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, 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.










Wednesday, January 06, 2016

fresh start

I realized in the last few days that it has been several months since I posted a note on my blog. Even my traditional end of year reflection time seems to have come and gone without pause. Hopped back on the writing horse in earnest to see in the new year and I am ready to share again about my writing and other experiences.

It's fair to say 2015 was a year of major changes for me.

Started the year being diagnosed with a fresh auto-immune disease bringing the count of delightful genetically inherited ticking time bombs to three with the odds of inheriting all three together a whopping one in 36 with 10 to the power of 12 zeros after it. I'm not even sure there are that many humans on the planet. I personally think that the odds were a lot lower in reality - if it's in your genes, the odds are it's going to happen. Accept that. Three really is a magic number. Managing all my rare genetic gifts nicely now but it's fair to say it took a while to climb out of the dark place that little adventure took me.

The middle of the year was punctuated with the sudden death of my mother, Antonia, followed closely by the death of my old Burmese cat, Cous Cous. I missed the conversation of both so much. There's a new handsome Abyssinian feline in my life now, Sterling, who keeps my other grey Tonkinese cat, Khoshka, company (see below). Alas I will never be able to replace my mom.


The end of the year was a sojourn through real estate madness where I threw caution to the wind and decide to deal with my restlessness by selling my home and buying another and physically changing scenery all of one mile moving from one side of the same suburb to the other side. Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side. Actually, I moved to the serene side and have to admit I am loving the silence of my new surrounds. Tree-lined street, friendly neighbors, and the sound of rustling elm-tree leaves to soothe my mind.

I managed the last of these experiences with a degree of Zen calmness that I did not think was possible, experimenting with a GP in the realm of neuro-feedback therapy. It's a fancy term for non-invasive, non-drug related brain reprogramming. Imagine "A Clockwork Orange" style therapy without the violent images and contraptions forcing my eyes open, coupled with alpha-theta targeted hypnotherapy. I have not slept so well in decades and the headaches are few and far between now. I am not a different person - it's just what I am like when I am not exhausted - at least that is what I am confessing when people notice the stark shift in personality. "I'll have what she's having." EVERYTHING feels more manageable now. I am no longer a soft stone that tenses up solid whenever faced with situations that might have normally fuelled stress or anger. I think I finally understand the M'eh Generation.

As for the writing, after almost 18 months of major distractions, I am in a zone where I can focus and I have been possessed to do so. I finished the first draft of the Peithosian Gift in early September last year and received comments back from my editor in early November. It's not quite in the "rewrite the entire book" category though a request has been made "to consider" the core conceptual basis on handling of my main protagonist. I spent the lead up to the new year procrastinating about whether to accept this fundamental change (and moved house so probably would not have started rewriting anyway). After the move and festive celebration dusts settled, I thought why not. I spent the first three days of 2016 reworking the storyboard for the book. Still have a few weeks of scene restructuring to do before I commence redrafting and I am certain I won't meet my next deadline (end of March) because the rework will involve rewriting almost half the book.

Fresh start.




Sunday, July 19, 2015

restless

I was going to do some travelling in mid-July - a magical mystery tour with ultrabook packed for some quality writing - then the day job swamped me. Three days ago, a moment when I relaxed, that was the moment a fever struck. Been bed ridden ever since. What was to have been my first proper vacation (as it turns out) in years cancelled. In its place, my only company a nasty colony of bugs that have taken up residence in my throat and chest. I could be forgiven for thinking I am cursed when it comes to attempts to travel. It wasn't always this way. For several years before and after my former marriage, I travelled extensively. The low point of my creativity was ironically during those years of partnership. Unquestionably (for me anyway), the happiness coupling delusion was a blocker for the word flow. In contrast, being in the middle of nowhere at edge of the earth places hiking content spurred my brain to shape words that would make their mark. Some of my most inspired moments came after I cleared my head in faraway isolated places. Thoreau was onto something me thinks.

I am restless. The unsettling agitation has come. Because the benefit of physical escape is missing in my life. Obligations that have kept me from flying for some time - the day job, taking care of family, taking care of myself when that stained bloodline wages war inside of me - I feel the chains that bind me tight, weigh me down. If I was thrown into a river, I would sink into the mire. I would readily admit there is a darkness inspired by captivity that can sustain my writing efforts (and has in the past) but even that black coal can only fuel my writing for so long. I have to fly soon or I will act upon the urges in other ways.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not talking about self-destructive inclinations. Granted, a chemically induced trip would certainly involve some measure of flying but I don't need that sort of enhancement to stoke what are already the vivid dreams (and nightmares) where my mind has chosen to take me in the absence of body transportation to somewhere else. Fire raging out of control anyone? Let's not fuck up my brain anymore than my auto-immune degenerative nerve disease is already making a sterling effort to achieve without any further interventions on my part.

I have been distracted by newly available streaming services. Damn you Netflix and Stan! (And others who staked their claim on my procrastination efforts long before now.) Guilty of doubling my ten hour a week viewing limit in recent months, and delving into popcorn action...four seasons of CW's Nikita occupy the last month of Autumn. I confess the short-in-stature body matched with a magnificent French ancestral nose - belonging to the actor playing Birkoff, Aaron Stanford, proves a worthy viewing time waster. Nerds rule! The man can act well, with a truckload of impressive gritty performances, as I discover delving into his back catalogue. Check - first month of Winter unsuitably filled.

I have also written before about how I Spring-clean to dust away the cobwebs and do this in an attempt to dampen a temptation to move house. I have done bucket-loads of cleaning and visits to charity bins and waste transfer stations in the last three years and the second month of this Winter. I didn't believe I was a hoarder but it turns out I had the equivalent of two mini-skip bins to throw away and almost as much again to donate to charity. The house feels tidy now. Still, I cannot stop myself from looking at realestate.com. It's addictive. I've resided in my current residence over a decade. It's the longest I have ever lived anywhere. Itchy feet? Itchy entire body from head to toe. Moving won't necessarily inspire my writing so why do I feel so restless?

My current writing project, working title 'the Peithosian Gift' is now 18 months into the drafting process. I had to organise an extension to my first draft deadline (from this July to December coming) because I have been entirely without focus. I have gone weeks at a time without writing a single word of this novel. Coming up to a month now in my current pause from drafting it. Unlike my other novels, finishing this one has proven very challenging. Normally I have trouble starting but never finishing. Those last few chapters have always taken the least amount of time in the past to write because I am so excited to get the story in my head onto the page. I've been on the home stretch (drafting the last part of this book) since April. My mom passed away in April.

The fever that took residence overnight last Thursday seems to be plateauing. A visit to my GP today should help, if nothing else it will give me some fresh air as I stumble to the clinic. The fellow who looks after me there reminds me of an old university buddy whose sense of humour could cheer up even the most gloomy souls. I might even find a few days towards the end of my break when my head doesn't feel so full of gunk that I can muster the strength to face the home stretch and continue my quest to finish this six book. Bring on the last month of Winter. The last crusade.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

reflections on grief

Last kiss (n) - slipped away at the speed of light. lips to forehead. children to mother. sleepless dearest farewell to our beloved departed.

My mother passed away suddenly a bit over a week ago. I use the phrase suddenly loosely as she has been ill for a long time, in and out of hospital for almost as long. The disease that took her away from me and my two brothers in the end and far too quickly was something none of us expected, as was the idea that she might not come out of hospital like she had always done before. You get used to a pattern and when it breaks it can only knock you about in its brutality.

A faulty heart valve, a range of blood related immune disorders, the genetics inherited by her (and by me in nuclear-mode), we were told by her doctors this time last year to prepare ourselves for the worst. The family's blood curse that cast a long shadow is a few generations old and it gives the entire family a false sense of bravado that we believe we are prepared for that outcome. Maybe, maybe not. You can see the speeding train coming towards you, you can even jump off the tracks and avoid the full brunt of a bone-breaking impact, but the force of its movement as it sweeps by you still knocks you senseless.

My brothers experience dreams of mum going into hospital and never returning in the weeks preceding her latest and last admittance. I dream of a white cat, which I steadfastly refuse to mention to her because she believes it is bad luck. In bed all of Easter, taken to hospital a week later, taken to another bigger hospital to an ICU and a bone marrow biopsy that would reveal her fate. Perkier after a blood transfusion one day, a doctor telling her the next day that the blood cancer she has is particularly aggressive and advanced to the point where her life expectancy is a matter of days and any treatment will do no more than give her a few hours on a ventilator at best.

The family locally based (those on the same continent) rallied to her location, from Queensland and Victoria we travelled with haste to the Wollongong hospital in New South Wales to be by her side. We Skype our mother's family in Italy as they too want to be with her as best they can with the benefits of modern technology to help us with our last crusade.

Two days to say goodbye, two days to watch her slip away with dignity. She died in the early hours of Monday 20th, less than 60 hours after she was given the news and refused any further treatment. Devastated is an understatement of how we feel seeing the stillness of her form. Yet I am also struck by how calm and peaceful she appears to be, the most it seems to me that I have seen in years on her face.

As we each kiss her forehead to say our last goodbye before the doctors take her away, the words at the top of this blog and the extended version below start to come together and float about inside my head. The words have no time to leak out of me, desperate though I am to commit my darkness to paper, expunge it from its confinement, trapped among the million thoughts of what next, and what do we do now. I have long accepted my writing comes best from my moments of melancholy, the void is converted to light paradoxically as I release any sadness dispersing it into the worlds I create in my fiction writing. I understand how it happens, the cleansing of my spirit when it needs a thorough wash; I have never fully understood why it happens, it is what we writers do best.

It is almost a week before I can create the poem below to express how I feel. A week in auto-pilot sorting through her things, organising and attending her funeral, talking to her friends the folk I haven't seen since I was a child. She was loved by a great number of others and that of itself is strangely reassuring. There are others who have a hole in their heart from the huge loss her passing has left behind.

Her body is still warm.
Less than an hour has passed
since she embraced her everlasting peace.
The witching hour rain a drizzling rhythm.
The only other sound sterile monitors chirping
feeding the surrounding sleeplessness of
those dearest belonging to our beloved departed.
Her skin is clean smooth and soft to touch.
A snapshot of youth in this final moment.
The grey haired crown almost invisible.
All we see is the child she once was long ago.

Seconds slipped away at the speed of light.
One last kiss.
Lips to forehead.
Children to mother.


We talked a lot during her final hours about our collective history. Stories of her, stories of us. We talked a lot in the days afterwards about how we will honour her memory as we reminisce more about the journeys of our lives. My brothers and I despair over her passing and whether we will ever be ready for when the family's bad blood will strike another one of us down. The words below (not my own, inspired by Stan Lee) resonate now in the hour of my grief.

"They say the past is etched in stone but it is not.
It is smoke trapped in a closed room and swirling, changing,
buffeted by the passing of the years and wishful thinking.
But even though our perception of it changes
one thing remains constant.
The past can never be completely erased.
It lingers.
Like the scent of burning wood."

Sunday, January 18, 2015

the motherload

It's been a while since my last confession. The truth is I've been floating in the sea of melancholy that comes with facing several weeks of uncertainty while my latest game of health-related Russian roulette is being played with my most malevolent mistress, the Universe.

Those who know me well know my level of resilience has been built up over many years of facing life-threatening bullets, trigger pulled time and time again, only to breathe a huge sigh of relief when the gun is fired and I survive the latest wayward shot. The time in-between each game seems to be getting shorter; I barely have time to relax and something new lurches my way. I sometimes wonder if this is the Universe's way of inspiring me creatively, after all most writers draw from their creative well and draw their best when it is angst-filled. I do not like that my words speak with a stronger voice when they have flowed out from a darker place. It makes me wonder if the pain would stop if I stopped writing. But then I realise that my escape into worlds I design in my mind have been my anchor to remaining calm about the things I have no hope of controlling. As I said at the start, a greater measure of sadness today while I wait for someone to tell me with greater certainty what the gun will be shooting in my direction in 2015.

I am in a better place today than I was five weeks ago. Really. The words that form the rest of this blog are basically the journey I've been travelling over these past weeks, the latest roller coaster ride I found myself forced to take when my body let me down. I am not too far away from reaching the place where my inner strength will hop back on board - the infamous stoic acceptance that shit just happens sometimes beyond anyone's ability to prevent and all that meant was it was time to get on with it - life that is. I can see it down the track. It isn't a mirage. I am close enough that I'll be fine soon enough. Just a little wobbly now from the ride but the feeling will pass.

My latest ride has forced me to face one of my greatest fears.

I have always feared that Alzheimer's would eventually come and take root in my brain. It's always been my number one fear as a writer. Not my work being rejected (as this is part of a normal landscape for any writer and even less of a worry for me because I write predominantly for myself), but rather losing my ability to write. Something altogether different to writer's block - the other great leveller for any writer - where it is always possible to break out of a rut with a little motivation.

A degenerative brain disorder struck me as the obvious choice for a bogeyman because what could possibly be worse than losing one's mind? No experiential memories to draw upon to paint a story picture in words. I could not imagine anything so disastrous a blow for the one constant that has given me so much pleasure and helped to channel my creativity to create worlds in which to escape. My sanctuary. The idea that a disease outside my control could steal such a precious treasure, it would truly be soul-destroying.

It turns out there is at least another worthy candidate for the role of destroyer. (In reality, there are many.) Multiple sclerosis (MS) - an autoimmune disorder affecting the central nervous system - losing my body first and eventually losing my mind as well. I suppose I should not fear it. I could be inspired by the fictional character from West Wing, President Bartlett. He managed a long and fruitful leading of a nation but then I would have to place faith in life imitating art.

I asked myself one question as I woke up well rested on New Year's day (while I thank Yarra City Council for making Edinburgh Gardens an alcohol free zone this year after last year's debacle, I wasn't willing to chance the noisy neighbourhood so had headed out of the city for my non-celebration). I was feeling the early signs of a new "episode". (This is the terms the doctor gave me to describe when the symptoms were playing up.) Is it better to be alone or to be in a relationship that is convenient? I knew the answer to the question long before that moment but I felt it again and the silence of solitude with Thoreau countryside my chosen alternative vista to home and my body beginning to numb. I cut my finger making lunch for the road trip home and did not feel it, only noticed the blood drops accidentally smeared across the chopping board. My heart, my body, my mind, they are not what they are supposed to be. Broken, flawed, cracked. It does not matter how I describe the things that sit in this Universe, in the here and now, I only know that I need to find my strength to fight (again) against Its cruelness.

I was told by my GP on December 15th after an earlier visit to the doctor and a CAT scan that MS was one of a suite of possible diagnoses consistent with my symptoms. When I presented to the doctor in late November saying I could not feel my hands, my legs, my body, except for an aching skull, almost constant, that filled my head with the sound similar to a crackling bowl of Coco Pops, I could not understand why my doctor would then freak out. General practitioners are supposed to be calm. My GP has seen me survive incredible odds - the pancreatic tumour barely 18 months extracted and relegated to the annals of history in hospital waste - perhaps that explained why he would assume a whisper left behind might have become the roar of a fresh tumour. Inoperable brain tumour anyone? This was his initial belief. He had three patients die from pancreatic cancer before he brought his scythe to me, expecting I would be gone in weeks and then I survived 3/100,000 odds. He'd just had two patients with brain tumours in the weeks before my latest visit and then I showed up with the same symptoms.

I don't think he was relieved with what the alternative might be (most GPs know that tumours are not the worst thing that a person can be diagnosed with) when he read out loud what the CAT scan report actually said a couple of weeks into the festive season. I heard him say the words. I could hear the disappointment in his voice. He has seen me through some challenging diagnoses. He knew he would need to take me down another dark path. We need to add another specialist to your extensive posse - someone new - I wish I could offer you some solace for what will be another year of uncertainty for you. A small part of me wished it had been a tumour. I am used to those vermin invading my body. Cut it out, start again. But a degenerative genetic disease? And one I saw in my grandmother and how it ate away at her until there was nothing left? That was a new blow of randomness that made me even number than I already was from the shock.

News that my already shortened life-span (aside: perhaps it is not so odd that one of my goals in life is to survive to retirement age) would now have the added bonus prospect of a deteriorating quality of life in the mix. And of course getting that news during the festive season when most people who can answer the million questions my GP could not answer were taking their summer vacation. Somewhere exotic completely out of reach, I would have to wait four weeks before I would have any improvement in the level of certainty about what the diagnosis would actually be rather than a statement "it could be MS, it could be mini-strokes, it could be a virus...a neurologist will be able to give you some certainty."

There were some answers I didn't want to hear. It's progressive, like your grandmother's disease, you will be in a wheelchair in a year, or two at best. My headache got worse. I'm spending my Christmas thinking about whether I want a duck cane as a gift, whether I will have to move my home to a more disabled friendly layout. I can barely climb the stairs in my current home now. I'm using a food processor to cut my vegetables. I am finding scratches and bruises and cuts on my body from accidents I don't remember feeling at all. I have lost count of the number of aspirin I've taken "just in case" my mind is stroking - better to be cautious my GP tells me, if you're stroking the aspirins will help.

Everyone can't be happy all of the time. This I say to myself in one of my most melancholy moods. Even the happiest folk I've ever known had moments ever so brief of despair. Black dogs, black clouds hanging over us, sometimes the rain washes the cobwebs away. I went through the usual stages of grief with the anger phase a bit longer than usual. The waiting is the hardest part. Not knowing is worse than knowing. Don't let anyone ever tell you otherwise. Because your mind will always take you to the worst possible place until the real picture can be painted for you.

I finally saw the neurologist last Tuesday. He was an optimistic fellow. The specialist managed to rule off the potential diagnosis list the really bad options - mini strokes, progressive MS. Huge sigh of relief. Still on the list - relapsing remitting MS (the lesser of two evils) or some other genetic nerve deterioration auto-immune disorder (of which there are at least 20 possibilities) though he thought that given my current symptoms it would be some time and also low risk that it would lead to paralysis. Hooray for alternatives. He also said that I coincidentally and concurrently have had a very rare form of migraine (I think the stress of thinking about worst case scenarios over the preceding weeks has made it so myself!). He's given me medication to treat the migraine while he runs some more tests to narrow down the diagnosis from the 20+ nerve cell diseases currently on his list. Suffice to say, I am glad to have a less sore head.

I would have liked to have started the year without a new health challenge. New fodder for inspiring my creative writing. Do I have a new year's resolution? Yes. To have the strength to ride yet another roller-coaster without throwing up. Wish me luck.