Books, love, and loyalty

I’m reading this book, right?

No, I’m not going to tell you what it is, because then I’ll have to be all sympathetic and encouraging, and you might be tempted to go and read it yourself. Or you may have read it already and you might shoot me down in flames in the sincere believe that it’s actually the best and most beautiful book ever written and nothing can ever surpass it’s greatness. And…in my humble opinion it’s not that great. And THAT, my friend, is the interesting thing.

I’m reading this book, right? And it’s not that great. And that’s interesting primarily because I want to keep reading it. Have you ever experienced that? I don’t think it’s the same if you’re one of those people who’s got all the time in the world to read books, or one of those people who diligently reads to the end of everything simply because you don’t like things left uncompleted. I am NOT one of those people (although I wish I was sometimes). I’ve long held the belief that if a book isn’t that great, or doesn’t grab me, or doesn’t threaten to stop me from breathing unless I read it NOW, or gets bypassed by something faster and more immediate, then I’ll happily put it down. And life is busy. I have a shelf  (yes, I had to graduate to an actual SHELF) next to my bed with a large pile of books on it–   many  of them excellent, highly acclaimed, wonderfully crafted tomes–that for various reasons I haven’t finished. They’re there because I will get back to them eventually, when life is calmer and time is richer and thicker than it is now, and when there’s more than a two-minute window when I put my head on that pillow before I fall asleep.

But then there’s this book.

The thing is, the thing that baffles me most about my inability to put it down and read something better, is that nothing actually happens. Nothing’s happened so far that I care about. No great story-questions, any will-she-or-won’t-she, are hanging over my head. No life or death situations. I can walk away any time I want…if I want…if I could.

See? My trouble is that I can’t.

It’s not so much that I’ve fallen in love, it’s just that I’ve…well…I’ve got involved. It’s like the lady at the bus stop who always tells you stories about her grown up kids who you’ve never met and have no particular affiliation with, but because you catch the same bus every day, and because SHE catches the same bus every day, on the weekends you find yourself wondering how those grown-up kids are going, and whether they will decide to send their son to a school a little further away, or buy that second car.

Should I care? Can’t help it. Just do. I’m human.

It’s like friends, I think. I’ve written here before about how my cat simply moved in to our lives and expected us to love her, and we did. People do that too–the mythical lady at the bus stop, for instance. And now, apparently, books.

There are books on the shelf next to my bed that I may never finish, and that saddens me in one way. Although in another way I’m pleased. Unfinished books are the friends I keep nestled close to my heart even though I may not see them regularly; the friends I know will always be there, and I can always come back to, no matter how far I travel. I love them for who they are, for what they’ve meant to me in the past, and I love them simply because they’re mine.

I wil finish this book I’m reading, I know it. But I’ll always keep these characters close to my chest, whether or like it or not, because somewhere in this reading process I began to think of them as friends. And, to tell you the truth, just as long as I don’t start thinking of my friends as storybook characters then that’s quite all right by me.

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How to Organise a House in Ten Easy Steps

We have carpet!!

Life has returned to something vaguely resembling normal (almost), thank God, because it’s Monday, and I have to work again this week and that always throws my organisational syatems up in the air. But my house looks (mostly) LOVELY, and it’s warm, even in this near-winter, and, yes, quiet too. I love it. I’m incredibly grateful, and yes, all the enormous stress was worth it.

Not only that, my house is CLEAN. And, with a few exceptions (there are still two piles of stuff left to sort out – we used this as an opportunity to do a major purge, and part of that was getting rid of some old and useless furniture that just happened to be sitting around gathering dust, and not necessarily putting back every single thing we owned, but going through it slowly and deciding whether or not it was actually still wanted), organised. Now “clean” and “organised” have been my unattainable goals for a long time now; things I strive for desperately, desperate to have one of those beautiful house-and-garden houses that my friends seem to have. And now I’m doing it! I’m living the DREAM! And there’s not even an Ikea in sight. I know. Crazy, right?

So today, my friends, for all of you who have ever, like me, wanted to live in a perfectly organised home, I’m gonna tell you how I did it. Here goes:

Carpet in my son's room. Isn't it lovely!

Carpet in my son’s room. Isn’t it lovely!

1. Save your money. This is possibly quite obvious, although yes, it’s really REALLY hard. We always put away a small amount of our income, and then we spend it on bills. It’s not quite the same. Eventually I used my tax return money to…

2. Go to America. You heard me. Although, granted, if you actually LIVE in America, you probably need to go somewhere else. But travel. Go stay with a friend you haven’t seen in years. Although…here’s the trick…make sure they’re great housekeepers. I’m serious! See, you can have friends (as I do) who are great housekeepers when you’re at home, but when you visit them you see them sitting drinking coffee at the kitchen table, or relaxing on their couch. When you actually go stay with people you get to see how they do life on a larger scale. And what I learned was this: they clean their houses every morning. Seriously! I KNOW! But you know what? It works! Because the house is already clean, it only takes a few minutes to run through and do it, and then it’s not dirty for the next day when they clean it. Cool, eh? I’ve been trying this. Sometimes I’ve even been succeeding.

3. Kill off your parents. Oh OKAY, I’m not really serious. Winning the lotto will also do it. And NO, before you start wondering, I DID NOT kill my dad. He just up and died, all by himself, heartless thing. BUT, he did leave me all his money (I’m an only child. If you’re not, and you take the title of step number 3 literally you may also need to bump off your siblings. Although if you took me literally you’ve probably not got any kind of sense of humour and it’s not a how-to-clean-your-house blog you need, it’s serious therapy). But Dad died, we inherited more money than we needed to just pay the electricity bill and buy our kids a Happy Meal to celebrate, so we bought carpet. See? Onya Dad. We’d probably still be dreaming about it if it wasn’t for you.

4. Put down carpet. Or, if you’ve already got carpet, put down new carpet. Carpet is great! I haven’t lived in a carpeted house for nearly fifteen years, and I’ve never ever lived in a house with new carpet, so I pretty much think I’m in Heaven right now. Carpeted Heaven. But before we put down the carpet we first needed to…

Lounge room carpet, but the lighting isn't that great. Just ignore the walls.

Lounge room carpet, but the lighting isn’t that great. Just ignore the walls.

5. Get rid of everything in your house. Yes, and I mean EVERYTHING. Putting down carpet is like moving…like moving house and staying in the same spot. It’s win, kinda. My friend Annie who has moved a LOT of times has the most organised house, and she tells me it’s because every time you move house you chuck out the random stuff you accumulate and don’t think about. Moving house makes you ruthless. It made me think “I wish we could move”, even though I like our house, I like where we live, and didn’t want to.  But tada! Carpet is moving-wish granted. And you can’t fudge it with carpet like you do with general cleaning…you know, just kind of pack up around the stuff you’d rather not deal with. You just can’t carpet over old furniture or kids’ puzzles with pieces missing. You either have to chuck them out or store them. And when you’re storing them you think “WHY am I storing this?” and then you chuck it. Or you leave it on the floor to be carpeted over so the new owners can discover it in twenty years’ time…but that’s just weird.

6. Bring back inside only the stuff you need or desperately want to keep. Yes! Leave out all the kids’ kindergarten craft (unless they’re still in kindergarten and they love them). Leave out the ugly bookshelf with the books the kids no longer read. Leave out the mangy wardrobe with the stuff piled on top. Leave out the stuff. Even better, make sure (as we did) that you store everything in SOMEBODY ELSE’S SPACE so you can’t simply leave it in the garage for the next twenty years. Hire a shipping container. Borrow your neighbour’s garage. Just. Don’t. Forget. To. Sort. It.

7. Turn around. Look how nice your house is without all that extra stuff! Roll on the new carpet. Offer up a silent prayer of thanks. Think about your dead parent, and how much they would have loved to see it. Yell at the kids to get their food off the precious new flooring. Roll around some more. Do a cartwheel. Don’t tell anyone, because you’re nearly 40 and you’re really bad at doing cartwheels.

8. Go to America. Okay, that bit doesn’t have much at all to do with keeping your house clean, but gosh it’s a cool place. And you get to hug your friends who taught you how to clean up every morning, but it sure is fun. And, face it, America is awesome. Almost as awesome as carpet.

My 7yo watching TV in our lounge room. See? This is the pile of stuff we still need to sort out. It happens. We'll get there.

My 7yo watching TV in our lounge room. See? This is the pile of stuff we still need to sort out. It happens. We’ll get there.

How about you? Any awesome tips on how to keep a house organized…especially after the novelty of new carpet wears off? I know. It’ll happen eventually. Give me your best tips now, so I can stay organised when it does!

KAZAM! I got Januaried.

I’m back.

I’m glad. It’s nearly February, and to be honest I don’t think I’ve ever been so glad to see the calendar page turn over, and it’s nothing to do with the picture for the month, which is entirely inoffensive (the Capitol building in Lansing, Michigan, for all my US friends). Once the bushfire week calmed down the weather has been lovely, it’s just…just a January thing.

I didn’t know what it was. I couldn’t put my finger on anything but grief, and that scared me more than I knew how to say, because grief is an unknown and debilitating suck of time and life and energy. It scared me because I didn’t want to spend a year in that place of numb, some emotional holding pattern of spiralling downward and inward, nor did I know what to do about it.

I prayed. I read my bible. I tried to dream, and think of all the great plans we’re making for 2013. None of it helped. That too scared me. I put a smile on my face and made sure I kept walking, and ate enough chocolate to drown out the noises of the darkness inside.
Ever been there? I’m sure you have.

And then last week the miracle happened. I found Sonnie’s email address again. I went to the supermarket and ran into Emma and the kids and arranged a playdate. Selena texted me. Sally emailed. Stevie emailed. Suddenly the blank squares below the Capitol Building in Lansing were filled with times and dates and arrows and circles for coffee and names of friends I love.

I thought I needed time by myself. I did. More than that though, deeper, I needed time with people over the age of ten*. People I could relate to, People I could be myself with. It’s summer. Bible studies and social networks and things like that shut down because people go away. People went away. We went away.

I never knew how good it’d feel to see my friends again.

KAZAM! I think I just got Januaried.

*Okay, make that over the age of 30. I don’t think hanging out with a bunch of twelve year olds would have improved my mood that much either.

If I knew how to be perfect…

Ever thought you’d like to be a robot? I have. I think it’d be a good option some days (like, oh…let’s see…today!) when instead of Enough Sleep I could press my “boost” button, and I’d churn through all the work I needed to do sequentially and in an organized fashion, and I’d never EVER be sideswiped by those pesky Feelings.

I stare into space too much. I daydream far too much. Tiredness makes me look at the patterns in the mess rather than thinking what I should do about it…or, even better, doing something about it.

Tiredness tears down my defences and makes me feel guilty for “not doing it right” – whatever “right” is. Tiredness makes me forget I’m me, and not a robot, and that even though I have weaknesses, I have strengths as well.

Today I feel guilty for being undisciplined, although as I write this I’m reminding myself that I’ve been blogging consistently three times a week for the last couple of months – because I’ve disciplined myself. I’ve herded and motivated three children into school and learning and home reading and craft and cooking and swimming and numerous things – because I’ve disciplined myself. I’ve got money in a savings account and my bills paid and I’m not bankrupt – because I’ve disciplined myself. I’ve “felt the fear and done it anyway” on so many levels – because I’ve disciplined myself.

I guess I’m okay. I am.

I hung out with a bunch of girlfriends yesterday* (at my Perfect Friend’s house…well, one of them. I have two. But I love them all the same. This is the perfect friend who once complained to me that after an hour or two of housework that her place didn’t look any different to when she first started…and I agreed with her. Unfortunately for me HER house started clean and ended that way. But I digress…). We talked about another one of our mutual friends (oh, I have THREE perfect friends. Oh my), and about how well she’s going homeschooling her nine (yes, I said NINE) children, and the systems and rosters and structures and achievements, and how pig-in-mud happy she is, how madly pig-in-mud happy they ALL are. We were all quiet for a moment, and then my perfect friend said “But it doesn’t make me feel bad!” and we all nodded far too wildly, not only to tell her that she Shouldn’t feel bad, but because we felt the same way. Our nine-children-OMG-homeschooling friend is doing nothing but what she’s good at and loving it, and she’s not trying to do anything else.

We often feel bad about ourselves, not because we’re not robots, but because we’re trying to be someone we’re not. It’s time to celebrate who we are, not feel the guilt of who we’re not.

I’m good at art. I’m good at writing. I’m good at finding patterns in the mess, not only in the mess on the floor, but in the chaos of people’s lives. I’m good at finding the hope in a bad situation. I’m good at encouraging people to live through the mess and love it anyway.

What about you? What are you good at today?

*I found out yesterday too that another one of my friends vacuums her dog. Yes. That’s right. Yes, that’s exactly what I thought too.

She has a golden retriever. I felt a mad urge to buy her a Chihuahua. Image

Chipping away the darkness

Hello! First thing I want to say is thank you all so much for being so overwhelmingly supportive of my Great Adventure to the US after I blogged about it on Wednesday. Reading all your comments was so lovely and so touching. I feel like I’ve got a cheer squad behind me! It was good reading in the comments too that I’m not the only one dealing with self-sabotage, and that so many of us are afraid of stepping into the thing we desire the most. We’re a funny bunch, us humans.

I’m a bit reluctant to write today’s post, because it’s extremely personal, and I’ll either a) say too much and regret it or b) (more likely) say not enough to make it make sense, and leave you scratching your head and saying “huh?” Oh well. There’s nothing else on my mind right now, so I’ll give it a try. It’s very, very much related to Wednesday, in fact it’s kind of Exactly The Same Thing.

I have a dream. This one is a small one, a personal one, a little dream so little and sweet that if I told you you’d say “awww, that’s lovely! You should do that.” It’s not hard. I don’t need to buy a ticket for it, and it won’t cost me much at all. It’s not a dream I think about much though because it’s buried so deep inside me that it’s hard to find, and it’s so small that often it gets overlooked. I think we all have dreams like that.

So anyway, on Wednesday after I’d blogged all about stepping into my dream of travel and visiting the US for the first time I had lunch with a friend, my oldest and dearest friend. We bought chicken sandwiches and walked to the park and sat in the sunshine and chatted and laughed and shared the way we’ve been doing for years. The conversation went deep, and then suddenly my friend offered up a truth so sharp that it wedged its way deep into my gut and pushed that tiny dream up and out of my mouth for the first time in years. It made me cry over my chicken sandwich, even if we were in the park and in the sunshine.

And then she said this: “You should do it.”

She’s right. And not only is she right, I’d blogged that very and self-same morning about the rightness of what she said. I Should Do It.

And then I cried some more, because even though that dream is little it’s the most precious and covered over of all dreams. It hasn’t seen the daylight for many, many years, and I was scared that if it did, then…I don’t know. I don’t know why it’s scary stepping into dreams. Perhaps the darkness that covered it is the fear that if it ever happened I would do something to stuff it up.

That’s it. That’s the truth. I would Do Something to Stuff It Up. Except the thing I’m realizing at the moment that that “truth” is a lie.

It’s only taken 20-something years.

It’s not going to cost me anything, to do this. Just a bit of time, and a bucketful of tears that I can well afford.

I’m going to do it.

It’s going to hurt. Chipping away at darkness always does.

It’s worth it.

Image

I need to talk.

No no no, don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to tell you all my problems…well, not here, anyway, but I need to talk. Hopefully I AM the only person in the known universe who finds this difficult.

This is dumb.

People talk just fine most of the time. I talk a lot…some people might say A LOT…but it’s about the weather and why I like red chairs and white chocolate and what on earth my kids are thinking. I don’t talk about…stuff. I think it’s just me. But it’s bad.

When I was a kid I spent heaps of time waiting for my parents. I was an only child. I’d have a book to read or some paper to draw on, but basically there’d be a lot of waiting, and listening, and what I heard was always the same thing: my parents telling people their problems.

Always. Again.

I knew their problems already. I lived in our house. I had ears and eyes, and I figured that the three of us was about as far as that stuff needed to go. I didn’t roll my eyes at them because I was a good girl, but I decided, at the age of eleven, that I wasn’t going to tell anyone anything. Ever.

Except the stuff about the red chairs and the white chocolate, that was okay.

And that’s how things have stayed. Please tell me that I AM the only person who tells her husband and her best friends that she’s had a bad day…three days after the fact. It’s dumb. It really is. People need to talk about stuff. We do.

I do.

There’s just something about opening your mouth and pulling your heart out of it and giving it to another person that just smacks of the unsafe and faintly ridiculous. You have to trust people. You have to know them enough to believe that they do care, they do value what you’re telling then and that they won’t take that little piece of heart you’ve given them and stomp on it. You’ve got to trust that they are strong enough to be able to take that little piece of your heart and nestle it in next to theirs for a while until that little piece of your heart feels strong again. It’s not easy. The staircase that your heart has to climb up out of your chest, spiraling around your throat and up and out of your mouth is a long one. Sometimes my words get tired, and often they stop just before they reach the opening, and I will look at the person I’m with and nod my head sagely as if they know already, and while my tired heart pants in the back of my mouth my tongue pulls out the safe answer to the big question of “what’s happening?” and shoves it out for my listening friend, “Oh, you know. Stuff.” So today I’ve made a decision, and it’s this. It’s a big one:

I need to talk.

Thank you, and Good Morning.

Good heavens!

I get up in the morning and find an extra 80 people suddenly following my blog. Wow. Thank you! I love meeting new people.

I will try my hardest to be as deep, wise, witty and intelligent as you probably expect (LOL!!). I will absolutely let you down in that, so I will now apologise in advance. There’s something about trying to live up to your own expectations that’s always going to end badly, so I’ll make it easy for all of us and…not.

I’m working on a “proper” post, but right now I just wanted to say Hi, and thank you for brightening my day.

Oh, and next time you drop by can you please bring some coffee? I think we’re out…