Can’t Sit… Still

My back has been giving me grief the past few days. Today, though, it has been plain nasty.

This meme was shamelessly borrowed from the Internet. I don’t know who created it.

By the last lesson of the day, the spasms were so bad it was all I could do not to cry in front of my students. Then, as soon as most of the students had left the building, I started the slow, painful walk to my car.

Getting home was a relief. The process of lying down was no fun, and it still took some time for the spasms to ease.

So how did I get to be in such a bad way? I sat down at work for more than fifteen minutes. Sadly, that’s all it takes.

Since my spinal surgery last October, Sitting has been a huge issue for me. I can walk, I can even manage stairs, which I had really struggled with for a few years prior to that. But if I sit on a regular chair for any period of time, I am in pain. The more tired I am, the worse it is.

So, the only sitting I tend to do these days is in the car on the way to and from work. That, too, can be exhausting.

My current physiotherapist insists that it’s just my brain telling me my back might hurt.

I disagree. Those spasms are not the fruit of my subconscious spine having a panic attack. That level of pain is actually my back hurting– and way more than it should.

I’ve been doing the exercises and stretches, and there just doesn’t seem to be any improvement.

So, I’m going to listen to my body and not the physio. Well, not that one, anyway. I’m going back to my former physiotherapist and I’m going back to the doctor, because I can’t keep doing this.

It’s been seven months since my surgery, and I should be able to sit long enough to have dinner or do some work without suffering for it by now.

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A Road Trip For One.

While in Bendigo for the Tudors to Windsors exhibition this weekend, my best friend and I hatched a plan to take another trip soon. We want to visit Daylesford, a beautiful town renowned for its quirky shops and several vintage bookstores.  

My friend wasn’t travelling home with me today, though, as she had to go to Melbourne instead. So, I had the opportunity to go exploring and find out more about where we were planning to go.

The prospect of  road trip on my own is one I welcome. As an introvert, that kind of time alone is hard to come by, and the past five weeks have been intensely busy and very people-y. So,  after I dropped her at the Kangaroo Flat railway station for the 10.27am train, I headed off to see what I could see which, as we all know, is the reason why any bear goes over the mountain. 

It was a cracker of a day. The sun shone broadly in a big pale blue sky, but it wasn’t hot. It was, in fact, a perfect late Autumn day for driving through the countryside.

My first destination was Castlemaine, a pretty little town with tree-lined streets and lovely old buildings that date back to the Gold Rush, like so many other towns in this region, Bendigo included. I boosted the local economy with my purchase of a large coffee, and kept going. 

You don’t have to travel far out of Castlemaine before you’re in Campbell’s Creek,  where there is a fabulous used book store called Book Heaven, where I stopped— in the interests of research, of course. I excelled myself by only staying half an hour and only buying three books, even though I was entirely unsupervised and, in all honesty, I could have been there all day without even realising. 

Driving on toward Daylesford, I came to a small town named Guildford where there was a sign to the left, pointing up a sandstone track, that said ‘Guildford Lookout’. I’m the kind of traveller who loves a good lookout, so I headed up the track to the top of the hill where I found myself surrounded by pretty countryside dotted with a few autumn coloured trees. It was a really good opportunity to break my journey with a bit of a walk before continuing down the road.

Daylesford seemed quite vibrant and busy. I didn’t really feel like walking the Main Street and shopping, but then, I very rarely feel like shopping, so that came as no surprise. Instead, I followed some signs and headed down to Daylesford Lake.

What a gorgeous spot! Walking along the shore was lovely, with a wide and level path that led past a  cottage to which I paid very little attention until I was on my way back and I saw a sign on the back of the building. 

If that wasn’t fate inviting me in, I don’t know what it was. It was lunchtime, and this wonderful little shop sold books, coffee, and food. Perfect! 

Once again, I found three lovely old books to add to my collection while my lunch was being prepared. My lunch was delicious, and I was very pleased to find that all the books were half the marked price— until I discovered that the shop is closing down. That was a real disappointment, as I was hoping to come back next time with my friend.

Even so, it was a very happy and satisfied booknerd that walked back into the car to drive the rest of the way home. 

I have had the most delightful weekend: time with friends, exploring bookshops,  connecting with history, and a relaxing drive home. It really would be greedy to ask for anything more. 

The ‘Tudors to Windsors’ Exhibition

This afternoon I visited the Bendigo Arr Gallery to see this amazing exhibition of royal portraits and memorabilia from the English royals dating from 1485 to the present day. 

In one way, it was a little surreal: I have seen these paintings in history books, and the more recent photographs were familiar because I had seen them online or in magazines, so it was really strange to think I was seeing the originals. 

In addition to being a most enjoyable and interesting gallery experience, it made me feel more connected to the history I have read and studied for so many years. 

I really loved seeing the Tudor portraits, especially Elizabeth I whom I admire enormously, but found them all quite fascinating. Some of the portraits definitely felt more intimate and personal, while others had that sense of grandeur and formality that one might expect from a royal portrait. There was a good representation of men in stockings and garters, and some fabulously royal big hair. 

It was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon among royalty without having to dress up or curtsey to anyone.

If you get a chance to see this exhibition, I highly recommend it.

Fibromyalgia And Me

I could have spent most of Fibromyalgia Awareness Month writing about my experience of this condition. I could spend a year writing what people don’t know or understand about it.

However, I plan for this to be my only post on that topic during this Fibromyalgia Awareness Month, because I don’t like to complain and I don’t want to sound like I am hiding behind my disease or making excuses. 

Fibromyalgia is a diagnosed medical condition— now. It wasn’t always. It has a wide variety of symptoms, although they basically all contribute to chronic pain and overwhelming fatigue. 

Because of Fibromyalgia, I have pain all the time. Think about that. 

Pain.
 All.
The.
Time. 

It doesn’t ever completely go away. The best I can hope for is that it will ease off a bit, and that I’ll have more good days than awful ones. 

When people present to the Emergency Department or paramedics with pain, the standard procedure is to ask them to rank it between 1 and 10, assuming that 10 is the worst pain they have experienced. I wake up most days to a starting level of about 4 or 5 for me. With medication, I can generally keep it down to about a 3. 

That’s why I have structured my working week so that I start a bit later in the mornings. It’s not because I don’t want to get out of bed: it’s because when I do, I am stiff and sore and it’s really hard to get moving. 
As the day wears on, my pain levels start to increase. My legs feel heavy and hard to lift when I walk. My feet  begin to ache, and that often turns into a throbbing pain that starts to work its way up my legs. It can take hours for the aching to subside enough to let me sleep, especially if I have been on my feet a lot. A similar thing happens with my hands and arms if I am using them a lot, and especially if it involves holding or carrying anything with a bit of weight in it. It’s not unusual to end each day feeling like I’ve been either beaten up or body slammed by someone or something a lot larger than me. 

Anytime I get stressed or anxious, or when my depression is messing with me, my pain levels flare. Overtiredness also increases my pain. Sometimes, I reach that level of tiredness by lunchtime and still have two classes to teach and a 40 minute drive home before I can rest. Add in a work deadline or two and things can get pretty horrid. 

All of this is completely separate from my back pain, which is a different thing and a different type of pain altogether, and which I am able to manage fairly effective for the most part.  

The problem with pain is that people can’t see it like they can if you have cuts and bruises or a cast. You can hide a lot behind makeup and a smile. 

When they call this an invisible illness, they’re not kidding. If I had a dollar for every time someone said to me “But you don’t look sick,” I could quit work and live very nicely on the interest. It’s such a shame I can’t bill people for their insensitivity or ignorance. 

I know it’s not a death sentence like some other diseases are. It is, however, a life sentence. As things stand, there’s no cure in sight. All I can do is keep up my painkillers and anti-inflammatories and hope for the best. 

None of this makes me, or anyone else with Fibromyalgia, weak. 

It takes strength and courage to get through each day, and sometimes that’s on a moment-by-moment basis. It takes resolve to blink away the tears and keep showing up for work or social or family occasions. It takes guts to say, “Actually, I’m not doing so well” when people ask, or to write a post like this one. In a world that prioritises health and beauty, brokenness is often an unpopular confession. 

I have Fibromyalgia. I don’t want sympathy or pity. I don’t want people to tell me I am strong or brave. You bet I am! 

What I really want is more awareness, better understanding, and more effective pain relief. And a cape. They can’t see my pain or my superpowers, but they’d be sure to know I have something if I were wearing a cape. 

Spamalot! aka The Show That Ends Like This.

This weekend and last I achieved one of my ultimate theatre goals as an actor, singer, and not-quite-a-dancer in Monty Python’s Spamalot! The Musical. 

A lot of people have done an incredible amount of work, both on stage and off, to bring the show to life and make it run smoothly and professionally. 

It’s a really, really funny show. By the time our cast was done with it, it was non-stop hilarity and good times for the duration of each performance. To be honest, that was pretty much the order of every rehearsal, too,

Sure, there have been moments of frustration and, occasionally, despair for some of us. More than anything, though, it has been fun. It’s fair to say that however many tears may have been shed in tiredness or anxiety, a hundred times more have been borne of laughter. 

From our first read-through of the script to taking our bows of the final night, we have laughed together, learned from one another, inspired and encouraged each other. 

From the final week of January to the second week of May, the cast members have grown from acquaintances into friends. Those with whom I have worked most closely have begun to feel like family. It’s fair to say that they understand my love for theatre and performance more than most members of my family, and it seems they have fully accepted my own individual brand of weirdness and subversive humour. I have found my theatre tribe. 

Today, dismantling the absolutely amazing sets and cleaning the theatre felt kind of surreal. Yesterday I had tears because I didn’t want it to be over. Today, tears threatened again as reality set in: the show really is done. 

My heart is heavy, and even though my Fibromyalgia-plagued body and permanently rather dodgy spine are expressing a strong and well-earned sense of relief, I regret nothing. 

At the end of it all, I am blessed to count these amazing people as my friends, and to be able to say “see you next time!” with every confidence that there will be another show and we will be keen to do it all again.

All photos in this post are by Joel Barker aka Sir Bedevere, and have been used with permission.

A Favourite Classic Novel: Winnie The Pooh by A.A. Milne

Winnie the Pooh and his friends have been dearly loved for generations by readers all the world over. The stories of friendship, loyalty and fun are delightful entertainment for children and grownups alike. 

Of course, Disney’s purchase of the production rights to the stories resulted in greater exposure to new generations, but it also gave the characters newly altered appearances and American accents. The movies and TV programs are fun, and I enjoy them immensely, but in my mind they are a different generation of a much loved family. 

I really love the original stories and the illustrations by E.H. Shepard that accompanied them. The books that I had as a child have been passed on to other children in my family, but I do have a lovely set of paperbacks on my own shelf that still have all those original illustrations. 

I also have a copy of the 80th anniversary edition of the book, complete with hard cover, dust jacket and colour illustrations, that is precious to me for a reason beyond the fact that it’s a book I love. This particular book was given to me by a family as a thank-you gift for teaching a number of their children and helping them get through senior high school English. I keep their ‘thank you” card inside the front cover to preserve the memory, although I doubt I will ever forget that beautiful gift and the kindness with which it was given. 

A Favourite Classic Series: The Narnia Chronicles by C.S. Lewis

I may be cheating by covering a whole series instead of just one of the novels, but how does one choose a single favourite among such an incredible set of books?

Supposedly written for children, The Narnia Chronicles fill me with as much joy and wonder now as they ever did. They are stories that never, ever get old.

I collected a mismatched set of the books over several years as a child, and then as a teenager I indulged my slightly OCD book-neediness and bought a boxed set with matching covers. I can’t find any of the first lot, and only one of the boxed set remains on my shelf. I’ve lost a few in different classrooms over the years and others courtesy of unreturned loans, so several years ago I bought the complete set in one volume so I could read them all again.

While each book in the series is a unique and brilliant story in its own right, as a collection they are remarkably cohesive and unified.

The Narnia Chronicles really are the works of a master storyteller. 

A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen

Many people assume that this is a book all about love and courtship. That comes into it, of course, but really only the sense that Jane Austen is blowing an enormous raspberry to the way society did those things.

‘Pride and Prejudice’ is full of delicious snark and subversive humour, parody and caricature, that make its observations far more rapier than romantic. 

Of course, Mr Darcy is smolderingly handsome and, as an introvert, I totally get that he was regretting being dragged along to that party long before he even got there, and by the time he was offending all the locals, was busy trying to think of ways to leave without anyone noticing. Further evidence of that is found in the fact that he falls for the one brainy chick who is happy in her own company and reading a book without needing someone affirming her delicate sense of self every three minutes.

Elizabeth is smart and sassy enough to stand up for herself, and to not settle for the first nincompoop who tried to marry her, nor does she agree to marry Darcy just because he’s loaded. No, she is a woman of substance.

Those things are enough to make us love them both more than the rest of the characters, most of whom are either quite socially acceptably bland or rather horrid.

If you’re not sure where to find the sarcasm,  it all starts with the very first line. Let’s be honest: what rich man, living the dream and enjoying his wealth, is desperate to find a wife to keep him at home and spend his money for him? 

Yeah. I don’t think so, either. 

A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘Anne of Green Gables’ by L.M. Montgomery

Among its feisty, quirky main character Anne Shirley and the entire delightful cast of characters, the wonderful story and animated storytelling, and the magnificent Prince Edward Island settings which I have visited in person, there is nothing about this book that I do not adore. 

Anne taught me that it was a wonderful thing to love books and poetry more than anyone else I knew, and that it was better to be myself than to try to be someone else. She showed me how to embrace my quirks and to disregard the criticism of those made uncomfortable by them. 
This is a wonderful story, beautifully told, which I have loved since I first read it when I was seven years old. Yes, I was a prodigious reader even then, having started reading for myself at the age of three! Like Anne, I started out in the way I was destined to continue.

My vintage copy of ‘Anne of Green Gables’ and the postcards I bought at Green Gables on Prince Edward Island.

This vintage copy came to me courtesy of my favourite book rescue shelter, Spectrum Books in Warrnambool. It is the same vintage as the set I inherited from my mother although, sadly, her copy of ‘Anne of Green Gables’ has been lost.

I remember that her book had an original bookplate inside the front cover which she had drawn and painted before adding her name and the date. For me, that is the saddest part of losing her book: her art is lost, too. This is her work inside the cover of the sequel, ‘Anne of Avonlea’, which she received along with the first book for Christmas when she was thirteen years old. 
Her full name was named Shirley Anne – named after both Shirley Temple and Anne Shirley of ‘Green Gables’ fame. 

Attention: Facebook

Due to recent trends, my algorithm has been realigned.

You may notice that your invitations to boost my posts or create advertisements will receive zero attention. Some may be marked as spam due to lower perceived relevance to the audience. 

If you won’t show my posts to the people who do follow me, I most certainly will not be paying you to show them to people who don’t. 

Because, as you say so often yourself, “it’s all about engagement”. 

Fortunately for the rest of us, there are other places to “engage”, too. 
Are you aware that Twitter neither suppress nor hides anything I post? As soon as it’s sent, BAM, it’s out there for the whole Twitverse to see.

We’re you aware that WordPress allows me to use tags, categories and SEO to make my posts available beyond those who already follow my blog? And they do it free of charge. Ingenious, no?  

I’ll still give you a little attention, Facey. But not as much as you want. And not to help you make money. From what I have heard on the news, you’ve already got quite enough out of people like me.