Return to the Rat Race?

clock carsRestrictions on movement have slowly begun to lift here in old Sydneytown, but as they do I am being forced to confront the reality that there are parts of self-isolating that have suited me ever so well.

My role in the house as Chief Whip Cracker and Keeper of Clocks has, mercifully, been largely relinquished since mid-March, and I cannot say I am sorry. The relentless hurry and scurry from the office to this school and onto that lesson and back to the other training session ceased, literally overnight, and my strung out self heaved a massive sigh of relief.

I freely and willingly admit there have been times in the past weeks when my attempts to simultaneously supervise home schooling while producing meaningful, accurate work have collided in spectacularly disastrous fashion. At times this has necessitated me apologising to my children, and more profusely to our neighbours (occasionally with the addition of home-baked chocolate banana muffin peace offerings), and on those days I would have given anything —  anything — for a return to our regular routine.

But, even though increased work commitments have resulted in me having far less time to myself lately (and precious little solitude), not having to be anywhere at a particular time has enabled me to eke out the occasional moment of quiet stillness. Not wanting my children to be permanently attached to screens has resulted in us playing games of Scrabble, of me teaching them how to make pumpkin soup and chicken pie, and of all of us rediscovering our love of cycling.

None of us has done anything noteworthy or brilliant during this time — we won’t be receiving any awards for breathtaking new novels written during lockdown, or prizes for sensational artworks or astonishing craft projects. We only managed to complete one jigsaw puzzle before it felt like all the tiny pieces were threatening to take over the house. To be honest, we’ve barely managed to keep the house clean and tidy, and my work things have been extracted from and returned to two increasingly battered carboard boxes at the end of the hallway every day for the past however many weeks.

clocks 1And even though we’ve not always managed to harmoniously coexist, we have slowly got better at being with each other all the time, especially when we’ve taken a moment to sit down and speak honestly and openly about how seriously crap this situation has been and still is and how miserable we’re feeling about it.

As life slowly returns to something resembling “normal”, however, I am finding myself increasingly unwilling to pick up the accoutrements of Chief Whip Cracker. I have never been comfortable as a Keeper of Clocks, nor with the mental load associated with having everyone in the right place at the right time with the right equipment , and I am strenuously resisting resuming that role.

Being at home with my family, though challenging, has made me think seriously about how I want to spend my time.

I don’t want to jump straight back onto the helter-skelter hither-thither treadmill.

I don’t want to be the one constantly keeping track of everyone’s time.

I don’t want to rejoin the relentless rat race.

I do know that I have to, somehow…the problem is, I don’t yet know what I am going to do differently in the future, or what the the new “normal” will look like for us or whether it will work in the long run.

I do hope it feels different, though.

Tunnel

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Waking Late and Winter Walks

two

We shall not cease from exploration…

We’ve had the best time.

Nothing makes me happier than hearing my children say these words — particularly when we’ve just spent the school holidays, in their entirety, at home.

I mean, we have left the house every now and then, because good old Sydneytown has turned on a run of truly spectacular winter days. It’s wonderfully warm in the sun, and even though it’s been windy the skies have been mostly clear of clouds. Staring skyward has been like looking up at a shimmering swathe of pale blue silk, stretching high into the heavens.

But the best bit has been the freedom. 

For me, there is nothing more liberating than turning off all the alarms on my phone, knowing that we are — blissfully — not bound by routine for two whole weeks.

Being winter, we have slept in, relishing being able to get up with the sun at seven rather than scurrying out of bed in the dark.  Even better, there have been days when we have stayed snug beneath our bedcovers, reading books or revelling in the very real pleasure of not having to be anywhere at a specific time.

We have enjoyed other simple things, too. We have walked in the winter sun, sometimes with a destination in mind and other times just because we can. We have watched Captain Marvel and endless episodes of The Adventures of Merlin, reminding ourselves that magic should be part of everyday life. We have planted flowers to brighten the back yard. We have played board games and card games while sipping hot chocolate and even hotter coffee. We have baked more muffins than it’s sensible for humans to consume.

From time to time I have marvelled at my children’s creativity, partciularly when they took it upon themselves to transform a large cardboard box into a Viking longboat in the back yard. I have smiled to myself in wry amusement when they protested having to scrub paint out of their pants when their artistic endeavours haven’t gone entirely to plan. I have admired their generosity when they have gone through old books and clothes and toys and worked out what they wanted to pass on to other kids.

And in the evenings, when the winter darkness falls so fast, we have heated our home by making stews and coming up with new spice blends to season homemade chicken nuggets, all while listening to Miles Davis and other jazz greats, or The Bad Plus working their own kind of wonder with instrumental versions of long-beloved songs like No Woman, No Cry. I’ve probably drunk more wine than I meant to, stirring pots on the stovetop and peeling sweet potatoes and parsnips to bake, not because the kids are driving me crazy, but because I am relaxed and happy — and because these are my holidays, too.

We’ve had the best time.

And I have, too.

beach

…and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

 

 

Tempus Fugit

tempus 2

Time flies, as any wag will tell you, when you’re having fun.

But here in Sydney, as our glorious summer holidays are drawing all too swiftly to a close, my mind has turned to Virgil’s original words, written in his Georgics centuries ago.

Sed fugit interea, fugit inreparabile tempus, singula dum capti circumvectamur amore.

Fast flies meanwhile the irreparable hour, as point to point our charmed round we trace.

VIRGIL trans. Rhoades

We have had a fortunate summer, sun-filled and surf-drenched, with barefoot days and balmy nights.

And while the clocks sometimes seemed to slow during the past six weeks, time — inescapable, irretrievable time — has slipped steadily, stealthily by.

tempus 1I mean it’s there, if I look for it.  I know I could find snippets of it between the pages of the dozen novels I’ve read since Christmas, or catch a glimpse or two between beach towels flapping in the breeze on the washing line. There’s probably a drop or two left in a wineglass on a windowsill somewhere, and a few morsels thrown in with the leftover salads in the fridge. I will no doubt discover a few more bits in with the various brightly coloured cards and plastic pieces of board games we’ve played during the heat of the day, or find some slipped into the pocket of one of my kids’ shorts with a couple of movie ticket stubs.

But now, at the end of my favourite month of the year, there is only a day or two left before school resumes for my girls — a new start for one, a familar return for the other — and I will admit feeling slightly nostalgic and a little bereft. The irreparable hour has well and truly flown, and I am reminded of my favourite childhood picture book, Robert McCloskey’s Time of Wonder, about another summer, spent by another family comprising, as ours does, of a mother, father and two sisters, far away in Maine.

I know this feeling is universal and, ironically, timeless: Virgil wrote about it in the first century and McCloskey was still picking up the theme in the twentieth.

But I also know that there will be a certain heaviness in my heart and a lag in my step when we wend our way from point to point on our own charmed round this evening…down to the beach for one last swim as a family, and back home again for a BBQ and a quiet glass of wine.

That charmed round isn’t going anywhere — and I am well aware we are beyond lucky to live where we do — but it’s never quite the same once school has started again, and the long summer days have lost their laziness, and a perhaps a little of their loveliness.

Take a farewell look at the waves and sky. Take a farewell sniff of the salty sea. A little bit sad about the place you are leaving, a little bit glad about the place you are going. It is a time of quiet wonder — for wondering, for instance, where do hummingbirds go in a hurricane?

ROBERT McCLOSKEY

tempus 3

Home…

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.

À la Recherche de Temps Précieux

ironicI have been in search of precious time recently — not temps perdu, like Proust obsessing over his madeleines.  I have no need of seven volumes of rememebrances of things past right now — though the irony of that will soon become clear.

Rather, I am in fervent, life-affirming need of the present.

I’m not entirely sure how many times I’ve begun composing this post or some version of it in my head over the past few weeks, but I’ve finally figured out that I simply need to put fingers to keys and write — honestly, and hopefully positively — about something significant that is affecting my life.

So here it is: my Dad has been diagnosed with dementia.

I have mentioned my father was experiencing significant health issues in a post once before, and vaguely alluded to it as well, but lately I have discovered that not writing about it openly has been stopping me from writing here at all. It’s not like I’ve had any kind of writer’s block (mostly because I arrogantly refuse to entertain the possibilty that such a thing will ever beset me), or that I have lacked material I thought worthy of sharing. I’ve happily written articles and press releases for clients, and finished off pieces of fiction I started years ago — and even had the temerity to share some of them with an audience.

But my reluctance to write about Dad’s dementia has resulted in the longest hiatus I’ve ever had from this small patch of cyberspace I call my own, and it’s time I changed that in the best way I know how.

I don’t want this to turn into one long whinge about how much it sucks that my Dad — my incredibly intelligent, erudite, articulate and energetic father — has an incurable condition, so I’ve decided that this will be the first in a series of posts I want to categorise under Travels with The Professor.

lionMy hope is that these posts, whenever I feel the need to write them, will celebrate the man who helped raise me, of all that he was and all that he still is.  I imagine I might want to share things that he’s taught me and encouraged me to appreciate, and to make sense of what I’m learning about him and myself as we journey down this one way street, not knowing how long we have together, or how long he will know we are on the path with him.  I don’t want to eulogise him, though I am fully aware that I will probably end up mytholigising at times — because that’s what Dads are for: they are the mightiest of lions, the leaders of the pride, the ones we look up to.

So I invite you to join me, if you’re willing, and we’ll both see where these rambling Travels with The Professor take us.