Monthly Archives: October 2014

When You Are Old by William Butler Yeats -YOUR FAVOURITE POEM

I love these poems by William Butler Yeats

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William Butler Yeats was the most famous Irish poet of all time, and his poems of unrequited love for the beautiful and dangerous revolutionary Maud Gonne helped make her almost as famous as he was in Ireland. The first poem below is Yeats’ loose translation of a Ronsard poem, in which Yeats imagines the love of his life in her later years, tending a waning fire. The second poem, “The Wild Swans at Coole” is surely one of the most beautiful poems ever written, in any language.

When You Are Old

by William Butler Yeats

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
Bu

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Chemo Brain…the Likely Culprit.

I just wanted to update you quickly after my appointment with my neurologist yesterday. While it’s quite cathartic to write humorous posts to deal with difficult situations, I felt I needed to stop being the clown and remove the mask.

The jury is still out on what’s causing my memory problems. It’s looking like chemo brain is the most likely explanation for my memory troubles and my neurologist has recommended eating lots of green leafy veggies, a multi-vitamin high in vitamin B but I also need to have a brain MRI and a neuro-psych assessment.

In case you haven’t had a neuro-psych assessment, it’s where a psychologist asks you a whole heap of questions like: what’s the name of the Prime Minister, count backwards by 7 and what’s the day of the week. Fortunately, they don’t ask you where you left your car keys or what you did with that school note last week. That said, some times even the day of the week could be problematic. Unless you’re Einstein, I’d say most of us don’t like the idea of someone tinkering around inside our heads.

Even if there is a medical justification for my memory troubles, I still don’t want to get the questions wrong. I have my pride and can still hear the humiliation of an entire classroom of kids laughing in my face. Growing up doesn’t erase the horrors of being picked  on at school and most of us have copped it at one time or another.

While I’ve done these tests before and can recall at least some of the questions, I’m trying to stop myself from rehearsing the answers:100, 93, 86, 79…

As much as I don’t want to make a mistake, it would be an even bigger mistake to cover-up my weaknesses. I’d ultimately only be cheating myself.

Meanwhile, I’m taking comfort that my writing is still going well and that I’m playing my violin and these are both mentally, if not physically, complex tasks. There’s still some sort of activity going on upstairs.

By the way, the brain MRI will check for the deadly brain virus with the long name I mentioned in my last post. Apparently, it’s statistically very unlikely: about 1 in 50,000. However, these days stats don’t appease my concerns. The chances of having dermatomyositis were much less at 100,000 to 1 and I struck the jackpot there. Once you have one statistically rare disease, the odds mean nothing.

The neurologist has also ordered some additional blood tests.

Meanwhile, while I’m waiting to get these tests underway, I’m self-medicating. Once you’ve been through chemo, a few bits of chocolate are absolutely harmless.

To read my post about cyberchondria click here: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2014/10/27/terminal-cyberchondria-yes-please/

xx Rowena

Terminal Cyberchondria…Yes! Please!

Being a blogger, a writer, reader and someone who likes to take responsibility for their own health, I’m a prime candidate for Terminal Cyberchondria. While not necessarily terminal in the sense of being life-threatening, you catch Cyberchondria from your computer terminal and more specifically by surfing the Internet for a diagnosis when you have more than a few “vague symptoms”.

Of course, having cyberchondria assumes that you are catastrophising again and your suspicions are wrong. That you have more chance of being killed in a car accident, or while riding a bike, than contracting that dreaded disease. No chance at all!! You don’t even need to cross your fingers, pray, say your Hail Mary’s. It’s all made up. In that great Australian tradition:”you’ll be right mate”!

However, once you’ve been struck by one or two rare, life-threatening diseases, that automatically opens the flood gates for you to develop any weird and wonderful disease… even the dreaded Ebola virus. After all, it only takes one infected person to board a train and it will spread faster than wildfire.

Well, I don’t have to worry about catching Ebola.

That has nothing to do with the fact that I live in Australia. Rather, you can pronounce and even spell Ebola and people have heard about it. That gives me automatic immunity. I specialize in the weird stuff…phenomenon even the doctors have to Google.

Anyway, since I had chemo at the start of the year, I’ve been having serious short-term memory issues and virtually no concept of time. For quite awhile, I’ve written these difficulties off as chemo brain, which is quite a common experience. In a way, this has been an interesting, quirky, experiment but I’ve now decided that it’s gone on long enough. I’m seeing my neurologist tomorrow.

There is quite a list of possibilities for my memory troubles:

  1. Chemo brain.
  2. Menopause.
  3. My shunt playing up. (I have hydrocephalus)
  4. Staying up too late.

However, I also started wondering whether these memory difficulties were side-effects of the new drugs I’ve been taking since I finished chemo. I’m on a drug called cellcept, which represses your immune system.

Google: a cyberchondriac's best friend.

Google: a cyberchondriac’s best friend.

When I Googled its side-effects, that’s when cyberchondria really kicked in. These side-effects include a virus that attacks your brain. In keeping with the unpronounceable dermatomyositis, this brain infection is called progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML). PML can be fatal. Symptoms include clumsiness, weakness that keeps getting worse, not being able to move or use one side of the body, and changes in vision, speech or personality (such as not caring about things that you usually care about and confusion).

After finding out the name of this dreaded disease, I’m wondering whether the people who name these weird and wonderful diseases and conditions, go fishing in their alphabet soup to put the names together. It has been hard enough to deal with “Dermatomyositis”, which is a serious mouthful but it only had 14 letters. The last word alone in PML has 19 letters. That must mean it’s very nasty indeed.

Going fishing in their alphabet soup. Is this how scientists name rare diseases? I'm starting to wonder...

Going fishing in their alphabet soup. Is this how scientists name rare diseases? I’m starting to wonder…

When I discussed the complexity of these medical terms with Geoff, he pointed out that they are intended to be descriptions so a medical person can quickly identify what is likely to be a complex medical situation far better than simply calling it: “Fred the Super Really Bad Disease That’s Going to kill You”. I can see his point but that still doesn’t help me explain what I’ve got and get any kind of acknowledgement from anyone outside the medical fraternity.

Ironically, while I have these two exceptionally rare medical conditions, I still have my tonsils, appendex and adenoids…all those bits people commonly have out and that’s what concerns me about PML. It’s rare enough and hard enough to pronounce, that it’s just my kind of disease.

You see, despite the cyberchonriacs, there are those rare winners of life’s rare lotteries who actually have what they thought they had. Yes, they actually have contracted one of these exceptionally rare, systemic, really nasty diseases. You know the type of thing that used to show up on the hit medical series House. Instead of being free to continue their explorations in cyberspace, before they even know what’s hit them they’ve been admitted to hospital. Yes, the proverbial Mac truck of bad luck was heading their way and they’ve just taken a very direct hit.

That’s me.

Dermatomyositis is a rare, systemic auto-immune disease where your muscles and skin attack themselves. It affects about 1 in 100,000 people and I’ve only met one or two people with the disease. You can get painful skin rashes and your muscles breakdown resulting in muscle weakness and wastage. While there is no cure, there is treatment which is largely effective although my case has proved more difficult to manage than average. The way I see it, I’m fighting myself and being rather strong willed, it’s been quite a battle. Dermatomyositis can also affect your breathing, swallowing and digestion and there are also the side-effects of the drugs and treatments. I am really surprised that I don’t glow in the dark after all my treatments. I’ve even had the Big C. That’s right. They’ve even blasted it with chemo. Thank goodness it worked.

However, while the medical treatments can be annoying, the hardest thing about having dermatomyositis has to be trying to explain it to anybody. I don’t know if you recall the Decore shampoo   commercial a few years ago where they had the person singing in the shower going: “D…D…D…Decore…Decore”. Dermatomyositis should be classified as some kind of tongue twister. I gave up trying to explain it years ago and just said I had muscular dystrophy. I thought it was a form of MD but it’s officially a neuro-muscular disease. Consequently, I now say it’s related to Muscular Dystrophy. However, if our son is around, he smiles with a baffled expression and tells people point blank: “You don’t want to know.”

Anyway, when you have a very rare disease, it opens the floodgates for all sorts of other conditions. After all, no one can tell you that rare can’t happen to you. Your last name might not be Murphy but bad luck sure knows how to find you!! It has your landline, your mobile and even your email address.

There’s a famous quote from the movie Casablanca which makes me smile:

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine…”

That might have happened with dermatomyositis but hopefully, progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy has somewhere else to go. It will board that plane with Ilse and Victor Laslo and disappear way beyond the clouds. Poof!

Goodbye Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy  (PML). Have a nice life!!

Goodbye Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy (PML). Have a nice life!!

Wish me luck with the neurologist tomorrow.

I don’t mind being told that I’ve over-reacted. A bad case of Terminal Cyberchondria is exactly what this patient has ordered.

xx Rowena.

If you are looking for information about dermatomyositis, which is a form of myositis:

The Myositis Association of America: http://www.myositis.org/learn-about-myositis/types-of-myositis/dermatomyositis

The Myositis Association of Australia: http://myositis.org.au/

The Writer’s Journey… Graeme Simsion: The Rosie Project

As I mentioned in my previous post, last week I attended an author talk with Graeme Simsion, the author of the best-selling novels: The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect.

While I have my dignity, I must confess that meeting Graeme Simsion sent me into something of a manic frenzy. I was uber-excited, although not quite to the level of Marcia Brady’s rapture when Davy Jones kissed her : “I can’t believe Davy Jones kissed me! I’ll never wash this cheek again.”

As you have probably gathered by now, I’ve really enjoyed the Rosie books and am almost frothing at the mouth telling everyone I meet to read them!

You could ask why meeting Graeme Simsion was such a rush. Yes, I loved the books but I have loved plenty of books. However, not all of the authors have bothered to talk locally in downtown Umina Beach, a place better known for its local caravan park and golden beach. While we live in a place of serene beauty, we are definitely off the beaten track when it comes to the author’s circuit. So, I was pretty impressed that he’d made the trip.

I walk in and spot Simsion at the desk signing books.

Any author encounter starts out pretty much the same. As I humbly approached Simsion with my books in hand, we make eye-contact. This is when you really get to size up what the author’s about. It’s also at this point, when you’re a bit in awe of their success that you’re tempted to start gushing. Tell them your entire life story and in this instance, tell him about every Don you’ve ever known and before you know it, you’re recommending starting a support group. I can assure you, that in my case I know an extensive list of Dons whose antics could’ve kept his pen poised ready to sign for many, many hours. However, I restrained myself and we got through the signing bit although I must admit that I did mention that I’m a writer and that I have a blog. I was just pleased that he didn’t ask me what I’d had published or how the stats on my blog were going. As a newly published author, he seems to understand that you don’t ask another writer such questions or he’d be at my book signing instead. After all, he knows just how long it can take for a writer to get where he is now.

Being a bit of a bold, intrepid admirer, I didn’t just ask him to sign the books. Rather, I went for the jugular, asking for a photo together. I’d heard it said on the X-Factor recently that the selfie is the new autograph. Anyway, when it comes to having my precious photo taken, I didn’t pull out your standard, garden-variety camera phone and go for the selfie. Oh no! Of course not! Nothing less than my Nikon SLR, which he noted was a serious camera…the photographic equivalent of Mick Dundee pulling out his knife in Crocodile Dundee. It might not have shown that I know how to write but at least my camera was impressive.

Anyway, as much as I love swanning around at literary events and having my photo taken with best-selling authors, I was there to learn. For me, writing is a serious business.

At this point, we all take to our seats for dinner and to hear what we’re all there for…the talk.

One of the things that struck me about Simsion’s journey as a writer is that he has been quite strategic, focused and methodical about how he was going to succeed. After all, he has run businesses and isn’t one of those writer’s you’d put in the dreamer category. While there were a few projects and attempts along the way, once he set his mind to it he enrolled in a screenwriting course at RMIT where The Rosie Project came to life. He decided submit it to the unpublished manuscript division of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards and The Rosie Project won the 2012 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript. Now, that’s a great way to get noticed! The manuscript was picked up by Text Publishing and he hasn’t looked back.

That is except to tell the story of his first author’s talk.

The Nullarbor Plain, South Australia viewed from the Indian Pacific Railway.

The Nullarbor Plain, South Australia viewed from the Indian Pacific Railway.

Simsion’s first author talk was held in a South Australian country town. He didn’t name the town but if you haven’t been through outback South Australia, you wouldn’t understand the meaning of isolation. South Australia is, after all, home to the sprawling and extremely isolated Nullarbor Plain colloquially known as the “Nullar-boring”. It includes the Nullarbor “town” of Cook which has a total population of 4 and it has a shop which only opens when the Indian-Pacific train is in town. Of course, Cook is hardly representative of South Australian towns. Beyond the capital Adelaide, there’s the Barossa Valley with its world class vineyards but why let a bit of truth get in the way of a good story? Let’s just say that Simsion’s launching pad was hardly New York.

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/80/Cook-SouthAustralia.jpg/270px-Cook-SouthAustralia.jpg

Cook, South Australia. Image Wiki Commons.

Filled with all the excitement and anticipation of giving his first talk, Simsion arrived at the local library. Much to his disappointment, the local bookseller turned up with only 10 copies of his book. When he queried this, he said: “You’re new at this, are you?” As Simsion anxiously waited for the hoards to arrive, only 8 senior ladies turned up mostly to catch up on local gossip and take advantage of the free morning tea. As if things weren’t already looking dismal enough, the local librarian then told the crowd that they didn’t have to buy the book. They could borrow it from the library. Great! However, Simsion who says that the support of “the local bookshop” has been pivotal to his success, turned things around encouraging his recalcitrant audience to buy books as gifts and the copies quickly sold out.

From these humble beginnings, The Rosie Project has since topped the Independent Bookseller lists and plans are in motion for the movie. Simsion is now very much in demand and is currently touring the country with over 80 author talks ahead and the books are selling like hot cakes!

Just goes to show that taking a chance, persistence, honing your craft and strategic thinking can really make that difference. Yet, you’ve now heard the man, Don’t forget to start getting pally with the owner of your local bookshop. Take them coffee. Indeed, I’d even recommend dropping off some quality chocolates. That way once you’ve finally managed to get that manuscript out here and published, you’ll already be best friends for life.

However, in the meantime, I need to get “the book” finished, which after a pause in proceedings probably means hitting “restart”.

But…

Watch out South Australia. I know where you are!

Have you been to any good author talks recently? Or perhaps, you’ve spoken at your own? Do tell!

xx Rowena

Who is Don Tillman? The Rosie Project Uncovered.

Who is Don Tillman?

That is the question I have been asking myself at both a conscious and sub-conscious level ever since first reading the  best-selling novel The Rosie Project and its sequel The Rosie Effect which were written by Australian author Graeme Simsion.

While you often suspect an autobiographical element in a novel , when it comes to the Rosie Series, this suspicion takes on a pressing importance. At least, it did for me. You see, the novels are both written in the first person and the story is told through the eyes, the mouth, the pen of Don Tillman and this voice is maintained almost too well throughout. That voice never falters, which is either a huge credit to the author or he is, or a significant chunk of him, is Don Tillman. Generally, it wouldn’t really matter. Who cares if a novel is largely auto-biographical?

However, the case of Don Tillman is a little different. You see, Don is hardly your average Aussie bloke and is at the very least quirky. While he has no official diagnosis in the books, readers have labeled him Asperger, or on the autism spectrum. Given the insights and understanding which Simsion shows into Don’s character, it then raises the issue of whether these descriptions apply to Simsion as well. After all, he does seem to understand its quirks intimately and from the inside out.

Then again, does it matter?

So who is Don Tillman?

The simple answer is that Don Tillman is an Associate-Professor of Genetics who has an obsession with detail, is highly scheduled and to say he struggles with social situations is a major understatement. He is looking for a wife and having failed dismally at conventional dating, has taken a practical approach to the task. He has devised a questionnaire to screen for possible wife candidates which will quickly eliminate unsuitable prospects and it is hoped, yield the perfect wife. It is Don’s quest to find a wife using this questionnaire which forms the plot of The Rosie Project.

The longer answer about Don’s identity is much more complex.

Naturally, when it comes to searching for the inspiration behind a character, you have to begin with the author and dig to ascertain just how much of the book is auto-biographical.

Well, last Thursday night I had the opportunity to explore this question in the flesh when I attended an author dinner with Graeme Simsion. I have met numerous authors, mostly through the Sydney Writer’s Festival, but I was particularly intrigued to meet Graeme Simsion. I wanted to judge for myself whether Graeme was Don. Actually, judge is a bad choice of words. I was more intrigued and that wasn’t to judge Simsion as a person but more as a writer. As I said, Simsion captured Don’s voice so well that it either made him Asperger’s himself or he was an absolutely brilliant writer. If he was that good, I wanted to find out more about his techniques. Learn from him. Particularly as we were spending the night together. ..just ignore the rest of the people in the room!

Sometimes, as is the case with the Rosie Project, the characterization is so strong that you know it isn’t made up. The author has captured an insight into the human condition which could only ever come from being inside the character’s head, inside their skin and indeed inside their soul. They know those little iddy biddy details about what makes that character tick at such a microscopic level that they are more than standing in their shoes. They are wearing the same skin and even their hearts beat as one.

If you have ever watched the hit TV series Big Bang Theory and observed the character of Sheldon , you can really see this synergy in action. I find it very hard to believe that actor Jim Parsons isn’t a Sheldon in real life. He plays the role too well and they seemingly wear the same skin.

I had that same sense reading The Rosie Project. That Don Tillman and Graeme Simpsion had to be one and the same. After all, the story is told so convincingly in the first person that it came across like reading Don’s private journal. How could somebody who wasn’t Don-like ever pull that off? That was a big question for me not only as a reader but also as a writer.

So is Graeme Stimson Don Tillman?

Simpsion, however, denies that he is Don. Rather, he says that a jogging buddy provided the inspiration for Don and the infamous jacket incident is based on something which happened to himand that the book is based on true incidents. Yet, while Simsion denied that he is Don, he admits to having some geek-like traits and concludes:

“There’s a bit of Don in all of us.”

Indeed, this is the books’ appeal.

While we might not be Aspies ourselves, we’ve all made those terrible social gaffs where despite our best intentions of doing the right thing, we’ve screwed up. We’ve tried to buy that perfect anniversary present but in the end only end up causing offence and score a black eye when it flies back to us return to sender. We say and do the wrong thing and most of us despite our carefully crafted public facades are real screw ups and we are not laughing at Don. We are laughing with him. Not necessarily because we’re on the spectrum ourselves but because we’re human. We might not have gone berserk about wearing a jacket in a restaurant or gone and filmed children in a public playground to understand how to be a better parent, but we’ve all made a serious social gaff at some point and Don reassures us that’s okay. We are not alone. Indeed, it could have been worse…much, much worse! Thank goodness there’s Don!!

However, before these truths hit home, it’s more than likely that we quickly identified someone we know as “Don”. That person who is a bit quirky and we’ve debated or even diagnosed them as being “on the spectrum”. Don is our Dad, a work colleague, our husband, a friend or even all of the above. Not that they necessarily recognize themselves in print. More than likely, they laughed through the book like the rest of us and missing themselves in the mirror.

Well, at the dinner, Simsion happened to mention that Melinda Gates had passed the book onto Bill and I came across this review on his web site:

“Melinda picked up this novel earlier this year, and she loved it so much that she kept stopping to read passages out loud to me. I started it myself at 11 p.m. one Saturday and stayed up with it until 3 the next morning. Anyone who occasionally gets overly logical will identify with the hero, a genetics professor with Asperger’s Syndrome who goes looking for a wife. (Melinda thought I would appreciate the parts where he’s a little too obsessed with optimizing his schedule. She was right.) It’s an extraordinarily clever, funny, and moving book about being comfortable with who you are and what you’re good at. I’m sending copies to several friends and hope to re-read it later this year. This is one of the most profound novels I’ve read in a long time.[1]

Do you think perhaps Melinda was sending him a message? Gee, I don’t know…

This, of course, brings The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect back to me.

It is certainly no secret that I absolutely love these books and have almost been flagging strangers down in the street recommending that they read it. With all the millions and millions of books in this world and given that my house is bursting at the seams with books, what is it about this book?

Personally, I related to the chaotic, seemingly disorganized character of Rosie in The Rosie Project. Rosie is spontaneous and chaotic like myself and I pictured her as a bit of a wild character with black lipstick, locks of wild red curly hair which she swirled into some kind of crazed order on top of her head and probably wearing vintage clothing or black. She was definitely more creative than scientific in how I perceived her.

However, my perceptions of Rosie changed in The Rosie Effect where just a few lines of dialogue given by the members of her study group revealed that Rosie is more like Don than I’d thought. That it’s more than likely that Rosie is on the spectrum as well.

That’s when it all hit home. Aside from these very cleverly arranged lines of dialogue, we had only ever seen Rosie through Don’s eyes and as I’ve already established, Don has a “different” point of view.

I will write more about what I learned about Graeme Simsion the man and the writer in my next post. As you can see it was a very productive evening and I even left buying another set of books to give away to some treasured friends.

Have you read the books and if so I’d love to hear your reflections!

Xx Rowena

PS I was researching dyslexia tonight and came across this spelling of Asberger’s which made me laugh: “My son has mild arseburgers”. Someone commented: “arseburgers” – a minced rump steak?

[1] Bill Gates, http://www.gatesnotes.com/Books/The-Rosie-Project, July 12, 2014.

Surviving A Booktastrophe.

It turns out that I must have been building the Tower of Babel because my tower of books came tumbling down all of their own accord.

My husband who was the chief eyewitness, swears he was on the other side of the room at the time when he heard a rumble and a crumble as my precious tower of good intentions crashed dramatically to the ground.

He’s always been wary of my dubious stacking techniques but after filling the boot at the local scout book sale and supporting our local independent bookstores and buying a few titles online and did I mention that we even raided a friend’s stash which had been bound for the op shop, the house is almost made of books.

Books, books, more books. We can’t get enough books.

Now, the problem is what to do with them all.

Yes, reading them would be a start but it will take years… decades… more than a lifetime!

Any ideas or perhaps confessions from other chronic bibliophiles?

I’d love to feel supported when the next savage minimalist appears at my door and wants to sort the place out. They always seem to point their discerning finger straight at the books: out!

However,perhaps you’ll appreciate that these wonderful misunderstood and undervalued items of clutter are actually friends and are much closer to me than soul mates. They share the rhythmic beating of my heart.

Anyway, I’m on the look out for some more real estate…I mean bookshelves. Somehow I need to find homes for the new additions.

xx Rowena

xx Rowena