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Thursday, March 25, 2010

We inhabit the corrosive littoral of habit: But we don't have to!

Recently I saw a painting called We inhabit the corrosive littoral of habit. It’s a bit of a mouthful for the title of a picture I admit. I’d heard the name before, but until I saw the painting again (the other time I saw it I hadn’t bothered to read the label ... as you do) I had assumed it to be a quote of some kind. The painting, and presumably the title, is by James Gleeson, Australia’s foremost surrealist artist. And now I’ve checked him out on the Internet, I see that he painted some pretty wild stuff. Check him out.


Anyway, those words have intrigued me for a long time. My trusty Shorter Oxford Dictionary defines littoral as, ‘of or pertaining to the shore of the sea ... existing or occurring on or adjacent to the shore’. The littoral zone is the area extending from the high-water mark to the low-water mark. It’s a kind of halfway house of a space. I guess you could say, for instance, that the waiting room at the doctor’s office is a littoral zone: it’s that space not quite of one world where you can linger (sometimes forever) before stepping over the threshold to another

Gleeson had the idea that habit is a littoral zone. And I think he might be right. We all know how habit keeps us from experiencing things new, or different; how it blocks us from change and adventure. Habit keeps us in a kind of permanent halfway house where we might feel safe and comfortable (or we may not: I guess it depends on the nature of the habit), but it keeps us from living fully doesn’t it? And, as Gleeson says, it can be corrosive: eating away at our lives little by little, keeping us from happiness and from fulfilling our potential—whatever that means for each of us as individuals.

For creative people (like us writers) there are many habits that keep us in that littoral zone: procrastination, paying attention to our lack of confidence, our mistaken belief that we have nothing to say, our false conviction that nobody wants to read our stuff, the phoney idea that we ‘aren’t quite ready’ to put our work out there. Need I go on? I don’t think so. All these are extremely corrosive habits that have kept me (just as an example you understand) in that littoral zone, that halfway house of doing less than I could, of dissatisfaction with my life as a writer.

And it is corrosive isn’t it? It destroys what little inspiration and passion there might be. Well, I don’t know about you, but it’s got to stop. Right here, right now. I’ve decided that littoral zones have a purpose—sometimes. But it’s not a place I want to dwell. Of course it’s one thing to say that I’m going to dump all the habits that keep me in the halfway house; it’s quite another to actually get them dumped. But you know what? I’m going to give it my best shot—or rather my best words on the page? Yes, that’s it. Words on the page. After all, that’s what we writers do isn’t it?

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