Lessons from the Feisty Blue Gecko – Amity, Moderation, Repose.

Recently the FBG (http://feistybluegeckofightsback.wordpress.com) travelled to Borneo. While doing so she shared a post about three words to shape her year, a practice she’s been undertaking for several years now. I pondered on this approach and wondered what three words might apply to my past and present years, and what those words might teach me about myself, my aims and hopes for the future.

I own a butterfly mind that resides in the middle a walrus colony. There are many interesting thoughts and ideas but insufficient space (or time) between them to give each the attention it deserves. Reflecting for a moment on why that is throws up my first three words – curiosity, overburdened and driven. Unsurprisingly there are patterns and links between all three.  I like being curious and reasonably driven because that’s the way I learn and keep growing (instead of slipping into a state of mental hibernation). I’m not so comfortable with overburdened as it eventually quashes the other two.

Better choices are curiosity, capacity and pace. Life is, after all, a marathon not a sprint. I’m a useless sprinter!

There are some stand out years in my life for good and not so good reasons. In 1993 the three words were overjoyed, nurturing and amazed. In 1996, overwrought, shocked and escape. 1998 warranted exciting, connected and faith whilst 2008 was ecstatic, proud and supportive.  On balance there’s more to be glad for than not over the past forty-odd years, until the most recently.

No matter which way I look at it, however much I try to stand it on its head, take a different perspective or weigh the pros and cons, I am not glad about HER2 positive breast cancer. I’m glad I acted quickly, took decisive and extensive action and am still here but I’m not at all glad about the thing itself. 2012 was the year of chaos, stark and pigheaded. Pigheadedness coupled with a good medical team and wonderful support from family, close friends and new friends from WordPress kept me in this world instead of contemplating the next.

2013 should and could have been an improvement and in many ways it was, but it was also tainted by the fall-out of cancer. 2013 was a tale of two cities – “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.” Its taken a while to find just three words for 2013 (without the use of expletives) however those that fit best are distraught, dissociation and determined. The year is over and although there were some positive elements, it is not one I am sorry to see the back of.

So what of 2014, this new year freshly begun and hopefully holding much goodness in store? It did not get off to the best of starts for reasons I shall not enter into here, suffice to say an early morning phone call creating havoc and requiring an immediate solution was not something I’d hoped for. The fact that I was 80 miles from the epicentre did not help. Fortunately resolution occurred and no lasting harm befell anyone, though the events themselves remain puzzling.  My capacity to deal with emergency situations involving those near to me is not as robust as it once was, especially if I’m some distance away. I can think of no good reason for this other than an increased sense of the fragility of life.  So the first of 2014’s words is amity – love, friendship and kindliness given freely to those who are dear to me because nothing else is as important. The second is moderation. I can no longer burn the candle at both ends, my time on earth already hit one big bump in the road and I don’t want to invite others. My third word for 2014 is repose. Now more than any time previously I feel the need for regeneration and respite, quiet contemplation and time for recreation.

There are no certainties in life (except death and taxes) but I sense these words will set me in good stead for the rest of 2014. Amity, moderation and repose with, of course, thanks to Feisty Blue Gecko for equipping me with such a helpful philosophy 🙂

Walrus colony - see how difficult it is to squeeze a thought between them? Image credit: Wikipedia

Walrus colony – see how difficult it is to squeeze a thought between them? Image credit: Wikipedia

Art and Soul

Pencil drawing, c.  T Willis

Pencil drawing, c. T Willis

Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one” – Stella Adler

Stately oaks and wizened apple trees lay deracinated all along my journey home, their roots exposed to the elements in a parody of their branches. Gales have battered the country on and off for several weeks now yet winter has barely started; I expect to see further casualties before the spring returns. Disturbed sleep is a facet of these regular overnight maelstroms. I’m a light sleeper and the merest rustle snaps me back to wakefulness even if it’s the middle of the night. I lay listening to the world outside, the howls and gusts, the creaking and clattering.  Eventually I snuggle into the duvet and drift back to sleep, the fidgety twist-and-turn kind of semi-slumber that’s marginally more refreshing than staying awake all night.

Then, when it’s time to get up, the strangest thing happens. A word hangs motionless in my mind. Run. It’s been there every morning for the past few weeks. There is nothing else, no lingering fragment of dream or nightmare, no imagery to suggest what I might run, why I might run, whether I’m running towards or away from something (or someone).  It’s as perplexing as it is unusual.

Conscience might be nudging me to get up, get going and get out there. I ran in the days before knees and flexibility stopped being part of the same sentence. Common sense tells me it isn’t a burning desire to haul myself along in thigh-deep mud while the heavens throw rain and hailstones at me though! A certain je ne sais quoi suggests there are no demons, zombies or fiends under the bed and the monster that entered my life and invaded my body without an invitation has, as far as everyone knows, been cast out. Nothing to run from there, outside or in. I very much hope it stays that way.

I sat with the thought. No speculating or postulating, no searching for meaning hidden or otherwise. Eventually it occurred to me that run is what I’ve been doing for months on end now, trying to deal with a whole host of events, situations and experiences that would weigh heavy on any soul. Last week offered the first opportunity in a long while to stop running, spend time with family (without doing three other things at once) and finally file some of the less enjoyable experiences under F for Finished. When my head isn’t cluttered by an unresolved to-do list with more decimal places than Pi, blithe spirit takes the opportunity to resurface. She’s a bit moth-eaten and at times unpredictable, but unlike the trees she hasn’t been completely uprooted by various storms.  Given the chance she’s resourceful and quite creative; the drawing in this post is one of her recent dallyings with pencil and paper. We’re fond of one another but circumstance has kept us apart. Today we agreed to help life refrain from crushing so we can once again be fully acquainted.

Destiny

The leaves on the trees are beginning to change colour, vivid yellows, chestnut-brown and scarlet are creeping across the landscape. Down at ground level flowers are being replaced by fungi and fallen acorns. Although autumn is arriving late this year due to our long, hot summer it is arriving none the less. Everything is covered in dew in the morning and last night saw the first hints of frost.

I like this time of year, the chill in the air, the velvet-black skies filled with stars so far away they might no longer exist. I like the cloudless cyan blue and hazy sunshine that greets me some days and the murky fog that clings and billows like an ethereal sail on others. Rain is not my favourite thing and we get a lot of it through autumn and winter but if there’s a decent thunderstorm or a hint of snow to come I like that too. Years of living in the countryside watching the seasons change and baring witness to the ebb and flow of life – plants, fungi, insects, birds, deer, people – has attuned my senses and instincts to nature’s patterns.

On these days when bright yet feeble sunshine casts shadows in my room and outside the window is a frenzy of activity accompanied by a cacophony of birdsong, (there are finches, scores of them, filling up on sunflower hearts), I find myself wondering how many more autumns I might see.  Two years ago that thought is unlikely to have entered my consciousness. Things are different now and time cannot be guaranteed.  I wonder if this is what octogenarians think about, silently knowing the days behind them outnumber the days ahead. Of course I’m not an octogenarian I’m barely half that age, so assuming there are plenty of days and many more autumns to come should be perfectly reasonable. Logic says in spite of everything I’ve escaped death at least once and in doing so should have improved prospects for the future quite considerably.  But nature is non-linear and unpredictable. Autumn doesn’t come at the same time each year and it never takes the same form. We can fool ourselves as much as we like but time was never guaranteed. Anyone who has lost a child and counted every missing birthday will know this all too well.

I wonder how much of our lives is predetermined. Destiny if you like that kind of thing. I’m not a geneticist but I know from my insatiable quest for information that genes and signalling pathways play a much greater role in health and longevity than many of us realise. Much like the processes of autumn, the microbiology of leaf fall and fairy rings, most of us don’t pay too much attention to happenings at a cellular level. We see the bigger picture, leaves change colour, nights draw in and winter comes.  I’d like to know how much of the path I tread is predetermined at a cellular level. My gut feel is that it’s quite a lot but I’m not sure if I want to know how many more autumns I have, at least not yet. At some point I will know because something, old age or old disease, will set the deadline for me.  Unless one of life’s non-linear and unpredictable mechanisms – meteor strike, plane crash, murder, gas explosion – intervenes in the meantime.

English: Fairy ring? A plentiful supply of fly...

English: Fairy ring? A plentiful supply of fly agaric fungi. Beautiful yet poisonous; this lot could do a lot of damage. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Awareness of self, the fragility of life, the lack of control (you think you have some?) and the ultimate outcome might crush a tender spirit and drive it half insane. Perhaps that’s why, for the most part, we fill our heads with distractions. For tender spirits like me who are not easily distracted yet wish to remain mostly sane there is a balance to be struck between constant wondering and enjoying the moment. I know the pretty little robin singing outside the window in his rosy breasted splendour may not make it through this winter and if he does, the next will almost certainly be his last. Today though he is here, he is plump and well-preened and his song is heart-warmingly beautiful. Today we’re going to enjoy each other’s company – I feed him, he sings – then cross whatever winter throws at us when it’s upon us.

 

 

 

Almost incognito again

image

Being incognito suits me. I’ve never wanted fame or fortune, celebrity doesn’t really mean anything to me and money is just something I use to pay bills, put food on the table and support my son. Undergoing chemotherapy threw a spanner in the works; it made it impossible to remain anonymous. Passers-by didn’t know who I was, they couldn’t name me, but they certainly knew what I was.  I was the person drawing pitying glances, puzzled stares or desperate attempts to avoid eye contact.  I was the thing many people don’t want to name.

Cancer, embodied. A walking, talking materialisation of the scourge a lot of us dread as much as death itself. The dreading isn’t without cause – I know as many people dying of cancer as I do surviving it. Many are young, too young to go through what they’re going through and much too young to be facing death. They have no choice, they won’t be cured in spite of surgeries, treatments, living healthily or fighting to survive. They’re being cheated out of life by the biggest cheat I know.

Because cancer is a cheat and because it can resume its destructive course at any point I’m much more conscious of time.  The red sand in the Wicked Witch of the West’s egg timer is never far from my thoughts; time slips by too easily. Every moment is precious, even the difficult ones. This year more than all the years that have gone before I’m making the most of every moment and that’s how I know I’m almost incognito again.

I’ve been able to get a hair cut, (it’s still boyishly short but at least it bares some resemblance to being styled that way), go out for a meal and go on holiday without turning heads, evoking whispers or sorry glances. Shop assistants no longer ask if I’m ok and I don’t look (or feel) like I’ll faint if I stand for more than a minute or two. I’m not a disgusting translucent yellowy-grey colour anymore either. I’m approaching normal although I’ll never be completely normal. There are scars but I don’t wear the cancer patient badges any more. I pass as a woman who let her hairdresser get scissor happy and that suits me just fine. It’s taken a long time and turned my whole life upside down in the process but I’m here and come hell or high water I’m not going to waste a second looking back. I’m almost incognito again. Long may that continue.

Explore. Dream. Discover.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails.

Explore. Dream. Discover.

Mark Twain.

Explore. Dream. Discover.

Explore. Dream. Discover.

It’s been a busy week of work and hospital visits.

One of the interesting things about work is that it’s changing but never really changes.  I’m fortunate in that I toil alongside some very intelligent, warm and capable people.  They’re diligent, dedicated and also manage to bring a sense of humour into the office as a means to mitigate the daily shenanigans. I can’t really ask for more than that.  The company we’re all part of is lucky to have these people and it probably doesn’t realise quite how blessed with talent it is – which is rather a shame because my colleagues aren’t afraid to explore, dream or discover.  For people with their skills and abilities, a whole ocean of opportunity is waiting just outside the door even in these less than exciting economic conditions.

Work takes up so much of our time and it can be a popular topic for moans and groans (almost on a par with the British weather) but as with everything else there’s not much sense in moaning, groaning or being miserable about it.  Sometimes we feel trapped in jobs or companies we’ve fallen out of love with but as soon as we realise the bars on the windows are figments of our imagination we’re free to explore, dream, discover.  Life is too short and too precious to waste… if your job is sucking the life out of you its time to get another job!  It might take a while but investing energy in a job search is always going to be more productive than complaining to anyone who’ll listen  🙂

A volunteer pastor and spiritual leader came to sit with me at the hospital today. I’d never met Barbara before and I must admit I was a little concerned because my faith is of the wide-ranging and non-specific kind rather than being invested in any particular God. I needn’t have worried. Barbara is a woman of faith and although hers may be a little more specific than my own it is still broad enough to welcome me and make me feel at home. Every now and then we meet someone and it seems as if we’ve known them all our lives. Sometimes people who know nothing about us have a way of seeing deep inside within a couple of minutes.  Both of those things happened today.

Barbara is an Afro-American woman who moved to the UK 20 years ago, she’s older than me and has a different story to tell but within seconds it felt as though we’d been friends for a very long time.  She didn’t start out as a pastor or spiritual leader, she spent a long time working as a business consultant until the shenanigans ground her down. She walked away from the salary, the politics and the back-biting once she’d seen her kids through college.

Barbara’s first question to me was “have we met before?” so I’m guessing she sensed the same connection I did.  Her next words were “you have such positivity in your eyes… is today your first day here?” We talked. I explained that no today was not my first day, I’d been coming for 10 months now and my regular visits would continue for most of this year too.  I explained that although it might be difficult to describe much of what goes on as pleasurable,  I find ways to make each visit as pleasant and enjoyable as possible.  Mostly that involves joking with the nurses or other patients and supporting newcomers so they see it’s not as scary as it seems.  I decided a long time ago there was no point staying miserable about this cancer thing – living in a trash can wouldn’t suit me and in my little world that’s the only place Oscar the Grouch is allowed to live 🙂

Before long we were laughing which on reflection seems strange because the subject of our conversation – cancer in your thirties – isn’t much of a laughing matter.  I’m not even in my thirties!  Barbara insisted I must be so I laughed some more and suggested she could add a decade. She laughed right back at me and said I must be wrong.  Who’d have thought that a bucket load of chemo would double up as the elixir of youth?!

To me my eyes are blue-green, eyelash-less and a little tired looking. To Barbara they were a window to my psyche before I’d even uttered a word.   Who knows what or who we might discover there on the inside or outside in the big wide world when we throw off the bowlines and catch the trade winds in our sails?  Keep exploring, keep dreaming and keep discovering always because you may find yourself pleasantly surprised.

Time to move on

What do you do

When the world frowns at you

When your life’s upside down

Is there hope to be found?

 

Where do you go

When the rain turns to snow

When your life feels insane

Is your psyche still sound?

 

How do you know

When the words are all faux

When the light’s a feint glow

Is your ship run aground?

 

Why do you stay

When your heart starts to break

When the give is all take

Is your freedom now drowned?

 

Who do you tell

When you know it’s a spell

When the tears start to flow

Is your life come unbound?

 

When do you know

It’s the last picture show

Now its time to move on

Let the darkness be gone

ship

ship (Photo credit: deepwarren)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walk where the sky goes on forever

vista

One of the reasons I enjoy living here is that it offers a sense of perspective. Looking across the hills and valleys towards the Welsh mountains I realise I am Lilliputian. Tiny and inconsequential, a speck of star-dust on the face of our beautiful blue planet.

On a clear day the sky goes on forever as do the rolling hills; the air is fresh and filled with birdsong.  In winter it is crisp and bracing, in spring and summer the light scents of apple blossom and wild flowers carry on the breeze.  There is no-one else around. I am alone with the oak and the holly, the cirrus and the skyline and I imagine that I hear our planet breathing, I feel its heart beating.  In that moment I am enchanted, I know I am privileged to spend time here, to take in the vista and connect with nature in all her glory.

Take a small vacation. Venture out of the metropolis, break free from the cities, their dirt and smog and urban sprawl.  Leave the asphalt jungle, the street lights and the 7-11 far behind.  Dare to become Lilliputian and forget the material world for a while – it’s over-priced and over-rated anyway.   Travel to a place where the sky goes on forever and the stars shine like a million diamonds then imagine you can hear the Earth breathe and feel it’s heart beat.

Let our beautiful planet into your soul and in that moment peace and tranquillity will enchant you too.

Take my hand.
We will walk.
We will only walk.
We will enjoy our walk
without thinking of arriving anywhere.
Walk peacefully.
Walk happily.
Our walk is a peace walk.
Our walk is a happiness walk.

Then we learn
that there is no peace walk;
that peace is the walk;
that there is no happiness walk;
that happiness is the walk.
We walk for ourselves.
We walk for everyone
always hand in hand.

Walk and touch peace every moment.
Walk and touch happiness every moment.
Each step brings a fresh breeze.
Each step makes a flower bloom under our feet.
Kiss the Earth with your feet.
Print on Earth your love and happiness.

Earth will be safe
when we feel in us enough safety.

Thich Nhat Hanh

forpeace6