Monthly Archives: May 2015

Bitter Sweet Memories

I am currently travelling away for business and although I put my career as an academic on hold, I continue to engage in my passion of working with individuals on a one-to-one basis. In business parlance I would be known as an Executive Coach, but in essence what I do is to help my clients make sense of their world.

So, here I am, in the Northern part of England and together with France, I see it as my other spiritual home. I shall not be tempted to write pages of eulogy as to why this part of the world is so special, but for those of you familiar with the Northeast of England, you will need no persuasion. As for the remainder of you, I recommend a trip to this the best-kept secret of the British Isles; you will not be disappointed. Although frequent travelling means a break in the flow of my writing, it also makes a contribution to the overall writing process, which I will explain.

I am very fortunate to have a home opposite glorious parks and headlands, leading onto miles and miles of golden sandy beaches. The sunset over one of the lighthouses near me is just one of many delights the beaches around me has to offer. Although the scene remains the same, every day is different depending on the weather, as it so often is in England. One day the sea will be angry and batter the piers and beaches with powerful waves leaving a foaming white wash behind. Only the brave or foolhardy will walk along the beautiful coastline, straining against the cold, stormy northern wind. The next day it could be sunny with a calm sea glistening in the sunshine and you would be forgiven for thinking that you find yourself in the Mediterranean.

I digress and return to the point made earlier that the breaks in writing is part of the creative process. Having spent many years on and off in France, I have come to appreciate the quality of a good wine because it goes through the natural processes of fermentation and aging. To me this is a relevant metaphor for writing; it needs periods away from the writing process to allow a maelstrom of thoughts and ideas to ferment and distill into coherent and creative ideas.

In my blog last week, I shared my internal struggles to decide who would be the narrator of Eugene and Pieter’s story. Having finally made the decision to write it from my own personal experiences, I misjudged how emotional the journey was going to be. In a way, had it been a third party telling their story, I would have been removed from the emotions to a certain extent as it would be their story and not mine. Equally, the emotions wouldn’t be my emotions, but the emotions of another.

It took me many months before I could even begin the process of writing as I had to delve into the precious as well as the painful memories I have of Eugene. It was as though I was reliving these memories all over again. My journey is taking me through the very special times Eugene and I had shared, especially in our younger years, followed by sharing our love of travelling. Then during the latter years, dealing with the painful memories of making the most of the brief time we had together. This was made even more painful as I was many thousands of miles away from Eugene and Pieter and physically being there, offering practical support was very difficult, if not impossible.

Even now, whenever I work on their book, as I have come to think if it, I find myself in tears at some stage or other whilst writing. Strangely enough, I am also comforted by a feeling that Eugene is there with me, reliving the many happy memories we shared as well as providing comfort and inspiration when I falter. One of the many memories was of Eugene visiting me at the time when I got my first Cocker Spaniel, called Scally. He was very much taken with her, especially the softness of her fur. Being a person that expressed affection spontaneously and abundantly, Scally was showered with many cuddles and hugs.

I have found it both beneficial as well as comforting when I have periods of writing where I have precious memories of times shared with Eugene and Pieter such as at my home in the Northeast of England. Another memory is the fun times we’ve had when preparing Christmas dinner. We all come from families that love good food and the enjoyment of it is as much in the preparation as the consumption thereof, as the photo of Pieter and Laurence, my husband, will testify. This was taken during one of the festive seasons they spent with us.

Physically being here in the Northeast therefore allows these memories to percolate to the surface. As I glance up at the lamp to the right of my laptop, my eye catches the small, beautifully carved metal figure of an angel that hangs from it. Eugene bought it for me whilst we enjoyed afternoon tea and cake at an outdoor tea shop on one of my last visits to them in South Africa. It is engraved with a prayer, “May God bless you” which when I look at it always makes me aware of the presence of Eugene.

I am conscious that this posting has exceeded the limit of the word count I have set for my blogs, but I hope it has given you a further insight into my writing journey. The sun is shining, a rare sight in this part of the world, and I shall therefore continue my reflections whilst enjoying the cool wooded parks and a walk along the golden beach before the rains once again blow in from the North.


Oh Romeo, Romeo…

I mentioned in my introduction that I have lived and travelled far and wide and this continues to be the case. I  was no doubt borne under a wandering star and no matter how hard I resist, it continues to clasp me in its embrace, influencing my life willingly or otherwise. I am therefore rarely in one place for too long. Thank heavens for laptops and the Internet!

So, here I am sitting in a large relaxing chair next to the window of a wide sloping corridor, elegantly decorated. As I glance up the view which greets me is that of a rather gray, stormy see with the occasional wave crashing imagesagainst the side of the ship, sending a white spray of sea water against the window next to me. I am on the Queen Mary 2, the flagship of the Cunard line. We are currently off the west coast of Britain on our way to the beautiful Irish town of Cork and then on to a number of Scottish ports offering equally stunning scenery.

Ireland is also known as the Emerald Isle, due to its beautiful lush green landscape. It can only be so due to the high rainfall, hence the gray skies and equally gray seas I am surrounded by.  The many different shades of gray are interspersed by the odd patch of blue sky. It acts as a reminder that on occasions the skies in this part of the world are a colour other than gray, even if only for a brief period.

 Cork-Ireland

I continue with my musings regarding the process of writing my tribute and I have shared with you the many questions that I had to unexpectedly grapple with when I first started writing. Questions I did not anticipate when I first made the decision to do so. Having weighed up all the pros and cons of the many writing styles I could adopt, my decision was that I would be writing it through my own experience of the individual and collective lives of Eugene and Pieter.

As with any personal account attempting to depict the life and experiences of another person or even an historical event means it is therefore the interpretation of the one doing the writing. As the author you decide what to include and what to omit. It is like looking at a scene through one particular window, ignoring different perspectives other windows may reveal. If my tribute were written from another’s point of view, the story would no doubt be different as they would be looking through a different window and therefore selecting different aspects of the lives of Eugene and Pieter. My tribute is therefore my personal view of their lives as seen and experienced through my eyes and emotions.

Some of my friends and acquaintances are understandably of the opinion that I am writing this book for me, as a cathartic experience to help me come to terms with the loss of Eugene. I will not argue that this might very well be a contributing factor.images However, I feel compelled to share what I interpret as a modern day version or a new twist on Love Story or a gay version of Romeo and Juliet.

As I am writing these thoughts I know that my brother’s wicked sense of humour would have found the latter hilarious to say the least! As a natural performer and entertainer he would already have had images of himself with long flowing locks standing on a medieval balcony, waiting for Pieter to agilely scale the climbing vegetation and come to his rescue. Am I getting my stories mixed up I wonder? Nevertheless, you get the picture!

Finally, the book I referred to in my previous blog, Take Off your Pants! Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing by Libbie Hawker, has been a tremendous help in helping me to realise it is not necessary to see the writing I am now engaged in as opposite to my previous academic writing. The book argues that writing is about integrating a structure without compromising the creative process.

Instead, the proposed structure provides the framework that facilitates the emergence of the story. I can therefore let go of my internal battle of seeing my academic discipline as being in opposition to the journey on which I have embarked. Instead, it will provide me with the necessary discipline to craft a structure within which I can play and be creative, allowing my voice to emerge.


Take Off your Pants!

You may very well think that I have lost the plot! What has pants got to do with writing? Quite a lot as I discovered on this leg of the journey.

I continue to struggle with finding my voice. This week I reflected on the process of writing the academic books and papers I did in my previous life. Looking back, it was easier in comparison to writing this tribute for a number of reasons. You know exactly what your aim and purpose are and also of significance is that your output is channeled by a particular structure and style.

Given the above, I have underestimated the many decisions I had to make in writing my tribute. First of all, just starting the journey was a lot more difficult than I had anticipated and I have had many stops and starts for a number of reasons. Freeing myself from the academic yoke and finding my own rhythm of writing was the first step. It is very difficult to know what that rhythm might look like when it hasn’t seen the light of day for many years.

I came across a very interesting book on the process of writing, entitled Take Off your Pants! Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing by Libbie Hawker. She addresses a number of the conundrums I face, namely do I plot and structure the book or just allow it to emerge naturally. She defines these two approaches as plotting or pantsers, hence the reference to taking off your pants.

She puts forward a compelling argument for having a structure and outline for your book versus flying by the seat of your pants. As I mentioned in my previous posting, the constraints and structure of writing may in fact facilitate and enhance the creative process of writing. I am currently reading her book and contemplating how it may influence my own writing process. Until then, I continue to debate the many questions of the writing journey that seem to emerge wave after wave.

One such challenge I am grappling with is the best approach to tell the story of Eugene and Pieter. Who is to be the fly on the wall? Was it to be told through the eyes of the main characters, namely Eugene and Pieter or a third person observing their journey unfolding? If so, who could this third person be and what would make them suitably qualified to do so? Where do I start? At the beginning, end or middle? And then what might be the beginning, end or middle? When they were children, after they had met, when they were first told Eugene had terminal cancer? And so the questions go on and on. After churning the pros and cons of all the various options around in my mind, I have decided that it was my tribute and therefore I will write it from my particular point of view.

What is refreshing, in what is a very different way of writing for me, is that I do not have to try to persuade you or anyone of a particular point of view. As an academic writer I would have to justify the contribution my writing would make to a particular body of knowledge. The difference with this tribute is that I do not have to persuade the eventual readers of my book of a particular belief or stance; instead the purpose is one of sharing and as the reader, you can make of it what you will thereby co-creating the story with me.

I will continue with my contemplations of structuring vs flying by the seat of my pants and any other additional questions that I have no doubt will continue to wake me up in the middle of the night.


The Journey of One Step at a Time

Journey“>In response to the invitation by the Daily Post to share a personal journey, the purpose of my newly created post, One Step at a Time, is to share a journey I have embarked on. It is a journey which bears testimony to another journey, one my brother Eugene and his partner Pieter, embarked on when my brother was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Journey“>In order to go on this journey, I had to end other journeys so that I could devote the time and energy to make the most of what this journey has to offer. It is both a physical as well as an emotional journey and although the end destination is to produce a tribute to Eugene and Pieter, the experiences and adventures I will have en route are vague and unclear. My blog is therefore to share my adventures with others who may be on a similar journey.

Journey“>Bon voyage to everyone on their own journey!


Where to Start Writing?

I have always been a scribbler and published numerous articles in magazines and newspapers in my younger days. Then followed a career as and academic, demanding a very different set of skills when it came to writing. The rigorous training of research and writing up your findings provided me with a particular discipline and structure of writing to that which I was used to.

I remember as if it was yesterday in my early days of learning the academic discipline of writing, one of our Professors saying to me, “I am not interested in your opinion or what you think.” This was a real challenge to someone like me that has an opinion about any subject you care to mention! I persevered and eventually succeeded enough in the required practice to publish numerous papers and articles in various academic journals, delivered a number of papers at academic and non-academic conferences and even persuaded mainstream publishers to publish three of my books related to my particular area of interest.

I confess that the academic approach to writing didn’t come easily to me. It may be because it didn’t reflect my personality, which is to approach everything I do with enthusiasm and in terms of writing, a preference for a more free flowing style. It took me many years, and many failed attempts, to master its disciplined approach of critically reviewing one’s own as well as the works and findings of others. I do often wonder what the price of doing so might have been? Sliding doors; I may never know.

Putting this hard earned skill aside is both scary as well as exciting. It is scary because shedding the security of this particular writing discipline means I have to replace it with something else. The challenge is that I have yet to define and become familiar with what that something else might be. It is akin to becoming acquainted with someone new and developing an intimate relationship with them over time

As with a new relationship you have to get to know each other, warts and all before an enduring love can be forged. In my case it may rather be the re-acquaintance with an old flame, which is a whole new ballgame altogether! I have a lot of soul searching yet to embark on before I can honestly and confidently answer this question.

That something else also means I have to rediscover my own voice and find my own unique way of expressing my thoughts and emotions. The latter is particularly problematic as emotion is certainly not acceptable in academic writing, nor in the corporate life where I often apply my theoretical knowledge! And the book tribute is unashamedly emotional, it cannot be other given the circumstances.

During my musings this week of where and how to start writing my tribute, I had the great pleasure of travelling to York, North Yorkshire to meet up with a client. It was a glorious day with clear blue skies and I could only marvel at how beautiful the York Minster was bathed in warm, spring sunshine. MinsterI was reminded of the memories visiting the Minster with Eugene and the times of quiet contemplation we spent in the peace and tranquility of its interior. Eugene and Pieter so enjoyed wandering around the narrow, old and historical streets of York and The Shambles in particular with its ancient buildings.

The Shambles

The coaching session with my client was surprisingly serendipitous. We spent some time discussing the nature of creativity and how structure and constraints facilitate the process of creativity rather than obstructing it. Our discussions were truly inspirational and made me realise that a structure and discipline of writing does not necessarily get in the way of the creative process, but could actually enhance it. The next step is for me to consider what that structure should look like.


Sabbatical

Approximately six months ago, I took both a frightening as well as an exhilarating decision to take an indefinite sabbatical from my role as an academic. The reason for jumping into the abyss and fulfilling what I had come to view as my life’s purpose was to write a book as a tribute to two very special people in my life; my brother Eugene and his partner, Pieter.

This tribute is my witness to their six-year journey living with cancer after my brother was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer. The purpose of my blog is therefore to share with you my journey of writing this tribute, which will be in the form of a book I hope to publish within the next year or so. Along the way I will introduce you to Eugene and Pieter and their lives together and provide you with a taste of what makes them so special.

I agonized for days over what the title of my blog should be. In the end I decided that it couldn’t be any other than what it is. “One step at a time” became Eugene’s mantra over the six years living with terminal cancer. With a positive and optimistic disposition, he was determined to make the most of what time he had and taking one step at a time allowed him to make the most of every moment without dwelling too much on the road ahead. The photograph is also significant as it is identical to a view of a beach in the North East, a very special place to me and where I have numerous happy memories of my times with Eugene and Pieter.

My belief in human nature is such that I am sure my decision will evoke some empathy in you. However, I can also anticipate that, despite your sympathetic response, a question will arise in your mind that says, “Millions of people go through the same journey every day, so what makes them unique?” And, of course, you would be absolute right; millions go through what they did. So what, indeed, prompted me to give up my career to write this tribute?

To begin with, my brother and I were incredibly close and shared a bond that remained strong despite the fact that I travelled and lived thousands of miles away from him for more than thirty years; he was gay in a very conservative environment with many of the restrictions that goes with this; Eugene and Pieter shared a very special love and commitment to each other during their 23 year relationship.

Their years together meant they had to live under the constraints a gay couple faces in a community brimming with many prejudices. This was particularly problematic during my brother’s six-year ordeal with cancer as Pieter was not recognized as his next of kin. This has practical as well as emotional consequences in terms of sharing the burden of the many decisions to be made regarding treatment, care, etc.

The final fact that clinched it for me was my testimony to their exceptional love and support for each other during this time in particular. Nothing was ever too much trouble for Pieter and he made every sacrifice necessary to ensure the journey for Eugene was as bearable as it could possibly be, many times at a cost to his own personal wellbeing.

So, yes, they are not celebrities and you will certainly not have recognized them if you bumped into them. However, the story of their love and support is worthy of telling and who knows, it might just bring some comfort to one or two of the other few millions of people who embark on this one-way journey with terminal cancer as an unwanted companion.

Before I conclude my introduction to this blog and its purpose, allow me to introduce you to Eugene and Pieter. Eugene is the blond one and when Pieter first met him, he thought to himself: “I have to get to know this tall, sexy blond.” And he did and 23 years later, he still thinks of Eugene in the same way. Pieter, is the dark one on the right and in their case, opposites certainly did attract and was a recipe for an enduring, mutually supportive and contented relationship.

Duimpie Blydepoort

 

Pieter Blydepoort 2

 

These photographs were taken on their very first holiday together, shortly after they had met. Throughout my blog I will also introduce you to the people that have touched the lives of Eugene and Pieter, either as individuals or as a couple.

Thank you for taking the time to read my introduction to a scary, but exciting new phase in my life. I look forward to your companionship on this journey. Your comments and suggestions over the weeks and months to come will be both encouraging as well as provide me with feedback, practical advice and suggestions.