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…

Toe Dancing :: Secret of Life


Just now, I noticed that my toes were dancing.
I’m listening to my soul-minstrel, James Taylor.  He makes my toes jiggle. Which makes my heart giggle. It’s happiness, right there.   I’m just going to leave these lyrics and his song here for you. Maybe you need a bit of toe dancing on this fine Friday night, too.

The secret of life
Is enjoying the passage of time.
Any fool can do it,
There ain’t nothing to it.
Nobody knows how we got
To the top of the hill.
But since we’re on our way down,
We might as well enjoy the ride.
The secret of love
Is in opening up your heart.
It’s okay to feel afraid,
But don’t let that stand in your way.
‘Cause anyone knows
That love is the only road.
And since we’re only here for a while,
Might as well show some style.
Give us a smile.
Isn’t it a lovely ride?
Sliding down, gliding down,
Try not to try too hard,
It’s just a lovely ride.
Now the thing about time
Is that time isn’t really real.
It’s just your point of view,
How does it feel for you?
Einstein said he
Could never understand it all.
Planets spinning through space,
The smile upon your face,
Welcome to the human race.
Some kind of lovely ride.
I’ll be sliding down,
I’ll be gliding down.
Try not to try too hard,
It’s just a lovely ride.
(Isn’t it a lovely ride?)
Sliding down, gliding down,
Try not to try too hard,
It’s just a lovely ride.
The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.

Weightless

This is not a diet post. But it is all about how I shed some dead weight that was keeping me down.

It all began with blogging.

Some of my friends didn’t like me blogging, they felt it was too public, others commented that I had too much time on my hands or that it was narcissistic. Those comments stung. But blogging has proved to be one of the chief delights of my life. You see, as my health declined, so did my self esteem.  I felt that I grew less useful and more of a burden as time progressed. I watched myself get sicker and less mobile as if I was watching from outside of myself. And there was, at times, a kind of loathing I felt for the girl I saw living in my skin and dealing with those problems. She was living on a different planet, with a gravitational field ten times the weight of earth’s normal. She had sunk low, very low into the quagmire. And she didn’t think she would ever re-surface.

But blogging threw me a lifeline, it kept me present, it forced me to examine what was happening in my life. I smile now to think that becoming a blogger was actually accidental.

Building a blog was a brilliant thing for me to focus on. It brought me out of myself utterly and forced my brain to work in new ways. It gave me further writing opportunities and I had the chance to dabble again with rudimentary graphics, something I love to do. Almost as much as writing the posts!  And the writing was therapeutic. I was on a roll, but still interrupted by self doubt. Then, a few weeks into the course, I discovered blog stats.  A lot of bloggers don’t pay them any mind at all, they don’t like to look at them and they don’t like to attach meaning to them.  But for me, it was like an objective, definitive message every time I looked at them. For the first time in years, I had performance feedback. It was like water in the desert! And then people began to comment on my posts, and I had connection and conversation about my writing. It blew me away.

Since I started blogging (if you average it out) I’ve had 4000 hits a day, according to the stats provided by my web host.  So that is how it began.  My confidence started to grow because something as meaningless as numbers on a screen showed me that I don’t have to be cool to have something of worth to offer.  Well that is how I interpreted it. Every click on my site felt like validation! Blog stats are a funny thing. There’s a big difference between hits and page views, and purists who crunch numbers get really into all the permutations and details of all those stats. I actually don’t give a rats about the technical meaning of those stats. What they meant to me, was that I had something to give. People wanted to read my words.  And that was the beginning of seeing my worth as separate from my health.

Writing a blog opened up other opportunities for me too. I was accepted on to a Leadership Programme for people in the disability community. I was very excited to learn more about social leadership in the field of chronic and invisible illness. I hoped the leadership programme would help me to step into something much bigger than myself.  I listened to some of New Zealand’s most influential leaders in social change.  Every speaker gave me food for thought. Every reading taught me something new. But even better, that programme taught me something you only learn from experience. I learned in a very real way how to stand up for what I believe in. I learned that I can survive judgement and criticism, that it can help me to focus on my core values and test the things that I say are true for me.  I learned that sticking up for myself is empowering and builds strength. I learned that I can cop flak and carry on.  The lesson was painful, but it healed, and I grew.

That particular lesson would prove a very useful tool in my personal growth.  In August last year, I got the opportunity to embark on a new line of work; plus size modelling. It was extremely left field.  I have not felt beautiful for a long time, I wasn’t sure if my outer package could be considered a bankable commodity. But I got signed by Vivien’s Model Management at 41, older and fatter than I have ever been… yet healthier and happier than I remember being.

My year in the Leadership Programme had coincided with six months of immune modulation therapy and a further six months of oral steroid support. It kicked my immune system into line. I was in remission! And modelling, a preposterous concept the year before, was actually a possibility. I went for a test shoot in Sydney. I started work as a model for the agency 62Models.  In October, I volunteered to do a breast cancer fundraising lingerie calendar.  Something well outside of my comfort zone. We were photographed out at Ambury Park Farm on a blustery Sunday, lying in the grass in our bras and knickers. But I did not expect the publicity that it would bring.

 

Photograph by Mike Mikha for the NZ Plus Size Calendar by Regina and Peachtree
Photograph by Mike Mikha for the NZ Plus Size Calendar by Regina and Peachtree

Fatness is a fact of western society. We live in a world of plenty, we are time poor and we are sedentary. We are yet to grapple with the problems that obesity brings us as a country, but let me just address the elephant in the room (no pun intended), it is a real problem.  More than 60% of women are over size 14 and considered ‘plus size’ by our fashion industry; but that doesn’t mean over 60% of women are obese. My own fatness is the result of six years of illness, medications and an inability to exercise. And my love of cake!  I acknowledge the facts of my fat. It would be better for my body if I was not this heavy, yet I am. And my size does not dictate my worth. I don’t celebrate my fat. But I do celebrate having womanly curves and stepping into body confidence regardless of size. I do celebrate honouring our bodies for what they do for us instead of putting ourselves down. These bodies go through so much, and often things out of our control. Fat is a complex issue.

Media interest in the plus size lingerie calendar resulted in a long discussion on TV3s facebook page. A number of people wrote deeply hateful things about fat girls in their comments. I watched with dismay as the brave, lovely ladies who posed with me for such a good cause, became targeted by the comments levelled at the models.

“They should all be taken back to the farm and trained like the pigs they are”

“I would not want any of these women to be role models for my daughter”

My dismay was not about the comments, although they are awful. My dismay was that some of the girls were letting nasty words decimate their sense of self. Opinions are cheap. I see now that any person delivering criticism at my door has to be someone I really respect for it to hurt. I know this, because I wasn’t hurt in the slightest. In fact, I wanted everyone to ignore those comments rather than bite back. I have reached a place where criticism has found it’s proper place in my head. Realising that I wasn’t hurt by those words made me pause and think about how far I have come.

I’m just being me. Doing my thing. Using my voice about the things that I feel strongly about. My voice won’t always agree with everyone else’s. My thing won’t always be your cup of tea. Who I am might cause you discomfort or make you feel like judging me. And finally, at this ripe old age, I am okay with that. When I started blogging in May of 2014, I had no idea that I was really starting a journey in knowing who I am, what I stand for, and what I will put up with. I had no idea that I was girding myself with the truth of who I am as a human being. Learning how to activate my force field and deflect the worthless words of detractors.

If you are feeling weighed down and your self esteem is at an all time low, please find something to do that brings you joy. Take a step into the passions that give you a sense of success and provide you with useful feedback about who you truly are. Every single person on this planet is worthy, has something to give and a soul purpose.  Ignore those stupid detractors in your head or in your ear. Tell them where to go. You have much more to do than spend your life anchored to a negative perception of yourself. Find your thing. Find your self.  Let go of the shackles and heavy burdens you carry, you’d be surprised how much easier it is to travel without the weight of all that.

___________________________________________________________________

Here is one of my favourite songs of all time, oh James Taylor! I referred to it in a competition I entered the other day run by a NZ designer label, Euphoria, it’s all about how confidence is beautiful. If you are interested in helping me out with a vote,  you can find my entry heremine is the one titled ‘Up On the Roof’. 🙂

…and listen to this soul-weight-lifting song all about getting away from the quagmire, here:

She’s Around Me Now

streetlight

Today is a James Taylor kind of day… I listen to his music and I am transported to the me I was, ten years ago.
I remember singing quietly to the moon, from the porch outside my friends’ flat.  On weekends our soirees would always make their way to James Taylor time.  Happy and drunk, we’d affectionately sway to the mellifluous tones of the legend himself.  And I would sing to the moon and to myself.  Sing from a place inside myself and feel whole and deeply content.

I found out after some weeks of singing to the moon that it was in fact, a streetlight.  But I digress.

Do you ever feel detached from yourself?
Like you know that somewhere out there is the person you are meant to be, but you are not being her, because life gets in the way?  You just trudge through the endless tasks that must be done, not with joy, but with grim acceptance.  It just is this way and that is all there is to it.  Dreaming about that life is the provincial domain of the young, before the realisation that everything declines.  All things eventually fall.  It’s hard to access who you really are when you are under the weight of a realisation like that.  It  can be a bit depressing.

I’ve been doing a writing course, and I am loving it.  Finally something that really works my way.  I’m here, tucked up in bed, looking out at the day.  I can work horizontally.  The kids are all at school and the first thing on my agenda is doing my course.  And today, the assignment was to make a podcast for our peers. (That’s a voice recording that you can put onto your blog… do you readers want me to literally talk to you?). Doing that got me thinking about my authentic ‘voice’.

I’ve been using it a lot this week, flexing my two dimensional vocal chords in the Chronic Ills of Rach.  I like having a voice.  And a platform to shout it from; thanks for joining me here!  I love that you want to read my stuff, it’s motivational.  And it’s been a revelation to me.

It’s so easy to feel isolated and misunderstood when you don’t use your voice.
You know, the voice of that self, the authentic, inside you.
The voice you whisper within yourself when you are too afraid to bring the words out.  Afraid they will be made small.  Ignored.  Misinterpreted.  Judged.
The voice that plays phrases on a loop, knowing they deserve to be spun into a real story.

The voice of who you really are.

I am trying to invite that voice out into the open.  Give it room to say what it needs to say and be the real me.  It’s quite scary. Stop!  Go!  No!  I’ve copped some flak since I started using my inner-me-voice.  Some people are horrified.  Maybe they have never met the no-holds-barred-rach before, or they have and they find her unseemly.  For some people, my kind of writing will never feel right.

But I feel like I felt the first time I ever went topless in public.  Don’t be too horrified, I am a risk-averse girl. No one could actually see! It was night and I was facing away from the partygoers, but I was high up on a promontory, looking over the city lights.  I was taken by this need to be bare.  And I did it.  Bare naked breasts to the wind.  It was glorious!  I felt free that night. Me. Under the darkening blanket of sky.  And I feel free now, writing my words out and sending them, naked into the world.

For me; doing normal things is an exercise in persistent determination. I am teeth-grindingly frustrated about things that wouldn’t have been spared a moment’s thought before.  I spend my impoverished energies on things you might think small, like wiping the breakfast away from the bench.  And I rest until I can do the next thing.  I must pace, conserve, plan and push through. Feeling fine is a far distant echo of life before.  I don’t remember the last time I said with honesty that I feel fine.   It would be a strange and beautiful sensation to be clear headed, to not feel the ache of exhaustion, to stop the sweeping tides of dizziness that slide across my world.

But my soul.  That feels fine.  Sublimely fine.  I am here in my room, high on a cyber promontory.
Bare naked soul to the wind.  Because she’s back, that inner Rach; she’s around me now.

Every now and then the things I lean on
lose their meaning

and I find myself careening,
to places where I should not let me go.

She has the power to go
where no one else can find me
and to silently remind me

of the happiness and the good times that I know,
and then I just got to go, then.

It isn’t what she’s got to say
but how she thinks and where she’s been.

To me, the words are nice,
the way they sound.

I like to hear them best that way,
it doesn’t much matter what they mean.

she says them mostly just to calm me down

And I feel fine anytime she’s around me now,
she’s around me now almost all the time.

And if I’m well
you can tell that she’s been with me now.

She’s been with me now
quite a long, long time
and I feel fine.

James Taylor:  Something in the way she moves.
(But it is better to listen, because he has the sweetest sounds).