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.

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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.