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A time of misery and some joys

Tuesday, 04 August 2020 16:26

 

A strange and terrible time, with COVID-19 ravaging the world, and anguish at home with the sudden death in Brisbane at the end of July of my only grandson, James Lawson Volk. James’ funeral, from which I am  just returning, was both sad and yet celebratory of a much-loved life. It has brought our family close together as we gathered to mourn, and I have cherished the time in Brisbane and on the farm near Kingaroy, and the chance to re-connect with people I love so much.

 So now I return to a mandatory two weeks isolation, result of a northward flight that transit-stopped at Sydney Airport. (Bad mistake in booking my trip!)

  Before that, much hard work preparing the new book, Marking Time – A Chronicle of Cancer, which is now ready for launch and distribution. But how, in this COVID-dominated world? I am thinking in terms of just making it available on my web site, and distributing from home and the publisher (Immortalise Press) until a proper launch can be held. It’s encouraging that the CEO of the Cancer Council SA is willing to launch the book officially, when this can be done. Another launch still in jeopardy is the Friendly Street Poets Anthology, No.44, which I co-edited with Nigel Ford. We are still hoping a smaller launch of this book, with limited numbers, may be possible at the September monthly meeting of the organisation. Perhaps. We’ll see what the coming month brings.

 But in all this woe, a few bright notes, such as the information that my poem, ‘Dichotomy’, has been short-listed for the prestigious ACU Poetry Prize, and the acceptance of several other poems by various journals and magazines. Moments that make me feel encouraged to keep writing, which is such a fulfilling part of my life.

 

 

Bewildering, amazing, yet rewarding

Saturday, 30 May 2020 07:41

I look back now at the February entry in this page with a sense of wonder. In that, I was rejoicing over David's remission from the devastating cancer of the previous year and writing confidently of our travel plans and the much-anticipated opening day of the Oberammergau Passion Play in southern Germany. Life looked rosy. Ah, the optimism. Oh, the naivete.

At that time, the word 'corona' really just meant a crown - how my years of Latin always kick in - and COVID 19 was something that people were beginning to talk about ... Little did most us realise just what impact it was going to have on our lives, and how our world would change. Now, almost four months later, it's hard to believe how unaware we were. Since then we have watched the growing panic as first European countries were devastated - we watched gadual release of news from China, then saw rising death rates in Italy and Spain, and turned new attention to things we'd never thought about, like wet markets in Wuchan. New words entered our vocabularies and soon 'pandemic', 'social isolation' and 'lockdown' became part of never-ending conversations. We watched nightmare spiralling of infection and death rates as country after country succumbed, and soon all Trump's assurances crumbled and the USA became a world focus of horrified attention. National economies have been destroyed, and our lives have been fundamentally altered. We  have seen unemployment figures skyrocket, office buildings empty as 'work from home' became the new way of life, small business fold and fail, large enterprises falter, and government support become the lifeline that has kept survival possible for many.

Yet, in all this, there has been much good. We have learned new ways of interacting and care for others has assumed greater importance. In isolation, family life has become closer, mainly for the good   - though rising rates of domestic violence have also been a sad spin-off. Lack of public gatherings has changed our social life, and the development of Zoom conferencing has taught us all new ways of communication. I've really liked zoom poetry gatherings of many of my writing groups, and short story sessions of Literati has also shown what is possible. Zoom church has made it possible for me to share Sunday services with interstate family! For me personally, and I feel so guilty saying this when many have suffered terribly, this period has been a time of peace and respite, with obligations ceasing and so much more freedom to write, to talk, to sit in the sun and read, to meditate during the mandatory long walks (no, I have NOT missed the gym and dread going back to it!)  - time just to be, and not always to have to do. So - and how bad I feel admitting it - I'm sorry that lockdown is coming to an end and life is resuming. Though it was very pleasant to go out to dinner last night at a restaurant for the first time in months  - maximum numbers permitted 10, and all well-distanced at isolated little islands of tables.

Time to write was wonderful. I've followed through with the plans to go public with A Chronicle of Cancer and have had great support from and the blessing of the South Australian Cancer Council, who believe this book can be, as I hope, a real source of support to cancer sufferers and their families. That justifies publishing it. I'm working with a small publishing house, Immortalise, because this way I can have much greater say in production, so it will be, as In Due Season was, a beautiful book, with carefully chosen art work accompanying each poem. Most of the pictures are the photography of a close friend, some have been sourced commercially, and a few I have taken myself where nothing suitable to fit a poem was available. It's in the process of production, and I look forward to its release.

I look forward also to being able finally to launch Kaleidoscope, the Friendly Street Poets annual anthology which I co-edited last year. It too is a lovely book, and the copies are in boxes in my garage - the planned launch date of April 6 was of course cancelled. As was the big Canberra launch of my daughter Felicity's new novel, Desire Lines, a brilliant book which, even without the big public launch, has attracted wonderful reviews in all major newspapers and journals. These disappointments are mirrored in the loss, not just of all our travel plans, but particularly my cherished invitation to be an Australian press representative at the opening of the Passion Play on May 16. Right now, we should be just returned from that  - it too was, of course, cancelled. But I've been assured it will now be held on parallel dates in 2022, and that my invitation stands. Something to look forward to.

So for me life has gone on well. It has been rewarding time in so many ways. As well as Chronicle, I've written more poetry and had acceptances from a few magazines, and have started, with great diffidence, the planning of - and research for - another historical fiction novel, again sparked by an old family story. But how these get transformed as I write anyone who has read In Search of Anna will realise. But why, at this stage of life, I commit myself to yet another stretch of years on an enterprise like this I don't know. I guess because I love doing it.

Climbing the mountain

Friday, 14 February 2020 19:58

 

Last entry, now four months ago, saw us in the chasm country, with a fair few plunges into the depths. It’s proved a challenging time, particularly for David, who had an unexpected and devastating reaction to a round of methotrexate which landed him in intensive care during a hospital stay of two weeks. They only told us afterwards, perhaps fortunately, that this could have been an end of road affair …  Sometimes it’s better not to know. Through it all, he continued stoic and positive, and the outcome has justified his optimism. The final PET scan after the last round of chemotherapy gave us the January good news that he is in complete remission from his ‘aggressive’ Stage 4 bone cancer.

 

 While we know that things like this are not ‘curable’ it is, as our haematologist told us, smiling for once, ‘the best possible outcome.’ We  walked sedately out of his office, but almost danced down the corridor. Also the glad tidings that he is free to travel, so May will see us able to accept the invitation to the opening of the Oberammergau Passion Play, a cherished plan that we thought would have to be scrapped. So we’ll make this just a short trip, and defer the rest of our projected travel until the end of the year. Now while the two nights in a glass igloo in northern Finland is back on the agenda, Iceland we think will have to wait another time, as the chances of much touring in that country in mid-winter ice and snow are really not realistic.

 

 During these months Christmas came and went, with family visits and gatherings, but it has all passed in a blur of tests, scans, three week chemo cycles, and hospital waiting rooms. What has kept me going, once again, has been writing and editing. Many, many poems about what was happening in our lives:  approximately fifty ‘cancer’ poems in what has now become a collection called ‘A Chronicle of Cancer’. I’m half considering publishing this, mainly because I recall how many people have responded so overwhelmingly to ‘In Due Season’, the poetry collection I wrote the year my much-loved husband died from multiple myeloma, or blood cancer. That book still sells frequently, and I get warm and appreciative letters and emails from people who have found it helpful to read their own thoughts and anguishes articulated in someone else’s words.  So maybe another poetry collection could have a similar value to those going through the experience. Ironic, isn’t it, that I lived through blood cancer with one man, and now bone cancer with another. This time there’s been a better outcome!

 

It’s been reassuring, during these months, to have had poems published in journals like ‘Studio’, ‘The Mozzie’, ‘tamba’  and ‘Polestar.’ Also I’ve found satisfying the regular magazine production I’ve been involved in: the quarterly ‘Chatline’ for my church, the monthly Newsletter for my Probus Club, but, even more, my co-editor role for the 2019 Friendly Street Poets Anthology. This is a prestige poetry collective, and the annual outcome of the monthly meetings is the Anthology. I’ve found it stimulating and a real pleasure to edit this journal, and I look forward to its launch in April.

 

So while it’s been stressful – and challenging – the months have also been hard-working and productive.  Probably the best coping mechanism one can have.

 

 

 

Of mountains, chasms, and merry-go-rounds

Wednesday, 02 October 2019 15:00

It's no wonder that it's been four months since I've updated this web page. An amazing, and in some ways scarifying, four months, that I wouldn't wish on anyone. David, whom I've been engaged to for almost ten years now, had been suffering stray aches and pains for about a year ...   oh well, muscular, we thought. What else can we expect at our advancing years? But eventually got to point of having it checked out more closely ...  A real case of opening floodgates. Soon we were immersed in batteries of tests, Xrays, scans, biopsies, blood tests, CAT scans, PET scans, and a swift move from GP, to muscular/skeletal specialist, to oncologists and finally to the haemotologist, who pronounced the dread 'C' word. Turns out that David has Stage 4 non-Hodgkins Lymphoma (a resurfacing of an old seemingly cured bout of lymphoma about fifteen years ago) which has now wrought a long-awaited vengeance and come back as secondary bone cancer!

Where all this is leading, we don't know. Prognosis uncertain, but now he's into the chemotherapy merry-go-round (more round than merry, I might add) for at least six cycles of 21 days each. Within each three week period, a first few days after being hooked up on a drip in the Cancer Centre while they (his words) 'pump me full of poison,' a few days when he feels OK and then it hits and the next stretch is totally wretched. Finally, for the third week, he feels normal, and then it all starts again with the next cycle.

Immediate implications for our plans were inevitable. Cancelled the planned trips to Canberra and Brisbane for family holidays, and have put our bookings for next year's eight weeks in Germany on hold. Maybe. Maybe not. The advice was not to cancel until we see what impact the chemo is having, but it's all looking very uncertain. David, being David, stays positive and hopeful, and now, having lost all hair, wears a variety of Irish caps, French berets, and beanies and looks quite dashing. Again, to quote: "All I need is a baguette, a bicycle and a string bag of onions for the authentic Gallic look."

Meanwhile, of course,  I write. Always my preferred coping mechanism. So there is a extensive collection of poems that enable me to make a sort of accommodation with our new way of life and expectations. While I haven't circulated any of these, I've been pleased to have some international acceptance of various other short stories, in places as far afield as Malaysia and USA's Idaho, the last of these in a literary journal with a wonderfully quirky title, The Potato Soup Journal'. Great also to have been short-listed for the prestigious ACU Poetry Prize, even though I didn't make it to the $10,000 first prize  (sigh ...) but it did lead to publication in their book, Solace. Also short-listed for the Short Story Prize in the WAM Festival competition. Also have had several poems published in journals like Studio and Polestar, and others accepted in three forthcoming publications. It all compensates for the 'Thank you, enjoyed this, but not suitable for our ....' messages that also come my way. Often.

So what happens next in our lives is very unclear. We soldier on, trusting and praying that all will be well, that the next scans will show a significant reduction in the tumours, and that somehow we'll still be able to fulfill all the plans made for 2020, including my cherished invitation to the opening of the Passion Play in Oberammergau, as an Australian press representative, and time with all the people we were intending to visit. Who knows?

What a month

Wednesday, 29 May 2019 10:29

They talk about the merry month of May - and indeed it has been! Lots of activity on the writing front, with a number of acceptances (but hey, let's not overlook the rejections though). Good to have my first international publication, a poem in the Red River Journal in Texas, and an invitation to record it for their podcasts, and other acceptances in  Australian literary journals, such as Tamba , Polestar and The Mozzie. Also a busy month with public speaking, including a series of three sessions with the Holdfast Bay Seniors Club, a great evening with about 80 people for Friends of Lutheran Archives (FoLA) and a very enjoyable week in Melbourne. There I found a wonderfully receptive group at the Deepdene U3A club, and also a chance to talk about my writing in a short guest spot at the Reunion Lunch of Palladians, the alumni association of my old school, the Mac.Robertson Girls' High School. Lovely to have a chance to talk about the impact of my time at that school, and my experiences editing both the annual magazine and the monthly Newsletter, on my later life as a writer ....  However, highlight of the month would have to have been the very positive (4 1/2 stars) review of In Search of Anna in the Books Page of The Advertiser's SAWeekend Magazine. Just a short review, but to have their chief reviewer, Katharine England's commendation on my book was a moment to savour.

Meanwhile we begin the planning for next year's trip, with focus of course on my invitation to be an Australian press representative at the opening of the 2020 Oberammergau Passion Play. We'll attend the play as ordinary tourists later in that month, and between the two do some visiting of German relatives and friends. But before and after those focus events, much other planning. We hope to have time in Iceland, and also travel down the fjord western coast of Norway on a coastal steamer. Possibly a short trip from Oslo to Svalbard, where daughter Felicity's new novel (a brilliant work to be released by Hachette early in 2020) begins and ends. David is contemplating some time in Ireland to continue his Gaelic studies and family background research, while I may spend that extra period in northern Germany. So much world to see, and a sense that some time our travel days will have to end. But not yet ....

Success!

Wednesday, 03 April 2019 19:18

 

Well, looks as if that last 'frustration' posting did actually get published, so I'll have one last try at updating my news of the last few weeks. If I lose this posting, I give up. So, back to January ...

As foreshadowed, I spent the Australia Day weekend at the 150th celebrations in in tiny Walla Walla in New South Wales, where I had a table in the Exhibition Hall  to promote advance copies of In Search of Anna, a sort of pre-launch event, appropriate because the last section of the book is set in that area. A great weekend, where I caught up with many friends and relatives of former years, and had a guest event at the Jindera Pioneer Museum, one of the best country museums I've seen, and a family reunion dinner after. A special pleasure was watching the final day historic parade, with its original pioneer trek wagons and even the Burdack family sulky I had ridden in so often as a child.

Back to Adelaide, with full scale preparations for the formal launch of Anna, at a wonderful evening when 250 friends gathered to hear SA Premier, Steven Marshall, launch the book and David Harris propose the toast for my 80th birthday. Best possible way to celebrate this day, especially as all four of my offspring came from interstate to be with us.

The time we’d spent in Oberammergau last year proved rewarding in many more ways than even the time itself, for all the interviewing I’d done there led to the writing of a number of travel articles. A number have now been published in various magazines and newspaper, with a few out there looking for outlets. But, as a result, I’ve been invited to attend the opening night of the 2020 Passion Play as a press representative  - bonus is that the invitation is for two, so David and I are now beginning plans for our overseas travel in 2020. We’ll attend both the first night as guests then go a second time at the end of May with the reservations we’ve already made. Between the two dates, and before and after, some other travelling, still in planning stage. It’s exciting.

Much of the last few weeks has been spent in marketing Anna, with radio and guest speaking events. But more time-consuming has been David’s move from his Adelaide Hills home to a place much closer to me in suburban Adelaide. Any house move is strenuous, but this especially so, with his huge shed taking inordinate effort to clear out. After all that went to Oxfam, various charity shops, the antique auction market and into the big skip he hired, it was amazing how much was still left to deal with and move into the new place. Inspirational though  - I now feel I ought to be doing the same culling of possessions, however lack the will and stamina to do it. But it’s great to have him so much closer, and no longer facing the daunting long drive between our homes.

So there hasn’t been much writing done in these recent weeks  - mainly poetry, and I’ve been happy with news of some acceptances, especially in the Canberra Times, one of the few places that actually pays for publications.

 

 

 

Frustration

Wednesday, 03 April 2019 19:08

This is a third increasingly frustrated attempt to add an entry to this page. I've written two extended articles, but both have vanished into cyberspace. This is just an experimental third attempt. Here goes

Almost there

Tuesday, 15 January 2019 23:18

I've reached a most exciting time. After a hard-working Christmas, making last revisions to the new book, and then proof-reading and checking the type-set version, In Search of Anna is now at the printers, and should be due back in good time for the launch on February 8.  I couldn't speak too highly of my Wakefield editor, Julia Beaven. She's been not only supportive and encouraging, but so meticulous in her editing and so thoughtful and perceptive in her comments and advice, that I count myself fortunate to have had her as my guiding hand. Great assistance from all at Wakefield Press, and a lovely cover design and internal design features from Liz Nicholson, while Maddy Sexton has been a tower of strength with publicity and launch help.

I'm looking forward to this launch. Steven Marshall, South Australian Premier and Minister for the Arts, will launch the book at Immanuel College, and the Principal there has been a generous source of support. It's shaping to be a large launch, and acceptances are flooding in.  As the evening is also the celebration of my 80th birthday - a life stage I can't pretend to be at all enthusiastic about - at least I can feel I'm doing something to prove I'm still alive  ...

But, before this, there's a pre-launch event when I'll have the chance to showcase and sell my book at the Walla Walla 150th Centenary celebrations during the Australia Day weekend. Most appropriate, because this town is only a few kilometres from Jindera, where the last part of In Search of Anna is set. I'm hoping there will be a lot of local interest in the book and the event.

Roll on, the next few weeks. Life is both frantically busy and wonderfully interesting.

In Search of Anna by VALERIE VOLK

Sunday, 06 January 2019 17:45

 Sometimes the longest journey is into yourself

We're back

Saturday, 24 November 2018 17:18

Usually I'm saying I can't believe it's three months since I last entered news on this page; this time I'm not all surprised. It's been a packed three months, from our departure in mid September to now, just home a few days ago. A wonderful time, recorded in a 33,000 word journal, and my usual Poem a Day, which has become a pattern over the last few years of travel, this time yielding me 65 poems for the trip. While keeping to this at times requires enormous self-discipline, it's also one of the most rewarding parts of travel for me. Even when, dead tired at night, I wonder why I'm making this effort, the moment I sit down to write, tiredness dissipates, and the poem a day becomes not only a happy writing time but also some of our best memory-joggers for the travel.

Our first two weeks in Croatia were fascinating.From leaving Venice, all too short a stay in this lovely city of old palazzi and gondolas on canals, fortunately before the massive flooding that hit the city several weeks later, we began a brief coach tour to Split, then a cruise of the Adriatic on a small boat (only 36 people - all congenial!) that took us round the Adriatic islands. A lovely time, as we explored, and sampled, oyster farms and vineyards, swam in the Adriatic (well, David did - I chickened out), and wandered around ancient Roman ruins. A final extra four days in Dubrovnik gave us the chance to visit Mostar, and the small country of Montenegro, and also taught us about the difficulties of the breakdown of the old Yugoslavia into these original individual small countries. Time in Dubrovnik also showed us the horrors of the fighting that accompanied these times, and we learned not just about the struggles in Kosovo, but also the devastation of the siege of Dubrovnik itself, and the shelling that destroyed the Old Town, now amazingly reconstructed. A beautiful place.

The following seven weeks in Germany were a very happy time, with catching up with so many friends from the past and much valued relatives. But a highlight would have to be the two weeks in Oberammergau, where the work I'd put in ahead into establishing contacts really was rewarded. Thanks to the efficient and supportive Franziska Zankl in the Press Office,  we attended the huge ecumenical service on October 20, when the original vow of 1633 was renewed. Listening to a nine year old girl speaking the words of this traditional vow for the thousands of people in front of her, rededicating the citizens of Oberammergau to the production of this 42nd Passion Play in 2020, was indeed moving. So too was being part of the excited crowd outside the Passion Play Theatre when the cast list for 2020 was revealed, one by one, on the huge front blackboards. A spine-tingling moment, for this ten-yearly event will bring half a million people from all over the world to Oberammergau. The Press Conference in the afternoon was also another tribute to German efficiency.

For the next two weeks I found myself full-time working: marketing my 2014 book, Passion Play, to shops, hotels, souvenir outlets, with a generally really pleasing response, but also interviewing the key cast members and director of the 2020 Play  - all generous with their time and great to speak to. It will be interesting to see if I can get some of the articles I have now written published in Australian outlets.

From there, further time with relatives in northern German, and a short hotel across the borders in France  - a few days in Strasbourg, using our two country Eurail Pass. Most of our travel, in fact all in Germany and France, was by train, with David hoisting heavy cases up onto luggage racks with impressive (apparent?) ease. It's really hard to  return to 'normal' life after these months away, but bit by bit we're starting to pick up the pieces.

Next job will be the final revisions on next February's book, In Search of Anna, which Wakefield Press tells me is almost through the editing process, and getting the Feb 8 book launch (cum 80th birthday celebration) organised. I think I'll be pleased when March comes. But meanwhile it's Christmas and a family gathering. Lots to do!

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