Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Postcards from Melbourne (Part 2)

(Errrr.....this was not the post I sat down to write, it just came out. The final installment of my Melbourne reflections will come when my best friend passes on a copy of the letter I wrote her while there. Until then, here's this, and I'll be back in a few days with the post I thought was coming.)

Dear moment,

We have about fifteen minutes, I think, so it’s rather a long moment. It has been a very long day, a very hard day, and I’ve spent quite a lot of it talking myself up.  First there were the few hours before my presentation where I tried to convince myself it would be OK, and pictured Rocky pumping himself up in my head while I ate breakfast and drank a really good cup of coffee. Then after my presentation I had to skip the next session and try and talk sense into myself before the mentor collared me at lunch and actually managed to talk sense into me. If I trust him on everything else, maybe I should believe him when he says it was truly excellent, that I was truly excellent.

So I’m sitting here, having ordered what will be a truly excellent pizza I will eat in my plain little hotel room I have come to rather love (once I’ve stumbled there without the shoes on that have been killing me all damn day), and I am watching the very natty dressers who work here as they buzz around and tease each other on this quiet Friday night. The staff here are so friendly, and each of them seems to pause as they pass by me – I think I really must look every bit as shattered as I am. I’m thinking to myself that this day I have been working up towards for five months is here and almost over, and that this is probably a time for celebration. I did OK today. I didn’t make too much of a goat out of myself, I managed to not sprint from the room the moment the thing was done to throw up, and I had a number of lovely chats with people today, including with almost all the people who came to my presentation and wanted to speak with me about it. This is a day worth remembering.

It occurs to me that I have some money, the money I have been stashing away for five months so that I could actually live a little while I was here, on this very important trip. And the wine list is right there, oh look! The glass of red I really want will almost surely make me fall asleep right here and now, so instead I order a pinot gris and I’m happy as I smile and ask the waitress for it.

I’m waiting for the wine and for a moment I hate that I’m here by myself at the end of this day. One of the worst things about being single, one of the things I rarely think about, is that when the good stuff happens you don’t have anyone with whom to share it. I feel this very strongly because I am terrible at celebrating. I don’t know how to jump up and down for myself and get excited for something I did. It does feel very lonely, and for a second I hate that it’s just me in this little restaurant with the friendly, well dressed staff and that I will go home by myself to the little yellow room.

But here’s my wine, and I suddenly know that no one else is going to toast me, no one else is going to acknowledge how momentous today was and what an achievement it has been to just get here in one piece. I got on the damn train to Melbourne rather than walking in front of it. This was my day, this is my moment, and although I’ve spent most of the day shaking and close to tears, it really was one hell of a time. I raise my glass to myself, just a tiny bit so no one knows what I’m doing. And I blink the tears away and try to breathe.  There’s no self pity here, I promise, it’s just the way it is. It’s quite OK. I need to get better at cheering myself on.

I’m alone in this moment, and it feels pretty damn good. This little space of time, for me and my glass of wine, is golden. For just a bit I am the luckiest girl in the world.


Me x

(Yeah, I know, it was a big postcard.)
Monday, April 15, 2013


Hi! Looking a bit different here. I took a cue from Kirsty and went for a new look. You might need to adjust your zoom settings a little, because the blog header’s a bit big, but if you do that hopefully you get the impression intended.* The look of this blog has always been a bit dark and martial  (unsurprisingly so given the content and my own personal aesthetic preferences), and I thought it might be time to pretty it up a bit. As I am completely incapable of doing that on my own, I turned to the internet for help with a (small) fistful of dollars.

In real life, I’m going through a corresponding period where I just hate the way I look and wish it was as easy and as quick to fix with a blog template and a little bit of money. I know this is pretty common, especially for women, and I do all the typical things like avoiding mirrors and not buying clothes unless I absolutely have to. I spent some time with someone recently which ended up making me feel even worse on that front, and it’s not like I’ve ever had much confidence when it comes to my appearance. It’s just that any anxiety or discomfort I might feel about how I look has been drowned out by the misery in my head, and it’s been that way for a long time.** It’s absolutely one of the reasons I don’t post personal pictures on the blog.

I also know that aesthetics matter, and maybe if I pay a little more attention to the outside I might feel a little better on the inside. Obvious, huh? I thought it might be worth doing the same with the blog, trying to spruce the place up a bit might help alleviate the dark stuff I write about. So I’m going to try and post a few more pictures, and try writing about some more everyday things, in order to make this is a slightly better place to visit as a reader. I’m profoundly grateful that I have a small, committed group of you who read and comment, especially given the difficult themes and content up for grabs here.  I’d like to try and make it a more pleasant experience for you.

But how to do it? It turns out that just about every blog template you can buy without expensive custom work is all pretties and pastel colours and cutesy fonts. They’re all so feminine and imply that the blog to hand is filled with food pictures and teddy bears. The templates I could find are for bright and shiny blogs, filled with posts about how hard things were, and now it’s OK, I figured it out. How difficult but fulfilling parenthood can be. Or how to make a yoga mat out of cucumber peelings and a picture frame out of your baby’s first teeth. Those blogs are lovely and all, but that isn’t what I write about and probably never will be. I hope that I will eventually be able to write about some things with a measure of retrospection and experience, but it will never be an advice blog.*** ‘Here’s how you get through this’ and ‘here’s how I did it’ is not my style. I’m just groping about in the dark in real life, much like how I fumble writing this blog.

I started this blog because I wanted to write about things I couldn’t really find elsewhere, especially amongst Australian bloggers. I want to become a better writer and flesh out ideas for my work while I obsess over some of problems which have defined my life. But I also don’t want it to devolve into something so dark that you all only read it out of obligation.
I want to punch a hole in the wall for some light and air. I’ll be here, in my corner, trying to breathe and start over. Hope you all like the refurb.

*Thanks, Mel! There are some small changes, physically – you can now subscribe to the blog for e-mail updates, I’ve updated my bio slightly, and my blog roll is now current. There are some other bits and pieces I’m trying to figure out too, so with a bit of luck it should be easier to navigate around here and get in touch, should you need to. And no more word verification! I apologise for that, I didn’t even realise it was part of the deal.

**This is not, in any way, to discount the mental illness or distress caused by eating disorders or something close to them. I know exactly how devastating they can be (a very close friend nearly died from one), and that they are not simply a physical disease. It’s one of the reasons they are so tricky to treat - they are both physical and mental illnesses. My friend who went through it wrote a memoir about it that I highly recommend.

*** The only advice I can dispense with good conscience is about what music to buy. 
Friday, April 12, 2013

Will Do

This is not a carefully written post, for once. This is the written version of the life raft that has been bobbing in my head since the madness descended in earnest last December. This is the expression of the need I have to reach out today, on a crappy day - a need I have resisted thus far, in some 15 months of blogging. On a day when the rest* of my Honours cohort is graduating and celebrating, I am hiding under my bedcovers. Despite my careful screening of social media, I couldn't avoid the shenanigans completely. It doesn't help that I hate myself for taking others' joy so personally, I swear I am not usually this person. 

So today I keep telling myself what I have to believe to keep going:

I will finish my work. 

I will graduate.

I will get the mark I want, or something damn close to it. (A 93, if you're interested.)

I do not expect to win prizes, but all marks over 90 (for the combined thesis and seminar class results) are considered for the University Medal. The work is submitted for consideration to the Honours committee and read by lots of people. This has been my goal from the beginning. It is a lofty goal - although about half of the students who do Honours in this department get a first (it's a world class department), the majority of them get somewhere between 80 (the low cut off for a first) and about 85. It is a scant handful of people whose work gets to the meeting. But I have the talent, I have the help. I can do this. I HAVE to do this. 

I will do this. 

Keep me honest, friends. Please. 

(On a lighter note, come back early next week to see the blog's facelift.) 

*except for a few of us who dropped to part time. 
Thursday, April 4, 2013

We Used To

I am shaking with nerves, and with something else. The something else doesn’t have a name, because at this point I can barely identify what is happening to me.  However, tonight I have a job to do. I am singing roughly half of the most important piece of music in Catholic liturgy all year, and I’ve learned it all in the last 24 hours. It is unaccompanied, difficult, and almost perfect for my particular skills, for my voice which has suddenly kicked into gear quite spectacularly. But I do not feel worthy to be here, in a house of God on Easter Vigil night. This is a place for believers, for those who practice what they say, and because of what is happening to me outside this place I cannot believe that I belong here, that this job is mine.

The Bishop has asked for me, urged on by my favourite organist. She spent an hour or so on the phone to me last night, playing the piece down the phone to me and, unbeknownst to her, to my father’s dictaphone which has been volunteered for this purpose (it’s amazing what my parents will volunteer when something Catholic is up for grabs). The piece of music is marked in pen (oh, the horror!), with bits scratched out in Marie’s elderly scrawl. My more modest cursive has made small circles around notes that bother me, phrases I have sung under my breath all day on a cash register serving frenzied shoppers not so far from here. I am not really ready for this, but I know the basic notation well enough that I can always return to the original key and starting point for the next phrase if I need to.

People are on their way back in to the chapel after lighting their candles and praying outside, where the Mass begins. My head is seething with a panic caused by a chain of events that was started in that same place as the cash register I worked today. My job is my one place of refuge outside of school, but it has also become a place of darkness, marked by spaces where I cannot go for fear that HE will seek me out. It is bad enough that when he tells me to meet him at his car around the corner from work I have to do so, but now he might hurt me at work too – this is where it started, you see. It has been going on for a few months now, and for some reason, here in a place of worship, my mind lingers on the traumatic details. Why now?, my mind protests – I mean, really? Is it somehow part of God’s plan for me to be panicking while I sing His praises?

The Bishop goes first, his voice really quite decent for a man his age. Priests are rarely singers, and even more rarely good ones, but his does his job. I am conscious of Marie close by, she has not a doubt in her mind that I can do this, she pushed for me to take over the job from a man unwilling to let it go. I remember that I am in a venue where the acoustics do most of your work for you. I breathe in, and sing out, and I hear a voice that has changed so much, so very recently. I am a mezzo now, a grown up singer, still changing, but definitely more adult. I look up into the vaulted ceiling and hit the notes just so, as needed. I do not falter. I hear my voice ring out in a beautiful venue with a full chapel beneath me, and I realise that although my life is falling apart, I can do this. This is still mine, and that small moment of pride stays with me, even as the shame and pain of everything else colours my life, both that night and for the rest of the year. Tonight I become a little more like a woman.

It’s all thirteen years ago now, but it’s so easy to write it all in the present tense. This last Saturday night I sang the piece again, as I do every year. Easter all about the rituals within the liturgy, but it’s also the rituals created around the practice of it. For me, even though I no longer consider myself to be Catholic, it means singing at Maundy Thursday Mass, the Good Friday ceremony at 3pm and then Easter Vigil on Saturday evening. I stay in the family house with people who fast and take this stuff very seriously. I walk to and from this lovely chapel, still with the beautiful acoustics, that remains such a feature in my working life, and on a piece of land where I exercise almost daily. And I sing the Exsultet in full, by myself now, feeling a connection with my past and my future and with the faith that still has elements of beauty that move me. I still use the same copy of the music with Marie’s handwriting all over it, marked up terribly in a way that would make me ashamed to show it to anyone else. (Marie doesn’t sing with us anymore, she’s in her late eighties and now has trouble placing me when I call. The Bishop retired some years ago, and I have no idea where he is these days.) When people talk about the exciting things they’re going to do over the Easter break and ask what I will do I smile and say ‘lots of singing’, because I know exactly where I will be, and what I will be doing. I will be upstairs in that hot, stuffy gallery, singing beautiful music with people I care about, gently touching the music marked by someone I love, and then walk home in the crisp Autumn air.* I think of the man who tore my life apart, wonder what happened to him, and am filled with regrets. I remember a time when I was even more trapped and confused than I am now, and am grateful for how far I have come.

* Autumn in Sydney always seems to only kick into gear at Easter, for some reason. Doesn’t matter whether it’s early or late, Autumn waits for Easter.