Current Status: Anticipation

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

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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.

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.

A Good Day.

It’s great to be able to say that today was a positive day.

Today was a good day.

I rested for most of the day. I made some promo graphics, played on social media, and I’ve been listening to an audiobook of the history of the Romanov dynasty, which is super interesting for my history-loving brain, so my body can relax and heal.

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I did manage a couple of non-taxing tasks around the place in my walking/standing times, which felt good.
It was a lovely spring day, so I opened doors and windows to let the fresh air though the house. I tidied a few small things away, and sorted out the mounting pile of papers on my desk and worked out what to do with them.
The junk is in the recycling, and I now have a “to do” pile for tomorrow and a “to file” pile for that currently far-off day when I can comfortably and safely bend down to use my filing drawer. Both piles of papers are small. This makes me happy.

I am also feeling positive and happy for more creative reasons.

I submitted a short story for an anthology after being recommended to the publisher by a fellow author. I hope they accept it, just because I would appreciate the encouragement of having them like it enough to include it.

I also submitted a poem that I was commissioned to write a couple of months ago. You may recall me writing in March about the bushfires that devastated our local area. One of the farmers who lost everything except his wife and children in the fires provided me with some photos and written reflections, and asked me to write a poem based on those to demonstrate the power of loss and grief experienced by farmers in the region.

My poem will be used to accompany a working report to the Government on the impact on farmers of the loss os property, livestock and livelihood as a result of the fires, so it was an absolute privilege to be asked to write such a piece. Of course, there is always a bit of tension in knowing it’s important and wanting it to be exactly right, but I am probably just as obsessive about every poem I write, so I am experienced at dealing with that. I really hope he likes it.

So, for now, it’s more waiting but I have plenty to keep me occupied. My “ideas and plans” writing notebook is still quite full. Be afraid!

Realigning My Priorities.

My recovery from spinal surgery demands that my priorities change.

There were so many things I had planned to be doing this week.

As a horror author, promoting my books leading up to Halloween was always going to be a major focus. I had a major promotion and giveaway planned. I had a well crafted social media campaign organised. October was going to be my time.

As a teacher, my classes are continuing even though I am not there. Lessons need to be developed and delivered, and my students have exams coming up.

There are things I need to read and other things I need to write.

None of that is happening.

I am now home from hospital. I am moving and thinking very slowly, and trying to heal after spinal surgery. The local anaesthetic that was embedded in the site of my surgery and in the incision has worn off and I am feeling the reality of what my body has been through. My Fibromyalgia has also joined the pain train today, so while I am trying to wean myself off the fancy pain killers, the motivation to do so is less today than it was yesterday. My eyes don’t want to focus any more than my brain does.

I know this will not last. And I know I must be kind to myself while it does.
The writing, the work and the social media hamster wheel will all be there when things improve.

Yet I can’t help feeling frustrated by my slowness or inability to focus on anything. I am not accustomed to inactivity and my mindset is certainly not one that surrenders to pain. Yet that is exactly where I find myself.

The challenge for me is to accept where I am and be willing to rest instead of letting my frustration push me and ending up with sub-standard results.

The priority for today and the immediate future has to be self-care and self-preservation. My spine demands it. Everything else will just have to wait.

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Post-Surgery Post

My life took a very painful turn this week – but I survived!

Well, what a week this has turned out to be.

After writing last week about the terrible infection I picked up while at the ER with my dad, I finally made it back to work on Tuesday.

It was during the lesson before lunch that things came unstuck again.

I had been struggling all morning with weakness and feeling as though i hadn’t really been ready to return to work. Toward the end of the lesson I emailed my boss no told her how terrible I was feeling, and we decided together that I should stay home on Wednesday and try to get stronger. Then, in one seemingly innocent moment of acting so as to not infect my students with any evil germs I might still be carrying, I turned away from them to cough.

That cough was violent, and I was gasping for air and hacking up a lung and the same time.

That was when I felt my back go.

I remember thinking “that’s not good” as the fireworks went off in my lower back. I have had a similar thing happen previously and it has always sorted itself after that initial flash of pain.

Not this time.

It was all I could do to maintain my composure. I couldn’t sit. I couldn’t stand properly. The pain was immense. And for some reason, I kept thinking it would be okay on a few moments.

“Walking will help,” I said to myself as I dismissed the students and headed for my car.
It didn’t.
“It will settle as I relax,” I told myself as I started the car.
It didn’t.

By the time I was halfway home, I was in agony and had no choice but to keep going.
“Maybe I need to stretch it,” I thought. So I stopped each time the pain got too bad, stretched and walked a little, and kept going.

When I got home, I gave thanks that the trip was over and went to lie down for a while, reminding myself that quietness and rest had always brought relief in the past.

I don’t know whether I slept or if I passed out while lying there, but it was 5pm when my best friend woke me. I knew I was in trouble: I could t feel my right foot at all, but I could definitely feel the lightning-hot pain that extended from my pelvis to my right ankle.

My bestie took me to the ER, where the medical staff showed amazing patience and sympathy while I spent the next six hours screaming and moaning incoherently.

By midnight, I had been given the maximum dose of every pain-killer I could have, and I was still screaming, so they added Valium to the mix to try to relax my muscles.

“Why didn’t you go to the emergency room in Warrnambool right after work?” the doctor asked me. I had no answer, except that I really did think it was a spasm and it would settle down. I believe now that the pain had already been messing with my grip on reality by the time I got out of the classroom, and I know how incredibly lucky I was to have made it home without killing or injuring myself or anyone else.

I had never experienced anything like this level of pain before. That’s a big statement for someone who has at different times endured bulging lower lumbar disjcs, a torn Achilles’ tendon, and the physical process of more than one miscarriage.

This was a stabbing pain in my back accompanied by what felt like the worst cramp imaginable stretching from my butt to my right heel, only set on fire at the same time.

Medical staff at Camperdown sent me to Warrnambool via ambulance for an MRI. By morning, the doctors had organised to transfer me to one of the “clever hospitals” in Melbourne where one of the “clever doctors” wanted to operate as soon as possible.

Holy Toledo. They were using words like “significant impairment” and “danger of permanent disability” as they talked.

As it turned out, my L5/S1 disc had not simply bulged a little more than before. That sucker had ruptured and became an “ex-disc”. A piece of disc debris was pressing on my nerve, and both of them were sandwiched firmly between two vertebrae that were locked in far too intimate an embrace.

By Thursday afternoon I was being transferred to a city hospital, scheduled for surgery by one of the top “clever doctors”, and on my way to Melbourne with my best friend as my carer/escort/chaperone/cheer squad.

I can’t really explain how I was feeling. I was terrified, but my brain was so jangled by pain and sleep deprivation that I couldn’t really feel the full impact of my fear. Whatever my fears, I didn’t have much of a choice. So, I just tried to focus on the blessings of being transferred and seen so quickly without wondering what danger I was in that had precipitated such haste.

Another sleepless night followed. The pain was such that I hadn’t slept the previous two nights, either. I cried a fair bit instead, which I think is fair enough, really.

Today I met the surgeon, the anaesthetist, had an ECG and bloods taken ahead of being wheeled down to the theatre for my surgery.

When I came out of the anaesthetic, I was, by all acccounts completely hilarious. The nurses told me a few of the things I said, but these were voted the favourites of the Recovery Room nurses::

Nurse: “You were asleep for a very long time!”
Me: *with only one eye open* “Yeah, I was polishing my tiara.”

Me: “Oh, that feels nice.”
Nurse: “Whar does?”
Me: “My legs.”
Nurse: “Oh, the massagers.”
Me: “They are caressing my calves like the sensuous fingers of an adoring lover.”
Nurse: “Wow!”
Me: “I write poetry.”
Another nurse: “Can you say it again? I want to write that down.”
Me: “Nope. It’s copyrighted.”

The best part of the whole thing, though, is that the pain in my right leg is gone. The incision in my back has anaesthetic in it, so I can’t feel it yet unless I move.

My surgeon came to see me tonight after my surgery, and I cried as I thanked him. What an amazing person to take enough of an interest in someone from hundreds of miles away and make such healing and restoration happen overnight.

So after a highly traumatic couple of weeks, I can lie here in my hospital bed, looking out the window at the city lights as the fancy machine continues to pleasure my lower legs, and give thanks for my blessings.

I am thankful that my agony has ended.
I am so thankful for both the talents and the kindness of my surgeon.
I am thankful for my best friend and my husband, both of whom dropped everything and everyone else to take care of me.
I am thankful for those close to me who have consistently encouraged and cheered me, especially when I was feeling very low.
I am thankful for every message of love, aencouragement, support, care, concern and prayers from friends in the hundreds of texts, Facebook messages, voice mails and emails.

I am thankful for so, so much else, too. How blessed I am to have such amazing people in my life.

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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Joey'sMapleLeafTatt

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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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One Door I Won’t Slam Shut.

A reflection on the experience of being completely, utterly rejected.

In the course of my life, I’ve had – as we all have – friendships and relationships that have faltered, grown distant and faded away.

A couple of times, I have had someone say to me that they never want to talk to me again. Once, and only once, it has been my decision to completely shut off contact. On those three occasions, I have had no difficulty slamming that door and leaving it that way. Nobody does a door slam like an INFJ, after all.

Last night, I read the equivalent of those words again. “Nice knowing you. I won’t ever talk to you again.”

It’s different this time. Even if I wanted to, I don’t think I could slam that door.

What I really want to do is reach through that door, grab her and pull her back through it. I want to hug her, and see for myself that she’s okay, and tell her I love her. And I can’t do any of those things.

I’m locked in by her decision. She’s 16 and has asserted her independence and her right to do whatever she wants. Check mate.

As with many of the decisions she has made lately, I have no choice but to wait and see what happens. I do hope that she will come to understand exactly what it is she has asked for – sooner rather than later – and decide that it’s not what she wants at all. In all honesty, I don’t know if that’s realistic or not.

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I am not her mother, but as her “other mother”, I have lived with her and loved her as my own since she was nine years old. Any influence I may have had over her or her decisions in the past is well and truly a thing of the past. She is quite obviously able and free to decide who she wants to have in her life. What she doesn’t realise is that my care and concern for her do not shut off simply because she wills it, as though it were some kind of emotional tap. She doesn’t get to decide that the time we spent together means nothing. And she cannot stop me, or the rest of her family, from loving her, missing her, or worrying about her.

Rejection is never an easy thing to experience. It really, really hurts. Even so, I know that my hurt is nothing like what her mother is experiencing— it’s a mere fraction of that.

Today has been an emotionally messy day in a succession of similarly messy and fraught weeks. I know we will get through this somehow. I have to keep telling myself that.

Like everything else life has thrown at me, I will face this head on. Maybe I can’t change anything, but I will not let this drag me down and defeat me.

Expect more poetry, though. It’s the only therapy I can afford.