Going to the beach

It looks like my day job is winning at the moment. I’ve been ‘asked’ to go back to full-time work. Today is my last part-time day off. Friday was my second last–I had to take them where I could because I really haven’t been working a proper part-time schedule for some time now. The demands of my day job have just been far too great.

But…

I’m not going to let this stop me. As a big ‘F you’ to to my day job, on Friday I went to the beach. The remains of Tropical Cyclone Winston were floating around off the coast and whipping up some impressive waves. I wanted to get a really summery photo of a perfectly breaking wave and also just spend some time sitting and watching the water–doing nothing at all for the first time in a month.

It was amazing. The locals came up and chatted; their dogs kept running up to say hello. There was even an osprey fishing and I was so excited to get some really cool pictures of it…

Currimundi Surf-1006Currimundi Surf-1044Currimundi Surf-1067It was the perfect day. I took over a thousand pictures of the water and eventually got the image that I wanted.

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So it might be a bit harder now that I’m back to full time work but I’m determined to keep with my artistic journey. I even started writing a new story today about someone who blows off work to go to the beach.

Not a resolution

It appears I’m starting up again. Hooray! I stopped a lot of creative stuff at the end of last year mainly because work was so busy they asked me to go back to full-time and that included much longer hours. Anyway, my day job is more or less back to normal for now (although another longer stint of full-time is ahead) and, almost without me realising, I’ve picked up all my creative pursuits again.

I haven’t made any New Year’s resolutions because I’ve found that I inevitably follow through for a month or two like a total machine and then fizzle out and collapse like an overtired two-year-old. I’ve noticed that seems to be a pattern for me: I get all excited about a new project, tell myself I’m going to work on it every day, power on for a while and then eventually stop and feel bad about failing.

However, this year I’m trialing a new approach. I’ve set up a schedule of things I want to do—exercise, writing, photography—where I have a modest weekly goal. At the moment I’ve set myself the target of doing each of those things three times a week. More is great if I do it, but three times is the goal. That way I don’t have unachievable (for me) goals like a daily word count and I’ve massively reduced the pressure to succeed I put on myself. And the goals are completely flexible—I can do them on any day at any time and tick them off as successes. I’m hoping this way will also spread out the energy I put into projects so I don’t blow it all at the start in one huge burst. This is a big switch for me and kind of a strange reversal—by doing less and putting less pressure on myself, I’m hoping to be able to achieve more.

In line with this, I’m experimenting with different story formats. One of my writer friends wrote a blog post about how he discovered he was unable to write the sort of huge fantasy novels he wanted to because his drafts always petered out around 50,000 words. But in doing that he discovered he was really quite good at novella-length stories. It got me thinking because a lot of what Matthew said about himself could have come directly from my brain.

So I’m starting with really short stories, no more than about 5000 words, to see if that helps me stick with writing more. My ultimate goal is to develop a bunch of characters and weave them together through short stories into a much larger meta-plot but still have each short story more or less complete within itself. Not sure how this will turn out but it seems like it’s worth a shot.

NaNoWriMo, no?

Yes.

My writer friends have finally convinced me to try NaNoWriMo. I’ve resisted for years because I worry about the whole failure thing. It’s a big ask. 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s at least 1,600 words every day and if you fall behind, it would be incredibly hard to catch up. If I fail, what is that going to do to my motivation?

I’ve been struggling to write anything as it is. (See my last post for more info.) Right now I’m coasting in the clear crystal air of normal thought and feeling. It’s a fantastic feeling being out of the drowning water, but it also feels fragile, as if one small thing could break and send me back down. What if failing NaNoWriMo is what does it?

On the other hand, fear of failure is a stupid reason to not do something. I refuse to let depression and anxiety rule my life. And that means taking risks and doing stuff that might hurt.

Coincidentally (or perhaps not), I’ve rediscovered my motivation to write again–2,000+ words in the last 24 hours. I’ve rediscovered the desire to make writing a major focus of my life. NaNoWriMo seems to have arrived at the most opportune time to help get me into the swing of writing regularly. Whether or not I reach the 50,000-word target, getting into the habit of writing regularly is a massive win. Also, as one of my writing friends said, even if i just write 1,000 words over the whole month, that’s 1,000 more words than I had at the start–another win.

Additionally, I stumbled across a post about depression that really clicked with me and gave me a great way to think about this particular mental illness. Right at the end of the post Steven, the author, talks about how the really bad thoughts that you get when you’re depressed are not your personal thoughts but are actually more like symptoms of the illness.

Oh my god.

That is just the most useful piece of information about dealing with depression I’ve ever heard. Separating the symptom-thoughts of depression from the actual real me-thoughts in my head is going to be a hugely powerful tool in dealing with this illness. And I can use that tool if things don’t go perfectly in NaNoWriMo to get the most out of the experience.

So here’s to a month of winning and 50,000 words.

Ice, black plastic and deep water

I have a mental illness. It’s depression and it sucks.

I was originally not going to mention this sort of thing in this blog. I wanted Heading into the Forest to be upbeat and more of a documentation of the steps I’ve taken, rather than an exploration of my personal feelings. Plus, for me, depression has a guilt association–there’s no external reason for me to feel like this because I have a good job, a nice place to live, physical health, friends and family. What more could you need to feel good?

But now, quite obviously, my depression has had an impact on the story of Heading into the Forest. For the last few months, I’ve done almost nothing creative, posted very infrequently and what posts I’ve managed have been kind of cop-out, wishy-washy ones. So now that I’m finally coming out of this latest episode, I thought I’d put it out there as a way to restart my writing and creativity.

See, for me, depression comes in waves, usually lasting a couple of months. In between these waves I’m fine. During, I’m definitely not. This last one was particularly bad, partly because it’d been long enough since the last for me to start to think that I wasn’t going to get any more (whoops), partly because it was quite a long one (almost four months), and partly because it was somehow worse than a lot of others I’ve had.

I’m quite lucky compared to many people with depression because I get time off from it, in between the waves. Which is nice, but doesn’t really help me during the episodes when the hateful self-talk and sheer exhaustion overwhelms.

On a more positive note, something a little interesting has come from this last depression wave. I finally connected my synaesthesia to my creative pursuits. (I seriously can’t believe this is only happening now.)

Synaesthesia is a union of the senses where two or more senses are involuntarily joined. One of the most common forms is grapheme-colour synaesthesia where letters and numbers have specific colours.

So for me, the start of the alphabet looks like this: A B C D E F G

Numbers look like this: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

The week looks like this: Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday

People with synaesthesia will get this, even if I have the ‘wrong’ colours. Those without will probably struggle to understand. It’s kind of hard to explain because for me it’s just a thing that is.

A colleague at my day job loaned me a copy of Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet. Daniel has synaesthesia to an incredible degree and savant syndrome, which allows him to learn languages incredibly quickly and recite pi to 22,514 digits. I’m not claiming to be able to do anything like that, but it occurred to me that incorporating my synaesthetic perceptions into my writing and photography could produce some interesting and slightly unique effects.

I made the connection because, for me, depression literally feels like drowning in a pool of cold water filled with icicles and black plastic. The water offers no purchase or chance to rest; the black plastic wraps around my limbs and covers my mouth and face, making swimming and breathing impossible; the icicles stab and freeze. Sometimes I’m so exhausted from fighting the water and smothering plastic that I can’t even get out of bed. While that’s the real feeling for me, it also makes a really good metaphor for other people.

Photo 10-10-2015, 4 22 55 PM

When I’m between the waves, I feel like I’m made of clear glass, floating in the air with a clean breeze blowing right through me. That description definitely captures the feeling, but also the fragility of it.

Sunlight is a mix of slow honey and bright lemon. Moonlight is tingly sherbet powder on smooth ice. Playgrounds crackle like Pop Rocks. Roads groan and hum…

I’ve just discovered an amazing catalogue of experiential descriptions that will enhance my writing no end and (with a bit more difficulty and creativity) could result in some really interesting photographic juxtapositions. Again, I can’t believe I only just realised this! Perhaps it’s because this is normal for me.

So here’s to once more getting out of the dark, cold water and back onto the path into the forest in the honey and lemon sunshine.

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One Year Later

Well, it’s been a whole year since I started this journey and I haven’t faltered or looked back yet. Hooray! I’ve kept up my blog posts (averaging 2.5 a month, which I’m really happy with). I’ve posted relatively regularly to my 500px gallery and my instagram (nathan_chester). I’ve written a lot, but still not finished anything, which bugs me. I’ve done some courses in photography and Photoshop that have really improved my skills.

All in all, it’s been a successful year though without any dramatic advancement. I’ve left the stifling and total security of my house and crossed the backyard, but I haven’t yet ventured very far under the eaves of the wild, creative forest. I am inching closer and that’s the goal for the next year–to be more adventurous, more dedicated and invest more of myself into this journey.

I’ve posted the photo below as an expression of how far I’ve come and as a promise to my future. I almost didn’t get this shot because I was standing safely on the beach, clicking away. When that egret landed in the water, I didn’t think twice about slogging through 100 metres of thick, slippery, above-the-ankles tidal mud to get close enough for the photo. A year ago, I probably wouldn’t even have taken a chance and headed to the coast for the possibility of a sunset like that. The future is bright (but with good contrast and properly exposed highlights).

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Sneaky universe

Turns out the universe is sneakier than I thought. I’ve been feeling very un-creative lately. I’ve been worrying that I haven’t been writing enough, that I haven’t been photographing enough, that I haven’t been blogging enough. I’ve felt like I was wasting my days off from my day job because I haven’t followed through with my plan to devote them solely to creative endeavours. Instead they’ve been filled with dentist appointments and grocery shopping and other mundanities.

And then the universe started sending me messages–little moments of synchronicity that have become impossible to ignore. More and more of my friends seem to be reaching turning points in their lives. Everybody seems to be discovering that where they are now is not where they want to be and, in order to get where they want to be, they need to make scary decisions. The theme coming out of hours of deep and meaningfuls is that in order to get what you want, you have to take a risk and jump in wholeheartedly. You have to believe that you have the ability and determination to pull off your dreams. I started this process last year. However, it’s becoming clear that I haven’t quite managed to follow through. Going part-time at work was a big step for me, but I haven’t done enough with the time. I think the universe is onto me.

Perhaps it’s just me, but the number of inspirationals about following your dreams in my Facebook feed seems to have doubled in the last couple of weeks.

And then there are those stupid gambling ads on TV that keep yelling at me to back myself. Even Masterchef the other night (I swear I wasn’t watching it and just flicked over in the ads) was going on about how I am the only one that can make my dreams come true and that if I don’t actually do anything, I’ll forever be just a dreamer.

So I was going to write a blog post about how I was failing at writing and failing at photography and failing at being the change I need in my life. But as I was doing it, I started to come up with a list of all the things I’d been doing instead of being creative. And I realised I’d made a mistake.

A couple of weeks ago I did two of half-day courses in Photoshop and started going back over old photos to see if I could improve them. Turns out I could…

I also started a document of random, incomplete story ideas the other day. So I’ve actually been doing a couple of hundred words of writing every day even though it’s not on one specific project.

And on top of that, I made up some Valkyrie wings for a fitness model friend for her next comp. image1   So it turns out that I’m a bit more on track than I thought. Instead of the horrible I-Haven’t-Done-Enough motivation I had at the start of this post, I’ve got more of an I-Can-Do-This motivation. It’s amazing how much more motivating that is. Thank you universe. I need to go write something.

An unexpected end to writer’s block

I’ll be honest: I haven’t done any writing lately. I’ve been out photographerising a bit. I even entered my city’s Lord Mayor’s Photographic Awards (my shot is here). I find out on Monday if I did any good with the official judges and then the People’s Choice judging opens next month. But as far as writing goes, there’s been nothing.

I’ve barely been able to muster any enthusiasm for writing and on those odd occasions when I managed some interest, sitting down at the keyboard instantly extinguished it. I reached the point the other day where I was seriously considering whether or not I should be a writer at all.

Everyone has down times and creative dry spells and, according to other writers I know, they can sometimes last a really long time. But for some reason this one made me question whether I had the drive and determination to actually be a writer at all.

Also, a writer friend of mine (who should have known better) introduced me to Guild Wars 2 and that’s been taking up an awful lot of time. I’m not a huge or regular computer gamer but when I find a game I like I tend to get obsessed for a really long time. And this one’s a pretty good game. It’s got awesome graphics and storylines and mythology and puzzles and challenges. You get to customise your character’s appearance, skills, weapons and clothes/armour. And you get to team up with people from all over the world to fight giant monster jungle wurms, shadow demons and dragons. I know, right?!

I’ve got a bunch of different characters because I wanted to try as many of the options as I could, which involves hours and hours of game play time. So, yeah, I’ve spent a lot of ‘writing time’ playing this game. And then the other day I realised that, even though these characters are just avatars for me to interact with the game world, I was making in-game choices based on the personality of whatever character I happened to be playing at the time. My computer game avatars had developed their own personalities and back stories well outside of the parameters of the game. They had come to life in my head and had teamed up as a semi-classic fantasy adventuring party.

And that made me realise that my creative, story-telling well had not dried up. It just needed a break from the gloomy post-apocalyptic world of my storm chasing story. Instead it seems to be vacationing in the violent and deadly digital world of Tyria. Go figure.

Has anyone else experienced their game avatars taking on personalities and lives of their own? Or is this something I should see a professional about?

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When a wizard dies…

Like many people, I read a lot. However, there are three authors who have had a huge impact on my life.

My childhood was defined by Enid Blyton and the Famous Five. I collected almost the complete set and spent hours marvelling at the maturity and audacity of those kids and the amazing grown-up adventures they had.

When I was eleven I discovered Tolkien–first the Hobbit and then Lord of the Rings. I was blown away. A whole new and detailed world was opened to me, so totally unlike anything I had ever experienced. Tolkien gave me my absolute love of fantasy, magic, the natural environment, language and linguistics. And possibly also my enduring fear of what lurks in the dark–those Black Riders scared the bejeezus out of me.

The thing about Tolkien and Blyton, though, is that they both died well before I was born. I never felt a truly personal connection to them. Unlike them, the third author–the one who had the greatest impact on my life and self–lived during my lifetime and so was a part of my world. As you probably should have guessed by now, that author was Terry Pratchett.

Pratchett1

I discovered Pratchett’s Discworld when I was 13 or 14, just when I was beginning to strike out on my own, develop my own personality and question the world around me. Pratchett taught me how to think for myself, to question generally accepted knowledge and, most importantly, to laugh at the beautiful madness that is humanity and the world. I read his books over and over again every year from the moment I found them. I even met him once at a book launch. He read part of his new novel, Carpe Jugulum, and afterwards he signed a book of mine and spoke briefly to me.

When I found out yesterday that he had died, I cried for a while. At first I was surprised that I was so affected by the death of a man I’d only met once for a few minutes. But then I realised that I had spent so much time over the years with him through his books that he was like someone I was close to–even if that wasn’t who he was in real life. Not to mention the impact his writing had on me as a person.

As sad as it is to lose such a skilled writer, it has also made me more determined to become a published author myself. Not because I believe I am in the same league as Terry Pratchett, but because (to paraphrase the man himself) what makes us human is that we are Pan narrans, the ape that tells stories.

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Clouds but no storm

I think I’ve worked out why my storm chasing novel has stalled. It’s bugged me for ages because I’ve got all the characters and an outline of all the things I want to happen to them but when I sit down to write it I become disengaged really quickly and struggle to put anything down on paper.

And now I know what it is: in all my planning I’ve somehow managed to leave out all the character arcs. I’ve got all the outside events plotted out in a way that should rise to a very exciting climax but I don’t have any notes on how these events will affect my characters internally…you know…that really important part of a story that actually engages the reader.

Whoops.

Minor oversight there. Especially since from the start I’ve wanted to make this a character-driven story.

This is probably something that’s generally been missing from all my writing up to now. I tend to get so caught up in creating new and amazing worlds and exciting and terrifying events that I forget that all the emotion is still just inside my head. Not that it’s completely absent or anything. I just need to put a whole lot more work into bringing out my characters’ internal journeys to make my stories resonate better on a human level.

This means that I’m going to have to go back and write histories and life stories for all my storm chasing characters and fill in all the stuff that readers of the story won’t ever see but that I need in order to bring the internal worlds of my characters to life. Only then will my actual story be able to take off. Or, in meteorological terms, the atmosphere has enough moisture and wind shear for a severe storm, but the convectional lift is missing and the clouds just aren’t getting enough punch.

It’s surprising how much writing this story feels like trying to lift a couple of tons of air. The end result will be amazing, though.

Plenty of nice clouds but not enough for a storm.
Plenty of nice clouds but not enough for a storm.

Chasing an ending

2014 ended in an incredibly appropriate way for me…with a storm chase. It was only a few kilometres from home but it still counts. I saw the cumulus towers going up on the horizon, checked the weather radar and warnings and raced off to get a good position to watch it coming.

NYE storm 1

It wasn’t a very big storm, it didn’t get severe-warned and it fizzled pretty quickly.

NYE storm 2

But it still looked impressive and the chase took me back to the endless days driving across the endless plains searching for supercells in the American Midwest.

NYE storm 3

Because that’s what started all this for me. I found my passion for writing and photography and creativity on the plains, looking for storms. The swirling vortexes sucked me in, blew apart my old life and set me on a new path–into a dark forest, lit by lightning.