Sunday, 21 December 2014

Writing, Place, Bravery and other things - Marking 2014

I have not written anything in this blog for basically a year.
I have however, written in other places. LinkedIn for work and industry related things - including some posted on the Australian Small Business Commissioners site and even a post on The wife started a blog about our move to a small rural acreage on the outskirts of Melbourne HillShadowHouse, to which I have contributed.
Of course I write a lot for my job and have won a few grants and written annual reports and other work related stuff which has been good. I even send an abstract to speak at s conference next year (yet to know if I will be accepted)
So in many ways 2014 was the year I wrote - but it wasn't the year I wrote anything fictional - it wasn't the year I wrote "my one great thing".
I'm not sad about that, it just wasn't the right time to do that or maybe I wasn't in the right place.
I did however read a staggering (for me and my life) 37 books this year.
2014 was the year we settled more into Melbourne.
We found a place we truly feel more at home, it's still rented but in a long term way and has some much to it that we can do more with - the landlords lets us paint interior walls and put up pictures and it had built in book shelves!!!! (not enough but enough to unpack the books... having them out means so much to me and wife). See HillShadowHouse blog for more on that aspect.
Our friendships grew and the network was able to meet up and see each other with us as the connector not us coming or tagging along to other peoples events. That one night meant so much to me - I am and forever will be the host.
2014 I found my stride at work and have a lot on the go and plans afoot to move into and beyond 2015, it's exciting to have plans that will make a difference.
2014 was also the year I found out I had cancer.

It was what I would describe as the most shit day of my life.
I had had a call from wife in the morning, she couldn't find Henry our orange miniature farm dog, breed unknown. A more loyal, kind, honest, strong, protective dog you would struggle to find.
He wouldn't return to calls and was last seen in the back paddock.
Lately he had become more and more deaf, not able to hear us when at a distance.
After checking the back paddocks and not being able to find him, wife had left to take our eldest daughter to preschool thinking he would be back when she returned - and he wasn't.
After hanging up I rang around the local vets to see if he had been dropped off and left our number.
Short time later I got a call from a Council road crew who had found him. He had been hit by a car and was deceased.

The road crew got my address and said they would return him to my wife.
It was with a heavy heart I rang through to prepare her.

I had an appointment with the doctor that afternoon to find out the results of a scan - I managed to move the appointment up so I could leave early and get home to be with family on this saddest  of days.
The news I got was bad.
I had cancer and would need to get in to see a specialist as soon as possible. I told the young doctor about the day I had already been having. He nearly cried.
I'm not sure what I said but I left trying to simply get home.
He called me later, he had arranged a booking for Wednesday with the surgeon, he wanted to know if I was alright, I wasn't, I lied.

Fast forward and after the operation to remove my cancerous left testicle I went to see the oncologist to see how things were going. An earlier scan had revealed a shadow they didn't like, the follow-up showed it had grown.
Chemotherapy was the offered solution - I was prepared, I had researched the treatments. I asked questions I arranged a date to start. I got the material, the pamphlets, the advise, I was reassured and told to prepare and relax this was a normal treatment.

I sit here now 3 days from Christmas, with planned treatment to start on 5th January for a total of 9 weeks. It's going to be 3 cycles of 3 weeks.

Week 1 - 5 days
Week 2 - 1 day
Week 3 - 1 day
rinse repeat, repeat...

I have no idea what will happen or how the treatment will affect me. I only know that I will survive, I will beat this by fighting or by letting it pass through me.
In her book "The Art of Asking" Amanda Palmer recalls the story of her mentor Anthony and his battle with cancer. He told her he wasn't going to fight it, he would let it pass through him.
The oncology nurse explained how chemotherapy will work, they will put the cocktail of drugs into my arm intravenously and I would have to wait until all the chemicals have been passed through my system. In other words until I wee'd it all out.
That quote and the explanation from the nurse has given me resolved to fight and let it pass through me. To know when to battle and know when to just let it go - let it out of me, and like Obi Wan Kinobi become one with the force. Not to die, but to live another day and another and another... on and on.

Let it pass through me...
With Christmas we traveled north to visit family and friends, I knew this trip would be a lot of people asking how I am and asking for more explanation of what is happening and what will happen.
What I didn't expect was someone to tell me they respected me for checking, for going to doctor when something was wrong.
Someone told me they thought I was brave and strong to even find out I had cancer.
I found that weird.
It wasn't brave to know you had to do something about something being wrong. My testicle felt strange, it felt heavy, it was not normal, something was wrong.
I have been thinking about this and the only answer I can come up with is that it's because it was testicular cancer, to me it wasn't about the organ that was affected, it was about living and being able to step up and say "there is something wrong and I want it fixed".
Sure there was a thought or two of getting naked and having a doctor touch my bits, but they went quickly with the thought that they were medical professionals, they had probably seen, examined and touched more balls then anyone I was ever likely to meet.
They were professional and certainly put me at ease.
Or was it that I was brave to not only be examined but to also follow through and get the operation, to stand tall and follow up and be on the path I am on.
I've got to say the medical system worked well for me, the choice was simple. To live we need to do this, the medical science tells us that by doing these things we can make sure that you live.
To quote Terminator "Come with me if you want to live"

It wasn't brave, it was the solution to a problem I had. I went with them 'cause I want to live.
What I really wanted was them to say that it was a cyst or something else minor and no worthy of the sleepless nights of worry. I didn't want to hear it was cancer, I didn't want to hear it had spread, I didn't want to hear I needed chemo. I want it to be over.
To hear those words, to hear them say "I never want to see you again, you aren't healed but you are as healthy as the next person" is by doing these things. I do these things because I have to, not because I want to, not because I am brave.
I do it because I have so much to live for.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

On writing...

2014 is the year I get something done.

It's the year I get serious about writing this novel that has been in my head for so long.

But how? I hear you all ask me. You work long hours, have two children under 4 and a wife... That's impossible!

Normally I would agree with you 100% - but I have a plan. I'm not kidding myself I doubt I will finish said novel in 2014, just get serious about! To that end I have some tools to help me along.

Before I get into those tools and the methods I will try to use, here is something inspiring that makes me happy and makes me feel like I can actually do this. I need to post this here so that when I get down (and I will) I can look on this and think that I really can make it. I still have time.

Writing tools

These are the things that I will use to turn ideas into words and words into paragraphs and scenes and chapters and such. The basic elements...

And that is Microsoft Word - I use it everyday at work, I understand the way it works and I already own it... what more do I really need? I have seen a number of writer word processor style programs but the truth is I don't need them I don't need the angst of learning something new. I just to be able to write when I have the chance and for it to work and be able to be sent on for proofing or comment from my panel of experts (more on that later)

I am also using Evernote to note down ideas or thoughts as they come to me - I use the iPhone app which is great as my phone is always with me - so I can easily jot something down and have it there on my PC when I get home. I can also add images which is also great for idea generation - if I see something I like something that could be described or used in the story I can take some pictures or link to a website and there my idea is saved for me to use later.

I also use Pinterest to capture images and ideas I find that having a heap of different images around a theme helps me to describe that in my novel. The Metropolis in this story is vast and has many layers and levels, it is more than any physical city we have today and yet I am finding small bite sized chunks of my city in the world. So I have been collecting them on a Pin board - one I can look at easily and grab a few simple snapshots from to help describe a scene or a moment in the story. I will also use this idea for many other aspects of the story as it develops. I liken this to research. You can see my Pin board here if you want to see what I have so far.

Jerry Sienfeld, no I haven't employed Jerry to help me write but I have employed his productivity tool. A calendar. From Lifehacker

He revealed a unique calendar system he uses to pressure himself to write. Here's how it works.
He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker.P
He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. "After a few days you'll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You'll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain."P
"Don't break the chain," he said again for emphasis.P

I have my own small version of his calendar courteous of McDonalds Ringwood... it's BATMAN!

Each day I do something on my novel I get to mark it off. It might be research, character development or actually banging away at the keyboard, this is the trick to getting it all to work this year. To actually do something on it each day.

Process Mapping. It sounds a little managerial speak (and truth be told that's where I got it from) but for me this technique allows me to 'see' the connections between characters, places, events and mark out the plots and movements. It's nothing new or ground breaking it does however give me something to work from and on.

Panel of Experts will be people I can call on to read through parts of the story, give me feedback and comments on the characters, ideas, grammar and spelling!!! My beautiful wife is a teacher and librarian, we know others similar and my good friend Zles has a degree in creative writing and is hopefully embarking on his writing journey as well this year. So I hope to be able to get these friends to help me find my voice and make sure it is creating what I want. A tale people will want to read and experience.

I have found a wealth of books and tips on writing online and through Amazon and recommendations from other writers. I quite like Eddie Jones "Writing Skills - A Novel Idea: Story Structure Tips for the Break-out Novelist" (very reasonable price on Amazon for the e-book). K M Weiland has some great stuff on her blog and I want to get her book "Outlining Your Novel" as some stage... TOR have many great articles and items and I subscribe to their newsletter...

Books, books and more books. I also need to read this year - to get a better understanding of what makes a good story better, what works and what doesn't (at least for me). I have heard a lot from writers saying they went out to write a story they would read. There is a lot to be said about that. The writers I like have written a number of books and get a hell of a lot of readers, so my tastes can't be that bad. If I can write something that I like then chances are there will be others that like it as well.

There are other tools I will be using, my headphones (at times), music, dedication and support, maybe even this blog will be a tool I can use to test chapters or scenes with you all.

However, mostly I will need confidence that I can do this and that I will achieve what I want.

I turned 38 last Tuesday, I learned this week that John Mahoney (Fraiser - Martin Crane) started acting at 37... I have plenty of time...