Life sucks…..I don’t think so!

My writing journey has involved many sweet indulgences: writing courses on Sydney Harbour, workshops in Tasmania and retreats in Ubud. I love meeting other writerley people, talking writing and doing the work set. It’s challenging, rewarding and fun.

My current experience is an online course run by the Writers Studio at Bronte. Called Unlocking Creativity, it’s designed to help loosen me up, shove off the perfectionist-nag on my shoulder, get the flow of thoughts going, and get me writing every day. There’s daily homework and feedback to give and receive. It’s hard work.

One of last week’s writing prompts was Life sucks! I had successfully written on Standing in the rain, Coughing fit and Love hurts, but when it came to putting pen to paper on Life Sucks, I was stumped. That doesn’t say much for my imagination, does it? I thought about various hardships like the farmers struggling with drought or living in war-torn Syria, but they didn’t fit with the flippancy of the term. So I struggled with various catastrophes like losing your pack while hiking in torrential rain. That was the best I could come up with. Wow, what did that mean?

Fiction may be made-up but it comes from truths, and obviously my truth isn’t Life sucks, it’s life doesn’t suck!

I’m a very lucky girl. I was born in Australia, so I have an advantage. It’s pretty hard to say life sucks when you live in a country with this climate, beauty and level of safety. The culture is generally to look after your mates and be kind to animals. We love the great outdoors and barbeques. Every day, I feel blessed to call Australia home.

I have health, the love of friends and family, shelter and sustenance. These are the foundations for a happy life.

Of course, there’ll be shitty days, months, or even years. Things will go wrong. Life is chaos and we can only try to control it. Have you noticed that when you have bad luck, it happens in threes? I’m not sure about that but I can say, once something goes wrong, there seems to be a clump. Maybe that’s purely attitude. If you get the shits, you often notice the negative.

I have bad things happen to me like everyone else. My car breaks down, I’m going through divorce and my dogs got old. But that’s not life – that’s stuff! If you have the necessary foundations, the key to never having to say life sucks is attitude.

We alone are responsible for our responses.

‘Everything can be taken away from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way.’                               Viktor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning.

Next time you spill coffee down your white shirt, miss a plane connection, have a washed-out holiday or get a pimple in the middle of your forehead, don’t think life sucks, think that sucks. But if you have tales to tell that can prove me wrong, please do, because my imagination sucks and I could use them to do better writing.

‘Things always seem to turn out best for those who seem to make the most of how things turn out.’ Rod Junkins The Art of Creative Thinking

 

 

Facing Life’sChallenges

Springtime isn’t always easy. It’s a time of chaos, struggle, change and growth. There is violence in this. It’s hard. Renewal, any change, can be uncomfortable, disorienting, even tumultuous. But it’s worth it. It’s likely that the flowers will bloom and summer will be fine.

A butterfly’s metamorphosis from caterpillar to the fluttering, delicate, flying creature of beauty that it is, involves various stages of hard work, evolving and risk to life. When it first emerges from the chrysalis, its wings are soft and wet. It’s at its most vulnerable and can’t fly. But to be a butterfly is to be a marvel of nature.

Improving ourselves is a similar process. We must work hard, accept being bad and persevere, to improve on a new skill. Golf and Writing, my little shoulder companions (angel and devil) sing out in unison.

“I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never going to keep me down…” as the song goes. This is how I like to approach life. And I’ve been lucky. I haven’t had many knock-downs.

But it’s a truth that altering our life’s trajectory can be hard. It’s a journey of obstacles and challenges. If we’re at all spiritual, we’ll believe that they’re there for a reason. Each obstacle corrects our path. Each challenge makes us stronger. If we let them!

Maybe if the path is too easy, we forget to notice; we take our surroundings and interactions for granted and stop appreciating them. If we stop caring, trying and feeling, we’re barely living. Striving to improve allows us a bigger capacity to enjoy. It takes courage to face the challenges of change. We need to be brave to get around or over the obstacles that life might throw in our faces. But without bravery, life will remain small. An obstacle, a knock-down, might just be the catalyst needed to correct our path. So, accept it. Embrace it.

I’m glad to be driving a 4WD on my journey at the moment. The road is gravelly and there are pot holes. I can’t see the end yet but I know there’s a smooth bitumen highway after this.

I’ve lived the life of the caterpillar and the butterfly. I’ve lived through a Spring, a Summer, an Autumn and a Winter. Spring is in the air again. It’s a bit rough but it’s promising.

Bring it on!

 

A good Series is like a good book

Since I started spending swags of time in my house down the south coast of NSW, I’ve adopted the habit of watching DVDs of TV Drama Series. This is a far more satisfying way to spend an evening than trying to find something to watch on TV.

Being selective about what I watch means I don’t waste time scrolling through what’s on offer and then settling on something that isn’t very satisfying. That isn’t a great way to relax. Enjoying what I’m watching, especially a Series, means I’m engaged, entertained but also invested in a story.

A good Series is like a good book. Each episode starts with a CONFLICT, some obstacle that a character has to overcome, and that means ACTION. We are engaged most when we become involved with the CHARACTER, whether you love them or hate them. The personality of the character affects how we feel about them, as in real life. Great characters have multiple facets: they have good traits, interesting quirks and flaws. We relate to them and want to know what happens to them. We watch the interactions with other characters. We feel more engaged if the stakes are high. We want some resolution but to keep watching we need another conflict or complication to lead us into the next episode. What will be the character’s reaction to this dilemma? Sometimes we can’t wait to find out.

The visual also needs to be captivating. The SETTING, the time and place, adds to the entertainment. It needs to look good. In a book, we create pictures in our heads, but on a screen, the visual is there for us to see. Costume for me is also important. What are they wearing? Is it fabulous or awful? Of course we’re all judges!

Exploring THEMES is essential too. I love a point for discussion. My own opinion can be broadened or firmed up by watching a discussion between the characters or watching how they behave. Which brings in DIALOGUE. It’s essential that this is engaging, real and succinct. One-liners that catch my attention, whether hilarious or poignant, can make my night. Downton Abbey’s Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith) made me laugh out loud on many occasions but she was also full of good advice like: “You are a woman with a brain and reasonable ability. Stop whining and find something to do.” Sex in the City has shocking one-liners flying out like corn popping.

My current Series-watching is the Australian Drama, A Place to Call Home. This ran from 2013-2018. It’s set in pastoral Australia in the early 1950’s. The characters are all multi-faceted: they are complicated, loveable, sickening and joyful. The setting is a magnificent house full of antiques, countryside that makes you want to run out and buy a farm and an arty apartment in Sydney. The costumes are gorgeous and appropriate to the characters. The young Anna Bligh (Abby Earl) in later series has the most fabulous dresses but manages to look like an angel even when riding a horse. There is a lot of visual appeal.

But it’s the themes that are the stand-out component in this show. The lead character, Sarah Adams (Marta Dusseldorp), is the catalyst for conflicts, complications and resolutions. The spin off from this character displays and explores the prejudices of the time including fear, hate and misconceptions towards Jews, Gays, Italian immigrants, experimental farmers and Aboriginals. Each episode reveals issues of the time: women’s health issues, ‘ownership’ of women by men, Bohemian lifestyles, assisted dying and unmarried mothers. It’s also about giving people a second chance, learning, changing, and the journey of self-improvement. It’s full of insights and like all good fiction, especially historical fiction, based on a lot of truths. Watching the show reminds me that we are evolving and becoming better people, but also that tension and prejudices lie just beneath the surface and should be remembered. It’s not a light or funny show but it’s entertaining nonetheless. The issues are often deep and therefore the insights are commonly earnest, like this one from Sarah Adams to George Bligh: “Loving children is not a quid pro quo transaction.”

So don’t waste your relaxation time. Get into a good Series. If it’s lasted past a few, it’s likely to be a compelling story with interesting characters and thought-provoking themes. It’s likely to be a world you can immerse yourself in, an escape from your day to day reality and an enjoyable experience.

Who knows, you might even learn something!

What TV Drama Series do you watch and enjoy?

Drought Distress

The drought in NSW and Queensland has finally hit the media: big time. If you live in the country you’ll know about the drought but if you’re in the city, you may not have heard that these states are in severe drought.

I love the country and therefore I’m more tuned in than some of my city friends, but even my own children, adults, didn’t know our state was in drought until I started talking about it. It came to my attention when I started following blogs and Facebook pages written by interesting, creative people with country links.

These are:

Photographer, adventurer and activist, Edwina Robertson whose recent activity includes interviewing drought-affected farmers and their families and educating city folk. https://www.facebook.com/onebucketofhope/

Edwina’s previous adventure, Wander of the West https://www.facebook.com/WANDEROFTHEWEST/ (A girl, her dog and a camera. A three month adventure around rural Australia without carrying a single dollar. 2017)

Farmer, journalist and children’s book author, Paula Stevenson http://paulastevensonwriter.com.au/category/blog/

The drought is worse than ever, despite Australia always having periods and areas of drought. Rainfall is at a record low, temperatures are at record highs and the area affected in these states is greater than ever before. A series of very hot summers and lessening cool-season rainfall have worsened conditions. Many dams have completely dried up or are close to it. Stock is being hand fed or sold. Cattle sale yards are bursting as agistment is no longer an alternative. I won’t go into the plight of our native wildlife.

The NSW Government has set up the NSW Drought Transport Fund of low-interest loans up to $20,000 but it seems that most farmers feel that there’s too much red tape to be eligible. Many feel it’s not enough anyway. It’s designed to help pay for farming freight-costs including water cartage, fodder transport and shifting stock. It’s complementary to existing measures but many farmers are already stretched financially too far.

Farmers are in a very low place. They’re resilient and perseverant, they don’t want to lose their top-breeding stock, their hundred-year old orange groves or their family owned properties. They’re struggling on and doing the best they can. The personal stories are heartbreaking: kids are driving trucks so that their parents can do the labour of getting hay bales in front of cattle, animals too weak to move are being destroyed, some pregnant cows are being sent to the abattoir and crops are being left to dry. This is their every-day experience.

Australia is a beautiful country: it’s full of extremes in geology, landscape, flora and fauna. It’s a paradise and a good provider for those of us lucky enough to live here. I feel that we need to share the load if we’re going to reap the benefits of living here. Living in the city is easy: many of us are on the coast and we get the sea-breeze, the sun and the rain and the luxury of going to the shops to buy our meat. We don’t even have to recognise that the meat comes from an animal if we don’t want to.

If our farmers are left to go broke, lose their family homes, abandon their properties and that iconic way of life that looks so romantic to us in the city, we will be left with dwindled resources, highly expensive meat, overseas buyers of our land, and the importing of more foodstuffs.

As Australians, we need firstly, to CARE! This may have been a tough Post to read but good people are suffering and need assistance. They need assistance to survive! So, secondly, we need to SHARE: share the message, share the load however you can. Don’t begrudge the extra cost of the milk or meat. Contribute what you can: volunteer, contribute financially, appreciate what you’ve got, encourage our State and Federal governments to treat drought relief like other catastrophe relief. Is drought different from flood and cyclone because it creeps up on us? Think about it! If we can get the farmers to survive the drought without being so far in debt that they lose the battle anyway, their farms will come good again. Rain will come.

Take the time to educate yourself even if it’s just on social media. Take a look at One Bucket of Hope. Let the farmers know we care and boost them with some hope.

Ref:

http://www.climatecouncil.org.au/resources/climate-change-and-drought-factsheet/

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jun/10/australia-doesnt-realise-worsening-drought-pushes-farmers-to-the-brink

Photo credit: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2018/mar/19/big-farming-across-australia-in-pictures

Aussie Road Trip

My Blog covers four categories: Matters of the Heart, the Creative Well, the Writing Journey and Take a Trip. This Post is going to cover all four.

My most recent adventure was last weekend when I took four days to drive 1200km in regional NSW. I stopped in Goulburn, Gundagai, Leeton, Cowra, Bathurst and Lithgow before returning home to Coogee.

Firstly, I’m in love with Australia so my heart was feeling warm and full as I drove past bone coloured grasses, cereal crops, green-manure crops and woodlands. Iconic  gum trees, bark hanging off their trunks in long strips, lined the roads. When I was close enough, I watched the funny antics of the sheep, terrified, as my vehicle slowed, into a mass migration of a field, tiny lambs in tow. I felt sad that these sweet creatures have had to suffer so much on the live-export ships and glad that my voice has joined with so many to stop the barbaric practice. Obviously, I feel the same way about the cows; Black Angus’s dotted green hills, calm and still as a Gruner painting. Somewhere between Gundagai and Leeton I had to stop to let cattle cross the road: not in a frantic bunch but one by one, as they grazed by the side of the road, looked at me as if to say, ‘What are you doing?’ and casually stepped in front of my car.

All these images fill my creative well, giving me inspiration and recharging my delight in my surroundings. One of the three characters in my novel-in-the-making is an Aussie woman who derives great joy from exploring her Australian environment and captures it through the lens of a camera. I wonder who she takes after! I’ll be doing more of these trips – in the name of research – so that I can develop this character in full.

There was another reason for this trip: this same character loves the show McLeod’s Daughters. She’s watched every episode, laughed as the girls fell in muddy dams saving a calf, cheered as they sheered sheep through the night and cried at the breaking of their hearts. So, when I discovered that some of the actors were gathering for a reunion at the Roxy Theatre in Leeton, I felt I had to go and check it out. It had very little to do with Aaron Jeffery the man, and a lot to do with my character being in a fantasy romance with Alex Ryan, the character!

Following your heart and your curiosity, exploring outside your normal field, and going on a trip anywhere, opens your mind to look outwards, learn and expand your view of the world.

I learned on this trip that Gundagai has a whole lot more history than a bronze dog sitting on a tucker box. The sculptor, Rusconi, was gifted in masonry work, developed and promoted the marble industry in the area and made a model Italian Palace that stands 1.2m tall. It sits in a room in the Tourism Office and is an astonishing masterpiece. I also learned that the aboriginals, the Wiradjuri people, warned the early settlers not to build on the plains near the river as they were prone to flood. The settlers ignored the advice and in 1852, the town was swept away overnight by a huge torrent of water. A group of Aboriginal men in their canoes, saved about forty people from the branches of giant red rivergums and roof tops. I’d recommend Gundagai as a place to stop for a day.

I learned that Leeton, a place I’d never been to, has a wetland that is important to the Wiradjuri people and is an essential stop for birds that migrate all over the world. Leeton is also full of citrus orchards.

Driving from Leeton to Cowra I discovered that you can drive for hours in regional NSW without passing through a town big enough for a coffee shop. I was glad to have my emergency thermos full of hot water and my own tuckerbox, Aussie traveller essentials.

I learned that I’ve been to Goulburn so many times that when I arrived for lunch at my favourite café (Harvest – next to the park) it felt like home and I was reminded that I love staying in country motels and having breakfast in bed, something I did with friends’ families as a child.

In summary: I went on the trip because I LOVE regional Australia (and maybe Alex Ryan). Also, because to be more creative, I need to step outside normal life. To develop more ideas for writing I need to research, and to go on a trip is to wander and wonder, and that’s one of the most rewarding parts of life.

And then to write about it, is to add to the joy. Writing a Blog means I get to re-live my journey and think about some point to it all. The point is, to suck every skerrick out of the life you’ve been given. And to have a reason to keep going.

Trials and Tribulations

There are many things that can go wrong when travelling. When they do, the key is to keep calm, accept it and deal with it.

Trials and tribulations seemed to abound on this Irish trip.

It started on Day One. My debit card didn’t work at ANY ATM. This trial caused a little stress but I had brought some Euros from home so I wasn’t too worried. I’d advise, even if you have a cash card, make sure you have cash on arrival. The taxi driver who took me from the airport to my accommodation in Dublin didn’t accept card. This turned out to be normal.

My phone didn’t work until I accepted Australia’s Telstra deal for $10 a day for a phone and data allowance. I had to accept the deal to be able to call my Australian bank to sort out the ATM problem. Annoying but doable! Apparently Ireland’s ATM’s don’t accept Cheque account debit cards. I was impressed that my bank, the CBA, was able to figure it out and change the account name at their end to a Savings account.

Staying calm and thinking rationally led to Problem Solved! A good outcome: cash and phone communication. Both handy when travelling on your own. Calm and rational behaviour weren’t quite so much in evidence when faced with the next Tribulation.

On Day Six I dropped my phone in a Galway toilet. Despite snatching it immediately and feeling alarmed enough to want to give it mouth to mouth resuscitation, it only worked for the next twenty hours – just long enough to deceive me into thinking it would survive. In the time of my reprieve, I went about my business researching a few locations for my novel. I took lots of photos. When the phone died, without warning, I lost the photos. I didn’t have auto back up to the Cloud.

Trying to keep calm while feeling that losing my phone was worse than having no cash, or anything else I could think of, I made my way to my next destination and looked for a mobile phone repairer. This was in Donegal Town and the owner of the business was very helpful. Relief flooded over me until he declared that there was water in the mother-board and the phone was most likely, stuffed!

He then offered to sell me a new phone. I swiftly pulled out the credit card, paying for a 128GB iPhone, desperation fogging my brain so that I didn’t notice little things, like the phone didn’t come in a box! He kindly offered to help set it up and I practically kissed his feet. Oh no, he said, don’t you back up to iCloud? Huh, no, I back up to my computer which is at home. I was then given an abrupt lesson in how useful the Cloud is. Very little personal information could be put on my phone, which was upsetting, but worse, it gave the phone-dealer an opportunity to rip me off! The first phone he helped me with had a fault – the fingerprint set-up didn’t work. So I was given another phone….  Fast forward back to Australia where I try to Restore from Computer and I find that I hadn’t noticed something else – the phone had been swapped for a 32GB!

Lesson: Don’t rush to the toilet when you keep your phone in your back pocket. Or better still, don’t keep it in your back pocket. Also, don’t be in such a panic about the drowning of the phone that you don’t notice you’re getting conned! And…. USE THE CLOUD! Don’t be scared of it, seniors! It’s a sophisticated system of storing your data and means you can get this data back if you stuff up or lose your device.

The final trial happened towards the end of my trip. I drove the scenic way from Bushmills to Belfast in Northern Ireland, driving all day along narrow laneways and stopping at ruins and coastal villages. What a peaceful day I had! I arrived with enough time to look around Belfast for a few hours before dinner. Rummaging around my bag to find my accommodation details, I realised, with a rapid feeling of dread (constriction of throat and gut), that I had left my documents folder at the previous guesthouse. Sinking from hope and denial to acceptance, I phoned the host. Yes, the folder was there. Passport, hotel vouchers, licence included. Did I cry? Did I swear a stream of profanity and throw a tantrum? No! I just swore a little, sucked it up and headed up the highway. The return loop took me three hours. Lesson: Always check you have ALL your stuff! By dealing with it straight away and not dwelling on the inconvenience, I was then able to take myself out for a classy meal, sip my wine and enjoy my evening. Calm!

We can’t always control what life deals us, but we can control how we deal with what it does.

Own it!

I have another word on the subject of travelling on your own. It’s regarding eating out and walking home.

I believe in eating well and dining in nice places. I eat in nice restaurants. They don’t have to be expensive, but they have to have a nice ambience. When you’re directed to a table where you feel like you’ve been put in the ‘naughty corner,’ ie. an isolated spot like an alcove, ask if they have room to seat you in an area where you can feel included in the ‘community of diners’ or in a position to people-watch. Tell the waiter/waitress that you don’t like to feel isolated. They’ll understand and be happy to oblige. Experienced staff will already know this.

If they seat you in the body of the restaurant but position you on the side facing the wall, fix it. Seat yourself facing into the room. Looking at the wall is bad for your soul, even if you have something to read or write. Look into the room. Look around. Own your space.

Ask the staff to bring you a glass of wine straight away. This helps. Maybe it’s a crutch but it makes me feel I’m relaxed and in a strong position to sit back and observe.

Speaking of owning it, if you find yourself walking down an unpopulated street, especially at night (even crazy Ireland sunshine-night), walk tall, walk confidently. You can stroll, be relaxed, but own your immediate space. That means don’t shrink, don’t look around furtively, don’t slouch and look down. Look ahead, look about, look in windows. Be mindful, aware of your own movements and your surroundings. But do not worry! Worry affects your demeanour and wastes your time on earth.

Neither a dog nor a weirdo is likely to attack a self-possessed person. And being self-possessed means being self-aware. I’m not encouraging you to be blasé or oblivious. Be mindful but not fearful.  If a dog barks or a drunk says hello (and in Ireland says something like ‘have good craic’), smile, say hi and keep walking. Or in my case, and it’s a dog, relax and talk in dog-baby talk until you’ve won it over and you can give it a pat.