The inability to relax (an experiment in the confessional)

It’s not often that I feel calm. I have supernovas going off in my head, squirmy things in my muscles and fingertips. I’m sore all the time because I exercise so much. It’s one of the only ways to expend the energy, wear me down, expend the effort effort effort. And I love the zing in my body afterwards, and the way my chest feels cavernous. There’s so much room in there.

The other relaxations – dancing, alcohol, sex. One of them not so good for you, and messes up your ability to get things done the next day. Dancing, music in general – love to do it when no one is watching. Love to do it when someone might be but I pretend they aren’t. Love when you get so sweaty your fringe sticks to your forhead and you feel like this is what your body was made to do. And sex, well, you know how good that is. Not quite as frequent (or chest-opening) when you’re single though.

But I can’t relax, in general. I can’t watch TV. I get frustrated within minutes at the ads or noise or people. I get frustrated by noise a lot. And smells. I have a really keen sense of smell. I hate public transport. I swear at people in my head. Thank Bob for my bike.

When I read my mind is alive. I take notes. I dog-ear the pages and underline things. I mark passages with stars. Reading, for me, is strenuous, but stimulating. Obviously this is my (second) favourite mental exercise (after writing). In movies, too, my mind runs fast. Again, I enjoy the stimulation. I prefer movies that make me think, make me feel.

When I go to bed at night, body sore, mind usually wasted from work, reviewing, blogging, reading, talking, hearing, engaging, taking note note note, remembering, feeling, do you think my brain gives me peace? No. I barely wake up refreshed. The mind chatters – great flapping jaws going over things over things for hours and hours. Sometimes the brain is worrying, but mostly it’s not. It’s analysing, it’s planning, it’s happy and frustrated and sad and angry and pleased but mostly it’s simply awake.

I’ve been like this for at least 10 years that I can remember, so it is just me. Every few months though, I have a bit of an ‘oh…’ moment. As in, if I don’t have some sort of break, I will be nothing. I will be a collapsed heap, or an empty shell with a work-face on. It’s just so hard for me to ‘blob out’. The people who save me are lovely friends and family who say things like ‘you’re only 24’ (oh yeah…), or ‘who are you doing all this for?’ (I don’t know, the future me I suppose), or that good one ‘stop and smell the flowers’, or as my friend Simon once said ‘look up’. These work – but the flowers stimulate me too, and I want to go and write about them. I have to remember to just be sometimes. Is anyone else like this?

Corny childhood songs are the best to work out/run/dance around one’s room to:

Now that’s over with (many of you have said you like the personal stuff, so there you go!), here is a bit of a round-up of lit-goodies for this week:

* The new issue of Mascara Literary Review is now online. I reviewed Kristin Hannaford’s Fragile Context. There is some gorgeous poetry in the issue, so bookmark it for later if you don’t have time now.

* Asian-Australian arts and culture magazine Peril has made a callout for the next issue, to be themed ‘Why are people so unkind?’ Check it out here.

* Do you guys know about Narrative Magazine? I might be a bit slow here. It was pointed out to me in an email by Beatrice Rose. Haven’t had a really good poke around yet but I like what I see. They have fiction comps too.

* Wordnik is a clever idea – a new kind of dictionary (via Beattie).

* Avid Reader bookstore in Brissie have put up a bunch of footage from Philipp Meyer‘s launch. The video isn’t top notch but the audio is great! Stoked to have this as I missed all Meyer’s Aus appearances. Looks like their YouTube channel has a lot of other goodies also. Check it out.

* The Reader’s Feast Crime and Justice Festival is on again at the Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne, July 17 – 19. More info here.

* OzCo have a new ‘Arts content for the digital era’ strategy. It sounds to me like they’re moving in all the right directions. Read the executive summary or full strategy here.

* Next Tuesday is Bloomsday, celebration James Joyce’s Ulysses, which many of you know I am all wrapped up in at the moment, savouring it page by page. It may take me all year but that’s okay. On Tuesday I’ll bring you a special Joycean blog post…

25 thoughts on “The inability to relax (an experiment in the confessional)

  1. The most honest blog I’ve read in a long long long time. Sometimes I am lampooned for being too relaxed. But that’s only an external blanket against the perverse idea that if you don’t get stressed (particularly in my job) you aren’t working hard…
    I take notes. I dog-ear the pages and underline things. I mark passages with stars. Reading, for me, is strenuous, but stimulating.
    I underline, exclamation and question mark. I do this endlessly. To quote one of my students: ‘Everything can’t have meaning can it?’
    Can’t wait to read the Joycean post. Imagine being in and around Shakespeare and Co. on Bloomsday?

    • I think teaching would be a very rewarding way of sharing that energy. But frustrating, too, when you can’t get through?
      And yes, how I’d love to be in the thick of the Bloomsday celebrations. I’ll content myself with a blog post, reading a fair bit of the book that night, and drinking some Guinness or something! There are Bloomsday activities here in Melbourne, but alas, I am working…

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  3. I used to be like you. Where we differ I was pregnant at 24 and only barely 25 when I had a baby. I still go to bed with the thoughts of the ethereal, the linguistic, and the beautiful in my head. Unfortunately, I’m too tired to do anything about it, many days.

  4. If you’re going to be bubbling with energy, so be it.

    Just make sure you’re putting into the fabulous, the marvellous, the arresting, the beautiful.

    (Put another way: not everyone has this get-up-and-go – make the most of it, without killing yourself, or destroying its font.)

    This is my ten cents’ worth…

  5. ‘the fabulous, the marvellous, the arresting, the beautiful’ do not have a place in making money to live… if you know what I mean. I could write fiction all day but I would be homeless, or foodless. So perhaps part of doing so much is setting myself up for a time where there is space to roll around in those things (but we must not underestimate the absurd beauty of everyday life anyway).

  6. A thoroughly enjoyable confessional Angela. Here’s hoping it becomes a series. I too have trouble relaxing/sitting down sometimes – maybe this is one of the reasons the cinema appeals to me.

  7. James Murray, longest-serving editor of the original Oxford English Dictionary, at the age of 15 wrote on a copy of Popular Educator magazine: ‘Nihil est melius quam vita diligentissima’: Nothing is better than a most diligent life. Sometimes it would be nice to catch one’s breath, though.

  8. Angela, I don’t mean dedicate all your time to art. I mean be grateful for the drive – it offers you a brief, priceless opportunity to DO.

    For some (e.g. TS Eliot, Spinoza), this meant working a day job, then using free time to pursue their art. For others, like Marx, it meant sponging and begging.

    The common thread for each was relentless, intense drive, and the nous to put into the right sort of things.

    Not everyone has this drive (and it can evaporate in a few years). It might feel like a curse, but it can be the difference between a life’s mood of regret and fulfilment.

  9. As trite as this might sound (and I’m sorry if it does), I know how you feel – this pretty much describes me about seven or eight years ago. I’ve never been much of an exerciser, so one of the few ways I could relax was Kendo; screaming and hitting things with a stick is irrefutably therapeutic. I’m not sure what’s changed since then, but to be honest, I do miss feeling that intensity of drive that I used to have, so I agree with Damon – make the most of it while you can. And we’re always here to help you relax – I can’t dance, but I can drink.

    As for Bloomsday, I sadly don’t own any Joyce, so I might read some of The Dalkey Archive, in which an alleged James Joyce makes a small cameo. Is it blasphemous to read another Irish writer on Bloomsday?

  10. Oh, I’m sure I’d love martial arts… maybe I’ll try that out sometime. And okay, I’m resolved to make the most of this! (but that does make me feel anxious too, how long have I got?!)

    As for Bloomsday, just make sure you pop by here, I’ll provide some Joyce ❤

    And Jo, you are the sweetest.

  11. this inability to relax, it seems somewhat common amongst writers, & one could almost take some reassurance from the fact. i find especially interesting that tired state coming from too much mental effort (reading, writing, thinking) but not enough physical movement: your brain getting sluggish; your thoughts losing their positive sheen; your body refusing to turn off. if only it were more enjoyable.

    i like the way this post sprung from the last comment stream. viva dialogue.

  12. Ah, I’m very much the same! I’m always thinking. Politics. Relationships. Writing. Work.

    On good nights they morph into story ideas, I scramble out of bed at 2am in the morning, wake up my partner and ignoring her grumbles, jot down my idea to be probably forgotten. I sleep a little better after that.

  13. Wow Angela! Well written – I’m stressed just after reading your confessional.

    I think we both need a Bex:

    Though I think The ‘Stones are more in tune with your mood:

    • Derek – yes, it did spring forth from that last comment stream.

      Benjamin – I often have to get up and write something down if it just won’t leave me alone, too.

      Grog – ha! A Bex and a lie down isn’t really my style, no, but I like to imitate the Mick Jagger dance *arms wiggly out to sides* A shame all this running around and exertion doesn’t make me as skinny as a Stone! 😀

  14. Ah memories! I remember this sort of crazy drive, in fact, I’ve complimented you on it before. I think your drive is totally amazing and will most certainly have amazing dividends. If only the drive I had in my 20s was for work and literary pursuits and not boys and travel! In saying that though, some the crazy experiences I’ve had certainly provide me with grist for the mill! I do still have that mental overdrive that you’re talking about, that does seem so common in writers. I do meditate to get out of it though, because I think it’s as important to spend time without it as it is with it. Great post Angela 🙂

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