only that he was brown,
that he was fast,
As he decimated the leaf pile
with each maniacal toss of his stubborn head,
left and right and back again,
I was thinking
that if there were worms hiding moist under there
they better watch out,
for he was coming for them,
I watched him
in smiling admiration
for his commitment to the task,
for his wholehearted commitment
does not come easily.
you need to work at it.
You must stand out in the sun,
face to sky
and wait, eyes closed,
for light to burn into eyelids.
You must stare at the ones you love
when they are unaware
and keep staring
until the eyes and the heart connect.
You must treat gratitude
like honey, trapped in honeycomb.
You must brave the swarms of indifference,
quiet the buzzing of uncertainty,
wrench the raw emotion from within
and press it,
wring it out,
until precious, sweet gratitude
into your heart.
Early this year I found myself feeling weighed down by stuff. Physical stuff. Belongings. Every material possession I have seemed to be a small but concrete obstacle between the life I have and the life I aspire to having- see, it’s quite a difficult task to flit back and forth between continents when you have to consider storage solutions for all the junk that you own. What to do with the couch? The fridge? The summer clothes that I haven’t worn for two seasons? The Tupperware?
In my ideal world, GL and I split our time between Sicilia and Oz. The idea that one of us should be so far from home for years on end seems inherently wrong. It just doesn’t sit with me. I want to live in both places. And when we have children, I want them to feel equally at home in both countries. World citizens.
We have a ways to go yet before that dream bursts into fruition. Still, each time we pack our bags to go home- whichever that may be- we must decide what is important enough to bring with us. Twenty kilos, as it happens, is not a lot of treasured goodies. Which makes every item we don’t choose seem mildly irrelevant. Unnecessary.
Thus, I made a new pledge, to Buy Nothing New.
This began with clothes. If I can’t op-shop it, eBay it or make it, I can’t have it. (It should be noted that shoes and underwear are exempt from this rule. I have neither the skills nor patience to make my own shoes, and as for undies? Eew. New please.) I have not bought an item of clothing from a regular retail store since well before Christmas. And I don’t miss it at all!
The other reason this pledge works for me is environmental. I firmly believe there exist enough items of clothing in the world to cover my meagre needs- I certainly don’t want to waste resources, human labour and transport miles just to create yet another something new for me to wear. Similarly, I don’t want the perfectly wearable garments of others to end up in landfill for no better reason than being last year’s collection. Our society’s penchant for hyper-consumption has to stop.
Lastly, I discovered an alternate way of thinking: Collaborative Consumption. All the pieces fell into place. It’s community- minded. It’s about mindful living, mindful consumption, mindful purchasing. It’s about reducing, reusing, recycling, redistributing. It’s old-school in the best way- Make Do Mend. It’s how our grandmothers lived. It’s thoughtful. It’s creative. And it got me fired right up.
So I pledge to Buy Nothing New. Wanna join me?
I do not like morphine.
I learn this
as the drip in my arm
floods my veins with the liquid
full to bursting.
I am ambushed.
The hospital bed feels foreign beneath me
yet it is familiar as a film set
and I am irritated by the realization that my body is indeed
a fragile and complex thing.
I feel hurried
I have things to do,
classes to teach.
This is not how it is supposed to happen.
My body is just supposed to WORK,
not fold itself over in two,
defying me to sift the important
from the irrelevant.
So I lived in Italy for a year. And it was ace. Though far from the glamorous ideal that people envisage (and even I admit to now looking back on that year through a glorious veil of nostalgia) it was spectacular. I struggled. I learned. I observed. I grew. I discovered.
Through that year I started this blog to record my moments of joy. To save the discoveries I had made in a safe, still spot, so as to be able to mull over them later, again and again. This space was somewhere to vent, to dream, to enquire, to marvel. To notice my life and be present in it. To splash like a gumboot-clad toddler in the puddles of my happiest days.
And, let’s not forget, to write. For that is my very bestest, most favouritest thing. Oh, how I love words.
And then GL and I came home. Lovely, safe, comfortable home (comfortable for me, at least!). Where I understand how the queue works in the post office. Where I know how to cross the road. Where doctors don’t smoke in their offices. Where I can speak about my meal without inadvertently mixing up the words for food preservatives and condoms (don’t even ask).
Who wants to hear about home? Home is boring, pedestrian, mundane! Home is lovely, safe, comfortable! Everyone knows what it’s like to be home. Home is walking from your bedroom to the kitchen at three a.m. in the pitch dark without stubbing a toe. In short? Home is predictable. How can suburban Melbourne possibly compare to crazy, counter-intuative, completely seductive and addictive Sicily?
What will I write about?
And, much more scary…
…who will want to read it?
But I forgot a couple of details.
It was never about Italy, per se. It was about joy. This is a blog I started in order to record things for myself.The readers? They were a lovely, unexpected, much-loved, sweet little cherry on top. But it was never about them either. I need to (respectfully) tuck all those excuses away safely in a very quiet nook in my mind, and write for me again. For the love. For the words. For the sheer joy of selecting the sounds and lacing the sentences together because that’s all I ever wanted to do.
I have a life filled with love and drama and wonder and sentiment. I have the Great Love of my Life, and I have big dreams I am hunting down like a ninja. Perhaps not the stealthiest of ninjas… perhaps more like a ninja in training… whatever. Those damn dreams best watch their backs!
Also? Melbourne is a pretty spectacular city. Very liveable, apparently. People come from all over to see it. Plenty to explore here, and this blog may well be the space to do it.
Lastly, my bella Sicilia? I needn’t be too despondent. She is awaiting my return- I’m pretty sure the family have already started cooking for our December visit.
There are many, many moments to be nabbed as they fly by.
In my own words, from the very first post:
This is the idea of my blog. I’m gonna write about my everyday stuff. And sometimes there will be pics, and stories, and poems, and anything else that strikes my fancy.
I am that gumboot-clad toddler. Now I’m gonna find me some puddles!
I have found myself leaning toward one or two new challenges this year. Not the grand, check-list style offerings of last year (I will talk more about my lack of New Year resolutions later, when my rationale has more fully crystallized in my mind), but the kind of tweaks to my everyday living that will bring me closer to, well, me.
If Italy gave me the chance to discover myself- to meet and explore this strange new creature, to get to know her and live with her day after day- then my return to Australia just as swiftly shelved her, popped her conveniently away in the shadows, to be replaced by the previous version of myself. How quickly old habits creep in.
There must be a way, I thought, to remedy this.
This real, more true-to-myself, from-the-soul me? Who is she?
She is a writer.
She is pensive.
She wants a life that is colourful.
However… writers? They write. Artists create art. Seamstresses sit their butts down in that chair and whip up some new fabulous-ness. In short, I need to take action.
It seems to me that past all the resolutions, each year we live inevitably has some sort of theme running through it. A mood that underpins all the activities, all the epiphanies and disasters. When I think of 2010, in Italy, one word comes to mind. Discover. 2011 was simply, hang on. Some days it was all I could manage.
But now, the new year is well and truly here, and overwhelmingly, the mood is:
My first mission is to start reading again. How ridiculous, not to mention hypocritical, that as an English teacher I don’t consider that I have time to read! Well, boo to that!
Though it is a mere shadow of the way I used to devour books in my youth, I hereby pledge to read 52 books in 52 weeks. By the time this year waves us goodbye, I will have added to my life 52 new worlds, new communities, new perspectives. No re-reading of my old faves here. All new stuff.
And I’ll write about all of them here.
There I was, devouring yet another of my favourite blogs, when a line from Danielle LaPorte slapped me in the face.
Even destiny has an expiry date.
I have spoken often, over the last two years, about the feeling I have that something big is coming in my life; something to take me from the path I am on and point me in a new direction. The last two years have been a time of immense change and learning for me, as I integrated myself into a new country and culture, learned a new language, discovered new passions, cultivated new skills, and then (how odd that this didn’t immediately jump out at me for its incongruence) attempted to place myself neatly back into my ‘old’ life.
All this time I have waited to understand what the big change will be.
It is a month since I have done any art. I won’t bore you with the excuses with which I have placated myself, but that is the fact. And yet… somehow, opportunities have come quietly knocking.
A friend who wants me to illustrate her newly written children’s book.
A real, paid commission for a portrait.
The approach of another friend who wants my art to be a contribution to her new online project.
The reconnection with an old contact who may have the ability to guide me to the next step with my own art project (the one that is waiting patiently for me to give it the attention it deserves).
Will I hesitate, under the guise of being too busy? Will I wait, for fear of failure? Will I pause and ponder and plan until these small doors are all closed? And will I then go back to my normal, safe routine, reassuring myself that this wasn’t the ‘big chance’ I have been waiting for?
Good God, I hope not. Even destiny has an expiry date.
Today I will be mindful.
Today I will read, and I will put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard?).
Today I will create art.
Today I will make the call, write the email, and stop procrastinating.
Today I will stop using ‘busyness’ as a tissue-paper veil for fear (after all, the heart recognises fear when it sees it, and the excuse fools no-one).
Today I will not be swayed by the sly, slippery comfort of the known.
Today I will open the door to the brash, confronting, not-yet-known.
Today I will remember myself.
This is pretty close to my dream garden.
When I imagine my perfect life (which I spend an amazing amount of time doing) I picture, a lush, useful garden, full of fruit and vegetables and herbs.
I imagine sending my yet-to-be children out into the yard to pick an apple to put in their lunch.
I imagine teaching them how to live season-to-season, watching the produce ripen and learning to eat what is delicious and abundant at any given time.
I imagine cooking, inventing new recipes to cope with the overflow of cavolo nero, or tomatoes, or raspberries.
I imagine minimising garden and kitchen waste, aided by compost heaps and worm farms and chickens and perhaps a goat or two.
I imagine being self-sufficient, and wonder how close I could come to it (assuming I had neighbours who liked to barter their own homegrown/raised goods).
Sigh. One day…
Today my friend bought tickets for GL and I to go to the museum- she knows we don’t have the spare cash to get out much at the moment. Another texted me to say she’s bringing me vegetarian noodles for lunch tomorrow, just because she knows how much I love them. My family love us and feed us and make us laugh. His family plan their day around the Skype session so they can see us.
And of course there’s the amazing Great Love of my life. I get to spend every day with this man. I get to wake up and see his beautiful, little-boy face while he’s still sleeping.
These things make me thankful in the midst of the daily whirlwind. Life is a grand, grand thing.
In this case, the ‘old habit’ is the word, the concept, the pressure, of “should.”
I’ve been feeling a bit stuck lately. I haven’t wanted to DO ANYTHING, not even those things I am so excited about. Not drawing. Not blogging. Not even sewing! In this, my great year of self-awareness and change, I have hit some kind of stumbling block, and for ages I wasn’t sure why. Perhaps I’m still not.
I have come to realise, though, that in my quest to unravel and rework my priorities and my goals, I have replaced a lot of my old pressure with new pressure. New ‘shoulds’. The old mantras of I should be working, I should clean my desk, I should be marking, I should be cleaning, I should go to that meeting, I should make that call have simply been replaced with I should create some art, I should finish those sewing projects, even I should update the blog.
Who knew it would be so difficult to let these go?
And it seems logical- helpful even. If I have indeed made the decision to consciously reset my sails and steer my life in a new direction, if I want to make progress, then I should start paddling, right?
AH HA!!! There it is again! Should!
Well, as it turns out, these should are NOT motivating me and are proving absolutely and entirely unhelpful. So, much in the same vein as my ‘I am rad all the time’ rule, I need to rethink my ideas. No more shoulds. These only add up to more guilt and pressure- not where I want to be heading!
So, from now on, I do what I WANT to do. This may well prove to be difficult, but I’m going to give it a red hot go.
So, here’s what I want to do:
I want to create art.
I want to sew.
I want to refashion and recycle clothes.
I want to write a blog that is meaningful for me (and hopefully others at the same time!).
I want to write a book.
I want to chase down new interests and be willing to let old ones go.
I want to be excited to begin every day.
And when I don’t want to do this things? I’ll just have to relax a little and wait it out. That creative desire will come back- it always does. But nothing kills it more swiftly or totally than feeling I HAVE to do it.
I have been absent from this blog for about a week now. This past week I have needed time to think; about life, about myself, about my priorities and where I am headed. About luck, about fate and about the importance of living, rather than existing.
Last Saturday was my Great Love’s graduation from his four years at university. The final, triumphant moment when he could declare “C’e` l’ho fatto”- I’ve done it.
Beautiful clear skies, warm sunshine, cool breeze. Me in my most lovely dress, nails painted and earrings on. My Great Love taking my breath away in his suit and red tie. Leaving early to meet his best friends, also graduating, before going on to Noto. Photos from the balcony as we pull out of the driveway in our Fiat Barchetta. Top down, scarf tied around my head like a fifties movie star.
More photos with the friends. What a day! Finalmente. Andiamo.
Autostrada, breeze against our skin. GL at the wheel- how he loves driving this car! G and N ahead, we’re following. Favourite tunes, singing along. I send a text to Dad, “On our way to graduation. Woo hoo!” Eyes down on my phone as I return it to my bag.
I feel us heave forward. The sound is so loud I skip a breath. I look up- GL is struggling with the wheel, straining to keep us straight. Has a tyre blown? Time is slowing down. The car is fishtailing.
The car throws itself to the right with incredible force. The wheel wrenched free. We are squeezed left as though magnetised. GL grabs my knee and we hold onto each other. As time oozes on, I watch the guard rail approaching and I know this is not good. We are spinning and there is nothing to do but wait. How terrifying to be without any control. How ridiculous that dodgem cars are flipping through my mind.
And then we hit. Hard, so so hard. Metal shrieks and debris starts to rain down on us. I am crunched into myself with my arms protecting my face. GL is still holding my knee. I wait for the windscreen to explode, for my head to hit, for the car to flip. The thought enters my mind that I need to protect my teeth. Don’t break my teeth.
We are flung from the guardrail like it’s a pinball flipper. And still we spin. I don’t know where we are on the road but I wait for the impact of other cars.
I understand, quietly and rationally, that this is how people die. On a normal day. No warning. I feel afraid, but it’s far from me, like the sympathy felt for a scared friend.
When the car eventually stops spinning, debris continues to sprinkle like confetti. GL asks if I am ok, and I am. He is. We are both ok. I look up and see our friends running, flying, down the road, calling our names. I mutter in Italian that I can’t find my bag, I can’t find my bag. It’s in my lap.
We would find out later that the man in the car behind us had fallen asleep. He slammed into the back of us at about 180 kilometres per hour. His wife, arriving at the scene, explained apologetically that they have a five day old daughter and he hasn’t slept since she was born. She’s so sorry.
My Great Love goes on to university. He sits in front of the panel in his official robes and explains his thesis to the panel of professors. I’m sure I have never been so proud of him.
He graduates with a score of 100 out of a possible 110.
We spend a mind-numbing four hours in the hospital, being x-rayed and having ultrasounds. We are ok.
We go to the party that we have been planning for months. It’s a raging success. I’m sure we have the whole of Siracusa praying to various saints for the miracle of our survival.
And really, I feel it is a miracle. The Aussie in me feels vindicated for all the times I have argued in favour of seatbelts. I can’t even imagine the result if we’d been without them, Sicilian style.
So, the moral of the story? Make the best decisions you can. Live with integrity and purpose. But most of all, live with JOY. Be grateful. Because sometimes, it all comes down to luck.
For most people this is the first time they have heard this story. I told almost no-one at home. I really, really don’t want you guys to worry. I’m sorry I didn’t call you all individually. We really, really are ok, I just didn’t want to relive it too many times! So, don’t worry about us. All is well and we’re counting our blessings even more often.
Now go tell someone you love, that you love them.