Weekly Photo Challenge: Escape

Escape

This week’s photo challenge is ‘Escape.’ Its very apt right now so here’s a recent photo that conjures up escape for me.  I love the sea, its wild, ever-changing nature. It is irrepressible, able to escape it’s confines and break over land or into the air as this shot taken in Barmouth, Wales, manages to capture.

Weekly Writing Challenge: Through the Door

This post is a piece of creative writing in response to the Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge, Through the Door. The door to your house/flat/apartment/abode has come unstuck in time. The next time you walk through it, you find yourself in the same place, but a different time entirely. Where are you, and what happens next?

At the window

 

My absence was unintentional. An Act of God, fate, a random gypsy curse, call it what you will.  I never planned to be gone so long and after almost three years my life had ground to a halt.  Time in the wilderness had sapped my energy, eroded my confidence and chipped away at my resolve.  My legs trembled uncontrollably as I walked from the lift along the short corridor to the studio. Hearing commotion on the stairs I fumbled for the keys in my purse and quickly moved my shaking hand towards the deadlock.  Neighbours were best avoided. They’d ask questions I’d be unable to answer.

I pushed the heavy door ajar and as I stepped over the threshold music drifted towards me.  The song was somehow familiar but I hadn’t heard it for a very long time. ‘It’s too cold outside, for angels to fly, to fly, to fly. An angel will die.’   I remembered liking the song even though it was tinged with sadness and my weary mind searched for the name of the artist. Ed, it was definitely Ed, but the surname escaped me. There was no music during my sojourn and my memory was rusty. I shrugged my shoulders and thought no more of it.

The hallway was as I remembered, a little too grand given the size of the studio. We’d talked about redesigning it if we owned the place but we were renting. Buying a place like this was completely out of our league.  Light shone into the hall from all angles, gleaming off the polished floor and glossy doors.  Suddenly I felt as if I was in the spotlight and a sea of glowing dots swam before my eyes making me reach out for the coat stand. I knew this feeling; I was about to faint. Tremulously and with caution I turned from the hall to the bathroom, splashed my face with water and sat on the edge of the bath.  Music was still playing softly in the background, ‘the worst things in life come free to us…’

I don’t know how long I sat in the bathroom; it might have been minutes or hours. The mirrored cabinets were as pristine as ever, no fingerprints or toothpaste splashes.  A razor and a bottle of Radox stood on the edge of the bathtub, fluffy towels lay neatly folded over the heated rail.  The linen basket, empty as always, was just inside the door.  My breathing returned to normal and I ventured from the bathroom back into the hallway.

I looked towards the lounge/diner.  The sofas, cushions and side tables were all just as I remembered.  The ugly sideboard, a cross between office furniture and airline baggage storage, still held its imposing position casting a shadow over everything else in the room.  On the balcony a rain-stained chair and some discarded cigarette butts from the apartment above competed for my attention, immediately triggering my need to clean up, to keep everything wholesome and untainted.  I couldn’t find the key to the French doors and as I tried the handle I remembered I was afraid of heights.  I wouldn’t be going outside after all.

As I turned back from the window memories flooded my brain, everlasting feelings of love, companionship and unerring loyalty for my soul mate.  I never intended to be away so long and now I could feel the excitement building, the butterflies that meant I would see Eden again.  Years had passed but I still felt the same, Eden was my soul mate and that was all that mattered.

Something compelled me towards the kitchen. It was spotless as ever, foodstuffs, crockery and cutlery neatly concealed in cupboards or drawers. Except the tea. The teabags sat on the counter next to the microwave ready to be brewed into a refreshing cuppa with minimal effort.  It was such a long time since Eden and I had enjoyed a cup of tea together.   Although I wasn’t hungry (and now I thought about it I couldn’t remember the last time I’d eaten), curiosity insisted I should open the fridge.  I smiled. Carrots, sun-dried tomatoes, pate, beetroot… and monkfish?  I frowned.  I couldn’t recall a time when we’d eaten monkfish but my memory was so ethereal at times.  ‘…Her face seems, slowly sinking wasting, crumbling like pastries…’ the song was still playing from a speaker somewhere nearby.

Footsteps. I recognised them. Eden was approaching and my heart raced with excitement.  He would be so surprised to find me here, to have me back from… well I wasn’t quite sure where from but the main thing was that I was here and home for good.  Keys turned in the lock and as the handle twisted I moved from the kitchen into the hallway.  I wanted to throw my arms around Eden’s neck, to kiss him,  tell him I was sorry for going away, let him know I loved him more than ever.

“Come on in Rachel, I’ll run you a bath. You must be exhausted.”  Whoa… Rachel?!  I watched as a very attractive brunette walked into the studio behind Eden. “Thanks love,” she said.

My head was spinning, I felt faint again and my heart pounded faster than I ever imagined possible.  Raw emotions flooded through me.  “Who is she, Eden?” I asked.  He didn’t look at me, carried right on into the bathroom and started to run the bath.  In my confusion Rachel had slipped past me towards the kitchen. I turned from the hall and confronted the tall, beautiful woman who had taken over my home and done who knows what with my soul mate. “Hello Rachel. What exactly are you doing here with Eden?”  She called to Eden. “Honey, did you forget to close the fridge this morning?” and then she walked straight through me.

Sheeran, that was it, Ed Sheeran.  The song continued playing… ‘An angel will die, covered in white, closed eye and hoping for a better life.
This time, we’ll fade out tonight.’

Starting Over – a different kind of awakening

The woman threw on her coat and grabbed her scarf and hat. Walking along the narrow hallway she smiled to herself. “Let’s go” she said. They closed the cottage door and fell into step, chattering and laughing as they went. Chester followed them along the path towards the canal but on reaching a sunny spot he stopped to enjoy the warming rays. Chester was beyond elderly in cat years and had relinquished adventures on the canal side for a more sedate, secluded lifestyle in the garden. The truth was they were all older now.

The woman’s skin was weathered, deep laughter lines framed her eyes and her hair was white as snow. Inside she was still 29 and ready to take on any challenge, outside her joints were stiff and no, she couldn’t run any more.  None of this mattered however because today they were setting off in the canal boat, something she’d anticipated for many, many years.  They had no route in mind, it would be a leisurely journey wherever the water carried them.

The barge had seen better days too. Its paint-work had lost some gloss, the horse-brasses around the door were tarnished and pitted but the boat itself was functionally sound.  They set off enjoying the peacefulness of the canal and the crisp winter morning. The woman took to sketching the scene in front of them as they gently chugged along the waterway. Sometimes she sang quietly as her pencil traced the weeping willows and spike-headed teasels that grew along the bank.

As they travelled daylight hours began to slip away and they decided to moor-up for the evening, retiring to the galley to make dinner. Snug, warm and well-fed they sat in the barge listening to the lapping water and the shrill calls of birds retiring late to their roosts. Food and the warmth of the cabin took their toll; in time they drifted to sleep, propped in the galley without a care in the world as the moon rose and stars began to stud a black velvet sky.

A canal boat traverses the longest and highest...

Credit: Wikipedia

She felt that she was lying on an unfamiliar bed somewhere in the half-world between sleep and wakefulness.  There was brightness above her yet her eyes were closed and it seemed they did not want to open. Strange she thought. She was shivering, waves of involuntary twitching washed through her and she couldn’t make them stop.  She didn’t sense that she was cold – how odd.

The woman heard voices, one male, possibly two female but she didn’t recognise them. The voices sounded very close by. Who are these people and why are they here with me she wondered.  She realised one of the female voices was calling her name. The calling continued, insistent yet patient until slowly the woman’s eyes opened. Her throat was sore and when she tried to speak in reply her voice was a barely audible rasping squeak.

The room she saw was bright and impersonal, machines beeped and many people milled around in blue tunics and trousers. The woman wanted to sit up to see what these people were doing but what the hell was that pain below her rib cage, why were tubes sticking out of her side and what on earth were her legs encapsulated in?  Reality began to creep up on her like the fine lines betraying progression from youth to middle age.  The woman could vaguely make out the clock on the wall.  Four hours of her life had passed by; four hours when she thought she was her future self, a weathered and worn old woman setting out on a long-awaited riverboat journey. She had been happy as her older self and now corporeal ties had come along to spoil her dream.

She glimpsed a familiar face, kind, smiling and milling around just that bit faster than the others.  “Everything went very well, I was able to do just what we discussed, I’m pleased,” Miss M said. The woman felt relieved and unsure all at once, glad the surgery had been successful but also uncertain about the disfiguring change her body now bore witness to. She didn’t want to look at it. At this moment she wasn’t convinced she could think straight still pumped full of pain killers and unable to move.

That evening she drifted in and out of sleep propped up in a hospital bed. Her anti-thrombosis boots hissed and hummed throughout the night, a parody of the water she’d heard lapping against the sides of their barge.  Nurses checked her pulse and blood pressure every few hours but unlike the sojourn she’d taken as her older self, roaming the canal on a crisp winter day, present time passed so slowly. She concluded Wednesday 1st August had been very unusual from start to finish.

The following morning the woman mused that within just a few days it would be her birthday. She accepted that she might never become the old woman, the one so happy and carefree. Awakening to this outlook she knew she had to start over, the distinction between dreams and reality had never been so clear. On 2nd August the woman switched her focus to overcoming cancer.  Do that, she reasoned, and the old woman with a weathered face and snow-white hair would continue to be a possibility.

Today the woman is still working to overcome cancer and the wrinkly old woman remains an opportunity she is unwilling to give up.

Written in response to the Daily Post Writing Challenge – Starting Over

Bah Humbug to Triskaidekaphobia. 2013 will be a lucky year :-)

Many in the West consider thirteen to be an unlucky number but there’s evidence to suggest 13 is in fact lucky.  2013 will be a lucky year.

A number of people I know deserve much better fortune and I feel our world as a whole could do with a bit of a lift.  So here I offer 13 random examples designed to inspire and illuminate us as we approach 2013.  I apologise for any factual inaccuracies, this is a bit of trivia inspired by a dear friend because we’re aiming to cast off pesky Triskaidekaphobia together and will attempt to do it for anyone else who’d like better luck in future too!

1. The Thirteenth century was very productive for the Italian city of Florence.

Firenze

Firenze (Photo credit: NivesMestrovic)

Its prosperity and peace enabled rapid economic expansion which continued at pace. Various categories of tradesmen and craftspeople increased extensively going beyond their region to other areas.

2. Thirteen is a prime number suggesting an incorruptible nature, purity and integrity.

3. Improv Everywhere organise fun missions to entertain participants, onlookers and those who watch their videos. 

Participants of No Pants Subway ride at Times ...

Participants of No Pants Subway ride at Times Square (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The No Pants Subway Ride takes place on January 13th 2013 in New York and has spread to other cities too. Participants wear winter coats, hats, scarves and gloves but no pants. The aim is to bring excitement to an otherwise humdrum setting, make people laugh, smile, or stop and notice the world around them.  Seeing this would certainly make me smile and spice up an otherwise boring subway ride 🙂

4. The thirteenth tarot card signifies death and eternal life.  The thirteenth rune ‘Eiwaz’ was the central rune around which all the others were ordered in the oldest runic alphabet.

5. When Chinese women make offerings of moon cakes, 13 will be served. Thirteen is the number of blood, fertility and lunar potency, the lucky number of the Great Goddess.

250px-Mooncake

6. Thirteen was revered by the ancient Egyptians who believed life had 13 stages, the last of which was death and transition to eternal life.

7. For those seeking to purchase a property in the UK, number 13 is likely to be £6,511, or 3%, cheaper than numbers 1 -12 or 14 – 30 based on Land Registry figures!

8. Thirteen is considered lucky in China where 1 in the position of tens sounds like ‘definite’ (shi or 实) in Mandarin and Cantonese dialects. 3 sounds like life, living or birth (生) so 13 pronounced shisan in Mandarin can mean ‘definitely vibrant’

9. In the Jewish religion 13 is the numerical value of the word ahava (love, Alef-Hei-Beit-Hei) and the age of responsibility. Jewish beliefs are contained in the Thirteen Principles.

10. The Great Seal of the United States has 13 olive leaves, 13 olives, 13 arrows and 13 stars forming a triangle over the eagle. The pyramid on the reverse has 13 levels.

11. The traditional Thai New Year – Songkran Day –  is April 13th.

English: Songkran at Wat Thai in Los Angeles, ...

12. Lohri, the zenith of winter is celebrated on 13th January. For Punjabis it’s a community celebration of fertility and the spark of life, an auspicious day marking the sun’s entry in to the ‘Makar Rashi’ (northern hemisphere).

lohri

 

13. Jeremy Guscott, Brian O’Driscoll and Frank Bunce are deemed some of the world’s greatest outside centres – position 13 – in rugby union.

Brian O'Driscoll - Happy Day

Brian O’Driscoll – Happy Day (Photo credit: M+MD)

Happy New Year, Happy 2013 everyone ♥

Fortitude – Facing a force 12 storm head-on in 2012

Porthleven, Cornwall. Beautiful on a still day, dangerous on a wild one. Image credit: Cornwall365.co.uk

Porthleven, Cornwall. Beautiful on a still day, dangerous on a wild one.
Image credit: Cornwall365.co.uk

Today’s theme is fortitude, another of the cardinal virtues.

Fortitude: Noun.  Strength & firmness of mind; resolute endurance; courage in pain or adversity.

It’s fair to say 2012 hasn’t been too far short of facing a force 12 storm head-on while trying to keep everything together, as normal as possible, for the sake of those around me. Even during the times when I’ve been feeling anything but normal.

My call for fortitude began at the tail-end of 2011. My Mother-in-Law died, a difficult and convoluted situation that took a toll on me. I felt sorry for her; her life had been a series of unforeseen misadventures resulting in mental breakdown and institutionalisation in one shape or form since the age of 25-ish.  During summer 2011 she’d been in and out of hospital but was returned to her care home under the auspices of being better.  She wasn’t and died a short while afterwards.  I’m not sure I’ll ever stop thinking she had no real life at all and that’s what made me so sad for her.   I organised things, sorted out probate, helped clear her room all at a time when I was starting a secondment into a more senior role at work.  My boss had found a great new opportunity and his boss announced she’d be leaving by the end of the year too.  All change.

In January 2012 I was more than half way through the secondment, waiting to learn if I’d be confirmed in the role permanently. I had no idea, the months ticked on and I was still none the wiser.  I eventually found out after the secondment expired; I was pleased to learn of the promotion but news coming so late in the day took the shine off things somewhat.  As ever I threw myself into the role, worked my socks off and encouraged my teams to do likewise.  Some of our efforts were appreciated.

I realised from my very early career in Human Resources and my long-term career in Technology that some companies place little value on departments they misconstrue as ‘support’ or ‘service’ functions.  It’s not this way in all industries but some are behind the curve, they haven’t joined the dots yet.  It’s not worth stressing over but can be frustrating for those who see successful businesses holistically rather than in silos.

In April shortly after the promotion I noticed I was tired, very tired. I didn’t feel right.  I thought something looked different, went for various tests and investigations and remained staunchly positive throughout. I suspected the odds might be stacked against me; my family history is too damned predictable but I wouldn’t go along with the odds until they were confirmed.  Core biopsies followed at the end of May.

I’d already booked a week of activities to celebrate my son’s birthday in early June so was determined not to let him down.  I did my best to carry on regardless through this period of uncertainty and doubt. No-one’s 19th Birthday’s should be overshadowed by unconfirmed news that Mom might have cancer.  We had a good time and he has some great memories including his first trip to a West-End show.

On 12th June the odds became reality and for a month the reality kept getting worse.  The tumour is small, less than 1cm, but invasive.  Oops no it’s bigger, 2.4cm as it’s surrounded by an area of DCIS and LCIS (which, by the way, would also become invasive in 3 – 5 years).  The grade is 2 – no wait, it’s 3.  It might not be as contained as first thought, the MRI shows a lot of anomalies. Oh and it’s HER2 positive, that will be tricky.

Hello and welcome to the world of aggressive, difficult to treat breast cancer aged 42.  “This is treatable” my consultant said “and fortunately Herceptin is now funded for all HER2+++ women….  But only if you have chemotherapy.”

Being told you have cancer is never going to be good news but the worst news for me was chemotherapy.  I saw what it did to my Aunt and my Mom and I’ll never be able to shake those images from my mind.  I didn’t want that to happen to me. I don’t want it to happen to anyone.

RNLI Shannon Class Lifeboat. Credit: RNLI

RNLI Shannon Class Lifeboat. Credit: RNLI

After a week moping around, not eating, talking or sleeping I realised no-one was coming for me with a lifeboat.  I wasn’t helping myself either so I’d have to get my arse in gear, muster up some fortitude and ride this humdinger of a storm through.

I researched and researched and researched, went to every appointment with a list of questions and made sure to get answers.  I took along the latest papers, asked for explanations of conflicting findings, weighed up the risks and rewards of each surgery, surgical technique and the chemotherapy regimes I was offered.  And then I had an epiphany moment.

I realised I could just as easily get hit by a truck or obliterated in a car accident (I drive a many miles for work).  In fact there are plenty of other things that could kill me so why focus on cancer alone?  Why focus on any of them?  Life is for living and after the epiphany living is what I set out to do.

This change in perspective was fundamental in shifting my thoughts about myself and others. What really matters, the preciousness of time, finding something positive, inspiring and beautiful every day – even when the force 12 continues to howl all around me threatening mortal danger.  Why make my own life miserable, consumed by negativity and fear? Worse still why inflict that on those around me, why cause them more pain and concern than they undoubtedly already carry.

Of course there have been bad days; there have been some very bad days. This – investigations, surgeries, scars, chemotherapy, side-effects – is no walk in the park on a bright Spring morning.  There’ll probably be some dodgy days in future too because I have more surgeries to come in 2013. C’est la vie.  But finding fortitude – strength and firmness of mind; resolute endurance; courage in the face of pain or adversity – has been a big help. It’s an inner strength that carries me through.

Six months down the line from diagnosis and half way through my various treatments I have no idea what the future has in store for me. Or how long it will last.  But none of us ever knows how our life will map out, we don’t come equipped with a crystal ball at birth we just kid ourselves that we do. Throwing away the illusions, the ifs, whens and maybes lets the beauty of today shine through… even if a force 12 storm is trying (and failing) to sweep me off my feet.

Fortitude – I highly recommend this cardinal virtue.  Try to seek it out, when you find it hold on to it.  Where it comes from I do not know but if I could work out the formula I’d manufacture it and offer it free to anyone who is faced with the onslaught of one of life’s force 12 storms.

 

Today’s theme is charity, third of the heavenly graces

An aristocratic lady coming out from temple an...

An aristocratic lady coming out from temple and giving alms. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Charity: Noun.

  • The voluntary giving of help to those in need.
  • Kindness and tolerance in judging others.
  • Archaic: love of humankind

These reflections (two previous posts can be found here and here) began on Christmas day, my first Christmas undergoing cancer treatment.

When we think about charity we often think of the first definition – voluntary giving of help to those in need.  Charity organisations certainly aim to do this and many do extraordinarily good work.  I’m especially drawn to those who focus upon research, such as Breakthough Breast Cancer.

I believe the solution to the problem called find a cure for cancer lies in more research effort, more accurate tests to detect risks and improved treatments to prevent the proliferation of rogue cells.  By stopping the disease from taking hold, we would in time see an end to harsh regimes like chemo and radiotherapy.  I believe such research may also pay dividends when understanding and tackling other forms of critical and chronic disease. Today remission is the best status most cancer patients and Doctors can hope for and whilst that’s better than nothing, frankly it’s not good enough.

As with everything in life, it also pays to be a little cautious.  Charity donations such as the ribbon campaigns (for all critical and chronic illnesses) have, in some senses, become bandwagons. Take care with your £’s, $’s, ¥’s, €’s; ensure your hard-earned cash makes its way to the charity of your choice not the coffers of a commercial enterprise.  Charity cards are one of the worst examples I can think of; often less than 10% of the purchase price is donated to the charity concerned.  The same is frequently true of fashion items, accessories and jewellery.  Caveat emptor – buyer beware.

The second definition of charity, kindness and tolerance in judging others also struck a chord for me. Almost all cancers are disfiguring in some way or another; where possible surgery is used as the main weapon to ‘cure’ this insidious disease.  As anyone who has had an operation knows, surgery leaves scars.  With luck and over time the scars begin to fade but our bodies are never quite the same again.  For some people this is of little concern; they’re relieved to have a dysfunctional body part removed and see their scars as signs of conviction; a battle fought and won.  For others even when the physical scars fade the emotional and psychological wounds remain raw and painful.  We all react differently, we all have different coping mechanisms and we all have different views on body image and attractiveness.

Kindness and tolerance are essential in helping people come through their diagnosis, treatments and life beyond cancer. I don’t like to highlight this rather sorry state of affairs but self-confidence and self-worth are crucial when living in a world that has become very dog-eat-dog.  The media continue to be guilty of creating false idols; images of perfect people with bodies most of us can never aspire to when 100% fit and healthy (because they’re air-brushed, photo-shopped and in essence FUBAR). Charity, the third heavenly grace, suggests we need to be more honest.  Perfect people don’t exist in the real world; people with scars whether physical, emotional or psychological are the real world.  I urge that they should not be forsaken, made to feel less worthy, less attractive or less confident because kindness and tolerance are reserved for the few, not the many.

The archaic definition of charity, love of humankind, is my personal favourite.

This Christmas I’ve been inundated by the love of humankind and I feel very humbled.  Gifts of shawls, scarves, beautiful toiletries, candles, gloves, books, chocolate, jewellery, trinkets, food, flowers, music, love and friendship have been bestowed upon me by so many generous and wonderful people. The material gifts are beautiful, all will be cherished; but the most cherished gifts are those of love and friendship. They are priceless and irreplaceable.

I hope to extend the archaic meaning of charity, paying it forward through my love of humankind to those who are dear to me throughout the year ahead. I extend this meaning to the natural world too, the non-human animals of our planet are worthy of my love,  kindness and tolerance as are the lakes and mountains, forests and glades.  I’m not sure if heaven exists; if it does I may not qualify for entry because I’m not a perfect person. I cuss, I get frustrated and I could be more tolerant from time to time.  Even if there’s nothing beyond this life I’ll continue to practice the heavenly grace of charity. I was taught practice makes perfect; I still have time to strive for improvement as do many of the rest of our humankind.

Penultimate step in the chemo climb completed

M.R.S.A. Staphylococcus aureus on Brilliance M...

M.R.S.A. Staphylococcus aureus on Brilliance MRSA Chromogenic Agar (Photo credit: Nathan Reading)

I had another long day in chemo camp today but am pleased to report number 5 out of 6 is complete and seemed to go smoothly.

My son came along with me and said he found it very informative and also enjoyed the wide-ranging chat we had.

I was branded a trouble-maker as I noticed the MRSA swab pack I’d been given, to check if my suppressed immunity has made me and the other camp interns carriers of the hospital super-bug, was two months beyond its expiry date.  Apparently these kits had only been delivered in the last fortnight.

When the department assistant phoned microbiology she was told to dispose of the out of date kits, two full boxes, and throw away the swabs all today’s patients had already taken. They’ll need to be done again. I’m glad I read the packet before doing mine! This attention to detail comes from developing a beady eye for supermarket produce that’s been subject to poor stock control.

I’m now insomniac beetroot woman once again, high on the dreaded steroids and full of super toxic chemicals.  I did discuss whether I could be a future Bane in the Batman franchise with my son but he doesn’t think I suit the bad-guy character

This evening one of my best friends visited and it was just the tonic required after 5 hours of chemo so tomorrow I’ll pick up on my heavenly graces theme once again with a post about charity