Writing lessons.

It’s staring me in the face.

After months of not writing no matter how much I beat myself up, promise myself I’ll do it tomorrow, set unrealistic goals and timetables …

Something shifts.

Finally.

I’ll never write if I keep going the way I am.

I have done almost no writing for? twelve months? longer? I can’t blame anyone; No one has stopped me; there are always plenty of excuses and reasons.

I’m feeling discontented and dissatisfied. In the back of my mind there’s the niggling thought “Is this all my life is to be?” The day-to-day of life- friends, conversations, visits, gardening, reading … all those things that make up our lives.

Too busy? Then stop!

Too busy? Then stop!

I don’t write to make money, to be famous or to be published. I write because it satisfies something within me. I feel complete, content, grounded; when I don’t write I’m discontented and miserable, my life has less meaning, I’m purposeless. Sitting at my computer – writing, pondering, researching, reading – I feel focussed, centred, content.  Clicking that button to “publish” gives me such satisfaction and finding a comment on a post or a “like” has me leaping for joy.

Joy!

Joy!

I have been trying to fit my writing time in around all the other things that happen. It worked sort of, when I lived here by myself because not so many other things happened. I did have lots of time to myself. But with another person in the house there’s always a conversation, something interesting one of us has just seen or read or heard, or work to be done, or shopping to be sorted or dinner or … then there’s the friendships that have developed and I want to nurture and enjoy … then there’s “being” time and …so many things.

If I want to write, if I want to blog regularly, if I want to keep learning and pushing the boundaries, then I must do more than commit.  I must act and practise. And that means, setting aside the time. I don’t work full-time so I have flexibility. I can take my diary each week and block out my working times. And I can act so that nothing takes those times away. There’s plenty of time for other things. For more than twelve months I have acted on the assumption that I could fit writing in. After I’d been out for lunch, after we planned the garden, after I went to the gym, after  the housework … then I would write or I could have an early dinner and write in the evening.

Jobs!

Jobs!

Guess what? It hasn’t happened. It hasn’t worked. Not for a very long time.

I’ve been thinking about giving up – you know those moments of “common sense” when you preach the “face the facts and be realistic” lectures. Or could I hold the dream without doing anything much? Live with the vagueness of I’d do it tomorrow, or when I felt like it or when I had some space or ..? That’s how I lived for many years. One day when I have more time, one day when I’m better, one day… I have a house full of one days. One day I’ll use that wool, one day I’ll get back to the piano, one day I’ll go kayaking, one day I’ll garden, one day I’ll…

(Some of those one days won’t happen- more truths to face, to grieve and to accept, but that’s another story.)

I have read all the writers who say essentially the same thing: Writing has to be your job. You have to sit at your writing space for those prescribed hours.  It is a discipline and it’s hard work. It requires commitment.

You can have what you want, but you can’t have everything.

I want to be all that I am capable of becoming.

I want to be all that I am capable of becoming.

This morning, the final piece slid into place. Something shifted in me.

If I’m serious about it then writing must come first and that means making choices. There will be times when I have to say no. Seems obvious, doesn’t it? The challenge is to take myself seriously as a writer. And that’s the hard bit. I might have to acknowledge some of my dreams and if I do, then I might have to do something about them. And that scares me, throws me right up against myself, my fears and my lack of self- belief. I remember my tutor saying at my first ever writing workshop: “You must begin calling yourself a writer. If you write regularly, even if no one else ever sees it, even if you have no plans for publishing, then you are a writer.” Oh how difficult it was, when people asked me what I was doing, to say “I’m writing.” At the moment, if someone asks me what I’m doing, my answer is vague,  because I feel ashamed. If people ask for my blog details I don’t want to give them, I’m ashamed of how little I’ve done and how neglected it is.

How did this get finally get home to me?

My friend was travelling home and it was an opportunity to spend time with him. I’d love it. But I’d just returned from a few days in Melbourne, last month a few days’ holiday and yesterday I spent most of the day at the beach. Yes, they’re wonderful things to do, yes it’s good to relax and have fun and yes they’re all necessary …

I saw what I was doing and how I was continuing to sabotage myself. At some point I must say “No”, make a choice. Remember – you can have what you want but you can’t have everything.

I met my friend and we had a lovely time, but I haven’t forgotten.  Let’s see how I go.

Ah the rhythm of life, is a powerful beat,

Spring blooms.I could call it hibernation. Or I could call it lying fallow.  But I won’t come at sterile. Sterile suggests permanence and that is unacceptable.  Maybe hibernation? Lying fallow? Perhaps dormant would be better? It is after all just passed the Spring Equinox here down South and Spring is all about new life, regrowth, renewal and waking up. Not that we have much Spring bursting forth, our winter doesn’t get cold enough. (Wish it did!)  However, having said that, today and yesterday it’s been cold and rainy. Very cold and rainy, sometimes windy.

Spring?

Spring?

Two years ago, this time, we had heatwaves and a raging out-of-control bushfire down the road. People were evacuated onto the local beach. A friend’s adored dog was staying in a dog resort (kennel, but he doesn’t much like the term!) near the fires. The owner refused to evacuate because of his responsibility to the animals in his care. All were safe, but Ollie came home with kennel cough and security issues.  I’d  been told always how gentle Ollie was, a gentle giant, the family baby. Imagine when I visited having not yet met Ollie, and a huge Doberman leapt across the room, barking (VERY loudly),  stopping about one centimetre (mouth open HUGE teeth) from my hand. I kept remarkably still considering the circumstances, although, considering the circumstances stillness was perhaps the only option. Didn’t step any further for several minutes, lunch postponed.  Kennel cough? Security issues?  Or simply a dog with a mean streak?

Back to the lying dormant/ in hibernation/ Springtime and the rhythm of life… Sometimes,  it just doesn’t happen. No matter how much I remind myself of my values and my priorities. No matter how much re-focussing and positive visualisation I practise. No matter how much I beat myself up or promise myself treats or try sensory deprivation or… just no chocolate, it doesn’t happen.

10850249_868432186523021_613794867650258050_n[1]Creativity, or let’s say my creativity disappeared for a while here. There are reasons. And there are many excuses. And sometimes/often life gets in the way. And maybe I’m not committed enough or…  I don’t know. If I knew, then it wouldn’t happen, would it?

I’ll give you an example of my life here in this quiet little town. I’ve just returned from walking out to the kitchen to pour the cup of tea I’d made a few sentences back. Sitting on the back of the chair , gazing into the kitchen, singing his little heart out, was one of the butcher birds.  Feathers all wet, rain coming down, how could I not take the time to feed him? The resident magpie, currently feeding babies, zoomed in. More feeding. By now the tea’s cold and the writing? well, who knows!  I could go out and check the mail but the neighbourhood cats who are constantly hungry will mill about. Do you know how difficult it is not to feed begging animals? Or am I easily distracted?

A begging and hungry cat.

A begging and hungry cat.

Back to the rhythm of life which at heart is my excuse for a long silence. I don’t understand it. The more I try to control it the more unsuccessful I am. It’s all a mystery.

However, the new roses sprout more leaves every day. I picked the first sugar snap peas yesterday. The rocket is seeding in the lawn as well as the gardens.  The kitchen table has vases of poppies and sweet peas.

I’ve been asking myself what I would want to do most if I knew I had a limited time left for living.

Making gardens, being with the people I love… Simple things, sitting at the beach, floating on the water, watching for whales…  what really matters? What haven’t I done?

What really matters for you?

,aslow

 

Imagine walking a mile in someone else’s headline: Monica Lewinsky speaks at TED2015

In praise of a noble woman.

Monica Lewinski. We are all familiar with that name. But we can forget that behind the name stands a human being, a person, a woman.
I have thought of her over the years; I have wondered how she was; aware, in some way, of how much she must have suffered; wondered how anyone could possibly survive such a maelstrom.
I am so glad she has survived- through great pain and at great cost and has become a person of great integrity, honesty and compassion. I am awed by her courage- in choosing to live, in facing the pain and now in choosing to stand tall and proud, to hide no longer.

I have been moved and inspired by her TED talk and by her recent essay. This is the TED blog summarizing the talk she has just given. The post contains links to the talk itself and to the essay in Vanity Fair.
Thank you Monica Lewinsky, firstly for your courage in choosing to live and now for your courage in choosing to speak with vulnerability and integrity. You are a hero of our time.

TED Blog

At TED2015, Monica Lewinsky calls herself "Patient Zero" for online harassment. Photo: James Duncan Davidson/TED. “Public humiliation as a blood sport has to stop,” says Monica Lewinsky onstage at TED2015. “We need to return to a long-held value of compassion and empathy.” Photo: James Duncan Davidson/TED.

Monica Lewinsky is one of very few people over the age of 40 who has no interest in being 22 again.

“At the age of 22, I fell in love with my boss,” she says bluntly as she begins her talk on the TED2015 stage, her hands clasped in front of her. “At the age of 24, I learned the devastating consequences. “

Lewinsky asks for a show of hands: “Who didn’t make a mistake at 22?”

“Not a day goes by that I am not reminded of my mistake, and I regret that mistake deeply,” she continues. “In 1998, after having been swept up in an improbable romance, I was then swept up into the eye of a political, legal…

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Thank you Oliver Sacks.

I’ve just read the article published in the New York Times on the 19th of February where  Oliver Sacks announced that he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.       (My Own Life.)  It’s a beautiful piece of writing- moving and provocative, hopeful and inspiring. But then, hasn’t Oliver Sacks always been challenging, moving, inspirational?

Oliver Sacks, Professor of Neurology at New York University.

Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks

I first heard of Oliver Sacks when “The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat” was published- an account of his work as a neurologist with patients living with difficult and rare conditions,  such as Tourette’s Syndrome, Autism and Parkinsonism.  Amazing stories about the resilience, courage and resourcefulness of these people, examples of our capacity to change and adapt. I knew little about such conditions, so this book was eye-opening.

“Awakenings” is probably his other most well known work. It’s an account of his work with a group of patients suffering sleeping sickness, years after there had been a pandemic of the disease. He was able to wake them, briefly. A sad and amazing story- later made into a movie starring Robert de Niro and Robin Williams.

His article begins

“A month ago I felt that I was in good, even robust, health. At 81, I still swim 1.6 kilometres a day. But my luck has run out….now I am face to face with dying”.

He continues

“It is up to me to choose how to live out the months that remain to me. I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can….”

I could take that statement as the way I want to live my whole life.

And…

“Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life.

On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.

This will involve audacity, clarity and plain speaking; trying to straighten my accounts with the world. But there will be time, too, for some fun (and even some silliness, as well)…..

I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have given much and I have been given something in return;…

Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”

IMG_0327Please, I beg you to read the article. Like me, you will be moved, challenged and inspired. What I would say if I received this diagnosis? What would I want for the time remaining me? How would I feel? How would I sum up my life?

How would you sum up your life? What would you want for the time remaining to you?

What better than to be able to say

“I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have given much and I have been given something in return…above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking anima, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”

Image? What image?

My essence?

My essence?

“Kathryn, you need to be careful. You don’t want to present the wrong image,”

so advised one of my friends. I couldn’t disagree. He went on to say, “Be careful you’re not coming across as untidy or disorganized or chaotic or…” Umm, where was he going with this?

Then “The image you want,” he continued “is of the well groomed woman, sitting with a drink in her hand, beautifully dressed…” I could understand what he was getting at. That I needed  a certain look, a look that conveyed the successful, affluent career woman. At least, I think that’s what he meant.

Yes, but I’m not like that! I’m not arguing against the successful and confident. I’m questioning how that’s presented. And I’m questioning that whole idea of  choosing a deliberate “image”. I want authenticity. I want whatever I write or present to come from my heart, to be as authentically me as I can. I want you to see me as I truly am, not some manufactured version.

That's more like it!

That’s more like it!

And I’m not always well-groomed. I’m seldom dressed in leisurewear, lounging somewhere picturesque, sipping a drink. I’m more often grubby, dirt under my nails because I’ve been working in the garden; or it’s mid-afternoon and I’m in my pyjamas- or what passes for my sleepwear; or I’m wearing my oldest, daggiest and favourite clothes (often hand-me-downs from this friend).

A Blogging 101 prompt is to write a post to my ideal reader. I’ve been thinking about that. My ideal image of myself? My ideal reader? The introduction to blogging workshop I went to, advised us to have a narrow focus. This makes sense. It’s easy then to imagine my ideal reader- someone who shares that narrow focus. I would know who to aim at.

You know, I’m not sure I want agreement always. I want to encourage discussion, I want to swap ideas and experiences. I want to encounter mentors, people who will challenge me and I want to connect with people who may have shared similar experiences. I find it difficult to narrow my focus. When I think about doing that I can’t choose what to focus on. Country living? Sustainable lifestyle? Co-housing? Illness? Chronic Fatigue Syndrome? Insomnia and continual exhaustion? Life with a stoma? Joy? Gratitude? the issues facing older, single women? Fun? Books? Whatever  it is I’m thinking about at the time?

I want to share my life, my thoughts, the insights I’ve gained along the way. I want to connect with others who live with a stoma or with insomnia so we can support each other, whinge to people who will understand and share any wisdoms we may have. I want to talk with older women who worry about facing a future alone or fear homelessness because I understand and share these anxieties.

And I want to share my co-housing adventure with you, the gardening challenges and attempts to live a simple lifestyle. I might learn something from you and I hope that sometimes you might learn something from me.

This is how I want to be- happy and full of life.

Ideal image? I know some of the qualities I want to have. I want to be compassionate and kind. I’d like to be a wise elder, but I also want to be funny and silly and passionate and intemperate. I want to live every moment of my life with gratitude and be fully present, no matter what that moment may be. I want to be me.

Image? Who cares? Let’s just get on and live.

Opening our hearts to wonder, to awe, to beauty, to joy

the savour of lavender.

the savour of lavender.

I have just experienced this brief TED talk– I say experienced to include watching, listening and being moved profoundly.

the joy of roses.

the joy of roses.

Please give yourself the gift of the time it will take to sit and absorb the wisdom, the beauty, the simplicity and the joy.

(Click on the blue “TED talk”). This will take you there.

This talk is by Louis Schwartzberg and titled “Nature. Beauty. Gratitude.” He describes living in the country and discovering the joy of simplicity and the beauty of nature. It ends with a statement by Brother David Steindl-Rast, accompanied by a feast of natural beauty.

The Creative flow.

My creativity needs some attention, as does my garden!

My creativity needs some attention, as does my garden!

Somehow, it’s just not happening! the creative flow seems to have dried up. As I drive or wash up or garden the writing happens in my head. It flows, the ideas keep coming and EACH time I feel sure I’ll remember it. But when I sit at the computer or take my writing pen and paper, it’s gone.

I take some responsibility for this. I believe that writing in the morning as soon as I get up (and make a cup of coffee!) is as necessary as breathing. But have I been practicing this lately? No. Do I have a reason for this? No. I’m reminded of the statement of St Paul (and you must remember I had a most religious upbringing) that the good that we would, we do not. Too true. I was pleased to discover that a paradox in mindfulness simply says this another way ” We often practice things that are unhelpful and  avoid practicing things that helpful.” We humans are strange beings.

So the days go by. I start writing. It’s something I care about, but it doesn’t hang together. I leave it unfinished and walk away, dissatisfied. I eat something, have another cup of tea. I’d go for a walk or weed the garden, but it’s too hot.

Maybe it's good enough?

Maybe it’s good enough?

I have a little bubble of enthusiasm, go to the computer, start writing. Frustration, it sounds awkward, doesn’t seem to go anywhere. Is this a moment when I persevere, doggedly? Push through this dullness? In this humour, of course I don’t!

Barbara Kingsolver, one of my writing heroes, describes putting her daughter on the school bus, going to her desk and staying there for the next six hours. When does she do the shopping? keep appointments? see her friends? I’ve spent most of my life in full-time work. When did I fit in all those other demands? Where does my day go? How does time fritter away so easily?

Anne Lamott, another writing hero, describes how, even when she was hung over from both alcohol and drugs, still struggled to her writing, every afternoon. Her book “Bird by Bird” says that’s exactly how you do it- bird by bird, or, bit by bit.

I confess. I have been neglecting my practice. I have let any discipline slide. Any excuse has been acceptable, or, no excuse at all. I’m finding it hard to live with myself. This Kathryn I don’t like all that much. I guess it’s what they say about riding a horse- so, you fell off? get right back on again. So, I’ve had a moment of slackness? Get over it, keep going.

Peanuts can always cheer me up.

Peanuts can always cheer me up.

I remember back last year when I was going to write a blog. I worried over a name. Asked everyone’s opinion. Couldn’t settle on a theme. What colour? What picture? How would it be best to introduce myself? What was my voice? The tone? Then one day I sat down and wrote something. And clicked on “publish.” What a moment. It wasn’t perfect, not any of it. In fact it wasn’t even good enough, depending on your point of view. But there had to be an end to the dithering.

And one day I’ll rewrite my “about”. I’ll change the header; I have plans to customize; I aim to go back and edit early posts. I remember my mantra

NEVER GIVE UP.

Perhaps I need another pink bridge in my life.

Perhaps I need another pink bridge in my life.

I’m not giving up. I’m not going away. I wrote this morning and I’ll write tomorrow morning. If I miss one day or even more, I’ll start again, but I won’t give up.

I remember another paradox: “Self blame will slow the process of self development, not speed it.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Equinox.

Day and night of equal time.

Day and night of equal time.

Monday, the twenty-second of September is the Equinox. The time of equal light and darkness. Everyone on earth experiences a twelve hour day twice a year on the Spring (Vernal) and Fall (Autumnal) equinox.

And now I quote from the Gratefulness website – “These events remind us that we are one planetary family and motivate us to live in harmony with all life.”

I didn’t know. I didn’t know that on the Equinox all over the Earth we all experience a time of equal light and equal dark. I marvel at this. I am filled with wonder. All over the earth our day and night will be the same! I can sense our sameness, rather than our difference.

“let there be praise of our mutual beauty, our total loving of the World.” ( gratefulness webpage)

How can we not protect them?

How can we not protect them?

Saturday I joined people  gathering together as part of a worldwide movement to demonstrate their commitment to save the planet and to focus attention on the supreme importance for all of us all over the world to halt climate change. Here in our Valley the focus was to highlight the problems with coal seam gas development and fracking.

Sunday, all over the world, people will gather to show this same commitment- to halt climate change; to stop the burning of fossil fuels and to end increases in carbon. This day has been organised prior to the UN meeting of World leaders this week to discuss  the coming crisis in climate change, the UN’s Emergency Summit.

the joy of roses.

the joy of roses.

Sunday also happens to be The International Day of Peace, established by the UN as a day of global ceasefire to strengthen the ideals of peace within all nations. And it is World Gratitude Day, started by the UN Meditation Group  to promote the cause of worldwide gratitude. An auspicious time- the Equinox and special days, all falling around each other.

At the TED@unilever conference, Keith Weeks, Unilever Chief Marketing and Communications officer is quoted saying “When someone asks what is the case for sustainability?  I ask ‘What is the case for the alternative’?” Good question. We know what we have to lose, well we know some of it, if we fail to halt global warming. And it is unthinkable, unbearable, heartbreaking. But what if we act as if climate change is happening and we humans can halt it? What do we have to lose? Maybe we won’t be quite as affluent in some countries.  Maybe we will need to change our lifestyle. Maybe life will become simpler. Is that a negative?

They are losing their habitat.We could all dedicate five minutes to spend in meditation. We could all contemplate the beauty of this Earth and our love for her. We could ponder our humanness and all we have in common. We could sit in gratitude for all that we do have. We could remember what we have to lose.  And we could consider what we can do.

 

POSTSCRIPT.

Today is Tuesday. The Climate March has happened all over this Earth. This link will share a report.

By the dots.

Daily Prompt: We all have strange relationships with punctuation- do you overuse exclamation marks? Do you avoid semicolons like the plague? What type of punctuation could you never live without?

What are my punctuation quirks?

I used to work in an inner-city, multicultural suburb and loved it. One of my favourite shop signs was outside the Greek butcher’s (there was only one Greek butcher),  advertising “lambs’ legs”. It was one of my favourites because it showed so clearly the subtleties of our language. I couldn’t buy, however. A leg of lamb is impersonal, several steps away from being a living creature, or in this case, a wriggling and cute bundle of fluff. A lamb’s leg, belongs to that wriggling bundle. Consider the difference between chicken drumsticks and a chicken’s drumstick. I love language! It’s so clever.

Apostrophes!!!! and exclamation marks.

Apostrophes!!!! and exclamation marks.

While I’m on apostrophes, I confess now that I may one day turn into that eccentric woman who goes around with a large, red, permanent marker correcting apostrophes on public signs. Here in Australia it has become almost the accepted practice that if there is an “s” on the end then it has an apostrophe. No, no, no! and again, no!! You can probably tell it more than irritates me, I can become obsessed about it. I think I’ll buy that permanent marker today and get started.

You may have guessed already that one of my weaknesses is for exclamation marks. Yes, I have read, is it Elmore Leonard’s criticism of their use? I flicked that article to my niece, but found myself unable to stop myself from using these little marks in my accompanying email. (My niece uses them too, so there!)

In another life, very long ago, I taught Primary school and every day included a grammar lesson. I hope those children have never been guilty of an apostrophe whenever they felt like it, or a comma put anywhere. Last time I worked in a school I had to point out to someone ( he had authority and could get it changed) the use of a comma in a simple sentence; this on a notice that was to be placed all around the school. How could we as educators, publish a grammatical mistake? The person concerned refused to change it and there was a limit to how far I could push it.  She insisted that there was a verb and a phrase, therefore there must be a comma. So, nowadays we teach them the ungrammatical. The fact that language is meaning and that our thinking can never be precise if we can’t express ourselves accurately causes me great concern. Bertrand Russell, years ago, feared we were becoming a civilization of barbarians with the tools of technology. The loss of sophisticated language is part of that.

I confess: I need to re-visit the use of colons and semi-colons and I promise I will.

I do recommend Jane Strauss and her Blue Grammar Book.

I wonder what your quirks are? What makes you want a large, red, permanent marker? (Do I put commas between each of those adjectives? Does quirks have an apostrophe?…Only joking!)