2016 In Review: Part Two (Life, Health and Happiness)

Welcome to Part Two of my 2016 wrap-up! Part One was all about writing and reading, but this one’s more of a collection of candid ramblings about – you guessed it – life, health and happiness.

Life

To be honest, there weren’t too many big life developments throughout 2016. As I mentioned before I dropped off the blogosphere, I was taking some internships while working at a bookshop, working for Writer’s Edit, and trying to get my freelance career up and running.

Apart from the internships, which I finished halfway through the year, things look pretty much the same now as they did throughout 2016. I had hoped to be well and truly finished at the bookshop by now, able to rely on freelance income without the necessity of a ‘side job’ to keep me afloat financially. Alas, I’m not quite there yet.

I’ve been thinking a lot about money lately, and in particular, how I don’t make very much of it. I’m aware, of course, that the industry I’ve chosen is not the most lucrative. Nobody pursues a creative career for the money. But that doesn’t change the fact that you need it.

I’ve found that while ever I’m worrying about trying to bring in more work and more money, though, I can’t focus on doing anything creative. I feel like I have to be spending all my spare time focusing on work, and can’t really justify spending time on my own writing, for example. It’s been really hard to keep things in balance, to maintain my creative identity and my dreams.

I have this grand vision of how I want my life to look: managing my own days, being my own boss, balancing my work and my creative pursuits, taking charge of my future. Some days, that vision seems very far away. But at the moment, I’m feeling cautiously optimistic about this year. I’m feeling like it could hopefully, finally, be the one where I make it happen.

If and when it does, I’ll be sure to let you know.

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While things haven’t changed or progressed as much as I’d like between last year and this one, there’s one thing I’m glad has remained constant, and that’s Writer’s Edit. Since starting out as an Editorial Assistant right after I lost my job almost two years ago, Writer’s Edit has become such a huge part of my life. I’ve learned more, worked on more rewarding projects, and had more fun than I ever dreamed when I first applied for that temporary intern-style role.

I’ve now moved from Editorial Assistant to Editor, and am so excited to be continuing with Writer’s Edit into the future. In 2016, we achieved all sorts of wonderful stuff: launching an ebook about publishing and the final volume of the Kindling anthologies; publishing plenty of great articles and reaching plenty of great milestones; and making some truly exciting plans and developments for the future (stay tuned for more on those).

But the most life-changing thing that’s come from my involvement with Writer’s Edit isn’t the professional development and opportunity it’s afforded me. It’s the two incredible, lifelong friends I’ve made in Helen and Kyra. More on these incredible women in the ‘Happiness’ section below.

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Health

Back in October, I was diagnosed with a chronic illness. To be honest, I actually considered the diagnosis a good thing. It was a relief to finally be able to put a name to what had been making me feel pretty terrible for a pretty long time; it felt great to be finally doing something about it by seeking treatment.

After diagnosis and a treatment plan, I was responding to my new medications really well and feeling better than ever. Nate and I went on a holiday in November (more on that below); I came home feeling happy, healthy and refreshed, ready to see out the rest of 2016.

And then… My body turned on me completely.

At the very end of November I came down with what I thought was a simple cold/flu. But it dragged on, and got worse, and dragged on, and got worse. Whatever infection I’d picked up also set off my other condition into a flare-up, which meant a truly horrible double whammy of symptoms. I’ll spare you the details – suffice it to say that for three straight weeks, I was sicker than I’ve ever been in my life.

There were endless visits to the doctor, sleepless nights, countless needles, tests and tests and more tests, different types of drugs… I simply couldn’t function as a human being, and I wasn’t getting any better. It was not a fun time.

Anyway, as Christmas crept closer, I was finally put on some medication that made me feel better for the first time in weeks. But that came with an interesting set of side effects in itself, and my recovery was slow. In fact, it’s only been this last week or so that I can say I’ve felt like I’m back to my normal self (or as close as I remember ‘normal’ being, anyway).

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Now that I’m well again, though, I’ve been thinking a lot about just how important my health is.

We all take our health for granted from time to time, and sometimes it takes a period of illness like this to serve as a wake-up call. I generally take pretty good care of myself; but now, having experienced such a period of absolute debilitation, I’m going to redouble my efforts.

Having spent almost a month not being able to do anything, learning how it felt to effectively lose that whole period of my life, I want to aim never to take my health for granted again. I want to take full advantage of being lucky enough to enjoy a properly working body (well, almost properly working!) full of life and energy.

I’m going to manage my condition as best I can, and set myself up for the best possible health with more good food, more exercise, more time spent outdoors, more living.

Bring it on, 2017.

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Happiness

Despite the less-than-ideal December I had, the rest of 2016 was pretty great. There were a lot of things that made me happy – my incredible partner, amazing family and wonderful friends being the main ones.

Here are two of my top happiness highlights from 2016…

A holiday with Nate

After not having been on a proper holiday for almost two years, Nate and I took two whole weeks off together in November, and it was the absolute highlight of my year. First we camped in beautiful North Haven, then road-tripped up to Byron Bay, somewhere neither of us had been before.

We spent time at the beach and by the pool, went on hikes and drives, read books, visited breweries, lighthouses and waterfalls, ate lots of good food, and just generally spent some super lovely quality time together. Then we had a few days just to spend at home before we both returned to work, which was lovely, PLUS we finished it all off with an awesome night at the launch of Kindling III.

Best. Two weeks. Ever. I love this boy with every bit of my heart, and I can’t wait for our next adventure.

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Adventures with Helen and Kyra

These two girls, seriously. I don’t know what I would have done in 2016 without them. I can’t quite express how much I appreciate having them by my side as we all try to make it in this crazy world of writing and publishing.

But even more than that, I appreciate their friendship. They’re two of the wisest, funniest, most wonderful and supportive friends I’ve got, and for that I consider myself so, so lucky to have become so much closer to them over the last year.

From a road-trip to a publishing festival in Canberra, to Kyra and Justin’s beautiful wedding in Robertson, to an actual Harry Potter party at a club in Sydney, we had a LOT of fun together in 2016. And there are plenty more adventures on the way!

This year, all three of us will be focusing on bringing our first fantasy novels into the world, and I couldn’t think of two people I’d rather take that journey with. I know there’ll be plenty of love, laughs and most likely wine involved along the way. <3

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***

So what’s coming up in 2017?

As well as working hard to make my dreams come true and all that jazz, here are a few things I’m particularly looking forward to this year…

  • Nate’s and my five-year anniversary, which we’re planning to celebrate in Melbourne.
  • A ten-day trip to California with my beloved sister Liv.
  • A writers’ retreat/girly weekend with Kyra and Helen.

Yep – it’s already shaping up to be a pretty lovely year, I think.

I can’t wait to see what else it has in store. :)

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On Redundancy.

As I start to write this, it’s a Friday morning in mid-April and I’m awake and dressed before the sun has even properly risen. You might think I’m very industrious, being up nice and early before a day of work; but the fact of the matter is that, as of this lovely autumn morning, I no longer have a job.

It’s a funny feeling, being ‘made redundant’. On the one hand, you’re assured that it’s nothing to do with you or the quality of your work – that it’s simply, and sadly, just not viable for your position to exist anymore. On the other hand, though, there’s no getting around that word: redundant. It means, literally, ‘no longer needed or useful’; and there are few less pleasant feelings than that of being useless.

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It’s true that of late I had been feeling a little uneasy with my job. Was this really what I wanted to be doing? Was I making any progress towards my eventual ‘dream career’? But these were just the musings of someone a year and a half into their first ‘real’ job after uni. When it came down to it, I really did like my job, I was good at it, and I never imagined I would lose it so suddenly and in a way so out of my own control.

On the day I was let go, I spent the evening absorbing the shock with mint choc-chip ice cream straight from the tub, occasionally bursting into teen-relationship-breakup-esque fits of tears and lamenting the fact that I was now effectively an unemployed hobo. Since the age of 15, I’ve always had a job! Even though most of that time was spent in retail (and even though there were times I thought I’d rather live on the street than fix another damn self-serve checkout), I was always appreciative of the fact that I had a payslip to rely on at the end of each week. Facing a redundancy in the face of today’s competitive job market, monetary concerns soon become far more pressing than mere feelings of disappointment and self-doubt…

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Luckily, I have an extremely supportive partner who is always very good at assuaging my worries, whatever they may be. ‘I actually think this is a really good thing,’ he said to me while I was probably getting snot and tears all over his shirt. ‘It means you can focus on what you really want to do now.’

And when I stopped to think about it, I realised he was completely right. I’m not really one to believe ‘everything happens for a reason’, but I do think that sometimes bad things like this happen at just the right time for us to turn them into good things. I’m treating this as the push I need to work hard on my own business and career opportunities – to focus on achieving the creative lifestyle I’ve been dreaming of.

There are plenty of wonderful things in the world that some people may define as redundant: bookshops, physical photo albums, semicolons. But I know in my heart that those things are not at all useless – and you know what? Neither am I.

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Ten Life-Changing Albums

This afternoon I was challenged via Facebook to create a list of ‘15 albums that changed me in 15 minutes’. Despite the slight vagueness of the instructions (do I write the list in 15 minutes? Do I choose albums that took a mere 15 minutes to change my life?!), I decided to complete the challenge and, in the name of procrastination, turn it into an entire blog post!

I’ve altered the rules somewhat. To knock out a list as quickly and intuitively as I could, it was strangely easier to stick to 10 rather than 15. There is obviously so much music left out that is also hugely important to me, but the 10 albums I’ve listed all have a particular and immediate significance – whether it be that they introduced me to a future favourite band or represent a certain time, place or concept in my life. (As an interesting sidenote, I have been lucky enough to see all of these artists live as well. [Apart from the last two, but you’ll see why when you reach them.])

So, in no particular order, here we go!

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1. A Rush of Blood to the Head – Coldplay

This is the first ever album I recall buying with my own money, and it was one of the best choices I’ve ever made. I know everyone thinks Coldplay are a bit daggy, but I don’t care! I love them SO much and I always will. This is one of those albums where every song is so different and amazing in its own right. It’s definitely the record I would name if I had to choose an all-time favourite.

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2. In Rainbows – Radiohead

Oh, Radiohead. My favourite band in the universe. I’ve chosen In Rainbows because it was actually the first Radiohead album I ever bought! (Yes, I know Radiohead had been around for about 15 years before Rainbows came out. I’m always unfashionably late to the party – see here for further evidence.) This is such a compelling and masterful record from beginning to end, and I have it to thank for sparking my undying love for Radiohead!

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3. Takk… – Sigur Rós

If you’ve never heard this Icelandic band, you are truly missing out. Their music is absolutely something else – ethereal, soaring, atmospheric soundscapes that completely envelope you. To say this album is pure magic sounds like an exaggeration, but listen to a song like ‘Glósóli’ or ‘Sæglópur’ and you’ll know that it’s not!

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4. For Emma, Forever Ago – Bon Iver

Another truly beautiful album. I can’t explain how much I love Bon Iver – everything Justin Vernon does just mesmerises me. I think that even if you didn’t know the backstory to this album, you’d get a sense of it just by listening: it transports you immediately to that lonely log cabin in the woods, where every song aches like the long winter. It’s just amazing.

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5. Neon Ballroom – Silverchair

Ahhh, now this is an early one. I went through a MASSIVE Silverchair obsession at the age of about 14 (as you do). I remember coming home from school every afternoon, putting this album on repeat and doing my maths homework while passionately singing along with all the angst of a teen with nothing real to complain about. It was a close call between this album and the orchestral rainbow that is Diorama, but in the end, I think songs like ‘Emotion Sickness’ and ‘Miss You Love’ had the most influence on me at the time.

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6. Sunrise Over Sea – John Butler Trio

This is another album I became addicted to at the age of 14 or 15, when I was first starting to get into ‘real’ music. Strangely enough, as I type this, Nate and a couple of friends have randomly chosen Sunrise Over Sea for background music, and I’m really remembering why I loved it so much. I don’t really listen to this sort of rootsy music anymore, but this album was such a wonderful introduction to the world of real music that it will always have a special place in my life.

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7. High Violet – The National

I’ve written about The National previously, so it’s no secret that I’m a sucker for Matt Berninger’s melancholic crooning. This is an astonishing album, and (we’re about to get sentimental here, folks, be warned) it always reminds me of the beautiful time at the very start of my and Nathan’s relationship. We used to listen to it a lot, and for good reason: every song is just so ridiculously, richly emotive.

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8. You Are All I See – Active Child

It’s widely acknowledged that music can be a powerful transporter, and that we often associate certain songs or albums with particular locations or time periods. This gorgeous harp-laden record takes me straight back to a family holiday through Europe in 2011. Staring out the window of trains, cars and planes as we travelled around, this album played constantly through my headphones and formed the perfect soundtrack to a wonderful trip.

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9. Inception: Music from the Motion Picture – Hans Zimmer

Speaking of soundtracks… As a film score fanatic, I couldn’t help but include a couple of soundtracks in this list! Hans Zimmer is one of my favourite composers, and Inception is one of my favourite movies. For me, the soundtrack is SUCH a huge part of the movie’s success. It’s really hard to pick a top song, but you can’t go past ‘Time’ – so simple yet so, so perfect. The emotional punch it packs is incredible and just goes to show how fundamentally important soundtracks are.

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10. Pride and Prejudice: Music from the Motion Picture – Dario Marianelli, Jean-Yves Thibaudet and the English Chamber Orchestra

Again, a favourite soundtrack from a favourite movie, this time based on a favourite book! The combination of the period-perfect chamber orchestra and Thibaudet’s piano – swirling, delicate and powerful by turns – is stunning. I love listening to this album while I work or just when I want to chill out. I also bought the sheet music many years ago and had so much fun learning to play all the beautiful songs. (You can see me playing one in the clip at the end of this post, but it’s very dodgy and I would recommend listening to the real thing.)

 

Well, that was fun and wasted an appropriate amount of time! So, which 10 (or 15) albums would make your list?

Things I Love Lately (Feat. Cupcakes and The National)

Hello and happy Tuesday, if there’s anybody out there still reading!

I’ve been pretty slack on the blog front lately – partly because I’ve been busy, but mostly because I’ve been trying to think of something really worthwhile and interesting to post. After spending a while despairing of my lack of ‘worthy’ ideas, I realised that if I was this meticulous about every blog post, I’d only average one every ten years or so. So here goes my somewhat self-indulgent Things I Love Lately post – expect to see many more of these in the future!

The National

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I freaking love The National. Their music is dark, slow-burning melancholia, peppered with the occasional incredibly uplifting moment and… some more melancholia, but up-tempo this time. They’ll break your heart, but you will totally love them for it.

Last Friday, I was lucky enough to attend their show on the Opera House forecourt. It was a perfect, warm, clear summer evening on the harbour: the House lit up in colour, the crowd chilled out and ready for the show – and what a sublime show it was. Matt Berninger’s beautiful voice was the highlight for me; it’s just heavenly live. I’m so impressed by the way he can transition seamlessly between his signature haunting baritone, his higher range, and his crazy hoarse screams on songs like ‘Abel’. I’m even more impressed that he waded his way through the entire crowd during ‘Mr November’ without sustaining any damage besides a pair of lost glasses (he was right up the back with us at one stage and I squealed a little).

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Anyway, it was a gorgeous night and I’m so glad to have had the experience of seeing them live! You can see for yourself what I’m talking about via the Opera House YouTube channel – watch the full set from the second show here. (For the record, my favourite National song is ‘England’ – if you haven’t heard it, go listen to it right now. It’s soft and beautiful and it conjures images of lying in bed watching raindrops run down the window and I love it so much.)

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Imagine sitting down in a tiny pastel-coloured café, ordering a chocolate cupcake with vanilla-mint buttercream, and sipping on a little bottle of flavoured jersey milk from a stripy straw. Doesn’t your brain just explode from the cuteness? Mine almost did when I discovered Hello Naomi, a sweet little café in Newcastle serving cupcakes and cookies, coffees and teas, jersey milk and fresh juice and hot chocolate… the list of treats goes on and on. It’s such a lovely place to go for a catch-up with a friend, a coffee date with the boyfriend, or even just to treat yo’self – because you’re a strong and independent woman who deserves it, am I right?

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Follow Naomi on Instagram (@hellonaomicakes) to admire her creations and go into a virtual sugar coma – or, better yet, get yourself to Newcastle for the real thing!

Cheap jewellery

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I got these rings and this necklace for $7 all up. Best. (Rings not modelled on hand due to me having a fat finger day.)

Mail

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Everyone loves getting nice things in the mail. For me it’s especially exciting, as the only things that usually turn up in my mailbox are bills to be paid or letters for the previous tenant (seriously, Peter, change your address already). So this year is going to be awesome, because I’ll be getting regular deliveries thanks to my new Frankie subscription and my new by-distance postgrad course with the University of Southern Queensland! Mr Postman, you’re my new best friend.

Fresh limes

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I’m so obsessed with limes at the moment. I only recently discovered what is now my favourite cocktail of all time: the Charlie Chaplin – equal parts sloe gin, apricot brandy, and fresh lime juice. I also love adding lime to my food – most times when Nate and I make Mexican food I forget to buy limes, but when I do, I will juice a whole one of those delicious bastards on top of my meal. If there’s a lime in the house I’ll even squeeze it over any type of lunch wrap I make – EVERYTHING tastes better with limes!! (Crazy lime lady in the making. Off to make use of the supermarket’s 3 for $1 deal right now.)

IMG_7212Image courtesy of cocktailmusings.com.

So, there you have a few of my favourite things at the moment. I’d love to hear some things that you love lately!

Frustration, I win this round.

Frustration is a tiresome emotion, and it’s always been one I don’t handle well. Things that frustrated me today included:
– not being able to stay in Sydney to take care of my boyfriend, Nathan, who has come down with a virus. This was because I had to travel 3.5 hours home to my menial retail job (for a shift that was half an hour shorter than my train travel);
– leaving half the contents of my wallet in the car while at a shopping centre this morning, so not using my staff discount on all the crap I picked up for Nate at Kmart, and having to get him to pay for it;
– realising later, as I folded shirts out of boredom during said retail shift, that my discount card had been RIGHT THERE IN MY BAG THE WHOLE TIME. (It would only have saved me $4, but hey, that $4 could have paid for something excellent, like a milkshake.)

I know those aren’t really things to give the world sass over. But maybe some other frustrating things are: one example, which has been riling me up to no end, is the unfathomably high number of copies the Fifty Shades of Shameless Lady Porn series is selling at the moment. To an extent, I understand that everybody is buying them because they ‘want to see what all the fuss is about’. What I do not understand is why seemingly nobody then realises that all the fuss is about A TERRIBLY WRITTEN, GLORIFIED MILLS & BOON NOVEL that can only be separated from its origins in Twilight fanfiction by its gratuitous overuse of sex scenes!

And there I go, getting worked up over the fact that people get worked up (in a different way, heh) over that abominable series.

Therein lies the power of frustration: things of a grandly trivial nature may be magnified tenfold by the sheer fist-clenching annoyance of that emotion. The only thing to do is to transform gritted teeth into a grin by concentrating on the awesomeness that life dishes up alongside irritation. I may have had to work a boring shift today, but last night I had the loveliest date evening in the form of dinner and a show (bruschetta, ravioli, tiramisu and a bottle of pinot noir, followed by the bright Swedish pop of Miike Snow, in case you were wondering). My train ride might have been long and Fifty Shades of Grey might suck, but I got to read A Clockwork Orange in its entirety during the trip, and that is a really good book. And I may not have been able to stay and look after my lovely boyfriend, but the main thing is, I have a lovely boyfriend. And to be lucky enough to have that beautiful boy and wonderful books and live music and Italian food, I am irrepressibly happy. :)

The only shades of grey anybody should be reading about. Murakami’s ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’

Miike Snow. Image courtesy of themusic.com.au

Nathan. :)