twenty-eight

A few weeks ago, I turned 28. It is hard for me to reconcile this number with my idea of myself; I still feel like I am exactly where I was at 18. I am still at uni, working towards completing my undergraduate degree, even though now I am in my final semester; I am still struggling to become a writer in the face of an often overwhelming fear of failure. I am nowhere near where I thought I would be at this stage in my life. I am still trapped in the previous stage, or still trapped in a mindset that expects life to unfold in neat, orderly stages.

But when I take a moment to look back at my twenties I am struck by how tumultuous they have been. At 21 I was depressed, suicidal. At 22 I moved out of home for the first time and fell in love – an insane, disordered love I didn’t know how to handle at the time. The year I turned 23 I fell in love again, and this time it was a love that made me feel stronger, safer. I was 24 when I lost my mother and 24 when I felt real grief for the first time – grief that I had no real concept of before, that I never knew I could feel. In that same year of my life I left my hometown and moved to a new city, an experience which has given me insight into the grief of others and which has redefined my idea of ‘home’. At 25, my partner and I bought our first house. At 26, I proposed, spontaneously, so in love I couldn’t keep it in. I never thought I could be the one to ask, but I am braver now. At 27, I got married.

Across all these years I have written and not written, struggled with writer’s block, struggled with anxiety, struggled with depression, re-enrolled at uni and dropped out and re-enrolled again, lost my ability to write and my desire to live and then found them both again.

I am afraid of 28. I am afraid it will be like 21, 22, and 24 – too much like these years and not enough like 23, 25, 26, 27… I am afraid I will get to 29 without hope or alteration.

Birthdays make me introspective; birthdays make me write, frantically, reminded of the finite nature of my life. It is trite, perhaps, to dwell on mortality as I age, and disproportionate the amount of worrying I do about death when I am not even 30 yet. I know it is useless to worry about death at all, as my worry won’t change anything. But I still meet every birthday in the same way: an uncomfortable mixture of hopeful and regretful.

My hope for 28 is that I will find optimism, despite all my fear and worry about this particular year of my life. My hope is that I will get to 29 feeling like progress has been made. My hope is that 28 will be one of the years I look back on fondly and think: 28 was a good year.

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student life

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My first week back at university is drawing to a close.

I have a complicated relationship with studying. A large part of me loves it: loves learning, loves thinking about interesting and intellectually challenging topics, loves reading and research, loves long hours in the library and required reading in the sunshine. I love the sense, when you’re on campus, that you are existing within a bubble. Not a sheltered, unrealistic, wait-until-you-graduate-and-see-what-the-“real”-world is like bubble, but a physical bubble: high walls, quiet spaces; the intended design of the buildings melding with the actual, inevitably disorganised way that people use them. The sense that you have passed through some filmy, soapy, invisible skin and into a different world where you don’t have to apologise for sounding smart.

Another, larger part of me hates it, even while I am loving it. And the reasons for hating it are far more nebulous and inexplicable than the reasons that I love it. Every morning, on the bus across town, I sit amongst a group of people five years younger than me and chastise myself for how much of a loser I am. Why didn’t I figure this out earlier? Why did it take me so long to reconcile my love of learning with my ability to show up and function? Have I actually reconciled this yet, or will this semester end like so many of them have: in tears, in failure, in forfeited grades and an enormous, nothing-to-show-for-it HECS debt.

I both love and hate the way that studying makes me feel. I feel dumber and smarter at once. My Philosophical Logic lecturer would probably be cringing, if he were to read this, but his class makes me feel this stronger than any of the others have so far. Coming out of his intensive two-hour first week seminar this afternoon, I felt that all-too-familiar mix of pride and dread. The weird sense of achievement at having solved a simple, introductory logic problem coupled with the crushing sense of foreboding I have about this class. I am probably going to fail it. I am not smart enough to pass Philosophical Logic.

I hate deadlines; they give me panic attacks. I hate group projects and public speaking; I hate paying large sums of money to have rambling lecturers condescend to me. I hate the long commute to campus. I hate awkward conversations with strangers and how desperate I am to have one of them talk to me, so that I don’t have to sit alone. I hate the feeling that the person behind me in the lecture theatre is reading my notes over my shoulder and quietly thinking I’m an idiot. I hate that I’ve somehow associated graduating with worthiness.

And yet I think all the time about what I am going to take on next. Whether it’s more study or pursuing a particular career path or finishing my novel, I am always taking on things that I have this weird, complicated, largely unhappy relationship with. These things that are essential to my sense of self that I, overall, hate; I hate myself in the moment of doing them. But I love them, too. Somehow.

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[Note: Again, this is another post dug up from a bloody, dark past, a.k.a. the beginning of semester. A few things have changed since I wrote this: I dropped out of Logic, but I also made some friends on campus and felt a little less lonely and worthless by the end of it. I got through the semester without crashing, burning, or failing anything. Regardless, there’s still a lot in this essay that holds true about my relationship with higher education, and I thought it was still worth publishing. I hope you think so too. LS]

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slump

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Slump. Slumped over. Going through a slump. Slump. Some lump. Lump. Lumbering, laboured, lagging.

People often speak of ‘going through a slump,’ an expression I always picture in the same way: a cartoon of a tired, defeated business man, in a dark suit, with cartoon lines under his eyes. He was walking on a sunny street a moment ago, with a straight spine and a smile on his face; but as he passes into shadow his shoulders droop in time with the corners of his sad mouth. I am going through a slump. I am walking down a dim, grey street. (I am recycling bad metaphors. I can’t help it.)

I am going through a slump. Actually, I am going through several kinds of slumps all at once. I am going through a reading slump; after a productive year in which I have read 50 books, I suddenly find myself bored and irritated by everything I pick up. I am going through a writing slump; everything I put on the page seems self-indulgent, unoriginal, boring, nothing like what it was in my head a few moments ago. I had a better opening line for this piece that had scurried away before my word processing program could be fucked to load. (Fuck you, technology.) I cannot even write letters to my friends, even though I want to. I cannot write replies to their texts, even though I want to.

I am going through a work slump; at my six-month performance review it was noted that I seemed less enthusiastic about my work. It is hard to be enthusiastic about my work. Six months in I have gotten to the point where I am no longer learning anything new, and my tasks have become mind-numbingly repetitive and frustratingly fiddly. There is nothing creative in my job, or not enough of it. My boss thinks I need reminding and for my hand to be held because, unlike her, I do not announce everything I am doing for the world to see how busy and important I am. That is unfair. I am in a slump at work in which I unfairly hate everything, including my perfectly nice boss.

I am going through a slump at my other work, too, as a subeditor of the film section of a magazine. Even though it has a strong creative element and is, objectively, an interesting job. Even though the writers I work with are improving every day, impressing me with their articulate analyses and amusing one-liners. Even so I find it hard to make myself sit down in front of the computer and edit submissions, or to come up with lists of films for the writers to review. I forget what I am doing while I do it. I forget what it used to feel like. I was so excited when I found out about this job; I jumped up and danced around the room with my best friend, squealing, while our partners looked on, confused. I felt like I was making progress. I was an editor now. I was doing something.

I am going through an everything slump. An agoraphobic slump. I dislike intensely having to leave the house and feel disgusting when I do. Hyper-aware of my disgusting fat stomach and legs, my greasy, sweaty skin. I am going through a sleeping slump, sometimes. I am exhausted but I cannot sleep. I am awake, alert, but I fall asleep as if I am passing out and wake feeling drugged. Sluggish.

People think the way to help me get out of this slump is to tell me how to fix it. Go back to volunteer work, set goals, exercise more, eat better. The fact that they are right only makes me angry. I do not seem to be having an anger slump; that one part of me is functioning perfectly, overtime, anytime, all the time.

They are right and they are wrong. Getting out of the house would  be good for me. If I exercised more and ate less crap I would probably feel better. I do not think they are right about the goal-setting thing; I have plenty of goals. Large, impressive, oppressive goals; goals that scare me, or that I am scared to think I might not ever meet. I have the weight of my own expectations, I do not need yours too.

They are right but they are wrong. If I could leave the house, exercise, prepare healthy food, I would. I think that I would if I could. It’s hard to explain that these simple things are hard for me to someone who has never found them difficult. Or worse, getting advice from those who have, at some point if not currently, experienced the same difficulties with getting out of bed, having a shower, focussing on a task long enough to finish it, making themselves a meal instead of ordering something deep-friend to be delivered. Have they forgotten? Or they are living with the same cognitive dissonance I am: the knowledge that these things would heal me, but that I could only do them if I weren’t already sick. If I could do these simple things with the ease with which people say the words, ‘Just get up,’ then I wouldn’t need to be told them.

These are the things I can do: watch TV, scroll through tumblr, masturbate, pick fights. These things are easy; these things make me feel alive, if only briefly. These things distract me from the gradual frittering away of my limited time. These things can be done in a slump; in a hunched over, balled up, listless position; things that require no effort or thought and contribute absolutely nothing, to anything or anyone.

I didn’t mean for this to happen but this blog has become a way for me to write about not being able to write. I don’t know if this is a good or a bad thing. I am not writing any of the things I want to write. Is it enough to be writing? I started this blog because I wanted to teach myself discipline: I wanted to update this regularly, and hopefully about my writing successes. I had just been paid for writing and performing something for the very first time when I started this blog. I had all these ideas bubbling around in my brain, itching to be put down in words. Instead, I use it for those self-indulgent, unoriginal, boring bits of writing I mentioned before: these clichéd attempts to articulate what it feels like to be so depressed you can barely move; apologies and self-justifications for why I am not writing anything else. It’s not enough just to write, regardless of what you are writing. The words matter; what you are trying to say matters, whether or not it is any good, even if it is just by your own standards, matters. That you are writing something that contributes to something larger matters; just writing here, to fill up space on a page and be able to say, yes, I blog does not matter. There is nothing worthwhile in spewing your thoughts onto the page and posting it on the internet; this is insubstantial, this is the opposite of what I want. I would not be proud to say I wrote this. I will not tell anyone this is here.

Who does it matter to? Me. Me, my harshest critic. My slump does not prevent me from being angry, and it doesn’t prevent me from being angry at myself. Angry for these thoughts and I feelings that I cannot prevent. Angry that I waste so much time sitting around on the couch doing nothing. I am just the same as everyone else, telling me to pull my socks up: I think this is my fault. I think this is something that can be fixed by great effort, by sheer willpower. I start to plan. Fix-it plans: no more TV, yoga every morning, a blogging schedule, a plan to complete my novel. Some part of me still thinks this slump is something I can help.

you never know who’s listening: shameless plug edition

Just under a year ago I had the pleasure of reading my work out to a crowd of strangers.

If this doesn’t sound like a pleasure to you, then you clearly have no understanding of the warped psyche of a writer. This downright terrifying exhilarating experience was (thankfully?) immortalised on tape. (It’s probably not tape, it’s probably something much more hi-tech than that.) Anyway, it was immortalised. In the chaotic, nerve-wracking lead-up to the first public speaking engagement I’ve ever volunteered for, I somehow managed to miss out on the information that I was being recorded. Finding out later freaked me out momentarily – it’s like finding out someone can see straight into your bedroom, thanks to a combination of high-powered binoculars and your lack of blinds. (That happens to everyone, right?) In the end I was grateful that I went into the performance in a state of blissful ignorance.

My story, Under-Wired, was performed as part of Scissor Paper Pen’s inaugural Something Else event. They hold these story telling events semi-regularly, and they are always a delightfully bizarre mix. They give the writers a theme – ours was Wires Crossed – which is basically a rather vague nudge in the direction of your writing desk, and then they just sit back and watch the madness unfold. On the same night as me, my friend Zoe Anderson enlightened us on the weird and wonderful world of beekeeping with The Bee Story, and local poetry slam champ CJ Bowerbird unsettled and impressed everyone with his piece You Never Quite Reach the Drums in the Distance

Me, well, I brought down the tone a little. Under-Wired is about high school politics, “self-acceptance”*, and the sheer awkwardness that is a young girl’s relationship with her breasts. When in doubt, mine your angst-ridden adolescence for material.

In much the same way as I feel about my boobs now, I hope you guys like my little story.

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* So my much-more-articulate editors at SPP have dubbed it, anyway.

november is the cruellest month

November last year. November. Last. Year.

Most projects, when launched, are so launched with what one might tentatively refer to as honourable intentions. There are a few notable exceptions: invading another country, planning an elaborate murder, deciding to facebook-stalk your ex. But this blog, man, it was one of those new leaf moments. I am kind of grateful that I didn’t really talk to anyone about it because gawd, if I had, right now I would be cringing so hard at how New Age I’d sounded. I found a notebook the other day, started around the same time as the blog, where I used the phrase artistic epiphany. Kill me now.

It’s hard to start anything without a little bit of that cringeworthy naïveté and it’s harder still to look back at the projects you started, the projects you were SO EXCITED about and were going to CHANGE YOUR LIFE and other cliched phrases like TURNING POINT – it’s hard to look back and see how fallow you’ve let those fields lie. Typewritten Tales leads with an incredibly emotional, exhilarated and thoroughly pretentious narrator (*cough* me *cough*) babbling about the first time she managed to get paid for writing and performing a story. And then there’s a potentially interesting series of posts on one’s work-in-progress* that trail off after only two or three. And then there’s a long silence.

It is my first instinct to delete my previous posts and start again. I am secretive by nature, not because I have anything worth hiding but because I am naturally embarrassed at the thought of anyone looking at me, or anything I’ve done, and not finding it up to scratch. This is a difficult way to be when you have specific goals that kinda, you know, rest entirely on someone else actually reading and connecting with something you’ve written. I want to delete those old posts, those pieces of evidence proving, without a doubt, my guilt: I have no follow through. I, as I have blogged about previously, have such a severe case of procrastination I should be in medical textbooks. I should be studying right now. I tend to judge myself especially harshly; I have a certain proclivity for freaking the fuck out and running away and hiding.

BUT. I read back over those posts today, for the first time in nine months**, those gloriously optimistic posts, those thoroughly edited posts, those posts that link to my personal twitter account and will be viewed by everyone I know, by everyone who googles my real name (what a tiny little clubhouse that must be) and you know what? I’m proud of that girl.

I am proud of past me, who tried and failed, and I’m proud of current me, who is writing again, seriously, for the first time in over a year. I am proud that in the fifteen years since I decided writer was my ultimate aim in life and the source of any potential happiness, that I am still able to try again. Oh, she’s got her faults, that little old me, but mostly I think she’s all right.

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*You know, I honestly can’t remember what story it was that I decided to develop for last year’s NaNoWriMo. Yet another abandoned project for the archives!

** That’s a WHOLE BABY’S WORTH OF TIME right there. I could have CREATED LIFE in that time. I didn’t do anything even half that constructive. I just made awful puns that would make TS Eliot roll over in his grave, then rise back up and come and eat my brain for having desecrated his work in that way.

fifty thousand words

Look at the date on my first post. Now look at the date on this one. There’s a reason my twitter bio (self)describes me as ‘writer, reader, avid procrastinator‘, and it’s not flippancy.

I started this blog with the loftiest and most poetic of intentions, and I still have them to a certain extent. I want to write and I want to write often and I want to make myself a better writer. I want to be able to cast my mind back (see: Google myself) years from now and see all the bits and pieces that went into that process: the books I read and the films I saw, the stories and submitted and the rejection letters I received, the exercises and challenges and discussions and meandering, pointless thoughts I had on the subject. I’d be lying if I say I don’t want to look back and see a few successes too: publications, paycheques, final manuscripts.

None of this will happen until I can – honestly – edit my twitter bio. I could do it now, delete the self-fulfilling prophecy, but it will still be how I think of myself. Procrastinator. Pretentious snot with an abandoned, one-post blog. There’s nothing worse than writers who don’t write.

That’s why I think this blog needs a kick in its digital pants and that’s why I’m here, in the dying days of October, blogging about something very dear to my heart: NaNoWriMo.

I don’t know what the wider writing community thinks about this annual writing challenge – I’ve never bothered to ask – but I love it. For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo – or National Novel Writing Month – is an annual challenge set for writers to churn out a 50,000 word first draft. It started way back in 1999, initially just a US thing – initially just a San Francisco thing, actually – and grew from there. As far I know the only requirements are that your work is fictional, original, and not the same word repeated over and over again. They have a website, an adorably-named organisation (the Office of Letters and Light!) and a suitably prosaic tagline: Thirty days and nights of literary abandon.

November 2010 was the first and only time I’ve ever managed to write something substantial.* November 2010 was the first time I bonded with someone over the fact that we both wanted to be writers. December 2010 was the first time I was able to say, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve written a novel. No big.’

It was crap, of course, that first NaNo novel of mine, but I still fucking wrote it, so nyah. That’s kind of the point of (Inter)National Novel Writing Month: writing. Writing one thing for however long it takes for that initial burst of inspiration to pass (usually about as long as it takes for me tea to go cold) and then keeping on going. And ending up with a piece of shit manuscript you’re not afraid to tear to pieces in order to find that something decent buried within.

I have dozens of “idea” notebooks, full of singularly pretentious potential first lines and hazily outlined plots in which everyone is named Anna or Ben because those are my go-to character names. NaNoWriMo is an opportunity to shake some life into those rattling story-fragments, and the experience of participating is a chance to blow some of the dust off my neglected little corner of the internet. I intend to give myself something to write about here by writing. The lovely folk at the Office of Letters and Light call it ‘winning’ NaNoWriMo if you finish: that’s all it takes. 50,000 words, bitches. I’ll see you in December, Instagramming a picture of myself in my winner’s tee.

 

In the meantime, I’ll let you know how it goes.

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*And by substantial mean Longer Than The Largest Word Limit I’ve Ever Been Set For A University Assignment.**

** And by Longer Than The Largest Word Limit I’ve Ever Been Set For A University Assignment, I mean longer than 3000 words.***

*** Footnotes are fun! I feel like David Foster Wallace.