Zebra-crossing Namaste.

I was driving along today – in a bit of a hurry to make it on time to a meeting – and I arrived at a zebra-crossing about a heartbeat before a pedestrian. I could have kept going, and it would have saved me a bit of time – I really was cutting it fine to get there at the appointed hour. But I stopped, because I like to think (most of the time) that I’m a courteous driver, and I let the lady walk through.

She was an interesting-looking lady – long grey hair hanging down either side of her face; baggy, once-stately clothes; a string shopping bag hanging off one elbow and a ratty beige plastic-y raincoat clutched under one arm against the possibility inherent in a cloudless sky. She could have been equally at home in a darkened hovel surrounded by tens of cats, or sleeping rough in a doorway, or behind a university lecture-hall podium. And she moved slowly, walking as though in pain, or contemplating the bitumen beneath her feet. Potentially late, and already flustered, I was mindful of the fact that I could have quite legally driven through before she reached the road’s edge.

Just as she got to the middle of the zebra-crossing, at what could most kindly be called a solemn pace, she stopped, and turned deliberately to face me. String bag hanging from one elbow, and raincoat clamped beneath the other, she placed her hands together and ceremoniously bowed to me in thanks.

It made my day. When I waved to acknowledge her, I was grinning. I was still smiling as I started driving again, and when I arrived at my meeting my heart was just a little lighter.

My spiritual director – an amazing Sister of St Joseph who I’m privileged to consider a friend – often farewells me with the word “Namaste” – in Hinduism it means bowing to the Divine in each other, celebrating and honouring the Sacred which dwells in each of us. I have no idea what motivated the zebra crossing lady to bow to me – other, of course, than in thanks – but in that gesture I was reminded of Namaste. In taking that moment – a bow rather than a quick thoughtless wave – she acknowledged me as a fellow human being. Whether she knew it or not, she acknowledged the Divine in me. And I was reminded of the Divine in her; I was reminded of the Divine in all creatures.

Not bad for a ten-second zebra-crossing encounter.



Laughter in a Holden Commodore.

One of the very mixed blessings about now living a way out of town is the drive home. It’s brilliant unwinding time; I can think, I can listen to music, I can plan what needs to be done. Sometimes, I find poems or Haiku or story ideas formulating themselves in my head; at other times I simply delight in the beauty of the countryside I’m driving through.

Sometimes, though, the drive can be an absolute pain. I can take as long to drive the eleven kilometres to the outskirts of Newcastle as I do to drive the remaining twenty-five kilometres home. Sometimes it’s bumper-to-bumper traffic and I don’t get out of second gear – although of course city dwellers will, I’m sure, challenge me on my country-driver categorisation of a traffic jam. Either way, it’s the part of the drive I often find tedious.

Today I was chaffing at the bit, just slightly. It hasn’t been the easiest two days at work, and I was tired and wanting to be at home. I was a bit grumpy and I’d almost been run off the road by an idiot in a four-wheel drive who I’m sure was a nice guy just having a bad (driving) day, and it was starting to seem quite unreasonable that all these other selfish people wanted to use the same road as I did when I just wanted to get home quickly.

Until, stuck at one of the most protracted red lights on my drive home, I noticed the couple in the car behind me. A young couple, in a beat-up Holden Commodore. I don’t know what had been going on previously – I’d glanced in my rear-vision mirror to see them talking, pointing out to each other interesting things out of the windows. This time when I glanced back, the man was laughing – helplessly, leaning back in his seat, head thrown back, laughing with complete abandon. The woman had a look of half-amusement, half-indignation on her face and I took it that he was laughing at her; this was confirmed when she threw out a hand and gave him a good-natured shove, flattening him against the passenger-side window. He kept laughing, and she managed to maintain dignified composure for a heartbeat more before conceding defeat; she too started to laugh, and they shared that humour until the light went green and I had to send my attention back to the road in front of me. As I did, I was smiling.

That was all: nothing spectacular, no epiphanies, no psuedo-profound thought; nothing other than two people who like each other enough to laugh at each other, a joking shove absorbed in good humour and not the cause of violent retaliation, and human love in a Holden Commodore.

I’m glad I saw it. And I hope that those two have many more years of disinhibited laughter, mock indignation and joking shoves. The world’s a bit brighter because of it.

So much for back into routine.

So I had planned to get back into routine; I was enjoying the sense of being back in routine, with all that entails – and then I got sick. Spectacularly, painfully, too-miserable-even-to-rue-not-being-able-to-sing, messily sick. I don’t like being sick and I don’t do it well. Plus, it’s bad for my to-do list.

And here’s the thing about being sick: it can’t matter. It can’t matter that we were singing a piece of music I really love, and I was stuck at home in bed, watching a fever shimmering in the air around me. It can’t matter that I’d planned to spend my day off going through my poetry notebook, getting back into routine on that too. It can’t matter that I needed to clear my desk, and that the dust bunnies on the kitchen floor were getting close to developing their own consciousness, and that there’s a half-written letter to a friend sitting on my kitchen table, and that I want to get back into the routine of going to the gym, and that there’s no food in the fridge other than carrots and a venerable bok choi. It can’t matter that I see myself as an active person – sometimes physically, always mentally – who doesn’t naturally sit around doing, and thinking, nothing. Nothing at all can matter, except that I shut my eyes, let the cat snuggle me, and sleep.

I’m generally not good at listening to my body. I can be hungry, or chilly, or nursing tension or even pain, without really noticing. So I guess sometimes messages from my body have to be pretty blatant. Yes, I get it: time to slow down.

I said at the beginning of the year that this year would be my year of care. I would care for the world around me. I would care for myself, physically, mentally, emotionally, creatively and spiritually. And then life got in the way.

My resolution to do a better job at caring for myself will last precisely until the next busy period – I know myself well enough to know that. But I have three-ish months left of my year of care, and maybe next year can be Year of Care Mark II.

I might have better success second time round.

An old(ish) journal entry, a slightly-older poem, and a new(ish) realisation.

I’m a very logical, structured, ordered person. More than one person in my life has used the term “anal-retentive pain in the arse” to describe me, and I’m one of those people for whom everything must be in its place – neat and tidy – preferably alphabetised and colour-coded. There’s a reason I’m the Cathedral music librarian.

Which is why it’s pretty amusing that my desk at home – where I spend most of my time – is quite untidy, covered in the detritus of constant use: pens, post-it notes and bits of paper, notebooks, an unpaid bill (oops) and an old shopping list, a bottle of blue nail varnish and two drawing pins and my almost-empty beer bottle, a buy-one-get-one-free voucher for a pizza place I will never patronise and a small lump of black, porous lava which was a joking, and beautiful, gift from my dad.

Some time ago, I discovered, in all this mess, the draft of a poem. It had obviously been crazy-busy, and between writing it and re-discovering it (judging from the date written on the top of the draft, a couple of weeks at the most) I’d pretty much forgotten about it. Of course, it was familiar – I’m absent-minded, but not yet senile – but my head was obviously full enough that I’d not kept it in the forefront of my consciousness.

I re-read an old journal tonight, and I discovered the note I’d made, just after finding the poem: Ha (I’d written). Just found the poem I started the other week. Who’d have thought – it’s actually quite good! Maybe they’re right, I am actually good at this!

The journal entry then moved onto the stress of being busy, and essentially became a running to-do list (retained for posterity in a purple notebook which is now carefully filed away in a striped cardboard box which contains a number of old journals and notebooks). I don’t think I’ll value having a list of daily tasks immortalised in a narrative of my inner and outer life, but I certainly value the realisation that I came to in that entry: I can write, I am good at this – and that makes me really, really lucky.

Emancipation Day’s surprise.

I’m not a big anniversary person. It’s not that I don’t see the value in commemorating an event, whether it be a wedding, a birth, a world happening, or something smaller, more mundane. It’s simply that I’m not the sort of person for whom anniversaries usually strike a chord. If it weren’t for other people, I’d barely remember my own birthday.

Which is why it was such a surprise today that the second anniversary of Emancipation Day – the day on which I seized my freedom and precipitously fled a dangerous and volatile marriage – knocked me for six.

Last year – the first anniversary, the big one – passed me by with barely a clearing of its throat. I used it as an excuse to eat shameful amounts of ice cream, but other than that, there wasn’t much of it that impacted on me. I had assumed that the second year would be similar: I’d break out a bottle of wine or some nice chocolate, raise a glass in the quiet privacy of my home, and then get on with my evening.

That’s pretty much how it did play out – other than the nightmares, the panic-streaked, sweat-stained, breathless waking from horror to lie in the darkness and convince myself that it was just a dream, nothing to worry about, not real, not a reflection of how things are now. Just my mind trying to work through yet more shit. It’s ok, it’s normal, it’s a hell of a lot better than it used to be, stop fretting and go back to sleep.

And then today, sitting in my meditation group, I couldn’t stop the tears that wandered (fortunately) quietly down my face – for the whole twenty-five-minute silent meditation. And all the way from the meditation group to work, where I sat in the car on the street outside the office, listening to the rest of the Vaughn Williams symphony which was playing on the radio, and trying desperately to reclaim my game face.

I did ok. I held it together, and today wasn’t a disaster. I told a couple of friends – briefly – what was going on, and each time I felt the load lighten a little. Each time I was grateful for the presence of a caring person who could tell just by looking that I wasn’t ok.

Tomorrow, I’m sure, will be better, because things are a hundredfold brighter than they were a year ago, and a thousandfold brighter than they were two years ago. I took a hit – a small one – today, and then tomorrow will be easier. And if it’s not, it’s ok, because the day after will be brighter instead.

The day after, of course, contains a choir rehearsal, as well as being the start of a weekend. Of course it will be brighter.

Back on track…

…and reeling, just slightly.

But I’m in my new place, unpacked and settled in. The book I’ve been writing is done, and edited, and re-edited, and I’m even partway towards organising the Newcastle book launch, which apparently is actually a more challenging feat than writing the thing in the first place. The (paid) work project is almost over, and the light’s at the end of the tunnel. And the chest infection (hello, run-down and depleted immune system: sorry about that) is almost, but not quite, a thing of the past. At least I can have a conversation now without my lungs threatening to turn themselves inside-out.

And I wrote a book, and I have a new house and lots of lovely thinking time on my daily commute (sorry, car – no more life of leisure for you), and my hometown is quiet, and when I go outside at night I can see the stars.

And did I mention that I wrote a book?

This is my letter of excuse.

So things are about to become a bit crazy for me. I have a finite amount of time to pack the contents of my flat (most of which, to be honest, is books and notebooks) for a move to a rural area. I’m moving to the perfect cottage, the perfect commute from work and singing (thinking time, listening to music time, introvert time, much better than my current five-minute commute). It’s a nice, slightly-rough-round-the-edges country town and I’ll be surrounded by open spaces, grass planes, bushland, farming country – countryside I love. It will be quiet, a world away from my flat down the road from a pub, right in the heart of one of Newcastle’s inner suburbs. Even the sky feels higher, further away.

It’s perfect.

But between now and moving day, I have a ton of things to do, and a limited amount of time in which to do them, and most importantly, a limited amount of brain-power with which to achieve anything. So for the next two-ish weeks, I’m going to be trying very hard to keep my head where it needs to be – in work, both paid work, and the work of shifting my entire (admittedly small) household, without freaking out the cat.

Which probably means no blog for a while. And probably means not much writing for a while, and not much reading. Which is ok because I’ve got my eye on the prize, and because I can’t imagine actually writing anything worthwhile when most of my nuerons are taken up with questions of how many boxes to find, and whether to pack the wok just yet, and whether blankets should be used as padding or packed separately, and whether it’s worth keeping this thing that I haven’t used in the entire time I’ve been in my flat…

Good blog-fodder it ain’t.

It’s interesting for the cat, though.