‘Smoke and Shadows’: #1 New Release in Women’s Poetry!

‘Smoke and Shadows’ has taken the flag for ‘#1 New Release’ on Amazon’s US store.

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I will readily confess to being a little overwhelmed right now. 

‘Smoke and Shadows’ has a little orange flag beside the title on Amazon US, declaring that it is the #1 New Release in Women’s Poetry. While I know it won’t last terribly long, I have to keep reminding myself that it’s a. real and b. not a cruel joke. 

It was a strange mix of surprise, pride, excitement and humility that hit me when I signed into my browser after a few days away from home and that popped up.

It also comes up when anyone clicks on ‘Hot New Releases’ and scrolls through the various genres. That’s a pretty neat trick!

I know that I have worked hard to ensure it’s a great collection, and I am incredibly proud of these poems, but I know that it couldn’t have happened without readers being willing to give my work a try, nor without the support and encouragement of those who help with tricky things like marketing and promotion.  I couldn’t have done any of it without those key individuals in my life who remind me regularly that I can do this, that my work is good, and that there is no reason why I should not deserve success. 

To each of those people: thank you for helping me achieve this honour, as fleeting as it may be. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for your contribution to my achievements so far.

Of course, it all depends on how one defines success.  Some people might consider dollars in the bank as a sign that they’ve made it.  Some might look at whether or not they can quit their day job and just write. Some might want to achieve “celebrity” status.  Others focus on book sales, page reads, and their ongoing rankings in various lists and stores.

I won’t deny that any or all of those things would be nice, and I absolutely do hope that people will buy, read and hopefully enjoy my books, but for me, the ultimate success as a poet is when someone tells me that my poetry is relatable, that it moved them or made them cry, or that it helped them to put a painful experience behind them.  One of my favourite comments about my book Leaf came from a young woman who told me, “I read your poems, and I knew I wasn’t alone in this world. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to know someone else understands what I think and feel.”  That has never left me, and never fails to spur me on.  The fact that people connect and relate to my work in that powerfully emotional way is how I measure my success as a poet. 

So, I don’t need that little orange flag to show that I’m successful. Nevertheless, I’m very happy to have it, and I’m going to take pride in it.  And I might brag about it just a little… because I know it won’t last long. And in all honesty… I’m going to tell everyone I know, just because I can. 

Current Status: Anticipation

There is a very particular thrill in waiting for a new book to hit the shelves.

There is something extraordinary about seeing a book you have written hit the shelves on release day.

Months of work. Writing. Refining. Painstaking editing. Preparing a marketing plan and creating ads.

And then the day comes, and you wait for the clock to tick over. Because time is a contrary beast, it drags its heels and makes you wait.

The waiting, though, is as exciting as it is tiresome. It really is a lot like waiting for Christmas or a birthday,

There is another layer of joy in this anticipation for me. After several really challenging years, it feels as though 2019 is starting in a very positive way that closes the door on those painful chapters.

That’s because while there are still poems in this collection that explore the darkness and the shadows that can plague us, there is a greater focus on looking at experiences and challenges with the clarity of hindsight that enables us to see through the deceptions and illusions to which we so often fall prey.

I see in many of these poems a fulfilment of the desperation expressed in some of my darker work. There is, quite frankly, more light and more hope .

It is that positivity and hope that I intend to carry into the new year.

So that’s where I am at this point in time.

New year. New book. New beginnings.
Bring it on!

The View From The Top Of The Mountain

Why it’s been two weeks since I last wrote a blog post.

Wait.
What?
It’s the end of December already?

What a busy month it’s been.  The last time I wrote on this blog, I bragged about turning my alarms off and being able to relax because school was done for the year. HA! Add that to the list of things I shouldn’t say if I don’t want to tempt the fates. 

In the few days between school finishing and Christmas, my father had a slew of medical appointments. Christmas shopping had to be done. End of year breakup parties had to be attended. Some decoration of the house, at least, had to be done. Then the presents had to be wrapped. And all the time, people kept telling me to take it easy, to not worry about things, and to not feel I had to do all the usual Christmas things.

I did have to, though. My husband’s family were all coming for Christmas, and mine were arriving shortly after, so I needed to make some effort. I’m glad I did, too – we had thirty people sharing Christmas lunch in our home. Everyone brought part of the feast with them, so my contribution was minimal – I made a chocolate honeycomb cheesecake, a trifle, and the maple glaze for the ham, all of which were done the day before. 

My husband and I had agreed well before the day that it would be better to leave the running of the day to him and his sisters, so that I could preserve both my back and my energy.  There is, after all, no point in undoing weeks of healing for in the course of one busy day. 

My Christmas Day was, therefore, quite relaxed. I was able to relax in my recliner and cuddle my adorable great-nephew, drink whatever lovely cordial was in the glasses that people handed to me, and enjoy a wonderful day of fun, laughter, conversation and sharing with my family. In the late afternoon, we went to visit our best friends and exchanged gifts before sharing dinner with them.  That time, too, was precious and relaxing and lovely.

Boxing Day for us is always a day spent with extended family and friends, so we gathered at my sister-in-law’s home for a barbecue with another group of thirty or so people – some were double-ups from the previous day, some were not – on a blazing hot 40 degrees Celsius Australian summer’s day. Thank God for shade, fans, and lots of cool drinks!

Tomorrow, my sister and her family arrive from interstate for a second Christmas, and to spend some valuable time with my father. And that means it’s going to be busy again! 

For that reason, I was determined that today would be blissfully quiet. It was stinking hot again: 41C in the coolest part of mainland Australia – so I stayed indoors and enjoyed the air conditioning. Thankfully, I managed to catch up on some social media and prepare the rest of Book Squirrel’s Golden Squirrel Indie Book Awards for the 31st, which I really needed to get done so that everything is properly prepared and ready to roll. 

So, I really shouldn’t have made flippant remarks about being able to relax. It’s true I’ve been able to sleep in a bit, and I haven’t had to put real shoes on more than once, which is always nice.

In all honesty, though, getting to the end of this year feels like I’ve climbed a mountain to find that I’m standing on top and looking out to the western horizon as the sun sets.

I’m thankful to have survived the journey thus far, and I can see how far I have come.  One thing is for sure, though – I won’t complain if 2019 is kinder than its predecessor.

Current Status: Alarms Have Been Turned Off

I feel like one of those athletes who stagger over the finish line and collapse… but I made it!

Today was the last day of term and the end of the school year.

The last two weeks since I returned to work after my surgery have been brutal and I feel like I have run a marathon, especially having had dad in hospital again at the same time, but I’m proud of myself for doing it, and looking forward to a very well-earned rest.

One of the things I really enjoy doing on this one particular day of the year is turning all my morning alarms off. It may take all of ten seconds, but it’s a ritual that restores my sense of “owning” my time again. I love being able to embrace my inner night owl once more, and take my daylight hours at a slower pace.

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. 

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!