Quiet Moments

Recently I had to attend a work conference in Sydney. It went for a couple of days, and the first day was particularly intense with lots of people and activities and interactions – a full on schedule where I had almost no time alone. Breaks throughout the day were spent with colleagues, with the time allocated too short to do anything other than grab a cuppa, debrief a little and get on with it. After the day’s agenda was completed, it was straight on to drinks and canapés before heading out to dinner as a group.

Accommodation was provided but shared, then another day with a full dance card but involving a smaller group of people. When we finished for the day I collected my car, rejoicing in spending time in Sydney traffic, still in a crowd but alone. 

A few years ago, the prospect of a two-day conference would have agitated me for weeks beforehand. It has taken me a while to understand the underlying cause of the agitation. The industry updates and networking don’t create concern for me – I usually emerge informed and with refreshed enthusiasm. I find, too, that taking a couple of days away from my usual routine provides me with a different perspective and I tend to come up with more creative solutions to problems. The agitation relates to the absence of quiet time.

I know now that I need time to digest what has happened and to think through what this means. And to do that best, I need some time alone.

Learning more about having an introverted personality has taken much of the angst out of attending conferences and events such as these. I know that finding even very small pockets of time when I can be on my own will help refresh me and give me the energy to return to the mob. Knowing that many other people feel the same way helps too – this isn’t some oddity on my part, and by understanding this I can get through these events and even enjoy myself.

How important are quiet moments to you?

Micro and Macro Moments

I tend to go through phases where a thought or idea settles upon me like a fine mist; light yet with a perceptible weight. A recent thought has been about the small moments or phrases in writing that can represent much more than a handful of words otherwise might.It is the challenge of reflecting something much bigger in a concise manner.

The example I had in mind came from a short story that I wrote a few years back. It is the story of a man who is down on his luck due to either behaving badly, or spinning enough of a yarn to give the impression that something inappropriate had happened. A line towards the end reads: ‘He could smell her skin, the coarse soap scent of her.’ Reading this line years after writing it, I can still conjure up the image of a woman on an isolated property, surrounded by too much space and sheep and loneliness until the swarm of shearers arrive.

In all likelihood this line has resonance only for me, but it comes at a time when I am interested in detail. Today I went along to a photography exhibit at the Blue Mountains Heritage Centre at Blackheath. It was called Moments in Nature (from the Macro to the Majestic) and it featured the work of three local photographers: Jenny Gill, Sue Wildman and Shelley Oliver. The photos included a wide array of exquisite, close-up shots of insects, plants and a stunning spider web after a storm, as well as magnificent sunsets and sunrises, locally and further afield. Highlights included ‘Taking a Break’ featuring five zebra finches on a branch by Sue Wildman and ‘Held Safe’ by Shelley Oliver, which captured the image of a stone Buddha’s head entwined within the roots of a tree. Jenny Gill’s macro images of star fish fungi and the cavity of a sea urchin provided a different perspective.

It reminded me that there are benefits in both approaches; the broad, overarching perspective as well as the very small, detailed viewpoint. To rebalance myself I headed to the end of the road and lost myself for a while in the wonder of the Govett’s Leap lookout.

Govett's Leap, Blackheath

Govett’s Leap, Blackheath

What do you do to regain a sense of perspective in your creative life?

[Photo: insect up close, spotted in Sydney]

A Different Track

The journey from Sydney to the Blue Mountains by rail is a well-travelled one, particularly for the people who commute each work day to the city. Depending on where you start and finish, it can be quite a lengthy journey through the mountains and the ever-extending suburbs of Sydney.

On a Wednesday afternoon, I embarked from Central Station on the Indian Pacific. The Indian Pacific leaves every Wednesday, heading to Perth via Broken Hill and Adelaide. My journey took me to Adelaide in 24 hours.

I could quite easily rave about the train and the trip as it was extraordinary in many ways. Once I got over the excitement of getting onboard, patiently waiting whilst the two sections of the train were coupled together (it is too long for a single platform with 2 locomotives and 27 carriages on my trip), I settled back to watch the Sydney suburbs slip by before we began the slow climb up the mountains.

The gradual ascent was felt physically through the train – you could feel the engines at work, and I sat by the window entranced as it curved around the bends. There were sandstone segments as we approached Lapstone, moments of darkness through tunnels before bursting out amongst an ocean of trees. At Warrimoo there were houses tucked into gullies. Then a glimpse of a sandstone cottage built in 1867 near Springwood. Passing by the Corridor of Oaks at Faulconbridge, then scorched tree trunks came into view. There were vistas towards Sydney or acres of wilderness, depending on the turn of the track.

It was interesting to see what was familiar from a different angle, a higher viewpoint. I spotted some lovely character cottages near Hazelbrook, then we were running alongside the Great Western Highway and the shops and pub at Lawson sped into view. Little ferns poking out of stone walls, a kid practising discus near Wentworth Falls. As we approached Leura I saw the last lingering remnants of autumn colour and the beautiful sandstone cliffs in the distance. Then Katoomba, the soft glowing lights of guest houses, welcoming weary travellers. Tree branches slapping the side of the train, then the Hydro Majestic, lit up amongst the darkening shadows. Towards Blackheath, the depths and folds of the valleys in the last light, through Mount Victoria, last light over the Hartley valley.

Have you taken a different track on a well-travelled road?

[Photo taken near Emu Plains before the climb up the mountains]