Life

stronger in the broken places

favourite-mug

My very first job was working at homewares store in Hobart. In the three years I worked there I ended up with an enormous Spode collection, some very fine cookware and intimate knowledge of knife sharpening and Wedgwood china patterns; all of which I'm sure was not usual in a girl of nineteen.

I remember a slow Sunday, unpacking a recent delivery, checking the contents against an invoice and then pricing them and putting them on the shelves.  I unwrapped this beautiful mug and as the last of the packing paper fell away, the mug promptly split into two neat halves in my hand.  It was such a shock, and I was horrified!  It was so beautiful and I was worried I'd broken it, but my colleague reassured me that with such a clean break it had probably happened in transit on the way down from the mainland.  We put it on the "write off" sheet and continued.  I asked what would happen to the pieces and was told they would just be chucked away.  I was so sad at the thought.  I am always full of intentions for creative projects (ask Tom about the time I brought a door home), and had visions of making something arty with the pieces, so I asked if I could have them.  The manager said yes, so they were wrapped in a piece of tissue and tucked into my bag, ready for a salvage operation at day's end.

When I got home, having abandoned the idea of a creative project with the pieces (again, ask Tom about the time I brought a door home!) I just went to my Dad's shed and glued them back together with superglue.  There was a slight chip at the top, just missing the iris.  I figured I'd see if it was watertight once the glue had dried.

Once it was established it was watertight and cleaned to within an inch of its life to wash away anything toxic, it was my favourite mug.

A good five years later, the repairs were still intact and I took it to Melbourne with me when I moved there. I used to make T2 herbal tisanes and drink them on my porch, looking around the garden.  I think the smell of dried lemongrass will always make me think of the first nine months in that city, discovering new places and people, having my senses reawakened.

When I packed up my belongings about a year later to move to the UK, the mug for some reason was placed in one of the boxes.  I don't know why but I couldn't bear to leave it behind.  Somehow it symbolised the years it had accompanied me through my life so far: a flawed but beautiful thing, and with the right binding to put it back together, it had been made whole and useful and beautiful again. 

By the time I was reunited with my boxes a few months later I was surprised to see it.  I had forgotten I'd packed it.  I suppose at the time I was only thinking about essentials.  What did I need?  Books, that was a given.  Warm clothes, for England was a cold country.  A teapot.  A mug to drink tea with.  That was about it.

I remember my first flat in London, my room on the ground floor of a dilapidated house in Clapham, with the fireplace in it.  I lined up all my books on the mantlepiece, and my mug went next to them.  I remember nights when I'd stay up late writing well into the night, only interrupted by hasty suppers of hummus and pitta bread, or an apple and a triangle of camembert, and always followed by a hot chocolate made in my mug.  I'd put a shot of Bailey's in if I was feeling indulgent.

Eleven years and five flats later, it's still in my cupboard. Well, more accurately, it's on my writing desk. 

Things that are broken can sometimes be put back together, and they are all the more beautiful because of the cracks, the life marks.  That's where the stories are.

You can always pick up the pieces and start again.

deeds not words

 Image originally found via  Old London (@GreatestCapital) on Twitter .

Image originally found via Old London (@GreatestCapital) on Twitter.

This photo is of one of my favourite suffragettes - if one is allowed to have favourites - Emmeline Pethick Lawrence on her release from Holloway Prison in 1908.

Emmeline did amazing work for underprivileged women, founding a dressmaking cooperative that paid women a minimum wage and holiday pay. When she and her husband Frederick were married, they double-barrelled their surnames and had separate bank accounts. Frederick was also a huge supporter of women’s suffrage, helping Emmeline start a publication “Votes for Women” in 1907 and he even went to prison too for conspiracy/taking part in demonstrations. They favoured “militancy without violence” which led to huge disagreements with the Pankhursts and eventually Emmeline and Frederick were thrown out of the Women’s Social and Political Union. But they didn’t give up the fight and spent the rest of their lives campaigning for social justice.

Today on International Women's Day I am proud to acknowledge the passion, sacrifice and courage of Emmeline and so many women like her who fought so hard for equality (and she deserves just as much acknowledgement as the more famous Emmeline in my opinion!). We still have a long way to go but there is so much to thank these brave radical women for. Keep fighting, keep reaching. Today and every day.

reclaiming loud

 The opening pages - the altar, if you will - of my current journal, where my ritual is to make a collage before I start writing in its pages. I don't think it was an accident that those words somehow found each other. 

The opening pages - the altar, if you will - of my current journal, where my ritual is to make a collage before I start writing in its pages. I don't think it was an accident that those words somehow found each other. 

It’s not a woman’s job to get smaller and smaller and take up less and less space until she disappears so the world can be more comfortable.
— Glennon Doyle, Love Warrior

Sas Petherick wrote recently about reclaiming the word 'bossy' for herself - a word that had negative connotations for her since childhood,  which subsequently affected how she saw herself and how she interacted with the world from a place of fear rather than worthiness. How she went through life doing everything she could to avoid being called 'bossy' because it made her feel so small.

Sas says:

Usually, there is a word.
Some phrase or sentence that when uttered, has the power to leave us feeling small and powerless. Diminished. Childlike.
I wonder what is it for you?

I’ve been trying to reclaim the word loud.

When I was younger, being called ‘loud’ - too loud, more often than not - left me feeling diminished and cut down. It felt like a rejection of my most essential self - an excitable, enthusiastic, outgoing little girl who was the first to put her hand up in class if she knew the answer; who loved to talk to people, tell stories and share things with others; who loved making up games, performing and making people laugh; who was fascinated by the world and the people in it. 

When people told me I was 'loud', that sent me the message that I needed to shut up. That I was too much. That what I had to say wasn't important, no one was interested. That making too much noise - taking up too much space - was not a good thing and I would be more acceptable, and more likeable, if I were quieter. Funnily enough, I don't recall the boys I knew being told they were too loud (but that's another story).

As I wasn't one of the 'pretty' or 'popular' girls either, the label of 'loud' made me even more self-conscious of my failings and flaws. As I became a teenager I found myself retreating inwards - I was only loud with people I felt I could be myself around (mostly my three sisters). Yet I still loved performing and acting, often winning the lead roles in school plays, so 'withdrawn' was probably not a word people would have used to describe me! And I noticed that people tended to like me more, or didn't mind how 'loud' I was, when I was entertaining them.

But what people didn’t realise - and nor did I, until I went to therapy as an adult - was that acting was a place of safety for me. All that gregariousness, enthusiasm and fun that I felt I couldn't express as myself went into playing parts, pretending to be someone else, instead. This eventually seeped through to the rest of my life and as a result, I no longer knew who I really was. 

About 12 years ago, in my mid-twenties, I tried to reclaim that word 'loud'. I became that confident young girl again - who liked who she was and let the world know it. Who put her hand up. Who enjoyed sharing her stories and experiences with people, and sharing in theirs too.  Who was vivacious, full of energy and, for the first time in her life, dropped her people-pleasing tendencies and put her own needs first. She was also a bit broken, and very naive, but was determined to rediscover her true self and purpose, and proud of how far she'd come in the process.

But then came the familiar cries of ‘too loud’ and it all unravelled. 

What hurts the most when I think about that time is not that I was betrayed and torn down by people I thought were friends, because they were insecure, unhappy people and what they did wasn't about me at all (sidenote: when people bully you, it's never about you). What hurts the most is that I betrayed myself, my true self. I didn't fight back or confront them about how much they had hurt me. I didn't use the voice I thought I had found to stand up to them.

Instead, I just did what I thought I had to do, and what I had always done, when I showed people the real me and they didn't like it - I pressed the mute button and shut down. And when you are complicit in your own betrayal, that is a wound that takes years, perhaps a lifetime, to recover from.

It took me ten years (and writing a book!) to really understand what that time was about, what the lessons were. The confidence I'd worked so hard for had slipped away so easily, which made me realise I still had work to do.  It has taken until now to feel brave enough to try being that excited, enthusiastic, loud person again.  

But this time, I feel less afraid of the smackdown, because it's probably about time I accepted that I will always be too much for some people. Choosing to live my life with the volume dial turned right up will likely trigger someone else's insecurities at some point, but I'm finally in a place where I know that isn't my problem. 

Because now I get to choose what 'loud' means.

Loud doesn’t mean annoying or full of yourself. It is not code for 'shut up, go away, no one is interested'. Loud is not a demand for attention. 

Loud is just a desire to be heard, and to be seen, for who I really am. 

Loud means using my voice, however I want to use it. I owe that not only to myself, but to the women who came before me and didn’t have a voice. And to all the women in the world who still don’t have one. 

Loud means being brave enough to speak the truth in my heart, trusting that it is safe for me to do that, and not waiting to be invited on to the stage. 

Loud means standing up for myself, and for others. 

Loud means knowing what is important to say and then saying it, backing myself all the way. Thinking before I speak, of course, but breaking out of this pattern I've been in for the last few years where I overthink everything so much that I lose my nerve, the moment passes and I end up saying nothing. 

Loud, ironically, means listening to that small voice inside me that just wants to be free. That just wants to show up in the world without fear, without agenda, just with love and the desire to be useful and joyful.

Loud is a strength, not a flaw.

Loud is bubbly, bright, alive and grateful.

Loud is me.

Maybe loud is you too.

It’s OK to be loud.

my favourite books of 2017

books of 2017

 

I can't be the only person rubbing their eyes and thinking "Oh God, how is it the end of February already?!"...but here I am. I've never really managed to do my best books post of the year in a timely fashion - but I'm determined to never let it get to August like I did several years ago. In my defence, I had spent all of that year writing my own book! 

This time, instead of doing a measly Top 10 which is always difficult to whittle down, I'm just going to pick my favourites and tell you why, in the hope that you'll be moved to check them out too.

So here goes, of the 83 books I read in 2017, these were the ones that stood out. And as always, because I read and savour them like novels, cookbooks are included. 

My favourite book of the year - After by Nikki Gemmell

I am still reeling from this gaping wound of a book. Written in the aftermath of her mother's suicide, Nikki's words made me think long and hard about the relationship between a mother and daughter, how it can be so brutal and beautiful. After was absorbing, heartbreaking, thoughtful, tender, anguished and, as always, beautifully written. 

Fresh India by Meera Sodha

Absolutely stunning, and the first cookbook to make me feel hungry again after having the worst flu of my life over Christmas (sob!). I made the temple tomato rasam as a gentle reintroduction to solid food and it was exquisite. The smell of the garlic, ginger, chilli, cumin and curry leaves frying together was so restorative I almost wept. Every recipe of Meera Sodha's I've made - whether from this book or from her Guardian column - has been sensational so I'd highly recommend you check her out if you like to cook. 

The Dry by Jane Harper

I'd heard great things about this book and wasn't disappointed. Even though I'm not normally a crime fiction person, I've been reading more and more of them lately! The Dry was riveting and well-written, brilliantly paced and intricately plotted. I didn't see the twist coming, which is always a good sign. I found the portrait of the claustrophobic, drought-ridden country town very authentic too. 

When It Happens To You by Molly Ringwald

Yes, *that* Molly Ringwald - who is as compelling a storyteller with the written word as she is on screen and stage. I wasn't sure what to expect, but this "novel in stories" had me intrigued from the first page. Over the course of the book, through these stories where the lives of various characters (convincingly) intersect, Ringwald creates a world where these flawed but ultimately good people find their lives punctured by betrayal, in its various forms. It's realistic and compelling reading, and her writing has a lovely lyrical quality in places. The characters are brought to life beautifully, I particularly enjoyed Betty the neighbour, and how the philandering Phillip was welcomed back into his estranged family. It's a book that makes you think, not just about life and family and relationships, but how might you feel, as the title suggests, when it happens to you.

My Life in France by Julia Child (a re-read)

I re-read this last summer in preparation for my first trip to Paris in over seven years. This is one of my favourite books and this read of it reminded me why. It is just pure joy, from start to finish. Julia finds herself in a foreign country, not speaking the language, knowing very few people and wanting to discover her purpose in life. "At age thirty-seven, I was still discovering who I was," she writes. I feel very similarly! Her delight in discovering the pleasures of food and cooking, and her incredible work ethic and refusal to give up on a project she believed in wholeheartedly, is a balm for the soul for anyone feeling a little cynical or dejected. Never give up! 

Island in the East by Jenny Ashcroft

A luscious historical novel that has a bit of everything - love, war, betrayal, heartbreak, tragedy, redemption and hope - resulting in a sumptuous, evocative read with characters that will linger in your mind long after you've finished reading. And, at time of writing, it's only £1.99 on Kindle! 

Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski

I heard about this book on the Tea and Tattle podcast special Persephone Books episode, where Miranda and Sophie discussed their favourites. I read it in one weekend. It was absolutely breathtaking. It was desperately sad at times, even depressing, as it follows a father's journey to try and find his missing five-year-old- son after the Second World War, but all in all, it is a stunning novel about loss and hope. I'd even go so far as to say it's a masterpiece. 

The Christmas Chronicles by Nigel Slater

I think Nigel Slater could write a book about paint drying and it would still be a bestseller. This book is magnificently evocative and poetic in true Nigel style as he shares with us a celebration of his favourite time of year - Christmas, and winter in general. A cold Christmas is something I've wholeheartedly embraced living in the UK and for the very first time ever, I looked forward to winter after reading this book. All of his ideas - like enjoying a white port and tonic, in the same way you'd enjoy gin - are delicious and inspiring. A must-read for the colder months.

Between A Wolf And A Dog by Georgia Blain

Sometimes I think the best novels are those that are set over the course of just one day. Let's face it, a lot can happen. Between A Wolf And A Dog explores the goings on of one rainy day (and a little bit into the next) in Sydney, in the lives of several characters in one family, by blood and by marriage. Blain explores the pain and heartbreak of separation and betrayal, how life as we know it can be over in an instant, and captures the minutiae of life, from the sound of the rain falling to the colour of an enamel ring on a character's hand, with a poet's touch. The plight of one character's fate is all the more poignant knowing that Blain herself passed away not long after the novel was published. It's a wonderful book and hammers home all the more that the Australian literary community lost someone very special indeed with her passing.

Anything You Do Say by Gillian McAllister

A completely gripping and engrossing novel with two parallel narratives. In the style of Sliding Doors, you see two storylines playing out if the protagonist, Joanna, had made a different decision. That decision is whether to leave the scene of a crime, or to dial 999 and hand herself in. I was completely engrossed in this novel as the story played out and Joanna grappled with the aftermath of this incident in both scenarios. The anxiety, guilt and fear that she feels - in both storylines - is palpable and will have you turning the pages! It's the sort of story that certainly makes you wonder how you would react if you were ever in the same situation. At the time of writing, it's only 99p on Kindle which is an absolute bargain!

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle

Having written a book about self-discovery after a marriage breakdown myself, I knew I'd enjoy this (and undoubtedly think "oh, she put that so much better than I did!"). I found it relatable on so many levels, not just the marriage breakdown side of things because ultimately this is a book about learning to save yourself, rather than a marriage, or anyone else. It's courageous and candid, and I'd highly recommend it if you've found yourself at a crossroads in life and need to see that it is possible to find your way through to the other side. 

Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham

A fabulous read - what a warm, witty writer Lauren Graham is. I especially liked the sections of the book that reflected on her own writing practice. It revolutionised my own writing practice last year and reacquainted me with the idea of good old fashioned discipline! Funny and inspiring.

Upstream by Mary Oliver

Normally I gulp books down in a day or two, sometimes hours, but occasionally one comes along that demands careful savouring. This was one of them. One of my favourite poets, Mary Oliver turns her exquisite touch to essays in this collection which covers everything from the creative life, meditations on the work of her own favourite writers like Poe and Whitman, or observing nature, such as a spider making a web in the stairwell of a rented house at 5am each day.  I love her boundless curiosity, and how she lives so thoughtfully and intelligently.

Option B by Sheryl Sandberg

One of the best books on grieving, trauma and healing that I've ever come across. Within just a few pages I was trying not to cry as Sheryl shared the terrible story of her husband's sudden death and the painful aftermath of it. It's a very readable and relatable book with lots of personal insight, research and practical advice - even, believe it or not, humour (she uses sarcasm to great effect in places!) - which anyone navigating a loss I'm sure will find helpful and of comfort.  It's a real tribute to human resilience. 

So, not a bad reading year....and my favourites only had one bloke (and a fabulous bloke at that) among them! In 2018 I'd like to read more British women writers and more women in translation. 

Have you read any of these books? What did you think? What were your favourite reads of last year? Do you have any goals for your reading this year? Do let me know!

The links to the books in this post are Amazon Affiliate links. 

what I've learned from meditating for 250 days in a row

"Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid." - Fredrich Buechner
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Apart from brushing my teeth, drinking coffee and telling Tom I love him, I don't think I've ever done anything every day for such a sustained period of time.

But on Saturday, Insight Timer* told me I had just meditated for 250 days in a row.

How does that feel, you might ask?

It's hard to explain, but I guess a rambling blog post is a good place to try. I don't know if I feel calmer - and calm was definitely something I wanted to feel more of this time last year, when my old friend anxiety had moved back in. After 250 consecutive days of meditation, if anything I think I feel my emotions more.

But perhaps the difference is knowing I *can* sit with them, and they will pass. I no longer feel afraid of anger, sadness or loneliness. All things I used to avoid feeling if I possibly could.

I don't feel at one with the Universe. There have been no giant revelations or moments of enlightenment. But there has been a clearing, of sorts. I do feel like I know my mind better. 

I have become more conscious of things in my life - and within myself - that I'd like (and need) to change. 

When you force yourself to get still at least once a day, you slowly learn how to switch your mind off, even if it's only for a few seconds at a time.

Those moments - those fleeting, precious seconds when I am actually not thinking and am just there, all breath, in my body and all I can hear are cars on the street, or the rattle and creak of the floorboards, or the wind or birds outside, or the oven warming up, or my neighbour leaving for the day, and my mind is empty and quiet, and I can feel the quietness of it - are bliss.

I meditate for an average of 10 minutes at a time. Occasionally I do 20 minutes, like I did this morning. I'd like to build up to more. That feeling - where everything drops away and I witness my mind emptying and getting still - has only ever lasted for a few seconds, so far. I've never been able to maintain it for very long but those few seconds are always worth it. They make me think "ah, this is the point of it all."

Meditation has helped me find ways to relax, to check in, to be in the present throughout the day, not just when I've got the app timer running. When you force yourself to stop and just be where you are right now, you start to realise how much of our mind's energy is spent fretting over the past and the future. 

Stress has not vanished from my life because I've been meditating every day. If anything, I'm more aware of how stress feels in my body. But when that happens, I employ a breathing technique which clears the mind and helps me relax. 

Meditation has helped me to be (slightly) more patient with and forgiving of myself, which I hope will translate into my interactions with others. 

It's become a wonderful way to start the day. I meditate before I do anything - no checking my phone first, and ideally immediately afterward I write in my journal or do Morning Pages (but that doesn't always happen). Once I've meditated, I go into the kitchen and find Tom has made a coffee for me (and unloaded the dishwasher!) and sit there, taking in the taste of the coffee, feeling reset for the day, my senses heightened.

Meditation has helped me feel more peaceful and content in my heart. Every time I hear the closing bell, I feel reassured that I'm a good person doing my best, trying to be kind, improve and move forward.

And that's worth making time for each day.

So what if instead of fearing the power of dark thoughts, we used our minds’ power to create safe havens within ourselves to explore them. Maybe literally envisioning cocoons inside our hearts where we can sit before cozy fires, hot drinks in hand, and ask of our fear and laziness and depression and shame and lust and rage and whatever other thing we might otherwise try to ignore: What is it you’d like to say to me? What indispensable nourishment do you have for the Life of trust I want to live? – Kristen Noelle (via Leonie Wise)

 

* Insight Timer is a free app and is the one I use based on recommendations from friends and well-wishers. I absolutely love it and am not being paid to mention it in any way! I just wanted to share because it has genuinely improved my life.