Stillness

Life carries pockets of stillness for me, nowadays.

Sometimes it whispers in while I’m working, and in the sudden calm, I find myself looking around, tracing the outlines of daily things as though seeing them new. Other times, my fresh awareness washes over me in the midst of a gathering with friends, and lends sweetness to our laughter, warmth to our proximity despite the bite of winter. Occasionally, it’s in the moments before I fall asleep, while the final gentle glow of the day hovers over my lips in a smile.

I have been challenged in many ways recently, but at last it feels as though my footsteps have traction. I am chasing peace, and gaining on it.

And I have so much; my life is so full.

In between, I am overwhelmed by gratefulness.

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Resilience

A woman recently brushed up against the life of someone near to me, and though brief, her contact left an impression that rippled through even to my innermost thoughts.

Her coat fitted well, though its shiny cuffs told of years of wear. Her hair was folded out of sight in a dove grey and robin’s egg-blue doek*. In her ears, pearl studs glowed dully in their tarnished settings, while dentures decorated with twin gold stars peered out from her smile.

She told her story – how she’d had only a few years of education before needing to begin working. Her first job, as a cleaner in a fish factory, sterilizing buckets of scales and innards and pretending to be legally old enough for full-time employment. Her second job, which changed her life, in a clothes factory, cutting cotton thread day after day. How she, now an elderly woman and at the age of retirement, still worked in that clothes factory, and her pride at having climbed the ladder to a managerial position.

Seated next to her, her injured and disabled child.

And instead of speaking of difficulty, or challenge, or a mother’s noble duty to care for her own, she spoke of gratitude, and of faith. She made no show of the sacrifices she had made in order to support her family. Only gratefulness at progress and recovery.

This woman asked for no sympathy – didn’t need mine.

Admiration overwhelmed me.

Though brief, her passage through the life of someone near to me left an impression that rippled through even to my innermost thoughts.

With humility and new perspective, I felt my spirit bow to her resilience.

 

__________

*In South Africa and Namibia, a traditional head-wrap worn by African women, especially in rural areas, is often referred to by the Afrikaans word ‘doek’, which means cloth.

Floodgates of my mind set wide

 

As Promised

How was your holiday?

It’s a question we’ve all politely asked, moments before we switch off and let another friendly acquaintance’s anecdotes drift in one ear and out the other.

In a previous post, Post-Op Cabin Fever, I promised to fill you in about my holiday: my operation and it’s inevitable effects on my voice, my singing. So here goes.

Singing is breathing to me.

My decision to go forward with the operation for the sake of my health meant that my singing would inevitably be affected by the change in my physical biology. But what choice did I have? My health, weighed up against my status quo voice, my instrument.

Wrapping my mind around the idea of change filled my hours, slowed my movements as I delved into what it meant for me to be able to sing.

Singing has always been my comfort, my voice my escape, my music my ideal communication of the most raw, most intimate parts of my soul. Now, a surgeon would work near to my chords, to open my throat on a permanent basis. In all likelihood, greater resonance of my voice would be the outcome, thanks to increased space. So the doctor promised. Regardless, it meant a change to my comfort zone, the shaking up of the core of my sense of self, a difference in how I could connect with the world.

It was quite a lot to process.

I played piano, filling my silence as best I could.

Two weeks of recovery later, I was able to test out my new voice for the first time. Trembling, soft, piping – at first. As I grew healthier, so did my sound. Clearer, more stable. It felt like flexing a muscle stiff from sleep, like straightening a joint after too long staying still in the cold. Tentatively, I began to experiment, softly singing old repertoire, and using my brushed-up piano skills as accompaniment to new songs.

And now, my voice is as new, while the essence of my sound remained.

Just as promised.

Great Expectations

Disappointment is a good thing.

No, it’s not pleasant, of course. But we’ll never appreciate the rare success of spontaneity if it’s guaranteed every time.

In a world built on risk and reward, doesn’t the former make the latter all the sweeter? When things don’t turn out our way, we come back down to earth. We get our heads out of the clouds, paradoxically less wet behind the ears than before. We learn.

Giving up on our dreams is something we are told never to do. But sometimes, at least for me, I confuse “dreams” with daydreams. Ideas, ideals, that shouldn’t be a reality, for a million reasons. It’s difficult to give up on those imaginings, feels like I’m sacrificing beautiful opportunities, choosing to pass by a promising path of adventure.

But in the end: disappointment itself is another opportunity. Once again, I grow and can become something greater, someone more grateful, and wiser.

My great expectations once again tinged with reality.

Always without regrets for the happiness my little daydreams have gifted me.

Post-Op Cabin Fever

Everyone knows, university is a challenge. But I didn’t expect the challenges that have come with recess, the holiday between academic terms and semesters.

On one hand, drifting in limbo is a total, blissful opposite to the constant pressure of semester. My Netflix and Chill sessions with my dog definitely peaked during the first week, and I couldn’t have been happier ignoring the mess my bedroom had become. Finally, all expectations (or academic ones, at least) were suspended. I could feel human again.

But after the eighth day of comfort clothing, the joy of it had kind of worn off.

So I picked up old hobbies with new energy. I painted a couple of watercolours pieces, and taught myself a new song on the piano, learned how to cook a few new dishes. I did a bit of my French holiday homework, caught up with old friends of an evening. General pottering around at home during the day. I cleared my room a little, reluctantly, or to be more precise, shifted the displaced piles of my Res room around, without a particular sense of purpose. Guilty as charged.

And then I went to the doctor, and found out I had chronic tonsillitis. I was booked in for an operation barely a week after the first appointment.

So I sang, and I played piano, and I sang some more. I was determined to use my voice as much as possible, to celebrate my sound, to hold onto it in some form with recordings, in case it changed after the operation as the doctor said it may (more on that in a later post).

The operation came and went without a hitch. I arrived home from hospital, dosed up on too many kinds of painkillers for me to keep count. I remember lying down on my bed. I blinked. And I lost hours and hours. When I woke again, it was time for my next lot of pills. And so it continued both day and night…

For two weeks, I didn’t leave my home. At times the physical pain made me grateful I didn’t need to go anywhere, didn’t need to exist beyond my warm duvet, or the couch from which I could warmly watch TV. But as I grew stronger, the constant dizziness began to suffocate me. The dulling of my pain I felt more as a dulling of my senses. All I felt able to do was to sleep, or to sit, staring blankly as life moved around me.

My brother went to gym, fitness training, sports practices. My mom did a thousand jobs, working and keeping house, running endless errands, while my dad left early each morning like clockwork only to get home late from the office, and to work some more. And I sat. And I stared. And I tried to read, but couldn’t focus. And I tried to write, but my sentences were blurry at best. I slept. I scrolled blindly through my social media feeds, watched hundreds of unnecessary videos on YouTube. I texted friends and caught up on their progresses, their travels through the world – Greece, France, Brazil.

And I willed the days to go by until I would be well.

That’s when it really started hitting me hard.

Cabin fever.

Restless, with sleep as my only alternative. I began to miss the people from my university life with a new fervour. Each inside joke or half-remembered story that I knew they would tell so much better than I could, every little reminder of all the good I’d experienced, all the things I’d learned from them, set me on edge. Their holiday business and social plans coincided catastrophically with my recovery. And still I sat, longing, dosed up, comically swollen and hoarse, medicinally demotivated.

Time moved too slowly, broadly rolling around the statistical two-week “you should start feeling better now” mark. I reduced my pain medication as drastically as I could manage, and felt like a new human each time I woke with less in my system. When the day came for me to venture outside with decreased risk of secondary infection, I exploded out of the house, and enjoyed hours at the mall I usually avoided like the plague (and was rewarded with a great pair of new boots!).

Suddenly, though, I realised the total lack of social events or available friends in my area. It was like all the adventures I’d been longing for had dried up just as I’d gotten well enough to explore them. And when there were invitations, the logistics simply weren’t in my favour. Disappointment tasted just as bitter as the codeine had.

It was time for the second diagnosis of my holiday – FOMO. The Fear Of Missing Out. Yep. It’s very cringe-worthy and was probably last popular as a term in 2010 (thanks Dad), but there’s truth to it. The thought of some crazy student escapade, hovering elusively barely beyond my reach, after so long spent imagining just how good it would be to be well again, has been agony for me. It feels as though every passing day has brought more energy for me, with less to spend it on.

Thankfully, recess is almost over. Who would have thought that that’s what I’d be wishing for? I swear, contentment is a talent. I’m consistently humbled by those of you who can channel satisfaction on a regular basis…

Any chance you’d like to meet up for coffee, and teach me how?

Just Peachy

Loving Yourself First – Millennial or worth considering?

“Self-care is never a selfish act – it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others.” – Parker Palmer

You get caught up in life sometimes. We all do. We split our attention between work, and friends, and significant others or our lack thereof, and the billion errands we need to do to keep all the wheels from falling off. We push ourselves to keep juggling, suppressing the anxious insecurity of everything being up in the air, biting back our cynical fear of something falling inevitably and breaking irreparably.

Sometimes, it’s just a phase. Push through it, get on with it, get over it. Other times, we need to take a break, and choose what we can set aside temporarily, to make our lives more manageable. We’ll add it back when we’ve found our rhythm with the rest.

Occasionally, we realise we’re committed to something that’s become very different from what it used to be, or what we hoped it would be, or just over-committed in general.

The introspection triggered by this realisation is, in my view, a priceless opportunity.

You can free yourself. Detach. Consider where you’re actually going with all this, consider how far you’ve come, and if your progress has been in your desired direction. Once free, you can rethink your approach to everything, if you want to. What’s important to you? Who do you want to be? What would the hypothetical future version of your ideal self prescribe?

I think allowing ourselves this introspection, and really, really thoroughly exploring ourselves is an act of ‘self-love’. You empower yourself to become fully you, undiluted, without thinking of what others might think or feel.

Maybe it’s millennial – superficial and a passing fad like early morning aerobics (here’s looking at you, 1980’s). But maybe taking time to build yourself up, before rushing on with the rest of life, is more sustainable in the long run.

Take your time today. Breathe a little. Do what needs to be done, but don’t forget to love yourself first.

 

Melancholy

 

Isn’t melancholy a deluge of yellow and grey?

Extra(Ordinary)

“The unexamined life is not worth living” – Socrates

Why do we live ordinary lives if we believe ourselves to be different, more, capable of achieving our dreams?

It’s easier, to do what others do. To follow their routines, their career goals, their relationship structures. It’s prescribed, accepted, endorsed. But we feel like we’re not ourselves, like we’ll never achieve our dreams because they’re so far, so distantly paralleled to the “ordinary” we’re living that we know our trajectories will never meet. We get stuck. Start to stagnate.

Thinking this way… We’re told that we’re vain. Selfish. Asked to justify the potential we feel racing through our veins.

Maybe we are self-centered. Maybe, because we’re young right now and we don’t have all that much to lose – maybe it’s okay.

Maybe it’s exactly what we need to get us started on changing things.

I’m learning that sometimes we need to make our own way for ourselves. To live differently, right  down to the little details, because what suits other lives will not necessarily suits ours. And we’ll gather some criticism along the way, and those closest to us may worry we’re losing ourselves for a little while.

But eventually we’ll be happier. And a lot closer to achieving our dreams. Our outside worlds will start to resemble our inner worlds, and we’ll have peace. And those who love us will exhale in relief as they start to see we are still who we always have been – just more, and growing every day, uninhibited by the “ordinary”.

spiral staircase

Phantasmogorical

1. having a fantastic or deceptive appearance, as something in a dream or created by the imagination
2. having the appearance of an optical illusion, especially one produced by a magic lantern
3. changing or shifting, as a scene made up of many elements

little things that make me happy

Growing Pains

Imagine your comfort zone as an upside down fishbowl. Inside it, you feel you have everything you need. You are content, and cosy. For a while.

Soon, as you become better at the little things that used to take up so much of your time, you find yourself looking around more, looking up more, looking at the blurred foreign surroundings that shift, distorted in your glass walls. Looking is enough, then, and inspires only gratefulness for how good you’ve got it. For a while.

Complacency sets in. The usual tasks become mundane, meaningless. You sit, with more time than ever, because you are good at your work and because you are maybe not so thorough anymore. You sit, and you stare at the strange shapes and exotic colours and the low sounds of the things beyond your fishbowl comfort zone.

And then you start to examine the glass.

You start to wonder why your zone ends just there, and not just a little further on, why not a little to the left. You realise the glass is a little scratched here and there, a little grimy in other spots, spiderweb shatters where you’ve bumped up against your boundaries too hard. And soon the details of all the little chips and chinks and cracks becomes so stifling, and the glass so close, and the air too little for your burning lungs.

So you have to break free.

It’s not easy. It’s not comfortable. You kick a hole in the side of your fishbowl, scrabble at the edges with bleeding fingers until it’s big enough. And then you squeeze through, and it scrapes at you, and it’s glassy blades tell you only some parts of you may leave, and that the rest must stay behind. It’s not painless. But there’s no going back. There can be no living in a fishbowl with half of it caved in. So you move on, out, up.

You move to where the hypnotic blurred things, the shifting colours, the unintelligible objects, can start to become clear. They are not going to be what you thought. Somehow you always knew this. The distortion of your glass bowl is gone. For the first time, your eyes can start to adjust. You can start to see things for what they are.

In your hands a thousand glass needles lie buried, nostalgia for what was once good. Their beauty fascinates you.

For a while.

And then you move on.

It’s a commonly held opinion that growing up is not what it’s made out to be. So common, in fact, that I’m not quite sure who makes it out to be all that anymore. Maybe it doesn’t even take someone to make that impression on kids who have the majority of their growth ahead of them, because the kids are born with that hope inside them. The hope that life will be all that, and more. Maybe that’s the outlook we have to have in the green of our youth, so that growth is both possible and necessary.

Growth is the synthesis of change and continuity, and where there is no continuity there is no growth. – C.S. Lewis

As I’ve grown, I’ve shed many of my original comfort zones. My university and social life seems to lead me to continue, sometimes quite brutally, in this line of change. It’s a good thing, though. I think that’s why living out your youth is so important – now is the only time we can grow so recklessly, so focused on our own development with the least consequences for those around us.

So, I will embrace my youth, and grow still more, for another while.

So much is about to begin –

Next year, a whole new phase of my life will start. University, moving out, all sorts of fresh independence that is simultaneously daunting and exciting.

There’s so much new that I have become acutely aware of the “old” – the ritual of my dad knocking gently (and for a ridiculously long time, but he wouldn’t be a real dad if he didn’t start his day making a silly joke) on my door to check if I’m up in the morning, preparing meals with my brother, and the little things like saying ‘goodnight’ to my mom. As much as there have been ups and downs throughout my adolescence, as there are for any family with teenagers, I know I’ll miss this sort of thing.

On the other hand, living with a roommate, studying a degree and a diploma (at the same time, I know, I’m crazy), being part of a student community… That’s all foreign territory for me. It scares me because I know I’ll be pushed beyond my current limits, and that kind of stretch is always uncomfortable to begin with.

Then again, stretch beyond my limits means growth. The academic and practical pressure of my courses will lead to mental agility the likes of which I’ve never had before. And the independence will push me through maturation, so that I can become fully me, fully grounded in what I believe, no matter what situation in which I find myself.

Trying to live *out* of my head

Most of my writing has been the product of some or other emotional turbulence in my life. Some of my writing has come about because of brief lapses in that turbulence. Now, as I begin to really *live* instead of just ‘living in my head’, I find that I’ve gone months without writing.

It’s not because I haven’t wanted to write. Honestly, it’s been on my mind almost daily. But life happens, and in order to really make memories I’ve found that I just need to wait an extra 30 seconds or so; to suspend whatever duty or obligation or business I feel, so that I can map out the moment, to capture it in my mind.

Today, for example. I was sitting on the fourth floor balcony of a seaside apartment next to my dad. The wind was quite a bit more icy than I’d expected and I found my lacy sundress pretty incapable of keeping me comfortable – but I stayed another 30 seconds instead of returning inside to help set out the Christmas lunch.

The result was a beautiful memory- the bright summer Southern Hemisphere sun, the icy fresh wind off the salt water, and a fluffy blanket which my dad found to keep me warm. We didn’t say much, but it meant the world to me as we watched the kite surfers skid across the coastline, and smiled from afar at happy families huddled on picnic blankets in smudges of shade.

I haven’t been writing regularly for a couple months. But while I’ve missed it, I’ve been on such adventures that I couldn’t regret it if I tried.

The Quiet

In a way, it’s even more saturated with communication, with thought, with meaning. Having studied music for a brief five years, I’m beginning to understand the pivotal role silences play in the ultimate expression of an idea.

An aeroplane passes overhead, one or two cars whisper down the hill on the street outside. Birds sing in the garden, sometimes loud, sometimes quiet. My fingers tap a pensive rhythm on my keyboard. A Sunday morning symphony.

I am slowly reminded of a game I used to play, when I was a child in the backseat of our family car. I’d peer into other cars curiously, acquaint myself with the passengers’ faces – who were they, where were they going? For a time, we’d be travelling in the same direction, and I’d make friends with their characters in my head, consider their backstory. And then there’d be an off-ramp or a turn, our lives would part and I’d feel this gentle sense of loss, a gently overwhelming understanding that each of the billions of people on this earth are connected in some way, though not always for very long.

Interesting how something so apparent to me as a child, so unavoidable in my eight-year-old brain, is something I seldom notice these  days.

Perhaps it has something to do with the growing noise in my life – the demands, the requirements, the necessary unavoidables.

On this Sunday morning, I steal back a moment of the quiet.

When you are old, what will children ask you to tell stories about?

To be honest, I don’t think most children will ask for stories to be told anymore. With technological advancements heading in the direction they are, access to the millions of videos we record today will probably be, well, commonplace. So it’s possible very few children will ask for stories to be told at all.

But there may be an interested minority, a small portion of children eager to listen. Maybe not because of the content of our stories, but rather because of the way in which we tell them. These children may ask for our voices, our personal, anecdotal perspectives, and they’ll marvel at how different things used to be.

I don’t know what sort of stories the children of the future may ask for, because I don’t know in which ways the world will have changed by then. But I think I know one way in which we could cover our bases fairly well –

Live each day as though it will be a story worth telling.

boat