Waiting room

September 27, 2017 § 1 Comment

In the school holidays one of my daughter’s friends lost her father to a motorcycle accident. Another friend had two friends die in as many days. Still another friend got news that a young relative had been found dead at the bottom of the stairs to her flat – she’d gone home early complaining she wasn’t feeling well.

And maybe it’s this rash of deaths; maybe it’s part of my own journey through middle age, but I have this increasing sense that we – that I – have to live life with a greater sense of urgency.

I am fairly cautious by nature; risk averse, as financial advisers like to put it. I think things through and I lay my plans: “When X, then Y…” partly because it gives me the illusion of control, I think. Only Y seldom comes, because I never seem to get past the planning stage.

I think we all do this to an extent. “When I retire, I will…” or “When I lose weight, I will…” or “When I find the perfect girl/guy, I will…” or even, “When she or he apologises to me, I will…”

And so, we’re all just stuck in the waiting room – waiting for some mythical future perfect circumstance that will allow us to live our dream, take that risk, mend that fence, launch ourselves off the precipice.

“But I need money,” I hear you protest. And it’s true – you can’t just set off for Madagascar or Mongolia without a plane ticket and all the other travel accoutrements that cost you your hard earned cash. Starting a new business takes money. As does studying. As do a myriad other dreams you may have – and you might not have that money now. I get that.

But dreaming and thinking and strategising don’t cost you anything. Research is the easiest thing in the world in the information age. And if you have money for a daily or even weekly cappuccino, you have more money than most, and you can start there – by making a small sacrifice and popping the money you would have spent in a piggy bank, under your mattress, in a savings account. And then you need to take action.

Because the one thing we all have in common is that we can start. Not when we’ve lost the weight or received the apology, or retired, or found that perfect someone. Today. Right now. Just break down the goal into small steps and take the first one.

Sure, it’s risky. We might get hurt or damaged – or even broken – along the way. We might not even know how we’re going to take the second step. But is that any reason to put off living? Because sometimes you need to take the first step to weigh up your options from a new vantage point. Perhaps there’s a road further ahead that you couldn’t see until you took that step.

And while you go, remember to tell those you love, that you love them. It doesn’t matter if they’re a friend, family, or significant other. Tell them often. Tell them till they’re tired of hearing it. Tell them so often that when you’re gone, they can’t be in any doubt that you loved them. Fiercely.

Forgive, and move on, remembering that forgiveness is for your peace of mind – it’s not about letting the other person off the hook.

Stop waiting for that perfect circumstance. It doesn’t exist. All you have is this moment, right now.

Because life is short, and it can change in an instant. And if we never get out of the waiting room, then all we are left with is regret, which is really the poorest of substitutes for a life.

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The L word

June 7, 2017 § 2 Comments

I remember how I cringed the first time I overheard my one of my teenage daughters and her boyfriend saying “I love you” to each other.

I cringed because I grew up in an era where you didn’t tell a significant other that you loved them until you were sure. Very sure. You had to know that this person was The One before you used the L word. And you could be almost guaranteed that the expression of love would be followed by a proposal.

This idea was so well entrenched that I remember whole story arcs in books and movies where characters agonised about whether or not this was the right time to say, “I love you.” Those three little words weren’t just sprinkled around indiscriminately. The right to say them had to be earned.

In the last year or two, however, I have revised my opinion. Because I don’t know where this idea of holding back came from. Perhaps it’s the fear that the person wouldn’t say it back – or that they would, but only because they felt they should.

And actually, that’s all balderdash. Because the person’s feelings about you are none of your business. How they feel about you shouldn’t change whether or not you love the person – that’s expedience, not love.

Love is a one way street. “I love you” is a straight line of love from my heart to yours. No detours, no hairpin bends, no potholes or speed bumps. Just love, flowing from me to you.

So I think we need to tell people more often that we love them, not less. And I’m not just referring to romantic love – we should be telling everybody! Our family, our friends, the cat, the dog, the hamster – if you love someone, just tell them already, dammit.

And stop feeling uncomfortable about saying it, or having it said to you – what is that about?! I think all of us could do with hearing more often that we are loved; the world in its current state of crisis could certainly do with a whole lot more love.

Because here’s the beautiful thing about love – it’s not depleted by being shared. Give it away, and it grows and overflows.

And why wouldn’t you want a little more of that in your life?

 

PS. I love you guys.

 

 

There’s a woman under here

June 29, 2016 § 10 Comments

There’s a woman under here, you know. A real, living, breathing, honest-to-God woman.

I know what the outside looks like. Middle-aged spread has changed the shape of me, although heaven knows I’m working on it. Again; still. My hair is peppered with grey. My skin has lost that youthful spring.

But still. There’s a woman under here.

I have so many labels now, I scarcely know how to carry them all. Daughter, mother, sister, friend, aunt, divorcee, writer, author, songwriter, coach, teacher, editor, employer, homeowner… A million times a day I change my mental clothes to be one or more of those.

And still. There’s a woman under here.

She’s mostly invisible. You have to look past the labels and the gently worn body, but she’s there. She still has dreams and desires, and she has a trick or two she could share. But she needs to be coaxed out. Because she’s been around the block a few times, and her heart is a little bruised and battered by life.

She may look strong, and capable and bold. She may smile, and her laugh is ready, but she’s easily hurt. She cries sometimes – in the car, in the bath, in the dark.

There’s a woman under here. A real, living, breathing, honest-to-God woman with fire in her soul.

And all she really wants is to be seen.

 

 

 

Lessons from my dogs

May 21, 2015 Comments Off on Lessons from my dogs

I share my home with two insane dogs, a Golden Retriever and a (mostly) Staffie. And since I work from home, I have ample chance to observe them.

Dogs have much to teach us, I think. They live in the moment and need so little to satisfy them – enough food, decent shelter and plenty of love will usually do the trick, although permission to sleep on the bed is always welcomed.

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Here then, are 10 lessons I’ve learned from my dogs.

  1. Defend your territory and the people you love at all times. Loudly and vociferously.
  2. Show your loved ones that you’re pleased to see them – even if you’ve only been apart for five minutes.
  3. When you’re cold, one of the best ways to warm up is a nap on a sunny part of the lawn.
  4. Rules are made to be broken. Seize the day, seize the dirty washing, seize the half-carved chicken off the kitchen counter. Obeying all the rules will seldom get you what you want.
  5. Sometimes you have to get dirty to have fun. In fact, getting dirty is always fun.
  6. If you need to lose weight, simply eating 10% less of the things you love will usually do the trick.
  7. Walks are just adventures in your neighbourhood. They should be taken daily for maximum happiness.
  8. Naps are everything.
  9. If you love someone, kisses are to be lavishly distributed, at any time of day, for any reason at all.
  10. There’s nothing quite as delicious as a loving pair of hands on your body. Revel in it.

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There’s no place like home

February 5, 2015 § 10 Comments

I was recently back in the town where I grew up, visiting my parents, and my younger daughter asked me to show her the house I’d grown up in.

So we took a drive past the house and continued up the long, straight road past my primary school on the right hand side, right next to the Methodist Church where I attended Girl Guides. Then we drove on to my high school, exactly a kilometre from our front gate.

As we cruised through the suburb, I pointed out where the Scary Dog had lived – the one with yellow eyes, the one that terrified five-year-old me as I trudged to school with my brown suitcase, its metal handle digging into my small hands. I showed them the place of my greatest ignominy, where I tumbled off my bicycle as a teenager and landed, legs in the air, in the middle of the road right in front of the school gates. I showed them the verandah outside my Grade 1 classroom – or Sub A as it was called back then. And I showed them the verandah outside the woodwork classrooms, where I hung out in my final year of high school, a lone girl in a garrulous group of boys.

But what I really wanted to do was to go back to my house, to number 28, knock on the door and ask the people who lived there now if I could wander around. I wanted to see if the loquat tree still bore its yellow apricot-like fruits; if the piece of cement next to the pool still bears my hand print and those of my brother, my sister. I wanted to look for my mother’s short, broad footprint next to the bench she built on the side of the house.

I wanted to know if the pine, louvre-doored built-in cupboards that divided my sister’s room and mine were still there – cupboards my father built with the help of a friend, that turned a former single garage into two lovely bedrooms, and which looked as professional as any carpenter’s work.

I wanted to know if the plaster in the passage and the study and the lounge was still knobbly and rough and painted with shiny enamel – all the rage in the ’70s and ’80s. And I wondered if they’d kept the long, wide cement driveway, parts of which I helped my father to throw, mixing the cement with a spade making that satisfying shuck-shuck-shuck noise to ensure it was the right texture. The same driveway where I taught myself to ride my first bicycle, aged nine.

Is my mother’s rose garden still there, the one she tended in a windy climate not suited to rose-growing? Does the wooden fence still enclose the pool? And what about the Wendy House, the one my dad built out of an old packing case and a window from a Mini, and which stood next to the sandpit – a huge tractor tyre he brought home from work. Does any shred of them remain? Does the pear tree still bear fruit that’s inedible unless you stew it for a very long time?

And then I realised that none of those things are likely to be there anymore. Because although it’s my house, it’s not my home anymore. It’s just a geographical marker of my memories, and stepping over the threshold would only bring disappointment. Other people are making new memories in that shell, and nothing inside is likely to live up to what I remember.

So I’ll go back and drive around the neighbourhood again, in all likelihood. I’ll point out where the bearded woman lived around the corner, and I’ll remember the house whose verge grass was so soft and plush that I’d walk that way just to feel it give way beneath my school shoes.

But I won’t ever knock on that door and ask the people who live there if I can have a look around. I’ll just remember, and smile, and keep on driving.

Dance

January 28, 2015 § 3 Comments

I am a terrible dancer. I’ve got rhythm, sure, but I’m unco-ordinated, the very opposite of supple, I’m not terribly graceful, and I can’t ever remember the steps. And yet for a large part of my life, I’ve danced.

My illustrious dance career began in Grade 1, and ended a few short months later. Our ballet teacher, you see, wanted us all to put our noses on our pink-stockinged knees. It was never going to happen. And so she dubbed me ‘Granny’. I left a few weeks later, my knee-less nose severely out of joint, and my slightly-too-big leotard discarded in the corner of a drawer.

But I got to use it in Grade 2, because I decided I wanted to do drama lessons after they were advertised at school. I had no idea what drama was, mind you, but my mother thought it was a good idea, so the leotard was retrieved and I happily sang, danced and acted my way through several musicals until I was in my mid-teens and had a falling-out with the drama teacher.

I was actually cast as a dancer in a musical revue at age 16, and all of the other cast members were adults. So perhaps I wasn’t as terrible a dancer as I thought I was. Somewhere there’s a picture of me in fishnets, a tail coat and a top hat, and I remember sewing black sequins to the underside of those coat-tails so they’d catch the light as I moved.

I remember groaning through ‘Movement’ classes as part of my drama studies at university. I remember being whirled around the floor at a ballroom dance school’s open night. And a year or two ago, I joined a group of other middle-aged mommies and we huffed and puffed and swore our way good-naturedly through a series of salsa classes.

The thing with dancing, is that even though I’m bad at it, there are moments where suddenly my body does what it’s meant to do, and I feel the air move around me in just the right way. I feel light and graceful and in control of my body for that split second. And suddenly, I can fly across those sprung boards. I can dance.

But what I really love the most is to dance in community with others – at weddings, at birthdays, at celebrations of any kind. I love all the characters and dance styles. I love the guy with the paunch who surprises you with the lightness of his feet and his shimmying hips, or the great granny who kicks off her shoes and joins in with the line dancers. I love the circles of girls and the showy-off boys and the two-year-old in her twirliest dress, dancing on her daddy’s feet.

Why don’t we dance more? When did we stop?

I dream of street parties in small villages, or on town squares, with long white-clothed tables, and bobbing lights strung up from pole to pole. I dream of people whipping out their guitars and violins and accordions and making slightly messy, happy music with each other.

I dream of girls in summer dresses, pressed against their lovers’ taut bodies, whirling and smiling across a square. I dream of elderly couples who still treat each other with tenderness and care; they look on and see their younger selves reflected there. I dream of the laughter, the food, the fun.

Because there’s something to be said for moving your body to music as part of a community of people. There’s something joyfully primal about the noise and the rhythm and the sweat.

So dance. Dance more. Don’t wait for an occasion, or an invitation, or even for co-ordination to improve. Just dance. Throw caution to the wind. Throw plates on the floor. Throw your hands in the air. Throw a party.

But dance. Put on your favourite song, and dance.

Out of sorts

January 14, 2015 § 13 Comments

Blame it on the moon; blame it on the stars. Blame it on the boogie if you must. I am out of sorts.

I feel pressed down by my senses, though the room is dim, the neighbourhood quiet, my hunger and thirst assuaged. I claw at my clothes, at the constraints of collar and cuff, though to your eyes the fabric is feather-light, forgiving. I pick up a million activities and discard them each in turn. Stitches are dropped, pencils are blunted, a single string vibrates and is stilled.

My skin stands to attention; the nerves relaying discomfort and dissonance and a measure of pain. My mind feels confined; my brain crawls with a myriad scurrying ants of doubt, of fear, of I-don’t-want-to-be-here.

And I don’t. I wish I were a runner so I could fling open the front gate of my life and run till the air is squeezed from my lungs, till I’m bent and wheezing and my sweat splashes into the dust.

I’m not lonely, I’m not angry, I’m not sad or despairing. I’m just in limbo. And I’m tired of holding my world together. I’m tired of the responsibilities and the preparing and the second-guessing. Tired of the bills and the demands and the never-ending will-I-make-it-through-this-day-without-collapsing-in-a-heap. Tired of grown-up, of adult, of what-are-we-eating-for-dinner.

I don’t hate my life or the people in it; far from it. In many ways it is finally starting to look a lot more like my life, like a life I’d like to lead. I am enveloped in a cocoon of love so strong that I am grateful for it every day, every hour, every minute.

I’d just like to take a break from the decision-making part of my life, just for a while. The part that worries and plans and lies awake at night wondering. The part that waits to be found out every day; to be exposed, revealed as a fraud, uncovered as a child in a middle-aged body who spends a lot of her time just making it up as she goes along, and hoping desperately that it will all come out in the wash.

That child has other needs. She needs to run and jump and skip stones, jump puddles and sing and feel mud between her toes. She needs cool grass and hot sand and the whoosh of the ground past her feet as the swing flies in its creaky parabola of pleasure. She needs cool sheets and ripe fruit and hot bread with soft butter.

She needs freedom. She needs space. She needs play.

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