Positive procrastination

With Paolo we’ve been joking recently about how many random things I can get done when I am procrastinating from doing my writing assignments.  I’ve been found baking spontaneous apple pies for instance, cleaning the bathroom or sorting out and tidying the attic (something that was on my to-do list for at least 6 months).

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When I’m feeling blocked and just can’t seem to find the way to start writing, I try and remember that taking a walk, while it does not contribute to getting words on the page, is generally a good cure for break my mental resistance. In the worst of cases, I tell myself that even if I still don’t write afterwards, I’ll have at least stretched my legs and gotten some fresh air.  In the best cases, I come back with a sliver of a new idea to work on.

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Saturday afternoon was one of those days, so after sitting frustrated for a while and uselessly distracting myself by reading other people’s writing, I decided to go out and catch the last of the afternoon light.  I set myself the challenge to attempt to capture the colour contrasts in that lovely low autumn light. So with my ISO set high, I looked around for bursts of colour to photograph while trying to hold my camera as still as I could.

 

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When the light faded and the cold got to me, I headed home, clear-headed. I even saw a beautiful pink sunset that I would most likely have missed were I staring at my computer screen.  My inner-critic probably also got a bit frozen, because it left me enough space to sit down and start typing when I got back.

Flash fiction workshop

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This weekend I had the pleasure of attending a one-day flash fiction writing workshop, a wonderful experience gift from Paolo for my birthday.  It was the perfect way to spend a dark, rainy Saturday, very challenging but also fun and interactive. The great thing about flash fiction is the pieces are so short, so we could read several examples in the class and discuss them. I enjoyed noticing what speaks to me and what doesn’t touch me at all. We also worked with prompts and writing with paper and pencil on very short deadlines that left no space to the inner-critic.

For the final assignment, we had just 30 minutes to write a 325 words piece (in the end we did get an extra 15 minutes;). It was incredibly encouraging to see what you can come up with in such a short time: a raw first draft.  I learned a lot from reading the other people’s pieces and from the feedback I received on my piece (my favorite was from a participant who said he creates trailers for video games and my story would have made a great video game trailer! I love how random ideas and sectors can be associated:) Now I want to take that raw draft and move it forward! I’m curious to see what will come of it.

Prioritising down time

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #147

After participating in the climate strike last week, I felt a deep need to rest.  Luckily I had guarded my free time in the weekend like a watchdog and had scheduled a full day and a half with no absolutely zero plans, no where to go and no one to meet.  I realise how privileged I am to have so much free time, and I am very grateful for that.

I know I write a lot about how much I like quiet time, so if it sounds repetitive feel free to skip this post.  However I will continue to write about it because sometimes it’s important to stop and observe.  We live in this flurry of a world where everything is a click away and instant notifications increasingly pull at our attention, where we feel we should satisfy everyone who wants a piece of our time and FOMO is just around the corner making it extremely hard to say NO to things.  In this context, I want to normalise carving out down time for ourselves. I want to be able to say “I am available that day, but actually I prefer to rest” without feeling like I’m letting people down. Because really, even if I were say YES to everything, there would still be people I let down, and more importantly I would be letting myself down by not getting the down time I need to recharge my batteries.

In that day and a half, I did things that were important to me, like writing, and I did them without being in a rush, with enough time to procrastinate by baking a delicious apple cake, stare mindlessly out the window and write three different drafts of my assignment before choosing the first one after all…  On Sunday evening, I realised I was still in my pyjamas and went straight back to bed in them. It was perfect.  On Monday morning, I felt completely renewed. Those sleep-ins and taking time to reflect while pyjama-lounging on the sofa set me off to a positive start of the next week and I had more energy to give to those around me.

Reading short stories

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I’ve been appreciating reading short stories lately.  Some I found in a pile of decade-old New Yorkers that I came across at the little free library, some in the anthology of short stories that is our syllabus for my next writing class, some online in literary magazines I’m thinking off submitting to or other links unearthed in some internet rabbit-hole…  I usually read novels or non-fiction books, but I’m having a great time picking up the huge doorstop of an anthology, and browsing for a familiar name or a story with an intriguing title and dive into a new world for a few pages.

It’s fascinating to see that some stories don’t resonate with me at all, while others I am drawn into after just a few words and held breathless to the end. Also, it’s reassuring because it reminds me how subjective taste is, and how much is personal, projected onto the story by the reader. It’s a nice format in these days where attention spans are ever-shortening, and it’s encouraging to see how short pieces can pack a punch and feel how they stay with me long after I’ve finished reading them.

The sound of waking up in Australia

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For my birthday, I received a book of poetry from my Mum, called Two green parrots by Australian poet Anne M Carson. It’s a lovely gift, which my Mum took the time to dedicate to me, that short handwritten note in biro at the front making it so much more personal.

I really enjoy picking it this small volume and reading one or two poems here and there, little stories that draw me back Down Under for a few minutes as I visualise the scene from my memories with sight, smells and sounds.

I especially like her poems about birds. For me the sound of waking up in Australia is amazing, the birds are so much louder than here in Europe and their cries are completely different.  Just hearing them in a movie will bring me right back to where I grew up as a child.  Here is a little extract to give you a sense of how beautifully the poet expresses it:

“Wattle birds wake up raucous.
They don’t murmur their way into day
or carol the growing light.
They ram their voices into the first chink
that opens between dark and dawn, staking claims.
Voice as a lever, they wrench morning open for themselves.”

Extract from: Wattle Birds, Kew
                         Anthochaena carunculata

This inspires me deeply to practise writing about daily scenes around me, playing with words to capture life going on all around me. Merci Maman for this wonderful gift:)

Half the year had flown by

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #136

Half of the year has flown by, summer is in full swing and I find myself looking back at what the last 6 months brough with them, delighted by how much of it I had no inkling when the first days of January rolled around.

I followed a 2 day workshop with Julia Cameron and kept a nearly daily Morning Pages practise since (which is a great support in getting my ideas clear:), I applied for a new position at work, got it and am somehow pulling it off for two months already, I followed two 8-week writing courses and had a lot of fun getting inspired and crafting 13 pieces of stories and poems for class, and I sold a whole bunch of (post)cards with my designs to family, friends, colleagues and friends of friends…

Also, I’ve been lucky to spend lovely afternoons in (botanic) gardens taking pictures of plants, I’ve kept up with boxing practise, I’ve travelled to Cologne, Paris and Sicily to spend time with family and friends, catching up, drinking tea, eating cakes and spent good times and seen cool movies with friends in Amsterdam too. For all of these things and all the other mundane and extraordinary moments, I am extremely grateful! I am also looking forward to what the next months will bring with them.

Working through different drafts

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Last Friday, another of my texts from a writing exercise was featured on the Facebook page of the International Writer’s Collective.  You can read it on this link if you are curious and let me know what you think:)  I’m really grateful that it was featured and to see people’s reactions, as had a lot of fun writing this piece. After reading a quite rambling first draft out loud to Paolo, he gave me pointed feedback to improve it which I incorporated to a certain extent (yes, I know, I could have put more dialogue!).

Hearing the feedback from my class mates about the second version was really great because they understood what I was going for and put it very beautifully in words, as well as pointing out more improvement suggestions. It’s a beautiful reminder of how I don’t write alone, even if I am by myself at the keyboard. People’s reactions and comments really help to see if I’m on the right track and get new ideas, as well as be encouraged to continue.  Several people have also asked what happens next or made suggestions on what they think will happen… so I need to take some time to move it forward some time soon;)

Following the spark of curiosity

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #131

In August last year when I was on the edge or in burnout, everything felt like too much. I wanted to do fun things that interested me,  but I just had no mental space for anything except the bare minimum (which was pretty much only work). I realised this week that in the last months I’m starting to find more joy again in extra activities, like boxing, and helping colleagues who are performing the gender scan in our organisation, and of course writing…

I want to stop and appreciate how far I’ve come and how much better I feel, especially since there were moments when I deeply feared I would never feel like I had energy again. It’s not perfect, I still experience nights where I lie awake too long or anxious mornings, but I feel like by being more mindful of self-care, I’ve managed to carve out some space for the things that I enjoy or spark my curiosity. These activities do take some energy, but in return they also give me satisfaction and a feeling of contributing with my input and voice to a slightly lighter and more joyful world.

Jotting down tiny scenes

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #128

In the spirit of trying to channel inspiration for my writing, I have been making a conscious effort to be more observant of what goes on around me.  I am easily overwhelmed when there are too many stimuli and living in a busy city means that there are constantly a million things vying for my attention, as well as the need to be careful of traffic, so most of the time I feel like I am blocking out a lot of my surroundings.

However, I do find opportunities to practice noticing things, like sitting in cafés and people-watching, going for walks in my neighbourhood which is rather quiet or just staring out of the window of the tram. Lately I’ve started jotting down what I see. Nothing fancy, just the date and a few words to remember the details of the scene which can maybe serve as inspiration for my next poem or story.

Here are some recent examples that caught my attention:

  • a little boy on a bike wearing a t-shirt, blue shorts and a ski mask, pedalling wildly on the sidewalk
  • a gaggle of geese patiently crossing a busy street, head held high and unphased as cars stop to let them pass, and people on the terrasses of cafes watching the spectacle in amusement
  • delightful blossoms fallen off a tree onto the pavement, forming a pink carpet in different stages of decomposition

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Has any particular scene caught your eye lately? I’d love to hear about it!

So many things to be grateful for

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #124

I am sitting on my sofa, with the sun streaming through the wide-open window, warming my skin and I am wondering what to write about today.  After a few false starts where I type and delete a couple of paragraphs, I decide to consult my angel cards and see if they have any suggestion about what I should focus on. I shuffle the cards carefully and choose one of the 80 glossy cards from the tiny stack spread out in my left palm, I turn it over and… the word on the card is GRATITUDE!  Hahaha, OK, so much for that;) I guess it is a luxury problem not to know what to concentrate my gratitude on.

So here are a few things from the past days that I am particularly grateful for:

  • having time to write Morning Pages at home while drinking coffee (and feeling light anxiety release its grip when I lean into it and write out my thoughts, making the day ahead so much easier)
  • seeing a gripping and original play about 9/11 terrorist attacks (and the subsequent discussions with Paolo about it)
  • gorgeous sunshine (and enjoying a lovely walk with a dear colleague and her son, discovering favorite spots in their neighbourhood)
  • attending an intimate Q&A with author Kristen Roupenian (and learning all about her approach to the craft of writing, extremely inspiring!)
  • keeping up the rhythm of writing two pages per week (and getting precious feedback from Paolo about which parts work and how to move the piece forward)

Wishing you all a great weekend!