Death

No one really likes to think or talk about death. I don’t mean death in the abstract or horror film way, but real, tangible, this is going to happen way.

Although I am determined to live a long life, another 40 years at least, I can’t help but think that from now on it’s always going to be there, waiting for the next fight.

Cancer has made me and those around me realise that I’m tougher than I look, but it has also made me more aware of my own mortality. It was something I always took for granted, living. I still daydream about the cottage in the hills, by some lake in the Lake District or in North Wales or some seaside town with easy access to an airport to that hubby can get to the Alps easily. It has always been the same. Mountains for him, proximity to water for me. We ended up in London because this is where I wanted my career to flourish, and it did. I wanted to take advantage of all that London had to offer. Parks, theatre, ballet, opera, gigs, pubs, restaurants, etc, etc. I made very good use of it all in the five years we’ve been here, before Cancer and a pandemic locked me in the house. I’m glad for those years and I’m happy in my home with its comforts and garden and homegrown veg and big screen TV and two loving but needy cats. My world is complete.

Yet, even though I’ve had a second reprieve from the Big C, and I’m taking full advantage of the time I have, I feel like I’m always ready, always looking over my shoulder or eyeing my blood results with suspicion. When will I be called upon to fight again? Be assured, I fully intend to fight. Fuck you cancer, you don’t get to win, has been my mantra. That hasn’t changed.

Yet, I still catch myself thinking of my parents and others in my life. I don’t want anything to happen to them, but the natural order of things dictates that they should go first. No, I don’t want my parents to die. Not now, not ever, but someday they will and anything happening to me or my brother would finish them off. How do we reconcile that? I sometimes look at the ring my mother gave me when I graduated university and think, which niece will inherit it? Ideally, I want to give my things to my nieces and nephews while I’m still alive. I want to enjoy the feeling of seeing their surprise or the satisfaction of knowing it got to them without a will or other piece of paper telling them that it was meant for them all along.

I also think of people who have died during this pandemic and those particularly brave people who have carried on and cared for the sick or kept us fed my keeping the wheels turning. Death has always been there. It’s the natural order of things, but unnatural death, through illness, accidents, suicide or murder, those are the cruelest things of all. The unexpected might spare one the pain (hopefully) and trauma of death, but it’s the biggest cheater of all when it comes to saying what you really think before it’s over. I forgive you, please forgive me, I love you, I’m sorry, don’t vote Republican, the money is in my copy of Great Expectations, you’re adopted and your real parent’s address is in the desk, your grandmother’s cookie recipe is in the pocket of my kitchen apron, please donate to PETA, you get my jewellery but your sister gets my designer wardrobe, go to Australia for a trip since I never made it, I’m going to haunt you if you even think of remarrying, keep adopting cats, etc, etc.

I’m joking now, but not really. I’m going kicking and screaming, I’m going out scratching, spitting and fighting someday, but not yet, not yet. I just know that’s going to happen someday, the trick is to get as much done as possible before the fucker calls back.

Be honest…but kind

WordPress allows you to set the time and date of posts. I could back date anything I write. It was tempting to put something together this morning and set it to yesterday so that I wouldn’t have a gap, but that would be cheating. 😉 Kidding, I wasn’t tempted, but I was disappointed with myself for not writing yesterday.

I remember what I say a lot of the times I feel inadequate, just show up.

Here I am, showing up and trying to work out what to write about, which is what I think about most days. One of the things I’m studying is how to craft creative non-fiction. There are stories I want to tell about my family, some still living, some long gone. It’s not just my family, though, it’s also my mother’s family. Do I therefore have the right to discuss my thoughts on my family based on the stories my mother told me? I feel like it’s something I need to ask permission for. I have a lot of my own stories, but there’s something compelling about what my mother went through growing up and the family dynamics in her immediate family, mother, brothers, sisters, father, grandmother, were fascinating and a bit scary. There’s a lot of drama there and I know I could do it justice and treat it with sensitivity, but I’d still be afraid of my mother’s reaction. So, what happens when if she says no? Better ask sooner rather than later.

I could write about my first time in the UK, how I met my husband within a week of arrival, got engaged within 2 months, the fact that we both had other partners at the time, our wedding after six months of meeting, our two years in San Francisco and the reactions of our friends and families. We got married on April Fool’s Day too, which made some people think we were kidding. That’s not a bad idea. I think I found my plan B.

Try writing a family history from a first person POV. Just a scene to begin with and see where it takes you. Be honest, but kind.

Just write

My morning pages have turned into evening pages, but the important thing is that I showed up.

I’ve been on a new drug I begged my GP for; Zoplicone. This was after months and months of having a fucked up sleep cycle. I now understand why some countries use sleep deprivation as a torture device. Anyway, I got the Zoplicone (highly addictive, I only get a week) and now I’m rested. The one down side is that I slept too late and by the time I got myself ready for the day, it was lunchtime. The morning pages took a back seat to a fruit and cream of wheat concoction I put together and that was that. Then Rear Window, my favourite film, was on TCM, so another delay.

The excuses can keep coming, as they often do. As a writer, there always seems to be something that it preventing you from writing. It’s too hot, too cold, the room isn’t tidy enough, you can’t find your favourite pen, the cat litter needs changing, the laundry needs doing, etc, etc…

The hard part is yanking yourself off the settee, turning off Masterchef US or Bridgerton and just writing something, anything. So here I am. The cat litter has been cleaned, the laundry is on the go, the film is over and I have just under an hour before I have a yoga session. So what if I fill that hour typing nonsense. If I keep typing nonsense, maybe, in time, if I’m lucky, it will start to mean something.

I look up at the tan, circular lampshade hanging from the ceiling in my study. It sways gently, though there’s no open window to provide a breeze. Then, it hits me, the slight draft is coming from the warm air blown from my electric fake fireplace. It’s just enough to make the lampshade sway. It reminds me of the Northridge earthquake in the late 90s. I was still living at home and it was early morning when it struck. We felt it all the way in Yucaipa, some 60 miles or more away. I was awakened by the tremor, then from getting hit by falling stuffed animals that were on the shelves that lined the room, a foot and a half from the ceiling. Care Bears were flying and I knew at once it was an earthquake. I went to the doorway and called to my parents, where were also awake and within a few seconds, it was over. Nothing broken, no harm done. So we thought. My brother was living in LA at the time. His possessions were not so lucky. Glasses and plates, knickknacks and books flew from his shelves and ended on the floor in a broken heap. His building had shifted a foot off its foundation and he was forced to move. A part of the freeway collapsed and a few people died. It was big, but we still haven’t had the Big One. When I lived in San Francisco in the mid-90s, I waited for it. We had a few tremors, and I chuckled at those who had never experienced an earthquake before, like my husband. Being English, storms and flooding is the worst they get. in any case, I’m sure California is due for one soon. The last catastrophic quake to hit San Francisco was in 1908, so one is well overdue. I wonder what will go when that happens? The bridge, Pier 39, the Marina, Coit Tower, The Transamerica pyramid, the Bay Bridge? I hope not. It still one of my favourite cities and though I will never lie anywhere but England again (really doubt I could be tempted elsewhere), it was one of the happiest times of my life. I was a student, I was a newlywed, everything was new and the city was full of possibilities. I wish I new how much those years would mean to me before I left. I would have paid more attention, dome a few things differently. But, isn’t that what everyone says in hindsight? Just the same, when this lockdown is over, I’m going back to California to see my family and I’m adding a few days to SF onto the trip.

See you tomorrow.

Morning Pages

In one of the many writing guides I’ve purchased over the years, I discovered the concept of “Morning Pages”. The idea is that you wake up and immediately starting writing. Your mind is uncluttered and you might still be half asleep, but it’s the best time to write unfiltered. So, here I am, trying to form yet another good habit to keep me writing and to keep me sane during these weird times.

You know, everyone keeps saying that these are difficult times. They are. Everyone has their own coping mechanism. I write, read and sew. I’m trying to watch less TV, not always successfully, but that way I don’t feel lie this time locked in the house is wasted. I don’t believe you have to be overly productive at a time like this, nor do I think you hold judge anyone who only wants to get through their virtual work day and spend the rest of the time watching Netflix. I’m lucky, I have time. Unlucky, because it don’t to medical issued, but I need to turn a frown upside down somehow.

For some people, the hardest part much be not being able to visit loved ones. That’s probably the toughest for me too. I want to see my parents desperately. I want to be in my home in California, lecturing my Mom about eating right and exercise and playing with my Dad’s drones. I want to be in the kitchen teaching Dad my new recipes and cooking for them while dad and I tuck into one of the 35 bottles of Scottish whiskey I’ve brought him over the years. One year I brought him an Irish one, but it just wasn’t the same. Jura gave me my first whisky hangover. I spent the evening having one dram after another watching old episodes of the “Twilight Zone” on their version of Netflix. The next thing I new, it was 6am and I had the mother of all headaches. Netflix in the US, by the way, has different stuff than we do in the UK. FYI.

I spoke to my family on Sunday via Zoom. It’s awkward sometimes. My brother gets impatient with my parents and I can feel the tension between my Mom and Dad. She’s bored and lonely and looks about ready to break a vase over his head. I want to tell her to be calm and sort herself out, not to put everything on his shoulders. I think she forgets sometimes that he’s going to be 80 years old this year and she depends on him him entirely. Dad can be frustrating, a control freak and too opinionated sometimes and he treats her like a child, but she also helped creat this dynamic. I’m frustrated with both of them, but I’m still so grateful to have them both in my life. Imperfect as things are, I miss my parents.

I’m sure there is more that I could write, but I’m feeling awake now. The old worries are creeping in and I’m feeling less free.

Morning pages can be as long or as short as you need them to be. Today, I’ve said the first things that came to mind. I didn’t dream, so there’s nothing to report there. Though, I do keep having a reoccurring dream about my hair. Could be a subconscious response to the trauma of losing my hair thanks to Chemo, but it’s MAK now and down to my shoulders, you’ll be happy to hear

Also, morning pages should have no self editing. Don’t matter if the grammar is wonky or the punctuation is a bit all over the place, just write and see what comes out.

Have a good day. See you tomorrow.

12 Feb 2021 – Daily Post

It has been months since I posted anything here, but I got my domain renewal recently and I thought, best make use of it. The work I’ve been doing of late is all about creative non-fiction. How do we take stories from life and present them truthfully, while maintaining ethics and accuracy. If it is someone else’s story, how do we tell it when we weren’t there? These re questions that trouble me, but are important if one wants to be true to the writing and the story.

I’ve trying to find a subject for a 2000 word essay, but it has to based in reality. Do I talk about my quick marriage, my cancer, my family? I’m inclined to discuss my family as they offer a wealth of anecdotes and a level of emotional depth that the other two subjects off, but to one extreme or the other. Quick marriage offers fun and crazy, but cancer is a downer. I think that is left for when I’ve run out of things or write about. I think I’ll for us on some of the stories my mother told me about her mother and their tough upbringing in Mexico. You want to see what a fucked up family looks like, look no further. Grandmother and mother excepted, they all sounded awful. Ok, Aunt Irma is the exception.

Still, from which perspective do I tell this story? I think its probably most useful if I tell it from my POV and insert my other’s voice when it makes sense.

In the meantime, I have also been evading loads. I’ve been trying to read 100 books this year and so far, I’m up to 14. I think I have every chance of making it. It’s not the end of the world if I don’t make it, but I want to have something to shoot for and this is going to help me stay focused. More than the number, I think it would be a good opportunity to read those classics I’ve always meant to get around to, but never mustered the eatery to try. Anything my Salman Rushdie and Tolstoy need to be on the list, surely.

If you’re wondering how I’m getting on, have a look at the 2021 Book list. There are the highlighted books I’ve managed so far. Not bad, if I do say so myself. 🙂

Enjoy.

October 2020

So, here we are. The year has been a total shit show and it shows no signs of slowing down. The pandemic is in its seventh month and restrictions are increasing across the UK. London and my borough are in tier 2 restrictions and I wonder whether or not we’re going to be able to travel to Oxford to collect Mum to have us with her over Christmas. No one knows. The cases are rising every day and Boris is being useless. We’re at over 20,000 cases per day, which is worse than when the pandemic first reached our shores.

The US is still racking up cases and deaths and thanks to their uncoordinated efforts, the lack of listening to science and the downplaying of the seriousness of the virus has cost them over 220,000 lives. My parents are still being cautious and fortunately, they were always sort of shut-ins anyway, so there isn’t so much upheaval where they’re concerned. I continue to be grateful for Zoom and FaceTime to see how they’re doing every week.

The US election is 10 days away and I’m cautiously optimistic that Biden will will and get rid of that sociopath in the White House. Still, if this last four years has taught me anything, its that my countrymen are capable of self-sabotage and there are more vile, racist, ignorant morons out there that I had ever thought possible. Watch this space.

Now, I don’t want anyone to think that everything has been doom and gloom. (Though, externally, it has). There are a few things to be happy about. My cancer is retreating again and I’m nearly back to normal. I’m tired and sleep is something I’m always chasing, (thank you pharmaceuticals) but things are looking up.

I’m studying Critical Reading with the Oxford Extended Learning program and I’m in the first unit of Creative and Critical Writing at Birkbeck. It means a lot of reading, but it’s something I enjoy and is not too taxing for my energy levels thus far.

Everyone continues to be supportive and I finally feel like I have enough energy to write again. (Hence the blog revisit)

We’ve been reading a lot of books that deal with social issues. From the depletion of fossil fuels and the rise of stupidity thanks to over dependence on automation (Pump Six) to the AIDS crisis of the 80s and the undercurrent of homophobia in Thatcher’s England (The Line of Beauty) and the rise of fungal diseases (plants getting back at us) in the novel Rosewater. These have all been excellent, and for the first time, the books I’m reading are more overt in their cautionary tales. Books should entertain, but the really valuable ones make us question our society. although “Pump Six” was only a short piece, it is a chilling commentary about where we’re heading as a society. We’re already seeing evidence of dumbing down and I doubt many of us could fix most of the things we’re dependent on if we had to. We rely on plumbers, electricians, doctors, engineers, etc, but these professions feel like their more and more specialised, and not as glamour our or rewarding financially that finance, etc. The advent of “influencers”, instant celebrity of nothing more than showing up on a reality TV show and the hero worship of overpaid sportsmen with little education off the football pitch makes me worry that young people have fewer and fewer role models that have actually achieved anything for their fellow man. I’m rambling, but these books are making me more aware of what an uphill battle we have to improve our lot before its too late.

I know this is meant to be a reading and writing blog and not just a place for me to rant, but in order for me to write about what I feel is meaningful, I feel like its important to provide a state of play. This is were we are as of 23 Oct 2020. I’ve just had another birthday, for which I am grateful, and the fate of our planet is at risk. A lot is being decided in the coming days. In the US, we have an election, a Supreme Court appointment the Republicans are trying to push through (unqualified Christian fundamentalist that will role back civil rights) and in the UK, we looking down the barrel at a no-deal Brexit and all of this is happening in the midst of a pandemic that show no signs of slowing down. it’s not quite the end of days, but there’re is change in the air and I feel much is at risk at the moment.

So, for now, stay safe, wear a mask, be nice to people and read a lot. That’s all I’ve got for now. Good luck.

Part 1

I sometimes think I’m like Elizabeth Bennet. I’m paraphrasing, but I never feel like I can write or say anything unless I’m going to utter something that will astonish the whole room. Therein lies my mistake. I think I have nothing to say that is deep and worthwhile, but how can that be? How can I have lived through all of my adventures and have no comment? As it turns out, I have plenty to say, I just have to stop censoring myself.

Of course, like most aspiring writers, there’s a fear of revealing too much, fear of insult or need to justify opinion. So, why bother? Why live in fear if you can not be honest and bold in your writing? Are we (I) so afraid of embarrassment and misunderstanding that I’m prepared to go to my grave without saying what I think? No, It’s not worth it. I have no kids, no legacy except my family who will also someday shuffle of this mortal coil and then what? I would be as if I hadn’t existed at all. Some might think that is no great tragedy, but for my part, I begin to find it terrifying. I must exist. I must be remembered and imagined and something of my life must linger. Egotistical, perhaps, but there it is.

I believe the easiest thing to do is to begin with the basics and start from there. Here are the vitals, the things you write on a job application or a census sheet. My name is Eliza Dashwood nay, Ruvalcaba. My parents, probably sensing that I would have a hard enough time with my other two names, chose not to provide a second option in the form of a middle name. My brother got one, but unfortunately, it wasn’t one that would be useful as an alternative to his given first name if he didn’t like it. So, there we were, two kids with “Z”s in their names. I have one excellent sibling, but more on that later.

I’m from California. If people ask, I usually say I’m from “near Palm Springs” since it’s a place most people have heard of. In truth, I was raised in San Bernardino . When I was small, we lived in a nice neighbourhood where all the houses were single story and what a Brit would call a bungalow. There were little strip malls with shops and a single supermarket. My mother bought our clothes at a boutique called “Baby News” and as we became pre-teens, Miller’s Outpost was the height of hip. The shopping mall was “downtown” and all the local cinemas were single screen. The “Pussycat theatre” still existed and my innocent mind could’ve conceive of what “XXX” meant. Across the main road at the end of our park was Parris Hill park and to me, the hill seemed steep and unclimbable. I can now see that it was probable no more than 100 metres to the top. I learned to swim, if my splashing in despair can be called that, at the local YMCA and my mother, sitting a few feet from the edge of the pool, threw her car keys into the pool for me to retrieve. What she probably doesn’t know even to this day, is the while I held my nose and dipped my head under water, I felt for them with my toes and transferred them to my failing fist with my eyes firmly squinted shut. I hated water in my face and that is something that has never really changed. So, thanks Mom, but I now swim just enough to keep myself from drowning in a paddling pool, but I think I need a vest or rubber arm bands in open water.

* * * * *

One of my earliest memories of childhood has me standing, leaning against my father’s knee trying to articulate what I know now was the abstract concept of imagination. He sat there, in a big upholstered chair one evening, a rare time when he wasn’t working on his model planes in the garage after dinner, with me the sole focus of his attention. It was probably circa 1979, when the greatest movie ever made was Star Wars and its paraphernalia littered every child’s bedroom. Model toys and lunchboxes cluttered my brother’s half of the closet floor and I wanted nothing more than to watch it again and again.

As he put his arm around me and leaned in to listen to me, my baby six year old voice squeaked in his ear, “TaTa, when I close my eyes and think hard, I can see pictures!” He smiled at me and said “Si, como, que miras?”

I tried to contain my excitement as I tried to explain what I saw. “You know, if I close my eyes, I can see R2D2! Just like if he’s right there.” I said pointing at nothing but air across our living room. “Can you see him?” I asked, still pointing. I can still see my father smiling as he closed his eyes nodding, “Oh yeah…yeah, si lo miro.”

I was excited that my Dad shared my vision of my imaginary droid. I can still remember with perfect clarity how he humoured his tiny girl, with her questionable straight black fringe and pink corduroy jeans, clinging to him before he sent her off to bed. It was past bedtime, but in my excitement to share my discovery, he listened to me. That’s how I discovered what that word was, that creation of a perfectly formed picture in my mind’s eye; imagination. I went to my little twin bed across from the room I shared with my brother happy that night.

So, here is the start. I’ll add a little more every day, and who knows, maybe I’ll learn something about myself in the telling. X

Self Isolation: Day number, who the Hell knows?

I’ve been i the house for about three months now. I ventured out for 1 day to have a scan and a blood test. I have another one tomorrow, so I get the treat of venturing out in the car into London to visit my oncologist’s Harley Street office for another blood test. Drive, in, wait, blood taken, out, drive home. It’s tragic when I look forward to a drive that leads to something tedious, but there it is, we live in a new reality.

In my last post, I said it wasn’t the end of days and although I still believe this is merely a bad patch, it does feel like we’re on the verge of something. Apart from the awful business of Covid-19, there are riots and protests globally in support of Black Lives Matter and a stand against racial inequality and against police brutality. I’m in total support of that movement and it’s about time, but I worry that for everyone’s good and noble intentions, we might be seeing a resurgence of the virus with everyone packed together on the streets. These are strange times we’re living in. Still, I try to do m part. I sign petitions and I sew masks and scrubs for the the NHS and i keep my head down and try not to make a fuss. I don’t complain that I can’t get a haircut, though some people see that as a serious infringement on their liberties. Sad. What spoilt and fickle creatures we are. What little discomfort we can tolerate!

So, now I write, sew and tend the garden, something I never thought I would do. I’m going to be up to my ears in home grown courgettes, tomatoes, spinach, peppers and onions. I see myself harvesting everything and putting vegetables out on the end of the drive for my neighbours to scavenge before too long.

I have been reading a great deal, as my Book List page will indicate, but I haven’t written much. This, I intend to change. Starting today.

For now, I will lay down a challenge: In this three months of madness, what have you learned? It can be something about yourself, a new skill or an observation on human beings in crisis. Try writing about a character stuck in isolation and give them a crisis to be overcome while they’re alone in the house. How do they cope and what do they do? How does being completely alone when one is in trouble affect one mentally, physically, morally?

Enjoy.

Emergency! It’s the end if days! (just kidding, it’s not)

I went to the supermarket this morning and it was like something out of a horror film. The big brand stuff was all there, but the basics, like toilet paper, dried pasta, rice and long life milk were all nearly gone. I saw a man pushing a trolley with bottled water, booze and about five 9-roll packs of loo roll. Really? Yes, this virus is something to be cautious about, but the way people are stock piling, you’d think we were gearing up for a real life version of 28-days later…

It made me think, it you had to self quarantine (including no internet, deliveries, etc) what would you eat and what would you do? Have a look in the pantry and describe what’s there. Imagine being totally alone with  only what you have right now and no internet connection. Write about the idea of being alone for two weeks and what that means for you. Is it daunting or an opportunity?

Sick Day

The cats nestle at my feet and there’s a mug of hot lemon squash and honey, my fifth, on the bedside table. The home shopping channels have been on the TV in the background all day and there’s a pile of books on the bed beside me.

The books are of different genres and lengths and today, I spent as much time reading their back covers and flipping through them as I have reading their contents. My brain is caught in a squash game, the ball, my concentration. It flies against the wall of reading and bounces back to the TV, finally settling on the intense activity that requires the utmost dedication and attention, petting the cats.

This is how I spend my time when I’m stuffed full of cold and my nose-breathing is laboured. Sudafed is my friend, productivity,the enemy. I feel guilty because I want to spend each day doing something useful, but I can’t. So I sit then lie against the pillows, then sit up again. Back and forth in a constant effort to get comfortable.

The shopping channel is something I never watch, but today, it’s a comfort. It reminds me of my Mom, who spent her extra money on shiny objects, gold chains and silver earrings, bangles and zirconia rings when I was young. Never looking after herself in terms of wardrobe, but constantly on the lookout for bling, she reminds me when I see her that her jewellery box holds my inheritance. I laugh and tell her I’d rather have her than her hoard. Still, QVC reminds me of her and the times she looked after me when I was ill. Constant boxes of grape juice,orange juice, apple juice and any other fluids she could force down me so that I felt like I was peeing away my fever. Thanks Mom, the lesson stuck and I’m on litre 3 of water and tea.

There’s a faux leather skirt on the home shopping channel. I’m tempted, then look at my open wardrobe that’s bulging. I don’t really have many shined objects, but I can go a year without wearing the same thing twice. I’ve added another “to do” on my list. Clear out, up-cycle, donate…

There’s something both comforting and lonely about being alone under the covers when you’re ill. I feel the need for quiet to allow myself to recover and yet, I wonder what the rest of the world is up to.

What is it you do to feel better when you’re ill? What memories does illness conjure up for you?

Hope you’re feeling fine, happy writing.

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