story is a state of mind
I admit that over the past few weeks I’ve had trouble feeling creative at all. I’ve been so doubtful of my ability and empty of ideas that I’ve contemplated throwing in the towel permanently and have even been looking for a ‘real’ job. I felt depressed and disheartened, my inspiration and spark gone without a trace.

In a final last-ditch attempt to break my soul-destroying writer’s block I googled ‘how to write like Margaret Atwood’. I was sent to her resource page where she listed her recommendations for those called to the writing life. It was there I found a link to the lovely Sarah Selecky’s online writing program Story is a State of Mind*.

Story is a State of Mind – Review

Let me start off my saying that this course is more expensive than a book but less expensive that a Masters’ writing subject. Having read a million books and completed two writing degrees I can safely say that this program has done more for me than either of those two things. Let me explain why.

1. You can listen to the classes as well as read them. As I’m not a very good non-fiction reader (I skim too fast and miss half the information) being forced to slow down and listen was good for me. Sarah’s voice is warm, encouraging and confident. I felt as though we were having a conversation.

2. The writing exercises and assignments are brilliant and I have filled almost half of a new notebook. She encourages you to let the story come to you, rather than search for the story, with an emphasis on accessing the unconscious mind instead of writing from your head. I love this.

3. She provides an anthology of short stories to read and digest. If I would try to find these stories on my own it would take weeks as well as cost a great deal of money to buy collections in order to read a single story.

4. There is no requirement to complete the course within a set time (you have lifetime access), you don’t have to share your work or submit assessments. Although this might be problematic for some people who need firm deadlines and concrete feedback, this is perfect for introverted me who is happy to beadle away on my own. (She does offer a full interactive course called The Story Intensive* if that’s what you’re after.)

5. The writing style quiz at the end is possibly the best part. By answering a series of questions about things as diverse as clothing style and favourite cities, Sarah provided a personalised reading list of authors who have a similar style to me. Knowing who to read for inspiration is almost on its own worth the money I paid.

6. Although the course focuses on short-stories, it would be equally inspirational to memoir and blog writers. Sarah advocates using life experience as the building blocks of any story.

There is an equal emphasis on process and technique and even though I’m pretty knowledgeable about scene, dialogue, point of view, I was challenged to see things from a new perspective.

You can not know your story until it is written.
Art happens when you go off track. ~ Sarah Selecky

Rating

Quality - 5/5
Value for Money - 5/5
Smashing Writer’s Block – 5/5

Links

→ Story is a State of Mind

→ The Story Intensive

{If you would like to share your writing practice, I’ve started a Facebook writing group called True Stories where we write every day. You’re welcome to join us no matter what kind of writing you do.}

*Affiliate Link

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On Sunday night, my boyfriend and I went to hear Jeanette Winterson speak at Sydney Opera House. She is a fiery ball of feminism and revolutionary thought. She read from her memoir and introduced me to the poetry of Adrienne Rich.

•••

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

When I left home at sixteen I bought a small rug. It was my rolled-up world. Whatever room, whatever temporary place I had, I unrolled the rug. It was a map of myself. Invisible to others, but held i the rug, were all the places I had stayed — for a few weeks, for a few months. On the first night of anywhere new I liked to lie in bed and look at the rug to remind myself that I had what I needed even though what I had was so little.

Sometimes you have to live in precarious and temporary places. Unsuitable places. Wrong places. Sometimes the safe place won’t help you.things get worse

Why did I leave home when I was sixteen? If was one of those important choices that will change the rest of your life. When I look back it feels like I was at the borders of common sense,  and the sensible thing to do would have been to keep quiet, keep going, learn to lie better and leave later.

I have noticed that doing the sensible thing is only a good idea when the decision is quite small. For the life-changing things, you must risk it.

And here is the shock — when you risk it, when you do the right thing, when you arrive at the borders of common sense and cross into unknown territory, leaving behind you all the familiar sights and smells and lights, then you do not experience great joy and huge energy.

You are unhappy. Things get worse.

It is a time of mourning. Loss. Fear. We bullet ourselves through with questions. And then we feel shot and wounded.

And then all the cowards come out and say, “See, I told you so.”

In fact, they told you nothing.

{from Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson (c) 2011}

•••

darkness and water helped me to arrive here

We are Driven to Odd Attempts

By Adrienne Rich

We are driven to odd attempts; once it would not have occurred to me to put out in a boat, not on a night like this.

Still, it was an instrument, and I had pledged myself to try any instrument that came my way. Never to refuse one from conviction of incompetence.

A long time I was simply learning to handle the skiff; I had no special training and my own training was against me.

I had always heard that darkness and water were a threat.

In spite of this, darkness and water helped me to arrive here.

I watched the lights on the shore I had left for a long time; each one, it seemed to me, was a light I might have lit, in the old day.

•••

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Raise Your Hand • Not Waving, Drowning

by Katie Paul on August 13, 2014

not waving, drowning button
Yesterday I read an article about Robin William’s suicide that asked everyone who was struggling with depression or thinking about taking their own life to ‘start a conversation.’ I totally agree with this. The more we talk about our darkness, the easier it is to hold on to hope that the light is coming.

But as I said in my one and only comment on all the posts about Mr William’s death, it’s not always that easy. I wrote:

Sometimes I think that even ‘starting a conversation’ might be too hard.

At the school where I work, when the teacher wants quiet, she raises her hand. As the kids notice, they raise their own hands and stop talking until it catches on all over the room and everyone is silent.

Those of you who are suffering just need to raise your hand, and the rest of us who notice will raise our hands as well and wait quietly until you’re ready to speak. And even if it takes an entire lifetime for you to choose your words and find your voice, we’ll keep our hands in the air for you.

My own words have haunted me ever since. What did I actually mean by asking someone to raise their hand? Was there a real life, physical way someone could signal that they were needing help, the way a drowning man raises his hand in the ocean when he needs another person to guide him back to the shore?

I came up with the idea of creating an online community where a person could simply write ‘I’m raising my hand’. People who email me about their suicidal thoughts almost always tell me that knowing someone is listening brings comfort.

Not Waving, Drowning, is a place where you can raise your hand while you search for the right words. It is the first baby step, the smallest of impulses, the inhale before you decide what to do next.

Not Waving, Drowning, is a place where I will raise my hand and wait quietly until you’re ready to speak, without asking questions, without offering advice.  And I hope others will join me too.

{Note: this group is private (which means asking to join) to keep what you write hidden from your Facebook friends. My apologies if it takes time to accept your request because of different time zones. I’ll do my best.}

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→ To share with your friends, copy and paste this to your timeline.

They say we should ‘start a conversation’ about depression but sometimes it’s impossible to find the words. At https://www.facebook.com/groups/notwavingdrowning/ all you need to do is raise your hand and others will give you their time, their love and their support without you having to explain anything.

→ To share the button on your webpage, use this code.

<a href="https://www.facebook.com/groups/notwavingdrowning/" target="_blank"><img src="http://head-heart-health.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/not-waving-drowning-button.jpg" alt="" title="" class="banner-image" width="100%"></a>

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The Beautiful Shoes • a Fairytale

by Katie Paul on August 12, 2014

the beautiful shoes • a fairytale
Once upon a time there was a beautiful, kind and sensitive princess named Robyn. She spent her days visiting the kingdom’s hospital, where sad men and women came to rest when life became too overwhelming. She sat beside their beds, held their hands, and told them stories she created from her imagination.

Princess Robyn always looked immaculate, from her shiny blonde hair piled into an elegant bun to her expensive handbag. But most of all she was known for her shoes, for it seemed she never wore the same pair twice. They were typically extremely high and encrusted with jewels. She had them custom-made by an ancient shoemaker who lived next to the gates of the castle.

By the end of each day, Princess Robyn’s feet were in excruciating pain. Her shoes pinched and rubbed her toes, and her calves ached from standing.

‘Why don’t you wear something more comfortable?’ her father, the King asked one night when Princess Robyn limped into the dining room for dinner.

Before she’d had a chance to answer, her mother, the Queen snorted dismissively.

‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ said the Queen. ‘Robyn’s feet are hideous. There is no way anyone wants to see that.’ The Queen looked down at her own feet clad in similar, if not quite as elaborate, high-heel pumps. ‘It’s the family curse,’ she continued, ‘a burden the women of this family all have to bear.’

Every night, long after the servants had gone to bed, Princess Robyn slipped off her shoes and gazed at her misshapen toes covered in bunions and blisters. Even faced with such ugliness, she couldn’t contain her relieved sigh. The pain in her feet and ankles eased, and by the time she got into to bed, it was almost gone, lessened at least until she got dressed the next morning.

Princess Robyn endured the pain for years. Sometimes she went to the apothecary for an ointment which gave her some relief, but after a few weeks, the effect wore off and the sharp, sickening pain returned. She wished she could simply stop wearing her tight, restrictive shoes completely but for a woman with such a shameful secret, it just wasn’t possible.

One dark night, in the middle of winter, long after everyone else in the castle had gone to sleep, Princess Robyn took a carving knife from the kitchen and sliced off her feet. When the King and Queen found her the next morning, Princess Robyn was dead, the sheets on her bed soaked with blood, her amputated body parts on the floor.

‘At least she’s at peace now,’ said the Queen, through her tears. ‘Her pain is over.’

The King couldn’t speak, grief holding his words hostage in his throat.

The people of the kingdom sang the praises of Princess Robyn for weeks. They left messages of love and sympathy at the gates of the castle and renamed one of the hospital wards in her honour. The shoemaker displayed a painting of Princess Robyn in the window of his shop. Once a week, until his own death from a heart attack, he tucked fresh flowers into the frame surrounding his best customer’s smiling face.

When finally the King’s voice returned, he called everyone together and addressed his kingdom.

‘The size and the shape of your feet doesn’t matter,’ he said, tears pricking at the corners of his eyes. ‘If your shoes are hurting you, take them off. We would rather you be yourself and be happy, than be in pain. There is no shame in being less than perfect.’

Although the people nodded and cheered in agreement, no one was listening. They had heard about a princess from the land across the sea who was rumoured to be coming for a visit. And from what they had been told, she wore a garment that made her waist as small as that of a child.

And in spite of their sadness for Princess Robyn, the people could hardly contain their excitement.

•••

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Taking the Bus • a Love Story

by Katie Paul on August 11, 2014

taking the bus • a love story
We sit at the back of the bus, pushing our bodies into the seats as a counterpoint to the rolling motion that reminds me of a boat on a displeased sea.

‘This might be a “Jack” thing to say,’ my boyfriend says. His opening remark warns me that he is bringing up a subject we don’t normally talk about. ‘But I bet Jack would know how much a bus costs.’

‘He wouldn’t,’ I say. ‘My husband was a train driver, he wasn’t interested in buses.’

My boyfriend is silent for a moment, his arm around my shoulder stiffening slightly as the bus leaves a side street and returns to the main road. We’re back on a two lane highway, where yellow street lamps cast jaundiced shadows on the asphalt road.

‘How much does a train cost?’ he says. ‘I want to buy one.’

‘It wouldn’t be much use. There isn’t a railway track from the Northern Beaches to the city.’

‘I’d build one.’

‘But you’d have to buy up all that land from here to there.’

‘I’d make it an underground train,’ he says. ‘I’d build a giant tunnel from Palm Beach to Wynyard. It would go right under the Harbour.’

‘That would cost billions,’ I say. The familiar landmarks of our suburb appear outside the tinted windows. The lights of the petrol station look like an underexposed photograph, in need of another stop of exposure.

‘I could ask all the rich men in the world to contribute. I’d tell them we need a more comfortable way to get to work.’

I stretch my fingers resting on his thigh, coming in contact with the hard seam of his jeans. I read once that sitting side by side rather than face to face with a man makes it easier for him to talk. My boyfriend and I have never run into the problem of not being able to talk, no matter how we are seated. I don’t think sitting side by side with Jack would have encouraged him to open up. He kept his dark thoughts to himself, right up until the end.

I turn towards my boyfriend and push a strand of his hair from his forehead. He needs a haircut. He hasn’t had time.

‘If you told a bunch of rich men you needed a more comfortable way to get to work, they’d tell you to buy a car. Building a railway system seems excessive,’ I say.

He grins and shakes his head. ‘But they’d be doing something for everyone. I’d be giving them a chance to be altruistic.’

Our stop approaches. He reaches up to push the red button. The blue ‘next stop’ sign illuminates accompanied by a jarring buzz. We leave the bus and walk up the dark side street.

‘Look at the full moon,’ I say, my chin tilted towards the sky. ‘It’s so beautiful.’

His laugh is low and throaty. ‘Typical,’ he says, ‘I’m talking about revolutionising Sydney’s public transport system and you’re looking at the moon. The perfect example of the difference between masculine and feminine energy.’ He is silent for a few moments. ‘I bet Jack could tell us how much a train costs,’ he says.

‘No he couldn’t…’ I reply. I pause for as long as I can, somehow knowing intuitively that the longer I wait the more impact my words will have. When the pause has stretched as far as it can without breaking, I finish my sentence, ‘… because he’s dead.’

There is a moment’s hesitation and then we both laugh, our voices slicing through the evening quiet of our suburban street. The moonlight outlines leafy shadows with silver paint.

‘What if Jack can hear what you say about him,’ my boyfriend says, as we approach our front steps. ‘And when you die he’ll have a go at you for taking the piss.’

‘He can go right ahead. My taking the piss isn’t as bad as him killing himself. I think I’ve got more to complain about.’

‘Fair point,’ says my boyfriend, as he opens our front door and ushers me into the warmth of our pole house nestled among the trees. He leans down to kiss me on the cheek. He smiles, his eyes still full of moonlight. ‘Looks like we’re stuck with taking the bus.’

 

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attribution bias • why where you are is as important as who you areWhen I look back at my long marriage to a man who was emotionally damaged and took that damage out on me, I wonder why I stuck it out so long. I think of myself as intelligent, mature and courageous and yet all these character traits seemed absent within  the four walls of our private lives. Allowing someone to abuse me for so long just doesn’t seem possible given my personality.

The study of social psychology has led me to a concept called ‘attribution bias’. We all believe that one’s behaviour is caused by something, or to put it another way, we act a certain way for a reason. And what we all conclude, in our lives and in judging others, is that our behaviour is a direct result of our disposition. A man at a pub with his mates shuns another man with a different skin colour and we label him a racist. A woman walks past an injured man on the street without stopping and we assume that woman is cold and heartless.

What scientists have demonstrated in various social experiments is that the situation a person in has a huge effect on how they act. Peer pressure, competing obligations, even simply being in hurry can make a person act differently to their own internal moral compass. In one example, a priest who was on his way to deliver a sermon about the good Samaritan walked straight past an obviously sick and distressed man on the street. The situation? He had been told he was running late and needed to get to his congregation as quickly as possible.

[Psychologists] Jones and Harris (1967) hypothesized [...] that people would attribute apparently freely chosen behaviors to disposition, and apparently chance-directed behaviors to situation. The hypothesis was confounded by the fundamental attribution error.

Subjects read essays for and against Fidel Castro, and were asked to rate the pro-Castro attitudes of the writers. When the subjects believed that the writers freely chose the positions they took (for or against Castro), they naturally rated the people who spoke in favor of Castro as having a more positive attitude towards Castro. However, contradicting Jones and Harris’ initial hypothesis, when the subjects were told that the writer’s positions were determined by a coin toss, they still rated writers who spoke in favor of Castro as having, on average, a more positive attitude towards Castro than those who spoke against him. In other words, the subjects were unable to properly see the influence of the situational constraints placed upon the writers; they could not refrain from attributing sincere belief to the writers.

Now, when I look back on my long marriage I don’t see it as my own personal failure of character but an example of situational forces bearing down on me. I believed marriage was a non-negotiable contract I couldn’t get out of, I didn’t want to disappoint my family by getting divorced, and it some ways, it was easier to stay than to go.

Dear friends, I encourage you to think about your own life. Is there something you do (or don’t do) that you just don’t understand. It might not be because you need more personal development but because of the situation you’re in. That binge problem? Have you ever been in a situation where it didn’t happen? What about when you were on holiday, or working on that special project? Could it be that where you are is more important than who you are?

And those people you judge as evil, bad, careless, ignorant or crazy — maybe if their circumstances were different, they would act differently.

When you ask yourself, Why am I doing this? take a moment to consider where you are. And when your mother is sharp with you on the phone, remember it might not be because she doesn’t love you, but because she has been up all night dealing with insomnia and the worrying pain in her lower back.

People aren’t always dysfunctional because they are flawed humans, more times than you’d imagine, it’s because of where they are.

•••

Have you ever acted out of character in a stressful situation?

 

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