Monday, May 31, 2010

Freedom from constraint


Haiku is great fun
Doesn't feel like real writing
Counting out the words

Logged off for a change
Sitting with pen and paper
Syllables unfurl

Working within the
Contraint of five seven five
Calls me out to play

Creativity
Blossoms when form is rigid
Mantra for my life

With thanks to Artsyville Aimee for the inspiration and Bring Yourself Amy for the encouragement.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Pulled at random from my bookshelf


By wanting so much to be free, she had created a new technique for herself and was bound by its rules. She was controlling her painting and feeling more and more agitated about not getting it right. Her work had slowed down dramatically and she stood for long periods of time looking at it, trying to figure it out. I could see she was ready to listen to any suggestion, yet I knew nothing of that sort would help. She had already tried too hard.

Life, Paint and Passion
Michele Cassou and Stewart Cubley

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Re-ravelling (VIII)


I feel it's time to weave together these ravelled yarns. Time to think through the origin of the skeins, consider the common threads. Time to stop referring to myself in the third person (which I'm truly grateful to folk for bearing with, even if they may have secretly suspected I was a total tosser).

I see a longing to belong but a distrust of imposed and adopted identities. I see a fear of inadequacy but a hesitation to reveal too much. I see the impulsion to acquire more, do more, be more coupled with the wish to have less, do less, be still. I see a desire to keep things nice, keep everybody happy, but a resolution to eschew the difficult conversations and denying the validity of sadness. I see desperate clinging to the illusion of control, and rebellion/release only through wild and inadvisable extremes of indulgence.

I see the growing realisation that real love is unconditional and resilient, and that sharing painful truths is liberating for the speaker and for the listener. I see the acknowledgement that happiness is also sadness and it is also pain, but all of these things are necessary if learning and growth are to happen. I see growing recognition of cycles, patterns, interconnectedness. I see a gradual allowing for the possibility that sitting still does not mean inertia or irrelevance. I see that resistance is futile.

I wonder if picking through my tapestry of stories, I have been trying to exorcise their hold over me. Perhaps I will always be this person and feel this way. Perhaps, having spelt these things out, I need to learn to sit with them, perhaps forever. Perhaps these are not the things that are really bugging me. Perhaps a different sort of investigation is required. Perhaps I just need to eat less sugar, exercise more, lighten up a bit. Perhaps it's a bit of all of these things.

Some things I read this week really made sense:

Between the ages of twenty and forty we are engaged in the process of discovering who we are, which involves learning the difference between accidental limitations which it is our duty to outgrow and the necessary limitations of our nature beyond which we cannot trespass with impunity.
W. H. Auden
quoted in The Happiness Project
Gretchen Rubin

The doctors had no explanation; apparently they often don't. So she blamed herself [...]. She had a rotating list of causes. As long as it was her fault, it was tolerable. Next time, she'd get it right. What made her suicidal was the possibility that it wasn't her fault, that arbitrary danger exists and come and get any of us for no reason at all.
The Middle Place
Kelly Corrigan

Are [women today] happy -- or shall I say, happier than my generation? That is a question I cannot answer. In a sense, I think it is irrelevant. Without hesitation I can affirm they are more honest, more courageous in facing themselves and their lives, more confident of what they want to do and more efficient in carrying through their aims. But, above all, they are more aware.
Gift from the Sea
Anne Morrow Lindenbergh

I have written every poem, every novel, for the same purpose -- to find out what I think, to know where I stand.
Journal of a Solitude
May Sarton

In other places, I have spoken of the sense that the curtain is raising on the second act of my life. Formal education is done. Childhood is over. Parenthood is beginning (but has not yet evolved into parenting my parents). Climbing the corporate ladder is no longer an aspiration. Baggage from frantic travels has been unpacked. A different sort of bravery is required. Investment. In love. In family. In health. In true friendships. In creativity. In my real work. In words.

I have come across the phrase "When the student is ready, the teacher appears" twice in the last two days.

I am ready. I am ready.

PS This arrived in my in-box while I was typing this post, and I signed up. Hmmm...

Friday, May 28, 2010

Re-ravelling (Part VII)


Wherein she starts to grow into her self.

Slowly, slowly, and over a long period of time, little signposts began to appear in her life. They whispered to her that she was worthy of something more: a life that was richer, more authentic, more fulfilling. And they urged her to invest, to do the hard stuff, to move towards it.

These signposts took many forms.

A book: SARK's Succulent Wild Woman, which encouraged her to open her eyes and breathe deeper, to investigate her flaws with courage and to share them more readily. It also opened up the possibility of celebrating her self, particularly the things she had been most keen to suppress.

A friendship: borne from work travels but resilient through growth and change and stumblings and soarings. Gentle honesty, hearty celebration, devil's advocacy, shared passion for the arts, good wine, open conversation. And fun!

A space: her first apartment. A gorgeous little haven, filled with the things that made her happy. Her retreat from the world, where she could burrow deep into her darkest places, safe in the knowledge she would not be hurting or upsetting others, or inviting their solutions. A place to explore, a place to indulge. Every morning when she opened her eyes and looked around, that was the one thing she felt grateful for.

Her family: renewed closeness and acceptance, followed by a cleave that saw the fabric of these relationships that she had taken for granted disintegrate before her eyes. Four people confused and angry and unable to communicate. The reality and repercussions of unspoken hurts, simmering away for years. Time and changed circumstance, a new arrival and a sobering brush with departure, saw wounds gradually heal. The wait was excruciating but the lessons were important.

A social self-sufficiency: choosing to venture out alone to movies, concerts, live music, on holiday. Stretching herself intellectually, exercising her courage muscle, learning to delight in conscious solitude. Books and journals as companions.

A recharge: discovering a way of detoxing her physical home, marvelling at the difference that nourishing fuel, regular movement, and a rest from her various vices made to her energy levels. Opening up to traditional Chinese medicine, taking her understanding of the interconnectedness of mind, body and soul to a new level.

A collection of individuals: a genuine, kind and loyal flatmate; a wise, funny and astute mentor; a caring, supportive and nurturing boss; an enthusiastic, talented and honest family friend. Allowing friendships and projects that drained her confidence to dissolve over time. Letting go of the role she thought she ought to play.

A major undertaking: her thesis, a way of tying together and validating so many years of hack work, of adding meaning to her profession, of giving something back. Pleasant surprise at recognition and interest it generated.

Her soulmate: after so many years of lurching from relationship to relationship, frantically trying to mould the almost-right and the not-quite-right-at-all into the improbably perfect, realising that she'd met the really-quite-appropriately some ten years earlier. Learning to love patiently, share vulnerably, and cook vegetables to perfection.

Sure, she acknowledged, it all sounded breezy in retrospect. Few of these things had made her day-to-day or hour-to-hour misery any less easier to bear. But looking back, she could see the gradual shift in her approach. Perhaps it was the dawning realisation that although she mightn't feel like she had a choice about much of what happened to her, she did have to take responsibility for how she viewed it. And the time had come to stop living unconsciously.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Re-ravelling (Part VI)


Wherein she loses her self in work.

There was no getting around the fact that she completely sucked at customer service jobs. She suspected it was due to that ridiculous sense of busy-ness that had dogged her since she was a toddler who refused a sippy cup and insisted on using a glass like the grown-ups. On a good day, it felt like a sense of purpose. On a less good day, it felt like sleeping through alarms and perpetually missing buses (even though she was guilt of neither).

The problem was that every inquiry felt like an interruption, though from what she couldn't say. And every problem felt like an assault on her good character, even though she was usually not the cause and it was not necessarily her role to fix it. The setting, the colleagues, the salary, the customers didn't make any difference. She managed to perpetuate this pattern for over ten years in various permutations and combinations. The great myth of company policy was defended with rigour, even though she complained about it with equal measure. Yes, there were occasional flashes of brilliance, but there were also spectacular lapses of judgement. And a pervading sense of slow wit under pressure. Smart but dumb-ass.

Yes, the outward manifestations of dabbles in bohemia were gradually beginning to fade. Curiously, values instilled by her parents began to surface as virtues. Punctuality, politeness, tidiness, reliability, initiative, loyalty. It took longer for her to shed the skin of the enfant terrible, the devil's advocate, the civilly disobedient -- the validation for this kind of behaviour in the political melee proved too strong. But gradually, she began to see that there might be another way, based on integrity and empathy.

In the meantime, her day job took an ostensibly more glamorous turn and, in turn, took over her life. She didn't realise it at the time but it was one of those end-of-an-era things. She was not long home from almost a year of backpacking in America and Europe. Her subterranean homesick boyfriend departed Australia for home. She moved out of her sharehouse and back in with her parents, ostensibly to save money as her new job required considerable amounts of travel. On the eve of her twenty sixth birthday, she frantically shopped for business attire for her impending inaugural journey to Singapore and Malaysia for work. And suddenly she found herself in the midst of something humidly familiar yet bewilderingly foreign.

The next five years were spent in the limbo of hotel lobbies and airport transit lounges. She learned to pack cleverly though not to curtail frivolous shopping expeditions. She dressed in imitation of the petite porcelain-skinned ladies she met on her travels, never quite pulling it off, overseas or at home. And she never did work out how to fill her time in evenings spent in five star hotels, despite various efforts. Books were left unread, journals unmarked, gym clothes pristine. Occasionally, she reverted to the comfort of the bubblebath but more often than not the pull of the mini-bar and mind-numbing TV were the only antidote to the work that threatened to spill into the wee hours of the morning.

The foreignness of her situation was not due to the cultural or language differences of the places she visited, although she was often startled by the assumptions made about her. It was the culture of the workplace and the industry that she allowed to mould her into a version of herself she could hardly bear to witness. The constant complaining of travel fatigue, while secretly counting down the days until the next trip so as to escape the office and the drudgery of life at home. Professed preference for local tastes and apparent ambivalence about five star accommodation, while secretly pursuing luxuries big and small. The touchy subject of travel expenses. The competition for stamps in the passport, for travel to danger zones. The cultivation of local knowledge while patronising the natives, particularly service providers.

Despite all that, it was surprisingly easy to be nice to her customers and colleagues, most of the time. She made friends in many different countries and worked hard to please. The problem was that she felt like a fraud and that no-one knew her, the real her, at all.

Because as time went on, she realised that she didn't know the real her either.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Re-ravelling (Part V)


Wherein she steps away from the struggle.

There was a whole period of time where, she was ashamed to admit, she was resentful she'd never had to struggle. Never been forced to live hand-to-mouth, never had to fight for anything. Always known she had people to fall back on, the safety of a loving home to retreat to. Education was given to her as a right, she was taken overseas to visit family, ferried to and from ballet classes. She'd been spared the necessity to pick up part time work so she could focus on her studies, dancing, school performances. She'd been mentored in the art of looking after oneself and others, given opportunities to learn how to cook, clean, garden, sew, drive, budget, entertain.

It was unfortunate that she never really embraced the latter list because suddenly she found herself inadequately prepared for the world. She's smart but dumb-ass. That's how the older brother of one of her classmates in secondary school had described her, and it rang in her ears throughout university. She hadn't lived on her own. She hadn't been to China. She hadn't had a real relationship. She didn't wear the right earrings. Drinking a lot of beer made her feel sick. Smoking a lot of cigarettes made her feel sick. She hadn't seen many bands. She lived a 45 minute train ride out of the city and trains were intermittent. In any case, she lived too far from the train station and didn't have a car because she'd written it off in an accident that was still giving her nightmares.

Anyway, it was sort of convenient that the zeitgeist seemed to privilege being angry and blaming someone else for it. Kurt Cobain was on the ascendent. Fashion was heroin chic. Targets for anger were easy to find. Her parents. The patriarchy. Conservative government. Organised religion. Her parents. University management. The mainstream. The past. Her parents. The future.

She couldn't quite pinpoint when she started to let go of the idea that she really needed to be angry about something. In fairness, she had genuinely struggled. Nothing out of the ordinary for a middle class girl in the dull outer suburbs: low self-esteem, poor body image, oversensitivity, the tendency to overwork and people-please. But she was doing her best to do the work, with varying levels of success.

Judging by the outward manifestations, it seemed to happen over time. She stopped dying her hair lurid colours and wearing secondhand clothes (although she never lost her fondness for pre-loved finds, particularly leather coats, tall boots and vintage bags). She gradually gave up smoking cigarettes, and rescued her brain from the haze and laze of THC (although remained excessively fond of a glass of red). Her CD collection evolved such that there were fewer purchases of unforgiving electronica and accusatory blues (although she still could never could quite resist an angsty woman belting it out). She reduced her trashy magazine and surreptitious self-help book binges and resumed reading fiction (although she'd never lose her addiction for acquiring books before she'd even finished the one she was reading).

A big part of it was letting things go. People in particular. The people and patterns that made anger rewarding.

And then she discovered that an even stronger negative vortex waiting for her in the world of work.

The perfect day: an interlude


Banana and maple syrup pancakes, and coffee in bed, accompanied by kisses and the newspaper.

A walk in the sunshine, the obligatory play on the swings, snapping away on the camera.

Many SMSes from family and friends.

Time, glorious time, to write.

Freshly brewed lentil soup and crusty grain bread. Dishes done.

Seamless preparation to go out, everyone cooperative, even my outfit worked (managed not to snag my stockings).

Decadent dinner, Italian wine, dessert to die for. I can't put relegate the latter to parentheses and it deserves a paragraph on it own.

Curls of chocolate ganache, chunks of sour cherry, slivers of clove meringue, delicate daubs of hazelnut sponge topped with ground freeze-dried raspberries, violet infused ice-cream. Accompanied by fortified Grenache from Languedoc.

The absence of material gifts of celebration. But time, intimacy, consideration in abundance.

Really, the perfect day.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Re-ravelling (Part IV)


Wherein she experiences those who have given themselves over to abandonment.

She recently read an interview where someone described a particular group of people as reminiscent of "the dark side of the Maharishi".

Something about this image stayed with her, as a number of people she had known flickered through her mind like a warped cinema reel. Of course, none of them had been as extreme or frightening as Charles Manson, the ringleader of the group under discussion in the interview. But there was something about the self-centeredness, the warped perception, the predatory behaviour disguised as brotherhood that reminded her the bohemians she had almost worshipped at university.

The self-proclaimed "right-brain dominant" dancer who consistently turned up three hours late to rehearsals and spoke in language redolent of postmodern theory, then cried during exercises requiring visualisation. The childhood friend whose parents had been Maoists, who had shouted "Red for the workers!" during kindergarten games of I Spy, then grew dreadlocks and moved interstate after graduating so she could take drugs and sleep with as many artists as possible. The baggy-jumpered boyfriend who'd teased her about her prolonged periods of self-denial when it came to food, whose eyes had lit up and he'd enthusiastically agreed when she asked whether this made her less attractive to him. The choreographer who invited her boyfriend to their coffee date so that they could have a blazing argument then poutily make up, all in her bewildered excruciated presence. The colleague who wore searing red lipstick, invited her to sushi lunches, zoned out while she spoke then confused her by heartily agreeing and kissing her even more heartily on the lips (with her eyes closed). The dishevelled boy with the green car who'd seemed reasonably happy to have her stay over at the end of a long party, lay her down, undid her shoes, then jumped up and ran out the door and didn't come back for many hours.

There was something about these stories that stuck to the tentacles of her memory. And still made her uneasy. The cruelty of the earth mothers, the stinginess of the granolas, the selfishness of the hippies. Perhaps it was wounded ego, resentment for being duped. It was probably also hurt, bitterness at being used. Doubtless her willingness to hold on to her victimhood also continued to irritate.

Whatever it was, it made her question the authenticity of the starving artists she had so ardently glamourised.

This did not, however, alleviate her suspicion that there was something wrong with her for her unease, for her inability to fit where she was not welcome.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Re-ravelling (Part III)


Wherein she craves reckless abandonment to the senses.

Her love for Paris wasn't all about envying emotional reserve. Writers such as Anais Nin, divas such as Edith Piaf, and films such as Amelie had also made a considerable impression and affirmed some of her innermost desires.

Antique velvet with worn patches, tarnished brass candlesticks, dark brocaded drapes. Sepia photographs, phonograph records. Wild ringleted hair, tall lace-up boots, peasant blouses. Beads, tattoos, peacock feathers. Cloche hats and silk stockings. Parasols. Blossoms and flaming autumn leaves. Japanese wood blocks. Arabic calligraphy.

Long languid baths. Journals written in quill and ink. Embroidery. Candles. Poetry. Stories of family, stories of friends, stories of travels. Maps, compasses, sundials. Easels. A blue biscuit tin full of buttons, raking her fingers through the plastic beans, the slight smell of sewing machine oil, buttons succumbing to gravity on the base of the tin like a sudden downpour on the roof or a colossal great wave crashing on the beach.

Fig, honeysuckle, pomegranate. Champagne and chocolate, always. Frida Kahlo. Cleopatra. Mirka Mora. Dido. Freud's Dora. Lucia Joyce. Janis Joplin. Vali Myers. Eurydice. Sylvia Plath. Aphrodite: the goddess of Cyprus, her mother's birthplace. Abyssinia. Ha Noi. Havana.

Freedom.

It was the freedom that tantalised and eluded her the most. Freedom from schedules, freedom from self-imposed requirements, freedom not to improve.

Freedom to explore. Freedom to focus wholly on the best things in life, things that can only be understood through closed eyes and deep breaths. Knowledge that comes from deep sweet naps and deeper sweeter kisses. Understanding borne from generosity, laughter and shared stories.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Re-ravelling (Part II)


Wherein she ponders her lack of restraint.

Books about Paris made her feel like shit. There was no denying that she loved Paris. It was just about her favourite place in the whole world. But there was something about descriptions of the quintessentially perfect Parisian woman that magnified her perceived inadequacies.

Curiously enough, she did not experience very many of these sorts of women first hand during her two trips to Paris. On both occasions, she found service providers to be human enough and reasonably helpful, if somewhat reserved. Actually, she preferred the freedom that this aloofness gave her: it relieved her of the need to make small talk, try and curry favour, or feel pressured to make the correct purchase, or indeed any purchase at all.

That said, she did once buy a pair of shoes slightly too big just to please the snide shop assistant whose disgracefully adolescent pen and ink drawings, tacked to the wall next to the cash register, she'd made the mistake of complimenting. Then there was that memorable occasion when she realised that she'd left her passport and ticket at the check-in desk at Charles De Gaulle and slid under a neon orange fabric banner to try and bypass the queue and retrieve her documents. She'd felt someone grab her arm roughly to pull her back under the banner and whipped around to find a stocky, fluffy-haired (but undeniably impeccably dressed) woman in uniform trying to tug her back out of the no man's land created by the orange barrier. She wrenched her arm away, muttered Fuck you! rather too audibly, sprinted towards the desk, swiped her passport wallet and ran the long way back to her waiting husband. The official rejoinder FUCK YOU TOO! reverberated in her ears as she ran, and she didn't stop shaking until she was finally, safely buckled into her seat.

Doubtless, she was subsequently given to ponder, there were millions of Parisian women who did not fit the mould dictated by culture and history. (After all, her sister had been able to point out several wearers of flesh-coloured stockings under open-toed shoes on their first day in the City of Light.) But it was the stereotype that dogged her the most. The delicate morsels of carefully cultivated cuisine. The ballet flats and scarf knotted just so. The champagne, the bread, the cheese, the chocolate. The parks, the bridges, the lamp posts. The language. Oh! The language!

This part of her craved discipline: minimal needs, minimal possessions. Routine, refinement, composure, seriousness. Subtlety, nuance and lightness of touch. Comfort stemming from certainty. Privileging beauty and quality in all things. Levity in timelessness. A sense of belonging to history.

Perhaps that was what needled her the most. The history. The resilience of the stereotype, through thousands of years of cultivation. The identification, the entitlement, the worthiness. Restraint despite abundance.

When walking in Paris, here eyes were often directed skywards, dreamily gazing at the pink dusk light falling on geraniums blooming in balconies. But her step was always heavy, betraying her shame for the messiness of her life, her incoherent history, her need to belong, her lack of forbearance. Her outsider-ness, her too-muchness.

Her longing to wipe the slate clean and start again.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Re-ravelling (Part I)


I've been looking for an antonym for unravel. Actually probably not an antonym, just something a little more piquant. In the process, I've discovered that ravel means the same thing as unravel, which is curious. But neither really do it for me at the minute.

I'm looking for a word that signifies...

... pulling things apart and considering them in new contexts, watching to see if any greatness emerges from their reconstituted sum.

... acknowledgement that picking up and following loose ends (things I assumed had nothing to do with each other) actually leads to one tightly knotted and deeply embedded notion that is at the core of who I am, who I think I am, who I wish I was, and who I'll never be.

... the past that is simmering beneath the surface of my present, none of it earth-shattering, much of it processed and understood, save for the occasional shard that threatens to catch me off-guard and scratch my otherwise neatly lacquered life.

... what my bookshelf continues to teach me: my visceral response to words and ideas, and synchronicity with my outer world.

This intense navel gazing mightn't be of much interest to others. But that's what this space is for.

Plainly speaking, I'm starting to realise that a lot of the things that push my buttons -- things that I assumed were irrelevant or unrelated -- make a more sense when seen through a particular lens. I'm still trying to think it all through and I'd like to share the journey here. I'm grateful for the way this space allows me to shape loose ideas into a more tangible form. And every "Hey! Me too!" I have been privileged to receive has been balm for the soul.

Working title: re-ravelling.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Comfort list, today


When my pal Gill forwarded me a link to Katherine Center's comfort list today, she was right on the money. Living your dream life, the life where you feel so blessed, being able to do things you love every day, is not without its blemishes.

I'm presently feeling unhinged, flying off the handle and/or wanting to cry at the most random moments. That fact that it's somewhat reminiscent of (though nowhere as extreme as) when my little 'un was born, tells me that it's time to visit my Chinese Medicine dude for some balance and restoration.

But, in the meantime, this is what gave me comfort today:

* golden autumn leaves, illuminating my path
* my little 'un stamping her feet, laughing, and clapping at her first live concert
* a crisp sunny morning, reminding me of New York
* being offered a seat on the tram and accepting it
* the theatrical pretend snoring noises my little 'un makes to tell me she's ready for sleep
* delightful packages arriving in the mail
* my little 'un conducting a phone conversation on my (switched off) mobile
* hot chocolate made with Belgian cocoa
* hydronic heating kicking in in the late afternoon
* finishing a work task (for my day job) and emailing it off
* spangly black crochet fingerless gloves
* my little 'un singing "book-a book-a book-a" to the tune of Dr Knickerbocker
* clean pyjamas and newly-washed fluffy bathrobe
* Patti Smith's homage to Robert Mapplethorpe Just Kids (I can't put it down)
* a big hug from my husband
* the smell of dinner cooking and a glass of Nero D'avola merlot

So much is buzzing around overpopulated metropolis between my synapses... it's been blissful to stop and honour the senses... reminding me of all that is good in my world.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

How tyranny set me free


As I was hanging out the washing today, while my husband and little 'un both napped, I found myself drinking in the deliciously unseasonal May warmth. I recalled SARK's comforting assertion that a beautiful day can be tyrannical in its obligation not to be wasted.

The tyranny of a sunny day. The irony was not lost on me. It was only a few days ago that I was musing to myself just how lucky I was, that I had "arrived" at the life I'd always dreamed of. That I had so much to be grateful for.

This afternoon, it occurred to me my frustration and unhappiness over the past few days may have stemmed partly from feeling unwell (and possibly hormonal) and partly from the cruelly ingrained fear that I brought ill-health and unhappiness upon myself. All those hubristic statements about my magnificent life and superlative luck. I've always been a superstitious kinda gal. I blame my Greek-Welsh roots.

Then a memory from my undergraduate life came floating to the surface: namely that the original tyrant in Ancient Greek times was not a bad or disliked person. They were just someone who came to prominence by unconventional means (i.e. they were not part of the traditionally ruling classes). It was only later that the word developed negative connotations.

This gots me to thinking. What else did I feel tyrannised by? Things that were not necessarily negative in and of themselves? Sunshine. Unwellness. Laundry. Unanswered emails. Missing my parents (presently overseas). Messy wardrobes. Untidy garden. Stories about living in Paris. Wanting to cry and not knowing why. Watching my little 'un bang and bite something in frustration, realising she is behaving in imitation of me.

Things I can't explain. Things I don't have the energy to fix. Things that aren't important. Things that will solve themselves in time. Things I need to leave walk away from. Things that are gifts to me, that will teach me how to be a better version of myself and a better mama.

That sunny day didn't seem so difficult to enjoy after all.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Unfortunately but unsurprisingly


I've come down with it too.

And the worse I've felt, the more I've felt the pull. Not to rest more. But to DO more. I can't help but shake my head at this logic.

And a memory persists in my mind. A couple of years ago, I was having trouble with my back, calves and ankles. I'd had difficulties with my back for a few years but starting an exercise program (and regular running , in particular) had made these issues more difficult to ignore.

One day in particular saw me struggle with the transitions i.e. moving from lying to sitting, moving from sitting to standing. I called my manager to explain why I wouldn't be coming in to work that day and finally called to make appointments for the osteopath and podiatrist. Then, once I had put down the phone, I set about moving awkwardly around my apartment, washing the dishes, changing the bedlinen, vacuuming, doing two loads of laundry. Struggling all the while with stiffness and aches, particularly acute when I bent down to pick things up. Which I did. A Lot.

My rationale? I would be able to "enjoy" my convalescence all the more once these tasks were done.

I've seen a similar rationale emerge over the past couple of days. Suddenly the simplicity of just being with my little 'un (who is still unwell but vastly improved) evaporated and a cacophony of demands have been bouncing back and forth in my tired aching head. The dishes aren't done! What do you have for the little 'un's next meal? The floors are filthy! Have you sent that email yet? Your hair needs washing! When are you going to stop eating so much sugar? Hurry up and post that parcel!

What, I'd love to know, is that all about? I never studied psychology. Is this what's known as delayed gratification? Is it guilt? Or mistrust that I am not really unwell enough? Is it fear of loss of control?

What I can say with certainty is that it's tiring, deflating, embarrassing and not helping.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Getting there


All the knowledge we seek, every question we ask, is the same: "How do I get there?" The honest answer to all of them is the same: "Nobody knows." But do not be afraid. You will always know what you need to know when you need to know it.

The truth always reveals itself. The truth reveals itself in a stray cough or a scraped knee, in an unexpected phone call or a conversation overheard. The truth reveals itself in the knock at the door or the accident in the parking lot. It comes in its own costume. The truth reveals itself in an instant of recognition or in a long span of silence. It comes in its own time.

We think the truth is found and kept in our heads, when the truth is appearing in front of us all the while. The truth, this ultimate irrefutable truth, is what Buddhists call the Way. The other truth, the truth you try to figure out and manipulate, is called your way. Trying to make things go your way is complicated, harmful, and futile. Things don't always go your way, but they always go.

A mother knows best when she learns to simply see how things go and respond accordingly. Living this way is going beyond knowing.

Momma Zen:
Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood
Karen Maezen Miller

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

My job


In the process of getting more complicated, life just got a lot simpler.

My little 'un has come down with a nasty head cold.

I had been meditating on the conundrum posed by American writer Gail Collins: "The centre of our story is the tension between the yearning to create a home and the urge to get out of it." I'd noted the recurring theme in my last few posts -- the desire to be alone -- and I felt the need to confess that although I sometimes find myself counting down the minutes and the seconds until the next nap, that once we are apart I can't stop thinking of her.

That sweet little face crowned by gingery blonde hair. The eyes like big blue inverted orange quarters, or capital Ds lying straight side down. The gappy-toothed grin and soft doughy hands waiving animatedly. The feet, long like my husband's, and the toes, pudgy like mine. The last vestiges of milky baby scent.

And now, after a difficult night and a morning where the cries were punctuated by screams, these desires and contradictions are suddenly irrelevant and my purpose has become staggeringly simple. It is my job to take care of her.

The bold print in my in-box is multiplying and this week's writing assignment will, once again, be late. The dishes are piling up and the trash needs to be emptied. Winter clothes need to be extracted from tops of wardrobes and vacuum cleaner bags emptied. I am in the process of postponing commitments, absenting myself from classes, and in all likelihood won't make it to work on Friday. I am so blessed to have friends, instructors, colleagues who are understanding and supportive but I can't profess to be Zen-like about any of this. My energy levels are depleting, and there have been a couple of occasions when I have run out of ideas (not to mention patience) as to how to comfort my little 'un.

But I am slowly learning to train my focus, in absence of the business of busyness that usually keeps me occupied. A new puffa jacket for my little girl. Judicious use of baby paracetamol. Fresh strawberries and Marie biscuits. Cuddles and tissues. Walks to the swings.

The swings, more than anything, seem to hold the answer. Maybe, not unlike me, my little girl needs light, fresh air, open space and motion to get out of her own head and feel free...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What is a weekend?


I am not immune to the excitement that saturates every Friday night like an electric storm cloud. As I cycle home from work past offices, pubs, homes, cafes, I can smell the promise of crisp drinks, primal music, and warm kisses in the dusk air.

I work on Mondays and Fridays, and the difference in my colleagues' demeanour between the days is palpable.

Now that I am in a bit of a routine I feel that it is more accurate to say that I work Fridays and Mondays. This is how the momentum seems to go. Thursday night is getting ready for work; Friday morning is catching up on emails; Friday arvo is meetings; Saturday morning is fitness class followed by in-laws; Sunday is the three of us; somewhere in the middle is laundry, reading the weekend papers, going out for coffee; Sunday night is getting ready for work; Monday is all about projects. On Monday night, I feel like my weekend is about to begin.

I am the only one up-beat in the office on Mondays.


I don’t have any regular commitments on a Tuesday. The little ‘un and I potter around in the morning. When she naps, I can indulge in a spot of reading or crochet or blogging. We go for walks. We play on the swings. We enjoy bread and butter pudding at a local haunt. We run fun errands, like going collecting an ordered book that has arrived or buying presents for birthdays and newly arrived babies.


Wednesday and Thursday mornings are a little more structured, with fitness and pilates classes respectively. Our only other Thursday date is on the way home from pilates: we stop off at the local supermarket and pick up a BBQ chicken, then hover in the kitchen, little ‘un in her high chair, munching the warm chicken with fragrant oily fingers.


So, for me, key constituents of a weekend-type feeling seem to be: not having to prepare anything the night before; being able to stay in my jammies for as long as I want to; savouring a coffee while reading a novel; having the time to ponder what to wear (even if it’s only tracksuit pants); playing and walking and daydreaming and having small adventures; and having the house to myself when the little ‘un naps.


I do miss my husband when he's at work, and it is more fun (and responsibility for the munchkin is more of a share enterprise) on the weekends when we're all together. But this time to myself feels extremely precious and is critical for my creativity and centeredness.


What signals the weekend for you?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Not the best Mothers Day...


… and not the worst either. But at one point, I did grab my bag, switch off my phone, and walk silently out the door. There was nothing going through my head at the time. In fact, as I wandered aimlessly along the cobbled laneways that connect the streets in my neighbourhood, it occurred to me that it may have appeared an overly melodramatic flourish. I wasn’t overly annoyed or angry.


I just suddenly needed some


space


time


light


air


motion


I was only gone for about 30 minutes. I hadn't done anything like this before and it's unlikely I will do it regularly. When I walked in the front door, my husband had the little ‘un strapped to his chest in the sling, mobile phone in hand. He was just about to leave to come looking for me, anxious look on his face.


I held out my hand and said, “Come and I’ll show you what I found”. We walked quietly back along the laneway route. Our little ‘un narrated our travels, exclaiming at every door, window, and dog we passed, and when there weren’t any of those, she held out her feet so we could admire her “tooties”.


We arrived at the crimson grape vine that cascaded down the back of a stucco wall just as the sun was descending. The flat jagged leaves seemed to iridescent in the borrowed light from the glowing red brick wall opposite.


When we got home, I returned to my computer and re-read what I had been working on for this week’s writing assignment. The last line read: “Sometimes, she just wanted to disappear, to run and hide from everything and everyone that needed her.”


This line didn’t make it into the final cut, because it wasn’t relevant to the story I was writing.


It was relevant to the story I was living.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

On incompleteness


My mother-in-law gave my little 'un these beautiful little blocks recently. I love their handmade quality, and their gentle resin-like finish. As we were playing with them this morning I noticed that no matter how they are stacked, there is no way you can have all four sides correctly matched. There is a little girl holding flowers, a little boy at the beach, a child of indeterminate gender playing in the snow, and another androgynous little imp collecting holly. The way the artwork is wrapped around each block, it is literally impossible to construct a complete character on every single side at once. By putting together the little girl holding flowers, for example, you have to throw the beach boy, the snow child and the holly imp into disarray.

For someone who strives towards completeness and neatness, I actually really love this. I gather it is deliberate and there's nothing that can be done about it. Somehow it relieves me of the compulsive need to match all four characters every time I am in reaching distance of the blocks. And I will admit: this is something that I would usually do. Every. Single. Time.

Is now the time to mention I'm writing a novel?

On the first day of the first week of the Handmade Writer course, we were asked to people-watch. The idea was to select a character who'd caught our voyeuristic eye and invent their story. By lunchtime on that first day, I'd spied a gangly boy who looked about eight years old, trailing behind his mother in a crowded shopping mall, wearing oversize plastic glasses with cardboard black and white swirls for lenses and only tiny holes the size of hole-punches to see through. He was walking so slowly and crookedly, I could read the bright pink writing on the bottom of each lens that said X-RAY GOGGLES. His mother's pained expression told me everything I needed to know.

I got home and started writing this eight year old boy's story. The exercises we were set, to tease out and develop the character, lent themselves to his narrative perfectly. The exercises that I did, he did too. The questions I asked, he answered.

I've heard about this phenomenon before. Many writers will say that they are but the conduit for their characters, that they merely channel them onto the page (well, screen more often than not). This is the first time this has happened to me. I know how this little boy's story is going to end, but I have no idea how we are going to get there. I also have an idea of the interpretations readers might have of the boy's special "friend", the one he can only see in certain circumstances, aided by his x-ray goggles. But I do not have the definitive answer and, I suspect, this is not something he will care to reveal. But I do know that he will continue to tell me his tale, until it is told.

For once, I am enjoying not being in the driver's seat. It was like the idea was sitting like an untapped well, just under the surface of my consciousness, waiting to be discovered. Once I got out of my own way, I could coast on the narrative flow.

I have been asked several times by my classmates whether this is a topic I have written on before, as the voice is familiar and comfortable. I can honestly say that there is no "Here's one I prepared earlier" about this one! The story, the character, the voice: they are all as new to me as the ease of the writing.

Newest of all is the delight with the incompleteness of the story. And I have the feeling that that is what readers are going to enjoy most of all.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Cultured focus


Earlier this year, I completed an exercise called Style Statement. It was a gratifyingly well thought-out alternative to personality tests and horoscopes, thought I'd be lying if I didn't confess that I am quite partial to these too. The exercise asked a series of questions about different aspects of daily life, prompting me to think through my likes and dislikes, needs and preferences, taking into account my hopes and dreams. The process was intense, and dredged up some mucky emotions, but also reminded me of some everyday delight that I'd been prone to overlook.

All in all it was an excellent mix of bigger picture conundrums and more pedestrian issues such that by the time I arrived at my defining words, I was pretty confident that I had been brought to a new understanding of my perspective of my self and the world.

To celebrate this newfound self-definition, I decided to take up the book's suggestion of having a piece of jewellery made that would remind me of my words. Well, yes, any excuse for some new bling! I'd been dying the visit the tiny little atelier that we pass every week on the way to Pilates class, so took the opportunity to pop in and ask the jeweller for assistance. Inspired by Danielle LaPorte's ring that featured in her profile in the book, we came up with a design for two intertwined rings representing my 80/20 foundation/creative edge words.

To be honest, it cost more than I had anticipated, but I felt pretty comfortable knowing that my ring would be representative of quality materials, a great deal of skill and care, and the precious time of an experienced, intuitive, and highly-respected craftsperson. And I was delighted with the end result.

Then, characteristically, I brought it home and didn't wear it for five days. I left it in its shiny white box and thought about it, waiting for the right time for it to debut in my life. That day was yesterday and, although I was a little shy (and this I had sort of anticipated) about having the words face out into the world, I loved the feel of the ring on my fingers and was even a little bit proud of all the work -- my own, with the book, and the jeweller's, with the silver -- that had gone into making this little statement of who I was.

And then I witnessed the most extraordinary thing starting to happen. I'd catch myself asking: Is this something that cultured/focus would do? Does this really serve a cultured/focus purpose? And while it didn't stop me eating all that white chocolate (which, my husband reliably informed me comprised 55% sugar) and it didn't inspire me to go out running despite the rain, it did open up the possibility that one little talisman, a material object imbued with my hopes and dreams, could bring me that one step closer to the best version of myself.

There are going to be many more stories to tell... about travels with this ring and with a cultured/focus outlook.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

I am the tinnie one


Look what the ultra clever, uber talented, tremendously generous Cathy gave me today!

It reads:

Her heart was surrounded by LOVE
Her garden full of flowers
Her soul at PEACE

This beautiful lady now has pride of place on the mantel in my study/studio, alongside Las Dos Fridas, an early Kelly Rae Roberts original, and my Mondo Beyondo altar. She also holds vigil above all my art supplies, illuminating the path for future creations.

I really am one lucky gal.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Regina Spektor


This bit of silliness started with a line from one of Regina Spektor's songs... and then went a bit Allen Ginsberg. It has nothing to do with Regina Spektor's show, which my husband and I attended at the Palais last night, which was fantastic.