Eliminating the Inessential

July 20, 2013 at 11:55 pm | Posted in creativity, depression, nutrition | Leave a comment
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‘Creativity has more to do with the elimination of the inessential than with inventing something new.’ Helmut Jahn. That’s out of a book by Alena Hennessy called Cultivating Your Creative Life. I buy these things but never have time to read them. But I can flip through them and get a lot from the gorgeous images and little quotations like the above. When I retire I can read them properly!
That quotation in the first line reminded me of one I heard long ago: ‘Life is getting rid of everything that is dead.’ It’s an instinctive thing I do in interior design. It’s a kind of visual editing. In my editing career spanning 20 years or so, it was common to be able to delete one third of a person’s writing to improve it. (Yes, I was very diplomatic.) Most people write very repetitively, as you will know from editing your own work. The electronic cut-and-paste options made so easy with computers exacerbated this tendency.
I mentioned interior design. I’ve never done that professionally, though looking back, that would have been an obvious career path. In the days when I was at high school art was where I shone. But did we have career guidance? Nope. And at this new school I was allowed to drop Maths, which I hated. And so I did. The place to go after leaving school – the only place – the place where every famous artist had gone to in those days – was East Sydney Tech. No one told me and I was without the nous to find out that in order to get into East Sydney Tech, one needed not only to be great at Art but to have Maths.
In my uncompromisingly adolescent way, after I left home at 17 straight after the Higher School Certificate, I worked at a variety of jobs and only had time to paint on weekends, and I decided that I didn’t want to be a “Sunday painter”, so I dropped it. Idiot!
I’m sure that the sudden loss of creative expression contributed to my severe depressions in the following years. Through a circuitous route of different jobs and different countries, those experiences led to Canberra (Queanbean, actually next door to Canberra but in a different State: New South Wales – through my now ex-husband’s job at a high school there) and to ANU, that’s the Australian National University, and an English (Hons) degree. And after that a writing and editing career. And along the way, I had the worst depression of my life – and was forced to go to a counsellor someone recommended.
I was so clueless that, even though I couldn’t stop crying, I thought I’d just go once. I remember that was the first time I heard the word, ‘ongoing’. She was American and Australians didn’t use that word then. But I picked up the meaning from the context, and said, ‘Do you mean I have to come again?!’ Ha! Okay, 18 months of sessions later, I’d done it – got to the bottom of those apparently random, meaningless depressions that had been incapacitating me from time to time for 15 or so years. It was to do with repeated loss when I was little, when too young to make sense of it or to conceptualise the future – that the future would be different from this, that this was definitely temporary, something my older siblings could work out.
And after I’d worked out the reasons for my depressions intellectually there was another six months before that knowledge was incorporated into my emotional self. So it was a long process, involving one of those horrible tendencies in life of things to get worse before they can get better, but afterwards I was free. I was 33 and I was free of those debilitating depressions for good! I knew that there would still be pain and loss, I knew that there would be grief, but I knew that I’d never suffer depression again, and I was right. And it’s very good to create from a clear psychic/emotional space.
Some Zen person figured out this metaphor for what I mean: you want to pour some tea into a cup. If that cup is already full, when you pour the tea will overflow. But when you pour into an empty cup the tea will simply fill that space without any messy spilling over. Does that make sense? It made sense to me at the time, although now I can see it might be a bit simplistic.
I prefer to think of it as when painting a picture you want to put your beautiful colours onto a white or pale piece of paper so they’re clear and not onto paper with paint already there, which would sully your new colours.
Eliminating the inessential – that tenet of creativity above – is expressed by blogger Sarah Wilson in many of her posts. She lives simply and eats simply. I love her way of life and her writing – and her recipes. I’ve mentioned her before but her blog is at http://www.sarahwilson.com
And you can get her Friday missives once a week with great sugar-free recipes and her advice about interior design etc. She is a creative person and seems very smart and generous and kind. She and Jules Clancy http://www.stonesoup.com.au are my two favourite food and nutrition people.
For the moment – well actually for the next year and a half – I must eliminate the inessential in all aspects of my life in order to finish the book I’ve been commissioned to write. More about this another time. In the mean time, remember that less is more, to eat simply and well (see those websites above), and that creative expression is very important.

The Valley of Pitch

July 14, 2013 at 6:13 am | Posted in Books, Traffic management | Leave a comment
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‘I’m hoping that the Greeks will discover a long-lost patent on the isosceles triangle. They could then threaten to bankrupt all northern economies by collecting unpaid royalties, and then forgive our debt providing we abolish corporations.’
Rob Newman in The New Internationalist, May 2013, p. 38.

Rob Newman is an English comedian. He has written a novel called The Trade Secret. He came across the true story of some Elizabethans who discovered oil, coffee and messenger pigeons in Persia. They left an account of what they saw, including an oil well in Fallujah called The Valley of Pitch.

Sounds like what Canberra is turning into. Ha! The Valley of Pitch – sounds Hellish. There must be a certain number of cars in a town which, when that number is reached, turns the town from a pleasant, large country town full of birds and trees and clean, sweet air into a filthy black valley of pitch – a seething, dirty, polluted city like any other, full of grid-locked traffic, road rage and crammed concrete multi-storey car parks.

Am I exaggerating?

Not by much, not compared with what it used to be like. There’s an overriding assumption in our society that more and more traffic simply has to be accommodated somehow. Two books I’ve read recently dispute that. The authors are not the enemies of cars; of course we can’t go back to horses and carriages and nor would we want to – they just believe that we can regain our civilised towns and cities, making them creative and happy places to live and work in. A large part of the Australian David Engwicht’s work is devoted to helping communities rediscover their lively, humane, friendly communities by making their streets safer. His book is called Street Reclaiming: Creating livable streets and vibrant communities. Pluto Press, 1999.

I’ve mentioned before Lynn Sloman’s Car Sick: Solutions for our car-addicted culture. Green Books, 2006. She outlines ways in which cities can become less car dependent. By the way, she lives in a Welsh village – without a car. She gives examples of successes in lots of countries and even in some places in Australia!

She argues for a move away from a car-centred society to a people-centred society. There is an alternative to the mass motorisation that has made us obese, destroyed local shops and ruptured community ties. If people think about their choices instead of reaching for their car keys all this can be changed. She shows how de-motorisation works: instead of traffic we can have safe streets and vibrant city centres.

She gives the evidence that many surveys have proved that the vast majority of car trips are under five miles. Half are under two miles. There is a startling chart that shows the statistics for “soft” solutions to driving less compared with essential trips, and it works out to 40 % of car trips that there is a green alternative readily available (so would cost no money, no changes in infrastructure etc), 40 % of car trips which could be made with green modes of transport (which would require a bit of govt money – but of course a small bit cf building more roads) and only 20 % of trips are stubbornly resistant to any change – for which cars are in fact essential.

Engwicht has an intriguing parallel with rubbish recycling. There is no time to go into this here but the parallels are amazing – how we changed our behaviour and community expectations about recycling rubbish in quite a short time, and getting people to use their cars less is a process just like that. Both authors quote tons of places in the world where people started cycling more, demanding better public transport and walking more plus doing a range of things to make their streets safer for children and older people etc.

And it sounds really wonderful. And there are places in the world where I’d like to move immediately so I could cycle with no danger and no hostility from motorists in huge four-wheel drives who bitterly resent my trying to cross their road.

The authors say that we made people change their minds about smoking and drink driving in quite a short time. And we can get people to change their minds about only driving their cars when it is really necessary. It sounds hopeful.

Except that in my country it’s different. Australians feel about their inalienable right to drive their car whenever and wherever they want to (and for many as fast as they want to) just about as strongly as most Americans feel about their right to own guns.

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