Many times over the years Don and I have philosophised about golf being a metaphor for life. It is often uncannily so. Lately, I have been thinking of my journey with painting in much the same way.
Some weeks ago I painted a small experimental piece, based on a YouTube lesson I’d watched. As I was finishing it I tossed the pastel in my hand over into the little pile I’d been using and murmured to myself ‘No, no, no, I’m just not getting it’. I turned out the light and that was it for the day. The next morning I came in and looked at it with fresh eyes, expecting to loathe what I’d done, and instead realised I loved it. I had learned a very good lesson. My discouragement had been that my piece didn’t look like the artist’s in the lesson. Silly me, that’s not what I want at all! I want it to look like my style, not hers—and it does! It is not great, the composition is was not wonderful at all, but the ‘look’ of it is a step closer to what I have been dreaming of, and there it was right in front of me. I didn’t recognise it because I was so preoccupied looking for the other artist’s style.
There are many things to learn when one is creating. It is equal parts thrill and frustration. Frank Gehry, the well known architect, described it well:
For me, every day is a new thing. I approach each project with a new insecurity, almost like the first project I ever did. And I get the sweats. I go in and start working, I’m not sure where I’m going. If I knew where I was going I wouldn’t do it.–Frank Gehry
For me it’s boring to repeat the same journey over and over. I too ‘get the sweats’ every time I start a new painting–as if my life depends on its success, which it certainly does not. Such is the standard to which I hold myself, the self flagellating behaviour I have learned, and am trying to unlearn. But once engrossed in the process everything else falls away when I get those colours in my fingers and see where both my conscious mind and intuition wants them to go. Being swept along in that flow is the payoff.
We need to explore our inner depths, solve new problems and gain new insights. Part of that for me has been the very basic task of sourcing supplies. The challenge of living in a remote area with few resources for art supplies has meant that some weeks I spend almost as much time sourcing materials as I do painting. A lack of good paper has been my biggest problem. I can order it and it will be here in two weeks, if I know what to order. Which I don’t. Until very recently, when I had completed enough painting on different surfaces to finally have a preference, I was stumbling around with this one. I watch videos and learn techniques for applying marks to a variety of surfaces. And then I practice. At this point in my learning trajectory it is hard to know if the problem is with my technique, or the surfaces…probably both! I’ve even learned how to apply a rough surface to smooth boards and papers making homemade pastel paper. Now, if the ordered supplies do not show up as scheduled, I won’t go completely without. It’s all part of the process and no doubt will change time and again over the coming years.
I’ve had a couple of worrying breaks in the process while we had more urgent things to attend to in our life. Always I reminded myself I only needed to return to the task for one minute. One break was planned–the pastel dust was a problem. I was trying to paint in the office with carpet on the floor–light carpet at that! So I made the decision to move out to the little space that is our ‘shedio’. Two thirds of the space is my studio and one third is Don’s tool shed–so christened ‘shedio’. It is not a glamorous space, but it is very practical and not unpleasant, having been renovated about ten years ago. It is surprising how far that journey is, however–those ten steps between the front door and the shedio door. And because of break-ins in the town I have to always lock the front door behind me when I’m in the shedio, and likewise the shedio door if I come into the house for a break. That transition happened a few weeks ago now and along with the new car, I’m starting to feel comfort with both situations. Always in the back of my mind, though, is the thought that if I feel pressured or lost, I only have to be there for one minute…no matter the result.
We don’t know what we don’t know. With every painting I am finding new problems to solve. Somehow the information I need to keep moving ahead comes into my life and I move forward one baby step at a time.
Sweaty hands, learning, solving problems, making preparations, small victories, crappy results, baby steps…how is art anything but a metaphor on Life?
This morning on my walk I looked up and noticed in the distance over Mt. Gillen, virga falling from the clouds. We long for it to reach the ground but too often it doesn’t. We wait for rain…nearly always. Since the clouds were especially pretty and the ranges were still in sunshine I scrambled up a rocky outcrop to get a better view. And perhaps a photo.
By the time I reached the best photographic viewpoint, the virga was nearly finished. In my head, there was a niggling little voice saying ‘wait’. It brought back the memory of a recent lesson learned while photographing the wildlife in the Southern Ocean. Our generous and skilled National Geographic photographer, Ken, stood over my shoulder as I was trying to capture a particular shot of penguins. He whispered ‘Wait…….wait……wait….NOW!’. For him it was a teaching moment, for me it was a crystal clear moment of insight. Since then, I try to remember that one thing when taking photos…wait. Sometimes it is waiting for the animals to do something special, sometimes it is waiting for them to appear at all. Other times I wait for the light, because that is really what makes photographs sing, the quality of light. It is only light that makes a photograph, after all.
As I looked at the ranges with camera poised, waiting, a small flock of Galahs wheeled by in the distance. I tapped and captured them flying in front of a tree with the ranges in the background.
I returned home, reminded of that valuable lesson months ago, and began a sort of out of my mind experience watching myself in various waiting modes. As I sat in the courtyard getting my daily dose of UV light to make vitamin D, I waited. I ruminated over the seeds I’d planted in the garden, wondering how long I would wait for this new batch to sprout. Had I waited too long to plant the new ones…perhaps…more waiting required.
Later, I peeled mandarins for breakfast, the intense citrus aroma returning me to days of Christmas passed, when as children we waited with great anticipation for that special time. I waited for the sourdough bread to become golden toast. Once covered with butter dripping through the holes and onto the plate I did not wait to eat it. Having licked the plate mostly clean, I rinsed it while looking up and out to the garden. There, two precious native lilies nodded in dappled sunlight. The blossoms were perfectly imperfect and there was no sense waiting any longer to capture that moment forever.
Later for morning tea I sliced a serving of what has become my most savoured treat. Almond croissant. Having refused previous offers made to purchase my favourite pastry, I deemed this morning the wait was over. During the winter Don had enlightened me about a piece he read stating that some expert or other had researched and reported tea is the perfect drink with pastry or cake…not coffee. Having tested this theory with a few willing sweet sacrifices, I concluded that for me at least, it seemed correct. But perhaps a bit more research was required. And so I added the perfect amount of organic tea leaves to a pot and waited while the kettle almost boiled so as not to make the tea bitter. I waited three minutes for the tea to steep and poured a cup to marry with my long awaited sweet.
We can hold multiple things at once in our minds. That is one of our human superpowers. We can be miserable and still grateful, sad and still laughing, and we can wait for things while still doing something…and that something is breathing. Waiting can bring the best of results, if in the waiting we understand it is part of the fabric of our life. It just is.
Minutes ago I was up to my forearms in purple gloves, digging in cow manure for an earthworm. If that sounds oddly reminiscent to you, like the story of the optimist and the pessimist twins who were both given a roomful of shit for their birthday, you may be on to me. The pessimist child was sad and thought all she deserved was a roomful of shit. But the optimist sibling enthusiastically dived into the shit-filled room and declared ‘With all this shit, there must be a pony in here somewhere!’
Last summer was a total disaster for my herb garden, and a new low point for my gardening skills in general. Admittedly, I’ve not embraced a lot of the maintenance and prep-work as I should have. Ours is a harsh climate and we were traveling more. And sometimes I’m just ridiculously hopeful. Given the chance this year to pursue my hermit tendencies has meant time to think…time to prepare, time to get my ass in gear and build a garden, albeit a small one to start with. And I have a secret weapon now that I have not always had…a gardening guru.
Here are her credentials:
It all started back in April when we contracted our favourite paving genius, Scott, to pull up the old pavers in the courtyard and re-lay them, removing tree roots and other impediments to a level paving surface once again. I really didn’t need to break a hip by falling on the way to the clothesline. As we were clearing away the various piles of old pavers and bricks, left over from at least four other jobs, as well as various stacked pots, the garden beds were clearly revealed. They were in an unimpressive state of compressed soil, so poor it was hard to believe I’d been growing herbs in them for some 20 years!
Scott and his helpers came and performed their levelling magic. But something inside me was niggling…level pavers was just not enough. Those garden beds were a wasted opportunity. My large kitchen window looks out over the courtyard, which, in summer when the spa is uncovered is pleasant enough, but the other 8 months of the year it is pretty ordinary. I’d managed to grow enough herbs over the years to sustain my culinary activities, but even that had dwindled to a paltry half dead mint plant and a lonely dwarfed parsley that wanted to survive, but needed intervention.
I’m always in awe of the creativity the human brain can conjure when allowed to ramble freely. Mine began to conceive of a built up herb garden, with completely fresh growing medium and something that added beauty to the area. My good friend who I call my ‘Gardening Guru’ (GG) told me of a growing medium she had stumbled upon a couple of years ago. Manure. Surprisingly, she said that she used PURE, dried out and decomposed cow manure. Knowing she grows the most amazing vegetables every year (see above photo), my ears pricked up. Could this be my transitioning agent, from lacklustre gardener to Miss Confident Gardner 2020? God knows 2020 needs to have been a good year for something!
Like a storm in my brain, the creative waves began to gather. I measured the space of my old herb garden and calculated if I dug down about 150mm, and built a retaining wall around the area, adding about 200mm height from ground level I would have a deep enough bed to put in gravel for drainage, and 3/4 cubic metre of cow poo as my growing medium. It would be deep enough to accommodate the root systems of herbs and some small veggies, like lettuce and rocket (arugula), should I feel more adventurous. Then, came the really creative part. Could I take five different sizes and colours of bricks, blocks and pavers, in varying quantities, left over from four different jobs and build one good looking garden surround?
First things first…transplant to a pot the poor little parsley plant that had survived the summer remaining almost the same size as when I planted it, six months previously. That done, in May I began digging out the 150mm of hard, packed old garden bed. It was just awful soil, full of rocks and very poor, compacted soil. What was I thinking? Knowing my 67 year old back is not used to hard labour, and that I also did not want to agitate fibromyalgia symptoms, I went about the project very slowly and carefully, digging with a pick and shovel a bucket of dirt at a time. I would carry the bucket of dirt to areas of the garden that just needed fill, but in which we didn’t want to grow anything. Engage abdominals, fill bucket, lift with my legs and lug the bucket of crappy soil from the courtyard to the receiving area. I could only do about six or eight buckets in one session. It was hard going.
After ten days or so the base soil was removed. Next I bought gravel to put in the bottom, for drainage. Then it was time to play with my blocks. I lost count of how many different patterns I considered but eventually I reasoned that the back of the bed could use the least attractive and even broken pieces because it would nearly all be covered by soil eventually. I began placing the best blocks and bricks into symmetrical patterns at the front, and things began to fall into place. After I laid the firm base using leftover driveway pavers, I could start at the front of the area, using the best bricks to make sure it looked attractive. Of course levels had to be maintained evenly so that once it was filled with the manure, it would look even and be easy to work around. Again, this phase had to be done in a number of sessions because… bricks. are. heavy. And they had to come from three different areas around the garden, where we had neatly stacked them. Fortunately, our little red hand-truck, gifted to my husband many years ago, was my valuable friend. (Thank you Chappie)
Purple gloves have been my gardening friends for years. They are sturdy and impervious and I know where my fingers are at all times. After months of serious hand washing and sanitising, the hands didn’t need any more wear and tear. Gradually the edge took shape. When I had finished, I had only ONE piece of a paver left. Every single other spare brick and paver had been used. No one was more amazed than me. In fact, I’m sure NO one will be amazed at all! When you look at the bed, it just looks like ‘oh, yeah, that looks normal.’ End of story. I hasten to add, I was not using cement to hold it all together, that would have been one skill too far for me, I think. But Scott had said he didn’t think I would need it, and so far it appears he was right.
Next I needed the cow manure to fill the remainder of the bed. Problem. The manure that was delivered had large chunks of very hard, decomposed material. GG told me it would be fine, just water down once it was in place and then use the spade or garden fork to break it up. Sounds much easier than it is, believe me. She said hers had been well broken down when she got it, but mine was still quite lumpy. She guessed that it was probably a local source and given our very dry couple of years, there had probably not been enough moisture to foster dung beetles who would have aided in breaking it down. The earth’s ecosystem at work, or not, in my case. Once again, my trusty bucket and I began shovelling shit and carrying it. This time it was actual shit. I carried from the pile on the edge of the yard, back to the courtyard and into the hole. Engage abdominals, shovel carefully, lift with your legs and carry to destination. Eight buckets a session. Every few days I would water it down and let the moisture soak the clumps then break it up with the gardening fork or the spade. And every couple of days I gave my body a rest day.
Somewhere during this stage of things I realised my fitness was improving. I began to look around toward continuing the activity once the herb garden was established. I finished up with some extra manure, so I decided to dig up the other small areas and incorporate the remaining manure into them. I could feel my courtyard beginning to love me back. After previous success with water rooted basil cuttings, I began to make cuttings of some succulents I had bought last summer but not known how to care for properly. What was left were some wilted branches, which I snapped off and put into water. Presto, I now have 10 perky cuttings all with roots, six of which are planted into pots for future transplanting. Then I took my mostly dead, wholly root-bound mint and divided it into three clumps (mint will survive almost anything, even me) and planted those into pots of fresh potting mix. They have bounced back like curls in a hair commercial. Totally giddy with success, I gratefully accepted my next door neighbour’s offer of seeds from her very interesting looking basil that has purple tips on green leaves. I scattered them into pots of fresh mix and I have lots of tiny green leaves poking their heads up.
We are still a couple of weeks away from planting seedlings, due to frost risk, but I am hopeful. The nursery of seedlings grows, the growing medium becomes more lush by the day, and my soul has been gently lifted by the effort and achievement. GG and I realise, we are at our best when maintaining our positivity (see others who find solace in nature here and here )
So, what does digging around my garden wearing purple gloves, looking for a particular earthworm have to do with this story?
As I was preparing the last little space of garden bed to receive its share of the cow poo makeover, I moved the rescued, and completely transformed, pot of parsley from the bed, up out of the way of the digging. As I did so, there was a lovely fat earthworm enjoying the moisture. Not wanting to cut him in half with my spade, I carefully picked him up and placed him in the new bed. After consulting GG as to whether I’d done the right thing, she suggested he might like a more moist area. So I donned the purple gloves and raced back outside to retrieve him and place him elsewhere that is consistently moist. But I was too late. He had already made himself at home and disappeared into the moist manure, hopefully to enjoy many years of happy digging. In fact, maybe that will make two of us. Nature shows us in myriad small ways how to dig around and be grateful and move forward. I’m always looking for my pony.
Why do we need someone to remind us that our view of the world is unique? Why is it so difficult to understand that each and every life on this planet has had a different trajectory? Siblings can grow up in the same household and have extraordinarily different lives. We can stand side by side seeing the same view and appreciate very different aspects.
Maybe it is scary to think that others are different to us, even though we know that for the most part we are the same. We have the same motivations, though they modify with the individual. We have the same emotions, again, greater or lesser, from person to person. But it’s that teeny tiny little fraction of difference that we either focus on, and fear, or forget to celebrate…or find it necessary to express creatively.
Over a year ago I started listening to podcasts. I imagine most of you have been doing that for a while and I’m a lagger in this pursuit, but timing is everything in life. We discover when it is our time to discover. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear, as the wisdom goes. In podcasts I have found a great resource for inspiration at a time when I wanted to make some changes in my creative practices. One of the best quotes, among many excellent ones I’ve heard is…
breathe in experience, breathe out poetry –Muriel Rukeyser
A friend of mine says to me that the art I make is as a result of ‘having a life’. The first time she said it I knew it was true, the way you recognise truth by feeling it in your heart, rather than thinking it in your head. But this recent quotation was a beautiful reminder. And so if we breathe in our experiences, and we wish to be creative with them, we can breathe out whatever art we want to make. And it will be unique. No one else can replicate it. We can strive to be the very best version of ourselves because no one else can do that.
As a result of my creative quest and podcast listening, I began a new drawing practice. I can only say to you that the previous way I had of drawing seemed to impede my self expression. Perhaps I had not practiced enough, but I was bored with trying it that way. And so I thought I would begin again, as much as that is possible.
I want to draw more childlike, I have decided–from my imagination, playful, and relaxed.
It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but the rest of my life to paint like a child.
Having actually seen a painting by a teenage Picasso, I can vouch for the fact that he was a classical painter at a very young age. Most people don’t think of his work in that way at all.
So for the year 2018, I wish you the ability to breathe in life and its experiences, and breathe out whatever creative expression you choose. It may not be easy, but it will be your unique legacy. I leave you with wisdom from poet ee cummings, who fought all his life to be recognised as himself…
A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feelings through words.
This may sound easy. It isn’t.
A lot of people think or believe or know they feel — but that’s thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling — not knowing or believing or thinking.
Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.
To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.
I have been scrolling. In passed decades we might have said ‘thumbing’ through photos taken during the passed year, trying to select the images that most represent my mindset and aesthetic. In doing so I was reminded of a Japanese term that when I first saw it went immediately to the ‘knowing’ centre of me.
Previously, I hadn’t put a name to my habit of looking for the perfection of the imperfect. Another piece to an infinite puzzle revealed. And then today, as I contemplated WordPress’s word of the day I felt another irregular little piece click into place.
The nature of all things to blossom, deteriorate and still reveal their beauty is pure resilience. It fills me with hope and steadies my wobbles. We creatures of nature are incredibly resilient. We will continue to be so, imperfectly perfect and into a new year and beyond.
Sarah, from The Practical Mystic , wrote a thought provoking post a couple of days ago. She often inspires me and I have responded to her, with a post that answers the questions she asked. Would you like to do the same? I don’t usually structure my blog this way, but thought it might be fun. You can write your answer to one or all of these questions and post it in the comments section below, or create an entire post including a link back to my post, and then leave your link in the comments section of this blog, so that others can find you. We might get to know each other a little better. Or you can do none of the above and just enjoy reading.
What is your favourite childhood memory?
When I was about 8 years old, my Dad saw that I was trying to draw a lady’s face. He was in his work clothes, either going to or coming from the farm but he sat down and showed me how to draw a face. He didn’t know how to draw, but he knew more than I did. Mum and I were always close and I have many memories of her patiently passing along many skills. Dad worked long hours and didn’t often have time to give to us, one-on-one, so this memory stands out for me, and I return to it often.
How old would you be if you did not know how old you are?
I like how I am now. (just as well isn’t it?) It happens I am 63. Despite the vagaries of an ageing body, I love how I feel mentally and spiritually at this stage in my life. The whole of my life has led me to now.
If you could offer a newborn child only one piece of advice, what would it be?
In the words of Elmer Fudd, ‘Be bwave widdoe wabbit’ (spell checker is going nuts…)
What is your favourite quote?
Quote from poet Antonio Machado—
Honey Bee on native daisy, Olive Pink Botanic Garden
Recently I read a blog post about that time of the day when the sun has dipped below the horizon, but it is not quite dark yet. ‘What is that called?’ the author asked the fellowship who follow her blog. ‘Twilight’ my mind thought softly, and I noticed others said the same. Twilight. Ephemeral word and… state of being and… sky to behold. A memory worthy of shivers, recalling the many twilights, both morning and evening, I have seen.
Near Cincinnati, Ohio.
Someone volunteered another word– ‘gloaming’. An old English word kept alive by the Scots, to glorify either end of the day. I couldn’t stay awake late enough for a gloaming photo in July, in Scotland, when the sun would barely set before sunrise again. Shivers shoot up my back with fingers extending across my shoulders at recognition of something I want to remember. Is it a piece to the puzzle of the Universe? I always ask this question. I know that it must be, and yet I have no idea the significance. Perhaps it is just the Universe showing us its majesty.
glowing gloaming at home in Alice
Another contribution offered the French word, ‘le crépuscule’. Wouldn’t you know the French would have a beautiful word too? Again the chills ran up my spine. I found a resource online so that I could be certain of the pronunciation. The Italian word is very similar ‘crepuscolo’ –equally poetic. What a marvel the internet is, when one is enlightened and inspired by it.
before the moon set
Just before sunrise, Alice Springs
Sunrise before the rain.
It seemed to me this illumination of the Earth’s lower atmosphere fell perfectly into the theme of ‘enlightened,’ inspired by another blogger, Ailsa, who writes about some of the darkness in our world and her efforts to share positivity and love to counter it. See what Ailsa and others have written on the topic here. Join in. Illumination is the opposite of darkness. There is darkness in our world, but we can choose to light the way, if we try.
I’m not a water person. I’ve tried wading into the sea many times— just in case I’d changed my mind since the last time. I’m a mountain person. Mountains wait for you to come to them, but you can enjoy them from afar too. If you wade into the sea, sooner or later you will find a wave that is larger than you think it is going to be. It may swamp you—knock you off your feet, even, and take you where you don’t want to go. This is not always a bad thing, I know. But this post isn’t about swimming in the sea, it’s about how I avoid being swamped by the deluge of modern media, and use it to inspire.
A few days ago I happened across an article written by James Clear. I’d never heard of him before. Had I not signed up for a curated series of articles through a site called Medium, I would still not have heard of him. The article was titled ‘Forget about setting goals; Focus on this instead’. He talked about goals being the things we want to achieve, but the systems we put in place being the manner by which we achieve them. I liked the clear (pardon pun) way he set out the article and at the end he offered a subscription to a free newsletter he writes; which led me to a free article he had written called ‘Mastering Creativity: A Brief Guide on How to Overcome Creative Blocks’(you have to sign up for his newsletter to get access to this article or I would give you the link). I have been trying to start a new creative practice of drawing for some months now. I’m getting nowhere. Ok it’s probably because I’m just not drawing much. Ahem. Other areas of creative endeavour are flowing along, some better and some less so, but not the drawing. I thought perhaps reading someone else’s view on the pursuit of creativity might be called for. I liked his simple and direct way of making practical suggestions, most of which were things I have read before, but it never hurts to be reminded again.
James’s article and subsequent information is an example of how I am often led through a logical progression to break up the cobwebs and introduce new thought patterns. You probably have your own ways to use things like Instagram, Twitter and blogs as inspiration. In some cases I deliberately follow accounts I know nothing about. I don’t necessarily want to learn how to do whatever the subject of the feed, but it helps expand my thinking toward what is possible. I follow an Instagram account about sourdough bread baking by a fellow who is an artisan baker in Italy (Insta: ca_mia_breadlab); also an account about extreme knitting by a young woman who uses custom made knitting needles the size of drain pipes (I know!); an Instagram account about a young woman who executes incredible street art; also an artist who draws unusual little characters that are tremendously empathic beings (I’m so infatuated with her work). I also follow a few photographers(this link is for Australian based photographer Leanne Cole, whose work I love and who remains very accessible) that publish images I can relate to and learn from, as well as people who live in other parts of Australia and other countries. It’s a big world out there. What is the point surrounding myself with that which I’m already familiar?
inspired by Instagram tag #lovelydeadcrap_bw
Inspired by Leanne Cole’s macro work
inspired by Instagram: ca_mia_breadlab
inspired by Instagram account: thisismytree
recipe and inspiration for ‘brined vegetables’ all gleaned from internet
• Twitter – I often see articles of writing that interest me, most recently a book titled ‘We’re All Going to Die’ by Leah Kaminsky—not a grim reaper sort of book, but a book about culture and our experiences and conversations around death.
• Blogs – seem to evolve as friendship as well as inspiration because often the authors write from a very personal viewpoint about things in their lives. I’m more partial to blogs that are well written than I am likely to follow just because they are different. Blog writing is an art of its own. (here is a recent, and very short article with very useful writing tips)
I realised a couple of years ago I needed to curate my social media encounters the way a museum curates works of art, and the way I choose my friends—carefully, meaningfully. If it becomes too much, before long, nothing is special. But that is just me. I am easily stimulated, and equally, easily over-stimulated. I need to follow authors and artists that don’t overwhelm me. Sometimes that means I ‘unfollow’. You may be able to ignore what you don’t want to read, but I have to look at it and digest it before I can accept or reject it and move on. All that functioning and sensory input overwhelms my brain easily.
this serene image wouldn’t be possible if I hadn’t learned to shoot and edit iPhone photos from iPhone Photography School, all online
It seems to me in today’s world, there are two ways to go (probably more). You can purposefully seek media encounters that inspire you, or you can allow the flooding deluge of it all to carry you hither and yon. I may visit hither and yon one day, but when I do it will be a purposeful journey, taken because the inspiration has led me there and not because I was knocked off my feet and washed upon its shores unexpectedly.
How do you use modern media to inspire you?
(note: the link to the Artisan Baker in Italy is for his airbnb residence where he teaches bread baking; Instagram is where I found, and follow him, if you are so inclined)
(This is the post I wrote last Friday before the ice storm. We had been home two days when the storm came and so I thought this post could wait for more current events!)
Many of you were not following when I started my blog nearly five years ago.(a very early post you might enjoy here) I started it while having radiation treatment in Darwin, 1000 miles from home. It was a soul searching, solitary, and challenging, but also very rewarding 7 weeks.
Alone in the light.
I have just returned from my five year consultation with the surgeon, and the tests that confirmed, all is well. The surgeon told me in October, five years from when I started the aromatase inhibitor medication I will be able to discontinue it. Further, she told me that the mammogram imaging has improved so much that I will be able to discontinue the difficult breast MRI test, unless the high resolution mammogram shows something unusual. (Mammogram remains an extraordinarily painful compression of one’s sensitive body parts, however!) Five years is a significant benchmark and I was greatly relieved, feeling very very fortunate.
The lady in the corner quietly crying into her tissues reminded me how far I had come.
For many years walking and enjoying nature has been a calming habit for me. It keeps me centred and feeling normal, even when things are abnormal. The recent week we spent in Adelaide began with a breast MRI the first day, and ended on the last day with the mammogram and surgeon consultation. In between were five days. I hesitate to say it was an uncertain time, because nothing in life is certain. But no doubt our awareness of uncertainty is sometimes heightened. One morning I told my husband I need to go find some light to photograph. The Adelaide Botanic Garden is not far from our hotel and I thought that would be the place. He wanted to join me, which was fine. He understands my frequent stops and contortionist positions to capture images I’m chasing. Here was my therapy for that day.
Banyan tree in morning light
lovely dead lily pads
homage to Georgia O’Keefe
Gingko with dew
For all of society’s increasing interest in taking photos, there are still life moments that escape being photographed. The moment of certainty (however temporary) in the surgeon’s room, was not a Kodak moment. But this set of photos above, taken during that week, will be in my mind for a very long time.
This final photo is no prize winner, but it was a shared meal with our daughter and my husband, a good bottle of wine at our favourite Chinese restaurant with my husband’s grateful words;
‘Here’s to good boob health!’ Always a good toast!
I’ve cleaned our house for years, not because I love cleaning, but because I love a clean and orderly place in which to live. And when it comes to exercise, it is not much different. I don’t love exercise, but I love an orderly and responsive working body!
Back in September of 2015, I started working with a personal trainer. We hit it off right away. The reason I sought her out is because I have Fibromyalgia* (since 1999) and a 62 year old body, which is not improving in condition. Despite my frequent walks and more or less consistent sit-ups, yoga and stretches, I could tell things were going in a negative direction strength-wise. I’m not ready to deal with an increasing number of preventable aches and pains or sit in a chair and wait to die.
I thought perhaps if I shared a bit about this experience with you it might be of some value. We all have weaknesses in our bodies. I don’t dwell on mine, just accept they are there and try to work with what I’ve got. I knew when I needed help, and that I had reached the end of my limited knowledge of yoga, aerobic exercise, and physical therapy exercises, all of which have actually helped me maintain a reasonable level of flexibility…but not strength. I just didn’t know where to go to get the help.
Gym ball doubles as office chair, floor doubles as exercise studio
The fact that the nerve cells get overly excited with any kind of unusual movement means that most exercise classes and trainers who believe you have to ‘push through the pain’ are completely inappropriate for me. An added difficulty is, when supplementing new movements to my exercise regime I need to do them very nearly every single day for months before the muscles finally ‘remember’ the movement and don’t get sore when I skip a couple of days and then start up again, which is inevitable in life. I needed a trainer who understood all of this and could help me work with the abilities I have. As seems to be my current, very good relationship with the Universal Energies, Alexandra appeared in my life! She is a qualified ‘C.H.E.K.’(Corrective, Holistic, Exercise, Kinesiology) trainer, which is a particular protocol that tries to balance one’s movement with diet, sleep and chi, appropriately tailored to individual needs and goals. I filled out several hours’ of paperwork, and a 10 day diet diary at the beginning, so that she could evaluate my needs. Also I read a couple of books she suggested so that I could better understand her approach, but she tells me not everyone is amenable to the books, and that is okay too.
Having worked on diet, sleep hygiene and some moderate physical movement for years, most areas of concern are in pretty good shape. We reviewed them and made minor changes. For the physical movement, however, we started with a whole new program of stretches and strength training. The stretches were specifically targeted to correct certain problems with back and groin pain, and began to help immediately. We are talking very targeted movements here. She started me with very low level core strength training and we began building. I was going great until November when my right knee didn’t like a particular move we tried and swelled up, and then in December my left foot had a problem and again recently the groin and back pain tried a resurgence. So we backed things up and did some remedial work. Such was the benefit I experienced with the core strength exercises and stretches, I pushed myself to continue doing what I could even while finishing the photo challenge—all very challenging indeed.
We are into 6 months of training now and I am pleased with the areas already improved. I can’t say enough good things about the process, even though I still don’t like exercise! I do stretches and strength building for about 25 minutes each day, and I take a walk. All up, the time invested is about 1hr to 1 1/4 hours a day. And now I am able to take one day a week off without the muscles reacting too badly. In fact a day of rest about once a week has proved to be very helpful…and normal.
2 kg free weights resting on my yoga mat
The cost and time investment are things most people, including me, think about when considering a ‘personal trainer’. It sounds so exclusive and, one assumes, expensive. Alexandra and I have only had about 6 one hour sessions (in addition to the initial consult) in the six month period. Partly, that is because I do the work. If I have questions she answers me via email, but would come if I needed her to. She visits me at home, tests my levels of accomplishment with the recent program, and supervises the new moves to replace ones I have mastered. A couple of days later she follows up with a pictorial summary of the updated program. All for $80 a session. The initial consult which took two hours, and for her, even more time afterward, cost $120. I have invested $100 in a gym ball, which now doubles as my computer ‘chair’, and is great for my back, and some graduated free weights which cost less than $60. It is very affordable, especially when considering the costs of going to the physical therapist and chiropractor which I haven’t needed since we started. In addition, my posture is improved, I feel stronger and, in the occasional instance where my old problems recur, the experience is brief and less intense than previous episodes. Usually I only miss one day of training and am back into it the next day with no pain.
I doubt I will ever love exercise. I have come to that realisation. I know it would be good for me to do more, like I know it would be good for me to never eat sugar again. But there’s a limit to these things.
(*Fibromyalgia is a muscle condition where the nerve cells become overstimulated very easily and cause a variety of symptoms. In my case if I overdo it, I ache all over and feel as if I’m coming down with the flu. There is an element of depression, too, which, thankfully I’ve only had to deal with a few times, but the symptoms vary with the individual. Also, most people who have Fibromyalgia also have food sensitivities, as do I)