Wednesday, 16 September 2015



I used to practice bad solitude - avoidance, dread, distraction, fear, repetition and self-loathing. I had no problem getting to my desk every day, but being present, productive and creative while I sat there was another story. Writing is open-ended space-time, an unmapped wilderness, and without some sort of structure, some sort of kind scaffolding, some way of dealing with the part of me that was too terrified to write, I could and did get horribly lost. 

To cultivate good solitude, I have put together a suite of rituals and reminders which help me to prepare physically and mentally for my writing day. Not necessarily all done on the same day, they include: a ritual cleaning and claiming of the writing space (especially after the completion of a project), a yoga sequence called the 5 Tibetans, meditation to clear the mind and direct attention, pranayama to activate the brain, the reciting of an intention, and some Focusing to tune into body wisdom. As I work, I find it helpful to drink coffee, then lady grey tea, then green tea because, like shifting through gears, this sequence signals a progression, hopefully, from sleepiness to deep involvement in what I am working on. To counter the effects of sitting all day, I try to do a yoga pose every time I get up from my desk. If go for a jog or walk about 3pm, get some sun and bird action along the Cook’s River, and a coffee and complementary chocolate from Adora’s Cafe, I usually have the energy to do a second shift that afternoon or evening if need be. 

To turbo charge the cultivation of good solitude, every now and then, I adapt a practice used by playwright Suzan-Lori Parks. In 2002, Parks had a plan: 

"The plan was that no matter what I did, how busy I was, what other commitments I had, I would write a play a day, every single day for a year. It would be about being present and being committed to the artistic process every single day, regardless of the 'weather.' It became a daily meditation, a daily prayer celebrating the rich and strange process of a writing life." Suzan-Lori Parks

Writing a play a day is an exercise in devotion. It is not a a discipline or boot camp, but love and commitment in action, similar perhaps to a mystic’s spiritual exercises - well, we are contemplatives after all. Each day for one month, after some grounding exercises like yoga and meditation and Focusing, I write a play in one sitting. I write at speed, accepting everything that comes without judgement. I write by hand, on scrap paper, and keep my pen moving quickly until a voice or scenario emerges, becomes a play in the broadest sense of the word, and I write until a resolution forms. I end up with a suite of plays, astonishing and confronting ones, some of which have gone on to be performed or become part of a larger work. But more importantly, for one month, I wrote in a way that was inclusive, kind and quick. I practiced showing up and letting go, acceptance and completion, and strengthened the inner muscles of courage and trust. It is not an easy ritual. It requires a peculiar internal stamina and does dredge up your psychological beasties. I am currently completing a doctoral thesis, and the minute it is off my desk, I will do another play a day project to abandon the stranglehold of academic language, return to my love of linguistic plasticity and equivocation and metaphor, and restore a creative playfulness which is all too easy to lose. 

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