Smoke In Our Eyes.

Two years ago, it was my town threatened by bushfires. It was my community losing homes, livestock, and family farms. Now, it feels as though half the country is burning, or has already burnt down.

The horrific and disastrous bushfires this summer have triggered so many feelings and memories. I remember how gut-wrenchingly awful it was then, and cannot comprehend the exponential scale of the current catastrophe my country is experiencing. 

I took this picture today. Even hundreds of miles from the fires, western Victoria is blanketed by a pall of smoke. 

Like then, I have friends who have lost everything except the few things they managed to take with them as they evacuated. My heart breaks for them, but I am so incredibly thankful they got out when they did. 

I feel so useless. It seems as much as one donates and supports and cries and prays for an end to the fires, it never feels like enough. 

Add a few layers of grief, empathy, and occasional despair, and you get something of an idea about how many Australians are feeling at this point. 

I wrote this poem, and a number of others, in the aftermath of the St Patrick’s Day fires of 2018. It seems an appropriate poem to post at a point where a large proportion  of eastern Australia is either on fire, has burnt, or is blanketed in acrid smoke. 

It is a recollection of an actual conversation among locals in my town back in March 2018, and bears witness to the resilience and the empathy of Australians in the face of adversity. 

This poem is included in ‘Smoke and Shadows’.
All profits from the sale of this book between January 1 and June 30 are being donated to ongoing bushfire relief.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

There are many things I have learned to do again, albeit differently, since my spinal surgery 15 months ago. 

It seems, however, that stairs are still my nemesis. I can manage one or two steps if I go slowly and carefully but, as I discovered tonight, walking up a whole flight of stairs still causes me significant pain. 

We went out for dinner with friends, who had booked at a first floor restaurant that had no elevator. It did, however, have a beautiful circular staircase. 
Beautiful… and an enormous challenge.

I went very slowly, but by the fifth or sixth stair my lower back was screaming. Before I got to the top, I could feel the sciatic pain in my butt and staring to extend down my legs. I couldn’t stay there, so I had to either keep going or go back down. Slower still, and even more carefully, I made it to the top.

The first thing I did was hit my friends up for whatever analgesics they had. One had ibuprofen, the other had paracetamol. I took both, as my doctors have instructed me to do when I need to. I also chose not to sit until my meal was delivered, even though standing up in a large room of diners made me feel very self-conscious.  

It didn’t help that some people were quite obvious about the way they looked at me – and all I was doing was standing up. Once again, it reminded me of how much harder it must be for those whose differences or disabilities are more obviously noticeable.  

Dinner was delicious, but as soon as I had finished, I stood up again. We took the rear door out of the pub, as it opened onto the driveway. Even through it was quite a slope, it was still easier than the stairs. 

It’s disappointing that the establishment had not been more thoughtful about accessibility. An assumption that everyone who visits is able-bodied enough to use the stairs is ignorant at best. Perhaps if there were a “disabled access” sign pointing to the rear of the building, I might have been able to enjoy my meal and the great company without either kind of discomfort. I cannot imagine I am the only person who would benefit from that, 

And, if you’re ever out for dinner and there’s someone standing up for most of the evening, or doing anything else out of the ordinary, just know they have their reasons and be kind enough to pretend you haven’t noticed.

How To Not Make Someone Feel Worse Than They Already Do

Despite having worked hard, going more than one “extra mile” and achieving some good things, I have spent much of the past  few days feeling absolutely, irretrievably inferior. Totally sub-standard. An awful disappointment.

It’s not a new experience, by any stretch of the imagination. It happens far more often than most people will ever know or realise. Even so, it is never pleasant feeling as though most of the world thinks you’re rubbish. 

It’s not as though any of us is perfect. I certainly make no claim to be… which is a good thing because I am most definitely not.

And yet, when others discover a flaw or weakness, or find I have made a mistake, they very often speak or act as though they feel they have a right to be outraged and judge me for my imperfection. 

So here’s a news flash. 

I am not perfect. 
Neither are you. 
Everyone makes mistakes. 
Everyone misses a beat every now and then. 

But you know what is more hurtful than someone making a mistake? 
Treating them as though they are less than you. 

Because, you know, they’re not. 

If someone does something that bothers you, or offends you, and you feel the need to talk to them about it, for goodness’ sake, be kind. And if you can’t be kind, then wait until you can. 

And please, please, oh please, go to them and speak to them rather than anyone else. Going behind their back and kvetching about it is only ever going to cause more complications and trouble, so unless that is your actual intent, it is a response that should be avoided.

Similarly, there is nothing achieved by being judgemental. In fact, it is entirely counterproductive. 

Sure, they might comply with what you ask or insist of them. But they might do that if you simply asked them to do something to resolve the issue, too— especially if you ask nicely and say please.

The saying that “you get more out of people with honey than you do with a stick” became a proverb for a reason: it is generally true. It is certainly true of how I respond to people. 

If someone treats me with kindness, I will do everything in my power to not let them down. 
If they dump judgement on me, I am just going to keep on beating myself up over it, because if someone tells me I am not good enough, I will believe them. I will also probably never again fully believe that they have any respect for me at all. 

And if someone else, completely unknown to them and in different circumstances, tells me the same thing, I will believe both of them, twice as hard and twice as long. 

It’s not deliberate, and it doesn’t matter if that is not your intention: that’s how I am wired. 

The consequence is that it makes everything I need to do in a day more difficult. I doubt myself and second guess everything, even the things I know I am good at. 

To be honest, life is actually hard enough without that. It’s bad enough knowing that I made the mistake in the first place, or that someone resents me for not measuring up to their standards. Add chronic pain, anxiety and depression into the mix, and it very quickly becomes both exhausting and excruciating. 

It’s almost certain that that doesn’t just apply to me, either. Many people have internal battles or burdens of one kind or another that they keep hidden, but which add another level of complexity to whatever else they have to deal with in a day. 

So when someone screws up— and we should all understand that everyone will, from time to to time— be kind. Tell them gently, person to person, and let them fix it, or at least try to. 

Please. And thank you. 

Taking The Bad With The Good

I have spent this morning contemplating the ways in which life can be so good and so utterly awful at the same time. 

Life offers many wonderful experiences, opportunities and pleasures. Some of those are simple, some are constant, and others are once-in-a-lifetime events. Little things happen every day that can really blow your mind when you stop taking them for granted. 

One of my most constant joys is that I am blessed with wonderful friends. Sure, I’ve known the pain of broken friendships, and the shock of discovering someone who I thought was a friend was the exact opposite of that. But I am also enormously blessed and privileged, because I have some of the most amazingly loyal, loving, supportive, and caring friends on the planet.

At the same time, everyone in my circle of closest friends is struggling with something awful. There have been victories, there have been defeats. There are ongoing issues that don’t look as though there will be resolution or healing anytime soon. Those friends would all consider that I am in that same boat with my chronic pain and spinal health issues.

Everyone suffers something awful at some point in their life. The hard times are balanced and put into perspective by great days, wonderful experiences, and the love and encouragement of those near and dear to us.

Still, the news I received from one of my closest friends this morning was particularly devastating. She has taken this news the same way she has dealt with her entire battle against her illness: in true warrior style. Although her future is unsure, her faith and courage are not. I am so inspired by her attitude and her strength. 

I feel as though I am the complete opposite of that. I’m full of tears and anger and questions and fear. I cried more than she did during our phone call. There is no point in pretending though, because this is all part of the grief process and it’s not healthy for anyone to suppress any of that. 

I don’t know what the coming weeks or months hold, but I do know one thing: I don’t want her to die. I don’t want to be without her. And I know that is a sentiment shared by every member of the family and probably everyone who knows her. 

I am keenly aware of not putting the cart before the horse, and treating her as though she’s already on her death bed. Although painfully aware that is the likely outcome, I will keep hoping and praying reminding myself that it might not come to that because I do still believe in miracles. I want to make every opportunity, shared moment and experience count. We already have a lifetime of memories together, and because I treasure her and her friendship so much, I want to make more. They don’t have to be big or magical. They just have to be.

So, as far as is possible, I will embrace and make the most of the joys while never forgetting or praying against the bad. None of us knows the number of our days, but we can do everything in our power to make every one of them count. 

It’s not about denial. It’s all about focusing on the good while living with the bad. There are no rules against tears, or frustration, or hating on whatever hurts. The only thing I refuse to do is give in to it and let it steal what is good, too. 

PS: Please don’t feel sorry for me. I am truly blessed – just very human.

Prejudice Is Ugly, Kids.

I was saddened to read what happened to Sharon Cathcart the other day in response to a blog post about racism. Nobody should have to put up with another person’s bad behaviour simply because they are standing up for what is right. 

Sadly, there can be no doubt that racism and white supremacy are still living and active in our world. 

We see their outworking on the news, on the streets, on social media, and in the actions of hateful people. It can be public or private. It can be overt or concealed. 

It seems the only thing it cannot be is eradicated. 

I do try, in my own sphere of influence, to teach and challenge others to embrace equality, acceptance, and empathy for what others have endured, and what is still experienced by many. 

I try to make people aware of what white privilege is, and why it’s wrong to perpetuate it. Yes, I’m fully aware that I’ve been a beneficiary of it all my life. I’ve had advantages others haven’t, simply because I’m white. That doesn’t mean I am willing to sit back and allow it to perpetuate.  

This is why I teach my students about the effects of European settlement of Australia on the indigenous people, then and now. It’s why I teach my students about segregation, oppression, and the Civil Rights Movement, and have them listen and respond to speeches by Martin Luther King Jr and JFK. It’s why I thave them study texts such as ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’ and ‘No Sugar’. It’s why I teach about inequality, wellbeing, and social justice. And I make sure they understand that for everything that has happened in the USA, Australia’s track record is no better. 

It’s why I challenge people who tell racial jokes, or call people names, or avoid people who don’t fit their ideal. 

It’s why I object to the way in which my country continues to detain people who are legitimately seeking asylum on small third-world islands nearby. It’s why I object to policies and practices that continue to discriminate against indigenous Australians. 

And it’s why I write blog posts like this. 

I do not ever claim to be perfect, but I detest prejudice, discrimination, and everything that goes with them. It’s not just about race: nobody should be excluded, abused or marginalised for being different in whatever way. 

I, too, have had hateful messages left on a blog post or three. I know they are intended to upset me, and to deter me from posting something similar again.

Sadly for those responsible, it has the opposite effect. I always figure that if someone is vehement enough to threaten or abuse me over something I have written, I have probably touched a nerve that deserved touching. As my grandfather used to say, “If you throw a stone at a pack of dogs, the one it hits will yelp the loudest.”

He was a wise man, my grandfather. That statement was never made about actual rocks, nor about actual dogs. It was invariably made about bullies, and various other sorts of horrible people, and the way they would always lash out or blame someone else in response to any accusation or opposition directed at them.

That’s the same reason people leave nasty messages on blogs and social media. They resent the fact that someone is calling them out on their hate.

It’s okay for them to say what they want, though. They have rights, you know.

Sharon E. Cathcart

I was coming back here to write about something else, and found that I had a threatening e-mail (via my contact page) and comment (permanently deleted) from a white supremacist in reference to the link I shared about the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. Suffice it to say that this individual now has the rare distinction of having been blocked.

This is what white supremacy looks like: threatening anyone who dares to show support for people of color, or to speak out about what happens to them.

And that is actually what I came here to write about. When my dad died, I mentioned that he had given away the bride when one of his African-American students, Joe, married a white woman. Her own family refused to attend.

Anyway, we tried very hard to find Joe in time for Daddy’s funeral. The number my mother had was disconnected, and the…

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RU OK? World Suicide Prevention Day.

Today is RU OK Day, also known as World Suicide Prevention day.

This is an awareness very close to my heart.
I’m not going to expand on why, because I want the focus of this post to be positive and encouraging.

The message is important not just for today because it’s a special awareness day. This message is permanently, crucially important.

We need to take care of each other. Each of us is uniquely placed to offer support and encouragement to the people we know – friends, families, colleagues, students, whoever we cross paths with in our lives. That doesn’t mean we have to be their only support, although sometimes we might be just that. 

If you think someone is down, if they look tired or unwell, or notice they’re not taking care of themselves as well as they usually do, ask them if they are okay.  Don’t just ask as a throwaway question. Be willing to have a quality conversation that includes questions like:

  • What’s going on?
  • What do you need?
  • How can I help?
  • Is there someone I can contact for you?

Taking the time to check in with someone deliberately and thoughtfully is a powerful communication of care and concern. 

It’s important  to realise that you or I might be the one positive thing that happens in someone’s day. We might be the only source of encouragement and light that they encounter. 

We also need to consider the power of our words. A curt dismissal or snide remark in response to a comment that might actually be a true confession of desperation, depression or anxiety can be incredibly destructive. We should never, ever be making a joke of that. Yes, sometimes it is attention-seeking or needless drama— but sometimes it’s not. 

A kind word or message of encouragement could be the difference between someone actually deciding that now is the time to end their life, or not. 

I know. It’s a huge responsibility. 

But imagine a world where each of us gives someone that kind of support, and someone else gives it to us when we need it. 

And if you’re thinking you’ll never need it, stop right now and be very, very thankful for the blessings in your life and the comfort of good, stable mental health. It’s not possible to emphasise enough just how lucky you are. 

If you’re one of those who is struggling, or feeling like you’re drowning, or tired of treading water… please, please, talk to someone. Seek help. Look for reasons —  any reason — to stay.  Please stay.

I wrote this poem after one of the darkest seasons of my life thus far. I hope that you will gain both perspective and insight from reading it. 

Before you read this poem, there is somethingI would likeyou to know.

This poem is absolutely, 100% true. It is personal, it is painfully honest, and it tells of my own experience, not anyone else’s. And you may find it quite confronting.

Despite its darkness, it is written to be positive, not negative.

It was not written to win sympathy or make anyone feel guilt: it was written so that people might understand what’s in my head, and what I’ve been feeling, and why I’ve made the choices I have.

To answer your concerns: I have chosen to stay here and to defy all impulses that tempt me otherwise. I don’t always feel okay, I’m not always okay, but I will be okay.

For anyone in a similar position: hold on. Stay here. You matter more than you know.

Promo X Still Here Plain.jpeg

STILL HERE.

For a moment-
One fleeting, isolated point in time-

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The Day After Yesterday

Yesterday was abysmal.
That’s not even an exaggeration. In my string of at least a month’s worth of rotten days, yesterday hit new lows. 

I can’t even pit into words how bad it was. It was a day in which I began to question everything I thought I knew about myself professionally, and some of the things I thought I knew on a more personal level. 

It was a day of alternating between being in tears in my office and being in class pretending nothing was wrong.

If the fact that my students have no idea what I have been going through for the past five weeks is testament to my ability as an actor, then yesterday’s performance was nothing short of stellar.

Even leaving work didn’t help: things just kept getting worse.

Today has been better – not because anything has actually changed— it hasn’t at all— but because of the people who told me they believe in me.

It does not change the way things are, but it does empower and encourage me to keep going. For every person who has no faith in me, I have two who do. 

So, I’m going to soldier through it and get things done. I’m going to focus on the positives. And if people try to bring me down, I’ll show them what I’m made of, and then I’ll probably put them in a story and kill them gruesomely. 

Hey nonny nonny. 

A Word of Advice for When Things Go Badly

No matter how bad things get, never, ever, comment that things can’t get much worse. 

They can, and they will. The universe seems to take that kind of talk as a dare. 

I am living, despairing proof. 

Things For Which I Am Thankful Today

Today, I am feeling very low. So, I am trying to focus on things for which I am thankful. 

I know it won’t fix things, but it’s a positive distraction from my own misery. 

Most of these are in no particular reason, although the first four are in the right place at the top of the list of what I am thankful for today: 

  • My best friend. For so, so many reasons that I can only barely start to count. 
  • Encouragement from friends. Even when life really sucks, they have my back. 
  • My dog. Abbey the Labby always knows when I need extra love. 
  • Scout Kitty purring on my lap. She, too, has been extra attentive. 
  • The lovely quilt with which I have wrapped myself. It was a gift from my best friend at Christmas time, and given that I can’t hug her today, it’s the next best thing. 
  • The audiobook I’m listening to. It’s good to give my mind something else to do. 
  • Peanut butter on toast. 
  • Coffee. In all honesty, I am thankful for coffee every day. You all should be, too… because even if you’re not drinking it, I am. 
  • Downtime, and the fact that I got all those exams and reports done. I really don’t think I could have maintained that pace much longer. 
  • The fact that I do not have to sit upright on stupid courtroom seats for one single minute of today. My spine has been brutalised this past week. 
  • Pain medication.  Enough said.
  • A Poet’s Curse. I’ve been reading it for therapeutic reasons last night and today. It helps. 

Poem: ‘Good Friday’ by Christina Rosetti

This poem expresses what I suspect many people, even very committed Christians, feel on Good Friday: we should weep more than we do, we should feel more than we feel, in response to Christ’s death on the cross.

While it’s true that faith and feelings are very different and distinct from one another, Rosetti observes here the misery and doubt that comes from knowing and believing in Jesus yet feeling as though she remains unaffected by her knowledge and faith, and expresses most eloquently the desire for God to help her to believe more fervently.

Whether or not one is a Christian does not limit their ability to be affected by the pathos in this poem, nor to consider the power of the imagery with which the poet evokes that sense of lonely difference from other people that pervades it. 

‘Good Friday’

Am I a stone, and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy blood’s slow loss,
And yet not weep?

Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter, weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;

Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon–
I, only I.

Yet give not o’er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.