State-of-Being

Back Into the Ooze,
watercolor and black marker pen by Rita de Heer,
what I thought was going to happen to me.
You’ll find me diving down into it mid-painting

Up until September 14 2020 I lived in New South Wales, in Australia. On that day, a friend drove me to the adjoining state Queensland and negotiated with the border police to get me through the Covid 19 barrier between the two states. I was sicker than anyone guessed.

My friend took me to hospital where I was diagnosed with stage 4 lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system. Treatment began right away. Chemo. Six cycles of R-CHOP at three weekly intervals. Then four lumbar punctures with same drugs and a rituximab (monoclonal antibody) chaser. My last treatment and PET scan in February. I’m in remission.

Long time readers will say that I’ve said all that before. I have. I wanted to feel what it felt like now, to look back on it, six months down the track.

At first, being in remission was the most frightening place on Earth. The reality of dealing with the after- and side-effects of both the chemo and the lymphoma on my own was pure anxiety. Luckily there’s a really good support group on FaceBook that we haunt, all of us in the Downunder Lymphoma boat, and I’ve only had to call the ambulance twice. So here I am, six months into the remission journey.

What with Covid lock-downs and a really low immune system … like, no B cells! … I’ve been pretty well housebound except for food shopping, doctors appointments and walks. So I thought I’d get back into writing reading knitting music pretty easily. Lots of time after all.

I’d be lying if I told you yes, really easy.

Early on I spent most of my time sorting through the stuff that came with my decision to stay in Brisbane. I had a lot of books, not all of them fit on the shelves I now have. Clothes, the same. Textile crafts, the same. And I’m still at it, every so often. Divesting myself of my old life to be able to fit into my new life.

I’ll write that sentence again and even bold it. Divesting myself of my old life to be able to fit into my new life.

It suggests my new life is smaller. I’m not talking about its length, more what I can do in my days … and so also today, this minute, I need to stop this meandering. More on this as time permits.

Felix the Fox interviews

Tardi Mack, of Mongrel is in the hot seat being interviewed. Read this introduction:

Dear readers, tonight we have a truck-driver from 22nd century Australia, who in a freak surfing accident got infected with a sentient alien substance. We caught him talking to Trucker & Jockey magazine, describing life post-infection while trying to avoid a rather persistent ex-girlfriend.


Tardi: You’re from the Trucker & Jockey magazine? Well met! I was a trucker once, with TLC, a family company. My dad and brother ran the workshop, and I drove our old Mack and jockeyed our live-mind freighter. Hope you’re recording all this? I also surfed for Virtual Surfing. Check me out on their website, they still have me in the sensor-suit surfing the actual waves and voice-overing the rides. My pay from them allowed me to rent in Watego’s Wall on Byron Cape, still a hot-shot tourist destination. Yes, formerly Byron Bay.

Me in the past? Oh, my name. My parents intended to register me as ‘Trader.’ The old man can’t spell and neither can I. Learning to write my name, I transformed it into ‘Tardi.’ They did an about-face on names when my brother Steve was born five years later. But Steve. Oh man. My brother and my burden. He drowned and I couldn’t save him. And Herm wouldn’t let him go. Don’t ask me more about Steve, mate. I’ll be tearing-up for the rest of the day. The landscape? Look outside. Boat-ways instead of streets. Major roads on stilts. Get up on one of them and in the distance you’ll see Wollumbin, a world-famous volcanic plug. Nearer at hand is the pimple called Chincogan. The Koonyum Ranges hunker at the back of the valley. And there are the trees, more than ever.

My kid-sized surfboard was absolutely my favourite thing when I was a kid. My dad taught me the basics. And there’s my cherished memory, him waist deep in the sea, pushing me off. Fishing me out when I fell. He’d plonk me back up on the board half-drowned, and push me off again. Remembering him then—like that—makes me feel warm in my heart, you know? You’re asking what I do now? Good question that I don’t know the answer to. On we go to one of my latest adventures …

Read the rest of the interview on My Books etc

Formatting Problem

Digital Illustration of a Cyborg, a cut from an iStock image

I haven’t forgotten my usual Fiction post.

WordPress is in a mode where it continually rephrases and in some cases just wipes whole sentences off the map.

So far, I’ve discovered that it’s because I’m using certain letters and signs to denote computer-speak, that are normally used in coding. WordPress thinks I’m coding? Cue, me laughing.

I’m merely off-setting computer-speak with < and > and when that didn’t work, << and >> and everything between the thingies disappears?

Interesting to see what happens when I ‘publish’ this …

It worked. So now I need to go over it all again to see what I did different.

1. New/Old Life

My fungi library … couple missing I see …

This is the (1) before the previous (1). I thought I wouldn’t need reading in my new life?

The idea that I could slough off my old life and take up a completely new one isn’t happening and was probably doomed from the start. It’s true that while I was in treatment, I put everything normally ‘me’ out of my mind to keep my attention on the main event, to learn the disease, what was required every day, learn the people involved, how the meds affected me, keep my oxygen line straight. [I was on oxygen for ten days]

But after a while it became necessary to take up reading again. In between engaging with staff, which was mostly in the mornings, hung swags of time. Watching TV while in hospital is difficult. Volume is restricted. You can’t turn the TV off, attend the x, y, z person/procedure needing your attention, and turn it back on expect to hit the same place where you left off. The remote is fiddly, usually on the same gadget as the nurse’s call button.

While I was on the Oncology Ward at John Flynn Hospital, out in the corridors practicing my walking, I discovered nooks with bookshelves filled with books. Life-savers, in effect. Not that I read every book. But every walk I took, I’d change a book, like at at a library. I’ve read both fiction and non-fiction voraciously for most of my life.

I’m now officially in remission with a totally clear PET scan. My last chemo session was at the end of January, followed by two Rituximab (monoclonal antibodies) chasers taking me into the beginning of March. A ‘stupendous recovery’ my hematologist calls it, given where I began. My hair started growing again the week of the first chaser. My toenails apparently need more time.

Since I moved into the unit where I’m living now, I’ve been sorting through books … nineteen boxes of them. Some books don’t need a decision. Anything to do with fungi make it onto the shelves beside my work station. Fiction using fungi as plot devices, bad or good, also onto the shelves.

Most other books get the will-I-want-to-read-this-again question. If not, straight into the remaindered pile. If maybe, I open the book anywhere and read a few pages. If boredom sets in after only a few paragraphs, into a remaindered pile it goes. The books that will be sent on their way so far number about eight boxes.

Other things I’m reading at the moment are an article titled Proposal for a subdivision of the family Psathyrellaceae, which I keep for breakfast reading since it is a .pdf and must be read on the laptop. ‘Sideshow’ by Sheri S Tepper. This follows on from ‘Raising the Stones’ which is one of fungi-related novels in my collection. Tin Tin in Adventures on the Moon by Herge for light relief. And I’m thinking of soon reading ‘Meld’ the second part of my trilogy Doomed

We’ll see.

Transport

This one, yes, this one I would really like … it’s an EV of course … built in 1918 by I think it was Millard

My car is yet again incapacitated. I didn’t drive it enough through my illness and the battery is flat once more. The poor NRMA guys have been to my place at least three times already this year and I’m wondering why I still have a car with an internal combustion engine.

If I had an electric car I could just plug in the power cord and charge it up. Problem solved. It isn’t as though I don’t have enough electricity.

I started to research that today. New EV cars cost an arm and a leg. I’ve never spent more than 20k on a car even when I was still working. Second hand EV cars are as scarce as hens’ teeth in Australia. New Zealand has enough sense to import them from Japan, but Australia is a Johnny-come-lately, still wanting to run the world on coal, oil and gas fracking.

Then I plugged ‘lightweight EV vehicles’ into Google. It came up with the goods, of a sort, but I can’t imagine riding 10 kilometers along a narrow secondary road–two lanes only with a shoulder meant for single file bicycle riders–up a steep hill and down it again on the other side to Brunswick Heads, for example, on something that looks like an electric wheel chair.

I’m not old enough. I’m not a daredevil. I’m not stupid, we get rain here sometimes. and the new bike path is still a long time off. Maybe another ten years, when I have gone into my feisty years.

Tropes: Time Travel

Watercolour: we spent summers travelling to the beach.

My interest in time travel began when my birth-family arrived in Australia as immigrants from the Netherlands. The first place where we lived was a migrant hostel outside Sydney. We children mostly noticed differences. The English language of course. The food. What the hell is this orange stuff? Pumpkin? But that’s cattle food. And what is vegemite? it’s horrible. Nothing like apple butter.

And the bush. Walking along the dirt road to our house block at midday, there was no shade. The thin vegetation let the sunlight burnish right through it. The only living creature we saw that day was a snake sunning itself on a sandstone slab protruding above the road’s surface. A venomous brown, in suburbia. My father said to stamp on the ground to scare it away. The landscape seemed very alien.

Adults noticed the seeming backwardness of the new country. There was not a decent cup of coffee to be had, for instance. Schooling was 30 years behind European education, many parents thought when they took their kids to the migrant hostel’s school. Most of the breadwinners, having their European qualifications downgraded, could only get laboring work.

A common complaint was that we had traveled back in time.

But the primitive building code enabled a lot of families to live on a house block and build their own accommodation. Many children saved shoe leather by going to school on bare feet. And if you lived in the outer suburbs, it was cheaper to buy a week’s supply of fruit and vegetables at Paddy’s Produce Markets in central Sydney and carry them home in a hessian sack, than getting stuff piecemeal at the local shops.

The existence of tropes as a category of themes tells you there’s nothing new in fiction. But I’m cruisy about using a conventional theme, if I can do something new with it, time travel as an immigrant having prepped me.

Though I’ll tell you right now that I won’t be sitting through the 700+ movies that apparently use time travel as their theme. Wikipedia has a nice page on Time Travel in Fiction listing the main sub-tropes of time travel generating a manageable list of things to read/watch.

From all the above, and without having to watch anything, I gather that what I’ve been writing into is the time-slip sub-trope.

LEGO Masters’ Australia 2020

One of Damian’s and Andrew’s builds from LEGO Master’s Australia 2020

For something completely different, helped along considerably by losing my internet link and having only ordinary television, I started watching LEGO Masters. Much less depressing than everything else on offer.

My interest in Lego began when I received a box of red components, the approximate size of a pack of cards, way back in my childhood. Both my brothers and I were given a set each as presents before our family left on the first of of its sea voyages.

I think my set probably represented the build of a little red house. I recall a red framed window-piece, bits of red roofing-tile and some red eight stud bricks for the walls.

It’s an off-the-planet experience for me to see a bunch of eight adult teams race each other and the clock to produce amazing masterpieces using all the colors available, pressing thousands of small pieces together and coming up with astounding themes. The builds tonight required the interpretation of a fairy story.

Apart from the sheer inventiveness of the projects, the thing that grabs me most is the complexity of the meta-world that surrounds the Lego phenomenon. There’s Lego-specific jargon to describe, for example, each Lego piece. SNOT pieces? Only users will know what they mean. And as for acronyms? There may be a dozen that probably even the Urban Dictionary doesn’t know.

And there’s a language for critiquing the builds. How else would the best be chosen, you might ask? But seriously, this language rivals the language invented to describe post-rock music that I studied last year. One of my interests is how specialist terminology can help or hinder enjoyment of the art they describe. In the case of Lego-critiquing, the Lego specific terminology definitely helped me to see and appreciate the different projects’ intricate complexities.

Real Life: Bush Fire Emergency

Hugh and Nan Nicholson’s rainforest burning

Those of us in my region living in towns feel ourselves fairly safe in this emergency. So far. People from out of town have been evacuated and are staying with us. Others ask us to store their precious goods. I’m hosting four musical instruments and three large containers with photos and documents.

Recharging batteries is another thing we can do for people who no longer have electricity laid on. Whose power lines and generator sheds have been burned. In two cases I heard of today, the fire was stopped only a few meters from the main house.

The bushfire season began early this year. We’ve been burning since September, and the fires are getting worse, if that’s possible. Hotter, faster, and more destructive. In the past, diligent back-burning and fuel reduction in winter reduced your chances of being burnt out in summer. Now there’s hardly time. Winters are shorter and we’ve had less than half the rain we had last year when we already had a third less than in 2017.

It’s possible for a fire-ground to be burnt twice in two months. This despite the traditional view that rain-forest plantings, in contrast to Eucalyptus forest, will protect your property. No such thing now. Fires burn so hot that rainforests don’t stand a chance and they don’t grow back the way eucalyptus trees recover.

How will we live in a forever-blackened landscape?

Catherine Ingram’s article Facing Extinction, about the state of the world and humanity’s chances of surviving, is more a prescription for coping with the grief than a wake up call. It’s too late, she says, to try and save our Nature.

The way my countryside is burning, it certainly feels too late. I’m with Landcare. We plant trees. What if no trees survive either? It’s difficult to plan how to live now, when there’s said to be no future.

A Cat’s Story Ends

Miss Maggy-bag

A sad thing to report … Miss Maggy-bag was euthanased this morning due to tick paralysis. She was eleven years old and the most intrepid cat I’ve ever had the pleasure of guesting.

Intrepid because though she was too swaggy and inept to climb trees, she ran up walls after Asian House geckos, up fences to see off intruding felines and up the shade-cloth shed to sneer at the neighbor’s dogs.

She lost every collar with bells she was forced to wear as well as every flea collar. Under the house there will be a place where all these things lie, a testimony to a smart cat.

She was missing for sixteen hours. When I called her I only heard that squashed-frog sound, that frogs make when they are stuck in the drainpipes and it’s raining.

Finally found her at the bottom of the steps, cold, wet and unable to move. That noise was her, even her vocal chords were paralyzed.

I could’ve taken out a loan and gone through all the rigmarole of seeing if she’d make it with the antivenin, but she was 8x smaller than my dog who got a tick the same size and barely made it.

So I have her at home, swaddled in a towel, dead on my lap. It’s easy to imagine she is still alive because she is lying against me and I am breathing, she with me. It’s raining at the present, softening the ground. Later I’ll go out and dig a hole.

Maggy, wishful thinking. She tore off her toe on a fence and she could not go outside

Writing is Gardening

Mullumyard in the Rain

Gardening is like a hands-in-the-dirt kind of writing. That’s the thought I had about them both while I pulled out weeds this morning.

What I was doing there–with that thinking–was trying to construct a metaphor. You will have noticed, though, that I had doubts and inserted a ‘like’. The two things that I was trying to relate to each other at that moment felt like they are too different from each other and I settled for making a simile.

But what is there about gardening and writing that I thought I could bring them together in a metaphor? Thinking thinking thinking. I guess it is more about the ways that I engage in each process.

Gardening, you pull your garden gloves on, walk into the backyard and start weeding. For example. When you’ve picked all the dandelion flowers due to set seed and put them in the organic refuse bin, you’ll see that the newly planted pansy plants are looking a bit limp. Without having to wonder what you’ll do next, you’ll get a watering can, fill it and give the pansies a drink. Next, you’ll notice that the excess thyme plants you ripped out last week, are looking nicely dried. You’ll give them a good shake above the vegetable patch to release all those little dry leaves, where they’ll add to the mulch. Every little bit helps. And so on.

Writing, you’ll open the software you’re using, open the files you’re working on, and start adding into or subtracting from the section you last worked on. Soon you’ll discover that if you add this action to a character’s arc here, you’ll need to seed that character earlier in the piece, and you work on that for a while. While you are getting your lunch, you think of a nice metaphor with which to explain one of your most recalcitrant plot points, and so when you get back into it, you shift your attention to that part of the arena. And so on.

See the similarities?

Gardening is a hands-in-the-dirt kind of writing and writing is gardening with words.