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

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

 

 

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.

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!

An Honest House and an Albrizia

I loved Cynthia Reyes’s first Memoir  A Good Home, so I picked up the continuing story An Honest House in happy anticipation. This is a book with a perfect title and has been                             Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 20.22.10

my companion during a more than hectic summer. The night before my own book launch I read the words ‘And then it was May 17, only one day before the book launch’. Coin-cidences aside, this book faced up to some very difficult themes with total honesty. A supremely difficult life-changing event – a car accident, and its consequences – physical impairment, chronic pain and PTSD are things that can and do happen to anyone. They are explored with a rare mixture of humour and intensity.

This book is a bumpy ride, where the highs and lows follow each other in quick succession – I laughed over the Valentine, I wept over Keats, I laughed over ‘a job that pays’. There are few easy-walking meadows in this story, because it is about the mountains and valleys. Among the things that struck me was Cynthia’s insistence on facing up to something we all know – it is never a good time for a difficult or dangerous conversation – and dealing with it so courageously.

When the story introduces the ultimate twist, it is even more powerful, because it is true. The whole book is about honesty, love, family life, happiness and faith. And if, like me, you do not have the kind of faith Cynthia has, this is also fine. She makes it easy to empathise with her faith instead.

By chance, I was given another very slim memoir titled Ann during this period. This was a private summary of a life of drama, pain, good homes, faith and also much happiness. I am so grateful Cynthia and Ann for telling us their stories of family life, so that none of us feel alone when we, too, meet the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

And talking of families, the most wonderful gift arrived from my American son-in-law’s parents, Sharon and Rick. Here is a poor photo of my beautiful new little tree, an Albizia julibrissin. There will be more in the future. DSCN9651

 

Surprises, washing and long-tailed tits

This should be a serious post I planned about research and time, but as our broadband has been on the blink for a fortnight and there are things I have to attend to rather urgently. This is short and, I hope, sweet.

I went on Amazon to check something for my personal page on the Society of Authors website and found this, which is cheering. Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 15.32.15My husband decided the washing line merited a photo. DSCN8885And I tried so hard to get a photo of the long-tailed tits bathing. This is the best I could manage.DSCN8860 - Version 2

That’s it folks (if the our broadband works long enough to post it).

Why teaching is terrible…

… and why we do it anyway.

Is the subtitle of a knockout book on what teaching is actually, really like. If you have children, if you plan to teach them, or are the survivor of thirty years of teaching, or are simply baffled by children, READ THIS BOOK (if you come from the UK you might want to check out the ages of the different grades in the US).DSCN8791 - Version 2 Searching for Malumba is written in intermittent diary format running from 2000 to 2015. Each entry comes hot, often scorchingly so, off the keyboard and varies from hilarious to heart-breaking. You read this with your mouth hanging open in shock about where these kids are coming from and what kind of homes they go back to. You also read it with sympathetic fury at the authorities wilful misunderstanding about testing, teacher pay and worst of all the nature of children themselves. In contrast, you also read with delight and outright laughter about children and teacher’s successes and gaffes.

Children en masse scare me and so, although I have worked with them in schools, six at a time is my maximum.* I made things easy by doing workshops which the kids thought were games (and even included some board games). I also tested kids for my PhD thesis (and discovered how some relished, and some were terrified of, tests). All children need sensitive, perceptive, firm, fair, patient and compassionate handling and that’s before you can actually teach them anything. When you get to teaching bit, you need another whole set of skills… I won’t even start on these, because I know I lack them.

I am in total awe of someone who can handle 30 plus children at any one time, many with built in challenges – physical, mental and environmental AND succeed in imparting information to them. After following Luther Siler’s blog Infinitefreetime.com for at least a couple of years, I know him as a superbly entertaining, passionate communicator. He has principles I agree with, he writes with insight and empathy about the different experiences of being male and female, and he has an astonishing breadth of education and experience. Oh, and he writes and publishes science fiction too.

Teachers are secular saints. I repeat, READ THIS BOOK, you will laugh and gnash your teeth, but you will enjoy it.

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* Well, with one exception. I was asked to do something with the kids in the local middle school (ages 8 to 10) on dinosaurs for National Reading Week – even though, back then, I was a sculptor. The local museum lent me a couple of real dinosaur bones and the local hospital gave the school many packets of out-of-date plaster bandages. Over the course of a week most of the kids in the school passed through my makeshift workshop in their dining area and produced this… Linton Heights dinosaur 1991It was scary and exhilarating. Was I in control or teaching anything? Not really. I acted more as a circus ringmaster with the entire menagerie, clowns and animals together in the ring. We may have broken several health and safety rules, we made a godalmighty mess, but every child impressed themselves by their achievement. (The big round lump is a dinosaur egg about to hatch).