Archive for the ‘mortality’ Category

I was watching a terrific program on the National Geographic channel the other night about the rise of interest in Cryonics. Apparently there’s great interest in the idea of preserving the body (or sometimes, just the head) after death by low temperature freezing, with the hope that science progresses far enough to bring the person back to life in the future. Many people have already paid good money and booked in to have their bodies preserved in this way.

This sort of preoccupation is nothing new.

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There are myths that have grown up around the idea of eternal life like that of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. Of the plot, according to Wikipedia, ‘Newly understanding that his beauty will fade, Dorian expresses the desire to sell his soul, to ensure that the picture, rather than he, will age and fade. The wish is granted, and Dorian pursues a libertine life of varied amoral experiences while staying young and beautiful; all the while, his portrait ages and records every sin.[6]

Myths like this were very much cautionary tales, warning us about the folly of chasing immortality. Yet, the quest continued.

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People still sought to extend their lives by whatever means possible. There were mythological places like the legendary island of Bimini in the Bahamas where the Fountain of Youth gave everlasting life to all who drank from it. Over the centuries, the fountain was much sought after but never found. The famous Spanish explorer Ponce de León reportedly set out to find the Fountain of Youth in the early 1500’s, although modern historians say that too is a myth.

Yet Wikipedia says, ‘There were longevity myths in the bible mentioning individuals with lifespans up to the 969 years of Methuselah. The ancient Greek author Lucian is the presumed author of Macrobii (long-livers), a work devoted to longevity. Most of the examples Lucian gives are what would be regarded as normal long lifespans (80–100 years)’. So, people still believed in the real possibility of prolonging life.

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In Medieval times Nicolas Flamel was reputed to have created a “sorcerer’s stone” that was then used to produce a potion, the elixir of life, said to make the drinker immortal. The idea so captured the public imagination of the 1300’s that other well known scientists – even the esteemed Sir Isaac Newton – attempted to replicate the results, without any luck. People have been obsessed with the idea of immortality and living forever for centuries.

According to Adam Gollner in The Book of Immortality: The Science, Belief, and Magic Behind Living Forever, ‘The twenty-five-year old Emperor Ai of Jin died in 365 CE, after overdosing on longevity drugs. He wasn’t the last leader to die trying to live forever. The fascination with chemical immortality reached an ironic apogee centuries later, during the T’ang dynasty (618-907 CE), when elixirs poisoned those hoping for precisely the opposite effect.’

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Today, I celebrated the 101st birthday of a dear friend. Not only is he hale and hearty, he has a quicker sharper wit than anyone else in the room. And, he’s showing no signs of slowing down. I remember at his 100th birthday party someone in the crowd asked, “What is your secret?” He said “Well, the only thing I can say is I went vegetarian twenty-five years ago.” As a friend, I would say his secret is his positive attitude. He’s still a member of a handful of clubs, he has many times more friends than I do, and his attitude is always positive. It’s been proved that those who have a good attitude about aging lived more than seven years longer than those with negative attitudes, according to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, something I read about over on the blog of Karen Salmansohn.

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This is very much in line with something I’ve always believed, that a healthy long life is all in the attitude. I saw the magnificent Sophia Loren interviewed once, when she was in her glorious 80’s. The admiring interviewer asked her, “You are truly ageless. What is your secret?” Loren replied, “I always have something to look forward to.” I’ve remembered that great advice ever since and I employ that idea in my life. I’ve also seen it called “plan de vida” or “reason to live.” Plan de vida, says blogger, Karen Salmansohn, ‘is a common practice of peppy elders living in Nicoya, Costa Rica, a famed centenarian hotspot. In Nicoya, residents credit their longevity to living with a purpose.’

The Quest for Immortality Continues…

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Sophia Loren, 2014

Talk to you later!

Yvette K. Carol

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“I don’t believe in ageing. I believe in forever altering one’s aspect to the sun. Hence my optimism.” – Virginia Woolf

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A good friend said to me a few years ago, that entering one’s “middle years” was like fall, in that ‘things started to drop away from you like leaves from the tree.’ I think that is a handy analogy for this season of life I find myself in. After losing both my parents in the last two years, as well as a good friend, thinking of this time in my life as ‘being like fall’ helps me achieve the right mindset. That way, I accept loss as the natural order of life and the way things go.

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I put this realisation into my work-in-progress, a middle grade fantasy novel called, The Last Tree. Because of the youth of the characters, the realization becomes an initiatory one. I was able to use my recent experience with grief to write more realistically about the grief we feel as kids when we first take those first tentative steps towards adulthood, and we start to leave childhood behind. I can clearly remember being that age of twelve to thirteen and not wanting to grow up.

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Our young hero, Aden Weaver, was eleven in book one of The Chronicles of Aden Weaver series and each book covers the course of a year in his life. The Last Tree, being the third volume in the trilogy, includes the final battles, and the flowering into fullness of the child character/s must transpire.

As Aden Weaver is thirteen in The Last Tree, he is therefore on the cusp of change, walking that fine line of the transition between boyhood and manhood. He would naturally entertain his first thoughts about mortality. I did this through having his beloved mentor start to age rapidly. The thin line I had to walk was to have Aden experience loss while not dwelling on it to the point of being morbid.

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I knew I had to handle everything about the final book with care. In The Last Tree, Aden Weaver says goodbye to people he loves. It is a graduation story after all, and with graduation comes leaving people and places behind, so while there is bliss there is sadness. That’s life. It’s how we handle what happens that defines us.

It’s vital for the reader’s sense of resolution that Aden displays the depth of character at the end of the series absent at the beginning.

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The protagonist must demonstrate a growth arc and become that thing that was promised in book one, the wannabe must become the warrior, the hero, the more evolved, more complete version of themselves.

Aden, must taste the bitter fruit of reality and grow up a little and move on with new maturity. It’s a delicate piece in the mechanism of the coming of age story. However, I don’t prefer writing morbid fiction for children. You can see in the success of series like The Hunger Games that this generation of kids has high tolerance levels for death and violence. I read the Hunger Games trilogy to my boys earlier this year, and I was shocked at the content. It’s that sort of thing I couldn’t do.

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I want to do my story and characters justice in a potent way without the gore.

To me, there should be some reflection of life’s difficulties in our children’s books, and it also needs careful treatment. When you are writing for the 9-13 year-old age group, this acknowledgement of the child grasping the intransience of life needs to be touched on in some way, to be authentic to that stage of life. It’s about our passage over the threshold, from the first phase of life to the next. It can be symbolic, through leaving town, or changing schools. It needs to be present but not at the forefront, and not put in a way that is irresolvable for the immature mind.

Life’s tragedy can be delivered in junior fiction in a way that enriches the story without overwhelming it, if it’s done well. Just think of Charlotte’s Web.

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In writing about loss for young people, you must, also offer hope. Just as we do in real life, seek a counterbalance. The aim is not to leave your young audience devastated. We have a responsibility to reveal the glimmer of light along with the darkness.

At the end of The Last Tree, I sought to redress the balance back into the light. I only wrote the triumphant scenes a couple of months ago, and now they’re among my favourites in the whole book.

Hope is restored, as it should be. Life does go on.

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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‘Good stories are about the getting of wisdom; let your children grow up.’ ~ Jane Yolen

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Tuesday the twelfth of February marked the first anniversary of my father’s death. It was a year ago on a Monday that I got the phone call you dread, that someone you love has died. It was my elder sister, who was ringing from the Waikato Hospital.

I think it was seven o’clock in the morning – too early to be good news – “Dad passed away last night.”

I felt sucker punched.

My sister said the hospital then the funeral home was taking dad’s body to do the final things that needed to be done; he would be sent home to us in a day or so.

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I started packing our bags. I spoke to all the people I needed to speak to, excused the boys from school for the week, and we were on the road to my father’s log cabin within the hour.

I’ll never forget the scene, when we drove into dad’s seaside town and neared the mountain he lived on, we found the peak was completely hidden within its own private cloud. It was so unusual I had to stop and take a photo.

I felt the land and the sea surrounding us were speaking directly to our sorrow.

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When we arrived at the empty house that was when the tears flowed. I couldn’t believe dad wouldn’t be there, as he always had been there: reading the paper, watching the 6 o’clock news, doing the crossword, feeding his birds, working in the garden, making food in the kitchen, playing cribbage with us in the evenings. Dad would never be there again.

I looked at my two youngest boys and they looked at me, and I knew I had to be strong for them. Though dad had only been gone a day, certain doors had closed, and a new one had opened, that of my stepping up in rank in our family.

Now, it was my turn to begin the walk of the kaumatua (elder).

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I unpacked our bags, and started preparing food for my sisters, who were driving to Thames Hospital to sort out paperwork, and would then make the trip to us. It all felt surreal. The reality arrived when the funeral home brought dad’s casket to the house a day and a half later.

The funeral director said, ‘the hardest moments for the families are when the lid is first removed and when the lid of the casket is put back on.’

Both moments were heart wrenching. Yet, my father himself looked like he was sleeping, and he was dressed in his very best Sunday suit. We took it in turns after the initial outpouring of grief to sit with him. We didn’t leave dad alone, apart from when we were sleeping.

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Dad spent two and a half days with us at home. We sat with him, held his hands, stroked his hair, sang and talked to him. More family arrived until we were all present. Friends came by, bringing food, neighbours baked cakes and lasagnes.

In the evenings, we siblings sat around the dining table, spending hour after hour going through the old photos. There were boxes to view and sort and distribute between us. Each day, we selected another room of the house to clear out and sort through. The contents of our parents’ lives spread before us.

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Although it almost felt disrespectful to touch their belongings, two people’s lives and a house full of possessions needed to be resolved.

After dad had been moved to his beloved church and had been given a beautiful, moving ceremony, we laid him to rest, alongside mum in the town’s cemetery.

Tuesday 12th 2019 marked the first anniversary of dad’s death. My sister and I travelled to mum’s and dad’s hometown in order to pay our respects.

We visited the cemetery and cleaned the headstone; we put in fresh flowers and solar lights. We spoke to dad and said some prayers and sang a song. We told him and mum that they’re not forgotten. It was sad but it felt like the right thing to do.

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I came home to the city and my kids musing on the fact sometimes growing up can be hard. I felt sorry for my teenagers and their travails.

In the last two weeks, my youngest son has started high school. He’s made several commitments to teams and groups, at the same time undertaking more chores at home. Tonight, when I asked him to do the ‘umpteenth thing,’ he said, “GROWING UP SUCKS!”

It does, man, there’s no other way of putting it. Yet, the tragedies and the hardships we go through, as we get older and lose more people, are what also shape and craft us into better, deeper, more empathetic human beings.

Sometimes, it sucks, yet, that’s okay. It means another phase of life begins.

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Talk to you later.

Yvette K. Carol

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It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. E.e. Cummings

 

 

‘Family is the most important thing in the world.’ ~ Princess Diana

Last weekend, I joined the extended Maori side of our family to celebrate the “unveiling ceremony” for a family matriarch. The unveiling is held a year after a person’s death, when the whanau (family) gather again at the marae – the general area outside their meeting house –  for a service and at the family cemetery to reveal the person’s headstone. It’s a time to bless the stone, to remember the loved one, to talk about them and sing to them, once more.

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I’d been invited to join my niece and nephews, to farewell their grandmother one last time at her “unveiling.” It was to be held at their family’s marae, on the banks of Lake Rotoma, which lies just beyond Rotorua. Lucky for me, I was able to coordinate my arrival with that of my niece, and I simply copied the protocol she displayed, so as not to do the wrong thing by mistake. I accompanied her when we entered the Te Waiiti Marae and followed in her wake, kissing the cheek of all those already there.

I felt out of my comfort zones, out of my element, and yet, it was okay. I was glad to be there.

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Outside the big kitchen where many women were busy preparing the food, there was a plastic bucket of Koura, or fresh water crayfish, which had been found in the nearby Waiiti stream.

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To the rear of the kitchen block, on a flat piece of lawn, the men were laying the hangi. They had dug the pit that morning. A bonfire had been lit much earlier and had burned down to coals. The rocks, which had been within the fire, were tipped into the bottom of the pit. Then the trays of prepared vegetables, pig, lamb and chicken were placed over the rocks.

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These were covered in sacks which had been soaked in water. Then, the men all pitched in to cover it in the soil. The hangi was then left to cook.

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An hour later, the ceremony began with the powhiri (welcome) when friends and family who had arrived were welcomed onto the marae.

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Everyone was seated outside the whare, (the house) where some of the women in the family sat with the photos of the deceased. The eldest male in the family then gave the mihi, or recitation of those family members who have passed, reminding everyone of the names of their ancestors.

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This was followed by waiata (song) and karakia (prayer), and then, the grandmother’s family lined up to greet the new arrivals. From there, everyone drove to the cemetery a mile or so down the road, where the gravesite had been prepared with decorations and the stone was covered by a traditional feathered cloak.

After more prayer, the headstone was unveiled and the inscription read aloud, before being blessed by the priest. There were readings, songs and everyone who wanted to speak was invited to speak, also known as ‘korero.’

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Finally, the whanau processed back to the marae in the afternoon, to dig up the hangi and eat a meal together (kai hakari).

I marvel at how lucky we’ve been in our family, that we have become forever connected – through marriage – to this Maori family. Because of this connection of whanau, we’ve been invited to attend a number of these traditional Maori events over the years, and have been fortunate enough to get a see a little bit of insight into their culture, which has been a real privilege.

At the same time, I still feel like an outsider looking in.

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I was very aware when I walked onto the marae, that morning, of being one of three other Europeans there. “Who’s that?” one of the aunties asked my nephew, indicating me. He said, “She’s my mum’s sister.”

Immediately, there were big smiles from the lady and all the other aunties sitting along the bench outside the dining room, and I went over to kiss her and each of the others on the cheek. I was welcomed with open arms.

The Maori culture is so rich and so steeped in tradition that it’s just a pleasure and an honour to bear witness and be a part of the lives of the indigenous people of this country. I loved every minute. It was a very special day to be part of, and it reminded me of everything that’s great about this country.

Te tangata, te tangata, te tangata! The people, the people, the people!

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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‘Nothing that happens to a writer – however happy, however tragic – is ever wasted.’ ~ PD James

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Blessed be the ties that bind generations. ~ Unknown

To our eyes looking on, our father appeared to be doing well, living independently in his own home until the last of his days, with a little help from my sisters. However, since his death, we have been discovering the true extent to which he had let things go. At the grand old age of eighty-four, dear dad had still been making his own meals and driving his own car without any problem and lived a full, busy life in the Coromandel Peninsula. Yet, property maintenance was one of the things he’d let slip.

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When dad died in February this year, as our last surviving parent, it fell to us to clear our parents’ property. It took a long time just to start to sort out the possessions. Dad’s garage alone took weeks of effort. We always used to joke, when he was alive, that our father was ‘the guy who had it all, and kept it in his garage.’ His double garage was stacked to the gunnels with stuff dating back to the luggage that had come over on the ship with mum and my two sisters in 1962. Our goal became just to see the floor.

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It was only when we began to see the floor, and get through that stage of constant sorting and waste elimination that the house itself became a focus. That was when my sister discovered the rotting timbers and non-regulation home handiwork. That was when she found that the sea air had corroded the bolts holding certain key structural things like the upstairs deck. That was when we heard that the damage had gone so far the deck would need replacing within the next few years. The reality hit home.

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Dad, for all his integrity and goodness and spirit, had let the reins slip a bit. Our new family co-owners decided to invest in the place, which means we may be lucky enough to holiday there together as family for the foreseeable future, as long as most visits are accompanied by a working bee to get the maintenance done. We might be able to keep our parents’ property but only if we’re prepared to work for it.

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The boys and I just came home from the usual “boys’ trip” we do every school holidays. We met my brother and nephew and niece at dad’s home by the seaside, where my sister had been working hard.

We went to the beach. We worked in Grandpa’s garage.

We played basketball. We threw out a skip worth of rubbish.

We went to a 60th birthday party. We scrubbed and cleaned the conservatory from floor to ceiling.

It’s wonderful to spend time together and there’s nothing wrong with a bit of hard work to earn your cold beer at the end of the day.

The joy is in living for an extended period under the same roof that’s what it’s all about.

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The other very nice thing that has started to happen as the jobs get ticked off one-by-one, is that we have started to witness our parents’ dilapidated home gaining a new lease of life. The effort being put in behind the scenes by various family members has been herculean. Each improvement transforms the old place a little more. It has “a million dollar view” as we like to say, so it has great potential.

If the property can become a source of passive income stream for the co-owners then it’s possible we might be able to keep it in the family.

It’s a wonderful feeling. It feels like keeping our connection to our parents, who are buried in the small town. It feels like it would make dear old dad happy, who had once expressed a wish we keep the place ‘if we could.’

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It feels like providing that link to family history for our children and grandchildren, the tradition of coming together there in holiday times and at Christmas.

Therefore I am happy and willing to work as much as needed and even contribute money, if necessary, in order to keep the old homestead in the family. In these turbulent times, there’s nothing more important.

To go “home,” it feels immeasurably comforting simply to be there. You feel grounded and settled into neutral again. While at the same time you feel supercharged with energy like you put your finger in a light socket. We came home and I felt rejuvenated.

For me, the little seaside town is my turangawaewae or the place in the world I most feel my roots. What about you, where’s your turangawaewae?

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Talk to you later.

Keep Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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Family is the most important thing in the world. ~ Princess Diana

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Last week, we made a car trip to my parents’ property to meet with other family there. The aim was to get the cousins together and to do some maintenance on the place. It was our fifth official family working bee, and two days after what would have been my father’s 86th birthday. So, this time it was nostalgic for me.

I don’t know about my brother or the kids, but, I really felt dad’s absence this visit. There isn’t that beloved person waiting for you, who has been looking forward to your arrival and has the fire crackling, a pot of hot food on the stove and is ready to make a cup of tea and offer sweet treats. There isn’t anyone. Period.

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We were greeted by an empty house. We had to bring all the fresh food in and start the fire and start cooking dinner. We had to sort out the beds…we had to warm the place up and bring it to life again. And, I admit I felt overwhelmed for missing my father.

It was really sad when mum died. I’m still grieving her loss two years later. But, it’s only been five months since losing dad. And, he was always going to be a different type of loss. He was our primary caregiver, he was always there, loving, strong, ready to do anything for any of us.

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I was feeling bereft.

On the last day there, sorting through some old papers, I came across a poem. It had been folded and saved carefully by my father. I read the message titled, ‘A Letter From Heaven’ and the tears began to flow. While I knew logically that it was a poem printed for someone’s service, which dad had liked enough to keep, even so, in my sadness, I interpreted it as a message directly from my father for me. And, I was comforted.

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I’m going to add it onto this post, for those who are grieving. And, you can also find it here on Pinterest: https://binged.it/2LvuWF5

You may notice that in both places there is no author attributed, which I guess makes it anonymous. When I looked it up on Google, there were so many different versions of this letter that it was positively boggling. I like this version, for obvious reasons.

 

A Letter From Heaven

To my dearest family

Something’s I’d like to say

But first of all to let you know

That I arrived OK

 

I’m writing from Heaven

Where I dwell with God above

Where there’s no more tears or sadness

There’s just eternal love

 

Please do not be unhappy

Just because I’m out of sight

Remember that I’m with you

Every morning, noon and night

 

GOD SPEAKS:

It’s good to have you back again

You were missed while you were gone

As for your dearest family

They’ll be here later on

 

I need you here so badly

As part of my big plan

There’s so much that we have to do

To help our mortal man

 

Then God gave me a list of things

He wished me to do

And foremost on that list of mine

Is to watch and care for you

 

And I will be beside you

Every day, week and year

And when you’re sad I’m standing there

To wipe away the tear

 

And when you lie in bed at night

The day’s chores put to flight

God and I are closer to you

In the middle of the night

 

When you think of life on Earth

And all those living things

Because you’re only human

They are bound to bring you tears

 

But do not be afraid to cry

It does relieve the pain

Remember there would be no flowers

Unless there was some rain

 

I wish that I could tell you

Of all that God has planned

But if I were to tell you

You wouldn’t understand

 

But one thing is for certain

Though my life on Earth is over

I’m closer to you now

Than I ever was before

 

And to my very many friends

Trust; God knows what’s best

I’m still not far away from you

I’m just beyond the next crest

 

There are many rocky roads ahead of you

And many hills to climb

But together we can do it

Taking one day at a time

 

If you can help somebody

Who is down and feeling low

Just lend a hand to pick him up

As on your way to go

 

When you’re walking down the street

And you’ve got me on your mind

I’m walking in your footsteps

Only half a step behind

And when you feel that gentle breeze

Or the wind upon your face

That’s me giving you a great big hug

Or just a soft embrace

 

And when it’s time for you to go

From that body to be free

Remember you’re not going

You are coming here to me

 

I will always love you

From the land way up above

Will be in touch again soon

PS: God sends his love.

 

Thanks dad, I needed that. xx

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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Children will not remember you for the material things you provided but for the feeling that you cherished them. ~ Richard L. Evans

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“People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”~ Maya Angelou

This famous saying is one of those truisms that seems well said when we hear them as young people, yet sinks in deeper and deeper the older we get, the more we realize the profound truth.

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Today marked a certain milestone.

My youngest son turned thirteen. He boldly crossed the threshold to teenager. To commemorate, I gifted him his grandfather’s razor. Though he isn’t shaving yet, he soon will be. The razor is good quality and with continued care will last him for years. I know the gift hit the spot because he examined the razor minutely, popped open the lid and looked inside. He had to plug it in and turn it on. As he navigates these wild waters of his teenage years, I want him to feel supported and to feel loved.

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I’m glad he liked his gift, and I’ll freely admit I’m relieved he’s not using the razor, yet. He might be jumping with giddy glee from milestone to milestone, but, poor mama back here needs to sit down a minute and get her breath. We’re at the stage now where his childhood is hurtling by so fast it’s giving me whiplash.

Today also happened to mark another important milestone.

It was the day my beloved “adopted grandfather” Bruce left Toastmasters. He retired after having been in the speakers’ association for twenty-six years, much to the chagrin of all present, especially me.

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Unfortunately, I didn’t know either of my grandfathers. Both sets of my grandparents lived in England. As a consequence, my entire life, I’ve idolised grandfathers and that patriarchal figure in the family.

In my writing, the grandfather figure always plays a key role. In the series I’m working on at present, the Chronicles of Aden Weaver, the first book starts off with Aden’s conflicted relationship with his ‘Papa Joe.’ It ends in the third book, which I’m writing at present, The Last Tree, with Aden now the grandparent telling his grandchildren a bedtime story.

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My maternal grandparents, Evelyn and Alfred Leonard

To me, that is the penultimate circle of life, when you have the child and the elder present in a story. I may have never met my own grandfathers, however, I can indulge in the experiences I missed out on by vicariously living through my characters, and I must say it is very soothing and healing to do so. I thoroughly recommend it.

Spending time around my “adopted grandfather,” Bruce, has been a real tonic these last few years, also. I’ve enjoyed our friendship. Meeting him at Toastmasters each week has been a hoot.

On that day, nearly four years ago, when I dared try Toastmasters, I went along sceptical and highly self-conscious and absolutely terrified at the idea of tackling my all-time biggest fear, public speaking. I made myself go by assuring myself I didn’t have to join; I was just ‘going to have a look.’

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When I arrived, I saw two silver haired gentleman standing talking outside talking. Bruce shook my hand and welcomed me warmly.

I felt an instant gravitational pull towards this venerable elder. I sat next to him for the rest of the meeting, and Bruce brightly asked questions about me at every opportunity. He said he was 96-years-old, a war veteran. He had recovered to sprightly good health after having both knees replaced at the tender age of 90. I had made a friend.

Needless to say, I joined the club.

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After the nerve-wracked, heart-thumping, knee-knocking experience of delivering my first speech, I walked to the back of the room and Bruce stood there, clapping.

He said, “Congratulations, my dear! You’ve been blooded.”

It was something only a patriarch would say, and I loved him for it.

For the last few years, I’ve been lucky enough to be guided by him through many of my speech projects. At Bruce’s farewell party today, held not four days out from his 100th birthday, our club said heartfelt goodbyes.

I gave a one minute speech and said, “Everyone asks Bruce, ‘what’s the secret of your longevity?’ It’s not vegetarianism. He makes every single person he meets feel special. For that reason, everyone he meets loves him. Bruce is surrounded by love everywhere he goes. That’s the real secret to his youth.”

Which brings us neatly back to where we started. How will you be remembered? By the way you made people feel.

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”~ Malala Yousafzai

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The All is Lost moment is powerful because it is primal ~ Cory Milles

Loss in the course of life is inevitable, yet we eventually become enriched and deepened by pain. We learn and grow from experiences of difficulty.

As writers, we can employ obstacles, failures and friction in a similar way, to force our characters to evolve.

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In his book, The Prophet, poet, Kahlil Gibran, writes of love, ‘He sifts you to free you from your husks. He grinds you to whiteness. He kneads you until you are pliant.’ This gives an apt metaphor for human life. In our short spans on this planet, we suffer and win and are made anew. ‘That you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life’s heart.’

This is exactly which happens in life and what we seek to get right with writing fiction. It’s why people read, too.

As my teacher Kate de Goldi said, ‘We remember the readings that acted like transformations.’

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Author, PJ Reece wrote, ‘We’re not attracted to stories without conflict simply because we can’t learn anything from them. They are empty of the seeds that might nurture our own growth, in whatever direction that might be. Of course we love to read happy stuff in books too, but only after the hero has travelled his or her difficult path of personal growth and finally reached the reward for their journey.’

This is precisely why we like books with a solid definable problem.

Think Harry Potter vs Lord Voldemort, or Katniss vs the tyranny of the Capitol. We know who we’re cheering for and that there’s the promise of a good fight.

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All stories, since the first tales told around the campfire, capture the same essence, that of our collective struggle through life.

The stories we remember are those about characters who strive and fail. We love those who transcend their lower natures to become something more, because we relate to that battle. The triumph of our tiny hero, Bilbo Baggins, in The Lord of the Rings, when he throws the ring in the fiery pit is universal and the jubilation at the return of the king is the sort of life-affirming, inspiring fodder we will read for generations. They’re the stories about the human condition, our common travail, and they’ll never age.

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In the Warrior Writer’s course I took with tutor, Bob Mayer, he taught us that conflict is the fuel of a story. He also taught that the goals of the protagonist and antagonist must be opposed, although their goals don’t need to be the same thing.

Whether your antagonist is the ocean, a person, or an idea, in order for the core conflict to work, it must bring them against the protagonist in direct dispute. For one to achieve what they want, the other can’t achieve their goal. Therefore they become locked in a dilemma which needs to be resolved.

The questions which this tussle generates keep the readers glued.

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If your story is low key and quiet, then force the protagonist through inner fires. ‘The best stories — and the most lifelike — are ones that follow/force the protagonist through a series of disillusionments.’ Wrote author PJ Reece. ‘I see all protagonists as bumbling their way into the dark, otherwise they never leave their valley, the Valley of the Happy Nice People, and who wants to read about that? No one.’

In other words, if you want your story to be remembered, get the problem nailed down because a sturdy conflict can turn a mediocre story into a bestseller.

With a believable force opposing our hero, the characters are forced to make choices, and we ask which choices they will make and what will be the result. Result: reader engagement.

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Some stories have a background antagonist, who presents no immediate threat, in which case most of the conflict will come from friends, family, team members and “threshold guardians.” Yet, whether there’s a direct or indirect antagonist, each external mini-battle must expose more of the root of the character’s internal conflict.

Each test slowly grinds them to whiteness, teaching them a life lesson or giving them the option to change and grow.

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Within each story there are both internal and external sources of conflict. The internal relates to the character’s inner flaws which need to change. The external refers to the physical forces opposing him creating tension.

In every scene the ideal is to have both an external and internal conflict.

The transformation at the end of the book comes only after the protagonist confronts their limitations and defeats both them and the antagonist. Hopefully, there is a glorious resolution of storyline. There is a positive change in the central character arc, a blooming of the protagonist’s full potential, and a reward, a boon, “the gift of fire” to bring back home for the tribe.

Or as writer, David Farland said, ‘At the end of your novel, there are only three rules: Payoff! Payoff! Payoff!’

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Talk to you later.

Keep Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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‘Life is trouble. When everything goes wrong, what a joy it is to test your soul.’ ~ Nikos Kazantzakis

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A tragedy befell our garden this week of Edwardian proportions.

On Tuesday night, around nine o’clock, a storm sprang out of nowhere. It only lasted a few hours and yet, it did untold damage across our region. Trees fell down on people’s houses, on cars and across roads. Winds gusted 100 -160 kilometres an hour and in some places got up to 210 kilometres. A four story building under construction caved in, and there were power outs in many areas, leaving people without heating on the coldest night of the year.

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I went to bed around 9.30 on Tuesday night, afraid of the big gusts of wind roaring around the house. About half an hour later, I was woken by a loud, insistent banging on the door. My neighbour, Pete, stood on the doorstep in an oil slicker, holding a powerful torch, with the wind and rain howling behind him.

“You okay?” he asked.

“Yes, why?”

“Your big tree’s fallen down.”

My heart sank. No. Not that tree.

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Not the tree my parents planted in 1962 when they first moved in. The tree my brother-in-law dubbed ‘The Jewel of the Garden’ for its radiant magnificence. The tree whose dramatic changing hues, shedding of leaves and regaining of resplendent green shoots has heralded the turning of the seasons throughout my life. The tree I went and hugged for a few days in a row after dad died, and sang to. No. Not that tree.

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I remember when dad came back to visit the old homestead, a few years ago. He walked out into the backyard to admire the liquid amber he’d planted fifty years before. His head tilted, and he marvelled, “It’s grown so big.”

No.

Not that tree.

I couldn’t bear to go and look at it that evening and, besides, it was too wild outside. I waited until the next morning. Then, I went out into the garden, and I couldn’t believe my eyes.

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Most of the main column was gone. My nephew, who lives in the sleep out, said he could hear branches cracking in the storm. He’d gone outside to get a look and could see the big gusts of wind whipping the branches around. He went back to bed and threw a mattress over himself when he heard another loud crack, then a resounding thud when the top half fell.

Miraculously, it had crashed into Pete’s backyard, missing everything except for his clothesline.

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I was relieved to see the remaining trunk was still firmly planted in the ground and that many of the branches still seemed strong.

The tree removal guy says he hopes to salvage what’s left. He can trim the branches and trunk. The tree will be half the size, but the prognosis is that it might survive to be hugged another day.

Boy, I hope so.

I don’t care to lose too many more family members at the moment.

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The theme of loss and the reality of it in our daily lives is difficult.

At the end of the middle grade novel I’m working on, The Last Tree, when the hero, Aden misses his elderly mentor, Geo, he asks himself, ‘Is this what it’s like to grow up, there’s more pain and losing people?’

I think that’s one of those storms we all have to go through, when we start to mature, in becoming aware of our mortality and that our parents aren’t going to live forever. There are moments of understanding that one day we’ll have to find our way through this world alone, and one day, we’ll take the place of our parents as the elders in our own families.

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The elderly or grandparent character in a story always represents our mortality, by the nature of their advanced age, they represent impermanence.

I love to write the grandparents and always include them in my fiction. The truth is, that half the Jewel of the Garden must be taken away, that grandparents will die some day, and that our beloved parents will one day do the same, and so will we. But, the student, the child, the garden will carry on. The new growth will replace the old tree. And the next generation will blossom and thrive and have their season in the sun. That is the flow of life, and there is comfort in that knowledge and wisdom in acceptance.

Have you ever weathered a major storm or lost a tree you loved? What did you do? What nugget of wisdom did you gain from the experience?

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(Dad’s grandson and great-granddaughter)

Keep Writing!

Yvette K. Carol

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If we know how to appreciate these beautiful things, we will not have to search for anything else. Peace is available in every moment, in every breath, in every step. ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

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I was talking with friends at Toastmasters this week. We find solace as women, in sharing stories with one another; it helps us to find our peace with the way things are. I and two other Toastmasters are in the same situation at present. We’re wondering what to do with all of our parents’ beloved possessions.

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If it was up to my nephews, they’d “back a truck up to grandpa’s section and just throw everything in.” But, it’s different for me and my women friends.

Our parents’ things, their worldly treasures have emotional resonance.

We value their collections, their chosen artworks, however, we can’t keep all of our parents’ possessions. It would be impossible. So we’re left to walk the tightrope of this critical decision making on what to throw and what to keep.

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One friend was saying her mother had collected the old fashioned bread plates and had a hundred and twenty of the pottery bread bases hanging on the walls in her house. Now, the family is stuck with what to do with them.

My other friend has an elderly mother who is currently downsizing, while she herself is retiring to a small town. Her mother had a treasured full dinner set with gold trim, which she’d bought when she first arrived in New Zealand, in the 60’s. My friend can’t take the big dinner set with her into retirement. She’s going to offer them to her daughter but her daughter is into minimal living. So the freighted question has to follow? Re-cycle, re-use or reduce?

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It’s such a hard call, because it feels like you’re parting with your parents in a very real way, dispersing their belongings, which they had gathered over a lifetime, while they raised you. I want to keep everything!

But, then I would be repeating the same cycle of having loads and loads of possessions I neither use nor look at.

I think I’m with my friend’s daughter. I prefer the idea of minimalism.

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If there’s one thing that dad’s death has brought home for me, it’s that we have far too much “stuff” generally. My parents, god bless them, liked collecting cool things too, shells, rocks, driftwood, amber (kauri gum). Yet, the boxes upon boxes of these treasures were accompanied by hordes of acquisitions over the years, which they had stored in the garage and forgotten about.

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I think it was after emptying the tenth or twelfth trailer full of rubbish from my parent’s property and seeing all the old crockery, and broken appliances, and junk going into that landfill, that I felt, this is wrong. Over consumption is killing our environment.

It made me want to do better, to yearn for simplicity in my own life at home.

After coming home from the first working bee with my siblings at my parent’s house, I started spring-cleaning my house. I gave away boxes of unnecessary bits and bobs to charity. Because I had seen firsthand that we’re weighted down with belongings we never look at and never use.

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At the same time, I feel a great need to simplify primarily by consuming less.

I need to be far more discerning in my shopping choices, from now on. I want to buy quality brand products when I do need to buy things, and buy as little things we don’t need, as possible. That’s the goal, anyway.

Wish me luck!

How about you, have you felt the need to simplify?

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Talk to you later.

Keep Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. E.e. Cummings

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