Saturday, July 26, 2014

A heart simpatico with mine

A couple, found dead in their car this morning, were in their mid twenties, the newsreader said. They had parked in bushland outside of Ballarat, a town renowned for its winter cold.  It seems the couple had been asleep in their car where they tried to stay warm with heat from the running engine whose fumes had overcome them along with their now dead dog.

My mother complained of cold yesterday, too, when the physiotherapist, all blond hair and youth, asked if my mother wanted to show her and her companion, the occupational therapist, how she could sit on the edge of her bed. 

‘No,’ my mother said.  ‘It’s too cold.’

And why did they want her to sit anyway? my mother asked. 

The OT explained how they needed to get my mother up and moving to get her circulation going, and her lungs clear with breathing and exertion.
‘You don’t want to get a chest infection, do you?’

My sister and I stood at the foot of our mother’s hospital bed and watched.  I felt the urge to pitch in and help but these two young women had a system for moving my mother and it was best not to interrupt. 

My mother’s body in her blue striped hospital gown had shrunk, apart from her swollen belly, swollen through an attack of pancreatitis.  Apparently, there is not much the doctors can do for my mother’s condition now other than offer relief.  The gallstones that block her pancreatic duct cannot be removed through surgery or laser because of my mother’s age and so it is a matter of time before she cops another attack. 

In the meantime, we try to keep her comfortable and work out where to next.

Yesterday, the social worker reassured my sister and me that nursing homes are not as they were in the past; not urine soaked wards filled with withered bodies in single beds, and old people, mainly women, languishing there. 

Staff in nursing homes are equipped to assist people like my mother who cannot help themselves.  They have hoists above the beds for lifting. 

For a long time now we have promised our mother that when it comes time for her to die, we will do our best to ensure it happens in her beloved retirement village room. 

But our mother is in this in between place it seems, neither palliative nor able bodied enough to get back to her retirement village, even with extra assistance.  Once a person is palliative and confined to bed there is no further need for lifting and getting into chairs or onto walking frames.  In that case she could go home to die.

I asked my mother if she thinks about dying.  ‘All the time,’ she said. 
I think about what it will be like, but I never was a worrier.  What comes, comes.  So we wait.’ 

My mother is sanguine when left alone dozing in bed but as soon as a nurse comes to take blood and cannot find a vein, or a physio arrives to test my mother’s mobility, she gets distressed such that I cannot not believe her mantra about not worrying. 

Pain causes her to worry despite her optimism.

I had another rejection for my book yesterday.  I want to say nothing about this to anyone. I want to hide the wound inside until the next time I try again in the hope that someone will see merit in my writing and undertake to publish my book, but the rejection sticks in the back of my mind and will not release me. 

I flit from the thought that I should shelve my book.  After four rejections, it’s not working, to another thought: the people who have rejected my book are not interested in my writing because they doubt its commercial value. They doubt that it will attract a broad enough readership.  Fair enough.  I have similar doubts, but then I think there’s a market out there somewhere for a book like mine. 

I broke up with a boyfriend once many years ago.  He was a stevedore who worked with the large transport ships that docked in Port Phillip Bay.  He had come to Australia from South Africa where his wife, whom he had one day caught in bed with another man, had betrayed him.

He was a damaged soul, I reasoned, and one in need of all the love and care I could offer.  But he offered little care or love in return.  In time, I asked for more but he stonewalled.  He was not interested in feelings, his, or mine or anyone’s. So I left him alone in his second floor kitchen in the St Kilda apartment that he shared with another man and never saw him again. 

In those days I lived in Caulfield in a flat, which I shared with a younger sister.  We had next to no furniture apart from a couch and television, the two beds in which we slept, a laminated kitchen table and four chairs.  We were young, though not as needy as the couple in Ballarat.

Every Saturday I took my load of washing, sheets, towels and clothes to the laundromat nearby in Inkerman Street.  On this day, not long after I had broken off with my stevedore, I had the thought that somewhere out there I was sure there beat a heart simpatico with mine. 

Could not the same be true of a publisher, a publisher with a heart in sync with mine? 

And in the meantime, I rattle through my life, attend to my family, my work, and along with my mother, I wait. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

In the middle of the night

This morning I was folding the thick blanket I use at night when I skulk off to the spare room to escape my husband’s snoring, when he walked by.  
‘Your swaddling clothes?’ he joked, an awkward joke because my husband hates that he snores and keeps me awake. 

It troubles him but it seems he can do little about it. 

In the middle of the night, I’m fit to throttle him, but by morning I’m sanguine.  It’s okay I reckon.  I can handle it and at least I have another room to which I can escape. 

Before you go on about the things my husband should have checked out: sleep apnoea and the like; lying on his side and not his back; less red wine; I will tell you the point of my telling you this as it enters my mind. 

The point has to do with love and hate and how in the middle of the night when my deepest vulnerabilities are unleashed I can feel murderous towards he who stops me from rolling back into blissful sleep when in the morning and as the day progresses I feel no such rage at all. 

Similarly, when I visit my mother who is back in the Dandenong hospital, her second visit this year, this time with pancreatitis, I can overlook all the rage I have felt towards her over the years, especially when I see her shrunken form under a shroud like sheet and she smiles with pleasure to see me.  

She smiles in the same way for all of her visitors when we arrive but I reckon there is something in that smile that belongs especially to me, or should I say to all of us who once were her babies. 

Dandenong hospital is a huge block like structure that sits square on flat bare land not far from the intersection of a freeway and a highway on the edge of west Dandenong. 

The section in which they have put my mother is newly built but there’s an older part where she’s been in the past that’s less welcoming.  Not that hospitals are ever welcoming, at least not to me with their machines and sterilising hand soap dispensers on every corner. 

They remind you of the dangers that lurk in all the germs that could possibly exist in wait for us as frail human beings. 

Hospitals are unsafe places as far as germs are concerned but this time my mother is happy to be there.  Before she arrived she was in such pain and now at least they have overcome her initial distress and they have offered her a single room and so she can sleep and open her eyes to the mandatory visits from nurses and doctors for inspection and procedures, and otherwise she smiles at her visitors and then sleeps some more.

My own sleep was interrupted so many times last night that I do not feel well rested.  A crick in my hip after I experimented last night with sitting in one of our lounge chairs, side on, the way my daughter sometimes sits.  I’ve pulled a muscle and then a throbbing in my head in the middle of the night signalled for a few minutes the approach of a brain haemorrhage. 

In the middle of the night it gets hard to convince myself I am not dying.  I chide myself for such hypochondriacal delusions.  It is a feature of aging perhaps, but also a feature of personhood. 

I have held similar fears for as long as I can remember.  When I was as young as ten years of age I lay in my bed one night in wait for my older sister to come to bed and felt a strange twinge in my stomach such that by the time my sister arrived I had convinced myself I had stomach cancer. 

It was no small coincidence perhaps that my grandmother had died of stomach cancer a few years before and I had heard about cancer from the television, only the tell take signs, ‘a lump or thickening in the breast or elsewhere,’ the manly voice-over said as various bits of lumpy skin appeared on the screen and a woman clutched at her body in search of signs. 

And later as a twenty something year old, I left the university one day convinced that I was about to die of another form of cancer for the lump that appeared on the top of my foot near my big toe.  A ganglion, the doctor soon told me, one we leave alone or in the olden days cured by dropping a bible onto the lump. 

All these ailments that left me imagining my death would come soon.  

My mother’s death still waits for her but she does not want to die yet.  Not till she reaches one hundred.  

This is the third time we have had such a time as we imagined our mother was about to leave us only to watch her rally again.

A cat with nine lives I wrote in an email to my several sisters and brothers, the night when I thought her death might come soon, she had looked so ill that day. 

And every time my mother survives, despite my mixed feelings towards her I am relieved.  Not simply for her, but for me that I can put my own death on the back burner while I must still deal with hers. 

All of which is a nonsense.  Children predecease their parents, but not in my imagination, at least not for me.  My mother must go first. 

And then I read a comment from Karen who travels under the name ‘Anonymous’, a name I once assumed belonged to a famous poet because that fellow Anonymous had written so many poems in my anthology of poetry. 

Karen talks of sitting at her dying husband’s bedside and I’m struck by the thought it must be worse by far to lose your partner than your parent in adulthood, for all the mixed feelings in the middle of the night when he keeps you awake with his snoring. 

My heart goes out to Karen. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Too much excitement

One of my daughters is flying from Singapore to Melbourne and my thoughts turn to the idea of her high up in the sky within that metal bird.  

I do not suffer a fear of her flying so much as an uncomfortable awareness that, were this bird to go wrong, it could all too easily drop from the sky and smash into a thousand pieces onto the land or water below.  

So perhaps this fear can be linked to a terror of losing control.  I say terror because loss of control can spell disaster and yet paradoxically it's the thing we need to manage more often than only once in our lifetimes.  It's the thing that can help us scale moments of boredom

I cannot remember real boredom until I hit adolescence, and then it became so much a part of my life whenever I was faced with unstructured time, time in which I needed to find something to do, something that might give me pleasure and make my time seem meaningful, otherwise I might have sunk into a state of inertia from which I could not drag myself. 

Before then, in my early teens I still had the ability to at least give the illusion of having some purpose.  I wanted to be a poet.  In those days we gendered careers and my family nickname, at least for a time became, ‘the poetess’.  

On days when my mother was away at work in the old people’s home nearby I took a pencil and a small notebook in my dress pocket, scaled the back fence and walked alone to the Farm Road estate. 

It surprises me now to remember this time when I relished being alone.  Alone in nature I thought then, alone with the plants and trees.  It took over from any call to the religious life this call to nature, this call to join the poets.  

Sometimes a rush of feeling comes over me, a feeling almost impossible to describe but when it comes I know I am in the grip of the past, a sensation I felt as a child when something was fresh and new and filled with pleasure. 

Frances Tustin who writes about autistic states calls it ecstasy, a state of mind that can become a problem if we cannot learn to deal with it.  Too much bliss can overwhelm almost as much as too much terror.  Think of it as the sensation of dissolving, of falling apart, of not having any sense of yourself, anything to which you might keep your thoughts anchored.

Forgive me these abstractions but I am trying to find my way though the memory of those long lone walks through the Farm Road estate when I tried to convince myself that the land cleared for new housing developments and the old deserted chook shed soon to be demolished to make way for further housing developments could at the same time be a source of the beauty of nature.  

I looked upwards to the tips of the Lombardy poplars that flanked the once neat market garden in the back streets of Cheltenham and imagined the grandeur of Italian skies. 

Look to the sky and you can always find beauty.  We cannot spoil the sky except perhaps with smoke but even then there is a cloudlike intensity to the shape of smoke as it billows and furls that can also hold beauty.  

I do not reflect on beauty these days as I did when a child and I miss it.  I try to find it in words but words are such tricky beasts.  They will not be controlled and if they were they would be a bit like dead birds, which brings me back to the metal bird flying through the sky, hurtling my daughter  home.

May that journey soon be over. 

Sunday, July 06, 2014

The unutterable sadness of not finding a publisher.

Sometimes the search for a publisher calls for desperate measures and most of the time I feel heartily ashamed of asking my friends, who are already published, to put in a word for me here or there. 

It seems disgraceful and yet it’s what people do, especially when we do not have a reputation, when we do not have a name.  

In desperate circumstances, pride slips away. 

Most weeknights before I go to bed or first thing in the morning before 7 am, I check the street for cars, my family’s cars.  We live on a Clear Way in the mornings from 7 am to 9 am.  Any cars parked on our side of the road between those hours, during the week but not on weekends, will be booked by council inspectors and then towed away.

To retrieve the car you pay $300.00 to the man in charge of the depot in Collingwood to where the car is towed and later – you have a few weeks grace here – you also pay the council a fine of $144.00. 

It’s an expensive exercise to park in front of my house between the hours of 7 am and 9 am on weekdays. Visitors beware.

On this morning when I had elected to sleep till fifteen minutes past seven, I went outside first thing to collect the newspaper.  To my horror my daughter’s car was parked directly in front of our house.  I ran back inside to get her car keys and to put on my shoes. 

I do not like to drive cars with bare feet besides I’d need to park the car in the side street some distance from home.  I pulled on my boots but did not zip them up and ran flip flopping out of the house in my salmon pink terry towelling gown.
The man was already dragging the car up onto his tow truck.
‘Please,’ I said. ‘It’s my daughter’s car.  She needs it for work.
My daughter, still asleep in bed, was oblivious to all this. 
‘Sorry, but it’s already been booked,’ the man said.  ‘Once it’s booked I have no choice.’
He looked sorry enough, but even then I figured the business of towing cars is his bread and butter.

It was only later after the drama had died down that I recognised a mixture of compassion in the tow truck man’s eyes and also his surprise.  I must have looked like a wild woman, my undone boots flapping, my pink dressing gown and my shrill voice.
My daughter paid the price.  Fortunately, my husband could get her to Collingwood to collect the car before she started work. 

Her excuse for leaving the car on the street was one of confusion the night before.  She had come home late from friends and was tired.  For some reason, she had thought it was already Friday night.  

If I had planned to go out onto the street and encounter a stranger from whom I would beg for mercy I might have dressed better.  That is, if I had the time and presence of mind to prepare. 

But in desperate circumstances, we behave desperately and bugger the consequences.