Back to winter

Guy in Lyft: How are you?

Me: I’m hot. I’m heading back to Australia today so I’m wearing my warm clothes.

GIL: Is it cold in Australia?

Me: Yes, it’s winter in Australia, it’s going to be freezing.

GIL: Oh, I’m sorry, I’m an arts major, I have no idea about these science things.

Hilarious.

I’ve had other conversations where people have asked me what the weather is like in Australia. I find that a difficult question to answer – Australia is a big place with all the kinds of weather you could want. I think I usually manage to get that across.

The Lyft driver and I went on to talk about how he’s an illustrator and wants to work in comics but that he needs to work on his writing skills. It was a very cool conversation and I pointed him to some podcasts that I am pretty sure he will forget but I hope he remembers.

It is one of the fun things here that everyone you meet is either a part of, or trying to be a part of the entertainment industry. The lady who runs the café near us is a writer, the driver is an illustrator, and so on. I’m sure that not everybody is part of the industry but it sure has felt like it.

I decided to visit the little church near me this morning – Silverlake Community Church. They were great people. Sometimes the little churches are the best. I felt right at home there. Morning tea after the service was coffee (and decaf) with vanilla creamer (too sweet) and some apple pie (yum). The blessing talked about going home rejoicing, which I thought was appropriate.

So now we’re working, Cath and I, and cleaning her house, and getting ready to go. The cats are aware now that something is happening and they are hiding in the bathroom. They are clever, are cats. But they will be ok.

The next post should be from Australia. See you then.

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Unintended Seasons

Universe says no

You might be saying, ‘Ok Ruth, that’s all well and good, but I had plans, good plans, and I’ve put aside time to follow them, and I’m going fine down the road and I’ve just hit a massive road block. What now?’

What happens when life says no to you? When you’ve done all the right things, followed all the steps for success, held on until the season seemed right, gone for it, and then…BAM. When the amount of flexibility you need to deal with what life throws at you is about the same as a roller-skater going under the limbo pole that’s 10 cm off the ground?

I haven’t really gone through this myself, but you might be able to take some tips from what my mother has gone through.

My mother is a concert pianist. As kids we took it for granted. Didn’t everyone go and watch their mother perform? Hadn’t everyone’s mother been recorded and played on ABC radio? No, of course not, we knew that, but it takes a while for kids to appreciate how special their own mother’s talent is, I think. I found out recently that at 15 years of age my mum won a concerto contest and played a movement of Beethoven’s first piano concerto with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. That’s pretty impressive if you ask me, and there were many more triumphs to follow.

Mum’s playing sometimes took a front seat, like when she and Dad moved to the USA for ten years to work with the Christian Performing Arts Fellowship, and sometimes it took more of a back seat, like when she was raising us kids. It was always a joint decision between Mum and Dad as to which direction they took their lives.

But some years ago now, when Mum and Dad were in the USA, they noticed an increased stiffness and weakness in Mum’s right arm and hand. It didn’t go away so they came back to Australia to start looking into medical options. Mum was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.

It was really frustrating for her. She could still play beautifully and better than most people, but she couldn’t play to the standard that she wanted to. The concerts and recordings were taken away from her and it definitely wasn’t her choice.

Sometimes seasons change for us and we don’t want them to at all. But we still have a choice as to how we deal with that situation.

Don’t get me wrong. You need to grieve when you have something like that ripped away from you. It’s not fair, and it’s definitely not fun.

But, well, I’ll show you what Mum did.

She changed her focus. She still played piano but she chose to use this moment to focus on another part of music that was very close to her heart – choral work.

At the moment Mum leads two choral groups and is part of a third. One choir leads the singing at the church where she is music minister, one choir performs in old people’s homes and regional festivals and all sorts of places, one choir does more semi-professional oratorio works. Mum is still surrounded by music and still giving so much to the people around her.

Sometimes life says no to you. The trick seems to be finding the new thing in the new season that can give you life and fulfilment. Being grateful for what you still have (no matter how small) and being able to reach out to others through that.

I have another friend Mandy who has been crippled with chronic fatigue. She is unable to work, unable to do anything most days but sit in the garden and occasionally walk to the end of her driveway. But somehow she still manages to post little tidbits and photos on Facebook that enrich the lives of those of us who read them.

Nobody wants these seasons. They are no fun. They are not what we planned and not what we’d do if we were in charge. If you are going through something like this I am so sorry.

I hope that you can find a spark to help you through it, maybe a change of plan, maybe a little joy that you can give to others, or maybe there’s another way of coping that I don’t know about – feel free to post in the comments if you have wisdom to share. I hope that I can remember some of this (or that someone will gently remind me) if I become the one stuck in the roadblock.

We have a special treat today – Mandy has given me two of her poems about this roadblock stage in her life to share with you.

So This – Lot’s Wife.
By Mandy Langlois

Like Lot’s wife I stand
Petrified
For an eternity
Looking back at the destruction
Wondering at the enormity of the loss
Caught between what was what is and what might have been…

So this is what it feels like to be
Turned to a pillar of salt.

The sharp sting of it.

The cruel toxic cut
searing the soul’s tongue with acid intent.

Crammed in, rammed in
Enshrined
Entombed
Buried alive

Captured, caught
Mortified, fossilised, immortalised…
A moment becomes a day,
Becomes a year
Becomes eternity.

Night Vision
by Mandy Langlois

Give me night vision,
let me sing in the dark.
When my eyes are closed,
let me sense light beyond my own limitations.

Let hope lead me and be my guide,
even when fear is my companion.
Let me know there is a path leading to a place of peace.
Let me find my way to believe again.        

The night bird is singing alone in the dark,
her song is a melody of life,
of strength
and of beauty.

If you want to read more of Mandy’s work, her Facebook page is called Mandy’s Book Nook. As always, I encourage you to sign up on WordPress to get this blog delivered to your email inbox, or to drop me a line on rijamos@gmail.com to get my regular writerly email. And again, the wonderful artwork for these posts is from @deteor42 on instagram. 

Seasons

Priorities

Earlier this year when I was trying to figure out what to say no to I made a mind-map of my life. I divided it up into sections – family, church, work, writing, and health. In each section I put the activities that I wanted to include and make time for and I used that map as a method of saying no to those things that didn’t fit in the segments.

It was a good way of seeing what there already was prioritised in my life and of figuring out what things just didn’t fit into my priorities. A way of looking at what I valued, and a way of testing each opportunity as it came.

It wasn’t that long ago that I filled in this mind map but I can already see things that no longer fit my life. For example, one of the planned tasks under ‘work’ was to apply for a new position that I knew would be advertised at my workplace this year. This position was an opportunity I had been waiting for for years. I thought it would fulfil my desire for permanency and security and I was ready to go for it.

In the, I don’t know, three or four months since I completed the mind-map my ideas completely changed. I no longer want to apply for the job. I wouldn’t accept it if it were handed to me on a silver platter. I’m ready to change direction and so grateful that I’m not locked into a long term position.

I often get sucked into what I call ‘The Enid Blyton Mindset’. The idea that if you get everything under control, get into the right school, job, or relationship, or have a certain amount of money saved, or figure out the right exercise routine, or somehow just get every area of your life just right, then you’ll live “Happily Ever After”.

Of course, it doesn’t work like that. Things are constantly changing. Your exercise routine might work really well until you get sick, or the amount of money you have for a buffer might be exactly right until your car breaks down and it all gets used up. Life is particularly skilled at throwing spanners in the works. We need to be flexible, constantly changing, constantly growing.

Some seasons of life are particularly hard. One of the seasons of life that I found especially draining was when my children were small. As much as I loved my children (and still do), it was all I could do just to get through each day. I lived in a constant state of exhausted fog. I don’t think that I could have done any writing when the kids were small, even though it is the thing that gives me life and joy now. It just would not have fit into that season of my life.

The thing I’m trying to say is that our needs and wants can change over time. It’s not that we have one perfect life set-up that we are struggling towards and when we get there it will be bliss. No, I think we need to be flexible with ourselves and take the time to have a good hard look at where we are every so often so that we can adjust our list of priorities. What was once so very important may now be dropped off the list. If a new priority (maybe taking care of ageing parents) comes on to the list, other priorities (the morning tea roster at church) might have to be knocked off. Or it might just be time, like it is now for me, to deliberately change your life so that a new major priority can get major chunks of time.

What do you think of the idea of seasons? Is it time for a change in your life? Or are you just hanging on to see a certain season through and wondering if things will ever change?

I am saying no to things this year in order to spend more time on my writing. This post is part of a series I am writing about what I have learned about saying no. I’d love to have you join me on this journey. If you want to make sure you never miss a post, you can sign up on WordPress and the post will be sent to your email address every week without fail. I apologise for the lateness of this week’s post. I’d like to blame anyone else, really, but it’s my fault. Life happened. We’ll try again next week!

I am also writing a cosy mystery and it’s coming to the pointy end now. If you would like to hear more about the writing process, and see the cover reveal, drop an email to rijamos@gmail.com and I’ll add you to my newsletter list. The newsletters are chatty, with a writing-focus, and only come out monthly so they won’t clog your in-box.

You’ll notice some special art in this series. If you want to see more of it you can find the artist on instagram @deteor42. Today the artist says the art is very millennial but I’m sure all us older ones can still relate.