July 20, 2018

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Music today come again from Vance Joy. 1) because I’m still loving his new album, and 2) because I was listening to it as I wrote this blog.

This one’s called Saturday Sun.

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Words written for the year: 88,407

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Hello from the sunny riverside twenty-second district in Vienna. It has now been just about a week since the Lady Holly and I boarded our first plane for a twenty four hour trip from Melbourne to Vienna and I am happy to report I am now well entrenched in holiday mode.

I’ll give a quick report as I don’t wish to provide a beat by beat travel journal nor do I want to be too braggy (a little braggy, yes, but not too braggy).

Day 1 was spent washing off our jetlag and the fine musk one gets when one spends a day sitting in an airplane/airports. After a vigorous shower and a much needed teeth brushing we were able to fully indulge in the company of our hosts, Brother Jon and soon-to-be-sister-in-law Alexandra. It’s been so great to be back with the two of them. The fact that I can video chat with them whenever and wherever I am on the globe is amazing and all, but the technology hasn’t really caught up to being able to compete with the feeling of receiving an overly long hug from my womb-mate and best friend. To add to that the two of them have been hellbent on plying us with rich delicious Austrian food and we’ve been only too happy to let them. Which was mostly how day 1 went, devouring the delicious combination of food and good company while also having an explore around the very green and very beautiful twenty-second district.

Day 2 kicked off with more food and drink, as J and A had prepared a belated and extravagant thirtieth birthday breakfast for Holly. It was outstanding and varied, complete with giant balloons, cake, and a truly unique present that I’ll tell you about in a later blog. A relaxed second day followed, the afternoon being spent swimming and sunning at the nearby river. What is most amazing of all is how comfortable I immediately felt here. How familiar it all is. No doubt due to being able to hang with some of my favourite people. Showing that home really is about the people you’re with and not the location.

Days 3 to 5 were spent exploring. With Alex back at work and Jonathan completing a two week German course while we’re here, Holly and I were free to go and do all the touristy things they’ve done a number of times before.

Vienna has proven itself to be a charming city. Coming from a place with such a short western history, it always blows me away just how old european cities are; and Vienna is no exception. Their buildings are big and beautiful and have seen and experienced more of time than I can really wrap my head around. There’s something about hearing of people and their exploits from the 1700’s and then realising that these people once walked where I am walking, looked about at the same ornate interiors, and then realising that this titan of a structure whose innards I’m passing through will last for centuries after my own demise. It’s humbling and oddly thrilling.

Beyond that Vienna is the right size of city for me. Big enough to have plenty to see and do, but small enough to be able to navigate it easily. It’s also exceptionally clean and green for a city, another fact that wins it to my favour. I was always going to be biased towards Vienna, due to two of the people who live here, but nevertheless it has won me over. Also, I mentioned the food, right?

Day 6 was a mammoth of a day. Back in March, on Holly’s actual birthday, our gang of friends gifted her with a voucher for two people to take a cycling tour through the Wachau valley, and she chose me to go with her! What a sweetheart.

The day was exceptional. After meeting up with our tour group we trained it down to the valley where a number of bikes waited for us. We then pedalled our way through some of the finest scenery I have ever seen. The weather was perfect as we slowly made our way through old cobble-pathed towns, then out into the open air, vineyards on one side of us and the Danube river on the other. The photo above should give you a taste of it. Then, to make an already enjoyable experience even better, wine was added.

We rode for most of the day, lazily stopping to drink yet more wine–our international group now fast friends thanks to the addition of alcohol–before finally returning back to where we started and reboarding the train back to Vienna. We started the day at nine o’clock, and finished it at the same time, just with a pm instead of an am, so we definitely got our (friends) money’s worth. We were tired but satisfied and happy.

Day 7, today, has been a recharge day. We slept in, cooked breakfast, and now I’ve spent most of the day writing.

It’s a good life.

Talk soon,

Damian

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June 19, 2018

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Snow Patrol have a new album out, Wildness, and while their last couple of albums didn’t grab me, this one has. It has a good mix of slow melodious ones to pull at the heart strings, like today’s blog song, What if this is all the love your ever get, and some more rocky ones. A very satisfying mix.

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Words written for the year: 82,103

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WordPress, the company I host this website with, reminded me it was our anniversary the other day. Four wonderful years and I, most ashamedly, had not remembered. In order to right this wrong, and because after four years of writing words on a website I’m still keen to continue, I thought I would write a blog about why I blog.

More often that not I use this blog as a kind of therapy. It’s a way for me to get down any insecurities, usually related to writing, or pinpoint particular thoughts or feelings about certain things. Whether that be death, or fear of failure, or my now fiancée or just a train trip . It’s superbly useful. Often by the time I finish one of these therapy blogs I feel more grounded, yet lighter. I know my mind about something, I’ve worked to pull it into a defined shape, and by doing so I’ve lessened the swirl or detritus moving through my head. It truly is a wonderful thing, and a large part of why this part of my blog is labelled ‘Journal’ (see menu bar) is because in a very real sense that is what it is.

I also blog because I like reading other peoples blogs. When I read something that is open and honest, when I can tell someone else is therapising and finding the form of their thoughts, that’s usually when their blog is most engaging. It’s also, uncoincidentally, when they’re closest to defining some truth, and, because of their hard work, I get to gain that truth, and devour it for the ripe apple it is.

Which brings me to the third reason, in case it helps someone. That may sound corny, and is, but I don’t mind corny sometimes. Corny, when done right, is genuinely touching. I’ve read blogs that have helped me, either through the truth nuggets I mentioned earlier, or just by passing on information; whether that be writing advice, well thought out opinions about some issue, or by suggesting things to read. And sometimes bloggers just share photos of their dogs, which is something I will be thankful for every time. I believe the uglier parts of the internet become balanced out by people sharing photos of their dogs. So, if I discover something cool, or have a thought, or have a problem that someone else has, even if I don’t have an answer for it, then I hope by writing it down and posting it to the internet it gives someone something they need. Often, that someone is me.

Fourth, it helps my writing. It gets me out of my head. I don’t edit this blog. Nor do I plan it out, beyond I-think-I-have-a-topic-I-want-to-write-about. These aren’t well sculpted essays, these are the free form thoughts of a man named Damian, and it’s the free form part that’s important. Often I write these blogs when I’ve hit a wall with my creative writing. Either because I’ve don’t know what happens next in a story, or because I’m not feeling it that day (that’s what’s happened today). So, instead, I write a blog. It’s like the honest man’s version of procrastination. But the funny thing is that by doing so it opens those walls, or inserts doors, or whatever the correct analogy is. Often by the time I’m done I’ve figured out a solve, either by distracting my mind, or because writing something, even if it’s just a stream of consciousness, gets the juices flowing, leaving me ready to dig back in to the creative writing. It also helps me work at defining thoughts and describing them, at communicating ideas in a way that is (mostly) clear and concise. Which is a skill I can transfer to all forms of writing.

Mostly though, I do this blog for me. Not only is therapy, hopefully helpful, and a writing tool, but it’s also a record of me. Of my short ill-defined existence. It’s a digital log of the part inside my skull, the part unseen, the part that no photo can capture. It’s a mental photo album. One I can look back on and remember all the thoughts that came before, and the place and person I was when I had them, that when combined, and looked at from a distance, look like the person I am now.

That is priceless.

And that is why I blog.

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Talk soon

Damian

May 25, 2018

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New music from Passenger today, an acoustic version of a track entitled Hell or High Water, from his upcoming album. Always a good thing.

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Words written for the year: 75,394

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On Wednesday I had my first evening at home in over a week. A crazy and tiring but wonderful week that included a night on stage with my mates for the last episode of our podcast and a standing ovation that I will never forget. But on Wednesday I was at home, and even though I spent it catching up on house stuff that had been neglected due to aforementioned busy week, it was lovely. I cleaned and organised and finished the night by cooking a large cut of silverside (or corned beef if you prefer).

I quite love silverside, for a number of reasons. The first is that it’s delicious. The second is that it’s delicious but also cheap! The third is that you can make reuben sandwiches with it, which I suppose still ties into the whole deliciousness thing. And the final reason is memories of my dad cooking silverside on a weekend for the whole family. On those days just about everyone was happy. Dad because he got to put his energy into something that wasn’t work, something he could be proud of and share with people. Mum because she didn’t have to cook. And the rest of us because, as previously mentioned, silverside is delicious. Such a simple thing, but such a good one. And now I get to make it for me and my family, aka Holly.

Saying all that, we didn’t actually eat any silverside on Wednesday. The size of the cut was such that it needed three hours of boiling, and, because I didn’t start it until six, that would have meant we wouldn’t have been eating until nine. What I did instead was parcel it up into two person size servings and freeze them; as it de-freezes surprisingly well. I ended up with seven portions for both Holly and I. Seven meals featuring silverside. It’s an oddly appropriate number, because in seven weeks today the lady Holly and I will be heading overseas, and we won’t be back again for three months.

Yeah, I know.

Given the length of time I like to see it as travelling instead of holidaying. To me the distinction is that a holiday is a temporary thing designed towards recharging and relaxing. Whereas we’ll basically be paying ourselves to see, do, and experience things. Things that definitely don’t include being strapped to a desk looking at spreadsheets and emails; so that’ll be nice.

Saying all that this trip will include moments of relaxing. Of course it will. I don’t think it’s a good or wise thing to go hard on travel for a fifteen week stint. It will wipe you out, make you sick of airports and buses and eating out, while also making you miss your own bed (and toilet). No, instead, this trip will have mini holidays within it. Times where I can write and Holly can read. Where we can rest in the foothills of some mountain and just exist for a little bit. I expect it to be magic.

To add to this magic, this trip will have family included as well. Not only will I get to meet my nephew Eli upon our return (currently in utero) but while overseas I’ll get to see my best friend/brother get married off to the love of his life, in Vienna of all places. I never saw that one coming. Not as crazy for her family I’m sure, seeing as they’re all Viennese, but still. We also get to travel with family. Across Slovenia with two of my favourite people, going for walks and drinking whisky. We’ll pass through western Austria with my niece and nephew (and their parents) and get to share in their excitement and exuberance. Then on further, into Germany with my mum and dad, where we’ll visit fairytale places, drink beer and eat rich foods.

And through it all I’ll have Holly by my side. And when we get back, I’ll marry her.

Seven weeks.

Seven Fridays.

Seven silverside dinners.

Can’t wait.

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Talk soon,

Damian

April 17, 2018

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Dermot Kennedy and his track Young & Free is our blog song for today.  He only has an EP out at the moment but with that killer voice an LP has to be on the way.

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Words written for the year: 62,493

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Hello, again.

I’ve been neglecting this blog for the last few weeks due to gaining a new position at work. The new position isn’t really all that interesting, but it is a promotion of sorts, one that’ll see me retaining my current salary while going down to three days a week…eventually. For now I’m actually working more, as not only have I already started my new position but I’m holding the fort for my old one until a replacement is found. Which is why I’m guilty of blog neglect.

To be honest, the whole thing’s made me pretty tired and grumpy for the last week, except for when I’m too tired to even be grumpy. As well as the blog, my daily word limit has taken a hit, as has my runs per weeks, and, because food = comfort, so has my diet. The snowball is rolling down the hill. However, it’s a snowball I’m aware of and so I’m putting my foot out and am going to try and slow the roll. Or, in other words, practice more self care. Work, while demanding, and probably full time for at least another month, can’t demand all my energy, and so I’m going to stop giving it to them. Likewise, I’m going to (try and) not beat myself up about hitting word limits. I was talking with Holly about this yesterday and she reminded me that I’ll have time later in the year to catch up on any missing words. I think the other thing that’s important to remember, especially for me, is that even when I’m on top of things, even when I’ve planned out tasks and set achievable goals, even when my self control is finely tuned and aimed at my target like an arrow to a bulls-eye, shit happens. Life will always get in the way at some point. Any control I think I have over events will prove to be false, and, like all of us, I just need to roll with the punches. Because really, that’s the answer; be fluid. Things will happen and when they happen it’s up to the individual to adapt rather than rally against it. So that’s what I’m trying to do. Letting some things go so I can complete others with the thought that time is long and fluid and will be mine again one day.

In the meantime other things have also been happening outside of work. The podcast I’ve been a part of for the last few years, Movie Maintenance, is ending…but will be replaced with something new. It’s exciting. We made the announcement over all the social medias last week and then something truly amazing happened. All these comments of commiseration for the loss of movie maintenance started coming through. But not just commiserations. Also, thank you’s, and heartfelt appreciation for the show. Comments from other emerging writers who listen and wanted to pass on their gratitude for the episodes on writing advice, and tell us how much we’ve helped with their writing. It was brilliant. It made my day and came in the middle of a week where a pick-me-up like that meant so much. So, for any fans reading this, thank you.

We also will be having a final live show in Melbourne to see us off, which you can get tickets for here: https://www.trybooking.com/book/event?eid=372752&

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In other news, a few weeks ago I stumbled across a video among the dense jungle of distractions that is the internet. The video was a Photoshop tutorial that detailed how to create geometric versions of photos, specifically animal heads. You may have seen these around, but if you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s an example:

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The process was surprisingly simple thanks to Photoshop’s amazing functionality, the complex series of algorithms running it all, and my own familiarity with Photoshop. Either way, the video went for about six minutes and by the time it was done I had learned a new trick. I gave it a go and had success. The image above being my first attempt.

Like I said, they’re not actually all that complex. It’s mostly just the usual combination of concentration, repetition, and a sprinkle of imagination that all creative endeavours require. I actually find the process really calming, akin to the adult colouring books that were very briefly all the rage. I’m now in the habit of chipping away at these digital art pieces in the evening with the TV on in front of me, clicking away at pixels until I carve out a finished product.

The whole experience has made two things very clear to me:

  1. That the internet is a treasure trove of learnable awesomeness – if you’re willing to dig through the not awesome parts.
  2. Creating a new thing, however basic, is genuinely amazing.

That second part is not news but it is a good thing to remember, namely, the fact that being creative means you are actually creating something. Something new. Something that didn’t exist until you put fingers to keyboard, or pen to paper, or paint to canvas, or combined ingredients, or threaded a needle through fabric, or, well, I think you get the idea.

What really amazes me about it, about creation in general–from a digital image all the way up to life itself–is that the process involves combining components that already exist in order to create something new. In this case photos and Photoshop, with just that sprinkle of imagination, and then the end product is unique from anything that ever existed before. The same is true of writing. Often stories are made up of a millions of different little sources of inspiration, that come from things that already exist out in the world. But that when combined (and sprinkled) create something new. Then even more fantastic, once than new thing is out in the world it too becomes an ingredient, a component to be used, and assimilated, and combined, to create some other new creation.

I think that’s what’s so great about being creative. Not only do you get enjoyment and satisfaction from the process, you also gain something. Something that didn’t exist but now does because you chose to put the time, focus, and imagination into it. Something that you can look at, and share, and put on a t-shirt.

Which is what I think I’m going to do with the geometric animals. I’ll let you know.

Until then. Here’s a few more I wanted to share with you:

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Talk soon,

Damian

March 20, 2018

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Vance Joy’s new album, Nation of Two, has been burning a hole through my phone and the various bluetooth speakers I attach it to. That’s because it’s a joy of an album, one that surprisingly manages to be as good as his first; not an easy feat.

This one is called Lay It On Me and is today’s blog song.

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Words written for the year: 48,785

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I’ve been feeling sickness creep in at the edges of my periphery for the last few days. Nothing debilitating, just a general weariness and pressure that I’m currently carrying around like a backpack. It’s a bummer more than anything, because it makes even the usual stuff that little bit harder and that little bit less enjoyable. I’m reasonably sure it’s been brought on by overdoing it. It being life.

I started this year with a unspoken resolution to try and be more idle. Not in that I’d do less, per se, more that the things I’d do would require less energy. Read more, do a few puzzles, drink an inordinate amount of tea. On that level I’ve been successful, I’ve done all those things (although my tea quotas could probably still increase), but I’ve also still been filling my weeks with all the usual things; commitments, socialising, writing, podcasting, and work buried in somewhere amongst all that as well.

And so I’ve gotten sick. That’s usually the way it goes. Keep pushing yourself until your body cries out no more, or illness shuts you down. It’s not really a very healthy cycle.

However I know the cycle will soon be broken. That’s because my routine will soon evaporate completely. It will be replaced with airports and planes, hire cars and airBnB’s, sightseeing and exploration. In other words, I’m going on a holiday. The holiday is still around four months away, but, considering four months is also almost the length of the holiday, preparations are already well under way. Those preparations are probably adding to the feeling of being busy. Mostly mentally, because the Lady Holly is actually the one doing most of the preparations. She’s amazing. Which is why I’m going to marry her, which we’re also preparing for, as the happy day will come only six weeks after we get back from the holiday.

As you can see lots of cool things to look forward to, and that’s without even mentioning that while overseas I’ll be seeing my twin brother/best friend get married off to the love of his life (once I proposed he had to too, twin rules).

The weird thing is that I know all this wonderful craziness is coming, but life feels so normal now, complete with a background sickness and a feeling of being overworked. It can be all to easy for me to focus on the latter facts, to not be able to see out of the bramble of everyday problems to the bigger scope of it all; which only really serves to make me a simmering crock pot of grump.

On days like that it’s helpful for me to stick my head out of the brambles and look to the horizon, where the current everyday problems are long forgotten; and to remind myself that good things are coming.

And they are. They really are.

Talk soon

Damian

March 2, 2018

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Music today comes from Mumford and Sons via my dad, who shared it with me. The song is called The Enemy, which is paired here with rain sounds from an app known as Rainy Mood. A quality combination.

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Words written for the year: 40,203

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A while ago, let’s say a year because I can’t remember exactly, I began a routine where, as I lay in bed ready for sleep, I would recognise four things I had liked about the day just passed. It’s a type of prayer, I suppose, although I’m not a religious person. What I see it as, is gratitude. Who I’m directing that gratitude towards is unsure, but it doesn’t really matter, it’s the act of gratitude that’s important.

I started this practice when, after a shitty day at work, the Lady Holly needed some cheering up. She was in the mood where she was unhappy, but also unhappy about being unhappy, ready to come out of it if I was able to throw out the appropriate stimulus.

‘Tell me four things you liked about your day.’ I requested. Four, because it’s my favourite number, D being the fourth letter of the alphabet.

We were cooking dinner, I was stirring something in a frypan over the stove and she was beside me, a drink in hand. She let out a huff that said, ‘four? From this day? Not going to be easy,’ and then raised her eyes skyward as she thought about the question. I think the first one was the hardest for her, since she had to look past the overwhelming negativity of the day to try and find the small gems of positivity underneath. After some thought, she told me about a small interaction with one of her students, usually a pain but who that day had been mildly pleasant due to Holly overwhelming her with determined niceness over the school year. The next one came quicker after that, although my brain fails me in remembering what it was, and then not long after came a third thing, and then a fourth.

The practice didn’t alleviate the horribleness of her day, the shitty things that had happened still existed as did their ramifications, but it did help change her mindset enough that their power over her diminished, and she seemed happier afterwards. I then ran through four things I had liked about my day, and our night went on from there.

That night as I lay in bed I decided I liked the practice, not only had it helped Holly, but saying my own four things had lifted my spirits as well, and gave me a general sense of, ‘yeah, the world’s an alright place and I’m a pretty lucky guy.’ And, so, I continued it.

There are days, of course, where I don’t feel like the world’s an alright place. It can seem full of craziness, and selfishness, and ignorance, and bigotry – ‘the world’ being a stand in here for the human race. But, again, ratting off four things I liked, finding things I am grateful for, however small and inconsequential in the big scheme of things, helps. It helps me remember that while there is horribleness out there, there is also good, even if I have to force myself to look for it.

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Not long after, I saw this video. It confirms a lot of what I thought and shows that there are actually physiological benefits to be grateful:

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Also, on the topic of gratitude, this comic is one of the four things I’m grateful for today:

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Talk soon,

Damian

 

February 16, 2018

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Another song today from Allman Brown because not only is it a great track but it also seems to suit today’s blog.

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Words written for the year: 34,097

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I’ve been kind of off lately and I think it has to do with feeling like I’m never going to get any closer to the mountain than where I am right now. It’s fear, really. If you replace ‘feeling like’ with ‘a fear of’ it probably tells a much truer tale. It’s not a fear of current failure, though, but a fear of future failure. Of never reaching the mountain. Recognising that however, doesn’t lower that fear, nor does it offer any real solutions. I know I’m afraid, that’s where most misery comes from, so I suppose the question becomes how do I dispel fear? Proof that the fear doesn’t exist would be ideal, but I’m not sure that’s feasible when the fear is one of future possibilities. No one can show me proof that my life will go a certain way; life is far from being about certainties. So, in that sense the fear is valid, I might not move any closer to the mountain.

Or, I might.

Which is the second, but less whole solution to fear. Hope.

But, damn, can it be hard to stay hopeful all the time. I think I’m pretty good at it. Holly calls me a positive realist, which means I see things as they are but tend to focus on the positive of any situation. There are always pros and cons, and I like to look for the pros. So, when it comes to the future, I usually acknowledge that I might never move any closer to the mountain, but that I also might, and hopefully will, and that the only way to know for sure is to keep working at it. That way I’ve at least got a chance.

But hope can be a really hard reason to force yourself to work, because if the principle of creating the work is, ‘something great might happen one day because of this,’ then the inverse is, ‘or it might not,’ which is the fear speaking, because fear is an arsehole. Fear is the one that says ‘why bother working when it’s not going to get you anything anyway? Why bother writing something when no one wants to read it? Why bother doing anything when it’s not going to make a difference?’ And when I’m vulnerable, or tired, or just having a shitty day, it starts to make a lot of sense. Writing something no one wants to read does feel futile. Of course, I’m generalising, I’m lucky enough to have people who love me and who will always read my stuff, and I don’t mean to dismiss that, but when fear is talking it minimises their support, and it makes me spiral. I stop being productive, because why bother? And then that fear of future failure gets loaded up with feeling hopeless, all but making the fear a self fulfilling prophecy.

So then I guess it comes to me to ask, what is the mountain I’m wanting to move towards? I’d be hard pressed not to say that it’s success of some kind. Success here meaning external recognition of my work, and being financially abundant because of it. Which, writing it down, is a big thing to ask. Basically, it means I want a lot of strangers to tell me how awesome my writing is while also paying me a lot of money for it. Call it hard wiring, call it part of being human, call it ego, that want is still there, and it’s not going to go away, and my guess is it wouldn’t go away even if I did reach some imagined point. To go back to my original analogy, the mountain would always be that little bit further away, no matter how close I got. That’s how humans work.

The thing is, it’s not about reaching the mountain, and it took me revisiting the original source of that analogy for me to remember that. It comes from a keynote address, writer, Neil Gaiman, gave at The University of the Arts in 2012. The whole talk is a joyful mess of inspiring and imaginative, but I’ll include the pertinent part for you here:

“Sometimes the way to do what you hope to do will be clear cut, and sometimes  it will be almost impossible to decide whether or not you are doing the correct thing, because you’ll have to balance your goals and hopes with feeding yourself, paying debts, finding work, settling for what you can get.

Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be – an author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words – was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal.

And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain. I said no to editorial jobs on magazines, proper jobs that would have paid proper money because I knew that, attractive though they were, for me they would have been walking away from the mountain. And if those job offers had come along earlier I might have taken them, because they still would have been closer to the mountain than I was at the time.

I learned to write by writing. I tended to do anything as long as it felt like an adventure, and to stop when it felt like work, which meant that life did not feel like work.”

As he describes, the mountain is distant, something on the horizon, and as with any journey, looking at the end point and worrying about how far away it is only serves to make a person miserable, and, in my case, fearful, or perhaps resentful, towards taking another step.

But taking another step in the point. It’s the joy of moving forward, even if moving forward means writing another story no one will read. Because ultimately my mountain isn’t to have people pay me lots of money and tell me how great I am, that’s a byproduct (hopefully) of what my mountain really is; becoming a good writer who can tell stories that connect with people. The stories I love, and the writers I admire, are the ones who make me feel moved, or understood, or amazed, or lost in a world not my own, and it’s that experience that I want to recreate with my own writing.

That is the mountain.

So, that’s what I need to move towards, knowing that I may never reach it, but also knowing that as long as I keep walking towards the mountain, I’ll be okay.

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Here’s the entire commencement speech, I highly recommend you watch it, perhaps multiple times. That’s what I’m about to do.

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Remember, I’ll be okay, and you will too.

Talk soon

Damian