Don’t Pay the Ferryman: The Capricious Whims of Fate

Art by Jeremiah Morelli
Don’t Pay the Ferryman

Some days it’s just a deep diving in, submersion, immersion, dispersion. Being prepared to roll around in the words, fingers delicately selecting those beads that will appear on the string to make meaning, or at least imply it.

Other times it is a carefully planned crafting. Intention realised through research, drafting, editing, more drafting. Leaving it alone for a while and returning to the work. With a specific purpose or audience in mind. Both approaches to writing have their own challenges and joys.

This evening I have a guest staying at the Writers Wrest. Over some glasses of red wine we talked about projects and programs and initiatives and aid adventures and non-government organisations and what happens when governments have a vested interest and when they lose interest…and the frustration and the alternatives…and our achievements and disappointments.

I’ve just started reading Tim Brown’s Change by Design and we talked about what I’ve covered so far, both curious about where the design process will have similarities with approaches we have used before with projects and programs and where the design process and practice might have strengths we can try to take into our work practices.

“The project is the vehicle that carries an idea from concept to reality. Unlike many other processes we are used to – from playing the piano to paying our bills – a design project is not open-ended and ongoing. It has a beginning, a middle and an end, and it is precisely these restrictions that anchor it to the real world.”

This appealed to me. I use project management in my work, but could I sometimes usefully employ a commitment to a planned (but re-workable) beginning, middle and end in my writing of poetry? I often write in a very freestyle kind of way. When I’m writing sometimes I want it anchored, sometimes I don’t. I often times like to write abstract poetry. I want the reader to have to work. I want the reader to have different ways of entering into meaning. I want the reader to feel confident in their experience of the poem and in their interpretation. It seems design thinking has this covered too.

“…a well-constructed brief will allow for serendipity, unpredictability, and the capricious whims of fate, for that is the creative realm from which breakthrough ideas emerge. If you already know what you are after, there is usually not much point in looking.”

When I drove from Canberra back to Wollongong a few days ago I had an amazing experience of seeing so very much more than usual. I’ve driven on that freeway so many times, and on occasion I notice something I haven’t seen before, but this was outrageous and I couldn’t help but wonder why I was so open to seeing more. Whatever the reason, the experience was neat and I am trying to cling to it.

And it was informative for some writing that has been stewing away in the back of my head for a few years now. It feels like it’s going to be significant, so unfortunately it’s also bubble wrapped in fear and I’ve been unwilling to start popping just yet. The style of writing has not taken shape and neither has any significant amount of content.

But there will be no paying of the ferryman until he gets you from the beginning, through the middle and to the other side…the idea alone is not much of a journey and there is no destination until I try and set out. And how can there be capricious whims of fate when fate has been stalled? So I have been wondering about ways of really getting started.

A friend recently introduced me to the author Steven Pressfield. I have been reading Steven’s “Writing Wednesdays” and I came across what he calls the Closeline Method.

“I think of the story as an old-fashioned clothesline, like people used to string up in their back yards to hang the laundry on. The left-hand end is the beginning of the story. The right-hand terminus is the end.

The line starts out empty.

Then you hang the shirts and towels and underwear (the scenes and sequences) on it.”

So this is also based on a beginning, a middle and an end, but what I love about his approach is that it’s free from pressure, it’s okay to have gaps to fill, you don’t have to peg from left to right and you can hang those clothes however you like! And I think the wind making things flap about provides the capricious whims of fate.

I’m enjoying learning some new things at the moment, and tasting them by applying them to what I already know. It’s that happy go lucky give it a go part of my authentic self. There’s space for new things, for some risk taking, for trying things on. And you just don’t know what you will find in reaching for ideas and experiences that you might not otherwise have thought to bring together. So I think I’m going to give it a try to blend a managed approach to this allusive piece of writing with keeping it open to be shaped and shifted. Here’s to bringing things together because we can…like the Ferryman and a washing line…

Which Side the Skin

(Trish Jean)

Not many people know of the Ferryman’s washing line
Where his truths are pegged
Exposed but out of sight.

Reach for the Ferryman
He’ll have you out of bounds
Exposed but out of sight.

Always aiming at the ends by whatever means and route
Never left alone
He’ll say you belong to him.

He’ll offer you his jacket
From a boot pull a knife
He’ll say you belong to him.

Not many people know of the Ferryman’s washing line
Where trophies while
Don’t pay him on the wrong side.

Your skin is his fate
Emperor’s new clothes
You paid him on the wrong side.

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