Category Archives: Skiing

The Snow Job – Friday Fictioneers.

The instant Inge saw the ad, she leaped at the chance to work on the Australian ski fields. Skiing was in her blood. Yet, although her parents had met at the Nagano Olympics and ran the ski school in Grosser Arber, Inge hadn’t claimed it as her own. Rather, it took crossing that vast expanse of desert they called “the Nullarboring”, to get a sense of who she was and claim skiing as her own.

However, as the bus headed into Perisher, something was wrong. Where were the mountains? What about the snow?

All she wanted was a white Christmas.

——-

This has been another contribution for Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields The photo prompt for this week was kindly provided by © Dale Rogerson.

I have crossed the Nullarbor by car, train and plane and personally, I find something inspirational in that vast expanse of seeming nothingness. It reminds me of Jesus going out into the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights. There’s so much space, that your thoughts can just keep going and going and going without being pinned in by concrete and steel.

The Nullarbor Plain (/ˈnʌlərbɔːr/ NUL-ər-bor; Latin: nullus, “no”, and arbor, “tree”[1]) is part of the area of flat, almost treeless, arid or semi-arid country of southern Australia, located on the Great Australian Bight coast with the Great Victoria Desert to its north. It is the world’s largest single exposure of limestone bedrock, and occupies an area of about 200,000 square kilometres (77,000 sq mi).[2] At its widest point, it stretches about 1,100 kilometres (684 mi) from east to west across the border between South Australia and Western Australia -Wikipaedia.

BTW thought you might appreciate reading my Valentine’s Day post about the snow bear’s search for love Snowy…A Valentine’s Day Hopeful.

xx Rowena

 

 

Life Was Meant To Be Easy.

According to the “Feel Good School of Thought”, life is meant to be easy. Adversity is a transitory thing that we can simply power through, as long as we “think happy thoughts” and “stay positive”. “If it feels good, do it. If it feels bad, give up.” However, from this perspective, we might as well pull the pin when “shit happens”. There is no reason to live.

Yet, ironically humans thrive on being challenged, using our problem-solving abilities, and overcoming adversity. We’re meant to use what we’ve got, even if some of the equipment isn’t in peak form. Indeed, adapting to these challenges stimulates the mind. After all, we were never designed to be couch potatoes, or even worse, liquid mash. Rather, we were meant to grow roots and broad branches, and stand tall on the inside, no matter what our design. Just think about how often you hear heroic stories of everyday people overcoming huge setbacks and surging forward in a new direction. Indeed, their curse can even become their blessing. The Paralympians embody such triumphs.

“I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.

So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.

Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.”

-Christopher Reeve.

At a more basic level, I remember my Dad encouraging to overcome fear and have a go. His big line was: “it’ll put hair on your chest”. As a little girl, I didn’t quite get what he meant and took him quite literally and I didn’t want hair on my chest. However, these days, this sort of grit has been rebadged as “resilience”. This school of thought poses that we need to experience the bumps and knocks of life to grow stronger and prepare us for the big hit. This isn’t as much fun as thinking happy thoughts and only doing what feels good, but we do emerge more rounded and as the Scouts would say: “prepared”.

While that all sounds great in theory, it’s quite a different story when you’re lying face down in the mud with no known way of getting up. At this point, it’s quite natural to feel overwhelmed by shock, disbelief, anger and self-pity. However, if you want to move beyond subsistence, you have get yourself out of the quagmire and start thinking about taking those first few critical steps, be they literal or somehow figurative.  Staying put isn’t an option.

Rowena

This isn’t theory for me, but my own, personal experience. I have walked the talk, sometimes needing assistance.

When I was 25, I was diagnosed with hydrocephalus or fluid on the brain and six months later had brain surgery to insert a VP shunt. The hydrocephalus was pretty freaky. Although it was largely dormant for the first 25 years of my life, it rapidly became symptomatic and for the six month period in between diagnosis and surgery, I lived the bizarre and traumatic life of Oliver Sacks’s: The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat. I had 6 months of intensive rehabilitation, learning how to walk and had occupational therapy to manage my life again. This all culminated in moving back in with Mum and Dad and a year off work. That in itself felt terminal. After all, when you’re living the story, you don’t know how it’s going to end. I slowly got back on my feet. Returned to work. Got Married. Had two kids. Then, the thunderbolt of medical misfortune struck for a second time. The birth of my daughter, triggered so much more than maternal joy. My hands turned raw. As it progressed, I couldn’t sit on the floor and get up again, dress myself. Eventually, 18 months later, I was finally diagnosed with dermatomyositis (DM), an exceptionally rare auto-immune disease where your muscles and skin cells attack themselves. As soon as I was diagnosed, I was put in a wheelchair and spent the next week or two in that and the next couple of weeks in a walking frame. I was only 36. Treatment made a vast improvement, but I went on to develop Institial Lung Disease with fibrosis, and affiliated chest infections nearly take me out most years. The Cough has now become such a permanent fixture, that I’ve called him Fergus.

I didn’t respond well to treatment for the DM, and five years ago, I had seven treatments of chemo. My specialist also changed my meds and I’ve been in remission ever since. Not smooth sailing, but still a relief. My kids are now about to turn 14 and 12 and still have their Mum. Moreover, I’m still an active part of their lives, even if I’ve had five years off work. I am so very thankful to be here. Yet, there are still times, especially when the cough flares up, that I get fed up. After all, I’m human, not invincible.

With the New Year, I’ve been rethinking my status quo and wondering how to get back into some paid work, while coughing like a mongrel dog and feeling dreadful in so many ways, that it’s tempting to sink underneath the waves and give up.

Prior to chemo, I had been employed as the Marketing Manager for a local IT Company one to two days a week. I’d also been working towards a motivational book about turning your mountain around. I had it all planned out. What had started out with a rather feeble New Year’s resolution to vaguely improve my heath through green smoothies, evolved into a surprisingly productive year. I lost 10 kilos, took up the violin and performed at the end of year concert, started the blog and tackled all sort of challenges at an adventure camp run by Muscular Dystrophy NSW…quad bike riding, sand boarding, para-sailing. It was incredible. I’d pulled off so many things I’d never thought possible, and was almost on top of the world.

 

All of these breakthroughs and successes were definitely book worthy and I thought my story could encourage others experiencing the hard knocks of fate, to give living a go. Living with two debilitating, life-threatening medical conditions and consequent disabilities, I was proof that it was possible to carpe diem seize the day even through times of serious adversity. However, my story wasn’t going to end there. The icing on the cake, which I intended to be the finale of the book, was skiing down Perisher’s Front Valley, in effect, turning my mountain around. Yahoo!

Rowena skiing downhill Fri

Skiing in Perisher. You can see my instructor, Tom, in the background…the wind beneath my wings. I went as a member of the Disabled Winter Sports’ Association.

That was the plan. However, while I triumphantly skied down Front Valley, my “victory” didn’t match my expectations. Rather than the exhilaration of triumph, I felt my gut sink with unbridled terror as I perched precariously over the edge, with a huge drop off down the slope to the village below. I felt like fleeing straight back to the safety of the “magic carpet”. However, I had my ski instructor with me and Tom went backwards down the steep start and held my hands to ease me down. By the time I finally reached the bottom after a few spills, I was more relieved than jubilant and I was just glad it was over.

However, the story doesn’t end there. Triumph soon did a terrifying back flip, and even before we left Perisher, I’d developed a nasty chest infection, which turned into life threatening pneumonia. Indeed, one night in between coughing bouts, I actually stopped breathing.

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Playing Moonlight Sonata after chemo.

At this point, I also found out that the auto-immune disease was in a serious flare and was attacking my lungs. The Institial Lung Disease had become active and I had marked fibrosis in my lungs. Moreover, the report on my lungs read like the contents of a vacuum cleaner bag…ground glass, honeycomb. I was actually surprised there wasn’t any dog hair in there. Anyway, they started me on chemo (cyclophosphamide) a week before Christmas 2012 and I’ve got to say, I didn’t expect to be alive for Christmas 2017. I am a living, breathing miracle, which has been a comprehensive and intensive team effort.

As you could imagine, pneumonia and chemo weren’t the grand finale I’d planned for the book and the book is still on hold as I wrestle with what it really means to be a survivor, grappling with my numerous battle scars and LIVE on. I don’t merely want to exist.

This isn’t something I think about all the time. However, with the new year, I’ve revisited all of this. I’m still wrestling with THE COUGH, while also trying to get back to some kind of meaningful paid work. The two of them are looking very incompatible at the moment, but surely I can find something?

Pursuing this question further requires me to accept my weaknesses, but also to acknowledge and embrace my strengths. Know that I am not a dud. Rather, I’m human. We all make mistakes and have strengths and weaknesses. Of course, that’s something I would say with conviction to anyone else, but I struggle to find that in myself.

So, I guess this takes me to George Bernard Shaw:

“Life is not meant to be easy, my child but take courage: it can be delightful.”

When you’ve experienced adversity, how have you kept your head above water? Please leave your thoughts in the comments and links through to any posts.

Best wishes,

Rowena

This post was published on Smorgasbord – Variety is the Spice of Life.

Never Give Up!

Yesterday, I almost cried with joy…relief. It was a true Eureka Moment moment. Just like you can strangely sink into a pit of despair over that proverbial glass of spilled milk, I found myself close to tears of pure joy, just by having my carpet cleaned. The “new” carpet wasn’t perfect, and still has its battle scars (mostly thanks to the fish tank). Yet, the metamorphosis was UNBELIEVABLE!!

We have wrestled for years about whether to get the carpet cleaned, or replace it. While replacing it seemed the obvious choice, we couldn’t agree on what to replace it with. So, its been  lingering on life support for eternity.  It’s only thanks to the funding I’ve received through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), that this became possible. That’s largely because I didn’ need to think about it. I could just do it. “Have a Nike moment”. Well, to be honest it took a lot more than just a Nike moment. It took a hell of a lot of work to “be prepared”, and that could only happen because the dermatomyositis is in remission and I have this NDIS funding.

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Now that the carpet’s returned from the dead, I have a glimmer of hope that the rest of our house isn’t dead after all. As they say, success breeds success, even when it comes to something as small and seemingly insignificant as the carpet. Slowly but surely, I’m getting my dignity back…and not just in relation to the state of the house, but I’m also feeling the cogs moving much more smoothly within.

Being something of a lounge chair philosopher, this brings me back to something I’ve considered before:

Is your house is a reflection of your soul, who you are as a person or your state of mind? Or, does it stand alone?

Naturally, it would make logical sense that whatever “stuff” is going on in your household or your life, that your house would become some kind of mirror or reflection. However, that can work both ways. Some people seem to throw themselves head long into maintaining the fascade during a crisis, seemingly to hold up the crumbling interior. For us , that hasn’t been an option. I’ve been sick for way too long and even the support crew’s had it. So, at our place, the house and garden have also cracked…along with the mirror.

However, is this crumpled wreck of my self or the accompanying shell, the real me, especially when I’m not living alone? After all, a family home is a family home, a canvas each of us paints and even when we live alone, a house isn’t a blank canvas. There are functional, financial and cultural considerations which reign our vision in. Most of us can’t just splat our real selves everywhere. Or, at least shouldn’t!

 

The photo on the left shows me having a transfusion of IVIG. I had these every 3 weeks for five years until my treatment regime crashed with a flare and I had chemo. In the photo on the right, I’m playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata after a chemo treatment. 

Yet, strangely we are resurrecting. I’ve been in remission for 3.5 years. Moreover, about four months ago, I was approved for our National Disability Insurance Scheme and any looking back has only been to celebrate my onwards and upwards progress. Well, that’s aside from my usual bout of severe chest infections, and the operatic cough which hails from the dark side of Hades. Indeed, I’ve been wrestling with all sorts of horrors lately as I’ve barked my way along some grueling, grim tributory of the River Styx filled, which is populated by all sorts of ghoulish spectors and shadows. Just picture the grim reaper, and I definitely believe he’s been stalking me for the last four weeks. However, I’ve become a seasoned veteran of the battle, and his attacks are not as severe as they once were.

 

Anyway, under the NDIS, I’ve been able to get extensive help at home and we’re steadily chipping away at years of neglect, struggle and the too hard basket, which has been overflowing with so much rubble that it’s toppled over.

So, you could just imagine my relief, my exuberarant joy and tears, when I said: “Hello carpet” yesterday.

It was also: “Hello sky”, because I also had the windows cleaned and much to our amazement, they’re clear. My daughter even joked this morning, that the magpie might fly into the glass and hit it.

The state of the windows was just another thing I’d switched off to. I know people do get their windows professionally cleaned, but this was out of our league and in terms of DIY, we’ve been struggling to put one foot in front of the other before NDIS. Windows, to me, is a computer thingy.

So, even though I’ve missed my usual contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share this week, I’d love to invite you round for coffee right this minute. That is, while the windows and carpet are in a blissful state of suspended animation, and you can actually see the floor. I know it won’t take long for trouble to return. We’re moving into Spring here and we have a little black dog who covers our carpet in a layer of felt. We also have two kids and my husband and I are also human.

In other words, we live in the real world…not Facebook or a magazine.

Have you experienced anything like this lately? Something you would call a “Eureka Moment” which has almost had you jumping out of the bath and running naked through the streets like  Archemedes? If so, I’d love to hear it and these stories are so encouraging to people in the thick of the storm, who doubt there’s any way out.

dog in the storm

Stupid me actually drove into this storm in search of “the shot”. I ran to my car which became my “tin can”, while hail the size of a golf ball pummelled the car. Even the sound alone, was terrifying.

On the other hand, if you’re currently feeling trapped in the thick of the storm, know you are not alone. A lot of people have been there or are there right now, and are only too willing to hold your hand either figuratively or in person. I would encourage you to hook up with some people sharing your experience, especially veterans and survivors of your particular battle. I know I’ve certainly found a lot of comfort with “my colleagues”, my “fellow travellers” in the same boat.

Take care and don’t forget to count and even search out your blessings. There’s always something, no matter how small. Or, perhaps it’s so big, you’ve only seen its feet.

Love & best wishes,

Rowena

Rowena sun

Here I am at Railway Park, Byron Bay. The artwork was done by a mum whose son died in the park from an overdose of prescription drugs. She undertook this art in the park project to help save others.

 

Weekend Coffee Share – 27th August, 2017.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

Despite the sun shining outside and the smoke lifting, we’re having a day indoors doing jobs today. That’s what happens when you swan around all week watching your daughter perform. Or, as in the case of our son, spend the week at the snow, arriving home with a wet and stinky backpack. I was intending to go into Sydney today to attend the celebrations at the Irish Famine Memorial. However, they’re doing track work and it was all too hard.

As much as I should be offering you a cup of tea of coffee and something scrumptious to munch on, I could well be asking you to help out. All my research materials seem to multiply, and I’m struggling to find somewhere for them all to live. I say this is the product of an active mind. Or, am I just a scatter brain?

Amelia Showcase 2017 rotated

Last week, our daughter performed in Central Coast Showcase on two separate nights. Wednesday, she sang in a combined schools’ choir and Thursday night, she danced with her school. She wasn’t the star of the show, but we always love seeing her perform as well as being inspired by the other performers. Indeed, some were sensational, very professional acts which knocked my socks off. This is, in addition to very young performers as young as 5 and 6 who, for example, were performing in a junior dance ensemble.

Needless to say, performance = driving. It also = $ + time.

I guess if you wanted to write that as equation, it would read:

P = $ + T + D = joy

Our son had a fantastic week at the snow. I touched base with his PE teacher who took the more advanced skiers and he said: “He smashed it!!”

Well, I was understandibly ecastatic.

DSC_6289

Our son leaving for snow camp.

Living in Australia only metres from the beach, snow skiing is an “interesting” sport. We live 6-7 hours away from the snow. So, even getting there is an incredible effort. Most of the kids around here, have never seen snow. Indeed, many Australians have never seen snow. I was about 12 when I first saw snow, and it wasn’t during Winter either. Our family went hiking through the Mt Kozsciosko National Park in Summer and I had the thrill of sliding down a glacier on a plastic garbage bag. That was some time around New Year’s Eve, when it’s stinking hot in Australia and anything but snow season.

Our family has been skiing three or four times and the kids have been through ski school. This meant our son had a good chance of doing well on this trip and I was praying so hard that it would be his turn to shine. Not that he’s not performing well in other areas but he’s had a rough time lately a needed a boost. I haven’t forgotten what it’s like to be 13 and it isn’t easy to navigate your way through the murky depths of puberty.

dingo_side1

Dingo at Fraser Island.

In terms of my writing, I participated in Friday Fictioneers again. This week’s flash fiction Dingo Attack.  I also shared an amazing piece of street art called  “The Eye”, which mesmerized me and I only wish I could experience it in person. There’s also Washington Post’s Mensa Invitational– an inspiration set of “words”. I also stumbled across an incredible piece of street art: “The Eye”.

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“The Eye” by Cece, France.

Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to get on top of my research. I have a wooden chest next to my lounge chair and the theory is that all the books, folders and paperwork get stashed away in there to be conveniently pulled out as required. All great in theory, but the poor chest is looking like an overpacked suitcase and all my stuff is sprawled across the couch and also in piles on the back of the couch. BTW, there’s also stuff on top of the chest, stopping me from even accessing the “bowels of the ship”.

I should just stop thinking.

Stop writing.

Then, I might just have a tidy house.

In many ways, it’s not the best time for me to be concerned about the house. I’ve been struggling to breathe for the last couple of weeks. I’ve had the flu and a chest infection but these struggles have been stretched to the very limit by smoke produced by bushfires known as “hazard reduction burning”. As much as I support this measure to reduce the severity of Summer bushfires, the smoke has truly bordered on life threatening to me and quite a few locals. I’ve managed at home with three trips to the doctor in the last week. A friend ended up at Emergency with asthma. It’s terrifying. However, the smoke has cleared today and I’m hoping it’s finally gone. PLEASE!! I’m down on my hands and knees…a begger. It’s hard to explain just how difficult it’s been to simply breathe.

Bushfire Woy Woy Bay 2

Bushfire Smoke Viewed from Woy Woy Bay.

These periods of down time, however, provide me with the space to get on with my family history research and I’ve really taken some huge leaps forward. I have been researching my 3rd Great Grandmother, Bridget Donovan, for a few years on and off. She was an  Irish Famine Orphan who was brought out to Sydney via the Earl Grey Scheme. She had her passage paid for, and each of the girls were given a trunk of provisions for the journey and their time here, including clothes and a Bible. Bridget arrived onboard the John Knox. She married George Merritt and I recently found out that they had a store on the goldfields near Mudgee. I even found her mentioned in an old newspaper clipping. I was stoked. I have been unable to find out where and when Bridget or her husband George died and were buried and it really frustrates me. It seems like such a basic, and yet it eludes me. Anyway, I was contacted recently and found out that three of George and Bridget’s sons intermarried with the Aboriginal community around Yass. This adds a whole new cultural dimension to my research and I also hope to meet up with this side of the family somehow. I have also found out that most of my Irish ancestors came from County Cork and this is now consolidating what appeared a diverse array of names into a much more integrated past. Indeed, I’m starting to think these various branches could well have known each other back in Ireland. I’m also hoping they don’t overlap or interconnect, which is currently looking likely. One of the first unwritten hopes of family history research, is not to be related to yourself!

So, despite not being well, I’ve been pretty busy in both thought and deed.

How has your week been? I hope it’s gone well and I look forward to catching up further. What have you been up to? 

This has been another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Diana at Part-Time Monster. I hope you will pop over and join us for a cuppa.

xx Rowena

Paralympics Weekend Coffee Share.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee  Share!

This weekend, I won’t be asking you to join me on the couch watching the Paralympics because I have a nasty cough and my son and I are staging our very own coughfest. Indeed, last night my cough suddenly deteriorated and I was relieved to have antibiotics on hand to fight it off immediately. I’m not back on deck yet but have perked up.

 

Being a person living with chronic health and disability issues, the Paralympics have a personal resonance for me. It’s encouraging to see other disabled people overcome their own hurdles to become athletes. I have experienced this myself in my own small way when I’ve taken on skiing, playing the violin and more recently ballet and have been amazed at how much I could do. Sure, I’m not flash but I’m getting out there and having a go. Moreover, I’ve achieved so much more than I ever thought possible. This is no doubt because I sell myself short and think I can’t do something. Moreover, I need to keep an open mind, remembering that just because I can’t do one thing, it doesn’t mean I can’t do something else or I could possibly be able to do something a different way. You could say that this involves applying my creativity and that creativity can also be about problem solving.

My big news this week, is that Beyond the Flow finally reached 50,000 views. I’ve absolutely stoked and have posted a photographic retrospective here.

Meanwhile, we went on a history cruise along the Hawkesbury River to celebrate Father’s Day last weekend. If you’d like to experience a taste of touring along this soothing river, you can click here 

The cruise took us under the Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge and we heard about the demise of the original bridge, which only lasted 60 years. All that remains of this original bridge is a row of stately sandstone pylons…a testimony to engineering error.

After the cruise, we headed up to my parents’ place for afternoon tea and dinner.

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Wednesday night, we attended my daughter’s school musical and absolutely loved it. While she loves the performing arts and has had a few performances this year, the school school was part of this and every class put on their own act. I really like this kind of inclusive performance and strongly believe that singing, dancing and any form of musical of expressive dance, are for everyone. My daughter’s class represented the 80’s dancing to Footloose.

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Make-up is now becoming an essential part of these performance for our daughter. Mum barely wears lipstick and yet she had very tastefully brushed on eye  shadow in rainbow colours and it looks like the soft feathers of a bird. She did a great job and helped the other girls with their makeup. This seems to be quite important to her and a means of self-expression and being creative. One of the young assistants at our local pharmacy was very helpful, which I greatly appreciated. She is learning to apply it tastefully without looking like a clown, which has to be a bonus!

In addition to watching the Paralympics today, we also watched Ghostbusters I & II. That was such a trip down memory lane remembering video nights back in the day and running around your friends asking: “Who you going to call? Ghostbusters!” (with an Australian accent, of course!)

On that note, I’m heading back to bed. I’m napping a fair bit at the moment and it’s now very late.

How has your week been? I hope you’ve had a great one.

The Weekend Coffee Share is hosted by Part Time Monster.  You can join this week’s Coffee Share on her blog or by clicking on the Linkup Linky.

xx Rowena

Dancing to the Stars

“Come Fairies, take me out of this dull world, for I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame!”

William Butler Yeats

A few weeks ago, I booked myself into an adult ballet class. The classes are being held at the dance studio my daughter attends. While taking up ballet again as an adult sounds crazy, it actually felt like a natural progression…the next step. After all, I’ve been driving my daughter to dancing for 6 years, and after years of being the spectator and observer, why can’t I have a turn? Why can’t Mummy get out of her taxi and spread HER wings?

Ameliabest

Our Dancing Queen

Dance in body, as well as mind, because I’ve been putting myself in other people’s dance shoes for years and even dance in my dreams. I borrow the best too…like a cuckoo moving into another bird’s nest. That way, I can almost reach the stars with my pointed toes, without even leaving my seat.

Amelia ballerina

Beach Ballerina

Yet, my time has come. After waiting in the wings all these years, I had to step out of Mum’s Taxi. Grab the bull by the horns and carpe diem seize the day. Shift gears from 1st position into 4th and even attempt a pirouette!

Watching was no longer enough.

As many of you can no doubt appreciate, taking action can be a huge thing for a writer. I suspect it could well be in our wiring, but we’re used to being the observer. Sometimes that’s because we’re in a support role, but I also know fear and a crippling sense of failure hold me back. So instead of doing, I write about it instead. Sound familiar? It’s great fuel for my writing, but you can end up living a second-hand life. Keeping your wings folded, never learning to fly even though you could.

However, all this positive thinking is only one side of the coin. The flip side is equally convincing.

Looking from a logical standpoint, me returning to ballet was ludicrous, ridiculous, stark raving mad. I have multiple disabilities and even struggle to walk along a footpath. I broke my foot last year walking on grass. So, how could I ever expect to dance? Added to all of that, I recently turned 47 so I’m no spring chicken.

Rowena

I had infusions of IVIG every 3 weeks for five years.

Bearing this in mind, I set the bar low and decided that even if I spend the classes sitting in a chair, if I can just hold my hands like a ballerina, I’ll be happy.

Yet, with so much stacked against me, I did have one ace up my sleeve. I’ve been watching ballet for 6 years and as a photographer, I don’t just watch, I absorb. I’ve been intrigued watching their bodies move in ways I could only ever dream about… setting their bodies free from all sorts of limitations, inhibitions and actually leaving the ground. Now, that my body struggles to move, I really know what that means. I appreciate being able to move, in the same way you savour that first day of Spring after a long bitter Winter. It’s pure joy and I take nothing for granted.

“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.”
Friedrich Nietzsche

After years of sitting on the sidelines, I recently noticed that I was enthusiastically tapping my foot in my chair and that the other parents weren’t necessarily tapping…only the dancers. Slowly but surely and through shedding years of being told I’m “unco” and believing dancers were wafer thin and very young, I felt there was a repressed dancer hiding inside. A dancer longing to come out of her cocoon in a safe, nurturing environment. That I was meant to dance.

Ha! Not that long ago, I even joked with the Principal that instead of being a DANCER, I am DANGER.

So, you get my drift.

So, what with all of that stacked against my dancing career, I didn’t tell my parents what I was up to and I joked about it with a few close friends in the same way you might announce that you thought you could fly to the moon.

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Playing Moonlight Sonata after chemo.

Meanwhile, as I waited for the classes to begin, the doubts set in. Rather than feeling like a risk-taking explorer, I felt like I’d well and truly crossed over to the other side of crazy this time. You probably know the line:”But I’m not crazy, I’m just a little unwell” from Matchbox 20’s hit “Unwell”, but you might not be so familiar with these lines, which sum up my apprehensions so well:

I’m talking to myself in public
Dodging glances on the train
And I know, I know they’ve all been talking about me
I can hear them whisper
And it makes me think there must be something wrong with me
Out of all the hours thinking
Somehow I’ve lost my mind.

Matchbox 20

Yet, this is the same person who plays the violin and skis, even if I don’t walk that well.

Rowena skiing downhill Fri

Skiing down the mountain at Perisher in August 2013.

Perhaps, walking is too pedestrian for me and I’m actually meant to fly:

“He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

So, tonight I finally headed off for my adult ballet debut…barefoot in concealing attire. I was thrilled my friend also signed up and we were embarking on this madness together. There were a couple of blokes in the group too. So, we were quite a motley crew. That was a truly special thing, because as our teacher pointed out, you don’t have to be a particular build, shape, gender or age to enjoy ballet. Ballet is for everyone.

“Every savage can dance.”

Jane Austen

So, how did I go?

Well, I could remember the basic positions… just like you never forget your times tables. However, as I stood in 1st position for possibly the first time since I was 11 years old, it didn’t feel like it used to. My legs have changed and it all felt odd, unfamiliar with no muscle memory whatsoever. On the bright side, while the movements felt strange, I can now understand the French ballet terms better than I used to…not that speaking the language necessarily translates into being able to keep up with the steps. Or, perhaps it does because I did keep up most of the time. Holding onto the barre, I pointed my foot, moved my arms, and dared to dream that the clumsy ducking could become a swan.

So far so good.

Yet, just when I thought it was time to go home, Miss Bronwyn mentions “pirouette” This is a term which eludes my French, but I know it means trouble. It all starts off with needing to focus on a spot on the wall and then turning your head and your body while moving your foot up near your knee, like a stork. I did try turning but at this stage I’m just focusing on the feet and keeping my balance.

So, I not only survived my first ballet class, I came home feeling exhilarated, fluttering with excitement and feeling frustrated that I have to wait a week for my next class. I am hooked. Not only with the joy of dance, but also experiencing the thrill of conquering so many boundaries and limitations. I even reacquainted myself with my inner hero. Great to know she’s back.

Now, I’ve got to get on with my homework. We need to practice our heel rises so we can be ready to jump.

Jump?

What the? The Castle’s Darryl Kerrigan had it right:“Tell her she’s dreaming”.

Yet, now I’ve stepped out, there is no turning back.

I will be dancing my way to the stars!

Have you ever tried something out of your league and found a missing piece of yourself? How did it feel?

xx Rowena

 

 

 

 

I- A Letter to Issa-Haiku Master..

Dear Issa,

Something tells me, that if we met in person, we wouldn’t need words. That our eyes would meet, sparking an understanding transcending language. Indeed, that is my hope.

However, that meeting has to wait.

This leaves us relying on the frailty of the written word, communicating across differences in language, culture, gender and time. While these differences are challenging, they’re not insurmountable when we walk hand-in-hand appreciating difference while also finding common ground. Through mutual respect and patience, I suspect our words will somehow translate themselves, like birds interpreting each others’ song.

I am currently writing letters to dead poets. After coming across your haiku, I decided to write to you. You suffered so much and yet you expressed such an incredible appreciation of life as well as an understanding of something intangible which defies words. Indeed, must we endure extreme suffering to gain that heightened sense of perception, which peers straight through the lines and beyond? Something tells me I already know the answer.

You and I are fellow travellers. You travelled throughout Japan writing Haiku as you went and teaching others. In 1992, I donned my backpack and flew to Europe, staying there for around 9 months. Much of that time, I lived in Heidelberg with a German family. However, I also travelled through Paris, Berlin, London Amsterdam, Florence, Basil and many cities in between. While there can be great freedom being a rolling stone gathering no moss, there can also be free-fall.

You’d be surprised how people travel these days. I have absolutely no idea how to explain Skype to someone who lived so long ago. However, in what must seem like something of a dream, you can see and talk to people in other places. So when you travel, you no longer have that same acute sense of isolation and detachment and there’s always the umbilical cord tying you back home.  These technical advances in communication have made such a difference. When I went to Europe, it was very expensive to telephone home and the Internet and email didn’t exist. So, we wrote letters, no doubt very similar to how you communicated back in your day. These days, letter writing is almost a forgotten art.

Travelling without a cost-effective means of staying in touch, meant that you had to stand on your own two feet and was a challenging test of endurance. I went from university where I knew so many people, to being a lone traveller. Periods of solitude were incredibly difficult, especially with no one knowing me, my history or where I was from. There was such a pining ache and I was so homesick. Even just a week into my travels, I burst into tears at Heidelberg train station and wanted to go home. Yet, I also had my pride. I am so pleased I stuck it out because through immersing myself in all these foreign countries, their language, people and culture, I flew beyond my nest and explored the world. Of course, the sky was filled with dangers, especially for such a little bird. Yet, there was also the view, the sensation of freedom and an appreciation of all that is “home”. I also made life-long friends. After all, living with a family and staying in one place, I found community. That’s still incredibly important to me!

Perhaps the greatest joy of travelling, is reveling in foreign cultures, people and places, immersing ourselves in a kaleidoscope of difference. Indeed, shunning conformity, the traveller actually seeks out and embraces difference. Yet, while being the lone stranger wandering through strange cities and towns, we can be the outsider, the observer, peering in through a crack in the wall. Loneliness, solitude and homesickness, can be the traveller’s lot. Yet, being away from home and its expectations and responsibilities, liberates us as well. Party! Party! Party!  Nothing like a holiday romance either!

Anyway, like English poet, Ted Hughes, I only met you recently and am new to the form of Haiku. While there are people who know you and your Haiku, inside out, I am keen to learn.

Recently, my son reintroduced me to Haiku when he had to write them for school. So, we talked about Haiku over dinner and even wrote a couple.

Being Summer here yet Winter in the Northern hemisphere, mine went:

Eternal Summer

Sunbaking on the beach

Snow is falling.

The rest of the family found my combination of snow and the beach too random and my husband joked:

Roses are red,

Violets are blue,

Look! There’s a kookaburra!

-Geoff.

Although it’s not strictly a Haiku, it had the family in hysterics!

Then our son came up with:

Roses can’t be blue.

Violets come in all colours.

But then there is you.

-Mr J.

Through these conversations, I came across your Haiku about a humble snail climbing Mt Fuji:

O snail

Climb Mount Fuji,

But slowly, slowly!

-Issa

Issa-snail

Wow! I related to this Haiku so intensely and couldn’t help wondering, if a tiny snail could make it up Mt Fuji, so could I…

Ever since I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease where my muscles attack themselves, I’ve felt compelled to climb up a mountain. It’s like the mountains are calling me, luring me up their steep and rocky crevices like the call of the wild. However, just because I have a disability, that doesn’t mean I can suddenly climb Mt Everest. I know that probably doesn’t make sense but it seems so many people facing series hurdles, go and climb mountains. Everest is way beyond me!

Rowena skiing downhill Fri

Skiing down the mountain at Perisher in August 2013.

However, being quite the lateral thinker, I skied down the mountain instead, in effect, turning my mountain around. That was my personal triumph!

By the way, did you know that when you turn a mountain upside down, you get a smile. Well, it works on paper!

Not so easy in real life. Before I’d even left the snow, I had the makings of a chest infection, which turned into pneumonia. Tests showed that I had active fibrosis in my lungs and I needed to have chemo. This was right before Christmas 2014, so I had chemo for Christmas! However, that was the best present I’ve ever had. It saved my life and gave me back to my family. That’s all that really matters now. That we’re all still here!

Getting back to your Haiku, I was so moved by it, that I shared it with my family. I particularly wanted the kids to realise that even huge mountain peaks can be conquered when you take them slowly one step at a time.

I thought you’d be intrigued by my daughter’s reply:

“How does the snail climb Mt Fuji if there’s snow? It wouldn’t stick!”

She’s very good at asking the tough questions!

Does Mt Fuji have snow all year round? Mind you, given the crowds climbing to the summit during climbing season these days, the snail could probably hitch a ride, although those very same feet could easily means its demise. That said, I know hitching a ride wasn’t what you had in mind…cheating!

Climbing straight up metaphorical mountains is something you know a lot about. You have certainly experienced much anguish! When you were 3 years old, your mother died and your father remarried. In 1814, aged 52 you married Kiku. However, joy was short-lived. Two years later, your son, Sentarô, was born, dying almost four weeks later. Two years later, your daughter, Sato, was born. However, she tragically died when she was just over a year old from smallpox.  A year later, your second son, Ishitarô, is born. However, tragedy continued when Ishitarô suffocated while bundled on his mother’s back. He was only a few months old. In 1822, your third son, Konzaburô, was born. In 1823, your wife died and Konzaburô died in December. In 1824, aged 62, you married Yuki, a samurai’s daughter but you soon divorced. Then, you had a stroke, losing his power of speech for a while. Indeed, you wrote:

how irritating!
the wild geese freely
call their friends

-Issa

In 1826, aged 64, you married Yao but a year later, a fire sweeps through your village, destroying your home. How awful!

After enduring so much, on 5th January, 1828, you died of a stroke.

You experienced anguish on top of anguish and yet you went on, finding beauty in the infinitesimal details in nature:

Don’t weep, insects –
Lovers, stars themselves,
Must part.

-Issa

Was that what kept you going? Or, do you even know?

So many us are desperately wanting to know!

I hope that you have found happiness and peace where you are now.

Yours sincerely,

Rowena

Featured Image: Issa’s portrait drawn by Muramatsu Shunpo 1772-1858 (Issa Memorial Hall, Shinano, Nagano, Japan) Photo By Yoshi Canopus – Own work (My own photo), CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=768109