Friday, October 23, 2015

NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo - Because I am indeed stupid, thanks for asking

So a week from tomorrow, I am embarking on a double writing challenge for the month of November - I am going to post to this blog every single day in this month, AND I am going to write 50,000 words of a novel. (A verse novel, as it happens).

This is going to take place in a month where I already have 9 days of booked work (although hoping not to get much or any more); the Cup Day long weekend, with the kids home on the Monday; a weekend away with my partner; and a rising tide of end-of-year commitments, which will be especially intense because of it being my eldest's last year of primary school.

It is just possible that I may have overcommitted myself ... but on the other hand, I've discovered this year in doing my (very fun, but novel-non-producing) Novel in a Year class that I am a binge writer if I'm anything, and that enforced focus for 30 days is probably the only way I'll ever finish another manuscript. My evidence for this is fairly compelling:

- I have started about 17 books over the past 20 years.
- I have finished 2.
- With BOTH of the ones I finished, which were YA / older children's detective novels, I wrote the vast bulk (52-55kk of a total 60k words) during NaNoWriMos of the past.

I'm going to do what I did in my two previous successful NaNo years - aim to lay down 1,000 words in the morning and 1,000 in the evening every day. (Afternoons I will generally avoid writing - it's my least creative time of the day). I will not read back - the advantage of writing every day is that it's easier to keep the thread than if you let it ride days or weeks between sessions. I will have a high-level outline, but I will probably resemble a pantser more than a plotter overall - detailed plotting doesn't work well for me in the maelstrom that is NaNo.

With the NaBloPoMo challenge, there will be content every day in November on this blog. Some of it may be heavily visual, if words begin to fail me - but a post there will be, each day in November.

I'm so lucky to be in such a better place, health-wise, than I was this time last year, and to be free to choose to do this. It'll tire me and challenge me, but that is what I need (not the tiring part, the challenge part). It's something I really want to do, and I hope I can pull it off.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A sevenling at the start of a relapse

Three things send a smoke signal, dark against the sky:
A pitterpatter heart, leapfrogging itself in ragged cadence;
A vice-squeezed head; and, in every limb, a delicate pain that has many names, and none.

Three things are yet to come:
The sickly waspish buzzing in a thousand nerve ends;
Fear that gnaws at bones; and weariness so deep it drowns all hope.

Above, the moon glides, regretful, behind the clouds, and is gone.

- Kathy, 21/10/15

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Sibling conflict and parental responsibility

I read a piece in the Guardian yesterday that has niggled at me ever since. It's this one: written in the confessional style that the Guardian so loves, it is the first-person account of a mother whose two older children hate each other bitterly, and whose constant, frequently violent, conflict has made their family life hell for the past 15 years. The mother writes of her relief at her son going to university, and the hope that there may now be some peace in her home.

If the mother's letter is accurate, the level of hostility she is describing is extreme, and probably tips over into abuse (especially from the oldest child to the secondborn). The 11 pages of commenters - which I only skimmed, as really, who has two disposable hours to read comments on a Monday evening - are evenly divided between people expressing sympathy, telling matching stories of their own poor relationships with siblings or their own childrens' conflicts, and people blaming the parents for not fixing it / tolerating the situation for so long. This is roughly normal for any such confessional: the reliable tribes of Sympathisers, Me-Tooers and Blamers coming out to play.

It made me ponder, though, the question of to what level parents are, or can be, responsible for sibling conflict, especially at the extreme end of the spectrum.

That all siblings bicker / disagree from time to time should be (I hope!) seen as not only normal, but healthy - any person who is agreeable and passive 100% of the time, even with those they live with, has some potential dragons ahead in life, in my view. Early reactive lashing out - toddlers chucking blocks at each other or flailing around with hands - isn't uncommon either, and not something that sends up flags provided it is quickly addressed.

What's more difficult - much more, in my view - is where a family has two or more children who, for reasons of personality, conditioning, neurotype, experiences, just don't like each other. Actually, to be honest, what is even worse is where one child dislikes another and shows it, while the other child continues to love their sibling and seek their attention. This can be because of favouritism, jealousy, parental tactics - or it can be none of those things.

What not liking each other means is that they don't extend the warmth or tolerance to each other that they do to people they like. In cases less extreme than the Guardian's (most of them, I hope), this doesn't mean hourly physical battles or ongoing campaigns of abuse, but it does mean that they will be easily irritated by the other; that they will say more unkind and rude things than they might to a different person; that they undermine each other; that their bickering can go on for quite literally entire days; that they rarely play or interact positively and affectionately; and that there is a subtext of contempt that underlies the way they speak to their disliked sibling that is corrosive and damaging.

I have seem so many families, of all different constellations, over my 12 years in this parenting gig. I have seen families that are functional and families that are not, families where the parents are harsh or abusive, indifferent, loving, obsessed, and everything in between. I have to say, the misery that sustained sibling conflict that is based on dislike can cause to ANY family is one of the worst aspects I've ever noted across all demographics of families.

It's utterly exhausting to parents, it's toxic for all the children involved (perhaps most of all for any children NOT part of the conflict), and it seems remarkably intractable to remediation by parenting techniques. It spoils family activities and holidays, and it centres all attention always on preventing further kick-offs of the conflict. You want to know why some parents "let" their kids spend more time on Minecraft / do more extracurricular activities / watch more TV than you find ideal? I will go to the mat and say that in least some of these cases, the desperate need to separate warring parties is partially responsible.

Oh sure, parents are responsible for children's safety and social education. Yes, you do need to teach your child/ren that hitting their sibling, or breaking their stuff, or insulting them, is not acceptable, and you need to back that up however you can. (It must be said, this gets MUCH harder as children age and / or become indifferent to withdrawal of privileges as a tactic). You have a clear role to play in modelling respect and healthy communication, and expecting this behaviour in your home.

But to what extent can parents exercise force majeure in forming positive affective bonds between their children? If Jenny and James just don't like each other, is anything a parent does able to change that reality? What if one, or both, of them has extra cognitive factors that make them less amenable to learning behavioural norms? (The literature on the early behaviour of psycopaths and sociopaths is illuminating in this regard).

Looking around at the adults of my acquaintance, the norm seems to be polite but not close relations with their adult siblings. I do know of exceptions - people who describe their sibling as their best friend - but I know of far, far more whose adult lives are entirely separate from their siblings, and would not consider their sibling/s as confidantes or friends. In many of these cases, the roots of this are in childhood dislike or resentment, on one or both sides, so perhaps it's more common than we like to think.

I don't know what the answer is, or even if there is one. I do know that it is a real issue, and one that leaves a lot of heartache in its wake.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Goal-setting: October

The month is already afoot, but it's time to think about October goals, starting with a review of September's.

In September, my goals were:


- Have at least one family outing somewhere we haven't been before in Melbourne
Status: Achieved. My husband took the kids to Bounce trampolining playground, and we all went to two new restaurants that we had never tried before.

- Have, and enjoy, our next family mini-holiday.
Status: Definitely achieved, as yesterday's post demonstrates!


- Submit at least two poems for consideration of publication or competitions.
Status: Achieved. I submitted three poems to different places in September.

- Write, and deliver, 2x Booker Prize review pieces.
Status: Over-achieved. Reviews of The Fishermen, The Green Road, The Moor's Account, The Year of the Runaways and Satin Island published, as well as a shortlist overview piece.


- Perform the booked days of paid freelance work, and plan for a break in October.
Status: Modified, and achieved. I did indeed perform 16 days of work in September, but as my projects (both) got extended, I will now be doing at least 14 days in October. November break instead!!

- Promote my services through professional networks.
Status: Deferred. I decided to hold off on this as I have plenty of booked work at the moment.


- Have a great Father's Day with my family.
Status: Achieved. It was a lovely day.

- Do 2x volunteering activities.
Status: Achieved. 2 x school cooking sessions, plus a shift at a community BBQ.


- Get my filing sorted out!! (Super sick of losing paperwork)
Status: Ahhhhhh ... no.

- Sort out the kitchen contents, getting rid of all no longer used or needed appliances & crockery
Status: Started, but not completed. We have until 23 October to do this, so it's a carryover goal.

So that's a score of 7.5 done, 1 deferred, and only 1 completely failed ... not too bad overall. On to October!


- Have a fun Halloween as a family, including holding a little party for the kids' friends
- Have one-on-one outings with each member of my family.


- Plan out my NaNoWriMo project and begin world-building for it.
- Write, and deliver, 2x review pieces.


- Perform the booked days of paid freelance work, and plan for a break in November.
- Promote my services through professional networks.


- Host a dinner or brunch for friends.
- Do 2x volunteering activities.


- Do and submit my second girl's high school application (gulp)
- Sort out the kitchen contents, getting rid of all no longer used or needed appliances & crockery BEFORE 23 October (kitchen installation date is 24 October)

Let's see how that goes.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Spring in the Goldfields and Spa Country

We returned home from a 5-day trip to Daylesford and Bendigo a couple of hours ago. It was fun, and quite relaxing, despite packing a lot into 5 days and 4 nights away.

We were in Daylesford from Wednesday lunchtime til Friday morning.

We picnicked at Sailors Falls and the Lake; we visited the Hepburn Springs Spa and Bathhouse; we explored the shops, the gardens and the Convent Gallery.

The elder two kids went horseriding; E, my 10 year old, in particular loves horses and riding, and was super excited both to be going and also to have her first honest-to-goodness canter. She so desperately wants horse-riding lessons; I am going to try again to arrange some for her.

We bookshopped for Australia (if bookshopping was a competitive sport, we would be a gold medalist family) and we had one beautiful meal out at Red Ginger Thai. (I highly recommend if you are ever in Daylesford).

We stayed at a really gorgeous accommodation place a little outside of town, called Tarrascon Ridge Estate.  Lovely house, tons of space for the kids to run and play, and plenty of native birdlife around. It was delectably quiet at night and filled with the faint and congenial sounds of children playing during the day.

Moving on from Daylesford on Friday morning, we stopped off at the Chocolate Mill just outside of town (mindblowingly good chocolate!) and then pressed on to Castlemaine to picnic in the central park and, yes, hit another secondhand bookshop. (My middle daughter and I have decided that when she is an adult, she and I are going to treat ourselves to a fortnight's Victorian-secondhand-bookshops-tour. If anything, she loves it even more than I do :-)

The secondhand bookshop in Castlemaine gives new meaning to the phrase "overstuffed" (also, as my partner muttered, the phrase "fire deathtrap"), but that didn't stop gems from being unearthed. (It never does).

Ploughing on to Bendigo, we found most of the town closed for Victoria's newest public holiday, Grand Final Friday. This actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise; retiring to our
accommodation at 3:45 - a lot earlier than we'd anticipated - we all managed some crash time, with books, tea, TV and art supplies. It was the quietest stretch in our holiday, and well needed.

Saturday was filled with brunching with dear friends, then taking the Bendigo Historic Talking Tram and visiting the Joss House, the Golden Dragon Museum, Guan Yin Temple and the Chinese Gardens.

We also paid our respects to the Alexandra Fountain, Bendigo's central feature - what an elegant and beautiful lady she is.

Today was a visit to the centre of town again, then a long lazy BBQ spit lunch at our friends' before heading back home on the winding road through Heathcote and Kilmore. (Heathcote has an amazing little playground, in case you are ever in the area).

And now it's back to real life - school for the kids, two big work projects for me, job for husband. It was great to get away just for a time, though.