Saturday, December 16, 2017


Monday, 11 December, was a good day: a yoga class, coffee with the other yoga women, followed by an afternoon of hot, vigorous gardening - cleaning out my one ornamental garden. It was completely overgrown with weeds and out of control plants. I pulled out everything except some variegated flax, and a couple of others that will require the extractigator or possibly the tractor. Then I'll add a few wheelbarrows full of fresh topsoil and replant with something different.

However things changed after I finished at 5pm. In the morning I had had a couple of momentary incidents when my leg felt it might buckle, but it really was momentary. But 10 minutes after I came in from gardening the feeling returned but didn't go away. I rang my sister-in-law, Pat, and asked her to come and sit with me. Then I rang the NZ Health Line 0800 611 116, who said I needed to go to hospital, and rang for an ambulance. Apparently, my symptoms weren't bad enough to make me a priority: after 40 minutes the ambulance service rang to say they didn't have an ambulance free yet, and after another 50 minutes they rang with the same story just as Mac got home. So Mac told them he'd take me in. So much for all those decades of paying every year for St John membership!

At the hospital they talked of TIA:

 "A ministroke is also known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA). It occurs when part of the brain experiences a temporary lack of blood flow. This causes stroke-like symptoms that resolve within 24 hours. Unlike a stroke, a TIA doesn’t kill brain tissue or cause permanent disabilities. Since symptoms of a TIA and a stroke are nearly identical, you should seek immediate emergency attention if you experience any symptoms.

Knowing the signs of a TIA or ministroke can help you get the treatment you need as early as possible. Because 1 in 3 people who experience a TIA later experience a stroke, early treatment is essential."

However they were a little confused, and in a couple of cases, skeptical, because my only symptom was self-reported weakness in my right leg, and a little in my right arm. When they got me to push, pull and squeeze they couldn't feel any difference between my left and right sides. I kept saying that it was a sensation of giving way and lack of control, and I have since recognized it as the same sort of sensation as when a doctor tests your reflexes and you just can't stop than leg from jerking. But I could talk fine, and even walk fine, if somewhat slowly and nervously.

On Tuesday a CT scan showed nothing. An MIR scan on Wednesday morning was not as scary as I expected, but having to wait until Thursday lunchtime was nerve-wracking. And the result? Brain damage from a stroke. Akkk! The somewhat dismissive young male doctor looked very surprised. He  was also obviously pissed off at my questions about treatment. Mate, I question everything! Especially when you have already made an incorrect statement about T2 diabetes! Then it was home. With a shower stool, and a handrail for Mac to install in the shower and a stop to have a cuppa with Steve, who had flown up and is staying with Rob, just a couple of minutes walk from the hospital. Then more stops for a walking stick from Life Unlimited (yeah, right) and to fill prescriptions.

Friday, lots of rest, while still putting in a determined effort to do as much for myself as I could: I put on and hung out washing, did dishes, walked on treadmill twice for 5 mins and got up to 3kph and 3.5kph. I showered myself, fed the cat, made kefir, made yogurt, made breakfast. It's amazingly hard work when you have to concentrate and make every move consciously intentional. Who would have dreamed that such ordinary achievements would bring such satisfaction?

Saturday - as much rest as I could. The doctor said I could go see Paul McCartney as planned. I wonder if he actually knew who Paul McCartney was and that at the concert at Mt Smart Stadium I would be one wobbly old woman in a crowd of 30,000 people. But I went, with Mac helping me and supporting me every step of the way. Steven drove us right to the gates, and picked us up afterwards and we got home just before 3am. There were lots of steps. It was very hard work. It was worth it. Every single dollar, every single step. 53 years after my mother said I was too young at 13 to go see the Beatles (she was right) and that I could go next time they came (she was wrong), I got to see Paul, who back at age 13 was my favourite Beatle.

I cried a lot. (I seem to be very emotionally fragile since this stroke.) But I had a lot of time when I forgot my woes. I sang along, forgetting that I might be singing out of tune as a side effect of the stroke (though Mac said this morning that I was totally in tune.) This is not my normal preferred music any more - I prefer small intimate venues and jazz - but Paul's music has been part of my life since before I was in my teens. I realised once again that I must not live my life in fear. Every one of us could die or have some awful, disabling thing happen tomorrow: it's just that I am aware of what my awful thing is likely to be. I must continue to live my life to the fullest I can, must live in the present moment.

Quite a few people I know choose a word for the year, not something I have ever done. But this year - or for a while anyway - I think I will adopt the word


Friday, November 24, 2017

Mother Love

A while ago, when I was out at a gathering of mainly young people in their early - mid 20s, I overheard a young person say, "our mothers never love us the way we want them to".

Is that true of everyone? I know I feel that. To the extent that I don't really feel my mother loved me at all - or at least, did her best not to be too attached to me, for reasons I understand as an adult. Despite that understanding, my own sense of being unloved remains to this day. She wasn't unkind most of the time, and, in fact, did lots of kind, good things for me, supported me through some hard times. But all the same, it felt to me that her approval was very conditional, and what friends, family and neighbours thought was her main concern. I remember when I announced I was moving out to go flatting, her response was, "but what will people think if you move out?" My father, on the other hand, looked sad but asked, "what do you need? How can we help?" I would have liked her to have told me nice things about myself, not just ways I could improve. I would liked to have been hugged. I would have liked her to have said she loved me.

I know I have loved my sons unconditionally always, and I think they know that now, but I also know that I have failed to be as kind and supportive of them as I, and they, I'm sure, would have liked.

I keep wondering, in what ways do my sons feel they would have liked me to love them? Then I wonder, do I really want to know, when it is far too late for me to change anything? Perhaps not.

On Being a Real Woman

Recently on Facebook, I have been witnessing several discussions about transgender issues. The talk around gender dysphoria has had me thinking about my own perception of what it means to be a real woman. Not in the context of the transgender discussion, not like that.

But as I read, I wondered, how does it work, to say, 'I feel like a woman'. What does that mean to me?  Why have there been so many things about myself that have made me feel I wasn't a real / good / proper girl / woman? How can I have felt like that without ever considering what being a real woman meant to me? Why have I spent my life accepting, as real, negative judgments, not just from real, actual people, but from vague cultural suggestions, and then regurgitating them in self-flagellation? I realise that the first step in discovering what I think a real woman, a specific actual woman - me - is, is to look at past criticisms from others and from myself.
  • I've been too skinny, too fat, wrong proportions, wrong shape to be a real girl / woman
  • my hair is too brown, not black or red or blonde, too short, too straight, too fine, too long and tangled and now too grey
  • my nose is too big for a girl / woman
  • my breasts have been too small, too big, too lop-sided
  • I'm too emotional, too angry, too sad, too happy, too loud
  • too clumsy to dance
  • don't suit frills or lace or pink or...
  • teeth not even enough, not white enough
  • can't play netball
  • shouldn't want to play rugby
  • bad taste (a teacher, of my tartan skirt "a woman should know that green and blue don't go together")
  • don't get the jokes that other girls giggle about
  • real girls don't even want to do woodwork and metalwork, girls like cooking and sewing
  • a woman stays a virgin until she gets married / a woman should share sex liberally because, you know, 'make love, not war' (you can tell finished school in 1968, started university in 1969, when the hippy revolution was in full flow in NZ) 
  • only sailors and prostitutes have pierced ears and tattoos
  • a married woman should stay home / should make a success of a meaningful career
  • a woman should be a mother otherwise she is selfish; a mother should be an expert in everything from housework, to health care, to education, to gardening, to sewing, knitting, to .... but .......
  • a woman should always defer to experts - her parents, husband, doctor, dentist, school teachers, encyclopedia salesmen....
  • a woman's children should be perfect and never make mistakes or get dirty or have autism or break a leg or like eating apple slices spread with marmite
  • a woman shouldn't 'let herself go' but
  • a woman shouldn't spend money on herself as long as her man, her children, her parents - anyone else, really, has needs or wants
  • a woman should always be emotionally available to anyone who needs them but....
  • a woman shouldn't burden others with her shit
  • a woman should wear age-appropriate clothing - especially old woman who should dress in beige and cover up as much skin as possible (is there even such a thing as age-appropriate clothing for men?)
  • an older woman should always wear a bra even if she finds them uncomfortable, especially when she has saggy breasts because basically, a woman should have large, perky breasts all her life, but if she fails at that, she should cover them well, so other people don't suffer revulsion
  • a woman should have a nice singing voice
  • a woman shouldn't speak or laugh loudly
  • a woman should be elegant or sexy or both but not slutty (what the fuck is slutty anyway?)
  • a woman should have head hair, eyelashes, eyebrows, maybe public hair if neatly trimmed, but otherwise be baby-smooth
  • Post-menopausal women should be especially careful to get rid of all those bristles that appear in random places
  • white / greying hair is not distinguished or attractive on a woman, it is aging and shows declining womanhood - but dying it unreal colours is absurd
  • a woman should support other women as long as they aren't (insert anything here.) 
  • a woman shouldn't be uppity enough to put her writing / art / music / thoughts / self out in front of others unless it is as good as the best man's
  • a million other little and large shoulds and shouldn't - there's no order here, just a stream of things that poured out
  • a woman should feel guilty about everything she says or does or wants or is.....
And still, I identify as a woman. In spite of all my 'failures'.
I think my biggest failing is that I took on so many other people's stupid judgments and failed to do so so many things I wanted to, and to be out loud the woman I am.

I still don't know what I can do to be a real woman - other than just be.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Indigo dyeing and Shibori

As my craftroom slowly transforms into my studio, which is probably going to end up as my messy play room (messy-play room / messy playroom), I am quieting my cravings to create and play by going elsewhere. On Sunday I went to the Tauranga Historic Village, to a workshop at The Artery. I met Liz at the NZ Fibre Arts week in April, and had seen some of her beautiful work, so when I saw the workshop I was keen to attend even though I could only go for one day of the two day workshop. (Having already bought tickets to Cirque du Solei for the second day.)

Indigo is such a beautiful dye, and, until comparatively recently, the only blue dye, although it has been made from different plants in different places. Shibori is the Japanese term for their ways of resist dying, but some of what we did took me back to happy days at homeschooling camps at Lake Okataina, where tie-dyeing was always one of the activities. Resist dyeing is done throughout the world's cultures in different ways.

Anyway, despite the cold, rain and wet of my drive across country, I had a delightful day. and can't wait to do more resist dyeing using both indigo and other dyes.

 Liz showing us the dye mixing process
  Liz showing us how she folded the fabric to make a particular pattern.
 my pieces, drying
 wrapping 'inclusions' - corks
 wrapping 'inclusions' - florist marbles
 wrapping 'inclusions' - screws
wrapping without 'inclusions' 
sewing but not tightening the threads sufficiently
on the reverse side of the silk velvet you can get a hint of what it should have looked lik 
sewing along lines marked using a template and properly tightened

Happiness is a choice? It's just not that simple!

A couple of months ago a friend I hadn't heard from for eight months (not blaming her for that - I haven't written either) sent me a link to a Ted Talk about Choices That Can Change Your Life - including reference to depression. She just sent the link without comment.  I have watched it about 10 times and although I am pretty sure she sent it with good intentions, I just felt uncomfortable and slightly angry every time I listened to this woman (the Ted speaker, not my friend) who is quite aggressive and dismissive of people who don't just 'chose' to fix their lives. I couldn't quite put it into words, but then this popped up on Facebook and it became clearer.

When it comes to mental illness, there are so many layers. In my own case, there were foods that I have discovered make me feel bad. I discovered decades ago that jasmine flowers pull me down. The shortage of daylight in winter can push me off the edge. There are so many layers that have to be carefully picked at, so many small choices to make, before one can actually reach the point of being able to make a choice to be happy. Habits of thinking that were established in childhood through my treatment by teachers, my mother, and my doctor meant I believed I didn't deserve, hadn't earned, the right to chose happiness.

Happiness is a choice? It's just not that simple!

Friday, September 8, 2017

The True and Authentic Self

I spent most of my childhood confused, and increasingly unhappy. From my teens I suffered confusion, depression and anxiety. At the age of fifty I started seeking help for the first time since my only other (failed) attempt way back when I first had suicidal thoughts at age 16. The next fifteen years were spent trying to understand and recover from the thought patterns established in childhood.

Everywhere I looked I found people talking about the importance of finding your true self, being your authentic self, being your real self – and almost always in terms of rediscovering the person you have always been at your very core. There seemed to be a lot of spiritual thinking happening, which always made me uncomfortable, having been an atheist  since I was sixteen. But part of my mental illness was self-doubt – my belief that my mother, and subsequently almost everyone, knew better than me, had me holding on to the idea that it was my illness that prevented me from discovering my original true self.

During the last year and a half, since the life changing diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes, I finally found a counsellor who made sense to me, and thus I have found my own way of being that makes sense to me.

Am I the only one whose self is blurred? 'Authentic' and ‘true self’  and ‘real self’ are concepts that shift beneath me constantly, like the sand that swirls around my feet on Ngurunui Beach in a winter wind. Some aspects of myself / thoughts / feelings I hide from some people / everyone for the sake of other aspects of myself - for example, my mother-self protects my children from knowledge of my deepest fears and worries about them, and from my deepest personal despair. Does that make me unauthentic? Does that make me less than courageous for not exposing those aspects of me, or does it make me more courageous for swallowing those rats, and more authentic as mother-self? We are such complex beings, made of so many years of experiences, changed by them, learning from them - I don't think there is an original Self to be discovered and displayed. I am not a stone sculpture to be chiselled away at until my 'true authentic self’ is discovered. I was a blank canvas of a (different from everyone else) particular size, shape, fabric, quality, and the layers of mixed media have been building up, some scraped off leaving traces, some covered by a fresh layer, never finished until I'm dead and decayed away, and even then, living on, possibly for a while, in memories and apocryphal tales.

Later the same day that a discussion on Facebook started me thinking again about these things, I came across the following poem, which says it all much more eloquently than I have.

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Missing Brass

The music, the voice,
the words, friends:
a pleasant evening
at The Old School.

Then the bassist
puts down her guitar
picks up her tenor horn
and takes me back.

Back to the kitchen
way back when,
preparing dinner,
chop off the bottom
chop off the top
what there is left
you put in the pot,
and down the hall
the muted trumpet,
or the saxophone
playing scales
up and down
over and over....

Now, in the semi-dark,
tears seep through
despite eyes
squeezed tightly shut.