Tag Archives: Writing

Shut up and Write!

I’ve been doing Shut up and Write since the start of my PhD and I can’t stop raving about it. I’m almost finished my book/thesis, I’ve done it in excellent time, and it’s because I’ve done most of it in the company of writers and postgrads (many of whom are now friends), in gorgeous cafes, with good coffee, and the exquisite space that is created when a bunch of people gather to produce text. I thought I would never write a book. I thought I would spend my whole life wanting to write, but never actually doing it.

Shut up and write is the single biggest change I have made to my writing practice, and it has had the single biggest impact on my productivity as a writer.

You don’t need to wait for someone to organise a group. One other person makes a group. Sometimes some of us do #shutupandwrite over twitter if we can’t meet in person.

Grab a writer. Set the timer on your phone to 25 minutes. Write.

The Thesis Whisperer

A couple of months ago a friend told me about the ‘Shut up and Write’ movement in San Francisco. The idea is quite simple; a group of writers converge on a location, presumably one with good coffee. After 15 minutes of chit chat they, well – just shut up and write. They write solidly for an hour, then take a break for coffee and more chats before they leave.

I tend to think of writing as a solitary activity which needs a closed door and the phone/email/twitter off the hook. The idea of being with other people to write sounded so illogical I was naturally  keen to give it a try. In fact…

I’m doing it right now.

As I write this post I’m sitting in one of my favourite cafés on campus, opposite my friend Jonathan who has recently set up “The Research Whisperer” blog. We met…

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Writing poems with other people’s words

Last week I sent out my pozible rewards. The $100 reward was a poem, written around three words sent to my by my support. The very lovely Lynda Hawryluk sent me these words:

bricolage, bunker, azure

When I first had the idea to write poems as thank-yous for larger donations, and to ask my supporters to send me three words to write around, I didn’t think about how those words would affect my work, given that I am deeply accustomed to choosing my own words when I write. It was a challenge. I don’t think I would ever have used bricolage in a poem written entirely under my own steam.

In fact I was anxious about bricolage. I avoided this poem. It was the last ‘reward’ poem I penned. And what I found was this: those words were perfect. And they got me writing about a metro station in Lisbon called Parque that was so exquisite that when I got out of the train all I could do was stand and gawk.

Parque station with hand written poemLynda got her poem in the mail this week. And luckily, she loved it too. So much so that she hand wrote it over a picture of the station, pinned it to her wall, and then sent of photo of it to me. I am overwhelmed with the gift.

Saying thank you

Karina smilingTwo days ago I couldn’t resist having a coffee at 6pm because I have this thing called an aeropress and it makes the best coffee I’ve ever had and then I couldn’t sleep and then I sat up and wrote a post about Amanda Palmer and Philip Seymour Hoffman and how it feels to ask for help. It was also a post where I got vulnerable. I told you a very small portion of my past. I talked about begging on the street, and how that felt. And then I went on to ask for your support to get me to Portugal so that I can read my work at a conference there in May.

And now I am crying.

I am crying because within 24 hours of writing that post, and Amanda Palmer retweeting it, I had hit my target. And yesterday I exceeded it.

I am crying because now I have enough for travel insurance and if the pledges keep coming in the funds will cover transfers and meals as well, and pozible have featured my project, so that will probably happen.

I am crying because sixteen years ago I was a twenty something on a street corner asking for money so that I could disappear just a little bit more, and this year I will be forty, and I’m doing way more than surviving: I’m living the biggest, bravest, most amazing life I can.

So. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Amanda Palmer, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and asking without shame

It’s midnight. My children will wake up in six hours and I can’t sleep. I tried everything, but now I’ve given up. I open my computer and find a message on Facebook from a friend. I had been telling her about crowd funding to get myself to a conference in Portugal and how it felt like begging and she said you must watch Amanda Palmer talking about asking for help.

When I told her that asking for help to get to Portugal felt like begging I was not speaking in metaphors. I have been clean and sober for sixteen years. I am writing this the day after Phillip Seymour Hoffman died with a syringe in his arm, after having been clean and sober for twenty three years. I am writing this with a keen memory of standing on King Street in Newtown, begging. Sometimes it was for drugs. Sometimes it was for food. Sometimes it was for a coffee so I could sit in out of the cold and feel like I belonged to the rest of the world.

Once, it was for a light. I held an unlit cigarette in my hand and asked, and asked, and asked. People said no before any words passed my lips. They assumed it was money I wanted (and usually it was, but that night it wasn’t). I got angrier and angrier. Finally somebody stopped, and lit my cigarette without meeting my eyes, and moved on.

People rarely looked me in the eye. I know what begging feels like.

So when I won a $2,000 travel scholarship from my university, and worked out that I would need another $2,250 to actually go, I was reluctant to ask for help. I searched out other sources of funding, but there was nothing available. Eventually, I decided to set up a pozible project. Was I begging? Was it ok to ask other people to help me? Was it fair?

In the first two days there were pledges made to the value of $1,565; I have just over $600 until I reach my target. I was overwhelmed, and thrilled, but also ashamed. I had asked for help, and asking had made me vulnerable. I had offered poems and post-it notes covered in kisses from my children as rewards. Was it enough? Was this fair?

So tonight I watched. I watched and listened as Amanda Palmer in her tight black jeans and beautiful boots and painted on eyebrows held a white flower and stood on a box and talked about asking for help. And I heard her speak about crowd funding, and then she said this:

“The perfect tools aren’t going to help us if we can’t face each other, and give and receive fearlessly. But more important: to ask, without shame.”

So now, I am asking without shame. If sixty people read this, and pledge $10 each, I will be able to go to Portugal this May. And when I get there, I will read my hybrid poetry/theory/memoir, and absorb Lisbon through my skin, and write more poetry, and know that I am not on King Street anymore.

I am asking for help to do something real: to move my body through space, to find poetry wherever I land, to send hope spiraling back to the woman I was. To speak. To write. To travel. To create.

Video

On success, and over-achieving, and the salvaging of a life

English: Pennisetum clandestinum (with Mynah e...

Almost two weeks ago I wrote a post on rejection and disappointment. I was suffering, and weepy, and exhausted. Writing it made me feel better, as did the love of my partner and friends, performing some of my work outside of academia, and some very strong cups of tea.

And then I received this comment, from ‘S’.

OMG, sorry I realise you are going through a tough time but I find it hard to empathise with you- you’ve listed all your achievements in your Phd and it reads like a list of an over-achiever….how do you manage all this with kids? I’m pleased if I even make it to campus on a good day. I’d be dancing if I managed to achieve 1/2 of what you’ve achieved and so would many people that don’t have kids.

And I was kind of thrown back there all over again. I admit, after I’d listed all the things that had gone well in the last six months, I failed to show sufficient gratitude/amazement/humble joy. I was too tired. What I said, after that long list, was that it “was ok”. I probably should have said it was spectacular and I could hardly believe how fantastically lucky and blessed I was, but I didn’t have it in me. Also, I often find success much harder than failure. I have failed, often and well, for most of my life. When someone actually wants to publish some of my work, or better yet, someone reads some of my work, and then talks to me about it, I am often besieged with a kind of pre-emptive, gut-wrenching grief laced with shame. Where does this particular feeling that really has no word to describe it come from? It comes from a life aching towards writing, and wanting to be read, and not being. Nearly always. It comes from knowing that this brief, shining, wren’s egg moment, all blue and translucent and lighter than nearly everything I’ve ever held, is about to break; that success is a quick bright thing, that will always be replaced with a return to the slog.

So yes, at that moment, all I could say was that the journal, and the publications, and the teaching experience, and the international conference, were ok. Because they were. And because they took a great toll. And because I was completely and utterly spent. And because as well as managing all of those varied, thrilling (but kind of empty) moments, I was struggling with asthma that was so bad I spent one afternoon in emergency, canulated, unable to say more than two words without gasping. And because every other member of my family was also struggling with their health (and not just in a I-have-a-head-cold kind of way).

I read that comment and got it again. That rush of grief and shame. But not from success this time. This rush (the tingling in my scalp, the clenching stomach, my burning cheeks) was from being torn down. I’ve felt it before; I know it well. I couldn’t work out where the tearing was though, so I gave this reply, and tried to leave it alone.

I guess everything’s relative. Yes it’s a big list of achievements, and I manage it because I have to. I’ll be 39 this year, I’m facing a job market at the end of my PhD that has slim offerings at best, I’ve been either unemployed or a casual employee for most of my adult life (the joys of being a writer), and this is my shot at a career. So yes, I take it seriously, and work my guts out. Those achievements don’t mean I don’t suffer when I hit bumps in the road…

I couldn’t leave it alone. I felt angry, and wronged, but couldn’t work out why. It was something to do with that term: over-achiever (and in this case, the three ellipses that spooled out after it; oh that pause). I niggled at it, because it’s a term that’s been applied to me before, and one that I’ve never liked. But why? What’s wrong with it? And then a friend said this:

“You’re not an over-achiever, Karina. You’re a high achiever. There’s a difference.”

And suddenly it made sense. He was right. It was the word ‘over’ that I took umbrage to, and deeply. And also the sense that I was being told that I had no right to my hurts and disappointments in the face of so much achievement.

Yes, I’m a high achiever. That doesn’t mean I don’t feel battered when I don’t hit the mark. And what is it about those achievements that makes others want to pull me down? I don’t do what I do to make others feel badly about what they don’t do. I do what I do because I must. Because I spent most of my adult life in severe untreatable depression, in a melancholy so deep I could barely move. And there was no writing. No text spooling from these fingers. Just a vague memory of having wanted to write.

Occasionally that vague memory would turn razor sharp and slice me open. I remember very clearly watching the movie Iris one day. It came on the telly and I was still in my pyjamas, comatose on the couch. I watched, and saw a woman writing, fairly up to her elbows in words, and I sobbed with the deep and sudden grief of having lost more than I could ever quantify.

Yes, I’m a high achiever. I’ve got so much lost time to make up for it’s ridiculous. And this life I’ve had, of mental illness, and wrenching pain, and oblivion-seeking, and then the love of my life (who is patience, and depth, and the smell of sun on skin) and those children of mine (button-bright, back-jumping, monkey-screeching, banshee-hugging) have made me. And now, finally, I write.

So this is what I think. I’m new at all this. I’m learning how to deal with rejection, and rejection is spectacular. Rejection means I’ve written something, that went into the world, to be rejected. I’m also learning that if I put my stuff out there, some people will want to bring me, or my work, down. And that’s how it is. I especially like this little pearl of internet advice-for-writers goodness that landed on my screen tonight out of sheer serendipity:

…on mean commenters: Don’t internalize the crackpottery of others; on grad school: You’re not loving grad school? It might be just that you need to give it time. It might be that it’s not a fit, and you should leave. You can’t really know which it is yet, most likely; on success: You are not supposed to have success. You’re supposed to have a life.

And I have a life. An amazingly good one, that most days, I’m incredibly grateful for.

PS: if you’re going to comment on this, please remember that there is a real person reading your words, and if you wouldn’t say to me in person what you’re about to write, then please, refrain.

Laughing off the word silence (surgery as field trip)

Scalpel study

On Monday I’ll be going in for surgery. I am tempted to be vague about the type of surgery. This is the kind of surgery that requires a pause before disclosure. But here’s the thing: I write about bodies. Specifically, my body, which is also a woman’s body (except when I’m wondering what that really is–we could wander off into a huge discussion around gender here but let’s not).

I am committed to speaking where others do not. What is not spoken? Labour and birth, surgeries, bleeding, leakages, ruptures and splits. My thesis is the act of speaking the abject and unspeakable, is the attempt to create a language that will unhide, that will make a space for all of us to tell stories of flesh, organs, fluid, bone.

I write my body because “we have turned away from our bodies. Shamefully we have been taught to be unaware of them, to lash them with stupid modesty; we’ve been tricked into a fool’s bargain: each one is to love the other sex. I’ll give you your body and you will give me mine. But which men give women the body that they blindly hand over to him? Why so few texts? Because there are still so few women winning back their bodies. Woman must write her body, must make up the unimpeded tongue that bursts partitions, classes and rhetorics, orders and codes, must inundate, run through, go beyond the discourse with its last reserves, including the one of laughing off the word “silence” that has to be said, the one that, aiming for the impossible, stops dead before the word ‘impossible’ and writes it as ‘end’.”

Cixous, H., & Clément, C. (1986). The newly born woman (B. Wing, Trans.). United Kingdom: Manchester University Press.

So on Monday I’ll be going in for surgery. I have a fibroid that has tripled its size in the last 12 months. It has veins. It keeps growing. They could try to remove it but the chances are good that I’d grow another one. The safer surgery is a hysterectomy; less bleeding, more successful.

I’ll be convalescing for four to six weeks. Yesterday I went to uni, filled out my sick leave application, returned my library books, met with my supervisor, and rinsed out my mug. As I left my supervisor’s office she wished me luck and told me to rest. Rest. That’s when I realised I’m not thinking of the next month and a half as a recovery period: it’s a field trip. What else could it be? The title of my thesis is ‘this body, written’. I’m about to be put to sleep and opened up. My entire reproductive system will be taken. I will wake with blurry eyes and an empty middle. It’s a field trip. I will take notes. Poetry is found here.

A note (on connections and why we need them)

Marion May Campbell is fast becoming one of my favourite authors and poets. Erudite, engaged, her prose enchants and enfolds. There is a dark warmth there, the abject jumping to caress. There is also lightness, and breath. A friend told me about her 2008 book Fragments from a Paper Witch, specifically the section titled ‘Spectacular Motherhood’ a few weeks ago.

I was sure I’d find it in the library catalog, but it wasn’t there. Request. One week later it arrived, thanks to document delivery, from the University of Adelaide. On the first page Gail Jones, in her forward, quoted Susan Sontag writing that “a poet’s prose is the autobiography of ardour”. I was already in love. A flick through confirmed it.

This:

Am / am not; am amniotically buoyed between am / am not. Am shutter, am threshold, am revolving door, just pulsing muscle, in-out: I sing my continence through my leakage. I think of my baby, this other within, and I strain the membrane of thought.

Fragments from a Paper Witch, p 28

Writing that is a mirror, but also not. A voice that mine echoes, even though I have never heard it before.

I knew, immediately, that I a copy of Paper Witch needed to live on my shelf. Internet searches yielded nothing. Rare book seller’s websites, Salt Publishing (its printed home), the big guys, I even tried eBay. Nothing. Twitter! And there she was (@Beigesang). But the last time she’d been active was 2009. I sent a forlorn tweet.

Then I remembered this: my Post Grad diploma at Melbourne Uni, hearing Marion speak at a symposium, and knowing that my tutor, Antonia Pont (who wasn’t a doctor yet) knew her.

So I sent this:

From: Karina Quinn

Subject: Fragments from a Paper Witch

Date: 6 September 2012 11:05:41 AEST

To: Antonia Pont

Hey Antonia,

I’ve just fallen deeply for Marion May Campbell’s Fragments From a Paper Witch and can’t bear to give it back to the library. I’ve done a fair bit of online searching but haven’t been able to uncover a single copy.

So I turned to Twitter and discovered Marion has an account, and have sent her a message. She’s sent 4 tweets in her whole life though, and these were in 2009 so I suspect she may not receive my message.

I’m writing this in the hope that you have some contact with her, and that you could forward this email on for me? My other hope is that she has a secret stack of Fragments on a shelf somewhere and that I can pay her a premium for the joy (indeed the jouissance) of having a single copy on my own shelf.

Best,

Karina

Antonia forwarded my email with a brief introduction, and shortly after I received this:

From: Marion May Campbell

Subject: RE: FW: Fragments from a Paper Witch

Date: 6 September 2012 12:44 PM AEST

To: Karina Quinn

Dear Karina,

You are very welcome to have one of the copies I have left. As I said to Antonia, an appreciative reader is to be cherished. Yes, I’m afraid I am not a twitterer…

What’s your address and surname and I’ll put it in the post for you.

Very best wishes,

Marion

The very next day a parcel arrived on my doorstep. A beautiful hard cover edition of Paper Witch. On opening it, this:

Paper Witch is in my hands because I don’t sit at my desk all day, myopic, immersed, to the exclusion of all else (except when I do). Paper Witch is in my hands because I go to symposiums, and make connections with other writers and academics, and take good advice. But mostly, Paper Witch is in my hands because of Marion’s generous spirit, because a writer will always be happy to have been read.

I am reading Paper Witch now with great care, with love. This book with its hand written note feels portentous. There is something about this project, whatever it is, that seems destined. The words literally pour from me. It can’t not be written. And a note like this seems to say keep going, keep going. I feel so very blessed today to be living a writer’s life, amongst other writers. To feel a sense of community, belonging even. I have not-written for most of my life. To be, finally, here, is nothing less than miraculous.