Late last September, I started going to Lake Monger (Galup) one morning each week. I would circumnavigate the path around the lake two or three times on each of these mornings, alternating between walking, running, and lingering to look at birds.
I started this ritual at the tail-end of a difficult fortnight marked by a concentrated burst of physical and mental ill-health. The severity of this fortnight felt largely inexplicable at the time, and while it would not be unreasonable to divine a thread of cause and effect leading up to it, the specifics are unimportant to this setting; this frame of reference. What matters is the ‘sense of unwellness’, and the ambulation out from this crisis of imbalance. Sometimes mystery, for me, is a better catalyst for progress than analysis or reason—and letting my inner life remain mysterious to itself can, at times, reconnect me to the magic or awe of living better than narrative logic ever can. What matters to this reflection is the lake itself.
And so, these journeys began to feel like some kind of expression or enactment of recovery—even after I was ‘well’ again. I kept walking Lake Monger in an effort of recovery that could spread far beyond the small parameters of the fortnight that had prompted it. I let the specificity of this progress blissfully fall away. I thought about the word itself, the concept, while rarely pausing to ask myself what I needed to recover from. Perhaps it would be impossible—unreasonable—to pinpoint a cause or crisis. I didn’t want to make the task of walking the lake smaller than myself. My aim was, and remains, to mark a progress that was both moving out from, as well as further toward, a sense of inarticulacy or unknowability.
Walking as practice has a well-documented mileage behind it. Freshest in my memory is West Australian poet Nandi Chinna’s excellent 2014 collection Swamp (Fremantle Press), which also ‘finds’ Galup as one of its sites. Chinna notes, ‘the walk is essential to the creative process, both as a lyrical meter, a bodily metronome, and as a way of perceiving the writer’s connection and relation to the world in which they live.’ In this spirit, I began to take notes on my phone, writing fragments of observation and sensation, thinking that perhaps it was time to leverage these walks into a product or an outcome. This brought with it a new kind of anxiety. Enforcing a measurable and deliverable ‘purpose’ felt like it had the potential to become another trap; to scrub away the magic and the meditative joy I had found. Of course, there is a different joy in becoming subject to documentation and expression. But the anxieties attached to ‘productivity’ have the potential to make the creative process oppressive and lifeless. The notes on my phone—sometimes, the only thoughts I could bring myself to set down—would occasionally depress me with their seemingly juvenile inadequacy. I would find myself lingering over notes like do people like it when they smile at their dogs, or no? One bulldog walker beams back at me, and I’d rather he hadn’t instead of focusing on the imminent presence of walking the lake, asking myself, is this interesting? Is this worthwhile? Is this anything at all? Eventually I surrendered myself to this ambivalence, this sense of compromise. It was okay to write something, and it was okay for it to be flip and unimportant. Just as recovery could be an open-ended, undefined project, so too might the creative process and the idea of product. Once I accepted the idea that the fact that I was still moving meant far more than the idea of ‘achieving’ something, I felt lighter; more ready to continue.
And part of me would like to say, in enacting these pilgrimages (if that is the correct term), it is the process of ambulation, the walking-as-practice, that appeals to me most, but in truth, it might mostly be the birds. My Instagram stories week by week will attest to this (bemused friends will occasionally bring it up, like, what’s the deal with you and ducks at the moment?). They are their own process, the waterbirds. I am endlessly caught up in them: the piles of ducks and swans that line the shore. The way ducklings, in their learning, never seem to swim, but zoom forward in impossible bursts. The dinosaur legs of swamphens, the magnificent smallness of baby coots among the reeds, the mesmeric stillness of egrets hunting their food. The time spent watching an ibis and a swan walking and feeding in tandem, until finally the ibis got too close and the swan hissed in fury, violently breaking the silence. Returning in February for the first time in a couple of months to witness, with the surprise of the ignorant, the ‘flotilla of flying boats’ Chinna describes with precision in her poem ‘Pelicans’. As I walked, and took notes, I would stop myself from projecting into the inner lives of other walkers and runners around me, even as I passed the same people, week by week. I was not here to narrativise the interior lives of people, I would tell myself, including my own. I was here for the birds, whose exteriority could become my inner life, if I tried.
I know very few tangible, scientific facts about the waterbirds of this region. I didn’t realise that returning in February, the masses of swans and ducks would largely be replaced by pelicans and shags. I struggle to distinguish an egret from a heron. I do not yet know their names in the Noongar language, as I should. In my less optimistic moments, I consider that the reason I have become so drawn to them is the fear that, before too long, they could be gone, and I am coming to terms with the fact that I might mourn more for the waterbirds than I would for the rest of us. If this open-ended process were to solidify into something tangible—sellable—as I might wish it to, perhaps I would start to rigorously teach myself about them: their traits, their patterns, the unwaveringly agreed-upon facts that make them. But it is tempting to allow them to remain mysterious and surprising, to me. To remain unknowing and open-ended. And if this draft were to become a product, the question still hangs of what it is that speaks to me most in these walks: the site, the birds, or myself? How do you make recovery more important than the what you are recovering from? As such, this blog is less to explicate any real insight into the practice of writing than it is to set down, in real time, notes toward an ongoing and future process. At this present moment, I do not feel like a writer, and it is hard for me to drag myself into writing anything here, when I largely feel mired by inarticulacy and unworthiness as a ‘writer’. But I am trying to remind myself more and more that inarticulacy has its own value, in its progress away from certainty, against logic, and against self-imposed limitation.
Read Andrew’s first blog post, ‘not writing Lear: against productivity, against the hustle in crisis’ here.
Andrew is a Queer writer and performance-maker creating work between Boorloo/Perth and Singapore. He was awarded Overland’s Fair Australia Poetry Prize 2017, and his poetry, fiction and creative non-fiction can be found in numerous publications nationally and internationally, including Cordite, Westerly, Scum Mag, Margaret River Press’ We’ll Stand in That Place and Proverse Hong Kong’s Mingled Voices series. As a performance-maker, he has twice been awarded the Blaz Award for New Writing, and makes up one half of independent theatre outfit Squid Vicious (@squidvicioustheatre). He is re-learning the flute in isolation, which he occasionally broadcasts on Instagram @spandyandrei, amongst tragic selfies and pictures of birds.