Having brothers

A few weeks ago, I went to stay with my family for a week in Canberra. I arrived the night before my parents were due back from a six-week overseas trip, and my two brothers picked me up at the airport. Every time I see them together now, I’m struck by how strange it is that my little bros are adult men. One of them has a beard, even. They’re both taller than I am, and I’m very aware that if I were ever to push at either of them, like I might have when we were kids, I would lose. (Actually, I tried this once, jokingly, a few years ago. I ended up falling into a bush when the inevitable playful shove back came.)

The next morning, I had several hours with just my two brothers before we were due to pick our travelling parents up from the airport, and I realised later that it was the first time in years the three of us had been alone together. One of the things I love most about my brothers is that we somehow seem to get the balance of seriousness and silliness just right when we spend time together. That morning, we stood together in my parents’ half-finished new kitchen drinking coffee and making breakfast, alternately talking about the big stuff in our lives and engaging in silly banter and giggling. (And I insisted on taking pictures of our feet.)

Kitchen feet

Somewhere in that time, we decided that it would be hysterically funny if we managed to get ourselves taken away by airport security just as Mum and Dad walked through the arrivals gate. The amusement came in some strange way from the idea that, as we were taken away, we’d be able to yell out at our parents: “Look what happens when you leave us alone!” Which, actually, was probably a weird way of us being able to talk about how much we’d all missed Mum and Dad, and how much we were looking forward to seeing them. Warped, I know.

So the car trip to the airport was spent discussing in great detail the different ways we could get the attention of airport security, and what we’d have to do to get them to take us into custody. There were plenty of options, but the one we seemed to keep coming back to was starting a fist fight. Which I was sure to lose, I now realise.

The night before, we’d been to the supermarket and picked up a couple of Mars Bars as a welcome home present for our parents (a family in-joke). When we got to the terminal, we realised we’d left them in the car. It became a matter of great importance that someone go back to the car to get the chocolate bars, but also a point of contention as to who that should be and whether it would mean that person would miss out on the all important moment of arrival/taking away. This could spell disaster for our plan. It had been a foggy morning, and it was likely that the plane would have been delayed, so the older of my two brothers decided he’d take a gamble and make a run for the car. The younger and I decided we’d go to the arrivals gate itself.

It turned out that the running had been completely unnecessary, because the flight had indeed been delayed. We waited near the arrivals gate, watching the sun rise higher in the sky. As we waited, we brainstormed the timing of our ridiculous welcome plan. How could we make sure that we were apprehended at precisely the right moment?

Airport feet

Waiting at the same gate for someone arriving on the same plane were three young men dressed in different animal suits, and we chastised ourselves for not acquiring a crocodile onesie each. Perhaps an animal suit would have been a more appropriate way of making a big deal out of our parents’ arrival.

When the plane finally landed, we stood by the windows watching to see if our parents would cross the tarmac, or use the aerobridge. We bickered vaguely about where we should stand when they came out at the gate. At the last minute, we abandoned all plans to get the attention of airport security, and hoped that the Mars Bars would be enough of a welcome.

Mum and Dad entered the airport at the same time as the friend of the three blokes in animal suits. Our parents noticed us first, of course, but the onesies and animal heads were hard to miss.

“Why didn’t you guys dress up like that?” Dad said.

“Why are they dressed up like that?” Mum said.

We handed them the Mars Bars.

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Lying on the floor

Walking home from teaching one night, on the phone to my Mum, I rounded a corner to find a woman and her tiny dog, waiting to cross the road.

That dog’s on a long leash, I thought.

“Watch out for my dog, lady.” the woman said.

“It’s okay, I can see him.” I said, probably impatiently.

“Yeah well, how would I know? You’re looking down.” She snapped, and crossed the road.

“Yes,” I said, “Down. To where the dog is.”

And all of a sudden this woman and I were yelling at each other across the street, until she stormed into her apartment building and the door slammed, and I became aware of my Mum, on the phone I still held to my ear, saying “Sophie, who are you talking to?”

As I told her the story, and as is often the case for me, my indignation turned to guilt. “I can’t believe I yelled at her,” I said to Mum.

“Don’t worry,” she said “You’ll never see her again.”

And it’s true. I’ll probably never see that woman with her tiny dog on a stupidly long leash again. But it’s highly unusual for me to yell at strangers in the street. If I am, it’s a pretty good sign that there’s something not so great going on for me. Anger, frustration and grumpiness are usually an indication that I’m feeling overwhelmed by or stressed about life—often I don’t even know why.

I’m pleased that this is something I know about myself. It means I can make some little adjustments to how I organise my days, so I get enough downtime or rest. Because rest is usually the answer to stress. But it’s not always easy. In this recent piece, one of my favourite yoga writers, Yogi J Brown, discusses the ways we should (and usually don’t) deal with stress. Intimacy with ourselves, he says, is the best antidote—that is, spending time with ourselves in a way that allows us to see what’s going on. Noticing the anger or frustration is the first step.

When I was a teenager, I used to spend a lot of time lying on the floor or my bed, just listening to music. One afternoon, my Mum came into my bedroom to find that I’d actually fallen asleep on the floor, my head just centimetres from a speaker that was blaring music. It’s easy to be dismissive, to say that I could afford to do that then because I didn’t have the responsibilities I do now. But that’s a load of crap. Yes, I do have more responsibilities now, but surely that just makes it all the more important that I get some downtime, so I’m able to deal with those responsibilities… well, responsibly.

In my essay for The Emerging Writer, I explored some of the benefits for writing of doing nothing (well, almost nothing—listening still counts as something, really) with the physical body. To briefly summarise that part of the essay, doing nothing allows the body and the mind to process stuff, and potentially to make links between things that might not be immediately obvious, or that the brain might not have made otherwise.

Obviously, this can be good for writing. But it’s also just good for us on a more general level. Rest—waking rest, as well as sleep— is really important. (And ‘rest’, by the way, is just as metabolically active as activity—it just uses energy in different ways.)

In this piece on the benefits of the yoga pose savasana (which translates as ‘corpse pose’ and basically involves lying on the floor doing nothing), Sydney yoga teacher Brooke McCarthy writes in detail about what happens when we relax deeply—and how to do it. After reading this piece I decided I needed savasana to make an appearance in my life every day. I haven’t quite managed that yet, but on the days when I do get to it, everything seems just a little calmer. Honestly, lying on the floor for ten or fifteen minutes when I’m really busy makes the world of difference to my state of mind. And, really, if I’m feeling overwhelmed anyway, what am I really going to get done in those fifteen minutes?

And while I’m on the subject of ‘busy’. That words makes me cranky. I’d never really thought about why until I read this piece about the trap of busyness (interesting: my eyeToy autocorrects busyness to business). Writer Tim Krieder suggests that being busy is an avoidance tactic—if we’re busy, we don’t need to face ourselves, and all those things that are worrying us or upsetting us. And the more I teach yoga, the more I realise that everyone has at leat some of that kind of baggage. Facing it is hard, so makes sense that we don’t want to do it. But avoiding it doesn’t make it go away. For me at least, avoidance often makes the worry warp into something else—like yelling at a woman and her dog on the street.

My response lately to the question ‘how are you?’ has been ‘busy’. And after I’d said it a few times, I realised that it, along with the crankiness I was carrying around, was an indication I was doing too much.

All of this is a very roundabout way of saying that, once again, I’m returning to that teenage habit of lying on the floor listening to music on a regular basis. I’m trying to get some nothing into each if my days. It’s amazing. I feel instantly less busy.

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 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.

A little bit of nepotism…

My brother Tom is nearly finished a Captain Planet degree — that is, a Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies in Sustainability. As part of the degree, he’s pulling together what’s called a Sustainable Marketing Project, with a particular focus on a post- or low-carbon future. Because he’s just as much of a food nut (pun intended) as I am, he’ll be looking specifically at food.

It’s interesting, I think, that the two of us have both come to be writing and thinking about food, and that we’ve come at it from such different educational backgrounds (at least on a tertiary level). A large part of Tom’s degree has been necessarily science-based; I, however, have not studied any science since the hopefully-named ‘Physics is Fun’ semester I did at the end of year ten. My background is in arts and communications.

And I guess that’s why I’m particularly interested in this project. I think it’s safe to say that I’m obsessed with food; eating it, yes, but also thinking about where it comes from and how it gets to be on my plate. These questions are sometimes questions about process, and they’re sometimes questions about ethics. Tom’s project is attempting to cover both: how carbon is embedded in our food, and how to calculate that, but also why knowing that is important or relevant. This project is about information, but it’s also about telling a story.

The marketing element to this project, I think, is what makes it so interesting. Information about this thing we call ‘sustainability’ (what does that word even mean anymore?) is so often tinged with negativity, or completely overwhelming because of its sheer volume. It’s something I certainly struggle with in my non-fiction writing on food. The story-telling element is so important to get right, or you lose your reader (or viewer or listener) after about half a second.

Have a look at Tom’s first few posts on this project here. He’s just getting started, and I’m sure he’d really appreciate some feedback. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with.