We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
John F. Kennedy – September 12, 1962.
Words on our wall. My sweetheart just put them at the entrance to our room – next to bible thick books in leather, a papier mache chicken and stands above library books, new books and old books from Powells and a few precious tomes from Australia.
When we first arrived to our new home in Portland we embarked in a flurry of activity, unpacking bags and preparing our basement room for our new life in America. We purchased storage, we moved furniture, rearranged objects. Our celling is now decorated with curiosities, embroidered pillows are on the couch and a colourful bunch of chillies hang near the door.
This is not our permanent home, we are guests of friends. Lee and Annaliese are showing us an enormous kindness by letting us stay with them while we find our feet and so we don’t have to rush into everything all at once. While not a permanent home, it is still important to invest in it, to make it a space of creativity and generation, rather than a lost space in between one space and another. Seizing our our new life, embracing with both hands our new geography and saying we are here.
Moving to America is hard, striving towards hopes and dreams, one footstep after another is hard, but it is worth it. At times the project of moving, packing, unpacking, felt so large all I wanted to do was crawl into bed and sleep, escape. There were times when it was so exhausting and tiring and overwhelming that all I could do was stumble. I would stumble into action until I found a thing, any thing that somehow advanced us, and I would do it, regardless of priority or greater picture it was a thing that contributed. Then I would do another thing, too tired to look up, too tired to plan, just stumbling one foot after another. It felt like a long hard march and I fell over more times than my partner, wallowing in mud and saying I couldn’t do it anymore. We were both drill sergeants and medics to each other, applying the boot to stir action, supporting rest and recovery when utterly necessary.
It was hard, but we changed our geography, we are still changing our geography. Made strong by the people back home in Australia, inspired and made to feel at home by the new people in America.
After we unpacked I left Portland for Clarion Writers Workshop in San Diego. Strapping in to a six week boot camp. In many ways it was relaxing after the intensity of moving continents, because the work was focused and clear, a sheltered environment of intensity. The work was hard, the days were long and the internal work was deep. As I articulated at the time:
“I push through pain every day, but it feels like a very clean, concentrated thing. It’s a peaceful kind of pain, like swimming on a beach with unpredictable waves, sometimes I surf the wave and it’s awesome, sometimes I dive under and avoid it, sometimes it crashes around me and sometimes I am dumped in a churning washing machine. But it’s clean, me and the waves, and it makes me a better swimmer. “
Like a Japanese sword, hammered, folded and quenched again and again. Clarion is supposed to be hard, in a way that focuses the mind and expands it. We do not do it because it is easy, that is not the point.
And at Clarion, space again was important, the way we sat together at lunch and dinner, rearranging the cafeteria again and again so that we could be together as a single group, not parcelled off into different tables. I strongly believe this contributed to how much we took care of each other. People will always bond with some people more than others, sub-groups are natural in a collection of 18 people, but the supergroup identity was resilient and did not splinter.
We shaped our space inside the Common Room, bare dull walls became colourful with slips of paper and words. A collaborative expression that made the Common Room ours. It was remarkable to see how empty and oppressive the white walls were when we took the paper down – they had not seemed oppressive until we had seen how much more the space could be.
We are organisms that respond to our environments, we respond to beauty, we respond to colour, sound and words – inspired, crushed, enervated and enthused by experiences of all our senses. What we do as artists, with words, with sounds, with images and sensations is important, from word smith to the host that makes a party joyful.
This blog post was inspired by words my sweetheart put on the wall, a reminder of why we are here. I typed the words from the sign rather than a few simple clicks to copy and paste – I wanted to spend more time with the words than that. It was harder that way, but worth it. These words are a reminder of the importance of doing the hard things, of striving for that betterment in an open, loving way. And also a reminder of how our environment influences us and how we have agency over our environments.
He chose to put that sign on the wall. We choose to actively be here, we choose to influence our lives. We do not do it because it is easy and sometimes there are tears, grumpiness and despair. But there is also, very importantly, often great joy and life. Great joy indeed, as we do it because it is hard.