Writing About Family and Friends.

Authors: keep your writing from causing problems with your family and friends.

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Writing about family can be fraught with danger. The last thing you want to do as a writer is offend or alienate your family, especially if things are already fragile in some way.

 

That poses a challenge: what happens when there’s something you desperately want to write about? For starters, writers should know to always, always change names and details.  If possible, don’t mention names at all. Even when writing about positive feelings or experiences, people who aren’t used to putting themselves out into the public eye might hesitate to have something written about them and published. A great idea for a story or poem should never be pursued at the cost of an important relationship.

 

When I do write something about friends or family, I make sure they’ve seen it first, and I tell them I’m going to publish it. That way, they can’t say they didn’t know.

 

For example, I recently wrote a poem after two completely separate events: one was the wedding of my nephew, the other was a conversation with a friend who had recently lost her own nephew in tragic circumstances.  The poem, titled My Child, does not mention anyone by name, nor does it mention those particular situations. It is an expression of my feelings – and my friend’s feelings – for those whom we have loved, held, and helped to raise.  This is what I sent to “my children” and to my friend, well over a week before I posted it. That same text is what I posted on my writing blog where I published the poem today. Poem My Child

 

The other alternative, of course, if you feel you must write about something or someone, is to disguise the situation and details enough so they don’t know it’s about them. I’ve written plenty of poems about broken friendships, people in my life who have been determined to cause me trouble, and others who really deserve some special treatment from Karma, but it’s always been presented as me facing an invisible, unnamed challenger or enemy… or a certain black cat named Friday who metes out justice to people who really deserve it. It is not possible for anyone to identify who I was writing about at the time, and that’s a very good thing.

As a writer, it’s important to protect oneself. The last thing you want is something coming back to haunt you.

 

And if you’re a friend or family member of a writer,  remember that age old piece of advice: Never annoy a writer, or they might put you in a book and kill you. It’s true. 

 

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Things I Have Learned In 2017.

They say you should keep on learning until you die. Measuring by this list, I’m not dead yet.

 

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These are the important lessons I’ve learned in 2017:

 

  • Anyone who supports you, champions your cause, and/or loves you unconditionally is worth their weight in gold.
  • I am very blessed to have a number of people in my life who are worth more than their weight in gold.
  • Not everyone who says “I love you”, “Congratulations”, or “Thank you, that means so much”, actually means it.
  • It is entirely possible to encourage another person when you are feeling completely discouraged yourself.
  • Integrity matters far more than the words that come out of someone’s mouth. Those words, though, can be a fairly good indication of  integrity – or the lack thereof.
  • There are some things which should be left in the past: do not let them define the present.
  • There are some things which some folk will never understand. That doesn’t mean they don’t matter; it means it’s a waste of time and energy trying to talk with them about it or hoping they will change.
  • I will most likely continue to trust people and assume their “goodness” far too readily, and that will most likely continue to backfire on me. Apparently, there are some lessons I never learn.

One Way

  • Just because I often find myself on a one-way street doesn’t mean I have to unpack and live there forever.
    I am learning to see the signs and walk away.
  • There is no shame in tears. They are natural, and they are necessary.
  • People talk about “grace” far too easily. Showing grace to the undeserving is hard, painful, and usually invisible.
  • There is, in fact, an ear piercing that helps with chronic pain.

My Father’s Childhood Memories of Christmas

Today, I took the opportunity to ask Dad what Christmas was like for him when he was young.

I spent some time in the car with my father today, and as we travelled the presenter on the radio was asking people to call in and talk about family memories and traditions at Christmas time. This was a great opportunity to ask Dad what Christmas was like for him when he was young, so that’s exactly what I did! 

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My father grew up in Holland during the Depression and World War II. His family were not really poor, but neither were they rich. My grandfather worked very hard to provide for his family, and both he and my grandmother managed their resources carefully. 

The house was usually not decorated much for Christmas, but they did have a Christmas tree lit with candles. Dad also remembers the large fir trees that were put up in the churches, almost as tall as the roof.  Some were lit with electric lights, but most were lit with candles. As many churches were built of wood, this was a cause of many fires. I can understand how the sight of such a big tree, lit and decorated, in a church would imprint itself on the memory of a young lad. 

Christmas was a time when family would visit and often put on Christmas plays for one another. It was usually the children, but sometimes grownups too, who  would act out  the story of the first Christmas or plays about Sinterklaas and his companion, Swarte Piet.  A play like this was usually the only observance of the St Nicholas tradition in my father’s family, although for some Dutch families, Sinterklaas is almost as big a celebration as Christmas itself. By the time Dad was a teenager, it was more common for people to listen to stories or plays on the radio than to perform them at home for their relatives.

 

Gifts were generally not exchanged by adults, but the children received a book as a gift.  Dad also remembers that this was the time of year when children of a certain age – probably 11 or 12 years old – were presented  with a Bible of their own by the Sunday School of their church. 

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I can’t imagine how strange their first Christmas in Australia must have seemed to them in 1951. Even then, it would have been such a world away from how we celebrate Christmas now. Commercialism and materialism have seen to that.

2013-12-24-19-07-20.jpgHaving just turned 86, Dad celebrates Christmas on the other side of the world in the heat of summer, with trees illuminated by LED lights, a plethora of Christmas movies and ‘Carols by Candlelight’ concerts on TV . Family is still a focal point for all of us – my grandparents’ values have been firmly imprinted on us in that way, even if we do indulge in giving and receiving gifts that are generally luxuries. Dad, his sisters, and their families are spread across this enormous continent, so visiting happens via Skype and phone calls, while photos and news are shared on social media. 

I do like to think, though, that there is still a sense of wonder at a pretty Christmas tree being lit up at night, and I hope that people stop to hear and reflect on the story of Christmas that goes beyond reindeer, presents and “being good”.

 

On Realising How Awful I Look. 

A day with family, holding a brand new baby, can make you see things from a new perspective.

I spent most of today with family, welcoming my new great-nephew to the family. It was a day full of love, laughter and baby cuddles… and lots of photos. 

Holding my beautiful baby boy made me overflow with all sort of love. Seeing my 86 year old dad holding him made us all more than a little emotional. Another picture of four generations – my dad, my brother, a niece and a baby boy – is a wonderful blessing that many families don’t see. 

I have also observed multiple times today how awful I look. That has been my first reaction to every photo I am in. 

In addition to chronic pain and depression, too many months of anguish, stress and anxiety have taken their toll. I have cried every day for at least 250 days. I have feared and I have despaired. And it shows. 

BUT I have also survived. It doesn’t really matter how crapful I end up looking. I’m stronger than everything that has tried and still tries to bring me down.

My heart and soul have bled onto pages and screens, but my words have touched, encouraged and inspired people on the way. My writing have been praised, and my books have won awards. 

So when you look at me or see pictures and think I don’t look so great, you just remember that I’ve earned it.

Raising Her Right.

Today I received the most beautiful photos…

Today I received the most beautiful photos from a friend whose young niece was reading my book to her.
Adorable – AND smart! She knows good poetry when she sees it!

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That’s raising her right. A+ parenting!

 

My Canadian brother from another mother.

I have a friend that I love a lot. We live thousands of kilometres apart, but we spend part of every day talking with each other. It’s a beautiful friendship that has grown out of a chance meeting, a random response to a random tweet.

When I visited Canada last year, I spent some time at Sean’s house.
I remember we were both nervous about finally meeting each other after talking online for so long, but that first hug was just incredible. The next few days were proof that our friendship was real. Even our partners commented on how it seemed like Sean and I had known each other forever.

On the morning that we left, the mood was sombre. Goodbyes were tearful. As I was about to go, he said, “Please don’t leave.”

My response was immediate and honest. “I’ll never completely be gone. You’re my brother now. I’ll be back.”

When I do go back in September this year, Sean and I are going to have our own little adoption ceremony. What we have is a friendship more valuable than we ever realised it would be when we started joking with one another on Twitter way back when.

Today, when I signed into the instant messenger that we both use, I found these words from him.

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He may have known how timely his words were, but I don’t think he realises just how healing and restoring it was to read these words after a tough week in which I had confronted some tough challenges, both professionally and personally.

It’s so incredibly good to know you have someone who has your back, no matter what critics and problems life might throw at you. Sean is by no means the only one of my friends who does that, but I wouldn’t want to be without him. He has his own very special place in my heart, and nobody could replace him.

Thank you, Sean, from the bottom of my heart, for your words and for being an amazing friend and brother.

Acc-cen-tu-ate the positive, e-lim-in-ate the negative…

I was reading a newsletter in my school staff email this morning when one paragraph really caught my attention.

“Can you remove yourself from people who are negative or holding you back?
The quality of our lives will depend on the quality of people with whom we surround ourselves… It is a sign of our maturity to identify any negative effects of others and then have the courage to remove ourselves from that influence.” (Vital Staff, 2015, 14)

This is a truth that many people don’t realise.

I’m not just talking about people who don’t like your haircut or the way you dress. I’m not even talking about people who don’t share your views on politics or religion. I’m talking about those people who bitch, backstab, undermine, conspire and manipulate so that people they perceive as “powerful” will see and treat others in a negative and often quite destructive way.

I know the effects certain negative people have had on my life in the past, both personally and professionally. I’ve seen friendships and relationships eroded gradually until they no longer exist. I’ve seen different people nearly bring down a church, a school, a family. It’s ugly. It’s an incredibly awful thing to experience.

I’ve also experienced the benefits of removing those people from my life. It hasn’t been easy, nor has it been painless, but it has been totally worth it.

Negativity is a cancer that attacks and weakens from within. We often can’t detect it working away under the surface, threatening to overtake and kill the very thing it’s feeding on.

When we do realise it’s there, the best way to treat it is to cut it out and leave it behind. We can’t afford to allow it to continue to grow, because it will gradually choke the joy, and then the life, out of us.

I can hear some of you thinking, “But wait. You’re a Christian. Aren’t you supposed to love and forgive and all that?”

Sure. Love and forgiveness are at the top of the list of ways in which we’re meant to treat other people.

However, that doesn’t mean we have to allow people to continue behaving in ways that are hateful and harmful to themselves and others. How is it showing love to someone if others just let them destroy every relationship they have? How is it forgiving or restoring them if there’s no stand against the behaviours that will eventually destroy both them and other people?

So, when it comes to my friendships, relationships, and interactions with other people, I will continue to choose to surround myself with the positive and constructive, and excise the negative. I can, and will, continue to remove the negative people from my life.

There’s no compulsion for you to follow suit. There’s no obligation for you to keep me in your friends list if you think I have a negative effect on you.

I know not everyone will like me. I realise that even the people who like me don’t like everything I do or say. It would be naive of me to think otherwise.
You know what? I’m entirely okay with that. I don’t need to be liked by everyone. I don’t need a fan club. And I am more than happy to accept that there are some who will be much happier without me. That’s life.

I do not desire to be everything to everyone. At some point earlier in my life I did, but I have long stopped trying to achieve that, because I found out the hard way that it simply isn’t possible. That’s a sure-fire recipe for heartbreak.

What I do desire is for the people close to me to continue to be positive and constructive in my life.

I relish the freedom to choose who and what will speak into my life and influence my thoughts and actions, and the freedom to be who I am without always looking over my shoulder, afraid of the judgement and negativity of others.

“Going home!”

Last night,  my father-in-law was transferred from the specialist hospital in Melbourne to our regional hospital because he is no longer critical. For someone who the doctors weren’t convinced would survive his injuries until ten days ago, he has come a very, very long way.

When I called in to visit him after work tonight, some of the family were still there. It was nice to see Mum looking so much more relaxed, and everyone happier now that Dad is improving and responding more frequently. I’ve heard from others that Dad has tried to say a few words, but sometimes they didn’t know what he was trying to say, but I haven’t been there when it happened, until tonight.

As I was about to leave, I said “Night Dad, I’m going home.” He turned his head and looked directly at me, raised his eyebrows and said, “Going home!”  His words were slurred the way a man talks after seventeen beers, but definite. He had responded directly and verbally to me.

There are no words for that feeling. I had tears. I wanted to sing, I wanted to cheer, and I wanted to hug everyone in the room. I knew they were all feeling it, too. I didn’t really know what to do, so I just smiled and said to him, “Yes, I’m going home. I’ll come back and see you tomorrow after work.” He looked pretty happy with that, so I smiled and squeezed his hand.

After being part of this family for 25 years, and working side by side on the farm with him for 15 of them, it’s wonderful to know that he still knows who I am, and that I’m still special to him. Even more wonderful is that we still have our beloved Dad whom we have very nearly lost twice to accidental head injuries after a fall.

Maybe we won’t have to cancel Christmas this year after all.

To mourn with those who mourn…

To mourn with those who mourn…

On Wednesday, February 12, Luke Batty was killed by his father on a cricket field in Tyabb, an outlying suburb of Melbourne. The tragedy unfolded further when the boy’s father threatened police with a knife and was shot in self-defence. The entire scene played out in front of horrified onlookers including the boy’s mother and a number of his friends and schoolmates.  Thankfully, most of the children who had participated in cricket training had already gone home. 

My heart breaks for Luke’s mother, family and friends. I have no words for their loss or their pain. 
I mourn for the loss of innocence of his school mates and all who witnessed his brutal death. Things will never be quite the same for them, especially school and cricket practice.

I also grieve for the police officers who had to attend such a horrible event, witness the death of a child, and shoot a man in self defence. They are traumatised, too.

Luke was a student at the school where four members of my family work.  I grieve for each of them. I grieve for his teachers and for everyone in that school community. It has rocked the whole community – and so it should.

I spent today at my school’s swimming carnival, looking at the kids having fun, playing around, swimming races, encouraging and cheering each other on… and I thought, “You know… that could be us. How would we deal with it? How on earth would we hold our school community together after such an event?”

The answer: only by the grace of God, with the love of God. 
And there, but for His grace and love, go we. 

I wanted to tell every one of the kids at the swimming pool today how amazing, how unique, how special they are.  Most of them hadn’t heard about what happened to Luke. They would have either thought I’d gone slightly mad or been more than a little freaked out by it.  So I kept my grief and my feelings to myself, save for one friend I confided in. I smiled at the kids, encouraged and praised them, and did all I could to give them a great day.

It may seem odd to grieve over someone I’ve never met and who I didn’t even know existed until yesterday, but the death of this young boy is a reason our nation and our whole society should mourn. 

Love your children, people. Cherish them. Make memories with them. Nurture and encourage them. Fill them with hope, courage, strength and love. 

God knows, it’s a sad, sorry, broken world we live in.

My mother’s daughter.

A couple of weeks ago I posted some photos of my parents on their wedding day with a reflection about the legacy they left their children. Scroll down and you’re sure to find it.  I meant every word of what I wrote, and I love my parents dearly. I don’t want there to be any misunderstanding about that. 

Since then, however, I’ve experienced something of a strange conflict. So many people – many more than I ever expected – have commented how much I look like my mother. That’s not a bad thing at all, but I’ve never really thought myself to look like her.

 
I know I get my colouring from her. My dad’s side of the family are pretty much all your stereotypical Dutch blondies, except for my Auntie Margaret whose hair was a lovely nutty brown. She still has the ‘Dutch’ blue eyes though.  My dark hair and hazel-green eyes almost definitely come from Mum’s side of the family. 
I’ve always thought that my face was more like Dad’s side. Especially in the department of facial expressions, that is certainly true.  
Both my aunts and my cousins Michael and Geanette share a cheeky grin with me that I know without a doubt came from Dad’s side of the family. 
My Auntie Trish used to give us “the look” that communicated that she meant business, and we knew to take it seriously.  It involved a straight mouth and an arched eyebrow.  It wasn’t until I was about 20 that it occurred to me that I had inherited “the eyebrow” from her. I realised by accident one day when I was plucking my eyebrows – I arched my eyebrow and actually intimidated myself. True story.  Now I use “the eyebrow” to communicate my displeasure to my students when they deserve it, and it’s equally effective – perhaps even better. Not everyone has an eyebrow with superpowers. 
 
So what’s with people telling me I look like my mother? And why does that bother me so much?  I honestly have no idea.  My mother was an only child, and I never met her mother, so I don’t have much family on that side to compare with. 
I clearly remember some of her uncles, aunts and their children, and I know I don’t really look anything like them. Mum’s cousin Helen was really pretty, and her dad, my great-uncle Charlie had the cheekiest grin I’ve ever known and loved. His brother Mick had the second cheekiest grin I’ve ever known and loved. Her Aunt Enid and Aunt Anne (known as Judy) were beautiful women. I remember their visits with much happiness. They were always impeccably dressed and made up, and they smelt beautiful. They talked with me like I wasn’t a child, and I loved the fact that we had intelligent conversations about all sorts of things. I felt so grown-up with them. I loved them more than I probably ever told them. I would so love to be like them. Perhaps I am in an intellectual sense, but I’m certainly not beautiful or elegant like they were. 
 
Mum was a wonderful person. She had a great sense of humour with a quickness of wit that I loved. We liked similar music and similar books, although I was more interested in reading the literary classics and “stodgy history” (her term for my more academic history books) than she was.  She taught me about my Irish, Scottish and English heritage, and that’s probably where my passion for English, Irish and Scottish history came from. She loved The Beatles, Glenn Campbell, John Denver, Tom Jones and Beethoven.  We loved singing along to “Jukebox Saturday Night” on the radio and playing Trivial Pursuit at home on Saturday nights right up until I left home and moved interstate.  We had teaching in common: she taught in the primary school, and I teach secondary. Our teaching styles are completely different, but I know she was proud of the fact that I was a teacher. 

Even so, we didn’t always see eye to eye, and I often felt like I didn’t really measure up to what she wanted me to be. Maybe that’s the source of my inner conflict. 

On the other hand, maybe that is irrelevant given that you can’t see those things in photographs. 
 
Perhaps it’s because I fear that people see similarities in us physically – please oh please, use the words curvaceous and buxom instead of any other less flattering terms. Let’s just say that we were built for comfort, not for speed, and leave it at that. 
 
Maybe it’s because I just want to be me. I don’t want to fit into a pattern or to be predictable. All my life I’ve been known to many people as Anne’s daughter or David’s sister.  Those aren’t necessarily bad things, but the pleasure one experiences in such associations does wear thin after being mentioned regularly over a few decades. 
 
Overall, I’m quite happy with who I am and what I’ve achieved. I’ve learned to live with my physical flaws and work with my assets. I have overcome injury, infertility and illness and stayed positive. I have my flaws and failures, and I’m still learning from them. I have my own style and I have always done things my own way. Confident, sassy, sarcastic, independent, and perhaps a little stubborn on occasions. Okay… so that last point made me laugh, too. 
 
Maybe it doesn’t matter if I look like my mother. Perhaps I do look like her more than I realised.  Maybe I’ll learn to embrace that. Maybe it’s actually kind of cool.  
Until then, though, it would be nice if people said things like “Oh, she’s lovely!” or “Oh, she looks like fun!” before they tell me I look just like her. That would help a lot. 
Thanks in advance. I appreciate it.