Life

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 :)

dumplings and change

The face of someone who had been anticipating Melbourne dumplings for some years.

The face of someone who had been anticipating Melbourne dumplings for some years.

On our first night in Melbourne, we made a pilgrimage to my old favourite haunt from the days when I lived in this city - the Shanghai Dumpling House. An unremarkable building down Tattersalls Lane but within lurked the most glorious treasures imaginable.

From September 2005 to April 2007, you would find me there at least one night a week (and maybe one lunchtime too). Such was the lure of dumplings. And I loved the rough-and-ready atmosphere, completely devoid of pretension. It was a place I sought refuge in, for the stomach and the soul.  

At age 25, I felt so alive and powerful in this city, like anything was possible. I loved Melbourne and it loved me right back. While the city changed a lot in the years since I’d been gone, the dumpling house was like a little time portal, exactly the place I remembered. The menus, the tables, the staff, the prices, the urns of tea, the vats of chilli soy sauce, the strange 90s music they played...it was all still the same, every time I returned.

But on our return this time, it had changed. Nothing bad, the food was still yummy, but just lots of those little details were different, which means it is not the place 25 year old Phil frequented any more. That place only exists in my memory now. To not want to claim this space and ritual for myself anymore means acknowledging how much time has passed. While the dumplings were still good, I realised I was now just going there out of nostalgia, nothing more. And that was a surprisingly sad revelation. I guess we’ve all been there, revisiting somewhere that meant so much to us in years past, only to find it doesn’t quite stir the same emotions in us any more. But that’s good, it means we’ve changed. And change is life. 

So, on a friend’s recommendation, the following night we tried another dumpling and noodle house...which was a divinely delicious experience. If you’ve been to the Nong Tang Noodle House and had these chilli oil dumplings, you’ll understand.

nong-tang-chilli-oil-dumplings

So, it would seem that when the time is right, it’s surprisingly easy to move on, grateful for the memories but ready for something new. Especially if it involves chilli.

january

kelvedon-seashells

I always find January a mixed month, no matter what part of the world I'm in.

Everything about my life is different now, and I've been reading many books - including one on parenting, but it was written by one of my favourite psychotherapy writers and I'll read anything she writes! (sidenote: it’s fantastic, I learned so much reading it and would highly recommend it) - that have all had the same themes in common....surrender. Listen to your feelings and honour them. And invest time in doing the right but hard thing, not the comfortable thing.

To be honest, being back in Australia has brought up a lot of discomfort for me.

I spent the first days of January scrambling around, full of raw vulnerability, feeling panicked and desperate to regain control, recreate the life we used to have with walls, boundaries, safety. The armour I had on in London, and the distance that kept me safe, is gone and I didn't know what to do without it. But all the reading and self-reflecting I've done has helped me see that being flexible and accepting will be a far better use of my time than trying to reclaim what we've left behind.

So, for the first time, I am not running away.

Instead, I’ve been leaning in to the discomfort. When unresolved sadness and anger from the past has presented itself, I’ve tried to welcome it and give myself what I couldn’t give at the time. But there have been moments where that has been excruciating. A few wounds are still raw. Wounds reaching back, far back, perhaps they are my earliest memories - not things I logically remember but deeply rooted within me on a soul level, things that formed my perception of myself, that were the foundation of my deepest fears. It’s been quite exhausting, so I’ve needed a lot of rest and gentleness.

But even though I’ve felt frightened, sad and very vulnerable at times, I’ve also felt very loved. I’m back with my people. Being home is a lot of fun. Tom and I are soaking up all the things that make this place wonderful and why we wanted so very much to be here - the fresh air, the clear waters, the endless expanse of sky and beach and mountain, the raucous birdsong, the warmth of the sun, the friendliness of the people (seriously, people in Hobart are SO nice!), the generosity of my family.

And I know deep in my core that this is exactly where we need to be.

As January is slowly turning into February, I feel calmer, more like myself and more secure that the woman I've become in the years I've been gone will quite like it here, back home. There is space for her here.

no matter how far or how wide i roam

chalk-map-of-australia

and the way forward always in the end,

the way that you came, the way that you followed,

the way that carried you

into your future, that brought you to this place,

no matter that it sometimes took your promise from you,

no matter that it had to break your heart along the way:

the sense of having walked from far inside yourself

out into the revelation, to have risked yourself

for something that seemed to stand both inside you

and far beyond you, that called you back

to the only road in the end you could follow, walking

as you did, in your rags of love and speaking in the voice

that by night became a prayer for safe arrival,

so that one day you realized that what you wanted

had already happened long ago and in the dwelling place

you had lived in before you began,

and that every step along the way, you had carried

the heart and the mind and the promise

that first set you off and drew you on and that you were

more marvellous in your simple wish to find a way

than the gilded roofs of any destination you could reach:

as if, all along, you had thought the end point might be a city

with golden towers, and cheering crowds,

and turning the corner at what you thought was the end

of the road, you found just a simple reflection,

and a clear revelation beneath the face looking back

and beneath it another invitation, all in one glimpse:

like a person and a place you had sought forever,

like a broad field of freedom that beckoned you beyond;

like another life, and the road still stretching on.

-- David Whyte, “Santiago” from Pilgrim

And so, this is my next adventure! After nearly 12 years in the UK, Tom and I will be calling Australia home again soon.

When I heard David Whyte read this poem in the recording of the On Being Gathering at the weekend, tears started falling down my cheeks and the hair stood up on the back of my neck. He put it so perfectly. Because that is really the point I have reached in my life….where I know the way forward is the way I came. It is another invitation. And the road still stretches on.

I want to write more about this, and I will, once the fatigue and stress and brain fog of packing up our life here - all the possessions and memories and clutter and baggage - begins to subside. Once the removalists have been and the belongings we are taking (or are allowed to take - nothing made of cane, bamboo or untreated wood! We had quite a bit of it as it turned out!) are on the container, and suddenly it’s just us and our suitcases, perhaps it will sink in. Perhaps I will be able to string more than a few paragraphs together.

We had hoped that our life here might burn down gently and quietly, like a big church candle. Instead, as I put it to a friend, it has been like a raging dragon riddled with syphilis, and every time we think we’ve cut its head off, it sprouts back and we have to fight it again. There has been a lot to deal with. It’s not been an easy year. It has not been easy couple of years, really. A lot has changed, in our lives and in this country. But we have faced everything together and we are a stronger, more resilient couple for it. And, as we’ve reminded ourselves often, if packing up your life and moving to the other side of the world were easy, everyone would be doing it!

Moving back to Australia is 100 per cent the right decision for Tom and I. We haven’t had a moment’s hesitation. At this point in our lives, Australia is where we need and want to be.

It will be an adjustment, for sure. I have been gone a long time. The Australia I lived in and left isn’t the Australia I’m going back to. John Howard was still the Prime Minister the last time I lived there, for a start! I will have to get to know a lot of people again, as they will have to get to know me - we haven’t been parts of each other’s daily lives for over a decade. I’m trying to have realistic expectations (actually, having no expectations would probably be best). But despite knowing that there will be some tricky moments, I also think it’s going to be amazing. For Tom and I to have some time out after a very stressful couple of years, to recharge and figure out what’s next for us, with the support of family around us…..well, that sounds like heaven right about now.

Australia has been calling us back for a while. We just had to wait until the time was right. And that time is now.

More soon, once I have emerged from packing hell!

xx Phil