In a week’s time, I will be walking across a stage, doffing my Tudor bonnet as I am introduced as Dr Hilton. I will enter the room as part of the academic procession, and sit on stage amongst dignitaries, staff, and my fellow doctoral graduates. … Continue reading A doff to uncertain times
This afternoon I tweeted “Don’t mind me; I’m just sitting here over thinking.” That over thinking led to some rampant Googling. That Googling led to some more over thinking and then to the acquisition of pizza, but that’s irrelevant. ‘What was on your mind?’ I hear you say. Well, besides the delicious greasy goodness of a fresh hot pepperoni pizza I was thinking about an attractive individual who I met on the weekend.
Much of my over thinking is channelled into affairs of the heart/hormones and this afternoon’s musing was no different. Often over thinking this topic is what leads to my problematic thinking and that leads to not fun times. This evening, however, I made a realisation.
I had a productive day, much of which was spent revising a paper I’ve written which discusses my experiences with self-injury and my process of writing about self-injury. In the paper I write that self-injury is a practice of avoidance, often of avoiding difficult emotions. Physical pain and injury is seen as easier to deal with – take a pill, put on a bandage, there you’re all fixed. There is a level of instant gratification or at least a series of tasks that can be done to minimize damage. Emotional pain is not so tangible.
For the last two years I’ve been working through some difficult experiences and their impact on my behaviour, coping and thinking process. I have found that I’m not comfortable with vulnerability. Who is? As a general rule it’s not something anyone enjoys. Unfortunately I have a very unpleasant way of reacting to it and it’s important for me to be able to acknowledge the difference between “I am a bad person” and “I am feeling vulnerable”.
Weaknesses can sometimes be strengths when applied in a different context. I am an “I’ll do it myself” kind of thinker, a great attitude to have in many ways. It’s the kind of attitude that is often encouraged in small children and workplaces. However, it is a double edged sword. Ultimately that kind of attitude relates to a need to control situations and a desire for control can (oddly enough) get out of hand. For example: “The house is messy so I’ll clean it up”, good. “Things feel uncertain in my life so I’ll hurt myself”, not so good.
A mantra I have adopted over the last two years is “sometimes the only thing you can control is your reaction”. My reaction this afternoon was driven by a desire for certainty, an urge to make things happen. Once again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, in the right context. I questioned myself – what was I really thinking, and what was I really feeling? I was feeling vulnerable, if there was the possibility of a negative outcome I wanted to get it over and done with, I wanted to bring it on so I couldn’t be surprised. I wanted to force someone else’s hand. Not simply to get the reaction I wanted but instead to get a reaction that I could deal with. Because uncertainty is uncomfortable, because feeling vulnerable is scary.
Controlling my reaction should not be about taking actions to manipulate a situation. Controlling my reaction should be about staying calm, thinking clearly and allowing myself to sit with discomfort sometimes. What I really need to focus on is my ability to trust, not just other people but also myself. I need to trust that sometimes people will do as they say and that sometimes, more often than not, people will be there for me when needed. I need to also trust my abilities to cope when people may let me down. I need to trust my own worth and the ability of others to see my worth.
This evening instead of “doing it myself” I decided to “do something for myself”. Rather than trying to force an outcome in a situation I chose to sit with the discomfort, possible rejection and disappointment because I trust that I am worthy or good things. While I may feel vulnerable not knowing what will happen in this particular situation I can be confident in knowing that I am a person of value. Instead of trying to control someone else’s reaction I controlled my own by taking a deep breath and channelling my need to do something into this assembling this collection of words. My tendency to over think serves me well as researcher and my desire to “do something” often results in me writing.
Don’t mind me: I’m just sitting here with my vulnerability, naked on the page.
Bodies have been on my mind. I read two very interesting posts this week on bodies thanks to the savvy Clementine Ford who shared a great piece by Whitney Teal and then wrote her own response. Both pieces are on the idea of the “right kind” of body, or the idea of what might be deemed an attractive body by society, marketers, the media or anyone who wants to register bodies to be good, bad, better, worse or unacceptable.
Each of us have a concept of what we want our bodies to be and what we think our bodies should be. That might be related to size, shape or level of perceived attractiveness. They can be considered in relation to labels of gender and sexuality. For some bodies might be a considered as to how they operate; able, disabled, healthy, sick, strong or weak or even the ability of our bodies to give life to others, take life away or be built upon in some form of cyborg, more human than human capacity. Bodies can be discussed in relation to numerous academic disciplines and intellectual perspectives and the dialogues that happen around this issue are rich in debate and detail.
Like most people I have my own ideas and issues around bodies; my body. As mentioned in the article by Teal, I’ve found the recent popularisation of the hour glass figure problematic. While I have a body size that generally meets societal acceptation, there remains plenty of other ways I can deem myself to be lacking or unacceptable by imposed standards of beauty and or femineity. The “real women have curves” tag line was long a point of contention as a formerly skinny up and down teen. In recent years the hour glass figure “trend” in fashion has seen shopping for clothes become frustrating as my body’s curves are apparently not in the appropriate places. When talking about bodies and beauty, one woman’s empowerment can be another’s dismissal (of course this issue is not resigned to women only).
I’m not anti fashion; I understand the drive of marketing and advertising it’s just become apparent that I may not be part of the key target market for fashion and beauty products. The images of models doe eyed and mouths pursed in a breathless shape confuse me. I don’t want to channel the 1950’s as a dolled up housewife or alternative sexy pin-up. I don’t want to be Miranda Kerr, Kim Kardashian or Beyonce (I’m sure they’re all nice enough). Many of my clothing choices these days come down to comfort – will this be suitable for sitting at my desk all day and comfortable enough to walk across campus to my car? Can I eat a large bowl of pasta without having to undo a button? How quickly can this be removed in the heat of the moment?
I recently had a conversation with a male friend about female appearances and in particular makeup. In a conversation about our respective love lives I mentioned being at a bar with my person of interest aware that I was probably the only female in the room not wearing makeup. My male friend sounded surprised at my barefaced choice “you didn’t wear makeup?!” I explained to my friend that while I do like wearing makeup (I trained in makeup artistry many years ago) I no longer feel the need to wear it often. Interestingly enough, he went on to tell me he thought one his person’s of interest wore too much makeup and that this in part was a deterrent for him. So even though he himself does not find heavily made-up faces attractive he still held belief that makeup was a protocol of the dating ritual. Tracey Spicer delivered a fabulous talk on the ideals held about women’s personal “presentation” in the workplace that I’d highly recommend. Ritual and representation plays a key part in our thinking about bodies, beauty and presentation. Comparison and evaluation of worth is part of that ritual for many of us.
Our bodies can directly impact our sense of worth. The academic discourses around bodies are often raised in relation to my work. When discussing self-injury words like embodiment are used; lines are drawn to the patriarchal impact on women’s bodies and the idea of the “skin-ego”. This work has its intellectual place and may be more relevant to some people’s experiences with self-injury than others. As I see it self-injury is self-worth impacting on the body (as opposed to the other way around). The self-injury body relationship is a strange one and likely varies due to the underlying issues and experiences of the individual. The experience of the scarred body is subjected to conventions of beauty and expectation of presentation. In online discussions on self-injury many who bare scars discuss their choice to “wear my scars” while others may choose to try to cover or conceal theirs. Some express that their scars are not significant enough and the same processes of comparison and value that occurs in relation to body size, shape etc can play out in relation to the severity of others scarring. I found that when my PhD shifted to the topic of self-injury many were surprised asking if I actually had scars, or exclaiming that my scars did not look any more noticeable than any individual who had an adventurous childhood. Is there a perceived “right kind” of self-injury body?
How I should feel about my self-injury body has at times been imposed on me by others. Many years ago I had a boyfriend who insisted on scrubbing my scars with harsh methods of exfoliation and tried to “help me” find the best potions and lotions to reduce my scars visibility. Before these experiences I can’t recall being bothered by the marks on my skin. I had another experience when I was chastised for not concealing my self-injured body. This individual claimed that by not doing so I was attempting to wear my self-injury as a “badge of honour”, the accuser drew a parallel to his sexuality “I’m gay but I don’t come in here wearing arseless chaps”. If these are the ideals placed upon the self-injury body then the assumption is that scars must be of a thick keloid appearance to be warranted as sufficiently damaged, self-injury bodies must also be kept out of sight to avoid imposing upon others and that self-injury bodies should be seen as in need of repair.
I’m not planning to offer solutions to any of the ideas or issues raised here. We each have our own choices to make when it comes to bodies and the expectations and conventions placed upon them. In my mind when it comes to our bodies, they are nobody’s business but our own.
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?
I’ve been telling myself for a while now that I should update my blog. I’ve never been a consistent blogger. Over the years I’ve had a couple. Back in the early days I had a Geocities page where I shared my Photoshop style digital artwork. That was during my undergraduate years as a contemporary arts student, a time where digital camera’s were expensive and took 3 & 1/2 inch floppy disks and an ability to use Photoshop was unique and impressive. Many years later I had a Blogger page where I posted my poetry. That blog was successful in reuniting me with a long lost friend which was nice. Before switching to WordPress I was using Tumblr for my Belinda Writes blog. I still love Tumblr but more so for personal purposes and not as a go-to homepage. WordPress is at times frustrating to use but ultimately reliable.
As is mentioned in numerous locations on this blog, I am a PhD candidate (student, to put it less formally). I’m two and a half years into my higher research degree, which means next year at some point in time I will be submitting my thesis (novel and exegesis in my case) and will eventually be able to insist on being called doctor (and I will insist). This week I completed my mid-candidature milestone, meaning I’ve passed all the formal requirements, leaving only submission remaining. I’m on the home stretch… and it’s terrifying!
In my mind, starting tomorrow, I have to strap myself to my desk and write. No more talking about writing the thesis, its time to actually do it. I’ve set the goal of having a completed draft of the thesis (all 100,000 words of it) by the end of October. That equates to a weekly writing goal of approximately 3,000 to 4,000 words. It’s very do-able. Goals are wonderful things, and words count goals are noble in intention… but often that’s all they are, nice ideas that we never really follow through with.
Drawing from the study skills seminars I attended in my teenage years, goals are more achievable when written down. Done! I’ve included this word count goal in an official report and I’m posting it now. Yep, I’ve done both of those things before, without grand success. Oh well, it’s worth another shot. I mentioned before my inconsistency in blogging and my limited success achieving word count goals, this is true, however I do write regularly. For the past five years I’ve kept a journal. This journal stretches over several notebooks and I still have some ripped out pages from journals I had prior to this set. They’re all stored in a plastic crate and I today I unpacked that crate, put them in order and read assorted paragraphs. I keep the crate on a high shelf and noticed the weight of this box as I pulled it down, it was quite heavy. I weighted the crate… 6 kgs. Considering the ups and downs recorded in the pages of these notebooks it’s interesting to think of the weight of those emotions, and to put a number on it!
These journals may prove useful to me over the next eight months as I work on my novel. The novel I’m writing is not a memoir but will draw on some of my experiences, including the ones documented in the aforementioned volumes. So while I don’t blog regularly there are recordings of my life, thoughts and feelings in existence. The beauty in these journals is that they have not be written with an audience in mind. Any writing may find and audience, and in keeping a journal I’m always aware that someone may read it, with or without my permission. In reading the small selections that I did today I saw vast changes in the tone and composition of the writing. Some books are written in neat, small print, others are scrawled and messy, the ink colours change and some entries are more hopeful than others. Interestingly the loose pages, torn from an older journal are perhaps the darkest in nature. Reading these was oddly reassuring. I’d questioned my memory of this time and wondered if I’d created a narrative that was more dramatic than the experience had been. It was clearly documented in these excerpts that I was not falsifying my feelings. I also found a letter in the crate. It was a letter that I had written to myself, clearly during a moment of happiness. While the letter was slightly corny, it also highlighted, as many of my entries did, an optimism and perseverance that, at times, I am able to draw upon.
With this optimism and willingness to persevere in mind I’ll wrap up this post with the intention to return here shortly, with an update on my writing progress.
Until then, be kind to yourself.