But what if you've just been diagnosed with breast cancer?
Everyone is decorating their homes, shopping for gifts, buying up large for Christmas dinners and celebrations, and going to end-of-year parties … there's an air of fun, frivolity, and summer plans.
You have been given a diagnosis of breast cancer.
The impact of a diagnosis changes our perspective during the festive season. Instead of wondering whether to serve roast potatoes, or potato salad with the ham, it’s “How can I celebrate when I have breast cancer?”, “Will I feel well enough to do anything at all with my family?”, and “What is going to happen to me?” … and all the while the cheery emails and cards keep arriving, Great Aunt Maude and mad Uncle Charlie will be there any minute, the helter-skelter build up to The Big Day continues, and you’re left standing on the sideline, exhausted, frightened, panic-stricken, sad, and feeling almost every other emotion it is possible to experience.
First off, allow yourself to vent those feelings, thoughts, and emotions. People do at Christmas time, and while yours may not be so jolly, giving yourself permission to express them – laugh, cry, get mad – reflects that old maxim ‘better out than in’. Keep the communication going with those close to you.
Acknowledge that this Christmas will be different. You may not be able to keep up some of the traditions, and that’s OK. Christmas is often the time when we feel we must please everyone, make sure our family and friends are cared for, fed well, and enjoy themselves. Mad Uncle Charlie may need to stay with your sister for a bit.
Make a plan with family and friends, decide what you feel able to do, and what you aren’t up to doing. Having a plan takes some of the stress away, and also gives you a response when someone suggests what they feel you should be doing. Remember it’s about you and it is your right to choose the best approach that nurtures your well being and healing and does not cause more tension.
Accept invitations if you’d like to, and say that you may leave early, or not attend, depending on how you feel on the day.
Take time out each day to acknowledge what is happening. All too often over the holiday period there will be an invitation to “swallow it back” and “not rock the boat” for others. All very admirable, but a quiet half hour each day to focus in on your own experience will keep you grounded and sane.
Indulge, be kind to yourself, do something that you may not normally do. A diagnosis can make us feel angry – at ourselves, at God, whoever – and we can feel out of control. Self-nurture helps us take things back into our own hands and smooth the way a bit.
It is OK to say ‘no thank you’ if you’re not up to it, and ‘yes please’ to offers of help. Sometimes people don’t really know what is needed, so tell them. Perhaps they can assist with some pre-Christmas shopping, or lend a hand with the housework, meal preparation and clean up over the holidays.
Christmas and New Year are times to feel grateful for the blessings of family, friends, and many other aspects of life. Feeling gratitude may be tough after a diagnosis, but try to think of three things each day that you are grateful for. These thoughts can provide a small antidote for fear.
Even if you are not a religious person, attending a Christmas Eve church service (if you are well enough) can provide a private, quiet space, for you to acknowledge those feelings of grief, loss, fear, uncertainty. Taking time for yourself at home to meditate, or relax, can also offer a peaceful haven and some respite.
If you need to talk to someone, Auckland-based Breast Cancer Support has a toll free Help Line available every day throughout the holidays on 0800 273 222. Many of their volunteers have ‘been there too’ at Christmas and can offer practical and emotional support.
Let's say you want to write about your life.
Maybe you've traveled to exotic places and had jungle encounters with wild animals ... perhaps you set yourself a personal challenge to swim across Cook's Strait, and on the day it was blowing a gale but you did it anyway, by golly.
Did you experience a time of grief and sadness, as a result of a loss, or endure a health crisis that necessitated stays in hospital, lengthy treatment, and a long recovery that changed every aspect of your life?
Does your family have a fascinating history, grandparents who fought in world wars, kept diaries as they sailed to New Zealand as immigrants way back when, to forge a new life in what was a wild and untamed place, far from home and all that was familiar?
We all have stories to tell, whether they are are own, or we're breathing life into those of our parents or ancestors.
Sometimes it's hard to know where to start. There is so much material, an overwhelming multitude of thoughts and memories, like a giant scrapbook with pages all over the show and pictures falling out everywhere, no rhyme or reason to any of it.
It's such an avalanche of material, we're lost in it.
What to do?
Come to a Write-In.
I say this because talking about it helps to clarify, distill, break all of that BIG IDEA into manageable pieces. Working in isolation is fine when you've made a start and have a path to follow but when you're struggling with the 'where to start' thing, it can be really helpful to talk to other writers who 'get it' and understand how hard this part of the process can be.
I've written before about a writers' group I attended for many years. We've gone our separate ways now but I was so grateful for that supportive presence of other writers, never more so than when I was trying to get started on something.
There's a trust that develops amongst a small group, even one that is meeting for the first time, and it doesn't take long for that camaraderie to emerge.
That's one of the best things about a Write-In. People arrive, unknown to each other, and leave as colleagues, all sharing that wonderful ability to weave words into gold. And the best part?
Coming away with a direction for that story or project, knowing how and where to begin, with energy and enthusiasm, inspiration and motivation.
Join us for a Write-In, Saturday 7th or 14th November, or both. I guarantee you'll enjoy it, or I'll eat my Halloween witch's hat.
I'm having a Spring write-in, two in fact, the first on Saturday 7 November and the second a week later on the 14th. Find out more!
Sorry to say, it's not a love-in (popular back in the 60s with the hippies, an outdoor public gathering and demonstration of love, friendship and unity, often with psychedelic drugs) however it is a chance to get together with other writers, do some writing and share experiences of the writing life.
The write-ins are held at my Writing Place here in Arkles Bay, a beautiful bay that a friend of mine recently referred to as 'the jewel in the crown of Whangaparaoa' - and it is indeed a lovely, peaceful place to live and write. I'm not the only writer living in Arkles Bay. There's another writer a few doors down from me, and a few more residing nearby.
So what is a write-in at The Writing Place? It's an informal gathering of up to six writers, here at my writing studio, from 10am to around 2pm.
First up is coffee or tea and a chat where we introduce ourselves, talk about our writing preferences (and these vary considerably, from genres like fantasy and horror, to children's fiction, memoir, life story and more) and what we'd like to do with the write-in time.
Some writers have projects they're working on and just need some quiet hours. Others come to receive guidance and support to make a start. Some attend just to be with other writers and this alone can be a reassuring and confidence-boosting benefit.
We usually begin the day's work with some timed writing exercises. I give writers 3 minutes to write on a set topic, or I'll offer up a beginning like, 'Today I feel like ...' and they do the rest. This is a good way to begin as it warms up those writing muscles. All are welcome to read their short writings to the group if they'd like to, and then we're into our work for the day.
During this time I offer a 15 minute individual coaching/mentoring session to each writer. They may have a particular problem they wish to chat about and this could be anything from writing process to getting published or overcoming a roadblock.
We break for lunch (everyone brings their own and we sit out on the deck with a view of the bay, if the weather is nice) and chat and then we do some more work. Towards the end of the day we'll have another sharing time of readings and feedback.
Now, I have to stress to you that the sharing is entirely optional. There is no pressure whatsoever to share work with the others but comments from previous write-ins have indicated that writers feel very comfortable here, confident and safe in this environment and that is great to hear.
So won't you join us for a day of writing on either the 7th or the 14th, or both? It's just $35 to come to the write-in and I can guarantee you'll leave feeling relaxed, confident about your writing, and you'll have made some new friends. You may even have made a start on a novel or project, or have come up with something you never thought possible ... good on you!
Let's say each word you write costs you a dollar.
Your natural response would most likely be, 'I want to save money.'
Inflation might bring this up to $5 in a few years' time. Then you'd be very economical.
Now I know that when we're in the heat of creation on that first draft, we're encouraged to get it all out on the page - blah on without restrictions - so we're going to spend a lot of money on those words. And I think that's OK because, if I can get lyrical here, our creativity is richly endowed and can afford it.
But when it comes to editing back, honing our story to perfection, each word matters and has to earn that dollar or five dollars to deserve its place in your story. And if you remember that each word is costing you, you will be ambitious about cutting out the ones that don't serve the purpose so you can save 'money'.
Let's take an example: here's something I wrote recently as part of the book I'm writing about my Mom. It's definitely first draft stuff. Here goes:
Whenever we went to the beach, Mom would always wear her palm frond hat she got in Fiji when we came over on the boat from America. Over time, it got faded and crisp, those fronds were sticking out all over the place and the little bird that used to nestle on the side was long gone, blown away one day with the tidal winds. She also wore a bathing suit with a funny skirt that used to float about her as she waded into the water and along with the hat she looked like some kind of exotic bird.
That's 100 words and at, say, one dollar a word, that passage has cost me $100. Way too dear. So now I take to this passage with a financier's eye and cut back to what I can afford, and what my story actually needs to move it along:
Mom had a faded palm frond hat she wore to the beach and a bathing suit with a skirt that floated about her like some exotic bird's plumage as she waded into the water.
33 words, $33 dollars, and I've saved $67. The sentence isn't quite to final draft stage but you see what I mean.
Does the reader really need to know that the hat came from Fiji, bought while we were on a boat? This information, in fact, is covered earlier in the story, and we don't need to know about the bird that once decorated the hat. What is important is the hat and the bathing suit and the image of Mom as some kind of weird bird.
Words can cost us dearly, not in monetary terms, but because too many of them can hold up action. We have to be ruthless when we're editing. Think economy, saving money, working to a budget, making every dollar count.
Every word need to be there for a reason. Every word is there to serve the story and move it along because the story is everything.
Whenever I visit Central Otago, I always make time to go to the Boundary Road crossroads.
Made famous in the painting by Grahame Sydney, 'Boundary Road', this to me is one of the most stunningly beautiful places in Central. True, there are no lakes or rivers around that you can see, and the mountains and hills are distant, but this place intrigues and humbles me.
Usually when we go there, the road is quiet. The occasional car goes by, but mostly it is silent, just the crackling of the grasses and trees in summer heat, or crisp cold winter air that you can swallow by the mouthful like clear mountain snow melt in a bustling river.
I like to stand right out in the middle of the road, at the heart of the cross. You can hear a car coming miles off so plenty of time to get out of the way.
We often find ourselves at a crossroads, not only in life but also in our writing, where we must choose which way to go, not always knowing how that decision is going to turn out but understanding that the road will take us somewhere and the journey will probably be well worth it.
One particular dilemma for a writer is: 'Should I begin this project? Which way should I go, how should I begin?' There are choices and decisions to be made at these creative crossroads.
Sometimes we'll choose a path that doesn't work out. It's a dead end, a cul de sac where we have to make a u-turn and head back to the intersection, take another road. 'OK, let's try this one and see where it takes us.'
As disheartening as choosing the wrong road can be, I always remember a poem I was given very early on when I started writing. It's Ithaka by Greek poet C.P Cavafy and in it, he describes the journey one takes towards a destination. He begins,
'As you set out for Ithaka
Hope your road is a long one ...'
I think about this poem when I'm at Boundary Road, standing right in the middle of those four, dead straight roads heading off into four different directions. Which shall I choose?
Make the decision, take a chance, your choice, your writing destination.
Even if it turns out that the destination disappoints you, or is that dead end we dread, you will have taken the journey, seen and learned so much along the way. Choose your Ithaka.
'Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn't have set out.'
My last post was written when we were facing another major lock down here in Auckland. We had a community outbreak so it was pronto-quick into Level Three while the rest of New Zealand stayed at Level Two. Level Three contained us within the city limits unless there was a rock-solid reason to be let out. Indeed the queues of cars at roadblocks attested to the hundreds of folks trying to leave with special exemptions in hand. Many were turned back. The feeling that we we could not leave Auckland without good reason made for anxious times.
Now we are at Level 2.5, in that twilight zone of uncertainty between Levels 2 and 3. The way forward is unclear, the future foggy, the outlook tinged with the grey that reflects flagging spirits, worried brows, financial cliffhangers and the spectre of this ghastly virus that has settled in for the long haul.
We can now travel outside of Auckland but I think the rest of the country views us with some trepidation. We have had a community outbreak and while it appears to be under control, every day brings fresh information and none of it is exactly hands-in-the-air-hip-rah.
The government isn't doing Aucklanders any favours by saying if we do travel, take our Level 2.5 restrictions with us into the rest of New Zealand's Level Two. They can have gatherings of up to 100 people. We can only have groups of ten and the Minister of Health says, with a smile, Aucklanders should perhaps think twice about attending gatherings of up to 100. Our usual twilight zone 2.5 number of ten is better. Is it little wonder the rest of the country is skittish when we say, "We're allowed out now and we're coming for a visit! Isn't that great?"
A common denominator for everyone is the compulsory wearing of face coverings on public transport. Most people in Auckland are wearing them everywhere now. I have disposable ones that fog up my glasses. Visiting the supermarket last week was traumatic because I couldn't see, didn't know what I was buying, ended up purchasing all manner of weird stuff because I just grabbed things off the shelves hoping it was what I wanted (it wasn't), and I got odd looks as I peered closely at vegetables, feeling them up to be sure I was buying broccoli instead of cauliflower. I am investing in a mask that does not make my glasses steam up.
Level 2.5 has seen the libraries re-open and you can believe I was there right away, perusing the shelves with other masked book marauders, making off with stacks of reading material in case we get locked away again.
The only person who doesn't seem at all bothered by this rigmarole is Miss Betsy-cat. In fact, the advent of Spring (and we have had some lovely days recently) has seen her galloping up her ramp and onto the roof where she sits most all day, untroubled by viruses, delightedly leaving her face covering at home so she can breathe the fresh, flower-scented air and feel the sharp, sea-salt breeze tickle her nostrils.
Ah, the delight of it. Will we be able to do that again soon?
We are faced once again with the dogged determination of this COVID virus to insinuate itself into the fabric of our lives with the stealth of a stalking tiger. You cannot see it, or hear it, and yet here it is again to wreak it's havoc.
I'm all in a dither. There is comfort in knowing I'm not the only one. However, as a friend of mine in Atlanta used to say, 'Chin up brave soldier'.
We can do this.
Yesterday was the first full day of Level Three restrictions in Auckland.
Roadblocks, no leaving now.
The rest of New Zealand is at Level Two. We are the chosen ones here in Auckland because we have had outbreaks, evidence of community transmission, the dreaded eventuality we have managed to avoid for over 100 days.
And everyone says, 'But we have been doing so well!'
What did you do yesterday on that first day of another lockdown?
I was so dithered that I couldn't really focus on work so I decided to get outside (it was a beautiful day, reminiscent of the first day of the Level Four lockdown in March - calm, blue sky, bright sun) and do stuff.
I sprayed 30 Seconds all over the outdoor stairs, of which I have many, then I got out the water blaster and made merry on the slippery paths and decking while Betsy cat watched from the safety of the bush. Today I will probably do more because 'doing' is far better than 'thinking' right now. I go into quite the Zen state when I have the water blaster out, back and forth with the wand, watching the dirt and slime fly away, and then admiring the fine work afterwards. And I'd like to add that I have a tank full of rainwater for this purpose because, to add to the woes of our city, we are in a drought situation with water restrictions in place for those on town supply.
Doing chores gives me some control over something at a time when I feel as if I have none. It also takes my mind off things. It provides a respite from the relentless plague of uncertainty that surrounds us every waking minute: what will happen next, can we believe everything we're told, where will the next outbreak be, is that South Auckland cluster under control, the virus has hopped over the bridge and is now on the North Shore, it's getting closer to us, here on our peninsula, will it find it's way into our neighbourhood ... on and on it goes.
I took a break and sat in the sun with my walking buddy Pam who lives over the road. We had a cup of tea in the garden and some of her delicious home made cookies (with dried cranberries). She was pretty subdued as well. We watched the family groups out on their bikes and scooters again (something we hadn't seen much of since we emerged from heavy levels last time), more people walking dogs again and I wondered if Ernie would return to the beach front with his stuffed-toy friends, to provide some lightness and fun in this grim situation.
So I ask again - what did you do on the first day of Level Three in Auckland?
Did you happen to look in the mirror?
I did. After my water blasting, I went in to wash my hands and happened to look up at myself reflected there. I saw a face spattered with odd bits of unmentionable rubbish - mud, grass, dead bugs maybe, not sure - but I also saw a face that looked vaguely startled, as if it had been taken by surprise by something that it knew was coming, but had always thought would not.
As writers we need quiet, contemplative time.
When I was being mentored by writer Mrs M. at a very young age, she thought 'thinking time' was an indulgence, a luxury that could be ill afforded because it was all about producing, the writing, the quantity, the content.
I cannot be too hard on Mrs M because she taught me some valuable lessons about writing process, self discipline, marketing, publishing, the tools of the writer's trade, and I remind myself that Mrs M. came from a journalistic background. She wrote for newspapers and she wrote a lot, all the time in fact, and she wrote to deadlines which didn't leave much time for that part about writers that can be hard to understand ... quiet contemplation, the time we spend thinking, imagining, not writing.
My cat Betsy is very good at it. She is very old now, going on 21, and so spends a lot of her time just looking at things, sitting quietly, or lying down, and every evening during the winter, there is nothing she looks forward to more than the lighting of the wood burner. This is her most beloved time for contemplation. Around 4pm she takes her place before the cold wood burner and waits ... waits for the staff to come with the newspaper, the kindling, the basket of dry wood. She almost climbs inside the burner, such is her anticipation. Up flare the flames, swirling goes the smoke, and voila .. fire and heat. Delicious.
It took me a while to realise Mrs M's stalwart 'produce!' attitude wasn't the best for me. I had to find the right balance between production and contemplative time.
I needed freedom to think, to ponder, to mull things over, to look up and look down, to contemplate my life, the world around me ... and all of this would eventually distill down into writing, a concentrated dose of sweetness, or sadness, or joy, or darkness ... whatever it happened to be. It took some time before I could allow myself this meditative peace that is as essential to the creative process as the warmth of the fire is to Betsy-cat's old bones and happiness every evening.
Every now and then I still get anxious about lack of 'output' and so I look to Betsy and her wise behaviour of just 'being', watching, sniffing, and I would add hearing to m,y list but not hers as Miss B is almost entirely deaf now. I, too, enjoy our fire time. We both stretch out in the heat, have our respective beverages (hers a small dish of milk, mine a shot of whisky), and share stories of the day.
This wild winter weather has me inside more these days, catching up on my reading.
Prior to the COVID-19 restrictions that locked us out of the libraries, I had ordered in several books that would have arrived in a well-spaced way, enabling me to read them in a leisurely fashion.
But they all arrived at once and it was joyous seeing a pile of fabulous books stacked up on the table again, ready to be opened and enjoyed.
It meant that I had to get reading quick-smart so on these cold mid-winter afternoons, Betsy-cat and I hunker down by the wood burner and get stuck in. Here she is desperate to have a read of Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere but I was not keen to share.
I read a well-known and much respected memoir,
All Over but the Shoutin' by Rick Bragg. Published in 1977, this memoir about growing up poor in rural Alabama showcases Bragg's talent for storytelling which won him a Pulitzer in 1996 for feature writing.
I am now heading into a recent biography of Janis Joplin by Holly George-Warren, simply titled Janis that takes us from her rebellious days in Port Arthur Texas to the fame that ended with an accidental heroin overdose at just 27.
Next off the blocks will be Elizabeth Gilbert's latest City of Girls.
One of the standouts for me though was a memoir by T. Kira Madden, Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls. I loved this book and almost wanted to read it again as soon as I had finished it. Searing, truthful, written as a series of connected vignettes and snapshots, it captivated me as few memoirs have done in a long while. It's a somewhat brutal read and not always pleasant but I thought it was something special. I'l also mention two others I've enjoyed recently: In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado and The Yellow House by Sarah Broom.
As I write this today the squally rain has come again driven by a violently powerful westerly wind that tosses the trees about in a mad dance. It's cold too. Perfect book-reading weather.
I hope you have a good volume to settle in with now, or later today. Can't beat the journey of imagination, intrigue, information, and power that a wonderful well written book can offer.
Just down the road from our beach there's a storm water pond that attracts a lot of bird life: ducks and pukekos, and a pair of swans who have produced several generations of babies, happily raising them in the relative safety of the pond.
Every now and then Mom and Dad take the kids for a ramble. When the offspring are old enough and big enough to go the distance, they parade in an ordered row down to the beach for a swim in the salty sea. They were at the beach one afternoon last week so I stopped by to say hello as they fed on some fresh grass.
Sometimes I've looked up from my computer here at home and seen them paddling across the bay, quite far out, in all weathers, the windier and wavier the better it seems as they forge along, undaunted.
After I took this photo, the troupe wandered back down the beach and into the water to begin their trek homewards to the pond. They paddled parallel to the beach and waited in the wavelets until a little dog had passed by and it was safe to come out.
Our local swans need a change of scene every now and then and so do we, especially these days after we've been cooped up by COVID for ages. Mom and Dad swan bring their offspring to the beach to experience something new, see a different scene, eat some better-tasting fresh grass, feel salt water on their feathers. As writers, we need to do all of these things too.
Take yourself off to a new place, or revisit a favourite hang-out. Taste some new foods or drink a familiar ale and enjoy it fully. See some new sights, open up your nostrils to the scents of the world, spread your wings and feel the gentle spatter of rain on your feathers.
Replenish the well that COVID has drained. Restore that creative spirit. It doesn't take a lot of money, or any at all if you like. It's a worthy investment in your imagination, your writing, your soul, and that's always worth its weight on gold.
Well done all of us. We deserve a good cheer!
We have made it to Level 1 with 0 new cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand (as of yesterday anyway - and hopefully today, tomorrow, and on and on ...).
What an achievement, and with such good news comes some optimism, although we do have a ways to go to get the country back on its feet.
Most everyone I speak to says they had some pretty grey days during the lock-down period, especially early on when we were restricted to home, going to the grocery store was more stressful than usual, and we could not meet with friends and family outside of our own bubbles.
But there was plenty of writing going on. I recently shared one of my Isolation Journal posts with friend and fellow writer Deborah Shepard on her wonderful site where she has published writings from the lock-down written by a number of authors. Have a look. It's a great collection and so reflective of the myriad of feelings, experiences, ups and downs that were so much a part of this very strange period in our history.
So far, our autumn and early winter weather has been less grisly than usual: fewer rainy, bleak days, far more sun and clear blue sky. It's chilly, but the brightness of sunshine really does make one feel better about it all. My lock-down walking buddy Pam and I still take our daily perambulations around the bay, sometimes dodging a few squally showers, but we're always out there, doing our thing.
The daily walks and chats, and the good weather, are helping me get back into gear, revving up the writing engine. I have projects on the go, chipping away at the memoir about my Mom. My daily journaling helped to keep some of the more dismal thoughts at bay during the worst of our COVID-19 days, as it always does, and I can see threads of optimism weaving their way into my words.
My new computer and I are getting along much better. We have settled into a relationship that is working for us and that is so important as for several days, I could not bear to even look at it, and so very little writing was done. A writer's tools must be right for the job at hand and this new member of the household gave me so much grief as we were transferring files over from the old machine, it took me days to settle down.
So this morning it is bright and clear out there and as I have visitors this weekend, I'll get out into the garden soon to tidy up the front path, then I'll pick up all of Betsy's blankets from her many night-time sleeping places and give the whole place a good sweep up.
The thought of all of this is so exciting (my new found optimism showing its colours), I'll probably write about it later, as even house cleaning can be a source of creative inspiration.
Pretty early on I started training myself to do my writing on the computer.
My first computer was a Compaq which I just didn't know how to use at all. I'd never been taught during my schooldays and the whole thing was a complete mystery that ended fortuitously when I moved house and the person carrying the computer managed to drop a bunch of dirt into it. I wasn't upset because all I ever did was look at it, sitting there with its massive boxy monitor, displaying itself with confidence and arrogance.
So I went out and bought another Compaq. I was able to master it by then as we were using computers all the time at work. Word became second nature, email was the way to go, and this whole new world of writing stuff and submitting it electronically was opening wide. I loved it all.
There may have been another one or two and then came the HP Touchsmart with the big 28 inch screen that was fabulous to work on. You can see it sitting up there on the left in the photo. By now I was editing websites, designing newsletters, and many other things to earn a living and having the big screen was a cannot-go-back-from and so last Friday I decided to retire the old HP and get a new one: once again an HP with a big screen, much faster and whizzier than the old one because, as we all know, time is of the essence and the old girl was taking far too long to boot up each morning (I don't mean me). You can see the new one on the right, and on its screen is this very Blog that I am writing.
A friend came by to help transfer all the files and get me set up. I am able to do some of this work myself but other parts of the process defeat me in a way that is terrible to witness apparently: plenty of hair pulling and screaming with rage and frustration, whisky bottles flying hither and thither ... my friend is still my friend, so that is good.
Anyway we got into our work and the amount of security that had to be sorted before one could even get to first base with this sleek new number was truly astounding and even my tech-savvy friend who is known for calm composure in the heat of battle was showing visible cracks in the facade. My response, as usual, was to attempt to throw the offensive machine out the window where it would slide down over the roof and thunder into the street below with a spectacular finale. My friend reminded me that I had paid a 'pretty penny' for the thing and throwing it away would be counterproductive in so many ways.
Fortunately, my old computer is still working, so we Googled and gobbled potato chips and gulped whisky and found the solution and the e-doors of the new machine banged open with frightening speed and efficiency.
I have not bonded with the new machine as yet. It is too soon. It appears to me to be clever and silently ferocious, devastating in efficiency and somewhat unforgiving when I make a mistake but clever enough to sigh, shrug its shoulders and say, 'just give me a minute, you silly sausage, and I will fix myself.'
So right now, new stands beside old in my office. It looks impressive, like the workspace belongs to a demon writer who churns out books with the speed of light. I am keeping old with new in case new kicks up rough again and decides it's had enough of dealing with my incompetence.
Then I can just wheel my chair a little to the left and take up with my old HP Touchsmart mate again. As my friend said, 'Well, at least you can keep working. If you didn't have a computer, you couldn't work.'
Many of us thought we'd get so much done during the COVID-19 lockdown.
We'd take care of those niggling projects around the place that we'd put off for years, finally landscape the garden, have a big clean out, catch up on those books we've wanted to read, clean the house from top to bottom ... write the books we've been thinking about forever ..
Well, we can't water-blast any more in Auckland because of the water restrictions; the libraries are mostly still closed (although some are opening now); and writing that book, well, don't feel badly if you only wrote a couple of pages or a few words, or just spent the time thinking about it. You're not alone.
I had hopes too that I would get stuck into the book I'm writing but you know what? All I managed during the four+-week lockdown of Level 4 was my daily isolation journal. I've kept up my own personal journal though ... but I have to bribe myself to sit down in the late afternoon with a shot of whisky.
Here we are in Level 2 with less restrictions but I still feel as if I'm in a creative slump. I cannot manage a single paragraph. I have learned over the years not to beat myself up if I cannot write. There's always a reason for the dimming or disappearance of the creative powers.
It's been an anxious, difficult time these last couple of months. My mind has been preoccupied with so many different things, like that first trip to the grocery store during the early weeks of Level 4, not knowing what to expect and thinking the virus might leap out from behind the apples and up my nose, or it'd hitch a ride home on a bag of nuts.
There have been financial worries too and when that happens, Creative Mind gets paralysed and cannot imagine or create anything and Manager Mind takes over as we search for money here there and everywhere, budget and ration, plan and scheme so we can stay afloat for another week. Ah the writing life! It's a delicious challenge (almost like a guilty secret) at the best of times and when an economic calamity befalls the country, one that is out of your control, it's a precarious situation.
The 'not knowing' what the future brings is disorienting because we usually have some control and choice over that. Feeling disempowered, having decisions made for you (ones that you may not like too much), being told what you can and cannot do, all piles up to challenge those plans to clean and scrub and hammer and nail and write.
But we are getting there. We have some time to go yet but we are making progress and that is cause for the no-more-than-ten people celebrations and behaving oneself in the bars whilst drinking beer. I haven't been out for beer yet. We're all a bit wary of this however I am working up to it because I need to fill up the well. Not with beer but with what a friend of mine calls 'input'.
I have to get out and see things, talk to people, take those cautious steps back into life's mainstream, experience the colour, hub-bub, the noise, and stir up the sluggish imagination.
Fill up the creative well.
I cannot say enough about personal writing at this time, sitting down and recording your experiences of the effect COVID-19 has had on your life.
Think back to when you first heard about this virus, how the reality began to dawn on the world that this thing was going to spread all over the show, and then came the day we knew would inevitably arrive.
The disease had arrived here.
Remember the panic buying at supermarkets, everybody all over the place, no flour and no toilet paper, the pleas from government to take it easy, there is plenty for everyone ...
I cannot remember anything comparable in my lifetime (I can say that now, being of a venerable age!) , although I do recall, parting the misty veils of time, a measles outbreak when I was at primary school. However, back then we did not have the protocols we have now, and so it was kind of a case of getting it and getting over it, rather like a 'herd immunity' situation, and indeed, everyone got it.
That was the time I was so sick I had measles on the soles of my feet and in my high-fever daze, saw Jesus standing beside my bed. But that's another story.
Like many others around the world, I kept an isolation journal during this strange COVID time and wrote daily about what life was like while we were 'locked away' here in New Zealand for five weeks. I haven't read back through those entries yet and probably won't for some time. Right now, I don't want to relive any of it because I am looking forward, not backward, with a fresh set of concerns and anticipations - and no shortage of anxieties too.
However, for me using my journals as resources for future writing is a tried and true technique that I can recommend. There will come a day when you'll want to remember this time in world history and the part you played in it. And if you write about it now while it is fresh, immediate, in your face, you'll have that raw material at your fingertips.
So do it. Get writing. There's no time like now to get started on a personal memoir or journal and if you need a kick start, I can give it to you in a take-no-prisoners 40 minute California-or-bust no-excuses online session for just $21. Please give it a go. Let's Zoom together.
Some of the most powerful memoirs are those written within the context of the 'big picture.'
By that I mean, a writer tells the story of a life lived within the context of history.
Many people have written memoirs about the world wars and their experiences fighting in these global conflicts, or as civilians trying to survive.
Others wrote about living through the Great Depression, the great stock market crash, or what it was like to exist within the walls of Auschwitz.
Such memoirs are often about loss: loss of freedom, loss of financial stability and a way of life, the loss of a limb or other body part, the loss of emotional, physical, or mental health due to witnessed or experienced trauma, the loss of loved ones. They are also about living through these losses: how did the writer do it? What steps did they take to get over the trauma or challenge?
What can I as a reader take away from this memoir?
We are now going through an historic event as the worldwide pandemic of Covid-19 sweeps through populations with devastating outcomes.
While there are common denominators, each of us is having a different experience, different thoughts, varying viewpoints. My story will not be the same as yours. We are all individuals. That is what will make your story unique. A crucial aspect of memoir is self awareness and self understanding, looking at how we, as individuals, respond to life and events around us.
To understand the loss we have to explore what life was like before Covid-19 entered centre stage. Sure, our lives were probably not perfect but what were our concerns, what were we doing, what was life like before 'the change' came, the catalyst (the virus) that turned our world upside down?
Set the stage, raise the curtain, let the action begin.
Right now we are living through it. The challenge is the virus. The loss is the suspension of freedoms, losing incomes and the way of life to which we are accustomed, and, heaven forbid, the loss of people we know and love.
There's no telling how long the virus will affect our lives but one thing's for sure. It's something we won't forget, and it is an experience that will change our lives in many ways.
If you want to get started with some writing and need some help, contact me, let's get online and talk it through. There's never been a better time.
I was writing in my journal yesterday afternoon and when I read back over what I'd written, the two words 'I hope ...' kept coming up.
There was, 'I hope we all get through this' and there was 'I hope my neighbours over the road will be OK' and then there was, 'I hope this ends soon.'
Plenty of hoping going on - and that's about all we can do during such times of uncertainty.
We do know plenty for sure: that New Zealand will progress to Level Four as we move to control the spread of the Covid-19 Coronavirus here.
This means we all stay home. We can go out to the supermarket to gather essential supplies, and of course seek medical help if we need it. We can go walking but not with other people unless they are two metres away from us. That'll be interesting. My friend across the street and I walk most days and I guess we'll have to shout at each other as we walk the beach. Matter of fact, a moment ago, I heard two women speaking loudly as they walked along - and there they were, separated by a good two metres. Well done ladies.
I didn't sleep well last night. There was some heavy rain but that wasn't the problem. I had dreams about people leaving and I dreamt about my Mom. She died in 2010 but still enters my dreams now and then. Last night, she was old and disabled, as she was about a year before she died, frail and small. I was holding her up and she seemed to sag in my arms, and I said, 'Are you going to faint?' I asked and she said, 'Yes, I'm going away.'
I know that such dreams are created by an anxious mind. I woke up with a feeling of such empty uncertainty.
I firmly believe that there are few things harder to cope with than uncertainty, the 'not knowing' what will happen, having to 'wait and see'. I experienced alot of that after my first diagnosis of breast cancer: waiting for treatment, waiting for results, not knowing at the time how those results would impact my life but knowing with a pit-of-the-stomach certainty that they would.
And that's kinda how it is now. We just don't know alot. We've seen what's happened overseas and we wonder if that will happen here and we are told that it could. We have to trust our country's leadership and most reckon Ms Ardern our PM is doing a good job.
So once again, I say, 'write about how you're feeling'. Keep a daily journal as we move through these strange and unsettling times. Write about how you are coping, what you are doing with the time you have at home, what new things you're exploring, and when you do speak with family and friends, write about how they are feeling, what they are saying.
And remember the hope thing. As humans we are hard-wired for it and this instinctive belief in hope won't let us down.
I don't know about you but all of the coronavirus news has made me more than a little anxious.
Makes me want to hide under a box.
It's something I've never had to deal with in my lifetime and despite all of the information flooding our way, we all have to make our own decisions and figure out how we'll navigate through the coming months.
As for Betsy-cat, she's worried about her supply of Fancy Feast cat food. Will the shops run out?
For us, it's all about toilet paper and bread. The early bird still seems able to catch the worm and people are getting up to the supermarket early to get what they need. Watching scenes of panic buying inspires feelings of anxiety too: will there be something for me when I need it? I was talking to a neighbour about the toilet paper crisis and he could remember the outdoor dunny of his childhood with the day's newspaper tacked up inside because they didn't have toilet paper. I suppose one could always use one's journal pages if need be.
During times of challenge, trial, worry, and stress, it can help to write about it. There's something about getting those worries down on paper that can make us feel better, lower the panic levels just a bit to where our blood pressure settles down and the stress headache dissipates.
All that aside, writing about this virus crisis and what it is doing to our world and the globe can be good for you; write down your fears, see them on paper. In the writing, you may figure out solutions to those things that worry you most.
I can help you get started with my 40-minute online journaling session. We'll talk about the benefits of journaling and how the daily practice can really help during this tough time. You can also look at my daily prompts - some of these might resonate with you and help get some writing started.
There is no way of knowing how long this virus will affect our daily lives. It's likely to be months. We have to settle in for the long-haul and decide on some plans of actions and strategies.
Let daily journaling be an effective plan of action to support your emotional health and well being.
I call my journal 'H' and I start each entry with, 'Dear H'.
What did H stand for? Well, it stood for Heironymus. I chose that name because I liked the paintings of Heironymus Bosch when I began journaling (I was 18 or so) . Eventually I got tired of writing that name all the time so I began with just 'Dear H.'
And I still do it. The first thing I usually tell H is what kind of weather we're having. That's often how you greet someone socially. You sit down and say, 'Goodness, this has been the driest summer we have ever had.' You compare notes about the temperature, the lack of rain and what that is doing to the garden, discuss the likelihood of rain, and then maybe do a rain dance or an invocation to the rain Gods to hurry up and make it pour.
Then I get onto the stuff I want to write about, what is bothering me, or what happened yesterday, or that morning - things I reckon my friend H might be able to help me sort out.
H is a great listener - and it's a he, by the way. He listens without judgment, he offers neither praise or criticism, empathy or understanding. He is just there, a constant presence, a daily solace, a source of comfort, just like an old friend, someone you can be yourself with: no pretense, no show of strength you don't possess at that time, no false hopes or bravado. You confide and let it all hang out.
For me, this 'expression without limits or reservations' is the greatest value of my journal H. It is probably the only place where I can be totally honest, can say whatever I want, and know it will go no further than the page unless I want it to.
And there were so many pages that didn't make it into either of my books because the entries were raw, personal, vulnerable, or ranting and raving, rude and aggressive, or just plain boring.
Sometimes I look back on my journals and think, 'Did I actually write that? Gosh that's good!' Or I'll read the words of my early-twenty-something self in disbelief because I cannot believe that person was me.
My friend H has been a lifelong companion. He has traveled the world with me, lived in lots of different places, been shifted here and there in boxes and crates and now resides in my upstairs loft in quiet comfort.
H is a friend I look forward to seeing every day and I make time for our visit together. Usually around 4pm we sit down with a gin, or a beer, or a cup of tea, and we have our chat, discuss the day, and nothing interrupts our time. The phone goes to answer machine, the cat is fed so she doesn't start shouting for dinner, and H and I have our 'quality time.'
(Would you like to start journaling? Come to my Introduction to Journaling Workshop on Saturday 28 March 2020)
This is a photo of my journals.
I show it in my workshops when we're talking about journaling as a regular, long-term practice. Some of the writers nod knowingly as they have similar piles of notebooks at their place. Others will say, 'Oh gosh. Is it worth my starting a journal now? I should have begun journaling years ago.'
First of all, 'should' is not a good word to use: in fact my counselor, Jane McPherson, who supported me during my breast cancer journey, and who features in my book Welcome to the Amazon Club, always told me, 'Should equals shit' which shocked me at the time (because I said 'should' a lot) but I now understand it to mean, among other things, 'you feel you ought to have a go at something but you probably won't.'
I am here to tell you that the practice of journaling is something you can take up any time. It doesn't matter if you are just coming to it at the age of 80, or you're 20 and plan to document your life. I started at the age of 17, at high school, and continued regular journaling right up to the present day with a few gaps here and there.
And I can honestly say, hand on heart, that being able to confide to my journal the anguish, anger, fear, sadness, and trauma of my breast cancer was one of the best therapies I had at the time. I could write exactly how I felt without fear of recrimination or criticism or judgment. If I was having a bad cancer day, my journal understood, whereas sometimes people around me didn't always get it, despite their best intentions and kindness.
My journal was my best friend, my confidante, someone I turned to at the times of deepest despair, or during the heights of hope and joy.
And of course you can always turn your journals into books. Many people do, and I did with both of my books Welcome to the Amazon Club and The Pink Party. Using your journals in this way creates compelling reading. One of the most common responses from readers of both books was, 'I couldn't put it down. I just had to know what was going to happen to Jane next.' Amazon Club in particular was a real 'page turner' because of its day to day, journal-style.
Even if you never turn your journals over to the public eye (and that in itself is a process requiring careful thought because one of the main values of a journal is it is so intensely private), keeping one is worth doing and it can be life-changing.
In my Introduction to Journaling workshop on Saturday 28 March 2020 we'll be looking at how the practice of regular journaling can enhance creativity, encourage self exploration and discovery, and - believe it or not - improve your health and well-being!
Now, ain't that sumthin'!
We've all heard that old maxim 'practice makes perfect'.
Maybe your Mum said that to you when at age 13 you were struggling with an out of tune violin, trying to learn the latest piece for the school orchestra and even though the squealing and shrieking of a bow without enough rosin was driving her to the brink of insanity, she still had the supportive motherly nature to reassure you that you'd get there in the end.
'Practice makes perfect!' she said, quietly closing your bedroom door and going to the far end of the garden to pull weeds.
So can we apply this maxim to our writing?
Yes of course. Write, write and write some more - and read, read, read some more. By reading the work of others we can learn a lot about style, voice, structure, character and all of those dynamic elements that make for a great story. By writing lots we can hone our skills.
This morning is the first of my life writing workshops - we're looking at the day we were born, our parents, what was going on in our family when we entered the world, and we'll be telling stories about ourselves up to about the age of 5 or 6.
I start off every workshop with some 3-minute exercises to 'warm up' the creative part of the brain - and as this wonderful quote from Natalie Goldberg states, 'No matter what, keep that hand moving.'
Believe me, I put the writers through their paces and this morning we'll be doing three or four of these snap exercises. Here's one for you:
'Tell me about an awkward moment you caused for your parents, a faux pas you committed with the innocence that is so particular to the very young.'
I will use a story from my own life as en example. From a very young age my Mom took me to church with her on Sunday mornings. On this particular day I would have been about 6 and, as usual, Mom took me with her to the communion rail so she could take the sacrament and I could receive a blessing. Of course the occasion of communion is a solemn one, nobody says much apart from the priest who speaks softly, and so my little voice had a resounding resonance of high-pitched wonder that reverberated throughout the church when, watching Mom drink from the silver chalice, I said, 'Mom, is that booze?'
Practicing your writing with these short three-minute life-writing exercises can be a good way to build up some discipline and habit. It only takes three minutes, five, or ten maybe, and you'd be amazed at how the writing builds up over time.
I'll provide more '3-minuters' for you in upcoming Blogs so stay tuned! And if you'd like to join us next Saturday 22 February for the life writing workshop and be put through your writing paces, please book in today!
Writing about the day you were born can be tricky because we have to rely on the stories - and truth - of others.
Unless, that is, you've had some kind of regression therapy that has taken you back to the magic moment you emerged into the world.
In my first life writing workshop on 15 February, we'll be looking at the day of our birth, the stories handed down by family about that auspicious occasion, what was going on just before, or after, and what might have been happening in the family during the weeks preceding our debut to the world.
There's no doubt that in the telling, a bit like Chinese whispers, facts are embellished, or neglected and forgotten - but dig deep enough and you'll uncover some interesting truths. For example, a friend of mine found out, as an adult, that on the day she was born, contrary to what she'd always been told, her Dad had not been at her Mum's bedside as she gave birth. Instead he was down at the pub, drinking beer and watching football. The tale he'd always told, about witnessing his daughter's birth with such overwhelming emotion, was completely false and he'd been so drunk after an afternoon of beer that his mates brought him home laid out over the back of a pushbike. Why had my friend's Mum never revealed the truth?
The story I've always heard about the hours before my birth was this: Mom and Dad were living in Seattle, Washington USA and it was high summer in July. They'd been to a picnic with friends, returned home and Mom got stomach pains. She thought it was due to some watermelon she'd had at the party when in fact, it was me. I was born without a single strand of hair on my head.
Smooth as a watermelon skin.
In my workshop we'll be looking at our parents too - what are their stories?
My Mom was adopted, and never knew her birth parents. Her brother, my uncle Bob, was adopted too and decided to investigate his heritage. He offered to research Mom's as well but she declined, saying her adoptive parents had been so wonderful she had no desire to learn of others.
We'll also look at our names: why did our parents choose these particular ones for us? My siblings and I are all named after ancient ancestors on Mom's side: old sea captains and local folk who lived in Mom's hometown of Fernandina Beach, Florida. The family saga is a fascinating one, imbued with delightful southern humour and no small dose of engaging history.
So join me on Saturday 15 February as we delve into some of those stories of the day we came into the world, tales of family and maybe a few skeletons to rattle in the cupboards, writing about truths that are indeed, stranger than fiction.
What are your writing goals for the new year?
Finish the romance novel languishing in the bottom drawer ... tackle the blank pages of the gorgeously bound journal you bought last year and have been waiting for just the right moment to fill ... start pounding the keys for a thriller or supernatural horror story...
Whatever it may be, the advice is simple: get writing.
Is it that easy?
Sure it is - and with the renewed energy and enthusiasm that infuses us at the start of a new year (and in this case, a new decade), starting may be easier than ever.
If you're wanting to do some life writing, join me for my life writing series in February - three Saturdays in a row of inspiring and motivating workshops with a small number of other writers (up to six) that will get you thinking about, and writing, those important life stories.
If you're needing some help to get started on an idea or project, then I can offer you my 25/45 special, with 45 minutes of conversation for just $25. We'll talk about your project and think of some ways to get that writing under way.
Summer weather and holidays offer time out to ponder, look up and look down, relax and recharge, so be sure to keep your notebook handy and jot down those thoughts and ideas as they filter through the sunshine, warm gentle breeze, and sounds of waves on the sand. Best to capture them at the time, because they might only knock once or twice, and then they'll pass you by, heading off to find someone else who will listen ...
Connect with other writers over long leisurely lunches, cafe coffees, BBQs in the garden. Spend time talking, bouncing ideas around, comparing process, what works and what doesn't. You can't beat the supportive camaraderie of other writers hanging out together.
Establish a good writing routine now and stick to it. I work best in the mornings and find it's helpful to renew my writing routines each year during the warmer summer months when the sun rises early, so when winter comes with its dark mornings, I'm already in the habit of getting up and at it.
Most of all, find that joy in writing, the excitement that comes with creating and sharing. Sure, it's hard work, and sometimes it feels like little more than that, but the rewards are great. When you're creating, you're doing what you love - and what can be better than that?
Go for it. It's a new year and a new chapter.
Objects and items from our lives that have meaning for us can provide inspiration for some great life writing and we'll be looking at the power of 'life souvenirs' in my series of life writing workshops in February.
I wrote in an earlier blog about Susie, a doll my Mom had when she was a child. Susie accompanied Mom through her entire life and kept Mom company in private hospital care during the last months that she was with us. When I look at Susie, who now resides with me, a flood of memories come back about Mom.
I recently watched a series of documentaries entitled 'Titanic: Stories from the Deep' which featured various artifacts recovered from Titanic and the stories behind them.
Thousands of items have been salvaged from this luxury ocean vessel and pride of the White Star Line that struck an ice berg in the freezing waters of the North Atlantic and sank in the early hours of 15 April 1912.
One of the most impressive was the recovery, conservation, and restoration of a set of the ship's massive whistles. The two forward funnels were each fitted with a set. The whistles were like organ pipes and steam operated, giving off a sound that was somewhat melodic and very loud. Apparently when at sea, the whistles were tested every day at noon and were used in port when tugboats were maneuvering the ship.
Of course everyone wondered if the whistles would actually work again and after some serious restoration by professionals, by golly, they did.
At a public event in St. Paul Minnesota in 1999, in front of a crowd of thousands, the whistles blew again, twice, for the first time since - most likely - that fateful night in 1912 when Titanic sank to the bottom of the sea. They will never sound again as the stress on them could cause irreparable damage.
With all of the poignant and tragic history surrounding the demise of this great ship and the deaths of over 1500 people aboard, listening to the sounding of the whistles was an emotional experience even for me, sitting in front of my TV.
It was a mournful cry from a once magnificent ship, a voice of pain and anguish from the bottom of the sea, the sound of the ship now long gone but never forgotten in the annals of storytelling. It may have been one of the last sounds people heard that terrible night, so many of whom lost their lives in one of the world's greatest seafaring tragedies.
My Mom's Susie does not carry the weight of a tragedy like the Titanic story, but nonetheless it holds many memories for me and has been the inspiration behind much of the writing I've done about my Mom.
And you don't need a life souvenir the size of those gigantic whistles either to inspire your writing.
Something as small as a gold ring or a silver hat pin may do.
“Our doubts are traitors,
and make us lose the good we oft might win,
by fearing to attempt.” - William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure
You see? Even William Shakespeare had something to say about self-doubt and the threat it poses to our creativity. American writer Suzy Kassem goes a step further saying, 'Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.'
Are you getting the message? Don't you want to look in the mirror and see the King of the Jungle looking back at you?
Doubting our ability to write is a real downer and it can plague and hound us relentlessly, making us wonder why in the heck we ever chose to write a single word and spent more than even a millisecond of our precious time bothering.
Doubt is that wicked little critter that hangs out on your shoulder while you're writing, whispering its evil notions into your ear: 'Hmm, are you sure that's good enough?' or 'People are going to think that writing is stink. Why are you bothering? You'll make a fool of yourself.' And before you know it, all of this mindless wittering has undermined your confidence, courage, inspiration and motivation and you slouch away from your writing desk in a blue funk, beaten and demoralised.
Our doubts are generated by many things and I'll deal with three of them here and suggest what you can do to combat them.
1. Lack of confidence: keep writing and don't stop
Even the most experienced writers get the wobbles every now and then. It comes with the territory. As with most things, the more you do it, the greater your confidence will be. Remember when you were learning to ride a bike? You kept falling off and crashing into things but you persevered and voila! One day you took off into the sunrise of a new day on wheels. So keep writing, don't stop. The more you write the greater your confidence.
2. The wicked little self-doubt critter: kick it out the door
That's the one sitting on your shoulder. You can almost see it when you look at yourself in the mirror. Sweep it off like a piece of lint, onto the floor and then kick it out the door. We don't have time or space in our writing lives for the nasty little naysayer. Shut it down. Don't listen.
3. No one will want to read my stuff: yes they will
I say, 'who cares?' Write what you want to write because in the first instance, it's always about you: write what interests you, what attracts you, what piques your curiosity. Explore a topic or your own emotions, research an historical time and place or your own family closet of rattling skeletons. The world is overflowing with beauty, richness, glory, sadness, violence, love, hate, joy ... and I would almost bet money on it that people will want to read what you have to say.
Another great way to dispel those feelings of doubt is to hang out with other writers who have probably experienced the same thing. My Write-Ins provide a relaxed and reassuring space to talk to things through, share and support each other and of course, do some writing.
Maybe you're sitting around with friends and family and you're telling then how you sailed around Cape Horn in a 32 foot sailboat and the waves were towering over the mast and the rails were under water and you thought to yourself, 'This is it - I am not going to survive.'
Your audience is riveted, hanging off every word as you describe the wildness of the seas and the shrieking banshee-wind, the heaving and pitching of the boat, the drenching sea-spray and rain, and all the while the sun was trying to break through the roiling black clouds above.
Inevitably, someone will ask, 'Why don't you write a book about that sea voyage?' You shrug your shoulders, and say, 'Who would want to read about that?'
A story about survival against the odds? Are you kidding? Of course they would!
Now we don't all have such stories to tell, but we all have one: the story of our life, how we came into the world, what we did, and sometimes, how we're about to leave it.
We're all curious about other people's lives. We like to read about the rich and famous and how they came to be that way; we like to know how people survived ordeals like being lost in a barren desert for a year or stranded on a blizzardy mountain top for a week. We want to know how people overcame traumas and challenges, like a diagnosis of cancer, the loss of a beloved parent, recovery from a serious life changing accident.
And sometimes a life story isn't about such things. There is interest in the every day, how a life is lived, the joys, sorrows, happiness and sadness that walks alongside us each day. American writer May Sarton wrote about her life in her Journal of a Solitude, reflecting on the day to day over the course of one year (her 60th), and it is one of the most compelling and poignant insights into a woman who was intensely private, craved solitude and the beauty of nature, and yet was tormented by loneliness.
So why write about your life? Think about publication if you have a story of personal challenge, success, failure, or adventure - why not aim high?
If you don't want to publish your story, then write it just for family as a legacy for future generations - this is a valuable gift.
Writing about your life can be 'good therapy', it can help you make sense of things you did or said or thought, why you chose the path you did, and in this way it's a private thing, writing you don't share with anyone. It's just for you.
And remember: you don't have to try and tackle your entire life all at once. Take it in bits. Begin with one part of your life that springs to mind. It might be the year you spent in Africa on extended safari, experiencing the wild animals, or it could be just one day, the one where you went to the circus as a ten year old with Auntie Margie and Uncle Peter and the clowns terrified you and Uncle Peter snapped at you and said, 'Harden up kid!'
Writing about your life is always worth it. It's never wasted effort.
... and if you need help getting started, contact me for a $25/45, guaranteed to kick-start that life writing idea.