I have a dream …

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Romanian border, 2 am, awaiting passport checks

I have many dreams, I have to confess. Not a bucket list, but a wish bucket which I can dip into and draw out a wish. Not always something extravagant or sophisticated, but often something quite minuscule.

I have previously written about a cute little pot I bought while visiting Poland. It was a deep blue colour, about the size of a miniature scone and had stars and a cat painted on the side alongside some writing. I was not in the slightest troubled by the fact that I had no idea what the wise words said but later learned that they described the little pot as “a place to keep your dreams”. How very perfect. This little pot has travelled far, and suffered some breaks, but it is still mostly there and held together with glue. And happily the dreams do not slip through the gaps. They do form my metaphorical wish bucket.

My wish bucket contains a number of dreams, those which I still hold on to experiencing, and those which I treasure now as memories or precious items. And there is always space for more dreams …

Some of the dreams which have been realised from my wish bucket are:

  • Meet a blogging friend in a new place
  • Buy a picture/piece of artwork at a gallery opening and watch them put the red sticker on it.
  • See a kangaroo in the wild. I saw many during my visit to Australia over Christmas and New Year 2015/16.
  • Visit a country with the letter ‘Z’ in it. Tanzania, and its magical island of Zanzibar
  • Sail through the Norwegian Fiords
  • See some of my writing in print.  In a book, with real paper pages!
  • Get funky, colourful nail art on my finger and toenails just for fun, just for once.

There are still more dreams which I hold on to:

  • See the Aurora Borealis (northern lights)
  • See the rings on Saturn through an astronomy telescope
  • See an iceberg
  • Book into the Oriental Bangkok for a weekend.  Or maybe a night.  Or maybe just have afternoon tea there given the price! (So far I have managed an afternoon tea and a decadent dinner).
  • See a starfish in the sea

There are also dreams which I am wary to articulate. When I was diagnosed in October 2009, the very obvious wish was to hang around beyond the treatment and return to a reasonable level of health. Reaching the five year mark a few years ago was an emotional milestone, and one I marked with thankfulness.

Now, my diagnosis came at a time of a personal Milestone Birthday those years ago. It was my 50th birthday, and plans to do something memorable were thwarted by visa constraints. My milestone birthday dream had been to travel to Bhutan, and indeed that is still to be met. But as I reached those 50 years back in 2009, I had recently moved to Myanmar and our visa was still in process. We were not able to leave the country, and not even able to leave Yangon. I had a beautifully memorable evening, with friends and colleagues in a wonderful space in Yangon, but travel plans were put on hold. For a very long time, it turned out.

Ten years earlier than that, as the arithmetic demonstrates, I marked my 40th birthday. With a great deal of dream nurturing,  and then planning, my wish to travel on the Trans Siberian railway became a reality. I had the most amazing trip, across the Siberian taiga, alongside awe-inspiring Lake Baikal and through the Mongolian steppe before the train descended dramatically, as it snaked past the Great Wall of China into Beijing. That had been intended to cure me of my debilitating wanderlust. It was not exactly successful, as a few months later, I found myself at Edinburgh airport with a one way ticket to Kathmandu, and a three year contract to work in Nepal. The rest is history, and seventeen years later, I returned to Scotland (now two years ago) with the petulance of a spoiled child whose trip to the seaside had come to an end.

That trip for my 40th birthday, all those years ago remains ingrained in my memory. It was a truly pivotal, and I find that even though health and energy are not what they were, the dreams are just as vivid.

Why am I dreaming so much at the moment? There is a swirling of memories and moments in the atmosphere. I realise that I am on the brink of two important milestones. One is the Next Milestone Birthday – the Voldemort Birthday. The age which must-not-be-spoken-out-loud. This is the year I receive my free Bus Pass and can qualify for some senior citizen discounts. The other life marker 10 years later was equally memorable, but was not in the slightest planned or even anticipated. That was when I heard those life altering words “this is highly suspicious of cancer”.

Just over a couple of weeks ago, late in July I a glance at the date showed that it was exactly 20 years since I embarked on that railway trip from Europe to Asia. I realised that 20 years ago to the day, I had been in Russia, watching the kilometre markers pass, one by one, telling me exactly how many kilometres I had travelled from Moscow. Every marker I passed told me that I was a kilometre further east than I had ever been before. I remember looking at the map unfolded constantly beside me, and marvelling that immediately due south, if many miles, from that point of the journey lay India! India. I could see it clearly on the map, but my mind was utterly incapable of absorbing that fact.

Twenty years later, I have found that as I was approaching this Voldemort birthday, I was increasingly compelled to embark on another journey. A gentler journey than that odyssey across Siberia and exploring Asia. A journey which I had long yearned to do, one which whispered temptations in my ear. One which I have not been able to resist.

So, I have just returned to Scotland from what has been almost a mirror image of the Siberian journey. Just a few weeks ago, one Thursday afternoon late in July, in less than five hours, I flew from Edinburgh to Istanbul, that mystical city where Europe meets Asia on the banks of the Bosphorus. I spent a few days exploring this new city, embracing Asia briefly with promises of a return. Then, inspired by the tales and legend of the Orient Express, I embarked on a journey which traced its route back to London (and on to Edinburgh) on the “other Orient Express”, as Paul Theroux calls it, by train all the way. Keeping true to the spirit of the journey, I stayed in the hotel originally built for passengers disembarking from the original Orient Express. This is where Agatha Christie reputedly wrote Murder on the Orient Express in Room 411, where I had panoramic views across the Golden Horn, of the Blue Mosque and where I was captivated by the melodic prayer calls and Turkish delight coloured sunsets.

Now safely back in Edinburgh, having travelled on six trains, through ten countries, spending 92 train hours and covering over 2500 miles, I have treasured memories and many photographs of this journey which helped me to step into this new decade. And stories to tell …

Here is the opportunity to relive the past weeks, as I begin to put this whole experience into words, to share.

Between Saturn and an iceberg – there be dragon (fruit) and dreams

Many years ago, I returned from a visit to Poland, clutching a chubby china pot which closed with its own little lid. Painted on its exterior were some stars and a cat. It was too cute to resist and it did not trouble me that I did not understand the meaning of the words beside the artwork. Later, however, I learned that the words described the little pot as “a place to keep my dreams”. How perfect. I have been thinking of this little pot recently, when reflecting about my “wish bucket”, that imaginary receptacle where I keep my dreams and wishes. Maybe in my mind I see it as less of a bucket and more like that little pot, designed especially for me to keep those dreams in. A little like a glass storage jar, but without the airtight lid. No, I don’t want my dreams to be confined. They must be able to seep out, or fly into the air. Perhaps my dreams are being nurtured in a wide-necked glass jar, amongst a pot pourri of treasured thoughts and memories. Easily accessible and ready to be drawn out or added to.

Recently I wrote about some of the dreams and wishes in this wish jar, as think I will now call it. There are a number of weird and wonderful dreams in there, jostling against each other as time and circumstance gently shake the contents:

  • Meet a blogging friend in a new place (repeat as often as possible)
  • Buy a picture/piece of artwork at a gallery opening and watch them put the red sticker on it.
  • Book into the Oriental Bangkok for a weekend.  Or maybe a night.  Or maybe just have afternoon tea there given the price!
  • See a kangaroo in the wild.
  • Visit a country with the letter ‘Z’ in it.
  • See the Aurora Borealis (northern lights)
  • Get funky, colourful nail art on my finger and toenails just for fun, just for once.
  • See the rings on Saturn through an astronomy telescope
  • See some of my writing in print.  In a book, with real paper pages!
  • See an iceberg
  • See a starfish in the sea
  • Sail through the Norwegian Fiords

There are (and always will be) many dreams to realise, but one is shifting and moving to the surface, peeping over the glass rim, ready to be taken in my hands and released into the air. If you look carefully there is one dream which for me is a Particularly Big Dream. It is nestled just after my wish to see the rings on Saturn through a telescope and just before the desire to see an iceberg. That wish is to see some of my writing in print, in a real book with paper pages. This was clear also when I took up the baton in the recent Blog Tour and I wrote (at length) about my writing process.

Last year I saw a call for submissions for an Anthology, seeking narrative non-fiction and memoir from women writers who are, or have been expats in East Asia. How perfect was that? To cut a long story short, and one which the Editor tells here, my tale was selected for inclusion in the Anthology How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? True Stories of Expat Women in Asia. This is a collection of stories exploring the struggles and triumphs of expat life in East Asia by 26 female writers, edited by Shannon Young.  It will be available in paperback and e-book formats on 10 June 2014.You can follow the Facebook page here and read the Editor’s introduction to the book and contributors here.

Soon, I will be able to meet the other women writers through their stories and perhaps in person when the book is launched, as well as the Editor who I have worked with through the fine tuning process. Soon I will be able to pick up that book, leaf through its pages and read my own words. I can’t quite imagine how that will feel.

There will be many more details to share in the coming weeks, with reviews and the cover image, and perhaps my own experience of dragonfruit surprises!

Dragonfruit surprise!

Dragonfruit surprise!

And then I need to nurture the related dream, to produce a book which is all my own work. Something else which is being kept alive in the wish jar.

wishjar

How does one dress to be a writer, I wonder?

A peek into my wish bucket

I have been nursing some unexpected foot pain the past few days and with great reluctance have skipped my early morning cycle and swim to ensure that whatever had caused the pain would be not be aggravated.  So I woke slowly on Friday morning, as the sun slowly seeped in through the bedroom window. I reached over for my iPod and had a quick check to see how the world had been faring overnight while I was resting.  I was immediately struck by two posts, from family in the far north east of Scotland, both of whom were in awe of a magical and spectacular display of the northern lights, (Aurora Borealis) or the “heavenly dancers” immortalised in song.

While I had been sleeping, many parts of the UK had been privy to an unusually stunning performance, and with the benefits of modern technology a number of awe-inspiring images were being beamed across the cybersphere. Despite growing up in rural Perthshire in Scotland, I have no recollection of seeing the northern lights and have maintained a fascination and wish to see them.  So much so, that they have featured in my “wish bucket”.

Northern Lights - one of many images on Twitter

Northern Lights – Gullane in Scotland – one of many images on Twitter

My wish bucket is something I have created in the past few years, to capture those little and not so little wishes and dreams.  It is not a  bucket list, as there is not a pressure to tick these off before I kick it!  Nor is it a wish list which I similarly have to work through.  Rather it is an imaginary receptacle into which I carefully put those dreams and desires to turn into reality when the time and opportunity allows it. I particularly like the fact that I can take these delights from the bucket as often as I like.

Now is then, a very apt time to revisit what is in my wish bucket and perhaps spur me into action. These are the treasures in my wish bucket:

  • Meet a blogging friend in a new place (repeat as often as possible)
  • Buy a picture/piece of artwork at a gallery opening and watch them put the red sticker on it.
  • Book into the Oriental Bangkok for a weekend.  Or maybe a night.  Or maybe just have afternoon tea there given the price!
  • See a kangaroo in the wild.
  • Visit a country with the letter ‘Z’ in it.
  • See the Aurora Borealis (northern lights)
  • Get funky, colourful nail art on my finger and toenails just for fun, just for once.
  • See the rings on Saturn through an astronomy telescope
  • See some of my writing in print.  In a book, with real paper pages!
  • See an iceberg
  • See a starfish in the sea
  • Sail through the Norwegian Fiords

The first wish I plucked out of the bucket was the toenail art wish.  I put this off for a silly length of time before I decided to get some nail art on my toenails.  And when I did, I just loved it! I showed my toes off to anyone I met and delighted in the delicate design which was not only exquisite in my eyes, but also highly affordable at around $8! This was something I could take from the wish bucket time and time again.  And I do!  Happily the novelty has worn off to the extent that I no longer take photos of every single design I have had, though there are more photos than is sensible!

I have also realised a long held dream to buy a piece of artwork at an exhibition and am delighted with my acquisition.  Living here with a vibrant and emerging art scene has really made that possible, and I was delighted to watch the red sticker being put on my new piece of multi-media artwork, an innovative mix of photography, paint and collage.

The red sticker on my new piece of art

The red sticker on my new piece of art

I have spent time on the Oslo Fiord, although I still want to travel along the remoter western fiords in Norway, so that is another wish which I can take out of the wish bucket more than once. I have also managed to meet up with two blogging friends, Terri of A Fresh Chapter (in Hong Kong as she transited from Vietnam to India) and Audrey in Edinburgh and wish to meet many blogging friends who I have connected with on this very warm online breast cancer blogging community.

There are still many dreams in my wish bucket, and some easier to realise then others.  The northern lights remain there and it would be wonderful one day to see them.  I am delighted that so many in the UK were able to witness their magic and share their pictures though.  One day perhaps……….

There is another very special wish which I am hoping to see realised in the coming weeks but I do not want to speak of that until those plans are firmer.  In the meantime, I hold on tightly to the happiness which my wishes have gifted me and look forward to sharing more in good time.

northernlights metrouk

Landmark days 1 and 2 crossed

 I had a horrible nightmare overnight into Thursday.

I had a very vivid dream that I discovered a lump on my right side. In my dream I knew that the date was exactly a year from finding the lump and so it does not take genius nor wildly lateral thinking to see what my mind was doing. I started the process of getting myself back to Bangkok to deal with the lump, and this involved telling people quite openly that there was a new lump and that I was very worried. The next stage of the dream focused on the fact that the lump was a rather odd shape, and it felt very hard, and even seemed to have a “point” at one end. I kept prodding and poking at the lump and eventually it worked its way through the skin (revolting I know but that is what happened) and turned out to be a cocktail stick. Heaven knows how it got there but perhaps it found its way there at the time of my mastectomy surgery. Even more worrying is how on earth such a bizarre notion played out in my mind while I should have been peacefully slumbering.

I was then faced with the embarrassment of going back to the people I had told about the lump and trying to explain it was a rogue cocktail stick!

That was my very weird start to Landmark Day 1 and I woke to the relief that I hadn’t found a lump combined with the memory of the day last year.

Yesterday (Saturday) was Landmark Day 2 – a year since I was referred by my Doctor to Bangkok for investigation. Happily my dreams have not been so disturbing, but then the events of that day were less alarming too. It is all cranking forward towards 2 October and the Cancerversary. I have something in mind, and underway to mark it so watch this space…….