Musing on notes and things

notes

I’ve always been interested in different ways people take notes, save notes, retrieve notes, and synthesise notes into their daily, er, practice. (OK, that sounds wanky, though “daily life” sounds just as bad.) I am a particularly awful note-taker, with my scribblings taking the form of various notebooks, diaries, small notepads (field notes), index cards, and now a loose-leaf binder in which I’m attempting to bring together all of my random “writing notes” in the hope that I can file them away in a box somewhere and forget they all exist. There’s also my reading notes (on paper, via kindle notes, and also via intstapaper notes), most of which wind up being shuttled off into Evernote, which I do actually review from time to time.

Needless to say, I’m a bit overwhelmed by it all. And I’m not convinced that it’s necessary, or that Evernote really is the best place for it all to go.

The index cards are a bit of an anachronism, really. I love writing on them, and flicking through the stack, but I’ve never put them into the “chaotic practice” I always envisaged for them, ie throwing them all up in the air to see if strange combinations result. I write all sorts of things on them, but the subjects are all so disjointed and random that I’m not convinced I will be able to form any connections between them. I also spend a lot of time, apparently, pondering note-taking, and index cards, which isn’t really useful for much apart from generating more index cards.

At one stage I transferred them all to nvAlt, which is great in that you can create links between entries there. I do love the ease in which you can link notes in that app. But, again, without a master index (or something similar) I feel like too much time is really wasted (is it wasted? I guess you could argue it’s not, the filtering) just flicking around wondering where everything is. (Although nvAlt has a great search, which makes it somewhat more useful than the index cards, for me.)

Potentially they could be useful to me in a more directed way – ie just as a fiction repository (ahem, dumping ground) where it would make sense to periodically throw cards around and see where they fall. I’d also be able to leave out the indexing (currently YYDDMM-HHMM), as why would it matter?

Maybe the indexing could use revamping, to something more like a pure zettelkasten, with subject forks and, again, some sort of master topic index.

As I said earlier, I probably spend too much time thinking about this.

A digital format is also problematic, in many ways. I’m not convinced I like tagging things, but I’m also not convinced I enjoy many different “buckets” for my notes. Recently I consolidated all of my Evernote notes into just one notebook, when it got to the point that I was spending too much time thinking about which notebooks to file notes in. The result is many tags, which also requires maintenance (checking which tags have no notes, or which can be consolidated, split off, searching for notes with no tags, and the like).

It’s all more work than I really want to be putting into all of this information. I feel like I need a degree in library science just to organise all of my thoughts and notes at the moment, and I wish I had an answer, or a report I could give you to sum up my learnings, and perhaps make some recommendations.

Some observations, however:

  1. Having one repository (or fewer repositories) is better than having a large number.
  2. I like the concept of randomness more than having everything totally locked-down.
  3. I like the idea of being able to link different things together, as they suit me.
  4. I like being able to write down quick notes with a pen and paper.
  5. Regular reviewing of notes seems to be essential, as otherwise you can get just as swamped with your own information as you can with information from other sources.

I guess that’s as good as I can hope for, at the moment.

That said, I have recently downloaded a few new apps that I intend to bring in to my, er, practice, and see how they go. One is the possibly-not-still-in-production, but still very cool SlipBox, which I’ve always been quite interested in, but never really knew how to use.

The other is Day One (2), which I’ve had on the iPhone for several years, and which has been great for capturing snippets about my daughter as she’s grown up. I think I’d like to use the multiple journals feature to set up another one for me to talk about my readings and thinking, piecing things together. Maybe it would be a good fit for my writing journal too (which I use to agonise over the progress of various writing projects), but we’ll just have to see how that goes.

edit to add:

Oh, I knew there was something else! I’ve also finally managed to get wikidpad installed on the mac. Maybe a personal wiki is more what I’m looking for. I’ve tried out a few different ones (TiddlyWiki, among others) but I want something that’s fast, with little clicking about (i.e. text-based, and local). Wikidpad looks like it might tick those boxes, so fingers crossed it turns out to be a winner.)

 

Kaikoura

DSCF2877Last weekend we had a great trip across on the ferry to the South Island. After stretching our legs at the playground in Picton, we rented a really crappy car and drove to Kaikoura!

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I was pretty crook the whole time (in fact, I still am – my sinuses are killing me tonight), so I got to sleep on the sofa bed, while Leila and Steve slept in the bedroom. (Seems so unfair, and yet, I didn’t have to contend with a wriggling small person during the night…)

We stayed in South Bay, in a wee bach we booked through bookabach.co.nz. Everything everywhere is set up for fishing, or diving, or swimming with dolphins or whale-watching. It isn’t fancy, but it’s rugged and interesting, and really, really friendly.

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Best part of the trip? Walking 10 minutes into the bush to see a baby seal nursery at the foot of an incredible waterfall, where tourists and locals alike stood and gaped at what must have been thirty baby seals, all rolling and frolicking and chasing one another.
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It was pretty tough driving back up to Picton on Monday, and even harder trying to get back into the swing of things on Tuesday.

It’s been quite a long time since we’ve had any real holiday, so even a long weekend has been amazing. Leila was a great traveller, and we keep kicking ourselves about how easy it really is to just hop on the ferry and head south. The traffic in the South Island is so light, it’s just a pleasure to drive around and look at amazing scenery. Compare to the nightmare it is in Wellington to head north over any holiday period!

I chose not to bring my laptop down with me, and it was great to just read and write in my diary in the evenings after Moo had gone down. I finished Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death, which was fantastic. Brutal African speculative fiction. Amazing. Next up is finishing Tanith Lee’s Night’s Master (also incredible), and the copy of Neil Gaiman’s Odd and the Frost Giants that I picked up yesterday at the library.

On being a diarist in the digital age

I was hoping I would be able to find more about being a diarist, when I googled it just now. After all, this is the internet we’re talking about here. There should be everything about everything. But strangely, all I can find are links to pages about keeping medical patient diaries, webster-merriam definitions of “diarist”, and various articles all about Michael Palin and his diary habit.

Nothing about, you know, regular people who write to themselves all the time. And usually in notebooks. Is that strange? Or has the word ‘diary’ suddenly become rather old-fashioned? ‘Journal’ still seems to hold relevance, and ‘logs’ and ‘logging’ are appropriately common to their digital medium. People talk about commonplace books and bullet journals and all the other systems that help us GTD, but the good-old diary doesn’t seem to get a look-in.

Once considered an honourable, even distinguished pasttime, being a diarist in a pre-computer age had a certain cachet, didn’t it? You had your Pepys, your Wordsworth (Dorothy, not William; and she was known for writing about her brother, but oh well), even your Marcus Aurelius. Anne Frank. Harriet the Spy. Even bloody Adrian Mole. (And let’s not forget Anaïs Nin.) Well-worn books, secreted away. Confided in. Confessed to.

It’s really not like that now, is it. We plaster our faces on blogs, register our domain names (of our actual names), set up newsletters so we can further inundate a mysterious reader with every last detail of our so-very-important lives. It’s like Proust on steriods. Everything’s about the sale these days. Commodification of our inner selves. As long as we can monetize it, and generate “passive revenue stream,” it’s all good. We are our ultimate product. (Baudrillard, anyone?)

I really hate that part of our digitised culture.

When I was a kid, I was totally obsessed with my diary, to the point where I was always trying to foist the habit off on to other people. I think I would even go so far as to make little blank books and give them to my sister. I definitely remember buying my mum a blank journal for her birthday one year (she never used it, as far as I know). My ultimate birthday or christmas present? A blank book.

My first diary was one that mum brought back for me after she and dad went away on some work trip to Reno. I still have it downstairs in my crocodile-skinned (possibly fake? but who knows. It was my grandmother’s) suitcase where all my old diaries live these days. Purple, with Little Twin Stars (by Sanrio) theme. Most importantly it had a lock, which gave me an incredible sense of freedom. Even though what most of what I wrote was, well, kid stuff, there is still some pretty personal stuff in there. I was seven.

I can’t say I’ve ever been the most reliable of diarists. This is my output over the last ten years, by example:

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(Yes, those are Frozen stickers on top of the most recent one. They were snaffled from my child, Devo excepting.)

As I got older I always felt myself writing for “someone.” Often I imagined reading aloud to a current boyfriend, or daydreamed about unknown children or grandchildren discovering certain truths about their grandmother. These days I often write directly to my daughter, knowing that one day she’ll probably pick one up and have a browse.

But that aside, I don’t think I’ve ever let those imaginary someones censor the way I write in my journals; and there’s some fascinating things in there, especially now I’ve started putting in an index in the back of each one:

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One day, who knows, I may look at creating some sort of ‘master index’ that I can use to reference and look back on the times in my life. Totally egocentric? Who knows. Possibly. But at least I’ll be the only one to criticise.

It’s definitely an ongoing process though, I’ve found. The Moleskine mania that siezed the planet also exerted its hold on me, though I’ve got to say I’m pretty underwhelmed with the limited pens I’m able to use when I write these days. I’m considering trying out some new ones, but I do like how the current gang of four look on the shelf.

And strangely, I’ve never found that writing in a paper diary has ever felt constrained by or in competition with my regular blog (one that is threatening to become as everlasting as my diary habit, now I’m up to thirteen or so years, plus the several years I wrote at diary-x, until the administrators of which confessed to us users that they had NO BACKUPS for all of the data they’d managed to lose).

I still have no idea what all of this is for. Posterity, perhaps, or a strange internal conversation that has been going on for most of my life. I think it would be difficult for me now to not have a diary, in some shape or form, in my life. I think it’s why I write, generally. Why I am drawn to written narrative so strongly.

If I’m troubled, I turn to my diary. If something momentous happens, it has to go in. (Twenty-plus pages on the actual birth of my daughter, something I would never subject anyone to, online.) Ranting about work, family, rather than chewing my husband’s ear off. (No fear of saying too much about an employer or irritating work colleague.) Travel. Ideas for stories. Dreams. Quotes.

And, possibly also strangely, they have, over the years, accreted to the point where I feel like they are a significant part of who I am. A reflection of me. Who I was. Who I am today. Thoughts of tomorrow. But also physiologically (?) some sort of build-up. A by-product of my existence. Like phlegm, or sleep-crust in the corner of the eye. Analogue, physical, tactile, expression of thought and emotion.

Whimsical. Self-reflective. Self-obsessive. Tangental. But also necessary.

New apps, meditation update, and novel woes

I’ve been trying out a few new things with the new laptop over the past week, having fun exploring but trying not to go overboard! So far I’ve downloaded and really like Ulysses, and now Byword, which both use Markdown. I always struggled in the past with making Markdown work for writing, but Ulysses thankfully has some great exporting options, including making your writing look more like something you’d submit to an editor, rather than a blog post full of marked-up text.

I’m still pretty new to using Markdown, though I’ve got to say I like the sort of writing where I can keep my hands on the keyboard. No faffing too much with styling and the rest, once I manage to figure out the syntax and internalise it.

Not too sure about photos workflow either. Was hoping I could get some iCloud syncing working – seeing as my Dropbox is slowly filling up – but the available free space is pretty meagre with iCloud, and so I’ve still not found a satisfactory online option.

Waiting for the bus
Waiting for the bus

Some people have been talking about Google Photos, but I don’t know. I think I’m all Googled-out, these days.

Meditation’s still going really well. I’m up to 49 days now for my run streak, and according to Headspace I’ve done 90 sessions overall, with a total time of 23 hours. That feels intensely awesome, and I wonder how much of an effect it is all having.

I certainly wasn’t feeling calm this evening, what with the cat meowing 45 minutes early for its dinner, child barking for “peanut butter and jam samwich!” half an hour before her dinner, people from the part time job wanting to chat about software release best-practice, and me trying to think about the tiny bits of spare time I try to carve out during the week.

I’m not complaining. I’m not. I even sat down in a cafe yesterday and wrote for about twenty minutes before I picked up the child from kindy. That felt amazing, though I did realise I now have about five notebooks where I am rabbiting on about the novel. Plus here.

I’m at the point with that where I now positively KNOW that I can’t stand the beginning and am convinced I need to go back and rewrite it. Everyone, everyone says that you need to finish before you go back. And then there are a few who say they edit as they go. I have not done either of these two things, and as a result I have a big, fat, mess of a novel slobbing all over my laptop, driving me to take refuge in notebooks where I write things like

She would never do something like that! This is not what I wanted to write about when I started this whole thing!

and so on.

Threads for characters, back story for bloody everything and everyone, giants that should be on the rampage but who instead just want to sit around and talk.

Seriously, my organisational skills with this thing suck big-time. I’d give either of the two lower appendages for the chance to mind-meld with a mentor (whoops, almost wrote mind-melt there) and just have someone looking over my shoulder going, “you know, it’s ok if you want to go back and throw all that stuff out now,” or “don’t you dare, keep going!” Someone who could, with x-ray eyes, look into the novel and go “there’s your story,” and point to something else and go “chuck it.” I seem completly incapable of anything resembling rational, editorial thought.

I’m just going to go with it. Save it for the re-write. It hurts my brain too much right now to think about the edit. For now, first-draft completion: ho!

New goodies

Apologies for the weird media mosaic above but I’ve only just realised wordpress lets you do strange things with your photos. Circles, anyone?

Ahem.

I had a bit of an exciting few weeks on Trade Me, New Zealand’s online trading site. Since I’ve started back doing a few hours of contract work every week I’ve secretly been pining after a couple of things, despite my honourable intent to first pay off my credit card (that crept up during my period of maternal unemployment).

Admittedly the spinning wheel wasn’t one of them, though after my mother-in-law said she was interested in having a spin (my Ashford wheel was originally hers), my mind started racing. I could get myself a new wheel! But after doing some research, I decided I wasn’t keen on getting another Ashford, nor did I really like the look of the Majacrafts (though apparently they are dreamy to spin with).

My brain seized upon the Louët. Cool, Dutch, and totally different to my traditional wheel. But not many of them in NZ (and the closest sellers are in Australia). Plus a price tag in the vicinity of $1,000. I’d pretty much resigned myself to a period of saving for the rest of the year (saving up for the wheel, plus a replacement laptop for the one that’s starting to get pretty creaky), when I spotted this one on Trade Me. Starting price…$70!

I wound up paying $230, after the auction had run its course, but compared to the cost of a new one, I reckon I’ve scored big time. After putting it all together (everything breaks down to make for quite a small parcel), the wheel spun smoothly, and with the exception of the footman that seemed to slip off too frequently, everything seemed good. Louët sell spare parts online, so I had braced myself to buy a new footman assembly and actual footman (the bit that connects the pedal to the wheel), but after a day or so found if I peddled with my foot slightly off the pedal everything stayed together!

So already I’m getting used to the new wheel’s quirks and personality. I’ve abandoned the idea of the new footman and am just sticking with my quirky wheel.

After that I got a sort of secondhand mania – why not look for a replacement laptop as well? (There’s a certain buzz – I think I’m still riding – when you get something you want for much less that you’d anticipated.) I spotted one that looked great – 4 years old, 500 GB drive, a 1 month warranty, battery life pretty good (300 cycles, which I know is what Apple says is the beginning of the end, but for a secondhand one apparently it’s acceptable), running El Capitan (key!), an i7 quad core with 15 inch screen.

It was going for a bit more than I could afford, so I saved it to my wish list and then forgot about it. Then it didn’t sell and the seller made a fixed-price offer of $899 NZ. I did a bit more research, looked at the seller’s feedback and other listings (he looked to be a bit of an Apple guy, with lots of people saying he was good at honouring any tweaks or fixes if they had problems), and decided to go for it.

I did a fresh install and set up the new accounts, ran hardware and battery diagnostics and the rest, and I’m happy to say that things are feeling pretty good in computerland here!

There’s enough that’s different to make exploring and using the computer a really great experience, but enough that’s familiar to make it all a really quick process to get set up and going again.

I did splash out and get myself some new software – Airmail 2 for my mail, and Ulysses for my writing. I’ve still got Scrivener going on here, but I think I want to change it up a little bit. Ulysses feels fresh and clean, and in keeping with the new workspace and computer. It feels less cluttered, which I’m finding does matter for me these days.

So that’s what I’ve been up to over the past few weeks! Spinning and writing (I’ve been editing an old short story that I wrote several years ago, thanks to the encouragement I got from my writing group), and I’m still meditating. Now up to a 38-day streak on Headspace!

Keeping on

The last week has been pretty surreal, I’ve got to say. Even though I think I’m at peace with putting Soots down last Monday, I still find the house feels empty without him, despite the three year old running all over the place! Fat cat Pippi spends most of her days in our bedroom, or upstairs mooching around for scraps (which are not forthcoming, now that the picky eater has passed on). Tink basically lives up at the pool, which is set in to the bush up behind the house.

It’s weird. And weird too, that life seems to be continuing on; part of me is really frustrated that I haven’t had the chance to just wallow in my sadness, but at the same time it’s sort of a relief to be busy and distracted with having to respond to things and keep the house going.

Keep the house going. That feels weird to say too. But I guess that’s me these days, the keep-the-house-going person. (I am not going to say “housewife”.) Keeping things turning over.

I have plans to write a longer piece about pets, and death (oh fun times!), but I’ve also got to try and keep up with the blog a little better than I usually do, plus post a reading over at my tarot blog, edit a short story that’s been stumping me for the past week, and keep up with my new 10 hours per week software testing job.

And juggle my “textile fever” that seems to have hit – probably as a result of Steve’s mum expressing an interest in having a go on the spinning wheel she gave me close to ten years ago. She’s got a really bad hip, and is pretty stuck in her chair these days. She’s booked in for a hip replacement operation, but I can imagine how nice it would be to have a wheel to spin nearby.

But now I’m thinking about the wheel leaving, I suddenly want to use it. Typical. I’ve spun some of the wool (hand-dyed) that I once had up in my Etsy shop. A white merino dotted with orange, blue and green. It’s spun up into some sort of orange creamsicle colour that I can imagine turning into some fingerless gloves. Or perhaps one part of a hodgepodge sweater I’m slowly starting to envisage. Or part of a knitted log cabin blanket.

I’ve also got a quilt to finish tying, and then binding to apply, a sweater to knit (grey, with this really cool geometric cable going up the front and back), washcloths to continue to knit, shirts to finish sewing, books to read…

My life feels like an endless to-do list these days. And that feeling of never catching up, and more and more things piling up on the list, is kind of overwhelming.

I have still kept up with my meditation though, and I’m up to 20 days in a row now. That feels really good. REALLY good. Not just because I’m sticking with something new, but because I love how it makes me feel. I love how it feels when I’m doing it, and love having done it. It gives my days wonderful clarity and focus, even on days when I don’t feel like I get much else done. At least I meditated today, I can say.

Meditation was really helpful on those first few days after Sooty, as well. Just to be able to put my emotions on hold for twenty minutes, was a great relief. To stop re-running the mental movie of his last moments. To stop imagining where he would be if he was still alive. What he’d be doing. To just stop.

Funny how you can feel most grateful for the thing that makes you do less.

Farewell, Mr. Fang

It’s been a really tough few days around here. On Friday, I took my cat Sooty to the vet, because he was starting to look really skinny and frail. He’s getting on, so we thought that he was just ageing, plus he’d had some thyroid issues last year that we thought had been sorted out.

Turns out he had a large tumour in his intestine. The vet suggested I take him home for a weekend of cuddling, but then bring him back on Monday. For the final visit.

I’ve got so much more to say about him – what a great cat he was, how he was seriously so refined and gorgeous – but it’s all a bit too soon. The weekend was just a wash of tears and guilt and a pit in my stomach.

Instead I’ll post a couple of photos of him during happier times. (The tuxedo cat is Pippi, who has since become gargantuan from eating all of his abandoned dinners.)

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Liebster award

liebster-award-nomination

So shiny!

So the very lovely Alicia nominated me for something called a Liebster award. From what I understand it’s a really cool way to pat a web-buddy on the back and say “hey, I like what you do!” And then hopefully spread the love around a bit more. For the record, this is a really cool idea, and I really appreciate the thought that anyone (apart from me, heh) enjoys reading this thing. So thanks!

In order to accept the award though you don’t just get to go “cheers luv,” and be done with it. There are STEPS that must be completed. I don’t mind steps, generally-speaking though there seem to be quite a few involved here. But it’s my first time being nominated for anything like this, so what the hey.

Let me see if I’ve got this:

  1. Thanks the person who nominated you, and link back to their blog. check. (Thanks again, btw!)
  2. Display award banner/icon/badge (spangly! shiny!) check!
  3. Answer 11 questions about you from the person who nominated you. (See below!)
  4. Provide 11 random facts about yourself (see below)
  5. Nominate 5-11 blogs that you feel deserve the award (with fewer than 1,000 followers) (see below!)
  6. Create a new list of questions for your nominated bloggers to answer (ditto).
  7. List these rules in your post. (in progress!)
  8. Let your nominees know about your nominations, and link back to your post!

Questions from Alicia (and my answers):

  1. Favorite Toe: Ummm, maybe my big toes? Gotta say I’m not a fan of my little toes; they curl under and look weird, and the toenail is a little sliver of nothing that’s always awkward to trim.
  2. Mushrooms — Yay or Nay? Yay, but I’m embarrassed to admit that I really only like button mushrooms or those large brown ones. Oh, and ceps. Other, wilder, mushrooms I have some difficulty with. I suspect this may be due to the fact that growing up, my mother was really into mushrooms. She was a member of the local mycological society and used to bring us along on mushroom forays. We’d help identify them, and the fear of imminent death as a result of a mis-identification was always drummed into us. A bit of a psychological can of worms, or something.
  3. Do you judge people? I used to do this more, but I’ve noticed that I notice when other people judge others. Of course you make quick judgements about the guy who cuts you off on the motorway, or other acts of random rudeness, but more than likely they are just people having a bad day. And I know I’ve had plenty of those.
  4. How many clocks are in your place of residence? Two.
  5. Parlez-Vous Français? Un petit peu.
  6. Scars — How many and where? Mostly on my hands – cat scratches and things like that.
  7. Why do you write? Because it’s a compulsion. And this blog has been around so long it has its own momentum and gravity carrying it forward.
  8. Favourite line from a book you’ve read?  Not my favourite of all time (what could that be? the mind boggles) but a recent favourite was this, from H is For Hawk: “It’s all happening at once, the man pulls an enormous, enormous hawk out of the box and in a strange coincidence of world and deed a great flood of sunlight drenches us and everything is brilliance and fury.”
  9. What is beauty to you? Wild, dangerous, fleeting.
  10. Would you consider eating a cricket covered in chocolate? I’d consider it.
  11. {…}?

11 Random things about myself:

  1. I don’t really like jewellery, perfume, and makeup. I go through stages where I’ll buy it, and feel all “grown up” as I put it on, but eventually the habit dwindles and I go back to my usual mode.
  2. I wish I was more stylish than I am. Though I really hate heels with jeans, swingy cardigans with no buttons (random examples of “middle age female fashion”), and tend to favour jeans and t-shirts. Sometimes I still feel like a kid who hasn’t learned to dress itself (see above).
  3. I’m an INFP. This makes me happy.
  4. My grandfather was friends with Humphrey Bogart. They would go hunting together. He left a pair of boots behind at my grandparents’ ranch and my dad used to wear them. We have a painting he gave my grandparents as a wedding present.
  5. They also had several pet cheetahs. There are photographs of my grandmother going grocery shopping with a cheetah on a leash that the local paper took.
  6. My family are all cat maniacs. Going back at least three generations on both sides.
  7. I wish I owned all of the John Bellairs books. I wish I could live inside them.
  8. I’m really bad at housework.
  9. Favourites to play on the piano: Beethoven and Chopin.
  10. When I walk around the neighbourhood I’m always mentally judging which house could barricade itself the best against zombies.
  11. I never used to like Hydrangeas; I thought they looked like “old lady hats.” But recently this has changed and I’m really into them.

My nominated blogs:

I’ve nominated all of these blogs because I think they’re really great! Some are funnier, some more poignant, more heartbreaking – but they are all really well written and have given me a wonderful window into others’ lives. Exactly what I love blogs for. Thank you, everyone, for what you do, and what you share.

https://coffeencardigans.wordpress.com/

http://23thorns.com/

https://wabisabipoet.wordpress.com/

https://jansmitowicz.wordpress.com/

http://fisticuffsandshenanigans.com/

 

My new list of questions:

  1. What are you reading right now?
  2. You have one day with no demands of you. What would do with it?
  3. If your house was on fire (or you had to leave the country in a hurry) – what five things would you take with you?
  4. What’s on your bedside table?
  5. What was your top obsession when you were a kid?
  6. What was your favourite book as a child?
  7. Describe what it’s like where you live in less than six words.
  8. What was the last song you listened to?
  9. Are you a pet person?
  10. What’s your drink of choice?
  11. What’s your favourite piece of clothing?

 

Breakthrough

(warning: semi-coherence follows…)

Tonight: a little breakthrough after feeling stuck. After feeling like I was treading water (so to speak) with two characters stuck inside a tunnel (don’t laugh – oh, go on, go ahead. It does sound ridiculous) and me with no idea of what would happen when they got out.

Finally something just snapped in my brain. Just write a damn outline. Who cares if it’s not what gets written.

And so: index cards. One per 2,000 word scene (totally arbitrary). Turns out I’ve got 22 more scenes to write. Spread across one major and three minor characters. That’s only a handful each. All of a sudden that feeling of “what the hell am I going to write?” has become “oh crap! How am I going to fit it all in?”

Already there are new scenes. New major events. How can this be? Brain, all this time we were sitting around banging futilely on the blank screen (metaphors are out the window now), doing weird Peter Elbow-esque freewriting sessions, going out to sea (that’s his metaphor) and then looking for land, what my brain really wanted were piles of index cards. And only a few of them.

Who knows – maybe it was just The Magnetic Fields playing in the background. The cup of chamomile tea. My tired state. Getting so fed up with the lack of progress that any forward momentum is feeling ok right now.

I just so want to get this done now. And the weird bit? I want to get it done so I can turn around and write it all again, but better.

I think there’s something wrong with me.

And with that, I bid you goodnight.

66 days

I have a morning off today while Steve and the Moo head over to Masterton. I had an uninterrupted shower (oh bliss!), and meditated on the couch while the rain hammered the roof overhead.

I’m doing the Headspace app/programme, and finally made it past level 3 of the core recordings. That means I’m now free to delve into any of the different packs I choose. I decided to try the Creativity Pack (surprise, surprise) and the focus looks to be on visualisation and expansion. I’m on day 2 of 30 so far, and it’s been really enjoyable.

The meditating has come about after an impulse purchase of one of those Kikki-K habits journals, after I decided I was sick of just thinking about all the things I’d like to do differently. After a bit of workbooking on your goals and dreams, I found myself thinking about what habit, if I took it up, would help me put all of the other changes into play?

I suppose I could have chosen exercise, or yoga, or something else, but meditation, I’ve found, just puts me in the right space to make other good things happen in my day. I’ve got more time for the Mooster, have a better humour, feel more desirous of being productive, eating well, and making others feel good. Every time I’ve done it in the past I’ve thought “I should really do this every day.”

And then I wouldn’t. Cue the 66 days thing. Apparently that is the magic number. Apparently. In any case it’s neat and easy to pick a number and set that as a goal. Ideally I will keep going with meditation far past this date (June 2nd), because I can’t really see any downside to doing it. I love how it feels, love how I am when I do it, and love the idea of making some positive change.

(Other things I’m trying to do this month, and am doing reasonably well at: flossing every night, drinking more water, and eating healthier snacks.)

The Guardian had a really interesting article this week about a band I’d never heard of, The Sound, who were sort of at their heyday in the 80s but got overshadowed by Joy Division and Echo and the Bunnymen. Apparently Adrian Borland wasn’t edgy enough looking (though supposedly no one could top them live for intensity), and the music was too ‘samey’ (though as is pointed out in the article, that Joy Division flavour only feels ubiquitous now because of everyone who tried to do it in the 00s). But seriously. Listen to that track above. Awesome, no?

And Borland looks like a badass in my books:

Adrian_Borland.jpg

And their almost-but-not-quite story is even more tragic when you read that Borland killed himself (at 41!) in 1999, and Max Mayers died of AIDS in the early 90s.

Just people, trying to make it. Trying to do what they love.

And these are the ones we hear about. How about all of the other people who have lived, who had a dream, and tried, and failed?

And then gave up?

I see them in black and white, walking around in the rain in wet overcoats, no umbrellas, collars turned up against the cold. Soggy crumpled paper in their pockets. Holes in their shoes.  I’m over here, alive, in colour, sitting at my desk. My heart wants to reach across that wide expanse and clasp their hands in mine.

Productivity and writing

I’ve been listening to the Odyssey Podcasts #85 and #86 on productivity.  While the clips were pretty short, there was some quite good, useful info in there that I think will help me try to get back into getting a good writing routine going.

Things like:

  • If writing is #8 on your priority list, it’s not going to get done.
  • Trade time with friends and family, to get blocks of time you can use for writing.
  • You really do need a block of time from 1-3 hours. This may mean getting up at 5am.
  • Habits and rituals are important. Set these up to hack your brain into enjoying and anticipating these. Start with a small habit, like 100 words. It has to be something that you will succeed at, every time.

There was quite a bit of other good information there, so if you’ve got a spare 30 minutes or so, I recommend you hop over and have a listen. I’m thinking I need to do something like:

  • trigger: light a candle
  • habit: write 100 words
  • reward: something nerdy I enjoy doing. A guilty pleasure.

I know chocolate is a good reward, but I’m trying not to go there these days. Instead, something like sharpening pencils in my new electric sharpener (seriously, I love it. Plus: the smell!), or giving myself a star sticker, or even the enjoyment of putting in my loose-leaf paper into the Trapper Keeper I’ve found and started using again.

Seriously, my old Trapper Keeper! OMG. I get a really weird pleasure out of using all my old school stationery. Let’s not visit the fact that my parents have been storing this stuff in a box in the garage all these years.

Photo 13-02-2016, 12 33 24

The velcro doesn’t really work, but who cares. I just use it to carry paper upstairs and downstairs. I write in pencil the way I did when I was a kid. Maybe I should draw some maps too, while I’m at it.

Plus: the paper. You can’t even get paper with three holes punched in them in New Zealand. Everything is two-hole, which is perfectly ridiculous, as the two holes make things swing around too much, and tear. I’ve also got a thing for that red line that runs down the margin – again something not all NZ two-whole filler paper (“refill” here) has.

I’m not going to question it. I am so unfussy about most things that I figure I can be as  obsessive-compulsive as I need to be when it comes to stationery. I *am* rather intrigued by the new Trapper Keepers being sold on Amazon at the moment, and if it turns out this weird way of working does it for me, I might fork out and get another one.

But, er, ahem, where was I? Oh yes, productivity. I think I need charts. Stars. Celebratory pencil sharpening. Something fancy after a significant milestone. A plan. And then, you know, some actual writing. Because writing about writing doesn’t actually count as writing.

Upgrade? No thanks. 

This is my laptop…

It’s an early-2008 MacBook that I bought back when I had a steady job and seemingly endless streams of cash.

Not having used a Mac since the 80s when they were ubiquitous in my grade-school in Washington State (with lovely clicky keyboards, ooo ahh!), I purchased this one with slight trepidation and extreme excitement. I tracked its approach vector via Singapore most days while I sat idle at work.

It arrived, I loved its clean whiteness. So Mac-y! So elegant! I purchased the requisite special wipes and cleaned the keyboard and screen regularly.

It became beloved. I named it Floyd.

Fast forward seven years:

 Floyd is still going strong. His disk seems to make a lot of noise now. A small strip of his cover has somehow come free. I cut it off with scissors, expecting the beginning of the end.

But it is not to be: Floyd plods on, growing slower and slower. The removed bit of cover neither rubs on my wrist nor interferes in any other way when I type.

One afternoon: inspiration! Floyd needs a new disk! Specifically an SSD. Research tells me Floyd will have a new lease of life. He will become more responsive.

I’ve never changed a laptop hard disk before. But my husband has. I consult him. He has things: torque wrench. Anti static mat, and wrist strap. Plus other things. I take the plunge for Floyd. I buy him a new disk.

We make a mirror of the old disk. Put it inside Floyd’s inners. Turn him on. He starts up nearly silently. Hums welcomingly. Steve and I hug. Well, I put my arms around his shoulders as he sits at the dining room table, hardware spread all over the place.

The new disk (now dubbed Agatha, after I retired Floyd to an external casing for the occasional back-up) and I enjoy six months or so of uninterrupted happiness. Then comes the news that Apple will no longer be releasing updates for computers running Snow Leopard. Agatha can’t update. I am starting to lose heart. Sadly I start to look on the Apple website for replacements.

So expensive. I’m not working now and if I want to get any of these I’m looking at 18 months of repayments. I have a creeping credit card that needs paying off. I hate the way looking at these expensive purchases makes me feel. Guilt before I’ve even done anything.

I look at other options: a mac mini? Sell the gaming computer (that also needs to be rebuilt, truth be told) and buy a windows gaming laptop? Get a tablet and somehow use that instead of a laptop? None of these options seem right.

I look at the current generation of Macbooks. They are expensive, with crappy specs, and a weird single port that requires you to buy various attachments just to plug in a USB drive. Plus they are metallic. Too shiny. Too slick. MacBook Pros are equally expensive, though I manage to customise one to fit my needs that would put me back about two grand.

Meanwhile I continue to use Floyd Agatha. I cringe to myself that what I’m using is the Mac equivalent of Windows XP. I’ve become one of those people, the stubborn luddites who refuse to accept the way technology moves on so quickly. The equivalent of finding your style decade and stubbornly sticking to it, fashion-wise.

But seriously, a part of me is so angry that something that continues to work, reliably and to my needs, is suddenly obsolete. I’m angry at the way the world moves on so fast, shedding all but the slick, the well-funded, the fickle. Like a comet, or speeding train that we struggle to hold on to, as it speeds up, and our grips start to loosen…

I’m afraid of aging. Of being so-called “middle aged.” Always a great fear for me. Being a “middle-aged woman.” Why does it sound so distasteful to my ears? At the point where I’m still wondering whether I should continue to dye my hair, or just let the greys take over. I know replacing a laptop doesn’t exactly correlate with embracing aging, but I think the process is similar. At some point you decide to let go of the speeding train. It’s too exhausting to try and hold on.

Same with keeping up with tech. And I say this as a techy person! But mashed up with all of those feelings is also the part of me who hates being told what to do, who hates being dictated to. Who hates the shiny-slick-irritating (seriously, one port, and with all sorts of ugly adapter cables attached?) / fake hair tons of concealer no wrinkles here… It’s all somehow related.

I know sometime eventually I will have to put Agatha aside, but in the meantime holding on to her feels like a bit of a ‘fuck you’ to people who want to make me feel guilty for not giving them my money. For not chasing that train. Maybe one day I’ll again be the sort of person who can just throw down money on expensive hardware whenever I feel like it. But I really hope that when I do eventually head back to work, that instead of scattering cash like confetti I’ll instead stop, wait, and think for a bit first.

I kiss you, you’re beautiful.

Bowie, over and over. Rain today seems appropriate. After a week of looking after a small person, it felt wonderful to sleep in a little (Steve gets up early), have coffee in bed, and read a new book to Leila (Uncle Vic’s Farm, a gift from a book reviewing friend yesterday), and go out to the garage for a cycle on the trainer.

Damp leaf-smell, almost pleasant, but too much on the rotted side; back still sore from hurting it on Monday vacuuming behind my bedside table (pulling things out, seeing dust caked there and slightly desperate to clean it all after hearing the story from my Aunt about how my grandmother, once so fastidious, lapsed with the cleaning once her dementia set in, and the space behind the bed – when my aunt looked – was filthy). Pedalling while reading, my new favourite way to exercise. Reading the brilliant, brilliant, H is for Hawk. I want Helen Macdonald to be my friend. I have a feeling we would be.

After the cycle, a swim in the pool. Grey mist across the harbour, obscuring the city. Up behind us, mist curling round and through the green, green bush. Before I jump in, I stand at the top of the stairs and look out over the valley, over the houses nestled in the green, out over the skygrey sea and the cloud hovering low. Bowie’s dead. A weird sentence that runs through my head again and again this week.

How to mourn a person you don’t know? The papers have been full of this question, all wanting to acknowledge that this hurt and loss we are feeling is real, not just imagined rockstar hysteria. How to articulate the importance of music that has always been a part of your life, that you have listened to, presumably through all of your life stages, and that has always still felt relevant, important, significant? I’m young enough (not yet forty) so that Bowie has been ubiquitous for me.

Perhaps not in my early youth; Mum had few albums and Dad favoured 60s folk, blues, and country. Glam was too out-there for him, I suspect. So we grew up with Dylan and the Beatles, Ian and Sylvia, Johnny Cash and James Taylor. Bowie came later.

When I think of Bowie, I think of late nights with my friend Jeremy, at his youth hostel, first year at uni. Eating toast and drinking tea (on our poor nights), and listening to music. Always early Beatles, always Bowie.

Always Bowie on mixtapes in the car (a ’55 Morris Minor convertible, that dad bought for us to drive, probably because it was cool and old – he loves old cars – but also couldn’t go too fast), driving to first jobs, in horrible uniforms but feeling for the first time the freedom that came with earning your own money.

Always looking at pictures of him, pictures from another time.  So alien.

I think about these things while I swim in the pool, in the rain. I only do breaststroke, feeling my back grate a bit, but the freshness of the water is exhilarating. I think of mourning, of the movements of my arms, a little like I’m flying, and I think of another person who has put her hopes in another, standing on a hillside of gorse and brush, arm extended hopefully with thick leather glove grasping a bit of dead animal. Luring back the hawk, embodiment of all her hopes.

So hard to be honest in public.

Swimming in the pool reminds me of a short story I wrote last year. A story I really, really like. A story I sent out to a few markets but got no interest. A story I think I’m going to put up here instead, and share. It’s called “The Dark Offering,” and it’s about a man, and a pool, and deep, dark thoughts, and a child’s birthday. There are cheezels. It is silly and horrible. It felt like something when I wrote it.

If you check back in a bit, it should be up. Let me know if you like it.

Night

It’s night, and everyone is asleep but me. Well, me and the cats. Me, the cats, and the neighbour’s tree frogs who chirp us to sleep each evening (and all through the night). You’d think something like that would be irritating, keep you awake. But I find the sound of them strangely comforting, and on nights when they don’t sing, I find myself listening out for them.

It’s the end of the holidays – life goes back to the usual routine in the morning. Steve off to work, Leila and I with our days. I want to do something different. Something that requires some effort, and perhaps on some days, pain. The path of least resistance, the path of comfort, of ease – that way leads to days, weeks, months, where you don’t remember a thing. You remember the days when you had to work hard, even if you didn’t like them at the time. You remember pushing yourself, and you feel proud of those times. I think I need to start pushing myself more.

Exercise, feeling good in my skin again. Something I’ve not really felt since my daughter was born. I know people joke about it, but my body really has changed so much since I became pregnant, swelled, went through labour (talk about bodily trauma: I pushed, but still had to have an epidural in the end because after eight hours of labour I was still only dilated something like 3 centimetres. Took drugs, brought on the labour. Epidural in the wee hours when I could hardly think straight, could hardly see straight through the contractions, yet had to remain absolutely still so the needle would go where it had to. Had to have the waters manually broken. An IV. A catheter. Pushed and pushed until I thought I was going to throw up. Horrible, awful tearing that I at least didn’t feel, and that was stitched up pretty much straight away by my lovely doc. No-one warning me that I’d have zero bladder control; standing up and completely pissing myself. Hideous constipation because, well, of everything. On top of all having to get laxative suppositories from the midwife however-many-days home. Insanity). A miscarriage last year. Not just a miscarriage. A trip to two hospitals. Four days. Four units of blood. Passing out because of the blood loss, first at home in my parents’ shower, and later in hospital after bleeding heavily all night and not getting any help from the night nurses.

Jesus, is it any wonder I haven’t really felt up for a challenge?

Didn’t mean to get all heavy there. But as I was writing the above I felt like I had to get it all out, write it all down in one place. It feels like a lot. Truly amazing what a body is capable of doing, going through, and repairing.

I’m fine now. Like, really fine. I can’t jump up and down without pissing myself still (so skipping rope, jumping jacks, and for all I know, running, are still off the list). But I’m cycling on a bike trainer Steve set up in the garage for me. Swimming in the pool as well. Feeling good about enjoying doing it.

Reading heaps. I’ve read five books in the last couple of weeks, just sort of manic, finish one and pick up the next sort of thing. It feels so good. I know it’s all going to change come tomorrow morning though, and I’m on sole charge of the bubba again.

Writing still hovering, slightly malevolently in the background, over one of my shoulders. At the back of my mind. Hiding behind my eyes. Always there. Lurking. Write me.

And so – I am going to try and force this body to stay up, after everyone has gone to sleep, when it is only the cats and the frogs keeping me company. Sun down, lights across the valley shuttered or else off completely. I will stay up and write, and not worry about it for now. Like Ishiguro said:

I wrote free-hand, not caring about the style or if something I wrote in the afternoon contradicted something I’d established in the story that morning. The priority was simply to get the ideas surfacing and growing. Awful sentences, hideous dialogue, scenes that went nowhere – I let them remain and ploughed on.

He shall remain my inspiration for these night-time dalliances with the page. So what if I am tired in the morning? I’m always tired in the morning. At least this way I’ll feel a bit better about how I’m going forward. This way I’ll have some markers of how I felt, what I did, what I tried to do. What felt so important to me that I had to suffer some discomfort to do it. Perhaps that’s why birth is so vivid for us. We have to work so hard to get there. Then work so hard to bring the child along. The pain! But we remember. And that’s what I want of my days. Not to forget. To remember.

Getting organised…

Yep, this is where I work, part 2. This is one end of the “study,” a downstairs room under the house that’s accessible from an outside door. I’ve taken it over as my woman cave, and filled it up with books, my gaming computer, the tarot card collection, tapes (and my old stereo that still plays them), sewing machine, typewriters and commodore 64, photographic equipment (including all the stuff for a darkroom I haven’t set up yet), and other miscellaneous items.    My sister got me a really nice 2016 diary for Christmas, and I’m already determined to use it to be more organised with the important things this year. Scheduling in writing time, monthly goals, and even when to write blog posts. Maybe I can be a bit more regular this year?

It’s raining today. Apparently we’ve got a tropical storm heading south, which means the rain is pretty warm and we still got in a family swim in the pool this morning. After the last week of warm, sunny weather, the rain feels like a bit of a relief!


I haven’t looked back at my last posts from last year, but I can tell you what happened: I hit a snag. I’m not very good at working through snags, and I know that’s something I need to focus on. I hit a snag and my brain just sits there, gasping and looking around. I know you’re meant to write through those hiccups, back up and try something new, but I find it really hard to do. As a result most of November and all of December have been writing-free. A bit troubling, considering I was hoping to have my first draft done by the end of the year.

I’m not giving up though. I’ve already had my share of “mulligans,” with my writing, and so I’m not stopping, or giving this one up. I’ve set myself an easy goal of 500 words per day. Surely I can write something about something for 500 words. Gotta do this, gotta get through this. After that the rest of the day will feel like I’m home free…