The new intimacies

Yesterday I took a train to Liverpool to meet the editor of a blog I used to work for. We had never met in person before and it's only since I moved to London that we've even been in the same hemisphere if not the same time zone. Before yesterday, she'd been someone on the other end of a computer screen via Skype or email – and that computer screen was at times pretty wonky when I was on the island with all the internet issues that entailed.
But she's a friend who became a friend as we talked over Skype and email.

We didn't stop talking yesterday when we met. It was as easy as meeting any one of my other friends who I've known for a long time in real life.
We just simply realised what the other looked like outside of a computer screen.

It got me thinking though about how friendships work now as all of us have jobs and lives that – in their varying precarious and wonky and sometimes-even-strategic ways – take us away from places we might have considered home and from the people we love most in the world.

This is not to say that we move and hole ourselves away never to meet anyone new or do anything differently. We make new homes, and we find some new people of our own as well.

But the ways in which we keep our old friendships burning and bright has changed. The ways in which we meet new people and stoke the beginnings of those fires.

And they take work and they take adjustment, especially when you're on other ends of the world.

Texts and emails aren't enough for some people in my life so it's a less regular FaceTime or Skype; but for others it's how we communicated before anyway because we were on other sides of the country. It's small, regular check-ins to see how the other is going. For a pretty segment of my life, Instagram helps as well.

We work out the new rhythms of our friendships. But the fact that this does take work in some ways changes the fabric of these old friendships. I've seen it in mine as I've moved about the place – and I've seen it in the friendships that others have told me about.
These changes bring two things:

  1. The friendship becomes stronger because you're both committed to making it work and you forgive each other the wonks of it all when wonks need to be forgiven. There's an ease that comes to these friendships because they know who you are (the real you) and can see how you can navigate your way through the new space without losing your way too much. One friend gave me de Certeau's 'Walking in the City' to read as I moved here and it has entirely and beautifully coloured how I find my way around London.
  2. The friendship falls away because something in it isn't strong enough to last the distance and last the changes. I used to mourn these losses badly, blame myself, because friendships shouldn't fall apart. Now my grieving period for these losses is shorter. Sometimes friends come to you for a season and that's enough and is what's meant to be. Sometimes friendships look nice and everything that is said is nice, but it's not enough. And that's the way of things sometimes. Moving helps you let go of things you might have otherwise held onto for no other reason than you had it.

And the friendships that stay – the intimacy they bring – are remarkable. And this is where ideas of intimacy are changing – and should be changing. If intimacy is that trust in someone – a space that is safe and authentic and true – where you are accepted entirely as yourself – why does that intimacy only have to be limited to romance? I want that safe, authentic, trusting space throughout my life.
Romance can flicker away – flowers die and earthquakes are never eternal to badly and poorly paraphrase poor Byron – but wonky-friendly intimacy is much more lasting.

That's what matters at the end of the day.
Its what matters at 2am when things are dark.
And it's what has mattered here on one end of the world as I realise more and more who my tribe are and how much I love them entirely.

Letters and my lost words 

I am terrible at keeping in contact with people.

I have good intentions – such good intentions – but they somehow always come apart. 

I am the person who constantly begins emails apologising for being a million years late in replying. 

My Ma, on the other hand, is incredible. She buys cards for people and writes letters to everyone she has ever met. She still writes to people she met as a child. 

It’s this beautiful, special thing. 

When I first moved out of home, she would write every week. In the midst of all my moving, I don’t have these letters anymore. In all the many moves since first leaving home, and having to cut and cut down possessions, they were lost. But Ma has kept all of the letters sent to her. They are kept in boxes in cupboards, to be taken out when needed. To be kept simply because they are special and they can.

Moving to London feels like a new start. And why not? It’s a whole new country on the other side of the world, in a new job, with the fewest possessions I’ve ever owned. 

Why not start a little afresh?

And so I am trying to be more like Ma. 

I keep lists of who I need to email now. Technically this is so I don’t forget. So I don’t do that thing I constantly do whereby I start an email, get interrupted, never finish it, and then in my head assume I’ve replied. It’s a work in progress. Lots of my emails still begin with apology. But it’s a start of trying to make my marshmallow lala brain a little more accountable.

And I’m buying cards to send to people for no other reason than the cards seem right for whoever is in my head and I have heir address. Obviously I’m now also trying to get people’s addresses. 

There’s something nice in receiving unexpected mail that isn’t a bill and is actually for you. 

I guess – in finding myself in this huge city around me – and in making a new life with more lists – I’m also making sure to not lose my ties to the ones I love who are now far away. I want to make sure they know they’re loved. 

I want to make sure I say all my words to them, as much as possible. That none are lost. 

And so I’m writing lists and writing to people in all the forms I can, even if the love is a little delayed.

Sometimes it needs more than a like on Instagram. 

Laks (and me) in London

Six weeks ago today I moved to London. A little longer than six weeks today, I would say things like ‘I have a job in London’ or ‘I just signed a lease for a flat in London’ and it felt strange and unreal. Distant. Like I was talking about someone else’s real life, or making up stories for myself, like ‘one day I really will open up a cake and whiskey shop and Laks will be in charge of the till’. 

And then it became real. Properly, vividly, seriously-why-is-there-no-kewpie-mayonnaise-here real. 

And I’ve loved it. I have. Even the wonky bits. I have discovered the gluten free sections of various supermarkets – I have been to various supermarkets. I have walked in all sorts of directions from my flat, usually with one location in mind (more often than not coffee-related) but with everything else flexible. I have got so lost. So so lost. I have almost walked past Kensington Palace thinking it was just another lovely big house in London because there were no obvious signs from the direction I came – and what else is a palace but a lovely big house at the end of the day? 
Did I mention how lost I’ve been? 

And how much I’ve loved it?  
I love how busy London is – that it doesn’t matter if I miss one thing because there will be another thing later. I do my best, but I don’t have to do everything. Also, it’s only been 6 weeks, there are still directions I haven’t wandered from my flat, let alone just getting on the tube and seeing where it will take me…
In the aftermath of the terror attacks that have happened since I’ve been here – one just last night not too far from where I live – I am in awe of how people here just keep on keeping on. I don’t have the right words for it but, as an outsider still looking in, there is such a a strength in this city that not many other cities necessarily have. 
London is incredible. 

And after a year of working on Nauru, having to leave Laks behind in Australia – with beautiful foster fathers no question but being without Laks for a year – my tortoiseshell girl is with me. Sitting on the windowsill that leads to our terrace as I write this, telling me that we really should go outside. Laks makes London home. 
She arrived on the Wednesday after me. I learned about cats and jetlag, and just exactly how adaptable Laks is. One wobbly night and then by the next, she had sorted out her favourite places and started a territory dispute with the tom next door. 

It’s funny – as I am finding things to love here, to make me feel tethered when absolutely everything is new – so is Laks. And I love discovering the things she decides are precious as she navigates her new world.
Her hot water bottle – obviously – has been a long time love. And so obvious a love that I brought it with me. Just as I brought her other toys, especially Monty mouse. 

Laks’ love for her hot water remains undiminished. But she hasn’t played with monty mouse since she arrived.

First, Laks decided she loved my little woollen cat brooch and started taking to sleep with her, along with the hot water bottle. Fearful of either cat or hot water bottle being pierced, I removed the pin of the brooch. And then all of a sudden, Laks’ love seemed to lessen. Maybe the pin, and the danger connected to it, was part of the attraction.
Now, Laks has found a new love but one that seems to come with a hierarchy. A few years ago, on a visit to London, I went to Hampton Court and bought handmade dolls of King Henry VIII and his wives. Obviously. I love them to pieces – they are brilliantly kitschy and actually beautifully made. Laks has attacked Henry several times in the past and he is now missing an arm. My tiny feminist cat obviously exerting some anger at his treatment of women. In the past few weeks though, Laks has been stealing some of the dolls to curl up with against the hot water bottle. I have come home to her sound asleep with a paw protectively over Catherine of Aragon. At one point, Laks hid all three Catherines behind the radiator, which felt a little mysterious, especially as she’s never moved Anne Boleyn or Jane Seymour. She occasionally takes Henry and puts him with a little Day of the Dead bride figurine, which feels strangely apt.
All I know is that I am never quite sure what I will come home to in terms of where Laks has put things and who is sleeping with who. 
What I love though is as I carry around my phone and journals like security blankets to keep on touch with people and to start my own routines here, so is Laks. We are both figuring out our spaces, our good lives.
I just wish I could see into Laks’ head and see how she is making these decisions. It would be deeply entertaining. 

When ‘normal’ shouldn’t be normal

On the island, for six weeks at a time, I live in a little studio apartment that is part of a larger building. There is no space to hide and not a lot of room for dancing like no one can see you, but it has become a safe space for the cleaning ladies who work in the building. It’s not unusual to arrive back for lunch in-between classes to find two or three women sitting on the available seats and debriefing about the world. Every so often, they’ll stay and chat as I make lunch and listen to their stories.
Some of their stories have been shocking.
Lack of access to medical care here means that many of these women are dealing with physical pain that a doctor back in Australia could deal with in a second. They are used to being told that it’s all just “women’s issues” and “normal”.

And so I drive them to hospital when I can and try to say comforting things and listen to their home remedies.
And I check my privilege because I am so fortunate to have a very marvellous doctor who has never, and would never, say something like that.

I have a cleaning lady allocated to my room and I met her my very first day here. She is the most gorgeous woman who comes in every morning saying that “everything is good today Kathy, everything is good”. If I’m here, we chat as she cleans and I make cups of tea that are never sweet enough for her. She’s taken to leaving her bag by the side of the couch here because it’s safe. She has decided to be like a big sister to me here – and she is – I utterly adore her.
Except the other day, as she put more sugar in her tea, and we sat in the cool of the air-conditioning (just for a minute because I’m always scared I’ll get her into trouble), she told me about her night. How her boyfriend had been trying to call her the day before but her phone battery was flat (which it was as she checked if we had the same phone). The boyfriend was waiting when she got home – enraged that she’d not answered her phone – accusing her of all sorts of things including wearing “the short pants”. This seemed to be something terrible because my cleaning lady promised me that she’d never worn short pants. I told her that short pants are not a crime and that she could wear whatever on earth she wanted. Then, in the same voice, continuing the story without missing a beat, she explained how he had grabbed by the hair, yelling and shaking her, in front of her friends, screaming that he would kill her. That he had stopped and left and the situation had ended. And she had gone to bed and come to work the next morning and was now drinking tea in my room.
She was surprised at my shock – “he really shouldn’t do that?”; surprised at my upset for her – “He makes me pain [pointing to her heart] but I am OK”.

I don’t know what to do or how to help – how to balance the differences in cultural expectations. But I rage when people justify abuse as “just how it is” because that just means these stories get told in the same way as any other story and that should never be the case. It shouldn’t be just normal.

For all the small bits of good I try to do here in teaching counselling and casework, I am just putting a tiny bandaid on a wound that is much bigger and more infected than I can imagine.
I feel like I am just yelling at the sky sometimes.
I feel useless that all I can offer is tea and a safe space for tiny parts of her day.

I think the thing I struggle with most here is knowing that I will leave and that my ability to make decisions about my future is very much based in that privilege. I got to choose this job for reasons beyond a fear of poverty, and I am able to make decisions for my future outside of that basic need. Not everyone does. I worry that my advice is very much borne from privilege but then I refuse to tell her that “it’s just the way it is”.

But I don’t know what else to do, other than to be shocked and upset for her, to give her safe space when she needs, to agree wholeheartedly when she raises the possibility of leaving this man. To learn how to make sweet enough tea. To be a friend.

Any and all advice is welcome.

Why it’s brave to be vulnerable

sunset

 

A long time ago, a friend translated a Brazilian poem for me called ‘The Almost’. I have no idea if it’s a famous poem in Brazil or something that barely anyone has read. I can’t remember what the poem was actually called in Portuguese. I have no idea if my friend actually translated it all correctly.

And I know I could google the answers to some of those unknowns but that’s not the point really.

The point is – I have a poem called ‘The Almost’, translated by a friend, that speaks so clearly to me, and has always spoken so clearly to me, that I carry it everywhere. It’s on my fridge. In my office. On my laptop. On several USBs.

It feels so important because it reminds me to be vulnerable. And it reminds me to be brave.

 

If you are vulnerable, you will always be brave.

 

And I don’t think enough people realise that. I think there are some people who equate vulnerability to weakness – and then stomp all over you or take you for granted. I think there are some who think they are the ones being brave or “honest” while doing the stomping.

But they don’t get it. Being vulnerable takes a strength that these stompy people may never understand. They also don’t realise that I will always get back up after any stomping – I always have. They are never as strong (or as hurtful) as they think.

 

As an aside, though, when did someone claiming honesty all of a sudden come to mean that are about to say something nasty? When is self-proclaimed honesty a justification to be an arsehole? At the beginning of my academic career, I made a decision to never become the kind of academic I had seen who never gave a positive comment, never supported the wonky days, who would yell or demand the impossible. I made a decision to be the kind of academic who was actually kind, or at least tried to be. I’m allowed to have wonky days too. A lot has been written about this – a beautiful piece at The Thesis Whisperer and I wrote something on it for piirusacuk just the other day.

 

Ask any of my students and they’ll tell you stories of the drafts I have give back to them dripping in track changes and comments, when track changes and comments were needed. Ask any of my colleagues the same thing. I’m not afraid to pull apart things that need to be pulled apart in order to make something better and stronger. I’ve picked up the pieces if my own work and done just that too. But I still have people telling me “You have to be honest” when they hand me their work and it always leaves me wondering – what do they think I’m going to do? Let them fail because I don’t want to tell them they haven’t answered the results section? Have a paper with my name on it go out with a mistake in it because I’m too scared to point it out to my colleagues?

 

I think though that because I always try to add something good in one of comments that people ignore everything else and think I’ve not been thorough enough. I always try for everything I read to try and find at least one positive comment to make – and sometimes it’s been really hard – sometimes the only positive comment is “well at least you’ve put a draft together to see what doesn’t quite fit together yet, let’s work together to find what does work”.

Sometimes I think because I’m not all fire-and-brimstone all the time, I’m not always taken so seriously.

 

But, here’s the thing – I think any writing, any research, even the hardest of sciences, is creative. We create something that didn’t exist before us and bring it to life in a paper. We are vulnerable when we do this – our creativity makes us vulnerable. We put this brand new thing in front of assessors, peer reviewers, examiners, other researchers, for them to tell us whether or not this new creation can go into the world – screaming for all its worth. We are vulnerable in this but we are brave in this as well – we trust that this new creation is worth it.

 

So when someone brings their work to me, I respect that this their vulnerability. Showing someone a first draft is an act of absolute bravery – and trust. I refuse to be someone who squashes the vulnerability out of them. That’s not to say I’ve never banged my head against my laptop reading someone else’s work but I’ve done that with my own stuff too – and I have no doubt other people have done that with my wonky first drafts. Or my wonky fourth drafts. So I take a step back and acknowledge the bravery and vulnerability that comes with every first draft, and I work out how to make this creation shine more brightly, in whatever form it takes.

 

It’s too easy to be critical of other people’s work – to stomp on it – to ignore what it takes to bring a new creation into the world. It sometimes feels frighteningly good to read someone else’s work and tear it to shreds, all the while thinking “I can do better than that”. And who doesn’t want to occasionally feel that they are good at what they do, better than someone else?

But it’s a short-lived thrill. If you give into it, you enjoy it for a moment, but someone else might be devastated.

I think sometimes the people who stomp gave into that thrill a long time ago – it’s become an addiction, their only validation.

 

Writing is a vulnerable thing. Research is a vulnerable thing. It is a brave thing to put your heart and soul (metaphorically but I don’t know your work, maybe tangibly as well) out into the world and see if the creation stands up on its own.

All of us would have had times when someone has tried to squash the vulnerability (and the bravery) out of us. It is hard to come back from. It is not as hard to come back from reviews that acknowledge what you have tried.

 

Being vulnerable and brave researchers gives us power. It makes us braver still to try new things – to discover more. And it also makes us return that recognition, to nurture the other researchers around us.

 

‘The Almost’ argues that the only way to see colour in our lives is to shed our fear about being vulnerable. To show people our work. To press submit. To create. If we don’t, we live in greys forever – we will never be at risk of failing or being rejected – but things will never change either. Being vulnerable opens a bright new world. You just need to be brave enough to step through the door.

Tattoos and mindfulness and all

I’ve not written for my blog in far too long. Far far too long.

 

Last term was hard so I hunkered down. Focused on my students. Focused on work. Wrote articles. Wrote things for other people.

Seemed to write all the emails in the world.

There are always going to be excuses.

 

But this term, I am eking out chunks of time for me.

 

lotusandcoffee

 

Good coffee with Mr Robot, which is really creeping me out, but is time when I’m not thinking about work.

I’m running again – so very slowly and often with a group od small children as an audience. People often say they dislike the anonymity of a city but when I’m sweaty and gross and running very very slowly I tend to crave not being seen.

And I’m writing again. Things for me. Things that aren’t perfect and come out in a rush, raw and awkward, but words are beginning to flow nonetheless.

And that feels good. As though all the things I could have written last term are beginning to find their way onto paper.

 

It feels good and it feels healthy for me.

 

And I’ve been thinking a lot about what this year means – teaching by myself in a remote island nation which has such a complex and difficult relationship with Australia – where the students are wonderful but the realities of teaching can be hard – where I am by myself a lot and don’t have easy technology that I do in Australia. Last term the Internet was so bad, I was considering sending messages by pigeon.

I am growing up here as an academic and as a real-life whole human person. The words ‘flexible educator’ that are in bold on my CV mean so much more than anything I do in the classroom. It can be a strange space here. An absolute need to be creative so that we can use what is here to the absolute hilt, but on the other side, an absolute need for structure around assignment writing because otherwise it can get lost in the chaos. Deadlines become a beacon as we sail towards them in our leaking boats learning how to make the paddles as we go along.

 

And in all of this, I’ve been thinking about how our life becomes inscribed on our body. My skin is browner than it’s ever been, even with the 50+ sunscreen I smother over myself, even when I only go running at 6:30 in the morning. I have mosquito bites along my ankles because I can never get it together to remember Aerogard until it’s too late – and then I read terrible stories about mosquito-borne diseases. The scar from moving my small cat to Brisbane still lingers on the inside of my arm – not that she was at all scared during the 5-hour drive but that she was cross I wouldn’t let her wander about the car and explore.

 

And I look at my tattoos because – late bloomer that I am – I am getting mine as my friends are beginning to get rid of theirs. I had two lotus flowers drawn on both ankles at the end of last year, before I started this job. To remind myself of what beauty can bloom from the most unlikely sources; one in red for compassion, one in blue for wisdom. More and more, it feels as though what’s written on my body becomes powerful in the very fact that it’s on my body, that it’s tangibly present in my everyday.

 

I may well be clutching at woo-woo straws. Last term was rough and I used everything in my wellbeing toolkit to get through, this being one of them.

But it worked. Woo-woo or no, it worked for me.

 

I have three weeks, give or take, left on the island this term. There is a lot of work to do with the students. A lot to get through. And we will, we all work hard

But I’ve booked my next tattoo four days after I get back to Australia.

The birthday ennui monster

I’m not good with my birthday.

 

Other people’s birthdays – absolutely. I am there for all your birthday cake making, present wrapping, champagne/whisky drinking needs. I can sing, dance, and cheer with the best of them.

 

But my own birthday is none of those things.

 

My birthday is best spent curled on the couch pretending it doesn’t exist. Last year, I went out for breakfast with friends and danced to Eurovision and the Irish election in my living room. That was the best birthday I’d had in years….

 

I suffer from birthday ennui.

 

For some reason, the onset of turning another year older brings out every neuroses I have about what I’ve accomplished. And it’s never ever ever enough.

Ever.

Of course it’s also not realistic, at all. Neuroses rarely is.

 

I know this.

Intellectually, I know this.

Emotionally, I wonder why I haven’t found a secure job, bought a little apartment with space for Laks, turned my phd into the pop-soc book idea I have in my head, gone overseas not-for-work, met a wonderful partner, read the pile of books I keep on buying, and learned how to make a proper poached egg.

Before, I also included writing a novella but I finished it earlier this year so now it’s become about editing it, submitting it, trying to get it published.

 

The point of the Birthday Ennui Monster is that it entirely ignores everything I’ve ever achieved: the things I’ve finished, the words I’ve written, the incredible people and animals in my life, my ability to make a home anywhere in the world, the fact that I’ve had people help me move house for my quadruple chocolate cake because it really is that good.

That’s not the point of the Monster at all.

 

As much as I fight it and dissect it and rage against it, birthday ennui is grounded in the fact that my life is not traditional – although lord knows what that means anymore. My life does not look like the life many others my age have – that I thought I’d have at this age – that I grew up being told was the life worth having. It looks like my life and I’m immensely proud of it but – sometimes in the middle of the night when it is dark and I realise how far away I am from all the animals and people I love – sometimes I wish it were a little more…certain.

Sometimes I wish there was more opportunity to be still, to think about things and to create, because these get lost in the need to always write applications for new jobs, to move and shift when work requires, to say yes, to keep on churning out whatever deadline is next. In always starting again, I’m not sure I’ve ever had any proper endings.

I’ve been talking to friends about this – how uncertainty leads us into circular conversations we keep on repeating. Our plans for the future have shifted in searches for stability. In the work contracts we hope for: although stability now is found in 2 or 3 year contracts, not a permanent job, that feels like too much a dream. But stability also in who we work with – people who we can trust with drafts of ideas and who will give us time to think something through when there is time available.

It’s this precious thing – time. A privileged thing. And the jobs and people who offer it feel akin to finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

 

The Birthday Ennui Monster goes away after a few days – after I’ve worked through the impossibility of achieving everything ever and written lists to help bring focus on the things that are achievable. The Monster brings spotlight to what I want to do in the coming year. These are all good things in the end. I just wish the Birthday Ennui Monster would also think to bring cake.

The days are long but the years are short

I have a string of brown prayer beads I wear on my wrist a lot of days. They were given to me by a Buddhist monk I began chatting with while hopelessly lost wandering about in Montreal.

My ability to get hopelessly lost in any given place really is a spectacular talent.

We talked about Buddhism and the mindfulness in being lost when you allow yourself to just be in the place where you are – as well as directions back to the place I was meant to be.

He gave me the beads as a reminder to be present wherever I am.

 

And they do give me moments of mindfulness (when I remember to take a second and breathe) – to the point where the string is on its last legs. Poor beads.

 

Having moments to be mindful this week feel important. So much is going on around me, so much I don’t know, so I’m being mindful about being mindful. I’m trying to focus on the good others are doing, the small good I can help with, and how it can be made better and stronger.

 

In all of this, I came back reading ‘The Happiness Project’. I read this last year but it resonates differently now, as any book does on a re-reading. And right now this is playing in my head:

 

‘The days are long but the years are short.’

 

But I’m wondering how much that statement is privilege though. Not that the writer meant it to be – in her context it made perfect sense. In mine, it is also a relevant mantra, albeit for different reasons.

But I think it’s relevant for me for reasons of privilege.

 

The luck I’ve had.

The support I’ve had.

The teaching I’ve had.

I know that the days that might feel long now will pass. I’ll have more days that pass by without my thinking deeply about them or whizz by in glorious technicolour.

So many things that have very little to do with me but rather the opportunities that have come my way. I may have had my eyes and heart open to them but there’s been a lot of luck involved.

 

The more work I do in this field – the older I get – the more I think that our ability to cope with obstacles and challenges that, at times, can feel completely insurmountable isn’t created out of a mystical ether. It’s grounded in our past, impacted by our present, nurtured in our hope for the future. I have a tremendous family, incredible friends, amazing mentors. The mistakes I’ve made, I’ve been able to learn from. I’ve often been given room to pull myself out of darkness, time to heal. Sometimes I’ve had to fight for it. Sometimes it has seemed impossible. But the people I have learned to trust now, I know I can trust with everything.

 

Not everyone is so lucky. Not everyone is given help when they ask. Not everyone is given the opportunity to talk about their long days. Not everyone’s long days ate treated seriously.

I’ve been really lucky. My long days have still meant short years.

 

And so the string of brown beads around my wrist keeps me grounded in gratitude for all the good things in my life. All the beautiful people in my life. All my luck.

The art of lists and adulthood

So far, I have always kind of fallen into things. I work hard at things and try to be a good person and, in doing so, I trust that the universe will always work out as she’s meant to.

I have never ever been a list-writing, planning sort of person. In my head, the two have to go together. You write lists as part of a plan to make sure everything works out.

 

Until now.

 

In starting a new job in a new country, flying back and forth from Australia, I have started writing lists with gusto and making plans for the future. The notes app on my phone has never been used in such a systematic way before.

I’m using every section in my diary. Also – I’m using a diary.

 

It’s a little frightening in a way.

One of the reasons I’ve struggled with the idea of planning is that life can be deeply wonky. Things don’t turn out as you expected, for better or worse, and plans fall to the wayside. So why make them if you’ll just discard them when something unexpected happens? Why not just let life happen? I’ve watched other people become frozen in their planning, unable to move when things didn’t work as they expected. They’ve railed against it all and stuck to their plans as though that would change anything – they’ve just been yelling at the wind and the world has kept on turning. I’ve never wanted to be stuck like that.

But I’ve realized lately that my plans won’t necessarily be like that because I am not a person like that.

This discovery felt like a moment of proper grownup-ness.

This year, my lists and plans (because my lists are the stepping stones I need for my plans to make any sense) keep me focused on my goals. However, my lists and plans have been reshaped and even discarded depending on what has happened so far this year but it hasn’t meant my goals of changed or that I’m any less further away from achieving them – in fact, I’ve already achieved one goal a good month early. Lists and plans haven’t meant I’ve been less open to the universe but more ready in some ways to take leaps of faith.

 

In some ways, the universe seems to be encouraging me in my lists and plans.

My life in general requires significant organisation now that I move between two countries. There are lists for what to take back to Australia, and what needs to be done, just as there are equivalent lists for Nauru.

And working in Nauru gives me space to think outside the usual academic sphere. There is a little more time to sit with the articles I’m working on and think about them, rather than writing them in a mad rush during in-between space. This feels precious and a fear of wasting this time has also led to lists and plans of what to write and when, adding new ideas and pieces as they come in. In doing this, I’ve found that, all of a sudden, I have writing routines for different days. It hasn’t always worked beautifully, but I’ve still managed to sit with something most days and at least keep the work in my mind rather than have it under a pile of other papers forgotten for weeks at a time.

I’ve taken Elizabeth Gilbert’s advice of showing up to my desk and laptop and trusting that my creative genius will eventually show up as well. And in doing this, I’ve finished the first draft of my first fictional book. I’ve never followed an idea from beginning to end like that before so it feels exciting – and a relief to have actually done it. And I’m not sure it would have happened without making plans this year – it made me feel accountable to myself.

 

And given my previous fear of lists and plans, that’s the nicest things I’ve actually discovered so far this year. I don’t get stuck in plans so much as I’ve used them to leapfrog from one idea to another. It’s not about being perfect (that would frighten me and make me feel frozen anyway) but about becoming better – practicing writing as a serious craft, learning more and more how to be a better teacher, and giving myself the time and the space to have days where things don’t work and I feel deeply wonky. There is a deep satisfaction in crossing things off my list and listening to the universe (and my mentors) for what to do next.

Where my heart lives and beats

I’ve never been very good at geography or where I actually am at any given point in time. I’m the girl who points left when she means right and names directions in a more whimsical (as opposed to accurate) sense.

I had no idea where Armidale was when I first moved there for work. It never seemed important to find out the where more than the why or the what. And it was the same when I took a job in Nauru this year. I know that, right now, I am typing this on a little island somewhere in the Pacific – maybe halfway between Australia and Hawaii although, lord knows, I’ve been wrong about where I am before. More things seem more important than where I am – the progress of students, how my family and friends are travelling, what I’m writing.

 

Any new place is always an adventure, no matter.

I’m learning a new course, a new home, a new routine.

I’m learning how to sprout.

These last six weeks have been hectic with the learning, and it’s been eye-opening in so many ways because it challenges me to be adaptable, to not get into habits that might feel to precious to be broken. It challenges me to live without the things I thought I would struggle to be without – my little cat particularly – and in that I’ve had to find new ways to deal with any anxiety. And it teaches me to not give into excuses. I can’t exercise here in the same ways I did in Australia so I’ve adapted rather than stopped and am now becoming quite the expert in exercises you can do on a mat with a mini-band, and a skipping rope under the stairs of where I live.

These feel like important things.

 

But, the past few weeks, a friend has become seriously ill. It was a sudden thing, a shocking thing.

And all of a sudden where I am feels desperately to matter because I am so very far away. I have incredible friends who send me updates depending on which technology works best at which particular time. When she was undergoing her first operation, we decided to light candles together for her. The shop here was candle-free and so, in desperation, I sent a call out to Catholic friends who went to their churches and lit candles for my friend. And so, via Skype and Viber and email, we talk about how she’s going and what is happening, and what it means when the universe does something like this. What happens when the universe doesn’t seem to make any real sense because sudden and shocking illness shouldn’t happen to the people in your life. All the circular arguments you go through because terrible things happen to good people all the time and it becomes sometimes about how you make sure the people in your life know how special they are, that you make sure you never leave things unsaid.

You become a walking cliché trying to figure things out, but maybe that’s the point as well. Maybe the clichés are the words that help you get through the shock of something – they give you time to process properly (and sometimes slowly) and find the words you really want to say.

I don’t know, At the moment, I still feel like I’m clutching at clichés in a desperate hope that she’ll end up being OK.

 

But in all of this, I feel very far away.

 

I know that my being there wouldn’t make a difference in any real sense. It is just my sense of wanting to be able to help if needed, to help in any way I could. And here, a million miles away, all I can do is pray and ask people to light candles. It is something that feels both hopeful and hopeless at the same time. I tell myself that any positive energy sent her way can only be a good thing but still, I feel very far away.

 

In a time where we can potentially have access to anyone at any time through all sorts of social media, it feel sobering to sit here with much of that at my fingertips (depending on how the storms affect the internet of late) and it not feel quite enough. And while very much heightened with my friend’s illness, it feels important for everyone in my life. To enjoy every chance I’m with them, and to not lose touch when I am not. Where I live will change but potentially I will always be far away from different people in my life. The more we move around, the more people we have in different parts of the globe. I will always be closer to some than to others, although this is arguably the most remote I’ve been.

 

I may not know where I am in any kind of practical, physical sense but I know where my heart beats, and for whom, and that feels more important than any map.