Three words for 2018

Good evening” I nodded as I passed a well wrapped up couple walking their dog on the shorefront.

Evening,” they responded, kindly faces pinched in the chill wind.

I glanced at my watch a few steps onwards, and realised it was only a few minutes after 3 o’clock. In northern Scotland the days are short and in those twilight days between Christmas and New Year the sun nudges above the hills just for a short while before resting again below the horizon. It would soon be dark, another cosy night ahead.

3ECCAC03-52EB-4724-9469-304C06C098B7

Such evenings are perfect to reflect back on the year. Long evenings to review what the year brought, as well as preparing for the New Year. This time last year, I was in Ecuador. To be precise, I had been in the Galapagos Islands on those very twixtmas days, absorbing the unique setting I was in and oblivious to the surprises which 2017 was to bring. I was crafting my 2017 words: “Emerge, explore and intend”. I was ready for what the year would bring.

Or so I thought.

My process of identifying my 3 words combines a foundation of “givens” for the year with the direction, strength and tools to absorb “unexpecteds”. The words were tested to their limit by the past year as the “givens” almost all disappeared.

As I stepped into 2017, I had been living in Africa just a few months and was settling in to this new and inspiring place. A whole new continent and world away from the Asia I had lived and worked in for the previous decade and a half. My 3 word mantra was in place to guide me move forward. Emerge, explore and intend. I was all set to build my confidence and establish my place in my new environment. I was eager to explore my new surroundings. And I set out to approach life intentionally. However, 2017 had a few surprises to put in my path. Serious ill health from early in the year, a long recovery time and a change in the world of work saw me return to Scotland in the middle of the year, ill prepared for the adjustment which repatriation and professional redirection requires. It is not yet timely to detail those changes as there is still work to do to find my feet in a world which has changed significantly since I left in 2000. Writing an article for CABLE, Scotland’s new online international affairs magazine about my return to Scotland, provided a useful opportunity for me to think more deeply on the scale and depth of this readjustment.

Ullapool 2

This is a transition at all levels, professional, personal and physical. And a transition which was not planned or chosen, but necessitated by a set of external factors beyond my control. To move forward, I need 3 words which are strong and which will guide me to keep moving forward, ensuring I do not flag.

This is the first time in my life when I have not been working (or studying full time). I have been taken aback to realise that I feel stripped of my sense of purpose without the role which work provided. I am still the same person, with the same beliefs and values yet the vehicle to challenge inequity and inspire change was very much bound up in my professional role. This has led me to my first word – search. I need to search to find my place, to find a way to play my part in the world. I want to define and refine my sense of purpose. Searching is also a very practical need. I need to search to find where I can play a role in the Scottish workforce, in a country which has changed so much in the time I was away. I must search for a long term place to call “home”, as my circumstances now are very different. These are important individually, and almost overwhelming when put together. And there is no shortcut, searching and researching are processes in themselves and need time, energy and careful consideration.

And that leads me to my second word. After such change and turbulence, I yearn to “settle”. I have revelled in the variety of places I have lived, without doubt. I had no idea that I would spend so many years overseas and in so many different countries when I left Scotland 17 years ago. Yet, no matter how much I felt “at home” and enjoyed the homes I settled in, I always knew that no matter how long I would stay in a country, it would not be permanent and that leaves a psychological niggle deep down. After so many years of different, long term yet temporary homes, I am warmed by the prospect of a home where I can finally unpack all the elements of my life and truly settle. Indeed, I have experienced uncertainty and upheaval in all areas of my life these past months and I want to focus on seeing that all settle in 2018. These are also not quick or simple processes, but I would like to see at least clarity and stability. I want the dust to settle, and to see the way ahead in my longer term future.

My final word is one which leans on and follows on from the previous two. The various threads of my life are currently loose and straggled. These need to be sorted and brought to some kind of order. I want to begin to “weave” my new life from these various dimensions. Threads are thin, fragile and quick to be blown away when they are single, but when they are brought together, with ideas and direction, they can be woven into a fabric of meaning, strength and beauty. These strands woven together can form stability, clarity and can grow and evolve as time moves forward. Having so many loose strands may be daunting, but this is also liberating. I have enormous freedom to weave the life and future which is right for me. I am eager to for that to take shape and to see what the picture will look like.

Inverness 1

As we move through January, these northern days will slowly lengthen alongside the promise of spring and regrowth as nature’s cycles move forward. I have my first Scottish spring in almost 2 decades to look forward to. I welcome a reacquaintance with snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils, as the trees begin to bud and the evenings become lighter.

This is the nurturing backdrop for my 2018 mantra “Search, settle and weave”

snowdrop-blossom-bloom-spring-flower.jpg

Advertisements

The Meaning of Life and the Why of Blogging

 

There is something going on in the blogosphere. There is a shifting in the breeze and a sense of unsettledness. The groundswell of a movement is still there but amidst it s a sense of questioning. Questioning, why we blog, for what purpose and with what aim? We seem to be drowning in questions, and struggling to find many answers.  A bit like the meaning of life, perhaps.

In many senses the blogsphere is awash with breast cancer related blogs. (My own blogroll miserably fails to capture too many brilliant blogs). Of course the scale of breast cancer blogging reflects the enormity and diversity of the disease on top of our own individuality. The fact that there is such variety in the approaches we each take to blogging, reflects the uniqueness of our own diagnosis and experience and what breast cancer means to us individually.

I can see that I am not alone in feeling the need to spring clean the blog, peeking into the dusty corners of the archives and emerge with a shiny new, squeaky clean refreshed Feisty Blue Gecko space. I worked on the visual side a few weeks ago, and am quite pleased with the revamped look, although it might experience some tweakings and refinement.

That is the easy part though. The visual side is far less complex and much clearer than the “what’s in it” aspect. So following some heavy weeks at work, residual tiredness and gradual recovery from the recent ill health, it has taken some time in this post taking shape. Added to that is the continued feed of posts from fellow blogesses who are also thinking about the Why of Blogging.

It is interesting to see how our blogs develop and evolve as time marches forward. I remember the thinking processes I went through as this blog entered the blogosphere in October 2009, not long after diagnosis. Being so far away from family, many friends and support networks, I wanted to keep folks informed and updated as I was propelled along the diagnosis-treatment path. I also wanted to record the tiny details that I knew I would forget as time wore on. This would be a record of my experience that I could revisit. And connected with that was the interest to revisit when I would be in a different place emotionally and physically. I find it very powerful re-reading some of the posts from my earlier days following diagnosis. It is difficult to recall just how you felt long after the event. The level of detail I have written preserves that.


However, by far the biggest catalyst for my blogging about breast cancer was to try and get a grip on what was going on in my mind. I would lie awake at night, thinking, worrying and fearing. Starting to record everything and process it was incredibly cathartic, and still is. Having the blog to focus those thoughts and shape them into a post which would have to be coherent enough for others to read provided an outlet for the the scary thoughts, a kind of download button. Yes, blogging really helped to bring some meaning to life in the new cancer world that we are thrown into.

If my original Why of Blogging was multipurpose, then no wonder I am having difficulty making sense of the current Why of Blogging nearly three years on. And this is where I find myself far from alone.

Take Lauren’s blog,  After Five Years, for example. I would look forward to Sunday evenings and luxuriate in Lauren’s insightful and eloquent writing as I prepared for the new week ahead. On a Sunday even in Asia, I could time fairly accurately when the Tweet would arrive, which would tell me that Lauren had clicked publish on her latest post.  The end of last year brought a break in her weekly blogging, which I found quite unsettling and disconcerting. As the weeks turned into months, I would continue to click regularly on the link in the hope that there would be a new post. And then one day, there was. And her post was a discussion linked to the Why of Blogging and how this was shifting for Lauren.

Last month, within days of each other, Uneasy Pink and Bringing up Goliath published posts sharing very similar thoughts. Uneasy Pink expressed a tiredness. Tiredness of cancer, of the lack of real progress, and so tired of good people dying. And tiredness of trying to find some new to say when the nothing is really changing. Bringing Up Goliath shares a similar fatigue as she says she will be stepping back a bit to re-think.  She expresses a deep sense sadness, especially in seeing the progression of metastatic disease in women diagnosed at the same time as she was early in 2009.  Not long before I was diagnosed myself.

I feel as if I am in a kind of “cohort” amongst women who were diagnosed around the same time. A kind of “Class of 2009”. However, we are all in different places depending on our various diagnoses, stages, treatment paths and situations. I keenly feel injustice, guilt and uncomfortable relief simultaneously that so many are living with Stage 4 metastatic disease while I count my blessings daily that I am still in NED’s company. That very fact, that so many women are dying of metastatic breast cancer, despite advances and despite often early diagnosis and regular screening, is one of the drivers for many to advocate and shout for change through their blogs. There is a wealth of articulate, clearly argued and passionate debate in the breast cancer blogosphere which is a major Why of Blogging.

The Accidental Amazon is one such tireless advocate. She is the Queen of Snark and one very smart cookie. And she has told us that she is also feeling the fatigue and taking time to step back for a bit. She says:

“So, here’s the thing. I’m taking a break. No idea how long a break it will be. But I’m going to just live my life for a while — you know, that life I used to have before cancer. That life that has, in very large part, been on hold for four years”.

And that leads us to another kind of development in the blogosphere. Just a month ago, I was inspired to read news of another “blogging change of direction” from Second Base Dispatch.  She clearly articulates the complexity of finding her way, and the relationship between her new path and the breast cancer which probably put her back on the path and describes how she is now making her way forward:

“I’m going to have to devote time to poetry, likely at the expense of my breast cancer social media activity and blogging (unless I can figure out how to give up sleeping).

It might feel like you’re giving up if you don’t continue to fight for the friends you’ve lost, and we’ve all lost too many. But I also feel very strongly that if we don’t live the life that matters to us, we’re doing them an even bigger disservice. We owe it to them to make every minute count.

I don’t plan to walk away from breast cancer advocacy completely. The community I’ve found online means too much to me. I may not be blogging as often and instead of focusing on breast cancer, I may want to share what I’ve learned in case anyone wants to try their hand at writing as therapy.”

Being Sarah, for example, has been a launchpad for things broader than breast cancer, such as the wonderful sounding “Friday Walks which she and her partner have developed into a protected and precious Friday routine, and reports from Pot 44 which is a vital part of her life. This is amidst the grief she is reeling from, since losing Rachel earlier this year and most certainly does not mean she does not continue to shout when the need arises.  This is abundantly clear in her latest post. At the start of the year, she launched her new Shine like a Bee blog to share things creative, as well as gardening and updates from plot 44. Being Sarah, meanwhile, is focused on her breast cancer advocacy and experience, and matters related to her authorship. The Friday walks have now moved to A Sense of Place. She is also in a stage of thinking and organising how she keeps the content of the blogs discrete and focused. Questions, more questions.</

Time is a major factor too.  Blogging is a time-consuming lark.  It involves a great deal of thinking, writing and refining words carefully, selecting (and uploading which can take ages here) the right images, and then the tidying of links and tags and then often a great many deep breaths before the “publish” button can be hit.  This process can be sabotaged by breaks in connection and although I usually write most of my posts offline, there are times when I find myself on a roll, craft the best words and exactly the right tone only to have it all disappear in the ether when connection cuts.  I really should learn, and promise myself to every time it happens.  Until the next time……  Furthermore, I find myself pretty busy trying to fill my days with non cancery stuff and carpe the diem, so time can be pretty tight at weekends and evenings.  I have the latest Book Club book to read, writing exercises for the Writing Group, and Masterchef Australia to keep up with.  Not to mention the day job….  So the balance of trying to keep the blog alive and fresh, while living for the day is also tricky.

And that brings me neatly back round to my own personal Why of Blogging and how that fits with this recent overhaul of things gecko. I started blogging in April 2007, with the original Feisty Blue Gecko intended to note and document aspects of life and work in Asia. There were so many details, which would make me smile or surprise me and partly I did not want to forget them, but also I wanted to share these gems. When I was diagnosed in 2009, I created the current blog as I felt the clear need to create a different space dedicated to the breast cancer experience. However, I did not want to maintain the previous space. Nor do I want to return to it now.

I had no idea when I started blogging that I would become part of a community of bloggers and others online and become so emotionally involved and feel so supported and connected.  That is a very important Why of my Blogging.

All that brings me to the present day. As life moves forward, I know I will not return to the life I had back in Feisty Blue Gecko Days because my life is different now that it is lived through the breast cancer lens. It just is. So in terms of blogging, I might have posts which reflect or rant about on breast cancery stuff. I will also be updating and recording how things are going with health stuff generally, as well as the cancery stuff specifically. I am in fairly good health now, but I realise how fragile this is as I recover from the recent embolic escapade, and when I look at the cocktail of daily drugs I have to take. And there will undoubtedly be times when I feel I have nothing new or original to say.

However, I am in a fortunate position. I live in a fascinating environment at a very interesting time. I live in a culture in which I learn and observe new things constantly. There is a great deal to share as I experience and see new things.

Thus, the plan is to continue to blog in a similar vein, but perhaps to share more of the “life and work of a Scottish Woman in Asia” part of the new strapline. Who knows what will happen in my breast cancer future. It is impossible to predict. No matter what does happen to me, you can be assured that I will be blogging about it. When I see something that lights my touchpaper, you will be seeing a rant on here. When I go through checks and scans, or experience other steps in the path forwards, yes, that will be here too. I will aim to share the snippets and images of life and work here and the moments which make me stop and pinch myself in wonder that I am following the path that I am.

So in fact there may probably not be a great deal of change here. But then again, there just might be …..