Quote Unquote

“I imagine Judgement Day to be God calling you into a tiny white room w/ an uncomfortable wooden chair that you sit in & splinter yourself as you shift anxiously. He comes in smiling like a train conductor who found you without a ticket & he says I don’t care what good you did or what evil & I don’t care if you believed in me or in my son or in any other member of my extended family or if you gave generously to the poor of if you gave to them stingily with closed fists but here is a minute-by-minute account of your time on earth. Then he produces a piece of paper 10,000 kilometres long & says, Read this & explain yourself. Mine would read as follows:

14 June

9:00 am woke up

9:01 am lay in bed, staring at the ceiling

9:02 am lay in bed, staring at the ceiling

9:03 am lay in bed, staring at the ceiling

9:04 am lay in bed, staring at the ceiling

9:05 am lay in bed, staring at the ceiling

9:06 am lay in bed, staring at the ceiling

9:07 am lay in bed, staring at the ceiling

9:08 am rolled over onto left side

9:09 am lay in bed, staring at the wall

9:10 am lay in bed, staring at the wall

9:11 am lay in bed, staring at the wall

9:12 am lay in bed, staring at the wall

9:13 am lay in bed, staring at the wall

9:14 am lay in bed, staring at the wall

9:15 am doubled over pillow, sat up to see out window

9:16 am sat in bed, staring out window

9:17 am sat in bed, staring out window

9:18 am sat in bed, staring out window

9:19 am sat in bed, staring out window

Then God would say Life is a gift & you never even bothered to unwrap it. Then he would smite me.”

Steve Toltz, A Fraction of the Whole, pp. 247-8

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Death to 2008

So 2008 is about to wink out like a candle, and as far as I’m concerned it’s not a second too soon. This year was really hard, for me and seemingly everyone else I know – and, apparently, everyone Jess Friedmann knows too. Milena Thomas recently blogged about how 2008 has aged her, and I feel the same way. I’m ending the year mentally, emotionally, physically and financially exhausted.

This time last year I mentioned that I was trying to move on from my entry-level publishing job. I’m still looking. I’ve had about ten job interviews this year. I rejected a couple and the rest rejected me. I was told when I finished uni that once I was in the workforce it would be easy to move around within it. Not true. If you’re in the throes of a shitty job hunt, I send you virtual hugs and bottles of gin. (Virtual gin.)

All that said, my job hunt has been pretty deranged. I’m not looking for a linear career move from where I am right now and I’m mainly looking at part-time jobs, which are hard to find. Also, my capacity to take risks has been curtailed this year by the fact that my partner was studying full-time in a postgraduate course with a huge practical component, making it difficult for him to spend time earning the sweet money. So hopefully in 2009 I’ll be able to look at a wider range of possibilities.

Thanks to all this stress and an unusual amount of pollen, things really went wrong for me in September when I developed asthma. I never had asthma as a kid but now, after this year’s horrendous hayfever season, whenever I take a deep breath it just suddenly – stops. Like it’s hit a wall. Which is probably exactly what’s happening. My immune system has been low, leading to several throat/chest infections and the annihilation of all of my sick leave. I have wanted to be in bed for most of September, October, November and December, and wherever practicable I have given in to this urge. If I missed your birthday/housewarming/bar mitzvah/engagement party/goat sacrifice this year, that’s probably what I did instead.

Somewhere along the line I invoked a new rule – when in doubt, go to sleep. I’ve done lots of resting. I’ve watched lots of TV. I’m starting to feel like I might be ready to get up.

But enough whining. It hasn’t all been bad. I’ve had a freaking great year for writing.

This year I realised my long-held dream of having an article published in a national newsstand magazine. In fact, I published four articles in the last three issues of frankie that came out in 2008. (I’m slowly getting them all up here if you want to read them.) It was the first time I’d written for a paying market. Here’s the weird thing: after years of dreaming about this goal, in the end it was fecking easy. The editor, Jo, spoke for five minutes at the Emerging Writers’ Festival about what she was looking for in a good pitch; after the session I went up, introduced myself, and pitched an idea, to which she basically agreed on the spot. Too easy.

A while back, to motivate myself, I decided that when my first article was published I’d go on a hot air balloon ride. So now I owe myself a hot air balloon ride. I’m not sure what my next goal is or what the reward should be.

I also had a couple of major achievements in the fiction writing department. My favourite short story, ‘Escargot postel’, was published in the Sleepers Almanac 4 at the start of the year and then republished in Best Australian Short Stories 2008 in November. That little baby’s brought in over five hundred bucks now. I also had another story, ‘Rock is dead’, republished by an American small press publisher in The Subatomic Anthology 01: One Step Beyond.

The other awesome career/media/creative thing I did this year was chairing the Creative Entrepreneur’s Toolkit panel in Vibewire.net‘s 2008 E-Festival of Ideas. The panelists and website members had a great discussion about forging a career in the creative arts and we had the most active panel of the festival. You can still see the festival content on the Vibewire.net forums, but you need to sign up as a member and log in first.

If anything, this year has taught me that I really am a writer. I don’t know if that’s a life thing or just a career thing. Maybe things will get clearer in the coming year.

So that’s my year in review. Bring on 2009. I’ve been looking forward to it, with growing desperation, for four months now. I’m nervous to set any ‘goal’ goals because the start of this year was all ‘push push push’ and the second half all ‘crash crash crash’. So for the time being I’m just going to go with the flow.

My new year’s resolutions are about developing habits: regular exercise, regular writing practice, regular art making. So instead of saying, ‘In 2009 I will exercise every day’, I’m saying, ‘In 2009 I will learn to exercise every day.’ There’s less pressure that way. I recommend it.

Happy new year.

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Too Many Notebooks Syndrome

This post was originally published on my other blog, The Art of Work.

So here’s how it breaks down: I have this blog you’re reading right now, and another one on WordPress, and an all-but dormant LiveJournal that I won’t link you to. I also have a folio website for my freelancing work, which is basically also a blog where the posts are my articles, and a Twitter feed. In the non-virtual world, I have a hardcover notebook for my innermost thoughts (read: whining), another one for ideas and drafts of ‘real writing’ (whatever the hell that means), the notebook I carry in my handbag, and if I dug around I could probably find the Hipster PDA I made at the start of the year when I was quite sure I did not want to carry a notebook around in my handbag anymore.

I have numerous sketch books in sizes ranging from A3 to A6 for those rare times when I feel the urge to make art and then actually follow through. Recently I bought another one to use a visual source book so that I can collage all the pretty pictures I collect from magazines, and I have notions of buying yet another to turn into a kind of multi-page vision board.

And that’s not even all of my notebooks. There are more. Many more. Needless to say, with so many options and so little time to actually fill any of them, none of these gets much of a workout. So it’s time for some consolidation.

For a long time now I’ve been making plans to move The Art of Work to its own domain, change the name to something more easily Googled, monetise the pants of it and then spend my days blogging and rolling around in all the (American!) dollars I would obviously make from AdSense and affiliate programs. I might still do that one day, but in the meantime I think it would be best to bring my personal and professional musings together in the one place. My favourite blogger thinks you should only have one blog, and I intend to take her advice. (Ironically, she made that statement on her ‘other’ blog – her main blog is here, in case you’re wondering why my favourite blogger ever only has two posts.)

So changes a afoot, and as a result The Art of Work will probably disappear into obscurity. For posterity I will probably move the old posts over to their new home, wherever that may be, and I will still mainly be talking about creativity and having a crack at a fulfilling career in this big, mean world. But I might also occasionally want to talk about wine, or cats, or weird things I’ve seen in the street. And gentle reader, you can only benefit – where else are you going to hear about dogs that pee upside down?

The moral of the story: stop obsessing over your tools and materials. Simplify and get on with the real work of producing things the world has never seen. Now, go get rid of some notebooks.

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Unphotographable

This is a photo I did not take one morning of a man walking out of a commercial carpark cradling a miniature yellow Mini Cooper in his arms.

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Philip Larkin and the artistic guilt-trip

This post was originally published on my other blog, The Art of Work.

When you give up one thing, for example a day of paid work or bothering to keep your house clean, in favour of spending more time and energy on your creative work, apart from the logistical issues involved it’s quite common to find you have another problem to solve – guilt.

Some of it comes from within – feeling guilty about letting the dishes pile up, or because you’ve been painting watercolours instead of doing something that will top up your retirement fund, or more insidious, guilt that you get to do more of what you love than those around you who are still slaving away doing things they hate. Sometimes, though, it gets laid on by other people, and laid on thick – like when they ask when you’re going to get stop messing around and get a real job.

Aussie wordsmith Kate Holden talked about the former, in a tongue in cheek sort of way, in this article for The Age a while back.

The Germans, bless them, have a word for it. Kunstlerschuld means “artist’s guilt”; that is, the gritty niggling of remorse for getting to have fun whacking paint and words around when honest citizens are banging away at retail counters, sticking their arms down toilets and putting up with boring Nathan in accounts. It is a perfectly reasonable feeling. After all, getting to do what you like is a privilege in this world and the chap out there who heroically devotes his time to designing a product to gently heat Baby Wipes to perfect bum temperature is no doubt doing a fantastically useful duty, whereas some plonker like me, sitting pretty pondering adjectives while sipping a caffe latte, is the very picture of degeneracy.

Philip Larkin talks about the latter, the guilt-trips you get from others, in his poem ‘A Life With a Hole In It’. (If you click on that link, you’ll have to scroll down a bit to get to the full text of the poem.) It seems the women in Larkin’s life were a bunch of banshees:

When I throw back my head and howl
People (women mostly) say
But you’ve always done what you want,
You always get your own way
— A perfectly vile and foul
Inversion of all that’s been.
What the old ratbags mean
Is I’ve never done what I don’t.

Those bitches! Granted, he may well be talking about women who worked their arses off to get his dinner on the table and his socks darned, so it’s possible that their complaints were legitimate to a degree.

Then we have the famous lines in the second stanza, where he talks about

…the shit in the shuttered chateau
Who does his five hundred words
Then parts out the rest of the day
Between bathing and booze and birds

I’m undecided on what’s happening here. On the one hand, this could be more on the way others perceive his life and his choices. If that’s the case, though, it’s not really fair. Larkin worked as a university librarian his whole life; he was an artist with a day job. He was also a prolific writer. What I reckon might be going on is that Larkin is dishing out a bit of the guilt-trip to someone else, maybe even someone in particular – a dilettante living off a nice little stipend and not doing much work is what I picture in my mind.

If you choose a creative career there will be many people who will ask you to justify it, politely or not. So why should you paint watercolours instead of work the extra day at your ‘normal’ job? Go and read Larkin’s third and final stanza for the answer. I tell you what, I fear the ‘havings-to’ and ‘the unbeatable slow machine/That brings what you’ll get’.

I don’t know enough about Larkin to know if my interpretations are correct, but I’ve become obsessed with this poem.

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What we can learn from ‘Luka’

This post was originally published on my other blog, The Art of Work.

Suzanne Vega has an article in the New York Times about her life as a musician. She was recently included in an article called ‘Two-hit wonders’ and this is her response. There’s a lot of great stuff in the article about the creative process and how music is made both artistically and commercially, but I also really like this description of her career:

“[Two-hit wonders is] a list I have shown up on fairly often recently, so I had almost gotten used to it. Of course, [my husband’s] right, and it’s demeaning — it makes me look as though somehow I managed to squeak out those two songs and then shuffle back to being a receptionist, which isn’t true.

The way I prefer to see it is that I have had a 20-plus-year career, with a big back catalog of songs that a lot of people know, and want to hear, and yes, two of those songs were big Top 40 hits. What’s to complain about? They are like the cherries on top of the sundae. Why would I not want that? They have been my passport out of a life in an office, to a life on the road where I can go to Korea and the guy who stamps the passport says, “Are you Vega, Suzanne? Everybody knows you here.” And his eyes change with emotion when he reads my name.

I bet when she was still working as a receptionist, she had no idea she would be so successful. So whatever level of ‘success’ you might have had so far in your work, keep doing what you’re doing.

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How do you divide work and leisure?

This post was originally published on my other blog, The Art of Work.

This week Marci Alboher (One Person/Multiple Careers: A New Model for Work/Life Success) published an interesting article in the New York Times called ‘Why leisure matters in a busy world’. In the article Alboher interviews Alison Link, an expert on leisure patterns whose academic work focuses on the ways in which leisure decisions can impact on incarcerated and at-risk people. It’s interesting reading, and it made me think about the place of leisure in the lives of artists and creative entrepreneurs.

I’ve already talked a bit about work/work balance as a model for managing a creative career, and how it can get in the way of work/life balance. The work/work balance is usually pretty easy to define – maybe you wait tables a few days a week and while you develop your acting career, or work in publishing full-time while you write your novel, or teach throughout the year and spend school holidays building your painting folio for exhibition. Or maybe work/work balance isn’t an issue for you because you already do what you love full-time. That’s where it gets complicated – if you’re doing what you love, is it work or leisure? And how do you know when to switch on or off?

Wherever you are in your career, chances are that whatever creative endeavour you now define as your ‘work’ made its debut in your life as a hobby. Chances are also pretty good that you love what you do so much, you would do it for free. In fact, no matter how much you earn from your creativity, you probably already do it for free to some extent, whether it’s working on your own projects, working for friends or donating your skills to organisations. If there was no money in what you do, you would probably do it anyway.

At the same time, transitioning from a hobby to a career attaches many new stresses to what was once an enjoyable activity. Where once you could do what you liked and in your own time, now you must meet deadlines and the expectations of others. Before you could while away the hours following tangents and playing; now you need to keep one eye on the clock to ensure that the pay you receive reflects the time you have spent.

Meanwhile, I don’t know about you, but lately I’ve been struggling to enjoy leisure activities I once loved. Books, movies, television are all narratives that bring me back to thinking about my own skills as a writer. And any other activity I do or experience I have is something I could potentially write about. Does anyone else have this problem?

Creative work exists on a sliding scale of work and leisure. Where each activity you pursue fits on the scale depends on your own definitions and goals. I know many creative workers who fill their leisure time with more work-related activities. Sometimes it’s because it’s the only time they have to complete the work, and sometimes it’s because they are genuinely wrapped up in the task and there’s nothing else they’d rather do with their time. The creative community considers this type of behaviour normal. It’s ‘passion’. It’s also a sign of workaholism. Check out this quiz from the American Workaholics Anonymous website. The twenty questions listed – Do you turn your hobbies into money-making ventures? Do you believe that it is okay to work long hours if you love what you are doing? – are designed to give you an indication of whether you might be addicted to work. If you answer ‘yes’ to three or more questions you might have a problem. I answered ‘yes’ to fifteen of the questions. Uh oh. But I reckon most creative workers out there would have a similar result.

Is it okay to be a workaholic? In this field it seems like it’s almost compulsory.

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