Pinning down the wild mind

Writing an academic essay (for me) is like having someone standing behind me watching over my shoulder at a life drawing class. It’s as if that voice is telling me this is what you should think, how you should think and how you should write. These are the rules.

I’ve realized I’m not good at rules. I don’t think I’ve ever been good at rules. It’s not that I don’t try. There is still that little girl in me wanting to get it right, be good. It’s just that when someone tells me what to do, the anarchist inside me pulls out a loaded gun and starts shooting people in the foot. It’s bedlam. Then all I can do is run around trying to stem the bleeding and I forget about any rules.

I look at other people’s minds like a Sunday drive through a leafy suburb. Their minds seem so neat at the edges, clipped lawn and exquisitely planned layers of color and shade with people in white dresses and linen jackets sipping cool drinks on the neat-green-shaded-lawn.

My mind is like a wilderness. You enter at your own risk. You can go in for a quick look at something and not come out for days, sometimes years. There are no neat lines in there, only strange shapes and shadows and things smelling like composting.

One of my lecturers keeps saying that no one can have an original idea. According to him, the media, what we’ve read, and everything we are bombarded with daily dictate our thinking. Because we grew up with televisions our minds have been inculcated by what we heard and read as children and now through media. I don’t argue but inside I shake my head.

I didn’t grow up with TV. I was seven when we got our first television set. We lived out in the bush, isolated. The only contact I had with the world of people was the tiny country school and Mass on Sundays. My first movie when I was about four was Jack the Giant Killer. I still remember the terror of my small mind and body. I remember climbing under the seat in the cinema because I thought it was real! Yes sad but true. I was there with my bigger cousins whose father was a projectionist at the local cinema. Perhaps that’s why I don’t have a TV now, perhaps it’s always been too real for me and I’d rather the quiet wild colors of my own imagination. I haven’t had a television for years.

And when we did get a TV as kids we were hardly ever allowed to watch it. We watched Disney on Sunday night. And then as we got older we were allowed to come in (from playing outside) and watch Bellbird for 20 minutes. That was about the extent of my TV viewing through childhood.

Instead we played outside, roaming the earth like small, lost natives. My sister and brothers and I played outside all day, probably even in inclement weather knowing my mother’s dislike of having children inside underfoot. We used our imaginations to create the worlds we played in because that is all we had and probably a couple of broken dolls and the trees and sticks and stones.

It may sound like an impoverished childhood but it was my normal. I envied kids with big houses who sat around in bedrooms playing with dolls and reading books. But now I see that my childhood of freedom to roam the earth and grow my wild imagination was a gift. I learnt more from those childhood days of lying down on the warm skinned earth and telling her my everything, and listening to the earth stories in rough bark and the soft flick of kangaroo ears than I ever learnt in a classroom. But it is a language hard to speak in the bright daylight of the world of people and ideas and hard opinions. The language of the earth of my childhood is soft wonder like a sweet melody.

I didn’t read that much as kid either because we were always outside. When one lecturer asked the tutorial what our favorite books were as kids I couldn’t think of any. Instead my mind went to the earth, the intricate lace tracks of small creatures written in the sand, the clouds making pictures against the blue, blue sky, the sound of kookaburra’s laughing-song. These were my stories all bound up and brought alive in my imagination, not the pages of books.

When I sit to write an essay I enter the wilderness of that wild mind, of that small child roaming the earth and scratching in the dirt, not a single straight line anywhere in sight. I have to bend the edges of that wild fecund place into something resembling boarders and try to pin it down. It feels almost painful, almost. My mind wants to be free to roam and instead I have brought it here.

The thing is I love to learn. This mind of mine is intensely curious. Usually my learning is a random peripatetic lost thing, it obsesses about this or that until it grows bored and moves on to the next thing to obsess about. Though some obsessions seem to last, like writing and photography. Others keep coming back, like printmaking and poetry, as if there is a wider arc beneath the staggering path that is my life. And every couple of years I come back to that same place and pick up where I left off, well no, I’ve forgotten everything and have to start again, like my printmaking. Is that what they mean by beginners mind, forgetting everything?

I didn’t know where else to go to think and learn and to feed the mind the fodder of my curiosity. But my mind doesn’t fit here. I remember it has always been like this, since school, and then every time I come back to higher education. My mind rebels, stares out the window looking at the shape of the clouds to find an elephant or an angel, though there are no windows in the lecture theatres. My mind wants to escape, to soar to the moon and stars, or dive into the ocean and swim with the whales and hear the whale song. It’s some deeper yearning in me that has always been there and I have never known how to feed its hunger. It is like a hungry beast that takes my breath away at times. It can annihilate everything with that hunger.

Yes it has been out and about lately. It scares me when it wakes and staggers through my life, destroying. I don’t know what it is. I only know it as a yearning beyond my comprehension and outside language. If I don’t write or do something creative that beast seems to grow wild and large as if in reaction to trying to tame my mind, to straighten it out and make it sit still.

I know I’m not the only one who has this wild yearning. Perhaps every writer must have something of it to drag them back to the page. The nameless hunger becomes a hunger to name and give voice to the interminable yearning for something beyond this mundanity, this bored mind that tries to stick to the page and write down what the teacher says.

It is a dangerous thing if you don’t give it a home, or find a way to tether it close to yourself. No you can’t tame it. Well you can’t tame it and keep it fully alive. If you try to tame it it will shrink to nothing. Perhaps that’s what most people want because it only causes havoc in the eyes of the world.

But my hungry beast wont die and nor will it be tamed and barely tethered. Instead I have to ride it, like riding the wild tiger. I never know where it will take me. This weekend it’s life drawing, next it could be Chi Gong, or a weekend of writing bad poetry, or walking alone in the bush with my camera, singing to the trees.

The wild soul in me doesn’t care for the product, for the final thing it creates, it only cares for the coming into beingness, the arriving, coming in close and being with that moment of unfolding. It only cares about being fully alive and engaged, present, such limited words but I have no others.

It seems to be always seeking something, some beauty, a beauty in everything beyond the tough skin of ego or pretense or fat opinions and blind words. Yes I think it is looking for beauty, perhaps with a capital “B”.

It’s like a glutton for new experience it feeds off intense emotions, a rare thing in the world these days according to my beast, so mostly it seeks them within, in my writing or through some experience of art or Nature. It once looked for that intensity in relationship but that can burn the heart and skin and eyes, or disappoint. You thought you glimpsed another’s soul, but it was only the afternoon light through the trees. Now it stays away from those burning, disappointing things that can easily turn to boredom, entrapment, and the long dread of that same argument that makes you die a little inside each time.

Within, there are no boundaries and no lines but only what is, with no one telling me what to do or how to think or that I can’t have an original idea. In here there is only wild nature unfurling itself and me standing back and watching and laughing and dancing with that which is becoming. And I don’t know what it means or where it will take me, I just write it down, or splash paint onto the page or let the music dance me.

And now I need to go and draw life, at my life drawing workshop.

May the wilderness of your mind be free to roam and feed the creature of your deepest urges.


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