Quietly missing someone

These last couple of days I’ve had a long-time friend staying with me. She and I became friends when, as fifteen-year-olds who caught the same bus home from school, we one day noticed a sheep standing on a hill in a paddock, its head above the rest its flock. It looked so quaint standing there that we looked for it again the next day. And the next day, and the next. And every day, there it was, and so our acquaintance developed into a friendship.

She and I spent so much easy time together over the next three years that it’s always what we return to when we see each other now. We talk for hours about nothing and everything.

This friend lives in another part of the country to me—and has done for all but two years of our adult lives. I miss her. And that missing hurts most whenever we part company again.

For various reasons, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about missing people. And about living away from people that you miss. In my adult life, I’m yet to live in the same city as either of my brothers, and I find myself envying siblings who see each other frequently. In the same way, I wish it was easy for me to just be in my parents’ company. A three hour bus trip, in my opinion, is not easy.

Having grown up in a small country town, I have friends who live all over the country. And having moved interstate more than once myself has only added to the list of people I miss.

Missing people is a strange thing. It’s not strange that it happens—of course it does. What I mean is that the feeling itself is strange. Missing someone feels like it creates a little tear in me somewhere, or a loose stitch. Just something tiny, really. But that tiny instability is something I’m always aware of, and it changes the way I move through life. It means I have to take more care, lest the tear grow larger, or the stitch come looser; lest I begin to fall apart. Those small breakages need to be tended to regularly.

Missing people, for me, is quite separate to missing a place. Missing people does not mean I want to be where they are, necessarily, but it does mean I want to be with them. The difference is subtle, I suppose. And it’s odd to me that there can be that separation, that seeming contradiction. The way I miss people confuses me. That I can still function, and pursue other things, and miss people the way I do seems odd. I guess caring about someone enough to miss them when they’re not near doesn’t mean I don’t want other things. And wanting those other things is not a reflection on my feelings for the people I miss (which is something I’ve worried over from time to time).

Tomorrow it is my recently-departed-from-my-company friend’s birthday. Which reminds me that when I saw her this time last year I started writing a post very much like this one, but never published it. This year I will. Happy birthday, dear friend. Know that I miss you when we are not near one another, and that the missing means I really appreciate the time we do get together. May we have more of it sooner rather than later.

Getting older

That morning, as she pulled a grey hair out of her head — her way of dealing with them, now that they occasionally appeared — her first thought, rather than a vain despairing at her own aging (which she’d certainly also been guilty of), was to wonder at how odd it must be for a parent to see these signs of aging in their children. How odd it must have been for her own mother the first time she noticed a grey hair on her daughter’s head; the first time she saw around her daughter’s eyes the small wrinkles perhaps seen only those whose intimate relationship with her allowed them to look so closely at her face. How odd it would be for her mother, she thought that morning, as those small things became more obvious in the face and body of her child.

Moving House (again)

I’ve been packing this week to move house on the weekend. I’ve discovered things I forgot I owned, which I suppose is normal, but it does make me think I can probably get rid of a whole lot of stuff…

This move out of the house is happening a whole lot more quickly than the move into the house did, and so it’s been quite different psychologically (so far). I went back to read what I wrote last time I moved. This stood out.

This house had become home, these housemates like family.

So I guess we began the process of sorting, packing and moving with… well, heavy hearts. Sometime towards the middle of January, I found myself thinking about how I’d only walk this route to a yoga class (or get off the train at this station, or stare out my bedroom windows, or go for a walk in this park, or see this or that neighbour on the street) a finite number of times. And every now and then the four of us would be standing together in the kitchen talking and/or cooking, and one of us would sigh. Sentimentality became a big part of our last weeks in the house.

I’m prone to sentimentality, to brooding over things. The first sentence in the section above is true of the house I’m in now too. But this time around the rest of my housemates are staying put, and I only really found out when exactly I was going to be moving at the beginning of this week. The combination of those two things, I think, means I haven’t yet had time to brood too much. I’m sure that will come once the move has occurred. Of course, this time around I’ll be able to come back and visit my old house and housemates when and if that brooding makes me nostalgic.

At the moment, the whole thing feels a little surreal. I’m teaching all my regular classes, and trying to get other work done, and in between packing my material life into boxes. It’s odd that we feel so attached to all the stuff we accumulate. Some of my things I’ve had since I was a teenager. Some things I’ve only collected more recently, but much of that used to belong to my grandparents, and so is also imbued with sentimental value.

Every time I move, I find myself wanting to just chuck a whole lot of stuff out, but I never manage to get rid of much. It’s just stuff, but it also holds all those memories for me—I’m not sure I’d cope if I had to carry the memories around all on my own. Sentimentality gets me every time.

I’ve written here before about how intrigued I am by what constitutes ‘home’. The relationship between a person and the house, suburb and town or city they live in is such a nuanced one. It will be interesting to see how this shift in homes affects me, how my stuff in a new place changes things.

But for now, back to the packing of boxes.

Family holiday, part four

‘You know we have to run up the stairs too,’ I say.

‘Aww.’

The younger of my two brothers and I have been running barefoot across the grass and the car park near the beach. It has started raining, and the weather patterns from the last few days suggest this light rain, after a stinging hot morning, will soon get much heavier. The rule about also running up the stairs is not related to the likely weather outcome though; I’ve just made it up arbitrarily, the way children often make up rules for games they’re playing.

We’ve just come from the playground at the other of the beach. We had to wade through ankle-deep water to access much of the equipment (hence the bare feet). We stood together on the platform atop four large springs, our weight on either side of the bar spinning it around. We squealed. We were disappointed to discover on the monkey bars that our adult-sized bodies were harder to lift than either of us ever remembered our child-sized bodies being, our upper body strength, perhaps, not having kept up with the increase in size and weight. We climbed over the top of them instead. The slippery slide seemed shorter than when we were children, and the woodchips covering the ground sharper.

Ostensibly, we left the playground to beat the weather home, but it’s probably no coincidence that we made our decision shortly after a small child and his parents arrived.

At the bottom of the stairs we pause briefly. Look at each other. I can hardly believe this man is my little brother; that when he looks at his sister he sees a woman. We run up the stairs together, and across the road, the cement and asphalt roughing up the soles of our feet.

Family holiday, part three

Dad and I take the short drive from where we’re staying to Wauchope to pick my youngest brother up from the train station. The train has been delayed from the outset of its journey in Sydney, and won’t pull into the platform for at least an hour after its scheduled time.

When we arrive at the station there are a number of people sitting inside. We ask them if there’s been an update on when the train will arrive. ‘Twenty minutes or forty minutes from now, depending on which announcement you believe,’ comes the answer. I wonder how long these people have been sitting here with their bags.

We decide to sit outside on the platform. Dad loves trains. I love train platforms. I think of them as little islands of in-between, almost the same everywhere. The white edge and the yellow line painted on the asphalt, the hard benches — usually blue in New South Wales — and the people waiting. Today, a couple and their toddler and a woman leaving behind a man sit with us on the platform.

The announcement over the loudspeaker tells us we’ve got at least half an hour’s wait. We talk about train travel, about finding a journey as interesting as its destination.

‘Who lives in Wauchope,’ I wonder aloud. Dad types the question into his smart phone. Real estate agents, tourist information sites. But then profiles of people. A man in his eighties, several people in their fifties and sixties, just a handful of people in their thirties. It dawns on us that we’re looking at an online dating site. At first it’s amusing, but the more profiles we view, the more uncomfortable we become with our voyeurism. Soon, Dad puts his phone away, and not long after the train comes and deposits my brother on the platform. He has been travelling for thirteen hours, and all day has eaten just a piece of toast, a muffin and a coke.

It is not the names, nor the faces, nor the likes and dislikes of the people of Wauchope looking for love online that stays with me; it is their ages. Numbers. I wonder who is maintaining their profiles, whether they’re looking for a new start or whether they just haven’t found the right person yet. And I wonder at our discomfort, re-evaluate our sadness. Numbers. Still so full of hope.

~

Read parts one and two here.

Writing and Life and Doris Lessing

There’s a beautiful piece by Melanie Joosten up on the Meanjin blog today about writing and how it fits (or doesn’t) into life. Joosten leans on the writing of Doris Lessing, looking for answers. Lessing, she says, “tackles that familiar feeling of inadequacy — that the artist writes out of an ‘incapacity to live’. She reminds me that writing is a way to make sense of the world and to order my thoughts.”

To my discredit, I’ve not yet read any of Lessing’s novels, but I do re-read her 1965 collection of short stories, A Man and Two Women from time to time. I’ve always been struck by the clarity of Lessing’s observations. I agree with Joosten when she writes: “I cannot think of a more electric writer, one whose words speak of things always precisely of the moment.”

But, before now, Lessing is not an author I’d have thought to look to for advice about how to fit writing into my life. Perhaps I should look to her now. Joosten’s thoughts are very familiar: “When I ask myself what kind of person I am going to be, I realise that ‘a writer’ is only part of it. If one of the ways we live our lives is to seek happiness, we have to understand what happiness means. To me, the happy life is an amalgamation of the creative life and the moral life.”

Retraining as a social worker, Joosten seems to be asking herself many of the same questions I am at the moment. Questions about how I want my life to fit together, how I want to fill my days. I realised some time ago that none of the things I currently do, I’d want to do full time. Both writing and teaching are fulfilling, but somehow more so when I’m trying to do them both, turning my life into a fairly complex puzzle. I feel like I’m just starting to get somewhere with it though, like I’ve perhaps got together all of the edge bits and a small section in the bottom right hand corner. And I’m beginning to understand now why my mum, and her mum too, love to do puzzles. Working so slowly to fill this puzzle out requires patience, and rewards that patience with a steady stream of small satisfactions.

~

If you’re interested in reading the full post by Melanie Joosten, you can find it here.

Family holiday, part two

We stand side by side in front of the mirror. Our arms and legs are slick with sunscreen. Mum recalls a day earlier, when Dad stood just here and half-heartedly applied sunscreen to his face so that almost none of it was rubbed in, then asked her if his face was done.

‘We should both do the same to him,’ she says, and we apply the sunscreen, leaving large white streaks and blobs all over our faces.

‘How’s this?’ she says. She begins to giggle. So do I. We can’t stop.

We are doubled-over, still laughing, when Dad comes in to use the sunscreen. Mum attempts to straighten up and ask about her face. Two words, a glance at me, and she dissolves into laughter again.

Dad shakes his head at us, not sure why this recycled joke is so hilarious. Tears rolling down our cheeks now, neither are we.

Family holiday, part one

This is the most extended period of time I’ve spent with just my parents since I was three-years-old, since the first of my two younger brothers was born. Just over a week. We are staying in a sixth-floor apartment that overlooks the main beach in the town my Dad’s brother’s wife grew up in. It is larger and fancier than most of the places we stayed in when I was a child — there are two double rooms, two bathrooms and a walk-in pantry that I’d love to have in my own kitchen. There is a roof-top patio.

For the first few days, they apologise for their oddness, perhaps not realising that my silence is a quiet appreciation, rather than embarrassment. I love that they are mad. Perhaps because it explains my own quirks.

We go to the supermarket to buy things to put in the walk-in-pantry. Somewhere in the middle aisles, it becomes a rule that we are only allowed to look at one side of the aisle as we wander down it, necessitating a doubling-back so we can view the other. ‘Like Job,’ one of us says. ‘If you look at the other side, you’ll turn into a pillar of salt.’ To move from one side of the aisle to the other, we have to touch the end, like touching the end of the pool before swimming another lap. We traverse the rest of the supermarket in this fashion.

In the last aisle, Dad walks ahead, doubles-back before Mum and I.

‘You should see all the amazing things on this side,’ he says.

‘I can’t look,’ Mum returns. ‘I can’t! It’s against the rules!’

I run, exaggeratedly, to the end of the aisle, touch the wall, and double-back so I too can see the varieties of toilet paper and tissues. There is a woman, a stranger, walking towards me. I don’t look at her face, but I imagine she is either baffled or smirking at the adult woman running like a child through the supermarket, her parents laughing at her, and I couldn’t care less.

Home

A few days ago, my friend Sam posted this essay about his impending move away from Adelaide. He’s moving to Sydney (which means I’ll see more of him — hurrah!) sometime in February.

Although it’s about different places, the essay quite aptly describes my own struggle to figure out where to call home. I’ve lived in Sydney now for as long as I lived in Melbourne. In between the two, I lived in Canberra for a few short months. Growing up, I called Forbes, a small town in Central West New South Wales, home.

In a way, all of these places are still home for me. It’s like they contain different versions of me — almost as if, visiting, I might run into myself. And in a way I miss all of these places. Or maybe I just miss those versions of me. Nostalgia is a funny thing.

When it comes time for me to bid Sydney farewell, I’m not sure how I’ll feel about home.

End of Year

Before writing this post, I decided that I’d have a look at what I posted here this time last year. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the general gist of it was very similar to what’s in my mind as I approach the end of the year now. Last year I said I’m not big on resolutions, but I do like to think of New Year’s Eve as a chance to reflect a little, and to let go of some things that have passed to make room for things that might be. This year I feel much the same. I probably won’t make any specific resolutions, but there are some things I’d like to let go of, and some small changes in attitude and behaviour that I’d like to encourage in myself.

Today I’ve read two very different things that have contributed to the Let Go and Look Forward ideas in my head (I was going to call them lists, but that implies some kind of logical structure that just doesn’t exist). Rather than share those half-formed ideas, I’ll simply link to the two posts; one written by my cousin Julia, and another by a yoga teacher, Yogitastic, I’ve become friendly with on Twitter.

In last year’s post, I included this quote from a book I’ve got — and often refer to — on Yoga for Anxiety. The last two months or so have been frustrating for me, and I’m not entirely sure why (which probably means it’s no one thing — although it could just mean that I really needed a holiday), so this is a good reminder for me.

“Perhaps the simplest and most profound practice for deactivating old patterns,” say Mary and Rick NurrieStearns – a pyschotherapist and yoga teacher, and meditation teacher respectively, “is taking the time to be still and quiet. Sitting down and doing nothing gives you a chance to unwind and let your mind relax. You literally stop moving long enough to get your bearings, to see where you are and what’s going on.”

In that spirit, I’m going to spend at least a little time today or tomorrow just sitting quietly, encouraging reflection.

Happy new year.