Notes from a difficult time

(pic: unsplash)

18 months ago, it was 12 July 2021. My father had died a few days ago. That was a difficult time, possibly not always for the reasons you might imagine. There was a lot going on that was stressful and difficult then, which I didn’t want to think or write about then and still don’t wish to.

The notes in my notebook at that very intense time – which I spent living at my parents’ place – do not reveal how stressful or intense it was. I didn’t have the emotional capacity or mental energy to unpack my emotions and relive them by writing them on a page. So the notebook is a mostly neutral, unemotional record of lists and facts: what I’d cooked, what someone said, what I’d cleaned or thrown out, what I’d observed when I’d gone for a walk.

Now, when I look back at the notebook, my reaction is to distance myself even further. There’s no point trying to superimpose emotions now, that I didn’t record then. Did I even feel anything at the time? Probably not. Sometimes, you’re too swept up in the needs of the moment. You don’t have the luxury of feeling anything.

So, I thought I’d be experimental with those notes. What would happen, I wondered, if I flicked through pages, randomly letting my eyes fall here and there, and scribbled whatever few words I saw, onto index cards, and then jumbled those up, making the words even more random by taking away any chronological order?

Obviously, I must be keen to remove myself even further from the actual events and emotions felt. But it’s a playful exercise, too, because sometimes when you put seemingly random words and phrases together, and read them with a brain that naturally tries to make connections between words, new meanings can seem to arise from the result. Think of it as a freeform poem. Or a draft, for – who knows what?

So, below is a string of random words written sometime between May 27 and August 29, 2021.

During that time, my dad received a diagnosis that he had a very advanced, agressive form of leukaemia, and about 4 weeks to live. He died, 5 weeks later. 5 weeks after that, my mother had a fall and fractured her ankle and went to hospital. Two days after that my sister, who lives overseas, flew home again, leaving me living on my own at my parents’ house, where I stayed for another six weeks as there were lockdowns in place that meant I could only visit Mum in hospital – by sitting outside the window and talking on the phone – if I stayed there and didn’t go back to my own home.

Random words from my notebook, May 27 – August 29, 2021

get up early

snapped back, thinking,

all I said was

lace curtains

bare details

irritated,

surprised to hear Uncle Leo singing

a blacksmith

smoke was coming out

a replica of the original

when the day came

almost like I had a

you tell me?

being gentle and weird

shortly after I gave up and,

about 200 Tattslotto tickets

referral form

little nylon overnight bag

water gushing into the washing machine

dissolves into white

when she’s here alone

especially in the west

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Silly questions for the silly season

Pic: Jay Mantri on Unsplash

 

Do Christmas trees dream about their tree-filled past?

Does a plum pudding think about fortitude?

Does an icicle worry about melting when the weather warms?

Does a bee ever try buzzing backwards?

 

 

Do new shoes lying around separately, miss each other?

Do plums ever consider any other virtues?

Does a reindeer feel weird hearing Christmas songs?

Do the violins long to play wild, impromptu jazz?

 

 

Do Boxing Day sales ever really satisfy?

Does sitting at home reading do just as well?

Does Jamie Oliver’s rhubarb and custard help you lose those Christmas kilos?

Will anyone ever be able to tell?

 

 

Pic: Saad Chaudhry on Unsplash

Cockatoos at dawn and other unexpected things

It was a Friday in May. It had been, ever since Thursday, midnight, had ticked past. I’d been awake for every second of this Friday so far, and it was still the same day, which felt as if it had gone on forever, and it was not even light yet.

Time seems malleable sometimes, as if “24 hours” has no fixed meaning.

I rose at 6.30am, since I couldn’t sleep and it seemed pointless to keep on trying. There are many things one can achieve in a morning if one rises early. I put on my mother’s dressing gown and walked to the kitchen. I put the coffee pot on the stove. Below the kitchen window, the town was still shrouded in darkness, although the sky was pale.

As I stared out the window, cockatoos began to rise together from the trees along the creek, bleating their high-pitched squawks, and gather into flocks that moved together, wheeling and circling and shrieking, noisily, over the roof of the house. I ran outside to watch. I didn’t know why they were doing this and I’d never seen them do this here before, but the drama and spectacle seemed right for the occasion.

There are many things one can achieve in a morning if one rises early. When the cockatoos had settled in the trees, I went back inside, ate breakfast and cleaned up. I showered and dressed and set about the task I’d set for myself that morning. I spent the next few hours hauling a heap of items that many would describe as junk, out of a bedroom, through the house and outside, into the bin, or even further, through the back yard and down the steps to the shed. I got my mother’s old vacuum and vacuumed the floor, and bits of carpet, turned into loose particles by moths, came away and were sucked in, leaving only the hessian underlay. I turned the vacuum onto the walls and ceiling, and it sucked in dust and thick, matted, dangling spider webs.

All I was aiming for was to get the room to a state where I could tolerate sleeping in it, although I didn’t know, then, that I’d be there for the next five months.

Did I think, back then, that I might be there a week? Possibly. Denial is a survival tactic sometimes. More likely, I avoided thinking about how long I might be there for. There was too much else to occupy my thoughts, just then.

According to a few hastily scribbled notes written that day, I made carrot and pumpkin soup for lunch, hoping my mother would be able to eat it. And in the afternoon, I drove to the hospital to bring my father home.


Photo by Rafael Garcin on Unsplash

Awake, again

It’s 6.08am on Sunday morning. Birds are chirping merrily, a plane is flying overhead, the sky is light, the air is still.

I’m awake to observe all this early morning activity, not through choice, but because I woke at 2.15am (or thereabouts) last night and couldn’t get back to sleep.

Photo by Niels Weiss on Unsplash

It doesn’t happen as often as it used to, but over my lifetime, insomnia has ruined so many days. Only those who’ve had insomnia will sympathise with how it feels, lying wide awake, knowing that the day ahead is going to be much harder than it should have been, and how you’ll have to modify or cancel certain planned activities, as you just won’t have the physical energy or mental alertness to manage them. How your eyes will feel like they’ve been rubbed with sandpaper. How your brain will feel like it’s made of lead.

But I’m trying not to be depressed about having only about 3.5 hours of sleep (even though – which makes it worse – I was already really, really tired all day yesterday due to a self-induced late night out on Friday that also involved drinking maybe one more glass of alcohol than was ideal.)

It’s a lovely morning, so I’m trying to be cheerful. I’m trying to appreciate and make use of this precious time, in the quiet of early morning. I’m sitting up in bed with a cup of tea and my laptop open, a cat happily sitting on my lap (she’s thrilled that someone is up so early!), writing here, which is a rare occurrence these days, so that feels like an achievement already.

While I’ve been writing, the sun has risen. Through the window, I can see the leaves of a bay tree, and over my neighbours’ roofs, the tall eucalypts in the street around the corner – and all those green leaves have taken on a warm, golden tinge as the early morning sunlight spills over them. Bird calls have gone through various iterations in the time it’s taken me to write these few paragraphs – there was a cacophony when I started writing but at the moment they’re almost silent – all I can hear intermittently now are some quiet, high pitched chirps.

Maybe all the parent birds have headed out to find breakfast and left the babies behind in their nests, waiting for their weetbix, or worms, or whatever delicacy their oldies might bring back.

Perhaps the baby birds chirped in nervous excitement amongst themselves when the parents departed, planning all sorts of highjinks…but then fell asleep.

How I’d love to be able to do the same. Chirp here for a while, then fall asleep.

When I’m not writing

When I’m not writing, I’m probably thinking about writing.

When I am not writing, I’m working at my paid job….after all, this writing gig doesn’t pay the bills, does it?!

When I’m not writing, I’m eating breakfast, showering, cleaning my teeth, and travelling to my job, which on some days now, means, sitting at the card table set up in the corner of my bedroom and opening the laptop.

(Update: since I wrote the first draft of this, during the pandemic, I got a new job – now I work entirely from home. To reward myself, I upgraded and got an actual, fancy-pants desk instead of an old card table! So now, “travelling to work” means, hastily tidying the bed (in case there’s a zoom meeting I’ve forgotten about right at 9am), sitting down at the desk next to the bed, and opening the laptop.)

When I’m not writing, I’m making lunch. Or dinner. Look, although it may seem as if I live a fast-paced life that’s way too intrepid/glamorous to be spent standing at a stove watching potatoes boil, I really live a standard 3-meals-a-day kind of life, preferably with a delicious snack thrown in as well.

For goodness sake, I get a headache if I haven’t eaten some carbohydrates by midday!

When I’m not writing, often, I’m reading. I managed to do almost nothing but read, for a whole Saturday, recently. All one has to do to achieve this is become an anti-social hermit! It takes hard work but it’s worth it when you get there.

When I’m not writing, I’m frequently editing. A lot of my so-called “writing” is actually editing. It’s not unusual for me to get as far as version 29. Sometimes I wonder if the edits I make to version 29 are just reinstating the words, concepts, and punctuation I got rid of back at version 8. I don’t check to find out, just in case they really are.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

When I’m not writing, occasionally I’m logging into Submittable to see if anything I’ve submitted has changed status. It never has. Often, nothing has even made it to my “submitted” queue, which, although completely my own doing, just makes it all the more disappointing when I log in, hoping against hope for a positive response.

When I’m not writing, I’m thinking about a sentence that’s going to redeem a piece I’ve been tinkering over for 3 years, or an idea for a piece of writing that strikes me in that moment as experimental and quirky and the breakthrough I’ve been working towards. But then I remember I need to phone my elderly mother and run through what medical appointments she has coming up, and who is taking her to them, and then I need to phone the Aged Care Service providers to arrange a time for them to talk to us about Home Care packages, and then I need to get back to the spreadsheet I was filling in for my paid job, and then I need to do other work-related tasks, until it’s 5.30pm, and then I need to make dinner and watch the news and bring in the laundry and clean up the kitchen and put out the bins. After I’ve done all that, I need to drink some wine and fall in a heap on the bed. When I’m brushing my teeth later it crosses my mind that I had a good idea earlier that day but I can’t remember what it was and then I fall asleep.

When I’m not writing, I’m reading other people’s Tweets. When I’m not writing anything else I’m probably spending a ridiculous amount of time crafting a Tweet and then not posting it.

When I’m not writing, I’m thinking about local politics, and class divisions, and how the working class are always shafted while CEOs of corporate companies rake in utterly obscene salaries. In Australia, I look no further than the CEO of Qantas, naturally, since he’s always popping up in the news.

When I’m not writing, sometimes I’m online shopping. Or grocery shopping, IRL.

When I’m not writing, sometimes I’m drinking a glass of wine and watching Hard Quiz on the ABC.

When I am not writing, I’m listening to possums screeching from the trees outside my bedroom window. At least, I hope it’s possums I’m listening to.

When I’m not writing, at night, I’m sleeping.

There’s a gap in between*

Well, hello! And yes, it has been quite a while since I wrote on this blog.

“On” it? Or perhaps more accurately, “in” it – as I am, now, filling “IN” the blank white page with little black letters that, once combined, make words! which delightfully seem to manoeuvre themselves into sentences before I know it, and then, voila! – with almost no planning at all, the whole mess becomes something that some people, if they were feeling generous – perhaps if they had a good day today, and have drunk a glass of some delicious red wine, or downed a vodka or two, might kindly refer to as “a paragraph.” Anyway. On it, in it, whatever. I’m here.

It was 2017 when I last wrote a post on in here, I think. I could check, of course, but that would require me to navigate around the WordPress site – and if things have changed in the world since 2017, boy have they changed here on WordPress! I don’t know whether you will even see this post after I finish typing, since I’ve already lost the draft once, because nothing looks like it did in 2017. Here on WordPress, or anywhere else. Ask the people of Ukraine. (Nothing there looks like it did in February this year.) Ask anyone who has lost a family member to COVID in the last two years. Or ask me, since my father passed away in 2021, not of COVID, but from Leukaemia, which was not diagnosed until he had about 4 weeks left, according to the specialists.

I launched in today, at the top of the white space above, with no real plan, intending to write something only because today, May 27, 2022, is 12 months since my father was given that diagnosis. The day stands out in my mind because the news was such a shock to us all and because of the background fact that made the situation even more stressful than it would have been in ordinary times, ie, that the entire state (Victoria, in Australia) was going back into lockdown at midnight, for the first time in 4 months. I live in Melbourne, and my father lived in a small country town about 200kms away.

You can probably fill in the rest for yourself, if your town/city/village went into lockdown any time over the past 2 years. We’re all familiar with the concept of lockdown now, aren’t we?

Needless to say, on May 27 last year, for me, the day rapidly changed shape and veered into a hurried packing of bags and a frantic drive out of town – along with about 1 million other residents, or so it seemed on the freeway.

But I popped in (or onto) here today, after a 5 year absence, not to elaborate on that, but to post a picture of the sunrise, 12 months ago. (or almost – it’s currently evening on 27th May here), taken from my parents’ house, on the first morning that we knew that Dad had only weeks left to live.

Because the thought that was foremost on my mind today, on this 12 month anniversary, is how surreal the next few months were, a year ago, and how hyper-aware of the natural world I seemed to be during that time.

So I just wanted to share this: that sometimes, you’re thrown into a situation that is incredibly stressful and difficult, and yet, at the same time, that very situation gives you a new perspective on the world, and you look at the view out the kitchen window of the house you grew up in as if you’ve never seen it before, and realise, suddenly, how beautiful it is.

Dawn, May 27, 2021

*I hope you’ll forgive me if, after a 5 year break, I forgot that I had already named a post in 2016 after the same lyric from a Radiohead song, but I like it a lot, so I’m leaving it as is.

Planning, you say? Why, I never thought of it!

My dears,

you may have noticed my absence over the past month or so.

This is due to the fact that, despite my many letters to complain about this, there are still only 24 hours in a day, and only 7 of those damn things in a week.

The trouble is, I decided in the middle of this year to make a concerted effort to do some serious writing. Writing that I would send out. Out into the wide world, my friends, instead of just self-publishing it here where the only person who decides if it’s worth publishing or not is the CEO of Blathering Industries, ie, me.

But I found that I just don’t have the time to do that and also write a blog post every week. This is because I’m trying to put a lot of effort into the non-blog writing, to actually research, and rewrite, in short, to reach a certain standard that, let’s face it, I just don’t reach when I begin a blog post 27 minutes before I’m supposed to be at a friend’s house for dinner. (and need to allow time to change out of my tracksuit pants.)

So I got all organised, like. I wrote myself out a plan, like. A plan with specific goals and deadlines and all that. I was quite surprised at myself, I gotta tell ya.

I discovered that a writing plan can be pretty simple. Mine lists specific tasks: for example, I’ve listed 2-3 specific pieces of writing with an action to “find suitable market and send out for publication” and I’ve picked out 1-2 call outs for a themed piece of writing, and listed those with the action “write up a draft idea for this call out.” It’s not brain surgery, as it turns out. Then, I’ve listed some overall goals to achieve in that time, eg: 1 piece accepted, and 1 new piece written. Keeping it very realistic is the key, I guess.

Anyway, I recall that I bored you by talking about planning, a few months ago, at the time of the Inaugral June To August Plan.

Since then, I have moved seamlessly on to the August To November Plan, and I’ve just popped over here today to let you know that, to my astonishment, this planning and goal setting has been going quite well. (Who knew that planning and goal-setting worked? Imagine how my life could have gone, if I’d known this earlier.)

By quite well, I mean that since embarking on this new approach, I’ve had one piece of writing accepted and published on an online literary journal and a second piece accepted by a zine. (Which will be online as well as available in hard copy.)

Of course, in that time, I’ve also had about 8 rejections, and of course, some of those were for the piece that has now been accepted into the zine. But we know that writers have to keep persisting don’t we?! Perhaps I should mention that one of those pieces had been sent off in various forms and been rejected, probably about 8 times over the past 8 years.

But that is where I’ve decided to make a serious try at writing. 8 lame attempts to submit a piece of writing in 8 years is nothing! A serious writer would have submitted it 84 times in that time! I’ve never really prioritised writing before, and I’ve been pretty willing to give up, and find reasons not to write, so in the past I had short bursts of trying to seriously devote time to writing, and then I’ve given up again for long bursts due to full time work, and then, due to devoting that writing time to writing a blog instead. While I wrote this blog regularly, from 2010 until the middle of this year, I did not send a single piece of writing off anywhere else.

So that’s why, while I’m trying hard to have a go at writing for something other than my own blog, this blog will only be sparsely updated. When I reach a point where I am earning squillions from writing and can afford to spend 24/7  writing, I may begin posting regularly here again. I like to keep my goals realistic though, and I have to tell you, I don’t see that happening in the December – February Plan.

Thanks to those few loyal regular readers who’ve joined in the blathering over the years. I have not been on the WordPress site for weeks now so I don’t know what you are all up to.I will make an attempt to catch up with your blogs. And maybe I’ll link here when my writing is published. I’m unsure, as that would mean revealing my – currently anonymous – identity. This dilemma about anonymity and how much freedom that gives you to tell stories that affect yourself and people close to you, must be a hurdle for all writers, that I have yet to feel comfortable about.

Anyway, in the meantime, stay tuned. And keep writing.

 

 

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