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.

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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:

…and Climb

Ko te pae tawhiti whaia kia tata.Ko te(1)

I am engaged in reframing identity post morbidity.  That’s the technical term for when you have to accept your sick self after a diagnosis.  Getting used to the new you.  I feel like illness has been gradually wrapping me up in a chrysalis, restricting my movement, constricting my experiences. But who I am is still there.

I think of that girl who defined herself by the things she did.

She danced, drank with abandon to usher in her dutch courage. She enjoyed philosophical discussions, standing around with other smokers, blowing out puffs of smoke with a thoughtful squint to her eyes. She was a good-times-girl with a tendency to sudden sadness, a seeker of fun and a girl on the run.  A subversive rebel. A smarty pants with long blonde hair and an attitude.

She did other things too.  Travelled, worked, studied, excelled.

I feel conceited writing that, even in the third person. But it is true, regardless of how awkward it feels to write it.
And all of the things I did were proof to me of who I was, what I stood for, my standards, my skills, my talents, my way of doing things. So what to do now?  Now that I don’t do much of anything? Who am I now?  Am I really still me, wrapped up in a chrysalis? Am I really constrained from being me?  Does it change the sort of person I am?

No.

Only the way I express it.  Does it change my goals?  Well, yes.  It makes them further away. But it makes them simpler too.

These days, I can’t give myself over to latin rhythms anymore, spinning round the dance floor, part of an energy exchange, lost in the force of motion, moved by the music and the slightest touch of my partners hand. How do you dance without smiling? How do you smile, without dancing? I felt such freedom in that movement, my hair swinging out behind me, weightless and turning and pulling back into the hold. Such a beautiful feeling. Rhythm and connection.  Music. I can still  listen to that music and touch on the sweet-spot. My memories of dance.  I can close my eyes and feel it again.  The air, moving against my hair, my obliques, twisting and turning.  My calves, taut and quick. Me, in heels, skirts and sexy strappy tops.  The warmth of bodies moving beside mine. The slip of the dance floor under my feet. Can I use those memories to help me find myself again?  Is it finding these words that takes me there?

Nor can I indulge in my professional passion of teaching.  Preparing my classroom for the first day of school… the smell of brand new stationery and the energy of potential; just waiting to spring from the air into works of art, words of heart, thoughts and epiphanies.  Kids finding their moment of understanding, seeing the possibilities and running with it.  I can still look through those photos of my first classroom, my first ‘kids’.  See the pock marked desks, the spelling lists and the self portraits, framed against a bright blue cardboard sky.  The book boxes, chair bags.  The smell of pencil shavings and old bananas, smelly shoes and whiteboard cleaner.  The joy of my own desk, my own resources, everything to hand and in it’s place. The clear eyed faces I would know so well, gazing up at me, waiting to begin.  Can I use the memory of teaching to help me learn something new about myself?  Learning requires you to know that you don’t know it all yet, to question, to risk new ideas.

I can’t do things like I used to.  It’s time for a new idea.

I am the person who did those things.  That dancer; who let herself be moved by the rhythm.  So I know how to bend and sway.  How to roll with the ebbs and flows. I am the teacher; I know how to think, communicate, to ask questions.
My goals have not gone away, I just need to do things differently, find new ways to travel through time.  I am flexible, I can work it out. Word it out. I am, who I am.

The chrysalis is falling away.  I needed it to hold me tight so I could grow my wings for flight.  Not dancing, not teaching, not doing. But winging my way into a new kind of being.

Ko te pae tawhiti whaia kia tata.
Ko te pae tata whakamaua kia tina -Tihei Mauriora