If I were to write a post today, what …?

If I were to write a post today, what would I write?

It’s a grey day, almost winter, cool, windy. I’ve been pondering blogging,  I’m so out of touch and it’s so long since I wrote regularly. I’ve been reading the Daily Post, thinking about one of the short courses, anything that will move me to action.

As I think about writing, consider ideas and glance through old posts, my mind wanders to the garden.

The garden

After so many years of waiting I now have a garden- my second, a source of joy and concern and frustration and pleasure.     Yesterday we planted some bearded irises, one of my very favourites  and I’m anxious about how we should plant them. My brother advises to keep some of the rhizome out of the soil, but how much?  One rhizome has rotted and died in an earlier planting. I don’t want to lose any,  I have been wanting to grow them for so long. So I have just checked youtube- lots of videos, but now I’m worried that we may not have spread out the roots, the rhizome may be too exposed and we haven’t planted them in groups …  one expert suggests they are very social plants. Mine may be lonely.

not enough soil?

This is the second year for our roses, such splendid plants! They flowered abundantly last year, even being baby roses. This year they have grown very tall. My cousin, the rose expert, tells me these are rain shoots. We had a long and hot summer, then suddenly lots of rain. She tells me roses love such conditions. And here it is, almost the end of May and I haven’t finished pruning them. Another rose expert advised not pruning early as there could be a second flush of flowering- there was! They look gorgeous and smell so wonderful. I love   walking outside and picking a bunch of roses.

more roses- such pleasure.

joy- a bunch of roses!

Oriental lilies are another favourite and I have grown them for two years now. The plants from last year haven’t done well, so another question for youtube. Was it too hot? too dry? Should I have lifted them? What is their ideal climate?

Oriental lilies- if only you could smell their fragrance!

Such a lot to worry about when you garden. My co-houser says that she thought gardening was all about digging and weeding and planting, then flowers and vegetables and trees would happen and … a garden! Instead she says it’s all killing and chopping and  destroying … the aphids love our plants, there are various other sucking insects, black spot, rust … and several varieties of grasshoppers  … how do you get rid of grasshoppers? big brown ones? even baby greens? You can’t spray a grasshopper. The garden books suggest catching and squashing or vacuuming them up. I can’t quite see how to vacuum without sucking up the plant. And squashing? the big brown ones?!? Yuk!

I remember one afternoon, sitting on the ground and weeding, it occurred to me that gardening was like life. I realised how ridiculous such an idea was- gardening isn’t like living, it is life. Isn’t my life whatever I am doing at that moment? Watching Grantchester last night, Sydney’s sermon concluded with “This is our life. Not yesterday or tomorrow, but today. We owe it to ourselves to live it.”

And writing? blogging? Pondering, reading, reflecting … I owe it to myself. In spite of aphids and grasshoppers I will keep on gardening; in spite of disruptions and long interruptions I will keep on.

and maybe I’ll have a friend to help.

 

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.

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.

Brain surgery and other scary things.

A reminder to live fully.

A reminder to live fully.

A few years ago I had brain surgery. The right branch of my carotid artery had an aneurysm, big enough to need surgery. I am alive because I have a clip (I call it a paper clip) on my artery.  The MRI also found a second aneurysm on the left branch of my carotid artery. Since then it has been checked regularly with an angiogram. I can’t have another MRI as the magnetism could  pull the clip out, or at least dislodge it. Doesn’t bear thinking about does it?

These were found by accident. I had no symptoms, but had complained to my doctor about my ear- feeling blocked,  giddiness, pain when I flew… it was probably sinus, but just to be sure…The ear was fine, but…I had an aneurysm. MRI, visit to a brain surgeon…too big to ignore, must be operated on.

Found by accident? Or one of the many blessings and miracles of my life?

Tantrum from me. Definitely did not want brain surgery. Handouts from the hospital- skull with piece cut out pictured on front. Threw it away, without reading. No one was going to do that to me.

great scar, shame about the hair.

Date set. The ninth of July. Uh oh. My most auspicious date, my day of celebrating my re-birth. How could this be anything but positive? Coloured my hair plum. After all, it was going to be shaved so I could experiment. A nasty colour, for me.

Brain surgery. It was too big to get my mind around. An aneurysm. It was too scary to contemplate, so I didn’t. The reaction of other people surprised me. They seemed to think this was significant, urgent, frightening… It wasn’t until afterwards I began to hear the stories: the young woman who had died on my local beach- an aneurysm had burst; the man who was now paralysed down one side, an aneurysm had bled…I had protected myself by closing my eyes to the reality.

Brain surgery. Yes, but they weren’t really operating on my brain were they, only an artery. Afterwards, checks every hour. What’s your name? What’s the date? (Who knows? I’ve had an operation, been in Intensive Care.) Where are you? Count to ten. Most questions I could answer, although I did ask them to come up with something different, I was getting bored with the same ones.

Yes. yet another cat picture! But, oh how he sleeps.

Yes. yet another cat picture! But, oh how he sleeps.

There were effects. My sleeping was destroyed, until it reached crisis point and I had to demand extreme help. My short term memory is affected. But…I am alive. My brain still works, quite well really. I like it…a lot. And I truly value it… greatly. In fact, I love and cherish it.

And I still have an aneurysm. A small one, but an aneurysm. I’m always aware of it, ticking away up there in my head. And now I know how serious that is. I have been told by the psychiatrist who treated me during the sleep crisis, that the brain suffers some damage as soon as it is exposed to oxygen. So mine has suffered some damage already. I do not want to run the risk a second time. I do not want to experience another sleep crisis. I know why sleep deprivation is a torture, I’ve lived it.

But, nor do I want to run the risk of the aneurysm bleeding or bursting. Neither have good outcomes- death or incapacity. So I have regular angiograms and trust the results, trust that while it’s small it’s harmless.

On Friday I had an angiogram, hence this post. I am left confused by the results. It showed no aneurysm. I ask “Do arteries heal themselves?”  “Has it disappeared?”  “Is this the result of a simple life with little stress?” “Can I celebrate or has there been a mistake?” I wait to hear from my brain surgeon.

The gift of life.

The gift of life.

Meanwhile I shall live this day- fully, richly, moment by moment, because I have experienced how fragile life is. I have no excuse but to treasure each moment I have.

 

 

 

 

Love Letters straight from the Heart.

Remember letters? You wrote to someone on paper, put it in an envelope, addressed, stamped  and posted it.

A bundle of friends.

A bundle of friends.

Remember the feeling when you get a letter? Remember the feeling of anticipation, trying to guess who it may be from if you don’t recognize the writing. How long since you wrote a letter or since someone wrote a letter to you?

I don’t mean emails. I love emails. They’re quick, can be brief, are great for making arrangements and for staying in touch with a lot of people.

So far, I haven’t used Facebook much, but I can see how  useful it is for sharing stuff with lots of people.

But real letters, think about them for a moment. Think about letters you’ve received that mattered to you. Do you have a bundle of kept letters? If you’re young, you may never have received one. Do you still get birthday cards in the mail or is an email good enough?

Treasured letters.

Treasured letters.

I have a letter from my grandmother so old the paper is worn away in some of its folds. There’s a note my father sent me when I was seventeen and had just left home. A box of cards from  people I have never met sent to me in hospital, a very ill girl far away from home. They gave me the courage to keep going.  Do I keep emails?

Well yes, sometimes I do, but…do I re-read them? Do I hold them in my hand and treasure them? Do they bring back memories of that person as I see her beloved handwriting? Do I remember the moment I found them in the letter box?

There’s discussion here in Australia about ending a daily mail delivery. I had been thinking about letters, prompted by the rarity of my receiving any before this discussion began. Somehow it now seems more urgent. One of my friends is diligent about sending cards and my mother was known and appreciated for sending notes to her friends to let them know she was thinking of them. I’m slack at sending birthday cards- first I have to find one I like, then I resist the cost.. often I end up with a card I haven’t managed to post. I have several August birthdays I meant to…

If I like getting a letter, won’t other people enjoy it too?

Letters provide us with history. They fill in the detail. Cronechronicler is blogging the letters she sent her small sons while she and their father were abroad. Fortunately she had kept them. I have a letter my mother had kept for more than fifty years- I wrote it to her when she was away in hospital and I was twelve. I don’t remember writing it and that twelve year old self is a distant echo. You can imagine my feelings when I found it, after her death. I was so glad that twelve year old had written it.

Maybe they're full of letters!

Maybe they’re full of letters!

While I’ve been pondering getting mail and writing letters and as we Australians may lose our regular mail delivery, I discovered a movement to send a letter to a stranger through a TED talk (God bless TED!). Hannah Bencher, whose mother wrote regularly to her, became depressed after college, so she did what came naturally- she wrote love letters to strangers and left them wherever she went. She blogged about this and promised “if you ask me for a hand-written letter, I will write you one.” Overnight she was inundated with requests. As she says “her inbox morphed into this harbor of heartbreak”.

This simple beginning is now a global initiative- “The world  needs more love letters.”  Her talk is moving and inspiring and the stories she tells will warm your  heart. I am determined to take paper and pen and write! I have bought some sheets of beautiful paper, I have stacks of cards…maybe my neighbour would like a letter in her box? In the meantime, I have those August birthdays. It’s not too late to write.

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections on the death of a beloved animal

Have you ever made the decision that it’s time to end the suffering and misery of an animal in your care?

Bear loved boxesYesterday I took my cat Bear to the vet to discuss his deteriorating condition and consider my options. We decided it was time to end his suffering and he was put to sleep.

I hate having such power and I love having such power. I hate being the one who makes the decision, the one with that ultimate power. I question my motives: Am I choosing to do this now because I don’t want to watch him vomiting any more? Is he really fine enough to enjoy more days of sitting In the sun and sleeping on my lap? How do I tell when it is time, when it is a kindness to end misery? Is it a convenience to me? Am I tired of cleaning up after him? Am I doing this for myself or am I doing this for him?   I wrestle with the conflict.

But I love being able to choose to end his pain, his yowling as he’s about to vomit, his episodes of projectile vomiting, his scratching and biting when I inadvertently touch painful areas, his weight loss, his of eating of kitty litter crystals, his look of misery and longsuffering, his decline… and I love being able to give freedom from suffering to a creature I have loved and cared for.

Does ultimate power always come with an equal knowledge of its awesome responsibilities? I hope it does. This is no decision to be taken lightly. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be faced with such power and choice over the life of a loved human. If it is this difficult with an animal how could I possibly ever contemplate a similar situation with a dearly loved friend?

A few weeks ago a friend said to me when I told him Bear was dying, “Well, that’s why you don’t have pets. There’s all the grief when you lose them.”

My response was: “That’s why you do have pets. They teach us to grieve as well as love.”

Jolly beiong persuaded to look at the camera.I learnt this years ago as I loved and cared for a dog from puppyhood to old age. He offered participation in the progress of life in a shortened version and I realized children as well as myself, could learn what they would later experience with their most cherished, treasured human beings.  If we are to love then we will experience pain and grief and loss. We can’t have one without the other. I used to fear grief and I suppressed it without even being aware. I feared it would overwhelm me, that I would not survive it. My dog showed me I could grieve. I could love without reservation, feel the loss of that creature and survive. And now I cherish his memory. Never would I regret having shared his life, and the same with Bear- I received far more than I gave.

Angie, my shared co-living partner and the other person who has known Bear best, was here yesterday and so could come to the vet’s for our final visit. She said that Bear had had a good life-  an abandoned cat who hung around my house eventually staying to become part of the household. I thought about this. Yes, I hope he had a good life, but more than that he was a precious gift… and I thought some more.

I will die happy if my life is a precious gift for even one person.

an ending.What more could we hope for?