You can close your eyes…

She looks so relaxed, on the first day of her island holiday. Gently swinging in the hammock, a mug of chai tea cradled in her hands; those eyes are tired, though. She looks outward to the ocean.

It is glassy today, clear as air to look into. If she were out there wading in the shallows she would see fish, lazily cruising in the warm edges of the reef. On the horizon, a solitary white rimmed island marks the separation between water and sky. She saw a whale breach out there earlier this morning. The sum of all these things, warm air, calm seas, chai tea. It is all in stark contrast to her inner world.

She tries to let it all go, all the daily pressure of normal life. All the past. All the words unsaid and things undone. Lists unchecked.  It is hard to relax, and it should be simple. It is hard to carve out time where she can be nothing but herself. But she has, it is here; now, for the next hour or so. She sips on her chai, letting the cinnamon and spices swirl into her senses. The flavours of calm.

She’s not sure if she wants to spend time with herself after all.

Where is she, anyway? Losing herself has happened gradually. Task by task, caring for others. Loving others is a sacrificial pursuit, for women everywhere. Loving them with all she has is a habit of obligation and a daily choice. She didn’t know the cost of it when she signed up, but she knows now. Yet she would have paid anything to have this, have them. This life. And when the fabric of her wears thin and tears into the unwritten contract -of motherhood, of marriage- with hard words, she feels the failure. Sharp. So mean. She never really intends it for them. The words are really for herself. She sighs over it, swinging back and forth in that hammock. She is tired of turning herself inside out to examine it all.

So she walks through all of life in this body; this middle aged vessel of experiences, faded dreams and old philosophies, the mother-wife shell. The girl she also is; so shrouded now, by her roles and responsibilities. She has survived all the things. Her world is secure and her love is strong. Her family are happy. She thinks these thoughts like a mantra of protection. They have made together exactly the life she hoped for, the one she yearned for all those years ago, wishing into her teacups for a family of her own.

Her eyes close and she lets her head sink back against the woven hammock.

There is a woman here on the island, travelling alone. Her husband died three years ago, and since then, she has retraced the steps of all the travels they did together. She watches this woman in the restaurant, alone in her grief at her table for one. She wonders if there will be release when she has completed her solitary itinerary. She wonders if the goodbyes and the remembering are helpful. She wonders if she could be so brave. Life, on her own again. It makes her shiver in the tropical heat. No.

She thinks about her little family, out on the glassy ocean, casting handlines into the water in the hope of bringing home fish. She tries to imagine the joy and horror as they reel in slippery living creatures. It is the first time her children have been fishing. They are having much-yearned-for quality time with their daddy and she is struck by a sudden pang of… what is that? Jealousy?  He’s been so busy lately. He is a great Dad. She chose him for them and that thought makes her feel proud satisfaction. She did that. A gift for their future selves and developing psyches. It was a good choice. She’d choose him all over again, she knows it.

The girl she is, takes a big deep breath and sighs it out into the warm air. She is okay. No crises to avert this afternoon. A small smile contracts her cheeks upward, crinkling the skin by her eyes. So fortunate to be here, this day, in this way, in this place. She aligns her girl and woman selves and blows across her warm tea. Seriously, she thinks. The best way to relax is to stop thinking altogether. She reaches for her headphones and scrolls through until an old favourite fills her consciousness. Yes. You Can Close Your Eyes by James Taylor. Her empty tea cup now nestles in the sand. She drifts out of her messy mind on a tide of chilled harmonies.

She is the picture of relaxation, that woman on the hammock. Eyes closed, headphones on. The late afternoon quiet, deep upon her. Slowly, the tide creeps up the sand and the day sighs to a close. She muses softly about all of her sisters-in-arms, shouldering big burdens and costly contracts of love.

the sun is slowly sinking down
and the moon is slowly rising
so this old world might still be spinning round
and I still love you.
So close your eyes
you can close your eyes, it’s alright
I don’t know no love songs
and I can’t sing the blues, anymore
but I can sing this song
and you can sing this song
when I’m gone

Post Script
James Taylor and Joni Mitchell. It was the soundtrack for my holiday week; for me it is the song of parent to a child, or an adult to themselves. I love it so much.  Have you heard these two singing together before? Happy sigh…

Hello From the Other Side

In Wellington airport the other day, I was flicking through my internet stream. And I came across this awesome Rolling Stone interview with Adele, have you read it?  Her voice sends vibrations down into my reptilian brain. She moves me. She’s amazing.  But I was a little relieved to read that her new song “Hello” isn’t about another lost love, it’s about her younger self. It really resonated with me, because I was about to fly into Sydney, the land of my ‘old self’… (who is really my young self, suspended somewhere in time). My passport is in my maiden name, so every time I looked at my boarding pass I was seeing my old name, the name of that Sydney school girl. It all conspired to make me very nostalgic. So on the plane I wrote this little reflection piece. Thought I would share it here…
because I think Adele tapped into something universal with her song.
If you could call yourself twenty years ago, what would you say?
Would you warn that girl? Apologise?
Hmmm. I’d try to bolster my old self up.  Give her some encouragement.
She didn’t look like she needed it, but she sure did.
I wish I could go back and give her that.
Anyway… here’s my piece about my two selves. My then, my now.

_____________________________________________________

I used to go walking there, far above the chase, and perch on a rocky outcrop in a blue-green sea of gum. I liked thinking that maybe centuries earlier, indigenous people had sat there, watching the bush fires maybe, or searching for signs in the skies. Maybe they were children, maybe they were not so different to the girl I was, hiding in the wide bush, running from the things she couldn’t shape with words.  My legs were strong then, I would relax my breathing and let them carry me along the barely perceptible bush tracks, avoiding the hostile prickles that seem to typify every Native Australian plant. Stay away!  the barbs and spikes screamed. Yet they sheltered me, surrounded me on my rock. Hummed and buzzed with all the wildlife they sheltered, too. Sometimes I could be there for hours, watching the seconds evaporate, one by one into the heated haze of afternoon. I was the only person who knew about the rocky outcrop. Just me. No one ever replied to the chalky poetry I wrote on the rocks, stone against stone. There were never any signs of any other person but me. Yet I felt the ghosts of the aboriginal children who sat there too, kept from me by time alone. In the bush I was anonymous. Alone. Free to think my thoughts and ache my pains. I loved it there.

Sometimes I could be there for hours, watching the seconds evaporate into the heated haze of afternoon.

Today I am flying back to the city that cradles my rock of anonymity, a small space amongst the wide Ku-rin-gai Chase National Park. I haven’t been there for so long. Maybe the rock has been discovered by another person by now. Maybe the bush has changed so much I would never find it again. The landmarks I used, now grown and burned and reshaped in the decades since I walked there. Strong on those young legs. And there wouldn’t be time anyway, I tell myself. I couldn’t absent myself to go bushwalking alone.  I am scheduled. Planned. There and back. Quick trip.  Short stop. Turnaround.  A thought panics my mind. Maybe I left my girl self on that rock. I have an urge to find her again. To see the banksia and gumnuts and breathe the eucalyptus in the air.

I remind myself that nothing ever stays the same.

I didn’t. I think of my internal topography. The rifts and seismic shifts of the years between. The person I have become, so far from the girl on the rock.

Soon, the driver I have never met, will hold up a placard with my old name on it. The name of that bushwalking poet. It must be the strangeness of that, making me nostalgic for her. She’s had two other names since then, two more selves layering over her original self.  She was so afraid of what would come. But she should give herself more credit. I return in her name, a brief walk in her shoes, back in her town. That pony-tailed girl in the white school shirt and grey checkered skirt. She had long brown legs. Strong legs. Walking legs. I will walk on the same bones, strong of heart, towards a new and exciting experience of this place. The questions I don’t know the answers to, the questions I won’t ask, will hang, palpable in the air. I will be patient. Wait until I am at the studio. Prepare the strength I will need to walk in my body, proud of who I have become. Because confidence is never as easy as it looks! There will be no sign of that girl, troubled and stormy, hiding on her rock in the vast space of the Australian bush.

Sydney will feel so big and busy. It always does. Everybody bright and smooth and slick. The cars so fast, glossing across the flat wide roads. It’s an efficient city. No pause for poems scratched on rock faces. For ancient faces. I turn inward and begin to sculpt my outward self. There will be expectations and I don’t know what they are, but I will smile and read the social cues I find. I will joke and try not to say the embarassing things I often blurt out. I might talk about the Sydney I used to know, so long ago.  I will stare down the blank iris of the camera and imagine myself within it. Caught in a nanosecond, angles and tilts, light and shade.  I will stand tall. Kia kaha.

And while I am doing that, the girl inside myself will look out across the Chase, somewhere north of here, back in time. Somewhere between a rock and a hard place, she will find a pathway through. If I could, I would wave to her, out there on her rocky outcrop. I would wave to her and tell her I’ll see her on the other side of twenty years. Older, wiser, taller, kinder.

Hello from the outside
At least I can say that I’ve tried
To tell you I’m sorry
for breaking your heart

But it don’t matter, it clearly
doesn’t tear you apart

Anymore

lyrics from Adele’s ‘Hello’
You can listen to the song here: