All posts by Jodie How

Jodie How is a writer who blogs about life, relationships, wellbeing and writing. She aspires to publish both fiction and biographical works.

Book Reviews

I’ve read a few decent books of late, so I thought I’d share two reviews with you.

 

YOUR HEART IS AS BIG AS A FIST by Sunil Yapa

312 pp. Lee Boudreaux/Little, Brown & Company.

The plot is centred on the 1999 Seattle WTO protests where the main character, Victor, finally comprehends what the meaning of life is.

At the centre of the novel is the same question posed by the protests themselves: what kind of world do we want, and what must we do to get it?

You’ll either love this book, or hate it. There is a lot of violence throughout, so it’s definitely not for the faint-hearted.

Yapa has a unique writing style that is both raw and engaging.

You’ll find Yapa’s characters interesting and relatable. I believe he has successfully captured a deep beat of the human heart.

Yapa has brought a piece of modern history to life on the page and made it personal. An undercurrent of strong themes exists below a surface of evocative imagery.

FATES AND FURIES by Lauren Groff

390 pp. Riverhead Books.

Fates and Furies is a modern Greek tragedy which focuses on the marriage of Mathilde and Lotto (Lancelot). The book is divided into two sections – Fates depicts Lotto’s point of view; and Furies depicts Mathilde’s point of view.

Surprisingly, the story is more about life than marriage. It’s about screwing things up, surviving, trying and sometimes hitting on a win.

Fates and Furies isn’t your typical ‘women’s fiction’ book. It’s brooding, soap-opera style reminds me of Cloud Street, by Tim Winton.

Groff has a writing style that many readers will grow impatient with. Fellow writers, however, will appreciate the skill with which she weaves words.

If you’re looking for a light, easy read – this isn’t the book for you. It doesn’t have a typical happy ending and there is a lot of doom and gloom throughout.

Fates and Furies is a very good, but very oppressive story. You will carry a sense of dread with you through every chapter.

This book isn’t for the average reader, but for the select few who have a greater-than-average appreciation for drama.

 

Have you read any brilliant books lately?

 

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Month of the Flood

How’re you supposed to breathe when the water level is well above your head?

This is how I’ve felt for the past couple of weeks as anxiety flooded my inquisitive, musing brain. The worry causes a huge mental block. Anxiety dams my mind.

I tend to concentrate more on reading and less on writing in times of high anxiety. I’m onto my tenth book already this year – a tell-tale sign my stress levels have been high and I’ve not been writing much.

While a low-level of anxiety is always present for me, I’ve had to learn how to keep going at times when the worry consumes me. To be honest, sometimes I don’t keep going. But this month I’m managing okay.

For me, February is going to be all about meeting difficulties head on. I’m determined to swim through the murky situations that make me anxious.

I really hate swimming. I can’t use a snorkel. But oh well. Say ‘hi’ to me if you see me puffing by on the waves, my knuckles white as I clench my kickboard.

I’ll smile back at you.

 

Tell me how you deal with your anxieties?

 

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Literary Idols

Literary Idols

During a recent conversation, a friend asked me which authors inspire me the most and how. Here’s the answer to that question…

When I was very young, Enid Blyton captured my imagination with her Magic Tree tales. So fantastical and brilliant were her creations that I lived in these bizarre worlds for days on end. I loved to escape into the magical places she’d crafted. For me, Blyton’s enchanted tales were so adventurous and so believable that it was easy to tune out to everything else around me.

As I grew a bit older, I became interested in Roald Dahl’s tales. His unusual stories, where the main child character was always the champion, amused me no end. I found his writing was funny and a breeze to read. The antagonist was always someone so wretched that I wanted to get to the end to discover his or her horrible demise. By the time I grew out of Roald Dahl stories, I had read everything he’d ever written for children.

I then moved onto Paul Jennings. The quirkiness of this author’s plot lines and his bizarre characters completely drew me into his strange tales. In every one of his stories, I was compelled to solve the mysteries, and I loved discovering their answers.

By late primary school, I was enjoying a phase of horror fiction. My Goosebumps binge lasted for a while. The hardly-scary children’s stories by R. L. Stine appealed to my interest in terror and all things grim.

A. Montgomery was another favourite author at this time. I frequently ‘chose my own adventure’ and went on multiple versions of discovery within a single story. The mystery and novelty of these stories kept me hooked for some time.

As a young teen, I found myself engrossed in the works of Isobelle Carmody. Her Obernewtyn Chronicles had me charmed with the dystopian fantasy / post apocalyptic genre. (I also began to appreciate huge-arse books!) Carmody creates such believable fantasy worlds, deep characters with multiple dimensions and gripping plot lines. Her stories explore philosophical notions and the very soul of humanity.

In high school, I also discovered John Marsden. I found myself easily able to connect with his Australian stories and characters. Marsden’s tales deconstruct harsh realities and plunge right into human chaos. It was from reading this author’s books that I began to form a real attachment to characters in stories generally, and I grieved if they died.

As an adult, I’ve read countless novels and am inspired by numerous authors. Gillian Flynn is high on my list of revered artists. I love her gritty, crafty plots and her sharp, evocative writing style. She writes scenes with such efficient use of language. Scenes that make you want to throw up while simultaneously keeping you transfixed, turning page after page until the end. I know of no other author that can delve so deeply into the mind of such disturbed characters and write them with such accuracy.

So where do these inspiring authors leave me? They leave me with a hope of creating my own excellent stories. Stories that transcend the ordinary standard out there and soar to heights yet unreached.

If I can convince my readers to suspend their disbelief, no matter how absurd my story world is… If I can take my readers on a magnificent adventure full of mystery and discovery… If I can infuse my own quirkiness and make my readers smile… If I can create multidimensional characters that stand the test of time… then I will be a happy writer.

If I can shed light on, and create hope about, harsh realities… If I can make the boring old familiar topics of thought fresh and interesting again… If I can write with grit and precision… If I can keep my readers hooked and wanting more… then I will consider myself a successful writer.

Now that’s a long bill to fill, but I wouldn’t want the challenge to be any easier.

The best novels are always the result of the hardest challenges. I know, because I’ve been lucky enough to meet a couple of the literary heroes I’ve mentioned here.

 

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The Spoon Theory

I’d love for all of us to stop judging others on what they do and don’t achieve in life, whether they’re ‘normal’ or ill, or whether they’re ‘like us’ or not. Here’s why: we all carry a unique and limited number of ‘spoons’ to use each day. Let me explain.

The Spoon Theory is a genius analogy coined by Christine Miserandino.

The theory is especially relevant to me because I have a gut condition called Chronic Intestinal Pseudo Obstruction. This illness, along with depression, anxiety, a moderate pulmonary stenosis and an underactive thyroid, affects how much I can and can’t do on a daily basis.

The Spoon Theory is a fascinating, simple concept about the limit of physical resources a sick person has. By physical resources, I mean energy stores, muscular strength, the quality of sleep I’m able to get, and bodily malfunctions.

Anyone who sets out to understand the Spoon Theory will benefit from knowing about it, not just those with an illness or those who live with chronically ill people.

 

Time to read

I’ve shared the above two links, hoping you’ll read them now, before continuing with this post. Even if you consider yourself healthy and ‘normal’, please still look at them.

 

More than just a body

As well as the physical capacity of a person, the Spoon Theory can also be applied to a person’s mental and emotional reserves. It certainly applies to all three aspects for me, as I struggle daily to maintain homeostasis within my whole being.

In this age when depression is more widely and openly discussed, and there is greater public awareness about mental health issues, I think this is an important point to remember.

 

Spoon supply

Each day, week, month, brings with it a varied amount of spoon supplies. Life is ever changing and for me, there are rarely a reliable number of spoons at my disposal each day.

If I’ve had more sleep, I have more spoons to use. If my body is being less symptomatic, I have greater concentration and more energy. If my son has been well behaved, I have more mental space to be mindful and keep my depression in check (resulting in a lower likelihood of depressive ‘slumps’). This can also apply to people who are quite well.

So many elements in life use up one’s spoon stores – not just illness. Relationship issues, children, work and many other things take away from each person’s supply. Sometimes those ‘other things’ deplete a person’s spoon supply so much that it leaves them with no spoons to use for him- or her- self at the end of a day.

 

Effects of The Spoon Theory

Maybe, given my medical condition, I aspire to achieve too much, but I’m determined to experience as much as a motivated healthy person in this life. I’m ambitious in spirit but poor physical and mental health has always limited what dreams I can realistically accomplish.

Because of the Spoon Theory, I’m a lot more okay with my limited capacity than I used to be. Discovering the theory brought some freedom into my life. I was able to lower the lofty height of ‘the bar’ I’d always set for myself.

My loved ones have all read about the Spoon Theory and it’s really helped them to manage their expectations of me. This has resulted in a happier, more relaxed Jodie. The funny thing is, when I’m feeling so well supported, I can generally give more back.

 

Got a spoon?

And that’s why I’d love us to stop judging others based on what they do and don’t achieve in life, whether they’re ‘normal’ or ill, or whether they’re ‘like us’ or not.

Everyone has their own number of spoons. Everyone has their own capacities and weaknesses to face, and strengths to deal with life’s challenges.

Why don’t we start thinking about whether we have a spare spoon we can lend to someone (sick or healthy) who doesn’t have as many as they need?

Being given a spoon is one of the greatest gifts anyone could bestow upon me. Thank you to everyone who has ever given me one of their spoons. I’ll always be grateful.

 

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Greyscale

I

The air is thick with it.

 

Not exhaust fumes

or factory emissions.

Not bonfire, barbeque

or cigarette smoke.

 

Not anything that

speaks of life.

 

These are the flames,

the sparks,

the vapours,

of death.

 

Death

to the material world.

 

Death

to the great

Australian dream.

 

Death

to sense of place

and belonging.

 

All is burnt,

Burnt to the ground.

 

Annihilation

of beloved homes,

long held dreams

and tangible memories.

 

 

II

So helpless they stand

and watch –

their life’s work

going up in smoke.

 

Everything now lost to

the raging firestorm.

 

What will they do and

where will they go?

Homeless, destitute… survivors.

 

III

Not a single soul stirs.

 

All hues of colour erased,

the landscape; desaturated.

 

Everything…

now grey scale.

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Española

El que quiera pescado que se moje el culo.

(He who wants fish should get his arse wet.)

Meaning: If you want something, get it yourself.

 

Remember the Australian film, Strictly Ballroom, starring Paul Mecurio? It came out in 1992 and became one of my childhood favourites. (Yes, I don’t mind Baz Luhrmann-style productions.)

Around the same time, one of my Australian uncles moved to Spain and made it his permanent home. The idea of being an Australian and living in a foreign country seemed way-out-crazy to my single-digit-brain. The extraordinary idea drew me in like a fishpond draws in a cat.

The result of me detecting all this foreign country space ‘junk’ orbiting my brain was the birth of my curiosity in the world. An intense interest in foreign nations and peoples grew within me, especially for Spain and the Spanish. I became as alert as a meerkat every time something Spanish blipped on my radar.

I’ve claimed for far too long that one day I’ll visit my uncle in Spain and experience Spanish culture. I’d really prefer to live in Spain (for at least a few months) with my husband and son.

Living such a lofty dream feels unachievable for someone like me, but I hold onto the hope that one day I’ll get to Spain. And I’ll work hard to make my dream come true.

So I’ve decided this year to take the first steps towards making this dream come true. I’m going to do a free online course with some buddies to learn the basics of the Spanish language. I cannot tell you how excited I am!

Afterall, Más vale tarde que nunca. (Better late than never.)

 

(If you’re interested in joining my online Spanish language group – let me know.)

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A NEW HOPE

The New Year is just around the corner and I have high hopes.

2015 drained me emotionally. The year was relentlessly hard in all ways and may have even been one of the hardest years of my life.

Is it wrong to expect that the magic turn of 2015 into 2016 will change anything in my life? Probably. But I have to hope for something; and right now it’s for a better year ahead.

I’ll be working hard in 2016 to create the positive changes I need in my life. I don’t expect anything good to be just handed to me inside a golden egg. I know life doesn’t work like that.

I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions, but this time I’m going to write a list of goals for 2016. Maybe together they’ll create a pathway for me. Or maybe I’ll forget them. I don’t know.

I’m excited about plunging back into writing again next year. I want to dive deeper, and achieve more, creatively, in 2016.

I’m also looking forward to learning Spanish with a dear friend. Possibly others will join us and we’ll form a group. The geographical distances between us will mean we’ll need to create some kind of online community to do this. I’ve no idea about how we’ll do any of it yet, but it’ll be an adventure. I’ve wanted to learn a second language since my teens.

The Perth Writer’s Festival will be on in late February 2016, and I’m excited to be attending again. I’ve already organised my accommodation with a city friend.

So I guess I’ll keep looking upward and moving forward as best I can. Even if at times it feels like I’m hobbling with one leg amputated, metaphorically speaking, and my brain a scrambled mess.

What are you most looking most forward to in 2016?

 

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End of Year Blues

I’m feeling more emotional than usual for this time of year, and I miss the happy excitement of the festive spirit that I usually enjoy in December.

In the last three years, my family has lost two loved ones. There’s only been one recent Christmas when we’ve not felt the stabbing grief of loss.

This year, my Grandad is in palliative care. He doesn’t want to be here with us anymore. We don’t know how much longer he’s got, but we know it isn’t long. It’s probable that we’ll lose him before Christmas day.

So again, we will be grieving together at Christmas time this year.

I know that Christmas isn’t a happy time for everyone and I have to make it clear that I’m so grateful for the many happy Christmas days I’ve had in my life. But this year my heart is heavy again.

I’m fortifying my soul for our impending loss. That means I’m trying not to dwell on the sadness I feel. I’m trying to relish the nostalgia that comes with my family’s traditions. As much as I can, I’m living through the young eyes of my excited son.

If you are finding this time of year hard on your heart, please know that this sadness will pass and all things will be new again soon. 2016 is not far away.

Make sure you reach out to hold someone’s hand. And cry as much as you need to – preferably on the shoulder of someone who loves you.

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WHAT IS A HEALTHY DIET?

GUEST POST by Sarah Eve Matthews

We’re all different, so why should there be one diet that serves all of us? What’s healthy for you might be different to what’s healthy for the next person or what I consider healthy for myself. Is anyone ultimately right on what is healthy?

These days, research that’s done on a product is often funded by the same company that developed the product. Results are biased and can be very misleading. Who can we trust? How do we know what’s best for us? Who should we seek for the answers?

I believe the answer is to listen to your own body. Do you feel sick or sluggish after eating certain foods? Do other foods give you energy and make you feel good? Do some foods give you a boost then leave you flat? If we can learn to respond to what our bodies are telling us, we’ll get better at understanding what healthy is for us.

Medical food journal, The Lancet, published a global study regarding obesity rates. It stated that in Australia, nearly 25% of children and 63% of adults are obese.

We’re becoming a fast food nation – really fast. People eat out regularly, creating a new generation of people who think it’s the norm, rather than the occasional treat. When I was growing up in the 70’s, it was a rare thing to have take-out. I remember having fried chicken twice, fish and chips on a Friday night and roast chicken a few other times. That’s a time span of over 12 years. For many people, that’s the norm for a week or just a few days.

One thing I hope we can all agree on is that fast food is indeed junk food and not something to be considered healthy. But it’s not just fast food that’s junk food. Packaged and processed food (full of numbers) can be found anywhere in the supermarket – including the so-called ‘Health Food’ isle. A quick glance at the ingredients on the packet will tell you if it’s real food or just an attempt to sell you an over priced, sugared, high fat, high sodium item that’s low in nutrition. Drinks can also be full of sugar and chemicals (in amounts we wouldn’t normally consume).

So what is healthy for you? Educate yourself, listen to your body and read the labels before purchasing packaged food. Decide whether what you’re eating is nutrient dense or a food imitation made to satisfy a craving.

How does food make you feel? Do you have the energy you need to function? Are you drinking enough water? Only you can answer these questions and only you can give your body the right fuel it needs.

Through research and experimentation, I have discovered that for me, a plant based wholefood approach is the way. It makes me feel great, gives me plenty of energy and helps me maintain a healthy weight.

Sarah has a YouTube channel called Vegan Style Cooking which focuses on recipes for a wholefood plant based diet. She’s currently working on a recipe and guidebook for this type of eating. She overcame significant health issues and lost weight through diet changes, meditation and yoga. Now, she hopes to help other people by sharing her journey and recipes via https://www.youtube.com/c/VeganStyleCookingwithSarah

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Dumb Things that Happen

The clock is ticking. Time might be my enemy today.

I notice a couple in their SUV, pulling out of a driveway. I wonder if they’re nice, normal people and then decide to take the risk and ask them to give me a lift.

I’m really hot and tired by this stage and I’m worried about getting back to my sister’s house in time to make my appointment, which is an hour’s drive further north than I’ve already travelled.

Today, I have a medical appointment at a hospital three hours north of where I live. I left home early with my three-year-old, in a luggage-packed car and plenty of time on my side. I’m about to get the quickest answer to prayer I’ve ever received.

Let me back up for a minute.

I’ve driven to my sister’s house where my son and I are staying for two nights. After dropping my son off at his Granddad’s to be babysat for the day, I park on the lawn, unlock the front door, drop my handbag (with everything in it) inside the front door and return to the car to unpack.

I’ve taken everything out of the car and piled it up outside the house.

I grasp the lever on the front door. It won’t move. A feeling of dread plummets into my tummy. The door has made a vile move against me on this busy, hot day and self-locked. The bitch!

I pat my hands around my jeans pockets, searching for my mobile phone. I have no phone, car keys, nothing. They’re all in my handbag inside the house. A whispered curse escapes my lips. Of all days, this cannot be happening today!

Panic turns into quick thinking and I start knocking on neighbours’ front doors until I find one who’ll not only open their door to me, but also let me use their phone.

I call my husband. My husband calls my brother-in-law. My brother-in-law calls me. He’s in Perth with the spare key, working. The only other spare key is with my niece and she’s at school. Fortunately, the school isn’t too far away.

I have to leave everything (including my unlocked car and several valuables) and walk to the school. Well, that’s where I think I’m going.

It’s 11am, 33 degrees celsius and I’m already feeling too hot. I’m puffing, I’m scared of burning and also worried about passing out (I have a history of heat exhaustion).

The school feels like a light year away. I’m not even sure I’m heading in the right direction. After about ten minutes, I discover I’m heading in the wrong direction and turn around. And that brings me back to the couple pulling out of a driveway in their SUV.

The couple clearly thinks I’m strange but respond kindly to my request for a lift and take me to my niece’s school. I thank them repeatedly then wait at reception in the air conditioning while the key is being retrieved from my niece in class. I’m feeling impatient but try to relax.

The key is finally in my hot little hands and I start walking back. Two minutes pass and I’m already completely over the heat so I squash my pride and employ my hitchhikers thumb. Another risk.

No one stops. I hope someone is going to pick me up and take me back to my sister’s house – not some unfamiliar place to slaughter me. I try not to think about all the possible things an evil person could do to me.

I’ve been whispering prayers in my head up until this point.

This time I literally pray out loud for the very next car to pick me up. Two seconds later, a car approaches. The driver stops and invites me to sit in the passenger seat. There’s a cute Chihuahua in the back seat. The nice old lady drops me back at my sister’s house.

I unlock the house door, again, go inside, drink copious amounts of water and tear my jeans off to cool down. I still have time on my side. I’ll make it in time for my MRI appointment at the hospital after all.

Far. Out!

 

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