Back in the 80’s I was in the Ash Wednesday bushfires. I didn’t lose my house, but my school got evacuated, we saw the flames in the distance, and my Mum and I had to prepare the house (tennis balls in the gutters then lots of water everywhere) in preparation to flee – my father did not come up and help us because all the roads into the hills were cut off by fire, including the freeway.
That was fear.
This week, for the first time ever recorded in May, a fire raged through the Adelaide hills. It was no Ash Wednesday, but it has burned down buildings and killed countless native animals. The smoke has been so strong at times that smoke detectors are going off in people’s houses around me. This morning ash peppered all the spider-webs around my house. Despite knowing how far away the fire is, it sets off a churn of uncomfortable emotions in my stomach.
What truly amazes me is that while I sit comfortably miles away in my home and get nervous, there are staff and volunteers going out and risking their lives; driving down tracks which may get cut off; going into areas that are as dry as tissue paper with flames and cinders raining around them as the smoke turns the day into an eerie twilight.
The Country Fire Service (CFS), like a million other quiet organisations that rely on volunteers, are what makes living in our community possible, and I don’t know that we really appreciate how lucky we are to have them until we need them. They are such wonderful, courageous, generous people that you can’t help but rediscover your faith in humanity.
Just for the record, as of my writing this on Saturday night, it has just started to rain and the fire is contained, let’s hope it is enough to let the fire fighters get a well-earned rest.
Recently I have been thinking a lot about the universal drive to find happiness. There are happiness tests for kids, happiness scores for whole countries and in any self-help section of the book store you will see a whole shelf of various guides to happiness. We are becoming a little obsessed.
It was only when I read ‘The Antidote – happiness for people who can’t stand positive thinking’ by Oliver Burkeman that I considered that perhaps we should not be looking for happiness, but rather contentment? Happiness, like sadness, is an extreme in the spectrum of emotions. It is something that we pass through, and it can often be triggered by external factors over which we have no control. Is it natural, or even possible to be in a state of happiness all the time?
For the first time in about 15 years I am in a place of contentment with my work. I enjoy what I do, it challenges me each day, and I get to mix with a lot of intelligent and friendly people. I don’t bound out of bed each morning with joy in my heart and a song on my tongue, but I don’t dread the alarm and prey for traffic congestion on my way in either. I am content, and I have to admit, I like it.
So I decided that contentedness is something we could strive for instead of happiness. Having reached this conclusion I thought my pondering could come to an end and I could move onto the next big question in life… Until Monday.
Sunday night for me is usually mellow-out time, but last Sunday I wrote a flash fiction story from start to end. I went straight into editing it, and by bed-time I was pretty pleased with what I had produced.
Then Monday morning came. I was doing the same work, with the same people, but I was restless. Really restless. Achingly restless. Each time I walked between meetings, or as I watched my lunch spinning around the microwave, all I could think of was that I’d rather be writing.
I really like my job, I do, but I think that drive for happiness is what makes me sit down, turn the computer on and write. Writing does make me happy, even if only fleetingly, but it is a wonderful feeling that you can get addicted to.
I know several writers now who have ‘made it’ and were able to give away their day jobs. I’m under no illusions that these writers are happy all the time, or even any happier on average than I am now, but I’m sure they get those moments of happiness when a cool idea hits them, or they write those magical two words ‘The End’ –and I would like to feel that more often.
So really, what’s the harm in chasing happiness as well as contentment? I think I’ll try for both!
Maybe there are some down sides to being a collector of end of the world predictions. Several of them coincided last week and there was just a part of me wondering if I would have to worry about finishing off all my novels after all.
Most of us heard about the near-miss asteroid long before it had its little fly-by with earth, but on the whole the media were pretty quiet about it. Some underground groups were saying the near-miss was going to be an extinction level event, but the world governments were keeping it quiet so our last days would not be spent in chaos.
It was easy to dismiss them as a bunch of crack-pots (while secretly working out the fastest way home should said chaos descend while I was at work). But then the other end of the world prediction clicked into place; the pope resigned.
It wasn’t so much the resigning bit that set up the portent (being the first time in over 600 years it would be hard to argue with that prediction) but in 1139, a man called St. Malachy predicted the list of popes between then and the end of the world. His predictions have been uncannily accurate and the second to last pope named was Benedict.
Fortunately the election of the new pope has been set for a date long after the asteroid near-miss. Had it occurred before I might have started sussing out where my closest crackpot group was hiding out in the hills and petitioned to become a new recruit!
Then the Russian meteorite happened, only when it was first reported, due to the vast numbers of videos, it was said to be a ‘meteorite shower’. That’s the beginning of the Mayan end of times, and let’s face it, that date wasn’t so long ago and our calendars are known to be inaccurate…
But it wasn’t a meteorite shower, the pope hasn’t left the Vatican yet and the asteroid has sailed pass without so much as a puff of smoke, but it has led me to think quite seriously about something; I need to turn my interests toward fluffy bunnies, doily making, or cup cakes, because last week was just a little too freaky for my liking!
I didn’t like the theme month. While I did like talking about flash fiction, I didn’t like being obliged to do so. I read a great book in January that I wanted to tell you about, but I couldn’t because it wasn’t flash fiction. I had a really interesting conversation with a friend about sequels, which I wanted to share with you, but I couldn’t because it wasn’t flash fiction.
I know, I could have written the posts and then used them some time in the future when (if) they did fit into my theme, but what would happen if I had some amazing insight or piece of inside information about flash fiction given to me THIS month? I wouldn’t be able to share it with you because the flash fiction theme was done in January.
Besides, some ‘themes’ just didn’t warrant four blogs, a single post would be enough. So I won’t be going on with the theme months any more, it was an experiment, I’m glad I tried it, but let’s just put it behind us now and pretend it never happened.
In an effort to do something non-flash fiction related, I added a new page to my site to track the books I’m reading. I have always believed that a writer must always read and read widely. So now you can follow what I deem as reading widely, and please feel free to suggest books. I’m also going to add the books as soon as I pick them up, so you will also get to see what I don’t finish, when that happens I’ll try to explain why.
I hope you had a great first month of the year, and that you managed to stick to your resolutions if you made them.
I promised myself that I would get a bookcase before the end of the year. I might have been cutting it a bit fine on the timing, but I have finally got one. After nearly a year of living with books piled in my wardrobe, on my study floor and under my desk, I (at last) have somewhere to put them where I am not at risk of falling over them.
The funny thing is that even though I’ve been thinking about it for nearly a year, it took me over two hours to put my books into the shelves –and I’m still not happy with the result. I just didn’t know how to group them.
There are the obvious groupings; horror, sci fi, fantasy, but even those categories left me scratching my head about where a particular book actually fit. When I added literary fiction, popular fiction and non-fiction (travel, biography, biology, finance, computing, writing, weird UFO and crop-circle stuff) I found too many books could fit into nearly ALL the categories.
And don’t even get me started on trying to keep the books of one author together, have you seen how many genres Stephen King has dabbled in?!?
Maybe I should have done what a friend of mine did when she put her books in the shelf… she put them in colour and size order. There is no denying it looked great, but if you wanted to find a book you would be in trouble if you couldn’t remember what colour the cover was.
- The final stack – for now
I hope you finished all the tasks you set for your 2012, if not there’s no better time than now for writing your 2013 task list. Have a safe and happy New Year!
Yes, we survived. Who would have thought? Now I’ll be eating canned tuna and rice for the next six weeks, but it is a small price to pay for the world not ending.
So I’ve decided to celebrate the new b’ak’tun (that’s what it’s called when it rolls around from 22.214.171.124.19. to 126.96.36.199.0. in the Mayan Long Count calendar) by starting all my New Year’s resolutions early. A new b’ak’tun seems so much more significant than just another new year.
Thus far I have been pretty good, but the first few days are often like that. Some of my resolutions are going to be a bit tricky to stick with through Christmas, but if I can stay with them over the next week then they might stay with me well into 2013.
One of my resolutions is to start putting some structure around this blog, so January is going to be dedicated to Flash Fiction – writing it, reading it, and appreciating it. I’m a big fan of flash fiction, and probably 70% of my publications are flash, so I’ll share with you what I can.
As for the rest of the year, well I’ll think about that… Structure doesn’t mean having to be anal about my planning, it probably just means less koala photos, unless I do a koala theme month.
So have a Merry Christmas, and be sure to stop and think about how lucky we are. It is very easy to lose sight of how blessed we really are in comparison to so many on this planet.
And finally; congratulations on surviving the nopocalypse!
This Friday will be the 21st of December 2012, or as the Mayans knew it; 188.8.131.52.0. In the Mayan calendar there are no dates past this auspicious or apocalyptic date, which has led many to believe that the world will end (which was as good an excuse as any to take the day off work as far as I was concerned). Others believe it will be a new awakening of the human spirit.
This potential end of life as we know it gives us a great excuse to reflect on what is important to us; of what are we most proud? Most ashamed? If we could set something right, what would it be? What do we wish we had completed, or spent more time on, or with? What do we wish we had said?
If the moon does not turn blood red on Friday night (that’s the first sign) and the earth does not shake from its core, then what will you do to celebrate the continuity of life?
Perhaps this potential end is a good trigger to get us thinking of new beginnings? Armed with our regrets and achievements from the past we can begin to plan for a better future.
It may be that Friday is our Last Day living life as we currently know it, but maybe that doesn’t have to be a bad thing? Maybe on Saturday, if we awaken to a sunny new day instead of a cataclysmic world of cinders, then maybe we will put that second chance to good use and focus on creating more of those proud moments for when our end of days really does come.
So I wish you all luck, stack your tins in the pantry, get plenty of bottled water and don’t forget the headache pills and candles. Whether it is Christmas or Armageddon it will all come in handy, and there is nothing wrong with hedging your bets.
With Christmas just around the corner I find more and more of my lunch breaks are being squandered with the task of shopping. Apparently I’m not alone in this, though it seems that while the great throngs of Christmas shoppers are just as eager, they, frustratingly, are in nowhere near as much of a hurry as I am.
As I consider item A for person X, picking it up and turning it over in my hands, I feel this twinge of guilt in my gut. I know it is one of the great unspoken truths, but I can’t help but think of all the people in the world who won’t be getting useless pieces of plastic made in China (in workshops of dubious safety). I think of all the poisons that were released into the world in the manufacture of the item I am considering purchasing, and then I think of the landfill it will become three weeks after person X has used it/got sick of it/ been unable to re-gift it.
Surely we can still spend money to keep the economy turning, share gifts with each other and not create a mass of waste? No, I’m not just talking about using tea-towels instead of wrapping paper, I think we need to totally re-think the gift side of Christmas. I know this may be controversial, and on the surface of things a very un-Christmassy idea, but wouldn’t the gift giving side of Christmas be so much kinder to the earth if we were to buy our own gifts?
Others could still give us gifts, but only after we have handed them over to them to give back to us. We could exchange our gifts before we exchange gifts. Think about it, no longer will we need to feign delight; our exclamations of excitement for that special widget will be genuine. It would even be fun for the other person, gaining a bit more of an insight into us by what we gave ourselves. They too would love what we gave them, having got it for themselves.
Oh well, maybe I will suggest it to the family next year? At the rate I’m going, between ensuring the gift will be wanted as well as being kind to the earth, everyone is going to end up getting groceries!
I don’t know if it is because I am a writer, but whenever I mention to my work colleagues that I have a cat, they accuse me of being a ‘cat lady’. I don’t think of myself as a cat lady, nor a lady for that matter, so I guess that begs the question of what does define a cat lady?
For starters I think they usually have multiple cats. I only have one. They will often refer to their cats as their babies, or themselves as their cat’s mummy. I have no illusions about my cat’s pedigree, I am the one chosen to look after her at the moment. I am not her parent.
Where it gets hazy is when it comes to talking to your cat, which I do frequently. I guess the big deciding factor on your cat lady-ness is if a) you think the cat understands you (she doesn’t), or b) if there is some part of you waiting for a response (while I would love that to happen, I know it won’t).
I guess the final thing, having known a few real cat ladies in my time, is that generally cat ladies revel in the title, because the fact is, there is nothing wrong with being a cat lady. It is a wonderful thing to love another animal and expect nothing back in return. I always find true cat ladies to be kind people and good friends.
So part of me kind of wishes I was cat lady. Maybe I should get another cat?
You know, this better me thing seems to work. It started out as a conscious effort to have better me-hours after dinner to make sure I would turn on the computer and write instead of turning on the TV and vegging.
It worked! I watched a lot less TV this week and got a lot more words written. But that wasn’t all. Suddenly I found myself picking better me food choices for dinner (no frozen chicken Kiev and chips this week), going for a walk in the evening or spontaneously bursting into sit-ups.
Then the tendrils of better me-ness reached even further. When I walked past meeting rooms where the projector and lights had been left on I actually stopped when my brain screamed out ‘what would better me do?’ so I could go in and turn them all off. I picked up bits of rubbish. I put other people’s dishes in the dishwasher.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve not yet become the better me, I have a long way to go before I can make that claim, but better me turns up a lot more than she did before I invited her in. I like better me. She and I might just get another novel finished.
« Previous entries Next Page » Next Page »