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.