A New(ie) perspective.

In my house there are unswept floors, unvacuumed carpets and untidy piles of unread magazines. I go to work early and promise myself I’ll leave at 4, then 5, then 6 o’clock. I plan to shop for groceries during lunch, after work, after I have collected my daughter. Late home, I face the spectre of cooking and serving an overdue evening meal to unbathed children while yesterday’s towels bunch wetly in the bathroom. There are dog-nose prints on glass sliding doors, finger-prints on the stairwell and a headful of unwritten blogposts. There are unmade phone calls, unmade beds, unrealised promises. I can’t stop thinking about things I should be doing and things I haven’t done. I want more time, more time, more time.

Lately it has been quite a struggle. And so I haven’t written for a while.

Today, with some precious writing time, I don’t want to dwell on the issues of madness and mess – suffice to say they exist and are unresolved. Instead I want to talk about something that’s saving my sanity and whose images are crowding my camera memory cards. It’s close and unexpected. It’s Newcastle, Newie, my home.

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Most weekends I manage an hour or so to go walking. Originally unplanned and now pleasant habit, I head to the breakwall in town near Nobbys Beach, always an hour or so before dusk. It’s a beautiful time of day, my favourite time of day. It’s when sidewalks are being swept clean of daylight-muck and preparing for night. It’s when shadows lengthen, stark skies become shaded-colour and people pack up and head home. There’s a sense of completion and a touch of anticipation at dusk. It’s day’s end, the sunset winking in night’s welcome.

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And the reason I’m walking here and not somewhere else is the landscape. I could walk anywhere; my gorgeous local park, my street, the bike track, anywhere. But I find myself driving into town, parking the car and treading the coastal breakwall with it’s beachy-backdrop, to its end and back again.

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While I walk I listen to music. It soothes me more than the crash of waves, the cry of seagulls or the chatter of fellow-walkers. You might question why I don’t let the rush of water-on-sand be my soundtrack. I think it’s because I see these walks as a bit of an escape, a chance to clear my head of The Crazy, and so I like to set the tone for this time myself. It’s one of the few times I get to listen to my choice of music, that I want to hear, that I like.

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Unexpectedly, these walks have changed my life. The solitary nature of them is soothing, and the exercise warranted, but it’s the stage show that’s taken my breath away. Incredibly, I’d forgotten about the power of it and how much better I am for it.

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The air is fresh, salty, bracing. The ocean can be angry grey-green, mildly turquoise or glassy, crystalline blue, rolling gently or spraying thunder against man-made rocks. Recently there have been dolphin pods, breaching whales, quick and cheeky seals. There are try-hard tugs ushering in overloaded ships, their cumbersome bulk swaying ponderously into the harbour. To the side, over-excited dogs populate Horseshoe Beach, fetching sticks amongst the off-shore foam. People, everywhere, all sorts – families, kids, tourists, surfers, cyclists, walkers, lovers, strangers, even robed monks. There is sand, salt, marshy smells and flowering plants. There are bleached timber keepsakes, pock-marked rocks and swooping kites.
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And then there’s the show. The horizon, the sunset, the end-of-day/beginning-of-night spectacle that demands its shaded-eye salute. The business end of the harbour looks delicately pretty in silhouette. The pink-tinged horizon urges you forward, faster, to beat the night-fall. Overcast days provide a gentler final act, a slower drop of the shadowed grey-on-grey curtain. Other times the harbour is angry and the only nod to the passing of time is the steely-blue boiling of the clouds as they roll into Newie.
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Every week this event reminds me that nature is fierce and wonderful. I feel lucky to witness it, to be in Newcastle where nature is so near that I can always, always find it closely, quickly. That I can feel better and happy because of it. That it can transform me from darkly overwhelmed to clear-headed and composed; there’s something about facing a sunset that makes you feel special, amazing and even beautiful.

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The sun sets and I walk a little taller, smiling. I drive home, sad for the moment just ended but grateful – grateful for nature’s show, for reminding me what truly matters, grateful I know how easy it is to feel better, and how unimportant an unkempt house really is.

I go home, kick aside the widely-strewn toys and hug my daughter.

All by myself.

I have a confession to make.

I really, really love time alone. Time with my thoughts. Time with a great book. Time with just me.

I had some of that precious time late last Saturday afternoon. I really needed it – my gorgeous three-year-old daughter had filed down my psyche with hours of incessant ‘why?’, thoughts of work were intruding, urging me to click on the computer and get it done, and I was tired, bone tired.

So I was given a leave pass. I threw on some comfy clothes, grabbed my headphones and music and drove to a nearby favoured beach-walking destination. I felt very free and excited about the prospect of a good, long walk with just my thoughts for company. I marvelled at the ‘want’ for this – as someone who sees exercise as a necessity rather than an enjoyable past-time, I was pretty amazed by my desire to pound the pavement. I walked hard for about an hour, took the occasional photograph on the walk back, and generally left feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the madness of kids and home again.
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But now – today – it’s a different story. It’s early morning and I’m sitting in the kitchen listening to my daughter sing. She’s singing about made-up things, fairy wings and Barbie dolls, pink happiness. It is so honest and beautiful it’s making me weep. How could I have wished time away from this little angel and wanted more for myself? How could I ever intentionally miss these special and innocent moments, the same ones I often wish I could save, bottle and trickle out over time like drops of expensive perfume – tantalising and so wonderfully connected to memory. It will all be gone too soon; I feel ashamed for ever wanting to actually ‘get away’ – this makes me weep more.

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There are a few relevant points to this story. They’re nothing new, but worth reiteration.

Point 1: Everyone needs time to recharge their batteries. People in a ‘happy place’ are usually more tolerant, patient and able to cope with life’s little challenges. And if you’re a Mum – by looking after yourself you become more equipped and better at looking after others. Note: this last point is supported by medical advice. Yes, it’s true – my doctor told me to take a little time out for myself, everyday, to (and I quote) “ensure you don’t officially lose-it”. Point taken.

Point 2: Wanting to be on your own, with your own thoughts, doesn’t make you a bad or selfish person – it makes you human.

Point 3: Motherhood is simultaneously the best and the scariest roller-coaster ride you’ll ever be on. Here’s why this analogy works – you just hang on and try and enjoy the ride; it’s impossible to ensure the safety of all your passengers but you can try; you’ll always worry about whether the wheels are on the track; there are highs, there are lows, either way, it’s a memorable ride; it’s dangerous, thrilling and unpredictable – need I go on?

What have I learned? I try not to feel guilty for wanting time alone. Instead, I remind myself to be thankful for all the time I’m not.

Passage.

The older I get, the more keenly I feel the passage of time. I don’t remember feeling this way in my 20s or even my 30s. Now in my 40s, there are constant reminders of the passage of time – children growing up, facial lines deepening, my party-constitution failing me on a night out. I hear 40 is the new 30 (don’t ask me the source – I don’t care, I wholeheartedly support them anyway) so generally speaking, I’m not anywhere in the vicinity of what could possibly be classed as that dreadful term, ‘middle age’. I still feel like I’ve got a lot to do, to experience and to learn. I want to stay vital, invigorated and interesting if nothing else than for the sake of my 3 year old daughter. Yes that’s right – I’d like to be the coolest, wow-you-couldn’t-possibly-be-a-61-year-old Mum on the planet at her 21st birthday party. No pressure.

In terms of actually making it to my daughter’s 21st – by which I mean (to be quite blunt) life expectancy – I console myself with the fact we are generally a family of quality long-lifers. So I should be around. My grandmother is still alive, living in a house on her own in Merewether, the same house in which she raised her family. She still walks to the shops to get the paper. Apart from being a fairly deaf, she’s rockin’ it. She turns 90 this year. Another two family members have reached and passed the 100 year milestone. Both have arthritis, one is deaf and the other doesn’t “do” steps – but they are still loving, happy, gorgeous souls. Ummmm, yes alright, they’re dogs, but I’m including them in my familial-longevity assessment for the sheer fact they’ve been raised in our home environment. Sure, in their case it’s nuture over nature – but they’re still family so they count for the sake of my ruminations.

Centenarians

The funny thing about getting older is that you don’t feel like you’re ageing on the inside. My thoughts, memories and feelings are all swirling about inside me without a care about the general state of my body. I can still act silly and feel like a child. I can still feel infatuation, expectation and senseless passion. I can weep and mourn the same way I did 5, 10 or 20 years ago. Who I am on the inside remains relatively unchanged.

I find my memories aren’t really affected by time either. Those imprints are all there, jumbled, ready to access when wanted or needed. Many seem like only yesterday while some things from yesterday seem like long ago. And whether they exist in coloured detail or blurry sepia – what persists is the feeling around the memory. Joy, sadness, regret, happiness, shame, anticipation, embarrassment, loneliness or completeness – the memory is watermarked and I feel it more distinctly than I recall the event itself. The emotion of the past experience is like a hash-tag for accessing the memory.

Hey, I just used twitter-speak to describe personal memory referencing. See – I’m NOT old!

Tenuously connected to these thoughts: I read something in yesterday’s paper that startled me, an interview with an author about her recently published book ‘Losing February’ based on a period in her life. The author herself is quoted as saying “Falling in love is a bit like mental illness, you lose all sense of a lot of things… that’s why I called (the book) ‘Losing February’, because I was so in love. I lost February. For a woman my age I was a bit surprised”. Wait, what? A woman her age? I scanned the article for more information, wondering at what age the dramatic and wonderful effects of falling in love abandon us. She’s 50 now, it was set 10 years ago, so apparently it’s 40. Mental note: Let my single friends know they better get out there amongst it, because they might not feel that glorious emotional ascent into love if they don’t find ‘the right one’ before 40. A lot of my friends are already 40+, so I’m guessing they too will keenly feel the passage of time when I lay that one on them. Suffice to say I don’t agree with this premise at all. I can’t find any discernible loss of feelings at 43. My emotional boat still floats.

Note to readers: yes, yes, I know this author may simply be referring to the fact that she thought she wouldn’t find someone to fall in love with at 40, rather than actually losing the ability to love with age – but still, it’s a slightly grim view of the world. For the sake of my blogpost, just roll with it!

To sum up today’s mental meanderings: I’d like to think that what’s on the inside has great bearing on what happens on the outside. I’d like to think that the emotions I felt when I was younger are still accessible to me as I grow older, albeit shaded with life experience and some common sense I lacked in my youth. I’d like to think that I will still find things to wonder about when I’m older and that I can still be surprised every day. I’d like to think that I can age gracefully and be at peace with whatever happens to this housing for my soul.

And finally – paradoxically – I can’t wait for 2030. Why? Because I have a special party to go to.