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 30, 2022

Sleepwalking

 Procrastinating today so practicing my writing skills - meandering piece with some wordplay....

~~~

I began sleepwalking during daylight hours for most of the day every day in my early forties. It coincided with the celebration of the birthday which also happened to be the answer to that question “what is the meaning of life, the universe and everything*. I confess, I was sleepwalking a lot during the day long before then. I had merely reached the age when I was prepared to acknowledge I had a problem. Apt that I chose to mark the moment on THAT day.

Rooftop party, overlooking the city skyline, perfect late Spring afternoon and evening, forty-two of my closest (and not so close) friends, many fabulous among them, some even dressed in theme. Music blaring the sounds of an alt-hipster set – a suitable soundtrack for inducing steady-state catatonic slumber. Cocktails sipped slowly given their potency – anything to avoid falling off the edge or down the flight of stairs that were unavoidable to move up into and down out of the space. Surrounded by late flowering succulents. I floated around the crowd, in an out of smaller circles, talking in my sleep, mimicking noises resembling conversation. All of it learned small talk, relying on instinct, deeply subconscious, none of it likely to be memorable to others in the minutes that followed, let alone the following morning. I certainly wouldn’t remember. I was asleep.

I am a walking, sort of breathing embodiment of a zombie. Yet to sample brains as food. I eat out of habit rather than appetite and have not craved anything for so long, I doubt any grey matter would sustain me even if I tried it. In the meantime, a waiter dressed like Marvin the Robot skulks about with trays of canapes trying too hard to remain downbeat as hungry guests sweep up the morsels laid out for their feeding pleasure. I dream in my shambling slumber that I could outgun this android for gravitas at the state of my world.

Near life experiences scattered throughout the years to this revelatory moment. From birth to that festive day. Came to the world premature. Barely survived my first, second, sixth, eleventh, twenty first, twenty-seventh or thirty-eighth years. When your heart stops beating with an almost singular rhythm regularity throughout your existence, just being in the stretches in-between seems a sensible response. A rare alternative saw an occasional electro-shock – jumping off the NZ Remarkables tandem hang-gliding woke me up with a jolt - heart throbbing so hard it might have burst out of my chest. The seconds passed sucking in the air. I wanted to sleepwalk again.

Now a walking miracle – the forty seventh year came with defying three in one hundred thousand survival odds. Not sure if I have been trying to convince myself or others every day since then - each day is a blessing. This has been my truth since I first joined the world. It has also been true that I never really joined it. Born a sleepwalker. Been a sleepwalker for decades. Embraced the habit with gusto on a rooftop giving the Marvin wannabe a taste of unhealthy competition.

I have been recently wondering if I should ever wake up? The constant dream-state has its benefits.  Reality blurred and symbol filled routine patterns define each day. Almost certain many around me are also sleep walking given the dull hum of movement mimics the clicking of keyboards on cell phones and laptops. Am I the slipstream in a storm, or is this just my imagination? The recurring nightmares not so advantageous. There’s only so many glass elevators flying in a whirlwind in the air before the wonk becomes the wobbles.

Do I want to experience other near-life episodes? The jolting heartbeat many years ago was frightening more for its unfamiliarity than the flowing blood itself.  Could canter with that rhythm instead of floating like a ghost. Invisible. Embers becoming flames. Let the fire burn brighter. Before I become stardust in the end.

Suggestions on activities that will wake me from my slumber most welcome.

 

 (*Note - Or at least what Deep Thought in Douglas Adam’s Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy provided, with infinite majesty and calm, as the answer to the question after seven and a half million years of contemplation.)


Saturday, February 19, 2022

Smile (...this is a darker than usual post)

I have been rather grumpy about the media attention given to a now former young Australian of the year for being herself and not smiling in a photo with a man who spent much of the time over the course of the last year disrespecting her.  The hypocracy of one being unacceptable and the other not pissed me off more than usual watching the local politics play out like a slow-moving train crash. 

I am not overtly feminist in my interactions with the world. Instead, my approach has been understated pursuit - tending to push whatever messages I have by creating strong female characters in the stories and novels I write. Their journeys tell the story. But the above "incident" reminded me so much of the experiences that my girl friends and I have encountered so many times just being. So, every time anyone asks me to smile when I don't feel like doing so, some undiagnosed PTSD from a past undefined trauma seems to be triggered. I will smile when I want to. Don't expect anything more.  Don't ask me to pretend.

The poem below tries to capture those common experiences that make the demands for a smile wrong.


“Give us a smile, luv.”

Slight edge of threat in the old man’s voice.

Interrupts another futile effort to shop in peace.

Without a stranger prodding as if their right.

Demanding a pleasant demeanor 

as they would train their pet dog.

Play act being nice and happy and compliant.

Usually for the benefit of men.


“Would it hurt you to smile once in a while?”

The warning tone is barely masked.

The boss is giving another lecture

Pointing finger hand gestures

Cornered in the office kitchen 

Where no amount of peppermint tea 

Will soothe suppressed rage bubbling

Because the boys in the club complained.

A gal dared to question their authority.


“A smile is essential in a polite society.”

A country women’s association acolyte preaches

to girls angry for near endless stretches of time.

Instructed from birth to likely grave to be silent.

Why can’t their fury be visible?

To appease men and their insecurities?

For a woman’s place is behind her man.

Neither seen nor heard.


“Smile like you mean it.”

The man-child in the alley way barks.

Breath reeking of stale beer.

Pinning his prey rigid unwilling against cold bricks.

His hands pawing uninvited at its crotch.

While his mates milling nearby egg him on.

Not even sweatpants disheveling

enough to hide the allure of his captured feast.

A victim who forgot her species 

never walk alone mantra - day or night.

Too late for safety in numbers.


“Smile sweetheart, you want this.”


Saturday, January 15, 2022

Dwindling

My younger brother passed away on January 11th.  Succumbing to terminal lung cancer after 18 months of stubborn fighting. He lasted longer than most diagnosed with stage 4 - but it was a numbers stacked against him journey. For a person who had lived his adult life chain smoking, the closest he came to looking after himself properly was during those last months. It was always going to be too little, too late.  Statistically, highly improbable that the decades of poor practices could ever unwind in a body ravaged by those excesses. Never say never. Until never no more.

The choices we make. The consequences that follow. The first photo below was taken in 1985, just before those choices took the turn that led him to his last breath.  The second photo, taken in November 2021, was just before Paul headed into palliative care, with my older brother Jules sharing a smile.

Our connection from the diagnosis to his parting was affected (like many others in similar situations in Australia) by restrictions imposed during the pandemic. For much of the time, I had to rely on video calls given state boundaries and border closures and all of the many of requirements that made the 1000km physical distance between us too large a gap to bridge. One mercy dash in between these many impediments, when a small window opened just long enough to enable a drive over that distance, a handful of days we had together in person could not be extended as he headed into an isolation hospital ward with pneumonia acquired post-chemo. 

He spent all but a few days after then in a palliative care facility located in a place designed to be peaceful, surrounded by rolling hills of grazing pastures. Magpies warbling in the surrounding trees. My older brother did the heavy lifting - making sure he was not alone in those last few weeks.

The day he passed away came on the day after my waking dream that night before, which was of a large dark shadow wandering through my room. As if there to tell me the time had come. I had woken up that morning believing my younger brother had gone (peacefully) in his sleep. And so it was on that day the news came - albeit drug-induced unconsciousness before his heart stopped beating. My mind had prepared me for what was to come.

I do not want to linger more on what happened too much. I had more time to mentally prepare (unlike the passing of my mother - see Reflections on Grief: Transition Girl: April 2015 (no1foofan.blogspot.com)). My older brother and I are now doing the thing that has been a lifelong source of anxiety relief for both of us - getting things in order. 

Interspersed with our conversations to sort things out, the phrase that hit me on the day my younger brother died, and has continued to swirl in my mind, is "dwindling". We were always a small family, separated by continents from the extended family in Europe. With my younger brother gone, and both parents, only my older brother and I remain. My niece and nephew of our blood as well, but it still feels like this is how moments disappear from history. Our blood is dwindling. Those left to practice our parents' native tongues. So few left to tell and pass on the family's stories dwindling with time. 

Stardust in a summer breeze. 

Fading into a vast black empty void.


Saturday, December 25, 2021

staying at home - random notes in times of existential threat (part 6) - the lost art of small talk

Now close to the end of the second year of life interrupted through a pandemic, I am reflecting on the year that has been and thinking about how to approach the year to come. It was another year of lengthy lockdowns and working from home. So much so that when a point of relative freedom was reached (albeit fleeting), talking in real face to face situations highlighted a few things:

  • I found it challenging to engage in small talk.  Being woefully out of practice in basic etiquette and several skills associated with being around other people - everything from how to greet, how to enter and exit a conversation, reading non-verbal cues to name a few.
  • The significant increase in brain fogginess. It was impossible to tell if this was in part a bi-product of going through menopause but found myself trailing away mid-sentence as I either forgot what we were talking about or could not for the life of me remember the pronoun for what or who was the subject of the conversation.  I've been told this forgetfulness gets worse with longer lockdowns.
  • Driving anywhere was triggering serious road rage.  It seemed everyone had forgotten how to drive as well.  I ended up doing 'practice' drives in an effort to refresh my motor functions.
  • Discovering that being around people is different to seeing people on a screen when it comes to organic conversations on tangents that lead to insights.  But the return to face to face wasn't long enough in duration to set alight my creative flow again - barely enough to spark some embers.
The link back to real people did not last particularly long. Just as I was finding my rhythm, a new fast spreading variant - Omnicron - was spiking the daily new cases numbers. My friends in London who are already well into their third wave are suggesting it's less likely to lead to hospitalisation but that hasn't stopped the reversion back to restrictions like mandatory mask wearing. Those restrictions make perfect sense and tend to put people off working in office spaces again. Most folk are being cautious but, alas, still stupid people who don't appreciate the impact they have on others and so the cycle of new infections continues.

So, I'm working from home and will likely be doing so into the new year.

Marking the moment that was 2021 - while my latest book came out mid year, the severe writer's block since has made it an unsatisfactory year from a creative perspective. The procrastination has been rampant.  Partly, it's been indecisiveness holding me back - thinking about the character perspectives, I just can't make up my mind about whether to stick to just a couple of key points of view or to have many. One day, I think multiple perspectives will help define the discombulation of a chaotic world. The next day, I think it would be good to follow one or two POVs through the chaos. Both could be interesting from a writing and reading perspective.

Partly also because there has been plenty of amusing things found duirng the excessive internet searches - none of it relevant to my storyboard for the latest novel I'm writing. Still, a few of my favourites below...




For much of the year I was a "six" on the above cat mood scale.

I've set my writing goals for 2022 - I will finish the first draft of the latest novel by year's end and I will finally finish the drafing of stage play that has been on my dance card for the last few years.  I feel this might be achievable once I unblock and resume writing.

I can only hope that the new year brings with it some prospect of more interactions with others - so I can be inspired by the conversations that flow from them.

Friday, August 27, 2021

procrastinating about externalities

Forgive me. It's been a few months since my last confession. I have had severe writer's block since the release of my latest book - the Peithosian CurseThe Peithosian Curse : Cristina Archer : 9781913662486 (bookdepository.com)

I started writing the third and final part of the Peitho trilogy - the Peithosian Legacy - a few months ago, during a brief period when my city was almost in a 'normal' state (read: in between pandemic waves).  Before the lockdowns resumed with the spread of the Delta strain. And then I struggled to write.

I am back in the confines of home - complete with a very short list of reasons I can leave my home - and it looks like it will be like this for a while. Unlike the last long stretch, most of the country is facing similar restrictions and, for the first time, friends in other cities are 'relating' to my city's experience last year (the longest lockdown then was 112 days).  My city's sixth - clocking up over 200 days (so far) in collective days over those several lockdowns - there is a definite vibe of frustration I am hearing in the voices of those I am chatting with 'virtually' this time around.

Sure, there is plenty of blue sky moments each day for opportunities to walk in breezy suburban loops outside of those video calls.  Yet, feeling the essence of Groundhog Day permeating our collective bones. When I see passers-by on my daily walk, I want to lecture those who are breaking the rules. I find myself swearing at news streams about anti-lockdown protests.  For the more those people resist, the longer the rest of us suffer.

It's more than a mental health issue. As I walk, in my mind, I am working out the debating points on what I would say if I had to explain to a person why the laws that protect civil liberties can be a threat to society.

There's a concept in economics - an externality - that relates to a side effect or consequence of an activity which is not reflected in the cost of the goods or services involved - positive (such as the pollination of surrounding crops by bees for honey) and negative (such as pollution from a factory). In that particular discipline, a lot of thinking has occurred to figure out ways to internalise a 'price' for those externalities so that markets can adjust (mainly to produce less of the negative ones).  Carbon prices are an example.

I tend to contemplate individual choices with a similar construct. The only circumstance  in which I would not have any impact on other people in the choices I make is (likely) if I was living alone on an island and there were no other people.  As soon as I am in any enviroment where there are other people, unless I am a totally selfish person, I believe I need to consider whether there are any potentially negative (and positive) impacts on others in the choices I am making.  There are MANY philosophical approaches to the "how should I choose" question - and, in truth, I have a lot of books on ethics on my bookshelf. Yet, I tend to consider this question from a cost-benefit point of view - both in terms of costs and benefits for me AND the potential costs and benefits for the person or persons on which my choice will have an impact. At some unconscious level, I think most people do this, but place more weight on the impact on themselves compared to others.

The odd analogy I considerd on my walk today was along these lines...

Imagine you and I are talking. I suddently slap you (and it hurts). You grumble, why did you do that. I say, it was an involuntary spasm, I couldn't help myself. But I am aware of this tick so I could have made the choice to keep my twitching hand in my pocket and thereby spare you the harm. Instead, I chose to ignore the potential negative impact on you.

To me, the person who walks around without a mask, knowing they might contract and then pass on a contagious disease is essentially doing the same as above.  

Individual selfishness versus societal good. The rule breaker is in it for themselves. But if more people placed a little more weight on the consequences of their choices/actions, wouldn't society be better off?

Anyway, I've procrastinated enough for today. I really should get back to the writing.



Tuesday, June 08, 2021

a year of sharing

I came up to the one year anniversay of working from home during a pandemic a few weeks ago. About two thirds of that last year was spent in 'hard lockdown', including a 112 day stretch where there was a night curfew, and leaving the house could only be done for grocery shopping, caring/medical reasons, an hour of exercise (all within 5km of home) or essential work.  The idea of personal bubbles came about half way through that stretch of time but otherwise people living alone only had pets to keep them company.  For all the Skype, Zoom and Teams virtual calls and meetings are just not the same when it comes to connecting. Nothing beats a real hug from a real person.

I got into the habit during this time of daily virtual check-ins with my team - complemented by an almost daily email reporting on priorities, sharing how I was feeling, and random 'offerings' - the latter ranging from light entertainment, humorous material, and educational pieces. It was a way of practicing my writing skills, particularly during periods where my creative writing efforts was in hiatus.  There were large stretches in the last 12 months where the procrastination consumed me so there was a lot of random offerings found during those periods of doomscrolling.  

In contrast, I kept most of my social media feeds content 'light weight' - with the bulk of the limited postings photographs from my daily walks.  I took a lot of photos of flowers and bees.  I also wrote and published three pieces of poetry during the last 12 months on my Medium page (Cristina Archer – Medium), two of which bookended the year as reflections on the pandemic, and one was a piece reflecting on grief on the anniversary of the passing of my mother.  The year gone and largely confined to home seemed to amplify those feelings.

Looking back over the almost daily emails, over 70 pages and some 25,000 words, I have been surprised by the depth of my year of sharing. I asked a few times, more frequently as restrictions started to ease, whether the team still wanted this product. I was equally surprised by the feedback - quite a few in the team looked forward to receiving it, enjoyed reading it, were delighted by my streaming suggestions, laughed many times out loud at the cheeky material contained in the content, and appreciated my willingness to articulate the emotions they were all feeling about our year of living aimlessly.  

Some of the feelings content of those emails has been reproduced as part of my written blogs about "notes on existential threats" - a little chicken and egg - see last few postings on this blog. As a writer, I am relaxed about germinating ideas in one communication channel and refining it in others. Some of my poetry finds its way into paragraphs in my novels, and vice-versa.  To complete the picture, I have now extracted some lighter highlights from the daily reporting emails in the reproduced material below:

  • I was trying to explain the concept of risk/likelihood consequences to my older brother – a staple of risk management 101 – and eventually decided to send him the picture below.


  • Reproducing the chart shared at the team meeting – because it’s the long weekend ahead of us and if you are heading out and about, please take care with your physical distancing.


  • A play on one of my favourite collective nouns (see below).


  • A sign from Montreal. I was perplexed about what behaviour it was trying to target. Any thoughts?


  • Taking the quintessential weather conditions measure we’ve seen on many a travelling road and replacing the terminology to measure anxiety levels. Not mine – as in no circumstances would I EVER kick the cat so I’m replacing that measure on the dial with pillow fight.

  • A bit of Escher in construction.

  • Some pig Latin.

  • A way of explaining virus transmission to anyone.


  • The amusement park in the picture is more my pace these days…

  • Personally, I would rank ferrets closer to cats on the scale. Thoughts?


  • Given the egg is NOT over-easy, I think the lever choice is obvious. No prizes for guessing I think the image is a metaphorical illustration of 2020.

I am writing this blog in Lockdown 4.0 here in Melbourne. I hope to be able to travel at least 25km from my home by week's end.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

staying at home - random notes in times of existential threat (part 5) - real people!

I usually reserve my reflections on the year that has been to closer to New Year's eve. It's close enough now and I'm in a writing mood so will get it done while the thoughts are fresh in my mind.

Red eyes and a sore nose today are a distraction. A few hours in a park earlier in the week surrounded by grass and trees that I'm allergic to will take a few days to get out of my system. Practising safe social distancing to see my team in person for the first time since early March this year. Stepping away from the virtual interactions to something almost forgotten - a Christmas picnic.

The social interaction sparked a wonderful creative burst when I returned home afterwards. The best feeling in the world (for me) is when the characters of the stories I am writing come alive inside my head and I figure out what to do next in a story arc.

I also had the usual introvert response following any social gathering when I got home - utter exhaustion. It didn't matter though - because it was REALLY wonderful to see real people in technicolour 3D surrounded by the grassy knolls.

When asked how I've felt this year in the strange circumstances that have been 2020, on a person level, nothing describes it better than a quote from Sputnick Sweetheart's writer Murakami.

And the world around me - movie critics' Marge and Dave's review of 2020 was insightful - Margaret & David Review '2020' - YouTube - as usual they disagreed. A year of the absurd - one recently from the Tracys NSW contact tracers had me laughing and crying at the same time - Contact Tracys - YouTube - a new normal.

Nostaglia played a bigger role than usual in the year that has been, perhaps because there was more time for think music in the confines of home. Reconnecting with friends (even if only virtually) long located in faraway places over the year gone was definitely a highlight and an unexpected bonus in the year of solitary confinement spent overthinking the meaning of life. The philosophy schools guide (see below) was of assistance.


In the past, you could be reckful (considerate) as well as reckless. People were also gormful (careful); feckful (responsible), ruthful (compassionate), wieldy (agile), ept (adroit), and definitely gruntled. Maybe because I balanced the doomscrolling news with good news reading, I noticed more that we (mostly) brought back the lost positives in our approach to the circumstances. I was in awe at reading about the finer humanity moments. Made me wonder if there was a behavioural economics thesis topic to contemplate about the tragedy of the commons and whether existential threats threatening the lives of so many made a genuine difference to incentives.

I look back over the year that's been and there have been serious low-lights. The day job workload has been unsustainably heavy - effectively seven days a week since early March. Living alone made this all the harder, even with two super-smoochy cats to keep me company. Probably explains why I felt so overwhelmingly disappointed when the plans for the one tradition I was looking foward to (on the only three public holidays of the year I could rely on not being taken away from me) fell through.

I also look back over the year and realise that even in such challenging circumstances there were moments of joy. Many little things. From watching a bee floating into a Spring bright blooming flower to chuckling with friends virtually over the silly things we've discovered online over the course of the year. Mostly appreciating the hokum of it all. Perhaps I am more Absurdist than I dare to accept.

I am close to the copy-editing stage on the latest manuscript - doing some redraftign over the next few days to adjust for some beta-reader feedback. Working up the story-board for the next project - on track to start writing proper in early 2021. Part three (and final part) of the trilogy - the Peithosian Legacy. The time stuck at home has certainly given me more time to write.

The coming 2021 will be better. How's that for optimism.