Tag Archives: resilience

N-Never Give Up: Motivational Quotes.

“Never Never give up.”

– Winston Churchill.

Welcome to the latest installment in my series of Motivation Quotes for writers as part of the Blogging A-Z April Challenge.

The timing of this quote is pure coincidence. However, yesterday when this should’ve gone up, the world watched on in abject horror as those blazing orange flames engulfed historic Notre Dame Cathedral. As I and millions like me, watched on in shock and abject horror, the fire department fought that blaze with everything they had and more and they managed to salvage more of the cathedral than I ever thought was possible. Confirmation…never give up!

“I have heard there are troubles of more than one kind.

Some come from ahead and some come from behind.

But I’ve bought a big bat. I’m all ready you see. Now my

troubles are going to have troubles with me!”

― Dr. Seuss

All too often, we hear the most incredible stories of overcoming illness, disability, terrible accidents and even going as far as conquering Everest, the mighty mountain herself.

However, I also somewhat disagree with Winston Churchill. While never giving up might be good political rhetoric, sometimes we need to give up, walk away and try something else. Perhaps, devoting a year or so to writing that book, isn’t worth the investment either in time or money. We need to be strategic, and try to see the bigger picture and no be so focused on the goal that there is no plan B.

With this in mind, I’ve included the following quotes:

“Failed plans should not be interpreted as a failed

vision. Visions don’t change, they are only refined.

Plans rarely stay the same, and are scrapped or

adjusted as needed. Be stubborn about the vision, but

flexible with your plan.”

John C. Maxwell

“Throwing your heart into something is great, but

when any one thing becomes all that you stand for,

you’re vulnerable to an identity crisis when you pivot

to a Plan B.”

― Reid Hoffman, The Start-Up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career

 

“Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.”

Mike Tyson

What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you!

Best wishes,

Rowena

L: Life…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome back my series of Motivational Quotes for the Blogging A-Z April Challenge, which is geared towards writers and creatives working on their “big thing” Today, we’re up to the letter L and I could resist this favourite quote:

Life is what happens to you while you‘re busy making

other plans.”

Allen Saunders & John Lennon*

A few years ago, I came across this fabulous quote when our local Baker extraordinaire, Flaming Ron from the Bremen Patisserie wrote it down for me on a bit of paper while I was probably buying an almond croissant. Although Ron Bruns is famous for producing the world’s hottest meat pie, the Flaming Ron, he is also an unsung philosopher. By the way, just to put you in the picture, Ron and his Bremen Patisserie are located just North of Sydney, Australia and just down from the beach. However, Ron is the real deal and now calls Australia home.

What I love about this quote, is how it emphasizes the unpredictability of life. That we can have the best laid plans of mice and men, but that doesn’t mean they won’t get sideswiped, scuttled or choose to go somewhere else.  Moreover, it also touches on the economic realities faced by most creatives. You’d like to be writing full time and making a viable living, but you find yourself needing some kind of “proper job” to pay the bills “while you’re busy making other plans”.

Anyway, it’s the end of a busy weekend and I’m feeling rather pooped and brain dread so I’m going to head off.

Best wishes,

Rowena

* The lyrics of “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)” contain the famous Lennon quote “Life is what happens to you while you‘re busy making other plans.” However, the expression of this sentiment can be traced back to a 1957 Reader’s Digest article, which attributes it to Allen Saunders.

W- Andrew Newell Wyeth: Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome to my series of Letters to a Dead Artists, which I’ve put together for the 2018 Blogging A-Z April Challenge. For the past month, I’ve been steadily moving through the alphabet and after writing to Leonardo Da Vinci yesterday, today I’ll be writing to Andrew Newell Wyeth, an American realist painter.The music I have chosen to accompany Andrew Wyeth is Celtic Woman singing You Raise Me Up

Wyeth was born on July 12, 1917 in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, and passed away at the age of 91 on January 16, 2009…a very long way from Sydney, Australia.

“I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape – the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.”

Andrew Newell Wyeth

Prior to setting out on this challenge, I had never heard of Andrew Newell Wyeth, and to be perfectly honest, I only found out about him on a Google search trying to fill up the vacant letters. It’s a problem I face every year, where I’m forced to leave something out because certain letters are bombarded with choice, and I’m left desperately scrambling to find anything for others. However, my criterion for choosing every single one of these artists, whether I knew them before, or whether  they popped up in the Great Google Lucky Dip, was that I needed to experience some kind of emotional, psychological and even spiritual connection. It couldn’t just be a case of: “She’ll be right mate”, or any artist will do.

As it turned out, Andrew Newell Wyeth’s iconic painting Christina’s World (1948), grabbed me by the throat and almost stopped me dead. This artist I had never ever heard of before, had never met, and lived on the other side of the world, had miraculously captured my suppressed, desperate, clawing frustration of battling against the muscle weakness brought on by dermatomyositis.

“To be interested solely in technique would be a very superficial thing to me. If I have an emotion, before I die, that’s deeper than any emotion that I’ve ever had, then I will paint a more powerful picture that will have nothing to do with just technique, but will go beyond it.”

Andrew Wyeth

When I first saw the house on top of the hill, and Christina groping her way up through the grass, I could feel her struggle in my own body. Yet, it didn’t occur to me straight away that Christina also had some form of muscle loss. Rather, I thought the painting simply portrayed human struggle, and that clawing desperation to make it up the top of the hill. Indeed, I felt a sort of chill or goose bumps, as soon as I saw the painting. There was that instant recognition of myself, and of course, it helped that I also have long dark hair and there could well have been quite a likeness once upon a time. Of course, it helps that he painted her with her back to the world and we can’t see her face.

Christina Olsen 1947.jpg

Andrew Wyeth, Christina Olden 1947

Indeed, seeing Christina’s World, I was swept into a horrific vortex of memory, reliving when I simply tripped over a broom at home.  Much to my surprise, I was literally swept into a blood-chilling nightmare, when I couldn’t get myself up again.

Rowena with kids Mt Wilga 2007.JPG

How the camera lies. An everyday photo of Mum and kids, except I was in Mt Wilga Rehbilitation Hospital and could barely walk or get myself up off the ground. That was just over ten years ago.

There I was a 36 year old Mum home alone with my two young kids. Mister was about three and a half and at an age where, like a scene out of Dead Poet’s Society, he’d climb up onto our back shed to get a better look at the “mountains”. He was somewhere when I fell, which usually meant mischief, danger or a combination of the two. Meanwhile, Miss was only 16 months old, and Mummy’s little shadow. However, that also meant that when I fell, I knocked her over on the way down. She was crying and this was no ordinary cry either but had that same chilling sensation of fingernails scraping down a chalkboard, which travels right under your skin. Of course, I’d normally pick her straight up. Comfort her. Kiss it better. However, I was weighed down like a sack of lead potatoes, and couldn’t move at all to reach her and just had her cry in my ear.

Instead, there I was lying face down on the tiles and couldn’t get up. Moreover, at this point of time, I didn’t have a name for the horrific monster which had invaded my body and my bloodstream. Not having a diagnosis, in a way, meant that it didn’t exist and that I was just “tired”. It was just part of being a Mum with very young kids… having a baby. Sleep deprivation and utter exhaustion are par for the course, aren’t they? However, this was different…something nasty, sinister, a monster.  While I hurt my knee in the fall, why couldn’t I get up? For somebody with normal mobility, this was so surreal and strange. Quite unlike the sort of panic that comes, when you can’t feel your legs. As far as I was concerned, there was no reason I couldn’t get up. I was just tired, rundown although there was something funny going on with my blood tests. Eventually, I was able to lift myself onto my bottom and I shuffled into the kitchen. For once, the cordless phone was there when I needed it and I rang my husband who was at work a two hour train trip away. Clearly, he couldn’t just pop home and magically save the day. Meanwhile, my call filled him with a sense of dread, absolute powerlessness and horror. Clearly I was very unwell and needed immediate help, and he couldn’t do a thing. In fact, I don’t think either of us even considered calling an ambulance. That was for emergencies and I’d just simply fallen over…

All he could suggest was levering myself up with a chair and that worked. It took a further six weeks for me to finally receive a diagnosis and then I was in a combination of hospital and rehab for about 8 weeks.

“There’s a quote from Hamlet that is my guide… He tells the players not to exaggerate but to hold a mirror up to nature. Don’t overdo it, don’t underdo it. Do it just on the line.”

Andrew Wyeth

So, while it was sensational to find Christina’s World and to see my struggles depicted and represented on canvas, there was also an enormous sense of sadness. You see, like Christina, despite pushing myself beyond breaking point so many, many times, I still haven’t made it to the top of the hill. I haven’t made it home. Not only am I adrift, but there’s also that intense frustration better known as angst where I can see where I want to go. Where I’m meant to be. Yet, I’m constantly clawing through the mud and getting nowhere.

“I do an awful lot of thinking and dreaming about things in the past and the future-the timelessness of the rocks and the hills-all the people who have existed there. I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape-the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.”

Andrew Wyeth

Yet, ironically there is also great strength in persevering through weakness. Indeed, there’s that old adage: “what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger”. That’s so true and these days they’ve even called this fighting comeback…resilience. Indeed, resilience is now considered one of the key ingredients for getting through life. So, for those of us who received more than their allocated glass and a half, we must be powering all the way to the moon. Well, if only we could make up that darn hill.

By the way, after spilling my guts about how Christina’s World touched me so personally, I had to laugh as these prophetic words of Andrew Wyeth’s:

“I get letters from people about my work. The thing that pleases me most is that my work touches their feelings. In fact, they don’t talk about the paintings. They end up telling me the story of their life or how their father died.”

Andrew Wyeth

I guess it’s not surprising that Wyatt knew and had experience intensive suffering and loss himself. In 1945, Wyeth’s father and his three-year-old nephew were killed near their home, when his car stalled on railroad tracks and was struck by a train. Wyeth has often referred to his father’s death as a formative emotional event in his artistic career. Shortly following the tragedy, Wyeth’s art consolidated into his mature and enduring style, characterized by a subdued colour palette, highly realistic renderings, and the depiction of emotionally charged symbolic objects[1].

Christina’s World was painted a year after his father’s death.

Although this introduction is very rushed and feeling incomplete and inadequate, I’m going to get moving and start writing my letter to Andrew Wyeth.

A Letter to Andrew Wyeth

Dear Andrew,

For the last month, I’ve been trying on the shoes of so many artists and tried to see the world through their eyes, before I take a huge, audacious step and actually write them a letter. As much as it’s been a lot of fun in a heavy research searching for the meaning of life kind of way, it’s also been very challenging, especially as it seems that almost every artist without exception, has experience incredible suffering. I don’t know whether it’s this understanding and empathy with suffering, which has given their paintings added depth and emotional insight, but there’s definitely that common thread.

Do you think artists suffer more than others, and their grief inspires their art? Or, does their art become more of an antidote, a way of releasing the anguish trapped inside?

I have asked God myself why there’s so much suffering, especially at one point where I felt he’d channelled centuries of wrath in my direction and afflicted me with the dermatomyositis. However, ever faithful, he replied and said: “if it’s good enough for me, it’s good enough for you.” I didn’t challenge him on that front again. He’d made his point.

Anyway, I’d like to thank you for giving us Christina’s World. While everybody who sees the painting could well have their own interpretation, her story obviously has a very personal connection for me. Trying to get up hills is particularly hard for me these days. Not so much due to the muscle weakness but due to the associated problems I have with my lungs, which are currently not much over 50% capacity. I don’t know why I’m telling you all this, but you seem like the sort of people I could simply talk to. That you care. That no one’s experiences or struggles are too small or insignificant. Each of us matters.

Before I head off, I’ve enclosed some leftover egg yolks, which I thought you could use to make up your tempura paint. I made a pavlova yesterday and I hate wasting the left over yolks. By the way, I’ve attached my recipe for Betsy. I understand she made a lot of meringues in her time.

Best wishes,

Rowena

wind-from-the-sea

Andrew Wyeth: Wind From the Sea.

A Letter From Andrew Wyeth

Dear Rowena,

Thank you so much for your letter and the egg yolks. I’ve already started on a painting. This one depicts Andy Warhol’s reaction when I received your letter and he missed out. Dad, ever out to compete and do things bigger, bolder, brighter has splashed oils all over the biggest canvas in stock. Mine is more subdued, but you’ll have to wait.

I was rather taken aback to read that you have lung troubles, my friend. You see, I had lung troubles from a very young age and even had one of my lungs removed and the other one wasn’t that good either. So, I was living on less than half a tank never expecting to grow up, make it through middle age and it was the most confusing things after being so terribly ill, to actually see most of my friends pass away before me like Autumn leaves.

So, my friend, there is hope for you yet.

Sorry, I forgot to thank you for the Pavlova recipe. Betsy loved it and everyone’s grateful for a change to meringues!

Best wishes,

Andrew.

By the way, I highly recommend Dan Schneider’s Video interview with three experts on Andrew Wyeth:

 

[1] http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h3707.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3374451/

https://curiator.com/art/andrew-wyeth/trodden-weed

 

Sailing On The Wings of Poesie…

“On a day when the wind is perfect,
the sail just needs to open and the world is full of beauty.
Today is such a day.”

― Rumi

After watching our son sail today, my head is jam-packed with metaphors. Overflowing with adjectives, adverbs and superlatives. Indeed, I’m completely overloaded with words flying in from all directions and creating an almighty traffic jam in my head. Clearly, this is not a good thing, because as any half-decent writer knows, less is more. However, what are we supposed to do when we’re so enchanted by something, an experience, a feeling, an object, that we start spewing out metaphors, adverbs and adjectives like a broken sewerage pipe?

I don’t know. I always overdo it. Indeed, I’m one of the most enthusiastic, upbeat people I know, especially when I’m “sailing” on top of the water, and haven’t hit the deck.

Just to set the scene…The majority of the boats were an Optimus or “Opti”. Another parent described these as “a floating bathtub which uses a towel as a sail”. They’re a great sail boat to start out on because they’re relatively stable, although on the downside, they’re not as fast. Our son was too tall for an Opti and went straight to a Flying 11, which has rather complicated rigging and is a faster, but less stable boat and new recruits are likely to capsize. Indeed, they capsize a lot and usually want to quit!!

However, that’s what I’ll call the technical or business end of sailing, and I was more focused on watching my son and husband work together to get the boat assembled and to actually see Mr sail his boat. However, as much as I aspire to be the perfect Mum, I couldn’t be the passive observer and switch the writer-photographer off. Sailing is a spectacle. It’s an Adrenalin boost. A creative response was inevitable…an occupational hazard.

The skippers assembled on the grass and walked through the muddy bank to launch their boats. I don’t know how many boats were there. However, there were enough to resemble a small fleet and look quite spectacular. Yet, they’re only little and reminded me of hand-made, origami boats. Indeed, I even Googled how to make them when I got home, although I didn’t succeed. That boat didn’t even get a chance to sink!

Getting back to the race… one minute I was watching Geoff help Mr get his boat out, and the next he was gone.The boats had sailed off into the distance and the skippers merged in with the sails. Now, they were nothing more than a patch of white on a blue background.

Yet, I was still watching. Feeling something bubbling up inside but I couldn’t quite channel my thoughts into anything specific.

Sheep…the little white boats now reminded me of sheep… what with being white on the blue background. In hindsight, even I can see this was a bit far-fetched. That I’d inhaled too much magic dust, and my imaginings had gone too far. After all, I doubt whether a sheep can swim, and as for a flock of sheep wading out into the deep, that’s bonkers.  Clearly, I’d had too much sun!

Still, being in serious creative overdrive, I didn’t just stop at sheep analogies. I also thought of dancers in white tutus, which is hardly surprising given that the dance studio is our home away from home. Indeed, sailing reminded me a lot of dancing with sailing being a kind of dance on water. That said, it’s not that graceful when the boom smacks you in the head, or you capsize and you’re wading through the mud to get back.

Hey, did I mention something about clouds? The boats also reminded me of white clouds. However, you’d have to say they’d had a close encounter with a steam roller with a triangular cutting attachment. After all, sails are flat, not round and fluffy.

Okay, I accept the cloud analogy doesn’t fit.

“hark, now hear the sailors cry,
smell the sea, and feel the sky
let your soul & spirit fly, into the mystic…”
― Van Morrison

Anyway, in case you haven’t worked it out already, I was really pleased and relieved to get down to the sailing club today. Like many parents, my husband and I split up on Saturdays. Geoff does the sailing run, while I do the dance run with our daughter. While this set up is very practical, it means I haven’t seen our son sail in his new boat and they haven’t seen our daughter perform her dance solo. Moreover, each of us is missing out entirely on one child’s universe. Or, at best, we’re skimming past the outer reaches. Indeed, my husband and son missed out on half of the annual dance concert, because he had a big day. Indeed, that afternoon’s sail was just as important to him, as her dance concert was to her. That’s where you need the wisdom of Solomon. Alternatively, you could always clone yourself, so you can be in two places at once. Nothing to it!

By the time I pulled up, Geoff and Mr had got the boat out of bed and it was out on the grass waiting to be set up. Setting up the Flying 11 every week, is a bit like wrestling with an Ikea flat-pack with ropes and sails thrown in for added complexity. Geoff and the Mr almost, almost have their routine down pat and make a great team. Getting the boat ready, is a two person job and it took them some time to get the rigging sorted. Moreover, as these boats have sacrificed stability for speed, it’s frequently capsized. It’s a very challenging boat and the sort of thing “which puts hair on your chest”, as my Dad would say. However, this is the price you pay as a young sailor climbing through the ranks and learning the ropes.

“That’s what learning is, after all; not whether we lose the game, but how we lose and how we’ve changed because of it, and what we take away from it that we never had before, to apply to other games. Losing, in a curious way is winning.”

Richard Bach, Jonathon Livingston Seagull

Launching Fury

As luck would have it, the weather was perfect…blue skies, sunshine but not the blazing Summer heat. Probably my favourite bit, was watching all the boats get in the water. It was low tide and they needed to wade out quite a way through the mud to launch. I know there was order in there somewhere, and everyone was respectful of each other’s boats. However, I was struck by the kaleidoscope of little boats of varying classes along with their different shaped sails…a real cacophony. Indeed, I know I’ve overdosed on metaphors already, but they were like a flock of sea gulls.

flock of sails

If you peer deeply into the centre of the photo, you can see the fleet.

However, all too quickly, the flock had disappeared out of view, and we weren’t really a part of it anymore.We could just make out a cluster of tiny, white sails in the distance. For some reason, it felt very strange knowing Mr was one of them. I guess I’m so used to seeing anonymous yachts sailing past in the distance and it felt weird to know he was on one of them. Moreover, it’s a bit of a stretch to think of our 14 year old son skippering a boat out on the horizon all by himself. He hasn’t ridden a bike in years and is too young to drive a car, even as a learner. Yet, he was out there by himself, not out in the ocean or the open sea, but close enough. That didn’t worry me at all, because the club has a safety boat and it’s a safe area. It was more the extension of his horizons and by proxy, my own that felt uncomfortable. He wasn’t in the small pond anymore.

That’s one of the great things about sailing for kids. They can experience freedom, a degree of speed, independence and nut things out for themselves without adults hovering over their shoulder. So, while it’s not an inherently safe sport, it’s actually not too bad when you compare it to contact sports, wandering around the neigbourhood or even riding his bike.

Now, I’d still like to write a poem about it. Or, if I could, paint what I saw. However, I photographed the race with my phone and plan to get back there for the last two weeks of the season with a real camera. Open my eyes to absorb what I can. Then, I’m going to try to get in a sail myself!! I made great ballast!

Have you ever been sailing? Or, been a sailing parent? How did it go?

xx Rowena

 

 

 

Sailing Up the Ranks.

Twenty years from now you will be more disppointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
– Mark Twain

If you’ve been following Beyond the Flow, you’re probably aware that our son sails and is a member of our local sailing club. Mr started out with the Sea Scouts, but my Dad sails and is very encouraging, along with my husband who’s out there in a support role every Saturday. I also love sailing when I get a chance.

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t look at our son and pick he was going to become a sailor. He’s always been a very active kid and not the type to sit still and I’m not the type to bother learning knots etc. However, he took to sailing like a duck to water. He really loves it and I’ve even seen him get frustrated when he’s stuck on land and there’s a great sailing wind.

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

However, sailing became a lot more challenging when he went up the ranks and got his own boat, a Flying Eleven. Indeed, in those early months, there were times where sailing became quite soul destroying. His boat has capsized, been towed in and then there have been the vagueries of the weather. Like just about every junior sailor, he’s also come in and threatened to quit. Indeed, there was one very memorable Saturday, when my husband also threatened to quit. So, you can well imagine the size of that seismic burst! Trust me! I had to pull a rabbit out of my hat that afternoon.

However, as the season’s continued, there’s been progress. Firstly, he didn’t capsize. Then, he won a race. Recently, the juniors also went out and skippered a member’s boat with assistance, and the boat he was on came first. Again, while I’m cautious about getting over-excited, you have to applaud a first!

“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.”

Louisa May Alcott

When it comes to my kids taking on sports or any activity, while it would be great to have them win, I am also looking for character-building stuff. That they grow and develop into considerate, compassionate human beings. At an Olympic level, we saw this at the Winter Olympics when Australian aerial Skier, David Morris, kept his cool despite the judges making a bad call. These sort of characteristics are important, as is helping to bring others up through the ranks. Encouraging them through the enormous frustrations you’ve worked through yourself. Then, they’ll not only learn the ropes, but also overcome the mental demons which threaten to sink their hopes before they even get started.

“The goal is not to sail the boat, but rather to help the boat sail herself.”
– John Rousmaniere

So, I was pretty stoked when I popped into the sailing club on Saturday and found out that Mr had been out helping another Junior. It was his first day out with his new boat and Mr had gone out with him instead. While Mr was a bit disappointed that I didn’t get to see him sailing his boat, I was very proud to see that the club had recognized his progress. That he had reached a point, where he could start passing on his experience, knowledge and his encouragement to someone else.  Personally, I think it’s very helpful to have someone with you who is just a few steps ahead. After all, they still remember the frustrations, the pitfalls and how to get around them. They keenly feel that sense of defeat turning itself round into progress and victory. Victory against yourself, and those demons of self-doubt in your own head. After all, they’re the biggest enemies most of us will ever have to face.

“I can’t control the wind but I can adjust the sail.”
― Ricky Skaggs

It’s these sort of struggles which build perseverance and resilience. Or, as my Dad used to say, “put hair on your chest”.  These are qualities not gained through repeated wins, but through repeated knock backs and defeat combined with the ability to get back on the horse and have another go. This a very different experience to bolting straight to the finish line. From always coming first and wearing the victory crown. It means being the loser many times over but never giving up. Indeed,  it could well involve training or working harder, smarter and pushing yourself beyond the brink, not even to take out the coveted gold, but at the same time you’ve achieved something intangible. Indeed, your gold medal’s on the inside.

Now, I am trying to picture our son reading this in 20 years time when he’s nudging 35 and wondering if he even remembers what it was like to start out. Whether he has forgotten all about the capsizing, muddy sails and paddling out of the mud and only remembers the thrill of the wind…the exhilaration of sailing. Even for me, it is something far beyond words and yet Rod Stewart captured it well:

 

Have you ever been sailing and have you caught the bug?

xx Rowena

 

 

 

 

 

Starting High School’s Eve

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

Tomorrow morning, our “baby girl” starts high school. While this is something we’ve been working towards for some time, I still have this sense of impending doom. That we’ve forgotten something. That we’ve forgotten something of earth-shattering significance. The sort of thing that crippling anxious nightmares are made of. Sleeping through the alarm. No uniform. No shoes. What about what’s for lunch, packing and actually eating it?

High school is going to be a piece of cake compared to getting out our front door and as much as I’ve hoped for the best and prepared for the worst, I have this awful sinking feeling, that we’re doomed. To quote someone very dear to me: “That we were born under an unlucky star”.

Indeed, perhaps there’s no point even getting out of bed, and we can try again next year.

Thank goodness my alter-ego pushed that anxious sod off her perch and confiscated her scrapbook of memories as well.

Of course, you can’t turn up at the high school gate with a swag of baby photos and snaps of firsts to share with the other parents…Mum’s Bragbook. OMG! Talk about taking uncool to such unprecedented heights, that even I who is eternally impervious to embarrassment, would be cringing in my boots forever more.

I could never show my face again.

That’s if I was still alive after such an escapade. If my daughter didn’t kill me, I’d have to kill myself…or lock myself up in a crate addressed to deepest darkest Africa, or even post myself to Mars.

I guess this also reminds me that Mummy’s not allowed to cry. Mum has to be strong. Smile, wave and not cling onto my little girl like a limpet trying to stop her from growing up and stepping out the front door without me.

family portrait.JPG

Our Son’s Starts High School Two Years Ago in 2016.

Really, tomorrow’s just another day and it’s not like we don’t know the place. No, her big brother’s paved the way and for better or worse, we’re known at the school. Our daughter hasn’t been going to school locally for the last two years, so hasn’t really been round the traps but she’ll know a lot of the kids from her last school and round about. She’s also in a selective dance class within the performing arts and will automaticlly land on her feet with a few extra moves thrown in just because she can.

So, of course, tomorrow is going to be fine.

 

This is the broken record that I should be playing over and over in my head instead of feeling crippled by this shapeless, formless, sense of impeding doom.

After all, we’ve crossed the i’s dotted the t’s and like a airline pilot, double-checked that the hatches are shut. (See I told you things were a bit skewiff around here.)

How hard can it be to get one kid around the corner?

Or should I say, how easy!

After all:

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

Lao Tzu

footprints on the beach

I’ll be back tomorrow to let you know how it all went.

Fingers and toes crossed!

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.

rowena piano

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.