Our world, the great melting pot of ideas.

blog- the daily hoofprint

Image

Don’t let overwhelm feed paralysis – do good.

I stand spellbound neath the Opera’s sails. Here in Australia’s metro heart, where Sydneysiders use 200L water per day…per person. I wonder if they turn off the tap while they brush their teeth. I wonder how much I use.

In Parliament House we mingle in the Strangers’ Room, talking about the drought and eating salmon and roe on tiny pancakes made by house elves. What a name. The room and I both wear terracotta. Dusted orange strangers.

The Deputy Premier NSW gets up and speaks like an oil slick, in that way that people who get up and speak for a living have. A nun speaks, cracking her righteous truth across the assembled. One in six kids in Australia living in poverty. I feel it smack against the makeup I’d applied at 6am. It‘s uncomfortable, forced to confront my own privilege.

28years living with the homeless she says. She calls us to account, right here in Parliament House. Not just the pollies, but us as a nation. I’m pulled from the life I’ve built near Byron Bay and held, feet dangling, above Australia. I imagine the kids in their houses, what they eat and how often. I imagine the people who aren’t in houses too.

I take out my phone as she talks and google “poverty” beneath the table. Eric Jensen reckons there are six types: situational, generational, absolute, relative, urban and rural.A little sadness sinks over me as I read: “Absolute poverty is defined by the lack of sufficient resources with which to keep body and soul together.”

I remember the teenager I found crying at the roundabout in Ballina. Arms on the steering wheel. Head on her arms. Tyre punctured on the curb. It’s ok I said, not realising none of it was. There was a lot to that young person’s story. I didn’t ask, out of compassion for her dignity. I didn’t have the training. She had an arm bandaged and her whole body shook when I asked if she was ok. Sitting on the grass beside her car, her tears streaking my shoulders. She leaned on me the way a child does when it’s all become too much. Leaning into my body, the final, hopeless reach for support. The traffic slowing to miss us. It made me feel breakable. I called the support workers at my org.

We tried to find her a place for the night. Sleeping rough, couchsurfing, living in your car, are forms of homelessness too.I parked her car at Aldi and dropped her to the place she’d been crashing. All I could think was of my sisters. And how she didn’t have one with her now. Not everyone has their people close.

Trauma is hard enough with a roof and a support network.

A journalist took the podium and distilled huge issues into mouthfuls, delivered it back to us through the lens of shrewdness and political context a journalist who’s mastered their craft can wield.

I sit in admiration as I watch her laser-focus our attention to nuances of a social calamity with her well chosen handful of words. It‘s like watching my FNQ friends fillet a fish. Flick, precise, flick, unflinching.

From 2011 to 2016 the Census shows a 27% increase in homelessness in the state of NSW. The waiting list for social housing in some regions of the state is 10 years. Ten years!!What the hell do people do for ten years without a house!

A country with Australia’s wealth shouldn’t have these stats. We can do better, we’ve put a human on the moon for god’s sake.

On the train – packed in like chickpeas, my neon midst the suits, I look from seat to seat and feel keenly the collective minds at rest here. It‘s like seeing something powerful sleeping. A shark on the ocean floor, a lion lounging beard-red beside a well feasted kill.

I think til it hurts.

“You have to learn to compartmentalise,” says my colleague. “You can’t let it overwhelm you. You just have to keep doing good where you can and moving forward.”

A philosophical accountant. Skilled up in corporate, now using that deft mind in social services. This sector attracts some good ones.

Walking through Martin Place in my heels I feel 9-foot tall like my surfboard. The day has been full of stats and I want to make change. I’m impatient and saddened and raged.

My hair whips around like a thoroughbred. Clip clop my heels down the mall, past the Lindt Cafe.

I daydream how fun it would be to whinny loud and gallop through the commuters. Council workers perched, having lunch. Kid in cool skate shoes yelling to his mate. Buzz and thrum of Sydney beneath the GPO sandstone.

I feel strong and determined, my flanks lean and ready to run til foaming. But frustration bites at me. How do I channel this energy? Why can’t 24million people look after the ones who need it better. What has happened to our herd?

It‘s strange being in concrete and trees and bustle after months on beaches and country roads. Clip clop my heels through Sydney. Don’t whinny 😂

As the frustration bubbles to the top of my consciousness a shout cuts through my bleak musings. “Get in quick! Selling faster than Taylor Swift!” The Big Issue vendors. Australian social enterprise. “We take card now!” he says with a grin and I pull out my bank card. I‘m buoyed by social change here in motion, right in front of my snout!

Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.

I’m still figuring out maximum impact. But I’m putting one foot in front of the other. I’m not letting overwhelm feed paralysis. Eat the elephant bite by bite.


Wednesday Night…Out-Of-Body

Levitaatio

A year seemed like a good chunk of time. A chunky chunk. One not to be looked over like six months. Skinny, wishful ‘six months,’ who talked a lot, but who nobody really took seriously.

Well it was only 11 months really. But it was a faraway place and that was the most important part of it all.

In a world where everything seemed to me it had been done before. You could barely conjure an idea without some smug pair of lips babbling how they spent a year doing that very ludicrous thing when they were 22 and had left a long-term relationship.

“While I was living in Nicaragua I was taken in by a one legged healer and his wife. We ate nothing but tomalis and I didn’t check my Facebook for months, that’s right months, at a time. It was a really hard time in my life, and it’s changed me for the better.”

Oh shut it.

It seemed to me at times I had been born too late. We knew it all, we’d tried it all. We had investigated the magic of everything so thoroughly that we had scientifically gotten to the bottom of it. And that is the indisputable best way to kill magic.

Burke and Wills had had the life. Underprepared, unguided; setting into the great unknown to die with urine in their bellies and lips blistered into bubbles like the fine, lifting skin of a dead lizard, swollen under the Australian sun.

Enshrined forever in the glorious doom of the true adventurer.

Now you had to go to more and more extremes to touch foot on virgin trails. You had to buy a motorbike and drive backwards through continents on one wheel, or sell your house on Ebay and move to places nobody had heard of.

Once I read somewhere, “you don’t have to move to India to find yourself.”

I tried to live by this for a little while. Tried to look inside myself, straight through the freckled skin of my chest, past the throbbing little veins that shot blood throughout me, deeper than the clockwork physical, to focus my eyes to persistent green slits and stare into the existential soul of myself.

But in the end it didn’t work, and I decided that maybe I did have to move to India. Only the rapes in India made me cry, and instead of the spiritual heart of that country and stunning landscapes, I thought only of hurt women holding their knees. And my childhood longing to visit evaporated. Poof. Into the Queensland sky.

I decided on Colombia instead, the second friendliest country I had visited.

But I was not a fool. I knew this move alone wouldn’t quiet the mind that whirred at night, a million miles an hour like a plastic windmill stuck in a chain-mail fence. Spinning in glinting pinks and silvers, all that energy expended, yet going nowhere.

I had to do something, I had to challenge myself. With a language, with a culture, with new work and foods and people. But I also had to allow for internal mechanics to loosen, to reform, to rust and take on a new beauty.

I had figured out, finally, a small truth. And it had only taken me 27 years.

It was helped along, as always, by the words of Mary Oliver.

“You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.”

Mary Oliver, Wild Geese

I had only to let my energy unfold. Slow as a green fern unfurling. Gentle and fresh and probing. Or bold as a buffalo calf kicking its way free of the birth sack, and into the arid, dangerous world of the African plains.

I had only to let it be. My will was strong, but my harmony needed the room to move, the chance to stretch out, test itself and perch, balanced, at its rightful equilibrium.

Part letting it be. Part letting conscious decisions guide your trajectory.

Existentialism: “A philosophical theory or approach that emphasises the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will.”


The Pen is Mightier Than The Semi-automatic

NOT SILENCED: Cartoonist Dave Brown's answer to the Charlie Hebdo terror attack.

NOT SILENCED: Cartoonist Dave Brown’s answer to the Charlie Hebdo terror attack.

Three days in Paris. 17 dead.

A satirical magazine targeted for lampooning radical Islam. Shoppers at a kosher supermarket siege killed.

This morning I came back from my run, red as a baboon’s bum after the lack of training over Christmas.

Mum dozed in front of the morning news, fresh from a night shift.

I stood as the heat prickled off my skin. The fan drew lazy circles above our heads and a lump of pride formed in my throat as I watched the morning news.

In Paris thousands upon thousands of people, Middle Eastern flags, French flags, Irish flags, American Flags, Swedish flags toted high in the air, they marched through the city. There were so many they milled like sardines, one huge united mass.

Between 1.5 -2 million people marched in Paris said the newsreader.

The three days of terror had the opposite effect the killers intended.

People who had never rallied before came onto the streets of Paris, packed their children in the car and drove from across France and Europe, marched singing and shouting and holding hands, to show that freedom of speech will never be silenced.

There will always be those brave enough to exercise their right.

BBC millions march in protest in Paris, 2015

UNITED WE SPEAK: Image from the BBC shows millions marching in solidarity for free speech in Paris, 2015.

Earlier in the week I had been disgusted to see several major news outlets showing an online video of the gunmen shooting dead 42-year-old police officer Ahmed Merabet as he lay on the ground, appearing to plead for his life.

What has the world come to when amateur video footage of somebody’s cold-blooded murder can be run openly on news websites with a simple ‘graphic warning’ bar.

This morning I watched footage of Merabet’s brother, good looking and devastated, lean forward into the microphone and say “for the rallies across Paris, across France, across the world, I thank you. It means a lot to us.”

I was thankful too to the people of Paris for showing Merabet’s family that we cared, that we supported his brother and his community and were aware of the difference between extremists and ordinary Muslims.

It is in the wake of real tragedy the good people come to the fore.

Last week I held my friend’s baby boy.

“It’s so weird that 16 days ago he was in my stomach,” she said, feeding him with the ease I use to make a coffee.

He squirmed his tiny arms and opened his mouth in the silent cry of a baby bird. I was struck by how little he was.

How many things could harm him! What a miracle it was that any of us reached adulthood at all.

A loaf of bread could suffocate him; a loud noise could deafen him. I felt as though a small breeze would leave him with pneumonia.

He was tiny and beautiful and would one day be a grown, talking man. Bizarre.

A reverse of these thoughts played through my head as I looked hard at the faces of the two brothers accused of shooting dead journalists, cartoonists and other innocent people in the Charlie Hebdo Magazine attack in Paris.

They were little boys once, probably bounced on their mother’s knee. I wonder if she looked into their eyes as they suckled and thought, ‘drink up little murderers.’

My bet is not.

Somewhere along the way something goes wrong. It raises, as always, the debate of nature versus nurture.

Are people born bad? With the ability to murder? My belief is that some are. But most aren’t.

I would hate to kill another human being. But I think I could do it if I had to. In a situation where I would be killed unless I killed my attacker. I could do it.

But these two brothers?

The BBC reported in their online coverage of the event:

“Witnesses said they heard the gunmen shouting “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad” and “God is Great” in Arabic (“Allahu Akbar”).”

This is radicalism. It is nurture not nature at play here. And it is extremely sad.

Four of the magazine’s cartoonists were shot dead in the attack. Perhaps an indicator of the power of the pen, and of humour, to really hit its mark.

It is the cartoons in a newspaper that make me stop and think. It is the cartoons that neatly summarise the crux of an issue in a way a lengthy article cannot quite manage.

The ability for humour to hone a pincer sharp light on an issue remains long after blustery and indignant words have faded.

Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists did exactly what they set out to do: raise important dialogue around contentious issues, get under the skin enough to highlight a point, draw attention to something in a satirical and confronting way.

And it is for this reason they died at the hands of gunmen motivated by radical religion. A sad, sad day for free speech indeed.

Perhaps some of the best coverage was the BBC’s compilation of obituaries for those killed in the Charlie Hebdo attack. Well worth a read.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30724678

France lost some amazing people that day.

Another post which shows the spirit of those who fight to protect free speech is this, a resounding and powerful response from cartoonists globally – a message of unity and above all, the prevailing might of pen over sword:

http://edition.cnn.com/2015/01/08/europe/charlie-hebdo-cartoons/

Four years ago, as a brightly-dressed uni student with little real worries, but an intensely curious mind pointed at the world at large, I attended an amazing event.

My university hosted the 2010 UNESCO (UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Press Freedom Day.

This was a big deal. It was an annual event and this was the first time it had come to the Pacific….let alone to the University of Queensland in BRISBANE!

I was one of the volunteers who helped interview journalists and speakers in attendance and produce short podcasts for the live coverage.

I put on my best practical heels, did my hair in an elegant but forgettable manner, and charged the battery on my Zoom audio recorder.

‘Freedom of speech’ was a buzz phrase to me before that day. Something people spoke about, but something Australians didn’t have a whole lot of drama with. Certainly not on the scale I was about to discover.

I sat in a packed lecture hall, madly scribbling notes as a journalist from Fiji described going to work in a dictator-led country.

He described the military personnel marching into his office before the paper went to print each afternoon. How in the beginning they wrote truly, and in the end they self-censored so they didn’t get a bullet through their skull at 4pm in their office chairs.

It would have broken their hearts not to write what was happening in their country. Not to let the people know that what was going down in their island nation was wrong and illegal, and everybody knew about it.

That is what freedom of the press means.

Another journalist shared their story. I put my pen down and ingested every word, spellbound. They told how they had been working in an African country, in the grip of a military coup.

One day a car carrying journalist colleagues was led into an ambush, the back doors opened and the occupants gunned dead. Red blood on the white tailgate. Stifling African heat spread like an old coat over the whole scene.

They suspected their translator, though they didn’t blame him. Everybody had a family that could be held hostage to meet certain demands.

That was the problem.

This was real, and it was happening to journalists all across our globe for reporting what was really going on in countries with major political problems.

I have the utmost respect for journalism, as atrocities don’t stop until there is enough public outcry, trade sanctions or international pressure.

And those things don’t happen until the stories see the light of day. The fact some journalists are willing to die so that those stories are heard is the reason some of them are ever heard.

That night I ate my povo uni dinner (affectionately termed Three Potato Stirfry). This was a carb-friendly mix of rice, potato, sweet potato and onion, and yes, I am aware onion is not in fact the third species of potato.

I sat on my front lawn in Bardon and listened back to my recording with an Argentinean radio host.

Noisy miners were sitting in the wattle tree above the pool, mining noisily. Rush hour traffic was streaming down Chiswisk Rd, a handy shortcut to avoid the Toowoong roundabout.

I hit play and listened as his deliberate, accented voice explained that without journalism in countries like his, politicians could get away with blue murder. And often it was just that; murder.

I finished my Three Potato Stirfry without enthusiasm and went to bed thinking about who I’d meet tomorrow.

I parked a ten-minute walk from the university, far from the parking man’s vile clutches, and headed in for the final day of the event.

Today the prize would be awarded. After finishing my jobs I snagged a good seat in the auditorium.

Well dressed, like many Chileans, Mónica González Mujica took the stage, her bright silk scarf a testament to her vibrant country.

It was a day and a person I will remember for years. She received the (UNESCO)/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize for the work she did during the dark years of Chile’s military coup and dictatorship (1973-1990).

The award is named in honour of Colombian editor Guillermo Cano Isaza who was assassinated for fearlessly denouncing the crimes of drug mafia operating in his country.

I remember being very tired that day as Ms González took the podium.

As she spoke, strength and emotion resting equally on her words, I felt my physical awareness melt away. The fatigue left. Every word sunk slowly into my skull.

She spoke about the things that had happened to her during the barbaric rule of General Pinochet, the military commander who seized power after his troops slaughtered and arrested a democratically elected President and members of the new government.

The things this lady spoke about; her treatment at the hands of soldiers, what it was like living in the torture prisons of Chile during that dark chapter, had a profound effect on me.

Despite harassment, exile and eventually arrest and torture, this woman continued to publish books, articles and stories about what was happening in her country.

It is the kind of bravery that makes all your other thoughts hush. That makes your $150 parking ticket fade away to nothing.

I did not fully grasp the extent of the pain and danger she was in until I put my own two feet on Santiago soil.

Chile’s capital is bound up in history. The people are vibrant and well dressed. There is great pizza, elegant market plazas and towering, cramped apartment blocks. 17 years of dictatorship and terror had taken place here.

Above it all the Andes blink their snow studded lashes at the whole scene. If those mountains could talk they would have some stories.

IMG_1756

Of the two university students, 18-year-old Carmen Quintana and19-year-old Rodrigo Rojas Denegri, who were covered in petrol and set alight in front of witnesses, for daring to protest against Pinochet and his soldiers.

Read Carmen’s story here: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-24014543

As I walked slowly through each floor of Santiago’s Museum of Memory and Human Rights, I thought about the speech Ms González made in Brisbane years ago.

I looked at the cold metal bed before me. It was used to strap prisoners to, naked and dripping wet, to better conduct electricity through their bodies during torture.

I stood with tears streaming hot down my cheeks as I watched the video testimonial of a woman who had lived through that very torture.

“They told me to take my clothes off,” she said.

“And there was always a risk there that as a woman you would be abused in some way.

“I will never forget the sound it made as the electricity went through my body.

“Afterwards for a long time everything would bleed. Blood would come out of my eyes, my nose, my ears, my vagina.”

The death of free speech and the failure to protect the right of the press to investigate and report is somberly highlighted in Santiago’s museum.

QUIET MOMENT: A visitor takes a moment in the reflection room at Santiago's Museum of Memory and Human Rights.

QUIET MOMENT: A visitor takes a moment in the reflection room at Santiago’s Museum of Memory and Human Rights.

These people were arrested for opposing a violent man who was not elected. They were tortured and mistreated for raising their voice, exercising their right.

As always however, the people who were brave enough to keep raising those voices, such as Mónica González Mujica, were instrumental in bringing enough outcry and national pressure to oust Pinochet once and for all.

He was taken out of power in a democratic NO Vote. During his regime four newspapers were shut down and opponents were ‘disappeared’.

Leading up the historic NO Vote, campaigners were harassed. It did not silence people. They continued to speak.

As I watched over a million march in Paris for solidarity this morning I was again reminded of the strength of standing up for something. Of protecting, above all else, our free speech.


That in-between feeling

Have you ever had that in-between feeling? Like in high school when the PE teacher had a stroke of genius and implemented a semester of water polo.

 

There we all bobbed, treading water with similar competence to the way a baby feeds itself. I was as at home in the water as a fish in the sky. Not a flying fish. Just a regular Spanish mackerel.

 

I rotated my legs valiantly in eggbeater kick, my nose inches above the mocking stink of chlorine, waiting, bobbing, hoping nobody would throw the ball my way. The shouts of my classmates echoed off the Fairholme swimming-pool walls.

 

I lifted my eyes to a beam of sunlight stabbing in through the top louvre on the western side and thought how I would always remember this moment in time; treading water, waiting.

 

That is how the past two months have felt to me, since returning from South America.

 

As I sat on my Brisbane-bound plane I realised I shouldn’t be on it. That I should have stayed over there and done all the things I wanted to do.

 

(Including but not limited to sleeping in the jungle with only a can of deodorant and a lighter to make a flame torch against jaguar attack, volunteering at a hostel for a few months and using my savings for nothing but surf lessons and coconuts, and above all becoming fluent in that curly language they call Spanish.)

 

To clarify that statement, the reason I returned early was for Christmas with my family; to meet our cousins’ two new babies and eat prawns around the pool with the extended family, which we haven’t done in years. And I am happy I’ll be here for that. It puts a huge grin across my freckled face actually.

 

But there is something nagging at me. I feel like Red Riding Hood – who has left the path when she shouldn’t have.

 

They say the difference between entrepreneurs and us normal people is tunnel vision. Entrepreneurs have the ability to look directly and unwaveringly at their goal.

 

The problem with my goals is there are thousands of them, all swinging their buoyant red-poppy heads in the breeze, all begging for immediate attention.

 

It is no easy task to distil my focus.

 

I am learning though, as the years creep merrily by, that we have other senses. Mostly these get ignored.

 

It takes discipline of perspective to listen to these extra senses. It is something you have to consciously work at. Most of the time you are giving yourself advice and signals, which you ignore.

 

If I have a conflict in my life, big or small, my body is aware of it before my brain consciously is. I will wake with a knot in my stomach. I will feel wound up like a coil, ready to act with instinct in a burst of action.

 

This is not a good thing! Success in this situation relies on the brain catching up and considering the action I am about to take.

 

This is knowing yourself. This is what self-discovery is all about.

 

Once I fired off a reply email. It was following a rather unfounded complaint to the local paper I was working at, in my undertrained and overworked position as senior journalist. I was still a green sapling in the journo world, but like most papers in regional areas, the young ones have to step up to a role often beyond their experience.

 

We had no editor, and the former senior journalist had just moved to a bigger newspaper….so I was it.

 

This is a great thing for training and character building, but it often means you are learning by trial and error.

 

The next morning I woke with a knot in my stomach. Lying there, looking up at the white ceiling of my Dalby house, I let my thoughts filter idly in and out of my brain like the tide.

 

Why was I feeling like this?

 

Aaaaah. The email. It was only the next day I realised I had taken the wrong tone in it. Thanks hindsight…..right on time as usual.

 

From this I learned. Never write back to an email involving conflict/drama straight away. Go and make a coffee. Write a draft. Mull it over.

 

What is sent cannot be retracted.

 

I think the key to life is to never stop learning. That is how the world goes backwards; when people start to think they know it all. That is how we close our minds.

 

Back to the other senses though…..that is one of the main things I want to get out of 2015. Learning to listen to my inner voice properly. Learning to say no to things I don’t need or want in my life, and to keep my own focus when there are a million beckoning hands on the sidelines.

 

My problem is I can enjoy most situations, so I am easily led to distraction.

 

If you have ever felt this also, you may enjoy this poem by one of my all-time FAVOURITE poets, Mary Oliver. Read it. Get shivers. Listen to yourself.

 

 

The Journey- Mary Oliver

 

One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began,

though the voices around you

kept shouting

their bad advice–

though the whole house

began to tremble

and you felt the old tug

at your ankles.

“Mend my life!”

each voice cried.

But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,

though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers

at the very foundations,

though their melancholy

was terrible.

It was already late

enough, and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen

branches and stones.

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do–

determined to save

the only life you could save.

 

The thing is we haven’t been taught how to do this. Schools should teach quiet time of reflection. Halfway through the 90 minute Maths-B double lesson all the students should be asked to lie on the floor, close their eyes, and reflect on how they are feeling in life, what they want to get out of the week, and whether they are doing enough to keep their bodies and minds in harmony.

 

Instead we have to learn it the hard way: through teenage angst, overloading our poor adolescent shoulders with the worries of the world, and listening to advice from all angles from people who don’t necessarily know what you need.

 

We need a form of unlearning. Of quieting the outer world. Turning off the TV and sitting for a moment on the front lawn. Digging your fingernails into the grass and thinking about your name and your place in the scheme of things.

 

“the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own,”

 

Oh Mary. So wise.

 

My in-between feeling is still there, but it is a necessary one. It’s stopped getting me down, I’ve realised I am supposed to be treading water at the moment. It reminds me not to just sit and get mouldy. It reminds me I’ve got places to be.

 

Thanks inner voice. I get it now.

The journey.

The journey.


A Day of the Semi-Employed Person

I left my blinds open and woke with the sun, lorikeets screeching out their bitchy hierarchy in the gums above my head.

 

I could hear my housemate clanging in the kitchen in that way that early risers do, figuring morning is for waking, and you can sleep when you’re dead.

 

It felt good to rise as nature intended, though it required going to bed at gramps-o’clock.

 

I was splitting my day between matters of personal happiness and annoying, obligatory jobs begging attention before Christmas, so I ate a good breaky of eggs and caffeine. I wouldn’t be back til late afternoon.

 

Last week the fantastic news that I’d received the green light for my Colombia job arrived without fuss in my inbox.

 

“Hi Lisa,

 

You have been accepted to the English Teaching Fellowship to work in Cartagena de Indias.

 

Best,

 

Angela.”

 

Its brevity was great, though a little shocking. I looked up from the couch on my ordinary Tuesday night and let my little heart soar.

 

Then I googled Cartagena.

 

“The jewel of Colombia’s Caribbean coast, with a charming colonial, old city.”

Heck yes. My kite surfing dreams would at last come into fruition.

800px-Cartagena,_Colombia_(5043733874)

Absentmindedly I thought about what to pack for a year in paradise. All I could think of was bikinis and my favourite pen.

 

I hoped I could track down somewhere safe to live, that didn’t cost too much. I wanted to spend most of my monthly stipend on Spanish lessons, attending theatres and scuba diving.

Ready for one bad Aussie surfer to hit its shores.

Ready for one bad Aussie surfer to hit its shores.

 

I would be teaching English to the poorer people of the nation (all ages), and would be well out of my depth for the first couple of months at least.

 

That week I bounced around. Someone could have pelted me with eggs as I rode to work and I wouldn’t have minded. I had a secret and it was a good one.

 

I knew I’d be in for a pretty tough year, but I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into it.

 

For now, reality beckoned.

 

I packed my laptop, an apple and some water and pedaled off to my psychologist appointment. I looked harder than normal at our fabulous Aussie trees. I wouldn’t be seeing them for a while.

 

I’d decided to deal with some stuff that had been getting me down. As a naturally happy person I woke up one day realising I had lost some of that somewhere along the way.

 

It was time to delve into that mental back drawer that most of us spend our lives ignoring.

 

I had been recommended to an amazing, professional woman who spoke the language of the heart, through the tongue of the brain.

 

Sharp as a tack, passionate and sensibly analytical she was just the kind of person I needed to shine my reflection back at me.

 

I cannot recommend seeing a psychologist highly enough if there is something troubling you. I think we should see them as frequently as dentists to be honest. Probably more.

 

It was an hour’s appointment and I left with that satisfied feeling you get when you fish a grape out from under the refrigerator. Dealing with something that had been out of sight, out of mind, and would just have festered.

 

Mental health: The most important kind.

Mental health: The most important kind.

I had a letter to write to someone important in my life, so called into an op-shop to buy the cute vintage writing paper such an occasion demanded.

 

On my way out I spotted a sex shop. I hadn’t been into one since college days, when we would leave notes on the cork ‘meeting board’ up the back saying “looking for open-minded orgy companions, call me” and signed off with out friend’s number. Haha!

 

“Morning,” said the young male behind the counter a little too brightly.

 

I was somewhat ambushed.

 

He sprung up like an erection.

 

“Can I help you with something?”

 

“Um, I was just walking past and thought I’d look,” I replied.

 

Ha. Bet he hears that one a lot.

 

I walked towards the nearest shelf, which of course was a beautifully arranged display of vibrators. One had bunny ears on the business head, obviously designed by somebody not in possession of a vagina.

 

“They’re great,” said the vagina-less man.

Naughty-Bunny-Vibrator-7-function-vibrating-rabbit-egg-female-sex-vibrator-clitoris-stimulator

“What size are you looking for?”

“We’ve got a great range of realistic ones,” he said, sweeping an arm in the direction of the well-endowed shelf.

 

“Or these little ones are great for travelling, and super quiet,” he continued, putting a buzzing one into my hand.

 

It was all a little amusing; I relished impromptu experiences like this.

 

Things became a little awkward when he started a paragraph-like (though very informative) description of the benefits of clitoral versus penetration options.

 

I didn’t want to interrupt him, but the buzzing in my hand was becoming a little strange to hold, and I didn’t know how to turn it off.

 

The button would have to be on the erm…dry end I reasoned, as he chatted away. Close but no cigar.

 

When he’d stopped talking I handed the small instrument back, and he shut it off like a pro. He would make some girl very happy one day, with or without battery-operated help!

 

“Well, thank you,” I said sincerely.

“You really know your stuff. I might pop back on the weekend.”

 

When I’d left I thought of a hundred great puns I could have used. Dammit!

 

“Great G-spot you’ve got here, it’s got a real buzz about it.”

“Been open long or short?”

“I’ll just go out the same way I came in.”

 

I made my way to my favourite Mooloolaba Café, Envy. I’d done a trial here a while ago and the atmosphere was so relaxed it felt like you were hanging out at a friend’s place.

 

Sometimes it was hard to identify the actual staff, as they floated by with the urgency of a Bolivian storekeeper.

 

Like most places on the coast it was overpriced, but I paid my $5.50 for a mug of flat white made on almond milk (YUM) and pulled up a pew.

 

Don't trust people without a little addiction in their lives.

Don’t trust people without a little addiction in their lives.

I wrote a six-page letter. Pausing to laugh, cry and sometimes look up to catch the approving glance of an elderly person who thought the art of pen to paper had long been killed-off by our generation.

 

It was $5.50 well spent; good tunes kept rolling, the coffee was excellent and no annoyingly bright waitresses bugged you like on the esplanade.

 

I had forgotten the pleasure of writing a letter rather than an email. The slow pace of penmanship forces you to think about each sentence properly before you blurt it (something I am direly missing in conversation.) It was a great cure for my ever-present foot-in-mouth disease.

 

I popped it in the post box across the road, like sending off an old friend on the train, and went to finish my Christmas shopping. As usual I bought one for them and one for me…..the only way to get through the drollness of Christmas shopping.

 

As I paid with cash I shouldn’t be spending a warning rumble of thunder sounded.

 

I peered up into a menacing sky, got on my bike and prepared to race nature. The sky darkened with a smirk as I waited for the lights to change.

 

I could feel the air changing in that way it does when it is about to absolutely piss down.

 

Oh boy.

 

I had gift-wrapped presents dangling from my handlebars and my laptop in my backpack. It was on.

 

Green light, I gunned it across Venning St, the sky rumbling smugly overhead. I must look like a tiny ant running home.

 

As I sped past Ocean View Av the drops started coming. What Forest Gump would call “Big ol’ fat rain.”

 

Much needed droplets beat down.

Much needed droplets beat down.

No!! I pumped my stumpy legs faster, feeling the burn. This is what Lance Armstrong must have felt on those ferocious hills during the Tour de France.

 

Oh, that’s right, he had drugs helping him. Lucky bugger.

 

More drops, my sunglasses ran rivers.

 

I thought about sheltering under someone’s garage but it looked like the kind of rain that would set in for a good hour.

 

I was only a few blocks from home, and I’ve always enjoyed a challenge. I kicked my steel steed into racing gear, and put my head down as though on the velodrome.

 

Racing speed on my bike was similar to that attained by a nanna on a slight downhill slope. As I passed the beckoning shelter of the local fish and chip shop, I knew I’d made a rookie error.

 

One street from home and the heavens opened.

 

I could imagine them up there (whoever they were) yelling, “Get her! Drown the little ant! It wore a yellow shirt today, how silly of it!”

 

I arrived home transparent and delighted with the adrenalin of it all. One present to re-wrap.

 

Nature: 1 Lisa: 0

Nature: 1
Lisa: 0

The rain kept coming down, soothing and beautiful, soaking into the thirsty coastline.

 

I put on Double J in the background and prepped dinner while the thunder belted its way across the sky.

 

Is there anything as good as a stormy day when you’re not at work!


God Bless You Frank…Whoever You Were

The problem with being vague is that amusing events, weird people and small scenes of disaster tend to magnetise towards your general portion of the universe.

….as though drawn by your aptitude for not having much aptitude for things.

If a weirdo gets on a train or bus, they will inevitably sit down beside me and begin telling me their story. Tangent by confusing tangent.

If I have a simple task to complete and someone else is waiting on the other end, it will invariably go wrong.

Life is a battle!
Here is a story from the front line, for your amusement.

God Bless You Frank… Whoever You Were.
Brisbane, 2009

I had been working at my new job as a carer for people with mental illness. There was a sign on the lunchroom door that said “Out of my head, back later.”

The job was a fountain of bemusing scenarios as it was, but this particular day the event happened before I had actually started for the day.

I arrived at work to find my shift had been changed and I was now three hours early. Sigh.

My fuel light had been on for a couple of days and I had no dollars. Driving back to Paddington and risking an empty tank on my return to work wasn’t an option, so I set off on foot through Red Hill to kill the time.

For weeks now I’d admired the old, Roman Catholic church that stood on the hill. An austere mass of red bricks, it loomed in solid splendour above us mere mortals, just as the Catholics would have liked.

They were fond of stark reminders that enjoying sex, coveting your neighbours Merc or eating pizza on the Sabbath would send you directly to hell….without passing go, and probably after PAYING $200.

The regal Red Hill church in happier times.

The regal Red Hill church in happier times.

I loved old buildings like churches, and this one was grand enough to be a cathedral (by Aussie standards anyway).

I decided to sneak up to the bell tower for a pigeon’s gander across our fine city of Brisbane.

As I approached I noticed there was a mass on. On a Monday! Give it a rest Catholics.

This should fill an hour, I thought, and stepped inside to take a seat in the back row. Perhaps they would hand out wine.

Though I was an atheist, I was interested in the concept of religion, and it wasn’t often I got to see it in action.

While I waited for my morning coffee to kick in I was pleasantly lulled by the monotone drone of the priest, swathed in folds of white that dropped from his shoulders like iced waterfalls.

I gazed skyward, remembering with discomfort how hard the benches had been in Sunday school, and how rigidly Inow sat.

After a while I began to actually pay attention to the sermon. (This can take some time with the roundabout preaching style of the snow-clad).

“He was a man of many communities,” the priest was saying, “giving not only his time to his family, but also to those in the many clubs he was involved with over the years.”

So Jesus was a clubs man! I knew it. I could almost picture him kicking back at the bar of Jerusalem’s local bowls club with a jar of the good stuff, after a tough day on the green with his 12 mates.

I looked up at the Jesus upon his lofty heights on the internal arcs.

10394101_807180155999283_171308909567314206_n

“Today we come together not to mourn the loss of Frank, but to celebrate the life that he led…..” the priest went on.

The lightbulb inside my brain also went on. Finally.

I was in the middle of a funeral.

I looked with fresh eyes at the assembled congregation, noting I was one of approximately eight people under the age of 100.

Shit. They probably think I’m a secret mistress here to argue the will.

I became acutely aware of everything in my surroundings, and tried to ignore the feeling that I stood out like an extra finger on a Simpson. One of the congregation breathed heavily and the priest looked sympathetically in her direction.

Shit! Shit!

I nodded solemnly at the milestones of Frank’s life (which were remarkable and humbling to hear by the way) and considered the most low-key exit I could make.

A woman dressed in a lavender two-piece dress suit turned her head slowly to look at me.

I nodded subtly to her in a way I’d seen jockeys do at country races when other jockeys trotted past them in the warm up ring.
This was arguably not the appropriate response.

I had to get out before the procession and mingling occurred or someone would inevitably ask me, tears pooling in their earnest eyes, “And how did you know Frank?”

And I would be forced to think of an innocent way I could have chanced upon the friendship of this man in his 70s (gathering by the demographic of mourners), so as not to answer with honest disrespect, “Oh no, I don’t know Frank, I work up the road but I don’t have enough fuel to get back to my house so I thought I’d kill time here. Not kill, pass. No, shit, not pass…..um…look an eagle.”

There was a brief pause in the proceedings and I took this moment to dust off my acting skills.

Looking directly out the large door to my right I pretended I was being hailed by a fellow mourner.

Perhaps one of the aged who couldn’t lift their walker up the stairs unassisted. A friend of Frank’s who I’d met while I was over at Frank’s place….cleaning his fish tank. As I did. Each Wednesday. Yes, yes he was a lovely man, madam.

Calmly I nodded and made the motion for them to stay there, that I would come out to them.

From his position at the parapet only the priest could see the empty stairs I was signalling at.

“We would like to thank those of you who have travelled to celebrate Frank’s life amongst family and friends on this day,” he continued.

Bless you father for your silence.

I took my leave, wishing Frank well in the next sphere, and hurrying off down the road, taking several metres to extricate myself from the far-flung shadow of the great building.

“I see you child,” said the God I didn’t believe in, “I know what you have done.”

Ironically, though the remainder of my day included explaining to a lovely man with dementia that his debit card was linked to his own money, and not a scheme by us carers to replace his hard earned cash with a small plastic card, that was the most surreal part of my day.

I breathed a sigh of relief as I entered the ‘normality’ of my workplace, all the while thinking Frank seemed like the kind of guy who would’ve got a chuckle out of my story.


There’s Gotta Be More To Life

I recall many summers, gazing out my classroom window, stuck to the little brown chair with sweat, watching magpies pull grubs from their safe places on the lawn.

You lose grub.

You lose grub.

It was so hot the air seemed to buzz, a languid drawl against my 12-year-old ear drums. I tried to focus through the audio-haze on my teacher’s voice.

“Who can tell me why the Aborigines didn’t want the new settlers to build houses in Australia?”

Ha. What a can of worms that one was.

The clearest thought I remember, however – because it has never truly gone away – is: “There’s got to be more to life than this.”

Even at that young age I was not wholly satisfied with the options being served before me.

That thought roars loud as as a Harley through the channels of my brain. I think of it as I brush my teeth, run on the road, check my emails, dive deep under water, wash the dishes.

We get up, live our lives for a day and then sleep, only to do it all over again.

When we are young we have wild and wonderful variations of this, but ultimately for most people, it is too difficult to maintain a life against the grain. All that swimming upstream is exhausting. And we eventually succumb to a doldrum existence.

This is not the case for everybody. And finding those sorts of people is the inspiration that can change your own life. Through inspiring you to change it yourself.

Today I finally watched the second Australian Story (ABC – excellent program) on Aussie Tara Winkler. Do yourself a favour and view the link.

This woman, aged just 22 at the time, pulled 14 kids from an abusive and corrupt orphanage and set up a better one for them. She then realised orphanages weren’t the answer and embarked on an over-abitious project to turn her efforts into an NGO instead, that places kids with families and puts on programs from karate to schooling.

And she pulled it off.

She didn’t just complete a token ‘kid rescue’ to save 14 children and stop there. She looked at the systemic failings of childcare in the country and tackled the problem with vision.

As I watched her story I cried and laughed at several points. I have always had a big heart and in recent years grown increasingly frustrated by not knowing what to do with my pent up will to help, desire to use my brain, do work I love and find something ‘more to life than this.’

Over the last year I’ve felt a pull towards the NGO sector. I love journalism, but I want my years on this spinning ball of rock to mean something at the end of it all. For me journalism is fulfilling, vitally important for a fair and open society and hard, brain stimulating work.

But there is a part of me that hasn’t been allowed to stretch its legs.

As I sat at my computer in Mooloolaba, on one of the Sunshine Coast’s lifeless, overcast days, I was struck like a gong by a long-overdue realisation of what I wanted to do with my life. Mostly epiphanies sneak up on you and hit you full in the face to announce their presence.

Tara’s story made me proud of a stranger, meditate on the beauty of romance in whatever form it comes, remember that we all have strength and should blaze ahead with our plans regardless of the doubters, who will never risk or achieve anything grand.

I took a photo of my puffy, red face to use as motivation in years to come if my mission got tough.

When love for humanity leaks out your eyes.

lisa cry2

I made a list of the skills I possessed at that exact point in time.

1) Good at talking to people and engaging them to share their story with me.
2) Resourceful. Can enter most places with or without consent of security. Possibility to apply this in professional/legal capacity.
3) Good with kids.
4) Horses trust me.
5) Fast, efficient writer.
6) Good creative writer.
7) Good at having ideas. Not so good on follow through. Working on it.
8) Handy with a camera and video camera.
9) Excellent at finding hidden corners of cities.
10) Good networker. Good at deciphering jargon. Good at rewriting jargon to normal speak.
11) Good at cheering people up. Highly empathetic.
12) Good at climbing.

It was a mixed bag. I felt with these as my specialties I could live a fulfilling life, without crusting over.

Spurned on by a desire to make up for lost time, I applied for two positions with NGOs. One in Cambodia, one in Colombia.

I felt this life clarity was a little late, but better late than never.

The miserable day looked down on me miserably. So much for my planned swim today.

While I was thinking of all the exciting options that lay before me, and the mountain of work it would take to get to where I wanted to be, I was aware of one thing.

I would have to look at this not as some phase, but as a way of life. A way of looking at life. If I had a bambino in Colombia while helping set up a domestic violence education program it would be no big deal. My kid would grow up speaking Spanish and English and we’d swim in the water together and watch whales play during their breeding season.

If I didn’t achieve the lofty journalism heights I had planned by 30 I would just have to relax and accept that life works out, partially through your actions as the liver and partially through circumstances out of your control.

I felt I had gained something and let go of something all in one morning. It was mentally refreshing and spiritually uplifting. It reminded me life was good.

I felt like I’d just taken the mental component of who I was through the car wash, to emerge a little better, and ready to wear another ten thousand bugs to the windscreen.

A bug's life.

A bug’s life.

I returned to my Spanish study, frequently pausing the CD to decipher the curly and confusing language that the tutor demanded from me.

The horizon looked challenging, but it looked really good too.


Coastie Bra – How To Get Noticed On The Job Circuit

I’m A Coastie Now Bra

I moved to the coast with about three times as much gear as I’d lugged through South America for the past five months.

That is to say, not a whole lot.

Luckily coasties aren’t too fond of clothes, probably they were already starting to regard me as a native. The more skin, the more native.

I sat above Mooloolaba’s main beach and surveyed my new home. I liked to think I looked like a seasoned water woman scanning for rips. Probably I looked more like an unemployed 20-something eating her homemade sandwich.

Pedal power.

Pedal power.

Wind took up my hair to dance, sun bit deliciously into my back and with each white crash of wave I felt the pull to leave Australia growing a little weaker.

What a place.

I’d hoped to knock off work earlier to work on my tan and put my head beneath that famous blue water. No wonder travellers came here and never left.

And when I say work I mean unpaid trial. I’d been a coastie bra for four days now. I hated being idle.

After stressing about work on day one, I peppered the Mooloolaba esplanade with my resumes. On day two I’d been lined up for four trials.

Anything over two hours I requested pay for. Café trials meant making plenty of coffees under the boss’s watchful gaze…which meant I scored two free coffees per trial. I spent the day buzzing.

Unfortunately for me I’d just spent the past two hours working (unpaid) at a place that’d never heard of me. Ha! Let me explain.

These types of occurrences were commonplace in my life.

My phone had rung the night before.

“Hi, Lisa, it’s so-and-so from the something-mumbled Café Mooloolaba, just wondering if you could come in for a trial at 9 tomorrow morning?”

“Yes, certainly,” I said, scrawling ‘9am Café Mooloolaba’ on my growing list.

Shit yeah! Beachfront workplace.

The sun had a bite even at 8:30am. I stood high on my bike as I glided down Mary Street. If a car pulled out I’d have gravel for a face, but how good that wind felt, blowing my worries away.

My short legs pedalled me valiantly past dawdling holiday makers in too-bright prints. At the sound of a bell they seemed startled. A bike on a commonly used bike path!

I changed into hospo blacks, chained my bike and headed to my future workplace.

“Hi, I’m Lisa. I’m here for a trial this morning.”

“Oh, I didn’t know anything about that,” said the sprightly manager.

“My boss must have forgotten to mention it.”

I made coffees, learnt the till and took orders on the iPad. I was killing it, and we discussed the roster at the end of the shift.

I hadn’t been climbing or waitressing in months and my weak fingers rebelled every time I made them carry three stacked plates.

But it felt so good to be working after three idle days I would have almost paid the café to let me do the trial.

“Well thanks for coming in, you did well today and we’ll have a look at the new roster this week,” said my future boss.

I headed off, coffee in my belly and success on the horizon.

I sat on the beach to delete job rejection emails from Seek, which had the habit of collecting there each day for me. Like unwanted children.

Home sweet temporary home.

Home sweet temporary home.

Four missed calls from a coast number. Obviously someone had been gobsmackingly impressed with my resume.

A voice on the other end answered then handed me to her manager whose first words were “are you all right?”

“Yes….shouldn’t I be? This is Lisa…”

“What happened this morning? You were supposed to come in for a trial at 9am,” answered the owner.

Aaaaaah. Yesterday’s phone call. The trial at Café Mooloolaba was actually a trial at Envy Café, Mooloolaba.

We rescheduled for the morning and I walked back into Café Mooloolaba to explain I had just worked two hours for them without them contacting or meeting me ever before.

The barista who’d showed me the ropes looked at me with pity, the manager laughed and wrote my number on a docket.

Well that’s one way to get noticed at a place you want to work….rock up and work for them whether they ask you to or not. Fingers crossed….

That arvo I had lunch with my Nanna – collected in a real car for the occasion – what a treat. She was wearing a patch on her chest to help against memory loss. Oh science!

She told me life was no good when you got older unless you stayed cheeky.

“Each time one of the nurses puts it on I’m a bit cheeky with him,” Nan said with a twinkle.

“Raymond,” I tell him, “you get lower are lower each time!”

That arvo I pedalled off to my second trial, a German place on the esplanade where the owner made me taste Underburg, a German apertif that had the kick of cognac and the aftertaste of cloves. It was made on herbs. Not bad.

I managed to smash two expensive looking wine glasses.

“Ooooh, I’d hide those,” said the cherub-faced kitchen boy, clearly delighted there was a bit of a scandal on.

I stuffed them under a milk carton in the bin and got back to the coffee machine.

“I’ll just take the rubbish out,” he called to the chef, giving me a co-conspirator wink.

Thanks mate!

The place was dead. I studied the menu (food is overpriced on the coast!), wiped the same non-existent puddle of milk and watched the clock.

“How do you feel about not wearing your nose ring?” the owner asked.

“Our customers are quite conservative here.”

Obviously I hope I get the other job…. You know, that one that didn’t know they were auditioning me.

“Ok,” she said at 4pm.

“We’ll be in touch.”

It was too cold to swim so I lay on the beach and read Bill Bryson’s In A Sunburned Country.

I lolled raucously to myself like all lovers of literature do.

Read it and you too can lol on the beach.

Read it and you too can lol on the beach.

He was a cracking travel writer – this book on his misadventures through our sunny country. In one chapter he is walking through bushland in the middle of Sydney when he hears two dogs, barking threateningly.

He writes:

“They were coming toward me at some speed. Now the barking said, “We are going to have you, boy. You are dead meat.”…Note the absence of exclamation marks. Their barks were no longer tinged with lust and frenzy. They were statements of cold intent. “We know where you are,” they said. “You cannot make it to the edge of the woods. We will be with you shortly. Somebody call forensic.””

Oh Bill. I imagined him trotting in terror through our fine bushland.

Suddenly sand sprayed across my face as three little boys tackled each other.

They were nippers from the Mooloolaba Surf Lifesaving Club, which sat proudly over my shoulder.

Nippers at Mooloolaba

They ran back to their larger flock of nippers, clad in hot pink rashies. They looked like the good molecules on those indigestion adds.

Stoopid little nippers. One was standing on the 3m wall below the surf club, looking down at the sand.

“Ashton’s gonna jump,” yelled the nippiest of the nippers.

Ashton ran to the edge, reconsidered and backed up.

“Do it Ashton,” yelled his fellow good molecules.

Like all good young Australian boys he bowed almost immediately to peer pressure and leapt.

Luckily Ashton broke the fall with his face.

He dusted the sand off like a little trooper and was sweet.

I watched them doing their nipper activities. Line up, like a bright pink intestine, clasp their mini ironman boards and run into the waves. Paddle, run back up the beach, drop the boards and race each other to the finish.

The intestine of nippers.

The intestine of nippers.

An exuberant freckled lad took the lead but lost a few second swivelling his head back to enjoy the struggle of his fellow nips. Come on freckles, commit bro. Ashton smoked him.

I pedalled home up my hated hill, the mountain bike trying its best. A man on a road bike overtook me.

“Bit easier on this one,” he turned around to grin. Sitting pretty above his tooth-floss wheels.


Musings on Mental Health Week

“Clop, clop, clop,” barked the shoes, just below the white coat tails, which swung just above the white floor, which lay just below the white walls… who looked down flat noses at everything.

He had the feeling his eyes were too brown to be in this room, the white as suffocating as smoke, like the kind that crackled from the gumtrees every summer.

He grew painfully aware of his body, the way he was sitting, the way his eyes darted everywhere while his brain hissed at them to stop. This whole place made him nervous. He wanted to sneak back to the vending machine and get another Snickers.

The door swung open, deftly, just the right amount, and the doctor-type stepped in.

She was quite camouflaged in her gumtree-smoke coat, hidden against the judging, gumtree-smoke walls.

His eyes settled on her face; ambitious, in control and markedly attractive. He might have thought of asking her for a coffee if he didn’t feel like a shell.

He pictured her response as she turned to shut the door.

“I am sorry Mr Humphries, but it is my policy not to date shells. Solely humans. You’ll understand I’m sure.”

“Clomp, clomp,” snapped the shoes. Back to reality.

“Good morning Mr McKewan, thank you for coming in,” said the doctor-type.

“I’ve had a look through your files and I’m afraid we have diagnosed you with confounding sadness.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Don’t be – that is one of the things you’re going to have to learn to let go off – saying sorry.”

“Yes…it’s just…I don’t really have anything to feel sad about.”

“It is called confounding sadness Mr McKewan. The nurse will show you out.”

——————————————————————————————————–

Almost every time I connect with media I see something disappointing. A story about humanity letting itself down (teacher sexually assaults student; racial attack on train; charity worker embezzles thousands), or a crass headline by a newspaper that lets down humanity (Monster Chef and The She-Male)…but last week I felt proud from Monday right through to Sunday.

The coverage of Mental Health Week, the online links to information and help, and even the ABC’s list of 20 songs (as nominated by their audience) to get you through a tough time, has been REFRESHING and EXCELLENT.

Despite the grit and doom of our world, sometimes great things can happen.

Last week lots of people were brave and told their stories on national radio or television.

It gives me courage as I go about small tasks that seem huge, like searching for overseas jobs, deciding what clothes to throw out and what to keep, sticking to the path I’ve chosen while people line my periphery and shout their bad advice.

It makes me feel like there are other people finding life difficult sometimes, and their perseverance inspires me.

This week was a shitty one for me. And you know how I got through it? I had a shower so hot my skin nearly bubbled and then I put in headphones and played The Mountain Goat’s ‘This Year’ so loud my ears tried to pack up and left the building.

“I am going to make it through this year, if it kills me,” yelled the lead singer down my ear canal and straight into the section of my brain where I store my strength.

It bolstered me. It reminded me shitty situations are just that – a slice in time. Things will improve.

I guess I fall into the ‘confounding sadness’ category. My life is good; I have a loving partner, have just returned from a fantastic trip and have a bit of money saved in the bank.

So why have I felt so down lately? It can be a million things, but the trick is being able to step back far enough to dissect these, figure out the problem, and deal with it.

If you can’t do that on your own (and that’s most people) you should go and talk to someone trained to see the bigger picture for you.

Stigma be dead! You can now get a referral from your GP to a psychologist and Medicare will hook you up with six free visits.

You may even find that saying a problem out loud will shrink it like nothing else has. I decided to look into a good psychologist in my new town. I was actually looking forward to getting someone else’s perspective on the things blackening out my skyline.

I trawled through the ABC’s Mental Health Week website and felt connected to strangers all over the world. How great it must have been last week for people down in dark places to feel others were going through that by their side.

I was highly surprised to read the stats on http://www.mindframe-media about mental health. A snippet:

• In each year, approximately one in every five Australians will experience a mental illness.
• About 4% of people will experience a major depressive episode in a 12-month period, with 5% of women and 3% of men affected.
• Approximately 14 % of Australians will be affected by an anxiety disorder in any 12-month period.

It also states mental illness is most prevalent in 18-24 year olds. This should come as no great surprise. It’s a time in your life you are expected to believe everything is possible, while at the same time enormous pressure is heaped upon your just-developed shoulders.

The point of today’s post is this:

Threats to our mental wellbeing come in all guises. Just because someone is living a good life, with all they can ask for, doesn’t mean the Black Dog won’t come looking for them.

Peel your eyelids back and have a good look at yourself and people you know, because sometimes all that’s needed is one hand to reach through that blackness and let you know there is an opening at the other end.

When somebody is diagnosed with cancer we rally behind them, it is talked about freely. When someone gets hit by a car, breaks an arm, contracts pneumonia we know what to do. We get them medical help, we follow their progress, and we help them get better.

So what about our mental health?

The conversation on mental health has improved drastically in this country, but as westerners I feel we still find it difficult to speak about. Some countries mourn loudly and unreservedly at funerals. We westerners weep politely, constrained by invisible social norms.

Mental health is to me almost more important than my physical health. For being unhappy eats at your soul, affects your relationships and steals your confidence and thus identity.

I am going to share three instances which have made me stop and think of the importance of checking with our friends, family and self whether we are all ok, need to talk to someone or simply need acknowledgement that we are not ok.

Sometimes when we most need help we can’t ask for it…. Instead we sit quietly and wait for someone to notice.

1)
When I was 18 I caught a train from Rosewood (nothing happening kinda town near the Lockyer Valley, Queensland) to Brisbane (sunny Queensland’s capital, in Australia) to visit friends on my uni holidays. I had to change at Ipswich, at night. I hadn’t panned on that (Ipswich can be dodgy).

I stepped onto the platform and looked around. A bird gave a languid shriek, the kind you’d hear from something in trouble that was beyond caring whether it lived or died.

I put a jumper on though it was hot. I felt safer with it, like sleeping beneath a sheet at night.

I sat on the platform to wait the 15 minutes for my connection, not thrilled at being there at night.

Pretty soon I heard an angry voice, making its muffled way ever closer. Great, I thought. I read the paper enough not to want to be there. I pulled out the pocketknife I’d been eating my green apple with and tucked it, open, into the band of my jeans. Just in case, I thought.

A man and woman came down the stairs. He on her heels. She walking ahead, but on a mental string that wouldn’t let her stray too far from his torrent of abusive words.

I felt anger bubbling up inside me. Nobody should be spoken to like that, but sometimes people don’t have the strength to leave. I thought carefully about the situation, there were two people in danger here and I didn’t want my unchecked anger to get her into trouble.

The bird called out again to underscore the misery of the whole yellow-lit platform.

“You can be a pretty stupid cunt can’t you?,” he said to her back, following antagonisingly on her heels.

They came down the stairs, she looked around 30, her hair bounced as she stepped, her shadow followed her sadly.

I thought about putting my pocketknife through his eye and telling him not to speak to a lady like that.

Sigh. Why wasn’t I six foot and strong?

Then I thought about the place she was in, to let somebody speak to her like that. Probably she was a confident woman once, who didn’t hang her head and put up with scumbags. Her sense of confidence must be so eroded that she felt she needed him. I knew nothing about this woman and yet I felt her pain so keenly it was strange.

Empathy is a quality often missing in cruel people. How else could you treat somebody like that?

They walked down the platform towards my bench. Nine minutes until the train. The man looked up, spotting me.

“You gotta lighter?,” he yelled in my direction. His words falling like little stones on my erect nerves.

“Yeah,” I answered, crossing the space between us, acutely aware of the knife poking gently into my belly and the fact I was 165cm tall.

I held out my lighter, my hand with its body attached – reflected like Esher’s sphere self-portrait on its chrome surface.

He took it like a taker would. No thanks. No pause. His nails were short. I tried to look into his eyes to see what kind of a man this was, but he looked over at her instead.

I wished he wouldn’t.

“You wait a long time for a train here,” I said, to break the murderous silence folding in thick layers around us like honey dripped from a great height.

“Look what she’s fucking wearing,” he said, not taking his eyes off her.

She said nothing. Her hair moved slowly in the wind. Moths flung themselves with dull pings into the tube light above our heads. Her shadow hung back with trepidation, kinked on the concrete by a pole’s interjection.

“Are you finished with my lighter?,” I asked as he blew a cloud of smoke out through his nose.

It moved slowly like her hair. Wanting to go somewhere but stuck in that train station with him.

“I like what you’re wearing,” I said to the lady.
“That skirt looks good on you I reckon.”

He came over to me, looked in my eyes. I could see what kind of man he was now. Not much control on his own life so he had to control someone else’s. Mean, but perhaps not once, not always.

I looked back at him, not caring that much if he hit me now, as long as someone had said something nice to her today. Who knows when the next time might be.

He stood there for seconds, which slunk past slow as cats through gravy. He gave me the lighter and turned slowly to walk to the pole, leaning there like the purveyor of misery he was. I could hear my heart in my ears.

She followed on her mental string. She never looked at me, perhaps that would have been co-conspiracy.

I walked back to my bench and put headphones in with no music. I felt my heart losing little drops of blood for her. I decided then and there to one day to volunteer in domestic violence shelters.

Nothing happened for four minutes, long minutes. I caught my train and left them on that yellow-lit platform. Her with her nice thing said, that was hopefully strong enough to break through the misery and remind her there is better.

Mental health is not just depression or anxiety, it is self-esteem and identity too. And it has serious consequences.

2)

After several lectures staring at the professor and wondering if she was for real, I realised Speech Pathology was not for me, or certainly not at that point in my life.

I packed my bags and took a semester off uni, deferring my course until I figured out what the hell I wanted to do with my life.

This is six months of my life, I thought to myself. I will never get this back.

The prospect of working in a café or bar bored me, so I began to trawl for jobs that might have an actual impact on my character.

“Carer – facilitated mental healthcare: experience favourable, must be able to work unsupervised.”

Bingo. I got the job, seemingly based solely on my common sense, as I had not a wisp of experience in that field.

My first two weeks were under the calm guidance of fellow carer Kelly, who rocked a fantastic short hairdo, shorter than I’d ever dared to cut my hair, and who was fazed by nothing.

There were around 40 residents with varying mental health issues from dissociative disorder to chronic schizophrenia and anger management issues. It was a real mixed bag, and my eyes were being opened wide to a world I knew little about.

Like nannying young children, I believe if you have empathy and common sense you can contribute positively to the lives of those in your care, so I was unfazed by my lack of training (though I am glad people doing this for a career receive some!).

The job description can be largely summed up as this: Arrive at work, strip all beds and wash sheets, complete a billion cycles of washing machine, dryer, and clothesline, remake beds, listen to strange stories from Peter (“I’ve hidden people on the highway to NSW you now, all up and down that road”), prepare lunch for 40 people and serve this and midday medicines in the dining hall, break up arguments at the tea and biscuit cart, do more slave-like hours of washing linen, add two cups of disinfectant wash to shitty or urine-soiled bed-sheets and wash twice, spend time in the garden with the Alzheimer’s patients, placate some of the patients suffering schizophrenic episodes, switch the TV to the afternoon movie, hide in the laundry and read a quick chapter of your book so you don’t get swallowed up by it all entirely.

On day two we arrived at work to find a foul stench.

“Oh great,” said Kelly, “Looks like we’re playing ‘find the poo’ this morning.”

And that we did. Unfortunately I was the ‘winner’.

Our patients had varying degrees of different mental illnesses. One man was not mentally ill, but his family couldn’t afford care-accommodation anywhere else.

“I was fast as a cheater when I was playing footy,” he told me.
“I’d flick the light switch at the door and be in bed before the room went dark.”

He had had two heart bypasses, and though his legs had slowed his mind remained sharp as a tack. I always discussed the latest book I was reading with him, and the current state of the Liberal Party.

Every day Ray, whose mental capacity had been estimated as that of a 9 year old, would come by and want to help me with the laundry. This wasn’t allowed, so of course I let him. He would laugh like a delighted kid when I’d let him hit the dryer button and watch the sheets spin.

One day I hid in the dryer and popped out when he came in. He laughed so much I changed his pad.

Sometimes he would run laughing down the hall and fetch a battered, blue bear from his bed. Then we’d both sit and laugh as it did tireless somersaults in there with the piles of linen. Him laughing at the bear, me laughing in joy at his joy.

On my break I would read the patients’ files to understand their conditions better and get more clues on how best to interact with them. It was often a tricky balance of authority, understanding and compassion played out in those dingy hallways.

I was about 20 years old and it was a great life lesson. It put all ‘problems’ into perspective and taught me you can achieve great things when nobody is watching and you’ve the only one who’s got your back.

One of my favourite patients was abandoned at three years of age on the steps of a hospital. He had severe autism and another form of retardation, and three was an age it could begin to show (I did learn something in that Speech Pathology degree!). Evidently too much trouble for his parents.

I began to know each one of them.

The shrunken, toothless and sweet-as-pie kleptomaniac who would grudgingly relinquish her spoils from the night’s wanderings when I searched her cupboard each morning; beautiful old Merv who had some of the most violent and abusive episodes but the most caring personality; rebellious Christine who insisted on striding through the hallways ringing a bell to summon everyone to lunch, while belting out “ring my beeeeeee-el, ring my bell,” at the top of her lungs, and silent Dawn who once caught fire and asked calmly for help from her wheelchair.

As I cut my countless laps through those underfunded hallways I developed a huge respect for people who learn to live with their mental illness, and for those who dedicate their lives to helping and caring for them.

It’s tough. Sometimes it’s thankless. Sometimes you feel as mentally unstable as your patients.

Our patients could no longer live without fulltime care, due to either mental or physical conditions, and it was a draining but rewarding job to help them.

Often times I felt beaten down at the end of a day. Surrounded by a forlorn kind of hopelessness. Nothing much changed in that brick place.

Other times I felt completely uplifted, finding joy in the smallest things: when patients would help me collect the fallen pegs from the lawn or tell me I was beautiful and should marry a prince, or when Ray could tell I was sad and give me a hug, his chubby hands hitting me firmly on the back in comfort. Breaking the rules, but saving my day.

A lady I will never forget, who suffered very bad hallucinations from her schizophrenia, once came to find me. She was highly agitated, eyes flying left-to-right in frenzied panic.

She led me to her room, too scared to enter it.

“They’re in there, they’re in there in the shadows,” she said growing more distressed and pacing.

The situation was escalating quickly, other patients were getting stressed out and anxiety was building in those claustrophobic little tunnels they called hallways. I began to feel like I was in the burrows of Watership Down.

I was not a nurse, I couldn’t administer sedatives or the like. I had no real training for a situation like this, and in my fourth week on the job I was on by myself until our one-hour shift overlap at 5pm.

“Sshh,” I said soothingly, rubbing her shoulder, “there’s nobody in there, I’ll go in and make sure for you.”

Nothing I did or said could convince her otherwise. She began to hyperventilate. Some of the more fragile patients became deeply distressed, listening from the hallway.

“Come on,” I said, taking her hand, “I know what to do.”
“You stand here in the doorway and watch to make sure they’re all gone.”

I grabbed the spray deodorant from her duchess and stepped into the shadowed corner of the room.

“When we spray this it means you have to leave,” I said to the empty wall.
“Julie doesn’t want you in her room anymore. Thank you. Ok, bye.”

“You need to go and find our own room to live in now. This is Julie’s.”

Her eyes were two bruised plums in her skull. She came in slowly, looking all around, gradually calming down.

“I hate it when they just come in here. It’s not their room,” she said, indignant.

“They’re gone now, it’s ok. They know now,” I said, looking into her haunted eyes.

I will remember that day forever. The thought created by her own mind that caused so much distress. Acknowledging and dealing with a mental illness is in my opinion one of the bravest things a person can do.

We cannot always cure mental illnesses, but we can treat, manage and show understanding for them. It is the least we can do in today’s society, where people have enough pressures without the ignorance of others.

3)
This is a memory that still sometimes brings tears to my eyes, but more regularly remind me that everybody is locked in their own story, and we never know exactly what they are going through. So be kind to strangers, you just never know.

While we were at uni one of our friends took his own life. It rippled through our college community, through his family and friends, through everybody who had ever known him.

Some felt angry, some felt guilty, some felt cheated, all were devastated.

I share this story now in hope that you’ll watch for the signs in family and friends, and realise that mental health is not something to be spoken of in hushed tones, but something to be spoken of in the same way that going to the doctor for a checkup is not a taboo topic.

If you are going through a hard time, if you are sinking below an impenetrable mess of thoughts, talk to someone. If you aren’t ready to take that step, tell someone you think you might need to. Reach out.

The funeral was just like him, an eclectic mix of a lot of different things. People from all social groups were there, the nerds, the jocks, past teachers, his partner, his parents, his brother, his individual friends and his larger group of friends.

We all stood, spilling out the doors, such were our numbers, and looked at the white coffin. A life gone too soon.

The lump in my throat went up and down. The North Queensland air was hot. I stood there wishing I had been there for him, wishing I hadn’t moved away.

I had never met his family before, but that day told his Mum through tears how much we had all loved him.

When I flew back home I wrote them a letter, about what their son and brother had meant to all his friends. How his mischief brightened our time up north, how his inquisitive mind was never satiated.

A year later for his anniversary we all gathered for a ceremony in his hometown. I went up a few days early with one of his closer friends and we stayed for a night with his family.

Saying goodbye to a friend.

Saying goodbye to a friend.

I slept in his old room. I will always remember that ceiling, the feeling of those four walls around me, wondering how he must have felt looking up at this very view.

Some of us knew he was unhappy. Mostly we didn’t know the extent of it, only the very inner circle did, and even then you never know what someone is really thinking.

Afterwards we grappled with this overwhelming concept. And tried to heal our hearts.

Lying in that bedroom that night I finally understood the importance of reaching out to people. Nobody can say what it’s like until they have been there. Down in that dark place.

As depression sufferers often say when interviewed, or writing about their experiences, it is not sadness that takes over in the end, it is a life-crushing apathy. You just don’t care anymore.

An excellent blog I’ve discovered by a woman who suffers from depression is this: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com.au/2013/05/depression-part-two.html

In the link above, Depression Part Two, she writes:

“The beginning of my depression had been nothing but feelings, so the emotional deadening that followed was a welcome relief. I had always wanted to not give a fuck about anything. I viewed feelings as a weakness — annoying obstacles on my quest for total power over myself. And I finally didn’t have to feel them anymore.

But my experiences slowly flattened and blended together until it became obvious that there’s a huge difference between not giving a fuck and not being able to give a fuck. Cognitively, you might know that different things are happening to you, but they don’t feel very different.”

I think it’s important to remember though people may want to help themselves, sometimes they can’t.

depression-quote_zps4ad13361

All we can do is be there for them, and keep an eye on our friends. I strongly recommend reading that post if you want to understand more about depression from someone who lives with it.

And remember when the sads hit you that you are not alone in feeling this way, and that things can change.

Just put one foot in front of the other and keep walking until you see your horizon. Foot by godamned foot.

Oh, and play this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ii6kJaGiRaI

That’s it from me today beautiful people. And thank you to all last week who took the time to share their stories or engage in someone else’s to bring dialogue to Mental Health Week.

Someone, somewhere in the world probably sat up late at night… scrolling through your story and realising they’re not the only one who feels like that. And sometimes that’s all a person needs.


Therapy Costs Money, Jogging Costs The Shoes

DAUGHTER WATER: Golden idea to raise awareness for workplace pay sexism.

DAUGHTER WATER: Golden idea to raise awareness for workplace pay sexism.

After a full day in town paying Australian rather than Colombian prices for things, and spending almost seven straight hours with my mother, after five months of not, I was ready for a wine or ten.

Parents have a knack for asking annoying questions like “what are your long-term plans?” right around the time you are tossing and turning over your long-term plans.

Mum and I had had a nice day, but I was at my threshold. We got home, dumped the shopping, and I dragged my sneakers out of storage. There was only one way to deal with my stupid Irish temper bubbling just below the surface before it got out of the bag.

The shoes felt like tiny slippers of cloud after months of hiking boots. I basically skipped down the road….for the first hundred metres at least.

It wasn’t long before I was puffing like a steamer and the shoes felt like cement clogs. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Plod. Plod. Plod.

My legs began to loosen and the evening air began to drive away my worries. This was it, addictive as smoking (but not as good for you, if you ask Winfield, Marlborough or Lucky Strike).

Helidon’s valley air filtered through my blood and my spirits were at last persuaded upwards. C’mon endorphins you sexy sons of bitches!!

The moon trailed me like a vanilla grin on a string; running at my pace.

I rounded the corner into the slight uphill and pumped my little legs. Bloody hell.

Ryan’s (who runs up tabletop twice in a row for fun) voice echoed in my head, “don’t whinge and don’t be a quitter.”

I’m not sure about the grammatical structuring of that last sentence.

As I passed the paddocks I tried my animal sounds to make sure I still had it. These things are important in case you ever have to survive in the wild. And by wild I mean local farming community with domestic animals.

I mooed deeply at a small herd of cattle. The wily, white bull –sensing the threat I may impregnate his cows- moved to stand between his harem and me.

Down in the flood-break paddock, which had been filled to overflowing that fateful day in 2011, I spotted two horses gossiping.

I neighed sharply and the bay mare’s head shot up, a classic characteristic of a gossiper. The white mare continued chewing, unphased – a classic characteristic of the long suffering friend of a gossiper.

I beat my merry way across Kapernick’s Bridge. Three baby water hens were striking out on their own. They swam nervously, their heads tugging them across the glassed creek.

I remembered the wrath of that creek in the summer floods of 2010/11. This very bridge had been torn in two, a huge expanse of concrete, metal and bitumen simply gone. The locals came down and stared in disbelief.

People swept mud out of the top storeys of houses. My Dad found a photograph of a lady on Kapernick’s Bridge and handed it in at the local shop, lest it be the only remaining souvenir of a life washed away.

In the cleanup week they found a body in the rubble piled on the remaining portion of bridge. I stopped as I thought of that, my breathing loud in the still air.

Later a little boy from the city 20 minutes’ drive up the Great Diving Range was found washed right down into the valley.

A small community mourned.

I climbed the rail and sat with my feet dangling, looking into the water. We’d jumped off here once as kids, hitting the bottom softly. I thought about doing it now to cool off. I remembered how much heavier I was and decided against it.

The drawl of an engine slowing turned my head.

White ute, two bales of hay in the tray. Tray hay.

A cute farmer type looked out the window, bemused.

“Are you ok?” he asked.

“Yeah I’m good, just went for a run….it’s been a while. Needed a rest.”

“OK,” he chuckled.

“Don’t jump.”

I looked down on the house perched on the creek bank. People had been choppered from that roof in the floods.

I decided to suck it up and keep running. Past the fruit and veg honesty stand.

Lettuce: red, iceberg, $2 or 3 for $5.

At Hartz Rd I made a U-bolt.

I laughed at the memory of Dad’s stunt on that road. Our youngest sister had joined him on his regular morning walk. I could picture him striding out; piece of polypipe in hand to hit vicious dogs, should they appear; navy stubbies and work-shirt on; boot protectors over his socks, no burrs getting in there.

They separated for some reason. Maybe lil siswa jogged ahead, or more likely still, sat down for a while.

They had been talking about snakes and heart attacks.

Lil siswa looked up and saw her father lying on the dirt track, body twitching. She covered the ground between them at a sprint, blonde hair flying, gravel skidding.

Dad with roaring laughter stood. She was not impressed.

……..

I jogged back across the bridge, past all the animals who eyed me suspiciously; now aware I was neither cow nor horse. Up the little hill like the train who could. Past the spot we’d wait as kids for the bus, breath as steam in the air, cold knees knocking.

As I hit our street I made myself work hard to compensate for the short distance of the run. 60% capacity, wheeze wheeze, 70% capacity, past the barking dog, 80% capacity, glance at the orange tree I used to raid as I ran for the school bus- shoes and socks in hand.

Hold that speed. Don’t be a quitter. Across the electric grid and home, doubled over like an athlete, feeling like anything but.

I stretched on the lawn under the stars. Sammy, the white yard wolf (a breed closely linked to the suburban Labrador) came over to check out the scene.

Pinned in a calf stretch I was hapless as he coated my face in dog breath. I breathed jogger breath in his direction to even the scales.

Toby the cat came over too, having heard that a human had run without anything chasing it.

I didn’t even touch the hot tap when I showered. Just like Townsville days again. On the ABC news a moustachioed hombre from the Gold Coast was being interviewed about the truce reached between surfers and the council.

Sand pumping was no longer clogging up the best breaks. The surfers had been consulted this time and were happy.

“I think we’re finally catching the same wave,” said the mo-bro with a grin.

The whole thing was deliciously Australian.

In other news our country’s gender pay gap has hit an all time high in 20 years.

Now at 18.2%, with women on the losing end, it is the highest since records collected in 1994. That’s the national pay gap of Australia on average. Men being paid 18.2% more than women for the same jobs. What a fucking embarrassment. How disgustingly Australian.

Thankfully, someone is doing something about it. A new website launched now allows employees to search their company and check whether they have completed a gender pay gap analysis. It is for companies with 500 or more employees, but it’s certainly a start.

Story here: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/execs-push-to-close-gender-pay-gap/story-e6frg8zx-1227074398320?nk=f23cb6ca08729e7ab0198b849db664a8

And then I found the best Youtube video I’ve seen in a long time. To tackle the pay gap issue, 3000 CEOs who haven’t done the workplace analysis have been sent a bottle of Daughter Water.

View the video here. Tackle important issues with humour. Gold:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FVI7uKfsrTE

Important to note, the battle for gender equality is not always set in underprivileged countries.


Give Me Eternal Sundays

It was hot as tin, the air heavy with the suggestion of moisture.

The tease of rain.

We sat for a moment asking when the babies were due, discussing new jobs and laughing about something that some people got, but everyone laughed about.

The Queensland sun smacked down on us.

“That pool looks too good,” I said, and slowly we all drifted into the water like dugongs, lolling there as it cooled the white mass of each heat-swelled body.

The ladies swam their babies across the surface of the water, like fat aqua-grubs, delighting in the foreign texture of it all.

I sunk below the water until my belly touched the cool cement floor.

How double-edged Sundays were – the beauty of bright white freedom, but the knowledge that every minute more of Sunday was a minute closer to Monday.

My last air escaped my nostrils and I shot upwards to break the surface, into my sun-drenched Sunday.


The Massage

30 soles for a Swedish massage….why not.

We limped with aching muscles up the stairs, the two Peruvian ladies leading the way. Peruvians are tiny and beautiful, like the Burmese.

“No ropa, solo las bragas,” she said. (No underwear, just nickers).

Hmm….problem number one. I explained in atrocious Spanish I’d put almost everything I owned into laundry that morning and wasn’t actually wearing any.

“No problem, we are all women,” she said in Spanish.

She began working on my back, running her knuckles down the length of my spine to the plump of my bum.

I pointed out the two ferocious knots on my right shoulder begging for attention and she did her best to skirt this problem. Sigh.

It was soothing nonetheless, as oil and touch inevitably is.

By this time her little daughter had climbed under my table and was firing a rapid succession of “hollas” at my upside down face.

“Holla,” I replied once to her ten. She was cute as a button in her little red trench coat and striped stockings.

She found the sight of an immobilised gringo impossibly funny and kept kneeling so her face was an inch from mine.

She was about four and told me her name was Mina….or something like that.

“Mi nombre is Lisa,” I replied.
“Mucho gusto.”

I blew her hair and she giggled so much she fell over. I tried to focus on the massage while I laughed. Deciding we weren’t quite close enough she brought her nose right up to mine and rubbed it like a bunny. Only in a South American massage! I liked the informality though, it felt more natural.

Eventually her madre took her outside.

“Ciao chica,” I called to my new friend.

The small lady began massaging my hair, which was more like mussing, less like massaging.

The shoulders, though brief, felt good.

“Muy fuerte (stronger) por favor,” I requested.
She climbed on the table and used her tiny frame to lean into her elbows.

It was similar to a small goat walking across my back.

She moved to the base of the table and wrapped a hand around my big toe, lifting my leg by this odd hoof-handle.

It reminded me of a baby clasping your finger.

With the other hand, which felt smaller and stronger, she began pounding my tender calf.

Dear God. Give me back the Inca Trail….. the thousand steps of death were like feather fingers in comparison.

A tear sprung involuntarily from my eye and sat in a pearl on the carpet beneath my face.

It took a good 10 minutes to soak in. Must be the same carpet old people put in their bathrooms. Weird.

I couldn’t help worrying about the views she was being subjected to from her vantage point at my spread calves.

“Change positions,” she said in perfect English.

Then the brand new experience of a pectoral massage. The arm massage enlightened me to muscles I didn’t know existed, and the quad massage required a teeth-clench. Oh Inca Trail you were cruel.

Overall the experience was painful but freed the muscles to some extent. You certainly get what you pay for though… as all requests in poor but decipherable Español to work on problem areas were ignored.

It was very much a repeated process for each client, rather than the necessary tailored approach per client.

The ferocious knots would have to wait until a better-researched option in Lima. At least some of the Inca Trail pain had been persuaded out of my legs.


Body Appreciation Day

I stood naked in the bathroom and looked at my body.

I liked it. Finally.

 

I reckon every person has a strained relationship with their body at various points throughout their lives.

 

When I was in high school I longed for the flat bums of the other girls. There was mine, round as a plum. Totally unmissable in my jeans.

 

Now I love my plump badoonka.

 

Which brings me to today’s topic; body appreciation day.

 

Firstly you must realise perfection is not real (unless you are Giselle or Miranda Kerr, who get paid for looking flawless.)

Next you must learn to laugh at your body, or at least the bits you cannot love.

 

Sprinting the 100 metres I can feel my bum swinging violently up and down as though it will hit me in the back and knock me over. It always makes me laugh, usually at the 80m mark when my stamina is running out and it’s vital I don’t laugh.

 

When I trek my short legs come into their own on the hills. I put my head down and feel the power coming from my thighs, chunky from playing soccer. Even if I wanted to stop walking I couldn’t -my thighs powering away in autopilot.

 

When I lie down to read a book, stretched in the sun like a leopard, my breasts sigh to each side of my sternum, reprieved from standing to attention. Natural and soft, the way breasts should be.

 

Each time I epilate my legs I laugh as I run over the hair that sprouts on my toes.

Little hobitses, I think.

 

In certain profile photos my teeth leap out like a manic beak, to announce their imperfect presence in threatening silhouette.

 

At these things I laugh, because I refuse to change them. In years to come I don’t want a child of mine saying “Mum you look so beautiful,” only for me to reply “well honey that’s because I got surgery- and one day you should feel that you need it too.”

 

Plastic surgery is an individual choice, and I don’t judge anyone else who gets it. I simply wouldn’t for looks alone.

 

There are reasons other than aesthetics to consider also.

I do find it saddening however this obsession with bettering ourselves. More steps to creating a fake reality. More young people thinking they have fallen short of the mark with their natural assets.

 

I stepped into the shower barefoot. I was sick of being cautious of tinier, and this hostel was fantastically clean.

 

I rubbed soap over my whole body, and took the time to appreciate it.

I had all my limbs and no extras. I could run. One knee clicked from an old soccer injury and one shoulder was higher than the other from an old motorbike injury. But my muscles felt young and toned and my skin always answered the sun by turning brown.

 

Hey body. I love you.

If nobody else will, I always will. Even if you shrivel up and only crave green tea and cat food when you’re 90.

 

Huge drops gathered on my lashes and I blinked them away luxuriously.

 

The hot water died without warning and I hurried to wash the shampoo out of my spiked mop.

Damn you hostel living. Damn you!