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.

Things Not To Say, episode 1: “Have you tried…?”

This post stemmed from two specific incidents – being irked by unsolicited advice myself, and helping a friend whose heart was broken by ‘expert’, solicited advice, badly offered. As I wrote, trying to unpack why this well-meant question is SO INSANELY INFURIATING – honestly it’s the fastest way to raise my BP – the more scenarios sprang to mind, because the crux lies in the giving and receiving of help.

The result are abstracted ‘I’ and ‘you’. Some ‘I’ is me, my experience; some is a deep empathy for others with similarly intractable problems. The ‘you’ could be the friend who said it to me this morning, or anyone else – acquaintance; teacher, doctor, psychologist, social worker – who assumes I’m here because I haven’t tried that one idea they just had.

Just don’t say it. Ever. That question is a communication disaster, relationship TNT. It will damage things between us, possibly irreparably.

“Wait, what?” you cry. “I’m just trying to help!”

Well, yes.

That’s the problem.

And here’s why, as someone who has tried.

First and foremost, I didn’t ask for your help.

Sure, I’m complaining. My situation sucks. That does not mean, though, that I want or need you to fix it. I might just need to complain. Complaining helps. It lets off pressure – the pressure of performing ‘fine’ for society. We, as a culture, are so allergic to ‘uncomfortable’ that the only accepted answer to “How are you?” is “fine”; anything else, we shut down. We don’t let people be sad, frustrated, angry, scared, or exhausted. Maintaining that face for your viewing pleasure, is exhausting.

I also think it’s bullshit. So sometimes I whinge because it makes me feel better, and sometimes I whinge because to smilingly gloss over troubles is just plain wrong.

If you try to help, you deny me both the chance to feel better and the chance to feel heard.

More importantly, offering unsought help shifts the balance of the relationship. You take power, since you presume to have something (insight) that, by implication, I lack.

Now, you may have a friend who’s been through something similar; you may have read about it; you may have the certificate, a long CV, and an office proving your expertise; you may even have helped scores of people.

But unless I’m in your office, paying for your help, then you have to knock that shit off. Actually, you should knock it off even if I am in your office, paying for your help.

Because whatever you know, I’ll wager my next two years’ sleep that I’ve spent more time in the ring with this issue than you. It’s been in my face, on my case, days, nights, weeks, months, years, decades. I know its contours, its fluctuating weight, the fetid smell of its morning breath. I’ve spent nights thinking about it and days reading and talking about it. Then I’ve read and talked and thought some more.

Above all, I have tried.

Yes, I tried that.

And that.

I have tried every fucking thing I possibly could.

It didn’t work, okay? I’ve dealt with frustration, backlash, fallout, side-effects, the side-effects of withdrawal, and crushing disappointments.

Then I’ve picked myself up and done more searching and reading, talking and thinking, because while this is one ornery, complicated thicket of an issue, I’m pretty ornery myself.

That won’t all come across the first time we chat. It won’t come across in a 15-minute consult or in the first hour. Hell, it might not come fully across in the first year we’re talking.

But assuming that that means I haven’t tried that thing you just thought of, devalues the sheer bloody effort I’ve already put in. I’m not stupid and I’m perfectly capable of using a search engine and a telephone. If it was simple as your first answer – your first ten answers – then I guarantee I would not be complaining now.

Which is why a knee-jerk, “have you tried …?” lights my fuse. On a good day, I might just think, “OF COURSE I BLOODY HAVE, THAT WAS 2010!” On a bad day, I might say it. Or worse.

That doesn’t mean I’m wallowing, refusing help, self-sabotaging, or complaining just for funskis. It means, you’re reminding me of failure. I know very well what I’ve tried, what I wish I could change but can’t, where I draw the line (yes, I’m allowed values, even if they make it harder).

I probably have a solution in mind. If I’m not doing it, I have reasons. Maybe, right now, I just can’t bring myself to try again.

Or maybe I’ve realised, all I can do right now is wait. Wait for the pain to pass, the panic to subside. Wait til this phase is outgrown, the therapy/medication/new routine takes effect. Wait til I get my strength back for another round. Wait til things change. They will.

All you have to do is let me get there.

You can help, by listening. Yep, that’s it. Remember, complaining may simply release enough pressure to let me breathe again.

Listen and acknowledge that this is hard for me (even if it doesn’t seem like it should be hard, to you). Remember, feeling heard and connected may be all I need.

Listen and respect and trust that I’m doing my best. Respect and trust that I’ve worked at least as long on this issue as you, and with, likely, a great deal more investment in solving it. Respect and trust that if I could do differently, I would. Respect and trust that if I want help, I will ask for it. This is how you let me keep my power.

If I do ask, remember that whatever I’ve said – whatever you’ve heard or read – you don’t know the whole story. At best your knowledge is vicarious, abstract, general. Mine is intimate, minute, painful.

If you must offer something, start by asking if I want your help. Ask what I’ve tried. (I’ll do my best to give you the short version.) Ask what I need. Ask what you can do to help. Offer chocolate, cake, alcohol, and/or hugs.

Just don’t – don’t – ask me if I’ve tried…

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.

I don’t know anything about imposter syndrome

©careerusinterruptus.com

Really. What could I possibly have to say about it? Nothing, obviously. Many people, smarter and better-researched, have written far better posts and probably books about imposter syndrome, than I ever could.

Although, I can tell you that academia is an excellent place to contract it. Brains are the name of the game, and it’s easy to feel like an idiot when you’re surrounded by smart people, with faster processing and/or better memories, who have read more and/or who just happened to have read that one crucial item that undermines your whole idea.

And in my experience, the vast majority of scholars are combative as all get-out. They’re dying to show that they know something you don’t, to challenge both the content of what you have to say and your right to say it. They’d much rather be right, than kind. Whether this stems from a terrier-like commitment to intellectual rigor, love of battle, competition fostered by a shrinking sector, plain old insecurity, or all of the above, is hard to say, but meeting the rare scholar who lifts rather than digs really highlights how keen everyone else is to put you in your intellectual place.

If you have even a skerrick of intellectual OE – that burning desire to know – this culture kicks you pretty regularly in what’s already a sore spot: the painful awareness that you will never learn all that you want to. That realisation, when I was about six, was my first true grief. Like any proper grief, the pain has never completely gone, so every time someone bopped me with something I didn’t know, it throbbed. That happens often enough, you start to wonder what, if anything, you do know, and what the hell you’re doing there. When my office-mate even challenged my sadness over a colleague’s death (“Did you really know him, though?”), I began to feel that perhaps my entire existence needed peer-reviewing to be legit. Okay, I didn’t really feel that. I just felt an enormous disconnect, a terrific sense that I was not a real academic. I did not belong there.

Of course, I knew that was imposter syndrome speaking, but everyone has that, don’t they? Heck, I even read an interview where Michelle Obama talked about it. She said, you get over imposter syndrome when you realise that those people aren’t that smart, after all. Hm, maybe — IF YOU’RE MICHELLE FREAKING OBAMA! I’m not that smart. Obviously.

But a funny thing happened after I left academia: Parenthood. I definitely knew nothing about that, so like a proper swot I researched my arse off, becoming more and more confused as book after book failed to describe anything remotely like what was going on in my house. Not how I saw the world, not my values, not how my kids behaved. (Free tip: don’t ever get me started on reward charts.)

Eventually, though, through reading, I found my way to teh gifted. (‘Back’ to teh gifted, I should say, since I was identified as a kid.) And these people! Oh, my goodness. Smart. Funny. Sensitive. Snarky. Passionate. Ambivalent. Crusading. And wrestling with the same issues: the screaming, the kids who’d happily die (DIE, I tell you!) before giving in to any authority they perceive as arbitrary, the anxiety, the perfectionism, the stubborn, the under-achievement, the big, tender hearts, the burning thirst for knowledge (STRICTLY on their own terms), the … imposter syndrome. Oh, yeah. I’d found my tribe.

I still don’t think I’m that smart. I’m pretty much always convinced that everyone is smarter than I am. Everyone has achieved more, done more, read more, and for sure, knows more about just about everything, than I do. I frequently wonder whether perhaps we’re not gifted, just, you know, really emotionally dysregulated, over-thinky, and a bit useless. There are 6yos out there who do calculus for fun, for goodness sake, while my kids at 11 and 13 spuriously insist they can’t tell time – and will hold their breath to prove it!

The lovely thing about the gifted/2e tribe is, they get that. There’s no pissing contest about whose kid is more gifted or whether you’ve read Silverman, Tolan or Merrill. We all know we are learning on a job where there’s no union, no OH&S, and no damn tea-breaks. We don’t really have a clue what’s going on (because these kids mix signals like nobody’s business) or if we do have a clue, we remember all too well the bruises from our own days of seeking.

So we tootle along, sharing, laughing, and crying, and when someone wobbles, wondering what the hell they’re doing there when their 13yo has read nothing but the same two book series over and over for the past TWO YEARS, they all just laugh, empathise, proffer gin and if you’re after it, advice. It’s that recognition that saves my sanity, every time. The knowing laughs when I complained about starting this very column two months early and twelve different times, the women offering the balm of their likeness, rather than a reference to fix that.

Sure, I have a long way to go to guru-dom. I should definitely read more University Press books, especially about giftedness, homeschooling, and being a good human, instead of books with curly embossed titles and drawings of teapots and frocks on the front. But I don’t, because my brain hurts from living it, and because I’ve come to realise that actually, that’s all the expertise I need, to write about what happens in my house. I do get us. And as long as I’m sharing something that might give you a glimmer of recognition, of connection, of feeling less alone in your confusion, then I’m on the right track. Perfectly entitled to my position and right to speak it.

Just don’t look to me as any sort of authority.

It’s a freaking miracle

©careerusinterruptus. Original art by CraftyFish

Have you noticed how, in order for a miracle to occur, a whole lot of smaller miracles have to line up first?

At time of writing, I’m 13 years and 17 minutes into a 2020 Mother’s Day miracle.

Which is to say: I’m in my home, alone, for the first time in at least 138 days. My first time alone, at all, in 56 days.

You cannot imagine how miraculous this is.

For this to happen, everyone in our house and the grandparents had to stay well through the first wave of COVID-19. Australia’s curve had to flatline and the Queensland government had to decide to allow the first tentative lifting of restrictions.

Quite apart from all that, we needed a whole string of tiny, personal miracles right here at home: we had to casually broach the idea of the Skeptic taking the kids to see their Omi without me, yesterday, mentioning it a time or two, so that no one felt either surprised or pressured by the idea.

Then the kids had to get to sleep at a decent hour. (This itself involved the miracle of CraftyFish having recently decided she does like reading after all, and choosing Harry Potter rather than a kung-fu rave haka for her pre-bedtime activity.)

They had to wake at a decent hour, too, not so early they felt tired and incapable but early enough to have a solid hour acclimating to Earth, before The Skeptic tried to move them out of the house. They had to be willing to go. This is always the most precarious moment, given that separation anxiety has its cruel claws deep in my kids’ psyches, entwined in their guts, and if I haven’t had any time off in 56 days, well, neither have they.

Spare me your ‘Mummies have needs, too’.

Of course we do. Gimme some credit, darl. I’ve been playing this gig for 13 years now and I was two hundred years old when I started. I’m fully aware of my needs – and of my kids’ need to learn independence and blah blah you know what? Hush up. I have been there, tried that. Bought the t-shirt so long ago, it’s now only good for gently polishing my gin bottles.

Because here’s the kicker: you know that thing about alcoholics, junkies, and bad relationships? About how, no matter what you know and however good your intentions, the person you want to help, has to want to change? Well, guess what? CHILDREN ARE PEOPLE TOO. Just like adults, they have to want to change – or at least, not be primed to full-body-contact fight to the death every single idea that didn’t originate in their own stubborn-as-fuck brains. And they will never, ever be un-primed if they’re feeling pushed.

Trying to get my kids to separate before they were ready has, over the past 13 years, earned me backlash you cannot imagine. I know that because in all that time I’ve only ever met one momma who said, “aw hell, backlash, I hear ya hon, pass the gin”. If you’re not that one momma, you’ll have to wait for the book. Meanwhile, please trust me when I say it took every minute of those 13 years for me to learn to leave it the fuck alone. My kids did not get their SAF genes from nowhere, no ma’am, so for years – YEARS – I pushed and they pushed back and I pushed harder and they threw things and I screamed and everybody cried. And then the next time I needed a bit of space, we’d do it all again.

Until I figured out that the struggle was not about my kids, it was about me. It’s about fighting my fear that they won’t ever get there and accepting that they’re doing the best they can. It’s about trusting that it is okay not to fight them. That it is not, in fact, my job to ‘make them’ anything, but to open the door and keep calm until they’re ready to go through it themselves. That last bit – the keeping calm part? That, my friends, is the fight, and I’m thrilled that these days, it’s one I’ve kinda sorta mostly mastered.

Not all the time, of course. I had a little cry about it last night, truth be told. Come on. 56 days without a break, and the chance that I still might not get the space I so desperately craved? ‘Course I cried. Duh. But just a little, and only at hubby. Does this make me some kind of patron saint of maternal patience? HELL, NO. Go back and re-read the part about the screaming and the throwing things. And the bit about the backlash. This is nothing to do with sanctity, and everything to do with practicing a hard-won skill.

But the fact that I’ve mostly got it – that I’ve learned (slowly, painfully) not to lose my shit when I’m not getting my needs met; to show my kids respect and tolerance instead of panic and anger; to not try and force them meet my needs; to instead nurse myself until I catch a break (to trust that I will catch a break, eventually); to let them know that sometimes, needs aren’t met immediately and while that’s no fun, it’s survivable; to be, in short, strong enough to hold space for them and show them how to do that – coming from where I was, that is a very big miracle indeed, 13 years in the making.

I would not be this person, without my kids. That’s the miracle.

Happy Mother’s Day, me.

The fear/anyway post

© careerusinterruptus.com

Two months ago, I was pounding out my next novel. Six chapters, bang bang bang. Every spare minute, the words flowed without repetition, deviation, or hesitation. I knew what was coming and whenever I sat down, there it was, just as every writer dreams.

Then, COVID slammed that door shut.

I’ve heard the same thing from many friends and in writers’ groups online. They can’t write. Not now.

Of course, it’s because anxiety. (Hello, you old bastard.) Once you’ve opened the door to imagination, who knows what will come waltzing through? Under this kind of existential stress, what-ifs turn fairly quickly from playful to perturbing: instead of characters’ voices, you hear sinister whispers: past hurts, failures, foretellings of disaster.

Even blogging, which is less about the what-ifs and more about the what-happeneds, involves more thought than I care for right now, since these days every damn thing – a meal, a hug, a walk round the park – has to be overthought; all the emotions are already overwrought. Please, don’t ask me to dwell.

So that sucker was nailed shut, I thought, for the duration.

Then last night, a good old-fashioned panic attack. I used to get lots, pre-kids, sometimes clustered closely enough to shed 10kg through stress alone. Post-kids (now that I have 10kg I’d love to shed), they’ve been faint, few, and far between. And although I’d like to claim new-found wisdom, in fact I think I’ve just been too bloody tired to muster up the adrenaline for a proper freakout.

But there I was, at three in the morning – just like old times – awake, mind racing with all the usual garbage, this time COVID-themed: I haven’t been careful enough, we’re all going to die and it will be ALL MY FAULT. Cue a mental re-run of every mistake I’ve ever made, all the way back to the secret I told Carla Wells in 1975. (Why, yes, I AM being completely rational and this global pandemic IS all about me, thanks for asking.)

Cheers, brain.

Well, I’ve been down this hole before. It doesn’t fool me like it used to, and anyway I’m still pretty frickin’ tired, so this time, the shock-waves didn’t leave me gasping. Just awake, and annoyed. I mean, who needs this shit?

And then I thought, well, clearly I do.

Because while I’ve been feeding monkey-brain – reading, listening and talking, trying so hard to keep up – I’ve dropped the self-care ball. Meds have been muddled, sleep slipped, sunshine skipped, veggies eschewed, exercise excused. No wonder I feel like shit about myself, I’ve been treating me abominably. I need outside, movement, sleep, more greens, less caffeine.

Above all, I need to let some words out. Writing has always been the best, the kindest thing I can do for myself; it probably sounds counter-intuitive, but writing escapes my brain. It makes sense of all the words pouring in. The flow found in writing relieves pressure, finds paths, forges meaning. Without it, inside my head becomes hopelessly overgrown and tangled – a mean and scary place.

Scarier, even, than opening that door to find out what I really think.

I wasn’t going to COVID blog. I figured, likely nobody needs any more of that. But it turns out, I do. Scary as it is, I need to write my way through this.

So bear with me. Better yet, join me. Let’s figure this shit out. What do your fears look like?

The analysis-paralysis is a PITA post

©careerusinterruptus

On Friday night, I thought the contents of the fridge seemed a tad…warm. On Saturday morning – yeah. No cold coming out of the fridge, and no heat coming from the back of it. Bugger. And oh, HELP. Because there is nothing – nothing – on God’s green earth that kicks a giftie’s brain into stupid roaring overdrive, than a problem that needs solving.

And if that problem comes gift-wrapped in the need for urgent solving, because, say, you’ve got a couple hundred dollars’ worth of groceries in there and it’s 28 degrees out here – ahhh. Lookit those purty headlights. Gee, they’re coming fast. So. Purty… Head lights… Fast… Coming… Purty…

When I tell the Skeptic, who is blessed with a normal brain, he asks, “So, we’re buying a new fridge?”

I don’t know. How should I know? I’m in the grip of a massive, irrational, existential over-think. Welcome to Analysis Paralysis!

Maybe I’m imagining it. I turn up the dial. When I check again, the fridge seems a little colder. Maybe? Maybe not.

I NEED DATA. I put the thermometer in the fridge and issue an embargo on cold things. An hour later, I realise I didn’t get a baseline, so I check. Fuck. It’s 21 degrees in there. And an hour later, no, it isn’t going down. Maybe we do need a new fridge.

This fridge has already been limping for about a year. When the drinks tray broke off, Electrolux wanted nearly half what we originally paid, to replace the whole top door. And they’d only supply it with a matching bottom door (“because otherwise the finishes mightn’t match”), which is a) idiotic (because children, FFS, the finishes haven’t matched since five minutes after we bought it, when sticky handprints spontaneously covered the entire lower half), b) outrageously wasteful (I don’t NEED both doors) and c) ethically reprehensible, because making me pay for something I don’t want, and adding unnecessarily to landfill. Or am I supposed to keep the extra door lying around, just in case it comes in handy when hell freezes over?

My heart rate’s quickening, and that’s just recalling an old problem that we already resolved by, uh, yeah. Failing to make a decision. Drinks live on the fridge floor, in front of the crispers, and my god that’s tedious –

But a new fridge! That could cost up to two grand. I wasn’t planning to spend two grand this week. And it’s only eight years old.

Maybe it’s the seal. I check. It’s not the seal.

So maybe we should get a new fridge.

Oh, no, OH, NO. That means —

WHICH FRIDGE?

Because gods forbid, I should (whisper it) get the WRONG FRIDGE, and blight our lives through catastrophically-ill-informed decision-making for the next eight years!

Yoga breathing, I get online, searching for the excellent website that helped me buy this fridge. Gee, it was useful. So, naturally, it’s gone. I try Canstar, Choice (curse you and your locked reports, Choice, I NEED INFORMATION), and AppliancesOnline. All I want is the most efficient fridge that will fit in the stupid fridge niche.

What’s this? Canstar give its most efficient fridge 5.5 stars, while AppliancesOnline gives the same fridge 4.5 – and neither says which energy-efficiency rating system they’re using. Fuckers. I’ve a mind to write to them and – no, concentrate. We’re buying a fridge, here, not fixing websites.

Oh. Here’s one. Height and width are perfect, 4.5 stars energy efficiency, wow. But … how is it 75l bigger than our current fridge? Oh yeah, D. (You know, V=HxWxD?) D means it will stick out of the niche by … with some comedy ‘help’ from the kids, I pull the old fridge forwards … yeah, no. We can’t have a fridge sticking out that far.

Huh… Choice says that fridge care involves cleaning the coils annually. Did you know that? I didn’t know that. (And now I’ve discovered something I’ve not been Doing Right, and ohmigod this is NOT the time to hyperventilate over that.) Maybe cleaning will fix it. That’d save a LOT of grief. So…

Nope. Even with my comedy helpers, we can’t get the fridge all the way out of its stupid niche – and now I smell like a cart-horse. Noice.

Maybe we should just call a fridge-repair dude. Although, COVID-19. Maybe he could trouble-shoot over the phone. Probably not. It’s a Saturday.

Maybe I should wait til the Skeptic comes home – he’s working 7-day weeks (gee it’s hard to ignore COVID-19) – and see if we can move and clean it together.

Although, the fridge IS eight years old. And if cleaning it doesn’t work, I’ll have lost 24hrs getting a new one. Plus, the tray thing.

Maybe we should just buy a new one.

Three. There are three choices, when I put in all the dimensions. And we will lose over 100l of storage space on all of them. I can’t lose 100l. It’s a stupid hot climate and my kids eat like bears, I need my 100l! (First-world tantrum, much? Yes. I know. Shh.)

Maybe we could rip out the built-in over-fridge cupboard and have a taller fridge, would that give me my 100l back? I’ve been thinking about that project for years. Maybe this is the time.

Although, how would we remove the cupboard’s bottom, anyway? The Skeptic is not blessed with handyman skills and I can’t call a handyman, because COVID-19.

Hello? Hello, Rebecca? IT’S 21 DEGREES IN THE FRIDGE, YOU CAN ACTUALLY HEAR THE BACTERIA REPRODUCING. JUST BUY A NEW FUCKING FRIDGE THAT FITS IN THE FUCKING NICHE ALREADY, OKAY.

Right. It’s what people do. It’s okay to buy a new fridge when I need one.

Do I need one, though? Millions of people in Africa –

RE-BEC-CA.

A table! A table will give me some clarity. I will make a table comparing the three fridges that suit, then choose the right one that way.

Now, imagine that between getting on with my usual job of feeding the bears and keeping them occupied, visiting Mum and this circus in my head, an entire day and night have passed, only I didn’t sleep because

  1. parts of my brain were still doing that dance, plus
  2. is a German fridge shipped to Australia really sustainable? Possibly yes, since six years ago the washing-machine technician said he was constantly repairing stuff made here, and never repairing stuff made overseas – I wonder if there’s a website that can clarify? Also,
  3. what happens to the old fridge. Landfill? Or is this my chance to set up a free library? Would the Skeptic be happy with me putting a fridge full of books in the front yard? Possibly not. and
  4. the freezer’s still working. Why is the freezer working when the fridge is not? Maybe I should call a repair dude, after all.
  5. I wonder if our insurance covers the loss of food when the fridge dies; I could call them and ask, although
  6. I still haven’t answered the bloody question and might as well admit,
  7. a teensy idiotic part of my brain is hoping someone else, perhaps the Great Refrigerator Fairy, will have solved it by the time I get up.

Now imagine it’s lunchtime, Sunday, and I’ve made no further progress, not even compiling that table, because I was writing this and my head would’ve literally exploded if I didn’t let some of the words out, and now I’m hungry.

It looks like over-thinking, right? I guess it kinda is. I don’t like that term, though, because that sounds like something I do, when this is just what it’s like in here. All the thoughts. All at once. All the time. (To be completely honest, even this doesn’t fully represent the zinging four-dimensional web that is this issue, packed in alongside similar webs for all the other issues, simultaneously zinging.) I don’t “do” anything, except try to squash it down so that I can do things. It’s just wiring. (Webs… wiring… nice, unplanned metaphor, there.)

When I was younger, trying to move through the webs gave me terrible anxiety; now I’ve learned pretty well how to breathe through it. Those skills wobble when anxiety rears its head, so I’ve learned – no, wait. Not going down that rabbit-hole, either.

Now if you will excuse me, I have to buy a fridge.

Stupid gifted.

One

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Hoo boy, you know it’s Interesting Times when you don’t know what to write. Where to start? Where in the mid-cyclone wreckage of March 2020 to even begin?

On the one hand: COVID-19. Jesus. You don’t want to hear any more about that. I sure as hell don’t.

On the other hand: #theKindnessPandemic. #teddybearhunt. Adopt A Healthcare Worker. Brilliant stuff, all of it. Genuinely giving of hope that there may be a chance humanity isn’t as fucked as I tend to think it is. Look at us, reaching out. Look at us, giving. Helping. Jacinda freaking-god-love-her Ardern. It’s out there, people. It’s our job to breathe life into it, and people are stepping up.

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On the one hand: staying at home. This one actually doesn’t suck, for a bona-fide, card-carrying introvert. Except…

On the one hand: being quarantined with 2e kids, one of whom thinks this is the perfect opportunity to prove he can live on Minecraft alone, while the other one is extremely extroverted and rocking a serious nosophobia.

On the other hand: Operation Ouch, Horrible Histories, Steve Backshall, Mark Rober. Look how the latter have stepped up, bless them. Darlings. Our viewing cup runneth over. Online libraries, concerts, audiobooks being made available for free. Extra plugs for Hardball and Mustangs F.C. You know your kids’ viewing is brilliant when the household adults are keen to watch, too. Thank all the stars above for the ABC. Science and the arts – the finest endeavours humanity has ever produced – are keeping everyone alive and afloat, right now. Pray they all recognise and remember that. No, stuff prayer. REMIND THEM.

Hardball. Image Source

On the one hand: trying to care for 84yo deaf, demented mum, who still lives alone, whilst maintaining social distancing. She can’t hear if you’re a llama away, no matter how you bellow. Bellowing is no way to communicate, anyway. And she needs hugs, dammit.

On the other hand: my wonderful sister, connecting Mum to the internet, lending her an iPad, showing her FaceTime with the grandkids. My kids putting chooks on their heads for her amusement. (The chooks, tolerating this and not pooping in the house!)

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On the one hand: the ramifications of the global economic recession that surely will follow. This one… god. This one is going to be hard.

On the other hand: the forced slowdown, the unprecedented technological connections (see above), the immediate evidence of environmental improvement, the slow seeping public awareness that we can be – no, we must be – a society, rather than an economy. Citizens rather than consumers. The chance, as a society, to rethink our entire value system. To recognise this for the test-run that it is. To cast aside any leadership that sees us solely in terms of our economics in favour of one that sees us first and foremost as humans. To remember what it is we actually, truly, need, and be content.

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I’m not as angry, right now, as I was at the start of the year. (Although, bloody hell, if you talk to me about how our government is handling this…!) I’m still scared; only a heartless fool isn’t. Every afternoon, about 4pm, I’m flooded by a horrid visceral dread and the need to go lie down, hide, cry.

But this is not more than it was before, it’s just more acute. More obtrusive, more in-your-face, more, RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW, but – and this is really fucking important – it is no different to where we were before. We’re in dress rehearsal for the real shit that’s coming and so far, we’re doing okay. You’re doing okay. Go. Use your strength, your intelligence and your creativity, and practice kindness like your life depends on it.

One love, one blood

One life, you got to do what you should

One life, with each other

Sisters, Brothers

One life but we’re not the same.

We get to carry each other, carry each other

– U2, One

Sanctuary

One of the great joys in my life, is our homeschool group. The women who started and run it are, without a doubt, among the most amazing people I have ever met. Having been through stuff that would make your toes curl, the lessons they took away have made them consistently empathetic, tolerant, compassionate, and kind.

Also, they’re quirky as all get out and so are all our kids, so there’s bucketloads of that particular, tar-black sense of humour.

We all bask in finding this concentration of other mothers who Get It; even if the particular diagnosis doesn’t apply in your house, you’ve had the experience of trying to raise a child who doesn’t follow any of the developmental rules and therefore having to overhaul every last one of your expectations. And then keep overhauling. When someone arrives with teeth gritted, everyone else has a pretty good idea of what they’ve likely been through that morning. Both parents and kids are treated with an extra dose of kindness, and everyone feels, you know – understood.

I know these exceptional mums love what they’ve created, and I also know that this doesn’t stop it being physically, mentally, emotionally and sensorily demanding, very hard work, the sort that would drive most school-teachers to despair or cruelty or quitting. But instead they have created that very rare, very special thing, a place where extraordinarily challenging kids – the ones who are always butting so painfully against the world – feel completely accepted and valued.

And, you know how I know? Because this morning, this happened:

My daughter and some of the other kids have been reading a book by a local author, who also happens to be friends with the group’s founder. She’s been invited to come chat to the kids, later this week, so when I ‘bumped into’ her online, I said, we have friends in common; I’m looking forward to meeting you this week! She replied, oh, are you with the school? Yes, I said, but you’ll be better prepared if you think of it as a circus. (Having no better description of what it’s like, being in a roomful of 2e kids, especially one where they feel fully accepted for who they are.)

At this point, CraftyFish came in, so I related the tale to her, knowing she’s excited to meet the author, and that she’d get a kick out of the circus comment.

I didn’t get that far, though. As soon as I mentioned the word ‘school’, she puffed up like a society matron smelling a fart. “Do NOT call our group a SCHOOL,” she exclaims, outraged. “It is NOT a SCHOOL. It’s a SANCTUARY.”

Can I invite you to sit with that, for a moment? Because there is a lot packed into that one word: The sense that school (even the wonderful school we went to) asks us to be something else, something other than who we are, to meet other people’s expectations, often regardless of your own. The converse sense of safety and recognition that our group provides. The sense of ownership, of belonging. The sense that this is, in fact, a place safe enough for her to do things that have so far been challenging, such as … reading a novel. The drama of the delivery, sure, because as long as you’re not hurting someone else or being disrespectful, that’s okay.

It made my heart melt, it did. It is all I would wish for anyone, but perhaps most for our quirky kids: that they find a sanctuary.

New Year’s Revolution

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Resolutions, shmesolutions. Yeah, that didn’t really work, did it? Sorry. It’s day 5 of the New Year and I feel like I’ve just been spit out of a tumble dryer. I’m over-socialised, I’m knackered, my house is a mess, I’ve already lost my new diary. I woke up late and feel like I had no chance to get my bearings before I dashed out of the house for weekly mandated blogging time. Inside my head is a rumbling cavern, echoing with phrases as my poor cerebrum tries to process everything that was packed into it over the past ten days, along with whatever was already in there.

Oh, wait.

That’s what it’s like in there ALL THE FRELLING TIME.

So that’s why I don’t do resolutions. That’s just setting myself up to fail and honey, I do not need any more of that.

I’m also kinda crap at the “Word of the Year” thing I see bandied around the nicer corners of the internet. They’re always so genuinely mindful, and my surly inner 17-year-old cannot resist bait like that. She nominates phrases like “Gin” or “Fuck this shit”, which in some moments, I think, kinda defeats the purpose.

However.

This year is not those moments.

This year, the world is burning. Literally. Here in Australia, 5.8 million hectares are currently alight or have been burnt in the past six months. The fire front is 11,000km long – from here to Pakistan – and it’s burning so fiercely, it is now creating its own weather. Our smoke is polluting New Zealand, 1900kms away across the Tasman Sea; the fires alone have generated half our country’s annual carbon emissions in the past six months. Human lives have been lost; thousands of homes incinerated; tens of thousands have fled; countless millions of animals have died.

It’s still going.

And so are we. Carrying on our daily lives, most of us, as we always have.

In these circumstances, I think, actually, that my inner self has the right idea. Fuck this shit. Appeasing her, I’m wearing a t-shirt that says “Smash the Patriarchy” – because fundamentally, that’s what it’s going to take – and I’m seriously contemplating dying my hair fuschia as a warrior flag. (My eldest says he loathes that idea “with a passion that burns as bright as the colour [I’m] considering”. Heh.) My inner self has huge kicking boots on and she’s ready to charge the barricades.

But, that raging heart is fortunately trapped inside the body of a 50yo. A widely-read 50yo who loves people. I mean, really loves people, in all their wonky, confused, faltering glory. A 50yo who has incredible, beautiful young children to protect and who loves their incredible, beautiful friends. A 50yo who feels like she’s maybe just starting to grow into her strengths, and those strengths are empathy, respect, and compassion. Kindness. And words. Always, the words.

So I participate in the #iamhere movement; I engage in public online battles I could never previously bring myself to fight, because I have the skills and now there is so much at stake, I find I finally have the courage. This year, if anything, I plan to step that up: I want to see proper campaigning, I want to see big changes – huge fucking changes – I want to see us building lives that can withstand the fire. I am full of rage and love.

It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be terrifying. It’s going to be exhausting.

And right now, at least, I am so there for it.

2020: bring on the revolution.