may we become conscious of the unconscious

Ironbark Gully
getting back on the horse

Down at the Gully today, doing some writing work and thinking about getting back on the pogram … I’ll explain that word in a minute.

It’s been too long that we’ve allowed the situation with our tenant to derail us. I’ve been in damage-control mode and now it’s time to get back into live grow and build mode.

We bumped into Irish Ryan yesterday and he reminded us that we can choose how we feel about the situation. Remember Frankl (paraphrased):

man’s final freedom is the freedom to choose how he feels.

I choose to feel like I can resume my daily life and go back to cultivating contentment and wellbeing and happiness. I choose to use my time in the house as though This Person being is not a problem. (Such is the extent that I have been overwhelmed by their ongoing presence, that I hand-wrote their whole being as the problem. It’s time to take my mind and heart back from the person I have been allowing to occupy it for too long.) The advice columnist Ann Landers said,

Hanging onto resentment is letting someone you despise live rent-free in your head.

I choose to reclaim the right to my mental and emotional space. This space is priceless, and my experience of it is a choice.

I’ve been meaning to start a document, something I can fold into a pocket somewhere, with the values and reminders I’d like to keep in the fore of my mind. This exercise helps me feel anchored to something, less dependent on retaining all my intentions in the brain. I’m getting on to this today and will share it here as some kind of practical resource when I’m able to get to that.

When I’m getting back on the horse like this, I talk about getting back on my pogram, which is a combination of program and pogrom, a program of personal re-education, of expelling that which holds me back and re-learning what makes me soar.

This idea of keeping a document on hand as a reminder has … reminded me that a key project of my pogram and the work at Kokoro 心 Heart is making the subconscious more conscious. By bringing my values and beliefs and positive “talk” to the fore of my conscious, I reclaim the ability and freedom to choose how I feel.

If 95% of our behaviour is motivated by the subconscious, then we need to become aware of the subconscious so we can be more intentional, less reactive, less likely to crumble when struck by unchartered adversity.

So that’s the theme set for the day and days to come. My battery is about to die, so I’m going to hit send on this missive.

the finish line

I finished my final end-of-year assessments a few weeks ago, and the results are in ~ I did pretty well! It feels great to have made it through a year of university study again ~ next year is an open book at this stage, but if I don’t defer to focus on freelancing I hope to make it through more than three weeks of the second year.

In 2002 I started a bachelor of English and philosophy at Adelaide Uni, straight outta high school, and I left three weeks in to the second year because … for a number of reasons. I ended up working in publishing for nearly ten years after that, and had my first full-time in-house job by the time I would have graduated, so it was no great loss, but this time going to uni has a different … vibe about it: I’m really keen to not let my literary skills be spent entirely on editorial and advocacy work, as had happened by the end of my ‘first’ career in publishing.

I say ‘first’ because it feels like the first iteration ~ this time I hope to maintain stronger focus on having my own work published, instead of focusing on the facilitation of others’ ideas, which was and is a joy, but I like to write more than I like to edit, so here’s to hoping for the next iteration.

I’ve got some nag champa burning and some Carbon Based Lifeforms playing, which is nothing unusual for a morning of study, but it feels more ceremonial this morning ~ and instead of working on assignments I’ve been using my morning writing time to work on chapters for a novel I’m writing. For the next three months or so I will be waking up at 6 am to pour myself into crafting words on a page that won’t be assessed according to a university rubric, which feels liberating and exciting.

I like the rubrics ~ they help direct the energies I give to writing, and I think they are set up to reflect a nuanced (albeit arbitrated) judgement of what constitutes good writing, which is mostly considered a subjective question. Learning some objective notions of what constitutes good writing has been interesting and helpful, but sometimes such objectivity gets in the way of just letting loose on the page to see what happens.

The other benefit of a university writing course is that you’ve got deadlines imposed on you that force you to produce material. Of course I’m excited about maintaining a writing practice over the summer, but there’s something daunting about maintaining a writing schedule without the deadlines enforced by a faculty.

I was pleasantly surprised when I received an envelope from the uni recently, and inside was a certificate notifying me that I had been admitted to the Creative Industries Faculty Dean’s List, ‘in recognition of [my] exceptional academic performance in Semester 1, 2019’. I achieved a GPA of 6.75, which kind of surprised me ~ I understand that I’m a halfway-decent writer, but one of the reasons I left uni in the early noughties is that I struggled to get my head around the academic expectations of the assessors, so even after all my experience in publishing I was still a bit daunted by meeting these expectations in 2019.

But I did it, and it feels really empowering.

I was talking to my neighbour recently about the freelancing work I do, and how it’s pretty easy money once I do the leg work of soliciting clients. He reminded me of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, which, according to Very Well Mind, is ‘a type of cognitive bias in which people believe they are smarter and more capable than they really are’. It works in the other direction too: people who are good at what they do often diminutise the skills and experience required to do it.

Editing has always come naturally to me ~ I was annotating the books I was reading in late high school. And writing is something I’ve also always had a natural affinity for … with? 🙂

I was thinking about it this morning, and about how I would be likely to say to someone if they asked: ‘Oh, it’s just a creative-writing degree ~ it’s not rocket science or anything.’ But the things I’ve learned this year about the craft of writing have reminded me (thankfully) that, in fact, there is a kind of science to writing ~ you have to experiment with methods, and if they don’t work you need to amend the material you’ve crafted until it does work. It requires a great degree of lateral thinking, and also the ability to observe things as they are and wonder about what will happen if you put them together.

That’s a definition of creativity I encountered in a Netflix documentary: creativity is the ability to take two or more existing things and put them together until you’ve created something new. A nice and simple definition.

Doing this with, say, two different chemicals in a lab to make polystyrene (to use an example from the doco) is one thing, but doing this with concepts requires a whole other level of creative ingenuity. And the results I’ve been getting at uni this year seem to suggest that I possess this ingenuity, which is definitely affirming. After struggling to overcome intellectual insecurities in my late teens and early adulthood, I slowly began to realise that yes, I was in the possession of intelligence and creativity, but it’s still been something I’ve struggled to accept as valuable in a culture dominated by ideologies that seem to prioritise material creativity and productivity ~ in the form of, say, medical or engineering innovation.

But this year I’ve formulated the beginning of a thesis for a New Weird novel that I genuinely hope will ‘create room in our collective psyche for new and innovative institutional ideals’ (to quote from the exegesis), and I live now with the confidence that such work is both imminently and immanently necessary.

I’ve learned (or, rather, been officially reminded) this year that there is great power in the written word to change the way we think and act in the world. I’ve never been one for direct action in the form of, say, protest activism, but I certainly share the sensibilities and values that inform such dissidence. But I think I’ve always suspected that something needs to change at a level deeper than just the streets. I have deep admiration for the people who protest at the coal-face of our culture’s iniquities, but I’m also convinced now more than ever that the real protest has to happen in the structures of our minds, which are informed (maybe even just straight-up formed) by the language and neurological structures we use to tell ourselves stories about the world and our experience in it.

I never really expected a first-year BFA in creative writing to have this kind of deep ideological impact on me ~ I really only expected to learn some neat skills about how to improve the craft of writing. So I guess I need to send props to the profs at QUT for the way they’ve handled the material this year. It’s been really inspiring, and I’m super proud of myself for being able to respond to that material in a way that I hope has done it justice.

It’s been a hell of a year ~ super busy because I’ve also been adjusting to living in a full-time relationship with someone I adore, plus I’m a sudden-dad of an eleven year old now, who has a huge heart even though he’s troublesome now and then (but what kid isn’t ~ and we want him to be troublesome, because we need young people to speak and act out against injustice, so we try to encourage that when he does it at home 🙂

I’ve got a few short pieces of writing that I have started shopping around, so hopefully over the next few months I’ll have a few announcements to make about those. And I’m thinking about throwing up my exegesis here, because I’m proud of it and it constitutes the begin of the first major work I’ll try to produce. (Well, second — but the first one kind of flopped, though I’ve noticed that many of the ideas are beginning to leech into this one.)

Meanwhile, I’ve got a novel manuscript to edit for Paul Mitchell, a guy I worked with at Wakefield Press yonks ago. And compost to turn! And bikes to ride. And books to read slowly …

digital panopticon


I recently finished reading Digital Vertigo, a book by Andrew Keen with the subtitle, ‘How Today’s Online Social Revolution Is Dividing, Diminishing, and Disorienting Us’. I’ve been trying to write a few notes at least when I finish reading a book, so that I’m not just reading book after book after book without really integrating what I’ve read. To do so for Digital Vertigo in anything approaching a comprehensive way would take waaaaaaay too long – it’s pretty jam-packed with references and metaphors and ideas supporting the main thesis from various pop-cultural angles.

So instead of trying to write anything comprehensive about the book I’m just going to summarise what I understand to be its core thesis, which happens to be a subject dear to my heart: the online social media revolution is turning our culture into one great big panopticon of suck. I picked up the book because I’m interested in internet critiques, but had no idea Keen would take his critique into the realm of the panopticon, which I love because it’s easy to hate and because it’s just a cool-sounding word.

bleak AF

This image of the Presidio Modelo prison complex in Cuba is often used to illustrate the notion of panopticon, I suppose because (apart from it being a literal instance of a panopticon-style prison) it evokes the feeling of a creepy stable for domestic beasts of burden and because it looks about as bleak as the best dystopian fiction can make us feel.

To directly quote the wonderful Wikipedia, ‘ The panopticon is a type of institutional building and a system of control designed by the English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the 18th century’. The building in the above image has a central tower from which every one of those cells can be observed. It doesn’t really matter whether there’s a guard in that tower or not: the idea was that if prisoners merely believed they were being observed, they would begin to self-enforce the rules imposed by the institution.

That’s a simplified interpretation of Bentham’s theory, and in Keen’s book this idea is expanded upon as an analogy for the ever-broadcasting mode of social media: by constantly revealing intimate details of ourselves, the state no longer has to engage in covert surveillance to access our data, personalities and identities – we give it away for free, in exchange for advertising-sponsered ‘free’ services.

The result is a culture where everyone feels observed all the time. One result of this culture is a tendency to self-censor and to err on the side of political correctness, which really worries me – the importance of free speech and free thought cannot be emphasized enough, of course, and when we inhibit this freedom ourselves because we’re unconsciously worried that our icky-shadow thoughts might reveal us to be horrible people to the audience we’re trying to impress with our selfies and travel photos, there is no longer any need to fear state-side suppression, because we repress all that nasty shit ourselves.

I rarely use social media these days, largely because I had begun to feel something suss about it. So perhaps I was the perfect audience for a book like this – because I’m a malcontent and latent dissenter, this book took me to the heart of fears about the internet I hadn’t even really unpacked.

It’s a decent read, even if the writing starts to feel a bit dry and journalistic at times (when he’s not throwing in annoying scene descriptions to make the writing more warm but which just feel forced and over-written), and there are loads of tendrils into the internet in the form of reference links if you want to pursue the subject into the rabbit hole.