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.

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.”