Alchemy in 2018

I feel like in some ways this post has taken forever to come together. And it’s one of those years where finding my theme took longer and while the concepts were clear to me, the overarching word to tie them together was elusive. But I made it, with some wiggling and as always with abiding love and thanks to @dilettantiquity and @ravenari for talking things through for me in useful ways to get to this point.

So for the entirety of 2017, I swear I could almost feel the precipice beneath my feet, the open space ahead of me and I was poised on that edge the entire time. I thought when I got to 2018 I’d have some kind of word like ‘flight’ or ‘leap’ or something but it’s not that simple. And I’ve found that when I realise that what I thought isn’t going to work, I just have to sit with it and let that go, and then be open to what this year is actually going to be about. And what I came to understand is that 2018 is about Alchemy.

A space scape of the heart nebula, coloured in gorgeous red hues with bright stars. The image is by Robert Franke.

Having an image that represents the theme is a new part of my process and just because none of the images I found of alchemy in the proto-science historical sence fit or worked for what it means for me, doesn’t mean I wanted to forgo a focus image. So what this heart nebula image tells me is that my capacity to love is like the universe – infinite. Also about transformation and potential. Only parts of the universe are ever visible at any one time to me. I can’t take in or do everything all at once and so this is both the potential and possibility and reality of how powerful love is as a force for me, but also to remind myself of my realities and constraints. I am not the universe, just a human being, a speck of dust in the universe really. But even a speck of dust can aspire to make themselves a work of art.

This year, I don’t think I want to talk about discrete areas of intention or goals so much. I’ve already talked about reading goals elsewhere in any case. My plan is to talk about the two main focuses that are intertwined and let this enquiry be more abstract and less specific about things I want to do or achieve. I’ve talked about before how some themes are more internal than external and I think this is one of them. The process is within me and I have to work with myself and sit with the emotions and the growth in order to get the best of it.

Alchemy is about transmutation, refinement of one thing into another purer thing. Which in this sense for me is transition from student midwife to professional in my own right, capable and confident in my basic practice. It’s about the repetition and revision and intention towards myself and being  my best midwife self. Alchemy also seems to be about dedication of self to a great work… and the idea of myself as the great work is not new to me and in some ways feels like a returning to some of my core self values.

I want to build on the momentum I’ve created as a student going into practice, take advantage of all I can, learn as much as possible, listen and grow and put myself out there. But. And it’s a big one. I’m not doing this from a perfect clean slate. I’m doing this off the back of constantly fighting off burnout for the past three-four years while I was studying and there were additional pressures and stressors. So, I can’t just fling myself off the precipice and trust myself to fly, to catch myself without pause. There’s a lot of pause. The potential for burnout as a new healthcare professional is massive, particularly coming to this space with that already having been a threat that I was managing. So I must take care that things don’t blow up in my face. I must not be my own worst enemy and slave driver. I must not seek to achieve and experience at the cost of myself and wellbeing. Self care as an active and mindful process must remain central to how I engage with the year ahead and the alchemy I seek to immerse myself into as a new midwife.

For me self care continues to look like reading for pleasure, surrounding myself with amazing people and enjoying their company, conversation and connection. With improved finances I hope that I’ll be able to do more getaway type things that take me out of my routine and allow me to prioritise stopping, not doing, and letting go. Hopefully they’ll assist me with actively being able to relax and not have it be such a conscious skill I’m building basic muscle memory for (it’s a work in progress, and the fact that it requires so much determination from me is pretty telling).

So Alchemy, intention and refinement of purpose that is passionate and enduring – midwifery. But care and mindfulness, taking the precautions and seeking not to blow up my lab (read: myself) in the process. Transformation in a really deliberate way, less like waving a magic wand and  more like turning over puzzle pieces to find how they fit – how I want them to fit.

This is the beginning, and finally I think I’m ready for it.

 

Review: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

A pale skinned hand is shown palm forward, fingers slightly curled with a background of deep dark blue. The title 'The Coldest Girl in Coldtown' is shown on the wrist like a cursive tattoo.Review

Title: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

Authors: Holly Black

Publisher and Year: Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2013

Genre: urban fantasy, young adult, vampire fiction, horror

Blurb from Goodreads

Tana lives in a world where walled cities called Coldtowns exist. In them, quarantined monsters and humans mingle in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey. The only problem is, once you pass through Coldtown’s gates, you can never leave.

One morning, after a perfectly ordinary party, Tana wakes up surrounded by corpses. The only other survivors of this massacre are her exasperatingly endearing ex-boyfriend, infected and on the edge, and a mysterious boy burdened with a terrible secret. Shaken and determined, Tana enters a race against the clock to save the three of them the only way she knows how: by going straight to the wicked, opulent heart of Coldtown itself.

‘The Coldest Girl in Coldtown’ is a wholly original story of rage and revenge, of guilt and horror, and of love and loathing from bestselling and acclaimed author Holly Black.

My Review

What I love about Holly Black’s fantasy is that she blends in the creepiest and horror drenched things into this deep and dark fantastical setting, that just shies away from the effect of the uncanny valley – except it’s poor comfort because in lots of ways this story seems almost plausible, almost possible. Holly Black gets me to read creepy more consistently than any other author because she goes for the thrill so to speak, rather than having me up all night afraid under my covers. Everything she writes is a little bit moreish and this book is no different.

I found Tana interesting, self deprecating but not obnoxiously so, she’s ordinary and recognises that there’s little reason she should be alive at all except… dumb luck and being opportunistic and improvising as she goes. It mostly works, except it doesn’t. She has a plan and she mostly sticks to it – even when it’s ill advised. When things go wrong, she makes a new plan and so on – I like that she’s rattled but moves forward anyway. She’s likeable and mostly tries to do the right thing – whatever that seems in the moment. Her moral compass isn’t skewed as such, but this story definitely shows that there are grey areas.

I also loved Gavriel – a knife edge character if ever there was one. Mysterious, deadly, adventurous and dangerously susceptible to the most basic of gestures – someone trying to help him out. I loved getting a sense of his history without being drowned too much in it, enough to understand, to get him to appreciate him in the modern world. I also loved his regard for Tana – it was never creepy, or inappropriate, he allowed the romance to develop but didn’t really start or encourage it, not until it was well and truly present for them. And it wasn’t like Tana was a silly teen falling for the sexy vampire – it was far more ordinary than that, an ordinary-ish girl falling for someone who operates outside the boundaries of what is ordinary or normal for most people, with a side of vampirism and immortality sure, but the actual building of the romance was completely normal. Refreshingly so.

I love that he was there for Tana in the end when she decides to try and forgo immortality and purge the infection by waiting it out. I love that he accepts her decision and promises to help her see it through, and because of his own past experiences and torture… he’s capable of doing that for her. It’s an odd and slightly horror tinged romantic gesture, but it is romantic all the same.

Nothing about this book or story is neat, but it is beautifully written and tells a vampire story that is both unique but also plays on my favourite elements of vampire fiction: the beautiful but deadly monsters, fascination with the essence of humanity, and romance. It brings something new to both YA, urban fantasy and vampire fiction, I really enjoyed this book and thought it was outstanding.

Finalising (finally) Cusp from 2017

It’s nearly the end of January and I’ve been working up to writing this post all month. Some transitions in theme happen seamlessly as one year folds into a new one, others take a little bit of extra time, others finish faster. This one was a confusing transition and even though I could metaphorically feel the cliff beneath my feet, and that I was ready to step off, to take flight to go forward, something held me at the Cusp for a little longer. But now I’m ready to move on from Cusp and all I did and learned from this exploration. To give you the background to this conversation, take a look at my initial thoughts on Cusp as a theme for 2017, and my check in post from September.

Silhouette of a cliff with a blue starscape behind it. Standing on the edge of the cliff is a female figure with scarves uplifted by a breeze.I’m emerging from the space of liminality that Cusp provided for me, that breath of almost, but not quite. Holding space for that experience for the year was both challenging and rewarding, and necessary I’m certain now, in reflection that I got everything I possibly could from Cusp. This was a theme that was with me every day last year, like breathing. It encompassed so much of what the year was about, the challenges I faced, the goals I had, how much I yearned and wanted to experience certain things and how close/how far I felt to reaching the end of a major journey.

So now it’s time to reflect, to look at the different areas of focus and bring together all my awareness of the year gone by and where I stand at the culmination of 2017 and Cusp as an enquiry.

Midwifery

And I did it! I completed my degree in the study of midwifery, I’m going to be a midwife for real! I start my graduate position in late February and this also marks the completion of my second Bachelor’s degree and the end of my undergraduate studies. All the hours of study, all the hours of prac, unpaid and doing my level best to learn as much as possible, be as competent as possible, take in every moment, every little detail. And now I have my training wheels to go into practice, transition from study to practice they call it – I’m equal parts excited and terrified. I will be able to sign my own name to things that previously were always co-signed. The responsibility for others’ experiences and wellbeing will be in my hands. I know that I’m capable of this, I know I’m equal to it. But no matter what: it is so huge in my mind. I poured myself into my studies and gave everything I had to it, especially to my clinical placements seeking to marry up all the knowledge and theory I’d accumulated into how to use this in my hands and in my speaking. I never thought I could believe in, and be so immersed in something as a job and career until I started my journey to be a midwife.

A photo of a science poster on a poster board, the background is a gradient of maroon through purple and pink. The title reads 'We can change midwifery in Australia forever: Expanding the boundaries of midwifery through collaborative autonomy'. The poster features four boxes of text outlining the intro, why it matters, the plan and conclusion. There are two images, art of a pregnant person, one with a cloud of terms with implied confusion and overwhelm. The second the pregnant person is in partnership with a midwife and together they grow a tree of the experience that supports and empowers the pregnancy and family.

From my last update, I mentioned that I’d had abstracts accepted for a talk for the Student Midwife Conference and a poster for the ACM National Conference. I applied for grants to attend these, both were held in Adelaide the student conference was the day before the national conference. Thanks to the grant and the kindness of a friend who let me stay the week with them, I was able to attend both and present my work. My talk at the student conference was well received and was part of an overall remarkable day of work by other students. Seriously the calibre of work was incredible – I was so proud to be amongst them. Also, one of the keynote speakers Nicky Leap came to speak to several us and to congratulate us on our work – including me. And then she asked if she could mention my work in her keynote speech! And she did in fact do that! Which meant a lot of people made a point of going to see my poster, and my little 2 minute presentation for it also went well. My poster was awarded the best of the conference – much to my surprise. I spent the week revelling in being surrounded by my peers – and for the first time ever, that word felt true. I had peers. I was welcomed and there were so many conversations taking place about things that were directly concerned with my own study and practice. I was able to participate and share in this. I have never felt such abiding professional identity and recognition before. It was an all around incredible experience.

I especially loved connecting with the other students there who were also intent on making a difference, throwing their hat in the ring and participating with research with the aim of improving midwifery practice and access to midwives and continuity for families across Australia.

I did indeed need to do extra shifts to complete my numbers to qualify as a midwife. But these were helpful shifts and I gave my all to my last prac and these shifts determined to come out the other side where instead of feeling like I would never be ready to practice as a midwife, to feel like I was where I needed to be, ready to take the next step. If nothing else I have determination on my side and I gave my all to immersing myself in the wholeness of learning to take on being a midwife in my own right. This was only possible with the support of my preceptors who were unfailingly kind and encouraging and also demanded my best of me. They encouraged me to take point on the care we were undertaking and by the end of it I really did have the shape of things to come set in my mind. There’s so much that comes with experience in clinical practice, but we all have to start somewhere. All I wanted was to feel ready to go to that next stage and by the end I really did.

I will always be grateful to the families that let me participate in their care and help them to welcome their babies into the world. May I always be equal to your trust and give the best care I can that supports and empowers you. 

Self-Care and Development

Focus on this area was crucial to last year and that’s also something I’m taking forward into the new year and theme. You can only give your all, and do your best if you’ve got it there to give, so refilling my well was imperative – especially as I emptied it pretty much as fast as I could fill it. I dug deeper than I ever have in order to get through last year, and so I really did crawl into December as I predicted. Let me also say, that knowing that would likely happen and then experiencing it, are two very different things. It was hard. And the attention I paid to making sure there was self-care and stress relief and extra buffering for anxiety and coping made all the difference.

Close up cover shot of Marie Brennan's 'Midnight Never Come' with a glass of white wine with an outdoor table as backgroundI put in place opportunities to spend time with friends, I joined in with online spaces that were nurturing and loving and made me feel connected and like I belonged. My friends were amazing and invited me to spend time and checked in on me and made sure I got out on occasion to do fun things. I maintained the tiny rituals for taking time for myself whenever possible, like taking baths, reading for pleasure and doing my nails. I also didn’t watch or read anything that was too taxing or demanding, I subsisted pretty much on fluff and it was an excellent decision on my part. You can see more about how my reading went in my 2017 wrap up of my reading goals. (I won’t cover reading and media separately as I think between here and my goals post, I’ve said everything I need to).

I continued to do counselling, and transitioned to a practice that is ongoing rather than the stopgap short term project I was using through the Royal Women’s. I have been trying to improve my skill in meditation and have found an app that works for me that I like using and has a bunch of meditations on a huge number of topics and ranging from a couple of minutes long to 30 minutes in length, depending on what you want and need. My meditation muscles are flabby so this has been excellent to help me to just do a little bit more often and I’ve definitely seen the benefit of it – particularly in helping me to fall asleep.

I prioritised and protected my sleep as much as possible – difficult with shift work placements, but this also made a difference. I also used a phone counselling service specific to midwifery which also helped at times. I let myself reach out for support as I needed and I didn’t sit on it or wait it out, and I think that helped. I know it will always pass, but just because I can make myself get through it, doesn’t mean I have to do it, or do so alone. That was invaluable this year.

Self-care and development has also been about trusting in the chosen family and friends around me, giving of myself and trusting that what I can give is meaningful and appreciated. It’s also been about letting myself be myself and to be less apologetic about it. It’s partly an acknowledgement of how I have dedicated a lot of time and energy into being self aware and working on my own personal growth, but it’s also putting into practice the understanding that being myself is more important than being comfortable, or being liked, and that sometimes it’s a thing that takes energy to give you energy. Coming to the end of this enquiry I feel much more grounded in who I am now, and where I am going forward – and in particular that future direction and insight there is new and shiny to me. I’ve never really had that before. Midwifery has given me so much.

Domestic Life

A super fluffy pancake on a white plate topped with blueberries and strawberries, maple syrup and creamEverything I said back in September remains true – budget was lean and I think some days the hardest bit was knowing that we are so close to it being better. It was that sense of being so close and yet, so far – you can’t enjoy your budget being better until it actually is. It was very hard to be patient, harder than other years. Meal planning was still a lifesaver, and it helped me to enjoy cooking as a hobby and not just as a chore as well. We defaulted a lot to comfort food – or things that were classed as super-easy to prepare, I regret none of this. 2017 was hard and grueling, there were not enough hours in the day and there were so many competing demands. We made it through and compromising where we could made a difference. Mental health challenges were persistent for Bat while Fox was overall better than any previous year in his mental health – mine was very shaky at times, but the other two were there for me and supported me, plus I did everything I could to improve my mental health and mitigate for the things that were demanding or damaging.

Relationships

This is largely already covered elsewhere – I am surrounded by the most amazing chosen family and friends who helped me to in turn support and maintain strength in my live-in relationships with the challenges we’ve been going through between finances and health. I am grateful for polyamory and the love I have in my life, and the possibilities. Although I didn’t get to celebrate my 20th anniversary with K in person, we both spoke more often and shared more than we have managed in previous years, I assume mainly becauth K was better at answering the phone and returning calls. Regardless of how long it’s been, he’s still a daily influence in my life, I know he loves