Thursday, 24 April 2014

Angle on the Feedback

I have had some pretty nice feedback from editors in the past couple of months about my submitted writing.  One piece The American Scholar very much enjoyed reading.  The Monthly enjoyed it too.  Another was "read with interest" by Creative Nonfiction.  Another piece made the 10-person shortlist in New Philosopher's competition.  The same piece was enjoyed also by The Monthly but wasn't quite the right fit for their mag.

Adorn by Jenny Downing (cc attribution)

Concentrating on any available encouraging feedback is the best way to look at rejections.  They come thick and fast after all, and as my skin is not thick but translucent, some days I go away and curl up in a sad, deflated ball.  And yet even when I'm feeling like that, a part of me knows that in a few days' time I'll get up and get going again.  And you need to when it comes to writing.  You know the stories - Dune was rejected 20 times before being accepted for publication;  Gertrude Stein was rejected for 22 years before her first poem was published. 

Some days - like this morning and Monday morning (two rejections in three days) - I read the email, feel a bit despondent but stay unfurled, and simply reread, reedit and then resend the piece out somewhere else.

Yay.  And if I can handle being rejected, then any writer can.  I guess it just depends on how much you want to write, in the end.  If your desire to write and the tiny little twinge of flame on the inside of the guts that says that you can do this, that you need to keep practising and getting better but you can do this - if that flame is bigger than the pain you feel when people say, "Nah, thanks," then you get back on your bike again, squire.

Now, the really professional writers curl up in a sad, deflated ball but then get up and back on the bike in the same day, rather than let a day or two go past while their despair flares and dampens down the flame. After all, writing can be approached through many pathways.  Even if the despair is flaring and threatening your fire, you can still write.  In fact, writing is a wonderfully creative way to envelop your despair in comfort and help it melt on through.

I still get sucked under by it a little, unfortunately.  But then I always bob up again.  Sometimes it just takes a few days.

Because rejection is part of the business and as my friend Jane says in relation to the upsetting elements of interacting with other people (she is wiser than I): "Don't take it personally." This fits even more so when it comes to writing and not being accepted for publication.

And anyway, to have some personalised feedback at all is an encouraging thing.  A rejection that is not a form letter is gold-edged rejection.  Believe it or not, to actually get to that space is an achievement.  Form letters tend to be the initial type of rejection you receive when you first start sending stuff out and so I actually feel that I have come somewhere in recent years, with the amount of personalised rejection emails I've been receiving.  And to know that The Monthly enjoyed reading my writing still fills a certain part of me with magical disbelief.  Even if I won't be reading that particular piece within their pages, it means that maybe one day I will.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Spirit and Matter

I'm trying to understand just what is is about a certain group of people that terrifies me so.  They feel like a certain kind of extremist to me, and I'm trying to understand what part of that may be correct and what part is projecting from my own flabby innards the fears that I'm still in the process of letting go of.

I think ultimately my fear is really about how terrifyingly destructive people can be at certain ends of extremes - at what they can do in the name of their own rightness.  It's an ongoing source of unfunny amusement to me that though the ends of the particular spectrum I'm thinking of contain people almost diametrically opposed to each other, people at extremes end up sounding and acting remarkably alike in their ugliness and narrowing of insight in defense of their space. 

Which of course both would take umbrage at, their tiny lens on proceedings apparently being the kind that enables them to know the whole world.  That is the way of these things, isn't it - we find truth in one area and insist on smearing it over everything.

I love science.  I don't love religion.  I'm amenable and open and experienced in the realm of life packaged up as "the spiritual".  And yet though I love science, love exploring the wonders of the beautiful world, scientific materialists stink up my corner.  They seem to carry behind them a large suitcase of preconceptions about how the world is and how it isn't, which is not very scientific;  it's the same surety that is displayed just as creepily in their opposing fundamentalist Christian counterparts. 

This part of human nature more than anything makes me wish to run away from this world and live on Pluto.

So I'm trying to understand why I react so hard to those who occupy the scientific materialist space - the idea that there is nothing beyond the physical or the measurable.  Their end of the spectrum is a complete flipside to those waaaaaaay up the other end, who tend to view the physical being on its way out and the spiritual being where it's at.  (The spiritual, however, in the fundamentalist paradigm does not give any kind of human-sized easy turning circle to a person.  It is a space full of restriction, of laws, of regulations, of fear). 

Do I somehow link that expanded side of living that some criticise and even refuse to acknowledge as existing with opening, growth, awakening in myself of the most beautiful, and so therefore if someone criticises that aspect of life as being unscientific and therefore not to be contemplated, I automatically fear them as potentially evil?  It seems so, though I feel a bit embarrassed writing that word "evil". 

It is hard to not look at both fundamentalist Christians and scientific materialists in their narrow rooms as being both fear-ridden and fear-mongering.  And yet my view of them is also fear-ridden and fear-mongering, isn't it?  All of this narrowness just perpetuates more narrowness and fear.  And how much of reality do I then see in this instance when so much fear abounds?

And I think we have had enough of fear.  Indeed, it's what drives the status quo of the world's imbalance.  Fear.

And yet also, if I get quiet and thoughtful, I can also awaken an element of ... I dunno, what do I call that?  Love?  Well-wishing?  Whatever I call it, I can awaken it and direct it towards those people who I fear and at times hate.  It can sit alongside the fear and even dispel it.  I know, because I do it sometimes.  

Acceptance.  The carpenter said it in a way that is a radical - almost insane - level of acceptance of what is:  turn the other cheek when someone slaps the first.  There is something profound that lies underneath the initial knee-jerk reaction of this being about the awesomeness of passivity and being a doormat.  I don't reckon it's about externals;  I reckon it's about managing internals, about managing what actually happens so as to not stay caught up in it.  It's about getting past resisting the bad shit that happens to us to a monumental freedom.  So monumental that we can fly way beyond the fear that is engendered by those who are doing the slapping, who, more often than not, are perpetuating the me-win/you-lose paradigm that is so destructive to us and to our earth.  So monumental that we are freed then to act out of something other than fear.

In our conceptions, so many of us end up acting with aggression rather than love towards those who may differ, though both sides are equally as capable as cultivating openness and understanding and a refusal to belittle towards those who differ.

When I examine the knee-jerk way I react to those of the scientific materialist persuasion I think I understand partly why there is such a mass level of fear and reactivity that comes from me.  Partly it's because I have found such great awakening through the aspect of life that so many of them dismiss with criticism.  And so therefore I feel defensive that they criticise a way of being that apparently, perhaps for reasons of temperament, they do not walk in themselves.  It is this way of being that has opened up so much in me and has given me the gift of seeing both me and the world as something special.  This side of being has made me a better humanist.  It is from its perspective that I see future change and possibility of freedom.

And so that's partly why I am so knee-jerk to scientific materialists.  It's also because this particular paradigm is a powerful one, and yet it is capable of much damage.  There have been many, many cultures in the past, each with their own paradigms of viewing the world.  It can seem a little befuddling to us learning how certain people saw the world the way they did, and the actions that stemmed from those worldviews.  It is much easier to see with a long-range perspective the absurdities that come from particular paradigms than to link our own causes and effects.  Ours of course is no different.  It's hard to avoid seeing how much damage the western style of living can do to the earth (though there is much conjecture around how much we humans are contributing to it) and it's hard for me to avoid concluding that it is this narrowly focussed version of seeing - from which the scientific materialist mindset directly springs - that is the culprit.  It is a way of seeing, a mindset - a brainset, really - that has vast and great and massive benefits, but which needs to be reined in lest it becomes a tyrant.

If you don't know what you're missing and what you don't understand, will you necessarily go searching for it?  If your view is unbalanced and skewed, sometimes you can sense that, and you go stepping forward in the dark towards trying to find something that you don't even know what it is.  But then what happens if what is required to balance is located in a giant container you have named Irrelevance?  What if balance gets located for you over there to the right that you associate with those hippies and those creepy druids dancing round trees and bleating about the sanctity of stuff?  Do you walk away then because for you the labels and the categories are more important than the contents?  Do you think that if god is dead then this whole container is dead?

Of course I'm caricaturising here.  Both ways of seeing the world are absolutely compatible inside the one human being.  In fact, it's the balanced amongst us that carry my hope for the future righting of the many wrongs we see.  Somewhere in the middle of these two spectrums of being and of defending our own worldviews lie people open to both spectrums.  And it's there, with the meeting if you like of matter and spirit, that the bestest and truest examples of humanity emerge.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Boys on Trains

We are on the train on the way home from the Melbourne March in March.  This would explain why several people in our carriage are wearing black t-shirts that unceremoniously proclaim in white lettering Fuck Abbott.

The train is approaching Southern Cross Station.  There is a woman with two children in the seats opposite us.  We know she has been marching in March as well because she is talking loudly to her children, aged somewhere in the vicinity of four and 10, about how marching is something to be proud of.  There is something about her that instantly makes me dislike her.  From out of nowhere I get the feeling - either sniffed from the field or else made up in my own judgmental head - that she is attention-seeking and try-hard and it makes me immediately cool towards her.  For all I know she could be horribly lonely and totally at the end of her tether and I am judging her on this whim that I so dislike when I see it in others.

The woman is wearing purple and white striped pants but even they don't endear me to her.  I get the feeling that she is talking to the rest of her carriage through her children.

"Why are we on this train?  How did we get here?" the little boy asks.  I ask myself the same sorts of questions, but I'm not sure if he is asking from an Albert Camus absurdity position or not.  He's about four, so anything goes when you're four and I wouldn't be too quick to discredit a four year old's ability to pick up on absurdity.  The difference is, when you're four you just roll with it.  The things that seem absurd when you're 30 have enough of a rut worn into them that the pit can more easily roll into cynicism.  It also continues on to freedom and some kind of Buddhist stance if you keep rolling in a particular direction, which is probably where the four year old rolls to in the first place, without the ruts.

"Why is that train going the other way?" the little boy asks, pointing to a train going the other way.

Anthony points to a new model V/Line diesel to our left  He says he has never been on one and that he wants to go on one.  I get strangely excited about this.  Which is weird I know, but I like taking little trips that have absolutely no requirement to them other than the trip itself.  I think Anthony does too.  Maybe that's why when I asked him the other day if he would care to travel the entire length of the Hurstbridge line with me - twice - he readily agreed.  We are, perhaps, a little strange.

The little boy points to the same streamlined purple-looking V/Line train that we are looking at and says, "Hey!  There's the same one we saw before!"

I suggest that Anthony should go and talk to the little boy about Hitachis and Siemens because he would probably have a captive audience.  I correctly identify the train we are on now as the model Extrapolis.  But I always get the Extrapolis right - it's the easiest model to identify because it has bendy concertina bits in-between the carriages.

The train is making that awful screeching and grating noise as it goes through the City Loop and the boy spills his takeaway coke into his mother's handbag.

The boy wants to know which station they're getting off at (Mitcham).

He wants to know can they go to Nana's when they get home (no).

He wants to know how we will get out of the tunnel (no response).

The boy has a lot of questions.  "Why are you so inquisitive?" my dad asked me in exasperation when I was young.  But my major question is, why are so many other people less inquisitive.  I'm with the boy, exhausting though it might be.

The boy's mother is now telling him something about how a man is getting on the train and that he shouldn't put his dirty sticky hands on the man's nice clean shirt.  She says he needs to have a shower or a bath when he gets home.  She says this loudly, as if it's for the train's benefit, as if this is a performance of Look What A Good Mother I Am.

"Can I have a bath now?" the boy asks.

There is a man sitting in the next row back from the woman and her children  who has an eyebrow ring.  I feel that it doesn't suit him.  There is something indefinable about the shape of his face that says that he does not look like the type of person who should have an eyebrow ring but that he should instead be someone who works in the office of a Kalgoorlie mine.  I have absolutely no idea why I think these stupid thoughts, but I am having a tired-but-wired CFS day where the extra noradrenaline runs stupid labelling thoughts through my speedy tired brain and shutting down the thoughts is extremely hard.

At these times I so wish I would stop thinking these pointless and stupid thoughts.  But actually, no.  I wish not so much that I would stop thinking them as that I would stop them catching on the brambles in my mind so that I stay with them.  Some thoughts are simply there to be dismissed.  Let them flow on through to the other side, wherever that may be.  The Department of Lost Thoughts.

Let anybody who wishes to have an eyebrow ring, no matter the configuration of their faces, have an eyebrow ring for God's sake.

"Why can't I have a bath on the train?" the boy asks to the air, while his Mum and brother both look at their smartphones.

The boy begins shouting as the coke takes full effect in his bloodstream.  His mother tells him that he had an opportunity to shout earlier at the march and he should have done it then, adding another stupid thing to say to her collection.  As if a four year old has any understanding of the conception of  Seizing The Right Time To Do Something In Case You Might Want To Do It Later.  I am beginning to think that maybe this woman has some kind of meth habit going on that is rotting her brain.  Which is another not very nice thing to think, isn't it?   Because really, as if a naughty four year old with relentless and ongoing questions wouldn't potentially cause brainmelt without any drugs needing to be involved whatsoever.

The train's automated voiceover lady very kindly announces the name of the station as we approach it.  The boy repeats the names after she says them - Hawton, Campbellfree, Surrey, Box Hill, Burnam.

The boy is getting cheekier now, getting him perilously close to the annoying status of his own mother.  He begins mouthing off, pinching his brother and his mother and generally behaving like a bit of a snot.  The boy's mother recites a litany of the damage he has done to her today:  He has kicked her, punched her and pinched her, and she's tired of it.  Why does he hurt her like that?  My annoyance parts and a tinge of sympathy rushes in.

The boy goes to throw a toy at his mother.  The weakness I have picked up on in her, he senses it too.  I can tell he senses it too.  All children sense this about adults and it increases with the amount of idle threats that are issued forth.  He decides against throwing the toy at his mum.  Perhaps what she just said to him has sunk in.

Or maybe not, because a minute later he spits on her.  Maybe that coke wasn't such a great idea after all.

"Mum, do you need to go to the toilet again?" he enquires.

The yukky burning rubber smell that besets train trips is wafting into the carriage.  "Yum, that smells like noodles," the boy says.  Taste and smell are funny things, aren't they?  They change not only from person to person from through the space of a life.

We have reached Mitcham Station and the boy, his mother and his brother get off.  

Anthony looks out the window, checking out the station's new configuration.  The train now runs underground, helping reduce traffic flow congestion along Mitcham Road, and the station has been largely rebuilt.  He looks like a little boy himself and I am drawn to gaze at his eyelashes as he stares out at the station's new digs.

Anthony wonders out loud if we are in the last carriage and then surmises that we must be, considering the three-carriage motor/trailer/motor configuration of the Extrapolis model of trains.  I have never once noticed the configuration of the Extrapolis, nor indeed any other model.

As we travel again he informs me, "I wanted to stick my finger up at that kid we just went past so that it would give him something to talk about." Anthony likes to rattle the mental cages of people who believe that 44 year old men should behave in certain ways. Sometimes he waves at people he doesn't know as we're driving past.  He likes to leave people curious.

The seats we are sitting on have a metal bit on the top of them that serves as a handle for people to hold onto in case the train lurches wildly around corners.  As we approach Upper Ferntree Gully, Anthony is shoving his fist through the hole in the handle in a rude thrusting gesture.  It is, he informs me, for the benefit of the security camera in the roof.  Just to shake things up a little.

About Me

I'm Sue. I'm a writer and a thinker, and I veer from whining to exulting about a mishmash of topics on this blog ~ from creativity to the future to spirituality to health issues. I have had chronic fatigue syndrome/pyroluria for the past 14 years so there's a bit of whining.

I also venture into the territory of pondering God on here, though I have never known what that/she is, and I know now even less than I did before. I'm even cool with there being no god at all. I find fundamentalists in whatever part of life to be ultra tiresome. I once would have called myself a Christian but I have never held to any kind of organised religion. I think religion is really ultimately about story.

But then, I tend to think everything is about story.

I hold the belief that one day scientists and mystics will meet in the centre of the room and kiss each other, and discover they have been exploring the same thing all along.

Please feel free to drop me a line at or share your thoughts in the comments.

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