End of year schedule madness

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We’ve entered the realm of Christmas parties and end-of-year celebrations. I had my work party last Wednesday – good chicken, disappointing dessert, my poetry group end-of-year do today and my writing group Christmas party tomorrow!

As we’ve done in the past, the poetry group visited the Ian Potter Centre at the National Gallery of Victoria to view the works in the hope of inspiring something poetic.

I spent some time sitting in front of these three works by Petrina Hicks: Fertile (2010), Into the abyss (2011), and Melo malo (2019).

Then I stood looking at this work, Force (1950-54), by Roger Kemp.

Finally I sat with this impressive sculpture, Hippolyta and the Amazons defeating Theseus (1933), by Jean Broome-Norton.

I wrote the bones of three ekphastic poems today. It’s more poetry than I’ve written in a long time, since I’ve been mainly working on prose. I hope to post some of the poems here on this blog once I get them polished up.

All the artists at the Ian Potter Centre are Australian, and all the works I viewed were in the free collection part of the gallery.

I can highly recommend hanging out in galleries with notebooks and writing whatever comes to mind. Take yourself on a date, or go with friends. You never know what might come of it.

Winning and Procrastination

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Yesterday, November 28, 2019 I won NaNoWriMo for the eighth time. I’m proud of myself, but having done it before it doesn’t feel like such a big deal anymore. I’m ready to take a bit of a break from my story, but I have two more days of November to try to get some words down.

I won’t give away too much, but the story is a paranormal thriller with a romance subplot. Once it’s done it should be a stand-alone novel; about 80k words I expect.

I frequently feel I put off starting work on creative projects; on the days I don’t have to go in to my day job, I don’t start my NaNoWriMo words until well into the afternoon. I’m very good at distracting myself by watching Netflix, or shows on the various other streaming platforms (there are so many now!). I try to procrastinate productively, by doing other jobs on my list, but it doesn’t remove the feeling I’m wasting time. Perhaps one day, when I’m a grown up, I won’t do it anymore.

Now NaNoWriMo is done can get back to planning to release a new book early next year, and I have already started writing a show for the Melbourne Fringe Festival next year.

I can’t wind down just yet, I still have an exhibition opening for the Life Models’ Society Inaugural Art Competition on December 17 before I can start slacking off. I hope to see some of you there.

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A poem can start with anything
But seldom leads to any
Cause worth exploring
Don’t think about it
Everything is worth writing about
For yourself, or for someone else
Get the idea down, fix it later
However, you must remember
I can’t be the one to fix it
Joust wordily with your thoughts
Kill procrastination and fear
Let your mind speak directly
Move your fingers in the dance
Not concerned with the product
Only being in the moment
Pause and look out the window
Quiet night, sunset, thin scattered clouds
Right now is all there is
Some philosophies have
Theories about what comes afterwards
Utopias or torture chambers filled with
Violence and punishment but
Who was ever inspired by that?
Xenogamy of ideas, steal from everyone
You can do this! Just write
Zeal and persistence are all that’s needed.

Lead up to NaNoWriMo

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Hello dear readers!

This is just a short update post. I haven’t posted for a while, I’m going to blame this largely on going on an overseas trip (I’ll probably write more about that later). I have just come back home to Melbourne and I now realise I have a week to come up with a concept for NaNoWriMo 2019.

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This is me in Morocco.

I started doing NaNoWriMo in 2012 and have managed to complete it each year since then. Even last year while travelling in Japan, I got my words done. I have a certain stubbornness which makes short marathon type challenges particularly appealing.

This year I’m planning to do another choose your own adventure story. I have no characters yet, no plot and no endings, so this should be fun (for certain definitions of fun).

I haven’t really written much lately. I read over the work I did for last year’s NaNo, but I wasn’t particularly inspired to write more for that story. I suspect it will need a concerted effort, and not while travelling.

Let’s hope the passion for writing is reignited with this new CYOA project. And if is doesn’t, I can always start something else.

 

Building Stories

Online dating is full of weird, awkward questions, especially in the initial contact phase, when you don’t really know anything about the other person. Doubly so before you meet and all you have is text.

So, this is a (slightly condensed) transcript of a conservation I had today:

Him: Is it hard to invent new characters?

Me: I don’t find it hard to make up characters – they’re usually combinations of people I know.

Him: Is it difficult to find inspiration for your characters? Do you end up observing people in a social setting to see what makes them tick? Without invading their privacy, I guess that you could listen in a little to their conversations to get inspiration?

Me: No – I usually find the characters pretty easy to come up with. You can steal inspiration from anywhere.

It might sound creepy, but I have sat in cafes listening to other people’s conversations, also on public transport, in airports, at theatre shows and watching bands. Admittedly the band scenario is harder given the increased background noise. I’ve looked at people out in the world and made up back stories for them.

I’m sure other writers have done the same. There are variations of the same meme going around online writing groups:

Never piss off a writer, they will put you in their book and kill you.

In my books, because I tend to write romance, I’ll make you the shitty ex. The antagonist or the side character who gets in the way of the protagonist’s goal. If you’re very lucky, I’ll make you the false love interest.

I’ve been working on a few manuscripts. I’m planning to release a book next year, it’s with a couple of people to read and I’ll have it edited in a month or so. I’ve finished a first draft of a book I’ve been working on for about a year; it will be need a significant amount of editing but is over 100,000 words. I’ve also started revising the manuscript I started for NaNoWriMo last year. I’m not sure it’s worth much chop at this stage, but it might be a good story once it’s finished and I’ve had a chance to fiddle with it.

I know most writers have had conversations with people who aren’t writers. They try to understand the process but they don’t really get it. And I know we’ve all had the conversation about what out search history looks like. Mine is quite worrying and I don’t even write thrillers.

Online dating is likely to always start with questions about what I write, dreading the judgement of telling people I write romance. Hoping that they won’t be like all the others who equate romance with Mills and Boon, as though they’re somehow unworthy, or require less work to create.

Given the number of book sales I’ve had, it still feels a bit weird to call myself an author, but I’m getting more comfortable with it. I’m putting in the years of work it takes to become an overnight success. Even if it never happens for me, I think I’ll be okay.

How I got triggered at work

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Content warning: diet/food, health, anxiety, depression

It’s 9am Wednesday, 21 August, 2019. I’m at a professional development session run by someone who is supposed to be teaching me how to be better at doing my day job. I walk into the session and the special guest is a nutritionist.

I work in Quality and Compliance in the Community Services Sector, so I’m a bit perplexed as to how a nutritionist is going to help me do my job, but I’ve paid good money for the session (technically work paid, but the point stands) and I give it the benefit of the doubt.

We start out with a story about her health journey. Her child was sick with asthma, she was feeling crappy and run down, and conventional medicine wasn’t helping so she started looking into diet and (scene missing) cut to now; she’s a qualified nutritionist and both she and her son are magically cured, all through the power of diet. I’m starting to see a small red flag that she’s selling ‘woo‘ but, again, I let it slide.

She goes on to talk about blood sugar regulation, the role of insulin and glucogen in the normal cycle. Fine, this is accepted scientific fact as far as I’m aware. She moves on to dysfunctional blood sugar regulation, where the peaks are too big so the body releases way too much insulin, and then the blood sugar drops way too low and the glucogen isn’t enough so adrenalin gets thrown in to give us emergency energy. So far this is still in the realm of real science.

She goes on to start talking about the difference between food and ‘non-food’ or ‘negative food’ –  the stuff that is nutrient poor like refined grains – and how we’re all afraid of fats. She talks about how food can control hormone regulation and inflammation in the body, about gut health. Okay, still with her. 

People start asking questions and sharing experiences and I think we’re all still on board.  And then someone makes a comment that there’s was a link between autism and diet [insert sound of record scratching]. I look around and no one else seems to have registered that this is a really out there thing to say. So I do nothing.

She starts to talk about how in more traditional/nomadic cultures the people are more robust, how chronic illness doesn’t exist, how if we look at our ancestors, as recently as pre World War II, they don’t have chronic illnesses and dietary intolerances. About how the big food companies are producing convenience foods which are completely lacking in any value as foods.

And I start to realise the small red flag from before has become quite a big red flag while I wasn’t watching. I don’t think my brain had totally processed this at the time, but I was really uncomfortable with the content. I had disengages, and started self-soothing behaviours like checking my phone.

We all go to a break for coffee and I make a comment that I am almost constantly hungry and I suspect it’s because of my medication and someone in the group says, ‘maybe if you change your diet you don’t need the medication.’ This is the point where I lose my shit. 

This person doesn’t know this, but I take antidepressants to control my depression and anxiety. I’ve been on and off them since my late teens and I struggle with the idea that I need them, largely because of how our society portrays mental illness. I respond to this person, who I’m sure was just being flippant, that I think it’s dangerous to start telling people they can go off their medication, and that shaming someone for having to take medication is completely inappropriate and then I have to go and have a cry in the toilets.

I try to pull myself together and come back to the group and someone else asks if I’m okay. I say no and that’s it; I’m in full meltdown.

As I’m writing this now I can see more clearly the chain of events that led to the trigger of the full meltdown. I don’t believe for one moment that chronic illnesses or autism or anything else didn’t exist in traditional cultures or in the past. Back in the time when infant mortality was significantly higher, and death in general seemed to be more pervasive I think people with chronic illnesses, digestive troubles, autism and a myriad of other things just died. They weren’t there to record their struggles because they were fucking dead.

I am also sure that the confidence of the speaker, and the apparent belief of the people around me made me feel like I was the odd one out; that I was the crazy one in a room full of sane people.

I’m not one to suggest that our modern diets are perfect, nor that McDonalds and frankenfoods and transfats and GMOs are good for us. But I felt like I’d somehow joined a cult and I was the only one to think there was something funky going on. I didn’t know how to get out and I freaked.

It took me a good twenty minutes of weeping quietly in a cafe to calm myself down. I know that my trauma and my experiences contributed to the way I reacted. I understand that going from fine to blubbering mess is not an ideal way to deal with conflict but I honestly thought I was losing my mind.

I’m questioning whether I can trust this particular training provider in future. I wonder if I can feel safe to attend this sort of professional development in future. I certainly wouldn’t have turned up if I’d known the pseudoscientific scare-mongering I was going to be exposed to. Not to mention the last session had a similar, if much smaller scale, response where I came out of it feeling really defeated and overwhelmed by how much I was doing wrong.

I spoke to my sister and to a friend who is in the extremely scientific/rational camp over the course of the day and I realise now that this nutritionist was in the Pete Evans Activated Almond category of science [read: not science]. I should have known when she said that she had to go to America to find the type of nutrition course she wanted.

Sometimes I forget I live in a bubble, especially when something like this happens. Sometimes I worry about the sort of narratives people are susceptible to. And sometimes I cry at work.

Romance Writers of Australia Conference

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Last weekend I was lucky enough to attend the annual Romance Writers of Australia conference. It was held in Melbourne, my home town, this year so I thought I really should go.

The conference consisted of three days of writing and business workshops and seminars.

The first day was a full day workshop on plotting with Natasha Lester. I learned a lot and will need to go back through my work in progress with my new story structure knowledge.

The second and third day were a selection of short sessions, there were quite a few competing sessions I would have liked to see. I went to a panel of people in uniform; fire fighter, paramedic, police officer and nurse/midwife, a session on historical herbal remedies, a session on narrative through description, and many more.

By the end of the third day I was exhausted and I wasn’t really taking much in, but I was raring to get back to my manuscript and start implementing my new knowledge.

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This is the collection of book swag I got from the conference.

I also took along some of my own books to sell at the indie book stall run by Ebony McKenna.

I made one sale which was pretty good when the audience was entirely other writers.

I also had two sessions with book agents to pitch my work. Both have asked for me to submit to them by the end of the month which is promising. I won’t get my hopes up too far, I have a plan to publish another book early next year regardless of how the pitches go.

Anyone else doing professional development that’s both challenging and exciting?

Winter nesting

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A couple of months ago, I bought an apartment in Melbourne. It’s near a park, and a river, and nice cafes. It has two bedrooms, and only me to live in it. For a while tried to tell myself I wouldn’t spread out into the second bedroom, in case I wanted a housemate or air b’n’b it.

Earlier this week I finally bought a sofa bed from Ikea for the spare room. It seems unlikely I’ll get a housemate; I’m enjoying having my own space. I’ve been using the spare room for yoga and have recently set up the piano keyboard that I’ve had for a while but didn’t play much.

A friend of mine is coming to stay with me for a long weekend, the same weekend I’m going to the Romance Writers of Australia annual conference. It’s being held in Melbourne this year, and I didn’t make it last year so I’m very keen to go along to network and learn. It’s not ideal to have my friend staying and be unavailable for three full days, but hopefully we’ll have time to catch up in between times.

I’ve ordered some more copies of my books, Sophie’s Path and Discovering the Franklins, to sell at the conference. It’s like I’m a real author!

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My little orange tree and some little friends

I’ve also been doing a bit of work in my little outdoor area. It’s quite big for an apartment terrace, but doesn’t get much sun, so vegetables are out. I bought a dwarf orange tree, pictured above, and a couple of native pepper berry trees but they’ll take a while to grow. I’m planning to rip out the weird spiky bushes in the raised bed and replace them with other more interesting stuff but that will also take time. I’m in no hurry as I plan on being here for a while.

Once the conference is done I’m sure I’ll have more to tell you all. I hope you’re all warm and cosy, if you’re reading from the southern hemisphere, or keeping cool if you’re in the north.

Solitude or Loneliness?

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It’s been a while since I posted here. I’ve been so busy doing this and that I guess I forgot.

The last few weeks I’ve been thinking it might be nice to have a dog for company. I’ve been living alone, for the first time in my life, since I bought an apartment in late March. Sometimes the solitude is glorious; I don’t need to worry about bothering anyone when I get home late(ish), or worry about being woken up early by someone going to work. I can make as much mess as I want (I don’t because I’m a bit OCD, but that’s not the point). I can wander around in any state of dress without worrying about shocking my housemates. But other times, when I’m sitting on the couch watching some dross on my computer, or after having scrolled endlessly through social media feeds, or more often while doing both of these at once, I feel lonely.

I can’t just get up and talk to someone. I have to put effort into arranging catch-ups, or leaving the house to make new friends. It feels like hard work, and it feels like I’m always the one making approaches to see people.

I’ve noticed a couple of articles recently on what might be called a ‘loneliness epidemic’. I’ve been feeling loneliness on and off for quite a long time, probably since I was a child. I guess part of me struggles to really connect with people, and I worry a lot that people have forgotten about me; I think that’s genetic, my Nan seems to be the same. But part of me thinks that the illusion of connection that we have through social media actually makes us less connected.

I’m trying a few different things to counteract the feelings of being isolated that come up occasionally. I’ve found a good little cafe locally where I can sit and read a book, or do a bit of writing, the people working there seem friendly but I don’t know if they recognise me yet.

I thought I might adopt a greyhound, there are so many who come out of the racing industry and need to be re-homed. I was lucky enough to be offered the chance to foster a female brindle for a week as a trial, and unfortunately I didn’t even make it through the week. She was not like any pet I’ve ever met; not surprising as she doesn’t really know how to ‘pet’, but she was defiant, and hard to handle, and I didn’t feel like we bonded. In the end I asked if there was another foster carer who could take her off my hands. It was disappointing for a number of reasons, not least because it wasn’t really the dog’s fault we didn’t get on. I was also surprised by how traumatic I found it looking after a creature who was so dependent on me with whom I didn’t share a bond of affection.

I was reminded how hard it must be for people suffering post-partum depression; imagine giving birth to something that you didn’t feel connected to. It made me feel terrible to look at this dog and really resent having to fulfil her needs; toileting, feeding, exercising, and entertaining her.

I find it quite hard to admit when I can’t do something, particularly something that was supposed to be really fun like getting a dog. I’m not looking to try it again any time soon, I’m not sure that I’d be able to do it even with a dog I really loved as a person living alone. Perhaps I’ll get a fish, a colleague recommended a budgie, but I’m not keen on birds.

A lot of my time spent alone is blissful solitude, but I need to make sure I’m having contact with other people. Cultivating relationships will be important for the next year or so to ensure that I have enough good, strong relationships to keep me feeling connected. And I know I should spend less time on social media – because it really doesn’t help, but one thing at a time.

So I’m project managing an art competition!

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I’m sure you’re all aware that one of my jobs is modelling for art classes and drawing groups. I’m also heavily involved in the running of an organisation called the Life Models’ Society – a collective of models who advocate for better pay and condition for life models.

The LMS has been around for thirty years, as of 2019. We, the LMS Committee, decided as part of the anniversary year we would run an art competition. The idea is to generate more work for our models; the full competition rules are here.

It’s open to anyone in Melbourne, but you have to have made the work this year and feature an LMS model as the subject.

This is a fantastic opportunity to promote art and life modelling in Melbourne. We will be hosting the accompanying exhibition at Gasworks Arts Park in Albert Park in December. It’s probably the biggest event I’ve ever organised – much bigger in scale, budget, etc. than the book launch I hosted earlier in the year.

I’m really relishing the challenge of managing the working group,  and approaching sponsors, judges, artists and models to participate. It’s taking up a fair bit of my non-work time.

I’ve been working on a novel manuscript as well, and I’m now over 52k words into a book I didn’t write as part of NaNoWriMo. After all the input I’ve had from my writing groups over the years, I think this story is one of the most polished and interesting I’ve written and I haven’t even finished the first draft!

I look forward to seeing how the competition all works out, and for the skills I’m developing in the events management arena. I’ll keep you all informed on how this progresses.