The writing post

©careerusinterruptus

When I was in Senior, Bruce Dawe visited my school, to talk about being a poet. It was the first time I’d ever met an actual author and I was nearly sick with the thrill of it. (Got a lot of funny looks from my classmates, whose excitement, such as it was, stemmed mainly from the fact that they were sort of getting out of double English.) I couldn’t speak; I wanted to be a writer so badly, I didn’t even know where to start, so although I was exploding with questions, not a single one of them came out. Afterwards, Mum dragged us off to a shopping centre where I followed her around crying my eyes out, I was so disappointed in myself for having missed such an opportunity. (Funny looks from my siblings, then.) An opportunity for what, exactly, I didn’t know, only that I felt I’d missed something crucial.

33 years later, the one thing I really remember Dawe saying, was in response to a question from one of the teachers. He didn’t have an office, he said. He wrote at the kitchen table, with the kids and the wife busy, chatting, working around him and the dog at his feet. And, he thought that made him a better writer. Closer, more in touch, with the things he was trying to grasp.

That really struck me. Until then, I’d nurtured lonely-writer-in-a-freezing-garrett type images of my future. One of my uncles, dead before I came along, had written a few books, and I’d fallen deeply in love with his little writing cubby, an open shack no more than three square metres, on the bank of a rushing stream, down the hill from the family home in the Blue Mountains.

That was what I always wanted. (There were six humans and a dog in my childhood family and I’m an introvert; I wanted it hard.) Dawe showed me that things could be different, that what you could still write beautifully in the midst of chaos.

And it’s just as well I learned that, because if I couldn’t write in chaos, these days, I would simply never write, and writing is as essential to me as breathing. Don’t get me wrong, I would dearly love a less chaotic space to work in. It’s just that writing is more important. Choosing writing over housework takes no thought; I would and often do choose writing over nearly every other aspect of self-care, because it is so good for me. Writing takes me somewhere else. It simplifies, gives me a tiny space where I am, actually, in control. Above all it relieves the pressure of the words swirling incessantly in my head, and believe me when I say there’s a fucking lot of them. A week in a spa – a month of meditating – a year of yoga, couldn’t do as much for me as a day spent writing.

So if that table – swamped as it is by craft mess that the kids and I create, pencil shavings and fabric scraps underfoot, the piano at my back, Mr Pixel placing blocks or whatever it is he does to my right, a view of the empty supply cupboard and the garden ahead – if that’s the only space to write in, well, then, by god that’s where I’m gonna write.

The lovely thing I’ve learned, is that even with all that, with the TV and the cat, the chooks and the kids (one of whom chatters constantly, sometimes to the chooks, while watching TV), is that if I allow myself to cock my ear, to take a breath, exhale, and listen, the stories are always right there. All I have to do is tune in.

So, this year I finally finished the novel I started when I was pregnant with Mr Pixel. Yeah. 13 years. And although sleep deprivation took me on a very long detour via Utter Rubbish and the bog of Badly Written, I think it ended up somewhere a bit better, after all. I sent it off to a competition, anyway, a thing that crossed my feed about one day after I joined a romance writers’ group. I doubt anything will come of it, but you know. The point is that I did something with my writing, for the first time.

And then, amazingly, I started the next one, because I’ve been carrying these characters in my head for so long, too, that as soon as I was ready, out they popped, doing what they need to do. I easily caught two chapters on the laptop in the picture and even now, today – in a different writing space, writing something else altogether, I can dimly hear the sentences unfurling, as though the characters were just in the next room.

It’ll be Christmas in a couple days. I’ve still got shopping and wrapping and cooking to do and yes, cleaning, too. I’ll work in the garden and help CraftyFish with the impossible puzzle she’s doing, and spend time with Mum. The Skeptic and I have some urgent budgeting to do, and the garage needs to be cleaned out. But in between all that, in hours and half hours, here and there, I’ll keep writing. It’s who I am.

The heavy post

Mt Coot-tha in the haze © careerusinterruptus

November and, so far, December, have not been kind to us. CraftyFish has spent most of her time flat on the sofa, miserable AF – and for a kid who is normally swinging from the chandeliers, that’s distressing as hell. Especially to mommas who bear the brunt of the misery, and the responsibility for fixing it. I eventually got her blood-tested – which sounds so easy to say, but is so taxing, when your kid is super anxious, super vocal, and has never had blood tests before – and we discovered that her iron was on the floor. Not, technically, anaemic, but in the bottom 6% of the normal range. Which is bloody marvellous – relieved a lot of anxiety, let me tell you, and eminently fixable, even if it will take a long time.

At the same time, I asked the doctor to test me, too, because my brain fog was back. Last time, I didn’t notice until a doctor told me – that is, I knew I wasn’t right, but I didn’t know how not-right I was, until he told me – but this time, thank fuck, I noticed. In one week I lost my keys and took three visits to remember to tell the doctor everything and then there was the morning I caught myself wandering around the kitchen trying to remember how to make toast – with the bread in my hand the whole time. This time I knew, hey, I wasn’t like that six months ago, so off I trotted. Turns out, my iron is only marginally better than CraftyFish’s. So we’re trying to iron out our iron and be kind to ourselves: trying to remember, as we achieve so very little, that we’re not useless, we’ve just been temporarily hamstrung by biology.

It triggered me, a bit, the brain fog. I lost years to it, last time, years of barely keeping my head above water and anger and exhaustion and not being able to start, let alone finish, anything. I do not want to go back there.

The world continues to burn and the news is horrific: our government continues its march towards authoritarianism, denying – in the face of all the evidence – that there’s anything unusual happening as the biggest, hottest fires ever recorded sweep vast areas of land, killing record numbers of animals, driving thousands of people from their homes. They rejected calls for more funding for the exhausted firefighters, saying that as volunteers they “want” to be there, forcing the firies to crowd-fund for lunches and equipment; they’ve brought in a bill to allow people to discriminate on religious grounds – to fire you for being gay, or to deny you contraception; they folded the Arts, Environment and Education portfolios in with Transport, Agriculture and Employment respectively, even though those would seem to be at cross purposes; and rumour has it that they’re planning to cut the pension for both the aged and job-seekers. This week Australia was downgraded from being an open to a narrow democracy and ranked bottom of 57 countries for its climate policies.

Then there’s Brexit.

More drought.

America.

Refugees.

I can’t look away from this stuff. Can’t focus on the small picture, making sure my kitchen is tidy and my Christmas shopping is done and prettily wrapped. I find it utterly impossible to give a flying fuck about this stuff, to be honest, to pretend it’s business as normal, when it is so abundantly clear that painful, violent times are coming, fast. (The sky, normally so clear and blue has been relentlessly low and beige, and the temperatures over 30C every day this week, which makes it really hard to ignore.)

And then. Mum had a minor stroke and, when she was released 24 hours later, another slightly more serious one. She’s okay, she’s at home now, regarded as fit and safe, although one side of her mouth still droops. It was a lot of hospital time, though, much of it with tired and emotional kids, and I’m the sort of wimp who has to look the other way when there’s a canula in the room, let alone sticking out of my poor Mum’s thin, tissue-skinned arm. She doesn’t really understand why we made her go to hospital; can’t remember that she didn’t used to slur her speech and have trouble lifting her arm, because of the dementia. And she doesn’t remember the explanation so we tell her, over and over again, and she is struggling to process. My sister has done most of the work and I feel bad about that, too.

It has been hard.

A friend tried to remind me that I don’t have to always hold it all together, but I haven’t been able to cry. I don’t know whether that’s exhaustion, distraction (thoughts in my head like flies), good old-fashioned repression, or the profound conviction that worse is to come, but it’s just not there.

I write this out as a marker, so that it’s there, the background against which I think about my kids, make decisions for them and for myself. So that if I seem distracted, or pessimistic, or that I’m spending too much time watching Guardians of the Galaxy and reading romance novels, I remember it’s because I’m carrying all this, all the time, and try as I might, I cannot put it down.

The oh yeah, that’s right post

Bondi Rescue lifesaver Harrison, rendered in gingerbread ©careerusinterruptus

Sometimes I wonder if my kids really are gifted. (Hello, imposter syndrome!)

Sure, they read early and zipped through their first couple of years of math, but then ill health, anxiety, a bad school fit, and a dash of bullying brought a screaming halt to their academic advancement. Since then, their disinterest in book learning is a source of perpetual bemusement to their dad and me – neither of them, really, has an academic bone in their body. So when I read about kids doing calculus at 5, or teaching themselves multiple languages, I do sometimes wonder whether I’m in the right parenting group.

And then we’ll have a 24-hour period in which one kid (it doesn’t matter which one, they’re both over age 10 and both more than capable of all of this):

a) soliloquises extensively about how desperate they are to learn everything, and “know the answers to all the questions in the world”;

b) throws a screaming fit over wrapping a Christmas present – they cut too much paper, you see, and had to trim in both dimensions, which “ruined everything” and then they didn’t know how to do corners so the whole idea was stupid and just FORGET IT, JUST CANCEL CHRISTMAS NOW;

c) carries on the screaming fit with floods of tears, on the floor, because they wish they were learning, but they can’t because they are sick, and they can’t find their math book, and couldn’t do any even if they could find it because their entire body hurts, but they need to do it before school starts in 8 weeks’ time or they will grow up stupid and end up living in some guy’s basement playing video games for their entire life;

d) insists they would rather flush their head down the toilet than watch any educational YouTube content, even though they are sick and need to lie down watching TV, and they’re bored silly with cartoons, and to thwart me, they turn on the TV themselves, flipping through the channels until they get to … the ABC’s educational programming;

e) and finally, after more tears because it’s the 2nd and we’re not doing anything Christmassy, settles on decorating gingerbread men and spend the best part of three hours contentedly creating artworks like the portrait above. And below:

Gingerbread cookies in the CI house
©careerusinterruptus

Hilarious, aren’t they? Take a close look at the designs on those Christmas jumpers. Some of those sprinkles were placed using tweezers, for the love of God, and that one down the bottom was decapitated deliberately. The Santa hat one is decorated the same front and back because that’s how hats work. And when a cookie’s leg broke off during the transfer from worktop to baking tray, they made a gingerbread wheelchair to put it in, with a lecture to me on the importance of representing all kinds of people, not just people with legs. There was a drag queen cookie, too, and both a topless sunbather and the creep who took photos of her (a storyline lifted from Bondi Rescue. You may notice a theme, here.)

This day was like a masterclass in teh gifted, banging through all the boxes: Intelligence and a thirst for knowledge, tick. Rampaging need for autonomy, tick. A tsunami of emotion, tick. A stonking sense of humour, tick. Anxiety (not necessarily a gifted thing, but often comorbid), tick. Social justice campaigning, tick. Intense and asynchronous up the wazoo.

I know, I go on about it. Partly, dude, I just need to vent. I mean, you try living with this. Partly I do it for that other mum who may be out there, wondering what the hell is going on in her house. And partly, I need to remind myself: yes, actually, I am dealing with somewhat … unusual kids, and if we all struggle sometimes, well, that’s understandable. And finally, partly, it’s to remind myself that yes, I am in the right parenting group, even without the calculus, because this is what gifted looks like.