Yes, I would love to appear all sweetness and light but I am Christmas-ambivalent. I like shiny sparkly things, but when I see tinsel and lights I wonder what this display is costing the environment? Gifts can be great when given from the heart: they can be an expression of love of recognition of who you are and an acknowledgement of what is alive in you. But so often it seems to be a ‘check off the list’ activity. And something that is demanded of me. Worst of all I love my family but am not looking forward to seeing them all at once… shouting over the top of each other, asking mean questions like “so where are you travelling to this year?” when they know I can’t afford to travel. And they compete over the behaviour and characteristics of their children. And talk about politics! Continue reading “What to do with my Christmas ambivalence”
About a year ago I asked myself what it might take to be a first home buyer – and buy a beautiful and affordable home for my family. I now know the answer. It takes a lot.
It takes dedication. Hours of driving and viewing houses that we had no intention of buying, months before we were even ready to buy to get a feel for different areas, and for value. Watching prices go up and seeing the difference between what people asked and what they received (often a big difference!)
It takes persistence. Dealing with a bunch of people all with their own agendas: agents, bank managers, solicitors, and then with the bank itself! Plowing through paperwork, providing what they ask for, asking questions and more questions because everyone speaks a different language, and even though the words sound familiar they have a different meaning. Forms!
It takes communication skills. I have used all the nonviolent communication tools, all the Landmark Education tools, all the conflict resolution skills I have. I have never been so stressed, wired, anxious, high, excited, fearful and probably all the other emotions as well in my whole life. Trying to reconcile our needs/wants and budget. Following up with the bank when they missed a deadline – and not making a mess of the fabulous manager who sorted it out for us. Fending off agents trying to sell us things that were nothing like what we wanted. Keeping it together for the kids who were plowing through their own studies and needing some sense of home right now.
And finally, it took a community. My husband dealt with the solicitor when I had to go to work (that stuff is usually firmly in my domain!) My daughters cooked and cleaned and no doubt they all did stuff I have not even noticed. My extended family were great too, I got plenty of empathy and sympathy too 🙂 My workmates were fabulous as well – so caring and understanding, especially in the past month as a heap of dramas unfolded.
It takes a lot!
And here she is. A little Queenslander cottage in very tall boots! We move next week.
subtitle: reminder to self to keep doing these things 🙂
yoga – Melissa West’s current series is on working with the inner critic
actively engaging with nonviolent communication, reading, doing exercises, writing in my nonviolent communication blog and just feeling my feelings as they occur
allowing myself to really enjoy and appreciate my relationships with my partner and children and to express that to others even when it feels awkward
being creative when and as I feel like it, enjoying having a number of crochet and sewing things on the go and attending to each whenever I feel like it
getting outside for a stroll around the block, or moving my craft stuff into the sunshine and working there
keeping things in order at work with weekly and daily to do lists and if stuff does not get done bumping it to tomorrow and going home on time and not thinking about it even if everyone else works a bit over
feeding the chooks and spending a little time with them
My old Granny is fading. She has been in and out of hospital for the past few months with a number of infections, including one in her chest that seems intractable. At one point it seemed she was actively dying, but it does look like we will have her for a little longer, that she can go home again at least for a bit, and enjoy all the attention she is getting from her children, grandkids and great grandkids. (And she is enjoying it too 🙂 )
Gran has started to reminisce. We all love listening to her old stories, but it is a bittersweet thing for her, to remember and to be the only one left. She has outlived all her friends from the old days, her parents, all her siblings, all those connections to Ukraine, to her childhood, her teens, her young adulthood, all gone.
Personally, I am also feeling some emotional impact, apart from the grief about Gran. That is, I keep getting washed over with nostalgia. I look at my young adult daughters and I wonder where my babies, my little ones went. Where is the girl who wrote in grade one I will be a carpenter and build my mum a house and we will all live in it and we will love each other? Where is the four year old who confidently pronounced that we could fix the shower leak with zelly zorclan (Selly’s all seal)? Where did my little miss who perched on the loo with her nose buried in her skirt disappear?
When I was a girl in primary school one of my teachers said to me you won’t believe this but your life will go by in a flash. Make the most of it! He was right. I didn’t believe him and also, here I am, 46 years and two days old, marvelling at it all. How wonderful it has been, how glorious, how hard too, and how blessed I am 🙂
This Saturday I took my almost-90 year old Granny to vote at the state elections. Gran votes for the Liberal Party (the right), which is what any sensible Ukrainian refugee from ‘communisms’ does. I vote for the Greens, which is what any sensible person who wants a healthful planet does. We argue about it a bit, but in the end I am really proud of her for caring enough to vote, and she will forgive me my transgressions because she loves me.
After taking Gran to vote and voting myself, I handed out how-to-vote cards at the local polling booths for the first time. I had a blast. I was the only Green at the gate with three Libs and two Labour supporters. Did we argue and insult one another? No, we did not, we mainly chatted and joked together. When the big party members pushed in and gave their cards out first, I slipped mine on top – hahaha! We included the voters in our banter, I hope they shared our sense of fun. There was a hail storm in the afternoon. We all helped each other move our gear into a sheltered position, and one of the Libs gave me her phone so I could call my partner and ask him to put my car in the shed 🙂
At the end of the day we helped each other pack up our signs and said see you at the Federals (like it is a sporting event or something!)
It’s rare that I would say I’m proud to be Australian, but I certainly am now. How fabulous it is to be able to participate in government with a sense of peace and fun! How fabulous to share a day in the company of people who are passionate about Inala (my electorate), and about the country and the people. And how interesting is the prospect of a hung Parliament – wouldn’t it be marvelous if the parties could get together and work it out like their supporters can… bloody marvelous!
Last week I was all love and unicorns about setting intentions and how they can unexpectedly manifest themselves. Yesterday, I had that experience when I was looking at potential homes with my partner and full self expression arrived unannounced.
During the week, Dave had painstakingly made a detailed list of ten houses that appeared to fit our exacting criteria, including one that was open on Saturday. So on Saturday morning we ventured out together to do some sticky beaking. The first few houses that we drove past looked pretty good, were located in pleasant streets, and close to transport. We then went to the open house. This house was quite a drive away. I became concerned about the distance from public transport. When we arrived, the house appeared tidy but not particularly inviting. It was placed at the bottom of a valley and surrounded by other homes that looked directly down onto it. The inside was tidy but not at all nice – the carpets did not match, and the bathroom was old and daggy. I did not like that the back deck had not been certified by Council. However, I could see that Dave was becoming very enthusiastic about this beautiful deck and about the awesome solar set up.
As we left I was preparing a ‘diplomatic’ speech in my mind. It went something like, “Oh well, that place was nice, the deck was good and solar is what we need, we will keep it on the list.” But something very different came out of my mouth in a most emphatic tone…
Well, that’s a ‘no!’
For a moment I felt I had been invaded by an alien. And I experienced some confusion. And then Dave and I had a little squabble. And then I offered him genuine appreciation for all his work on making the list. And he graciously accepted. And then we were able to move closer to a shared understanding of what we want in our new home. So it ended very nicely, and he is right now sitting beside me, engrossed in making a new list of houses to look at in a week or two.
And I am now wondering just what life would be like if I said what was on my mind directly instead of beating around the bush, dissembling, distracting and outright lying… Can I be that brave? Can I trust myself to be able to create something new and beautiful in the chaos and discomfort that can arise in the wake of honesty?
I think I might.
Now and then through my life my Dad would mutter at me Bertrand-Russell-cousin-your Great Grandmother. And I always whatever-who-cares back at him. Until a few months ago, during a particularly slow night shift in the library and after I had exhausted every blog, news service and hobby I could think of, I finally googled the name.
Two things shocked me. First, some of the photos of the great man showed some resemblance to my Great Grandmother. Second, was his long list of achievements, connections, and honours. Since I was already in the library, I popped into the catalogue and noticed that not only did we have a few copies of his works, but some of them were checked out! Others, we held as e-books. To me, this means that folk are still interested in what this man had to say, despite how long ago he said it, and how far away he was at the time.
In my break, I grabbed a copy of Russell’s work that included a couple of autobiographical essays and started to read. I felt an instant sense of connection with this slightly pompous (to my Australian ears) but clearly warm and witty man. It was somewhat like listening to my Pop, or my Great Gran speak (Oh! She was a tiger!) And my Dad too. I was in the company of a sharp intelligence, one that has considered a topic, thought about it from many angles and now has a clear confidence, (despite a hint of self-depreciation and doubt) in what is being expressed. It was also somewhat like listening to myself, in a depressingly rare moment of eloquence, the kind where my mind is slow and certain and clear enough for my tongue to keep up with.
So, the next day I rang Dad and told him all about it. He was circumspect … Oh your Great Grandmother’s mother was a Russell and I’m not sure how close the connection might be, but she was very proud of him. Then it dawned on me that Dad had whatever-who-cares his Gran (the tiger) about Bertrand Russell. So I got to babble for quite a long while about the Russell Tribunal, and a Nobel Prize, and holding true to his beliefs, despite imprisonment and the terrible impact on his career and reputation.
But what does it all mean, really – this tenuous connection? Nothing at all – and yet – something. When I think of it I feel somehow comforted, somehow more at peace with myself than I was before, somehow safe. I have always spoken up at meetings to say what I think needs to be said, even though I struggle with the vulnerability of that, and my voice does shake. Now I sense that I have more substance to draw on – I perhaps give myself a little extra room to breathe – and continue on. I am, just perhaps, in part, a Russell, and this is what we do.
Being in contact with Russell’s philosophy has made a bigger difference to how I feel about myself though. Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time. It has almost totally banished my feelings of failure. Somehow, I am enough. My struggles and my accomplishments are enough. I have not wasted my life by not following the prescribed path. When I removed the guilt I felt toward my ‘wasted years’ when I did ‘nothing,’ I could – and can – acknowledge that during this time, I got to know myself well, and to develop substance and courage enough to be able to make some difference in the world, even though I am scared. And that this is no ordinary thing.
I think I even feel proud of myself. I do. I do feel proud.
For one of my day jobs I have been doing a little research on the ritual insult – and now I am hearing them everywhere. An example from tonight’s dinner table…
daughter 1: So at school last week we talked about the appendix and I put up my hand and said I don’t have one and then at school this week we talked about wisdom teeth and I put up my hand and said I don’t have any.
daughter 2: So I guess at school next week you’ll be talking about brains.
Its a ritual insult because you can only trade them if you are in the ‘in group.’ If someone else said this to d1, d2 would laugh – and then kick them in the shin.
Sometimes its a bit scary as a parent hearing this stuff. I go straight to thinking about depression and young people committing suicide and bullying and other dark stuff and then I wake up to them shouting in unison at each other shut up you’re ugly and I hate you! and laughing themselves silly. So I generally get up from the table, remove the silverware (just in case that eye does get lost*) and leave them to it.
*It really is all fun and games until someone loses an eye
Today we – my daughters and one boyfriend and Dave-who-is-bankrolling-this-whole-gig are going on a wee holiday to the Gold Coast. The first-to-move-out is popping by and swapping her luggage for her sisters so the young ones are travelling down together. Dave and I are officially the olds. We get to bring the stuff.
We are going to do some holiday things – go to a haunted house, have fish and chips for tea on the beach (the best bit) and walk around the Burleigh Headland too (the other best bit). And in the evening we will retire to separate apartments. For the first time we booked one for them – and one for us. And in the morning, Dave and I (or maybe just I) will sneak out and go for a walk on the beach (ok – this will be the best bit too) and not worry about the girls missing out or anything. And the girls (who are really women now) will probably sleep in peacefully after a night of watching bad movies and giggling at the sorts of special effects that make me sick. These are happy thoughts to be thinking.
When Dave-the-bankroller first booked this holiday I felt a little sad. Mainly because we never felt we had enough money – or time – to take many holidays as a family when our young women were kids. Now I am looking forward and know that having been through some rough patches, we can all cope with all kinds of crap and be happy. And I feel content and quite satisfied. I actually for the first time feel all grown up. These are happy feelings to be feeling.
A photographer once said to me For godssake don’t smile your eyes disappear. He meant well. I guess professional photographers mostly work for people anxious to look a certain way – with big doe eyes, or something.
But though his words were true (and have become more true over time) I didn’t care then and I don’t care now because when I look at my eyes I see something special and amazing, I see a beautiful story that started back and back past my mum past my old granny Vik and through her mum, Anna and then back and back through all the grannys who I never ever met, back to a particular one who was born to a peasant girl in Central Europe somewhere. To the one who gave me my particular eyes.
My story goes that this baby girl (I like to think of the baby as a girl) was fathered by some Mongolian hoardsman who may have ridden through with his mates and destroyed the village and murdered those who didn’t get out of the way and left the rest hungry and hurting and scared.
And so maybe my so-many-greats-ago-granny was going to be abandoned or killed at birth, but instead when she opened her eyes her mother looked into them and despite everything, there was that moment.
Mine is a story of women and girls. Of women of the earth and potatoes and of goose girls and girls who spent their summer days gathering good grass to keep the cow fat and happy through the winter. Of women who grew and soaked and beat the flax to make linen. Of women and little girls who whitewashed their cottage with lime to keep it in good condition year after year over generations. Of women who endured cold and hunger and cruelty, who bore many more children than would survive and who loved them anyway. Their stories aren’t written down with pen and ink, though I know some of them through my old granny Vik who still tells them today. However, they are written in my body, inscribed in my eyes.
It is that these stories I see when I look into my eyes. All those grannys. Some of them are stern and serious. But most of them smile and nod back at me, their eyes disappearing as they do so.
The ground I dig is far away from theirs, but I love it like they did. I love my chooks and the neighbour’s goat too. I like trees and birds and being outside in the fresh air and sunshine and starshine. I love my family, the ones living now and the ones long gone. And I will keep passing our precious smile around for as long as I am able.