Happy places Vol. 1

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I moved into a new house 4 months ago. The first day I walked through the empty rooms my chest felt like it was going to burst. It is the first time I am living by myself, a dream of mine for the longest time. Happiness was the word that came to mind when I sprawled across the living room carpet, thanking and blessing God. But it also felt like peace, gratitude, and rest. A settling down into all the deep and full places. My happiness had a life of its own as it pressed me into the outer edges of myself, bursting free into all these different postures.

But then happiness doesn’t always need events to make a home with us. I, for one, carry pieces of it in my happy places:

1. Inside my cup of extra-hot hot chocolate on a cold wintry day

2. In my inbox. Some emails come filled with such love, and I can’t help but want to be with them and in them, drinking up every word

3. My Wednesday morning body balance class

4. Sleeping in on a Sunday

5. The quiet twilight of dawn and dusk

6. The old vintage photograph of the Eiffel Tower hanging in my living room

7. Getting completely lost in a book

8. Watching people in the everyday mundane

9. Writing

10. Finding that perfect seat on a bus

11. Inside my cup of tea at the end of the day. Tea makes everything better

12. My heart

12. Other people’s hearts

13. Flowers

14. Chocolate cake

15. Warm socks

16. The sun falling down on my skin

17. Beautiful smells

18. Scarves

19. Chemistry. Attraction

20. Comfortable shoes

21. Mountains

22. The sea

23. A good romance movie

24. A clean house

25. Big, big hugs

26. Knitted wear

27. Perfume. Makes me feel like a woman

28. Bath products that smell delicious

27. A hot shower

28. Bookstores. The smell and feel of books is a pleasure beyond words

29. Slipping in-between warm sheets

30. The quiet. Silence.

Except for Wednesdays, every morning I am up at 6.30. The house is quiet at that time and Dandenong Road which never really sleeps is coming fully alive again. I sit on my white bedroom rug and take in the morning. The silence settles around me into a comfortable knowing. A gratitude I cannot put into tangible words. I realise I’m happy, not because everything is perfect in my life because actually nothing is perfect in my life. I am happy because I choose to see where the blessings are and I see all the good that is good. I’m happy because in an unconceivable way, I am the best thing that has ever happened to me. Everything else is just a bonus.

Happiness is hard to unpack yet it is also the easiest thing to pick out in a room. But maybe our job is not to spend too much time trying to unpack it into bite sizes so we can understand its formula, because we waste so much precious time trying to pursue it. It is like that beloved friend that comes and goes whenever she feel like and refuses to be tethered. When we accept this friend as she is and not rely on her presence or absence to still be and do us, we understand what happiness is – it is everything and nothing all at the same time. It is that simple. It is that hard.

I don’t remember the day I stopped chasing happiness. I don’t remember where I was or what I was wearing. I don’t even remember the tumult that caused the shift in me. Usually I remember such things because they become stenciled to my being.

I do remember though that that was the day I realised that authenticity is more important to me than any happiness. So I let that dream go, and the beauty is that in letting go I have found a constant joy and wellbeing, for it is only when I am authentic that I am my best and happy self.

My house is not empty anymore. It is all filled up with things, trinkets and special things. Various colours ad textures coming together, sitting well together. It is beginning to take on my reflection. It is beginning to feel like home. But still, every-time I walk from one room to another my heart flutters a little and on some days, a lot, because I love this space so much. And I am happy because I get to share it first with the one person who has never left my side through it all. Me. She too, is my happy place.

Off guard moments

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I get on the bus this morning, my mind present yet far away. The morning is lovely. I think I’m going to watch the sky today. I have a book in my bag that I have loved on for weeks. Reading the last chapter though means saying goodbye and I don’t want to say goodbye. Read More

Mirror mirror on the wall

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There was something about caressing the spines of the books that charged my heart back to life. It felt a lot like bolts of electricity travelling from the tips of my fingers, up my arm and into the parts of my being I hadn’t felt for a very long time. There was nothing strange about it. I love bookstores. I love being caved in by shelves of books upon books, worlds contained in characters and prose. I love the smell. I don’t even have to touch anything for it to hold onto me. It comes to settle on my skin simply because I’m there. Read More

Compass, come find me

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The sailor towered over her and dropped his duffel bag to the ground. It landed next to her feet with a thud that startled her. He was as tall as the Lone Sailor that stood gazing over the San Francisco Bay. She had always wondered about him, about the feelings and thoughts that lay trapped in that life-size bronze statue. What was he thinking as his sculptor hammered that last piece of metal into place and the handsome fellow was finally finished, a man having his last view of the American West coast as he sails out for duty at sea? Read More

Dear new born baby in apartment no.8

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We have a new born babe in our apartment block. The baby’s cry enters all eight of our homes unbidden filling all the spaces with a sound that evokes nostalgia, tenderness, hope. That fresh, unadulterated, heart-clutching cry of a newly arrived into-the-world little person. The other day I was sitting on my bed reading when the cry bounded into my room. It invaded my body, wringing my heart this way and that way. I closed my book and listened. Just listened. And the thoughts came and flooded me. So I picked up my pen and wrote:

Dear new born baby in apartment no.8

Welcome little one, welcome.

How good does that air feel in your small lungs? To be able to breathe is a gift you will come to appreciate. The sheer magnittude of it will consume you.

Your family must be thrilled now that you are here, in the world. You are a bundle of joy. I bet they watch you as you sleep sometimes and catch themselves breathless.

“How did we make such a perfect little person?” your father whispers to your mother.

Your mother smiles and kisses him lightly on the lips, “We did, didn’t we?” she replies her voice thick with emotion.

They will remember these moments forever. You will not. For now, people will carry you. And they will even carry most of your memories for you. One day they will hand them to you in stories and picture albums. Narratives and family histories. It will be grand and funny, painful and beautiful. You will hold these crafted and secure images of your beginning in your hands and finally pull them into yourself. They will become your own memories .

You will not stay a baby. Your limbs will pull in all sorts of directions and extend your body and your mind into childhood, then teenagehood and finally adulthood. So much will happen in your life. The ups and downs of being a human being that I feel the strongest urge to protect you from. But they are necessary if you are going to learn what it means to be here on this planet. This honour and privilege of being alive. I hope your mama and papa will prepare you for some of those things, for life.

But know also that there is only so much they can do. Alot of your life will unfold because life happens and because you sit at the reins of it. You will make decisions. A large part of your life will be the outcome of the things you think, say and do; the things you will become as a fully defined person. Trust me, it will be difficult but it will be beautiful.

The world, it is in a mess right now, I cannot lie. And I am sorry that this is what you will inherit – the outcome of many bad choices by those of us who have been here longer which we too inherited from our forefathers before us. It is an endless cycle. And for any thinking and feeling person it is easy to get discouraged.

When you do get discouraged, don’t be too hard on yourself. You have a responsibility because you live on this planet but you are not a god commissioned to save yourself or anyone. This is a big deal. If you learn well the limits of your humanity you will avoid many a heartache.

And speaking of heartache I have to tell you about people. They are a beautiful species but they can also do senseless and hurtful things that leave you speechless. And sometimes you can never be prepared for that and for the pain relationships can bring to your doorstep. But know this little one; that when you find people who love you unconditionally, support you wholeheartedly, are firecely loyal and graciously allow you space to get up when you fall down; people who will stay through thick and thin as well as stay to figure out how to do relationships well, then hold on tight to these people. They are the ones. Wrap them around you. Tie them close. They are the best life will offer you.

The heartbreaks will teach you things too. Never shun them but don’t go looking for them either. Experience is not always the best teacher. Nor the kindest. Wisdom is.

You have an exciting journey ahead of you. And I hope the ups are just as rich and instructive as the downs. That when you look back on the whole thing, it will be one big, giant epic love story; your love affair with life. I will think of this every time I hear your little cry flow down into my apartment. And I will send out this prayer for you again and again. Until you no longer need it.

yours,

sentimental girl in no.5

The great big tumbling of time

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I sit on the porch and watch September roll in. It’s a welcome party of one. One girl in her purple socks, her feet curling into their warmth. Knees tightly pressed together and eyes fixed on the changing skies picking up the hints of red and mulberry that encircle the edges of twilight. It is more pronounced now. I see it and I leisurely pull it into my space. It means something. Seasons are revolving again. Coming round and going over. A big invisible turn we often miss because we are too busy doing what the living do.

Even the air smells different, the crispy, cool and fresh scent of evening leaves its traces on my skin. It’s time for a new perfume, the turning of the earth dictates so. I am thinking opening notes of spring water, green mandarin with a heart of white peony and jasmine.

I do this every year – wait for September. Only Septemebr gets this kind of special treatment. I don’t know. There is something about the month that pulls at my heartstrings. And I think of renewal and rebirth. I think of women and grace.

Women because I love them with a fierceness that is too big for my body. I am my mother’s daughter. A woman of faith and courage.

Women are mothers and sisters. Bestfriends and aunties. Wives and grandmothers. They carry things in their bosoms holding them tight and close – healing and covering in ways we will never be able to fully name. And they embody some of the grace too, in the way they are hewn from the ground. In the way they arrive and move through the world.

But the kind of grace that comes barreling alongside September in my mind is the kind that holds us even when the only thing we can be is a solid mass of rawness and nerve. When we mess up and have no clue what to do with ourselves.

And a lot of this powerful grace is offered to us in the passing of time.

A year ago in September, I was writing about women and autumn in Chicago and moonbeams. I was also fastening together the last dangling bits of my then mending heart. See, I had met this boy in the year before last Septemeber. He looked very much like the beginning of my world. And so when he dangled glimpses of his heart in front of me, naturally I reached out to grab them. I wanted them. All of them. Inside of me. I wanted them badly. But one day he said,

“I can’t figure out where you fit in my life”.

That boy broke my heart. But that boy didn’t know the grace that time would offer me – the good stuff that has become the woman I am because he hurt me.

It is not always clean and precise, this walk through grace. Sometimes the great big tumbling of time drags us through mud pits and dark caves and raging infernos. But we arrive. We most certainly arrive. To the point where grace finishes its work. And what was not becomes born. And time makes way for healing and it stitches together meaning for us.

I sit and wait for September. I can hear my watch ticking away. Every tick so quiet, so small, so seemingly inconsequential. So incomprehensible that the movement of a tiny tick reflects the big, great tumbling of time in and out of hours, days, months, years, decades, generations, milleniums, centuries, lifetimes.  And whenever and whereever time unwraps itself grace is always there in the fold. You may not see it but it’s there. In the silvery gray that begins to appear in your hairline; in the way your hand tightly and fully clasps another hand not being afraid of not wanting to let go; in the way having your way becomes less important than “Im sorry”.

With time we begin to understand these things, these things that take the shape of love, relationships, happiness, grief, life.

With time we begin to understand that time is really just another form of grace.

The nooks & crannies of change where beautiful things grow

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And then change takes you through a place where questions are the only answers.

Where have you come from? How far and wide has your journey been? Where are you going? And what does this whole thing mean?

This thing that beats inside of you, the fullness  of which you feel in the up and down rhythm of your chest and in those still, quiet mornings when the mist is real and naked. You come face to face with life, vulnerable and raw.

Who are you? the whispers come, sometimes softly sometimes urgently like your life depends on it. Change has a way of turning this question inside out. Those moments when everything around you is unsteady and your feet wobble too. The reflection of yourself you see is shaky too, pulled in all sorts of directions.

But when the waves of uncertainty pass there is a refinement that remains in their wake. A refreshing. Like the first summer rains. It doesn’t come all at one. It is little treasures tucked in all the nooks and crannies of the passage of change.

It is always a shifting. A moving out or moving in. Old things give way to the beginning of others.

Sometimes change is a new home, a new city, a new space.

Sometimes it is a new job.

And other times it is pain – a loss, an ending, an eruption.

But the way is peppered with moments when you glimpse the beauty that is you learning to dance with change. Side to side. Two steps. Three steps. Like lanterns gliding across each other but together through air following an unknown river in the dark.

You find it in you. The skills to be you through the confusion. Your fingertips know how to hold things by holding them. They clutch the walls for you and lead you. Your legs give space to one another ushering you forward faithfully. This is the way.

Every change leaves an imprint on our lives. An addition to the way we will never be the same person again. This is called growth. And sometimes it comes at a cost.

I often think of butterflies. Because they embody this cost. They understand it.

They live everywhere in my world. They are carvings on my walls and in between the pages of my books. For something so beautiful their beginning can seem almost traumatic. The dying and living again. Cocoons. They know everything there is to know about metamorphosis, the changing into something beautiful, into adulthood. They remind me that the opposite of harshness is softness. And that life will offer me both at one moment or another.

There is nothing sweeter than looking back and realising how much we have changed. How that one particular moment cracked us open and pulled out all the good stuff. Stuff that would never have come out without the churning. Without the shifting that change can bring.

This is what this thing is about, the human beings we become because we lived.

The girl who lived inside the quiet

 

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She sits in the quiet like a rose petal sits in the gentle rain. Drinking in what is offered from heaven. Drinking and being washed all at the same time.

She notices the motion that lives at the center of quiet. The motion that causes her to peel herself open and look inside. It is irresistable, this desire that the quiet brings, to pry closer inwards; to watch for the rhythms the heart makes; and to find the meaning behind every heartbeat.

The quiet makes her search. She doesn’t want to but her hands, of their own free will, reach for the measuring tools so she can measure things – her growth, her metamorphosis. How wide has it been? How long? Has it been complete? Has she been illuminated?

She picks up the compass, the clippers and the map and follows the the old trails, calculating the miles and the heights. The journey to here has been full and sticky and hard and beautiful.

She has long fought the quiet. She stopped her ears so she couldn’t hear it and closed her eyes so she couldn’t see it. She much preferred the cacophony of the chaos, the discord that would keep her mind occupied instead of picking at itself. Then she wouldn’t have seen all the places where it had cracked.

It is much easier to avoid things. To push them away where we cannot reach for them. Until maybe we feel ready or we simply forget  that those things are there and they get swallowed up in the noise of daily routine.

But her destiny was sealed from day one. She was born in a quiet place, a little sleepy town on the edge of a country where the trees rose so high they could touch the sky. And the wind never shouted, just whispered in soft, hushed tones. Even though this quiet also lived inside of her, she wanted to escape, to run away, to scrap it all out from inside of her. She wanted to change herself.

But one day, sitting in the quiet, she realised the peaceful energy it brought. The nourishment. So she learned to curl into it and listen to all the wisdom and beauty it gave. She learned to honour it. She learned to honour herself.

Kaleidoscope

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Melbourne is steeped in winter at the moment. Her usual elegant lightness is weighed down with cold, her toes wet from the rain and dew. The mist that covers her is refreshing even as it is depressing. You can feel her heartbeat slowing down when you get up in the morning. You want to stay longer snuggled up with your duvets and pillows. She doesn’t seem to mind.

There is something about Melbourne winters. They remind me of the first time I moved here – the strangeness of the days I spent trying to woo her heart, trying so hard to make her fall in love with me. But there is a mysterious magic to falling in love, isn’t there? A mystery because we never quite know when, where or how it will happen. I like when it happens with someone I know. Someone whose heart I have learned and memorised as my own and then one day as I’m sipping hot chocolate with my fingers delicately curled around the mug, I feel everything in me pulling towards the person. It is quiet and strong. The realisation of a love that has been building from day one.

I’m cold every day in winter. My fingers are desperate for autumn and so is my heart. Both always seem so dazed by the cold. As though it doesn’t come every year. I smile watching them because it amuses me and endears them to me. My own being becomes something to encounter, as though discovering it for the very first time. And I swear the nostalgia that fills my heart is like a ball of fire. It should keep me warm all through winter.

And you. I have been thinking of you.

Often when I write I want to say something meaningful to you. I always want to leave words that you can wrap around yourself and know you are loved. And important, and special. I always want to pour my whole being onto the page so when you cradle it between your fingers feeling for its texture you can feel me too. That is the only way I know how to write. I am becoming comfortable in this skin. And I want you to be comfortable with this too. With me. I haven’t said thank you in a long time. The other day I sat down and thought about each one of you behind the names and numbers I see on the computer screen. Real people. And I was grateful that you are here. That you read me.

I remember when I started and I had 3 readers, 2 were my relatives. So know that I am gushing over you. That I pray for you. And that I need you. It is a scary thing to need people you have never met before but if you have been reading me for a while you know I am not afraid of scary things so I will say it as it is: I need you.

Being properly human is a big deal to me. The words and their intent grace the preamble of this blog. I live by those words. They hold together such a simple concept yet it is the hardest thing to put into practice. We can’t hide our humanity. It is something we carry with us no matter where we go. And so all I’m saying is why do we go all out to be the best at everything else but this?

“You don’t find a person being lauded for just being a human. There is no pat on the back for just trying your best to be one”said my best friend the other day. And she is right. But here, in this space, this is what we do. We laud each other for just being human. We pat each other on the back.

I struggle too. Like you, I do.

Right now I am re-drafting my PhD dissertation and it is painful. The stretching of the work is like being pulled to the limits. PhDs are like that. They pull taut every part of you that has feeling. I stand facing my fears about finishing, about writing a good dissertation, about the future after I close all my academic books and this journey ends. I am terrified.

Yet there is something breathtakingly beautiful about seasons where you are on the floor huddling yourself, these seasons of winter…they pass. And we grow from what they leave behind. We rise again. And the next time that season comes around we do it better. This is what it means to be properly human – the always reaching for the stars without forgetting the ones we already hold in our hands. This is a phenomenal skill. But it is crafted quietly and slowly through the way we live our life every day.

This winter is brewing things in me. I feel like a kaleidoscope. Sometimes I have moments of sheer awe with splashes of colour and other moments are filled with absolute terror. But when you undress this whole thing it really is very simple for me: I just want to love human beings. I am a big softie and I am at my best when I am loving someone or something. It is the core of me. And so when I grow up I want to give a love that is amazing.

And maybe when I die someone will say:

Wow. To be loved by her was an extraordinary thing.

 

Friday shots: treasures

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I love the way you look at me. As though there is something magical behind my big, brown eyes that only you can see.

You search deep down. Reaching for the furthest place your hands can touch. And you pull it out.

You pull out treasures. In gold shimmerings and richness of history. Each soaked in a story so thick it drips to the page.

How could I have known I was a home to these beautiful of old and new things – treasures of gold and silver linings?

You reach inside of me and pull them out.

You know the beauty that lives in every part of me.

This is friendship. And you, my dear, a true friend.