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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.

 

 

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.

 

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.