Category Archives: Chemotherapy

The Countdown to 50…Yikes!

Tomorrow, which is currently approaching faster than a Japanese bullet train, I turn 50 and in so many ways am happy to chant “Fifty not out”, even though I’m not a cricket fan by any stretch of the imagination. After all, when we rewind six years ago before I found out they were were going to give me chemo to combat my rampaging auto-immune disease, I was in dire straits. I was potentially looking down the barrel of 12 months to live. That’s serious stuff for anyone. However, at the time, our kids were nine and seven. They were along way off independence and being able to fend for themselves.

So, I am absolutely exuberantly happy to still be here. I truly appreciate the frailty and transience of life and the need to grab onto it with both hands and carpe diem seize the day.

However, in addition to this gratitude, there is also disappointment. A disappointment which can feel like an arrow straight through my heart.

Of course, it’s only natural that reflecting on my 50 years really intensifies both the good and the bad. It brings out the stuff you don’t think about very often as well as the stuff you leave right at the back of your closet hoping there might just be an imaginary land out the back where it could disappear altogether never to return. Of course it doesn’t though, does it?!! Instead, it sends you a huge birthday card. One of those ones which play a song when you open it up which is too loud to ignore.

Of course, I’m not the only one you has had disappointments. Indeed, while mine have been pretty intense at the time, others have been through worse and even much worse.

Moreover, since I’m still here to tell my tale, I’m considerably lucky. Blessed. Whatever you call it. My glass is more than half full. It’s literally overflowing.

Yet, there is the tear. I’m not going to deny it’s there. Or, wipe it away so no one else can see it. Life is full of ups and downs and I don’t believe we should ever deny those times we’re face down in the mud unable to surface. It is what it is. However, acknowledging that, is very different from getting stuck there.

I haven’t got time now to take this any further at the moment. The clock’s just past midnight and so I’ve already passed from my 40s into my fifties and moved on.

Now, it’s time to get to bed because some wise owl thought it would be fantabulous to welcome in the new day by watching the sunrise with the family. We’re heading off to Pearl Beach about 6.00am when I’m usually snoring and dreaming away.

However, I’ll leave you with this great hit from the Uncanny X-Men:

Stay tuned for more reflections.

Meanwhile, you might want to share how you felt about and experienced your most recent milestone birthday in the comments below.

Love & best wishes,

Rowena

 

G: Goals – Motivational Quotes A-Z Challenge

Today, our journey continues through an alphabet soup of motivational quotes especially geared towards writers and creatives working on a big project.

Of course, all of us know that goal setting is important. Indeed, many of us also know that goal setting needs to be SMART:

  1. Specific
  2. Measurable 
  3. Achievable 
  4. Relevant
  5. Time-based 

Developing SMART goals is all about removing that fantastic dream-like quality from what you want to get done, and creating an actionable plan for results.

For many creatives, no doubt terms like goal setting and SMART goals sounds way too business-like and we’d prefer to go with the flow.

The trouble with not having a goal is that you can

spend your life running up and down the field and

never score.

– Bill Copeland

However, for me there comes a point where your credibility is at stake. Not just when it comes to other people, but also with yourself. If you’re not even striving towards your life’s goal, what are you waiting for? Life is short. Not only that, it can be shorter than you thought. After all, not everyone receives their full entitlement of four score and ten. Not that I want to be morbid, but I do live under the shadow of a nasty auto-immune disease and I’ve already slipped through the net a few times. That has made me think, but it hasn’t always led to action!

The greater danger for most of us isn’t that our aim is

too high and miss it, but that it is too low and we reach

it.

– Michelangelo

However, I don’t believe that goals need to be rigid and stuck in the ground like football posts. They can and do change, and it’s important to be responsive. Intuitive.

To be perfectly honest, this is probably something I need to put some more time and focus into. I have worked in small business and been to quite a few seminars and one of the big catch phrases for small business owners is about spending time on the business as well as in the business.

As writers, writing is our business. The same goes for artists, photographers etc. However, we still need to work on our business which includes things like goal setting, planning, keeping our desks and computer files sorted and backed-up. Having the best goals in the world doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t have the wherewithal to carry them out and see them through to the end.

Otherwise, they’re just dreams!

Well, so far I’m somewhat keeping up with the annual Blogging A-Z April Challenge again this year and am finding there’s much I need to action from these posts.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

Merry Christmas – Weekend Coffee Share.

This is just a brief message to wish you and yours a Merry and Blessed Christmas and a Happy, healthy and Wonder-filled New Year.

As you may be aware, I live in Sydney, Australia where it’s looking like we’ll be having a scorchingly hot Christmas and Boxing Day. We’re heading out to Church tonight for Christmas Eve and will be heading to my aunt’s my parents and extended family for Christmas Day. We’ll be catching up with Geoff’s sister from Boxing Day.

I’ve written a few Christmas posts in the last week which may interest you:

Silent Night

A Stinking Hot Christmas (written 2015 for Solveig Warner’s Advent Calendar)

A Sydney Christmas

Christmas Door – David Jones

St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney

 

We would like to wish you and yours a Merry and Blessed Christmas. Happy Holidays isn’t a phrase we use here in Australia, but I understand it’s used a lot in USA and has its place.

Yet, at the same time, we understand that this time of year is very difficult for many for a variety of reasons and we would also like to acknowledge that. We hear you and I put my hand on your heart and stand alongside you. It’s not easy and while I’ve experienced the most amazing miracles myself, they haven’t come about like clockwork. I haven’t clicked my fingers and hey presto, pulled a rabbit out of my hat. I’ve also found there’s a lot I can do to both improve my lot and also completely shoot myself in the foot and make things worse.

“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.”

-TS Eliot

Well, that’s a rather large dose of philosophy and reflection for what’s supposed to be a coffee share. However, so much is shared over a cup of tea or coffee in the real world. Why shouldn’t that be a part of our virtual coffees?

“Way too much coffee. But if it weren’t for the coffee, I’d have no identifiable personality whatsoever.”

-David Letterman

Best wishes,

Rowena

This has been another Weekend Coffee Share, hosted by Eclectic Ali.

PS The photo of me as the elf was taken in the Cancer Centre at Royal North Shore Hospital. I popped down there to pick up some resources for a friend. However, 6 years ago I had a round of chemo (cyclophosphamide) to treat my auto-immune disease, which had started attacking my lungs. Treatment began the week before Christmas with my second dose on Boxing Day, when there was plenty of parking for a change. The treatment worked and I’ve been in remission for 6 years. So, I have much to be thankful for and it’s a reminder not to take the seemingly hum drum and every day for granted.

Hospital Cheer…Thursday Doors.

Welcome to Another Thursday Doors.

This week’s Featured Door is attached to the Respiratory Investigation Unit at Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney.

When you think about having a Merry Christmas, the last place you want to end up, aside from the local morgue is in hospital. That also applies to the weeks leading up to Christmas where it seems like the rest of the world is floating in bubbly and doing the Christmas party circuit, while you’re shuffling from appointment to appointment. That’s not all bad if it’s all routine, good news and you can wipe all that off your radar.

However, it doesn’t always work out that way. Six years ago, after my auto-immune disease flared up again and was resisting conventional treatment, I found out that they were bringing out the big guns and I was having chemo for Christmas. Yet, while this might seem like the worse Christmas present EVER, we actually viewed it as a blessing, a heaven-sent answer to prayer, and not a curse. They could do something.

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I wasn’t intending to revisit this journey today for Thursday Doors. Although I had lung function tests followed by an appointment with my lung specialist, I was intending to focus on my apres-appointment trip into the city (Sydney) where I photographed oodles of intriguing, eye-catching and even historic doors.

However, before I sorted them out, I wanted to acknowledge the efforts hospital staff have made to brighten up the place, trying to lift your spirits through what are often very traumatic, bleak and desperate times. News you don’t want at any time of year, but especially not at Christmas. Bad things aren’t allowed to happen over Christmas. That should be written into the fine print. Moreover, you wouldn’t be the first person to try to sue God either. Do you remember Billy Connolly in The Man Who Sued God?

Anyway, when I turned up for my lung function tests today, they’d decorated the doors for Christmas and clearly I had to take a photo for Thursday Doors.

I still remember when I walk out of those doors when I was first diagnosed with the fibrosis, and was absolutely distraught. My kids were only seven and five at the time and obviously needed their Mum. I felt bad if I was even five or ten minutes late to pick them up from school, and it was incomprehensible that I wouldn’t be there to pick them up at all. I left the lab with a single tissue and ended up in the hospital chapel sobbing my heart out, and there wasn’t a single tissue in the place. As hard as that tissue tried to cope with the deluge, it was overwrought. I ended up having to sneak back into the hospital toilets, get myself together and buy some tissues. I distinctly remember saying I had hay fever. What a duffer. A year or so later, when things deteriorated, I burst into tears in the hospital shop and the pink ladies rallied around me with such love. They were beautiful.

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Christmas Decorations in the Northern Cancer Centre. I think they’re Santa Kangaroos.

Anyway, as I mentioned, my specialists decided to treat the flare up using a chemotherapy drug called cyclophosphamide, which then introduced me to the Northern Cancer Centre on level 1 for my treatments. While I was there, I found out they had a resource centre and I came across a series of work booklets put out by the Cancer Council. These were really helpful for dealing with those really hard questions around death and dying, especially for families with kids. I was mentioning these booklets to a friend recently and that’s what brought me back to lvl 1 today. _DSC7625

Christmas Raffle at the Northern Cancer Centre downstairs.

Having photographed the doors upstairs, I asked the staff if I could photograph their Christmas decorations. I felt like a bit of an idiot, but I wanted to back up the doors upstairs with a another example of how the hospital was getting into the Christmas spirit. Anyway, much to my delight, they upped the anti and asked me if I wanted to have my photo taken in their elf frame. Being an irrepressible extrovert, of course, I jumped at the chance. It was a lot of fun.

 

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Before I head off and while we’re talking about the hospital’s Christmas celebrations, when I was there on Tuesday, a jazz band was playing the foyer and it’s something they’re doing during December. I couldn’t thank them enough. I’d actually just been to see a friend and it was an emotional time. So, it was really therapeutic to listen to the beautiful music and feel soothed. It was so thoughtful!

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Well, I realize that talking death, dying and hospitals is a rather gloomy subject at this time of year, when I reflect that I’m still here six years later and in reasonable health, it actually becomes a celebration. A good news story which might touch somebody else’s troubled heart with a touch of hope. After all, as much as we might not want to be in hospital, the alternative is far worse and rather permanent.  So, I’d better close off this Thursday Doors with a huge shout out to all the doctors, nurses, physios, OT’s and support staff who help get us back on out feet and out the door.

This has been another contribution to Thursday Doors hosted by Norm 2.0. Why don’t you come and join us and share a few of your favourite doors. It’s a lot of fun and helps you see parts of the world you’ll never get to visit.

Best wishes,

Rowena

The Journey Home…A Personal Quest.

“Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.”

– Matsuo Basho

For those of you who have been following my blog for awhile, you’ve probably sensed that I’ve been grappling with something. Something like a whole lot of random puzzle pieces, and wondering why they won’t all fit together. Arranging and rearranging them and then darting down another wombat tunnel (these are rather long and extensive by the way) searching for another missing piece, hoping that this time, I’ll finally be able to see the entire picture. Or, at the very least, have all four corners and the edge pieces in place.

Fueling this quest has been a sense that something isn’t quite right, which might’ve been blown off as anxiety or misplaced perfectionism if the story had been a little different.

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The Good Little Girl.

Of course, the general recommendation was “to go with the flow”. The only trouble being, that I was beyond the flow. Moreover, nobody ever presented me with a map or gave me any directions whatsoever to try to find the flow, let alone a lift. Indeed, since whenever, I’ve never gone with the flow or even known what it was.  Hence, why I’ve called my blog “Beyond the Flow”.

Rowena 1981

Here I am in Year 6 aged 12. The Serious Student.

Lately, this sense of not going with the flow re-positioned itself, and I felt more like I was living in between the lines where I perhaps don’t belong to either group but see something in between that other people miss. This perspective is also rather interesting when you look at it from a visual perspective, as you’re inhabiting that white space between two sentences. Not that I can actually read either sentence, as I’m up too close. It’s all a blur. I’m just there. Indeed, I could well be fast asleep, and quite at peace in what actually seems an uncomfortable, or even isolating position.

Rowena Dressing up

I used to love dressing up and performing. My brother and I put on little shows at home.

By the way, I didn’t say that I was alone. I’m not. Indeed, I’m actually starting to wonder just how many of us hover in between worlds not really knowing where we belong and yearning to find our home. Or, perhaps we/they have reached a point of acceptance, or even giving up, and have pitched a tent where they are and set up camp.

For many of us, there’s a complicating factor which heightens this sense of living in between the lines. Of not going with the flow. Even, grappling to know who we are within our own skin, before we can even attempt to work out how we can find our place in the outside world.

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The Irrepressible University Student. You can see I’ve jumped right out of my box by now.

Personally, my struggle to know and understand myself raised up into something of a tsunami wave, after I was diagnosed with hydrocephalus or fluid on the brain when I was 26. Apparently, it had been there since birth, but randomly became symptomatic in my mid-20s. Suddenly, thanks to my diagnosis, I had an explanation for being quirky, uncoordinated, and not fitting in. Better still, I had a cure. A magic fix. I had brain surgery and was given a shunt, which not only reduced the pressure in my brain and improved my coordination, it also felt for a time like the lights had gone out. Indeed, I started to believe that the theatrical, extroverted independent woman I had always been, was largely the fabrication of this disease. That all this pressure in my head, had made me disinhibited. That at least some percentage of who I thought was me, was in actual fact the disease stepping into my shoes and even inside my very skin and taking over.

Poetry Reading

Performing My Poetry in Paris in 1992.

This, of course, left the door open for way too many questions, and they not only moved in, but also made themselves at home.

Indeed, it left many doors and pathways open as I grappled to find some rock solid sense of myself. That core at the very centre of my being. The bit that is left, when you remove and take off all the layers and external forces and just is.

“To know yourself as the Being underneath the thinker, the stillness underneath the mental noise, the love and joy underneath the pain, is freedom, salvation, enlightenment.”

Eckhart Tolle

Much of this exploration has either been unconscious, or going on in the background while I’m getting on with the realities of life. If you’ve lived with this , you’ll know what I mean when I say the front screen is running but there’s another screen running behind closed doors, behind the curtain, or even somewhere at the back of your eyeballs (the eyes being the window of your soul). I never intended to live and operate like this, and I must admit it’s been very frustrating. I’ve really struggled to know quite who I am, and then to confound it further, I developed a debilitating auto-immune disease, which side-swiped me like a massive monster truck. Of course, it didn’t stop to see if I’m okay, or to even help me get my bearings. It just kept going.

“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”

Aristotle

Anyway, as I said, I’ve been niggling with this in the background and moving very much by feel. I feel comfortable, belong and really thrive in some settings, but in others, I shrivel up and am almost screaming in my skin to escape. I feel awful. There doesn’t need to be an explanation. Indeed, there often isn’t one.

Performance Queanbeyan 1886

 

I am coming to wonder whether it’s been this struggle within myself, which has taken me so deeply inside my family history. Indeed, now that I’ve found the missing piece of the puzzle, it feels like this is what I’ve been searching for my entire life. It wasn’t a coincidence that I wanted to swing from the chandelier. Or, that I wanted the be an actress right through high school (in addition to being a journalist). There was this pull from somewhere deep within my DNA, which didn’t connect with Mum and Dad or anybody in the near vicinity. However, deep within the lines of historic newspaper text, there it was. My grandmother’s grandmother performed in an amateur Minstrel Show in Queanbeyan, near Canberra. While it wasn’t New York, the programme was printed in the newspaper, and she wasn’t only the pianist. She was also acting. Indeed, Lizzie Johnston was playing Louisa in a romantic farce: The Rival Lovers. Finally, I had permission and acknowledgement of who I’ve always been. A constant beyond the ups and downs of life and collisions with life-threatening illnesses. An extrovert who doesn’t need a stage to perform, and can even perform in words upon the page, just like my kids sing and dance across the stage. Indeed, I don’t need a drink to perform a on stage either. Rather, I need someone to tie me to my seat in the audience.

Of course, that is not to say we’re pre-determined by our genes. However, personally I found it very encouraging that someone else in my family has been down this road, and I’m not crazy. That it wasn’t the result of too much pressure on the brain. It’s simply me. Moreover, there are quite a few performers on both sides of my extended family tree.

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My Great Great Aunt, Rose Bruhn, owned an elite hair and beauty salon in Brisbane but could also make kookaburras laugh on command, had a budgie who recited reams of Shakespeare. She appeared with them at charity fundraisers where she also performed poetry and she played the violin.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

– Robert Frost.

Rowena Lizottes

The humble violinist. I was actually a rank beginner when this photo was taken, but I have an in-built sense of theatre.

However, I’m not sure that this discovery is going to change a hell of a lot. These days, I’m pretty content with what I’ll call “my lot”. I’ve been doing some performances on my violin, which isn’t quite the same as jumping out of a cake or swinging from a chandelier, but I now understand a little better why I wanted to perform, and wasn’t content to only play alone at home.

While this journey is incredibly personal, and having problems with your brain isn’t something to brag about, it was a story that needed to be shared. While it’s been a catharsis for myself, I wanted to reach out to people grappling with similar issues, and hold your hand. We are not alone.

The Missing Piece

Lastly, I wanted to share an animation of a favourite book of mine by Shel Silverstein: The Missing Piece . It might be simple, but it’s very profound.

If this post connects with you in any way, I would love to hear from you via the comments.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Dealing With Characters in Non-Fiction.

Not every writer aspires to write a novel. Although I have stumbled into a passion for both writing and reading flash or bite fiction, my book-writing aspirations focus almost exclusively on writing non-fiction.

By non-fiction, I’m not referring to something along the lines of memoir and motivational writing. However, a few years ago, I stumbled upon some gripping stories through my family history research, which were writer’s gold. You know, the sort of stuff which could easily be described as “the Big Bang”.  After all, as the saying goes, “fact is often stranger than fiction”.

Anyway, after having yet another monumental tussle with a character this week, I thought I’d share a few peculiarities I’ve encountered dealing with characters in non-fiction.

Obviously, the very clear distinction between developing characters in non-fiction, is that your characters are or were real people. They’re not products of your imagination, even if they were inspired by real people.

This places certain limitations on how you construct and develop your character. For example, you can’t just make up where they lived, their occupation. Moreover, something real has happened to spark the story in the first place. So, as the author, you’re not really in command of character development or plot. Indeed, you’re role is more that of a meticulous restorer, than a designer.

Using the Proust Questionnaire.

This is where turning to the Proust Questionnaire can be particularly helpful, as it allows you to focus on and bring out the idiocyncracies of your character. It poses a series of questions, which may be used to “interview” your character. Here’s a brief snap shot, which was taken from the Vaniety Fair version.

1.__What is your idea of perfect happiness?

__2.__What is your greatest fear?

__3.__What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

__4.__What is the trait you most deplore in others?

__5.__Which living person do you most admire?

Character Have Limitations in Non-Fiction

Clearly, with your characters being real, this places all sorts of restrictions and limitations on how you can develop your character if you are trying to be truly authentic, rather than using a real person as a launching pad into fiction.

With the pieces I’m currently working on, I’m trying to be as authentic as possible. Indeed, I am in effect being, in effect, more of a restorer, than a designer. I’m working with my tweezers and magnifying glass to get those little details right, and yet at the same time, using a broad brush to create suspense, action and all the usual tools that you usually use to make a story worth reading. After all, a reader has no obligation to read anything we write, and there has to be an exceptionally good reason for them to even read the title, let alone the opening page. The days of readers bowing and scraping to the almighty author are long gone. We are the ones who need to get down on our knees and thank the reader. Be thankful they gave us their precious time.

Meticulous Research, Minimal Use.

This is why you don’t want to burden your reader with too much detail, even though you may have volumes of research. They should only see the tip of the ice berg. That’s not to say you don’t need the ice berg, but the reader is also interested in the other bells and whistles. You need to know your stuff. They need to know you know your stuff, but they don’t want you to regurgitate it all over them.

There is beauty in simplicity, something I’ve been appreciating more and more through writing and reading flash or bite fiction. A well-chosen object, piece of clothing, or even the use of language, speaks volumes. You don’t always need to write a novel.

Best Guess is Good Enough.

Another challenged I faced writing non-fiction, was working out about how to fill in the gaps. There’s stuff I don’t know. Can’t find out. Making things up bother me. Was it lying? However, I don’t believe there’s any harm in a best guess scenario. After all, the lines between fact and fiction are really quite blurry once you look into them. There’s always an overlap. Well, at least, that’s my humble opinion. I certainly wouldn’t call it “lying” or “fabrication”, and I am fairly fastidious about getting historical detail right.

The Character Drives Plot. The Author is the Passenger.

This week, I struck a another challenge peculiar to writing non-fiction. You are not writing or making up the plot. Rather, your character is in charge, and doesn’t care whether their next step is going to scuttle hours of work, and your entire philosophical position. No. They just do what they like and all you can do is structure and arrange facts and events, through your own editing lens.

The project which brought this to light, was actually my family history research. While I have been developing a series character sketches, which I’ve been posting on the blog in preparation for a book, I actually had nothing to say about my 4th Great Grandfather, John Johnston. I couldn’t find anything.

Plot is Unpredictable

However, after 20 years of passive research, I found out John Johnston was convicted of bigamy in New Zealand in 1864. Indeed, not only was he still married when he married my 4th Great Grandmother, Maria Bridget Flanagan. They even had four children, and it wasn’t like they weren’t living nearby either.

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This could well be John Johnston approx 1886.

As you could imagine, this changed a lot of things. Indeed, it actually changed his name. He was known as “Alexander John”, despite having a younger brother who was Alexander.  Moreover, instead of immigrating directly from Scotland to New Zealand, I found out that he had been living in Liverpool. Indeed, he had married Jane Ellen Jones at St James Church, Toxteth Park, Liverpool in 1855. Alexander John and Jane Ellen then lived with her parents for four months. They ultimately had four children and at least two of them were born in England. Alexander John moved to New Zealand around 1860 and three months later, Jane Ellen and the children sailed out. They settled in Dunedin where Alexander John was licensee of the Argyle Hotel until he went off to the diggings.

Understandably, my impressions of John Johnston nose-dived sharply. Although I’d never found any signs of greatness,  family legend had it that he’d built the North Sydney/Cammeray Suspension Bridge in Sydney in 1892. As it turned out, that was built by his brother, although we’re sure he was in there somewhere. Previously, I was thinking very much in terms of right-hand man, not the family charity case. Meanwhile, his other brother, Angus Rutherford Johnston was some kind of Indiana Jones type character who’d fought in Nicaragua, had been shipwrecked and captured by Indians, escaped, found gold and settled in Nanaimo, Vancouver Island where he ran a successful store. This has been, and continues to be, a family of high achievers. I’d always thought it was just a matter of time until I found out that John had built a railway, a monumental bridge or somehow made a name for himself somehow, and certainly NOT as a bigamist.

I won’t go into the ins and outs of the bigamy case here, except to say that he stared straight at his first wife in court and denied being married to her, despite their four children. Indeed, when he took the the detective round to see his wife, he really seemed to apply the charm: ” Jane, my girl, you wont prosecute me,” You see, it was actually the Crown which was pursuing the case. In the end, “Alexander John” was found guilty and fined. He got off lightly on a technicality.

However, it wasn’t just the bigamy, or his denial which shot him down in flames. He was also a perpetrator of domestic violence. In 1863, he attacked Jane Ellen with a knife:

Threatening to Stab—Jane Ellen Johnston I charged her husband, Alexander John Johnston with threatening to stab her with a knife on the 13th inst. The defendant was required to give bond to keep the peace towards her for six months, fined in the amount of £lO, and to find two sureties tor £2O each.”

Otago Daily Times, Issue 464, 16 June 1863

I knew nothing about this a week ago, and as you could imagine, it changes everything. I was shocked right to the very core. After all, you don’t really need much of a sense of ethics or values to know this man was a bastard, or at least capable of acts of pure bastardry.

However, as if all of this wasn’t already bad enough, it gets worse. Much, much worse.

On the 8th February, 1866 Jane Ellen and Alexander John’s nine year old son found a pistol, which his mother thought was safely out of reach. Jane Ellen was out in the garden weeding with two of the other children, when she heard a firearm exploding. Nine year old, Thomas James Johnston had shot his 15 month old sister, Ellen Overton Johnston, in the chest and she died. He didn’t know it was loaded.

Clearly, real life has now moved into the pits of hell, and to compound his first family’s agony, Alexander John was off living with my 4th Great Grandmother, Maria Bridget. Indeed, their son Angus had been born on the 6th January, 1865 and Margaret was born roughly a year later.

This wasn’t the story I was planning to write, even for my own consumption.

Of course, not all non-fiction takes such a turn for the worst. However, the story of John Johnston certainly illustrates that you need to be prepared for surprises, and somehow make the necessary adjustments.

The Challenge of Writing My Own Motivational Memoir.

I’ve faced different, but related challenges, working on a motivational memoir, known as: “The Book Project”. Just as I thought the plot was reaching it’s climax and about to trail off to its “living happily ever-after” conclusion, fate stepped in and the book was dead.

You see, I was working on a motivational book about overcoming my severely debilitating auto-immune disease, dermatomyositis and for 12 months, I was soaring. Flying high. I’d managed to all but turn my mountain around. I’d lost 10 kilos despite being on the fat drug, prednisone. I’d taken up the violin despite my disabilities and had played at a happening local music venue at our end of year concert. I’d started my blog and had built up an online blogging community. I’d also gone on an adventure camp where I’d gone parasailing, driven a quad bike and gone down the water slide on the boat without my glasses on, and had ridden a camel. I’d also managed to return to work one day a week as Marketing Manager of a local IT company and was also helping out in my son’s classroom as a volunteer teacher’s aide, and sometimes took the class. These were all things not only I had deemed impossible. It was all there in black and white, or at least shades of grey. The grand finale for the book, was going to be skiing down the Front Valley at Perisher, which would represent turning my mountain. Unable to climb a mountain and ever the individual, I’d decided to ski down the mountain instead.

Indeed, I did it. More as a terrified, quivering wreck of my former self, but I’d pulled it off.

However, even while I was still  down at the snow, I developed the beginnings of a severe chest infection, which blew up into pneumonia. One night while coughing uncontrollably, I briefly even stopped breathing. Meanwhile, a CT scan on my lungs showed that I’d developed fibrosis as a complication of the dermatomyositis, and suddenly the thrill of soaring steadily upwards, came crashing down and didn’t stop at ground level. It kept falling. Seriously, at this point I thought I was looking at a death sentence. Twelve months to live. I’d smacked into the wall, and I was all but a dead duck.

This wasn’t how the Book Project was meant to end. You can’t write a motivational book, which finishes off with you drowning in your own lungs. Come on. That’s not even a story you could give away, let alone become that guaranteed best seller I’d written in my head right down to the second last page.

Fortunately, my doctors put me on a series of chemo infusions of a drug called cyclophosphamide and five and a half years later, I’m still here, and I’ve been in remission ever since. Amen!

While these plots certainly plunged unexpectedly deep into the dark side, they do illustrate how when you’re writing about real people, the author is not in charge. Indeed, you’re much more of a passenger, than sitting in the driver’s seat. Indeed, you can see that at work even when I was writing my own story, although in that instance, it was fate which stepped in.

Clearly, this has become a very lengthy post, and so I’m going to stop it there and turn it over to you. Have you ever written non-fiction? How did you face and overcome some of the hurdles involved? It was be great to get a bit of discussion going.

Best wishes,

Rowena

A Legend in My Own Hair Follicles.

Before the magic of the Royal Wedding and seeing Harry and Meaghan tie the knot in spectacular fashion, I hung up my pink washing up gloves and metamorphosed into a star. I, the greatest unknown violinist, legend in her own hair follicles, performed Minuet by Beethoven with my violin teacher at Gig Night. That’s the modern equivalent of what was known as a “Soiree” back in the day. Indeed, it might have been more like my grandparents’ day, but there we were performing in the studio with real performance lights and sound equipment and our very own stage. It was personal, intimate and my husband and kids were all lined up in a row in the audience…my support crew.

Well, behind every star performer, there’s also their teacher. When it comes to my teacher, however, she had special duties. She was not only accompanying me in our duet in the kind of way that compensates for what I’ll call my “idiosyncrasies”, she had to help me on and off stage. Indeed, we made a decision that I would enter from backstage to prevent me from having a spectacular trip and fall getting up on the stage. I’m pretty good at reconnaissance these days, and I needed to hold onto the wall climbing up the step and was rather concerned that I could fall into the amp. The good thing is that the team at the music school is well versed in my idiosyncrasies and were only too willing to help. Moreover, I’m also one to speak up.

I should also point out that the staff at the music school have experienced these idiosyncracies before. A few years ago when we were performing at the school Christmas Carols, I stepped on the edge of the where the asphalt meets the grass and my ankle flipped over (not uncommon) and then I heard this crunch and fell. The pain was excruciating. Blood was dripping down my knee, but did I pike out? Does a violinist ever give up, even when the ship is sinking? Of course not. I played on and was helped on and off the stage that night too.

My performance tonight wasn’t perfect. I knew it wasn’t going to be. Yet, I was hopeful. Moreover, despite my nerves, I really love performing and being a part of a performance. I like getting out of my cramped quarters in our corridor of a dining room where I usually have to hold my breath as husband, kids, dogs, tennis balls squeeze or fly past and put my feet on that stage, dress up in my blacks and even put on come makeup and lipstick and be a violinist on the outside too. A musician. Knowing I belong here. That this stage is mine, even if it’s only for a few minutes. I own this space (something I picked up from dancing btw).

It’s a space I usually have to grow into, because it’s all too easy to put my playing down. I’m not in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. So, how could I ever consider myself a violinist? I haven’t even tried to learn vibrato, because I really don’t believe in myself. Don’t believe it’s possible. Of course, as I said, I have a decent list of “idiosyncracies”, which let me off the hook. Moreover, be honest, it hasn’t felt that important. It’s been more important to simply be able to play without making mistakes. However, it’s something I come back to once in a while, and learning vibrato is a natural progression for a violinist. Just like my daughter will soon be getting her first pair of pointe shoes for ballet, I should be equally enthusiastic and bursting out of my skin to learn vibrato. Take the next step. I should be wanting to grow, even though it usually means a phase of going backwards as we tackle the new skill.

Anyway, the reason I’m writing about all of this is twofold.

Firstly, I wanted to share my violin world with you. I don’t write about it all that often, but I actually have a lesson each week. I am quite a fan of Suzuki method, although I use the music and don’t play by ear. For those who know Suzuki, I recently moved onto Book Three. I was so proud. It’s been a long journey. I have hydrocephalus and dermatomyositis.  So, I never thought I’d be able to play the violin at all and only took it up again when my daughter insisted on learning, and she needed some assistance. I sat in on her lessons and while she has a rather on and off again relationship with her violin, I’ve stuck with it. She’d probably get to my level after a few weeks’ steady practice, but I’d only be delighted to see her overtake me. Well, she already has. She performed at the Sydney Opera House with her school two years ago at the tender age of 10. Clearly, you’re much better off trying to play at the Opera House as a young beginner than a geriatric.

The other reason I wanted to share my violin journey with you, is to encourage you to consider taking up that instrument you’ve always wanted to play. To go back to the piano you played at a kid, which could well be used for displaying family photos and ornaments than it’s intended purpose. Have a go.

I never considered myself a real music lover or expert of any sort. However, I can sense this is changing. That something new is awakening within. Actually, it’s not something new. It’s like when you’re doing a big clean-up and you find something you haven’t seen for a good 10-20 years and you taken right back to that forgotten time and place and all the emotions come flooding back as there’s that sense of coming home. I have always loved to sing and was good enough, but my voice is rusty and my violin’s become my voice, and to turn to the words of Johnny Farnham’s The Voice I need to

You’re the voice, try and understand it
Make a noise and make it clear

Do you have any musical dreams? If you could be any musician, who would you be? I’ll have to give it some thought.

Best wishes,

Rowena