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.

Welcome to Gotham

“Gotham” by Justin Van Genderen…travel art for the descent into madness…

Some days, being a parent is fun — it’s an absolute breeze. Everything runs smoothly and everyone is happy. But other days, it’s like a slow slide into madness, Gotham style.

Those of you know me will understand that I am usually far more partial to the Marvel Universe than I am to the world of DC Comics, but on those days (yes, you know the ones) there is something about Gotham and its seedy underworld of crazed criminals that I can relate to. Those are the days when I feel like a disillusioned lawman, struggling to bring order to a city intent on dragging itself down into madness. The days when you either channel your inner Detective Jim Gordon or risk winding up in the crumbling confines of Arkham Asylum.

I’m not sure whether I’m making this (massively tenuous) connection because I have just binged on Season One of Gotham on Netflix or because in this part of the world we’re halfway through the final term of school — both possibilities are equally likely.

It’s just that time of year. Term Four. The kids, despite their best efforts, are beginning to get…ratty (I’m trying to be nice, here). And I, despite my best intentions, am certainly not being the model of a rational, reasonable mother I aspire to be. Everyone is a bit tired, a little strung out, and a tad more likely to snap. To answer back. To yell, instead of taking a single, soul-saving breath.

Oh, the backchat...Marvel Girl is currently obsessed by penguins, but I'm glad she hasn't come up against THE Penguin yet...

Oh, the backchat…Marvel Girl is currently obsessed by penguins, but I’m glad she hasn’t discovered THE Penguin yet…

I’m not sure why I always find it surprising that at this time of year simple things — like buckling car seatbelts, for instance — seem to become inordinately difficult for my children. That everyday activities like locating a hairbrush or two matching shoes of a morning, or washing a stack of lunch boxes each afternoon, suddenly leave me teetering on the edge of insanity.

It’s not like November creeps up on us or anything: it’s there on the calendar, in the same place, every year. I have nothing against November, nothing at all. I love that the jacarandas are out, that summer is on its way. But it’s not quite December, is it? The finish line is just out of sight. Sometimes it feels like November is the month when they ring the bell to remind you there’s still another lap to run…

Regroup, re-caffeinate...

Regroup, re-caffeinate…

Next year, perhaps, I will put a big circle around November 1 on my calendar to remind me that it’s time to regroup. To return to my First Principles. To restock my caffeine and chocolate stashes. To remember that while I may be fluent in both profanity and sarcasm, neither represents my best self linguistically.

I would also do well to recall some of the lessons learned from Gotham, particularly those that the young Jim Gordon imparts to the even younger Bruce Wayne, long before one was appointed Commissioner of the Gotham City Police Department and the other became Batman. Of the importance of honesty. Of doing what is right, rather than what is easy. Of treating people, including my family — no, especially my family — with respect.

Everyone has to matter...

Everyone has to matter…

As Jim Gordon says, “Everyone has to matter, or nobody matters”.

We all have Gotham days, all of us. And for every one of us, Gotham looks and feels slightly different. We’ve all experienced times when we’ve shouted at our kids instead of holding them close, when we’ve lost it over something trifling and insignificant that we look back on with almost instant mortification and remorse. But it’s also important to remember that we’re not alone, even when it feels like the descent into chaos is only a step away.

Everyone matters.

Even on Gotham days. Especially on Gotham Days.

And that includes the person who feels like they’re sliding slowly into insanity.

There will be light...

There will be light…

Yesterday, as you might have guessed, I had a Gotham day. I’m not proud of it, or of the way I behaved. But today, I’m doing better. I’ve apologised to my family for yesterday’s yelling and unnecessarily sardonic remarks. I’ve sent up my bat signal, I’ve made my mental phone call to the GCPD. I’ve had a coffee (definitely not decaf).

And, instead of checking myself into Arkham, I’ve embraced the insanity and set up plastic dinosaurs in a potted plant in the bathroom for my girls to discover when they come home.

I’m looking forward to their laughter.

And the light? Well, I’m looking at that already.

The Wellspring

My First Principles: words, music, food.

Know your First Principles…

This month marks the first anniversary of the day I sat down, summoned my courage and started blogging. From the outset, I have said that this is where I come to make sense of it all, and after twelve months of showing up on the page I firmly believe that doing so has benefited me, and probably my family, too.

I believe it’s important to thank all the people who have joined me since I set sail on this voyage, and to make special mention of the mums who sought me in the school playground to chat about everything from Holiday Bonus Points to the meaning of saudade, or to jokingly re-introduce themselves after I blogged about The Name Game. I want to thank the friends who provided early encouragement (and who, to my eternal gratitude and partial disbelief, continue to do so), as well as the hundreds of complete strangers who stumbled across my little site and stayed to read a post or two. Discovering that my words have been read by people all over the world, from Argentina to Germany, Turkey to Taiwan, as well as here in Australia has been an astonishing and humbling experience.

Find your wellspring...

Find your wellspring…

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.  Writing this blog has enabled me to dive into that wellspring and to clarify what is important to me, what I am passionate about, and also what I am challenged by. It has provided me with a platform to speak my truth, whether I was struggling to make sense of the Sydney Siege, or speaking out against the death penalty, or fangirling over my two favourite Toms (Wlaschiha and Hiddleston), or reveling in the beauty of street art.  And writing about all these things has enabled me to connect with people in ways I never have before.

I believe that I am truer to my First Principles – my Holy Trinity of words, music and food – when I visit my wellspring regularly.   When I align myself to these three things, my most important sources of nourishment, I live a better and far more authentic life. I may not always progress smoothly; life simply isn’t like that. But honouring the things that make me who I am and finding the time and space to share them with others certainly makes it easier to deal with the inevitable ups and downs that characterise every person’s existence.  Blogging reminds me that we are all riding this rollercoaster together, and that it can be terrifying and thrilling and every other kind of emotion I can name (and probably a few I don’t know yet know precisely the right word for) along the way.  It also prompts me to remember that the same is true for each of us, the world over.

Connect...

Connect to your own greatness…

I believe I am blessed in my life to be supported by my family, the crazy trio you may laughed with – or perhaps just laughed at – and cried with over the past year.  You’ve shared our adventures and misadventures, and witnessed some of the tests and trials my husband and I have encountered while parenting two strong-willed and independently-minded girls. The Bloke, Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop all inspire me, challenge me, delight me, frustrate me, and fill me with more joy than I ever thought possible. They also willingly put up with a wife and mother who is happiest when tapping away at the keyboard, and who considers herself incredibly fortunate to be able to do so on a personal and a professional basis – even if it means my life is regulated by the alarms I set to remind me to pick the kids up from school.

I believe, looking back, that it probably wasn’t a coincidence that I began blogging in spring, the season of rebirth and renewal.  Spring is a great time to start new things, and to watch them grow. One of the themes I have returned to again and again over the past twelve months has been seasonal change, as I’ve connected with the world as it transforms itself around me and noticed details I may not have otherwise. In the process, I have become far more aware of how I respond to the seasons and the unique ways they express themselves in this Great Southern Land. (As a side note, I would also argue that spring is probably a much better time to set resolutions than those first remorse-filled weeks of January when we lament our Christmas and New Year’s excesses and wish for the umpteenth year in a row that the festive season and the bikini season did not coincide.)

But having said that, I also believe that it doesn’t matter when you start something new: the important thing is to begin. To have a go. Or to have another go. Or even to resume doing something you love, because you know it serves you and brings you closer to who you truly are. For me, it’s writing, reading, listening to and playing music, cooking well and eating better.  It’s also exercising: running, weight training, and practicing yoga.

...and Begin.

…and Begin.

Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to attend a yoga workshop welcoming the coming of spring.  It was a chance to find stillness within, to connect with my breath, to meditate on new beginnings and to draw strength and inspiration from the wellspring within.  Emerging into the twilight two hours later, I was greeted by the sight of the moon, luminous and full, lighting up the evening sky.  Seeing that shining orb reminded me that I, too, have come full circle, and I remembered what I wrote in my very first blog post: that what I write here may never be great, or even particularly good, but it will be mine. The most important thing was that I began.

So rise up.  Follow your breath.  Find the wellspring within.  Connect.  And begin.

Dinner with Nigella

Cookbooks...the joyous combination of words and food.

Cookbooks…the joy of combining words and food.

Those of you who follow this blog with any regularity will know of my Holy Trinity of First Principles: words, music and food.

These are my three main sources of nourishment, and without their sustaining, inspiring and stabilising presence in my life I would probably end up in jail or in what used to be called (in the good old days of political incorrectness) a lunatic asylum.

But those of you who know me personally will know that there’s another thing that I am slightly obsessed by — planning.  Yes, I’ll admit it, I’m one of those people who loves lists. Particularly of the old-fashioned hand-written variety, the kind that can be crossed off with flourish and flair.

I am also, I’ll confess, a bandit for spreadsheets, tables, and — more recently — menu plans. And when the menu planning mood strikes me, I find there is nothing more pleasurable than sitting down with a couple of old friends and working out what my family and I will eat for dinner for the next month.

Nigella...the original domestic goddess.

Nigella…the original domestic goddess.

Technically speaking, they’re not ‘friends’ at all, they’re cookbooks: the tried and trusted tomes I turn to when when my soul’s kitchen needs re-stocking.  But when I’m happily ensconced at the dining room table with a pile of cookbooks beside me, it begins to feel like Nigella and Jamie are my friends (obviously…after all, we’re on a first name basis here).  Similarly, the likes of Stephanie Alexander and Maggie Beer feel like neighbours who pop their heads over the back fence to chat about what’s growing in their veggie patches, while Yotam Ottolenghi — whose latest volume I have only recently acquired — feels like an exciting new acquaintance who I want to get to know a whole lot better.

Seriously — what’s not to love about cookbooks?  They’re where words and food collide, with delectable results.

Cookbooks are also packed with beautiful photographs, enticing recipes and, more frequently in this age of the celebrity chef, introductory pieces that allow the author’s passion for creating delicious food with locally sourced, seasonal produce to shine through. I suspect I find Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver particularly accessible because their cookbooks read like the television scripts they no doubt once were, and I can hear their voices in my head as I read the (sometimes pithy, occasionally rambling) comments that preface each of the recipes in their books. They don’t just make me feel hungry, they make me want to cook.

Jamie: what's not to love about this guy?

Jamie: what’s not to love about this guy?

I am equally inspired by food memoirs, especially Ruth Reichl’s widely-acclaimed trilogy of her lifelong journey with food. In my opinion, Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the TableComfort Me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table, and Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise are all well worth a read. Novels that include recipes for dishes cooked by the characters also fill me with joy — but I suspect that may be the topic of another blogpost altogether.

To be honest, I think I’m a better cook when I’ve sat down with my culinary ‘friends’, or even when I’ve simply been side-tracked by a recipe when I’m looking for something else entirely.  I know I’m definitely more willing to try new things in the kitchen afterwards, despite the fact that I have been known to tune out the kids clamouring for their evening meal over the top of the television blaring the Octonauts theme just because my attention has been entirely captured by a new way of cooking with chorizos…or artichokes…or tangellos…or any number of other ingredients.

It's pretty simple, really...

It’s pretty simple, really…

And, notwithstanding such lapses of maternal attention, my kids are developing a great relationship with food, not doubt partly because I am interested in what I am cooking for them and because I willingly express my love for fresh, local produce. They are eager to try new dishes and to have a crack at cooking too, and are particular fans of purple carrots, pomegranates and many other fruits and vegetables I had never heard of when I was a child.

Needless to say, I’m running out of space in my kitchen for all my cookbooks, much to my chagrin. Even so, I find it hard resist the siren song of a new volume culinary inspiration, despite my lack of cupboard space and my husband’s (probably well-founded) dismay.

But I do know this: sticking to my First Principles is good for my health — mentally, physically, and spiritually — and, by extension, it is good for my family’s health too. So my argument (and believe me, I’m sticking to it) is this: if I splurge ever now and then on a cookbook, everybody benefits.

And besides, if my habit of making friends with cookbooks continues, I’m sure we could renovate the kitchen…