Thing of Beauty

I will dream of you,
You’ll dream of me too.
Your arms come ’round my waist,
There will be no better place.

These lines are from a current favourite song of mine, a song that swoops me up and makes me feel something in return for listening. I love those songs. Somehow, in some way, the arrangement of music, instruments and words just works and I’m hooked. The lyrics on their own are not brilliant poetry – but throw in the haunting tune that accompanies them and the bar is most-definitely raised.

And so I’ve been thinking – why does this happen? What tweaks the soul-string, what makes us feel? We humans really are complicated and wonderful beasts. We create, all the time – music, words, art, buildings, gardens…things. We create every day. And those who are really good at it create things of beauty, of art, masterpieces, things we love, things that move us. Amazing.

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I have a clear memory of the first time I experienced this mystery. I was young, with my parents and visiting a travelling impressionist exhibition at an art gallery. I saw my first Monet – water lilies, Monet’s garden. I remember looking at this extraordinary thing created by another human being, this thing of beauty, and having the overwhelming urge to cry. I sat down in the gallery with small tears running down my face, wondering why. A stranger stopped in front of me and said “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Then they smiled and said, quite matter-of-factly, “this is what happens”.

The scientist in me wants to know how, why and what enables people to create things, to artistically express themselves in a way that touches other people’s emotions. My partner, an artist, said that he felt inspired after we visited a local art exhibition. The featured artist was creating her work in the middle of a gallery space exhibiting other completed ones. All her works were either a series of hand-drawn lines or dots (never both). They were so simple and on a large-scale, impressive. I found them interesting but my partner was intrigued and saw something…more. I guess appreciation of any creative art form is ultimately subjective and inherently personal.

This is never more apparent to me than in my love for Philip Larkin poems. This one in particular is my favourite:

Days

What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?

Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

Now – I just love this poem. I love the wit, the thoughtfulness, the imagery, the ‘feeling’ of the prose. I’ve shared my love of this poem with others and, well, let’s just say the response was less than enthusiastic. That’s OK because it doesn’t change how these words make me feel, or the fact they always make me smile.

I’ve thought hard about the songs that move me. The music is layered, tuneful and appealing. And when I read the lyrics they’re usually relatable, they mean something to me. Each element on its own is still creatively interesting, but it’s the combination that makes the magic. I still don’t fully understand how I can see a painting or hear a piece of music and think it’s so beautiful that there’s an emotional shifting of gears, I just don’t. But I’m extremely grateful that it can.
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Despite all these thoughts, I’m still wondering why (as was said to me) “this is what happens”. In the absence of a solid explanation, I’m going to go with a quote by the famous American acting teacher Stella Adler: “life beats down and crushes the soul, and art reminds you that you have one”.

And so – I’ll end with this. Something I created myself, for me. I’m not sure where some of it came from – it just did. I’m not saying it’s well written or even special, but its something I felt compelled to write. I wonder if it will move anyone else?

Thing of Beauty

Those eyes that pierce and glitter,
The see and see and see
My thoughts. The pitch and plough of life.
I keenly feel you leave.

When up is down, joy means loss;
The irony is death.
To win the war and have the love
means nothing will be left, yet

I cannot stop, I cannot stop, I cannot stop.
The waking hours tease.
The night is full of soft reprieve,
And words are not enough.

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Anything can happen.

Recently my partner and I indulged ourselves as a guests of friends at the Peppertree Winery harvest luncheon. Fantastic food, lovely wine, fabulous company. A true celebration and degustation feast. And for me, yet another example of the extreme highs and lows in life of late.
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Let me explain this further. Recently, a number of close friends have experienced some distressing and life-changing situations, all in the space of a few weeks. I previously wrote about some of them here: Thankful. Friends have unexpectedly ended a seemingly-happy marriage; one had a double mastectomy; others had a family member attempt suicide; and a friend’s beloved father passed away. Conversely, over the same period I’ve experienced some thrilling life-rides: an opportunity to pursue a hobby semi-professionally; the lost-now-rediscovered joy of writing; the will, discipline and desire to exercise; some seriously much-needed and regular alone-time, to sort out my unkempt mind.

So I found myself on the way to Peppertree, in the confines of a mini-bus, talking about this strange life. My friend was incredibly sad and unsure she should be with us, as current family matters are tragic and overwhelming. Her despair and grief was palpable – she felt helpless, uncertain and unworthy of enjoyment.
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In talking of things so very sad, we moved to the inevitable ‘why?’. There were and are many reasons why, but a left-fielder thrown into the mix was this: seems the Universe is in a bit of a state at the moment, all skirts akimbo and make-up askew. We’re in an astrological ‘event’, advised by a friend-of-a-friend that there is massive change afoot and “all the crap is falling out” – it’s a time when things are ending, and a time of new beginnings.

I know, I know – that last thought could apply to, well, everything… things begin and end all the time. For many of you, talk of universal matters seems ridiculous, and I get it. How could external forces existing millions of miles away exact any influence on the decisions of individual souls? But here’s the thing – with all the extreme events, mad changes, highs and lows of late, in the grab-bag of crazy that is this life – it fits. And when you’re suffering, sad or simply overwhelmed with grief, you look for a ‘why’. Interested in the friend-of-a-friend’s theory, I decided to do a little Google-ing. Turns out there’s some serious eclipses rocking around the Universe at the moment, sending astrologers into a spin. There’s talk of life-shifts and changes, and not by halves – it’s apparently ‘revolutionary transformation’ time.

For me, a series of lunar eclipses peppering our skies does not adequately explain the cluster of hard and awful happenings in my friend’s lives. What it does provide is a potential “method-to-the-madness” which may be of comfort to some. And whilst I’m not sure where I sit on this, I am sure that it’s hard to watch people you’re close to experience life’s crud, it’s horrible to feel helpless when all you want to do is ease someone’s pain, and its human nature to always look for answers and reasons.

Today I have no answers – but instead I can offer the following:

1. I recently read an article written by Em Rusciano on the hard and tumultuous change her life has undergone (you can find it here Em’s Life). Her story featured a beautiful piece of music that I love; an Eddie Vedder piece that I find both melancholic and uplifting all at once. It’s from a movie called ‘Into the Wild’, about a guy who abandoned life as we know it to embrace pure ‘experience’ by living simply, in nature. It’s a movingly tragic yet joyful story of a life – all highs and lows.

2. The only person I know who truly answered ‘why?’ is author Douglas Adams. The ultimate answer to the question of life, the Universe and everything is apparently 42.

3. My take? I believe the only thing that’s certain in this life is that nothing is certain…..and that anything can happen.

Reality Mum.

I’m enjoying Mothers Day…really, I am. I had a sleep-in, which I love, and was given the gift of noise-isolating headphones for my mp3 player (they’re actually fantastic but, oh, the irony!). My daughter has been hugging me all morning, wishing me ‘Happy Mothers Day’ whilst also asking me when it will be finished. She put on her thickly-tread gumboots to play outside after lunch and promptly walked through poo left on the deck by our geriatric dog who can’t quite make the lawn anymore. Wouldn’t be so bad except she had walked it all over the decking boards before I noticed the smell, having just sat down to read a magazine that I’ve scanned the same page of for the last 3 days. I burnt caramel in the saucepan and had to send out the troops for more condensed milk whilst I dealt with my teary ineptitude. I’m going away for work tomorrow and haven’t packed or organised anything related to meetings or the daycare run. All in all – a pretty typical day as me, and as a Mum.

In stark contrast to this – I’ve been reading a lot of facebook posts today about mothers, from friends to their Mum, grandmother or daughter. Lots of flowery well-wishes, chrysanthemum-kisses and pale pink-dusted memories. Some of the messages infer motherhood is one long cupcake baking session. Stark contrast to my day so far. Where’s the ‘thanks for wiping my bottom’ or ‘thanks for tolerating my belligerently toned teenage years’? It got me thinking about being a Mum, and the tremendous highs and lows that come with the experience – for all involved. There’s no denying that sometimes I look at my daughter, my gorgeous girl, and am overwhelmed with love to the point of weeping. Other times…well, I’m being honest – I’m sure she’s as unhappy with my behaviour as I am with hers.

Which brings me to today’s post. A little unrefined, but warranted. A more balanced view of a mother’s days, not just the May-dated one. For Belle. Enjoy.

Motherhood.

You want it cold,
you want it hot,
you want it warm,
You want it ‘NOT’.

You whinge to me
Of hair astray,
And blame me, too,
For missing play.
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I write your name,
For you to trace.
You roll your eyes
And pull that face.

I bathe your limbs,
I wash your clothes;
You paint the walls
And pick your nose.
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You stamp your foot
And cry in rage,
And all I did
Was turn the page.

I touch your face
To make you smile.
You frown at me
and run a mile.
belle water
I paint your nails
The colour pink.
You chew it off
And flood the sink.

You want a say
In clothes and shoes,
Then moan and cry
When I say ‘choose’.
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You drive me mad
And age me fast.
I had you late;
I hope I last.

And whilst oft’ said,
it’s more than true;
You’ll never know
How much I do.

Yet in the blur
Of daily grind
Such joy and warmth
In you I find.
Mothers Day 2013
Your frowning smiles,
Your happy tears,
Your lovely face
I hold so dear.

Snail town
So in this deal,
I think I win.
Your hand in mine,
Your cheeky grin.

For here I am,
And you are too.
I am your Mum.
Thank God for you.
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Just a kiss.

My last few blog-posts have been a little on the serious side, so today I’m ‘upping the fluff’ with talk of happiness and hearts, warm fuzzies, slow smiles and tingly anticipation. I’m talking about the power of a good kiss.

First, I must make an admission that goes to context. I love watching my dirty-little-secret show, ‘New Girl’. I say dirty-little-secret because, in general, I receive indulgent eyeball-rolls when I mention it. It’s a half hour ensemble comedy that people either love or hate, so I tend to keep my obsessive adoration of this show on the down-low.

‘New Girl’ recently featured one of the best on-screen kisses I’ve seen in a long time. The sort that makes you audibly sigh whilst watching it. Long-awaited, much-heralded and seriously hot. It was….very…..well, momentous. After witnessing both characters skirt around the emotional edge for an entire season, the guy finally grabbed the girl, pulled her close, wrapped her up in his masculinity and kissed the hell out of her. I can’t help it, I love it – and I’ve watched it more than a few times.

Yes, I know it’s a television show and not real. But I don’t care.

Since watching the kiss (and picking myself up off the floor each time) my over-analytical brain has moved into over-analytical mode: “how do those actors walk away from that scene without carrying the moment over into their day-to-day lives?”, “I wonder how weird it would feel filming take after take of that kiss in front of all the crew?”, “what do the actor’s partners think about their day jobs?” and more pertinently – “why do I love that kiss?”

I guess I love the romantic inevitability. The writers of this show have done a sterling job of building emotional and sexual tension over the first season, and it’s worked a treat. Yes, both the characters are kind of emotionally damaged and/or relationship-underdogs, so you want them to find each other. Yes, it reminds you of a time when all that lowest-of-the-low loneliness and angst is balanced by the highest of romantic, youthful, emotional highs. And yes, when they finally kissed I could barely control my squeal and felt my toes curl.

I decided to consult Dr. Google and see what the phrase ‘power of a good kiss’ revealed. Interesting. A couple of (laughable) how-to websites, a “health” site with a 20-something gorgeous “doctor” who’s apparently had 40 years experience in the Chinese philosophy of kissing (??) and an American University study that suggested ‘affectionate mothers raise resilient adults’. So, no help there. My other option was to pursue the practical, biological reasons as to why kissing is lovely, which I decided not to do because it just IS…and I think a scientific explanation would rather spoil this.

It’s worth pointing out here that I think a lot of people (ahem…men….OK, I can FEEL the frowns) underestimate the power of a good kiss. Romantic overtures? Great stuff. Wining and dining? Of course, important. Thoughtful attention? Yes please. Sexy, sexy sex? Always. But a well-timed, unexpected, sensual, take-control kiss beats all the rest, hands down.

There’s not much more to say, except to quote a favourite line from a Bob Dylan song: “I would hold you for a million years, to make you feel my love”. Why quote this line? Because even though I adore the song, and despite being warmly romantic and perfectly divine in its intention, a hold-me-dearly hug might well take a million years to convince me of love – because it’s not a kiss. And you should NEVER underestimate the power of a good kiss.

Thankful.

This week the universe decided to remind me of what I have, and be bloody thankful for it. It was a week of surprising and sad developments, in large unpredictability. Here’s what I took away from life’s casualty room.

Death is a strange thing.
When a life ends, we grieve the loss ceremoniously. We gather with people who we might not ordinarily see, save for such ‘events’. We spend time talking with friends who we’ve not caught up with in a while. Death brings people and families together. Funny, then, that it also often creates the tensions that tear them apart. And there is something heart-breakingly sad about watching families deal with a loved one’s death.
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Relationships are strange things.
They are the source of our greatest joy and our worst heartache. And whilst love is built on trust, shared desires, hopes, beliefs and understandings between two people – the fact of the matter is that people change. It’s the nature of things. Relationships that last are the ones that embrace growth and change together. It is overwhelmingly sad when a relationship ends because that didn’t happen.
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Grief is a process.
It can be a death; it can be a relationship. Either way, the grief that follows is a process that can’t be avoided. It’s amazing to me that more time isn’t spent on arming people to deal with grief, as it’s inevitable that we all face it at sometime in our lives. Grief has recognisable stages, and learning this helped me greatly when I waded through its murk a few years ago. Sometimes long, sometime short, but always – hard.
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Three year olds make everything better.
After a few days of watching friends worlds turn upside down, witnessing their pain and feeling quite helpless…there’s this: my daughter, lying on her tummy on the floor, singing her own songs, writing a letter to Santa because she wants to “make sure he knows I love him”. Her voice is melodic and tuneful, her feet swaying in the air, her letter a zig-zag of lines. She’s so happy. Watching her makes me happy too. I catch my partner’s eye and we share the moment with small smiles. Like everything in this life, she will change and grow, and it is my fondest wish to see it all and be part of it – just as I am right at that moment.
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Suddenly I realise exactly what I have, how lucky I am to have it – and I am bloody thankful for it.

Little ditty.

Last weekend was Easter. We had a couple of days where we bounced from one event to another. A busy, full and generally happy weekend – but I didn’t make my Sunday blog deadline.

However I did spend some time thinking about what I might write. I realised that lately I’ve been surrounded by ditties: short, simple, catchy, tuneful. The sort that persist in your head. My daughter Belle’s favourite books, all cadence and rhythm, suited to a three year-old’s sensibilities – we read them over and over. Belle’s teenage cousin’s facebook post, a youtube video with a boppy song about keeping all your fingers whilst you knock out the beat with a knife (don’t ask!). The Easter Bunny’s gift to Belle in exchange for her baby-dummys: a toy pony that walks, talks and repeatedly sings ‘Are you excited, are you, are you? Are you excited, are you, are you?’.

I thought about something I once wrote, my own little ditty for Belle. I came up with a four beat rhyming verse (tetrameter?) to accompany a photo of my daughter’s shampooed hair. It was short and punchy – a good companion for the photo – and she loved it. I decided to complete it for this week’s post, so here ’tis. Inspired by, and with thanks to the works of Dr. Seuss.

Belle’s hair.
A ditty for my daughter.

Belle likes her hair,
She likes it lots.
She likes it straight,
Not tied in knots.

She likes it clean,
She likes it shiny.
She keeps it well,
For one so tiny.
Belle's hair
She wears it high,
She wears it low.
She’ll change it twice
Before she goes.

And when she runs,
Her hair does bounce
From left to right,
Like frill or flounce.
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On days when rain
The clouds unfurl,
It makes it frizz,
It makes it curl.

But in the end,
Belle still does smile.
She likes her hair,
In any style.

And I must say,
I like it too!
But ‘why?’ you ask,
‘What works for you?’

And so my friends,
I must then tell –
I like it lots,
Because it’s Belles.
Belle posing

Feeling alive.

I was driving home from work the other day – I have a 40-odd minute each-way commute – and I had one of those moments where I just felt ….alive. It was a beautiful Autumnal afternoon, almost dusk, cooling breeze gently buffeting in the car window. One of those amazing atmospheric songs came on the radio (God I love triple j – but that’s another story). I felt happy, relaxed, peaceful and alive. Everything was working in my favour. I loved it.

It got me thinking – what makes me feel really ‘alive’? What in the past has made me feel the way I do now, in this very moment? Happily, gloriously alive. It took me a while to construct a list, and it’s by no means definitive – so I’m calling it my Top 4.

1. Living in the moment.
Harder than it sounds. And by ‘living in the moment’ I mean actually enjoying the moment without thinking about 10 seconds, 10 minutes or 10 hours ahead. Not contemplating where you’re off to next, what should be on your shopping list, the next deadline for work. Not thinking about something other than what is happening “right now”. Unless you’ve mastered the art of meditation or successfully subscribe to Buddhist ‘mindfulness’, you’ll likely find this incredibly hard. Since I don’t meet either of those criteria – I feel lucky to have achieved it at all. But I have. When I spend time with my 3 year-old daughter on our day off together, I can honestly say that I have been completely ‘in the moment’ with her – no thought of anything other than what we are doing, nowhere to be except where we are, nothing to do other than what we are doing. And the wondrous thing about children is that they usually inhabit this space, this ‘moment’, more than anywhere else. I wonder how we/they lose that sense of present-play. I suspect it’s all on us – we teach kids to think, plan and move ahead. But that feeling of freedom and blinding happiness, so consciously alive in the moment…I’ll be eternally grateful to my daughter for sharing her experience of it.

2. The throes of passion.
There is nothing like being so overwhelmingly impassioned that you can barely control yourself. Yes, I’m talking lust. That deep longing for human physical contact, when desire seems to ooze from the pores of your skin and you feel so overripe you’re about to fall off the vine. Mmmmmm…OK….you get my drift. Anyway – I don’t think anyone would argue that you don’t feel alive when you’re embroiled in a passionate tryst with the object of your romantic desire. Your mind has turned off, your body is on disconnect from your brain and sensation is…well, sensational. Anthropologists might argue that despite years of evolution, passion (whether love or lust) simply arises from a deeply-rooted need to procreate. Whatever. What matters is that irrespective of whether it’s primal, biological, spiritual or soulful – it certainly makes you feel alive.

3. Music
Whatever your taste, if you listen to music at all you will understand the heights that it can elevate you to when it’s good – really good. The estimation of ‘good’ is (in the main) subjective – sidenote: my apologies to those who study music theory who have just baulked at this statement – but I think we’ve all heard a piece of music that prompted an emotional response, triggered memory, or swept us away on a magical, tuneful carpet ride. For me, it usually happens when I’m listening to music on my own: at home, in the car or even wired-for-sound at the gym. And it’s not always the same song, it’s often a song in the context of where I am or what I’m doing. Surely one of the following rings a bell for you: the long highway drive with a pumping, kick-arse beat matching the tarmac treads; the melancholic songs, where every sad note abides in the air like misty rain mixing with your tears; the sweet-moment music, where happiness sparkles like sunlight through glass, your heart swells and makes you feel glad to be alive. Yep, music makes all that happen. I love, love, love music for making all that possible.

4. Beauty
This last point is clearly connected to points 1 through 3. How could it not be? Anything that makes you feel truly ‘alive’ is by its very nature stunningly, maddeningly, sweetly beautiful. But this also refers to those moments outside of you; when you see or hear something so wondrously perfect and simple that you can’t help but step back and admire it. Like the ocean on one of those days when the seawater is blue-green-clear and the sand is grainy whitewash. Like the embrace between reunited loved ones at an airport. Like the joy on the face of a child on Christmas morning.

Ans there’s another type of beauty. I’m not sure how to elaborate on this point except to say something that, even to my mind, sounds so “wanky” that I’m not sure it’s worth typing. But this IS a blog, so here goes. Sometimes the beauty of everything in a moment crystallises into one absolute sense of…completeness. It’s like a flash of insight, a feeling of being part of everything, a perfectly architected instant. Some think it’s connecting with nature or the universe, for others it’s just like ‘waking up’ to what’s going on around you. Like passion, it really doesn’t matter how you define it, as long as you get to experience it. Because it’s a beautiful thing. And it makes you feel alive.

I’m going to wrap up this post with a poetic reference that may just cement the “wanky”-ness of today’s mental meanderings. My favourite poems hold something true about being alive; they speak of beauty, truth, days, living and even acknowledge our human-need to explain all these aspects of being alive which, to my mind, often don’t really require explanation at all – I’m just happy I get to experience them. Having said that, I had to study “Ode on a Grecian Urn” by John Keats in high school; it’s certainly not poetry I would have discovered on my own. The last 2 lines are the kicker and it’s those I’ve quoted because, well, they are simple and true.

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.