a word after a word after a word (or: one foot in front of the other etc.)

it’s been pretty quiet on the running writing front: a stasis, a hiatus, a cessation, a lacuna. there’s only so much one can say; or there have been no insights exploding into being as i do not-thinking while not-running; or i haven’t been running because i am in the swamp. the swamp is a thick and dark place, weedy, and moving forward or even sideways is an awkward proposition when one is wrapped all round by weeds.

also: it’s hot. firestorm hot. running weather not so much. and yet.

black sapote breakfasts, lazy flies, panting dogs. sweaty run to the mullet hole, hot under the collar, red-faced. dunk in the creek on the way back before the last killer hill. stop in the middle of a blizzard of leaves, dancing in the sudden hot wind. close my eyes. listen. walk.

so, more on the swamp. you know i’m in the throes of writing my honours thesis, and time is tight. i’m into the final 6 weeks of writing, and i’m fighting against my learned crisis-approach to completion. the writing feels dull and inert – it’s a struggle to incubate ideas and grow wildness and disrupt the mediocre stillness of a scholarship which is decidedly not-shocking. perhaps the swamp analogy is not terribly apt. the swamp feels murky and bubbles with dangerous ideas, is fecund and emergent, perhaps monstrous. a swamp is an ecosystem i can find familiars in, but instead of dabbling with dangerous ideas, i’m writing myself into safety.

all this ferment thought comes from experiments with sourdough starter, and harvesting wild yeasts from the air, and how these wild yeasts proliferate and bubble and grow, alive alive-oh! but the bread has not been baked. yet. it needs fire.

as do i.

…and then there’s the state of the nation. It’s an enervating time.

so, in a kind of funk, i take to the roads in the hope of activating an energetic shift. it’s useful to a degree, and i find moments of clarity, but they are blinding, shattering, sudden, and as suddenly gone. vibrations remain, and a wish to be in the moment again. it’s like trying to remember a dream.

nature’s abstraction performs distance, wilderness, estrangement. in the smoke haze, in the finch frenzy, in the snapping whipbird call, in the hot (still) breeze, in the glittering glittering green-there i fall together in grace. (this isn’t happening)

i’ve written here about the pain of running being a kind of indeterminate pain – hard, no impossible, to locate in the body precisely because it does not exist in the body. and it is not a body-based pain, resulting from injury or a lack of air. it’s a pain that exists in the middle distance, in the space your body occupies outside of its’ visible limits, where thoughts and energies vibrate, mingle, colour cycle, birth, explode. this is the swamp, i guess, and sometimes it’s exciting and sometimes it’s just plain scary. because the existential knowings remain present, whether running, or writing, or baking home-fired bread… and it can be paralysing. my runs slow to a jog, then a walk, then i just – stop. My writing does the same.

searching. for something. for some fucking thing, i revisit the Thesis Whisperer which is an awesome virtual cheersquad, targeted at PhD candidates, but useful for anyone who does this kind of work. she calls this place of struggle PhD Paralysis and also The Valley of Shit. this makes me laugh. in recognition and vague panic.

anyway, the basic idea here is that what is paralysing is fear. the fears are quite conceptual. failure, completion, self-worth, scholarship and so on. very personal, internal, subjective problems which we may misconstrue or construct as external problems. the conditions (physical, social, political etc.) in which i *have* to work/write immobilise me. or perhaps i weave around myself a story of debility. but one i have no control over. i guess externalising the problems means we can’t fix them ourselves. the Thesis Whisperer points to an article entitled “Learning to Work” by Virginia Valian, in which she asserts that this “work problem” exists only for those of us privileged enough to spend time in “mind work” and self-improvement through intellectual pursuit. but there is also the notion that we should all be free (come the revolution!) to pursue work which provides opportunities for enjoyment, pleasure, self-reflection. that we receive from working as much as we give. this is where the problem lies. the pleasure, the joy, is obscured by fear. and then there’s grief. because writing is everything to me, and suddenly i can’t do it, be it, see it. moving through the world in a fancy vernacular, or with strong strides and long limbs of sentences is lost to me, obliterated by fear.

the thesis whisperer points out that the valley of shit is a valley: that is – it is open-ended, and you can walk through it, and out the other end, if only you can walk long and far enough. so i’m hoping, with all the hope i can muster, that i can run through the valley, for it is here that i surely reside, right now…

the practise is simple. get up, run. get up, write. every day. every day. run through the shit.

“a word after a word after a word is power” margaret atwood


3 responses to “a word after a word after a word (or: one foot in front of the other etc.)

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