While the arts keep us sane throughout the lockdown
They’ve kind of been forgotten now we’re allowed back in town
Government subsidies have been given out
It’s not enough, The Opposition shouts
Health versus economy, the dollars, the cents
Everyday people, we’re all fucking tense
The budget is announced, it is heard
The nation hanging on Grant’s every word
Unemployment, state housing, a tourism industry boost
Encouraging people to spend, their dollars are loose
Heralding the call of the spender
We’re all waiting to hear back from the lender
Lives saved of a business lost?
What will it all amount to?
How will we measure the True Cost?
Masks and scarves worn as protection
Anything we can do to keep away the infection
Worried eyes gleam dark over the mask
Shopping has become a dangerous task
Safety is the question we all ask
Squirt of sanitiser, we clean our hands
We’re happy we live in so-called Distant Lands
Aotearoa is a place far-away
We’re protected as long as border restrictions stay
Tourism providers ask, how long til we open, if i may?
Cafe orders made, social distancing rules
There’s two metre spaced out bar stools
Pick up and collect, will this be the new norm?
It feels like a nice piece of ordinary after the Covid storm.
I wrote this poem in friendly creative competition with my father towards the end of the month-long Aotearoa New Zealand 2020 Lockdown. I utilised rhyme schemes and cultural reflection to communicate both personal and political views on the Covid 19 situation at the time.
I hope this poem is both of its time (a snapshot of a person in a historical moment) and that it can also be read as a more universal reflection on a world changing event.
So, I’ve spent the last fifteen minutes crying about Iron Man (aka Robert Downey Junior) dying in Avengers: Endgame. It wasn’t just the odd tear trickle about a hero sacrificing his life for The Greater Good. Nor was it about watching his wife, Piper (Gwyneth Paltrow with great hair), and his little daughter grieve for him along with rest of The Avengers – their broad-muscled shoulders suited in black. This was a different kind of crying. The scared kind. But also (thankfully) the sort that leaves you feeling way better when it’s over.
I hadn’t realised how sad and stressed and scared I’d been feeling until I watched Robert Downey Junior die. His death gave me an excuse to cry. And heck did I need an excuse.
It also came with an instrumental soundtrack to set the mood and pretty actors (Paltrow) weeping but their eye makeup didn’t run. My eye makeup did run. Lines of black tracking down my cheeks. I’ve spent the last five minutes fixing my face.
Covid-19 has changed our world. Life for me, personally, is not too different. Yet. But I am braced for things to get worse before they get better. News from overseas tells us of the lockdown going on for weeks and the emergency panic buying (hello- toilet tissue tussles!) It also tells us about the deaths…
Ten days ago was my twenty ninth birthday. I started the day with yoga. I sipped tea while reading Emily Dickinson poetry. I went to work where I shared individually wrapped chocolate (hygiene awareness) for mutual celebration.
I met my father at The Botanic Gardens for lunch. He zombie walked towards me. I karate kicked at his zombie in a gesture of joke protection. This, these jokey, not-touching, ways of greeting each other are our new norm. Apparently, a tourist smiled at our antics. I’m glad I made someone smile that day. It feels like a small win for the world.
My father and I found a park bench on a crackly-yellow-water-starved piece of grass and watched the city below sparkle in the Indian summer sun. I drank tea from a unicorn patterned thermos. I ate a banana. My father said, unusually seriously, how he wished I didn’t have to live through This Time. Because things were going to get ‘pretty fucking grim.’ I cried inside at these words of care. Mainly because of the love in them. But also because of The Fear.
I know anxiety.I’m much better than I was, but some days I do feel pretty intensely what I term ‘the-butterfly-belly-beat’ of worry and anxiety and tension and just that feeling that something-really-bad-is-going-to-happen.
That Really Bad is happening. And I’m surviving it (so far.)
I am however surviving not thriving at the moment. But that’s the best most of us can do right now, I think. I’m better than I thought I’d be in a crisis especially as this crisis seems like it might last for many weeks… if not months. I refuse to think of it in terms of years.
It helps that I have been a philosophical ‘Prepper’ for a while. Don’t worry I’m not a full on ‘stock-for-the-apocalypse-prepper’ with their canned goods and guns and bomb shelters. I’m not quite as hard-core those found in some online corners, especially on fundamentalist Christian homemaking blogs.
But I do have a good personal library of grow-your-own-veggie gardening books. I know how to bake (badly) and cook (much better than I bake fortunately) and sew and knit and make compost and mend things. I know how to make do with the ‘Not Much’ of both dollars and material possessions.
And because of this knowledge of ‘Not Much’ I also know about how I (and I think many people) actually do need much less to thrive than they think they do.
Right now, for me anyway, to get back closer to equilibrium, it’s about rationing news so I’m not constantly barraged by pandemic information. It’s about me spending time outside with my plants. It’s about listening to music as well as news bulletins. It’s about journaling in my sketch-to-scribble notebooks.
And it’s about me watching movies that make me cry to help release some of the Fears and Scares. I’m not a very good crier normally. I usually release stuff in words and art. But sometimes I think we all need a good cry to feel better.
Sometimes strength is, I believe, showing a level of weakness. Not the kind of weakness that is bad because it leads to broken things. This is a different kind of weakness. One that is about acknowledging all our emotions and feeling able to express them when we need to in whatever way we are able.
So, cry and watch Robert Downey Junior die.
Laugh at cat videos on your newsfeed.
Listen to songs that make you want to move.
And I ask you to listen to that call to dance.
Dance into the next day with a compassionate heart for yourself, your whanau and your community. Do what you can to get by now. And help others do the same. Also have faith that there will be better days in The Bad. And that at some point The Better Days will outnumber those we class as Bad.
(…and yes I’m referencing kids TV show ‘The Land Before Time’ – clearly I was a 90’s kid!)
NOTE: this post was written prior to the Level 4 self-isolation nationwide lock-down set for Aotearoa New Zealand on Monday 23 March 2020. Lockdwon is due to begin at midnight on Wednesday 25 March 2020.
Not even a week after my last blog post about reducing and reassessing my social media use Covid-19 became a Global Thing. Suddenly social media seemed like a pretty good way to not only keep up with what was happening in the world but also as a key way to stay in touch with people as we all socially distanced and many self-isolated.
So, I’ve been lured back. I’m now posting photos of my bushwalks for my friends and family unable to go out anymore. I’m taking pictures of my city-to-sea view. I’m sharing my craft and sewing projects on Instagram to show, I hope, creative ways of passing the time. I’m doing it for the friends and family with health and immune system issues who are now self-isolating. I’m also doing it for people like my grandmother. She is over seventy and now largely housebound.
I guess there HAS been a re-assessment in my social media use. I feel my posts are less about status, both literally and symbolically. I post a lot less about writing awards and publishing wins (See: status.) I also feel less like I care about what these kinds of posts signify. You know, career success, awards, external signifiers etc.
I’m here on Facebook for the slow stitching groups whose art works inspire me to slow down and take creative time for myself every few hours. There’s nothing like boro stitch to inspire a few moments of self-care for me.
I’m here for the community pages where offers of aid to those who need it are growing in posts and comments and shares. These gestures of generosity give me hope for humanity.
I’m also here to show my slightly blurry photos of trees that I hope make my FB friends experience the same sense of calm I felt when out walking amongst The Green.
The world is storming right now. Maybe not literally in the climate changed way we thought would be our next challenge. But humanity faces a huge dark storm cloud that is called Covid-19. That is called community transmission fears. That is called self-isolation becoming social-isolation…
Social media (along with The Trees…) is helping me feel calmer about this shit storm. It feels weird to say this but it is true. It’s the connections to my friends; the video messages and texts and shares that show care that make me feel less alone. Social media is, also, I hope, helping me calm others through what I choose to share too.
I feel it is this idea of sharing that will get us through to the other side of this Thing. And the language of social media sets us up for The New World Order. We ‘Like’ things. We ‘Share’ posts. There are more love heart emoticons than angry or sad faces.
This gives me hope for the world, as we, at present, largely retreat to virtual worlds.
I am glad we have emoji kisses and cat icons to send each other when we are lonely. It may not be as a good as a real kiss. Or a real cat. But I know that I, for one, gather the glitchy love hearts and grinning Cheshire cat ready to Share them and hopefully pass on a gesture of goodwill to those who need it.
I don’t seem to have ‘Gotten’ the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) gene. While I’ll admit to having posted more selfies than necessary on Instagram and my online following gets a fair few pictures of my escapades in sock darning these are not exactly the status enhancing posts, I think FOMO usually applies to. No one else really cares that I now have warm feet. Or that I now know my best angle.
I’m actually trying really hard to wean myself off FB as a personal Thing. I waste far too much time scrolling and staring. Yes, I sometimes get a laugh out of a cat video. More often than not though, I’m left feeling upset about environmental crises or cancer kids.
I swore to be rid of FB in March last year after a gun attack on worshippers at a mosque in the Southern city of Christchurch here in Aotearoa New Zealand. FB didn’t have the courage, or the capacity (so they say) to prevent the video live streaming to the world. I didn’t want to condone this lack of technological ownership. Let alone the lax values of human decency I felt this attitude supported.
I posted to say I would be leaving FB last year in March just after the attacks and right before my 28th birthday. I said I would have a three month phasing out so I could make sure my contact details could be shared with those who wanted to stay in touch.
I lasted three weeks. And then I was back. Back because I DID (despite myself) experience a bit of FOMO. Not because of the photos my friends posted about their alpine tramping trips or adventures overseas or dinner dates in KILT dresses.
What I was missing was the digitally enhanced connections to RL events. You see I found my main use of FB was to say I was ‘Interested’ in events and activities happening in and around my city. It was 50/50 whether I’d actually end up going but I liked being able to calendar an actively interested life with candle making workshops and tree plantings and charity knitting events.
So I went back to FB. I said to myself I’d just lurk occasionally to check out the events listed. But again, the more pervasive use snuck in and after not-very-long-at-all I was back to scrolling screens way too often.
The thing is this. I don’t like who I am on FB. She cares too much what people think. She’s more than a little self-obsessed. She tags articles to read about worthy things like Trump’s America and Climate Change and then gets distracted by less worthy things like shoe sale ads and the best filter to make your skin look great.
So, here today, with about a week until the anniversary of the Christchurch Terror Attacks and ten days until my 29th birthday, while I’m not going fully FB free, I am going to make another attempt to reduce use and re-assess how and why I use this social media app.
One thing I do want to do is increase my online presence in a professional capacity as a Creative So, I will utilise FB’s networks of connection with a professional page. This will be my main use of FB from now on. I also plan to still continue using Messenger (which is usefully actually a separate, although linked App) for direct contact with already-made friends.
I want my online presence to be less about ‘Me’ in a selfish-scrolling-time-waster kind of way. This might seem oxymoronic (isn’t that what the internet is all about?) but I want to try and re-work my relationship with the web-based world.
This attitude is built partly on societal context, that looming Awful of an event anniversary. It’s also informed by a workshop I attended about copyright which led us into exploring ideas of web publication and by association rights of ownership of content.
This discussion made me reflect on the images and words I’ve posted and how, although I have written them and they are about me, they do not really belong to me. You could say the same of this blog, I guess. But I treat this blog as an out-reach and connection medium to others. In contrast, FB, has, until now, had a more personal life update function for me.
I plan to have my public professional FB page where I post links to blog posts, news on any publication happenings, any relevant events I might run and/ or be interested in supporting such as book groups, writing workshops or poetry readings.
I have also already gotten rid of Twitter. Not that this is a big step. Not like with FB to which I have become quite attached. I never could get into Twitter properly. I’ve tried three times to become a ‘Proper’ Twitterer. And three times I’ve made accounts and then rarely looked at them. Twitter is just not an interface that works for me.
So, I’ll blog at Geographic Hearts and try to do so much more regularly in 2020 than in previous years.
I will have a professional public Facebook page as mentioned earlier.
I will also be more active through email to keep in touch with the people who I want to engage with. And to be totally honest, these are the people who are the ones commenting on and Liking my posts anyway… The medium might change. But the level of connection will remain much the same, I think.
I’ll also endeavour to update my LinkedIn Profile as a grand professional gesture. I will endeavour to actively keep it current.
All this refinement and review of my web presence and social media accounts will, I hope, give me more time to do what I want to do most.
And that is write. Write blog posts. Poetry. Short stories. Essays. Finish my debut novel and get it ready for assessment by a publisher.
Reading a great deal more is also up there on the time bought back from social media lurking. That is reading Things (books, feature articles, poems, even recipes) rather than social statuses and the starts of things that I Bookmark and then never finish.
This idea of reading more relates directly and intrinsically with the goal to become a better writer. For, to write well you need to know about the tools and skills such as grammar and syntax. A lot of this I feel can be picked up by regular exposure and considered consumption of the written word. There are also the intricacies of figurative language if you’re a poet (a moniker to which I wholeheartedly identify with.) I also feel the need for a wide knowledge of the world, both the time and context in which I write and from which I was born.
My time, my era, my generation, is one I think, of over-sharing and under-reflection. Contextually, we live in a world of servers burning through vast amounts of energy as we all bounce efforts at connecting with each other in a desperate multifarious way.
The essential question I believe, is no longer who you connect with but how? I also believe that this is the wrong question to be asking a lot of the time.
Instead I ask:
Who are you?
Who am I?
Who am I to you?
And, who are you to me?
These, all questions of identity and relation which I feel are important as we consider where we are and where we want to be.
Lastly, I ask how best can we act to make the world a better place?
Sometimes, I feel, it is through not doing something that we can make the biggest difference. Through the absence of one thing we make space for a different kind of better.
How they together watched the Union solders march by
Always marching, marching by.
I tell him I’d be orange if I were a colour.
It’s less overwhelming than red.
And not everyone can wear it, I say.
He smiles at that.
I feel safe within his smile.
As I do in the presence of his nasal drawl.
But the questions are kind.
There are queries about religion and creativity
(creativity is what you want it to be!
he says vehemently)
We compare deer and dolphins as endangered species
And as spirit animals.
We discuss scarcity mindsets in the middle class.
I realise as we talk that I feel safer still
as a reflection in his eyes.
This poem was written at the Kahini Writer’s Retreat 2020 held at Waikanae Beach in Aotearoa New Zealand. The bare bones of it were written as a 10 minute free-writing exercise in response to interview questions attendees exchanged with another participant.
Many of the things and featured in this poem (Alan Rickman, Union Soldiers, the colour orange, dolphins and deer) were answers from my interviewee. I then added in some of the beautiful natural setting and the wonderful meal we had on arrival at the retreat.
Note that i used creative license (an artist’s best friend) to craft a poem with what i hope has a wider and more considered significance than just a random juxtaposition of elements.
I believe poetry is both about specific things and everything. Both at the same time. I hope this poem conveys a sense of this..
Fires run raging and ragged in the land across The Tasman. Animals have lost their lives and their lands. People have lost their homes and their geographic heritage. We all can’t seem to see the fire for the smoke.
Meanwhile, I sit with a dashed punctuation mark of a mouth; it is paused, it is hesitating, as I see photo after photo after photo on my news feed of bright red skies, burnt marsupials and the ash streaked faces of The Fire Fighter’s and The Survivors.
This post isn’t about the wider issue of climate change that is driving the current state of Australian emergency. Nor is it about political inaction to address this cause and make appropriate actions to mitigate the worst of a changing climate. A changing climate induced by the Anthropocene era.
It’s about my Fears for The Worst. Because things ARE going to get worse climatically. Even if we all dropped what we were doing today and started making changes at all levels of individual action, community outreach, national policy and international agreement, there is still going to be a serious degree of climatic warming that will have huge impacts upon human life on earth.
I’m also not going to write about The Science. Many other people can do that much better than I can. Namely, Scientists. I’m just a poet and aspiring novelist after all.
What I want to do today is give you a story. One of my stories. It’s about living in a very worry inducing world with a certain degree of anxiety. As in, mental disorder level. I manage it pretty well most of the time. Much better than ten years ago when my belly felt constantly like it were full of squirming kittens and I was taking sedative medication just to get through what felt like very long days. But I do still have bad anxiety days. Sometimes I lie awake worrying about the fact I am worrying and how because I am worrying, I’m not sleeping and that not sleeping isn’t good for my mood maintenance. It’s a panic paradox!
Linking into the bush fire crisis, fire is something I fear with an almost pathological intensity. I’m a Pisces. A water sign. Its elementally opposite in the Zodiac. At least three times a week at work I will worry that my house might burn down while I’m out. Hence, the OCD-like checking of stove elements and electrical sockets. I laugh about this with my friend who has the same fire hazard checking habits but underneath the laughter there is a cold blue fear that one day we will be proved right.
I’m lucky that I live in a damp Pacific city. Fire risk is generally quite low even in a dry summer. This has not been a dry Summer. We’ve had moody rainstorms drench the streets and water-misted clouds swirl around the hill suburbs. This soothes me. Then it doesn’t. Because all I want to do is be able to blow the water across the Tasman to Australia where they so desperately need it.
Instead we send fire fighters and well wishes. We send prayers.
As for me, to deal with both my upset and my anxiety, I am turning to what got me through The Fear last time a decade ago, when worry kittens beat my belly bruised. I’m getting my Art On. A FB acquaintance is organising sewing bees for the wildlife injured or orphaned in the bush fires. I’m going to sew and knit and crochet The Awful out of me.
I’ve long been a believer in getting the messy hurtful feelings out of our hearts and heads. Whether it be making art. Sewing a dress. Writing a melancholic poem you show no one. Baking a cake you decorate with icing rose buds and then devour. Running so fast it feels like you’re flying. Dancing until you are dizzy and fall to the ground.
I’m going to be doing all these Creative Things to a certain degree as my Awful about the bush fires is large and amorphous. I’ll make roo pouches and bat slings. I’m making paintings featuring Gaia type women whose bodies grow not just babies but also flowers. I’m upcycling a dress as a bit of a rebellion against the environmental costs of the fashion industry. I’ve written a poem where I rhyme fire with liar (maybe a little dig at a certain international political figure there…) I’ve not baked a cake but I have made muffins. They cool in a lovely yellow way on my kitchen bench as I write this.
I went running on NY day. I listened to metal in my headphones. The singer’s screams spurred me on to run fast. Then faster. I’ve also booked myself in for a special summer session of my dance class. I’m going to spin around and around to African drumbeats and I hope that after falling to Earth when I get to my feet, the world will have righted itself again.
One of the New Year’s Resolutions I make every year is to buy fewer clothes. I’m an emotional op shopper you see. Feel sad, bad, mad… I buy thrifted clothes. The colours and fabrics help. The kind woman at the shop on the corner who asks how I am with a smile in her voice also helps. As does the idea about how the me who wears these clothes will be different to who I am today. She will be a woman of tomorrow.
I’ve tried to justify the op shop habit to myself. Its recycling. Its supporting charity. It’s cheap – you won’t blow your budget. These things are all true but it’s actually about a weakness in intentionality. And that is something I beat myself up about. Over and over and over again.
2019 was a year where on the surface I did Great. Work was good. I shifted to a different team and that turned out to be a very positive change. I acquired an extra part time role in community work that I love. I also started a small freelance writing and editing portfolio side hustle. I considered post graduate study in another city on another island and after travelling there in The Winter I set that future aside (at least for now.)
I had a poetry review published by the New Zealand Poetry Society and have another one due for publication in in the Autumn. I even had my first piece of paid writing accepted for publication. An essay about parenting (or not) in my case when you live with a disability. This was a huge Thing for me as I had put my heart and soul into that piece. That was also why it feels so hard. It’s making me super vulnerable to the world. But I think the benefits outweigh The Fears for I hope it will make readers re-assess some common assumptions and maybe feel (and think about) ability and disability things in a different way.
This essay, titled ‘Good Enough’ was in essence about some of the less good things of my 2019. Well, its themes were longer reaching back in time, but last year I found myself re-visiting the motherhood question in relation to my chronic health issues, my chronic singledom and a re-assessment of my wants and desires. All these things coloured by the approaching big 30… And none of these particularly easy things to think about anyway.
So, while on the surface 2019 was a Good Year. Digging a little deeper, I realised I’d actually been feeling less-than-good rather more than I’d been feeling ok. As I often say to a friend – I was somewhere on the ‘ok-ish’ scale. I could function as a semi-competent adult. I could go to work. Cook dinner. Clean my flat. Watch disaster dramas on TV (I’m a big 911 fan!) and keep most coffee dates with girlfriends penned into my diary.
But the ‘ish’ part meant I went on few romantic dates because of anxiety. It meant I had several weeks of time totalled across the year couched with pain from my Fibromyalgia. It meant sometimes crying in public toilets because getting home again felt so hard. It meant I snapped at friends because of my pain when they were just trying to help. Or sometimes I’d forget to take my morning meds and the world would be slapped grey and everything would feel Bad.
I loved where I lived. But still thought about moving away often. I knew that doing yoga on a daily basis helped. But I didn’t always do it. I held off on taking pain killers to test my Strength of Will. This just resulted in lost sleep and grumpy moods.
So yeah on the surface it was a Great Year, going a bit deeper, Not So Much.However, I had the best New Year’s I’ve probably ever had. I invited two new friends over to my hilltop house and we communed with the Kaka (New Zealand native parrots), ate healthy nibbles (toasted nuts, veggie sticks, rice crackers) and ordered pizza from a place called Hells. Like me, they are minimal drinkers. We laughed a lot. We had deep and meaningful conversations. We watched silly You-Tube videos. We planned to write affirmations and paint the pages with flowers and stars.
This NY was a stark contrast to some in the past where I’d been left feeling deeply lonely. I might have been with other people but felt set apart because of Health Things and having to leave early. I’d spent the last two New Year’s immersed in books. I read historical fantasy novels where lonely woman were seers and soothsayers. They could see different futures even if they didn’t know which of these would come true. I remember I’d liked the poetry of this.
This 2019/2020 New Year’s I was anything but lonely. For even after my friends had left and I was sitting out with a solar lantern on my deck in the summer dark handwriting in my journal I felt such a wonderful sense of abundance and positive energy flow through me. I felt like the next year, fuck, the next decade, was going to be different. I won’t say The Best (I’m no Soothsayer) but I would work hard to make it Better.
As a Woman of Tomorrow, I wrote that I would be more social and instigate more events.
As a Woman of Tomorrow, I wrote that I would better connect with my artistic self and get back into painting and sewing. I’d try to actually make a few completed works from the many visual diaries I’ve filled over the years. Draw every day. Maybe try and sell a few pieces too…
As a Woman of Tomorrow, I wrote that I would finish my debut novel and submit it to a traditional publisher for consideration.
As a Woman of Tomorrow, I wrote that I would live better in the Today that was Yesterday’s Tomorrow.
So awhile back I read a book called ‘Single Girl Problems.’ You know, the problems that arise in the celebratory season when you turn up solo. Yet again. When people say, oh, but you’re so pretty, smart, funny (insert positive descriptor here) and this ‘but’ implies a lack on your part. The lack of hooking in a man, of being coupled, a lack, dare I say it, of attractiveness.
Is it because I’m too opinionated? And use words like paradigm and incandescent. The first word to (I admit) to make myself sound smart (and smartness is, I feel, a worthy weapon in the gender battle.) The second because saying it makes me feel a lightness of being and I need that feeling when I’m being cutting-eyed by someone I have only recently met or not seen for years and they are asking me, why no date?
I’ve never had a date. Well, I’ve dated. I’ve eaten raw veggie burgers and talked about places where I’ve never been and am not sure I honestly want to go to. I’ve straddled silence awkwardly over vegan tacos. I’ve board-gamed and eaten curry without splashing it on my pale blue blouse (life achievement here.) I’ve been to movies and avoided sweaty hand holds but at the same time surreptitiously made side lines glances at The Guy. I’ve said no to more dates. I’ve been the person who says ‘just friends.’ Knowing at the same time I’ll never hear from them again.
But I’ve never taken a guy home to meet my mum. Let alone my grandmother. I segregate my life into boxes like a sock drawer but I hope, better organised. There are the family dinners once a week where over vegetarian casseroles and roasted vegetables we discuss Future Directions and The Housing Crisis. There’s the fortnightly date with my dad where we share Haiku we’ve written like badly kept secrets and get jittery on cowboy coffee.
There are the friends who I never let meet each other. In case they like each other better than me and I am the forgotten thing that brought them together. Or because I’m afraid My Secrets will come out. About The Crazy. Or The Fear. Or even just that I’ve exercised for three hours that day. Not for weight loss. But because moving is the only thing that makes me feel ok. Maybe it’s the secret that I’ve been thinking of moving away for longer than I will admit to. Those kinds of secrets. The feeling huge but are actually little and the feeling small but are actually larger than life kind.
So I’ve dated but never had a boyfriend. Never been In a Relationship. At 28 that would most definitely make me a spinster in Jane Austen’s world. In 2019 I like to think it makes me an independent woman. I don’t however want to hold out until cougar status takes hold. I’ve never suited leopard prints and gold-manacled jewellery.
I know what I don’t want to be. That’s a start. And even better I know what I already am not and that is lonely. I have great friends, even if I do segregate them in my life. That’s certainly something to work on.
I have a job I enjoy where I get to help people (libraries rock!) and I have work I love – writing. Note, the differentiation between my job and my work. I feel this matter of distinction is important for there is a similar subtle distinction between being alone and lonely.
I am often alone. I write solo at my desk or in public places with headphones on. I choose my own noise. At the moment Anoushka Shankar sitar music or this obscure Dutch indie band whose drummer FB’ed me because he liked one of my Spotify playlists.
I write at desks and cafe tables and on my lap table in bed which makes me feel like I’m on an airplane because it comes with a drink holder but it’s the most comfy flight in the world and it doesn’t matter when I haven’t done my face.
And speaking of FB, I have social media. Writers to follow on Twitter as they too face the dilemma of middle of the day courier deliveries and you’re still in your Pyjamas. Commiserations over writer’s blocks that take up weeks of your life and it’s like how I imagine a bad break-up is like but there’s less tears and more chocolate but equally stringent resolutions about exercise and healthy eating and routines, damn it.
But rarely am I lonely. I have Anoushka, of Shankar Sitar royalty. I have random musicians messaging me. (Internet Life!) And ofcourse I have my characters. The heroes I fall just a little, ok a lot, in love with. The feisty heroines who I wish I was more like so I could say screw it to the people who ask if I’m still single, (or worse, those who have stopped asking.) It’s hypocritical, I know, but the question implies that a sense of faith is still there and that they still have hope for me.
Today, however, I refuse to be categorised by my romantic relationship status. I have relationships with many people. Friends. My parents. My brother. My co-workers. The patrons I help at work. The women at craft groups where we share stories of our lives and hook yarn to make blankets and booties for people less fortunate than us.
I also see myself as having relationships with the people who I sit next to in coffee shops and smile at over my $2 pot of English Breakfast tea while we both work on our Hope-To-Be-Breakout novels. This is a comradery of a certain kind of Writerly Relationship. We don’t necessarily have to talk to each-other. But it feels like we get each other anyway.
My answer to questions of singledom is that there really isn’t a single answer. Relationships are complicated (as the Facebook status attests to.) And because of this complicated nature, I believe people will keep asking me if I’m ‘in a relationship’ until the societal paradigm (that word) changes. In the meantime, I’ll keep emanating my incandescent (that word) self through the world.
I will live with passion. I will celebrate my freedoms. I will follow my fancies. I will love living my life. So that when the right person comes along, they’ll recognise me as someone they want to be with. And, just as importantly, I’ll see myself as the kind of person who is capable of being loved in that way.
Not only by another, but to have that love manifest in a genuine and honest way that speaks of a wider truth. One of a certain sense of identity and of a high degree of self-esteem. It’s about knowing the real me. Not just the right me. And if I’m being totally honest here, it’s taken me this long to figure that out myself; the real versus right thing.
I also come from a family of later-in-life relationships. The first forays into romance for many of us tend to be in our mid to late 20’s, a decade after many people begin dating. We’re also an intensely interested family. For me, this has meant, along with a few health issues needing to be addressed, that I’ve spent the last decade just being really busy learning shit.
I got the BA. (Art History.) I received a library diploma. I studied for a business administration certificate. These were just the formal education situations. I also taught myself using library books and the internet, a whole range of craft techniques from quilting to cable knitting. I’ve read up on zero waste living (and am now teaching an adult education class on this topic.) I’ve read self-help books to make myself feel better psychologically. I’ve also been to therapy where I was given mindfulness homework. I found this hard. It ended up taking up a lot of my spare time. I’ve been to social media development classes. Environmental film screenings. Plant swaps and compost science workshops. I’ve been to oral history trainings. Time bank inductions. Archival process lessons. I’ve spent most of the time I wasn’t dating, learning stuff.
And I’ve loved it (most of the time.) But I now feel I’m ready for a different kind of learning. Less head, more heart.
I want to feel things rather than just think them.
So, I guess if I was going to say something to my single girl self I would ask, how does it make you feel (as opposed to ‘what do you think?’) And in that, would be my attempt at some kind of answer.
I admit it. I’ve joined the Marie Kondo bandwagon. But as I like to think of it, the better sort. As in I’ve actually read the book, examined her sock folding diagrams, and even asked Google about what it defines this thing called Joy as. Google dictionary states that joy is ‘A feeling of great pleasure or happiness.’ I interpret this definition as where joy is a slightly more intense experience than pleasure. Possibly with a greater underlay of physical energetics than the emotion of happiness alone.
For the last year I’ve been slowly getting rid of the Things that I think weigh me down. I pick items up as Marie Kondo states we should do and ask the essential Kondo question ‘Does it spark joy?’
And, contrary to mocking popular belief, I have found I can rid myself of almost everything that does not spark joy. Even if it is an associative joy. For instance, functional things like my running shoes make me feel good because, hello – exercise equals endorphins. They are also orange. And orange is my favourite colour.
Equally, my fry pan enables me to cook up healthful stir fries of Chinese greens in sesame oil. It too is associative of joy. The joy of nourishment. Of feeding myself Good Foods. Of cooking (a hobby I find a great amount of Joy in.)
This ‘Simplification of Stuff’ jag was sparked by two things. Firstly, shifting into a tiny studio bedsit that literally had no room for most of my belongings. I had stuff that had to be stored elsewhere initially. Having access to a friend’s garage was useful. As was access to my mother’s car for transporting said stuff as I sorted and culled.
Now however, I’ve destuffed enough to say I can fit all I own into one room and a small bathroom/laundry space. This is inclusive of a mountain bike which (just) fits behind my bathroom door.
It was partly a situational thing that sparked my journey into getting rid of belongings. But there was nothing joyous about this time. I was leaving a living situation that wasn’t great for my wellbeing.
It was a running away time. A running for cover time from my own ballooning feelings. It was a free falling kind of getting rid of things. I was trying to make room for better things and to get rid of the things that might reminded me of the bad…
Also of relevance to my simple living journey was TheMinimalist’s documentary on Netflix. Even if I found Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus rather irritating in their uniforms of oh-so-cool-label-jeans and black t-shirts stretched across their nicely taut biceps (and yes, I did notice.)
Despite this, I did love the idea of reducing to what you need so you can live better. For them that seemed to be telling everyone else about what they thought ‘Better Living’ was. Good for them, I guess. But I wasn’t totally sold on their enthusiasm of getting rid of everything to show you cared about your life. It felt a little polemical. Possibly taken to the wrong end of extreme.
I also found their podcast immensely boring – just two guys riffing off and ranting at each other for hours on end. Maybe I just didn’t ‘get’ the podcast medium – I don’t know.
Anyway, to me, it felt a bit like ‘The New Minimalists’ were just selling yet another lifestyle. (Sell being the operative word here, America where they are from is after all capitalism’s king and both Joshua and Ryan came from business backgrounds…) It felt to me like they had made minimalism yet another idea to sell to the world.
I did find myself following much of their advice though because I really felt I needed to live better. And they both seemed so totally enthusiastic about their made-minimal-lives. I wanted to feel that enthusiastic about my life too.
By combining Kondo’s Shinto influenced interior and emotional design principles with the New Minimalist’s more gung-ho dude approach of cut your losses and reduce-to-rebel I felt like I’d almost found an ideology that worked for me.
But not quite.
Because Kondo’s obsessive clothes folding techniques and the fact, she had a whole chapter devoted to it in her book irritated me. It felt way too close to OCD. I’ve already mentioned my hesitancy about what I term ‘the sell’ of minimalism by Joshua and Ryan.
However, both these philosophies got me going in the right direction. I assessed the piles of fabric that I’d collected for sewing/ craft projects and that had sat stewing in moth- ball-laced-boxes for months untouched. I sorted all my yarn stash by colour and fibre type (yeah ok, I too have a touch of Kondo OCD.) I organised my embroidery threads by colour and weight. They lay like mini rainbows in the sewing box I had inherited from my grandmother.
I sold a few of the things I’d decided to discard on Trade Me. I also upcycled what I could for practical domestic use. Old t-shirts cut into rags for cleaning. Bulk glass peanut butter jars for storage of dried beans and lentils. With the jars sitting in regiments gleaming with their contents of small circles of plant protein, the pleasure I got from my well organised pantry sparked a joy that surprised me.
Now, as at writing, here at the start of December 2019, I can classify my belongings into five sections.
Clothes; which includes shoes and coats.
Books of various topics (mostly poetry, vegan cookbooks, novels by women writers and simple living texts). I set myself to one medium sized bookshelf full. I kept to this restriction.
Work papers and the associated technology – SEE: smart phone, laptop, gadget chargers and an extra computer monitor because I like working with a double screen.
And, craft gear. Yarn. Embroidery threads. Fabric scraps. Needles of various kinds. Crochet hooks. My sewing machine. A biscuit tin full of buttons. And the associated craft books outlining techniques or serving as inspiration.
These categories do merge in the way that life is not made of clear demarcations. See the craft books as a cross genre example. My possessions are also not clearly demarcated. Neither is how I go about using them whether it be referring to a book on how to knit lace or writing up vegan recipes on my laptop.
I think this refinement of Stuff is pretty damn good going for someone who used to be a bit of a packrat. In my ‘Angsty Artist’ days I collected a heck of a lot of crap… I had ideas of being a mixed media upcycle artist who made paintings of distraught faces out of packaging waste, magazine cuttings of skinny celebrities, medication tabs (there was a message here) and how I’d splatter these faces with black ink as a metaphor for my depression.
Angsty Arty Stella was all about Getting the Bad Feelings out. Messily. Because that was how they felt. Fucking messy. Collecting crap also felt a bit like having some semblance of control. And I needed that when it felt like the whole world was spinning faster and faster like a kid trying to dizzy itself and succeeding until it fell over and had trouble getting up again.
I’m feeling less messy these days I’m happy to say. I only ever made one distraught face painting. I have it hung on my wall as a reminder of where I’ve been and how far I’ve come. Its full of lace and fabric pieces and photos from films. It is slashed open in lots of places. The very body of the artwork is wounded. I love this artwork immensely. It is full of pain. But because it is full of pain that means that that pain is no longer inside me.
And because of that I have space inside of me for Other Things. I have space to make the yoyo flower brooches that I gather and stitch slowly as a break between typing sessions. I pin these blooms to the breast of my purple tweed jacket. It is like I wear a meadow on my chest.
I have the energy to do yoga stretches twice a day and cook healthy plant-based meals rather than live off fried potato all the time.
I also have the emotional fortitude to now run writing workshops for other women and listen to their stories. To offer comfort when they are brought to tears.
In the New Year I’m also facilitating sustainable living courses at my local community adult education centre. I’ll be teaching about ethical shopping, low-waste living and communicating lifestyle tips from a previous era where little was thrown away and household items were valued enough to be cared for and repaired.
I hope that in these workshops I will present the best ideas I have gathered from Kondo and The New Minimalists. Maybe not the main ideas they proposed within their personal ideologies. But the ones that resonated most with me as someone trying to live joyfully in an oftentimes difficult world.
Even good girls can grow into debatable women. Perhaps all the more so for they have so much to live up to. Perfect GPA’s. Perfect skin. Perfect relationship track records. Which is why Amy Sherman Palladino’s TV character Rory Gilmore is of interest. She started out as the archetypal good girl. Good at school. Good to her grandparents. Good at being good. And she dated a nice guy too. Kudos to her.
But then she grew up. Life got complicated. She fell in love with someone else who was, I have to say it, a hell of a lot more interesting. She broke someone’s heart. Had hers broken by said more interesting guy. She went to college. Cheated with her ex. Stole a boat. Lost her confidence. Found solace in a beautiful rich boy with few morals and a lot of cash.
Fast forward to The Revival where she’s in her early 30’s. She’s dating someone so forgettable the joke is she doesn’t recall his name and leaves him behind at coffee shops. She’s still sleeping with said beautiful rich boy (now man) even though he is engaged to someone else. She is The Other Woman. Her career is on the edge of that much touted End of Journalism as we Know It. She ends up with no job. Moves back home. Fights with her mother. Tap dances at 1am. Gets pregnant. The latter two points not necessarily related.
guess what i’m trying to say is that Rory Gilmore is both a fictional character
and a trope. As a trope she is the aforementioned Good Girl we all (supposedly)
are meant to aspire to be. As a character she is messy and real and human and
actually, i found, kind of unlikable as a fully-grown woman.
felt like an enormous relief. Because living up to trope Rory Gilmore is next
to impossible. It makes us feel like we’ve failed before we start. Because
we’ve had acne or didn’t date during high school or didn’t get A’s in calculus.
We’re already never perfect. We can try to be good. And that is an admirable
goal and one I fully support but perfect is to set yourself up for failure. And
that sucks. It really, really does. To be a loser before you’ve even begun.
Fictional character Rory is however richer. More meaty as it were. She seems lighter in some ways. Heavier in others. And i don’t just mean in the boob department; actress Alexis Bledel in the break between series and revival had a kid so you know…
Adult Rory wavers like a star struck teenager at a rock concert, dithering to surge forward with the crowd and meet the Rock God they have been worshipping for years. Whose music got them through a hell of a lot of crap. We don’t know all of Rory’s crap in the preceding decade but we assume there has been some, least of all the death of her beloved grandfather Richard. There’s definitely been loss. We assume several levels of heart break.
But in watching her flail as an-early-thirty-year-old it made me as a late-twenties-woman feel better because here, finally was a Rory i could imagine being friends with. The sort of friend you definitely don’t like all the time. Who you may find annoying and love to hate but a friend none the less because she screws up and gets drunk and sleeps with Wookie’s and needs to stay with you when she fights with her mum just like she did when you were both sixteen and didn’t know any better.
Now you both should know better and yet there are still fights and running away and you both make all sorts of mistakes but you’re in it for the long haul. As we were for seven seasons and a revival’s worth of Rory.
constant for Rory, both the girl we know and the woman she grows into being,
who we get to see a glimpse of in the Revival, is that she writes. This love of
words, of literature, of exploring the world through writing is a quality I
hope she will always cultivate. Both as trope (the Quiet Reading Chick and
Smart Girl) and as a character where she starts to find herself again when she
starts writing a book about her life growing up with Lorelei Gilmore as a
That is one story I would love to read even though it’s a made-up book in a TV universe. But why is this imaginary book on my To Read list?
Because I am The Quiet Reading Chick.
I am The Smart Girl.
Because I am the Rory who is beginning to find out about herself through the words she writes. That is, telling her own story and not just those of others.
I was a Good Girl.
because now I am proud to call myself a debatable woman.
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