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."

Monday, August 31, 2020

staying at home - random notes in times of existential threat (part 3) - the nostalgia reflection

Coming up to six months working from home and looking like it will be another six at this rate. The last few weeks have been harder because a second wave of infections hit Melbourne and led to Stage 4 restrictions. In practical terms, it meant only leaving the house for essentials shopping, care related appointments with medics, and up to 1 hour of exercise daily within five kilometers of home. Any minute spent out of the house requires the wearing of a mask. Rules to live by.

It turns out I've been applying this model since March with one exception - the 'shopping' is delivered because I have been keeping my distance from any situation where exposure risks are increased and supermarkets fall into this category. I haven't had another person in my home since late February, with connection limited to what I can do virtually with friends and family online.

I've doomscrolled through a ton of media that suggests those living alone are particularly disadvantaged by the restrictions. It is true that a lot more thought went into how couples who don't live together would be handled (they could see each other), without recognising that intimacy between friends is also worth creating 'bubbles' for.  While I hope this glaring inconsistency will be addressed, I brace myself for another few months of excessive alone time.  I will remember this year as the year of living in solitary confinement.

The current round of restrictions seem to have hit my work colleagues and friends hard, particularly those with kids who are back to home-schooling their youngsters. Hard when the only thing you have to look forward to on a weekend is the possibility of collecting some supplies from a hardware store (without leaving your car) as long as the store is close by. 

My (almost) daily walks have taken on a whole new dimension - now called my bee-odyssey flower photography walks - as I trade one form of anxiety (lockdown) with another (allergies). My artistic effort has been remarkable in keeping me calm (and carrying on) - see photo below.  I have a number of decent parks within walking distance of home and have probably discovered more about my suburb's occupants front yard gardening habits than I would ever thought possible. Also, I have learned to smile with my eyes - called a smize apparently - given my mask hides my mouth. (The mask does allow me to talk to myself without any passerby giving me a strange look.)


I am taking a week's break from the day job this week in an effort to recharge my batteries. (The day job has been batshit crazy busy and the near constant exhaustion was getting me close to that point where I thought I might fall off my home office chair.) Most folk would complain about a 'staycation' but I have seen it as an opportunity to clear my head (full of bees). 

No surprises for guessing I am spending some of my time writing. Redrafting the latest novel for editorial feedback. It has been good having several days in a row to do this work without interruptions. Really helps with the flow. And nothing like a bit of surrounding dystopia to really spark that creativity.

There has been a bit of procrastination (of course). It wouldn't be a writing session without it. I've tried to be disciplined about it. Setting aside my midday for a "movie" of the day. This approach triggered a measure of nostalgia for me - the days I used to be at home sick from school when I was a kid. The highlight of the day was curling up under a blanket on the sofa with a cup of soup watching movie critic (Bill Collins) talk about the movie about to be screened as if it was the best thing since the invention of sliced bread. He was always so animated in his excitement. The movies themselves were always old Hollywood B-graders but they filled the time. My movie choices are a little more eclectic - the library offerings from many a streaming service makes selection so much more challenging. I have laughed, cried and cringed at what I have watched so far these last few days.

That sentimental longing, and wistful affection for a period in the past? It seems to me that this feeling is stronger and more prevalent right now. We can never go back to what we had - whether there is a pandemic or not - yet the reflection over and our desire for something lost in time grows stronger by the day. What we create from the ashes will be something new and hopefully better.



 


Saturday, June 27, 2020

staying at home - random notes in times of existential threat (part 2)

I was chatting with one of my London based friends on Skype last night talking about a particular cognitive bias hardwired into us that helps us to deal with intense emotional experiences. The result of it is we tend to shape our memory of events past with a certain selectiveness that allow that emotion (and details of the experience) to fade. Therapeutic forgetting. It is a thing.

We also talked about my father’s favorite mantra “plus ça change plus c’ést la même chose”, which translated means “the more things change, the more they stay the same”. It is another way of saying those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. You’ve probably guessed by now that historical record is something in which I place great value, even if the words I write today will produce something that generations to come will interpret in ways I cannot even begin to imagine. (Assuming what I write is even read.) Nonetheless, it is worth sharing my experiences with the hope there will be enough budding historians in the future wanting to learn about and learn from the past. 

Now four months into what is likely to become a “staying at home” year, the  pandemic has been the sort of event that could give even the most resilient among us stress eczema. My first Facebook post at the start of the year was “2020 is going to be awesome!” - yeah, right… looking back now, the irony of that hopeful statement seems almost lost in time.

The Australian National Archive has partnered with Australia Post to encourage the writing and gathering of letters written and artwork by Australians sharing their experiences in these times. I wrote about my experiences over the last few months (and posted my letter) because of that belief that we can only learn from each other if we share our insights. In conversations now and for those budding historians looking back and reading our words.

Continuing from my last post, thought I would share some more random notes on existing in these pandemic times. 

Unlike my colleagues also working from home, I have not yet reached a point of lethargy that seems to be growing in prevalence among them. With the adrenalin of the first couple of months of anxiety subsiding, we still all wondered whether we would end up like some other countries unable to control a first wave, or even second wave (yet to hit). We also realized we were shifting to a space where home was work and there was no escape. 

As I've always had a home office space with my second vocation of speculative fiction writing, I haven't felt this lethargy as much and have long-established routines to distinguish between the days when I'm doing the day job and the days when I am following my writing passion. This might seem odd but it is little things like consuming different types of yoghurt to distinguish what day of the week it is that help to distract from existential dread!  I know, the weird habits of a borderline OCD-person, but it should not be surprising how reassuring basic routines and habits can be. (Grooming habits aside, these seem to have slipped a fraction into the 'optional extras' list, with the absence of people to notice.)

I do wonder at what point I might start going stir-crazy without face-to-face contact and a proper hug - my best-guesstimate is at the six-month point of social isolation (end of winter here in the southern hemisphere).

I have been thinking a bit about the habits that have made this time a little easier. To balance the doomscrolling, I have been sharing random 'light' material with friends, family and colleagues. Things that make me laugh:


Photos from nature that remind me of the beauty in the world (from others, and my own, taken on the near daily walks):



Photos of my feline overlord (also known as Sterling) at his demanding best:

And the 'dad jokes' shared between siblings has gotten a little out of hand:


Don't get me wrong, I'm still anxious. There is some seriously scary stuff happening around the world and my own town is not without new challenges populating my news feed on a daily basis. I should not get used to this as a new normal as a matter of principle. 




Saturday, May 02, 2020

staying at home - random notes in times of existential threat

Most people's panic shopping product of choice has been toilet paper. Mine has been gourmet honeycomb from Tasmania. Not really Wahls Protocol friendly but I think on a subconscious level, my mind might be weighing up a cost-benefit of messing up my immune system's effectiveness and an end-of-days binge on a stockpiled honeycomb sweet treat. Weird.

A few weeks over February, I listened to a podcast by Josh Clark - aptly named The End of the World. Recommended to me but for the life of me I cannot remember by whom. Covered existential threats facing humanity one of which was a pandemic. It was a very educational podcast although it left me filled with a sense of dread that only a 'are we living in a simulation' programmer from the future could have designed to amuse themselves. If I convince myself I am not real, maybe the fear about the current pandemic may not feel so bad.

Been working from home since early March. Compromised immune system put me in a high risk category to do all to avoid potential exposure. A week later the directive came from my Victorian government forcing the entire state to do the same. As a part-time speculative fiction writer (the day job also involves writing although focused on evidence-based advice), adapting to days without human interaction was unsurprisingly easy. Past home isolation sojourns related to poor health lasting days, weeks, and months have long been my normal. The only practical change for me was getting a few more essentials delivered. Did discover how much of a valued client I was to my pharmacist who arranged delivery of medications the moment it became allowed under new rules. Not so easy for some of the people I work with - those dealing with homes filled with others - partners, kids, extended family, pets - much more challenging to mix work with other commitments in a confined space. My introverted alone time with two felines who value the quiet as much as I do is something I cherish.

My creative spark has charged into overdrive. It seems dystopian prospects sprouts new growth of ideas like forest growth after Spring rain and sunshine. Will meet a deadline months ahead of time such is that heat banishing the writer's block of months past. The vivid dreamscape even stranger than usual - a sign of anxiety. The eczema also a measure of the bubbling underbelly.

Something unexpected has been the messages, reconnecting through social streaming services - from friends of decades past extending the current circle. Also, forging new connections through the virtual world. This seems to me to be one of the better things about staying at home. The virtual coffees, lunches, drinks, viewing of theatre, accessing all manner of activity from around the world. Snow leopard cubs at Melbourne Zoo - live cam delight. I hope this feature remains long after we are no longer housebound.

The evolving language of circumstance changed is truly fascinating. Obsessing over "offnungdiskussionsorgien" - a little pearl originating from Germany, which loosely translates to "orgies of debate about opening things up". The "sidewalk dance" has been a feature of my weather-permitting daily walks as I try to steer clear of others wandering (maybe there should be some guidance about what is acceptable active wear for lower key promenades permitted under current restrictions). But it is the "doomscrolling" that has been the most common routine in my day - the act of mindlessly consuming an endless stream of unsettling, unnerving, maddening, or otherwise terrible news on an electronic device - so I can interpret the data and provide summaries to my two brothers in almost daily conversations. Using a critical thinking analyst skill set I have so that they can be spared the torture. Finding myself being asked about and lecturing on economic supply and demand shocks for laymen friends in need of explanations. Reminding me of my university days when it was acceptable to talk and express opinions about any subject - everything old is new again.

"Quaranstreaming" in the "Coronaverse" - my daily consumption of movies and television seems to be trending upwards. More so than my reading. It's harder to read after a day, every day, sitting in front of a computer. A black mirror television screen somehow seems different. Watching things I would never have contemplated in normal times - but then, I was out and about more which is strictly limited now. Viewing more light and fluffy comedy or gentle drama from all over the world, less thought provoking science fiction about frightening trends that may (have) come to pass. Outbreak is on my blacklist. Blacklist is not. Old whimsical favourites from previous viewing are getting reruns - Fooseball and Nocturnal Animals on my all time best episodes of Community.

Perhaps the strangest correlation (note not causation) has been an observation that I started my day job at a time when unemployment was 17 percent (recession in Australia at the start of the 1990s) and it now looks like the last few years of my working life will be marked by a once in a lifetime downturn. The 30 years in between have been an economic wonder. Relieved beyond measure that I am still able to work. Doing all that I can to design support and facilitate to help those who cannot. Under the banner "supporting economic recovery". Keeping me busy - big time.

Reading about the situations in other countries - worrying about friends and family located in some of them - feeling "Weltschmerz" - that particular mood of weariness and sadness for the suffering of the world, tinged with empathy and love for humanity. For now at least, Australia has dodged several bullets. It's a country that has often been described as "lucky" - the tyranny of distance living on an island on the other side of the world. Who knows why we are faring better? I just hope it stays that way.










Saturday, November 30, 2019

procrastination moment number 210

"Block, Block, Block." Sounds like a chicken if you say the words out loud and repeat them. With the year almost over, I feel like it has been a wasted year creatively speaking. My longest stretch of writer's block is now reaching its seventh month. So I am writing my end of year reflection a month earlier than usual in an effort to figure out why and break the blockage. Contemplating what I did differently this year after last year's writing and publishing efforts.

Writing the sequel to the Peithosian Gift, I wrote a solid 42,000 words then stalled somewhere in the middle of the story. The roadmap of what happens in the rest of the story is there, I just don't feel inspired to write it right now. I haven't felt inspired for several months. Wondering if I should just stop for now and start fresh in 2020. My alternate project (the second writing task I set myself each year to manage moments of blockage in the main task) has similarly been affected. It seems I don't feel like working on the stage play either.

Culprit number 1: Exhaustion
.
I suspect exhaustion may have been one factor driving this outcome. My day job has been busier than usual - since last December - and workload has filled too many of my weekends taking up 'air time' normally reserved for creative writing. I have taken steps to address this issue and will be reverting to part time in the coming year. The mid-week break should squarely recharge my batteries as well as provide some extra time to spark creative idea generation.

Culprit number 2: Stalled in the middle.
I have always had motivational issues in the middle of stories. The beginnings and ends are exciting to commit to the page but the middle feels like filler. Reminds me a little of second child syndrome. I am a middle child and, at times, felt invisible. The middle has to work harder to get attention. My current drafting middle is devoid of any grabbing headlines. The prospect of making it more exciting is putting me off.

Culprit number 3: Lifestyle changes.

I have been working hard at maintaining my health to manage those pesky autoimmune diseases inherited from my parents. Side effects of being on the Wahls Protocol include a dwindling desire to socialise via usual food and beverage gatherings with friends because it drives every waiter crazy hearing a patron explain all the things that they cannot have on the menu. The dietary restrictions have stifled my enthusiasm for the small pleasures of a good meal (and the loss that has come with that is a decline in the exposure to compelling conversations with close friends). I have spent the year in a self-imposed 'bubble', almost hermit like. There have actually been health benefits. First time in over a decade I haven't had a cold and consequent half year cough that was guaranteed to follow. I made it to November before any hospital stay - inflammation that got out of control and my spleen-less body needed reinforcements (IV super antibiotics) to join the fight. It was optimistic of me to think I could have a year without some health scare but it was much better than my norm. Still, I don't think the benefit was worth the cost. Never underestimate the joy of human interaction - socialising and talking about all manner of topics from philosophy to psychology with friends - to inspire. I will be venturing out more in 2020 even if it comes at the price of my health.

Culprit number 4: A silent dreamscape.

This one seems to me to be the biggest contributor to my stalling. My sleeping quality has plummeted to new lows. For a chunk of the year, my oldest cat Khoshka, in her (phenomenally impressive) 21st year of life was going through the throws of age related deafness and dementia, meowing loudly at all hours of the night disoriented. Being woken up several times each and every night was a challenge at best and distressing at worst because there was little I could do to help her. The old girl passed away in the middle of the year. The silence in the house translated into silence in my dreamscape. When I finally found my sleeping rhythm again, the dreams did not return readily. My vivid dreamscape has always been a critical source of creative ideas for me. I go to bed thinking about where I might take a story. Overnight, my unconscious mind processes without the anchor of day reality and spits out answers. This year the dreaming has been sparse. Little fuel from the day going in and an empty tank coming out. It seems sleepwalking through my days is lifelessness epitomized. Recipe for improvement? Add some adventure? Something needs to change.

So, where does this leave me for my goals for 2020? Re-activating my mind and body will be critical to where I chose to focus my writing efforts. It's time to wake up.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

the moment

I try not to think about the melancholy that courses through my veins.

It's been a part of my flesh,
every fibre of my being,
for as long as the thought
became a memory.

Sometimes, I choose to forget.
Sometimes, I try.
Sometimes, I just let it wash through me.

Acknowledge I cannot bleed it out of myself
without bleeding myself dry.

The moment.
In truth, there have been many.

Wondering if any feeling in that moment is beyond fleeting.

Realising I have never really been passionate about anything.

A life full of trying
an almost endless stream of new things
to see if anything would take.
Hobbies, travel, sport, art, music, creative pursuits, adventures.
Even jumping off a cliff a few thousand feet above the nearest landing point
at a place aptly called 'the Remarkables',
strapped next to a seasoned jumper hang-gliding to the ground below.

Floating for a while with an abyss flashing before my eyes.

Joyless.

Dispassionate to the point of accepting
an irregular heartbeat is a mechanical failure.

I am a robot.

Moving through a simulation and nothing is real.

Sleep walking.

Blue pill all the way baby.

Yet imbued with red pill wiring.

Empty.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

procrastination moment number 64

I am quite sure my 'day job' contributes to my writer's block. As does sleep deprivation. The former occurs when workload issues prevent me from sitting down to write in the first place. The latter arises when I have had so much interrupted sleep that my dreamscape travels are curtailed and my imagination has less fodder for creative exploration.

Since the start of December last year, I have less weekends to myself as my boss's boss seems to have gone into overdrive about pleasing our employer. I have always accepted that the day job will necessarily make pursuing my writing passion a part time exercise but a small part of me longs for the time to be able to pursue my need to escape much more into worlds imagined.

The sleep interruption is not related to the day job but rather a cat about to celebrate her 21st birthday, which in cat years is accompanied by dementia and deafness and a near constant urge to meow at the top of her little lungs. The meow of a disoriented cat has inspired many a horror story me thinks. Until recently, I was letting the noise wake me up several times a night, which limited my REM sleep and the best source of inspiration for me. A week sojourn for my little terror in the cattery allowed me time to 'catch up' sleep and, on her return, a change of routine that now includes earplugs and a shut bedroom door. Sleep, sleep, perchance to dream.

The several weeks of disruption has drained my writing mojo. I have gone through the routine the last couple of weeks but distractions have taken the grunt out of the product. What's on the page at the end of my writing day is disappointing. I can see major rework written all through it.

Normally, procrastination is an integral part of my creative process. A little time away from the screen can do wonders for clearing my head of the clutter and white noise that when I return to the keyboard, the words subsequently flow. But 2019 for me so far has been anything but satisfying.

Talking to my (former) housemate last weekend - the melancholy creeped into my voice as I realised how integral the writing is to my wellbeing. Without it I am lost.

So I will list the myriad of ways I procrastinate in an effort to 'unblock' myself. Let me count the ways (in no particular order).

1. Counting the number of ways to procrastinate.
2. Read my news feed.
3. Read the latest media on social media.
4. Stop and read a chapter of the book at the top of my reading pile.
5. Sort through the bookshelves to reorder the books by a different classification - this is a good one for a longer stretch of time.
6. Sort through the DVDs in the cupboard with similar objective to 5 above.
7. Spring clean the wardrobe to remove any clothing not worn in the last year.
8. Drive said clothing to the nearest op-shop.
9. Choose a recipe to cook.
9. Figure out the missing ingredients and go shopping for them.
10. Cook or more commonly prepare and bake a cake, slice or tart that I can't eat - the team at the day job and neighbours like this one especially as they get to sample the product.
11. Go for a walk.
12. Go for a swim.
13. Go to the nearest nursery and shop for garden plants.
14. Drive to a better nursery further away and shop for garden plants.
15. Figure out where to put the weird sculpture purchased impulsively at the nursery.
16. Go to the cinema.
17. Go to a bookstore and browse and return home with 10 books to add to the reading pile.
18. Write a post for the blog.
19. Binge watch entire series of B-grade action tv show for mindless entertainment - shows from the 1990s are particularly good for this one.
20. Convince a friend to join you to view a modern art show and stare at things that doesn't look like art.
21. House chores.
22. Hard-core chores like scrubbing the bathroom spotless.
23. Skype a friend overseas.
24. Talk to one or both of the brothers - not at the same time.
25. Play fetch with the (other) younger cat in the house that thinks its a dog.
26. Dusting. Ignore Universal Dust Theory.
27. Take a long drive.
28. Browse real estate websites.
29. Rearrange the apps on the phone or computer.
30. Run a virus scan worried that computer has been hacked.
31. Play some form of Solitaire.
32. Listen to a podcast (or several) - preferably philosophy or science or linguistics to 'learn' something new.
33. Look for pictures and videos of last fantasy crush and try to remember why I like them.
34. Take photos of random stuff - whether it is on a walk or at home before realising the pattern in the image is cool - then try and figure out what 'photo album' it belongs in.
35. Go to the theatre.
36. Brunch! or Lunch!
37. Order more books from the Book Depository - preferably ones on the wish list.
38. Go to the zoo.
39. Clean out the pantry of products with a 'best-before' date more than five years old.
40. Do a spot of gardening. (Get frustrated by the neighbour's overgrown wisteria.)
41. Take a power nap that ends up being four times longer than 20 minutes.
42. Contemplate the answer to the question - what is the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.


Rinse. Repeat. I am ready to write now.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Reflections on happiness

As is tradition, my last post of the year (or first post of the new year depending on the timing of my inspiration) is one where I reflect on the year that's been and year that will be. Truthfully, I do that all year round - my posts are rarely anything but reflection. Still, today seems as good as any to mention a little about a book (and film) that resonated the most for me this year and why - Hector and the Search for Happiness by Francois Lelord.

Before I delve into that book, I will report on the highlight of my writing efforts for the year. My fifth novel, the Peithosian Gift, was released in late July to (mostly) good reviews. I also made some inroads into a few side projects that included a year of publishing poetry on Medium. I didn't get as far though in writing a stage play that was one of my other writing goals for 2018. This is okay - the play can stay on the dance card for the coming year. My main task for 2019 will be to draft the sequel to the Gift - aptly named the Peithosian Curse. I'm about a quarter of the way through the drafting of the first draft. No pressure - a promise to have something publishable by late 2020. I will also set a reading goal for 2019 as my unread books on the shelve are now well into double digits.

Now back to Lelond's book. There were a few moments when I read that book (a best seller several years ago but I'm always slow to the party) when I wondered if I had ever had real moments in my childhood when I was filled with innocent unbridled joy. I'm sure there were some; I just for the life of me could not remember them. Now, many years later, I mark a moment after reading the book when I realised that perhaps my teen and a large chunk of adult life had placed me well behind an 8-ball and, if I am content today, it is almost in spite of that chain-laden history. A symbolic "FU" finger to the past.

That is how that book made me feel. It made me realise that I had somehow found my way to being content as if I had stumbled upon that outcome by accident.

Lelond's book was written by a dissatisfied French psychiatrist who travelled the world to try and figure out why so many people who came to see him were not 'unwell' by psychiatric standards but 'unhappy'. For a specialist of this nature, there are only four real chemical imbalances and medications to address them - antidepressants when sad, tranquilisers when scared, anti-psychotics when you have a mind filled with strange thoughts and voices, and mood stabilisers to avoid the highs that are too high or lows that are too low. For everyone else, it's just a need to talk. I know - this explanation probably simplifies it too much - but it was a neat lens to contemplate one of those universal questions - what is happiness? I think I can reliably say I'm in the need to talk camp rather than chemical imbalances but I don't think anyone can ever really be sure.

The character in Lelond's book, Hector, travels far and wide only to discover that happiness for him was basically someone at home who made him fell like his life was complete. Along the way, Hector's observations summarised below provide insight into that elusive happiness. I have italicised the lessons that felt right for me personally.

Lesson 1: Making comparisons can spoil your happiness.
Lesson 2: Happiness often comes when least expected.
Lesson 3: Many people see happiness only in their future.
Lesson 4: Many people think that happiness comes from having more power or more money.
Lesson 5: Sometimes happiness is not knowing the whole story.
Lesson 6: Happiness is a long walk in beautiful, unfamiliar mountains.
Lesson 7: It's a mistake to think that happiness is the goal.
Lesson 8: Happiness is being with people you love. Unhappiness is being separated from the people you love.
Lesson 9: Happiness is knowing your family lacks for nothing.
Lesson 10: Happiness is doing a job you love.
Lesson 11: Happiness is having a home and a garden of your own.
Lesson 12: It's harder to be happy in a country run by bad people.
Lesson 13: Happiness is feeling useful to others.
Lesson 14: Happiness is to be loved for exactly who you are.
Observation: People are kinder to a child who smiles (very important).
Lesson 15: Happiness comes when you feel truly alive.
Lesson 16: Happiness is knowing how to celebrate.
Lesson 17: Happeness is caring about the happiness of those you love.
Lesson 18: The sun and the sea make everybody happy,
Lesson 19: Happiness is a certain way of seeing things.
Lesson 20: Rivalry poisons happiness.
Lesson 21: Women care more than men about making others happy.
Lesson 22: Happiness means making sure that those around you are happy?

Measuring happiness (the numerous studies summarised on page 136 of Lelond's book) - if you compared yourself to others and didn't find yourself wanting, if you had no money or health problems, if you had friends, a close knit family, a job you liked, if you were religious and practised your religion, if you felt useful, if you went for a little stroll from time to time, and all of this in a country run by not very bad people, where you were taken care of when things went wrong, your chances of being happy were greatly increased.

Wisdom with age? Maybe. I know today more than any day in my past that what is inside of me (unless chemical imbalances exist) is something I can drive - even unconsciously. Happiness is what I make of it.