Being Mortal, a message for writers, remembering Paris

Is mortality a subject you avoid?

Atul Gawande, the influential and clear-thinking American surgeon, wrote Being Mortal to think through those difficult decisions we all face if we are lucky to live a long life or unlucky and face an early but prolonged death. So yes, this might be a book some of us would instinctively avoid, yet I want to shout at everyone, young and old, READ THIS, because he shows you how to retake control.

If, as most of us do, we fear pain or prolonged weakness at time of our death, this book is a revelation. Gawande, with a curious and open mind, investigates current and historical end-of-life care and discusses what matters most and how it can be achieved. He learns from those quiet experts at the coal face, the dying, the relatives, the nurses and the carers, what questions to ask yourself and what questions to ask those you love. He emphasises the deep importance of asking those questions while in good health as well as when they need answering in extreme circumstances.

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This book is not difficult to read because it is so well written and full of real examples. It does, however, need courage if these are questions you always avoid or if you find clearly-discussed medical matters uncomfortable to read. The magic is that facing fear makes you feel better. This book gives you tools to cope with that fear and a sense of control over your mortality.

So, what does it do for writers along the way? Gawande looks at research into the differences between our experience during events and our memory of that experience. Being human, these are often contradictory – at the time we experience ‘the peaks of joys and the valleys of misery’, but when we remember it is ‘how the stories works out as a whole’. So a really entertaining football match in which your team performs blissfully for hours can be ruined by some bad football at the end. Why? ‘Because a football game is a story. And in stories, endings matter.’ [my italics] The Peak-End moment is what matters to memory.

Last Tuesday night I read two poems from Paul Stephenson’s recent pamphlet, The Days That Followed Paris, at the Cambridge Speaker’s Club – our Toastmaster’s venue. Listener’s found these as moving as I did; they convey the mood – strangeness, fear, pain and warmth – of those days. I read Safety Feature and Blindfold [about that brave muslim in the Place de la République].   dscn0101-version-2

Shiny red shoes

There are still small joys to be had in this time when disappointments are on a scale too large to comprehend. In my twenties I used to run around at Art College in bare feet and once got hauled into a room where there was a Karate class, because the teacher wanted to show the class an ‘ideal’ karate foot – an ageing foot that was once ideal for Karate does not fit comfortably into 99% of women’s shoes. After wearing the same two pairs for the last few years, I have at last found, and bought (two very separate actions), a pair of comfortable, respectable shoes. As I sat on a sofa looking at my feet last night I felt for a moment that toddler-like wonder at the sight of my splendidly shod feet.

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I send my deep commiserations to my shocked American friends. We are equally shaken on the other side of the ocean.

Amy’s drawings and interview with Suzy Henderson

More random, but happy, events – an email from daughter Amy with a lovely mini-show of her drawings

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at a curious event – the House and Garden pop-up-shop – Amy met some celebrities at the launch seen here at the Tatler website.

– an interview with writer Suzy Henderson, who has a passion for WWII history. Her questions about becoming a writer and the new Railway book made me think about my parents’ role in my writing. The interview appears on her WWII blogspot Lofell Writers Place and on her WordPress writer’s site. Something I found interesting on this last site is a persuasive videoed book review by Mike Reynolds.

Sorry, lots of links. Have a tree peony in it’s autumn glory to finish. dscn9971dscn9970

 

 

Still picking and painting… thank you Sally, Rod… and geese for Linda

(The random nature of my posts reflects my state of mind)

My much neglected vegetable plot and greenhouse are managing fine without me, and still supplying pickings. dscn9938

In August I meant to clean and re-stain all our external and internal woodwork. I finally started a couple of weeks ago. dscn9898

There’s an awful lot of it, and a lot of other important commitments, so I am like a jack-in-the-box – out if the sun shines, in doing other stuff the instant it looks like rain. I have become weather alert, but this had me foxed. dscn9902 dscn9901 dscn9900

The bits that are done look good, but most of the porch and the left-hand run of windows are still to finish.dscn9948 dscn9949

In between my other commitments there are the other, other commitments – four lectures in four different towns (I’m getting a little less fearful with each one) – and one more to go (with others in the pipeline).

Surviving the Death Railway is travelling the world – thank you to all my fellow bloggers who have bought copies, and to Sally Cronin for generously writing about my work and to Rod on Fragmented Mind for his wonderful review.

Photo for Linda – what I did when I was told to be careful of the geese.hilary-chasing-geese_2

 

Sunday Living History Interview – Far East Prisoners of War – Hilary Custance Green

Sally Cronin has once more given my recent work on Far East POWs and my other work the kind of polish I dream about, but never quite achieve. My thanks to her and all her visitors.

Smorgasbord - Variety is the spice of life

Living HistoryMy guest today is author Hilary Custance Green and she will be sharing the story her father’s imprisonment by the Japanese during World War II and the letters that were written to her mother Phyllis by the wives and families of other Far East Prisoners of War.

About Hilary Custance Green.

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Hilary had a nomadic childhood moving between England, Gibraltar, Germany and attending school in Belgium and therefore studying languages might have been the obvious choice. But it was art that was to become the priority. Hilary took degrees in Art History and Art Sculpture and then spent many years producing some stunning pieces. You will find examples of her work on her website: http://www.hilarycustancegreen.com/Hilary_Author_Website/Sculpture.html

This was not Hilary’s only creative endeavour as she also immersed herself in poetry and music both of which would feature side by side with her experience with the more scientific approach to brain health…

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The best laid plans…

… of mice, men and women are bound to run agley.

Just as I was getting back into a blogging routine, life has bowled me a googly and I shall have to prioritise ruthlessly for the next month or more. So once more, although I will be around, dropping in, and occasionally waving from the sidelines, I will not be visiting regularly and not posting much at all. When I don’t see or comment on your posts it is me, not you. I will be back.

Here is the book I am reading and which is engaging me completely. If you want to keep a perspective on our life on earth, this is the prescribed medicine. dscn9867-version-2 It starts with the simple premise that explorers have reached earth 100,000,000 years hence and then looks at what they might find. Actually it’s an accessible lesson in paleontology and stratigraphy (! my vocabulary is expanding).

And here are my delicious peppers (at least I hope they are, I haven’t eaten one yet), grown from seed. dscn9862 dscn9861

And finally the hips are colouring in the garden as autumn creeps up on us.dscn9869

À bientôt!

The less beautiful garden and a hedgehog for M-R

In true British fashion I am sometimes uncomfortable about undeserved praise. I love my garden and I agree that parts of it are beautiful, but… like any other garden it has a whole lot of corners the camera never sees. So here is the reality check. DSCN9822This bamboo outside the back door (note the weedy path) is my weather vane – I never water it. Below is what happens when it rains – though this is more rain than I have seen in all the 38 years we have lived here.DSCN9562And here are the sweet peas I so proudly grew from seed, chewed to pieces and covered in mildew. DSCN9802 - Version 2

And some ‘interesting’ though not very beautiful fungus on a hazel stump. DSCN9727DSCN9803This part of the veg plot has remained empty all summer. I missed sowing, or buying, any purple sprouting broccoli and failed to sow anything else. And here are a few dead plants.DSCN9801 DSCN9817 And scorched patches. DSCN9797And here is the promised hedgehog, M-R – well at least you can sort of see his paw.DSCN9848 2 DSCN9850We’ll finish with a roller that hasn’t budged for… twenty years?DSCN9810There, I am shriven of false pride. Pretty pictures next time, I promise!