We’ve all seen those images of the long-distance runners at the Olympics who can barely move their limbs, and have to keep jerking their arms and legs to get over the finish line, where they fall into a sobbing heap, barely able to think or breathe.
That was me this week, although not in any track and field event. With a final burst of grim determination and a fair degree of operating on ‘autopilot’, I staggered over the finish line of an 11 week school term. Exams done and graded, reports written, special reporting for students with disabilities completed, and reporting software glitches dealt with, it was all I could do to get home without actually falling in a heap.
Then I was reminded by my very extroverted husband that we had to go out for dinner to farewell a friend who is returning to The Netherlands. The very last thing I wanted to do was move, let alone have to talk to anyone.
“Do I really have to go?” I asked. I’d like to say there was hope in my voice, but it was more like desperation laced with the abject misery of the tears I was blinking back.
“Yes!” replied favourite ‘social butterfly’. “We won’t stay long.”
I can’t believe I fell for that – again. Why do I always believe him when he says that?
Anyway, I went along and made a valiant attempt to both stay awake and wear a happy face. Despite the fabulous array of food on the table, I managed to eat some potato and a sausage. I was too tired to contemplate chewing anything, so not even the marinated steak managed to tempt me. I had reached the point when I just didn’t care.
It was after 9pm when we got hom. I went to bed and, surprise surprise, found it impossible to fall asleep. Instead, I just lay there in a fuzzy daze of not-quite-asleep limbo for hours, occasionally weeping a little when I had to move one of my limbs. I had my regular talkback radio shows on, and I know I listened, but I don’t think I took anything in. Of course, given that the last time I went to bed and fell straight to sleep may have been when I was about three years old, this is completely normal for me. But oh! how I wanted to sleep.
Today, I feel like I’ve been hit by an even bigger truck than usual. My Fibromyalgia is keeping a constant check on my pulse and my dodgy spine is being a drama queen every time I move.
So far, I’ve managed to avoid taking any codeine, which I wouldn’t have been able to do before my conch piercings. Despite enormous temptation to overdose on coffee, I’ve only had one, and am focusing on just drinking water and resting as much as I can today so that this doesn’t continue for days and eat up half of my term break. I have writing that I want to do, and work for school that I must do, so that’s not an option.
Today is a pyjama day. Tomorrow, I’m going to dress up, put makeup on, and go out to take bookselfies for Indie Pride Day. Trust me, you wouldn’t want me doing that today, even with makeup and proper clothes.
For now, I’m going to snuggle in my comfy chair and cuddle my enormous sense of satisfaction at having not only survived, but also having met every work requirement and deadline, rehearsed and performed in a play, and then auditioned, cast and started rehearsals for HMS Pinafore in September. And all of that without killing anyone – other than fictionally, of course. Go, me!
I’ve been reminded of something important over the last few weeks: I can’t always actually do everything that I think I can. Well… at least, not all at the same time.
The past few weeks have been like someone who started juggling three or four cute, colourful hackey-sacks that could be dropped occasionally and picked up again without causing any trouble, and ended up trying to juggle five or six chainsaws that were both running and on fire at the same time.
Something had to give. And logically, that something could neither be my work, the show I was performing in, nor my mental health.
I knew things were going to get busy, so I tried to get extra work requirements out of the way early. As it turned out, it was actually a really good thing I did that, because it enabled me to find the time for the extra stuff that I hadn’t anticipated.
The show went off brilliantly, thanks to the efforts of cast, crew and a fabulous director who all worked incredibly hard to deliver a production that made showbiz look effortless. Even though last night was my first Monday evening at home in months, I spent most of it feeling sad that there was no rehearsal to go to, and missing my fellow cast members.
Even so, it’s a good thing ithat particular flaming chainsaw has finished it’s run, because the music director and I have already been running auditions for our school musical for the past two Thursday afternoons.
Rehearsals for that start in two weeks – at about the same time our semester reports are due to be ready for proofreading. No pressure, though.
All of this is why I haven’t blogged, read anything except my students’ assignments or written any book reviews. My social media has been reduced to that which I have planned and scheduled in advance, and I am very conscious of my poor engagement with others on those platforms. For that, I sincerely apologise.
Still, it’s all I can do to keep my head above water, so it is what it is. Those things will resume when I get my other priorities under control.
This week, I am going to attempt to conquer the out- of-control pile of papers on my desk that need to be graded, recorded and commented on in writing as constructive feedback for my students.
I’m also going to try to get one of my priority reads finished and reviewed.
I may even finish a poem that I’ve been working on in dribs and drabs when I’ve had a few spare minutes here and there.
Those may not sound like significant achievements, but each of them will be.
Here’s to setting goals and hopefully achieving them.
Today is celebrated as Mother’s’ Day in Australia and many other places around the world. My mother passed away in 2011, but today I want to pay tribute to her as the most influential person in my development and career as a bookworm.
I inherited my love of books and reading from both my parents, but it was Mum who put the consistent effort in to enabling my reading habit.
I surprised my mother – and probably everyone else, now that I think of it – by being able to read when I was three years old. In a manner entirely consistent with how I would behave for the rest of my life, I picked her up on skipping words and sentences when she was reading to me. I can understand her doing that – I’ve read the same book to kids a bazillion times, too, and it does wear a little thin. Back then, though, I was probably morally outraged as only a three year old can be when they’re getting shortchanged on a favourite story. When I read back to her the story as it was written on the page, Mum thought I had merely memorised the whole thing. So she chose a new book for me, and I read that one to her, too.
From that time on, Mum was always enthusiastic and active in encouraging me to read widely, and spent many Saturday afternoons driving me to the library so that I could borrow enough books to keep me going for two weeks.
By the time I was ten, I had read all of her Agatha Christie books and many of my grandgather’s Perry Mason and James Bond books, and I had well-loved copies of the Narnia Chronicles and the “Little House” books on my own shelf.
It was then that Mum let me read the old copy of Anne of Green Gables that her own parents had given her. I clearly remember reading Lucy Maud Montgomery’s descriptions of Prince Edward Island sand saying to her, “I’m going to go there one day.”
“You have no idea how far away that is!” she replied.
“I don’t care. I’m going!” was my response.
I finally did go to PEI and visited Green Gables in 2015, and I wished that I could have told Mum and shown her my photos. I believe she would have been genuinely happy for me, and proud that I had achieved something I had wanted to do since that young age.
I know my mother was proud of me for following her into teaching, and I know she would have been proud as punch of the fact that I became a writer, too.
My career as a poet and author, though, would have been far less likely to happen without the love for books and reading that Mum and Dad modelled and mentored for me, and for that I will always be thankful.
My first book was not born until almost five years after Mum graduated to heaven. I couldn’t write about her passing for several years afterwards, because it was too raw. When I did finish the poem that I wrote for her, I shared it with my father and siblings so that they could share my memory. If they hadn’t loved it, I wouldn’t have published it. They did, though, and it enabled me to share part of that last day of her life to which they were not witnesses.
Since ‘July 19, 2011’ was published in ‘Nova’, it has touched and encouraged many people who have lost their mums – and dads, and others close to them. When people tell me that my poetry has touched their heart or affected the way they think about something, that’s when I feel the most fulfilled as a poet. I’m really proud today that Mum’s poem can have that effect on someone else. Although she is gone, her legacy lives on, not just in my memory and my heart, but also in my writing.
It’s impossible to not miss my mother on days like today, and not a day passes that I don’t think of her. So, for Mothers’ Day 2018, I want to share the poem I wrote for her with you. I hope you enjoy it and find it meaningful.
Only on rare occasions am I ever tempted to feel as though I might just get on top of things.
Other days, like today, I realise yet again just how little most people value me, or anything I do.
Seriously, universe, what am I doing wrong?
I work hard, I’m a loyal friend, and I care more about people than most of them will ever realise. It’s true that I don’t come in the smallest package with the sleekest, glossiest wrapping, but if I’m given the choice of someone who “fits an image” or someone who will both help me and defend me or die trying, I know which person I’d pick to have on my team. I’m not perfect, but who is?
So, tonight I’ve spent a few hours trying to think through and process how I feel and why, In that process, the words of one of my own poems came back to me. I wrote ‘Cold Shoulder’ on a previous occasion when other people’s behaviour left me feeling a similar way.
Many years I’ve lived on the Cold Shoulder An inhospitable, stony place – Where there’s little but frosty silence, No allowance for comfort or grace.
The chill wind of indifference Cuts the air without making a sound, Skittering icy flakes of apathy And leaves’ skeletons over the ground.
A fine specimen of resilience, I’m a fine diamond in the rough, A survivor of hostile conditions Where life is invariably tough.
I suffer no delusions of love – For that loss I have frequently wept; But knowing I don’t matter at all Is the hardest of truths to accept.
Weary of relentless erosion, I implore the stone lords for reprieve, But there is no reward for devotion To those in whom you don’t believe.
Let them preach not to me of salvation When they hold all the power in their hands To inflict such complete desolation – One could never meet all their demands.
So I remain here on the Shoulder In this treacherous, heartless place: Although frigid, this landscape is honest, And each rock only has the one face.
This is not new territory for me. I have survived every other “kick in the head”, and I’ll survive this one, because I refuse to lay down, shut up and die. And I’ll make all seven people who do actually care about me proud in the process… again.
It does make me wonder, though, why I fall into that same trap of assuming that anyone else ever actually tries to see my worth, or cares about it.
Apparently, I never learn.
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.
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.
Two weeks ago, I had finished an incredibly busy first term at school and was looking forward to a well-earned break for a couple of weeks.
When people asked me, “Are you doing anything for the holidays?” I gave them my standard answer: “As little as possible.”
You’d think I’d learn not to tempt fate like that, but apparently not.
Family came to stay, visitors called in, things happened. I just needed to rest… but when was that ever going to happen? I wanted to write, but there was no time for that, either. I began to feel as though life was out of control.
And then, I started to get angry. It wasn’t directed at anyone or anything in particular – instead, it was a rumbling discontent within me. As the only introvert in a house full of rampant extroverts, I felt misunderstood and somewhat neglected.
One afternoon, my house fell quiet for a few moments. I sat in the comfy chair in my study with a book, took a deep breath, and before I knew it, I had dozed off. It didn’t last long.
I woke up to a barrage of sound from the football blaring on the TV in the adjoining room, people talking loudly to be heard over it, and others talking loudly with a phone on “speaker” mode. They could have gone to another room. They could have closed my study doors and left me there in peace. But they didn’t.
That was when this poem erupted from within me.
The imagery of a dragon is not accidental: I wanted to incinerate them them all, or at least toss them around a bit with my tail. Knowing that I couldn’t breathe fire on them all like I wanted to – they are family, after all – I escaped to my bedroom, closed the door, closed the drapes, and promised myself that whoever dared to knock on that door— or, heaven forbid, walk through it— and interrupt me again definitely had it coming. Then, as I generally do, I unloaded my feelings in the most therapeutic way I know: angry poetry.
It doesn’t tell the complete story. It’s really just a brief glimpse of a scene, but it reveals enough for the reader to understand. And I’m sure every exhausted teacher or parent, every person who is exhausted by constant demands, and every introvert who reads it will totally get it.
Yesterday was somewhat traumatic. Having confronted a face from the past that I’d really rather not ever see again, I was left with time on my hands and too much on my mind. So I defaulted to my usual sanctuary – books. I didn’t have my device with me, so I headed to my favourite book store to find something to read. My need for ink on paper and a pretty, nicely textured cover in my hands was just too strong.
It’s a luxury, you know, having a local bookshop. The town in which I live doesn’t have one, but the larger town in which I work has two, as well as a fantastic place that sells second hand and antique books.
For me, the choice is simple. I will always support locally owned, independent businesses rather than larger chains or big department stores.
As an Indie author, I know how hard it is to compete against the bigger fish that swim in the same pond. Among other advantages, traditionally published authors have someone else’s marketing budget on their side, along with a team of people to help them get their books in front of readers.
It’s actually not a lot different for independently owned shops, whether they sell books or anything else. Consider for a moment what they have to compete with: not just the huge online companies that control the world of desktop shopping, but also those local shops owned by large commercial chains which, while they may have a local presence, are generally not owned by anyone who lives down the street from you or whose kids go to the same school as yours. The owner of that local store has to pay the rent and insurance, stock the shop, pay employees, and make a living in an increasingly difficult and competitive marketplace.
That’s why I buy my physical books at an independent store rather than from a book retail chain, or a big department store. The price for the same book is no different, but I know that I’m helping to put food on the table of a local family, or helping them to pay the neighbourhood mechanic for fixing the family car. My $30 probably won’t make much of a difference at all to an international company, but it makes a huge difference to an individual business owner.
I admit that the local store doesn’t have everything I want. I like to read some fairly specialised history, and I completely understand why they don’t usually stock that: I’m more nerdy about my history than most of the population. I can handle shopping further afield for that if I have to – but if I ask them to order a particular history book for me, they will.
They do, however, have a large range of children’s books, teen and young adult fiction, adult fiction, biographies, and new releases.
They also have a great selection of books written by local authors, whom they happily and actively support and promote.
Did the local book chain store agree when I asked them to stock my books on their shelves? No, they did not.
My local independent store not only agreed, but went way beyond that: they not only stock and display all of my books, they actually organised and hosted my first book launch.
They also host regular events at which local authors are welcome to meet and greet readers, sign books, and give readings from their work. That kind of support is pure gold to an author.
If we don’t support our local businesses, we will lose them. We will be left with fewer options, poorer service, and towns and communities that no longer prosper and thrive the way they once did.
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.
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.
The emergency services website showed incidents all across the region, one after the other, spreading in a grim pattern of danger and destruction.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.