Tag Archives: Change

A Different Perspective on Humanity

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a8/NASA-Apollo8-Dec24-Earthrise.jpg

Ever since I saw Dead Poet’s Society, I have truly appreciated turning something on it’s head and seeing it from a totally different perspective. Looking at something in a new or different way which challenges me to stop. Think. Not just go with the same old same old and step well beyond the square.
Indeed, beyond the flow.
That is what I love about this photo of Earth as viewed from the moon. We are so used to gazing up and looking up at the moon and yet how often do we ever consider how the moon sees us?
Sure, I know for most of you, the moon sees nothing. It’s just an inanimate lump of rock which orbits the Earth. You gave up believing in the man in the moon almost a lifetime ago. So who cares how the moon’s perspective of the Earth? How the moon sees things when, as I said, it’s just a lump of rock?
Well, I’ve always been a little different and some would argue that I’m in a league or perhaps even a world all of my own.
I am beyond the flow.
Anyway, a few years ago, I was working on a kid’s story where the moon wasn’t just a lump of rock in the sky. It was a character and for many months there, as I lived and breathed that story, I tried to see things from the moon’s perspective…as you do as a writer.
That was when I first saw this photo and I sat on the moon and enjoyed the view. That was how the moon saw us. I really took this view into my heart and loved it… our beautiful, blue planet rising in the vastness of space. It was so exquisitely pretty and beyond that, it was home… my home.  I am a little, invisible part of it joined up with all those other little bits and together we make a whole. We make up this blue planet.
It’s amazing what you can discover when you look at things from a different angle.
You can gain a whole new fresh perspective. You never know. You might even embark upon an entirely different journey.
I am trying this approach with a few challenges I am facing. Whenever I feel negative, I try to turn my feelings around to see the positives. Not in a way that lies to myself but just trying to view things differently. Finding a different perspective.
On Friday night, I will be staying in hospital overnight at the sleep lab to check out how I am breathing in my sleep. Like most people, I don’t like hospitals and I’ve had some very rough times in them. It could well be a time when some really bad memories return to haunt me and I am only human. I am scared.
At the same time, I am trying to find a different perspective. It is one night. I will be fine.
I might even think about this photo while I’m in there. It has a peace and serenity about it which is very reassuring.
It’s much more reassuring than the evening news which is on in the other room.
Isn’t it incredible how peaceful and serene our little blue planet appears from space where all the chaos and the craziness of billions of people just blurs in a blue haze?!!
I think I prefer that perspective, even if it means sticking my head in the sand.
Any thoughts?
xx RowenaI apologise for the formatting issues on this post. All the text disappeared and I had to fiddle around to get it back.

My Light Bulb Moment

A few days ago a large, glass Moccona jar fell out of my kitchen pantry and landed on my foot. It made this awful loud thump as it hit and the pain was excruciating…a definite twenty out of ten. I was pretty convinced something was broken but these jars are tough. They might not bounce but they don’t shatter. I guess it’s a good thing we don’t have tiles!

My foot was sort of fine too eventually …after two Panadols and an ice pack!

Well you might ask why that jar fell out of the pantry but I’m sure you already know. After all, I’m only human! I was simply doing what most of us mere mortals do…struggling to squeeze just one more tiny little thing into an already over-stocked pantry. Hence I was doing some kind of juggling act holding back a row of Moccona jars while trying to quickly and very deftly slam the door shut before the avalanche hit.While using those big Moccona jars seemed like a great idea for storage, they don’t stack and they’re not square and they certainly don’t breathe in and squeeze into tight places. Instead, they jump out and do nasty, nasty things to your feet. Believe me! I would just love it if our pantry was all stacked and ordered like something out of a Tupperware catalogue but who am I kidding? I’m just not some domestic goddess. I’m somehow beyond the flow. That’s all. Sorting out the pantry just doesn’t seem to make it to the top of my to-do list. It’s one of those killer jobs I keep putting off.

A row of Moccona jars removed from the pantry for photographic purposes!

A row of Moccona jars. They have understandably removed from the pantry for photographic purposes!

Well, you would think that after that jar fell on my foot that I would suddenly find the motivation to get on with it. See it as a sign or perhaps an act of God? After all, what am I waiting for? A jar to land on my other foot or perhaps for all of those jars to jump off in unison like 10 green bottles standing on the wall? That would definitely be a trip to Emergency if not a ride in an ambulance.

As I said, I would dearly love my pantry to be neatly stacked and organised just like something out of a Tupperware catalogue so why don’t I just do it?

What will it take for me to act?

We all know this goes way beyond just sorting out my pantry.

That the pantry is a metaphor… a symbol. Or in my case, perhaps it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

For some reason most of us are creatures of chronic inertia…even when it involves changing something which really matters.

You could quite possibly call it “Tomorrowitis”.  It’s a serious almost incurable disease and you can be assured that if you do actually manage to cross a few things off your “Gunnado List” (this lingo might be Australian but let me assure you it’s a universal disease!!!), you’ll never get to the end. That’s just the way it is.

Such light bulb moments have changed the world even if they haven’t changed me.

Archimedes who was a Greek mathematician, engineer, inventor, and astronomer had a legendary “Eureka!” moment some 2,200 years ago when he realised the principle of buoyancy while taking a bath. He was reportedly so excited that he immediately jumped out of the bath and ran onto the streets naked shouting ‘Eureka!’ ‘Eureka!’ (You can read the whole story here. It’s an awesome story http://www.itsnotmagicitsscience.com/science.asp?newsid=381)

Perhaps, you’ll be thankful I haven’t seen the light after all. The sight of me running through the streets naked isn’t what it used to be!

An apple fell on Isaac Newton’s head and he came up with the Principle of Universal Gravitation.

Meanwhile, a jar hits yours truly on the foot and what do I do?

Absolutely nothing. Nothing at all!

Well, I did do something. I wrote about it instead.

However, after writing about this all day, I have finally reached that elusive state of acceptance. You see, everybody has their own set of priorities and we can’t possibly get everything done. I went for my swim this morning… all 10 laps and it was a small pool but you can only do what you can do. That’s all. It’s taken me a long hard day slogging away on this post to reach this state of acceptance but I’m finally there and it feels like such a release.

I have finally accepted that I don’t have to conform to what someone else considers important or be able to do what they can do. I just need to be me. That is good enough.

Now, I finally “get” the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Reinhold Niebuhr

What happens when all your light bulbs go on at once?

What happens when all your light bulbs go on at once?

PS: After I reached this lovely point of acceptance, I was flicking through Lao Tzu’s  Tao Te Ching and found this advice, which just turned all my acceptance on it’s head:

Keep filling your bowl

and it will spill over.

Keep sharpening your knife,

and it will blunt.

Keep hoarding gold in your house,

and you will be robbed.

Keep seeking approval

and you will be chained.

The great integrity leads to actualization

never overfulfillment.

I will get to the pantry. I will….

How have some of your light bulb moments turned out?

My son has an all systems light bulb moment. He received this lamp for his birthday today.

My son has an all systems light bulb moment. He received this lamp for his birthday today.

xx Rowena

A Line in the Sand…

I apologise for taking the easy way out today. I usually go to great lengths to provide a striking photo or image to illuminate my posts. However, I had a big day yesterday so I’m just making do.

That’s a story in itself.

Living only 700 metres from the beach, you’d think that I could just hit the beach and draw a real line in the sand to get a great image for my blog. After all, the beach is so beautiful. It’s hardly an effort! Our beach has stunning views across to Palm Beach and Pittwater with the beautiful Lion Island majestically rising from the surf.

The Beach

The Beach

Surely, going to the beach isn’t a chore?!!

I even have a few ideas about how I could draw my line in the sand if only I could get down there.

I’m thinking driftwood. Driftwood sounds so poetic. I can’t help wondering how far that precious lump of wood has travelled or where it’s come from. Of course, I’m assuming that it has come from somewhere really exotic. It’s journeyed thousands of kilometres enduring sun, rain and storms to get here. I can see it now… that small piece of wood bobbing up and down being tossed by the waves as it traversed the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. It’s travelled all the way to Australia from one of the Pacific islands like Vanuatu or the Solomon Islands. Or maybe, it’s from South America or even deepest, darkest Peru. That sounds even more exotic. However, given the direction of the ocean currents, it would have needed a good outboard motor to get here! It would be drifting against the flow.

In all likelihood, however, my precious piece of driftwood probably comes from Woy Woy and hasn’t travelled far at all. It’s just a scraggly piece of eucalypt and doesn’t have much of a story to tell. Gum trees might be exciting if you’re a koala bear or you’re not from around here but for me, they’re “common”.

Getting back to photographing my line in the sand, I could also be very pragmatic and just draw a line in the sand with my finger or photograph a tidal mark where the ocean has etched its own line in the sand.

As I said, it wouldn’t take long and it wouldn’t take much effort for me to just jump in the car and take a few photos. I wouldn’t even need to walk.

However, today I’m recovering from a hectic trip to Sydney where I somehow managed to squeeze in Les Miserables before I had my transfusion at the hospital. It was a very long day and I’m feeling like a flaccid balloon lying flopped on the sand. I’m spent. It usually takes me a few days to bounce back from these treatments.

So you’ll just have to put up with my photo of a line of sand drawn onto a boring piece of computer paper instead. You’ll have to apply your own imagination today.

Have you ever thought about what it actually means to draw a line in the sand? Yes, I know it means making a permanent change in your life, a turning point. However, it now seems strangely ironic referring to a permanent change in your life as “a line in the sand”. I mean, poetically speaking, the beach usually represents fleeting transience where dreams, like sandcastles, are washed away even before they’ve even been made. We’ve all been there and experienced that heartbreak.

I quite like Kahlil Gibran’s Sand and Foam:

I AM FOREVER walking upon these shores,
Betwixt the sand and the foam,
The high tide will erase my foot-prints,
And the wind will blow away the foam.
But the sea and the shore will remain
Forever.

Anyway, I have drawn a line in the sand only my line is permanent…etched in sandstone perhaps!

I am no longer going to worry about things that don’t need to be worried about. I’m not saying that I’m eliminating fear and worry from my life completely. It’s just a case of no more worrying about things that don’t need to be worried about.

You see, yesterday I worked myself up into such a worried frenzy over catching a bus to the local train station, that I realised I need to make some drastic changes.  I am tempted to humour you a little and say that I’ve decided to avoid catching the bus but I won’t. I’ll behave.

In many ways, yesterday’s stress was self-inflected. My transfusion was at 2.00PM and I had plenty of time to get down to Sydney. I didn’t need to stress. However, I’d decided to squeeze in seeing Les Miserables on the way and I would literally be squeezing it in too. The movie went for 2 hours 38 minutes and when I checked the train time table, that only left me ten minutes to walk from the station to the hospital.  I’m a slow walker and there’s a very steep hill right at the hospital which is just great for sick people…especially sick people who are running late!

There was also a much bigger problem with squeezing in Les Miserables. I had to leave home at 8.30AM to catch the bus which meant getting the kids to school half an hour early. School starts at 9.00 AM and we have been unofficially late all term. I’ve been sneaking the kids into assembly or even worse, catching up with the class when they go for their run. Although they’re technically late, they haven’t called the roll yet so they’re “on time” by the skin of their teeth. This means they don’t need a late note. The kids don’t seem to mind being late. They can stall and procrastinate as much as they like. I’m the one who is going to get busted by the powers that be somewhere high up in the Education Department if these late notes start mounting up. We don’t need a visit from the inspector at our house! No! No! No!

If I was more pragmatic, I would have waited for Les Miserables to come out on DVD. However, I’d decided that I really wanted to see it on the big screen. I don’t get to the movies very often and I very rarely buy a DVD. Moreover, I haven’t watched many of the DVDs I’ve bought. There have been movies which I’ve really wanted to see that have just passed me by because… There usually isn’t a good reason. So this made me really determined to get to Les Miserables…especially as Hugh Jackman used to be the local heartthrob when I was at school and I really wanted to hear him sing (ha!).

But like so many things in life, getting to Les Miserables and to my transfusion was going to take military planning and precision. Sadly, I’m no General.

Step 1…Getting out of the house.

Thank goodness we made it out of the house on time and despite a few last minute protests, I managed to get the kids through the gate with only minutes to spare.

Step 2…Catching the Bus.

Somehow, I managed to turn this simple step into a network drama.  I should have listened to Lao-tzu: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step…not with a flapping panic attack!

The drama began when I noticed that Bus 53 was already across the road at the bus stop when I pulled up. Yes, I knew it was the wrong bus at the wrong time but there was still this doubt. That “what if”? Instead of sticking to my guns, I started to doubt myself. Doubt the bus. These doubts only got worse when I realised that there were two bus stops across the road from the school and I didn’t know which bus stop was right. My confusion further intensified. Fortunately, there was a time table and yes, bus 70 did stop here. At that point, I should have heaved a sigh of relief but no. When it came to visiting panic stations, today I was travelling all stops. I started to wonder whether my watch was on time. That bus 53 was still bugging me as well. Had I made a mistake? Was I in the wrong spot? Was bus 70 ever going to turn up? Was I going to miss my train and miss the movie? Was this going to be the very end of my life?

In case you haven’t realised, I don’t catch buses very often. We’ve been living here for 12 years and I caught my first bus 3 weeks ago so I’m not used to them at all. I much prefer trains. Trains run on tracks. Rightly or probably wrongly, I feel a train has to turn up eventually whereas buses, being more free range, seem more unreliable. Not being on a track, they can do whatever they like and I don’t feel entirely 100% confident that a bus is going to turn up. I know that’s silly, especially when the trains are notoriously late and rails are nowhere near as reliable as they seem!

So there I am standing at the bus stop. I’m not jumping up and down on the spot or anything else that would betray my inner frenzy but by this stage all this worry was going round and round in my head like a Greek dance. You know how the music starts out soft and slow at first but speeds up getting faster and faster until it reaches fever pitch and the music is flying! Really flying! I was caught up in a frenzied vortex of pure fear…all about waiting for a stupid bus which wasn’t even late!

Of course, I forgot to breathe deeply.

I also forgot all my relaxation visualisations like picturing a smooth calm lake.

All I could see was a drowning woman. A woman drowning in waves of utter panic. That woman was me.

My goodness…all this stress over a stupid bus! A bus that isn’t even running late…yet!

I can usually relate to The Scream by Edward Munch

I can usually relate to The Scream by Edward Munch

Then, I spot a plover across the road. It steps off the curb and plants itself in the middle of the road and it’s strutting its stuff defending its turf….no doubt against any passing cars and of course, my bus! The plover looked absolutely ridiculous. It was taking on a battle it simply couldn’t win. I mean a plover versus a bus…it’s a bit of a no brainer!

Just in case you haven’t encountered a plover, these territorial birds are a bunch of thugs which have invaded our school playground. They’re vicious, mean and nasty and they have poisonous spurs in their wing tips. To be fair, however, the kids persistently chase the poor birds so it’s hardly surprising they’re hostile. It’s war!

Yet, there I was waging my own war which was equally ridiculous. Had I missed the bus? Was I waiting at the right stop? Would the bus pull up on time? Would the bus arrive at all? It was madness.

As I stared at the plover taking on its invisible foe, I saw myself in the mirror especially when the bus turned the corner right on time and pulled up at my stop. I climbed on board without incident. Nothing blew up or went terribly wrong. The bus also stopped at the other bus stop further down the street and it even arrived on time at the station with minutes to spare before my train pulled in.

I had been through all that self-induced stress for absolutely no reason…no reason at all!

At that point, I drew a metaphysical line in the sand and decided that in future my worries had to be real. That I wasn’t going to allow myself to worry about non-worries ever again!!

You might recall my story about the bird which became trapped in my house and how it reduced me to a quivering, shaking lump of jelly.

I thought I’d moved forward on the fear front since then and that I’ve been doing really, really well. I’ve driven to Morpeth. I’ve even driven over the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I can’t help thinking it’s a bit crazy that this whole situation of waiting for a simple bus brought me down. I’d have no trouble playing my violin or even singing in public. It’s not like I’m afraid of my own shadow or even that I’m afraid of all the usual things that freak people out. I’m not even bothered by spiders. For some reason, it’s perfectly okay and socially acceptable to have a crippling phobia of spiders but it’s not so cool to be afraid of missing the bus.

This is going to be an interesting journey of discovery. How do I distinguish between a real worry and a fake worry? What steps am I going to take when I encounter a fake worry to ensure I don’t take it onboard and catastrophise over a total non-event?

I don’t know.

Actually, I do know a few things like practicing my deep breathing and doing my relaxation visualisations. I can also watch my self-talk and try to nip the anxiety spiral in the bud. I could also ask myself whether this is a life and death situation. What is the worst that would happen, for example, if I had missed my bus? Not much! I could have driven myself to the station and I might have even found a parking spot. I could also have asked just about anyone from the school for a lift. Most people would have been happy to help. I might have missed out on the movie but I would still have had plenty of time to get to the hospital. Missing out on Les Mis would have been a disappointment but it was hardly a matter of life and death.

Step 3: Les Miserables

Yes, I actually managed to see Les Miserables on the big screen. I loved the movie but it was very, very sad in parts. I particularly enjoyed Ann Hathaway’s performance as Fantine and Hugh Jackman was great. Russell Crowe’s character was so despicable that I can’t really look favourably on Crowe’s acting ability.

I managed to buy myself a pie en route to the station. This wasn’t just any ordinary pie but for all the wrong reasons.

Step 4. Catch the train from Hornsby to St Leonards.

This is where the real life and death stuff actually took place.

I was eating my meat pie on the train when I started to choke. I’m not just talking about a little choke either. I think I’d inhaled some of the pie into my lungs and due to my muscle weakness, I was having trouble clearing it out. I was barking and barking trying to clear my chest and nothing was working. I was coughing and coughing and coughing. I had a bottle of water in my bag…a standard inclusion for long trips. The water probably helped but I was in real trouble this time. The coughing just wouldn’t stop and we’d gone through several stations. I think we’re talking about something like 10 minutes of solid choking by this point.

Anyway, there I am on the train. It is early afternoon so the carriage is almost empty. I am sitting on my own so I couldn’t just reach out to someone easily to get some help. In many ways, I was trapped inside myself, which would have been quite awful if this sort of thing hadn’t happened to me before. I haven’t choked quite this badly in the past but I wasn’t really worried. I just wanted the coughing to stop.

I’m still coughing. I feel like I’m going to be sick, possibly the only way to dislodge this thing. At the same time, my nose is starting to run in sympathy and the situation is desperate.  You know how it is when your nose screams out. It demands immediate relief!

So there I am coughing my lungs out and trying to hold my nose in while the girl sitting in front of me is applying her mascara. I can see her peering at her eyelashes in a little hand mirror. She doesn’t seem perturbed by my coughing at all. She doesn’t flinch and certainly doesn’t turn around.

Now, I could make a bit of a judgement call and say that she doesn’t have much of a social conscience and certainly doesn’t apply the Golden Rule (or even the Inverse Golden Rule). I could also make some comment about how you could die on a train in Sydney and no one would offer to help you. That might all be very true but I will be more charitable. If you weren’t medically trained or if you didn’t have any experience of choking yourself, would you know what to do or how to respond? It’s only now that I’m writing about this experience that I have remembered the Heimlich manoeuvre. This is an emergency technique for preventing suffocation when a person’s airway (windpipe) becomes blocked by a piece of food or other object. I haven’t thought about this since Mothers’ Group. When I Googled it both to remember what it was called and the procedure, I found out that you can actually perform the Heimlich manoeuvre on yourself. This was a great discovery which is very empowering for me and also helps to reduce a source of real, very legitimate fear. Knowledge is power and for me this knowledge could save my life. Remember, I have muscle weakness so this is good to know.

Anyway, even though I am sharing this story with you from the comfort of home and you already know that I’ve survived, myself the character is still choking on that train and is about to have a serious nasal explosion.

So we must return and please bring a tissue along with you.  I still need it.

Next, I did something truly disgusting. Something which I wouldn’t even confess to one of my closest friends, let alone broadcast to the entire World Wide Web. I blew my nose on the white paper bag which had housed my pie. I will emphasise that the paper bag was clean. It looked like a tissue and it was a much better option than my sleeve. I didn’t have time to get off the train and I just didn’t feel that I could ask anyone on the train for a tissue. I don’t know if that’s a reflection on them or on me. It was just how I felt at the time.

I’ve now made a mental note to put a packet of tissues in each of my handbags. This is not the first time I’ve been caught out and it’s time I learned.

Another line has been etched in the sand.

Step 5: The Hospital

Somehow, I arrived at my transfusion pretty much on time. All that stress had all been rather superfluous. Superfluous in terms of me getting anywhere on time but not in terms of having detrimental effect on my wellbeing. Stress in itself is a killer.

But I’ve now drawn a line in the sand, there is no turning back. I’ve raided my bookshelf and it’s time to finally read: Susan Jeffers: Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway and Dale Carnegie’s: How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.

The Secret to a Happy Dog!

The Secret to a Happy Dog!

I think the dog must have read these books already. He’s quite a happy dog and he’s had a great day. He went for a drive in the car and had some leftover pizza for dinner. He may not be getting any thinner but he’s happy!

He's a smart dog. He even managed to get it on sale.

He’s a smart dog. He even managed to get it on sale.

xx Rowena

PS I found this photo on file. Not a bad line in the sand after all.

A line in the sand quite different to what I'd envisaged.

A line in the sand quite different to what I’d envisaged but I like it.

Summer Loving…A Dog’s Perspective

Only I could turn getting the dog clipped into a philosophical debate otherwise known as a “drama”.

For the average, normal person, getting our dog clipped would be a no-brainer.

Bilbo is a woolly, Border Collie designed for the Scottish highlands but living in beachside Australia where we experience truly scorching summers. Some days, it gets so hot that you could easily roast a chook or fry an egg on your bonnet if you could actually be bothered.

It’s December and it’s almost Christmas. Bilbo needed a clip. He desperately needed a clip. He has been huffing and puffing, looking like he’s about to expire but…

When you have a long-haired dog, you want a long-haired dog… even if you do live in a stinking hot country. As weird as this might sound, I find patting the dog with his long, woolly coat very therapeutic. I just love touching his fur and giving him cuddles. He is so snuggly. I know that sounds a bit selfish letting him suffer just so I could play with his fur but I did relent. I booked him in. He had his haircut. It’s just that I found the whole process difficult.

I also wondered how the dog would feel about losing his coat. He’d never been clipped before and his fur coat doesn’t exactly have a zipper. Once it’s off, it stays off. He’s only known himself with fur.  I was pretty convinced poor Bilbo was going to feel naked, exposed and wonder where his real self had gone. He doesn’t spend a lot of time looking in the mirror but I’m sure that if he did catch a glimpse of his reflection, he would wonder who was staring back at him. Who is this new dog? I’m sure even a dog has some kind of inbuilt sense of identity and for most of us, how we look is definitely a part of who we are. I’m not talking about vanity here. I’m just talking about having a sense of what we look like that makes us unique…ourselves.

Now, of course I don’t know if dogs actually do have a sense of identity. Moreover, even though I love my dog, I have to admit he already had issues. Bilbo believes he’s a person, not a dog. He also believes he’s our third child.

So you see, the poor dog was already mixed up enough without having a hair, or should I say fur, crisis as well.

Anyway, after weeks of procrastination and hard core avoidance, Bilbo has finally had his run in with the lawn mower on Saturday and his beautiful fur coat has gone. He was naked, all except his face and the very tip of his tail. They don’t usually clip a Border Collie’s tail but his tail was quite matted and it needed a fresh start. I can accept that. It all makes perfect logical sense and it was certainly more humane (if that’s what you call looking after your dog). That said, his precious tail looks quite odd-especially as the groomer left a white tuft at the end as some kind of compensation for losing the rest. It’s all quite neat and I’m sure it will look better in a couple of weeks but at the moment, the poor dog looks like a cheerleader wagging a pom pom and it does look… um…”different”!

DSC_3854

Bilbo wasn’t only missing his coat. He had also changed colour. He went into the dog wash booth black and came out light grey. I could say it was like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis but even though the dog groomer had done a fabulous job, he’d gone in the butterfly and emerged the caterpillar. Apparently, border collies have two fur layers and the top coat with longer hairs is black and the undercoat is light grey and they actually appear grey when all the hairs are the same length.

I must stress that we were very happy with the dog groomer. Bilbo wasn’t the easiest client and kept trying to bite the clippers when they went near his front paws and tried to jump out when she turned on the hairdryer. He was a little freaked out. He’s been well-trained by the rest of the family.

The kids weren’t too sure about Bilbo’s new look, especially our daughter who can be quite “particular”.

Initially, our daughter pretty much rejected the dog. She asked me not to take him anywhere near school because her friends would tease her for having a weird dog. I guess it was good that she was open with me so we could talk about “difference” and being more accepting. I reminded her that she loved Bilbo and he was still the same dog and would also be much better off in summer without his coat. I felt this was an important lesson to help her be more accepting of people. After all, we comes in all shapes, colours and sizes….themes and variations and I’d like both my kids to accept people for who they are, not based on appearances!

I do wonder what Bilbo thinks about losing his coat and raised the subject with the family in the car:

Ro:  “naked”.

Geoff: “liberated”.

Mr: “weird”.

Miss: “cold”.

Seeing Bilbo without all his camouflage, has renewed my commitment to his diet. He looks like he’s been squeezed into a tight lycra body suit, which is a size too small and reveals every single bump and indulgence.

He needs to lose weight and get fit and I need to join him!

There has, however, been an unexpected upside to getting the dog clipped.

He stayed out of the rain this morning.

I will explain…

For some strange reason, Bilbo who is usually a very smart dog, stands out in the rain getting sopping wet and then expects to be let in the house and given a pat. He looks terribly forlorn and hurt when he has to stay outside to dry off but as much as I love our dog, that wet dog smell and the mud and too much.

Yesterday, when we were discussing how Bilbo might feel about his haircut, the kids both mentioned the rain and how Bilbo would now be able to feel the rain. Mr said “Bilbo would find it weird to feel the rain”.

Well, this morning the theory was put to the test and we had an almost dry dog. His head, which pretty much has its original fur, was a bit wet as it had been sticking out of his kennel.

We are all adjusting to the new dog. Bilbo hasn’t had a nervous breakdown about losing his coat and Amelia didn’t say anything when Bilbo came in the car with us to school this morning. Patting the shorn fur doesn’t feel the same as the long fur but I’ll live. And now that we have the dog all ready for the summer heat, we’ve had another cold snap and the dog is probably cold.

Perhaps, he could have kept his coat just a little bit longer…

xx Rowena

PS Putting this post together showing me how difficult it is to photography the dog. I was chasing him around the house and every time I’d call him to try to get him to look at the camera, he’d come over to me. In the end, Geoff took the photo of him with me. I also realised that we don’t have many photos of the dog. We usually take photos when we go out and he’s not with us. Considering how many photos I take, I will have to work on that.

PPS Of course, since having the dog clipped, the weather has been unseasonably cold. Last night, I was looking for my overcoat to head out to a Christmas party. It’s already been packed away but I fished my winter PJs back out of the storage crate. I also let Bilbo sleep inside. Geoff heard a mad scramble of claws when he got up during the night. He suspects the dog was “illegally parked” on the couch.

A Million Dollar View…My Journey Through Ambulatory Care.

I am up in the clouds again. Being creative, that’s not unusual but right now, I’m literally up in the sky wrapped up in an enormous, sky-blue woolly blanket dotted with a scant scatter of clouds. There is no wind today and the clouds are just sitting still like lost sheep.

Given the view, I could be on a jumbo jet.  Yet, I can actually recline my chair and put my feet up without squashing the sardine in front or behind. There are no screaming babies or in-flight movies either.

The lunch trolley arrives with a much anticipated rumble. It’s four star service with rather humble offerings of cheese and tomato or mock chicken served up on very plain white bread. We are offered a choice of apple juice or Paradise Punch. I always take the Paradise Punch. I wouldn’t mind a touch of paradise as long as it’s not permanent.

My nurse would make a fantastic Hosty, even though she’s not wearing one of the glamorous purple gowns. They’re reserved for the chemo patients.

Inside 12A looking out

Welcome to 12A. It isn’t First Class but it’s certainly not economy either. I am being very well looked after. I haven’t been admitted.  I’m just visiting, having my regular three-weekly transfusion of Intravenous Immunoglobulin (IVIG). Immunoglobulin (Ig) is another name for antibodies, molecules produced by the plasma cell. IVIg is very precious and is currently is worth more than twice the price of gold on a gram for gram basis. On a more comic note, the stuff looks a lot like lemonade… all clear and bubbly. For all I know, it could be sugary sweet as well. After all, I’ve never drunk the stuff!

The views here are first class.  Today, I am facing west and the Blue Mountains form a smeary smudge just above the window sill. Up above there’s only sky. If I stood up, which is a little challenging juggling a laptop, a cannula and a cup of tea, I could see across the historic Gore Hill Cemetery and the Lane Cove River, which flows into Sydney Harbour. The views are much better in the other treatment room where the Sydney Harbour Bridge stands centre stage. It is not the conventional perspective you see on postcards. It’s the back-end view but it’s still magic.  I have always loved The Bridge but since coming here, we’ve become something like close friends, even soul mates. The Bridge has been my strong and silent partner, helping me get through all of this. There have been some pretty dark times in here, especially as an inmate when the “Coathanger” literally held me up.

I’m no longer afraid of needles but it can take a few jabs to find a vein and it certainly isn’t “pleasant”. My veins are pretty obstreperous.  I know there’s blood in there somewhere because my heart’s still beating but my veins have somehow managed to dry up. It’s like trying to get blood out of a proverbial stone. The nurses are extremely patient and accommodating and bring out the warm towels and squeeze toys. They’ll try anything to pump up the volume and believe me especially in winter, there have been some desperate times. My hands routinely turn deep purple and feel so incredibly cold, they’re like lethal weapons. Geoff and the kids flinch when I touch them. I have to warm my hands up first.

Yet, the nurses persevere. They take my hand and inspect the back of my palm surveying an arid, desert landscape. I hope and pray that they’ll get the cannula into my left arm so I can write and even though we both know it’s usually mission impossible, they’ll always have a go. They know how much it means to me and perhaps they’re also doing their bit to help a struggling writer.  They also tell me to drink loads and loads of water before each treatment and I certainly try to do my best but with a long car drive, I have to be careful. I can’t pull up every five minutes for a toilet stop. At the same time, I desperately want them to get that cannula in my left arm so I can write and that’s what it takes…a gallon or more of water. But I want to write. I need to write. For me, writing is breathing.

12A has become my home away from home… some kind of strange oasis, the calm at the eye of the storm. My transfusion takes about 3-4 hours and during this time, I write, read or chat with my “colleagues”. Before the kids started school, these treatment sessions provided me with much needed time out….a time of relaxation and repose. It was my “cave” and my retreat. Life was very hectic back then.

My trips to 12A are full of routine, ritual and rewards. That’s what gets me through.

The kids usually go to my parents’ place while I’m here and I set myself up with a cup of tea, a muesli biscuit and all my writing and reading material. I naturally always sit in one of the chairs facing the view and I very rarely miss out. The view is my salvation!

The Twins

When the cannula goes in, I usually focus on the two tiny little flags perched on top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Apparently, fixating on a point is a relaxation technique but I’d been coming here for several years before I’d found out about that. The Bridge was just there like it’s always been with its broad arms proudly spanning the Harbour. She is still stunningly beautiful after all these years so strong, majestic and omnipresent.

Usually, my husband and I have afternoon tea at Kirribilli afterwards. Nestled under the Harbour Bridge, Kirribilli has a quaint almost village feel with rambling old terrace houses, narrow, winding streets and stunning harbour views. It even has a community garden. We used to hang out at the local bookshop with its community knitting projects and tea served in real cups and saucers. It was another home away from home…an oasis after a day at the hospital. Sadly, the bookshop closed a couple of years ago but we’re also known at the Freckle Face, which is just downstairs from my dentist. The Freckle Face sells tea towels saying something along the lines of a face without freckles is like a sky without stars. My daughter has had a smattering of freckles over her nose ever since she was 3 despite smothering her face in sunscreen and staying out of the sun. Freckles are our friends. They have to be. They’re not going anywhere.

I have met an amazing cast of characters in here and it’s never been morbid or depressing. People are often amazingly upbeat, philosophical and they are going to beat whatever’s trying to beat them and they are very positive and determined. If anything, I’d say the people in here are turbo charged and very pro-active. I’ve come out of here with all sorts of good ideas and suggestions. I’ve even managed to meet a few writers. One put me onto a fabulous TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert about the source of creativity.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86x-u-tz0MA

But the seasons are changing.  This is my second last visit to 12A.

What the kids call “the brown hospital”, the ambos call “the chocolate block” and what was named the “Royal” North Shore Hospital when it really was the 8th wonder of the ancient world, is closing down and going to be demolished. Detonated. Kaboom! The much-anticipated new, almost space-aged hospital is almost ready for sickness.

It’s terminal….the Chocolate Block as viewed from neighbouring Gore Hill Cemetery.

Many would argue that the Chocolate Block is well and truly passed her use-by-date. An imposing brown-brick box stuck on top of Gore Hill, she’s not exactly beautiful. To be honest, she’s on the ugly side of “eyesore”. I’ve also heard on the hospital grapevine that she’s riddled with concrete cancer and might even fall down before D-day. I don’t know about that but the lifts certainly have “issues”. They take so long to turn up that I can’t help wondering whether they’re daydreaming, stuck between floors, or having some kind of midlife crisis.

Being stuck in hospital isn’t that much fun either and there have certainly been times as an “inmate”, where I could have blown the hospital up myself! I wouldn’t have needed dynamite either. I was pure explosive!

That was five long years ago now but I haven’t forgotten. I can still hear my then 3 ½ year old son stammering: “Mummy better? Mummy better?” He was all innocence. He didn’t know what he was asking.  I don’t even think I gave him an answer. We didn’t have a lot of answers back then. With his big, brown eyes and golden curls, he was way too young to deal with all of that but it’s not as though we had a choice. It was just the way it was but fortunately, we survived!

After going through all of that, it’s hard to understand how I’ve developed this strange sense of attachment now that the Chocolate Block is about to expire. I wouldn’t call it “love” but there’s a very definite fondness. Fate has seemingly forced us into something approximating friendship and I don’t really want to let it go. I want to hold on. There are so many, many memories and even though most of them are pretty bad, they are still part of our story… who we are and where we’ve been. That means something to me even though the place is slowly falling down, rumbling and decaying.

You see, a hospital isn’t just a place of disease and despair. It’s a place of healing…a place of hope where relative strangers reach out and care for your most personal, most desperate needs and love and care for you. They take you into their hands and sometimes into their hearts. After coming here for so long, I am no longer among strangers. This is my extended family… my friends. We care. We reach out of our little cubicles and touch one another. At least, we try!

I know it sounds strange “enjoying” having medical treatment… having a needle stuck in my arm for a couple of hours when I could be outside somewhere in the real world and doing real world things. I could be at the beach but I was there yesterday. I walked through the sand and felt the waves freeze my toes. The kids, who always seem to be so immune to the cold, were jumping over and under the waves and splashing each other with water and building canals through the sand. The sun was glorious just as spring sunshine always is after a cold winter. It’s a wake-up call. Time to shed your winter skin and squeeze and shove all your whale blubber into some sort of swimming attire and dive into the waves.

I could be at the beach but I’m here and I have no regrets or disappointment. We all need time to stop. Pause. Contemplate. You can’t just go, go, go, go, go. You need to be still for a bit just let all the busyness of life recede like a wave and just be. This is enforced stopping coming in here although I don’t really stop because I always write but this writing is usually more reflective. I often think about what’s transpired since my last visit. What’s coming up. I also have a few regulars I meet up with too. I’ve lost track of my favourite at the moment an older lady who would shoot me for calling her elderly because she is a young woman displaced in an older body. That’s all. Just like I still consider myself 25 despite appearances to the contrary.

The bloke across from me doesn’t quite see it like this right now. He tells me being sick is a full-time job. I know what he means.  I’m down here three days in a row this week myself but that is exceptional. I have appointments with the rheumatologist, my transfusion, breathing tests, the lung specialist and the gastro registrar. That’s three different specialties in three days. I can get rather miserable too but I have to guard myself from that. Protect myself from the undertow. Before you know it, it can snatch hold of you and drag you under and it’s very hard to find your way back up to the surface! You could very easily drown!

The Chocolate Block may not be a perfect world but it’s been there for me through thick and thin. I’ve had my team of doctors, nurses, chaplains, physios, OTs, social workers, food service, cleaners and the beautiful Pink Ladies and everyone behind the scenes who somehow manage to keep this hospital operational. Collectively, they’ve not only saved my life but have also given me quality of life. They have given my husband a wife, my kids their mum and my parents still have their daughter. That is priceless!

I know the new hospital is going to be brand new, bigger, better but I’m losing my room with a view and it feels like I’ll be having my treatments in some kind of cupboard. After four years of staring at those little Australian flags perched on top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, I’ll be staring at a blank wall and it won’t be the same. It won’t be the same at all. The chemo patients and their nurses will all be moving to the Cancer Centre and I’m off somewhere else. I don’t even know where I’m going but I’m pretty sure that most of the nurses who have been treating me for the last four years, won’t be there. They’ll be gone. They know my veins like the backs of their own hands and as I said, they’ve always tried to get the cannula into my left arm so I can write. It is such a small detail in the overall scheme of things but it’s meant the world to me. The nurses have been my rock throughout this tremendous storm and I have been the limpet. I have clung to them as the waves and the wind smashed into me on every side.  But now the rock has gone and I’m slipping into free fall drifting, drifting. I have never seen a limpet drift. They’re clingy…always glued to the rock and nothing will pry them off. All I’ve ever found is the empty shell.

It’s not just the nurses I’ll miss. We are a community. We might be a motley crew battling a myriad of things like cancer, auto-immune disease, blood disorders but we’re a community. It’s a place where we all come to find healing, understanding and we’ve also found that great Australian tradition… mateship. A mate is someone we fight for. We don’t just throw them overboard. Not that I’ve been thrown overboard. I still have one more treatment to go and I can’t complain too much. After all, they have built me an entirely new hospital!

Some people are never satisfied!

I know I’m being a capital letter Drama Queen…the dying swan. But I don’t care. Right now, I don’t feel like moving forward.  I feel like going backwards, wrapping myself up in my dooner and sleeping through. It makes a fabulous cocoon.  I’m only human. I’ve had enough of stormy seas! I just want to sleep!

But…But…But…

The way forward or the way back? Scenes at the Chocolate Block.

Even this control freak of control freaks has to concede that things are moving on. There is nothing, nothing at all I can do to stop or change any of it. The hospital juggernaut is just too big and clinging to the past will only make me sick. It’s certainly not worth dying for! Given the volatile nature of this auto-immune disease, I really have to pick my battles very, very carefully!

Besides, is a hospital really something I want to cling onto? Wouldn’t this little limpet be so much better off perched on a rock somewhere down at Kirribilli instead? The hospital doesn’t have a monopoly on harbour views. The Sydney Harbour Bridge isn’t going anywhere. It will always be there smiling, strong and resilient… just like me. After all, I’m a survivor!

xx Rowena

PS:  It’s taken me almost a week to work on this post and I’ve been going through some difficult emotions. While being sick can feel like a full-time job and I’ve spent 3 days at the Chocolate Block this week, it’s not my world and it really is just a very small part of it. It’s just that sometimes hospital looms larger than it should both in positive and negative ways and perhaps it’s time to shrink it down a bit.

I’ve actually done quite a range of things this week. I stayed at a friend’s place in Sydney on Monday night. Tuesday, I met up with Mum and the kids after my appointments and we saw The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at Marion Street Theatre. I also had my first violin rehearsal this week and met a whole new group of people. We made music together and laughed as we made mistakes and laughed as we improved. Today, I took my kids to see their dance teacher star in Peter and the Wolf and we arrived home to see the Sydney Swans, our Aussie Rules Football team, win the Grand Final by a nail biting 10 points. The game was so close I could barely stand to watch those last few minutes.

We live in such a diverse and eclectic world and somehow we need to cross the bridge and embrace change, instead of being afraid or turning back. I find that particularly difficult but as the inspirational Helen Keller once encouraged:

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure.

Another challenge awaits!