Good things: part 2

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Head Honcho 2: “What’s your *COVID name? Mine’s Exhausted Lamb Rack.”

Me: “Exploding Head Sandwich.” (Thinks: where did he buy lamb?)

Humour. Always a good thing.

(*How you’re feeling plus what you ate for dinner last night. I don’t know who came up with the concept, but it’s made me smile.)

Hello. How are you? I am, alas, still essential at work, just for one more day. There are fewer and fewer of us and we all look tired. I scurry from the car park to the coalface each day feeling that at any moment I might be challenged for being out and about. I’m half expecting someone to leap out in front of me and hand me a white feather, as in the First World War.

A good thing that I’ve implemented before rushing out the door each morning is a brief pause. I remember a film set in Russia (which I think was the one about Tolstoy, with Helen Mirren, Christopher Plummer and James McAvoy) in which everyone madly rushed around getting ready to go out, then just before they went out they all sat down and had a cup of tea.

Taking that moment to pause is a terribly civilised thing to do, but I have never done it. Lately, though, I’ve stopped myself from dashing out by removing my shoes, stepping out the back door instead and doing 10 minutes of Qigong in the garden.

Slow breathing while looking at the trees and the mountains is what I start with. Next, I do a few flowing exercises as slowly as possible. Then I put my shoes back on and walk calmly to the car. I fight with myself every day about whether I’ve got time to do it, but so far the sensible person is winning over the stress-head.

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Back to the subject of Russians and tea, another thing I remember from that film is that they put jam in their tea. A colleague of mine who’s from Laos puts marmalade in hers. In a share house I lived in once, my Dutch housemate watched me put milk in my tea and shouted, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”

It’s interesting, isn’t it, how different tea drinking is around the world and how important tea is to so many cultures. I’ve had a bit of fun reading articles about Russians and tea. Tea is definitely a good thing in my day. How do you take your tea?

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We swam in the river again. It was cold this time and brown as tea. The rapids pummelled my shoulders harder than any masseuse could. Up above, the trail was unusually busy, people passing each other with as much distance as possible but always with a smile and a hello. I like the upsurge in etiquette that the current situation seems to have promoted (on walks if not in the supermarket).

We are so lucky in this city to have so much open space. In the older suburbs in particular, every cul-de-sac has a path leading to a park. Every hill is a nature reserve with walking tracks, and roos and birdlife to look at.

There are a lot of butterflies around right now. Near the river, the shrubs are flowering: hot red spiders and delicate white stars. The slanting autumn light makes the afternoons golden.

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I’ve been feeling a bit retro here in my 1970s house and listening to “old” music. I love the joyful rhythm of this. Inexplicably, I particularly like the bits where someone whistles in the background and someone (Paul Simon?) says, “Pick it up, pick it up.”

I’ve also been dancing in the lounge room to this. In 1988, when this song came out, I was unemployed, nuclear war was a real threat, and a little understood virus called  HIV was travelling the world. I know today’s situation is  different, but we danced in the lounge room then and we can dance in the lounge room now.

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I’ve made labneh. It’s the easiest cheese to make. Put some yoghurt (full fat Greek yoghurt is best) in muslin or a clean tea towel and hang it up so that the whey drips out. I usually leave mine like this all day, if the house is cool, then put it in the fridge overnight. (Tie the muslin to a wooden spoon balanced over the colander.) Spread it on toast, sprinkle it with herbs/salt and munch. 

Eggplant relish has also featured heavily in the kitchen lately. Oooh, it’s so good! I bought a jar of the fiery stuff last week and can’t leave it alone. The question becomes not “What can I eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner?” but “What goes with eggplant relish?” It’s excellent with feta. The salt balances the heat.

On the dining room table I’ve got a growing list of good things to do that I never seem to get around to. Now might be the time. While part of me longs to go and hang out with friends, hug someone or just sit in a cafe and watch the world go by, another part is thinking what an opportunity this is. Enforced time for reflection, for checking in with ourselves, for living slowly and deliberately is a bit of a gift.

The ever-changing new normal notwithstanding, there are still a lot of good things around. I hope that’s true for you too.

 

 

Good things: part 1

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My camera seems to have turned this view into a painting. What was meant to be a quick walk up my favourite hills turned into a three-hour trek as we kept walking. The 360-degree view from the trig point was, as ever, beautiful, despite Mount Tennant being burnt.

We inched our way down the side of the hill and across to the river, where a fish jumped out of the water and an alarmingly tall kangaroo looked surprised to see us. Let me tell you, there are some monster wombat burrows beside the Murrumbidgee. The wombats who dug those holes must be the size of baby rhinoceros. (Rhinoceri?)

The morning air is as crisp as a good apple.

There are black cockatoos around. I love their wild and haunting cries.

Native bluebells are in abundance.

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I am not panicking. I am too busy. In the past two weeks I’ve suddenly had to become an IT expert, a cat herder, a lightning fast problem solver and a blue sky thinker. All these are good skills to have.

Just recently something that used to enrich my life has been causing chaos and distress so I decided to end it. It felt good to take that action. I did it nicely. I listened to my gut and knew it was time to quit. “To everything there is a season.”

I did my shopping at an independent fruit and veg shop. No queuing. No empty shelves. They even had eggs, which was a treat, as I was thinking it might be a while before I could get any.

The owner of the shop had a lot on his mind and picked me to tell it to. I didn’t have any answers but felt touched that he wanted to tell me. His lovely Greek accent reminded me of the friends I usually spend Easter with. We won’t spend it together this year but we can reminisce about other years.

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A lot of plants are flowering for the second time. Every day there’s a surprise in the garden.

I received a book as a birthday present which has excellent writing prompts and is very inspiring.

I found these three poems by a poet I’d forgotten all about. He came back at the right time:

A currawong stole fruit from next door’s tree and brought it into my garden to eat. We watched each other with beady eyes.

Someone complimented my singing. This rarely happens because I rarely sing in front of people. Now is a good time for singing. I was singing/humming the chorus to this. I plan to learn all the words. If language lessons were set to music we’d all be multilingual in no time.

A friend sent some home-made soap. It smells divine. The parcel delivery man rapped on the door, dumped the parcel and ran, but when I opened the door and called out to thank him he gave me a huge grin and said, “Have a lovely day.”

The broadbeans and herbs in the front garden are coming up nicely. So far, the possum hasn’t found them.

The sky yesterday was a picture.

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I’m doing okay. How are you doing?

I just don’t know what to call it

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“There’s every chance we’ll close soon.” That’s what they said in the cafe where I have my lunchtime coffee. I will miss the boy with the rosy cheeks and the boy with the loud voice who make my coffee.

We were turned away from the sheepdog trials. Without ever quite saying it, the bloke on the gate made us understand that only competitors were allowed in. Instead, we drove along a pretty road, pulled up on some gravel and had a car picnic. The view was marvellous, but I was still sad.

The dance weekend was cancelled. Someone suggested gathering outside to dance instead..at the required distance, of course. Someone else was worried they’d turn an ankle. I would like to walk out beyond the hills and dance by myself. Perhaps I will.

“Find ways to work from home,” they said, “Then find ways to monitor that the work is being done.” Sigh.

I found myself in an unfamiliar apartment, on a sofa with a dog, setting up remote access on a computer while the owner of said dog and apartment and computer made me coffee in a face mask.

“I don’t know what I’m buying,” said a woman in the supermarket. “I’m just running around, grabbing things.”

“Dear Australia,” I thought, “you can have the meat and eggs. I’ll eat chickpeas and tinned fish. You can have the rice and pasta. I’ll eat fruit and vegetables. You can have the tissues. I’ll sew myself a hankie. You can have the toilet paper. I’ll hook a garden hose up to the tap and wash my bum with that. You can hoard it all. But I’m SO disappointed in you.”

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Qigong was cancelled, which made me saddest of all because that quiet, gentle, healing art has kept me sane over the past fortnight. “I’ll send you some videos,” said my lovely teacher. 

People are sharing music with me online as I write this. A couple of hours ago, at the end of this frantic day, I sat in my office and connected online with two newish friends who I probably won’t see in person for a while. We talked and listened and laughed and comforted each other. “This is what the internet is for!” I thought.

I’ve stopped catching the bus. On the drive to work this morning, uplifting music soared from the radio as the sun rose behind a building of national significance. The lake shimmered. The air was cool and clear. I felt a bit teary at the loveliness of it all and the uncertainty of everything else.

In the back of my mind, always now, I see a white cottage in the country. I wake up with the sound of a black Labrador whining in my ear. I don’t have a black Labrador. I don’t own a white cottage in the country. These are my innermost desires calling me, louder and louder, because everything is changing in ways we never imagined, and don’t wait don’t wait don’t wait whispers my heart.

But we have to wait, don’t we? There’s no going anywhere right now. We have to wait it out. We have to go through it and lean on each other—virtually, if not physically—until we come out the other side. I send you a heartfelt hug in words. Take care. Watch the sun come up. Stay in touch. I’ll meet you back here soon.

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Birthday wisdom

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What do you know now that you didn’t know then? Some people write letters to their younger self, telling them how life will turn out. As it’s my birthday at the weekend and I’ll be 54, I thought of writing 54 pieces of wisdom, but that would have been a reeeaaallly long blog post and we all would have needed a nap somewhere in the middle. So here’s the abridged version. Nap not required.

Keep in touch with your inner 10-year-old. Mine went missing for about a decade, and I’m so glad she’s back. Look under rocks to see what’s there. Ask questions like “Do birds sneeze?” then go and find out. Skip to music because it feels good. Laugh like an eejit when you find something funny, even if no-one else is laughing.

Always, ALWAYS, trust your gut. The head will take you all over the place. It will rationalise, cajole, play devil’s advocate, trick you and lead you a merry dance. The gut, that feeling deep inside that says something’s right or not quite right or that you should act or not act, that’s what you should listen to.

Believe in something bigger than you. It can be nature, God, chi, spirit, soul, the collective unconscious. Whatever you want to call it is up to you. But believe in it. There’s a great quote from Einstein about how our frail and feeble minds are capable of perceiving only the slightest detail of it (and apparently he had an IQ of 160). It’s there and we need it.

Check whether you’re telling yourself stories. About life, I mean. If you’re saying to yourself, “This always happens,” or “I never get to do such and such,” or “If only I’d…” then you are telling yourself stories and you’re probably standing in your own way.

Take responsibility. “Oh, boy,” you might be saying now. “This is no fun.” I beg to differ. Taking responsibility for EVERYTHING that you think, do and say is the quickest way to get yourself out of a rut or a difficult situation and into a better place. Try it if you feel stuck: “I take total responsibility for myself today,” and then act on that.

Let spontaneity in. Some people find this easy; for others it’s terrifying. I usually like it. If it involves nature, I really like it. Last Sunday I had put the kettle on and was about to sit down to do some crocheting when a friend invited me for a bushwalk, so off we went.

We walked to a lookout and saw, from up high, a lovely swimming spot down in the river, with rapids at one end and big boulders encircling the other. So we scrambled down the cliff, slipped into the water and swam up to the rapids. It was like being in a natural jacuzzi.

Then we floated downriver, got out and sunned ourselves on a big rock, like the eastern water dragon a few rocks over. Some experiences are once in a lifetime. You can make a cup of tea any time.

Say no when you need to. This doesn’t contradict what I just said about spontaneity. There’s a time for yes and a time for no. It’s your call. It comes back to trusting your gut.

Remember to be your own friend. This might be the hardest advice to accept. We’re so good at beating ourselves up, succumbing to negative thinking and using props like food and alcohol to dull the pain.

When a friend is down or hurting, what do you do? You treat them kindly, nurture them, and sometimes you tell them the truth that they don’t want to hear. But you do it with love, especially when it’s you.

Everything takes work. If you want to be good at something you have to practise. That goes for hobbies, relationships, fitness, mental health, everything. There’s no getting away from it.

Look at things from a different angle. This ties in with not telling yourself stories. We can so easily be wrong about how we perceive situations. It’s handy to be able to turn things upside down and look at them again. You can surprise yourself. It’s liberating.

Get outside as much as possible. There’s so much to see and hear and smell and feel once you get out there. The shape of a fallen leaf, the colour of someone’s front door, a cat lolling on a warm pavement, a chortling bird, the smell of rain, the feel of river mud between your toes—these small things can change your mood, your mind, the way you see the world.

Keep an eye on the moon. Find a star you like. Life can be frantic and fragmented and difficult, but the moon goes on waxing and waning regardless. Go out into the garden for a minute to check on the moon and your star, as often as you can.

Write a list of things you enjoy doing. Keep that pleasure list handy. Make time for those things. This is really, really important.

Love. It’s a verb. It’s a noun. It’s a feeling. It’s an idea. It’s an aspiration. It’s a practice. It’s painful and beautiful at the same time. If the word makes you cringe then I challenge you to rip a tiny hole in your cynicism and let it in. Your world will expand beyond your imagination. I know that makes me sound daft, but I don’t care. It’s true.

Feel everything. Some days, life is a slice of happy with happy icing on top. Other days, it’s burnt toast. But a full life means we feel everything, the good and the bad. We don’t block it out. We’re here, in this body, just once, and not for long. Feel it all.

Many of these things I learned only in the past few years. I don’t know why it took me so long.
Xxx

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Enjoyables

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Thunder split the air. I saw my friend’s neck whip around as he followed the sound. Then water began to pour from the heavens and he stood up, took off his shirt and ran out into it. We were at a psychology talk. The facilitator pointed to where my friend stood in the pelting rain. “If you want to see id in action,” she said, “just look outside.”

He was letting everything wash off him, all the stress of this crazy summer. People expressed concern that he’d be struck by lightning. “Yes,” I thought, “but he’ll die happy.” Eventually someone went to bring him in. He was soaked of course, but the look on his face was pure enjoyment. “I wish I’d gone out to join him,” someone said.

Since I last wrote, the rain has changed everything. The grass is green for the first time in almost two years. I keep doing a double-take when I look out of the window. I can’t quite believe what I’m seeing. Dead shrubs that I cut back to nothing have regrown. One of them even has a flower on it. The fire is still burning in the national park, and the burnt hills look as though they’ve been buzz cut, but regrowth is following in its wake. It’s astonishing and humbling and a great relief.

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I’ve spent most of January and February in TooBusyLand. This is not a place I like to be. Hopefully I’m now on the road out of it and back into Balanceville. In the meantime, I’ve been collecting little enjoyables along the way to keep me sane. Here are some of them:

  • Clothing designer Karen Arthur, for her style, her honesty and this video.
  • Ludovico Einaudi’s Seven Days Walking. The Guardian hated it. The Adelaide Review loved it. You can make up your own mind. I’ve listened to albums 1 to 5 so far. I’ve used it so often to drown out noise at work when I need to concentrate that now I hear it in my head as soon as I sit at my desk. I find album 5 brain-clearing and at times joy-making.
  • An uplifting article on classical music and diversity from Reasons to be cheerful, which is a good news kind of newsletter and much more enjoyable to read than the daily paper.
  • Some wise words from Claudia.
  • Anne Enright’s The Green Road. The poetry of it! How she can write so deftly, so convincingly from the male and female point of view. How it cracks your heart open at the end. Don’t go and read a review. Just read the book and sink into every sentence.
  • Brett Monroe Garner, a photographer for National Geographic, for his stunning underwater photos of puppy-like seals and hauntingly lovely jellyfish. He’s possibly one of the few people who can make a shark look attractive.
  • Ceramicist Hessa Al Ajmani from the United Arab Emirates, for her pretty cups and plates embossed with local wildflowers.
  • Coffee and woodsmoke, for Kristin’s inspiring views (in words and pictures) of the Montana landscape, and for her recipes. I tell myself that I will soon give up sugar for good, then I see her recipe for maple peanut butter fudge and I know I’m kidding.

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Another enjoyable is natural dyeing with Rebecca Desnos. I’m getting her book for my birthday and I very much want to read her Plants are Magic magazine. I experimented this weekend with some non-natural dyeing. It’s hard to find women’s t-shirts, in natural fibres, that are long enough to wear to dance class. Showing the midriff was okay in the eighties but Madonna-style doesn’t look good these days. I found long, plain white organic cotton t-shirts in the men’s section, so I bought a couple and decided to dye them. Men’s clothing is often much better quality than women’s. Why is this? Often I brush my hand against the hot, itchy, nasty nylon summer dresses in the shops and think that some designers must hate women.

I went the full hippie and tie-dyed the t-shirts with rubber bands. Here’s what I learned: Rit blue dye goes EVERYWHERE. If you don’t wipe up the splashes immediately, they’ll be sticking around for a while. Wear rubber gloves unless you have always wanted blue hands. You need a bigger space to dye in than you think. Next time I’m doing it outside. Dylon pink dye is easier to work with, cleans up better and uses much less water.

In other enjoyables, this weekend I’ve planted dill, coriander and rocket in pots. I hope that these are flavours which possums find disagreeable. I have plans to restart the vegetable garden proper but not until I have the time to build a possum-proof structure around it.

I’m re-reading Brigid Lowry’s Still Life with Teapot and am enjoying it just as much the second time around. One of her creative suggestions is to think of movie titles and replace one word with “bacon”. I spent an enjoyable few minutes coming up with these:

  • The Sound of Bacon
  • The Bacon, the Witch and the Wardrobe
  • Bacon II
  • It’s a Wonderful Bacon
  • The Wizard of Bacon
  • Gone With the Bacon

Snort! Tell me yours. We could have a lot of fun with this. Have an enjoyable week!

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Strange times

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Two trips to Sydney in two weeks, for different but intense encounters, left me a little worn out. “Only January,” I thought, “and I’m already tired. That’s not good.”

Then the national park began to burn and February arrived and we entered our third month of smoke haze. I went to dance class and found that, during the fast pieces of music, I was running non-stop around the edges of the room, fuelled by pent-up frustration and anger at the situation in our environment.

I lost my writing mojo. Nothing seemed to fit in the small, quiet, pretty category. “I’ll have to change the name of the blog to Big, Loud, Ugly,” I thought. “Otherwise I can’t write about this. It’s hard to make sense of it anyway. I have no ideas. Maybe I’ll just give up writing.” You can imagine the existential crisis that that little thought ignited.

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Mountain view obscured by smoke…but nothing keeps the golfers at home.

When the busyness subsided and the temperature dropped and the fire rating was downgraded, rather than taking a moment to breathe and plan some nourishing meals for the weekend, I stopped at the local shop and bought all the things I never eat, at least never all at once. Dinner that night was fizzy drink, chocolate, potato chips and salted caramel ice-cream. Needless to say, I did not sleep well. The next morning I had the remaining ice-cream for breakfast. “What are you, 12?” I asked myself scornfully.

Which reminds me of a funny story. When I was 11, my mum went to America for the first time. She came back with a fat recipe book with pictures of “toothsome” cakes a foot high. We’d never heard that word before, but we loved it. For my birthday, Mum decided to make lots of different dishes from that book. There was chilli con carne, there was cornbread, there was chocolate mousse, there was a toothsome cake and there was trifle, as well as the usual mini frankfurts and cheese and pineapple on sticks.

A little friend of mine gobbled up everything and, not surprisingly, was sick. She was so embarrassed at having vomited, and so terrified of telling my mum, that she ate the evidence. Unfortunately, this was witnessed by another little friend, who then ran around shouting: “Jane Wheatley’s et her own sick.” To this day, I can’t think of Jane Wheatley* without hearing that line.

I can report that I have not “et my own sick” but did feel ridiculously jittery as my poor organs tried to cope with all that sugary abuse. I had an appointment the next day in a suburb I’ve never been to before and, in an ice-cream brain fog, got horribly lost on the way home.

I’m glad I got lost, though, because I found myself on a road with a panoramic view of the Brindabellas. Lines of fire were burning slowly down a mountainside, each with a delicate smoke plume in its wake. For a few extraordinary minutes, the movement of the fire synchronised perfectly with the exquisite music playing on the car radio. I drove along with my mouth open, gawping, as the awesome, unrelenting force of nature met the awe-inspiring creativity of humankind.

Some moments in life you just can’t make up.

I thought, also, of all the creatures in that fire’s path—running, hopping, burrowing, slithering, flying for their lives. I thought of the taxi driver I’d met in Sydney, an Iraqi who knew all about fleeing from home. We talked about the fires, then we both started to cry about the animals. “In Iraq I was a biologist.”

Said the taxi driver.

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Hazy but visible.

Today it’s raining, gently, and not enough, but that brings me to my next thought: how arrogant we are. How arrogant we are—humans, I mean—to think that our needs should always be met, that we should be able to control forces of nature, that somehow it’s personal. Why is a house worth saving when a wombat’s burrow isn’t? Aren’t we all part of the same landscape? Don’t we all have a place in the same ecosystem?

The events of the past few weeks have had an interesting effect in the community where I live. People have stopped telling each other what to do and have started sharing information. My neighbours and I have discussed whether we’ll stay and defend or leave if there’s a fire emergency. We water each other’s gardens. We’ve swapped numbers and we tell each other if we’re going away. We wave more and stop and ask how we’re doing. We look at the sky and at the dry ground and we express what we’re feeling. I feel looked out for. It’s really quite lovely.

So far this year we’ve had fire and smoke and a cataclysmic hailstorm. People have been joking that next there’ll be a plague of locusts or that it will rain frogs or something. (A former prime minister actually believes this.) Just now, as I was sitting writing, I heard a thud on the verandah and looked out to see two small lizards falling from the sky. I kid you not.

We live in strange times.

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Some flowers in my garden like the smoke and heat!

*not her real name

Dance of life

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Two local buses, an interstate bus and a train. That’s what it took to snap this photo. It was worth it, though. I felt happy standing on a wharf in Sydney in the rain.

I haven’t caught the Manly ferry for two decades. It has a bar and food kiosk on board now, although both were closed on a rainy Friday. The deckhands, healthy looking with brown muscled legs, heaved ropes around as the boat churned away from the quay.

Two Korean students approached me with  a dictaphone and asked if they could interview me for their English assignment.

“Where do you live? Where is Canberra? What does capital mean? Why are you going to Manly? What sports do you play?” Here they queried my answer: “Is dancing a sport???” They didn’t seem convinced.

The questions became more interesting: “If you could be an animal, what would you be?” “A horse,” I said, describing speed and power and grace and gentleness and a flowing mane. They looked blank. My imaginary horse had galloped past the limits of their vocabulary.

“What do Australian teenagers like to do?” I thought of all the teenagers I know. Grunt, sulk, eat junk food, treat their parents meanly and stay in their rooms a lot. That was what came to mind, but I didn’t say it.

The Koreans helped me out: “I like video games,” said one. “I like drawing and playing with my dog,” said the other. “My dog is called Winter.” I pictured some kind of thick-coated husky. “Is your dog called Winter because it has a big fluffy coat?” I asked. The girl looked at me with pity. “No,” she said. “It’s called Winter because it’s white.”

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There are people in Manly who go to the gym at midnight to lift weights and then drop them on the floor. I know this because I stayed in accommodation below the gym. The first time the building shook and the windows almost blew in with the force of it, I wondered if there’d been an explosion.

On the second night I read for hours and managed to outlast the weightlifters. Just as I was dropping off to sleep, the people in the neighbouring room rolled home and had a loud conversation inches from my ear. At that point I got out of bed, repacked my suitcase and booked alternative accommodation for the next two nights.

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I went to Manly to dance. I danced with a painter, a hairdresser, a psychologist, a teacher. I danced with people whose names I didn’t know, who smiled into my eyes and hugged me from the joy of it.

But there was so much more than dancing. Over the four days I watched people navigate tricky interpersonal situations with skill and deep calm.

I learned to sit with someone who got on my nerves, someone so opposite to me that at first I found them unbearable. Yet this was the person who, time and again, I ended up having to share space with.

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I learned the theory behind the dancing, the way it uses the body to change the mind, to regulate the emotions, rather than the mind trying to direct the body. This is such a different approach, but it works.

It’s not easy. It shakes you up and makes you question the way you see the world, the way you see yourself. It teaches you to say no, but it also puts you in touch with the big yes of life. It takes you far out on a ledge, makes you hold hands with the other people out there and asks you to trust each other.

When I walked into my first Biodanza class a year ago I felt sick with fear, but I stayed because I needed to dance. My legs were buckling under the weight of grief. I wanted to turn back time. I wanted safety and certainty.

One year on, I found myself calmly floating in the ocean after four days of constant change, four intense days of dancing and learning and meeting people at a much deeper level than society usually allows.

I closed my eyes and felt the movement in the water and let the waves carry me. When I opened my eyes I was nowhere near where I thought I’d be, but I was okay with that.

Then I went home.

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Week 1

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Mount Banks, Blue Mountains, New South Wales

Whoosh. That’s the sound of 2020 starting. Did you ever in your life see such a start to a year? Is it just me or are you feeling a kind of impulsion, a driven energy to the year already?

I dreamed of an old village at night, where suddenly the lamps were lit and there was pandemonium and people running in the streets. “The horse!” shouted a man. “The horse is loose.” The horse was me. But the year feels like that as well: an immense gathering of energy as the horse begins to gallop.

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Bitter cryptandra

Many people choose a word for the year. I’ve never done that before. I’ve always thought it a little silly. But in the past few days I’ve been thinking about how often we say, “I’m going to do X or Y” and then we don’t. So this year the “gonna dos” are dismissed. Thank you and goodbye to all the gonna dos, because this is the year of ACTION!

I talked about clearing space in the garden in December. Now I’ve started clearing space in the house and in life. I realised that I needed to junk a writing project I’ve been tinkering with for years. I had a love-hate relationship with it and could never finish it. Somehow I believed that I had to finish it before I could start creating anything else. It was holding me back, keeping me in the past, reinforcing old ways of thinking.

Well, the hard copy was torn up and put in the bin. And last night was bin night. Sayonara! I’ll keep a soft copy on USB just in case I can re-purpose it one day, but here’s to new thinking and new writing!

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Smooth zieria

Another word I’m choosing for this year is WATER. Brisbane at new year seemed to be all about water. The grass was green. Shrubs and trees flowered red and yellow in the humidity. Mangrove roots poked up from the mud by the river. The river was reflected everywhere in the windows of the tall, shiny office towers.

I swam in the hotel pool and saw the Story Bridge spanning the river as I came up to breathe. We went to an art exhibition about water. In the hotel I took baths and tried not to feel guilty. On New Year’s Eve it rained. The outdoor dance floor was slick with raindrops but we kept dancing. It felt wonderful to dance in the rain.

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Hakea nodosa

Back at home, we had 10 drops of rain and I ran out into the thick smoke to feel the pinpricks of water on my skin. I need to work out how to get more water into my poor garden. Here’s one idea: ollas made from terracotta pots.

“We live in sepia now,” my sister said at Christmas, and that was before the New Year’s Eve fire tragedies. We thought it was smoky then, but now the air is a yellow blanket. The scale of the fires takes your breath away.

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Sydney boronia

My friend F told me about a book she’s reading on language and landscape and about the importance of naming things in the landscape. Especially now, when so much of our landscape is burning, I see the value in naming what is there. Or what was there.

Last year F and I walked the Mount Banks track in the Blue Mountains. Even in winter, the heathland was full of flowers. Every metre or so, we stopped to exclaim over and photograph a new flower. That landscape is burnt now. The pictures in this post are all from that time. I wanted to publish them here to say: “You existed. We saw you. You were beautiful.

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Mountain devil

I don’t really know how to wind up this post except to say: if you’re in an area that’s affected by fires and/or smoke, stay safe, chin up and keep going. Don’t lose heart. People are doing extraordinarily brave things for each other and showing great kindness.

I saw a documentary recently about possible futures, many of which seemed scary, but one message over-rode everything. Someone said that we tend to think of the future as something we have to adapt to, when really the future is the consequence of the decisions we make today.

I can’t stop thinking about that. There’s the potential this year for great change—personal, professional, environmental, whatever we choose. We just have to take action.

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Sunshine wattle

Christmas wrap-up

Christmas 2019

It’s amazing, isn’t it, how quickly humans can adapt? When the first whiff of bushfire smoke arrived, we all anxiously tried to find out where the fire was. Now we’re blanketed in smoke most of the time, often thicker smoke than in the 2003 bushfires, and we just go about our days as usual because we know the fires aren’t on the doorstep.

We’ve got used to the catch in the throat, the slight cough. We’ve got used to staying indoors on really smoky days but venturing outside when the air quality improves marginally. I’m drying my clothes inside and am not walking or swimming as often as I’d like to, but this already feels like the new normal.

A few days before Christmas I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get to the family gathering because of road closures and a fire in the area, but on Christmas Eve I actually forgot to check the road and fire situation and just headed off. It was only after I’d been driving on the deserted highway for an hour that I thought, “Hmm. I wonder if the road is closed.”

Persian fruitcake

Picture from Bake for Syria

The Christmas cake this year was a triumph. I’ve had many Christmas cake failures and was starting to get a complex, but this one was a hit. It’s Persian fruitcake, from Bake for Syria. I made a half size one, which is just as well because it was so good that we might have gobbled up our body weight in Christmas cake otherwise. It contains none of the dreaded mixed fruit, just figs, apricots and prunes. There were meant to be dates in it as well but I ate them. There was also meant to be pistachio marzipan, but pistachios were as expensive as frankincense, so I made do with ready-to-roll almond marzipan and it was fine.

We did well on the presents, each of us choosing things that the others really liked. Unintentionally, we’d all done most of our shopping in independent shops in country towns, and this seemed to make the presents feel more special.

On Christmas Day I went for a longish, smoky walk while others were napping.  On the sports field there was a man in a santa hat playing a drum (a djembe?) and the rhythm was so hypnotic I was tempted to stand next to him and dance. If I’d had a dancey friend with me, I might have done. Instead I walked to the beat of the drum and clapped him as I left. He gave me a cheery wave and drummed on.

On Boxing Day my sister and I found ourselves at a breakfast where we were considered youngsters. I’m a shade over the half century and she’s a shade under it, but to the rest of the company we seemed almost embryonic. A cheeky octogenarian asked me where my better half was and I said, “There isn’t one. I’m the better half. In fact, I’m the better whole.” Everyone laughed, and I thought about how that question would have bothered me even a couple of years ago but now it doesn’t.

There was only one tough bit, when I took myself out of the house to get away from a situation. I went to a park and sat on a bench next to a tree under which some ashes are buried. The tree is about to bloom. It’s a deep pink crepe myrtle, which wouldn’t have been his choice but you don’t get a say when you’re dead. I said, “Help. Give me some tips on how to deal with this.” I didn’t sit there for long, but on the walk home I thought of a way to fix something and I realised that some people have a communication style which probably isn’t going to change and I need to find a different way to react to it. So that was a relief.

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Now we’re in the in-between days, post Christmas and pre New Year. I love this bit. It’s hard to say what I’ve been doing. There’s been napping and/or sleeping in. There’s been a lot of cobbling together of meals from whatever’s in the freezer/fridge/cupboard because I really don’t feel like going to the shops. I’ve looked at the pile of books I keep meaning to read and I don’t feel like reading any of them. They seem a bit worthy. I’ve borrowed a copy of Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna, so I might have a go at that. I watched the whole series of The Day on SBS and enjoyed it. It’s set in Belgium and the characters speak Dutch but say “ça va” and “sorry” a lot, which, as a language nerd, I find interesting.

My main task for today is to pack a suitcase for Brisbane. A friend and I are going to a New Year’s Eve extravaganza, but other than that there are no plans. The Water exhibition at the art gallery looks good. Mostly I’m hoping for a few smoke-free days and looking forward to air-conditioned nights and crisp hotel sheets. Perhaps while I’m away it’ll rain all over New South Wales and the smoke will be gone when I get back. Let’s hope for that. See you in the new decade!