Hubris describes a personality quality of extreme or foolish pride or dangerous overconfidence, often in combination with (or synonymous with) arrogance.
Maybe I do have the foolish pride and arrogance to think I am a very capable author and deserve to have at least one of my works published as a best-seller. So I must ask myself, ‘Why don’t publishers immediately delight in my submissions? Is it because in some works I don’t conform to the genre rules in swapping first person with third person? Is it because my diction and punctuation is old-worldly? Is it because my stories are too tame and boring? Is it because my characters are not well developed at the expense of my passion for describing the settings and the environment? Is it because I wish to teach more than tell a story?’
Perhaps a combination of these and more.
When Austin Macauley offered me a contact out of the blue on my latest work, The Meaning of Streuth, I was mystified and still wonder if it is a genuine offer. They are an expanding publishing firm and are growing in market share, but do they have the machinery to market an Australian story since they are based only in New York and London? Do they understand I can’t help with the marketing?
My doctors tell me I have less than a year to live and my hubris is daunted thinking about how I can handle the on-going negotiations to bring the novel into production. I want to know why they like the draft and how they will want to “massage” it before they go to finalising the text? I want to feel that the conviction, not just opportunity is there — that they believe the manuscript has real merit. So my pride in the work has its emotional costs, and time is running out given my health prognosis.
Do any of my readers believe I should go ahead? Well how can you if you haven’t been able to read the draft? You can only judge by your knowledge of my published writing and your understanding of the book publishing industry.
But last week I had the joy of local publisher, Boolarong Press, being excited about my work, The Osprey’s Dolls, and I have signed a contract to self-publish with them. Here I know I am on safer ground — a local Australian publisher, two suburbs away, with whom it is easy for me to negotiate and who in turn will give my book a priority. I know I will be here to see it in print and that gives me a hell of a boost. knowing there will be copies at the commemorative service arranged by my family when I die from the effects of prostate bone cancer.
My hubris might yet be partially justified with some of it wafting off like fairy dust onto my descendants.
When we were young
Life can be full of interesting prospects when you are young, and you never come to consider that one day you might become ill and die. But even when you know your cancer is a death sentence, it is important to retain that sense of prospect — that something exciting or surprising is going to come up and bring that childhood joy back into your mind.
Since my diagnosis that my prostate cancer has imbedded tumours in my bones, I have still been able to enjoy happy family moments, and good times with friends. Today I had an email from Barcelona, from a friend who, with his wife and two children, lived beside Dorothy and I in Sunnybank for about 2 years. Climent Nadeu was on a professional exchange at Griffith University in Brisbane. Both Climent and wife, Merce, were often our guests at BBQ’s in the garden and also joined in Dorothy’s Saturday morning walks. We introduced the children, Anna and Paulo, to orienteering and now Anna is still orienteering in Spain some 10 years later.
This is the type of surprise contact after several years that brings out those earlier joys like the memories of our visit to the Nadeu family in Barcelona in 2012 while Dorothy’s dementia was just beginning to show. Of course now as the dementia has progressed she has no memory of that event or indeed very little of her life, but at least she still knows me and every little smile when I visit the nursing home is a reminder of us the Simsons, a young family with many prospects.
Our children have all gone on to be high achievers in various ways and recently in conversation have shared many of the joys they experienced growing up in our family household. Thankfully they have all rallied around to see that both Dorothy, and now me, experience the best of care and support in our terminal years. Jennifer, unfortunately, is now in hospital recovering from the removal of a tumour from one of her kidneys. Neil is my on the spot support with transport, house help and attentiveness to my needs. Scott visited for two days just after my discharge from hospital when I had a nail spike inserted in my left femur in order to keep me mobile, and Arnold and his wife Nusha are always there to offer emotional support from Canberra.
You could say the fun years are gone. Childhood is also terminal. But we can still share the joy from those earlier days and even include snippets in our dreams.
Let us all take joy from when we were young.
Health is complicated
Health is complicated for many of us humans. There are bacteria, viruses, cancers, allergies etc. ready to affect the smooth functioning of our bodies and brains.
Dorothy, my wife, has serious dementia and knows so little of what has happened to her. I, however, can feel the full effects of any viruses, my bone cancer, and my mysterious Grover’s Disease. The latter is a skin disease attacking men middle aged and over, and causing unbearable itchiness on the back, chest, under the arms and down the sides even to the crutch. Mine is also affecting my neck and head. It keeps you awake at night and makes lying in bed, a continuous nightmare without resorting to sleeping tablets which are usually semi-effective. Dermatologists know little about Grover’s Disease and are unsure how to treat it. It may go away if I can recover so well from my recent operation to pin my left femur and give me back more strength. That will mean I can spend less time in bed.
Others go through much more with their disabilities so I shouldn’t complain; and anyway I have known since September that I had only a year or so to live. But it is not easy and as I write the tears fill my eyes. I am so not the person I used to be — shattered beyond repair, a write-off. Even writing has become a burden. My blog posts will dry up, but please remember Rob’a Write as he was some of the time during his past.
I was meditating.
There are two worlds, I thought. One the physical world of interacting matter driven by energy – the world of the big bang the astronomers talk about and all that followed. But the other world, the real world, is the ‘being’ within, the intangible, the essence of things, the essence of me. The big bang world goes on and on recycling all that ever was and ever will be. Even the energy that drives it is recycled –- just matter coming together, particles mixing in the ether, combining, changing, parting; reservoirs and flows, nothing gained, nothing lost. But my real world is the world of my knowing; what I see, hear, think, feel, dream. And when my brain cells die I suppose this miracle will be all gone …. like a film on the screen, it has a life of its own that is absorbing at the time, but then it’s over and that’s it. Someday, when my angel decides, it will be over and this, my real world, will cease. Death is not nothingness, but the void of not ‘being’.
How, when the void comes, can I leave behind an invisible balloon full of experience for a child to grab with joy – a kite flying forever? Maybe a Hawkesbury River swan? An osprey on the wing? Can I receive a legacy from a great artist? A Renoir, a Michelangelo? Out from their voids will some aura wash around and into me? Am I then their ideas, their ways, their dreams? Do they bequeath me, in their wisdom, with some unfinished task? Am I needed? Do I have a purpose outside the recycling of matter?
Since my bone cancer was identified in September I have been on a brain activity high. There is a new stimulus that has allowed me to produce Blog Posts, a series of Letters to Dorothy, revision work on two unpublished novels, and a large submission to RGSQ on a Long Distance Trail in the Carnarvon Ranges. This includes Inspiration during the night when sleep is disturbed and i get up to jot down notes or write a small article or poem.
The reading about Iranian which I did over Christmas and January, and the understanding I developed about the effects of the Muslim Revolution has had on society in my new daughter-in-law’s country of birth, has given me great insights into memoir writing. While Azar Nafisi’s work on understanding the themes, voice and structure of challenging novels from Pride and Prejudice to The Great Gatsby has allowed me to determine how I can change and improve the approach to my own writing.
Physically, although restricted in strength and having to give up Golf, Tennis and cycling, I have remained active doing walks in Toohey Forest, putting time in in the Brookland Gym and swimming in Feb in the Brookland pool. In this I have stayed positive about my health and gone ahead and booked a cruise from Broome to Darwin in April.
What is more remarkable is how things magically work out at just the right time, such as catching my bus, and timing of activities to fit other commitments, thus meeting my own deadlines. An example last Tuesday was when taken to lunch by Frank Spranklin at the Corner Cafe and by surprise environmental friends, Beryl Roberts and Bernise Voltz, walked in. Both deserved an update on my cancer — having not seen either for over a year. So we lunched together and shared updates on our interests. Another example was getting home from the forest just in time for the cleaner I had organised but wasn’t expecting that day and who was about to leave because she was locked out.
Now just today I am offered a contract on my new novel with a top publisher. This is serendipity in the extreme since I was ready to scrap that project all together and have been concentrating on an earlier unpublished work.
These will seem to be trivial examples, but as the number of them build up, coincidences almost every day, I can’t help thinking my sub-conscious is in the driving seat and life as it now is under my palliative care regime will continue to bring me joy.
Fiona and Tim
Yesterday I received a surprise Email from Mathieu McGuire in the UK. Mathieu was one of the young junior orienteers about the same time as my grandson, Aaron. He was a member of the Mini Cyclones Squad, competed in the annual Queensland Schools Orienteering Championships and was selected in the Queensland Schools team. He came to our sport as one of Helen Sherriff’s St. Edmunds Orienteering Club, always excited about participating no matter what his result. He had stumbled across my Writer’s Blog, and having been absorbed by the enlightened mindfulness written into some of the blog posts, he had felt compelled to be in touch.
The compliments he said about me brought a lot more than one tear to my eyes, but it also made we realise how much Fiona Calabro would have deserved even more praise. Till she died of a brain tumour and the complications of a stroke in 2014, she was the State Junior Coach and organiser of the Mini Cyclones training camps, amongst making many other contribution at State and National Orienteering level. There is rarely a day goes by without me thinking about her enthusiasm for our sport and her friendship.
The other person I so miss from our Toohey Forest Orienteers is Tim Apelt, for three years our club president. Like Fiona, Tim died of incurable cancer not that long after Fiona’s departure. He was truely a best mate — close bushwalking and orienteering friend with, like me, a passionate love of Toohey Forest where his ashes have been scattered. He died in dignity after 18 months of palliative care. Now I am on the same journey. Three for our club in six years is hardly fair, but we have to accept that we all die someday, it is part of the gift of living, and I’m sure none of us wanted our lives to being dragged out when the writing is ‘on the wall’, or the massage for me clear to see in my blog posts.
Yes readers go on visiting my blog. Rob’s Write will be cactus too by 2020.
White Australians have tended to think of our First Nation peoples as intellectually inferior, and culturally backward. Well yes, they didn’t have written languages but nor did many tribes in Africa New Guinea and the Pacific when white men arrived from Europe or Asians arrived from SE Asia. What they did have and still retain is a methodology for passing on information to the young via song, dance, story telling and hand-on field experience.
Their understanding of their local ecology to me represents a science that is shared culturally. They did not need peer-group reviewed scientific papers to endorse their authority. It was just accepted at elder’s wisdom. Wisdom is the key word here, the wisdom pervading their approach to environmental stability, their moving around with the seasonal changes, the way to find tucker and water in the long dry periods. The sense of small clan groups being mobile.
We limit our understanding of Aboriginal science by our fixed view of what is science. We don’t engage enough. We think we know better but have made so many mistakes in opening up the Australian land to grazing and farming without understanding the environmental consequences it should be embarrassing. The Aboriginal approach has been to ‘live with nature’ not fight against. Our Ecologists and Agronomist are improving the field practices of farmers, but we have a long way to go, and by blending our approach with Aboriginal knowledge must surely bring even more benefits.
On the eve of 2018 Australia this is a very important message that needs to be spread — that our First Nation Peoples were great Ecologists! And educating them further through our modern systems of schooling and University must be of highest priority. Then we win and they win!
Robin Simson 25/1/18