I’ve been thinking lately about creativity. About the complicated relationship between humility, confidence, and arrogance. About the precarious balance between the conviction that we might actually know what we’re doing and the gnawing fear that we don’t – a balance which is required to produce anything worthwhile. Or at least that’s how it seems to me.
I’ve been thinking about imposter syndrome.
And I’ve been ironing. Usually a school uniform, in the morning, at the last possible moment.
Last year, I spent three months in Japan. I’ve lived there before but I’d never travelled the northeast coastline. I leapt at the chance to catch train after train all the way up from Tokyo through Sendai, Matsushima, Hachinohe, Hakodate, deep into Hokkaido, and along the way, a clutch of fishing towns whose names are now all over the news.
Last week I took off on the trail of a verse novel. I caught six trains for fifteen hours, going north to Tokyo, then north to Hachinohe, then north to Hakodate, then north to Sapporo. Hokkaido. 北海道. The north sea road.
There are few things I like more than settling onto a train (or six) and letting them carry me away and away and away, especially when every degree of away means further and further from cities and noise and rush hour subways.
Well, it took me twenty-five years, six trains, a funicular and a bus, but I finally got to visit Koyasan.
Back in the day, when I came to Japan as an exchange student, I was asked to give a talk to my class about Australia, my family life and so on, and do a general Q&A. One of the questions was which place I most wanted to visit in Japan. When I replied “Koyasan”, the class burst into laughter.
I pause in the midst of my pre-Japan madness (visas! not visas! travellers’ cheques! cashcards! JapanRail passes! car rental! contact-making! research! endless, endless lists!) to bring you instalment #2 in the occasional series, Tales From Inner Libraria*, if only because if our esteemed government has its way, said Librarias may be unrecognisable in the not-so-fullness of time (40% funding cuts? Can you be serious? And if so, may I humbly suggest you begin with the plasma TVs and leave the books alone?).
Today’s library is a rather less humble establishment than that featured in Instalment #1. It has high ceilings, excellent natural lighting and an overall feeling of space and muted elegance.
It is not the kind of library where you raise your voice. Story time takes place in a dedicated room, behind closed doors and some kind of advanced soundproofing technology.
Although I work at home a lot, I don’t always work at home. Sometimes I take my laptop down to Fremantle and park myself in a cafe. Sometimes I head up to my local library. It helps to have a change of scenery, to avoid the many demands of an insistent house, and there’s something satisfying about writing surrounded by books and readers.
Because my house is currently an inviting combination of bomb-site, dust bowl and storage facility, I’ve been doing this more often lately. And because I’ve been doing it more, I’ve broadened my reach. In the last couple of months, I’ve sampled over a dozen libraries. And I can’t help noticing that although some features are common to most – from the expected (books!) to the less-expected (flat-screen TV!) – each also has its own idiosyncrasies, its own particular culture.
So I bring you the first in an occasional series: “Tales from Inner Libraria*”. Reading these entries, perhaps you’ll nod, because you recognise your library here. Perhaps you’ll shake your head because you think I’m making it up. I won’t be.
Well, I did warn you this would be the title of my next post. It’s prompted by an email I received recently from a writing friend, with the subject line “Business”. And by the last couple of months, which seem to have been incredibly busy somehow with a bunch of things which, while writing-related, are not actually writing itself.
A couple of weeks ago, frustrated with my slow progress through the various WIPs, I decided to take a good hard look at where my days are going. Of course there is a slew of other bits and pieces crammed into my day – house, family, exercise and so on – but here is the graph that represents how the time I had available for work was divided over a two-week period.
A little alarming, no?
This post is not about writing or reading or books. But it is about art and creativity and bringing the audience to the work and the work to the audience, which is in fact not really an audience but a key part of the work, simultaneously constructing it as they consume it and performing various other acts of deconstructive postmodernist discursive etcetera.
Oh, and getting wet.
People of Perth, this is awesome. And not just because you can – nay, must – get really, really wet in the centre of the city. But because, delightfully, while it’s about constructing walls, it’s at the same time about breaking them down, not just in water and rooms, but in people.
So I’ve finished the marking and the copyediting and the translating and the accounting and most of the extension planning (take that, grout colours!) and some of the other random bits and pieces that were clamouring for my fickle attentions. And I’ve cleaned my desk. Not completely, but the thing is, despite my many friends who emailed me to say “Call that a mess? This is a mess!” it was never really about the mess anyway. It was about the fact that there were just too many different things in there, too many disconnected and sometimes competing demands on my time and increasingly limited brainpower. I can take the mess, as long as it’s not pulling me in too many directions at once.
But that’s not the point of this post. The point of this post is this:
In partially cleaning my desk, I found the leaf – whole and flat and entirely unbroken despite the chaos of its surrounds. That has to be a symbol of something, surely?
It’s the return of the writing desk and it’s just in time for the school holidays, of course, but that’s okay. It seems to be how things work around here, but when there are novels brewing, they will make their way into the light, school holidays or no.
There is other news on the horizon too, which is the current source of both excitement and blind panic. But I can’t tell you about that, not quite yet.
Is a picture worth a thousand words? This one, sadly, is worth very few, at least not the kind of words I’d like to be generating. Incredibly, the photo has the effect, at least to me, of making the desk appear less chaotic than it is in real life. The piles look smaller some how, and less likely to topple and swamp all in their path.
If you knew what you were looking at here, you would be able to recognise:
* Pile #1: the marking pile from hell. This pile has curious magic pudding-like qualities, something I would applaud in any other context
* the slanty writing board which makes working my way through Pile #1 marginally less painful (at least physically).
* Pile #2: the copyediting job from hell, “almost finished” for about five weeks now.
* a Japanese-English dictionary I’m using in some ongoing translation work (from 地獄). There should be a pile for this job, too, and its absence is worrying…