Back on track

Remember a couple weeks ago, when I accidentally created a new project for myself? Well it’s done, and it’s AWESOME, and best of all, it’s WORKING.

My brain, you see, swings dramatically between complete inability to find two neurons to knock together, or firing like the Sydney Harbour Bridge on New Year’s Eve. Some days I have so many ideas, I’m almost paralysed; other days I’m paralysed by having no idea.

While writing that other post, I realised I have two problems with lists: one is overwhelm – all those tasks with their little expectant faces, and a limited window of time/energy/weather – how do you choose? The other problem was keeping track of the lists themselves. Ruined, lost, buried, left behind, scribbled-over, forgotten. And that was just yesterday.

Then there’s the issue of detail. Say the dishwasher needs fixing. Put that on your list. Now find an appliance repair company, preferably this side of town, without a $150 callout fee. Three calls. Two don’t do dishwashers, one’s busy so you leave a message. He calls back while you’re cooking. Eventually you connect, make the appointment. That must go in the calendar – but your phone’s died, so write it down and hope you remember to transcribe it later. At 8:30pm you’ve made five calls, the job’s still staring at you, and you can’t do squat about it, now. But wait, there’s more! When Dishwasher Repair Dude finally arrives, the machine won’t make the grindy noise. But, two visits later (all the foregoing, again, twice over) DWR Dude has identified the problem and leaves, promising to send a quote. When you get that (and hallelujah we can afford it) he has to order the part …

For me, a process like that constitutes approximately 12,496 opportunities to forget where we’re at, to lose the list or the phone number, or to forget to put it in the calendar. As it happened, this time, although I didn’t actually forget, I still managed to let 24 days slide by while waiting for DWR dude to call to say the ordered part had arrived. And that’s just the immediate, today stuff – imagine amorphous long-term projects like trying to write, edit, and sell a novel, or figure out keeping the chooks off the grass. Where and how do you put those on the list? And where is the list, anyway? Someone’s yelling at me because apparently we’re out of ketchup.

My friend Jen calls it, “Adult-Onset Child-Induced ADHD”. I developed it in my 40s and I’m at the point where there is literally not one single habit I can rely on. Let that sink in for a second. Not. One. Habit. (We can talk about the grief of losing one of a central pillar of my identity, another time.)

Yes, I know there are literally millions of memory aids, tips and tricks, but the catch is – after you research and find what works for you, you have to be able to remember where you put them *and*, to use them. And even then, sometimes you’re just so frelling tired, so overwhelmed and fed up, so up to your eyeballs in mini house-fires and tornadoes, that you just don’t give a rat’s, even if you could find the damn bit of paper.

Enter, my new, beautiful, to-do book.

It’s an old gift from my sister, an A5(ish) notebook from what used to be Wyly Art Center (in Colorado, USA). It was hand-made by stitching little booklets into a rubber-flooring cover (cooooool! durable!), so it naturally divided into ‘subjects’. The pages are completely blank – no times or dates, which is fine since I never know what day it is, anyway. All I had to do, was divide my life into domains.

I gave myself a couple of weeks to play around with that – and to create the art. I don’t do a lot of art, but I should because it’s profoundly therapeutic. Besides the flow of creativity (and the freedom of allowing myself off-leash), the visual tickle of colour and texture produces a deep, cortical ecstasy that is better than meditation. Looking at it brings joy, every single time. That’s gotta help, when you’re trying to remember to send the audiologist’s report to the insurer, right?

Now I can flick through and find a job that fits. Sun shining? Look in Out, find something to do in the garden. Raining? Look In, or do some Admin. Got an arthritis care plan from the GP? Put the recommended rheumatologist, hand clinic, and anti-inflammatory in Vita – and make a note to check emails for the scan and X-ray referrals. Got some time online? CareerusInterruptus isn’t just about writing, you know – there are things to read, menus to tweak, connections to make. Word reminds me of each step. But if it’s 8:30pm and the kids are happy, maybe go Create, because there are places I want to go with that, too – and I don’t have to be distracted by a reminder that I still have to call DWR Dude. Making stuff is just as important.

It’s big enough that it’s hard to lose; it’s durable enough to survive living in my bag. I’ve been writing in it using glitter gel pens because why not? But it doesn’t matter; I can write (or draw) in it with any old thing, any old time, and the info’s there whether my phone is dead, pressed against my ear, or it’s post-screen o’clock. I love it.

And now I’m going Out into the garden, so I can cross some things off after yesterday’s rain.

Oops.

©careerusinterruptus.com

Reasons why my post is late #1:

On Designated Post-Writing Day I wrote a long, rambling post about – well. Not to fall into that trap again, I shall just say, ‘projects’.

As I wandered through my thoughts on this vast matter, it occurred to me that I needed a high-school style ‘subject notebook’, so I could organise my to-do lists by domain.

Damn! That’s actually a REALLY GREAT IDEA!

So I went looking to buy online, but (ahem, here I am, reining myself in again) not liking anything much, I went rummaging through the big box of notebooks we’ve collected over the decades, and there was one that was okay, I guess, if only …

… long story short, I’ve, erm, started a new project. But only a teeny-weeny little one. Honest.

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 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.

Crazy, busy fingers

It’s a terrible photo, I know. But you try taking a photo of a pellet of gum, wrapped in five loom bands. Yes, you read that right: it’s a pellet of gum, wrapped in five loom bands. (I know, because I took them off and counted them, which is why I can’t take a better photo, and no I’m not asking her to do it again, because that would be crazy.)

This is a flag-staking post: my kids are gifted. No, I don’t have the certificates that say so, but we are an evidence-based household and the evidence is here in spades. Usually, on the floor. Scratch that: it’s on every flat surface, spilling out of drawers, in our beds at night. And so I offer Exhibit A: a pellet of gum, wrapped in loom bands.

A pellet of gum, wrapped in loom bands isn’t an IQ score. What it is is the product of a child so busy, so wired, so ON, all the time, that nearly everyone struggles to keep up with her ideas and her waterfall of talk, a child whose fingers and toes ITCH to be doing something, even when she’s already doing something. (As I write, she is making things with light clay, while watching videos online; I have about half an hour before she throws it down and begs me to wrestle her.) I already knew she was like this when I came across Heidi Klass Gable’s Ted Talk and first learned about Dabrowski’s over-excitabilities – this one, the crazy-busy fingers one, is psycho-motor oe. At the same time, I had a profound that’s MY child moment – the sort of moment I had not had when reading up on sensory-processing disorder or ADHD or anything else I could think of to explain the busy and the noisy and the intensity and her freakish ability to do many more things than I was aware of.

The profound recognition in that moment brought me to the other OEs: emotional, imaginational, intellectual, sensory. We aren’t so much about the sensory. It’s there, but I know many people way more sensory than we are. The rest of it, though? The rest of it fitted us so well, I finally had to accept something I’d been denying for a long time: we are gifted.

I had a very hard time, coming to that point. There was the issue of my own baggage (another post entirely, or possibly a book); there was the issue of my leftie bias against any form of elitism; there were my friends who don’t believe in giftedness, those who think it’s merely a polite way of saying ASD, and those who believe it is a straight-up elitist scam. Certainly, there are contexts where those things may be true. We all make our own and group meanings out of the most fundamental phenomena; that’s human nature.

So I’m not going to try to convince you. I’m going to use the Columbus Group Definition that most educators (and parents of gifted kids) use:

Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm.  This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity.  The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally.  (The Columbus Group, 1991)

And I can’t answer for anybody else. I’m just going to write about our experience of giftedness, because writing about it helps me understand, because finally accepting that label gave me a useful search term and some tremendously useful connections, and because maybe there’s someone else out there who’s as lost and confused as I was for such a long time.

Anyway, there it is: a pellet of gum, wrapped in five loom bands. In our house, #thisishwhatgiftedlookslike.