Quiet.

I’ve been quiet on this blog of late. I’ve been quiet on Facebook as well, and in emails to people. It’s been nice, strange at first, but not unpleasant. Best of all it’s helped me evaluate my life on social media, who I’m talking to, and why. What am I saying? Why? Is it important? Are things more important that I’ve been ignoring?

Probably. It tends to be the way of things.

But…

I joined Instagram the other day. I don’t know why. A lot of my friends’ posts on Facebook were from there, and I guess I wanted to see what it was all about. It was fun. Photos. It’s about photos, and millions of them. Within a couple of minutes I’d signed up to follow all my Facebook friends on Instagram, and it was nice to see familar faces, new pictures, new stories. It felt funny though, like I’d walked, while snuggling on my couch, into a mad fray of traffic that I would now need to keep up with, and a new market place where I would need to shout to be heard. In that evening quiet I felt like I was shouting again, felt like I was running again; like the noise of a potential million people was suddenly crowding at my smartphone and demanding to be let in. Follow Me! Look at ME! ME! ME! MEEEEE!!

I nearly unsubscribed again. And no my friends, before you ask, it was not your photo of the cute cat that made me feel like that, or that lovely dinner, or the slightly lopsided tree in the park. They were lovely. Your photos are lovely, as are all of you. It was just the volume, really, interrupting my quiet, and, probably most of all, the feeling that I should be adding to it; that I NEEDED to be adding to it in order to be a social being, a social media entity.

Know what I mean? Have you ever felt that, or is it just me? I post, therefore I am.

I’m not ashamed to admit that thought. I know where it started, where the whole Facebook love thing started for me. Introvert in a noisy world. Taught to wait my turn to speak. Know the value of listening to others. Babies in arms, and in nappies. Little sleep. Social media became, for me, a way to be heard, a way to remember, and to remind others, that I do have a voice, and thoughts, and to not pass me by unacknowledged. I’m so grateful for the opportunities to be heard that social media has afforded me, and the friends I’ve made because of it. I’ve considered deleting my accounts from time to time, but always come back to the thought that the good outweighs the bad.

The plum trees outside my window are losing their leaves, and there’s a chill in the morning air that hasn’t been there for many months. Soon we’ll need to stock up on firewood, and pull the heaters out of the cupboards. Seasons change. Autumn is reminding my garden to hunker down for Winter, and I’m doing it too. I feel like my leaves are falling; like I’m stripping away everything but the essentials for a season, to pull in quietly and focus on building the things that are important to me: my family, my home, rewriting my book. Eating soup, keeping warm. It’s a season.

Shhhh. Can’t you hear that gentle hum? Isn’t it nice when things are quiet?

Some food for thought: a couple of articles on social media trends: http://theundercoverrecruiter.com/social-network-overload-info/  http://finance.yahoo.com/blogs/the-exchange/social-network-overload-may-be-setting-in-sooner-than-expected-162341702.html

Facing Down Your Fears

When I was a little kid, probably less than four years old–definitely before I started school–some things happened, incidents that defined who I was for decades to come.

The first one looked a little like this:

Source: Wikimedia commons

Source: Wikimedia commons

My neighbour’s dog. Big. Bigger than me. Brown and black, like a huntsman spider, with teeth almost longer than my fingers. Rumoured to be hungry. Rumoured, even, to be hungry for little children! I only saw him a few times, but those times…those teeth…were enough.

The second one was more than a rumour. The second one had a name. It’s name was Snuff, and he was black as night, with a nose pushed back into his skull as if he’d spent his life ramming his snout into the doors of terrified children.

Source: Wikimedia commons

Source: Wikimedia commons

He also had teeth. And legs…long legs, that put his funny squished snout and razor teeth right in line with my chest, long legs that could run faster than my little four-year-old ones, legs that carried those razor teeth almost right up to me, and I just managed to make it inside my front door, screaming, before he tore me to shreds.

I am not joking. My mum looked at him, and she said “Garn!”* in that scary Garning Mummy-voice reserved for scary dogs, and he garned back over the road again and back to his house.

By the time I started school I knew one thing: Dogs were scary.

(I should tell you: a dog lived at my house too, but she was basically some kind of small golden doormat, and I paid her about as much attention as I paid my dad’s work bag, or the washing machine. Not a cat, therefore not interesting.)

There was a third incident too, about the time I was six years old. It was night, or at least evening, in the Winter dark. My mum was walking a couple of friends and I home, and all of a sudden I heard my friend scream…a dog had bitten her in the dark. A small one, all pointy ears and yap yapping, and…teeth. Dark was not safe. The streets were not safe. Not even Mothers Who Garn could protect us from Dogs With Teeth. The truth was out there.

See? Teeth. (Source: Wikimedia commons)

See? Teeth. (Source: Wikimedia commons)

One thing about me: I’m good at working through fears…or, at least, around them. i learned where all the dogs in my neighbourhood were, and I conscientiously avoided them. I’d hear a bark behind a fence and I’d cross the road. No big deal. See? I’m not afraid of fences that bark, or gates with snarling snouts beneath them, I’m just choosing to change my view. I got me a good Garn voice, and I practiced it, loudly, on all the dogs that would dare enter my presence.

And then we got Teddy.

Our dog Teddy.

Our dog Teddy. Also known as “Our Other Cat”.

The thing about having a dog, I’ve discovered, is that they need to be walked. I like this. I love walking. But the thing about walking with a dog is this: they attract other dogs.

Seriously! Streets I have walked in peace for years are now teeming with barks and snuffles and snouts pressed under gates, yips and yaps and teeth…oh the teeth! Not only this, there are dog-walking areas close to us, places where you can take your dog’s leash off and let it have a run around and sniff a few other dog’s butts for a while, while taking in a bit of fresh air and some pleasant scenery. Dogs. Run. At. Me. Here. Big dogs. Black and brown huntsman-spider-coloured dogs. Dogs with teeth. Big dogs, with big teeth, dogs so big that even now they almost come up to my chest…or at least my butt…or…

You know what? I don’t even need to use my Garn voice. I’m not afraid any more.

Yesterday this big dog, this big brown dog with teeth, came right up to me on the path and just stood there, waiting for me to pat it. Just like that. It was smooth-haired, and kind of soft, and it looked up at me with these big happy eyes above it’s teeth, tongue lolling out, just kind of happy to be here, and to be walking, and happy to be patted by me.

I know now that some dogs ARE dangerous, and I need to be careful, and dogs that are allowed by their owners to be off-leash in an area like that probably aren’t. I know now that dogs like to play, and that the vicious snarling black monster that chased me to my front door was possibly only running because I was. I know now that just because I’ve been afraid of something all my life doesn’t mean I need to live my life permanently in fear, but I can follow the example of others, maybe take a few risks, step out a little. Maybe there’s a lot of things I’ve been afraid of that I don’t need to be any more.

Excuse me a minute folks, I’m gonna go Garn me a huntsman spider.

*For anyone without an Aussie accent you may want to translate that as “Go on!”, or perhaps as “Out, vicious snarling dog! Rid the street of thy foul canine presence!”. She didn’t say that though, she said “Garn!”

On Storage, Personal History and Life As We Know It

Here’s a true confession for you: I am an organisation junkie. Yes, yes, all you who have been to my house feel free to laugh – especially everyone who’s been to my house but not in the last few months. Laugh away. Laugh at my collection of Ikea catalogues and neatly clipped pictures from Howard’s Storage World. Think of it like the really sad lonely guy with the huge collection of pictures of naked women…sometimes we crave the things we can’t have.

However you like to look at it though, I’m always up for a bit of a storage perve. I drool over Ikea catalogues (maybe it’s a good thing that the catalogue is as close as I can get to the real thing most of the time). I squizz round other people’s houses, pick their brains on where they keep those pesky things like k-mart chocolate fountains, fitted sheets, bills that need paying and stray Lego pieces. I like a new idea. I love a great storage solution as much as the next person.

Unfortunately though, the next person is probably better at implementing storage solutions than I am. Possibly because, unlike us, the “next person” probably has a linen cupboard, or even a whole range of hall cupboards, and a pantry, and maybe a garage with those smart shelving systems lining the sides and a whole load of plastic storage tubs with little white labels on them and…sorry, excuse me while I catch my breath again.

I know, it’s sad, but it’s true. But wait…there’s good news in this story: I’ve done it! Yes! It’s not Ikea. It’s not all gorgeous and coordinated, and, I’m so sorry to say, it doesn’t have ANY floating shelves with those fabulous patterned boxes you buy in OfficeWorks with all the wonderful colours. Nor does it have magazine holder boxes. I ADORE magazine holder boxes! Especially when they come with rectangle boxes in reducing sizes and coordinating clip folders and…oh, oh…matching stationary containers…(sorry, pass me a paper bag to breathe into please).

Where was I? Oh Yes. It’s none of that. But it works, it’s extremely functional (I know, isn’t that the main point?), and, best for me, it contains all the elements of my little journey, my memory-furniture, and that’s priceless.

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Isn’t it great? I can’t take all the credit, the initial stages of this work was done by my sister-in-law, but I’ve made it my own and completed the work. Yeah, so you don’t see it? That’s okay. You don’t need to. Let me walk you through it, left to right.

1. 7 foot shelf full of postcards. Don’t worry about that, it’s for my work. I get paid money for my job, and part of it is I need to store all this stuff in my house. Makes it a little more challenging when I’ve got a 2×3 metre room to achieve everything in, but it looks like it’s happening.

2. Pine cupboard with a little bench top. This was in our kitchen before we had the new one put in. When we first moved into this house there was (and, in the interest of accuracy, still is) an old brick fireplace in the kitchen. Back then it had a stove in it, and a bunch of empty space next to it. My wonderful mother-in-law kindly paid for us to have a small cupboard built to put in the gap, and now it holds all my work paraphernalia.

3. Brown cupboard. We bought this on holiday in St. Helens back when I had just one child and she still wore nappies. We found it in a second-hand shop and brought it back from our holiday in the back of our station wagon. Heck, other people come home with snow globes and cutesy tourist t-shirts. We buy furniture. Check it out, now it holds my printer, and a tray of bills to be paid and things to action, and scrap paper inside, and that box of birthday cards and wrap that never quite had a sensible place before this.

4. Small brown laminated shelf. I love these things. I adore shelves because…because shelves! And I love these because they’re cheap enough ($15 at Kmart) for me to buy a few of them and fulfil my passion for shelving. This was originally in my son’s room, then the kitchen, then…okay, it’s been everywhere because…well, because shelving. Now it’s got this (OMG!!!) 5-drawer LABELLED filing system, with a drawer for each of the kids for all that weird stuff they bring home from school, like pack-lists for camp and information about parent-teacher and Reading Eggs logins and stuff like that. And boxes of writing notes, and boxes…because…because boxes. Boxes on shelves. Because.

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Can you see my fluffy thing there? It’s my Alot.

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Crocheted for me by the amazing Kristi West (if you don’t know what alot is, google it. Many people try to use alot in common English–ie, I like your cup alot–and so the alot was born). And my mug–I used to have a set of co-ordinating ones of these, all of which chipped or lost their handles, so now, here. And my frame, just because. Because it used to hold a photo of Sonya, and even though it doesn’t now, it still reminds me of her.

5. Computer desk. Or second-hand grey laminated table that I bought at the op shop up the road.

6. Pictures. Tons of them. Every one tells a story, and I love those stories.

7. Small brown table. This was my dad’s back in my early childhood when everyone was happy and life was good and I was still scared of the daleks on Dr. Who and had never even heard of Countdown. Good for sorting washing (this is still a multi-purpose room) and building Lego and generally holding things so they don’t have to live on my computer table. One day I’d like to get a bigger table for this space, but I’ll always keep Small Brown.

8. Kitchen Dresser. That’s what you can see just in the corner on the far right.

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Because. Because I bought it for an absolute steal a few years ago, because I’ve always wanted one, because it doesn’t fit in the kitchen any more, or the lounge room. but makes a great bookshelf/craft cupboard/laundry sorting bench (because it’s still a multi-purpose room and we’re working it’s little 2×3 metre butt off). Because.

And that’s it. Because. Because the person who uses this room isn’t someone who’s going to judge me on my lack-of-Pinterest-worthy furniture or failure to coordinate, it’s me. One day I’d like to paint all this beautiful wooden furniture in coordinating distressed country-chic paint and matching blinds on the window, but not for now. For now I love the fact that it tells a story – MY story, every bit of it.

When I sit here in my study and write I don’t see an office space where nothing matches, I see a life, and I become, in this space, a woman who’s proud, finally, of where she’s come from.

Acknowledging the Seasons

One thing I loved about my recent time in the US and Canada was the weather. Yeah I know, any Americans or Canadians reading this right now may well be looking out their windows at piles of snow and snickering to themselves and saying “Ha. She was here in SUMMER!”, and it’s true. But it’s also true that the snow will go, the flowers will grow, and from somewhere in the depths of North American basements swimming costumes and sunscreen will be found, and beach umbrellas and big floppy hats, brightly coloured beach towels and perky looking inflatable polkadot ducks. It happens. Every year.

Let me explain something to you, those who still don’t understand me: we don’t do that here. No, not only do Tasmanians not have basements (OMG I cannot BELIEVE American basements! I mean…all that storage, just there, and a furnace! Some people even have attics as well. Seriously!! It’s just like the TV!) but we don’t put things away for seasons because we won’t be needing them. Well, maybe we put the flannelette sheets away – but only sometimes. Sometimes we need them in spring, when the weather is chilly. Sometimes Autumn has a cold snap. Heck, one memorable year it snowed on the mountains in Summer!

See what I mean? We don’t put our swimming gear away for winter because we’ll probably need it. I took my boys for swimming lessons every Tuesday of last Winter, and I probably swam myself at least three times. We don’t put our parkas away in Summer because we know we’ll probably need them – even if it is wearing them over a tank top at the beach (how to pick a Tasmanian by their clothing: tank top and shorts with a down jacket over the top. Hmmm. And yes, I’m guilty).

We don’t rake leaves, for the most part, because most of our trees are evergreen. We don’t rejoice in Spring flowers as much as we could, because we have gardens that flower at odd times of the year anyway. We swim in Winter, pick flowers in Autumn, wear warm clothes in Summer, and we think that’s pretty normal down here.

Now do you see what I mean?

The other thing I loved about North America (probably the Northern Hemisphere in general, although I’ve only been to one part), is that there are celebrations for the seasons, and acknowledging them for what they are. Christmas cards in the Northern Hemisphere have pictures of snow, and crackling fires. Easter celebrations are all about new life, chicks and bunnies, and pictures of daffodils and spring flowers. Halloween, even is in pumpkin season, when there’s a million of them growing. Thanksgiving is about (traditionally) giving thanks for the Autumn harvest. There are seasons, and there are celebrations of those seasons. I like it.

I’ve been through a seasonal change too, just recently, but in my true Tasmanian fashion I didn’t think to stop and acknowledge it. My youngest child started full-time school in February. I’ve been a (mostly – I have a part-time job) stay-at-home mum for ten years; ten years of playgroup and toy library and trips to the playground, playdough and crafts and jigsaw puzzles and “what will we do today?”. I didn’t cry when he went off, I scurried home to try and achieve everything I’ve been wanting to get done for the last ten years…in six hours. It didn’t happen. And, because there was a lot to do, and because I still work part-time, much of it still hasn’t happened. Catching up on ten years is a slower process than I realised! Still, yesterday I did something very needed: I sorted out everything from this last season (colouring books and playdough cutters) and I put them away. I sorted textas and paper, craft and old boxes, and I put THEM away. I bought paper trays, got out my sewing machine, cleaned up my desk.

Once I would have felt a pang of guilt that I’d not been organised before this, or condemned myself for not having achieved so much more during that spring-time of my children’s lives. Now I know better. Life comes in seasons, whether we take time to acknowledge them or not. The better we can learn to embrace them the more content we will be.

The Dog Blog

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Pretty much the only news worth telling from our weekend is that we got a dog.

His name is Teddy, and he’s a four year old purebred Chinese Crested Powderpuff ( I KNOW!!), given to us because his old family couldn’t have him any more. He’s adorable. We love him.

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The kids started seriously asking for a dog last year. We said yes…soon. One day. After our big trip. Then it was after Christmas, after our Summer holidays when we’d be away so much and couldn’t take a dog. After school starts and life normalises a little again. Soon. When we find the right one for our family. When we figure out whether we have the skills and space to deal with a puppy, or when a rescue dog that suits us comes available. One day.

We visited the dog’s home last weekend. Unlike some places, the dogs here aren’t on any kind of death row – they’re loved and walked and cared for and shuttled around the three dog’s homes in the state until they can find their forever-family, which is nice to know. The lady working there said their numbers were low (a good sign!), and the two dogs we particularly liked had already been chosen by families. We went home.

Tuesday our friend Christie came around again (yes, Christie our super-gardening neighbour is also our super dog-providing neighbour!) saying “I’ve got the perfect dog for you”. She showed us photos. We fell in love. She arranged a meeting. We melted.

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How could we not?

Having not had a dog since I was a teenager I’ve had a lot to learn. Thankfully Teddy is basically a cat that you can walk on a leash, which suits me down to the ground.

The cat doesn’t mind, either.

The best thing about having a dog though is we DO get to take him for walks. We live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, with dog beaches and walking tracks and little areas to be all within a ten minute drive or so from my house. He’s given us something to do as a family, some reason to go out and play and enjoy the outdoors now that my kids have outgrown playgrounds.

Hobart City Council is well set up for dog walkers. The paths along the river and the creek are beautiful, each with a small stand at the beginning with a roll of plastic bags to pick up your dog poo, and a bin to put it in at the other end. Very convenient.

My five year old asked me yesterday “Who made the river and the creek Mummy?” Oh how lovely, I thought. He’s enjoying the beauty of nature too. I told him “God made them”.

“Wow” he said. “God put a post at all the places with bags for dog poo too!”

Ummm…yeah.

So there you have it folks. Not much deep thought going on today, but lots of fun and love and joy and cuddles. Enjoy your day. I’ve got a dog to walk!

When You Quit You Lose

Here’s one thing I’m learning at the moment: if I quit, I lose.

I read this blog this morning, about one writer’s eight year journey to the publication of her book. Ha. Eight years? Ha. I conceived mine eight years ago this year…and am about to start a complete and radical rewrite. It’s not a fun thing to stare down.

Sure, I’ve learned a lot in those eight years. I learned by doing, by failing, by making mistakes and picking myself up again. Sure, I had two babies in that time too (to add to the one I already had), and a few major life events. I can’t say I’ve worked flat out on writing or on research (although I have been pretty consistent). I’ve read a lot of books on the craft, I’ve read a lot of books by people who write similarly to me. I feel like I know more about writing a novel than I’ve ever known, which is a good thing because, well, I’m about to start from the beginning again.

Eight years is getting to the embarrassing stages – the kind of length of time you don’t like to tell to people, because they’ll start to think the project really sucks, or you’re terrible at what you do, or it won’t be worth reading, or you’re one of those people who plods away at a hobby, scared of ever reaching the end. None of those are true (well, so say I about it not sucking etc).

A few months ago I went to a writing workshop by a man called James Scott Bell, who wrote an excellent craft book called “Plot and Structure“. He encouraged us to pull out our pens and paper and write a love letter to our novels, “Dear (insert title here), I love you because…”. After a few minutes of this he then made us switch our brains around, and asked us what our novels would like to say to us. “Dear Megan, I wish you would…”. It was a positive and surprisingly challenging exercise. It’s also become the thing I’m holding onto at the moment in my writing journey. I learned then that I loved the courage and honesty of my characters, that I cared deeply about allowing their voices to be heard, for their stories to be understood. I learned that I’m too far in to quit.

Sometimes there’s no way out but through.

If I quit, I lose, and eight years is wasted.

I have to keep going. I will. I am. I can. It’s going to be worth it.

I’m just taking a deep breath first…

How about you? Have there been projects that you thought you’d never finish, or would never end? Did you finish them, or did you realise, after all, that you no longer cared? If you’ve done it, what does it feel like to finally see the end?

When Dreams Become Reality

I had a piano lesson the other day, the first of (hopefully) many. I did it with my son, a parent-child class. It was basic stuff, nothing more than I already knew, but it helped solidify a passion for music in him, and began the fulfillment of a long-term dream of mine, to play the piano. I wrote about it on Facebook, as one does these days, and a friend pointed out that it takes a lot of courage to step into a dream.

She’s right.

Piano, for me, was easy, maybe because I’m doing it for my boy as much as I am for myself, but it made me think about those other dreams I’ve harboured over the years, especially the wild ones, the big ones, the ones that I would never ever give myself permission to doubt that they’d ever come to pass because that doubt stood waiting at the door like a death shadow, like a smoke-haze, ready to seep in any little crack and snuff that little dream candle like the fragile life it was.

I had to hope.

My dream, my deepest and most heartfelt dream for many years – more years than I care to count (and I kid you not) was to travel overseas. For a long time it looked about as realistic as my (spayed) cat giving birth to puppies, but in 2011, the year of the First Great Miracle, I did it.

Somewhere Over the Pacific Ocean

Somewhere Over the Pacific Ocean

I cried.

The things is though, the thing that struck me most this week, is the memory of walking in to the travel agents on Liverpool Street in the city for the very first time. I’d walked past that office at least twice a week for years, its jaunty red-and-white sign promising me London! $1839! New York! $2103! Fiji! $518! 3-nights return! Jaunty, easy dreams. Still out of my reach. I had no idea that the idea of walking in would fill me with panic, that I’d feel like a fraud, like I didn’t belong there, that I’d need to sit down quietly on a park bench afterwards and let my pounding heart calm down. I had no idea that waiting in line at the post office with my passport application I’d feel the need to justify myself, I can be here, I can, I can, I can…

I had no idea that stepping into the fulfillment of a dream would mean the ripping open of the fragile dream-shell I’d protected and nurtured for so long. Nobody ever said long dreams were easy things to bear though, and anybody who dares say it is probably lying, or their dreams are young and fresh and they haven’t had to withstand the sun-fading and wind-hardening and brittling of them. You know what I mean? It’s not until you hold up a dream against the reality that you understand how one is faded.

Dreams have to die to make way for the reality they represent. The reality will always be fresher, bigger, lighter, brighter, better, but the death of the dream is still a funny little grief to bear.

Or is it just me…?