Fighting the Fear and Finding ‘I am’

I joined the school choir in Grade 2 when I was seven. I was a part of the choir at three different schools throughout my schooling. That’s eleven years of school choirs. In my final year of school I was in both the main choir and the twelve-member madrigal choir and I played the Scarecrow in the school production of the Wizard of Oz. This performance garnered me a scholarship from a local theatre company (of which I was a member) for a year of singing lessons.

I was a member of a church singing group for more years than I can be bothered going back to figure out.

I spent eight years performing musical theatre with a local amateur group.

I’ve been a member of community singing groups for the past twelve years.

And yet, you won’t hear the phrase “I am a singer” come out of my mouth.

(Yes, those of you who have been following this blog long enough may think this sounds familiar. I had similar issues with calling myself a runner until I successfully completed my first marathon. What can I say? My psyche is not built for self-confidence.)

I had piano lessons as a child/teenager and I can, to varying basic levels, also play guitar, ukulele and banjo. At various points in my life I have picked up and then discarded the flute and harmonica. (I also learned to play the recorder at school but everybody does that so it doesn’t deserve a mention.)

Not just a Jack of All Trades but a Jack of All Players.

But I’ve never sat a music exam. Ever.

Why not?

Good question and one I’ve had to ask myself a bit over the past several months.

And?

And it comes down to fear as these things usually do. For me, a fear of judgement and not living up to expectations.

My mother informs me it has always been this way for me since childhood.

Sometimes the genetic lottery gives you a messed up hand of life-cards.

My fear and dislike of judgement is so deep, I have to walk out of the room during those TV talent shows when the judges make their comments. I can’t even bear it for a total stranger.

So how was it that on Friday 21st June, I found myself standing in front of an examiner about to try and prove myself in a Grade 5 Modern Singing exam?

Another very good question.

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How did I get here?

Last year, when the opportunity was offered via email from the leader of my singing group to sign up for preparing for an exam in March this year, I declined the offer on the basis that I would be away at that time. Devastated, I was. [cough]

Then, one night I messaged to confirm my participation in a singing technique workshop the next day only to find out that my booking had been misplaced and the workshop had in fact been cancelled with only one other participant having signed up. I was informed that, however, there was the first workshop for the Grade 3 exam candidates. Maybe I’d like to come? I could always do the exam at a later date if I was going to be away. Or, I suggested, maybe I could come with the agreement that I didn’t have to actually do the exam.

This is my ideal situation – a chance to learn but no commitment to prove it.

It was agreed.

But you did the exam. What happened?

To be honest, I’m still trying to figure that out. My singing leader, also a dear friend, is a champion button pusher and she knows exactly which buttons to push and when. At some point – I think when I was in the middle of solving a problem on her laptop – she suggested that really I could do the Grade 5 exam.

Firstly, it turned out the exam would actually be in May or June, it was just the deadline to sign up was in March. So I didn’t have my absence as an excuse.

Secondly, I am both pathologically obsessed with knowing everything about a situation and chronically dedicated to ‘doing the right thing’. So, about to head overseas and out of reach of any sort of contact, I was aware from my research that the closing date for exam applications would come while I was in the Himalayas of Nepal. Of course it was tempting to disappear overseas and then return to the online world with a ‘oh shucks, sorry’ but my need to always do the right thing meant that I pointed out before I left that I would need to answer the question of doing the exam before I left.

Okay, so my other failing is a weakness for pushing myself outside my comfort zone.

In the way of the universe, this quote had also floated across my online vision a few days before:

Neil Gaiman quote

 

“Are you happy for me to enrol you while you are away?” I was asked.

“Do it,” I replied. Then I flew away to Nepal.

Did I wonder what I was thinking? You bet.

Even more so when I got back and headed straight into final training for Oxfam Trailwalker and after that the Great Ocean Road Marathon. Seriously, what was I thinking? Did I plan to permanently live outside my comfort zone??

Of course, the addition of a blood clot in my lung that made breathing painful (let alone the deep breaths needed for some of my singing exercises) was a complication I didn’t expect. I suppose I was grateful that when the exam date came it was some weeks afterwards when I was on the mend but my preparation was definitely compromised.

I prepared as best I could. On days I was stressed, I would undertake more ‘academic’ work – I would write out all my general knowledge answers or research all the musical terms in my sheet music for my songs. It was calming for me.

Exam day came. My exam wasn’t until 3.20pm which was somewhat painful. Then, when I arrived, they were running late and so I had to wait even longer. Here’s me trying to be cool about it (while a jelly of nerves inside).

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If you’re thinking the person I’m talking to looks calm that’s because she’s already done her exam. Lucky duck.

 

I think I should point out that this exam was like a Sara Lee dessert of all the worst things for me – layer upon layer upon layer. I had to:

  1. be the centre of attention
  2. sing solo
  3. sing solo to a total stranger
  4. be judged on that singing

I thought the worst thing was having to sing to a stranger but in fact, I found it easier. I wrapped myself in my invisible theatre cloak and put on the act. And, somehow, pulled it off. My singing leader/teacher/friend came in to accompany me for my last song (the previous three songs being performed to a backing track) and gave me an enthusiastic thumbs up as she came in.

Even now, with the results in my hand, I can’t believe I did what I did.

And? What were the results??

It was an anxious wait for the results but not as fraught as you might think. In order to help me try and stay calm in the lead up to the exam, I had decided to put it into marathon terms. I was, I decided, happy to just cross the finish line. For the exam, this meant just completing the exam to the best of my ability. After all, I’d never done a music exam. Just going through the process was an achievement of which to be proud. A ‘respectable time’ or in this case, a pass was just a bonus. A PB was an unimaginable flight of fancy.

And after the exam that’s how I felt. I was proud of myself for going through the exam and completing it to the best of my ability. Obviously, a pass would be appreciated but I had no ambitions beyond that.

Oh, for Pete’s sake! What was the result?!?

Okay. Okay.

I achieved Honours. A score of 89%. (Embarrassingly, I will confess that the over-achiever in me was a bit annoyed I didn’t crack the 90. Some people are hopeless….)

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It was interesting to note in the report that most marks were lost because of tension in my chest, neck and jaw. Well, let’s see. I am in the process of recovering from a pulmonary embolism and I was undertaking my first ever music exam. Imagine what I could have achieved without those….

And so there you have it. I not only undertook a challenge I had not intended to entertain but achieved a grade unimaginable.

Will I do another?

Not on your life.

However.

As part of preparing for my exam, I did some music theory study. I found it fascinating and helpful in so many ways. So that is my next challenge. I’d like to tackle a music theory exam. How’s the weather out there in that Uncomfortable Zone?

Some people are hopeless…

Addendum

The wash-up from this exam – not only for me but for the other six candidates – has left me thinking about the value of external validation. To be honest, some of the impetus for signing up for the exam was yearning for proof that I can sing. I guess I got that. I guess that maybe I can start rehearsing the line “I am a singer”.

In the end, however, the judgement of someone’s singing ability is subjective. It sits in narrow parameters and disallows the additional factors that make a singer’s contribution to the world that represents true musicality and impact.

I now possess a piece of paper that says I can pass a Grade 5 Modern Singing exam but does it show that I can work as a team member of a group and support my fellow singers to produce the most pleasing sound? Does it really represent the emotion – the joy, the sorrow, the frustration, the confusion – that I can experience in the act of singing? Does a piece of paper truly represent the hurdles that each of us has had to overcome? More importantly, does the lack of a piece of paper dictate the lack of value of a singer?

No, it does not.

I am incredibly blessed to be tutored by some immensely talented and generous singers. Would a professional organisation value the skill and love these singers impart to we lesser mortals to the extent they deserve? No, they wouldn’t. The reality is that exams are a narrow qualification of skill and talent. For me, the selfless sharing of talent, knowledge, care and support is unassessable. Someone out there ought to create a qualification that evaluates the impact someone has in terms of fostering a love of singing, especially in those who have been told for too many years that they should not sing. There are beautiful singers out there just waiting to be discovered by the right spirit. It’s an incredible gift to give the world and too unappreciated by the ‘powers that be’. I have personally witnessed the awakening of amazing singers who have hidden away since being told as a shy twelve-year-old to just ‘mime the words’. I have also witnessed the encouragement of an incredible teacher reveal those reluctant singers to be powerhouses of talent.

I would not be where I am without those incredible people. They are talented and knowledgeable singers but more importantly, generous sharers of that talent and knowledge.

I am a singer.

But only because I have been blessed by knowing such talented people as my singing teacher friends. You people rock and are the rock of my singing life.

 

Gratitude Day

Today was a Gratitude Day. I didn’t set out to have one, it just kind of developed over the day.

It started when I was making my morning coffee. About six months ago, friends asked me to be in charge of the coffee machine at a birthday party. One of them gave me lessons on the commercial machine I’d be using. I’ve been able to apply those lessons to my own coffee machine at home. Let me tell you how good my milk texturing is now….

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Obviously I didn’t take a photo of this morning’s coffee because I didn’t know I was going to post about it. I’ve just tried to make another coffee to get a photo. Predictably it wasn’t a good one. Just trust me, I know how to texture milk properly. Usually.

Every time I make a coffee, I think about how lucky I am to have had those lessons. This morning I decided that rather than just think my thanks, I would actually send them. So I shot off a message to my friend and thanked him for the accidental gift of better coffee he gave me.

Then I took my coffee up to my little she-shed and sat on my little handmade bench (I made it myself from an old bookcase) in the glorious winter sunshine and thought about just how lucky I am. I have a good home, I job I love, a happy and healthy family, amazing friends and so many opportunities to explore and grow.

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Tipped on its side, with a new back (top) and a coat of paint and voila, a dodgy bookcase turns into the perfect perch. I didn’t make the cushion. I could have but why bother if you can buy one that’s exactly the right size?

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Morning view

I can even find gratitude for my blood clot today. I’m about to embark on an activity that a blood clot would have made very challenging (more about that in a future post). Even though the blood clot meant I couldn’t run the marathon I planned to run, I still had the opportunity to participate in an event and walk an amazing road in beautiful weather and receive a shiny bit of bling at the end. The coming activity would have had no such alternative. So, I’m grateful for the timing.

Over the weekend, I fixed up some bills that had been generated from this particular health issue. I’m so very grateful for our universal healthcare and the fact that multiple tests and scans came to only a few hundred dollars out-of-pocket and not several thousand. I’m also grateful that I am on the mend because I have access to high quality medical care and life-saving drugs.

All of this good feeling inspired me to get some jobs done around my space that have been waiting to be completed for months. I attached some sheer material over the open roof ridge section of my ceiling to catch dust and leaves that blow in when the weather gets wild. I had to climb up and down a ladder. I’m grateful I didn’t fall off. (I have form.)

While I was up there, I attached some prayer flags I brought back from Nepal. I’m grateful to have the means to travel and for the eye-opening and perspective-enhancing opportunities that has given me.

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As with everything this Jack of All Trades does, the job is a bit dodgy but don’t the flags look nice?

I sealed up some gaps around the windows with silicon sealant. I’m grateful I’ll be snug and cosy over winter. I’m also grateful I didn’t get sealant all over myself or the floor. Because, you know, Jack of All Trades and all that.

I cleaned up, swept and washed the floor and cleaned the deck of the verandah. And gave thanks, as I have so many, many times, for this special space of my own.

Finally, on one of my trips to the hardware store (because when I have jobs to do, I never seem to manage to get what I need in one trip), I found some lovely purple and white pansies that would go perfectly in my planter boxes that have been sadly empty for months waiting for some replacement colour. I’m grateful I’ll have some pretty flowers to brighten the winter days ahead.

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Pay no attention to that mass of clover and other weeds around the shed. Let’s just say the landscaping is still a work-in-no-progress-yet.

I’m no saint and I can be a championship whinger and whiner so I don’t want you to think this is me all the time. Sometimes the events align and I can have a day when I see all the gifts. I’m grateful for that.

I hope you manage to find your own Gratitude Day.

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The afternoon view. I’ll never tire of it.

 

Which Socialite Are You?

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Are you an Intentional Socialite or an Incidental Socialite?*

A what or a what? I’ve never heard of those terms.

Of course not. I just made them up.

Well then how can I answer the question if I don’t know what they are? Maybe if you explained them first?

Oh. I guess you’re right. Okay.

An Intentional Socialite is one who actively pursues social interactions with others. They’re the ones who hold dinners, organise nights out or coffee catch ups or who are only interested in going to see a movie if it’s with a group of friends.

Makes sense. And an Incidental Socialite?

An Incidental Socialite experiences social contact in the context of another activity. A chat over coffee after church or community singing, catching up during a break in a theatre rehearsal or art class, the brief “How’s it going?” exchanges after a meeting or waiting to pick up kids in the school playground, even purely social events as long as they’re predictable like Friday night drinks after work or a weekly coffee date at the same cafe.

I think I understand.

Good. So which one are you?

I need to think about it. I’ll let you know in the Comments.

Okay.

So which one are you, then?

Me? Oh, definitely an Incidental Socialite. Well, except for a brief period at the end of my 30s when I actively pursued social contact with the support of a psychologist in a challenging time of my life.

What made you stop?

Psychologists are expensive.

Ha ha. Couldn’t you do it without the psychologist?

As a shy introvert? No. Not for long, anyway.

Did it concern you?

Not really. That’s the beauty of Incidental Social Contact, you don’t notice that you don’t really have a social life.

So what made you come up with this concept?

Too much long distance running by myself. Nowhere to go but inside my own head.

Very funny. But there must have been some reason the thoughts were there.

Hm. Yeah, there was.

Well?

Well, you know how I said I wasn’t concerned about not having intentional social contact?

Yes.

Lately I have been.

Been what? Concerned?

Yes.

Why?

Well, that was the question, wasn’t it? Why? Why now after all these years?

And?

And I realised I was noticing a lack of social contact with people because almost all of my incidental social opportunities have disappeared.

I see. How did that happen?

Hard to say. Life changes, you know? Some things ended by choice. Some not. Even with work, I’ve gone back to casual teaching and work offers have been thin on the ground so even brief staffroom chats over lunch aren’t happening.

So what are you going to do? As an Incidental Socialite?

Get used to my own company?

Not funny. Seriously, what are you going to do?

Well, I’ve got you, haven’t I? I do enjoy these little chats of ours in the Comments Bar & Grill. What are you drinking? My shout.

Thanks, I’m flattered and I’ll post my order in the Comments. But don’t you think flesh and blood socialising might also be a good idea?

Well, I have started going to group classes at the gym.

I guess that’s a start. Although, how do you hold a conversation while you’re bouncing around and sweating profusely?

It can be done. After all, I came up with this whole Intentional/Incidental social concept while I was running thirty kilometres, didn’t I?

Thirty kilometres?? You ran thirty kilometres? Okay, I think you may have more problems than I thought.

Very funny. I’ve finished my drink. It’s your shout.

Uh, right. What are you having?

Gin. And as you’re buying, make it a double.

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*My fingers kept wanting to type “Socialist” but that’s a whole other discussion.

Resolutely Not Resoluting

So, it’s the end of January. We’re 1/12th of the way through 2019 already. How are your New Year Resolutions going? Are you living in a world of success, despair or meh who cares?

Me, I’m basking in the light of victory because I have, as I predicted, broken every single one of my resolutions already. Go me.

One month in is a good opportunity to review our goals for the year. Did we make good choices? Are our resolutions SMART?

No, I’m not shouting at you. SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely.

Because everyone keeps a spreadsheet of data to measure their progress on a New Year Resolution, right?

Ha. I was only joking. But, actually, come to think of it…. be right back.

[2 seconds later]

Yeah….nah. I’m going to need a resolution to create data sheets for my resolutions. That can be 2020’s goal.

So, here’s where my resolutions stand:

Most Forgotten Resolution

Resolution 1: Refuse all requests to take photos of other people

I actually forgot I made this one because so far nobody has asked me to take a photo of them. If this keeps up, I may actually achieve this resolution by doing nothing.

Most Likely To Succeed Resolution

Resolution 5: Go to the gym more regularly

In nine days’ time I have a 10km race,  six days after that I fly out to Nepal for three weeks, three weeks after I get back I’ll be walking 100km in 24 hours for Oxfam and six weeks after that I’m running in the Great Ocean Road Marathon (44km). Motivation is a beautiful and useful thing.

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Most Broken Resolution

Resolution 4: Limit watching late night talk show monologues to once a week

Who was I kidding? I will continue to break this resolution and I don’t care. It beats curling myself into a ball and whimpering at the state of the world.

Most Unattainable Resolution

Resolution 2: Answer a question with a question and don’t talk about myself

What I failed to realise in setting this goal is that one must first possess the skill of asking spontaneous questions about someone in a conversation. I’ve managed it a few times but only because I’ve predicted the beginning of a conversation and rehearsed the reverse question beforehand. Then the conversation continues and I’m screwed. Are there online courses on “How to conduct a conversation in person” or “How to deflect attention away from oneself in three easy steps”?

Most Worthwhile Resolution

Resolution 3: Limit messages and emails to 25 words or less

The main reason for Resolutions 2 and 3 is that I have grown tired of slapping myself in the head because I said or wrote something stupid,  clumsy, inappropriate, unnecessary or untimely. I know. Strange but true. My masochism has boundaries. (Okay, very wide boundaries, being a marathon runner and having signed up for the 100km Oxfam Trailwalker for the third time, but there are definitely boundaries.)

Limiting myself to 25 words won’t eliminate the occurrence of stupidity but it does lessen the likelihood. The three occasions when I have broken this rule in the past month have proven it a worthwhile endeavour to pursue. No more will I cry “That’s not what I meant!” to the heavens.

Obviously there are limitations on this resolution. If I’m organising the next training walk or fundraising effort for my Trailwalker team, limiting myself to 25 words is likely to leave out important details and I will be wondering why they haven’t turned up at the location and time I failed to mention. But for general chitchat, this is a handy guide.

It also reduces the “Gawd, why did I talk so much?” post-messaging head bashing because sometimes when I think I want to say something, I wonder how I can do it in 25 words and then decide I didn’t really need to say it after all. And relief abounds throughout the online land…

Plus, in the end, I love a challenge. And maths. Figuring out how to say something in limited words is good brain work.

And if I get enough practice, I might be able to put it to use in actual competitions and win some cool stuff.

It’s a winning resolution.

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Well, this sounds good.

So how’s your year going so far?

Introverts Are People Too

Type “introvert meme” into a search engine and you’ll find a million and one results. This is good for those of us of the internal variety not only to realise we’re not in there alone but they provide some handy resources to circulate in an effort to help the extrovert world understand our weirdness.

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There’s a common misconception that introverts are anti-social. We’re not. It’s just that being social can be exhausting for an introvert. Some people (extroverts) are energised by being around lots of people and talking. Introverts get their energy from spending time in their own heads.

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Does this mean we don’t enjoy being with other people? Of course not. Admittedly, we’re not always good conversationalists. We don’t do small talk. And for those of us with the double whammy of introversion and shyness, maintaining a conversation, especially with someone we don’t know well, can be agony. On the plus side, we make great listeners.

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Introverts can do social. We can even like it. It’s just that we prefer meaningful conversation with one or two people we know well. In a large social gathering, you’re more likely to find us clearing the table or in the kitchen doing the dishes. We like a large gathering if we have the option of moving in and out of social interaction with a job to do.

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Unfortunately, introverts – along with those ubiquitous memes about us – can sometimes be our own worst enemies. A plethora of memes about how we’d rather stay home or how social occasions cause us anxiety can have unintended consequences. Often it means that other people hesitate to invite introverts out for a social date. Let’s face it, an introvert will never be the life of the party (although personally I kill it with the Under 5 crowd) and rarely tops an invitation list. People think we’d prefer not to go, that we’re happiest at home alone.

Okay, yes, we are.

Just not all the time.

Introverts are people too and people need people (cue Barbara Streisand…). We can do alone but we also do lonely.

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So, if you’re not an introvert yourself but you’re lucky enough to be friends with one, don’t forget your homebody friend may be getting too much of a good thing. Ask them out for dinner or a drink or to see a movie. They’ll welcome it. Just don’t bring ten people with you.

This has been a Public Service Announcement.

Actually, given it’s from an introvert, this has been a Privately Expressed Suggestion.

 

Another year over

A new one just begun… (almost)

I believe it is customary at this time of year to make resolutions for the year ahead. I’ve never been a fan of New Year Resolutions. It always feels like setting yourself up for failure.

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But I’ve been reviewing my resistance to resolutions.

Common areas for improvement have traditionally been based around losing weight, getting fit and giving up some vice or other.

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I don’t need to lose weight. Even with a chocolate-laden diet. Lucky me.

I already belong to a gym and have control over my fitness. It’s what allows me to have my chocolate-fuelled diet. It’s all about motivation.

I don’t smoke and I don’t….oh. Well, okay, I could probably make alterations in my imbibing rates at times. I like wine. And beer. And gin. That’s grapes, wholegrains and berries. I’m pretty sure all of those appear in the healthy section of the food pyramid, right? So I’m all good there, then.

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So I have been musing about resolutions and their purpose and have concluded that they are about improvement of oneself and benefit to others. In which case, I’ve come up with the following resolutions for 2019:

1. I will politely decline whenever anyone asks me to take a photo of them. I am a shocking photographer. This will reduce disappointment in the world.

2. I will perfect the politician’s skill of answering a question with a question thus avoiding talking about myself. This will reduce eyestrain in the community as people are no longer required to dart their eyes to the side looking for a way out whenever I am speaking, especially after a couple of glasses of wine.

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3. I will write all emails and messages based on the competition standard of 25 words or less. Then I will delete them. Only if I can be bothered rewriting them will I send them. This will increase productivity across the land.

4. I will limit my consumption of American late night talk show host monologues to once a week. This is for my own general wellbeing and mental health. It will also reduce boredom in those less obsessed with US politics.

5. I will utilise the gym more regularly but will not talk about it on social media. (Okay, so I lied about having control over my fitness. Seriously, who doesn’t drop the ball over Christmas/New Year?)

In the tradition of New Year Resolutions, I expect to have broken every one of these by the end of January.

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Sorry.

 

Got some New Year Resolutions of your own? How do you think you’ll go?

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When The Universe Cares

Babylon 5 quote

What’s your relationship with the universe? Is it friend or foe? Or is it more like an annoying parent doing things you don’t like for your own good?

I joke a lot about the universe having a sick sense of humour. Like when I decide the universe is telling me not to do something because nothing is working out and then suddenly everything falls into place.

Today the universe decided to show me kindness.

As I approach the worst day of the year, anxiety is high and tears are close. I’m not sleeping or eating properly and everything feels difficult.

Today the universe chose to tell me I am needed, I am useful, I am loved and I am worthy.

After two failed past attempts and an almost third, I was able to successfully complete a plasma donation and know I have saved lives.

Chance sent me a stranger I could help with a meal and a train ticket.

A friend reached out, unwilling to let me slip away into social solitude.

I won a pair of trail runners because of something I wrote about running.

A day that began with stress ended with peace and happiness.

It’s still a tricky week but I’m grateful for the small things that help me keep going.

Desiderata Universe quote

 

 

 

How Do You Explain?

How do you explain a grief that never really goes away? How do you explain to those who’ve never experienced the sudden, unexpected death of a loved one why the grief still lingers after decades?

I’ve written before about losing my sister and niece in a car crash in 1993. (In fact, I can’t believe it’s already been nearly five years since I wrote about it.) It’s an experience that has become woven into the very fabric of who I am and the anniversary of their deaths is a day to be endured even so many years later.

Yesterday would have been my sister’s 60th birthday. I always find her birthday difficult, coming soon after mine, but the significant birthdays are the hardest.

I had to work. I am lucky to work with a very caring colleague and I had wisely already discussed what was coming up. So when I disappeared into the toilets not long after arriving at work and reappeared some time later red-eyed and subdued, she was attentive and protective.

The day was exhausting. While I was teaching, things were fine. I have a lovely class and they fill me with joy every day (okay, yes, also frustration at times but that’s teaching, right?) and they gave me bright moments in my day. It was just the ‘down’ times that were hard. And so, when the music played for the end of recess, I suddenly lost it and had to pull myself together in the kitchen before the kids came in. (To be fair, they’d chosen that day to play “You Are The Reason” by Calum Scott. Seriously. Luckily, for lunchtime, they switched to “Nutbush”.)

I made it through the day but I was pretty exhausted by the end. I was fortunate to have a community singing session that night so even though I was tempted to stay home and go to bed, I went and it lifted my soul as it always does.

Today, I got to work and my colleague asked how I was after yesterday.

“Okay,” I said. “But a bit embarrassed about yesterday.”

Because here’s the thing. There’s a part of you that wonders if others think it’s ludicrous that you’ll still burst into tears at the memory of someone gone for 25 years.

How do you explain?

How do you explain that the years don’t matter?

How do you explain that the pain never goes away?

How do you explain that you never really get over it? You learn to live with it and you learn to find joy and happiness in your life again but you never, ever get over it.

How do you explain that the sudden and unexpected death of someone so young leaves a lasting scar that tears open again at every birthday, every anniversary, every family celebration (births, marriages) that highlight their missing presence?

You can’t.

I’m lucky. I work with someone who is sensitive and understanding and she made it clear that I had nothing to be embarrassed about.

I hope, if you’ve experienced the same devastating loss, that you are also surrounded by people who understand.

The grief never really goes away.

It’s hard to explain.

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Streaking Out

Have you ever had rock candy? Hey, I’m talking about lollies not some euphemism for crack cocaine. This is a family-friendly blog. You know, that hard sweetie they roll into long tubes of sugary, colourful fun and then slice up like some sweet tooth’s version of kabana.

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Fruit salad rock candy from Red Balloon Candy

I remember standing at the window of more than one confectionary establishment watching the candy man or candy woman rolling out the soft and pliable candy dough and wondering what the end product would look like – would it be a rainbow of colours, an interior designer’s dream of colour scheming or, if they were really clever, would there be a word or picture through that sugar rope?

I wonder what you would look like as a piece of rock candy? What runs through the middle of you? (That’s not a literal question. I don’t need to see what a dissection of a human body would look like, thank you very much.)

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase that someone may have a “streak of madness”. What’s your streak? Maybe you have more than one. Maybe you’d be a rainbow of streakiness if you turned into rock candy.

I’ve spoken before about my inherent streak of stubbornness. It’s what got me through training for and completing my first marathon. Despite the voices telling me I’d never make it, that stubborn streak just wouldn’t let me give up. That streak took over again recently when I put myself through a process I’d sworn I’d never do again because my first experience had crushed my self-confidence. But when the opportunity arose, that stubborn part of me just wouldn’t let it beat me and I felt compelled to give it another shot. That stubborn streak is so hard, I reckon it would rival an Everlasting Gobstopper.

Willy-Wonka-Gobstopper

You mean one of these?

However, if you sliced me up, it wouldn’t just be the word “stubborn” through the middle. I can be pretty streaky.

There’s the Freak Streak for starters. The one that makes middle-aged me go out in public in fluoro orange sneakers and a hoodie saying “I am a Whovian Mum. Just like a normal mum except much cooler.” The one that dresses up in a nerd costume for a trivia night even though it’s not a dress up event.

Then there’s definitely a stereotypical streak of madness. What else would make me take on a marathon at age 50? Or decide I could put together my own she-shed with no building skills whatsoever?

There’s a wobbly and uneven streak we’ll call a combination of over-thinking and lack of self-confidence. Sometimes it’s a thick streak and sometimes you can hardly see it.

A crafty/arty streak definitely flows through me. It’s not a particularly refined one and is probably a bit lumpy with undissolved sugar but it goes through my core.

Post-Apocalyptic-Life-Skill-t-shirt-teeturtle_800x

I want this shirt. (© Teeturtle.com)

 

I’m not sure the MOSY Rock Candy would be a bestseller and it certainly wouldn’t appear in any of your exclusive confectionery establishments. It’s more likely to be in the clearance bin in amongst the other imperfect packages. But it’s definitely a limited edition.

So, what would your rock candy look like?

Postscript: The day after I wrote the first draft of this post, the most famous rock candy manufacturer in Australia, Castlemaine Rock, announced they were closing their doors. Tapping into the zeitgeist…

Castlemaine Rock

Vale Castlemaine Rock 😦

Lament of the Lonely Runner

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She runs alone

with no partner, friend, coach or team

to while away the hours

as the kilometres plod by

 

Time in her head

her own company she keeps

She sings to herself

to keep the rhythm in her feet

and silently screams at the voices

that tell her to stop

that she can’t do it

that she shouldn’t be there

 

She revisits past troubles

and reviews ones yet to come

She rewrites past conversations

and rehearses ones that have to come

 

It has always been thus

and she has met the challenges

she has set for herself

and overcome them

Alone

 

And she has not minded

the time alone

She is alone

but not lonely

 

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Until today

 

Today the loneliness strikes hard

Even the usual fleeting connections

with strangers on the track

a smile, a wave, a breathless ‘Hello’

are rare on this cold and blustery winter day

as sensible people stay indoors

curled up on the couch

watching their footy team play

 

Perhaps, in these days of reduced social interaction

this introvert has had too much of a good thing

like an overly restrictive diet

As coffee dates and drinks and dinners out

have all but disappeared

perhaps loneliness has put a foot in the door

 

The loneliness in her life

finds its way onto the track

 

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As the kilometres of bitumen

pass endlessly by

under her pounding feet

she questions this life choice

this pursuit of isolation

And she knows

 

Because loneliness is hard

but also all too easy

 

She questions her value as a friend

to all but a tiny few

Reaching out is easy when one feels

one’s value to the other

 

She knows she is appreciated

for her willingness to help

and her acts of generosity

She knows she is respected

for her tenacity in the face of challenge

and her passion for justice

 

But she longs to be loved

for her sense of humour

and her addiction to American late night talk shows

for her innate childish silliness

and her ridiculous dance moves

for her love of cosplay

and musicals and themed birthday parties

 

She wishes her annoying traits

that keep her from friendship

could be softened and understood

couched in an understanding

of her shyness and social awkwardness

her need for order

and her belief that life should be fair and just

 

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As she reaches the end

the thoughts ease for now

and she knows

tomorrow she will lace these shoes again

and run

alone again

 

Always alone

but not always lonely