Announcement: ‘The next day: A bundle of notes about grief, loss of vocation, and having to carry on regardless’.

Announcement: ‘The next day: A bundle of notes about grief, loss of vocation, and having to carry on regardless’.

Illustration by Rebecca Stewart

I am about to start posting blogs about grief, how it affects people who have lost their streams of income, and how they might go about dealing with the pressure to survive day-to-day.

Called The next day: A bundle of notes about grief, loss of vocation, and having to carry on regardless, this ‘thing’ – shorter than a book but much longer than an essay – is one of my lockdown projects. I was prompted to write it out of concern for friends and ex-colleagues who have suddenly found themselves out of work due to Covid-19 lockdowns, be that as small traders, contractors, or (formerly) permanent employees. What is unique about this situation is that people are not just losing jobs or businesses, but access to whole sectors that are locking down or downsizing. I used to work in both the university and arts sectors, which have been particularly badly hit not just by the lockdowns but have also found themselves on the wrong side of federal government policy in regards to wage subsidies or future funding arrangements. But I believe that anyone who has lost their work could relate to what I have written.

The loss of work is a cause of grief and shock. It also brings about a mad scramble for material survival in the newly jobless. But the volatile energies and complex emotions of grief work to completely different rhythms in comparison to the process of job-search and / or saving a business. People who are dealing with grief are currently being asked to make big decisions about how they are going to get the rent paid. These two dynamics may be in conflict.

I cannot suggest an easy resolution to this tension; it may well be irresolvable for many people. And yet these people must live with this. I wrote The next day to acknowledge what people may be going through. In the writing I drew heavily on two episodes of grief during my life. One was the death of my mother, suddenly, to cancer last year. The other was the death of my first vocation – as an arts worker (performer, choreographer, arts administrator). I chose, myself, to euthanise this way of life but, even so, I felt a profound sense of grief. I know that these experiences are not the same as what people are going through this year; indeed, I believe the experience of loss of work in 2020 will be unique to this time. But I still felt a profound empathy, and this prompted me to write.

Even though I don’t have pat solutions to suggest, I thought that I could at least posit some ideas and provocations that may provide context or open some lines of thinking for people. I hope these notes are of some support to someone out there.

I am making this bundle of notes available for free, being mindful of the fact that some people who might like to read them will now be short of money. I will be offering them in two formats. You can either download the whole bundle in PDF format HERE, or you can wait and read each note posted separately and weekly in this blog starting from 7 October. I will be posting each one at 9am every Wednesday for the next 20 or so weeks.

Solitary mind: creativity and resilience

Solitary mind: creativity and resilience

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The Tomb of the Wrestlers by Rene Magritte

Twitter right now is a double edged sword. On the one hand it is full of hysteria and nonsense and prolonged exposure to this is definitely not recommended  for peace of mind, but on the other it is full of lovely things. In response to the pandemic of physical distancing and isolation that has spread across the globe, many people are taking refuge in their imaginations. The stuff people are sharing range from the silly to the playful to the beautiful to the profound.

People stuck at home are making videos and art, gifs and essays, singing folk songs, and singing opera from their quarantined balconies. On Twitter, Patrick Stewart reads one of Shakespeare’s sonnets every day. Yo Yo Ma plays us #songsofcomfort. A British family has gone viral with their own witty coronavirus inspired lyrics set to a soundtrack from Les Miserables.

August institutions are sharing their resources online: you can read fine essays or view galleries from the quarantined comfort of your home. Author Robert MacFarlane is conducting a reading group on Twitter.

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Under these stressful conditions people are trying to find a way of staving off tedium and the blues. They are looking for meaning. Endeavouring to comfort and entertain themselves and others. I think it’s delightful that so many people are hunkering down with a sense of playfulness and / or an appetite for the artistic.

Obviously, for many people thrown upon their own inner resources to combat one of the most disruptive and serious crises of our lives, the instinct they are drawing on is their sense of creativity. I’m not surprised. I have long felt that creativity and resilience work in a kind of a loop. We are living in strange times that demand resilience, where we are challenged to make sense of, and outlast, the hitherto unexperienced. And to do so in a way that means we emerge from this with some sense of being coherent humans able to rebuild normal lives, whatever that ‘normal’ turns out to be.

Working creatively is psychologically challenging in different ways. You have to be prepared to risk failure. You have to be prepared to risk succeeding on your terms, only to have these terms misunderstood and denounced by others. Making creative work is an alchemical process, combining themes, ideas, techniques, resources in a process of trial and error. Creative people get used to working while feeling doubt, frustration, ambiguity, disappointment, and fear at their own audacity.

So creative work demands resilience, that ability to persevere while being vulnerable.* But the neat thing is that, while you are drawing on your personal resilience as a creative, your creative process is embedding things that, in turn, make you resilient. A rich inner world; learning to get your critical mind to work with your imagination (instead of letting one overwhelm the other); the ability to sit in uncertainty; the ability to learn from your mistakes; being able to recognise when a change of course is required; a sense of playfulness; determination; curiosity. All of these things may be called upon when steering a light bulb moment to tangible outcome. All of them can feed your ability to be resilient. And that resilience helps to sustain your creative process.

*I don’t think resilience = tough. I think these two things are quite different things.

Recommended resource:

The Discover2Learn website is the most comprehensive and caried list of stuff you can do while self-distancing that I have seen yet.

And…

I derive my income from a mixture of casual and freelance work. If you would like to support me, please consider one of the following:

If you can’t afford to support me because Covid-19 has knocked the stuffing out of your income streams, please know that you have my profound empathy. The very best of luck to you.

Time Management versus Energy Management

Time Management versus Energy Management

It was recently my good fortune to attend a Masterclass in Learning Facilitation, created and facilitated by Helen Palmer. It was a fun and incredibly useful day, with lots of insights, advice, and a variety of techniques made available to us. Helen obviously has a ball while she facilitates, has an acute sense of when to deploy any of her huge repertoire of facilitation techniques, and generates a lovely energy during her sessions.

One thing that made me prick up my ears was during the section of the Masterclass when Helen was talking about preparing to facilitate. She mentioned that she makes sure that she puts aside half a day before and after a day of facilitation in order to be quiet, calm, and to reserve energy to give to her facilitation process. As an introvert, and an introvert who enjoys people, this approach made sense to me.

We are all familiar with the phrase ‘time management.’ Lately I have been thinking that we should also talk about energy management. We should not just think about when we do stuff, but also about the quality of energy we bring to the doing of those tasks. Working with people, working creatively, working technically, working intellectually, performing emotional or physical labour: these things all require different kinds of energy. Are we managing our lives so that we take not just enough, but the right type of energy into those tasks?

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‘Un Autre Monde’ by Grandville

Helen also made the comment “Some things like turning off my phone (before facilitating) I almost treat like a ritual… so that I have the cognitive space to deal with the unexpected.” Again, this pointed to Helen deliberately shifting focus so that she brought the right kind of energy to her facilitation work.

Those of us who facilitate know how rewarding it can be: creative, interesting, satisfying, and just plain fun. But it is intense. To do it well you have to be incredibly present and responsive. This Masterclass equipped us with lots of techniques, and that is useful and important, but the discussion around preparing to facilitate – I would call it preparing your energy – was equally important. I guess the secret to succeeding at any task or undertaking is to make sure that you have the right techniques and the right amount and type of energy. We are often good at identifying what we need for technical efficiency; are we as good at understanding how to manage our energy?

A Profound Place to Start

A Profound Place to Start

There are two things that this tweet reinforces for me:

  • Using the word ‘great’ 3 times in one tweet does not show off my vocabulary skills at their best.
  • That failure is not an end but a beginning, and a “profound” one at that.

Some background first: I tweeted the above during the 2018 Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute (MSSI) Annual Oration. Given on 20 November by Professor Lars Coenen the lecture, entitled ‘Resilience in the Face of Sustainability Crises: Is Innovation the Problem or the Solution’, was an enjoyably thought-provoking event.

During his oration, Professor Coenen touched on failure – and the things it can teach us – as part of innovation process.

Kate Auty, Chair of the MSSI Advisory Board and MC for the evening, picked up on this during the Q & A, and I especially liked the wording Kate used: “a profound place to start.”

There is a growing trend to encourage people to embrace their failures more, to not be embarrassed by them or in denial of them but to acknowledge and welcome them as a chance to grow. I heartily approve of this, BUT to truly learn from our failures – to find that profound starting place they can lead us to – we must go beyond merely acknowledging them or turning them into war stories. Shrugging stuff of with cries of “Oh shit! Oh well… tomorrow’s another day” and then hurrying off to get drunk won’t do. The growth comes from having the humility and developing the capacity to reflect deeply.

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Taken from ‘Fians, Fairies and Picts’ by David MacRitchie

I have been meditating on some favourite lines of poetry recently:
“Now that my ladder’s gone
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.”

These are from W.B. Yeats’ The Circus Animals’ Desertion, and speak to a need to find inspiration, especially at the moment when inspiration seems to have dried up.
“I sought a theme and sought for it in vain,
I sought it daily for six weeks or so.
Maybe at last being but a broken man
I must be satisfied with my heart…”

In our failures, with our egos bruised and our thinking in disarray, the experience of our failed projects can feel very raw. The potential for gains in status, finances, career advancement, or personal triumph are all stripped away – we are pared back to the bare essentials of our self, our hurt and failing self. The ladder we were climbing to better and brighter things has gone.

The foul rag and bone shop of the heart may not be a place filled with things that are shiny or lovely, but it is filled with stuff nevertheless – the rags and bones are remnants of life lived. In Yeats’ poem, he comments that the great and ‘pure’ images in his famous poems grew out of “A mound of refuse or the sweepings of the street” – beauty or meaning can grow out of compost.

If our failures lead us to the rag and bone shop of the heart, then this is a profound place indeed. For it is the place where all ladders start, and where our next attempt at ascendancy can begin.

 

I have collected a recording of the oration, a follow up extract, and some other information about the evening into a Wakelet collection. Just click here if you would like to look.