd hosted a party for her friends and there were a few constraints that had to be handled delicately (e.g. no provision for younger siblings to tag along, limited numbers of adults permitted to attend without incurring extra costs, potential postponement if inclement weather). But everything went very smoothly, everyone was very understanding, the weather was perfect and -- the main thing -- my daughter had a brilliant time.
2. Submitting my manuscript! This was a huge milestone for me and one that I would not have reached had it not been for the deadline set for unsolicited manuscripts (despite having a more obvious deadline next week! Did I ever tell you the one about how my sister submitted my doctoral thesis for me while I was in labour with my daughter? And I am not usually a last-minuter as a rule...). I am so grateful for the opportunity, regardless of what does(n't) happen. And thank goodness I picked up that I'd spelt the heading on my Synopsis page "synposis" just before pressing send.
3. This great article on opportunities for unpublished writers in the Australian publishing. It was written by a lass I went to college with who is now a highly successful journalist and has a novel coming out later this year. As an emerging writer, I would like to add that opportunities to submit unsolicited manuscripts do not necessarily signal cause for unwarranted optimism but can be provide excellent motivation to keep going.
4. Beck's new album Morning Phase. Sasha Frere-Jones, reviewing for The New Yorker, described it thusly:
After listening to 'Morning Phase' almost fifty times, I can't find a single thing wrong with it. Even if you listen to popular music all day, every day, you don't get many albums like this in your lifetime. The relationship between the musician and the listener here is as simple as the outcome is intense: only the artist knows exactly how such an album is made, but only the audience can verify that it is perfect.
I don't know that I'd go that far. But it is a beautiful album. Beck's work has been pretty eclectic over the years but I reckon if you liked Sea Change, you'll love this one.
5. This beautiful blog post from my friend Brandee. I love the way she describes an experience that, she later remarked on twitter, was one of the best things that has ever happened to her. It was an absolute privilege to be a part of. All props to Jennifer, who instigated the whole thing (she's a good egg, that one!).
6. Having four lovely colleagues come and meet me for lunch during the week. Lots of belly laughs and gentle gossip and friendly ribbing and earnest conversation. I feel so blessed to work with a small number of truly superlative human beings... who genuinely care about me.
7. Discovering Bettie Sue bathers (via Clementine Ford). These are totally and utterly delicious and I am so getting myself a pair... of Darlas... once I have the opportunity to measure myself sans bump. And speaking of fabulousness in bathers, did you see this beautiful selfie that Vivienne McMaster took of herself this week? I am so in awe of that girl. By shining a light so bravely on herself, she truly illuminates the way for us all. Love.
8. This fantastic article from the inimitable Martha Beck. A resting revolution is what we all need, methinks. I could give birth any second and I still suck at taking it easy. Sigh.
9. Ticking off more and more items off the To Do list. Finding that everything is getting a lot harder due to a couple of last-minute growth spurts on the part of the little dude. But, somehow, things are not too overwhelming, emotionally. I feel like my space is being very well respected but also that I am well supported by my nearest and dearest, particularly when it comes to practical matters. I have so much gratitude to my husband, especially for handling most of the cooking in the evenings, and my daughter for doing her best to understand why I am less available for her than usual.
10. My gorgeous little one-month-old niece started smiling this week! Above is a picture of her in her best party dress at my daughter's birthday, absolutely mesmerised by my husband. (The photo was taken with my Dad's camera phone and unfortunately the quality is not the best, but you get the idea.) Happy times.
What have you been grateful for this week?
Thursday, February 27, 2014
Take care [...] not to label today's events as "problems". Solve them as puzzles that are there to teach and enlighten you. Kindly dismiss your expectations about the terrible things that might result if these things never happen.
Recognise that what you see as a negative outcome may in fact be an incentive to Imagine even more beautiful things. Put your favourite pastime next to your puzzling situation and ask yourself, How is this like that? Toss a thousand random facts into your brain and head outside for a rambling walk, letting your right hemisphere create a Eureka moment.
Not everything you Imagine today will appear in the world of Form, but by Imagining what could go right, you begin bringing fortuitous circumstances, new friends, and good fortune across the bridge from the Everywhen to the physical world.
And these days there are fewer limits than ever on the power of each individual to create an Imagined outcome.
As Arthur C. Clarke said, "The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible." With the technological magic and unprecedented cross-fertilization of ideas on Earth right now, it takes a limitless Imagination to even picture the impossible.
Picture it anyway.
Finding Your Way in a Wild New World:
Reclaim Your True Nature to Create the Life You Want
I can't begin to tell you how much I love this. Like most of my favourite writing, it feels like it was written just for me. Or, maybe more accurately, that I came across it at exactly the right time.
I can't help but have a gentle chuckle at my own expense these days. My favourite neuroticisms have been in full flight. I see that this is because I am on the cusp of a new chapter of my life, one where are there will doubtless be many joys but also many challenges and most of them -- whilst familiar -- are unknowable at this point. I see that this makes me want to control every event that happens around me, including what others might do or say or think.
I see that this is pointless. I see that I don't really have control over any of this. As RuPaul famously said, "What other people think of me is none of my GD business."
And the truth is, by assuming the worst, the damage is already done. It doesn't matter if that person never does or says that thing that I am most fearing: by anticipating it and obsessing over it, I am already feeling the wound. I am inflicting it on myself. The irony of this is not lost on me.
I want to tattoo Dr Beck's words on my arms, so I can refer to them like an exam cheat.
Why not imagine the best possible scenario? The most glorious outcome ever?
The other night, I was putting my daughter to bed and she offered me the opportunity to kiss her plush puppy. She said the puppy granted wishes. I'd been fuming with frustration all evening because I'd managed to get myself locked out of the email account associated with my domain name. I couldn't, for the life of me, recall the password I'd set up for the account and I despaired of getting any assistance from Google with respect to a reset.
I shrugged. What did I have to lose? I kissed the puppy and asked him very nicely for help in getting my email to work. Half an hour later I got a call from Google Customer Service in Ireland. A very softly spoken and patient chap called John talked me through the resetting of my password, asked me if there was anything else he could help with, then emailed me a ticket number in the event I needed his assistance again.
Maybe I was aiming a bit small with a password reset. (Although anyone who has every tried to get help from a behemoth such as Google will attest that assistance from an actual person that actually resolves the problem is rarer than sighting a unicorn.) But somehow it was evidence enough for me.
This shit works.
Time to try it out. For reals.
Monday, February 24, 2014
I recently participated in an email chain letter type thingy called an "inspirational exchange". I am not usually a fan of this sort of thing as a rule -- and feel very hesitant to impose on my friends -- but thought I'd give this one a whirl, seeing as it came from one of my favourite people.
The logistics of the "exchange" were a little convoluted (particularly for this baby brain) but the basic requirement was to email a few words of inspiration of encouragement to the person at the top of the list.
I sent my favourite Rumi poem.
After a few days, the following quotes arrived in my in-box from three women I don't know. Their timing was impeccable and their message profound, so I thought I'd share them here:
Take the attitude that what you're thinking and feeling is valuable stuff.
Before something great happens, everything falls apart.
Treat every person with kindness and respect - not because of who they are but who YOU are.
A fun way to receive the truth, no?