A Much-Needed Break

COVID-19 restrictions were recently eased in our area, just in time for us to make the most of us both having four days off work.

We took the opportunity to sneak away for a break and headed down the coast with our friends, caravans in tow, phones switched onto silent, and four days’ worth of food, drinks and comfy old clothes ready to go.

At this point of 2020, we fully realise what a luxury four days away from home really is. After months of staying home, teaching from home, and only leaving home when absolutely necessary, the change of scenery was most welcome. Of course, Melbourne and its surrounding area are still under restrictions, so this is a privilege most people in my state do not have. I do feel sympathy for them, but not sufficiently to forgo the pleasure of my first real break since January.

We are camped at the little coastal hamlet of Yambuk on the south-western coast of Victoria. It’s a picturesque little spot, overlooking a lake that is kept separate from the ocean only by sand dunes. We can see the ocean beyond the dunes, hear it murmuring all night as we rest, and easily walk to the beach whenever we so desire. The lake has a bird population of a dozen gulls and one magnificent pelican, while our campsite has several blue wrens that keep us entertained.

Not that I need much for entertainment. I’m happy to gaze at the sea, or the birds, or watch the sun dip behind the dunes as dusk cloaks the countryside with a blanket of almost-but-not-quite-darkness, illuminated by stars and a full moon so bright you could almost read by it.

I had planned to record and upload a couple of spooky stories for Halloween, but the phone signal is so low, I can’t even upload images to Instagram unless I drive twenty minutes to a bigger town. This would usually frustrate me but, this weekend, I really don’t care. So, I put my phone down and decided I would also take a good break from screens.

I have taken the opportunity to walk, to nap, to read books, to do puzzles, and to sit in companionable silence with my friend. I have managed to get a few nice photos. I have taken time to contemplate the huge differences in my life between last January and now. I don’t know if this year has changed me, but it has changed lots of things for me.

I suppose I am stronger, but I don’t feel it. It’s going to take more than four days to heal that amount of damage, but at least I’ve made a bit of a start.

I’m very thankful for this beautiful place and the time off that made this little getaway possible.

Most of all, I am thankful for the people who are willing to nourish me physically and spiritually, and to hold my hand or encourage me while giving me time and space to work on myself. I am blessed to have some of those people right here with me this weekend, while others are still on the other side of closed borders. It may have been one of the most rubbish years ever, but I am richly blessed to have some amazing people in my life to help me get through it.

This post and its pictures actually uploaded after who-knows-how-many attempts. I had actually given up and put my phone down again, and noticed some time later that it has uploaded. And they say miracles don’t happen!

A Dark And Stormy Night

Image Credit: Mylene2401 on Pixabay

I generally love a good thunderstorm. Tonight, I appreciate it even more than usual.

Growing up, I loved seeing Snoopy start his stories with “It was a dark and stormy night”. I used to giggle at that clichè long before I understood the deeper allusion to the fact that authors sometimes use the weather to reflect or foreshadow what characters in their stories feel or experience.

This is a literary device known as pathetic fallacy. It is used to set mood and tone in a piece of writing or art, emphasising emotions and heightening reactions. Rain can be used to reflect sorrow or misery, dark clouds can suggest anger or resentment, and a storm can suggest conflict, inner turmoil or violence.

If you’ve ever read ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Bronte, you will have experienced pathetic fallacy being used so expertly that you may not have even noticed. Blended seamlessly with gothic imagery, turbulent relationships and the isolation of the Yorkshire moors, Bronte’s use of snow, rain, storms, cold and dark makes for incredibly powerful writing. Who can forget Cathy at the window during that storm, begging Heathcliff to let her in? It’s legendary because it is powerful, emotive writing that embeds its imagery in the consciousness of the reader.

My other favourite example of pathetic fallacy is Shakespeare’s King Lear shouting at the snowstorm, “Blow, wind, and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow!” Lear has literally been left out in the cold by his daughters Goneril and Regan, who have exploited his love and trust before throwing him out, homeless and broke. It’s such a potent scene — the depths of human coldness are amplified by the vision of a broken-hearted old man outside in a blizzard. It is chilling in more ways than one, and possibly one of Shakespeare’s finest scenes.

At other times, pathetic fallacy seems predictable and cliched. Sometimes it is almost painfully obvious and clunky. It often appears to be overused by authors who don’t have the finesse required to make it work — possibly because when authors do have that skill and it is done well, it it works as it is intended to without irritating the reader.

Tonight, nature is doing the author’s work for me. Outside, it is indeed a dark and stormy night. It has been raining steadily for hours now, thunder rolls and reverberates every now and then, and a draught of wind occasionally howls at the door. I am sitting in my father’s hospital room, having been called in late at night because he has been distressed and agitated. I have shed tears while talking with family members or sending messages. My emotions are all over the place. I’m both incredibly tired and wide awake.

A rainy night with the occasional rumble of thunder is most fitting.

Having Dropped — And Temporarily Lost — The Ball

I’ve been absent.

It seems that I haven’t just dropped the proverbial ball when it comes to blogging regularly, I’ve gone and lost the jolly thing.
I last saw it a couple of weeks ago, when it bounced a couple of times before rolling away through some very prickly bushes and falling into a seemingly bottomless hole.

The thing is, life since that drafted virus unleashed itself on the world has been tumultuous.

I could tell you I haven’t written anything, but that’s not true. I have written some really great lessons and three entire new units because what I had planned (and written) previously wasn’t going to work in an online learning environment.

I could tell you I didn’t have a quarantine project, but that isn’t true either. I’ve had two, both of which happened by necessity rather than design.

Project One: reinventing my career
Initial Observations: Teaching from home is a whole lot more work than it sounds. All that extra time online is very tiring.
Final Observations: Challenging and exhausting, but enormously satisfying. Most students engaged really well. More positives than negatives.
Verdict: Aced it.

Project Two: supporting my father as he spent a couple of weeks in hospital before transitioning into residential aged care.
Initial observations: Lots of phone calls. Mountains of paperwork. Huge emotional adjustments.
Further Observations: Decisions are hard, even when you actually have no choice. Emotions are hard. Being on one mental and emotional roller coaster while your dad is on a completely different one can only be dealt with by hanging on for dear life and completely faking any appearance of knowing what you are doing.
Verdict: Aced it. Especially the part where I looked like I knew what I was doing.

It should also be mentioned that these two significant challenges occurred simultaneously. I didn’t have time to scratch myself, much less spend any more personal time online than I did.

So really, I’ve achieved far more since mid-March than is apparent from my nonexistent output of either blog posts or fiction.

I admit that I have seriously contemplated walking away from writing and/or blogging. Even while considering that, I knew that was the stuff of emotional and mental exhaustion, because I still have ideas and plans bubbling away in the back of my mind. I am not ready to quit, and I would be letting myself down if I did.

I will get my mojo back, even if I’m not sure when that might happen.

Stay tuned, folks. I’m not dead yet.

Observations From Teaching From Home — In Front Of a Camera

Teaching in front of a camera has given me— and, I’m sure, every other teacher out there — a unique insight into what our students see when we talk and interact with them. 

I have made some honest observations about myself during this time.

I really do have RBF. Sorry, kids. I’m not annoyed or angry, that’s just how my face looks. 

When my eyes are tired, I tend to open them really wide after blinking. It tends to makes me look somewhat perpetually surprised. Prior to lockdown learning, I had no idea I did this.

At first, I touched my face a lot without thinking about it. Now? Not so much. 

My coffee cups look even more enormous on camera than they actually are. 

The little smiles I give to try to connect with my students, and to encourage and motivate them, can sometimes look a bit deranged. 

My eyebrows are perhaps my most expressive feature. 

My hair does, in fact, look really cool most of the time. 

Despite all those things, my students keep on showing up to class, working hard, getting things done and putting a smile on my face. They regularly brighten every day I spend with them. They’re a pretty awesome bunch.

There are a few other things I have observed.

Bad hair days and/or desperate need for a cut and colour are easily fixed with a nice beanie/touque/knitted hat.
The best way to find beanies/touques/knitted hats nice enough to wear for work is to have friends who knit or crochet. 
Also, a faux fur pom pom on a hat is far more satisfying than I ever realised. 

Working from home has its benefits, but it is definitely not less work. 

Looking at a screen for sustained periods of time is mentally and visually exhausting. I’ve started asking my students what sorts of trees are in their gardens, what they can see from their windows, and what’s happening outside their houses, just to make them look away from the screens every now and then. 
I’m also spending a lot less time on screen outside of class. There is nothing like losing yourself in a book, but when your eyes are tired, listening to great audiobooks and podcasts while staring into the distance is an enormously underrated and enjoyable sanity saver. 

Overall, things have worked fairly well for me.

On the Sunday evening before my final week of 100% remote teaching from home, I can honestly say that I can look forward to my classes this week with confidence.

I am also looking forward to seeing some of my classes and colleagues when we begging to return to school on June 1st. It will be great to get into a physical classroom again… although I wonder if that might feel a little weird now, too?

Observations from #TeachingFromHome In Front Of A Camera #TeacherLife #TeacherConfessions #TeachingOnline #blogpost

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.

The Facebook and Instagram Outage Crisis of March 13th, 2019

Despite the crisis that had unfolded overnight as I slept, I woke this morning to find that the sun had risen, gravity still worked, and the earth continued to turn on its axis. 

I had breakfast, got ready for work, and headed into a very busy day. Surprisingly, I found that the work deadlines and professional requirements that were in place yesterday still existed today. 

My students, however, were despondent. 

Them: Facebook is gone! Instagram doesn’t work! 
Me: Imagine how much work you might get done in the meantime!
Them: You’re not very sympathetic. 
Me: And that surprises you because…?
Them: Rolled eyes and sighs. Some lovely moments of dramatic pathos that I shall try to draw on in drama class. 

This left me wondering: what on earth does the world do without Facebook and Instagram? 
It seems the general response is to complain. 

Many of the real social media junkies responded by rushing over to Twitter to complain and commiserate with their followers and the social media world in general. 

In all honesty, some of the responses are pretty funny. 

Others demonstrate that many people are much worse at dealing with this kind of thing than they should be.  
I mean, really, Australia?
Emergency services?
That’s… pathetic.

This one has to be my favourite. It cuts through the whining and combines the sublime and the ridiculous with glorious snark.
Jenny Bean Edwards gets an A+ for World Studies.

Cheer up, folks.
I’m sure Facebook and Instagram and their enormously profitable algorithms will be back soon.

Until then? You may actually be forced to either read a book or have face-to-face conversations with real people.

Alternatively, you can head to twitter and follow me!

Current Status: Anticipation

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

There is something extraordinary about seeing a book you have written hit the shelves on release day.

Months of work. Writing. Refining. Painstaking editing. Preparing a marketing plan and creating ads.

And then the day comes, and you wait for the clock to tick over. Because time is a contrary beast, it drags its heels and makes you wait.

The waiting, though, is as exciting as it is tiresome. It really is a lot like waiting for Christmas or a birthday,

There is another layer of joy in this anticipation for me. After several really challenging years, it feels as though 2019 is starting in a very positive way that closes the door on those painful chapters.

That’s because while there are still poems in this collection that explore the darkness and the shadows that can plague us, there is a greater focus on looking at experiences and challenges with the clarity of hindsight that enables us to see through the deceptions and illusions to which we so often fall prey.

I see in many of these poems a fulfilment of the desperation expressed in some of my darker work. There is, quite frankly, more light and more hope .

It is that positivity and hope that I intend to carry into the new year.

So that’s where I am at this point in time.

New year. New book. New beginnings.
Bring it on!

Current Status: Alarms Have Been Turned Off

I feel like one of those athletes who stagger over the finish line and collapse… but I made it!

Today was the last day of term and the end of the school year.

The last two weeks since I returned to work after my surgery have been brutal and I feel like I have run a marathon, especially having had dad in hospital again at the same time, but I’m proud of myself for doing it, and looking forward to a very well-earned rest.

One of the things I really enjoy doing on this one particular day of the year is turning all my morning alarms off. It may take all of ten seconds, but it’s a ritual that restores my sense of “owning” my time again. I love being able to embrace my inner night owl once more, and take my daylight hours at a slower pace.

Six Weeks Post-Op Post.

Current Status: My neurosurgeon is happy, and so am I.

Today I saw my neurosurgeon for my six week post-surgery check up.

The short story is that he is extremely pleased with how I have healed and the way in which I have managed my recovery.

He showed me the MRI scan that prompted him to have me sent to Melbourne for surgery. Holy Toledo, I had no idea a disc would make such a mess when it ruptured. There is a very good reason they used the word “debris” to describe it.

He said the pain I still have is normal for the healing I still need to do, especially given that I am also dealing with fibromyalgia which can add to the inflammation of absolutely anything in the body at a moment’s notice. I still have to rest and pace myself, but any pain from the surgery should be gone within three months, which is good to know.

There are, however, some things he has advised me not to do, in the interests of maintaining my other lower lumbar discs as they are a little degraded. No gardening/digging, no vacuuming or cleaning the loo, minimal bending to the floor and no heavy lifting. If something causes discomfort, it is to be avoided so that I preserve the other discs.

All in all, the outcomes are very positive because a. I can walk, work, drive, and be independent, and b. I don’t actually like doing any of the things the surgeon told me not to do.

So, this is most likely going to be my last “update” on my adventures with Explodo-Disc. It’s nice to be able to say that it should be all onward and upward from now on. I’m looking forward to that.

Current Status: Bearing Up Quite Well!

Current Status: Onward and Upward!

It’s just over four weeks today since my spinal surgery, and I am really happy to be able to say that things are going very well.

My efforts toward moving better, walking further, regaining my strength and working toward a return to work before the end of the year have been yielding good results.

I am able to stand longer, sit longer, walk further and manage my pain better than I was even just a week ago. I have driven on my own, for ten minutes each way, and then twenty, to build up my ability to drive to Warrnambool for work.

On Friday night my husband drove me to Warrnambool – a 45 minute drive – so that I could attend to the graduation dinner for my senior high students who have now finished their formal school education. I didn’t last the whole night, but I did get to wish my past students well. I was really pleased to be able to do that because I wanted to show them that they mean a lot to me and that I am enormously proud of each one of them.

This was a huge achievement for me – it was my first “big outing” post-surgery, and I am proud of myself not just for getting there, but also for recognising my limits and leaving when I needed to. As soon as I was home i cracked out the really big pain meds, and went to bed.

On Saturday, I went back to Warrnambool with my cousin Angela, who just happens to be my partner in crime when it comes to Charlie Bear collecting. We both have a penchant for those particular bears, so an invitation to celebrate Charlie Bears birthday and witness the unveiling of the annual birthday bear was one we were both keen to accept.

I didn’t adopt the anniversary bear reserved for me: she is beautiful, but too pink for my taste. Anyone who knows me knows that the only time I like Pink is in my music collection, so that bear went home with Angela instead. I adopted a little black bear named Teddy and a little panda named Bobble instead. They will both be featured soon in my #abearandabook posts on Instagram.

I came home having coped really well with my second trip to Warrnambool in two days. It was a deliberate decision to do back-to back trips, because that’s what I am going to have to do when I return to work.

Today I drove to Camperdown again with a different purpose in mind. I will tell you more about that tomorrow when the details of my mission can be made public, but I can tell you that today’s significant achievement was walking down a set of steps – and back up again later – without pain. I can’t remember when that last happened, but it was at least a decade ago. 

I am very optimistic about returning to work on Tuesday.  I know I have to take it easy and not overdo things, but I am keen to do what I can to pick up the pieces of my life and see what I can do with them. We”ll see how it goes!