As we enter lockdown again, I am reminded of the article David Dale wrote last year in the Sydney Morning Herald about Isaac Newton’s self-isolation during the plague year 1665-66 and how he passed the time.
‘Newton was 23, a student at Cambridge. When the black plague spread there from London, he retreated to his birthplace – Woolsthorpe Manor, near the town of Grantham (later the birthplace of Margaret Thatcher). During what he called his “annus mirabilis”, or wonderful year, at Woolsthorpe, Newton did three significant things:
He invented the mathematical system called calculus,
He drilled a hole in the shutter of his bedroom window and held a prism up to the beam of sunlight that came through it, discovering that white light is made up of every colour (and giving Pink Floyd an iconic album cover), and
He watched apples falling from the trees in his garden and theorised about a force called gravity, which keeps the moon revolving around planet Earth. (He later wrote: “I can calculate the movement of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people.”)’
I’m very happy to say that I have been publishing short stories and poems in literary journals for 21 years.
‘Around the World In Fifty Step’ was my first published story. It appeared in Overland Literary Journal Autumn, 2000. Since then, more than 40 have been published.
Have a read of this first one. Hope you enjoy it.
Around the World In Fifty Steps:
Joanna lives in a Sydney suburb with her two sons. It’s 1992 and Australia is in recession.
“I’m sick of licking arse in a service industry,” she says of her marketing business. “And I’m fed up with financial insecurity, the feast or famine of too many projects or not enough and chasing new business and getting clients to pay their bills.”
“I’m thinking of renting the house out and travelling,” she tells her grown up sons after reading “The Pitter Patter of Thirty-Year-Old Feet” in the Sydney Morning Herald.
“You’re ready to leave home are you mum?” said one son.
“Why don’t you just go on a long holiday instead,” said the other.
“I want a new beginning, a change of career, a new home, a community of people, an intimate relationship with a significant other, that sort of thing.”
“You could always get yourself a dog,” suggests a friend.
Her son moves out when she puts his rent up.
“Are you going to wait till he buys a new house for cash before you ask for a decent rent?” her mother had said.
“I’ve decided to go and live with Dad for a change,” says the other son.
“I’ll be away for six to twelve months,” Joanna says as she throws her client files on the rubbish tip.
She spends the spring in Italy. The summer in England, Scotland and Ireland. The autumn walking the gorge country of the Ardeche in France.
In the winter she rents a studio apartment in Villefranche on the French Riviera. The studio belongs to a friend of a friend so she’s able to get it at a good price. She works as a casual deck hand on one of the luxury cruisers in dry dock for maintenance. “The first thing I want you to do,” says her boss when she arrives at work on the first day, “is blitz the tender.” After a backbreaking morning of hard physical work cleaning the small run-about she goes to lunch. She orders a salad nicoise and a coffee and realises her lunch will cost her a morning’s pay.
A young and handsome French man who lives in Paris but comes to Villefranche to visit his grandmother most weekends, pursues her. Joanna comes to realise that French men love and cherish women as much as they appreciate good food.
She shops at the markets, paints and reads and falls in love with the light and the colours of the south of France.
“I’m able to live contentedly alone without a regular job, without a car, without speaking the language,” she writes to her friends back home.
In the summer she moves on again before the tourist masses arrive and the rent goes up.
She gives away to her new friends in Villefranche all the things that won’t now fit in her backpack but keeps her paint brushes and pallet knife.
On the Greek island of Skyros she joins a group of landscape artists led by a famous English painter.
“My purpose in leading this group is to help everyone find their own unique style,” says the woman.
Joanna spends the autumn in London meeting with other artists from the island and the woman becomes her mentor and they meet for a cup of tea every week and talk about the isolation of being an artist as well as many other things.
“It’s important to stop and regenerate before the creative battery runs flat,” she says.
Joanna paints every day and goes out with an English man named Clive.
“Your painting is vivid and alive,” says the famous English artist. “I’ll write you a letter of introduction to my contacts in Australia when you’re ready to exhibit this collection.”
Clive has a strong face with chiselled square cheekbones. Dark brown eyes and dark hair that falls in a square fringe on his forehead. His fingers are long and sensitive for playing the piano.
“What are you doing there?” her mother asks on the phone from across the ocean.
“I’m painting,” says Joanna.
“But what are you doing?”
“My mother is like a poisonous gas that can cross from one side of the world to the other,” Joanna says.
Joanna dreams about her sons every night and Clive tells her she cries in her sleep.
She yearns for the bright Australian light and for the sound of the ocean.
She returns to Australia for her eldest son’s wedding.
In Sydney, Joanna supplements her income from the house rental by getting a job as a casual for a clothing company. She unpacks boxes and steampresses the garments. Her back, neck and shoulders ache and she suspects she’s getting RSI from the steampresser.
Clive rings to say he’s coming to visit her.
In preparation for his arrival she moves all her furniture out of storage and rents a small place near the beach hoping that he’ll love it in Australia and decide to stay.
Two weeks before his arrival Clive rings to say he’s not coming and Joanna finds out through a friend that he’s met someone else and is moving in with her.
She tears up his photos and throws his Christmas present at the wall.
Joanna stops painting.
She reflects on the past and all that she’s lost.
I thought when love for you died, I should die. It’s dead. Alone, most strangely, I live on. Rupert Brooke.
Joanna stays in bed most days but still feels so tired that she can only remain vertical for four hours in any twenty-four hour period.
The phone stops ringing.
She rehearses her own death by going to the edge of the cliff.
From the edge she sketches the waves breaking on rocks, the lone seagull on the shore at the water’s edge.
At home she fills in the drawing, blending black charcoal and white pastel reminding herself the darkest hour is before the dawn.
And, after winter spring always comes.
Joanna sells the house where she lived with her children and spends half the money on a home unit overlooking the ocean and the rest of the money on Australian shares.
Her new home faces the east and she can smell the salt from the ocean.
“It takes twenty years to be a successful artist,” echoes in her mind.
On a new canvas she drags the colours of the sunrise across the blank white space.
Repetitive strain injury often starts gradually but can soon become severely debilitating. But there are ways to nip it in the bud – and alleviate the worst symptoms.
1. Take Frequent Breaks
Take short, frequent breaks from repetitive tasks such as typing. A 10-minute break every hour. Use the computer only as much as you have to. Small hand movements, like scrolling on a screen, seem to set off RSI.
2. Type using both hands
It’s like playing the piano; correct fingering is essential. We tend to overuse one side of the body.
Become ambidextrous, e.g. use the mouse in your other hand, lift the kettle with the other hand.
Get up from your desk every 30 minutes and move your neck and shoulders to release tension.
4. Use a Fountain Pen
When writing by hand, use a thick grip fountain pen that flows really well, rather than a ballpoint pen. Needing to push down on the pen, even lightly, makes the inflammation of RSI worse.
5. Check the ergonomics of your work station
Keep wrists straight and flat when typing. Sit with thighs level, feet flat on floor (or on footrest), sit up straight, shoulders relaxed, upper arms at sides, not splayed out, forearms horizontal or tilted slightly downwards, so knees and elbows are at a right angle. Keep the top of your screen at eye level and adjust the position of your keyboard, so it’s easy to reach without stretching or hunching. Don’t slouch. Use good posture. To keep wrists straight and flat use a gel wrist rest for the keyboard and the mouse.
6. Keep wrist straight when sleeping
Don’t curl your hands into a fist when sleeping. Some people wear a brace to keep their sore wrist straight.
7. Strengthen the supporting muscles
A physio will give you exercises to do to strengthen the arms. e.g. bicep curls
Stretch neck, shoulders, arms, wrists. I find yoga is excellent for a full body stretch. The downward facing dog pose can cause discomfit in the hands, but I try to remember to flatten the knuckles to reduce pressure on the wrists.
Like yoga, a regular massage helps keep the body aligned and pain free.
ABR (Australian Book Review) Podcast: Released weekly Wednesdays: reviews, poetry, fiction, interviews, and commentary. For a discussion of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Klara and the Sun, his first novel since winning the Nobel Prize, see: https://www.australianbookreview.com.au/podcast.
Australian Haiku Society: Information on Haiku events, journals and a calls forsubmissions to Awards. With links to haiku groups around Australia. https://australianhaikusociety.org/
BBC Radio 4: The Poet Laureate Has Gone To His Shed. Guests such as poet Kate Tempest, actor Maxine Peake, hip-hop performer Testament and more join UK poet Simon Armitage in his writing shed to discuss poetry, creativity, rapping and more. Details, see: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p085jg48/episodes/player
Brisbane Writers Festival: Recordings of 2020 BWF events with writers such as Evie Wyld, David Mitchell and more via the site and BWF youtube channel. Donations welcomed to pay the artists. See https://bwf.org.au/online-events
Free Film Downloads (NSW, Victoria and ACT): See your local library for access to Kanopy and/or Beamfilm, the free on-demand streaming services providing access to more than 30,000 classic Australian, independent and world movies for library card-holders.
Instituto Cervantes: 2 Quixotes Podcast Series. Sydney’s Instituto Cervantes presents five podcasts (archived) examining all aspects of Cervantes’ famous work Don Quixote, past and present; includes Cervantes and Shakespeare and Planet Quixote: Fans and Detractors. Available to play via https://soundcloud.com/twoquixotes; iTunes, Android or see https://sidney.cervantes.es/en/special_activity.htm for other archived events.
James Laidler LitPoetry Australia: See the site for posts, interviews and links to videos of poems set to music including Adrienne Rich’s Diving Into The Wreck:https://www.facebook.com/jameslaidler3280/?fref=mentions&__tn__=KH-R). Also see recently uploaded video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z3LcxgIdQeQ) of “Litpoetry’s first partnership with a practising poet: Michelle Seminara. Michelle sent me some of her fantastic poetry from her soon to be published collection, Surburban fantasy (coming out in June by UWAP Press), and I chose one of these to interpret into video form” (James Laidler).
Literary Hub: On-line journal with a weekly and daily e-newsletter offers articles on-site or linked. Recent topics include Why Do Some Writers Burn Their Work? More details, see: https://lithub.com/category/features/
Newcastle Writers Festival 2020: Multiple YouTube videos, including Millennial Panic Poems – Readings with Claire Albrecht, Hera Lindsay Bird and Bastian Fox Phelan (57 mins.) See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=we0ocIv1ra4
NFSA Is OnLine: National Film & Sound Archive. Offers silent shorts, and vintage and more recent newsreels from Canberra’s NFSA, including ‘Brisbane Time Capsule’, ‘Australian Tennis Greats’ and more. See https://www.nfsa.gov.au/
Penguin Books: See the Australian site for The Huddle, an online book club which offers the chance for readers to chat with authors; free to join via https://www.penguin.com.au/book-clubs/2604-the-huddle. See the UK site for collated short articles by writers, agents and publishers.
Pitt Street Poetry: The LEGERE Online Poetry Festival. Weekly-scheduled online event with friends of the PSP press Melinda Smith, Simeon Kronenberg, Geoff Page and more, reading their own poems and poems they love. See:youtube.com/channel/UCYtSvjO3cM8XvelGYDR7ONQ
Poetic City Canberra: See the site (https://www.poeticcitycbr.com/) for recordings of events at the 2021 Poetic City Festival, including: Poet Hazel Hall’s ‘urban nature’ haiga workshop in Glebe Park on 17 April, where participants used their phones to create image and haiku combinations, inspired by the Japanese tradition of haiga (brush painting with calligraphy); see https://www.poeticcitycbr.com/urban-nature-haiku). “Seven poets were commissioned by hosts Aaron Kirby and Zoe Anderson to write poems reflecting a positive vision of the future for the Poetic City Good Future Slam, held on 20 March 2021. See ‘Good Future’ at https://www.poeticcitycbr.com/callouts-and-submissions, a compilation of these poems. (Other highlights include) the Not Very Quiet Drop-in Poetry Writing Session. On 20 March, the editors of Not Very Quiet women’s online poetry journal, Sandra Renew and Moya Pacey, hosted a drop-in poetry writing session at Gang Gang cafe, providing prompts and guidance. These are the poems that resulted.”
Poetry On The Move Podcast: Podcast on contemporary poetics from the International Poetry Studies Institute (IPSI). POTM is an initiative of the University of Canberra’s Centre for Creative and Cultural Research, Faculty of Arts and Design. See https://www.poetryonthemove.net/
Poets.Org: The site for the Academy of American Poets with poets reading their poems, features and more. See https://poets.org/;
WriteOutLoud:Poetry-focused British-based site with news, blogs and discussions; an extensive poetry publishing directory; and more. See https://www.writeoutloud.net/news/
Writers Victoria: See the site for news, events, competitions and informative blogs, articles and interviews on self-publishing pitfalls, writers in film, the freelance life, and more at https://writersvictoria.org.au/writing-life
WritersWrite.com (USA): Offers extensive links to sites (mostly US-based) for submissions and no-fee contests; literary, music and film news; ‘Types of Rhyme’; ‘Poems For Kids’; collections of famous poems. https://www.writerswrite.com/poetry/
The Writes4Women Podcasts: Celebrating women’s voices in literature, media and publishing with interviews, launches and podcasts. Free; listen via site or subscribe. See https://www.writes4women.com/