November 29, 2017

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Another tune from Kim Churchill for today’s blog song because the album’s so good that I’m still listening to it. This one’s called Weight Falls.

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Current chain of writing days: 9

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I’m currently in training for a half marathon. Despite a previous resolve to do one a year, indefinitely — which I have admittedly only done for the past two years — I didn’t think I was going to do one this year. Dropping the ball on the third time round wouldn’t have been great but I was okay with it because I knew the cause, writing. Most of my not-at-work/not-socialising time this year has gone into writing, a fact that I’m pleased with, and would have accepted as a reasonable excuse to shirk past-Damian’s running resolve. Add to that that training for a half marathon is inevitably a time consuming endeavour involving building up your stamina over weeks to be able to handle longer and longer runs, which end up going for hours at a time. Like just about everybody I know, I felt like I have no free time, and so cramming hours of running every week into an already bloated calendar seemed impossible.

Luckily my brother, Matthew, stepped up to coerce and convince me to think otherwise. Well, all he really did was send me a text that said he was planning on running a half marathon and would appreciate it if I could do it with him, but it was the motivation I needed to ensure I didn’t break my streak, especially as I was keen to support Matt’s own efforts.

Let me tell you about my brother. Not only is he an excellent teacher and family man, he’s also someone who when he sets himself at a task gives it his all. At the start of the year he wrote a list of 2017 goals on a blackboard in his garage. He purposely chose the word ‘goals’ over ‘resolutions’ because he felt that you could only ever succeed or fail at a resolution, whereas goals could be changed depending on circumstances, and therefore still be achieved even if not in the initial form. How fucking great is that. It’s pragmatism at its best. It’s also just about everything you need to know about Matthew.

Two of his yearly goals were running based. He’s been running for years, off and on, much the same as I have, but he’d been more off than on at the end of last year and so to counter that he decided he would attempt to: 1) Run a thousand kilometers across the year, and 2) complete a half marathon. Pretty lofty goals for someone who hadn’t been running consistently for some time. Hell, lofty even for someone who had. To complete the thousand kilometers he would have to run at least twenty kilometers per week. He started out strong, hitting this target through the hotter months and into autumn but then slowed down come winter, until the point where he knew he wouldn’t achieve his initial goal. So, he altered it; reduced the number, and ensured he would keep going rather than quit altogether. Pragmatism in practice. I still love it. He also decided to double down on the goal to complete a half marathon, but, it being later in the year, and, with the longest distance he had ever ran previously being ten kilometers, Matt knew he needed extra motivation and so the message to me was sent.

Which brings us to last Sunday, we’re halfway through our training (four weeks into the eight we’ve given ourselves to get half marathon ready) and appropriately we’re about to run twelve kilometers (a half marathon being just under double that). It’s early in the morning — to avoid the heat, which is still present anyway, although more in the form of humidity thanks to some recent rain — and we’re standing on the Maribyrnong river running track ready to go. We click the button on our watches to measure our distance and we begin. We chat as we go, probably not a good idea as it uses precious oxygen our moving bodies are desperate for, but this is also our catch up time, and so on we talk between breaths. At two kilometers Matt’s watch beeps (as he’d set it to do) and he says something to me that I really liked, the very something that made me write this particular blog, in fact. He tells me that in his classroom they’ve been practicing celebrating every victory, basically that celebrating a completed goal is great but to also acknowledge hitting the milestones on the way to that goal. He then held up his hand and, still running, we gave each other a high five. Every additional two kilometers his watch would beep and we would slap our increasingly sweaty palms together, every victory celebrated. As mentioned, Matt’s previous longest run was ten kilometers, so as we stepped over the ten kilometer mark and into the ten point zero one kilometer mark Matt threw his arms into the air and let out a whoop. And why shouldn’t he? He’d just run the furthest he’d ever run before; it wasn’t the twelve kilometer goal we’d set for the day but it was surely an accomplishment well worth celebrating. By the time we did hit twelve there were more whoops, more high fives, and then the ultimate celebration, breakfast.

What I like most about Matt’s goal adapting and every-victory-celebrating is that both of these ideas actually help motivate you to keep going, and ensure you feel success and pride along the way. Which you should. If you set out to go for a ten kilometer run but only do five, you shouldn’t berate yourself for not running ten but rather celebrate that you went for a run at all. You just ran five kilometers, well done you.

Of course, this doesn’t apply to just running. It can, and in my opinion, should, be used anytime you set yourself a goal. For myself, I plan to use in for my writing. If all I have in me on any given day is to write one sentence, well then at least I wrote that sentence, and I’ll celebrate that fact.

Feeling like you’ve failed is a poor motivator. Celebrate every victory. Matt did, and last Sunday he ran the longest distance he ever had before, and by Christmas, he’ll likely have doubled it.

Talk soon

Damian

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Up For It

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The procedure was experimental. Well, maybe experimental isn’t the right word. Unproven. It had been proven now though, all thanks to my agreement to be a case study, but there’ve been some complications. No, side-effects is probably a better word. Oh man, I never used to care about words. 

I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis on my thirtieth birthday. Literally on the day. I blew out the candles of my birthday cake in the hospital cafeteria and let me tell you they are not exactly festive places.

Sclerosis, if you’re Greek’s a bit rusty — and mine used to be non-existent — means scars. The multiple scarring the name refers to takes place within the central nervous system. On the nerve cells themselves. The protective coating that surrounds the neurons actually shears away. The hard truth is there is currently no known cure.

When I found out the reason I’d been having trouble holding cups lately, not to mention my bladder, was due to multiple sclerosis the doctor also told me that it affects roughly three times as many women as men; as though knowing I shared this disease with all my fellow double X chromosome sisters was somehow comforting. It wasn’t. It just further proved we get the rougher end of the deal. When he mentioned that there was a more radical treatment available though, that got my attention.

That’s what my procedure was, a treatment. Not like a mad scientist harnessing lightning from the sky kind of treatment, but still, it was a bit out there.

Look, I’ve never exactly been a model student, or employee, or person, really. I’ve had a few scraps with the law and done some things I’m not proud of, and maybe haven’t achieved a whole lot, but that didn’t mean I was ready to roll over and let this disease have my body. So, when the Doc said ‘stem cell transplant’ I said ‘sure, I’m up for it’, without really bothering to think it through. Honestly, to my non-medical school trained brain it seemed pretty straight forward. You have these stem cells, which are kind of a blank slate capable of turning into any other type of cell, repairing or replacing damaged cells in the process. So, a donor offers them up for whatever reason, my crappy nerve cells get repaired or replaced, and I’m free to spend my thirty first birthday not in a hospital. Simple.

Maybe simple’s not the right word. Straight-forward. Anyway, not so straight-forward, it turns out. Although even the doctor’s didn’t know that.

My donor’s name was Rupert Hellings. The hospital insisted I meet with him beforehand. Personally, I would have preferred to have taken his stem cells and been on my way, but he was a nice enough guy. Bit older, real academic type. Professor of linguistics at the University of Melbourne, whatever that entails. His wife had had multiple sclerosis and, while it wasn’t what killed her, he said he wanted to help others avoid what she had gone through. Like I said, nice guy; although he had this habit of always cracking his knuckles, drove me crazy.

Anyway, the procedure went fine. Stem cells were transplanted and I stopped having issues with vertigo and motor control. For all intents and purposes I didn’t have multiple sclerosis anymore. Good, right?

Then it started. The side-effects. Little things to begin with. Like I started correcting people’s speech. ‘It’s Holly and I, not me and Holly.’ Things like that. I just couldn’t stop myself. I would hear someone say something incorrect and I would have to correct them. I’ve never been that type of girl, and my friends aren’t the kind of people that like being corrected, or who have much of a grasp on the nuances of language. Basically, I was correcting them a lot. Like, constantly. They stopped inviting me to things, and I could hardly blame them. I was getting fed up with it too.

Then it got worse. I would see a word, just any normal word, written on a sign or a poster and I wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about it. I would become captivated with it. No, not captivated. Obsessed. I would think about the different sounds that made up the word. How it could be used in different contexts. I would begin to wonder about the history of the word and have to look it up, which would inevitably lead me to some new word I would become obsessed over. It was weird, it was wrong, it wasn’t me.

When I started cracking my knuckles, it all fell into place. I realised I was cracking them whenever I was lost in thought, usually over some word or another. Like I said, cracking knuckles drove me crazy, but for some reason doing it now felt right. Then I thought of the only other person I knew who cracked their knuckles in that way, the only other person who was likely to get obsessed over words, and my gut dropped.

What could I do? I knew what what would happen if I went back to the hospital. They would be fascinated by the whole thing. The idea that a stem cell recipient might take on the personality traits of the donor? C’mon, I wouldn’t be leaving that hospital anytime soon. They’d want to do so many tests and experiments on me that every birthday for the next thirty years would likely be spent in that hospital cafeteria. I decided instead to pay my donor a visit.

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He was sitting at his desk when I stormed into his office. Universities, it turns out, are pretty easy places to just walk into. He looked up in shock, then pleased recognition at the sight of me. He didn’t stay pleased for long.

‘You’ve infected me,’ I yelled.

‘What?’ he asked.

‘Your knuckle cracking, your word fetish. I’ve got all of them.’ I realise I probably could have been a bit clearer in my language but to be honest I was furious and scared. My body was being taken over. To his credit he figured it out pretty quickly.

‘Wait. Are you saying you’ve somehow taken on some of my mannerisms through the stem cell transplant?’ He asked. Smart guy.

‘That’s exactly what I’m saying and I want you to undo it right now!’

He ignored this statement, too caught up in the implications of what I was saying. He stood and started pacing around the room.

‘That’s amazing. My traits are expressing in you. Part of me is in you,’ he said thinking it through. ‘If its existence can be proven then…’

‘Then you and I would never leave a hospital or laboratory ever again,’ I finished for him. That got his attention.

‘Yes. Yes, I suppose you’re right,’ He returned to his seat. ‘This is all a lot to take in.’

‘You think? Try being on the other end of it!’

‘Right. Tell me, what is it exactly you’ve been experiencing?’

‘Words, man. I can’t stop thinking about words. I’m bloody fascinated by them. Like, right now, I can’t stop thinking about the word fascinated. Why do we use it? What’s its history?’

‘Oh, well that’s very interesting actually-’

‘Stop,’ I say. ‘I don’t want to hear it. Well, I do, but not right now. The point is you need to think of a way to get you out of me.’

‘I- I don’t think I can. My stem cells aren’t even my stem cells anymore. They’re your nerve cells. Even if we did go to the hospital I doubt they could reverse it. They wouldn’t know which neurons had been altered, and from the sounds of it it’s affecting your whole central nervous system, all the way up to your brain. I’m sorry but I think you’re stuck like this.’ He gave a tight lipped smile and raised his eyebrows apologetically. It didn’t do a whole lot to comfort me.

I collapsed into the chair opposite him and put my head in my hands. Was it even my head anymore? It didn’t feel like it.

‘You know, it might not be all bad,’ he said.

‘What do you mean?’ I asked, not really caring for whatever pleasantry, no, platitude, he was about to give me.

‘Well, you said you were fascinated by words, even wanted to hear the history of the word fascinated. I take it that means you’re getting at least some level of enjoyment from the study of language?’

‘Yes,’ I said, feeling ruefull, because the truth was he was right. It had alienated me from my friends and made me feel less like myself, but I had also never had such purpose before.

‘Okay. Good. Well, you could always apply to study here. I run the Bachelor’s Degree in Linguistics. I could ensure you get a place next semester.’

Me, study? I had certainly never thought of that before.

‘And you would teach me about words?’ I asked.

‘I would,’ he said, smiling.

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I took the professor up on his offer. I mean, what else was I going to do? Part of me feels like I’m almost his daughter now, anyway. No, daughter’s not right. Clone. Either way, I decided I’ve just got to be up for it, see where it takes me. Or, at least I think I did.

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Thanks for reading

Damian

November 16, 2017

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The East Pointers have a new album out which means you can expect to see even more of their tunes being used as my blog songs. Today’s track is entitled Two Weeks, and the album is called What We Leave Behind.

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Current chain of writing days: 38

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After my last post where I shared some good news and possible future happenings in regards to my writing (which got some some lovely feedback from my family and friends, thanks all), I got yet another piece of wonderful news. An email to my inbox started with “congratulations” and while many spam email might start this way this one was from the City of Melbourne’s Library and Recreations department, inviting me to the Lord Mayor Creative Writing Awards 2017, as I had been shortlisted for an award. When it rains it pours, right? And, while admittedly I’ve only been trying this writing game for three years, it was starting to feel a little dry.

And look, I still have a long path to walk. I’ve read enough writing advice and author blogs to know any kind of success doesn’t happen overnight. Even the ones that seem to, usually have a lengthy shadow of practice trailing along behind them. It takes years to do your twenty thousand hours, with the general consensus being that it’ll take ten years of work — in this case, writing every day — before your skills will get to the point that they’ll start to get you paid work and hopefully gain an audience.

I accept that. I have told myself and others that it will probably take till I’m forty to really see if I’m capable of making a living off of writing, and that’s still a pretty big if.

What does get me down sometimes is that it feels like I started so late. While I was always an avid reader and consumer of television I never considered a job creating that kind of content until I already had a science degree behind me and years working jobs I didn’t much enjoy. Once I started writing, and realised how much I enjoyed it, it felt like I had wasted so much time.

Then, today, I saw a tweet. It was from a writer I follow; Cassandra Khaw. It went like this:

What followed was an onslaught of people in all kinds of fields either sharing their stories of starting late and finding success or relief at the fact that they weren’t the only one sharing this worry. 

Some were from writers I knew:

Some were people scarcely similar to me:

Some were from people further down the line:

And some were people achieving different goals:

All of them were tales of working hard, and working passionately to achieve a goal, all with one resounding theme: There is no deadline. There is no cut off date to when someone can achieve success. There’s no wrong or right time to change a career, go for a goal, get fit, or start a new hobby.

It can be all too easy to feel like there are checkpoints in life that, once past, means you’ve missed out. But that’s not true. You control your actions, and your actions become your life; so, and this is the important part, you control your life. I think it comes down to just pointing yourself at a goal and taking the first step. 

The awards I’ll be going to are on the 7th of December, and oddly I don’t actually know what I’ve been shortlisted for as I entered in two fields; both the short story and novella. Hell, maybe I’ll get lucky and it’ll be both.

Wish me luck.

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Remember, do the best you can for as long as you can, that’s all any of us can ever do.

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Talk soon,

Damian

Mary’s Memory Box

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Mary kept a box inside herself in which she kept all her unwanted memories.

It started when she was nine, on christmas day. After running into the lounge room to see what presents Santa had brought her she had slipped and hit her head, and so her parents had rushed her to the hospital. They’d spent the whole day in the waiting room only to be told she didn’t have a concussion, or need stitches, but rather just a bandaid and some pain killers. It had been the worst day of her short life, all brought upon by her over excited running and falling, and she’d made the decision that she didn’t want to remember it ever again.

She’d been in her bedroom at the time looking at the small wooden box where she kept all her stickers. The box had a small lock attached and so could be opened by no one but her, which meant the stickers only came out of the box when she chose. Why couldn’t she do that with her memories, she’d wondered, and so the memory box had been created.

At first it had resembled the sticker box exactly, but over time it had changed and grown, and, now at twenty nine, Mary envisioned her memory box as being made of walnut, gilded with gold and silver filigree that wrapped itself around the box’s exterior.

The locking mechanisms had been upgraded as well. In order to ensure no memory slipped out, or in, by accident, Mary had added layers of puzzles to the box that she had to navigate in order to allow herself to open and close it. She had to first mentally move the filigree in a specific order, which caused a chunk of wood at the front of the box to slide away, revealing a twenty five digit combination lock. Once the code was correctly inserted the lid would open revealing a second lid, engraved with an intricate jungle scene. A number of buttons were hidden in the scene which she would then have to press in a specific order. Finally, she would whisper a secret sentence to herself, and only then would the box open, and only for the length of time it took for her to stuff her unwanted memories inside.

The box worked perfectly. Ever since that day of its creation all those christmases ago, Mary hadn’t been able to recall her trip to the hospital; all she had in her head was a blank space and the knowledge that she’d hidden a memory away. Her parents had assumed she must have hit her head even harder than they’d expected, calling the doctor that had seen her a quack; but Mary knew the real reason was her memory box.

In the years that followed more and more memories had been added to the box. From the time in high school when she’d gossiped about her best friend Genevieve to the cool kids, sharing all her secrets, to the the time she’d gotten so drunk at a party in her third year of uni that she’d not only vomited a black-orange mix of sambuca and cheetos all over her soon to be ex boyfriend while trying to kiss him but had also broken the home owners dishwasher when she’d used it to wash her vomit covered dress, and then had finished the night by crying and screaming at all her friends until she’d passed out.

It wasn’t only youthful indiscretions she used the box for though, adulthood brought with it a score of memories that Mary cut out and locked away. The job interview she’d started crying in, the shame she’d felt when her ex, Alex, caught her cheating, the regrettable joke she’d made in front of the korean client her company had recruited, which had lead to her being fired, and another night of drinking, breaking things, and saying words that hurt the people who loved her most. Every one of these memories made it into the box, and once the lid was closed, Mary, happily, couldn’t remember them anymore.

Other people still did of course, but with the forced forgetting these people seemed callous and moody to the now unaware Mary, and inevitably, with her thinking them undeservingly rude and them thinking her unremorseful for her actions, the relationships ended.

Now she was having a problem, though. The box wouldn’t close.

She was sitting tearful and hurt in the small bathroom, her swollen eyes closed as she tried to force the box lid down. It refused. She had gone through the regular unlocking sequence without a problem, had mentally sawed away the unwanted memory and placed it in the box without issue, and yet when, in her mind’s eye, she tried to close it, the lid became jammed at the last moment. She furrowed her brow and tried again, imagining an invisible force pushing down on the lid. It refused to budge, as though something in there was blocking its way. It was ridiculous, Mary knew, the box couldn’t over fill. It was, in theory, infinite.

A pounding came from the other side of the bathroom door.

‘Mary,’ her dad cried. ‘Honey, let me in.’

She ignored him, leaning forward over her knees to stick her fingers in her ears and really concentrate on closing the memory box.

The problem was that with the lid open one of her past, forgotten, memories might slip out, and Mary couldn’t allow that. She needed this box closed, and she needed it closed now.

‘Mary,’ her father yelled again. ‘You’re not doing that thing again are you? That repression thing? Please, open the door. Or, at least, just talk to me.’

Mary clamped down on her sniffling externally while internally she pushed even harder on the lid of the box. It moved a fraction of a fraction downwards, validating her efforts. She gathered her resolve and pushed harder still.

A memory slipped out.

It was from when she was eleven. She’d been angry at her mum for refusing to buy the toy she wanted and so had instead secreted the toy into the pocket of her mother’s coat without her noticing. The plan had been to retrieve it once they were home but, as soon as her mother had stepped through the stores sensors, lights had flashed and alarms had rang. A security guard had approached her mother with all the zeal of a want-to-be-cop who had finally found a criminal and swept them both away into a tiny room in the interior of the shopping center. The man had been unnecessarily aggressive and suspicious of her mother even though it was obvious who the real thief was, and had kept them there for over an hour before finally letting them off with a warning and a demand that they pay for the toy. Her mother hadn’t said a word to Mary on the drive home, simply giving her a look of such disapproval and disappointment that made a sick feeling grow in her belly. When they’d gotten home all her mother had done was give her the toy and say, ‘here, you wanted this so bad you might as well keep it.’ Mary spent that evening in her room trying and failing to ignore the toy. Everytime she looked at it the sick feeling in her belly grew, until, of course, she’d decided to put the memory in her box. After that she’d played with the toy without a worry.

Now the memory swept out and escaped into the ether of her mind, re-affixing itself to where she had cut it from all those years ago. The action weakened her, made it harder to focus on closing the box, two decades worth of regret sweeping back in an instant. She knew if she didn’t close it soon more would escape, and so she gritted her teeth and continued pushing.

‘C’mon, you’re twenty nine, now. You can’t keep doing this.’ Her father said from the other side of the door. Mary felt the box close a little bit more.

A second memory escaped.

Mary, at sixteen, in full flight of a hormone and alcohol fueled rampage, yelling and screaming at her parents as tears and mascara dribbled down her cheeks. They had caught her sneaking back into the house through her window after leaving the same way earlier to spend the night with two friends and a boy three years older than her. The boy, Alessandro, had supplied the three girls with as much spirits as they could drink, and the night had become one of binge drinking and eventually fighting when it was revealed Alessandro had been making out with all of them. She’d come home angry and confused and when her parents had apprehended her she’d exploded in a rage she didn’t know she’d possessed, using all the knowledge she had of them to say the things she knew would hurt the most.

The memory shot away to return to its rightful place, but Mary kept pushing.

‘Say something to me,’ her father continued. ‘Don’t push me away. Don’t push this away.’

Mary screamed internally, forcing her well of mental strength to dip deeper, and used everything inside her to push down on the box. With a click the latch caught, and her memories were once more trapped inside. She felt immediately lighter, her tears slowing down as she allowed the emptiness to fill her.

‘Please, love,’ her father said. ‘I’m in pain too.’ And the box exploded.

Memories burst out like confetti inside of her, whipping around her mind in a tornado of pain and regret and sorrow. She threw her head back, eyes going wide, as she re-lived all the moments she had forced away for so long. Her tears came back in an instant, starting with a dribble and turning into a full downpour. Every mistake she’d made, every act of stupidity, and cruelty, and selfishness, found their way back to the appropriate dendrite, the cells flashing with renewed connection as Mary became whole.

One memory, the latest, the one that the box had been so resistant to close over, played inside her mind.

She’d been drunk again, passed out at a bus stop in the middle of the city when two police had found her. They’d looked in her phone for her parents number, and her mum had come to collect her. Her mother had given her the usual spiel from the driver’s seat, asking Mary why she could never learn from her mistakes, why she always pretended everything was okay, why she never talked to them about her issues. Mary had lashed out, swearing and screaming, demanding her mum pull the car over and let her out. Her mother had eventually capitulated, stopping not far from Mary’s apartment, and Mary had managed to stumble the rest of the way. Her mother never made it home. A sleep deprived truck driver had hit her as she entered the highway and she was gone before the ambulance had even arrived.

The next day Mary had slept through her father’s many phone calls. Awaking in the afternoon to read the messages and rush to the hospital, where, after finding out the tragic news, she’d locked herself in the bathroom and promptly opened her memory box.

Mary’s wailing caused a spike of panic in her father. It took him four tries until his shoulder burst the bathroom door open. Mary fell into his arms, apology after apology falling from her lips.

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Six months later and the box was still gone.

On the advice of her therapist Mary had made a list, a physical one this time, on which she wrote down every one of the memories that had been locked away, all the parts of herself that she had cut off and hidden.

She’d been staying with her father ever since the accident, back in her childhood bedroom, and managed to find her old sticker box in the base of the wardrobe, hidden behind bags of clothes. She cut up the list into little strips of memories and placed them in the box. It would take time but she planned to make amends for every one of them.

She didn’t know if she’d ever get over the loss of her mother, or be able to forgive herself for her death, but she also knew that she was healing. Things made sense now, while shame and regret were not good feelings to have they allowed her to see the whole picture and work to not repeat the same mistakes.

She snapped the little lock off the sticker box and in thick black marker wrote on the lid;

MARY’S MEMORY BOX
(never to be locked again)

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Thanks for reading

Damian

November 7, 2017

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I’m once again using Kim Churchill as my music man today because his album, Weight Falls, is a thing of brilliance that I can’t get enough of. Today’s track, Can You Go On, is one that gets me charged up and pumping my fist every time thanks to heart pumping percussion and stunning vocals.

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Current chain of writing days: 20

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It’s been a busy few weeks for me, both work wise and socially. Summer showed its face here in Melbourne for one brief week and caused everyone to start planning things to do in the sun and the fact that we’ve now had cold and rain for the last two weeks hasn’t really halted that.

While the social stuff is fun it’s the work stuff I want to tell you about, and by you, I mean, you right now reading this (hello), as well as future me, the one who years from now will decide to reread this blog using the virtual reality implant in his eye to remember what he was doing in early November of 2017. That’s because it’s been a good few weeks, and whatever else happens career wise for me I want to remind myself of that. It all starts somewhere, it might be here.

Firstly, I got nominated for an award. The award in question is known as the John Hinde Award, and is given out by the Australian Writers Guild for scripts in science fiction. I didn’t win, which, bummer, but I did get long listed, which, amazing. Like most contests and submissions, I sent in my work months ago and promptly forgot about it. I do this deliberately as a defence mechanism, a way to stop me from becoming downhearted when the inevitable rejection letter pings into my inbox — if I’ve forgotten about it, I can’t be disappointed. Except, of course, this time it wasn’t a rejection. It was a, ‘Congratulations, Damian…’ which are some of the nicest words a person can read, even if their name isn’t Damian. My day was made. I shared the news with Holly, we had a drink that night, and then I turned back on my defence mechanism and told myself not to hope for the win. That one proved to be more prophetic. However, there was one more pleasant surprise. The outcome of the awards weren’t released until the day after the awards ceremony. Being longlisted I did receive an invite, but as they were in Brisbane had decided I wouldn’t go unless I was shortlisted. I did this assuming the short list would comprise maybe ten entries, and the long list would be made up of twenty or so. It turns out that assumption was wrong. The short list was in fact made up of the winner, the runners up, and a third place contender. The long list were the next seven behind those. This means two things, I could have made it as close as top four, and at the very least I was in the top ten. My day was made…again. While the win would have been great, what I was ultimately awarded with was validation. With writing you can’t help but need some level of outside validation. The point of being a writer is to share your stories, and for that you need a willing audience. This tells me I might one day have one.

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Next on the list of cool things is the horror anthology I’ve been writing with pod-casting pals, Seasons of Fear, which is finally ready for publishing. I’m quite excited for this one. I’m really proud of all the stories the guys and I have written, each one is unique, each with their own style, all strong stories, and all scary as hell. Basically, we’ve told each other a scary story around the campfire, each trying to terrify the other, and then put it in book form. It’s been a lot of fun, and, as always, has taught me plenty. We’ll start by selling them exclusively at the podcast live shows, then after that will hopefully make it so people can order then online, or straight from us, it that proves harder than expected. Either way, hopefully sales go well because I’d love to do something like this with the guys again. Also, check out the cover.

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I’ve also been fortunate enough to begin work with a mate of mine on what will hopefully be an ongoing kids radioplay series, if it gets picked up. I’m currently writing a pilot script for it, and then mate in question, Dan, will use the weight of his production company to pitch it around. I’m quietly confident. The idea is a great one that hits a niche part of the market, ABC have recently started a new audio department and are looking for submissions, and most importantly Dan’s confident, which makes me confident. If it does get funding then I’ll, in effect, be head writer and will be able to write a bunch more scripts that I’ll *gasp* get paid for. Fingers crossed, everyone.

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Lastly in this tirade of bragging, this Friday I’ll be in a writers room brainstorming for an animated kids tv series. It’s in a similar spot to the project above where nothing is set in stone just yet, but again, I’m confident this series has a really good chance. The content it’s based on is solid, the characters are fun and flawed, and the premise is one that is not only fantastic but give us a lot of stories to tell. I won’t say more than that, mostly because I’m not sure if I’m allowed to.

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The point is that it feels like I now have a few more irons in the fire, and only future me knows what they might turn into.

Talk soon,

Damian

Copy (Part 2)

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Image credit: Bogi

The first part of this story can be found here.

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‘Are you sure you know where we’re going?’ Dev asked.

They had been walking for hours. Shuni’s nose leading them away from the business district, past the tightly packed units and stacked apartments, until they got to the outskirts of the suburb, where the two to three bedroom houses squatted like herds of sleeping cattle.

‘Oh yes,’ Shuni said, not lifting her snout from the ground. ‘Sacred cow has a very distinct smell. For something so divine, it is rather smelly.’

‘Really? What does it smell like?’ Dev asked.

‘Like a really big cow.’ Shuni said. ‘I think we’re getting close, now.’ She lead them away from the track and into a growth of bush.

Dev moved behind her as she trotted forward into the undergrowth, her short stature allowing her to pass easily around the various shrubs, bushes, and branches, all of which inevitably hit Dev in the face, or worked to trip him up.

‘Shuni, is there some other way around all this? I’m having some trouble here.’ He said as he tore his leg free from a particularly spiky patch of brambles.

‘I’m afraid not, Dev, this is the way their trail leads.’

‘Then why isn’t there a track? This sacred cow managed to destroy my office building, surely it should have created a path.’

‘Oh no, the panis can fly. They would have simply carried the sacred cow over all this.’

‘Then why are you still smelling the ground?’

‘It’s droppings. It must have been very scared, there are a lot of them. You’re standing in some right now.’

‘Ugh,’ Dev said, shaking his leg to free himself of the invisible waste with no idea if it was actually helping. ‘Can’t we fly over all this, or something?’

‘Ha, dogs can’t fly, Dev. We don’t have wings. You’re so funny.’

Dev stopped walking as an idea came to him. ‘What if you did though?’ He asked.

‘Did what?’ She said.

‘Have wings. You said you could alter-’

A noise somewhere between a bray and a cackle cut him off.

‘Panis,’ Shuni growled, her little corgi body moving into an alert stance. ‘Come on, they must be close, time to do battle!’

Shuni charged forward through the brush. Dev worked to follow, pulling himself free to fall into a clearing. He looked up to see a large overgrown wall of earth in front of him, an open cave mouth at the centre of it. From within the cave’s depth more barking laughs could be heard, and it occurred to Dev for the first time that he was expected to fight demons.

‘Shuni, I don’t wish to appear to be less brave than a dog, albeit a dog/god hybrid, but is there anyway I could not go in there?’

‘Oh, don’t worry, best friend. You’ll be great. You’re the best, most loving, most favourite human I know.’

As pep talks went, it left a lot to be desired, but the honest sincerity of the words coupled with Shuni’s open faced adoration moved Dev, and caused a swell of courage to grow in him.

‘Thank you, Shuni. You’re right, we can do this, and I even have a plan as to-’

A bellow so loud it caused Dev’s ear drums to wobble rolled out of the cave mouth.

‘That is one unhappy cow. Time to go, best friend.’ Shuni turned and ran, her tiny legs a blur as she galloped towards the dark cavern.

‘Wait, Shuni, I have an idea,’ Dev called out, but her small form was already through the opening and heading inside. Left with few options, Dev repositioned his satchel and strode forward.

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Darkness enveloped Dev as he moved into the cave, but he could see a small point of flickering light ahead of him. The braying of the panis sounded again, and Dev felt his courage contract. A small shadow in the form of a dog broke the spot of light, and Dev’s courage regained some of its size. Shuni trotted around a bend and Dev hurried to follow her.

He stumbled forward into the light and saw…an empty cavern. It was huge and open with a number of small fires spotted around it’s jagged floor, but the cavern itself was empty except for Shuni and himself.

‘Shuni,’ he started. ‘What’s going…’ His eyes were caught by the shadows. They displayed humanoid figures that leapt and danced over the walls, silhouettes of creatures that didn’t exist. ‘Is that them? Are those shadows the panis?’ He whispered to the god in a corgi’s body.

‘Huh? Shadows? Oh, I see. Lean down, please.’

Confused, Dev moved his face down towards the dog, who leapt up and swiped her tongue across his eyes before he could move away.

‘Ugh, Shuni, why did you…’ Dev’s words fell away as he looked around the now packed cavern. Human like creatures, the panis, hovered and flew around the cavern’s interior. No, actually, they don’t look like humans at all, Dev realised. They had two arms, two legs, and a head, but that was where the resemblance finished. Instead they were stunted and wrinkled, lacking necks and joints in their too straight arms, with overly wide mouths that split their faces in half when they let out their braying laughter.

And as if that wasn’t shocking enough, in the middle of them all sat the biggest cow Dev had ever seen; larger than an elephant, larger than ten elephants. Dev’s neck bent back as he followed it’s length up to where the animal’s head brushed the cavern ceiling. He only had one thought in his mind as he took in the giant creature. It’s so beautiful. The animal’s enormous eyes, while wet and scared, were stunning, seeming to encompass entire galaxies within their depths. It’s coat was clean and gleaming, shining like sunlight over water, and the muscle underneath rippled with angelic health. He couldn’t help but wonder how the milk of a creature as divine as this would taste, and had no doubt that it really must have once fed all of humanity. Then it let out a thunderous bellow and shat itself, and suddenly the spell was broken.

His eyes instead went back to the horrible laughing demons, as yet unaware of he and Shuni’s presence, and felt fear rise up inside of him. His feet instinctively began backing up as he looked around for the closest place to hide.

Then Shuni began barking. It was a loud bark, a challenging bark, full of righteous joy at the prospect of the imminent battle. Dev wanted to throttle her.

‘Shuni,’ he started, but she was off, charging at the demons as if they were simply seagulls.

Dev stood, conflicted. Unable to pair the desire to fearlessly support his friend and the gut wrenching panic at the thought of confronting these literal demons. Instead, he stayed motionless as Shuni bit down hard on the ankle of the closest panis. The thing let out a scream as terrible as its visage. It turned as it’s features changed to rage, and picked Shuni up by her bottom and pulled. Shuni came free with a chunk of demon flesh in her teeth.

The demon tossed her to a nearby hovering fellow, who, laughing, threw her again to a panis on the other side of the cavern. Dev watched in terror as Shuni passed from one set of demon fingers to the next, barking with a ferocious exuberance the entire time.

Mustering up every ounce of bravery inside of him, Dev pushed back his shoulders and with a shaking voice, cried out. ‘Let her go!’

The demon who currently held her, did. He dropped her with a cackle from over five meters in the air. She hit the ground with a soft whump and Dev raced over to her.

She turned her head to look up as he knelt above her. ‘Hey, best friend,’ she said. ‘Did you see me taking on the panis?’

‘I did, Shuni,’ he said, trying to make his voice even a fifth as cheery as hers. ‘You were very brave.’

‘We both were,’ she said.

Dev looked away and up at the swarm of panis hovering.

‘Shall we keep fighting then?’ Shuni asked, bringing her battered body to her feet.

‘I don’t know,’ Dev said, hopelessness creeping into his voice. ‘I’m not sure you can beat them.’ He looked at her chubby little body. ‘Not in this form.’

His idea came back to him.

‘Shuni, you said you can alter certain aspects of reality, right?’

‘Yep. I sure can’

‘Your alterations though, they need to be grounded in some kind of reality, right?

‘That’s right.’ The smile widened on the corgi’s face. ‘What’s going on in your big head, best friend?’

Dev whipped his satchel around himself and pulled out the Ye Old England doggy outfits.

‘What about this dragon outfit? Could you make it so that putting it on turned you into a dragon?’

Shuni thought, taking in Dev’s suggestion. ‘No,’ she finally said. ‘It’s too much of a stretch, the product wasn’t designed for that.’

Dev’s heart sunk.

‘But you could.’

‘What?’ Dev asked.

‘You write the descriptions for these products. I can’t make it that this outfit will do something it’s not supposed to, but I could if you made it part of it’s description.’

‘You mean, if I change the copy so that it says the costume will turn whoever wears it into what it looks like, then it’ll work?’

‘Yep.’

Dev looked up in amazement. ‘In other words, you’re saying that I posses a certain set of skills that have come in handy right when we need them!’ He began laughing and Shuni leapt up and licked his face.

The panis, sensing their excitment, all turned. One let out a cackle and began moving slowly towards them.

‘Right,’ Dev said, and pulled his laptop to him and began typing. His fingers clicked across the keyboard, words and sentences weaving magic as he created copy. Shuni pulled two of the outfits aside and looked up at Dev as he closed the laptop and pushed it to the ground.

‘Two? Why two?’ he asked.

Moments later and Shuni was dressed smartly in the dragon outfit. Beside her, Dev had squeezed the dog sized samurai costume over his head and arms.

‘I feel ridiculous,’ he said.

‘I think you look great,’ Shuni replied.

The panis chuckled as they gathered above them.

‘Ah, Shuni. Why isn’t it working?’ Dev asked, panic rising.

‘I don’t know? Did you press enter?’

The panis dove at them, mouths open wide.

‘Shit!’ Dev called out as he reached for the laptop. He opened its casing just as the first demon was about to touch them, and clicked.

Shuni’s costume molded into her. Her limbs and neck began to elongate immediately, becoming scaled and green. Her snout pushed forward, her teeth grew into fangs, and her puffball of a tail snaked out behind her. Shuni let out a joyful roar, followed by a belch of flame that roasted the closest of the panis.

Dev’s costume likewise stretched, flowing across his body until it fit him perfectly. He felt himself leap impossibly high to kick one of the laughing demons across the mouth, shattering teeth. His hands found the two swords at his back — which, until a moment ago, had been made of felt — and he sliced through two more of the panis before landing perfectly on the ground.

The fight didn’t last long. The panis may have been able to take on a small dog and a giant cow, but they were no match for a samurai and a dragon. Realising this, most of the demons panicked, popping out of existence to return to whatever realm they had come from.

Dev stood beside Shuni, still in dragon form, and looked up at the giant bovine. ‘What do we do with her?’ he asked from behind the cloth of his mask.

‘Don’t worry, best friend. I’ll take care of it.’ Shuni roared around splutters of fire.

‘Do you think you could take the costume off now? It was hard enough bringing myself to talk to a dog let alone a dragon.’

Shuni raised a clawed hand to her neck and pulled. Her green scaled skin tented outward then came free, reverting to a small, fairly cheaply made, dragon doggy outfit, leaving Shuni hanging in the air. She fell, the outfit fluttering down behind her, and Dev, still capable of samurai reflexes, caught them both easily in his arms. He placed her down and pulled off his own outfit.

‘I suppose you’ll go now,’ he said.

‘Yes. And no. I’ll go, but the part of me that’s your dog will remain. You’ll still have your best friend.’

He knelt down and took her in his arms. ‘I’ll only have half of her, but I suppose that’ll have to be enough.’

Shuni licked his face, her eyes a conflicted pool of happy and sad. ‘Well, if me or any of the other gods ever need a writer, we’ll know exactly who to come to.’

‘A copy writer, you mean.’

‘What’s the difference? Time for me to go, best friend. I’ll miss you.’

‘I’ll miss you too, Samara.’

He placed her down and she trotted over to the sacred cow. With one final look back at Dev she turned and licked the leg of the enormous creature, and it disappeared, taking the deity with it.

Shuni, the non-holy version, turned and looked about the cave, before seeing Dev and excitedly trotted over to him. He picked her up and started the long walk home.

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The next day Dev went back to work, which is to say he went back to the office to quit, only to remember it was still destroyed. In the end he sent his manager a strongly worded resignation letter. He also decided to keep the laptop, he would need it for the novel he would write, the one about the god and the dragon and the demons and the dog.

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Thanks for reading

Damian