They’re part of the holy trinity of things that make me whole: words, music, food.
These three things anchor my life, colour my world and fuel my existence. They allow me to express myself more meaningfully, feel more deeply, and to live more completely.
But, as The Bloke will tell you (and as he has even more frequently told me), sometimes I use words too much.
Especially with our children.
And, truth be told, I don’t always use my words in a pleasant way…but in more of a drawn out, repetitive nag.
Sometimes they even come out as a rant.
Or a tirade.
Or a garbled stream of complaints and admonishments.
My children are reaching the age when they either don’t need me so much any more, or when they firmly believe they don’t need me at all (and could I please leave them alone and perhaps also shut the door on my way out while I’m at it).
As you can well imagine, once you’ve thrown a bunch of elevated hormone levels into the mix, a politely phrased and modulated request to perform the most perfunctory of household tasks (the musical eqivalent of which would be Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending) can produce such unexpectedly snarling, snarky response (think Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Heads Will Roll turned up to at least 11) that I frequently and ever-so-immaturely find myself retaliating in kind.
Things came to a head for me last week (though, fortunately, heads did not actually roll) after an especially super-charged exchange with my elder child, and I did what any self-respecting woman in her mid-forties does, if she still can: I called my mother for advice.
And a bit of a cry.
OK — it was a lot of a cry.
Who says we ever finish growing up?
Except we generally do grow up, and sometimes our mums aren’t always there to listen or helps us find the answers, or to guide us gently to the truth at the heart of the matter — which probably has something to do with the fact that you’ve managed to nurture your child to this point, and now they have reached the stage of their existence where they have to complete that same process you guided them through all over again, for themselves. And that you’ve given them a safe place in which to express themselves and to try out all the wildly different versions of their new, expanding sense of self.
The real question, I suspect, is not about growing up or finishing anything at all.
Because — naturally, serendipitously — once I’d processed the truth bombs dropped by my teenager and the truth pearls bestowed by my mother, I happened to open a book and there was a quote from Rumi which stopped my breath:
And you, when will you begin that long journey into yourself?
And so, that’s what I’m doing.
I’ve chosen to be quiet, and to witness my reactions from within. I’m not asking my children to do things any more — they’ve heard my requests thousands upon thousands of times, and they know what my expectations are.
And when my expectations are not met, I am applying what I call Silent Theory. Not a frosty, passive agressive silence, but a moment of taking a breath and stilling the response which would have so quickly come to my lips and spilled out as sound the split second after my children didn’t do exactly what I wanted them to.
Who, I now wonder, was the child?
It’s extraordinary what you discover in the space between, if you choose to begin that long journey into yourself.
I knew surrendering to the doona on Sunday afternoon was a mistake. Naturally, every last one of the weather gods took note of my devil may care attitude to the sunny weather they had provided, and proceeded to drench the Northern Beaches in several of days of rain. Admittedly, there was a splash of variety to said rain: it was either steady and incessant, or squally and hitting when you least expected it, but the fact remains that it was still rain. On the one occasion I actually left the house (for 2 of the 4 allowable reasons under the current stay at home orders), I even drove through pouring rain in bright sunlight…which is a seriously weird experience even when one is not in Lockdown.
Anyway, after a shaky start (replete with yelling from all sides), both of my children appear to have adapted to this new regime reasonably well — which is rather a relief, given The Bloke and I are both working from home in finance-related jobs and Lockdown has conincided with EOFY. Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop have been keeping each other admirably entertained, including boisterous exercise sessions outside and plenty of creative pursuits inside, and have sometimes even remembering to clean up after themselves. Needless to say, I have issued an open invitation to all family members to empty the dishwasher whenever they find it full of shiny, clean crockery and cutlery, but sadly so far only The Bloke has taken me up on this salacious offer. OK…it’s not even remotely salacious, it’s just flipping necessary…
Miss Malaprop and I have indulged in a spot of Lockdown Baking — no, not sourdough — which is hardly surprising as we are both rather fond of bunging things in the oven and being able to eat them in the not too distant future. Spotting a claw of increasingly blackened bananas darkening the kitchen fruit bowl, we made Banana Bread. Not just ANY garden variety banana bread, but Yotam Ottolenghi’s Banana Bread featuring roasted pecans, if you don’t mind, which is why this particular baked offering requires the use of Capitals…so la dee dah..
Recalling her recent online shopping for new jeans, the Thrifty Fictionista has resolved not to bake too much during Lockdown, lest she find herself unable to fit into said jeans, which are yet to wend their way to my doorstop. That has not, however, stopped her from ummm… well, from ordering…a few, no…a largish pile, let’s see… shall we say “several other” things online? They’ve all been necessary purchases, of course, like a lovely tartan woollen blanket. And an iPad case. And two sweatshirts. And the Nespresso pods that are due to arrive this afternoon. You cannot seriously expect me to endure Lockdown with coffee, can you?! Besides, it’s not like I’m rushing to the nearest supermarket to panic buy toilet paper…
So far, despite adding many things to cart when I probably should have said, nay shouted at the top of my lungs: “NO! Begone, tempting online shopping demons of the Interwebs!“, the Thrifty Fictionista is rather proud of herself for not purchasing any more books — with the (exceedingly) permissible exception of some small tomes she sent to New Zealand for a friend’s upcoming birthday. Resisting the seductive siren song of Booktopia and the Book Grocer and all those other sublime online book retailers has not been easy, but I am pleased to announce that managed to apply myself and diligently finished the Nureyev biography (which I struggled to complete, simply because I knew it would have to end inevitably with his demise and that’s not the cheeriest subject matter to confront while unable to freely leave your house for the foreseeable future).
Next, however, the Thrifty Fictionista took her own advice and cracked open the very beautiful (hardbacked and bookmark ribboned) Hilary Mantel box set I had been waiting to devour. Quite honestly, I am relishing every single moment I am spending with Thomas Cromwell in Tudor England.
Right from the opening line of Wolf Hall, the first book, I was entranced all over again:
So now get up…
It’s not such a bad suggestion, and one I probably should have heeded last Sunday instead of allowing the doona to welcome me as its own.
So now get up…
It really did remind me that Lockdown doesn’t have to be all bad. It doesn’t have to mean forgetting to shower on a regular basis, or spending days in your pj’s because you can’t be bothered getting dressed, or lamenting the fact that you can’t do anything.
Because there’s always something to do, somewhere, if you’re willing to look for it.
I’m writing this not so long after summarising my December Delights, the posting of which was delayed by the desolation I felt when the beautiful place in which I live went back into lockdown. As time has passed I am learning, yet again, to sit tight without a fight, and to remind myself – as some insightful wag commented – that people from the Northern Beaches have been practicing their whole livesnot to leave the Northern Beaches. I am prompted, yet again, to recall how boundlessly fortunate we are to live here: residents of vibrant yet peaceful neighbourhoods, surrounded by abundant natural beauty, and bordered by the mighty Pacific Ocean in all its majesty.
And as I’ve willed myself to turn my attention to delight, I’ve found – as I have consistently observed throughout this yearlong process of observing the delightful – that actively choosing to look for things which inspire wonder and bring me joy, however fleeting, brings me greater contentment and inner peace.
It’s not an unexpected discovery.
But it’s still an insight I will carry with me into the new year, along with a (sometimes ironic) appreciation that even before I had any inkling how 2020 would unfold, I chose to follow and notice delight in all its forms during this year, the most unusual in which I’ve ever had the privilege to live.
I’m also not surprised to see that the majority of the delights I have selected as my Top Five for the year relate back to my First Principles, which I articulated many years ago now in a post I called The Wellspring: words, music and food. To these, I would now add the recognition of delight, in all its forms.
And so, without further ado, here are my most precious delights of 2020…
Looking back over my year of delights, I notice that there are not many things that have made my list…unless of course they are foodstuffs, such as Chocolate Croissants and Oysters (and yes, those capitals are entirely necessary). But I have to admit there is one thing, one object of considerable bulk and immense importance, that has made its way into my life this year and which did, upon arrival, and has in all the intervening time since, brought me enormous joy and satisfaction.
It’s my new refrigerator.
His name is Fillipé, and he is our brand new sleek stainless steel fridge. I had been wanting him for a very long time, and now that he is here I love everything about him: that the fridge compartment is on top and the freezer drawers are at the bottom, that on the inside he is well lit and glass shelved and spacious, that he is oh so quiet…the list goes on. Opening Fillipé’s door is always a pleasure…it’s like opening a chocolate box, except my fridge is usually full of fruit and vegetables, and glass bottles standing in gleaming rows, and – well, it’s easy to wax lyrical over something so ordinary when you have a friend like Fillipé Fridge, the most delightful appliance I have ever owned.
Being Alcohol Free
At the time of writing this post, I will have gone without alcohol for almost an entire year. I kicked off 2020 with a desire to do things differently, and one of the items highest on my list was to reset my relationship with alcohol. You see, I’m a finisher: if a wine bottle is open, I’m highly likely to see it as my civic duty to ensure it’s finished by the end of the evening. This was true even if I was at home alone, enjoying a quiet glass of vino by myself once the kids had gone to bed. Or even before they’d gone to bed. And so, on 1 January 2020, I resolved not to touch a drop of the demon drink and to see how long I lasted.
Well folks, I’ve lasted far, far longer than I thought I would – ALL YEAR! And along the way I discovered, much more swiftly than I ever thought possible, that I really didn’t need alcohol in my life at all. I’m perfectly happy without it, and feel very comfortable with my decision to eliminate it from my life in 2020. I am also learning to accept other people’s reactions when I say I’d prefer not to have a drink – many and varied as these have been.
I’ve stuck to my decision, feel ever so much better for it (mentally and physically), and that in itself has been a true delight.
Receiving a Negative COVID Test Result
Speaking of being free of things, I would have to say that in 2020 one of the greatest delights you can ever receive is the SMS alerting you to the fact that your most recent COVID test is negative. Given that I am writing this post during a lockdown and waited four hours the other day to get tested (along with eleventy-million other people on the Northern Beaches), I can tell you that receiving the negative result which allows you to venture back out of doors – the wonder, the delight! – is a truly magical thing. You could probably have seen my frenzied fist pump from space.
I should also add that I am also beyond grateful to live in a part of the world where we have excellent access to free of charge testing (Sydneysiders have done over 300,000 tests in the past week – go us!), and that New South Wales also has amazing health workers and contact tracers who go above and beyond to stop the spread of the insidious virus that has turned the world upside down this year.
Cillian Murphy’s Limited Edition
It’s no secret that I am a Cillian Murphy fan – the man is pure class. But in this instance it’s not his brilliant acting that has brought me delight, or his many and varied reading recommendations, but his love of music. Every so often, BBC Radio 6 asks Cillian to guest DJ – whether it’s filling in for Guy Garvey when Elbow goes on tour or, more recently, when they’ve asked him do a Midnight-2am shift that he prerecords from his basement in Dublin and shares with the rest of the world — and when he does, the results are impressive.
The music Murphy includes in his playlists is a truly eclectic mix, but that suits me down to the ground. In addition to bringing spoken word pieces and music new and old to my ears, I’ve been surprised to hear him throw in bits and pieces I listen to often and had (possibly mistakenly?!) thought were obscure – from Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentlemen We are Floating in Space to instrumental tracks like Sophie Hutchings’ Tail Lights and so very many more. Murphy’s musical knowledge is encyclopaedic and I’m always utterly delighted when his playlists pop up on the airwaves.
Sunshine Over Sea
I love living close to the ocean. We are saltwater people around here, folks who revel in the many splendours of the sea. Some of us need to immerse ourselves in it, others are content to sit and look at it, but many of us need to at least catch a glimpse of it as we go about our daily whirl.
One of the delights I have savoured most this year has been driving around a particular bend near where I live, following the road as it curves upward until – at the crest of the hill, not less – the ocean appears and stretches before me in all its glory, all the way to the horizon. Often, at the time of day when I make this journey, the road I’m travelling appears to merge with a vibrant path of sunshine lighting up the surface of the sea. Would that I could keep driving onto that golden road instead of sticking to the tarmac beneath my wheels!
On one particularly memorable drive during this unforgettable (for all the wrong reasons) year, I happened to be listening to Gang of Youths’ song The Deepest Sighs, the Frankest Shadows as I made my morning drive. The music begins quietly enough, but it built to a crescendo just as I drove that curving road and crested the hill, exploding into its chorus as the sunlit ocean overwhelmed my view:
‘Cause not everything means something, honey So say the unsayable Say the most human of things And if everything is temporary I will bear the unbearable Terrible triteness of being…
It’s a memory I will cherish, and one that reminds me – almost every time I turn up that hill – that if everything is temporary (and I genuinely suspect it is), then welcoming and noticing delights may well be our best way of anchoring ourselves in the present, of bearing the unbearable, of making sense of this strange thing we call life.
We all have different ways of making sense of our place and time on this planet, and I thought it fitting to end this post by including a photo capturing the same view I just described that was taken by a friend of mine, whose photography has also brought me delight this year. I asked to share this particular picture because it depicts the glimmering beginnings of the road the sun paints across the sea each day, the one I would love to keep driving onto…but if you check out his Instagram page @frank_see_fotos you can lose yourself in a wealth of images, each one more beautiful than the last. I can’t think of a lovelier way to spend Boxing Day.
Like many of you all around this wonderful world, I’m stuck at home riding out this awful COVID-19 pandemic. One would think it was an entirely delightful thing for an introvert like me to be stuck in the house, and that I would be completely au fait with such arrangements given I happily work from home three days a week. When my usual routine has been combined with (or has, more accurately, collided with) home schooling, however, I am finding that I am yearning for time ALONE rather than time AT HOME.
Even so, there are still moments of delight in these self-isolated times, little gems that have kept me going as my dear children have driven me slowly but surely around the twist. It’s true that we’ve had a lot of laughs, including when Marvel Girl decided to christen me “Catnip Everdeen” when I volunteered to run the grocery shop gauntlet and our list included cat food and litter. I also had a life-changing moment of glory when I managed to find not one, but two display books to keep the kids’ many home school materials separated and corralled.
Looking back, there have been several things that I have found truly delightful in the past couple of weeks, and I share them in the hope that you find some in your own self-isolated exile.
Our Tibouchina Tree
In the corner of our back yard stands a Tibouchina tree. Most of the year it is an ordinary, stock standard tree — you know: green leaves, brown trunk, sometimes bits fall off it, other times there are birds in it. But every year in February and March, the Tibouchina tree transforms itself into something truly resplendent, crowned with beautiful purple flowers. Every year it brings a smile to my face — and this year, believe me, it felt extra special.
I never thought I would live in an era when hoarding groceries became a Thing. The silver lining to this unexpected (and more than likely unethical) behaviour, however, is that when I found a four pack of paper towel on the supermarket shelf while doing my aforementioned Catnip Everdeen impression, I felt like I had won Olympic Gold.
I might have even sent my mother a picture of it…
Yep, you read that right. Passionfruit. On another of my early morning Catnip Everdeen runs (and believe me, I do them far less frequently than this post is seeming to indicate), I found a whole pile of passionfruit: large, plump and — most importantly — heavy.
I bought six.
Three of us have eaten one so far.
We are all in agreement — passionfruit this good is an unmitigated tropical delight.
Formula 1: Drive to Survive
It’s no secret Australians are completely, perhaps catastrophically sports mad, and the fact that Coronavirus made its unwelcome appearance in our country just as winter sports seasons were kicking off could be described as…unfortunate? No, let’s be honest, here: it’s been devastating — particularly for Miss Malaprop, who worked super hard to make the A Grade team in our local netball competition, only to have the season scrapped before it started. At least I was able to tell her all the professional sportspeople have been affected, too. The Sydney Swifts won’t be playing either. The Olympics have been postponed. The Melbourne Grand Prix was cancelled…
And that’s when I remembered seeing something about car racing popping up in my Netflix home screen — Formula 1: Drive to Survive. Needless to say, in the absence of any other televised sport, I am devouring it. The ups and downs of Formula 1 racing are so far removed from my daily grind the show is providing me with much needed mental relief. I get so caught up in watching it I don’t think about anything else — and that, at the moment, constitutes pure delight.
Ten Thousand Views
Another moment of delight also came via screen this week…by the very screen I’m watching these words appear on as I type. This, my little blog, the patch of cyberspace I escape to every now and then to make sense of this crazy old world, ticked over 10,000 views — and this Daydream Believer was delighted.
I honestly never expected for anyone to really read this — but apparently more than 7,000 of you out there decided to prove me wrong, and some of them obviously came back for more. It’s times like these I feel most grateful for the opportunity to write, and they take me back to a post I wrote some years ago called The Wellspring, which is as close as I have ever come to writing a manifesto describing what this blog is about. It also reminded me of how I have often used this space to try to make sense of things that confront me (like restlessness), or confound me (like the treatment of refugees), and comfort me (like reading cookbooks, of all things).
I also want to say thank you for being one of those ten thousand views…whoever, wherever you are.
The shortest day has already slipped past, sinking silently into the darkness. Even the stars look cold and distant, silver points of light piercing the fast-falling night sky.
I’ve written about winter before, probably because I am fascinated by the passing of the seasons — such as they are in this Great Southern Land. I’ve also written about winter being a time for self-care, though this year I’m looking at it from a different persective — through the prism of Blue Jai’s Word of the Month for June: ALIGNMENT.
The word alignment comes from the French words à ligne, which translate as ‘into line’. For me, it instantly conjures up images of perfectly spaced poplar trees, of soldiers standing to attention, of lane ropes skimming the surface of a swimming pool.
But then, immediately afterwards, it occurred to me that lines are not always straight — and that the words ‘into line’ do not imply that those lines are horizontal, vertical, or parallel. Alignment, then, does not have to be something ruled or rigid.
I then thought about lines in nature — of the fiddleheads of ferns and the inside of seashells and other swirling curves that fit the Fibonacci sequence. I thought of nights I spent in the Northern hemisphere, watching the sinuous lines of the Aurora Borealis. I thought of human spines, of all our vertibrae arranged in concave and convex curvatures.
And then I thought of stairways and stepping stones, and saw these as a simple yet effective metaphor for making sure we keep putting one foot in front of the other to get to where we want to go. Doing so depends on preparing for each step, keeping our balance, and moving forward.
We are best equipped to take those steps — and sometimes even leaps — when we live and work in alignment with our goals and our First Principles. When we do this, unforeseen obstacles become easier to deal with: instead of seeing them as insurmountable, we simply make the necessary adjustments to bring ourselves back into alignment with our path once more.
So this June, and all this winter, I wish you well on your journey — one step at a time, onwards and upwards, in alignment with your path, however straight or curved it may be.
That’s the word I’ve chosen to focus on for February at Blue Jai Creative — not least because here in the Great Southern Land, summer has heralded its annual leave-taking with hot and humid weather. The Silly Season and its many distractions are over, New Year’s Resolutions have (hopefully) taken hold, and our children have dutifully trouped off back to school for the year.
It’s time to get back into the swing of things. To ramp up our efforts. To take the plunge.
It’s time to connect.
Since February began, however, I have realised that there’s not much point in doing any of these things unless our actions are focused. And now is the perfect time to paint a clear picture in our mind’s eye of what we might want to achieve in the upcoming year — hence, my word of the month and my current plan:
Connect with people. They are our most valuable and — frequently — most overlooked resource. Call someone who is a positive presence in your life, and when you’ve had an uplifting chat, pay it forward if you can — even if it’s just by smiling at a stranger. Find a mentor. Thank a supporter. Ask a colleague for help if you need it. Compliment someone. And connect especially with your clients; listen to what they have to say, and let what you hear help you map out your plans.
Connect with your inner voice. Know what your First Principles are, the guiding tenets that keep you and your journey on track. For example, my First Principles (which revolve around words, music, and food) remind me to keep on creating, to listen to things that bring me joy and peace, and to eat well so I can sustain myself properly. Living and working in alignment with your own First Prinicples will always bring you greatest satisfaction, because you will be living and working authentically.
Connect with what inspires you. In the normal, real world, what you do for work may not take you to dizzying heights of bliss. For many of us, some or even much of what we do can feel repetitive or mundane. Taking the time to seek inspiration — whether it’s playing a particular song, baking a cake, reading, swimming in the ocean, getting up early to see the sunrise, updating your vision board, taking a walk in the rain, or whatever else delights you — can help to keep you motivated to turn up and take the next step.
Connect the dots. No matter how winding the path you take, make sure that each step along the way is bringing you closer to your goals. Connecting the dots helps you bring perspective to your decision making and can help you stay the course when you feel discouraged or distracted. And if you’ve already connected with people, your inner voice and what inspires you, you’ll already know that the quality of your journey is just as important (if not more so) as wherever you’re hoping to get to.
…throughout history and around the globe…
Focusing on this one word (talking about it, reading about it, writing about it, in alignment with my own First Principles) has made me realise that throughout history, around the world, and across every discipline of human endeavour, some of our deepest and most innovative thinkers have all been saying the same thing: we are all connected.
Here’s what Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) had to say during the Renaissance:
To develop a complete mind, study the science of art, study the art of science, learn how to see. Realise that everything connects to everything else.
Or the Upanishads, the ancient Sanskrit texts that inform much of Hinduism, written in India six centuries BCE:
Who sees all beings in his own self and his own self in all beings, loses all fear.
During the Romantic era the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) wrote, “I am a part of all that I have met”, while in the twentieth century the Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh (born 1926) reminded us that, “We are all the leaves of one tree; we are all the waves of one sea.”
Perhaps, in more recent years, it has fallen to the scientists to spell things out in their usual succinct fashion. In the words of American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson:
We are all connected — to each other biologically, to the Earth chemically, to the rest of the universe atomically.
…and we’re all making journeys towards the same end. That’s our greatest connection.
Or, as Nikola Tesla (1816-1943) — inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, physicist and futurist — summed it up even more simply when he said “We are all one.”
We all make these journeys — weaving in and out of each others’ worlds and crossing each others’ paths along the way. We’re all doing the same thing, each day, to take the steps to get us to where we want to be. We really are all connected.
And should these words of mine, spiralling out into cyberspace, connect with you today, may you discover connections with people who support you, with experiences that inspire you, with the guidance within you, and every last dot along the way.
Have you ever reached a point in your life when you knew that something had to change? When you know that what you’re doing is not quite working, but you’re not entirely sure how to make the necessary alterations to your life or adjustments to your headspace to bring about the transformation you desire?
Oh dear, I hear you cry…this is not an auspicious beginning…please tell me Blue Jai hasn’t completely lost the plot and started writing a self-help tome…
Relax, people — I’m not having some kind of breakdown. I’m not about to begin documenting a life-changing journey of self-discovery, and I’m not selling anything, either.
All the same, I’m betting you know the feeling I’m talking about: the one where you feel either slightly squirmy in your stomach because you know something’s off somewhere and you need to get it out of your life? Or when someone asks you a seemingly innocuous question and you find yourself unexpectedly bursting into floods of tears in response? Or when you’re just monumentally frustrated?
Well, I think I had all three of those reactions this week.
And it was all to do with…drum roll for mother-of-all first world problems, please…my gym membership.
I know, I know — really, I do.
I know that really, technically, this doesn’t even begin to count as a problem at all.
Except that it does…
What I have been struggling with is that even though there are parts of going to the gym that I truly love (particularly my weekly yoga class, the brilliance of which I’ve written about before), I was faced this week with the realisation that there are other aspects of going to the gym that are driving me absolutely nuts — and, if I’m perfectly honest, they have been sending me round the twist for quite some time.
When I was working out, for example, I felt like I was trapped on a treadmill (which was, quite literally, going nowhere) in front of screen upon screen of soul-destroying daytime television. And when I was planning to do a class, it seemed that (more often than not) I was staring blankly at the weekly timetable trying to figure out when I could actually fit myself into one of those tiny little time-constrained boxes.
Where, exactly, is the soul in all of this, people?
Since when did we have to spend our days fitting ourselves into tiny boxes?
And so, this week, I snapped. (And cried…and lay awake until the small hours of the morning…and various other things…)
I knew something needed to change.
So, on Tuesday afternoon, I came home from work and got a big piece of paper and wrote out a Tabata Challenge for the kids and I to do in the back yard. They were slightly bemused at first, watching me doing sets of burpees and triceps dips and woodchoppers and all manner of other things, but then they started joining in, too. We called it “Tabata di Casa”, and we laughed a lot, and they learned a lot, and it was fun.
An actual, real, soul-filled photo from my walk. Breathe in…breathe out…ahhhhhhh….
Then, on Thursday morning, I decided to take a walk — outdoors, in the glorious sunshine, no less — from my house down to the beach. Now, I’m beyond blessed to live where I do, but it felt like an absolute revelation to bung my runners on and my earphones in, and to take off towards the beautiful blue of the ocean and walk beside it, hearing the sound of the surf, feeling the sun shining on my face and the wind blowing through my hair. And, underneath it all, I could also feel my heart swelling and hear my soul singing.
They’re such simple pleasures, aren’t they? But they are precious, too.
So, from now on, I’m not going to force myself into tiny boxes any more. I’m not going to do things that don’t nourish my spirit or feed my soul. And, bizarrely enough, I’m not going to give up my gym membership either — because there are certain things I can’t control, and I know that I want to have the option of exercising whenever I want — even if it’s raining or blowing a gale.
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.
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.
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:
“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 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…
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…
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.
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…
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.
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…
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 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.
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.