life

keeping a promise

uts-creative-writing

I have wanted to do my PhD for a very long time. Apparently I even talked about it at school! In my last year of my BA I remember it being all-consuming, and being devastated when, convinced I was speeding merrily along that path, I reached a dead end after my Honours year. 

But life went on. As some things ended, I found new beginnings. I moved interstate, then overseas. This time last year, more than 15 years had passed since reaching that dead end. Tom and I were packing up our lives in London, our flights back to Australia booked, his visa safely approved. I was in a routine I’d been in for years, though admittedly at the tail end of it. The daily grind. Happy enough but wondering if this particular dream would ever see the light of day after the best part of two decades in a cupboard. 

If anyone had told me a year later I would be enrolled in my PhD and attending seminars at University of Technology Sydney, meeting my supervisor who is one of the most creative, motivating and intelligent women I’ve ever met, well....I would have wanted to believe it. But I still thought it was unlikely. 

I entered the UTS building last Thursday and thought I would explode with joy. I sat at tables with some of this country’s brightest minds, most respected historians and highly praised writers and thought.....I belong here. Not in an arrogant way, you understand. I am honoured and beyond grateful to be here, but I also know this is where I’m meant to be. These are my people. This is work I understand and want to do with all my heart.

But this isn’t happening because I was ready. I thought my PhD was still years away. I’m here and doing it because life decided I was ready. After all these years, the space suddenly opened and when it did, I didn’t question it. With encouragement from some wonderful people, I jumped. 

This feels like the biggest journey of my life. Bigger than the move to Melbourne or London, bigger than the quest to get fit and healthy, bigger than the marathon. This is the keeping of a promise to my younger self, my most essential self. I want to look back on my life and know that, despite taking the scenic route, I did not fail her. 

So if you’re reading this, wondering if your own dream - the biggest dream of your true, most authentic self - will ever happen, please take heart.

Trust yourself and the timing of life. 

And never, ever give up. 

when july was summer

Gin and tonics in our backyard last July.

Gin and tonics in our backyard last July.

Last July, it was summer, not winter.

Our one-way tickets to Australia were booked.

London wasn’t home any more. It’s a hard feeling to describe, when life is carrying on as much as it always has, but now there is no point buying plants for the garden, or that piece of furniture, for you know now there is an end date, and soon you will leave this corner of the earth. The house you live in and love will soon be someone else’s. You will disappear. It will be as if you had never been there at all.

Here is something I wrote at the time. Just some little observations. Things I wanted to remember.

Tom and I walking up to the street fair, July 2018

Tom and I walking up to the street fair, July 2018

8 July 2018

The third weekend in a row of high temperatures, the sun beating down, unfiltered by cloud. My shoulders tanned brown. Tom and I walk up to the village Green, where there’s a street fair. They’ve closed the road by the train station so the usually car-choked streets are filled with donkey rides, Enfield for Europe protestors, gin and tonic stands, a Mini convertible we know no one will win. The smells are intoxicating - Caribbean food, curries, kebabs, Vietnamese tofu grilled on hot coals, halloumi fries piled with pomegranate seeds.

enfield-for-europe-july-2018-philippa-moore

England are playing Sweden in the World Cup in a few hours so giant television screens are set up on the green, the air full of expectation. By the time we walk home with food for lunch, the streets will have emptied significantly. A few hours later, roars, screams and cheers will signal that England have triumphed. 

I linger at the plant stall, my favourite, full of varieties of sage and mint - apple, peppermint, pineapple. Heartsease, its purple flowers shaped like little hearts. House leeks, to ward off bad spirits. Thai basil, which I’m longing to cook with having been watching Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey. All the plants I would buy if we weren’t leaving. But it’s going to pain me to part with the ones I already have. I keep my coins in my purse and move on. 

plant-stall-london-philippa-moore

For weeks now we have lived on salads, veggie burgers, dips and raw vegetables, grains that can be cooked with water from the kettle. I can’t remember the last time I made pasta, soup or a curry. We have a little rain for the first time in nearly four weeks and my thirsty plants gulp it down.

The hard cantaloupe melon we bought yesterday, barely giving off a fragrance, is already ripe and begins to perfume the house. It is beginning to dip into a smell that is less perfume and more compost heap. I suspect we must eat it today.

melon-philippa-moore

The smell of over-ripe melon will always make think of that last summer in London.

PS: The reason for the photos with captions on them is because a few days later, on 13 July - bizarrely, coinciding with Trump’s visit to London - my phone died and I hadn’t backed up any photos since May. The only way I could access these pics was through Instagram stories!




be intensely yourself

A rose I spotted at Hobart’s beautiful Botanical Gardens early one morning a few weeks ago.

A rose I spotted at Hobart’s beautiful Botanical Gardens early one morning a few weeks ago.

"Eventually I discovered for myself the utterly simple prescription for creativity: be intensely yourself. Don't try to be outstanding; don't try to be a success; don't try to do pictures for others to look at - just please yourself."

- Ralph Steiner

one hundred years wasn't enough

My grandmother Daphne as a baby, with her mother Pansy (her real name was Emily but everyone called her Pansy). Taken in London, November 1919.

My grandmother Daphne as a baby, with her mother Pansy (her real name was Emily but everyone called her Pansy). Taken in London, November 1919.

the light, the season, 

is fading. 

what will be left by winter?

what will be left by tomorrow?

will our family be one person down,

without the one whose heart started

before the guns of the Great War

fell silent,

whose breath spanned two centuries,

whose soul knew many homes.

I wrote the lines above as the sun set last Monday night after hearing the news earlier that day that my beloved grandmother, who I spent three hours laughing and doing crosswords with only a few weeks ago, had had a small stroke and was fading.

I went to say goodbye to her last Wednesday. And on Saturday evening, a week out from her 100th birthday, she passed away. We had been anticipating her 100th as a family with great joy - we even had a letter from the Queen, all ready to go. So it hasn’t been the week we thought it would be, though it has still been a celebration of a long and fruitful life.

But it is also, to use a well-worn phrase, the end of an era.

We were so lucky to have her for so long. But that doesn’t make losing her any easier. She is irreplaceable. It feels strange to now be living in a world without her when, until a week ago, she had always been here.

How lucky I was to have her as a grandmother, and what a shining example she was of how to live well and authentically. I adored her sharp wit, her endless fascinating stories, her cooking, her affinity with plants, her love of nature. She taught me to cook, to sew and to play cards. She indulged every one of my silly childish whims but she always treated me like a grown up. She encouraged my love of writing and storytelling. When my book came out, she was in the front row at the launch and she read the whole thing, with a magnifying glass.

I will always cherish the memories of her indefatigable spirit, her sense of fun, her generosity, her quiet conviction, her pragmatism, and her fierce independence. Sometimes, when I was growing up, I felt so different from the rest of my family, convinced on some occasions I had been swapped with another baby at the hospital. But then I would think about Ma and her mother, and the kinds of women they were and realise ‘ah, that’s where I get that from’. I am proud to think that both their spirits live on in me, somehow.

Without her influence, I know I would have been a very, very different person. I am so grateful.

All of the above I told her while I sat with her quietly last Wednesday, holding her hand and stroking her hair. But I wish I had told her these things more often while I still had the privilege of being in her company.

So let this be a timely reminder for you, dear reader. Tell your loved ones you love them. They really won’t be here forever. Even though, in Ma’s case, it felt like she would be! I’m so glad Tom and I moved back to Australia when we did and that I got to spend lots of time with her these past few months. Those memories are now very precious indeed.

me-and-ma-philippa-moore

Happy 100th birthday Ma. As far as I’m concerned, you made it.

I will love you always.

***

Daphne Lucie Elizabeth Moore
11 May 1919 - 4 May 2019

instagram vs reality

A page from my journal.

A page from my journal.

I like to give off the impression that I’m pretty together. That I’ve got my shit worked out or at least I have enough self-awareness to know what I need to work on. That I behave consciously. That I know what makes me happy and what doesn’t, and do my best to have as much as possible of the former in my life and the bare-arsed minimum of the latter.

And yet. And yet. I still care way too much about what things look like rather than what they feel like. I still care way too much about what people think. I still feel the sting of rejection and being misunderstood to my marrow. I still try far too hard to control other people’s impressions and experience of me. Ever since I arrived home, so many Phils have been competing to take the steering wheel off the only one I trust with this vehicle - wise, street-smart, calm Phil. All these other Phils I thought were satisfied now, their insecurities and baggage dealt with long ago. But no. No.

These past couple of years, my ego has been dying a slow, painful death. As it has lay dying, it has tried to show me, over and over again, that some (well, maybe around 90 per cent) of the things that I think matter really, really don’t. And that attempting to be part of the in crowd is a complete and utter waste of my time because I don’t belong there and I never have.

This afternoon, case in point. I had just made myself a mug of chai. I was still wearing my rather cool Kemi Telford skirt and cosy Witchery sweater from this morning’s client meeting. I thought I’d take a break from my work and enjoy a cup of tea. But then I thought “you’ve got such a nice outfit on, and this is such a pretty mug, and the light is nice, why don’t you take one of those ‘hands round the mug from above’ shots for Instagram?”

As I manipulated myself into place, I swear I could laughter from somewhere.

I read somewhere that the way all the influencers take these shots is by holding the phone in their mouths.

So there I was, outside, freezing, barefoot, with a blistering hot mug in my hands (turns out the handle is there for a reason!) and a phone in my mouth.

I could barely hold the mug, and I ended up with some kind of sore on my mouth, trying to keep the phone steady so I wouldn’t drop it and have it shatter on the concrete. The only photos I succeeded in taking were of inside my own mouth.

The phrase WTF? seemed designed for that very moment.

But all of a sudden, I saw myself.

And all I knew was I didn’t want to be this person.

And now, writing this, I feel released from something.

Every time I get drawn back into that world, of followers and likes and making everything look like a magazine and having an editorial calendar for your own bloody life, I will remember this moment.

There is so much I want to do with my life and none of it, none, involves burning my hands and hurting my mouth for a picture that won’t even legally belong to me any more once I upload it to that devilish platform.

But I also know I can’t be the only person out there who, on a day when they’re feeling a bit left out or vulnerable, sees everyone else’s shiny grids and perfectly-taken photos and feels a bit wistful….and then really, really lonely, like the uncool kid at school (which I was, so it’s a familiar feeling to me) looking at a world which, for some reason, you just aren’t part of. And every time you try to be a part of it, you end up falling flat on your face.

If you feel like that too, hi! I see you. Isn’t it hard pretending not to care when actually, deep down, you do care, even if it’s just a little bit? Isn’t it hard feeling the pull to fit in, because it’s so damn seductive?

But as Brene Brown has said, fitting in is not the same as belonging.

And I don’t want to fit in. Not really.

I try my best to be a bright, shiny, only-showing-my-good-side to the world woman, but actually….I’m pretty messy. Inside and out. My hair never behaves. My nails always break. My lipstick always ends up on my teeth. Whenever I wear white, I spill something on it. Every. Damn. Time. First world problems keep me awake at night. Some days I feel like everything is coming together and feel aligned with my purpose and calling, and other days I feel like I’ve accidentally burned all the bridges I’m trying to build.

I think being back home has reminded me of the pain of all those dark, lost years of my early adulthood, where I pretended that everything was fine and I had it all together but nothing could have been further from the truth. And sometimes I fall back into that trap. It’s hard to be real and honest and vulnerable when you’ve been hurt, both online and off. It’s hard to be yourself around people who don’t always appreciate or acknowledge how much you’ve changed, and therefore don’t always respond in the way you need or hope. But that’s another part of this revelation - I can only be me. I can only control my own actions. I can only be true to myself. I can be brave and put myself out there and know that I don’t need other people to behave or react in a certain way for me to feel safe or understood or seen or whatever. It’s hard, but it’s so freeing. The armour of perfection is too heavy.

So, no more phones in the mouth. It’s not for me. Only one-handed mug shots on my Instagram feed from now on. If at all. No more filters. Imperfection all the way. I’m going to do my best not to be afraid to show it.

PS: It took me sleeping on it to get the courage to hit publish on this post - but if life has taught me one lesson repeatedly, it’s the posts I’m most afraid to hit publish on that are probably the ones that need to be released. So here you are. Thank you for reading and listening to me :)