With Valentine’s Day just passed, and my Instagram ad algorithm’s current persistence in telling me it’s not too late to ‘get paid decent money’ to freeze my eggs, I thought it might be an apt time to touch on friendships, bodies, and what defines good love.
A few weeks ago I was asked to reflect on the ways love has been expressed in my life.
What came to the fore initially was a mini tide of shame. Caught red handed - have I even been in love?
How very Victorian of me.
Next was a revelation: the many years I’d spent waiting for this magical thing to just descend on me. The kind of teenage hope that feels like a Keane song. A nondescript dimension, a piano in the forest. Nothing is practical, nothing makes sense, but it feels warm and safe and like it’s entirely made up of your own secret cringey heart pangs.
When I was in primary school I remember saving up to buy a pair of those Adidas sneakers with the 3 silver stripes because the boy I liked wore them every day. Joining the soccer team just so I could share extra hours trodding the same patch of grass as another one who’d taken my fancy….Trying to appeal to boys by mimicking their behaviour has always been a strong route to friend-zoning myself. But, ah-ha! In the embarrassment of tracking back down memory lane it became apparent that the meaning did not lie in the securing of attention from those pre-pubescent males. Instead, in my own naive willingness to test out the theory of friendliness begets friendliness.
Fast-forwarding back to the question of ‘have I ever?’, maybe it doesn’t matter. Could it be that a whole lot of the yes is in seeing our love life, friendships, and self, as one great unspooling.
Punctuated less by dates and conventions, and more by seasons, states of being, episodes, and epiphanies. As we understand there is nothing, especially not love, lacking. Despite society’s great insistence.
Is it that womanly freedom is not just about bodies in relation to a partner / lover. More so about self in relation to self. Can one spend prolonged periods of time alone and still feel valuable, valid, loved? While I’m not saying delaying relationships is powerful and the way to be a truly liberated woman with agency over her own body or life, I am calling into question the popular narratives that simultaneously enforce diminished, self-loathing, subordinate views of single women.
Sometimes the fact of ‘almost happened’ can be the greatest act of love.
“Boys shmoys…” were the words that came out of a friend’s mouth as she tucked me into her 7 year old’s bed under a roof of glowing star stickers the night I was stood up by one. The next morning I noticed a card written in a child’s handwriting and pinned by a magnet to highlight the centre of the fridge door: “I hope you have the most powerful day of your life!” And later, sitting around in our pyjamas by the fire with fruit toast and coffee as she proclaimed “is this happy hour?” the parallels were comical, and struck me. The safety net of fine friends and the comfort of being known and supported.
Sometimes love isn't slick and cool. It’s not the guy at the bar with the suave lines and the suggestive guiding hand on the small of your back. What we are socialised to perceive as thrilling or what will make someone fall in love with us is often times not actually what feels sexy at all. A man making a family phone call, or cooking, or being honest, or making sincere eye contact, or caring for a baby, or going for a run, is far more appealing than half the stuff I have witnessed that is supposed to feel X-rated. Think of completing insignificant domestic tasks together; sat in the passenger seat of a warm, sun-stained car early in the morning. Spending a day offering up information about yourselves, eliciting common things - sharing favoured anecdotes, eventually falling asleep on a couch tucked under an arm, head on a shoulder.
My favourite movies are those ones with two people just walking around and talking. There’s humour, and much awkwardness. Watching the tingling energy of uncertainty and desire becoming manifest in the language of their bodies together so patient and restrained. Because so much of eroticism is in suggestion of the actual thing.
But then, so too comes doubt. The obsessive brain circuitry that keeps us guessing and pre-occupied. Not just as we write our own personal Rom-Com, but in general. Life is a constant feedback loop of will it, won’t it…isn’t it?
I find it ever-intriguing how we can become so convinced of a feeling and consistently revert back to a worn out thought pattern we know is not actually intuitive or meaningful, but merely the outcome of repeat exposure. Just a pressing into one neural pathway over and over again. How suddenly the dissonance stops as soon as something else throws it off or puts an end to it with an objective or definite thing outside of our control or expectation
(colloquially: “it takes two to tango”)…
I’m big into crushing, and the collateral damage of such a habit has often meant ignoring what is known cognitively and rationally in favour of disillusioned replay and retelling of events, duping oneself into addiction. Returning back whenever a bump of romance was needed to become convinced my story could and should be building into something after all. For a while there I found myself caught on the idea of overlap. How intersecting and invisible relationships are, and how everyone basically always has someone on their mind they are either wanting to know, or waiting to forget. I wonder if there’s ever an empty pocket in time for anybody’s heart…probably not. Like when that one boy wanted me and I wanted his brother. Or when my friend was devastated about her old love but turned it towards a new one, and now can’t turn it towards anyone else without the newer one cropping up and comparing. How even once an older woman told me she still thinks of the man she had a romantic fling with when she was young but it didn’t continue because of logistics and time and place, though she is happily married to her husband of many years. Perhaps affections towards various crushes are just a misaim. Ignorant of who is still floating around their mind or fuelling their desire and focus. It’s not that we don’t want others. We are just skipping the older tape and kind of self-torturously enjoying the fractured sound. How can it be so easy to overwrite, when in the immediacy of it all it feels impossible to consider any other mode of operating.
A few nights ago I underwent a trial at a local restaurant in hopes of earning a bit of extra pocket money. It was like live relationship theatre in there, and the whole time all I could see were the parallels so evident. Dates with trial and error - in every sense. Before leaving, Dad had told me (with a semi-smirk on his face) to wear “waitress makeup.” I got in there and held my breath the whole time. It was so fast, and I was so aware of myself on show yet of no importance whatsoever to visiting diners. Was it objectification? And too, was I guilty of objectifying them? Staring, as fellow staff members so effortlessly coordinated their bodies in the tight space with an appealing, swaggerish dance.
I spat out some sort of nervous gibberish launching into my untrained recital of the menu, and proceeded to pour two drink glasses for the man who had seconds earlier told me, “I’m alone, it’s just me”, because I was so focused on appearing friendly. I only lasted six weeks in my last attempt at a hospitality job and was told by the owner, “Rosie, I’m not paying you to stand there and have a chat with the customers.”
It’s humiliating, but after a good sleep and a refresh to the nervous system….kind of exhilarating? Is this what we are all doing to each other?! An older gentleman came up to me as he approached the door to leave, leaned in and whispered with the soft authority that comes from decades having skin in the game: “one day it’ll all seem so easy.”
The tail end of a year really pushes for some serious reflection doesn’t it? Usually what happens for me is a surrendering to measurables, meanings, and mottos. Recent Decembers have offered up salient phrases that seem to stick out more than the rest. I know in the moment, as the usually brief stack of words order themselves in my head, they are going to be somewhat of a guide in the months to come.
I’m once again having a wild reckoning with the results of an episodic existence. I’m here in New Zealand again, and I’m back to instinctual and longstanding ways of operating - feeling like no time has passed - but my phone buzzes with messages from friends I didn’t know existed months before. The projector in my head flickers with shining recall of places that once held no weight beyond map dreaming. It’s like one of those early 2000s movies where people swap bodies, or wake up in a different era and no-one else realises it’s them but not really.
How amazing is the accumulative aspect of living a life? Just going about garnering story, making a memory. Having it show, but most often be invisible. The soul is changed. The person is continually renewed, all the while ageing.
I’ve been considering the concept of ‘rolling vs fixed term’ moments in life. And if there really are starts and endings, or if it’s all just one big loose thread ongoing? I think that’s why I didn’t want to come home. Some fear that it was like a finish line, or the neat and tidy closing to this big, marvellous and sprawling existence. So into the plunderous depths of the journal pages we shall go! As Anaïs Nin said, “we write to taste life twice. In the moment, and in retrospection.”
I’ve been running into notes written during moments of public pause. Communal spaces - the role they play as you travel and nowhere and everywhere is home: “I needed to get out of my own story for a minute. To inhabit it better when we left the room”, was the sentence scrawled after sinking into a cinema in London 4 months in.
I remember doing this one day in Avignon too - not sure where I could escape not only the heat, but my busy head and preoccupation with plans and panics and aloneness. Big feelings. But dissociated, far-from-profound feelings. And again, on a sleepy autumnal evening in Athens when I found myself inside the Metropolis Cathedral, following gentle ideas and heading in to sit amongst the safe and sacred. I closed my eyes and heard the older lady in the pew behind me take five very deep breaths, sighing audibly as she released them. Then soon after, soft sobbing noises. There was a very well dressed younger woman across from us, also with her eyes closed and hands held in prayer, who soon began to weep and shake. I wondered if they were both crying for the weight of existence in that moment - a heavy month for mankind - or if it were something more intimate, more personal. I felt overwhelmed by an urge to go over and hug her. Not just to comfort her, but for myself. To feel a vulnerable, honest, bare-emotioned human in my arms. The connection and safety we offer each other in our unguardedness. This is the stuff of life: not only the joy weeps, but the tender, raw, hurting ones. What else are we all doing here if not to share in full spectrum living? Take the edge off and allow all flavours to ‘leak out’, as Deb might say.
Nothing is a given while travelling like this. It’s an entire gamble, a leap of faith. And as I revisit the familiar for review and recalibration I’m really seeing how faithful the world and its people have been to me. Even on the puzzling, maddening, defeating, destroying days when nothing went as planned. Yet - there was no plan. There is no plan. I’m just mucking in and bumbling about living a life I believe in. Frequently harkening back to the words of Jorge Luis Borges: “I am not sure that I exist, actually. I am all the writers that I have read, all the people that I have met, all the women that I have loved; all the cities I have visited.”
The more I bolt around this world and gather stories and things to say, the more I feel I have nothing to say - in a most humbled sense. The more I understand that my voice and experiences are no more important than all others out there. How facile an act it is to speak just to say something or to prove and feel relevant. But, complementary to this is realising the power we have in writing. Uprooting or staying put, how often do we long to dive into ineffable feelings? The ones so vivid inside us not satisfied by the work of anyone else, or any film or photo or explanation. Here is where we can bring it all to life. Make it visible, tangible, permanent, with our own choice of words. To be dizzied by it over and over and over as we hit the right note. It comes as much during the writing as in the reading.
And in the living.
May I remind you…You are alive. What a jackpot. Riveting stuff. Congrats!
How cool to constantly be putting yourself in the firing line of chance and story.
One day in November, Iro and I sat eating at a hilltop taverna on Syros, listening to the sexy dialogue and weird pleas coming from the neighbouring table that we fabricated a story out of in the car afterwards - grossed out and laughing. An older man and his married lover who had surreptitiously arrived from Athens. It was nothing to do with us, but I jotted it down anyway.
In Catania too. Those few hot and sweaty days of improvisation and chaos with Ayla. Lugging our bags around the streets trying to coordinate with Layla while she was stuck at Gatwick Airport haemorrhaging cash. Ayla in her mini-skirt and sneakers speaking Italian and getting us by. Drying myself with a hostel foot mat. Trying fresh pasta for the first time in nine years. Reading Virginia Woolf excerpts to each other over lunch in the shade, as she drank organic orange wine and I stuffed in as many tapas as I could manage.
These kinds of encounters used to be fuel for me as a writer. I almost sniffed out the unusual, shocking, idealistic, in order to have a front row seat granting permission to then fictionalise it in pen. Everything was intoxicating, and almost too much because of this. Cities were rife! But as the months went on I started to feel less like a passer-by and more like an everyman. Far more present - it was quite new and stable, but not a stymy to my craft.
It’s the thing of actually engaging with reality just to be in it. Fleeting or whatever. Before, for me it was constantly to collect. To put myself in situations just for the content and write up that could come after, and ranking things as valuable or not based on how much juice was squeezed out in words or documentation. Now, life just feels more real and rolling, and the captures - words or otherwise - are a coincidental or considered by-product, but not the goal.
I took a handful of copies of my little book Then, Now, Maybe with me this time, and decided to leave them in public places (how fitting). Inscribing a cheesy spell on the endpapers I will now always stand by - Dear Stranger, your life is a poem.
Ask me about what happened some time…. and until then, go on writing the next line of yours.
We all love reading it.
I’m not sure how best to tackle the beast that is the profusion of notebooks kept during six months away from familiar grounds.
So for now, here are some very simple, very indulgent scenes from the less complicated parts of a slow December’s return.
May your holiday rest - be it winter or summer - bring a sure pause, or the thrill of non-stop aliveness. Whatever you need.
And by no stretch do I write in ignorance and denial of the hideous current realities of humankind, and deny the voices of pain that should be pondered over my jotted privileges. But I do write in hope that by greeting with thanks these pockets of tenderness in daily life, that some form of magical comfort be extended over oceans to those for whom daily life as a concept of choice no longer exists.
If I do what’s the cost?
And if I don’t, what’s the cost?
As I walked out of the building, she declared her wishes for a “really low-key, unglamorous, classic Kiwi summer.” And I knew exactly what she meant.
Tonight, in the bottom garden... Overgrown and splendid. Cushy greens exploding life. Golden - the South kind - turning tawny mountains velvet, or horseback. A moment of return, in that happiest mode, fashion-less and functional: crocs, trackies, a cotton shirt. Chatting as we dig and pull and plant. Dinner at the beach, chased with a cold plunge. In these simple minutes we are untouchable again, no scary thoughts of discontent and desperation.
What a nice thing, standing barefoot in the garden
shelling a pea pod to pop into your mouth.
Or taking sweet and tiny offerings from a glorious and unruly berry patch, bushed and busting
to show you what it has done.
Summer solstice. I’m domestic, but grubby and gruff. Wearing Frith’s gumboots, puffing and sweating, then delighting.
Sun red cheeks all flushed I strip down to my undies and lie like a starfish up on the grassy bank in a heavy summer rain. I imagine being watered - blooming with abundance, beauty and provision. Part of a bigger picture.
End up laughing at myself, gleefully.
Not the ‘will’ but the ‘does.’
Knee deep in the river flow, I hold her hands from upstream so she can “kick kick kick” like a little kid. We joke about her placebo wetsuit - vintage Body Glove. How melted the chest neoprene is…“it’s like someone’s taken a blowtorch to the neck!”
I’m constantly terrified of losing this feeling. But then I keep finding it.
Again and again I find myself meeting peace.
June holds the leash, looks up and says: “she sure looks happy next to me.”
I look around, see who is next to me. I sure am happy next to them.
There was this one Christmas where Grandad Bruce won a small profit from a Lotto draw, after 30 years of diligent weekly patronage. He decided the most appropriate way to divvy out the dosh was to shout his entire family a skydive on Boxing Day. The morning of, it was quite a spectacle to observe the pyscho-dynamics of our largely facetious and performative clan curdle in the face of existential reflection. It’s funny how we flirt with what we fear like this. On the surface it’s self sabotage, but chip a little further and what we usually find is a ‘yes’ to external risk is in fact a way of short circuiting our pride. Recalibrating, as the illusion of control is exposed as a dubious, self-constructed cuddly blanket. We know we need it, we just can’t admit it outright.
After a near 3 years of diligent weekly patronage, I've quit my job. And just like what was witnessed on that (totally fine and anti-climactic) skydive day, I handed in my notice feeling petrified I would never have the choice to reclaim what I gave up if I went ahead. As is true of any weighted decision across the board, this is typically the most appropriate moment to jump.
It’s scariest having an era or phase end knowing you made the choice. You rocked the boat, killed the switch, let the leash go. But maybe these changes are the biggest, most grown up, most hindsight-rich ones. When you weren’t forced into it or given no option but to adapt. Instead you looked, at length and with honesty, and decided to follow the flickering thing that appeared inside.
*And forget not how utterly privileged you are in even having the freedom to do so when you can.
Being a serial idealiser I can attest: it’s fun to rehearse the fantasy. Untouched and unlimited. But on opening night, when the murmur of the expectant crowd is on the other side of the curtain and it’s actually happening? That’s some serious nausea.
I had spent countless (salaried) hours lost in puckish playback-loop fantasies about this very liberation, and now wanted to immortalise all it had given by holding things tighter than ever. Suddenly fetishising the banal dimensions of office life, entering a short lived and ill-fit phase of watching ‘Suits’ just to hang onto some thread of corporate doublespeak and the ever curious arrogance of rapacious professional males. In truth, it was a feeling of distrust. A kind of limbic friction that at the time didn’t allow a full tipping into excitement for this newfound freedom…With unbounded options and a free-for-all sense of time and self as I go forward from here. Emotions rampant and open, attractions elevated and charged by the romanticism of travel and its gift of glorious self-delusion. I don’t know if I trust myself without obligation to, or direction from, some form of structure and contract anymore. I had liked the version of myself that this job nurtured: sort of detached, effective, clear, on schedule, mature.
When everyone is off on weekends it feels ok to relax and unfurl. Safe and sound. Soon though, when they’re all back at it and I’m the one blissfully unreachable and unemployed, there’s likely to be an ambient charge coursing through me - unrest. Is it a bit woeful to have toyed with the idea of staying looped into Teams chats and the knowledge of projects ongoing? (short answer, yes.) Not because of some sick addiction or love of the actual work, or a persistent FOMO. But because of a need to feel important - like I am contributing to something. Feeling required and involved.
I’ve just seen and known the perils of too much spare time and self enquiry. Necessary to a point, but then the toiling and turning over of thoughts and personal perceptions needs to be dropped. Some commitment to a common, bigger thing needs to rescue and reclaim your attention.
Now I find myself excessively journaling about it. Like I’m in preparation for some inevitable amnesia and the things that have me so enraptured in the simple and predicable now will no longer be retrievable once the context is altered. Journeying through this flawed ideological position saw a compelling first stop at the rational vantage point: ‘if it’s not broken, why fix it?’ And was called to a welcome halt as I plunged into the epiphanic words of a wise and amiable foreign waiter,
“There is no better thing in life than travelling. Oh wait.. maybe actually being in love. Wait! No better thing in life than being in love AND travelling.”
And so a little test drive trip to Australia last month served as a decent marker. I returned resolute and certain… It’s never not the time to prioritise the life story. As one friend and I often sign off obscurities brought about by the self-splitting trance of adventure with: well well, one for the memoir!
Beyond empty ‘glamour travel’, this is what reminds us we are alive. Grooving in time with humanity, part of something bigger. In love with a person, a place, or just a perspective - who cares, all great! Placing that same yearning I had mistakenly outsourced to a particular business efficiency app back into the hands of the mystical idea we call destiny.
On-site at my last work event a few weeks ago, Senior Aboriginal Man, Uncle Mickey O'Brien, shared something during his Welcome to Country that has really made its way down deep: in Aboriginal language there is no directly translatable word for goodbye, because it is their view that relationships - however brief or monumental - remain with us forever. An acknowledgement that the ending of one experience will soon transmute into the next beginning.
So bubbye, bon voyage, life’s work is waiting.
This really is feeling like the sweet spot age. Decisions are starting to actually matter. Speaking to friends, there’s more trueness. People’s honest hearts are being revealed. As the dust from the frivolous years settles a little more we sink into an acceptance of what we really want, and being ok with how big or how seemingly small the most desirable way of life looks in our mind’s eye.
As the access-way to youth narrows, everything else is broadening. It’s a co-existence inside new maturity as we declare with more firmness who we are, all the while remain a little unsure. Perhaps even more so? We woke up here, and playtime was of a different brand. This time with more money, and some (hopeful) wisdom and experience behind us. We are storied. And a little battered and bruised, making interactions interesting, tender, electric.
I haven’t been able to cry in months. I don’t know what it is, I’m the happiest I’ve been in my entire life - but things have been running deeper. Everything feels potent, beauty feels immediate, time feels fragile. But here was I, suddenly impenetrable and unable to showcase the experience of such revelation with even the smallest of tears. Nothing seemed to be able to break through this surface apathy.
Until Sunday. As a glorious autumnal morning broke here in Queenstown, I lay in bed with tears leaking so freely they did that thing where they paint lines down around your ears and neck and onto the pillow. These were relieving tears. Life-affirming tears! Borne of the list of music a benevolent stranger had so perfectly curated and, without intention, took me back to some of the most important people and places in my 20s - ones that I’d forgotten to pay a mental visit to. Sounds I’d skipped over lately. Each hit of the play button, as I tracked down the imbedded audio files, was so familiar and relevant it was almost comical. It seemed in that moment perhaps we were riding the same head/heart/sound-wave collection.
She’d taken time to articulate the magic of music, and she’d told us to turn it up as loud as we could. I pondered, ramped it up loud as I could like some kind of spell, and the magic sure as hell worked on me.
I’ve often thought of this… As I utter thanks for the joy of living like incantations. Can we maybe place a charm on ourselves, and others? Can we influence another merely by kind, focused thought? Could it indeed be true that if I’ve been on your mind chances are you’ve been on mine?
Maybe that’s enough. A sense that isn’t owing to externals or some specific alignment of variables tipped in your favour. Just a lasting buoyancy created by the sweet nothings of unknown others, waking with you at dawn and not capitulating to even the most mundane daily stressors or realities. Better yet is the real deal I’m sure.
Lately I’ve come to truthfully acknowledge that all the things I want, I don’t need just yet. That all of this is plenty. More than enough. A flash frame I’ll never revisit, so all the more urgent it is to soak in and not temper with any time-bending. I used to think I would be many things by this age.. But for real now? Now real things are afoot, and require a most dynamic approach. One that doesn’t block out those wishes or favour distance and denial, but one that recognises finite youth and the questions still latent inside me as the me of today.
In short, I’m just feeling happy. And it appears to be a compounding kind… Or perhaps, for the first time in forever I’m choosing to let it take me over - fully - without foreboding caution that it’s too good to be true, that I’ll jinx things, or sound ignorant or privileged, or whatever. The world needs happy people right now. More right now is enough people.
The month before I turned 29 last year, I lay isolating with Covid and so decided to launch an investigation in service of all us common compatriots from the land of maybe-now-its-time-to-panic? The case was closed when a fall into the abyss of Google’s dropdown menu for ‘people also ask’ confirmed I was not alone, diluting the sting and replacing it with a deep tummy chuckle:
Is 30 years old old?
Why is turning 30 such a big deal?
What age do you start looking old?
Is 30 middle age?
Turning 29 as a woman
Turning 29 spiritual meaning
In a moment where slim reserves for energy were being directed towards eliminating a novel infection, misspending brain power on arbitrary, socially imposed concerns such as invisible age thresholds paled into complete irrelevance.
All this to say, that week was an unshackling. A maturation into a new philosophy of timelessness. The preoccupying scarcity and deadline panic transformed into an almost laughable subplot and I was all of a sudden back on my own terms.
Gosh, speaking of new plot-lines….am I a bit of a sentimental idiot? Please tell me if these offerings are getting old! Sometimes it’s like a disease, with the medicine of maudlin as much the cause as it is the cure. As often goes with trips and dreams, nonsensical musings are better off kept to oneself. Yet here we are, on these platforms that appeal to our vulnerabilities in endless panopticon fashion for the many and the few. Choose your flavour, push your own brand.
In sticking to my own, I suppose I’ll sign off with a trusty on-the-mind list - throwaway thoughts, conversational tidbits - in hopes they land somewhere good in you, perhaps even welcome a deep sigh of recognition, or little tear if it’s needed:
Here's to ageing with an impossible agelessness. As laughable as the thought of thirty being a crisis-point of ‘ageing’ may well be to us all.
In some great redemption offering following the last thought I left on here, I’ve been gifted a couple of very subtle, but wholly significant, opportunities for acceptance.
Levelling out ways of seeing, of organising my head, and remembering that bracing hard for firm and steady is in most cases a cheating of self. A denial of the constancy and flux of emotions we are so generously gifted to explore - no matter how exhausting at times.
At this very moment nothing feels fractured. All is open and flowing, it’s a very good life.
This week we've had three men ripping up the carpet from 9-5. At the end of each day I come down to find they have duteously transported the furniture back inside, atop the spongey new layer. Working from their fresh memory, with zero attachment to a prior existence and place, the furniture is almost always categorically placed wrong. The initial moment sees me slammed into cognitive dissonance. A confrontational internal tantrum of sorts - 'that’s so not how it was..'
But who is to say?
Reaching for some philosophical interpretation inside the example of three sweaty and aloof carpet layers who just want to knock off and have a beer is likely a big push.. But, it has me reflecting on the phenomenon of constructed memory. Where we go to to find comfort amidst change - both intrinsic, and out there in the tangible world of things and furniture and faces.
I’ve been listening to George Harrison’s ‘All Things Must Pass’ (in that recursive playback fashion only suited to when you listen to music alone) and finding little glimmers I’d missed before. It’s sparking a recall of something a very special sage of a friend said to me on the phone once: “the end of an era punctuates or structures one's life. It leaves you asking: what are/were those years?”
Or even on a more quotidian basis - what was that moment? How do I carry it, or conversely, just leave it be?
A further realisation of the non-linear, reason-season-or-lifetime aspect of this brief dance on earth we’re all involved in.
Same goes, perhaps, when romantic rumination takes hold.
For an experience to be meaningful does it have to have been felt and kept alive by both? What’s our business in really knowing whether the other person was truly in a moment sincerely or just reviewing us in kindness anyway. What do we owe each other in that regard? Not all experiences usher in continuation do they. Can we let a one time feeling be enough and not discredit it or become convinced it isn’t a worthy part of our story if it doesn’t get built upon in some Disney-like fashion? Perhaps connection is not always a solution to our yearning, but there to serve as a mirror of it. A kinship over the longing for some kind of self-clarity. Permission to be seen, rather than a petition to be saved. Or a chance to encounter another beyond cognitive effort.
Sometimes it’s not even about catching lightening in a bottle, but about bodies. Almost like skin hunger. The need to be tactile. To be felt, and feel yourself having an effect. Not in a lustful or salacious way, but a curiosity about how another’s body fits alongside yours in time and space. How they look and feel and exist in close proximity, kiboshing the hyped up story of distance and detachment we can weave our own physical relativity into when we are alone.
In my existential moments, I find I trip up on the same old thing. The truth that certain things in time - places, feelings, abilities, ages, connections - will eventually need to either pass, be let go of, or allowed to change. Then comes the pressure to reinforce the sentiments and relationships in a grasping effort to keep them from slipping or being forgotten. Not a bad thing, just very tiresome.
Writing often serves as a way of trying to solidify it. But is it just compulsion, or a necessary teasing out?
This has evidently become one of my themes for 2023 - to remind myself when I’m rushing or pushing to linger ‘just a minute more’ (thanks Le). To soak it in as it is, before or after the frame shifts. To document a little less! To just feel and experience, rather than outsource my memory to a platform or collection of pixels.
And any which way, it is good to feel the pen snug under fingers again. To be fixed on intention and radiating thanks onto a page after the blur of lengthy fallowing and self-doubt. To be floating each morning with a heightened awareness of beauty, intensely alive and here for it all.
The bare bones simplicity of this summer routine is working a treat.
(Image: From the Earth to the Moon: A Direct Route in 97 Hours, 20 Minutes, 1874 edition)
I’ve always had a habit of commemorating ordinary things with unnecessary sentimentality: ‘This is the last time I’ll eat breakfast as a teenager.’ ‘This time two years ago I was eating breakfast in another country.’ ‘I wonder if the person driving the old green Corolla - my first car - thinks about who drove it before they did?’ ‘I wonder what about me will be different next time I stand in this exact spot, in front of this very vantage point?’
It’s a form of being utterly seduced by the insistence of progression and improvement, while trying to retain the familiar feelings of an assured ‘what is.’
When you’re viewing things from a sort of melodramatic isthmus point, where the could of it all will soon be rearranged into ‘what was’, it’s like being suspended inside a realm of possibility.
I’ve often thought how torturous it must be for people awaiting the results of some big diagnosis. Or, those few days after receiving one, trying to contort their huge visions for the future into a harsh and dulled new self restricted by physical fallout. The small pocket of space when someone wakes and comes to, in a groggy, warm moment of forgetfulness and hope for a day as normal before the reality sinks in.
In a more collective way, it’s kind of piteous watching our society try to reconcile our bygone era of hyper-reality and excess with the stark, confronting modesty and restriction of these recession years. We are wedged inside a dichotomy: where we balk at paying $9 for a cauliflower, yet avidly plan our somewhat unjustified, Instagram-driven travel to Europe for a moment of escapism. Despite the continent being in crisis, our drive is still only concerned with grasping for, and consuming, a dissolving ideal. Believing that because ‘that’s how we’ve always been’, that that’s how we always should be.
Does anyone else out there find it way too tempting to preemptively analyse the zeitgeist of ‘our times?’ And what does that even mean?? I have to be careful to moderate myself as I try to comprehend things. To find a kinship and focus beyond mere observation and critique. Because there’s a rawness of care that seems to arrive when all the old hiding spots feel ill fitting or off limits, leaving you asking the all important question: “am I a comfortable dwelling place?” In the wake of instability I’ve come to parse out this sort of confronting realisation that human partnerships are unpredictable and intertwined. Like in Titanic when Kate Winslet is in that busty dress on the wrong side of the railing and tells Leo DiCaprio to go away but he just says “I can’t. I’m too involved now.” Or maybe it’s also like what my friend’s dad said during his speech on her wedding day: “love is risky business.” Yet how beautiful it is to blindly track on towards a future of unknowns with others. Being equally invested and affected by their private worlds, having let them become entangled with yours. There are so many more variables to contend with. A greater susceptibility to loss of control over your own desired outcome or aspired long-term plan, but a worthy sacrifice knowing it goes both ways. And that mutual choice to stick around “despite” must feel like a pretty good and grown up thing to want to do.
How poetic it all is
me here this morning
looking out at snow and
mist and barren branches,
an early morning ciggy for the
hooded tradie at the rear of his ute
parked up on the wet road
but here's me this morning
pink robe and rocking chair
mouthful by mouthful
blink by waking blink
honoured to be hearing
the steady falling rain.
In the sleepy profundity of wee hours toilet break thinking, I remembered how I used to wake with a great sense of anticipation. Often too excited to fall asleep, having to wait out a whole nine more til I could thrust back the blankets and feel gratitude swarm me as I declare “this is my life!”
This steady and patient adult routine has its benefits indeed but, in compound with 2022 on the whole, just feels way too grown up. There’s less shine. The space reserved for wonder is now being hogged by predictability. Still being at home feels a little insignificant, but also incredibly delight-able. Yet, as soon as I rest in the delighting I feel shame for indulging the insignificance of now's only true declaration being “nothing much going on in my corner..”
Then I thought of the multigenerational character arcs portrayed on a particular show I’ve been falling into. How witnessing them across four seasons has started to rekindle in me a solid real-time revelation: that this isn’t all of it.
Soon I felt how one day this won’t be my primary puzzle to solve. The ‘where shall I live, how shall I be’ one. My bed won’t wait empty when I rouse to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. My mornings will see me declare “this is my life!” once again, but not because it’s reverted, or looks familiar to those past days, but because I’ll be rejoicing in the new one. Coming to wakefulness and remembering, I am a wife. I’m pregnant. I have kids who will soon come running in to ravish me with innocent affection. My son’s getting married today! It doesn’t matter what the context or carnal container looks like then. It’s the fact of everything continuing onwards. It’s the fact of life.
I asked myself yesterday, what activity do I feel a genuine pleasure doing while it’s happening, not just from the rush of reward chemicals after the fact? What do I engage in that is not just obligation, or a means of reaching some desired outcome through a gruelling commitment to the thing?
Eating? Eating is great...but a problematic route of return.
Then came the real one. The activity I could fall into for a lifetime and feel as though it were none passed at all.
Here it is: writing. Writing is home base.
The young couple walking ahead to baggage claim looked about twenty-three. He perambulated with a buoyant swagger and flexuous honeyed Hugh Grant hair; wearing a slim-fit suede suit jacket over a navy shirt with the buttons open down his chest and black straight jeans that stopped just above his platformed leather brogues. The sort of self-aware command of a public space befitting of a University band boy circa 2018. A warm and insouciant looking girl bounced alongside him, flirting in a language that was apparently only to be interpreted by them. Her oversized brown coat slinking off one shoulder, forced to join her sneaker-bearing feet by the gravitational pull of a full and slouchy canvas bag. He reached out a hand and ruffled the back of her head in affection as they walked. I observed them for a while. Then, as if by access to some outer-body vantage point, felt confronted by my own banality. I felt simultaneously critical of their casually flaunted naivety and wildly covetous that it was one no longer belonging to me these five years later…The years when you had so much spare energy to put into outwardly projecting your creativity and hipness. When synchronising your recent op-shop finds was front of mind, and having a nebulous and detached life schedule was an attribution of success. The scope of my worldview feels as though it’s been shrunk in the wash like a wooly sock, and my comprehension of that blissfully simplistic form of youth etiolated by excel spreadsheets and automated meeting requests.
I often can’t find the right box in my head to file the plaguing questions of adult life at the moment. I’ve been learning to live inside the push-pull of the common narrative that says “it’s good to have financial security in these times”, which fuels the drive to buckle in to a flight path you don’t feel particularly fulfilled by - Yet, knowing that the things in your life you usually rely upon to feel secure are seemingly harder to find now. Knowing that people out there have but a sliver of it, and would literally die for the anaesthetising monotony of a steady routine.
A few weeks ago I unnecessarily deleted a priceless piece of personal time-travel audio, all for the sake of having a swift and efficiently manageable email recycle bin.
I had found an 8 minute voice memo, recorded on the fourth of January 2020, before the world changed and navigating Covid was the prevailing thought / concern / contingency plan. It was me rattling off a ‘list’ for myself, in total candour and innocence and idealism. Plans for my career, the years ahead, where to take my ambitions and interests. Who people in the current frame of reference could possibly be to me: Maybe I will go back to Greece with Consider journal this year? Were my various mentors right, should I go back to study? But then I might just come out with a piece of paper and be another aspiring writer amongst the masses trying to make it... Maybe I should just publish a little book of my own?
One thing I kept coming back to was this constant press to write scripts. To get more into literature as a craft, not just writing my usual long-winded and subjective monologues for cafe tables. To be more intentional and research based….To transcribe! Everyday dialogue. Witty remarks. Polished come-backs. “People are just so fascinating to me.”
It was so light, unimpeded and full of possible energy. Now I have similar thoughts and plans but they will never again be rendered through such a naive pre-pandemic tone. Oh to hear my own voice speaking of my very own reality in a time that was more credulous than this current one. Before I vetted everything I said, buffered it to not sound too certain or idealistic, knowing we are now living inside history and perhaps some future generation will pick it up to gather some accurate truth about how it was to live in 2020/21/22. This switch I can’t flick off. The haunting weight of overthinking and auditing every inkling to make sure it doesn't land me embarrassed or disappointed if it doesn’t pan out.