On small wins and finding energy

…and self-doubt, ploughing on and remembering what I do.

You know the scenario. Life gets busy, real busy. You open your computer only to realise that there are over 300 unread emails, bills to pay, workshops to prepare for, short stories to edit, manuscripts to work on, manuscripts to edit. So you shut it. Then you worry that maybe you are not a writer after all, which stops you from opening the computer other than to deal with the basic administration for the family.

This year, on top of normal life, I have been juggling daily migraines and care of a child who has spent more time this year in hospital than out. It is easy for this to take away from my writing, and the writing I have done has been intermittent and angry. I am fortunate to have an excellent cheer squad who buoy me on and remind me that I am a writer.

Today I opened my computer and waded through the admin in the hope to find the headspace to write. While I was doing this, a new email arrived announcing the book launch of Shaping the Fractured Self: poetry of chronic illness and pain. It is brilliant to see the cover of the book that I have some poetry in. I am humbled to have an essay and my poems sitting alongside some of Australia’s finest poets.

The book launch is on 11 May, 6-8pm at The DAX Centre in Parkville, VIC and I would be stoked to see you there!

Of course not all great art has its genesis in pain, and not all pain – not even a fraction – leads to the partial consolations of art. But if lancing an abscess is the surest way to healing, can poetry offer that same cleansing of emotional wounds?

Shaping the Fractured Self showcases twenty-eight of Australia’s finest poets who happen to live with chronic illness and pain. The autobiographical short essays, in conjunction with the three poems from each of the poets, capture the body in trauma in its many and varied moods. Because those who live with chronic illness and pain experience shifts in their relationship to it on a yearly, monthly or daily basis, so do the words they use to describe it.

Shaping the Fractured Self gives voice to sufferers, carers, medical practitioners and researchers, building understanding in a community of caring.

Shaping the Fractured Self is available for preorder from UWA Publishing

Letting the dust settle

This morning I woke after a drug induced sleep. Everything ached and my body screamed at me to go back to bed. I dressed, in my gym gear, ate my breakfast and drank my coffee. The chaos of the morning flew out the door one by one, and each with a different approach (slamming door while yelling out ‘Love ya, Mum’, slinking out silently, a kiss then a slammed wire door, and a hug and kiss). I sat at the table for longer than normal, coaxing my body to move, to do what it didn’t want to do. Finally, I tugged on my socks and runners and went to the gym. I always think on these tough days that all I have to do is get there. Once I’m there, I can always stop and go home. Most days I make it all the way through my program. Today I got as far as the last ten minute cycle at which point a sharp pain struck through my ear and temple and I had to stop.

This is all a part of living with chronic migraines. For the last four or so months (I’ve stopped counting), I have been in a constant state of migraine. Sometimes they are not as bad as others, but pain has been a constant companion. Today is my write-from-home day, the day I should be rejoicing and revelling in my fictional world, but instead I feel like I’m pushing crap up hill as I fight my way through the fog and discomfort. The good news is that I am attacking these chronic migraines in a number of ways as I can’t go on like this (anyone who has lived with chronic pain will attest to the depression that comes with it).

A part of me that feels guilty for not having rocked up to my blog since before Christmas and written, but in reality, with home life being rough for me, getting from one end of the day to another has been a win.

Something I’m always reminded of when things are extraordinarily tough, is paring it back to remember what I need to do (self-care) to survive this. Two of these things are to read, and to write. Writing on a daily basis helps me breathe and enables me to understand what is going on, and reading allows me to escape. My daily journal is a must, as is my Gratitude Jar (I stole the idea from Anita Heiss).

In good news for my fiction writing, I finished another draft of my young adult manuscript in late December and put it out to my readers. It was such an anxious time waiting to hear back from them, but so lovely to get such positive feedback when I did. I have now made edits on the feedback and am resting it again while I get going on the sequel. I love this stage of first draft. It’s fresh and raw. Anything can, and does, happen. Characters come alive and surprise, and extraordinary things jump onto the page.

I’ve also started facilitating a writers group at a municipal library. It was delightful to meet  a group of eager writers all at different stages of writing, and all with different writing goals. It also reminds me about how far I have come in the last four years with my own writing.

Something I’m really looking forward to is seeing some of my poetry in forthcoming Shaping the Fractured Self: Poetry of Chronic Illness and Pain, (UWA Publishing) early this year.

Since the start of the year I have read some great books, and have many more waiting for me to read. Some standouts so far are: Georgia Blain’s Between a Wolf and a Dog, Melissa Ashley’s The Birdman’s Wife, and John Ironmonger’s Not Forgetting The Whale. One of my reading promises is that I read widely, out of my genre and books by Australian women writers. One of these was Love Elimination by Sarah Gates, which was a fun romance story based on the many dating reality shows on at the moment. I’m currently reading Stan Grant’s Talking Country, which is blowing me away.

There is so much to read this year with, again, a number of friends having books published. Some debut books to look out for are Wimmera by Mark Brandi, And Then There Was Light by Emily Brewin, and Death by Dim Sim by Sarah Vincent. Then there is always the massive pile of books beside my bed that threaten to smother me.

On the Binns

This short story of mine recently won second prize in the 2016 Reconciliation Writing Competition judged by Jane Harrison, indigenous Australian playwright and novelist, and run by the Port Phillip Citizens for Reconciliation. It appears in their publication Building Bridges. The story comes from a moment on the Binns Track in the Northern Territory during our 9 month trip around Australia that my family and I did in 2010. Enjoy.

15134666_10154163915723590_3366865228714762287_n

Me, Aunty Jacko and my second prize for ‘On the Binns’

On the Binns by Meg Dunley

We haven’t seen a soul for days. On these roads, it’s rare to pass another car, and even more rare to see someone walking around. It’s over thirty degrees out there and the sun is bearing down on the earth highlighting the redness of the soil, the blue sky and the grey green trees. The road is soft, dusty. Behind us we leave a cloud of red that lingers in the air longer than the sound of our car and trailer rumbling along. As we turn one of the many curves through the central Australian desert we see him. He’s standing by the side of the road, the way someone stands waiting for a bus. But here there’s no bus-stop and it could be days between cars driving through. Matt pulls up next to him and I wind down the window. He wanders over. Continue reading

Post-study reflections

2016-09-28-05-28-49It’s an incredible time for me right now that feels like a beginning, more than an ending. I’ve just submitted my final piece of assessment of my Associate Degree in Professional Writing and Editing at RMIT. I should feel relieved, excited. I do, but there is a sense of sadness, and a great deal of reflection. There is also a nervous excitement about the time ahead of me, the unknown.

My last four years have been tremendous in all senses of the word. My life has changed in so many aspects, and lives around me have changed. Mum died, throwing my and my offspring’s worlds into chaos. My kids transitioned from children to teenagers, jumping normal adolescent hurdles, and fumbling through more tricky ones. I wrote a tonne of words and found a stable part-time job in the communications world.

Continue reading

Since you’ve been gone

Dear Mum

Since you’ve been gone there are so many things I see and need to tell you.

Today we climbed the lookout (‘Look out!’) at Ocean Shores. What a view! I took a panoramic photo for you before I remembered you were gone; I know you loved views.

I could see the whales breaching and I was in awe. I know you would have been so excited to get my text with the photos. And to hear that there were dolphins swimming just near the boys today.

You would have asked me all about the place we are staying, and probably sent me a list of things to do while we’re here.
For the last two days Matt and I took an early morning swim. I thought of how you lived across from the water and could wander over at any time for a swim.

Then I wondered whether you had ever been here and I wish I had asked you.

So much unasked, so much unsaid since you’ve been gone.

Keep on writing

It’s been a while. A long time since I last wrote. I haven’t dropped off the planet, haven’t stopped writing. But life has been busy, and I’ve found it difficult to find something interesting to write about here.

One of the hard things about writing when you’re a student, a chronic migraine sufferer and a mum with three teens, is that there is only so much time. And when it comes down to it, I do only what I have to so that I still feel like I’m a writer. I write my daily pages, and work on my second manuscript (oh the joy in an unformed thing) and edit my first manuscript (read: beat it into shape).

Continue reading

Freezing up

My friend Nicky Heaney who writes at Mary Beton’s Rooms wrote a great thought-provoking piece about freezing up, and learning how to free the creative part of our brain. It really speaks to the place that I am at with my writing.

This year I have spent sometime working on this ‘word-freeze’ I guess you could call it. I have found that when bad, life-shattering things happen to me, it is like I go five thousand steps backwards in my confidence as a writer and stop taking risks. Instead I sit in front a blank page, or empty screen with a blinking cursor, and fret about any word coming out. Will it be good enough? Is it unique, interesting? Was I really a writer? Ever?

Continue reading