Wednesday 22 February 2017

Plot Twist: The Unexpected Nature of Living

I'm flying to Barcelona tomorrow for an unexpected family reunion in hospital. After my brother's horrendous 9 hour surgery in March last year I thought that would be the end of it and we could put it all behind us. 

But during a checkup a couple of weeks ago they discovered sarcoma in his liver. I couldn't believe it. It was a shock to everyone. The old terror crept back into my chest. 

The good news is this time it's all moving much quicker. They will be doing radiotherapy on it tomorrow. Apparently he'll be able to feel the burning. Hopefully it will only require one session. He's being really upbeat and brave about it which puts the rest of us a little more at ease.

When I moved from London to Mallorca I was sure I'd see my brother more often but I didn't expect it would be because of illness. After this is all over I plan to visit him more often and to hang out with him far away from the hospital!

I had my own little shock this morning when the gynecologist declared it was time to consider inseminación artificial. If he'd been speaking English, I guess he would have said IVF. I was sure he must have misunderstood me and my life. I had certainly not planned to have any such thing. I was to have a baby easily and naturally with my wonderful husband as simple as that, thank you very much.

I'm not going to jump to conclusions. There are tests to be had and anything could happen in the months ahead. I tell you what though, to anyone planning to have kids in the next few years, I recommend swapping the pill for an alternative contraceptive. It can take over a year to flush it out of your system. I wish I'd known that!

I think it helps to know what you want in life. I think it helps to have goals and dreams. But sometimes your plot will dole out a twist you didn't see coming and what matters is how you deal with it. Luckily, I feel I'm a stronger character than I was a few years ago. I'm determined to call on all the little lessons I've learned over the years to help me take on whatever comes my way. Thank you for letting me share them.

You have to have emptiness before you can be filled. 
You have to exhale before you can inhale - 
Tom Yeomans, spiritual director

Monday 13 February 2017

F is for...

On Friday, after a game of rock, paper, scissors, it was decided I would  be the last person to take their driving test that morning. Expecting an hour wait, I headed to the nearest cafe. My instructor appeared after twenty minutes.

"One drove the wrong way down a street, the other couldn't park. You're up."

I hurriedly put on my coat and paid for my chamomile tea. Although I felt less nervous than the last time, my stomach was still in knots and I was trying to call on every technique I knew to calm down.

The examiner was still talking to the others when I got to the car. They weren't crying at least. Once they'd got out I slipped into the front seat, my instructor beside me, examiner in the backseat.

"When you're ready," the examiner said.

I turned the key, lowered the handbrake, changed to first and started to pull out of the car park. Beepbeepbeepbeep. I stopped to check the beep, which was showing I hadn't lowered the handbrake enough. Damn it. I pushed it down at once, before moving on, hoping the examiner wouldn't take it too seriously. It happens to everyone, doesn't it?

I thought my exam went smoothly. I didn't feel like there were any major problems. I stalled the car twice in my first exam, but this time I felt comfortable, despite the traffic on the motorway exit. After the allotted twenty-five minutes he told me to stop. I turned off the car, feeling nervous but pretty certain I'd passed.

And then he launched into his speech. He mentioned the handbrake...he mentioned I could have slowed down more at one of the zebra crossings.... he mentioned I had lost security distance at the motorway exit and he would have given me a point in my favour if I had not exited at all*. (*I don't believe this for a minute).

As he went on and on, I realised he couldn't look me in the eye. I thought, if he at least looks me in the eye, maybe I can do some Jedi mind trick! But no, he didn't. He droned on and on, while my instructor sat in stony silence in the passenger seat, looking like he planned to reverse over the examiner if he ever finished his lecture and got out of the car.

I don't think I really believed I had failed until he said the word. I stepped out of the car and swore loudly, before turning into a polite Brit and thanking the examiner.

I got home and I couldn't do a thing. I felt really miserable. Exhausted too. At some point I gave up trying to work and just went and lay in bed fully clothed until I fell asleep for two hours. I switched off my phone. Luckily I hadn't told hardly anyone so didn't have to deal with the chirpy, Sooo? messages. 

The next day I received an email from my agent. She said she didn't like my latest idea for a novel I'd sent her. An agent writing to you on a Saturday - that never happens! 

I hadn't recovered from my feelings of failure from the day before, so this just pushed me further into the ground. Not only could I still not drive, my writing career felt like it had stalled. Perhaps I should give it all up and focus on my kids, I thought bitterly. Oh, wait, I couldn't because I hadn't managed to make any yet! In that too, I was a complete failure!

I could observe these vicious thoughts, which meant I wasn't a complete slave to them. I have a lot to thank my parents for. They brought me up on an alternative diet of meditation and spirituality that was tedious at the time, but has come in handy over the years. I've got a lot of tools in my back pocket to deal with failure, I just need the strength to reach for them.

It's Monday now and I'm still trying to get my act together. My Dad told  me that after his own father failed his first driving test he never tried again. He said how you deal with failure shows your strength. I'm not going to give up learning to drive. Not just because it would be a huge waste of money. I'm not giving up because I know I'll get my license in the end. The same way I can't give up writing, because I know, if I keep going, eventually it will pay off.

I have been here before, many times. We all have, haven't we? I know this feeling of failure won't stick around forever. It will pass. It always passes. 

If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading. - Lao-Tzu (Chinese philosopher and writer)



Tuesday 7 February 2017

A Reality Check

I just caught myself about to text the following question to a nomadic friend currently travelling around Asia:

So, when are you coming back to reality?

I stopped before I'd finished the question and tossed my phone aside, disgusted. What was I implying? 

Did I think 'reality' meant a settled lifestyle? A stable job?... a mortgage? 

Had there not been a hint of disapproval in that question? 

Wasn't there an implication that travelling didn't count as reality and therefore not as valuable? As if stepping outside your country is something you must only do briefly before knuckling down to a nine to five job. 

I know people with huge salaries and yet they can't take more than a couple of weeks off a year. Did I consider their reality more sensible?

No, of course not.   

While researching travel writers I stumbled across dozens of websites by digital nomads roaming the world without any intention at all of going 'back home'. I felt impressed by their entrepreneurial spirit and their ability to live with uncertainty. It wasn't what I wanted necessarily, but it did present me with another version of reality.

I had surprised myself, I suppose, by that nearly formulated question. It appeared, despite my irregular writer lifestyle, I  still veered towards the standard  idea of what 'real life' should be.

Dream too big and people will tell you to 'get real' and want to give you a 'reality check'. But just because they are conditioned to think one way, doesn't mean you need to submit to their fears and limitations. It doesn't mean you have to submit to their version of reality.

Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray - Rumi