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Saturday, September 16, 2017

A long way to the top

I've been pretty down the last few months (by which I mean, since 2017 began). Between toxic people in my life and the struggles of securing a job in the arts industry when you've just graduated, it's been a tough time. I've reached out for help, and kicked myself into gear to try to get out of the slump. Slowly, it's been working. I managed to remove some of the more toxic people from my day to day life and I started to find some validity in my job, even if it isn't in my preferred industry. But some bigger things needed to change, so I got thinking, and I've made some bigger decisions.

I chose to take a break from university. I withdrew from the one unit I was enrolled in a week before the census date so that it wouldn't affect my academic record. I can take this break for up to twelve months, but to be perfectly honest ... I have no intention of completing the Masters I am enrolled in. Although half of it was credited on account of my Honours degree, it was still going to take me two years to complete what was left at the pace I was going. Frankly, it seems to be a repeat of my undergrad, with perhaps a little extra detail and longer essays. In the long run, I don't think the stress or the student debt is worthwhile unless I'm taking away something more. After my twelve month intermission, I might do a course transfer into communications or marketing--IF I choose to continue study. Masters was never part of my plan, so I am not upset at the idea of dropping it altogether. It doesn't feel like quitting. It isn't. It just wasn't supposed to be from the start and maybe that's okay. I guess the only reason I didn't outright withdraw from the course was because I can still work on the student magazine as long as I keep my place in a course, even if I'm not enrolled in a unit.

I started teaching myself a little bit of design. I've never been able to get the hang of Adobe programs like Photoshop or InDesign, so I thought I'd try something a little more basic. I created a free account with Canva online and I've been experimenting with magazine designs using some of their pre-made templates and articles saved on my laptop from editing with WORDLY. Just for practice, of course, until I get the hang of it. One of my friends who is a bit of a designer herself gave me some really positive feedback on the attempt I showed her. We might start a little zine together, just for fun. I'm hoping that with a bit of practice using Canva, I'll be able to upgrade to InDesign and actually be able to include it as a skill on my resume; it's something a lot of the jobs I've been looking at want from their applicants.

I also intend to apply for an ABN (Australian Business Number) really soon, so that I can start freelance editing, and maybe freelance writing. I don't really know how that will go, considering how competitive and small the industry is in Australia. But hopefully, with a few testimonials and a domain name, I'll be able to get the idea off the ground. I know it's going to be an uphill battle, but I'd rather try and try and try than sit back and let myself be miserable at a call centre forever.

And of course, I need to start looking for a job in my field, at least until I can get freelancing to work for me (and I know there's no guarantee that will happen). Because, again, I have to try to make my dreams come true rather than sit back and let myself be miserable at a call centre forever.

Granted, the call centre isn't so bad when I put aside the fact that it's not the industry I did a degree to end up in, and I feel like I've gotten a really good grip on what I'm doing there recently. I've had a lot of good feedback from the members who call in, especially for cover reviews and hospital enquiries. Private health insurance is complicated, but I'm being told that I'm good at explaining how it all works and being thorough in the information I give. It still makes me feel pretty good when they take a moment to genuinely thank me at the end of a long call. It makes it worthwhile to endure all the people who call up just to yell at someone for no real reason ... I only wish the pay was a little more substantial.

How do you deal with the struggles of making it as a writer or editor? What decisions did you have to make to try and make things work? 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Spreadsheets for life

Although I predominantly work with Microsoft Word as a writer and editor, I'm surprised by how often I end up using Excel spreadsheets. I started using them to organise submissions for WORDLY when I was editor-in-chief and used it on Verandah when I was submissions manager and secretary. It was an excellent way to keep track of things--who submitted what, their contact details, how many editors gave feedback, which editors were assigned to which piece and at which stage, whether or not editing tasks were completed  ... I had a beautiful colour coded list system going on to keep track of everything in one place.

I kinda miss the mayhem of putting those spreadsheets together. I miss the satisfaction and relief of entering that last set of submission details or colour coding the final green box to signify that all the edits were complete.

I have stayed in the habit of using spreadsheets to keep track of rent and utility bills from month to month, which is especially important in a share house like mine. But for a little while now I've been wanting to find a way to incorporate it back into my writing and editing life.

Recently, I did a little clean up of my laptop. I deleted many dank memes and screen shots ... and I stumbled upon some really old stuff I wrote way back in high school. Gosh, some of it was terrible.  But once I got my dedicated writing folder organised and separated the scrap pile from things that had potential, I decided to take an extra step and make a spreadsheet.

I'm going to use this spreadsheet to record writing opportunities and keep track of my submission habits. More importantly, I'm going to use the spreadsheet to make a habit of submitting and holding myself accountable when I don't. The spreadsheet is also going to help me keep track of the submissions--when they're under consideration, being edited, rejected, accepted and published. There's often such a long time between submitting and hearing back that sometimes I forget what I've sent out and where. 

I have been a terribly lazy writer lately. I'm hoping this will help to kick my creative juices into gear.

How do you motivate yourself to write? 

Bonnee.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Weekend Blues

I've got a case of the weekend blues that started on Friday morning, when I woke up to the news that Linkin Park's lead singer Chester Bennington had taken his own life. Admittedly, I hadn't listened to any of their music for a long time, but a few years ago a number of their songs were the anthem of an angry, stifled, rebellious teenage me, who was still trying to figure out how the hell she was supposed to fit into this world. Songs like 'Numb', 'In the End', and 'One Step Closer' were the tunes I turned to in my darkest hours, the ones I blasted through my headphones when I wanted to block out the rest of the world. Chester's voice resided on a playlist of other loud, angry music on my iPod, and on a mixed tape my first boyfriend made for me. I stood in the crowd in front of their stage at Soundwave in 2013, surrounded by people who were too tall for me to really see past, but we were all singing along.

All day on Friday, I read posts from other bands paying tribute to Chester and urge anyone who was struggling to reach out and talk to someone, anyone, because suicide is not the answer. My heart feels heavy just thinking about this.

I've been trying to make an effort to list three positive things at the end of every day to help keep my mood in check. It's worth doing just to make sure I'm not always focusing on the bad things, even though they often seem more frequent and severe than the good. I've been doing it for about two weeks now, but on Friday, after dealing with Rest in Peace posts all day, I really struggled to find three good things to list about that day. I ended up trying to focus on the simple, small things that made the day a little brighter: I had a rostered day off work, I went for a long walk in the nearby park lands, and my partner came home early from work.



Though I am saddened by Chester's passing, once we acknowledge the tragedy and urge others who are suffering in silence to reach out for help, and offer condolences to those who knew him ... I would rather celebrate his life, the greatness he achieved, and the amazing music he shared with us, than only remember him as a man who hung himself.

This weekend, I am listening to Linkin Park even though I haven't done so in a couple of years. I'm also thinking about Chester, the pain he must have been in, the way he must have felt and the things he must have thought in the time leading up to his passing. I turned to this man's voice in some of my darkest moments because those lyrics rang true to me, like this stranger understood how I felt. I wish there was something, anything I could have offered in return to help him too.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Writing prompt: there is no exit

I stumbled upon a flash fiction challenge over on Chuck Wendig's blog and thought it might be a good opportunity for me to try and kick my creative juices into gear. So here it goes ... this one is based on an experience I had a couple of years ago. 

Prompt: there is no exit. 

The sound as I slid into the back of the Nissan was not as deafening as I had expected. I tried to change lanes at the last second, when I realised the wet road wouldn’t allow me to stop in time, but the decision to yank my steering wheel to the left occurred a moment too late. Thunk. My little Daewoo stalled. I took in a deep breath and let it out slowly, sinking into my seat. I pressed the button for my hazard lights. The traffic on the Ringwood Bypass continued to flow around me while I restarted the engine and pulled off the road.

The Nissan driver was a middle aged man and his wife was the passenger. In case I didn’t feel awful enough after crashing into their vehicle, the first thing they did was open the boot to make sure the two dogs they were transporting were okay. Thankfully, their fur-babies were fine. I was still overcome with guilt.

They were friendly enough, assuring me it happens to everyone, we’re all lucky it wasn’t a serious prang, do I have insurance, blah blah blah. We took photos of each other’s licenses and number plates and of the damage on both cars. I’d pushed in the back left corner of the Nissan with the front right corner of my Daewoo. The driver of the other car put his hand in the gap between the wheel and the body and pushed the dent back out—only some chipped paint remained as evidence that their car had been damaged. My Daewoo was worse off … the front headlight was smashed, loose pieces of glass and plastic still finding its way onto the bitumen. The right side of the bonnet had buckled and the forward side panel was pinching the driver’s door, so it only opened enough for me to squeeze in and out.

We exchanged phone numbers and agreed to call it a day. It was starting to rain again and there was no point standing around. The Nissan drove off and I called the friends I was meant to meet for lunch and explained that I couldn’t make it, even though our meeting place was two blocks away from where I was stopped. I thought about calling to get my car towed; the engine might still start, but the car was far from roadworthy with a busted headlight and a door that wouldn’t open properly. But that meant sitting and waiting and paying—and then what? I just wanted to go home.

I got myself onto the bypass again and headed back towards Eastlink. I wasn’t familiar with the area, but damned if I was going to touch my GPS after the cash. I’d been following my GPS’s directions on the way to lunch, but it had detached itself from my windscreen and fallen into the passenger’s foot well. I’d yanked it onto the passenger’s seat next to me as quickly as I could, but in the rush of the moment I hadn’t heard the instruction the GPS’s robotic voice uttered. I glanced at the screen to see the arrow telling me to turn right at the upcoming intersection. What a stupid thing to do. In that split second of looking at the GPS screen on the passenger’s seat, the traffic ahead came to a stop. I looked back up in time to slam my foot on the breaks and at first, I thought everything would be fine. But the road was wet and oily and my little Daewoo slid further than I thought she would—right into the back of that Nissan.

No, I told myself. No more GPS today. Once I was on the freeway, it would be easy to get home. At least, that’s what I’d hoped. But as I approached Elgar Road, inbound on the M3, I had an awful realisation—there was no exit. I saw the ramp from Elgar Road coming down to merge with the freeway, and the outbound traffic had a ramp to exit onto Elgar Road. But from the inbound lanes, there was no ramp to exit onto that road.

I regretted not setting up my GPS for the drive home.

A few Ks down the freeway, I spotted the exit to Belmore Road and took the turnoff. I still wasn’t familiar with the area, but I knew it was closer to where I lived than the freeway. After a few wrong turns, I found a street I recognised and made it home. The Daewoo sputtered sadly into the garage and the driver’s door made an awful sound when I tried to close it. I would have to call RACV later. I went up to my room and flopped down on my bed, defeated. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Old words in a new world

My partner and I were recently discussing how people continue to use words and phrases that no longer apply to the context they're used in. For example, I know a lot of people who would say something like 'I saw a film on the weekend', even though most movies use digital cameras instead of film these days. 

We were driving to the shopping centre at the time of this discussion and another example we thought of was 'wind down the window'. Newer cars have electric controls to press instead of a manual window winder.

There's something charming about using old words to continue describing things that have outgrown the meaning of the words we use. Or maybe I'm just nostalgic. I'm sure there's a term for words like this but admittedly I do not know it.

Can you think of any examples?

-Bonnee

Friday, June 30, 2017

App review: Tide

I've had a lot of trouble concentrating, unwinding, and sleeping as of late. Especially after work when I'm supposed to find time to study or be creative (or send out applications to get a job in my field). Last weekend, I decided to check out what free apps I could get on my phone to help me relax or concentrate and I stumbled upon a little gem.

Tide: Stay focused, be peaceful
It's such a simple app and I found it very user friendly. Tide incorporates calming background tracks such as rain or peaceful music with the Pomodoro technique to encourage focus, productivity, and relaxation. The description only talks about it being supported on iPhones, but I have a Samsung and can confirm it works just fine.

The Pomodoro technique (which I had not heard of before downloading this app) was created in the 1980s and was traditionally used to break work into 25 minute intervals with short breaks in between (thanks for your help, Wikipedia). Of course, people like to have options and something I think other users might find appealing about this app is the ability to alter the length of focus intervals and breaks to suit your needs. Tide also lets you set a daily 'Focus Goal' and track your daily focus achievements. Want to study for an hour? Two hours? Eight hours?? Set your goal and the app will add up your focus sessions as you go.
Look at that pretty logo!
I think the visual design of Tide is gorgeous. When you open the app, you'll be greeted by a description of the time of day (e.g. afternoon, dusk, evening) overlaying a simple but peaceful background image. The little 'Start' button sits there, ready to begin timing the first focus session whenever you are. And you get a nice little quote each day, too.

Once you press 'Start'? Choose your background sounds. Tide automatically begins to play the sound of the ocean gently lapping the shore, but swipe across to the next panel for some gentle rain, forest sounds, a soft and slow piano track (called 'Muse'), or some cafe background noise. I'm personally not a fan of the cafe track, but I guess some people are into that. 'Rain' and 'Muse' are my favourites. But as I mentioned earlier, people like to have options, and in case these five weren't enough, you can opt to turn off the white noise tracks and do your focus sessions in silence.

I've been using this app predominantly for unwinding before bed and rocking myself to sleep, which is probably why I favour the 'Rain' and 'Muse' tracks. I've been having a lot of trouble sleeping lately and my GP suggested trying to incorporate some meditation and other relaxation techniques into my 'getting ready for bed' ritual. I did complete a few focus sessions earlier in the week with 'Ocean' and 'Forest' too, while I was updating my LinkedIn profile and putting together job applications. I left the focus sessions on 25 minute intervals with 5 minute breaks and I think it's the perfect amount of time. Each time I started the timer and got to work, I told myself I wasn't allowed to look at my phone for a while--and when I did go to pick it up, it was within seconds of the focus session ending.

Tide gets a five star rating from me and I'm glad I discovered it this week.

Do you have any little gem apps you'd like to share? 


Sunday, May 28, 2017

Alien: Covenant Review

My partner and I went on a spontaneous movie date on the weekend and decided to see Alien: Covenant. I haven't seen all of the Alien films so far, but I saw Prometheus in cinemas and enjoyed the snippets of the other films that I've seen.

Alien: Covenant starts on a philosophical note, with a throw-back to the creation of David, the synthetic who was on board the Prometheus. Cut to Covenant, a space vessel on a cross-galaxy expedition to settle a colony on a far-away planet, were Walter is overseeing the day-to-day upkeep of the ship while the crew and colonists are in cryosleep. An unforeseen emergency requires the crew to suddenly wake up and thus begins the action. There is death before we even see any aliens, and although the audience doesn't get the chance to form a bond with the deceased crew member, we do start caring about the crew mates left behind as they deal with the sudden loss.

Amidst grieving and repairing the ship, the crew picks up a rogue signal from a nearby planet that looks potentially inhabitable and go in for a closer look; they are excited by the prospect of reaching a planet to colonize, as their original target is still 7 years away. A portion of the crew takes a lander vessel down and soon enough, the audience picks up signs of danger that the characters are oblivious to. After losing half of the ground crew to aliens (in both classic burst-out-of-your-body and maul-the-fuck-outta-you styles), the remaining handful are seemingly rescued by David, the synthetic from the Prometheus, which disappeared ten years early.

Naturally, the audience should be suspicious of David, as he tells an overly simplistic tail to explain the fate of the Prometheus crew. He's a little too curious about the colony mission and details like how many colonists the Covenant is transporting. I felt that the newly made captain Oram gave up this information a little too easily and could have exercised better caution in the presence of this stranger. The relationship David tries to forge with the Covenant's synthetic, Walter, is creepy at best and there are alarm bells going off left, right, and centre that David is up to something. The fact that both of the synthetics are played by Michael Fassbender (who does an excellent job, by the way) makes the audience more and more distrustful and we do double-takes in every scene where they both appear. Will David get Walter on board with his insidious plans? Will they do a good ol' switcheroo?

One of the highlights of the film for me was when David recites 'Ozymandias' in front of Walter. This is accompanied by a revelation of some of David's horrific actions between arriving on this planet and the arrival of the Covenant crew. Amidst this discussion of creation and perfection, Walter asks David who wrote 'Ozymandias', and David wrongly attributes the poem to Lord George Gordon Byron. The dynamics between David and Walter were certainly my favourite part of the film.

The death-tally shot up as the movie drew to a close and sure enough there was a false sense of security before more and more danger was revealed. But I won't spoil the ending. I liked it, so you should go watch it and make your own judgments on the juicy details.

Have you seen Alien: Covenant yet? What did you think? 
- Bonnee.

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