Sunday, 15 November 2009

The Powerful Pen

Dumping baggage, chemotherapy and notebooks

There have been many times when I’ve started to write about one thing and found myself writing about something that I didn’t even know was in my head. It sounds as if the pen is magic but I suspect it’s more to do with my sub-conscious. Be it magic or sub-conscious activity, it’s a particularly useful way of dealing with a troubled mind, with worries and problems that won’t let you think clearly. It’s a way of dumping your baggage. Just sit down and write about everything that is worrying you. It's best to use a notebook, then you can close the book and your worries are safely held inside. You don’t have to be a writer to do it. It doesn’t matter about spelling or grammar. You’re the only person who need look at it and so you can write what you like, when you like. There are no rules – except maybe that the notebook should be a cheap one. I once made the mistake of buying a beautifully bound notebook which is still on my shelf, unused, pristine. It was just too beautiful to sully with my problems.

I’ve been filling up a lot of notebooks recently. On Monday my husband, Rod, starts his third course of chemotherapy. It looks as if this will now be a regular feature in his life to try and control his body’s production of Amyloids (sticky platelets). His first course was in June 2008. He was given a bag full of pills which he had to take in varying amounts on different days of the week in 28 day cycles for three months. The treatment was referred to as CDT which stands for cyclophosphamide, dexamethasone and thalidomide. I was shocked to hear the word thalidomide again after all these years. The specialist warned us that it could cause peripheral nerve damage. That made sense. I clearly remember being horrified by the headline news stories in the early 1960s of all those babies who had been born with malformed arms and legs and shuddered at the thought of Rod having to take that same drug. Before he started the course the specialist read out a form which Rod (aged 65) had to sign in his presence. It was all very serious and solemn. He had to declare that he would not have any relationships with any women of child bearing age while he was taking the pills.
‘You mean, it’s ok for him to do so after he’s finished the pills?’ I wanted to say but I didn’t. Now was not for time for flippancy. When I got home I told my notebook all about it, using angry, vitriolic words in the safe knowledge that this writing was for my eyes only. Logic says that it should have made no difference to how I felt but it did make a difference. It really did.

My notebook doubles as a writer’s notebook and so in-between my rants are funny snippets of conversations overheard when I’m out and about, descriptions of fascinating people I see on the streets, special events that I want to remember. I sometimes browse through old notebooks for ideas (yet another way of avoiding doing any real writing!) and I’m often amazed at how many little snippets of good or funny events are slotted into the times that I thought were filled with only bad.

I’ve included a few extracts from my notebooks below – but not the really private vitriolic rantings. Like I said, they’re for my eyes only.

My notebook extracts:

20.04.07 Pegging washing on the line when a small squirrel saw me and froze. He stared at me. I stared at him. I could see a free, wild look in his eyes. I wonder what he saw in mine.

15.04.08 Kangeroos don’t really like boxing. They hate contact sports. [No, I don’t know what it means either!]

14.07.09 It’s weird how we say How are you? when we meet. We don’t really want to know. Can you imagine if we all started going on about our troubles? [I developed this idea into a poem which turned into quite a therapeutic activity for me. Not sure if it will make sense to anyone else but I’ve included it below anyway.]

How am I?
I glance at a reflection of a face.
There's a family likeness, my mother perhaps.
My face is not so pale, or
tired, or lined.
I'm right… aren't I?

Ask me about the back of my
I know them.
They're wrinkled, liver spotted.
They work hard.

Ask me about my feet,
The corn on my little toe,
The aching
The thickened nails.

But don't ask me about me.
You see,
if I dwell on who I truly am
I will be reminded of my fragility,
My transience.

So let me busy myself with daily tasks,
Fill my mind
with the banal,
The cat, the dog,
Cooking, cleaning,
To avoid a space in my head
For being aware of me.


  1. We could all do with a magic pen like yours...!! Love you both loads xxxx

  2. I can really relate to this post as I have a cupboard full of old notebooks and can't really cope without a notebook in my bag. Recently I've become more disciplined, however, and have a separate notebook for each of the novels I'm working on. Wishing you both well.

  3. Best wishes to you both. I could do with a magic cleaner that would clean and tidy up behind me! About when people say "how are you?", you are so right!! Love Karan X


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