On Being Heard

I jammed my fingers in a cafe door in town the other day. Not in the way that you close the door on them and you say “ouch” and give them a bit of a shake until the blood flows back into them, I mean I grabbed hold of a door jamb for support for ten seconds, just as the big glass monstrosity of a door swung shut again. I’d grabbed the hinge side. The door wanted to be where my fingers were, and my fingers weren’t much of a match for stopping them.

(image from http://www.fingersafe.com.au. This is not me, obviously!)

The point is, it hurt. A lot. I managed to put down the thing coffee I was holding and reach across myself to push the door open again enough to extricate my fingers. I said “ouch”, or some variation thereof.

Here’s the other point: nobody, not one person in that coffee shop, nor anyone walking outside, noticed. This is understandable; my body was shielding the view from the people behind me, the person for whom the door had opened had already walked away, I was on my own, waiting for someone. People in coffee shops make remarks like “ouch” all the time, if they spill a dash of coffee on themselves, if they bang their toe, if they bite an ulcer on the side of their mouths. In hindsight I wouldn’t expect anybody to jump up and demand to know whether I was okay. I moved back to my chair, careful not to grab the door jamb this time, and sat down.

I didn’t take a photo, although I probably should have, because there were craters in three of my fingers a full half-centimetre deep, and although the skin hadn’t been broken it had been pushed down to the level of the bone. I held them up to the level of my face, partly to see them, half-wanting to catch the eye of someone, to debrief, to say “look at my fingers!” but nobody looked. I wanted to say “OUCH” again, loudly, but it was after the fact, and it wasn’t like there was anybody there who cared enough for me to say it to. I sat in my seat and watched the people and held my poor fingers against my hot coffee to soothe them, and waited.

By the time my friend came I had tears streaming down my face. I held up my hand and said, probably sounding as pathetic as I looked, “I jammed my fingers!” She was, of course, brilliant. She was sympathetic in the way that I needed, she got me some ice and some tissues to wipe my face, and she sat with me and asked “what happened?!” It helped. Simply by her presence and her willingness to listen she helped enormously. I hadn’t realised how much tension I’d been holding in my body since the incident until I felt it dissipate. The fact that someone acknowledged my experience helped me to move on.

(My fingers are fine, by the way. They are a little sore if I touch the place where they were jammed, but otherwise no injury at all. I’m very glad it wasn’t a child or an elderly person that it happened to though).

My fingers aren’t that much of a big deal, but it made me think a lot about the difference it made for me to be heard. It made me think about the stories of older people who lived through trauma (especially the sexual abuse stories) as young people, and told no-one, or who weren’t believed. It made me think of returned soldiers, especially those struggling to find their place in life again, and the stories they can’t talk about and how it affects them. It made me think about the times in my own life when I’ve shared a story, or not been able to share a story, or a thought, or a feeling, or a niggling doubt.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/fd/Meeting_On_The_Wall%2C_Essaouira_%285258780850%29.jpg/1024px-Meeting_On_The_Wall%2C_Essaouira_%285258780850%29.jpg(Meeting on the Wall, from Wikimedia commons)

We were made to listen, and to be listened to. This is the basis of friendship, of community, of family, I think. We were made to speak, and designed to be heard.

Who are you listening to today? What is it that you need to tell?

When The Bad Stuff Is Good For You

So I’m sitting in church yesterday, right, and…

Actually, let me backtrack a minute. First of all let me say a huge THANK YOU to all the dear, dear friends who called/emailed/texted/messaged me the other day after Thursday’s post. Your love and support was overwhelming, and touched me deeply. Love you all.

And I am okay. Really. Some days you go through stuff. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, instead of just taking you out, those days end up teaching you something about yourself. And that’s what happened.

So I’m sitting in church yesterday, right, and I’m making a conscious decision to focus on what’s happening right there and not to think about what’s going on in my head (which is kind of like a toddler sitting with his hands over his ears yelling “LALALALALA! I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”, except in a less obvious form), and I’m listening away to what the pastor is preaching, but then all of a sudden I start really listening. He said (and I can’t quote, because although I was taking notes I wasn’t necessarily taking good ones) something along the lines of this:

Sometimes stuff happens, stuff that looks bad, feels bad, smells bad (oh no, I know the worst joke about that) actually isn’t bad, but is working in our best interest.

He gave the example of backburning (for you lucky people who don’t live in bushfire affected areas, this is where areas of bushland are burned in a controlled environment to get rid of the thick undergrowth and debris that can turn a bushfire deadly in uncontrolled conditions. Kind of like a haircut for the forest), where you can see the flames, smell the smoke, have it sting your eyes even, but it doesn’t mean you’re in danger. In fact, the fire is keeping you safe from a potential larger danger. (Is that right Pastor Lucas?)

Source: wikimedia commons

Source: wikimedia commons

Big, huh?

What he’s saying is that sometimes God does things (or allows things to happen) that look bad, but are actually used for our good. And you know what? He’s right.

So I’m sitting in church listening to this, and I figure that it’s probably okay now for me to take my metaphorical hands from my metaphorical ears and to think about whatever is going on in my brain, namely the stuff I posted about on Thursday.

Could this problem be God’s way of helping me?

You know what? This is the reason I sat up and started really listening.

I think it is.

I’d thought about this just a few days before. I’d been so depressed that I’d thrown myself into my work, not the new project that I thought I’d be working on, but pulled out an old one that I’d loved and been proud of, but one where the problems in pushing it through to completion were so overwhelming and seemingly impassable that I’d given up on it. I felt like I was lashing out in anger by opening up that old can o’ worms again, but yesterday in church I wasn’t so sure. That anger and frustration were the things that were fuelling me into actions I hadn’t thought about taking, and maybe instead of being sidelined I was actually walking backwards to get a good run up and vault over that insurmountable wall.

I didn’t realise it, but I’d got too comfortable.

As for the original problem I posted about last week, I’m okay. I’m a big girl, I know how to roll with life’s punches and to pick myself up again. That’ll be okay, I know it. Life goes on.

And if a week of tears and anguish has been the catalyst to hurl me back into the race and set my face to the challenge again, then, yes, I guess I can say it’s been worth it.

On Friendship, Heartbreak, and Being Worth It.

I’ve had a hard time recently (yes, I’m being very honest here, be nice to me, okay?). Something came up, an issue, a problem, with someone I loved dearly, and trusted. A close friend. It may have been a small thing, but it hurt me unimaginably, left me with those deep feelings of wanting to lash out, wanting to hurt back. Spite. I’m not a spiteful person; I’m not a vindictive person at all, and the fact that I was feeling such feelings scared me.

It felt like I was in grade four again, this stupid attitude of “he sat next to her and not me”, or “she promised me that I could come to her sleepover, and then she invited somebody else instead!” Dumb stuff. Kid stuff. I’m a mature adult, and I earned that maturity through a lot of dumb mistakes I’ll not make again.

In other words, I Know Better.

I do! I know that love is a choice not a feeling. I know that life goes in seasons. I know that hearts mend, that people grow and change, that sometimes stuff is hard. This knowledge hasn’t stopped me wanting to lash out though, to take my hurt to Facebook and wail about it.

I haven’t. And I WON’T. The problem is mine, not my friend’s, and doing anything like that would only make it worse (okay, MUCH worse), and I’d regret it. And I know I won’t always feel this way. Heck, by the time I post this I may not even feel this way any more.

What I did do, though, was this:

I talked to people, in person. I chose trusted friends, people who weren’t connected to my friend or the situation; people I knew who loved me and who could listen to me without judging and without condemning me or telling me I sound like a ten year old. People who could just listen. It helped. A lot.

You know, one of the big things I realised from it was this: much as it’s hurt, and much as it’s made me wonder why I ever bothered getting close to people in the first place if this is how it’s going to wound me, it’s precisely because I chose to get close to people, to allow them into my world, that I’ve got access to the friends who listened and cared when I needed them. I spent years, because of experiences like the one I’ve had with my friend recently, keeping people at a distance so I wouldn’t get hurt. It was lonely. I ached with it. It took me years to allow myself to get close to people, and then when I did…

…and then when I did allow myself to get close to people and I got hurt, there were others there, a whole network of people who could offer me a hand, an ear, some grace, while I got myself up again.

I still love my estranged(ish) friend dearly. Hello, estranged(ish) friend, wherever you are. And, no matter the stupid feelings I’ve been going through of late, that once-upon-a-time long-ago decision to love people, to allow myself to get close to people again, was worth it.

It’s still worth it. Even if it means, for a little while, disconnecting myself some from places I’d see them and giving myself a serious kick up the backside from time to time. So long as I take care of myself, so long as I don’t do anything stupid that I’m going to regret, then allowing myself to get close, allowing my heart to be vulnerable enough to get a little broken, it’s still worth it.

Remind me of that tomorrow, when I go through this same stinking emotional roller coaster again, okay?

source: Wikimedia commons

source: Wikimedia commons

What I learned up north about unconditional love

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This is me with my friend Yvonne. She, it must be pointed out, is not dead. I tell you this because often we don’t say these things about people until they are, and then they’re not around to hear them and then we have a big moan about how we should have said them while they were still alive and all that. So I’m saying it now, while Yvonne-the-undead is still very much in the land of the living. Because, it must be said, my friend Yvonne is categorically wonderful.

Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, waaaaaay back when I was a teenager, I went to a church Youth camp up in the north of the state. From memory I was sent to get me out of the house while my grandparents were coming over Easter and because of it I a) decided I was quite interested in this Christianity thing and that it wasn’t just for boring old people and b) met a rag-tag bunch of people who I’ve stayed friends with for more than twenty years now.* I met Simon, and through Simon I met his brother Iain, and somewhere at the end of camp we all swapped addresses and started writing letters to each other. They all lived up north. I didn’t.

We didn’t write about much. There wasn’t much to write about. School. Friends. Cars. Boyfriends. What we planned on getting up to at the next camp. They were fun letters to get, and good memories of friends who, back then, back before the days of mobile phones and Facebook–heck, even before the internet–and well before I got a car or a driver’s license, we didn’t get to see.

I don’t remember when it was, but one day Iain invited me and a few others to his house to stay. Probably for a night, probably before or after a camp, the details are lost to me now. I was pretty shy–okay, very shy–but he assured me that his mum wouldn’t mind, that she loves having people over to stay, and there were a few of us, anyway. We’d all camp out on the lounge room floor. It must have been fun. It must have gone okay, because pretty much every holiday after that I spent a few days at Iain’s house. Sometimes there wasn’t even a camp on and I’d be making the two-hour trek north to go spend a couple of nights hanging out with Iain and his family.

Iain’s family was large. He had four brothers, two of which didn’t live at home any more, and a whole crowd of other “brothers” and others, mates who’d come for the night, and then another, and another, and eventually, for one reason or another, moved in for a season. I met them too. I listened to them all talk cars…and more cars. They took me downstairs to the driveway and popped the bonnets (for my non-Aussie readers that means…oh, I don’t know…opened up the bit where the motor is) and tried to explain to me how cars worked, which I vaguely understood. Iain took me driving in his white Gemini, and just laughed when he slammed on the handbrake as I narrowly avoided walls.

And Yvonne, Iain’s mum, as long as she knew who was going to be there in the evening, fed us all. She never once complained about the excessive amount of food that a crowd of teens and twenty-somethings ate, or the ludicrous amounts of black currant cordial she must have had to buy. She must have gone through about seventeen packets of Weetbix a fortnight, but not once, to us at least, did she grumble about me staying again. I loved her for that.

Yvonne taught me to cross-stitch, showed me how to light a gas stove, taught me folk art painting. She told me all the stories about her grandkids, about her boys when they were smaller, taught me word puzzles from her local paper, and clipped out some spares for Iain to send me with his next letter. I loved my time with her, and more than once I wished I lived up north, wished I could have stayed forever.

And then we grew up.

Iain got married. I got married. We didn’t write any more. Iain drove buses, and when he drove down south he’d drop in and we’d catch up. Sometimes we’d make the trip up North again, and we’d drop in and say hi to them, and sometimes to Yvonne. We had babies, and lives, and mobile phones. Sometimes we’d text. Occasionally, when there was news, we’d call. I’d think about Iain every time I saw a white Gemini, and every so often I’d run into one of his “other” brothers who’d say “Have you spoken to Yvonne?” and I’d feel a sharp pang of guilt because I hadn’t, and a fierce regret, because I’d let life close over that  door to the north where magic used to be.

And then we went away.

This is the thing that changed for me: I went to America. And Canada. We drove hours upon hours to visit beautiful friends in a very different shade of north, and each time I had to say goodbye I missed them terribly (and still do), and dreamed of visiting them again (and still do), even when we went back to our little island on the other side of the world. Missing them made me remember how I missed Yvonne.

Here’s the thing: Yvonne is still alive. And she doesn’t live on the other side of the world. Suddenly, when you’ve driven your kids six hours to see someone, driving them for two hour’s north in your own state doesn’t seem like such a big deal after all. I sent her a message, and Iain a message. Last Thursday I bundled the kids into the car and made the journey north again, just as I’d done all those years before.

Moonrise

 

Yvonne’s house hasn’t changed. Well, the floors have, and the TV is new, and the couches. But the magic is still there.

Yvonne

 

It’s not magic, not really. It’s the feeling of familiarity, of home, of this-is-where-I-once-belonged, of where, after all these years, I’m made to feel I still belong. It’s the magic of an unconditional love that never once frowns at me or makes me feel guilty for not being in touch sooner, or more often, but opens its arms and says “welcome!”

When I grow up I want to be just like Yvonne.

*Let this be a lesson to all you parents out there. Be careful about sending your kids to church camps. You never know WHO they’re gonna end up getting involved with. You might find these people at your house STILL, some twenty years later. I don’t think church prepares you for that properly.

This is Iain, drying out after a wade in the pool with his little fella on Friday. Thanks for everything, mate! I owe you one.

This is Iain, drying out after a wade in the pool with his little fella on Friday. Thanks for everything, mate! I owe you one.

But is there blood?

1487773_10152061855468330_2059612794_oThis is my youngest son. He’s just turned five years old, and yes, how you see him here is pretty much how he approaches everything. With gusto. He a real “Life, Be In It” kid, and he’s a real lot of fun. My boy wasn’t afraid to ride his bike without training wheels. He wasn’t afraid to ride a horse. He wasn’t afraid to ride a roller coaster at Luna Park a few months ago (granted though, that one scared him off any kind of roller coaster since), and he isn’t afraid to try new food, meet new people, go new places, do new things.

Only one thing really scares my boy…

Blood.

I first noticed it, like really noticed it, when he was about two years old. He’d fall over, maybe graze his hand (maybe not, I couldn’t tell), and after the screaming was over (granted, he’s not much of a screamer. He’s the kind who picks himself up again and says “I’m okay!”) and the cuddles had quieted him I wouldn’t be allowed to check for damage. He’d hold his possibly-grazed-possibly-not hand in a tight fist, or behind his back, or both.  For hours. Hours and hours.

Can’t look Mummy. There might be blood.

Generally, after a bit of a cuddle and by the time he’s off and running again it’s pretty obvious that nothing’s broken (okay, as I write this I’m remembering the story of when my husband was in grade 4 and hurt his ankle playing soccer…possibly even continued to play until the end of recess…before they discovered later that he’d actually broken it. Mummy note-to-self: resuming of activities doesn’t mean things are definitely okay. Hmmm.) and there’s no great rivers of red running down his arm I’m happy to let him go.*

I used to think he’d forget about it, that he’s open his fist to catch a ball without even thinking about it, that he’d pull off his socks and jump into the bath at the end of the day without batting an eyelid.

Not my son.

I’ve bathed him in socks because he’d stubbed his toe in the morning (he’s also scared of bandaids, although sometimes I have to force that issue. They need to be covered with a sock). I’ve washed his white-knuckled fist and carefully dried it again, praying that he opens it in his sleep before any kind of mildew sets into the wound. And I’ve witnessed tender moments of trust late at night when he’s called me in and made me stand a good enough distance away and promise not to touch while he carefully unfurls his hand and shows me the remnant of the damage.

He makes me laugh, him and his “Mummy it’s okay, I haven’t got blood.”

Sometimes, let it be said, I’ve laughed a little too hard. That changed when I realised the person he’d inherited this strange trait from was…ermm…me.

Want to hear another story?

When I was young, maybe in my early teens, something happened to me. No no, before you jump to the worst, it wasn’t that. Nobody would ever be arrested for inflicting this kind of damage, nor was it really that serious in the large scale of things. Dumb more than deadly; stupid more than shameful. But it hurt. A lot. I’d been in a vulnerable place. Always been a sensitive soul. And the trouble was…you guessed it…I didn’t tell anyone. I bunched up my metaphorical fist and hid it in a glove and wrapped it in a jacket and put it behind my back and kept playing. For twenty something years.

Now, I’ll repeat myself here. This was the emotional equivalent of a grazed hand, not a gaping wound that needed stitches, but still it frightened me. The fact that there was a hurt there frightened me. The longer I hid it the more it frightened me. And the more it frightened me the longer I hid it.

I grew up around it. I learned, metaphorically, to do life quite well one-handed, and to use that balled-up fist for balance if I needed it. I knew it was there. It didn’t bother me that much. Only occasionally did I look at my friends who could use both hands and experience that pang of longing to be like them.

Twenty. Something. Years.

I can only vaguely remember now what prompted me to peel off those wrappers and begin the arduous process of looking at my wound. I remember the person I showed though, and how I’d made sure she had her (metaphorical) hands behind her back, and that she was a good safe distance away. I remember with acute detail the act of showing her though, the fear and trembling, her compassion and understanding. How she looked at my wound and said “yeah that must have hurt”.

That simple thing, the me showing, the her looking, made all the difference. I use two hands now, open-palmed. So much more practical for things like, you know, living.

Through that painful process of exposure I’ve realised that I have some amazing friends around me. Top quality people, people I trust, people I know that I can, whenever I need to, go to and show them where it hurts. And it’s made me more aware of the people around me who are living life with one hand in a fist in a glove tied in a jacket behind their backs–or worse, and how I may be able to be the person they come to and say “Is there blood?” and, God help me, that I may be able to be the one who has compassion for them and not laugh off their fear but instead say to them “Yes, but I can help you.”

 

*For anyone out there who’s concerned about my parenting style here, YES, if I thought there was serious damage I would absolutely haul him off to the doctor and prise open his rock-hard fist and make him endure whatever suturing he needed. Thankfully none of his injuries have ever come to that. Heaven help us if it does!

It’s not WHAT you know

It’s been a fun week. In fact, today being Wednesday (for me, at least), it marks the end of our first full week in the USA, and a rich and full week it has been, too. In one week we’ve stayed in three different houses in three different locations, all wildly different, all of which with something unique to offer. I posted a lot of San Francisco pics last time, here are a couple of the places we visited afterwards:IMG_6309

Yes, those are real, wild DEER grazing on someone's front lawn

Yes, those are real, wild DEER grazing on someone’s front lawn

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Black Butte, Northern California

Black Butte, Northern California

 

Our hotel had a swimming pool!

Our hotel had a swimming pool!

We drove six hour’s north to visit Katy and George for the weekend. We picked up a rental car in downtown San Francisco – had to upgrade to an 8-seater just to fit all our luggage in – and then Tony had to do a super-quick crash-course on a) how to drive a car that looks totally different inside to any we’ve driven before, b) how to drive on the right, and c) how to drive in San Francisco. At the car rental office one of the staff told me that her mother is Indian, and she’ll drive anywhere in urban India, even with it’s crazy road rules (or lack thereof), but even she is scared to drive in San Francisco.

We did it though. Hats off to Tony, who drove well, and who took us North for one of the most beautiful sightseeing tours I’ve ever been on. We loved our time there. Katy and George live in a tiny historic gold-rush town. They fed us, and took us to Oregon to see the most beautiful little art galleries, and we oohed and aahed at the scenery again. We laughed and ate and dreamed and talked and came away feeling full and loved and happy.

And drove ANOTHER five hour down to Sacramento.

The cool thing? It’s so worth it.

We planted ourselves in Sacramento because I wanted to visit people. We figured we’d find something else to do to fill in all the extra time. We didn’t expect that it’d be filled in the way it was though.IMG_5709

We went to visit a little after-school program run by Debbie, who I’d met last year. Debbie had set up a pen-pal system between her after-school kids and my daughter’s class back home, and the two groups have been corresponding throughout the year. We weren’t sure what to expect, but they made us feel quite at home, and sat us down in a row and the kids took turns to ask questions about Tasmania, about their school, about the wildlife and the food, about what we thought of America. They showered us with gifts, and we chatted for a good hour or so while our kids made themselves at home with theirs.

Afterwards, the bit we didn’t expect and could never predict, the mother of the girl my daughter had been writing to asked whether we’d like to come back and see her daughter’s horse. She bought us all pizza for dinner, and drove us to a ranch about ten minutes out of town, where the kids climbed trees, patted miniature horses, rode a full-size one, played soccer, ate fresh figs and cooled off under the sprinklers.

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IMG_6609

IMG_6528It’s getting late and I’m hungry and I have other things to do, and even if I had the time I don’t think I could fully express the joy of this last week, or my gratitude to the people I’ve met and the places they’ve taken us. It’s been wonderful. Truly wonderful.

I still can’t say I’ve done a lot of tourist things, and even at the end of the trip there’ll be a lot of big exciting tourist things we won’t have seen, the time we’ve had with our precious friends is priceless, and the experiences they’ve provided for us are worth more to us than any tourism brochure can offer. It just goes to show really, it’s not what you know, it’s who…

 

Dear Theresa: I am not a pessimist…I think.

Hello Theresa!

I do hope you don’t mind me addressing my blog to you today. I’ve been thinking of you a lot lately, and, well, like sometimes in public speaking when it helps to pick out one member of the audience and address your talk to them, the same can be true for blogging.

Is it sunny in good old Southern California today? D’uh. Sorry. Of course it is! It’s cold in Tassie–light the fire and put on a thick dressing gown type cold. No, I bet you don’t miss that one bit! It feels like only a few short months ago (d’uh! It WAS only a few months ago) that I was getting up to 5am daylight and sitting here in shorts and a t-shirt, in complete denial that the weather could ever be anything different. Well, it’s definitely different. I’ve lived here all my life, I can’t believe that cold weather takes me by surprise every single year. Denial, I guess.

The mountain. Taken from our front porch. Yes, that's snow already.

The mountain. Taken from our front porch. Yes, that’s snow already.

I. Cannot. Wait. To. See. You. Again!!! We sat around together on Saturday and did some research into accommodation and transport and all those other practical things you need to know about when you drag a family of five across to the other side of the world. It was fun, but I was tired, and had had a lot going on. And about half-way through the conversation I realised something weird about myself: I didn’t want to go.

Now don’t get me wrong, yes, we ARE coming. Yes, we ARE hauling the family over to the other side of the planet to explore yet another handful of new cities and, yes, actually drive a crazy-big RV on the wrong side of the road while our kids sit in the back and play Lego or argue. Yes, I AM a wild adventurer who’s been desperate to travel and see the world for as long as she can remember. Yes. That’s still me.

But…

Here’s something that occurred to me a while back. I’m pretty sure that inside every optimist is a hidden pessimist. That inside every calm and relaxed person is a hidden drama queen. That inside every shy person is a tiger ready to fight its way to the surface. 

Most of the time we ourselves don’t know it’s in there. I’m pretty sure of that. But have you ever had a friend who, under great stress, does something wildly out of character? I’m noticing it a fair bit. I’m pretty sure it’s true for us all. I think we all have, like, an “outer personality”, the who-we-are, but that the other, opposite side, is also present, and manifests itself when we’re under pressure. Now I’m no psychologist, but I am a student of human nature. I think this is why I was always such a poor finisher of things – a true 90-percenter. Passionate about starting anything new, but scared to fail, so I wouldn’t complete. I noticed it with my last US trip: I was so gun-ho to go, but as it got closer the fears nearly threatened to overwhelm me. And now it’s the same again.

I. Love. Travel.

It’s true. I’m a travel nut, and I’ve been missing you, and my other friends there, and the US itself, ever since I got back. I can’t wait to come again, that much is true…I’ve just got to get over my fear that my kids will be kidnapped by satanists on Superbowl weekend (granted, I don’t know when Superbowl weekend is), or stolen in a shopping mall because I turned my back on them to check out the price of toothpaste for a minute.

What IS the Superbowl, any how? Is it football? It can’t be baseball surely, because they have the World Series. Ah, who knows.

Your kids live there. They’re such gorgeous, happy things, too. Do you ever get afraid they’ll be kidnapped by satanists?

I like my optimist side much better.

Hello Theresa!

Hello Theresa!

Well, that’s all for now. It’s the first day back at school for my guys today, so I better go make lunches. Sigh.

It’s been nice talking to you like this. I’ll see you soon. I WILL! Just a soon as I get my pessimistic nature firmly back in its box, where it belongs.

 

The Bad Day

I had a bad day the other day. Some are like that. Some days are coffee and some days are cream. Some days are the dregs at the bottom of the coffee pot. Some days, though, are the left-over scrapings at the bottom of the compost bucket. This was one of them.

Now I’m not going to go into a long story telling you all about what happened and why I was so upset, not the least because it’s boring to anyone not living in my head, and it’s also not what I want to write about. What I want to write about it What I Did.

What do YOU do on those Bad Days?

Chocolate cake (source: Wikimedia commons)Well, yes. I thought of that too. Unfortunately I have an intolerance to chocolate (I KNOW! No joke. Small amounts are fine, but regular small amounts give me serious PMT symptoms, which is not pleasant, and–to tell you the truth–possibly contributed to the reason I was feeling so bad the other day in the first place).

So I did the next best thing: I went for a walk in the sunshine and listened to my favourite music. This time it didn’t help. Actually, it made me cry.

Facebook didn’t help, although it gave me another idea. Retail therapy. Six nice bowls, a Dr Pepper, and the dream of fluffy towels later I still didn’t feel any better. Granted though, I had six nice new bowls. And a Dr Pepper (although I didn’t sleep well that night. Has anybody invented caffeine-free Dr Pepper yet? Can I have some please?).

Dr Pepper. Nectar of the artificial gods.

Dr Pepper. Nectar of the artificial gods.

Now you’re probably thinking “D’uh girl. Tackle the source of the problem if it’s that upsetting. Stop trying to bandaid it with fizzy drinks/soda/pop/disgusting sugar-laden cough-syrup-tasting-weirdness (whatever you prefer to call it)”, and normally I would. I’m good at that. Unfortunately I was well aware that the problem this day was basically me.

So the next thing on the list was to start tackling some of the stuff that was getting me down. I cleaned my daughter’s bedroom, and got rid of an insane amount of stuff (she hasn’t commented. Possibly hasn’t noticed), and hung out with a friend for a while during the Great Purge. Both of these helped me feel a little better, but the results were small (in me, not in my daughter’s bedroom) and I needed more than that. I needed serious help.

It took a long, long time to get to this, and I can’t believe it took me this long, but by the end of the day I did the thing I should have done in the morning, and saved myself a few tears and a bunch of heartache: I told a friend.

I don’t know why the right thing to do is often the last thing we think of. I do know that I’ve been well out of practice in letting people in on how I’m feeling, for reasons such as “they’ve got problems of their own, they don’t need mine”, and “it’s not really anything serious, it’s just me having a bad day”, and “there’s nothing anybody can do about it, so why bother sharing it?”.

All of this is, in fact, rubbish.

Yes, my friends all have problems of their own. But they love me. And not only did I not “burden them” (as it’s so easy to think of it as), sharing it lightened my load considerably. Even if it was just dumb stuff in my head. Dumb stuff in heads can cause heads to explode sometimes. That’s why God invented mouths: our release valves.

I feel better now. Much, MUCH better. And I have six new bowls and a clean daughter’s-bedroom as well.

What about you? Do you ever struggle with opening up to people, even trusted friends? What do you do when you’re having a day straight from the compost heap?

Tell someone who cares: some thoughts for my younger self

I don’t know if this is just a me-thing, but I doubt it. Maybe an Australian-thing, maybe a girl-thing. Quite possibly an Australian-girl thing. Please let me know if you have any idea, because these days I’m old enough and wise enough to know that the thought is really quite silly, and it needs to be stopped. I’m not sure why the thinking is so prevalent to begin with.

Here’s the thing, the phrase that got bandied around my mind for so many years, and, if I think about it, the minds of a few of my friends, too: Don’t Ask For Help. People Have Enough Troubles Of Their Own Already.

Have you ever thought that, or been told that? It seems quite silly now, especially as we’re also taught (hopefully) at a young age that love makes the world go round, and we need to be kind to other people. But we also seem to be taught (at least I was) not to pry into other people’s business. Don’t ask personal questions. Don’t go round uninvited. Don’t outstay your welcome. Don’t call, it may not be appropriate. Don’t put your hand up, they may not want you.

The trouble is this: that kind of thinking doesn’t build community. It doesn’t build relationships. It builds islands.

The trouble is also this: we aren’t taught how to get off our islands. Instead we are taught how to kindly remove people who have sailed their little fishing-boats to ours.

Island

Island.

I don’t like it. And, to be honest after all these years, I think it’s wrong. Wherever this idea came from, whoever first started teaching this to their children, they missed the boat.

When I was younger there was a lot of talk about setting clear personal boundaries, and I’m still all for that. I’m an introvert at heart too, and go a bit crazy if I don’t get enough time by myself. And I’ve had friends (obviously not ones who learned this particular lesson early in life, as I did) who would come over for hours longer than I wanted to see them for, and download their problems to me on some kind of constant and never-ending high-rotation loop and completely ignore my subtle (and not-so-subtle) attempts to get them to stop.

Maybe it’s because of those friends that I decided, too, that I didn’t want to burden other people. We were all young. None of us, in hindsight, knew much about anything.

Here’s an interesting thing though: I still have those friends. I still love them dearly. I am proud of them, and proud of the fact that, after some twenty years, they’ve held their heads high through those struggles. I’m well beyond pleased that I was there for them when they needed to download-on-high-rotation. Even though at the time they annoyed me, we are still friends. It’s possibly because their little fishing boat spent so much time at my island that I got involved, got to caring, got to want to know what will happen next, how they’ll sort it out. Like a TV soap maybe. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing. I couldn’t fix their problems, but I could listen and nod and make them cups of tea, and open my door when they turned up the next day as well, and the next. And I could keep my mouth shut when they annoyed me, and forgive them, and stay friends.

So, if I could go back in time, here’s what I’d say to my younger self:

  • Island living is for birds, not people.
  • Talk. Tell people stuff. Ask questions. Listen.
  • People will care if you let them. If they don’t, that’s their fault. Try someone else.
  • Your needs are as important as the next person’s. Make sure you get yourself heard.
  • Take people’s advice, especially if they’re older and wiser people. That’s called Mentoring. It’s worth sucking up a bit of pride to receive.
  • If people won’t give you advice, ask for it. Then take it. The wisdom and mistakes of other people are how you learn the best way to live.
  • You might have been born on an island, but you don’t need to stay there.

What do YOU think? Have I missed anything I need to tell my younger self? Have you struggled with island living as I have? Do you have any great tips or advice for people learning to get–and stay–connected? 

Dear Son…

Me and Son

(Honestly, if I’d known I was going to take a photo of us at lunch yesterday and then put it on the internet for all of posterity I would have put on a bit of makeup! Oh well. There’s something quite fitting in the fact that I didn’t, considering how little make-up I’ve worn over the years.)

So how are you today? You know there’s a lot of people who’ll read this thinking I’m writing an open letter to one of my boys. People, this is Sonya. She’s been my best friend since we were twelve. It’s about time you met her. She’s wonderful.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about what we were talking about, about my blog, and I AM sorry I haven’t been blogging more. It’s a tricky balance, really, between blogging and novel-writing. And Facebook…and now everything seems to be pointing to me getting a bit more active on Twitter to promote my writing a bit more. LIKE I HAVE THE TIME! I will. Eventually. We’ll see.

But I do need to be more consistent again with blogging. I do so enjoy it. I think twice a week will have to be my limit though, because last year so little other writing got done. So I will commit to blogging on Monday mornings, and Thursday mornings. Is today Thursday? It is? Oh good. And if I get a fabulous new idea, instead of breaking schedule I’ll save it up in the queue and blog it next time. And yes, you can hold me accountable to that. You can call me up and yell at me if there isn’t a blog on your inbox on those mornings.

It’s a funny old world, the blogging one. Everybody has different limits, personally, on how much to share with the world at large, and what’s public information vs what’s private information. What IS “too much information”? I think the answer to that changes from culture to culture, and time period to time period too. And there’s the weirdness of finding out what your closest friend is thinking from reading their blog. And I’m sorry about that. Although it may help to know that sometimes that’s how Tony knows what’s going on in my head too – and he’s my husband! I’m beginning to think I’m a product of my generation, I blog to “be”. But if I were an artist in 19th Century Paris, say, I’d probably hang out in cafes and make sweeping political statements, to “be”.

Does that make sense to you? Nah, I thought not 🙂

But I like this idea of writing to friends. If I don’t know what to say, I’ll pick someone I know reads my blog (yes I am thinking of you Theresa!) and write it to them. It helps me think. And it feels nice. And maybe, with a bit of thought and practice, I can grow this idea into something bigger.

Thanks for being my friend. Thank you, more than I can say, for your loyalty, and for putting up with me/sticking by me through all my ups and downs and wild ideas and craziness. And stupid clothes choices. You are the best. I’m glad everyone on the internet can know that about you now, too.

Love you, always.

Megan xox

Dear readers, teach your children this: to love their friends, especially when they are young. Be kind. Be loyal. Don’t forget the ones who support you. They are the ones you’ll find in your adulthood, the ones who you pick up with as if it’s only been a week since you saw each other last, not a year or two, and who’ll feel like family. Don’t burn those old bridges, because they are the roads back into your deepest heart, your childhood dreams, your sunniest memories.

And, dear readers, if you have a friend from your early childhood, fond memories (maybe of frogs, cows, and early morning rides to school in a police car…thinking of you, Simmone), come on. This is the days of Facebook and Twitter. Find them. Say hi. You never know how happy they may be to see your name again, or what joy may come.

Go on, do it. I dare you!