Sunday Blog 21 – 23 January 2022

“No, not Lesley, it’s Lencie.”

Book Club, I’m trying to work it out now when it was, but I’m thinking 2006. We’re in Dymocks, Fremantle. The store is owned and run by a family, and the second son Clive is in our newly forming Book Club. I think it is about the third get-together. It is heaven. Each month Clive brings us actual books to look at and we squeal over them, get to touch them and then we decide on the one we will all read. A new member has joined – Lencie. We are a serious Book Club that reads every book and has detailed and sometimes heated discussions about what we thought about each one.

As I listen to her introduce herself, I think how often she must have had to explain the awkwardness of her birth name and how deftly and clearly she covered off on it. Lencie was a staunch Book Clubber from then until now. Some have come, some have gone but Lencie was committed. Clive alas left a long time ago and cut off our crack cocaine supply of new books to pore over for each Book Club.

I am almost positive it was her who articulated the standards for our Book Club. The title can’t be in bigger print than the author’s name, and raised lettering is usually to be avoided, especially if it’s gold. Over the decades we found this served us well.

Mind you, when we didn’t like a book, we would talk about that more than the ones we loved. And occasionally we have been blessed with the presence of the author who comes to debrief their book with us.

I remember the Book Club when Lencie announced she had found a lump on her breast. It wasn’t benign and she began the breast cancer treatment journey (how she hated that phrase – it’s really not a journey any of us would choose…) Those who have had the pleasure of knowing Lencie will agree she has the ability to articulate the difficult realities that others shy away from. She is direct and challenging while also curious and kind.

Thus my Book Club friend Lencie crossed over into my day job at the Health Consumers’ Council and she became a guest speaker at the December 2015 West Australian Clinical Senate. This is a gathering of engaged and caring health professionals who debate key topics. This one was called “The Patient will see you now – Thinking beyond accreditation to focus on the patient experience.” She and I were the only two non-clinical people on the day, but I knew Lencie would more than hold her own.

To quote from the final report:

Ms Wenden courageously delivered an enlightening account of her ‘roller coaster ride’ through the health system once diagnosed with breast cancer.

She described the health system as a big and at times impersonal beast – one in which it is often hard to feel seen and be heard. She shared that she often had excellent care, by excellent clinicians, and that the bad experiences related more to systemic than individual failures.

Highlighted throughout Lencie’s story was the lack of coordination across sites which included her file being lost in the system as she navigated treatment across 7 sites, none of which spoke to each other. The disconnect between hospitals GPs also impacted her care.

Additionally, complications were not addressed or picked up by staff and there were challenges with her ongoing medications.

Clinical Senate Report, December 2015, page 15

For “complications” read nightmares such as full-thickness radiation burns when her treatment was outsourced to a private clinic in the change-over when Fiona Stanley Hospital was being established. Everything that could go wrong with treatment always did with Lencie. At one point in her journey she posted an image that said “Fuck cancer, I survived the treatment!”

And then, around four years ago came the terminal diagnosis. The Lencie Bucket List was established, and as a member of Lencie’s chosen family, I joined in on a number of tasteful, fun and food-soaked outings.

Last Tuesday after a long-ish hospital admission she was told she wouldn’t last the day. She had also been told in the morning that her tumour markers were down and she could have 2-3 months left to go. It was a confusing, jarring experience for us around her, let alone for Lencie herself. Did she have 2-3 months or 24 hours? As it turns out, neither. She remains an oncology patient under palliative care, and the bumps and cracks between these teams were constantly evident. Her chosen family members and some family members too have been by her side, checking over and over again with the caring but somehow hamstrung treating team if the symptoms can’t be more relieved? She can’t be moved to the hospice so she has to stay on the cancer ward. They do their best, but it’s just a different way of caring.

I think back to her brave Clinical Senate presentation in 2015:

Lencie’s story identified the challenges clinicians also grapple with in relation to a large system, where consumers get lost and can feel like a number, not a person. She highlighted the many missed opportunities for better care through a lack of communication.

Clinical Senate Debate report, December 2015 page 16

Isn’t it a shame that not enough has changed between then and now? As I write she is still with us, and it’s so unclear if some of the comfort measures are actually prolonging the suffering. She is still here, but she’s no longer Lencie.

Rest easy dear Lencie. We will have an empty chair for you at our next Book Club meeting. It was your choice, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat and I was trying to comfort you a little in your last days reading it out loud to you. But you promptly fell fast asleep. You woke up eventually and said;

“That book is pretty dry isn’t it.”

A book fiend right to the end.

Safety of distance

Sunday Blog 20 – 16th Jan 2022

June 1999 leaving Perth to live happily ever after with my daughter’s father in Greece. Spoiler alert, happily ever after was done and dusted in eight months.

Recently I had lunch with my friend Trish, we hadn’t seen each other for some time. “Bring photos,” she said. I did and anticipated a joyous romp through old memories. After all, this is someone I have known since the 1980s.

Over lunch, we puddled through the photos, zigging and zagging back and forward across the decades and on occasions trying to remember who on earth the people were in the images. And yes, there was more than one 1980s photo of us dancing on tables.

Trish was the person I was able to seek refuge with when in 1999 at age 34 I found myself unexpectedly pregnant. To a rather Tall Greek Man I had met during my second academic year teaching in Greece. She welcomed me back to Perth where I hadn’t lived for more than a decade. I was five months pregnant and moved into her beautiful Guildford home. This is a suburb with old-world charm that felt a little reminiscent of Europe and helped me somewhat with the discombobulating period of transition. I had an uneventful pregnancy (well from a health perspective, anyway!) and birthed my daughter at a local hospital. I brought my daughter back home to Guildford when she was not six hours old. I stayed in Perth for seven months, the Tall Greek Man came for a visit and I planned to go back and join him, after attending a sister’s wedding.

I don’t recall ever seeing this photo that turned up over lunch. Trish had come along to farewell me at the airport and had taken this snap. There were other photos taken that day that show us with big smiles – one of me and my daughter is still on my mother’s mantelpiece. But this photo tells the truth of the horror of the moment of parting. This is how I really felt about an indeterminate long-term parting from my mother and family. I spoiled lunch a little by having a little weep when I stumbled across it. It’s taken a week to be able to look at it without crying.

Twenty-two years later we live in a world where international travel is still a very risky pursuit. Many people have been separated from loved ones for some or all of the last two years. I feel ridiculously grateful that I have my loved ones close at hand. With the safety of distance, I know that the pain of this indeterminate separation will turn out to be just 8 months. That my daughter would be raised here, that we built two decades of memories together.

Creativity – crushing joy or glorious mystery?

Sunday Blog 19 – 9 Jan 2022

So the first week back in the real world has come and gone, and the new 2022 diary I settled on in the absence of a Desire Map (see last week’s blog) has seen me soar to new habit heights in things such as flossing my teeth. I got 100% for that. Go me. But the key habit of all, writing? 3/7 days. Ba bow. I am beginning to have that week 2 of the year realisation that the personality revolution my 2022 journal promised still hasn’t happened.

Maybe because I didn’t listen to James Clear’s advice the way my blog indicated I had. Write two minutes a day? I had set myself the herculean task of writing five new scenes for my novel and while I wrote one I am quite happy with, it doesn’t now seem to work that well with the 32 others I already have. Nor does it fit with the high-level plan I created for version number who can say.

Lord knows I try to be a plotter – someone who has the discipline to plan out all my scenes prior to writing. But I am always and ever a pantser – someone who flies by the seat of their pants. Paddling around writing and editing scenes in an unholy mess that reminds me a bit of what my mother calls “rumbling” through her belongings. She sorts and piles and re-sorts until it is pretty much the same, but less organised somehow. A crushing chore.

Sigh. There’s always next week to get back to it and hope for a bit of glorious mystery!

2022 Resolutions…

Sunday Blog 18 – 2 Jan 2022

My Desire Map Journals from 2016-2021

For the last six years, I have used a Desire Map – an actual paper journal. The work of Danielle La Porte, the Desire Map methodology encouraged me to think about how I would feel once I achieved my goals. Sort of a feminine way of setting goals – turning them on their head by focusing on how they would make me feel once achieved. It also encouraged me to bring that feeling more into every day. It helped me stay in touch with both work commitments as well as my dreams for creativity, my home, loved ones, community. Pictured is my set of journals from 2016-2021.

In 2021 I was given the bombshell news by Ms La Porte that Desire Maps would no longer be produced. And just like that, the methodology just didn’t seem to work for me anymore. The weekly reflections I have long praised felt like an endless chore. It petered out in June. There was a brief reprise in October, but the die was cast. It made looking back on 2021 a little difficult – there were only snatches:

-A February trip to the seaside town of Busselton in the glorious warm of February in Western Australia (WA), when everyone has gone back to school and work. I am walking along the beach, darling husband is off for a long cycle. Our paths cross unexpectedly and he calls out to me, raises his arm in greeting in a way that lifts my heart.

-An almost perfect late March/April trip to Albany in the South of WA, staying in a cute cabin, my biggest issue that I haven’t bought enough warm things with me. It is usually so cold but every day was swimming weather.

-An April entry straight after letting me know the week of work washed away the break in no time.

-In September I am trying out other journals, knowing I need to find a Desire Map alternative. I am briefly excited about a journal that I think has caused a personality revolution and had helped me stop doing too much, but that was just a false alarm. Plus it was A4 and I just can’t be dealing with that.

-February and September entries both assure me that I probably need to leave my job to break the hypnosis of the overwhelm. Luckily, I eventually listened.

Cast adrift from Desire Mapping, I have become more and more enamoured of the work of James Clear on forgetting all about goals and thinking more about the habits you need to create to achieve those goals. As his quote highlights, we don’t rise to the level of our goals, we fall to the level of our systems. In his book Atomic Habits he advises “Don’t plan to run a marathon”, (I wasn’t, ever) “plan to be a runner.” Once the marathon is done the motivation to run disappears, but being a runner is forever (except in my case when it’s a not ever to the running thing.)

“Don’t plan to write a book”, (I am), “plan to be a writer”. Now he’s talking. He suggests you make the goal so small it can easily be achieved. Write for two minutes a day. And once the habit is there, you can expand it and develop it.

So here’s to binning New Years’ Resolutions and building good habits instead!


Sunday Blog 17, 26 December 2021

Gottman Sound Relationship House

‘Tis the season for being in close contact with family and/or chosen family and perhaps conflict is something that is top of your mind.

It’s on the top of mine, as I have been attending an 8-week Relationships Australia course entitled Building Better Relationships with my beloved. Much of it is based on the work of John Gottman et al, the researchers who observed thousands of couples. They were able to determine, with 94% of accuracy, which couples will have a healthy relationship versus those who will split or stay unhappily partnered. The marker they identified was the “Four Horses of the Apocalypse” aka negative communication patterns of criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. When these become embedded, the relationship suffers.

69% was a figure I could not get out of my head during this course. It is the percentage of conflicts in an intimate relationship that are not solvable. They literally cannot be solved (because opposites attract, right?) and can only be managed. It normalised the reality that staying partnered can be hard, and bringing attention to how we communicate with each other is a game-changer.

It took five of the eight weeks of the course before we were allowed to get onto conflict, as we needed to build up the positive habits of truly getting to know your partner, sharing fondness and admiration, responding when your partner makes a bid for your attention, support or comfort. Then there’s giving your partner the benefit of the doubt, not rushing to be offended or criticise.

Then you can start tackling conflict. There is 31% of solvable conflict you can start nibbling around the edges. Then you begin to tackle the unsolvable ones, like differing levels of tidiness, ways of handling money. You bite off this big chunk by exploring what is underneath your partner’s attitude e.g. towards money. Then it can transform your conversations, but the differences will remain.

I even have a lovely shade sail out the back, shifting a previously gridlocked conversation between my darling partner and me. By completing our week 5 homework we moved right through to the other side.

Anyhoo, this 8-week course is literally the best $180 I have ever spent.

Merry Christmas!

Transition versus change

Sunday Blog 16, 19 December 2021

Peering at me through the screen was my counsellor who lives some 400 kilometres away. Thanks to the wonder of modern science she is available to support me. I called on her to pick up the pieces after my experience, detailed last week, when a 2018 journal entry sucker-punched me into understanding that it was time to leave my job. Begin to untangle the threads of what is me and what is my day job.

Seven years ago I took on the role of Executive Director at the Health Consumers’ Council in Western Australia. Almost immediately I began thinking about how long was the right time to have a role like that. Five to seven years was a common marker I referred to. As this metaphorical deadline approached, the internal whisper for change had become a roar.

“Have you heard of William Bridges Transitions?my counsellor asked. I hadn’t. I ordered it immediately and like a miracle, the hard copy arrived the next day. Drowning in the waves of turmoil, I had already downloaded the kindle and audible version just to be sure. I was clinging to this liferaft, still at the stage of wondering whether I just needed a lot of day naps or whether my time was really truly up. His book was a lighthouse that illuminated that the stuckness I was feeling is a key sign that transition is in the wings.

“Every transition begins with an ending,” Bridges told me. He encouraged me to think back on transitions in my life, and how I have handled endings. It’s fair to say that hurtling headlong into the next adventure and failing to understand the importance of a transition would sum up my approach.

This time I am protected by the reality that you can’t walk away from a leadership role like this in five minutes, or even a month. I have a plan. I am transitioning into the Acting Deputy Director role in the second week of January, and then off the permanent payroll by 31st March. After then I will likely contract back to the organisation, tackling the many fee-for-service projects we are constantly approached about. Between and now there will be loss, sadness, joy, excitement often in the same hour. I’ll consciously begin with the ending. I’ll sit with the messy middle of the transition and the (consciously, slowly) allow the next stage to unfold. Unless of course something really bright and shiny comes along and I revert to type and hightail after it!

Saved by the journal?

Sunday Blog 15, 12 December 2021

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself in a funk. With the wise words of Tara Brach in my head, I thought I would seek true refuge in journalling. Not a false refuge (e.g. bingeing on Netflix, drinking wine, compulsively numbing through doing, working my way through an impossibly large to-do list) but a true refuge. My journals have been my companion for four decades now. Their pages let me wrestle with my raging emotions and detangle the knots of heartache, shame, failure, confusion.

Journals are also the place I can go to unlock a feeling of calm and wellbeing, unleashed just by the act of my pen moving across the page.

So I reached for my journal anticipating this calm, but it fell open at a 2018 entry. The paragraph my eye fell on was almost word for word what I was just about to write. The journal sucker-punched me with the realisation that I am stuck in the hamster wheel of work, spinning faster and faster but getting nowhere.

I began to laugh, then cry, then just ugly cry. Later that day I recollected I had the recently published Burnout: The Secret to Solving the Stress Cycle on my kindle. What leapt out at me was the sentence “Stress is not bad for you; being stuck is bad for you.”

Indeed. And so my journal has propelled me on this journey of discovery to find out what my life needs to look like to get off that darned hamster wheel. Stay tuned.

The next generation…

This is the mosaic image I used on the cover of my memoir Not My Story. Because when the vase breaks we can fix it and leave it looking vulnerable or we can create a mosaic, that uses all the broken pieces (and maybe some new ones) and rearranges them in a sturdy, transformed, stunning new framework which is stronger, beautiful and different from before.

Sunday Blog 14, 28th November 2021

Here’s a warning – this post talks about violence against women. If this is not what you want to think about just now, please take care of yourself and scroll on.

As part of my day job, I was invited to a roundtable to create a new strategy for the prevention of violence against women. It felt quite frustrating because no matter how well thought-through that policy may be, the end result is a document. Creating a policy is a bit like creating a diet plan you intend to follow but it’s certainly not actually lost weight. It is only the potential or promise of losing weight. And we all know how difficult it is to lose and keep weight off.

Policy feels like an alternative to doing something that would make real change for women. Like politicians or even Prime Ministers wearing white ribbons and simultaneously de-funding women’s refuges.

I want to create an alternative to our current system where the gaps between police, victim support, health and justice services are reduced from yawning chasms to small, easily navigable steps. Where reporting an assault doesn’t mean agreeing to put yourself into a legal blender and be pulverized in the hope of an outcome that sees justice served and possibly safety for other women.

I may or may not have made a bit of a pest of myself throughout the session, suggesting that a policy might not be as important as an action plan of the many past recommendations from Inquiries that are yet to be implemented (a bit like those retained kilos.) I don’t consider these insights on gaps in the system and trauma by the justice system to be new revelations, or in any way unknown to policymakers and funders. It’s hard for me to see why action can’t happen right now.

Throughout the morning I insisted on how important it is to ensure people with lived experience are involved every step of the way of new policies and services. That we are at the decision-making table and shape the service from the inside out as true, equal partners. To highlight that the answer to every problem is not necessarily a service run by professionals with qualifications (learned experience) but also programs and initiatives run by those who have survived and have practical insights, and who embody a message of the hope of post-traumatic growth (lived experience).

What was so wonderful for me that morning was spotting the woman who has been working on the Young Women Against Sexual Violence initiative. Getting introduced, exchanging cards. Losing her card and finding it again a week later.

It’s nearly twenty years since I survived this experience and seven years since I self-published my memoir on the topic. I have since posted a copy of my book to her. We’re going to start to meet up. I may not be invited back to the next government policy conversation but at least I can re-connect with the grassroots work happening right now to support women.

Twenty years ago…

Sunday Blog 13, 21 November 2021

I moved into my new little cottage I had recently bought. Only I wasn’t sure if I was buying the cottage or it was claiming me – it had felt like home from the moment I saw it just four weeks earlier. I was making a permanent home for my then three-year-old daughter who had lived in two continents and six houses in her short life. I would meet my fate just days after when the man who lived across the road invited me over for a cup of tea. I would fall in love with him over that cup of tea. Six months after that I would meet another fate when a man crept in through the unlocked back door and assaulted me.

Would I change that fate? Would I relinquish the husband I eventually secured after seven years of convincing him marriage would be a great idea?

Would I change the expansion of my understanding from the narrow circle of privilege? I had emerged from a sheltered childhood and adulthood of opportunity. This horror had enlarged this narrow circle to something a bit more aligned with what many people go through day after day, year after year.

No, I would not change my fate. But I still take a moment each year to feel the sadness of being at the end of an unprovoked attack, in the wrong place in someone else’s messed up life trajectory.

And understand I will never live in that house again.

Books are replaceable…

My copy of Pride and Prejudice missing since 1997 in Salonika –
very similar to the copy of Persuasion in this picture -have you seen it??

Sunday Blog 12 – 14th November 2021

So said author and bookstore owner Ann Patchett, when talking on The Australian ABC’s Bookshelf podcast in a recent episode. It struck me as true, in a very brutal real way. “What that book has to give me, it has given me” – once the story is told, the ideas shared, the book itself is a husk that can be re-gifted.

When I left my flat after six years in London and traveled to Greece in 1996, I left most of my books, but I did take my hardback copy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with me. It soothed me to re-read it, and I figured having spent just four weeks learning how to be a teacher before getting my first teaching English as a foreign language gig in Greece, well, I would need some soothing.

Almost immediately on my arrival in Greece, I knew I should have packed the whole bookshelf. Getting hold of something good to read in Greece in that far away pre-Google, very-early internet world was an expensive and often fruitless endeavour. I re-read Pride and Prejudice because yes, I needed soothing but also because I often had nothing much else to read.

Another feature of mid-1990s Greece was that phone boxes were a big part of my life. I had no mobile, no landline, just public phone boxes at my disposal. Buying a phone card from the kiosk, dialling the many numbers to reach the other side of the world, not getting it all said before the phone card ran out – these were regular occurrences. Back and forth I might go sometimes, between phone and kiosk, trying to get all the conversations I needed to have.

One particularly trying day in a particularly trying period (the teaching was every bit as hard as you would expect, with such a short training course) I had my sacred copy of Pride and Prejudice with me when I made the trek to the phone box. Somehow in the miasma of unfinished conversations and a fug of homesickness, I walked away from the phone box, leaving the book there.

It took me a few blocks to realise, and I rushed back breathless – it was gone. I know if it had been me who arrived at that phone booth I would have stashed it away like so much gold and scurried back home as soon as I could.

Once I left Greece and returned to Australia, I was once again able to immerse myself in books. I read many more different books and learned the truth of Ann Patchett’s pronouncement. Books are replaceable.

But still, if anyone has seen it out there, do let me know…