Woman on a mission

Hello blog! It’s nice to come back to you; it’s been ages! For much of the first half of this year my emotions and energy were directed elsewhere following a family bereavement. My reaction to the deep well of sadness was to keep myself busy – a classic avoidance technique – and my activity centred around my house, my place of sanctuary, stability and safety.

As well as prettifying and enhancing my home environment – the soft furnishings part of renovations I had done in 2013 – I also had a strong urge to get every area of my life in order. My to-do list ranged from searching for a new dining room table and chairs to getting the outside of my house painted, making a will, getting my passport re-renewed, reviewing my home loan, ordering new curtains for my bedroom, re-designing my garden, de-mothing my wardrobe, and a fair bit of de-cluttering and paper shredding.

As a strategy for coping and holding it together, it was fairly successful, but I can’t pretend it was restful. The impulse was not just to block out the grief but to keep my life moving forward. Maybe if I stood still for any length of time and got too enmeshed in my feelings, I would get stuck and stagnate. And then what? When someone close to you dies, you are super aware of your own mortality. Who knows how long any of us has got on this planet? Especially in today’s world of political and environmental instability with a Twitter-addicted, trigger-happy ego maniac in the White House. 

I was a woman on a mission flogging somewhat obsessively round furniture stores starting with the big brands progressing to more quirky shops selling custom made furniture, pre-loved and vintage. Then there was the quest for curtains and bringing home fabric sample books and agonising over colours and patterns, plodding through the legalese of the first draft of my will – it’s still incomplete as I find it hard to imagine a time when I will no longer be around. It all feels a bit surreal deciding who gets what and where I want my ashes scattered – perhaps half here and half in England to honour both of my homes, or is that too much to ask of my Trustees – and do I need to leave them an airfare as part of the package? With inflation factored in, how much should that be? What will the world look like by then – I am hoping it is a good 30 years off.

Oh, and then there was the punishing obstacle course travel insurance claim related to changed travel plans back in January. In this case, I had to produce a 2-year medical history of my recently deceased father, along with a form signed by his doctor to prove he had not been expected to die when he did. Talk about salt in the wound. That was one of about eight documents I had to assemble as proof that my claim was kosher. My father’s medical history ran to 96 pages – happy reading insurance people I thought with a tinge of schadenfreude. Doggedly (sorry, Bertie, for putting negative connotations on a canine word) I stuck with it and won.

My focus during this time tended to be inward rather than outward; I didn’t feel drawn to socialising on any grand scale, just quiet catch-ups with close friends although, conversely, I did have a little flirtation with internet dating (not my thing) but I had taken out an expensive subscription in October and thought I might as well give it a go. One weekend in February, I met three different characters (that’s a blog post in itself) but I realise now that I was merely box ticking and doing it for the sake of it. I much prefer meeting people in the real world; it’s so hard to get a sense of someone from a profile. And there seem to be so many frogs out there. Ironically one of my nicknames for my father was Toad. Not as in fat-bodied, warty and crusty – my father was anything but, in fact I used to call him Dapper Dad – this was an affectionate moniker that had more of Toad of Toad Hall about it.

However, I did settle on a dining room table, one I had found quite by chance one weekend in mid-February in Cowes on Phillip Island. Happy to discover it was still available in May, I snapped it up. I ended up ordering chairs online from a store in Sydney – first having dashed to Schots Emporium and Goldilocks-like tried out a number of styles for comfort. Amazingly my blind date chairs (you can only glean so much from a photo online) were a perfect match with the table. A marriage made in heaven. Perhaps the moral of the tale is that when you are not looking too hard, the right thing turns up.

From FOMO to JOMO and Slow Art

Having made some rather grand statements about returning to my book and possibly converting it into a full-blown memoir rather than a series of alphabetical stories, I’ve STILL not managed to write a single word. I have, however, jotted down some thoughts about possible themes on a couple of sheets of paper and I’ve done a bit of prep work for this weekend’s workshop.

Meanwhile I still grapple with the time issue, or lack of it. I heard Ruby Wax talking on radio – she’s over here performing at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival – about the modern-day epidemic of busyness. We all rush around trying to cram it all in – from working, doing the daily chores and socialising to culture-vulturing, learning new skills, keeping fit and keeping up with everything and everyone. Ruby commented that many of us get stuck in fight and flight mode. Primitive man would have been flooded with adrenalin when fleeing from a wild boar, but his/her nervous system would have calmed down once the danger passed.

In today’s world many people live in overdrive without ever coasting along in neutral. So I was interested to read about how some of the big companies are buying colouring books for their staff to help them handle the stress of the modern workplace. Evidence shows that colouring can actually change the brain and induce calm. It’s a simple non-competitive activity that anyone can do, anywhere.

And that’s the good news: for all the madness and constant activity and stimulation, there are plenty of initiatives that put a bit of Zen back into our lives. From meditation to laughter yoga, singing, knitting, colouring and being in nature, there are plenty of opportunities for us to claw back some down time. When push comes to shove we have to make the leap from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) to JOMO (Joy of Missing Out). In my view time is the most precious commodity of all. A crowded day that involves rushing from thing to thing is never satisfying because we’re not fully present to any one thing; it’s just a blur of seamless activity and thinking.

So for me JOMO is the key to getting back to writing. Less is definitely more even if it means missing the latest film, saying no to lunch with friends or skipping the house work. Squeezing in the writing around all the other stuff merely inhibits the creative flow and becomes a pointless and frustrating exercise. So I’ve decided to ring-fence a day every weekend for writing.

I didn’t manage to pull it off this weekend but I did take part in an afternoon of Slow Art at a local gallery on Saturday afternoon. Apparently the average time a gallery visitor spends in front of a work of art is 17 seconds. The idea behind Slow Art Day, which took place in venues right around the world (see http://www.slowartday.com/2015-venues/) is ‘to attend and look at five pieces of art slowly’ and then meet up with the other participants over refreshments to discuss the experience. The Gallery at the Bayside Arts and Cultural Centre (almost on my doorstep) was one of just two Melbourne locations hosting a Slow Art Day event.

We looked at two pictures by well-known children’s book artist Graeme Base, and three landscapes by Welsh-born artist Daniel Crawshaw. I’ve probably been a 17-seconder all my life – especially at the big blockbuster exhibitions – so sitting for ten minutes t in front of a work of art was a completely new and enriching experience.


It was interesting comparing notes with my fellow Slow Art goers over a delicious afternoon tea where I applied a similar mindful approach to savouring the cool, silky, creamy texture of the vanilla slice. Yum! The pictures evoked different emotional states in all of us. In the absence of curators’ captions, we invented our own meanings, narratives and interpretations.

One of Daniel Crawshaw’s pictures was of trees in what looked like a rainforest. The more I looked, the more texture, colour and clarity I perceived and the more the light changed as if the painting were a living breathing object. After a while I wanted to explore – possibly take refuge in – the spaces between the trees. Maybe I need to take my pen and notebook and sit under a tree in my local park. Who knows how that might shape and influence my writing… if I give it a little time.