I wish you could tell me, Mum

May 23, 2016 at 5:00 am | Posted in Australia, Family, Family History, heritage, History, Love, Memoir, Polio epidemic, Reading, Reflections, Writing and Life | 29 Comments
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Today, the 23rd of May, would have been my mother’s birthday.  Sadly,  however, Mum lost her battle with illness almost 22 years ago, on the 13th June 1994, at the age of 74, less than seven years older than I am now.

I was close to Mum as a child, though I knew little of her earlier life. The selfish perspective of youth meant that I knew her less as she aged. Then, at the age of just twenty, I married and left home.

For almost all of the next twenty-five years, I lived some distance away, having children, seeing them grow up, getting divorced from their father, entering what was then a forbidden relationship, moving even farther away in both miles and understanding, visiting briefly only once or twice a year. It was only when Mum was on her death bed that I returned home, helped Dad nurse Mum there for two weeks before attending her funeral.

I have always regretted that distance between us. As I grew into my forties, I wanted to know her better, but it was already too late. Illness had made the last years difficult for her.

A few years ago, while Dad was still alive, I wrote a poem called. “What’s your story, Mum?”. Recently, Dad having died in June 2013, I edited the poem and re-named it “I wish you could tell me, Mum”. Here it is, on what would have been her 96th birthday.

 

Agnes Thompson 1941 front

Mum aged 21, 1941

 

I wish you could tell me, Mum

 

What’s your story, Mum?

I wish you could tell me.

Dad told me his when he was still here,

when I could finally visit from far away

But you had already left us then.

 

We often talked about you, Mum.

He’d tell me of when you were young.

Like how beautiful you were, how popular,

and how, even before he’d met you,

there was never any other girl for him.

 

His eyes lit up as he told of how you’d laugh,

And how the joy of it made his heart sing.

Of how you later ‘walked out’ together,

through wet, coal-blackened streets,

and for miles over cold and windy moors.

 

He’d remember how you both loved to dance,

as if the two of you were one,

Still gliding and twirling when the band

And everyone else was exhausted.

 

Dad told me, Mum, about the births of your children.

The first, a son, and the paralysis his arrival caused.

He told me how he couldn’t defend you against the pain

whilst flying his plane far away in defence of your country.

 

He said how wonderful it was later,

to assist in the births of your three daughters,

at home, in the bed where we had been conceived.

He told me what a great home-maker you were,

always making the best out of very little.

 

But what’s your story, Mum – in your words?

Dad could tell me how much he wanted to migrate

to a country free of class and arrogance,

but he couldn’t tell me how you really felt.

Did you want to go as much as he?

Or did you go simply because you loved him?

 

It was easy, I think, to leave your selfish father,

but oh, how difficult it must have been

to say good-bye to your gentle, loving mother,

to go to a new country; a strange land.

 

Heat and drought and wide expanses replaced

the cold and damp of a bustling ancient township.

A tiny caravan, then a little fibro house, replaced

the solid security of your old stone terrace.

 

Venomous snakes and spiders brought unwelcome danger.

Barbed-wire fences and eucalypt forest replaced

soft green fields bounded by hedge and mossy stone.

Oak and ash, bluebells and buttercups were left behind.

 

How did you adjust to the changes?

What fears and insecurities did this bring?

Oh, what did you really think, Mum?

 

Then, in this new land, another traumatic birth:

my baby brother healthy, though his twin sister died.

And you, alone in a hospital bed, not allowed your own,

denied even the comforting presence of your husband,

as you fought, alone, for life.

 

Is that when the fearfulness began to creep in?

Is that when you began to think you might lose us;

had to always know where we were, so you

could feel some measure of control in your life?

 

Or did that happen in 1961, when two of your children

and Dad, all contracted the dreaded polio?

Was it when we thought Dad might not even live,

And there was no money to even buy food?

 

I remember that awful time, Mum.

I was only thirteen and could only guess

at the fears that burdened you.

The responsibility you had to take alone.

 

Dad, crippled and unable to help,

your father taking away the mother

that you needed then

more than you had ever done.

 

What I do know is that you kept our family going.

That it was your strength, dredged from

some deep, unknown place within you,

that fed and clothed and housed us.

 

It took its toll on you, I know,

but I thought of you as strong, Mum

in those desperate times.

But what did you think and feel then?

 

Dad struggled to overcome the ravages of polio,

to get back on his feet, figuratively and literally.

You were by his side, his partner in all ways,

as he set up a steady business

– concreting, of all things!

 

And how did it make you feel, Mum,

When, after so many years,

he took you dancing again?

 

The years that followed were mixed sorrow and joy,

With three daughters and one son married.

I remember the light in your eyes and your smile

as you welcomed my son,

your first grandchild, with more to come.

 

But as time went on, I realised that something

prevented you taking those little ones to your heart.

Not just because mine were always far away,

and you didn’t like or trust their father.

 

What was the barrier, Mum?

Did losing your own mother close your heart

against the awful possibility of hurt?

Was there something inside you that said,

‘if I don’t open myself to love, I won’t lose it’?

 

We grew apart – not only because of miles.

I saw you too seldom and we could not share

the things that mothers share with

daughters who are also mothers.

I missed that, Mum. I still do.

 

Dad and I nursed you at home,

night and day, until you finally left us.

Was it a relief to go; to give up

the burden that life had become?

 

Dad missed you so much then, Mum, lonely for you.

He always loved you – there was never another.

He never forgot the day you first spoke to him,

when you asked, ‘how old are you?’

 

He re-lived the days of your courtship

and listened to the music you’d loved together.

I am sure he felt you once more in his arms,

twirling yet again around the dance floor – until he left us too.

 

But I want to know more than that, Mum,

because I think that many parts of me –

my insecurities, my fears, my depression –

have come from you.

 

So I want to know how you felt; how you loved.

I want to know your story, Mum – in your own words.

 

But you’ve been gone now for many years,

and I must rely on fragments of memory,

and find you in the words of the man

who loved you.

 

But I wish you could tell me, Mum.

 

Agnes&Ern Thompson 1974

Mum & Dad dancing, 1970s.

 

 

In loving memory of Agnes Mary Thompson;

born 23rd May 1920; died 13th June 1994.

I wish I had known you better, Mum.

 

Also in loving memory of Ernest Thompson;

born 24th June 1921; died 18th June 2013.

I am proud to have been your daughter, Dad.

 

(c) Linda Visman,  May 2007

Edited 7th May 2016

 

 

Re-telling the story

March 1, 2016 at 10:53 pm | Posted in 1960s, Australia, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, historical fiction, Mental Health, Ways of Living, Writing and Life | 27 Comments
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For the last month or more, I have been re-writing my second novel, (its working title is Thursday’s Child, although that will probably change). It isn’t  complete – I had written about 62,000 words  but, about four-fifths of the way through it,  I had hardly written anything on it in the year until this January.

I was stuck. I couldn’t get motivated. I had no enthusiasm to get the story finished.  I also had a year in which depression played too big a part. I wondered if my book would ever get written.

Then, after reading a few teen/Young Adult novels at the end of last year that worked really well, I decided to change my story from past tense and third person to present tense and first person. So now, my main character is telling her own story instead of someone else telling it for her. It works so much better!

With my new-found enthusiasm and will, I have so far re-written and edited my manuscript to over 60,000 words. I have another 5,000 words to go until I get to the place where I almost gave up a year ago.

I am hoping – no, expecting – that when I get there, I will be able to carry the story to its conclusion. After all, it is so much better to be telling the story as if I am the main character than telling it from an outside perspective.

My main character, Tori, has become much more real to me in the process of re-writing, and at times, I can feel her emotions as if they are mine. They are raw and real.

My first novel, Ben’s Challenge, was written in first person past tense, and that seemed to work well. But this one does better written as an unfolding story in the present. That present being Australia in 1959-1960.

I simply must finish telling Victoria’s (Tori’s) story!

 

(c) Linda Visman

Blogging from A to Z Challenge – B is for Black Dog

April 2, 2015 at 12:01 am | Posted in A-Z Blogging Challenge 2015, Experiences, Mental Health | 13 Comments
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A2Z-BADGE [2015] - Life is Good

Black Dog

Black dog – a ghost in British legend relating to death.

The black dog is a symbol for depression, widely known in medical circles and among those with depression. I have suffered from it since I was a youngster, and still do. However, I am more able now to cope with its debilitating symptoms, partly through medication, and partly by knowing that I can get through it because I have done so for the last 60+ years.

This is a poem I wrote whilst in the throes of a depression.

Black dog brings me down;

Black dog lays me low.

How can I get away?

Where, oh where can I go?

Black dog stalks me,

Tracks me, follows me.

Wherever I hide

He always will find me.

Black dog is cunning,

Hiding and waiting.

However I try

I cannot evade him.

I want to catch him,

Chain him and hold him;

Keep him imprisoned,

So I can escape him.

Black dog brings me down;

Black dog lays me low.

How can I get away?

Where, oh where can I go?

Black dog he deceives.

He makes me believe

I’ve left him behind –

But there is no reprieve.

Black dog’s tenacious,

Stubborn and tireless.

I can’t outrun him

His stamina’s matchless.

I want to be free,

bright future to see;

and to know for sure

that he cannot find me.

Black dog brings me down;

Black dog lays me low.

How can I get away?

Where, oh where can I go?

If you suffer from depression, there is help. In Australia, the Black Dog Institute can help. So can Beyond Blue.

(c) Linda Visman

Reading To Escape

July 14, 2014 at 3:40 pm | Posted in Family History, History, Mental Health, Reading | 6 Comments
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This is the fourth in the series of posts about my reading life.

Quotation-Barbara-Kingsolver-life-reading-to escape

Reading in My Twenties and Thirties:
As a young mother in my twenties and early thirties, I had five wonderful sons, who were a joy to me. However I was in an unhappy marriage and reading provided a wonderful escape. I would find an author that I liked and borrow or buy every one of their books I could find.

My then husband didn’t like that I read a lot, and he once ripped up a lot of my books. However, that didn’t stop me from reading, even when I took on a librarianship course by correspondence (we lived in country areas).

Beau Geste PCWrenI read the complete set of Agatha Christie books; the Leslie Charteris books about The Saint; P.C. Wren’s three books about the French Foreign Legion: Beau Geste, Beau Sabreuer and Beau Ideal; Baroness Orczy’s Scarlet Pimpernel books, and all the Hornblower books by C.S.Forester. I read adventure books by the likes of Alistair Maclean and Hammond Innes. I owned the complete set of Nevil Shute’s books including A Town Like Alice.

After finding a couple of books by Dennis Wheatley at my parents’ place, I became hooked on both his thrillers, historical novels and his novels of the occult.Launching of Roger Brook Wheatley

This is what Wikipedia has to say about Wheatley’s novels:
Wheatley mainly wrote adventure novels, with many books in a series of linked works. Background themes included the French Revolution (the Roger Brook series), Satanism (the Duke de Richleau series), World War II (the Gregory Sallust series) and espionage (the Julian Day novels). Over time, each of his major series would include at least one book pitting the hero against some manifestation of the supernatural. He came to be considered an authority on this, satanism, the practice of exorcism, and black magic, to all of which he was hostile.
Needless to say, I found and devoured them all.

Dragonwyck AnyaSetonAlong with such adventure books, I also read escapist historical romances. Most of the authors were, of course, women, including Georgette Heyer, Anya Seton and Victoria Holt. I occasionally ventured into more risqué novels like those about the slave plantations in the American South, but I wasn’t comfortable reading them. I must be an old stodge!

Then there were the science fiction. I loved all the books the books by John Wyndham, both his novels and short stories. Parts of them come back to me even now, forty years later. I read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series and I owned and read all the H.G. Wells books. I got into what we now call post-apocalypse novels: 1984, Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, Brave New World and, later on, Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker.

war-and-peaceI tackled Leo Tolstoy’s massive War and Peace and got through it all – I even liked it! Then I read Theodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, which I enjoyed, as well as Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak.

It is amazing how many books one can read in a few years. There are so many that come to mind, of which I have only mentioned a few. I haven’t even mentioned all the other historical novels I read. These were set in a wide variety of times and places: the Egyptian, Roman and Greek empires; the Middle Ages in England and France; in Scotland, Africa or Australia.

So many books, so many authors I haven’t yet referred to. There is Xavier Herbert’s Capricornia; Leonard Cottrell’s historical novels set around North Africa, the Middle East and the Mediterranean; Mary Renault’s Cretan books, Mary Stewart’s novels of the court of King Arthur; Wilbur Smith’s African novels; Nigel Trantor, Irwin Shaw.

Lust for Life -Irving StoneI loved the books by Irving Stone, an American writer known for his biographical novels of famous historical personalities. Those I read included Lust for Life about Vincent van Gogh, The Agony and the Ecstasy about Michelangelo, The Passions of the Mind, about Sigmund Freud, and The Origin, based on the life of Charles Darwin.

In my thirties, I took to religion as another means of coping with depression. During this time, I read a lot of books set in the early years of Christianity. Lew Wallace’s Ben Hur; Taylor Caldwell’s Dear and Glorious Physician, and others. I also devoured many books about living the Christian life and about Christians’ experiences of that life: A Man Called Peter by Catherine Marshall, and several others that she wrote, as well as books by Corrie ten Boom, and lots of others.

dear-glorious-physician

All of these books only take me to my mid-thirties. That’s when I met someone who changed my life completely. I divorced my husband and went back to work.

Quotation Irving Stone-books cure illness

Do you find reading to be an escape from the pressures and problems of life?

© Linda Visman

D is for Depression

April 4, 2014 at 12:34 pm | Posted in Family, Family History, Health, Mental Health, Ways of Living | 15 Comments
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A2Z-BADGE-000 [2014]

I found this post difficult to start. It is so easy to write about the wonderful things in life, as I have done with my first three A to Z Challenge posts about Dad. But it is much more difficult to write about the difficult things – like depression.

Depression head

So, I will ease into it by defining the word. Look here for a medical definition of Major depression, and here for more about symptoms and advice on Depression and Clinical depression.

If you have read my previous posts about Dad, e.g. this one, you will realise that he didn’t suffer from depression. Indeed, he couldn’t understand it. He saw what it did to Mum and he tried to do what he could to help her, but that is not the same as knowing what it’s about.

For all Mum’s life, little was known about depression, and until the 1970s or so sufferers were still being committed to asylums.

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Mild depression may only be due to current circumstances, such as losing a loved one, or your job. When time passes, you get over it or you change your situation.

Clinical depression is not just a matter of feeling ‘blue’, or sad, or ‘down in the dumps’ over an event or circumstance. Clinical, or major depression, can and does interfere with one’s whole life. It can make you feel unloved, unwanted, useless, continually tired and unmotivated to do even the things you love.

I'm useless - depression

It can paralyse you, cause you to withdraw from others – even from those you love and who love you. You can become suicidal, feeling that life is not worth living and the world will be better off without you.

It doesn’t help someone with severe depression to tell them to ‘buck up’ or ‘it’s not that bad’, or ‘it’ll be better tomorrow’.

The medical profession has finally come to realise that depression is not something you can help. It isn’t just an attitude of mind.

We don’t fully know what causes major depression, but there is strong evidence that a variety of genes can cause a pre-disposition – so it can run in families.

depression-affects-women

On the biochemical side, it may be that neurotransmitters break down; those that affect mood are serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine. Medication can replace these and vastly improve quality of life for sufferers.

Depression does run in my family, from my mother. I don’t know if her parents ever suffered from it, but I don’t think they did. It may have come to Mum from further back in her family.

What I do know is that depression has plagued the lives of myself and all of my siblings to varying degrees. We have all coped with in our own ways. In my case, medication is the only thing that has helped to moderate its effects.

depression1 -from mamamia

In the past, I have been at the stage of taking my own life, but my depression is manageable now to the extent that I am even able to take inspiration from positive people like my father. I used to just envy them and think I was useless, but now I can even emulate them some of the time. I still have my down times, but instead of months, they only last for days, or even hours.

If you don’t suffer from depression, it is hard to understand someone who does. Just realise that they have a medical condition and try to help and support them – don’t put them down.

Depression awareness badge

If you do suffer from depression, there is help available, whether from medication or from support groups like Beyond Blue or The Black Dog Institute, or others in your part of the world.

AgnesThompson&sweetpeas.Aug.1966

My dear mother: Agnes Thompson 1920-1994

It is interesting that this photo shows Mum with both a crown-of-thorns (Christ) plant and pretty, scented sweet peas. Life with depression can be like that!

 

Do you or someone close to you suffer from depression? If so, what are some ways of coping that you know of?

 

© Linda Visman 04.04.14 (644 words)

 

Cutting the Cloth to Suit the Coat

November 30, 2011 at 8:04 pm | Posted in Mental Health, Writing, Writing and Life | Leave a comment
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It is the evening of the last day of November today here in Australia (though it may just be starting in other parts of the world).  And it is the last day of NaNoWriMo.

Many people, all over the world have thrown themselves into their manuscripts, aiming for that 50,000-word jackpot. They have scrimped and saved their time so they can write. They have gone without and pushed aside temptation in order to write more words, get the characters and the setting and the plot outlined and moving towards a completed work.

Just to commit oneself to such a goal is a big thing, and I wonder how many of them have made it. However many it was, I hope that they are satisfied with their output, whether it was 20,000 or 60,000 words. I also hope that those who wanted to commit but didn’t don’t feel like failures.

I didn’t commit, although I wanted to give myself that push to write more than I have ever done before in such a short time. I knew I couldn’t make it – post-cancer medications and regular bouts of depression would see to that, so I didn’t even try.

However, I did accomplish something I have been trying to do for the last six months. As well as more regular blog entries, I have written two more chapters (about 3,000 words) in my follow-up novel to Ben’s Challenge. And I have also begun another chapter.

To me, that is a real achievement, and I am pleased with what I have done this November. We have to cut the coat to suit the cloth.

Book Promotion Downsides

October 27, 2011 at 12:04 pm | Posted in Mental Health, Promotion, Psychology, Writing | Leave a comment
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Creativity-Logic conflict

I wish there were not so much time and energy involved in promoting my book. I am not someone who enjoys this type of activity and would rather get back to what I want to do.

I use up the energy I should be using for my writing in trying to get noticed, both locally and on-line. Having to do that distracts me from my writing too. Instead of allowing my creative left brain to come to the fore, my practical right brain has to dominate. Ideas bog down, words have to be forced out, and frustration overcomes me.

Then, frustration leads to a loss of drive and apathy takes over – if apathy can actually DO anything. I suppose it is rather I allow myself to fall into apathy. Then nothing gets done; not the writing and not the promotion activities.

I find myself in this roller-coaster ride of enthusiasm-activity / apathy-inaction much too frequently. Being a sufferer from depression is no fun when there are so many things you want to do. The things that I don’t want to do drive me onto a downward slope that I hope won’t go too deep before I can pull out of it.

It is actually my writing that has helped to get me back on the level many times over the years. Before I began writing stories, poems and novels, I kept a journal. In there, I poured out my feelings, and often worked out how to climb from the pit. Those pits were deep, very deep at times.

I am grateful that the lows are nowhere near what they used to be, and that I can come out of them quite quickly. I use positive action to overcome the apathy, and I have a husband who is very supportive in this, getting me to act when all I feel is negativity.

I still keep a journal, and it still helps. However, the focus is on what I am doing in my writing life now instead of mainly on feelings. I actually wrote this entry in my journal before making it into a blog entry.

I just wish I didn’t have to do all the distracting, energy-sapping work that goes into producing and promoting what was an idea, but is now a physical entity: my book.

Fighting the Black Dog

September 19, 2011 at 9:20 am | Posted in Mental Health, Writing and Life | 1 Comment
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The less exercise I get and the less I exert myself to do something constructive or creative, the more likely I am to fall into a depression, even if it is only a mild one. The black dog is always looking for an opportunity to sneak in.

The more regularly I exercise, the better I am. And when I speak of exercise, I don’t mean just going for a 15-minute walk. I don’t count it as exercise unless it has pushed me in a way that tests my strength and stamina, my heart and lungs and muscles.

My exercise, apart from aqua aerobics when I can get there, is not in a gym, using state of the art machinery. I get mine while doing constructive things around the house.

I have always loved doing physical work, inside or outside the house. I was mowing the lawns as a ten or eleven year-old girl, even though I had an older brother.

I have enjoyed moving furniture and re-arranging rooms ever since I had my own place to do it in. I have dug many a garden, some of them large ones. I have made garden edges and footpaths; constructed henhouses and yards for our fowls and ponds for the ducks. I have built outdoor bird aviaries, planted – and sometimes cut down – trees and shrubs. And I have mowed many a yard over the last fifty-plus years.

There is something so positive about doing these sorts of activities, that depression is pushed aside. It finds it hard to compete with the satisfaction I obtain from a strenuous job, especially if it is well done.

Yesterday, I spent a total of about seven hours moving large bookcases (we have an awful lot of books) and cleaning the rooms they are in. This afternoon, I have spent an hour and a half mowing – with a motor mower you push – and sweeping the paths. I feel great. Two days of good physical activity have sent those lurking feelings of depression packing, at least for now.

More sedentary, but creative, activities can do something similar. Among other things, I write in many genres and do scrap-booking. I also help others with their writing. All these activities stretch my mind and take me away from the black thoughts.

Sometimes, it is extremely difficult to make the first move. One’s whole being is repelled by the thought of coming out of the darkness of depression, as I know only too well. But if one can overcome that inertia, then the rewards are worth it. They may not seem so at first, but repeating the exercise will strengthen the light of positivity, however weak, that is always struggling to show itself.

With a mixture of physical, mental and creative activities, I know I can drive away the black dog of depression.

But I need to keep at it. When I sit back and do nothing for too long a time, that dog will come sniffing around again, trying to bring me down.

© Linda Visman

Procrastination

October 11, 2010 at 1:22 am | Posted in Philosophy | Leave a comment
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I saw a writing prompt the other day: “What is the most wasteful thing you do each day?” My answer, without any hesitation or doubt was, “I waste time”.

There is one thing that is certain in life– our days are limited. The time we have available to do the things we need to do, or want to do, is finite. And yet, we waste so much of it.

Procrastination is so easy. There’s something you should do, but you find lots of other things you ‘need’ to do that are easier, or more pleasant, or show results more quickly. So, the thing you should do, need to do, doesn’t get done. The funny (as in strange) thing is, what you need to do is often something you really want to do; it is important to you. Then why is it so hard to get started? Perhaps the question should be, just how important is it, really

Our tax papers should have been in three months ago. That’s important because we could be in trouble for not filing on time. They are still waiting as I write this entry in my blog – I am procrastinating by writing about procrastinating.

Calling the kids and my dad is important because they all live far away. I love them and want to keep in contact with them. Then why don’t I do it more regularly, instead of engaging in activities that take up time but are not really necessary? 

Getting my completed novel published is important; so is writing the sequel, which is stuck in chapter four. I believe, as do many others, that it is a better work than many children’s novels out there. I would like to see children reading something other than fantasy or vampire stories. I do know that my brain is going through a fuzzy stage that makes it difficult to concentrate, but that is an excuse, not a real reason. We are always told to “write through” the blockage, the fear and the lack of inspiration. We are told that you’ll never get published if you don’t submit. I haven’t even borrowed The Writers’ Marketplace from the local library.

I have a friend who has written and self-published three books in the last year. She has also brought a compilation of short stories, by herself and others (including me), to the printing stage. It has taken her only three months. She has energy and commitment I can only dream of; she puts me to shame.

When I do get motivated, I can accomplish a lot and gain a great deal of satisfaction; I know the rewards of getting things done. It happened a lot of the time when I was younger, but now it happens only occasionally. Health problems, both for myself and my husband, seem to have drained the energy from me. I have become a master (mistress?) of procrastination. 

I wish I could give myself an effective kick up the backside and just get on with it.

© Linda Visman

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