What's the most memorable gift, tangible or emotional, you received this year?
I received so many gifts this year -- material, intellectual, professional and psychological -- that I found this one of the most daunting tasks. How to isolate only one? And privilege it above all others? (Without offending anyone?)
This morning, I stepped out of my bedroom door and was compelled, for some reason, to look up. For the first time (and we've been in this house for over two years now) I noticed that the elaborate ceiling rose that greets us immediately as we enter the front door contains two succulent pomegranates, one of which is bursting with succulent seeds.
By possibly no coincidence at all, I had just finished reading Sue Monk Kidd's Travelling with Pomegranates, an exquisite journey through the journals she and her daughter Ann Kidd Taylor kept during their travels through Greece, Turkey and France. I loved it from beginning to end and the significance of their explorations of the Persephone and Demeter myth for my current sadness was not lost on me. I feel a deep deep longing, but also a rare and private joy that kept me awake for most of the night.
Through their stories, I saw the possibility of my hopes and struggles culminating into beautiful and meaningful words. I saw in their respective catabaseis my own uncertainty about the present and fears for the future. I also witnessed some of my own deep-seated belief in the divine feminine, as embodied by Athena, the black Madonna, Joan of Arc.
I saw how my biggest and most cherished dream of becoming a writer is unfolding exactly as it should, even if I get frustrated with the pace and perceived obstacles to fulfilment.
I felt the richness of my cultural heritage and luxuriated in my memories of the marvels that Greece has to offer, but also allowed myself to grieve that my own travels in Athens with my mother had moments of intense sadness, and that our relationship may never match the honesty, vulnerability and emotional intelligence described by the Kidds. And then I glimmered a new possibility, one that I hadn't entertained before: that one day, I will travel to places like Athens and Paris and Addis Ababa with my grown 'up little 'un and that we will explore and feast and journal and take photos and marvel together.
Passages such as this:
I realised it was conceivable that Ann and I both, in our own way, were experiencing a crisis, which according to its definition is: (1) a crucial stage or turning point, and (2) an unstable or precarious situation. At the very least, Ann was struggling to figure out the beginning of being a woman, and I, the beginning of the end of it.
Yet I've been slow to trust what is inside me -- this new well of images, story, characters, and language. I haven't wanted to confess to myself how plagued I am with skepticism. I've finished seven chapters of the novel, roughly half of it -- believing in the work while simultaneously doubting the whole thing. Some of that is simply part of writing, but too much of it comes from enfeebling notions that I have about my creative abilities, remnants of inadequacy that go back of my childhood, with its commanding old fear that I would not live up to expectations, that I would disappoint.
But sitting at my desk with the windows glazed dark and black Mary staring at me with her bold, impenetrable look, I know the first half of the novel is probably as ready now as it ever will be and maybe I am, too, because nothing is perfect and I should lay down my ego and let happen what will happen. It's just life. It's time to settle more fully into my own condensed truth and find my strength and boldness in that.
make me realise that my biggest gift to myself this year as been words, and all their attendant wisdom, other people's and my own.
6. Posting some of my art in this space and receiving more validation, support and encouragement than I'd ever thought possible.
7. Building up the courage to ask my colleague Joe for help in designing a blog banner, discovering in the process the depths of his dreams, then having the privilege of watching them unfold.
8. Enrolling in Handmade Writer, rediscovering my passion for fiction writing and unearthing the beginnings of a powerful story, nurtured by the uber-talented and generous Amy and especially encouraged by sweet Christine.
9. Discovering the joy of haiku, inspired by Aimee's exquisite explorations.
10. Taking stock during the process of participating in #reverb10 and realising that I have come full circle. In my fourth blog post (the one that moved Monica to reach out), I wondered if anyone would ever respond to anything I'd written. I guess I was doubting that my words would be authentic or meaningful enough for anyone else to resonate with. This led me to ask:
Do I have the courage to find my community? Do I love myself enough to state my intention to the world? To truly believe that I have something worth saying, worth hearing?
The answer this year, in this space, has been a consistently resounding YES! YES! YES!
Which, just maybe, has been one of the most revolutionary things to happen to me. Like, ever.
What’s the thing you most want to achieve next year? How do you imagine you’ll feel when you get it? Free? Happy? Complete? Blissful? Write that feeling down. Then, brainstorm 10 things you can do, or 10 new thoughts you can think, in order to experience that feeling today.
The number one thing I am working towards in 2011 is a place of worthiness. From this place, I intend to blossom and thrive, and revel in my newfound sense of centredness based on a deep-seated trust in my feelings, fears, and decisions. I know that this will bring me greater peace than I have felt in a long, long time.
While I don't have any illusions that this is a feeling I can conjure today, I know I can continue to take microsteps towards it. So here's my list for the immediate future:
1) Make a list of all the mythologies about myself I have come to accept as unquestionable truths... and burn them in the back garden.
2) Cut out sugar for a month.
3) Buy a new bed and pillows. And, if there's any funds left, a new sheet set.
4) Continue therapy and be as gentle as I can with myself during the process.
5) Go to the movies alone every now and again.
6) Try and develop a running routine.
7) Delve more deeply into haiku, its traditions and opportunities.
Our most profound joy is often experienced during ordinary moments. What was one of your most joyful ordinary moments this year?
This prompt was by one of my all-time favourite writers/researchers, whose words continue to change my life for the better: Brene Brown.
There have been so many exquisite moments of tiny everyday joy that I have found it hard to pinpoint just one. But a very recent one springs to mind.
On Christmas day, my sister took to wearing a lovely red velveteen Santa hat. It wasn't long before my little 'un had appropriated it, although she showed a lot less interest in wearing it the moment everyone noticed (so I didn't manage to get an obligatory cute photo). But there was a quiet moment when everyone else was bustling around preparing for Christmas lunch and I looked over to see my husband sitting on the couch, wearing the Santa hat. He had the pointy end with the white fluffy pompom dangling frontways, in front of his face. And he was gently nudging my little 'un's nose with it, as she leaned forward against his shins, giggling.
I marvelled at this sweet, fleeting little scene. In absence of a camera, I made a "picture memory" (so beautifully described by Brene Brown's daughter, Ellen). This little picture memory is a poignant reminder that my little 'un loves her Daddy, no matter how much or little she sees of him from day-to-day, no matter whether he is smiling or sullen, no matter if he tells her off a thousand times for perching precariously on her little wooden chair. Deep deep down, she knows her Daddy loves her, whatever happens. And sweet little moments like this allow a tender little light to shine on their deep bond.
Which reminds me to notice those little moments in the day to day melee, the tiny cracks that allow the deep deep love to shine through.
What did you eat this year that you will never forget? What went into your mouth & touched your soul?
On my birthday, I was treated by my husband to a gorgeous dinner at Cutler & Co. This is the unforgettable dessert I had:
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.
Somehow the sweet melange summarised my day perfectly: I was treated, I was nurtured, I was seen, I was given time and space to myself. My uniqueness was celebrated, and my sweet little family showed me in the best way they could that they loved me.
Sift through all the photos of you from the past year. Choose one that best captures you; either who you are, or who you strive to be. Find the shot of you that is worth a thousand words. Share the image, who shot it, where, and what it best reveals about you.
My husband took this picture of me with my little 'un when we were staying in the Upper West Side in New York this September.
What was the best moment that could serve as proof that everything is going to be alright? And how will you incorporate that discovery into the year ahead?
I am lucky to have one of these moments every night, when I put my little 'un to bed.
Every night, we follow the same routine. I draw her curtains, turn up the dimmer switch on her lamp, turn on the baby monitor night light. I pull back her blankets and arrange her various teddies (two small ones that she cuddles to sleep, a little Paddington Bear my Dad brought her from London, the little owl that makes hoo-hoo noises I bought her in New York, the big Elmo my sister gave her for Christmas last year, and the big monkey called Frank that my husband used to cuddle when he was a little 'un) and I marvel that there's room in the cot left for her!
We brush our teeth, stopping occasionally to clink our toothbrushes together and say "Cheers!". I change her into her jammies, zip her into her sleeping bag, and threaten not to read her any stories if she makes either task too difficult by writhing around (I've only had to follow through once, such is the pull of the story). We sit on her couch and read a number of stories, her favourite one being Tubby and the Lantern, in which she has embedded several sub-plots around a moustachioed character that slightly resembles her Papou.
Then I pick her up and give her "big Mummy cuddles" and kiss her sweet cheeks and sing the "na-ni-na-ni" song that Greek mothers have been singing to their babies probably forever, and she joins in. Most recently, she has taken this opportunity to put one hand on each of my cheeks, look me in the eyes and smile, "Kyeeeewt!", her deliberately hammy way of proclaiming me "cute". Often she puckers up and gives me a kiss, usually she rubs her nose gently against mine.
Last night, while she had my cheeks in her hands, she sighed happily, "My favourite!".
I tuck my little girl into bed with her two little teddies and she smiles, blows me kisses or waves or pretends to hide behind her hands. This is the only time she'll suck her thumb, as I taught her to do when she was almost three months old. Sometimes she asks to take a book to bed with her. She usually prattles away to herself for fifteen or so minutes, then the baby monitor falls silent.
All of these things tell me that everything is OK. That my baby, not-a-baby-big-girl, is doing OK. That I'm OK. That it's time to rest. And that tomorrow will be a new day.
[Pictured is my splendidly "antiperfect" card made by the lovely Krissie.]
Let's meet again, for the first time. If you could introduce yourself to strangers by another name for just one day, what would it be and why?
This one really stumped me.
I mean, if I'd been asked to provide a list of people -- living or otherwise, real or imagined -- whose skin I'd prefer to inhabit than my own... that'd be a cinch.
But a new name?
My name is already unusual. Would I choose something more ordinary? I don't have a middle name. Would I select one? I don't use my married name. Would I appease the three people who address my mail in this way? I've had so many nicknames, various permutations and combinations and shortenings of my name, and so many in-jokes, and the one friend who uses my full name when addressing me on the phone does it in a gently teasing tone. Have the possibilities for naming myself been exhausted?
More recently and most often, I'm just called "Mummy".
"Kat aka I Saw You Dancing" is a bit of a mouthful, but that's how my newest friends have got to know me. It's been a privilege to travel with that little piece of Hafiz and I doubt I could conceptualise and contextualise my journey in a more powerful or poignant way.
I kinda like the idea of meeting an intriguing stranger and not exchanging names at all. How liberating: to construct our own experiences of each other using private interpretations of physical presence, words and silence, shared physical location. And then walking away.
How did you travel in 2010? How and/or where would you like to travel next year?
We went to New York City.
But how did we do it?
We thought a lot, we planned even more, we tried our best to anticipate our needs as a family. We adjusted our expectations, we changed our plans, we tried not to mourn lost opportunity, we remembered past travel fondly, we dreamed about future travels that will be different. We honoured the episodes that tested us, and were gentle on our less-than-finest hours. We celebrated small victories, absorbed the important lessons, and savoured tiny delights. We make a point of championing our bravery, and reliving sweet memories.
Where will we go in 2011?
Who knows. But we will travel in exactly the same way.
PS I have a secret hankering for Japan, but that really needs to be a solo trip.
Imagine yourself five years from now. What advice would you give your current self for the year ahead?
1. You're on the right track. Keep taking your time. Sit down and do the work. Great things are around the corner, and everything you've dreamed of for these projects is about to come true.
2. You are exactly where you need to be. It's hard, it's slow, and it feels like you're not making much progress. But, believe me, you are. Things are changing like the sea will change a rock, like the wind will change a mountain: slowly, steadily, profoundly, irreversibly.
3. You are enough. You have enough. You do enough. (As a wise woman once said).
5. You will be surprised where your love for photography is going to take you...!
What should you have done this year but didn't because you were too scared, worried, unsure, busy or otherwise deterred from doing? (Bonus: Will you do it?)
My initial response to this question was to groan: there were SO many things I didn't do this year! Actually, if I am going to be honest, my initial initial response was palpitations.
The I avoided answering the question for quite a number of days.
Now, fortified by a cup of Earl Grey tea, a mouthful of chocolate, a candle burning, a brilliant new CD playing in the background, and the satisfaction of just having finished wrapping all my Christmas presents... now I am inclined to respond differently.
There were a small number of things I didn't manage to do this year.
1. I didn't move forward on various writing projects.
2. I didn't work hard enough to solve various health issues beyond the superficial.
3. I didn't socialise or go out and see things as much as I would have liked (or as much as I used to).
4. I didn't write any letters. Or postcards. Or Christmas cards. Or aerogrammes.
5. I didn't print many photos, especially of my little 'un.
But, you know what? I'm a bit over focusing on the undone. And I usually suck at stopping and acknowledging or celebrating all the things I have done.
So here's my response to each of these things:
1. I started a wonderful project and only recently did I spy a resource that I had forgotten, that will be instrumental in helping me move it forward. I'm also in the process of gathering more information and skilling myself up with respect to a particular kind of writing, and this will help me rejuvenate a long-stalled writing project that's extremely close to my heart... but I'm also just enjoying this process.
2. I know deep in my heart that the work I am doing with my therapist is going to help with the physical struggles I have. I also had my first proper remedial massage the other day and had to ask, "Why haven't I done this before?". Extraordinary. Oh, and I plan to take fewer showers and more baths in the new year.
3. My friendships have really evolved over the past five years and I am only really beginning to understand why. There's so much richness there and I feel blessed to know that I am in it for the long haul with a small number of extraordinary people. And there will always be more movies to see, concerts to attend, galleries to visit, coffees to drink, shopping to do...
4. I did OK with email. Badly, with shocking response times, but I did OK. And I did pretty well with gifts, bought and handmade (honestly, giving gifts is one of my favourite things to do). There were two or three letters from old old friends now living in the USA that I haven't responded to, and I do feel bad about that. But realistically, I don't think anyone is sitting by their mailbox, pining for a missive from me. And not many of my family, friends or acquaintances were compelled to put pen to paper and stamp to envelope on my account. So let's just say that it would be nice, but I'm not going to beat myself up about that one.
5. I was totally obsessed with cataloguing the first year of my daughter's life, especially for her grandparents and aunties who didn't get to see her on a regular basis. Now there's an ever-increasing gap in the pages of her photo album, although I did finally manage to fill out her First 1,000 Days journal, which was a surprisingly rewarding process. I did print out a few from our New York trip but then found myself at a loss to know what to do with them (we've kinda run out of room on our shelves for photo frames). I loved snapping the every day with my new SLR, though, and sharing the my efforts in this space.
And will I do these things? I think I most likely will, when the time is right. But, for once, I don't feel in so much of a hurry for this time to arrive.
What healed you this year? Was it sudden, or a drip-by-drip evolution? How would you like to be healed in 2011?
She’s a smart cookie, that Leonie Allan. And although I might have mentioned before that anything entitled “Goddess” usually has me running a mile, I always find what she has to say authentic and insightful. And, like this prompt, uncannily timed.
On Friday night, I’d been exchanging emails with a dear friend about the depletion that comes from working with and on out STUFF constantly. I found myself writing, as I had to a number of others:
I have to say, when I started #reverb10 I was thinking, "Cor, this stuff's too easy!". And now I'm thinking, "Bloody hell! Where did that one come from?" and am feeling rather sucker-punched by the whole process. I suspect it's important to be gentle with ourselves as we navigate these waters... they're a bit deceiving in their simplicity.
We agreed that it was time to switch off. Just stop working and struggling and wishing and resisting and just BE. My switching off was all about jammies, a tuna/cheese/olive jaffle, and luxuriating in the gorgeous images of a beautiful new book while studiously ignored the voices in my head nagging me to tackle the laundry, present-wrapping, preparing food for a mothers group picnic the following morning, blog posting etc etc etc. What slowing down revealed was that I’d been running on empty for longer than I had cared to notice. Perhaps this was because I hadn’t really been doing much more than usual. Which suggests that “usual” is actually rather too much. Especially when combined with deep emotional excavation.
Last night, as I tossed and turned, I asked myself why I was having so much trouble getting to sleep when I was clearly exhausted. Other than some persistent back and neck trouble (and an old mattress that really is becoming untenable), I saw that the adrenaline I’d been calling on to get me through the day – tick everything off my To Do list, and then some, despite my exhaustion – was still coursing through my veins.
To my credit, I had attempted a little bout of rest while my little ‘un was napping. I lay on my bed and read a gentle book, wrote a list of delight, stared wistfully out the window. But slowing down made my exhaustion even more palpable, to the point where I saw myself get anxious and afraid. How would I get things done? And, somewhat less rationally, what if I never felt better?
I got up and powered on, and felt a little better. In my rational mind, at least. But I see now, after a night without deep nourishing sleep, how this cycle of exhaustion perpetuates itself.
I also see how the answer does not necessarily lie in “rest” in the traditional sense. I’m thinking it’s time to have a little more imagination around this. Lying down and panicking about my exhaustion was not restorative. But making a list of all the things I wish for in the new year was.
I am also looking forward to Soul Restoration camp early next year, as I suspect that setting aside some time for structured play will rejuvenate and sustain me through the next little bit of my journey.
Cracks in ancient Japanese pottery -- including the occasional museum piece -- are often repaired with metallic "filling". (The cracks are first filled with resin and then lacquered and coated with silver or gold.) This work is done by a specialist, who carefully considers the colours and feeling of a piece before selecting the appropriate filling medium.
Accustomed to a culture where repairs aim to be invisible, I was somewhat taken aback by this decorative method that highlights the "imperfections". A friend who collects pottery explained that the piece becomes a different work of art after it is repaired and that the golden veins create a new sort of beauty.
In my new book Glad No Matter What, I wrote a chapter called "What's Good About Falling To Pieces?".
So, what IS good?
It's good to realize that when we work so hard NOT to "fall to pieces," we're missing the opportunities that this kind of surrender brings. When we can occupy or claim our vulnerability, we can ask for and receive new kinds of support and miracles. We can discover that healing happens in spirals and layers, and not in steps like a ladder. We can remember that great things grow in the dark.
When we can relax into whatever is happening in our lives, it allows us to be in the "marvellous, messy middle" of our feelings. From this middle place, great transformations can occur.
What do you notice about your vulnerability, ability to receive -- or not? When have you surrendered and received blessings? Do you guard against "falling to pieces?" [...]
At one of my bookstore events, I received a great blessing from 9 year old Mirannda, who wrote me a "permission slip" which says:
"The good thing about falling apart is you have a chance to sew your self back together tighter."
Gemini: This is a good time to go in search of any secrets you've been hiding from yourself. I suggest you also try to track down the "missing links" that aren't really missing but rather are neglected. My advice is similar for the supposedly "lost treasure" you'r wondering about: Clues about its whereabouts are lying around in full view for anyone who is innocent enough to see them. P.S. Being uncomplicated isn't normally your strong suit, but this is one of those rare times when you'll have an aptitude for it.
So, what was the best thing I learnt about myself this year?
That I am wise. That I am tapped in to some extraordinary resources and I can filter and synthesise and understand and call on them in a way that is unique to me. But also that I have some extraordinary inner resources of my own. I see this in the way I am quick to offer others any insight or support or celebration that I can. I'm starting to ask: why can't I do that for myself? I am learning that I'm not afraid to dig deep to find the answer to this question, and although the process is painful I am committed to seeing it through. Deep down, my wisdom tells me that I am on the right track, that this is the right thing to do.
And how will I apply this going forward?
By learning to listen. By trusting that what I know, who I am, is worthy.
Imagine you will completely lose your memory of 2010 in five minutes. Set an alarm for five minutes and capture the things you most want to remember about 2010.
It was the year she started walking and the year she grew into her own voice. It was the year I realised that she was no longer a baby.
This realisation came just days before the year's end, and appeared as evidence that I'd started to separate a little.
It allowed me to stop, catch my breath and reflect. Reflect on emerging. Emerging after a year of feeding and settling and squeezing a semblance of my previous life (and my hopes for a new one) around an unrelenting routine. Emerging after the previous year of planning and packing and reacting and controlling. Emerging after so many years before that of working and travelling and organising and lurching from one thing to the next.
2010 was the year that I stopped long enough to notice the cracks appear in the foundations I'd built over so many years... and tiny slivers of light and possibility shining through those cracks.
2010 was the year that I stepped out of my career woman's skin, laid my doctoral studies to rest, travelled on my own terms.
2010 was the year that I loosened as a mother. Or maybe it was the year that motherhood loosened me.
2010 was the year I saw WORDS, shiny and translucent and dark and hopeful and real and mine and shared in ways I had only ever dreamt of.
2010 was the year I saw LOVE, raw and imperfect.
[And just now I was reminded just how tiny and precious five minutes in a life really is...]
What's the one thing you have come to appreciate most in the past year? How do you express gratitude for it?
Crikey moses, I am really having a good laugh here.
I've just written: an intense bout minutes of free writing on things I need to commit to paper (then pixels) in case my memory is erased in five minutes' time; written a haiku about my morose, alcoholic tendencies; and a bordering-on-cheesy limerick expressing my love for a dear friend.
Now do you think I can pin down a single thing I'm grateful for?
How do people write Academy Award acceptance speeches, I wonder.
I am grateful for so much and I have come to appreciate so many things, big and small, this year. Maybe it's an awkward question because I'm in the process of unpicking so much of my life at the moment that it's hard to see what I really do love in my life, and what I put up with because that's what I've told myself I should do.
The truth is that if you asked me what a better life for me would be, I'd have difficulty conjuring anything other than what I have. I feel so lucky in so many ways, I have everything that I have always wished for.
But anyone who knows me can also see that there's a few "small" things I'm uneasy about, which are actually representative of much bigger things in my mind.
The good news is that I'm working through this. The less good is that it's hard and unpretty work, and doubtless fairly uninteresting (or, at least, uneasy) to read about here.
So, at the risk of sounding glib, this leads me to realise that I am truly appreciative of everything this blog has given me: an impetus to write; the challenge to be authentic; an extraordinary community of kindred spirits; the inkling of a whole new way of conceiving, and connecting with, my world. It's one of the few spaces that's truly mine, where I can write the rules and be my best and worst self and still be loved.
I peeked into my study. I didn't want to blog, even though I was behind on posts. I didn't have the energy to respond to emails. I couldn't bear to look at those two unfinished canvases.
I picked out Keri Smith's Living Out Loud at random from my bookshelf. Something about her illustration entitled, "Creating a sacred space... right in your own home!" jolted me. I put the book down.
I got up from my bed. I gathered everything I needed. I scrubbed the bath. I ran the water. I lit no less than twenty candles. I released a lavender butter bath bomb into the water. I soaked, I inhaled, I luxuriated.
In the dusk, and the flicker of candle light, I scanned the index of SARK's Glad No Matter What: Transforming Loss and Change into Gift and Opportunity. I stopped at this page:
Feelings menu for this book.
Choose how you feel right now, go to that section.
I ran my finger down the list and settled on:
I feel... FLAT.
Go to: Waves of Love, page 43.
I turned to page 43. I read about self-love. I read about worthiness. I read about the practice of loving ourselves consistently, especially when we're not doing it well enough. Then I read these words:
Sometimes I wish that a loved one would say certain things, in certain ways, and I've learned not to wait or wish for others to do specific things but instead to give myself what I say I'm wanting.
I stopped. And I listened. And I heard those words. I got out of the bath, dried off, cleaned up, marinating in those words.
And I cried and cried as I wrote them in my journal, all those words I've been wanting to hear: that she's proud of me, that she misses me too, that she sometimes doesn't feel that she's enough either, that she's doing her best but that she knows that I sometimes need more, that she doesn't have much to give right now but that's not a reflection on me, that she loves me, that she sees me, that this will always be true.
And I saw that these words were indeed true. And I saw that they didn't need to be said. And I knew that it was possible to forgive, and be healed.
And I had the deepest sleep I'd had in weeks.
PS A clarification on my previous post: gwdiwh (pronounced "goodyhoo") is the Welsh word for owl.
At a family lunch the other day, my Mother-in-Law demanded, "What are you going to call Santa? Father Christmas? Saint Nicholas? What?"
I looked at her blankly. Saint Nicholas?
"Well, it's important we all say the same thing to the little girl, so she doesn't get confused."
"I hadn't really thought about it," I confessed, "And I'm not all that into Santa. I'd like her to know that her gifts are from Mummy and Daddy and her family... but maybe she'll get one from Father Christmas -- or whoever -- so she doesn't feel left out when she's at school."
"Anyway," I continued, "She's a pretty smart and adaptable kid. I mean, she knows the Greek word, the Welsh word, and the English word for 'owl' and she's worked out they all refer to the same thing."
"I see," She sniffed, "So you're going to be flexible."
So, in the spirit of flexibility (the new F word for the year), I reckon it's time to create some new Christmas traditions for our little family. I found these gorgeous little owls and penguins on Etsy, handmade by Un Petite Lapin. And the knitted angel was our star find at the Hidden Talant (sic?) Craft Shop in Yarra Glen on the weekend.
In future, I hope to be more organised and source a locally grown, environmentally ethical Christmas pine. This will also be more feasible when my little 'un is old enough not to want to pull everything off the tree. Call me bah-humbug-ish but the thought of sweeping up pine needles every five minutes doesn't appeal.
In the meantime, Mum's little plastic one does a fine job. And a very merry gwdihw Christmas to you!
* A day of sunshine, walking, leisurely-paced errands, fun at the park, chocolate, taking photographs, writing, and just being.
* Catching a glimpse of a young man doing magic tricks in front of the traffic banked up at the lights, as the bus hurtled past, taking me home from work.
* A friend soaking in the Anne Lamott quote I emailed her.
* Bargaining up at a moving sale.
* The smell of peonies permeating our living room.
* My little 'un being so happy to see my Mum and Dad, and so agreeable during the time they babysat her at our house.
* Our first weekend away as a couple since our little 'un arrived, to celebrate my husband's birthday.
* The perfect dinner, at a place my husband has long been curious about (he's a quiet connoisseur of boutique beers).
* Spending the night at a fine local hotel (owned by two fine local actors), only three doors down from our dinner venue.
* Our amusement that it was built around the same time as our house and, likely renovated at the same time, with the same design principles in mind. Both a little too frou-frou for our tastes, but certainly honouring the period style.
* Heavenly pizzas for lunch en route... and then again on the way home... because we couldn't help ourselves.
* Trawling a local craft shop and coming out with some delightful hand-knitted toys, a sweet little apron and cooking utensils for the little 'un, and some beautiful handmade cards.
* Rediscovering the magic of just the two of us: the endless chat, the laughing, the memories, the in-jokes, the snuggling, the openness, the ease.
This year, when did you feel the most integrated with your body? Did you have a moment where there wasn't mind and body, but simply a cohesive YOU, alive and present?
On the day that I received this prompt in my in-box, the pain in my neck had escalated from "niggling" to "rather uncomfortable, actually".
It had been coming for a while but carrying a 10kg bundle of squirming little 'un, pushing a pram laden with shopping, hoisting an SLR camera around my neck, and toting my usual heavy handbag around -- all at once -- finally sealed the deal. A night of tossing and turning, the throbbing in my neck, pins and needles in my hands, and the ringing in my ears demanded I take the problem seriously.
A day of rest, a great session with my Osteopath, strict orders to book myself a massage, a long soak in a hot bath, all worked wonders. And led me to reflect...
I can't say I have had an experience this year that remotely resembled the state of being described in the prompt.
I've surely had it in the past: quiet moment during a rare hike; sitting by the ocean; reading a book while floating in Mum and Dad's swimming pool; lying by an open fire; dancing; live music taking me outside myself; marvelling at an extraordinary piece of art; feeling overwhelming love for/in a crowd of people; stopping to savour an exquisite flavour or texture on my tongue; watching my baby sleeping.
My body and I don't seem to be working in harmony these days. I know that it has been a while since I have stopped and truly listened to what it is trying to tell me, and that it's a practice I am working on. But I also suspect it's been a while since my mind and body have been WOWed by something beautiful and rare that makes me tingle on a molecular level.
What are 11 things your life doesn't need in 2011? How will you go about eliminating them? How will getting rid of these 11 things change your life?
My first thought on reading this prompt was, "Only eleven things?".
Then I started writing a list, and realised that I was struggling to get to eleven.
The things I had listed were BIG things, things that would require a lot of work to eliminate.
Unfortunately for my list (but fortunately for my life) there are not a lot of time-wasting, soul-draining things in my daily life, at home or in my day job... to the extent that this actually creates some of the things that I would like to eliminate.
Dust, for example. There's a lot of it in my house because I can rarely bring myself to pick up a broom or vacuum cleaner or duster. I can happily and easily keep things neat, but pristine surfaces? Too great an effort, and in a draughty period home like ours, a losing battle.
To eliminate dust from my life (or, at least, my home) in 2011 would require the services of a cleaning person, whom I have already identified and would dearly love to employ for an hour or two each week. [Those of you who have been reading this blog since Mondo Beyondo know how keen I am to proceed with this arrangement!]
But convincing my husband that having a "stranger" come through the house would be worth the (negligible) compromise to our privacy and security would require another sort of discussion entirely.
Suddenly, the elimination isn't as clear-cut as switching on the vacuum cleaner. Suddenly, courage and creativity and negotiation and empathy and compromise are required. Suddenly, being prepared to argue and disagree and love each other anyway becomes critical.
The mere act of writing a list of eleven such things was too tiring for me to contemplate. I feel it's ground I've gone over too many times, and I know I'm not ready to meet some of these challenges head-on.
Too many thoughts have been swirling around in my head. I've been scribbling in my journal like mad, but it's been hard to iron out a smooth path between each realisation, making it hard to see the connections. I'm not sure how articulate or logical any of this post is going to be.
I've been thinking about this blog, and how it was such an important part of my taking a stand for all the things I love doing. At the end of 2009, I was petrified that a return to work (not the job I'm in now) after a year's maternity leave would see the time and energy and passion and reward associated with living the creative life unceremoniously whittled away. It had been such a revelation, stepping away from the career trajectory and seeing new possibilities, potentially for generating income but especially for creative fulfilment.
The thought that my newfound energy and perspective would be drained away by toxic colleagues terrified me. My identity had been subsumed by carcinogenic politics of my work environment in the past. I didn't want to be that person again.
I turned out to be the luckiest girl in the world. Old colleagues (who are also dear friends) looked after me. I was offered a stimulating day job in a supportive environment, with the hours, the days, the salary, the setting and the responsibilities I'd been hoping for. And with that settled, the rest of my life was given room to breathe.
In 2010, I had the privilege of living so many of my dreams. I spent time with my beautiful little girl, and watch as she blossomed into an incredibly clever and funny little person. I continued to build a life with my soulmate, in my dream house, in my favourite suburb. I managed to blog, read, write, make art, take photos, dabble in craft, try my hand at cooking/baking on a weekly, if not daily basis. We had an extraordinary month-long holiday in New York.
But, as those of you who have followed my story this year will know, these things have not made me content. I am not often capital H Happy, though this is not necessarily my goal. I have been unpleasantly surprised at how low my resilience is and how pessimistic my worldview has been, despite all the wonderful things worth celebrating in my life.
As I reflect on everything 2010 has given me, I can't help but ask:
Where is the contentment, the fulfilment? What is the thing that's lacking?
I know now that my day job is what I do, it's not who I am. And I'm lucky to have a job situation that affirms this view. But if that's not who I am, who am I?
I love to write, I have fun taking photos, I occasionally lose myself in the artmaking process, and especially love giving away the fruits of my labour as gifts. But if I had to focus on one thing, I'd say without hesitation, "I am a writer". I write in my day job. I write on this blog. I write in my journal. I write emails. I have a couple of small writing projects on the boil. So, I can say that I am paid to write and I am recognised for my writing. But is that who I am, or just what I do?
The writer's life is not an easy path and I also know that the risks of not following it are greater. But is this really where contentment and fulfilment lie?
Sure, there are things that I miss about my old life, my pre-motherhood life, my single days. I do sometimes pine for the theatre, the movies, the live music, the bars, the restaurants, the dressing up and going out. Sometimes I even get wistful about my young young days, when I'd dance almost every day and act and sing often. Have I lost myself?
Like most Mums, I don't get a whole lot of time to myself these days. Is it that simple?
What does fulfilment look like? What am I expecting?
Is it because I'm not enough? Or is it because what I have is not enough for me?
And who am I to ask for more, when I have so much and when so so many have so much less?
This is where I have to return to the original #reverb10 prompt, as it reminds me that I am raising these questions in a sacred space that I have created for myself, and where I am privileged to commune with kindred spirits.
Experience tells me that someone out there is going to read my words and feel butterflies in their tummy. They are going to see what I have written and they are going to know, in the most visceral, and human way, the fear I am facing. And they may choose to share this in the comments, or on their own blog, or they might email me, or they might not. But that's by-the-by. The point is that by putting myself out on a limb, time and time again, I find that I am not alone.
And for that, and for YOU, I am grateful every single day. By turning up to this space, and being here with me, you say to me that I am worthy.
In my in-box, from Chris Guillebeau: If you were no longer here tomorrow, who would notice?
In the mail, from Jen Lee: It's your story. Tell it.
In my in-box, from The Brave Girls Club: Forgiveness is simply releasing all of the poison that builds up over time when we hold grudges, refuse to forget, or beat ourselves up because we can not forgive our own mistakes.
41. Realise that you'd like to give the canvases away as gifts. You have the persons and sentiments in mind. (You had been toying with the idea of making a series of the four canvases, each with a different haiku inspired by the theme of renewal. But recent events somehow dampened your enthusiasm for that sentiment so it somehow felt... inauthentic. Anyway, your haiku got scribbled on by an enthusiastic budding little artist, to the point where it was illegible. So it probably wasn't meant to be.)
42. Sketch out the words you want to leap off the canvas in swirly uneven writing onto watercolour paper, then fill it in roughly with a sharpie.
42. Cut the lettering out with your super-fancy little cutting knife thingy that you picked up at a papercraft expo. Use the super-cool self-healing cutting mat that your genius husband picked out all by himself in an art supplies shop and gave you as part of your Christmas present last year.
43. Wonder how you'll render the rest of the sentence. Early attempts to stamp words with ink onto a dressmakers pattern result in leaky, dissolving letters that somehow undermine the power what you're trying to convey.
44. Dig out some of the stencils you have been compulsively collecting and write the least poignant words directly onto the canvas with your sharpie.
45. Hit on the idea of stamping the beginning of the sentence with ink onto some yellowing sheets from an old, discarded novel you picked up at a goodwill store for this very purpose. No leaking, no dissolving, perfect!
46. Clear a space around that big old tank of an Underwood typewriter that your husband salvaged for you from a storeroom at his work and wind in some tiny scraps torn from the top of some yellowing, discarded sheet music that you picked up from the same goodwill store (bassoon, in fact). Type up a couple of little love notes to appear quietly in the corner of each canvas.
47. Glue all of your words onto the canvas, then grab some white paint and a strip of bubble wrap. Once the glue is dry, dab some little dots around your big "jumping out" words, fancying that they may remind the recipient of the effervescence of bubbles in a champagne glass. Wonder if it's too early for your first drink of the day...
48. Paint around the edges of your canvas with black paint, then allow this "frame" to encroach onto the artwork by dabbing gently and unevenly around the edge with a sea sponge. Fancy this makes the artwork look slightly dream-like, maybe more grown-up, possibly even macabre.
48. Once all the paint and glue has dried, spread strategic blobs of gel medium throughout the canvas then liberally sprinkle glitter and sparkly stars so that it slightly detracts from the grown-up effect, and definitely undermines the macabre undertones, but hopefully adds a little sparkle to the everyday life of the recipient.
49. When everything has dried and settled, take the canvases outside, place them on the pavers outside your shed on top of some newspaper, then spray with a picture varnish to seal and protect. Try not to breathe in the foul fumes and apologise to the ozone layer.
50. Take a step back and look at the gifts you have made. Ignore the voices that warn that they are uneven, lacking proportion, amateurish, and in no way resembling other people's masterpieces. Understand that they have been made with love (and quite a bit of fun). And know that the recipients will be delighted to receive them.
Then pull out some cheap and cheerful canvases and do it all again...
This year, I finally let go of exercise. Now, this is not something I'd necessarily recommend to others and I'm not saying that exercise is not beneficial but it was something that I'm actually glad I did.
I'd been attending two fitness classes in the park and one pilates class in a private studio for the most part of a year. The benefits were palpable in terms of lung capacity, muscle tone, stamina, core strength, social interaction, fresh air, and refreshed outlook.
The instructors were excellent and I still consider them dear friends. This actually made it harder for me to leave: they weren't anonymous gym owners, they were great people who had worked hard to build and maintain their private businesses.
But a month away in New York convinced me that I needed a break, despite all the pert lycra-clad patooties I witnessed jogging around in Central Park.
The older my little 'un got, the more she wanted to wander around the park and the studio. I'd invariably spend half the session chasing after her, or soothing her after she'd tripped on a piece of equipment. This often frightened and annoyed me, and the frustration was becoming palpable to others.
It would cost the best part of a morning to prepare for each class: organising snacks, packing up the pram, anticipating various climactic conditions, ensuring I had the right change for the class and for parking, and so on. So it began to feel like my day job and fitness classes were eating up my week, leaving little room for rest, play, socialising, or spontaneity.
Although I was very much pursuing a broad fitness agenda, and the goals set by both instructors were feasible and motivating, I really harboured a secret wish that they would hold the key to dramatic weightloss... which, of course, they didn't.
The three classes were a considerable financial investment. This money is now being invested in cognitive behavioural therapy. I am working towards developing a greater understanding of, and tools to deal with, my: frustrations and anxieties as a new Mum; need for space; compulsive eating and destructive drinking habits, among other things.
I suspect, once I have a greater handle on these things and greater confidence in myself, I'll be keen to jump right back in... running shoes and all.
I looked into her eyes and I saw the world through them and I witnessed the way she saw. This gave me colour and questions and fear and mysteries and beauty and difficulty and delight.
I also started the long, hard journey of seeing myself through the lens of wonder. Through this week of sitting with my feelings and allowing them to unfold, I started to glimpse the possibility that the blandness and the boredom and the unworthiness and the anger are only a tiny tiny part of the story... that there is much to be proud of and there is less to fear than I assumed and that it's time to stop stopping myself. That it's time to blossom.
[...] feeling extraordinarily dry, fatigued, frail, depressed, confused, gagged, muzzled, unaroused. Feeling frightened, halt or weak, without inspiration, without animation, without soulfulness, without meaning, shame-bearing, chronically fuming, volatile, stuck, uncreative, compressed, crazed.
Feeling powerless, chronically doubtful, shaky, blocked, unable to follow through, giving one's creative life over to others, life-sapping choices in mates, work, or friendships, suffering to live outside one's own cycles, overprotective of self, inert, uncertain, faltering, inability to pace oneself or set limits.
Not insistent on one's own tempo, to be self-conscous, to be away from one's God or Gods, to be separated from one's revivification, drawn far into domesticity, intellectualism, work or inertia because that is the safest place for one who has lost her instincts.
To fear to venture by oneself or to reveal oneself, fear to seek mentor, mother, father, fear to set out one's imperfect work before it is an opus, fear to set out on a journey, fear of caring for another or others, fear one will run on, runout, run down, cringing before authority, loss of energy before creative projects, wincing, humiliation, angst, numbness, anxiety.
Afraid to bite back when there is nothing else left to do, afraid to try the new, fear to stand up, afraid to speak up, speak against, sick stomach, butterflies, sour stomach, cut in the middle, strangled, becoming conciliatory or nice too easily, revenge.
Afraid to stop, afraid to act, repeatedly counting to three and not beginning, superiority complex, ambivalence, and yet otherwise fully capable, fully functioning. These severances are a disease not of an era or a century but anywhere and anytime women are captured, anytime the wildish nature has become entrapped.
A healthy woman is much like a wolf: robust, chock-full, strong life force, life-giving, territorially aware, inventive, loyal, roving. Yet, separation from the wildish nature causes a woman's personality to become meagre, thin, ghosty, spectral. We are not meant to be puny with frail hair and an inability to leap up inability to chase, to birth, to create a life. When women's lives are in stasis, or filled with ennui, it is always time for the wildish woman to emerge; it is time for the creating function of the psyche to flood the delta.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes
Women who Run with the Wolves:
Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype
I am indebted to my friend Monica for drawing my attention to this extraordinary resource. I also love how she has gifted the world with her Creative Beast blog button -- a wonderful way to collectively celebrate our wildness and creativity. Be sure to grab one for yourself and join us growling!
If I had to choose one word to sum up 2010, it would be hard to go past the word that I selected for myself at the end of 2009: LOVE.
There were many reasons for this choice of word, but the one that really jumps out at me now is this one:
 is also the year where I am more mindful of my self-sabotaging behaviours -- hasty decisions, impulse spending, quick temper, binge eating, desiring to please etc. -- and work on viewing them as areas of my life where I need to love my self more. I see now that the endless spiral of self-sabotage and shame has not served me well and that there are more nourishing decisions to be made.
Looking back, I can see how this was the driving force behind pretty much everything I did this year. It was also the one that determined the extent to which all other forms of love (love for family, love for work, love for art and for writing) was possible... or not.
I see that I worked so hard on this and often fell down, overwhelmed with exhaustion and despair. But I also see now that I really am on track. I'm not exactly in an ecstatic place at this moment, but I know that I will soon be able to say that I have made more space for myself, that I trust myself more, and that I can make more nourishing choices.
And what is that, if not love?
There have surely been other words that have played a significant part in the way 2010 has unfolded: closure, community, courage, clarity. [No idea why they're all Cs, that tends to happen a bit!] Perhaps they too are inextricably connected to love in some way.
But as for the word I'd like to look back on, this time next year, I feel it's a little too early to say. I'm definitely going to sit down and think it through. Travelling with a word was an enriching and focusing experience, and one I'd highly recommend.