When The Words Won’t Come.

Writer’s Block can be brutal, but agonising over it is only going to make things worse.

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There are times in every writer’s life when the words just won’t come. Sometimes that lasts an hour. Sometimes it lasts weeks, or months. It’s certainly frustrating, but I refuse to stress over it. 2018-04-19 17.51.23

I’ve been in a “writing dry patch” over the past couple of months. For a while, there was nothing happening: the only thing I was writing was note after note full of ideas. I don’t know why I couldn’t write anything. I just couldn’t.

That came as something of a shock after last year which, although turbulent, painful and draining on both personal and emotional levels, was also incredibly productive. Three books of poetry, two of mild horror, and two fairy tale novellas in an anthology in a year is impressive for someone who teaches high school and needs to sleep occasionally. In one sense, it’s no wonder I ran out of steam. I’m only human, after all.

It was poetry that recently broke the drought for me. In fact, it usually is. Ironically, it was local tragedy in the form of wildfires around my home town on St Patrick’s Day that got the words flowing again. Since the middle of March, I’ve written some poems that I’m really happy with, and I have some others started.

I have so many stories I want to write, but now just doesn’t seem to be the time for that, so I’m saving the notes and plans and outlines until it happens naturally. I know it will. And when it does, I’ll be ready.

In all honesty, my mind is tired. Today at work, I struggled to remember the word for “chair”– and I was in a classroom, surrounded by at least 25 of them at the time! If I forced myself to write those stories now, they’d be rubbish.

So, I’m going to be kind to myself. I’m going to give my mind and my spirit time to rest, and not worry about all the things I want to write, or feel I should be writing. I’m certainly not going to churn out a bunch of garbage and try to persuade people that it’s “art”. I’m happy to wait, and I think my readers will prefer that, too.

Hopefully in the meantime I’ll be able to write a few more good poems.

Aftermath.

Today, driving to and from work, I saw the devastation with my own eyes, and my mind took a snapshot that developed into a poem. 

Yesterday I wrote about the fires that had burned around my town on the weekend.

Today, driving to and from work, I saw the devastation with my own eyes, and my mind took a snapshot that developed into a poem.

It’s titled Aftermath and I’d love for you to read it.

Promo Y Aftermath 2018-03-20 17.17.03

 

I took some actual photos, too.

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My Personal Response To The Fires in SouthWestern Victoria.

It is not possible to adequately put into words how thankful we all are for the firefighters, first responders, police, and support crews who have kept us safe.

What a weekend it has been.

On Friday afternoon when I left town for a family wedding a couple of hours’ drive away, my greatest concern was that my father wouldn’t feel too lonely while we were away. When we left the wedding reception on Saturday night, and I checked my phone, my heart leapt into my throat as I began to realise what hell had unleashed back at home.

Wildfire.

It is late in the season for fires, but there has been very little rain and the region has been tinder dry. Hot and very windy weather conditions created the opportunity for fire to take hold and spread rapidly through both farmland and natural bush.

One outbreak led to another, and another, and then another. My town, and those nearby, were experiencing the greatest crisis in decades. Surrounded by a ring of fire, people watched, worried, and sought refuge in the middle of town.

Social media posts showed what locals could see from their yards or where they had been driving. A friend who lives nearby posted photos of what she could see – and it was terrifying.

Wendy Bernhardt Photo 0 2018-03-18
Photo by Wendy Bernhardt. Saturday March 17 2018 22.19 Cobden Victoria
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Photo by Wendy Bernhardt. Saturday March 17 2018 23.46 Cobden Victoria

The emergency services website showed incidents all across the region, one after the other, spreading in a grim pattern of danger and destruction.

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That little white dot in the middle of the map is my town – Cobden, in southwestern Victoria.

 

Roads were closed. Authorities forbade people from driving into the area. The situation was officially described as catastrophic. And my 86 year old father was at home on his own. Nausea swept over me as I struggled not only with fear, but also with feelings of absolute uselessness: there was absolutely nothing I could do.

Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much. The radio stations weren’t forthcoming with updates until after 3am, so I turned to social media for information. With the aid of Facebook, I consulted with neighbours and made sure that our uncle had taken steps to make sure Dad was okay. I tried to call, but was unable to make contact. In the end, I just had to trust that things at home were as under control as they could be.

The fires continued to burn and spread throughout the night and the following day. As people’s stories of loss and devastation were told, offers of help were made and communities rallied, even while the fires still raged. There is no doubt about Aussies – they know how to help a mate, and they don’t hesitate to step in where needed.

Even late into the afternoon, the roads to home were all still closed, so we made our way back to a neighbouring town to wait until we could get home. One road opened at 5.50pm; we only needed one road, so we headed home. We knew that even though the road was open, authorities didn’t want people just driving into the area without good reason, but my dad was a very good reason to be making the trip.

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Smoke rising above Cobden as we drove home from Camperdown on Sunday evening.

 

We were very glad to find that Dad was fine, our home was safe, and the town itself was untouched except for smoke. Our local football oval was filled with emergency service manpower and vehicles from other places. They had come to help fight the fires and provide relief to the local crews, many of whom are volunteers, who had been working for many long hours to defend and protect people, properties and towns.

Fifteen minutes after returning home, a succession of five fire trucks went zooming down our no-through road, and my heart was in my throat again. Whatever had them rushing out had to be close, as there’s only about two kilometres of road past our place before the road ends. Within half an hour they had sorted the issue and came trundling back. My neighbours and I applauded them, gave them the thumbs up, and cheered them to show our gratitude for their quick response. They waved back and returned the thumbs up, their smiles letting us know that they understood and were thankful for our response, too.

Not long after that, new plumes of smoke not too far away indicated that there were new fires springing up. I could hear the sirens as they rushed out of town to meet the new emergencies, and reminded myself that the crisis wasn’t over just because my immediate surroundings were relatively safe.

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Thick smoke once again settled over the town. We took encouragement from the fact that warnings were downgraded to critical from catastrophic, and the symbols on the emergency services’ online fire map gradually began to change from red to orange.

Incredibly, no human lives have been lost and very few serious injuries have been suffered. This is testament to the dedication, hard work and training of our first responders, particularly our firefighters and State Emergency Service volunteers.

Despite the smoke in the air and the knowledge that the crisis wasn’t over yet, I slept so much better last night knowing that we were being protected by hundreds of committed and able firefighters, first responders, police, and support crews. It is not possible to adequately put into words how thankful we all are for the job they’ve done and continue to do.

This morning the pall of smoke blanketing our town was thick. It stings the eyes and the throat, and it smells. Yet that is the only discomfort I suffer, and for that I am incredibly thankful. What a blessing to be able to say that.

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The waterbombers and helicopters are flying overhead, and the work to control and extinguish these fires continues. People who are much, much braver than I are working in difficult and dangerous conditions, and for that we are all incredibly thankful.

The warnings for my town have been downgraded to Watch and Act but others are still in danger. We all have to remain vigilant.

Beyond that, we all have to care for each other.
People have lost homes, or farms, or herds… or all of that.
Our local community in the southwest of Victoria has been shaken and found strong, supportive and caring – and now, we must continue that by caring for those who have lost so much.
I have no doubt that Cobden will ace that – we’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again.

As I’ve said on numerous occasions, we’re incredibly blessed to live in Cobden. It’s a great community, and I’m thankful that it has passed this most recent test.

 

How Getting Pushed Around Changed My Perspective.

You see things differently when you’re in a wheelchair.

Today we went to a very large store that specialises in flat-pack furniture of Nordic design. It’s an amazing store full of very interesting things to look at.

Including me, apparently.

Being on crutches with an injured foot, I was anxious about how long I was going to last before I was exhausted, so my friends asked for a courtesy wheelchair. And thank God they did. I would have fallen over in tears before I got through the first section.

It came as a shock to realise, though, that when you’re in a wheelchair, people don’t look at you the same way as they do other people.

Sometimes it’s a look of sympathy. Sometimes it’s an expression that says, “You look surprisingly normal”.

And then there’s the occasional person who looks at you with fear and contempt, like you’re dangerous, or they might catch whatever it is that put you in the chair.

One woman gasped audibly, glared at me and pulled her child away from the aisle I was in, although he wasnt actually anywhere near me. What an appalling display of ignorance!

Seriously, folks. It’s my leg that doesn’t work properly, not my mind. And with limited mobility, I’m certainly no threat.

Then I had a sobering thought. Is this what people who are in wheelchairs permanently or long-term experience every day?

How absolutely awful.

It has never entered my mind to look at other people so differently. A disability or physical limitation does not define one’s character or personality. To me, a person is a person is a person.

Apparently, that is not the case for everyone.

Some people seem to think it’s acceptable to look at a person differently, or treat them differently, or pull their children away just because they look or move or get around differently than you most people.

I’m pretty sure that in the 21st century, we can be more decent and open-minded than that.

The Problem With Sentence Fragments.

I’ve read a couple of books lately that have been rather good, although plagued with something that is becoming the bane of my life as a reader: sentence fragments. 

Words and Phrases

 

I’ve read a couple of books lately that have been rather good, although plagued with something that is becoming the bane of my life as a reader: sentence fragments.

There was one book I started reading a couple of weeks ago where this was rampant, along with other issues, to the point where I couldn’t continue.

A sentence fragment is something that presents as a sentence in that it starts with a capital letter and ends with a period, but doesn’t actually make sense on its own.

A sentence fragment is often added as an afterthought when it really should be tacked onto the previous sentence with either a comma or a semicolon.

Consider the following example:

Jack went into his bedroom and closed the door, preferring privacy for reading his new book. Which was something that he knew annoyed his little brother.

 

That last sentence fragment actually makes no sense without the previous sentence.

If this happens just once or twice in a book, it’s still too often. However, it happens a lot. To be completely honest, it’s something I mark my senior high school English students down on. It’s what I consider quite a basic error: it’s not that hard to read something you’ve written down and ask yourself if it makes sense.

I understand that some readers don’t notice it, but many others will find it very frustrating indeed.

The exception is in direct speech or train of thought writing. People do speak like that, and they often think in fragments of thoughts, especially when under stress or in pain. If it’s something a character is thinking or saying, there is no problem. When it is part of the narrative, however, it really is an issue.

I don’t want to come across as being all finicky and fussy. My intention is that writers might recognise and self-correct this problem in their writing, even if it means  revising an entire manuscript so that their book reads better.

This is also another argument for having any manuscript thoroughly proof-read and edited before you publish anything, especially as an Indie author who wants to be taken seriously as a writer.

In the end it will earn you more stars and more readers.

When your story is great, and your message is important, please don’t allow something that is easily fixed to compromise the success of your book.

Instead, take the time and effort to make sure that your writing, and the overall quality of your book, is the best it can be. You owe it to your readers, and you owe it to yourself.

 

RIP George Michael et al 2016

“RIP George Michael,
Another favourite gone…”

RIP George Michael,
Another favourite gone.
First Bowie, then Prince and Rickman
And then it was Leonard Cohen.
But Donald Trump is alive and well –
What drug has this year been on?

No-vember Supermoon…

So, there’s supposed to be a supermoon tonight. And my inbox had two email alerts that conditions were great for seeing the southern lights – the Aurora Australis.

In fact, ever since I signed up for those email alerts, it’s been overcast or raining every single time the “conditions have been ideal”.

And true to form, it’s pouring rain tonight. The only thing anyone around here is seeing in the night sky is lots of water.

So, what’s a girl to do?
Write nutty poetry. That’s what.

Just for fun, I wrote this and put it up on Twitter. It had a pretty positive response, so the evening has not been a total flop.

november-supermoon

Love Trumps Hate. 

In the aftermath of the US election, it’s important to remember that there’s anger on both sides. Many, many people in the US, as well as elsewhere, feel marginalised and overlooked. For some, it’s been many years of actually being treated that way. For others, it’s hopes and dreams that have been kept out of reach by social forces that they haven’t been able to change or address. You only have to study a little bit of US history to see those things happening.

I think of this election as a pressure cooker – after a long time on “high”, the thing blew its lid off and left a heck of a mess when it did.

We must remember that people don’t always vote from a perspective of good policy. People vote because they long for a change, they yearn to be heard… or at least to feel as though they have been heard. Sometimes it’s a reaction to something as visceral as revulsion over what one candidate or the other has done or is accused of doing. There was a whole lot of all of that in this election.

This election in itself won’t fix anything. A new president, regardless of identity, is a figurehead. The real problems lie in the structure of the society under that leader. The anger and polarisation of the American society will only get worse while people engage in anger, vilification and distrust – of their leaders, yes, but particularly of each other.

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t hold their government and its actions to account. I’m a very firm believer in doing that. But let’s not destroy each other in the process. Let’s ensure that our commentary is focused on what needs to happen, what needs to change, and how we can work together to achieve that.

Personally, I don’t think either candidate was a good choice for uniting the country, or solving the underlying problems. That has to come from the people, and it starts with one, then two, then more, choosing to build rather than tear down.
I pray for America, and I pray for the world that still looks to her for military and international leadership. I pray for Australia, because we’re guilty of all the same things.

Today, I choose love. I choose encouragement. I choose peace. I choose friendship. I choose positive over negative. I choose proactive over passive.

Will you join me? Will you work to make a difference, too?

Double Disillusion.

So, it’s on.

Australians will head to the polls on July 2nd in an election that will see a “spill and refill” of all the seats in both houses of the Australian Parliament. For those unfamiliar with the Australian political system, this process is called a “double dissolution election”.

I had to laugh, though, when an ABC commentator today commented that “it’s going to be a very long campaign”. Has he not seen what’s going on in America? Months and months of campaigning just to obtain a party’s nomination to run for President, which means even more months of campaigning.

Fact is, I’m very interested in politics, but I don’t like any of the choices, either in America or here in Australia.

Why can’t we have honest, hard-working people who just want to serve their country as candidates for leadership? What happened to the statesman who believed in doing the right thing morally, both individually and as a nation?

Both countries have, in the past, had leaders who stood up for what was right and made vital changes in one way or another. Think of Lincoln standing against slavery, or JFK challenging the people so directly on issues of civil rights. Think of Whitlam putting an end to the White Australia policy. Whether or not one agreed with them, then or now, those men stood up for what they believed was morally correct for their country.

Contrast that with what we see today. People hungry for power, and willing to sell their souls to the devil to get it. “Campaigning” means bludgeoning one another with lies or, at best, insinuations. It’s not about policy or what the people want any more, it’s about being the last man, or woman, standing in a very personal and sometimes excruciating competition.

So often, I watch and listen aghast as they deliver speech after speech full of vitriol. Some speak hatred and intolerance. Some barely have any policies on anything much at all – who am I kidding? Why let policy and standards get in the way of politics? Candidates mock and discredit each other in the false belief that it makes them look better, but it only serves to demean themselves. Muckraking and sledging are no way to win respect. I just don’t understand why more people can’t see through them.

I’m so tired of the modern political game. Give me a candidate I can believe in. Give me policies that don’t involve vilifying or punishing an entire group of people because of the actions of a few. Give me someone I can vote for without killing part of my own soul.

Cardinal Knowledge. 

I’ve been following the Royal Commission into Child Abuse’s questioning of the now-Cardinal George Pell, and his responses, with interest. 

Every day – no, in fact, every time he opens his mouth to speak, my heart sinks a little deeper and my anger grows a little more. 

I’m glad they are asking tough questions. I am glad he is feeling uncomfortable. I hope he feels ashamed, but I doubt he does. I doubt that anyone is surprised that he didnt want to come back to Australia to testify, or to testify at all. 

Straight up, I will say that I am not a victim of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest, nor by anyone else. Having seen how that has affected others and impacted them and their family, I am continually thankful for that. 

I am interested in this Royal
Commission because I care about other people and because I have a strong sense of justice. 

Abuse or exploitation of the vulnerable by the powerful and privileged angers me beyond words.
As a teacher, as an aunt, as a part-time “other mother”… let’s face it, as a decent human being, I cannot comprehend how someone could knowingly and willingly betray the trust of a child.

I struggle to find decent words to describe how I feel about anyone who enables any priest to keep on abusing children by moving them from one parish to another instead of confronting and calling out their evil predation for what it is. That not the sort of thing that should ever be covered up or overlooked.  

As far as I can see, George Pell is either lying or he was the most ignorant, uninformed, forgetful and self-focused guy going round.
Either way, by his own repeated admission, he has to have been absolutely rubbish at his job.

I do not believe anything he says. I’d be very surprised if anyone did.

I do not understamd how the Pope (or any other God-fearing priest, for that matter) could give Pell his support given his testimony this week. 

If these men are serious about being Christ’s representatives on earth, I could make some constructive suggestions as to where they might start.