Monday, 2 May 2011

I can dream, can't I?

             I’m supposed to be a retired author, but I’ve got so many ideas popping into my head that I sometimes think I could write another forty books.   At my age, I suppose, it’s not practical to think along these lines.   I mean, getting published isn’t as easy these days as it used to be – not that it was all that easy in the old days, but you could send along a couple of chapters of your manuscript to a publisher and if they liked what they read they could ask for the complete manuscript and then, if they were willing to take a chance on you, your work was published.   These days you need to find yourself an agent who will then approach a publisher on your behalf, and so everyone gets a slice of the cake, if you know what I mean.   And then there’s the tax man; he needs to get his slice of the cake too.   And if you don’t want to end up with the crumbs then you need to get yourself a good tax lawyer who will make your relationship with the tax man less painful.   The latter, of course, also needs to get his slice of the cake.
            Oh, woe is me!
            When I was younger I took all these things in my stride, but it all seems so complicated now that I’m not too sure I want to go that way again.
            Now that’s a very negative thought.   I’m not basically a negative person.   I usually look on the bright side of life.   I simply expect things to work out alright, and they normally do.   When things don’t pan out as I’d hoped I naturally feel the jolt of disappointment, but I get over it and get on with whatever I’m busy with.   That’s the way it is with me.   There’s always the hope that one will succeed, that if you reach out for that dream it might become a reality.
            It’s good to dream.   If we let go of our dreams then we have nothing left.   Dreams are but hopes dressed up in tinsel, and so we hope and we dream and we work at making that dream a reality.   Oh, yes, it’s good to dream, but it often takes blood, sweat and tears to make your dream come true.
            As a young girl I dreamed of becoming a writer.   I loved the written word and I would scribble away at my little stories whenever I had an opportunity.   It was my secret dream, my secret passion, and for a long time I never told anyone about it.   I was in my mid thirties when I first had my work published, and it took a lot of encouragement and persuasion to get me to this point in my life.   I was my own worst enemy; I was never satisfied with what I had written.   I wanted it to be perfect; it had to be perfect, but being a perfectionist can have its drawbacks.   These days I am more inclined to write it as I see it.   It’s more important to get the story down on paper and to worry about the grammar afterwards.   If you hover over every word you could so easily lose the essence of what you want to say.   I learned this the hard way, but I don’t have any regrets.   We learn by our mistakes, and I’m sure most people can relate to that.
            And so I’m back where I started.   I’m a retired author.   Does an author ever really retire?   I don’t think so.   I’m still writing and hoping and dreaming, and whether I venture into publishing, or not, it doesn’t matter.   I find pleasure in what I’m doing and that’s all that really matters.   I was lucky, once, to have my work published.   If that luck swings my way again, regardless of my age, I shall consider myself fortunate and then, I suppose, none of my initial worries will matter.   What complex beings we are, but …C’est la vie.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

The Gift of Life

I’m not functioning very well at the moment.   My husband, Vernon, has been in hospital since Tuesday with heart failure and he won’t be coming home until Monday.   This means that, with two trips to the hospital every day, nothing much is happening on the home front, but this is not what I’m thinking about at the moment.   I’m thinking about those two dreadful, frightening words –
            Heart failure !
            It means that the heart is failing to function normally.
            This incredible piece of human machinery we carry around inside us, this pump that sends a steady flow of life-giving blood to the very extremities of our bodies, is now failing to function as it should.
            If you think about how many times your heart beats per minute, per day, per year, and you multiply that with your age, then you begin to wonder how much longer it can keep going.   I know Vernon is thinking about this; his heart has served him faithfully for 77 years, but how much longer can it last.   I’m thinking about this as well; not just about him, but also for myself.
            It has made me realise, once again, what a precious gift life is.   God has given us this wonderful gift and many of us never pause to think exactly what that means.   He didn’t give us a life in bondage, but a life of freedom; the freedom to choose what we want to do with our lives.   We can be the captain of our own ship and go our own way, but, if we’re wise, we can choose to have God at the helm.   It doesn’t mean we won’t go through any stormy patches, but it will ensure that we have a safe journey to whatever shore God is taking us.
            At this stage in my life I am taking one day at a time.   God has given me the precious gift of TODAY.   It is now up to me.   What am I going to do with TODAY.   Am I going to guard it selfishly, or am I going to share it with others?   Am I going to keep the love that came with it to myself, or will I pass it on?
                        If God has given me one more day,
                        I will live it to His glory, come what may.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Writer's Block - It's a cramp

If you’ve never gone through a period of ‘writer’s block’ then consider yourself fortunate.   I think of it as a cramp in the creative part of the brain that won’t let go, and it causes extreme emotional pain.
            You sit and stare at the blank page and the ideas just don’t come.   A thread of panic uncoils from somewhere deep inside you and it serves no purpose except to magnify the problem.   The more you think, the less you produce and the greater the panic.
            You tell yourself you’ve been writing too much over the past years, burning the candle at both ends on many occasions, and you’re mentally exhausted.   You pay a visit to your local pharmacist and ask him to prescribe something for you that will give you a mental boost, something to revive the old brain cells, and you go home with your precious package believing that you’ve found a miracle cure.   You give yourself a couple of weeks, telling yourself that the medication needs time to take root, but as the weeks go by you find that nothing has changed except that you’re so wide awake now your head is spinning.   You can’t sleep at night your brain is so active, but the thoughts flit through it at the speed of a bullet ricocheting from wall to wall in a room the size of a pantry.   It leaves you mentally breathless and frustrated.
            There is another kind of writer’s block where you know what you want to say, but you can’t find the right words.   It takes hours to write a paragraph because whatever you write just doesn’t sound right, so you do it over and over again, writing it this way and that way until you’re finally so exhausted you just don’t give a damn what it sounds like anymore.   You put it away and decide to leave it for the next day, you’re exhausted, you need the break, but your mind is like a dog with a bone, it won’t let go.   You get back to it the next day and it’s the same thing over again.   It’s like tapping water out of a tank.   You know it’s full, but when you open the tap the water comes out one reluctant drop at a time.
            I’ve experienced both of the above and all I can say is that there’s no point in fretting.   It only makes it worse.   Let it go and do something else, something creative that doesn’t require you to use the written word.   I’ve always enjoyed photography; it’s another form of expressing oneself.
            There is something else as well.   Don’t be too hard on yourself where your work is concerned.   If you’re too critical you could become your own worst enemy.   You might end up thinking your work is inferior when it is quite the reverse.   The biggest stumbling block for any writer is the belief that their work isn’t good enough.   It’s fine to be a perfectionist, but don’t let it destroy the creative juices.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

God still performs miracles

There is a lady from Jeffrey’s Bay who has been suffering from Guillain-Barré Syndrome since July 2010.   For those of you who don’t know, it is a debilitating disease that attacks the nervous system and paralyses the muscles, and the healing process is sometimes painfully and agonisingly slow.   The first time I heard about her was in August 2010, and even though I have mentioned her plight before, I would like you to bear with me while I run through some of the statistics again.

This lady, Christa, was in ICU at Greenacres hospital since July 2010 until February 2011 when she was transferred to the Aurora Stimulation Centre here in Port Elizabeth.   My friend, Veronica, and I have been calling on her regularly once a week when we do our rounds at Greenacres and St Georges hospitals, visiting members of our church who happen to be in hospital.   We have followed her progress from the beginning when, hooked up to monitors and breathing with the aid of a ventilator, she wasn’t even aware of our presence.
            The healing process has been painstakingly slow, but Christa has been quite remarkable throughout it all.   There have been many frustrating moments, but she has been extremely patient, taking each tiny improvement as a blessing from God.
            I confess that there were times during these weekly visits when I would have a difficult time convincing myself that I could see an improvement in her condition.   I was beginning to feel impatient and frustrated for Christa’s sake.   I knew that God was healing her and that it was His will and not mine that was important, but I would ask Him to please let me see a visible improvement in Christa the next time I saw her.   And, sure enough, next time there would be a visible sign that the Lord was working his little miracles.
            I have been at a spiritual low just recently.   This past Wednesday morning, before leaving home, I was talking to the Lord and saying that I don’t even know what I believe anymore.   The doubts were crowding in and I was really feeling as though I was walking this road on my own.   I left it there and didn’t think about it again, but when Veronica and I arrived at the Aurora Centre I once again had that feeling of ‘what’s the use’.   We entered the building and when we were walking down the passage to Christa’s ward I said to Veronica, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could walk in one morning and find that they’ve taken away that awful tube into her throat so that she can speak to us?’
            Well, we walked into her ward, and there she was, without the tube, and if we listened carefully we could even hear a bit of what she was saying.   We were also told that she had been up and walking between the bars.   It was such a joyous moment that I became quite emotional.   It was as if I could hear God saying, ‘See, I’m still here, and I can still perform these little miracles you’ve been asking for.’
            Yes, I needed to be reminded that I’m not alone, that the Lord is always with me, and that he hears my sometimes disjointed little prayers.   I have also realised that life itself is a miracle, and that we are surrounded by little miracles every day of our lives.   If we look for them, we’ll find them.   God is all around us, performing these wonderful miracles for us.   If only we would remove our blinkers and take a proper look.   Often the miracle is in an unexpected smile.
            I am truly blessed.   Praise God.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Writer's Reality

The First
            Practice makes perfect.   So they say.   I had forty-four romances published, the first in 1975 and the last in 1992.   Today, when I read the first one I think, okay, not bad.   And when I read the last one I think, did I really write this?   The improvement is glaringly obvious; it’s there in the style, the narrative and the dialogue, and yes, practice does bring about an improvement that will be noticeable to yourself and your readers.   If you have any doubts about your work then try this exercise and you might be pleasantly surprised.

             Writing can be a very lonely occupation, it just depends how you look at it.   Authors will tell you that their characters become so real that they almost write their story themselves; that they’re like friends they’re reluctant to say goodbye to at the end of the novel.   Tell this to someone who isn’t a writer and they think you’ve got a screw loose.   If your characters are real to you, then they’ll become real to the reader.   And yes, they do become like old friends; friends you never forget.
The Last

            To get back to what I said about writing sometimes being a lonely occupation – I can’t say that I ever found it so.   My characters came alive for me the moment I started writing about them, they popped out of the pages and took on a life of their own.   In that way I was never alone, they were always there, egging me on to write more about their activities, whether joyful, passionate or sad.   Those friends have never left, they’re still here, ever young, and part of a family to which I will always belong.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Looking Back

            I have been going through all the short stories and articles (published and unpublished) that I have written over the years and I have been editing those that were never published so that they won’t appear so rough and unfinished – which, in fact, they are.   The idea is to have them all bound together in a book instead of having them lying around in drawers and filing cabinets where they serve no purpose.
            I have worked through most of them during the past two months and I must confess that some of my youthful attempts at story writing were not so bad.   I was about to pat myself on the back, but then I took a peek at the three stories that I left for last, two of which were written during the early 1960s before I went as far as taking a course in short story writing.   Reading them now I realise I was a complete novice where writing was concerned.   The heart was there, but the skill needed some drastic sharpening.   Why did I keep these stories?   Well, they were sweet and innocent, and they were very much a part of a dream I was nurturing.   And the dream did come true … eventually.
            Three short stories.   I’m inclined to call them the dregs because I deliberately left them for last.   I couldn’t face them in the beginning when I started this project, they made me cringe, and I also knew that working on them was going to be extremely taxing, mentally, emotionally and physically.   I can’t avoid it now.   They’re there; they’re the last on the list, and they’re crying out to be a part of this volume of memories even though they’re untitled and unfinished.
            Of the three there is one that was written in the latter part of the 60s.   It has a beginning, but no middle and no ending.   It strikes a powerful chord, but I haven’t the foggiest where I intended to go with it, so I shall somehow have to pick up the threads, put on my thinking cap and attempt to finish it in the same vein that it was begun.
            One of the two stories written in the early 60s is partly written and partly just dialogue with an important scene missing in the middle.   And the last one is a real Cinderella story, partly typed and partly handwritten and without an ending.   I didn’t think of it as a Cinderella story when I wrote it all those years ago, but that’s the impression I get when I read it now, and it has also become my worst nightmare.   I can’t put it in as it is, with or without an ending, and I can’t alter it too much for fear of losing the simplicity of the storyline.   It’s a more modern version of a handsome prince saving a young maiden from a life of drudgery, it’s a “feel good” story, and I can’t help liking it, but the style, though sweet, is archaic.
            So what to I do?   I haven’t decided yet.   I shall have to read it again, and perhaps it would help if I was less critical.   I have to try and remember when it was written, and under what circumstances.   I can’t help but think of my published work, and as I do so I realise that it might be good to look back at where it all began.   And, believe me, it is a humbling experience.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

My Cats

Double Trouble - Tandy & Tiggles
            Having animals is a commitment one shouldn’t make lightly.   You have to be prepared to be there for them from when you take them into your home and through to the end.   It’s a heartbreaking business, and after one such parting I told our vet, “Never again”, but two months later I was back with a new little kitten and he greeted me with the words, “Once an animal lover, always an animal lover.”
            I think I must be a sucker for punishment, but I love my animals (cats and dogs), and cats are such dignified, loving and often impossible creatures.   They own you, and not the other way around.   If you want to get along with cats then it’s important to remember that.
Tandy
            Well, after losing my two Persians within a matter of months, I was persuaded to bring another little cat into the home.   In the effort to find a suitable kitten we ended up at the SPCA in Vereeniging.   There, instead of finding one kitten, I decided to take two so that they would be company for each other.   Two sisters; the one black and white (Tandy) and the other a silver-grey and white tabby (Tiggy/Tiggles).   Their mother was a Siamese of mixed breed, but the Siamese is very prominent in Tandy.   She has the pointed face, the body shape and the loud, “I insist on being heard” voice.   These two cats are as different as chalk and cheese and they sometimes have their spats, but you will very often find them curled up somewhere together.
            Tandy is the brazen one who commands attention and also demands it from strangers, but Tiggles is the little shadow that disappears when people arrive.   They are both extremely loving and want to be stroked and touched, but don’t try to hold them.   Even when they were still tiny kittens they didn’t like that.   It seems to frighten them even if I put my arms around them without touching them.   They will get up immediately and step out of the circle, but then again they will settle themselves on top of me when I’m in bed or watching TV.
Tiggles
            The next addition to the family was a white tom with a bushy grey tail and a few black spots here and there.   My females were all neutered, but that didn’t seem to bother him, and I always knew when he was around because the ladies would come screaming into the house on a high note of panic.   I used to chase him whenever I saw him and Vernon would put the hose on him if he happened to see him in the garden, but somehow nothing helped.   Snowy had chosen us, and there was nothing we could do to change that.   It was obvious to us that his owners must have dumped him and so he stayed, but first he had to be neutered.   I took him for all his injections and the vet judged his age to be around one year.   It took a little time for Snowy to adjust to becoming a house cat.   He also had to adjust to the fact that there would be
Snowy
a steady amount of food coming his way twice a day.   He couldn’t stop eating at first, it was as if he was afraid the food would disappear, so he became extremely fat during those first few months, but then he settled down.   I also learned something with Snowy.   I was concerned that I wouldn’t love him because I didn’t have him from when he was a kitten, but I surprised myself.   I love him today just as much as I love the others.
            The last addition to our cat family is Muffy.   I named her ragamuffin when I first saw her because she looked like a dirty oil rag, and so she became Muffin (as it says on her card at the vet), but now it’s just Muffy.
Muffy - soon after arriving
            It was in May 2005 that Vernon went to the municipal dumps with our garden help, Abel, to get rid of garden rubbish, and there, amongst all the rubble, was this tiny little kitten in serious danger of being injured or killed by the huge bull dozers that were scraping up the rubbish to load on trucks.   She was not a feral cat, she was extremely tame, so we can only assume that
someone must have dumped her there.   It makes me want to weep to think that people can be so heartless.   They have cats but they don’t have them neutered and when the kittens come along they dump them if they can’t find a home for them.   Well, I didn’t want more cats, but the moment this little thing was placed in my hands she just landed straight in my heart, and she has given us so much joy that we just adore her.
Muffy - Settled in
            Muffy is our baby.   She went missing once when she was still a little kitten.   I immediately went into panic mode, but when I walked into our bedroom I saw this little bump in the centre of my bed and, when I lifted the duvet, there she was, our soft little ball of fur, sleepy-eyed and purring.   She had already put herself to bed.
            I admit that she is spoilt.   Besides her pellets she gets all the tasty little bits off our plates, and it’s a regular thing to jump up on to my lap at the breakfast table to drink a little bit of milk out of my saucer while we’re having our tea.   She is also the only one to get on my kitchen cupboards; not to steal food, but to look at what I’m doing.   She will sit there and watch me move about, and when I happen to pass her she will reach out and touch me as if to say, “I’m here.   Take notice of me.”   She can be jealous and bossy at times, but Tandy quickly puts her in her place.   She is also playful and loving, and she just loves to cuddle up close when it’s cold.
It's love
            My other cats didn’t want to know anything about Muffy when we introduced her into the family as a tiny little kitten.   They hissed at her and slapped her.   They didn’t want to be friends with Snowy either, and so a remarkable thing happened.   This tiny little Muffy ran up to this huge big male cat and threw herself down in front of him with her neck exposed, and my heart almost stopped beating.   I thought, “Uh-oh, here comes trouble,” but Snowy took one look and was smitten.   He started licking her, and right there a strong bond was formed that still exists today.
            My cats all have different natures, but they somehow all blend in to make a whole.   They are a family, and sometimes they can be really cranky, but each one is special in his or her own way.   I, of course, love each one of them for their own special qualities, and I receive a lot of love in return.   What more can one want from your animals?
  
Pearl (R.I.P)
Athena (R.I.P)
Gizmo (R.I.P)

Friday, 11 March 2011

From one extreme to the next

            We’ve been having thunderstorms just lately, which is something unusual here in PE.   We lived for so many years in Gauteng and Natal and my cats were so used to the racket that they didn’t even stir.   Now, suddenly, they are terrified and crawl into the tiniest hole to escape
the noise of the rain on the roof and the thunder.   Our little Jack Russell, Foxy, is experiencing it for the first time, and he is absolutely terrified.   When I’m sitting down he wants to be on my lap, panting and tongue hanging out, and when I get up to go somewhere he walks so close to me that he steps on my feet.   He does the same with Vernon.   He just needs to be near a human.   Poor thing.
            The thunderstorms here are, however, nothing like the ones we experienced in the provinces I mentioned.   There it was sometimes a daily occurrence, and so violent that you could smell the sulphur in the air.   I can remember that we never went to bed at night during the summer without unplugging our modems and computers in case a storm erupted in the night.   Neither did we go anywhere during the day without doing the same in case one of those sudden storms built up and knocked out everything  before you could get back home.
            I was playing bowls in the Ladies Spar Pairs at Vanderbijlpark once when there was a thunderstorm.   Now you’re not allowed off the green until the organisers make it an official announcement, but on that particular day the organisers all ran into the clubhouse to escape the storm.   And there we were, playing out in the rain with lightning flashing all around us.   We were all scared, but my Skip was the first to crack and walk off the green.   When we reached the entrance to the clubhouse everyone else had followed suit and were crowding in behind us.
             I was also playing in mixed trips in Dannhauser (Natal) one Sunday.   When we left Newcastle that morning we could already see the dark bank of clouds in the distance down Ladysmith way.   But, in case you don’t know it yet, bowlers are quite crazy.   We play in all kinds of weather.   Well, as the morning progressed the weather got worse.   By lunchtime it was already so cold I had difficulty holding my knife and fork.
            We were hardly back on the green that day when it started raining.   It was like fine sleet.   No amount of grippo on your fingers or on your bowl could stop your bowl from slipping out of your hand when you delivered it, so you had to use both hands to prevent this happening, and as the bowl travelled across the green it would kick up a fountain of water behind it.   My nose started running from the icy coldness, and the dampness on my handkerchief made it freeze in the pocket of my raincoat so that it was impossible to use it again.   The organisers finally called a halt to the game at three that afternoon and, after drinking something to warm the innards, we drove back home to Newcastle.
            What followed was the worst snowfall in history for Newcastle.   The weight of the snow on the shade cloth bent the steel framework Vernon had had erected in our vegetable garden, and all over in the town the car dealers had cars damaged under mountains of snow and steel.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Down Memory Lane

            I was watching a good movie last night and, no, it wasn’t on TV.   When was the last time you’ve seen anything really good on TV?   I pay a small fortune every month for the dish, but somehow there is very little that I enjoy watching. 
            So, as I said in the beginning, I was watching a good movie last night.   It was “STAR!”, with Julie Andrews as Gertrude Lawrence and Daniel Massey as Noël Coward.   It came on circuit for the first time in 1967-68 and was nominated for 7 Academy Awards, but, if I remember correctly, it wasn’t a wonderful box office success.   Perhaps people found the story-line boring as it was based, more or less, on Gertrude Lawrence’s rise to fame, but for a music lover, like myself, it was a dream of a movie.   There was lots of singing and dancing with numbers by Noël Coward, Cole Porter, the Gershwins and plenty more, and it took me right back to the 1940s and 1950s when musicals were very much the rage.
            When I think of all the old musicals I think of actors like Doris Day, Gordon McRae, Shirley Jones, Howard Keel, Kathryn Grayson, Jane Powell, Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, Marge and Gower Champion, Ann Miller, Red Skelton, Fernando Lamas, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, to name but a few.
            I think of movies (many of which were originally stage plays) such as Oklahoma, South Pacific, Carousel, The King and I, Show Boat, Annie Get Your Gun, Tea for Two, An American In Paris, Royal Wedding, The Great Caruso (with my all-time favourite singer Mario Lanza), Singin’ In The Rain, Kiss Me Kate, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Desert Song and … oh, I could just go on and on.   The list of musicals is endless and each one is an absolute gem.
            When I think of these movies I find myself smiling.   In the 40s and 50s when you came out of a bioscope (movie house or cinema for those of you who don’t know) you would be smiling.   There were lots of “feel good” movies during and after WW2.   And every now and then there was a real good drama that would have you in tears.   I can think of one in particular – “Madame X” with Lana Turner – they handed out tissues at the door as you went in to watch the movie.
            I find that I can’t always stomach the movies we’re shown today.   It’s heart-stopping action all the way through with all manner of violence spiced with plenty of blood and gore.   Yuck!   Who wants to remember movies like that?   It’s no wonder the world is in such a state today.   These kind of movies are fed to the children from small, and then some of them go and act it out in their schools.
            Oh, well … I’m glad I grew up in those good old times.   I have lots and lots of wonderful memories that fill me with great joy, and sometimes a little nostalgia for what is past.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

The Story Behind The Story

            As a writer I have found that certain things lend themselves to the mood of what I am writing and, in some cases, even act as inspiration.
            When I was a teenager I used to find that the creative juices would flow better and faster on a cloudy, rainy day, or on a cold, wintery day when I could curl up in bed under my eiderdown with a notepad and pencil.
            Those were still the days when I needed to be inspired to write something worthwhile.   When you start writing professionally it is quite a different matter.   It becomes a disciplined art.   You get up in the mornings, you go into your study, you pick up the threads of the story where you left it the day before, and then you write.   This doesn’t mean that you’re not inspired to write, it simply means that you don’t wait for the inspiration to make a start.   You start and the inspiration will be there quick enough.   Think of “Inspiration” as a slow, lazy fellow that rouses himself now and then when the mood is right.   But “Inspiration” is also a willing and obedient fellow when he comes face to face with determination.
            Writing is a combined effort of the heart and the mind.   The mind can do it on its own; it knows the technique and it knows how to use words creatively, but when the heart isn’t involved then what you’ve written has no soul.   I think this is what it’s like when you go through the motions of being a Christian, but Jesus doesn’t feature in your everyday life.   Your worship is hollow, meaningless, and of no use to anyone – least of all to God.
            I have always said that everything I committed to paper always started with a feeling.   It might be sad or happy, nostalgic or melancholic.   I never detailed the feeling, it just came with the story and sometimes even led to an idea that finally took shape in my mind.   I love music, especially the classics and opera, and many times the feelings awakened while listening to the music would lead to a story that simply had to be told.
            I have been spending every available moment lately editing stories and articles that were written many years ago.   Many of them were unpublished, but the reason they were never discarded was because of the story behind the story.   The story might not be very good, in fact some of them are quite silly, but as I am reading through them and editing out the glaring errors I am also reliving the feelings and the circumstances under which they were originally written.   There are memories and emotions woven into the words on those pages, many of which I cannot share with anyone either because they are too personal or run too deep, and so they are going to be bound together in a book where they might end up meaning nothing to anyone but myself.   Whatever the case might be, I am spending a memorable time reacquainting myself with the person I used to be.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Tranquility

            Whoa !! … Stop the bus, I need to get off and do some serious walking.  Have you ever stood on the beach with a shallow wave washing over your feet only to feel the sand being sucked out underneath you moments later, threatening to make you lose your balance as the wave pulls back to once again become a part of the ocean?

            There are days when everything becomes too much; days when, figuratively speaking, we feel as though we’re losing our balance, our grip on life.   To maintain that balance in our lives there has to be an ‘ebb and a flow’, a ‘coming and a going’, a ‘giving and a taking’, a rhythm, or an oscillation, if you will.   It’s when we start moving out of that natural pulse of life that we start losing control and fail to cope.
            This is when we need to put on the brakes, before we go into an almighty skid  and end up crashing, emotionally and physically.
           Take a break, look around you, and draw a deep breath.   Let God’s peace flow through you, let it heal you and refresh you.   Feel the sun on your face or the rain on your tongue.   Listen to the birds, smell the flowers, and think about the wonder of being alive in this awesome world that God created.
            ‘There is a time for everything,
            and a season for every activity under heaven.’
                                    Ecclesiastes 3:1

Monday, 28 February 2011

Thoughts !

            Thoughts are often such fleeting things.   If you don’t capture them and take a firm hold of them they will slip away and be lost for ever.
            I wished many times that I could have had my mind wired to a recorder to catch my thoughts as they entered my head.   The words that came with the thoughts were often so profound that if I didn’t write them down at once they would be lost and no matter how hard I tried afterwards I could never spin those thoughts into words in the flowing terms of their original context.
            As a writer this reality would quite often become my worst nightmare and the frustration that goes with it doesn’t always make me a nice person to live with.   Only a writer can understand what another writer goes through in the process of putting thoughts into words and to have it there in print for others to read.   Just the teeniest interruption can shatter one’s thoughts into a million pieces, like an explosion shattering fragile glass.   Poof!   It’s gone!   The words, the structure, the mood … all gone!   And to recapture it could take hours of sweating blood.
            When something like this happens you’re really not in the mood to think about what to give your family for dinner.   But – because you’re a woman – you have to think of these things.   You have to be there for your husband and your children, it’s your duty as a wife and mother, but deep down inside you’re a smouldering cauldron ready to boil over at the slightest provocation.   And why not?   Isn’t it every creative person’s right to focus on their work and to distance themselves from the mundane?
            Yes, it is.   But there’s a different set of rules for men and women.   Now that’s another story that could fill several pages.

Not my will, Lord, but Thine

            We were still living in Newcastle when the Lord started prodding me to do hospital visitation amongst the members of our church congregation, but I dug in my heels and declined.   I considered myself totally ill-equipped to do something like that, but the Lord disagreed.   The prodding continued over the years, but I would just side-step the issue with the excuse that I don’t have the necessary capabilities.
            In 2007, here in Port Elizabeth, the prodding became a nudge one Sunday morning in church, and somehow I found myself writing my name down on a piece of paper and handing it to our minister before I could change my mind.   Afterwards, of course, I wondered what on earth had possessed me to do such a thing.   I was terrified of all that it would entail, but somehow the Lord never gives us a task to perform that’s too difficult for us to handle.   He knows our capabilities better than we do and, best of all, He never sends us into a situation alone.
            After four years of visiting people in hospitals I am not immune to their pain and suffering.   I feel for them and with them.   I have walked in on people seconds before going into theatre with just enough time to say a brief prayer with them and I’ve seen the peace of the Lord come upon them in those moments.   I have been with people sitting at the bedside of a loved one who is dying, and I have been with cancer patients who know they don’t have long to live.   I stand beside their beds and I hold their hands and I am at a loss for words.   Their faces glow when they talk about their love for the Lord and how faithful and good He is, and I feel so small and insignificant.   ‘What do I say, Lord?   I’m here because you wanted me here, and now I don’t even know how to pray for this person.’   And then we link our hands and we close our eyes, and I swear that the words that pour out of my mouth are not mine but from God.
            I have a friend from our church, Veronica, who does the hospital rounds with me on a Wednesday morning.   Since August last year we have been visiting a lady in ICU who is suffering from that debilitating disease called “Guillain-Barré Syndrome”.   It attacks the nervous system and paralyses the muscles, and the healing process is painfully, and frustratingly slow.
            Christa Booth is not from here, she is from Jeffrey’s Bay, and her husband, who is eighty, can only visit her when someone can give him a lift from Jeffrey’s to PE.   The first time we saw Christa she was in a coma.   The second time she responded by turning her head slightly.   The third time we saw her she was unresponsive and her right leg was making jerky movements.   She was clearly in distress.   At the time we didn’t know yet what was wrong, we thought she had had a massive stroke, and we didn’t think we would see her alive the following week.   But, amazingly we did.   As time went by we learned the true nature of her illness, and from week to week we have been following her slow, often tedious progress.   She was incapable of closing her eyes, she was on a ventilator, and the only movement she could make was to turn her head slightly to the side.   She can now sit in a recliner, she can close her eyes to some extent but not yet 100%, she can smile and nod her head, and she can move her hands (her right hand mostly) to speak to us by indicating the letters on a board.   They now also take her off the ventilator for a certain period every day and about two weeks ago we discovered that she was also able to take a few steps with a walker, but not, of course, without assistance.
            We feel that we have walked a long road with her and we pray that we will be able to walk it with her right through to the end of the healing process.   We look forward to seeing her every week, and we know that she looks forward to seeing us.   Last week Wednesday she was moved to the Aurora Stimulation Centre.   This, in itself, is a progression that we rejoice in.
            There were times during these past months that I almost dreaded visiting with Christa.   I had prayed for her in so many different ways that I began to feel I was all out of prayer.   There was one occasion when I asked God, in private, to please give us some indication that healing was taking place.   It didn’t have to be something big, just a tiny sign would be enough.   Well, God certainly gave us the sign we wanted, and that was when we saw the walker next to her bed in ICU.   The problem of what to pray for her was also solved.   We learned that she felt the need to have the scriptures read to her, and that opened a wonderful door for us.   Now we read the bible to her when we visit, and I read the day’s lesson from the Faith For Daily Living.   Somehow, after that, the prayers come easier, and I know this is God’s doing.
            The Aurora Stimulation Centre is not in our jurisdiction.   We are only supposed to visit patients in the Greenacres Hospital and at St Georges, but we have come so far with Christa that we feel we can’t desert her now.   We’ve become friends, and we look forward to the day when we will walk in and have her speak to us instead of using sign language and the alphabet on a card.   And, please God, I pray that day is not too far off.
            Christa has been an example to us even as she sits there in her chair, or when exhaustion after physiotherapy keeps her in her bed a while longer.   She can’t function normally, she can’t even speak because of the ventilator, but there is never any sign of temperament.   There is nothing wrong with her mind, her mental faculties are all in tact, so I can only guess at her frustration, but she never complains.
            We are so quick to moan when things don’t go exactly the way we want.   It is in meeting people like Christa that we realise we have so much to be thankful for.   I also won’t stop praying that the Lord will soon release her from the physical restrictions of this disease.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Loose Ends

Filing isn’t something I enjoy doing.   I’m always threatening to do the filing at the end of every month, which never happens, but I do usually try not to leave it for longer than three months.   Last year (2010) I had very little time for myself, except for those glorious three weeks in August that I spent touring Italy and Austria with Dorette, my sister.   Other than that break away, I had little gaps here and there, but then I would be simply too tired to tackle anything as exhausting as filing !!   Well … in January, with the Christmas and New Year celebrations a thing of the past, I emptied out the trays in my study and discovered, to my dismay, that I hadn’t done any filing since July last year.   I could feel myself drooping as the weight of what lay ahead of me began to settle on my shoulders, but strangely, once I got going, it didn’t seem so bad after all.   I ended up devising a whole new filing system and at the same time got rid of stacks of papers that I’d been hoarding unnecessarily.
            It was this whole cleaning up process that got me thinking about something else that has been troubling me for a long time.   I had Short Stories (English and Afrikaans / published and unpublished) and Scribblings (articles and such) lying around all over the place.   Some were in a file in the filing cabinet, some were in a large brown envelope in another drawer of the filing cabinet, and others were in a box in my study.   I also, unexpectedly, found some saved on my computer.
            The crux of the matter is … I hate loose ends, and I have always worried that I might leave my children one day with the problem of having to sort through all my stories and scribblings and having a tough time of trying to decide what to do with them.   Well, my darlings, I am in the process of saving you that hassle.   I have gathered together everything I can find that I have written over the years and I am busy putting them on to the computer.   Some of the stories were written forty, maybe fifty years ago, so they need a little brush up here and there, but the object is to leave them as they are with all their many faults.   Some of the stories are scraps of dialogue that don’t quite make sense to me yet, and others don’t have an ending.   Worst of all, I don’t have the foggiest idea what I had had in mind all those years ago when I had initially scribbled down those first few pages.   I can’t leave them unfinished, that’s for sure, so I’m going to have to do some serious meditation to see if I can pick up the threads I had let go of so long ago.
            I am finding this all very exciting.   The idea is that, when I’m finished, the stories and scribblings will be printed and bound together in a book.   That should save you all a lot of trouble, don’t you think?   You don’t have to keep a copy either.   As it is I shan’t have many copies printed, and I shall be selective about whom I shall give one to.
            I miss the days when I used to write for Mills & Boon.   Those were the happiest years of my life.   What I am doing now is also affording me a great deal of satisfaction and, with it, has come the realisation that I am not happy when I’m not writing.   It’s a need within me that refuses to be stilled.   Not many people understand this side of me and as a result I don’t have anyone to talk to about my writing.   We writers need stimulation, and that is something only someone with the same desires can provide.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

From the Old to the New

            Okay, so now I’ve got a blog.
            What is a blog?   I don’t know.   The word doesn’t even feature in my Webster’s Third International Dictionary.   It’s a word from the “new” world and I’m still from the “old”.   All this new technology frightens me, it looks so complicated, and I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever be able to understand it all.  I can’t help wishing I was a child again.   Children seem to have a natural ability when it comes to computers, cell phones, e-books and MP3s, to mention only a few of the things on the market these days.
            I can remember, almost sixty years ago, learning to type on the old Underwood and Remington typewriters.   When you pressed the Shift key the whole carriage would lift up off its resting place to allow you to type a capital letter (a carriage, by the way, is the roller section that holds the paper you’re typing on).   On releasing the Shift key the carriage then drops back on to its resting place with a resounding crash that would make your desk shudder.   They were great big clanging machines that needed a man’s strength to move them from one place to another when necessary and it’s no wonder the typing pool was always situated at some distance from the offices of the managerial staff.
            We were taught “touch-typing”, which means we had to learn to type from a book, or a folder, without looking at our hands.   Touch-typing, in other words, had nothing whatsoever to do with a light touch.   One needed a certain mettle in ones fingers and wrists to be able to pound those keys hard enough for the little hammers to make contact with the ribbon, which, in turn, would leave the imprint of the letter on the paper.
            Typewriter ribbons came on reels and were made of a thin, rather silky material.   It would run from the reel on the left to the one on the right, and then back again.   Only the top section of the ribbon was used, so when it became too faded to leave a good imprint on the paper, or when it developed little holes (which it sometimes did), one would remove the reels, turn them over so that the unused bottom section would now be on top, and there you go – a brand new, second-hand ribbon.   They lasted for ages, much longer than the fancy cartridges of today.   Eventually, as the typewriters became fancier and less noisy, we could get ribbons that were black on top and red at the bottom.   That made typing financial statements so much easier – when someone was in the red you could type the figures in red.
            In 1960 Vernon very kindly bought me a portable Olivetti typewriter – a pink one – and this was my pride and joy for a long time.   The keys were just so small and close together that I quite often caught my fingers between the keys if I typed too fast, and so I was constantly nursing raw fingers.   It was on the Olivetti that I typed my first few published manuscripts, and with my first Royalty cheque I bought myself a normal sized Facit.   From the Facit I finally progressed to an electric typewriter – nothing scary about that – but then came the era of the Word Processor.
            I recall being terribly nervous when the word processor was delivered and demonstrated to me.   I thought then that I would never be able to understand how it functions, but once I’d calmed down I realised that the manual that came with it gave very simple, step-by-step instructions that helped me through the sticky patches until I was comfortable with this new, modern invention.   It was a luxury in the sense that I didn’t have to retype my manuscripts after editing and making changes.   The latter was all done on the processor and then it would print it out for me – all I had to do was feed the paper into it at the end of every page.   As with most things, there was a down-side to this for me.   I was terribly concerned that I would lose some of my work if the word processor should develop a glitch, and as a result I always made sure that I kept a printed copy of everything I wrote.    As a matter of fact, I now have a computer and I still don’t trust it not to lose my work somewhere along the way.   All this talk of motherboards crashing and goodness knows what else simply scares me silly.
            Well, I’ve survived the ordeal, and I’ve walked the road from feeling stupid to coping with all this modern technology.   And now I’m back to where I started with this episode.
            And so I’ve got a blog.   And, I guess, in time to come I’ll wonder why I thought I wouldn’t be able to cope.