Zen and the Art of Creative Writing

The things I have written this year are ‘Not For Publication’ (NFP). Am I wasting precious time? I think not. I am practising the art of creative writing and trying to adjust to this lifestyle. I like it. It suits my psyche. I feel like I am in the apprenticeship phase of my writing life, despite the fact of my Earth years.

I have written a short story from a particular incident from my family history. It could be for publication, but is it finished? I am not sure.

I have also written my life story, to get that out of the way and out of my head. Not for publication, but I feel relieved of the burden and the obstacle to a freer creative mind.

My own personal writing process has been revealed to me. I now understand how this energetic force unfurls within me, and then abates with The End, post editing of the Zero Draft.

Writing desk

    I feel well behind when it comes to my skills with crafting the English language. I place blame in part on the negligent curriculum set by Victoria’s Education department during the 1970’s. Grammar was not taught at all, and yet this is an essential tool for being able to express oneself properly, and this leads to effective and genuine communication. This society now converses in memes and acronyms, and we can see how that’s going.

    I favoured math, design, art, science, became an Industrial Designer and left English behind me in secondary school. And yet I have always needed an outlet to express my thoughts and ideas. My main blog is Sues Bent that I began in 2008. While continuing with this blog, I have also written for my side projects such as our big trip around Australia, and my love of French culture.

    Of course, I have written work-related items during my years employed as an Information Professional: reports, media briefs, copy for websites and advertisements, instructional manuals, strategic plans, and created presentations.

    All of this writing over many years has strengthened that muscle. I have put in the ten thousand hours towards mastery (as prescribed by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers).

    I feel match ready.

    My Self-Initiated Lifelong Learning Experience continues and I draw further learning about the English language and writing from Benjamin McEvoy and his Hardcore Literature teachings. The Writers HQ continues to be a great source for motivation.

    I have my Writing Plan and some ideas for 2023.

    Next month I will write a review of 2022; things accomplished, books read, writing completed, etc. I have done this before, inspired by Chris Guillebeau. It is great way to plan for the year ahead.

    PS The title of this blog post highlights my love of the 1974 book by Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I wonder if Benjamin McEvoy has a tutorial on this classic novel.

    Changing landscapes in the library world

    As part of the Public Libraries of Victoria Network Libmark group I was privileged to be the photographer at the seminar held in Melbourne – Changing Landscapes.

    It was a great line-up of guest speakers hosted by the expertise and good humour of Brett de Hoedt of Hootville Communications.

    Brett de Hoedt

    Brett de Hoedt

    Richard Sarr of Wavesound started the day with a presentation about how to showcase digital resources within the physical space of a library. He really didn’t say anything that most librarians hadn’t already thought of already in this digital world.

    Two CEO’s of two of Victoria’s Public Libraries, Karyn Siegman and Chris Kelly, presented an overview of the Libraries 2030 planning and subsequent documentation that will hopefully lead libraries forward into the future.

    Sarah Kelly and Indra Kurzeme of the State Library of Victoria talked about their approach to social media and library programs. The richness and variety of their collections allow them to present a multitude of interesting and unique stories.

    Matt Jones of Federation Square spoke fast and furiously about their approach to events planning. This presentation stood out to me as the most interesting of the day. Matt had a lot to say and it was all relevant, rich in detail and ideas. His explanation of the structural engineering of the site in Melbourne was slightly worrying.

    Julie Rae from the Australian Drug Foundation told us how they reinvented the small old dreary library full of books to a sparkly new digital office space, thereby increasing their collection, access and loans by some ridiculous figure.

    To finish the day Suzie and Celia, two library professionals presented their findings about ‘pop-up’ libraries providing case studies of both successful and unsuccessful experiences.

    You can find the PLVN Libmark group on Facebook and Twitter.

    Review of 2014

    As I sat at the beach on the first day of 2015 I felt real peace. As soon as I became aware of this unique feeling I tried to identify why. I had just been for a swim in the ocean followed by a walk with Archie the dog, and I was waiting for my husband to return from his run. The sea was calm but the sky was overcast and grey. No jet skis or boats were out yet. A slight breeze blew the sand dune grasses making the little cottontail grass heads flick back and forth happily. Archie sat quietly near me watching other people and their dogs. I felt happy but tired from dancing the night before until after midnight greeting the New Year at a local venue with some friends. 2014 had been a difficult year and many of the difficult hurdles were now behind me; completed with mixed results.

    Last year I was inspired by the ladies on the Up For A Chat podcast to do some forward planning after listening to their episode #40 Manifesting Matisse. I followed their idea to write out a “wish-list” of 32 items on a single piece of paper that is divided into 32 squares (by folding the sheet of paper).

    Here are my 32 items with the results at the end of the year – with only four actions that I did not start:

    Activity Result
    1 Get a new job Found a great job
    2 Design a new house House design completed
    3 Sell parent’s house Parent’s house sold and settled
    4 Execute the Will Will execution finalised
    5 Drink no alcohol Alcohol free period for 6 months
    6 Paleo diet Consistently trying
    7 Eat no wheat Ate less wheat
    8 Photo archive Started
    9 Exercise regularly Regularly but not enough
    10 Write my blog 20 blog posts
    11 Create a new blog Did not do
    12 Build new house Still waiting for planning approval to begin
    13 Learn digital SLR photography Started
    14 Start writing a book Did not do
    15 Do yoga Weekly sessions with gap mid-year
    16 Meditate Regular but not daily
    17 Walk Regular but not daily
    18 Walk the Peninsula trails Walked many of the Peninsula trails
    19 Visit Peninsula art galleries Visited some art galleries
    20 Cycle every week Cycled most fortnightly Saturday mornings
    21 Read 20 books Read 38 books
    22 Garden new block Obtained formal landscape plan for block
    23 Learn French Did not do
    24 Paint Did a few water colour sketches
    25 Start sketch book Started a sketch book
    26 Whole 30 Did the Whole 30 eating program
    27 Be positive Consistently moved towards positive thoughts
    28 Be kind Consistently tried to be kind to everyone I met
    29 Learn online Did not undertake an online learning course
    30 Go to ALIA conference Yes
    31 Write letters to friends Yes
    32 Family dinners Yes

     Here is what didn’t go well:

    • We continue to jump through hoops trying to comply with the ridiculously convoluted and slow planning process of the local Council in order to obtain permission to begin to build a new house.
    • Our family relationships have deteriorated in the aftermath of my parent’s departure from this earthly plane; despite honourable intentions and repeated and prolonged efforts to make amends and be kind and positive.
    • Dealing with the possessions of my parents was a huge undertaking that took time, energy, help from my brother and husband, and a respectful attitude.

    Here is what went well:

    • My parent’s house sold extremely quickly, making it easy to move on with our own lives.
    • We moved into a new townhouse near the beach in a place we love.
    • I have a perfect new job with great colleagues.
    • Being involved with reading lists for book clubs.
    • Our new house design is brilliant.
    • Regular yoga and cycling.
    • Time spent with some great friends – new and old.
    • I continue to enjoy listening to some great podcasts here, and elsewhere that provides me with some important information and inspires me to keep on track with my efforts.
    • My favourite movie of the year was Inter Stellar – a rare masterpiece in my opinion.
    • I read some interesting books (here are the two I rated 5-star):

    So I have once again taken a sheet of paper and folded it into 32 squares, then listed my 32 things, and pasted it into the back of my journal. So come what may 2015…

    Plans for 2014

    If there is one thing I learned from 2013 it is that not all plans are successful. Life sometimes takes over and the best laid plans with the right intentions need to be put aside.

    But inspired by the ladies from the Up for a Chat podcast, and because I do believe in the power of intention and visualisation, here are some of the things I want to accomplish and/or work towards this year:

    Review of 2013

    Once again inspired by Chris Guillebeau of The Art of Non-Conformity I look back over my experience of 2013. It was a really difficult and challenging year for me.

    Here is what didn’t go well:

    • On 23 January my mother passed away after a four year battle with cancer.
    • Dad was alone for the first time in his life and grieved and this sat heavily on my mind.
    • Dad was diagnosed with Mesothelioma at the end of July just prior to his 77 birthday.
    • With family members I shared care responsibilities for Dad which meant a lot of organisation and travel to and fro.
    • We sold our house and most of our possessions.
    • We resigned from great jobs.
    • We moved and left some great new-found friends.
    • I went from being a fully employed professional to being a full time carer with no wage.
    • Dad passed away on 16 December.
    • The funeral for Dad was held on 20 December.
    • Our annual family Christmas get-together was held on 22 December and was a horrible out-pouring of grief.

    Here is what went well:

    Zombies and the future of libraries

    What do zombies have to do with the future of libraries you may well ask? In ‘reality’ if there was a zombie apocalypse, libraries would perish along with all of humanity. And being zombies, one would hardly expect them to have an active interest in the future of libraries or indeed any intellectual pursuit.

    Like many librarians I have been thinking about the future of libraries a lot lately. It is a hot topic in the library world, mainly due to evolving technology, the proliferation of internet-connected personal devices, and the cheap and easy access to eBooks. The spread of the World Wide Web did not result in the end of libraries, but it has reduced our physical non-fiction collections substantially. Now with the second wave of internet-enabled technologies, does anyone need to go to a library at all to get hold of the reading material they want and need? Perhaps that end is in sight and this has resulted in a lot of talk amongst library professionals. So what are we here for?

    The Victorian Public Libraries 2030 Strategic Framework was published in 2013 after 18 months of intensive collaborative discussions by public library staff in Victoria, of which I was privileged to be a part. Future scenarios were discussed in detail, how these scenarios might unfold, and what might be the key drivers to certain future scenarios. The drivers were identified as: technology, environmental issues, commuting, economic problems, health, increasing ageing population, cooperative endeavours, education and lifelong learning. The final stages of these discussions allowed us to add public libraries into the scene, thereby discussing how best to address and take full advantage of some new unfolding situations. Two future scenarios emerged: the creative scenario; and the community scenario. Both of these scenarios described the future public library as a community space.

    Library as ‘community space’ has already had a whole lot of verbiage. Isn’t that what public libraries have always been? Perhaps I am not old enough to remember the places of shush, where reading books was done alone and in silence. There is value in the concepts of place-making, maker-spaces, and community collaboration. This has been, and continues to be, my experience of the library. The only quiet library space I can recall is the reading room of the State Library of Victoria; otherwise libraries are full of conversation, activity, people traffic, meetings, entertainment, coffee, and laughter. Oh, and books!

    Personally, I am typically bookish, introverted, nerdy, and self-motivated. I like to explore notions on my own. This is the main reason why I love libraries. I enjoy following a pathway through literature that is entirely determined by me and as a result of my reading. I have described this as ‘delving into the book’; it is an entirely unique journey that begins and ends with the book, with regular forays online when new information is needed. I concur with the words that Nancy Pearl wants as her epitaph, “I’d rather be reading.”

    The IFLA/UNESCO Public Library Manifesto 1994 does not mention the book at all, despite being written pre-internet. The manifesto defines public libraries as “the local gateway to knowledge”, and is essential for “fostering peace and spiritual welfare through the minds of men and women.” Key mission number two, “supporting both individual and self conducted education”, validates my own habits. Public libraries are seen as fundamental to democracy, prosperity and knowledge, so how can anyone consider a future without libraries?

    At the recent ALIA Future of the Profession Summit Mark Pesce urged those librarians present to share their knowledge in order to plan a future for libraries. He reminded them that “the culture of sharing has its origins in the library.” And while “the light of knowledge shines more brightly than ever before, from two billion smartphone screens”, this is an opportunity because it is librarians who are the experts “in an environment of informational hyperadundance.” While the librarians in Victoria did just that last year, the resulting framework is one interpretation of possible future scenarios. The trick is in being able to recognise the triggers and apply the strategies at the right time.

    Neil Gaiman is an enthusiastic supporter of libraries and he explained recently that “everything changes when we read”, that “libraries are the gates to the future”, and by closing libraries “you are silencing the voices of the past and you are damaging the future.” A dire warning indeed!

    So back to the zombies… Dr. Matthew Finch is responsible for The Zombies of Tullamore:

    In an interview with Corin Haines he talks about his approach to attracting people into the library. By choosing a theme that excites the imagination of a particular audience, he uses the activity to enhance the literacy experience within the library. I’m sure lots of librarians and teachers do this already, but this is a good example of how to do it well and to instill the learning opportunity into the activity. It is more than just a trendy promotional hook; it is immersive learning through role play and self discovery.

    He identifies “why Zombies are good for libraries:

    1. Zombies attract kids and teens of all backgrounds.
    2. Zombies remind us that libraries are about more than shelves.
    3. Zombies promote choice and independent learning.
    4. Zombies may decay, but immersive literacy lives on.”

    A lot more about the future of library profession can be found here.

    This is what I know:

    • People will keep creating new content: fiction and non-fiction.
    • People will want to read that content for a multitude of reasons.
    • People will always expect and deserve to get unrestricted access to reading materials.
    • Technology will continue to evolve and change the way we live.
    • Library funding will continue to be threatened.
    • Librarians will continue to want to organise content.
    • Libraries will continue to be adapted and adjusted to accommodate the new.
    • Fun makes learning easier.
    • Zombies are fiction.

    P.S. R. David Lankes talks about the future of libraries in this presentation From Loaning to Learning

    The popular response

    We ran a survey. It was part of the requirement for establishing our “Collections Management Plan”. We had to ask our customers and community what they want their public library to supply in terms of resources. We intentionally made the survey brief and open-ended. We did not want to lead them into assumptions we might make. Some questions required a tick of a box, whilst others asked for comments. These were available online and in print. It was prepared and executed in a rush and only given eight days to run; not even the time frame of a loan period of three weeks.

    Our response rate was 1.4% of members; not really a great field result for assessment and comparison. However, we can tick the box that requires “public consultation”.

    Photo by Kristy Hill for the Portland Observer

    Despite asking open-ended questions that asked specifically questions regarding our collections and resources, we received typical responses referring to services, staff, facilities, and programs. So it seems “everyone” wants to enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee while they read in the public library. And they want more large print books, and more DVD’s. We anticipated these responses. There are also niche areas of personal interest that always get mentioned – everyone has their niche. We were asked for more Christian books, more manga novels, specific car manuals, access to the latest copy of favourite magazines. We already offer all of these things, but like most public libraries, the latest copy of any magazine will either by “not for loan’ to be read in the library, or out on loan for at least the first two months after publication. Car manuals get borrowed once and never return to the library shelves unfortunately. We try, but a small minority of our community selfishly take hold of property that should be shared.

    Managing a library collection is a fluid and dynamic process of attention that responds to the ebb and flow of the culture of the society it serves. So the request for more large print books reflects our increasing aging population; and the request for more DVD’s tells us that commercial TV is being ditched in favour of the freedom of viewing what our customers like and when they want to watch it. Perhaps also, that many people prefer to watch a video than read a book?!

    The responses that we received that were outside our collections/resources questions requested a cafe, quiet study areas, and more children’s programs. It is my experience that the resources already applied to children’s programs in public libraries far outweigh the resources committed to all other demographic areas of our community. The importance of instilling a love of reading and books in children can’t be over-estimated, but I think libraries in Australia do that well already and how people can ask for more is hard to comprehend. And therefore “quiet study areas” are almost extinct in our busy public libraries. The “ssshhhh” factor disappeared with the popular acceptance of Dewey, hair-buns, and the ability of adults to discipline children running around noisily in public spaces. Mobile phones too have changed our culture for the worse, I think, and public libraries share the problems that many service industries experience with people speaking loudly and inappropriately.

    Personally, as a Librarian, I love the DDC system. Without it we would be left with arbitrarily organised collections dependent on the quirks of the mind of the individual responsible; and that would vary 6 billion times – give or take a few billion. It would look sort of like the pile of documents called the Internet. (tongue-in-cheek)

    The value of the free public library by the community can be weighed by the funding dollars provided to allow this service to continue and to continue to be well resourced with new and relevant items. Luckily in Australia, generally, we see the necessity for these services to continue in order to foster literacy, freedom of thought, speech and expression, self-development, and equal opportunities.

    It is still a valued service and one comment across the board from our survey, to a question we did not ask, was about the “great staff” we have. And I agree. Libraries are full of them.

    Planning my trip

    In three months I will visit Europe for the first time. It will be a three week whiz around Europe. I wish it could be longer.

    In anticipation I have been using the web to look at the places I will be staying, the routes I will travel, and the places of interest I will visit.

    Google Maps and Google Earth are fantastic tools for this task. How far is the Eiffel Tower from my hotel in Paris? Google Maps will tell me in a flash. What does the scenery look like from The Rialto Bridge in Venice? Google Earth offers great photos uploaded by other keen visitors.

    I can plot my trip on Google Earth then fly around the route to gain a spatial awareness that will aid my navigation skills when I’m actually there in this unfamiliar territory.

    The itinerary of my trip becomes enriched by this online research using these clever tools.

    Others jokingly comment to me that I won’t need to go now as I’ve seen it all online. Well that’s where I clearly appreciate the difference between the online environment and the REAL world.

    I long to submerge my physical being into other cultures. I crave hearing foreign languages as incomprehensible song. I want to be dwarfed inside historic cathedrals where light streams in from above illuminating art by the masters. I want to meander along cobblestone alleyways too narrow for cars. I want to be tempted by the smells of different foods that I am yet to taste. I want to get a real sense of my own insignificance in world history by standing in places where men and women stood, fought, died and left their marks. I want to soak in the richness of the colours and textures of beautiful European landscapes searching for the inspiration felt by the great artists. I long to gaze about in open-mouthed wonder.

    I can’t do that sitting at my pc.

    Meanwhile in anticipation, I can dream, imagine, and visualise the trip online, just to whet my appetite for the REAL thing.