Maybe you’re not old enough to know them, or maybe you were lucky enough to have had crooners like Gordon Lightfoot, James Taylor, Jim Croce, Dan Fogelberg, Joni Mitchell and Janis Ian as the soundtrack to your most memorable years. I’ve always been drawn to the stories in their songs. When I was sick, music was my go-to mind medicine. These artists and others like them brought me solace when I needed it, a focus for my mind, and best of all comfort.
They still do. I was driving along in the car yesterday and a wave of tearfulness swept over me. I had already put the windscreen wipers on before I realised the rain was my own. Jostein Garder described this general sadness that I feel, in his book ‘Sophie’s World’. He called it ‘world-sadness’. That feeling of connectedness to all the tragedies in life, happening everywhere. It can be so overwhelming. So tiring to have this kind of emotional hyper-sensitivity. If only I could flick the switch and find my happy self in moments like that. Instead, I have learned to just let the waves of it wash over me.
Have you ever been deep in the world-sadness and the most perfect song has come up in your playlist or on the radio? Yesterday it was Gordon Lightfoot, ‘Rainy Day People’. So beautiful. My rainy day person is my friend Flo. She popped in the other day with a gift for me. She said, it had pretty much bought itself before she had time to think. Somehow these are just meant to be yours, she said. I opened the parcel to find six exquisite tea mugs, each with different blue and white moroccan mosaic patterns. They are so perfect. They reminded me instantly of the china my Mum collected, that precious, carefully curated selection now amalgamated with my own. I held one of the mugs in my hands and smiled gratefully at my friend. I don’t need gifts, but the thoughtfulness of hers made me feel profoundly fortunate. How lucky I am to have a friend like her. Someone who understands me, who somehow knows just when it’s time to call. I hope you’ve got some rainy day people in your world, too.
If you haven’t heard this Gordon Lightfoot classic lately, or ever…
here is Rainy Day People:
I had a chat with my son yesterday, about responsibility and growing up. About how as he gets older his chore list will inevitably grow. I explained that it’s time to begin carrying his own weight more rather than expecting to have everything done for him. His chores aren’t very onerous. He’s been sick and can’t do as much as a ten year old should. But I am a big believer in doing as much as we can, no matter how we feel. It’s better for the mind, in the end. Even when it is, so hard. His beautiful eyes welled up and it took me by surprise. “Why are you sad, little guy?” “I miss being little,” he said. He crawled up into my lap and let the big tears roll down his cheeks. Mourning the end of babyhood. I confess, I could fully empathise. I often wish I could go back in time and be in my mother’s arms, cradled and cushioned from the big wide world.
Last week one of the mothers from school died in a motorbike accident. Her name was Nikki. At her funeral, the people close to her stood and spoke; so bravely in the face of their grief, about who she was, about how it felt to be without her. She had three children, the youngest was born on the same day as my son. Her son and middle daughter both went through the junior school years with my two.
My most vivid memory of her is the time she hosted our Year Group party at her house. She opened the front door in a floor length emerald green silk dress. She was stunning. The sight of her long, willowy form, the wow factor of her gregarious personality and beauty. It was both intimidating and impressive. It’s hard to comprehend that she is not here anymore.
The tragedy brought into sharp focus the gift that each day truly is. I think this truth is always close to my consciousness, yet still, it slips away sometimes. I forget the inevitable and get bogged down with all the daily tasks and endless aggravations of life. I lose sight of how lucky I am to be alive, to be able to have conversations with my babies as they take on the incremental approximations of their adult selves. To hold them when they cry and raise the bar for them when they need to push a bit more. I’m here, parenting and loving. That’s no small thing at all. But oh, my mind has so many questions!
I’ve been wondering, why. Why we strive for things. I don’t know why I tried so hard to put my kids through expensive schools, now they are happy in our local schools. I don’t know why I care so much about the state of the carpet that I won’t invite people over. I don’t know why I strive to do it all.. all. of. the. time. It makes me grumpy and listless and down. I wonder why I feel like a failure if I’m not groomed, cheerful and deeply fulfilled as I go about my many thankless tasks, like so many other women seem to be. I wonder if I should be. I wonder what it is all for. I wonder if it will all be worth it in the end.
Do you wonder about that?
Here we are, alive and able to love. We breathe, our hearts pump the baseline rhythm, our feet syncopating a melody we never pause to hear. We are so consumed with the minutae of our micro-worlds. The planet turns, ice caps melt, species become extinct, wars burn through vast swathes of humanity, mothers die, stars are born, lava erupts from our molten core. Rainbows arch across the sky above the school gates. And on goes another load of washing.
I’m going to leave here a beautiful song, as a tribute to all the people who have left us, we hope, for a ‘better place’. My friend played it for me last Friday. She’d been to Paul McCartney’s recent concert and she knew I would love this song as much as she does. When Nikki died, her family and friends pulled together a truly beautiful funeral service. At the end of the end there was some kind of tragic peace, some sort of beauty and grace as they faced their final farewell. I wish all my wondering could help me comprehend why things like this happen. There is too much sadness in the world. I hope he is right and at the end of the end, there is no need to be sad.
Can you be a kind one? A full-of-love one? A generous-of-down-time one? A less-of-doctors one. A more-of-reading one. A happy-new-schools-move one. A much-more-camping one. A fixing-the-house one, a finding my writing muse one. A painting-pictures one.
That kind of one?
Ta. I’m ready for you, 2018.
I woke up this morning and attended to my paperwork pile, firing off emails and getting shiz done before anyone else in the house had stirred. Feels good to start with a productive burst. We did our usual New Year’s platter extravaganza last night. All the yummies. Tawny port. Reflection on the year we’ve had and our goals for the one ahead. Then at 12, we stood on our deck and watched the fireworks bloom across the dark sky. The Sky Tower lit up like a giant sparkler. A cool breeze and the warm arms of my man around me filled me with calm optimism. Twenty Eighteen is going to be a good one. It will be so different for us. I think it is time for change.
My hubster is in the kitchen making us a morning cuppa and the New Year has dawned quietly overcast. I see the Jacaranda tree we planted a few years ago is having it’s best season yet; a harbinger of good things to come for all of us. Masses of heavy bunches of purple drip from it’s slender branches raining petals on the lawn and path. It’s a beautiful sight. One day, it will stretch across to the house and fill the corner of our place with dappled shade. I wonder how many New Years will roll by before that happens? What will they hold?
I don’t know about you, but I am ready for last year and all it’s challenges to be history. It’s time for New. Yeah.
My ten year old just came into our room, all wuffly headed and sleepy. “Welcome to 2018!” I said.
“Oh yeaaah!” he said. And he mused to himself ‘What’s my New Year’s Revolution going to be?’ I smiled. That is surprisingly apt.
Happy New Year everyone! May this one bring peace and calm and happiness and fulfilment for all of you, in whatever shapes those things take for you. It’s a wobbly time in global politics, so I really hope it’s a optimistic new year for everyone, in spite of it all. May all the ‘revolutions’ be internal and useful.
When I am not actually writing, I am think-writing. Do you do that?
Entire sentences or small phrases get worked and reworked in my mind. Like a boiled sweet tumbled over and over in your mouth, savoured until all the sweetness has dissolved into a sharp, final shard. Then; gone.
Sometimes I remember what I wanted to write about, but most often it is an ephemeral mist by the time I pause long enough to retrieve it.
I’ve just been so occupied lately that there has been very little time for ‘me’ stuff, like blogging. The moments I have of solitude, have been away from my keyboard, or without pen and paper. So all the writing has just happened up there, in my own mental ‘cloud’… if only it was a true backup disk! I miss writing here so much! Hello again, people!
I thought I would do a little catch up piece today, in the vein of the wonderful Pip Lincolne’s Taking Stock posts. This is how things are right now. How are they for you? Feel free to copy and paste and add your own list to the comments. I’d love to know what’s going on in your world, too!
Making: Every minute count. That often means my days start at 5.30am to feed horse and walk dog before all the other commitments.
Cooking: big family meals mostly. Our current favourite is my Chicken and Leek Pie. I’m also making the occasional batch of cookies. Just recently my friend Flo gave me a recipe for oat choc chip cookies and they are SO DELICIOUS and EASY! Reckon they’d be good with cranberries too. Sing out if you want the recipe.
Drinking: Gin and Tonics made with lemons and limes from our own trees. Gin-and-tonic-time is a bit of a favourite time to get to at the end of each very busy week!
Reading: Nothing, not even newspapers!
Wanting: A large docile Clydie-cross all for me… and a country property to bring him home to. Ha! Dreams are free.
Looking: closely at the detail of nature. Right now I’m into raindrops on roses… well, raindrops on anything. So beautiful.
Playing: Dixie Chicks “Cowboy, Take Me Away”
Deciding: what is the best kind of education for a divergent child?
Wishing: I had more time in each day so that I could really actually get to the bottom of my to-do list, even just once!
Enjoying: the company of our giant doofus doggie, Wookiee. Have I introduced you to this very cool dude yet? Meet Wookiee the 8 month old Labradoodle, favourite member of the household by unanimous vote.
Waiting: for it to be acceptable to put my Christmas Carols on repeat
Liking: being a zookeeper
Wondering: if Nik Kershaw has any current music… (off to google)
Loving: the smell of chaff
Pondering: the sense of this crazy-busy urban lifestyle we lead
Considering: whether we should investigate that…
Watching: nothing. Too busy.
Hoping: The weather stays horse/dog friendly for the entire summer holidays
Marvelling: at how much I can do these days. Like; I do something, then I can do another thing(!) and then I can keep going and do another and another. It’s amazing!
Needing: a remote thoroughbred feeding/checking/smooching system
Smelling: like a farm most days
Wearing: gumboots and old jeans with the occasional foray into teaching attire
Following: the weather forecast like a country girl
Noticing: how often I crave the wide open spaces and solitude
Knowing: the run from here to Christmas is going to be mayhem
Thinking: that we are so lucky to have such a great local high school to send Bee to next year
Feeling: emotional a lot lately, guess it is that time of year again when my thoughts are drawn to all the people I love who aren’t here anymore
Admiring: my girl and her tenacity during her first one day event recently
Sorting: my “Rachie Drawers”… those generic holding places where things go and disappear. I’ve lost my engagement ring and I need to find it!
Buying: hmmmm. A horse float and a new horse have removed our buying power for anything else at present, but oh it is soooo good to finally have a float! And lovely to have the beautiful Rosie in our family.
Getting: worried about what the above will do for Christmas buying
Disliking: our dog’s penchant for courier packages. I think he thinks they are chew toys delivered conveniently just for him; something new every time!
Opening: my mind to new possibilities as the New Year approaches
Giggling: at all the hilarious things our Zed says and does, he’s very funny… most of the time!
Feeling: worried about whether my mothering is going to benefit my kids or hinder them, they’re getting older and so much more independent. My mothering is struggling to keep pace with their rates of inner growth! I hope I can find a way to be a less anxious mama.
Snacking: ooooh. Snacks… that sounds good. I wonder what I can find in the cupboard?
Coveting: good camp chairs. Ours are all torn and overtaxed from our large-arse situation. Pony Club camp is just around the corner!
Wishing: the Christmas rush was over
Helping: Riding for the Disabled with their cookie-icing fundraiser was fun!
Apologising: less than before. I like that I am learning NOT to apologise so ceaselessly for everything. It’s exhausting feeling responsible for myself, let alone for others.
Hearing: a lawn mower, children playing at the kindy next door, cars whooshing by, the wind in the eaves, the rustle of leaves, the birds singing with Spring happiness as if this season will never end. Yet, it will and I am grateful for that. A big part of me is craving winter hibernation right now! I am happy for warmth and nice weather, truly. Just keen for a bit of a break in general…
Three years ago, our family went on holiday to this very Pacific Island. It was a very different time. I was so sick back then, and full of trepidation that we would have a medical emergency while I was away. I remember how it took weeks of agonising effort to pack and how the things we brought with us included a box of medical supplies and equipment. I remember waking each morning into the humid air and swallowing down my medications, hoping I could cope with the day ahead. In the context of how ill I was, Tonga was very kind to me last time. But this time, my simple ease of being throws our last experience into stark contrast. I am amazed at how different I am.
I’ve been in remission now for two years. I’m stronger, fitter and have more stamina. Last trip, I managed some floating in the ocean. This trip, I’ve kayaked and snorkeled and swum and throroughly enjoyed everything the island has to offer. I was struck last time by the similarity of this place to my childhood home in Papua New Guinea. And last time, it was a kind of catharsis for me, being here. I had time to reflect on my childhood memories and say goodbye to that place in my mind I had never truly left. This time, it is a tangible physical remembrance and a positive one. Cruising over brilliant coral reefs, to the slow shushing of snorkelled air, takes me back to happy holidays in Madang and the Duke of York Islands. Scooping green coconut jelly from the shell for breakfast. So many strong memory cues. I feel peaceful and alive, rested and immensely grateful.
I hope the contrast between sick and well, will always strike me. I hope I will always feel this grateful for the gift of wellness. It is a beautiful thing to walk through the world without the weight of all that. Freedom. Yet I am perplexed by the necessary cost of wellness and ‘freedom’. They are not actually free at all, we pay in busy-ness, responsibility and pace. We lose the time to think, write, create. I haven’t blogged in so long and I’ve missed it keenly. Here, on a tropical island with no daily tasks to complete, no punishing schedules, no animals to care for and none of the usual husband/ kids/ homestay student demands it is easy to think I just need to change the way I do things at home.
None of the things that need doing are outsource-able. No one else will magically do them. I know, feeling rested as I am, I will put my shoulder into things when I get home. There will be a honeymoon period of almost enjoying all the motherly-housewifely tasks. I will be grateful for my own home again, eager to cook my family fresh New Zealand produce. Keen to drive my own car and be independent. Happy to get the laundry all tickety-boo. Maybe the answer is in micro-breaks. I’ll make a conscious effort to get out of the house and catch up with friends. Go alone somewhere for a morning just to write. Take a book to the top of the mountain with the dog. Start yoga.
But most importantly, I am going to begin planning the next holiday. Somewhere different next time. Somewhere it will take us a long time to save for, but that will create amazing memories. Travelling is a gift to the soul and a chance to breathe and get perspective. It pulls us all back together and we play cards again, minds cut loose from the relentless pull of social media. I need to prioritise travel more in our family budget. All of us are so relaxed. As I write, my hubster is swinging in the hammock, my kids are reading books; he on his tummy, idly circling his feet in the air, she, twirling her hair meditatively, small piece after piece. Their skin is nut brown, the dark circles gone from their previously pale faces. It makes me sublimely happy.
Speaking of reading, I read an extraordinary book in the first few days here that had me quite consumed. It’s a novel by a first time author, Gabriel Talent, about a girl growing up in Mendocino with a mentally unstable survivalist for a father. Harrowing and hard going, the writing is however, breathtaking. I found myself pausing frequently to marvel at his facility for description, more like poetry in parts than prose. I wouldn’t recommend it as a relaxing read, but it is stunning in it’s style and expression. ‘My Absolute Darling’ if you are like your fiction gripping, disturbing and even temporarily soul destroying….
Now I am reading W.Somerset Maugham’s ‘South Sea Stories’. He is also a king of description, although more sparse and understated. I love that he is describing the Pacific I love, but from many generations ago. Fascinating. Here is his description of the ocean, the very same that twinkles just beyond my fale doors.
“The Pacific is inconstant and uncertain like the soul of man. Sometimes it is grey like the English Channel off Beachy Head, with a heavy swell. And sometimes it is rough, capped with white crests and boisterous. It is not so often that it is calm and blue. Then, indeed, the blue is arrogant.
The sun shines fiercely from and unclouded sky. The trade winds get into your blood and you are filled with an impatience of the unknown. You forget your vanished youth, with it’s memories, cruel and sweet, in a restless intolerable desire for life.
But there are days also when the Pacific is like a lake. The sea is flat and shining. The flying fish, a gleam of shadow on the brightness of a mirror, make little fountains of sparkling drops when they dip. There are fleecy clouds on the horizon, and at sunset they take on strange shapes so that it is impossible not to believe that you see a range of lofty mountains. “
I love Maugham’s observations of the changing moods of the Pacific. Each day here is so different. Today we are overcast and the ocean is grey on grey, rippled by a warm breeze and gently lapping on the shore. The palm fronds are swaying gently and the wildlife mostly quiet, indolent in the heat and waiting for the cool of evening. I am about to get up and make myself a chai tea. I will take it down to the beach and blow the steam across the rim and over the horizon. Exhale, inhale.
The morning arrives so softly that most people never see it coming. It steals in, low lighted, unsaturated tones of grey on grey. The heron flies low across the mudflats, taking his time, mapping his territory. I’m here on the seat by the estuary. Silently watching, a voyeur of the emerging day. She is so beautiful. I feel like an interloper on a secret thing. A privileged visitor. I wonder why all the human race seems unaware of this morning magic. Why they sleep until the later light bleeds through their eyelids, stumbling into a day already partly gone.
All of nature seems to join the morning chorus; I hear the buzz of bees and the low of the cattle up on the hills, cicadas, the pop and fizz of the mudflat creatures, mangrove dwellers and tiny sparrow calls. A fish flops across the mirrored surface of water, further out where tide has failed to drain the deep. And in the distance, the sleeping layers of greys, stretching out into the peninsula. The sky is bleached this morning; when I first came out here, the moon shone thinly through the misted clouds. We’ve had a full moon. It is imperceptible now, milk white in the white lit sky.
Last night, we came down here for a night swim, watching with the wonder of children as our hands passed through the phosphorescent water. Like tiny galaxies swirling under our fingertips, whirling away into universes too minute for our comprehension. Starbursts of white and blue glowing and fading in the black water. Millions of tiny microorganisms stirred into a momentary spiral bloom of aqua fire. It felt special, these bodies of ours, warm against each other in the glassy dark, stars above, stars below. Salty splashes across our contours of skin. I will remember it. Like the feeling of bare feet in the sand at night. The quiet wonder of raw freedom under the wide sky.
Recklessness and water.
Mary, my mother-in-law, passed away this week, and tomorrow we will have her funeral. I think about how she loved to walk down by this estuary, about how she and my girl would pick flowers along the walk to Lover’s Rock, nattering away about this and that. Eventually her husband and loved ones will find a new rhythm of days without her here. We will become accustomed to coming here and not seeing her. But we will always feel her presence. Down by this water, along the edge of Mangrove flats, out across Mercury Bay and in the wonder of all this beauty.
Once, many years ago, my younger self crept out the back window of the old house with my guy. We ran down to the water’s edge in our pyjamas and I jumped on the old rope swing in the Macaracapa Tree. It swung out over the early tide and we laughed when I got stuck out over the water. Mary watched us from her bedroom window, and laughed to me later that she’d seen us sneaking out, early in the morning. Into the new day.
I wonder if she sees me here, writing by the curve of water behind her house. I wonder if she feels the peace that I feel, the quiet beginning of something new.
Vale Mary. If heaven exists I am quite sure it contains all the beauty of this place you loved so much, and all the love of your family, especially those gone before, waiting there to hold you in their arms again.
And Mary, if you see my Mumma, tell her I miss her. I’m sure she’ll make you a cuppa. Look into her eyes and know that she’s been away from me all these years, and yet the love carries on. It will be like that for you and your boys. The love remains.
The melody from the song Nightswimming spirals through my thoughts. The lines startle me with how closely they echo my feelings. I smile to think that there are indeed now, two. My two mothers, side by side in orbit around the fairest sun.
Across my facebook feed in the past week, friends and relations have been identifying their partisan colours. I am all at once, surprised and dismayed, buoyed and comforted. It’s confusing. I love all of these people, how can it be that all of my friends see politics so differently? American politics, like American television, has seeped into our culture, even all the way down here at the bottom of the world.
The rains have come today, if only it would wash all the acrimony away.
We are an unassuming little country, our population is small but we box above our weight in some things. Our home is peaceful …when we’re not being shaken to the core by tectonic trouble; there is a lot we take for granted here. Last night, watching the footage of helicopter evacuations from the earthquake zone, I saw a bloke who’d been helping the people of Kaikoura. He was exhausted. Understating things in true kiwi style, he just wiped his arm across his forehead and said “might be time for a beer”. Even in the wake of seismic shifts, we take for granted the basic benefits of our life here. It goes on. We get up. Roads and buildings are repaired. Bad things happen.
I think we are lucky. It’s easier to stomach disasters when they are visited on us by mother nature than by human, political choices.
Self harm is so much more destructive to the soul. It affects everyone close to you. America got the razor out. Our hearts are in our mouths as we listen at the door, fearful of what may come. We couldn’t stop you, but we wished so often we could. Like a sibling standing outside, listening to the tears and the cutting and the distress, we rattle the doorknob but your mindset is fixed. You won’t let us in.
Donald Trump was elected president, and our world shifted. Literally.
“If you are not American, stay out of our politics” said one internet apologist. “You don’t understand why we vote like we do”. And it is true, we don’t. We are not there. We have only the American media to show us what went on. But ohhhhh… the view from over here is not pretty. I’m not the only one who is shocked by the narcissistic buffoon that has been voted in. It’s like a bad reality TV show. Like all of the shallow, hideous aspects of American culture have finally overtaken all the loveliness. It makes me sad for my American friends, and sad for our world.
I think of all the American Aid in Africa that man intends to de-fund. Of all the environmental protections he intends to cease. Of my friends in the LGBTQI communities, of the people marginalised by his policies. He didn’t even pretend to care about any of those things on the campaign trail. He was clear about it. So how he intends to be a good president for all Americans now, bemuses me. I was talking to a guy recently about the challenges of growing up a woman in the church culture. He looked at me curiously, like I was speaking a foreign language. Shrugged, and dismissed what I said. And it occurred to me, very few men can see beyond their experience of being a male; for the majority of men, their perspective on life is limited to the lens of their privilege.
I can see how Donald Trump doesn’t offend them, his words to them have not been red flags, his behaviour, to them, does not seem appalling, but to many, it is horrifying. We are not horrified by the ‘image’ of the man, but by his own words. Very public, documented, words.
Dear friends across the world who think Trump in power is a good thing, can you please explain it to me? If you are a caring human being, how can you expect Donald Trump to represent you? If you are a professing Christian, what part of your values finds a home with his rhetoric? I honestly want to understand. Down here, the earth still shakes today. And so does my head. I just don’t get it.
When I was seventeen, there was a Guggenheim exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. I went there with my art class, and returned, time and again. It was a window into the world of my art text books. Here they were. I stood as close as I could to Brancusi’s, Calder’s, Dali’s, Moore’s and Mondrian’s. I breathed the air next to them like I might catch some ions of genius leaking from the very spirit of each work. I stood back and squinted at them, turned my head and observed them in their minutae. It seemed to me, a spotty gangly teenager in a distant antipodean gallery, that these foreign artists were the master race; their works a gift from the greatest muse of creative expression. The soul of life itself.
The Joyce Girl is Annabel Abbs’ inspired story of an Irish girl in the 1930’s. She lives in Paris, right in the midst of the bohemian art world of my Guggenheim heroes. A dancer, dreamer and artist, Lucia lives in a straightjacket world of obligation and overwhelm. She is the daughter of James Joyce, celebrated writer. She is known historically as integral to the production of Joyce’s lengthy work, Finnegan’s Wake. She is caught in the undertow of her father’s work, sublimated by her roles as dependent daughter and co-dependent muse. Her own genius, obscured first by the narcissism of her father, despised by her mother and brother and later destroyed by the inept machinations of mental asylums, is explored first hand. She is finally given voice by the author Annabel Abbs in this novel. Heavily based in the facts of Lucia Joyce’s life, we see first hand the struggles of a troubled girl trying to make sense of herself.
“An ephemeral arch of colour, swaying and dissolving. Flashes of imprisoned light. Trembling loops of movement. A wind washed rainbow, my bands of colour shivering and melting. I crouched and twisted. Needles of rain, spiked and hard. I stretched and spread my fingers, soft rays of warm sunlight. I was a swathe of luminous colour. I was the gold-skinned weaver of the wind. Sun-spangled sovereign of the cosmos” -Annabel Abbs ‘The Joyce Girl’
I loved many things about this book. But, oh, Abbs’ descriptive passages of dancing! She is expert in describing this artform with a keen sense of the visceral experience of dance. I realised that my legs and feet were flexing and moving as I read, and I do love a book that transcends the brain barrier. I enjoyed Abbs’ turn of phrase; sometimes, I felt she was touched by a Joyce-ian way with words which added depth and relevance to the experience of reading this book. It was immersive.
I so loved the characterisations of some of the artists I had studied as a teenager. That world of Bohemian Paris, where artists came for freedom and connection, was painted with a vivid hand. I felt like I had stepped inside my Guggenheim exhibition. That I could walk alongside Alexander Calder and listen to him expound on shape, form and movement. It was transporting. And when the time came to explore the deeper psyche of Lucia, Abb’s sensitive writing captured the child Lucia with care. It was emotionally difficult to read, but a necessary and bittersweet journey with Lucia through the dark travails of her mind.
Most of all, I loved that Abbs gave Lucia’s story an audience. I doubt that before reading this novel, I would have read Carol Loeb Schloss’ biography of Lucia Joyce’s life, To Dance in the Wake. But now, I will. Lucia is a woman of history, of art, of feminism, whose story should be told. Abbs’ story of Lucia; childhood trauma, repressed memory, subjugation, dysfunctional family relationships, unrequited love, unfulfilled ambition and incarceration… I am certain is an echo of the many women whose independence and freedom were stolen during times when mental institutions were dangerous places and Psychology a fledgling discipline.
My own Great Grandmother was institutionalised when her children were very small. Now we assume she had undiagnosed postnatal depression. But I wonder who she really was, and now there is no way of knowing. These stories should be told. These voices should be heard.
I recommend The Joyce Girl. Thank you Annabel Abbs for writing this important novel. I will take it with me on my own metaphorical dance of independence and freedom.
I stood at the checkout with my son’s warm hand in mine. I could see, over at the next checkout, another mother from our school. Her son was with her, too. We didn’t talk, but there was a wry grin exhanged between us. We both knew why our boys weren’t at school.
Today is the Swimming Sports Carnival.
I phoned in his absence this morning, mumbling something about his ears. I took him to the doctor soon after, she looked in each of his ears, hmmming and adjusting the ottoscope before confirming what I already know. His ears are fine.
I remember one of these days a few years ago. My mildly dyspraxic girl, still grappling with learning to swim, was standing terrified beside a six foot deep pool. It was competition day. She was crying and begging to be let off. The teachers responded with grim determination. The bank of stopwatch officials waited with barely disguised impatience. The whole swimming complex seemed to sigh with frustration. I was not allowed to go to her, poolside, to help calm her down. The whole school waited until she eventually got in the pool. An older girl was already in the water with a pool noodle, waiting to tow her the length of the lane. What is the purpose of this kind of showy display of ‘you WILL do it, even though you can’t do it?’ Who does it serve? Near the finish line, myself and some of the sympathetic parents around, erupted into applause. And my beautiful daughter emerged from the water, dripping with shame. She smiled a wobbly smile at me and slunk back to join her class on the bleachers. I went out behind the swimming pool complex and cried for her. It was an awful experience.
This picture is from last year, when she was delightfully astonished to place first in her heat. One day, I might see a similar smile on my son’s face, when he swims well enough to enjoy competing. But this year, he and his perfectly fine ears are sitting out the indignity of race day.
It has always baffled me why P.E teachers are so hot on participation. Why joining a competition even if you are not competitive is such a religion to them. My kids are both involved in sports, both are involved in their schools’ wider culture. I entirely endorse the idea of being there to support your classmates, your school house, your peers. And this is why it bothers me so much. I have spent too much wasted time on the phone talking to the PE staff at school about this. Going around in circles. Banging my head against a brick wall.
The compulsory nature of Swimming and Athletic sports days (and the dreaded Cross Country) means that you are effectively forced to stay away if you are not going to participate. Or lie about an injury or illness that prevents you from swimming or running. It’s madness. To me, that is teaching kids something far worse than not racing. It’s saying that if you are not like those people who enjoy competition, you should hide, you should make excuses. It’s saying that you should suffer for a day because you are not like them. Suffer in competition, or suffer in silence at home. It’s saying that your voice of encouragement and cheering from the sidelines is only valuable if you have also competed. It’s bollocks.
We are not all the same. I would never dream of asking my kids to compete in showjumping horses until they are competent in the saddle. I would never expect a dyslexic child to enter a spelling bee, or drop someone with agoraphobia in the middle of the desert. I think there is a cruelty to the one-size-fits-all environment of our Education System in relation to PE. And I think it needs to change.
So today, we are sitting out the Swimming Sports in silent protest. I feel resolute. I know I am not the only mama out there feeling this way today. I sit here in solidarity with all of them. With you, if you have ever felt the frustration I feel.
Here’s to the others. The non-competitors, the slower starters, the ones who always bring up the rear, to the ones whose genius is not defined by physical test of speed; whose gentle souls are built for fairer things. They are not failures for not being sporty, they should not feel ashamed. Sporting prowess is simply one kind of genius. Take it away Mister Einstein.
The winter sun seeps thin and white through the cloud cover. The rains have been sporadic, like the tears of grief when not one year, but two have passed. When the irrefutable fact of her passing has seeped into your bones, and you know, there is no going back. The rain connects across the Tasman in great arcing fronts. Every year on this date, stretching between countries, across time, back to Kellie’s death, and to her friends and family. Reminding me that time is passing, but the grief doesn’t. It just changes, like the weather. Shifting the pressure and moving the isobars. Hail today, rain tomorrow. Some snow among the chilly grey.
I think of beautiful Kellie. Of how short her life was yet how much of a life force she was. I imagine her directing the weather like a Greek Goddess, goblet in hand, laughing at the storms. Revelling in the thunder and sending out lightning from her fingertips; her anger and joy all rolled into one vibrant and terrifyingly beautiful heavenly creature. Making her presence felt in the skies.
I think of her family with my own mother heart. It’s so unfair that they have to do life without her. I hope they are okay, two years into their marathon. I hope they are finding their own ways to keep her close, to remember and celebrate her astonishing vibrancy. I stand with her friends and family, across the ether, raising a glass in acknowledgement. That Goddess woman. Gone but never forgotten.