Bruno, Opposites and Trees


Bruno is a little dog, and I instantly adored him, when we came across him in the park. We must have made a good impression, as we were invited to Bruno’s 1st Birthday celebrations. His mum had contacted the local council, and we were greeted by an extraordinary set-up.

The dogs all received a toy from the lucky dip basket, as well as a big ‘doggy bag‘ to take home. It was a morning of revelry, finishing with a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday, during which a plucky pooch clandestinely took off with Bruno’s birthday cake! In a year such as this, the question of whether to have a party for your pet or not is moot. Why wouldn’t you? The dogs had great fun, and we left with our cheek’s hurting from all the smiling. Any chance you have to snatch up some joy, take it, especially now.

I had an experience the other day, which shall stay with me always. I came across a lady (I would estimate in her 50’s), sitting by herself. As I stopped to smile, she complemented me on what I was wearing. “Look at you; so beautifully put-together. I wish I could do that.” I knew what she meant. I have been her, at various times in my life. She couldn’t smile, nor could her eyes contain the anguish within. She longed for the days when she could conceal what was now evident. We chatted and she told me she was depressed. Financially insecure, this was not what she’d thought her 50’s would be. “How do you keep going?” she asked, almost pleadingly. “Depression is a hard foe, and you have to be cunning. You know how it tells you nobody cares? You know how the first impulse is to isolate; to stay inside?” She nodded. “You have to do the opposite of what it’s demanding. Get out into the sunshine, and listen to the kookaburras. Admire the trees in the neighbourhood. Talk to someone, even if it’s a stranger, each and every day. Drink water, and don’t skip meals. Whatever your first impulse is, (I know from experience with anxiety, that it’s usually caffeine and solitude), do the exact opposite. What brought you outside today?” I asked. She sighed, “I needed to know that I wasn’t alone in this world. I needed all the things that you spoke about. I needed the trees and fresh air, a friendly face and birdsong.” “Promise me that you’ll do this each day?” I asked. “It’s a little thing, and won’t fix everything up; though I wish with all my heart that it could. It’s a start, though… A start in the right direction.” She nodded, and we looked in each other’s eyes. Hers were emblazoned with sapphires, and diamonds. Her shoulders straightened, and she looked different, stronger. Never underestimate the effect you can have on someone, even a stranger. Do the opposite of what you feel compelled to do when depressed or anxious. When anxious, I sit still and reflect, rather than race around, drinking caffeine and achieving nothing.

 

One of my best friends is in ICU on the other side of Sydney. Her daughter and mine are also the best of friends. We have been through IVF, pregnancy, motherhood and sickness together. We always finish our ludicrous chats with ‘love you.‘ She has been unwell for some time, but all the same, when you are dealing with a powerhouse of her stature, you believe them to be invincible. I am waiting to hear how her surgery went. She managed to text me from ICU last night, and I promised to take her to Haigh’s chocolate shop when she’s recovered. We went back and forth for a bit, before I signed off ‘love you.’ I feel impotent and powerless, as I wait. I then recalled what I’d suggested to the lovely stranger last week, which was to do the opposite of what I feel. Leaving home, I am going to walk to the river, stopping to hug trees. Then I shall listen for the kookaburras, surveying the paddocks and farms. I will await the phone call, whilst ensconced in beauty. My friend, with a keen eye for the humorous and glorious, would approve. Cockatoos screeching and swooping, kookaburras laughing and a lush verdant valley would amuse her. I imagine she is with me, as we both await the call, just like in our IVF days…

Go Gently…


Some time ago, my friend and I went in search of groceries for the community pantry, and we finally decided to drive over the Razorback, and into Picton.

We called into the divine Hippy Luxe shop, and amongst Frida Kahlo cushions, crystals and art, we shared our individual experiences of 2020. Some things we’ll be glad to shed, whilst other things we’re keen to keep. Stopping and asking (really asking), how someone is, well, that is a trait we want to hold onto. Looking after people by simply asking if they need anything whilst we are at the shops… It’s all important. We are all a part of the ocean, and never has that point been driven home more, than now. By doing everything in our power to keep ourselves and our families well, we protect our community.

We ventured a bit further, and met a young lady. She was a former paramedic, who’d been injured and had to have spinal surgery. As a result, she couldn’t perform the job anymore. The job she’d based her identity on was gone, and she had to learn who she was without the title. I have determined to never ask anyone about their job… I would rather hear about their dreams, and what they want to happen once this period is over and done.

When we stopped for coffee, we came upon a lady in her 70’s, with fuchsia hair, a crown of fake flowers that cascaded down her back. Her eyelids were painted emerald; her look finished with blood-red lips. When I asked the staff about this extraordinary vision, I was told that a she was a beloved local, who dressed as an actual  Christmas tree each December. She also decorated her car with tinsel and ornaments, to the delight of everyone. Much better to be a Christmas Tree than a Grinch, I say! I want to be like her when I grow up, dressed in a cacophony of colours, with a walk that is borderline swagger.

We stocked the community pantry, leaving boxes of tea, meal kits and little treats for kids inside the locker. As soon as it’s filled, it rapidly empties. Times are tough for so many people. The day finished with my taking my little pooch to the dog park. I met a woman who was sad about having to leave her cocoon, now that restrictions in NSW had lifted. She’d believed herself to be an extrovert, but now found that constantly interacting with people left her exhausted. People are grieving what has been lost in the pandemic. Social events, concerts, financial security and so much more. Sometimes, people can be bereft at the thought of leaving their home after a period of reprieve. It may be their safe place, a sanctuary where they are left in peace. It may be a reprieve from feeling socially awkward. Some may find they are more productive, working from home, than they were in their office.

We have a long way to go, but if we treat each other as though we’re all facing battles nobody knows of, we can’t go far wrong. Everybody is under pressure, no matter how they present in person or on social media. Go gently with yourselves, too.

 

Sacredness on a Bus


We needed to go down the street to source a cardboard box for my daughter’s science assessment. By chance, we came upon the ladies from Home Quarters, putting boxing in the recycling bin out the back, and asked if we could have one. They asked us what size we needed, and dug deep to find it. Bless them, this gorgeous little business went out of their way to help us, just as they need help.

Our next stop was the supermarket, and we went in attired in our face masks and a liberal amount of hand sanitiser. It was surreal, to discover that toilet paper, hand sanitiser and liquid soap was back in stock. I just stared at the racks, my daughter eventually pulling me away. It were as though I was seeing a mirage in the desert.

We caught the bus down, as my daughter needed to activate her new Opal card (she lost her old one, so the balance was transferred). We still had on our face masks, and our bus driver asked if Coles had the essentials back in stock. I said that yes, they did, and that I was astonished to see it. We were the only ones on the bus, and as we rounded the corner, past Centrelink, we brushed a tear aside, as the driver gave voice to what we were feeling. “It’s heartbreaking, seeing all the people lined up, waiting to be helped.” If I had the money, I would have done what the cafe owner in Melbourne did, and distribute it throughout the line snaking around the block. On the next corner, we passed a church, where a funeral was about to take place. Young people in work gear had their heads bowed outside, all socially-isolated at 1.5 metres apart. Tears stung all of our eyes as we saw the gathering, knowing that only ten would be allowed inside to celebrate what was surely a remarkable life. We talked of hope, and of our fears. We were real with one another, and it was exquisite.

I wished the bus driver well, and told her that we were thinking of her. Her bus had become a holy place, where we prayed for strangers, talked of the strangeness of 2020, and heard my daughter say that she’d never experienced such a simplified time in her life. She said she will always remember this period as a time of making do, long walks, board games, connecting and getting back to what matters. She is right.

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Isolation, Community Pantry and Anzac Day


What a whirlwind this week has been! You can actually be busier than ever, stuck at home. Projects that were lying dormant, have been completed.

I had a dream about starting a community pantry, and by chance, the next day, my lovely friend, Lisa, mentioned that she wanted to as well! We put the call out for a suitable pantry-holder, and a friend dropped in a locker. Not only was it weatherproof, but cool enough for us to put some Easter eggs inside! Lisa printed and laminated signs for the outside, and we managed to fill it. We decided to put it at the back of the bus stop, outside our local park. Within a day, things were taken, and it filled my heart when I saw a teenager and his little sister shyly approach the locker. “Are you sure it’s okay to take stuff?” the little girl asked. They took a few items, and closed the door, and I saw them walk to a house near the park. As items are taken, more appear. If it provides a meal for a family, or saves people from having to go to the supermarket for one or two items, we are pleased. We sanitise it at least once a day. Times are tough for so many people. Many have never needed to rely on Centrelink, nor charities before, and it takes time to wrap your head around it. One of the bravest things one can do, is ask for help. Everything is cyclical; you are the giver in one instance, and you must accept help in turn.

 

There was a rap at my door last weekend, and I was surprised, as nobody comes to visit at the moment! Standing on my porch, was my friend, Donna. She runs Butterflies Florist, and was holding a bouquet of flowers. It reminded me of how birds call out to each other when they can’t be seen. They are letting each other know that they are okay. At dawn, they call out to assure their compatriots that they made it through the night. This felt like a call from friends I hadn’t been able to see since this began.

 

Another dear friend (knowing my love of hummingbirds), dropped off a piece of art at my front door.

 

Yesterday was Anzac Day, and for the first time, we weren’t able to attend a communal dawn service, and see friends afterward. I felt for all the veterans and their families, for whom the day was usually set aside to connect with each other. They must feel bereft. My daughter and I held a dawn service in our driveway, and it was haunting; the Last Post playing from my television, as we stood in silence. Daybreak was smeared with honey and saffron hues, and kookaburras started laughing. A friend mentioned that she was going to her volunteer shift at Lifeline, anticipating a busy evening. Calls have escalated since all this began, which is no great suprise. As I walked around the neighbourhood, I saw wreaths woven from rosemary, tied together with red ribbons; poppies decorating front yards. One lady had a basket of rosemary out, asking passers-by to take a sprig for remembrance.

 

I am apprehensive about the gradual return to school, and as it turns out, so are quite a few teachers and principals. The following was a post from a friend of mine at the coalface, posted with her permission:

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On a positive note, I have trained my little dog to fetch the paper and pamphlets. She hasn’t quite grasped letting it go though, demanding that I chase her! On every walk, I find that I am noticing beauty as never before. It’s as though with the absence of distractions, we’re able to appreciate beauty more readily. I hope that this remains when we come out of hibernation.

Week 3 of Isolation


How are you going?

Drop me a line to let me know. This is a community, and honestly, I have never felt as close to folks as now. Stripped of all extraneous detritus, we can be real, and we are.

Exhaustion

There have been so many commenting on this phenomenon, and all are relieved to know they aren’t the only ones. Even when you have work and study to occupy your time, trying to focus is challenging. Even when you have managed a solid sleep, you are still exhausted. Your mind is trying to cope with an altered reality. All of this is normal, under the circumstances.

Losing the plot over  your internet connection and/or websites or pages that won’t load

I lost it the other night, and it wasn’t pretty! Not being able to get onto an online lesson before it started, had me enraged. Of course, it wasn’t really about the above. Rather, it was deeper. There was rage at the people still having parties and not keeping a distance from others. Acting like the virus was not only not in their consciousness, but within society. Whilst some of us are into our third week (or more), of self-isolating, these individuals carry on as though they don’t have a care in the world. I am enraged by them. I am angered that our frontline workers have been abused, and that they have cause to worry about obtaining adequate PPE. 

Anxiety

Those periods where you are frozen to your seat, refreshing your phone for no reason in particular? Those times when you can’t collect your thoughts, and you pace the length of your house, unable to recollect why you needed to go to a particular  room? It has to do with anxiety. It comes out in funny ways. I felt all this after a trip to the chemist and supermarket. Masked up, whenever anybody dared come near with their trolley, my senses would heighten. Going through self-serve felt like a dangerous exercise. If only the virus was tinted a certain hue (like cornflour in a colour run), so you could see where the little bastard was hiding out!

Sadness

Sadness for friends who were going through trauma before Covid-19. Separation, divorce, ill-health, financial trouble… Certainly, the virus has introduced a perfect storm into their lives. Now they have to bunker down with those who’ve hurt them. They aren’t able to work in their chosen field, and going to hospital for treatment just got a whole lot more stressful. I feel sad for those who live alone, and are isolated. I feel sadness for those who have lost their jobs. I feel sad for those that can’t attend funerals, birthday celebrations, weddings and other occasions. I feel sad that we can’t hug. There is a whole lot to feel sad about. 

On the other side of the equation, there is gratitude

Our complicated lives have been stripped back to basics. We are living frugally, and spending more time than ever within our homes. We are connecting with friends we haven’t seen for some time. There have been mates who’ve invited me to Zoom meetings, that I hadn’t seen in years. We have checked out each other’s houses and isolation hair. We have toasted each other, and shared recipes. There have been messages flowing, and even groceries delivered to my door. I have never felt more thankful.

Pets

Friendly the cockatiel and Minnie the Pomchi, have kept us entertained and our spirits up. Friendly sings the Adam’s Family Theme Song, whilst dancing. Minnie enjoys playing ball and wading in her little pool outside. We go for walks with our puppy each day, something which brings us joy. She is as stubborn as a mule, when she doesn’t want to move, though thankfully she is little enough to tuck under an arm. Her favourite treat is a cold carrot from the fridge.

Gardens and sunshine

The virus feels so distant, when sitting out the back, surveying the geraniums and herbs in our garden with the sun bearing down on our shoulders. Autumn in Sydney is pretty magical, even at a time like this.

The Arts

Have you ever noticed that in times of trouble, the people in the arts always donate of their time and energy? Can you imagine what this period would be like, without music, paintings, shows, movies and online content? What about books and dancing? When this is over with, let’s support those who helped get us through. 

This is Week 3, done. A trip to the shops, leading to wondering where this bastard virus is hanging out, and with whom. Laughter shared by strangers at the ludicrous nature of our current existence. Helping someone find a particular item, whilst keeping the hell away from them. Holding one’s breath as a precaution when somebody miles away sneezes. Suffering the indignity of my daughter winning seven games in a row of Guess Who? Signing up for three different courses in one frenzied morning. Looking at the brown bananas, and declaring that I really should do some baking with them, before forgetting (then saying it again the next morning). Sorting out the pantry, and making use of the Tupperware (finally). Decluttering, and then being left with bags of stuff with nowhere to go, as charity shops and council throw-outs aren’t collecting for the time being. Hoping to heaven that I don’t have to rely on any call centre to fix an issue, as most are closed. Laughing hysterically at the most pedestrian of things online.

May you have a restful Easter, no matter where you are. May you have peace, and may we never endure a time such as this ever again.

 

Week 2 of Self-Isolation in the Viral Era


The days seem to blend into one another; time and dates have blurred edges. It is becoming harder to recall our lives before everything changed. All the things we took for granted! Meeting up with friends… Restaurants… cafes and hugs, travel and visits from loved ones. Classes are grieved, as are extracurricular activities. Who would have thought toilet paper, masks, sanitiser and disinfectant would be such hot items?

I attended my first online funeral earlier this week. It added to the sorrow of the life lost, seeing eight people gathered in the large chapel, the chairs spaced so that even a husband and wife weren’t actually sitting together. There were no hugs, and no huddling together. A person who had hundreds of friends and family scattered throughout Australia was sent off by eight people, and those of us who watched online. It felt strange; disconnected from reality. It’s our new normal, I’m afraid.

The next evening, a group of us were invited to sing Happy Birthday to a four year old on Zoom, as she cut her birthday cake. As I saw the squares light up with familiar faces, my heart swelled. We have to be distant, but we certainly aren’t alone. It was joyous, getting together from the confines of our home for a little girl.

I had to go up the street to have my flu shot. After two weeks of confinement, it really hit me, seeing the places I usually frequent, shuttered and empty. I thought of my friends, who work in these places (or own them), and the sole traders who supply these shops. It was a melancholy feeling; how could it be anything but? It’s all the little things that you miss. I miss the chatter amongst patients as they sit next to one another, whilst waiting for the doctor. I miss the smiles of the staff, now hidden behind masks. I miss catching up with the friends you bump into down the street. The few people I saw were guarded, hurrying about their business, so that they could get back home.

This update from Bill Crews just about broke my heart. The most vulnerable sector of our society, made to eat their meals out in the rain. Surely we can do better, Sydney? This tumultuous period reinforces the absolute truth that we are connected. What happens to one, can ultimately, happen to all. Unemployment and homelessness, poverty and being at the mercy of this wretched virus. Why can’t we put up the vulnerable in accomodation, now that the city is devoid of tourists? Now is the time to soften hearts, rather than harden them.

 

I am thankful for the wonderful souls who have delivered food and groceries to our door. I almost cried, when I saw that the service I used was able to purchase toilet paper for me. It’s the little things that mean so much! I am thankful for the concordant birdsong outside my window, and the sun filtering through the myriad of trees outside my door. I am thankful for teachers who are doing double-duty, organising online lessons, whilst also teaching in a classroom. I am grateful for those who check up on each other, ensuring that everyone has what they need.

There have been involuntary tears, and moments when I feel helpless. Not being able to see loved ones is tough, particularly when they are going through so much, for a myriad of reasons. I worry about those in quarantine with toxic family members. Not being able to escape into their job, or through a social outing, is excruciating, when trapped inside a chaotic household. Life has contracted in. We need to uncover small joys, where we can. Whether that be going for a walk, or by having coffee on the porch. It may mean listening to music, or watching a comedy. Our movements may have been limited, but free pleasures remain. Your thoughts belong to you, and can’t be contained within the four walls of your home. They can see you making plans for when this time is done, and help you to clarify the future you yearn to build.

I keep thinking of what it must have been like to go through the era of the Spanish flu or Bubonic Plague. Without phones, internet, television, running water, sanitation and Netflix! No updates forthcoming, and with limited resources. I can’t even imagine how cut-off each household must have felt from one another.

We are in the early stages of self-isolation, and still have Winter to come. Winter; the season which ushers in frosts and bitter cold, grey skies and barren trees and gardens. It seems to drag, and then one day, Spring arrives. We can get through this harsh winter, if we work together. All this shall seem like a distant nightmare; one we shall recall for the young, in fifty years’ time. They will ask us what it was like, and what we did. Let’s ensure we have ripping yarns to share with them. Tales of how we looked after each other, connecting online, and sending messages to old friends. Tales of getting back to basics, and making do with what we had at our disposal. Stories of mateship and making the best of a bad situation. We are making history, each and every day of 2020.

 

 

 

Self-Isolation, Sacrifice and Love


Last year, some friends and I were extras in an excellent Stan series called The Commons. 

It depicted isolation, the ramifications of global warming, border security and what happens when a virus is rampant in the community. We were evacuees within this odd world, and our scenes depicted life within a temporary facility, and then a huge camp, complete with a makeshift hospital and medical staff. At the time of filming, nobody had heard of Covid-19, because it wasn’t apparent in humanity. There were times when I got chills, watching the ‘fictional’ story unfold, and there were scenes where I had tears in my eyes. Some of us reached for fellow extra’s hands. I watched Series 1 on my iPad over January, from the place we were staying in the city. The dystopian themes had begun to mirror real life, with people walking around with face masks; choking smoke and bushfires decimating Australia…

Boy, has life changed since The Commons was filmed in Sydney!

I know we have all been affected by limited supplies of medications and supermarket goods. We’ve seen appalling footage of brawls and greed on display. However, there have been many more outstanding  examples of goodness.

My friend Van, has set up a group to make masks for our frontline workers, and it’s going gangbusters! If you have the skills, you can sign up here.  To request masks, join the sister group.

I have been unwell this week, and have had a bag of goodies left at my door, been gifted hand sanitiser and soap, had a fairy godmother help more than she will ever know, and had many friends message to ask if I need them to get us anything from the shops. Thank you with all my heart.

Many people I love have lost their jobs, and are in precarious situations. Personally, I have felt helpless, being unable to visit and administer hugs and comfort in person. How do we keep our spirits up? A friend messaged the other day, admitting that her anxiety was all-consuming, and she wasn’t coping at all. She was berating herself for feeling like this, and I assured her that she was having a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. For humanity, the events of 2020 are unprecedented. There is no ‘right’ emotional response, for we haven’t been here before; not on this scale.

I spent three years isolated in my room, from 15-18 years of age. I was studying via correspondence, only leaving my confines to go to hospital for surgery or procedures. There was no internet back then, so I was pretty much cut off from my peers and society. I learnt to lean in, in order to mentally survive. Here is what I did:

  • I kept a strict routine so I didn’t flounder. I wrote a timetable for each day of the week, detailing when I would exercise, eat, study, read and even watch tv. I broke it up into 30 minute segments.
  • I dressed and groomed as though I was going out to work.
  • I ensured I learnt new skills, to make the most of these years. I read about financial matters, ethical investing, different cultures, the arts, nutrition, the art of writing and so much more.
  • I prepared a bucket list of all I was looking forward to doing once this time was over. Things like taking a ferry across the harbour, visiting certain restaurants, finding ‘my tribe,’ and what I wanted my future to look like.
  • I ensured that I enjoyed my own company. This is imperative. I would make myself laugh with my own private jokes, kept myself as healthy as I could with exercise and good food, and talked to myself as I would a friend, with kindness and encouragement.
  • I made time to dream, to stare out the window and zone-out. Every creative soul requires this.

It is just my daughter and I in the household, and as I am unwell, I have to isolate from her, ensuring we aren’t in communal areas at the same time. Before she started highschool, I home-schooled her for four years, and fortunately, she is a stickler for routines too. I am so grateful that we have the internet and mobile phones to connect with society throughout this strange time. We are a lot more accessible than when I was fifteen; trying to cope with my isolation. We will get through this.

The tension was ramping up last week; we knew it was coming, an intractable period, which nothing could prepare us for. It’s a day-by-day proposition, doing what we can, when we can. Zoom and Google classroom will be our new best friends, as lessons go online, from drama and singing to dancing. It is a brave new world, and also a strange one. One day, we shall all open our front doors, run into each other’s arms, and embrace. We will celebrate each other’s birthdays in person, and file into restaurants. We will go back to the theatre and cinemas, and attend concerts. Nothing is lost forever.

 

Corona Virus, Panic and Toilet Paper


If you had predicted at the beginning of the year that we would have a shortage of toilet paper (after a wave of panic-buying), I reckon most of us would have laughed. We had more important things to worry about, such as the bushfires and related smoke, choking Australia. Yet, here we are. I recall that one of my most controversial posts on social media, had to do with punch bowls. Yes, you read that right. I saw a photo on Pinterest which detailed how an old punch bowl could be repurposed as a bird bath in your garden. Thinking it a brilliant idea, I shared it. There was outrage! I received quite a bit of feedback from people, defending their grandmother’s punch bowl, and stating that they still use them as intended. It was at a time when our society was going through upheaval and grief. People were unsettled, and had nowhere to reconcile their jarred emotions, and so they jumped on the punch bowl post. I thought about this event, and realised that the toilet paper panic really has nothing to do with loo paper. Rather, it’s emblematic of our fears, and need to control what is happening. We are at the mercy of this virus, just as we were the bushfires, but hell, at least we can control how many rolls of toilet paper we have.

That being said, I went into five supermarkets and three pharmacies in the last three days, looking for pasta, antibacterial wipes, hand sanitiser, toilet paper, tissues and other necessary items, and came home empty handed. I was hoping to purchase these things, not only for my household, but for friends who have a myriad of conditions that would see them become seriously ill if infected. There is the lady who has a port in her chest, through which immunoglobulin is administered regularly. There are friends undergoing chemotherapy, and friends over 60 years of age. There are those with asthma, and those with other health conditions. Some friends can’t get out to the supermarket or chemist. Many of these items can’t be ordered through online shopping , as they are in limited supply or sold out completely.

I must admit, I was angered when I saw first-hand, the empty shelves, and thought of the people who’d bought more than they’d require for the next month. It means others miss out; usually those who are in desperate need. I had relatives who lived through rationing during WW2, and they didn’t hoard. Rather, they were issued a certain amount via their corner shop, and made do. They even ensured there was enough to give visitors to their home’s. I feel for the workers in our supermarkets, especially after hearing terrible stories of the verbal abuse they’d suffered. Some have had things clocked at their heads, after shoppers became enraged by the shortages.

Eternal vigilance is the price we pay for freedom, and also our health. We can all do our bit during this crisis. Check in on your elderly neighbours, or friends with health conditions. Reach out and see what they need at this time. Donate your extra cans and toiletry items to local charities and refuges. Ensure that nobody is left behind.

I met a medical receptionist in my neighbourhood, and she told me that she and the doctor she works for, are issuing patients in need with toilet rolls, hand sanitiser and antibacterial wipes from their stock. Others have reached out to check in on loved ones and reassure their friends who are anxious. Parcels have been left at front doors, and people have shopped for the vulnerable in their community.

This period of crisis shall pass, as all challenging times are want to do, but the kindness we exhibit, and the dignity of which we hold ourselves, shall be remembered always.

Characters on Public Transport


I like to take public transport whenever I can. Not only is it better for the environment, but I find that my day is uplifted when I engage with strangers.

Over the years, I have caught ferries, trains and buses with a litany of characters, all of whom taught me a great deal.

There was Dawn, resplendant  with her toothless grin, colourful dress sense and fascinators. She befriended me when my daughter was a baby, and was my companion on many a bus adventure. She would borrow money, and return it to my letterbox as soon as she could. I remember one time at the bus stop, she proudly showed me what she had gotten on sale from the chemist shop. There was makeup, but also a tube of Vagisil. When she pulled it out of its container, the man next to us on the seat was noticeably alarmed, and more so when this older lady went into great detail about she and her husband’s sex life! “My poor old vag!” she shrieked, then roared with laughter. I was taken aback when I saw a parcel in my letterbox, wrapped in a bag from the chemist’s. I prayed that she wasn’t sharing her tube of Vagisil with me, and was greatly relieved when it turned out to be a bottle of perfume! It was around this time that she invited me to a party at her place for her birthday. I was touched by her invitation, and dutifully arrived at kick-off. I rapped on her door, and her husband gruffly called out to “come in!” I did as he asked, only to find him sitting on the toilet with the door open, his trousers around his ankles! I asked after Dawn, and he said he didn’t know anything about a party, and that she was down the street, drinking beer and playing the polkies. I made a hasty exit, I can assure you! She passed away a few years ago, and many folk she’d met on the bus came to pay their respects.

There was another lady, Jean, whom I met during an hour-long ride to our local hospital. She was in her 80’s and volunteered there, taking the trip a few times a week. It kept her active and agile, she said. After her shift, she would walk for kilometres to keep her bones healthy and her mind sharp.

I met a woman in her 90’s, who’d been a dancer at the Trocadero in Sydney, over seventy years ago. She was quite well known back then, she assured me. She still had the composure and essence of a showgirl.

I met men who were widowers, and wrote instructions as to how to prepare easy and nutritious meals for themselves. I learned about their partner’s, and about their life together. Unforgettable stories of love conquering all. Even death itself couldn’t destroy the legacy of the life they’d shared.

I’ve chatted to teenagers, and taken notes (or should have), as to what music and fashion is in, and what their thoughts are on certain issues. It is always enlightening.

Today I met a dear lady, Madeline, who was waiting at the stop to get home. Radiant in a purple dress and glasses, she held an electric-blue walking stick. She is on the public system’s waiting list for further surgery, and in a lot of pain. This little Italian women told me of her family, and her place out at Orangeville, where she grows all her own vegetables and fruit. I could almost taste the tomatoes, as she described serving them with balsamic vinegar and basil leaves for lunch.

I have met performers, who entertained a carriage full of weary train travellers. There is nothing a performer likes better than a captive audience. My daughter practiced crying on queu in crowded trains for her drama class. It’s a great training ground for a career in the arts! I have been captivated by a songstress singing opera, and young men singing spiritual’s.

Last weekend, I travelled with two mothers on the train. One mum brings her daughter to a class in Sydney each Saturday from Bathurst, and the other brings her teen from the Central coast! Huge dedication from these mums, and quite inspiring. They would do anything to fulfil their child’s passion. As a parent, there is nothing quite like the joy of your child finding something that feeds their soul. Lunches and snacks are packed, as are books. They told me that it’s a luxury to be able to daydream whilst looking out the window, or have a nap after a busy week at work. It is indeed a gift, to be able to slow down for those precious hours and connect with their child. To just be, instead of do.

I have sat with new (and exhausted) parents and their babies, frail travellers, heartbroken lovers, the homeless and those in business suits. I have made eye contact with a reluctant girl who just wanted to disappear, and also those whom have wanted to be seen.  At the end of the day, I guess we all want to be visible. To have courtesy extended to us, and have our stories heard. We all crave a smile and kind word. Public transport allows us the opportunity to have an impact on a stranger’s life. We may turn their day around with our actions. Every where I go, I look for the Dawn’s; those with raucous laughs and fabulous tales. I also search for the recalcitrant, the lonely and sad. People are complex… People are amazing. Life is hard at times. We need each other. A community can come into being on a train carriage or bus. Community can be brought to life on a ferry. Every journey is an opportunity for connection.

Letter to a Teenager


Hey there,

I tried to bury my teenage years, but my wild and wonderful youth refused to be forgotten. For that, I am grateful, as I have some things to share with you. Or rather, she does.

I respect your need for space and privacy. I recall what it was like to need a release in the form of a journal, and promise that it shall always remain private, for your eyes only. We all need a room of our own, including a mansion within ourselves, where we can let go of artifice, and connect to our innermost feelings. I get why your door is shut, and why you need alone time. You have been at school with hundreds of your peers and teachers, for seven hours, and need time to decompress.

I stopped eating as a teenager. I wanted to reduce my space in the world. If I was invisible, perhaps I wouldn’t be hurt anymore? I could have control over something, at last! It took a great deal of effort to restore my body and mind, and retain a healthy weight. Since this time, I have put on weight, been pregnant and bedridden, and you know what? I never once weighed myself. In fact, I don’t own scales. They provide scant information regarding the measure of one’s health; emotional and physical. Nor do they describe how well I’m travelling through the world. Food is now a source of nourishment, and exercise is a tool used for mental wellbeing. Please, don’t contract in. You are allowed to take up space. You are in competition with nobody.

 

I almost died by my own hand. I couldn’t see a way out of the situation I was in; I seemingly couldn’t locate an alternate pathway that would enable me to live. It’s hard when you’re a teenager, to see tomorrow. Everything seems to be focused on the now… The math exam today, the friendship group you’re in, family problems… It can seem insurmountable. I can tell you with the gift of hindsight, that 25 years have passed, and I am so glad that I didn’t die. I am astounded that I’m still here. I grew up and left everything that hurt me. I experienced joy and learnt many things. I had a child, and have beautiful friendships. Whatever is causing distress, shall be vanquished in the course of time. You will leave that high school. You will leave those friends who hurt you. How many of us still have friends from our formative years? If you are fortunate, you may retain one or two, but usually, that’s all. Young adults move for work or university. They travel the world, and form new friendships. These years will go so quickly (even if it doesn’t feel like it now). There hasn’t been a time when I wasn’t glad that I survived, in spite of having challenges as an adult. Your life is precious.

 

Always look at the big picture for your life. Every day you can do tasks that your future self will thank you for. It may be taking time out to see a movie with a friend, or going for a walk. It may be signing up to performing arts groups at school, if your career aspirations lean toward music, drama or dance, for instance. Write down what your dreams are; in every area in your life. Research the pathways that will get you to where you want to go. I promise, that there is more than one  pathway for the fruition of your dreams! Make mind maps, with the dream at the top, and the steps you need to take spreading out like new shoots on a tree. Breaking it down means that it no longer feels overwhelming and insurmountable.

 

As wacky as this sounds, when I felt weak and defeated, I would picture teenage me talking to my adult self. What does she look like? How does she move through the world?  What advice would she give me? It helps you to step outside the problems you are currently facing. Let your future-self lend you strength.

 

Never take anyone else’s opinion about you as gospel. Firstly, if someone is being derogatory toward you, or if you’ve heard from others that they are spreading gossip, you have to ask yourself, why? Are they envious? Do you have something that they want? Look at their motives. The majority of the time, you aren’t in the equation at all. It has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with them.  How you feel about yourself is incredibly important. After all, you have to live with yourself, 24/7. Teenage Pink was told that she wouldn’t amount to anything, by some adults. Many people have had dire predictions thrown on them, regarding their futures. The best revenge is ignoring these ridiculous opinions, and proving them wrong. Nobody has the ability to predict your future, so ignore and rise up. As a dyslexic, I was routinely told that I was stupid. I couldn’t spell, and my writing was appalling. Guess what I ended up doing as a young adult?!  Never let anyone tell you what you are capable of.

If I had my time over as a teenager, I would take up more space, not less. I would be more of an extroverted dresser; a bohemian clothed in mismatched colours and patterns.  I would care less about fitting in, and dedicate my time to standing out. I would feel free to listen to my gut instincts about people and situations, and hope that my instincts were honoured by others. I wouldn’t feel the need to be accomodating and ‘nice’ to people who deserved anything but.

 

I am glad that you are a teenager in an era where you are allowed to have a voice. I am glad that you are living in an era where you can be anything you desire. This is a good time to be alive; to advocate for change. Your generation shall be the ones to change what is foul, and restore what is broken.

Our job as adults is to ensure that you experience your teenage years in an unscathed fashion. Talk to us; please know that you can. We were teenagers once upon a time, and can cast our minds back to see what you are facing. Ask us what is what like for us. Ask for advice. You are important, and you are loved. Us adults can sometimes be a bit slow to catch on, when you try to talk to us about your life. Keep trying… write it down and slip us the paper over breakfast, if need be. Put a communication diary onto our pillow, and we will respond with an entry beneath.  Be patient with us; sometimes we are a bit slow on the uptake, and sometimes we forgot what it was like to be a teenager. We get busy with the ludicrous minutiae of adult life. We need each other, in this mad, infuriating, heart-breaking, joyful, ridiculous world. Let us hear your music, and let us watch your favourite shows with you. Let us into your world. In many respects, you are experiencing life in such a different way to what we did. The ways of our youth no longer exist; gone the way of paper tickets, cameras with film, video cassettes and boomboxes. Teach us what it’s like to be you, a teenager in the world.