Monday, October 25, 2010

Quietness of the mind. You often hear about how struggling first-time authors managed to fit in writing their books around their jobs, or raising kids, or both. They get up super-early to do some writing in the morning, before anyone else is awake. They write late into the night, after everyone is asleep.

You also hear about writers' retreats. Hannah Kent recently wrote a two-part essay for the Killings blog about her experience with these. I've been on two – last year's organised by Leanne, and this year's, which I organised. I enjoyed them very much and found them very productive. They are as close as I've come to a holiday in years.

What these things are really about is finding a time and/or place to cultivate quietness of the mind.

Perhaps some people are brilliant enough to write lucidly and intelligently during their ordinary working days, even as they juggle various other work projects, domestic responsibilities, social interactions and administrative tasks. I am not one of those people. When I feel overwhelmed I yearn for absolute stillness and quietness.

I know that it's unrealistic to stage a retreat from the everyday; I have to find pockets of quietness in ordinary life. But it's just so hard. I feel so incredibly wearied and weighed down by all my day-t0-day work – not to mention all the admin it necessitates – that I never seem to achieve the necessary mental quietness to consider an essay question.

It's so frustrating, because I have all these essay ideas and am always too busy or full of mental cacophony to follow through on them, yet essay-writing is what I really love to do. I feel so annoyed at the terrible, dashed-off crap that's all I'm able to bang out with the mental resources at my disposal. (Apologies to any readers who may have commissioned/enjoyed said crap.) I know I'm capable of so much better. I feel like a high-performance car stuck in traffic.

I feel that it's up to me to find the quiet in my mind, and I feel angry at myself for not being able to do it. I know other people manage far heavier workloads than mine. And it shouldn't be this hard, because I have pretty much pared my life down to work. I don't have any children or love life. I find socialising increasingly exhausting. I do domestic chores such as cleaning, shopping, cooking and bill-paying as infrequently as I can get away with. Work always seems more important.

The only times I feel any real peace are when I take a book (or the A2) to a café. It's just me, some food, some coffee and my reading. I seem to recall that was the fantasy of Julianne Moore's character in The Hours – she who booked a hotel room to sit and read her book. I can see the book from here but it's pretty far down the stack and I can't be bothered trying to get it out, Jenga-style.

Hey Mel, I can't help but notice that when you're feeling overwhelmed by work you regularly note that other people manage far bigger workloads than yours. Well, that may be true, but it is equally well worth remembering that others still do far less work than you, and that yours is a legitimately big workload. It seems to me that you work very hard and always produce quality - much moreso than almost any other writers/editors I know. Giving yourself some credit wont diminish the amount of work you have still to do, but I think you should do it anyway - you've earnt it!
When dadaist/conceptual musician John Cage was out and about with friends, he'd sometimes claim that the noises around him were just other people playing one of his compositions.

But then, he was a smug bugger like that...
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