Mad Plant Monday: Writing and Bravery

I’ve seen everyone in the writing community gushing over Elizabeth Gilbert’s new novel Big Magic, and I couldn’t help but grab the soft cover in my clammy little paws when I saw it’s colourful goodness sitting on the shelf in my local bookshop. If you’re in a creative rut or looking for a summer read i’d highly recommend it from my very limited view of 45 pages deep. I was really heartened by the chapter on fear. She discusses the importance of acknowledging fear and accepting its’ place in the creative process, but knowing when to ignore it and push on with things.

“You have treasures hidden within you – extraordinary treasures – and so do I, and so does everyone around us. And bringing those treasures to light takes work and faith and focus and and courage and hours of devotion, and the clock is ticking, and the world is spinning, and we simply do not have time anymore to think so small.”

So basically there’s no better time to suck it up and be a brave little cookie. This is something i’ve struggled with, being brave. I’m scared of a lot of things. Yesterday afternoon I stood on a fallen passionfruit while walking the dog and squealed bloody murder because my first thought was FROG FROG I’VE STEPPED ON A FROG. So between that, grasshopper legs, crinkle cut chips and terracotta, i’m a delight. But there’s something that probably scares me more than grasshopper legs, and it’s my problem with sharing my work. This has been arguably my biggest setback. I judge too harshly and never feel ready to let my work go and be what it’s supposed to be. But how is that helpful? When will it ever be good enough?

I’ve started trying to accept that i’ll never feel totally ready to declare a piece finished. And the less i’ve stopped hoarding writing in the depths of my writing folder and more i’ve put out there the easier it’s all become. Writing begets writing, success begets success and so on. There will always be more ideas, a new way to examine something, a better word – but there’s never going to be a better time to have a go than right now.

For more words on bravery and a little tough love be sure to check out this recent post by Chuck Wendig entitled Go Big, Go Weird, Go You, And Fuck Fear in the Ear. He’s really subtle about it.


The Cull

Naturally I am very highly strung. I stress and obsess over the smallest things, from the way I say goodbye to people:

Was that really awkward? Why did I wave like that?

All the way up to the important stuff like my writing:

Do people even care about this? Why would anyone want to read what I have to say?

And it’s not helpful. It’s a destructive and toxic mindset. Stressing about little things is useless, and fretting over the bigger things does nothing to remedy situations. So many mountains, such tiny molehills.

So last week after a spectacular meltdown of tears and hours lying in bed stewing in my own stress, I decided to let it go. I decided to kill off the parts of me I don’t like. Kind of like when characters chop off their hair and don a leather jacket before going out to beat the crap out of people except a more extensive and less violent reinvention of self. I didn’t chop my hair because i’m still trying to grow it to mermaid-esque lengths. But you know, whatever works.

I started by going to yoga. It is four houses down from me so I don’t have any excuse not to go. The instructor is this teeny soft-spoken woman who talks with her eyes closed and a calm smile on her face. She’s also hilarious and surprises people by warning them to “not fuck up their knees” and that “if it feels like you’re being suffocated by your tits, it’s the right position!” She’s a hoot, and her classes focuses on posture, breathing and relaxation. I used to be skeptical, but post session all of the chatter that drowns me daily is dull and almost nonexistent. So i’ve made a promise to myself to keep it up, and i’m sure being able to touch my toes comfortably will be an added bonus.

I then opened up to my partner about my fears about success and disappointing people. He already knew how I was feeling, but hearing his suggestions as to how i’ll move forward in regards to my career and happiness was really comforting when in the past I would have automatically been defensive and guarded. We’re very different people, but he’s a gem and has been instrumental in my journey towards becoming a fully-fledged adult.

Social anxiety is something that has popped it’s filthy little head up over the past few years, and where I once was a bubbly outspoken person I had become that person that shrinks and avoids eye contact. Dinners and social events usually have me scrambling for excuses as to how I can avoid going. New people always means questions about what I do, and i’m always left red-faced and stuttering. But i’m so done. We went out a few nights ago and I was completely forthcoming and relaxed, and it was such a weightless feeling, and I genuinely enjoyed myself. After a few drinks, inappropriate jokes and sex talk I began to feel right at home.

I rounded up my little week of changes by doing my volunteer work and chatting to heaps of people about ocean conservation, and then coming home to write emails, reach out to people and make enquiries. Today is a new week, and it’s happening all over again. It’s crazy the difference a week can make, and I intend to keep culling parts of myself I don’t like.

Perfectionism and Sharing

I try ridiculously hard to perfect everything that I put out in the world. Sometimes I feel that I can’t even show people what i’ve done because to me there’s some sort of flaw that I’m not able to remedy. Doubt holds me back and sours what should be an accomplishment. This isn’t just limited to my writing, either. Everything from my pottery to the cake I baked for my two year old sister’s birthday was judged so harshly by me, yet not a scrap of cake was leftover and multiple people asked for the recipe. I was too busy scowling at the murky green buttercream to shut off my brain and just eat a piece.

My partner recently saw all my little notes and ramblings on index cards and asked again to see my blog. I casually skirted around the topic last time it was brought up, but this time I was just blatantly making excuses. I made the blog with the full intention of letting those close to me know what I was doing, partly to hold myself accountable and stay true to my promise to write prolifically. But once I started it the thought of just throwing words out into the atmosphere with people I don’t know reading it was sort of comforting. I didn’t have the desperate need to impress these people because i’ll most likely never see them. I can create without fear. But the thought of someone I know reading it? My family, friends? Insert .gif of Steve Carell screaming “NOOOOOOOOO! GOD NO PLEASE!”

This is hindering my productivity, and I know things in life aren’t meant to be perfect. So i’m making a promise to myself to move towards letting go of this stupid, crippling fear and sharing more. Both by posting more and letting those close to me know that I have a blog.

An exercise that I think will help with this is an exercise inspired by Of Opinions, which is a 30 minute stream of consciousness blog post that I plan to do weekly and will come up with some clever name for later. This piece is the first.

So here’s to not burying myself in unfinished pieces!

A x

What if the pool runs dry?

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Running out of material is something that threatens to leave a bit of pee running down my leg. I want to be in it for the long haul, but what if one day the words just stop? This fear is something that hinders my writing, or more accurately, stops me from writing at all. I worry that I will write everything i’m capable of, everything about me and my experiences, and have nothing noteworthy or interesting left. Instead i’ll sit down and write about a pivotal moment in my life, or a piece that i’ve been sitting on for weeks, and i’ll just let it sit all sad and stagnant on my desktop.

Recently i’ve come to realise that in order to be a writer you actually have to let people see your stuff, and in order for people to see your stuff you have to put on a brave face and throw it out there. Read More »

Phone Anxiety

Photo by Doug on Flickr under Creative Commons License
Photo by Doug on Flickr under Creative Commons License

“Yes who’s speaking please?”

This was the phrase I was taught when I was six years old. If the phone happened to ring and my Nan or Gran couldn’t make it to the phone in time, this was my go-to. I was more than happy to skip over to the landline and chew the ear of the poor soul on the other end. Everyone found my high-pitched little voice adorable, and it was usually just my mum, aunty, or Gran’s hairdresser on the other end.

I think it was probably the teenage years of MSN messenger and texting that helped nudge me on this path of phone awkwardness. We all preferred to chat through emojis and text speak than actually talk to each other, and it’s stunted me when I came out the other side where people in the real world did talk on the phone/skype. It makes me laugh a little when I think of that confident little girl chatting away on her Gran’s prehistoric telephone in comparison to me now, who has to psych herself up and gets sweaty behind the knees over a phone call – even if it’s just to order Thai food.

So I have a newfound trick that I decided I should share if by chance anyone else (please, tell me it’s not just me) has the same problem. So here it is:

I pretend i’m Mum. Obviously don’t pretend to be my Mum though because although I don’t doubt your stellar acting skills, I just don’t think you could get her voice down pat. An equally confident go-getter will do the trick though.

Mum loves the phone. She loved the phone back when texting wasn’t really a thing, and she loves it now because she can both text her girlfriends for everyday happenings and call them all in quick succession when something really exciting goes down. She is effortless when calling up about bills, making appointments, and even making a complaint. She has this very to the point, professional-yet polite voice that she puts on, and i’ve heard it so many times that my mimicry is spot on. I don’t even have to practise a little script of what i’m going to say before I call anymore, and the back of my knees perspire much less, thank god.

I Apologise Too Much

Photo by Carro Wallis on Flickr.
Photo by Carro Wallis on Flickr.

I was always taught to be polite. To excuse myself when walking inbetween people or leaving the table, and to always, always say my please’s and thank you’s. My very proper great grandmother didn’t teach me to say sorry for everything I did, that seemed to happen of it’s own accord through the inherent female guilt complex. Don’t be an imposition, be grateful, don’t be too assertive – or you’re just dismissed a big rude bossy-pants.

It’s something I became more aware of when a male runner smashed into me from behind on a morning walk, and I was the one who said sorry. Sorry he was too busy trying to run and text to watch where he was going? Sorry that I take up too much space? Really, what kind of crap is that?

And it’s definitely not an isolated incident. I apologise for the stupidest shit. Sorry that i’m violently ill and can’t come to work and share my phlegm. I’m even prone to pre-warning my girlfriends before we hang out, apologising for looking like “a complete mess.” I even bumped into a mirror at a department store and apologised to my own reflection before I’d had the time to assess what the hell was going on.

While it’s a hard habit to kick, I think it’s an important thing to recognise and address. My new aim is to really assess whether or not the thing i’m about to apologise for is my fault, and if not, i’m going to save that sorry for an occasion where I really am in the wrong. Like that time I skateboarded down a hill and smashed into a parked car. Yeah, that really was my bad.

What’s something you’ve apologised for that wasn’t your fault?

The Solo Recharge

I used to take my alone time for granted. I would come home, strip off to the bare minimum, and spend a good portion of the afternoon in bed binge-watching whatever tv show I was hooked on. It was bliss. Now that i’m working, juggling friends and boyfriend as well as spending time with my family and taking on an internship my solo time is something I need to carve out of my day. I really need that time, no talking, no fake smiles, no uncomfortable clothes – just quiet. I’m sure some people wouldn’t believe that i’m an introvert, as I spend a lot of my time being very out and loud. My boyfriend really came to understand when he asked me to come over after a huge shift. I did make the drive, of course I wanted to spend time with him, but I was completely useless. He thought I was mad at him, he kept asking why I looked so tired and pushing me to make a decision about the afternoon’s activities. I’m terrible at decision-making at the best of times, let alone when i’m tired and strung out after a day of fake smiles and dealing with rude customers. He’s very understanding among his long list of other attractive attributes. I’m a pretty lucky girl.

It’s 5:42am, and i’m approaching what I hope will be the first day of many at my new internship. I really want to like the place and the people, I just need to make sure that I stay calm and focused. I cannot mess this up. I take my chill-out time at the start of the day now and I think it really helps. Nobody is awake (except my rats who are currently drinking very loudly from their water bottle and hopping around in their cage like popcorn in the microwave), so I don’t really have to worry about being disturbed. I can get ready at my own pace and assure myself that I can do this.

Pushing Through

Whenever anything big is coming up for me there’s a few stages of my anxiety that begins days before the actual event. Firstly there’s a sense of general unease, like the slight discomfort before you feel the effects of full-on heartburn. Then I feel like my entire body is a heartbeat. I’m twitchy, my face is hot and prickly, and my left armpit gets sweaty while the right stays curiously dry – my mum says she’s the same although i’m not sure if this should comfort me. I feel like i’m going to throw up, but I won’t because the act of throwing up is completely terrifying to me. My hands shake although it’s hard to attribute that to the nervousness of my caffeine intake – have I had too much or not enough?

Lastly there’s the feeling of doubt, that I can’t do this and there’s no point walking through the door. Just go home, it’s not worth the humiliation. But I manage to leave the car and walk towards the office, finding a loose thread on my tights and picking it, causing it to ladder and leave my whole knee exposed. Fantastic! Regardless I manage to shove myself through the door, and once i’m in, i’m in. There’s no turning back and I have to do my best not to give the sloppiest, sweatiest handshake in the history of interviews.

It’s only an internship. I’m literally applying to work for free in turn for experience. What the hell is wrong with me?