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Writing What My Soul Needs Right Now

I admit I had a bit of a meltdown last night.

I live in Tweed Heads, in the Norther Rivers region on the Far North Coast of New South Wales in Australia. Tweed Heads is right on the border with Queensland. The suburb of Coolangatta is on the Queensland side, and our two suburbs are known as the ‘twin towns’. Before COVID, our communities were virtually one and the same, as many people live and work either side of the border. I cross over into Queensland every day on my afternoon walk.

In late March, The Queensland Premier (the head of state)  shut the state’s borders to interstate travellers. Only ‘border residents’ were allowed to cross over into Queensland and for essential purposes only (work, exercise, medical appointments, caring for someone etc) , and were required to display a special pass on the windscreen of their car when they passed through the checkpoint. This checkpoint is manned by police, army personnel as well as the SES (State Emergency Services) volunteers. This checkpoint turned the relatively quiet main street of Tweed Heads into a car park, with major traffic jams during morning and afternoon peak hour, and other random times of the day.

The Queensland Premier opened the border a few weeks ago just before school holidays, yet excluded travellers coming from the southern state of Victoria, which has had a major recent outbreak. More and more ‘hotspots’ have since been declared in New South Wales, and people coming from those places have also been banned.

At first I was rejoicing at the news that the Queensland border would be re-opening, but when I learned about the new restrictions, I had my doubts that anything would change. In fact, things got worse. Checkpoint personnel were checking every car with a Victoria or New South Wales number plate, and the traffic delays were horrendous.

The school holidays are over now, and the traffic has reduced significantly, but due to recent outbreaks in Queensland there is serious talk about closing the border again.

Across the street from where I live, there is a COVID testing clinic. I can see it from my kitchen window. The waiting area is outside in the open air; sometimes there are two or three people waiting to be tested, sometimes there are twenty. It is a very confronting thing to see every day while I’m making my breakfast.

Every day on my afternoon walk, I pass by the traffic signs warning of the checkpoint ahead, and see the cars queuing to cross the border.

Which brings me to my meltdown last night.

Up until now I’ve coped fairly well mentally and emotionally with the pandemic. I’ve had my moments; all of my family live in Queensland and at least an hour’s drive away. It was hard, and I felt very alone over here in New South Wales. But I kept busy studying and writing, and I have had the opportunity to see friends and family while the border has been open. However, the uncertainty resulting from the recent outbreaks has been really wearing me down.

Living in Yeppoon last year, I missed my home on the Gold Coast , and was so excited when the opportunity arose to move back earlier this year. Yet recently I’ve had serious doubts as to whether moving back was the best idea. Having the uncertainty around the border, seeing the checkpoint every day, and the testing clinic across the street. I waited so long and worked hard to get back here, and it breaks my heart because I love this area so much. But as they say in The Handmaid’s Tale: Don’t let the bastards grind you down. In this case, the bastard is COVID.

Earlier this week I sent my latest short story, Bedouin Boy, off for editing, and tomorrow on Writing Friday I will start typing the sequel, Grave Bargains. Between working on these two projects, I have decided to dive back into my Irish psychological fiction novellas.

I had put these novellas on hold for this year, to focus on getting my five previously published books back into distribution, and to publish Bedouin Boy and Grave Bargains. But I’m feeling like my soul needs to be working on my Irish novels right now. They are my passion project, my life’s work. I derive a certain type of joy from working on these particular stories that no other story I have worked on before has given me. I’ve decided to use this as my ‘dabble’ project, just something to tap into on the weekends and in my spare time. No deadlines, no pressure. Just pure creativity. That is what my soul needs right now.

This year, I have learned how to return to the pure joy of writing. I have remembered how to write just for me. To distract me, to lift my spirits. And if you too are struggling, I encourage you to seek out what you love, what sets your soul on fire, and do more of that.

This picture was taken on my first trip to Ireland in 2012. It is at Dún Aonghasa on Inishmore, one of the three Aran Islands, off the coast of Galway.

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Believe in your dreams, even now.

My writing goals have transitioned well during this strange time.
During lockdown, I have worked hard to get some tasks on my to-do list done, including re-publishing all of my previous releases to Kobo and Google Play Books.

My travel goals have not transitioned so well. I’ve been faced with some very challenging questions during my self-introspection, and I have spent quite a bit of time wondering how my travel wish-list will be impacted by this pandemic. I have had to let go of what I thought my travels would look like, to allow for a new picture to be painted.

My passion for exploring the world is as ingrained in me as my passion for writing. Just like my love of the written word, I feel like I was born with a passion for travel, and that it is part of my life’s purpose to have these experiences. And, like my passion for storytelling, I feel somewhere inside me that even this pandemic will not stop me from fulfilling my life’s purpose of world exploration.

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For a minute there, I lost myself.

To quote the Radiohead song ‘Karma Police’.

Last night, I was sitting up past midnight writing this blog post, having just surfaced from an episode of seriously ugly crying. Its the pandemic. Its the hate crime. It all hit me all at once, and not for the first time.

Since the 2020 shit show began, I have tried so hard to stay positive, to keep creating if for no other reason than to keep my own spirits up. Even if nobody cared what I was doing. Even if the news I shared with my followers about my writing and publishing progress was drowned out by world events. I wrote to cling to some sense of normality and purpose. Last night, I felt hopeless, and briefly lost sight of why I was writing.

I gave into the feelings that trying to pursue these creative goals was pointless. I’m smashing my goals, and I’m getting my books back into distribution. But the whole world is so distracted that doing these things sometimes feels like an act of ignorance. That by trying to continue to strive to reach my creative goals, I’m somehow in denial about the state of the world. That I shouldn’t be trying to draw people’s attention away from the current social issues we face by sharing my personal successes and progress.

Like so many other creatives (lets face it, all creatives) I have struggled with a sense that my creations are pointless right now. From pandemics to hate crimes, there so much uncertainty. People are distracted, mentally and emotionally exhausted, myself included. I’d like to think my stories provide people with an escape from reality, but do they really want the escape that I want to provide? Do they feel as guilty about escaping reality through reading as much as I feel guilty about enabling their escapism through my writing?

After writing all this down, my tears had calmed and my eyes were heavy and tired. It was nearly 1am, and I realized something again that I realized at the start of the pandemic. Something I monetarily forgot in the overwhelming sense of hopelessness. And what I realized is this.

At the core, my writing is for me. The simple act of writing lifts my spirits even when publishing feels pointless. So I will keep writing, no matter what. Whether the world pays attention or not.