Busy

Lately I’ve been busy. It’s easy to forget that I’m busy sometimes, when I’ve got whole days at home, spent in my house clothes, drinking multiple cups of tea. I forget that I’m working on those days too — planning and writing.

Other days I leave and re-enter the house three, four, sometimes five times a day. I spend lots of time outdoors, and my shoes are well-worn.

I have a whole list of things that have fallen by the wayside, waiting (sometimes not so) patiently for a quiet week.

I’m tired. I don’t sleep well because I dream all night about the things I have to do in the coming days: banking, catching buses, doing laundry. Process dreams, I call them. My hips, my knees and my shoulders buzz, reminding me to stop every now and then. I find myself sighing when my work day is over.

But I like being busy. Especially because I’m doing things I love. My days are filled with yoga and reading and writing. I just need to remember that it’s okay for me to sleep in occasionally.

Exhaustion

This week things have shifted. I’ve finally let go of some things, and some new opportunities have presented themselves. Work is beginning to pick up more and more, and I start back at uni again next week.

The change of pace, and the shifts in my thinking and doing have found me feeling lighter, and a little bit excited. I’ve found it difficult to sleep this week. As soon as my head hits the pillow, my mind is off, following all sorts of little paths and trails, guessing at how things might unfold now that I’ve thrown off some of the thought-stuff I didn’t need anymore. Each night this week I’ve lain awake for hours, imagining. Just like a child who can’t sleep because something exciting is happening the next day.

I’ve been aware of a lingering tiredness all week, but it hasn’t really bothered me until this afternoon’s yoga practice. I had lots of energy at the beginning, enough even to practice some fairly intense back-bends. Then I lay down in savasana to relax for a few minutes and was surrounded by exhaustion. My legs and arms tingled with it, my head felt suddenly much heavier. It was almost as if I’d just covered myself in a blanket of tiredness. ‘Surprise! You can’t really cope with very little sleep! Had you fooled, didn’t I?’

But this is part of the reason I love working the way I do (all over the place, and at weird hours, in other words): if I’m exhausted on a Friday afternoon, I can usually take it easy. There’s usually some work I can do that involves sitting on the couch with a cup of tea (and maybe a chocolate biscuit from a bout of procrastibaking earlier in the day). And I think I’m getting better at down time. I’m a really active person (hence the active job), and always have been. But I don’t think I’ve ever been particularly good at… well, resting. I guess many of us aren’t.

Next week will be extremely busy. I think an afternoon of reading and writing is justified. So excuse me while I put my feet up, munch on some baked goods, and get some quiet time.

~

This is cross-posted on my yoga blog, om gam yoga.

Sodden feet

Last night I ventured out just as it started to pour with rain. I quite like rain. And I’m rarely without an umbrella.

My umbrellas are always bright and cheerful. I’ve had yellow, green, blue. My current umbrella is pink with polka dots. This choice of gaudy umbrellas is completely deliberate.

There’s a picture of me as a small child standing at the bottom of the front steps of our house in Goulburn, peering out from under an umbrella. The expression on my face is one of happy fascination.

On a good day, that’s still how I feel about rain. Choosing a brightly coloured umbrella is my way of reminding myself that it’s possible to forget about the inconvenience of rain, to forget to worry about whether I’m getting wet. It reminds me that I’ve inherited my Dad’s fascination with weather, and brings out that part of me that wants to jump in the puddles rather than carefully step around them.

Because let’s face it: I’m probably going to end up with sodden feet anyway.

Thinking about the toes of my boots, which are still damp from last night’s rain adventure (no puddle-jumping, but I did give up on trying to avoid the puddles), I remembered that I once posted a little piece here about rain and umbrellas and ruined shoes.

‘Nevermind,’ she said quietly to herself as her suede shoes were rapidly ruined by the rain. At least they had character now.

She stood under her broken umbrella on the unfamiliar street corner and marvelled at the genius of the contraption she held above her head.

Somehow the rain never made her sad anymore. It reminded her of a place she missed dearly but was also glad to be away from. It reminded her of him, of that street, of that house and of the wet-cold winters. And it always brought a smile to her face, even if her shoes had become its victim.

Finding this piece immediately reminded me of all the other times I’ve been stuck in the rain — sometimes with an umbrella, sometimes without — and how each of those moments still sits in my mind, linked in no other way except by the phenomenon of water falling from the sky. It also reminded me of just how many pairs of shoes I’ve lost, standing out in the rain, and how it’s not that ruination that I remember first, but the freedom that comes from realising each time that I can’t do anything about it.

Monday Project: An agent of change

Audrey was alone, but sleepy and warm. She moved her lips over her gums, getting used to their fleshiness, sans dentures. She remembered, suddenly, having watched her own grandmother do the same thing.

She pulled the blanket up under her chin, neatly folded the top sheet over it so it wouldn’t tickle her, and closed her eyes. The darkness behind her eyelids was heavy, and her bones seemed to sink deeper into the mattress. A deeper heaviness than sleep. But she wasn’t ready for this yet. She wasn’t ready for this change, and so she fought it like she had every night for the last three months.

With her eyes still closed she drew her attention around the room she was lying in — her room, she had to keep reminding herself — repeating a journey she’d made physically many times that day, and for many days before that.

On her day trips around the room, she would touch the trinkets she’d brought with her to this place when she’d moved out of her last home, trying to recall the story behind each of them. Some days she would remember; some days not. Some days seeing a particular object in this place would bring to her an image of it elsewhere — an old house, the hands of one of her children, the store in which she’d bought it. At times she was not sure how many of these trips she made in one day. She’d look back around the room, trying to match the small new memories — a fingerprint in some dust, the way the light fell on a picture of her husband — with what she saw now. But she could never be sure if those memories belonged to another day, or to half an hour ago.

When she made the trip in her mind’s eye, warding off sleep and that bone-heaviness, it was like all the day trips became one. She saw each object a thousand times. The memories — old, new, real, invented — crowded inside her head, keeping her awake for what was probably hours. She floated around the room, and through the many years of her life, until she eventually went towards sleep.

Tonight, however, the heaviness loomed. It sat at the edge of every memory, cast a shadow on every object, every photo in the room. For the first time, the room in Audrey’s mind felt small, and she found herself wanting to go elsewhere. Not to escape the heaviness, rather to find a way to let it in.

For a moment she thought of all the faces looking down at her from the frames on the walls, and how what she was about to do would change them. She hoped they were ready.

~

This is my response to this month’s Monday Project theme. There’s been a bit of delay this month, but we should have the other responses up later today, along with the new monthly theme.

Home

Last night I was drifting off to sleep, finally, when a thought pulled me suddenly back into the waking world: this weekend, I’ll be able to visit the bakery of my childhood.

This weekend, you see, I’m heading back to Forbes, the town I grew up in. It’s the first time I’ve been back in four years. My immediate family all live in Canberra now, and most of the people I still keep in touch with from school no longer live in Forbes. Family friends still live there, but somehow I’ve not found reason to visit.

I very rarely think about Forbes. I mean, I reminisce about high school, and childhood, but I hardly ever think about the place itself, and the impact it had on me. The last time I did, I wrote an essay, which ended up being published in issue 77* of Voiceworks.

But I do often think about the concept of ‘home’, and the places I associate with that word.

My brother and his girlfriend are in Forbes today. This morning they sent me a picture of a roundabout on the main street. I’m sentimental at the best of times, but my propensity for nostalgia has been higher lately. The instant I opened that picture file, I was hit with a wave of nostalgia, and I wondered how I could possibly have excluded Forbes from the list of places I call home.

Melbourne is home for me. Sydney is home for now; Canberra sometimes home. Forbes doesn’t even get a look in. But I think it should. I lived in Forbes for many more years than I’ve lived anywhere else.

I guess, being the home of my childhood, its impact on me is something subtler than those other places, part of my subconscious.

Last year sometime, I got in a cab to go home late one night, and was chatting to the driver.

“You’re a country girl, aren’t you?” he said, suddenly.

I don’t think I’ve ever thought of myself as a country girl, but he guessed that I hadn’t grown up in a city because I got into the front seat of the cab and struck up a conversation. City girls, he said, sit in the back and avoid eye contact. Conversation? Ha.

Of course the cabbie’s guess is based on a huge generalisation about ‘city people’ and ‘country people’, but I did start wondering how many other aspects of my everyday behaviour might be related in some way to me having grown up in Forbes.

I’m not sure what to expect from myself this weekend. As I write this, more and more memories find their way into my thoughts. Sometimes it amazes me that one human being can have so many memories, so many that a whole period of your life can be tucked away somewhere safe. Sometimes so safe that those memories are never found again.

Judging by pensive mood, just anticipating the trip, it’s probably safe for me to assume there’ll be more of the same over the next two days. (I’m going back for a party though, so I’m sure there’ll also be plenty of plain ol’ fun.)

I get the feeling that some of this wistfulness will become writing. Fiction, maybe. Watch this space.

~

* Express Media’s website is down at the moment, so you might not be able to access that back issues link. I’ll keep an eye on it though, and update it when I can.

Cities and food

I’ve spent my entire adult life living in cities. And at the moment I seem to be spending every spare waking moment reading about them — part of some research I’m doing on how cities are fed.

Cities are complex — an extension of the human beings they house, I suppose. I’m finding the research fascinating, even though I’m still in that stage of not really knowing what I’m going to pull out of it. Most of what I’m reading suggests that we should treat cities as living things, allowing room for them to develop organically.

Geoff Mulgan, from the Young Foundation, says their research suggests that we need to practice “designing in incompleteness, recognising that the best cities evolve themselves rather than just following somebody else’s master plan… the more perfectly planned and conceptualised the new city, the more certain you can be that it will fail.” (You can access the transcript of his presentation, The Social Life of Cities, on the Grattan Institute‘s website.)

Allowing for uncertainty and growth, I guess. As a teenager, I was interested in architecture, and briefly considered going down that path when I left school. Design on that scale — and broader still, looking at urban and suburban planning — still interests me. What we see around us, in urban and suburban environments, is very rarely there arbitrarily. Mulgan (and a number of other people whose work I’m reading at the moment) suggests that much thought needs to be given to how our built environments impact our social lives, because one of the very basic human needs is interaction with other humans.

Food, of course, is another basic human need. I think the two can and should cross over.

But enough for now. Back to work for me.

Storytelling

What has struck me over the last few days, since my Mamie’s death very early Friday morning, is how important storytelling is to the grieving process. Apart from the day she died, when I withdrew into a little shell and moped about the house by myself, I’ve spoken to one or more members of family every day. And each time we’ve told stories about Mamie.

I’ve found out things about her I didn’t know, and heard stories that cement my ideas about her. I said to my Dad the other night (Mamie was his mother) that I’m sure there are lots of things about Mamie that I was never going to know until she had died, and I’m kind of looking forward to getting to know her better — or at least in a different way — through the stories I’ll hear about her.

The storytelling is vital, I feel. Mamie was frail when she died — if we weren’t able to tell our stories about her to one another, I think we’d not be able to remember her as she was in the rest of her life. In the stories, she gets to live again.

I’ve always been fascinated by religion and spirituality. I went to Catholic schools growing up, and every year I did very well in the compulsory Religious Studies. I don’t really consider myself a religious person, but I have always loved learning about how people explain to themselves life and death and everything in between. Life after death — again not something I’m decided on — is a particularly interesting concept to me. I wonder whether these stories, these memories we have of Mamie, are her next life.

Mamie was religious. She believed in God, and Heaven, and that she was going to be with my grandfather, Da, again when she died.

Once, a few years ago, she and I started having a conversation about God. I told her I didn’t know whether I believed in a higher being or not, but that I didn’t think it mattered if I was able to be a good person. She listened. At that point in the conversation we were interrupted, but she looked at me, touched my arm, and said, “Please let’s continue this conversation when we can later, darling.” I knew, from the way she said it, that our later conversation would not involve her trying to change my mind, only wanting to know more of it.

Sadly, we never got the chance to finish that conversation. I would dearly love to talk to her about those things now, and it saddens me to think that I won’t be able to.

But that I can tell that story, and imagine how the conversation might have gone — have the conversation with her in my head — is enough. Whichever way you look at it, Mamie’s having a life after death right now.

I’ve shared my thoughts about the social function of literature here before, and I’m sure what I’m describing here fits into that idea somehow. Stories encourage compassion and empathy, and in doing so I think they can perpetuate a person or character’s voice and existence. Which reminds me, I’m due to write more about my ideas on using different narrative voices — my efforts here don’t do the subject any kind of justice.