inspiration, life, Personal

Things my Grandmother Taught me

My 99 year old grandmother died last week. She wasn’t your stereotypical kind of grandma. She painted, but she didn’t paint still life or scenery, she painted vivid abstract compositions based on nebulae and quantum physics. She was fierce in her hunt for knowledge and her passion for science and art. She engaged with socialist ideas well before they became hipster.

At her funeral, we all shared our memories of Grandma and some consistent themes came up. Her huge sense of fairness and the importance of equality, the love of knowledge, the loyalty to and importance of family. We talked about how all of these had been passed down through the generations and her 23 descendants.

Today I’m sharing some of the many lessons my Grandma taught me.

Childhood Trauma can Shape you Forever

Grandma lived through the Great Depression. Born in 1920, she was just a child when the Depression hit, her father died, and her family had to leave the big house she loved and move cities to live with extended family. She didn’t live with her mother, but with a cousin whose wife treated her very badly. She had to leave school at 14 and help her family. These early experiences shaped my grandmother deeply, some in sad ways (her fear of being thought ignorant which drove her fierce acquisition of learning in later years) and some in more quirky ones. Grandma could not abide waste. She was known to slip bacon from the motel breakfast into her purse ‘for later’ and couldn’t throw away anything that might end up being useful later.

I didn’t understand a lot of that until I was older. When I heard more of the stories of her life I had a much greater understanding of how she came to be the way she was. It’s so important to remember that people are so often the products of their upbringing and their earliest experiences, and to be kind.

Resist Authority

Not long before she died, Grandma told me about when she was 10, and the woman she stayed with took the roses Grandma had gathered to give to her mother and put them in her own living room. Grandma was as furious as a sad little 10yo deeply missing their mother could be. She told me she went to every corner of that room and stuck her finger in the wallpaper and ripped it down. I nearly cheered.

A story I remember hearing when I was younger and I really hope isn’t apocryphal because I tell it to all my students 😬, is that during the mass protests against the 1981 Springbok Tour, Grandma hit a policeman on the head with her handbag when he was rough with protestors. My grandmother was never one to bow to authority unless she deemed it moral and worth listening to. Even then I doubt she would bow.

Be Yourself even when Others Have Opinions

Grandma was never one to worry too much about the opinions of those she didn’t care for. Certainly not by the time I knew her.

She and her sister opened a fashion store in 1950s Hamilton and shocked many with their glamorous selves. And she was glamorous.

(photo is from her engagement earlier, but STILL so glamorous)

She was a working mother when that was frowned upon. She read about communism (although she did burn her little red book in the backyard in the 60s when anti-communism was at a high). She learned acupuncture and ran a successful clinic in the 1980s in central Auckland. She was always a rationalist and had little patience for sentimentality. She painted her house herself. She had staunch political opinions and was not afraid to discuss them.

Grandma was so very much herself. So much of her childhood always sounded to me as if she was being required to repress her feelings and experiences and I’m so very glad that for most of her life she allowed herself to just simply BE.

Young Women Have Urges

So…. When I was in my early 20s and single, I was visiting grandma when she asked:

“Have you found a nice boyfriend yet?”

“Ah no, some dates but they never last long.”

“Don’t worry you’ll find someone.”

“I’m sure I will.”

her: *looks intently at me* “But, young women have… urges….and it’s quite alright to date someone you aren’t in love with to satisfy those urges.”

me:

I couldn’t believe my grandma was telling me to have one-night stands 😂

You are never too old to create

Grandma taught herself to paint and came up with her own style. She painted and learned and had her first exhibition at the age of 96. It was such a success they brought her back for another the year after. She was still talking of having another exhibition not many months ago.

Three weeks before she died, grandma was still working on her paintings. She still had so many ideas she wanted to try, visions to pursue.

I began writing again in my late thirties, dropped it, and picked it up again a couple of years ago. Knowing that age is no barrier to creativity is endlessly inspiring.

The world will change, and we change with it

Over Grandma’s 99 1/2 years, she witnessed so many things: The Great Depression, the creation of the first welfare state in New Zealand, World War II, the first Atomic Bombs, the rise of second wave feminism, gay rights, first woman Prime Minister in New Zealand, fights for civil rights, the Vietnam War, protests, climate change, the hippy counter culture of the 70s, the rise of computers, televisions, movies, mobile phones, passenger flight, the Moon Landing, the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall, the fall of the Soviet Union, the Arab Spring, 9/11, the #MeToo movement and third wave feminism….

It’s been a huge century, and she saw and experienced so much of it. And I know I said we change with it, and we do, but the essential core of who my grandma was – the loving, curious, determined, creative little girl she was – remained throughout her life.

I was so incredibly blessed to have known her.

inspiration, motivation, On writing, Personal

A tale of persistence and joy.

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Persistence. Ugh. Sometimes it’s TOO HARD. In fact, it’s often always hard because if it was easy we wouldn’t call it persistence, we’d call it something else, like, idk, ENJOYMENT.

 

But it’s necessary.

 

And so very rewarding.

 

If you don’t trust me, trust Cap.

Cap do this all day

 

You may know if you saw my post from earlier this year that 2018 was a difficult year, to put it mildly. Poor health was followed by a bad episode of depression and struggles with anxiety. Although depression affected pretty much every area of my life there was one bit it targeted with particular cruelty – my writing.

 

2018 was going to be the year I really took action to make my writing dreams a reality. I paid more attention to craft, I not only finished a book but REVISED it (a fate I’d previously circumvented because ugh), and I engaged in the writing community on Twitter.

 

So it seemed particularly unfair that it also became the year that I would weep for hours in front of my computer because I believed deep, deep down that everything I wrote was trash. Not the jokey ‘here, have my garbage fire of a draft! lol!’ but a genuine deep belief that this thing I wanted more than I’ve wanted anything for a really, really long time, was out of reach because I simply wasn’t good enough. That I was, and would remain, a failure because of my own incompetence.

 

I was also weeping in the shower because I’d forgotten to bring a dry towel into the bathroom, to be fair, but the usual self-doubt and cycle of rejection that comes with writing and putting your work out there was amplified a MILLION-fold by the depression. I couldn’t see any of the positive comments from beta readers, only the critical ones. And I mean that almost literally – they became nearly invisible. I know this because once I was well I went back and reread some comments and SAW all these amazing positive things I hadn’t seen before.

 

HOWEVER! 2018 was also the year that I finished revisions, queried, got full requests, dealt with rejections, queried again, and again, sent to competitions, wrote another book, started writing three other books, came 12th in a writing competition and was awarded a Judge’s Favorite.

 

For so much of 2018, I was on the verge of quitting.

 

I was going to give my book away as a PDF to people who were silly enough to want to read it.

 

I was going to stop querying.

 

I was going to stop calling myself a writer.

 

But I didn’t.

 

Even in the worst moments there was a little corner of my soul that wouldn’t give up

I kept pushing ‘send’ on the queries, even though my heart raced with anxiety every time.

 

I queried that manuscript 84 times. I moved on to another one. And another one.

 

I would love to tell you how I did it. But I don’t really know. I know I didn’t do it alone. My writing friends had my back the whole way through – they let me freak out and panic in the DMs, encouraged me, lifted me up, cheered me on.

 

Treatment helped a TON.

 

But sadly there’s still no handy medicine for self-doubt and that rears its ugly little head ALL the TIME.

 

Ultimately, I did it because I kept going. I persisted (see, I told you it was necessary). Even when I loathed every word I put on the paper, I kept writing. I kept revising.

 

And it does pay off.

 

This year I entered the same manuscript I spent so much time hating last year into the Wisconsin Romance Writers of America Fabulous Five Contest.

 

It won its category.

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Talk about validation!

 

It’s had more full requests.

 

My son said after looking at my query spreadsheet and I’d explained all the red was rejections and the scattered green was the requests: “Wow. If you’d let all the red stop you, you’d never have got to the green!”

 

So simple, so true, and yes, so hard.

 

But so worth it.

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For some reason the heavy wooden rectangle that came in the mail today gave more weight to my achievement.

 

It made it more real.

 

I’ve propped it up next to my computer, near my index cards shouting positive and encouraging things, reminders like RUN YOUR RACE.

 

Because persistence is draining, we need the reminders of the good things on the journey.

 

It’s very much a journey – I’m still waking up to rejections from agents, still don’t have that publishing deal – but it’s a journey worth taking.

 

And I know I can do it.

inspiration, life, Personal, self care

5 Lessons My Sons Have Taught Me.

IMG_2966As a parent, you spend a lot of time teaching your kids stuff – how to do basic tasks, why manners are important, how to share when you don’t want to, and why it’s a really bad idea to stab that slug that crept into the dishwasher.

 

But we learn from our children too, most often without being aware of it. With the arrival of 2019 I found myself reflecting on some lessons I have learned from my sons.

 

Taking action on a fear lessens it

This is one of those lessons you learn because you’re teaching it – a case of practice what you preach. I will often get paralysed by fear of bills or the fear of inadequacy. When I was terrified about sending out queries my sons reminded me that I always tell them to face their fears.

 

They were right.

 

I’ve seen them face down fear of public speaking, of telling the teacher they haven’t done their homework, of zooming down a big hill, of embarrassment, and of catching public transport by themselves. I’ve seen them learn that the fear is soon over and that once the action is taken and a decision is made the fear subsides. The movie ‘We Bought A Zoo’ has one of my favourite quotes about courage:

 

You know, sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage, just literally 20 seconds of embarrassing bravery, and I promise you something great will come of it.

 

This last year I wanted to run away from my writing a great deal but I remembered the look in my sons’ faces when they conquered a fear and I did it anyway.

 

Being useful provides a good sense of self efficacy

 

Recently my parents came around to help us make my garden into something beautiful. The boys dug holes, planted the roses they’d chosen, carried clippings, mowed lawns, weeded. The next weekend they cleaned off the deck and helped clear the garage. They didn’t necessarily start out keen about these things but at the end both of them felt proud of themselves, they felt energised and capable. They had been useful, helpful, and active. All these things help build a view of ourselves as effective and help build our self esteem.

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Patience is more than a virtue, it is a kindness

 

Many, many times, I have wanted to rush my kids through some less than scintillating recount of their latest computer game escapades before my brain explodes. I’ve wanted to rush the bedtime story to get to bed myself or to get on with my own writing or reading. But every time that I have stopped and relaxed into it, been patient with their enthusiasm, their chatter, their slow stories, I’ve seen the pleasure in their faces. Being patient with them and their follies, their passions, their mistakes, their stress about their homework, is a kindness. It shows them that they are valued. They know I don’t love computer games – what they take from this is that I love them. I have a tendency to be impatient in some circumstances but when I remind myself to practice patience I am always reminded that what I am practicing is kindness.

 

And what you reap is joy.

 

One of my best memories is going with my kids to North Head – there are a bunch of old military tunnels and slopes to ride down on cardboard, and seaside caverns to explore. Often on a day trip we go we do the thing and I’m “Okay we gotta go, we’ve done the thing, let’s go.” This day I didn’t. I was patient with them. I listened to the long stories and thoughts and I followed them wherever they wanted to go. We explored that whole darn place. I had so much fun seeing their excitement and pleasure in discovering new things.

 

You also, when you’re patient with the world, see magic.

‘Quick we’re going to be late! Quick! Why have you Stopped!’

‘Look Mum!’

‘What? What are we doing?’

‘Just look!’

There, on his finger, picked up from the fence, was a perfect dew drop, shimmering in the sunlight.

Magic. 

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I took this photo towards the end of last year. I was so entranced by the beauty of these dew drops. I’m glad I stopped to look.

Sometimes you can’t fix things

 

Sometimes things suck. Sometimes you lose everything you’ve worked hard to collect on Roblox and you feel devastated. Sometimes you have to go between two different houses and two different parents and you have to deal with all your conflicted feelings about it. Sometimes you have to go to family things and not the cool thing with your friends. Sometimes you feel scared and sad and lonely and you can’t just wish the feelings away.

 

Being a parent all you want to do is make sure your kids are happy. When you’re able to rebuild the destroyed Ninjago dragon lego the dog knocked over (without instructions!!) you feel like a superhero.

 

But lots of times you can’t do that.

 

My oldest son was bullied a lot in primary school. I could help some, but I couldn’t make it go away. I’ve learned so much about acceptance and about positivity and about holding my kids while they cry for half an hour – not telling them it’s all okay because they know it isn’t, but just letting them know that I am there and they aren’t alone. I’ve learned about respecting people’s distress even if you don’t think Minecraft is anything to cry about.

 

Encouragement and Support goes both ways.

 

This last year was incredibly difficult for me (hence the lack of blogging). My sons have been the most extraordinary cheerleaders and supporters. The care and love they give me has lifted me from spiralling sadness so very many times. I didn’t exactly wander around weeping in front of them, but I was open with them about my battle through depression, I was open with them about my initial hurt over my writing being rejected, I was open with them about my insecurities about my writing, and my struggle to feel ‘enough’. I don’t want to burden them but I think sometimes knowing someone is sad but not why can be very upsetting for kids. My sons were able to cheer me, to remind me to be strong, to let me know they loved me regardless of what I saw as failings, and to show me through small but precious ways that they respect and value me for who I am and what I do.

 

I have always strived to support and encourage and cheerlead my kids. To show them that I’m on the side lines and on their side. Knowing that they were wanting to do the same for me was one of the biggest blessings of a difficult year.

let down five

Personal, self care

A vulnerable moment and how I tried to change it.

 

In previous posts I’ve talked about vulnerability and I’ve talked about mindfulness. I’ve suggested ways to increase resilience. Well, over the last few days I’ve been battling the clouds in my head and so I followed my own advice and I tried to work it all out. This is a vulnerable post – I’m sharing my thought processes with you to show you in a very real way how I try to kick out the demons. I didn’t mean to share two slightly gloomy posts in a row so I apologise to those who followed me for the upbeat motivation or the stories. But I believe that by sharing our vulnerable side we help ourselves, and we help others.

Below is word for word what I wrote. I started out just trying to purge in a catharsis of sorts but you will see where my brain kicked in and stopped me, rerouted the avalanche of words. This is, incidentally, why writing is so good for getting your emotions in order – the structure you impose when you write, the selection you make in the words and where you put them, helps you sort through your feelings more effectively perhaps than other ways of dealing with it.  At the end of it I find I am not ragingly happy but my mind is no longer clogged with the clutter and debris of negativity. I have managed to impose some sense.

 

I hope by sharing my thought process with you, it might help you do the same if you ever need to.

 

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It’s hard when you feel so negative but you can’t do anything about it. The emotions just roil around, tumbling in your head and your chest, batting away the good thoughts and spreading out, making themselves at home.

 

Bad mum

Bad teacher

Crap writer

Shitty friend

 

No Time.

Not putting in the time

Forgetting things

Not making effort in the right way.

Not sticking to routine

 

Eating too much of the wrong things

Hating how you look, hating how unfit you are

Struggling to change

 

 

Okay, stop – focus on that last word – struggling.

 

Struggling is not a negative thing.

 

It is a human thing.

 

We all struggle.

 

We don’t always see other people’s struggles, but they have them.

 

Struggle doesn’t mean that you are rubbish or a loser, it doesn’t mean that you aren’t trying. Struggle means that you are trying and not succeeding. It implies effort. It implies desire.

 

Existence is a struggle.

 

A struggle to overcome.

A struggle to change

A struggle to improve.

 

These things are hard, they don’t happen without effort, and even with effort they don’t always fall into place easily.

 

Sometimes the only obstacle is you – your motivation or your distraction or your lack of self belief.

 

I think this is the hardest obstacle to overcome. The most difficult to struggle past.

 

So. Change the mindset.

 

First step.

 

Counter the stupid list.

 

You know these things to be true –

 

Good mum

Good teacher

Good writer

Good friend

 

Good person

 

 

You know these things you can fix –

 

Time but lots of things to fit into that time – have to be more organised.

Some things you do need to put more time into – figure them out and then do it.

Write some lists so you don’t forget

Enlist kids to help you enforce routines

 

 

You know these things you have to just do, even though they’re hard –

 

Eat better. This is tough but is one you just have to decide to do.

Stop hating on yourself.  You know you actually like yourself really. Appearance is only one aspect of a person and you know that. You tell other people that all the time. Live by it.

Exercise. Then you won’t be unfit.

 

 

And yes, you feel lonely. Not all the time but sometimes. Remember that it is just waves and they will come and go and you will remain on the shore. Ride it out.

 

 

Let yourself struggle because struggle is ultimately progress. And any progress is good progress.

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