Do you ever step out your front door and a soundtrack begins playing in your head, as though you’re in a film? I do it all the time. It happens sometimes when I slam the car door shut, the music starts, something’s beginning. Often I am actually hearing music through my earphones. I see a lot of my life as a film, like I’m an outside observer. It’s full of cliches; both my life perceived this way and the actual act of doing this. But whatever. Before I did that unit on scriptwriting I thought I’d be really good at it, but it was such a disaster. It was part of my Grad Dip in writing. I had this teacher whose experience seemed to revolve around having written Neighbours episodes and she was one of those people that I just clashed with. Not in an angry way, we just didn’t really get each other. I felt like everyone else in the course was cruising along and writing up all these great ideas and mine was just poo, awful story about nothing written like a kid, terrible. It was such a rude shock, that scriptwriting could be a total disaster. But that’s actually what writing was for me for a long time, a total disaster. I always had talent, and I’m good with languages and spelling and grammar, but I’ve always been very immature, a late developer.

Anyway, I digress. I actually wanted to write about the future, or the next steps. I am about to complete this MA and I really don’t know where it’s going to lead. Potentially nowhere, which is a bit freaky really. I think the reason that’s possible is because I’ve never done study with a view to getting work. I was explaining this to a Walmart lady the other day, when she badgered me about applying for a credit card and I explained that I’m not eligible for a credit card because not only am I not a permanent resident of Canada, I also don’t have an income. She asked what I was studying and I explained and she asked where that leads career-wise. When I told her I wasn’t sure and that I’d never done any of my study with a view to getting a job, she was shocked. It was like it had never occurred to her that people did this. When she realised it was about happiness, she calmed down a bit and seemed to understand where I was coming from. But when I walked away, I realised I truly didn’t know what the hell was going to come of this degree, and that was because it was never what I really wanted to do. And what I really wanted to do, writing, was not what I got into. Because I haven’t shown myself to be good enough at it to warrant doing an MA. Italian, yes, I’m good at it, and this degree has been incredibly enjoyable and rewarding from a personal perspective, but I don’t want to do further study in Italian. I never wanted to do any study in Italian! Gosh that’s a hard thing to admit openly. But it’s true.

Regrets are a waste of time and I refuse to entertain them for even a moment. All I can do is look to the future, to where I want to be, and work towards that. It’s not Italian, and it’s not writing. I’d like to continue my editorial career in a freelance capacity, which will take discipline, and I think my study this past year has helped with building that. So that’s something. But as for my long term career, I’m not sure. Will it be teaching? I’m told I am good at that. I did a presentation a few weeks ago on King Lear and my fellow students all commented on the way I read the Shakespeare, how I engaged my audience. And I really enjoyed it. But teaching, that means I’m more like my mum than I’d like. That freaks me out. And teaching requires energy, giving of oneself. I don’t know if I have what it takes.

For now, I have less than a month left of classes before I finish this MA. So I’ll keep walking to my soundtrack, writing my snippets of stories, my to-do lists, my goals. One thing is certain: I will write a book one day soon.

The oldest student

I’m not really that old. I just turned 37 the other week. But in my MA program, I’m the oldest. There are three others doing the same program as me and they’re all much younger. Like 10 to 15 years younger! At first I found it a little confronting. I’ve done a lot since I finished my undergraduate degree 14 years ago. I’ve worked and lived in other countries, I’ve even done another degree. But still, I’m the oldest, I have kids, I live 40km out of the city… It’s not easy.

But it wasn’t long, however, before I realised I was so much better equipped than these kids are to be doing a masters. That’s not to say I think anyone’s going to drop out, that they’re too young or whatever. I just want to acknowledge my gratitude to be the age I am. I have so much more knowledge, I’ve been places and done things and although I have a lot more going on with two little kids, I manage to do the required reading when others just haven’t the stamina. Not just that, I can apply myself and come up with intelligent remarks.

When I began my undergraduate degree in 1997, it was in a BA (Visual) specialising in textiles. I got in on a whim, having spoilt any chance of getting into any uni program based on grades, as I barely achieved a pass in my year 12 results. This was because I lacked focus, discipline and confidence, and I cut my nose off to spite my face in a way when I deliberately didn’t apply myself to my studies because I didn’t believe studying maths or science should be part of getting a suitable grade to get into arts at uni. I think I ended up with a 52. But I put together some half-assed portfolio of artwork I had done through high school and, by some miracle, was offered a place at art school. I had no idea at the time but this wasn’t just any art school; it was one of the foremost art schools in the country with an extremely high reputation at the time (I don’t think this is still the case). I still don’t really know how I got in, given I got one of seven places in a field of 135 applicants. Ultimately I never questioned it but who knows, perhaps I wasn’t a total fraud; perhaps I actually showed some talent!

After six months of, admittedly, mostly enjoyable foundation studies courses, I began to realise I didn’t want to be a “starving artist”. I didn’t have quite the passion of some (and genuine eccentricity of others!) I needed to do something a little more academic. Having said that, the most academic subject I studied at art school was Art Theory and it was the one I found most difficult. I didn’t do particularly well in that, having to write some essay on post-colonialism, if memory serves, in which I demonstrated practices I would employ throughout my undergraduate studies that guaranteed shit marks. Things like waffling on about something in a giant paragraph when I could have said it in one sentence and then not referencing because it was “just what I think”. Read: I did zero reading whatsoever and I’m winging it using flowery language and correct spelling.

Anyway, I received a distinction at the end of that first year of visual arts, which my mum still goes on about. But it wasn’t for me. Luckily, due to the prestige of the school, I suppose, it was actually part of the university, arguably the most well-respected university in Australia (it ranks about number 19 in the world now I think), and because I’d completed my first year I just transferred to do a straight BA, with some status credits tacked on from that Visual Arts year. I enrolled in the expected three courses: English, Italian and History. Introduction to the Study of Literature, Introductory Italian (I was placed in the intermediate class but quickly dropped back when I couldn’t understand anything in my first class), and Culture and Society in Britain and France: 1750-1850. Oh history! I think I’d heard of the French Revolution at the tender age of 19 after visiting Madame Tussauds in London and seeing the Madame Guillotine waxwork in the Chamber of Horrors. I’d never heard of the Industrial Revolution. Ha. I was so naive!

I barely passed that year-long unit of history (I think the tutor was very generous), and I quickly transferred out and into linguistics which suited me better. I still wrote essays containing no referencing that were basically just stories about what I thought on a certain topic but I somehow got through and got top marks in Italian so that ended up being what I went on to do in this program. To be honest, I’m not hugely passionate about Italian per se, I don’t really know much of the literature or history, although I’m learning a huge amount through this course, but one thing I’ve discovered is that I know what interests me and what I’d like to continue doing, so I have my Italian studies to thank for that. As an all-rounder, it’s not easy to find your passion.

And why did I enrol to do Italian back in 1998? Because I’d studied it in high school and I knew languages came easily to me. When I was choosing electives in my first year of high school it was a toss up between Spanish or Italian and I chose the latter simply because that’s what my best friend had chosen. “It’s a bludge,” she said. That’s all I needed to hear. Laziness was what I was all about, getting the best results for the least about of work. I look back and I can’t believe this was my attitude! That stubborn, lazy aspect of me did me no favours. I only hope I can instil something different in my own kids. Not that you must slog your guts out, but that it’s good to strive for something and feel passionate. It’s self-discipline that I learnt the hard way, and am still learning in fact. The difference is, learning is pure pleasure and it’s ironic that now, when I have the least amount of time available to devote to it, I’m finding so much enjoyment in it! And speaking of which, it’s time to stop this procrastinating and get back to it.

A lesson in inner peace

When it comes to organisation, honesty and living a peaceful life, I don’t have a very good track record. In fact I don’t  have a very good family history either. My family on both sides were immigrants and this upheaval, coupled with a lot of emotional complexity and layers of issues never being addressed has made for a very tumultuous and messy life. Not that I’m blaming my genealogy or family for my inability to sort out my life, far from it, but I feel that has made it hard for me to know balance and learn how to be in a harmonious way.

Trying to find an image that just showed something beautiful, I found this one I took of a roof in Dubrovnik, Croatia in 2008. I'd just discovered the sepia setting on my camera. Not much to do with the post but it's beautiful, don't you think?
Trying to find an image that just showed something beautiful, I found this one I took of a roof in Dubrovnik, Croatia in 2008. I’d just discovered the sepia setting on my camera. Not much to do with the post but it’s beautiful, don’t you think?

I tend to be pretty neurotic, and I have a very lazy side. So if there’s a problem in my life – a big bill arrives that I can’t afford, I need to handle a delicate relationship situation, or I need to motivate myself to address something practical – I wimp out. I procrastinate. I don’t just stuff about for a while and then eventually do it. No, I leave it until it’s really hard to deal with, and then I end up being screwed over. So I leave the bill until I’ve been sent a final notice and a whole lot of interest has been piled on and my credit is ruined; I don’t confront the delicate situation and end up pissing everyone off even more because they think I don’t care because I never said anything; I leave the cleaning til the last minute so it’s impossible to do it in the time I have and end up feeling overwhelmed by it all and everyone sees just how much of a lazy grot I am. And in turn, I feel slack, tired, and like life is a hard slog.

You could say it all comes down to motivation and discipline, which is true, but there’s another layer beneath that: why don’t I have the ability to motivate and discipline myself? It’s hard to work that one out, but I think it’s my basic disposition coupled with influences growing up. I often lament the fact that I have no passions, nothing gets me going. But writing is a passion, right? Yeah, but when I’m in a slump, even the prospect of writing or reading isn’t enough to pull me out of it. Nothing fuels my passion. These days I know that’s actually a form of depression, that feeling of hopelessness and lack of any meaning in life. But I think I’m moving past that, especially since having my son and being forced into routines, being given no option for slacking off. And in turn, because I’m forced into action, I feel better and I want to do more.

On the weekend I was at my friend J’s house. I hadn’t seen it in over a year and was absolutely blown away at how much work they’ve done to it and how beautiful it is. J has put so much energy into making that space beautiful and exactly what she wants in every respect. Obviously there is always more to do in any house, but clearly this house has had every detail attended to, and because of this it is the most relaxing space I’ve been in. It is light, bright, comfortable, convenient, aesthetically pleasing and a genuine pleasure to be in. I guess it helps that J and I have similar taste, although I think I found it so lovely to be there simply because she’d taken care of every detail. I just wanted to freeze time and stay there in that perfectly comfortable space with good friends and amazing food forever.

I was so inspired, and being there made me realise for the first time just how much I’m longing for my own space. In 2005, when I bought my  house in Canberra, I finally did have a space with which do whatever I wanted but the depression didn’t let me do everything. I couldn’t see my way clear to making it amazing and a lot of time was wasted eating icecream and watching crap tv. I did things to improve the house, but they were mainly superficial and a little slap dash. Maybe it was a lack of maturity as well but there was a lot left undone in that house, and I’ll soon be paying for it and my general neglect of it since I rented it out nearly six years ago now. It’s another element of my life that has suffered as a result of my neurotic laziness and bouts of depression. Interestingly enough, when looking for a post to link as an example of my low moments, I read through this one and realised I’ve come so far since then and my life is no longer like that. Working at home a few hours most days helps, but somehow, something has really shifted.

This year, for the first time in my life, I feel as if things are really changing. There are a few factors affecting this, but getting out of debt is one of them, as is my new-found ability to motivate myself to actually do things instead of just think or talk about them. I’ve wanted to do this for many years but I think this time there are extrinsic motivators where there were previously none. My son, my family, my husband, my maturity, my increasingly positive outlook, these are all things that are moving me towards a new phase of life. And what better age than 35, which is what I’ll be this year in October. I love it when things sync with the seven year cycle!

The writing of a book: part 1

I’ve always planned to write a book at some point in my life. I remember at about age eight or nine planning novels. I’d beg my parents for a nice new exercise book, a big fat one, 360 pages, and I’d flick that thick, fresh wad of blank pages through my fingers a few times, just to enjoy the clean, chunkiness of it, the possibility. I’d imagine seeing every page covered in writing. Pages get thicker somehow when they’re written on.

I had plans. I had ideas. I knew my characters’ names. I’d agonise over a nice title and toy with various pseudonyms or ways of writing my author name. I’d plan out the chapters, often numbered so there would be an equal number of pages in the book for each chapter. So 12 chapters in a 360 page book would mean 30 pages per chapter. I’d then have to recalculate, realising that I needed a few pages for the title page and table of contents. Once calculated, I’d write out the title page and table of contents, then go through numbering the pages and writing the names of the chapters on the relevant pages. Finally I was ready to begin.

And suddenly my ideas seemed stupid. I might sometimes write a first page. Usually a few sentences. Sometimes just a first word. But as soon as my story began to be transferred onto the page, it didn’t seem to work any more.

That still happens. Not quite to that extent, but my inner critic is my worst enemy. Being told once about age 14 by a well-meaning but tactless teacher that my writing was clichéd didn’t help quash this insidious voice of shame forcing itself into my thoughts. I knew my writing was full of clichés. I knew it was too wordy. Unoriginal. Clunky. Rough. Awkward. But at my very core I have always known I could write and I would go unfulfilled without expressing myself through words.

So how can I be this giant contradiction? On the one hand, I can’t come up with solid output. On the other, writing is my soul. I have no answer to this question. But I do know that I have an awesome idea for a book which has been hovering about for the past two or three years at least. And it won’t go away without being written. The question is, how will I manage to motivate myself enough and kill off the inner critic so it actually gets written? I know that, done well, this book has mass audience appeal and many original aspects, which is a kick arse combination. I just need to write…


Lately I’ve been feeling very torn. I want a lot in my life and most of what I have now isn’t right. I’ve always found it easy to blame people or circumstance for my life being so far from ideal. Recently I’ve begun to realise that I only have myself to blame.

I am the best excuse-maker in the world. I am slack, lazy. I have no willpower. Most bad stuff that happens, it’s my fault. No, seriously, it’s true. And it’s all because I can’t put my foot down, draw a line. I always have these grand plans, intentions, but they never work out. I can’t pull myself out of my laziness! I am in self-destruct mode.

I am not sure how long I’ve been in self-destruct mode. My whole life? It may even be my natural state. I waste so much time. And then I get stressed because I didn’t achieve anything the whole day. And Mr Chewbacca gets pissed off because he can’t understand why I haven’t done stuff.

My ideal day would involve a healthy breakfast and lunch, home made of course. I would enjoy those meals with my son. We’d do a bit of playing and I’d really be with him, not distracted by anything. He would go down for a nap for an hour during which time I’d meditate and do some yoga and perhaps have my shower quickly. I’d know what I was cooking for dinner and I’d have it ready when Mr Chewbacca gets in so we could all eat together. If the Dude wouldn’t have his nap in bed, I’d put him on my back and read while he sleeps. We may go for a walk with the pram. Some days I would iron some shirts. Others I’d do some cleaning if possible, the bathroom, kitchen. If I had time and Dude was happy I’d try to get some writing done. Okay so this is sounding very domestic housewife-ish and that wasn’t the intention.

What I really want to get across is how much I hate what I do, how I behave, and how self-destructive it is. Yet I feel powerless to take control and change. Because what would I do instead? Currently my day involves getting up and getting the Dude breakfast and just coffee for me. I turn on some crap on the Lifestyle channel like How to Look Good Naked or Sex and the City or Trinny and Susannah and I feed the Dude while he wreaks havoc pulling everything out of drawers and cupboards and I sip my coffee and look at crap on my phone instead of the tv. The Dude plays and I engage with him here and there. I usually make some toast eventually but pretty much stay on or near the couch most of the morning dealing with the Dude, feeding him when he’s hungry and half watching the tv. If he’s not tired, I shower while he plays in the hall. I can’t let him in the bathroom while I shower because he’ll destroy everything. He’s usually happy to play outside and will keep busy by pulling everything off his change table shelves or out of any drawers he can open. He might go into the laundry and turn the washing machine on and off a few hundred times.

Once showered I might feed Dude again and take him for a walk or drive if I have an errand to run or if not he might fall asleep in my arms. I never put him to sleep in bed during the day any more. It just takes too long and often doesn’t happen. If he is really restless and I’m not feeling energetic enough to walk I will put him on my back in the ergo. This never fails to get him to sleep provided there’s not too much noise and I’m moving around. Lately, or at least last week, I’ve actually turned the volume down low, put subtitles on and played Grand Theft Auto on the xbox! Oh the shame in admitting that!! But it’s true. What a loser.

Anyway, while watching mindless tv, playing stupid games or facebooking is entertaining and all, I don’t think any of that is even remotely healthy or constructive. It’s achieving zero for me in my life. If anything it’s actually zapping energy. In fact I think I choose those activities deliberately as they will zap energy faster and more effectively than anything else. The question is, why do I want to rid myself of valuable energy with nothing to show for it? Why don’t I choose activities that at least achieve something positive?

I don’t really know the answer but I am willing to find out. I want to be excited about my day because it’s fulfilling and another step toward a fantastic goal. I want to achieve. And the insane thing is that I’m not one of these stay at home mums with enough money to do it. We are really struggling financially and it would make a huge difference if I did some work and brought in some money. So I really shouldn’t be wasting time for that reason as well.

I’d like to do something about moving forward and I know it won’t be easy because I haven’t been successful in making change happen in my life many times to date. But I must at least try. So I’ve decided to get started, albeit six months late, on this fantastic Simplify Your Life challenge from the awesome Home Life Simplified blog. I don’t know how I’ll cram 12 months worth of simplification into six but I’m not focusing on that because I don’t think it matters. It’s about whether I actually effect change. The other thing that has coincided nicely is that I’m finally reading Louise L Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life. Her philosophies make sense to me and I’m willing to be open to the process. Some of what I’ve read in the first three chapters has made me cry; and some of it has frustrated and confused me. I don’t ever remember my parents telling me anything negative and I’m not sure if I think I’m good enough or not. But as I said, I’m open and willing to make this change. It may take time to make total sense.

I am apprehensive because I start a lot of things and don’t finish them (in fact that’s one aspect of my behaviour that I’d like to change) but I am focusing on now as much as possible. And we will see what happens.

Concealment, diversion and truth

I had a friend growing up who was a compulsive liar. I knew her from about age six to age 14. Everything out of this girl’s mouth was questionable, so much so that when she told me about the mechanics of sex (one of the only things she was honest about, having witnessed it first hand in her mother’s bed, I later discovered), I didn’t believe her. I almost believed her when she told me there were flying, magical My Little Pony unicorns living in the hedge at the end of my street. I was suspicious when she told me it would be quite acceptable to steal some cool pink rubber stamps from the newsagent. I held the ones she and another girl stole while they went on the swings to celebrate their thievery. She forgot I had them in my pocket and I kept them. But I told my mum what she’d done and that I’d refused. My mum later told me that when she confronted this girl’s mum to tell her about the awful thing her daughter had done, she just laughed. She then proceeded to boast about all the ‘free’ furniture and whitegoods she’d acquired by being sneaky, lying and generally manipulating anyone expecting payment. She lied too, and stole, and was proud of it.

I recently spent a lovely weekend at a close friend’s and we got to talking in depth about my issues. She was obviously curious about it all as we’ve talked before about my general unhappiness with my weight and my inability to eat consistently well. She’s a very intelligent woman and we’ve known each other for about 22 years so there isn’t much we can’t discuss. We chatted about making choices to eat badly and I reiterated that my bad eating habits have almost nothing to do with meals or appetite. She was suggesting ways of choosing healthier options but I explained that even if I ate healthy meals, which I do, more or less, I’d still eat crap because it has nothing to do with satisfying that physical hunger and the urge to eat crap doesn’t go away with my physical hunger. It certainly makes it less intense though.

Eventually she came to a conclusion I came to years ago: find something you’re passionate about and apply your drive to eat crap to that activity instead. I then had to explain the depressing reality that there isn’t anything in this universe more compelling for me than the urge to eat crap. She reeled off various things but no, none of them are better than or could replace the food. Even writing, the one thing I’ve known matches me for so long.

We didn’t get to wrap up the conversation properly because the Dude woke for the fourth time and I went in to get him back to sleep and she’d gone to bed when I came out again. Secretly, I was glad our discussion was cut short. It was hard for me to discuss, upsetting, confronting, and it’s been playing on my mind ever since. I didn’t lie to her about how badly I eat, but I deliberately avoided being explicit about just how much rubbish I do consume. This is a person who has probably never eaten McDonalds in her life, so it’s pretty difficult to admit that I sometimes eat it a number of times in a week. It’s not that I feel inferior because I like shit food, it’s more that I respect her ideas about health and agree with her, so I’m admitting to terrible hypocrisy when I reveal my food choices. It’s shameful as well because I think McDonalds is one of the worst organisations in the world, the way they manipulate children especially is disgusting.

But this is where I am now. I lie. I lie to cover my serious addictive and self-destructive behaviour. Why? Because deep down I feel as if it will never go away. And deeper still, I’m afraid to let it go. Who or what will I be without it?

My lies, to my loved ones and to myself, are worse than any petty thievery or skipping out on credit card debts. I am deceitful, the worst kind of lie. This disorder, for want of a better word, has such a hold on me. It’s like an evil cloud is hanging heavily above me, following me around, stopping me from seeing the light above.

I am like my grandmother. I was angry at her for her lies and indulgence in bad habits. But I am just like her. If I continue like this, I will end up spending 20 hours a day in my room, a wardrobe full of junk food, a stack of library books, a heavy body and everything I say will involve some sort of lie. People will tiptoe around me, wondering when I’ll next explode, agreeing with my lies, and feeling relieved when they can get away from me. It’ll just be me and the cloud.

As my mum would say: “Up with this I will not put!” But where to from here? I refuse to do what I’ve always done, get all motivated, vow to make a change, plan what I’ll do, write a list, tell Mr Chewbacca that this is it… And then fall back into bad habits within 24 hours. I need to make a big psychological shift but as to how I do that, I have no idea.

Finding a voice

Replicated from my SheWrites blog, 31 January 2011.

I wrote stories all the time as a kid. They were usually fantasy, about girls with pretty names finding secret lands or unravelling hidden mysteries. I always felt as though my writing and reading habits were somewhat immature for my age, but I’d quietly plod along, churning out all sorts of stories (usually unfinished, however, but that’s another post…)

I recall my first year of high school at age 12 was incredibly difficult, as I’d gone from a very ‘alternative’ school into a Catholic girls’ school, and the transition was a struggle to say the least. I hated many of my classes, especially science, and I had few friends, finding it hard to relate to a group of girls who grew up in circumstances fairly removed from my own. I still had my stories, though, and was very excited at the prospect of those first English classes when we were asked to write a story as part of our assessment. This is my kind of thing, I thought! I excitedly wrote a story about my cat, hand-written, as word processing wasn’t the required norm back then, and because of the way I’d been taught to write I wrote in cursive script; it was messy, but I’d been taught that learning the form of the letters in their most beautiful way was more important, and that my writing would neaten up as I got older. Ms Kirkpatrick, a haggard, sour, ancient old biddy of an English teacher, who couldn’t even remember how to pronounce my name, reprimanded me harshly for that story. She was more concerned with the fact that I hadn’t ruled a margin, my writing didn’t adhere to the straight lines on the paper, and it was rather erratic. I don’t really remember what she said about the story itself but it completely shattered my confidence. I still wrote at home, and I faithfully kept the diary I’d begun at age 9 or 10, but it took until I was almost 17 to bring that faith in my writing back, thanks to a conversely wonderful English teacher who I will never forget. That too is for another post…

I found out today that I’ve been invited to write a review of a wonderful book by Kim Stagliano called ‘All I Can Handle’. I am so excited! I am yet to receive my copy, but it looks like an amazing book. It is about the author’s life bringing up three daughters with autism. I am excited not only because I find the topic most interesting, but also because I feel that this could signify my entry back into the literary world. I have been on the periphery for so long now, afraid to dip my toe in the pool of greatness, doing what the great Nelson Mandela once reminded us we do only too well: living small. My mum says this to me all the time, that I live beneath my potential, and although I know she is right I also dismiss her comments because she is my mum and everything she says is subjective.

In fact that leads me to another aspect of this discovery of a voice, a writing identity, and establishment of my place in the writing world. As she is a language teacher, I always gave my writing to my mum to read and was desperate for her feedback. It angered me that she would read my stories and then go on and on about how wonderful they were! She never gave me any constructive criticism, she would just gush about how well I wrote and what a fantastic story it was… oh, but she’d find at least half a dozen grammar and spelling or punctuation mistakes which she’d happily correct. But as for criticism of the structure, the tone, the characterisation, the syntax, no, those things were sacred; I was perfect and so was my writing. I knew this wasn’t right! But boy did I find it hard to deal with editorial interference years later… Is it still my writing if I’ve taken on board and implemented someone’s suggested changes? To what extent can someone influence my writing before it ceases to be mine? Little did I realise that no writing is mine; it was all there to begin with, I just discovered it.