Beyond Jock Rot and Millenium Blue Glitter
“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?
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?