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!

Monday, January 26, 2015

The alternative to the alternative

I'm not sure if it's where we're at in the cycle of the moon or where I'm at in my own cycle.

Maybe it's boredom or fatigue or the absence of a routine to anchor our days and weeks. Though, equally, it could be because we're on the cusp of the start of the academic year and the brink of the unknown.

Or perhaps it could be the slow realisation that I am not going back to my day job and that new responsibilities are coming and accountabilities are required. Indubitably the fact that all this is new and not everyone realises how important it is, has something to do with it. I'm sure the fact that I haven't had much time to myself, let alone time to write, is a big BIG part of it. (And I realise I haven't told you much about any of that but I promise I will very soon.)

I'm also wondering if I'm getting a bit overwhelmed by some of the research I've been doing for my writing and for my life. The shoulds have really set in and got me questioning pretty much... everything.

Also, I miss The Colbert Report. Particularly the bit where my husband and I hang out every night on the couch and watch something we both really enjoy and actually learn something, then chat about it a lot afterwards.

Maybe it's a bit of all of the above or none of it.

I know I am repeating myself when I say that things feel weird. (And I also want to add that I realise I  didn't do my daughter or myself justice in my last post. "As far as I could see, she was having a meltdown because I offered to buy her an ice cream." I know this not to be true. She was having a meltdown because I was asking her to make a commitment and stick to it for the rest of the day. And she felt it was too much to ask.)

But mostly, I think I'm having trouble admitting that now is not my time.

Everything feels like a massive effort. From getting out of bed to catching up on blog posts to yet another load of laundry to social interactions which are invariably rather enjoyable to making that lasagne I promised my daughter to making progress on my novel.

I'm having trouble mustering the enthusiasm for anything.

And when I do, it's clunky. I'm tired no matter how much sleep I get. I can hardly arrange my pixels productively on the screen. The laundry-to-available-clothes-horse ratio is imbalanced and a few baskets have to sit overnight in wait, with the result that the DKNY dress I bought in New York two years ago has a massive pink stain on the shoulder. The timing of social interactions gets thrown by little people who refuse to nap, or cancelled due to PMS. I make a special trip to the grocery store to by the onions that I need, then make another for lasagne sheets, then realise that our lasagne dish broke last September. I can't even think about the novel, let alone make progress on it.

And, of course, my stinking mood is made even more laughable by the fact that these are all first world problems and hardly blips on life's radar.

Also, the alternative is obvious, right?

I mean, a sane person would be resting right about now. Reflecting, rejuvenating, maybe even managing a bit of gratitude for all they have. If highly evolved, they might even choose to do all the things they feel resentful about in an attempt to reframe the situation and step back into the driver's seat.

But, today, I am reminded of my magnificent friend Max's question: what are you willing to release now?

And the answer makes its way to me through the fug.

I release the need to try and understand what's happening to me now. Because I release the compulsion to try and fix it. Because I release the idea that I need fixing. And I release the blame and shame I have for being a person who feels like she needs fixing.

Because a lot of humans, especially woman ones, feel this way. And I release the notion that I should be any better different.

This post is in response to the second 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!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Old and new, messy and bright

Last night was the first new moon of the year.

New moons herald beginnings. They invite certainty, intention. And signal a window of opportunity where effort towards building foundations will be rewarded, fruitful.

The best I can do this new moon is: let me be present with as much courage and grace as I can muster.

There's nothing wrong. I mean to say, everything is actually humming along quite nicely. 2014 ended with the realisation that everything I hoped for had come to pass. I was also blessed with the chance to rest and recover after being ejected from the conveyor belt that carried me through Reverb, the end of the academic year, the festive season. 2015 promises to be one of the most powerful years ever.

Right now, it feels like we're in a holding pattern. But it also feels like everything is on the brink of changing.

My daughter is on school holidays until the end of next week. Many of the local service providers who support our daily lives are still straggling back from holidays of their own. A routine, including regular babysitting (= writing time for me), is only just falling into place. The hottest part of Summer beckons.

Early signs are emerging that my breastfeeding days are numbered. The changes may be subtle, and mainly confined to my body, but everyone in our house is feeling them.

I find myself obsessed with Black Madonnas, Artemis, the divine feminine. Labyrinths. Bees.

My daughter is starting at a new school this year and we are all, in our own ways, a bit nervous about that.

She had a meltdown yesterday because I offered to buy her an icecream. To be fair, I asked her to think about whether she really wanted an icecream because it was a sweet treat and it would mean that she would not be able to have any other sweet treats for the day. (My daughter has a flair for inveigling her way into more and more sweet treats as the day progresses. Or maybe I am just a sap.)

I let her cry and carry on while I helped her out of her bathers. Then I asked her to help me understand what was going on. As far as I could see, she was having a meltdown because I offered to buy her an ice cream.

"I don't know!" She wailed, "This is just a weird time!"

This week, my best friend finalised her contract for a fantastic new job after many months of seeking. I sent her a posy of flowers from her favourite florist. I couldn't resist its vibrant blooms but also because it was called "The time is bright".

It's hot, overcast and humid here in Melbourne. I had a sacred two hours to myself in my writing studio yesterday and spent most of the time squinting into the glare leeching through my window. I polished off a massive bag of chocolate candy and rearranged the fairy lights on my walls.

The time is, indeed, bright.

And messy.

And as my daughter pointed out, more than a little bit weird.

Last night, I skyped with my therapist and cried a lot. I haven't cried a lot for a long time and they felt like old, old tears.

Beginnings, I am learning, also herald endings.

This post is in response to the first 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 is way April Moon and we'd love to have you join us!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Reverb14: the day after

Thank you, my friends. Seriously: THANK YOU. It's been an incredible three weeks. We've laughed, we've cried, we've vented, we've hugged ourselves tenderly, we've held a veritable Asshatters Tea Party.

I am blown away every year by the community that forms around Reverb and this year was no exception. There were 236 of us, in the finish. And staggering number posted (and shared) every single day. You pushed yourselves out of your comfort zones and shared artwork and selfies, some even made videos! But what awed me even more was that you visited so many other posts and left insightful, supportive comments.

I was thinking this morning that if I had to describe the Reverb14 community in one word, it would be RESILIENT. I have been humbled, time and time again, learning of the paths that brought you here. But reading your raw and feisty words, I can't help but know that you are going to be OK. We are all going to be OK. And surely that means this crazy, beautiful, terrifying world we live in is going to be OK.

Thank you for giving me hope.

A huge shout-out to our magnificent guest bloggers: Max Daniels; Noel Rozny; Brad aka GeekinHard; Jen Allen; Kira Elliott; Amy Taylor-Kabbaz; Marianne Elliott; Amy of The Anxious Hippie; Tracy Brisson; Sophie Appleby; and Jen Lee. We were also very lucky to have been graced with Camille Condon's superb design skills in the form of a blog button and email banner.

I respect each and every one of these talented people enormously and cannot begin to express my gratitude for their generosity of spirit at such a busy time of year. I follow their blogs and twitter feeds and can honestly say that you will not regret doing the same.

Please stay in touch! Let me know what came up for you, your biggest findings, the gifts you'll carry into the new year. Come back in April for a check-in and recharge.

Know that, whatever happens, this tribe you have created will always be here for you.

And you are never alone.

Much love,
Kat x

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Reverb14 Day 21: ending with certainty

Today, I'd like you to revisit what you wrote on 1 December on the first day of Reverb14. 

How does that compare to where you are now i.e. what can you say today with certainty?

Then, without thinking too hard about it, grab a pen and some paper and finish the following sentences:

In 2015, I am open to...

In 2015, I want to feel...
In 2015, I will say no to...
In 2015, I will know I am on the right track when… But when I find myself veering off course, I will gently but firmly…
In December 2015, I want to look back and say...

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being such an incredible part of this Reverb journey. I’ll be back tomorrow but for now I’m inviting you to sit and marvel at all that you have achieved in 2014 and all the joy that awaits in 2015.

You are warmly invited to share your response in the linky below. Be sure to check out the other amazing responses while you're there! (Trust me, this is how the magic happens.)

This prompt is part of the Reverb14 reflective writing challenge. The full set of prompts can be viewed here once they are published.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Reverb14 Day 20: space for joy (with thanks to Jen Lee)

Today's prompt comes from the phenomenal Jen Lee (photo credit Bella Cirovic). Jen's superpower is harnessing her gifts to offer beautiful resources for the creative journey, usually in loving collaboration. The forthcoming The 10 Letters Project is no exception. 

Jen writes:

One thing I learned in 2014 was how to make space for joy and levity, even in the midst of challenging circumstances or sad times. 

How could you make space for joy in the year to come? How could you protect it?

Thank you Jen!

P.S. If you want to experience Jen's magic in the comfort of your own home, give yourself the gift of Indie Kindred for Christmas (you can thank me later!). 

You are warmly invited to share your response in the linky below. Be sure to check out the other amazing responses while you're there! (Trust me, this is how the magic happens.)

This prompt is part of the Reverb14 reflective writing challenge. The full set of prompts can be viewed here once they are published.