The end of 2018 and Alchemy

Oh 2018… you were such a long and hard year. While there were moments of profound joy, it was overall a sad and painful year. This is to finalise my thoughts and the lessons I learned from my 2018 theme, Alchemy. Perhaps even more so than usual, there’s a huge difference from the trajectory I thought this enquiry would take, and the actuality. Even from my mid-year check in post, things look vastly different.

So what do I have to say for myself in finalising this theme and making ready for 2019, a new theme and new enquiry?

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

Well, in hindsight, none of my careful thinking about Alchemy considered the potential for things to explode completely. Hilarious in hindsight! Because that’s really quite an obvious association with Alchemy and transformation, transmutation, and experimentation. See? Obvious. And that’s one of the big lessons I learned coming to the end of this enquiry. Never underestimate the potential for something to go ‘boom’, no matter how careful you are. There is no way you can control all the variables, even in yourself if you’re honest. And then subsequently, why would you want to? That pathway is not healthy. So perhaps my experience of my personal life exploding messily is also a side effect of being able to wind back some of the hyper-vigilance. In any case it was excruciatingly painful and I still feel raw from pain and grief over the loss of my relationship. And I think a sense of my loss of self.

I’m still feeling the feelings about it, less in relation to losing a person from my life, although there are times when I still miss them and our relationship fiercely. It’s more to do with feelings in myself. Who I am, who I am becoming, how I am in the world at the moment. Coming to terms with the sense that I still feel broken, still feel damaged and traumatised. That’s not crappy self-talk either, I genuinely don’t feel like myself at my core and like at least some of my self-work coming up is about finding my way forward to that (since you can never go back). I have been traumatised, I was let down horribly in the end by the break up and all of my energy in standing by my ex-partner through so much hard and difficulty was as nothing to them in the end. They did not value me as I valued them. They did not believe in my valuing of them, and I falsely believed in their valuing of me.

Toward the end of the year I had 20 whole days off from work, a combination of rostered days off and annual leave. I was pretty desperate for it by the end, grad year is a long and hard year after all. I made a plan to rest on those days and during this break and I did just that. I rested. I watched Christmas movies and I played video games. I did very little else that could be characterised or construed as productive or adulthood related. And I valued that and it was necessary. I slept, I slowly got slightly better at relaxing and not fretting. I let go of some of my need to prove to myself it was okay to relax because all the work was done. All the work was not done. And yet I rested and relaxed anyway. And the world did not end. But honestly, I felt worse by the end of that break rather than better. And I was so disheartened by it. I felt lost. I’d been working on prioritising self care the whole year, on healing, self-care, trying to refill my personal buckets. And yet in November, I was not only not feeling better, but I was feeling worse.

I mentioned this to my GP and to my Counsellor when I saw them toward the end of that leave period. Both made comments about the possibility that, if this was the first time in 4-5 years that I’d genuinely tried to just stop and rest completely, that it might be the first genuine feedback I was getting from my bruised psyche as to how burned out I really was. They said this in different ways of course, and they didn’t collaborate on this verdict, but their words had much the same idea. And this is even considering the fact that throughout the last few years I’ve constantly tried to look after myself as I’ve poured myself into the other things demanding time, attention and energy.

I realise now, that I did put myself last as part of those considerations plenty of times. And while I kept things going, I only really started to see during my November break how much had been sheer determination and worse, me taking from myself all the vital energy that I also need to live and thrive. So I got a very confronting look at how much I’d compromised my own well being, how burned out I still am. And despite all my care and focus on self-care and looking after myself in 2018, I had barely made a dent in the backlog. Particularly considering the demands of a painful break up and challenging grad year, I’m still so exhausted. It all makes sense now, but it was disheartening.

Having said that, there were some incredible parts of Alchemy that brought a lot of satisfaction and joy. My opportunity to work professionally as a midwife this year was such a gift. I love being a midwife so much, and I’m so passionate about it. Even though I struggled (as all grads struggle) with the transition from student to professional, it was also rewarding and fulfilling. That’s where I felt the generosity of Alchemy and transformation most. I’m most of the way through my program now, I feel like a real midwife and I can see how far I’ve come. I can also see that I’m still at the beginning of my career and that there’s so much to learn, so many ways to grow. While I feel happy overall in my consolidation of postnatal care, I still desire to spend more time in birthing suite consolidating my skills there, that’s something I’ll likely be trying to spend the next couple of years doing, and that’s to be expected too – it’s a challenging and changeable environment, particularly in a tertiary centre.

I also got to spend this year with Fox. And although we never conceived of being a two, we love what we have been creating together. There’s a lot of whimsy, a lot of gentleness and thoughtfulness. We spend a lot of time emphasising the importance in prioritising ourselves and choosing what is best for us. Odd that this is hard or new to us, but it is. But having someone explicitly encourage me in this way has been invaluable. And even as I encourage that for him, it also reinforces it for myself as well. This partnership is both old and new, we already have abiding love and trust. We’re already committed, and we’ve already been through so much together. So even though it’s new, it’s also well established in foundation. It’s still amazing and fascinating to experience him and our connection anew, through a fresh lens. I hope that continues into next year.

Alchemy has been an enquiry that brought with it massive transformation, not all of it welcome at first. And now amidst the embers of painful feelings, grief, and memories. I have hope and an inkling of how to move forward. And so even if I didn’t turn my lead into gold, I learned a lot. I gave myself over wholly to the process of undertaking a great work, of being that great work. That’s an important focus and one that I’m not finished with and will likely revisit in 2019. I feel like I’ve been melted down and am molten again. Anything is possible, I’m all potential and unsure what the next phase will look like when it stabilises. However, I feel ready to thank Alchemy for the lessons, and let it go so that I can focus on the new year and everything ahead of me.

Alchemy in progress

When I read back on my original post about Alchemy and what this year in focus was going to look like, once again I’m amazed at the purity of the theme as it has played out and also simultaneously, how I could never have predicted how this would turn out. Here I am typing, pausing to catch my breath. In the beginning I situated my experience of Alchemy as the proto-science, about transmutation, transformation of one thing into another and of dedication of self to a great work, in my case to *be* the great work. That’s still absolutely true, but how it looks is vastly different to how I imagined.

So if I imagined one thing, way back in February, what does Alchemy look like now?

It looks like profound uncertainty. And grief. Change. The self I started the year as is not the self I am halfway through. I have started my career as a midwife, I’m halfway through my graduate program, halfway through that crucial first year where I come to understand how does my own personal practice look, what do I do and value and how do I make it come together in the increasingly time pressured experience of hospital midwifery. This year I’ve also experienced a major breakup in my live in poly relationship which was both unexpected and deeply painful. I’m growing and changing and processing, grieving all at once. And there is also joy, profound joy too.

I love my graduate program, the hospital I’m working for has been sincerely supportive and I am finding my way as a midwife. What is most true for me right now is that: I want to give the best care I can and be the best colleague I can. Nothing is perfect, things remain undone, and not everything is done to the standard I would want were time not a pressure. And yet if the thing I fret most over is giving the best care I can and being the best colleague I can be, then I am reassured that I’m working in the right direction. I care and each day it matters to me, each family matters to me. My colleagues matter to me.

I can also see fledgling pathways forwards in how I may want to extend my practice, learn more, grow more, develop programs that could make a difference. These are ideas at present, but they have gravitas. I’m not ignoring them and I’m considering them from a ‘what if?’ perspective in that I assume that what I am thinking of is actually possible to create and implement. Obviously that’s long term, but the seeds are there. That’s reassuring in and of itself because this job I studied so hard to qualify for matters to me more than ever. I’m so passionate about it and I didn’t understand before now what it was like to be motivated so strongly by some kind of calling. Midwifery is my calling and is the most practical means in which I can express, generate, and act with love.

Midwifery - art, science, care - quote

While my path in midwifery is clearer than ever, my personal path is not. I am uncertain and I am dealing with grief in the loss of one of my most important relationships. Additionally I am sitting with and processing all the fears I have as a result of what I’ve been through, they’re powerful and will take time to dissipate. I have to incorporate the additional cynicism that I’m experiencing into who I am and how I go forward, I can’t just pretend it’s not there. Alchemy is about experimentation and being open to the unexpected. It is also about sitting with uncertainty and taking on that not all will be revealed, explained or understood at the end. That part is hardest for me right now.

However, I have determination and bravery. I have the love of my circle around me. And I’ll continue to sit with the lessons that Alchemy brings as part of my year long enquiry. I have a feeling that I’ll barely recognise myself by the time I get to the end of the year. Certainly, there’s so much already that feels changed inside. But it’s still too raw to really write about at present.

For now, in this update I can say that I chose the right pathway in Midwifery and that I want to follow that wherever it takes me. Personally everything is particularly uncertain as I undertake the most acute healing following my breakup. Also my remaining live in partner, together we’re now working out what we have together. We were never a two and never conceived of being a tow, and now that we are, we’re approaching it intentionally. We’ll create something lasting and special – we already have the love, commitment and trust. Now to explore the shape and possibilities together. That’s still a little bittersweet, but the joy and whimsy in the possibilities is absolutely present.

My original post wasn’t all that specific about this theme, and I feel this one follows that same pattern. Things are no clearer in specifics, and yet there’s been so much growth and change. I will never be the person I was from the beginning of the year, but I’m already appreciating and a little in awe of the person I’m becoming. As always, I’ll do the best I can, give the best of myself I can.

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.

 

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 me and has my back always – he’s shaped so much of my life, my determination, my moral compass. 2018 we will celebrate and that will be incredible.

My relationship with my girlfriend continued to be deeply rewarding and our bond is something I value incredibly – we have great dates and that feeds and delights both of us, but we also care about each other’s happiness so much and it colours so much of our interaction and care for one another. I spent more time with friends and chosen family than I had anticipated, but it was so, good, so appreciated. I am surrounded by amazing people online and off and  the time, care and affection shared with me is priceless. In particular I’m grateful to some of the closed and small online groups I’m part of – I couldn’t have gotten through last year without them.


There’s not much more to tell in some of these spaces since I checked in back in September, but I got to the end of my study gauntlet and now I’m waiting only on my registration number in anticipation of starting working. I’m also on my first real and genuine break in forever. I have no study to do, no big thing due, it’s just about me. Recovery, rejuvenation, refilling my well, rounding out all the self care, and spending time and appreciation on those who’ve supported me along the way.

Checking in on 2017’s theme: Cusp

Back in January, I revealed my theme for 2017 as Cusp and wrote about it in detail. Now it’s time to revisit what I wrote then and see what I’ve learned from this year, where am I tracking as far as what I wanted and hoped for. Reading back over that post, I’m still deeply moved by it and how it managed to encompass so much of what this year means to me.

If I felt like I could see the end point back in January, now in August… wow. I can feel the end of this degree and the journey that accompanies it breathing down my neck. I feel like there has never been enough hours in the year, and that I’ll be crawling into December. But oh this year, what a thrill it’s been to just maintain awareness of this idea of liminality, standing on the precipice and revelling in being ‘on the verge of’: on the Cusp. Trying to gain as much grounding, support, practice, research, and learning as possible. Trying to balance that with self-care and maintaining my household amidst budget pressures. As much as this year is preparing me to leap, to fly, to take off into a newly created future, it’s a deeply grounding year and I have felt like I’ve revisited many things and reprocessed things, reawoken others – not all of it welcome. And yet, I persist.

So what does that look like in the specific focus areas breakdown?

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.

Standing on the Precipice (credit unknown)

Midwifery

It’s looking more and more likely that I’ll succeed at this goal I’ve had and be able to finish my degree in Midwifery and qualify to practice as a Midwife. That’s an incredible thing to contemplate. Equal parts exciting and terrifying. I’ve submitted all my applications for Graduate positions, I’ve completed the interviews. And now I wait, and hope. I did the best I could with references and applications and I’m secure in how that’s proceeded so far. I also maintain faith in knowing that the sky won’t fall if I don’t secure a graduate position for next year: I can and will make this work, it’s what I’m here to do.

I submitted an abstract to both the national and student conference for later this year and both were accepted, one for a poster and another for a talk, so I’m in the midst of doing that work for presentation now. I’m delirious with excitement as this will fulfil a long held goal to present at a professional conference. I can hardly believe that it’s really happening, but it feels welcome and resonates as ‘right’ for me: I want this, I want to contribute to research and midwifery, increasing evidence for practice, expanding boundaries, making positive changes possible.

I am still working on feeling ‘ready’ to be qualified and a professional in my own right. But I’ve still got two placements left, and I know that there’s a transitional period as a graduate too. But I know that I’m closer than when I started at the beginning of the year, I’m working as hard as I can at every moment for it to come together. And it’s not like I will ever stop learning and trying to improve my practice: that’s continual and part of being a reflective and adaptive practitioner.

A corner bathtub filled with sparkling bubbles, surrounded by candlelight, a glass of sparkling wine, and a book on the sideSelf-Care and Development

I’ve needed this focus so much this year and it’s been deeply central to everything – even Midwifery. I still have things in play to fulfil  me socially with chosen family and close friends bolstering the energy from my beautiful partners. I’ve got some new online spaces that bring joy and care my way and ground me and focus me in a way that I didn’t realise I’d been missing desperately. I love Slack. In my physical social life I’ve made it as easy as possible to say ‘yes’ to things and to spend time in ways that will energise and inspire me, allow me to keep working hard and pushing forward. Also this helps me to mediate the worst of budget difficulty and mediate the impact of mental health stuff our family is going through. It’s been a hard year, but my beloveds and I are consistent in that we all persist. That is always heartening.

I am still trying to do my nails regularly, and it still helps – especially when I am managing to follow through on the regularity specifically. I am reading for pleasure and I’m cooking some amazing food. I have been taking baths and focusing specifically on activities that allow me to relax. The media and books I’ve been consuming have stayed fluffy, I’m just letting go of doing any harder reading or watching this year, it’s all about comfort and optimism right now.

I have also been doing counselling which has helped and so very validating. It’s nice to know that I’m overall coping exceedingly well with extremely challenging circumstances. That central truth helps me to keep going and contextualises it so that I don’t think that how hard things have been is just ordinary hard or challenging. It’s not. On the advice of my counsellor I’ve been starting to meditate and this time around, with the app I’m using, I’m having quite a lot of success with it.

This year has been difficult in the self-care department not the least of which because there’s so much riding on this year and so much to do that there just never seems to be enough hours. But I also had a health experience that reactivated my post traumatic stress disorder and so I’ve been fielding that being more of an imposition than I’m used to for the past few months. While I’m not depressed, I have issues with anxiety, and they play into sleep, not exactly insomnia but not restful sleep, not enough sleep, too easily roused and anxious and thinking and driving myself to ‘do’ even when what I’m supposed to be doing is sleeping.

I’ve done an amazing job in this area, and I’ve needed it. I’ve needed my loved ones and their unstinting care and encouragement, being able to just trust in their love. I’ve needed to care for my loved ones, to be able to make a difference in the difficulties they’ve also faced – be outside my own head and be reminded that there is so much going on outside my own sphere. Also, giving in what capacity I can means that I can more easily accept the help when it is offered, and since I’ve needed the help, I have also needed to know that it is grounded in mutuality and love.

I said in January that Cusp is about being myself and letting that be okay and it’s still true – whether I intended to hold so closely to the importance of that statement or not, I don’t know but the actuality is that it’s underpinned everything. I am more myself than I’ve felt able to be in the past couple of years, I am more in sync with who I am and who I want to be – they’re not so far apart now. That’s pretty amazing, I can’t even pretend that I’m anything other than elated about that.

Reading and Media

As I said above in self care, reading and media has remained a comfort to me and is of deep importance. I can’t conceive of myself as someone without at least one book or television series in progress at any given time. I’ve focused entirely on fluffy and comforting subject matter though, I’ve had no space or coping for harder work in my head or heart  with this space. I have needed reading and watching to help  me recover and relax, so fluff and comfort it is. Excellent decision on my part overall. I’m not really sure how well I’m tracking against my reading goals at this stage – that’s going to be something I allow future me to deal with.

Round earthenware casserole pot with red duck curry, decorated with toasted flaked almonds and bright green corianderDomestic Life

Everything I said before about this being a harder year budget wise was true, and so meal planning and lifting our spirits in tiny ways has been imperative. It’s helped. We’re making it through. The image I picked is from Bat’s birthday dinner, I made Red Duck Curry with Pineapple as the main, it turned out pretty spectacularly! Fox is happier in new work, and we’re so close to the point where I’ll be able to work and we’ll have two incomes finally. And what a feeling that will be! Our most powerful tool domestically continues to be ruthless kindness and gentleness with one another.

We’re all operating at heightened stress, and often limited coping. With kindness and gentleness, any impact that could make things harder or more painful is minimised and often averted. We communicate really deliberately, making requests, providing support, being accountable to one another. Mental health challenges make this both critical and very hard, tiring work. So again, self care – for all of us has been critical. Also coming together and being together, I also think that’s been important, even if we’ve not really been able to make much of an occasion of things.

I had wanted to post here more about study, domestic life, and cooking in addition to books and review – but there’s just been not nearly enough hours. I’m going to just assume that will remain the case and I’ll revisit that idea as a next year one.

Relationships

I am profoundly blessed in my relationships. One partner and I celebrated our 20th anniversary – apart, because that’s just how finances crumbled this year and we’ll make up for lost time later. I love them more deeply than I thought was possible 20 years ago, and I cannot imagine my life without them. That’s the most notable thing to mention. But everyday life with my live-in partners is both a joy and a challenge for all the domestic life reasons above. But our commitment and capacity for each other astounds me and inspires me. I couldn’t have gotten through the past few years without all three of us and our mutual determination. Fox is in a better and better place, he’s grown so much even in the past twelve months, I think sometimes he scarcely recognises himself. Bat continues to persevere with Med school and  mental health – he’s pushed himself at every turn and I couldn’t be prouder (and at times more heartbroken as to the cost), he inspires me with his ability to just keep going, and his honesty around the difficulty.

One of my connections has fallen away in a very quiet way, and I’m just letting it go. It is sad, but I know there’s no actual hard feelings, just not enough impetus and energy and when I realised I was the only one holding on it became a little easier to just take a deep breath, and let it go and appreciate having enjoyed something special. Also, my capacity to drive connection against a tide like that is limited and if I’m lacking that sense of mutuality it makes sense to just appreciate the person and breathe deep and let go. I’m still a little sad, but I am overall okay with it. It is the right choice. The platonic romantic relationship with one partner reached 4 years this year, and we continue to revel in how excellent it is to enjoy each other in the form of really excellent dates and emotional support and togetherness. When so many other bits of our lives are  mutually really hard work, it’s just so wonderful knowing that there is nothing but ease and joy with each other. It helps. That goes toward self care too.

Friendships have been myriad and so rewarding and important, from chosen family and best friends to friends far away and online. I’m rich with amazing people in my life and honestly, the only way I’ve gotten through is with thanks to them. I wish that there were more hours, wish there was more energy and I could more easily show the difference people have made, and give them more of me.


Quote image: a with woman midwife loves what she does, but who she does it for more, less about doing to women, more about doing for women, trusting birth, trusting women.I am still committed to my overall intention being open to things, taking on as much as I can in preparation for what is coming next. Midwifery filters through every aspect of my life, my feminism, my activism, my passion. The image above is a quote that summarises pretty succinctly my central philosophy behind my practice.

I’m not quite as shiny as when I started out the year, I still feel capable, I still feel energised and determined. But I’ve been knocked around by the year, and I’m still struggling. I am learning how to take even better care of myself. I feel more than ever that I’m on the verge, that I’m so very close to the end of this journey, Midwife and all the promise and new beginnings that holds. I’m still in progress, there’s still so many loose ends… but I feel equal to them, and I’ll keep going.

 

105th Down Under Feminists Carnival

Square logo with turquoise border,, same colour text Down Under Feminist Carnival spans the top and bottom, in the centre is the symbol for 'woman' with the southern cross inside the loop.It’s the beginning of March and time for another Down Under Feminist Carnival, which I am hosting this month. Apologies for the belated arrival of things, I had most things pre-drafted and then the beginning of the month really came out of nowhere. Still, it’s International Women’s Day, so perhaps posting tonight is somewhat appropriate in any case.

Next month the Carnival will be hosted by Ana Stevenson at AnaStevenson.com, ana.stevenson [at] uqconnect [dot] edu [dot] au. 

We’re also still looking for people who’d like to host the carnival in future months, it’s super easy, there’s lots of support with people sending through links and it’s a chance to promote the voices of women talking about issues of importance to us. Here’s the DUFC contact form and here is a list of future carnivals that have already been planned (pick any month that isn’t on that list). People will send you suggestions to help you out and there’s help if you need it too. Check out the Down Under Feminists Carnival homepage for more information.


Race and Racism

Front and centre because white feminism is harmful and I’m aware that as a white feminist speaking, I should be doing less of that and more promoting of non-white feminist voices.

A listening piece, Celeste Liddle of Black Feminist Ranter writes for The Age about how we cannot ignore the radicalisation of white men. She also discusses white men and violence and the threat of radicalisation in a podcast for the ABC. This piece is 14 minutes long, but although it’s ABC there doesn’t appear to be a transcript yet.

Faye Yik-Wei Chan is a Melbourne academic writing for the Australian Women’s History Network, sharing research from her thesis on the legal status of Chinese Indonesian Women, 1930-2014. Although this piece is not situated in Australia or New Zealand it is salient to the region and focuses on intersectionality and race outside of the dominance of white people.

Amy McGuire writes for The Monthly about how the Gap is wider than ever, despite promises none of our prime ministers have lived up to commitments on Indigenous affairs.

Disability and Mental Health

@dilettantiquity of Tales from Urban Dilettantia {broken link removed} muses on her messy thoughts and issues with the way performing adulthood intersects with disability {broken link removed}.

Emily McAven writes for SBS about how what research shows is best for trans kids is not actually surprising: treating them as they wish to be treated. This quote is compelling and resonates strongly for me: “When children feel loved and accepted for who they are they thrive”.

Sports

Steph and Liz from No Award talk about why they’re going to the footy, and how much the AFWL means to them. And here’s their commentary after getting to attend the first round of games.

@dilettantiquity of Tales from Urban Dilettantia {broken link removed} also wrote about the footy and her history with it {broken link removed} and excitement over the new AFWL.

Scarlett Harris has written for Paste discussing the impact of sexism and appreciation of WWE, and while the WWE is US based Scarlett writes from an Australian perspective on trying to purchase merchandise, and also the harmful way in which segregation between women wrestlers in WWE remains harmful.

Politics, Work, and Public Spaces

I wrote about Midwifery and the Pink Collar Penalty where after my degree program for a protected position requiring maintenance of a registration, my minimum wage is still under $50k. Even though I’m supporting, educating and looking after women their babies and families during some of the most important and intimate experiences of their lives.

Scarlett Harris writes for Archer Magazine about the issues with promotion of condom use in porn when condoms work exceedingly well for the general public, but are less ideal for wearing hours on end, days on end when having sexual intercourse is your job.

Anna Temby writes for the Australian Women’s History Network, reflecting upon the gendered history of public toilets in Brisbane, Australia.

Chilla Bulbeck writes for the Australian Women’s History Network, and demonstrates in her examination of the ‘gender gap’ in voting and why feminists must continue to prioritise a gendered analyses of politics.

Blue Milk writes on her personal blog of the same name, about her experience in criticising the government and how subsequently her private information was given to a journalist and used against her publicly.

Sarah of Writehanded reminisces on starting her blog and why it remains important to counteract the negative stigma about beneficiaries that is rife in New Zealand.

Yen-Rong of the Inexorablist wrote this great piece on what she thinks white men are thinking when they stare at her, because women in public are still for the consumption of others, right? With a side order of racism.

Emily McAven writes for SBS about marching as a family and finding community at Pride.

Motherhood and Pregnancy

Sometimes parenting is being optimistic, and having that optimism dashed to pieces. Emily of Emily Writes writes about the time she attended an Arts Festival launch hoping it would all be fine (spoiler: it wasn’t).

Amanda from Spinoff Parents talks about the other end of parenthood, where your children as adults have left home and you’re coming to terms with this.

Petra writes for New Matilda on the subject of the universal basic income and its importance to motherhood. I appreciated the way Petra identifies that discussions of women and inequality are different across demographics of women who are, aren’t, or once were mothers.

Blue Milk reminisces on extended breastfeeding, linking to a bunch of other photos and posts she’s done on the subject in the past.

Radical Self-Care

Emily of Emily Writes also talks about the importance of taking time, because self-care is hard. She also talks about the fact that parenthood isn’t a binary of good vs bad, it just is and you do the best you can anxiety and all.

TigTog’s post on Hoyden About Town on discovering the Tomlin rule is timely and apt given the State of Australia, and everything else politics around the globe. I have so much time for Tomlin and her awesome quippiness in general.

Bethwyn of Butterfly Elephant also talks about her need for self-care and compassion, with some suggestions others may find useful and how important it is for her ongoing health.

Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen wrote for SMH about online dating and burn out. How it had given her sexual agency, but that recently she had become burned out by the whole experience.

Food and Cookery

Alex of Acts of Kitchen talks about making a cake, a pie, and interviews Kate who talks about jams, jellies, chutneys and marmalades. This is a podcast link, but Alex does great interviews and this is a conversation between Australian women about things that are interesting to them, wholly in our wheelhouse! This piece is just under 24 minutes long, but has no transcript, I included it as something different for people who may like to listen rather than read.

Alex, from Melbourne Women’s Network talks about the douchiness of Melbourne’s speciality coffee scene, {broken link removed} talking about the trend for male baristas to cling to their coffee machines with serving customers being way beneath their esteemed coffee calling.

Books and Media

Hsu-Ming Teo is a literary novelist and cultural historian who has written for the Australian Women’s History Network about origins of the rural romance genre and the history of literary representations of romantic love on Australia’s rural frontier.

Anne Jamison writes for the Australian Women’s History Network, reflecting on the Australian Women’s Writing Symposium which was held at the State Library of New South Wales in November 2016 looking at the significance of the 19th century history of women writers, for Australian women writers of the present.

Deb Lee-Talbot’s writes for the Australian Women’s History Network, analysing a book about how the Red Cross became as a significant Australian institution.

Justine Larbalestier talks on her personal blog about the problem with ‘boy books’ which is not that there is a lack of books for boys but the assumption by adults that boys will only read books about boys.

 

Midwifery and the Pink Collar Penalty

Text graphic with a turquoise background. Black text reads "Keep Calm, Study Hard and Become a Midwife" with a small black crown at the top.I’m coming into the last year of my training before I hope to qualify and start my new professional role as a midwife. I’ve been making enquiries as to starting wages for graduates and I’m more than a little dismayed. The Nursing Award of 2010 is also the award for Midwives, Bachelor of Midwifery Graduates are treated as Registered Nurses. The basic minimum wage that I can expect comes in at just over $44k per year. Some of my graduate friends report packages as much as $46-47k per year. Although since most graduate program positions are at 0.8 full time equivalent, I wonder if that is then prorated?

This is for the protected title of midwife, which requires a recognised degree and is also qualification requiring ongoing registration to practice. The degree is a three year program and involves many hours of placement in clinical settings (nearly 1000 by the time I will qualify), as well as hours spent following through with pregnant people and their families for experience in the pregnancy continuum . All of these hours are unpaid and undertaken at your own expense.

$44k. I can’t be the only one who thinks that’s a little insulting. I’m told that starting wages for teachers is likewise paltry. I’m surprised at my own surprise for this – why am I surprised that this critical work requiring immense dedication and determination is so undervalued? And yet, I am – I had a sense that a job that necessitated a degree to undertake would have a better wage attached to it. I had thought that even as a graduate, brand new and still squeaking from exam stress that I could expect at least to earn over $50k as a starting point. At that level, my wage would at least would allow me to take over supporting our family with my income. The base wage I’ve mentioned is not to take into account the nature of midwifery as shift work, with penalties (for now) – the potential for extra money through shift work exists, but it is not a given, especially as a graduate. Especially if in a graduate program where there may be an upper limit of shifts or night shifts imposed for some semblance of work and life balance as well as occupational health and safety.

Midwifery - art, science, care - quoteThis discussion of remuneration seems cold and mercenary when referring to a profession that calls for a least a little reverence. Midwifery is the art of being with woman (person), and assisting women to bring new life into the world, equal parts ordinary and extraordinary. For me this is encapsulated by the fact that there is always a moment before baby takes their first breath, that moment always gets me and never ceases to be magical. It’s breathing – so ordinary, and yet that first breath is so important, achieves so much and is absolutely extraordinary.

And yet this is the nature of the pink collar penalty, work that is generally performed by women and has an association with being valuable, rewarding, life-changing, life-saving. In other words, you’re supposed to do the work because it is rewarding first, for the love of it. By inference, the income from undertaking this work is almost meant to be an afterthought – a ‘nice to have’, because the love of the job is its own reward. This is a problem for teachers, childcare workers, nurses, midwives and countless other professions. Dedication to and passion for something like midwifery however fulfilling, does not pay the bills or fill your fridge, or pay for retirement.

It’s the height of injustice to call for the selflessness of women performing these roles and expect them to do it for the love of it alone, and not to need to consider the monetary value behind their work. The hours of study to qualify, the hours of study to maintain our registration and provide the best evidence-based care, the hours messed up by shift-work and the toll that takes on shift-worker’s lives in general. We deserve better, for giving our all to care for people, teach people, and support people throughout their lives as they cross the paths of professionals affected by this penalty. 

I love becoming a midwife, I’m certain I’ll love being a midwife. I love the inherently feminist way I can work and live as a midwife, and that it intersects well with my previous degree in gender and cultural studies. But I have also spent 3 years already working towards this goal unpaid, desperately trying to make ends meet and thought that once I could start working all the scrimping and cutting corners would be worthwhile. I wouldn’t have to figure out how to get by on a week-to-week basis – I could perhaps after a while not live fortnight-to-fortnight, I could maybe have savings. That seems like a pretty fantasy right now if I’m honest. Especially with the recent attacks on penalty rates for workers in hospitality, it’s fairly likely that attacks on other penalty rates like for healthcare workers will come. This is not the feminist future I signed up for, but I’ll work as hard as possible to make it better for us all. After all, I’m painfully aware of the fact that I clearly have enough privilege to actually do this course of study and to have somehow made it work – that’s worthwhile acknowledging too.

105th Down Under Feminist Carnival – March!

Square logo with turquoise border,, same colour text Down Under Feminist Carnival spans the top and bottom, in the centre is the symbol for 'woman' with the southern cross inside the loop. It’s been a while, but I’m once again hosting the Down Under Feminist Carnival next month. No theme or rhyme or reason at the moment, there’s plenty to keep us going at present after all.

Please send me links for any Australian or New Zealand content that you’d like to see featured in the carnival, I’m all ears. You can comment here, or email me transcendancing [at] gmail [dot] com.

The carnival is a collaborative community project. If you’ve ever thought about being a DUFC host, now’s the time to contact Chally who coordinates the carnival. If you’re interested, here’s the DUFC contact form and here is a list of future carnivals that have already been planned (pick any month that isn’t on that list). You’ll get submissions to help you out and Chally will provide any support you might need, first time hosts and those from New Zealand would be especially welcome.

Check out the Down Under Feminists Carnival homepage for more information.

 

2017 is on the Cusp

The new year rolls around again. Now that I’ve wrapped up what I got out of Chrysalis, my 2016 theme it’s time to open up my 2017 enquiry. That’s how I view a theme for the year in any case, a year long subjective enquiry that I let be the background focus for how I go about things. It informs the lessons I want to learn, the growth I want to undertake or the direction in which I want to throw my energy. It’s a no-sticks way of making the whole new year and resolutions thing work for me. If you’re interested, I wrote about my what and how of themes previously.

Without further preamble, my theme for 2017 is: Cusp

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.

Standing on the Precipice (credit unknown)

From the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, here’s the definition that resonates with me for what I’m focusing on this year:

“An interval of time just before the onset of something”

A theme is always a concept, intended to be big enough and broad enough to encompass an entire year, with flexibility. The idea behind Cusp for me, is that I’m still in the midst of a journey – becoming a midwife. I’m still in the process of transformation and I’m not quite done. Unlike my 2015 theme Becoming, I’m much closer to the endpoint and I can see that ending in the distance. I’m close. I’m on the verge. But there’s still a way to go. I don’t yet have my wings, I’m not quite ready to fly – but I’m approaching that point and so I feel like I’m in this liminal space, in between and not-quite. I like Cusp for the potential it makes me feel, for the challenge it breathes into me and the push for this last year of effort required to achieve this major goal, career and vocation change, who I am in the world, being that kindness and change I wish to see. Everything. On the verge, standing on the precipice: just before the culmination, on the Cusp.

Weeks ago when I was letting this word and concept  tick over in my mind, I had thought this would be another inwardly facing theme. I thought Cusp would go to work on me internally and that I would need to look inward to see the effects. Now, I don’t think that is the case. I think this is far more outward facing than I’d supposed, and that it’s a kind of embracing of the world at large and putting myself and what I am contributing out into the world in various ways. There’s still the internal component I’d already mused upon, but there’s also a call for me to be visible, be vocal and practise all that I’ve learned, consolidate it all and find out how it and I all fit together. It’s pretty exciting!

Let’s break down the areas where I’m directing my focus for Cusp, and what I hope comes out of this enquiry.

Text graphic with a turquoise background. Black text reads "Keep Calm, Study Hard and Become a Midwife" with a small black crown at the top.Midwifery

I want to complete my final year in my degree to qualify as a Midwife, this is so much the thing that I am on the Cusp of, it’s so close I can almost taste it! I would like to do this and maintain the good marks I’ve gotten so far. I want to do well in my last three prac units, and get the references I need for my Grad Year Applications. I also want to get all my numbers for things together so that I can hopefully do as few extra shifts for births and the like at the end of the year. I think it’s unlikely I’ll have all the numbers and not need any extra shifts, but we’ll see. I want to go to the Student Midwife Conference this year, and if I’m lucky one of the other professional conferences (that might be pushing it though). By the end of the year I really want to feel like I’m ready to transition into professional practice for real, have my own registration and the responsibility that goes with it.

Self-Care and Development

In this area I hope to continue the practices that I’ve found work for me in the past couple of years. I want to continue to refine the care and feeding of my extroverted self, surrounded by my wonderful introverted partners. I’m grateful to them for how loving and caring they are toward me, knowing that I thrive on a base level of affection and touch. I appreciate their efforts to give me what I need and that they notice how I in turn try and support and fulfil their needs.

Two hands showing nails over dark purple sleeves, fair Caucasian skin tone with nail wraps featuring glow in the dark multi-coloured eyeballs from Jamberry. I want to remember that baths, books, Jamberry nails, video games, walks, podcasts, dinner and great conversations with my wonderful friends are my favourite self-care mediums. I want to keep making time for these and have them fit into what promises to be a busy and demanding year. I’m getting better at this as time goes on, so it’s refining and continuing as I’ve already started.

I am allowing for some gentle untangling of some deeper and older emotional stuff inside, body stuff, family history stuff and being myself stuff. I’m not sure how that will go, but I’m allowing space for it to come about, without intending to specifically dig things out of my psyche and go to work on them.

That said, I do want to finally conquer the ridiculous molehill-become-mountain that is getting my driver’s license. It’s back in active progression as I’m doing practise driving regularly again and will aim to book a couple of pass-the-test lessons and then do the test and (hopefully) pass!

My intention for this year is that I reduce my overall anxiety, that I see a reduction or ending to those habits and telltales of my anxiety. I’d like to continue to dial back my hyper-vigilance as I can bit by bit. That’s hard. About as hard as I thought, but not intractable. It involves letting go, breathing out and trusting things to be okay and people to be okay.

Cusp in this area is about being myself, and letting that be visible and outward without fear, learning to be okay with it and not quite so terrified.

Reading and Media

This is purely for me, my leisure, my enjoyment of time  to myself and how to spend it. I want to read, enjoy book clubs, do reading challenges, catch up on some of the television I’m watching, play awesome games, keep up with podcasts and share that with people here and via social media. I want to keep reviewing books here and doing some interviews and blog tour things if I get the chance. I’ve already written up my reading goals for 2017 so I won’t rehash that. I think I’ll also just allow for another post at a random interval talking about the games, media, and updates to podcasts I love and so forth. This is the simplest for this category yet, but the intention is simply to just keep enjoying it the way I am and to share it outwards with joy and enthusiasm.

Domestic Life

This year looks to be crappier budget wise, but we’re going to try and make it work as best we can, it’s the last year where budget should be so very hard and that too is reflective of the theme Cusp. That means meal-planning and using little inexpensive things to keep our spirits up and to make us feel better about things. It’s easier to deal with a strict grocery budget if you’re still able to make awesome and interesting food. Since Bat is also back to sharing more of the cooking that actually looks less stressful and more possible. Household things in general seem to be mostly running more smoothly and fairly, with room for tweaking but there’s no real ‘hard’ attached overall. I want us all to feel like the breakdown is fair, achievable and that we live as well as possible in a lean year. I have some light aspirations towards decluttering – specifically in my bedroom/wardrobe space but I’m simply identifying the desire and not putting any specifics around it at this stage. It’s all possible. I would like to post more about food, cooking and meal-planning this year if I can manage it around study and book reviews.

Relationships

A white cat and a black cat cuddled together in a soft nest where their paws and tails make a heart shape. I want to enjoy my relationships, friendship, chosen family, family, romantic and other poly-connections. I want to spend time and appreciate the wonderful people in my network.

I want things to continue to improve emotionally and in mental health for my live-in partners, it’s been a hard few years, and this year is intended to be the last ‘flagged’ hard year as after this we should have better income options which will take much of the pressure off and give us some more options. Fox is in the best place he’s ever been, but with that still comes new lessons and difficulties – like trying to learn how to actually relax. Bat is doing alright and is doing what he can to maintain that ahead of going back to Med School. His new boyfriend from the US is also planning to visit this year which I hope consolidates Bats feelings of love and safety and possibility, and that it helps him to get through the academic year.  I want him to feel loved and supported and know that Fox and I are behind him eleventy percent, and that we welcome N as his partner too.

I want to spend my 20th anniversary with my partner K who is interstate and I’ve not caught up with him in person since 2014, because money. But it’s our anniversary and there’s a lot going on to make this possible for him to be over here and for us to spend time together. We’ve been through so much together, we mean so much to one another – and despite living on opposite sides of the country, that doesn’t change. He’s still the person who wants me to have the most amazing life and wants to contribute however possible to that, and I want the same – he made it possible for me to move to Melbourne and it was the best thing for me, despite how deeply I miss him constantly.

I want to spend time with my other poly connections, enjoy the company and try and find some way of spending time regularly instead of sporadically – that ends up stressful, I’m making space for that to become easier. It’s hard with no central scheduling, competing priorities and obligations, distance, and lack of money to make things easier. I’m still allowing for the possibility.


Overall what underscores Cusp for me is being open to things, allowing for possibility and being willing to take on things, try things, do things and see what happens. I still have to be mindful of energy levels, resilience and self-care but I  feel much more capable of that at this point. This is less detailed and specific than in the past couple of years, but I feel more freedom at this point to see where it leads and to just let things happen. Hopefully that means more reflection posts along the way as I learn things too. Here’s to 2017, Cusp, and getting ready to take the leap, letting myself be with the moment, on the verge and almost arriving at the destination of Midwife.

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.

2017 Reading Goals

Time to talk about my reading goals for 2017! My plans are not dramatically different from past years, but I’m tweaking things to work better and trying to be ambitious in what I achieve. However, I am trying to be mindful of doing this in ways that are within reach given I’m heading into my final year of my midwifery degree. Reading is one of the things I do for self-care and stress relief – even when in semester I’ll still read for pleasure. I also find I get a bit stressed and lonely, so I’ve found that joining in with bookclubs and challenges can often be helpful for feeling connected and involved in social things, without having to use up a lot of energy to leave the house.

Overall Reading Goal

Blue banner image with picture of a book in white and the text Goodreads 2017 Reading ChallengeOnce again, 75 books seems to be the right length to aim for – I did do a little better than that in 2016, but some were shorter reads, plus it’s my final study year so I will probably be busier than previous years. Also, as with all goals this is something to aim for and give me a bit of a challenge to enjoy, it’s not about beating myself with sticks. I’m quite determined to maintain this outlook with all my goal-setting because it has to work for me, not against me.

Reviewing

In general I want to continue reading and reviewing, I am loving seeing the number of my reviews grow – both here and on Goodreads. Plus, I want to continue to review and promote new books when I can get advance copies, particularly for indie publishers.  Additionally, I am hoping to get back to doing some of my Retro Fiction Review Series for older books that could use a boost in attention. There are so many books being published that it’s easy for some great books to be overlooked and I’d like to draw some attention to ones I think deserve some more love. As far as the time frame for ‘retro’, I’m thinking books published prior to 2000.

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

Silhouette of a woman with an umbrella black on a blue background with text Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017.This is the reading challenge that I’ve participated in the longest, and I love it as much now as the first time I got to join in. This year I’m pledging to read and review 15 books by Australian Women Writers. As part of that challenge I’m also trying to improve on the diversity in my reading to include women who are queer, Indigenous women and women from different cultural backgrounds and experiences to myself as a white Australian person.

This is a great challenge to take on because you can set your own level of participation. You can nominate to read and review, or if you don’t want to review that’s fine too! This year there is a specific focus on drawing attention to Australian Women Writers who come from diverse backgrounds, but also to raise the profile of some Classics by Australian women. There’s already quite a lot of excited discussion about this focus, with the nominal definition of ‘classic’ being written at least 30 years ago and being significant at the time it was published, or to have had a lasting profile/impact in Australia or a region. I’m not taking on the Classics focus for my challenge but as a long time fan of Elyne Mitchell’s Silver Brumby books, I am hoping lots of other people fall in love with these – and maybe I’ll pick up the subsequent books to reread, it’s been a long time and I’m probably overdue to reread.

Goodreads Reading Challenge

The main challenge has an active bookclub group that does a bunch of long and short, easy and difficult challenges, plus buddy reads and a gift exchange at the end of the year. I enjoyed participating in several buddy reads and challenges last year and am going to join in again. If you want to follow the things I’m doing, I’ll be tracking all the various challenges and so on in this forum post. I’m already doing a buddy read in January – we’re reading Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho. I’ve also signed up for some year long challenges and a couple of first quarter challenges:

Bout of Books button with determined woman in yellow looking tired and surrounded by books.Bout of Books 18

For the first time ever I’m participating in the Bout of Books reading marathon – it’s an easy going challenge that is purely about encouraging you to read a bit more than you’d already planned that week. I like the tag line that says ‘I was planning to read this week anyway’ because, that’s true. And now this week I get to enjoy the company of a bunch of other people who are also participating – it’s rather lovely to be involved in all the twitter loveliness.  You can read my progress post for Bout of Books 18 where I’m keeping a record of what I’m reading, how much and also of the challenges I’ve participated in.

Banner with purple-pink rainbow art with flowers and flourishes and a book, tex treads Read Diverse 2017 where diverse is in rainbow colours.Read Diverse 2017

As part of my ongoing desire to improve on how diverse my reading is, particularly in intersectional ways where I’m privileged, I’m using this challenge to be a background reminder for me for the reading I was going to be doing anyway. Despite the name, it’s about reviewing and promoting works by marginalised authors as well as works that feature marginalised characters. Intersections with queerness and disability and whiteness, gender and a few other elements are the focus. I’m not going to lie, the art is definitely one of the reasons I was drawn to this particular challenge.  How pretty is the button?

Bookclubs

I still want to participate in some of the other bookclubs that I’ve enjoyed, like the Sword and Laser Bookclub, the Vaginal Fantasy Bookclub and I’ve also been participating in the readalong with the Magical Space Pussycats podcast. I’m also hoping that Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Inky Valkyrie bookclub gets up and running (if you were looking for an awesome patreon with excellent speculative fiction content to sponsor, her’s is a good one).

Finish the Journey Through the Twelve Planets Challenge

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'.Steph and I started this last year, we got half way through the year all on time and so on and then the mid-year just hit us both really hard. Plus, I was in the midst of a very busy semester and am not a horror reader at the best of times, so it took me a lot longer to get through Kaaron Warren’s Through Splintered Walls than I had anticipated, I expect Cracklescape by Margo Lanagan will be a similar story (but it will also be worth it I am certain). The aim is to finish the final six books in the challenge in 2017 and I am looking forward to it and that we’ve got the whole year to do it in.


That’s what I have so far, and hopefully I’ll exceed expectations in these goals I’ve taken on! I hope to report on how I’m tracking sometime around mid-year, but we’ll see how that goes (it’s a very busy time of the year for me study-wise so I may be dreaming that I’ll get the blogging time then).

 

 

Snapshot 2016: Interview with Marianne de Pierres

Snaphot Logo 2016

Marianne de Pierres remains one of the most versatile authors writing in the Australian scene, she’s not afraid to tackle any kind of story that takes hold of her and she’s always up for trying something new. Plus, she’s also great fun to have around! This interview is part of Snapshot 2016 and is reposted from the Australian SF Snapshot Project. #Snapshot2016.


Marianne de Pierres Comic Con 2016 author photoMarianne de Pierres received the 2014 Curtin University Distinguished Australian Alumni Award for significant and valuable contributions to society. This award was granted in recognition of her feminist speculative fiction. She is the author of the award-winning Sentients of Orion and Peacemaker series. Her young adult Night Creatures trilogy was listed as a Recommended Read by both the Stella Prize and Victoria Premier’s Literary Award panels. Under the pseudonym Marianne Delacourt, she has also written a series of crime novels for which she has received a Davitt Award. She is a writing educator and mentor, a proponent of Transmedia, and has been involved in several successful creative partnerships.

You’re working on feminist science fiction for your PhD project, what is the most surprising thing you’ve learned in your research and reading so far?

The short answer is “everything”. It’s been a wonderful and soaring learning curve for me: from Donna Haraway’s cyber-feminsim through to the post-feminist theorists. More specifically though, my topic examines how certain female speculative fiction authors imagine future feminism in their work. The most surprising discovery is the conclusion that I’m beginning to draw from an analysis of three particular texts. I’m using vN by Madeline Ashby, God’s War by Kameron Hurley, and Zoo City by Lauren Beukes as my case studies. Though set in vastly different worlds and written in diverse styles, there are some strong commonalities in their subtexts. But you’ll have to read my exegesis to find out what those are! No spoilers yet.

Sharp Shooter - coverThe recent re-release of ‘Sharp Shooter’ internationally is so exciting and I’m so looking forward to the release of the fourth novel in the series! Can you give us a hint of what we can expect from Tara’s next adventure?

Thanks Ju! I am also really thrilled that Twelfth Planet Press have picked up the Tara Sharp series for their Deadlines imprint. The books are being re-released over the course of this year with new covers, and each one has been revised, and in some instances new material has been added. Cathy Larsen is producing some splendid new artwork. Book 4 will be out around November and is titled Sharp Edge. Things are ‘hotting up’ between Tara and Nick Tozzi and she’s not sure she can handle it, so (in usual fashion) she plunges into her latest adventure to avoid having to make decisions. This means helping her ex-fiancée, Garth, with a money laundering problem and disentangling herself from the bikie gang to whom she owes a favour. Cass and she also move out of Lilac Street. Everyone’s lives are evolving.

One of your strengths as an author has been your ability to work across genres, from YA and urban fantasy to science fiction, crime and dystopia. Do you have a favourite amongst the genres you’ve written in and are there any you’d still like to try out?

Funny you should mention that! Once my PhD novel is complete, I plan to work on a biography about a man named Colonel Herman Thorn, who lived in early 19th Century New York and Paris. I’m so obsessed with this story that for the first time in my life, I feel compelled to write non-fiction, and I refuse to be daunted by the fact that it’s a new genre for me.

In terms of my previous fictions… as long as it’s speculative, I love it! No favourites there. 🙂

What Australian work have you loved recently?

Pamela Hart’s (aka Freeman) historical novels are some of the best world building I’ve read. Pamela’s a terrific writer in all genres, but I agree with her husband (author Stephen Hart) who says she’s really found her niche here.

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

Octavia Butler. I’d be interested in pretty much anything she had to do or say.

Snapshot 2016: Interview with Ambelin Kwaymullina

Snaphot Logo 2016

Ambelin Kwaymullina writes the kind of books you fall in love with, at least *I* did and so it was a particular privilege to interview her. This interview is part of Snapshot 2016 and has been reposted from the Australian SF Snapshot Project. #Snapshot2016.


Ambelin Kwaymullina author photoAmbelin Kwaymullina is an Aboriginal writer, illustrator and law academic who comes from the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia. She is the author of the dystopian series The Tribe for young adults, and has also written and illustrated a number of award-winning picture books. Find out more about Ambelin at her website: www.ambelin-kwaymullina.com.au.

In one of your interviews for #LoveOzLit, you refer to a need to trust the story and to not get in its way. I also notice that much of your work features the element of transformation and I wondered if that was deliberate or if it relates to your trusting the story you’re working on?

In my culture, everything lives, including stories. That means to tell a story is a profound responsibility, and part of that responsibility is allowing the story to honour its own truths. Stories, like all life, are capable of unexpected transformations. Another part of that responsibility is to understand that not all stories are yours to tell – we all occupy a particular position in this world and that position informs our understanding but also places limits upon it, especially when it comes to the stories of cultures and identities not our own.

Are there any speculative projects (writing, art, appearances) that you’re working on presently that you can share any details with us?

I’m working on a new novel (YA, spec fic). It’s not part of The Tribe series – but like The Tribe series, it’s a work of Indigenous Futurisms, which is a form of storytelling where Indigenous creators use the spec fic genre to challenge colonialism and imagine Indigenous futures.

The Tribe Series - covers

In recent years you’ve written for The Wheeler Centre about Indigenous storytellers, power and privilege, about Aboriginal storytelling and young people, and about the need for diverse stories in Australia. Have you noticed any changes in the number or nature of Indigenous storytellers and stories being produced and distributed to wider audiences since then?

Nope.

Indigenous publishers (like Magabala Books) continue to do amazing work, and some small presses (like Fremantle Press and University of Queensland Press) also publish a significant list of Indigenous voices. But there’s been no fundamental shift in the literary industry more generally, either in relation to Indigenous authors or other diverse voices. Here’s the thing: as I’ve said before, a lack of diversity in literature is not a ‘diversity problem’. It’s a privilege problem, in that it is being caused by structures, behaviours and attitudes that consistently privilege one set of voices over another. That means that change is required at an individual and systemic level to address privilege before diverse voices will ever have a real chance of being heard. And this change needs to encompass the entire industry, not just publishers (as recent conversations in the US over the role of reviewers reminds us).

Part of this change involves being informed. I blogged recently about some things editors should know when editing books with Indigenous content, but much of what I said applies to the literary industry more generally.

What Australian work have you loved recently?
Cleverman!

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
My friend from across the sea, fellow speculative fiction writer Zetta Elliott. We have only ever met in cyber-space and it would be so nice to connect in person.

Snapshot 2016: Interview with Stephanie Lai

Snaphot Logo 2016

My interview with Stephanie Lai, and as you can see I get to interview some of the most awesome Stephanie types in Australia! I conducted this interview as part of Snapshot 2016, reposted from the original over at the Australian SF Snapshot Project. #Snapshot2016.


Stephanie Lai author photoStephanie Lai is a Chinese-Australian writer and occasional translator. She has published long meandering thinkpieces in Peril Magazine, the Toast, the Lifted Brow and Overland. Recently, her short fiction has appeared in the Review of Australian Fiction, Cranky Ladies of History, and In Your Face. Despite loathing time travel, her defence of Perpugilliam Brown can be found in Companion Piece (2015). She is an amateur infrastructure nerd and has a professional interest in climate change adaptation and sustainability. You can find her on twitter @yiduiqie, at stephanielai.net, or talking about pop culture and drop bears at no-award.net

Congratulations on your Artist Residency in Singapore! What excites you most about getting to spend three months concentrating on your creative work?

Thank you! Only EVERYTHING. I’ve never had the chance to really sit and just focus on my practice before, undistracted by calling my mum or cleaning up after the cat or visiting my friends who coincidentally have days off work. So the idea that I’ll be able to just sit and work is intimidating but so exciting, too. I’m also very excited about exploring something that is so personally important to me (the impact of traditional culture and cultural identity on how people interact with climate change information/instructions, particularly in Asian communities), and that has an impact on both my professional day job and my writing. Although I’m going to be working on community research for a research memoir, I expect the understandings and learnings and all the fun stuff will have an impact on my science fiction, too – so it’ll just mean even more climate change fiction about Chinese-Australian ladies. 😀

The residency is facilitated by Asialink Arts and located at Grey Projects in Singapore, and my grant is through the Malcolm Robertson Foundation.

Cranky Ladies of History - coverYour story about lady pirate extraordinaire Cheng Shih in Cranky Ladies of History was fantastic, and barely scraped the surface of how awesome she was historically. Is there a chance that you would consider writing more of her story in future?

Yes. I desperately want to look at how Cheng Shih’s domain and reign would have changed in a silkpunk world; or a world where she truly was the (Water) Dragon of the South Seas.  My piece in Cranky Ladies was very much set in our world as we understand it, and I’d like to explore that in a science fiction or fantasy setting.

If you had the opportunity to edit an anthology of your choice what kind of project would you want to put out into the world?

South East Asian climate change SFF written by South East Asians. Our islands will be impacted, and in many ways are already being impacted (our first climate change refugees are coming from the Pacific, from Tuvulu and Kiribati), and I’m interested in how people envision that. And in creating more spaces for South East Asian SFF.

What Australian work have you loved recently?

Since last year’s Snapshot I’ve really loved Orphancorp by Marlee Jane Ward (Seizure) and The Family Law by Ben Law, which wasn’t published recently but was a delight. I’ve also appreciated, rather than loved, a book by my housemate’s dad (Putting Stories to Work, Shawn Callahan, self-pub), which is about great using stories in business and not-profit contexts to change hearts and minds, and has really helped my professional storytelling practice (Storytelling is such an important part of climate change communication, and one which is often overlooked).

I am really looking forward to reading The Island Will Sink by Briohny Doyle, which just came out last week through The Lifted Brow.

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

I don’t talk to strangers on long flights! But I guess in the spirit of this question, my answer is either Pu Songling, Ted Chiang, or Maxine Beneba Clarke.

Snapshot 2016: Interview with Stephanie Gunn

Snaphot Logo 2016

My interview with Stephanie Gunn is the second of the interviews I conducted for Snapshot 2016, reposted from the original over at the Australian SF Snapshot Project. #Snapshot2016.


Stephanie Gunn author photoStephanie Gunn is a speculative fiction writer and reviewer. Once upon a time she was a scientist, but life had other ideas, and now she spends her days surrounded in words in one way or another. She has had work nominated for the Aurealis, Ditmar and Tin Duck Awards, and is currently at work on several contemporary fantasy novels. She lives in Perth with her husband and son, and requisite cat, who cares not for books except as surfaces to sit on. You can find her online at stephaniegunn.com.

 

How would you describe your Defying Doomsday story ‘To Take Into the Air My Quiet Breath’ for people who may not know what to expect from an anthology about a dystopian future featuring disabled and chronically ill protagonists?

To Take Into the Air My Quiet Breath is a story about sisters who survive a devastating flu pandemic. The sisters consist of a set of twins, both of whom have cystic fibrosis—one of whom has had a lung transplant—and their older sister. The three of them initially survived the pandemic by going into isolation on a remote farm with their uncle and mother; both adults died after the pandemic, leaving the sisters to survive alone.Defying Doomsday - cover

The idea for the story came from a long fascination with pandemics (I blame early reading of Stephen King’s The Stand, but I also have a background in microbiology and genetics, and had thought of going into epidemiology) and the idea of who would be likely to survive in a global pandemic. The idea is that the strong survive, of course, and those who happen to be immune, but what if that strength and/or immunity came with a chronic illness? And for that chronic illness to be something like cystic fibrosis, which requires an enormous amount of medical support, was an idea I couldn’t shake.

People with chronic illnesses and disabilities are taught to be survivors in this world, usually by necessity, and not always given the support and respect due to them. I wanted very much to show these sisters supporting each other, and in the end, to give them hope. To let them defy everything.

We’re about half way through our reading/blogging project ‘Journey Through the Twelve Planets’, what have you discovered about the Twelve Planets collection that you didn’t know when we started?

The main thing I’ve discovered is the sheer quality of the collections in the Twelve Planets. I read most of the first half of the Planets when they were released, and I knew that they were all good, but reading them back to back has really shown just how impressive they all are. We’re seven books in now, and there hasn’t been a single story or novella that’s been sub-par. It’s really put into perspective how damn good the female writers showcased are, and given me a whole new level of respect for Twelfth Planet Press and Alisa Krasnostein (and frankly, I already had an enormous amount of respect for both).

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'.

In your 2015 wrap up blog post you talk about writing goals and achievements in 2015, how is 2016 shaping up in relation to the goals and plans still on your list?

This has been a bit of a frustrating year for me. I’ve been focusing a lot on developing my skill as a novel writer, and learning as much as I can about story structure and outlining. I’ve always been a hardcore pantser, and I’ve wanted very much to streamline my methodology to—in theory—make novel writing a faster process for me. I’ve definitely moved very much to being an outliner now, but novel writing is still frustratingly slow. It takes me a fair amount of time to craft a short story as well, and for both I need many, many drafts, so I’m at the point where I probably just need to accept that mine is a slow process.

I had a lot of plans coming into this year. I wanted to outline and finish a first draft of a new novel, which has been extremely slow in coming. I do have about two thirds of a draft by now, but it’s been extremely frustrating, especially since I wanted to have this done in the first half of the year so I can redraft another novel, which is edging close to being submittable.

I’ve also had one short story published so far (To Take Into the Air My Quiet Breath, in Defying Doomsday), which I am incredibly proud of (and still, quite frankly, somewhat stunned to be published in that anthology!), and I have another novella forthcoming in Aurum from Ticonderoga Press. So it’s not a total loss, even though I feel like I’ve only accomplished a tiny fraction of what I wanted to.

 What Australian work have you loved recently?

All of the Twelve Planets collections read to date have been amazing, and I encourage anyone who hasn’t read them to pick up copies of them all. I was also floored by how amazing Lisa L. Hannett’s debut novel Lament for the Afterlife, as well as Louise Katz’s The Orchid Nursery. I’m biased, since I have a story in it, but Defying Doomsday, edited by Holly Kench and Tsana Dolichva, was amazing, and I want to make particular note of “Tea Party” by Lauren E. Mitchell. Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, was also incredible, and I’m looking forward to the sequel later this year.

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

This is a tough one, mostly because I’m a massive introvert who would most likely be sitting with headphones in for the whole time! If I have to pick someone, it would probably be Kameron Hurley, just because of her sheer talent, grit honesty about the writing life. I think that would be a very worthwhile trip.

International Women’s Day 2016

How does one write about women and equal rights in 2016? It’s traditional to start these posts off with a celebratory phrase, but also a cautionary one.

It feels like we’re still saying the same things over time and again. How do you stand up again on March 8 and say “Happy International Women’s Day, we have so much to celebrate, and so much work yet to be done”, again?

My eternal optimism at least, grows tired. Rallying cries and motivational statements abound but at least for me this year, they’re equal parts inspiring and heartening as they are tired, and somewhat depressing. What do I even mean by this?

Well, I’m never going to fail to be astounded and inspired by the boundless enthusiasm of those who bring new energy to this fight, to this journey for equality. I’m also never going to lose my abiding respect and admiration for those who keep speaking out, speaking up about equality for years – seemingly tireless.

But. And it’s a big one. It’s still the same stuff and it seems like overall so little has shifted. The conversation about women, about equality is still one where many of us are jumping up and down to emphasise the importance of intersectionality. We’re adamant about the importance of less white women speaking for a supposedly global homogenous population of women – we’re not homogenous, and equality looks like many different things across global groups. But how are we making it possible for women from across different cultural groups and ethnicities to speak and be heard? Also, what about making the voices of women who have disabilities – visible and invisible, heard? Or simply, what about making it possible, without a huge cost of energy, for those people with disabilities to attend events without going three rounds with organisers about the realities of accessibility?

Globally we’re still divided on the importance of trans* and non-gender-binary people’s experience of oppression – and I’m not the only one who is just so tired of explaining why this is relevant to women, to equality and yes, to International Women’s Day. For all the visibility of something like IWD, there remains so much invisibility for various women, and people whose experiences are reflective or related to the kind of equality sought by, represented by International Women’s Day.

The theme for IWD 2016 is ‘Pledge for Parity’. It’s a worthy theme, more nuanced than some I’ve seen. And it encompasses so much – parity in terms of equal pay, equal representation in leadership, business, politics, policy, health, technology, and science. Also, parity in the experience of safety in homes and society at large, equality in recognition for talent and achievement, in publishing and critique, in creation of art, music and performance. Parity also relates to choice, and ditching the trap of ‘having it all’ instead for the idea that you can choose for yourself, and what you choose should be respected. Parity means being able to choose the work you do, the contributions you make to society, your choice to parent, your choice of partnership and around family experiences, around community and culture. And recognising also… choice does not occur in a vacuum. Until we address the surrounding culture – at every level, globally – choices will continue to be informed by the same limitations to equality we currently experience.

My underlying point to these statements is of course that, women no matter their background or ability, trans* and non-gender-binary people, do actually have a right to expect their societies to reflect their lives and also to be liveable for them. This is fundamentally about changing societies, not accommodations reluctantly made by existing monolithic societies. And therein lies my fatigue around the conversation about feminism, intersectionality and equality; because this is the conversation we’re not really having. Right now we can only point directly to where minority groups lack equality, preferably in hard statistics because who can trust personal stories and experiences – who can trust one hundred (thousand) of them?

Even then, caveats are necessary to recognise that of course not everything is bad, not everyone from various groups is contributing to the harm (and isn’t that statement the crux of missing the whole point?). The moment we point to an aspect of society that needs to shift and change, the need for others to comment and derail the conversation to become about everything the conversation was not about occurs every time. I’m not the only one fatigued by that first or second comment to any discussion I initiate or participate in that requires the acknowledgement that often really does boil down to ‘#notallmen’.

Going back to the idea various individuals have that they’re not personally contributing to the harm, the most frustrating thing about this is simply that: they are. We all are in our way – that’s what it means to live in an unequal society. I am frustrated because I can never get past the defensiveness and the need for ego stroking here. It often seems impossible to get to the next point which is: we all contribute to the harm an unequal society imposes on others, but we also all have the ability to become aware of this and to contribute to changes that will result in a society that becomes more equal. And no, there is no immediate ‘do it once and you’re done’ fix. It’s incremental, it’s ongoing and glacial. It’s what we mean when we say that feminism and the fight for equality is like emptying the ocean with a teaspoon.

The challenge remains that: we’re still trying to work out how to do this. It’s like trying to ‘see air’ without changing the context under which you’re ‘seeing’ it. That’s the conversation that it seems like we’re still not *quite* having. Although my optimism is leaking through here when I say that, a conversation of that kind on a global level seems closer than ever before. But not close enough.

So here’s my toast to *all* women, all trans*, all non-gender-binary people, all those with disabilities visible and invisible, for their hard work, dedication, belief in the seemingly impossible, their trust in me and in others, their hope, their hard and thankless work to create change. Here’s my toast to the discoverers, the ground-breakers, the thinkers, creatives, performers, scientists, musicians, mathematicians, surveyors, engineers, astronomers, dreamers, artists, health professionals, carers, cleaners, parents, lovers, writers, politicians, cooks, the daring, the innocent, the cynical, the brave, the injured, the fearful, those who are struggling. Here’s to immigrants and refugees, asylum seekers and those who grab with both hands any chance for survival, to create a safer life for themselves and their families. Although we are still so far from equality, your bravery, compassion, and optimism humbles me and together I assert that a future of equality is possible, because we cannot be dissuaded and our number swells day by day.

Moving on from Becoming and 2015

It’s taken longer than I wanted to get to this point where writing was possible. But that happens sometimes and I just needed to go with it. Last week I had my annual conversation with @dilettantiquity about our theme stuff. We have a unique insight and understanding of each other in part because we are so very very different, but there are strong similarities too. I love our relationship and even if this is the only conversation we manage in a year (and recently this has been the case), it is one of the best conversations I’ll have all year. Guaranteed.

Often when we talk, it’s to sort out what maybe the year ahead will bring – a theme for the new year can sometimes be elusive. This time for us, we needed much of the time to talk through the year we’d just been through and what our 2015 enquiry had looked like at the end of things. For me, at the start of the conversation, I didn’t know at all. And then we talked it through, and it all became clearer and now, I can write about it.

First of all, I have such an appreciation for me of January 2015 writing about Becoming for the first time, being so optimistic, hopeful and determined. I love that person, she’s ace! The year I hoped for was so far from what actually happened, so many things about the aims I put forth to focus on yielded unexpected results – some involved no results at all, some were merely different, and others changed me.

Mostly what I can describe 2015 as is, a continuous grind that never, ever let up. When I wrote up my end of year meme post for my Dreamwidth journal, I was struck that there were few really big good things. There was my first baby catch back in January, and Continuum in June, getting a part time job that is actually pretty great in September so more money for the last part of the year in our budget, and Christmas with chosen family in December. They’re moderately big, big compared to everything else, but not that big.

The continual good things were my partners, especially Ral and Fox and our determination to have a good life together as a family and household. That was easier only on some days and mostly just hard because of circumstances. We worked hard at managing on one income between three of us, and that income is not an easy one because Fox is pretty much at the end of his tether with this job, but we need it and so he perseveres. Med school for Ral seems to be an unusual method of torture that tries to talk you out of something you’re passionate about, good at, really worked hard to do, and yet get there and it’s like walking on broken glass the whole time. He perseveres too amidst several difficulties, and despite being awful this year was less awful for him than last which is a win. I’m so very proud of them and I love my Bat and Fox so very much. 

Baturday Fox cub close up

We balanced focusing on making sure all the essentials were paid for first, with then afterwards trying to say yes to each other for little things and treats – a game, a cheap dinner out, a new piece of clothing/shoes/my favourite moisturiser. We also focused a lot on kindness with each other, on making home safe and a haven for each other, on being there for each other and sharing the load – being flexible with that because coping varied considerably. We did the best we could and mostly it worked, most of the time – I think that sounds like faint praise when really given everything that we dealt with, it was pretty wondrous.

So Becoming as an enquiry was less about my journey around midwifery and taking on the qualities and actions of a new qualification and career, less around personal self expression and surety. Instead, it was more about Becoming a household that is even more tightly knit, and one that makes do and works hard at that. It was about Becoming more familiar (and less) with dealing with the effects of mental illness and what that looks like as something ongoing without resorting to blame or resentment. Becoming was about making space – in that way of pouring energy into spacemaking to facilitate home, safety and care. And it was also about my Becoming a midwife and being rattled around in that journey throughout the year – it was gruelling and my confidence remains quite shaken.

Essentially this was a much more inward facing year than I’d originally anticipated – I thought it would be more outward projecting. Inwardly there was lots of digging deep for more energy, for coping, for life administration, for health matters, for mental health (mine and partners), for emotional labour, domestic management, for balancing it all. That’s mostly what I remember, constantly steeling myself and seeking to dig deeper. But I managed. We managed. We all came through it, more or less in one piece. We know that eventually it won’t be this hard and that things will be better. In the meantime, we keep digging in and doing the best we can.

Looking more specifically at aims I had or goals I wanted to achieve:

Reading, Media and Fandom

My biggest area of success last year – by far! And an expansion in scope! I already wrote my wrap up post about my reading commitments from the beginning of last year. They went really well overall. I met my overall reading goal of 75 books (although some of them were shorter). There was more diversity although not as much as I’d have liked. I joined a site as a reviewer and have been enjoying the process of reviewing ARCs – it’s a little different than simply reading for pleasure, but I enjoyed it massively and reviewed much more often than I have any other year.

From Ashes Into Light cover Beast's Garden cover Hexomancy cover

I did more tracking of my non-fiction reading for uni – in short it was a lot. I posted some of it, but unless I have the energy to comment on the things it’s just a bibliography, and while pretty, isn’t that interesting. I absolutely wowed myself with reading and reviewing 17 books for the Australian Women Writers Challenge too! I also had a huge number of books on my ‘favourites’ for the year which was awesome and I also got to write an end of year wrap up for those.

A Trifle Dead - cover The Dreamer's Pool - cover The Disappearance of Ember Crow - coverVision in Silver - cover Ancillary Sword - cover

Mythmaker coverMy favourite movies of the year included Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, both movies that just… elated me on a feminist and fan level in so many ways! Is this what it looks like when you get to be the target audience?

There was also some great television that I watched, new to me but mostly not new in 2015. My favourite was Steven Universe, just everything about it in every way. Followed by Librarians and Elementary both wonderful, as was Rizzoli and Isles, Major Crimes and Castle. I’ve also finally started on Agent Carter, Supergirl and Jessica Jones and am also really enjoying Tea Leoni in Madam Secretary.

This was also the year that I got back into podcasts in a huge way! I’ve long meant to get back to listening to Galactic Suburbia regularly and they introduced me to Fangirl Happy Hour which I am so delighted with I can’t even describe. I just want to be friends with both of the hosts and talk about All The Things! Fangirl led me to Tea & Jeopardy and Rocket Talk both of which I am also enjoying immensely. Thanks to all of these I experienced the great book recommendation deluge of 2015, my current ‘to-read’ list stands at 687 at the time of writing and I think it actually doubled this year.


Shifting Shadows - cover
Cranky Ladies of History - coverPrudence - coverThe Price You Pay is Red - coverThe Long and Silent Ever After - cover The Bloody Little Slipper - cover

 

 

 

 

Midwifery

I worked so hard last year on this degree, on this new career I am pursuing. I am so passionate about it and determined. I want to be the best midwife I can be. It was a hard year, but I got really good marks overall. However, my end of semester prac didn’t work out and I have to repeat that which added a year to the degree. This meant a lighter second semester – although honestly it didn’t feel like it. The experience of needing to repeat a unit, especially given the reasons was hard to deal with and has left me really raw. The gravity of what I’m taking on continues to gr

ow inside my head and heart but I also still have the sense that I can really do this, that this is possible. I’m still really enjoying the anatomy and science aspect of things, working hard and doing well. I’m excelling in the cultural studies/sociology side of things though several of the topics were gruelling.

We dealt with hard topics termination, abortion, pregnancy loss – all of these early and late and the contextual reasoning, the medical side, the legal side, the emotional side – as carers and looking at women’s perspectives. We looked at medicines and their impact, their benefits and always the weighing of benefits against side effects. I also learned fascinating things, like the formation of an embryo and its layers, what happens in the first 2 weeks, 8 weeks of life, when congenital abnormalities are most likely to surface, why and the effects depending on what happens. We spent a lot of time on breastfeeding, but equally, as much time on choice and supporting women who don’t breastfeed. Much of the time was spent looking at all the ways in which the whole idea of how infant feeding happens in modern society is a no-win game no matter what. And my heart goes out to all women feeding their babies, however they do so because there seems no way in which it is not a loaded choice – pretty much every day. I hope I am equal to supporting and encouraging women given all of the context. We looked more deeply into pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, blood disorders other disorders and issues related to pregnancy including vaccinations, preventable diseases and their effect on pregnancy/infants and sexual health impacts.

I’m impressed with my cohort – we all work so very hard. Their dedication is as obvious as my own and I think any one of them will be amazing midwives. I do wish I wasn’t the only outward/overt feminist. It was a huge year – so much to learn, question, agree and disagree with – this is really barely skimming the surface.

Cooking

Another area of overt success – for the most part. I did a lot of cooking and mostly it was focused specifically on family meals and everyday eating. This included more concentrated effort on taking lunches to uni/work – which was mostly successful too. Having said that we did have some amazing feasts with friends over. I got to try a bunch of new recipes, added new favourites to my rotation and encouraged Fox to continue learning to cook. He had quite a stressful year so this was a very small target between us, but I think he did really well – he cooked pretty regularly and became more confident in the dishes he was able to produce. Making our own stock continued to be one of the best things for making easy food – I can only imagine how many litres of it we went through – maybe 50L ish each for chicken, beef and vegetable?

I did use more of the cookbooks I have – I cooked a little from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking, but not nearly as much as I want to. We spent a concentrated month doing a bunch of dishes from Land of Plenty by Fuscia Dunlop and that was absolutely outstanding. I’m so in love with Sichuan food! I cooked a bit from Jamie Oliver’s older books but sometimes he and I disagree on what is ‘simple’ and ‘easy’ (I’m sure I’m not alone in this). The downside of using the physical books is that it’s not as easy to put into my meal plan (a google to-do list of no frills and all awesomeness). I mean, I put the name, the title and the page in there – but it’s not as easy to click through and see if we need any last minute shopping items.

Meal planning was the big success this year, it’s one of the ways in which we got through the leanest fortnights budget wise, and still managed to eat good and interesting food. Previously Ral and Fox struggled to plan ahead food and didn’t much see the point, but seeing the difference it made to our grocery spending, and the reduction in stress because most of the decisions were already made, most of the shopping already done was pretty convincing. We fell away from it in the last couple of months of the year – but given exams, assessments and illness it’s not surprising. Also I think it’s a little different in Summer and we haven’t quite gotten the knack of it – it’s improving in the most recent iteration.

I was delighted to discover the awesomeness of Instagram (you can find me as the usual username there) and regularly photographed the meals I made. It was a delight and I’ve got such a great visual record of how much effort I put into cooking, and the joy that yielded as far as delicious eating is concerned. I spent a little of the year doing more bread-making as well as making my own creme-fraiche. I also made a batch of preserved lemons. Tiny forays into preserving, but ones I’m pleased with, and I hope to continue improving this.

Homemade Pizza with Slow Cooked Broccoli and Buffalo Mozzarella - Oct 2015 http://www.transcendancing.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Sichuan-Feast-Gung-Pow-Chicken-and-Sichuanese-Green-Beans-Nov-2015.jpg Petits Pois à la Française Redux Quinoa, Broccolini, Snowpea and Cashew Salad - Nov 2015 http://www.transcendancing.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Sichuan-Feast-Gung-Pow-Chicken-and-Sichuanese-Green-Beans-Nov-2015.jpg Fish and Chips in Summer - Dec 2015Fish and Chips in Summer - Dec 2015

Blogging

I blogged awesomely last year! I maintained my streak of ‘5 Things About Today’ posts on my Dreamwidth journal – I’m well into the 400s now! I also posted more regularly here, mostly book reviews, but I posted an update on my theme and also on meal planning/budget stuff. Plus I hosted the Down Under Feminists Carnival. I’d have liked more energy to write about feminism stuff, media stuff, and feel like I could write more about midwifery but those things needed too much energy that I just didn’t have. And there will be time again for them later. I’m proud of my efforts – I sincerely met this goal even if there were topical aspects I wanted to cover more.

Self Development

Oh this topic. This largely is what gave in the year just gone. I just didn’t have energy leftover for a bunch of this. I didn’t get my license – I was just too stressed to get over the humps. I need to get comfortable with being familiar with driving again – I’m not driving often enough at present for that. I also think I need to do a driving lesson or two on passing the test. I know I’m a competent driver, but actually doing the test is just a stress barrier I’ve noped out of several times. I still want all the things I wanted at the beginning of last year regarding having my license, but it just didn’t happen.

Unexpectedly, I ended up with a job in September! I’m doing similar stuff to what I’ve done before – content management for websites. The organisation is as far from government and public service as is possible and I’m loving it because of that. I like the perks of this style of organisation – an ad agency. They’re actively seeking to retain people so we have free drinks and snacks, a coffee cart on the floor with super cheap and amazing coffee. Plus everyone is enthusiastic and works hard – it’s actually really nice to be around. I get to feel competent and valued, plus earn money to contribute to the household! I’ve been doing that mostly part time but with chunks of full time and it may continue ad hoc throughout the year until I hit the point of study where I just don’t have a day free to do that any more – we’ll see. I’d like to keep doing it as long as possible as the extra money makes a huge difference right now. Working has meant I could replace clothes and shoes that badly needed replacing, I got a portable air-conditioner for my room – the heat sink of the house which has meant dealing with the heat this Summer just that much easier. Mostly it’s gone on groceries of the non-meal-planning kind, because that fell away when I had less time, and that too is worthwhile and a luxury.

SeClouded Leopard Close Uplf-expression and letting myself be myself. I think this took a hit this year, but there were things. I got my hair cut short and am enjoying it immensely. I replaced clothes and while my style is still a little bit all over the place, I like the clothes I have and have acquired – especially my dresses with POCKETS! I bought more things with cats on them to wear! If I was a cat, I’d be this cat.

I didn’t do dancing, yoga or Pilates, but I did do a reasonable amount of walking – not as much as I’d liked. I visited the zoo quite a lot. Sexuality largely wasn’t a priority – mostly I expect because of stress. But I love my partners and feel loved by them in return. Actually, we all had a hard year last year which seems uncanny given the number of us.

Socialising

I did manage social stuff this year, I made a concerted effort and it paid off. I felt like I still missed opportunities to enjoy time with friends and loved ones, but I also know how limited my energy was. I am grateful for the wonderful people in my life, I have the best friends both here in Melbourne and elsewhere, I treasure you all so very much.

Community stuff, it really didn’t happen – something had to give and I just noped out of this in the end. There is only so  much time and energy – I am not doing so well in having enough energy for myself and those immediate in my life, so it isn’t realistic to think I can volunteer extra time and energy. Actually, I expect this will just have to wait until I’m no longer studying.


How to conclude after all of that? An epic post if ever there was one, but I feel like in writing this I’m properly putting 2015 to rest. And that’s necessary because it’s time to embark on my theme for 2016, which is less of a clear beginning and more of a transition. But for a genuine transition to take place, there has to be reflection, evaluation, an accounting to oneself, an awareness of how far you’ve come, who you are at the end of all this and how to face forward for the future. If you’ve gotten all the way to the end of this thank you, it means a lot. Next will be the reveal of my 2016 theme, but that post is still percolating. Finally, if you’ve done any kind of new year theme, focus, word, resolution write up, please let me know – I’d love to read it. Also, if you want to do something but are not sure how, feel free to comment and ask me, I’m happy to talk about it and share thoughts.<