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Catching The Train.

Today, I caught a train to Melbourne. Perhaps I should have thought about that a little more.

Today I caught a train into Melbourne for an appointment tomorrow. 

That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but.. ouch. 

I didn’t even think about only being seven weeks post-surgery when I got on the train.  I probably should have done, though. 

Here’s the thing. A country rail journey here is bumpier than a car trip and the jostling is constant. You can’t adjust the seat or change your position, so it is what it is. 

The great thing was that my travelling companions were a. people I know well, b. very helpful and c. not actually able to walk much faster than me, so apart from the jiggling it was quite a good trip. 

By the time we arrived at Southern Cross Station in Melbourne, my back was feeling very tender indeed. It was great to get off the train and walk for a bit, which helps to relieve the inflammation and get the circulation going again. 

I also really like this railway station. Melbourne has two iconic stations: Flinders Street Station is old and beautiful, while Southern Cross is funky and cool with its sleek designs and wavy roof. I find it hard not to look up at that roof and think, “That’s SO cool!” 

From the station, it was only a short cab ride to the hotel. Now that I am lying down in my hotel room and have had some ibuprofen, I feel quite okay, so no harm done. 

Cover Reveal: Smoke and Shadows

Smoke and Shadows releases on January 6 in paperback and ebook.

One of the most relatable scenes in Gilbert & Sullivan’s musical H.M.S Pinafore, which I had the pleasure of directing in September, is where Buttercup sings these lines to Captain Corcoran:

“Things are seldom what they seem,
Skim milk masquerades as cream;
Highlows pass as patent leathers;
Jackdaws strut in peacock’s feathers.” 

The Captain appears puzzled, as though thinking about this for the first time, before replying, 

“Very true, So they do!” 

It’s a common thing.  As we go through life, we discover that people and things are frequently not what they seem to be, and what we understand to be the truth of our own experience often turns out to be something quite different instead. Life is as full of illusions as it is of genuine experiences.

False friends abound while finding a true and loyal one is like discovering gold. Trials hurt, but then deliver unexpected strength and blessings. People put up smokescreens to hide their true intentions or feelings; and only sometimes do we ever discover why. The world seems hateful until someone delivers light and love in a surprising way.

The poems in this new collection explore some of the illusions and deceptions people experience in their lives, the clarity and wisdom gained from hindsight, and the lessons we can learn from them.

Both the title of the book and its blurb come from the poem titled ‘The Simulacrum’. I considered using the title of the poem as the book title because it’s such a fascinating word which does, in fact, mean ‘a representation or image of something’. I wanted to go beyond that, though, because the book is really about the multitude of ways that something or someone might not be exactly what we think, or what we are led to believe, rather than focusing on a physical representation. 

“Smoke and shadows yield to glimpses of light—
Only then we begin to see:
When we learn to perceive things as they are,
We can have peace with whatever will be.”

So, without further ado, here is the cover of this new book, which will release on January 6th.  It is available for preorder in all major outlets  via this link

The cover of Smoke and Shadows has an image of smoke in shades of blue, gold, red and white on a black background. The title is printed in gold.

Six Weeks Post-Op Post.

Current Status: My neurosurgeon is happy, and so am I.

Today I saw my neurosurgeon for my six week post-surgery check up.

The short story is that he is extremely pleased with how I have healed and the way in which I have managed my recovery.

He showed me the MRI scan that prompted him to have me sent to Melbourne for surgery. Holy Toledo, I had no idea a disc would make such a mess when it ruptured. There is a very good reason they used the word “debris” to describe it.

He said the pain I still have is normal for the healing I still need to do, especially given that I am also dealing with fibromyalgia which can add to the inflammation of absolutely anything in the body at a moment’s notice. I still have to rest and pace myself, but any pain from the surgery should be gone within three months, which is good to know.

There are, however, some things he has advised me not to do, in the interests of maintaining my other lower lumbar discs as they are a little degraded. No gardening/digging, no vacuuming or cleaning the loo, minimal bending to the floor and no heavy lifting. If something causes discomfort, it is to be avoided so that I preserve the other discs.

All in all, the outcomes are very positive because a. I can walk, work, drive, and be independent, and b. I don’t actually like doing any of the things the surgeon told me not to do.

So, this is most likely going to be my last “update” on my adventures with Explodo-Disc. It’s nice to be able to say that it should be all onward and upward from now on. I’m looking forward to that.

The Problem of Not Overdoing It.

“Don’t overdo it!” everyone says.
Sure. No problem.

One of the things practically everyone has said to me since I came home from surgery is “Don’t overdo it!”

I fully understand their concern. My back is still healing, I can’t sit upright for any length of time without pain, and it would be easy to screw up the progress I’ve made so far. 

I, on the other hand, have been determined to see what I can do, given that I’m quite aware of what I can’t do. It’s also fair to say that I’m feeling the deadlines marching upon me like automatons trained to take me hostage until I meet my obligations for the end of the year. 

Last week, I managed three days at school before I had to admit that I needed to rest. I stayed home on Friday and spent it recovering from three days in a row of doing more than I had done in weeks. 

This week, all our students’ exams and assignments are supposed to be marked and their end-of-year reports written by Friday.

Sure. No problem. 
That’s totally achievable.   *sigh*

I can honestly say I’m trying. Today I’ve graded essays and assignments, and written my evaluations of those tasks for the reports. I’ve had to do that lying in my recliner with my laptop propped up on my knees, because sitting for that long isn’t an option. My eyes are starting to blur, and my brain is mush. I can’t remember how I ever did this stuff on a daily basis without going mental. 

But hey! At least I’m writing… something. 

Today I talked with my GP about my progress, how I am healing, and what I can reasonably expect. She reminded me I had to be patient, to be kind to myself and not expect too much because my body has had significant trauma and I’m still healing. That’s actually where my body and brain are going to be expending most of my energy for some time yet. 

I know she’s right.

My frustration is that it’s really hard to balance being kind to myself in that way with being professional and doing my absolute best for my students and my school. I don’t know how to make both things happen at the same time. 

I know tomorrow is another day, but it’s also a day closer to Friday and those deadlines that it brings. 
And you know, they matter. The whole school has to work on the same timeline so that everything is done well and on time. 

I don’t want to be the one to let everyone down, and I can honestly say that if it weren’t for the absolutely beautiful and generous heart of my colleague who has taken on doing all of that for my Year 11 class, I wouldn’t have any hope of getting everything on my “to do” list done.

In fact, everyone at school has been absolutely marvellous and supportive, and while I’m grateful, that actually makes it harder for me to ask for more time or more help. I don’t like asking for special treatment, and I hate the thought of it looking like I’m wimping out. I hate to admit it, but the work ethic in which I have taken pride for so long is actually not doing me any favours right now.   

I know. I know. 

So, tomorrow I will simply head back to work and do what I can in the day without overdoing anything, and trying to be kind to myself.

Easy.Right?

Sure. No problem. 

Current Status: Thumbs Up!

A riveting précis of my return to work.

Today I returned to work for the first time after my surgery.
As I left home this morning, I told my husband that I was mostly confident and a little bit afraid.

As it turned out, there was no need for fear and my day went pretty well.

I only had to stop once each way to take a walk and stretch as a break between driving.

I cleared/responded to 93 emails from my inbox that were not messages I could just delete.
I also sent a bunch of emails chasing students for work they hadn’t bothered to hand in while I was away. Some of them actually responded by submitting their work!

Very conscious of keeping my spine healthy by not sitting for too long, and still really only comfortable sitting for about fifteen minutes at a time, I completed all my email and admin tasks using my fancy standing desk, located right behind my regular desk. All I have to do is stand up and turn around.

I also stood while I taught my classes, as I often do anyway.

I know my students were happy to see me because they all asked me not to cough in class again, please. I shrugged and commented, “I have more discs” but they didn’t seem to think that was funny. It was, though, because the one kid with a sense of humour as subversive as mine laughed out loud.

With a strange sense of deja vu, I told the kid who always sniffles to blow his nose, and told the kid who chews with his mouth open to chew with his lips together. On both occasions, all I had to do was say their name. It was almost as though they knew!

I entertained Year 9 with puns. It was just like old times.

I sorted the exams, papers and assignments I have to grade into neat bundles. I plan to start on those tomorrow and hopefullly finish them by the end of the week. It was good to get things organised and leave my desk tidy again so I can make a good start in the morning.

By the time I got home, I was all worn out like a Norwegian Blue parrot after a long squawk, so I embraced my bed and had a lovely little nap for a couple of hours.

Ovetall, my first day back on the job gets a thumbs up.

Hopefully, tomorrow will be just as satisfying! 

On With The Show!

A very exciting announcement!

In yesterday’s post I wrote about my most recent post-surgery progress, and mentioned that I went to Camperdown in the afternoon. I was, however, rather secretive about my reason for being there. 

I do hope you found that to be cleverly tantalising, but just in case you found it highly annoying, let me explain. I had to keep a lid on the details until certain showbiz announcements had been made public by Camperdown Theatre Company. 

I auditioned for a part in next year’s musical: Monty Python’s Spamalot! 

This is one show I have always wanted to do, yet I thought I might never get to because it’s too risqué to ever be considered for performance at my school. 

Last night I received a call thanking me for my audition, and advising me that I have been given both an acting cameo as the Lady with the Shrubbery and a the role of the minstrel who sings the bawdy song about Sir Robin. I also get to sing the Monks Chant in a small ensemble.  If there is anything I love more than Pythonesque shrubbery, it’s Pythonesque bawdy songs. I cannot put into words how excited I am about these roles, and about the show in general. 

The other excellent fact is that these roles require only minimal choreography, which suits my newly disc-depleted spine perfectly. The directors have been marvellous in giving me roles that I can do without asking me to do things I can’t. 

The cast list is now on the CTC Facebook Page, and while it may not mean much to most people who see it, I can tell you these people are stellar performers and I am so proud to be rehearsing and performing alongside them. As with any show, being part of this cast will be lots of work but tons of fun. 

If you’re anywhere near Camperdown, Victoria, keep the first two weekends in May 2019 free so that you can come and see the show.

And as the show dates draw nearer, you can rest assured… I’ll spam you!  

Current Status: Bearing Up Quite Well!

Current Status: Onward and Upward!

It’s just over four weeks today since my spinal surgery, and I am really happy to be able to say that things are going very well.

My efforts toward moving better, walking further, regaining my strength and working toward a return to work before the end of the year have been yielding good results.

I am able to stand longer, sit longer, walk further and manage my pain better than I was even just a week ago. I have driven on my own, for ten minutes each way, and then twenty, to build up my ability to drive to Warrnambool for work.

On Friday night my husband drove me to Warrnambool – a 45 minute drive – so that I could attend to the graduation dinner for my senior high students who have now finished their formal school education. I didn’t last the whole night, but I did get to wish my past students well. I was really pleased to be able to do that because I wanted to show them that they mean a lot to me and that I am enormously proud of each one of them.

This was a huge achievement for me – it was my first “big outing” post-surgery, and I am proud of myself not just for getting there, but also for recognising my limits and leaving when I needed to. As soon as I was home i cracked out the really big pain meds, and went to bed.

On Saturday, I went back to Warrnambool with my cousin Angela, who just happens to be my partner in crime when it comes to Charlie Bear collecting. We both have a penchant for those particular bears, so an invitation to celebrate Charlie Bears birthday and witness the unveiling of the annual birthday bear was one we were both keen to accept.

I didn’t adopt the anniversary bear reserved for me: she is beautiful, but too pink for my taste. Anyone who knows me knows that the only time I like Pink is in my music collection, so that bear went home with Angela instead. I adopted a little black bear named Teddy and a little panda named Bobble instead. They will both be featured soon in my #abearandabook posts on Instagram.

I came home having coped really well with my second trip to Warrnambool in two days. It was a deliberate decision to do back-to back trips, because that’s what I am going to have to do when I return to work.

Today I drove to Camperdown again with a different purpose in mind. I will tell you more about that tomorrow when the details of my mission can be made public, but I can tell you that today’s significant achievement was walking down a set of steps – and back up again later – without pain. I can’t remember when that last happened, but it was at least a decade ago. 

I am very optimistic about returning to work on Tuesday.  I know I have to take it easy and not overdo things, but I am keen to do what I can to pick up the pieces of my life and see what I can do with them. We”ll see how it goes! 

87, Not Out.

Happy 87th Birthday to my Father.

My father was born on November 17, 1931.

Just for context, the world was still in the grip of the Great Depression, Hitler had not yet risen to power in Germany, Thomas Edison had just passed away, and Al Capone had just been sent to prison for tax evasion. Don Bradman was playing cricket for Australia and Phar Lap had won

My father grew up in Rotterdam in The Netherlands before moving to Australia with his parents and sisters. Life was certainly different after WWII, and even more different on the other side of the world where the seasons were back to front, everyone spoke English, and water swirled down the drain in the opposite direction.

If someone had told Dad in 1951 that those were not the biggest changes he would encounter in his life, he probably wouldn’t have believed them. There was, however, so much more to come, such as:

Marriage. Dad and Mum married in 1953 and enjoyed almost 58 years together.

December 19, 1953.

Four amazing and incredibly talented kids.

Yep, that’s me giving the photographer the stink eye. Cute, eh?

Colour TV.
Electric typewriters.
A change of career from industrial chemistry to bookstore owner.
Computers.
The CD.
Mobile phones.
The Internet.
Smart phones.
Digital books and music.
Studying online.

Dad has taken it all in his stride. He hasn’t let new things scare him off or make him feel obsolete. Time after time, he has shown his willingness and aptitude to give something new a red hot shot.

He hasn’t always found new technology easy, but once he’s got the hang of it, he’s proven that he can send a text or an email, make a call, and waste time on Facebook and Instagram as effectively as anyone can. He has been studying Biblical Hebrew online. He has the Kindle app on his iPad, on which he reads the books his daughter has written, which he has purchased online from Amazon. He also uses the iPad to listen to his son’s sermons and keep in touch with his relatives around the world. His grandchildren send him pictures of their kids via instant message, and he saves them on his phone to look at them again later.

I’m proud of my dad. Things aren’t always easy for him now, especially health-wise, but he’s still going and he’s still doing his best to enjoy all those things that make his life interesting and entertaining.

At the age of 87, he is not only the father of four but also grandfather of seven and great-grandfather to six.

He’s had a quiet day today, but he has been spoilt with a few special treats and received some phone calls from friends and family that he has really enjoyed. We’ve enjoyed some time together, too, and I treasure the moments where we can still just hang out and enjoy each other’s company.

I know it won’t last forever. Nothing does.
But my dad is still on the wicket with a score of 87, not out. Howzat?

Why a Minute of Silence Matters.

Why do we stop for a minute of silence on Remembrance Day?

Today marks the centenary of the signing of the Armistice that ended the fighting in World War I.

It was called “The Great War” not because it was necessarily good, but because the world had never before known war, death or destruction on that scale.

It was supposed to be the “war that ends all wars”. If only it had been.

Yet the 20th century saw another “world war” and a seemingly never-ending succession of national and international conflicts that have continued into the 21st. As though World War I was not brutal enough, humans have worked hard over the past hundred years to develop even more efficient ways of killing each other.

Despite all that fighting, I live in a country that is free, democratic, and prosperous. That privilege is mine, and indeed every Australian’s, to a very large degree because of those who have fought to defend and preserve our freedom.

This morning, I paused at 11am, even though I was home on my own and there was already no noise. It was the intent of that minute of silence that was different.

We do not stop because it’s a nice thing to do, or because it’s expected of us. It cannot be a mere token, for that would be meaningless.

We do not stop for a minute’s silence to glorify the wars. We do not stop to rejoice in our own nation’s or our allies’ victories. We do not stop to continue the hate, nor to protest. It’s noot about what “side” we were on.

We stop to be thankful for those who fought. We remember tha in addition to the millions of soldiers, there were also doctors and nurses and various other support personnel who served. Many gave their lives, others came home damaged in one way or another. Not a single one of them was unaffected by what they experienced at war.

We stop to remember, because we must never allow ourselves to forget.

It is only by remembering the horrors of the past that we have any hope of not repeating them.

To all who served: I thank you from the bottom of my free and privileged Australian heart.

What’s In My Head?

A memory that has become a family tradition.

I love a good family story or tradition, especially one that gets etched into the conversation patterns and banter for years to come. A moment of humour or a funny experience becomes part of who we are, both individually and collectively.

One of those stories half belongs to our great friend, Lindsay. He is a super nice person, and we’ve been friends for at least twenty years.

On one particular occasion maybe fifteen years ago, maybe more, he and I were outside doing some work on the farm that my husband and I were living on, and where Lindsay was a regular and most welcome visitor. I can’t remember what were talking about, but I remember this part of the conversation vividly.

We laughed. We told my husband the story. And it stuck. We still “do the routine” at least once a week. It honestly never gets old.

Monday was one of those days. After the lines were said and the laughter was had, I thought for a while, as I have often done before, about how clever a comeback it was.

I also thought about exactly what I am full of. It wasn’t much of a surprise to me when those thoughts began to turn into a poem. That’s what my thoughts do.

You can read the poem titled ‘Full’ at WordyNerdBird Writes.