Posts Tagged ‘learning’

Some of us have learned the hard way that respect isn’t automatic or even given to those who deserve it.  Rather, deserved respect can end up subservient to another’s ego and agenda. And that’s ok because respecting yourself is the only bottom line that matters. 

Think about it. If you respect yourself then you won’t allow disrespect from others; you won’t allow the lines to be crossed. The agendas of others are meaningless because they are not your own. And you respect your own decisions and actions because you respect yourself. Actually I’ll go one step further…you love yourself.

I’ve only just learned this lesson; I mean really learned it. It absolutely sunk in when I came to terms with real equality – the poet, the angelic, the capitalist and the thief, all equal, and it has nothing to do with some pointless Christian doctrine. It has to do with understanding the power in loving (and giving this) to yourself. No one is, or should be, any less loved. 

In learning the lesson I found my boundaries. Importantly, what is other people’s business and what is my business. 

In other words you don’t have to invest emotions in other people’s ‘journey’. Your journey is more than enough to keep you occupied and deserves your respect. It’s a lifelong quest and how wonderfully important is that?

At the beginning of this year I was diagnosed with early stage Bowel Cancer.

It sent me into shock for months and I told very few people. I wanted privacy and time to deal with my own emotions rather than worrying about what other people were feeling. The other reason for privacy was my fear of my looming, major bowel surgery.

I was right to be fearful. It was a huge and dreadful surgery that my surgeon likened to open heart surgery in its invasive-ness. What a relief I felt when it was over, even though the road to rehabilitation was long and hard with a post operative wound infection and other complications.

For the first time in my life, I experienced total and utter physical helplessness. I could hardly move, except to go from the bed to the chair. The pain levels were acute, and I have a reasonably high pain threshold.

It was a good milestone to get out of the road. Then as soon as I was feeling a little bit better, it was time to get back on the chemotherapy treadmill (I had 5.5 weeks of radiation and chemo in March/April).

Cancer teaches you many things. It has been the single, most defining moment in my life – aside from bringing children into this world. It has changed me beyond what I thought would be possible. It has changed me for the better.

That’s shocked you hasn’t it. How could getting cancer change you for the better? It’s hard to explain but I’ll try because it’s hard to understand for people who have lived without a serious disease or illness that could take their lives.

The easiest way to describe it is that I no longer live my life on some sort of invisible auto pilot. I now make the most of each and every day and I am joyful to see a sunrise. I take great pleasure in downloadthe smallest things, in living a simple life – in a sunny day dotted with yellow daisies and brilliant green earth and trees that are responding to the Spring, right before my eyes.

I have a heightened sense of awareness now, perhaps because I live in the moment; in the now.

I have a strengthened belief in God or Buddha or the Divine Presence…whatever it is that you want to call divinity. Names don’t matter much really.

It sounds cliched but I see the sheer power of love to change everything in the universe. At the end of the day, it is all that matters.

If something or someone bothers me now, I simply turn away. Time is precious and I don’t want to waste it on people or situations that are not doing me any good. I value happiness and that simple joy I feel most days.

That ability to decide and act in my own best interests has finally lifted my self esteem which has been a lifelong struggle. It feels good to be free.

I was lucky. I had early stage bowel cancer and for most people, if it is caught early, it is curable. I hope I’m cured.

So tonight, I finished Round 2 of chemo. That’s 2 down and 4 to go. I’m whittling it away and looking forward to the day when I don’t have to poison my body any more and cope with the resultant side effects.

I would urge anyone with any symptoms no matter how slight, to get them checked out. Don’t ignore what your body might be trying to tell you.

Yes s**t does happen in life but it’s entirely possible to recover and emerge stronger and better than before.

Namaste.

It’s an interesting process writing a novel in a month. I had to laugh at the same old suspects bagging out National Novel Writing Month this November from the lofty perches of artisan pretension, and failing to grasp it’s true significance. A look through the twitter feed of #nanowrimo reveals a multitude of writers embarking on their first ever writing ‘baptism by fire’. Many try and fail and many try and succeed every November and some attempts create the novels that sustain and inspire us. That’s a good thing not a bad outcome if you leave the failures behind for one minute as practice runs. (You really can’t be forced to buy them you know).

A lot of writers are young writers and if a frenzied month of writing gets them to attempt novel writing, then all the better. The industry needs young voices just as it needs the older, first time manuscript writers and everything in between. Why? Because words are the building blocks of communication and writers inspire readers to cross mountains and raging rivers to get to reflection and understanding. A book can really change a life and, at the very least, can be the escape pod from a painful reality.

My month began full of enthusiasm and I not only made the word counts, I blitzed them. Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451 kept ringing in my ears. This was the novel he expanded from a short story in nine days. And the best selling Nanowrimo novel Water for Elephants was an inspiration too. I got to work with fervour and passion, creating my main plot from the draft novel plan I’d done a few months earlier. My story “Blood Visions” had been rattling around in my mind for more than 18 months. I’d told it so many times to people who asked and I could see the point they became interested was around about the time I began to believe in the concept. Nanowrimo was my biggest excuse to write the manuscript, and my inspiration. I used all the comments from writers undergoing the same hell, as a motivator; and I used that horrible graph on my Nanowrimo profile page as the enemy I had to beat.

My story began to come alive; my characters began to speak to me and plots and sub plots came to mind just as quickly as I was able to bang my fingers logically on my keyboard. I went to sleep thinking about a scene and then the next and next, and I woke up thinking about what was coming next. I mulled over the plot twists and took some turns and kept going straight with other ideas. I wrote and I thought and I reflected, and a lot of it was cathartic. Getting thoughts out on page is like listening to yourself.

About midpoint, I waned. I became tired and then I returned to the twitter feed again and read a Nanowrimo hint of leaving the day’s work at a scene that you would enjoy writing the next day. It worked. I pushed through and learned to go without sleep and get up at dawn and do it all again before the day job.

Toward the end of Blood Visions, and as the end of the month approached, I was conscious of a mild thought in the back of my head that this story was ok. Maybe not fantastically competent – it’s a draft at this stage – and maybe one that can be made better, but it had held together throughout the month and I’d finally gotten the idea down on paper. By today, 30th November in Australia, I am mightily pleased with the draft. So thank you National Novel Writing Month for inspiring me to tell the story that had been inside me waiting for the right time to come out. Seems November was that time.

I’ll be busy editing during December now – late at night and at dawn, with the day’s inspiration in between. That’s why I proudly call myself a writer, and even an artisan, because I’m living the dream. I’m writing. As impossible as it may seem some days, I’m writing novels.

My new book ‘Belonging Places’ examines the universal theme of ‘belonging’, taking the reader on a journey through the eyes of three women – all at various stages of their lives.

“It’s a story that all women can relate to, and offers one answer to the age-old question: where do I fit in; where do I belong?” Maryann says.

Weston1-7 (1) small“It’s very much a healing journey for the reader and is set in real life scenarios. The issues my three central characters face are issues I’ve faced, and the women in my life have faced.”

The contemporary fiction novel tells the story of Liliana, Estelle and Jill. “Liliana Flint-Smith is young and starting out on her own. Leaving a dysfunctional family behind her and with nothing but a university degree in librarianship, Liliana moves to a remote village in the country,” Maryann says.

“Different from everyone else in the town, she must find her place in a society that doesn’t take kindly to strangers. With the help of an old woman who lives in the flat next to her, Liliana begins to find herself and discovers it was never about her changing, but about learning to be herself.”

And then there’s successful career woman, Estelle Wainwright.

“She’s burning up the career ladder and has just made editor at a national women’s magazine. Her husband Joel is also carving out his niche as an architect and, together with son Corey, is the picture of success. Or are they?” Maryann says.

“Estelle is fighting the tension within herself: work and home, career and husband, businesswoman and woman. She then has to navigate through a health crisis that will test the decisions she has made about how she lives her life.”

Our final character is Jill Bridges who’s ageing and struggling to stay afloat after the death of her lifetime partner, Maryann says.

“Her children are busy with their own lives, and she’s facing the prospect of a nursing home. But it’s her independence that makes her life worth living and she’ll be damned if she’ll bow to society’s plans for her,” Maryann says.

“She must find a way to triumph over old age and emerge into a life that still holds meaning.

“These are definitely experiences, challenges and triumphs women face every day. And that’s not to say that men shouldn’t read this book. There’s something in it for everyone, because that sense of belonging that gives us happiness in life is a quest all human beings, regardless of age and gender, are on.”

Belonging Places is available on Amazon:

In print, here;

As an eBook, here.

You can find out more about my books by visiting my website.

three-trees-greyIt is sweltering here in Australia as we battle the hot days that sap our energy and motivation. It’s enough just to shut the blinds, turn on the fans and hope for the cool of the evening. Not that I’m complaining. I know only too soon that a slight chill will overlay the days and our thoughts will turn to fires, hot food and keeping the cold off our bones.

One of the best past-times in winter is curling up with a good book, under the covers and trying to keep your hands protected from the cold. A good book is one of the things that blocks out the world and takes over your thoughts. It creates a mini world from within which to look out; it subverts reality and that is sometimes good and often desirable.

But it does much more than that. Reading is an internal process and as we follow the thoughts, feelings and journeys writers create from their own minds, it allows us to broaden our thinking beyond our immediate environment and reflect. And after all, reflection is the baseline from which we can alter our thinking and make choices about how we want to act and react. Often reflection will prompt a large scale turnaround as a decision is made to start living life in a different way.

As a child I recall always asking for books for Christmas. What bliss. I would open them up with pure joy and appreciation, anticipating the wonderful reading experiences in front of me over the coming days. I would immerse myself in the adventures of heroes and heroines and dream my far off dreams of what my life might be like when I grew up.

And those horizons were realised as I travelled over the world and lived a nomadic life before settling down with a partner and children. But wanderlust never quite leaves one, does it?

It is getting close to a time for more adventures off the beaten track. As I curl up when the cold eventually does come, I will read and reflect and wonder what horizons lie beyond my winter book, beyond the confines of my bedroom, and grey clouded horizon over the hill from my home.

I have almost reached the end of my National Novel Writing Month journey, writing every day and shaping my manuscript during November along with hundreds of thousands of writers from across the world. My final novella in the manuscript “Belonging Places”, is the story of Jill Bridges, an elderly woman facing the prospect of a nursing home, who fights to hold onto her independence. It’s a story of love and loss and how freedom can be found in the most vulnerable of circumstances.

Chapter 1:

She placed the delicate posy of lilacs on his coffin before it was lowered into the ground. He had loved to garden and the heady scent of the October bloom had always brought memories of his childhood. She wanted to fill his dark grave with the scents he loved best. She couldn’t look anymore at the disappearing coffin, so she turned away, a lump in her throat, hopeful no family members would approach her when she could barely speak. She wanted a moment alone to control her grief, so she could look up and talk to them all, tell them she would be ok. She turned away to face the hillside and listened to the priest reciting the graveside prayers. Oh yes, he would be accepted into the Lord’s house on angel’s wings. He was, after all, a good man.

They had been married 40 years, though he was slightly older than her by 10 years. Enough time for death to take him first and leave her widowed and alone. She remembered their first date. It had been a picnic at his uncle’s farm. It was spring, she recalled and what a spring it was, coming as it did after three rainy seasons. The ground was jumping with life and she could feel the fertility beneath their picnic blanket. She even remembered their first real meal together – crusty Italian bread and thick wedges of cheese, fresh ham and billy tea. They had been so innocent then. She was shy by nature and those early adult years had not been easy for her. One on one she showed her true self, but within crowds she would clam up, anticipating the end of her ordeal when the evening was at a close, and she could return to the safety of her home. But on that first picnic, she felt strangely at home with him, this man she hardly knew.

Bill Bridges was a man’s man, but he made an exception around her. She knew this; knew that he was putty in her hands, but she never used it against him, never. She wasn’t sure when she fell in love with him, whether it was on that first springtime picnic as they munched on the most wonderfully tasting bread and cheese, sipping the tea so that the flavours mixed together, so typically Australian, or whether the love came later. It had been so long ago. The tears ached at the back of her eyes as she recalled that picnic, surrounded by the wild daisies and the gentle hum of springtime. And now, as the coffin disappeared into the ground, the dull whirring of the mechanical gears, the only sound aside from the silent sobbing of his two children; their two children, she struggled to remember…their special times together.

They married quickly, within six months of that first spring picnic, and were so in love by then. Jill and Bill Bridges. It always had a nice ring to it, like they were meant to be together. And perhaps they were. She had had a good marriage, plenty of passion in the beginning and they had shared the good and the bad, like any strong couple. What affected her certainly affected him and vice versa. That was the way it was in their marriage, a symbiotic partnership. When she was depressed after her first child – postnatal depression they said – life was equally bleak for him. When he was wronged by a business partner, that man who long after remained nameless in their household, was her enemy too. In sickness and in health, was never truer for them. They even suffered the same ailments. Two peas in a pod, her mother had said, and she was grateful she had found love in this lifetime, from the beginning.

Their two children had come quickly, one after another, a boy and a girl, their pigeon pair. Life had been complete. That wasn’t to say they didn’t work hard. They did, for every penny they earned, and saved. They had made their home in a modest three bedroom brick veneer, in a small country town, a couple of hours from Sydney. It was a town where everyone was known to everyone, and they had become fixtures, joining in the various clubs and, in her case, the women’s groups. She knew she was particularly rated for her cooking. It didn’t matter what she cooked, she had that special touch. Her pumpkin scones were well known at the various fundraisers over the years. Jill Bridges pumpkin scones, she thought ruefully. Was that her contribution that would be remembered? She wondered how Bill would be remembered.

He had set up his own mechanics business not long after they had married. They had debated the risks: was it better to work for someone else and play it safe, or take that leap of faith on their own. She supposed being married had given Bill that extra courage because he handed in his notice to the largest mechanic business in their town, where he had worked since leaving high school some 10 years before and rented a small, rundown shed on the edge of town. It had been hard at first, and she had worked extra hours cleaning at the local motel, just so they could get by, but little by little their business grew, and now it was the biggest in town, run by her son Jeff.

Memories. She turned back to the graveside to see the coffin firmly planted in the ground. She was not expected to watch the earth being thrown over it. It was time to go. Her son and daughter Ellen were approaching but she had no desire to leave Bill. The tears came and she let them fall down her face, making no effort to dab them away with her handkerchief.

“Mum?” Elle said, in a particularly soft tone for her. She glanced at her daughter, noticing the grief that weighed her down. Unlike Jeff, she was close to her father.

“I’m ok Elle. Just give me a minute.” Her voice was stiff and formal. She was not as close to her daughter as she was to her son. Funny how that went, she thought, that Elle was the apple of Bill’s eye, while Jeff understood her, and was distant with his father. Family dynamics were at best, fathomable but not fully understood.

She reached out for her daughter’s hand, bonded as they were in that moment, by their grief. Jeff approached with his new wife Narelle, a pretty young girl and clever beyond her years. It was a good partnership.

“Mum, it’s time to go,” Jeff said, placing a firm and supportive hand on her arm. “Everyone else is leaving, and we should be down at the club to greet them.”

She looked at her son, wondering about his grief. He didn’t have the easiest of relationships with his father. They were too similar, both men’s men and as stubborn as each other. Jeff had taken over the business five years ago, when Bill’s hands and knees were crippled with arthritis and the dusk of old age had begun to fall. It hadn’t been an easy transition for Bill. He had built the business from the ground up with the sweat of his youthful years etched into every brick and mortar, every contract they had ever won, and into the all the relationships built over 40 years with workers, clients and the townspeople who supported them. He had resented Jeff’s new ideas at first, distrusted them and rallied against them. They were, after all, not his and he loved his business almost as much as life.

But never as much her, she thought. She had been his one true love, and he would have sacrificed it all for her, had she told him to. She turned back to Jeff, forgetting he and Elle were waiting on her.

“You two go, and be there to greet our guests. I need a moment alone…to say goodbye. I’ll be alright; just leave me be…for a minute.”

They were puzzled and worried by her request, reluctant to go but Narelle stepped forward. “Leave her Jeff…Elle. She needs this time. We can arrange with Father Percy to drive her to the club.”

So they left her alone with her husband. They were starting to shovel the earth over the coffin. She watched as the clods of dirt fell softly onto the red ornate cedar of the coffin. She pictured him in there, sleeping peacefully. He had died without any pain, knowing it was his time, but reluctant to leave her. He had held on, long after the doctors thought he could, and they had tried to make the best of those last few months. She had fitted their home out with rails, and non slip matts in the bathroom, and a special bed. They had oxygen cylinders in the bedroom and the lounge room, and Bill had used a walker until he could no longer manage. Then they had used a wheelchair. She wanted to keep him in his home, as long as she could manage and with palliative care, they had done better than predicted. Bill had only been taken to hospital to lie in his deathbed two weeks before he passed.

“Thud, thud, thud…” She should go now, before they finished, and there was only a mound of newly turned earth to mark his grave…until the headstone came. She reached into her bag and took out an old black and white photo of them taken on the day of their first picnic. The faces of two young lovers stared back at her, hardly recognisable now…except for the eyes. Real joy and a growing love were there in the depth of their expressions, windows to the future. Momentarily, she paused, drinking in the familiarity of his face, and the mischievous humour always at the edge of his expression. She put her lips gently on his photographed face, and kissed him softly. Kneeling down, she placed the photograph in the dirt as a talisman for him, so that he would know he did not need to make his journey alone.

“I’ll always be with you Bill,” she whispered softly.

The grave diggers had paused out of respect to allow her to say her last goodbyes. She got to her feet and nodded stiffly to them, wanting to maintain her dignity. She knew that now people would be watching her, alone, ageing and vulnerable. She knew that without Bill at her side, she would need to struggle to keep her freedom. She felt the pain in her hip. It had been replaced three years ago and she feared the other would need the same. She walked slowly to the priest’s car. Father Percy was waiting patiently for her.

“I know this is hard for you Jill,” he said, gently, “but Bill was a good man, and is resting with the Lord now.”

She nodded, afraid to say anything at all in case she began to cry again, and could not stop. The Lord gave her no comfort today, none at all. Rather, she felt only anger that she had lost her love, and at the prospect of the lonely years to come. She took a deep breath and got into the car, letting Father Percy take over the job of getting her to the wake, where her children would be waiting with the many of the townsfolk who had come also to say goodbye to her husband.

She wondered how she would get through the afternoon, and dug deep for a resolve. But what else was there for her to do. She would go home tonight, to their empty marital home, perhaps switch on the TV to drown out her thoughts. She would not be hungry, and would put the kettle on for a cup of tea, one cup not two, and then when she felt the heaviness and mercy of sleep come, she would go to their bed and lie there in the dark, conscious of the empty space beside her. And that would be how it would be in the long coming months, empty spaces where he should have been, and always her, feeling only half complete as though a part of her was missing. And it was.