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.

A Nice Break

A change is as good as a holiday, but a change and a holiday is a whole new me. Let’s talk about this in two parts:

Bali

Nathan came with me to Bali for a long weekend (and is an absolute hero for doing so – his work schedule was hectic but he still carved out some time for us). It was so… needed. After all the everything of this year, it was our first time to actually just enjoy each other’s company. Nathan used some points to get us a little chalet at our resort away from the hustle and bustle of the main area, and it was blissful.

And we’ve had many conversations about whether we need a twelve foot bed in our house and a pool in our backyard (answer is yes, duh).

After Nathan had to go home, I went to Ubud to stay in my favourite little bed and breakfast style hotel. The plan was that I would just write and write and write – this didn’t happen to the extent that I hoped for. First reason was that fluctuating power in Ubud meant that my laptop electrocuted me while charging, twice. Second reason – the medication I’m (still) on for trigeminal neuralgia has had two nefarious effects. It has given me a rash all over my body that has been driving me mad. The second part is that the medication is well known for turning people into bumbling zombies. We’re talking major cognitive deficits. I have struggled with things like paying for my prescriptions with a credit card or ordering from a menu, so as you can imagine, writing has been an insurmountable task*. So I didn’t get much done. But reading has been fine, swimming for about 4 hours a day (I have a tan!) and eating – I found a warung near my hotel that made the most amazing tuna curry (I know – tuna in curry? I was shocked too, but it’s really good) that was so delicious that I went back for it three times.

Here’s a story though: one night, I went out for dinner and made my first fatal mistake – I ordered beef carpaccio. In low season, in a regional area. It came out from the kitchen and I could immediately smell it. Like a toilet. I froze up, knowing that I was the only person in the restaurant, they would see if I flung it into the bushes, and I would die of shame to send something back or refuse to eat it. So I ate it. Tasted like a toilet too (I imagine). I struggled on through, diplomatically eating about two thirds of the plate before fussing with the remaining slices to make them look smaller and hiding them underneath some rocket. It was so bad, and yes, I paid for it later. Only for about thirty six hours, but still – I am so ridiculous that I will risk getting typhoid or whatever rather than hurt a stranger’s feelings.

Aside from that, my trip was calm, peaceful and uneventful. I skipped a lot of things that I usually do – no massages, no classes, no sightseeing, not a lot of shopping. Just a lot of restorative time by myself to recover from the year that was.

Home

When I got home, Dad had put in a mammoth effort and put a shower in our bathroom for us, after nine months of having to go to Mum’s every day. It took him three weekends, but I can’t even describe how much this has changed my life. Yes, seriously. The day after I got home, I just woke up, had a shower in my own house at my leisure, put on clean clothes, and it was such a revelation. There is so much self-esteem and positivity in being able to do these small rituals of self-care.

Conclusion

Both of these things together have signaled such a fresh start for me, it’s unbelievable. I came home full of hope and optimism, like I’d shrugged it all off and the year’s worth of bad things was all behind me. It was such a relief, and now I finally feel like I can get on with things. Aside from the novel, I have a bunch of upcoming projects and instead of approaching them with dread, I’m so excited. Instead of feeling tired before we’ve even begun, I can’t wait for what the future holds.

* This is slowly getting better. I am weaning off the medication because the flare seems to be over, so we’ll see how this goes. It’s really hard to be a writer who isn’t writing, and it’s especially hard when everybody is crowing about their NaNoWriMo triumphs and you are averaging 300 words a day. But it’s coming back. Maybe January will be my novel writing month.

I Write This From the Pool

Seriously.

I’m in Bali. Nathan was here for the first weekend, now I’m on my own. I’ll write more when I get home, but it’s all about sleeping*, eating**, swimming***, writing**** and reading***** right now.

* Luxuriously for as long as I want.

** Lobster rolls and dragonfruit and mahi curry.

*** Every single day, sometimes twice (part mermaid, after all).

**** Trying, mostly.

***** Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain and Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman at the moment.

Whirlwind Sydney Weekend

It’s no secret that I’ve had a rough year. I was meant to have a manuscript written by now, but that didn’t happen. We were meant to have a solution on the shower situation, but it still hasn’t happened (at least it’s a lot closer now). I’m still having issues with my leg, I’m still trying to get even just to the level of health and fitness that I was at pre-leg calamity, and a bunch of other hard things have happened as well. So it was so nice to get away for the weekend for the RWA annual conference in Sydney.

I stayed at the ultra-plush Sofitel Wentworth, and was thrilled that there was a little book in my room with photos of when Charles and Diana stayed there (it was the last place that they publicly danced as a couple), the Queen went to a gala in the very ballroom I was in, Andrew and Fergie were there too, plus Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren, and a whole bunch more. I loved all the chandeliers and beautiful flowers, and it’s gorgeous when hotels have grand pianos being played in the lobby. And it was beyond brilliant to finally have a long, luxurious bath in a marble bathroom (while eating chocolates, of course).

The conference was good – numbers were down, so it wasn’t quite as hectic as Adelaide was. I met some people and learned A LOT. I didn’t pitch this year, but I did completely embarrass myself by sitting next to a legendary writer who has sold millions of copies of her work and has won so many awards, and I asked her if it was her first conference and what genre she published in. She was gracious, but I was mortified to see her on stage two seconds later and I realized who she was. Luckily this seems to be a regular thing – one of the panelists recounted when she met a lovely woman in a conference buffet line and asked her whether she was published yet, and it turned out to be Nora Roberts.

The whole thing was pretty exhausting though. I’m looking forward to next year – it’ll be in Melbourne, which automatically makes things much cheaper, plus the theme is extremely conducive to me potentially wearing a mermaid tail to the cocktail party – may have to bring Nathan along to push me in a wheelchair, we’ll see!

Some photos:

 

A tiara for the cocktail party

On Monday, I had a little bit of time to kill before my flight home, so I wandered around Circular Quay. Sydney is not my favourite city by a long shot, but it’s kind of magical around the harbour. I went to an oyster bar right on the water with a view of the bridge, and sat in the sun for a long, grazing lunch. The water below was clear turquoise and teeming with little puffs of jellyfishes. I ate three different types of oysters and some delicious crab on toast (sounds really boring, let me elaborate: king crab with aioli, capers, pickled fennel and lemon on toasted ciabatta – fixed it, sounds loads fancier than ‘crab on toast’). Also try angasi oysters if you see them on a menu – they are a native mud oyster that I’d never tried before, and they were so good.

I had previously asked Nathan if he’d come up for the weekend with me (he didn’t want to because he likes Sydney even less), but that was the moment that I wished so much I could have shared with him. But there will be other times, I’m sure. And I think he secretly enjoyed having some time at home by himself to indulge in his secret bachelor behaviour (he did NOT buy a bucket of frozen pre-fried chicken from the supermarket this time, thank god).

Statues and Stories

I’ve hinted more than a few times, but I guess it’s time to let the (still hypothetical) cat out of the bag – we’re planning a big honeymoon adventure. For a few reasons:

  1. I’ve never been to Europe, and Nathan hasn’t been (except to the UK) in a very long time.
  2. You only get one honeymoon, if all goes to plan.
  3. So far we’ve only traveled to Japan, Bali, Hobart and Sydney together – we need to branch out.
  4. We have some other post-wedding plans that will change life as we know it forever, and big trips like this will suddenly get a lot harder, a lot more expensive and a lot less romantic.
  5. The more I travel, the more I feel like I have stepped into so many different lives, and the more I have to write about.
  6. It will be so much fun!

Our vague plan at this stage is completely subject to change, but involves France, Italy and the UK. We’re still not sure how many weeks away from work is feasible for both of us, or what the best itinerary is. But we would love to see Paris, Normandy, Versailles and Alsace, then do a road trip south through various cities and villages, ending up somewhere like Nice. We will probably catch trains a lot in Italy; we want to see Rome, Positano, Pompeii, Pisa, Napoli, Capri, Sorrento and of course Florence. In the UK we have a few people to visit, but I basically have the world’s longest list of literary landmarks and locations to see – gonna get my Jane Austen on, for sure.

And I will listen to The Light in the Piazza the whole time and wear 1950s skirts, a straw hat and little gloves.