Four weeks.

The first week.
I was sitting in my car outside Lambton Swimming Centre with my family. Our daughter was learning to swim, so we were all at the pool for the morning. I made a quick phone call; I’d found a message the previous afternoon requesting I ring my doctor for test results. And so I was patiently waiting with the ‘phone to my ear, wondering how long they were going to take, wishing they’d hurry up so we could join the line to get into the pool. And then finally, this: “Doctor wants you to come in please. Urgently. We can fit you in this afternoon. Today would be best.”

I should note here that the test results in question were pap smear results, that I normally get results over the phone no problem, and that the urgency in the receptionist’s voice scared the bejesus out of me.

So I found myself at the doctors that afternoon, sitting in the waiting room feeling more than a little trepidation. My doctor called me in and after some small talk about her holiday (my doctor is my age, female, has kids and is great to talk to – we could easily monopolise 3 or 4 appointments with our chats) she cut to the chase. “You’ve had an abnormal pap smear result. They detected grade 3 squamous cell abnormalities, cervical intraepithelial neoplasia or CIN 3. I’d like to refer you to a gynaecological oncologist for further treatment.”

I think it was the word ‘oncologist’ that sent me over the edge. I cried a bit, then managed to ask some relevant questions. Abnormal squamous cells? Pre-cancerous? Grade 3? On a scale of 1 to 3, 3 is the worst. Is it cervical cancer? No, it’s ‘intraepithelial’ so the cells are contained and can be treated. Left untreated however, they will develop into cervical cancer.

OK. Upset but accepting, I leave the doctors with a handful of tissues and referrals.

The second week.
I couldn’t help it. I consulted Dr. Google. In the end, it was kind of reassuring, reiterating everything my doctor had told me. I had cancerous cells in my cervix, not cervical cancer – there’s a difference. The chances of arresting their nasty development via removal was very high. The chances of any sexually active woman having the same diagnosis was roughly 20% – 1 in 5 women. So…good to know…not dying just yet and not alone. I wasn’t experiencing something that no-one else had. I felt a little better.

My doctor had organised an appointment with a gynaecological oncologist for me – I said I’d take the first appointment available – so I found myself in Dr. O’s waiting room within the week. I’d been steeling myself for this visit; I was to have a colposcopy but didn’t really know what to expect, how it would roll or how it would feel. Lucky for me Dr. O was lovely. He patiently explained what would happen. A colposcopy involves an examination of your cervix after it’s been sprayed with an acetic acid and iodine mix. Squamous cells appear as spots, making it easier to determine how many there are and take biopsy/ies of the nasty little buggers.

The nurse held my hand, made small talk and then it was over. No biopsies for me; there was more than enough visual evidence of the squamous cells to warrant their removal. Dr. O spared me the discomfort, time and cost. I probably should have been grateful but instead was slightly terrified that he didn’t need to. Just in case there was any doubt, we examined a digital photograph of the offending cells on a large flatscreen TV in his office. I can now say I’ve seen my cervix. I should’ve been intrigued but instead I wept at the image of light pink flesh measled with squamous spots.

I drove home, explained it all to my partner and spent the rest of the day feeling sorry for myself.

The third week.
Dr. O had an opening for surgery. Last on the list, late in the afternoon, but I’d still said ‘yes’ of course. And I gained some perspective in the intervening days; what I had was nothing, really, not cancer, just “pre-cancer”. Like threatening clouds without the storm. I wondered how people who had cancer coped with the waiting – for treatment, for appointments, for results. I developed a new level of respect and sympathy for the people who wait. And in a not-unexpected development, I started thinking about my daughter and my partner. Because it’s in my nature to plan and roll out scenarios, to plot 5 courses of action at a time, I did just that. I thought about my daughter growing up without a Mum, what I could leave her by way of advice, what mechanisms I could put in place to support her. I wondered how she would get along with my partner when she hit her teenage years, how I could possibly ensure they remained close and loved each other. I couldn’t turn my brain off.

The day of surgery arrived. LLETZ (Large Loop Excision of the Transformation Zone) procedure. Under a general anaesthetic, the lovely Dr. O would use a loop of electrified wire to slice out the offending area of my cervix. The plan was this: cut out all the nasties, get the all-clear from pathology in a week, be happy. I wouldn’t need to see Dr. O for 6 months then, for another colposcopy and pap smear. If that was clear, then I had another 6 months reprieve, same tests again. Then, finally…I could pretty much breathe easy and return to the normal odds we all face. This was my best case scenario. Anything else would mean reassessing my options, my choices, my treatment.

I was admitted, operated on, released – all in a day. I don’t remember anything beyond the pre-op needle; I was asleep for it all. I was told to rest, take it easy, give things time to heal. I should expect bleeding from a few days to a couple of weeks. For one month use pads, no tampons, no exercise, no sex, no over-exertion. Fun times.

The fourth week.
And so we come to now. I’ve been waiting for the results of the LLETZ procedure, waiting to hear if they got all the cells, if the margins are clear, waiting to see if the discomfort and worry is almost over. I’ve been feeling OK, tired and a bit achy but generally…good. I went to the beach on the weekend and it was great; I felt alive and happy. We went to a 5-year-old birthday party last Sunday. My daughter started pre-school last Monday. I had a skin cancer removed from my arm on Tuesday, a not-unusual occurrence in my fair-skinned family. My daughter had a tummy bug and vomited all Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. My partner worked on the Central Coast on Wednesday. We had home-made Nachos for dinner on Wednesday night (well, my daughter had a recovery dinner of Vegemite toast, but the rest of us did). I worked from home, spoke with a bunch of consultants, organised some account payments. Life rolls on.

This morning, just before lunch, I rang Dr. O’s offices. Yes, they had my results. Yes, they were CIN 3 cells, yes they’d gotten all the cells, yes I wouldn’t need to see Dr. O for 6 months. Yes, yes, yes!

So my story ends well. I’m back in the pool of everyday women just going about their business, albeit with a little less cervix than others.

I thought long and hard about whether to write any of this down. I’ve composed elements of this blogpost in my head every day over the last few weeks. There are people reading this who will no doubt find it uncomfortable and others who won’t know how to acknowledge it when they next see me. There’ll be some who think I’ve overreacted, and others who’ll be worried and sympathetic. There’ll be some who are very familiar with this story, whilst some will think me indelicate, an over-sharer.

The only reason I decided to write this blogpost is because it would have helped me to read this 4 weeks ago. It would have helped reassure me that I wasn’t concerned without cause, that it’s not great but it’s not the worst. That it shouldn’t be isolating. That it happens everyday to all sorts of women. That it’s OK to be stoic sometimes and a mess at others. That just because it’s more common-place than you think, it doesn’t diminish the fact that it’s officially a Big F#@king Deal when it happens to you. That when you have no other benchmark, nothing to measure against, it can be terrifying. It just would have….helped.

If you’re reading this and you’re a woman, I have the following advice: make sure you have regular pap smears. I do and despite this, in the space of 12 months I went from being in the all-clear with no abnormalities to a cervix peppered with CIN 3 squamous cells. I’m lucky it was picked up. I’m lucky it was removed. Amazing and frightening and for now, over. I couldn’t be happier.
Belle and Mummy pic Jan2014

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.

Nobbys 14   IMAG1194   Nobbys Beach, Newcastle.

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.

Lavender and Aliens

When I first met her she was only a few weeks old. So small and gorgeous, eating and sleeping her way through the days. She cried and cried, sniffled and sighed her way into my heart. White with tan spots, she was a tiny Jack Russell, my first dog.

I’d had dogs drift in and out of my life as a child; we lived opposite a bush reserve which seemed to be a regular dumping ground for people’s refuse and unwanted animals, so I’d had a few puppy-pets in my primary school years. Each stayed for just days at a time before we ultimately delivered them into an uncertain future at the local RSPCA. I always tried to keep them, the undesired and unloved – their status endeared them to me even more. But it was not to be, and I promised myself I’d have the much-longed-for and four-legged friend as soon as I was grown-up and out on my own.
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So here we were. My new gorgeous girl’s name was Lavender, the first of a run of formal names given to her by the breeder, written hurriedly on the top of her vaccination card. She didn’t seem like a ‘Lavender’ to me – she was all spitfire and boisterousness, leaping and pawing her way through our yard. She was demanding; her need for attention was boundless and her perseverance in seeking the same was impressive. She would literally cry and wail for hours and hours, with no respite, whilst simultaneously chewing her way through the base of the laundry door. She was strong-willed and fierce. She was a pocket-rocket-sized chick with attitude. I thought long and hard about her name and decided on Ripley – not for the ‘believe or not’ connotation, but after Ellen Ripley, the lead female character in the movie ‘Alien’. They shared so many characteristics, fortitude, guts and determination, it seemed appropriate.

And so Ripley continued to exasperate and delight us in equal measure. In retrospect, having a Jack Russell as my first dog probably wasn’t the smartest move – I had no idea how to train any dog, let alone a breed that needed strong direction. Jack Russells are just too damn smart and I was ill-prepared for the pre-emptive and complex nature of their thought process. Ripley easily assumed the title of ‘pack leader’ and lead us a merry dance for several years.
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There was the time my grandmother ‘baby-sat’ Ripley at her house. Ripley was very young, still had puppy-teeth, and managed to corral my grandmother into the corner of her kitchen, nipping her heels whenever she tried to escape. She was still there when I returned a few hours later. Then there were the numerous times Ripley tried to escape – any gate, open for a millisecond, was an opportunity to flee. Her best effort was the afternoon before my 30th birthday party. She bolted through legs, out the gate, onto the road and straight under a moving car; I noted the tyre marks on her tummy as she was whisked away to the vet. I was so distraught, I wanted to cancel everything and yet – she was absolutely fine, back to engineering escape tactics within a week. And then there were the times when she simply needed to burn a little energy. She’d tuck her tail neatly under her bottom, pull her head in low-line with her back and shoot off like a bullet, lapping the yard. She’d run and leap into nothingness, off retaining walls and over hedges. One day, one overly-eager leap too far snapped her cruciate ligament – a footballer’s injury. The operation cost in the thousands; she chewed her stitches out twice.
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Things changed for Ripley when we acquired dog number 2 – beautiful, gentle Jasper. He was more than twice her size and three times her weight. He was a rescued dog from the RSPCA. He developed pneumonia 3 days after we brought him home, and so disappeared again for 2 weeks back to the veterinary hospital. Ripley clearly thought she’d won; she never liked sharing and now believed she had somehow sent this new dog packing. She seemed….satisfied. Not so. Jasper returned, and with a case of nose-severely-out-of-joint, Ripley initiated a series of arguments, nasty ones. For a while we thought we couldn’t keep Jasper. Then, eventually, things were resolved when Jasper assumed his role as bottom of the heap, the last in the pack. Poor Jasper – such a kindly old soul, he was never a match for Ripley’s mischievous maneuverings. And so, finally, our dogs settled into life together.
Beautiful puppies
I remember being (unnecessarily) worried about Ripley’s reaction to our expanding family. One New Year’s Eve, only just pregnant and still nursing the secret, I spent the night on our back deck with friends and family. I was tired – Ripley sensed my lethargy and jumped onto my lap for gentle pats and rubs. She nudged my belly more than once and eventually fell asleep curled into my warmth. I swear she was making the most of the now-dwindling opportunities for some alone time with me.

Life rolled on, and so we hit 2013. Both Ripley and Jasper were 15, turning 16. Incredibly old and happily ensconced in sunshine-y days of overstuffed cushions and soft brushes. Our dogs had lost the chase, and so now companionably shared water bowls and grassy lawn with pigeons and doves. Life became slower – filled with afternoon naps and sleepy tail-wags.
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Which brings me to now. My best mate Ripley, my little terrorist, has gone. We had to make the terrible decision to put her down. She was so mightily old, and lost her dignity one morning in such a mess that her milky eyes bade me turn away. Her back legs lay loose and unwilling to move. I tearfully rang the vet and said “it’s time”. I held her face and stroked her head as she went. It was heartbreaking.

That was Saturday. The next day, Sunday, was a day of celebration. My grandmother, the one so richly rounded-up by my little Jack Russell, was turning 90. Quite a milestone. She still lives on her own, shops for herself and walks every morning to get the newspaper. She’s funny and smart and can source a sarcastic comment when needed. Our relatives were coming from north and south the be part of the afternoon. It was a lovely few hours of shared memories, champagne and laughter. I let myself enjoy the event and tried not to think about Ripley.
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Then my grandmother began opening her presents. I was assigned the role of scribe, writing down the gifts on the corresponding card so my grandmother would now who-to-thank-for-what. Our gift was a photo book, around 150 pages of images of my grandmother from birth to now, and with family and with friends. I’d included 2 photos, one of each of our dogs. The caption under Ripley read “Moira’s nemesis”, a nod to the ongoing love/hate relationship they shared. It made me smile to think that even the day after she died, Ripley was still being remembered in all her rambunctious and domineering glory.

And so it came to be that within the space of 2 days I celebrated one long life and began grieving the end of another. Beginnings and endings. Life, overwhelming.

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Remembered always and so very missed.
Ripley Faulkner.
1997 – 2013.

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.
Bag Glasses winegalsses
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.
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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.

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.

Belle Autumn 2

 
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.

…hear me roar.

Yesterday I attended the Newcastle Writers Festival, a session entitled “How women are changing social media”. Carol Duncan of ABC Radio Newcastle shepherded Jane Caro, Kerri Sackville, Rebecca Olive and Marina Go through a discussion of how these strong women each utilise and influence social media in their work, their careers and their lives. And strong women they are – in thought, in the pursuit of their chosen field, in their passion and in solidarity; even when panelists expressed an apparent difference of opinion, the general discussion moved towards encouraging one speaker not to undervalue her voice, rather than pursue a right/wrong scenario.

I loved this session. And whilst I don’t think these women stayed directly on-topic, I didn’t care. They were successful women talking about a brave new social media world which is all-inclusive, easily accessible and tremendously exciting. They outlined concepts I understood and mentioned platforms I use. They shared anecdotes, made us laugh, nod our heads in understanding and shake them in sympathy. I walked out inspired and more determined than ever to keep exploring and contributing to this new electronic realm. It was bloody great.

I’m not going to revisit the detail of the discussion here, but I will share what I took away:

1. A reaffirmation that social media is here to stay.
This one’s important because I’ve had a minor crisis of late, mainly due to my circle of friends and family not being as enamoured with, or excited by social media as I am. I’ve felt like a bit of an island, so at the very least – the Writers Festival session has propelled me back into the archipelago.

2. An enduring admiration for the panelists.
Already a fan of Jane Caro, and with some memories of Marina Go as a teenage-magazine editor, I was unprepared for the ‘smartness’ of all 5 women at the front of the room. The quickly articulate Kerri; the powerful pocket-rocket Jane; the quietly confident and elegant Marina; the earnest and humble Rebecca; the eloquent and dulcet-toned Carol… what a powerhouse of female intelligence. If I didn’t follow or subscribe to them on twitter, WordPress, BlogSpot or the web before – I certainly do now.

3. A sunny-side-up feeling about life in general.
I’m not saying I’m the smartest person I know, not even close. Nor am I the most philanthropic or even very sympathetic person. I’ve definitely got my faults. But I think I generally recognise them; I am a work in progress. In the meantime I do try to live an ethical, empathetic and mindful life. So with this in mind – lately I’ve been reading, hearing and seeing a God-awful lot of stories about horrible, stupid, rotten and/or just mightily dumb people and things. Selfish acts by thoughtless humans. Harmful, hurtful and generally clueless things. My opinion of current, broader societal values and behaviours has been at an all-time low. My thoughts about the world my daughter will grow into have been particularly bleak. So it was truly wonderful to spend an hour or so being simply inspired, sitting with like-minded peeps and exploring…..possibilities. Thinking about and feeling empowered, acknowledging the ‘good stuff’ that can be and is being achieved by women in social media. Talking about taking people to task, accountability, exposing bullies. Listening to stories of success and shared wisdom. It. Was. Awesome. I left Newcastle City Hall with a spring in my step and a headful of smiley thoughts.

4. A compelling feeling.
I like writing, but haven’t committed to it in a long time. I did write a diary for my daughter during her first 2 years of life about her achievements, cute moments and baby-milestones, for her to read when she’s older (perhaps as a teenager when she’s not liking me so much) – but that’s it. So earlier this year I started this blog: my sanity-saver, my challenge and my biggest leap into the unknown in a long time. I’ve set myself a goal of writing once a week. It doesn’t sound like a huge commitment but as someone who works, has a partner, a 3-year-old, a household and two 15-year-old dogs, well, it is. So to walk away from an experience and actually want to write and write and write…whoa! Be still my fingers! Hold the phone on the thesaurus! Charge that lap-top! Perhaps this point should be entitled ‘Inspired’ or ‘Excited’ or ‘Caffeinated’? It doesn’t matter. The ‘gift of the urge’ is precious.

My final thoughts?
If you’re reading this blog it means you’re somewhat web savvy, so go mull over the social media stylings of the women mentioned above. You won’t regret it.

Thank you ladies.

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.