WHATEVER HELPS YOU SLEEP

Sometimes when I’m lying in bed and can’t sleep I like to picture myself. I see my body sprawled over my mattress, limbs dangling from under the doona. I see my chest rise and fall, and each strand of my mess of hair splayed across my pillow. I picture the room around me, the carpeted floor, the dresser, and myself, a living thing in the centre.

Then I go higher.

The point of view rises through my ceiling until I’m floating over my roof. The corrugated aluminium slopes away and I can see the small square of backyard, half concrete, half fake grass. I hover there a moment looking at my small world, the section I have claimed as my own, the space marked out to house me and my small dramas, then I rise higher.

I see my street, the stretch of asphalt and the homes clinging to either side like ants around a sweet. I see trees haphazardly scattered amongst the buildings, their broad halo of branches overlapping the assortment of roofs. Each house is a bordering ecosystem full of a complex tangle of lives and love and arguments to which I am oblivious.

And then higher, and I’m looking at my suburb, a spider web of bitumen and concrete, a heaving sea of houses, and the thin dark line of a river weaving lazily through the human habitation, a remnant of the natural state of the land. My neighbourhood. The eclectic mix of culture and ethnicity, of personalities. The unchosen community to which I belong.

Higher.

And the city is a glowing, blinking spread of star-dust, a breathtaking testament to electricity. And it extends on and on, and every light is an indication of a spark of life, a human presence. And my dot of a home is lost like a grain of sand on the beach, but I am in that mass, somewhere, lying on my bed.

But I’m still too connected so I go higher.

The city recedes below me as earth rushes in to fill my periphery until I’m so far above it I see the shape of the country, the weight of land so large it bends around the globe. And the twinkling evidence of mankind is painted around the edges of the continent in a multitude that is hard to comprehend. From this height the scope of human life isn’t minimised, it’s maximised, as our touch can still be seen outside the earth that contains us. The endless miles of unfurled cities, the days of unbroken red desert, the unlimited expanse of beach that rings the country like ribbon are all details too tiny to make out. I know if I was to drop back down I would find a swarming hive of life but from here it’s soft blends of browns and greens smeared across a paint palette.

The rush of my rising blurs the edges as I go higher.

And it’s the world. A spinning blue orb drifting in empty black, a tilted ball scrawled with all the evidence of our history. The cut out of continents meandering across its surface and the eons of evolution written in its soil. One half glows, a chaos of colour, of landscape and oceanscape. The other is draped in shadow, its back to the sun, the side of our planet that sleeps. It is a concentrated atom of life and living and it carries every act of existence on the surface of its skin.

Higher now and planets are whizzing away from me, whisked out of focus from the speed of my upshot.

And I’m adrift in a smear of stars, of electric blues and acid greens, of neon violets and throbbing reds, and white, blazing between drifting clouds of gas that traps the light like it’s swallowed it. The belly of the galaxy is heat and colour, the artwork of the gods. And one of those pinpricks is our sun, the titan of devouring roiling fire, the endless burning source of life, the marker of time and the original deity, reduced to a glint among gems, a single flash in a streak of glitter. The Milky Way is a cosmic ocean of tumultuous energy, its scope outside my ability to hold for more than a second.

But there’s more to go, and I soar higher.

And I’m looking down at a jumble of glowing shapes, our galaxy now just one more marble amongst spheres of speckled light, spiralling lines of linked suns whose reach is beyond human measuring. I float above the collected mass of nebulas and galaxies surrounded by the cold infinity of the universe. I am a child in a dark pool without edges, the entirety of all raging life at my feet. I could go higher into the fathomless breadth of existence but I am at the edge of my knowledge, so I stop, and look down, into everything.

And somewhere down there, through the clouds of stars, through light-years of sheer space, though a dense fog of burning orbs to a handful of planets is one tiny blue and green dot circling one tiny orange sun, and somewhere, all the way down the other end of the telescope, is me. A speck on an electron. A wink of life sprawled on a mattress, entirely overlooked by the universe at large, chewing over my pathetic worries.

I picture this, and feel my mind ease, and sleep.

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THE NATURE OF IMPATIENCE

Recently I broke up with my partner of five years. Let me assure you now, at the outset, this will not be a post describing in excruciating and uncomfortable detail my heartbreak, no, but the information is relevant because it sets the context.

In five years you set patterns, you develop routines, you build a sense of yourself that is, in part, reliant on the other person. My break up forced me out of the familiar little rut I had burrowed into. In what felt like an instant, everything well-known, every habitual instinct I had in my home became foreign and awkward. The activities and past times I used to use to fill the hours between work days were no longer available and I found myself as an unsure guest in my own home.

This is a jarring experience. The usual jokes I would make, ideas I would express, and places of comfort I would seek were no longer there. I was alone. It was just me. And I didn’t really know what to do with myself. I have hobbies, yes, but the beauty of a hobby is both in the picking up and putting down, and once I had placed my hobby down and raised my head I found myself asking, “Now what?”

The first week was spent in justified idleness. I was sad and therefore entitled to unrestricted wallowing. I would do small things to maintain the house and feel immensely proud for continuing to act like an adult in my time of hardship. People told me I was doing well and I believed them.

It was into the third week that I found myself walking up and down my hallway. The dishes were drying in the rack, my lunch was made for the next work day, and I was pacing my tiled walkway in silence. The same question came to me that has probably just occurred to you. What the hell was I doing?

The truth. I was waiting.

I know how break ups go. We talk about them, we analyse them, we watch them in countless movies and television shows. I knew the stages of grief and felt like I was moving through them at a satisfactory pace and in a satisfactory manner. And what comes after. Life, right? It’s after the shock, after the depression that the dust settles and life comes barreling in to whisk you, newly single, into the next stage of your life. This is how it had felt after previous break ups. But my previous break ups always came at a time when my life was changing anyway. The end of high school, the start of university. Now I had a full-time job, I had my own home to return to. I had unbroken routine, and life, if it was going to happen, was happening. So with life happening, why the hell was I wasting it walking up and down my hallway?

The truth. I was impatient.

A prickle began to build, a thorn of impatience growing within me that snagged every time nothing happened. When I had done the necessary tasks of caring for myself, when I had watched television, read a book, cooked and eaten, I still found myself with empty hours to fill and no real drive to fill them. I was lonely, I was bored, and I was impatient because life wasn’t rushing in to entertain me and fill the hours with action.

A month after the break up I took a week off work and reassured myself that life would begin now. I didn’t have work to blame or use as a crutch. I used the week to visit friends, to reorganise my home, to spend time with family, and gave myself room to think. To feel whatever it was I was feeling and the space to recognise it. It was perfect, and healing, and in the end I found myself back in my home, alone, with hours and hours to fill.

So rather than wait, rather than let the impatience build and boil, I set out to fill them. I began a painting. I didn’t have a date in mind of when to finish it, and with so much time on my hands I was in no rush to do so. I started it with an outline on a canvas. That was day one: just the outline. The next day I squeezed out one colour of oil paint and dabbed spots of black in the appropriate parts. The third day I chose three colours to work with. By day four my palette was a mess of hues and I wasted no time in setting to work. I had an audiobook playing in my ears and my hands were busy applying paint, and I was happy. I was engaged, and unaware of the hours that needed filling.

This small act of starting something open a door in my head. Months before my cousin visited wearing a beanie someone had crocheted for him, and at the time I told myself I would learn how to replicate the beanie. The burst of inspiration was diluted by the cycle of normal living, and was forgotten. But now I found myself in a situation with nothing more pressing to attend to. I started by buying wool and a needle. Since then I’ve completed ten beanies — one for each of my family and a few of my own.

I started the first steps to decorating my house. I hung photographs and put together furniture.

I started getting fit. I ran four kilometres before gasping and spluttering to a stop. The next day I ran four and a half. Yesterday I ran ten.

I started to write again.

The lesson I learnt from this experience is not to wait. Not to sit back and wonder why life isn’t unfolding the way you want it to. In short:

If you’re impatient for something to start; start something.

REKINDLING

It’s been a little over seven months since I last posted. Within those seven months there have been some days that beat me, that took me head on and left me a groaning mess at the end. And because of these isolated incidents of universal abuse I rationalised to myself that I didn’t have to write. I could give myself the day off. I was broken, and battered, and allowed to be lazy.

But the truth is these days, these islands of hardship, were surrounded by an ocean of inactivity, where, if I’m honest with myself, a bit of productivity would have gone a long way to restoring me a little. But, as is often the case, inactivity led to even greater inactivity, until months had passed and not a word was written, which served only to deflate me further, sapping any dregs of motivation out of me and making anything that required focus and drive an impossible peak not even worth trying to surmount.

Not long ago my guilt at my own inaction reached an apex and I cracked open my laptop and started a story that had come to me in the many months before my drought of action. The story had settled into the silt of what had previously been creative juices and reawakening that part of my brain took a little coaxing. I wrote two hundred words and felt prodigious. I read those two hundred words three times over, satisfied myself that there was still a spark of writing in me, and shut the laptop lid. It was enough. No point straining something, better to ease back into it.

But, as is often the case, activity led to even greater activity. I found myself tasting the sentences of what I had written while laying in bed at night and coming up with more sentences to follow. WIth ideas and with similes. With characters and their back story. The congealed and dormant creative juices had been stirred and were starting to heat up. Even better, I was starting to wake up from the fog of justified idleness. I felt energised because I had created something and that enthusiasm could be fed back into the creative project, creating more motivation. It was sustainable energy, and it fuelled me to write.

Since then I’ve finished the story, and more importantly been satisfied with the story, and moved on to writing something a bit longer. All it took was taking that first grudging step, tapping those keys until I had one sentence, which led to wanting to write more.

And in light of that, in light of writing more and small actions leading to big results, I will endeavour to make more posts to this site, more for myself that for anyone reading.

But if you are curious, please tag along.

I HAVE AN IDEA

Story ideas are elusive things to define. I think the most repeated question writers must encounter is: “Where do your ideas come from?” And even though this question has become a cliché and the bane of writers during interviews, every time I come across an amazing idea/concept/character, I can’t help but stop, lower my book and wonder, “How the hell did they come up with that?”

In interviews, the writers always seem to struggle to come up with an answer that satisfies them. I think the reason for this is that writers want to create an answer that is clever and apt; but there is no clever and apt answer. The question would probably have to be delivered on a case-by-case basis for the writer to provide an accurate answer.

i.e.

Q: “In scene x with character y, how did you come up with the idea for character x to say dialogue z?”
A: “I read it on a cereal box.”

As you can see this process would be rather tedious and make for a long-winded interview.

But despite the logical answer most writers eventually give, “Lots of places,” the desire to know, to understand the fountain of greatness and where it springs from, is still there. As an aspiring writer, I can’t help but hunger to understand the workings of their minds and follow the track their synapses took to come to the amazing conclusion that is their piece of writing. The reasoning is a simple one: If I can understand it, I can replicate it.

Recently I’ve been looking over some of my old writing and found myself asking the question of where the ideas came from to myself. Time has fogged my memory enough that the exact moment of inspiration has faded leaving me in a dementia-like fugue about how I came to put those exact words to paper. But my weak long-term memory gives me the opportunity to answer the question of where ideas come from to myself:

Ideas come from lots of places. (Wait, there’s more). So many times it is a random string of events that results in an idea. It could start with the briefest glimpse I get of a man and a child on the footpath as I’m driving down the road. Maybe the boy is picking something off the pavement and the man is bending down to see what he’s found. And maybe as I’m driving past I’m not thinking about writing or stories, I’m thinking about the dessert I’m going to eat that night, but that fleeting images snags something in my head. The image sticks and dessert slips from my brain and I find myself wondering what the boy might have found. Idea.

The next stage to the answer is that ideas are usually more than one idea, they’re a mutated amalgamation of ideas. Maybe earlier that day I was shopping for dessert when I came across a metallic frog that when you click its belly it sounds like it’s croaking. (This item actually exists, my dad has it, but for the purposes of the example let’s say I found it at the shops). I remember this curious item and suddenly I know in my story what it is the boy has found. He brushes off the dirt to reveal a tarnished and beat-up metallic frog that croaks when you push its belly. Idea.

Now this is just the frame of a story, a starting place, but through this string of memories, moments, and images, a story idea is cobbled together. Questions come from this beginning: “What does the boy do with the metal frog?”, “What does the man do with it?”, “Will the frog become an animated spirit, whispering to the boy in the night, speaking of greatness in a croaky voice?” The answers to these questions are part of the story idea process.

And maybe at this point I want to insert a moral or meaning to the story. Maybe I know an elderly man who collects wombat paraphernalia, only now in my story the old man has a frog paraphernalia collection. And maybe the metallic frog was the first item he ever received, and suddenly the story’s about ownership and lost things. Idea.

The beauty of this demonstration is that anything can be story. Or maybe it should be everything is story. Every conversation, every freeze-frame image, every unique quirk, every memory, or smell, or taste can go into a story. These details are what make a story feel real and special and makes readers like me stop and wonder how they came up with something so original and perfect.

One of the things I enjoy most about writing is there is no such thing as wrong. Anything that is sticking to the roof of your brain can be jotted down, explored, and fed with creativity until it becomes something bigger that the original image of a boy and a man finding something on the pavement. It becomes plot, and interesting characters, and mythology, and a mini-reality put to paper.

Where do stories ideas come from?

Where don’t they come from.