Archives for May 2013

When is the Right Time to Retreat? (Part II)

Reality is a cliche from which we escape by metaphor ~ Wallace Stevens 

(This is part II in a VII part post about what it’s like studying at University while sensitive to chemicals. It could be used as a ‘How To’ template for people sensitive to fragrance chemicals—or other types of chemicals—who need to become the creators of change in a school, workplace or their local church or hospital enviroment. That’s where we, us fragrance crusaders (warriors, if you borrow from that mythology) come in. We are the pioneers, whose job it is to be the ones who stand up alone, in a crowd and speak up, not only for ourselves but also for all who will come after us. What we do today, will serve our fellow sisters and brothers tomorrow! (Disclaimer: I’m not that good at standing up and speaking in front of a group of people; but I’m learning. And here,  just for you, is what I’ve learnt so far… )

In part I of this post, I was a devastated mess. When I wrote it, I’d been considering quitting my course, even though, it was my everything: my rock in a world of chemical onslaughts. Last year, in my melancholy mess, where thoughts of ending more than just my education subsisted along with this innate desire for fighting for my rights (my right to go to class; my right to breathe; my right to clean air; my right to hang out with other humans who have similar interests.), I had no real intention of quitting. Anything. (There were other challenges beating me down, gut issues, low vitamin D, and, I was sad, mourning a life that I’d struggled to get back; and had, then, it slipped through my hand-cream-scented fingers.) So, in answer to my question, when fragrance chemicals are beating you down, ‘When is the Right Time to Retreat?‘ The time for me to do this was during August to December 2012 (that year being my Annus horribilis); so, let’s ‘retreat’ back to that time period, shall we?:

There has been many a day, running into weeks, where I have sat on my bed, laptop on my legs (nine pillows surrounding me as if I am Cleopatra, herself, awaiting Mark Antony!), lost in my writing or the research of my novel ‘Chaos and Adversity‘ (the working title). I’ve got this amazing desk but, frustratingly so, cannot sit at it: a chemical irritant—that hurts my head like aerosol-solvent-based hairspray does—is embedded in the wood. Mostly, it’s inside the draws; but if I sit there long enough, the sharp pain in my temples, and ensuing agony breathing through my nose, will distract me out from my writing zone. So, even though writing while sitting on my bed is a health and safety concern (as I learnt in Victoria University’s TAFE Professional Writing and Editing online module: Industry Overview I), I have always been comfortable—especially when my dog Bella, jumps up to warm my feet (and my heart)!

Here it is my beautiful writing desk:

My writing desk. It's a copy of a Louis IV, circa 1890, or so I was told

It’s a copy of a Louis IV, circa 1890. When I recovered, end of 09′ – 10′, I could actually sit at it and write! So, of the 6.3 years that I’ve owned it, I’ve only been able to use it for two of those—ergo, I still adore it, and cannot bare to part with it!

My writing is everything to me: it’s how I sort out the world: my past, my present, my future. It grounds me. Going to Victoria University has been the most phenomenal experience: it has enriched my being, made me a better, much more empathetic person. I understand the world differently: its many shades: when I look at a problem I see it from so many different perspectives. (I know longer think that I’m right about everything.) This is a gift.

For a long time, right from when I was born and put up for adoption, I felt as if I’d been misplaced—cast adrift with no compass. Because of my experience at VU, I feel that I know who I am. This has grounded me: instead of feeling lost with no sense of belonging, now I feel free, connected to all the writers—dead and alive—whose work I devour; whose work I feel connected to. This connection to all the budding and established writers that I’ve met at school (and online) is something that has sustained me through turbulent times. This connection. I want to be a writer; I am a writer; I want to interview other writers; I want recognition; I want to live in a writerly world; I want to help others; I want to be part of change. And I’ve touched on many of these qualities, qualifying them to this part of me that desires to belong; and I have achieved all of these things, to some degree.

But, here are two questions that were posed to me last year… The first question, thrown inadvertently at me by life: How much do I want this education that can give me a writer’s life? (I’ll get to that answer last, because that’s where the challenge, the point of this post, lays.) And, the second, posed verbally to a class of students, including myself: Do I want money for all my boiling and toiling with words, or, do I want recognition? (Because, apparently, unless you’re really, really lucky, rarely can a writer have both.) Well, I was hoping… I imagined that money would come with the territory. (If you too are a writer, then perhaps, I hear you laugh.) It appears that non-fiction is the path that I must walk for this.

A discovery was made this year: as soon as words, sentences and paragraphs worthy of even trying to pitch to an editor or publisher, need to be elegantly crafted (or hastily spewed up and onto the page (depending on my feelings on the day)), my internal pressure, my drive changes and it doesn’t feel like fun anymore. Looking for this pathway paved with gold has me straying from the direction of my newfound internal compass. It’s not like writing my blog entries, or daily rambles in my personal diaries, or the creative chunks of time spent crafting my novel. No, and it’s not like working on poetry either. With poetry, there’s imaginative freedom, pools of thought, flowing words trickling into a beautiful pond of deep satisfaction from my efforts. Every time. It’s a sure thing. Another teacher said to us, as a class, this year: If you can find something to do for work that you love, you will never work another day in your life. So that there, my darlings, is the answer to second question: Write about things that I love, things that can make the world a better place. My novel may not bring me money but it will make the world a better place. And for money? Write about things that I know to be true, and then pitch them at my targets. And if they miss? Try, try again. Elsewhere. Not at Mamamia. Somewhere where they pay actual money.

As for journalism? Perhaps, I’m just nervous and don’t believe I’m good enough; or maybe I don’t want to add to the lies and deception that shape people’s views in this media driven world (You see, I wanted to be a health writer, but I read so much spin. Spin spun for money. And being a person suffering with ill health, I know first hand that desperate feeling of being robbed by charlatans. Why add to that? And if I tell the truth, who would believe me? We wade through so much information, looking for the truth, whose to say my truth is the truth?) Why can’t I be free to just write poetry and gritty realistic fiction? Or memoir. (Or whatever genre my writing gets pooled into next week.) And pour my heart out (occasionally or frequently) into this blog? (And, eventually, get paid for doing what I love?) This pressure to make a living from writing? It’s a let down, but I’ll try not to think about that, even as I have my head down in an assignment that could, if I’m brave enough, be submitted to Weekend Notes, and if accepted, I could actually earn real money. Who knows? The act of getting cashed up for something I love doing could create a monster within‽ Thanks to the Professional Writing and Editing TAFE course at Victoria University and my bombastic thirst to get an education!

In answer to: “How much do I want this education?” Well, that just centres my mind on all these other questions: How much am I prepared to suffer? How far will I go? Does it bother me when people don’t understand about the fragrance situation? Don’t I just feel like I’m this person who is just so annoying; someone who is different from the pack; someone who just will not go away? How can I ask a group of people not to wear fragrance? Who do I think I am? Isn’t it the same as asking someone not to smoke a cigarette in an enclosed space? (Fragrances and cigarettes both contain benzene, formaldehyde, Ammonia, Butyl Acetate, and many other ingredients. That. Are. Exactly. The. Same.) Don’t I have the same rights as everyone else? Am I really that different? Is this even a ‘real’ disability? (As apposed to a person in a wheelchair. Or someone who needs constant care?) What about that person who said to me (in my very first non-fiction class at VU): “I’m so tired of people like you who claim the disability angle, then pretend to study, so they can get more money and don’t have to work.” (Look, the person who said this worked in an unemployment office; so, as a writer (who can gaze at things from many perspectives), I can understand this one. But only just. This comment hurt and shocked me. Then it made me stronger. And what about all the people whom I’ve inadvertently educated on the matter of Fragrance and Health? People who have changed their lives, the products they use? All because they met me, and saw and heard first hand what personal care products have done to me? Those are cases of, me, the educated becoming the educator. Not something I imagined doing when I enrolled in Professional Writing and Editing (PWE)!

So the answer to all these questions regarding my education: it depends on perspective. And as a writer, this will change as do the days I wake up. However, the blood running through my veins making me a writer cannot change:

So, with writing being the essence of my life, how could the option of retreating from my education even be an option?

In my safe room, in my bed, my head stuck in assignments, reworking my 2nd draft of the short story, possibly a Novella, Cinderella and the Happy Hooker Mythology (Something I’ve now mixed with the chapter workshopped in Novel II class, 2011, ‘The Kindness of Strangers’.), trying to ignore my first draft (190,000 words) of Chaos and Adversity (An easy task: Just the thought of looking at it made me cringe.) and floating in and out of the idea of an Anthology of Poems, now almost finished, called Beauty verses Pain. My head was a mess, and I didn’t get much done, apart from reading other people’s writing, and every article in The Age  (even if I wasn’t interested in it) every single day (now I think I must of been pre-preparing for this year’s Advanced Non-Fiction class!), every online Overland Magazine article, and Griffith Review. My problem was, even though the work in the classes was delivered to me electronically at home (thanks to Victoria University Disability Services (VUDS)), the Professional Writing and Editing Course at VU is not designed to be taught that way—via digital recordings of the class. There are some modules that are offered online. And I had done those already. But you know? After almost completing certificate III of Business Administration online (I couldn’t get my head around the finance part, so I left that course, missing out on finishing it because of that one last too-hard module), I’d already realised that I just don’t learn that way. I’m fortunate enough to know that I’m a visual-kinaesthetic learner. Besides, I need human interaction. Don’t we all? Okay, J. D Salinger didn’t, but I’m no Salinger: I’m Michellina van Loder!

Coming up: Part III of When is the Right Time to Retreat?

Michellina Van Loder is a Professional Writer, Journalist and Blogger. This is where she shares her tales about trail blazing her way out of the Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities and Mould. This is also where you will find the latest Research on related topics.

The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell

The Power of MythThe Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell

After reading Joseph Campbell’s work The Power of Myth and The Hero’s Journey, I’m now noticing the symbols of mythology and legends in nearly every movie I see and every book I read; even in the non-fiction, true articles of my favourite newspaper, ‘The Age‘, they are there. I can’t believe how Campbell’s philosophies touch on everything we believe about our earth, religion, marriage, births—absolutely everything!

Using the example of religion and the stories of the bible, Campbell’s explanations show aspects for what they really are: the Garden of Eden is a metaphor for innocence that is the innocence of time, innocent of opposites, being that where consciousness becomes aware of changes.

The analogy of people believing the bible stories to be true—not as metaphors—’is like going to a restaurant and eating the menu instead of the food’ is priceless!

If you’ve ever craved a deeper meaning about life on our planet, where we came from, and what it all means, then this is the book for you… It radiates with epiphanies and revelations about life, love… even meditation. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. A must read! (And, an absolute essential for any Professional Writing and Editing student. My heartfelt thanks go out to the teacher who turned me onto this book.)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Buy this book on Amazon:

View all my reviews

Michellina Van Loder is a Professional Writer, Journalist and Blogger. This is where she shares her tales about trail blazing her way out of the Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities and Mould. This is also where you will find the latest Research on related topics.

Happy Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Week!

Happy Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Week! Okay it finishes tomorrow, but better late than never, hey? (Says the old cliche.) And besides, I’ve been so busy: suburb profiles, attempting at writing for Weekend Notes, working on an interview with an amazing author (coming up soon), Poetry Book reviews, submitting poetry (that was accepted!), and, I’m in the process of attempting my first Vimeo review of… well, you’ll just have to wait and find out; and I’ve been working on a five year plan. But back to MCS week. More from AESSRA on the Better Health Channel:

“People with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) get symptoms when exposed to low levels of chemicals such as pesticides, car exhaust, diesel fumes, perfume, aftershave, air freshener, fragrances, washing powders, chlorine, polyester, formaldehyde, plastics, rubber, mothballs, disinfectants, paints, gas, cigarette smoke and wood smoke. Symptoms can include fatigue, asthma, rhinitis, headache, migraine, memory problems, nausea, diarrhoea, dry or sore eyes, joint pain and rashes.

In NSW Department of Health studies, 2.1% of children and 2.9% of adults had been diagnosed with chemical sensitivity. In a South Australian Department of Health study, about 1% of adults had been told by a doctor that they had MCS and 16% reported some chemical hypersensitivity.

The week aims to increase awareness of allergies and sensitivities, particularly chemical sensitivities and Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS).”

Here is my contribution, and the contribution of the one and only heroic Professional Writing and Editing (PWE) TAFE Department at Victoria University, St Albans Campus, Australia.

The pinup board in the main office:

The Brochures and the Door Notice

The Brochures and the Door Notice, before Chemical Sensitivity Week

A close up of the sign:

A Close Up of the Sign that Explains the Seriousness of the Situation.

A Close Up of the Sign that Explains the Seriousness of the Situation.

And the board, this week, after our Coordinator kindly put up the posters I bought in:

(I used last year's posters because hey? Who will know the difference?)

(I used last year’s posters because hey? Who will know the difference? Besides, printer’s ink is not my friend and I couldn’t be arsed printing them.)

This here, is the poster that I was meant to use. And, this is the one that’s displayed in the Student Engagement foyer, and in the students lounge:

Access to Buildings and Services for People with Chemical Sensitivities

Access to Buildings and Services for People with Chemical Sensitivities

And the icing on the celebration cake that we can all feast our eyes on, are the signs that have been placed on the doors leading to my classrooms (not a part of this week; it’s just a part of what we do at VU to support students who are sensitive to chemicals!):

The Signs on the Door to Our Classrooms

The Signs on the Door to Our Classrooms

This time as Chemical Sensitivity (oops, I mean Multiple Chemical Sensitivity) Week rolled around, unlike last year, where my head was hidden deep in the scented kitty litter tray of the fragrance embroilment, this time I’m holding my head up as I feel like a valued member of VU. Because I am. I feel the same as any other student; and I feel like most of the other students (and staff) understand, and if they don’t, well, these signs and the ‘fragrance free culture’ surrounding them, support me and the staff who are supporting me, in every way, everyday. You know? It’s like, this is just what we do. It’s normal. And you know what, I keep meeting people, around VU, who tell me that they too have sensitivities to chemicals. A few of these people report that it’s fragrance that they have problems with but they don’t want to complain about it because they don’t want to offend people. They don’t want to complain. I guess that’s what I’m for; to do it for them! (I have a series of posts coming up about this experience in the next week or so. It’s quite long, as are most posts that run deep with emotion, so it will be in seven parts. It’s a continuation of the post, When is is Time to Retreat? Part 1.)


AESSRA: For information about air fresheners

Wickham House Compounding Pharmacy

The Official Website of the Governor of Massachusetts: Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Awareness Week

“Whereas With the necessary support, understanding, accommodations, and information, individuals with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity can enjoy access to work, schooling, public facilities, and other surroundings where they can continue to contribute their skills, knowledge, and creativity,

Now, Therefore, I, Deval L. Patrick, Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, do hereby proclaim May 6th – 12th, 2012,  to be

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Awareness Week

And urge all the citizens of the Commonwealth to take cognizance of this event and participate fittingly in its observance.

Given at the Executive Chamber in Boston, this fourth day of April, in the year two thousand and twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America, the two hundred and thirty-fifth.
By His Excellency

Deval L. Patrick
Governor of the Commonwealth  

William Francis Galvin
Secretary of the Commonwealth “

You can read more about from the Governor of Massachusetts here


Coming up

Poetry Review for Micheal Dickel’s Midwest / Mid-East: March 2012 Poetry Tour

Michellina Van Loder is a Professional Writer, Journalist and Blogger. This is where she shares her tales about trail blazing her way out of the Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities and Mould. This is also where you will find the latest Research on related topics.

Information, products and views presented by guest bloggers @The Labyrinth are not necessarily the same as those held by this blog's author, Michellina van Loder. Reviews are my own personal opinions (unless stated otherwise); and satire is used throughout personal posts. Any health topics discussed are not to be taken as medical advice. Seek out medical attention if needed and do your own research; however, you're welcome to use mine as a start.
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