Time


I had such a cavalier attitude to time when I was younger, and it was little wonder. I stared up at the tiled ceiling from my spinal rotor bed, counting the dots on each square for months on end. I anxiously waited until I was old enough to make my own choices, and lead a life of my desire. Time seemed to stretch on forever, as it is want to do when pain, isolation and abuse feature. Always impatient, waiting for and recovering from surgery was agonizing, not to mention the years in physiotherapy. I had to learn to break everything down into tiny steps. Those little steps added up and became quite a hike! IVF came along, and each day stretched out. The two-week-wait to find out if I was pregnant seemed to defy time on earth. Pregnancy felt the same; endless, as I impatiently waited to meet this baby.

Since her birth, I have a new respect for time. It can be a hard taskmaster, both when you long for it to speed up, and when you yearn for it to slow down. Having a child has made me yearn for it to lean in and stretch out. If I could turn back the hand’s, I would. How can it be that I almost have a teenager, starting her last term of Year 6 after the holidays? I don’t even know how it is possible? You finally get a handle on differing ages and the milestones reached, and they are gone, replaced with the next expectation.

It is as though an editor has rushed through the movie reel, speeding it up in a race to the end. I have only fully appreciated each age by looking over videos and photographs after the events. It is true that you often don’t know you are enjoying a perfect moment in time whilst living it. As we waited to board a country train to where my daughter would be performing, I turned to her and said “we will look back on these adventures as being some of the most perfect moments in our lives.” She stopped and smiled, nodding her head, and we both ceased our hurriedness to the next destination, to fully appreciate what we had now. In silence, we looked around the small station, hearing the kookaburras and cockatoos in neighbouring gum trees, and admiring the cherry blossoms in bloom. We heard a solitary crow in the distance, and we knew that this moment was magic. Now is all we have.

I peered over at my daughter, and marvelled at how her journey is only just beginning. There is so much for her to look forward to. It won’t be as hard a trip into adulthood; I will make sure of that. I am trying to live in the moment after our sublime experience at the station. On Tuesday, we were waiting for another train, and were sitting near a young Canadian traveller. She was soon joined by a man forty years her senior, and as I heard their banter, I grew increasingly uncomfortable. He was asking her questions at a rapid-fire rate. No sooner had she answered, than he was asking her another. She did that thing where you smile and try to be friendly. So many of us have done, as we secretly hope that the stranger will leave us alone and not hurt us if we do. He asked her if he could show her around Sydney. She politely declined. He then insisted on taking her out to dinner. She stammered and tried to deflect his attention. By this stage I had heard enough, and went over. He was decidedly irritated at my intervention, whilst the traveller was grateful. Eventually he moved away, and left her in peace.

I talked to my daughter about what had transpired, and told her that she need never feel like she has to put up with a stranger being invasive. I told her that I had done it many times, frightened of angering a persistent stranger. So many times, passing women would come to my aid, some pretending to be friends who were meeting me in order to thwart advances. We talked for the whole hour into the city, and it was wondrous. My little girl is growing up and there is nothing to fear. She has this. She is growing up in a time where girls have a voice. She is growing up in a time where she doesn’t feel the pressure to conform nor accommodate everyone. She has got this.

I am planning the next term, and shall be scheduling more trips and adventures, as I know that this precious time won’t come around again; at least not in the same way. I have heard that once a child reaches high school, time seems to speed up. I pray for day trips and camps, walks and other adventures in which time stands still. Right now is perfect. This is all we are guaranteed, this moment in time. I plan to lean into it, and make a second last a day.

 

When life sucks, add some whimsy


 

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Definition of whimsy on http://www.vocabulary.com

We have a new Prime Minister in Australia. It is truly embarrassing. I was at a class when I received the breaking news on my phone, and announced to everyone that Peter Morrison had landed the top job! I had been under the mistaken belief that Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton were interchangeable. Perhaps, I was mislead in thinking that it was a shared role? With life feeling heavy, grey and frankly, ludicrous, it was time to escalate the whimsy factor.

 

I found some elf ears, much to my delight, and proceeded to wear them on public transport. Now, if you are a Sydney person, and have taken trains the past couple of weekends, you will know what a shambles it has been. Trips that would usually take 40 minutes were suddenly taking four hours, and that is if your train was running at all. Solution, elf ears! When I put these on, everyone started smiling, if not laughing. Conversations were started, and whimsy ruled supreme. There were even people stopped in heavy traffic gawping, as I waited for a bus.

That’s the thing about whimsy, it takes us out of our every day ho-hum lives. It is surprising, startling and without ego. It contains humour and frivolity, with no goal in sight, other than to delight. I was amazed at how a pair of elf ears could pick up the energy in a dreary space with tired and annoyed passengers.

Here are some other recent whimsical episodes of note:

 

We had a rainbow lorikeet feasting on jam left at our table and attended a mad hatter’s high tea at the Westin, Sydney. We fell in love with greenery draped over light fittings and up the walls at a bistro, and we ran through a water feature.

We admired the meticulous costumes of Cos Play characters on their way to some marvellous expo, and congratulated the raucous Kiwi’s on winning the Rugby. We listened to melodic buskers strumming their guitars and danced in the streets of Sydney. We were at the Body Shop, and nearly jumped out of our skin’s when one of the sales people let out a shrill scream. She jovially explained it was, in fact, a hiccup, and that it always alarmed people. She continued screaming, every minute or so, the poor darling.

I bought a solitary violet cream chocolate from Haigh’s, after unknowingly jumping the queue (which  snaked out the door). I was mortified upon turning around and seeing the people patiently waiting, and was greeted with bemused smiles, bless them! I watched my daughter soar through the sky on an outside trapeze. Why did she want to partake of this class? It was to feel the sensation of flying; the sensation of being free of all incumbencies.

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These are the moments we live for. The moments of unexpected beauty, the sublime and the ridiculous. If a pair of elf ears can make a carriage full of irate passengers smile, I may have to add an entire elf outfit to my repertoire. Life isn’t meant to be a series of annoyances and trials. The harder life gets, the more whimsy must be added. Whether that be in the form of a coffee mug or some novelty to make everyone smile. The moments of whimsy make life worth living.

Reaching Out


I have a friend whose visage has no sharp features. Rather, it presents in soft-focus, much like the content of their mind and heart. Sensitive, to them life can feel like steel wool rubbing against debris stuck to the surface of their psyche. Steel wool can be useful for plugging holes to discourage rats and their gnawing teeth, I guess. The aftermath of youthful trauma rears its head- ready to bite- throughout their life. They found the hardest times were when their children reached the ages they had been when they were subjected to horror. The hardest times were when their partner made a flippant remark that reminded them of someone else, in another time. Hell, the past has a way of making itself known, even if one buries it in a pile of compost in order to grow flowers. Turning the waste (as happens in random remembrance), it comes up for air.

I had known this particular friend for many years, had known about their depression and anxiety. I knew about the trauma this person had endured, both in childhood and in their current experience. I knew that they had attempted suicide at thirteen, and that it was nothing short of a miracle that they were still here. I had bumped into this friend twice in as many weeks, and we hugged as though the separation of a year hadn’t occurred. I gave them my new details, and they said they would be in touch. I knew they weren’t traveling well, and each day, my thoughts extended to them, so I was delighted when they finally texted. “Can I come over? Are you home?” I said I was, and put the kettle on. We talked about many things, including  recent stressors  (which would bring anyone to their knees). Without a solid foundation in their childhood, nor a cheer squad, this person was flailing.

They admitted their thoughts had turned to not being here, and they still weren’t sleeping, a long-standing problem. They had used up their free psychology visits, and no resources were forthcoming, despite pleading for help, not once or twice, but many times. They had found comfort in their pets, but when they suddenly died, that support was taken as well. This friend didn’t need advice, they just needed someone to listen. I held their hand and declared, “by you messaging, and finding the energy to come over, you made a powerful declaration about your worth. You want to live, and I am in awe of you.”

The very next day, this friend texted, and wanted to take me up on my offer of going for a walk. It was another powerful statement. I knew it took everything they had to do so, and went against everything they felt like doing, which was to stay in and lock themselves away. As we walked, we took in gardens, and noted the concordant sounds of kookaburras and cockatoos in trees stripped of their leaves. We admired architecture and smiled at the sight of garden gnomes and whimsical sculptures.

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Another friend recently dropped in, whom I hadn’t seen in years. I had loved them from afar, knowing somehow that their life was now complicated and far from the halcyon days of old. They apologized for not keeping in touch, explaining that every shred of energy had been dedicated to their partner, who had been suffering mental illness. I reassured them that in regards to friendship, seven years is no time at all. I meant it. It was a homecoming, and we simply picked up where we left off, spending an afternoon laughing and crying in equal amounts.

People’s lives are complex, and we rarely know what goes on behind closed doors. We have no idea what it takes to prepare themselves for the dawn of a new day. To get up and shower can be an extraordinary achievement, as can visiting a friend or going for a walk. When a friend isolates, seemingly dropping all contact, they may be going through a transformation or they may be going through hell. I have seen the trees outside my bedroom window shake their leaves throughout autumn so they can have the energy for new growth. Hellish times make life contract, reduced to the basics necessary for survival.  People can be like trees, and need to know that the door is always open. They need to be assured that understanding and love await them after a time of withdrawal, and that we will grieve their losses, as much as we shall rejoice when new growth springs forth.

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Spice Alley, White Rabbit Gallery and Neurosurgeons


Last week, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting my new neurosurgeon. Indeed it was a privilege, to meet such a humble and kind man. I presented a selection of my favourite scans from the past two decades, and as he studied them, he asked how on earth I had managed to inflict such damage. I tell you, after a lifetime of answering this question, you get quite nonchalant and so I muttered something about a bad man, my falling, and things of that ilk. I should have just brought him a copy of my book. Once he was over the shock of that discovery, he examined my head, neck and shoulders, all of which contorted in pain. I was booked in for nerve blocks and associated tests, and bid him farewell. My morning had required me to be a patient, vulnerable and hurting. The following part of the day would see me reclaim who I truly am, which is somebody who gets transported by beauty.

My daughter and I took off on a grand adventure, firstly to the White Rabbit Gallery at Chippendale, a magnificent space that used to be a luxury car showroom. The exhibition The Sleeper Awakes had started that day, and we were so entranced by the colours and symbolism that we forgot to take photos! It would have seemed almost rude to have not been in the moment. Trust me, if ever you are in the city, it’s worth a visit! I did however, manage a snap of the glorious tea room. The best cages are empty ones; beautiful in their emptiness.

We walked with our lovely friends to Spice Alley     at around 5pm, before it got busy. There was a wild variety of vendors, and the difficulty was deciding! There was plenty for a vegetarian like myself to choose from. I settled on the best vegetarian fried rice I have ever had! The heady spices were combined in such a way as to delight the taste buds. As we ate and drunk our bubble tea (and wine), we talked about everything from Nikola Tesla to Facebook, movies and authors.

When we boarded the train for home, I felt exhilarated, as one does at the end of a fruitful and satisfying day. I was exhausted and in pain, yes, but the over-riding emotion was gratitude. Gratitude for caring specialists, good friends, art galleries, delicious food, a new hangout and a happy child. My body feels frail; in need of reconstruction, and the pain is merciless. I was a patient, scans in hand. For the most part, I was still Raphaela, an irrepressible spirit who will not have her life dimmed. You can be both, and balance it well. The next day, I was in bed, but never mind. Last Friday, I was both a patient and healed.

International Women’s Day


International Women’s Day started way back in 1909, and grown into the massive celebration as seen today. My daughter and I attended a wonderful 30th birthday celebration of a womens’ hub this March 8th. The womens-only centre is the only one of its kind in an area whose population is growing rapidly, and it is very much-needed. Not only does it provide free counselling services, a nurse, doctor and legal advice, but also workshops and groups, caseworkers and a referral service.

We listened to eloquent speakers, and were asked to reflect on the women whom we have loved that are no longer with us. Those who passed after a life of service, and those whom we have lost in tragic circumstances. Suddenly, the wind picked up, and caressed our faces, as though our ancestors and friends had been summoned.

Last year on this date, a doctor I had been seeing was arrested for the sexual assault of several patients. Today as we rode to the women’s centre in a bus, a young mother struggled on with a double pram. She managed to fit the pram into a corner, but the fellow sitting near her refused to tuck his legs in so she could sit comfortably next to her young ones. He had a look of scorn on his face as he deliberately stretched out further, and she struggled to shrink herself into less than half the leg space she should have been allotted.

We got home a short while ago, and I was looking forward to a rest. There was no sleep had last night, due to pain; the result of violence suffered long ago. As we alighted our bus, I sighed. Our neighbour was with a group of men smoking and playing loud music out the front of our place, at the same time as they were revving a chainsaw. They saw us, and continued chopping down a shrub, watching it fall onto our driveway. They then walked over and stood in our drive, ignoring the fact that we were there and had to walk around them. We weren’t even greeted, just glared at, as though we were unwelcome intruders. I was too wary to ask questions, and it can be rather intimidating to have six burly men on your property. I just wanted to get inside, away from them. The irony of it being International Women’s Day wasn’t lost on us. We hadn’t even been informed that they were planning on doing what they were doing. In my room, the music from their van was streaming through the closed window, and so I put on an ambient CD at full blast, resplendent with harps and harpsichords. I can imagine it delighted them, as much as their actions delighted me. Is there any noise more hideous than a chainsaw or leaf blower?!

We still have a long way to go, women and men and together as a community. Attitudes must be checked. Women are allowed to take up space! In fact, we must! As I watched my daughter drumming this morning,  my heart swelled. Here’s to women and girls, and here’s to friendships and the future. May our girls grow into women without shame, unafraid to speak their truths. May they have equal pay and equal rights to men. May old paradigms be vanquished and may we be able to stretch out comfortably in our seats next to men; afforded equal space. May we be able to walk into our front yard unabated.

What I missed when I was a Hermit


I went through a long period as a hermit,  both out of necessity and for health reasons. The outside world became a terrifying spectre, one I feared may swallow me whole. I read books and wrote of my experiences whilst inside hospital wards and in my room. Worlds can be contained in a small space, and I lived a hundred lives and died a thousand deaths whilst awaiting my return to the outside world.

I dreamed of performing simple tasks and going to ordinary places. The thought of going to the bakery and asking for a seeded loaf, or opening my own bank account, terrified and enthralled me. The thought of ordering food in a café or requesting a movie ticket was unthinkable. I would go through the actions required to get public transport from Point A to B a million times. Going to the letterbox made me feel vulnerable, let alone going down the street. I missed conversations, and the strangers whom you bumped into as part of a day. I missed the aromas streaming out of restaurants and the music of street artists. I missed the harried workers rushing to the station and building a rapport with the people at my favourite places, until they had become friends.

I don’t regret my years of hermitage. I was unencumbered by other’s input. I wrote stories which weren’t savaged by critics and dressed in my best clothing, styling myself without popular opinion playing on my mind. I was ruler of my thoughts and if a bad pain day or stalker caused me want to scream or weep, I could, freely. I knew where I started and other people left off with regards to boundaries, as I was the only one there! Much was given, but there was also much taken away throughout those years.

I didn’t travel, nor dress to be seen. I couldn’t think of anything worse! I could be dressed in electric blue, though still invisible. One day, the doors were flung open, and there I was, out in the world. I was eighteen years of age. I took note of the prices at the local shops, writing them on a notepad and memorizing them. I had to learn everything, from how to ask for services to how to talk on the phone. Everything was new and thrilling, terrifying and stultifying.

Circumstances have seen me recede at times. I may have had surgery and am not strong enough to go out into the world, or circumstances have conspired to push me into a constrained space. When I am able to open the front door, I am greeted by sunshine and fresh air. I have had enough of living inside; of living within my imagination, and not out in the world. I am privileged to have been given the gift of knowing that I don’t need people to fulfil me, rather I delight in being with them. There is a marked difference.

To go to a movie or concert by yourself; to travel and dine singularly is still a lovely experience. To have been a hermit and not enjoyed your own company would be a nightmare! Fortunately, I can still laugh at my own jokes and bounce ideas off of myself. I look forward to seeing more of this world, what with its questionable leaders, crazy politics, beautiful folk, glorious art and delicious food. I have merely dipped my foot into the waters away from hermitage valley. I look forward to being fully submerged.

Living Life on your own Terms


She knew what it felt like to be owned, or rather, how it felt when others presumed to own her. She had never felt as free as when she placed her most treasured possessions in a suitcase and left the detritus of her old life. The wardrobe was crammed with dresses and coats she would never wear again. The comforts of times past were still sitting on the shelves, her linen on the turned-down bed. She looked around her room one more time, and then closed the door, not looking back. One suitcase and a pocket filled with dreams were all she carried. She would never again see photographs of herself as a child, nor read through old schoolbooks. Stories were contained inside her mind, recollected at a moment’s notice. It is much more fun to belong to oneself. She thought of who she might be as an older lady. She hoped that she would have honed her own style, after years of discarding what hadn’t worked. She hoped that she may have found what did. Whether that be becoming a Lady in Pink, or the Chick in Green.

Perhaps, there would be the wistfulness that comes when one has had to make hard but true choices. This Iggy Pop song would take her back.

There is a price to pay for freedom, whether it be emotional, material or everything in between. One must not think too much about the risks, or one would never be brave enough to leave. All it takes is a deep breath, and the knowledge that the centre isn’t holding and is actually giving way. The trip into the unknown is the only way to survive. To be one’s own master, not owned nor contained. Twenty years pass, just as in the song, ‘Candy.’ She is ever closer to reaching her golden years. Perhaps a lady in pink awaits, or maybe she will become a rainbow. She wonders whether she has used up her quota of colours in younger years; maybe she will instead cloak herself in charcoal and grey? She knows that birds, dogs, a wild garden and books shall feature heavily. Wherever she ends up, and whomever she is evolving into, she can say she has lived life on her own terms. She was always an unruly spirit, unconstrained and certainly never owned nor boxed in. No matter what they thought…

 

The Physiotherapist


I have spent thousands upon thousands of dollars on physiotherapy in the twenty-plus years since my fall. I have done weights with physiotherapists, been placed on stretching racks, been in body braces, calipers, body casts, had my muscles shocked, been in hydrotherapy pools, and so much more. I still have the initial regime on paper, that I was instructed to do ten times a day, on top of swimming, hydro and physio sessions. It went on for years. To be honest, I was now full of hubris, believing I knew all there was to know, and could do the required moves in my sleep.

When my doctor set up a health plan for their physiotherapy department, I procrastinated. I was too busy for such indulgence, and besides, I knew everything there was to know! In spite of myself, I made a booking. My, how I laughed at the new patient form I was required to fill out, with minimal space in which to answer how many operations I have had, and what my injuries were. I had to resort to miniscule writing, to make it all fit.

The physiotherapy department really knew their stuff, massaging and kneading and coaxing trapped nerves to yield with subtle movements. They explained how the various muscle groups had compensated for my injuries, and what the plan was. Of course, they asked how on earth a teen had managed to obtain such injuries in the first place, and I told them in a matter-of-fact manner about the abduction and attempted murder. There was shocked silence, until I broke the ice, and then we all laughed as I regaled them with tales of the characters I met throughout the months I was in the rotor bed. It is a hell of a tale to lay on a stranger!

One of the fellows has a partner, and this week, I asked what they had done for Valentine’s Day. I was expecting the usual; that he had ordered red roses and chocolates and that they had gone out for dinner. Instead, he replied that after work, he had met his partner in the city, and they had purchased crates of fruit and water. They had then handed out bags to 200 homeless gathered near Central Station. “We don’t need gifts,” he explained. Apparently, they did this every birthday as well. “We don’t spend money on useless stuff, we buy things that will really help someone else.”  I said in reply, “that my friend, is real love.”  Not only have he and his colleague gifted me with their knowledge regarding my spinal column and neck, but he also revealed  what real romantic love can be in this world. Sacrifice, kindness, humility. I could picture this gentle man and his equally lovely girlfriend smiling as they handed out water on a blisteringly hot evening in Sydney. We talked of the lack of affordable housing in our city, and wondered aloud how greed has been allowed to become master and major consideration in all things. If he were to run for office, I would be his campaign manager. Imagine if everyone repurposed a fraction of their wants and put those resources toward others. Miracles could happen, just as surely as muscle groups yield to a physiotherapists’ masterful hands. I left buoyed with the thought that hundreds of people in this city felt loved on Valentine’s Day because of this dynamic duo.

After more than twenty years, I still have a thing or two to learn from physiotherapists. I rediscovered the difference they can make as to how I manage my pain. I have also rediscovered the gold one uncovers when you have nowhere to go and nothing to do but be in the moment.

Looking Back on 2017


As I look back on 2017, images and memes peek out at me.

There were fireworks over Sydney Harbour, a celebration with 1.6 million people.

There was exhaustion on every level, and grief for a young lady who passed before her time. Conversations have been more open as a result, and many a brave demeanour has slipped. It is time for us all to be transparent, and to let it be known when we find it hard to face another day. It has rattled me to the core, the falling of people who can seemingly do anything, face anything and survive anything. We have our limits. It is time to practice self-care. This can often mean rebelling against that which we feel primed to do. Isolate? Seek out company instead. Depression is a liar, please remember that.

There has been wildlife and adventures, and extraordinary days that I am glad I survived to see.

There was this extraordinary daughter of mine. I knew when I had her that I had been given a luminous gift. Some days when I find it hard to conjure energy for myself, I find it for her.

There was Sydney and marriage equality.

There was my  home town and traveling to NZ to be at my beautiful friend’s wedding.

There was grieving our friend, the bird-watcher; changes in image, and getting up close with Meerkats.

There were Wuthering Heights enactments…

There was glorious Melbourne.

There were Memes. How can something so small, say so much?

 

Christmas starts early here…


I once rejected the idea of putting up the Christmas tree and decorations before December 1st. That was until I met a group of ladies in an IVF support group twelve years ago. We went through it all, from pregnancy loss, and losing much-loved babies to enduring cycle after cycle with no result. Christmas felt like a mockery, a sneering group event that we weren’t invited to, and we dreaded the lead-in to the festive season. Somebody suggested emblazoning our environments early (starting in October), as a way of cheering ourselves and also to state that we were all still here, surviving. To ensure we did as promised, we sent pictures to the group. The joy was contagious, and a tradition was born. Through the ensuing years, some have had a bub, others have adopted and some have reimagined their lives, bringing new dreams forth. We  still all put our trees up early. My daughter loves hearing about my friends, and how we supported one another. She also loves this tradition! Hey, the earlier we start celebrating the better to a kid! Each decoration is symbolic of a time and place. Some baubles were made for us, and hold a special place in our hearts. We played Christmas carols and did karaoke. As we switched on the lights, it felt like Christmas had really begun. The frenetic energy of shopping centres and the demands and exhaustion (only adults feel), was replaced with the truth that life is to be celebrated, here and now. No matter what my friend’s endured, they made sure those trees were up, and the house wrapped in tinsel and fairy lights. I think of each and every one as we fulfil this tradition, and I still post photos as evidence that we are celebrating early.