January 11, 2019

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On day two of this new year I was back at work and feeling pretty blue about it. I work three days per week from an atypical office I share with three other people. It is located in a pocket of Melbourne, just outside the CDB, populated with offices, apartment buildings, a couple of hospitals, and of course the university I work for. However it does also have some greenery, Melbourne’s good like that. There’s a rather large park down one of the major roads, perhaps two kilometers away, and a few smaller ones in opposite directions. And then there are the areas I think of as micro parks. Small patches of grass, wedged between dissecting back streets, hidden away behind the multistory behemoths. These tiny slices of land are mini oasis’s from the surrounding sea of traffic and enterprise, and it’s from one of these parks that I’m writing this now, its greenery making me feel less blue. Given the peace of this micro park it seemed like a good place to share some thoughts as we roll into the new year.  So let’s dig in.

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I use to look down upon new year’s resolutions, and new years as a celebration in general. It seemed arbitrary to my not-so-long-ago younger self. The parties never felt as fun as they should, resolutions can be made any day of the year, and it’s so close to Christmas; and you’re never going to be able to compete against Christmas when it comes to good ways to end off a year.

Now, I like New Years more. There are a number of reasons for this, but mostly it comes down to a matter of perspective.

I realised the mode of celebration was under my influence, and that I craved something more subdued and relaxed than an all out party, as that felt like a better was to step into a new year. This year, for example, started off great. I started it married. I started it on a beach with family watching illegal fireworks explode above us as the waves crashed gently against the shore. I started it with my wife sitting in front of me and a chest sore from laughing. We drank some spirits from the bottle, jokes flying between the five of us, played some good/bad music off of Holly’s phone, lay down on a too small blanket, looked up at the endless array of stars, and sang. While I did find sand in my hair the next morning it still seemed like if the rest of the year was an extension of that night, then 2019 would be just fine.

I also have my resolutions for the year, or goals as my brother Matthew prefers, as goals are changeable and adaptable, able to be altered to match whatever may come. The reason I have started this tradition is that while resolutions can be made any day of the year, while we can stop and evaluate our situations, decide upon changes we’d like to make then action them, we often don’t. New years works as a reminder that I have influence over my life, specifically my actions, and that if I want to make changes the first step is deciding on what they are. Even if I don’t want to make changes, it’s still good to stop and recognise that fact, appreciate the course I’m on and continue down it.

My four goals are much the same as last year, which boil down to Write more, Run more, Read more, and one new one, which is to pick up the guitar again and learn some new songs. All of these goals have definitive targets involved because I’ve found that’s what works best from me. They also have spreadsheets to track these targets because, again, that’s what works best for me. They’re also all goals I have control over. There’s no point me setting a goal like ‘get a story published’ because ultimately I can’t ensure that happens. I can write a story, find a publication to submit it to, and do the best job I can with the application, but that doesn’t mean I have any control over whether it gets published or not. Now, if my goal was to submit one story per week to a publication, then we have a tangible and achievable goal I have control over.

As for competing New Years against Christmas, then, yeah, no, New Years isn’t going to take that crown, at least not for me. But it’s not supposed to, they’re two different beasts, each with their own positives, and personally I’ve come to enjoy the contemplative aspect that New Years provides.

Whatever shape 2019 ends up taking I know I’m grateful to be living it, and hope that throughout the year I continue to look at the stars, laugh until my chest hurts, and sing bad songs. And, occasionally, find a quiet micro park to sit in, escape the world for a moment, and write down some words, much like these.

Talk soon,

Damian

January 2, 2017

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I thought to mix things up this year I’ll add a song that I’m currently enjoying to the start of every blog that you can listen to as you read, if you’re so inclined.

First up we have a Melbourne band called Woodlock whose music is all so excellent I had trouble choosing a single song, nevertheless I did because I’m a warrior.

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I feel conflicted over new years, the idea of resolutions in particular. I’m a firm believer that if you want to change something about your life you can do so on any day, any hour, any minute – not specifically at the end of December 31st – and that delaying until the end of the year is just that, a delay and an unnecessary one. However, I also believe that it’s easy to forget about making changes. It can be very easy to continue life without evaluation and therefore never even think about any changes you might want to make, let alone start doing anything about them. It’s for this reason that I like new years and it’s resolutions because it provides us all that opportunity.

For myself my hopes for the new year are much the same as they have been in recent years; write more, stay healthy, and be good to the ones I love. This blog is a way to ensure I keep up the first, not only because to publish it I need to write but also because I know there are readers who will continue to expect new posts and badger me if they aren’t forthcoming; these people are my parents – bless them. I also have a second system though to ensure I keep writing. It comes from some advice I saw floating around the internet earlier this year that originated from Jerry Seinfeld. You can read the original article here but the setup of it is that when a young comic was learning the ropes he had an opportunity to talk to Seinfeld and asked him if he had any advice. Here’s what he said, and I’ll simply quote the article here:

“He said the way to be a better comic was to create better jokes and the way to create better jokes was to write every day. But his advice was better than that. He had a gem of a leverage technique he used on himself and you can use it to motivate yourself—even when you don’t feel like it. He revealed a unique calendar system he uses to pressure himself to write. Here’s how it works. He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker. He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.” “Don’t break the chain,” he said again for emphasis.”

You can guess what I’ve done. One of the benefits to working in lab is that you use a lot of equipment. This equipment needs to come from somewhere and so you then get salesmen and women coming to the lab to buy you coffee and talk about their products. These salesmen and women will also bring knick knacks and doodads with their company’s logo and products printed on them. At this time of the year those doodads include giant wall calendars like the one detailed above. So, I have placed said calendar on a wall in my study and I plan to start crossing days off one by one, starting today. Admittedly, I was going to start yesterday but after a lazy morning at our friends house and then driving a very hungover Lady Holly and I the two hours back home only to realise I hadn’t come off as easy as I thought from the night before I decided to leave it until today. Starting a new year’s resolution on the first is cliche anyway, although I guess breaking a resolution on the first is equally as cliche…either way I now know breaking a resolution straight way certainly takes a lot of pressure off of it.

That’s my plan for the year, I don’t expect that I won’t break the chain at some point but I do expect to get some mighty good runs in.

Remember: The trick is to get a little better everyday.

Talk soon

Damian

August 28, 2016

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Yesterday I made a decision. After getting to a point in a short story where I couldn’t figure out what to write next – I know point B and point D, but point C was eluding me – I decided I needed some proper brainstorm time. I recently heard some advice about how the best time to brainstorm is when you’re brain is focused on an activity but said activity is just boring enough that your thoughts are likely to drift. The key is to hit that sweet spot between where you’re focused enough that you aren’t just zoning out, but not so focused that it’s taking up all your attention. Examples include showering (the obvious one), driving with/without music (depends on how much the music grabs your attention), or even perhaps going to the toilet. My problem felt like it needed more than a single trip to the toilet and, as I cycle to work, decided that my morning ride would be the perfect time to nut this problem out. Usually I listen to audiobooks or podcasts as I’m riding the twenty kilometers to or from work; which well and truly takes up my attention in a very enjoyable way. Obviously, that wouldn’t work for my objective and so I kept my headphones in my bag and rode with only the sounds of the animals and the traffic (arguably still animal noises) to listen to.

It worked a treat. I did have to somewhat forcibly keep the problem in my thoughts but by doing so my brain resigned itself to it’s given duty and started to work on various parts of the story. It was interesting how my brain hopped from one part of the story to the next, working away at each section like a rabbit who can’t decided which leaf of kale to eat first so ends up chewing on all of them. While the subconscious part of brain was chewing the metaphorical kale the conscious part was simply trying to keep up and catalogue all the ideas that were coming through to it; keeping the good and discarding the bad. It was great. By the time I was halfway through my ride I already had a number of little ideas for various parts of the story that was sure to keep me writing for the next few days. I couldn’t have been happier – and then I crashed my bike.

Let me back track just a moment and tell you one more detail about this ride. I got rained on. For about ten minutes or so the heavens opened and down came the rain and washed poor Damian out. It wasn’t a big deal, I’ve ridden to work for about four years now and so this has happened countless times, and I was so jazzed about the success of my brainstorm that it didn’t even dampen my mood. What it did dampen however was the inside of my handle bar cover.

I was about ten minutes from work and was riding up a small hill in a fairly secluded section of the bike path. As I was going uphill I lifted myself up out of my seat to pedal harder, putting my weight forward on to the handlebars. As my left leg came down my weight was redistributed to my left arm and the handle bar cover it was holding slipped right off. The handle bar cover hit the ground and I crashed down hard beside it. Unfortunately for my hand, knee, and shoulder the gravel on this section of the bike path was particularly gravelly (see photo above), meaning I fell onto a carpet of rough stones that tore through my skin like it was crate paper. I was ultimately fine, obviously, I’m not writing this from a hospital room or anything like that, but I was banged, bruised and bleeding. My bike was completely fine, so that at least was a small blessing. I rightened both myself and my bike, tenderly climbed back on, and, holding my torn left hand away from the handlebars, rode the rest of the way to work.

I was mostly aware of the graze on my hand but by the time I got to work it was my knee that was leaking blood everywhere, and I mean everywhere. I have some pretty grotesque photos (because that’s the smart thing to do before treating an injury) but won’t share them here for fear of upsetting anyone (available upon request). Luckily, I work at a hospital so it wasn’t to hard to get some bandages and bandaids. Unluckily my wounds were bleeding so much it took quite a while for them to stop so that I could actually apply the bandages and bandaids without them immediately getting soaked through.

What did I do while I waited for the tears in my skin to stop bleeding? I wrote the ideas I gained from my ride down. The number one rule for whenever you get a good idea for your story is WRITE IT DOWN. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the middle of the night, if you’re still wet from just getting out of the shower, if you need to pull over while driving, or if you’re bleeding from multiple points in your body after taking a tumble off your bike. You Write. It. Down.

So, while you could say my brainstorming bike ride had some ups and down (no pun intended…I think), I mark it ultimately as a success, one I intend to repeat (not the falling off my bike part obviously, come on guys). My plan is to forgo the pleasure of an audiobook on the way to work when my brain is awake and alert, but partake of the entertainment on the way home when my brain has clocked off.

Like it has today.

Talk soon

Damian

August 21, 2016

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I was going to share some songs that I’ve been enjoying lately at the end of this blog but instead decided to move them to the start so you can listen to them while you read.

I’m all about the multitasking.

First is a song from an English band called Amber Run. I’ve been really enjoying their sound lately which has elicited more than one steering wheel drumming session while I’ve been driving.

Second is an Australian singer songwriter by the name of Dustin Tebbutt who’s been on my radar for a few years now but who has just recently released his first LP.

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The cherry blossoms around my neighbourhood have started to bloom which means that not only will they look gorgeous for the next few weeks opposed to the barren and bare look they exhibit for most of the year, but also that spring is coming; and it’s about damn time. The other side of the globe has had their turn at sunshine and warmth and days that last a full twelve hours, and it’s just about our turn again. I’m very happy about this. It’s about a week and a half off from the calendar version of spring but I feel like it’s already upon us. The last few weeks have provided some sun as well as slight increases in the warmth and duration of that sun and because of this I feel like my motivation and energy levels are beginning to thaw from their winter chill. I’m excited and enthused about being more productive and filling my non-work hours with greater activity – opposed to my more recent endeavours to maintain warmth, eat a lot, and move as little as possible.

The cornerstone of this burgeoning hyperactivity is to write more. I did okay at maintaining a not terrible level of this interest over the winter months (even if this was somewhat interrupted by outside forces as described in my last post) but now want to take it up another notch. I read an interview with the fantasy writer Patrick Rothfuss recently and he had a line about how all the time other people spent watching tv, he spent writing. That’s my new goal, to spend as much non-work time as possible writing. To really cut back on my other entertainments and put that time into embedding letters into a digital page.

Part of my plan to achieve this is to start working on multiple projects concurrently. As I’m still very much a novice this is something I haven’t attempted before, only ever working on one project at a time. Pretty much any expert in the field will tell you that to get the most from yourself it’s a good idea to have multiple projects on the go so that when you become stalled with one you can work on the next one, rather than wait around until inspiration hits. So that’s what I’m going to do. When I hit a wall with one project I’ll start on the next one, tasking my subconscious with the job of solving the problem with the first one while I do so. I’m also going to try and vary the type (prose, scripts, blogs, and even some plays) and tone (drama, comedy, children’s etc) of these multiple projects so that when I move from one to another it feels actually feels like I’m doing something different.

The second part of this plan is to continue to educate myself in all things writing. Firstly because when I’m too brain dead at the end of the day I can still move forward with my writing experience by watching a video or listening to a podcast on the topic rather than actually by writing. Secondly because it’s just a great habit to keep. It can seem obvious a thing to do but often I’m so into the practice that I can forget about the theory, and it’s my opinion that you’re never really ever done with the theory. It’s especially a foolhardy thing to neglect when we’re living in the information age, and you can learn just about anything thanks to wonderful people who are willing to share their expertise on the internet. Just last week a Kenyan man won a gold medal at the Olympics in javelin and learned how to throw by watching youtube videos. If that doesn’t inspire you that you can learn real skills through the internet and self educating I don’t know what will.

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Finally for a bit of entertainment and amazement a quick video from the people of futurism about roll out solar panels that can be used in disaster areas, and realistically also a number of other situations.

Talk soon

Damian