From the Lighthouse: a writerly interview

From the Lighthouse writing and reading podcastDespite being unable to leave my house 87% of the time, I was invited for a guest interview on the reading and writing podcast From the Lighthouse with Stephanie Russo and Michelle Hamadache.

The interview was great fun, and I was able to share two key tips for writers, which I’m particularly keen on: setting rejection goals, and joining a public speaking club (like this particular one in Sydney’s Inner West). I also suggest rubbing salt in your wounds on an hourly basis because that is what it is to be a writer.

 

 

Why I do not trust doctors, part III

This time the doctor was a woman in her forties. She wore hot pink velour sweatpants. Her fingernails extended an inch past her fingertips, with electric yellow and green tiger-stripe polish and press-on diamond rhinestones. Her make-up was caked, her hair dyed pink. Of all that, it was the sweatpants that really threw me because what was this? Pyjama day at the walk-in clinic? I don’t remember what I went to see her for. I don’t remember what she advised me. In fact, I never heard what she advised me. I’m not a huge believer in the value of workplace dress codes, but I spent the entire time thinking is this woman actually a doctor?

 

Why I do not trust doctors, part II

Eyeball by Ashley Kalagian Blunt

The whites of my eyes turned noticeably yellow. Banana yellow. I did not want to see a doctor about this, because I otherwise felt fine.

My eyeball yellowness went on several days. I stared at my eyeballs in the bathroom mirror. Was this yellowness the start of something? Early onset jaundice?

I called the nurse’s advice hotline. The nurse would advise me what to do.

‘I don’t know what could be causing that,’ she said. ‘You need to see a doctor.’

‘ … What if I didn’t see a doctor?’

‘My advice is for you to see a doctor.’ You could tell she was stating this clearly so that if I died of yellow eye, my family couldn’t dig up a recording of this call and sue.

I went to a different walk-in clinic. This time, I saw a young woman who wore a white lab coat. There wasn’t even any dog hair on it.

‘What are you here about?’

‘The whites of my eyes have turned yellow.’

She shone a tiny flashlight in my eyes. Then she laughed. ‘Well, I don’t know how yellow the whites of your eyes normally are.’

‘They’re normally white.’

‘Uh-huh.’ She laughed again. ‘I’m not sure what you want me to say.’

I went home. A few days later, my eyeballs returned to their usual colour.

 

Why I do not trust doctors, part I

Canadian winter by Ashley Kalagian Blunt

I woke up one morning with my left eye swollen shut and a hard lump protruding from my eyebrow. The upper left region of my face had gone full puff. Nothing like this had ever happened before, and I couldn’t figure out any explanation for it. By lunchtime the swelling hadn’t gone down, so I went to the walk-in clinic.

The doctor was a stooped, wrinkled man with snow-white hair. If a police officer had later asked me to guess his age, I would have said 90. His navy blazer was three sizes too large, making him look like a kid playing dress-up. More disturbingly, the blazer was coated in white dog hair. This man looked less like a medical professional and more like a homeless guy who’d wandered in from the alley.

I pointed to my eye. He reached a withered finger toward me and pressed on the lump, hard.

‘It’s an insect bite. Might even be a wasp sting.’

This was January in Winnipeg, Canada. Outside, the snow banks were up past my knees. I had not seen a wasp in months, probably because they were all dead or hibernating underground through the winter. Maybe he was a hobo who’d recently arrived from Florida and hadn’t yet figured out what insects to randomly attribute his extremely professional diagnoses to.

Also, I feel like I would have known if a wasp had stung me on the face.

I went home. The swelling went away on its own.

Congratulations, you’ve won post-infective fatigue syndrome

Congratulations, you've got post-infective fatigue syndromeThank you for playing Why Am I So Sick All The Time? It’s been an exciting several months, but we’re finally ready to announce the outcome. Remember, all of these conditions and more were in the mix:
Lupus
Malaria
Ross river fever
An allergy to cockroaches
Pregnancy
Maybe some kind of cancer?
Multiple sclerosis
Syphilis

After much consideration and approximately 8500 blood tests, we’re delighted to announce that you have chronic fatigue syndrome! But wait, there’s more! Medically unexplained fatigue comes in a variety of colours and styles:
Standard chronic fatigue
Post-cancer fatigue
Post-concussion fatigue
Post-infective fatigue

Since you’re lucky enough to have post-infective fatigue syndrome (or PIFS, for fun), you’re probably wondering what ‘infection’ you had that kicked this all off, right? Well, it could have been anything. A cold, a flu, that one time you sneezed so loud your husband dropped his iPhone in the sink. In fact, the infection could have been subclinical, meaning you never had any symptoms! Imagine that!

Curious how post-infective fatigue differs from standard chronic fatigue? No-one will adequately explain that to you, ever.

With PIFS, you can enjoy a wide range of new and unpredictable symptoms, including but not limited to the following:

Fatigue, obviously
You’re so tired, it feels like you’ve been awake for a week straight. It feels like you just ran an ultra marathon. You’re so tired, the physical act of holding yourself upright in a chair is unbearable.

Wakefulness
Combing nicely with your overwhelming tiredness is a complete inability to fall asleep or even catch a short nap. Ideally, you should be awake as much as possible to contemplate all the things you could be doing if you weren’t so horrifically exhausted. This also gives you ample time to catch up on social media, so you can see how everyone else’s lives have gone on without you. Look at all your friends and family, achieving their goals and living life to the fullest!

Impaired concentration & short-term memory
You know that thing when someone introduces themselves and you forget their name within 8.29 seconds? Now imagine that for every third thing said to you. And you know how sometimes, you walk in a room and you can’t remember what you wanted there? Well, replace sometimes with always. And replace walk in a room with open a cupboard or click on a desktop file. Then you’ll get it. Except you won’t, because by the time you’ve reached the end of a sentence, you’ve forgotten how it started. Something about mangoes?

Pseudo-nausea
Are you nauseous? Or are you just so tired you’re starting to mistake that for nausea? It’s hard to tell!

‘Unrefreshing sleep’
This is the technical term specialists use to describe how even when you do get a decent night’s sleep, you’ll wake up feeling like you’ve been run over by a lawn aerator.

Shortness of breath
Sometimes your lungs feel constricted and you can’t get a full breath. Maybe you’ve got asthma. You never had asthma before, but maybe you’ve coincidentally developed asthma at the exact same time as this other mystery condition. No, seriously, pay $25 to blow into this tube. Blow! Blow! Blow! Well, there’s definitely something wrong with your lungs, and it’s definitely not asthma. That’s all we know.

Thank you for playing Why Am I So Sick All The Time? We hope you enjoy your new life with PIFS!

 

The 7 Wonders of My Sock Drawer

  1. Sausage dog made from plastic cocktail sausages
  2. 7.35 in convertible pesos smuggled out of Cuba
  3. Piece of fool’s silver (balled-up aluminum foil)
  4. Journal with entries for January 1 through 3, 1997, remainder blank
  5. Really old raisins or maybe rat droppings
  6. Bar of soap shaped like a toilet
  7. Three socks without holes (unmatching)

The writing year in review

In 2017, I became increasingly unwell and was eventually diagnosed with an untreatable chronic illness. This was not one of my new year’s resolutions.

I’d created this space to post comedy snippets, but things don’t seem as funny when your body is a prison. I know, it’s not a great punchline. Still, looking back at this year, I managed to write some things, things that were published various places. Here are the highlights:

Griffith Review
Today Is Already Yesterday: Growing up with the digital revolution

The Australian
The Choice: Auschwitz survivor deals with Mengele and freedom

Sydney Review of Books
The Crime of Crime: Genocide, A World History

The Cusp
I Tracked Every Dollar I Spent for 8 Year. Here’s What I Learned.
The Introvert’s Guide to Networking
I Tried 10 Productivity Hacks. Here’s What Worked. 
Your Guide to Surviving a Long Distance Relationship
How to Give to Charity Without Spending Money
 

Newtown Review of Books
Adult Fantasy by Briohny Doyle
Portable Curiosities by Julie Koh
The Year of the Orphan by Daniel Findlay
The Promise of Things by Ruth Quibell

How to Write 3 Memoirs by the Age of 35, Lee Kofman’s The Writing Life 
Picasso’s Accountant, Swamp Writing
Local StoriesCiao Magazine

Shortlistings
Full of Donkey: Travels in Armenia, shortlisted for the 2017 Kill Your Darlings Unpublished Manuscript Award
How to Be Australian, shortlisted for the Lane Cove Literary Awards, memoir

Events
Blind Dating with Books, Noted Festival
Talking Writing: Casing the Joint, NSW Writers’ Centre
Millennials Strike Back, Newtown Festival Writers’ Tent
Raw Comedy Semifinals, Comedy Store
How Not to Be Australian, Story Club

Story Club comedy performance, 'How Not to Be Australian' by Ashley Kalagian BluntI suppose I should have some hope that I might be able to accomplish more in 2018 than merely lying on the couch binge-watching all 19 seasons of SVU, even if being funny seems as impossible as being healthy does.

2017’s Hottest Fashion Trends

Ashley Kalagian Blunt hottest fashion trends

  1. Habanero sauce, rubbed everywhere
  2. Skirt made from rings of fire
  3. Miniature Hadron Collider vest, set to 9.9 trillion °F
  4. Actual fireplace strapped to your waist
  5. Paper mâché volcano hat
  6. Suit made of quasars (they’re very hot)
  7. Full-body skin suit of 2017’s Sexiest Man Alive
  8. Gloves that are actually Carolina Reaper peppers
  9. Dwarf star fascinator
  10. The Hope Diamond, after you stole it
  11. Flame-shooting bra
  12. Suit of toast fresh out of the toaster

 

Scene from a holiday

Winnipeg in winter, under a blanket of snowArriving in Australia to discover four weeks annual leave was standard – plus you might get some extra leave at Christmas, just because – was like getting a hug from a rainbow unicorn. It was not quite Western Europe’s six-week leave extravaganzas, but I wasn’t going to complain.

Except that four weeks of leave in Australia is nowhere near enough. At least not if your family lives in the middle of the Canadian prairies, because you are morally obligated to use at least three of those weeks to visit said family. And getting yourself there involves the modern travel equivalent of paying thousands of dollars to churn your own arm through a meat grinder.

First you must twitch and writhe all the way across the world’s largest ocean and, for the first time in your life, use one of those airsickness bags for its intended purpose (sneakily, so the stranger beside you doesn’t notice). This brings you to LAX, also known as Satan’s Playpen, where, guess what? You’ve missed your connection and your luggage is on its way to Houston. Goodbye, luggage! Enjoy your new life!

You spend six hours facedown on the carpet at Gate 91 until you fly to Minneapolis, where the airport is a mall (excuse me, ‘shopping centre’) next to an even larger mall (excuse me, ‘corporate hate crime’).

It is -27 degrees Celsius in Minneapolis, and you are finally on another plane. But then it stops abruptly just seconds after reversing out of the gate. The plane sits on the tarmac for 20 minutes, and you wonder if they are de-icing the wings with that blue chemical spray that has the same hue as toilet bowl cleaner, because that is an extra thing fun that has to happen in winter climates otherwise you might die.

But no, there is another problem.

‘It seems one of the straps used around the plane’s front tire has gotten stuck because of the cold weather, and wouldn’t you know the ground crew just can’t get it unstuck there, folks,’ the pilot says. ‘They think that if everybody in the first, well, let’s say six rows or so, if everybody could just head to the back of the plane, that might shift the weight and take some of the pressure off that tire.’

It is this sort of technical solution that gives you so much confidence in the aviation industry. Several rows of disgruntled passengers trudge past. The entire plane seems to hold its breath.

‘Well, the ground crew says that worked, so you can return to your seat, folks, and after we get the wings de-iced, we can be on our way.’

You’re so glad you’ve used a year’s worth of leave for this.