Transition Girl

Why transition girl?... Best answered by a quote from the Iliad....."The soul was not made to dwell in a thing; and when forced to it, there is no part of that soul but suffers violence."

Saturday, July 01, 2017

the start of July

The winter solstice (shortest day of the year) has been and gone in Australia. The weather reports say the days are colder. I went for a walk yesterday just after dawn and let my breath create fog as the air escaped my mouth. It was bracing. Yet I was fueled by a warm glow that was not just a result of the crispness adding a rosy hue to the cheeks on my face.

Maybe it's the holiday I've just had - fulfilling an (almost) life-long dream to visit the Kimberley region in remote north western Australia, a dry summer experience in the middle of winter. Maybe it's the job offer that came at the tail end of that break - finally an opportunity to move roles after almost 13 years into a new area, which coincidentally is a role I've wanted to try for years (first time advertised in that time). Maybe it's the report back from my Beta readers - those six anonymous avid readers who invested time reading a draft on my latest manuscript and who all trumpeted the originality of the premise. Maybe it's my latest celebrity crush - a (much) younger man who I admire from afar for their writing talent as much as their adorable smile.

The walking in heat. The walking in cold. The opportunity to explore new things in my real world as well as in my writing imagination. These are the things that inspire me. It is not the middle of winter at all as I am sitting at my writing desk with my gas log fire burning, drinking chai-spiced tea to inflame the creative spark running through my veins.

I am about to start working on the third draft of the Peithosian Gift. I have lost track of the plethora of ideas for plot, character, and story structure that came to me yesterday afternoon (after a long walk where I let my mind wander through a tangent world singing songs by Neil Finn). I have a whole new character to create to help balance the moral stance I have taken in drafts one and two - even out the stakes so my readers can decide for themselves which characters are right and wrong rather than trusting my choice. I need to develop more detail about time and place, flesh out the world of the story and the characters that inhabit it. I need to decide whether one of my characters is a real saviour or just a vessel of something much stronger. I need to decide when I reveal one of the key plot twists in the story.

So much to do.

I am so excited.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

There are a lot of rocks in the Kimberleys

It's been some time since I have travelled to a remote place in the middle of nowhere for that "edge of the earth" feeling. This particular trip has been on my wish list for many years, and there have been several false starts attempting to find my way there without success. In the end, it was a safari planned by another - all in the name of breaking a travel curse that has plagued me for several years with a few major holidays cancelled due to illness during that time. (I've spent the last five months in as close to a bubble environment I could create without actually being the "no touching" Bubble Girl - all to avoid infections that might knock me over before I could fly. It paid off. The curse is broken, finally!)

The Kimberleys region in far north western Australia has been number one on my must see places for as long as I can remember, probably first desired not long after I caught the bug as a child accompanying my parents travelling across the globe. Along with the World Heritage listed Bungle Bungles, it is unquestionably known as a place of natural beauty. It is pretty much on every list of places to see before you die for natural wonders of the world. It is also a place where, if you say you are going "off-grid", it is true. Over the vast expanse of land out there, there is no access to phone or internet. For this aspect alone, it was a miracle to be free to connect with only the surroundings unchained from the world wide web.

I went "old-school" - packing my journal and camera along with hiking boots and swimming* gear among essential clothing, and as much sunscreen and insect repellent as I could carry. (The Australian sun is harsh, capable of burning skin in as little as 5 minutes, and the bug life here can have a nasty bite.) This was about as much preparation required in an otherwise completely personalised experience, courtesy of Helispirit Safaris. No expense spared, two years of my travel budget savings blown in one trip, enabled by two friends willing to do the same, we had our own pilot (Sam) and helicopter able to take us to places no car could ever reach. (An experienced hiker might be able to do in several months what we did in six days). (*Swimming is only possible in rock pools on the plateaus above the salt waterways and sea - too many salt-water crocodiles with their vice-like jaws hidden in the mud and shade.)

I won't gloat with blow by blow details of all the incredible places we stopped and explored during our flight across this extraordinary land. A map of our path is shown below.


But I will say this - there are a lot of rocks in the Kimberleys. This place would be a geologist's wet dream. I hiked over sand, through gorges, over many river stones, and across rocks and boulders of varying sizes, scaling and slipping my way awkwardly on walks of varying difficulty (Grade 2 through to 5). This included crawling through a cave into a pitch black cavern (with only forehead torches to light up our way). After a particularly abundant rain soaked wet season, there are also a plethora of waterfalls cascading over some of the red rocks. Of course, we see faces in the rocks, we cannot help ourselves. There is a word for this phenomenon, how we humanize things, it's called paradolia. Yet there are micro-organisms in the rock - for example, bacteria coat the stone in the Bungle Bungles, protect the sand from erosion. It is alive!



Sunrises and sunsets over the coastline barely touched by any human took my breath away. As did the aerial views of rivers fanned by mudflats, multiple varieties of mangroves and the turquoise sea lapping the land. The colour in these surroundings is eye-popping bright.



It takes a bit of effort to see the wildlife that resides in this remote land. But there is a wealth of birds (ospreys, sea eagles, kytes to name a few), fish (red perch, barramundi, golden salmon), turtles and frogs (splendida tree frogs are native, alas the cane toads are not). These are mostly harmless, as are the orb spiders. The same cannot be said for the snakes and crocodiles. I confess, the birdlife was so impressive, I purchased a copy of the "Field Guide to Birds of Australia" on my return home. Bird watching has been an incidental bonus of my hiking pursuits but it's time to get serious and accept I should embrace this part of my inner Thoreau personality as an ongoing hobby proper. The flora was also interesting (trees thriving as they clung to cliff faces). Allergies aside, the red flowers of native wild grevillea a unique light in the surrounding green.



No travel report is complete without some reflection on the spiritual insights acquired when standing in the middle of nowhere. In truth, the journey was over before it really started - there was barely enough time to take in the remoteness. (There was much more written in my private journal which will remain so.) A few more months would have made this version of mindfulness a fulsome commune between nature and my inner-self. The local walks near my home will allow me the time for more head-clearing, purging the past, embracing the now, and letting go of any anxiety about what the future holds.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Still me

I've been procrastinating for much of this year so far. Three months been and gone and I haven't written anything new. Until today. I would not say the writers block has been vanquished permanently. I would say that it is clear to me now that I need to be in a darker headspace to want to write. When you read what I wrote, you will understand. It is a truism that writers need to embrace their inner angst to emote on a page with any authenticity.

My effort today only came about because I stayed in bed this morning with a mongrel of a headache. My head still hurts and I can barely concentrate but I had the words below looping inside my head when I woke up and they have been lingering there all day. Splash them onto a page and perhaps the pain will subside. Perhaps today is the day my creative flow returns and the rest of the year will be productive.

The poem below, same title as this blog - Still Me , is my attempt to articulate how I have been experiencing Multiple Sclerosis since I was diagnosed with the disease. I'm still in the early stages - a couple of years into it. Hopefully I will be there stalled for a while. I am still trying to come to terms with what it will mean for me (and my writing) in the years to come. It's fair to say, I am a little overwhelmed by yet another physical setback in a steady stream of bitch-slap downs the Universe has bestowed upon me courtesy of my crappy inherited genes. And people wonder why I contemplate short story themes like intergenerational karma.

Anyway - here's the poem...

It’s still me.
Sort of.
Most of the time.
My body is my temple?
More a natural born killer.
Capable only of friendly fire.

It is still me.
I do not understand the why.
All I know is the when.
It sneaks up suddenly, stays for a short stretch.
Then illusionist aplomb vanishing act.
Location unknown for a time undefined.
Homing beacon marking the place to return
when the stress and heat is ripe.
Lapse – remission – relapse – repeat.
A cycle of scarring spins ever downward.

It is. Still me.
Even though the inside of my head crackles and aches
Just before I lose my sense of touch.
Then limp left side, unsure footing, blurry vision
right eye blindness, far too many bathroom breaks.
Exhausted, out of focus.
My face feels damp from unreal flowing water
as white lesions dance and grow in number.
A crowd celebrating their successful beachhead
entrenched among the grey matter.
And this is only the beginning.

It is still me.
Slowly being redefined by others.
With every uttered word
spilling from my mouth
reshaped in the surrounding air
By the weight of their ill-conceived assumptions.
Ignoring my plea that I be treated the same
as I was before I confessed.
I cannot blame them.
They cannot know what they do not know.
And so, a disease is a disease is a disability.
In their eyes.
No matter how normal I seem on the outside.

Still me.
It is.
I promise.
True to my word.
I will be who I have always been to you.
Even if my body and mind lets me down every now and then.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

the year that was (or was not)

As is my custom, I spend those moments in between the conversations with relatives during the festive season in quiet contemplation. Thinking about the year that was (or was not depending on my frame of mind in the moment).

Physically speaking, it was a atypically healthy year for me. In my measure of highs and lows, as someone who has survived a neuro-endocrine pancreatic tumor and who manages not one but two crappy inherited genetic auto-immune diseases, it was a year absent of any new life-threatening diagnoses. Only seven weeks lost to viral infections and (for the first time in a very long time), my own voice was cough-free for almost three quarters of the year. No hospital stays and no new specialists added to my collection. Any need to live my life off the grid in a hermetically sealed geodesic dome seemed as remote as it has needed to be in a while (notwithstanding various world events that might suggest other reasons for thinking about building a bunker)!

Compromised immune system? Continuing life in a Petrie dish? Bring it on.

Yet, the year past seemed to be punctuated with many lows for me. There was more than one occasion where I thought about quitting my day job (flight response). It turns out mental resilience is a fragile thing when experiencing a sustained period of bullying. I do not want to talk specific details here because I haven't quit my day job. Instead I will cover the basics below.

I am not quite ready to walk away from a job that has given me a lot of satisfaction over the last few years even with the deterioration of one working relationship with a person in another organisation. Also, to be perfectly frank, I have little faith that any formal complaint against the perpetrator will be dealt with any compassion, particularly given the person is someone well above my pay-grade. The irony is the so-called professional is someone who should know better. On a bad day, I believe because the bully is knowledgeable in the subject matter, she knows exactly how much she can get away with and, as a result, I've experienced a spectrum of indirect threats, vilification, intimidation, ostricization, white-anting, and belittling over a sustained period of over a year. On a good day, I believe the bully doesn't even realise she is doing anything wrong as it is just part of her normal suite of behaviours and how she treats everybody (not just me).

Most of the time I am a stronger person. Call out someone who is mistreating any member of my team (including myself). It turns out an aggressive bully is impossible to reason with. And my body armour gets dented, battered and bruised through the steady flow of opportunistic slap-downs targeted my way.

I ended my year with my self-esteem in tatters. Two weeks break later - the new year only a week old, I can barely think about the year that was without wanting to cry. The thought of returning to work tomorrow terrifies me. Dreading any prospect of interaction, remembering one meeting last year was so bad, I could have sworn afterwards my body's reaction was akin to PTSD type shock. Mentally I was drained. Emotionally I was done. Spiritually I was dead. Physically, I smiled a strained smile.

Where does that leave me with my writing (after all this is a blog about my writing experiences)? My reflection of the year past led me to choose as my short-story theme for 2017 the idea of intergenerational karma. I wondered over about "sins of the fathers" and the question - how long would the Universe bitch-slap or feather-tickle echo through time? If a person(s) mistreat others, do they pay for their sins eventually or do their children and grand-children inherit the fruits of their labour? Does good behaviour really pay forward? A karma bank.

I am very much a believer in the ethical concept of "living your life as if you were in a time loop". Every decision you consciously make is precious and it is important to treat people with respect - in a way, benchmarking behaviour against what you would want to be remembered by. Generally speaking, people may not remember exactly what a person said, but they always remember how that person made them feel.

Fodder to fuel the 2017 writing efforts.



Saturday, November 19, 2016

The perks of fringe dwelling

I've finished the second draft of the "Peithosian Gift", and it will shortly be submitted for the next round of editorial. It is a good place to be when the scope of possible new lines of creating writing are infinite. At the moment, I am leaning towards writing a short story before Christmas, writing a stage play next year, and preparing the story board for the next novel (which will be part 4 of the "Panopticon" series, working title "The Serfdom"). The space in between each round of editorial represents freedom.

While I decide what to write next in my preferred genre, speculative fiction, I have been in a reflective mood of late so will share a few thoughts via an observational philosophical story....

....There’s a moment in life when you realise you are your father’s daughter, with no prospect of denying it. It is that moment when you recognise the core of your beliefs, your personality, comes from the genes you have inherited.

Before I reflect on who I am today, let me tell you a little bit about my father and family history.

My father was never a fan of joining groups with common interests. This included groups connected by blood. He packed up his wife and three children, put us on an ocean liner that travelled to the other side of the world, escaping from the rest of his family. I was too young to remember anything beyond a constant nausea caused by sea sickness. Australia may as well have been the moon because it created an expanse of distance where my father could dwell isolated from his brothers and sisters who insisted he should not disgrace the family name. For him, the wayward son, he showed instead a steely determination give them the finger and run far from the pack and be exactly who he wanted to be without constraint.

I grew up a long way from anyone with only my immediate family as a support anchor. There was also no organised religion to reach out to in my father's household either. My father hated the church almost as much as he loathed the siblings he left behind on the other side of the planet. This patriarchal mantra of banning participation in any other form of religious or secular club seemed to be a product of his lack of enthusiasm about joining groups generally.

A considerable chunk of my poetry writing efforts as a teenager were about dwelling on the fringe of civilised society, the place where my father moored our family. The fact that I wrote poetry at all was enough to keep me squarely there, and (perhaps indoctrinated to the anti-establishment beliefs of my father) I liked it. Most of the time.

I rebelled occasionally. At each of the many schools I found myself in (we moved around a lot) I made an effort to join a group (in defiance of my father’s disapproving eye). This included singing in a school production of “Joseph and his amazing technicolor dream coat”, playing soccer, netball and volleyball, and even joining the debating team. (The idea of joining a book club though was then and remains to this day an anathema to me.) I sung, played and argued competently but without passion, always feeling like I did not belong.

That feeling of comfort from detached distance has stayed with me a lifetime. The truth is the moments I feel most connected to the world are when I am generally alone. Individual pursuits — hiking to edge of the earth middle of nowhere breathtakingly beautiful places (of which there are many in Australia), sitting at my desk writing, seeing a movie, listening to music, reading a book (on my own), sailing on the water or deep-water diving underneath it.

Sure, I may be doing some of these things with other people, but ultimately the pleasure I get from the experience is the way it makes me (and no one else) feel. Arguably, an exception might be the many one-on-one conversations I have with friends about philosophical issues, yet even there I might argue that the discussions ultimately help me to contemplate the meaning of life when I am beyond the original conversation and lost in my own thoughts.

Don’t get me wrong. I see incredible value can be derived from creating groups including to pursue a cause. An example of this is the establishment of the union movement to improve wage outcomes though collective bargaining. A lovely theoretical construct. In practice though, in business generally it seems, irrespective of which side of the table a group is sitting (whether seeking better conditions or whether attempting to save costs), access to power seems to corrupt. And the ethicist that resides in me hates the abuse of power, no matter who wields it. [Aside: That’s an observational story for another day.]

I also see a downside to such collections of people. Group-think is as group-think does. The very thing that can give us a sense of belonging is also the thing that can create an “us-versus-them” mentality. How often have I seen media reports that show a minority being ostracised, sometimes to the point of violence, because those outnumbered dared to be different. 

What is it about human nature that many of us are driven to wanting to be part of a group? What is it about human nature that leads us to follow doctrines that seek to cull the herd of the so-called weakest? Maybe a long time ago (read: when we were first discovering fire) surviving demanded banding together and behaving as one for strength. Surely we are in another universe now in terms of distance from that place in ancient times where we need to be a part of a group to thrive?

I am channelling my father's voice when I express such views. He passed away several years ago and his views live on in me.

My father always reminded me of a character, Chief Bromden, in Ken Kesey’s book One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. While the book itself was a bleak critique of behaviourism, it highlighted above all else that “He who marches out of step hears another drum.” Walking to my office earlier this week I realised why I constantly choose to skip out of rhythm with the rest of the world. Because to me it is about escaping that metaphorical hospital ward that demands we acquiesce and be (un)comfortably numb. Submission to a group is a form of serfdom.

I am my father’s daughter.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Cutting Losses

Forgive me, it has been a while since my last confession. The first half of 2016 has been at best sporadic from a writing point of view. Hard to write about your writing experiences (yes, this is what this blog is about) when you are not writing.

Sure, there's been the odd moment of inspiration from an ideas point of view. Came up with a pearl of a short story idea (working title "Touch Therapy") though could not move beyond working out the names of the key characters in the story. Came up with some brilliant additional scenes to include during the redrafting process of my sixth book (working title "The Peithosian Gift") though have been struggling since January to actually draft or redraft anything.

I have, of course, been procrastinating. Big time. Road trips, baking, binge viewing of old tv shows, philosophising about the circular nature of time. (Aside: The last one I put the blame entirely on a brilliant science fiction show on Syfy called 12 Monkeys, which has been blowing my mind each week over the Autumn and Winter months, with ideas of an incredibly high calibre. Story telling just doesn't get any better than this show. Kudos to the show's writers.) Somewhere in between has been the odd sit down, writing at about a quarter of the pace I usually work. Through all of this and another extension of a deadline (for the next completed draft) there's been a niggling doubt in my mind that I am not taking the novel story in the direction I wanted to head when I originally started the drafting process.

At first I believed it was because I am content. I moved homes last December and the new surrounds have been so serene that I have relaxed to the point where people are asking if my personality has changed. The former steel wire ball is now soft loose string. I don't know whether to be complimented or offended by the suggestion. I figured out a long time ago that I write better from a darker space so the happier I am the less I write. (No prizes for guessing I did not write much during my university days or in the early years of my former marriage.)

After weeks of seriously intense dreams, I woke up this morning realising it was something else. My unanchored nightscape has a way of signposting (in neon lights) things I need to figure out even if most of the time it involves interpreting symbols only decipherable using a master code that's taken me years to break. The recurring theme in the dreams has been killing off strangers or destroying objects that are getting in the way of finishing a puzzle. Most people might think these death-filled dreams are disturbing yet I have not woken up feeling terrified or sad. The dreams are not about real death at all. As I said, metaphorical symbols of something else. Hence my interpretation that the dreams mean I need to change direction on a significant project in my life. And the project that matters to me is the work on the current novel.

Better late than never I suppose. It dawned on me that I have never been truly comfortable with my editor's suggestion to jettison one of the pivotal plot devices I used in the first draft of the current project. In the first draft , one of the main characters did not have a main POV (point of view). I did this deliberately because I wanted to tell the story from everyone else's perspective of this character to sell the idea that everyone had a view that was a long way from the actual truth (effectively the unreliable narrator concept taken to an extreme). My editor asked me to rethink it. I did. Reworked the plot to include this character's POV - it took me most of last summer to do this and on paper the new scene by scene summary sounded fine. But, in the time since then, I have redrafted less than one fifth of the reworked story. Just haven't been able to sit down and concentrate.

Today I will be going back to the drawing board. I will change direction. Cut my losses. I do not expect it will take me the rest of the winter to adjust the story summary. I expect that this decision will probably mean I will make my next deadline (early December) for a second completed draft. A step back will help me to move forward. Sometimes you need to run full circle and return to the start to figure out that's when you need to be.

I feel inspired to write this morning.


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Curse of the Renegade "H"

Still working on redrafting the storyboard for "The Peithosian Gift". It looks like, three quarters of the way through working out how many new scenes I have to write and how many of the existing scenes I have to re-order and substantially edit, most of the first draft of the next book will have to be re-written taking into account the first round of editorial comment. So far only two scenes of several dozen do not require a point-of-view character change. I definitely won't meet my next deadline.

Notwithstanding how daunting the task of the second substantive draft is, I have been feeling wonderfully inspired. I want to write a short story about stones as an allegory for people's emotions. These geological beasts are (for the purposes of my story) actually soft creatures that only harden when people touch them. I have an image in my head of a group of stones in a group therapy circle complaining about how stressed they are because their human owners are far too tactile for their liking. Strange how ideas for stories pop into my head when I am procrastinating about the major story that is my main project at the moment.

Perhaps the most interesting thing that has happened to me in the last few days which I swear is true is a personal experience on bureaucracy gone mad. One that I have to share because I have found it so funny though most of my friends and family to whom I have told cannot believe I have not been frustrated by it. I have well and truly mastered Zen to have laughed it off.

I wandered into the post office on Tuesday morning to submit an application to renew my passport for travelling. Not planning anything major in the next few months, only want to be ready should I decide to do what my boss would like me to do - which is to hop on a plane and phone him the next day from wherever I happen to find myself. (Attempts at travel for me have been a bit of an epic fail the last few years to the point where I no longer attempt to plan them.)

I carried with me all of the usual identity documents - birth certificate, Driver's license, Medicare card, and current passport - which the lady behind the counter scrutinized for several minutes. I could tell immediately I would have to do something I have spent far too much time doing over the last 25+ years every time anyone has needed to look at documents that prove who I am.

The counter lady then said, "your current passport has a different spelling of your first name to the rest of your identity documents. Are you Cristina or Christina?" "I am Cristina without a 'h' - that's my legal name, that's what is on my birth certificate."

"I can't process your application."

"It's because of the renegade 'h" isn't it?" I lamented. "My first ever boss added that letter to my name because he didn't listen to me when I spelled my name to him and that misspelling somehow found its way to my first official passport. Surely you can overlook that one document out of the many I have given you with my actual legal name correctly spelt and accept my renewal application."

"Your current passport is the most important document."

"More important than my birth certificate?"

"Yes."

"Even though the spelling in the passport is wrong?"

"Yes."

"What will I have to do to get you to accept my application?"

"You will have to go to the Office of Births, Deaths and Marriages and submit a form to change your name to get a piece of paper that has Cristina without a 'h' and bring that back to me."

"You are asking me to go and pay to change my legal name to my actual legal name?"

"Yes."

Perhaps because I have had so many similar conversations in the past with officials explaining the misspelling, the curse of the renegade 'h', I decided it was not worth arguing the point. So I headed across to another bureaucracy to change my legal name to my actual legal name. A few hours later, armed with signed application and a bank cheque to cover the cost of officially changing my name, I lined up in a queue to get to a point where I could then take a number to wait in another queue to have my identity documents certified so that I could then submit my application another day (because the Office does not accept name change applications after midday). I have chosen to arrange a cheque with an extra $110 paid so that my application can be 'priority' processed within five working days - it will otherwise take at least 72 days for them to surgically remove the 'h'.

When I reached the point in the first queue where a lovely lady could help me decide what number to take, she said - "you'll have to wait another hour and a half to get your identity documents certified or you can go to a police station and they'll certify for you provided you are who you say you are." It is at this point I wondered if either institution would accept me changing my middle name to something completely random like "El Guapo" even if I have not a single scrap of paper with that name on it. Best not to risk anything even remotely challenging. It is also at this point, I noticed that one of the queues in the Office is for those people seeking to "change the documents sent by the Office with incorrect spellings". I worry for a moment that I will send in my name change application and get a certificate with the letter 'h' somehow finding its way back into my name. Because there was a whole category of people waiting to get documents already sent corrected.

I decided to chance the police station, pondering the prospect that they might find the fact that one of my identity documents had the letter 'h' in it a tad confusing though certain it is not an arresting offence. I walked to the nearest police station. Emblazoned in bold capitals on the bullet proof glass was a sign that the station would only certify documents before 9am and after 5pm on any given day. Outside of office hours. On this deliciously warm summer's day, I laughed out loud thinking that most police stations are usually busiest outside of office hours - night time is when the crazies come out...I doubted I would find any officer in a good head space to sign documents for me, or to have any patience to hear my explanation about why I am changing my name to my actual legal name.

I decided to head back to the Office of Births, Deaths and Marriages ready to stand in another queue for the rest of the afternoon. By the time I returned, the earlier queue had miraculously vanished and a different lady at the handing out numbers station offered to certify the documents right then and there. She hand wrote her certification statement on every document I gave to her (10 in total) lamenting that she needed a stamp for this task (I concurred). She also told me she had to change her legal name to her actual name for the same reason I did. It seemed the renegade 'h' was a wider curse than I first thought.

I returned to work with my afternoon intact to resume a normal work day and popped my name change application in the post. Who knows what will come out the other end. I grinned at the day's adventure. I smiled that I survived without any thought to rage about the amount of time I spent standing around to do what can only be described as the strangest of things - completing paperwork to change a name to a name I already am because of a single renegade 'h'. Strange but true.

Feel free to call me El Guapo until my piece of paper arrives after which I will revert to my legal name, Cristina, with (hopefully) not a 'h' anywhere to be seen.