My Near-Death Experience

When I say I have been deathly ill, I’m not exaggerating.

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After following the ambulance to Camperdown and then to Warrnambool, I spent last Thursday night at the ER with my dad. Over the course of the night, his pain lessened and his condition improved. At 4am, I was allowed to take him home. We both slept all day, and I didn’t go anywhere else.

By Saturday morning, I had a bad throat. As these things go, I figured it would be a croaky day or two, took some paracetamol, and tried not to think about it.

By the wee hours of Sunday morning I had no voice, a fever, cold sweats and a wracking cough. I was so dizzy that when I had to get out of bed, I had to hold onto the furniture to keep myself from falling over. I stayed in bed, made sure I drank plenty of water, and told my dad not to come near me.

By Monday, my lungs were rattling and squeaking. I could no longer lie flat, and sleep was out of the question. There were moments where I would have gladly accepted my fate if the Reaper had shown up.

I have been out of action ever since, and am still in quarantine. My doctors have me on two different antibiotics, cough syrup, Ventolin and pain meds. I haven’t felt so awful since I had Ross River Fever in 2011.

Today is the first day on which there has been any improvement. My cough is less frequent, although not less violent, and the rattle in my lungs sounds more like rice crispies than a chatty raccoon.

If I were you, I still wouldn’t come near me for a while yet.

It’s fair to say that I know why the person I got this disease from was at the hospital.

A Glimpse Into A Writer’s Mind.

Today’s instalment of ‘truth is stranger than fiction’.

When I was growing up, there was a girl with whom I was friends most of the time. Our parents were friends, too, which meant that we saw each other outside of school and church activities. She left school two years before I did, and I only saw her briefly a handful of times between then and when I left Sydney in 1989. We have some friends in common, but I haven’t ever pursued reconnecting in any way.

2016-02-11 21.54.33-1At 3.47am today, my brain woke me up to remind me that her birthday was March 2nd.

For Sale: Part Of My Soul

Why my writing matters.

Sometimes I wonder what people think when I say I write poetry.

Cute little greeting card verses? No.
Lofty, unintelligible, old-fashioned rhymes about flowers and oil paintings? No.
Trite rhymes that talk about love and sunshine? No.

I have to admit, I’m very tired of the “That’s nice, dear!” kind of responses.

I’m also more than weary of the sensation that I have to just about stand under a red light on a dimly lit street to get people to take my poetry seriously.

I’m not talking about my readers here. I’m talking about people I interact with in my daily life, be they co-workers, acquaintances, family members or friends. Other than a very small number of individuals within those circles – for whose support I am ever grateful – it feels like most people in my life prefer to pretend I’ve never written a word.

I know they’re not my main audience. I don’t expect them all to love everything I write. In all honesty, most of them have never even picked any of my work up to read it.

The question remains, though: Why aren’t they more willing to support me? Do I mean so little them that what matters to me is of no value, either?

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I have commented on numerous occasions that there is a part of my soul in every poem. My poems speak my pain, my love, my joy, my life lessons, my resolutions, my fears, my anger, my insomnia, my restlessness and my contentment. Some of them are the very essence of my desperation to survive and my will to live. Some of them could only be more “life and death” if they were actually written in my blood.

Do people not understand the bravery that it takes for an author to put their words on paper and unveil them in front of the whole world? That kind of vulnerability is, quite honestly, terrifying.

I experience this far more profoundly with my poetry than I do with my fiction. It’s far more personal, and it’s definitely more revealing of what’s in my own heart and mind than any of the stories I write. That’s why I am so committed to crafting each poem to say exactly what I want it to, in a way that is beautiful to read, and with careful attention to the music and structure of each poem. If I’m putting my soul out there for other people to read, it’s going to be the best that I can make it.

My readers tell me that my poems encourage and move them. The ultimate satisfaction as a poet is knowing that my words matter to the people who read them. They get it. And thank God they do, or else I’d be feeling more dejected than ever.

The other weirdly encouraging thing is that this isn’t something that only I experience. These are thoughts and feelings that are remarkably common among the writing community, and I have come to learn that they are common to all creative people, whatever medium they work in.

It’s why I am so thankful for my community of fellow authors and poets and other creative people who encourage and celebrate one another’s creativity and the courage that goes with it.

It’s why I am doubly grateful for my “additional family” that are known as the Indie Fabs – they’re my posse, my constant encouragers, and my soft place to fall when things are hard.

It’s why I am doubly grateful for those few family members and friends who support everything I do, read everything I create, and cheer me on relentlessly.

It’s not overstating things to say that I am still here because of my writing, and I am still writing because of them.

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A One-Off Inscription.

There is more truth than most people realise in the jokes about authors killing people off in their books.

Yesterday I signed a paperback copy of my latest book for my best friend. I have written something personal and unique to her and our friendship in her copy of every one of my books.

Yesterday’s effort was by far my favourite.

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You should understand that this is not a promise I’m willing to make to just anyone. Anyone who has read ‘A Poet’s Curse’, for example, will have worked that out very quickly.

Jokes are frequently made about authors putting people in a book and killing them, but most don’t realise just how satisfying and therapeutic that can be.

Oh, we change the name and some minor details, but the important thing is that we know who we’re finishing off, even if the rest of the world doesn’t. And you know, it is important to conceal the true identities of our victims because, in the end, nobody wants it to backfire or get ugly.

I have, in fact, had a number of people ask me if a particular poem or story was about them. Rather than confirming or denying anything, I’ve gone the “self-examination” route. Each of them received the same answer: “If you think that’s a possibility, I suggest you to take a long, hard look at yourself and how you treat people. It might be time to do some repairs.

As an author, I can have my macabre little cake and eat it, too. And as an extra reward for good behaviour, I get to keep my best friend. Bonus!

Square Peg, Round Hole.

A response to intolerance.

I’ve never understood why people feel the need to pressure someone to conform. Why are they so intimidated by someone daring to think for themselves, pursue their own dreams and make choices according to their own preferences?

And what I really don’t get is how they can say they love someone and yet reject particular qualities that makes that person who they are.

These are the thoughts that have contributed to a poem I finished recently.

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The imagery is macabre and horrifying. The message is dark. None of that will surprise anyone who knows my writing.

I won’t discuss the details of the situations that led to it being written. Suffice to say that there are people in various “circles” in which I live and move who have, at one time or another, exerted significant pressure on me to be less individual and more compliant with the way they like or want things to be.

I have some bad news for them.

I will not submit to their peer pressure. As adults, they should know better.
I will not moderate my politics, my social conscience, or my rampant individuality for them.
I will not be submissive or silent in response to their bad behaviour, intolerance and hypocrisy.

If they don’t like it, they can go and boil their heads.

Of course, that’s all excellent news for me. In the immortal words of the Monty Python team, “I’m not dead yet!”

 

 

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Ahoy!

HMS Pinafore is about to sail, and she is indeed “a saucy beauty”

“We sail the ocean blue,
And our saucy ship’s a beauty;
We’re sober men and true,
And attentive to our duty…”

It is aboard that trusty, much-loved vessel that I am about to embark on one of the busiest weeks of my school year. Its the week in which the the last fifteen months’ worth of planning, preparing, auditioning, casting, decision-making, organising myriad details, and the rehearsals of the past three months come together and appear on stage as the annual school musical.

This year we’re doing Gilbert & Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore. We have a cast of about 45 students who range from 12 to 18 years old. Others of our students have been trained in sound and lighting, backstage management, while still others have helped to create and prepare the set.

It’s a wonderful show that tells a ridiculous story beautifully. I enjoy the moments of pathos, but also the delightful comic moments in which my actors really shine.

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The soloists are amazing, the chorus sounds fantastic, the dance moves are fabulous and the costumes are beautiful. The orchestra’s performance alone is worth more than the price of the ticket. When all of those amazing ingredients come together, the outcome is incredible.

I know this week will be exhausting, but it will also be exhilarating.

I’ll be back to my usual blogging and social media self after the week is done and I’ve had a good sleep. Until then, say a prayer for me. Or… just send coffee.

Sledgehammer.

A short reflection on the significance of my newest poem.

I finished a new poem today. It’s only short, but it has great significance.

The idea for this poem came to me in a moment of reflection while I was thinking back to how broken I was just a year ago. Back then, I would not have been able to write this poem: it would not have been true.

In fact, it’s only since I did some “housekeeping” via the publication of ‘A Poet’s Curse’ at the end of August that I’ve actually begun to feel free of some of those things that were holding me down and tormenting me. I wrote in a post back then that it was a cleansing experience, but I had no idea just how liberating it would turn out to be.

I also wrote in my previous post that writing is, for me, really effective therapy. I’ve used it to resist and fight my own personal demons. I’ve used it to grieve, and to rejoice. And I’ve used it to say any number of things that it might not be appropriate to communicate in any other way.

‘Sledgehammer’ is not even defiance. For me, it’s like a milestone that shows me how far I’ve come.

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My walls may not be perfect— they have, after all, been damaged and repaired. I am, without a doubt, both stronger and harder than I was before. That’s not to say I am insensitive or uncaring: I’m not talking about being hard of heart. I’m referring to the kind of hardness that can not only resist the assault of a sledgehammer, but also remain completely indifferent to and unmoved by it.

As far as I’m concerned, that sledgehammer does not exist.

 

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Five Reasons Why I Write.

An author shares five reasons why she writes.

This challenge for writers is circulating on Instagram.  Because it is a very positive thing,  I decided to share mine here, too.

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Five Reasons Why I Write:

1. Compulsion: the words flow and I can’t stop them.

2. Satisfaction: there is immense joy in creating and crafting something meaningful.

3. Encouragement: I write about things that everyone experiences- grief, anger, pain, happiness, challenges, victories — in a way that shows others they are not alone.

4. Self-preservation: delivering justice fictionally carries fewer penalties than actually hurting people.

5. Sanity: It’s the most effective therapy I have ever had.

Bonus Reason: 6. It’s the only way I can explain my browser history.

I’d love to see you follow me and join in this fun challenge on Instagram.

You’re more than welcome to tag me in your post so I am sure to see it.

Also, I hope you feel free to comment and share the reasons why you write.

The Story of My Life.

If a book were to be written of your life, what would the title be?

This question was asked recently in one of the authors’ groups I belong to on Facebook:

Slip Wrong Error Oops Accidental Slip Mistake

The answer came to me in a blinding flash of little-appreciated genius.

Slip Wrong Error Oops Accidental Slip Mistake

Alternate title: Crap That Wasn’t Meant To Happen.

Precis: A woman goes through life generally trying to do the right thing, but situations and people keep backfiring on her. This is further complicated by her own big mouth and her failure to learn the basics of human nature.

Tone: Initially comical, tending toward darkness and cynicism as the story progresses.

Chapter titles:

  1. How Not To Fit In… Ever
  2. How To Lose A Friend, Simply By Being Yourself
  3. Dairy Farming: The Idyllic Life
  4. How To Injure Both Hands At The Same Time
  5. How To Lose A Friend By Standing Up For What You Believe In
  6. Be A Teacher: They Only Work From 8.30 to 4, And Get All Those Holidays!
  7. The Sneaky Ways Awful People Conceal What They Really Are
  8. Apparently, I’m A Slow Learner
  9. How To Get A Tropical Disease 2500km South Of The Tropics
  10. Fibromyalgia: The Gift That Keeps On Giving
  11. No, They Will Never Understand That ‘Introvert’ and ‘Shy’ Are Different Things
  12. A Published Author: How Nice! You Must Be Rich.
  13. Oh, You’re An Author? I Don’t Read.
  14. Needles In The Haystack: There Are Actually Nice People Out There
  15. ‘One In A Million’: A Ridiculously Optimistic Ratio
  16. How To Get A Knife Out Of Your Back
  17. Why You Should Never Give That Knife To Someone Else
  18. When Adding Extended Family On Social Media Backfires
  19. Old Friends Can Turn On You, Too!
  20. Why They Can Post Whatever They Want To On Facebook, But You Can’t
  21. Why Doing Something Nice For Someone Is Often A Really Bad Idea
  22. The Block Function: How To Slam That Door Well And Truly Shut
  23. How To Offend Your Family And Friends By Succeeding
  24. Why You Should Never Assume That People Are As Sincere As You Are
  25. Vulnerability Explained: Discovering You Are An Empath
  26. The Achilles Tendon: ‘Heel’ and ‘Heal’ Are Not The Same Thing
  27. Still Hobbling? There Goes Your Other Ankle.

I know. It will never sell.

Marketing that kind of stuff is exhausting – I should know.  It is, after all, the story of my life.

The Trouble With Names.

A teacher confesses her most regular, and possibly most embarrassing, classroom faux pas.

Your Teacher Apologises

The classroom is busy in a studious kind of way. Students are working on the task I have assigned them, and I am making my way around the room, checking in with each student to see if they need any help or clarification. The tone of the room is positive and the level of noise is low.

I know these kids well enough to know some of their hobbies and interests, which ones love reading, which ones are sporty, and which ones are the introverts who would rather work alone than in a group situation. Suffice to say, I know their names.

As I move toward the first girl in the next row, I quietly whisper to myself, “Don’t call her Susie. Don’t call her Susie. It’s Sharon, not Susie.” In the very next nanosecond, I open my mouth and say, “Hi Susie! How are you going with this assignment?”

Everyone in the room has heard me do it – again. A collective sigh, non-verbal but heavily laced with the essence of “Not again!” can be heard. One kid shakes his head at me in an awkward blend of amusement and newly-refreshed disappointment. It’s fair to say that this has probably happened to him before.

Sharon looks at me with an expression that shows she is torn between saying “I’m Sharon!” and rolling her eyes, pretending I didn’t say it, and answering my question.

“I’m so sorry!” I say. “I know you’re Sharon. I don’t know why that happens. It’s certainly not deliberate. It’s just… my brain. It hates me.”

Sharon nods. Unfortunately, she’s heard this enough times to know it’s true. I give her a pathetic, apologetic smile in response, and go back to talking about the assignment.

How can I remember the details of the Industrial Revolution or talk ad nauseum about the literary qualities of Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, and still get some poor kid’s name wrong at least once a day?

It isn’t even always the same student. Occasionally, my brain/mouth coordination goes rogue, and I’ll call Kate ‘Lily’ or ‘Rose’, just to keep things interesting. Just once. Just to make things interesting, I’m sure.

This is one of the things that keeps me humble as a teacher. In my job, I’m required to talk to people and use their names in the classroom. And that very basic thing is something that, from time to time but far too often for comfort, I struggle to do.

The ironic thing is that I’m actually really good at remembering faces and names, where I met someone and conversations I’ve had with them. I have to remind myself that not everyone does that when I’m tempted to take it personally that someone hasn’t remembered my name, or having met me before.

I just don’t understand how the wrong name can come out of my mouth so often in every day situations.

The only thing I can put it down to is the brain fog I have carried since I contracted a delightful tropical disease called Ross River Fever in 2011, and which is also typical of fibromyalgia, which I have been left with as the legacy of the RRF. I know the fog is particularly meddlesome when I’m tired or my pain levels are high, but even at times when I am doing okay and enjoying otherwise greater clarity, some autonomous impulse to self-destruct in front of others fires off and I find myself apologising for calling Tom either ‘Dick’ or ‘Harry’.

I think I’m going to have to just start telling my classes at the beginning of each year or semester that it’s likely to happen, it’s not intentional, and I apologise in advance. It’s either that, or resort to calling everyone “Hey You” or just never using their names, neither of which is a terribly professional option, either.