Author Archives: Rebecca J. Richardson // The Rebecca Project

How is it Almost December?

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As quickly as November was ushered in, it has been rushed out. Things seem to be moving faster now, and I find myself worrying again about time. Where did this year go? How is it possible we’re a month today from Christmas? I’m running out of time.

Healing

But recovering from this broken wrist has forced me to slow down, to sit. To ponder. I’ve spent mornings reading, enjoyed lunches at my mate’s cafe, afternoons writing and walking the dog, and casual dinners with friends. I tried to listen to what my body needed, and taking care of myself has reignited my creative spark.

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There’s a real buoyancy and energy I’ve felt as I’ve progressed through the stages of healing. I’m still months off regaining reasonable movement in my wrist, but it’s slowly coming along. Each time I am able to do something for the first time again, I take note. Three seconds of downward dog? Check. Putting my hand on my hip? Check. I am feeling reenergised in a way that had eluded me before. I can’t put my finger on why, but I’m not questioning it. More please!

The Land

This land recharges my spirit in a way that I so desperately needed. The overexposed summer days. The infinite blues of the sky. The cool green/blue waters. The smell of an impending thunderstorm. The purple Jacaranda flowers carpeting the green lawns. The searing heat with kiln-like winds blowing in from western NSW. The colours are the first thing I miss when I’m overseas. They cannot be duplicated, replicated.

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The New Year

I’m returning to the Bay Area in the new year, but not before I have my fill of blinding sunshine and roasting hot sands of summer. I am looking forward to going back, but know that it’ll be harder to leave Sydney, my family and friends this time around. It gets infinitely harder every time.

Surgery, Trakkies and Champagne

The registrar asked if I had seen my x-rays, and I shook my head in the negative. Her face dropped and she said, “Ooooh!” rather ominously, then asked us to follow her into a consulting room. I looked at my sister with wide eyes, and whispered to her, “That’s not good. Not good.”

The next ten minutes were a blur of medical terms, hastily hatched questions, repeated answers and confusion. The registrar was of average height with short brown hair and had the air of a woman permanently tired. Her accent I guessed originated somewhere in the Russian world, and made my multiple breaks sound slightly more exotic. After a short wait, the kindly nurse (who was the doppelgänger of my friend Philippa in California) took me to spend what was left of the night in their waiting ward. It was just after 2am. I was given a shot of morphine in the belly, farewelled my sister and attempted to sleep with the bulky half-cast weighing down my arm.

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A few hours later, I was transferred up to the Day Surgery ward where I spent the next two days observing all the comings and goings. Hospitals can be fascinating places, the site of some of the most painful and joyous occasions in life. And I saw this pain/joy dichotomy in the woman who occupied in the bed beside me for a couple of hours. Her sister and husband-in-law had driven her down to Sydney from the western districts of NSW and were waiting with her. Judging by the Professor and his gaggle of med students following him around like little ducklings, her surgery was a big deal.

She had an aggressive form of bowel cancer and the Professor was about to perform an incredibly complex surgery that was due to last ten hours. The ice-blue curtain was drawn all morning, but I could still hear her clear-headed questions, her voice unwavering. She was due to spend at least a week following the operation in intensive care, and her sister was instructed only to bring her children to visit if she didn’t have too many tubes and scary-looking machines. It was hoped that the marathon surgery would rid her of cancer and reconstruct her internal organs, hopefully providing her with a better quality of life than she had previously. And although I waited for my surgery with good humour and a patience unknown in my regular life (patience is not a virtue I possess!), it was still a stark reminder that I only had a broken wrist. It was small fry, comparatively, and I was grateful.

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A few hours later, Mum brought a few creature comforts from home that made my day: the black-out sleeping eye mask enabled me to snooze at any time of the day or night, a scarf for warmth and a book to read. I was still in my basketball gear from the night before, so sliding out of the lycra and into trakkies was heavenly! My favourite sports bra was the only casualty. There was no way I could wriggle out of it, so I thanked it for its service, and was promptly cut out of it. Such is life.

It was after 6pm when the surgeon came to see me. Some of the other procedures had run long, so I had to wait another day. It really didn’t faze me — I was well looked after and tomorrow was only a few hours away. I was scheduled to be first into theatre tomorrow, but I was a little upset because it meant I would be unable to make it to the footy game that night. “Oh, you’re a fellow Roosters fan!” he exclaimed.
“Um, I meant the Swans, actually,” I said. Different football code.
“Oh,” he replied. “In that case, there’s an opening for surgery late next week…” he joked.

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Overnight, the woman two beds over had severe sleep apnoea, and the young guy in the bed behind me tried to harm himself and was moved to a different part of the makeshift ward. Things escalated with him in the morning, and also with a middle-aged Chinese woman who reacted badly to the medication they gave her and went off the deep end, screaming in Mandarin and throwing things at the staff. When you’re in hospital for an extended period of time, you come to appreciated just how hard the nursing staff work and how tough the conditions can be.

Morning arrived. I spoke to the surgeon and his junior sidekick about the plan for surgery, then the anaesthetist (who just happened to be a dead ringer of my friend Ishara in SF). Sometime after 8am, she rolled me out of Day Surgery and down along the corridors, past all the flourescent lights all lined up in perfect rows. When you’re under the influence of morphine, time seems to lack the usual indicators. I chatted to the staff whilst we all waited in the antebellum for theatre, but it could have been a minute or half an hour.

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Eventually, we rolled in to the crisp white suite, the space age lights hanging from the ceiling. It was as I pictured it: stark, clinical, but also a little newer than expected. Only the surgeon’s eyes were on display, but he was too far away for me to recognise him minus my glasses. I could only go by his voice. We agreed on what procedure I was having, and I felt comfortable that I would not be having my tonsils removed or my leg amputated in error. But there was no instruction to “count backwards from 100″, just the anaesthetist’s guide that I’d be experience a cold feeling, followed by a sensation of having consumed a few champagnes. From the cannula in my left hand I felt the liquid enter my blood stream and sprint up my left arm as I started to feel drunk, and then…

I awoke in the same bed back in the Day Surgery ward, more than a little groggy from the ‘champagne’. For the second afternoon in a row, my sister came to sit with me. She worked remotely on her laptop whilst I chilled in the bed and napped and recovered. We may not have done a whole lot of talking, and certainly not about anything of consequence, but I really appreciated the company. I know she’s got my back.

The surgery to insert the titanium plate and eight screws had gone well, as did the removal of the extra bone fragments that would have caused me grief. My right wrist felt a million times better than it had only a few hours previously, no longer like it was tied in a knot. Such a relief! I was to keep the half-cast dry and to see the specialist in two weeks to remove the stitches.

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At the end of the day, I was finally discharged. Although I had to give away my ticket to the Swans Preliminary Final, my sister and I still made it back home with just over and hour to spare before the game started. I can barely remember it — and I think we each were only able to manage one slice of pizza each — but the Swans beat North Melbourne by 71 points. I’d like to think that I took one for the team by breaking my wrist, but then in the Grand Final a week later the Swans were humiliated by almost the same margin. So it was all a little hollow. But I still had perspective: my wrist had been repaired by the skillful surgeons at St George Hospital and was on the mend, so losing a Grand Final (especially in my morphine haze)  was small fry.

Life’s good.

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The Preliminary Final

Sometimes life bites you in the arse. Hard.

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I took a tumble at basketball on Wednesday night and have spent the last 44 hours in hospital. I had surgery this morning to have a plate inserted in my wrist. But I cried when it was apparent I wouldn’t make it to see the Swans in the Preliminary Final tonight.

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So I have made it home with 90 minutes to spare. My lovely sister is cooking fancy pizza, I’m freshly bathed and morphined up. And we’re going to Cheer Cheer the red and the white from the comfort of the couch.

Early Morning Plane Spotting and Thoughts on MH17

Being a night owl, I rarely get out to the airport in the early morning. But on Thursday, I was on pick-up duty, so I dragged myself out of bed a little earlier to make it down to my favourite spot before I was due at the Arrivals hall. Vietnam Airlines Lost parcel Botany Bay It was the morning before we heard the tragic news about MH17. As I watched the stream of airliners touch down at Sydney Airport, I guess — in retrospect — I was happy.  I stood alone at my favourite spot, a rusting chain link fence separating me from the runway a few metres away. I silently thanked the person who had strategically left milk crates so I was able to get a clear shot of the beautiful machines between the fence and the recently added barbed wire on top. Without my favourite lens and shooting directly into the hazy Sydney light, these photos weren’t going to be my best, but I didn’t care. I was out doing what I love, admiring the grace of these planes as they raced by me in the pink-tinged morning light, past the golden grasses and the calm waters of Botany Bay. Yet another moment to bottle for posterity. Qantas747Sydney Tower Sydney Airport Korea777 Planes, for me, are inherent symbols of freedom and adventure. They’re stunning pieces of man-made technology and seem to have distinct personalities. I love to know where they’re heading, thinking about who could be onboard and what they’re all going to do at their destination. It’s partly an exercise in imagination, and it makes me appreciate these machines on a more human level: as a vessel for hundreds of tales of love, loss and adventure. Each of those on the flight leaves behind or are arriving home to the big, juicy hugs of loved ones. They’re all of varying age, education, social status. Some are mere babes in the safe arms of their parents, others are enjoying the twilight of their youth, others for business. Some travel alone, others in groups. But they’re all valid, and real.

As I processed these photos, I thought about what is left after a tragedy like MH17. What it means for the people involved, but also for those on the ground and those left behind. What society will lack without these people. SydneyAirport34L JapanAirlines777 Over the last few days, we’ve heard a handful of the stories of those onboard. The half dozen of notable AIDS researchers aboard the flight, men and women who had devoted their lives to helping others. A grandfather ferrying his three grandchildren home from a family holiday in Europe so the parents could have a few days to themselves in Amsterdam. Six members of a Malaysian family who were relocating back to KL after living in Kazakhstan for three years. And a Queensland couple who — through enormous odds — lost both their son and daughter-in-law in the disappearance of MH370 in March, and now their step-granddaughter and her husband on MH17 this week.

Each of these passengers on MH17 have had their stories cut short in a most brutal and tragic manner. Their family and friends are left to grieve and to close their stories as best they can into a neat little bow. Though such an ending could never be classed as neat. The macabre details and images that have been documented serve to remind us that these people existed, but none have taken the time to put the tragedy into context, preferring only to reveal gruesome photos for shock value. We’re doing these people a disservice by only reporting part of their story.

I feel we should be trying to understand that each of these bodies unceremoniously strewn in fields thousands of kilometres from home represented a person, a life. Events like this ask us to consider what is important to us. And it’s also a not-so-subtle reminder that we — just like those passengers on MH17 — could be taken at any time.

Memento mori: remember that you will die.

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The Creative Catalyst

I’m not someone who has a lot of faith, but the little faith I do have, I put into searching for moments. And occasionally the moments that I seek, and that I desire, arrive.

Since returning home to Australia, my creativity has flatlined. Life has taken up the space where creativity grows, numerous half-finished projects before me with little insight into how they will be finished. Images of never achieving that to which I aspire gain greater clarity with each passing day. It’s as though I feel the gravitational spin of the earth more acutely and have a greater awareness that time is running out. But the act of writing something, anything, lately has brought me pain and I’ve wanted to avoid it. So, for the most part, I have.

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The catalyst

The last week, I watched a short film. But it was not the subject matter that inspired me, but the experience. It stirred something in me. Like an old car – coughing, spluttering – my creative soul awoke. After hunting around for it, finding something that truly inspires me gives me such a thrill! Great ideas were released, unleashed, and my hand struggled to keep up the pace as they poured forth.

Inspiration = elation, energy, excitement

This new inspiration has produced great feelings of elation, energy and excitement. By opening myself up to new experiences, it proved a catalyst for unlocking the next layer, one that I had been labouring in vain to unlock for myself.

For me, creativity doesn’t work like that — something you can flip on with a switch. My creativity needs external input and action and laughter and sadness and elation and moments of brevity. Maybe that’s what it is I seek when I travel: Moments of magic, moments like this.

And so I dance: a choreographed movement of starting and stopping, of being inspired and searching for the inspiration, of squandering time and trying to improve my inner discipline. I’ve not known anything different. Only with each sequence comes greater urgency, greater force.

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A new period of creativity

But right now, I am in tune with my own ability to create and I am celebrating being back in this space and being inspired. But this is not the easy part. Actually harnessing the energy to sit down and write is tough. It requires moments of reflection, development, problem solving, projection, discussion, revision. But it’s what I love to do. It’s what drives me. And I know I’m not alone in finding the whole process challenging.

I opened my ideas book to see I’ve already had at least ten other ideas of varying degrees of awesomeness, and they’re all worth pursuing in some fashion. So now, I’m switching off, plugging in to the world of my characters and trying to see where they will take me.

Signal by Coffee Cup

I think there might be spies in my building.
Spies who communicate with other spies through the placement of coffee cups left on security checkpoints.

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And what makes this really odd is that there’s no McDonald’s even close to my work.