so much to say so little time

Reflections on The Boarder: an Ode for Danica

My first attempts at writing poems were strained, like trying to squeeze the remains from a tube of toothpaste. I borrowed various books on the topic from the local library and purchased a couple of basic ‘how to’ books as well. One suggestion I took on board was to write down anything that came into my head without editing.  This worked well and I discovered that I was able to attempt different styles of poems by employing these techniques.  I felt I was starting to move in the right direction.  I learned that an ode is a lyric poem, rhymed or unrhymed, in which the poet speaks to some person or thing and that it is characterised by lofty emotion.

In endeavouring to come up with something worthwhile I turned to people who had affected my life deeply.  Approximately fifteen years ago, I had known a young woman who was suffering with anorexia nervosa.  During a session with a hypnotherapist, it was revealed that she had been sexually assaulted by a boarder who had moved into her house and this had triggered the anorexia. She died about 10 years ago: a mere shell of her former herself.  Out of one particular creative spurt, I penned The Boarder: an Ode for Danica using four-line stanzas, where the second and fourth lines rhymed. It was a compromise to full rhyme but I was thrilled with the result, even though the first drafts were awkward and seemed laboured; I then learned Danica’s grandmother had had just passed away on the same weekend I began working on the poem.

Dying to Know: bringing life to death

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Dying to Know: bringing life to death, is a Pilotlight Australia Project book aimed at helping people connect. It is a most interesting read. While most people shy away from having to deal with death and dying, this book has you look at it from a positive perspective. That’s right: a positive perspective. Without numbered pages, it is one of those open-to-any-page types of books: the type with an attention-grabbing quote or caption, coupled with an appropriate image.  Once you have taken a quick peek between the covers, you are unlikely to want to put it down, for it is enthralling and there is nothing morbid about this book.  In fact, it is full of caring, thoughtful suggestions and ideas.  On some pages the comments seem logical: on others, bordering on humorous. But above all else, I think that most readers would find it a helpful read, especially for someone coping with this very difficult situation. The front cover picture heralds the off-beat content: two men hand-in-hand joyfully jumping off the end of the jetty.

The book raises awareness. At the same time it is a practical manual for caring for the dying. How many people just assume that the person’s ‘carer’ is doing everything that is required?  Offering to help before waiting to be asked, is a gesture which can have wonderful benefits for both parties. Those who have been letter-writers but are no longer capable of doing so may appreciate the offer of assistance. The author suggests that if you give some serious thought to it, there will be many ways in which you can assist the dying. Simple things like reading the paper.  Able bodied people don’t always realise that just holding a newspaper can be too heavy for the frail as is holding a full mug of coffee. This is something I became aware of caring for my mother in her last few months, so it had some resonance for me.

Offering to do a crossword or read a book for someone may bring delight to the person, especially if their vision is failing. This book reminds us that there is something special about sharing an activity which may provide lasting memories: there’s no time like the present, for it is a gift. I personally learned many things about my own mother that none of my siblings knew. I am glad I was proactive in asking as I learned more about who she was as a person.

Certainly the book is a rich mine of suggestions. The language is straightforward and the style is unsophisticated. It is full of an almost endless list of suggestions on how we can lend support to those who may soon depart. It teaches us that what we do has meaning to those receiving our care. It may even mean the difference between dealing with their loss successfully and grieving endlessly. Let us be honest with ourselves: we are all going to die someday. Not that we should dwell on it but this may be a method for recognising that it is part of life instead of hiding it under the carpet. Some of the suggestions for consideration include; green funerals; truths and myths re cremation; honouring the dead: the origins of the use of flowers to hide odours; wills and wishes; involving children. I personally found the book hard to put down and a welcome addition to my library. But this is not a book to put away on the shelves. It is well suited to the coffee table. Highly recommended.

Pilotlight Australia Dying to Know: bringing death to life Hardie Grant Books 2010 Australia (no pg no’s) ISBN 978-1-74066-553-7 $19.95

In Her Footsteps

Life has been a hard path to tread since that moment, over four years ago, since Mum passed at the age of seventy nine: some days are better than others. I knew it would be difficult to cope but I never realised how in so many ways. I hear her when the wind stirs; I sense her annoyance when a plant she nurtured is struggling; I feel her when I am sad and a fond memory of her brings comfort and lifts me from grief. How can I be sure of her presence you may be wondering? Here’s an example: at a coinciding moment, without thinking about it, the toes on my right foot tap and wiggle. It is something she did when in deep thought but I never had until recently. It happened just as I was imagining her sitting in the same place she always sat. I looked over as if she was actually sitting there as I was contemplating about what I should do, wishing I could ask her advice. Then the solution came to me. Thinking out loud I remarked, ‘I know’. I had my feet up on a footstool and spotted my toes tapping away and I burst into laughter: it felt truly wonderful as if she was saying, “Yes, that’s what you should do,” and I could almost hear her laughing too. I deeply miss hearing her amazingly infectious laugh.

Life dealt Valerie Margaret some tough blows – as well as some fabulous ones too – but it was how she dealt with them that showed how strong she was. She taught me so much about consideration for others and how to keep a happy disposition:  I shall be forever grateful to her for that. It is what gets me through times of despair. Life has a habit of presenting challenges but she always stressed that it mattered little how much money one had and that there were other aspects of life which were far more important. She taught me how to appreciate the simple things life had to offer. Such things like the ability to walk unrestricted, or live and travel with freedom. “Just being able to take the time out to stop and smell the roses,” she said “were things you should cherish and worth more than all the tea in China”.

All of the things she said, all her actions, were so vivid in my mind during the first few months after her death and, even though they pop into my mind from time to time, at this moment as I write I’m having difficulty recalling them.  Maybe I really have let her go now. I can remember when growing up how she was able to turn bad situations into good ones, if times were tough, by making us all laugh. We would laugh so hard that it hurt and I think I actually became addicted to it. Not such a bad thing to be addicted to really. She had an amazing turn of phrase that proved therapeutic time and again. Laughter, they say, is the best medicine and Mum handed it out in dollops. Her cheerfulness lives on in me I have realised since her death: it has impregnated my genes and I spread it about to all and sundry. As I speak my mother leaps to the heart of the other and even onto this page. No wonder they say life goes on and there is no death.

As a child, if I had ever been off playing for longer than I should, rather than chastise me on my return she would greet me with, “I thought you must have slipped through a crack!” I always felt loved when I heard that. As a child, to be away from her was like death. She was my life: I was nourished by her laughter. Ironically, to be ‘mum’ is to be ‘silent’. Even when my Mum was silent, her love was deafeningly loud. It wrapped and cocooned me in its loving warmth. Life always felt natural around her. It is why I rush to pick up young fallen birds from the nest to return them to their primal, loving place with their mother. It is what she would have done. I subconsciously reach for the warmth of the nest. A nest no more: for I am fallen from her safety. I call for her, even today; calling so loud the sound deafens me inside. But she answers in so many other ways. A flower opens on one of her plants. A bee will come to drink at the bird bath on a hot day and spotting a sleepy lizard reminds me of how she would fetch a piece of sweet fruit for them. I tread the same path she trod through her gardens.  I sleep in the same room in which she slept. I pay homage to the life she gave me and I walk on.  Through the pain, and the rain, I hold my head – the one she gave me – high.

She often spoke of the good old days: a time when there were limited options of items to purchase. “How much does one person need?” she remarked one day as she was nearing the end of her life. She expressed that she felt greed was to blame for many issues in the world today. I felt secretly guilty at that for I pondered if I was selfishly greedy, wanting to hang onto her, wanting her to stay. Yet she was choosing to leave us. I knew I should have respected her decision but my senses reeled against it. My heart turned to lead on her passing and I have been alchemically trying to transmute it ever since. I am still in my lab working feverishly day and night. I realised too late the Midas stone was Mum: I was the sorcerer’s apprentice only.

These days I talk to her out-loud when no one is around. I ask her questions and seek her guidance. I say funny things to her photo and laugh. I am my Valerie Margaret’s daughter. I am so proud to be that. As I wander over the same crushed stone she has trod I realise I follow in her footsteps. She is my guiding light in this darkness called life. She is my moral lodestone pulling me out of depression and sadness when it strikes. She opens the curtain to reveal the wonders to me. As I look at the photo of me with a rake at age three, I see my mother in those hands and in that determined look. We are one and the same: only different.

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At the Graveside of Handwriting

Handwriting it seems is dying. In an age where technology rules, writing is a dirty word. The mere mention of it triggers expressions of revolt in those in the under thirty bracket. That’s such a shame, for there are some benefits from doing it like better organisation skills and increased retention of memory. You can also learn a lot about a person from their handwriting. There are many of the older generation who have enviable, beautiful handwriting. It is meticulously executed: you can almost bet that this reflects the way they live their lives too.

cursive loops edit001My own writing is illegible, at times, but I wasn’t always untidy. I actually loved to sit and write: doing my utmost to make it neat. I still have a recipe book I started solely for this purpose. If I wasn’t happy with the look of the page, I’d find another recipe and try again. Our Headmaster became my class teacher in Years six and seven. At the end of school year he signed my autograph book. I still have it buried in a box somewhere: his hand script is decidedly fluid. One of the weekly writing tasks he would set for us to complete was to write two letters in unbroken cursive: one had to have enclosed loops. He would get us to write repeatedly on lined paper in cursive, for example, fefefefefefefe. The aim was to write each letter of equal shape and height neatly, so that when the loops were filled in with colour pencil they formed a pattern. After doing so it became obvious if a letter didn’t match all of the others. This would spur you to make a concerted effort on the next attempt to ensure they were consistent. I looked forward to this activity, and recall the class always being quiet and calm.

Alas, a snail-mail letter in an envelope, arriving in the post, is becoming a thing of the past. Emails are quicker, and it is easier to correct mistakes, or rearrange large chunks of writing on a computer, but something has been lost. It’s a lovely surprise when an unexpected letter arrives in the post from someone you love in their own handwriting. It’s a tangible thing and there is some security provided by the tactile sensation coupled with it. When letters are kept for years they serve as wonderful reminders of those who have left our lives. My late mother’s handwriting was distinctively hers. The letters she wrote to me are evidence of the deterioration in her health. I can see it gradually decreasing with each letter, not just in the execution of writing but in the lessening number of pages. I feel I am lucky to have letters from her and I treasure them. A printed email just wouldn’t be the same. It doesn’t give us that personal touch; it doesn’t engage our emotions in the same way that a penned letter can. Unbeknown to me until after her death, apparently, my mother got a thrill and a laugh receiving my letters sent when I lived interstate. They were written willy-nilly: a page here and there, whenever I had a moment to spare. Some of these letters would take me a week to compose. Some were written on scraps of paper, if that was what I had at my disposal when the opportunity to write presented itself. My sister, having lived in close proximity to her, remarked how she would have loved to have had a letter from Mum.

I, for one, truly hope that the art of handwriting isn’t destined to go the way of the Dodo. It’s a healthy practice. A much slower process than using the keyboard to punch away granted, but the mind reacts in a more thoughtful manner, paying attention to detail and planning. Having time to write compels us to be more committed to the activity: our ideas flow more freely onto the paper and is less contrived.

When we use pen and paper, we pause to access our thoughts, and then continue on until we need to reflect again. We delve into our subconscious memory bank on each occasion; hence, this activity stimulates our creative ability and assists us to be better thinkers. Neuroscientists claim that our entire brain is actively engaged when we write. The left and right hemispheres have been stimulated and, thus, the capacity to think intelligently is generated. It’s an intricate skill influencing our cerebral enhancement. Our graphic ability is activated and our motor and memory circuits get a workout. Portions of our brain become inactive when we favour typing over writing: we become somewhat lobotomized.

Finding a happy medium between the two mark-making technologies is probably something we need to seriously reconsider. But I should talk! For the irony is, here I sit writing this piece on the benefits of handwriting on my computer! Not always easy to compromise is it?

Feeling Tranquility

There is such abundance
in mountain peaks veiled
in vaporous purple-hue;
wind as it whips through eucalyptus
releasing bounties of precious oil

Snow-white beaches
outlined in black seaweed,
where sensually-curvaceous bays
hug tightly to jutting,
weathered, limestone cliffs

Matchless silence in the desert,
a splash of vibrant wildflowers,
the rippling heat-haze
as it skips and flits
over red ochre carpets

Heady scent of wattle
saturates both air and senses
Paint’s night skies black canvas
with perfumed varnish
over flickering stars

The setting sun
dipping below the horizon
blanketing my surroundings
quenching my soul
with a feeling of tranquillity

The Boarder: an Ode for Danica

Oh sweet Danica,
a smile beyond compare
That boarder amid your shelter,
spoiled those tresses fair

Pulled the rug out under:
trust flayed bare
Courage shone through cracks:
illuminated deep despair

Down, down you spiralled,
temporarily back on track,
only to fall again,
landing on your back

Lust stole your innocence,
alas, without a care
Mere twig: leaves fallen:
no more are you there

Long before soul departed
you were a shadow of former self
Loved ones saddened,
door closed on health

From earthly sojourn, Danica
the dawn your soul at rest:
nurtured in serenity
This is my bequestCAM00807

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