BEHIND THE CURTAIN

As some of my previous posts have demonstrated, nursing is a profession that has exposed me to some of the most confronting and challenging, but because of this, inspiring, aspects of humanity. Nursing lets me see behind the curtain of people’s lives. Because of my job I’ve seen people living with so little, but living nobly, and proud of what they have. I’ve seen people who should be bowed by the accumulative weight of their multiple co-morbidities, but who are living brighter and with more joy than most of us. I’ve seen people in agony, exhausted, sucked dry by their disease reach out to comfort their partner. These acts of generosity display what is best about humanity. They show the dignity of being human.

Other times, it’s not so dignified…

 

I was there for an admission. The woman had been referred to us for assistance with her medications. Her case manager was concerned she’d been muddling up her tablets due to her increasing short-term memory loss, and the client was on warfarin, a medication not to be muddled as the two end results were either blood clots or bleed outs.

Before heading in I sat in my car and read the notes supplied by the case manager. I flicked over her list of medical history (osteoarthritis, atrial fibrillation, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia) and was reading her social situation when my eyes snagged on the fact the she lived with her son. Normally when there’s a child in the mix district nurses aren’t needed. A family member can pop out pills as easily as a nurse. Tucking this information into the back of my brain I swung myself out of the car and walked up the drive to the client’s home. Press of the doorbell, and a knock for good measure.

The door swung open to reveal a tall bearded man in a t-shirt and jeans: the son. I estimated him to be in his mid-forties, and not in bad shape except for a small pot-belly straining the fabric of his t-shirt. I could hear the sound of a shower in the house behind him and took a good guess where my patient-to-be was.

‘Hi. I’m Jonathan, the district nurse. I’m here to see your mum, I believe.’

There was a pause before answering, a shaky smile, and then the response. ‘Oh, right. You’re here for…?’

‘To help with your mum’s tablets,’ I supplied.

‘Oh, okay, sure.’ He grinned. I smiled and gave a nod. He blinked. ‘Right, you should come in.’ He stepped back and gestured for me to enter, his hesitation breeding my own.

‘Is your mum in?’ I asked, pacing over the threshold into the artificially lit family room. The blinds were all drawn despite the fact that it was ten-thirty and the sun had truly dawned.

‘She’s showering.’

I stopped. ‘Is now a bad time, then? I’m happy to come back later.’

‘It’s fine. She’s been in a while. She should be out soon. You can wait.’ He said this and closed the door behind me with a click, then stepped to face me, his grin still shinning from amongst his tangle of facial hair. I glanced down at his shirt and saw it displayed the Fed-Ex logo. I wondered if he fancied himself as a new-age hipster.

‘Sorry, mate, what was your name?’ I asked.

‘Murray.’

‘Murray.’ I decided to gather what information I could while waiting for the showering patient to finish up. ‘Murray, maybe you could tell me what medications your mum is on at the moment. Does she have a webster pack?’

Murray’s face looked like I’d asked him to recite pi to its hundredth decimal. ‘I’m not sure. Don’t know, really. She does all that.’ He glanced around. ‘I can show you…’ he was moving, walking down the hall to the kitchen ‘…this.’ He re-emerged with a red leather purse which he opened to reveal a medicare card tucked into one of the plastic window slots.

‘Oh, okay. Thanks, Murray. I don’t actually need to see that, though.’ I tried to steer the conversation around again. ‘So you and your mum live here together?’

‘Yep.’

The single syllable then silence. Dead end. I tried again. ‘And what sort of health issues does your mum have?’

He clicked his fingers. ‘Come with me,’ he said and disappeared back into the hall.

I followed, already fearing that his next piece of show-and-tell would be as redundant as the last. We moved left into a kitchen, then crossed to a door on the other side of the room. Murray opened it to reveal a garage and, by the doorway, a four-wheeled motorised scooter. He pointed and gave another proud grin.

‘Mum uses that to get around.’

‘Right. Not good on her feet, then?’

He shrugged. ‘She’s all right. She just uses that to go down the street.’

‘Thanks, Murray, good to know.’

He nodded and considered the scooter, and I looked closer at his shirt and realised that instead of “Fed-Ex,” the shirt actually read “Fed-Sex.” My brow furrowed both at the poor pun, and I wasn’t sure putting a letter in front of a word to make it dirty can rightly be considered a pun, and the fact that an adult man was happily wearing a t-shirt displaying it. I was starting to work out why district nurses were needed.

Middle-aged men who still live with their mother tend to fall into two categories. The first are those that have chosen to reside with their parent so they can look after them as their ability to cope alone lessens. These men act out the circle of caring; they are cared for and then care for.

The second are those that never left home in the first place, and never had the desire to leave the initial half of that caring circle. And just as they have never physically left their adolescent residence, usually mentally they haven’t either. I had a good idea which category Murray fell into.

Murray turned and locked eyes with me. ‘I’ve got something that will blow you away.’ He strode off again and I was forced to follow. I think it was around then that I gave up on getting any useful information from this man. We retraced our steps to the lounge and Murray went to a dresser on the back wall and opened a drawer. When he turned he was holding a long large book which he proffered to me with a smug sort of arrogance.

‘Check that out.’

I took the book and opened it at a random page, and found lines and names worked across the paper. It was a piece from a family tree, a limb of great-uncles and aunts. I looked at Murray and hoped I’d arranged my features into something that conveyed the awe he obviously expected.

‘Family tree,’ he said. ‘Shows the McDougalls back for ten generations. My uncle had it made up.’

‘Wow,’ I said and flicked through more pages, finding only more lines and names of people I didn’t know. ‘Incredible, Murray. A lot of history in these pages.’ I handed him back the book. ‘Thanks for showing me that, mate.’ I could still hear the shower flowing behind us and it felt like the falling water would never stop.

Murray took the book and carefully replaced it in the dresser drawer. Then he turned, looked at me, and we waited. The sound of the showering in the background seemed only to amplify the silence. I tried to think of a question I could ask that would yield a useful response while Murray stood silent, his eyes now roaming the room in search of something else to show me. After four minutes neither of us had come up with anything.

‘Well,’ Murray said abruptly, his voice puncturing the quiet, ‘I’m going to my room.’ And before I could respond he had spun and disappeared back down the hall into the bowels of the house. I found myself suddenly alone in the family room, confused by how the visit had progressed so far, and wondering what to do next.

I took a seat on one of two sofas that faced each other and set my laptop up on the coffee table in the centre, arranging my paperwork to one side. Let me take a moment to cement the layout of the house, because the configuration becomes important. I was in the family room, my back to the front yard and facing the hall that led to the kitchen. To my right was an open doorway through which I could see a bed and closet. The patient’s room. Inside this room on the left wall was a closed door, behind which came the sounds of showering. The en-suite.

I starting re-reading the patient notes, more in an effort to pass time that any sense of productivity. From down the hall where Murray had disappeared I heard the sound of the M*A*S*H theme-tune spilling out. Apparently watching M*A*S*H reruns took priority over waiting with the district nurse. I looked around a house where the other two lodgers where either watching television or showering, and wondered what the hell I was doing sitting in their lounge room. Mercifully, that’s when I heard the water turn off.

I began to relax, to feel the visit could finally get underway, when it occurred to me that the seventy year-old woman standing in her bathroom had no idea there was a strange man in her house. I furiously weighed the options and considered stepping out of the house and ringing the doorbell again so the patient would think I’d just arrived, although, with the luck I’d had so far, Murray would probably answer, and it would be too great an effort to explain why I was re-ringing the bell.

In the end I went with the only real option I had: I knocked on the bathroom door.

‘Um, hello, Ada? My name’s Jonathan. I’m the district nurse.’

Sounds stopped from behind the door and a small voice answered. ‘Oh. Hello.’

I had no mirror, but I’m sure a deep blush had impregnated itself across my face. ‘Look, Ada, Murray let me in. I just thought I should let you know I’m sitting in the lounge. Please don’t rush. I just didn’t want you to get a fright.’

‘Okay then.’

‘Okay. Thanks, Ada.’ I shook my head as I walked out of the bedroom, angry at Murray sitting happily in his bedroom watching M*A*S*H, and took my seat on the couch.

I busied myself with my computer, opened the questionnaires I’d need opened, and after another five minutes heard the en-suite door open and saw on the edge of my periphery a person emerge. I gave Ada some time to ready herself, and, after a small wait, decided I should introduce myself before the awkwardness got any greater. Please remember I was trying to reduce the awkwardness.

I pushed off the couch and turned, and stopped, still in a half-crouched position, as I had my first sight of Ada merrily trotting back and forth through her bedroom, completely naked. She hadn’t troubled herself to close the door and was apparently unflustered by the strange young man sitting in her living room. I dropped back to my seat and focused on staring studiously at my computer screen. I could still see the shambling figure of Ada at the edge of my vision and wondered what strange reality I had stepped into when entering the house

Now nudity is nothing new for a nurse. I’ve helped people undress, showered them, made polite conversation while giving their backside a thorough wash, but the unexpected and unnecessary presence of Ada’s nudity took me by surprise. I was not expecting to see the freshly washed body of a senior citizen that day. Normally when interacting with an undressed patient the nudity is an unspoken requirement, and both parties play their part in minimising the discomfort of the situation. Ada tottered around as proud as a peacock.

Eventually the dressed form of Ada emerged from the bedroom and I got the assessments underway. The rest of the visit went smoothly, although it was clear Ada did indeed have memory issues, and needed a lot of prompting to stay on track. It felt like herding conversational sheep.

Towards the end of my visit Murray emerged one last time to ask whether Ada had charged up the scooter because he was planning to head down the street to buy some milk. At this point the image of this perfectly healthy man trundling down the road on a small scooter designed for the aged and frail failed to surprise me.

 

 

This small example is just one of the oddities that nursing encompasses. Nursing lets me see behind the curtain of people’s lives. Sometimes it’s a glimpse into domestic acts of heroism, but other times it’s delving into the bizarre and confusing habits of my patients and their foreign lifestyles.

It’s a profession of opposites. We’re holding the hand of a sick patient and giving comfort. We’re educating and empowering people in managing their disease. We’re helping in healing. But the flip side of this intimate immersion is we’re also showering the demented old woman who is farting every five minutes as she tells us we’re a lot uglier than the other nurses. We’re staring at the backside of an obese middle-age man who’s just flopped himself over the edge of his mattress so we can dress the wound between his cheeks. We’re making small talk with an elderly gentleman we’ve just met five minutes ago, holding his penis in one hand, and about to insert a catheter with the other.

To begin with these situations startled me, but as I’ve become more confident they’ve become almost commonplace. Sometimes, however, I do still find myself having an in-depth conversation with someone about their bowel movements and nodding intently, or bluffing my way through a talk about soccer with a naked stranger who apparently is in no rush to put his pants back on even though I finished dressing his wound fifteen minutes ago, and I have a perfect moment of clarity onto the strangeness of the situation, and wonder how this became a  normal part of my life.

Peeking behind the curtain can be a gamble, but I’ve found that if it offers nothing else, at least it’s interesting.

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LEGACY

Today my family and I celebrated my grandfather’s ninetieth birthday. As part of the event each member of the family – children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren – all contributed a few pages of writing detailing their own accomplishments in life and memories they had of Frank Robb. The book that was eventually collated, in no small effort by my eldest uncle, Chris, who harvested well over fifty entries, stands as a legacy of not only my grandfather’s life but of all the lives he went on to father. In a sense, each one our accomplishments are also his, for without him the beautiful collection of talented, kind and incredible people who are my family wouldn’t exist.

For this post I’ve decided to put up my contribution to Grandpa’s book. For those reading who aren’t family, some of the following may be obscure references to people you don’t know, but if you’re happy to preserver let me just state one pertinent detail: I have a twin brother named Damian.

The rest I think you can figure out yourselves.

MY first encounter with Grandpa has, regrettably, been forgotten. I was three months old and it was just after my family’s departure from Launceston, Tasmania. My perpetually generous grandparents had agreed to temporarily house the in-transit Robbs, and brave a household that contained four children under four.

Although I don’t remember the first time Grandpa picked me up and held me in his arms, that first contact, I appreciate the effort involved in providing a roof over my young head. I’ve since wondered, as he cradled me, if he had any clue whether it was me or Damian he was holding.

IT was in Barry Street, Preston, that I have my first memory of Grandpa. I remember waking under the layers of sheets and blankets in a foreign bedroom, seeing my brother in a bed opposite me, and creeping out of the room into the sun-splashed bedroom of my grandparents. Grandma would usually see me first as I stood unsure in the doorway and call out a greeting, giving me the invitation I was waiting for. I would crawl over the bed and wiggle down between my grandparents, and Grandpa would wrap an arm around me. I remember the weight from the layers of coverings and the warm clean smell of that bed. I felt safe, and happy, and Grandpa would turn his head, focusing on my face, a smile in his eyes, and ask, “Now, which one are you? Damian?”

THE next memory I can conjure is in the early Traralgon days. These were the days of the mazda van, of a crowd of cousins playing in and around the almost clean pool, of food in huge platefuls emerging from the kitchen, where a collection of aunties and uncles laughed and talked, to be taken to the carport where Dad was preparing the perfect coals for a barbeque. These were the days of long weekends and bonfires.

I can remember the frenetic pre-cleaning of the house and then the silence before the storm as we waited for our family to arrive. Then that first car would appear, its white hood emerging from the head of the driveway, with Grandpa behind the wheel. The bubble of anticipation would burst inside my stomach, sending waves of excited energy through my limbs, because it meant the holiday had begun. Next would follow the cries of happiness and hellos, the procession of kisses and hugs, with Grandpa stopping amongst the activity to hold me at arms length, study me, and ask, “Damian?”

MY teenage memories are of a plethora of Robb-Family gatherings, of the Stewart’s backyard, the Donahoo’s house, and the Benalla-Robb’s shed, of Christmases, birthdays, and twenty-firsts. Of speeches (always peppered with a call-out from Lindsay), of food and dancing, and talking and laughter.

And always amongst the mass of family and the thrum of conversation I could be sure to find the matriarch and patriarch in the thick of it, the foundations stones that had brought us and held us all together. Grandpa would recite stories with nods and smiles from those who had heard them multiple times before, and keen interest in the faces of those first-timers, myself often among them. There was always a hand shake and a hug, a quick query to determine who he was talking to, “Don’t tell me. It’s Damian?”, and I was folded once again into the festivities and family.

AS I moved into working life as a nurse and relocated to Brunswick West and the charm of McLean Street, my memories of Grandpa moved as well to Latrobe Village, which the Robbs quickly infiltrated with our large numbers and animated chatter. The memory that stands out most of the Village actually occurred towards the end of my high-school days. We had congregated in the function centre to celebrate Grandpa’s eightieth and I, against warnings from my mother, had consumed too much alcohol at the after-Deb party I had attended the night before. Alcohol poisoning would later be used to describe my state, and while I, regrettably, was in no form to interact with Grandpa that day (as my sister who found me spread-eagled on the lawn bowl’s field can attest) I was led to his bed where I was left to sleep it off.

Ironic that after all those years I found myself back in the bed of my grandparents, and more so, that the warmth, weight, and cleanliness of those blankets still offered the comfort and safety that they had ten years before.

FINALLY I’ve arrived at the most current stage of my life and the most recent memories of Grandpa. I live in Ardeer, and work as a district nurse across the North-West of Melbourne. My work as a nurse has given me a particular insight, and bred a distinct admiration, for the endurance and energy my grandfather continues to display. At an age where many of his contemporaries settle into a sedate and unchanging lifestyle, bowed by their weariness and ailments, Grandpa continues to make the most from his life, refusing to let age be an excuse, even to the point of having a knee replacement in his late eighties. His love for life and family act as a guide and a benchmark, and are attributes I would be lucky to emulate in my life.

THIS book has been made to commemorate ninety years of living. From the stories he shares, from his collection of memoirs, and from the sheer scope of his progeny, it seems to me that’s exactly what Grandpa has been doing.

And, thanks to him, so are all of us.

AND because I wouldn’t exist without Grandpa, I guess I can overlook his mistaking me for Damian.

WHATEVER HELPS YOU SLEEP

Sometimes when I’m lying in bed and can’t sleep I like to picture myself. I see my body sprawled over my mattress, limbs dangling from under the doona. I see my chest rise and fall, and each strand of my mess of hair splayed across my pillow. I picture the room around me, the carpeted floor, the dresser, and myself, a living thing in the centre.

Then I go higher.

The point of view rises through my ceiling until I’m floating over my roof. The corrugated aluminium slopes away and I can see the small square of backyard, half concrete, half fake grass. I hover there a moment looking at my small world, the section I have claimed as my own, the space marked out to house me and my small dramas, then I rise higher.

I see my street, the stretch of asphalt and the homes clinging to either side like ants around a sweet. I see trees haphazardly scattered amongst the buildings, their broad halo of branches overlapping the assortment of roofs. Each house is a bordering ecosystem full of a complex tangle of lives and love and arguments to which I am oblivious.

And then higher, and I’m looking at my suburb, a spider web of bitumen and concrete, a heaving sea of houses, and the thin dark line of a river weaving lazily through the human habitation, a remnant of the natural state of the land. My neighbourhood. The eclectic mix of culture and ethnicity, of personalities. The unchosen community to which I belong.

Higher.

And the city is a glowing, blinking spread of star-dust, a breathtaking testament to electricity. And it extends on and on, and every light is an indication of a spark of life, a human presence. And my dot of a home is lost like a grain of sand on the beach, but I am in that mass, somewhere, lying on my bed.

But I’m still too connected so I go higher.

The city recedes below me as earth rushes in to fill my periphery until I’m so far above it I see the shape of the country, the weight of land so large it bends around the globe. And the twinkling evidence of mankind is painted around the edges of the continent in a multitude that is hard to comprehend. From this height the scope of human life isn’t minimised, it’s maximised, as our touch can still be seen outside the earth that contains us. The endless miles of unfurled cities, the days of unbroken red desert, the unlimited expanse of beach that rings the country like ribbon are all details too tiny to make out. I know if I was to drop back down I would find a swarming hive of life but from here it’s soft blends of browns and greens smeared across a paint palette.

The rush of my rising blurs the edges as I go higher.

And it’s the world. A spinning blue orb drifting in empty black, a tilted ball scrawled with all the evidence of our history. The cut out of continents meandering across its surface and the eons of evolution written in its soil. One half glows, a chaos of colour, of landscape and oceanscape. The other is draped in shadow, its back to the sun, the side of our planet that sleeps. It is a concentrated atom of life and living and it carries every act of existence on the surface of its skin.

Higher now and planets are whizzing away from me, whisked out of focus from the speed of my upshot.

And I’m adrift in a smear of stars, of electric blues and acid greens, of neon violets and throbbing reds, and white, blazing between drifting clouds of gas that traps the light like it’s swallowed it. The belly of the galaxy is heat and colour, the artwork of the gods. And one of those pinpricks is our sun, the titan of devouring roiling fire, the endless burning source of life, the marker of time and the original deity, reduced to a glint among gems, a single flash in a streak of glitter. The Milky Way is a cosmic ocean of tumultuous energy, its scope outside my ability to hold for more than a second.

But there’s more to go, and I soar higher.

And I’m looking down at a jumble of glowing shapes, our galaxy now just one more marble amongst spheres of speckled light, spiralling lines of linked suns whose reach is beyond human measuring. I float above the collected mass of nebulas and galaxies surrounded by the cold infinity of the universe. I am a child in a dark pool without edges, the entirety of all raging life at my feet. I could go higher into the fathomless breadth of existence but I am at the edge of my knowledge, so I stop, and look down, into everything.

And somewhere down there, through the clouds of stars, through light-years of sheer space, though a dense fog of burning orbs to a handful of planets is one tiny blue and green dot circling one tiny orange sun, and somewhere, all the way down the other end of the telescope, is me. A speck on an electron. A wink of life sprawled on a mattress, entirely overlooked by the universe at large, chewing over my pathetic worries.

I picture this, and feel my mind ease, and sleep.

ANGRY MAN

I’m screaming at her and my voice is hoarse with spat words.

An angry man. I never thought I’d grow up to be an angry man. I was a meek child. I would hunch as I was dressed down by my father. I was not a screamer or a rager. I would sit there, cowed, and sob once it was done.

I stop, and she’s looking at me with the flat eyes of a stranger. I’m breathing heavily and I realise that my hands are shaking, and I have no idea what the hell I’m doing.

I wrote this about a year ago, but only rediscovered it a few days ago. I was clicking through my folder of writing and by chance opened the document that had this small snapshot. On reading it I was both satisfied and frightened by how accurately this tiny sliver of writing portrayed how I had felt.

I remember I wasn’t angry at the time of writing. I was on that post-fight plateau where all emotions are muted. Numbed. I no longer cared about achieving happiness. I was in a space where I was so worn out it was a relief to give up and resign myself to the knowledge that I could not make things better.

The scene described had taken place a few hours beforehand. In the midst and fury of an argument I’d had a horrible insight into my own behaviour. It had been like stepping to the side and watching as a third-party, and discovering that scarlet hiss of anger in my features. It reminded me of times I’d seen couples fighting in public and wondering how they could have so little self-control and such little respect for one another. Only this time I was the embarrassment. I was the infant throwing a tantrum, the man not in control of himself.

It’s the final line of the piece that resonates strongest. I had no idea what the hell I was doing. I was so far beyond my threshold of patience and unhappiness that I was lost. I had reverted to the animal instinct of screaming and lashing out in frustration. All the moral codes I thought I followed, all the constraints I put upon myself and proudly thought I upheld had disintegrated under my torrent of anger. I felt helpless. I felt all my happiness and effort slipping away over some triviality, and had no way of stopping it. I felt encased and my battering only served to solidify the barrier around me.

These are not efforts at justifying my behaviour, only reflections on how I had come to a place where I had lost myself.

I don’t like feeling out of control. It’s a point of pride that I can keep my composure, that I can rationalise any heightened situation enough to keep the important things in perspective. But when it came to my relationship I seemed to invest too much into it, and that maintenance of perspective became skewed. This meant that any imbalance in understanding between me and my partner rocked the foundations of all that investment, and it scared me. It scared the shit out of me. Unfortunately my response to that fear was anger.

What struck me most when reading my story fragment was how I had discarded my perception of self. I walk around every day with an image in my head of the man I am. I picture my strengths and weaknesses, my ideas and beliefs, and believe they are unwavering. That I am who I think I am. But that image of self was torn like tissue paper the moment my stress overwhelmed me, and I became a man I didn’t want to be. A man I didn’t even like, and one I didn’t want to be able to relate to. And what made it worse was I did it without any insight until it was too late.

The thousands of thoughts and convictions that made me up were forgotten in one scalding instant.

What I like about this snippet of writing is it so clearly demonstrates that moment when I realised I had lost control. The juxtaposition between who I thought I was and who I was being. It’s a hard thing to see in yourself, but that just makes it more important. It’s necessary to be reminded that the border between restraint and abandon is more easily crossed than I like to think. It’s not something to be ashamed of, but it is something I should be aware of.

I hope I’m not that angry man anymore. I hope the trials I’ve faced and the reflection I’ve given have taught me to avoid my own pitfalls, but it would be foolish to forget what I’m capable of. By writing this, by reading my own illustration, I hope I can keep in mind how fragile a sense of self is.

But also to remember to be proud that I’m getting some kind of idea of what the hell I’m doing.

STARTING SOMETHING

I started writing a novel today.

It’s a strange thing, starting something. I always seem to have a nervous energy when I begin a project, and that energy is always somewhat driven by fear. Fear of failing. Fear of it not being as good as I can picture it. Fear that this time when I put pen to paper I’ll find my ability is gone, that the spark of creativity in me has fizzled out and I’m boring again. It’s irrational, but I’ve found a way to overcome it.

Start anyway.

This seems to be the hardest part. That first burst of motivation and inspiration. Until that initial moment of creation, my idea is perfect. It’s in the starting that I open the door to faults and flaws, that I can introduce my imperfect technique and see my ideal concept become something common. Of course the irony is that a concept is nothing, and so much lesser than a flawed something.

A lesson that has recently crystallised for me is one of the path to success. My sister once showed me a diagram that displayed the two perceived paths to success. On the left was a road that diverged to two outcomes: Succeed or Fail. This is the commonly believed path to success. Win or lose. To the right was an image of a road which zigzagged, and at each bend was a signpost which read “fail.” But at the end of the road was a trophy which read “succeed.” The actual path to success.

The problem with the former view is you only get one chance; you win or you lose. There’s no room for error in this path to success, and this makes starting something a nerve-racking voyage to make. With this concept in your head you launch yourself into the unknown and are snatched down the first time you trip up. Done. You failed. Thanks for playing.
This daunting potential for failure can be enough to stop someone from even starting. Much safer to avoid the risk and stay off the path all together.

Luckily this view of success is entirely wrong.

It’s the latter that encapsulates any experience of success I’ve ever had. This truth became starkly apparent when I first attempted to crochet a beanie. I’ve mentioned in a previous post that after envying a beanie my cousin owned I set out to duplicate the garment. Since then I’ve made about ten beanies and it’s gotten to a point where a person can’t visit my house without leaving with crocheted wool draped over their head. This end result shows I succeeded in my goal. But that was the end result; the path to that point was a bloody mess.

To begin my beanie I first had to master the initial ring of stitches. It’s called the magic circle. The magic of this circle proved to be its ability to provoke a string of curses from a man who normally remains quite calm. The wool slipped from my fingers, the hook refused to weave through the gaps I wanted it to, and the stitches were either too loose or so small that no grown man’s fingers could hope to navigate them. After hours of work, after a conglomeration of failures, I had a rather rough, but technically correct, magic circle.

I then laboured in mastering the following rings of stitches. After hours of studying the YouTube tutorial I was watching, stopping, rewinding, rewatching, and stopping, I had added a further six rows to my creation. I was feeling good, I was about halfway through, and the tangle of stitches was starting to resemble a beanie.

But as I bent to watch my online teacher begin the next ring I noticed something. Her needle was slipping through two loops each time she made a stitch whereas mine was only slipping through one. I looked back at my work and immediately saw the neglected loop I had been failing to hook with each stitch. While my beanie still held together, the missing loop meant that it wouldn’t be as strong as it should be and prone to stretch. I was doing it wrong. I would have to start again.

It should have been demoralising to have to pull apart the hours of hard work I had spent sweating over wool and crochet needle, but in all honesty it was a relief. I didn’t trust my new skills enough to presume I had been proceeding errorless, and I now felt I had caught my error. I may have been back to nothing more than a tangle of wool and the prospect of reattempting the magic circle, but I had learnt from my mistakes, which meant this time I would do it right.

And this is the lesson of the latter: the path to success is littered with failure. But each failure isn’t a slipping down a snake back to the start, it’s a step forward with new knowledge earned from that failure. Each mistake I made was a lesson in how not to do it, meaning all other attempts were done with a higher ratio of success.

With this in mind, starting something is a much easier journey to make. I may trip the minute I step onto the path, but each trip is something I can improve on, and something that is now behind me.

So today I started my novel. I did it with the belief that all errors I made could only, inevitably, make it better.

For those of you playing at home, the first word of my novel is “The.” An auspicious start in its vast scope for potential words to follow.

And it can only get better from here.