Category: book

“Well, we will be very sorry to see you go. You’ll be missed,” she said. “I’ll call Andrea in, she’ll want to see you.”

“Oh… do you have to?” I knew Andrea would try to convince me to stay. But Sandra was insistent. A meeting was set up and later that day I had to again face my team leader and the Area Manager, Andrea, to discuss my decision to leave.

“I hear you’re thinking of leaving us,” Andrea began.

I felt a bit ridiculous as we all sat there in our black power suits around the beautifully polished boardroom table. In such a relatively short space of time, I had grown out of this corporate world where I had always been so comfortable. Now it was holding me back, although I had no idea from what.

“I’m not thinking about it, I have actually made my mind up, I’m afraid,” I replied, somewhat apologetically. My logical mind, even then, was thinking things through. This had all been so hasty. It was as if I had my conscious awareness on one shoulder, reminding me of all the things I was giving up: A great career with a promising outlook – promotion appeared to be a given; a wage I had only dreamed of as a kid out of high school with no savings to my name and trying to find enough for rent; a wide variety of people-contact that never staled; a sense that I was doing something good there and really making a difference.

But on my other shoulder, here was this little presence.

“Just do it”, she coaxed, very simply. “Be strong.” And that’s all she gave me to go on as I made a life altering decision in the presence of my work superiors.

 Extract from “Having & Holding Ellanor” – my memoir

I went into a familiar fog on the weekend.

I was struck down with a weird “cold” that turned into nothing more than a cracker of a headache and an achy throat. A sensation that has persisted the entire week. I know enough to know by now that illness and body discomforts, yes, they come and go. But if I want to, I can look deeper into the wisdom that my body is surfacing. The choice is mine. This time, I chose to delve deeper and not just succumb to the common cold without listening to it.

Stabbing throat. What am I afraid to say? What am I stopping myself from expressing?

On Saturday, I was just quietly resting on the couch by the fire. Dozing, dreaming.
On Sunday, I was wandering the grounds of a local school with my little family, getting completely wrapped up in its magic.
By Sunday night, as I was tucking the LGBB into bed she said to me – without terribly much discussion and no definitive decision yet made – “I’m nervous about changing schools but excited.” I left her with a kiss and a “Good night” but was non-committal, there were still things to consider (like… am I ready for the emotional upheaval of taking on a whole new environment… because my mind was still playing catchup).
Then on Monday morning, it became apparent that Lolly was way ahead of us through a sequence of very short, quick events which set in motion the no-turning-back decision to change schools. Much like in the above extract, which occurred on a normal run-of-the-mill work day without so much as an inkling that I might resign when I had woken that morning, it felt beyond my conscious doing yet so easy to put in motion that it was simply… right. And it would all turn out okay.

As we backed out of the driveway, Lolly exclaimed enthusiastically, “I can’t WAIT to start at my new school!” I thought I’d misheard her.

We hadn’t even properly talked the idea through. Her father and I were still weighing up options and the timing of her moving now, although we’d planned to revisit the idea at the end of the year if the option of moving still held sway with Lolly.  She adores her teacher (we do, too). Her school is fine, we have grown very loyal very quickly – but this was confirmation that, for her, there was another, better fit. I have had a growing suspicion for some time now that there was, sometime, somewhere out there. She is an ever upbeat, positive child, enthusiastic and encouraging of her peers and their efforts – it is hard even for me sometimes to know if she is truly satisfied because genetically, she’s been given a double dose of the ability to make good from any situation. To ride things out, to just get through and retreat to the safety and warmth of home at the end of a trying day out in the world if it is too hard. I have seen her move through various times of deep dissatisfaction, socially, in the past few years and have always marvelled at her innate sense of “getting through”. It’s like watching a plane on auto pilot. But I have also wondered – and worried – more than once if it is ultimately so good to let a child this young learn to cope and adapt to environments that don’t properly nurture her and round out her unique personality.

When do we step in and suggest something different? Without influencing our child or giving in to them too much? It’s a fine balance sometimes, isn’t it? As it turns out, this time all I had to do was unlock the gate – Lolly has swung it open for herself to discover what is on the other side. All she needed was our blessing, which we’ve given.

Ultimately, she gave the indicator that spurred me into motion. So it’s settled: next term when she goes to school, it will be in a new space. One that, now she roughly has the hang of how “going to school” works, is a decision made by her and supported by us. I had expected to do this sort of thing with/for her when she was deciding on high schools, or perhaps jobs or university courses. Still, this is how we roll as a family. Boundary keeping for a child who knows where she is headed and who heads us there very gently but always with good humour and enthusiasm.

 

Have you ever moved schools? Have you ever moved your child? How did it go?

 

Oh, help.

This morning has been spent with my stepmother’s notes on my manuscript. She made them in the final two weeks before her death. Damn! She left so quickly, I had no time to ask for her unrivalled ability to tease out my best thoughts.

If you are just catching up on my “story so far”, here is a brief synopsis of the current pressing points: my stepmother and I had been estranged for the better part of the past ten years. When it became apparent (that is, when she could no longer manage the pain in her body through sheer willpower alone) last November that she was gravely ill, I went to her bedside and remained there with rarely more than three days’ break at a time for the next two months. The times I was not with her physically would usually find us on the phone for hours at a time. Literally. I have already written about our conversations regarding my memoir, which she had yet to read.

The last night I saw her, she had handed it back to me. Only today did I feel strong and focused enough to approach the files on my computer and put her notes into “practice”.

I knew today was the day because I had this song playing on a loop in my head as soon as I woke. After two hours, I could take no more and acceded it was time to spend some time with my Ellanor.

 

So now I am at a part in the story where Susi has written in the margins that I have made “an important point – perhaps two – and I’m not sure quite what it/they are. So, more clarity. As in…?” She then goes on to deftly rearrange, and make better, the following paragraph.

From this:

The truth is, I had no idea when I began what was expected to be an ordinary, everyday life with my chosen partner that there were such rich rewards to be found in adversity; that with Steve I was, in fact, destined to live a most extraordinary existence. Embracing my experiences and their potential to transform me into my most natural state of being was actually a choice, I would soon discover. Not in spite of our hardships but because of them.

To this:

The truth is, when I began what was expected to be an ordinary, everyday life with my chosen partner, I had no idea that such rich rewards were to be found in adversity; that with Steve I was, in fact, destined to live a most extraordinary existence. Embracing its experiences and their potential to transform me into my most natural state of being was actually a choice, I would soon discover. Not in spite of our hardships but because of them.

 

Such subtle tweaks, but ones I could not see because I am too close to the work and have read it too often. Now, any editor who goes over my work would find and fix these. However, I’m not so sure I will be lucky enough to find one who will help me tease out the magic. It’s like knowing there are Easter eggs in the game you’re playing but not exactly sure where they are – even if you have an idea where they could be – and then, no idea how to unlock them to gain the extra levels.

More expansion, more contemplation. To answer the question, “What do you mean – not in spite of our hardships but because of them”? Or does that come out as the reader reads on? It’s hard for me to say. It’s equally hard for me to trust others’ input on this. And so, I have reached a new intersection on the journey of writing a big book.

This work is the work of my life. It is right that it is difficult, painstaking. It is fair that I go away from it and come back and that it taunts me when I am not focused on it. Like a petulant child of the Me Generation, I want to reap the fruits of my labours NOW! But to do so would be denying the as yet untapped and hidden potential in my words. And my short-term gain would greatly diminish the potential of the book’s true worth for the reader. While I could scour the internet and other resources for the finest, most in-tune editor I can afford, ultimately, I know that there are still diamonds in the rough of my words. Worlds within the words. Places the reader will be able to go as they put my book down and really ponder their own truth.

That is what I want. An expansion for the reader. But first, I must be the one with the vision of where the book must expand. It’s so close. And I am incredibly buoyed by the sight of my stepmother’s hand on the pages I entrusted to her. In many respects, far too late. But so poignantly timed it takes my breath away.

Her tears fall as she looks at me, incredulous and bursting with enthusiasm.

“Of course I want to read your bloody book!” she says with a happy wail. So I post it to her, complete as it stands right now – a full two books’ worth, if truth be told – and hope for the best. Hope she will at least begin reading but tell myself not to expect much, either in terms of feedback or length of time it takes for her to get through it. I can only wonder if she will get time to read it over the months before her imminent death.

“Kirrily, is it too late to call you? I have some things to say about your delectable book,” she says down the phone. It’s 10:30pm. I sit and listen as she accurately pinpoints every little nuance, every detail I have subtlely woven in. She can see them. She has lifted all the tiny rocks in my story and waited patiently for the creature within to reveal itself. She gets it. She gets the pain and the anguish and the ever-present over-arch that comes with persistent infertility for the first time in her life, she says. She gets me. This time, we only talk until midnight. I thank the Universe silently, once again, that this is all happening during the summer holidays so that our family can roll with the late-night punches and routine interruptions a little more easily.

“It’s getting harder now. I came the closest to death yet yesterday.” She sounds weaker on the phone this time. Her emails are becoming confusing and confused. Yet still, she perseveres with my manuscript. I regret out loud that I sent it to her. She finds the strength to push back to me, “No, don’t you do that. Don’t say that. This is vital.”

I worry. I phone a mutual friend in despair. What if this is sucking the life force out of her? I ask. The wise old friend says to me, “Hey listen, the dying do this. They seek and find the loose ends. They tie up the big things that have claimed so much of them in life. You are helping her rest in peace.”

God. This is getting too much. Little did I know when I wrote the book that it would become something that held so much significance for someone so close to me. What is it? What is it she is searching for in those pages?

“I’ve finished your baby.” She tells me with great relief. She is sitting in her chair. I have come to visit for what turns out to be the final time. The read-through has taken her two painstaking weeks. We talk some more about the relevance of the book. We move on to other stuff. I help clean out her room a little more, I finger the books on her shelves. A lifetime of reading and research, some of them her own published works. This woman is a book. I grimace internally again at the loss to the world that will come in her death. I daren’t say any such thing out loud because I know she will counter me with a wave of her hand and a reminder that we are all teeny tiny grains of sand. But can’t we shape shift entire mountains together, as grains of sand? I want to ask. It’s impossible.

“Now you listen to me.” She grabs my hand with surprising force once she is propped back up in bed. Today has been very hard on all of us. Traumatic to witness. Ultimately, I am thankful I have been here in their home, her sole audience. I have just finished packing up the books and cards I have helped her to pick out. She has written to as many grandchildren as she can. She could hardly hold the pen to the surface by the third one. She is very tired now. So tired.

“You must get that book published. And listen…” I lean in closer. Because she’s making me! “You are an incredible writer. I love, love, love the way you write.” She fixes me with her steely blue sharp stare when I begin to shrug off her high praise. Coming from her, this is too much. I have viewed my stepmother as a great wordsmith for as long as I have known her, which is nigh on twenty-four years. Every letter she’s ever written me, every book, every work manual… meticulous in their pitch and prose. She made them so. She waggles my arm and stresses her point. “No. Now, stop that and get that look off your face. You are a writer. Know it. You simply are. I only wish I could have done more, I don’t think I have done my job…. Now get it published and don’t stop until you do. It will happen.”

She breaks her grip and waves casually to the paper bag containing my manuscript next to her on the bed. “Here it is back again, and you might find some other things in there as well that could be useful.”

We lock gazes. She’s not the same as she was a few days ago. Her thoughts are drifting, I can almost see it. Like vapours shifting to another realm, already she is heading there. In three short days, she will be gone.

When I get home late that evening after the three hour drive, I pull out the contents of the bag onto my kitchen bench. It has burned a hole in the passenger seat all the way and I have been itching to take a look inside. The manuscript. I flick through pages. Half-way through, I turn to my husband (still working hard at his computer) and muse, incredulous, “She’s edited the entire fecking thing. She’s amazing!” Sentences I have struggled with for several years have been flipped and corrected with her familiar hand. Little trips and quirks in my writing, cleaned up with pinpoint accuracy. I can hardly believe my eyes as I consider the super-human effort this must have taken her. She didn’t just read this for herself. She read this for the world. I get it now. I try to stop the feelings of guilt rushing up and gulp them back down. No, she wanted to do this. The book hasn’t taken the life out of her. It’s allowed her to die not wondering, I tell myself.

Alongside the manuscript is a notebook. I open it to discover it is one of her diaries. I see quickly that they contain entries right back to 2002, many of which hold conversations from her perspective that I had with her back then about “this little presence” I had begun to notice around me. I am floored. I am humbled into silence and feel the pounding in my chest. She has captured Ellanor too. She was holding her all along, right behind me. The deep significance of our first child to my stepmother, and the magnitude of this read-through, becomes painfully, beautifully, hopelessly clear.

A week after her funeral, I look out at my backyard. Under the cover of fast-falling darkness, the greens appear more rich, the leaves hold more secrets. I turn my gaze up to the clear dusk sky and see the bright, lone evening star. Like her piercing blue eyes on me, the star is holding me in its presence. I stare at it. It appears to be focusing on me just as intently.

Can lone stars achieve anything? Or are they destined to stand out for a little while before getting lost amongst the eventual light of billions of other stars around them?

I just don’t know. But I do know one thing now: I’d better bloody well try. Just as soon as I make those edits she’s marked….

 

Thank you, Sus

Another year passes and my senses focus back in on the dream that was borne and lost so long ago now.

It has been nine years today since Ellanor was born and made us sit up and take notice. Of ourselves, of each other, of the significance in the life in all things, right down to the finest blade of grass by the roadside. In these intervening years, I have sought strength and comfort in a great many things, my aim being to share what I found and how I actually came to (quite early on) find my peace. I’m still unsure if I ever explained all that adequately, but it will have to be enough. But if I ever thought the magic in her coming had been well and truly done and dusted now, I would be mistaken. This life is orchestrated so minutely, the present so interwoven with events from long ago, that only once I reach the point of closing another door to the past do I fully appreciate the absolute beauty of the learning that is to be found in all sorts of painful lessons.

One of the few teachers around me who would have had the strength not to shy away from this ordeal was actually out of my life this entire time. For ten years, we were estranged by … well, I still don’t know. Besides, the reason is no longer relevant. The point is, this person wasn’t there. And yet… she was! Just tantalizingly out of my reach. I’m not talking about Ellanor this time. No, I’m talking about my stepmother. Although we had not been on speaking terms (rather, I wanted desperately to speak with her and have a relationship with her but she had stepped away most definitely and remained mysteriously and consistently distant and cold for reasons unexplained and still largely unknown to me), it was she – even through the estrangement – who wrote and offered us this most magnificent story which might very well have Ella’s, Steve’s and my names in it but is a message with universal implications, all the same.

If you haven’t read the true fairytale “Little Ella: A Universal Love Story” yet, it’s about time you did I should think. Especially today, in honour of her 9th birthday.

Anyway, all this time while I have been reading and studying and learning, I have felt separated from my stepmother by some necessary, unexplained, force. It’s not been the first (nor is it possibly the last) estrangement of its kind in my life. But this one has smarted the most. She was my closest confidante when we parted ways, if not physically (for there was always the common connection of my father) then certainly energetically. I was confused and would be lying if I said I didn’t sometimes wonder how it could be that someone who seemed to “get” so much of how this strange and beautiful world ticks, and sought meaning in whatever she didn’t understand yet, could be so seemingly callous as to not even come together with me over my child’s death.

Most of all, I wondered how it could be that I had this word scholar (one of two in the family, this one married in, as you might remember Dad is a dying breed of top notch editor) who would never read the book I had penned about my universal journey through grief.

Well. Never say never, I’m here to remind you. Two months ago I got the message that my stepmother is dying. Is, in fact, very ill with secondary tumours that are taking hold quite vigorously and giving her a good chance to get last affairs in order. There was no question, I needed to go to my father’s side. But the unknown was… would I be welcome at hers?

Without thinking about it terribly much, I moved through the doors of my own pained ego and stepped into the embrace of a dying person eager to reconnect. The spell had been broken – although for the record, I never saw a frog prince get kissed – and the shackles dropped away. Being who we are, because this is just what we do, the two of us immediately came together eager to draw a defining line in the sand that symbolised “No slipping back” but allowed room to ask burning questions or express pains. I had just one: “You never read my book and when I found out you were dying, I thought you never would.”

Her tears sprang out like jetstreams. Of course she would love to read it! This Plant woman, who has spent a lifetime reading and studying and learning, this fount of knowledge on the Plant Kingdom and the energy of the Faer Realm, this believer of the importance of spell-making and spell-breaking, all for the sake of the continuation of this golden planet we live on… she is going to read my offering now. I’m almost choking on the opportunity here and couldn’t print it off fast enough for her. Time’s a-wastin’ when you know you’re leaving soon!

Significant paths through any – ANY – hardship or estrangements in your life are being constantly given to you. Sometimes, with all that has befallen me that is just so beyond my control even if I wanted to try and control it (for who is powerful enough to control or prevent death?), I have to remind myself while I am in it that this too shall pass. This is not a test, not in my view. This is life. Simple – and simply complicated – as that. No stage rehearsal, we are living the real thing every day. When it’s shit, yes it’s shit. And it can get really… really shit. But it’s still not a practice run. You don’t get to do over that exact day ever again. In some respects, thank goodness for that, ‘eh?!

I have learned one thing from this reconnection if nothing else: Life is a fairytale, if we choose to see it. Fairytales aren’t always sweet and light (but they have their moments). They can be dark and downright grisly. They can be scary and confronting. The messages are there, and it is our choice how (or if) we interpret them as we go along with them.

And as I type, my daughters’ story – and that of Steve’s and mine – is sitting in transit somewhere, most likely in the post sorting plant, on its way to the lap of a woman whose insights I have highly regarded since I was 15 years old. May her spark and her will be with her until all her Earthly plans have come to pass.

They may be gruesome and downright sad at times. But fairytales can also come true, you know. And in her own words, my stepmother quite accurately says:

“People can eventually handle things when they have the common language of story.”

What’s your story?

 

(and don’t worry, that’s merely a rhetorical… unless, of course, you want to share in the comments)

 

Our birthday girl. Thankyou, Sweetpea x

 

Sometimes, a vision comes along that you can’t quite believe. I prefer the sights that are filled with wonder instead of the ones that nightmares are made of – natural beauty like plants that have to be seen to be believed, storms of great magnitute that are both frightening but somehow life-affirming, cloud formations that if I imagine hard enough I can put myself right inside.

I happened to glance up from the kitchen sink at about 6 o’clock last night. Steve, Lolly and I stood and gazed at this donut-storm cloud with the hole in it. Lolly wanted to scoop some up into a cup. She thinks clouds taste like fairy floss. He gave a cursory “Heh, wow.” I marvelled at the sheer size of it. And then dashed for the camera, for I could see the cloud changing before my eyes.

I wanted proof. Proof that this had happened.

So fleeting, these things of beauty that we are so privileged to witness.

They are here one moment and gone the next.

But they were here.

Like tears on a branch.

I had a vision once, but I fear it might be fading. I had the crazy hair-brained notion that as I was a good writer with an incredible story, I’d get there. I’d be noticed. I’d have support from people in the right places at the right time. I had faith for years in this vision. But it’s slipping. It’s being drowned in an endless sea of light fiction and how-to titles like “Shayla and the Poppy Princess meet Fluffknob the Unicorn” and “How To Put The Sunshine In Your Hip Pocket In 12 Easy Steps”. I’ve been relegated to the misery-lit pile before I’ve even been read. How would those who assume to know really understand what pearls are within the pages of my book? Answer is: they wouldn’t. It’s not a book for everyone, that’s a given – there is a vast, untapped audience for it, though. But because of the majority rule, and the formula I haven’t stuck to (including social media shmoozing and the many rules of engagement that go with that), that vision of beauty I once had may well be lost before I have really begun.

To see a book go from concept to completion to bookshelf and sales in less than two years is amazing. Wonderful. Gutting. I’ve slogged for seven years on this now. It doesn’t mean what I have is “not good enough”… it is plenty good enough to cross the first line (to getting an agent and/or publisher). I know that. Others – who are yet to read more than a chapter or even a word – may disagree and so be it. It’s easier to have that opinion if you’re not in any way invested in the reason for getting the story out there.

I am still contacted by women (and some men) desperate for their stories to be heard. Sometimes, just grateful to have the permission to write. This blog seems to provide that outlet where other mediums (like Facebook or mothers group/playgroup) do not for these people. The fact that I have a complete book highlighting many of the angst, trials and tribulations – all tinged with an upward spiral of faith, hope and promise, the most subtle “how to get through” guide – is really frustrating to me. There. I said it. I’m frustrated I can’t find any true backing and support from those who have sway.

I didn’t want my memoir to go the way of so very many good reads (that never get to print stage). It’s so useful. I know this. People who have read it, and didn’t previously realise it would be for them too, also know this. They are the ones who tell me their friends and loved ones would benefit so greatly from it. I wrote it for them, all of them. And I am sorry – daily – that I am not more, that I don’t have more in me, that I am not a different person with more confidence or more connections or more… whatever I need… in order to get it out there and reach them.

And it guts me daily that it may be lost to those who also don’t know that it exists. That they, too, might find their own strength and light and way forward from the solidarity to be found on the pages I have worked over and over to try and snare some willing publisher. When all the while, the flimsy and the fluffy gain ground and become bestsellers – or, even more insulting, the ones that rise up have a quick, short, sharp book tour and then get found in the bargain bin at Big W a month later – which leaves even less room for hope.

I’m not sorry I wrote it. I feel no shame in losing my vision. If I’m honest with myself, I could have tried harder. I could try harder still. There is so much beauty and wonder to be gazed upon in the world. But I think I may just have to accede defeat on this one because I have not yet been willing to sacrifice who I am and what the book stands for in the name of “getting it out there”.

There’s no harm in getting lost in the clouds. But knowing when to come back down to the ground is vital.


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