How Masterclass Went + Flux

I love how arrogant I was in my last post – “I know how to write” – ha ha. I had my whole brain ripped apart and mashed back together over that week, and it was amazing. The greatest part of all was that I now know what I was doing wrong, and I know how to do better. And some of the feedback I got finally convinced me that maybe I can do this, that I might be on the right track, and it’s worth all this time, money, effort and heartache to just get this novel done and submitted.

Fiona signed my book at the end of the class, and one of the things she said was “care less”. It’s hard, because by nature I am the type of person who cares intensely about these sorts of things, but it’s so right… and I’m practicing. There are so many other things in my life that are wonderful, I need to care a little more about them and a little less about writing, as counter-intuitive as it seems. Because in the end, caring too much just spooks me out of my best writing.

So now I’m deep in research and all about the almighty daily and weekly word counts. I think one of the problems with things like NaNoWriMo is that they force unrealistic word counts from (mostly) absolute beginners, with a very high failure rate and not a good plan for sustainability. There are so many other things that I have to do for my writing. I need to send emails, track down obscure library books, stalk important people’s instagrams, figure out what else is being written and published right now, read widely but also in my niche, figure out plot/structural questions… all of these things will and do well and truly take up the extra days that I’m not tackling my word count.

There is so much to do, the 24/7-ness of this hustle is kind of shocking me. I’m planning to potentially go to Tasmania next month for some research, if I can swing it, and hopefully King Island in January with Nathan. I’m going to a conference in October, and potentially another one in August. I’m feeling like all areas of my life need to step up in a million ways, which brings me to my next point…

I’m afraid that there are going to be some changes going down at this blog. Either the whole thing is going to be saved to my hard drive and scrubbed from the internet, or I’m going to password protect the whole thing. It’s unfortunate, but it’s under good advice, and it’s about time. It does make me feel sad to be shuttering my most authentic self for something more of an ‘author platform’, but it’s necessary for the future, and I got a little crash course on how much publishers are looking for these sorts of things to be already established even before the first contract is signed. I’ll be figuring this all out in the coming weeks, but it looks like I’ll be starting a more writing specific blog. Expect photos of travel, maybe recipes, photos of the garden, and of course, the odd tales of P+R+C+P, but my most personal meanderings and neuroses will not be reappearing. Got to be professional! Or at least appear professional, because we all know that even if I was the next JK Rowling, I’d still be the same goober as always.

So – new chapters. New life. New goals. New plans. New everything. It’s bittersweet, but if everything works out the way I hope it does, it will be the stuff of dreams.

Masterclass Eve

I wasn’t home for too long. Just long enough to eat two hot cross buns to Nathan’s twenty-two (don’t ask, he’s still feeling sorry for himself), run around to a couple of family Easters, and then yesterday I took off again. This time to Adelaide, for something rather important.

And yes, the flight was totally okay. Approximately thirty seconds of panic at about thirty percent of normal intensity, so I’m counting that as a huge win. And I took some gorgeous photos out of the window. I’ve started reading a book called Cockpit Confidential by Patrick Smith, and it’s really helping so far in getting me excited about flying again – let’s hope it continues.

Back to today: I’ve spent the day grabbing last minute essentials, gathering every question that I can possibly think of for my one-on-one with Fiona, timing the walk to the venue and getting distracted by the beautiful gardens along the way. The last of the dahlias were still out, and they were gorgeous.

It all begins.

Fiona’s masterclass was such a pie in the sky kind of ‘wouldn’t it be nice?’ idea for most of last year, until Nathan pushed me to actually do it. Writing a novel has always been the goal, and I was going to get there one way or another, but I’m hoping this will be the end of years in the wilderness being too afraid to fully commit to my ideas because they might not be viable. I know how to write, I have a whole degree in it, I know a bunch about publishing, but I’m hoping this class is the missing piece. And who better to learn from than somebody who is doing it all, and doing such an amazing job of it?

I’m currently in my hotel room, simultaneously feeling nerves that makes me want to just go to sleep for a hundred years, and buzzing with the kind of energy and excitement that makes me want to jump around and do the dance from Sia’s Chandelier video clip. I don’t know what to eat for dinner, and my stomach is too tied up in knots to be hungry for much of anything.

I hope that all the people are nice.
I hope I can stay focused for such long days of being bombarded with so much information.
I hope I learn lots about how to plan a whole writing career, not just one book.
I hope I don’t share my work and realize I’m the worst in the class.
I hope it doesn’t rain on me when I walk to the venue.

Most of all, I hope I get what I came for. And I hope that a year from now, this little novel and this little career are something so much bigger, brighter and better. I probably won’t be writing anything else about it until it’s all over and I’ve had time to process the whole thing, so wish me luck!

24 Hours in Canberra

I got there in the end!

Unfortunately, sans Nathan, but it ended up okay that he was home to look after everybody and I didn’t have to fret about anyone’s safety or security. It was also kind of nice as well to have a little mental break where I could just be by myself, do whatever I pleased, not answer to anybody or have to coordinate with anybody else’s plans, and not have a single person or animal relying on me for anything. It has been a while – life with new kittens has been hard work, especially with integrating them into our household, and dealing with Rupert getting older. Even though it’s for work, I think Nathan sometimes underestimates the benefit of the change of scenery that he gets whenever he does business travel once a month – something I don’t really get. So it was kind of necessary. Let’s call it a mental health day, or two.

The whole trip lasted about 28 hours, or a little longer after a long delay on the flight home (which was probably always going to happen, being the day before Good Friday). I spent both days at the National Gallery of Australia – the whole reason behind going at all was to see their Love + Desire exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite masterpieces on loan from the Tate. Including Ophelia and The Lady of Shalott, which are such a big deal for me personally. I had often wondered whether I would ever get a chance to see these two paintings in my lifetime, or whether they would be one of those wistful regrets that would haunt me when I’m ninety and can’t go anywhere.

Everything was amazing. I just can’t even describe how wonderful everything was. I loved it all and I’m so glad I saw the paintings. Part of the reason I had to split the gallery into both days was because seeing The Lady of Shalott was so… overwhelming, that I just didn’t have enough any… anything left in me to look at anything else. I wanted it to be the last painting that I saw on that first day, so I could go back to the hotel and savour it.

Photos of paintings in art galleries are so boring generally, because how can a phone camera capture the majesty and emotion of these pieces? There is a big reason why it’s so much more valuable to go see the paintings in real life, but here are my best attempts – from the exhibition, as well as some from the rest of the gallery:

I also scheduled in a hefty dose of hedonism for my one night away – glitter bath bomb, Bachelor in Paradise, room service French fries, a face mask, breakfast in bed and letting myself sleep for about 12 hours. Utter bliss. Nobody growling or trying to push me off the bed, nobody snoring, nobody racing around or knocking things off my bedside table at 3am… yep, bliss. I missed everybody for approximately 30 seconds though, I promise.

There was another surprising little development that I’m rather excited about. I have terrible flight anxiety to the point where I will feel nauseous, break into a cold sweat, hyperventilate during takeoff, and have teary panics for days or sometimes weeks before a flight. It’s a ridiculous thing, especially for somebody who has been flying since they were two years old, somebody whose Qantas frequent flyer number is so old that it’s one digit less than the current ones. My phobia started almost overnight when I was about 26, for seemingly no reason at all, and was amplified by the news coverage of MH17 in particular.

Anyway, this time was a bit different. On the way there, I had my usual deathwish kind of dramas actually getting onto the plane and took a boatload of valium, but the moment of terror during takeoff was only about thirty seconds. On the way home, an old man talked to me the whole time, and my fear level only ended up reaching about thirty percent of my normal levels. This kind of thing never happens – I hope it continues. I’m going to Adelaide next week, and I’m already working on myself to keep this kind of positive attitude going.

I am going to have good flights
I have turned a corner with my phobia.
All of my fears of the plane stalling during takeoff are unfounded and will become less and less of a dread for me going forward.
I am going to sit by the window just behind the wing so that I can see the flaps extending and retracting and the wing changing shape to adjust the speed, so I will know what each unsettling noise signifies and that it’s nothing to be afraid of.
This will make me feel more in control of the situation.
I am going to kick this, it’s not going to cripple me forever.
There will be a time in the future when I have kids and I can attend to their needs during takeoff, rather than having panic attacks that will inform their feelings about flying.
They are not going to inherit my fear of flying and let it limit their lives.
Basically, it will be fine, I will be fine, everything will be fine.
The phobia has peaked, it’s just going to get better from now on.

Positive self talk is powerful stuff, so I’m actually a little excited about my next flights and seeing myself in action after this attitude shift.

My Face, Yesterday

It hasn’t been a great week. Let’s start from the beginning.

On Wednesday, I was meant to fly up to Canberra to spend some time with Nathan. The plan was that I would put the kittens into the pet resort on Tuesday, I would leave on Wednesday morning for my flight, leaving the puppies at home where they would remain until they would be picked up when Mum finished work. I was worried sick and dragging my feet on packing because I hate flying, and I hated being away from the kittens for the first time too. I was worried that Rupert would get sick again too. But Wednesday morning came around and my anxiety levels dropped. I was finally actually looking forward to the little trip.

We had plans. Nathan was going to take a day off work so we could visit the War Memorial together and he could fangirl over all the fighter planes, and we were going to see my all time favourite painting – The Lady of Shalott – in an exhibition of pre-Raphaelite art at the National Gallery. We had dinner plans with colleagues, and I was going to meet his work team for the first time. But best of all, I was going to get some respite from our house and the constancy of P+R+C+P needing care and attention all the time. I had set aside a morning in Canberra where I had big plans to sleep in, in the gigantic bed, eat breakfast in my pajamas, put on a face mask, and read a book in complete silence without anybody barking or needing anything. SO needed.

This is what ended up happening. I finished packing my bags, made sure the dogs and all their things were prepared for pick up, ordered my Uber and secured the house. There are a million things that you do, especially as a girl, to avoid dangerous situations – I always wait inside my house until my Uber is literally around the corner, to cut down the time that anybody could see me leaving. I don’t catch regular taxis anymore because it always gave me a bad feeling that it wasn’t app based (therefore, no digital trail) and my drivers would always be talking on the phone the whole time in foreign languages, and it always worried me that they could be telling their waiting criminal friends that my address was unoccupied, for all I knew.

But my strategy this time didn’t work. I took my suitcase out to the street when the Uber was less than thirty seconds away. Out of nowhere, this random guy was loitering on my street, right in front of my house. He looked shady as hell, shifting his weight from foot to foot in a fidgety kind of way. He came up to me and said, “hey pretty lady,” then tried to offer me a business card for tree lopping. I was immediately suspicious, because this isn’t the first time we’ve had criminals prowling around here posing as tree removalists.

The last few times, they have come to the front door. They offered me cards – different cards every time – and they would be looking over my shoulder into the house, checking out my dogs. They would ask if my husband was home, or what time he would come home. They would offer free quotes and really push me to let them around the sides and back of my house so that they could give quotes for tree lopping. It was always a bunch of guys crammed into a regular car – nobody wearing a uniform, no truck with a logo or equipment on it. One time, I quizzed them. I asked what they did to the stumps after they cut the trees down. The guy was taken aback and stumbled before answering: “we would just poison it”. Wrong answer. I know from when we had actual tree loppers here that they don’t poison stumps, they ‘grub’ or grind them, or they paint a sealant over the top of them so that they can’t grow again. As soon as the guy gave that answer, I knew he was bogus and I told him to go away.

I called the police that time and they said they were well aware of groups of criminals working together in the area as fake tree loppers, and that they couldn’t do anything without CCTV footage or a car number plate, but they would make a note of it. And that I should call 000 if they came back. I read on some neighbourhood watch groups that these guys would knock on people’s doors to first ascertain whether they were home, and if they were, they would offer quotes so that they could get a feel for access points and security at the rear of properties, so they could come back and break in later. There were also suggestions that these guys were looking for unsecured dogs in backyards for stealing as well. It is an ongoing problem in my town that dogs are stolen by dog fighting rings – big dogs for fighting, little ones for bait. Just that fact alone makes me want to throw up.

Anyway, back to Wednesday. I told myself I was being ridiculous, that I couldn’t live my life always being fearful or overthinking things, so I took the Uber to the airport bus and tried to shrug it off. I worried that people would be angry at me for wasting money if I missed my flight, or that people would be disappointed in me for letting my anxiety get the better of me. I got on the bus, and then my niggling bad feeling started growing into a full-blown panic. I called my dad and my sister to see if they could go to my house and see if everything was okay. I asked my sister to pick up my dogs early and take them to my mum’s house. But she didn’t have a key, and would have to drive all the way to my mum’s work to get it. I was on the verge of tears and knew it could already be too late, so I jumped off the bus ten minutes down the road, before it even left town and caught the next Uber straight home.

When we arrived in the street, the guy was still there. In a car sitting in front of my house, with another guy. I made eye contact with him and they immediately drove off in a hurry. And then I knew that I wasn’t being ridiculous. I was so full of adrenaline that I didn’t even see what the car looked like, and I didn’t have my glasses on to read the number plate.

As I came up the driveway, P+R were hysterical just from the sound of my footsteps. I deal with a lot of barking on a daily basis, so I have a pretty good handle on when barking means hungry and bratty, or when it means seriously threatened. This barking was genuinely scared. I have no doubt that those guys had walked around the outside of my house, looked in windows, maybe tried the doors. Both dogs were so frantic when I came inside, so much more than their usual ‘we missed you!’ routine.

So, I missed my flight. I considered buying another flight up later in the day once I’d gotten the dogs safely to Mum’s house, but in the end, I was too rattled. Once I was inside and the dogs were safe and I’d told Nathan what had happened, I just cried. For the huge tsunami of cortisol and adrenaline, for the idea that I could have lost P+R if I’d been ten minutes later, for how close I was to not getting off the bus and what could have happened, for the fact that safety was not something I could count on, not even in my own home. And the longer I left it, the less time we would have had together in Canberra, and the less it was worth it to actually go. Nathan assured me that it would have spooked those guys that I was onto them enough to come back, despite obviously leaving with luggage. He said they wouldn’t be coming back in a hurry… I really hope so.

I just feel like this latest incident has just been the final straw of living in this suburb. It has changed so much in the decade we have been here, and we are accumulating quite a list of near misses, suspicious stuff, or uncomfortable encounters. The tree lopping guys have now tried our house four times, coming to the front door even despite signs up saying ‘no canvassing’. We returned home one night and found a random man in our backyard who ran away when spotted. There is a lovely domestic violence situation unfolding in one of our nearby neighbour’s houses, and it’s not pleasant at all having to call the police a few times a year and tell them that it sounds like somebody is being murdered. And then there was the time when two big men broke into our kitchen when they thought the house was empty but I was actually asleep in bed, and I had to chase them down the street in my underwear. I just don’t feel safe here anymore.

So, a few things are happening, long and short term. Short term, we are seriously upping security measures on the house as soon as we can. This weekend, next week kind of soon. We are also rethinking our Easter plans, or any plans, that involve both of us being out of the house for long periods. I’m not going to feel comfortable leaving the house for appointments unless I know Nathan is working from home on those days, which is going to require a bit of scheduling. Longer term, we are looking at our options for somewhere else to live. I’m not sure how long this will take, but I just hope I will be able to sleep at night or go away for the weekend or even just out for a date with Nathan without fearing about what’s happening at home and whether our most treasured little family members are safe.

Hot Tips from a Bored Housewife

These are all the things I’m evangelical about that reveal how pedestrian I am these days*.

  • Our new washing machine. It’s already a revelation. It has a big capacity front loading drum, big enough for sizeable loads of clothes but also things like king sized blankets and duvets. But it also has this tiny but nifty top loader drawer at the bottom that has a cold water hand wash feature for delicates and activewear. Things that you might accumulate every day but wouldn’t be enough for a big load – very handy so far.
  • Pinch of Yum should probably put me on the payroll at this point, because I push their recipes on everybody at all times. Latest triumphs include these salmon burgers with slaw and these sesame chicken noodle bowls. Both were totally delicious (I used soba noodles for the second recipe).
  • Laying in bed, pinned down on both sides by sleeping kittens. If you plan on adopting a kitten, I really recommend a sibling pair. They only get up to 1.5x the mischief, but they keep each other company for about 90% of the day, which takes pressure off me.
  • It always becomes apparent at this time of year, how superior line drying is to using the tumble dryer. I can’t believe it’s considered quaint, twee and affected to use a clothesline in America. There is nothing better than crisp cotton still warm from the sun, or the magical stain removing properties of sunshine. Seriously. If you ever have a tomato sauce stain that didn’t come out in the wash, the sun will fix it up.
  • I’ve been using a retinoid from The Ordinary at night, and it helps a lot. I was fretting about some fine lines and general sallowness earlier in the year, and that is a thing of the past now. They have a bunch of different formulations and strengths, so of course, do some research on what would work best for you.
  • Not watching Married at First Sight.
  • A bubble tea shop finally opened up in my town, and I’m smitten. Bubble tea is one of my favourite things in the world, and it is taking all my willpower to not go there every single day. Instead, I’m dangling it in front of myself as a weekly reward if I can stick to eating relatively cleanly the rest of the time.
  • My sister told me about the Monty Hall problem. I guessed wrong. And honestly, I still don’t get it from a mathematical standpoint. Like, I logically understand that what I’m being told is correct, but it contradicts a bunch of other definitely true assertions about what is going on. I have been given a number of explanations and diagrams, but I still don’t get it.
  • Nathan and I started playing a cooperative game tonight called Pacify (it’s on Steam) and we had to stop because I was getting way too scared – Nathan would sneak his character right behind mine and say “oh no, whatever you do, don’t turn around!” and of course I would and I ended up screaming. It is very scary. I only lasted about ten minutes. Perhaps something I will try again in daylight hours.
  • Ages ago, I found this video of my old school campus being torn down, and I wish I could beam all of my memories of that place onto the video so everybody else could see how rich just this little clip is for me. Secretly feeding our lunch scraps to the stray dogs that lived behind the gate. Making tortillas after studying the Aztecs. Climbing to the top of the pagoda in the playground. Dressing up as a sparkly lurex fox for the Christmas concert. The flooding during the plum rains that would fill the grassed area up to the pavement and send leeches climbing up every wall.
  • This – a feature length adaptation of the greatest fanfiction ever written – is a work of genius. Completely worth watching the whole three part thing.

*There’s nothing wrong with being basic. Signed somebody who spent the majority of her life being extra. In all things, balance is important.