It’s been a couple of weeks since my last post. In that time I’ve done a little bit of work on my PhD creative piece. I started fresh, at a different point in the story than I’d previously intended too, and while the words at the moment are coming at a snail’s pace I’m feeling better about the foundation that I’m laying.
The chapter that I have been working on involves the protagonist running. As I was writing, or trying to write, I was struggling with some of the descriptive work. Questions of “how do I describe that sound” and “how does that feel in the body” arose. It occurred to me that I’ve been doing much too much thinking and not enough doing.
Recently I’d been very focused on doing work as opposed to actually doing. In thinking about my novel and my writing (or lack of writing), I’ve been neglecting two crucial writing tools, observation and experience.
Have you seen A Place for Me (also titled Stuck in Love)? It’s a film I really like. It’s about love and writing and stars Greg Kinnear… these are all things that greatly interest me (oh Greg, swoon!). I bring it up because there is an excellent line in the film:
The novel I’m writing draws heavily from my own experiences. I had been so preoccupied with how to use some of my past experiences in the work that I’d been forgetting the importance of continued observation and experience. To put it more bluntly, I’d stop paying attention.
Being present is becoming more challenging in our hyper connected word. Mindfulness based techniques and approaches to therapy are rising in popularity as the antidote to our obsession/reliance on new communication technologies which see us ever contactable but rarely available. I don’t wish to cry foul over smart phones and social media, quite the opposite, I’m very interested in embracing new technologies and see them as having great potential to assist us in numerous ways. However, we must learn to use these technologies as opposed to being used or sucked into the connected but unavailable vortex.
With this in mind, I’ve been striving to experience and observe the world around me over the past couple of weeks. When I order coffee rather than look at my phone I’ve been taking a moment to people watch: how many sugars do other people put in their coffee? How are other people dressing? Where do they stand as they wait for their coffee, in front of the lids and spoons, further away, right in front of the bench so others have to squeeze past? This might sound dull or even a bit creepy to some readers but it is these details that all writers need in their tool belts – awareness of how others be, do and exist!
In addition to my increased observations I’ve also been getting out of the office and away from my PhD to have some fun. I have been to dinner with friends, taken a road trip to visit family, gone to dance performances and also gone to see some live music. Each has been a rich and varied experience which has indulged a variety of senses and more importantly, reminded me that I’m more than a PhD student and life is bigger than my thesis alone.
The most recent of my adventures, was going to a gig with a friend. It was his first small gig (having only gone to large music festivals or big stadium style shows) and was at one of my favorite venues. Going to see live music is one of my favorite things to do, so much so that I often go by myself. Any hint of loneliness or awkwardness felt going solo to a gig is usually outweighed by the delight of the music and sheer thrill of a good live show.
There were three acts, each being an Australian hip hop artist and I was very aware when I bought the tickets that the majority of the crowd would be younger than me. My friend had told me he would probably just chill by the bar and let me do my own thing. Off course, as I suspected, like me he was digging the vibe and hung out with me near the stage and speakers. The first act hit the stage with thumping energy and my friend and I responded by dancing, cheering and whooping. Around us, others stood, still.
I’m increasingly noticing, that the older I get, the more I care about enjoying the moment and the less I care about what other people think of me while I’m doing so. For the younger crowed at this gig, the opposite appeared to be true. They slowly warmed up but as the night wore on and the temperature climbed, I noticed more and more that those around me were experiencing the evening in a different way.
The younger faces in the crowd captured the moments via their smart phones. Experience has taught me that photos or footage taken at gigs is 1) rarely viewed at a later date, 2) generally shit-house. I understand the desire to take a snap to show a friend or to add to a social media site for posterity but I don’t share the desire to continually do so again and again at a gig. Perhaps there are simply more young music journalists at gigs than I’m aware of? Rather than sweat and dance and experience the music via the body, the younger set were more inclined to capture the moment in a non tangible representation.
The other sharp difference in experience was presentation. This gig was stinking hot! The humidity was high and both crowd and performers were dripping in sweat. As a live music fan living in Queensland, Australia, I am very used to this. I still put thought into my outfit and dress in a way they I enjoy and hope is pleasing to others… i.e. yes, I like to look nice. Yet ultimately I’m well aware that things will get messy. Comfort and practicality are the key concerns. I feel comfortable when I dress nicely but also practically, in a way that will allow me to make the most out of the evening… dance, drink, get among it etc. I told my friend there would be girls in high heels. He was skeptical. Through-out the evening, I pointed them out to him… “heels, heels, heels”. Fair enough if those individuals were comfortable but if you’ve ever been on a cramped dance floor next to someone wearing heels you will understand that their pain often becomes your pain… “ouch, you’re standing on my foot!”. Bless their little midriff’s and carefully applied faces – yes, it is hot and yes, your makeup is running off your face… who cares. These poor little petals were more concerned with their presentation than their participation. Thus, another vortex to avoid.
Over the last few weeks, as I’ve been trying to be more present, another shift in my awareness has come into play. I’d wanted to visit my therapist but had to wake two weeks to get an appointment. Despite feeling better by the time the appointment rolled around I still went. Before starting the session I fill out a computer survey, a psychology test that gives my therapist an indication of where I’m at mentally before I enter the room. When he started the session he informed me that my score was the lowest it’s ever been and we talked about why now, despite my thinking that I was feeling better, that the numbers were saying something else. The conclusion reached was that presently I am actually experiencing my emotions. In the past I’ve employed numerous techniques to avoid negative emotions. While avoiding these emotions may at times allow me to function short-term, the feelings are still there, accumulating and collecting interest. Therefore my efforts to experience and observe are also coming into play in regards to me emotions. Rather than be numb to my emotions, I’ve been experiencing every rotten, yucky bit of them.
Experiencing emotions is important, even if they are unpleasant. Life isn’t a non-tangible representation, its ripe with texture and variables and consequently the creation of art reflects this. It is through art that we explore life’s’ inconsistencies and seek to create meaning and understanding of both ourselves and others which in turn furthers our ability to participate and evolve.
Can you feel it?