My Five Months of Magical Thinking

There are times when the phone rings and you know that your life is about to change. You probably won’t know how as you lift the receiver, wondering whose voice will be on the other end of the line, but when the phone rings in the early hours of the morning, the news is seldom welcome.

It was just before 630am on the 5th July this year when I answered the phone to hear my Mother’s voice. My parents are elderly, in their 80’s, and I assumed she was ringing with news of my father. Apart from the early hour, her questions, her voice, prepared me for the worst of news. Is Andrew with you? Are you at home? I was waiting for the words that my father had died or was seriously ill, what I didn’t anticipate was to be told that my sister, Fiona had suffered a heart attack and died. She was 58.

I heard a primal groan and staggered, did I stagger of did I double over? I’m no longer sure, but I know the force of my mother’s words were as physically powerful as a blow to my stomach and that Andrew had placed his arm around me, breaking my fall. I remember thinking over and over again in the those first few hours, days, maybe even weeks, that I had gone to bed on a Saturday night and slept soundly, totally oblivious to the pain and fear my sister must have felt as she called for her partner to call an ambulance. It was a remembrance coloured by guilt and recrimination. How could I have slept through and not felt some tug, some shift in my universe? How could I have slept through and not been there to support my mother or even say a final farewell to my sister?

Of course, I understand that none of that is rational and that I have no need to feel guilt, but grief is never rational. Grief removes you from the world of the everyday and sets you down on a path that is not only surreal, but also hyper-real. There have been times over the past five months when I’ve walked through life as if dazed. Quite removed from the everyday, uninterested in small talk, socialising or life beyond my immediate family. I’ve sought out the physical beauty of the world, walking the coastal paths of Newcastle, watching the surf, the ever-changing sea, cloudscapes and watching pods of dolphins. But always my sister is with me, more present in her death that ever she was in life. She walks with me, sits over coffee, glasses of wine with me, is there at my yoga class, always there as I try to make sense of the senseless.

As the months have passed, my guilt has taken on new forms. Am I doing enough to support my parents? How much could ever be enough, though? Am I feeling sad enough? Do I miss Fiona enough? Did I let hours slip by without thinking of her? It is the natural process of grief, of moving through grief and allowing myself to experience it, riding the waves. I never know how big each particular wave will be, it is like looking beyond the breakers to the seemingly flat surface of the ocean beyond. Sometimes the waves roll through to the shore quietly, smoothly. Other times, it is a rogue wave that rears up out of nowhere and sweeps you into it’s churning mess. I can feel overcome for an hour, a day or even several. I have been exhausted but unable to sleep, or unable to do anything much else but sleep. I choose to go with it. There is no sense in denying or fighting; grief is inevitable. Inevitable and yet unique for each of us who grieve.

I head into this festive season with a sense of trepidation. All my preparations are a reminder that Fiona will not be with us. I have always loved Christmas and decorate the house with a sense of joy and anticipate the pleasure of Christmas Stockings being opened in a rip and flurry of tissue paper, the yummy foods to cook, the shopping, the carols, the coming together of family. But this Christmas of 2015, will be a family coming together with a mix of emotions.

I don’t believe that ‘everything happens for a reason.’ I don’t believe that some divine deity checked their list and decided that Fiona needed to die for some purpose. On that I have always been clear. She died of undiagnosed, untreated heart disease. Fiona died because she attributed the fatigue, the occasional breathlessness  she suffered, to being stressed, middle-aged and being a busy and involved Mother and Grandmother.

So, although I don’t believe that there was a reason for her death, I do believe that we, her family, can give her death meaning. We can honour her memory by raising awareness about female heart disease, which kills 3 times more women than Breast Cancer. The research is woefully underfunded because it is still targeting male heart disease, despite female heart disease presenting and affecting women very differently.

If you are a post-menopausal woman, will be a post-menopausal woman or know anyone who fits into either category, I urge you to read this excellent article:-

afr.com/…/the-neglected-heart-why-women-fare-so-poorly-with-in-the-cardiac-stakes-20150727-gili63

Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.’ – Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

 

 

I won’t be a Martyr to Menopause

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Overtime, this blog has focussed on writing-related topics, but not today. Today I’m venturing into a quite different area although, I expect normal service to resume shortly. So if for any reason, you’re not interested in reading about  menopause, look away now.

If you’re still with me, make yourself comfortable. But perhaps from a safe distance – I could get loud.

Menopause rarely rates a mention in the media, it’s not a ‘sexy’, topic, unlike say, Miley Cyrus and whether she’s moved on from twerking and entered the sexual terrain of S&M a la Fifty Shades of Grey (yawn). However, link menopause to cancer and that’s different, especially if you can run a headline that screams – ‘ Women on HRT face increased risk of Ovarian Cancer’. Or, as in the case of last Saturday’s SBS evening news, a whole item devoted to the fact that one extra woman in every 1000 has an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer, if you’re over 50 and have been on HRT for more than 5 years. Granted, I don’t want to be the one extra woman, but I’m happy to take my chances in the lottery with the other 999 women.

I am in no way suggesting that this shouldn’t have been made public via the news or that women shouldn’t have such facts available to them when weighing the pros and cons of taking HRT. It’s the method of reporting, particularly the stereotyping of what it is to have menopause. Or not even using the word menopause in the entire report.

Whilst I have to accept I was sucked in by the screaming headline, the words ‘slight risk’ were not added until the actual report was introduced. Let’s open with the learned Professor talking studies, statistics and nodding knowledgeably.  He of course  also repeated the known fact that HRT is also linked to Breast Cancer, but didn’t mention that it’s also been linked to a decrease in heart disease.

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Next cut to Bryher (real name). Bryher is a woman in her 60’s the male voice over tells us and goes on to say in astonished tones, that she has so much energy because of HRT she’s even started her own business. Fancy that, a woman in her 60’s starting her own business. Bryher was a very articulate woman and spoke positively of the relief from night sweats, hot flushes and her renewed energy since taking HRT.

Then cut to a radio studio where a male presenter was reading out a text from a listener who – ‘threw the packet in the bin and toughed it out.’

I don’t happen to be British and don’t share that ‘ we’ll fight them on the beaches’, stiff upper lip stoicism. In fact, when dealing with my own perimenopausal symptoms, my upper lip was quivering, jelly-like, and as for toughing it out – that was not an option.

One of the problems with the SBS report, and so many others, was the use of night sweats and hot flushes as being the only symptoms facing menopausal women, and if this was the case, ‘toughing it out’ may be possible. Nor was there  an explanation that what is usually referred to as ‘menopause’ is actually ‘perimenopause.’

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And here’s where I start getting loud. All women will experience menopause. It is what happens to us and it’s a little more complicated than a batty, middle-aged woman suffering hot flushes and a low (non-existent) libido. How many women are educated about this fundamental transition in their lives, until they find themselves suffering a multiplicity of symptoms that start way before the average age of menopause at 51?

Bugger all, I’m guessing.

So, let’s get some terms defined. Menopause is only confirmed when a woman has naturally stopped menstruating for 12 months. What most women refer to as Menopause is actually the perimenopausal stage which can begin in your late 30’s – early 40’s. It can be as mercifully quick as 1 year or as excruciatingly long as ten years. There is a dazzling array  of up to 34 symptoms.Yes you read that right, 34.

I reckon I’m going to push it out to the full 10 years I’ve been experiencing symptoms for the past 7 years or so and I haven’ even reached the jackpot of night sweats, insomnia and hot flushes.

Given my extensive experience, I’m going to share (overshare, you may think, but it’s that kind of post) some of my symptoms caused by the monthly roller-coaster of oestrogen levels in my system.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but my periods became heavier and more painful. Previously, they’d come and they’d gone, sometimes my best friend (yay! I’m not pregnant) and sometimes the evidence that dashed my greatest hope (I’m not pregnant). But they never affected my daily life.

Unlike Rage. Not the ABC late-night music show, or partying hard. Oh no. This was an irrational rage that took over my psyche every month. It was as if a switch would flick and one morning I would wake up felling like Linda Blair in The Exorcist (without the 360 head spin or projectile vomiting). On these days there was nothing that my family, especially my husband, could do right. Whilst The Exorcist persona lasted, I was a tense ball of angry energy and even a quite innocent remark or the wrong look could cause an explosion. ‘No one knows how much I suffer or how much I’ve been taken for granted. And don’t even think about sex, in fact, don’t touch me at all.’ Fun, right? And then 24 – 48 hours later the switch flicked and I was back to my usual sweet as Heidi demeanour. I was very relieved to discover that The Exorcist persona was known to other women. My Mum described it as ‘walking the razor’s edge.’

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A less common symptom is depression. If you suffer from a history of depression, as I do, to have it exacerbated by perimenopausal oestrogen fluctuations was devastating. Hormonal depression grabs hold of you and slowly squeezes out the joy, motivation, energy and the desire to open your door and leave the house. At its worst, the pain sat so heavily on  my soul that the idea of walking into Sydney Harbour and drifting away seemed like a credible option.

Anti-depressants and counselling only did so much, they helped me to function again. But I wasn’t well. My GP was about to refer me to a psychiatrist for mood stabiliser medication, when an older woman I knew suggested I needed oestrogen. ‘Take the oestrogen,’ she said. ‘You’ll feel better in 2-3 days.’ It sounded like the schtick of a snake-oil charmer, but I was desperate.

The HRT did indeed have a dramatic impact. I was energised and stabilised. I crawled out of the abyss and began to participate in life again. The rage returned to its own black hole and my periods are back to being a monthly, annoying irritant.

My perimenopause was not something to tough out bravely. I’m extremely grateful that a daily tablet has so fundamentally changed my life, like the contraceptive pill. In previous eras there is every chance I would’ve become a Valium-addicted housewife, another institutionalised woman or a suicide statistic. Perhaps I am exposing myself to an increase in the risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer, but against my quality of life right now, it’s a risk I’m prepared to take.

I appreciate that my experience is at the extreme end of the spectrum, but it’s not so uncommon. We need to start sharing our experiences with our friends, taking comfort from the knowledge that you are not going crazy or suffering alone.

More importantly, we need to educate our daughters. Of course I was told about menopause, but my take as an adolescent was probably ‘one day, when you’re really old, your period stops and you can’t have a baby anymore’. But that isn’t enough. Maybe the sexual education of our daughters needs a complete overall. Girls should know that sex is not just a procreational activity, they have a right to enjoy sex on their terms. They should be taught that their fertility will start to decline in their 30’s and sometimes rapidly. They need to know that menopause will be as fundamental to their lives as their periods, and that the perimenopause stage could last for sometime.

All is not doom and gloom, however. Post-menopausal women assure that me they feel truly liberated and enjoy a new-found relish for life.

Bring it on, I say. Meanwhile, pass me the HRT.

A couple of helpful websites are:- The Royal Women’s Hospital and the Australian Menopause Centre

 

Writing and Keeping it Real

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Recently I put aside a book after only 2.5 chapters. When I say ‘aside’ it was actually tossed into a charity box never to be seen on my bookshelves again, I was so annoyed with what I’d read.

It wasn’t a particularly ‘high-brow’ novel, but it was written by an author whose books I have always enjoyed in the past, but now I will approach any other books by this author with a sense of wariness. In fact it may take me a while to even go there again.

So, what was the problem? The main character had supposedly suffered from a history of mental illness. Depression to be precise. It wasn’t something that had occurred once, many years ago and then obliquely referred to, not one part of the back story that maybe highlighted the character’s action/reaction to a particular plot point. Oh no. It was a lengthy description, going into considerable detail about how it had impacted on the character’s life and relationships and how it had manifested. Tears. Lots of tears.

For anyone who has never suffered from a major depressive illness, crying buckets of tears probably would seem pretty depressing. But if you have any experience of depression, you will  know it is not sorrow that you feel nor the absence of happiness. It is the absence of vitality and motivation, it is a lethargy and sense of worthlessness that can confine you to the interior of your home and the darkness of your thoughts. Perhaps a minor bout may be a weepy, tissue-sodden experience, but the depiction in this book did not ring true. It felt completely unreal.

As a writer you form a contract with your reader that you will strive for authenticity, even in  fantasy, sci-fi or magical realism novels where the reader is invited to suspend their disbelief, their sense of the ‘real’, the writer must still deliver authenticity.

Sometimes the credibility comes from ensuring your character’s reactions/actions are true to the personality traits and the story you have created. Other times it may require research to provide the believability of your work. Paying lip service to, or writing what you think is the reality is not a winning move.

This doesn’t mean I needed to read a detailed account of the character’s anti-depressant regime or the counselling or whatever else was undertaken to deal with the depression, but a little more than weeping at a TV ad was needed.

It could just be the author didn’t want to go into the grim detail of mental illness, perhaps it might have been perceived as a bit of downer in a light-hearted, escape novel. Well, don’t go there – at least  not in 2 pages of description.

As a writer, reading is not an optional extra. Reading shows us the good and the bad, it helps hone the craft we’re trying to master. So even though I was annoyed by the writing, it taught me a very valuable lesson – the importance of being able to walk in shoes I’ve never tried on before and have my readers believe the exact opposite.

How Not To Do A TV Interview

Last week I appeared on morning television. It could have been a wonderful experience. A chance to sell my book and build my profile. But it wasn’t so wonderful, not really.

Let me backtrack a little. When my novel was released at the beginning of March, I was due to appear on Weekend Sunrise on Channel 7,  – the same network that screens Home and Away – here in Sydney. It’s one of those newsy, chat shows with desks and couches and very happy, smiling presenters. However, a couple of days before I was to make my TV debut, Schapelle Corby (enter young, attractive, Australian drug smuggler who may or not be mentally ill depending which press you read) was released from prison in Bali. So me and my book were ditched for Schapelle. Then the following week, the tragedy of the Malaysian Aircraft disappearance began to unfold and understandably, I was once again bumped.

For five weeks I was put on standby for the weekend only to be replaced by something or someone else.

So, I took my book to another network, Channel 10 – who screens rival soap opera, Neighbours. It was a risky strategy. I was guaranteed a soft, friendly interview on Channel 7, but probably not so soft or friendly on Channel 10. I should also confess that I happen to know a senior someone at Channel 10 who opened the door for me to step through.

If you are reading my blog for the first time, let me explain that my novel is based on the 5 years I spent working on Home and Away, one of Australia’s most popular TV shows. I always knew this would provide ‘the hook’ for any publicity and also for many readers, so I was prepared to be asked lots of questions about the cast of the show. I wasn’t disappointed. Nearly every interview I’ve given has turned on the ‘behind-the-scenes’ aspect and most have tried to push me to reveal gossip or scandal, which is fine, as long as they accept the fact that I won’t answer those questions!

Unlike press or radio interviews, you do get some warning about the angle of a TV interview when the producer calls and asks lots of questions. And I was left in no doubt with the Channel 10 producer –  ‘we want you to dish the dirt’. Of course you do, but I won’t talk about gossip, scandal or dish any dirt. I was pretty clear, so I thought.

Given my experience with Channel 7, I fully anticipated being dumped before my appearance, particularly when I was moved form the Thursday to the Wednesday. But Wednesday morning came around and there in my Tweeter feed was one from Studio 10 mentioning my name. WooHoo! It’s going to happen.

I was immediately terrified. In fact, I was so nervous part of me hoped I’d get cancelled at the last minute! Of course that wasn’t going to happen.

The lovely Kirsty Noffke, my PR rep at Random House met me at the studio and we were ushered through to the Green Room and before I even sat down, I was taken straight through to make-up. After fifteen soothing minutes in make-up, I was bustled through sound to get ‘miked up’ and then through the studios doors to the chaotic backstage area. A tangle of cables, bodies and staging equipment. After a quick set change during a commercial break, I was plonked on a couch between Ita Buttrose, a legend of Australian media and publishing, and journalist, Jessica Rowe on one side; on the other side sat, journalists Joe Hildebrande and Sarah Harris.

Yes, my first  TV interview was with four seasoned veterans of the profession. What could possibly go wrong?

Sarah Harris introduced me, The Wardrobe Girl, and the theme of the interview -‘dishing the dirt on Home and Away.’ The next four minutes and forty-two seconds consisted of me not answering questions, whilst smiling, laughing and pretending to enjoy myself with four people who, up until that morning, had never heard of me or my book. Excellent.

My mind had decided that it would stop working during these few minutes. All the anecdotes I could have said vanished when I was put under pressure to reveal secrets, dirt, scandals. I didn’t even think to say, ‘Well, you’ll need to read my book to find that out.’ Or, ‘In my book, there’s a scene where ….’

So rehearse, practise answering questions in a way that isn’t rehearsed and sounds spontaneous. Never expect the interviewer/s to respect that there are questions you won’t want to answer, in fact they’re the very ones they’ll want answered!

They say all publicity is good publicity. I’m not so sure about that, but I did learn a lot from my experience and if I’m ever asked to go on TV again, I hope I won’t be such a startled rabbit in the headlights!

Here for your entertainment and education is the link Studio 10 Interview !

When Bridget Jones crash lands on the set of Home and Away…

If you’re reading this, then let me tell you some amazing news. No, no, come closer I want to be sure you hear. Sitting comfortably? Good.

 

My book has been picked up by Beverley Cousins of Random House Australia and is going to published next April!!!

Hitting Your Mark - the first draft

Hitting Your Mark – the first draft

Sorry, I didn’t mean to squeal with delight quite so loudly into your ear. But you did hear, didn’t you?

Unbelievable. It really does happen. All that scratching away in the State Library of NSW, removed from the distractions of Facebook, Twitter,  the internet, the washing, ironing and assorted other household tasks I hate doing but just screamed for attention when I should’ve been writing. The editing, the rewriting, the frustration, the tears, the staring out of windows waiting for the right word, the rewriting, the workshops, writing groups – did I mention the rewriting? And lets not forget the self doubt which was almost paralysing sometimes. It’s all come to fruition.

'Pretty Beach'

‘Pretty Beach’

And unlike you, I wasn’t sitting comfortably, reading my computer screen, oh no. I had spent half a day travelling from Dunedin on the South Island of New Zealand and was waiting at Brisbane Domestic Airport for the flight home to Sydney when my 6 year old announced she was desperate for the toilet. I was on the phone to my 23 year old daughter who was accessing my emails for me as I stood in the cubicle wondering if my gorgeous agent, Sheila Drummond had sent The Message. So, I discovered my dream had become a reality standing in a toilet cubicle, with my young daughter demanding that I pass the toilet paper she couldn’t reach! Oh yes, life’s all glamour for us soon-to-be- published authors.

Details? Yes, okay, I’m getting there – I was just basking in the glow of my dream. My book will be published by Random House Australia, next April – 2014, just in time for Mothers Day. It will be found in the Commercial Women’s Fiction section of your local bookstore. At the moment it’s titled ‘Pretty Beach Rescued‘ but that’s bound to change. The elevator pitch for my novel is just the same as this blog post – when Bridget Jones crash lands on the set of Home and Away.

Palm Beach aka Pretty Beach

Palm Beach aka Pretty Beach

Before I had my youngest daughter (I have 3 altogether 25, 23 and 6), I worked in the film and TV industry, including 5½ years on the long-running Australian soap opera, Home and Away and my inspiration for my novel comes from my time at Home and Away.  And as the opening paragraph of my synopsis explains:-

Pretty Beach Rescued has all the elements that make chick-lit ‘behind-the-scenes’ of the media industry novels, such as Bridget Jones Diary and The Devil Wears Prada resonate with the reader: men, gossip, complications, family drama, embarrassing predicaments and, of course, an inside look into the production of the media piece in question – in this case the TV show Pretty Beach Rescue, which is recognisably modelled on Home and Away. The novel is a fun, easy, sink-you-nails-into read with refreshing wit, vivid and aptly filmic descriptions.

"Pretty Beach Again"

“Pretty Beach Again”

But as they say, stay tuned, I’ll be writing about my experiences in the world of publishing and the process from contract to publication, which is still a bit of mystery to me! And I’ll also give you some inside gossip about my characters, particularly the gorgeous, if somewhat clumsy,  Tess Appleby, my heroine.

A Simple Pleasure

A rain-dampened frangipani

There are some pleasures  so simple, so quiet that it’s easy to ignore them as a moment of beauty in one’s life. But over this very wet summer I have been deprived of one of these pleasures on a very regular basis.

Early in the morning, when the dew still glistens on the grass and the droplets hang on back-lit spider webs like decorations on Miss Haversham’s wedding table, I take my cup of tea into my garden and wander. It’s a small inner city garden so this is not a lengthy exercise, but it is a time of quiet solitude. My gaze wanders across the blush-tinged frangipani, herbs, the potted citrus trees, the blood-red roses,whilst  trying to ignore the hot pink trampoline that has recently taken up residence.

Some mornings, my cat stretches lazily and pads around next to me, as I de-aphid the roses, try to find the caterpillars munching happily and hungrily through my lemon tree’s leaves and pick some frangipani blooms to float in a bowl. But mostly it’s just me, my cup of tea and my roaming thoughts.

But this summer of record rainfalls, I have retreated to my study that overlooks the back garden. The grass is lush and way past its mowing use by date, the herbs  are also enjoying the rain, but the blush-pink frangipani are brown-bruised and the roses covered in black spot. And my roaming thoughts are contained, restrained and more often than not, accompanied by my not very quiet 5 year old.

I’ve tried a change of venue, taking my morning tea to my front balcony and gazing across the harbour, watching the morning rowers, unfazed by the rain, the ferries and the rippling of the water as the rain disturbs its surface. And it’s beautiful, no doubt about it, but it’s not the same as being in my small plot of nature, touching, nurturing and thinking.

The sunset view

I’m not one for bush walking, camping or other more earthy displays of communing with nature. But even my urban soul yearns for the calming influence of nature on balmy Sydney mornings that isn’t met by a morning walk or a harbour view. Nor is it a particularly beautiful or exotic garden, but it is quiet and peaceful in the early morning and allows me to think freely in a way I don’t do elsewhere.

So, I’m longing for La Nina to pass. For the weather to return to the drier and fresher air of a Sydney Autumn so I can resume my  simple morning pleasure.

My Last First Day of School

 

Heading off on Her Own

As Sydney’s gloomy, damp January drew to a close, my youngest daughter’s first day at school approached. Her excitement had been building over the last few months, with endless questions about ‘big school’. But as the day loomed ever closer, her excitement morphed into nervousness.

She had eased in her ‘super fast trainers’ and her black Mary-Janes and proudly worn her uniform at every opportunity, including to my uncle’s 75th Birthday tea. Lunches had been packed into her lunchbox and declared even yummier for being eaten from the hot-pink, insulated lunch pack.

I watched my youngest child excitedly preparing for school with a mixture of pride and sadness. I was proud that she was embracing such a huge change with confidence and eager anticipation, but I couldn’t deny the sadness I felt. This would be my  last first day of school. An end of an era. And more than that, I knew that once she started school I would lose not just the time spent with her, but the innocence of a pre-schooler.

On her first morning she marched confidently through the school gates and rounded the corner into the playground and froze. The playground was buzzing with first day excitement and energy. Friends calling to each other after the long summer break, boys snaking between groups of adults and chattering girls as they chased runaway tennis balls from their handball games. Like a champagne bottle shaken before opening, it was an explosion of noise and energy spraying out in all directions. And dotted amongst this overflowing spray were little bubbles, like my daughter, suspended in overawed stillness.

It wasn’t just the cameras that gave away the kindergarten parents, they also shared the startled looks, the badly disguised anxiousness, the searching for a familiar face of the children. But unlike their children, they hadn’t participated in a school readiness programme at pre-school. On their first day, they haven’t yet realised just how profound the change is, the adjustments that they will have to make and the letting go they will have to do. Most still think they are able to protect their child from the rough and tumble of the outside world and don’t know that very soon they will no longer be the most important, all-knowing figure in their child’s life. That role will be assumed by their teacher and, as the years progress, their peers.

The transition into school life is tricky, rarely smooth and hassle-free.Friendships will form and fracture, schoolwork, homework and the balance of extra-curricular activities all have to be juggled. It is an important preparation for the years to come when as a parent, you will experience and need to negotiate periods of loss, change and the developing independence of your children.

The First Assembly

On my daughter’s first morning, the school bell quickly rang and the morning assembly was held in a playground shaded by gum trees and frangipani. Without any ceremony, our little ones were whisked away by their teacher. Little faces looking back over shoulders for the reassurance of their parents. And I headed home with a sense of emptiness, on my last first day.

Writer’s Back

 

Most people wouldn’t think of writing as a physical activity. It’s a solitary, sedentary activity accompanied by the tapping of keys or the scratch of pen across paper. A strenuous brain activity, a mental exertion. Although, those who don’t write assume that it’s not hard for those of us who do write, a natural talent that comes, well, naturally. If only that were true. And if only my back didn’t tell me that my bouts of writing are also a physical exertion that takes  it toll.

There are periods of time (sometimes as long as a month) when my back doesn’t bother me at all. Usually this is a good indicator of the amount of writing I’m doing – not much. And then there are times when my back and neck ache, tighten, send pins and needles down into my wrists and leave with me headaches which a dose of codeine and a sleeping tablet are the only cure.

I walk, stretch, use heat packs and have a close relationship with my osteopath. I do yoga and ballet all to help my back and neck from totally seizing up, but the best thing I could do to relieve the pressure and strain on my spine is to stop writing. But that just isn’t going to happen.

Last weekend I had a massage, something I’ve looked on as a bit of luxury, time-wise and budget-wise. Before I completely spaced out, as the hot stones were placed along my backbone and the aroma of goanna ointment filled my head, I realised two things. Firstly, the mental space, the dream-like world you enter in such a nurturing environment, frees your creative thoughts and it’s amazing how many tricky problems can be resolved in quite unexpected ways. Secondly, that having the tender, tight muscles along my back, across my shoulders and into my neck so soothed by the massage is so beneficial, it should be deemed an occupational workplace safety feature, like Blundstone boots on a film set.

So, just as I try to regularly nourish my creativity, I am now going to have regular massages for my writer’s back. I’m not going to consider it a luxury, but a necessity for the longevity of my writing career and the communal sanity of those near and dear to me. I have too much writing and rewriting to do to be blocked by my writer’s back.