On exhaustion, writing and other things

I have been absent from here a great deal this year, which was to be expected with starting work full time for the first time since 1997 (yes, you read that right!), but I haven’t slipped away completely. It has certainly been a juggle working, writing and managing the family, and I’m hoping that the next term is a little easier to manage.

I started the school year with a marked-up draft of my convict woman story after spending 10 hours reading it aloud (something I have never done before and was certainly a great experience — even if I was left with no voice and an ulcer on my tongue). Each morning before I started work at 8 am, I spent at least 30 minutes editing. It took me a couple of weeks to settle into the practice (i.e. where to do it), but in the end, I found a room at work where no one would disturb me. I set the goal of Easter to have it ready to send to an agent, and on the first Tuesday of the school holidays (nine days before Easter), I sent it off (hooray!). I may never hear from her, but it felt great to have hit that goal. I was also very excited to see that I received an Honourable Mention for my story, Murder by Biscuit, in the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge earlier this year. This was a short story that had to be completed with eight days. Everyone involved was given three things: a genre, an action and a character. Mine was: a mystery, a medical diagnosis and a prisoner. It was a lot of fun to write even as an unfamiliar genre.

My workplace

Workwise, I embraced my new role as Resource Centre (library) Manager and Communications and Marketing Manager for a secondary school. I set goals to put the library into order, order new books and connect with the school librarian community. It felt great at the end of Term 1 to see the shelves ordered, have new books arrive and to attend my first conference with other school librarians. I made it a priority to get books in that are on the Inky Awards lists from the last couple of years, and to make sure there are plenty of diverse voices, and Australian voices. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing the excitement on the student’s faces as they borrow the books.

I attended a few book launches (The Rip by Mark Brandi, The Result Result by Graeme Simsion and Small Blessings by Emily Brewin). It was wonderful to celebrate my friends who are all wonderful writers. It was even better to read these books. If you haven’t read them yet, go grab a copy and read them.

Book launches!

I also attended a wonderful masterclass in climate change writing, run by Jane Rawson and James Bradley. There were loads of great conversations that day, despite only having had a few hours sleep after my middle boy’s eighteen birthday party.

I finished the first term of school in a state of sheer exhaustion hoping that I could spend the two weeks break resting and recovering before heading back into another ten weeks work. Life, however, doesn’t always work that way. Instead, I spent the first week taking my husband from here to there to find out why he had been experiencing excruciating pain and swelling in his foot for two weeks. I didn’t in those two weeks after the negative result on the first x-ray and the first blood test that showed up with high white blood cell counts, or in the week while we waited to hear the results from the blood tests, bone scans and ultrasounds. My mind wandered to the terrible as all I have ever known of strange and unknown things like this was fatal.

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Waiting to hear why his foot hurt so much

The doctors scratched their heads and talked of gout (then crossed it off), rheumatism, and then nothing as time ticked by. Nothing was the worst. When the doctor greeted us to tell us the results of all the tests, he said he had bad news. I braced myself. I had been mentally preparing myself for this. For a life without my love by my side. For single parenting. For caring. Two stress fractures, the doctor said. I laughed. That! That’s not bad news, I said. And it truly isn’t. It will heal. He will be okay. So far from where my mind had gone. But I am still exhausted. He is still in loads of pain two weeks into wearing his moon boot, and I am now back at work without any rest. It’s going to be a long eight weeks.

Now onto my goals for the next term. I’m in that strange in-between-project writing period. I’m writing submissions for unpublished manuscript programs, writing ugly first words of short stories and trying to reconnect with my writing mates. Trying not to lose confidence in the words. In a few weeks, I’ll be off to my twice-yearly writing retreat with my incredible writing pals (Kate Mildenhall, Emily Brewin, Katherine Collette, Kim Sigley, Nicky Heaney and Venita Munir) so be prepared for some writing retreat spam.  I’m trying to get a better work-life balance so that I am not working an extra hour or more every day by setting alarms to get me out of there, and paring back my goals for the library so that they are more realistic. I’m also hoping to work out how to juggle the multiple roles that I carry there. With my home life, I need to get better at being a little more shiny rather than absorbent so that I don’t take on everything that my family need, instead, allow them to see that they need to do these things themselves. The eternal quest.

I stand for tolerance

Yesterday, on a day when most of the world took in the terrible news about the massacre in New Zealand, a neighbour decided to leave an intolerant note on the windscreen of a car parked in front of our house.

As we finished our dinner we heard an elderly Egyptian woman calling to us from outside. She waved a piece of paper as she cried ‘Sorry’ over and again. We went outside and asked her what had happened. She explained that this note had been stuck to her windscreen and she was dreadfully sorry to have inconvenienced us.

We stopped her to explain that this was not our doing. This was not from us. That we would not do that.

She left the piece of paper with us and left, I hope, reassured that not everyone in our street thinks in the way that the letter represented.

I, however, have been left with a sadness that people around me are so small minded to be this angry and rude about a car space. That people can intimidate others in this way. That people can be so intolerant of others.

If we want tolerance, we need to practise this at home, in our streets and in our communities. Even if it means taking a breath and driving around the block for a car park. Even if it means being a little uncomfortable.

I stand for tolerance.

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An image of the note left on a stranger’s car. It reads: “You have parked in the middle of 2 spots. Just like parking is tight at your church, parking is tight in our street. Pls think of others when parking. If you can’t park your car in a single spot, pls get lessons.”

Circuit breakers

In front of you is an elephant, a mountain. It is enormous and there is no way you can see around it, or see how you can climb it, but you know that the only way forwards is over the top to get to the other side. The notion of working out how to get to the other side is overwhelming and saps you of all your energies. So instead of tackling this mountain, you crawl back into bed, you cover your head and pretend that this task is not there, that it will deal with itself. When you look back out, it is still there, waiting for you to start. The cycle goes on, and on until you make a decision about how to tackle the mountain.

Sometimes in life there are these moments where I am completely overwhelmed by the number of things that I need to do, and the people who rely on me to get these things done. When I was doing some solo hiking a couple of years ago, walking up those hot and dusty paths that seemed to go on forever became a metaphor on how I needed to approach these things: one step at a time. This is all well and good, and those words are etched in my brain. I have no problem fishing them back out when my list of to-dos is longer than any piece of paper could contain. However, translating this into actually getting on with it can a be another issue.

A few of weeks ago I had more things to do than I had time. Everything seemed to be pulling at me and it was paralysing me. But I couldn’t afford to be paralysed as people were relying on me (a manuscript needed its copy edit completed, lessons needed to be written, family needed support, words needed to written, words needed to be read, relationships needed to nurtured), so on one of these days when my body had melted into the couch and I just wanted to pull the plug on the phone and on people needing me, I realised that I still had some control of my situation. I just needed some circuit breakers. Past conversations with my psychologist sprang to mind about stopping the spiral down to a very unhealthy place, which is where I was heading. I need to find things to help stop me from any more negative thinking, and to help me see a way out of the depths.

I came up with a list on things that I could do that would pop a little more energy into all these moments – mood changers. I think of them as circuit breakers. They include things like a walk, putting some music on, changing clothes, having something to eat or drink, changing where I’m sitting (or standing), picking some flowers, putting some essential oils in the diffuser or breaking my tasks down to smaller chunks. This has been probably the most useful thing for me. I sit down once a week and make note of what I have achieved over the last week, what’s ahead for the next week, what ‘blockers’ are in my way, and how I will get around them. Then each evening I think about the next day and break the tasks into sizeable chunks trying to keep it realistic. Add a little self compassion in there as well to allow me to not get everything done, and I am in a better place mentally.

There is something wonderful about ticking some things off the list, and reminding myself that I am making my way over the mountain – even if it is slow.

And that’s a wrap

My 2017-2018 summer reading pile

This year is about to end and in some ways I feel like it has only just begun. So much has been packed into the year and time has slipped away. It’s really easy to only focus on the things that haven’t been completed and the things that went wrong, but I need to also remember all the things that went right.

Publishing highlights

This year I had some poetry and an essay published in Shaping the Fractured Self: poetry of chronic illness and pain. I bravely volunteered to read one of my poems at the launch at the DAX Centre in Melbourne. Up until the moment I read it out loud, I wondered how on earth I managed to have words of mine sit alongside such accomplished Australian poets. The feedback I received from the audience, and since from members of the public, was overwhelming. It has been absolutely heartwarming to hear people say that I was telling their story and that I had put their chronic pain into words. My own chronic pain (migraines and neck and shoulder pain) continue, but I refuse to let them take control of my life. Many of the other poems and essays within this anthology remind me that it is important to live life to the full, but to also know when to shut the door, and take some time for self-care. There is a wonderful review of this anthology by Kevin Brophy in The Conversation.