Salt of the Earth

Thursday 28 May 2015

My writing practice rises and falls with whatever is going on in my body.  In recent months I have been unable to remain standing for too long, and so I have been writing lying down.  Recently I have gone back to researching one of the basics of CFS, orthostatic intolerance, and began trying out some recommendations to address those symptoms.  The main one - which sounds odd to many ears - is to add more salt to your diet.  Yes, more.  More salt and two litres of water.  Lots of CFS people suffer with low blood pressure (yep) and also low blood volume (I think so, though I haven't been tested).  Many, if not most, CFSers have less blood in our bodies for some odd reason and what we find is that standing up can become a most uncomfortable experience - not because of the fatigue so much as that the blood in our bodies is pooling in our legs, and our brains start going a little nuts and mushy at the same time.  Lie down, and five or 10 minutes later you find your mind clearing to a greater or lesser degree.  The extra salt and water helps stop that from happening so much.

This brain blood drain can also be hindered by doing things like crossing your legs if you're sitting down.  Walking helps, too.  There's so many things going for walking when you have CFS.  If you're able to get out of bed to start, it can be as hard as meth to stop.  The fatigue falls away a little.  Your joints and muscles sway to the rhythm.  You feel some semblance of being alive.  Stuff the post-exertional malaise - this feels good enough for any payback.

Except when you're paying back.

Sometimes though the payback doesn't come as much as you thought it would.  Those experiences are as rare as Willy Wonker gold tickets though, so you celebrate them as miracles from the virgin when they do.  It's added irony when those moments come from the 101 category of  CFS management, orthostatic intolerance, when you've had this thing for 16 years.   CFS is such a complicated illness - there's so much going on in your body that keeping up with all of your symptoms is really difficult.  Note-takimg is an essential.  I wish I hadn't only learned that bit in about year 10.

I went to the footy last weekend.  It felt risky.  I hadn't even bothered the week before.  Anthony had to do the driving, Belgrave to Richmond and back, after driving from Belgrave to Tullamarine and back for work earlier that day. It required a 15 minute walk from the car to the ground, some of which I spent feeling awful and crying a little bit because of the two homeless blokes sitting on Swan Street on the way there.  It was loud at the ground.  I was worried i was going to fade, start sliding down in my seat halfway through the first quarter, feel trapped feeling awful in the confines of a large outdoor pit with 63,000 too many people.  But it didn't happen.  I have been following this extra salt/water thing for about 10 days now, and my symptoms are muchly flattened.

So increased ability of course means increased writing.  It follows the night like a day.  Extra space and the creativity pours in, grown more lovely from the unwanted respite.  And so I'm busy at work at the moment writing an essay about why I think Australia Day should be celebrated in August, marking the anniversary of the Wave Hill walk-off, and how that's a story for our time that goes way beyond black and white reconciliation, right through political ideology and right to the very future of our planet.

I also came across a new writing prize yesterday, The Richell Prize, named after the founder of Hachette Press who died too young last year in a surfing accident.  The prize is for new and emerging writers, a category that fits me despite me being old and haggy and prolapsed.  And so after I finish this essay I am going to work on my collection of train travel stories.  Excitement!

I also wrote a novella recently. It's the longest thing I've written, at over 13,000 words, and I think I'm happy with it.  But I'm so sick of it at the moment that it feels like a recalcitrant child I've bundled off to Grandma's and I'm happy for the peace.

So I'm well and truly back in the writing seat, and the only thing that has been missing is writing here on my lovely comfy, messy space.

The interesting thing about writing is that while everyone thinks they've got a book in them, not everyone can make it past the nasty gargoyle, the first draft ferryman.  Any hubris you have he will shred with his pitchfork in the time it takes him to ferry you from the beginning of your draft to the end.  If you can bear to sit for an entire ride with his foetid breath snorting in your ear hole, then by the time you get to the other side you will have a stinky pile to work with.  It's generally not pretty.  In fact, it's often such a mess that you despair that you'll be able to make even a satin purse out of this sow's ear.  It will send you into raptures about' how fucking pathetic you are as a writer and you will question whether you are not completely deludedin your insistence on persistence in this area.

The beauty of having written for a bit is that you begin recognising that this is just a stage of the process.  Like one of the lines of the I ching says, "Waiting in the bog invites the arrival of robbers."  If you can believe that there is gold hidden in this pile of poo you've written, then that's when the real writing starts - revision.  Out of that lump of clay you've crafted from out of the air, you work it up into something good.  Sometimes it's even really good, so that you start strutting and thinking you're a little bit fancy.  The same way you overdo it as soon as you get a tiny bit of energy and start planning all kinds of things and then find yourself on the couch.

That's okay.  Strut and overdo. Have your fun.  The loamy, salty dark mess of the next first draft is waiting, just around the corner if you're lucky, to slice a bit of that strut off, keep you humble, ground you back to the beautiful earth.


  1. This made me a little teary-eyed, actually. It's bubbly and mad fierce. I love how you balance fisted faith and risk with sensible precautions.
    Off to strut and overdo.

    1. I love that - mad fierce. Isn't it funny how lots of people get bamboozled by mad fierce into thinking if you've got that you don't also have mad weak and mad terrified? But those three seem to travel together far more than alone

  2. You know, I wrote a 50,000 word book for National Novel Writing Month like 10 years ago. I totally get what you mean about being sick of it. I don't know how some authors write multiple books about the same characters...because I was so bored of my characters after a month it took me like 3 years to go back and read it. Then like a year ago, I found out it was a lot like Outlander (which I had never heard of until the TV show came out). Just goes to show there's nothing new under the sun. But I'm very glad whenever you find the space to write because I love your writing...especially the train pieces. :)

    1. Thank you :-). And congrats on the 50,000 words! That is an awesome effort. I'm jealous. Have you revised it since then, or are you still too sick of it? :-)

    2. I haven't spent any more time on it. I go back and read it from time to time, but it's never going to go anywhere so I haven't revised it at all.

    3. But you've done all the hard work! Now you've got a skeleton to put a frame on!

      Or maybe you're really REALLY sick of it so much that even a decade hasn't given any respite, haha

  3. If you read Stephen King's On Writing, he puts his first drafts away for six weeks after he finishes that last word. It takes that long at least to get some distance and to look at it with new eyes. It's what I do and it really helps wit the first revision not to already be sick of the book. With fresh eyes you can see the qualities and you have forgotten the funny moments and such so they come to you as new. :)

    My first drafts don't tend to be too bad. I'm not trying to write the great Australian novel by any means, just good rollicking yarns, but I seem to be a natural novelist. I think in long stories, I guess. I don't chop and change scenes, I plug through the less interesting ones to get to the next action scene or I'd probably never go back and write the joiners, so I go from start to finish, which I think helps me to keep the rhythm and avoid too much 'pile of poo first draft' syndrome. If i think of something further back that needs to change for some reason, i make a note of it and keep going forward as if it is already changed then go back and fix it on that second draft. That avoids the editing plague that can stop a first draft in its tracks.

    But, i have written enough books to know the feeling of that moment in the book where you say to yourself, "My god, this is a pile of crap!" I just keep right on writing now. Pile of poo feelings or not, that first draft will happen!

    Oh, and did you know what i am using to treat my Lyme disease? Salt! Salt and Aperture Homeopathy. That's it. :)

  4. Yeah, Ive seen lots of refs to salt and vit c as a lyme treatment. Really interesting implications, isn't it!


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