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Everyone keeps saying what a crap year 2016 was, and I suppose in many ways it was. That said, I thought it was one of my best yet. A lot of things came into focus. I made some commitments and stuck to them. I acquired a new appreciation of how fortunate my life has been and how much I have to be grateful for.
Yes, there's a lot of things wrong with the world and itís easy to get swept up in all the negative stuff thatís going on. But thereís lots of good stuff too.
Letís not forget that.
The biggest commitment I made last year was to put an hour aside each day to paint. I realised that it was the one thing that kept falling off the list each day. Everything else seemed to take priority. I reached a point where I decided that if I genuinely wanted to think of myself as a painter then I need to prioritize painting. It sounds so obvious when itís written that way but of course, the obvious is never obvious. Anyway, since September 1st (not including three weeks spent in London) Iíve clocked up over a hundred painting hours.
Not everything I paint is good. Some of it is crap. Nonetheless, I feel engaged in a way I havenít done for many years. Instead of trying to artificially cram a few hours of painting time into the weekend (and often resenting the time taken away from other things) I now go into the studio with a clear idea of what I want to be going on with. Because Iím engaged on a daily basis I seem to be making the most of every hour. There is a sense of progression and continuity which becomes quite intoxicating after a while.
Sitting in the park under a shady tree with the dog today, it occurred to me that the time will come when Iíll look back on this chapter of life and wish I could have it all again.
We spend so much of our lives dreaming about and planning for the future. What Iíve come to appreciate is that the future is now. We are the sum of our lifeís experience.
Happiness is not some distant, far off goal to be found in the future. Itís to be found sitting in the park under a shady tree with the dog.
Many years ago I used to share a studio with a group of artists in Adelaide. Some of them subsequently went on to become highly successful, both here in Australia and in some cases, internationally. I remember interviewing one of them, Annette, for an investigative essay I was doing while studying to become a teacher. She told me, amongst other things, that she felt out of sorts if she didnít paint every day. I felt anxious at the time because I didnít share such passion for my own work. But as time has passed, I now know how she felt.
Iíve thought for a long time now that I donít think I really grew up until I was 35. Iíve tended to compare the trajectory of my life to that of professional women who, for a variety of reasons, often experience a slow, steady career progression. I always had in mind a certain age when the collective experience of life would crystalize and, in terms of my creative expression, Iíd finally find my own voice and trust my own vision. I realise now that that certain age was 57. Things have finally crystalized and I find myself off and running.
People often laugh when I tell them I intend to live until Iím 106. They think Iím joking. Iím not. The reason I want to live to be 106 is so I can watch the commemoration of 1,000 years since William conquered Britain in 1066. Iím sure it will be a spectacular year of commemorative celebrations which will be broadcast on TV, or whatever passes for TV in 2066, and Iíve no doubt that the Brits will make a big deal out of the whole thing. Anyway, I donít want to miss it, so Iím just putting it out there.
I think I have a trapped nerve. I was swimming today when a niggling pain in my shoulder became a major pain. Itís been there in the background for a day or two. Now itís very much in the foreground. Itís ironic how a decision to do yoga and swim each day can bring something to the fore. Iíve been so careful, too. Thatís the thing about weaknesses in the body. Until you discover them, you donít know you have them. Letís see how it goes. What worries me is the fear that thatís not going to happen anytime soon.
I spent the morning in Emergency at the Alfred Hospital today. The pain has become chronic, affecting the right side of my chest and shooting down my arm, numbing two of my fingers. It feels as though I have a knife embedded in my back. I wanted to be sure I wasnít having a stroke. They did a battery of tests and thereís no sign of that. Itís definitely originating in the neck and referring pain elsewhere. Painkillers and rest they say. Well, so far the painkillers arenít touching it and Iím in too much pain to get much rest.
After a sleepless night, I went to see a physiotherapist at the local sports clinic. I was hoping for a quick fix: a shot of cortisone even. No such luck. After reading the discharge notes from the hospital she tried to administer some treatment but the pain threshold was too great. She thinks itís going to be a long, slow recovery process: not what I wanted to hear. She suggested I use Voltaren tablets instead of Nurofen. I left feeling dispirited. My neck aches, my shoulder aches, my arm aches and Iíve lost feeling in two of my fingers. Damn!
I had a choice today: be miserable or go out and enjoy the day. I chose the latter. I walked across town to have coffee with a dear friend who sets off on a year-long adventure to Italy tomorrow. Weíve been friends since the late 70s and in recent years we have gone walking together at 8:00am on Sunday mornings. He has talked about doing this for years and finally the time has arrived. I will miss him and the Sunday walks weíve shared but I look forward to catching up online and sharing in the many adventures to come.
Constant pain is a curious phenomenon. For all that Iím hurting at the moment Iím mindful of the fact that many people live with this without any hope of reprieve. During the daytime itís less intrusive but at night it dominates. No matter what position I try to sleep in Iím in pain. The Voltaren might diminish it a notch but little more than that. Consequently, Iíve been spending an hour on the bed, another on the couch, another pacing the roof deck and/or bending over as though touching my toes which is the one position that allows some relief.
As a teacher, here in Melbourne I have much of December and most of January at home. Many of my colleagues head out of town or overseas at this time of year but I prefer to stay at home and enjoy being local. That said, a kind of listlessness descends upon me around mid-January, which I make no apology for given that Iím on holiday, but it can induce a tendency to over-think things. If I was at work I would be barrelling through my current discomfort but as it is Iím using it as an excuse to be lazy.
I managed to obtain some stronger painkillers yesterday and while theyíre only marginally better than what I had, any degree of improvement is to be welcomed. If nothing else it helps to ward off the temptation to become depressed. Walking has been helpful, too. What this has brought home to me is how susceptible the body is to damage. Iím now guessing the yoga and swimming were the main contributing factors, simply because I havenít had an instructor for either activity. And at my age, I start to appreciate the risks involved with engaging in exercise without the proper guidance.
A typical night at the moment: I got to bed around 11:30pm. I stuff four or five pillows around me to give support to my aching arm and hand and shoulder. I drift off for a bit, then toss and turn in a half sleep for a couple of hours. Then I get up and pace around, try a different bed, or the couch, or the floor, or I pace around on the roof deck for a while. Then I take some painkillers, doze a bit more and wake up feeling little better than when I went to bed, sigh!
I went to see my GP today. I was there primarily about my neck but I also had a yearly check-up and my blood tests as well. Apart from my neck, Iím apparently Iím in good shape. She also prescribed some much stronger, slow release anti-inflammatory meds to help relieve the pain. Letís hope they do the trick. Her prognosis is the same as the physiotherapistís: the road to recovery will be slow. Iím a little better predisposed to the fact now. Kicking against the facts doesnít really achieve anything. The body needs time to heal and that takes time.
Wow! Iím impressed with the new meds. The pain has receded considerably. I actually managed to sleep in more than one position last night. I also managed to do an hour or so of painting today, something Iíd been told to lay off for a while due to the awkward angle of my neck when doing so. The prospect of being able to sleep is encouraging, given that sleep itself is one of the best healers. It still hurts to lie in one position for any length of time but just having some sense of progress makes all the difference.
I had an MRI scan this evening. I had to lie perfectly still for over 20 minutes on a bed with my head and shoulders inside the scanning device in a room that has a magnetic reading 60,000 times greater than that of the earth. Needless to say, all metallic objects need to be left outside. Remaining perfectly still, given the pain I was in, was an act of sheer willpower. Iím amazed I managed to do it so successfully. Now that itís done weíll be able to see precisely what is going on with my neck. Bring it on!
The world will be different tomorrow. Donald Trump will become the 45th President of the United States. The contrast with Obama couldnít be more striking. The last time something like this happened was when Reagan took over from Carter in 1981. I was at university then and we all imagined the end of the world was nigh. There are many who hold the same view this time around. Who knows? Reagan surprised us. Maybe Trump will too. He may well be an unsavoury character but itís funny how things rarely turn out the way we imagine or expect them to.
I was watching TV as the first reports came in of a car mowing down pedestrians in the city. As events unfolded it became apparent that something truly awful was happening. Within a few hours it was revealed that three adults and one child were dead, dozens wounded and the attacker shot and captured by police. The vehicle heíd used was rammed by police and came to a crashing halt right outside the entrance to my partnerís workplace. The witness reports were truly harrowing. Nothing like this has ever happened here before.
It is a very sad day for Melbourne.
The reports claim the attack wasnít terror-related. It apparently started just up the road from here when the perpetrator attacked his brother during a family dispute, stabbing him in the face and leaving him for dead. No doubt there will be many from the estates who know him. No doubt drugs and mental issues were a factor as well.
Melbourne has been voted the worldís most liveable city for many years but events such as this expose a darker side to the city that such research polls donít factor into their surveys. Tragedy can strike anywhere, even here in Melbourne.
Iím reading again. Iíve had a real block for such a long time but Iíve broken the back of it and Iím really enjoying getting back into the habit. Iím also painting again. Despite having held back for the last couple of weeks I simply had to get back into the studio and pick up the brushes. I had high hopes of clocking up sixty or seventy hours for the month of January but even with the break Iím still on target to hit 40 hours. Iím embarking on the first panel of a triptych. I like working in threes.
My visit to the GP was a lot more upbeat today. Firstly, the pain has receded by at least 90%. Iím sleeping properly again. Further, my blood tests have come back. My cholesterol is bang on perfect. My blood sugars are in the normal range. My liver function is great. My heart is in really good shape. My blood pressure is absolutely spot on where it should be. And my pain has largely evaporated, although the numbness in my finger persists. That will still take time. I need to keep up with the physiotherapist but hey, things are looking up!
The physiotherapist was amazed at how much progress Iíve made since my last visit. She was able to get in and do the deep-tissue work that was out of the question a week ago. She warned me, after looking at the MRI scans, that thereís a possibility I may never recover full sensation in my finger. Weíll see. Iíve lost sensation in other parts of my body before, sometimes for months, but itís always returned. That said, Iím happy to focus on the positives. Lessons have been learned throughout all of this and that much I can be grateful for.
It feels good to be painting again. The last few months have been incredibly productive. Not everything Iíve produced has been great but Iím moving steadily forwards and the current work Iím doing promises to be the strongest Iíve produced in a while. Itís a great feeling when you realise youíve hit upon something and itís working. The current project is a commissioned set of three and it will essentially pay for my flight to London this year and hopefully most of my accommodation while Iím over there. All I need now is another commission to provide some spending money.
Our new neighbour was clearly settling in for the long haul. People had been arriving throughout the afternoon and into the early evening. The music was getting louder, as were the voices. Mindful that I go back to work tomorrow, I popped over around 9:30pm and explained how our bedroom was just over the wall from where the action was taking place. I didnít mean to be a killjoy, I just wondered if they could move it all indoors by 11:30pm? The response was so much better than Iíd imagined. By 11:00pm all was quiet. Diplomacy working at its best.
It was a pleasure to go back to work today and I love the fact that I feel this way about my job. Itís 40 years ago this year that I first stepped into a classroom as a student teacher and itís 36 years since I began teaching. And I still think itís the best job in the world. I work with such wonderful colleagues and teach such wonderful children. Yes, it can be draining at times but never is it dull and never do I lose sight of the privilege it is to work at such a fine school.
Yesterday was a staff day Ė professional development sessions, meetings, feedback from senior management, etc. On Monday, the new students arrive for an hourís induction and then go home. On Tuesday, all the students return from their holidays.
This the time of year when I piece together the new curriculum. Some things Iíll retain, some things Iíll re-jig and other things Iíll introduce for the first time. Thatís the great thing about being a primary art specialist; I have the freedom to innovate and reimagine things. Whatís even better, I work at a school that actively embraces and supports this approach.
My mind is still relatively uncluttered. Friday was but a dipping of the toes into the water. Soon I will be preoccupied with all the responsibilities and demands that working in an elite school (or any other school for that matter) entails. Today however, the sun is shining, the air is warm and the mood is decidedly summery. I have a good feeling about the school year ahead. I always begin the year with the belief that this will be the best one yet. That goes for my attitude to life in general. Life is for living and moving forward.
I never really wanted a poodle. I always thought they were poncy looking. My partner had other ideas. He was adamant that we have a poodle: a toy poodle.
That was four years ago.
For the last four years weíve had a toy poodle. A rather large toy poodle. We think she might be a miniature. Whatever. The point Iím trying to make is having lived with a poodle for the last four years I canít imagine life without her. Sheís called Lulu and sheís become central to our lives in a way I never imagined possible.
Such is life.
The end of the month coincides with the first day of teaching, and what a great day it was. By the end of the academic year I find myself yearning for peace and quiet. I become vaguely allergic to the sound of childrenís voices. But by the time the new academic year rolls around Iím all fired up again, with batteries restored and ideas flowing freely. I look forward to the very same voices that were beginning to irk me so, and the unbridled enthusiasm of the girls racing up the stairs to the art room Ė well, thatís pure magic.
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