SIZE MATTERS: THE BENEFITS OF BEING SMALL

Our Milky Way

Our Milky Way

A real dark night sky is a tonic for the soul. That’s why in the weeks following a diagnosis that I was growing cancerous tumours, feeling overwhelmed with it all, like an Indiana Jones-sized rolling rock of grief and fear was heading my way,  I stepped outside onto the front porch. Luckily, the sky was clear and when I looked up I heard the Milky Way calling out to me for falling into. I was bewitched by the white splashes along it’s twining body. I felt into the space within these mind-blowing cosmic stains, appearing so because they indicate numbers of stars so dense I cannot fathom the universe except in the most basic of ways. I wanted nothing more than to dive on in and  swim far enough through the sparkling infinity, so that I would be sure to reach the farthest place, the point of pregnant expansion from which I would retract like a catapult in reverse straight back to the core – the spot where I stood. I would fly back to the womb of my own rebirth. For a blessed moment, I confronted my own mortality and was not afraid to do so. I stood in a black hole filled with peace. Loved, loving. Happy. I felt for a fraction of a moment the freedom of understanding my own insignificance. And then it was gone.

Living is hard. Really hard.  I do want to mention here that I am not claiming hardships that compare with the lives of those born into poverty. Those who are more likely to experience physical suffering, discrimination, disenfranchisement, injustice and displacement. That’s hard living. Then there’s the rest of us, more or less enjoying lands of milk and honey those in poverty dream about. The poverty stricken must think us delirious with happiness. Yet we find a Milky Way of reasons not to be. Our ‘hard’ living is generally a result of a lack of appreciation for the things and opportunities we do have and an unfortunate craving for what we don’t. We can’t handle the excess all around as it wreaks havoc within us anymore than those in poverty can manifest what they need from without to sustain them within. What is within us is mirrored by what is outside.  A perfect imbalance. It’s all hard, but different.

Sitting in our ‘first world’ lives we believe our lives to be BIG. The dramas and dreams which emanate from our egos are so large and loud. There is logic in that. The will to live is pretty much hardwired – all things are driven by the blueprint for survival, growth and reproduction. But with the expectation – or at the very least, hope – of great things from our experience of life comes wave upon wave of dissatisfaction and disappointment as we judge at  every moment every detail of our progression in the cause of survival, growth and reproduction. Those whose suffering is starvation, sickness and early death – every day, without reprieve, do they have the luxury of thoughts other than those concerned with survival?  When I learned of my sickness, my tumultuous thought processes screamed to a halt. The myriad of  inner voices grew quiet – desire, envy and dissatisfaction stopped lending their unhelpful demands and judgements and I heard my still, small voice.  It spoke to me of the basics. What did I need to survive? It helped me make decisions about my treatment, it helped me speak to my children, mother, brothers, friends. It helped me look at what dying might be like. I discovered that I love myself and I love living – especially when death threatens – but also that it’s ok when my time is up. That moment on my front porch has led me through dark times.

And so I share that moment with you because it was possibly one of the best moments of my life – like falling in love and seeing my babies for the first time. Because it reminded me that what I think doesn’t really matter but is everything and all I have. It also reminds me that even in my darkest times, my life is privileged. To have such a positive vision of my difficult experience is something I feel very fortunate to have. I have stopped and thought for about 30 seconds for beautiful experiences of this world that I treasure. I realise I could fill a universe with them.

Swimming among innumerable stars to the ends of the universe and back showed me the blessing of being small. Infinitesimally small. Insignificant and hidden. It was a moment of true freedom.

Emojis for the Modern Mother

An emoji paints 1000 words

An emoji paints 1000 words

If there was an emoji for ‘feeling slightly suicidal’ which could indicate in all of it’s tiny wonder a tongue in the cheek just to lessen the blow, I would use it. A lot. Do I want to reveal how, on a beautiful blue sky day (the first in about 3 weeks), a blank page of staying at home-ness, sharing holiday fun with 3 of my boy children, I am feeling the ever present prickle of little tears behind my caffeine enhanced lids? Yes, I do want to reveal.

I have visited cheery Facebook pages with heaps of activities to fill the two weeks of Spring break. Lambs to visit, walks to be had, trams to ride. Been there, done that, my children are too old. Old hat Activity weary 9 year olds and a positively Done Too Many Times Activity wary 11 year old do not an easy holiday make. Family visits out of town and high times with the cuzzies would cut it, but most of our cousins live in the UK and the Kiwi family are all city bound and short on age appropriate players. Even the begged for soccer programme failed to deliver, the promised age specific training not getting off to the best start when the 11 year old found himself paired off with the 6 year olds. He was the only one of his age.

So I scoured a website of Holiday activities. Let’s just pick 3 activities my kids would enjoy.

Go Karting – (starts from) $65/day (10am-2pm)

Drama – (starts from $75/day (9am-3pm)

Survival Skills – $130/day (9am-3pm) 

That’s 3 days taken care of. For three children. That’s $810 plus food and drink, plus travel to venues up to an hour away, which means that basically my day would be taken out by the sheer traveling time. That’s not much change from $1000 for three days keeping the smalls happy. Three days. $1000. I know I’ve said it lots. Hence the emoji.

The other thing that this unpalatable exercise does is bring out the sense of failure. The red hot judgement with which I gaze upon myself. Where did I miss the career opportunity that would have led to my being able to sign the cheques without a second glance and make my children happy. Oh what I would give right now for that smug feeling of achievement, the joy I would get from the high fives my children would give me as they marched out of the house on the way to their own success in a world where telling your offspring to ‘learn to appreciate boredom – let your mind unwind’ is a communist conspiracy.

I blame myself. But it’s hard to live with the weight of the decisions that led to this. Let’s see if I can take solace in numbers. I have already spent a total of 11 and a half years planning, executing and financing holiday time for my five children and I  have a total of 5 and a quarter years of holiday time left before graduation from school is completed. Er, emoji, where are you?  At a time in my life when what I crave is a silent retreat and to finally succeed in earning a crust of self-esteem, this is giving me the shakes, the heeby-geebies and too much cortisol racing around my eco-system. It’s not a holiday programme I need, it’s a survival programme.

Right after this I am going to take a cushion and sit on my deck in the sunshine. I shall drink another coffee even though I’ve had my quota. I shall close my eyes and expose my winter skin to the glorious dangerous UV rays and rebel for a full ten minutes. I shall listen to the spring birds and feel the caprices of the spring wind. I shall do nothing and try not to let the prickles turn into tears, but if they do I shall lick their lovely saltiness from my cheeks (well maybe my lips, my tongue isn’t freakishly long) and let it go.

PS Snapshot for 5 minutes of the 16 and a quarter holiday years: One child is making sherbet, another just complemented me on my scones and is kicking a soccer ball  and the other is sitting in the sunshine stroking the cat. The tears may fall. 🙂

PONIES AND FISH. FISH-PONIES. A (short) TALE FOR THE WETTEST 1st DAY OF SPRING EVER!

            Hello, FishPony!

There is a fish. He doesn’t have a name because he is a fish. He is a particular type of fish and looks exactly like all the other fish with his particularity. He is smaller than some yet larger than others. Size is the only thing that differentiates him, apart from gender. He is a male fish and as such this is the only other thing that differentiates him from all the other fish of his particularity that look like him but are, in fact her-fish. He spends his life behaving like a fish living in the sea. Feeding, moving in a shoal from location to location, procreating and trying not to get eaten by different types of bigger fish. This should be the end of a very boring story. But I will push through and you will stay with me to see where this is going.

First I will tell you about when I was 6. From this age I was obsessed with writing a book. I would staple together folded paper into a book lookalike and crayon a picture on the front cover. It was always a picture of a horse, behind it a classic 5-bar gate and behind that the field where it lived – and behind that a house where the little girl in the story (usually a blonde version of me) lived. I enjoyed the process thus far. Then I would turn the front cover to the blank first page and begin to write in my neatest writing (which was never neat enough). 

‘Once upon a time….’ The story was always the same and involved the pony’s little girl coming out of her house, walking across the field and riding the pony out of the gate away from their home and off on adventure. There the story stopped. There was no adventure past the gate, the field and the house. There was no conspiratorial conversation between the girl and her much loved pony, there were no other characters met along the way, though I think maybe once the little girl had an argument with her mother before riding the pony out of the gate. I remember that as I was writing these stories I was filled with a sense of longing, with both eyes firmly fixed on a horizon I couldn’t see. The desire to fill the distance between where I was and said horizon became the one lasting outcome to every story. A lusty dollop of desire sprinkled with disappointment, unfulfilment, failure. I would put away the story to nowhere, hoping that next time I looked at it, there would be a shining tale of excitement and beauty upon its pages but sadly, sooner rather than later, I would sneak back hoping I didn’t notice and scrumple it up to bury it in the bin where I wouldn’t find it. I gave myself up to the world of ‘The Faraway Tree’, a place of the real imagination of the redoubtable Enid Blyton who I later discovered with shock was a rather horrid, cruel woman. 

I was, by the way, the world’s worst horsewoman. I had a fat, wicked Welsh Mountain cross Arab midget of a pony. By the time I was done with her I practically rode her like a trike, my feet pretty much touching the ground on either side of her huge girth. She was as difficult to command to ride away from the food source in her paddock as she was to stop from charging at breakneck speed on the return journey. She terrified and bullied me. She thwarted my innocent girlish dream of the beautiful bond of love between pony and proud owner, the one that I read about it many books. ‘Green grass of Wyoming’. Bullshit. ‘My friend Flicka’. Bollocks. 

The crushing experience of our one and only Gymkhana is it’s own story for another wettest day EVER.

Pushing through – the sea is a metaphor for the unfathomable, murky and ceaselessly swirling environment of my brain. The fish is the story that I held for just a moment before it slipped out of my fingers and when I looked for it in the ocean of my brain I always picked another one indistinguishable from the first  and – oh there it goes – it slipped away again. Repeat.

Forging ahead – even if I had managed to hold on to it I would not have seen the adventure in the life of a fish among fish in a never ceasing ocean. I was too young to dive in and swim with it to find out what adventures were to be had in the depths. And anyway, I was looking on dry land –  at ponies – and too proud to tell of my real adventures with my real pony, which were all humiliating and cause for humour. I was too young to appreciate this and too proud to laugh at myself. 

And now? Now I know that if you want to write a story, you just have to keep starting. Keep going. Follow your own footsteps. It’s not the horizon that is important, it’s what’s beneath your feet. Failure, disappointment and unfulfillment are the lakes, mountains and valleys of stories. I can write that medium sized particular fish a rip-snorter of a tale – and nobody, not ANYBODY would talk like Ellen de Generes. Because when you inhabit an ocean, who’s gonna hear you talking? And I will never, EVER try to write a story about a pony. Unless it’s a magical sea pony that falls in love with a particular fish. Everything is stacked against them as they battle barriers of discrimination, evil stepmothers and jealous rivals…….

 

A SHOVEL FULL

Shovel with Daisies

Shovel with Daisies

There was once a woman, three wise men and a fool. They lived in a kingdom by the sea, under the sky and near the forest. But that doesn’t matter.

One day the woman woke up in her bed and couldn’t arise. Feeling afraid and a little strange, she placed her hand where her heart should be and couldn’t feel it beating. Now she was very afraid – and quite confused because she wondered how she was still alive. She could not stop crying!

The first wise man was called. He came with his bag of important, shiny thingamejigs, and his quiet assistant who stumbled apologetically behind him. Behind the quiet assistant skipped the fool with a shovel over his shoulder, humming a pointless tune and smiling at the daisies.The first wise man stroked his long beard (all wise men have long beards) and muttered “hmmmm”.

He reached for his one of his shiny thingamejigs and proceeded to place it on the woman’s body, over where her heart should be. She looked at him. He did not meet her gaze but muttered “hmmmm” again.

He turned to his quiet assistant and said out very loud “Tell the woman she must stand on her head for twenty minutes at the dawn, at midday and at the dusk. This will cure her of what ails her.” The quiet assistant did as he was told. The wise man swept out of the room followed by the quiet assistant, stumbling. The woman watched them go and turned her face to the wall, crying silently. The fool tiptoed over to the woman and patted her on the head. He left a daisy on the pillow by the wall.

The woman did as she was told. She hurt her neck quite badly and gave herself a powerful headache.

The next morning the woman awoke and tried to arise out of bed. Again she found she could not do it. She put her hand over where her heart should be and still could feel no beat. Instead, she felt a small lump. It was quite hard. It didn’t move when she pressed it. Her tears flowed like a river over her hand, over the lump.

The second wise man was called. He arrived with his bag of powders and herbs, accompanied by his proud assistant and the smiling fool whose cartwheel crashed into the door jambe because he was carrying a shovel over his shoulder. The fool rubbed his leg and sat watching the sunbeam move across the floor.

The second wise man harrumphed a bit and stood with one hand underneath his chin and the other on his cocked hip. He took some powders and herbs out of his bag. Turning to the proud assistant he pontificated very loudly, “Tell her to take a teaspoon of the powders dissolved in the water taken from wilting the herbs over a low heat – once at the dawn, at midday and at the dusk.” The proud assistant pompously announced the woman’s treatment.

The second wise man and his proud assistant both swept out of the room. The woman turned her pale face back to the wall and clutched the sheets around her for warmth, sobbing with little control. The fool left his shovel by the door, tiptoed over to her and sat down on a little stool by the bed. He hummed a pointless tune very quietly and stroked her hair before leaving a fresh daisy on the pillow by the wall.

The woman did as she was told. She spent the next night vomiting and was overcome by violent chills.

On the next morning, she awoke late and couldn’t turn her face from the wall. With her hand, she felt for the lump where her heart should be and instead of a lump, there was now a hole. There was no pain, just a space where her heart should have been. She was all out of tears and had no breath left for sighing.

The third wise man with his bag of books and his mean assistant were called for – and the fool came behind them, hopping and spinning round occasionally, as he expertly balanced the shovel in his outstretched hand.

The third wise man muttered and frowned and scratched his head. He reached for his bag and took out a book. He opened it and pored at it with his long bony finger (all wise men have long, bony fingers) and growled a few expletives (in a wise way of course).

“Woman, you must say these words everyday for a week three times at the dawn, at midday and at the dusk. Furthermore, you must face the eastern window at the dawn, turn around on the spot at midday and face the western window at the dusk. You must summon great joy and determination as you recite these words and you must do all this with a blind faith that the outcome will be the one you need because these are the true and correct words to say. If any questions arise, you will forward them to me and I, or other wise men trained by me will answer them”.

The mean assistant went over to the woman and poked her with his finger. “Did you get that, woman?” he demanded to know. Still looking at the wall, she nodded slowly. “Right then” he said and strode out of the room following the third wise man.

The fool stayed with the woman all that week. She lay in bed facing the wall and he covered her pillow with fresh daisies every day. He stroked her hair and sang the pointless tune until she became familiar with it and started to rock gently to its rhythm. He sat beside her as she told him in a whisper that she could not perform the instructions of the third wise man because she could not even get out of bed, or summon the voice or the will to say the words in the way he had recommended. So he read the words to her and together they put together some questions, which they attached to a copy of the text and sent it to the third wise man. That done, they turned their attention to pulling the text apart until the world it created became no more than a collection of letters, randomly assembled so that they told of another world with new possibilities of interpretation. When they had done this once, they rearranged the letters again, and again – and again, each time creating a different world resplendant with new meaning.

The next day, which was the 6th day, they received a reply.

Woman,

‘It is good that you understand some of the text. The bits that you question you do not understand. I have rearranged the words for you so that they they actually say THIS instead.’ And the text had become a different and new arrangement of the previous version of the text, just as the woman and the fool had been able to accomplish themselves by rearranging the letters on the page. ‘But most importantly, you must understand that my version of the words is now the correct one. You must simply believe in these words. You must have faith and trust because they are the right words because I say they are the right words.

Sincerely

The third wise man

Ps are you reciting them as and when I prescribed?’

That night the fool hugged her in the silence of the twinkling stars, and in the drumming of the rain, and in the wail of the wind.

On the 7th day, the woman, who was now sitting up in bed warming herself in the sunshine and eating soup made by the fool, the woman with warmth in her cheeks, despite having a space where her heart should have been, the woman said to the fool “Do you believe the words can make us happy?”

“Good question” said the fool and told her a Yo Mumma joke. She laughed, despite its lack of political correctness.

The woman continued. “The words that the third wise man gave to me are sometimes too hard to understand.” She went on. “They confuse me and they make me feel afraid because I do not understand. Some of them I can’t believe because they tell of things of which I have no experience. Now he has confused me even further because he swore by the validity of the first version of the text he gave me. Now he has changed it but the message is still that I just have to trust and have faith in what the words tell me.”

“Ahurb’dy hurb’dy” chortled the fool.

The week came to the start of the next week and the third wise man and his mean assistant returned to receive thanks from the cured woman. The mean assistant approached ahead of his master. The fool stood in the doorway.

“Fool, you are in my way. Get out of it!” The mean assistant shoved him in the chest. The fool sprang back a large pace at his punch but returned back to the doorway with an alacrity that surprised both the wise man and his mean assistant. The mean assistant took out the fool’s leg from underneath him but the fool managed to execute a perfect backflip in the air and landed not one inch from where he had stood before. Enraged, the mean assistant fell upon the fool with blows, kicks and bites. The fool became a blur with the mean assistant so that you could not tell where one finished and the other ended. A cloud of dust engulfed the two men.

The third wise man and the woman cried out for the fool to spare the mean assistant. It was all happening so quickly, and the roars of the mean assistant suddenly turned to strange high pitched squeals. As the dust began to clear, it became apparent that the mean assistant was laughing and that he was laughing because the fool was tickling him in all the tickliest tickle spots that a human body possesses. Nobody seemed to notice that in place of the pieces of paper with the words written upon them were soft flakes floating down like pieces of ash from a blazing fire that crumbled into atoms when trod upon or brushed away.

“Stop! Stop it, stop! Please!” The mean assistant panted. The fool released the assistant and went to pour him a glass of water. The third wise man stepped forward to help the gasping assistant take the drink and ushered him away, chuckling also and patting his back.

The woman meanwhile was on her feet, out of bed holding her hand over where her heart should be. She turned her face to the fool, mouth agape with surprise, eyes shining with tears.

“There is no lump, there is no space, there’s a beat!” She said.

“There always was, you fool,” said the fool swinging his shovel to the floor and trying to heap great spadefuls of the soft grey ash, which crumbled to atoms as he tried to remove it. “You just didn’t believe it. You don’t need the special exercises, the herbs or the words. You just need to listen to your beating heart and keep shoveling, every day. Your shovel can be full of daisies or it can be full of dust, it’s up to you.”

The woman looked down into her hand as a  penny dropped into the centre of her palm. She turned to look at her pillow, which was covered in daisies . “Oh and go get a job….” She heard the fool say. She swung round with a big smile to thank the fool, but he was gone.

The door swung gently on its hinges and a shiny shovel leant against the frame, with the evening sun glinting on its bright, shiny surface, in a most bedazzling way.

PIRANHAS IN THE BLOGPOND

 

They're coming to get me

They’re coming to get me

Another piranha in the Blogpond. Leeches in the mud, snake oil charmers, smart-ass-sassed college dropouts, beautiful brothers and sisters, too young and unformed to understand anything much about life beyond waking up each day to the immortal hangover that is the voracious spawn of our youthful  attachment to greed and hedonism.

‘Be happy, like me, and do what you love!’

Cambrdge UK 1988, Wednesday morning, 08.36. I cycle up the hill past the County Council offices. I am a Kelly Girl, minus the perfect hair and pretty blouse fastened at the cuff. My arms are too long and I have no hair arranging skill. I climb the stone stairs of the brown brick 1960’s style municipal building. A wealth of the most romantic stone spires and sanctuaries dating back to the 14th century all around and my luck chooses this place. I hang up my coat. I enter the open plan room where a  man my age looks at me with surprise. Then annoyance. Another temp to find pretend work for, staples to be ordered, stationary to be stacked. Another reminder of the blank wall that is his future at this moment. The office manager not yet arrived will soon be here to share the secret, his day made tolerable with the help of a stiff gin at 5 and the lifted skirt of whichever bullied secretary he manages to capture for 3 sad and wasted minutes.

“Where’s the loo?” I ask.

Averting my returning steps to the coat hook I am soon a blur as I fly back down the stone stairs, feet never touching the ground. A moment later and the walkman is plugged in, and with the sound of ‘Summer Madness’ vibrating through my body I’m gone, nary a backward glance at The Man or Kelly or anybody else who wants to bore a hole in my head.

So I’ve been there, piranhas. I dropped out of college too. I’d had enough of being told what to read, what to think and how to write. I just wanted to find out the point of life. I just wanted to feel it. I briefly looked at the inside of other corporate boxes too and smelled the suits and the ranking systems, the misogyny and the subordination, the smell of slow death and the sheer bloody pointless consumption of time and resources. I couldn’t stomach it. So I embraced transient jobs in retail and hospo, the kind of jobs where you learnt so much by observing. Other people, other people’s lives. Fodder for song writing and performing. That Wednesday moi et ma biciclette was my last foray on the hamster wheel. Big finger.

I realized that the top is always the top. Untouched. Untouchable except by birthright or exceptional dedication to suits, ranking systems, misogyny…….

So I created my own top. And I am happy here. But I wouldn’t try and sell it to you.

Virtual: def: implicit, unacknowledged, not physically existing as such but made by software to appear to do so. How easy it is to create a life on the internet. Facebook, Twitter, a website, a blog. They are all just another market place. Windowless edifices – literally. Easily penetrated, infiltration is easy and accountability is a shoot out at high noon then exile if you transgress to lose. Rejection from the ether. Structurally perfect and able to withstand everything as long as power is available – even outages cannot remove the happy virtual worlds we have constructed.

Piranhas are happy free creatures doing just what they want, where they want, when they want. With pictures. But they want to bottle it and sell it! The hook is the reflection of the life they tell us they are living. The key themes are living globally in different locations, having fun and….. that’s about it!

Everything changes. As you settle, have children, grow them, discover your parents are retiring, aging, becoming sick – every stage will change you and what you do. When you realise you are no longer the front wave of the set but watching the leading roller crash on ahead of you.

The happiness the piranhas in the Blogpond are trying to sell is but a candle alight in a pretty paper bag rising up up up until it combusts in a glorious instant. Transient, gone without a trace. Light another, and another, send out an armada of pretty paper bags. But fill them with your heart so that when they burst they will shower love. Let other people see your heart. What is real will make you happy.

I get excited when somebody new follows my blog but I am disappointed when it’s just another AWOLler or other species of piranha trying to sell me an empty bottle of nothin’. I blog to explore writing, to inhabit the innumerable corners of the mind in all its glory and gore. I guess you smelled the gore and came a-nibbling.

CRUNCHING THE NUMBERS FOR MY MUM

Cuckoo (Common Formerly European) Onekind

Cuckoo (Common Formerly European) Onekind

Day  9 post 1st stage reconstructive surgery. Mum flew in from the UK two nights ago on flight SQ281 to stay for a month. I pride myself on keeping the house not too shabbily, but she hadn’t been here 12 hours and she was already getting stuck in, half way down a toilet, giving it ‘a really good clean’. She turns 81 in 5 and a half weeks and is darting round my house cleaning, fetching, carrying, while I sit like a Cuckoo in her nest, squawking for service.

Fact: Cuckoos stroke of genius is that they lay their eggs in other bird’s nests. ‘Studies were made of 90 Great Reed Warbler nests in central Hungary. Of the nests targeted by cuckoos, 64% contained one cuckoo egg, 23% had two, 10% had three and 3% had four Common Cuckoo eggs. 66% accepted the egg(s); 12% ejected them; 20% abandoned the nests entirely; 2% buried the eggs. 28% of the cuckoo eggs were described as “almost perfect” in their mimesis of the host eggs, and the warblers rejected “poorly mimetic” cuckoo eggs more often.’ Thanks Wikepedia.

I am a terrible patient. I don’t like being dependent, which is a combination of control freakery and genuine concern for my carer and I hate following instructions which involve telling me I can’t do things. I’m not supposed to lift anything heavier than a full mug or drive and this renders me helpless, useless and stir crazy! My bigger half is having to cope with a woman rapidly declining into the thing she’s not supposed to become for another 30 years – and his M-I-L is here. For a month.

It’s not until you can’t exercise your ways that you realise how much set in them you have become. As a child I remember watching mum bake, iron and sew. I can remember her operating an ancient washing machine that had an accompanying wringer. She once lost the tiny diamond from her engagement ring into the swirling vortex of water and clothes, only to find it sitting on one of the 2cm slats of the drain at the bottom after it was emptied.  She would come home from shift work as a midwife, change into short shorts and gumboots and gallop off on her fabulous legs to the kitchen garden behind the stone wall. I learnt to bake by inhaling the studied concentration on her face while she measured, sieved, mixed or, kneaded – whether what was in the bowl became coffee and walnut cake or wholemeal bread, I got the techniques down pat. I know that many of my ways about the kitchen have the flavour of my mum about them.

And not just the kitchen. Sometimes I catch myself having a ‘Diana moment’ and, depending on the nature of the moment and whether it has been witnessed by the other one who knows, I will shriek or laugh. But over the next 3 and a half weeks I will have many Diana moments – firsthand, no mirror. She hasn’t been to stay for 8 years since I had 2 boy babies at the same time. She woke 3 time a night with me for 21 nights to help with feeding. She made 210 cups of tea and buttered 240 pieces of toast. She has spent 1000’s of dollars on me. We live 18325.35kms apart and let’s be honest, it’s possible that you can count the days we will spend in each others company on the toes and fingers of my 5 sons. That is a difficult thought to entertain. So I will stuff back the graceless teenager trying to take over my behaviour and be grateful for my mum. I will let her do her thing and accept the benefit which I would be so foolish to squander.

Thank you, mum for your crazy decision, made within 18 hours after talking to me when I came out of hospital. Thank you for spending 926 of your precious British Pensioner Pounds on Flight SQ281 and defying gravity to be here.

You have never ejected or abandoned me and you haven’t had to bury me yet.  I know I am not a bad egg and that you are 1 impressive old bird.

COMING SOON – THE RACK IS BACK

LETTING GO

LETTING GO -photo by Helen Coetzee

It’s a cliché, but I HAD A DREAM last night. Actually, it was in the 10 or so minutes between waking and rising this morning. I am blogging my way through my experience of breast cancer. Well I only discovered blogging this year and so will have to go all retro on the early stuff. Yes, it’s therapy for me of course but I also want to reach out to other people going through this because talking through all the stages really does help.

Here’s my dream.

There is a meeting. A long, long table with chairs around, blinds at the windows of an ordinary office meeting room. We file in, about 30 of us. The Oncologist enters the room but doesn’t seem to settle on a place at the table. None of us do. 

Immediately, we are relocated  to the inner city, in the way that dreams can shift seamlessly and with ease. Hundreds of us now, we all sit on stone steps that bank up the steep hill with blackened old buildings at the top and sides. It is pleasantly urban. I feel like I am at a university lecture. Huge sycamore trees with contrasting light bark have lost most of their leaves which now lie on the steps providing bolts of welcome colour. They seem to be on our side. It is damp but not cold. 

The Oncologist is talking. I feel like a child though he is younger than me. He becomes quite impassioned, excited by the power he holds over us and our massive presence. There is a sense among the mass that we are not all the same, though we have been summoned here as if we were. We are CANCER and The Oncologist is THE CURE. We are to report our list of treatments and we are to receive the next stage. As he asks for submissions of experience from the massed crowd, our difference becomes clear. Hands rise into the damp air and each voice claims a treatment, brave people conquering fear and confusion, clinging to their faith. They are the anointed, they have walked through the fire of retributive justice, thrown everything in the arsenal of toxic war waged upon the alien cancer cells that rose up to destroy them.

And The Oncologist salutes them. He is rallying the mass, justifying their suffering, telling them that in following orders they have dealt the blow they crave. He fires up, raises his fist in the air and is shouting about reaching every single last corner of the empires that are our flesh, every cellular outpost – “And I will seek and destroy every last trace of cancer….”

To my right just below where I am sitting, a swathe of the mass begin to boil and move, dissatisfied. Murmurs become a chant and in turn the people rise to their feet. Moving down the grey stone steps as one they turn their heads away and leave the assembly. They are singing, low and simple, “We don’t know you anymore,” over and over.

Then a voice pipes up. Her mouth isn’t working properly, the left side appears to be anesthetized and flaps stupidly, spoiling a crisp delivery. But she is straining to be heard, and winning nevertheless. The Oncologist is rising to a frenzy in the face of the dissenting party but her words are challenging his in mid-air, gaining momentum. Other people to the left and to the right, above and below, begin to pop up, arms raised freely. Mouth gaping to the left and chest hurting with the effort, she bellows –

She bellows in her heart.  She wants to take The Oncologist by the hand and ask him not to be disapproving, not to doubt her, not to be worried for her. She needs to find her own way of dealing with this most personal of diseases. She grew it, she owns it, she will transform it. Don’t try to frighten me with your statistics. You don’t tell me of those who follow your orders  and still don’t ‘beat’ this thing. So work with me. Let me be free. You want to be free.

It is only a little voice, trembling on the air.”You are trying to give us a guarantee that is not yours to give! You cannot say we will never have cancer again. You don’t know, YOU JUST DON’T KNOW.” And you don’t know me anyway.

I wake, my mouth flapping and my chest hurting. It’s 5 days since I had stage one of reconstructive surgery. I went under feeling incredibly fit and well. My chest wound had healed so well and I had strength once more. I have navigated difficult decisions and arrived at a place of confidence as great as anybody can really have It was harder to get up on the table this time than it was last. It was elective surgery. So why put myself through it?

At first, I didn’t think I would ever go for it. I said stuff like, “They’ll only be speed bumps, they won’t be real.” I was in mourning. We women can’t help but have such a complicated relationship with our bodies. We ask so much of them. Our ladyhumps particularly. Ask any mum who has breastfed and you will get that dismissive ‘Well, they’re never gonna be the same again are they?’ No, they are not! But to lose them completely……that was something different again. And then when I could see the years still to come unfolding before me, it started to seem like a long time to do the penance of the staunch. I don’t want to hold on to the anger and the shock anymore. Despite reassurances  that I was no less of a woman, there was still the private moment I step into a bath, the secret throwing away of the naughty nighties, the sudden disappearance of the thrill of a hotel night.

This is difficult to admit but let’s get real. I think we are adult enough don’t you? So I’m taking a cue from  those women brave enough to chase their fantasies and take what’s available – breast cancer or not. It’s going to take a couple of months to achieve a result initially, then a year or so before completion. And when it’s done I shall be wearing a super-sexy-cool t-shirt which you will be able to purchase from my website, in aid of breast cancer awareness. It will say –

THE RACK IS BACK