March 12th, 2012

All's well

I don't know if it's been as noticeable to other people as it has been to me, but the last few days I have had a new sort of funky vision. I was trying to get to my normal person about it, but the long weekend got in the way. Eventually I phoned the 24 hour health advice line and they sent me to my doctor. "Tell them it's urgent," the lady said.

I did, and so a nurse looked at me and consulted with the doctor. "It's nothing to worry about." So I waited nearly 2 hours to see the doctor, in queue with everyone else. The doctor took it more seriously. She rang the hospital and told them I was coming and she wrote me a referral and she told me, "NO, don't go via home. Ring your friends from here and see if they can help." For it is a long weekend and bus services are fuzzy and taxi fares exceptionally dear. And I was urgent, but not ambulance material, which was reassuring.

A friend took care of me and waited for me the whole afternoon and her husband fed me dinner tonight.

Anyhow, at the hospital the staff member triaging didn't say "wait ten hours" but "Wait til I've handled this ambulance." Then he took all my details and called up my case history and looked at my letter and said "We'll bring in an ophthalmologist. They may be a little while - it depends where they live." I went to sit with my friend.

Five minutes later, a nurse came. "The doctor wants to see you first," she said. For a doctor to see me ahead of vast queues of people means they actually *had* looked at my case record. Last time my right eye went funky was when my heart also went funky. Also, later it appeared that there are other causes of funky vision than the one I had and that they're rather foul - I'm glad I was cleared of them!

The only bed was the isolation ward, so I got a private room, with very pretty walls and my very own toilet. Also a very comfy bed. I rested on the nice bed and admired the walls and waited. Before I got used to the idea of waiting (first time I went to the hospital, for something that proved more serious than my eye, I had to wait eight hours to be seen) a young doctor came and checked me. He particularly liked making me stick out my tongue. "It's only the eye," he reassured me. "I'll just write up my case notes."

Before he could return, the opthamologist had appeared and had to chase him and my case notes. He did some initial tests and then gave my eyes their first set of drops. I was offered my very fine isolation ward if I wanted to rest, or I could use a chair in the normal corridor waiting area. I chose the chair: someone else needed that ward, I suspected. After the twenty minutes the drops needed to work, the specialist took me and two others with him to the eye clinic, which had been opened specially for us. Actually, more for the guy from Bega who needed an operation. Laser, he said - they have a good hospital in Bega, but not the right equipment for this operation. Three and a half hours they drove 9for roads were closed) for his urgent operation. I shamefully admitted that It had taken me five minutes to get there. I didn't admit to the hours waiting at the doctor's, earlier.

Lots of bright lights and more drops and careful examinations later and I was fine. I have vitreous detachment. It normally happens with older people, but I do have extreme eyes and so it was no big surprise it had happened now. Apparently I will become accustomed to my new, even-more-funky vision (the level of funk depends on the state of the blood swirling - the blood always looks black, but sometimes it looks like streaks and sometimes tendrils and sometimes critters racing out of sight). I go back to hospital for a check-up next week.

And that was my holiday Monday.

Women's History Month - Deborah Kalin

Given the majority of my professional colleagues are Australian women authors, the brief for this blog post seemed impossible. How could I possibly pick just one?

So I decided to be a little unfair, and pick the woman who first taught me about writing, at least formally: Margo Lanagan.

I really don't think I need to sing the praises of Margo's writing: if you know of her work at all, you'll know it is fearless and flawless. But it isn't just her writing that's lovely: Margo herself, it won't surprise anyone to hear, is a wonder to know.

I had the honour of being one of her students at Clarion South 2005. She took us for the fourth week -- so anyone who's heard anything of Clarion should know what I mean when I say we were all decidedly loopy from sleep deprivation by this point. I was also completely without any story ideas, and tied up in knots by that. First thing Monday morning, Margo gave us each a card with an image on it, and asked us to write one paragraph on that image. Just one paragraph, anywhere our minds and that image took us. I was so paralysed by the fear that we'd have to read out prompt paragraph aloud to the class that I couldn't write a single thing until the third and last card, which had the words "The children knew better." (I still have the paragraph that line prompted; one day it will turn into something.)

My fears turned out to be unfounded, of course. When we'd all finished our paragraphs, Margo smiled and said, "You have 3 weeks of Clarion left. Now you have three stories started, ready to write. So you don't need to worry about having no ideas."

I was utterly blown away: that she'd come to us with an attitude not of what she could teach us, but of what she could give us. She understood where we were in the grinding mill that is the Clarion process (i.e. starting to fall apart), and in asking us to write those three paragraphs she gave us the light at the end of the tunnel. It was such a quiet, thoughtful, enabling gift.

I remember her "rules": never to use amongst, amidst, or whilst; never to employ the scent of jasmine; never be afraid of inventing a word if the perfect meaning you need lies only in a word having an imperfect fit in the rest of the sentence. They were all delivered whimsically, but all touched on a firm truth: that a writer can never be lazy, can never settle for "near enough" when searching for the perfect word or scansion. That a writer must not flinch from their subject matter. I wrote Shadow Queen -- with its difficult tale of a young girl trapped and twisted by a captivating personality who has more power than she -- with Margo's voice in my head telling me I could never back away from what I'd put on the page.

Margo taught me that precision matters. One day I hope to do justice to that lesson.

Deborah Kalin is not entirely sure who she is. The author of The Binding books, she cannot help but hope one Christmas will bring her a pet quetzalcoatlus. In the meantime, she'll settle for a book.

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ETA: Twelfth Planet Press is delighted to announce that fantasy author Deborah Kalin has joined the Twelve Planets series with a collection featuring her beautifully horrific story, “Wages of Honey”. Read more about this announcement at the TPP blog ( and on Deborah's blog (