The week that felt like a month

Sunset at Green Lake

Last week, my husband and I took some time out from home life for a little road trip. Our favourite kind of holiday is one where we are out exploring some of what Australia (or the world) has to offer. We like to go places we have not been to before. Usually, we travel slowly. This is our preference as it gives us time to absorb the place, see how people live, and discover the feel of the place. Last week, we did not go slow. Instead, we traversed three states, travelled through flooded lands and through deserts. It was truly wonderful to not only spend eight days with him but to also see places we had not seen before. The upside of the floods is the abundant plant, bug and bird life we saw. The mosquitoes and flies were too much, but the birds and dragonflies were spectacular.

We left home with only one idea of where we were going: Cameron’s Corner Store. Cameron Corner is the corner of New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland. I had worked out that we could get there in three days, stopping at Sea Lake (Victoria) and Broken Hill (NSW) on the way.

At Sea Lake, we stayed at the Royal Hotel Sea Lake, a place we have stayed before and one I highly recommend. I met a few seasonal workers who were helping with the harvest and pouring concrete for new silos. We heard from them how the recent hailstorm had ruined so many fields of crops. There was lots of evidence of the rains and floods besides the road leading to Sea Lake and from there to Broken Hill. When we passed through Ouyen, we stopped for a coffee and heard locals talking about how the rains had also ruined many of the roads.

Broken Hill was quiet and hot when we rolled into town in the late afternoon. We decided that as we had a long day ahead, we would stay in accommodation rather than pack up the tent in the morning. I opted for an out-of-town option as I’m never excited about a motel in a town. We stayed at the Broken Hill Outback Resort, which sounds fancier than it was; however, it did give Matt an opportunity to top up the transmission oil in the Land Cruiser while I did some work on the laptop before chatting with some other travellers about their trip. After dinner we enjoyed a drink at the resort’s bar: a Broken Hill Red Gum and Quandong gin and tonic for me, which made me wonder if there is a town that is not making its own gin now. Amazingly, as I was buying it the distiller came to the bar and had a chat with me about the gin.

The roads so far had been pretty easy. Bitumen all the way with some potholes, but nothing remarkable. We expected that the road, the Silver City Highway, from Broken Hill to Tibooburra would be dirt but this was also bitumen. There were, however, not many other cars on this road. The only stop on the way to Tibooburra was at Packsaddle, a roadhouse that reminded us of the ones on the Nullabor. We were one of the few passersby at the shop that day and we took the opportunity to get a coffee and take a break while admiring the decor. Packsaddle Roadhouse is a place locals can see the Royal Flying Doctor when they visit.

At Tiboorburra, about 335 km north of Broken Hill, we stopped for lunch in Pioneer Park after having a chat with Mavis Lorraine Jackson, the owner of the Tiboorburra Roadhouse owner and third-generation Tiboorburrian. While we didn’t stay there, we did meet a family who had stayed at the Granites Motel and enjoyed the experience.

From there we turned into the Sturt National Park. The Sturt National Park has some interesting work within it to protect the native wildlife as part of the Wild Deserts Program. The program has created one of the largest, feral-animal-free areas in Australia within Sturt National Park, eradicating every last rabbit, cat and fox from two 2000-hectare feral-proof fenced exclosures. There are gates that we passed through that let off a loud alarm to help protect the animals from ferals. While there are camping grounds in the park, we decided to continue on the Cameron’s Corner Store, a decision that in hindsight wasn’t the better choice for us.

When we reached the South Australian border, we found the dingo fence that runs east to southwest along the eastern third of Australia and along the western and northern boundary of Sturt National Park. It was originally built in the 1880s to keep dingoes away from sheep flocks and the southern part of the country. It is 5,614km making it the world’s longest fence.

It blew my mind that in only three days of travelling, we were somewhere so remote and so far from home in so many ways. The station that sits on Cameron Corner, Omicron Station (yes, it is really called that), manages the Cameron’s Corner Store that is a box-ticking place for many Australian travellers. I am not sure what I was expecting, but it was more basic than that. When we arrived we were the only people there and the station owner’s daughter Kate had a good chat with us about the station and how good the rain has been for the cattle. It was late in the season for travellers as it was getting too hot and they were doing a clean up of the store. A couple of other travellers arrived later along with more seasonal workers. It was great to get there and the photos at sunset are a great reminder of the beauty of the open skies.

Our original plan had been that we would stay there for three nights and then come back the way we came. But as we began our trip, I took up my role as Chief Navigator with my Hema map spread open on my lap and looked at how close we were to other places I wanted to see. I was glad we had made that decision that night as I couldn’t imagine spending another night there. It was windy and hot and exposed. (There is also no coverage there, for anyone curious about this. Coverage is generally restricted to towns when you get far enough away from the main city centres.)

We made the decision that night to go on further to Innamincka via the dirt roads through QLD and return home via Arkaoola. An unexpected surprise on the next day’s travel was finding the Burke and Wills’s Dig Tree. The day’s driving was long and through land where we did not see a single car or truck for hundreds of kilometres. We finally reached the turnoff to ‘Adventure Way’ where we saw the only other traveller that day, a German who was filming himself. He said the road to the Dig Tree was too rough, so he was not going there. There is nothing more interesting to Matt than the idea of a road that is too rough, and we were so close to it, I wanted to see the site.

We ate lunch battling the flies while seeing the place that they died. Given that they had also travelled from Melbourne, it seemed extraordinary that they made it this far on foot, and then onto the Gulf of Carpentaria and back only to die here. The only survivor from the forward party survived because the local Aboriginal people took care of him.

Innamincka was a true blessing. It was super hot when we got there (around 40 degrees) and the people who run the Trading Post were also in the end-of-season clean up mode. They said we could came down at the Town Common, which is on Cooper Creek and that we might see some turtles there.

The Cooper Creek Turtle is endemic to the area. They were super curious animals due to tourists normally feeding them, which we didn’t do. That didn’t stop us staring at them for hours hoping they would climb out to see us. All in all, we counted 12 curious turtles. We also saw pelicans, corellas, and many other birds. I hadn’t known that pelicans spent time in places so far from the ocean.

The next day, we began our drive southward. The Sturt Highway was empty other than road trains. It was here we had our only issue with the car when the corregations rattled a hose from the fuel pump. An easy fix. Matt indulged me by stopping whenever I saw a flower I was curious about.

The drive to Arkaroola was long, but with the heat, we were happier to be in the car than sitting around outside. Arkaroola also had the end-of-season feel with shelves emptied out and dried up creek beds. We had a lovely quiet campspot in the creek bed that night and were visited by emus in the morning. We decided that this was a place worth coming back to in the cooler season.

Our drive on the last two days took us back into the flooded areas of South Australia and Victoria. We camped overnight at the Red Banks Conservation Park just out of Burra and had to fight the flies to get to our dinner while vowing that we would come back to see more of it, then on our last night camped by Green Lakes Recreation Reserve where we were graced with a million dragonflies, families of ducks, flies and mosquitoes after having a yarn with Ken who caretakes the place for half the year.

While we were only travelling for eight days, it felt like so much longer. It’s been good to have the time to explore our beautiful country again and we are already looking at where we will go next. It was great to spend time together without the normal distratctions, a detox if you like from our connected lives. It was also good to see how it is for the farmers, how the weather has affected them. A good chance to spend some money in towns that are hanging on by a thread. A great chance to chat with people, to gather stories. Time to go to sleep with the sunset, wake with the sunrise. Time to breathe with nature.

So many times we referred back to the year we travelled Australia with our kids, a year not unlike this one where rain fell in enormous amounts at the wrong times of year. A year where we disconnected from the busyness of home-city lifeand reconnected with each other.

Leaning into the windy day

Apple blossom on my new tree

It’s a blizzard here today…despite it nearly being the end of spring! The completely bonkers weather reminds everyone that climate change is real, not a figment of our imagination. We have had rain, hail, gale force winds…and a little sunshine.

Today I have had to lean into what it brought me rather than my to-do list. I woke with a migraine and a crick neck and was running on half empty.

My husband has been away for the last week for work and arrived home after flight delays at 2am this morning. His work gave him the day off to rest and I took the chance to spend time with him and plan next week’s road trip.

From inside the house I could see the trees I purchased on the weekend being blown over yet couldn’t face the 60km gale force winds to plant them.

Finally the sun came out and the winds died down a little. Now, as part of my big changes to my garden to grow more food, my two apple trees and my pear tree are in the ground.

May the wind die off tomorrow and the sun shine.

Not doing the thing

I’m in a liminal space after finishing work a month ago with no plans to work until next year. There’s a sense of discomfort in liminal spaces.

This book I Didn’t Do The Thing Today by Madeleine Dore (of Extraordinary Routines), has been sitting on my bedside table for about the same amount of time. When I picked it up this morning, I realised how relevant it is for me.

I, like so many others, judge my time on my productivity. My lists. My checkboxes. When I see the unchecked boxes at the end of the day, I transfer them to the next day.

But what would happen if I let some of them go? Let them come to the surface when my mind is ready for them?

It’s questions like this that Dore raises in her book. I’m only up to chapter 5 but already have multiple tabs on pages, words, sentences underlined.

“Attend to the day,” she says, which was also something I took from the wonderful podcast recommended to me by my sister Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management with Oliver Burkeman.

Lean into the day and what it holds. Be surprised by it and allow the surprises to feed the soul.

The shipping work

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Image: Many Boats by Petr Kratochvil

I’ve received feedback today on three manuscripts: a picture book, a young adult book and a historical fiction. It’s all been helpful (so helpful) but is a reminder that the work is not yet done. It feels a little bleak that I may have started the shipping work too early.

At times like these, I am set adrift in a bay of unanchored boats all clinking into each other. The noise of them rattling against each other unnerves me as I try to determine which needs my attention.

The new and shiny but unfinished one?

The one that has been repaired, stripped, repainted and reconstructed so many times it is hard to see what it is anymore? The Frankenstein story.

The one I can still smell the wet paint and wonder if there are leaks?

Or the small one that I built in a frenzy and it came out whole but I have now realised it has a leak or two or three?

This is all part of the shipping work of writing. I focus back on the new one. My energy fits this best at the moment. I tie the others down, set their anchors and let them know I’ll be back to inspect them soon.

Easy does it

Buds forming on the plants heralding spring

It’s nearly spring. A time for renewal. A time to step outside. The days are getting longer and the sun peeks out a little more but the crisp mornings remind us that it’s not spring, yet.

I’m away, again and finally, with my writing gang at the place that restores me with the women who bolster me, who say ‘you’ve got this’, who cheer me on. We’re all at different stages in our writing and we’ve all squirreled away into our rooms. We’re tapping on keyboards, dipping into books, scribbling in notebooks, listening to podcasts, running through the forest or napping. All of this is creative work. Even the naps.

I’m working on a new thing. It’s hard. I’ve spent so long in my last one, six years, that it’s hard to be working on something new. The last one is still so fresh in my mind. I have been spending so much time lately pitching it, submitting it. I’ve been in my protagonists’ minds for so long.

This new one feels precarious, fragile, that if I speak about it too much it might dissolve or blow away. I started working on it some time back but it is a formless thing. I have words dumped into notebooks, words dumped into a document called Draft 0. I know what it will feel like. I’ve even said it aloud to others: it’s something like The Office meets a school library meets Bridget Jones. People smile and say that sounds great. Which it does, but I haven’t written it yet. I have about 20,000 words in the document, many of which are the beginnings of scenes, character development exercises or various iterations of the plot.

When I arrived at our writing retreat, I noted down my intentions for my time away. They were huge, as usual. I have a long history of setting myself huge to-do lists that can be unreasonable. They included: morning pages every day (followers of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way will know this is an important part of creativity), move manuscript forward, reflect on feedback and take notes on what could be better (manuscript I’m trying to get published), go with an ‘easy does it approach’ and leave the drama at the door, be observational like Helen Garner is in her notebooks, read, catch up on admin of writing work, move forward on the work side of my life.

I imagined I could do it all: the editing, writing, preparing for future work, thinking about the idea of creative work, walking, reading and reflecting.

By the end of the first morning, I had to revisit the list and recognise that what was most important during a time in my creative and uninterrupted bubble, was to do the planning work that would enable me to move the manuscript forward when I am back at home grabbing the moments to write in between work and life.

The path through the forest where I have run during breaks

I have long been a pantser* and this has worked well to get words down that feel hot and urgent, but having now completed two manuscripts, I know that this also means there will be many words that won’t make the cut because they come from some tangent that the story doesn’t need. So, I decided I will tackle this new one with a more analytical approach that will hopefully allow me to move through the drafts a little faster.

I brought The Novel Project by Graeme Simsion with me and am working my way though it. It’s super useful. As I have already done so much of the thinking/brainstorming of the story and have written a few versions of the plot, I have moved pretty quickly to getting the beats down. Graeme suggests that a novel needs about 120 beats.

When I started writing down the beats this morning, I was confident that this wouldn’t take much time…my mind has been playing with this idea for a little while now. But it’s not as easy as I initially thought. I’m halfway, at the midpoint of the story. I have a skeleton of what happens from here, but I need to think about the beats to get the story there. So, it’s time for a nap. Time to have another cup of tea. Time for a walk. All of these things help. Creativity takes time and effort.

I’m reminded when I wake from my nap this afternoon and my mind makes a dramatic plunge at me about the work I need to do, that I’m choosing to write this story. That I need to take an ‘easy does it’ approach, as Julia Cameron counsels in her book Finding Water, that there is no need to be dramatic about it. So, easy does it now.

*A pantser is someone who writes without a plan trusting their instinct with the story. The panster most often needs to restructure their story a number of times and spend a lot of time in the redrafting stage. The opposite of this is a plotter who spends a big chunk of time at the front end of the writing process.

And breathe…

Photo by Diego Madrigal on Pexels.com

Today is Lockdown 6, Day 1. Where I live, we have had a huge number of days over the last eighteen months in some form of lockdown. In Victoria, we have only had a week of some form of freedom. As I left work yesterday, a few friends who are teachers popped by my desk to say goodbye and wish me luck with this snap lockdown. We had all reflected on the last one and how difficult Lockdown 5 had felt for us. With each of them, we talked about how we could tackle this one differently so that it didn’t wipe us out again. It has made me think about some of the things that made the last one feel so hard for me. I was in the waiting stage with my manuscript as I had sent it off for an assessment and that would have most likely been an anxious period for me anyway. I didn’t do any walks or walk-and-coffee catchups with mates. I didn’t go out into nature and breathe. I was anxiously trying to sort out temporary accommodation for our family and for one of my sons. These are all things I can tackle differently this time. Each lockdown has had its own personality.

As I roll into this one, I am in the throes of editing my manuscript. I have received my feedback from the manuscript assessor and it was incredibly useful. I feel more confident with the edits now. She is the first person to have read my story and it was a terrifying few weeks wondering if she would come back with heavy feedback on why it wasn’t working. Instead, I had the wonderful moment of hearing someone gushingly read back some of my words to me. The work that needs to be done will strengthen the story. I can see this already. So, this time around, I’m focussed and in a more positive mindset with my creative side.

This morning as I scrolled on Instagram, I came across this post below from Chris Cheers Psychology and it resonated well.

A snapshot of an instagram post that reads: To complete the stress cycle try: 
- slow deep breathing (5 deep breaths, or try an app)
- exercise (what ever that looks like for you)
- hugs (hold for 20 seconds, pets count)
- have a big cry or a big laugh
- engage in a creative activity.
Try one and notice the change in your body.
@chrischeerspsychology https://www.instagram.com/p/CSL_YC4Hw_r/

I stopped scrolling and took five long slow deep breaths. It does help. I have always found focussing on my breath helps. I remember after my mum and my eldest was incredibly unwell I heard someone say that if you are breathing, there is more right than wrong. Ever since then, I have come back to that in dire times. Breathe. Focus on the breath. Count the breath. Feel the breath fill you up.

My workplace has started some wellbeing groups and the one that I am in is yoga and meditation. The groups have been running for about four weeks now but I have only done one meditation in that time. I haven’t been to the gym, I have done any online yoga, I’ve barely done my exercises that are essential for my knee. It is all beginning to show. My knee has started to stiffen and swell. My shoulder is sore. I know I could probably get into the physio under essential care, but I know it really starts with me. This time around, I have recommenced my exercising. I started with a walk this morning before my writing. When I finish writing this, I’m going to do my knee and shoulder exercises. Later today I’m doing a walk and coffee with one of my friends. I know it helps but I think I’m fairly slack with these things. So, I’m scheduling it so that it has to happen. I made a plan with one of my teacher mates to meet for an afternoon walk along the way. As I write up my exercise schedule, I’m including Yoga with Adrienne sessions, walks with mates, knee and shoulder exercises, and bike rides by the river. Last year, they were like magical moments for me as I watched the cormorants warm their wings in the morning sun, the pelicans perched waiting for a fish to pass them by, the ducks and their ducklings gliding across the water. Exercise not only is good for the body, it’s good for the mind.

I’m lucky enough to live with three others and a dog. At least three of those love hugging so a hug is never too far away if I need one. Great hugs are memorable, and even more so since COVID come into everyone’s focus. I hope you have someone or a pet you can hug and receive a hug from.

Luckily, I drove to work yesterday as I needed to bring a few more things home that usual so that I could work from home next week. As I drove home, the tears came with big sobs. The weight of it all hit me. By the time I got home, I was okay. I’m thankful for the things I managed to squeeze in between Lockdown 5 and Lockdown 6. My hubby and drove up to see our son who has his placements in Bendigo this semester. The sun shone, we had lunch and walked around, had a cup of tea and drove home. It was a treat to get out of town for the day and to see him. My Improv showcase was on Sunday and it was huge burst of fun and laughter. A good friend and comedian came along to support me and it was so good to catch up with her and my classmates afterwards over beers, chips and wine. Laughter and tears. All the emotions that help release the tensions.

I have more creative projects than I have time for but this is how I like it. I could probably stay in lockdown forever and never finish them all but I’d be really socially deprived and probably be going out of my mind. I’ve been working on a chunky knit jumper that is so quick and fun to make so I’ll probably finish this tonight. My other knitting projects include a jumper for my husband, a summer cotton jumper for me and a baby blanket. I’m also still enjoying playing with illustration as I’d love to illustrate my picture books one day.

My friends from work are on my mind this morning as they will be delivering lessons to students remotely again. They have a tough gig. I’m thinking about how to support them in this, how to lift them from this a little. In the end, I think it will be the small things: staying in touch with them, coordinating a work from work day, sharing a moment of gratitude.

Take care, my friends. These are tough times for many, some experiencing tougher times than others. Tread gently, keep safe, get vaccinated and be kind to yourself and others.

How to survive uncertain times (or how to stop being grumpy)

This week I’ve been tired and grumpy. It feels as though there are too many things requiring my attention and not enough things filling my cup back up. I’m running on empty and I seem to have forgotten how to replenish my energy. I’m sure I’m not the only person feeling like this at the moment. I’m in Melbourne, where we are deep into our fifth lockdown for COVID, and while I’m thankful I live in a state where locking down early means that we can avoid some of the catastrophic situations that are being seen around the world or in other states, I’m tired. Is it just the current situation that is making me tired or is it the increased medication for my migraines?

Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful that I have a job that isn’t shrouded with uncertainty and my family are safe. I know many others who are struggling deeply. What I’m feeling is something that is much harder to put my finger on. I’ve been going into my workplace (school library) to work on cleaning up the library collection and supervise any students who need to come to school to study and by the time I get home, I have nothing left to give. Is it the silence of my workplace that is disconcerting?

Last year when Melbourne was in that really long lockdown, I managed okay. I woke at my usual time, wrote, went for a ride, worked, did my yoga then congregated with the other two in my household for dinner. It was okay. We had a quiet rhythm that breathed gently on us as we danced around each other. This time it doesn’t feel so smooth.

When I come home from work now, I flop on the couch with nothing left in me. My body aches, my mind aches. It’s as though everything is too much. I’m juggling my health, work, writing life, renovation plans and emails, housing for one son, housing for ourselves and I’m at the point where I’m snapping at the people I love.

Maybe I run out of spoons (What is the Spoon Theory). I’ve resisted calling myself a Spoonie as I often think that I don’t have it too bad, but my reality is that I do have chronic health conditions that impact my every day life and how I interact with the world even if I don’t look or sound sick. I forget that some others don’t have to navigate life with a filter to protect their health, that there are things they can do that I just can’t, that external things can send my body into a spin.

Photo by Aphiwat chuangchoem on Pexels.com

So, how do I pull myself from the fug I’m in and fill up my cup again?

Routine

Stick to routine. It worked last time, it will work again. Keep up the writing, exercise and work. Add in self care and laughter.

Self Care

I’m not doing any. I remember my psychologist talking to me about this years ago. It’s something that doesn’t come naturally to me for many reasons. I had to come up with a bunch of things that looked like self care, then I had to make sure I was doing at least one each day. I’m not doing any at the moment and it shows in my body aches, my migraines, my tiredness and my lack of positivity. So, time for a list of things that I can do each day to release the pressure. Things like: a bath, day naps. I can’t see the phsyio who would help iron out the pain in my back and neck, but I can do my exercises.

Exercise

We all know it helps but when it’s cold and you have to force it to happen, it’s hard. I have been walking and riding to work, but I suspect it’s not enough for times like these. Usually, I go to the gym a few times a week, but I haven’t replaced that with anything for the last week. Today, I’m going to do my exercises for my knee rehab and my shoulder and neck injury. I’m also going to do a yoga session. I know I’ll feel better afterwards.

Laughter

Time to watch some comedy. I miss my improv classes that were guaranteed to make me laugh for most of the three hours. I need an injection of laughter. Any suggestions are welcome.

How are you coping? Are you tired and grumpy like me? Has this latest wave of COVID that’s rippling through the country sent you into a hermit-style spin? What are your strategies for surviving? Please tell me that it’s not only me who has hit a flat and grumpy state.

Aiming for more rejections

A few years ago I shifted my thinking from trying to get some marks on the publishing board to aiming for more rejections. It was an important shift in thinking as it forced me to understand that this publishing world is one that is full of rejections with the occasional win. There must be something in the wind about this thinking again as my email inbox is filling up with others thinking about artistic rejection. Brainpickings article of Walt Whitman’s response to rejection sent me on a pathway thinking about the resilience that I need as writer.

A number of years ago, I wrote a speculative fiction for a young adult readership. I put my very brave pants on and fronted up to the Australian Society of Author’s Literary Speed Dating with my two minute pitch ready. I sat in front of my desired publishers and blurted my pitch out. Two publishers told me that it sounded interesting and that they would like to see it when it was ready. I left the event a bundle of energy and excitement. Fast forward about six months that were fraught in non-writerly but more personal ways and I sent an email to one of the publishers (still don’t know why I didn’t send it to the other). He responded quickly asking for the first hundred pages. Soon, he asked for the rest. I wasn’t as confident with the rest of the manuscript and life was pretty chaotic at home…so this part took a while. When I sent it to him with great apologies for the time delay, he thanked me for sending it. After some nail biting time, he responded with a short email thanking me for sending it, but it wasn’t for their list at the moment.

I read that as complete rejection. That my manuscript mustn’t have been good enough. In hindsight, it wasn’t. It just wasn’t for that publisher.

I worked on it more, then saw that an agent was looking for young adult manuscripts, so I quickly sent an email. She responded immediately asking for more. I sent the manuscript through and after a period of time, she responded with a feedback on it saying that she’d be keen to see it again if there were further changes. On my first five reads of her email, all I could see was that it wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t until I showed a writer mate the email that I was able to see that she was keen to see it again.

I worked on it more (again) while working on my current manuscript (adult readership, literary historical fiction). When I had the historical fiction in a place that I thought I was happy with, another writer mate introduced me to a literary agent and I sent it in the hope that I’d be picked up. I wasn’t. The manuscript wasn’t ready. Stories take time, hopefully like all good things. I keep telling myself that, but since that rejection I have made some major changes to the manuscript that I am sure enhance it. The daughter’s voice found me and begged to be included and I have loved what she has brought to the story. I have now finished another draft of it and am anxiously waiting to get feedback on it from a manuscript assessment. I am petrified that it is rubbish, even after six years of work on it.

I like the Brainpickings quote from Jeanette Winterson with ten tips on writing to soothe me during this time as I play with new words for a new manuscript:

1. Turn up for work. Discipline allows creative freedom. No discipline equals no freedom.

2. Never stop when you are stuck. You may not be able to solve the problem, but turn aside and write something else. Do not stop altogether.

3. Love what you do.

4. Be honest with yourself. If you are no good, accept it. If the work you are ­doing is no good, accept it.

5. Don’t hold on to poor work. If it was bad when it went in the drawer it will be just as bad when it comes out.

6. Take no notice of anyone you don’t respect.

7. Take no notice of anyone with a ­gender agenda. A lot of men still think that women lack imagination of the fiery kind.

8. Be ambitious for the work and not for the reward.

9. Trust your creativity.

10. Enjoy this work!

(Brainpickings: https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/09/05/jeanette-winterson-10-tips-on-writing/)

So, I’m moving forward. Writing more. Distracting myself from waiting to hear from the manuscript assessment. Knowing that some stories take a long time.

And in all of this, I am sending things out as it takes a heap of rejections as a writer. I’m aiming to increase my rejections this year in the hope it forces me to be brave, ambitious and creative…and resilient.

Sitting in discomfort

Discomfort is never a great place to be, but life is teaching me that it is also okay to sit with it. The school holidays are about to end and while the first week felt full of things that I wanted to do, this week I have felt like I have concrete boots on and am unable to get anything done that I had planned to do. Maybe it’s also a bit of a combination end-of-holidays blues and an overachiever to-do list. I know that last week, I relaxed into the week and enjoyed the lack of deadlines that it held. This week, I’ve felt time and life press in on me.

Poor Bella with the cone of shame

My desk is covered in books, papers, ink bottles, headphones, pens and pencils. I’m surrounded by a bunch of half-finished things not only on my desk but also throughout the house. External things have pressed on me with a breakup of two young people very close to my heart, a farewell of a young man only at the start of his adult life, a friend and neighbour’s dog being hit by a car moments after speaking to me, a neighbour hitting my car at the supermarket, an abscess on my dog’s foot rendering her incapacitated and stuck with a cone on her head for a week, trying to find accommodation for my son in a country town and for us our impending renovations and a few days and nights with high level migraine attacks. They have been things that all on their own would have been okay, but the accumulation of them feels heavy. They’ve reminded me of the times that I’ve lived with a high level of stress while managing others through very difficult periods of serious mental ill-health episodes. It’s the contrary feelings of the fast-heart beating thinking of others’ struggle mixed with a malaise that is hard to shake.

I know that if I go to the gym, I will feel better but when I am too overtired from the migraine attacks that have kept me awake or from the dog who can’t understand why she has a cone on her head and wants a drink but keeps tipping the bowl over. So I don’t. Instead I wander around picking up things then getting distracted and starting something else. It reminds me of when the kids were little and I struggled through days and nights with migraine attacks, lack of sleep and the feeling that these tough days would never end.

But they do end. Bad times end. Discomfort ends.

As I remind my friends who are going through tough times, or supporting others going through tough times (which also equates to going through tough times), the sun always rises again. In the most difficult times that I’ve been though (and there have been many over the years), I have learnt to sit with this discomfort. That the discomfort ends. That I can help myself out of it. That the sun will rise again tomorrow. There are a few things that I have done in the past that have helped and I know they’ll help again. Maybe they’ll help you.

Golden Bokeh

Tiny golden moments

  1. Find three tiny little things that were good, golden, each day. They don’t need to be big at all.
  2. Write them on a piece of paper.
  3. Put the piece of paper in a jar.
  4. Refer back to them any time you think there is nothing okay.

There is always something that is good in each day, even if it is that the air was fresh, or the water hydrated you. It helps to turn the thinking away from the negative. This process saved me when I wasn’t sure if my son was going to survive many years ago. Today, for instance, my tiny golden moments would be that I had fun writing a new scene, that I joined the Writers Victoria Live Write session and stayed on to chat with others after the half hour and that the sunset was beautiful.

Music! Sweet, sweet music

Many years ago when I was young and had no idea what was ahead of me, I sat in a room with a bunch of other musical people who were all there to audition for places in the Music Therapy program at Melbourne Uni. I had studied music during my VCE and was the only student in my school studying music in my final year. I loved music: playing it and listening to it. I also loved the idea of helping people. Music Therapy seemed to be a wonderful combination of these two ideas. In that waiting room, though, I realised that I didn’t have the same level of passion as the other students there. It seemed to me (as a young seventeen-year-old) that they had what it took, that their whole worlds were music. I didn’t wait around for my name to be called for the audition so I will never know if I did have what it took. I guess I didn’t believe in myself enough back then. Fast forward to when my mum was dying. One of the services offered to her was music therapy. I sat with her that day the therapist came. Together, Mum and I listened to the beautiful music that the woman played for her and as I held Mum’s hand, I felt her relax. That’s the power of music.

Over the years I have often used music to shift a mood. It acts like magic. Music is powerful. I love how I can be in a flat mood but when I put something upbeat on, it lifts me.

Move it!

I won’t be the first person to say that exercise helps lift mood, change feelings. I may be in the minority to say, however, to say that it also helps me shift a migraine attack. It is often the very last thing I want to do when I have a migraine attack, especially when it is a particularly forceful one. Exercise also can bring a migraine attack on for me, or if I am on the edge with a migraine and then exercise, it can bring on a diabolical one that is really hard to shift. But if I gently exercise with a migraine attack by going for a quiet walk, or moving my legs on the bike with no resistance, it can help shift it.

I pretty much never get excited about going to the gym, but I know when I’ve been I feel powerful and want to go back and do it all over again. I vow that I’m going to do it on a regular basis…then forget that euphoria that exercise has brought on and start finding excuses about why I don’t want to go. . I know I’m not the only one or we’d all be fit beans. I think I’m getting closer to the remembering though. Some little hacks I use are having my gym bag ready to go at all times and planning for it so that I get there.

How do you pull yourself from a state of malaise or from feeling overwhelmed?

Creativity, Play and Rest

Hello!! I have stumbled back to my blog like a stranger. It was doing a round of submissions that sent me back here as I needed to remind myself of my publishing background. Writing that out seems ridiculous. I know what I’ve had published—and what isn’t—but I’ve been so long into my current manuscript that I have neglected doing any updates here.

Where have I been? What have I been doing?

Since my last post, I have written eight Tinyletter newsletters that have included all sorts of things like poetry, having a knee operation, coping with the lockdown blues and some other things. While it’s been good to have a bit more interaction with these newsletters, it does make it look like nothing is happening here. (Side note: please sign up for my newsletters here where I might write more stuff)

Trust me, stuff is still happening in my writing and creative life.

I am still writing. At the end of May, I finished the seventh draft of my manuscript that has had many names during its various iterations but is now going under the name of Before, After, Now. It’s historical fiction based on my ancestor who was sent to Australia in 1787 for stealing a pot, a kettle and an iron. Her husband of the time pointed his finger at her in the court and said, it was her. Doesn’t take much imagination to guess at what kind of person would do that to his wife and, in turn, his one-year-old son who died on the ship before it even left Portsmouth Harbour. She had a wretched life and the work I have had to do to get the story to its current state other than all the research I have done over the last six years is to work out why each of the things I know about her happened. Why was her daughter in the first orphanage in Sydney? Why did she work for a short time as a cook in the orphanage? Why did the father of her daughter leave the colony and never return? Why did she never take his name, did she never give her daughter his name? Why did she die where she did, when she did?

The current iteration of the manuscript feels (for now) like the one that is right. It has three points of view: Ann, her daughter Elizabeth and the narrator. Finding my way into Elizabeth and her view of the world really opened up the story for me, and hopefully for the reader. Soon, it will go on its merry way to have a manuscript assessment when I will find out the truth about the manuscript.

This is The Most Scary Moment for me with it. To this point, no one else has read it in its entirety and while it is easy and less sick-making to keep it like this, it will never get published without someone else’s eyes on it.

When I first finished this draft I felt like I was cast out into a rubber tube in the middle of the ocean. I was so used to my routine of getting up every morning at 5.45 am to work on the manuscript, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Initially, I took the time to sleep in as I was very tired. It took a lot of out of me finishing this manuscript. Then I resumed my early mornings and did yoga.

Now it’s school holidays, I’m back at my computer doing writing admin, cleaning up my files, writing a synopsis and chapter summaries and looking at what else is going on in the writing submission world. This week I wrote a new short story and edited another and it felt great to play with new words.


Play

‘If you don’t know how to play, then you will not be creative.”

John Cleese

John Cleese outlines what he sees as the five factors of creativity (the below is from the Brainpickings post about this):

  1. Space (“You can’t become playful, and therefore creative, if you’re under your usual pressures.”)
  2. Time (“It’s not enough to create space; you have to create your space for a specific period of time.”)
  3. Time (“Giving your mind as long as possible to come up with something original,” and learning to tolerate the discomfort of pondering time and indecision.)
  4. Confidence (“Nothing will stop you being creative so effectively as the fear of making a mistake.”)
  5. Humour (“The main evolutionary significance of humour is that it gets us from the closed mode to the open mode quicker than anything else.”)

I’ve learnt over time that it’s great for my creativity to do things that put me out of my comfort zone. Years ago when I felt like writing was difficult I took up learning jazz piano. While I am still not a piano player, it was the impetus that I needed to get back into writing after I’d learnt that it was okay to be terrible at something but to still have a go. So when my friend Katherine Collette (author of the very funny The Helpline and another book that will be published next year—watch this space…) told me a few months ago she’d enrolled in an improv course, I was interested. I knew it would be difficult coming off the deep editorial stage of manuscript I’ve lived with for the last six years to try to write anything else. I’m now six weeks into the course (if we ignore the three weeks intermission when we couldn’t do much due to yet another COVID-19 moment) and it has been a brilliant thing to add to my life. I spend three hours laughing a week while I get to make stuff up on the spot and learn that it’s okay to fail! What a brilliant thing for all of us to learn! It’s given me the energy I need for the new story I’m working on that is all fresh words and needs no editor’s eye on it. It’s the moment in writing when anything and everything is possible. It’s a wonderful playful stage of writing when I learn who’s who and what’s what and where’s where. Write it all out and delete it later (after I’ve saved it as Draft Zero). It’s also given me more confidence standing up in front of strangers and talking. Last night I put my name in the Jam Jar and bravely stepped onto the stage when my name was called and Made Stuff Up! On the spot. While I was nervous to start, my nerves fell away as I immersed myself in the experience. And I laughed. A lot. Laughter is so great for the soul.

My rough drawing of Little Red Riding Hood’s map

A couple of weeks ago I did a Queensland Writers Centre online workshop on map making with Kathleen Jennings. It was such a wonderful, playful and fun session that reminded me how much I love drawing and illustration. I have been playing with this since and again, it reminds me that playing helps awaken creativity. I’m amazed (but probably shouldn’t be) at how much energy playing gives me. It’s been so much fun drawing badly and allowing that to be okay.

Rest

On the last day of last term when we were all desiccated shells of ourselves, our principal sent all the staff something about rest that resonated with me. She talked about the research and work of Dr Saundra Dalton-Smith where she establishes the seven types of rest: physical, sensory, mental, emotional, creative, social and spiritual.

“We have a very limited view of what rest is. We think of rest as the cessation of activity—just stopping. But it’s actually practising restorative activites.”

Dr Saundra Dalton-Smith
Image from https://advice.theshineapp.com/articles/the-7-types-of-rest-you-need-to-actually-feel-recharged/

I hope you can find time to rest, play, read or write. I’d love to hear from you to hear how this lands with you. Please leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you ASAP.