Monday, February 23, 2015

A "tour" of my writing studio

Allow me to confess that, when it's time to go, I linger at the cubicle entrance and take in the sight, still unable to believe it's all mine and counting down the minutes and the seconds until I can return.

P.S. This sweet little nook next to mine (pictured below, styled by moi) is available if you live in metro Melbourne and you are keen for a room of one's own...

Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Sunday savoured

Today, I am so very grateful for...

1. Actually making it to Lake Street Dive last night! I did begin to doubt my sanity when I arrived in the city to discover it was White Night (how did I manage to miss that "little" detail?). But it was a beautiful balmy evening and the music was beautiful and there was something very appealing about weaving anonymously through the crowds... who were rather well behaved, may I say..

And then there was the journey home.

There were literally thousands of people crowding the platforms at Flinders Street Station. But I had Lena Dunham's Not That Kind of Girl for company. And my train was only eight minutes delayed and I managed to get on when it arrived. It didn't go through the city loop, due to congestion, which cut about eight minutes off the journey time. And then I got chatting to a random stranger standing next to me... only to discover that she will be hosting my daughter's birthday party next weekend!!!

Which is a nice segue into the next two things I am grateful for...

2. After a lot of dithering and deliberation (and too many hours of internet research and fear of letting her down), I managed to tee up two excellent birthday parties for my daughter. The first will include all the students in her new class and will centre around Lego activities (hosted by the lady I "met" on the train!); the second will involve a selection of her old school friends and a lot of bouncing up and down! There will also be smaller gatherings with each side of the family and her dearest preschool friends. So it's going to be party month at chez nous and it will be somewhat exhausting but completely worth it.

3. The Universe sending me exactly what I need at any given time. Last night on the train was the perfect example. Other instances include: needing to visit a particular location so I could include it in my novel then noticing a link on instagram to an interview which included photos of every detail I was wondering about; and attending my daughter's school working bee and chatting to other parents to discover that their children had been complaining of all the same things my little 'un had, thus reassuring me that it was just something that came with the turf rather than an indication that I'd made a bad choice for my daughter's education. I am so blessed and grateful. And happy to be awake.

4. Speaking of blessings, I received the most amazing email from a beautiful reader called Corinne and a card from a gorgeous gal who participated in Reverb14 called Melissa. Both reminded me just how powerful and present is the community that has gathered around my offerings. I feel so humbled to be seen and supported by such kind, wise and genuine souls. Love.

5. Humans of New York. Anyone doubting the power of social media (or the ratio of kind people to stink bombs in the world) should check out the story of Mott Hall Bridges Academy in Brooklyn. It was a privilege to witness this story unfold and an honour to contribute financially.

6. My little niece, who is six weeks older than my bambino. She spends the day with us on Mondays when my sister goes to work. It's an intense day, for sure, and I am so grateful for my parents who come to help for a few hours. But that little girl is such a delight, she's so affectionate and hilarious and we all love her to bits. I'm so grateful that I have the chance to provide this opportunity so that my children will grow up close to their beautiful cousin.

7. Looking back over the wonderful theatre my daughter and I attended over the summer holidays: La BefanaGiggle & Hoot, Charlie and Lola, The Tiger who Came to Tea, and Caribbean Pirates. We laughed and cried, ate gelato, went on treasure hunts and learnt a lot. We're so lucky to live in a city that provides such amazing cultural activities for little people... and we didn't even scratch the tip of the iceberg.

8. Hearing Amanda Palmer read from The Art of Asking. I have mixed feelings about Amanda Palmer and her music, if I'm going to be honest, but I loved her TED talk and her book was truly excellent. The conversation aspect of the evening was pretty disappointing -- a real missed opportunity -- but it was incredibly moving to hear Neil Gaiman read passages from the book about him and their relationship. It was also one of the first times I'd been out of an evening for a looooong time... and it was a palpable reminder that there is a lot of world out there. Sigh.

9. The work of Lucy Knisley. I've absolutely loved soaking in her world, documented in comics about travel, art, cooking, love and growing into her self. I highly recommend her books Relish (which includes gorgeous recipes) and An Age of License. She's my kinda gal.

10. The Alchemist's Oracle Deck by Lauren Aletta aka Inner Hue. It is absolutely breathtaking and check out the exquisite card it came with (pictured above and below, front and back). Did I mention that Alchemy is my word of the year? More on this sooooooon.

What are you grateful for today?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Savouring my Saturday

I've really missed sharing my gratitude in this space and, as a result, have a lot of things in the queue, just waiting for some light to be shone on them! So, I'll be sharing more tomorrow but without further ado:

Right now I am grateful for...

1. The beautiful email from my equally beautiful friend Jen in Atlanta, in response to Thursday's post:

I am glad that you showed up. I am so happy to read your words! Here's the thing, you've still been showing up. I promise. Just in other places. There is nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all.

Between this and the emails I have received from friends noticing the lacuna and enquiring if I was OK, I feel beloved  and blessed indeed.

2. I'm happy to report that my amazing daughter has settled in really well to her new school. She's been brave and open and willing to get in there and have a go, as always. Of course, she's had some very healthy and normal anxieties, and I've had a couple of concerns of my own, but the school has been very responsive to both. So I'm almost completely reassured that we have made the right decision.

3. Our little dude is back on track with sleeping. He only tends to wake once during the night and he is settling himself beautifully. Even daytime naps are a lot less stressful this time around. I feel like we're working together towards weaning, though we're on no hurry. A routine that has greater flexibility for all of us, will be very welcome as, at present, sleep is tied to breastfeeds so I'm the only one who can settle him.

4. An oldie but a goodie! I rarely watch funny videos and am very reluctant to forward them on (and I know absolutely nothing about Taylor Swift) but this one had me smiling from ear to ear for days afterwards.

5. A lovely little exhibition about a local theatre star. I really love local history, feeling connected to the stories that give our 'hood so much character. Did I mention that I have engaged the help of a local historian to research the story of our home? The stuff she's discovered has blown me away. More on this soon.

6. Speaking of which, this phenomenal house was recently sold. My husband used to live a few doors down and knew the elderly gent who lived there quite well. He was always dressed rather dapperly and always told the same stories. Apparently after the auction, everyone from the neighbourhood stayed behind to exchange stories about the man. Love.

7. Past selves, future selves: a theme is emerging. I am indebted to Isabel Faith Abbott for pointing me in the direction of this amazing piece by Elizabeth Gilbert. Yes.

8. I actually won something! I am a subscriber to Frankie Magazine and a member of Writers Victoria and both recently held draws to reward their subscribers. I won a pair of Saltwater sandals and the novel The Factory by esteemed Melbourne writer Paddy O'Reilly, respectively. I'm not a winner, as a rule, so this was a lovely surprise!

9. I was blown away by the genesis of this band. I'm just sorry I won't have the chance to see them this time around. Hopefully there will be a next time and soon! Sadly this won't be the case for the remaining members of the Buena Vista Social Club, whom I won't be able to see when they're in town on their farewell tour. Sometimes, you just gotta live with the (FO)MO, huh.

10. I have a ticket to see Lake Street Dive tonight. When I booked the ticket, I noted the time as 5pm but it turns out they won't be onstage until 9pm. So, provided I am still awake and am up for a night of standing around in 36 degrees Celsius, it should be a really lovely night. And if I don't make it... I guess it I will be living proof that sleep wins over FOMO. I believe I can live with that.

What are you grateful for, right now?

Friday, February 20, 2015

What I heard when I finally listened

Late last year when my baby son was waking every two hours all night through, I prayed for a miracle. I had been reading Marianne Williamson's A Return to Love and to seemed like the only thing to do.

The night after I prayed, he woke every hour-and-a-half, taking half an hour to resettle each time.

I fell apart.

That was actually the miracle.

Because after that, I started a "teach to sleep" program and my son started sleeping through the night.

Over time, of course, our technique got a bit sloppy. My baby gradually grew to rely on me again to settle him. Sure, I wasn't singing the same songs or rocking him in the same way. And he was mostly sleeping through the night. So told myself it wasn't a big deal.

Until the waking every hour-and-a-half started again, taking half an hour to resettle.

And I started to fall apart again.

Leonard Cohen, in his superlative song Anthem, sings of the cracks letting the light in. I have seen the truth in that.

But when I am falling apart, my cracks get filled pretty quickly. Mainly with nasty self talk.

You are not allowed to make mistakes. You are doing a terrible job. You are not allowed to leave any mess. You must anticipate, plan for everything. You are the most ungrateful girl in the world. You are the most useless mum in the world. You are the most selfish wife in the world. You are lazy. You are fat and still you stuff your face with chocolate. You're so stupid, you can't get anything right. You cannot ask for help. You cannot mess this up. No wonder you are on your own right now.

Looking back, I'm not surprised that this prompt threw me. "What is the sound of your own voice?" The cacophony of nastiness may have been a big part of the reason I stopped blogging for a while.

But one day, as recently as last week, I stood by my son's cot, rocking him for the millionth time for the millionth hour, I realised that I had nothing left to do but listen.

I got quiet.

And then I heard my own tiny, plaintive voice. And it said:


That night I resumed the "teach to sleep" program.

This post is in response to the fifth prompt of the Reverb14 reflective writing challenge. All prompts can be found here; you are warmly invited to share your response and link to it in the comments below, if you feel called to do so. 

The next opportunity to connect in this way is April Moon and we'd love to have you join us!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

You know how it happens

One night, it just feels easier not to show up.

And then, after a while, not showing up becomes a habit.

There are always reasons.

Woke too early from a groggy disjointed sleep. Grouched all the way to getting there on time. Completed too many errands on the way home. Emerged victorious from the battle of the first nap.

Cleaned the house so it shined improbably. Ensured that whomever visited was suitably looked after (and impressed by the lack of clutter) (and dissuaded from washing dishes).

Raced off to tick more boxes. Helped out for no other reason that it feels good (oh, and that it marks me as One Of Those People Who Likes To Help Out). Raced home to put things into place for a smooth transition into the afternoon.

Got there early, waited, coaxed off the monkey bars, endured the tears. Tidied what needs to be tidied, signed what needs to be signed, packed what needs to be packed. Dinnertime, bathtime, bedtime. Emerging seriously scathed from the battle with the sleep resistance movement. Elsewhere, there are stories that need to be read.

Climate predicted, ambience controlled (windows opened, blinds closed). Ironed what needs to be ironed. Dishes, washed. On the weekend there are also many loads of laundry and houseplants to be watered.

Somewhere in there: wrote a bit of a novel. Or three. In clunky, painful increments.

And after that?

The couch doesn't really hold much lure now that The Colbert Report is over. Sometimes, there's a glass of wine and a chat. Sometimes even that feels like too much effort.

Crawling into bed with a book has won out, consistently. Over the past two months I have read more books than I have read in the past two years. So there's that.

But the idea of putting pen to paper in a journal or pouring emotions and experience into pixels here... well, there's just not a lot left for that.

It just feels easier not to show up.

And then, after a while, not showing up becomes a habit.

That's not to say it's not a nightly battle: I should be keeping this going versus I'm actually allowed to rest.

Tonight, I'm here though I have no idea how I will make the same space to show up tomorrow. Maybe I'm hoping that showing up will become a habit again.

We'll see.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

On knowing

It's hard for me to convey just how much love is contained within this cardboard cone... and I'm not referring to the chocolates and cute stationery.

Last night, the parents of sixteen children (myself included) perched on tiny chairs in the prep classroom. We cobbled together massive pieces of cardboard, then burnt ourselves with hot glue guns whilst trying to wrangle tissue paper and cellophane into something vaguely celebratory.

There was much hilarity at our own expense -- and considerable anxiety about the tissue paper requirement (and why did nobody think to bring wine?)-- but something beautiful was clearly happening.

The Schultüte is a 19th Century tradition. I must confess, I was completely ignorant of it until I enrolled my daughter in a bilingual school. And while I have my own anxieties about how this is going to pan out, the Schultüte experience seemed like an incredibly fitting one.

To start with, it connected us to a centuries-old culture of learning, one where parents celebrated the start of their children's educational journey in a fun and tangible way. One chap brought in the Schultüte that he and his siblings had used as children: his parents had it sent all the way from Germany. He and his wife spent the evening cutting out their son's name and the year from felt and adding it to this beautiful heirloom.

I especially love how the activity centred on the cardboard cone which was made by hand and decorated with our child's personality and preferences in mind. I understand that many parents in Europe buy Schultüte for their children and I'm not judging but I would not have missed the chance to make something for anything. There was something about the time and effort required that felt important; honouring.

Naturally, the process lent itself towards competitiveness. And being human, I could not help but feel a little Schultüte-envy by the end of the evening. One woman told me how much her son loved insects... then proceeded to construct a magnificent lush jungle scene; an explosion of green tissue paper completed with 3D creepy crawly she'd made herself.

All the way home, I wondered: would my daughter like it? Would she still be pleased with it when she saw the others? Would mine be good enough for her? [Subtext: am I good enough for her?]

But, of course, when she clapped eyes on it this morning, she was delighted. She noticed everything I had chosen for her with so much care: the image of Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom; the many many owls; a German-themed Hello Kitty or two; sparkling butterflies and many many shining hearts.

She won't have the chance to open the Schultüte until after her first session at school tomorrow morning, as custom dictates. But therein she'll discover an equally delightful selection of treats chosen with love: Dia de los Muertos-themed erasers; scented pens; her favourite American candies; hologram unicorn stickers; tissues and bandaids; multi-coloured hair elastics wrapped in the shape of a lollypop; her initials in sparkly perspex keyrings; heart-shaped chocolates.

Once the excitement has settled, I want to tell her that I chose Athena and the owls not only because she loves them but to remind her that she is wise and brave and strong. And that she will be OK even though this is all so new and a little bit scary.

I also want to tell her that, in attending the Schultüte craft night, I had a small taste of what she'll be experiencing. The greeting was in German, the explanation of what to do was in German and subsequent discussions were also in German... and I had no idea what any of it meant because I do not understand German. And it was frustrating and somewhat annoying and also more than a little embarrassing but I had to ask for help... and keep asking until I finally understood what was required of me and to make sure I didn't miss anything. I want her to know that it felt strange for me to do this but I wasn't the only one and, actually, everyone was very nice about it and quite friendly in the end.

I won't need to tell her that her mama loves her more than all the sparkling butterflies and shining hearts in the universe. She already knows that. Because I tell her every day. And we often talk about our totems. But also because this is the energy we channel: mama the lioness, my daughter the owl, her little baby brother the hedgehog.

I know it sounds funny, put like that. But once you feel it, you know.

You know.

This post is in response to the fourth prompt of the Reverb14 reflective writing challenge. All prompts can be found here; you are warmly invited to share your response and link to it in the comments below, if you feel called to do so. 

The next opportunity to connect in this way is April Moon and we'd love to have you join us!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

What is.

For all my bleating, there's a lot to love about where I am now. And not returning to my day job is one of them.

Longtime readers may know that I have worked in university administration all my life. Actually, I have worked at one university since I was 21. I turned 40 last year, so I have literally spent half of my life in service to one institution, albeit in a range of different roles.

Like many large and complex [and ostensibly government-funded] organisations, internal reviews and restructures are a prominent feature on the annual university calendar. And last year was no exception. While I was on maternity leave, a pogrom of administrative roles took place. Some 400 roles were discontinued and the university made it clear that voluntary redundancies were not available.

The larger unit where I worked, my team, my role all evaporated in my absence. Like all staff in this situation, I was given the choice of applying for another role or waiting to see if the university could match me with a suitable role at the same level, bearing in mind that my fraction was 0.4. I was out of the loop but I kinda got the impression the uni was hoping a whole lot of people would get jack of the process and just leave, saving them time, effort and money.

And I could share with you all the to-ing and fro-ing that went on late last year. The umm-ing and ahh-ing about whether I wanted to return and whether I should return. And if I did, what sort of role I would want to apply for? And if I didn't, what would I be prepared to claim as my vocation?

But I'll spare you the angst, the ridiculousness, the farcical motions I went through to apply for a role so that it looked like I was playing the game. Although I  do have to mention, though, the kindness and support shown to me by certain senior personnel, who stuck their neck out, making me an offer at a time when they would have fought to justify it. This made me feel seen, valued. And incredibly guilty.

Because, at the end of the day, my heart wasn't in it.

I wanted to write. The opportunity had arrived and I knew that if I didn't seize it, I would always regret it.

(And, in the midst of the not-knowing, I had upped the ante on myself and signed the lease on a writing studio!)

Finally, the news arrived that I had been offered an involuntary redundancy package. (If a job offer had been made, no redundancy would have been payable, regardless of whether I accepted the role or not.)

It surprised me how mixed my feelings were about this.

It finally dawned on me that a massive chapter of my life -- indeed, the one that defined me for a long time -- was finally closing. I need to add here that this was the university that brought my parents to Australia. It was also where I completed my undergraduate and doctoral studies and where I lived for a time. And where I met my husband. Through the time of my employment I had grown up, loved and lost, bought my first apartment, married and had children. I'd met my best friend and some of my dearest friends on the planet.

It was a place that I genuinely loved and believed in with my whole heart (which is part of the reason why, I'll wager, I was so successful in the marketing department). Twenty years-worth of emotions flooded through me.

And then HR gave me the shits by refusing to recognise a piddling few years I'd spent at an affiliated institution. They also calculated my entire service (such as they were prepared to recognise i.e. nine years instead of nineteen) at 0.4 fraction, because policy dictated that payouts would be calculated at the level and fraction of an employee's last role.

In short, I was leaving with a pittance.

Believe me, I tried everything and everyone but, at the end of the day, I decided it was just money and sucked it up. And left.

No Thank You letter. No farewell party. No chance to say goodbye. A quick lunch with my former team, some of whom have moved to other roles, others also accepting redundancies.

The ending wasn't quite what I had in mind and, in many ways, it was downright disappointing. But an ending it was.

And now, I find myself at the beginning of a life which is, in fact, a continuation of the life I have been living. My daughter is about to go back to school. My son is nearing one year old. My mum is coming over one day a week for four hours, my mother-in-law another day a week for four hours, so I can go to my studio and write. I will also likely sneak out on Saturday mornings when my husband is home so I can write.

My redundancy money has mostly been invested but some has been put away for my studio rent, mobile phone bill, therapy bills, sponsoring a child in Rwanda and, of course, other things that contribute to the smooth running of our household.

And although I don't know what I will do once my budget has run out and although the babysitting has been ad hoc to date and although I am nowhere near as far along as where I hoped to be as far as my novels go... this is what is.

And I know how lucky I am to have it. And how hard I have worked for it.

And all I can think is... LOVE.

This post is in response to the third prompt of the Reverb14 reflective writing challenge. All prompts can be found here; you are warmly invited to share your response and link to it in the comments below, if you feel called to do so. 

The next opportunity to connect in this way is April Moon and we'd love to have you join us!