The importance of being gentle and occasionally idle


In spite of my best efforts, my studio is not much of a productive space. It’s strewn with all kinds of distractions: guitars, bells, books, trinkets, notebooks, magazines, scraps of paper, and a wi-fi connection. As I’m sure many could sympathise, it’s the latter distraction that causes the bulk of the problems, with an uninterrupted line to social media, useless information and bad news.

I’ve always been very easily distracted, which I’ve largely attributed over the years to mild dyslexia and a personality trait that’s engineered to hop from one thing to another within an alarmingly short span of time like my life’s depended on it. As a result, this creates all kinds of problems: in a creative sense, I’ve got fourteen half-baked projects on the go at once; in the domestic sense, I’ve got a home that’s perpetually half-cleaned with pockets of OCD-ish cleanliness and surrounding pockets of total disorder and (non-life threatening) filth.

This hasn’t always been the norm, but when I’m in the thick of this pattern of distraction (as I am currently) this wreaks havoc with my brain, leaving me scattered, unfocused, irritable, gloomy and disgusted with myself. Given my recent struggles over the past year with mental health I should really know better than to get myself into these situations.

One of the key insights with my psychologist was to identify when I’m spreading myself too thin and to find a way of breaking away from it by engaging in something less intensive. And here’s the ridiculous part of the conundrum: I don’t have to be working constantly at the moment; in fact, I could spend most of my time doing far less intensive things than – for example – writing six essays at once, working on an electro-acoustic composition, attempting to learn three guitar instrumentals, alternating between four books and writing new songs. All of these things happened today by the way. Mentally, this amounts to complete havoc and the metaphysical reality has manifested itself in the studio: cables everywhere, notebooks, bad posture, frowning for hours at a time and consuming way too much coffee.

But I haven’t lost it completely yet. Maybe the dopamine inhibitors of the medication are doing an exemplary job of holding my brain chemistry together, since I’m able to form reasonably consistent thoughts and string these sentences together. Still, my Brain Sea of fluids is choppy and the electrons overhead are sparking wildly. Following on from near-catastrophe as 2017 closed out, I resolved to get better, and I did; yet familiar patterns are reemerging and this past week it’s felt like I’m caught up in the feedback loop of varying peaks and troughs – which, last year – felt like it was going to kill me.

* * *

Sitting at my desk, I occasionally look to the left and briefly acknowledge the door ajar to the balcony which is letting a mild breeze in. It’s a lovely day outside and nothing is preventing me from going for a walk. I could go for a walk completely unencumbered. I could leave my wallet and phone here and simply do a loop of the neighborhood. Doing this, I’m certain that I would feel much better about things and I’m sure that my brain would agree, since it’s been flashing the DECOMPRESSION sign since about 10:30am today.

So that’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to wind up this writing, put the laptop to sleep, leave the guitars idle, put the notebooks to the side, silence the infinitude of Spotify, put some trousers, socks and shoes on and go for a walk.

Another series of steps hopefully going some way to (gently and idly) working through this complicated business of living.


What’s Happening #5: Therapy Part II


You (don’t) Want It Darker

I was just informed by my sweetheart, L that the yearly day of reckoning will be upon us once the 11th hour clocks over into midnight. More accurately but no less dramatically, I regard it as my personal reckoning since South Australia’s daylight savings ceases and the evenings are plunged into premature darkness along with increasingly colder nights and mornings. I dread this time of the year because I like daylight. I need daylight. Whatever proclivities I once had for seasonal darkness were left on the shores of a dismal coastline of seemingly endless depression. I used to relish the darkness and general climactic shittiness of the colder months. I don’t know exactly why, since I’d pretty much established an analytical framework from when I was about 16 which basically told me: “Stay inside, make a cup of tea, don’t go outside..well if you must, at least put a jacket on. It’s raining; do you care? Oh, that’s’re being hard and brooding. Forgive me. You’ll be miserable when you get back…oh, fine – fuck it, don’t listen to me then.” So there I was on a given day walking along the beach in the middle of winter, occasionally it would piss down with rain. It would – more often than not – make me feel miserable, but at the same time there was a peculiar contentment to be had feeling lonely and bored whilst my shoes filled with water.

Shoot forward a couple of decades and whatever romantic notion I ascribe to walks along the beach in the middle of winter are now accompanied with a rainjacket and sensible footwear. Better yet, I don’t even get out the door and instead I make a cup of tea. Strategies!

A strategy is critical when you’re someone like me – partial to the whim of the elements, whether it’s coupled to the drift of seasonal activity or coughed up in a random spasm thanks to anthropogenic climate change. February and March are traditionally the time I lay the groundwork for segueing into not-daylight-savings-time relatively free of anxiety, insomnia and the odd panic attack. Unfortunately, this plan was scuppered by being busy and besieged by a myriad of…anxiety, insomnia and panic attacks.

You may recall the first of these long posts was written at the beginning of February this year and laid out some of the groundwork for feeling better about myself and my art practice. If someone was to read only this blog as a measure of my progress since then, you would potentially glean an impression that things have been alright, maybe even downright rosy. The evidence is there – lots of posts about engaging with own and others activities. It all seems reasonably upbeat and there’s loads of writing too (which I hope is gradually improving). The blog’s been great in this sense since it’s provided me with a point of focus, allowing me to steer my brain toward routine activities which are thoughtful and fulfilling. This sort of thing is also known by that fucking awful (awful, awful, awful) thing called ‘mindfulness’, which I equate more to a KPI dreamed up by a global HR thinktank as opposed to its supposed Buddhist connotations.


So, on the surface of things the blog makes out that things are good, and in some respects they are. Jump over to another social media/self-publishing portal of mine such as Instagram and you might encounter the odd doomed fantasy-vision of a dystopian society. Behold:

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Look at the framing of that image. At the bottom the upper stories of a domestic idyll are ruptured by this dismal-looking building under construction that dominates the rest of the image. Desaturated completely of colour, amped-up contrast enriches the grim monochrome whilst the caption of ‘Ballardian skyline’ wraps everything in a neat little package of Depressed Chic.

Sometimes I wonder what an image like this does contextually in a given Instagram user’s photo stream. Of course it depends on whom the user is following and what other users might be posting, but occasionally I think that an image like my Ballard Building might have the chance of temporarily ruining someone’s afternoon. I’m trying not to judge here and this is a very general assumption, but a given person’s photo stream might hypothetically go like this:

picture of someone’s food >cute dog > picture of someone’s food > drink in mason jar > LOL cat > duck face > picture of someone’s food > Tristan’s picture of building in dismal monochrome > picture of someone’s food.

If the image hasn’t ruined their day then that’s excellent; I didn’t set out to purposefully ruin someone’s day. But, perhaps someone dwells briefly over this grim image and thinks to themselves, “wow, that guy must be really miserable”, the cogs tick over in their head and they proceed to unfollow my profile out of self-preservation because they don’t want to see shit like that in their feed. That’s totally fair enough. I must admit that  hypothetical photo stream description of mine above lays out a barely veiled contempt for all things food porn, cute dogs and mason jars. Who am I to judge if someone doesn’t like a photo of some fanstasy-dystopia? I despise mason jars. Each to their own.

Therapy Redux

I’ve veered a bit off track here. What I’m trying to suggest here is that in spite of the good stuff broadcast on this blog, there’s been a lot of grimness occupying my mind for the past couple of months. That domestic idyll in the picture is the blog, the ugly building erupting in the sky and ejaculating bad vibes into the air is pretty much everything else that’s been going on. Whilst life has remained relatively coherent and I haven’t overexploited my partner or friends patience and generosity, it has felt at times as though I’ve been losing my mind completely. This is why I haven’t been able to make a plan for dealing with the dreaded seasonal drift since I’ve been cracking up, recovering, analysing and making the best effort not to crack up again.

It’s been (or it’s felt like) a lengthy process of taking steps to get to a relatively safe position where I find myself now.

First of all I moved out of my private office at work and back into an open plan space. That worked wonders. I’d always fantasised about having my own office and shortly after my relocation into the city I jumped at the opportunity. I could get past the horrid early 90’s pastels that covered nearly every surface and the meagre slither of natural light entering the space because I had my own office. Since moving out of that space I’ve had conversations with fellow staff about the office and barring one exception practically everyone who’s occupied the space had to get out of there. I’m not supernaturally minded but I do enjoy spooking myself from time to time. Realistically, the problem was that I was learning a new role in an isolated space with minimal natural light and shitty decor, however I can’t get over the fact that there were some seriously bad vibes in that office. Note to self and anyone else: don’t work in dismal offices by yourself when your trying to learn a new role. It will fuck you up big time.

The second thing I did was arranged to see a councillor via work to talk through some of my issues. This is something I did once before a few years ago and mostly hated the process. I mostly hated being given homework to do. Thankfully, this current counciller hasn’t given me any homework to do and instead we talk through various issues pertaining to stress, anxiety and maintaining a work/life balance. If that sounds dry, it mostly is except this counciller actually has a personality and by the end of the first session we were already waxing broadly about the state of the global economy under Trump’s presidency and the virtues of Brian Eno’s ambient music. This might just work out and I do feel much better as a result of attending these sessions. Hooray for work who are completely subsidising the cost of this experiment, including the tangential waffles off-topic.

The third thing is a bit more multi-tiered and relates to improving aspects of my day-to-day diet and fitness. I ride my bike to work everyday and walk a fair bit to get around the place. This is one of the huge advantages of living so close to the city. So whilst I wasn’t putting on weight or remaining idle for long stretches, in the pits of my recent blues I found myself eating more bad stuff and drinking a lot more (thanks, Festival season.) So I’ve sorted that out to an extent and have curbed my booze intake marginally, though this is still an uncomfortable work-in-progress since I really, really like drinking wine. A critical workaround for this compulsion to eat bad food or drink a bit more than usual is to question why you’re doing it. If I find myself hankering for something deliciously fried, then I should be asking myself: “Do you really want this?; do you really need this?; Oh, don’t make me digest this…please.” At that point I might eat a banana instead. By this same token, if something alcoholic is on the agenda, I will most likely be asking myself: “what is the purpose of this? To get a bit numb and distract yourself from the horrors of your existence? Don’t go there, man.” At which point I might make myself a cup of licorice tea. So that’s working to an extent.  On the fitness front, I’ve recently gotten into the habit of jogging around the local oval in the mornings before work. This is the kind of bourgeois activity that would have made me mock myself verbally in public five years prior, but it’s pretty excellent and is just the thing I need to switch my brain off for five to ten minutes at a time as I amble around the oval in a daggy t-shirt. Walking doesn’t work so well since I use my brain a bit too much. It’s better if I’m entirely focused on not passing out and keeping in a straight line.

Beating Dem Ol’ Seasonal Affective Disorder Blues

Now it’s just past 6pm and the light’s beginning to wane. By 8pm it will be virtually dark. This time tomorrow night it will probably already be dark.

I’d like to think that I’ve gotten better at adjusting to this time of the year. The chemical interactions in my brain are probably following the same pathways they were twenty years ago when this stuff started to happen. I just have a better awareness of it nowadays. I think for the first few years (maybe even the first ten years) I had no idea what the hell was going on. I don’t even think the term Seasonal Affective Disorder (SADS) existed back in the 1990’s, so how on Earth am I going to know what’s going on with me if I don’t have a label to stick on it? An accredited label at that. I need labels, boxes, categories, schematics, gannt charts and to-do lists put my stuff in, under, around or through.

Life is too complicated and I’m getting too old to follow a miserablist’s  whim which lands me in my underwear on the beach in the middle of winter shouting at the ocean. I’m past that now.

I’ll still keep taking photos of depressing buildings though because I find them particularly beautiful in my own damaged kind of way. I do apologise in advance if it does happen to spoil your day.

Photo on 1-4-17 at 6.28 pm