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?

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.

Perfectionism, Procrastination or Research

When is RESEARCH just another form of PERFECTIONISM or PROCRASTINATION?

“Perfectionism is the enemy of creativity,” says Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love and Big Magic. It’s been said by many different writers, motivators and teachers. It’s the writer’s biggest obstacle to getting anything done. The fear of the work not being good enough prevents it from flowing and growing. Perfectionism is the little tyrant that sits on your shoulder saying, the work is crap, so you better make it better before you move on!

‘Making it better’ can demand a lot of editing along the way. It demands that you stop what you’re doing and Google that idea or go to that place or do that thing. Research. The only thing is, it doesn’t make it better because it interrupts the flow of the idea and stops you from ever getting to the end.

Research is obviously important for authenticity and detail but there’s a time to do it and that is not in the middle of the writing. Fiona McIntosh, masterclass teacher and author, says do all the research first, then sit down and write from start to finish. This makes sense when you’re trying to get the story down. It also prevents the research from becoming a form of procrastination.

The first draft of my first novel has been smattered with research. Word choice has me reaching for the dictionary. The suggestion of a place has me sucked down the internet tunnel. Both, most definitely, are the combined forces of Perfectionism and Procrastination.

And then I downed tools and went to Ireland, to research a County, a culture and a nursing home. For a chapter of my novel! Of course it was useful. Of course it was enlightening. Of course it will make my novel better. But was it necessary for what I was writing? Probably not! It was the Perfectionist and Procrastinator that made me do it!

Procrastination will find us an endless list of things to do before we can possibly start that important project. Whether it’s washing the dog or writing a blog, we can rationalise that it was essential before we get onto the task. Make sure that research isn’t just another excuse.

Research becomes another form of perfectionism and procrastination when it interferes with the writing. Do it before you start the first draft. Do it before you start the second draft. But don’t let it be the excuse that stops the flow. Don’t let it be the scene on the side of the road that slows and jams all the traffic.

Let research be interesting. Let research be fun. Let research take you to places you’ve never been before. But don’t let research gobble you up. Don’t let it be the wolf in sheep’s clothing!

 

 

Research

Researching components of the novel is important and tricky. The main reason I’m here in Ireland is so that I can write the Irish component authentically. I did my preparation before I left home – wrote out my questions, things I needed to find out, places to go etc. Google was helpful in giving preliminary details and opening up more questions.

So yesterday, I set off in the car from Galway to find out where my character’s brother lives. I found the perfect spot, took photographs, screen shot the location and drove on to the next point. This was an airport over an hour north. Braving the perpetual rain, I parked and ran inside. I got out my phone camera and it was dead. It wasn’t just battery dead, it was dead-dead! The dive into the toilet the night before had done its damage, water insidiously working its way through to the mother-board while I remained ignorant of the impending destruction. (“Feck” as the Irish say.)

Once I reached Donegal, the hope I’d maintained vanished as the mobile-phone repairer opened it up for surgery. Feeling inexplicably desperate, I bought a new phone and hoped the cloud would find my photos. Nope – hadn’t backed them up to the cloud! Fellow researchers – do this!

Drowning my sorrows in wine and chocolate, I slept on it and started today with renewed vigour. I had to find the nursing home I’d selected in Donegal for my character’s mother. Coughing up to pay for data roaming was a decision not taken lightly, but I couldn’t find a specific address or location on a map. This seems to be typical of Ireland. Apple map sent me off to a weird place and spoke to me in Irish. Google map sent me on a wild trip up a pot-holed tiny laneway. I kept saying to myself, this can’t be right. I stopped at the closed gate with the patrolling donkeys. Getting out to pat them made me feel marginally better.

Giving up, I decided to sight- see for a while. Getting back on the highway (all roads have a speed limit of 100km/hour) I sped past a sign that my shrunken brainwaves recognised as the name of the nursing home. Calmly, I pulled over and went back to follow the sign, finding that it was another narrow, tree-covered, gravel road. Nevertheless, I persevered and found myself at the nursing home. This was a great reward.

Finally, I had to find where my character’s mother lived. The young chap in the tourist information centre was so into helping me, I’ll name him in the novel. He Google-mapped and street-viewed and came up with a solution which I was able to check out in the afternoon. Perfect!

What great fun! This is sight-seeing with purpose and even the deviations and frustrations lead up other laneways. I’ve now found out a new word too – boreen – little road. How many can I explore?