A bag over his head
Could he breathe
His lungs burn with old air
We didn’t know her
But walked the streets
Calling her name
He wrote a letter
That he would kill them
That they should die
His muscles seize and cramp
He is grateful and sorry
She is found
Switch to joy
Blood dries on the blade
Something cheerful for Friday morning.
I love writing for More Gold Coast — an online magazine covering the best things about the city, including nature, arts, food and sports.
Here’s my article about last night’s Gold Coast Music Awards, with a complete list of the winners, and all the info.
As you can see from the picture, Burleigh Brewing Co was packed. It was cosy without being crowded. The audience’s style was so diverse, too. Super cool!
Bula! I skived off to Fiji for a five nights because I was dead-jealous of my man going to Europe for a conference the week before. Fiji was amazing. I had no idea… it’s not just about lying on beaches, which isn’t my thing at all.
I stayed at the Naviti Resort on the Coral Coast of Viti Levu, which was nice. Next time I think I’ll stay at the Hideaway (and take the family along) because it’s owned by Fijians, though it would be wonderful to explore the smaller islands, too. I’ve heard the Yasawas and Kuwata are really nice.
The highlight of my trip was rafting the upper Navua River (booked through OARS). I rafted it with a team of Aussies and NZers, and we had the funnest guide, called Mizi. The rapids were exciting, the scenery was lovely and swimming was divine. We got the chance to jump from a ledge about three metres up, into deep water. There were also some deep rock pools you could swim between, down under a rocky bridge. The photos are taken with my little waterproof Nikon Coolpix S33.
The guys on my boat were larrikins. The guide from another boat put one of them in his place by flipping him into the water by the oar. That was amazing. In revenge Mizi ejected one of their team into the water by pushing on the boat beneath her and plonking her (with impressive control) upright into the water. So, yeah. A blast!
Ziplining was also amazing. Ziplines are like flying foxes… you wear a harness and clip on to two cables and fly through the forest. That tour also included a walk through a cave where people had hidden from an attacking tribe for a hundred years in the cannibal times.
I had a nice cruise and snorkel with Whale Tales cruises out to Schooner Island. I tried kava, the ceremonial anaesthetic drink, and brought some home for the family. It looks like dirty water and tastes bitter but is pleasantly relaxing.
I spent some time in the towns of Sigatoka and Nadi, and tried to buy souvenirs from the smaller Fijian markets and shops rather than big retailers, so that money would go to the poorer people.
I learned a bit of Fijian, including “sanga malanga” which means “no worries”.
I had lots of nice conversations with Fijians, who speak great English, learning a bit about their lives and families. Most of the people I spoke to, who were mostly men, seemed happy. One man said to me that Fijians are poor, but happy. One woman I spoke to said she missed her small children, that she works every day. Her babysitting costs take more than half of her weekly pay and she doesn’t see her kids much. Very sad.
I talked to another guy about which lifestyle was better, Australian or Fijian. Obviously I don’t know that much about Fijian life, but it seems to have some advantages. There’s a more relaxed pace to it, with Fiji Time being pretty chilled out. The kids seem to spend a lot of time playing around when they’re not at school, and everyday-life feels closer to nature.
Being a tourist in a developing country made me feel uncomfortable, but my way of dealing with that was to spend money where it went to locals and get to know them a bit. I don’t think I’d like to stay at Denarau as it looked too much like Sanctuary Cove.
It’s interesting that Fijians have a positive attitude to Christianity because they say it brought peace and stopped cannibalism — different to Australia, where the indigenous people seem to have been better off before the invasion.
Everyone on the plane seemed sad to be leaving and wanted to stay longer, me included. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that when I’ve left a place. Was it just that I got to relax and have adventures for four days? Maybe. Fiji is similar enough to Australia to feel like home, but it seems like the best parts are more concentrated. Warmer, greener, lusher, more relaxed. I can’t wait to take the family back.
If you go to Fiji and are heading into villages, take stuff to give people… clothes, pencils, paper. They need stuff.
To all the mothers, happy Mothers Day.
To all the women who wish they were mothers, I hope you get your kid/s.
To my mother, thank you for everything you gave me and for the chance to find the things you couldn’t give me. I believe you’re at peace now.
To the people with not-so-great mums, I hope you make peace with it.
To the women who have mothered and inspired me, thank you.
To my friends who I bitch to about motherhood, thanks for listening and for sharing your problems.
To my friends who choose not to have kids I respect your decision and envy you the peace and quiet I imagine you have.
To my kids, thanks for being awesome when you are. Thanks for the smiles, the hugs, the inspiration, your unique views and insights, your creativity and laughter.
To my baby-daddy, thanks for making motherhood possible and better, in all the ways. I wouldn’t want to do this without you. Thanks for taking Ro out for lunch!
Present from my kids…
I was a bit unsure going into this Tough Mudder event, but it has shot to the top of my fave OCRs list, even though I did it alone. I missed my previous team mates though! I’m giving it five stars.
Before. What a gorgeous sunrise, and I saw hot air balloon launching and mist on the fields…
What was so good? It was well organised, well run, and I felt safe at all times. Sometimes the waiver spooks me, but everyone there was doing everything they could to keep participants and spectators safe.
When I started I was feeling okay, but the further I went into the event the more I enjoyed it.
The best thing was that the volunteers and other Mudders were helpful and friendly. I had no idea who the people were who gave me a hand or a leg up. They were simply the people in front of me and behind me, and we all helped each other and got to know each other a little, while chest-deep in mud. It was like a weird spa party at points, as the woman in front of me asked if we were all thinking about the mud that might be going in our holes… Um. Lol.
It’s pretty cool when a stranger gives you a leg up, if you need it, and then you pull him up, if he needs it. People weren’t overly helpful, either, which was good. I only got help when I needed it. This is good because it lets me build my strength and skills. I feel pretty proud when I accomplish something on my own.
My route as recorded by my watch. (Mothers Day present:)
I had a couple of stacks while running and might have a sore ankle tomorrow, but it was nothing I couldn’t run on. All the injuries I saw were from running…they looked like sprained ankles. There were a lot of cramps out there! I had some, too.
I had two fabulous stacks down Everist 2, (the big concave ramp) until I made it up. Then I helped a bunch of people get up by grabbing on after stronger people caught them, or grabbing their foot and pulling them up. An extra bit of strength really helps haul a body up! I saved two guys from falling back down the ramp as they overbalanced trying to catch other people. Like, I grabbed them and pulled them back up. Yay. :-)
Some of the obstacles were awesome! My favourite was Blockness Monster, these massive turning blocks that you hold onto and ride over, then you turn at the top and splash down into water, onto your feet. Look it up on Youtube, if you’re keen.
Most obstacles were achievable for me, both vertically and gravitationally challenged.
The only two I skipped were the monkey bars and the person carry. I didn’t have anyone to carry, which was fine, and I need to improve my strength-to-weight ratio to manage monkey bars. Everything else I completed.
I took food with me on the course this time…a paleo bar and chocolate. I also dosed up on coconut water before and downed a Powerade afterwards. I was trying to avoid the crash I sometimes have afterwards. The downside was one interesting burp.
I think the chocolate helped to power me through. I walked about half the course, I think, but I ran parts all the way through, even at the end.
It was great to see older people, a blind person, (yep) and people of all types and abilities tackling the course.
A big yay for this event. Big thanks to the family for giving me the day off. Best Mothers Day present ever.
Seeing it’s Autism Awareness month it seems like a good time to talk about my experience as a carer for someone with it. Though it’s not Carers Month, granted, and we should be listening to people with autism rather than me. But autism affects whole families and communities.
In case you don’t get to the end of this rather long piece, the take away message is: don’t stare/chastise/advise. If you can, offer help.
I don’t tend to write much about my personal experience of autism because it feels like an invasion of Rohan’s privacy and a lot of it is just plain hard and unpleasant. And Rohan is adorable, as well as being hard work.
In my personal house style I’m not using a capital for autism unless I refer to the medical diagnosis. To me, a capital makes autism feel more stigmatising and powerful, while I’d prefer that the differences autism creates were accommodated and accepted as normal. So I guess I’m looking at it as like, “I have indigestion”. Rohan has autism.
Rohan has an atypical representation of Autistic Spectrum Disorder. One of his kindy teachers once said, “He breaks a lot of rules,” and I didn’t really know how to reply. I felt acutely apologetic for his behaviour as a preschooler (while wishing his differences were respected), and yeah, he breaks rules like a rockstar! He actually escaped from Special Needs kindy one day, and that place is high security with a carer ratio of 1000:1.
Anyway, Miss Michelle followed up with, “He breaks a lot of rules…”
[Blank look from me]
“…of the diagnosis.”
Right! She didn’t mean around preschool, she meant the guidelines of diagnosis. Which just goes to show what a wide ranging thing autism is. Rohan is often friendly, social, loves to engage with people he knows, can express himself very well about things he likes. He can seem very bright but is very slow to learn.
In some areas he has severe autistic tendencies. When he tries to form letters it’s beautiful and heartbreaking. It takes so much effort for him, while many other kids have held pens effortlessly since they were two. He’s been trying for that long, but still struggles with the motor control.
This was our morning:
(And keep in mind, Rohan is seven and half, not two.)
I was half awake when Rohan started screaming and shrieking. Not for any identifiable reason, just to let us know he’s awake, I guess. And maybe he likes the sound or feel of it. Maybe he’s too tired or can’t get his brain into gear to say, “I’m awake! Come and get me,” or to walk out of his room and find us. (We should start modelling that phrase, actually.)
Brian got him up and took off his night-time nappy, and Rohan kept intermittently shrieking, perhaps because he likes the sound. This is really painful when you’re dressing him and he screams/shouts in your face.
He was also throwing around his favourite weird words like slammanmabot and dockabicky. (These can be quite entertaining when your ears aren’t aching.) Stepworm is another.
Brian took him to his study and Rohan kept intermittently shrieking. Brian started to get annoyed, “Stop it, Rohan.” so I called Rohan to the bedroom, and he came eventually, which was great. (He comes when you call him about half the time. It takes a while!)
We had a nice hug (with some more shrieking). I tried to get him to talk about Stradbroke Island and got a few answers out of him.
“Did you like the lake?”
“I liked the lake.”
“Did you like swimming?”
“I liked swimming.”
Eventually I brought him to the kitchen and gave him his medicine. Medication has saved us, really. Right now he’s on Vyvanse and it’s a miracle. When he switched to it last year we saw an instant improvement in his language comprehension and fine and gross motor skills.
Ro ate some toast and tomato, yay! He’d lost weight last time the paed weighed him, as Vyvanse decreases his appetite and makes his tastes more sensitive. He watched Youtube as he ate breakfast.
I finally got to sit down and have my coffee (which should happen before all this!). I try to get up early for peace and quiet before anyone else wakes.
Then I heard tinkle-tinkle in the sink and went to investigate. Rohan’s pjs had fallen down around his ankles and he was doing something with water and lots of margarine in a bowl in the sink. Sigh. I cleaned up the margarine on the cupboards and bench and he asked to go to the toilet.
He always likes company but is almost independent on the toilet (except for bottom wiping) and hasn’t put his feet in the bowl for a few years, so I went off to get his clothes from his bedroom. I came back to him dancing in the lounge room half naked and the smell of poo. He had a few smears on his body and the toilet seat, so obviously he’d tried to wipe his own butt, which is great. But he needed a shower, so I put him in the shower and gave him a good wash, and cleaned up the poo on the toilet seat and put on another load of washing.
I am so grateful we’ve passed toilet training. 2013 was my year of poo. Lol. Not sure when he’ll master bottom wiping.
I laid out his clothes and he dressed almost independently, though needed me to point out his pants were going on backwards, and he asked for help with his zip and press-stud.
Now he’s playing iPad on the lounge.
I guess what I want people to take from this is that being a carer for Rohan is hard. It takes a lot of time, effort and patience, and when I imagine what it would be like to have a seven year old who simply wakes up, comes in to my room, says hi, gets a drink, goes to the toilet, can ride a bike around a quiet street with other friends… does all those usually easy things…I wish that was us.
But you know, just last Tuesday I was stopped at the lights with both kids in the back of the car, and I thought, I feel like I’m coping. I can cope with this now. I felt that way because both kids had been great that day. They’d come to Writers Activation with me, played their iPads. We’d had lunch and Ro hadn’t screamed too much at Sushi Train. No one had glared at me and blamed me for his behaviour or advised me how I could parent better.
A lot more goes into making me feel that I can cope, too.
My partner is amazingly supportive and great with Rohan, though Rohan’s challenging behaviours fray our tempers and sometimes we argue about how to handle them. He encourages me to chase my writing and OCR obsessions which give me the intellectual, community and physical stimulation I need. We have wonderful babysitters who understand and are patient with Rohan. My dad has been really helpful, lately, looking after Rohan for whole days while I’ve worked on stuff for Contact, the S.F. convention. My partner’s parents have helped out, too. Rohan’s school is also great. He attends a mainstream public school and I can’t think of how it could be better. The teachers and children are amazing. When a kid with Downs does a cartwheel she gets twice the applause of a kid without special needs.
The kids get it.
And Rohan is a lovely child. When he’s not shrieking or hitting he is great to hang out with and talk with. He loves exploring, walking and going on boats, and he is very huggy, he’s totally into Macklemore (god help me when he starts to repeat the lyrics). He enjoyed the Colour Run at school, and smiled, holding his assistant’s hand while the parents carefully sprayed him in colour. He registered it when his schoolmates wouldn’t talk to him one day (because he’d been shrieking and hitting the day before — thankfully he doesn’t do too much of that at school), which is great because it’s peer pressure encouraging him to behave appropriately.
Interestingly, he hasn’t gone through the gender obsession many kids go through. He still struggles to get pronouns right. Maybe he’s advanced on that one and gender categories aren’t so important. But he does have problems perceiving patterns, so possibly hasn’t picked up on the typical gender cues.
He’s asking me for more toast, so I better go do that…
Toast is cooking.
Let’s not forget Jasmine, the nine year old big sister. Imagine how hard all this is on her. I’m not sure that her teacher understands that sometimes she’s up until 11 or so because Rohan won’t stop shrieking, and it’s hard for her to concentrate on her homework if he’s playing up. She misses out on a lot of my attention which he absorbs, which is really fucking sad.
Things could be worse.
If you want to help carers of people with autism, do. The best way to do that, when I think about it, is to spend some time with the person with autism, and/or the siblings, and give the carers a break. Find out what the person with autism is into and do that with them. I’m really grateful when parents from Jasmine’s school take her along to events. While most younger siblings can go along to shows/events, this is really difficult for us because we don’t know if Rohan will be quiet, and most audiences won’t tolerate a shrieking audience member. Hostile glares hurt.
Accept our differences. Rohan is really scared of birds, cats and dogs, and while you might laugh at that, Rohan has tried to run on the road several times to get away from a dog, and some people with dogs huff and/or roll their eyes. And I think, “If you find my son’s reaction unpleasant, how do you think this is for us? We cope with this everyday. We plan for it and accommodate it. And it’s just one of his challenges.”
Don’t shun or stare at people (and their families) who are misbehaving. Forgive us when we’re grumpy or our hair is all over the place. Don’t buy us more toys or give us advice or tell us about what you read, or saw on TV, or about this great new treatment for autism — unless it’s scientifically tested and proven. Gah, I didn’t want to do the don’t list.
But it’s worth mentioning that if we know a person with autism, we’re probably the expert on how to help that person, and most of us have done 300 hours of therapy with professional speech therapists, OTs and psychs. Not to mention our own reading and thinking.
So we know a lot, and we’re also possibly full (like a cup is full) of information on autism. We live with autism every day. We’d probably rather read science fiction or romance or some weird combination of both.
Even if we’re just starting out on our journey of discovering our kid has autism, we might not want to hear about what you just read/saw about it. Those early months of diagnosis were heart wrenching. I spent a lot of time following Rohan around parks and at home, stopping him eating rubbish or wrecking and breaking things, while crying and wondering how (if) I’d survive autism.
Again, what would have helped most would have been breaks away, to process what was happening with us, and to think about something else. To feel that my life wasn’t going to be swallowed by autism, and that I might write an okay book and look hot in a bikini again one day.
Anyway. Life for people with autism, and their families, is what we all make it. Include us if you can, get to know us, and help us have a break.
Thanks for loving us, and for your patience when we can’t do what others can.
If you have any thoughts, feel free to comment respectfully, especially if you’re a carer of a child with autism who has different views to mine. Or a person with autism. I want to hear your voices.
Thanks for reading.
I was touched this morning to receive a handwritten rejection from Marcus at Gollancz. This is really encouraging feedback! And good timing too, as I might have the chance to pitch Spliced at Contact. Spliced still needs a little work but some parts of the puzzle are right!
Of course rejections make me a bit sad but this one is tempered by an acceptance from Apex Magazine! They accepted “Uncontainable” for publication. It’s a story inspired by Autism and creepy long coats.
This is my first international professional sale and doesn’t quite seem real yet. Big thanks to Rohan who occasionally says amazing things, and my friends who critiqued the story and bounced ideas around.
It’s only a little over a week until Contact, the national SF con in Brisbane. If you’re local grab a membership and come check it out! Memberships start at $60.
I can’t wait to see most of the awesome writers, critique buddies and editors I work with. Looking forward to meeting some online friends in real life for the first time, too. Yay!