May Favourites

Fiction book

9780552160964I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

This is an epic book (more than 800 pages) which I probably wouldn’t have launched myself into had it not been May’s book club book. I was invited along to book club by a lovely person who works in my office after she discovered that I was new to Hobart and loved reading. This will be my second session, currently being conducted digitally of course, and the first for which I have actually read the book. It’s a perfect book club to be part of, full of people around my age who are all lovely and intelligent. And while this book is not something I would have launched myself into voluntarily given its length and genre (I watch a fair amount of crime/murder mystery type stuff but don’t typically read it), I’m glad I was forced because it is excellent. Within the first couple of chapters (and the chapters are short and snappy, something I always appreciate in a book), I was hooked by this mystery/thriller/crime /murder mystery novel. You get the sense Hayes spent days/weeks/months/who knows how long storyboarding it, working out how all the different moving parts would intersect and interact. The result is a masterfully crafted novel which covers a lot of terrain. It’s been a great post-work read, something I look forward to picking up and diving back into each night and something I read until I’m too tired to keep reading any more (usually around 9pm, yes I’m an old lady at heart and full-time work is tiring). Anyway, highly recommended.

 

9780099448570South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami

This is another of the selection of books one of my housemates provided me with as a sampler of some of her favourites. I have been aware of Murakami for quite some time but this was the first of his books I have actually read. This book spans many decades, following the relationship of two childhood friends into their adult lives. Told from the perspective of one friend, the other remains mysterious and alluring throughout the novel. The book is the perfect mixture of optimism and melancholy. Bittersweet is a good word to describe it. I’m now seriously contemplating tackling some of Murakami’s heftier tomes such as IQ84, which there happens to be a copy of in my house.

 

Non-fiction book

Hobart-678x1024Hobart by Peter Timms

I read this book for the first time in November last year when I was gearing up for my move to Hobart. It was a great introduction to what was to be my new home which made me start falling in love with it. After three months in my new home, I thought it was worth reading the book about this place again now that I am becoming increasingly familiar with its streets and suburbs and moods and people. It didn’t disappoint, just bolstering my  sense of love for this place. It was also a particularly timely read given that I am basically stuck here and searching for new places I can walk and explore which are close to home.

 

Podcasts

Not Alone from Beyond Blue – hosted by Marc Fennell was my new favourite for May. Each episode of Not Alone is an interview with an Australian who has been on a mental health “journey”, plus some insights from Beyond Blue’s Lead Clinical Advisor from Dr Grant Blashki. All the episodes I’ve listened to so far have been fantastic.

Conversations from ABC RN continues to delight and inspire me. My favourite episodes which I listened to during May were:

 

Music

Kishi Bashi

I’ve returned to an old favourite in Kishi Bashi – thanks to my brother and his now fiancé for introducing me to him. His music is uplifting and fun, just what I need at the moment!

 

Event

The parcel I received in the post last Tuesday from Mum. It was a container full of my favourite dark chocolate, oat and almond cookies which Mum had made specially for me with this beautiful message attached. I felt so many warm fuzzies reading the message and called Mum straight away to say a massive thank you. The parcel was just what I needed after a bit of a rough patch health-wise.

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That’s it for May.

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

Interactions With Strangers – The COVID-19 World

As I move through my days in the COVID-19 world, small things are striking me as important. This is the second in my series recording these small things. Please check out Glimpses Of Domesticity – The COVID-19 World if you missed it. 


A woman taking her elderly and uncooperative dog our for a walk, the dog refusing the heel and instead insisting by obstinately refusing to budge that he really must say hello to me. She apologies, “Sorry, my dog’s not very good at social distancing”.

A man walking past my window as I work from home, stretching out his arm to wave at me when our eyes meet.

A little boy out walking with his parents, leading the march up the Hill Track, who when he sees me calls out a cheery “hello” matched with an equally cheery smile.

A man who I pass in the Cascade Gardens who, when  I return his salutation and ask him how he is, he replies “freezing” and rubs his hands together in the hope that the friction will work its magic and warm him.

The woman selling apples and pears from her orchard at the Hanging Garden Green Grocer here in Hobart who tells me about attending her sister’s wedding in East Arnhem Land via video link from her home in Franklin, Tasmania.

The elderly Chinese couple who live a block away and are often out exercising who now recognise me as I too am often out exercising and always give me a broad smile and a nod of recognition when I walk past, even if I’m on the other side of the road.

The woman manning the baskets at Woolworths who sprays and wipes down a basket as I come down the escalator into the store and gestures towards it with a smile as I approach as if to say, “Here is your basket, I sanitised it just for you”. She then takes my basket from me when I am finished with it, for some strange reason saying thank you to me when I hand it to her. “No, thank you!” I reply, because she’s the one who’s doing something worth expressing gratitude for – seeing each and every basket through each journey from the stack through the aisles to the checkouts and back to the stack.

The man with his insanely white, insanely fluffy and hence insanely cute Japanese spitz who I often encounter walking the opposite direction to me as I head into work for the day who always says “G’day”.

And the hundreds of other people who say hello in slightly less memorable ways, or even just smile, reminding me that people are, for the most part, good.

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

A Weekend Of Self-Care

The past couple of weeks have been a bit rough, with some difficult stressors and the physical health effects which stress brings – fatigue and migraines. Consequently, this weekend has been all about self-care. This has included:

  • Getting out of the house for a walk whenever I start to feel a bit stagnant (so far there have been three walks of at least an hour);20200524_120009_resized
  • Talking to loved ones;
  • Doing some colouring;
  • Listening to Dan Sultan and Half Moon Run;
  • Doing some gardening and picking myself a bouquet for my room (pictured to the right, it includes tree dalhias and salvias);
  • Going back to an old favourite and watching the TV series Miranda – a good choice given how hilariously funny it is;
  • Doing yoga;
  • Making pots of tea and savouring the moment of drinking them;
  • Putting together a delicious cheese, caramelised onion and sun-dried tomato toastie with caramelised Brussels sprouts/broccoli and peas both days for lunch;
  • Sleeping until I wake up (ie not having an alarm set) – this meant getting up at 8am on Saturday and 10am on Sunday;
  • Eating some other yummy favourites – toast with apricot jam in the afternoon as a snack, muesli with banana and soy milk for breakfast, dark chocolate, crackers with peanut butter;
  • Sitting in the kitchen in the morning to soak in the sunshine;
  • Listening to podcasts;
  • Lighting incense;
  • Forgetting about work;
  • Doing crosswords; and
  • Rewatching some of my favourite comedians’ appearances on Would I Lie To You.

April Favourites

Fiction books

39927096._SY475_Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Less is a delightfully funny and poignant novel centred around protagonist Arthur Less. Self-doubting and hence very relatable, failed novelist Less embarks on a round-the-world trip in order to avoid having to attend an ex’s wedding as he nears his fiftieth Birthday. This leads to all kinds of silly adventures. I particularly enjoyed Less’s time in Germany due to his imperfect command of the German language. A series of hilarious faux-pas and misunderstandings are the result.

 

12280827The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

This is such a masterfully constructed novel. A slim book, you nonetheless get to know the protagonist Tony as a schoolboy and as a retiree, all narrated by a retired Tony. In part one, Tony tells his story  as he has been telling it to himself his whole life. In part two, Tony is forced to reconsider everything he thought was true about his past, leading to a startling conclusion. This book certainly gives weight to the old adage that things are not always what they seem.

 

Podcasts

  • The songs of trees from ABC RN’s Conversations – have you ever thought about the noises trees make? I hadn’t, making this podcast an incredible eye opener. The interviewee records the songs of trees, an activity which requires incredible mindfulness and attention to detail. The results are recordings which inspire awe at the wonder of nature and a greater mindfulness moving forward of the sounds made by non-sentient but very alive parts of the environment.
  • Julia Baird on finding shards of light in dark times from ABC RN’s Conversations – this podcast is full of the wisdom you get from enduring a personal crisis, or in Julia’s case crises (a relationship breakdown and cancer). This is about finding moments of hope and awe even when things seem hopeless. A very timely podcast.
  • Hugh Mackay on building community in a crisis from ABC RN’s Conversations – after six decades of social research in Australia, Hugh is one of the best people to hear discuss the current crisis. It is also a great insight into living through the COVID-19 pandemic as someone in their 80s.

 

TV shows

Stateless

Episode six of this six-part series made me absolutely bawl. Based on true stories (including the story of Cornelia Rau, an Australian permanent resident who was unlawfully detained in an immigration detention centre) and set in an Australian immigration detention centre, this is a heart-wrenching series which highlights the immense cruelty and heartlessness of Australia’s asylum seeker policy. I don’t recommend watching this if you’re feeling emotionally tender, but if you are up to it please do watch it. It is absolutely amazing, it really is. And it features an all-star cast including Cate Blanchett, Asher Keddie and more.

 

Mystery Road

Two episodes in to its second season, Mystery Road is as gripping as ever. This is a show packed with Indigenous talent, from lead actor Aaron Pedersen to directors Warwick Thornton and Wayne Blair. In season two, the inscrutable Detective Jay Swan (played by Pedersen), takes on a grisly new case in the coastal community of Gideon, where a headless body is found washed up in the mangroves by a fisherman. Racial tensions and outright racism, drugs, toxic masculinity – the narrative explores all these themes and more.

 

Event

Nothing particularly major is able to happen at the moment. There are no big outings, weekends away or any of the things I thought I might do in my new home. So there is not really an event I can call up as my favourite event of the month. Instead, there are several things which I have relished over the course of April:

  1. My new Saturday morning routine of doing a crossword via Skype with Mum and Dad while we all have a cup of tea or coffee and a bite to eat. This is a great way to catch up and continues a routine we shared when I lived at home.
  2. Running into (not literally of course, not allowed with physical distancing rules) people I know around Hobart. People told me this was a sign of becoming integrated into the Hobart community and it started happening regularly during April. Some young people who have grown up in Hobart despise this aspect of their home town as it means they can never escape the eyes of their Mum’s friend or family dentist, but for me it’s a a really positive sign that I am starting to form networks here and starting to really make this my home.
  3. Long phone/video calls with friends back in Melbourne. It has been super lovely to see and/or hear my friends who I now haven’t seen for a few months and am missing quite a bit because they are all such wonderful, special people. But spending an hour or two on a call with them is helping to satiate my desire to see them.
  4. Walks in my local area. I am gradually pounding the pavement of every street and track within an hour or so’s walking distance of my place. I am discovering dead end roads, beautiful gardens and tranquil patches of bushland all within a close radius of my house, all the while looking for wildlife, breathing in the fresh air and having basic but lovely interactions with others who I meet in my travels by foot.
  5. Regular yoga practice. Being forced to largely remain at home on weekends (aside from trips to the shops or walking) has encouraged me to go deeper into my yoga practice. Strangely enough, I am often not that keen to start a yoga session but once I’m into it, I find it very rewarding, giving me the confidence that it’s worth pushing myself to do it again and again.

 

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

Glimpses Of Domesticity – The COVID-19 World

As I move through my days in the COVID-19 world, small things are striking me as important. This is the first in what will be a series of posts recording these small things.


While entering another person’s home remains a no-no, I am living off glimpses of other people’s domesticity.

A man glimpsed through what I think was his kitchen window, perhaps while he waited for his kettle to boil for his morning cup of coffee, scratching his neck, the pleasure of scratching the itch evident on his face.

Fragrant wood smoke drifting out of a chimney, curling its way into the sky.

A father and his young son playing cricket in the front yard, the youngster clearly convinced he’s figured out the secret to success in cricket, pestering his Dad to watch and learn.

A father and his daughter playing badminton in their front yard, the shuttlecock drifting daintily through the air, both father and daughter giggling, giddy with the pleasure of each other’s company.

Notes being played on a piano by unknown fingers.

A woman in an old hoodie and leggings, touching up the wooden window frames of her family home with a lick of fresh white paint.

A man pacing in the front sun room of his house, headset on, scratching his chin as he negotiates with a colleague.

A woman, also in the front sun room of her house, painting a barn owl, its round face emerging from the canvas, piercing eyes staring out at me.

Teddy bears, dolls and other children’s toys in windows.

Each of these scenes reminds me that while I may not be out and about and seeing people as much as I once would have, all of these people are still living their lives in tandem with me living mine.

These are people finding ways to express love, be productive, stay occupied, make others smile, be creative, stay active and give comfort.

These are people doing quite ordinary things, quite small things, but things which at present strike me as extraordinary. These are people being, well, people. And that’s all that matters at the moment. That we continue to live our lives as best we can within the constraints placed on them, adapting ourselves to the present environment. And these glimpses of domesticity show that we are doing just that, which I find extraordinary.

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

Breath Initiates Movement

Yoga appears to be a physical pursuit, a practice designed to improve flexibility, strength and balance. And sure, it does all of these things. But the real purpose of yoga, certainly in traditional Hindu thought from whence it originates, is to gain mastery over not your body but your mind. So, the postures we associate with yoga are not the end in themselves but a means to the ultimate end.

Despite the fact that I have been practicing yoga for more than six years, I am only just beginning to understand that yoga is about much more than the postures.

One reason for this is the new yoga teacher whose classes I started taking after I moved to Hobart earlier this year. Instead of one hour classes, her classes ran for one and a half hours. This meant there was time in each class to go that little bit more slowly and thus connect that little bit more deeply with the breath in each posture. And she really made a point of emphasising the breath, regularly reminding us that “breath initiates movement”.

This second phrase in particular has stuck with me, more so than the words I have heard so many times from other yoga teachers, reminders to “come back to the breath” or variations thereof. Breath initiates movement. 

There are, I think, several ways to interpret this deceptively simple phrase. Here are the two I like:

  1. There can be no movement without breath, breath is the life-giving force powering yoga practice, indeed powering our whole existence; and
  2. The breath is primary, the movement is secondary, meaning the focus should be on the former, with the latter following naturally.

These slower-paced, breath-focused classes forced me to slow down, something I am not naturally inclined to do. For example, I’m much more comfortable hiking or walking through nature than I am just sitting in it. Similarly, I’m much more comfortable moving through the postures during a yoga class than I am staying put for longer in one posture or doing pranayama or breath work.

So I come to the other reason why it is only now that I am beginning to understand that yoga is about much more than the postures.  Until this year, I was a student. And as a student, there is ALWAYS more work you can do. Consequently, anything other than study which occupied my time had to clearly serve another end (eg fitness, income etc). While doing yoga postures qualified as exercise, slower yoga practices seemed a waste of precious time.

I had opportunities to do slower-paced, restorative yoga classes when I lived in Melbourne. My wonderful yoga teacher there offered them every month in fact. Part of me liked the idea of going, but I rarely ended up going along. While the benefits of a regular yoga class seemed clear to me (improved flexibility, strength and balance), the benefits of a restorative class were less obvious. Sure, it was a good exercise in self-care and mindfulness, but it didn’t clearly serve another end – it wasn’t exercise, nor was it study or work or anything else I could tick off a list.

On the odd occasion where I did do a restorative yoga class, I felt guilty afterwards. Sure, I’d done that self-care/mindfulness thing people say you should do, but I hadn’t accomplished anything. Instead, valuable time which I felt I should be capitalising on had been chewed up with breathing and stillness.

Now that I work full time, this dynamic has changed substantially because now there is a clear delineation between work and life. When, as a student still, I expressed optimism that full time work would be good for me, people warned against my optimism, reminding me that work comes with its own stresses and challenges. And it sure does, but these are confined to a specific time period. They are things to be managed within working hours which my employer has no expectation I will do anything about on a weeknight or over the weekend. And suddenly, because someone else is telling me I am allowed to have down-time, I feel I have permission to do just that, making it easy for me to set aside my work once working hours are over.

So suddenly, activities which may not appear to directly serve another end are options for me. I have the time and permission to do them – there is nothing else I feel I should be doing instead.

In a sense, this is a sad indictment on my ability to take care of myself. As a student, I was never able to set the boundaries required to have guilt-free down time. I think this is because it was up to me to set these boundaries for myself and ultimately, I didn’t feel I was entitled to the guilt-free down time so never gave it to myself. I would have down time, but there would always be that little conscientious voice in the back of my mind urging me back to the books. Whatever work I did, it was never enough and thus I could never relax, because there was always more to do.

Now that the permission is granted externally, I feel able to sink fully into my down time. And this has allowed me to, among other things, begin to understand that yoga is about much more than the postures. In particular, the centrality of the breath is really becoming clear to me. And so yoga is becoming not just exercise but a form of meditation and mindfulness which allows me to return to my body and return to the life-giving force that is my breath. Instead of forcing myself through practice, which I have at times done in the past, I am surrendering to practice, allowing my breath to guide my movement. Breath initiates movement. And allowing this has slowed down my practice, has deepened my practice, has strengthened it beyond what I could ever have imagined. 

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

How I Want To Be Seen

I wrote this in a bit of a lull at work a few weeks ago. It is a reflection on how I want people to see me, the qualities I want them to associate with me. This is relevant to my work but also my life more broadly because these statements are designed to inform how I conduct myself in the workplace and in life.

I want people to see…

  • That I care deeply about other people, animals and the environment;
  • That I am fiercely passionate about making the world a better place;
  • That I am values-driven;
  • That I am committed to social justice, especially for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people;
  • That I think deeply about things;
  • That I live mindfully;
  • That I speak honestly and openly;
  • That I am courageous;
  • That I am resilient;
  • That I am open minded;
  • That I am a good listener;
  • That I am approachable;
  • That I am compassionate and understanding;
  • That I am trustworthy;
  • That I am genuine in what I say and do;
  • That I have a good head on my shoulders;
  • That I try my hardest at everything I do;
  • That I am a committed employee/volunteer/friend etc who will be there for the long haul;
  • That I am humble and do not believe I am better than anyone else; and
  • That I think laterally and come up with creative ideas and solutions;

I encourage you to think about how you want other people to see you, because it is a really useful way to focus in on what is most important to you which then informs how you conduct yourself every day.

Love, hope and peace from Emma.