Author Archives: AJ Collins

Flash Fiction

30 days of flash fiction

April this year, I took part in the Writers Victoria 30 Day Flash Fiction Challenge. 9:00 each morning, I received a one-word prompt, which was a fab way of forcing my brain into the writing zone. Some days, I wished it would arrive much earlier, so I could lie in the luxury of bed dreaming up a new short story before facing the office. Wishes aside, I set about crafting my flash fiction, which had to be whittled down to exactly thirty words – no more, no less. Each entry then had to be tweeted before close of business. Of course, I’m impatient and wanted the job done and dusted ASAP, so I could get on with my day.

A thirty-word story didn’t seem that difficult at the outset, but when those words have to convey meaning, a story arc, character and scene, each freaking letter counted.

My efforts paid off on day thirteen, when my entry was chosen as the winner for the day. I won’t lie. It was a tiny thrill.

Here are my thirty entries tweeted to: #WVFlashFic @Writers_Vic #word

Pearl

It wasn’t real, but she wore it because it made him smile. She liked the fragility of it in her fingers, knowing the power and acidity of a careless heart.

Perfectionism

She lays the t-shirt flat, runs a hand to ease wrinkles, reshape. The iron hisses and she grits, pulling at the corners, the goddamn seams that refuse to line up.

Treasure

Fresh to this foreign world, each furred and clawed bundle blindly bulldozes past siblings – unconscious sacrifice – searching, sensing, padding, prodding, inherent primal instinct a suckling magnet to mother’s milky bounty.

Nacreous

Muculent lumps showcased on luminescence. Beast and beauty. Try one. He stabbed it with a tiny fork, pressed her clamped lips. Enhances sex, he hinted. Neither initiation was happening tonight.

Iridescent

How the fleeting bubbles, glinting rainbows in the sun, made her eyes widen, sparkle beneath those dark lashes, too long, too lush, while dimpled hands reached and crushed worlds within.

Remember

Two hundred and six bones, lost in a field of war and clay. His smile, his touch, his promise, held within a failing heart, far across the sea. Never dulled.

Transform

When she’d started, she could barely touch her toes. She’d focused, sweated, swore, sacrificed, cried even. Now she could touch the sky, only to realise there was nothing to grasp.

Celebrate

It crept up inside her, a hatchling chick pecking at the crust of her scepticism, hope bound tight as he opened the file. ‘Negative.’ Her relief burst in breathless gratitude.

Inventive

Grandmother’s lace tablecloth, antique; her sister’s ribbons, worn on summer days; mother’s precious brooch, fragile, tarnished; wildflowers in her hair. She wore the love of her womenfolk to her marriage.

 Beginning

He shifts, uncomfortable in his body, closes his eyes with fragile determination. Tomorrow will be different. Tomorrow he will take control, be accountable. Midnight, he wakes and opens the fridge.

Lustre

He rubbed at it, the gold patina, faded along with their lives. Neither had ever removed them. Even now, though flowers, tears and soil separated their bodies, they remained undivided.

Despair

She ached for his mouth, pulling at her breast; keened for his tiny fingers, curling with ecstasy; his fragility, warmly bundled against hers, against the endless cold that stole him.

Precious

She stares, imagines its ears twitching, its nose. Last year she didn’t wait, and it was gone in minutes. This year, she would devour the bunny with her eyes first.

Tenacity

On the verge, a last breath. Let go? All that’s led to now, wasted? Push. Push. Nothing gives. Go under, go around, go over. ‘Go through,’ you say. Experience. Surrender.

Blunder

He didn’t know his heart could bleed. Yet, here it was, dripping, exposed, victim of a rampant rage of misunderstanding. How? He’d spoken so carefully, so specifically. Fucking Dragon Dictate.

Tears

I’d long expected it; it was second-hand, probably third even, the weave having grown finer with each wash, though lately I’d handled it as carefully as a prayer, albeit unanswered.

Gloss

Mike wakes. Harsh light, blue curtain, stethoscope. Fogginess for a moment, then clarity. A slip. A thud, crack. Margie has a ‘told-you-so’ look. Should have used matt tiles.

Layers

In her final hours, she reveals her truth: the vulnerable child who became the crone, who never forgave, never accepted, loved. I touch her hand. I am not my mother. 

19. Wild

It had fastened its suckers to the brickwork, like a thousand millipedes clawing upwards. Mary said there was decay. We heaved, tore, leaving nothing but a memory, a ghostly imprint.

Trapped

Bracken scratches as she weaves towards watery murmuring, a jarring slip in steep mud, catches herself. A moment to breathe, leans forward, satisfied. A flash of silver in her net.

Shell

Charlie was the shyest. They would crawl over him, their spidery mechanical legs straddling him, slipping down the dome of his carapace, while he sat retracted, obstinate. A true hermit.

Imitation

Her tiny feet wobble inside giant shoes as she scoots along the carpet, lipstick smeared across her concentration, an earring tangled in her hair. She stops, beams her mother’s grin.

Baroque

Hangdog eyes, tortured posture and ragged clothing, he stung our privileged consciences, eked our last tourist dollars, coins. His gratitude: a gold-laden grin, blingy enough to gild Shakespeare’s painted lily.

Saltwater

She’s been lying so long crystals have formed on her skin. Crinkling in the folds of her elbows, knees, crunchy under her nails. A garment of the ocean’s dried tears.

Freedom

While he was away, she could breathe. Now, driving to the airport still soaked in a last night of freedom’s wine, she tightened her decision like a wall of muscle.

Rare

Her notes are a soft waterfall, each velvet drop easing through my pores, an osmotic symphony, filtering joy to my hollowed senses. Singularly sweet. Can I die from musical diabetes?

Freshwater

He loves to tease the tourists. ‘Prehistoric reptile,’ he says. ‘Lived here all its life. Swim anyone?’ I dive in. Eleven years and yet to witness the shy, harmless freshie.

Diving

The last one jumps in. Just me and the captain now, abandoned to the breaking bubbles. ‘Nothing down there that’ll hurt you,’ he tries again. I smile, yearn, back away.

Irritation

Can’t believe I missed this one. Too busy having a cervical MRI.

Grit

Teensy particles between her fingers, finer than sugar grit, sprinkled, powdery. A careful touch to her tongue. Indiscernible? Perfect! It would be served intimately, generously, with a terminally sweet smile.


Dangling modifiers

Dangling, misplaced and squinting modifiers

Tags :

*Advice given is based on the Australian Style Manual (ASM). Other style manuals, such as CMOS, may differ.

Dangling, misplaced and squinting. These terms might sound odd, but they belong to real grammatical issues, sometimes the result of which can be quite amusing, if not confusing. Let’s look at how to avoid them with a little rearranging of text.

Dangling modifiers

A dangling modifier (or dangling/hanging participle) is a phrase that has been left out in the cold because it has nothing to modify. Most commonly, dangling modifiers appear at the start of a sentence, but wherever they appear, they make readers pause in confusion.

Incorrect:

  • Sitting under a tree, the shade felt cool.

Here, the phrase ‘sitting under a tree’ is modifying ‘the shade’ – the first subject that follows. While there often is shade under a tree, it doesn’t sit there feeling cool. So the real subject is missing.

To fix this issue, you need to include a noun or pronoun for the phrase to modify, else rewrite the phrase as a subordinate clause.

Adding a noun or pronoun:

  • Sitting under a tree, Sarah felt cool in the shade.
  • Sitting under a tree, she felt cool in the shade.

Rewriting the phrase as a subordinate clause:

  • Because Sarah was sitting under a tree, she felt cool in the shade.
  • Because she was sitting in the shade of a tree, Sarah felt cool.
  • Sitting under a shady tree, Sarah felt cool.

Misplaced modifier

A misplaced modifier is a clause, phrase or word that doesn’t sit next to the subject it is meant to be modifying. Here’s where we sometimes see a humorous outcome.

Incorrect:

  • He proposed to her under a chestnut tree with a big smile.

Did the tree have a big smile? Unless the text is a fantasy novel, probably  not.

  • She ordered an orange cake for his birthday yesterday.

Was his birthday yesterday? No, she ordered the cake yesterday.

Correct:

  • With a big smile, he proposed to her under a chestnut tree.
  • Yesterday, she ordered an orange cake for his birthday.

Squinting Modifiers

A squinting modifier ‘looks both ways’. This means it could be read as modifying the words placed before or after it, resulting in ambiguity.

Incorrect:

  • After I stirred my iced coffee with a long spoon I ate the cream off the top.

This could be read as ‘I stirred my iced coffee with a long spoon’ or ‘with a long spoon, I ate the cream off the top’.

Correct:

  • After I stirred my iced coffee with a long spoon, I ate the cream off the top.
  • After I stirred my iced coffee, I ate the cream off the top with a long spoon.

Incorrect:

  • Cats that eat grass often throw up on carpets.

Do the cats eat grass often, or do they often throw up?

Correct:

  • Cats that eat grass, often throw up on their owner’s carpet.
  • Cats that eat grass often, throw up on their owner’s carpet.

How to use a semicolon

How to use a semicolon

Advice given is based on the Australian Style Manual (ASM).

Semicolons are probably the most misused punctuation mark.

If you don’t know how to use a semicolon, you’re not alone. Love them or hate them, some writers regularly confuse semicolons with commas, most likely because they’ve never been taught the correct usage.

While commas can be a bit slippery – editors sometimes disagree over whether one should stay or go, especially in fiction – the wonderful (I love its elegant little tail) semicolon has only three distinct uses. Once you’ve grasped those three concepts, you’ll find them much easier to use correctly.

Three ways to use a semicolon

 


1. Join two closely related independent clauses.

 

Note: An independent clause is a sentence that can stand alone. It’s sometimes called a main clause.

Correct: Kelly loves to eat pickles; she enjoys their salty, tangy taste.

These are two independent clauses with their own subjects and verbs. Each clause could stand alone if you decided to use a full stop instead.

Incorrect: Kelly loves to eat pickles; their salty, tangy taste.

This is an independent clause followed by a phrase. The phrase ‘their salty, tangy taste’ is acting as a noun phrase, so you might ask ‘What are you saying about their salty, tangy taste?’

Correct: For Joe, jogging had long ago lost its appeal; his waistline now paid the price.

Here we have two independent clauses. Each can stand on its own. Perfect!

Incorrect: For Joe, jogging had long ago lost its appeal; his waistline now paying the price.

Here, we have an independent clause followed by a subordinate clause, which has a subject and finite verb phrase (paying the price), but again it doesn’t make any sense without being attached to its independent clause.

A simple fix would be to add a comma and conjunction as follows:

Correct: For Joe, jogging had long ago lost its appeal, so his waistline now paid the price.


2. Join two independent clauses with a conjunctive adverb.

 

  1. I said I wasn’t going to do the test; however, I relented and did it anyway.
  2. Dave was always missing practice; consequently, he was put on notice.
  3. You can usually depend on the timetable; nevertheless, there will be exceptions.

*Note: Conjunctive adverbs are always followed by a comma.


3. Clarify a complex list with internal punctuation.

 

To avoid confusion, a semicolon helps to separate items that carry their own punctuation.

Correct: Mary went shopping and bought a blue tote bag; a bright-orange, square beach towel; a pair of sandals, which gave her a blister; and two pairs of funky sunglasses, each with a different design.

As you can see, some items within the list carry their own punctuation:

  • A bright-orange, square beach towel
  • A pair of sandals, which gave her a blister
  • two pairs of funky sunglasses, each with a different design

Incorrect: Mary went shopping and bought a blue tote bag; a bright-orange bag; a beach towel; a pair of sandals; and two pairs of funky sunglasses.

In this example, commas would be a better choice of punctuation.

Note: when using semicolons to separate complex lists, the last item always has a semicolon and an ‘and’.


15 Reality rolls and donuts

Category : My Brain Tumour

INSTALMENT 15: 12 months on

 

Where is it?  The momentous change in attitude that’s supposed to come when you’ve faced a pivotal moment in life?

Did I miss it? Apparently, because life is still life, is still life. As each day rolls by, it amuses me that I continually think I almost feel like my old self, but I never quite get there. I guess I can’t. I’m not my old self. Just a familiar version, with familiar patterns.

Holy moly!
What’s been happening? My last MRI was clear (whoo!) except for finding Jesus at the base of my skull. What the? Can you see him? On the right? Should I call the pope?

AJC Collins Brain Tumour 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From here, it’s yearly MRIs for a while as these babies are known to grow back. I’m pretty sure I scared the Clusterfluff off for good though.

Coincidence
I still have residual pain, numbness and tingling in my left hand. Turns out it could be a carpal tunnel issue and purely coincidence it’s the same side I was having seizures. Anyhoo, that’s another sideways journey being managed with braces and strapping until I can get properly assessed in February 2019. The main thing is I’m off the seizure medication, and my impacted health (failing kidneys) are on the improve.

What have I done this year?

I expanded my editing business to take on three new editors and around thirty beta readers. I can’t believe how lucky I am to have such a talented, dedicated and reliable team. Blessings. My own calendar is booked solid, and I’m hoping to publish my own novel next year — the one I was about to launch before surgery rudely interrupted the process. I’m trusting this all happened for a reason.

Next challenge
Now I have no more excuses not to return to physical fitness after stacking on weight — a small price to pay.

I tried to go back to step class a while ago. The result was tragic: a distraught drama queen when I couldn’t get halfway through a class I used to whip.  I stood, terrified of breaking my ankle, watching everyone else nailing it while I struggled to breathe. Failure. But seriously, what the hell? I went through the whole, I’m smart, I’m a good person, I’m beautiful on the inside, why do I need faux beauty on the outside? Denial? Yes. I now puff going up one flight of stairs.

But I’m an astrological rabbit
That’s me. A bunny. If I can’t get over it, I’ll go around it. I found a new yoga studio close to home. The teachers are excellent, the classes intensive, which is a beautiful thing: while I’m there, willing my body to do the impossible — in the soft heat of infrared, among floaty curtains, and a palm tree outside the window, reminding me of Port Douglas — I disconnect from life, from the dissonance in my head. There’s something magical about the space, or the people, and when I’m there, it’s all about healthy self-indulgence. It’s just a pity the donut shop on the way back to the car park isn’t just as magical with its calories.

Evie our new kitty

One step at a time.

One breath.

One day.

One donut. (Who said that?)

P.S. Meet Evie. The new darling of our office.


Picture of gold punctuation marks

How to punctuate dialogue

Advice given is based on the Australian Style Manual (ASM).

Dialogue punctuation is an area of fiction writing that often baffles new and experienced authors alike.

Here you will find simple explanations on how to punctuate and lay out your dialogue, plus the difference between direct dialogue, indirect dialogue and internal dialogue.

Single or double ‘quote marks’?

Single and double quote marks (also known as quotation marks) vary from country to country and publishers usually have the final decision to fit their in-house styles. Generally, Australian and UK publishers prefer single quotes, whereas US publishers prefer double, though this can still vary. The main thing is to be consistent in your choice. It’s easy enough to complete a Find/Replace in Word if you eventually decide to switch. I have used single quote marks in these examples, but you can use your own preference.

What goes inside dialogue quote marks?

Only two things should be placed within dialogue quote marks:
A. What a character says out loud (direct speech)

‘Don’t sit there. The paint’s still wet,’ he said.

B. Dialogue punctuation (e.g. comma, full stop, question mark, exclamation mark, ellipses)

  1. ‘I’m not sure if I like this,’ Ruth said. ‘It’s scary.’
  2. ‘Haven’t you done this before?’ John asked, looking amused.
  3. ‘No. Wait!’ Ruth took a step back. ‘It’s … a lot higher than I thought.’

What goes outside dialogue quote marks?

Dialogue tags  (said, asked, called, murmured, yelled etc.)
Dialogue tags are used to flag which character is speaking and often help the reader understand the tone of the character’s dialogue.

  1. ‘Will you be joining us for dinner?’ he asked.
  2. The waiter called out, ‘Sir, you left your jacket.’
  3. She leaned in and whispered, ‘Don’t forget to lock your door.’
  4. ‘Well, if you’d told me,’ David mumbled, ‘we could have worked it out.’
  5. ‘Don’t be so hasty to decide,’ Verity said. ‘You still have plenty of time.’

Notes:

  • Dialogue tags are always punctuated with a comma, unless the speech is interrupted and a new sentence begins with a capital letter (see example 5).
  • Dialogue always starts with a capital letter, unless a sentence is interrupted by a tag or action and the same sentence then continues. In this case, use lower case to continue the dialogue. (See example 4).
  • Dialogue tags are also known as attributions.

Action tags (an action the character does)

Action tags are used to flag which character is speaking, and sometimes to aid characterisation. They can also provide an alternative to repetitive dialogue tags.

She shook her head. ‘It’s not the same.’
‘It’s over here.’ Tom pointed to the shelf.

but when using both an action and a dialogue tag:

She shook her head and said, ‘It’s not the same.’

Notes:

  • Action tags are always punctuated with a full stop.
  •  Action tags are sometimes called action beats.

Dialogue without tags

If it’s clear which character is speaking, it’s not necessary to use a tag at all.

David and his brother stood looking at the broken window while their father glowered. ‘Which one of you kids did this?’

Direct Speech – Indirect Speech – Internal Dialogue

Direct speech is dialogue spoken aloud and is enclosed in quote marks:

‘Good job, David,’ she said.

Indirect speech is reported speech and does not require quote marks.

Jason said he would be there, but Susan had her doubts.

Internal Dialogue is the equivalent of thought and requires no quote marks.

Mark wondered if this was such a good idea. What if it all went wrong?

Interrupted Dialogue

When dialogue is interrupted by either an action or thought, use em dashes to set off the interruption, but do not use commas.

Interruption by action

‘When I applied for this job’—she pursed her lips to calm herself—‘you said you would support me.’

Interruption by indirect thought

‘Take three drops of rose oil’—he wondered if he had the amounts right—‘and blend it with the other ingredients.’

Interruption by  direct thought

I should have eaten when Mum offered—now that my stomach is grumbling—but I hadn’t been hungry then.

Interruption by another character’s dialogue

Gerry grabbed his satchel and turned to Kathy, who was balancing the cash register. ‘So when you’ve finished doing that, you’ll—’
‘Yes, yes. Bank the takings, and lock up the shop,’ she said. ‘Get going or you’ll miss your train.’

Trailing off dialogue

When a character trails off their speech, use an ellipses with one space prior.

Mary’s brow furrowed. ‘I don’t know what I was thinking. Maybe if I …’ She bent to pick up the broken plate, then sat on the kitchen stool weeping.

Coming next:

Quotes within quotes

Image source: Pixabay

Hardcopy-2018-autumn-1

Hardcopy 2018 – autumn in Canberra

I laughed in shock and wobbly excitement when Nigel Featherstone’s email dropped into my inbox, offering me a placement at Hardcopy 2018.

If you haven’t heard of it, Hardcopy is a professional development program for Australian writers, run by the ACT Writers Centre at the National Library of Australia. The program is held yearly (alternating between fiction and non-fiction) and consists of three long weekends in Canberra, stretching from May to November. This year is fiction.

Surviving my usual stress-head apprehension of just getting out of the house and into the airport for a glass of nerve-calming cider, I attended the first session — three days of intensive master classes on the craft of writing, presented by the amazingly knowledgeable Nadine Davidoff.

For someone who suffers from social anxiety (you’d never know because I’m so blabby on-line and have been a professional singer for years), being thrown into a room of thirty-six strangers (including several digital attendees watching from afar — a first for the program this year) was intense, confronting and invigorating. Yet, by lunchtime on the first day, I knew I was breaking literary bread with a group of welcoming, kind and talented writers. Of course I was.

The masterclass itself, as with most programs of this kind, commenced with an open group exchange — who we were, what we were working on — before diving into Nadine’s presentation. The first hour of discussion was filled by those more cleverly articulate and less introverted than the rest of us. I’m sure my eyes weren’t the only ones averted as Nadine asked for input. But as the day progressed, Nadine encouraged each of us to share. (Nadine has an amazing memory for names. I’m so jealous. I’ll remember a face, but name? Forget it. I have trouble remembering my own.)

The room held respect: everybody listened, nobody spoke over another and all mobile devices were out of sight. This class was gold, we didn’t want to miss a second of it.

Prior to the weekend, Nigel Featherstone (a softly spoken, generous individual who administers the program) had divided us into on-line workshop groups of five, with whom we swapped extracts of our manuscripts. This was a clever icebreaker and meant we had four people we could gravitate to on arrival. Although networking is touted as a feature of the program, from the outset I knew I wasn’t going to connect with every writer — that was never my intention; it takes me time to let my guard down, though I could see others had a set agenda of ferocious networking. Kudos to them.

Apart from touching base with my workshop group, I chose to take a step back, yet be open and trusting that I would connect with those I was meant to. My focus was on the work itself. I chose to spend my first lunch break wandering off on my own, taking fresh air, sunshine and snapshots around lake Burley Griffin. However, we were encouraged to socialise, so Saturday night a large group of us went to a local pub. I’m glad we did. Apart from getting to know half a dozen writers a little more intimately, I met a gorgeous unicorn of a writer — someone unique, colourful and sweet.

Is it wrong to say it was a relief to see so many writers, who seemed to have their shit together, still suffering from imposter syndrome?

Sleep was caught between bursts of insight and inspiration. When I woke, I wondered if it was time to get up for the next class. Nope. Still dark. Oh, come on already! One morning, I had a pre-sunrise Netflix binge to coerce my mind into letting my body relax. I’d fallen in love again, with story, words, nuance and not wasting a moment of this opportunity. I found myself missing session breaks to share ideas, insecurities and thoughts with other writers  — thoughts that developed overnight and became obsessive.

Coming from a background of study in professional writing and editing, I found a lot of material we covered was, of course, familiar ground for me. But, as I had anticipated, now that I’ve had a few years’ hands-on experience, become an accredited editor and worked heavily on clients’ manuscripts, as well as my own, the information held more depth of meaning for me — light bulb realisations and confirmations were sweet, like the plates of rainbow mini jellybeans on our tables, which everyone, including myself, stared at longingly but didn’t touch until late afternoon. Sigh.

Some of Nadine’s truths were confidence boosting, settling gut instincts or prior learning into concrete foundations. Others windexed dust-crusted windows I’d been peering through, unable to quite grasp the techniques or philosophies I’d been glimpsing, and perhaps framing misinformed opinions on.

My biggest takeaway? The ‘Question’. We were asked to make a list of questions our stories might be asking. Aha! Easy. I’m already an expert on this. Over the past four and a half years, I’ve worked out a million questions my manuscript is asking. Deciding which mother is ‘the’ question is the hard part. But I found it. I freaking found it! Or maybe it found me — it exploded into my head. Just like that. God. Sweet relief. I’m hanging onto that little cherry until I’m ready to jump on the horrid marketing wagon.

I’m sure, now that the shock of being jerked out of my comfort zone has passed, being marinated in such a rich and rewarding program has seasoned my writing and editing chops. I’ve made a commitment, a promise to myself, to stop neglecting my own writing, to stop de-prioritising myself, to stop letting my cups of tea or coffee go cold, and to make a daily appointment with myself and my manuscript, or at the very least a blog, and to never again lose my love of writing. A big ask. Life is life. I know I’ll not stringently keep the promise; creativity is shitty like that when you have to earn a living, but the intention will hopefully stay fired up until September, when we’ll do it all again with industry workshops.

For now, I’ll not think about November and whether I’ll be amongst those brave enough to submit their manuscripts and souls, only to be culled from thirty-six to ten. Those final ten, like valiant lemmings, will follow each other over the excruciating cliff face of publisher and agent critiques. Fly lemmings, fly.

*Mass suicide of lemmings is an urban myth.

*Thank you to Deb Flemming, Malini Devadas and David Lole for welcoming me to your stunningly fresh, spare city, with car rides, delicious food and company. And to my Chris for never questioning.

Image source: AJ Collins, 2018

14 Hump month moonscape

Category : My Brain Tumour

INSTALMENT 14: POST CLUSTERFLUFF

moonscape_rock

If you were to run your fingers through the steampunk regrowth on my scalp, you’d feel a moonscape – a field of shallow bumps and craters stretching above my right ear,  back to front. It’s fascinating trying to imagine what it looks like, when I can only sense by touch. And I find myself doing that a lot, while I watch telly – like a newlywed unconsciously playing with their wedding ring – though usually I’m rubbing to relieve irritated, taut skin. I’ve been a bit slack on the papaw cream. My bad.

That moonscape is a good reflection of how life has been: up and down, moments of light and being weighed down. I haven’t felt much like blogging (or jogging), but the past week seems to have built up a ‘blurg’, rather than a ‘blog’, possibly because today is the three-month anniversary of my surgery. Hump month. BTW, I don’t recommend googling for ‘hump’ pics to accompany blogs. Trust me on this.

Neurologists are hot
I had a follow up meeting with my neurologist (well, actually there have been three surgeons, and every one of them has been hot hot hot). They all agreed, given my superhero recovery, I could start driving again, only 2.5 months post op (most often it’s 6 – 12 months). Whoo!

flip_flops_sandBut honestly, I really can’t claim any heroic actions for this on my part. It’s either luck, genetics, or a no-sympathy bush upbringing that taught me to just get on with life: “No-one’s going to help a sooky la-la.” I still resent my aunt’s taunting when I showed her my blistered feet from walking through Woomera’s red soil outback, the day my cousins stole my thongs (flip-flops for you non-Aussies) and threw them into a prickle bush. Tough talk aside, I’ve had my share of days where only ice cream on a hot fudge brownie will fix the unfixable.

Daily life
I’m taking part in regular surveys for a neurosurgical recovery study, which is occasionally making me stop and take stock of where I am and how far I’ve come: the monotonous ups and downs, days of lucidity where I maniacally sail through my workload, and others where I’m fatigued, restless, momentarily outrageously angry at nothing, everything – the universe for looking at me the wrong way – oh wait, that last bit is probably menopause.

I’ve clumsily broken or dropped things because my left hand is still a fuzzy work in progress. This has come in handy for getting rid of kitschy kitten figurines that well-meaning people have kindly given me. Ssshhh. And the letter ‘T’ is a problem on my keyboard. I need to consciously stop and make sure I hit it. HiTTTT iT.

But I’ve learned not to do or touch anything super important on days when I need to push through. And voilà, the world still turns without me. Who knew?

Disappointment
Apparently the titanium bits n pieces in my head won’t set off metal detectors in airports (bummer). On balance, the magnets in MRIs won’t blow my scalp up.

Fighting for  balance
If my April MRI shows positive results, I’ll be weaned off my anti-seizure meds by mid-June. This is something I’m sorely looking forward to, because some emotional balance, where I’m not a mess at the thought of attending a social event would be nice.

Also, because this time last year, I worked my butt off at a gym boot camp (even if I was constantly coming away with clumsy injuries, as I didn’t know Clusterfluff was making its presence felt) and now all those hard-earned results have gone to pot. Meds, fatigue, comfort eating and lack of motivation will do that. Blob city.

But I try not to place too much importance on my physical appearance, because … and I’ll likely do an angry blog rant about societal expectations screwing up people’s minds, at some point … being grateful for being alive is my current focus.

Workwise
I’ve managed to catch up with my current client workload, and I’ve gone hell for leather at setting up a couple of extensions for my editing business. The long-term plan is for this to give me more personal writing space. I’m still planning on launching my YA novel early this year.

Well, that’s my blurg done. Thanks for your patience with this patient. I wouldn’t say I’m in a happy place, but I’m digging deep for it. I firmly believe we make our own happiness, even if some days it’s not so close to the surface. But it’s in there somewhere – always.

Love, light and all that fluff … just not the  Cluster.

 

 


13 Walls to climb

Category : My Brain Tumour

INSTALMENT 13: AFTER CLUSTERFLUFF

Annie_Headshot 2018I’m lying on a table, glad there’s a cloth over my eyes so I can hide my tears, although I’m sure my occasional gulping breaths are giving me away. Sarah is hurting me – in a good way – trying to drain my blocked lymphatic system through deep massage. But far out!

She speaks softly, leaves the room. I push myself up, sit on the edge of the table. My face scrunches as more tears come. I let them; I don’t want to walk out to reception in a sobbing mess. I get dressed, grab a handful of tissues and blow my nose, startled by my reflection in the mirror – the blackness under my eyes. Bloody hell, my second week of holidays and I still look like shit.

Blow, blow, blow. Wipe, wipe.

I exit the room, head out to reception. The tears defeat me again as I try to pay my account. I get the pin code wrong, twice. Come on, brain. Cooperate! Thank god we’re alone. Sarah is kind, gently asks if I’m in pain. I shake my head, try to explain I’m okay, between sobs. What comes out among the staccato words about my surgery is: ‘I nearly died.’ I’m shocked. It’s the first time I’ve said these words and it’s to a stranger.

Sarah nods, waits for me to calm. I feel guilty for dumping that on her. It’s too much. Does she look terrified, or am I imagining it? She asks if I’m having any sort of therapy at home, suggests I need regular treatments to release my blockages. ‘You’re very congested, that’s why it’s so painful.’ I think we both know she means physically and emotionally.

I walk back to the apartment, hardly noticing my sprained toe that was throbbing when I first hobbled over to the clinic. I’m still crying but the warm rain is hiding my tears. What a drama queen.

So here I am, writing this, yet wanting to apologise for the downer update after all the upbeat posts I’ve done on Facebook – the train adventure (exhausting  –  2.00am wake up for a bus transfer due to trees down on the line), family catch-ups (which I loved every minute of, but, you know, that whole brave face thing), and the thought of traveling back the same way isn’t enticing (pulls up big girl pants. Whoo, we can do this! It’s fun.).

Train_Shoes1 Train_shoes3

I know, I know, I was warned: ‘Take it easy, look after yourself, slow down, let yourself heal’ – words I’ve said to my own friends going through tough times. But we are who we are, aren’t we? And I need to climb these shameful walls of tears, to push through the thickets of fear, so I know how to heal myself, so I know what I actually need.

It’s the drugs, I tell myself – they make you emotional and clumsy (sprained toe). True, but it’s more than that. I’m still accepting that I’m not feeling as strong as I told myself, and everyone else; that I’m not sleeping; that I need help because my left hand still isn’t cooperating (dropped my phone twice and smashed it); that my body is now bloated after all my efforts at getting fit last year and I’m embarrassed on the beach (love yourself, you’re amazing – that’s a whole other story).

But it’s the doing of stuff, the challenging myself, that breaks my funk. Nike is right.

And while I may have hidden my panic attack before I attempted the Story Bridge climb (afraid it would affect my blood pressure and cause another brain bleed – highly doubtful), then sat and had a good sook before the itty bitty hill climb here in Port Douglas, once I started the activities, I did both with ease – okay maybe the first 10 minutes of both I was puffing and thinking Motherfucker! Whose brilliant idea was this?

Story Bridge climb

Port Douglas Hill climb

 

 

I then felt encouraged to sign up for two weeks of intensive yoga (followed by banana toast and smoothies … mmmm).

Banana toast

I know this is just residual anxiety, which I’ll overcome. I mean, FFS! I’ve jumped out of a plane, bungeed, parasailed, skyjumped off a building, sat on the edge of an active volcano, and now I’ve survived brain surgery – twice. Surely I can do anything?

This feeling, this emotion, this exhaustion, will pass. And I’m so, so lucky. I know. Here I am sitting in my favourite place in FNQ, even if I sometimes want to hide.

 

And now I’m laughing because as I’m writing this and chatting to Chris, I’ve just said I think 2018 is going to be full on. A year of getting on and doing shit I’ve been wanting to for ages. It’s started already with editing queries bombarding my in-box, forcing me to instigate some changes I’ve meaning to act on for the past six months.

‘But my book!’ I moan. ‘When the hell am I going to get a chance to publish it?’
‘Just do it,’ Chris says.
He’s read my mind. Good old Nike.

Evening

We’ve decided to walk up to the shops for an ice cream before dinner. Isn’t being an adult great? As we cross the road, I pause.

‘What’s that stench?’
‘Blood and bone fertiliser.’
‘My sense of smell is coming back!’
‘So, can you smell your own farts now?’ he asks.
‘No.’ I laugh. ‘Maybe they really don’t smell, after all.’
(You had to be there. One for you, Cheryl).

Morning

A swim and rest on the beach has worked wonders.

Drama queen out and over.

PS. Scalp is healing well, some nobbly scars, hair regrowing but … perhaps a bald swish will remain. Wish they made this hat in adult size.

Hair growing back after surgery

Cat hat


12 Strength in healing

Category : My Brain Tumour

INSTALMENT 12 OF MY JOURNEY WITH CLUSTERFLUFF THE BRAIN TUMOUR

My scars are not ugly; they’re testimony to the skill of my surgeons.

Strength
It’s been a week of being surrounded by strong women who have nurtured me, held me up, made me laugh and think outside myself.

A week of family connections. A week of starting to pick up the pieces of my work and trying to find motivation. Of trusting Chris to completely reorganise our pre-booked holiday because the doctors were horrified when I mentioned we were planning on flying to FNQ.

First outings
My slightly less hirsute scalp and I have been out in public a few times this week. The first was to a café with my cousins. It crossed my mind perhaps people might find the sight of what looks akin to a naked mole rat on the side of my head a bit off-putting during dinner, but my attempts at wrapping my noggin in a scarf failed – the wounds were still too fragile and some bits were still squidgy-wobbly. So I thought screw it, this happened to me, I’m not hiding it. Besides, it’s a great conversation piece. I stuck my head at them and said, ‘Go ahead, check it out’.

Brain surgery staples

1. Surgery staples

2. Staples removed

3. Carpet pile

TC the cat

4. TC cat scan

 

 

 

 

 

Treatment has been cat scans (see left) antiseptic solution, rosehip oil, vaseline and fresh pillowcases. A few days on and I’ve now got carpet pile growing. It’s spikey and tufty, as though I could clean my boots on it – maybe once I’ve got a few more yoga sessions under my belt.

 

Yoga mat with sandalsSpeaking of yoga, I did my first return class last Sunday. Nobody stared – which is the point of yoga: concentrate on what’s on your own mat. At first, my body went WTF? This isn’t cheesecake. ‘No, it’s better,’ I promised. And it was. It did, however, highlight a strange development in my recovery – I’m still experiencing constant pins and needles in my left hand, and occasional face tingles and numbness, but now my hand has developed a new trick: it feels things differently to what I’m seeing.

Every time I did a Downward Dog, lefty felt bulges in my mat, as though there were lumps under there. Since then, I’ve found if I close my eyes, the angles and shapes I’m touching bear no resemblance to the real objects in my hand. I got frowns when I relayed this to my doctors, but they all agree the process in an unknown quantity and things should settle down once my brain stops having a hissy fit about being prodded  by uninvited utensils and learns to accept that its roommate is not coming back.

Asides
Coconut water: I’ve become addicted. This may have something to do with my kidneys being a bit unhappy with the scan dyes and meds. We’ll  be keeping an eye on them but no NYE celebrating for me.

Gingerbread

Gingerbread backfire: I tried milking the sympathy card by telling a friend I no longer had any reason to get out of bed in the mornings because I’d run out of her freshly cooked gingerbread. I could now build five gingerbread houses with the supply she delivered (not that I’m complaining). Love you Babe xx

Chocolate brains: Chris and I ordered a bunch of personalised ‘Thank You’ smarties for the neurosurgery and nursing staff at Monash. My girlfriend who owns Designer Chocolates at Chocolate Works also delivered me an extra special gift:  A chocolate brain! LOL. This went straight to Mr Andrew Danks, the head of neuro who did my op. Wish I could have seen his face.

A very cool adventure
Over the next month, Chris and I will be spending 6 days  travelling on trains: first to Sydney to visit family, then to Brisbane for NYE to climb the Story Bridge for the midnight fireworks, on to Cairns to stay with more family, then a couple of weeks in Port Douglas on our own. Bliss.

Philosophy for the future
What ifs may never happen. Now is all we have.

 


11 Home and healing

Category : My Brain Tumour

 

INSTALMENT 11 OF MY JOURNEY WITH CLUSTERFLUFF THE BRAIN TUMOUR

I’m home and patiently healing. It’s bliss. Truly ruly.

I’m planning on returning to work next week (from home). And yes, yes, I will pace myself and take naps whenever I need to. Purrrrr. Endone is still my friend.

I lost my brave

Thursday, I lost my brave after leaving the HDU (neuro ICU ward – where our obs were taken every 15 mins, then every 30 mins, then every hour  and where I learnt to recite the answers to 4 questions – who, what, where, when) I stupidly thought the new ward would be quieter, and I’d get more sleep, only being woken every 2 hours.

But then came the bonging noises, continuously reverberating throughout the night (the endless nurse-call alarms – obviously morphine had been a panacea to them). Seriously, if I had to name a more effective torture, I couldn’t – except maybe Easy Street from The Walking Dead. I cursed myself for not reminding Chris to bring my earplugs.

The new, emotional me, kicked in Friday morning, when Jess, a nurse, woke me around 7 am for obs. ‘Oh geez,’ she said. ‘I just had one of those heart-stopping moments. You were so quiet and still, I thought you’d had another seizure and weren’t breathing.’

I was so glad Jess said that, because it gave me permission to cry, mainly from exhaustion – an older gent opposite, who had a nose-feeding tube fitted, meaning he hawked up phlegm continually, had watched telly late into the night … that and the freakin’ bonging noises had made my nerves raw.

Oh, and people, when I tell you, your parents/grandparents who have just had a stroke DO NOT need a visit from your noisy, unruly, tired little princes and princesses, believe me. NONE of us do. Use your freakin’ brains – because ours are in trouble and we can’t fight for ourselves. You’re in a critical care ward FFS!

Up until that moment, I’d not let go of my brave. God, what a relief and release!

I sooked good and strong.

Jess gave me a kindly lecture about asking for help. I said I was fine – I mean, I’d only been in hospital for 4 days, while another woman, opposite, had been here for 3 weeks. Jess gave me a you’re-doing-that-martyr-thing-again look, so I asked for some tissues – it’s the little things that make a difference.

She went about her rounds and I wrote a blog on my phone then accidentally erased it. Sigh. More tears. I guess I’d said what I needed to say to myself.

I got out of bed. In the fluorescent light of the bathroom, I didn’t recognise the bloated, bruised face in the mirror – temporary, I reminded myself. I had another little sook. Because I was allowed to now.

The emotions are partially the anti-seizure drugs. I’m squidgy and spongy, like the side of my head that’s yet to heal. Want to feel it? You know you do. And there are weird sloshing noises in my brain, when I move – fluid yet to drain. All normal.

Change of holiday plans

Our January holiday is going to need rethinking – I can’t fly for quite a while, due to air pressure issues. We’re tossing up the idea of a long train journey instead.

Now

Chewing hurts. Who knew jaw muscles were so integrated with the scalp?

I can’t drive for the next 3 months.

I’m still finding little bits of sticky tape on my body.

Loss of function

I’m having a bit of trouble typing and gripping – I’ve got constant aching tingles in my left hand, but our brains are amazing things, and in time, the synapses will repair and I will relearn to use my hand effectively – it’s that fine motor skill stuff.

Staples be gone

 Bandages over stapled surgeryThis Friday, I’ll be having the staples removed from my skull. Woot! Hair-wash day. I’m so grunge right now.

Chris will stay home with me most of this week, and my good friend Kathryn will babysit me the other couple of days.

Thank you again to all my friends and family who have been an amazing support. Every little message you sent, checking in on me, meant so much. All the support you gave Chris. Every sugar-fuelled hospital visit meant the world to me – sanity among strangers.

Something beautiful to finish off

Saturday was Chris and my 17th wedding anniversary. We have a tradition of going to our favourite restaurant for the best chocolate soufflé in Melbourne. Instead, he bought me flowers, recorded  a song and cooked me giant, choc-fudge cupcakes, which he was about to bring up to the hospital to share with me, when we got the news I was being released. We devoured them at home, warm with vanilla bean ice cream. (In case you didn’t get the song it’s from The Wizard of Oz – The Scarecrow’s song – we’re a bit twisted like that.

Love you all xxx

PS: I miss champagne

 

 

 


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