Tuesday, 25 February 2014

What they wrote

Here are a couple of extracts from the journal (sisters) Pam and Annie wrote the year Annie was dying. We're launching the journal on Sunday: Fields of Gold.

ANNIE                                                       Sunday 20 April 2003
Last night the kids were here. There was music playing, the sounds of whistling and chopping, cooking noises, recipes being changed. I was in front of the fire under the mohair rug. And I tell you what: I was in heaven, or pretty close to it, about five kilometres away. Sometimes I wonder: why didn’t I come to this place earlier? Then I remember – oh, that’s right!

Graham says he’s noticed some frailty in me. And there is, at times. In the mornings sometimes, the tears come – just pop out. This morning they came. I wet Graham’s pillow. But they weren’t hot tears. They were cool by the time they hit the pillow. And I think, it’s only ten days since I had the treatment. I was told I would feel terrible. But I haven’t been trampled by an elephant; I’ve been trampled by a sheepdog.

PAM                                                  Sunday 18 January 2004
Life has been far from straightforward. At times I feel like I’m in a paper boat, bobbing on a current, which takes me anywhere it pleases. At other times it’s felt like I’m under an ever-changing sky. I look up and find there’s been a dramatic shift. And I’ve had absolutely nothing to do with it.

I’ve been wrestling with the question of how to give expression to my own needs and feelings when I’m with Annie. A week ago I was feeling dismantled and, consequently, distant from her and me. Lots of crying.

Now, three days on, I think there is no place for any of this while Annie is alive. I was almost appalled that I would take any measure of sorrow into my interaction with her.

And now, as I write that, the pendulum has swung again. How could sorrow not be present? And so the sky changes. My boat sails on.


Friday, 21 February 2014

'seizing a pencil was a desperate act'

RMB: Pam, late last year you presented in Glasgow at a conference on ‘“Attentive Writing”: Healthcare, Authorship, and Authority’. Thank you for letting me turn a little of your presentation into a dialogue between the two of us (Penelope/RMB and Pam Morrison). I’m sorry if I’ve left you sounding even more lyrical than you are in actual conversation (but you wrote these lovely words). In it you were drawing on your own story, which we’re soon to publish as Fields of Gold: co-writing with your sister Annie McGregor the year-long journey towards her death.

PM: It’s the story of how we together found a way to navigate life’s most certain and possibly most cruel reality: You will lose the people that you love. Though the story is ultimately about death, primarily it is about life. Terminal illness is cruel, but it also potentially invites in grace, gratitude and courage. And love.

RMB: You’re from Dunedin New Zealand where you’re a counsellor in private practice and a lecturer in social services and counselling. 

PM: Yes, and in both of these roles I encourage reflective writing as a useful, sometimes vital, therapeutic tool. 

RMB: I know you as a uniquely lyrical creative writer and song-writer.  So perhaps in a sense it was natural for you to turn to writing when you learned that your beloved sister was dying?

PM: I wrote my first entry on 12 March 2003, three days after receiving news of Annie’s diagnosis of secondary liver cancer. Seizing a pencil was a desperate act to make some scrawls on paper about a reality that felt too big, too crazy, too unthinkable to absorb. Annie lived in a different city, and the journal came with me when I visited her one week later. Within three days, we had decided this would be a shared repository. It became our own illuminated manuscript. 

RMB: Has the decision to publish been a hard one?

PM: A long one! It hasn’t been an easy decision. But I have come to see that this is both a unique story and a universal one. The details are mine and Annie’s; the themes may well have resonance for many. For illness, loss and grief always take place in the context of relationship.

What we offer in Fields of Gold is an insiders’ view. We were not researchers. We were sisters who were set reeling by an unforeseen event. The journaling, which came about almost by accident, was our instinctive response to the shocking intrusion of cancer into our lives.

The journals have lived for a decade on my bookshelf at home. The content was typed up and shared with friends and family while Annie was still alive. It was then shared with an ever-widening circle of people.

Now with Annie’s express blessing before she died, the journals come alive again, marking the tenth anniversary of her death on 10 March 2003.

RMB: Thank you, Pam. Dear readers, Fields of Gold will be published on 2 March. 

Monday, 10 February 2014

Publishing in the south

Like Ratty below, we've been heading south over the last week, pulling onto the roadside as needed to attend to Rosa Mira business. Yesterday we reached Dunedin. It's good to have the new 10k books out in the world and if you've missed them by any chance, they're summed up here: yes, here.

The first reader review is in for Albatross. Dusty Sandison from New Brunswick writes: "Three thoughtful stories that share the pained thread of grief, regret, remorse — and hope. The writer delves into relationships with friends, strangers, family and self that are touching, even heartbreaking, and make you look inward and examine your own journey in life."

Ratty drives south. I used to have a VW this colour — hand painted with roof paint. I miss it. Let me know if you have a Beetle for sale.
This month, I have my head down preparing Rosa Mira's next exceptional publication, Fields of Gold, subtitled: Celebrating Life in the Face of Cancer, A story of two sisters. It's the journal, written over the course of a year, of two remarkable women, one of whom is dying. Pam Morrison wrote for both herself and sister Annie McGregor, recording their shock, love, bafflement, humour, deep respect, grief  — the rich life that flowed between them. I'll be saying more about it in the coming weeks, and introducing you to Pam who lives here in Dunedin.