WIP (Work in Progress)

A few years ago, I sat down to write a book. And I did it. I wrote “the end” and everything. Now, I am editing that manuscript, my WIP. Which sounds like I’m close to finished. But a terrible truth in writing is that you can finish a draft (or several) and never be finished editing. I could probably drag it out for several more years if I wanted to.

The reason I’m not finished, though, is because the story has changed since I started. As it does. With understanding. Acceptance. Experience. Perspective.

But I’ve set my intentions for 2020. And while I won’t reveal all of them, one of them is to finish finish the book. Finish amending. Finish editing. Finish changing the story. Not because my memory of it won’t continue to shift but because it no longer belongs to me.

As we approach the end of the decade the customary comparisons are surfacing. The way I live my life is completely different. So is the way I love. But the deeper shadow parts of myself still lurk in dark corners, waiting for an opportunity. In 2010, my eating disorder had such a hold over me, the doctors didn’t think I’d see the end of the year, much less the decade. Yet here I am.

I once thought that if I wasn’t different at the end of all this, I wouldn’t be better. And while much has changed in the last ten years, plenty hasn’t. Who I am at my essence is entirely the same. Some days, I’m not sure what that makes me.

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It’s impossible to tell by looking at someone how they are feeling. The picture on the left was taken in 2010, eight months into recovery. I had been re-feeding and gained quite a lot of weight, almost 25 pounds. The picture on the right…? March 2019. I weighed quite a bit more than I did in 2010 and had been back in treatment for three months. I’m still in treatment now. Perhaps this fight will always be a work in progress.

But the story of the last ten years no longer lives in me. And next year, ten years after I almost died, I will let it go entirely.

Music Monday | Norman Fucking Rockwell – Lana Del Rey

“And it ought to make us feel ashamed when we talk like we know what we’re talking about when we talk about love.”

Curled on the couch of my airbnb eating olives, I strip the marinated flesh from the pits and spit them onto a plate. I’m in town for the Melbourne Writers Festival and arrived the previous afternoon but sitting here, having a snack, is the first time I notice the giant clock on the wall is broken. It isn’t that the time is wrong. Worse. The two hands are missing.

“The light was draining out of the room, going back through the window where it had come from.”

I am here, an impostor, having not written anything that’s offered traction for the past year. My brain has been broken.

“My heart is broken,” she goes. “It’s turned to a piece of stone. I’m no good. That’s what’s as bad as anything, that I’m no good anymore.”

Brain.
Heart.
Both.

In November last year, a colleague was killed in a workplace accident. While not on my shift, he’d been a mentor when I first finished my training. The task he was performing was routine. Something I did in the course of my duties. Had it been four hours later, it could have been me standing in front of the thing that exploded. After that, I spiraled quickly into the same dark place I’ve pulled myself out of so many times before. By December, there was a succession of bad news; coming from work, family, home. And I continued to sink.

“Things change,” he says. “I don’t know how they do. But they do without your realizing it or wanting them to.”

My first event at the 2019 festival was Lee Kofman and Fiona Wright’s talk session. Released several months ago, Kofman curated and edited an anthology of essays called Split to which both she and Wright contributed. Together, they discussed life, love, loss and the writing of their essays.

The theme for MWF 2019 is “When We Talk About Love” taken from Raymond Carver’s collection of short stories What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (from which all the above quotes are taken) and the session was called Museum of Broken Relationships: Split.

The talk was held in the No Vacancy gallery, amongst a borrowed collection from the Museum of Broken Relationships.

From the Museum website:
Museum of Broken Relationships is a physical and virtual public space created with the sole purpose of treasuring and sharing your heartbreak stories and symbolic possessions. It is a museum about you, about us, about the ways we love and lose.

At its core, the Museum is an ever-growing collection of items, each a memento of a relationship past, accompanied by a personal, yet anonymous story of its contributor. Unlike ‘destructive’ self-help instructions for recovery from grief and loss, the Museum offers the chance to overcome an emotional collapse through creativity – by contributing to its universal collection.

Museum of Broken Relationships is an original creative art project conceived by Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić in 2006. It has since taken thousands of people on an empathetic journey around the world, challenging our ideas about heritage. Its original permanent location was founded in Zagreb. In 2010 it won the EMYA Kenneth Hudson Award as the most innovative and daring museum project in Europe.

Stories of lost relationships covered the gamut; romantic partners, parents, friends, children. But the grief was palpable, no matter which type of relationship.

This week, Music Monday isn’t a song. It’s an album. It’s no secret that I adore Lana Del Rey and, on repeat, as I work overtime shift after overtime shift, is Norman Fucking Rockwell.

Lana is the Queen of languid love songs. And of writing about broken relationships.

I’ve finished my olives and need to get to another session. The microwave in the kitchenette says 4:30 but that clock can’t tell me the time either. It’s twelve hours out; I noticed this morning as I ran out the door for breakfast at 20:43.

Perhaps, it’s time to make my own time. It’s time to rediscover my love. It’s time to write.

Quantum Mechanics

1.

The First Law of Thermodynamics, also known as the Law of Conservation of Energy, states that energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be transformed or transferred from one form to another.

The light filters through the window earlier each day. Mornings are cold but spring is here and it hasn’t been a bad winter. Not like last year when we lit a fire every evening and the cat melted in front of it, becoming liquid. There has been little rain and very few frosts. The ground is hard. Dry. Bushfire season will be dangerous, according to the news.

I stand at the kitchen counter and pop a coffee pod into the Nespresso, slide my Tinker Bell mug under the spout and wait for the thick, black liquid to pour from the nozzle. Outside, the daffodils stand tall declaring winter is at its end. Buds are sprouting on the bare trees and some of the magnolias have dared to bloom. A kookaburra laughs in the gum tree at the front of the house. The whir of the machine stops and the pod clunk-clunks down into the receptacle, breaking my reverie on the garden. I grab my coffee and sit down at the table with my computer. It’s been months since I’ve written, months since I’ve thought about writing.

Years ago I blogged regularly, an almost daily habit of recording my life, of making meaning out of madness. But my storyline changed and I didn’t know how to segue into the next scene. I was leading a new life so divergent from the previous incarnation you’d suspect I wasn’t the same person. And I wasn’t. Which had kind of been the plan all along. ‘If I’m not different at the end of this,’ I wrote early on, ‘I won’t be better.’

We all have two lives, a dubiously attributed quote begins (really? Confucius? I think not), the second starts when we realise we only have one. (Tom Hiddleston? Perhaps.)

I’ve already lived more than twice in this current span of time. And yet, my handwritten journals would suggest that little has changed. Things look different now, sure; daily tasks and duties, responsibilities reshuffled and realigned. So much chaos from the past has settled out but my desires have not changed. My humanness – my energy, although transformed – is the same.

2.

Heat is a form of energy. It always flows from the hotter body to the colder body. Heat can be transferred via conduction, convection or radiation.

In bed, my partner snuggles behind me. Dialogue from my old Bikram hot yoga class pops into my head. ‘From the side you should look like a Japanese ham sandwich,’ the instructor shouts during Pada-Hasthasana, the forward fold, ‘no gap anywhere’.

‘I’m very tactile,’ I tell him when we first meet, ‘you’ll probably get sick of it after a while.’ He laughs, eyes sparkling. Every night, going on four years, our bodies touch from head to toe. His chest against my back, breath on my neck, legs pressed against mine, feet tangled. No gap anywhere. The heat radiates between us and eventually drives us to roll over and reverse the position. We dance like this for most of the night.

3.

Pauli’s Exclusion Principle says that every electron must be in its own unique state. In other words, no electrons in an atom are permitted to have an identical set of quantum numbers.

You might be reading this on your phone, holding it in your hand. Or on your computer. You pressed some keys to access it. You touched them.

Didn’t you?

Atoms are made up of three particles. A nucleus that contains most of the mass, protons, and electrons. Electrons are negatively charged and can exhibit characteristics of both particles and waves. Particles are attracted to particles with the opposite charge and repel similarly charged particles. So electrostatic repulsion prevents electrons coming into direct contact with each other in both an atomic and literal sense.

This, and Pauli’s Exclusion Principle, also prevents you, me, us…from touching anything. Instead, we hover above things at a microscopically small distance. Gaps everywhere. The sensation of touch is simply our brain’s interpretation of our electrons’ interaction with other electrons in the electromagnetic field, the medium through which electron waves propagate.

4.

Electromagnetic fields are physical fields produced by electrically charged objects. They affect the behaviour of charged objects within the vicinity of the field. Electromagnetic radiation refers to the waves of the electromagnetic field which radiate through space-time, carrying electromagnetic radiant energy.

The human heart is the first organ to function during fetal development at approximately 20 days. The brain doesn’t begin to function until about 90 days. First the heart, then the head.

The heart generates an electrical field of up to 60 times greater in amplitude than that created by the brain and the electromagnetic field of the heart can be measured up to several feet away from the body. When individuals are in close proximity, their electromagnetic fields interact.

5.

Perhaps, in the end, all we can touch is hearts.

The End: What To Do When You Finish Writing A Book

Today I wrote two little words I wasn’t expecting to write until tomorrow. And yet, here we are. At this point.

My feet are tingling like they do when you have pins and needles, numb, as if you’ve been sitting awkwardly cutting off your circulation, but in that sweet spot, before the blood rushes back into the capillaries and it starts to sting.

The cells, the atoms in my cells, are vibrating with energy. The energy of having finished. It is a gentle excitement. Soft. Like the way you realise you are recovered. After the fact. You do not notice it at first because recovery, like writing, feels like a slog. Every step is an effort. You wade through concrete. You make progress. And you don’t. There is resistance. The task seems overwhelming and you pause at various points to take a breath. To rest. There is no ticker-tape parade upon success. No party. There might have been, if you’d noticed it at the time. But even as you were thinking your last disordered thought, even as you were writing your final sentence, you didn’t know. And then you did.

So what do you do when you finish writing a book?

  1. You write the end
  2. You drink cider in the sunshine with a friend
  3. You buy yourself some flowers
  4. You go for a run
  5. You make dinner for the family
  6. You water your plants
  7. You hug your partner
  8. You feed the cat
  9. You write a blog post
  10. You begin again, a new story

I have been finished with the story I’ve written for longer than I’ve been writing it. Soon, lovely readers, I will hand it over to you.

Music Monday | Still Fighting It – Ben Folds

Everybody knows
It hurts to grow up
And everybody does
It’s so weird to be back here
Let me tell you what
The years go on and
We’re still fighting it, we’re still fighting it

This week, I am finalising my manuscript. Progress paused last year when I commenced an intensive work training program but that was completed last Friday. Now I have a few chapters left to write and have set a daily target of 3,000 words which will get me to the end by the weekend. Looking back, writing scenes from years ago, it’s all so obvious. There are visible patterns to behaviour and the underlying beliefs that drove it.

This month, I’ve been separated from my ex-husband for longer than we were married. Time bends and stretches. The last eight years have flown. The last eight years, I’ve grown. It hasn’t always been easy. At times it’s been incredibly painful. But that was what I wanted when I started this new life. I wanted to feel. I wanted to love. I wanted to know myself. I wanted to grow up.

Science Sunday | Chemistry 101

Chemists joke about the dangers of dihydrogen monoxide. Depending on its form – solid, liquid, or gas – direct contact with it can burn you, or freeze the tissues and fluids in your skin. If you ingest significant quantities it can kill you. Of course, not ingesting enough will kill you too. According to these consequences, dihydrogen monoxide sounds like a nasty chemical. But it is just the humble water molecule. (I never said chemists make good jokes.) All of the dangers are true, though. Dihydrogen monoxide – H2O – water – is a chemical which can burn you, cause frostbite, or dilute the salts in your blood so much that you die from water intoxication (hyponatremia). And just like water, chemicals are everywhere. Everything that you can see, smell, touch, and taste is made of chemicals. And everything you can’t.

It is impossible to see a single atom, even with the most powerful microscope. Although, scientists have managed to photograph an atom’s shadow. How few atoms does it take to cast a shadow? Just one. But while one atom alone cannot be seen, when many are joined together we see them everywhere. Or, we see the things they make up. Water. Trees. Cars. Houses. Hearts.

The Periodic Table of the Elements lists the species of atoms that have been discovered. There are one hundred and eighteen in total but only ninety-four occur naturally. The rest are synthetic and must be made in laboratories. Everything around us is a combination of these ninety-four elements.

At room temperature, some elements exist as liquids, some as solids and some as gases. They can be volatile like the metal sodium: soft, silvery white, and highly reactive. If you’ve ever seen a tiny piece of sodium dropped into water, you would remember it. The violent reaction breaks the bonds between the hydrogen atoms and the oxygen atom in the water molecule. Enough heat will be given off that the newly formed hydrogen gas explodes.

Some elements may be toxic like the gas chlorine. Like sodium, it’s too reactive to occur on its own in nature. When it is isolated, it is a yellow-greenish gas that is heavier than air. It smells a lot like bleach because it is just one of the elements that creates bleach. If you breathe in chlorine gas, you will feel like you’re choking and it can cause damage to your respiratory tract and lungs which is why it has been used as a chemical weapon.

But when sodium and chlorine join together into one substance, they become something necessary for life. Something we need every day to keep our hearts beating. They become sodium chloride – or salt.

Chemistry happens around us all the time. It is the change from rubbery dough to fluffy bread when heat is applied. It is how shampoo gets sudsy when you scrub it into your hair. It is why metals rust, or they don’t. Chemistry isn’t a secret or some sort of dark magic. It’s the explanation for everything that occurs around you and inside you – your heart pumping, or hurting.

Chemists study the composition, structure, properties, and relationships formed between substances, and how these substances can change. Reactions that are measurable. Changes that can be quantified. Attraction or the way elements and atoms bond. Why some bonds are hard to break apart and why others disintegrate, dissolve or separate easily. Chemistry is the understanding of matter.

Or maybe, it’s the understanding of things that matter. Relationships. Emotions. Attraction. Hearts racing. Body temperature rising. Stomach churning. It’s the properties of love and how it can change.

But love can’t be measured with a litmus test.

The Beginning…or, Somewhere

The screen is blank. The cursor blinking, ready and waiting to be pushed forward by keystrokes that form words, sentences, coherent thoughts.

Writing a blog post was supposed be easier than editing my book. But it’s not.

Sometimes, when there is too much to say, it’s easier to say nothing. I don’t know where to start. But maybe that’s the point. Do we ever? Is there even a beginning?

Time is a human construct based primarily on natural occurrences. The spin of the earth on its axis, offering us both darkness and light. The orbit around the sun providing us with seasons. We break these units into ever smaller increments. Hours. Minutes. Seconds. We quantify these periods into days, weeks, months, and we count their passing.

But what do we do with all this time? How often do we pay attention? Because life is both long, and short. It can change slowly over many years. Or irrevocably, in fragments of seconds. At times, it seems not to change at all.

Endings feel easier to identify than beginnings. But the truth we often hide from ourselves is that the edges are blurry. Endings and beginnings overlap and blend into each other. Most of life can’t be sectioned neatly into containers and labelled, even though I often wish it could. And once, believed I was an expert at it.

That too, was an untruth, like many things we often believe. If you undertake the process of self-examination and pick away at the surface of your thoughts to reveal the underpinning beliefs, the reality can often be ugly. Or at the very least, uncomfortable. I began that process in earnest when I started this blog in 2010. While my focus has shifted at various points, I will never be finished.

And life goes on.