Confirmed: I Am A Very Poor Juggler.

Life is demanding… and sometimes, something’s got to give.

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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.

Mother’s Day, 2018: A Tribute To My Mother.

My mother was the most influential person in my development and career as a bookworm. 

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.

IMG_0035I 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.

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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.

 

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Achieving Balance… Slowly.

As a poet, I am always inspired by the beach and the sea.

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I posted recently about needing to write some positive poetry to balance the number of dark and melancholy poems that I’ve written, so that my next collection isn’t entirely moody, angry and defiant.

On Wednesday evening, between a meeting and a theatre company rehearsal, I grabbed some dinner and headed to one of my favourite spots – the beach. It was an unseasonally mild evening for early May— still 24 celcius when I got there— so I took off my shoes and grounded myself in nature with some deep breaths and my bare feet on the earth. It felt so good to find quietness and solitude there, just the sea, a few gulls and me.

While I sat on the foreshore and pondered the scene before me as evening fell, the beginnings of a poem came to me. Now that it’s finished, I’m pretty happy with it. I love the sensuous, joyful feel of a lovers’ reunion, and I think I’ve captured the moment well.

Consider me encouraged.

 

Joey'sMapleLeafTatt

 

Thank you to everyone who took the time to encourage or inspire me with ideas, whether as a comment or in a private message. It means a lot to me that you would do that, and that you’re interested enough in my writing to help me in that way.

 

Joey'sMapleLeafTatt

 

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I’d also appreciate any feedback on the poem. 

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When Evil Seems To Win.

A poet reflects on what inspired her latest piece of dark poetry.

One of the things I find hardest to deal with in life is the perception that sometimes, evil seems to win.

I don’t know why it should surprise me each time it happens, but it still does. I don’t know why people’s cruelty and evil actions still shocks me, but it does.

Let me explain where this train of thought originated.

Not long ago, I witnessed the complete and irreversible downfall of someone I’ve known for some time. I haven’t always necessarily liked that person – less, in fact, as time went on, although that’s not really relevant to this post. I honestly thought that their behaviour couldn’t get any lower than what I had already witnessed, and what I already knew of him. I was wrong.

Please understand that in writing this post, I do not for one moment mean to suggest that I feel sorry for him. I don’t.
I do feel incredibly sorry for those whose trust he, and every other person like him, has broken and abused. My heart breaks for those who find themselves and the rest of their lives shattered among the trail of destruction they leave behind. These things leave permanent scars from which some people never recover.

And there is no denying that I am incredibly angry. How dare he? He can’t say he didn’t know it was wrong. He can’t say he didn’t know what he was thinking. He knew, and he went ahead and did it anyway.

So, as his life unravelled before my eyes, I was left feeling the same about him as I do about everyone who betrays the trust of the people they should be protecting.

Whether it’s broken friendship, corruption, or an absolute degradation of one person by another, I believe that there are powers in this world that celebrate when someone who has always taken a strongly moral stand falls from a position of leadership and finds themselves in a downward spiral of shame and humiliation, especially if it’s a person of faith.

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It was this chain of thought that led me to write ‘The Demons Dance’. It is grim imagery of demons dancing and celebrating around the crumpled form of their latest victim, upon whos miery and death they are completely drunk.

In this poem, as in a number of my others, my love of writing horror and the macabre has combined with my penchant for poetry to produce what I believe is poetry that is both grotesque and beautiful at the same time.

Click to read The Demons Dance.

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When The Words Won’t Come.

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

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.

Friday the 13th and Other Curious Things.

If someone were to give me a hard time, I’d want Friday on my side.

As you’re probably already aware, today is Friday the 13th.
For many, superstition is just old-fashioned silliness. Others set very strong store in superstitions, old wives tales, and various other traditions.
Friday 5 Bless You

My affection for Friday 13th is different than mere superstition. I wrote Friday’s first story for Friday the 13th back in October last year. When I wrote what I thought was going to be a single piece of flash fiction, I had no idea how that cat was going to take over. Honestly, sometimes I wonder if I actually created him at all.

Between Friday 13th of October and Halloween last year, Friday demanded that thirteen stories be told. He’s a typical insistent cat in that sense… he just kept showing up and swatting my creative juju with his paw until I agreed to do his bidding. He has similarly demanded since then that his stories of Christmas Eve, New Years Eve and Valentine’s Day be told. And then, out of the blue, he whispered to me, “Tomorrow’s Friday the 13th. You should put Curious Things on sale for 99c.”

I’m really very fond of Friday. He’s a magnificent black cat with a lucky habit of being present when curious things take place.
He’s highly intelligent, fiercely loyal and devilishly handsome.
And I have to tell you– if someone were to give me a hard time, I’d want Friday on my side.

Promo Curious Things Cover
Curious Things delivers thirteen stories of people encountering justice for their wrongdoings, all as Friday watches on. Is he responsible? Or is it just lucky coincidence that he is present when these strange events take place?

If you’ve ever wished for karma to move a little faster, indulged in uncharitable thoughts about certain annoying people, or suspected that having a black cat cross your path was not quite as unlucky as people seem to think, this book is for you.

The book is full of dark humour, macabre events and mild-to-medium intensity horror, but it’s not just splatter for splatter’s sake. It’s really all about poetic justice and people getting what’s coming to them, via a very special feline.

Don’t just take my word for it, though. As the author, I’m clearly biased.
So, as a means of reassuring you, here’s what some of the reviewers on Amazon have said:

” Vengeance may be sweet—but, meting out justice vigilante-style just isn’t practical. Then along comes Friday, a black cat whose intelligence and curiosity gets the better of those who deserve their just desserts. Obvious or implied, Friday shows up where the wrath of Biblical justice is called for. And, it’s so gratifying to watch the gruesome details unfold!” – Reviewer

“I really like this book’s blend of dark humour and horror – that really appeals to me. I liked the way the author made each story about something different, and that the things that happened to the bad guys were all different to what happened to the others. The horror bits were good enough to make my skin crawl and give me a shudder, which is what I love in a spooky book. I really like Friday because he’s such a typical cat, but you also realise that he’s something more than that, too.
Don’t start reading this book thinking it’s just a story about a nice kitty. Read it because you want to see his dark side.” – Reviewer

“13 awesome stories with 13 lessons to think about. I adore the cat, Friday. I reckon if I had Friday in my life, I would feel way safer. This cat is like Karma on four legs.” – Reviewer

” A lovely collection of tales, overseen by a cat who defends his person with almighty power.
A little gory, and a lot killy!” – Reviewer

Curious Things is available on Amazon and in all other major digital stores.

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Even if horror isn’t your “thing”, some of my author friends have their books in Book Squirrel’s Friday 13th 99c sale today, too.
Why not pop over and check them out?

Why You Should Support Your Local Independent Book Store.

Supporting local businesses is vital. It should be a straightforward choice.

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.  2018-04-06 12.01.50

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.

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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.

2018-04-07 09.49.15I 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.

It’s not really such a difficult choice, is it?

Exhausted.

Teacher exhaustion is real.

School has resumed after the six week summer break that we enjoy here in Australia. After completing my First Aid, Asthma/Anaphylaxis First Aid and CPR re-certs last week, followed by three full-on days of professional development and preparation, I had my first day with classes today.

The kids are great and, if the first day is any indication, I’m pretty sure we’re going to have a good year together.

But holy beaverschnitz! I am exhausted. I don’t remember being this tired at the start of a school year before.

Exhaustion
Exhaustion by Jessica Cross via Flickr 

I’ve come home every evening this week, fallen onto my bed and wept until I fell asleep like a two-year-old who still desperately needs that afternoon nap. I honestly have no idea why they resist that so much!

This afternoon a colleague asked me a question about something that happened last year, and I told him quite honestly that I was having trouble remembering yesterday. I can’t do social media. I can’t read. I can’t write. It’s a good thing I did my preparation for the semester over summer, because there’s no way I could get it done now given the shape I’m in at the moment.

There’s a running joke in my house – okay, so it’s actually not much of a joke, to be honest – that my husband makes me a double shot in the mornings because it’s my kick starter dose of Vitamin DHP – “Don’t Hurt People”. That double shot usually keeps me going most of the day. Today, it got me to about 10.15am and then my grip on reality started to crumble. I focused on my classes, tried to make all the words make sense, and dragged myself to lunchtime, and then downed 600ml of Coke Zero in record time – even for me.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining. I know it’s part of my job and it will pass. I’m just trying to explain why the blog has been quiet, why I’m not active on social media, and why emails are going longer than usual before I respond.

The only thing I can do effectively right now is hope I snap back into the rhythm and routine of teacher life quickly, because the pile of essays and papers in need of grading is going to start mounting up very soon.

Until then, though, if you see me staring into space or collapsed at my desk, administer caffeine… and please, be kind.

 

 

Barbarians: who knew?

What does a teacher do when a student calls another a name that is just plain wrong?

Yesterday one of my students called another a ‘Philistine’. I know he meant to suggest that his friend was uncultured and ignorant, and that is what many understand the word to mean.

So, being the time-and-knowledge-generous history nerd that I am, I took a break from our study of World War I and explained to my class that what he meant to suggest is not what the Philistines were at all.

The Philistines were a cultured and wealthy civilisation that lived in Canaan between the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and the biblical kingdoms of Judah and Israel. They lived in and between five cities: Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gath. The same region bears the name ‘Palestine’ today – a name derived from the Philistine civilisation. The ancient Philistines enjoyed enough military prowess to hold their own against Lebanon, Syria and Egypt at different times, fighting with spears, straight swords and shields. When not fighting wars, they lived in elaborate buildings and made their own pottery.

It doesn’t really seem consistent with the idea of ignorance, does it?

Sadly, this is not the only case of such name-calling being so ironic.

Barbarian is another term which is used quite wrongly. It’s used to suggest that someone is wild or uncivilised.  Historically, the Barbarians were any number of Germanic tribes that moved throughout Europe in what many refer to as ‘The Dark Ages’, even though they weren’t so dark at all.

Barbarians
The Barbarians. https://www.pinterest.com.au/pin/416794140495615038/

Really, if you look at them, they don’t look so incredibly different from one another, nor from the folk our history books tell us were our own ancestors. It may surprise you to know that the Barbarian tribes included the Angles, Saxons and Picts who set up shop in Britain after the fall of the Roman Empire and eventually became some of the most devotedly civilised people on earth. The Gauls became the French, the Geats became the Swedes, and the Danes went on to give us Hamlet, pastries and an Australian princess.
(Disclaimer: I don’t know if the part about the pastries is true, but they must be called danishes for a reason… right?) 

The Vandals, for example, may have left a trail of destruction in Gaul and Iberia, but they only made a bit of a mess of Carthage before taking it as their capital and making extensive renovations. As a military power, they had skill and knowledge – you’ve actually got to hand it to anyone who could not only withstand the power of the Roman Empire, but also hold their own in so many battles over such a long period. And when they weren’t busy fighting the Romans, they were highly cultured, enjoying music and poetry. They conducted a lot of industry and trade in their North African kingdom. It really was not about breaking or ruining stuff at all.

The Goths, oddly enough, did not sit around in dark clothes wearing black makeup. The name “Goth”  was derived from ‘Geats’, the tribe famous for its honour and pride in the Anglo-Saxon legend of Beowulf,  as told in the oldest English poem in existence.

Scandinavia at the time of Beowulf.
Map Prepared by Louis Henwood for ‘The History of English’ podcast, episode 42

They actually had sophisticated architecture and beautiful mosaic art. They made and wore intricate gold jewellery. They were farmers, weavers, potters, blacksmiths. They followed intricate burial rites, making sure that the graves always pointed north.

Related to the Goths were the Visigoths, meaning “Goths of the west” who ruled Spain for a couple of centuries. They built churches that still stand today, decorated their buildings with intricate filigree art and stone arches. They were skillful metalworkers and jewellers.

It seems to me that we do history a disservice by misusing these terms in such a way.  Connotations are not always the easiest things to track through history, but these seem quite unfair. I suspect that such practice grew out of the fear of anything or anyone different, foreign and/or pagan – a concept with which Western society is still painfully familiar.

By the end of all that, the kids’ eyes had glazed over a bit, and there was a fair bit of smiling and nodding going on. I don’t think they will be calling each other Philistines again, though. So… mission accomplished.

 

If you’d like to know more about Beowfulf and the Geats, you could listen to a fabulous episode from ‘The History of English’ podcast. It’s a great podcast, and if you’re interested in the development and history of the English language, or the relationships between language, people, and places, you should consider subscribing. 

On Realising How Awful I Look. 

A day with family, holding a brand new baby, can make you see things from a new perspective.

I spent most of today with family, welcoming my new great-nephew to the family. It was a day full of love, laughter and baby cuddles… and lots of photos. 

Holding my beautiful baby boy made me overflow with all sort of love. Seeing my 86 year old dad holding him made us all more than a little emotional. Another picture of four generations – my dad, my brother, a niece and a baby boy – is a wonderful blessing that many families don’t see. 

I have also observed multiple times today how awful I look. That has been my first reaction to every photo I am in. 

In addition to chronic pain and depression, too many months of anguish, stress and anxiety have taken their toll. I have cried every day for at least 250 days. I have feared and I have despaired. And it shows. 

BUT I have also survived. It doesn’t really matter how crapful I end up looking. I’m stronger than everything that has tried and still tries to bring me down.

My heart and soul have bled onto pages and screens, but my words have touched, encouraged and inspired people on the way. My writing have been praised, and my books have won awards. 

So when you look at me or see pictures and think I don’t look so great, you just remember that I’ve earned it.