Sunday, September 23, 2007

Checking in before holidays

Crazy days at the moment. Chaos at home, with dust and piles of furniture everywhere. The builders dug the holes for the new concrete stumps in two rooms on Friday: there was so much dust everywhere the smoke alarm kept going off, and clouds of black dust (the volcanic clay of the Merri creek bed) have filled the house, even upstairs into the beautiful new room.

We leave for a holiday in Alice Springs first thing Tuesday morning, and before then I have the usual pile of deadlines to meet. A tenure review for someone in the US; my Shakespeare review for The Age (done!); a job reference for someone that has to be done tomorrow if I'm not to miss their deadline; a conference proposal for NCS in Swansea next year (half-done: a grovelling letter to the panel chair promising a proper proposal when I get back). I'm also at a symposium, tomorrow, for most of the day, on philanthropy and the humanities. I should also be cleaning the house for the family members who are going to babysit the cat and the fish; and updating my publications on the university's research file.

Well; what gets done will get done. What doesn't, will have to be left behind.

Will be back in ten days, eyes filled with desert and sky, and looking forward to the symposium on October 12 on blogging and writing at UWS with Pavlov's Cat. I'm hoping she'll be posting about this before it happens; if not, I'll update when I get back.

Friday, September 14, 2007

A Room - and a Bed - of One's Own

I spent the oddest morning chasing up bills and papers and receipts and passwords and forms. They were scattered all over the house — and that's after making sure I had gathered everything I needed from the office at work. OK, some people are good filers, and know where everything is. I admit I am always rather haphazard. But could someone who was a good filer experience a tenth of the joy and satisfaction that was mine when I did finally find the membership renewal form - in one of the dozen special piles of important papers around the house?

And in my defence, life is particularly chaotic at the moment: my work places are scattered between the dining-room table, the spare bedroom, the tv room and our bedroom. And why? Because I have no room of my own, temporarily, at least. Part of the house re-building we are doing involves my study:


you can see how deeply they have dug down below the level of the hearth. This is more than just re-painting; rather, proper re-stumping. These floors have been here a hundred years, and you can perhaps make out fragments of the original roof tiles that dropped to the floor as they were building.

I've also just now signed off on the upstairs room with builder and architect. Peter and Shannon have lifted the bed up the stairs and I'm about to spend a happy weekend, when I should be reading biographies of Shakespeare and his wife for a review I'm writing, moving our clothes and bedlinen and all that odd bedroom stuff upstairs. I have in mind a resolution to try and find a few things I no longer wear and no longer wish to keep. Paul is away, though, so I'll do it on my own and have a week up there before he gets home. How odd that seems; in that we have been sleeping for 14 years in a most ramshackle, run down old room with plaster falling off the ceiling, and yet he is not here for the big move. Upstairs is so grand I can't bear to move our random old bedside furniture up there.
Here are snaps of the ceiling in the old bedroom:




A serendipitous connection leaps to mind, though, between the work I'll be doing and the work I should be doing, in Shakespeare leaving his second best bed to Ann Hathaway. I'll try and find out more about this in between armfuls of clothes.

P.S. Here's what the other side of that pile of books looks like. Click to enlarge. What do you have on your bedside table?

Monday, September 10, 2007

"It's brought out a strength in me I never knew I had."

Monday night. Normally time to prepare for class tomorrow. But tonight, as the kids sang and danced their way down the corridor to bed (Joel's oldest friend, Eva, has been staying with us since last weekend while her parents are a-conferencing), I flipped across the channels and realised Andrew Denton's Enough Rope was on. Tonight a "special", on three women with metastatic cancer, which had begun, in all three cases I think, with breast cancer. Paul is away, too, in Norway (Hi Meli!), and in any case, would probably have been working, if he had been here. So with a stomach full of tender roast lamb and home grown rosemary, and with these two beautiful young children safely tucked up in bed reading, I watched alone.

Here's a link to the website: I think transcripts and excerpts will be available there soon: Enough Rope

I don't think you would need to be a cancer patient or carer to be moved by this program, but the tears were certainly streaming down my face. These women were brave, and scared, and positive, and pragmatic, at different times. But I can't put a measure on the extent to which my story is their story. My medical prognosis is better, but at the same time I know myself touched and changed by the things that have touched and changed them. I don't put myself in their class, but on the other hand, to refuse to do so might be a form of denial, as I still must work out how I am to live; and I think their courage might help me.

One of the women said, "It's brought out a strength in me I never knew I had." It was said smiling under the eyebrows her husband painted on for her each day (that's their sex life now, they joked), and I realised how far cancer can take you beyond the normal vanities. Everywhere else on television are beautifully groomed faces and hair; here were bald heads and darkened eyes, confronting their own deaths; in one case, little more than a week away.

But I knew what she meant, about the strength. I have sometimes, myself, been surprised to find myself less distressed about things that normally would have worried me. (If I had had to, I think I probably would have been able to face the world without hair, for example.) But has it brought out a strength that was buried in me? Or did I grow it myself?

In the first half of last year I went to the physiotherapist complaining about pain on the outside of my right knee. He diagnosed a weakness of the muscle on the inside of the knee, and gave me what seemed like minimal exercises to strengthen the inner muscle so as to re-balance the whole knee. I realised, too, that I had developed a habit of riding my bike with my right leg slightly bowlegged (to protect my pants and shoes). One of my legs is very slightly longer than the other, too, as the dressmaker discovered when she made my long "wedding" skirt (scarlet silk chiffon over midnight blue peach satin, for the record). I've re-oriented my walking, running and riding habits, and now have no pain in the knee, and even a discernible bump where the strengthened muscle sits.

I think this is the kind of "strength" that cancer helped me grow, little by little as I got through the treatments and the sheer shock of being ill, last spring and summer.

At the same time, the program was a wake-up call for me. I feel so strong, physically, that it's been hard not to slip back into old ways of committing myself to lots of things. And yet I do get tired and wrung out by stuff; and I have to remind myself that while I'm nearly at the one year point since my diagnosis (with a mammogram and ultrasound to mark the event next month), it's a much shorter time since I was suffering considerable anxiety about re-entering the world of work. That world is particularly distressing at the moment, with the threat of job cuts in my faculty, and while I want to be involved, I'm finding it harder and harder. I'm not sure I do actually have enough strength for that.

I turned off the television, and could hear Herbert, our little frog, croaking into the balmy spring air, and was reminded of the ephemerality of it all. How hard it is to keep the balance between one's normal, human commitments to others, and the sense of stillness that mortality grants us.

Thursday, September 06, 2007