2019: Embracing the Plateau

The time has come for me to let everyone else in on my theme for 2019. I stumbled upon this one scrolling through Facebook, but it struck me like a bell. One of the people I follow in my capacity as a midwife is Dr Sara Wickham, who posted about an article ‘In Celebration of Plateaus’. I read the pull out quote and it resonated so strongly with me.


I suggest we reframe plateaus as being both physically and psychologically purposeful, rather than worrisome or in need of a remedy


Davis E (2018). Labor plateaus and our sexual natureMidwifery Today. 127: 14-16.

If you’ve been following along, you’ll know that 2018 was hard going and left me feeling quite wrecked and burned out. I now feel a strong pull to recover and rebuild myself into who I want to be going forward. This is not the hiding away from the world and protecting myself deep inside like my year of Chrysalis, but neither is it pushing myself forward ambitiously and putting myself out of my comfort zone as I did with Cusp.

2019 is about moving forward, but doing so in a way that is sustainable and building on the future I want for myself and who I want to be. I think that will require reflection and a lot of self awareness about what I want to keep from my yester-self and what new things I want to try on. What better way to do that than embracing the idea of a plateau. So yes, Plateau is my theme for 2019.

A view of Ha Giang, on the border of China and Vietnam. Green mountains in the background with blue sky and clouds. IN the foreground a winding mountain pathway but right in front, a daisy in hyper focus.

The idea of a plateau is often held as a negative. They are often perceived as being stagnant of growth and with a sense of holding back, or taking the easy route. However, as with all things, there are more positive ways to consider plateaus.

Plateaus are rest points, while you’re climbing, or pushing, learning, or building. There’s also often a view, even if it’s specifically of the progress you’ve already made and how far you’ve come. Plateaus give you the chance to continue to progress, slowly, and without exerting extraordinary amounts of energy. You get to maintain forward momentum, but in a way that continues to allow recovery before you start climbing again.

I want this year to be a year where I do move forward. I want to do and try new things, but I want that to be rooted in a foundation of self care and healing. I want to prioritise coming back from the burn out I began 2018 with and which was exacerbated by the trash fire that largely describes last year for me. I want the option of stretching myself and choosing ambition, but not at the expense of recovery.

So what might that look like? Here’s a list of what I’m thinking, I’m keeping it simple because I don’t want to pin myself down or feel weighed down by goals and obligations, even those I set for myself. I am going to split it up into areas just because I can visualise it as a balance better.

Midwifery

  • Be the best midwife I can be and keep growing and learning as a part of that.
  • Keep reflecting on my practice as a midwife and connect with other midwives and learn from their experience and mentorship. Be generous with my time and support to other midwives and students.
  • Start my Masters degree. I enjoy studying and I do want to do research in the area of midwifery, so this is a first step. I plan to take it slow and let myself be immersed in it. I am hoping this also fulfils part of what I mention above regarding connecting with other midwives.
  • Continue my support of and contribution to the Australian College of Midwives as my national peak body.
  • Go to the ACM National Conference, it’s as much about learning and growing as it is connecting with other midwives. It fills my bucket.

Self Care

  • Continue prioritising the things for my physical and mental health. I am lucky that I have health professionals I trust to work with on this and this is already something that’s in progress, it just deserves its own dot point in my opinion.
  • Continue to practice relaxing and letting myself have down time without worry or fear. Let myself have fun just for its own sake. This is just habit rewiring, it wasn’t really possible for a long time and so now it’s something I struggle with.
  • Play the video games I want to play, and watch the television and movies I want to watch.
  • Go to the cinema for the immersive experience that turns your brain off.
  • Maintain sleep hygiene stuff so that sleep remains a priority. Obviously as a shift worker my hygiene is mixed, but I do my best to support something of a routine way of handling the changes.

Reading

  • I want to read more books than I read last year, I didn’t set an ambitious overall reading goal though. I am aiming for 50 books and I hope I beat it hand over fist.
  • I’m also pledging to do the Australian Women Writers Challenge again in 2019. I just enjoy this challenge a whole lot. I’m going to pledge at the Franklin level, to read 10 and review 6. I hope I exceed this too.
Australian Women Writers Challenge badge for 2019, forest green background with black silhouette of a woman in a hat in a frock with an umbrella. White text overlaying with the title of the challenge.
  • I am also doing Beat the Backlist again, because my TBR list that I regularly prune is still over 600 books. So, reading the books I already want to read, that’s the plan.
  • I still want to increase the areas of diversity I’m reading in, more queer writers, more non-white writers, more writers who are disabled or neurodivergent.
Coloured books in the background with banner text white on black background 'Beat the Backlist'

Dining Out and Cooking

Dining Out is one of the hobbies that I started to develop last year but I think I want to highlight it a bit more. It’s a hobby Fox and I share, also something my girlfriend Omega and I share. Additionally, it’s something I’ve always enjoyed but it also will tie into self care and having fun for the sake of it. I want to try new restaurants and maybe even review them. Mostly I just want to explore all the amazing food that other people are making.

That’s because cooking is a hard one for me at the moment. I feel like I’m burned out on cooking as well because of how it was so critical in recent years. Meal planning and being frugal were absolutely necessary. And I got extremely good at using food creatively and cooking amazing meals that helped us to get by, not *feeling* like we were missing out while we had so little income. It worked really well, but as a result of doing it full tilt for a few years, I need a break so I’ve been doing a lot less of the style of cooking I’m most used to and comfortable with.

I still do it, this week I made an amazing carrot cake decorated like a fox face! But it’s more sporadic rather than being a cornerstone of my days and weeks.

A fluffy looking cake of a Fox face with icing ears stuck on and orange icing, black detailing and white cut outs. Background is rainbow fabric.

So any dot points for these items?

  • Try new restaurants, including fancy fine dining and casual dining.
  • Try to attend one of the one-off dining events that happen every so often.
  • Go to a degustation event.
  • Continue to cook what I want and when I want, try not to let obligation or duty dictate things too much.
  • Continue to teach Fox to cook and encourage him to build confidence here, but also mindful of his burn out too.
  • Join in some of the months of the Food 52 Cookbook Club, it was fun for the couple of times I joined in last year and I loved the focus on a single cookbook in the company of others.

Travel

  • Do some mini weekend trips with Fox to Victoria as whimsical escapes – like wineries and bed and breakfasts, trips to the south coast.
  • The big ticket item is that we’re planning on a trip to Germany in July, it will be my first overseas trip and I’m ridiculously excited. Not sure that I’ll get in any other countries this time around, but travel is a long term thing that Fox and I both want to do more of together.

So 2019 is about embracing the plateau as a useful way to move forward, while seeing where you’ve come from, and taking care of yourself while growing and changing. Here’s to the new year, a new theme, and the best hashtag about those I’ve come across: #twenty-nice-teen.

Reflecting on Chrysalis for 2016

As always before I do my reveal and discussion of my new year theme, I like to reflect on the year past and what I learned from my enquiry over that year. In 2016, my theme was Chrysalis, envisioned as below because I felt I needed a protective place to recover, a suit of armour to prevent further damage and needed to be inward focused in order to get through another year of study, another year where I anticipated many challenges and much stress. It was a reactive theme, but even so I still put forward aims that I hoped would be part of the enquiry and part of what helped me to heal, you can read about how I originally imagined Chrysalis back in January of 2016.

Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis by Kim C Smith - 2014

Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis by Kim C Smith – 2014

So now, in January of 2017, where do I think my past year of enquiry has taken me? What happened, what did I learn. What will I take forward and what will I let go?

Overall

Reflecting on this theme, I think what I got from Chrysalis is exactly what I needed: comfort, peace, healing, protection, love. I spent the year reinforcing in every way I could a recovery of my energy, rebuilding of my resilience, and letting go of some of my perfectionism to make way for simply trusting that things would happen – like dinner on the table when I was in the depth of study doom. It was a year where it sounds like I was selfish and that’s true, but it’s the selfish of desperation where I had very little left I could pour out and give – I’d exhausted  myself and everything inside of me to get to the end of 2015.

Things that contributed to that state included my study, partner illness and financial stress. To share a little more, I am studying a demanding degree course in Midwifery, which I love and am passionate about – but it is one long push, there are few lulls and it is demanding intellectually, physically, and emotionally. Being realistic about that doesn’t make me love it less or less committed to being the best midwife I can be.

It’s no secret that one of my live-in partners has been in the depths of mental-health crisis for the past couple of years and this has taken its toll on him, but also on Fox and I as we do our level best to support him, protect him, and encourage anything that draws him out of the depths of it. The best outcome for 2016 was a dramatic shift in his mental health and while it’s certainly a massive relief to see, and we all hope that it will continue onward and upward it’s not a magic wand and there’s a lot of work and time before I think he can look back and say ‘This is behind me’. Right now he can say that he feels like the worst has passed – that feels true for Fox and I too.

Which brings me to that other stress point – we’re still on one income predominantly. Over the past twelve months I did some part time work which eased the pressure for most of the year. Fox has continued to be our breadwinner, he’s stoically dealt with the awfulness of his job and company that has steadily declined in all level of satisfaction. The likelihood of redundancy looms ever stronger and we’re doing our best to hold out for that as a means to give ourselves the best buffer and chance to weather a change in job and income. Fox’s dedication as a provider is incredible as is his own commitment to his mental health, which has improved slowly and steadily over the years since he first started tackling this. I’m so proud of him, so grateful to him and I can’t wait to repay his faith in me and my studies by giving him the chance to pursue his own studies.

So finances still sucked but they sucked a little less, and we  made as good a use of that as we could – we didn’t need to be so strict on meal planning (that will be a necessary change this year), we could get takeaway on occasion and did so at several points where ‘too hard’ hit. But that has been hitting less and less as Bat has recovered more mental health and capacity. There is less worry and so work happens more evenly distributed and support flows more freely in all directions. Bills were paid, we had some disposable income occasionally. I was able to invest in some training to go with my Midwifery studies that will hopefully set me up to be an attractive graduate candidate when I apply this year for a position for 2018. All the ways in which I dedicated energy to self-care, to recovery and resilience paid off, for me but also our family. We’re all in a better position personally at the end of 2016 to go into 2017.

Reading, Media and Fandom

One of my big realisations for 2015 was just how much reading for pleasure grounds me, and is a self-care mechanism and stress relief rather than simply a luxury. I’d spent most of the first two y ears of my study feeling guilty for still reading fiction and then I learned that it’s a small and regular thing I can do to look after myself and enjoy my days and weeks. So I made that a priority for last year, and letting that joy be there for myself rather than worrying that I should be studying was so helpful. I read some amazing books (my favourite books of 2016 post is still pending, but I’ll edit and link when I’ve posted it).

Blue banner image with picture of a book in white and the text Goodreads 2017 Reading ChallengeI loved reading and reviewing this year and I exceeded my reading goals in lots of ways – and there’s still room for improvement in others, as it should be. We’re never done, there’s always more room to grow and more to learn. You can read more about my reflection on last year’s reading goals if you like, or see what my goals are for 2017 in reading – I won’t rehash them here. In short: read books, review them, especially books that are diverse in important ways, and books by Australian Women Writers. Try and read 75 books in the calendar year.

I also listened to my favourite podcasts and I looked for ways that I could keep listening even when I wasn’t working. Favourites continued to be Galactic Suburbia and Fangirl Happy Hour, and I continued to really enjoy Tea & Jeopardy. New favourites include Sheep Might Fly, Magical Space Pussycats, and in non-books and fannish areas,  Acts of Kitchen and The Birth Hour. I also fell in love with the Booktube channel Books and Pieces, I highly recommend it. I managed several really great walks (and Pokemon Go was great for this as well) while listening to podcasts, which was a happy goal to achieve. Plus, I’ve also gotten to a point where some of my general online productivity like organising recipes or sorting stuff etc can be done to a podcast background so I’ve stayed mostly up to date and in love with the voices and conversations of intelligent women, who are so switched on and aware, so emotionally present and generous. This kind of listening brings such joy to me.

There were a few other media things I did to contribute to self-care and taking time out. I played games and in particular enjoyed Stardew ValleyNo Man’s Sky, Pokemon Go, and Armello this year. My favourite movies were Deadpool and the new Ghostbusters, pretty equally, although I also really loved Zootopia too.  With music, I set up a Pandora radio station for Hamilton and other Broadway musicals so that I could have background music that mostly made me feel better about the world and let me relax and think about the stories the songs were telling. Like a large percentage of the rest of the world, I unexpectedly fell in love with the Hamilton soundtrack and listened to it time and again over the months in the second half of the year. I think Lin Manuel Miranda is a gift and should be celebrated.

Midwifery

White banner with intersecting circles Hands, Heart and Mind and the kind of midwife you will be. Midwife is in the centre of the intersecting circles.In taking on Chrysalis last year, in my original post on the subject of midwifery I said:

I just want to do well. I want to do well, I want to learn. I want to be the best midwife I can be. I want to regain my confidence on prac.

This area is one in which I’m particularly proud of the outcomes. I excelled academically in 2016, beyond even my high expectations of  myself. I worked exceedingly hard for it too and I’m so pleased that paid off. I also went back to prac and it went well. I achieved that aim too, to regain my confidence in my practice and to do well in my clinical placement. I’ve also started asking for and collecting recommendations and I’ve been doing additional workshops, seminars, conferences and courses to supplement my study as part of my efforts toward applying for a graduate year position. They’re competitive and I’ve my sight set on one in particular (I have yet to work out my second and third preferences) so I’ve been working hard already to achieve this. I also had my halfway mark assessment, and it went well, and I’m feeling confident in my ability to prepare for my final assessment at the end of 2017.

I went into 2016 still so passionate about Midwifery but feeling shattered and uncertain. I have emerged from the year with a greater consolidation of experience and knowledge, as well as an even greater passion for midwifery. Calling. Vocation. I never though those words would be ones I could really identify with and yet, more than ever I feel this.

Self Care and Development

I did so much better with this area of focus in 2016 than in previous years and I think the shift in making it about care as much as development helped with that. I wanted to grow, but I didn’t want to push myself in to painful spaces when it was obvious to me that I needed to draw in energy and seek out joy and connection, love, and comfort. Through that focus I did grow and learn. My confidence returned and grew. I’m more sure of myself in conversations and my opinions and ability to contribute meaningfully. I worry less about perception (in some ways, in others this is still a work in progress).

A box with a book, and bath bombs in it, with a subscription to the official Book Bath Box includedI had the best birthdays this year, Bat and Fox made it perfect for me with the most thoughtful gift – a Book Bath Box subscription, and because that would arrive months away they also made up their own version to give me on the day! So sweet! They spent the day quietly hanging out with me and cooking me an incredible birthday dinner – pork belly with caramelised pears on silky potato mash and a brownie cheesecake birthday cake dessert. It was perfect! So relaxed and peaceful, I slept in, there was no stress and I felt whimsical and full of love the entire day.

I wanted a better year for my partners and I do think we all got it – although there were still so many hard things about the year, so many ways in which we just needed to dig deep and focus on the fact that we love each other and would somehow make it through as a starting point. I do recommend that as a starting point by the way because if as a fundamental assumption that has shifted, then a different conversation may be necessary. But I love my partners, I trust them and I value them. I feel loved and trusted and valued. This is especially true of my partners whom I cohabit with, where we’ve created a little family for ourselves.

But my other partners are just as important in different ways and I love and value them for what they bring to the world and my life too. I trust that I bring them good things to their lives as well. There are a number of partners and close friends, chosen family who I wished I could have seen more of throughout the year – and yet energy and time where in short supply. It was also a hard year for some of them and I know this impacted on us being able to make time and scheduling work. My platonic romantic partner and I spent quite a bit of time together, mostly in quiet conversation and having lovely cheap dinner dates in the city – spending time and keeping each other feeling sane and cared for. She had a hard year and I hope that what I could do to stand behind her helped. I did get to spend time with two of my Perth partners who came over and that was wonderful and messy and I’m so glad – even though I was in the midst of semester so it was also hard. But right now, there is no ideal time. We made it work. Overall with people and social, especially partners I did the best I could but I wish I’d have managed more somehow.

2016 marked another year where I didn’t get to see my longest term partner, K. Our 19th anniversary came and went and I missed him more than ever. We’re starting to make determined plans for our 20th anniversary together because even with crappy finances, somehow we will make this happen. K has been one of the most integral parts of my life for about a third of my life and no matter how things shift and change for us, he remains one of the most important people in my life, and someone who’s happiness means the world to me. I know that I mean similar things to him.

Collage of 4 pictures, 3 landscapes of hinterland and bay overview, one with a plaque about Apollo Bay and the Great Ocean RoadI did have a year that was more social than the previous one, and it was part of my extrovert self-care mechanisms I put in place. I attended our local science fiction convention Continuum and has the most wonderful time, it was seriously one of the best things I did this year. Followed by my trip to Apollo Bay with a friend where we cooked, and explored and lounged for a week – it was great. I organised with chosen family members to do semi-regular dinners and host them so that I could soak up the social time, but have it be easy and love filled and not a struggle at all. I did regular vid chats with @dilettantiquity which was wonderful for both of us in several ways and was one of the our mutually most successful aims for 2016. I did several more frequent chats with others who are far away and that meant a lot to me too, I want to continue that in the new year.

My health was mostly very good, pain and strain were well managed. Reflux stopped being an agonising problem and is well managed. I had some reproductive health issues but thanks to our wonderful public health system, they’re all taken care of. I judiciously applied bravery, reward and lots of care mechanisms to deal with the emotional and anxiety strain these issues posed and I came through it all really well. Pokemon Go deserves the most credit for me improving my activity levels, I enjoy wandering and will quite happily do that for several kilometres in order to catch the little monsters or hatch eggs. It’s low key, easy and satisfying and I value that ease as much as the compelling fun nature of it.

A large number of books piled onto a shelf creatively, a shelf next to that is empty.I did declutter and organise my physical things better (I need to revisit some of it as it got away from me in the last part of the year). I obtained some second hand bookshelves and unpacked my books (still a work in progress, one shelf needs stabilising). I also enjoyed more of Melbourne in tiny and cheap ways that brought me a lot of joy. I walked along Southbank several times (in part because Pokemon). I wandered through the city and admired how beautiful Melbourne is. I went to several Wheeler Centre events and marvelled at the speaking programs they have and the way I think it contributes to our city and people overall.

I blogged throughout the year – here less so than I hoped but I did manage to keep things up reasonably. I maintained my 5 things habit throughout the year, although I have decided to change it going forward. My blog is as important to me as reading and I value having spaces to chronicle, to write and share with people that are more thoughtful than the immediacy of social media.

I didn’t get to any different cities in 2016, we’ll see if that’s different in 2017 – finances say doubtful. I didn’t get my license either, this still hangs over my head. However now that I’m in a better mental space than I have been in two  years it looks like it is vastly more possible than it has  felt for ages. I’m just trying not  to use this as a stick to beat myself with. I will get there. I will. Eventually.

Cooking

A table set with many dishes of food including a quiche, ham, turkey and several sides.The framing for this was trying to maintain things that worked to take stress out of decision and uncertainty. To reduce the cost of food, but to eat well and enjoy the meals we have together. I wanted to maintain my enjoyment of cooking and not have it be something that always felt like a chore. This was successful overall. Meal planning fell largely by the wayside in any formal way, but we did try new things in that vein and they have potential. The repository of recipes is more accessible and easy to navigate by people other than me. Fox did a bunch of cooking, including for Bat’s birthday dinner and did a magnificent job all year when it was his turn. Bat is cooking more and we’re back to enjoying trading cooking between us and sharing it as the joy it has been in the past for us.

We had people around regularly and good food was always a part of that and we all enjoyed that massively. Low-key dinner parties are our favourite social events to host and sharing great food with those we care about is enjoyed by us all. Fox remains enamoured of our BBQ which continues to be adorable. We hosted Christmas with chosen family and a friend this year, it was our turn – 3 years in, it’s officially a  tradition now! We over-catered and went way over-the-top for our feast, it was glorious and a massive undertaking that paid off. The inset photo is of the feast at the time of serving before we devoured about 5% of it.

Much of our ‘make-from-scratch’ things like stock and bread fell entirely by the wayside – we ate more pre-prepared stuff in general. But I was busier, made less decisions and organised less. And we still got fed, there was still delicious food and it was good for me to let go in this way and trust the others and let them figure things out so I could concentrate on work and study priorities where they impacted on my ability to do household contributions. I was successful in abdicating adulthood at various points when it was necessary and being supported by my partners in this. It was important and necessary (and hard to do) but worth it.


Chrysalis was a year that I wanted to focus on care, recovery and resilience. It was that for me. I got all of this in so many ways – expected and unexpected. The letting go and simply trusting in my partners and the people around me was a valuable lesson, and one I want to take forward. I still think that my expectations of myself when I read over my planning from the beginning of last year was too demanding, wanting too much of my finite energy, time and skills. That too was a lesson – and I know amongst those I am close to that this I am not alone in this trait. I spent the year re-framing things so as not to beat  myself with sticks. The point is not to punish myself for failing to achieve all the myriad things I wanted, or for forgetting things or cutting corners. Actually the point was to learn that the sky doesn’t fall when you do these things and in some ways, it turns out even better emotionally and in the final results.

I am grateful to this theme, it has been a gift and an inward focus that I’ve consistently put energy into. And in all the other ways I achieved what I put in, that was true with this enquiry too. And now with this reflection, I can draw a line  underneath Chrysalis and move on from it’s protective shell. It’s time to move  properly into 2017.

Reflection on 2016 Reading Goals

I’d hoped to get to this in December, but it didn’t happen so all my reflection and end of year posts are being mushed together with my 2017 launching/goal posts. It was a pretty great year for reading overall – but I wanted to evaluate that against the goals I’d hoped to achieve in my reading at the beginning of 2016.

Orange banner with text 2016 Reading Challenged with a book in white on in the centre. A red ribbon with 'completed' crosses the left hand top corner.Overall Reading Goal:

As far as my overall reading goal, I’d hoped to read 75 books and in the end I actually read 81 – according to Goodreads that’s 108%! A bunch of these were shorter, and there were a bunch of graphic novel trade volumes for the first time too. But I still think overall 75 was exactly the right number for a goal – reasonable, something of a stretch but something I can reasonably expect to achieve. I’m really looking forward to finishing my studies so that I can see what my reading is really like – I’ve been studying for almost a decade now, across 2 degrees so I can’t even predict what my reading looks like outside of study anymore.

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 BadgeAustralian Women Writers Challenge 2016:

My goal for this challenge was to read and review 15 books, this was in part to tie in with other reading goals I had. I managed to read and review 17 books and I’ve also already posted my Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 Completion post. I didn’t read all the books I had planned to, but I did read a bunch of unexpected books – and for the first time there were some audio books via podcast serials that I included. Probably my only disappointment really with my reading for this challenge last year, was that I didn’t read any works by Indigenous authors, and my diversity in this area was particularly low – I’m hoping to address that in 2017, it’s an ongoing goal.

Read with Diversity in Mind

Speaking of diversity, that was another of my overall goals for the year. I wasn’t specific with this and that was deliberate because it’s an ongoing aim of mine. It’s also one that still requires a lot of conscious effort on my part to achieve – which as a white person is the point of why I’m doing this. But, I’m also a firm believer in the fact that goals and aims need to not be an excuse to punish myself, that defies the point of the goal in the first place and makes it no more likely to occur. So I aim and where I can dedicate the energy to increasing the diversity in my reading  I do so.

Now that I’m looking over the books I read in 2016, I think I did a little better in this area than I thought, but it’s still only a handful. I did much better in reading from queer perspectives – but I’m also a queer person so it’s me seeking out representations of myself and doesn’t have the same meaning or importance in confronting my biases and being uncomfortable as a white person reading more  non-white and Indigenous perspectives. I did read books by non-white authors and books from different cultural perspectives to my own, but there only a few, although they’re ones I enjoyed immensely. I reviewed Central Station by Lavie Tidhar, Book of Phoenix by Nnedi OkoraforThorn by Intisar Khanani and He, She and It by Marge Piercy. I also read Sunbolt by Intisar Khanani, but I’ve not yet reviewed it (but will do so together with the follow up book Memories of Ash which is on my to-read list).

Central Station - cover Book of Phoenix - cover

 

 

 

 

Thorn - cover

He, She and It - cover

 

 

 

 

Participate in Bookclubs

This was partially successful? I did participate, but the clubs I participated in where a bit different to the ones I anticipated. the YA Escape Bookclub wasn’t very active last year, and I was certainly busy enough that I didn’t get to read many of the nominated books, although Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff was one of them and a fantastic discovery. The Vaginal Fantasy Bookclub was active all year, but I fell out of keeping up with what they were reading and making the effort there – I did read Radiance by Grace Draven which was one of the pics for January and enjoyed it a lot (I still want to read the following books in the series), but I think that was the only one I read from that club in the year. Although I loved the idea of Emma Watson’s Our Shared Shelf bookclub, it wasn’t tightly organised and was an absolutely huge group very quickly which made it hard to follow. Also, I didn’t have a lot of coping to do the kind of heavy reading being proposed, or money to access the books – plus the discussions were so huge as to be intimidating unwieldy so I let that club go midway through the year. The Sword and Laser Bookclub is one that I followed a bunch of the discussions and even joined in with them, but I think I failed to read any of the books – I started Radiance by Catherynne Valente, but I found it deeply difficult to read and eventually declared that it was not a book for me recently.

What I did pick up during the year and enjoyed immensely was the Goodreads Challenge group that does regular short and long challenges and buddy reading. I did five buddy reads including Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, Cinder and Scarlet by Marissa Meyer, Sunbolt by Intisar Khanani, and Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins. I participated in some of the quarterly and monthly challenges too but I didn’t actually track those very well so no links, but I’m already tracking this year’s challenges better.

Image of a series of vertical book spines showing the twelve planet books in various colours. Header text white on transparent black overlies the image with the title 'A Journey Through the Twelve Planets'.Undertake and Manage the Journey Through Twelve Planets Reading Challenge

Steph and I started this and it went really well for the first six months, and then the second half of the year hammered both of us. Also, when I am stressed and overtired and really busy with study, I am even less likely to read horror than the best of times. So it took me most of the second half of the year to actually read Through Splintered Walls by Kaaron Warren. The other books in the Twelve Planets series by Twelfth Planet Press that we read and reviewed included Nightsiders by Sue Isle, Love and Romanpunk by Tansy Rayner Roberts, Thief of Lives by Lucy Sussex, Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti, and Showtime by Narelle M. Harris. Six books down, six to go!

I had originally planned another largeish but relaxed reading challenge but it didn’t quite come together, but it was always a nice-to-have rather than something I was attached to for last year.

Unpack and Read Some of My Physical Books

I actually do have progress to report on this – not much, but I did unpack my books when I managed to get a hold of some free bookshelves that would fit in my (actually strangely huge) wardrobe. So I unpacked books, but it didn’t lead me to reading them (yet). I hope that in the coming year that shifts – I do feel much better emotionally for being able to see and admire all my books again. I am reading a couple of physical books, but they’re definitely the slowest going for me at the moment as I often just pick up my phone to read by default now. I do still love turning the pages and reading a physical book.

Chrysalis for 2016

It’s finally time to talk about what my enquiry for 2016  will be.

If you’re new to my blog and have no idea what I mean by theme, it refers to my personal practice of engaging in a gentle year long enquiry that is more subconscious and occurs in the background rather than involving overt and specific actions over the course of the year. It’s about a guiding idea of focus and thoughtfulness – I wrote about this in more detail if you are interested.

Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis by Kim C Smith - 2014

Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis by Kim C Smith – 2014

My theme is Chrysalis, like what butterfly pupae go through as part of their metamorphosis. Unusually, I’ve had this word since late December last year, after a conversation with one of my best friends – she mentioned it idly but that tiny little inner bell I associate with intuition, pinged and I took note. Interestingly, at the time I didn’t realise that I’d spoken about butterflies and transformation when I wrote about Becoming in February last year. Chrysalis seems fitting and feels right because it’s not a dramatic change from Becoming, it’s more of a transition to a different enquiry, a shifting of focus ever so slightly. I’m still in the process of, I’m not done yet, transformation is incomplete and I’m not ready to emerge.

On @Dilettantiquity’s advice when we had our annual theme conversation (and this year we’ve pledged to vidchat much more frequently), I looked up Chrysalis on wikipdedia and youtube. What I learned reinforced how well this theme fits for the year ahead. This is not a theme I’m excited about per se, it’s a theme that feels like a warm blanket, it feels like a nest, and like self-protection and self-care. Given how grinding last year was, this makes sense to me. Given the likelihood that this year will be similar in several respects, this also makes sense to me. I’m especially enchanted by the association of the cast off skin hardening, something like armour and becoming somewhat metallic in appearance.

If last year was a much more inward year than I expected, then this one is presenting itself as more inward focusing still. I’m okay with that, up to a point and I’ve put in place gentle steps to avoid feeling lonely and cut off socially when things are hard later on. I expect I’ll remain very low in social energy throughout the year, but that easy social activity with people I’m close to in low-stress settings will be a world of good. And so I’ve asked people to gently check in with me and make socialising easy if they can. I feel like I’ve already given my future self a huge gift by having this conversation with some of my closest friends in Melbourne, because right now I have the forethought and the energy to put it in place, and later I expect I’ll value this previous effort and hopefully I and my beloved friendships will reap those rewards. It is pretty clear to me that I am a person in ebb at the moment, rather than flow or abundance. This is all good and well, part of balance.

Even in an inwardly focused year, there are aspects of my life that I’d like to put some energy into, that I hope I’ll learn something about through my enquiry. Chrysalis will be interesting – I have no idea what to expect from it, and just because my associations with it suggest self-protection and self-care and so on, the actuality may look vastly different. There’s always something amazing and unexpected that occurs as a result of letting the enquiry just be there in the background working away at your subconscious. Still, here are some things that are important to me that I’m putting energy towards this year.

Reading, Media and Fandom

Although I was so very exhausted at the end of last year, I also found a lot of joy and solace in reading, in media – especially podcasts and feeling more connected to fandom in general than I have for several years. I’m really hoping to continue to nurture this! I wrote about reading goals I have, they’re very similar to those I had last year where I’m seeking to improve on some aspects but not using these as a stick to beat myself with. I’m focusing not just on number goals but on participation, community and sharing. Yay bookclubs!

I want to continue to listen to and revel in the podcasts I’ve fallen in love with – they helped me through last year so much! Also, they’re the perfect motivation to go for a good long walk which I need help with, so yay! I also want to enjoy the reading and blogging projects I’ve instigated, because the projects themselves are super awesome, and I adore the people I’ll be doing them with. I enjoyed reviewing books I was reading massively last year. It was so much fun and I felt much more connected to what I was reading!  I want to continue with a similar level of reviewing here, but I’m also giving myself permission to review directly on Goodreads for some books too if that’s what I want.

I use reading for stress relief, for pleasure and leisure and as part of my bedtime routine – those things mean that I do read fiction throughout the year, not just study books and it’s been one of my best mechanisms for self-care for several years although its importance to me is something I’ve sometimes taken for granted.

Midwifery - art, science, care - quoteMidwifery

I just want to do well. I want to do well, I want to learn. I want to be the best midwife I can be. I want to regain my confidence on prac. I want to explore how to rework an essay from last year into a piece I can submit somewhere as a formal publication piece. How do people actually learn to do this? I’m halfway through my second undergraduate and I have no idea. I want to pass all my units with good marks. And along with regaining confidence, I want to impress the hospitals I’ll be doing pracs at while I’m there – and I must remember to ask for recommendations ahead of third year and interview preparation stuff. Also I’ll have my halfway degree review this semester and I must  somehow get past being petrified about it. I’m so passionate about midwifery and feminism, their importance to healthcare, to women, and to families. I want this so much it *hurts*. Although this is second on my list behind reading, it’s one of my key priorities for the year and everything else needs to work around it.

Self Care and Development

A slight change in focus for this topic this year. I want to focus on self-care and resources to shore up my own resilience to stress and difficulty. I’m looking less at things that are about pushing my boundaries and painful growth – they may happen anyway, but I’m not going searching for it, it’s not an overt priority. So, gentleness, small things, joyful things, connection, health.

I want to maintain connection and the chance to be social with loved ones this year, I expect this will be hard with scheduling between classes, prac, assessment, exams and energy levels. But I’m doing what I can to promote the success of this by asking for help from those I’m close to in Melbourne so that catching up is as easy as possible. I also want to go to Continuum, I’ve got my supporting membership – just need to make it full and I’m good to go! Bonus if I can stay in the hotel for at least a couple of nights, but that’s wishful and a bonus. Going to the convention last year was one of the best things about the year and I hope this year yields similar joy.

I want my partners to have a better year in all the same ways I want to have a better year – less stress that is hard to manage, less mental health concern and more coping. Less energy needed for coping. I want to smile seeing them enjoying things more and I want to do everything I can to contribute to their joy. I love our household and I want it to continue to be the haven and sanctuary that we rely on and trust each other with. I want to do fun house things and enjoy family rituals around events/times of the year that add to whimsical joy. I want there to be more photos of me, more photos of us together – there are no recent photos of us together and since it makes me feel sad, I’d like to remedy this.

I want to do some de-cluttering and organising of my stuff that’s still packed (mainly because I don’t have bookshelves, but not entirely). I might ask for help from someone to come and keep me company while I do it (I don’t mind doing it and I don’t think it will be emotionally hard, just company during would be a great impetus to get it done. I would like to come across bookshelves that I like and work for the small amount of space I have in my room for them – I want to unpack some of my books so I can read them. This is about my bedroom as an optimal nest, for relaxing and quiet time, but also study, depending on what’s needed.

I want to try and get to some Wheeler Centre events and other easily accessible and cheap/free things throughout the year in Melbourne. I enjoyed this when I was able to manage it last year and it made me feel more connected to my beloved city and less like I had to miss out on everything because of budget. I’ve already booked in for some things in February and March that I’m looking forward to as well, so this is on track already. Melbourne-ness, I want to enjoy it, because I am so in love with this city.

Health stuff, I just want to do the best I can and gently followthrough on things as needed. I’m dealing with some reflux stuff that’s unpleasant, but my doctor is awesome so I’m in great hands. The rheumatologist at the Royal Melbourne has been great and is happy to provide specialist support even though I don’t need much to help manage and improve what is possible with my hypermobility – I don’t have anything that would qualify as a chronic health issue with any degree of seriousness – the steps I’m taking is to keep it that way. My pain is very manageable and fatigue is rare.

I want to increase my activity levels, not just for the physical benefits, but also to find ways of prompting the emotional benefits. I enjoy walking and would like to see how I go with swimming – I find exertion triggering/distressing and I’m aiming to avoid dealing with that bucket of stuff at present. My plan is to use podcasts to help with motivation for walks – I am really enjoying listening to them and short of an actual person to talk to, they’re excellent company for walking. Also, there is a huge and beautiful park local to me that I can also take better advantage of. Plus, zoo visits – I have a membership and enjoy casual visits to see what’s happening and changing with the zoo. Plus, walking distance from my house so actually pleasurable excercise!

Image of a series of vertical book spines showing the twelve planet books in various colours. Header text white on transparent black overlies the image with the title 'A Journey Through the Twelve Planets'.I want to continue to keep up my blogging efforts, both here and my ‘5 things a day’ effort on my Dreamwidth journal. I’m looking forward to the blogging review projects that I’m involved in like the Journey Through the Twelve Planets, I’ve wanted to do something like these for ages so they’re definitely a priority in this area. I also want to review books and write about fannish things if the mood strikes. I want to talk about movies and television, about podcasts and new-to-me stuff! I want to try and host the DUFC once, I want to write about feminism pretty much at all, and same about midwifery if possible. I want to blog about cooking and family thoughts – poly stuff and budget stuff. I have a bunch of ideas noted down – hopefully I’ll find some time to write about them. And if not, that’s okay too.

I would like to make it back to Perth this year, to see partners, chosen family and friends – and I’d like it to be any other time than Summer. I am hoping to have Kaneda over here for our 19th anniversary – I didn’t get to see him at all in 2015. I’d also like to make a to visit other friends who live elsewhere – Adelaide, Sydney or Brisbane maybe? This is a wishful thing as it’s not likely possible with budget constraints, but I’m making space for it. I want to spend a few days with Mum – I didn’t manage that at all last year mainly because of study things and related stress, plus work. I’d also love to do a few days away in regional Victoria by myself on the cheap as part of my plan for self care – I’ve figured out that in a bunch of ways I need to be away from home for it to be a holiday, preferably where I don’t have to make my own food.

Also, I still want to get my license. I want to get past this. I want it because it will make prac and followthrough things easier, it will give me the chance to apply to do the continuity of care program prac next year for my course. It will give me a sense of achievement to have *finally* done it. I still want to take a mini-road trip by myself to celebrate. I think the way to get through this is to do a couple of lessons about passing the test. In the meantime, I need to encourage Ral and Fox to take me out driving so I can get comfortable with my own sense of competency again. This is one of the harder goals I have for this year, but I really want to get it done this time.

Cooking

This focus is as  much on framing as anything. My major household contribution is around management of meal planning and food decisions, and a hefty chunk of the cooking. Mostly I enjoy this! Some days it’s a bit harder. There’s a lot I enjoy about cooking and I’ve discovered I really like trying new recipes. I also like revisiting familiar ones and just *knowing* what they’ll give me. Sometimes I’m creatively minded to make up something to cook, but it’s not how I operate generally at present. So I’d like to continue to have meal planning work for us, to minimise groceries needed and food wasted. I’d like to continue to have lunches for uni/work easily organised. I’m encouraging Fox to cook more often this year and I’m aiming to get him confident with stir fries, soups and basic stews/casseroles. I would like to keep trying new recipes, but also spread out the rotation of familiar recipes that we liked and that worked well for us in the past couple of years.

I’d like to have people over for dinner as part of my easy socialising desires – especially if on those nights I can encourage Ral and Fox to cook sometimes. Maybe I’m also interested in a monthly dinner that is a general social invite alla the Friday Night Meatballs concept, although I can’t imagine preparing the same dish every single Friday, and maybe Sunday night would work better schedule wise given it would be almost Fox’s weekend and a chance for something easy/low key to be really lovely. The key is ease and connection. I want to increase the amount of meals we eat that are vegetarian and vegan, but again, I don’t want this to be a stick to beat myself with. I want to continue making our own stock – it’s such a time-saver and makes the dishes we cook taste better – the bone broths especially, but there’s no reason not to have veggie stock given it’s largely made out of scraps, so less waste. I also want to see if I can manage one preserving effort of some description this year, although honestly this is a bonus goal.


So that’s my current thinking with Chrysalis – it’s very me focused, and very much looking at ways to promote my sense of wellbeing while managing my obligations and commitments. This focus feels right to me, as at present I still feel too close to burnout for comfort, I’m still exhausted, still feeling acute stress and not ready for everything to start again. But, I will do the best I can – I am surrounded by the most amazing partners, chosen family and friends. Plus, I’m not afraid of asking for help or seeking support where it’s available. I want to get through this year whole, I want to avoid feeling burned out and damaged if that’s at all possible given how intense second semester will be. I want to appreciate the many small moments of joy and use them to help me through the harder bits.

A final note, a huge thank you to Kim C. Smith over at Nature is my Therapy for letting me use her gorgeous photo of the monarch butterfly chrysalis as part of my post. She has some incredible nature photography that’s well worth a look.