Friday, December 23, 2016

Lyn Battersby rethinks the 2016 Blues


Or why my year was better than yours.

Hello, Blogness, my old friend.

Yes, I Facebook more than is ideal for any one person, so instinct tells me to post this there, and yet, I'm a purist, so I'm doing my 2016 Year in Review here. Hopefully people will read it. Hopefully, I only offend the right people.

1. What did you do in 2016 that you'd never done before?

I finished my Bachelor of Arts in English and Creative Writing. It has been a long, long, looooong haul, but I got there and in the end I'm totally proud of my efforts and the marks I received. I remained a person of Distinctions and High Distinctions which still makes me blink in wonder.

I made a Uni nemesis. He was a superior older white male who gaslighted (gaslit?) me on line. Idiot. 

2. Did you achieve your goals for the year, and will you make more for next year?

I wanted to attend the Temple twice and I did. I wanted to sew two garments - I did not. I wanted to read 12 novels from our shelves and I did. I wanted to stay below 56kg, but depression and my ankle injury saw me sail above 60kg. I de-cluttered 50 things from the house rather than 52. I emptied 10 boxes of books rather than 3. I completed all Uni units but I did not finish and send Treckie Travers. So, I achieved some and failed others, and yet, my year saw me attain more than I ever thought possible. I won an internship. I educated my son well enough that he'll slide into High School without an issue. I helped my husband cope with a depression that had me fearing for his long-term mental health. 

I will make goals for next year and they're bound to revolve around the Grad Dip Ed that I'll be starting in 3 weeks.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

My cousin Katriona's daughter gave birth to a baby boy.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

David Bowie. Admit it, we all feel close to him.

My cousins, Sue's, son took his own life. My heart aches for Sue and her family. I know what depression does to people

5. What countries did you visit?

They say the past is a different country and it's a country I constantly revisit. This coming year I hope to look forward rather than back. 

6. What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016?

My brother. But I think that ship has sailed. As I said, it's time to look forward and my brother and I keep using our shared past to damage each other.

7. What dates from 2016 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? 

25 November. The day I finished my degree. It was so important to me to acquire a higher education and now I have. Onwards and upwards.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Uni, obviously, but also getting Connor back into the formal education system. He's happy to be back at school and is looking forward to starting high school with his friends. I was worried that he'd be behind, but he's not and I'm proud of that. Between bad health and bullying he's been homeschooled on and off for 5 years now, but that's over and we can all move on.

In a year where my brother decided he no longer wanted to be part of my life, I'm so happy to reconnect with my France family (my Mum's side of the family). These are my blood relations. We share DNA. They are my first and best memories and I have missed them like crazy. I hope 2017 brings actual meet ups with my Aunty and cousins because they are really important to me.

Having said that, I'm grateful for my Kiely family. We may not share DNA, but they have been there throughout the best and worst years of my life. Lee and I will be spending the 27th with the Kielys and I can't wait.

9. What was your biggest failure?

Not noticing just how badly my husband was drowning in work-related depression until it was almost too late. Fortunately, it wasn't too late and we managed to get help. 

Looking after my weight. I see the photo of me with my family that was taken at last night's Bookapalooza and I just want to cry with shame. I am horrified by how big i am now after working so hard to lose it last year.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury? 

14 months ago I had a bad fall that ripped apart two ligaments in my left ankle. Thanks to conflicting opinions within the medical profession I have never regained any real control over that foot. I can walk 12,000 steps one day without issue, then need the aid of a walking stick the next. I am so angry about this injury, angry at the doctors, at the specialists, at the step that caused me to trip and, naturally, angry at myself. 

So very angry.

I also suffered depression and anxiety, but Pristiq helped me find myself again.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

Pristiq. The recliner couches. Our gorgeous Christmas Tree. It's so prettiful.

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?

My husband, for owning up to his battle, fighting back and coming out on top.

Erin for constantly doing her best and getting the marks she deserves.

My 15 year old nephew for coming out and including us in the conversation.

Connor for remaining positive in the face of sever opposition and oppression.

Cassie for recognising a problem and escaping with her children into safety. She has showed remarkable maturity this year and I'm so very proud of her.

Me, cos, you know, uni. 

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?

A certain person at Lee's work who sparked a depression so devastating that I thought my husband would never recover.

People who would post about depression on-line, and then tell my husband that he had nothing to be depressed about. They suck. 

14. Where did most of your money go?

Credit card debt, mortgage refinancing, and these amazing recliners.

Erin's and Connor's school purchases (I nearly cried)

Oh, and an amazing 50s-inspired dress Lee bought me last week to wear to my graduation that's coming up in February.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

I won the Irene Searcy Award for Best Essay of 2015. It was so unexpected.

Beginning Temple preparation. I've had a few setbacks, but now it's happening. I love my spiritual family.

My 50s-inspired dress, complete with very full petticoat.

16. What song will always remind you of 2016?

In a year where the planet lost a lot of talent, to me the biggest loss was Leonard Cohen. This man seemed to put out his best work just before he died and I mourn his loss greatly.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you: i. happier or sadder? ii. thinner or fatter? iii. richer or poorer?

Weirdly, despite being fatter and poorer, I'm definitely happier. I'm in a good place thanks to my Uni marks, Lee's Magrit launch, Erin and Connor's amazing school year, Cassie's solid home life and Lee's recovery. 

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?

Spent more time with Lee. This year we've spent less time together thanks to work pressures, uni, schooling and various other intrusions (including Facebook). Fortunately, we have Wednesday nights together without the children. We ignore our phones, go out for dinner, chat and decompress. We talk of our love and we discuss immediate and long term plans. It's very special and I'm grateful to Lee's former in-laws for taking the kids.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?

Worrying about my weight. And yet, I still do. I have issues.

20. How will you spend Christmas?

We wake up, open presents with the kids, have breakfast, drop the kids at their grandparents and then spend the day together in front of the TV with platters of food. This year I'll be going to church in the morning because the day happens to coincide with the Sabbath.

21. Who did you meet for the first time?

Blake's girlfriend, Jasmine. We went away in January, leaving Blake in charge of our empty house. When we came back we found a girl in residence. She is now a regular feature of our family and we love her. She's cute, she's funny and she just fits.

22. Did you fall in love in 2016?

Check the answer to this question from 2016. And 15. And 14. And, yep, all the others. I love Lee Battersby. I fall in love with him over and over and I still feel my heart flutter when we come together after even a minor separation. 

23. What was your favourite TV program?

Stranger Things, easily, by a long shot. But Jane the Virgin was my standout guilty pleasure. 

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?

Every year I hedge around this question, but this year I'm naming and shaming. He may be the father of my grandchildren but I hate my daughter's ex-partner, Ashley. He terrorised and terrified my daughter to the point where she had to grab her kids and flee. He is a despicable low-life and I cannot stand him.

25. What was the best book you read?

Graham Greene's Brighton Rock. I felt a complete sense of desolation at leaving Pinky's world behind.

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?

Leonard Cohen. I mean, I enjoyed him before, but this year, oh my goodness, he rose to the top of my jam-list. I love his work, particularly Nevermind and You Want it Darker.

27. What was your favourite film of this year?

Dr Strange.
Dr Strange.
Flip a coin. We watched them both multiple times.

28. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I was 47. I sat an exam (for which I received an HD) then Lee took me out to lunch.

29. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Exercising. I miss running, I miss stepping, I miss the feel of my body moving through space. I miss the feeling of power and speed and being inside my own headspace.

Also, meeting up occasionally with my Triffitt kids in Fremantle. I love dealing with my adult children. They're really great people.

30. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2016?

"This doesn't fit anymore. Better add it to the pile." The pile is depressingly high.

"I must Jamberry my nails!" Fortunately, I didn't get too fat for nail wraps.

20 years as a Jehovah's Witness, but in the end I embrace the Christmas spirit - on my nails.

31. What kept you sane?

Making lists and sticking to them. It was a year for being organised. It was also a year for forgiving myself when the list fell apart due to other considerations.

32. What political issue stirred you the most?

Lionel Shriver and cultural appropriation. As a writer I want to feel free to write anything without other presuming to tell me what I can and can't use. As a person with a conscience, I feel certain cultures are not mine to reap. And yet, as a writer, I want to subvert this. I am a woman, an ex-Jehovah's Witness, a rape survivor, a Mormon, a survivor of poverty, a survivor of spousal abuse. I am the 'Other". I am not privileged, so who amongst you can judge me.

33. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2016.

The sins of the mothers visit themselves upon the children. My daughter is facing a situation that my mother, my grandmother, my Aunty and myself all faced. We all lost. I hope she wins. 

34. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

My ex-husband told me (just before we separated) that I wasn't smart enough for university. So, this year I have constantly had the words "Steal My Sunshine" in my mind.

And you know you can't become
If you only say what you should have done
So I missed a million miles of fun.

-Steal My Sunshine by Len.

See, I didn't just say I wanted to do it, I did it. And it was hard. And fun. And amazing. And I did it with Distinctions and High Distinctions. I had offers of internships (2), I won awards (2), I was offered Honours and Grad Dip Ed.
And my ex-husband was wrong. I'm totes smart.

Monday, December 28, 2015

It's now after Christmas, so let's look at what I've done.

1. What did you do in 2016 that you'd never done before?  Travelled to Bali. My brother and his wife visit a lot and have connections in Bali, so Lee and I packed up the kids and accompanied my brother’s family on a visit. We had a great time that included shopping, eating and drinking, but being us we also visited the museum and drove into the forests and saw waterfalls and climbed hundreds of steps and just had the best time.

2. Did you achieve your goals for the year, and will you make more for next year? Our goal was to move house and get Connor back into the school system. Well, we moved house and we did get Connor back into the system, but the latter was a total failure and he’s back homeschooling with me. I blame the Education Department fully as it is their tolerance of bullying that made it impossible for Connor to receive the education he deserves.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth? Not that I recall.

4. Did anyone close to you die? My cousin Andrew died of DVT days after returning from Nepal. It was a shock that that really shook our entire family. He was only 51 and was the first of the cousins to go.

5. What countries did you visit? Bali.

6. What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015? A degree in English and Creative Writing. 3 units to go and I’m there.

7. What dates from 2015 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? I can’t single out a particular date but 2015 will always be the year that life started to get better for our family.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year? It has been a year of achievements for me. I went overseas, I got through 5 units with High Distinctions in 2 and Distinctions in the rest, I helped Connor finish Year 5, I lost 16 kg and was offered a job with Weight Watchers.

9. What was your biggest failure? Cementing my relationship with my brother. I want to be close to him, but I somehow fail in this year after year.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury? Oh my Lordy, yes. It was bad enough having chest infection after chest infection, but to make it worse, 10 weeks ago I took a fall that completely tore 1, possibly 2, ligaments in my left ankle. I still can’t walk take more than 3000 steps in a day without experiencing pain. I’m waiting for an operation to reconnect the ligaments but we’re looking at 3 to 6 months before that will happen.
However, I would go through it all again if it meant Connor never suffered from Rumination Syndrome ever again.

11. What was the best thing you bought? Weight Watchers membership? Tickets to Bali? My Pandora bracelet that continues to acquire charms as celebrations of my achievements? All of these are because we sold our old house and bought the one we now live in, so I’d say the house.

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration? Everyone around me has been amazing this year. Lee has taken his own weight loss journey seriously and has created an exercise programme for himself that has seen him lose weight and gain strength. Erin has started High School with a brand new group of friends and is now achieving extremely high marks. Connor made the decision to be homeschooled again and has made the most of the situation, Aiden is continuing his university and has created a stable home-life for himself and Rachel, Cassie is doing really well as a single mother and Blake has faced his problems in a positive way. I am proud of my family and all they’re currently achieving.

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed? I received a comment on a post I made about my depression that left me feeling attacked and confused. So, I withdrew my secondary family for a while. I still feel rather wounded by their attitude, but time has a habit of healing wounds, so who knows?

14. Where did most of your money go? The mortgage, which is to be expected. For once, however, we actually seem to be saving money and have managed to save up for two holidays within the past 12 months.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about? Bali. It was a great opportunity that helped Lee and I face a few issues and take action on them. I dealt with my depression, I stopped drinking, I lost weight, I focussed on my changing relationship with my children and I came back to my studies with vigour. I will always be grateful to my brother and his family for giving us the opportunity and the space to reconnect.

16. What song will always remind you of 2015? Maybe Budapest, because it’s my current jam. There’s a line in it there goes “for you, oh for you, I’d leave it all.” No matter what problems I’ve dealt with this year (chest infection, torn ankle, juggling uni with Connor’s schooling) I’d do them all again just to keep Connor safe. It feels like I’m constantly bargaining with God, ie “You look after Connor and I’ll accept whatever life throws at me next.” I know God doesn’t cause our problems (Time and unforeseen circumstances befall us all) but I do believe He helps me bear up under the strain and I will bear them as long as Connor is safe.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you: i. happier or sadder? ii. thinner or fatter? iii. richer or poorer? This has been a wonderful year for me. Yes, I’ve destroyed my ankle and yes, I continue to take medication for my chest and yes, some of my relationships are strained, but I am happier this year than I have ever been. Last year was marked by a deep depression that did not shift until April this year. My trip to Bali and my conversion to being a Mormon helped me confront some of the problems of my past and helped me reassess what I wanted from my present and my future. My depression and the way I dealt with it upset some people, and they’re very scarce in my life right now, but I remain hopeful that a reconnection will occur. I do weight less than I did at the beginning of the year and I feel more in control of my life as a result. Finally, selling our house removed a financial millstone that was slowing drowning us. Moving to this house released us from that burden. No, we’re not rich, but we definitely have enough money to live on plus a little left over for emergencies and savings.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of? Blogging. I really let it go this year and I find I’ve missed recording significant elements of my life. I’ve had a great year, but it’s been recorded in the snippets I place on Facebook which may make it more of a conversation, but also makes it less of a record.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of? I wish I’d stopped seeking approval from my secondary family. Either they love me or they don’t. Nothing I do or say is going to change that. I was significantly hurt by my parents when I was a child, so all my life I’ve sought approval from my siblings, my cousins, my aunties and my uncles, my nieces and my nephews. Now, I realise that I’m okay without it. Yesterday I attended a family event and I didn’t give in to the stress of not fitting in. I just enjoyed the moment as it stood. I do love my secondary family, but for the first time I actually allowed myself to just be in their company without feeling the need to prove that I belonged with them.
Actually, I’ve just reread this paragraph and I’ve come to the realisation that this is the year where I stopped seeking approval.

20. How did you spend Christmas? The good thing about converting from being a Jehovah’s Witness to a Mormon is the reclaiming of Christmas. Plus, I’m so new to the experience, we get to invent our own traditions. Because I’ve never really celebrated before, the kids have always spent Christmas Eve with their grandparents and woken up with them. This year I put my foot down and demanded they spend it with us. Last Tuesday we held a Secret Santa where we all drew out the name of a person. One by one we walked into Elizabeth’s Bookshop (Perth’s biggest second-hand bookshop) and bought for our person. On Christmas morning we put together a cheese platter, and opened our book-gifts. Then we spent the afternoon reading. It was the best day of the year.
On Christmas morning we woke up and opened the rest of our presents. We spent breakfast together, then at 9am the kids went off with their grandparents. At the time of writing they still haven’t returned.

21. Who did you meet for the first time? In March of this year I walked into Baldivis Ward and met a whole church filled with Mormons. They have welcomed me with open arms and I’m grateful for their place in my life.
However, I’m grateful to those people who have remained my friends during this time. Sure, I do things a little differently now, but they still love me no matter how I spend my Sundays and their ongoing friendship means the world to me.

22. Did you fall in love in 2015? Every year I look for a witty way of professing my love for Lee. So, let’s just say Lee, shall we? I love Lee completely and utterly.

23. What was your favourite TV program? Much debate has gone on in the Batthouse this week as we’ve contemplated the length and breadth of this question. Dr Who gave us its best season to date and deserves an acknowledgement. The Flash was an unexpected treasure that brought the family together in discussion as we tried to work out the truth about Dr Wells. There’s a series of documentaries on ESPN called “30 for 30” that introduced me to the complex world of American sports stars and the lives they inhabit, ad which has led me into a love of college football. Lee and I became engrossed with both Blacklist and True Detective, both of which entertained us with their intelligent plots, characters and twists. Any of these could be said to be my favourite, so I find it impossible to pick just one.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year? Not a hater.

25. What was the best book you read? This is so difficult. I read a lot this year, but everything that stands out in my mind is either a play, a poem or a text book.
However, a week ago I sat up until 2am reading a novel called Getting over Mr Right by Chrissie Manby. It wasn’t deep or meaningful. Honestly, in a year filled with Shakespeare and John Donne and Lisa Hopkins, this was escapist chick-lit in its most distilled form. And I loved it.
Let me also add my nominee for ‘worst book’ – Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke. I didn’t not like it, Sam I Am. I did not like it at all.

26. What was your greatest musical discovery? Remember the good old days when a song would come on the radio that somehow managed to capture the feeling of the time/space you were in? I do. I think I was about 18 then. Now I’m 46 and I don’t really set my life against a backdrop of music. I didn’t really discover any new sounds or new acts. Instead, I allowed myself to be pulled along in Lee’s and Erin’s wake and music sort of happened around me.

27. What was your favourite film of this year? Again, the list is long for this. I enjoyed so many movies, including Julius Caesar (with Marlon Brando), Jurassic World, Antman, Terminator Umpty-Billion, Predestination, Gone Girl, John Carter, Big Hero 6, Inside Out, The Force Awakens and Suffragette. However, if I had to choose one favourite it would be What We Do In the Shadows, an insane arthouse vampire movie filmed in New Zealand. And Everest. And Stardust. Yes, those 3 were my favourite movies.

28. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? I was 46 and I was in the middle of a raging chest infection that had me feeling rather weak and sick, so I don’t think we did a lot. I know Lee, the littlies and I went to The Silver Tree for dinner and Lee surprised me with a cake, but I don’t think we stayed very long.

29. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? I am really satisfied with this year. I love my family, I love my life, I love my God and I love the way everything has come together. I have a lot to be grateful for, so I’m not going to ask for more.

30. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2015? Smaller clothes for my smaller frame. I went from a size 14/16 to a size 10 and I was even able to put on some of Erin’s clothes.

31. What kept you sane? My spiritual beliefs brought a peace to my life that had been missing for a number of years. After a dreadful year of depression, the stability of belonging to a religious community helped me find direction.
Bali also helped me regain some sense of forward momentum, if only because it helped me make the decision to quit drinking. According to my family, I really am happier without alcohol.

32. What political issue stirred you the most? The refugee situation. I feel ashamed by our government’s policies towards people in need.

33. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2015. My most valuable life lesson is that I really am awesome. I have achieved so much this year, and often whilst sick or in pain.

34. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year. “I know you can’t become, if you only say what you should have done, so I missed a million miles of fun.” Steal My Sunshine - Len.
The best years of my life are the ones where I have acted on the things I’ve talked about doing. Last year was a talking year, this year was a doing year, and I’m a million times happier.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Start as you mean to go on

Yesterday, Lee and I attended the Perth Writers Festival. Lee went because he wanted to reignite his passion for writing. I went because I wanted to buy books. We both got what we wanted, plus we got what the other wanted. Laden down with new purchases (thank goodness for the credit card!) we both came home with a renewed sense of purpose.

This morning, after a walk and a discussion about the Australian writing-voice, we came home and set up our computers at the dining table. Then we picked an exercise and set about writing some new words. I chose "Last Line" where you pick up a work, write out its last line and then pick up your story from there.

It's best if you haven't actually read the work before, because it means your mind isn't muddied by the author's words. Lee picked the Locus Awards collection off the shelf and I chose story number 4 -"The Persistence of Vision" by John Varley, a story we likely have read, but not in many, many years.

Lee read out the last line: "We sit in the lovely quiet and dark."

And from there we went.

15 mintues and 390 words later, this was the scene I'd written:

We live in the lovely quiet and dark.  This morning when we were five, before Trotter’s ravings turned to screams and we had to turn him outside for the sun to eat, we felt our refuge to be temporary, a short-won thing. Now we had an extra set of rations, an extra set of blankets, an extra few days to make things right.
Four is easier to deal with than five. Three would be easier still. That, however, would mean losing one of my own and I'm not read for that. Not yet.
“I’m cold.” Jay, my youngest son, has broken the silence. The air once thick with tension, eases a little. I put my arms around his shoulders and pull him into my side.
“We’re all cold,” I tell him. “But it could be worse. We could be outside.”
“It’s time,” Argo says. As the oldest child, I have given him the job of counting to 3600. At the end of each count I take a chance and light up the thin console. The main power went shut down days ago, but the back-up generator allows me to shed a little light on the display panel every now and then. The radar flares. I count to ten, sweep my gaze across its dull green surface and yelp. Then I shut it down again.
“They’re coming. Help is coming.” Tyler is standing by my side. He’s seen what I've seen, noted what I’ve noted.
Help is nothing more than a faint blip on the top left corner, but it’s now visible. We can count our rescue in days rather than weeks. We’re saved.
Jay snuggles closer. “Does this mean we can eat now?”
I want to say “yes” and “of course”, but I’ve been in the service too long to take such things for granted. Half of basic training was devoted to holding out a glimmer of hope just to see what the nuggets would do. 75% of them ate their rations, drank their water, jumped up and down to make themselves seen. That 75% went home to their lives as shop-keepers, garbage collectors, milk men.
“No,” I say instead. “Remember your training.”

Outside the searing winds picked up, shaking the ship like a naughty child. My sons settled around me and once more we began to wait. 

Interestingly, we'd both written about a small family group, waiting for something to happen. In my case I wrote from the POV of a protective parent. In Lee's, he wrote of the child waiting for the mother to act. 

As exercises go, it was a good one. It got the creative juices flowing and now I feel ready to continue with my writing day.

Friday, February 06, 2015

An exercise in random thoughts

This week's exercise was rather random in tone. Quite simply, I sat down, rested my fingers on the keys and allowed my fingers ride the subconscious-train to freedom.

"We built the snowman in mid-January."

Okay, it became immediately apparent that my subconscious was not in Australia, or, indeed, in any other part of the southern hemisphere. January, for me, is about drinking beer while testing the strength of the air-con. It's most certainly not about snowmen.

Aware of this, I nonetheless kept my mouth shut and let my fingers get on with it.

"We built the snowman in mid-January, at a point when the very best of our Christmas presents had grown dull and the worst lay broken at the bottom of the wheelie bin." 

Aha, hmm hmm, yep. Do they even have wheelie bins in the US or UK or Canada or wherever the heck the scene was taking place? I mean, I know they have wheelie bins, but is that what they're actually called?

Shut up. You can edit it later, I snapped at my all-too-critical brain. When it comes to writing, you've let me down lately, so how about you let someone else have a go?

My brain, not used to being addressed in such a manner, crossed its arms and pouted, but I noticed it didn't move away either.

And so, slowly at first, but then with some speed, the story came out.  I began to notice little things, such as the US setting and the unusual Point of View (first person, plural). Even as I grew used to thinking as an American 'we', I kept to Australian spelling. This, I told myself, was something that should be addressed in the editing process.

I'm never going to send it out, because it really was an exercise, but, as flawed as it is, "The Snowman" acts as a reminder that when it comes to writing I need to stop editing as I go and just let the story find its own path. This is what I wrote, unedited, unproofed.

The Snowman

We built the snowman in mid-January, at a point when the very best of our Christmas presents had grown dull and the worst lay broken at the bottom of the wheelie bin. The snow came slowly at first, as if deciding whether this was a neighbourhood worth moving into, but eventually it took the plunge and settled all over yards and trees and cars.
It’s still not exactly certain who started the snowman, but it is suspected that the Beaumont children, with their untamed hair and wild eyes, were the first to roll the ball that would become the first layer.  
What is certain is that the Templemans, those three children of grace and charity, were away down south, helping to rebuild after the destruction of Hurricane Lucille. And yet, despite their absence, or maybe because of it, the snowman became known as the Templeman snowman, for it was upon their driveway that the beast saw construction.
Manuel Rodriguez arrived just as the bottom layer was being rolled into place. It was his father that pushed his wheel chair close, his mother who wrapped the blanket firmly around his legs. We welcomed him with a hearty “Manny” and they left us to our build.
“Can I help?” Manny asked and we pushed a mound of snow into his gloved hands. Manny’s gloves, made from a mixture of leather and lamb’s wool, left a texture upon the compacted snow, a texture that made the rising sun dapple and dance around the fractured lanes.
Someone suggested we invite Corey Meyer to play, so construction stopped while he was fetched. He must have been waiting for our invitation, for he appeared only minutes later, decked out in his full winter gear and carrying three large pebbles from his sister’s terrarium. We told him we hadn’t got that far, so he placed it in Manny’s lap for safe keeping.

The Carson twins, aged 8 and a half, were late to the show and, to be honest, we thought it unlikely they’d join us at all. Their parents, an Australian couple who seemed dazed by American attitudes, had spent the past year of residence surveying the street from behind the safety of their net curtains. However, join us they did. Damien Carson arrived with a tie looped loosely around his thin neck, while Sarah Carson displayed rusted tin-and-glass earrings.
They also bought with them the first handfuls of snow that would make up the middle of the snowman. Sarah dropped hers as she walked, but she scooped it back up, bringing a top layer of dark soil with it. Gently, we had to explain that a snowman couldn’t contain sand, that it was bad luck, so she dumped it where she stood (which is just bad form) then fetched another.
Despite this rocky interlude, the snowman’s tummy and chest took shape and the Australians learnt our ways.
The tolling of the church bells reminded us of the O’Reilly family. Sure enough, their car pulled up in the street just as we brought together the first handfuls of head snow. Eight kids rolled out of the mini-van, three of them peeled off and headed towards us. The O’Reillys were an original family and really we should have waited until they were home, but despite the rumours of their New York mafia connections, they didn’t seem too upset about the slight. Instead, Seamus O’Reilly, oldest child of the street, removed his trademark trilby and placed it upon Manny’s head.
Throughout the morning we came and went. Sometimes we were three, at others ten, but always we worked; building, decorating, changing, adapting. Together we built up our snowman, together we created him from snow, sweat and the bits and pieces of our families’ lives.
And then, it was time.
The snowman was complete. We needed to decorate.
Stones in hand, Corey placed one on the lower layer where the belly button would be, and two in the middle layer for buttons.  
Damien unknotted the tie, then wrapped it around the snowman’s neck. Sarah, scratching at the red of her ears, hooked the earrings into a small groove on the sides of the man’s head.
As probable masterminds of the scheme, the Beaumonts grinned as they sculpted a wide smile from roasted coffee beans and stuck a real pipe into its centre. Most people would have brought a carrot for the nose, but not the Beaumonts. They had stolen a red light from their tree and it was this that did the honours in giving form to the face. For a while we debated eyes, but in the end Sarah removed the tin-and-glass earrings from our creation’s head and placed them in the side space above the light.
And then, the crowning glory.
Manny removed the trilby from his own head and handed it to over. We weren’t sure who should do the honours, so we decided to do it together. With forefinger and thumb we reached up and over until, as one, we finished our creature. For a brief, shining moment, the Templeman snowman pulsed with life.
Our parents, keeping one eye on our progress and one on their own, private, lives, stepped out into the weak sunshine and congratulated us on our efforts.
Manny was the first to leave, his Dad grabbing the handles of his chair and pushing him up the drive and into their house.
Following his cue, we peeled off one by one and trudged home.
The sun crested the top of the sky, before heading towards the west. The wind blew and changed direction, the air warmed.

And, out there all alone, our snowman died.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

FightDay, WriteDay Exercise 2

List five things you most dislike touching, then find five adjectives to describe each item (e.g. maggots - slithery, wriggly, writhing). Do the same for your other senses.

Five things I hate touching
1.    Belly buttons
2.    Eyes
3.    Raw pumpkin
4.    Vomit
5.    Flannelette sheets
Belly buttons: It’s not just me touching them. I hate seeing other people touch them, too. This is my biggest phobia and it comes with a name – Omphalophobia. It’s hard to assign adjectives to the feeling, because a) it’s a phobia and therefore an irrational fear and b) because I can’t bring myself to touch my belly button. I will, instead, ascribe words that jump to my mind at the thought of touching my (or anyone else’s) belly button
1.    Creepy
2.    Hide
3.    Blood
4.    Dirty
5.    Deformity
I don’t know why these were the first real words to take up space in my mind (along with ick, yucky, eww etc) but they were. They were the images or the sensation I had when I contemplated touching that area.
1.    Squishy
2.    Squelchy
3.    Delicate
4.    Fragile
5.    Plump
Raw pumpkin (I love pumpkin, but have an allergy to raw pumpkin)
1.    Reactive
2.    Burning
3.    Itchy
4.    Painful
5.    Bleeding
I have spent the past two years dealing with my son’s vomit via his Rumination Syndrome. I had to clean a lot of partially-digested food and bile from walls, floors, beds, blankets, sheets, cars, toilets, sinks and doors and so, quickly, built up a tolerance of the smell. However, one thing I never get used to was the touch of it against my skin as I stepped in it or wiped up the mess. So:
1.    Slippery
2.    Slidy
3.    Lumpy
4.    Scary (you slide across fresh vomit and you fear for safety)
5.    Sticky
Flannelette sheets
1.    Dusty (to me, the texture feels like dust upon my skin)
2.    Hot
3.    Uncomfortable
4.    Dry
5.    Rough

I’m not entirely sure of what use this exercise is, as I personally hate the overuse of adjectives and believe that if you have an adjective then you have the wrong noun. However, as FightDay Write Day is supposed to be an opportunity to put writing first in my day, I’ll have a go at writing a paragraph that uses at least two of the adjectives above.
Despite multiple doses of paracetamol and two cool baths, the child’s temperature remained high. Aided by his mother, I tried to place him in the bed, but he fought against it.
“Too rough,” he cried. “Too dusty.”
“It’s the sheets,” his mother explained as she pulled him back into her arms. “He hates flannelette.”
I understood and nodded. “You rest in the chair,” I said and began stripping the bed. The hospital’s supply cupboard was set for winter, but I knew the dispensary would carry cotton linen.
Rushing from the ward, I found a patch of vomit we’d missed earlier and slid several centimetres, leaving a trail of slimy bile in my wake. I’d deal with that later, but for now, the comfort of my patient came first.

Not my favourite exercise of all time, but I always enjoy the opportunity to pull paragraphs from nothing and see where they lead me. The sheets were the strongest image that I carried into the paragraph and I just allowed the setting to come from that. Once I set upon the sick child and his mother, it seemed obvious to include the vomit. As usual, my mind swung away from the belly buttons, which means I should explore the idea in a story at some point.

However, I did enjoy thinking about my hatred of certain tactile experiences, so I think I’ll continue with the other senses, but without the accompanying adjectives or paragraph.
5 things I hate to smell
1.    Blue cheese. It’s mouldy. End of.
2.    Cigarette smoke. Show me one non-smoker who lay on their death-bed and listed their only regret as never taking up cigarettes. You do that and I’ll allow you to blow smoke in my face.
3.    Other people’s sweat (although Lee’s does not offend me at all. I’m sure George Clooney’s is fine, too.)
4.    Cats. I know people love their cats. I do not. I particularly hate the smell they leave on everything.
5.    Men’s feet (having 2 teenage boys with male teenage friends, this was a hard one to live with at times.)
5 things I hate to see
1.    A child being smacked. I’m not saying I’ve never smacked a child. I have and I hate that I have. There’s always a better way to deal with discipline and violence against another person is never excusable.
2.    A bruise on a woman’s body. It doesn’t matter how she got it, I’m ALWAYS going to assume a man hit her. I’m also aware that I bruise easily and I’d hate to think people assume that about my beloved husband.
3.    Misused apostrophes on commercial signs (people have paid for that sign. The least the sign-writers can do is provide a proof-reading service)
4.    Pay-by-the-hour parking in hospitals. You are really taking advantage of other people’s misfortune when you force them to pay.
5.    Toast crumbs in the margarine container. To me it’s simple. You take a small amount of margarine and that’s it. You don’t take more than you need then put the rest back. I cook a lot. Do you really want toast crumbs in your cheese sauce? Same goes for Vegemite.
Things I hate to hear
1.    Swearing. I hate it in everyone, but I especially hate it when I hear children swearing. I’m told swearers are more honest, but the fact that many writers swear shows this to be a lie. These people are paid to lie.
2.    The beep of a smoke alarm that needs it's battery changed. As a Witness and a Census Taker, I heard a surprising number of these in the door-to-door work. I'd wonder how the occupants handled it.
3.    The rasp of Velcro being pulled apart. Just rip my teeth out while you’re at it.
4.    Furniture being scraped across wood. Pick it up, for crying out loud.
5.    Music from a party after 11pm. Well, unless it’s an 80s retro-party with an emphasis on the years between 1979 and 1983. Then you can be as loud as you like. True story.
5 Things I hate tasting
1.    Off milk. I can’t think of anything as bad as off milk. Not even number 4.
2.    Dates. What I imagine cockroaches taste like, including the crunch and ooze as you bite into them.
3.    Pawpaw. Smell and taste like old socks, which is fine in Parmesan Cheese, but not fruit.
4.    Okay, this is going to be disgusting but it’s one that has stayed with me a long time. Snot. Yes, snot. 20 years ago I dated a man (or late teenager) who cried a lot and then kissed me. All I could taste was the snot at the back of his throat. It was disgusting and my stomach still turns when I think about it.
5.    Sweat. I hate it when my face sweats and the drips into my mouth. Yeah, you know what I mean. It’s salty, but not like Samboy chips are salty.
 So, things I hate on a sensory level. There are many more I could list, but these are the most apparent in terms of writing.