Purple Nails

purple nails

Not my hands, but you get the general picture.

I found myself sitting in a nail bar in a suburban shopping mall the other day, snatching a few moments of time for myself following several screamingly busy weeks I had scheduled down to the last minute. The washing was on the line, drying beneath yet another blue-skied day in this bone dry, drought-stricken land. The kids had been deposited at school, one dressed for a regular day and the other for an excursion. The overseas guests who had stayed with us during a whirlwind visit had been dropped safely at the airport following a quick trip to Taronga Zoo ticking all the tourist boxes: kangaroo, koala, even a spotted quoll.

“Pick a colour,” said the nail technician, brandishing brandishing wheels of fake plastic nails painted an unimaginable variety of shades in my direction.

I attempt to comply, but I am tired. Weary. Nearly undone. Decision fatigue has set in, and instead of selecting a tried and tested shade of something sensible I find myself searching for my favourite colour — a rich, deep blue shot with pewtery grey. The colour of my bridesmaid’s dress at my wedding, a dozen years ago. The colour of the sea after a storm.  As you wish…

I find it, or something vaguely resembling it, and sit silently in my chair as my fingers soak, letting the sounds of the technicians’ murmured conversations wash over me. They are speaking a language I don’t understand, pausing every now and then to give me and the women around me simple instructions in English. Hand in the water. Out again. This I can do, in my depleted state. This is why I am here.

The technician begins applying paint to my nails.

“OK?” she asks.

I look down, and instead of a comforting shade of grey-blue twilight I see a slash of purple.

Vivid, vibrant purple.

I shrug, and find myself nodding. My simple act of self-care has gone slighty awry, but I’m too tired to care.

In the week that follows it dawns on me that I am not in possession of a single stitch of purple clothing. I also realise that the particular shade of purple my nails are now painted attracts attention. That my fingertips now convey the impression of an extroversion I can feign but do not feel.

purple boy

My new favourite book. Ever.

I retreat into myself, into the solitary pursuits that I savour — reading, writing, day dreaming and night thinking. Here I find the acts of self-care that actually restore me, and I notice one morning that my purple nails do match something after all: the cover of the book I’m reading, Trent Dalton’s Boy Swallows Universe.

I am captivated — catapulted into a world that consumes me, into writing that overwhelms me to the point that I am forced to acknowledge that I might just have a new favourite book of all time.

Boy Swallows Universe.

Girl swallows book.

Later in the evening, only hours after the nail technician has finished polishing my freshly painted purple nails to a bright sheen, I’m dropping my younger child at a birthday party. A small blonde-haired boy, about four years old, is beginning to wail: it’s his sister’s big day, and he’s feeling left out.

“Hey, matey,” I crouch conspiratorially in front of him, “I had my nails painted today, and they’re not a normal colour. They’re not red, or pink, or anything boring like that. Do you know what colour they are?”

He eyes me suspiciously for a moment, still sniffing, but the distraction is working.

“Bet you can’t guess!”

He stops crying and grasps my hands, turning them over to reveal my purple fingernails, gleaming in the dusk and the light of the bright sunshine of the smile that is now plastered across his tear-streaked face.

“You’re funny!”

Yeah, I reckon I probably am.

Funny as in ha ha sometimes, and funny as in a bit weird at others. But I’m OK with it, and I’m OK with my introversion, and my need to let the words pour out of me, and with knowing that my solace comes from solitude, and that I come from a long line of drama queens and control freaks, and despite all that — or perhaps because of it — I’m even OK with my purple nails.

The Other Side of Silence

Sh trees

These woods are lovely, dark and deep…

I am — quietly — counting my blessings today.

Here in Sydneytown we are experiencing a gloriously golden run of autumn weather: blue-skied and sun-filled by day, crisp and starlit by night.

This morning I was fortunate enough to spend time with a dear friend, to enjoy quiet conversation, a couple of coffees and good company.

And now, back at home, I am taking time to dive deep into silence that surrounds me, knowing that when I resurface it will be with a sense of renewal.

I have written before about the importance of solitude in my life, of taking time out to make sense of all that is in my head and of separating my self from my mad mental chatter. But lately, I have come to realise (yet again) just how essential it is for me to spend time in quiet contemplation. I have learned that if I don’t permit myself the time and space to be silent and still, I end up feeling a little like the poet Emily Dickinson — “out with Lanterns, looking for myself”.

For me, contemplation is linked, as ever, to my First Principles: words, music and food. There is something akin to healing for me in the act of writing, of making sense of my thoughts by creating something with words on a page. Similarly, I find solace in listening to music and to the timeless rituals of preparing food for my family — in both of these things I rediscover the rhythms that make my life more manageable, more meaningful.

Sh Unplug

Anne Lamott, telling it how it is.

Our lives these days are lived at such a frenetic pace, are filled with so many activities and events that it is easy to forget to unwind. To unplug.

We know that just about any electronic device we possess that suddenly stops working effectively will probably start working again if we reboot it, or let it recharge. But do we allow our selves this simple measure? Are we so focused on the future and driven by fear of missing out that we are forgetting to hit the refresh button on our lives? Do we remember to allocate time in our busy schedules for renewal? For revival?

The philosopher Alain de Botton suggests that “anxiety grows from thoughts we haven’t given ourselves time to have”, and I suspect he is right. He also speaks of “our disrespect for thinking: someone sitting in a chair, gazing out of a window, always described as ‘doing nothing’.”

Sh shiny

Ahhh yes…the shiny things…

When did we all become human doings instead of human beings, to the point that appearing to be doing nothing is frowned upon or even scorned? And when will we come to treat quiet contemplation as being essential to our wellbeing?

When will we make space for silence?

Because it is on the other side of silence that I find my place in this world, my moral compass, and — more often than not — I manage to catch a glimpse of whatever shiny thing I might otherwise have missed.

On the other side of silence, I find my self.

 

 

On Solitude

Solitude 1Solitude.

To sit, in silence — sometimes to think, or to read, or to listen. And other times just to simply sit.

Today the skies are grey and the room around me is filled with the soft sounds of rain on the windowpane and the gusting of wind through the trees. My cabin-fevered children have finally chosen to occupy themselves with a quiet activity, and are painting ceramic plates together at their tiny table in the kitchen. The music of Ludovico Einaudi is providing a beautifully contemplative soundtrack from the stereo.

And yet I still crave that greatest and most elusive of gifts, solitude.

The American poet, novelist and memoirist May Sarton once wrote that “Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self.”

I agree.

C7kf3I1451964902Not just because in a life filled with the raucous laughs and hot-throated shouts of children I seek silence. And not because I fail to delight in my girls’ crazy, imaginative games, their freewheeling play, their lightsaber battles, their inevitably chaotic interactions.

I crave solitude because it is in that sublime and oft-missed state that I have time to listen to the universe and right the troubles of my soul.

Without the opportunity “to walk inside yourself and meet no one for hours”, as Rainer Maria Rilke put it, my life and my head can feel far too full.

But after time spent cultivating that inner vastness: then…then I can breathe again. It is as though I need to separate myself out from all that engages and entwines me to feel that I belong to it again — but on my own terms.

We live lives today characterised by an interconnectedness and immediacy that would have utterly baffled our ancestors, attuned as they were to far more organic, seasonal rhythms. The information age has provided us with a profusion of knowledge that can be accessed at speeds we once never dreamt possible. But what of true connection with the steady stillness within ourselves?

For me, some of the most powerful words written about solitude I have ever encountered were not found online, but between the worn and time-stained pages of a book I first picked up in Galway, Ireland during my first solo adventure around the world: a Blessing of Solitude written by John O’Donohue in his beautiful volume entitled Anam Cara.

Perhaps they will resonate for you, too…

Solitude 2May you recognise in your life the presence, power and light of your soul.

May you realise that you are never alone and that your soul in its brightness and belonging connects you intimately with the rhythm of the universe.

May you have respect for your own individuality and difference.

May you realise that the shape of your soul is unique,

that you have a special destiny here

that behind the facade of your life there is something beautiful, good and eternal happening.

May you learn to see yourself with the same delight, pride and expectation with which God sees you in every moment.