Lamplight on the darkened path

May 7, 2017 at 4:04 am | Posted in capitalism, creativity, Democracy, Living creatively, media negativity, public squalour | Leave a comment
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A Bigger Prize and The Short Goodbye

In Sickness, in Health and in Jail by Mel Jacobs

‘The world breaks everyone, and afterwards some are stronger in the broken places.’ Hemingway said that, and Mel Jacobs quotes him in the front of her poignant memoir, In Sickness, in Health and in Jail (Allen & Unwin, 2016). The author describes the shock, social stigma and logistical nightmares involved when her husband went to jail for two years after breaching the rules concerning his online hunting weapons business.

It was being uncharacteristically slack with a couple of technicalities (which were, granted, against the law, but seemed so minor in the scheme of things) that landed a decent, normally highly moral, small business guy in jail. A pity that the justice system doesn’t use such finely honed powers of legal scrutiny on anyone in finance or banking, I thought, since at the same time I was reading Elisabeth Wynhausen’s riveting The Short Goodbye (Melbourne University Press, 2011) about the global financial crisis.

Almost no one in finance or banking – no matter how illegal, unethical or immoral, no matter how many millions of lives they’ve ruined – will have to endure the appalling conditions of Australian prisons described in Jacobs’ book, and it’s exactly the same in the UK and Europe and the US. As Wynhausen states:

‘Even as unemployment around the globe soared, the financial institutions responsible sped from the wreckage they had left in their wake, to grab whatever they could get their hands on. After nine big Wall Street banks … were bailed out with US$175 billion from American taxpayers under the program President Bush signed into being, though President Obama would cop the flak for it, they handed out nearly US$33 billion in bonuses. (p. 189)

Continue Reading Lamplight on the darkened path…

A struggle with mental illness – I Am Brian Wilson: A memoir

February 5, 2017 at 11:24 pm | Posted in creativity, depression, mental illness, song writing, writers' health | Leave a comment
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Pet Sounds

When I was fourteen my older brother gave me the new Beachboys’ Pet Sounds album for Christmas. It was and remains my favourite. I’d never heard anything like those sophisticated, layered compositions and sublime harmonies – and neither had anyone else. No one had ever put together sounds like that before. It had a massive influence on future music. Without Pet Sounds the Beatles would never have made their Sergeant Peppers album.

I’ve been thinking about Pet Sounds a lot lately because I’ve been reading I Am Brian Wilson (with Ben Greenman, Coronet, 2016), a story of early success and mental illness, of creative genius and tragic loss, of addiction and second chances. I love this book. Continue Reading A struggle with mental illness – I Am Brian Wilson: A memoir…

Go on – make something beautiful

January 23, 2017 at 2:45 am | Posted in Andrea Goldsmith, art, creativity, Living creatively | 1 Comment
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I believe that we’re all creative. We can express our creativity through dancing or drawing, cooking or wood-carving. We can express it in how we live ordinary life or in taking beautiful photos of our life, through making people laugh or by writing a blog.

Nigel Andrew once believed that blogs were ‘an outlet for opinionated egos’ but he’s now convinced that they can be ‘a thing of beauty, a repository of interesting and original thought, of humour and pleasure, of amiable interchange among friends’. (Literary Review, August 2016, p. 1) Continue Reading Go on – make something beautiful…

Hope and optimism in a world of worry

January 7, 2017 at 8:06 pm | Posted in creativity, decluttering, Inequality, politics, writers' health | 1 Comment
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A single word

Rather than making a list of New Year’s resolutions, someone I know chooses a single word to guide her through the coming year. It could be ‘simplicity’ or ‘generosity’, ‘creativity’ or ‘serenity’. Careful thought about the choice of a meaningful word makes decisions during the year easier and quicker.

Even though a glance back at last year, especially politically, could plunge us into despair, there is a case to be made for choosing ‘hope’ or ‘optimism’ for 2017. You know how certain people float into your mind at odd times? I’ll recall them while cycling on quiet bike paths or in the shower or swimming laps at my local pool. Sometimes they’re people who give me hope.

Some Churchill Fellows in my book, Inspiring Australians (www.churchilltrust.org.au/shop ) are often on my mind because of the positive difference they make to this country, like environmental experts Hugh Lavery and Peter Cundall – more about them later. I also think about Al Gore. I’ve never met Al Gore but it’s because of his TED talk from last year, ‘The case for optimism on climate change’ – that I keep recalling him.

(See https://www.ted.com/talks/al_gore_the_case-for-optimism_on …)

He presents some bad news (of course) but much more significant good news about climate change. The bad is catastrophic and Gore presents the facts in accessible language. He asks, ‘Must we change?’ and ‘Will we change?’ and answers with the evidence that justifies a ‘Yes’ to both questions. It’s not too late to act – and we are acting.

Solving the crisis

‘We are solving this crisis,’ he says, pointing out that in China, Europe and the US, coal plants are being cancelled at a massive rate in favour of renewable sources of energy. Even though fossil fuels are still subsidised by many governments, solar energy is growing exponentially, so that renewables have achieved grid parity and are getting cheaper all the time.

He shows pictures of solar panels on grass huts and we learn that microcredit schemes enable even desperately poor people to buy them. At the other end of the scale (and this is my observation, not Gore’s) money is the only language some people understand – well, Al Gore presents the evidence that now there is more financial profit to be made from renewables than from coal and gas.

We’ve known that investing in renewable energy and not digging up more coal is backed by science, we’ve known it’s backed by reason, and now we know that it’s backed by better investment opportunities and financial profit. This last is what is now changing things in a hurry.

Hungry for decent leadership

People’s motives for abandoning fossil fuels don’t matter – what matters is that it’s finally happening, and Al Gore’s stirring words ring in my head: ‘The will to act is itself a renewable resource!’ In a world hungry for decent leadership we’re lucky to have some people like him showing breakthroughs like this and inspiring people to action, demonstrating a leadership rarely seen these days.

We don’t see leadership in most of our politicians and we’ve come not to expect any. Too many of them have vested interests in maintaining the status quo, to put it mildly and politely. Some visitor to Australia said recently, ‘They say a country gets the politicians it deserves, but nobody deserves Australia’s politicians!’

From their abusive treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, to say nothing of our own Indigenous people, we can see that most of our political leaders are morally bankrupt. If decisions are left to them they will soon bankrupt our nation financially too because of the same limited vision that causes their racism.

The only leadership we’re going to get is from ordinary people. Hugh Lavery AO, an early Churchill Fellow, from Queensland, with environmental qualifications, experience and awards as long as your arm (see www.churchilltrust.org.au/shop for Inspiring Australians, p. 76-77), learnt much from stockmen and fishermen, as well as those developers who ‘are informed and smart and who keep out of the news’. He maintains that the quality of the environment is ultimately delivered by the people and he agrees that ‘now, we have tough times. But it’s a good time for opportunity.’

Peter Cundall AO (Churchill Fellow, 1974) is optimistic about the future of the planet and about the wisdom of ordinary people once they see that things are wrong. He sees the environmental movement growing stronger every day and he believes that it is beyond politics. He says that people all over the world are improving the earth and the planet and they are doing it themselves: ‘The politicians won’t do it; the people have to.’

Life-changing magic!

What can we do? We can live more simply and harm the environment less. The program called ‘A Simple Year’ is a good one – it’s inspiring and keeps you on the right track. They focus on a different theme for each month, like January’s is ‘Clutter’ and February is ‘Busyness’. (See http://simpleyear.com/ )

See also Courtney Carver’s www.bemorewithless.com and Sarah Wilson’s blog on living a healthy and sustainable life, every Friday: www.sarahwilson.com

You could also check out the Australian Conservation Foundation’s website at http://www.acf.org.au and see how they focus on five big ideas, such as clean energy; laws to protect our air, water and wildlife; and putting the planet before profits.

Living a simpler, more sustainable life frees up your time and resources to do more meaningful and creative things, creating a happier you and a healthier planet. Does that sound saccharine? Well even if it does, I’m not deleting it because it’s true. Healing the planet is up to us – ordinary people, and it’s amazing the difference living simply makes.

Courtney Carver’s Be More with Less blog is where I discovered Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Ten-Speed Press, 2014). See my 2 Nov. 2015 blog post. This book is whacky and funny. The translator seems to have preserved the young author’s voice of originality and verve. If you go to the initial trouble of following her unusual advice, it really does make your life easier and happier. Before you know it, with the free time and mental clarity you have, you’ll be full of hope and optimism and chipping large chunks away from that world of worry the media keeps flinging at us every day.

Writing Ergonomics: Tips for a Healthy, Happy Writer

August 22, 2016 at 12:11 am | Posted in creativity, health, Living creatively, writers' habits, writers' health | Leave a comment
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Don’t do what I do; do what I say…

It wasn’t as if I could plead ignorance. I’d done the Alexander Technique course on how to sit properly and how to iron out the kinks in my spine every day. I’d been told about the importance of taking a break every thirty minutes. I also knew about Feldenkrais and yoga and callanetics and swimming and walking and tai chi.

But I had a pressing deadline, and I forgot about all that. I was writing a commissioned book, that last one on the history of the Churchill Trust—and as often happens, the project grew organically into something much bigger than anyone had envisaged at the beginning, and I simply had to get it done on time.

So every day I’d wake early, make a café au lait, and sit at my desk and type. I wrote for hours, maybe had a bit of lunch, made some phone calls to people I’d interviewed, or emailed them to make sure I had their facts correct, and basically, I’d sit at my desk until it was time for dinner (or way past it).

I didn’t have weekends, I didn’t go to dance practice or out on Saturday nights, and the breaks I had were mostly flinging myself on the sofa with a glass of cabernet sauvignon to watch The Gruen Transfer or boxed sets of Masters of Sex or Borgen.

My back felt odd sometimes, but I did about two minutes of Sarah Key’s back blockexercises before dinner, hoping it would be fine. This went on for months and months until one Saturday morning I decided to have a really good scrub at the shower tiles (I’d say the grout between them dates from when the house was built: 1962). I got down and scrubbed, and when I tried to jump up and go back to my desk, I howled in agony. I was stuck.

Sitting—the occupational hazard for writers

I had to crawl to the telephone for help, which came quickly. My osteopath made a home visit. After solving the initial problem, she recommended taking a break every 30 minutes of sitting. Walk around the house. Run on the spot for 30 seconds. Walk around the house again.

After the second 30 minutes, walk around the house again, run on the spot 30 seconds, and lie on your tummy with arms out in front and kick your legs as if you’re swimming, for 10–30 seconds. Get up and walk around the house again.

It’s awfully hard to break every 30 minutes when the deeper we are into a piece of writing, the more we want to stay with it. However, there are programs you can install on your computer—try the free apps, AwarenessTime Out FreeBreaker and Big Stretch Reminder.

The Alexander Technique

‘You translate everything, whether physical or mental or spiritual, into muscular tension,’ wrote F. M. Alexander (1869-1955). The Alexander Technique gives people practical skills to gain a high standard of poise, muscular tone and breathing for general wellbeing, management and prevention of injury, and postural and ergonomic issues. Canberra practitioners, Michael Stenning and Léonie John, have a studio in O’Connor, and more information on the Alexander Technique can be found on their website.

Feldenkrais Method

I was explaining to a friend about what we did in a Feldenkrais class and she said, ‘It sounds like tiny yoga’. That’s a good summary. This method, after Moshe Feldenkrais (1904-1984), improves posture, flexibility, coordination, self-image and alleviates muscular tension and pain. It promotes awareness of the body and gives the ability to move with grace and elegance, precision and power. Google for Feldenkrais classes in your area.

Tai Chi

Tai Chi improves posture and coordination, and increases circulation and flexibility. The teachers of Canberra’s Tai Chi Academy claim that it will make you ‘feel relaxed, calm and connected with your inner peace.’ Courses and DVDs are readily available and the graceful movements are a refreshing counter to too much desk work.

Sarah Key

Australian physiotherapist Sarah Key’s books on the back are excellent, as is her The Body in Action (Allen & Unwin, 2006). They have simple exercises and illuminating images on how our bodies work, how they go wrong, and how to prevent and cure injury. Sarah Key demonstrates her easy exercises on You Tube.

Meditation

Thousands of peer-reviewed studies show that mindfulness enhances mental and physical wellbeing and reduces chronic pain. Meditation decreases stress, improves memory, quickens reaction times, improves stamina and improves the immune system.

Dr Danny Penman wrote Mindfulness for Creativity (Piatkus, 2015), which includes a meditation CD. You can find out more at www.franticworld.com/resources

**

PeninStudyFranzePenny Hanley has been a film critic, book reviewer, artists’ model, caterer’s assistant, and deck hand on a yacht. Then after a 20 year editing career, she became a freelance writer. She has had a novel and 20 short stories published. Books commissioned include Creative Lives: Personal Papers of Australian Artists and Writers (NLA, 2009) andInspiring Australians: The first fifty years of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust (ASP, 2015). She has a PhD in Communications from the University of Canberra and a BA (Hons) in English Literature from the Australian National University. Penny loves books, cinema, travel and dancing the Argentine tango.

This blog was originally published on the ACT Writers Centre’s blog, CAPITAL LETTERS, 22 August 2016.

Continue Reading Writing Ergonomics: Tips for a Healthy, Happy Writer…

Psychic space and an unusual recipe for mitigating a cold

August 7, 2016 at 12:17 pm | Posted in Books, creativity, health, Living creatively, writers' habits | Leave a comment
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When I was chosen to be a blogger in residence at the ACT Writers Centre I planned to supplement those once a month blogs with more frequent postings on this personal blog. But I’m going to have surgery soon (nothing serious) and I’ve been psyching myself up for that and doing all the things I wanted to do before being incapacitated for six weeks, and the weekly blogs I’d planned – even though I had a million ideas for them – just didn’t get written!

My interior life is rich and tumultuous, and I felt happy. For a writer it’s a matter of always learning – through both absorbing other people’s art and/or practising one’s own, and I’ve just been in a phase of drenching my brain with other people’s work while not doing much of my own, merely living in the present and appreciating the joy of others’ creative efforts and of nature – wet and wild as it’s been in this Canberra winter. My submitted novel MS went up a rung of the ladder towards acceptance to a place I was told very few MSS get to, so here’s hoping. Continue Reading Psychic space and an unusual recipe for mitigating a cold…

Wear books like hats upon your crazy head…

May 13, 2016 at 4:29 am | Posted in creativity, Inequality, Isabella Blow, Living creatively | Leave a comment
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IsabellaBlow‘You must write every single day of your life. You must read every single day of your life. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy head. I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories … may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.’

That’s from Ray Bradbury (www.Aerogrammestudio.com – accessed on May Day, 2016) and it reminded me of that walking work of art, Isabella Blow, (pictured) English stylist, wearer of outrageously wonderful hats, and famous nurturer of young people’s potential. I also thought of Australian hat maker, Rosie Boylan, more of whom below. Continue Reading Wear books like hats upon your crazy head……

Patricia Highsmith’s handbag

May 5, 2016 at 11:48 pm | Posted in creativity, writers' habits, Writing | Leave a comment
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Writers' daily rituals

Writers’ daily rituals

Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995), prolific author of crime novels plus the novel Carol, recently made into a film directed by Todd Haynes, was a prolific drinker and smoker as well. She smoked a packet of Gaulloises a day. Famously not very good with people, Highsmith had an intense connection with animals.

She loved cats. Snails made her feel tranquil.

‘She eventually housed three hundred snails in her garden in Suffolk, England, and once arrived at a London cocktail party carrying an enormous handbag that contained a head of lettuce and a hundred snails – companions for the evening, she said (p. 12).’

Such details of writers’ habits can be found in Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals: How Artists Work (Knopf, 2013), the book published from the author’s blog, Daily Routines.

Continue Reading Patricia Highsmith’s handbag…

NOT NOSTALGIA

January 19, 2016 at 11:00 pm | Posted in Books, creativity, digital technology, Writing | Leave a comment

Andrea Goldsmith

A little over a century ago, E.M. Forster wrote ‘The Machine Stops’, a short story that depicts human civilisation some time in the future. I expect Forster was projecting into the far-distant future – millennia not centuries – but in certain respects the world of his story bears a remarkable resemblance to human society today. In Forster’s story people live by themselves in their own room (children are raised in special nurseries). Within these rooms everything necessary for life is available at the push of a button. When you are hungry you press a button and food appears, when thirsty, another button produces a drink. When you want to sleep you push a button and a bed materialises, when you wish to wash, the right button will conjure a bath. If you are feeling ill, a thermometer, stethoscope and other diagnostic tools will appear to test and diagnose, following which…

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Cheerfulness is an achievement: favourite books of 2015

December 28, 2015 at 9:48 pm | Posted in art, Books, capitalism, creativity, health | 2 Comments

The Guardian Weekly ‘Books of the Year’ (18-31 December this year) is where writers and critics present their favourite reads of the past year and it is a reliable guide to some great reading. You can also hear authors speak about their work on theguardian.com/books/series/books

Popular choices of ‘Books of the Year’ were Ali Smith’s short story collection Public Library, Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet and Colm Toibin’s Nora Webster. Kate Mosse recommends selected essays by women under thirty entitled I Call Myself A Feminist (Virago, 2015).

The uplifting website www.brainpickings.org also lists favourite books of the past year. The first is the late Oliver Sacks’ On the Move: A Life.

If The Guardian were to ask me, I’d recommend Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go (Sphere, 2014). The plot leaps into action from page one, gripping the reader until the end. After a tragedy, protagonist Jenna Gray leaves everything and moves to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast. The novel is written from the perspectives of several characters, in first, third and even second person. I don’t usually read crime novels except for the psychological thrillers of Barbara Vine (Ruth Rendell’s nom de plume for her novels in that genre) but, like the Barbara Vine novels, I Let You Go has much more insight and psychological depth than your average crime novel.

Continue Reading Cheerfulness is an achievement: favourite books of 2015…

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