Categories
Writing Process

ON MY PROCESS OF WRITING

The room smelled stale. The sheets were not clean. The pink floral wall paper and king size bed did nothing to soothe him. His muscles twitched with agitation. He looked down at her, he smiled. Her big blue eyes stared up at him and she smiled too. He loved them like this. Willing to hand over their body, unwittingly handing over their soul. A single drop of blood fell from his mouth onto her cheek. She winced.  “I think your nose is bleeding.” He continued to smile. He arched back and with a swift movement plunged into her neck. He gulped, drinking her in. As her viscous fluid – beautiful, sweet, plentiful – slipped down his throat, as he felt the diminishing thump of her beating heart, her body convulsing on the soft bed, it occurred to him that she did not scream. He paused. He looked at her. She appeared calm. No matter. He felt strong. He felt good. He felt vindicated. In moments, she lay lifeless before him. He stared down at her, cold eyes staring back at him. Immortality. The very definition of the circle of life. And yet, in that moment, the hunter had just become the hunted.

Hello!

I decided this week that it was time to stop talking and to start doing.  After a week crippled by depression, I needed to have something on which to focus.  And so I decided to enrol on the Australian Writer’s Centre Creative Writing Stage 1 course.  We have just completed week 1.

My nerves, frankly, are shattered.

As writers, there is such a vulnerability about our work.  And that is scary.  Poo-in-your-pants scary.

Firstly, we had to introduce ourselves.  As I read each introduction, I wondered what the hell I was doing thinking I could be a writer.  Everyone seemed to have much more experience at living than I did.  I mean, I barely leave the house.

But then, a strange thing happened.

For the past couple of weeks, I have been doing Morning Pages.  A strategy suggested by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way.  The idea is that every morning, before you do anything else, you write three pages.  Three pages of stream of consciousness writing.  Every morning.  And you will find your creative spark.

I’ve managed to keep at it for about 10 days now.

During the week, motivated by my spurt of bravery for signing up for the Creative Writing course, I thought I might sign up for a degree in Creative Writing.  (It is true, I tend to get over enthusiastic and ahead of myself).  Reading through the units to be studied, I noticed that there was a unit called Horror Writing.  I flinched.  I do not like horror.  I do not like blood and gore and suspense.  My family tease me when I watch a thriller from under a blanket, peeking through a hole with my eyes closed and my hands over my ears.  I am not joking.

But then I also read that sometimes that which we revolt against is the very thing we need to lean into, to savour, to sit with it, to overcome it.

And so I leaned in.  I wrote a paragraph about a vampire in my morning pages (amongst other depressive stuff you seriously do not want to know about).  It was stream of consciousness, no story line in mind, just writing.

Our assignment this week was to write a scene that left the reader feeling like the character’s life was about to change forever.

Easy, I thought.  I can do that.

But the main character couldn’t be anything like us.  It had to be someone totally NOT like us.

This was a problem.  I am a depressive recovering alcoholic who writes about her experiences on her blog.  By my very afflictions, I am a narcissist!  All my characters and stories in my head are a derivative of me!

And so I looked at my Vampire and thought perhaps I could so something with him.  And as I was writing, a pretty amazing thing happened.  I started to think about extending the story.  I started to think “What if?”

And before I knew it, I wasn’t focussed on my misery, my angst and trying to translate that into a character whose miserable story would become a derivative of my own life.  No, instead I was developing a story of fantasy and wonder and amalgamating a gazillion different life forms and eras into one messy, but gloriously delicious story.  Suddenly, rather than seemingly arduous, this writing journey took on new meaning, new zest, new life.

I’m not saying for a second that I am going to write a vampire novel, or become a gothic horror author.  I mean, I might, if I can get some meat out of it.  And if I can face my fear of gore.  And if I can find my copy of Dracula, because apparently you have to at least have read that one to know something of the genre! And if I can go the distance.  It takes on average two years to get a novel published for new writer,  did you know that?  That is from the conception of the story, to the published product.  Two years!  If nothing else, writers have to have faith and perseverance.

And so, here I am, finally starting this new journey.  And that is what it is – a journey.  An unknown journey.  And who knows where it might end.  It may be a short trip, or it may be a long one with a happy, serendipitous outcome.

But that is one of the joys of living, the unknowing.  Actually, I don’t normally like that, but in this instance, I am liking it very much.

It just goes to show.  Sometimes, you just have to take a leap.  A leap of faith, a leap of vulnerability, and just give it a go.  Go on, you know you want to.  And I will be here right beside you.

Much love,

SHW Signature

 

 

 

PS: Please do give the AWC a go if you are thinking about becoming a writer (unsponsored plug there), they are fantastic!!

PPS: If you do buy The Artist’s Way, I do receive a tiny commission.

Categories
Advocacy

With great power comes great responsibility

With great power comes great responsibility.

Do you remember that quote in Spiderman that Uncle Ben says to Spiderman?

I don’t know why but it has always stuck with me.

We live in a time where the every day person has tremendous opportunity to wield incredible power and no more is this true than for the blogger.  Within any given niche there are those that lead the pack, who post prolifically, who have interesting things to say, who inspire us, who have gained a massive, extremely loyal following.

It is this loyal following that brands bank on and that have made some bloggers quite wealthy.

It is also the reason we need to be thinking really carefully about what it is we want to be putting out into the world, and how we want to influence the following we have.

When people listen to what we have to say, when they like us enough to follow us, en masse, we need to take great care.

No more is this true than today in the world of the troll.  A troll is a person who will comment with something negative on a blog, or social media page, that is solely aimed to aggravate and illicit a response from the person who owns the page.  They are counter culture to the blog.  They are agitators and are usually very good at what they do.

Online trolls are pervasive and prolific.  The anonymity that the internet provides means that trolls are increasing.  They are cyber bullies whose sole aim is to create mayhem.

We know this.  We are aware of this.  The best thing to do is to delete the comment, block the troll and get on with your life.  They are seeking the spotlight and the best and most effective strategy is not to give it to them.

Yet some bloggers insist on engaging them.  Which of course is their choice.

But it is what follows that worries me greatly.

The vitriol espoused by their following is nothing short of shocking.  Their behaviour is often a lot worse than the troll, calling them names, attacking their character, attacking who they are, their intelligence, their ethnicity, their appearance, their names, the list goes on.  This of course is all in support of the offended blogger, I get that.  But it doesn’t make it right.

But they deserve it, I hear you cry.

Really?

How does attacking them in the way that they attacked, not you, but a blogger you probably have never met make this situation any better?  Answer:  It doesn’t. It makes it worse.  It gives them the spotlight they crave thereby spurring them on, reaffirms the fact that they are horrible people which is probably what led them to be a troll in the first place, and more importantly it sends even more negativity out into the world that we simply do not need.  And, frankly, it doesn’t put you in a very good light at all.  Indignant or not, you have a choice to just not say anything.

Yumi Stynes said it beautifully when she was criticised recently for taking her beautiful baby, Mercy, to a red carpet event dressed only in her nappy.  Derryn Hench, a man whose sole aim is to antagonise, and agitate, and stir up toxicity, criticised her choice in a brutally cruel way.  A couple of other men chose to follow suit.  Yumi chose not to respond initially and then a few days later explained why.

If you ever feel outrage at something you see online, I suggest you look twice. You’re usually being played. And watch how far that outrage goes: sometimes the behavior of the outraged is far worse than that which provoked it.

We abhor the trolls.  We wish they weren’t there.  But they are.  Part of the human condition is that there will be people who will say and do horrible things just to get a rise out of us.  Their lives are small and this behaviour makes them feel big and important in some twisted way.  People like this have existed forever.

But as bloggers, with a following, we have a choice.  We have a choice not to give them air to breathe.  We have a choice to use our words for good rather than to whip up a frenzy of vitriol.  We have a choice to act with dignity and encourage our readers to do the same.  We have a choice to choose not to become as bad as the troll themselves.  We have a choice to offer the world kindness instead of hate.  We always have a choice.

Until next time,

SHW Signature

Categories
Ramblings

Ritual + Routine

 

God I love the holidays.

I sometimes hear other mothers lament how long the summer break is, how bored the children get, how they drive them mad.  And I can sympathise, I honestly can, but it still doesn’t stop me from freaking loving the school holidays.

You see, I am not a ritual and routine kind of girl.  My preferred start to my day is to languish – in bed, in the sitting room, on the computer, with my nose in a book, with whatever takes my fancy.  It is not uncommon to spend the entire day in my pyjamas.  Even the ritual of getting dressed is sometimes more than I can bear.

The school terms are hard work.  Each morning is the same:

Get up (leaving it to the VERY last minute), plod through to the kitchen, greet Master J, get his breakfast (always a sandwich with the same filling – currently tuna mayonnaise), make lunch for him (always the same lunch – currently a peanut butter sandwich, fruit and a muffin), iron his shirt if Mr C hasn’t ironed it for me (which does happen from time to time), plod back to my bedroom, get showered, dressed and with moments to spare before we hit the major traffic thus ensuring our tardiness, we hop into the car for the school run.

Those 10 weeks of term, my mornings feel like I am trudging through mud.  And Master J is the same.

During my teenage years, we were never allowed to languish in bed.  I wish I had known then that research now proves that the energy it takes to grow a teenager is second only to the energy it takes to grow a baby from birth to age 2.  I would have loved to tell my dad as he yelled at me to get up at 8am on a Saturday morning because I was “wasting your life away in bed” that in fact, biologically, I needed the sleep.  I needed to waste the day, I needed to let the best part of the day slip me by.  I needed to conserve energy for the massive prefrontal cortex explosion that was going on inside my head.

Alas, I have not grown out of it.  I still need to languish of a morning.  I am a night owl.  I love to stay up late into the wee hours of the morning.  The quiet of the night settles my soul somehow and I am far more productive than I ever am during the day.  Also, I seem to be a lot more creative.  In the stillness of the night, as the rest of the world slumbers, I find myself in the midst of a creative explosion.  I have books filled with ideas that just scream at me in the dead of night.  It is quite exhausting and exhilarating all at the same time.

I do find routine very difficult.  The idea that I have to stick to something, to a schedule, fills me with dread.  Yet, I am acutely aware that in my spurning ritual and routines, I am in fact creating them.  What a paradox!

I write every day.  I log on every day to speak to my online friends who have become such a vital part of my day.  I email Mr C every single day, even if it is just to say “Hi, I’m thinking of you, I love you.”.  I sit in the same seat every day despite having at least 7 others in which I could sit too.  I have an order to how I get dressed and how I prepare myself for writing.  I have an order to how I check my emails and my social media accounts.  And I always stay up late.  In fact, I live a very ordered life full of ritual and routine.

But don’t tell my brain that.  It abhors ritual and routine.  It likes to think it is a rogue, an adventurer, a misfit, zipping through life with carnal abandon, beholden to no one, a free spirit, a wild horse.

Best to keep it just between me and you.

Until next time,

SHW Signature

Categories
Ramblings

Out with black and white, in with shades of grey

 

The world is not black and white.  It is in fact full of shades of grey, with a good heap of colour, definitely not black and white.

Yet, as humans, we are committed to this notion that life has to be exactly that – black and white, right or wrong, yes or no.

It is this notion that feeds our own critical natures – we are either good at something or bad at something.  It also feeds our opinion of each other – a person, or group is either right or wrong.  It feeds our tolerance levels – if they are in, we forgive the person or group a multitude of sins, but if they are out, even when we actually agree with their behaviour, we don’t want to admit it.

On a day to day basis I am extremely critical of myself.  I am too fat, too lazy, not active enough, not a good mother, not a good housewife, not educated enough. I reinforce the idea that I am a “bad” person and it is this opinion of myself that drives my depression.  My brain tells me I am not good enough, and to drive the point home, it points out all the things that I am bad at.

Yet, when I analyse it, a life lived is a journey and the skills we acquire are on a  spectrum.  Here is what I mean:

I am overweight yes, but certainly not to the point where my life is impeded except for circumstances where I choose to it do so.

I am not lazy – I do not enjoy housework and certain other tasks and I do put them off until I have to do them, but indeed that doesn’t make me lazy, it makes me human.  Some people are born for domesticity and good luck to them, I am not one of them.

On balance, whilst I do not run, swim, or partake in any formal activity, I can shop up a storm like nobody else and quite often my pedometer will tell me that I did over the required 10,000 steps just by moving from shop to shop.  I am active, just not in the conventional sense perhaps.

Being a mother is probably one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do.  Being a mother of a child on the spectrum even more so.  Your sanity comes under fire almost daily.  Your confidence as a person capable of making sound decisions is questioned.  This is because you are acutely aware that you are bringing up another human being and that your responsibility to ensure that human is good, kind, respectful and happy to boot is enormous.  I find I question my ability to fulfil this task all the time.  However, despite my lack of confidence, I have never given up.  My own daughter now has a child of her own and my son, who is on the spectrum, has managed to make it through mainstream school and only has two years to complete his schooling.  He has dreams and aspirations of becoming a video game designer.  He has aspirations.  That comes from being a tenacious parent who may make mistakes a long the way (plenty of them), but who also is prepared to do battle on a daily basis for her children.  I may not be the stereotypical domesticated mother, but my children know I would do anything for them.  That makes me at the very least an okay mother (spectrum, remember?).

I am an okay housewife.  I hadn’t intended on becoming a housewife at all.  I intended on working in the corporate world.  Then Master J was born and his needs superseded my own need to earn money.  I do not clean house very often.  I, in fact, have a wonderful cleaner called Tom, who is my life saver.  I tell myself, as I have mentioned in another post, that I am boosting the economy by providing employment for him.  My house is neat and tidy and my friends tell me that they love coming over as it is a relaxed place to be where I am always with them, not rushing around cleaning up after everyone.  It is true, I don’t even try to do the dishes until everyone has left.  Largely because I hate doing dishes.  It isn’t uncommon for them to be sitting there a couple of days later.  But they do get done, eventually.

My feeling of being uneducated has dogged me for years.  At school I was considered very clever.  The problem is that I hated learning things that I didn’t like.  I loved English and Drama, and other Arts subjects, but as for the other required learning, that really grated me.  The upshot is that whilst everyone expected me to do really well, my school life ended with a mediocre result.  I then went to university to become a biology teacher, because that seemed like a good and noble profession at the time, not because I loved biology which I didn’t.  I hadn’t thought it through as I clearly had no idea how much science was involved.  Who knew biology was a science?  This “failure” set me on a path that would dog me for years.  I could not consider myself educated unless I had a degree – black and white, see?  Life experience and my wealth of knowledge garnered through extensive reading didn’t count in my book.

I am nearing 50.  I have learned that what we thought was absolute 25 years ago does not hold true today.  I have learned that there is no black and white, only greys and that life is smattered with colour along the way.  I have learned that life is a journey.  I have learned that as a species we evolve, that what the media tells us is true today is almost certainly not true tomorrow.  We make decisions in the absolute, but life is not static, it is dynamic and those people that “go with the flow” are the ones that are the most happy, the most well adjusted, the most able to adjust their sails for stormy seas.  I am learning to be that person.  I am learning to be the person that just bobs along on the ocean, not trying to control the direction, but allowing life to take her wherever it sees fit for her to go.  Yes, it feels counterintuitive at times, a lot of the time, but with practice, I am getting better.

How about you?  Is it time to let the black and white go and to finally love your shade of grey?

Much love,

SHW Signature

 

 

 

This post was written as part of #reverb14 – a blogging initiative hosted by Kat McNally.  The month of December is a good time to reflect on the year that was and for us to contemplate the reverberations that we send out into the world.  Please do hop on over to Kat’s blog and if you feel moved to do so, please join in.  Today is Day 9 of the initiative.
Categories
Ramblings

Connections

 

Master J finished school on Friday.

He bounced into the car, full of as much joy as a nearly 17 year old boy can muster.

I’m done.  I’m done for 8 weeks.

I smiled.  I love the school holidays.  It is just he and I at home.  Mornings are lazy.  No time frame constraints and we can do what the hell we like.

Today is Monday, the first day of our summer break.

It is raining outside.

I’m ironing sheets and duvet covers (really exiting summer break this one!).

The holidays are so boring!” Master J has just emerged from his room.  It is 8am.  On the first day of our summer holiday.  The one that we love so much.  The one that, whilst our paths don’t cross that often (meaning he immerses himself in his computer in his room and I busy myself readying for christmas, then relaxing and pottering), we are acutely aware of each others’ presence.  His autism means he finds communication really difficult, but I communicate with him.  I communicate with him through silent connection.  I love that so much.  I love him so much.

What do you mean the holidays are boring,” I protest, “they have barely begun.

Then a few seconds later.

Do you want to go for a movie?

He shakes his head.  I knew he wouldn’t want to – no self respecting teenage boy wants to be seen with his mum in public, autistic or not.

We don’t have parties anymore.  Why don’t we have parties any more?  It is so boring in this house.

It is true.  We used to entertain a lot.  We bought this house for its entertainment value.  Then six months later we became sober, then six months after that my mom died.  I lost my desire to connect.

Then we had a couple of parties,  nothing as plentiful as before, but a few.

Then this year Mr C ended up in hospital.  And I ended up in hospital.  So we haven’t had any parties this year.

Children on the spectrum struggle to connect.

We have parties at our house, and Master J will not move from his room.  But the other children will seek him out and sit with him.  This is him connecting with the world outside.

What he was really saying to me is that he feels isolated, that he needs to connect.

Which may seem weird to people who don’t understand autism, to people who have a stereotypical view of children on the spectrum.

The truth is that whilst anxiety drives them and their subsequent isolation, like any human being, like EVERY human being, they desperately want to connect, even in the smallest way.

I, on the other hand, am driven by depression.  I do not want to connect.  Not right now.  It is christmas and I am sad.  I want to stay indoors with just the two of us.  He in his enclave, me in mine, aware of each other, connecting in our own way.

I look at him.  “It’s really late in the year, Master J, people won’t be available for a party.  But we are going to The C’s for christmas drinks.

It wasn’t what he wanted to hear.  That will require effort – to get ready, to travel, to meet people he won’t know.  His face drops.

I tell you what.  How about we have a New Years party?  I don’t know who will be around, but no doubt some people won’t have plans.  Everyone can bring their children.

He nods, contemplating first, then accepting my offer.

I make a mental note to make sure I email everyone to see who might be around.  I also make a mental note to organise a few parties next year.

Connections are important.  They are important to Master C and despite my depression, they are important to me.  And it is important to maintain them throughout the year.  No matter how busy we are, or how ill we may be.  It is too easy to hibernate, to isolate, to lose connection.

You see, we are all connected on this crazy planet we call home.  Whether we like it or not, we are all connected.  We all have a burning desire to belong, to have a tribe of our own.  Even, or perhaps especially, children on the spectrum.  And so it is that I will be working hard to maintain those connections.  And so it is I have written a couple of dates in my diary next year to hold a party or two.  So that I can feel connected.  So that Master J can feel connected.

And so it is that my “I can do what the hell I like” summer holiday has now turned into “who the hell is around on NYE?” summer holiday.

Connections.  They drive us no matter what.  And that isn’t a bad thing.

Until next time,

SHW Signature

 

 

This post was written as part of #reverb14 – a blogging initiative hosted by Kat McNally.  The month of December is a good time to reflect on the year that was and for us to contemplate the reverberations that we send out into the world.  Please do hop on over to Kat’s blog and if you feel moved to do so, please join in.  Today is Day 8 of the initiative.

 

 

Categories
To Others To You

Piece of mind vs Peace of mind

If you had the opportunity, would you go back to that one person who hurt you so badly and let them have it?  All that visceral anger that you have been harbouring, unleashed.

One of the traits of someone living with depression is that we tend to ruminate, especially on those people or incidents that left us feeling unvalued, hurt, humiliated.  We tend to play over and over in our minds the details of the offending event, imagining what it would have been like if only we had been braver, more succinct, able to think better on our feet.

Oh my how that person would suffer at the hand of our witty, but cutting, repartee.  The look of abject horror in their eyes, knowing full well that they had been non-violently beaten into submission.  We would turn on our heals and leave, their dropped jaw gleefully seared into our brains, and we would know that, finally, we had won.  Vindication would be ours.

But it never quite happens that way.  Victory is rarely won by any form of confrontation.

In humanity, there are people who delight in causing mayhem and harm to others.  They are ignorant, unaware, pigheaded.  There is no reasoning with them and whenever you are in their company they always leave you feeling less than, never valued.  Often they create drama wherever they go and they always seem to pull you into their web.  You don’t want to be there, but somehow you are powerless to avoid it.  More often than not if you were to ask them what type of person they were, they would reply that they are good, kind people who only want to bring goodness into the world, completely unaware of how their bombastic ways leave people feeling.  This is part of the human condition.  It is unavoidable.  We cannot change this.

It can all feel so disempowering.  And it is that feeling of disempowerment that leaves us with residue anger that can live with us for years.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

It doesn’t seem right, I know, but the single most liberating thing you can do is to let them go, to let the incident go, to move forward, to live free.  Free yourself of the weight of the anger, frustration, injustice.

It isn’t easy.  The brain tends to replay incidents in our minds.  It is a biological response, you see, to replay that incident that caused us harm.  It is a way of protecting ourselves, preparing ourselves if the incident should ever happen again.  And our body can’t differentiate between what is real or imagined.  When we ruminate, it is as if we are living in the moment of that incident.  We feel wretched, angry, hurt all over again.  We are stuck.

The only way to stop the cycle is to let it go.

In recent years I have had a couple of incidents that have left me reeling.  And I carried them with me like medals of a battle I should have won.

I was torturing myself.  Every time I was alone, it seemed, with nothing but my own thoughts to keep me company, I would replay those incidents over and over again.  A stuck record, searing a scar so deep into my brain it felt like I would never be free of the misery.

But then I realised that I am master of my own destiny.  I do have control over my thoughts.  I do have control over how they dance across my mind.

I consciously chose to sublimate those thoughts.  It isn’t easy and it can be a good few minutes of ruminating, self talking, imagining my responses before I become aware of them.  But then I close my eyes.  I breathe in and breath out.  I say the words “breathe in, breathe out.”  You see, it takes conscious effort to speak.  It diverts your mind from those ruminating negative thoughts to your voice.  “breathe in, breathe out.

Before I know it, my heart rate has lowered, my breathing has slowed and a calmness has settled over my mind.

It takes practice.  A lot of it.  Sometimes, it is a real struggle.  My mind fights with me.  It wants to be heard.  It wants to warn me of the impending danger, remind me of the pain and hurt I felt so that I can be better prepared next time.

But I have learned.  It isn’t real.  The hurt and anger is futile.  The event has passed.  Retribution isn’t coming, and it is pointless to hold onto it.  And so I consciously let the person go.  I say the words, “You can no longer hurt me, and I let you go.  Breathe in, breath out.  I let you go. Breathe in, breathe out.

I also choose never to have anything to do with them.

This seems harsh, and it wasn’t a decision taken lightly.  But I believe in my right to choose whom I have in my life.  After a lifetime of allowing people to dictate my worth, I have taken ownership of it.  And so I choose to let them go.  Not with hatred.  For they acted in response to their own demons.  And I take ownership of my part, for there are always two sides to any story, good or bad.

Still, I choose not to dance with them any longer, to not engage in their little game that seems to drive them, thrill them, control them.  That is their internal fight, not mine.  I choose to walk away.

And I feel so much better for it.

Do I wish I could yell and shout, and give them a piece of my mind?  Sometimes.  But mostly, I choose peace of mind and that makes all the difference.

Much love,

SHW Signature

 

 

 

This post was written as part of #reverb14 – a blogging initiative hosted by Kat McNally.  The month of December is a good time to reflect on the year that was and for us to contemplate the reverberations that we send out into the world.  Please do hop on over to Kat’s blog and if you feel moved to do so, please join in.  
Categories
Ramblings

The sound of a voice

When my mom was dying with lung cancer, my sister and I travelled up to Birmingham in the UK, where my mother had grown up.

Without consciously realising it, we found ourselves outside my grandmother’s old house, my mother’s childhood home.

I did not know my grandmother that well but my mom would regale stories of her childhood and I would delight at them, hanging on every word.

One of my favourites was the time when my mom and aunt decided that as a treat to my grandmother, who worked as a char lady for other households in the area, they would spring clean the house.  My mother and my aunt, aged probably no older than 8 and 10, dutifully removed every item of furniture from the downstairs and deposited it on the front lawn.  The beauty of this gesture did not dawn on my mom until she was a mother herself.

Of course, once they had ‘cleaned’ the house, the idea of returning all the furniture was just too much for them, so they waited until my grandmother returned to present to her their efforts.

As my mother told it, my grandmother acted dutifully grateful, and without complaint, after a full day’s work of cleaning other people’s houses, returned the furniture on her own to its rightful place inside the house.

This was the enduring vision I had of my grandmother, and I saw my mom very much in the same light.

My cousin decided to join us to visit my grandmother’s house.  Her mom was my mom’s sister.  The house had changed.  An extension to the side had been added.

We started to take some photos when a woman came rushing out of the front door.

Can I help you?” she demanded.

I am sorry,” I said, “our moms grew up in this house.  They lived here from around 1950 and my grandmother lived here until her death in 1978.  Now, my mom is dying of lung cancer and I thought it would be nice to take some photos of her old childhood home.  I promise I am not being creepy or anything.

Without batting an eyelid, the woman offered to show us around.  As I walked inside the front door, crossing that threshold, familiarity wrapped me up like a warm blanket.  I looked up the stairs directly in front of me and remembered walking up them to go to the toilet as a little girl.  An image of my mom, holding my baby sister whilst she held my hand flashed before me, white blanket trailing down her dress.

To the left was the front room, where my grandmother, sickly for most of her life would have a bed covered with an oxygen tent in which she would lie when we came to visit.  On very lucky days she would be well enough to sit with us on the settee.

My grandmother in the middle, my brother to the left, me to the right and my uncle behind us (circa 1977)
My grandmother in the middle, my brother to the left, me to the right and my uncle behind us (circa 1977)

To the back of the house was the kitchen, updated now, but all I could see was her old kitchen, and the washing ringer that I used to love, watching her as she passed her clothing through it ready to go on the line.

I drank in the smell of the kitchen, the taste of the evaporated milk that my grandmother, Peggy, used to put in her tea still fresh on my tongue.  As we stepped out of the kitchen and into the back garden I remembered the tart taste of the gooseberries as we picked them off the bush at bottom of the garden (why do we call it the bottom, I wonder).

Mom, sitting in the back garden as a young girl (circa 1953)
Mom, sitting in the back garden as a young girl (circa 1953)

Moving upstairs, we peeked into the back room, once the sleeping quarters of my mom and her sister, but in later years would be the bedroom of her much younger brother, only 8 years older than I.  I used to love his room, filled to the brim with comics of all description.  He would never let me touch or read them, they were his treasures, but I was content with the smell of all that paper.  Even at such a young age, written words on paper had found their way into my psyche.

We remodelled a couple of years ago,” the woman said.  “Added an extra bedroom and bathroom.  Would you believe that when we ripped off the wallpaper, layers of it there was, we found the names of three children written on the walls downstairs with heights marked for each one.  Elaine, Sandra and Jon.”

Yes, I had said, they were the names of my mom and her siblings.

I wish I had taken a photograph of them now,” she said wistfully.

I do too.

Later that day, as we drove away, photographs in hand, my cousin admitted to me that she had never actually been inside the house before.  My grandmother had passed before she had returned from Africa where her parents used to work.  I was glad that we were able to give her that gift, that she had some tangible memory to hold on to of where her own mom had shaped her own life.

The family home, remodelled
The family home, remodelled

My sister’s memory of that house is also sketchy, but also tinged with sadness as she was there, staying in the house, when my grandmother’s illness got the better of her.  My sister was only five.

I took the photos to my mom, who, weak now and confined to bed, looked at them with fondness and a certain longing, I felt.  She declared to me later that day that she had seen my grandmother at the bottom of her bed.  I knew my own mom’s time was coming, her mom was calling her.

So many times I have been asked how we find our voice, how do we know the sound of our own voice.  It isn’t something we find, or create.  It is something that is within us.  It envelopes us and shapes us.  It is born with us inside our DNA.  We just have to listen.  Just listen.  And then you start to hear the thump inside your heart, the rhythm, the tone, the pitch.  And everything you become, everything you are is as a result of all the people that have come before you.  Your voice is right there.

The women in my family are strong.  At her funeral my mom requested that as they processed her down the aisle I am Woman by Helen Reddy be played and that during the service my sister and I sing Scarborough Fair and Amazing Grace.  It was also requested that no one wear black.  I have no idea where we found the strength, but our voices sounded like angels that day.  People kept telling us we had such beautiful voices.

From those humble beginnings in that humble council house, that is now shaping another new family, my voice has been forged.  I am woman, hear me roar.

Where was your voice forged, I wonder?

Until next time,

SHW Signature

 

 

 

This post was written as part of #reverb14 – a blogging initiative hosted by Kat McNally.  The month of December is a good time to reflect on the year that was and for us to contemplate the reverberations that we send out into the world.  Please do hop on over to Kat’s blog and if you feel moved to do so, please join in.  
Categories
Ramblings

Answering the call to write

 

For as long as I can remember people have told me that I could write.

My earliest memory is when my first grade teacher told my mom that I had a reading and writing ability beyond my years and that my stories were lovely.

I ignored those early cues.

I moved from England to South Africa and all I wanted to do was read.  I was a fish out of water, and books were my solace.  I didn’t so much love the stories as I did imagining the authors writing the stories.

I moved schools often.  Friendships were difficult for me.  I spoke with a funny English accent and my “ways were different”.  There was no expat community, common in South Africa in the 70s, where I lived.  Writing stories were my happy place.

When I was 10, I moved to my third school in three years.  I wrote a poem and the next thing I knew I was being trotted from class to class to read my “incredible poem beyond her years”.

The following year, after a school sports day, I found myself in front of the school performing a one-person play I had written.

A couple of years later, I received a prize for English.

Still, I did not listen.

I went to high school where my English teacher displayed incredible patience with my teenage petulance, even allowing me to complete an entire page of an exam that I had somehow missed after the allotted time was up.  He told my mom that I was his favourite student and didn’t mind “cutting me some slack”.  He bragged about me, in front of me, to other teachers about how I was his next prodigy, about how my future in writing was assured.

I did not believe him.

I had no belief in myself at all.  I did not believe the adults in my world.

But I constantly thought in story lines.  No matter what happened to me, I was constantly thinking how it could be made into a story.

I left school and did not go to university to do a Bachelor of Art as everyone expected me to do.  BA stood for Bugger All in our house.  A degree in science was a much more noble pursuit.

During the first week, what is called O-week here in Australia, but what was called Rag Week in South Africa, in amongst the drinking and parties, we were required to attend various preliminary lectures.  In one of them we had to complete a comprehension test in order to determine if we needed remedial essay writing assistance.

The university phoned my father to tell him that I am doing the wrong degree.  I should be doing a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English they said.  My father told me of the call and urged me to change degrees.  Pride got in the way, I ignored the call.

For the next thirty years I would ignore the call.  I would constantly think in story lines, but attempt to BE something else.

I would ignore the desperate need to write – write my thoughts, write my stories, write my life.

Depression crept in.  My soul was sick.  So sick in fact I thought I could no longer face the darkness this world had to offer me.  I was not meant to live.

But then, early this year, at the insistence of my friend, I went to an Art Therapist.  She immediately noticed that I don’t think in pictures, but in words.  She noticed that words flow through me and from me with ease.  She suggested a blog.  A place to write without fear of rejection.

And so I blogged, and so I wrote.

My writing flowed through me and onto the screen.  Often I have no idea where it is going to take me, always I feel joy.

My depression is lifting.

I am a newborn in this world of writing.  A babe in her forties.  A woman only starting to learn the journey of her craft.  It is new, scary and exciting.  I am alive.

I am listening universe.

I understand now that this is what I am meant to do.  I understand now that you have been sending me those messages, blatant affirmations, from the time I was four years old.  I am so sorry I didn’t listen, but I am listening now.  And I cannot wait to find out what it is you have in store for me.

Much love,

SHW Signature

 

 

 

This post was written as part of #reverb14 – a blogging initiative hosted by Kat McNally.  The month of December is a good time to reflect on the year that was and for us to contemplate the reverberations that we send out into the world.  Please do hop on over to Kat’s blog and if you feel moved to do so, please join in.  
Categories
Ramblings

Autism and the sweet taste of success

 

Every now and again something happens in your day, in your life, that really is worth shouting from the mountain tops.

Today is one of those times.

But let me backtrack a bit.

This time last year, Master J was in Mansfield attending a residential intensive program for children on the spectrum.  He was suicidal, you see.  Life, his life, had become so unbearable for him.  He hated being autistic and he hated school.  He couldn’t reconcile the fact that autism is who he is, what makes him the beautiful soul that he is and he wanted to end it.  I sat and listened as he told me that he wanted to die, a very large piece of my soul breaking with him.

Sending him to that school was by far the most difficult thing Mr C and I have ever had to do.  The school caters for children across the spectrum, meaning that children who are low functioning reside with those that are high functioning.  It is a lesson in tolerance, responsibility, community.  And it is very very hard to learn.

The endless phone calls begging to take him home, the screaming accusing us of abandoning him, the pleading not to take him back when we had the home weekends.  It was draining, and a mother’s worst nightmare.  The guilt I may have felt at all my failings as a mother was nothing compared to what I felt in those 10 weeks.

But he survived.

We survived.

He learned that he is capable of more than he ever thought possible.  We learned that he capable of more than we ever thought possible.

He learned that autism is not a curse but a gift.  We learned that to try to wedge him into a neurotypical expectation was destroying him.  We learned to ignore the constant cries of people who think that autistic children are just over indulged and need to learn to fit in.  We learned to accept him completely for who he is.  He learned to largely do the same.

We all learned so very very much.

This year he saw a future.  A future he couldn’t possibly see that day he begged me to let him die.

It has been a tough year for him.  A year where he has had to push himself beyond his comfort zone time and again.  A year when a few melt downs have ensued.  A year when small victories have been few and far between.  A year where he has continued to push forward.  A year where he has dared to dream, dared to hope, dared to take action.

And today was pay day.

Text from Master J:

76% Maths exam.  Second highest in class

Instant tears streamed down my face.  On the day of the exam, he was so anxious, so convinced he would fail.  Yet he had prepared.  Throughout the year he pushed himself to do homework even when, in his mind, he could not see the point.  “If they insist on sending school work home, why aren’t I being homeschooled?” he would ask.  His logic was flawless.  Yet, he would sit, even if was at the last minute, to do his homework, willing himself to focus, to ignore the pull of his laptop to complete the work at hand.  It wasn’t easy.  It was a mammoth struggle.  He took the first steps towards a future he knew he wanted to have.

My response:

OMG!!!!! I am so freaking proud of you, well done my love.  Do you know how clever you actually are Master J?  Please never doubt yourself.  The sky truly is the limit.

No response from him.  But then I didn’t expect one.

This is huge.  This is beyond huge.

I picked him up from school.  As he opened the door I whooped and cheered.

At least wait for me to get in the car,” he laughed.

He looked so radiant.  At the tender age of 16 and a half, he had finally tasted success, victory, borne of the effort he had put in, borne of him pushing himself so hard through obstacles that were, for him, so great.

My heart felt like it was going to burst out of my chest.

He sat in the car.

Oh my god Master J, I am SO proud of you.”

I got the bloody second highest in the class.

I know!!  The second highest!  Are you ecstatic?  I best Ms K couldn’t believe it.

Ms K is Master J’s maths teacher.  But she is also his pastoral care teacher.  She is on his pastoral care team that make sure he fits in at school.  She was one of the ones to suggest he attend Mansfield.  She has an incredibly soft spot for Master J.  And he hasn’t been easy on her.

Nah, she was pleased.  I asked her if I had failed and she said “maybe” and then she smiled and said I got 76%.  I got the bloody second highest in the class.

Swearing is something Master J does when he is excited.  We used to try to correct him but then we realised that it is how he communicates his excitement and Master J doesn’t express excitement very often.  We stopped stifling him.  We learned to accept him.

In fact, he said “I got the bloody second highest in the class.” at least ten times in the fifteen minute journey home.

This.  This is what success tastes like.  For him and for us as his parents.  Not that he got 76% for maths, not even that he came second highest.  No.  It is the fact that he is learning to believe in himself.  He is learning the correlation between applying himself and that great feeling of achievement after working through the challenging times.

Something tells me that this is just the taste of possible things to come.  And it feels good!

Until next time,

SHW Signature

 

Categories
Action

Action {A lesson in owning who you are and finding your tribe}

 

On a recent episode of Graham Norton he interviewed the illustrious winner of the Eurovision Song Contest, Conchita Wurst.  Conchita is at first glance a conundrum – a drag queen who dresses like a woman yet wears a beard.

Conchita Wurst : Image from FashionPhotographyBlog.com
Conchita Wurst {Image from www.fashionphotographyblog.com}

Our minds look for patterns and we love to group things together.  We like to find familiarity in our symbols.  Conchita completely and utterly flies in the face of this.  She is the modern day Bearded Lady.  And I love her.

I love that in a contest like the Eurovision Song Contest, where millions of people throughout Europe get to vote, she was selected to be the winner.  It fills me with great hope for the capacity of humanity.

During the interview, Graham asked Conchita about the beard being combined with the womanly persona she had carved for herself.  As he noted, many drag queens had come before her and done well for themselves (Lily Savage, Dame Edna and the like), but the beard appeared to confuse people.  Conchita replied with aplomb.  Two quotes stuck out for me.

It’s so cheesy, but you just get one life, you know, and you better make it fabulous.  And it’s my own truth.”

and

Over the years I tried to fit in, and I changed myself, in every way you can imagine, I just wanted to be part of the game.  And then I realised, well, I create the game.”

And then I loved her even more.  Because I knew in that moment, the minute she started living her own truth, living life to the beat of her own drum, feeling comfortable enough in herself to be a woman with a beard, that is when her star really started to shine.  So much so that Cher and Elton John have been in touch.

How often do we try to fit in?  How often do we so desperately need to find a tribe that we will try to change who we are just to say we belong?  How often are we left longing, knowing that there is something missing in our lives, yet continue along a path that just doesn’t feel right?  And how, when we know this, do we change?

Is it not time to start living a life that is aligned with who we really are?  Like the beautiful, wonderful Conchita, we can inhabit our own space, claim it and change the game for ourselves.  Yes, we may have to take jobs that are not fulfilling to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table – the most common reason I hear for not living our truth.  But there are 24 hours in a day.  Whilst a third is for work and a third is for sleeping, a third can be spent in pursuits that invigorate us.  It is in those moments that we can find our true selves and through that discovery find our true tribe.

Conchita noted that she grew up in a small village in Austria.  She knew she was gay.  She admits it was not fun and she admits she tried to change.  You might be surprised to know that Conchita, who was born Tom Neuwirth, won a singing contest and in 2007 and formed a boy band.  But it was only in 2011, when she started to seek out her tribe, the tribe that was in alignment with who she was (gay and a drag queen), that she was able to find success, both personally and professionally.

I truly believe we should all be living like Conchita.  We should be living fabulous lives that invigorate and fulfil us.  Yes, you may be an office professional by day, but you go ahead and be whatever you like by night.  I am pretty sure once you start owning that, amazing things will happen.  First off, your own sense of self and happiness will improve.  And who knows, perhaps new opportunities to make a career of your passion may present themselves.  But you won’t know unless you take that first step.

It is scary.  I know.  I’ve only just started owning the fact that I want to be a writer and am seeking out ways to hang out with other writers.  I’m finding it nerve racking.  Will they like me?  Will they think my writing is crapola?  Will they laugh at me?  But if Conchita can be brave, so can I.  At the very least I will learn to be a better writer and at best, I may be setting myself on a path to be published.

I know that you can do this.  I want you to do this.  Seek out those people who love what you love.  Find that connection.  Be what you love.  And then let me know how it goes, because I so want to do that happy dance with you.

From my heart to yours,

SHW Signature