Music Monday | Here Comes The River – Patrick Watson

It was my birthday a few days ago. Birthdays in 2020 are something different, aren’t they? I am sheltering in place in a small apartment in the “covid capital” of Australia aka Melbourne. But thanks to our state Premier’s leadership, the Chief Health Officer’s medical expertise, and my fellow Victorians (largely) doing the right thing, our daily case numbers have reduced significantly from more than 700+ cases a day a few weeks ago, down to less than 50.

But this isn’t where I was supposed to be for my birthday. Earlier in the year, I booked annual leave for the next few weeks. I had planned to be in New England, traveling first before arriving in Maine for the Camden International Film Festival with a friend.

But 2020 looks nothing like the plan I made in January.

Instead, I spent my birthday here with G, before having to rush him back to the hospital when a pain in his hip prevented him from walking. Scans indicated another infection. The news of a temperature spike after a procedure to drain fluid from the infected joint whacked me back into mid-August when he developed sepsis after his first round of chemotherapy dictating that he spend weeks in ICU in a critical condition.

We lurch from crisis to crisis, barely recovering from the last before a new one begins, with the original cancer somehow just a low background hum. Tonight, his temperature has settled. He is being flooded with strong antibiotics. Fluid is being drained.

I knew the cancer treatment and chemotherapy was going to be intensive. But nobody told me that it was going to be this hard.

Nobody told you that it was going to be this hard
Something’s been building behind your eyes
You lost what you hold onto
You’re losing control
There ain’t any words in this world that are going to cure this pain
Sometimes it’s going to fall down on your shoulders
But you’re going to stand through it all

Here comes the river coming on strong
And you can’t keep your head above these troubled waters

Here comes the river over the flames

Sometimes you got to burn to keep the storm away

Today, there is also a bonus song; I played this song as part of a meditation last night to remind me to get up, always.

Music Monday | Where Do We Go – Desiree Dawson

The blisters on my cheeks where a face mask pulled tight across them for seven hours a day, twelve days in a row, have healed. It’s been a week since I’ve been allowed into the hospital. My visitorship was revoked as soon as my husband became stable again. It was disheartening for both of us but not unexpected having already happened twice before.

So I wait in anticipation of his return, in this small apartment that does not belong to me, and I have endless amounts of time to fret. Instead, I try to distract myself. I scroll, I clean, I read, I breathe. A circle of friends have organised themselves onto a roster to make sure someone calls me every day. At least once a day. Sometimes twice. Even, occasionally, three times if necessary. And it has been necessary. I am almost always ok until it is time to sleep, like now. It is then that I feel the low hum of anxiety that has been the background to my day start to rise.

And the only thing that helps me then is meditating in Love. Because in Love, I am reminded that we are all One. We are Connected regardless of time or space. In this connection, I can truly see that the Light in me is also the Light in everyone I meet.

It is difficult to focus on Now but it is all we have. And so I stay with it. With the uncomfortable feelings that rise, with the uncertainty of what might happen, and with the knowledge that the only place I can go from here is into Love. Because I am in Love, and Love is in me. And actually, it is all we need.

Where do we go, go from here
The present is cloudy, future filled with fear
The past is something we hold on too dear
So where do we go from here

Where do we go?
Where do we go?

But love is all we wanted
And love is all we need
Deep down in the dark is where we plant our seeds
Plant those seeds

I was given the sweetest treat when I started seeing myself in everyone I meet
You were given the sweetest treat when you see yourself in everyone you meet

Shake It Off and Re-calibrate Your Nervous System

In recent years, I’ve made many changes to the way I manage my mental health. Early intervention when required, the right tools and resources, and daily management have made a world of difference. But over the last few weeks, my husband’s diagnosis and hospitalisation, has tested all of my new strategies. My nervous system is non-compliant with the new tools under this much stress and my anxiety has landed me in the emergency room. As a result, I’ve been trying additional, more unusual things in an attempt to help me manage it. I can’t say they’ve all been successful and I can’t say I haven’t resorted to some of the old, comfortable coping mechanisms. But one thing that I’ve found that does help is shaking. On purpose. For fun.

I once asked my psychologist why I shivered when I had to have uncomfortable conversations and her response was “stress”. When adrenaline and cortisol are released into your body in huge amounts during a threat, they create neurogenic tremors in addition to speeding up your heart rate, blood pressure and breathing.

Shaking is the body’s natural way to release tension and stress and return to equilibrium. Animals instinctively shake to relieve stress after a life-threatening event. This helps them to discharge the energy of the traumatic event. But when humans are conditioned out of this response we lose the ability to re-calibrate our nervous system. We are supposed to cope. We are supposed to be fine. Unfazed.

Unfortunately, if we can’t shake it off, trauma can get trapped in the body. This impacts our ability to respond to future stressors and can lead to a complicated ripple of life-altering impacts. The brain and nervous system can become stuck. They are rewired in a way that can make healing a challenge as they remain on high alert for threats, continually flooding the body with stress hormones.

So in an attempt to reset my nervous system, I am shaking. On purpose. For fun. It doesn’t work all the time but if I shake for several minutes a day, it definitely helps. A friend calls me on Zoom in the morning, and together we do a shake session. She picks the music, I just show up.

If you want any more information on the science behind shaking, this link has plenty!

And if you need a song, here’s the first one she chose. Obviously.

Music Monday | Write The Fear A Lullaby – Ben Grace

I have been writing to Love. Not my beloved, although I do write to him as well, but to the Great Love. The Love of the Universe. Collective Consciousness Love.

I have been talking to Love and praying to Love. Because there’s not much worth being here on Earth for, except Love.

And then I found this song. But before I’d even listened to it, the title punched me in the throat. I had been writing to Love in an effort to dispel Fear. But what if I wrote to Fear? What if I spoke to it softly? Soothed it with a song? What if I couldn’t dispel all my Fear by writing to Love, what if I needed to write to Fear as well?

And so I did.

I wrote a love letter – a lullaby – to Fear.

When the miles are much too hard
And roads are too long
If my face in your mind
Is an unfinished song
And you’re sure that the right
is all heading for wrong…
Hold on
Hold on

Won’t you write the fear a lullaby
Remind her it’s okay to cry
And find me in the folds of your desire
Tell the worries in your way
To try again another day
Shut up and love me til they all expire
Coz I’m not done with you yet
And this weight around my neck
Is nothing but a make-believe goodbye
So write the fear a lullaby

 

Music Monday | Stars – Ayla Nereo

Around us, a pandemic rages, but new daily cases are dwindling under the Stage Four restrictions. A curfew is in place from 8pm until 5am. This means you must be at your home between these hours unless you are working (with a permit), seeking medical care, or providing care.

It is fifteen minutes until curfew as I pull into the underground garage of my temporary home. The rain spatters on my roof and windscreen as the GPS announces my arrival. Although I’ve driven the same twelve kilometres twenty times this month to and from the hospital where my husband is critically ill, I still use the GPS to keep me company. I cannot stomach music.

During the day, you may only leave your home to exercise (for one hour maximum), to shop for necessities (one person per household, for one hour maximum), to work (if you can’t work from home and have an applicable permit), to seek medical care, or for compassionate reasons. You must stay within five kilometres of your residence.

Due to the nature of my husband’s illness, I am allowed to visit, provided I maintain full self-isolation. I do not work. I do not exercise. I do not shop for necessities. Some incredible friends are doing this on my behalf followed by a contactless delivery drop to minimise my exposure to the outside world. Anything that arrives gets doused in Glen20 (Lysol), spends five days in quarantine in the spare room, and is soaped or disinfected further upon opening.

When you leave home, you must wear a face covering unless you have a lawful reason not to.

I wear two; a particulate filter mask beneath a surgical or cloth mask. I do not know if this is safer. I just know it feels safer.

I leave my home only to drive to the hospital and sit by a bed on the days they allow it.

On the other days, I disinfect the apartment from top to bottom. Again. Just in case. But no-one comes in. And I do not go out. I phone a friend. I pace. I try to shake it out. I cannot sit still long enough to read. I cannot sit still long enough to write.

The adrenaline bath inside my body turns every abnormal event to terror. Is that tickle in my throat because I haven’t drunk enough water, or is it covid? Is that weird, red colour on my toes because I’ve been been sitting on them squished up on the couch, or is it covid? Is that shortness of breath, panic and palpitations anxiety, or is it covid?

I’ve had two covid tests. Both negative. And I’ve not been anywhere except the hospital and the apartment in three and a half weeks. I do not have covid. But I still feel like I should have another test. Again. Perhaps one every day. Just in case. 

My OCD  thoughts and behaviours are out of control. Something I’d once managed has rewired itself in this pandemic, found a new obsession. Gifted me new compulsions. Now, personal safety (my previous OCD focus) and contamination are the same thing. Now, I do not want to leave the haven of the apartment, except for the hospital. Now, I want to disinfect the entire place, again, just in case.

The government keeps reminding us to stay home, soap and sanitise, wear a mask. How do I know where the line is between normal precautions and compulsions? How do I know when I’ve crossed it?

I don’t.

But I am learning to just be as I am, by grace and devotion to let go, to just let it be.

Fate

Fate, Federal Court, Moon
by Anne Carson

The fate of the earth. The fate of me. The fate of you. The fate of Faisal. The fate of the court where Faisal will plead his case. The fate of the court’s bias. Every court has a bias. It sifts to the surface gradually. The fate of whomever we drink to after court. The fate of that branch of mathematics that deals with ‘dead-end depth’. The fate of Yemen where Faisal will probably never return. The fate of the engineering job Faisal had in Yemen before the events in question. The fate of the ‘simple random walk’ and its difference from the ‘homesick random walk’, concepts from a mathematics textbook I read once about dead-end depth. The fate of Montreal where Faisal lives now. The fate of his family, the ones still alive, back in Yemen and the fate of the bridal couple, still alive, whose wedding was the target of the drone pilot (a mistake). The fate of the others, not still alive (a mistake). The fate of the moon that rose over us as we drove through the mountains of Pennsylvania to be present at Faisal’s day in court. The fate of the silveriness of the moon that no words can ever describe. The fate of the bright sleepless night. The fate of our phones, which we decide to take to the courthouse at 9 a.m. and relinquish at the door. The fate of two guys doing a job interview in the cafeteria where we stop for coffee on the way to courtroom 31. Been around the block, says one guy. Army does the billing, says the other guy. The fate of so many men in suits and ties. The fate of being lost in marble corridors. The fate of being much too early at courtroom 31. The fate of the knot of lawyers who surround Faisal as he enters in a new suit. The fate of congratulating him on his new suit. The fate of his smile. His smile is great. The fate of the numerous clerks who pour glasses of water for the judges and generally fuss around. The fate of the appellant whose case precedes Faisal’s, which concerns a warrant ‘so lacking in probable cause’ that [something to do with ‘Garcia’] [something to do with gangs and ‘a constitutional path’]. The fate of the pearls worn by Judge Dillard, who sits on the far right of the bench, which curve like teeth below her actual teeth. The fate of straining to hear what Faisal’s lawyer, with his back to us, says to the judges. The fate of him perhaps saying that the government is asking the court to refrain from judging, asking the court to step back without knowing what it is stepping back from. The fate of proportionality, a matter of context. The fate of what is or is not a political question. The fate of the precedent called ‘al Shifa’, with which everyone seems familiar. The fate of a publicly acknowledged programme of targeting people who might be a danger to us. The fate of inscrutable acronyms. The fate of me totally losing the thread of the argument as we distinguish ‘merits’ from ‘standing’. The fate of what Faisal is seeking, which is now given as ‘declaratory relief’ (new phrase to me). The fate of ‘plaintiffs who have no chance of being harmed in the future due to being deceased’, a wording that gives pause. The fate of how all this may depend on her pearls, her teeth. The fate of the sentence, ‘We are really sorry, we made a mistake,’ which Judge Dillard utters in a hypothetical context but still it’s good to hear. The fate of the government lawyer who is blonde and talks too fast, using ‘jurisdictional’ many times and adding ‘as the relief sought is unavailable’. The fate of wondering why it is unavailable to say, ‘Sorry’. The fate of Judge Dillard’s invitation to the government lawyer to tell the plaintiff how he might ‘exhaust all administrative avenues of redress’, as the government claims he should have done before bringing this case. ‘Where would he go?’ Judge Dillard asks with apparent honest curiosity. ‘If you were he, where would you go?’ The fate of our bewildered conversation afterwards about why she said this, whose side she is on, what she expects Faisal’s lawyers to do with it now. The fate of the tuna sandwiches eaten with Faisal while debating this. The fate of his quietness while others talk. The fate of his smile, which seems to invite the soul, centuries ago. Serving tea, let’s say, to guests. The moon above them. Joy. The fate of disinterestedness, of joy, of what would Kant say, of not understanding what kind of thing the law is anyway, for example in its similarity to mathematics, for they both pretend to perfect objectivity but objectivity is a matter of wording and words can be, well, a mistake. The fate of the many thoughts that go on in Faisal when he is quiet, or the few thoughts, how would I know? The fate of the deep sea diver that he resembles, isolated, adrift. The fate of him back in his kitchen in Montreal next week or next year, sitting on a chair or standing at the window, the moon by then perhaps a thin cry, perhaps gone. The fate of simplicity, of randomness, of homesickness, of dead ends, of souls. Who can say how silvery it was? Where would he go? Sorry?

Published in the London Review of Books
Vol. 39 No. 6 · 16 March 2017

I was once given this poem as the introduction to a writing exercise. Write or re-write a paragraph of your work-in-progress beginning every sentence with the fate, our tutor said. Notice how commencing with these words changes the way you shape your story. Notice what impact fate has on your narrative.

I do not like fate. I refuse fate. I want to scream at fate to fuck off.

I do not want to think about the fate of the earth, the fate of me. I especially do not want to think about the fate of you.

I do not like fate having an impact on my narrative.

And yet. Here we are.

The fate of me. The fate of you. The fate of the hospital where you are having your chemo. The fate of the doctors. The fate of the nurses. The fate of the specialists who are administering your treatment. The fate of the apartment in our COVID capital. The fate of the foundation that’s provided our accommodation. The fate of my psychologist who keeps asking “are you eating?” but how could I be eating? The fate of the words intensive protocol, neurotoxicity, and treatment related complications. The fate of having to learn another medical language in the middle of a pandemic after already learning the language of the pandemic. The fate of how all of this depends on limited evidence.

And so, I say.

Fuck fate. Fate will not shape my story. Or yours.

Music Monday | Anchor – Novo Amor

The Room of Ancient Keys
by Elena Mikhalkova

Grandma once gave me a tip:

During difficult times,
you move forward in small steps.
Do what you have to do, but little by little.
Don’t think about the future,
not even what might happen tomorrow.
Wash the dishes.
Take off the dust.
Write a letter.
Make some soup.
Do you see?
You are moving forward step by step.
Take a step and stop.
Get some rest.
Compliment yourself.
Take another step.
Then another one.
You won’t notice, but your steps will grow
bigger and bigger.
And time will come
when you can think about the future
without crying.
Good morning.