All the important aspects of short story writing will be covered in our upcoming course on Saturday November 11: your opening paragraph, your use of dialogue, tips to make every word count, tips on knowing when to end your story, editing and much more.
1st Prize winner in our writing competition
To the untrained eye, I look like just another person in the carpark.
It takes me three attempts to park my car the way I need to. I shut the door, lock it, test that I’ve locked it, scan the distance between me and the supermarket for hazards, then commence the Walk.
Look down. Look up. Breathe. Heel then toe. Heel then toe.
Promotion people at the entry. Don’t make eye contact.
“Good morning! Can I tell you a bit about -”
I don’t know what to say maybe I’ve already donated can’t you see this is unexpected and therefore not something I can really deal with back off back off back off!
I walk straight past. Make sure the trolley is clean. And it begins.
The incessant beeping is like a heartbeat. Fast. Irregular. Echoing through my head and governing the speed at which I build anxiety and panic.
Fruit. No blemishes. Clean. Not sticky. Selected from the back to minimise the number of hands it may have contacted, and the number of times it has already felt the sting of rejection.
Bread. Must be multigrain. Preferably not square. Milk. Expiry date needs to be an even number. Lid must be tight. Hold milk bottle upside down twice to ensure there are no drips. Put in the trolley, upright. Chicken for the dog. A full list, checked and double checked.
I know how this bit goes.
Greeting, enquire as to their health, make a generic comment about weather. Thank them, wish them a good day. Go to the car.
Until I was diagnosed with Aspergers I thought everyone had the same need for routine. I thought everyone had the same struggles that I did, but that I was just useless at dealing with them. That my inability to deal with these common struggles were what created within me the anxiety and depression and feelings of general uselessness.
But then I was set free from that.
Aspergers told me how my brain works. It explained why I needed structure and to build routines into my day. It explained why seemingly small things were so important to me. I understood why I needed - not wanted, but needed - things to be certain ways.
They say knowledge is power. It is indeed, and knowing who I am, with my Aspergers, has given me the power to work with myself to conquer the things that used to rest their heaviness upon my heart and take away my joy.
Because now, my heart is my heart. It is owned by me, not by my thoughts. And if it takes three attempts to park the car in a way that means I can do the shopping?
Then my weird little heart is happy. And essentially, life is too short for anything but.
2nd Prize in our writing competition
I paddled out to sea looking out to the horizon. Willing myself into another time, another place. Paddling away from “them”. Paddling hard, until my arms burned, my shoulders ached. Taking my flesh that had been seared from the poisonous acidic words they rained down upon me. Paddling until the “disabled houso” whispers were gone from my psyche, and the real me returned. Whole. Present. One.
My serenity from being on the water had returned. My invisible blood flowing through my magnetic veins. Blood which has the same mineral/salt composition as water, the ocean, the heart. Breathing in the air, sky, cloud, bird, fish, human here and now. Only you and the rhythm of the canoe swaying on the sea. Back and forth, back and forth go the paddles, go the rhythm, go my heartbeat, go my blood.
On I paddled and I imagined myself ancient. One lone canoe striking out and leaving this land of beasts far behind on a migration across the sea, across time, across space. Into the horizon, into the night sky, into Tangaloa’s immensity. Welling up in me like a a wave some soundwords from another time, and me wanting to the call back into the immensity.
My foot had been broken several years ago, the fall physically accompanied the fall psychologically, from society, from grace. I was cast out. Out of my former home, my former life. Falling down the hole, my perceptions of those around me changed. I was now in an altered state. Some called it highly aware while others ridiculed me for exaggerating life like a madwoman. My athletic prowess now gone, I limped about. I was weakened physically and it was taking its toll mentally. Their long term prognosis for me was disability. Disability? Bureaucratic glee at the prospect of a potential threat being disabled and pensioned off. Or put in a sheltered workshop in ten years.
They say that the pen is mightier than the sword. I know this cliché, but I learned to hone my words to a razor sharp edge. Lavalike words for pouring, shaping, moulding. Smelting, flowing liquid gold words, forged into unbreakable sentences, then dropping them in the ocean to hiss and steam and cool down. Solid words with strength worn like a suit of armour and made for shielding.. Clever words to avoid capture, make me feel alive from the struggle, the search, the quest. Then crafting words to ease the soul and honour our longing to connect as human beings.
Awarded 3rd Prize in the Writing Competition
I come from a red gum forest, where even the flowers grow far above your head. I don’t know what tree birthed the wood that makes up the boards that form my house today. I should have made my Ex paint it when I had the chance. Now my child is grown it will never get done. I have all of time to watch it, peeling from butter to grey under the dead west sun.
Nobody mows the clumps of flowers anymore, even the onion weed and clover, in case I grumble at them. My venom, such as is left, lacks a mandible to pierce the skin yet everyone pretends I am still scary. I admire their skill.
An old truck coughing in the drive is what I have become; it takes the knack to get me through my gears, and onto open road. I am anxious, mum is anxious, clutching at straws, at shreds of dignity, at hope; as if the organising of that tendril of hair alongside my neck can mean the difference between tomorrow and next year. I am as unconnected as the Daddy Longlegs that spiral though the place on their goofy spindle shanks.
Something happened to me and it keeps happening. My mitochondria, suddenly in charge, seek to liven up the joint, promoted to the leadership my brain viewed a birthright. Daily, weekly, yearly, I grow less well. Organs and limbs roped off like demolition sites, I am no longer open to the general public.
I have come to command a new place, where every thing is made of me. Visitors must agree to move at my pace, see with my eyes. I weave them into shapes they had not known before. I hold them close and they are inside my world before their heads are wet, through the waterfall and safe to travel further.
For such a useless being, a great deal happens near me. I have scissors and time. The back lawn is covered with hair. I am space. There are spare beds packed inside the shed. Tomorrow I must post a bicycle helmet to another city.
With swift fingers stitching in a futureless world, reduced to the reach of my fingertips, I am this moment. I am the flowers of the bindii-eyes, the eyes on the spiders, the dark grey sclerophyll bush waking in the painful dawn.
Perversely, I thrive.
by Maxine A Jacobi
Think outside this small square of lift space that you are just about to push your walker into.
I breathe in, attempting to make myself thinner as the people shuffle back. My mind is still outside the square and I’m in a motivational film. I’m facing the people, the people are facing the lift door. Now is the time to smile and engage in conversation. Instead the lift lurches, the walker moves forward and I’m closing in on a woman’s torso.
The director has yelled “cut” some time ago and I’m back in reality. I’m not used to the outside world. Four years of illness secluded me. My equipment makes me feel weak and a failure. My balance and body have communication competitions. I fumble, my head wobbles and I’m a tangled ball of string.
I stop and breathe. The woman nearby looks so cool and calm. She has come out of the writing workshop that I’ve just attended. She’s got some equipment of her own that she appears to be handling with ease. I say to her, trying to be equally cool, “We’re a pair.” I’m awkward. She looks at me and I look back and see something lovely but wonder if there are times when she is without her ease.
We talk. And talk some more. We meet for coffee and lunch. And we become great friends.
The conditions that impact our lives differ greatly but we both share functional difficulties with co-ordination and mobility. We strive for independence and battle with the word disability. We have a determination to achieve what we set out for but when illness holds us back we know we need to draw on our patience and our ‘not give up’ spirit.
We’re not old. We’re outgoing. Sometimes we walk together. Our equipment is in motion. Hers is a fancy, shiny, state of the art, cool looking, three wheeled walker. Mine on the other hand is the basic, seen everywhere four wheeled walker. Again, not cool.
When we push off along the footpath in single file I immediately feel a strange inner and outer strength. I tell my beautiful friend how different I feel when I walk with her. I tell her that I feel powerful.
I’ve thought about this a lot. Initially I thought it had something to do with my confidence. However I have come to realise it’s something else entirely.
It’s about awareness.
I have become aware of another’s disability and the impact it has on her life. I have felt her strength and understood her attitude. This knowledge has been infused through friendship.
Being aware of her situation together with mine makes me feel powerful. It has even helped me to see my walker as a strengthening tool not a weakness.
I now believe that collaboration and understanding are the strengths behind disability awareness.
Also now, if I fumble and wobble I don’t berate myself. Instead I remember the power of two and coolly untangle.
by Jo Fleur
I was not looking for a friend. I have no friends in Newcastle – merely acquaintance’s being my partners’ friends. I only really leave the house to attend appointments or workshops. Home is my comfort zone. Home is where nobody stares, pities, or asks questions. I had noticed this unusually attractive looking woman in our workshop for a few reasons, the first being her late arrival for which I felt for her. I too was late for my first workshop for a number of reasons, however none of them really valid. Truth being that I was scared. As she negotiated her walker around the edge of the room looking for an empty chair she lowered her head apologising as people shuffled along to make room. I found myself staring with others but my stare was more so curiosity. Curiosity because of the walker. It’s not often I see someone around my age using a walker. That may sound prejudiced, but it’s not. I too use a walker at times depending on where I am and how I am feeling on the day.
Workshop concluded, I flew out the door juggling my bag as it continually knocked against my crutches. An annoyance, but nothing was going to hinder my progress as I detoured past the lift opting to hobble down the stairs instead, my bladder signalling the imminent danger of encountering what is for me the ultimate humiliation – wetting myself. I have lived this segment of horror before so I was not taking chances here where there is literally nowhere to hide. Crises over, I headed outside to re-coup and reorganise my belongings when the mystery woman approached and introduced herself – something I could not muster up the courage to do myself, and we talked. We talked about me and herself equally, seeming to find common ground quickly, and before I knew it the minutes became an hour; still standing outside long after the building had been closed and locked, reaching out for breath but never for conversation. When she suggested we could possibly meet up for coffee it was an absolute no brainer; I wish I had said it but she beat me to it; this time.
This beautiful woman, inside and out, is my closest friend now. We take long walks along the water edge, both with our walkers which inevitably delivers strange looks and comments, throwing us both into loud laughs. We sit together in a local café for hours sharing the time spent apart; reading and critiquing eachother’s writing; observing everything around us that suddenly appears to be more dramatic when we play around with trying to describe it as we would write it. Most of all, I have found someone that listens and shares; someone I can tell anything to; someone who thinks like me; a caring woman offering me strength and inspiration unreservedly, making time a hindrance. We both have a disability; we both have lives that we chose to love and live.
by Renee Price
I struggle with self-confidence. My ability to perform in front of a crowd from a young age may seem like that statement is false, however true self-belief and the ‘I know I can’ attitude is difficult for me to muster. When I perform, I perform for me, but doubt always follows. I become fixated on others’ opinions and if I’m ‘good enough’ in their eyes. It’s easy for outsiders to say, ‘It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks’, but a life filled with stares, judgments and rejections, has made it difficult, at times, to stand proud for who I am.
I was born with a genetic condition, originally diagnosed Osteogenesis Imperfecta (brittle bones). When I was pregnant with my first child, I was re-diagnosed with Cleidocranial Dysplasia (CCD). Major issues for someone with CCD are low bone density, short stature, susceptibility to fractures, low muscle tone, childbearing complications, dental issues and otosclerosis.
I am 34 years old and stand as high as the average eight-year-old. I was fitted with hearing aids five years ago, after the birth of my first child dramatically reduced my hearing ability. I have endured several fractures and dislocations; the latest being a rib fracture last year, sustained whilst leaning into the cot to pick up my three-month-old son. Throughout my life I’ve had comments and jokes made about my ‘cuteness’, my shortness. I’ve had people question my age and ability to perform adult tasks. During a night out with friends, a stranger congratulated me for being able to ‘get out into the community.’ I wasn’t aware that my differences meant having to hide away!
Becoming a mother has tested my physical ability beyond its means; from daily lifting of a 14 kg chunky toddler, to navigating two children, a pram and a heavy shopping basket, needing assistance during EVERY grocery shop to reach items shelved out of children’s reach, carting my children to and from car seats and chasing, carrying, and restraining them at parks and playgrounds, setting up a step-ladder at 3am to climb and reach the Panadol in the kitchen cupboard when one child is sick and bellowing, the inability to hear my children’s gentle calls to me through the night. Becoming a parent has changed my entire life-perspective. The physical struggles remain, but emotionally, I am strong. I am living this life not only for me, but for my children. To know (my husband and) I have kept two little humans alive and well, and continue to do so every day, brings reassurance. To see my children laugh and love life validates my place in this world. They don’t see disability. They see a caring, hard-working, adoring Mum, and this unconditional love has instilled self-belief.
Look out community, here I come!
by Wendy Evans
Sailing will always give me that wonderful feeling of being free, out of my wheelchair and doing things nature’s way.
It all started on a sunny day, February 1997. Dad dropped me off at Belmont 16ft Sailing Club. A few weeks prior, I had seen a notice for a “Come ‘n’ Try Day” with Sailability and thought I would like to see what this is all about, little did I realize that it would open up an exciting world for me. I was lifted into a single-seated, 2.3metre long sailing boat, given a few instructions and pushed off from the shore. I was free. When I got home I was so excited about telling Mum and Dad that I had actually been sailing all by myself. They supported me in every way they could, taking me to regattas. Dad made a special seat so I could sit up properly and comfortably, later adding a Velcro belt after I fell overboard. These little boats are uncapsizable but can tip to the side and that’s when I overbalanced. I was rescued and ask if I wanted to go straight back out, Silly Question!
In my 18 years of sailing, I have competed in over 40 Regattas, at local, State, National, International and World Levels. I have numerous trophies and medals, including Equal 3rd in France where I sailed on Lake Geneva. Mum accompanied me to this wonderful venue, along with the Australian team.
There have been so many great experiences.
One particular day I knew there were dolphins in the lake where I was sailing. It was quite windy, all other sailors had gone in, I was heeling over when all of a sudden, a dolphin popped beside me and swam along with me for around 5 to 10 seconds. If I could have been able to put my right hand out, I would have touched it. I was overwhelmed with excitement.
I have sailed bigger boats solo that were adapted so the sails were made electric. They are called Liberties.
In a world event I raced at Port Phillip Bay in a Liberty, the race was called off due to rough conditions, however I was allowed to go out for a quick practice. The experience was out of this world, with the waves splashing in my face like someone was throwing buckets of water over me. I had no time to feel scared as I was safely strapped into the boat. It was far better than any amusement park ride I have ever been on. The best part was that I was in control on my own.
I love sailing so much that I have even written a song about it “In a little boat”. I would encourage anyone living with a disability to try sailing as even after all these years it still gives me a buzz to be out on the water. Whether it is calm or challenging, sailing will always be something I look forward to doing.
by David McGeoch
I started getting symptoms when I was 19 years old. I was studying journalism at Charles Sturt University and for the life of me I couldn’t get an assessment done. I was trying to do my best with the course. I had been HD’ing all my assessments and suddenly couldn’t do this one. I found myself breaking into tears every time I talked about it, I couldn’t think straight, couldn’t plan, communicate and could barely organise myself to put together my belongings and come home from University.
I spent several months at home getting myself back together and I saved enough money to go travelling in the United States and Canada. I bought a ticket for Greyhound buses, which allowed me to take unlimited bus trips for 2 months. I travelled all over the states. One of my most profound experiences was meeting a homeless man in Seattle. It was thanksgiving. I was in the centre of town and everywhere was closed. I was cold and hungry and looking for something to eat. I saw a homeless man. He was hungry too and I saw a Macdonald’s in the distance. I said we would go there, but even it was closed. The man knew about a diner which would be open. I was a little bit worried walking with him by myself, but we came to the diner. I bought him everything on the menu. Pancakes with maple syrup and bacon and eggs. He was so cold his hands were shaking as he picked up his coffee and drank. He told me that he heard God speaking to him. That he had given this man powers and that he could hear the electricity running through the walls. I asked him if he had family and he said that he had, but he didn’t get to see them very often because they wouldn’t have much to do with him and the costs for his illness were too high. It made me think how lucky we are to live in Australia where people can get access to support.
I had a great time travelling through Canada and the US. I came back to University and worked my tail off in journalism. I started my own radio show and then got a job working for the ABC.
I wish I could tell you that life went well from there, but it didn’t. The depression didn’t go away. The hardest part about it was watching all my dreams slowly vanish before my eyes. Journalism is competitive and mental illness has a stigma. Depression made it hard to sleep and wake up at 4am.
It’s taken me several years to get my life together and truly deal with the depression. It’s not easy. Exercising every day helps, taking medication helps, sleeping enough helps and depression is all about momentum. You have to force yourself to keep going, keep running every day. You must never give up.
by Brogan Moore
As I carry the world on my shoulders, the weight becomes too much to bear.
Still I must carry this burden every day, though it brings me much despair.
My chest is heavy from the weight; my muscles ache and swell,
But it’s hard for you to understand; as from outside I look well.
Slowly, surely, piece by piece, this world starts to collapse,
And I must catch the pieces all at once, or my existence will relapse.
Some people do reach out to me, and try to help catch too,
I wish I could catch more myself, but hands, I have so few.
The worst part is the fear I feel, that nothing will improve,
Those traffic signals haunt my brain, on red, I cannot move.
I wish I could breathe in and out, and feel my lungs relax,
To sleep a full 9 hours at night, I’d pay any amount of tax.
I pray my thoughts will leave me be, instead they’ve set a trap,
I know one day I’ll find the exit , but first I’ll need the map.
Can you hear me? Most people don’t. I don’t speak. It’s not that I can’t…I just don’t.
A few years ago, I couldn’t. My brain wouldn’t let me. Hearing the questions, processing the words and then processing the muscles in my moth and larynx and well. It overloaded me. I couldn’t do it. Oh I understand all these words. I always have; but then using them…
Now though its not that I can’t speak, its more that I don’t. I sat there as the most recent Speechy told Mum and Dad this. Dyspraxia gone. Well speech dyspraxia – you should watch me pour a drink. They weren’t surprised. Hey they know I listen to everything and respond to everything, that’s why I have the headphones, so I can listen to music as they talk to therapists about me and … what happened …well…. what upsets me I guess.
So here I am in my world of superheroes, sandwiches and SPD. Not sure when I’ll let you in.
I will speak one day. In fact when I’m not thinking too much, it comes out. Short bits. Words and phrases that make Brother laugh and bring excitement and tears to the face of Mum and Dad. But for now, it hurts too much.
I don’t want to speak. Sometimes when I do people cry. Sometimes I talk about her.
I was told I was lazy. I was a retard. She was cruel.
The doctor who smiles has said she was wrong. Lots of people have. The news talks about other children, like me, who were put in small rooms - caged. But I know now it was her. It was them. It wasn’t me. And Brother loves me
I don’t go there anymore. Now I stay home. I stay safe and there’s lots of new things to do. Maps and books and microscopes. Brother is jealous. He doesn’t get to do things like this at school, but I do.
I just don’t want to speak. Apparently I have stress. Not the outburst type. The one when you withdraw. Go quiet. Duh you think. I was 4 years old with a horrible teacher. Evil teacher. I want to be Batman. I want to forget. But I can’t. And everywhere has cupboards. So now I’m going to speak. Not today but I’m going to.
You see all of us. We don’t forget. We remember and we will tell you. In words, on an iPad. We’ll find a way. We’ll tell you what was great and we’ll tell you what
was scary. We’ll tell you how we were hurt, and how we were loved. We’ll tell you who we are.
I have a voice. I’m just waiting to use it, so for now – I’ll use Dad’s. He’s like me and he now speaks. He speaks this. For me. For all of us.
Reflections for International Day for People with Disability 2013 by Catherine Mahony
(First Published in Aurora Magazine of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle December 3 2013)
Imagine If . . .
Imagine if we didn’t need an international day for people with disability on 3 December because people with disability were taking their rightful place as active citizens and contributing members of society.
Imagine if every person acted out the call of this year’s theme of the International Day for People with Disability to “break down barriers”
Imagine if we understood some of the greatest barriers facing people with disability are social and can therefore be broken down attitude by attitude, person by person.
Imagine if we removed the word “disability” from our vocabulary because “person” is the only descriptor that matters.
Imagine if every business, amenity and community facility was designed to accommodate people using wheelchairs.
Imagine if every restaurant had a Braille menu and catered for people who need soft food which is easy to swallow.
Imagine if people didn’t tell me how clever I was for doing the everyday things like working and talking and knowing the date and using a phone, just because I’m blind.
Imagine if people with disability didn’t have to sign forms and jump through hoops and share intrusive, personal details with strangers in order to access the equipment, technology and assistance they require.
Imagine if you acquired a disability tomorrow.
Imagine if you were me.
Imagine if I was you.
Imagine if one in five people was not seen as “other” and “different” and “special” but was given what they needed to live life as they choose.
Imagine if I didn’t have to make you feel comfortable.
Imagine if, when you meet a person with a disability and are unsure what to do or what is expected of you, you focus on what you have in common as people and not on the person’s disability.
Imagine if I felt comfortable to fail rather than feeling the constant need to prove my equality and capacity and right to do the every- day things that others take for granted.
Imagine if I didn’t have to have a strategy around telling my prospective employer that I have a disability.
Imagine if every person could get up when they wanted to, have a shower when they wanted to, get to work when they needed to, accessed transport as readily as their non-disabled peers.
Imagine if we had all read the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability and it was the basis for all decisions and actions affecting people with disability.
Imagine if you were a person with a disability who couldn’t speak and you lashed out at me by punching and biting and I considered your actions as a call for help and worked with you to find out the cause of your distress and frustration. What could happen if I perceive your negative actions as more than “behaviours”, requiring restraints and medications?
Imagine if I had nothing left to ask of my community in terms of accommodating my disability and could get on with the important things in life.
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