Grief, Life and Anxiety

On the 28th of July we said goodbye to Cadel. The cancer spread from his bone into his bloodstream, where it tore through his body. Saying goodbye was, I think, the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do. His body was ravaged but his mind was the same as ever. Happy, enthusiastic for life and full of love. It felt wrong to euthanise a mind that still sought life with so much passion. But of course it was the right decision. We made the decision as soon as we received the cancer diagnosis that we would not let Cadel suffer. I’m grateful to say that we ensured he never did.

It’s taken me this long to write to you about Cadel’s death; I tried several times to write this post but every time I did I only got a few sentences in before having to stop. I couldn’t find the right words; in many ways I still can’t. How can I write about a dog that changed my life dramatically? Words don’t do his life justice.

Born to breeders in another state to mine, I paid to have Cadel flown here. It took two flights across the better part of a day, but eventually he made it here. He was terrified. 10 weeks of age, shut in a cage, shunted from airport to tarmacs and into planes. His toys were stolen by a baggage handler, leaving him alone with nothing familiar. There was a delay in me being able to collect Cadel, as the person authorised to pass him into my care was late to work. When I was finally allowed to go to him, he did not want to get out of the cage. I crouched down, trying to encourage him out. Eventually I pulled him out. As I stood up he gripped me in a bear hug and that was that. It was love at first sight for the both of us.

Over time Cadel became aware of my anxiety and did everything he could to ease it. Mostly that meant being by my side at all times, or being in the same room as me, watching me and making sure I was ok. Even when he was asleep he was aware of my movements, waking if he felt I was moving about anxiously or perhaps I’d begun crying.

If I had a bad day I’d sit with him, he’d hug me and encourage me to pat him. If I cried, he licked my tears away and nestled into my body, calming me. His presence was often enough to lessen the anxiety I was feeling.

Our relationship wasn’t all about anxiety. He loved life passionately, both his own and his life with us and was always a happy dog. We’d laugh together, over his antics or mine, run around the backyard throwing a rope toy over and over. Every morning at 6am he’d wake me up, encouraging Zena to get up too, and the three of us would go for a walk. I’m not a morning person but I cherished those walks. Sometimes it felt like we were the only people in the world as we watched the sun rising with every step we took.

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Adjusting to life without Cadel has been difficult. I feel like I’ve lost a limb. No longer is he there to greet me at the door, tail wagging, excited to see me again. No more hugs whenever he or I wanted them. No more food stolen from the bench when I wasn’t looking (an entire birthday cake I made for myself last year for example), no more trilling when he wanted something or drool whilst waiting for food. So many no mores. Most days I’ve felt lost, unsure how to proceed with life. So many things feel pointless without Cadel.

Eventually we made the decision to get a puppy. Zena was lonely, perhaps as much as I was, and we didn’t want her to become depressed. With that decision, Theo entered our life, bringing with him an incredible amount of love, energy and joy. He is settling in nicely and I look forward to seeing what kind of dog he becomes. He has reminded me that there is much to love in this world, starting of course with him.

Whatever you do, hug those you love dearly. Cherish your moments. You just never know when you will be called upon to say goodbye.

An Hourly Photo Project

8:15am Light through the blind, first photo of the day

I’ve recently become a keen listener of the Photography Daily podcast https://www.photographydaily.show Hosted by Neale James, it’s a twice weekly podcast that I find inspiring and informative. The Friday episode is a long form photo walk episode featuring listener letters, photographer interviews and snippets of advice or ah ha moments from Neale and past guests. Neale has an incredible hosting style, making the listening experience an intimate one, as though it’s Neale and I taking a photo walk together.

9:15am Cadel snuggled on the couch

The Monday episode is a short photo assignment episode where a different guest each week shares an assignment designed to get listeners taking out their camera and making images. I’ve given a couple of the assignments a go; the photos here are a result of listening to episode 317. The assignment, from photographer Kevin Mullins, is a photo an hour challenge. The idea being to take a photo as soon as you wake up, and then take one every hour following that you’re awake.

10:15am Relaxed as I drink a coffee
11:15am Steering wheel

I decided to use the same lens all day, my Fuji 35mm f1.4. It was not always the best choice to have made, but I stuck to it. Yes, I have photos that aren’t as sharp as they could be, because the lighting at the time wasn’t great, but not needing to change lenses as well as having a light weight camera and lens combination was exactly what I needed. My camera didn’t get in the way. Rather it was simply a tool that allowed me to capture what was in front of me.

12:15pm My feet, again

I allowed myself to take more than one photo of needed, although I never took more than a few each hour. I wasn’t concerned about taking the perfect image, instead I looked at what was there, thought about how I could make it interesting in some way and then took the photo. I liked how the challenge made me feel throughout the day. I noticed I was looking at the light in my surroundings, slowing down my thoughts and being more present in the moment than usual.

1:15pm Jensen
2:15pm Eli

Looking at the photos I realise that they’re more than a snapshot of my day; they’re a window into my life as it is right now. Photos of Cadel. Photos of plants. Photos of my nephews. Three loves of my life.

3:15pm Cadel

There’s also random things; my cars steering wheel and the top of my bread machine, taken as it made pizza dough. And my feet. They were in front of me at the time, so the parameters of the challenge were being met.

4:15pm Bread machine

I enjoyed the project a lot and I think I might repeat it, perhaps every few months. I imagine it will create a kind of record of my life, but I also think it’s the kind of project that will easily to fit into my life, which is the best kind of project for me. I don’t like over complicating things, I’d rather grab my camera and take photos and be happy with the process.

5:15pm Peperomia – I think? A plant I own that I’ve yet to check the species of
6:15pm Philodendron Florida
7:15pm Cadel snuggling against David
8:15pm Philodendron Silver Sword
9:15pm The end of my day, in bed with a book and Cadel

Taking Each Day As It Comes

Knowing that the time we have left with Cadel is limited is both a blessing and a curse. It has reminded us that life is short, even more so when it comes to dogs.

Cadel, happy after a walk

We are trying to do things with Cadel as often as we can, things we know he loves. Walks in the bush, where he can be off lead, have become our favourite. On three legs he runs from bush to tree to patch of scrub, inhaling the smells and urinating on anything he considers worthy!

We’ve dragged the spare bed into our room, pushing it against our bed, allowing both Cadel and Zena to sleep close by. Cadel loves to cuddle and all to often he spends the night lying alongside me. Waking up to his nose on mine is a pretty good thing. And a lot more food treats are given out each day. I cannot see a reason not to.

Yet knowing each day could be his last is difficult. Living with anxiety has given me an outstanding ability to catastrophise. What if he’s broken his leg and is in pain, I think as I’m at work. What if we wake up and find the cancer in his right front leg? Or somewhere else? It’s highly likely, because the cancer has moved from his bones into his blood stream. So many what if’s to take me out of the moment of enjoying the time we have.

Along with all of this is an increased desire to remember Cadel through the use of a camera. I’m finding myself trying to capture his personality, so in future I can look at a photo and immediately be transported to that moment, to remember him as he was. Setting aside the technology aspects of photography, capturing the personality of a dog who is incredibly important in my life is difficult. Moments are fleeting, and although Cadel is very good at posing on request that doesn’t always guarantee the type of photo I’m after. I’m grateful for the digital age for its ability to allow me to take hundreds of photos if needed, in order to get one decent one. But I’d like my success rate to be higher, so I’ve enrolled in an online dog photography course. It’s a multi month course that begins with photographic foundations, building on that each month with more technical skills. I’m excited by the challenge and the skills I’ll gain, but a little disappointed i won’t have long to use these skills when photographing Cadel. But I can’t dwell on it. All I can do is take each day as it comes. Continue to show Cadel love, continue to take photos to capture his likeness, and always always remember him.

Life Really Is Hard Sometimes…

Cadel enjoying a ute ride

On the 17th May we received news that one of our dogs – Cadel – has bone cancer. He’d had leg pain in his lower left leg for a couple of weeks. The first vet I took him to thought it was a soft tissue injury, based solely on observing him walk. Hindsight has left me disappointed in myself for not pushing the vet to actually feel his leg or X-ray it. I suppose that’s what happens the day before Easter holidays when vets are busy and like everyone else wanting to have a break.

Once the pain medication Cadel was prescribed wore off it was apparent that there was more going on. A visit to our preferred vet determined that something more than a soft tissue injury was going on. Cadel cried out in pain when his leg was manipulated slightly – he tolerates uncomfortable and even painful situations well so we knew there was something seriously wrong. As I was having surgery a week later, which would see both Cadel and Zena stay at our vets kennels, we decided he could wait another week, with more pain killers in the mean time.

So it was, that on the day I was discharged from hospital, we received the horrifying news that Cadel has bone cancer. David and I are devastated. The youngest of our two dogs, Cadel is only 7.5 years old. Granted, for a large breed dog he is considered to be in his old age, but his personality belies this. His personality is almost puppy like. He is happy and cheerful and the most comfortable when all four of us are together. There is no sign of old age in him, aside from the cancer that has caused his lower left leg to bulge and be slightly twisted.

There is no cure. Removal of the leg would require follow up chemotherapy but still leaves a low rate of curing him. All we can do is ensure his pain is minimal, that he is happy and comfortable and mentally stimulated. So far this is successful.

It is incredibly difficult knowing every day may be the last day we have with Cadel. There have been many tears and there will be many more. I strive every day to be a better person because I see in Cadel a belief in me that I don’t hold. I believe that dogs are a better judge of personalities than humans are, so maybe he is right?

I don’t know how I will survive without him, but for now I’m concentrating on enjoying every moment I can with him. That’s pretty much all I can do.

It’s been way too long…

Well, hello. I can hardly believe it’s been so long since I sat down to write to you. Four months I think. I kept thinking about writing, and thinking and thinking, but never actually getting around to it. Until now, this moment, that I’ve taken to sit and write.

Mostly I’ve been thinking about why I make art, why exactly I create. Creating feels as though it’s part of my dna. I’ve been drawing or writing or making things for as long as I can remember. Creating gives me a sense of peace, brings me joy and also a sense of place in the world. It’s also good for my mental health. For a long time I’ve fought an inner war with this fact. I’ve hated that art is good for my mental health. I’ve asked myself why can’t I be making art simply because I want to, rather than because I know it’s good for me mentally. My inner monologue around this has at times been nasty and at others pleasant. Something that I think is a lot more commonplace than we realise, especially considering we rarely talk to anyone – other than our therapist perhaps – about the deep dark thoughts we have.

Recently I finally decided to embrace the mental health benefits of creating. I asked myself what is the actual point of fighting something that is demonstratively good for me? I couldn’t come up with a decent answer. After all, I exercise because its good for my mental and physical health and freely admit that. So why not look at creating in the same way?

I would like to share more of that here, the intersection of creativity and mental health. They are a large part of my life and perhaps they might be for you to.

These photos were taken during my holiday last week. It was late afternoon, we were making our way back to our hotel to rest before heading out for evening activities. I wanted to capture the city but wasn’t feeling it. Then we stumbled across this ballerina, busking in the heart of the city. We only caught the last of her performance, but seeing her dancing, such beauty and strength invigorated me, calling me to capture her but then going on to take more photos. It’s like I was jolted out of tiredness and spurred on to find other beautiful things.

Do you have a creative outlet that eases anxiety or depression? Or simply let’s you get into the zone, allowing you to drown out the world and focus on the thing you’re working on?

I’d love to hear from you. You can comment here or if you’d prefer send me an email. I love engaging with people about their creative outlets.

Kim x

Books I’ve Read This Year – 2021 Edition

2021 has been yet another year that a lot of us would like to forget. Instead of reflecting on any of that, I’d rather think about some of the good things. Sometimes I feel like the good slips by so easily, enjoyed in the moment but easily forgotten. So, let’s remedy that shall we?

I’m declaring 2021 was for me the year of the book. I have always loved reading, being a voracious reader for most of my life. However during recent years when D & I were building our house, reading was one of a few things that slipped away. Reading requires time & time wasn’t something I had. Thankfully this year I’ve found time was on my side.

My signed copy of The Book Thief

A few weeks into the start of this year I decided to keep a list of what I was reading. I’ve never kept a book list before, but I’m so glad I decided to. For one, I wouldn’t be writing this, but its actually interesting to look back on what I’ve read. The list is eclectic, but it reflects the kind of reader I am. There isn’t a lot of genres I won’t read. You won’t find any romance novels in my list, it’s a genre I dislike I intensely. Some of the books I read this year came to me after I asked some online friends for book recommendations that had no romance. I found myself reading a couple of books that I was loving, until they suddenly became focussed on romance between the main characters. I was annoyed & almost stopped reading because of it 🙂

I should note, not only was 2021 been the year of the book but it has also been the year of the library. A lot of the books I’ve read have been borrowed from my local library. I love love love owning books, but it’s not realistic to buy every book that I want to read. Money aside, where on earth would they all live? It wouldn’t take long for them to take over every corner of my house. I keep a note on my phone with books I’d like to read, using it as the basis for books to borrow. I use the library’s online hold system to borrow books & often browse the latest releases list to see what might interest me.

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So, the list. I’ll note if the book is mine by writing own after it; there is a couple of re-reads of books so I’ll note that to.

Toksvig’s Almanac – Sandi Toksvig. Own.

Happiness Will Follow – Mike Hawthorne. Own. Bought this for research, as I interviewed Mike for my podcast. It’s the first graphic memoir I’ve read.

At Work – Annie Leibovitz. Own.

Becoming – Michelle Obama. Own.

Later – Stephen King. Own.

The Stand – Stephen King. Own. I’ve read this a few times since the first time I read it as a young teenager. I first read the abridged edition. My copy is the unabridged edition, which I think is worth reading. All the extra details & minutia of the characters lives help make it more comprehensive.

Fuck Happiness: How The Science of Psychology Ignores Women – Ariel Gore.

Archangel’s Sun – Nalini Singh.

Hysteria: A Memoir of Illness, Strength & Women’s Stories Throughout History – Katerina Bryant.

On Truth, Courage & Saving Our Planet – Greta Thunberg.

Wyrd Sisters – Terry Pratchett.

Equal Rites – Terry Pratchett.

Jingo – Terry Pratchett.

Every Sky A Grave – Jay Posey.

Sourcery – Terry Pratchett.

Cursed – Multiple Authors, Short Stories.

The Quiet Girl – S.F. Kosa.

Billy Summers – Stephen King. Own.

Stardust – Neil Gaiman.

Turns Out I’m Fine – Judith Lucy.

Sharp Objects – Gillian Flynn.

How Do You Live? – Genzaburo Yoshino.

Emotional Female – Yumiko Kadota.

The Book Thief – Markus Zusak. Own. Re-read.

Eggshell Skull – Bri Lee.

The Sandman: The Dream Hunter – Neil Gaiman.

Puff Piece – John Safran.

That’s 28 books! Kind of seems crazy, to go from reading a handful each year for a few years, to 28 this year. The year isn’t over & I started reading another last night, so maybe the number will stretch to 30? Guess I’ll update here if it does.

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What happened this year that you’d like to remember? Write it down, share it with someone or keep it to yourself. Remember it 🙂

Current Inspirations

Thistles photographed whilst cycling

It’s time for another update on who’s inspiring me, who makes me want to stretch my artistic self and who’s helping me to relax.

The first and probably biggest inspiration, that I’ve already shared here earlier in the year, is the Girl’s With Camera group, which is run by German photographer Dawn Hansch. This female only online photographic space is a daily source of inspiration. Dawn posts prompts and ideas every day that are designed to create the urge to take out your camera and take photos. There’s advice available, monthly online question and answer sessions and a wonderful network of support. If you’d like to level up your photographic skills, check out Dawn’s group here https://girls-with-cameras.com

Sticking to the photographic scene, a couple of YouTube channels inspire me to continually improve. The biggest influence currently is Kutovakika, who I had the pleasure of interviewing last week for a future podcast episode of the Art Supply Posse. Kika’s attitude and photographic style is delightful. Check her out here https://www.youtube.com/c/Kutovakika

Another photographer I like is Chris Chuhttps://www.youtube.com/c/ChrisChu00 His self portrait videos in particular have inspired me over the past few months, although he has lots of other great videos too.

The final photography inspiration comes from Mango Street https://www.youtube.com/c/MangoStreet They have some unique videos, looking at a wide variety of photography and styles. They pack lots of great ideas into their videos, in a short space of time.

Looking further afield I’m finding inspiration from other creatives. Flo, from Art With Flo https://artwithflo.com/ continues to make me want to improve my digital art skills, as does BeeJayDel https://www.beejaydel.com Both have great tutorials on YouTube but also art communities online to provide further support and inspiration.

In what feels like a weird turn from the above inspirational people I’ve also found inspiration whilst reading books. The books I’ve read this year are a mixed bag of genres, but I find reading makes me feel good, which in turn helps me to be in the right head space to make art. I’ve read everything from Stephen King’s latest novel Billy Summers to 30+ year old books by Terry Pratchett to memoirs and more. This year I’ve read more books than I have for years. It’s a habit I hope to keep up.

How about you? What’s been inspiring you?

Feeling A Lot Of Gratitude

At the end of August I was challenged by my brother to take part in the Great Cycling Challenge. Actually, scrap that sentence – he didn’t challenge me, he signed me up! He’d signed himself up & I guess he decided I should take part too.

You can find all the info relating to the challenge here https://greatcyclechallenge.com.au/Riders/KimCofield

The tldr: during October hundreds of people across Australia are cycling & fundraising to help kids living with cancer and I’m taking part.

I set a conservative cycling goal and fundraising goal. 75kms and $1000. There’s 14 days left in October and I’ve met and gone over both goals. I’m surprised and grateful.

Wednesday October 13 was Kick Cancer’s Butt day. Every dollar donated was matched by a group of generous corporate supporters. They had a million dollars to add to the fund over 1.6 million dollars was raised on Wednesday. It’s kind of mind blowing when you think about it.

Friends and family donated to me; it was amazing to get their responses and see their donations on my fundraising page. I’ve even had a friend who lives in the UK donate, which blew me away.

So, I’ve reset my goals. I’m now hoping to raise $1500 and ride 100kms. I hope I can do both. If you’d like to donate, the donate button is in there in the link above 🙂

An Observation Project

A double exposure, playing with expectations of a sunset

It has been a while since I’ve stopped to photograph the setting sun in my backyard. More often than not I’ll stop what I’m doing & notice it, observe the beautiful colours – even the skies that are appear to be a single shade of blue, making them a lot less interesting than the skies full of yellow, orange & pink hues – have a small amount of beauty to them – and then continue on with what i was doing. But actually picking up my camera & photographing it, well i just hadn’t bothered. I’d sort of thought, what’s the point? There’s only so many times something can be photographed before it’s boring, right?

Over the past couple of days I’ve read about photographers repeatedly photographing something, whether it be something around their home such as a magnificent tree or something further afield such as a lake or river. As i read about these projects i found myself wishing i to had something to photograph. Not daily, i find a daily commitment to one thing difficult to work with. But once a week, or every fortnight, that works for me. Then i realised, i’ve kind of been doing that already, with my backyard sunset photos.

Ok, so i haven’t been photographing them a lot lately, but I’ve been intermittently photographing them for years. Why not return to it? Why are backyard sunsets any less significant than anyone else’s projects? They’re not, of course. I just hadn’t afforded them any real significance. They were simply a thing I’d randomly capture, a small moment of beauty to admire. I’m going to change this a little. Formalise it if you will. My aim is to photograph one backyard sunset every fortnight. Sometimes it may even be more often than that. I’ll share my results here, with you.

Is there something you’ve been thinking about doing? Undertaking a new art project perhaps, or learning a new skill? Maybe you too have a project sitting in the back of your mind, not yet expressed. Why not give it a go? Yo never know what may come of it.