It’s a Small World

‘It’s a small world!’.

How many times have you said that in your life? I know I have many times. That was until 2020.

The world hasn’t changed in size. Just feels that way. With the global pandemic we are no longer free flying birds, hopping on planes and zipping to the other side of the world in a day. Travel restrictions and limited planes have slowed it all down, in fact almost to a grinding halt. The cold reality of distance has crept into our anxious minds; distance between us and our loved one’s overseas.

It feels like when I first came to Australia many years ago in my early twenties. I left my family behind in Denmark to start a new life down-under with my love and soon to be husband. We were young and money was tight. Trips back to visit my Danish family then were rare. Each time I worried that Australia would not let me in. I loved living in Australia, so different to the cold winters of the north.

I never imagined there would come a day when Australia would not let me out. That the world would not be free to travel. That I could not visit my family in Denmark and my daughter in the US whenever I wanted to. But that is our new normal. For now. For how long? The uncertainty is sometimes worse than the restriction itself.

It makes the tough times we are finding ourselves in tougher by not being with people we love. It’s natural to want to have family close by. To want them safe and to feel safe ourselves. To hold them tight and be with them in person. FaceTime and the internet is a blessing but it can never beat seeing their smiles and hugging them tight. 

I cannot wait to do that. One day. Soon. 

When the world is small again.

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What makes you smile?

When you work for a great boss!

After a long gruelling month (year!) it was a lovely surprise to receive these beautiful flowers this afternoon with a thank you card from my manager. A gorgeous perfume is filling my loungeroom and I’m still smiling

What makes you smile?

Sunday morning breakfast.

Fresh spinach from my patio garden with poached eggs and homemade bread topped with avocado and vegemite.

In spite of all the challenges of 2020 I hope everyone finds their tiny reason to still smile ❤️

LOST

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To an outsider we would have looked like any normal family going on a weekend hike, but each of us, mum, dad, sister Kit and I, knew it was not. We had no choice but to pack up and head west. Away from our once shimmering, pulsating city now gasping for breath with only the stench of fear and rotten garbage its only reminder of modern civilization.

We headed out with a sense of excited relief and quiet despair, dad trying to keep the mood light and mum’s brown eyes smiling behind her mask covered in silent tears. We had all worn masks outside for months. Most had. But still most had died. Or left like us. Disappeared without a trace.

Dad drove our old Toyota Hilux till it ran out of petrol just on the other side of the mountain range. Then we had to walk carrying our gear through the steep descent into the valley of thick bushland. Dad was on a mission to the get there by nightfall to set up camp. ‘Keep walking. We will be safe there’ he kept saying. I limped along; pain shooting from throbbing blisters on my heels. Kit was crying and dad picked her up and carried both her and the heaviest backpack with our water supply. Mum stumbled, and I grabbed her hand. It felt warm and comforting. We continued for what seemed hours, Kit on Dad’s back and mum and I behind.

‘This is it!’ Dad smiled. ‘Let’s set up camp here.’

It was nothing like our home, but the small grassed clearing with the freshwater creek nearby and dense tall gumtrees all around that night was heaven. Mum soon had the fire burning with the smell of garlic and dried vegetables wafting through the place. We feasted and told funny stories, we laughed and we shed a few quiet tears in the dark. Life almost felt good and normal again; as if we were just on another camping trip.

But it wasn’t. We left the city, but the city came with us. It stalked us through the bushes, and safety was only a momentary illusion. We knew as soon as we lost Kit. We knew it was with us. We stopped hugging and sharing utensils. But we stayed together. Like robots without souls, we walked the bush further and further inland. But it stayed with us. One by one, first mum, then dad, then…..for the first time in my 17 years I was all alone. Totally and utterly alone. Not alone in a house, not alone in my room. No, I was totally alone in the outback. God only knows where. I didn’t. I sat for hours in the thick bush surrounded by an abundance of wildlife that had no idea what was happening in the world, in my world.  I yelled into the empty vastness and finally cried myself to sleep.

That was 75 days ago. I have kept tally of the days in my notebook just to keep my mind sane. Somehow knowing what day it is makes me feel normal. I have a routine now. Every day I walk till the sun is highest in the sky, then I find a camp site and spend the rest of the day catching and preparing my dinner. My slingshot it great for getting little birds, a perfect size meal.  Sometimes I go for days with just water and berries. I have gone for 75 days without human contact. Not sure which hunger is the worst. The rumbles of my stomach can be quietened by  a descent feast, but the rumbles of my soul are always there. The longing for human touch, for a connection, the need to ease the anxiety, the fear of being alone, is always there beneath the surface of toughness.

Today my routine changed. It was cold, and I kept walking to stay warm. The breeze cut right through my worn jacket and dirty jeans in spite of the extra layers of shirts underneath. I was still searching for a protected campsite or a small cabin, if lucky, when the sun was starting to set. I felt a sense of panic as I heard my dad’s voice in my head ‘Always set up camp and a fire before dark.’

That’s when I smelt the smoke and saw the glow from a distant fire. Another hiker. Another human being. My heart raced. From fear and from excitement and the thought of maybe a warm meal. Could I risk it? I circled closer. In the dark, I could make out only one person. A slight build. I felt braver. I could win a fight if I had to. I was only metres away from the camp fire, and could feel the inviting glow on my body melting away any last bit of resistance. I stumbled, the person turned and pointed a gun at me.

‘Don’t come closer or I shoot you,’ the voice yelled.

Big blue eyes looked into mine, full of fear. A girl my age, her face dirty and streaked from days in the bush.

‘You look worse than me’ I tried to joke and smiled.

Her look softened and her gun lowered just for a moment.

‘You don’t need that’ I pointed to the gun. ‘Im not going to hurt you.’

‘How do I know you’re not sick like everyone else?’  her voice trembled.

‘Im not. I have been by myself for over 75 days. No contact with anyone else since my whole family passed. Im clean.’

She looked into my eyes, the frown on her forehead disappeared, and in that moment we both felt it. That overwhelming need to hold someone.

“Can I hug you?’ I asked, taking a step towards her.

She put down the gun and slowly moved into my outstretched arms, and for a long time all I heard was the beat of our hearts and the quiet sighs escaping from us both. We instantly knew from that day on we would begin our new normal. Together.

 

BREATHING

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We are now halfway through 2020; a year of turmoil and change, but also a year of hope for a better life. Hope because the events that have unfolded this year has made us all appreciate what matters; love, family, human contact, freedom, time to reflect, our health and waking up every morning still BREATHING.

In fact, BREATHING seems to have been a common thread through the chaos we have experienced in 2020.

First the bushfires that ravaged such a vast part of Australia in our summer season and continued into the start of this year. Smoke filled the air even in places far from the burning bush. It blanketed Sydney for months and many stayed indoors because of the worst air quality experienced in our normally bright and clean city. Our BREATHING was restricted, and we felt it in our lungs when venturing outdoors on bad days.

Then Covid-19 started surfacing in China, a virus affecting the respiratory system and in worst cases requiring ventilators to assist with BREATHING. By March Australia saw a surge in cases and we went into lockdown. We needed to contain the virus as our hospitals and medical supplies were not ready to deal with mass infections. Mass production of both masks and respirators commenced in the anticipation of hospitals potentially filling with people not being able to BREATHE by themselves.

The restrictions has helped Australia manage Covid-19 so far, and we are seeing very few cases emerge now apart from travellers returning or cluster cases. We are in a new phase of easing up on the restrictions, though many businesses continue to work from home. Some are going back to what they used to do, as if everything is back to normal, but we are far from it. Right now we are in ‘holding our BREATH’ mode to see what happens next.

To top it off amidst all the turmoil an American police officer arrested and killed George Floyd. His last words ‘I can’t BREATHE’ was captured on video and plastered on headlines online everywhere. This gross injustice lead to a massive protest movement across not only America but the world. Amidst the dangers of Covid-19 people gathered in peaceful protests wearing masks to voice their opinion about the injustice against people of colour. It escalated and within days America was in chaos.

George Floyd’s last words echoes what has been the issue for many all of 2020. For people of restricted freedom and privileges, it has been an issue for a lot longer.

What are we being told? What is it we need to learn before we can move forward to a new normal?

BREATHING is our life force. Not just for us humans. It’s the basis of all existence. Animals breathe, plants breathe. We all breathe in coexistence and codependence. Our breath brings us back to a balanced life, it grounds us, it sustains us, it nurtures our bodies. We must breathe to exist.

A new normal must make BREATHING a top priority on all levels, from daily interactions to top corporate visions. It’s that simple. And also that complex.

Writing When Not Writing

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Can a writer write when not actually writing?

Of course we can. In fact, ‘non writing’ activities take up a huge chunk of our time. Many of us fill with guilt when not sitting in front of laptop writing, but to be honest so much of our writing ideas and skills come to life when we are not busy writing. These activities may ‘take us away’ from our writing, but I believe they also enrich our writing by providing ideas and additional knowledge and invaluable connections in the writing community.

Here are the top five activities that I have enjoyed ‘taking me away’ from my actual writing time this year.

Writing Groups

I am part of both a writers’ group (FAW) and a writers critique group. We meet 3 Saturday afternoons every month. The writers’ group have some excellent speakers and workshops, and the critique group provides me with valuable feedback on my writing.

Festivals

Attended the Sydney Writers festival and Writers Unleashed in the Shire. Some regional festivals sound awesome and on the radar for next year.

Participated on the committee for our own local Writers Unleashed festival this August. I learnt so much during this on how much is involved in organising an event like this, and connected with a huge number of fantastic writers.

Newsletters & Social Media

Sourcing materials on educational and informative news on all things writing for the monthly newsletter for FAW Sutherland has been fun and increased my own knowledge on what goes on out there in the writers world.

As Social Media officer for the Writers Unleashed I have put together a large number of posts to promote our festival and its many fantastic speakers. This has provided me with new skills and knowledge that I can now use on my own social media updates.

Author Book Launches

Many writers are introverts and public speaking does not always come easy. Attending book launches not only is a way to network and meet likeminded people, but also a way to learn what an audience enjoy and want to hear at book launches. What works and what doesn’t. Small gatherings of close friends and publishing supporters at book stores or libraries seem a winner. Even better with a bit of champagne to relax everyone! I frequently visit our local bookstore Anna’s Shop Around the Corner in Cronulla for some amazing talks. A true gem for writers!

Books & Podcasts

I love Podcasts. They make commuting a breeze! My favourites are @So You Want to be a Writer and Talking Aussie Boooks.

Reading as many books across a varied number of genres is essential. It hones our own craft and supports other writers.

To get as many into my busy days I use different media. My Kindle when travelling light. My audio when driving/exercising or doing housework. And a real book, the best, when I do find time to sit and enjoy the read. Which unfortunately is not always easy working full time as a planner and trying to fit in my writing in my spare time left.

Courses

Any writing course will hone your craft even if not in the genre you’re currently writing in. My MS is a romance suspense novel, but I write short stories across various genres.

My most recent course was on publishing children’s books and was fantastic. Learning expands your mind and never wasted. The AWC have so many great courses both in class and online. Check them out and build up your writer’s tool-kit.

Of course in the end actually sitting down to write is the only thing that will get your MS finished. But all of above still assist when you do sit in front of your laptop.

At least by writing about what gets me away from writing I actually got some writing done!

What do you find gets you away from writing , but also helps you in your writing?