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."

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.










Saturday, November 24, 2018

Prcrastination days with Pudeldame

My drafting work on the sequel for the Peithosian Gift (working title Peithosian Curse) started with a bang a couple of months ago. Then I hit a wall - about 25,000 words into the drafting. That was three weeks ago. Got stuck on a scene where I was not sure what I wanted the POV character to do. It took several sittings to land something on the page but not before I spent a day side-tracked with rethinking the timeline for the whole novel, reworking that timeline and then plotting out the scene by scene storyboard to match the new time line. Eight years become thirty-six months. I came back to the storyboard early scenes three more times to cross-check particular characters and their emotional progressions to ensure consistency with the revised timeline.

I usually describe this sort of reworking effort as procrastination. The source of my unwillingness to write is sometimes related to my overly analytical mind discovering plot holes (rarely the size of canyons but big enough that I just know a reader of the story would grumble at stumbling into it). It can also be because I am just not feeling creative on my chosen day of writing and no amount of staring at the computer screen is going to inspire me. I once spent a day counting the number of ways I could procrastinate and reached a number well into the 60s suggesting, like many writers, I can always find an interesting way of filling the time in the surrounding silence of the solitary pursuit to avoid answering the question - what to write next?

More often than not, the faffing around does lead to some spark of an idea and the writing eventually flows. But when it doesn't, it is better to let go and do something else. Today I'm writing this blog. After almost a week of driving, walking, staring at the screen, watching tv, listening to philosophy podcasts, admiring random art painted on giant silos out in the country, scowling at the dampening wintery rain that cut my road-trip shorter than originally planned, rearranging my bookshelves (to give me more room to buy more books), making rocky-road slice, seeing a movie and having ice cream for the first time in almost two years (and feeling sick afterwards), walking some more, loosening up with a therapeutic massage, trying my best to dampen the urge to impulse buy more books online shopping (and failing miserably). Probably didn't help that I watched the movie "Hector and the Search for Happiness" on iTunes only to discover that it was based on a book by a French psychiatrist traveller so, yes, I simply had to get the book...Some of my favourite philosophy 'fiction' books have been written by French writers (see The Elegance of the Hedgehog as an example).

The list goes on. On the plus-side, I now have a better understanding of the great debate post WWII between Satre and Camus. Another plus, discovered a curious German band - called Pudeldame - who's YouTube video clips reminded me of the music videos made in the 90s that were entertaining stories in themselves. The music was good, too - though I will confess German is not the easiest language on the ear. Lead singer is also an actor with lovely puppy-dog eyes who I have been watching on a sublime series on Stan called Deutschland 83 (and 86). There is some serious procrastination going on here. Check out one of the music videos here: https://youtu.be/8fXsUamZrxY

I can feel the 17-year-old punk girl, Grace, bubbling up inside of me. She is one of the POV characters in the sequel. I am supposed to be writing one of her scenes today. It's early. I still have six hours of procrastination ahead of me.






Friday, October 12, 2018

The appeal of dystopian fiction

I recently wrote a piece for Flux Magazine - an online magazine in the UK - about the appeal of dystopian fiction for women. Well, that was the brief given to me. I did not think I could speak for all women so I wrote about why this type of fiction appealed to me.

Here's the link: http://www.fluxmagazine.com/the-appeal-of-dystopian-fiction/

And here's the text reproduced below if you don't like clicking on random links.

Utopia – is it a good place or perhaps a state of mind? Somewhere inside of all of us, do we strive to be better? Do we search for that physical place so beautiful to take our breath away? Do we also seek a mental space where the things that made us afraid, sad or angry no longer exist? Is happiness a state of being, a pursuit, a choice or something that just happens? What is it to be a moral person in a good society?

I begin with these questions because I believe these are at the heart of why dystopian literature can be so appealing – to women, to young adults; in fact, to anyone fascinated by what makes individuals and the world around us tick. This is more so when we are watching some of our greatest fears playing out around us in real time. We search for meaning, for truth, for role models to emulate when we face hard choices in our own lives. Sometimes it is a conscious quest for escape, or for answers; sometimes not.

I don’t profess to be an expert on the reasons why dystopian fiction is growing in popularity, particularly among women and young adults. But I can share why I became an avid reader (and writer) of these types of stories in my teenage years into adulthood and that may offer some insights into the trend.

My genre of choice was dystopian science fiction – novels, short stories and films. What captured my imagination the most was the use and abuse of technology especially AI and cyberpunk, and life in controlled societies, especially those reacting to a new development or 'game changer'. What makes us human and what takes that away.

Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man collection of short stories has given me life-long uneasiness over ‘smart’ houses. Ursula Le Guin, one of my favourite writers, and her story The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas especially stood out as a philosophical masterpiece exploring what was wrong with a world where happiness depended on the suffering of others. And P.D. James’ The Children of Men is one of the most believable dystopian books ever written purely because it rings true about how governments and people could react the way the author describes. There are so many more.

What I read and wrote was shaped by what I saw around me. Reading books about nuclear weapons during the Cold War just before the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, I am certain I might have been the only teenager designing fallout shelters in the early 1980s as a ‘choose your own topic’ school science project. That said, I was not alone in writing stories about worlds struggling in the aftermath of apocalyptic wars.

Context is everything for both readers and writers. I do not think this is a new phenomenon. Stories written in ancient Greek times, such as the play Antigone by Sophocles, were magnifying glass reflections scorching the earth - illuminating the fears of the people of the time, who were surrounded by near constant war and subjugation between nation states.

Dystopian fiction, for me, shed and amplified light on certain societal trends that, if they were to take a wrong turn might make what I read more than just fiction. Is it art imitating life or life imitating art? The trends that troubled me the most were focused on those failing to remember the past and being condemned to repeat it. It does not surprise me that Orwell’s 1984 and Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale are being read and re-read by many now. History is strewn with examples of societies filled with oppression and the literature written at the time that helped to provide a yardstick of the truth. Timeless classics.

What might happen (now and) in the near future if power was concentrated in the hands of an elite few and those with that power took away our freedom? This is a key question I am exploring in my fifth novel, The Peithosian Gift.

The story was born out of a conversation I had with a close friend on an epic road trip. Wondering whether growth of consumerism could be or was being used as an opiate to control the masses, we talked about how persuasive advertising and propaganda could be and how some people seem to be more easily persuaded than others. In my usual tangent style, I speculated about a ‘what if?’ question around every living thing having a will that could ‘push’ ideas onto another living thing. From there, the seed grew into the idea of the push and pull of Nature, and a bunch of people who had a gift and, by the time we reached home, I had the shell of a story that turned into The Peithosian Gift.

The novel is the first in a planned speculative/fantasy series about two warring families who possess the power of mind control. It tackles a range of philosophical questions and moral dilemmas, including whether mass mind control is good or bad for society. I am writing the sequel currently and cranking up the volume on aspects of this theme. For example, I wonder whether a lack of choice can be genuinely accepted to be a form of happiness, whether seceding decisions (consciously or otherwise) to someone or something else can make us content because it is easier than having the free will to choose. Don’t even get me started on how algorithms could be used and abused in this context – that’s a commentary for another day.

Utopia — is it a place that cannot be?


Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Little Things Matter - Getting the 'Dys' out of Dysfunctional Families

I recently wrote a piece for Female First UK - an online magazine - talking about a source of inspiration for my fifth novel, the Peithosian Gift. I focussed on dysfunctional families because this theme was a core aspect of the book.

Here's the link to the article that went live today: https://www.femalefirst.co.uk/books/cristina-archer-peithosian-gift-exclusive-feature-why-little-things-matter-1164706.html

And, if you don't like to click on random links, here is the text reproduced below...

Many years ago, during one of those provoking training courses that punctuated my professional career, the presenter offered a quote that helped me to recognise a key to my moral compass:

“They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” (Carl W Buehner)

At the time, the quote emphasised that we should treat each other with care and respect. Yet it always reminded me of family. Not necessarily blood relatives – for family can also be those people in our lives we adopt to assume the role of surrogate siblings or parents – those whose shared purpose is centered on being supportive caregivers to each other. Fundamentally, nurture is at the heart of a functional family, what we build beyond the nature in our genes.

Both sorts of families – traditional and unconventional – have been important in my life and the concept of family has featured in much of my writing from when I began to put pen to paper.

My first short story, written just before my thirteenth birthday was a Lovecraft-inspired horror tale about a box of slime three siblings discovered in a remote abandoned mine. It coincided with my family’s move from the city to the country and how much more I needed to rely on them then, living in the middle of nowhere.

While I was too young to read horror fiction at the time, my father was anti-censorship so let me read as many books, including non-fiction, as I wanted to read. My childhood conversations with family around the dinner table, where I was encouraged to push the boundaries on discovering and discussing ideas and opinions, also encouraged my interest in philosophy and science, giving me a lifelong fascination with these disciplines that has intersected deeply with my literary pursuits.

To this day, I am not sure whether the freedom I was given by my parents as a teenager was a good or bad thing. The topics of discussion over those dog-eat-dog debate-filled dinner table conversations have been (mostly) long forgotten but I still remember how I felt afterwards. Why couldn’t a meal be just a meal?

I do appreciate the value those hard conversations had in shaping me – inspiring the inquisitiveness that has pervaded my entire life. But I also often wonder if I could have learned better life skills if empathy had featured more in my childhood landscape.

The little things matter. The unfair weight of expectations placed on me, by my father especially, pushing me to be more or different to what I wanted to be. Being afraid to bring home art made at school because it was frivolous and did not match the career choice he believed I was meant to pursue. Intelligent discourse encouraged, emotional revelations not, the behaviour I learned from this lethal combination was to forcefully and regularly suppress any healthy release of cathartic fluids.

So, I wrote to make sense of life, release those bottled up feelings onto a page in a created world and explore family dynamics – the ‘dys’ in dysfunctional (and dystopian).

My fifth novel, The Peithosian Gift, was born out of a conversation I had with a close friend on a road trip. This friend is my surrogate brother, with high emotional intelligence, and to whom the book is dedicated. We talked about how persuasive advertising can be and how some people seem to be more easily persuaded than others. In my usual tangent style, I speculated about a ‘what if?’ question around every living thing having a will that could ‘push’ ideas onto another living thing. From there, the seed grew into the idea of the push and pull of Nature, and a bunch of people who had a gift and, by the time we reached home, I had the shell of a story that turned into The Peithosian Gift.

The novel is the first in a planned speculative/fantasy series about two warring families who possess the power of mind control. It tackles a range of philosophical questions and moral dilemmas and, at its core, explores why it is important that we do not project an image onto a person of what we want or expect them to be. Setting unrealistic expectations will hold them back from discovering who they are meant to be.

Remember, think about (and feel) the impact you have on others – they may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel. If you push too hard, you may break them.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Inner voice centricity

I am not a superstitious sort generally speaking though there have been times when I have wondered whether there is something to the concept of bad karma. That's me on a bad day. On a good day, I usually recognise that bad stuff happens for no reason at all and it is most likely just a coincidence that it occurs just before I am about to take a vacation. With one exception, my significant travel plans over the last decade have been stymied by bad stuff happening just before I was due to travel. With one exception, the bad stuff has been health related (either my own or close family). My so-called "travel curse".

I was planning to go to a wedding in late September in London. This travel was ruled out by my doctor who missed his calling as a dystopian story-teller. I swear the man could have made one of those classic "fire and brimstone" exorcist performing priests seem tame in comparison. Apparently a plane full of people on a long haul flight is a life-threatening risk for someone with my medical history. I could have hopped on that plane but was terrified to do so after the medical lecture. Perhaps this is how phobias start?

So I 'converted' my overseas travels to a domestic road trip to the middle of nowhere (otherwise known as most inland parts of Australia). There would be some 'civilisation' - the occasional country town, some bigger than others, measured by size by the number of hotel-pubs on the main street running through town. Mostly, I would be on back roads Where there are next to no cars and definitely no people. Somewhere where I could step out of my car and yell at the top of my lungs at the Universe for giving me a plethora of inherited uber-crappy autoimmune diseases that make my life a challenge on the best of days. Consolation prize.

It seems the Universe was not in the mood to hear my roar. A day before my brother was due to fly down from his home town to join me for the first few days of the drive, my routine visit to one of my possie of specialists (my favourite one as it turns out - my endocrinologist always entertains me with wonderful stories about his family adventures) ended up being not so routine. My latest blood tests and talk of pain at the site of a former tumor (see Operation Ditching Rupert from 2013) leads him to order a CT scan - "first available" - and I'm suddenly in the hospital drinking bitter tasting contrast in anticipation of a fresh medical test.

I ring my brother - tell him our trip may be delayed (while I wait for results) or replaced by a hospital stay. I let my work colleagues know. There are a few among them all too familiar with my travel curse. I really want to be on the road but it seems my body is resisting the prospect.

I have read the science that suggests our body is prone to get "ill" at the start of a vacation - something about working with a certain degree of stress and then 'relaxing' which somehow weakens the immune system (with greater risk of exposure to bugs etc). The body takes a vacation, too, and nasties take up residence. I have certainly experienced this first-hand ahead of some of my vacations. But I don't think the idea of physiological responses to vacation time extends to the growth of unwelcome house guests inside my body. Maybe the universe is telling me that I should embrace my introverted nature and accept that being a home body means "staycations" rather than vacations would be better for my health.

There are certainly pluses in doing so - I've started writing the sequel to the Peithosian Gift (aptly named the Peithosian Curse). Some quiet time at home would be a great opportunity to continue one of the best parts of the early drafting process - creating new characters channelling my "inner voice". As a concept, it is difficult to explain. My preferred writing style is inner-voice centric. This basically means I tend to focus on the thoughts and feelings of the characters I write - getting inside their heads. It's an interesting thought experiment to contemplate the perspective of a 17 year old punk girl one week and a 36 year old prodigious neuroscientist male the next.

I generally find male characters easier to write and all of my favourite characters from my earlier books have been boys and men. I am not saying that they are emotionally simpler than girls and women. I just suspect my inner-voice is naturally more masculine than feminine. This might have something to do with growing up with brothers, being more fond of science then dancing, working in a profession dominated by men. There I go again, seeing patterns and correlations that may just be coincidence.

But I digress. I was describing the "travel curse". The outcome of the medical tests came quickly - an actual plus of my medical history is the specialists can get priority status on running diagnostic tests so I only usually lose one nights sleep in the wait time. Counting only hours to learn my fate with a different inner voice trying to reassure me that everything will be alright.

My inner voice was right for a change. The pain was an existing tumor (benign) sharing its growing pains with me. It's now the size of a mandarin. Luckily I have space inside me - prime real estate vacant land where some of my missing organs used to be. Being spleenless can be a blessing after all. Clearly, I am an optimist.