Optimal anxiety

Yesterday the day seemed swallowed up by football, even as my family does not participate much. I was sad that the underdog team lost. It was a close game, in the wet and cold rain. Only ten degrees and the ball had been slippery. People here in Melbourne get worked up about their football. I’m glad I do not participate. If I did I know I’d be like all those others – frantic for my team to win.

This loyalty to a team is seductive stuff. Wanting our team to win, desperately above all else, identifying with the heroes, the strong ones, the achievers is heady stuff. I find it hard watching my own children when they are in competitions, most often of the public speaking variety. Occasionally I watch my daughters play basketball and the adrenalin pumps through my veins at such a rate, I would rather not be there.

I find life anxiety inducing enough. Why do we create more of it voluntarily? To me watching competitive sport induces too much of it. Playing sport I imagine is different. At least there is something you can do with your anxiety. As one of my daughters who acts tells me, although she feels the butterflies in her stomach before the event, once she is on stage she goes into a sort of trance and loses herself in the experience. All her energy goes into her role.

Perhaps I am writing about this topic here now because in three days time I will present my paper ‘Straddling Two Worlds: the writer and the psychoanalytic psychotherapist’ and I am nervous. Appropriately nervous I would say.

I learned in psychology many moons ago about the importance of an optimal level of anxiety. It energises you. An excessive amount of anxiety can destroy you – stage fright and the like, and no anxiety whatsoever will most likely render your presentation flat and boring.

I am also a tad nervous about flying, but I am getting more used to that. There was a time when I hardly ever caught a plane, but these days I seem to travel through the sky at least two or three times a year and at least one of these trips tends to be as far as Europe. I am becoming a seasoned traveler, and less like my beloved Australian writer and correspondent, Gerald Murnane, who never travels in planes and refuses to move far beyond his home in Macleod.

He travels in his mind, he says, and in his writing. I like to do this too, but real travel in real time also has its merits, if only to shake us out of the daily grind and a sort of sedentary complacency. Besides things seem to take longer when we move out of our routine.

I shall report on my shake up on my return.

3 thoughts on “Optimal anxiety”

  1. I discovered a copy of The Plains in an Oxfam shop a few years ago and was quite blown away by it. I wrote a lengthy review on my blog here if you're interested. You correspond with him? Cool. I keep meaning to get something else by him but I have just got so much to read as it it and the review copies just keep coming.

    Will you post your lecture online once you've given it for those of us who can't attend?

    And as for football, etc… yes, I did play rugby at school but I've never really been much of a team player. One has to wonder how many writers are, eh? Playing was one thing but watching it bores me to death I'm afraid.

  2. I have read your review of GM's The Plains. In fact I took the liberty of sending Gerald a copy of it sometime ago, attributing it to you, of course.
    GM does not use the Internet as you can imagine, but he enjoys knowing about other people's interest in his work.
    His latest book, Barley Patch is about to come out. GM tells me that his publisher, Ivor Indyk from Giramondo Press, considers it Gerald's best book ever.

    When Barley Patch comes out, I'll send you a copy. I'll go to the launch, I'm sure. I might even be able to get you a signed copy. Gerald loves to know that someone as far afield as Scotland enjoys his writing.

    As for my lecture, which went well, I'd like to put it on my blog, but I would also like to get it published in a longer form.

    What's the story here? You seem to know all things literary.
    If I put my paper onto my blog, I'm not interfering with later publication, am I?

  3. I have to say I'm quite touched that you'd send my review onto Gerald. That was sweet of you. And I would love to see a copy of his new book. That's a kind offer. Send me a note of your address and I'll let you have copies of my first two novels: jmurdoch@ntlworld.com

    As for online "publications", there are a lot of opinions to be had as to what "published" actually means. All of the the definitions I've found are the rulings of specific individual organisations. The bottom line is that "published" means

    "reproduced and distributed in a public setting"

    so in the strictest of terms putting your paper on your blog would be publishing it; it meets all the basic criteria.

    I think a bit of common sense needs to come into play here. Yours is a personal blog and although anyone is free to read it you're not presenting you work in the formal setting of, for example, an e-zine. You're just saying to your friends and the odd interested party who happens to pass by: "Here, have a wee look at what I did. Now tell me how clever I am." And that's it.

    I know a few people who put works in progress – which is what this still is – up to get feedback and then delete the post after a week or two. Does that count as published? I don't think so. You might find this post of some interest though.

    The bottom line is that I'd still like to see the thing so If you're not going to post it live then e-mail me a copy. If you like.

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