Category Archives: Stories

Expecting

I’ve never been someone who makes a fuss over Valentine’s Day, but last year it just happened to be the day I got my contraceptive device removed. My partner and I had wine with dinner—what I planned to be my last glass in long time—and we were happy.

Me and my partner sitting on the couch drinking wine.

This is the story of the year that followed.

A quick note of warning: none of this is supposed to be medical advice. It’s just what happened to me. And there’s a lot to get through. So sit back, get comfy, pour yourself a glass of wine—ha! Kidding. If your bits are involved in baby making it’s best if you stop drinking. Yep, even if you’re the one bringing the tadpoles to the table. You think that’s rough? My sweet summer child, this is only just the beginning.

First up, there’s is a whole story in how I got to the point of wanting a child.

Once upon a time I was a carefree uni student who was terrified of holding babies in case I dropped them or I touched the soft spot or they pooed on me or something.

Comic strip featuring me not at all keeping it together while holding a baby.

I did want kids of my own. Just … someday.

The whole Don’t Hand Me Your Baby aesthetic was working pretty well for me, until the day it wasn’t. My right ovary betrayed me Professor Quirrell style by growing an enormous cyst with designs on world domination. The ovary, cyst and associated fallopian tube had to be cut out of me. I was assured that my one remaining ovary and tube should be enough. I probably wouldn’t run into reproductive issues in the future because of what had happened.

I heard the italics loud and clear, and they frightened me.

They frightened me so much that I began to wonder about what Someday would look like. And when I realised it would take a long time for my life to look like that, I decided to get the process started immediately.

And then I developed a debilitating chronic illness. Even if my lonely ovary shot eggs like a machine gun, I might never be well enough to raise a child. I’ll spare you the full existential crisis that ensured. In short, one of the kindest cruelties of chronic illness is that it sharpens your priorities. I no longer wanted Someday, I wanted Now, and it looked like I might be getting Never.

But you already know it wasn’t Never. I was lucky. After a couple of years my health improved. Not completely (chronic illness rarely does that) but enough.

Giddy with hope and gratitude and still not quite believing I had reached this point, I had my birth control removed and …

Me looking at a negative pregnancy test with pee dripping off it. Speech bubble saying "huh"

… was not immediately pregnant.

Neither myself or my partner have nieces or nephews, and none of our friends had kids. Sex education in school led me to believe pregnancy was so likely it was almost impossible to avoid. I thought unsafe sex equalled BANG, up the duff, bun in the oven, here’s your free gift of a radiant glow, enjoy the giant tatas.

Not necessarily, it turns out.

You’d think this was basic uterus-owner know-how, but despite understanding the fundamentals of periods and cycles and whatnot, it never really clicked for me before this that you only get one shot at baby creation a month. That’s twelve or maybe thirteen chances a year. Obviously, I needed to track and better understand my cycle.

Don’t worry! There’s an app for that!

Actually, heaps of them.

A quick tip from someone who’s been there. Do not pick a period tracker app with a social media community attached to it. Do not pick an app that makes judgey comments disguised as ‘health insights’. Do not pick an app that asks personal questions about the state of your cervical mucus. (These guidelines can also be applied for choosing anything in life. You’re welcome).

I didn’t have anyone to warn me. I downloaded three. And that’s how I learned about TTC.

TTC stands for Trying To Conceive, but it’s more than just a text-friendly acronym. It’s a whole new world, a sub-culture for pre-pregnancy. It even had its own language which I had to spend a few hours decoding. You don’t do a test, you POAS (pee on a stick), and then the test isn’t negative, it’s a BFN (big fat negative). Or it might be a BFP (big fat positive). Or, maybe, a VVFL (very very faint line). Sex isn’t sex, it’s baby dancing, but preferably just BD. A period is tastefully referred to as Aunt Flo, and then even more tastefully abbreviated to AF.

All that probably helps some people. I can see how it could make you feel connected and how it might reassure you that everything you are experiencing and worrying about is normal. And if that’s you, fantastic. Enjoy.

But it wasn’t me. If I really must be discreet, I prefer having fun with it and tell people I’m collecting teabags for when Dracula pops round for a cuppa. And, more importantly, I was already scared. My previous health issues and single ovary had me off balance, and TTC gave me the final push. I fell down the rabbit hole and into a wonderland of anxiety.

Predictably, there’s a bunch of stuff companies sell you to help ease your fears.

One popular way to waste your TTC dollars is with ovulation predictor kits. You pee on one each day until you get a positive or your cycle ends because, actually, they’re quite unreliable and it’s very possible they’ll miss ovulation altogether.

I tried them for one cycle, and I not only never got a positive result, but I managed to accidently pee on myself three times. I do not recommend them unless you would rather have pee on your hands than money in your bank account. (And if you really would prefer pee on your hands than money in your bank account there are probably more entertaining ways to accomplish that).

Another favourite cash-vacuum is special fertility-friendly lube. This is for when you learn that standard lube acts as a barrier that makes it harder for sperm to score a touchdown, and then you panic that even though you rarely use the stuff it will still mess the whole thing up for you somehow, you don’t know how, maybe via astral projection or by selling your facebook data? (Anxiety doesn’t have to make sense, Karen, gosh).

The fertility-friendly stuff comes in a box plastered in photos of minors (babies), and even if you throw the box away the tube itself shouts CONCEIVE at you in giant, baby-pink letters. It’s basically a weaponised cold shower.

My partner has put stickers on a tube of lube that feature the popular eggplant and peach emojis

Despite my fears, at the end of my first cycle of unsafe sex, I was convinced it had worked and I was pregnant. My period was late and I had a heap of pregnancy symptoms (which, alas, I had been Googling). Also, it was coming up to our first wedding anniversary, so it would be narratively satisfying.

The negative test hit me like a slap in my silly, smug face.

It turned out I was just late—really late—because it can take a few cycles after stopping hormonal birth control for your Overlook elevator to flow regularly.

For my second cycle, I again thought I was pregnant. Shark week started early. I tried not to let it get to me (but it did). I was beginning to understand that I might have to face this many, many times.

At the end of my third cycle, I knew I wasn’t pregnant. I just knew. I had my usual PMS and was mentally bracing myself for the communists to take the funhouse, but I peed on a test, just in case. Of course it was negative. In fact, I spotted blood onto the test, which seemed like a major Up Yours from the universe.

That was the first negative that didn’t just get to me, it felt like an earth-shattering disaster. Even though I had been expecting it, even though I knew three negative cycles wasn’t unusual or unlikely or anything to be concerned about, I cried. And kept crying. And crying. It didn’t feel normal. Anything and everything set me off. And, despite the spotting, my period was late and getting later by the day.

So I took another test.

Me looking at a positive test (with pee dripping off it) looking shocked and saying "eep!"

I promptly freaked out.

Growing up, I was led to believe that pregnancy was the worst thing that could happen to you. It came in just slightly above failing maths or wandering off alone at Halloween parties. Then, practically overnight, you’re an adult and you realise you never have to maths again unless you want to, but a large portion of the population will consider you an empty husk of a human if you don’t create a tiny screaming poo machine. Even so, you can’t just delete the knee-jerk Pregnancy Is Super Bad What Have You Done Your Life Is Ruined reaction from your mental operating system. (Sticking together at Halloween parties is always good advice, though; holiday-themed murderers only have to happen to you once).

On top of that, despite wanting a baby, I had never been sold on the whole pregnancy thing. To me it had always looked like level after level of throwing up, fainting and stretch marks culminating in a boss-fight of screaming, pain, vaginal tearing and pooing in front of people. Also, you might die. It’s a lot less likely these days, but still a pretty intense possibility.

Obviously I had signed up anyway, but I still had my misgivings.

I was right to. Unpopular opinion alert: pregnancy sucks.

I was constantly exhausted, hungry, busting for the toilet and on the brink of vomiting. Most of my cravings were for food I wasn’t allowed to eat, e.g. soft cheese and cold ham, and most of my food aversions were for things I was supposed to be eating lots of, e.g. vegetables. I got acne instead of a radiant glow, I kept crying randomly, and to top it all off the very thought of a cup of tea—my absolute favourite thing in the world and only comfort in times of distress—made me gag.

I’ll just repeat that to let the horror sink in: I couldn’t drink tea.

Me, on my knees in a crowded street in the rain screaming "NOOOOO!". It's very dramatic.

Don’t get me wrong, I was excited, too. I ordered a pregnancy book and carefully followed what features my baby was growing, what whimsical food item it was comparable to in size, and what strangely mutated creature it looked like this week. And it wasn’t a secret. I simply didn’t have the skills to navigate tricky questions like “so, how’s things?” without exploding with the news that inside me there was a mutant dinosaur the size of a sesame seed which had an actual spinal column and tail.

A cute mutant dinosaur fetus.

Then I had some more spotting and was sent for an early scan. Everything looked fine. The foetus was a smidge smaller than it was supposed to be, but I was assured that in most cases that’s just because your cycle didn’t match the average. To confirm its developmental dates, I had a second scan two weeks later.

At this scan, there was a big screen on the wall. The first thing I saw was the heartbeat. It was a little white flicker. For the first time since seeing the two lines on the test, the low level panic faded away. For a moment, everything was perfect.

Two panels in a darkened room with a projector aiming for the fourth wall. In the first panel, my partner look forward in awe while behind us the sonogrammer is at her computer. In the second panel, the sonogrammer looks concerned and says "hmm." I notice, my partner hasn't yet.

She explained that it was still too small. In fact, it looked as if over the last two weeks it had only managed three days worth of growth.

“But it will be okay,” I said, because of course it would be.

When I got back to the doctor, she stressed that she’d seen cases like this where everything turned out fine. A heartbeat was good. Still, we should be prepared for a miscarriage.

I had to wait another two weeks for a third scan. I held on to that flickering heartbeat as hard as I could, but I felt like the box for Schrodinger’s cat. Was it growing, or was it gone? Was I pregnant or wasn’t I?

I didn’t cope well with the uncertainty. I spent every spare moment wrapped into an igloo of blankets either sleeping or reading so that I didn’t have to think about the fact that, no matter how hard I wanted to hold on, I could feel my body letting go.

My symptoms faded, and however unpleasant they were this was not how I wanted to be free of them. I started having cramps, constant sharp reminders of what was happening inside me. One night I bled, but not very much, not enough for it to be over.

I made it to the third scan.

The baby didn’t.

There was no white flicker, no heartbeat. It had stopped growing, only measuring five weeks and six days even though it was supposed to be ten weeks.

It never even looked like a tiny mutant dinosaur.

The sonogrammer left us alone for a few minutes. My partner hugged me, and I sobbed briefly because it seemed like the right time to do that. Then I put myself back together and proceeded to the next logical step.

I had to.

It wasn’t over. It was still inside me. I was a living tomb.

Two days after the scan, I had a surgical procedure called a D&C to remove it. I woke up feeling like I’d been having good dreams but couldn’t quite remember what they were. I was given a cheese sandwich and a cup of tea.

I am sitting in a chair in recovery post-surgery with a cheese sandwich and a cup to tea. A nurse is taking my blood pressure and asks, "how's the tea?" I respond, "good."

And then I could go home, and it was all over.

Only it wasn’t over.

It was a kind of horror story. I had taken a wrong turn and ended up in an alternate universe. At family gatherings people handed me glasses of wine, and I drank them. I ate soft cheese and deli meats. I lived the life of non-pregnant Lucy, knowing all the time that I was pregnant Lucy and everything around me was wrong. I knew when we should have been telling people, but there was nothing to tell. I knew when I should have started seeing a bump, but it never came. I knew we should have a nursery, but it was just a spare room.

We waited for several months before trying again.

But it still wasn’t over.

Every time I got my period, I was lying back on a wheeled bed in a darkened room watching a heartbeat on the wall. Every time, I was plunged back into that moment of broken wonder that wouldn’t end. Every time, I came apart. And every time, I had to put myself back together so that I would be ready to come apart again, next month.

And then it was Christmastime, and I couldn’t bear it anymore.

In that alternate universe, the one I accidentally stumbled out of, I would be eight months pregnant. In this new world, my period was due and I dreaded it. If it came, I was going to have to stop.

I was aware, however, that if it didn’t come, if I was pregnant, then the time with the highest risk of miscarriage would be Christmas and the due month of the first pregnancy. When I explained this to a friend, she said, “It would almost be better if you weren’t pregnant this month.”

But I was.

I am looking at a positive pregnancy test. I am emotional. My smile is wonky.

My cyclic depression stopped. It seemed miraculous, a gift. It came at just at the right time to save me.

(Although it wasn’t over. The night before Christmas I dreamed of blood. It was so vivid I could smell it, and I woke up in the darkened room with the heartbeat on the wall.)

I had an early scan again.

A quick note about early scans.

Everything is so small at this stage that it’s difficult to see. It helps if your bladder is full, so you are instructed to drink water beforehand. But if you drink too much, drink too little or vomit up all the water, then you might need an internal scan to get a clear enough picture.

Internal scans are exactly what it says on the box. And they are … weird. Jelly is involved. The ultrasound thingamie is an intimidating size (but don’t worry, just the tip). There is that element of violation you get from anything of this sort that, even if you have okayed for practical reasons, you are not super enthusiastic about.

But I had a heap of them through this whole business, and (at least for me) they weren’t that bad. Pap smears are more uncomfortable. In fact, my first tampon was worse.

The awkward stuff out the way, the sonnogrammer told us that this time it was twins.

Not one little mutant dinosaur, but two.

Twin cute mutant dinosaur foetuses.

I never thought I would have twins. There are no twins in my family, none at all, and I had thought (wrongly, it turned out) that having one of my ovaries removed would reduce the chance even further.

Twins was some kind of magic.

I had tried not to get too attached early in this pregnancy, but knowing it was twins made it impossible. (It was impossible anyway). I started looking up the meaning of names and thinking about double-prams and bracing myself for the c-section that was way more likely now.

Twins also meant double symptoms, and my symptoms had not been minor with a single pregnancy. The only thing that helped the nausea was eating, and the up side to this is that I understand food now. You have not experienced food in its truest form until you’ve eaten a burger while pregnant with twins. My partner insists otherwise, but I’m pretty sure the clouds parted and a beam of sunlight transported me and that burger to heaven. Eating chips was like soaring through nebula on a cosmic narwhal. Bacon was beyond the capabilities of the human mind.

Bacon being experienced. I kind of psychadelic wonderland of colours. There is a large me a two smaller mes flying.

I was due to have a second scan on the same day my first baby would have been born, but I couldn’t do that. (It wasn’t over). We booked it for the day after instead.

I could see it on the screen even before the sonnogrammer explained. I was somewhat familiar with ultrasounds by this point. I could see the sacs that had been on the previous scan. I could see they were significantly larger. I could see there was nothing in them.

Two empty amniotic sacs.

I have heard people say that you aren’t a proper adult, or university student, or city person, or anything until you have broken down and cried in public and been too far gone to feel any shame. I have done that, with a blood nose thrown in the mix for extra points, and I don’t think it has anything on ugly crying in a tiny room in front of a stranger and not having any emotions left over to care that they’re wiggling a condom-sheathed ultrasound thingamie inside you.

Again, we were told not to give up hope and sent home to wait two more weeks for a third scan. Again, that final scan confirmed what we already knew.

Our twins were not there. They had never been there.

In a darkened room after the ultrasound. The sonnogrammer pats my leg and says "at least you know you're fertile".

Three asterisks

I want to take a quick break from the story to check in with you. How are you coping with all this? Are you doing okay?

A confession. I could have told this story differently. I could have cut out the jokes about apps and fertility friendly lube. I could have mentally prepared you from the first line, signalled sooner this was a tragedy and half the cast would be dead (would have never existed) by the final curtain.

But no one warned me.

After the first miscarriage all the doctors and nurses and sonnogrammers told me this was common. I heard different statistics. Sometimes it was one in six pregnancies end in miscarriage, sometimes one in four. The pamphlet the hospital gave me said one in three. Whatever the exact number, it means that there are a lot of not-quite-parents out there.

And yet when I went into that first final ultrasound, I had never had a conversation with someone who I knew had wanted a pregnancy and lost it.

I have since. They had been there all along, hiding in the foreground. It’s like belonging to a secret club. As soon as people know you’ve had a miscarriage, they let you know about theirs or their friend’s or their sister’s best friend’s cousins. But there’s some kind of block—a taboo—about discussing it with the uninitiated.

That taboo meant that when it happened to me the first time, I had no idea what to expect. I had no idea what to do or how to cope in the two weeks between the second scan and the final one. I didn’t even realise waiting and uncertainty could be part of a miscarriage—I assumed you either thought everything was fine or knew it was over. That taboo meant I was afraid doctors would think I was weird for crying, and I was afraid they would think I was callous for not crying. It meant I had no blueprint for how to grieve, and I had no reassurance that everything I felt was normal.

So I’m breaking the taboo. I’m talking about it. And if you end up in that dark room with too few heartbeats, then at the very least you’ll have one story in there with you.

(And if it’s not you in that room but someone you know, then you won’t say “at least you know you’re fertile” because you will understand that some things are not replaceable, some situations are too broken to run smoothly a second time, and some silver-linings are so sharp they cut.)

And besides.

My babies (foetuses, empty sacs) do not have birthdays. They do not have death certificates. They do not have tombstones. They only exist in my medical records and in the space they carve out in people’s minds. They only exist if I tell you about them.

And they exist more if it hurts.

Are you doing okay?

Three asterisks

I had a second D&C. I woke up feeling as though I had dreamed good dreams, and then I remembered where I was and why I was there. I ate my cheese sandwich. I drank my cup of tea.

And the next day was Valentine’s Day, again.

We stayed in, again. We sat on the couch, again. We had a glass of wine, again.

My partner and I sit on the couch with a glass of wine. We are no longer happy.

Nothing had changed. Everything had changed.

And it isn’t over.

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In Defence of Mini Marshmallows

This being the internet, I recently got into an argument with a blogger about the best marshmallows to put in hot chocolate. In her corner, giant marshmallows; in mine, mini.

It started in the comment section, as arguments to, but didn’t stay there. She published a recipe-slash-attack over on Actual Conversations With My Husband (go read it and her other stuff because she’s pretty funny when she’s not spouting hot chocolate heresy).

You see where this is going.

I am duty bound to insist that I’m right, super right, I could never be wrong, giant marshmallows are a pitiful specimen of marshmallow, Time Magazine totally called me about being Man (Person) of the Year but I turned them down when I learned about the write up and photoshoot anyway my button’s bigger and NO YOUR FACE IS A MINI MARSHMALLOW.

I won’t.

Giant marshmallows are fine. Giant marshmallows in hot chocolate are fine. (I mean, they take too long to melt nicely and due to the physics of buoyancy have an irritating habit of bobbing away from your spoon, but I guess some people like that). Toasted Giant marshmallows are extra fine. In fact, I am happy to concede them as the ideal toasting marshmallow. Furthermore, toasted giant marshmallows in hot chocolate brings pleasure on par with witnessing an enemy step in dog poo, slide ten metres, fall face first into a fountain while being filmed so that they end up online as a humorous gif. (Although over-toasting will lead to excessive floating ashes, and I do not recommend excessive floating ashes).

Mini marshmallow hot chocolate is not better than giant marshmallows in hot chocolate. I’m fine with saying that.

Because they cannot be compared. They don’t serve the same purpose. They aren’t the same thing.

You see, giant marshmallows in hot chocolate is a recipe, but mini marshmallow hot chocolate is a spell. Done right, it will grant you warmth, healing, sweetness, and probably type 2 diabetes. (But hey, everything that works has side effects.)

I will teach you how to cast it.

Make hot chocolate.

It doesn’t matter how. I don’t think there is an incorrect method of making hot chocolate. I don’t limit myself to one way of making it. Bought powder, cocoa and sugar, all milk no hot water, hot water plus milk, added chilli, added cinnamon—it’s all good. When I’m feeling fancy, I take the time to melt chocolate into milk on the stovetop.

You do you. All are equal.

Except anything with powdered milk in it. Ew.

Add mini marshmallows.

But don’t just add mini marshmallows. That’s how you do a recipe. Plop ‘em in, done. Boring. This is not a recipe.

Want to know the trick?

Lean in, I’ll whisper.

Volume.

Your goal is to get as many mini marshmallows in there as possible. Plug that mug. If you can still see hot chocolate, you’re not trying hard enough.

And, most importantly, enjoy it.

Mini marshmallows are to giant marshmallows what a kiddie pool of small denomination bills are to a couple of hundred-dollar notes sitting all dull and boring in your hand. Fundamentally equal, but you can frolic in one of them.

So, frolic.

Wait.

This step is vitally important, and you might not get it just right on the first go. You want your marshmallows to get a bit melty. How melty is up to you, but I recommend making sure there are some unmelted bits. An excellent way to achieve a good melted to non-melted ratio is to pile up the marshmallows so high that the bottom layer can melt entirely, while the top layer is safe above the hot chocolate line.

This is the game changing step. This is where we leave the safe harbour of standard hot chocolate and push out into the international waters of lawless adventure. This is hot chocolate with a peg leg and a parrot on its shoulder.

Ready?

Eat the marshmallows out of the hot chocolate with a spoon.

If you’ve done everything right, it should taste like a lighting a candle in a world engulfed by darkness. You should feel it darning the holes life has worn into your soul.

A common mistake here is to drink the hot chocolate. I can see why a person might think it’s a good idea—that is traditionally what one does with hot chocolate, after all—but there are simply too many marshmallows. The top layer of hot chocolate probably doesn’t classify as a liquid any more. Drinking it is a choking hazard.

But don’t worry, the time will come.

Repeat Steps 2 to 4 until either

a) You run out of mini marshmallows, or,

b) You feel like you’re done with the marshmallow phase of your hot chocolate experience.

Just quietly, option b is for the weak.

Drink the hot chocolate.

It’s not just a chaser for the marshmallows. By this stage it should be so gloriously sugary from all the melted marshmallows that it will taste like a hug from a rainbow.

And there you have it.

Mini marshmallow hot chocolate is not classy. It is not pretty. It scores 0 for plating every time. It does not belong on a foodie blog. It draws the wrath of food snobs (and feel free you use it as a means of identifying them among your acquaintances so you can avoid inviting them to your dinner parties).

Mini marshmallow hot chocolate is for coping. Mini marshmallow hot chocolate is for the times when your heart bleeds and your soul has been ripped open and you’re not sure if you can handle the next five minutes, let alone tomorrow. It is for dementor attacks and resisting the one ring. I make it when things are so, desperately, impossibly bad that if someone offered me a cup of tea, I would ask for it with a teaspoon of sugar.

Mini marshmallow hot chocolate got me through 2017.

And now you can make it too.

Your welcome, world.

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Some of the illustrations from this story are available in my store. You can get Fighting Mugs and Mini Marshmallow Hot Chocolate as an art print or on mugs, tote bags, notebooks and more! 

If you love my stories and comics, check out my Patreon page. You can support my work and get unique rewards!

And don’t forget you can follow me for updates on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+ and Pinterest.

The War of the Plants

I have never confronted my mum about this, but I’m pretty sure I’m at least 50% elvish.

Having plants around makes me feel good. It always has. When I was a kid in need of a private place to sulk, I would climb a tree. After a long hard day of being a nerd in high school, I would water pot plants. As an adult, I filled my rental’s barren courtyard with potted herbs and spent all day staring vaguely out the window at them instead of being productive.

And finally, as a homeowner, I decided it was time for trendy indoor plants.

And a cat, of course.

It didn’t work out how I imagined.

The first problem was that our brand new cuddle floof turned out to be an indiscriminate glutton. He disposed of his dinner like a vacuum cleaner. Cooking meals became an extreme sports version of keepies-off. He consumed stray bits of dental floss and munched on rubber bands—and we only know about those because we found floss and bits of mangled rubber in his vomit. Who knows what other household items he’s digested.

It became quickly apparent that the probability of him finding and taking a bite out of a poisonous houseplant was 100%.

Which ruled out all the trendy ones.

Terrified I would accidently kill the fluff-monster, I did some research before getting anything.

And good thing I did. As soon as I brought my non-toxic houseplant selections home, my fears were confirmed. Our food-hoovering, face-cuddling, foot-biting, sink-splashing, shoulder-sitting cat was also a plant-nibbler.

Our sentient scarf fixated on a Boston fern. He nibbled and nibbled. The damage began to show. We moved it around, tried to hide it from him, but he found it again and again. Over the course of month, he ate it down to twigs.

Until that point, I had everything arse-about. I had assumed the plants were a risk to the health of our furry hedge-trimmer, but in fact he was a danger to them.

Our murder-croissant moved on to an African violet. He bit the leaves off so he could play with them on the ground. It lived longer than the fern, but he knocked off leaves faster than the plant could regrow them.

I was not ready to admit defeat. My elvish heritage would not be denied. I picked out some replacements, and this time I choose robust plants, capable of withstanding a bit of casual grazing.

I had grossly underestimated his capacity to nibble.

Worse, the toebean-licker seemed to understand how much I hated it. He would use it to seek vengeance whenever I refused to feed him dinner at 2pm, stopped him from murdering my knitting, or fished him out of the toilet and shut the lid to prevent him playing in it.

It always played out the same way. First, there was a lull in cat mayhem, and I would return to my internet browsing or fantasy novel. I relaxed, but before long I would feel the seeping awareness that the silence was too good to be true. In fact, I inevitably realised it wasn’t silence at all.

Leaves were rustling.

And I would look up.

The nibbles started to show—on my nerves as well as on the plants.

I searched for new solutions. I started hanging them so the meowinator couldn’t reach them to nibble.

If I only wanted a couple of plants, I would have found my solution. But I wanted my victory to be absolute. I needed more plants, large plants, multiple per room!

I couldn’t hang them all. I needed another alternative.

Channelling my elvish wiles, and found it.

It was, I am willing to acknowledge, a little bit evil. A tad cunning. Slightly Slytherin. It betrayed a dark corner of myself I usually pretend I don’t have.

Cayenne pepper.

At the end of the day, the important thing is not my moral integrity or the state of my immortal soul, it’s not even that I got to keep my plants.

It is that I won.

Sort of.

 

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White Goose’s Reign of Terror

This was not unusual. Parents of small children must keep to a strict schedule of Ruining Everything to prepare their brood for the challenges of life. It is important to get all your tantrumming out of the way as a child when you get the wrong colour cup, so that as an adult you can cope when your favourite movie is remade, or people like a new fad that you don’t like.

Up until this point, my parents’ preferred method of Ruining Everything was letting my sister sit in my chair and stopping us from watching Jurassic Park on endless repeat. The goose came as a surprise.

If you have ever met a goose, you know where this is going. You probably have your own Goose Story. In fact, you are probably cowering behind the couch right now because if you’ve met a goose and aren’t afraid of geese, either your name is Chuck Norris or you’re lying. And even if you are Chuck Norris, I’m sceptical.

Geese are objectively terrifying.

If you haven’t met a goose and think I’m exaggerating for the sake of humour, enjoy it while it lasts. Your Goose Story will come for you. Maybe it will happen on a picnic. Maybe when you stop your car on a road trip for a quick pee a goose will catch you with your pants around your ankles. Maybe it will happen inside your own house. One day, you’ll learn.

Just like I did.

Before this all unfolded, I thought I knew about geese. We had a large yard with a utopia of poultry—chooks, ducks and two geese. The geese were sisters. They had been my parents’ pets longer than I had been their child. They were lovely and gentle and shy. And, perhaps, this is the more noteworthy Goose Story. We called them the Grey Geese.

Maybe the Grey Geese are why my dad—who had been around longer than me, had met more geese, and really should have known better—thought a new goose would be just the thing.

The new goose was beautiful. He was sleek and pristine white with a submarine yellow beak and cornflower eyes. If he were human, he would not need Instagram filters. He was the Miss Universe of geese.

We called him White Goose.

He came for my brother first.

That first attack crossed a line that could not be uncrossed. White Goose got a taste for violence, and nothing would stop him.

My Goose Story was not a single event. It was not an afternoon of alarm followed by a good night’s sleep and amused retellings, the way my Emu Story was. My Goose Story was a nightmare cycle, an abusive relationship, a siege. My Goose Story was like camping in Jurassic Park. In fact, if you ever meet anyone who doubts that birds evolved from dinosaurs, introduce them to a goose.

Dad, the instigator of the madness, insisted that it wasn’t so bad.

It was that bad.

Our yard was no longer our yard, it was White Goose’s. I could not come and go as I pleased. I could not play where I liked. It was like getting the pink cup when I really wanted the green one. White Goose was, figuratively speaking, sitting in my chair. And my parents were allowing it.

Unacceptable.

(You have to get your tantrumming out of the way young.)

So instead of trying to avoid White Goose, I decided I would outsmart him. I would go where I wished. I would play where and how I wanted. No goose would stop me.

I tried being tall.

I tried being fierce.

And in one memorably innovative and stupid attempt I tried wearing armour.

Although actually I’m the eldest sibling, children under ten are basically tiny Bond villains minus the funding, and memories are a bit vague after two decades, so for the sake of honesty I should mention that there’s a chance that last one went a little differently.

Accounts vary.

In the end, I had to admit defeat. I could not outsmart a goose. White Goose had won. He reigned supreme over out yard for several long years, until one night he met with a large marauding dog.

We were free.

For a while.

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Of Chronic Illness and Unicorns

Life is like riding on a magical flying unicorn.

Getting a chronic illness is like that unicorn getting a puncture or losing an engine or something.

Okay, that didn’t make a lot of sense.

I originally devised this analogy with a hot air balloon, but then I thought about how fun it would be to draw unicorns with rainbows and stars and stuff, and I had a long and sensible think about how important it was to me to be clear so my audience would understand me which, in hindsight, wasn’t all that long and sensible, and now I’m finding that the unicorn is far too square to be hammered through this round hole, and what I’m trying to say is that this whole analogy is going down.

But that’s kind of the point.

When you get a chronic illness, your life becomes a nonsensical descending unicorn and the only way to keep it in the air is to carve off big heavy chucks of yourself and throw them away.

If you’re not too ill, you might be able to keep your career afloat, but only if you throw out half your social life and all your hobbies. Or perhaps you choose to throw out half your job; you work part-time but you keep on top of your groceries and housework and you get to see your friends just as often as before.

But if you’re very ill, if doctors slap adjectives like “severe” on whatever it is you have, your unicorn might not be able to carry much at all.

I threw out a job. I threw out study. But it kept getting worse. The unicorn got shot—

—so I rarely left the house, but then it caught fire—

—and I gave up all housework.

For two years, I had the adjective “severe” and a very unhappy unicorn.

I still had my partner. He supported us financially, did all the housework, and helped me when I was sick. But we no longer had a normal twentysomethings relationship. Our friends were taking each other out to bars, having cheeky shower sex, taking selfies while skydiving, bathing in smashed avocado, and firebombing napkin factories. (Or something. Being housebound leaves you a bit out of touch, so I had to extrapolate from sitcoms, social media and inter-generational war opinion pieces). We were different. My partner held my hand in waiting rooms and only slipped into my shower to stop me collapsing in the heat.

People told us how surprised they were that he didn’t leave me and how wonderful he was for staying.

(He is, of course, wonderful).

Because I was such a burden.

The guilt was worse than my illness. Which—to clarify for anyone who hasn’t been so physically destroyed that they’ve spent an entire day perfectly still, not able to move to get food, water, visit the bathroom, text anyone for help, or turn on Netflix—is really saying something.

I apologised to my partner non-stop. Every time he did a chore, got back from work, or paid a bill I hadn’t contributed to, I told him how sorry I was.

But it wasn’t enough. It didn’t soothe the guilt.

I started apologising for no reason, just because I suddenly remembered my broken body, just because he comforted me, just because I still existed. I woke him in the stupid hours of the morning to beg forgiveness. If I had been capable of leaving the house, I would have followed him all day, popping up in a flurry of ImsosorryImsosorrys during bathroom breaks and conference calls. And actually I have a phone and am resourceful enough to achieve a similar effect while lying half-dead on the couch at home.

In short, I was overwhelmingly annoying.

He sat down to talk to me about it.

I could see he wanted to reassure me, and I saw the whole conversation play out in my head. He would say all the nice things I’d heard before, that we were getting by without me working, that it was only a little more housework than he would do if he was living alone, that it wasn’t a problem to schedule his day around my doctor’s appointments. And, ace in the hole, none of this awfulness was my fault anyway.

And I knew that I would pull a face and nod and say okay, but not really be convinced.

Because I would know, deep down, that he would only say all this because when you care about someone you don’t want them to feel like they’re weighing you down. (Even if they are). And maybe because, if you really care, you think it’s worth carrying their associated awfulness.

But the conversation didn’t go like that.

He told me that I make him laugh every day. He told me I am fun. Even when I am housebound. Even when I have to lie perfectly still and can only communicate through facial expressions. He told me I make space for him to be himself. He told me he likes to hear what I have to say about things, and that I make him look at the world differently. He told me that he wants to be around me.

Instead of denying I was a burden, he told me I was carrying him too.

It was special and wonderful and surprising. A big heap of surprising. A fully-functional-unicorn-load of surprising.

I hadn’t realised I had all those things on my unicorn. Right up until then, I believed that if my ability to earn money and do other useful labour fell and smashed into a million pieces, there wouldn’t be anything worthwhile left of me.

But now maybe I do.

Sometimes. Almost.

At least I try to believe it, which doesn’t mean I succeed all the time, but I’m getting better with practice.

And I think that there are a lot of people like me out there who have papered over their self-worth with jobs and projects and busy-ness, telling themselves it’s all integral to who they are.

It’s not.

Nothing is secure. Not your job, not your body, not your abilities.

But you don’t need any of it to be someone.

I am no longer plagued by the adjective “severe”. It took time, but now I can look after myself, prepare food, leave the house and work from home. Commuting is tricky, and I need lots of breaks and sick days, but that’s still a lot of easy reasons to value myself. Sometime I even forget I’m sick, but I always try as hard as I can to remember what I am underneath.

Because I like a challenge. Because while it’s great my partner likes me, it’s my opinion that matters. Because the future isn’t guaranteed.

Because a magical unicorn isn’t going to do it for me.

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One of the illustrations from this story, Analogy Unicorn, is available in my store now!

If you love my stories and comics, check out my Patreon page. You can support my work and get unique rewards!

And don’t forget you can follow me for updates on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+ and Pinterest.

Real Life Horror Story

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If you love my stories and comics, check out my Patreon page. You can support my work and get unique rewards!

And don’t forget you can follow me for updates on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+ and Pinterest.

About the Fish

You might be wondering about the fish.

It’s not what it looks like. Or maybe it is—I don’t know what it looks like out of context. Either way, I can explain.

A couple of months ago, I got a bit angsty-artist and decided I needed to do something productive and sensible to make my job feel more valid to myself. So I set out to create business cards. I sifted through my website for striking images I could base my designs around.

I scrolled and scrolled

 

and scrolled

 

and scrolled

 

and scrolled

 

and scrolled

 

and scrolled

 

and scrolled

 

and I found frustration,

 

then desperation,

 

then shame.

Nothing was awesome, trendy, magical, weird or even relatable enough. Everything was bland. It was all failure.

I kept burrowing, kept sketching ideas. It started to consume me. I began in the afternoon, but somehow it was the evening.

I messaged a friend, one of those close friends you trust with your broken pieces and most despicable flaws, a friend you know would love you even if you kicked a baby sloth deliberately and with malicious forethought.*

And—because apparently I am capable of ruining even that—I sucked the conversation into my death-spiral.

Although ‘conversation’ is perhaps the wrong word. I sent over 20 messages without getting a reply, until eventually I reached the deepest part of whatever emotional swamp I was wading through and typed, in classy caps,

(no reply)

Fear tickled me. This time my broken pieces were too sharp and my flaws too repellent. Just as, deep down, I had always known they were. It was only a matter of time before she noticed. Soon, everyone else would realise too.

(This friend had just moved to the other side of the world, and I found out later that as this was occurring, she was lost on public-transport on her way to her first day of work. I have a mental image of some epic urban quest with trials and gatekeepers and monsters, and all the while a phone incessantly tinging with my self-absorbed pleas for reassurance.)

(no reply)

I took a deep breath.

And I thought back. And I realised that on the day this wave of self-loathing first came, something that might have been wonderful for my career had fallen through. Something that I thought hadn’t bothered me too much—these things happen to everyone after all, and I was too sensible to take it personally.

It was as though I had been lying in the dark, watching a looming shadow and convincing myself it was a blood-soaked monster lurking at the end of the bed that was waiting for a perfect peak of fear before it slurped my guts out. Naming it was like turning on the light. The moment I recognised what had first caused me to doubt myself, I could see the monstrous shadow was really that travesty of a jumper I had once convinced myself was an op shop find, draped weirdly on a chair.

I know, I know.

You want to assure me that bad jumpers are amazing. That my failure wasn’t really a failure at all. That these is no shame, only glory, in a vibrant, mad, misshapen, glittery beast of bad jumper.

I get that. That is, in fact, what I was aiming for.

This jumper isn’t a vibrant, mad, misshapen, glittery beast of a bad jumper. Such a jumper would belong to the queen of op shops. And I dared to believe, for one dazzling moment, that I was that queen. But then I got home and took my prize out the bag and looked at it, and I realised that I was not. Not that day, anyway.

The jumper I ended up with was a sort of old-lady-librarian chic** with a floral and leaves design in a muddy shade of vomit.

Also, it was a cardigan.

(I knew it was cardigan when I bought it, of course, but it didn’t really sink in until afterward.)

It may not have been a sadistic, blood-soaked monster, but it was still ghastly. (And it would have been so wonderful if that thing had worked out. And it didn’t).

But it was also just a cardigan.

So I took another deep breath—everyone acquires a ghastly cardigan sooner or later—and made a cup to tea—I was too sensible to take it personally.

And then I drew a comic about how I had been feeling (one that you’ve already seen). I drew myself weirdly badly being slapped in the face by a fish. I wrote this.

And I made my business cards.

I wore the metaphorical cardigan. I don’t know any other way to deal with life.

 

* Advice: don’t kick baby sloths. Especially not deliberately and with malicious forethought. First degree baby-sloth-kickers do not fare well in prison.

** An admittedly ridiculous way to describe it. There is a stereotype of old ladies and librarians that overlooks the reality that they can be stylish or sweet or funky but always gloriously themselves.

 

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Two of the illustrations from this story are available in my store! You can get Fish Slap and Urban Quest as art prints or on mugs and other cool stuff. Have a browse!

If you love my stories and comics, check out my Patreon page. You can support my work and get unique rewards!

And don’t forget you can follow me for updates on Facebook, TwitteInstagram, Google+ and Pinterest

Things I Learned At School

When I was a child I was bullied.

Brace yourselves. I am about to do that irritating thing where I tell you a story from my life that you probably aren’t interested in, and then apply it on a wide scale, even though it’s kind of like comparing apples with orange monsters that want to maul your face off.

apples-and-oranges

The bullying started with a few kids, and it spread. There was a song the whole class would sing when the teacher wasn’t in the room. It wasn’t a particularly offensive song, just a childish one. And it wasn’t the words that hurt so much as the laughter and the crushing weight of numbers. With the wider class, the song was as bad as it got, but the original bullies didn’t back off that whole year.

I’m not writing this to blame them. They were kids. I don’t know what was going on with them. I was also a kid. Initially I tried fighting back (with words). It was unsuccessful, or seemed so, but perhaps a blow or two landed and perhaps they don’t have fond memories of me either. I don’t know. But I do hope they are doing well with their lives, and if they remember it at all, I hope they learned something positive.

They’re just apples. Apples aren’t monsters that try to maul your face off. This isn’t about them.

This is about the day I tried to get help.

It took me all year to work up the guts to say something. I was afraid of being labelled a dobber, but I was more afraid that nothing would happen. That I would be told that the bullies weren’t doing anything wrong. That I deserved it.

So I waited until the end of the last day of school for that year, figuring it was the safest time. I dawdled while the other kids left. Then I went up to the teacher.

(She was one of the better teachers. She was friendly and fun and she taught well. She was a favourite of a lot of kids. I liked her.)

I learned a lot of things at school. I learned times-tables, spelling, and how to write a sentence.

And I learned that I was on my own.

theres-nothing-i-can-do

Nobody would help me. I learned that the bullies weren’t doing anything wrong. I learned that I had deserved it.

I had seven years of schooling left, and I never spoke up about being bullied again.

(Silence killed the dinosaurs.)

But I did speak up for other people.

Like I said, I learned a lot of things at school. I learned about hypotenuses, writing essays and the Cold War. I learned that it is a powerful thing to tell someone that they are on their own. And, by extension, I learned it was an even more powerful thing to tell someone that they are not alone.

As a child, you think growing up fixes everything. I thought that when I grew up and left school and left home and left my hometown, I would be free.

But then I did all that, and I found that the world is still a frightening place full of monsters that shouldn’t be compared to apples. And the orange monsters in the adult-world have the power to cause destruction on a large scale.

monsters

Trump’s expressed opinions of minority groups are concerning. His promised and actual legislation against some of these groups is alarming. But it is the manner he does it—through dehumanisation, blatant lies and the deconstruction of science and truth—that is truly terrifying. Not just for America, but for every democratic country.

It is easy to feel helpless.

tweet

But there’s always something. And it is heartening to see so many people finding it.

cartoons

Perhaps, as I had left it to the last day of the year, the teacher did not have any authority to enforce consequences for the bullies. Even if she did, perhaps it would not have stopped them.

But there is always something. There always is. And I know there was then, because if I could rewrite that scene I know exactly how it would go.

better

Because it was wrong. I didn’t deserve it. And I shouldn’t have had to be alone.

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One of the comics from this story, Apples and Oranges, is available in my store! Why not have a browse?

If you love my stories and comics, check out my Patreon page. You can support my work and get unique rewards!

And don’t forget you can follow me for updates on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

How to Get a Cat: An Illustrated Guide

For the last couple of years, I have sat at home all day alone.

alone

Chronic illness can do that to you. It hasn’t been too bad, really. I don’t live alone, so I have company for non-working hours, and some wonderful friends and family members visit and take me out on my good days. A lot of people with my illness have it much worse.

But still.

Being alone wears you down.

(Even a super introvert with social anxiety disorder and occasional agoraphobic leanings, like me.)

So, easy solution, I got a cat.

We were renting and weren’t allowed pets, so it only required us to spend all our current and future money to find a house, sign over our souls and move, just before Christmas, the worst time of the year to do anything other than eat gingerbread. It was no trouble at all.

I like cats. I had a cat when I was growing up whom I loved to bits.

Although, actually, it was me who ended up in bits. That cat was a psychopath. When I was eight she invented a game where she would lurk outside the bathroom when she heard the shower. She would pick a natural bottleneck—a doorway, the hall—and wait for me to emerge, vulnerable, wrapped only in my towel.

attack1

attack2

Sometimes that’s all she would do. Just watch me as I edged past her, staring with pouncing eyes, knowing I was nervous. Other times…

attack3

Remembering this, I thought a great deal about the type of cat that would be best for us. And it turned out my partner and I had met a lot of other types of cat over the years that we didn’t think would suit.

the-floor-is-made-of-lava-cat

We didn’t want the kind of cat that hates people so much it lives on top of bookshelves whenever anyone is around.

no-touchies

We didn’t want the type of cat that pretends to like you, but acts as though it will catch fire if you actually touch it.

murdercat

We didn’t want the type of cat that murders animals larger than itself in the dead of night, then eats their entrails. I know people who live with this type of cat, and since the Possum Incident, they haven’t been the same.

seen-some-things

Armed with a clear picture of what we didn’t want (literally, see cat types 1-3 above), we walked out of the shelter with the complete opposite. The most clingy, affectionate cat to ever exist.

He needs to be close to people, either sitting tucked under your chin or participating in whatever you are doing, at all times. For the few days after we took him home, he only stopped cuddling and kneading on my throat for eating or pooping (his eating or pooping, not mine).

He’s getting better at separation, but he can’t handle being left out of things. He follows me from room to room. He watches as I brush my teeth. He pounces on books and my computer so he can play with them too. When we do the dishes, he claims the rinse water as his personal paddling pool. Tiny, prickling claws are involved in every activity, and if you try to stop him, he climbs you with them.

It’s kind of like living with an affectionate cactus. Or wearing a scarf made of hedgehogs.

It’s very different to my previous experiences with cats. Showering with my old cat in the house was like starring in a B-grade slasher movie. My new cat turns showering into one of those romances that are supposed to be swoonworthy but are just super, super creepy. He won’t let me shut him out of the bathroom. He sits in front of the shower glass, sometimes with his face pressed up close, sometimes playing with the water droplets he sees running down my side of the glass that he can never catch. Sometimes, if he can paw the door open a crack, he jumps in.

(I let him in the first time because I thought it would teach him a Valuable Lesson about consequences and personal space. It didn’t. Now he thinks darting in and out under the sprinkling water is part of the game.)

As a human, that kind of thing gets you restraining orders. As a cat, it gets him whatever he wants.

He’s a whole new type of irritating cat.

codependent-cat

But I love him.

And I’m not alone.

not-alone

 

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You can find four of the illustrations from this story in my store! The Floor is Made of Lava Cat, the No Touchies Cat, the Murder Cat, and the Extra Strength Co-dependent Cat.

If you love my stories and comics, check out my Patreon page. You can support my work and get unique rewards!

And don’t forget you can follow me for updates on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. (I recommend Instagram if you would like to see pictures of my cat playing the sink).

The Petuitary Gland

It started with the cat in the blanket-fort story. I just slotted cats in the pro column of not-getting-out-of-bed on a whim. And then, somehow, it was in other illustrations in that story.

cats

And then I was thinking about cats and had more ideas about cats.

more-cats

And then all my ideas were about cats.

all-the-cats

I don’t have a cat.

I don’t have any pets right now.

What I do have is a petuitary gland.

The petuitary gland is an organ located below the better-known dessert stomach.

petuitary-gland

Its job is to release hormones when a person sees cute domesticated (or not domesticated—otters, AMIRIGHT?) animals and to manipulate them into a frenzy of pet-neediness. The petuitary gland overwhelms our common sense and makes us forget the cost of vet bills and the hassle of training a creature of another species to please not poo everywhere.

poop-everywhere

The petuitary gland is an evolutionary feature that ensures the continuing relationship between humans and domesticated animals, a relationship which is in everyone’s best interest.

Except, you know, all the small, vulnerable native creatures in your area that taste better than the fanciest tin of Fancy Feast.

manipulation

But who cares about small, vulnerable native creatures?

It’s not like they, say, ride robot vacuums for our entertainment. There aren’t any adorable Halloween costumes for blue-tongue lizards. I’ve never seen a bandicoot humorously stuck in venetian blinds.

My petuitary gland is running rampant.

I’ve always liked animals. My family had a neurotic Jack Russell and an incontinent demon-cat when I was little, and I loved them both. I always thought I would have pets of my own, one day. Maybe in five or ten years, I told myself. Once I’d done some travelling and practiced keeping things alive on cactuses.

But my petuitary gland’s powers are growing. It has not spent my pet-free years idle. It has been laying plans and building its strength. Now it will not be ignored.

Infecting my creative output with cats was only the beginning. The urge to obtain a pet is becoming overwhelming.

cat-prescription

It’s not even limited to reasonable pets. There is a dangerous sign that we drive past every time we visit my partner’s hometown. It works in unholy concert with our petuitary glands to lure us down the path of bad decisions.

its-a-sign

It’s very important that we don’t give in.

alpacas

We don’t have a rental contract that allows pets. We decided years ago that we would not get pets while renting because most places don’t allow pets and having them would make renting more difficult.

It was a sensible decision.

sensible

Very, very sensible.

sensible2

SENSIBLE.sensible3

So I’ll be moving soon.

Look forward to moving related comics and stories.

And probably a cat.

(Which will be an indoor cat and not allowed to eat small, vulnerable native creatures. Because responsible pet ownership.)