December 14, 2017

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Given the season it seems appropriate for today’s blog song to be a Christmas Carol. This rendition of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas comes from one of my favourites, Stu Larsen.

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Current chain of writing days: 24

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I didn’t know if today’s entry should go into the journal category or short fiction, because it’s a tale of my life but also involves me telling a made up story. It was quite the dilemma, I mean it was no Sophie’s choice, but still. In the end I went for the journal option…obviously.

So, the first thing you need to know about this entry is that twitter recently doubled its character allowance per tweet, increasing it from one hundred and forty to two hundred and eighty. The reason this is important is because a while ago I had the idea that I would tell a story through twitter, and not just tell a story, but also have it be interactive. The way I would do this would be to have a poll of alternative story options attached to every tweet that people would vote on to decide what happened next. Basically like a collective choose your own adventure. However, upon trying this I found the one hundred and forty character limit to be too restricting. I couldn’t get across enough information, or write in any enjoyable way, and it simply came across as stilted and unimaginative. I gave it up as not possible, at least, until the recent increase.

It turns out two hundred and eighty characters is just long enough for me to do what I wanted. Of course, I still had one issue,  if nobody voted my story would quickly hit a dead end. Luckily, that turned out not to be a problem. I threw out this initial tweet…

…and soon had the confirmation that I would have at least a dozen or so people to help me out, and I’m happy to say that number grew as the story went on.

Enough set up though, right? Here’s how it went…

(They stalemated me! I decided I had to do both)

It was an exceptionally fun experiment, one that received an even better reaction than I had hoped; speaking of — thank you to all my fellow twitterers who voted and in so doing helped me tell this tale, and to every one who sent me messages about it.

I’m now thinking of starting a separate twitter account for just this purpose, we’ll see.

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Remember, ideas are easy, it’s the doing that’s hard.

Talk soon

Damian

 

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December 8, 2017

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I thought I’d share some writing music today as the blog song. This one is called Quintessence and is from the composer Theodore Shapiro, feature as part of the original score for the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Really beautiful track and one that gets my emotions rising and falling every time.

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Current chain of writing days: 19

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The other day I logged onto facebook only to be greeted with a “memory” — a series of photos that were added on the same date several years ago. It made me angry, and at first I didn’t know why. It wasn’t that the memory was a bad one (who would ever share photos of a negative event on their facebook?) but still, it irked me. I clicked on the three dots in the top corner and selected ‘see less often’, and tried to move on. But I couldn’t, and, after a few days of thinking about it, I think I’ve figured out the reason for my frustration.

The internet is an attention devouring machine, this is not news, nor, at its core, is it a bad thing. There’s plenty out there that’s beneficial or educational or that allows us to connect with others. Great. And, for the most part, we have control over our own actions and can choose where to isolate our attention. For the most part. It’s the part we don’t have control over — let’s call it instincts, or subconscious, or lizard brain — that I’m concerned with. It’s the part of us that gets addicted to the dopamine hit when receiving a like, or that’s wired to respond to the colour red (originally for poisonous animals, then traffic lights and warning signs, and now notifications and email alerts), or the part of us that can’t help to relive the past in order to learn from it and alter our actions in the present. It’s when websites purposely recognise and then abuse these instincts to keep us scrolling and clicking indefinitely, that I think it becomes a bad thing.

Let’s focus on the living in the past thing. Any kind of zen master or mindful consultant talks about “living in the present”, which I translate as slowing down your brain for a second and actually focusing on what’s going on around you; taking it in, and finding the enjoyment of that moment in real time rather than later in your memories (or photos). It’s the same reason meditation exists, and has for centuries, to force that action. We are hardwired to either relive the past or consider possible future outcomes, both of which I believe have sprung up as survival instincts; for learning and preparing, respectively. Which is fine except we’re too good at it. We move past the point where we’ve learnt what we needed to learn or prepared as best we can, into obsession, fixation, and worry. And it’s tiring. I’ve found myself wanting to stop thinking about a thing, either past or future, and I can’t, my brain just keeps cycling over it again and again. Which, of course, is where meditation and consciously living in the present come in; to break that cycle. It’s psychology as much as anything else.

But all this is my long winded way of explaining why the facebook memories thing annoyed me so much. It can be hard enough keeping your mind in the present and maintain control of your attention, and this new addition to the facebook algorithm seems purposely designed to take advantage of this. And look, I have no doubt some people love it when these memories pop up, and I too like looking at past photos, but only when I’ve purposely chosen to, not because facebook has told me to. Of course the simple solution is don’t go on facebook, except it’s not that simple. We use facebook for a whole bunch of different things — including news, communication, and event coordination — so if I log on for one of these reasons I can’t help but see either the memories or one of the many other ways the site is designed to grab and hold onto my attention.

Ultimately, I don’t have a good solution, but at least I figured out why seeing past photos of myself made me so angry. In the meantime I’ll just keep clicking ‘see less often’ and hope I actually do.

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In other news the Lord Mayor’s Creative Writing awards, which my novella The Case of Henry and the Hamster was shortlisted for, were held yesterday. Unfortunately I did not win, but I can’t deny it was still very cool to be in the running, receive a certificate, shake some hands, and get my photo taken.

Hopefully next time I can also walk away with a win, but the only way to do that is to keep writing, so that’s what I’m going to go do.

Talk soon

Damian

Crossing the Divide

cake_wormhole_by_alienphysique-d5n64pmPhoto Credit: Alienphysique

Chaos bloomed behind me. A literal ending of the world. I paid it no mind. I instead stood at the threshold to the divide and stared deep into its turquoise depths and considered all the possibilities laid out before me. I could go anywhere. To any point within the known universe, or, if I was brave enough, into the unknown.

I went to the one spot I was always going to go. I went home.

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I stepped out of the cold of the divide and into the heat of a thirty five degree day in Melbourne, Earth. Brown grass crunched beneath my feet, scratching my skin. When had I lost my shoes? I wondered, more with curiosity than any feeling of concern.

‘Bernice,’ a voice said from behind me. I turned, my mind still a whirl after passing through the divide, and saw a woman looking at me, a house behind her. Her forehead was creased with worry and her eyes leaked tears over her dark skin.

‘Nora,’ I said with a smile, not really sure who she was but happy to see her.

‘What? Where?’ she started, but her words became drowned in a sea of heavy tears. She rushed towards me and threw her arms around my shoulders, burying her head into my shirt. I put my arms around her.

‘My sister.’ I said, the fact returning to me.

She pulled back and looked into my still smiling face and in a rush asked, ‘What the fuck happened to you? Where have you been? Are you okay?’ A blinked against the barrage of questions as a flurry of knowledge drifted down from somewhere in the upper reaches of my mind like an autumn tree losing its leaves. The knowledge settled and returned me to me. I was Bernice Jarrin, I had crossed the divide.

I looked into Nora’s eyes feeling more like myself. It must have showed because some of the worry fell away from her face. ‘Yeah. Yes. I’m okay,’ I said. ‘As for what happened, I…’ I trailed off, not sure how to explain it.

‘Why don’t we go inside,’ she suggested. ‘Get away from this heat.’

‘Actually, can I take you somewhere?’ I said. ‘There’s something I can show you that might provide context as I answer your questions.’

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‘I don’t know what I’m looking at?’ Nora said, her voice echoing through the large and mostly empty warehouse.

‘It’s…well, it doesn’t really have a name yet. I’ve just been calling it the UD. Unknown Device. I, well, I built it.’

She ran her hand across one of the three curved pillars of brass, then gave a hard flick to the dome on top, causing it to let out a hollow ding that hung in the room. ‘You built it but it’s unknown?’ She asked.

‘No. Well, yes. I built it, but it’s not my design.’

‘So who’s design is it?’

‘I don’t know.’

She turned to look at me, eyebrow raised, all sass. It was good to see her usual manner had returned after the short car ride. ‘You realise how unsatisfying these answers are, don’t you?’

‘Right, sorry. It’s from a design I found.’

‘That’s it? Bernice, I swear to god, you are the worst story teller.’

‘Sorry. Sorry. It’s been a long…how long was I actually gone for?’

‘Just over a week,’ she said, some timidity returning to her voice. ‘The police thought you might have been killed. Either that or you’d ran off somewhere. We should probably call them. Let them know they can call off their investigation.’

‘Umm, it might be best to hold off on that for now.’ I said.

Nora whipped her head toward me, eyes penetrating, and I felt the desire to rub my hands together. ‘Why? You planning on leaving again?’

I did rub my hands together. ‘Well, possibly. It might be necessary to-’

‘No, I don’t want to hear any wells, or possiblies, or mights. Tell me straight where the hell have you been?’

‘Luyten b.’

‘What? The exoplanet?’

‘That’s right.’

‘How is that even-? ….and it imploded. It’s been on the news.’

‘Really? For how long?’

‘A couple of days.’

‘So, the crossing isn’t instantaneous. Interesting.’

‘Bernice! What is going on?’

‘Right. The machine, the UD. It’s, for lack of a better word, a transporter.  But it’s also so much more than that. It took me to Luyten b, I watched the world implode. It was…beautiful, terrifying. I, I really don’t have words for it.’

‘I don’t care about the description, Bernice. What do you mean it took you to Luyten b? That’s impossible. That’s…holy shit, I need to sit down.’

I dragged over two old stools I had found by a dumpster when I was first putting together this workspace, and, after a look of reluctance, Nora sat in one. I took the other and spoke.

‘I’m sorry, I really am doing this badly, I know it sounds crazy, but that’s why I wanted to show you the UD, so you could see that this is real. This device, it created a divide between here and Luyten b. All I had to do was step through and I was there. The planet was habitable, just like they thought it might be. I could breathe and it had this kind of odd grass that felt like silk against my feet. Well, at least until it all imploded.’

‘How? How can this device do that?’ She said, pointing at the statue of brass. ‘That’s science fiction, I mean…how?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘You don’t know? You built it!’

‘Yes, but from a set of instructions, the science of it is…unexplained.’

‘Okay. So where did these instructions come from?’

‘Space.’

‘Space?’

‘Originally, although that’s not where I got them from. I found them in one of Marie Moreau’s notebooks.’

‘Okay, and who is she?’

I rolled my eyes. ‘Seriously, Mona? I’ve told you about her a million times.’

‘You talk about a lot of old people!’

‘My thesis was based off her work! My career is based off her work! I went to France last year to visit her ancestral home!’

‘Oh, the one who went crazy.’

I sighed. ‘Yes, but that’s the least of what she-’

‘Wait. If you got the instructions from one of her notebooks how come no one’s ever discovered this before?’

My cheeks flushed. ‘Because no one knows this particular notebook exists. I noticed an image of a book hidden in one of the many paintings she did of her garden. So, last year, on my trip, I had a look, and sure enough in the hollow of this elm tree was a notebook–

‘And you stole it?’

‘I discovered it!’

‘Bernice, come on. Shouldn’t it go to her family trust? Or some scientific society, or something?’

‘I am her scientific society. There is no one else on this planet who knows her work as well as I do. Most academics simply think of her as crazy, dismissing her work entirely. Trust me, the best hands the notebook could possibly be in are mine.’

‘Okay, putting aside your theft for the moment, how is it that you don’t understand the science? If you have the notebook wouldn’t it explain it?’

I blushed again and looked away, knowing Mona wouldn’t like what I was about to say next. ‘Well, the notebook’s a bit hard to understand. It came from later in her career so a lot of it is more, ah, raving, than coherent thought, or written so messily that it can’t be read. But the instructions were clear, as were the descriptions of how she got them.’

Nora gave me one of her classic hard looks. ‘So, let me get this straight. You found the notebook of a woman who was clearly losing her mind, in which was the blueprint for a device that the crazy lady said she got from space, and you decide to build it? Not to mention go to a planet that you thought was habitable. You realise how dangerous that was? How irresponsible?’

‘Yes. Well, no. More risky than irresponsible. But being a scientist is about taking risks.’

‘Controlled risks, that you tell your sister about. Not hide up in a secret warehouse somewhere like some mad doctor. I thought you were dead, Bernice. Hell, if this device had been designed for something else, if anything had gone wrong, you could have been.’ Her voice had risen to a shout, and there were tears in her eyes. Her breath was coming fast and I realised mine was too. I took a deep breath and apologised.

‘You’re right,’ I said. ‘I…I should have told you. I just, I didn’t know how to. It was all so crazy and exciting and…I was selfish. I’m sorry.’ I climbed off the stool and hugged her. After a second she returned it.

‘You’re all I have, you know. Ever since we lost Mum and Dad…well, I thought I was alone.’

‘I’m sorry.’ I repeated. ‘It was dumb.’

She pulled out of the hug and looked at me. ‘But you’re planning on using it again.’ She said, more statement than question.

‘Not without you.’ I told her, meaning it.

‘You want me to go to an alien planet with you?’ She asked.

‘Yes, I mean, sure, why not? There are still a number of planets that have been discovered that scientists are confident are habitable. We could visit any one of them. Be the first sisters in space.’

She wiped a tear from her eye as she shook her head. ‘Bernie, you know how crazy that sounds. You don’t know that this device will even work a second time. And what if the scientists are wrong? What if these planets aren’t habitable.’

‘Like I said, the UD can do more than just transport. Moreau wrote that it also provides a protective barrier around you that contains the properties of wherever you’re transporting from.  Basically, a little pocket of Earth. And I think that’s just the start of what it can do. It’s not as dangerous as you think, Nora, trust me.’

‘And if I say no? What then? Will you still leave?’

‘No,’ I said, but with a moment’s hesitation.

‘Fine,’ she said, hearing it. ‘But we’re doing it right. Bring supplies, plan ahead, and get you some shoes. And I need to know everything I can about this device. Just explain it in as non-crazy-smart person as you can. For starters, how does it even work?’

‘Like this,’ I said, and placed my palm wide over the dome. With a twist clockwise, turquoise bloomed around us.

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Thanks for reading

Damian

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

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

69.-memory-box-in-post

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