The “let go” basket.

While on holiday, recently, I read Debra Adelaide’s novel, The Household Guide to Dying (Picador/Pan Macmillan, 2008). What a wonderful book! Some of you may be wondering: what’s she doing reading something so gloomy? A few years ago, I spent a short time in another suburb’s library. I think The Old Boy and I had arrived early for something in the area; it was coffee or books and this time we chose to read. I spied the book lying on a table and thought it looked intriguing. I only got through the first two chapters before it was time to go. A short while ago a friend asked – rather tentatively, as if I might be bothered by the question – whether I had read it. Turns out she owns a copy, I borrowed it and here we are. Apart from sentences that meander on a bit too long, it is a cleverly-crafted, intelligent, warm, gut-wrenching, beautiful story. The main character is dying and there are some things she needs to do before her time is up. She wants to take care of her family; she wants to enjoy moments of tranquility and tenderness; she wants to deal with some important, unfinished business and she has a cunning plan to sabotage her neighbour. She has qualities that resonate with me: in particular her love of hens and her joy in writing. She has other qualities that elude me: she has a passion for housework. (I’ve never understood that one!) She learns that there are some things she can exert control over, and there are other things she has to let go. It made me think: do I have any unfinished business? Do I have regrets? Are there things I should be doing for my husband, children, friends…? Unfinished business? I still want to get a book or fifty published, but I’m working on that. There’s nothing I can do about regrets, even though I have a few. Sure, there were relationships and incidents in the past that were hurtful, embarrassing and/or unresolved, but they’re in the past, so they’re going in the “let go” basket. Things I should be doing for loved ones? The author makes sure her girls know how to cook the perfect boiled egg, how to make a pot of tea… My kids are adults now and seem to have figured those things out; at least, they don’t appear to be starving. I did teach them both how to use a washing machine, so I think my work is done. I suppose I could be kinder, sweeter, more self-sacrificing, more generous, more… Oh to heck with that. If I changed too dramatically I would no longer be me! My husband, children, grandchildren, wider family and friends already know that I love them. All in all, I feel rather content. I do miss having hens in my garden but that too will have to be placed, regretfully, into the “let go” basket. The Old Boy isn’t a big fan and, besides, The Wonder Dog would probably kill them and think he was doing me a huge favour. (You should see him chase the sparrows, starlings and other avian interlopers in our garden.) I’m grateful to Ms Adelaide for writing such a delightful, different, out-of-left-field story. I didn’t find it depressing even though there are some very sad moments. I didn’t find it at all gloomy; in fact, it resonates with warmth, love and tenderness. We all need a very big “let go” basket. When we chuck stuff in there, it’s surprising how freeing it is.  ...

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Thanks!

I’d like to thank all the spammers who regularly visit this site. A number of you have been faithful followers of my blog since day one and, even though you’ve yet to make it into the comments section, I appreciate your faithfulness and respect your perseverance. Most of you are always so encouraging. I appreciate the many who take time out of their busy days to tell me about SEOs and the ineffective quality of the links/videos and music you think I have on my site…but I actually don’t. My apologies to the few who think my posts don’t make any sense and are riddled with spelling errors. Judging by the interesting grammatical constructs used in your messages, would I be correct in assuming English isn’t your first language? Thank you, also, to the many suggestions I’ve received of “cures” for cancer. I know that you have my welfare in mind and I am deeply humbled by your concern. However, I refuse to fast for 42 days, drinking only herbal teas and vegetable juice. I don’t see the point of dying of malnutrition while trying to fight cancer. Earlier this year, due to a chronic reaction to medication, I lived on weak black tea, ginger beer and toast for five weeks. I only lost about 4 kilos (since replaced) but I was so weak I couldn’t stand up or stay up without help. The cancer in my ribs wasn’t bothered by the lack of protein or dairy or anything resembling a decent meal. It sat there in defiance. In fact, I think it even laughed at me. I know it’s fashionable to ignore scientific research and the medical profession, and many prefer to return to the Middle Ages’ reliance on herbal treatments. Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for Vitamin C, healthy foods, echinacea and so on. Unfortunately naturapathic cures usually need a lot of time to work, which is why they’re not effective against things like cancer. The cancer cells grow faster than the herbs can work. In the old days herbal cures worked with lesser ailments but the big ones still killed people, which is why we have modern medicine. I say: Thank God for Harvey (circulation of the blood), Lister (antiseptics), Pasteur (germ theory), Florey and Fleming (penicillin) and all the others. I have an excellent oncologist, who I trust and like, and I intend to take his advice. Please, don’t worry. I’m thankful that spring has sprung. The birds are building nests. The wildflowers have sprung up along the roadways. The almond trees are in blossom and waft gently in the warm breezes. We have made it through another winter and the earth rejoices. There is so much for which to be grateful. Why waste time and energy worrying about what can’t be changed, or dwelling on the nasty side of life? Life is a gift; unwrap it and enjoy!  ...

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Goats or sheep?

We just returned, yesterday, from a holiday interstate. We stayed in a “pet-friendly” cabin, tucked away in lush farmland, near a state forest and only a 20 minutes drive from the coast. The place was well-equipped with decrepit-lady-friendly chairs; wood combustion fire; comfortable beds (with electric blankets), and a large outdoor deck. We’d have spent a lot more time sitting out there, admiring the view, if the weather hadn’t been so crappy. (Gale force winds and rain.) Right next door was a large dam full of bullfrogs that sang all night, and a paddock that housed a small family of goats: Dad, Mum, Kid and Extra Female. After a number of days observing the goats I have to declare, I’m not a big fan. Dad was a magnificent specimen, with wicked curved horns, yellow alien eyes (the pupil goes sideways!) and a ZZTop beard. But, what an absolute oink! I thought I’d share our slightly stale bread with the family. I spread the feast around, making sure there was enough for everyone, with room to move. Dad ate the lot! Whenever Mum (who looked pregnant) tried to sneak a piece he’d headbutt her, right in the gut. I told him, in no uncertain terms, what I thought of his selfish, domestic-bullying ways. He looked me straight in the eyes and, I swear, I could hear him say, “I don’t give a cracker, lady.” At the moment Kid is indulged and petted but he’s in for a rude shock when he gets older. I felt particularly sorry for Extra Female. She hung around the back and usually missed out on any treats unless I could chuck her a piece before the others wised up. It didn’t happen very often. She had to babysit the youngster but, if she was sitting where Mum wanted to walk, she’d get a whack from Mum’s head and she’d have to move. Mum could just have easily walked around her but, oh no, it was easier to push Extra out of the way. Goats are selfish bullies. The kids are cute, but that’s as far as I go. Give me sheep or cows any day. It was cow-country, with fresians, black angus and the occasional jersey, wandering the hillsides. Many of the paddocks had hay bales in special feeders up off the soggy ground. Unlike the goats, the cows took it in turns to eat the hay. They’d wait patiently in line until it was their turn. Unlike Dad Goat, not one cow tried to hog the lot. They shared. I’ve seen sheep do similar things. Although I realise that every animal species has its own form of hierarchy and pecking order, nevertheless it seems to me that sheep and cows are far more egalitarian than goats. I’ve come to the conclusion that on the whole, we could also be sorted into one or other category: sheep or goats. There are people who always put themselves first; who make sure they get what they want or “need” before bothering about others. When their “needs” are satisfied, they’ll think about the wider community. Then there are the people who make sure that everyone is cared for; who even put other people’s needs before their own. There are the bullies, and there are the peace-makers. Goats have their uses: they provide milk, meat and skins, just like sheep. Their babies are adorable, just like sheep. But, if I had to live with a herd, I’d choose sheep (or cows) over goats any day of the week. Our planet already has far too many people who live like goats. Baaa!...

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Are you able?

Have you been watching any of the paralympics? My goodness, those  people are amazing! Swimmers with no arms, hitting the wall with their heads. Men and women running with one, or two, prosthetic legs, and doing times most able-bodied people can’t manage. People with barely functioning legs and one arm not working, lashed to a pole and throwing a shot put with one working arm…and getting distances most of us, with everything in working order, can’t dream of getting. Blind men playing soccer… How do they know where the net is? How do they pass the ball to each other? It’s one thing to kick the thing in the general direction, but how the heck do they know how or when to pick it up with their foot and move it on to the next? Not only are they achieving mind-boggling things with bodies most of us would have used as an excuse to withdraw from life, they do it with such joy. They’re thrilled if they win a medal – any colour – but they’re also delighted to simply take part. I saw an interview with a young man who had both arms amputated at the elbow and both legs amputated just below the knees. He was a swimmer. He came fourth in his race, and he’d swum against men who had at least one working arm, and some had two. When asked if he was disappointed he didn’t do better he said, “It’s such a great event to come to. I’m proud to swim for (his country) and I’m having fun.”  Take away the high-powered sponsorship, the pressure to win at all costs, and lo and behold the athlete is allowed to have fun. Strangely enough that seems to produce better results as well. I watched some of the races for the sight-challenged and thought: If I take my glasses off, I could compete in that. (Without my spectacles I can barely see my hand in front of my face.) Pity I can’t run. Then I thought: If I can’t run, maybe I could try some of the other events? I can’t shoot; I’ve always been terrified of guns. I can’t sail (chronic sea-sickness). I’ve never been able to get the basketball through the hoop. My arms are too weak to heave a shot-put or discus. I can’t swim fast (or get into a bathing suit). There’s no way known to man I could bend my sausage legs into one of those fabulous racing wheelchairs. I’ve always been crap at table tennis and… Flipping heck; I’m too decrepit to take part in the paralympics! It’s certainly been inspirational stuff. If someone is passionate, determined and willing to work hard they can achieve amazing, outstanding, unbelievable things. One young cerebral-palsied cycling medallist said: The word “can’t” isn’t in my dictionary. So, no excuses. I’ve just got to find the right event, and then the oomph to train, the discipline to get up early and…perhaps not. I’ll go with my strengths. I reckon I’d be a dead cert for a gold medal in “watching and cheering”. Look out Rio, here I...

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Wanna-be or will-be?

This week I received an email from one of my editorial clients. He’d submitted his work to the unpublished manuscript section of a literary competition. He intended to use the favourable reviews to help him launch his work as an i-view book. (I hadn’t realised that was his intention or I would have given him different advice. I saw the competition as the way of getting a second opinion for free, while drawing a publisher’s attention to his ms.) Anyhoo…he was upset because he thought he’d received a really bad review. He said he didn’t agree with the changes the reviewer said his manuscript needed, and he was dismayed at the suggestion he’d need to do more work. What did I have to say about it? My first reaction was: Oh no, I’ve done a really crap job for the guy! I’ve failed. (After all, it’s all about me.) I read through the report and discovered the reviewer said lots of positive, encouraging things about his manuscript. She even said she’d recommend it for publication, provided some work was done on it. I made note of her criticisms and worked my way through his manuscript once more. She was mostly right. It wouldn’t require a lot more work to make the suggested changes. I encouraged the client to do the work. I even volunteered to re-edit, once he’d made the changes, for a very piddly amount. After all, this is the life of a writer: write, re-write, edit, re-write, submit, re-write, change, edit, re-write, submit…etc. So far he’d just written, had it edited, tidied up and submitted. I remember the first time I received a rejection letter. I was totally shattered. Not only was it over a page long, the fellow used the T word (trite). I allowed that negative experience to deter me from submitting any work for years and years. Then I found out that it is very unusual to get such a long, detailed rejection and it meant that the guy saw potential in my work. It was a good thing. I’ve been watching the X-factor auditions. (Don’t judge me.) I’ve been greatly impressed by several contestants who are back for a second go. Last year some were rejected at the audition and others had made it to “boot camp” before getting the flick. Every one of them had taken on board the judges’ comments and had spent the past year getting lessons, practising and improving. Now that’s passion and dedication. Good on them, I say, and I hope they all do really well. That’s the sort of attitude any budding artist should have; whether it’s writing, dancing, singing, painting… If the creative urge runs through your veins, and you’re passionate about what you do, then you’ll learn from every “no”. You’ll do your best to improve and then you’ll put yourself out there once again. It’s how a person handles the knock-backs that sorts out the wanna-bes from the will-bes. Keep on, keeping...

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