The Beach

Large trucks laden with cargo thunder along beside our car, causing the seats to palpably vibrate. Their loads bear familiar insignia – Hamburg-Süd, Maersk, Yang Ming, CMA CGM, Hapag-Lloyd… Like us, these trucks are on their way to the coast, tasked with delivering these cheerfully coloured yet battered containers to the giant ships awaiting them.

Every so often, the grey and brown monotony of warehouses, power stations, petrol refineries and factories is broken by a tantilising glimpse of cool ocean. It beckons to us, winking as the blue mass swells and catches the burning sun’s rays.

We near our destination, leaving industry behind us, seeking relaxation and leisure.

In the shade of a plane tree, we munch on our picnic dinner. The hot chips coat my fingers with grains of salt and skeins of grease, while filling my mouth with pleasure. Crisp exterior, fluffy interior. The homemade salad inspires my pride, as a few of its ingredients were picked from my garden – parsley, chives, basil, yellow beans and green ones. No amount of cold water quenches my thirst, but juicy strawberries and crimson grapes hit the spot.

After dinner, we linger in our patch of shade, gazing out over the bay, engaging in languidly-paced conversation, trying to keep our bodies spread out so as not to have our legs stick together with sweat.

Eventually, we rise and make our way to the beach. The sun still has bite, even at this late stage of the day. Immediately upon entering the water, I am reassured that it is still possible to feel cold. The water’s coolness is a shock, considering the heat, but this becomes a welcome sensation as I inch my way in. Beneath my feet, the sand is soft and fine, and I can feel its rippled pattern.

The sky above the sea is awash with colour – first yellow, then orange, then pink, and then back again. To the west, the fiery sphere gradually descends. Meanwhile, three majestic pelicans glide above us, silhouetted against the flaming orange sky.

We find a small piece of seaweed to throw between three, showering ourselves with water droplets as we execute each throw. This piece of seaweed, with its thin, leggy shape, charts a different trajectory to that of a ball, dancing through the air.

My exit from the water is nowhere as graceful. I stomp my way back to the shallows, displacing the water as I go, allowing the warm air to gradually reacquaint itself with my skin. While the temperature is still high, I remain somewhat cool thanks to the combination of a still-wet bikini and an ice cream. My crunchy, golden-brown waffle cone houses a scoop of mouth-watering ice cream. The bitterness of its coffee flavour cuts through the sweetness of the smooth, latte-coloured frozen treat.

We sit on the wall separating the footpath from the sand, looking out over a scene full of colour and movement. And yet, despite there being hundreds of people, there is something intensely calming about the scene. The beach allows us to be free, to do as we wish, to cool down and to slow down. That’s why it feels so good.

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

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Speed

In the past, speed had no value to us in and of itself. Faster production was good because it generated more outputs and higher profits; faster communication was good because it allowed people to stay connected even when they were physically separate.

Now, speed is valued because speed is seen as good. News is reported twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week; messages are replied to instantly; our food and clothing is mass-produced.

Despite the rapid acceleration of life and the processes it entails, everyone finds themselves busy. Speed ought to have given us more time for leisure. Inventions like washing machines, vacuum cleaners and dishwashers all claimed they would liberate us from the drudgery of daily life, leaving time for other pursuits. Yet we don’t have time to sit down, to chat idly with friends, to create purely for the joy of creating, to think.

Things may be happening more quickly, but we are adjusting our habits to keep up with this, annihilating the possibility of free time in the process. Reporting news as it happens may mean it gets straight to us, but it drags out the process of reporting the news, as we are gradually fed the facts as they become apparent. The ability to reply to messages instantly and simply may seem to simplify the task, but we are expected to send more messages, correspond with more people, maintain a constant stream of inane chatter. The mass-production of food and clothing may allow these essentials to reach more people, but the products we are sold are inferior in quality to their slower-to-make predecessors.

Busy-ness is seen as a sign of worthiness. Busy-ness means money earned, tasks completed, house looked after, life replete. But with what? Many of the things we fill our lives with are not, if and when we reflect more deeply on our circumstances, things of real value. And by filling our lives in this way, the truly meaningful aspects of life get squeezed out.

People constantly feel tired because they don’t find the time to sit down and read a book for an hour, or get to bed early, or schedule a day of doing nothing. We feel isolated and lonely despite all our online chatter because, when it comes to connecting with others, physically spending time with someone does something typed black letters on a white screen cannot. We feel uninspired, because there is no time to pursue inspiration when its products are not guaranteed to be worth anything in terms of money or status. We make poor decisions, do things we later regret, because we do not allow ourselves the chance to reflect before we do.

We need, in short, to slow down the pace of our lives and realise that, for many of us, it is simply not true that there is no time for leisure. There is no time because we do not allow ourselves the time, we do not make the time, we feel we do not deserve the time.

But making the time is vital, and the world won’t fall apart if we pay 20% less attention to the daily news.


For a really interesting and more extensive discussion of this topic, I highly recommend the episode of The Minefield podcast entitled Is Speed Worth the Moral Cost?

Slow it down, see what happens (or doesn’t).

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

Conversation Starters

Over Christmas, my family (mum, dad, brother and I) travelled to and from Adelaide by car, a journey which takes the best part of a day. We have done this many times, and it is not the most exciting of drives. There are fields of wheat, sheep and cows, followed by more wheat, sheep and cows. The country is flat, brown, monotonous. You rely on your travelling companions for entertainment.

“I spy” got old many years ago, and we’ve tried to list a vegetable starting with every letter of the alphabet (and a fruit, and animal, bird, country, city, beverage, ice cream flavour and so on) numerous times. So, for our most recent trip, I created a box of conversation starters.

They were a hit, making the drive much more enjoyable and prompting some very interesting conversations. So, I want to share a list of these prompts with you.

  1. If you had to save three things from your house in a fire (excluding pets or people), what would they be?
  2. What achievement are you most proud of in your life?
  3. Which of your flaws most frustrates you and would like others to treat generously?
  4. What was your favourite subject at school?
  5. When does someone become ‘grown up’ or ‘mature’?
  6. Which of your friends do you admire the most?
  7. Is there anyone you regret losing touch with?
  8. At school, I think we spend/spent too much time doing…
  9. What is your favourite book of all time?
  10. The best way to get me to do something I don’t want to do is…
  11. In what ways are you like your mother?
  12. In what ways are you like your father?
  13. Something I thought about a lot as a child was…
  14. What is your favourite movie?
  15. What is your favourite dessert?
  16. If you had to guess, how do you think you will die?
  17. What activities cause you to feel like you are living life to the fullest?
  18. What is the difference between justice and revenge?
  19. What is your favourite quote?
  20. What do people often compliment you on?
  21. An idea that sounds great but actually isn’t is…
  22. What is your favourite season?
  23. What are you afraid of?
  24. Do you have a party trick? A special talent?
  25. What word or phrase do you overuse?
  26. What bad habit do you want to break?
  27. Something I don’t think I’ll ever understand is…
  28. Something that always makes me laugh is…
  29. How do you procrastinate?
  30. What is your biggest frustration at work?
  31. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
  32. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
  33. How might your life have been different if you were male not female/female not male?
  34. Something I sued to love but now dislike is… (food, song, TV show, hobby etc.)
  35. What would your twelve-year-old self think of the person you are now?
  36. The most interesting thing about my/our family is…
  37. What is the worst dream you’ve ever had?
  38. The most embarrassing moment of my life was…
  39. What is the best holiday you’ve ever been on?
  40. What do you imagine you will be doing ten years from now?

Hopefully these will prompt some interesting conversations between you and your family or friends. Feel free to alter the questions as you go along, or pose complementary questions. For example, when we had answered a question about what made us feel saddest and most miserable, my brother then suggested we talk about what made us feel happiest.

Most importantly, have fun with these!

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

Faintness

It’s twelve hours since I have eaten. I am waiting for a blood test. My body feels weak, my head pounds, the water in my stomach sloshes. I am running on nothing but adrenalin and water.

It’s thirteen hours since I have eaten, and I am applying pressure to the crook of my left arm, the bright white cotton wool beneath my fingers absorbing the shocking red blood.

Then, the room starts to melt and disfigure. The pathology lab slips off its axis. The colour fades from bright white to guide blanket grey. Everything before my eyes spins and blurs. I have a word for this familiar feeling – faint.

But I also feel feint. My arms and legs swim away from me, detaching themselves from their moorings, until all that’s left is my head and my gut. Spinning head and churning gut.

Every inch of skin seems to crawl with insect-like heat. Hot sweat prickles through my pores, forming a clammy layer on my exterior.

And inside, my empty gut churns and tickles. There is nothing to eject, but I am nauseous all the same.

Make it stop.

I close my eyes.

Tears start to make their way down my cheeks. Involuntary grief. In pain, confused, overwhelmed, desperate to eat, desperate to pee, desperate to sleep.

“Stay with me,” she says, so I do, even though this feels like hell. I try to breathe, but that just brings me back to me body. Back to the sticks of jelly which now replace my legs and arms. Back to the itching, sweating skin. Back to the swirls of nothingness in my stomach. Back to unreal reality.

I want to lie down, so I slouch in my chair. But then, once again, she has to make sure I’m still there. I nod, but even such a simple action takes all the concentration and energy I’ve got. So, I’m grateful when someone presses their knees against mine, holding me upright so that I no longer have to.

I need to lie down, so they transfer me to a bed. Lying down on my back, my colour comes back. The worst is finally over.

When I open my eyes, the room is largely restored. Its colour is back. Objects appear as they normally do. lying there, I am aware of a few simple things: I want to rest, I want to pee, I want to eat and, ultimately, I just want to go home.

So, I rest a few minutes before getting up. And when I rise, I rise slowly: lying to sitting, sitting to standing, standing to walking. Once I’m at the walking stage, I walk to the toilet, then a café, with dad by my side, carrying my bag. Breakfast after thirteen and a half hours without food. Ricotta buttermilk hotcakes. Caramelised apple. Salted caramel. Crème fraiche. Pecan crumble. Strawberries. A latte. All for me. The preceding chaos makes it all the more sweet.

Then we’re homeward bound. There, I will rest and wait to feel normal again.

Being Not Doing In 2018

Up until the new year hit, I was planning to write a fairly standard list of ongoing goals and new resolutions for 2018. But then yesterday, I realised that perhaps writing a list of this nature is not in-keeping with my overarching theme for 2018, which is to focus on being rather than doing.

In practice, this means:

  1. More mindfulness – instead of spending every waking moment attempting to analyse, understand, produce, and solve, I want to spend more of my time simply being aware. Aware of body sensations, thoughts, emotions, breath, sounds… Aware that this is my life – this is it.
  2. More rest – my body demands a lot of rest. Typically, I dismiss my body’s demands as too much and push myself to keep going. However, this then drains my energy further, making every day a struggle. So this year, I want to listen to my body’s signals and give myself the rest I need.
  3. More idleness – I have spent years abhorring idleness and avoiding it at all costs. But I want to spend more time being idle – observing instead of creating, reading instead of writing, listening instead of speaking, lying down instead of sitting.
  4. More leisure – leisure will become more of a priority, study and work less so. This means more time spent on the yoga mat, out in nature, playing with my cat, being creative in the kitchen, mooching in the garden, creating art…

Of course, there are things I want to do in 2018, including:

  • Exploring Victoria’s far east, particularly its national parks – Snowy River and Croajingolong national parks in particular.
  • Going on a solo holiday.
  • Completing an internship.
  • Completing third year uni.
  • Reading War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (the former is one of my dad’s favourites and the latter one of mum’s favourites).

However, the focus will be on the being.

2017 Favourites

Non-Fiction Books

  • Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom – a book based on a series of conversations about love, forgiveness, helping others and so on, between the author and his former college professor, sociologist Morrie Schwartz, who is dying from Lou Gherig’s disease, also known as ALS
  • One Life: My Mother’s Story by Kate Grenville – a biography about a woman (the author’s mother) who was not famous, yet proves to be remarkable and inspiring in many ways
  • Hunger by Roxane Gay – Gay’s account of the impact being sexually assaulted as a young girl has had on her life, in particular her weight and self-image

 

Fiction Books

  • Sarah Thornhill by Kate Grenville – this sequel to The Secret River explores through its gripping narrative the racial tensions of colonial Australia
  • 1984 by George Orwell – this novel is set in a completely imaginary world that has  some disquieting parallels with our own
  • Two Steps Forward by Graeme Simsion & Anne Buist – a novel about renewal in all its forms (physical, psychological, emotional), set on the Camino de Santiago in France and Spain

 

Music

  • Truth Is A Beautiful Thing by London Grammar – I have listened to this entire album many times throughout the year. London Grammar just seem to hit the right spot for me, both on this album and their debut If You Wait
  • Go Farther In Lightness by Gang of Youths – I remember listening to a single by Gang of Youths a few years ago, but then heard nothing more of them until this album burst onto the scene. It is very original and full of wonderful songs

 

Podcasts

 

TV Shows

  • Mad As Hell with Shaun Micaleff – I wish this show ran for more of the year, and more often. Politics just seems to get crazier and crazier, but this show always makes me feel better about the world by highlighting and satirising the absurdity
  • Would I Lie To You? – this British panel show always makes me laugh, so it’s a great one to watch when I’m feeling blue. The two team captains, David Mitchell and Lee Mack, often provide the highlights of the show

 

Photo

This photo of Squeaky Beach in Wilson’s Promontory National Park is fantastic. I love the way the wild, foaming ocean is framed by the rugged coastline with its low, twisted vegetation and granite boulders, which then give way to the dark shapes of forested peaks that reach up into the grey-white clouds.

P6253447.JPG

 

New Year’s Resolutions to come.

 

Love, hope and peace from Emma

2017 Reflection

What three words best describe your year?

Challenging, exhausting, instructive.

What achievement(s) are you most proud of?

  • Surviving
  • House-sitting for two and a half weeks, and enjoying it
  • Securing a Christmas casual job at Bed Bath N’ Table
  • Passing all my uni subjects for the year with flying colours

What are you most thankful for?

My 21st Birthday celebration, which was an opportunity to spend time with the people I love and enjoy myself, despite my illness. I will forever treasure the thoughtful cards friends and family wrote for me, the speeches made at the celebration, and my gift from mum and dad – a Leunig print – which now hangs on my wall.

What new thing(s) did you learn about?

  • Positive psychology
  • Qualitative research methods
  • The use of peer support workers in mental health services
  • French author Victor Hugo and his novel Les Misérables
  • How to write a passage analysis (“étude de texte”) in French
  • The philosophy of absurdism
  • The concept of vernacularisation (the process of translating human rights into different cultural and social contexts)
  • International human rights law
  • How public policy is made
  • Schizophrenia, bipolar, substance abuse disorders
  • Mental health first aid
  • Techniques for translating French texts into English

What new thing(s) did you do?

  • Worked in retail
  • Went out on soup van with only two other volunteers
  • Went to Wilson’s Promontory
  • Took a philosophy subject at university
  • Read novels in French
  • Went to a concert in the Elizabeth Murdoch Hall at the Melbourne Recital Centre
  • Was interviewed and photographed for a newspaper article
  • Lived alone for two and a half weeks
  • Took part in an interview about mental health for a PhD student’s research

What activities made you lose track of time?

  • Doing creative projects – scrapbooking, painting, card-making…
  • Writing
  • Hanging out with friends

What was the year’s funniest moment?

The funniest moment was at my grandfather’s 90th Birthday celebration in January. All seven of his grandchildren said a few words about him as part of the celebration. I drew attention to Pa’s habit of saying “Aren’t we lucky?” when he sits down to a meal with his family, something which got everyone laughing because he does say it a lot, and many of my relatives hadn’t realised he said this as often as he does!

What little things made you happy on a day-to-day basis?

  • My cat Violet – patting her, playing with her, having her sit on my lap or sleep on my bed, feeding her fresh catnip…
  • The gorgeous people I meet at soup van
  • Wearing clothes from op-shops
  • Picking fresh produce from my garden – rhubarb, raspberries, herbs, lemons, apricots…
  • Having a strong, flexible body
  • My lovely friends
  • Good books
  • Singing
  • Nature – birds, clouds, flowers, trees, sunshine, rain, rainbows…

How was your head? What was your most common mental state?

At times this year, I felt hopeless. When my fatigue got worse and headaches/migraines got more frequent, I began to wonder why I bothered at all. Having said this, I have also felt full of purpose at other times. It’s been a year of ups and downs – this is its defining characteristic, not any one mental state in particular.

Which worries turned out to be completely unnecessary?

  • That I would regret doing an intensive subject in February – I loved the subject I chose, learning lots about positive psychology and I made some wonderful friends.

What was the biggest challenge you faced?

My ill-health – fatigue and headaches/migraines. This has been the biggest challenge I’ve faced for a number of years now. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to get easier – there is always more work to do, more fatigue and pain to deal with. However, it is a challenge which will not defeat me.

What was the biggest problem you solved?

This is not a problem solved so much as a problem reframed. For a long time, the co-existence of contradictory ideas has bothered me, but this year I have gradually come to the realisation that paradoxes, however mind-boggling, can and do exist. There may not be a way to resolve the tension, other than to accept the existence of the two ideas at the same time.

This quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald, which I have pinned up in my room, sums up this notion beautifully, and would probably be my favourite quote of 2017:

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.

– F. Scott Fitzgerald

 

As a complement to this post, I will also be posting my 2017 Favourites, where I discuss my favourite books, music, podcasts, TV shows and quotes.

Love, hope and peace from Emma.