Life Is A Funny

little things 3

This is not my aunt: she would have had at least three blankets.

Life is a funny.

I’ve used this phrase as a tag in a few posts before, but never explained exactly where it came from. So sit back, relax, and I’ll tell you the tale.

Many years ago, my aunt attended a course on Taoism.  She and a group of other students, eager to unravel the mysteries of The Way (or maybe the universe, or human consciousness, or life, or all or any of the above), gathered weekly to hear the words of their teacher — who in my mind’s eye I have always pictured as a wizened and possibly sparsely bearded old man of Asian origin, seated serenely above his students, imparting his esoteric knowledge.

I don’t know if that’s what he really looked like. All I can really remember with any veracity about the story of my aunt’s Tao lessons was that the room in which they were held in was completely and utterly freezing. Positively Arctic. I can’t quite recall if there was a small and ineffective electric radiator involved, but I do know that my aunt would sit with her fellow truth-seekers, shivering beneath a blanket, listening to her Tao teacher speak.

And one day, when that Tao teacher was asked a particularly difficult question — I’m not certain exactly what that question was, but it may have had something to do with the nature of suffering, or whether there is life after death, or what the surest path to enlightenment might be, or perhaps even why the room was so ridiculously cold — the old man paused, and for a few moments he said nothing at all.

But when he spoke again, he answered with this phrase:

Life is a funny.

Just like that.

little things

Life is a funny…and it’s the little things that sometimes count for the most.

He didn’t say, “Life is funny”, nor did he suggest that “Life is a funny thing“.  Rather, he said that “Life is a funny”.

And ever since then, when anyone in our family has encountered something mystical, or unexpected, or insurmountable, or baffling, we have returned to my aunt’s Tao teacher’s simple (though admittedly unusual) phrase:

Life is a funny.

Because, when you think about it, life really is a funny. There are many things we can’t explain or begin to comprehend during our time on this Earth: from uncanny coincidences, to sudden and unspeakable tragedies, to moments of transcendent and miraculous grace, and to each and every instance of serendipity.

I have been thinking about this quite a bit lately, not least because our family is setting out on a journey into the unknown with my dear Dad, who is experiencing some significant health issues at the moment. We don’t know what the future will hold — we never do, never can and never will. The only certainty, as always and for all of us, is that the journey will end with the final step every human being must take.

I’m not intending to be at all fatalistic, here — far from it. If anything, discovering that my father is ill has brought life and all that is important to me into sharp focus, and I’m grateful for that clarity, harsh though its light might be. Because despite the ultimate inevitability of death, I think the essential thing to remember is that we can embrace life, with all its weirdness and wonder and pain and joy.  To recognise that despite the monotony or banality we occasionally ascribe to our existences, our lives are perhaps much more eventful (and delightfully so) than we think they are. To know that it doesn’t hurt to keep hoping for the best of the unexpected, even if we don’t always get it.

little things 2

This little, ephemeral, life…

Life is transient, and it is also far more ephemeral and fragile than we sometimes allow ourselves remember. But accepting and absorbing this unadorned truth somehow enables us to strip away the superfluous and to focus on what really matters, what makes us who we are at the very core of our beings.

I don’t believe the response to life demanded by such an acceptance to be as simple as “it is what it is”, though I have been known to use that phrase often — sometimes ridiculously so. I have come to realise that these words only indicate a level of understanding, but they fail to communicate a sense of engagement.

I do believe, however, that living life fully requires making considered choices about how we spend our time.  I’ve written before about the challenge of living creatively, of becoming human beings rather than humans doing, and I suspect facing up to the inevitability of our mortality demands a direct and deliberate response from each of us — a response that is as fiercely positive as we can muster.

Please don’t misunderstand me: I’m not trying to turn everyone in my acquaintance into a parade of Pollyannas singing Que Sera, Sera in the face of the slightest adversity. All I’m suggesting is that we use this fleeting time we have together to the best of our abilities, to live in alignment with whatever First Principles guide us, to be our best selves.

Much of life is unpredictable. Parts of it are downright incomprehensible. But it is also, sometimes, miraculous. And it is always — always — mutable.

And that’s why, in the face of ever-changing circumstances, I choose to draw comfort from the curious words of an old Taoist:

Life is a funny.

Six Stack of Sunshine

Car ENVY

So The Bloke has new wheels…

So as I said in my last post, I started a new job not so long ago — and that has meant I have been spending more time in my car than I have in recent years. My car is silver, but is by no means flash. It’s safe and serviceable. It definitely has a lot more bells and whistles than other cars I’ve owned, though if you’d seen any of those, you’d know that wouldn’t be too hard.

The Bloke, on the other hand, acquired a new car late last year, a great white BEAST of a car. (Not quite a Beluga on wheels, but close enough.)

I can say, with certainty, that it’s the first brand new vehicle either of us has ever owned.  And I can also say that since he acquired it, my position on his Totem Pole of Great Loves may have slipped slightly…not to say that I’m out of the top spot, but…well, I’m watching this space.

I’m not jealous.  Not a bit.

Well…that may not be entirely true: I am a tiny bit green-eyed, but it’s not over the car itself.

Car STEREO

The Bloke’s old car stereo looked a bit like this…

What I will admit being ever-so-slightly covetous of is the sound system, with its touch-screen technology, its Bluetooth connectivity, its up to the minute compatibility with just about any other device that’s been invented already.

Now, I am well aware that I should not begrudge The Bloke his newfound sonic bliss — his last chariot (it wasn’t quite horse-drawn, but I’ll let you extrapolate from there) was so woefully ill-equipped in the musical department that when we headed off on holidays I resorted to taking our BOSE Bluetooth speaker, plonking it on the dashboard, and playing Spotify via my iPhone for as long as we were in range, then switching to whatever I had downloaded from iTunes. We may have had decent music for as long as the battery lasted, but clearly, the setup wasn’t ideal.

Even so, it was not without a twinge of envy that I slid behind the wheel of my own car the other day.  I may even have looked a little folornly at the stereo, before recalling that just about every self-help guru that ever was suggests that in such cirumstances, a little gratitude does not go astray. Even Benjamin Franklin, it seems, was on the old gratitude bandwagon (though given the fact that he has been dead for nearly 227 years he might even have been the bandwagon’s original driver):

We can complain that rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.

Thank you, Mr Franklin. Ever so ta.

My car stereo was already starting to look better.  In fact, I decided to have a good — and far more grateful — look at what I actually had: a fully functioning car stereo with six presets for radio stations, and capacity for not one, not two, but six CDs.

Bloody marvellous, really — though given I generally listen to indie rock-type radio stations most of the time I couldn’t remember for the life of me what half of the CDs I currently had in the car stereo were, despite strongly suspecting they were a rather, ummm….shall we say, eclectic mix? So I decided, on what turned into quite a slow commute work that morning, to find out exactly what I had on board.

Spolier alert…even I was surprised…

Car BONEY M

Boney M

CD 1, as it turned out, was none other than The Best of Boney M.

I kid you not.

But just in case your eyebrows have just shot skyhigh and you’re seriously concerned about whatever else I might have lurking in my car stereo, there is method to such madness — as this post I wrote about the Healing Power of Disco will reveal. Trust me: if you have a tendency to get a little cranky while in traffic, this might be just what you didn’t even know you needed.

Car SPEM IN ALIUM

Thomas Tallis

CD 2 was equally surprising: a compilation of medieval choral music that began with a sublime rendition of Thomas Tallis’ Spem In Alium, a 40 part Renaissance motet composed around 1570 for eight choirs of five voices each.

Some critics consider it to be the greatest piece of early English music. I just know it’s a piece of music that had a massively calming influence on my children (and, if I’m being totally honest, on me as well). Check it out on YouTube…you might be pleasantly surprised.

Car JAY KAY 2

Jay Kay of Jamiroquai

Not unexpectedly, having discovered music from the 1970s and the 1570s currently occupying two of the six slots in my car stereo, I appoached CD3 with some trepidation — and was relieved to find a bunch of funky tunes from Jamiroquai.

Hearing Jay Kay singing (not to mention imagining him dancing) immediately transports me to a happy, summery place in my head, full of golden light and good times. It’s great music to have in your car — particuarly given the unusual amount of grey skies and general downpour we’ve had in Sydneytown lately.

Car AWESOME MIX

Yeeha…mix tape!

Less perturbed now, I made my way to CD4 and discovered a mix tape (well, that should probably read mix disc?) of dance tracks I had thrown together at some point. Now, as everyone knows, the best bit about a mix tape is that you know — if you put it together — that you’re going to love ever last track on it.

This CD was about as far away from Thomas Tallis as you can get (it has songs from Sia, Robin Schulz, Watermät, The Weeknd, and all sorts of other stuff), but it was equally uplifting — and full of fun too.

Car SIGUR ROS 2

Jonsi of Sigur Rós

CD5 began quietly enough and built into the unmistakable wall of sound produced by Iceland’s Sigur Rós on their incredible Takk album.

I once read about how, while preparing for the final scenes in the 2007 movie Sunshine, Danny Boyle had Cillian Murphy listen to Sigur Rós at maximum volume, trying to create some sort of (obviously earthbound) impression of what it would be like to be in complete communion with the sun Murphy’s character was attempting to reignite.

I can readily understand the choice — the euphoria is clearly present in Sigur Rós’ music, along with positivity and a very real sense of power.

Car OK COMPUTER

Radiohead: OK Computer

And that brought me, finally, to CD6, which proved to be a rather battered and slightly skippy ripped copy of Radiohead’s OK Computer. Because it is a truth intergalactially acknowledged that no vehicle is roadworthy without a bit of Radiohead hanging around — I mean the first track is Airbag, so clearly no car is safe without a copy?

I’m not quite sure where I would be without songs like Let Down or No Surprises. And for me it is a strangely (OK, perhaps downright weirdly) comforting thought that cosmic forces aligned themselves in such a way that they not only produced life on this planet, but also contrived to bring the likes of Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood into existence in the same place at the same time, to form a once-in-a-generation band with such a distinctive sonic presence…but that, I suspect, is a whole other blogpost…

So anyway — that’s what was in my car stereo. A few surprises, even to myself, along with a few old faves. And while the sound system in The Bloke’s new car is very nice, I am quite content (for the moment) with my old school CDs and my six stack of sunshine.

Tout Pret

write it out

The sanity-saving act of putting fingers to keys…

It feels like forever since I’ve posted here, and it’s such a relief to have my fingers back on the keys, tapping away so I can make sense of it all.

A fair bit has changed for me in the past six weeks or so: I’ve started a new job and taken on a volunteering role in addition to the work I already do. And although I’ve managed to keep my employment within school hours (which as any working mother will tell you is about the closest thing you’ll get to a modern day miracle), I have missed being here, in my small patch of cyberspace, and have found myself yearning for just five more minutes than I actually had so I could bash out a blogpost.

And because I didn’t have those extra five minutes, the school uniforms got hurriedly ironed instead. Or I threw together some lunch for the next day at the office. Or I quickly sipped a life-saving cup of tea before I jumped back into the car to pick up whichever child from whatever sporting practice/birthday party/school event/playdate they happened to be at.

But I still wanted to be here, sharing the musings of the Daydream Believer.

I’ve often joked with my mates that I’m not a very pleasant person to be around if I haven’t been writing something — writing anything. And the more time I spent attempting to adjust myself and my (occasionally uncooperative) family members to the new set of circumstances I had brought to bear on our world, the less time I spent putting words on a page.

Any words. On any page.

I could feel myself starting to unravel a bit. To come unstuck. Maybe even a little unhinged…

And I knew that meant I had to prepare.

Preparation works for me. It’s why I make lists — on the backs of envelopes, in notebooks, on my phone, even on the back of my hand. It’s why I have a bullet journal (and by this I mean a battered book I lug everywhere and in which I scrawl utterly irreverently, not some sort of pristine Pinterest-worthy portfolio with natty colour coded tabs). It’s why I menu plan. It’s why I write out timetables for my kids. It’s why I have a small filing system in my kitchen to keep track of everything from permission forms to potential holiday plans. It’s why I mentally review my to do list in bed each night. It’s why I allocate time to thinking things through and planning them out.

think

I reckon there’s one in every family…

Preparation is also, perhaps, in my blood. The motto of the clan into which I was born is “Tout Pret” — which means, of course, “all ready”. And while I do realise that our family words probably have more to do with a well-honed Highland propensity to fight off (just about any) invading force rather than a simple willingness to get the domestic drudgery done, recent family history does seem to indicate that we still possess a tendency towards preparedness and — consequently — to getting things done.

And so here I am: back on the page, still trying to making sense of it all, but knowing that I I made the plans and made the time to be here, now — with my words.

As always, it’s doing what you have to do before you do what you want to do.

what you wanna do

It’s doing what you really want to do…

It’s being true to my self and to what I believe.

It’s coming home.

It’s in my blood.

Tout Pret.

Without a Word

nijinsky-faun

Nijinsky as the Faun

I have been forever fascinated by how humans can convey the depth and width of their emotions without uttering a single sound. You may think it odd that someone like me, who relishes and cherishes the written word, would value such expression so highly – but, quite simply, I do.

I love watching people dance. I’ve written before about how my children do, too. And while I don’t mind a bit of a boogie myself from time to time, there are some things — ballet, for example — that I believe are best left to the experts. To those rare individuals who are disciplined enough to dedicate their lives to honing their skills and their selves to the point that they bare their very souls on stage.

On Saturday night I was fortunate enough to witness one such individual dance, when Alexandre Riabko took to the stage as a guest artist with the Australian Ballet in the title role of John Neumeier’s Nijinsky.  It was a powerful, masterful performance, vividly depicting Vaslav Nijinsky’s life inside and outside of dance via a series of memories and hallucinations as he descended, finally, into madness.

riabko-nijinsky

Descent into madness…Alexandre Riabko as Nijinksy.

Watching Riabko inhabit Nijinsky’s interior world, as other dancers recreated his recollections — of being the Golden Slave in Scheherazade, or of the Faun in L’apres midi d’un faune, or of Petrouchka, or of learning his ballet steps with his brother and sister  — was mesmerising. But as other dancers began to give form to Nijinksy’s delusions and as his complex relationships with his lover and employer at the Ballet Russes, Sergei Diaghilev, and with his wife, Romola, visibly unravelled, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of tragedy.

nijinsky-sheherazade

The Golden Slave…

The image of Nijinsky returning again and again to something like second position, arms outstretched, as though trying to find his centre and a sense of safety in the midst of his increasing confusion was heartbreaking, particularly when juxtaposed with the transformation of his memories of Diaghilev — performed with all his usual elegant line and length by Andrew Killian — from sensual lover and suave mentor to sinister impresario.

No footage of Nijinksy dancing is believed to have survived — Diaghilev, apparently, would not allow him to be filmed — but during the two and half hours he was on stage, Alexandre Riabko had me completely and utterly convinced that he was channelling the spirit of the man whom many regard as being one of the greatest interpreters of the artform to ever set foot on a stage.

I left the Sydney Opera House deeply saddened by the tragedy of Nijinsky’s tale — he never again danced publicly from the time of his final performance in 1919 until his death, after spending years in and out of asylums, in 1950 — but I was also, ultimately, uplifted by the sheer intensity, beauty and bravery of the performance I had just witnessed.

And I suspect that feeling — one of great admiration tinged with sorrow — would have stayed with me for the remainder of the weekend, had I not had the pleasure of attending a Greek Orthodox wedding with my family the following day.  My daughters had never been to a wedding before, and they were entranced by everything about the experience from the singing at the wedding ceremony to the table settings at the reception. But what really captivated them — and me — was the dancing.

Watching the wedding guests encircling the dance floor, every one of them tracing the intricate steps of a Syrtos, was every bit as mesmerising as the ballet had been the night before.  Here were women — some in sensible sandals, most in spectacular stilletos — and men following in the footsteps of those who had come before them. Here was a sure-footed groom, leading his radiant bride. Without uttering a single word, the dance spoke of tradition, of continuity, of community, of family.

And as the long line of dancers wound their way around the room, I found myself thinking of each of their bodies as a living link to the past, stretching all the way to the present and then onwards, ever onwards, as they danced into the night, celebrating with the newlyweds and wishing them a lifetime of happiness in the future.

syrtos

A long line of tradition and celebration…

This Little Life

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Adam and Eve…back to the beginning…

Some days I find it hard to believe that it has been two years since I sat down on the sofa one night and started this blog. I can still remember the first time I hit the Publish button — holding my breath and then slowing exhaling as my words unfurled in cyberspace.

Since then I’ve used this space — usually aimlessly, occasionally deliberately — to make sense of it all: thoughts, feelings, marriage, kids, world events, minutiae, books, music, writing, life.

About a year ago, I wrote a post called The Wellspring, which was probably as close to a personal manifesto as I’ll ever get:

I believe there is a wellspring in each of us, the source of our creativity and our connection with humanity and the planet we are so lucky to live on.

I wrote about my First Principles and how I try to align myself with them. I wrote about living authentically and being true to myself. I wrote, also, of my gratitude for the encouragement I had received — and continue to receive — from the farflung readers of this blog.

b-adam-depression

In Adam I recognise my tendency to overthink…

Now, another twelve months on, I decided to go right back to the beginning. To get back to basics. So I went back and read that first post I wrote, Just Getting it Out There, and was thankful that I still recognised the person I found there — even though way back then I hadn’t even figured out how to add images to what I had written, and barely knew what a tag was.

Re-reading that post also made me want to go back and revisit the movie that had inspired it, Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive. Having recently returned from a holiday to the US, I wanted to return to the film’s nocturnal landscape, the dispossessed industrial heartland of America — partly because I’m still trying to reconcile what I witnessed only a couple of weeks ago: the carefully constructed Disney dream with all its manicured artifice that I sought to share with my children, and the haphazard existence of the homeless people I saw living in squalor beside freeways or sleeping it off outside shopping centres.

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Like The Bloke, Eve reminds me that there are so many ways to live and survive..

It was The Bloke, my steady and steadfast husband, who reminded me that there are many ways to live this life, and that not everyone finds living in a house in the suburbs (or anywhere, for that matter) fits in with them or with their preferred lifestyle. That freedom can be defined in as many ways as there are human beings. That every single one of us has a story — and that each of those tales matters, and is worth no more or less than the next person’s.

And since then I have been reminding myself, as I reminded my children countless times during that vacation, of that old adage:

It’s not wrong, it’s just different.

b-adam-eve

Unlike vampires, we get just one, short life…

We are all the product of our choices, of the decisions we make. Some are so small we don’t even register them for what they are or for the cumulative impact they have. Others are so big they are completely and mindblowingly life-altering. And yet, regardless of their size or consequence, whether we overthink them or dwell on them in bed at night or dismiss them or even put them into the fabled ‘too hard basket’, we make them. Each and every day.

And so, ultimately, I remain convinced of the importance of knowing and aligning yourself with your First Principles, whatever they might be. I still believe in that Wellspring and of the incalculable value of connecting with it regularly and deliberately. I continue to contend that it is worth doing your best in everything you do, and in each and every decision you make, and that it is essential to be grateful — oh, so grateful — for this little life.

 

If you enjoyed this post and would like musings from the Daydream Believer to be delivered to your inbox whenever they appear, feel free to click the follow button at the top right of this page…Blue Jai 

 

Sonic Soothing

 

I woke up this morning and knew within a matter of minutes that my over-stuffed brain was not going to allow easy decision making today, crammed as it currently is with details (many and varied) relating to the projects (disparate and deadlined) that I am working on at the moment.

Robby Cavanaugh

Love this image from Robby Cavanaugh…

Don’t get me wrong — I like being busy; in fact I probably feel most alive when I know that I’ve got as many balls in the air as I can realistically manage, when I know I’m keeping those balls up there and am getting it done, when I know that if it was possible to press the cosmic pause button I’d probably stand there, smiling goofily, staring at all those balls of different colours and sizes, suspended in intricate patterns, precisely positioned on their sweeping arcs and curves.

But this morning, I knew that successfully juggling my day required some of my decision-making to be outsourced.

I’m not talking about massive, life-changing decisions, of course — but I am speaking of something that is still very important to me, something essential to each and every day: the soundtrack. And when your First Principles consist of words, music and food, and being true to yourself means aligning yourself with these, you attend to the basics first.

So I reached for the iPad and sound dock, and within a matter of seconds had settled on a playlist someone else, some random stranger (bless them), had put together.

Music surged forth from the speaker. I sighed with relief. Job done.

And I took a moment, then, to consider just how amazing that feat was — because it blows my mind that I live in a technological age on this planet where it’s possible, in the blink of an eye, to enter a musical wonderland of (literally) uncharted tunes, populated by singers and bands and artists I’m yet to discover, far away and free from the confines of commercial radio.

Thank goodness for Spotify.

Praise the Old Gods and the New for Pandora.

All hail the genius who came up with the miraculous algorithm behind Shazam.

Because this is where this age of hyperconnectivity comes into its own, where it really starts to shine: in the sonic spaces. Where you can be listening to Christine and the Queens in one minute, move on to Sigur Rós the next, mellow out with Matt Corby, then listen to a tune or two from Nils Frahm.

Where you travel the world on a soundwave, from France to Iceland to Australia to Germany, without even leaving your workspace.

This is the digital age at its best.

This is sonic soothing.

 

 

Head Full of Elsewhere…

RB1

Oh, that Grey Cat…if I actually had a cat like this one, I would have to call it Cillian (for obvious reasons).

Restlessness.

The untamable bane of my existence.

I’m not talking about physical restlessness.

Generally speaking, I’m not the fidgety, twitchy, can’t-sit-still type — unless I’m having a Squirrel Week, of course, and then I’m virtually incapable of staying put for two seconds together.

No, my Restlessness (and it definitely has a capital letter) is the mental kind.

For as long as I can remember, I have been a day dreamer and a night thinker…a girl with a head full of Elsewhere.

It’s not that my life is boring, or incomplete, or something from which I am constantly seeking to escape.  And I am not always away with the pixies.

But it does creep in, my Restlessness, like a sleek grey cat prowling after its prey, sharp-clawed and stealthy, yet as insubstantial as smoke. And try as I might to capture this evasive creature, or to pinpoint the source from which it springs, it forever eludes me: just as I reach out to snatch its silken ruff it will suddenly vanish —  leaving me, at best, with a wisp of a glimpse of its silvery tailtip disappearing from the corner of my eye.

RB3

The Grey Cat appears when you least expect it, on paws as silent as smoke.

In the past I fought that Grey Cat, seeking to stem the restlessness by studying (literature, history, remedial massage, law — anything), because I was not comfortable with how unsettled it made me feel. But I found that filling my head with knowledge does not take away the all-pervading sense of Elsewhere, when its steps with soft paws into your mind — nor does it diminish its allure.

So I travelled, following in the footsteps of my veritable gypsy of a grandmother whose wanderings criss-crossed the globe as she flitted from this country to that continent, living one endless summer after another. But I discovered that I was as easy with that lifestyle as she was, as happy a traveller, as content with my own company, and as ready to roll with the rhythms of life on the road. Elsewhere, it seemed, was still Elsewhere.

And I also found that no matter where I went, the Grey Cat came too.

Ah, Restlessness.

How I wrestled with it, struggled to make sense of it. I tried to tame it by writing it out, knowing and longing for the clarity of thought I possessed when it wasn’t taunting me:

My mind is unfettered, my thoughts unchained,
springing fully formed from my head
like Pallas Athena,
soaring skyward into the boundless blue,
blessed and bountiful,
arrows searing, sure and true.

 

But the Grey Cat — like many things made of shadows — is a wild creature, and it won’t be tamed by words or wishes.

RB2

It’s all a matter of perspective, really…

So I learned to live with my Restlessness. And, over time, I made peace with that mysterious Grey Cat and all its slippery ways.

I learned that having a head full of Elsewhere is a valuable thing when you need to consider something from a wide variety of perspectives.

I learned that all that day dreaming and night thinking can be a veritable gift when it inspires you to create an entire fictional world, fill it with characters, and bring them to life on the page.

And the Grey Cat?

Yes, it still stalks me, and pounces when I least expect it. But lately I have found that when it does, that elusive creature sometimes let me sit with it, in silvery silence, and allows me to meet its luminous, blue-eyed gaze.