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Beyond Jock Rot and Millenium Blue Glitter

September 20, 2010

“When you believe in things that you don’t understand,

Then you suffer,

Superstition ‘aint the way.”

Superstition – Stevie Wonder

Here in Australia it is football finals season. I’m in no way, shape or form a supporter of either of the codes. However I’m interested in all the stories which find light of day during finals season. My favourites have to do with players’ pre-game rituals and superstitions.

When I was home in Cairns last week the local rag ran a half page story asking the partners of prominent local AFL footballers what their men do to prepare for finals action. The answers ranged from wearing the same underwear, to not talking before the match or staying in their underwear to the very last moment, to carrying the same towel to each match. There’s also a superstition getting around AFL circles that the winning team in the final will be the team who lost during the two team’s last encounter (backed up by some pretty dodgy stats from the last eight years!)

It got me thinking, do we as writers carry the same sort of superstitious behaviour into our writing lives?

Superstitious behaviours, the sort I’m talking about here, come about when something we do, say or possess is erroneously paired with a positive outcome, and we come to invest a belief in the potential for that thing we do, say or possess to bring about that same outcome, time and time again. At the core of the behaviour is irrationality. It’s also conditional. “If I wear the same pair of jocks I’ve worn all season, we’ll win.” In reality, wearing the same underpants for an entire football season is more likely to give you a serious fungal infection than a winner’s trophy.

However, in every piece of gossip there is a grain of truth. So, perhaps there is a smidgen of rationality in superstition?

A favourite cup and tea: harmless?

I think superstitious behaviours begin rather harmless, or even helpfully. For instance, I have a certain pre-writing ritual to start my writing/work day. I fill my favourite cup up with my favourite rose infused tea. I light my oil burner with one of two essential oil blends. And I crank up the music – loud! There are not habits, such as Annie spoke about last week. These are conscious behaviours I use to transition into my writing day.

However, I’ve noted other interesting idiosyncrasies starting to elbow in. If I have a big work day ahead, and I’m feeling uninspired or overwhelmed, I grab my 100 Stories for Haiti t-shirt. I actually have a belief this t-shirt will imbue me with “can do” energy, because of its association with Greg McQueen’s project (and if you’re wondering – yes today I’m wearing it).

I also have some weird behaviours around subbing work. Each story has to have gone through the three-ring circus of beta reading before I will send it out. This includes having had a thorough structural and copy edit, as well as a proof read by someone who has never seen it. Sure, it is good submission protocol, but this week I cut it fine, to the point where I may have not subbed. Late Saturday night I found myself begging for a proof reader, because I wouldn’t send my story out without a final look over. Luckily someone put their hand up and I didn’t have to decide whether or not to send without a proof read.

Granted, I’m not held prisoner (yet?) by irrational beliefs. I don’t have to listen to a certain piece of music when I hit send and don’t only sub on a certain day of the week to guarantee success. I’m not sucked into believing I can only write great stories the day before the deadline. At the end of the day I recognise the only road to success it putting one word after another, and when it comes to submitting work, reading and following the guidelines thoroughly.

I can’t help but wonder though, what would happen if I ran out of my favourite tea? Or someone lost or broke my favourite mug? Would I still be able to write? My answer is yes – because these small aspects assist me as motivators. They are not rituals of dependence.

There is also the notion of the ‘power of suggestion’ to superstitions and the need to have some type of order, in what can seem like barely contained chaos. What of those AFL teams meeting in the grandfinal. Will one will itself to fail because of some superstitious idea?

My best friend used to wear millennium blue glitter to school on the days when she felt she couldn’t cope with teaching (this was in the day before sparkling vampires, I should add). Over time she came to realise the kids behaved immaculately on the days she wore the glitter. They realised she was more likely to snap on those days. She didn’t shift her thought pattern to believe she could only cope when she wore the glitter though! It motivated her to cope (and the kids to behave) when she was at the bottom and the great knock on was it helped to bring order to the chaos.

While I believe it is important to have some kind of marker that says: now I’m writing, we need to be careful that the quirky behaviour which signals the transition from the everyday into the creative realm doesn’t become a reason not to write.

As Joseph Lewis stated: Superstition is the poison of the mind. And we don’t want that, do we?

Do you have any pre-writing rituals? Are they something you casually do or absolutely must do? ’Fess up, do you have any superstitious behaviours around your writing or submissions process?

Jodi Cleghorn knows investment in the mystical might be fun, but there is nothing like knowing what really works. What brings words to the page. As always, she’s crediting the collaborative writing process for bringing an end to the writing drought. You can find more of Jodi’s musings at Writing in Black and White or Twitter.
  1. September 20, 2010 8:53 am

    Really great article Jodi. You made me wonder is there a difference between rituals based on superstition as opposed to something that makes me comfortable enough to write. For instance I absolutely can’t write without shoes on. I don’t think shoes somehow transform my universe, giving me the ability to write more successfully in the mystical sense but they do transform my universe in the physical and emotional sense. I don’t know the psychology of why I specifically need shoes. Maybe it’s because I also need loud music and headphones when I write. Maybe closing myself off from the world with music makes me feel vulnerable in some way and the shoes help soothe my fight-or-flight instinct.
    All that aside, given your definition of superstition, then I’d say wearing shoes is a superstition. I have to disagree with Lewis though. Apathy is the poison of the mind. With out superstition we wouldn’t have that amazing Stevie Wonder song. That would be a tragedy.

  2. September 20, 2010 2:40 pm

    I’m not really superstitious, but your definition makes me second guess myself. One thing I almost always do before I write is drink coffee or tea. I too absolutely neeed music. It’s funny because I never really thought about it. I wonder if it actually has an effect on my how well I write. Your tea mug is great by the way. Awesome post!

  3. September 20, 2010 5:17 pm

    This post really gets you thinking about your own habits as a writer, I love it. I always get a cup of tea or coffe before I sit down to write and I neeed music. It’s funny because I never really thought about whether my habits are a necessity or not. I really like your tea mug by the way. Great post!

  4. September 20, 2010 5:35 pm

    I have to agree with you Chris… I love that song! I did some research into shoes a while back after a story I was searching for, spawned from a piece of text discussing the fairy story “The Red Shoes.” This is carved out of a post I wrote back in April 2008 when I was musing on shoes!

    “She (Clarissa Pinkola Estes in “Women Who Run With Wolves) suggests shoes are a way of recognising one type of person from another – shoes tell something of who we are as a person, and who we are aspiring to be. Shoes, apparently were what separated (at one level) master and slave – the master had money, position, status and shoes! Dr Estes goes on to say symbolically shoes protect and defend our feet – that is our mobility and freedom.”

    I don’t think your shoe wearing can be construed as superstitious behaviour unless you absolutely must wear the exact same pair of shoes to write. If its just that you need to wear shoes… well we all need comfort in which to write. There is a rationality to it… whereas the underlying basis of a superstition is irrationality… think back to those season old undies!

  5. Karen van Harskamp permalink
    September 21, 2010 3:33 am

    There is still millennium blue glitter embedded in my steering wheel from nearly a decade a go – man that must have been a good teaching stint!!!! :o)

  6. September 21, 2010 6:19 am

    Shoes? Slave and master? When I, with my parents, first arrived in Australia in 1948; straight out of India after Partition, I went to a little State School in Maylands, West Australia. Most of the boys, and some of the girls, went to school with bare feet. I wanted to. My parents were horrified. We’d come from a country of “them and us” and I probably wanted to be part of “them”. I spent most of my life shoeless, when possible… I still do. Maybe that’s part of my personality.
    I remember going down the road to the bookshop when I first arrived in England… shoeless. An elderly South Kensington lady attacked my bare feet with the point of her umbrella and told me to, “Go back home, and don’t come out again until you’re dressed properly”.
    Special mug and herbal tea; shoes or bare feet; loud music; underpants, whether worn inside out or not (but most probably washed between each match, Jodi).
    It’s all a matter of comfort zones… but reading your article Jodi, which I really liked, I see signs of, not superstition, but OCD. Be careful, Jodi; you’ll be shopping at IKEA for everything soon, and where will all that lead?

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