Walking the Writing Path

I can pinpoint a big change in my life to the day when I was walking through Mosman’s #HeadlandPark and realised that many companies had been stablished in the business spaces I had once seen and wished to work at.

This was many years ago, when I took pictures of all the companies names and sent them my resume, asking for a job. I’m an Office Manager/EA, when I’m not being a writer, and that is a position that exists in many companies.

The Alive Mobile Group had just lost their person in that role and hired me. Alive would later transform and become part of The Mirus Group and move to Pyrmont, and it is where I still work (still a beautiful water-views office!)

At that time, the company was in Mosman, and I lived in the area. The office was phenomenal, with harbour views and my walk to work was incredibly inspiring, meandering through the cozy village and the paths of the Headland Park. I loved the company, the place and the culture (still do). The one thought that distracted me sometimes was that every day I would walk to work and wish I could write on the way, stop at the amazing locations and just sit down on a bench, or at a cafe, and write my heart out.

Alive Co. in Mosman

Alas, I had to get to work on time, and even though I did write before and after work some days, and took to write  during some lunch hours, I had this consistent desire for more time.

Last week I was a bit disappointed because my writing day hadn’t been the most productive and suddenly I had this idea, that now, with my Writing Wednesdays, I could do exactly what I had wanted to do all those days while I was working in Mosman, I could walk the path, and stop for writing along the way… All day long!

It was an incredible experience, I left early with my writing gear, down to Balmoral Beach and all the way alongside it, crossing the Balmoral Park Oval and up the steps (many, many, very steep steps). I stopped at Frenchy’s Cafe for a couple of hours of writing. 

Then I took the track behind the cafe through the Artist Precinct and found the bench with the most beautiful view in the world! Quite predictably, I sat there for another writing sprint… I watched while a guy — who must have a pretty great job — removed weeds from the bush.

When the sky started showing signs that it would fall on me, I continued my walk, and took this picture, bombed by a brisk walker.

By the time I got home, just before the rain really started falling, I had accumulated thousand of steps and, even better, thousands of words!

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Valid Writing Related Activities

The concept of flexible discipline, (no idea where I took that from, I’m sure it is out there somewhere) inspires me. 

I have a full day of writing per week to apply such concept and have fun in listing what I feel I should allow me to do or not and still consider myself to have been productive…

  • Writing (obviously)
    • Writing items on my main list of goals is better than just writing anything
    • Writing useless emails are not valid, but writing complaints or anything that will free my mind of some annoying persistant thought is okay
    • Writing about writing
  • Research and preparation
    • Character building
    • Location research
    • Contacting people to be interviewed
    • Preparing Interviews
    • Reading short, specific material (broad reading is for other days)
  • Admin tasks that will organise the writing
    • Writing travel booking
    • Contacting story-related people
    • Keeping up blogs and sites and social media
    • Renewing domain names
    • Clearing email inboxes and organising calendar
  • Ideas building
    • Taking a nap thinking of something (preferable with conscious dreaming)
    • Walking meditation – focusing on something that needs solutions or ideas
    • Swimming, dancing in the living room, or bathing meditations
    • Cooking meditation
    • Catching the ferry or the train for writing while travelling (not travel writing)
    • Day writing adventures
    • Libraries visit writing
    • Toilet breaks – even many of them (they are great for sparking ideas)
  • Freeing your mind
    • Taking notes of ideas for writing
    • Cataloguing ideas for writing (blog posts? books? short stories?)
    • Doing small tasks that take little time and un-clot the mind
    • Organising the space before starting to feel ready to start
    • Writing any messages and booking any appointments early in the day and letting people know its the end of the conversation for the day
    • Regular breaks to refresh and get the blood pumping
    • Bobbing on yoga ball (for the same reason above)
  • Editing and publishing
    • Editing and proofreading
    • Layout creating and cover creation
    • Hiring freelancers
    • Sending material to publishers
  • Coffee…
    • “Coffee glides into one’s stomach and sets all of one’s mental processes in motion” Honoré de Balzac

Weekly Author’s Day

I have recently started working four days a week to write one day. To make it work I have created a few structural strategies and some mental ones.

“If you do not fill your day with high priority actions that inspire you, your day will fill up with low priority distractions…” Dr. Demartini

My Structural Strategies:

  • Wednesday Writing Day — it was not only good for the company I work for, as my busiest days are Monday and Friday; it is to signal my mind that my day off the job is still a Working Day.
  • A day for Writing — it is NOT for laundry, for cleaning, buying groceries or lazying on the beach. I can go to the beach, for lunch-and-back, or to write there, or to plot about something I’m writing, but meaningful work has to be achieved.
  • Journaling — a list of writing-related tasks completed — that serves as an antidote to poisonous thoughts and create the proof that I have and am doing enough.
  • Physical Writing Space — a great writing space with a desk that allows for standing or seating, with a beautiful, large monitor and a super cute typewriter (just in case the world ends and the computers stop working, if that happens I can keep writing!).
  • No shoes, no bra — I wake up and make my bed, dress comfortably but in clothes that mean business, make my coffee and setup my computer at my workspace. I do make allowances though, unless I’m going out, no shoes, no bra are allowed.

My Mental Strategies:

  • Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries — nothing is permitted to invade my sacred space, not my shit, not anyone else’s.
  • No limits — I refrain from any commitments on this day, even lunchtime, early mornings or evenings, I never know when creativity will flow best, so I reserve the full day to allow for it to catch me at any time of the day.
  • Clear and achievable goals — keeping them visible and constantly in mind; focusing on them as primary objectives.
  • Flexible discipline  with a strong commitment to the process. I work first in my primary objectives, if it that isn’t flowing, I do anything related to the writing process: it might be creating ideas, researching characters, taking notes, writing about the process, keeping the admin tasks of the job in check. All work is valid, even napping while considering a narrative plot.
  • Break the resistance — try first, what you most want to achieve, start, put effort, if it flows, you just keep going; if not, do some other useful task; if the flow doesn’t come, it wasn’t resistance, it just wasn’t the best moment to write that part. (Based on Seth Godin’s ideas on “The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly?”
  • Allow for changes in environment — make writing and researching excursions; change the writing location when the house is not the right mental space.
  • What takes me closer to my mission? — is the question that saves my sanity every time, whenever I am indecisive about something. Make choices, any choices are better than none, any word count is better than nothing, any writing related activity is valid.
  • Reward good work.

Lastly I keep reminding myself that there are no rights and wrongs in my writing days, there is only what takes me closer to my mission at that moment!

Delayed Achievements

I have achieved something that has been in my radar for many years. On 1st September 2018, I reduced my day-job journey to four days a week, to give myself one day a week of full time writing.

Right at the beginning I was organising my “Ideas for Writing” folder and found a list of writing goals I had set for 2017 and realised I had accomplished all of them by September 2018, one of them being the weekly author’s day. It was inspiring, even if there was a delay in the completion of the goals and it was a lesson that told me to keep establishing goals and not giving up on them even when they don’t follow my original timeline.

I can’t express how grateful and fulfilled I am feeling. Having one full day of quality time, fresh-brain, undivided attention to dedicate to my passion is unbelievably powerful. I am finding that not only I produce much more efficiently, the inspiration comes more powerfully, and the anxiety I used to feel over not having time to write has lost its grip on me.

I used to feel anxious every time I had an idea, and no energy or time to write it.

Another interesting aspect is that with the writing day in the middle of the week, (I chose Wednesdays for my Writing day) I get more done on weekends too. There is a momentum effect, by the weekend I haven’t forgotten what I have been working on, it just simmers under the surface, boiling new ideas and aspects to focus on…

I will never take this opportunity for granted, I feel grateful to each of the moments and aspects of my life that allowed me to get here.

When NOT to make a decision

Sometimes we are faced with the need of making a monumental decision about something in our lives. Something important, life changing and ripe with consequences that will affect not only us but most people around us. I’m talking about big stuff, migrating, getting married, divorce, changing jobs, that sort of thing. I’ve been through a few and the predicament of a friend reminded me of the feelings I’ve experienced at the time.

My friend said he was under a lot of pressure to make a decision about something and he felt paralysed; his story inspired me to write this.

The thing is, sometimes we need to trust ourselves NOT to make a decision, at least, not until it is the right time to make it. Everything has a consequence, and waiting might be painful, but when your being is so overwhelmed that you are paralysed you have to respect your soul and find other ways to deal with it, the more you try to force the situation the more likely you are to make the decision for the wrong reasons.

Since you cannot make the decision you need to make, you can move in its direction, and work on making yourself ready to make that decision. You do what you can.

Hindsight is a beauty and what I did at the time was peeling the layers of confusion from my mind until I found clarity. First step is uncovering your fears, the real ones, the huge, gigantic ones and having a good chat with them, going in depth into what is the likely outcomes of each of the possibilities. Take note of what you can live and cannot live with, and what is under your power to decide and what isn’t.

In these situations there are many times when the choices aren’t good. It is easy when you need to choose between cake or ice-cream, it is a lot harder when you must choose between a better quality of life or being close to your family, for example.

Dr. Demartini says that everything, absolutely everything, will have positives and negatives, and what is more baffling, they will be in equal measures. It took me years to wrap my mind around this concept but I get it now, and when you deal with your fears it is always useful to understand that all the results are going to have both the bad and the good wrapped up in them. Once you start seeing the good in the bad and the bad in the good you become balanced and can make a decision that is truer to your values rather than from fear… or guilt.

Guilt, that is a funny emotion, I can see the purpose in “guilt”, it keeps us in the righteous path, the fear of guilt makes many do the right thing. But for me, after the fact, guilt is mostly useless. Guilt happens when we are stuck in a past action, a past trauma, “past” being the key word here. So you start making decisions based on past experiences rather than present situations. I am all for taking responsibility, making amends, and more than anything, learning from anything wrong we have done, becoming a better person for ourselves and those around us, but not hurdling this gigantic baggage around. Once you have paid your dues, punished yourself, recompensed the ones you have wrong, you must be able to go ahead with your life, you need to allow your own soul to become present to the new situation around and see it without the influence of these past actions.

When I was making an important decision in my life I had to examine what I felt guilty about and had to deal with what that was causing me. That was one of the layers that was keeping me stuck. I had to let go not only of the feeling of having “wronged” people but I also had to let go of the idea of being responsible for other people’s actions. You cannot control and cannot be held accountable for other people’s actions, you are fully responsible for yours. You can do what is your very best, and hope they do what is their very best. You can offer support, comprehension and love, but believing that you can “control” what is going to happen is a fallacy. You can only control your own actions, that is all you can do in and at every moment of your life.

At any point you can die, someone else can die, you can win the lottery, we can be invaded by aliens or be overcome by the artificial intelligence and all that you hold as secure will be made completely irrelevant.

It often helps me when I’m making big and small decisions to think about what I would do if I won the lottery, if I had only a month to live, or if there was an apocalyptic event on Earth. I find it shows me what is important for me. My answer, time and again, to all the questions is “I would write” which shows me I’m going in the right direction, more and more in my life I write.

Another layer to peel is the one about “values”. To make a decision that is pure and based on your core you must uncover YOUR true values, not what others think should be important for you. You need to examine what you truly believe in and what are your main reasons to be alive. “Freedom” is one of mine and it drives my choices every day, from choosing stretchy clothes that allow me freedom of movement to migrating to Sydney where I feel safe to walk all day without fear. Australia is a place with similar values of freedom, people are free to be who they are, believe in whatever they want, express themselves, we are about equal opportunities, gender equality and fairness in any personal choice people make. That resonates immensely with me and played an important part in my decision to make this my home permanently.

Your values will most probably be different from your family’s values, from your parents, children and spouse, so finding them for real might require some digging. And dig you must, in order to make a decision that is true to you and not to anyone else, because when we betray ourselves we create unhappiness around us and that is a bad decision for everyone in the end. It might appear to be the right thing at first, but in the end it only postpones the inevitable. It is programmed into human beings that they will always follow their values; it is unavoidable. You better catch on with these and work for it consciously evaluating the pros and cons and knowing what will really happen than deceiving yourself and others only to go back and messing things up even more at a later date.

Lastly, to make a proper decision about anything, we need to evaluate our patterns of behaviour and find out where they come from. In life, we tend to do the same things, over and over again, unless we uncover where these behaviours are coming from and discard what doesn’t serve us anymore. These set ways of doing things, usually come from beliefs we instated in early life, absolute truths that when you bring to the light of day, don’t really make sense. They do make sense when you first come up with them, but in your new circumstances in life, they may not apply at all. These are things you make up to protect yourself and deal with trauma, big and small, and they are the elements that bound together are the make up of your personality. But some of those things may not be useful for you anymore, and unless you examine and look at them you will carry them around forever.

A practical example from my life is a family pattern that help and plagues most of the people who share my maternal DNA. The imperative is “work hard”, it is one that bring many positives, we are hard workers, dedicated people, who put their heads down and just get to it. As my boss would say “we get shit done”. But this imperative also has a considerable and sometimes hidden downside: it is not particular, it is broad and orders you to work hard in all situations, impeding you to apply common sense and find the easy or simple path to things. If all you think about is working hard, you may not even see that there are easy solutions to some problems, ways of doing things that will be much simpler and allow you to put your energy in other, more productive or efficient areas of your life. By finding this pattern in my behaviours, and challenging its veracity, I am now able to only use it when it actually applies and when it will be a benefit to me and others, not an indiscriminate need to work hard no matter what.

This sort of thing is what I’m talking about when making important decisions, you cannot decide on something based on old and indiscriminate pattern of behaviour. You must be able to adapt to current circumstances and the present environment and not old paths.

In the end, this is why I think that NOT making decisions when you are confused is very important. I recommend pealing the mess out first. When all the crap is dealt with and you are present in the reality, your soul will decide without effort, it comes as a consequence and not by force, and it will be much more likely to be a lasting and positive decision for all involved.

How to peel the mess? Go through the layers? Everyone takes different paths, I went to self-development, self-discovery courses, meditation, that sort of thing, and a lot of talking to my friends and family. I think whatever you choose to do it is worth it, it can be talking to people, councillors, psychologists, psychiatrists, help groups, churches, oracles, it is all good, as long as you do something and think about things, feel for your truths, and move in the direction of making your decision from your core, nothing else matters.

The other thing you can do, and must do, is take the best care of yourself that you can. Eat well, move well and sleep well to the resources you have. This way, you make your body have energy to do all the thinking and feeling you need to do, leaving you with physical fuel for your emotional journey.

When all is done and you come to the place where you can see the turmoil and understand where it all comes from and what is really the ground under your foot, you will be in the eye of the storm and decisions will come to you, clearly and with no doubts whatsoever. There will be turmoil before and after, but they will be just about dealing with the consequences and changes that will ensue; and as much destruction, and change that can happen, it is still much less painful than being unable to make a decision. The state of indecision is one of the most painful states I’ve experienced and this technique of not pressuring me for a decision before I’m ready for it brought me many positive results.

In summary, when in doubt, don’t force yourself to decide, force yourself to make yourself ready to decide!

ANZAC Day Rising My Spirits

The advantage of having been sleepless lately is that waking up before 5am to get to the Dawn Service for Anzac Day was much easier.

I had this strong desire to be there, and I walked through darkness to get to Georges Heights, in Mosman.

If I was in an unsafe place I would have been afraid when I heard running behind me of multiple pairs of legs; but looking back this mother and small boy informed me ‘the alarm didn’t go off’ and ran ahead.

We got there in time, the service was just starting, permeated by the smell of sausage sizzle and the gentle frying sound that my mind kept sending me as images of waterfalls.

The morning singing birds reminded me of the time when I arrived in beautiful Sydney, fourteen years ago, they bring an unnamed tightness to my chest of love, longing, adventure.

The service was beautiful, and the part that I loved the most was a very simple letter from a soldier who wrote it to the father of his fallen friend. I cried, those words that crossed oceans and time made their way to us, to remind us of the sense of loss and love.

The Dogs and the General
The Dogs and the General

I have strong feelings against war, but warm feelings towards people, families, and soldiers who make the ultimate sacrifice for a greater cause.

When the speaker told us of this land that receives so many peoples from over the seas, I felt welcomed and warm in the Australian embrace.

Line in the Sky
Dawn on ANZAC Day

The sunrise wasn’t as spectacular today, but the moment was of beauty and sadness and happiness to be here. I felt my bond to this land deepening, even more.

On my way home I saw a lot of flashing lights, police cars, one of them making a bus reverse out of the main road, as if it was a cowboy herding a stubborn bull.

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I was privileged to wave to the diggers coming through in a long motorcade of mini-buses and taxis, all white haired, dressed to impress and the word that came to my mind was that they were beautiful.

I got home under a light shower, filled with the sense of belonging, adventure and safety.

Writing in a Hippie Paradise

In front of me, all I can see is green. Green grass, green trees, green hills and green mountains. I can hear the creek that runs at the back of the property and the birds singing. The fresh smell of wet soil and bush is invigorating.

About one year and a half ago I had this brilliant idea that if I wasn’t able to write full time yet, I could pretend, for a few days here and there, that I did. That is when I did the first of my writing trips. I’m now on my fifth trip. (See here how to organise your own writing trip)

I had mentioned these trips to a friend and she offered me to house sit for her over Easter while she was away. I feel very lucky that she did so.

I’m taking care of her house and two cats. I’m in love with Mojo, I think it is mostly because he doesn’t care who is providing the cuddles, as long as someone is. Once or twice a day he comes to me for a caressing session. Eve, the other cat, well, we tolerate each other. I think she knows I’m not the right person, doesn’t want any cuddles, ‘just food, thank you’, she tells me with her eyes… I’m sure she is thinking ‘who are you, impostor!’ I don’t do what she wants ‘open the door right this minute I want to look outside’ (at 9 pm) and she doesn’t do what I ask ‘come back in right this minute so I can close the door’ (at 7 pm), she turns around giving me her wriggling backside.

Mojo is a vanishing artist, he disappears and I look for him everywhere thinking he must be outside when half an hour later he prowls from somewhere in the house… I swear he has to be able to open and close doors, that is the only possible explanation.

Eve is obsessed with looking outside the front door. I leave it propped open and it is not that she wants to go outside, she just wants to sit there, looking out.

One of the things that make my heart jump in happiness, is the constant presence of the Wallabies. They come to the house everyday. I know I probably should not let them eat my friend’s trees, vegetables and grass but I don’t have the heart to make them go away. Fortunately I wasn’t specifically instructed to do so, and that will be my excuse.

They are absolutely silent when they are around, you can only hear when they hop, producing this endearing thump, thump sound.

Yesterday I saw a baby roo and it saw me. It jumped, fast as lightening to its mum, and dived straight into the pouch, head first. Took him a few minutes to turn around and look at me with uncertain eyes. I think they keep looking straight at you to assess if you are a threat.

On my first morning here I saw a Moses walking down the hill. Or was it a Gandalf? Except it was a female one. She had long white hair, billowing dramatically in the wind and walked holding a wooden staff, followed by a dog.

She has a hen house near the creek and walks down twice a day to let the birds out, feed them and put them inside to sleep in the evening. Yesterday the hens were not collaborating and I heard the woman talking to them what sounded like “come-on birds, it’s time to go in”. They are Helmeted Guineafowls, I believe, and responded loudly “buckwheat, buckwheat” running around.

Iwon’t criticise. At that exact moment I was talking to the cats “are you hungry? Is that what you want? It is a bit early…”. “Meow, meow.”

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A couple of times, I went to the town centre, for a better word to call it, a couple of streets with a couple of stores. I understood why I heard the place being called Hippie Country… I felt as if I had walked through a portal and ended up in the seventies, inside one of those pictures of big hippie festivals, you could smell the unnatural sweetness of the air. I was told to be ware of the brownies and cookies… (I’ve never tried one for the fear they might make me turn normal.)

There isn’t a supermarket, but there is an Emporium. It reminds me of the small city stores of old, it had the cramped corridors and everything you can possibly imagine. I had to squeeze around to let people pass all the time. It was wonderful.

The funny part is that they had organic, sustainable and environmental products for everything, they would put any big city supermarket to shame! Recycled toilet paper, sustainably caught tuna, earth safe cleaning products, you name it… I went into a bakery and asked for a carry bag (looking forward to using such bag for garbage) and the sales woman looked at me as if I had said profanities about her mother, I swear she looked positivelly disgusted as she mumbled something about “plastic bags”.

The street had stores of funky t-shirts with flowers on them, organic preserves, herbs and spices shops; organic food cafes and organic juice shops. Everything was very colourful, painted in strong colours of purple, yellow, green and blue and a few rainbows, and a lot of the people really dressed the part.

I didn’t think they were a relaxed bunch though, in two blocks I heard one woman complaining about the drama, not sure what happened, then a man was screaming abuse at everyone and a third said that her friend just lost her license, because of alcohol.

What was absolutely wonderful was the art. I went to an exposition at the town hall and there were many different styles for many different preferences but I thought most were very inspired.

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At the house, most of the time there is a deep seeded silence, except for crickets and birds, but some other times I think people come away from civilisation not to enjoy this wonderful tranquility, but to make noise undisturbed. With so much green, often enough a neighbour decides to cut the grass, or a tree, or blow leaves, or bang on wood or listen to opera so loud someone at the top of the mountain can also hear it.

But still, frequently there is a tranquil and wonderful peace.

(Is it too bad of me that I keep wishing that the grass mower breaks, the head of the hammer detaches and flies away never to be found again, or that the opera singer turns mute? Poor neighbours… bad me.)

I’m enjoying the changes in colour and mood of the scenery, the rain and the sun, the fresh breeze that comes in the afternoon, and the hot air in the middle of the day. Including the sounds, even the noises, but more when they go away. So many different bird songs, colours in the sky, smells that remind me of childhood farms and ranches.

This is the perfect writing scenario, especially as the sun sets right in front of my writing desk!

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