December 14, 2017

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Given the season it seems appropriate for today’s blog song to be a Christmas Carol. This rendition of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas comes from one of my favourites, Stu Larsen.

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Current chain of writing days: 24

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I didn’t know if today’s entry should go into the journal category or short fiction, because it’s a tale of my life but also involves me telling a made up story. It was quite the dilemma, I mean it was no Sophie’s choice, but still. In the end I went for the journal option…obviously.

So, the first thing you need to know about this entry is that twitter recently doubled its character allowance per tweet, increasing it from one hundred and forty to two hundred and eighty. The reason this is important is because a while ago I had the idea that I would tell a story through twitter, and not just tell a story, but also have it be interactive. The way I would do this would be to have a poll of alternative story options attached to every tweet that people would vote on to decide what happened next. Basically like a collective choose your own adventure. However, upon trying this I found the one hundred and forty character limit to be too restricting. I couldn’t get across enough information, or write in any enjoyable way, and it simply came across as stilted and unimaginative. I gave it up as not possible, at least, until the recent increase.

It turns out two hundred and eighty characters is just long enough for me to do what I wanted. Of course, I still had one issue,  if nobody voted my story would quickly hit a dead end. Luckily, that turned out not to be a problem. I threw out this initial tweet…

…and soon had the confirmation that I would have at least a dozen or so people to help me out, and I’m happy to say that number grew as the story went on.

Enough set up though, right? Here’s how it went…

(They stalemated me! I decided I had to do both)

It was an exceptionally fun experiment, one that received an even better reaction than I had hoped; speaking of — thank you to all my fellow twitterers who voted and in so doing helped me tell this tale, and to every one who sent me messages about it.

I’m now thinking of starting a separate twitter account for just this purpose, we’ll see.

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Remember, ideas are easy, it’s the doing that’s hard.

Talk soon

Damian

 

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December 8, 2017

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I thought I’d share some writing music today as the blog song. This one is called Quintessence and is from the composer Theodore Shapiro, feature as part of the original score for the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Really beautiful track and one that gets my emotions rising and falling every time.

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Current chain of writing days: 19

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The other day I logged onto facebook only to be greeted with a “memory” — a series of photos that were added on the same date several years ago. It made me angry, and at first I didn’t know why. It wasn’t that the memory was a bad one (who would ever share photos of a negative event on their facebook?) but still, it irked me. I clicked on the three dots in the top corner and selected ‘see less often’, and tried to move on. But I couldn’t, and, after a few days of thinking about it, I think I’ve figured out the reason for my frustration.

The internet is an attention devouring machine, this is not news, nor, at its core, is it a bad thing. There’s plenty out there that’s beneficial or educational or that allows us to connect with others. Great. And, for the most part, we have control over our own actions and can choose where to isolate our attention. For the most part. It’s the part we don’t have control over — let’s call it instincts, or subconscious, or lizard brain — that I’m concerned with. It’s the part of us that gets addicted to the dopamine hit when receiving a like, or that’s wired to respond to the colour red (originally for poisonous animals, then traffic lights and warning signs, and now notifications and email alerts), or the part of us that can’t help to relive the past in order to learn from it and alter our actions in the present. It’s when websites purposely recognise and then abuse these instincts to keep us scrolling and clicking indefinitely, that I think it becomes a bad thing.

Let’s focus on the living in the past thing. Any kind of zen master or mindful consultant talks about “living in the present”, which I translate as slowing down your brain for a second and actually focusing on what’s going on around you; taking it in, and finding the enjoyment of that moment in real time rather than later in your memories (or photos). It’s the same reason meditation exists, and has for centuries, to force that action. We are hardwired to either relive the past or consider possible future outcomes, both of which I believe have sprung up as survival instincts; for learning and preparing, respectively. Which is fine except we’re too good at it. We move past the point where we’ve learnt what we needed to learn or prepared as best we can, into obsession, fixation, and worry. And it’s tiring. I’ve found myself wanting to stop thinking about a thing, either past or future, and I can’t, my brain just keeps cycling over it again and again. Which, of course, is where meditation and consciously living in the present come in; to break that cycle. It’s psychology as much as anything else.

But all this is my long winded way of explaining why the facebook memories thing annoyed me so much. It can be hard enough keeping your mind in the present and maintain control of your attention, and this new addition to the facebook algorithm seems purposely designed to take advantage of this. And look, I have no doubt some people love it when these memories pop up, and I too like looking at past photos, but only when I’ve purposely chosen to, not because facebook has told me to. Of course the simple solution is don’t go on facebook, except it’s not that simple. We use facebook for a whole bunch of different things — including news, communication, and event coordination — so if I log on for one of these reasons I can’t help but see either the memories or one of the many other ways the site is designed to grab and hold onto my attention.

Ultimately, I don’t have a good solution, but at least I figured out why seeing past photos of myself made me so angry. In the meantime I’ll just keep clicking ‘see less often’ and hope I actually do.

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In other news the Lord Mayor’s Creative Writing awards, which my novella The Case of Henry and the Hamster was shortlisted for, were held yesterday. Unfortunately I did not win, but I can’t deny it was still very cool to be in the running, receive a certificate, shake some hands, and get my photo taken.

Hopefully next time I can also walk away with a win, but the only way to do that is to keep writing, so that’s what I’m going to go do.

Talk soon

Damian

November 29, 2017

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Another tune from Kim Churchill for today’s blog song because the album’s so good that I’m still listening to it. This one’s called Weight Falls.

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Current chain of writing days: 9

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I’m currently in training for a half marathon. Despite a previous resolve to do one a year, indefinitely — which I have admittedly only done for the past two years — I didn’t think I was going to do one this year. Dropping the ball on the third time round wouldn’t have been great but I was okay with it because I knew the cause, writing. Most of my not-at-work/not-socialising time this year has gone into writing, a fact that I’m pleased with, and would have accepted as a reasonable excuse to shirk past-Damian’s running resolve. Add to that that training for a half marathon is inevitably a time consuming endeavour involving building up your stamina over weeks to be able to handle longer and longer runs, which end up going for hours at a time. Like just about everybody I know, I felt like I have no free time, and so cramming hours of running every week into an already bloated calendar seemed impossible.

Luckily my brother, Matthew, stepped up to coerce and convince me to think otherwise. Well, all he really did was send me a text that said he was planning on running a half marathon and would appreciate it if I could do it with him, but it was the motivation I needed to ensure I didn’t break my streak, especially as I was keen to support Matt’s own efforts.

Let me tell you about my brother. Not only is he an excellent teacher and family man, he’s also someone who when he sets himself at a task gives it his all. At the start of the year he wrote a list of 2017 goals on a blackboard in his garage. He purposely chose the word ‘goals’ over ‘resolutions’ because he felt that you could only ever succeed or fail at a resolution, whereas goals could be changed depending on circumstances, and therefore still be achieved even if not in the initial form. How fucking great is that. It’s pragmatism at its best. It’s also just about everything you need to know about Matthew.

Two of his yearly goals were running based. He’s been running for years, off and on, much the same as I have, but he’d been more off than on at the end of last year and so to counter that he decided he would attempt to: 1) Run a thousand kilometers across the year, and 2) complete a half marathon. Pretty lofty goals for someone who hadn’t been running consistently for some time. Hell, lofty even for someone who had. To complete the thousand kilometers he would have to run at least twenty kilometers per week. He started out strong, hitting this target through the hotter months and into autumn but then slowed down come winter, until the point where he knew he wouldn’t achieve his initial goal. So, he altered it; reduced the number, and ensured he would keep going rather than quit altogether. Pragmatism in practice. I still love it. He also decided to double down on the goal to complete a half marathon, but, it being later in the year, and, with the longest distance he had ever ran previously being ten kilometers, Matt knew he needed extra motivation and so the message to me was sent.

Which brings us to last Sunday, we’re halfway through our training (four weeks into the eight we’ve given ourselves to get half marathon ready) and appropriately we’re about to run twelve kilometers (a half marathon being just under double that). It’s early in the morning — to avoid the heat, which is still present anyway, although more in the form of humidity thanks to some recent rain — and we’re standing on the Maribyrnong river running track ready to go. We click the button on our watches to measure our distance and we begin. We chat as we go, probably not a good idea as it uses precious oxygen our moving bodies are desperate for, but this is also our catch up time, and so on we talk between breaths. At two kilometers Matt’s watch beeps (as he’d set it to do) and he says something to me that I really liked, the very something that made me write this particular blog, in fact. He tells me that in his classroom they’ve been practicing celebrating every victory, basically that celebrating a completed goal is great but to also acknowledge hitting the milestones on the way to that goal. He then held up his hand and, still running, we gave each other a high five. Every additional two kilometers his watch would beep and we would slap our increasingly sweaty palms together, every victory celebrated. As mentioned, Matt’s previous longest run was ten kilometers, so as we stepped over the ten kilometer mark and into the ten point zero one kilometer mark Matt threw his arms into the air and let out a whoop. And why shouldn’t he? He’d just run the furthest he’d ever run before; it wasn’t the twelve kilometer goal we’d set for the day but it was surely an accomplishment well worth celebrating. By the time we did hit twelve there were more whoops, more high fives, and then the ultimate celebration, breakfast.

What I like most about Matt’s goal adapting and every-victory-celebrating is that both of these ideas actually help motivate you to keep going, and ensure you feel success and pride along the way. Which you should. If you set out to go for a ten kilometer run but only do five, you shouldn’t berate yourself for not running ten but rather celebrate that you went for a run at all. You just ran five kilometers, well done you.

Of course, this doesn’t apply to just running. It can, and in my opinion, should, be used anytime you set yourself a goal. For myself, I plan to use in for my writing. If all I have in me on any given day is to write one sentence, well then at least I wrote that sentence, and I’ll celebrate that fact.

Feeling like you’ve failed is a poor motivator. Celebrate every victory. Matt did, and last Sunday he ran the longest distance he ever had before, and by Christmas, he’ll likely have doubled it.

Talk soon

Damian

November 16, 2017

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The East Pointers have a new album out which means you can expect to see even more of their tunes being used as my blog songs. Today’s track is entitled Two Weeks, and the album is called What We Leave Behind.

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Current chain of writing days: 38

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After my last post where I shared some good news and possible future happenings in regards to my writing (which got some some lovely feedback from my family and friends, thanks all), I got yet another piece of wonderful news. An email to my inbox started with “congratulations” and while many spam email might start this way this one was from the City of Melbourne’s Library and Recreations department, inviting me to the Lord Mayor Creative Writing Awards 2017, as I had been shortlisted for an award. When it rains it pours, right? And, while admittedly I’ve only been trying this writing game for three years, it was starting to feel a little dry.

And look, I still have a long path to walk. I’ve read enough writing advice and author blogs to know any kind of success doesn’t happen overnight. Even the ones that seem to, usually have a lengthy shadow of practice trailing along behind them. It takes years to do your twenty thousand hours, with the general consensus being that it’ll take ten years of work — in this case, writing every day — before your skills will get to the point that they’ll start to get you paid work and hopefully gain an audience.

I accept that. I have told myself and others that it will probably take till I’m forty to really see if I’m capable of making a living off of writing, and that’s still a pretty big if.

What does get me down sometimes is that it feels like I started so late. While I was always an avid reader and consumer of television I never considered a job creating that kind of content until I already had a science degree behind me and years working jobs I didn’t much enjoy. Once I started writing, and realised how much I enjoyed it, it felt like I had wasted so much time.

Then, today, I saw a tweet. It was from a writer I follow; Cassandra Khaw. It went like this:

What followed was an onslaught of people in all kinds of fields either sharing their stories of starting late and finding success or relief at the fact that they weren’t the only one sharing this worry. 

Some were from writers I knew:

Some were people scarcely similar to me:

Some were from people further down the line:

And some were people achieving different goals:

All of them were tales of working hard, and working passionately to achieve a goal, all with one resounding theme: There is no deadline. There is no cut off date to when someone can achieve success. There’s no wrong or right time to change a career, go for a goal, get fit, or start a new hobby.

It can be all too easy to feel like there are checkpoints in life that, once past, means you’ve missed out. But that’s not true. You control your actions, and your actions become your life; so, and this is the important part, you control your life. I think it comes down to just pointing yourself at a goal and taking the first step. 

The awards I’ll be going to are on the 7th of December, and oddly I don’t actually know what I’ve been shortlisted for as I entered in two fields; both the short story and novella. Hell, maybe I’ll get lucky and it’ll be both.

Wish me luck.

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Remember, do the best you can for as long as you can, that’s all any of us can ever do.

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Talk soon,

Damian

November 7, 2017

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I’m once again using Kim Churchill as my music man today because his album, Weight Falls, is a thing of brilliance that I can’t get enough of. Today’s track, Can You Go On, is one that gets me charged up and pumping my fist every time thanks to heart pumping percussion and stunning vocals.

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Current chain of writing days: 20

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It’s been a busy few weeks for me, both work wise and socially. Summer showed its face here in Melbourne for one brief week and caused everyone to start planning things to do in the sun and the fact that we’ve now had cold and rain for the last two weeks hasn’t really halted that.

While the social stuff is fun it’s the work stuff I want to tell you about, and by you, I mean, you right now reading this (hello), as well as future me, the one who years from now will decide to reread this blog using the virtual reality implant in his eye to remember what he was doing in early November of 2017. That’s because it’s been a good few weeks, and whatever else happens career wise for me I want to remind myself of that. It all starts somewhere, it might be here.

Firstly, I got nominated for an award. The award in question is known as the John Hinde Award, and is given out by the Australian Writers Guild for scripts in science fiction. I didn’t win, which, bummer, but I did get long listed, which, amazing. Like most contests and submissions, I sent in my work months ago and promptly forgot about it. I do this deliberately as a defence mechanism, a way to stop me from becoming downhearted when the inevitable rejection letter pings into my inbox — if I’ve forgotten about it, I can’t be disappointed. Except, of course, this time it wasn’t a rejection. It was a, ‘Congratulations, Damian…’ which are some of the nicest words a person can read, even if their name isn’t Damian. My day was made. I shared the news with Holly, we had a drink that night, and then I turned back on my defence mechanism and told myself not to hope for the win. That one proved to be more prophetic. However, there was one more pleasant surprise. The outcome of the awards weren’t released until the day after the awards ceremony. Being longlisted I did receive an invite, but as they were in Brisbane had decided I wouldn’t go unless I was shortlisted. I did this assuming the short list would comprise maybe ten entries, and the long list would be made up of twenty or so. It turns out that assumption was wrong. The short list was in fact made up of the winner, the runners up, and a third place contender. The long list were the next seven behind those. This means two things, I could have made it as close as top four, and at the very least I was in the top ten. My day was made…again. While the win would have been great, what I was ultimately awarded with was validation. With writing you can’t help but need some level of outside validation. The point of being a writer is to share your stories, and for that you need a willing audience. This tells me I might one day have one.

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Next on the list of cool things is the horror anthology I’ve been writing with pod-casting pals, Seasons of Fear, which is finally ready for publishing. I’m quite excited for this one. I’m really proud of all the stories the guys and I have written, each one is unique, each with their own style, all strong stories, and all scary as hell. Basically, we’ve told each other a scary story around the campfire, each trying to terrify the other, and then put it in book form. It’s been a lot of fun, and, as always, has taught me plenty. We’ll start by selling them exclusively at the podcast live shows, then after that will hopefully make it so people can order then online, or straight from us, it that proves harder than expected. Either way, hopefully sales go well because I’d love to do something like this with the guys again. Also, check out the cover.

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I’ve also been fortunate enough to begin work with a mate of mine on what will hopefully be an ongoing kids radioplay series, if it gets picked up. I’m currently writing a pilot script for it, and then mate in question, Dan, will use the weight of his production company to pitch it around. I’m quietly confident. The idea is a great one that hits a niche part of the market, ABC have recently started a new audio department and are looking for submissions, and most importantly Dan’s confident, which makes me confident. If it does get funding then I’ll, in effect, be head writer and will be able to write a bunch more scripts that I’ll *gasp* get paid for. Fingers crossed, everyone.

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Lastly in this tirade of bragging, this Friday I’ll be in a writers room brainstorming for an animated kids tv series. It’s in a similar spot to the project above where nothing is set in stone just yet, but again, I’m confident this series has a really good chance. The content it’s based on is solid, the characters are fun and flawed, and the premise is one that is not only fantastic but give us a lot of stories to tell. I won’t say more than that, mostly because I’m not sure if I’m allowed to.

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The point is that it feels like I now have a few more irons in the fire, and only future me knows what they might turn into.

Talk soon,

Damian

October 26, 2017

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Today’s track comes from fellow Australian, Kim Churchill. He has an impressive six albums, but I’ve only stumbled across his music recently with his latest, Weight Falls. The album features a bunch of great bluesy rock tracks, but the one that’s currently stuck in my head is Secondhand Car.

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Current chain of writing days: 8

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Writing is an ordinary super power.

A drawing teacher who’s blog I follow wrote that recently, and it resonated with me as a nice distillation of my my own thoughts on the matter.

Writing, like any form of communication, is simply trying to cram the mess of thoughts and ideas and stories that are in our heads into someone else’s. A type of telepathy that requires an interpreter in the form of paper and pen, or pencil, or crayon, or the blood of your enemies…or, I suppose, a laptop would work too. Professor X is basically just a guy who skips the middle ground, and imessages right into your skull.

I think the difference with writing as a form of communication, as opposed to speaking, or film, or music, or art, is that it requires more from the receiver. With writing — while story, content, and word choice all comes from the writer — the world the reader ends up envisioning comes mostly from their own imagination. I would argue at least fifty percent (if not more) of the world comes from the reader. It has to. Unless a writer describes every element within a scenario, every movement through every moment of time, then the reader has to fill in a hell of a lot of blanks. And a good writer will take advantage of this fact.

For example, take this set up to a scene:

She passed through the wire door into the kitchen that had been such an integral part of her childhood. The room not only looked smaller than she remembered, but duller too. Without the bustle of her mother creating meals and singing songs, bringing life into the space, it seemed like a taxidermied animal; whole in all appearances, but whose glass eyes gave away the lie.

What did the kitchen look like to you? Because, all I really told you was that it’s small and has a wire door. But, unless you just pictured a small white space with a wire door, chances are you filled in all the rest. What was the colour of the walls? What was the layout of the benches? What side of the room was the wire door on? Each of us pictured our own kitchen, each one different, and the one in my head different again. You probably had at least a basic idea of how the character looked as well, even though all you knew was that she was an adult woman. Does it matter? Of course not. How the kitchen looks isn’t important, what’s important is the character’s feelings towards the room and how it influences her actions within the story; that’s the one element we all share, and the element I put more time in communicating.

As a form of communication writing is undeniably flawed. No matter how much I wrote, an exact copy of what’s in my head will never enter yours. It will always be muddled in the translation, influenced by the reader’s imagination, experiences, and subconscious; but I think that just adds to the magic. As a reader I love getting lost in other people’s worlds and I think part of that is because, while I’m experiencing something new, there’s also always something familiar there as well; whatever I’m adding to fill in the blanks. We want a window into a different world but a mirror into our own one as well.

It takes two to communicate a written story, and so I think that earlier statement needs an amendment, and that’s that reading is an ordinary super power too.

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I saw this quote somewhere on the internet that gets across the absurd magic of reading perfectly:

‘Reading is just staring at marked slices of wood for hours while hallucinating vividly’

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Also, I did a Q and A with my good friend Sean Carney for Movie Maintenance Presents about my short story The Fox’s Beard. You can check it out here.

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Talk soon

Damian

October 10, 2017

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I’ve loaded up on new music recently and one I’ve really been enjoying is Newton Faulkner’s latest album, Hit The Ground Running. His albums can be a bit hit and miss, but this one is a real winner. The first couple of tracks are upbeat and fun, and then it dips into some almost funk and blues songs that really work for me. This is one of the upbeat ones, entitled: Smoked Ice Cream.

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Current chain of writing days: 2

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For the past two weeks the Lady Holly have been making our way across Malaysian Borneo. It is a hot and humid place thanks to it’s proximity to the equator, full of jungle, quick and heavy tropical rain, noodles, and unfortunately quite a lot of palm plantations.

Borneo, for any who don’t know, is a large island surrounded on four sides by Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and the lower half of Vietnam — and is made up of three countries; Malaysia Borneo, Indonesian Borneo, and the very small nation of Brunei.

My first introduction to Borneo came when during a flight to Europe last year we stopped over in Brunei and I had no idea where we were. Some quick research dispelled my ignorance, I learnt some basic facts about Borneo (those listed above), and then forgot all about it as we were already on one adventure and weren’t needing to plan our next one just yet.

That was until months later, when attending a friends book launch, the Lady Holly picked up a lonely planet on Borneo. She flicked through, showing me one amazing photo after another, and by the time she had made it to the back cover we were in agreeance that, yeah, we were going to go there.

Holly did a bunch of research and put together an itinerary of one amazing activity after another. I did nothing, maybe I cooked, either way, she rocks and planned us a killer trip. We booked it all in and then had to trudge through a half year wait until we could finally get on that plane and dive into the photos that had won us over all those months ago.

Now, I could go through out whole trip and tell you each incredible thing we did one after another, but I have the feeling that that would be more fun for me than for you, so, in short: We visited humid rainforests dripping with wildlife, peeled leeches from our ankles while trying not to freak out, floated down kinabatangan river spotting monkeys and birds, drank beer while watching the jungle soak itself with rain, scuba dived and snorkeled through island reefs brimming with fish and sea turtles, and ate, and bused, and sweated, and watched movies, and waited in airports, and read books, and discovered something new every day. It was magic.

Because that’s what travelling does, it exposes you to the new, and when that happens you can’t help but learn things.

So, I thought I’d finish by jotting down the… 

Things I Learned in Borneo:

  1. I’m fairly terrible at keeping up my writing while on holiday. I started out strong, but then got quite sick, then had activity filled days, and in the end I decided to just lean into it. I don’t think it’s the worse thing. While I like having a big number for my consecutive days of writing, some time off can be beneficial, and has left me extra keen to jump back in.
  2. Something will always go wrong. This is my mantra for any time I travel. If you’re expecting to travel and have everything go perfectly then you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. There’s too many factors involved, too many ways something can and will go wrong. By acknowledging this fact it means that when it does you can simply say, ‘I knew this would happen,’ and get on with it, rather than get disappointed. Works for life in general too, but that’s another blog. For this trip, I got sick. I actually had gastro the day before we left, then contracted a flu two days in. It was a bad one, I can’t remember the last time I felt so rotten. I could barely get out of bed, was sweating and delusional, and I couldn’t even hold onto a thought during the worst of it. When it was clear I wasn’t getting better, I took some antibiotics and quickly started improving. It’s the first time to my knowledge that I’ve taken antibiotics and wow, they’re awesome. I got out of bed and back on track. Not to say it wasn’t upsetting but in the long run it was a small setback to a great trip.
  3. Fortune may favour the bold but it also favours the prepared. E.g. the antibiotics I took we had on hand because we’d seen a travel doctor before going. While things will go wrong, being prepared minimises the effect. 
  4. Noodles are literally good for any meal. Yes, even breakfast.
  5. Plan a holiday around seeing wildlife and you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a good time. That’s a more personal one. Nature and wildlife may not be for everyone, but for me it meant I always had something beautiful and interesting to look at and photograph, as well as providing us with that recharge that only nature can provide and that I miss by living in a city. It’s also cost effective.
  6. No matter how hard I try I am destined to always break a pair of sunglasses while on holiday. Always. Sometimes multiple times.
  7. I should read more. While I didn’t write as much as I thought I would I did read a bunch. How much? Five and a half novels in two weeks, my friends. It was bliss. By allowing myself permission to disconnect from my phone, as well as having plenty of down time, it meant I could commit to reading as much as I usually want to, and was so much more beneficial than scrolling through apps on my phone like I usually would. One of the books was Stephen King’s On Writing, in which he says aspiring writers need to do two things; write a lot and read a lot. He’s not wrong, and I’m hoping to bring back this renewed passion into my usual routine.
  8. My beard is quite good at protecting my face from sunburn; my thinning hairline, not so much. You can read that one any way you like, but I choose to see it as; things always even out.
  9. You should go visit Borneo. Honestly, there was so much to see and do, the people were friendly and relaxed, never pushy, and getting around wasn’t a problem. It’s a wonderful part of the world and one we’re hoping to get back to one day.
  10. Holly’s the best. You should get yourself a Holly.

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It’s good to be back.

Talk soon

Damian