I’m grateful for experience and perspective.

It has taken a long time to learn to stand on my on side, and be proud of who I am. I was always “too” something: “too sensitive”, “too emotional”, “too shy”, “too talkative”, “too busy”, “too dreamy”, “too careless” (which made me terrible at mathematics, apparently), “too scattered”…. but along the way, one learns that any judgement that begins with “too” really is completely semantic (a liberal arts education can either screw you up or transform your consciousness… it usually does both).

Because every human being is a process; and in every minute is the potential to change. Sometimes it’s a sudden shift in one’s consciousness; sometimes it’s something someone says to us (See I’m grateful for wise bosses for examples… they may seem obvious or inconsequential, but they changed the way I did things, the way I was, the way I made decisions in one single instant), sometimes something tragic happens (a loved one dies, someone gets critically ill)… sometimes, all our little, collected, stray bits and wisps of experience, learning, secondhand learning, etc., all come together and fit, like a little Tetris puzzle. And then everything clicks and becomes clear as Gorilla Glass. And you know, suddenly, you just know, that there is no going back to the way you were just a minute before. Because that you is just an empty place now, where the Tetris rows have zapped and disappeared.

I could not have written a poem that conveys a classic growing up story very simply and poignantly (one day, I may get there!), so I shall use someone else’s words. This is one of the poems I found in my much-loved, well-worn ‘O’ Levels poetry compilation, that I loved very much when I was 15, and as much now:

NURSERY RHYME OF INNOCENCE AND EXPERIENCE

Charles Causley (1917 – 2003)

I had a silver penny
And an apricot tree
And I said to the sailor
On the white quay

‘Sailor O sailor
Will you bring me
If I give you my penny
And my apricot tree

‘A fez from Algeria
An Arab drum to beat
A little gilt sword
And a parakeet?’

And he smiled and he kissed me
As strong as death
And I saw his red tongue
And I felt his sweet breath

‘You may keep your penny
And your apricot tree
And I’ll bring your presents
Back from sea.’

O the ship dipped down
On the rim of the sky
And I waited while three
Long summers went by

Then one steel morning
On the white quay
I saw a grey ship
Come in from sea

Slowly she came
Across the bay
For her flashing rigging
Was shot away

All round her wake
The seabirds cried
And flew in and out
Of the hole in her side

Slowly she came
In the path of the sun
And I heard the sound
Of a distant gun

And a stranger came running
Up to me
From the deck of the ship
And he said, said he

‘O are you the boy
Who would wait on the quay
With the silver penny
And the apricot tree?

‘I’ve a plum-coloured fez
And a drum for thee
And a sword and a parakeet
From over the sea.’

‘O where is the sailor
With bold red hair?
And what is that volley
On the bright air?

‘O where are the other
Girls and boys?
And why have you brought me
Children’s toys?’

I’m grateful for joy.

we drink so deeply of our Sadness
but are never as indulgent with our Joy
whether fleeting or hard-won
we fear that the return of darkness
will seem darker
after revelling in the sun

but it’s in our revels that we gather
growing lungfuls of light-filled air
that clear the cobwebs or damp
so when the darkness comes
again, we treasure
the space that we can spare

I’m grateful for poetry.

Or, at least, what I think poetry is! I had intended to write and complete several poems to join in on England’s National Poetry Day today, but I’m only happy with one of them. :) Perfectionism really is the enemy of Getting Things Done, eh?

I will walk away
I will walk
Slowly, don’t look back
But don’t look back
Again
And forget how our
Worlds collided
For one crowded hour
That felt like bliss
Like a star-crossed second
Like this:
Like foreheads touching
Lips glance lips and
Hands twirl hair
Smell of crushed grass
Sweet musk scent,
Your neck, soft thin skin
Pink, pale, smooth like
Powder, like feathers…
Tissues. Like tissues.
Then you turned away.
You’re fragile, I know,
Like crystal, water-glass.
So I will walk away,
Trailing feathers…
And not look back.
Again.

I’m grateful for Google Maps.

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There is NO WAY I could have navigated some big cities with such ease and confidence if not for this life-changing invention. I mean, it’s brilliant. You just key in your destination and then follow the little blue dot until it reaches the little red bubble– trains, metros, overgrounds, buses, trams… when it’s hooked up to a comprehensive, working city transport system, this thing is genius! I’m pretty sure the area of my brain that reads maps has shrunk and atrophied since I sold my soul to Apple first bought an iPhone.

I’m grateful to Toulouse.

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I would have called this post “Toulouse, My Way”, except that I do have a sensitive corny radar. :) I have been living in Toulouse for a few months now, and am about to leave it for an English speaking reprieve and to the welcoming arms of my best friend in Europe and my darling cousins and goddaughter.

This is the prettiest city I have ever lived in, and I’ve lived in a few in my not-very-long life. I can never “get used” to this place– each time I set out, I feel as though I see new things in these old, cobblestone streets. I look up and it’s all pastel wooden-slatted shutters and Juliet balconies skirting the windows, all painted curly wrought-iron; every giant heavy wooden double-door on the street on which I live opens into a courtyard, some glorious and big and primly-trimmed, some small, walls of disparate buildings cobbled untidily together, but warm, friendly, some that look like tiny micro-cities of building facades and stairways, carved stone bannisters… Narrow streets of terracotta and orange and warm colours, brick and old, old wooden beams.

And the people? Warm, friendly, kind… earthy, grounded. The guy at the ice cream shop knows my favourite flavour; the lady at the patisserie around the corner knows my name (and my favourite pastry in the whole world), the owner of the tea shop (with the wifi) in which I do my work some days remarks on how my French has improved, and speaks to me only in French. In the other tea shop around the corner (how can one not love a city that loves its tea?), I met one of my best friends in Toulouse. Once, when I was on the airport shuttle coming home, and struggled with my wheelie bag, a lady immediately came to my aid. When I thanked her profusely, she replied, in French, a little confused, “but… of course.” As someone who treasures kindness deeply, and who has lived mainly in large cities, I have been touched by how unassuming the Toulousains are.

I chose this city completely at random. It was by a process of elimination, and I knew nothing about this place except that it was called “the pink city”, because of the stone that the old buildings are made of. When the setting sun strikes the walls in some quartiers/suburbs, they bathe their surrounds in a warm pinkness. I love it.

This place brought me back to life. And I mean, from the dead. Shatter your own heart and life and you never fear death again, but the process to come back from that in-between zombie world of numbness, depression and paralysis can be formidable. And I don’t mean in the French meaning of the word. Toulouse was a catalyst, a balm, a risk, a hope, a break from life…. and the unlikeliest place on earth that I finally pursued my childhood dream of being French-speaking (ok, sort of. I suppose I officially have “working knowledge” now). But, most of all, Toulouse reminded me that there is goodness in people that will shine through when you choose to see it.

Toulouse, mon amour, je vais revenir. :)

I’m grateful for standup comedy.

Ahh, standup comedy. When everything is grey, bleak and dreary, it is like emotional comfort-food for the soul, the way one eats pasta or soup noodles or buttery mash potato on a cold winter day. A reprieve from real-life by laughing at real-life; a way to beat the demons down with belly-aching, rip-roaring, face-cramping laughter. I absolutely love to laugh. I’ve attended at least nine Melbourne International Comedy Festivals throughout my life, since I was 16, diligently booking tickets ahead of time; and, pretty much anywhere I am in the world, if a famous or up-and-coming or favourite or recommended comedian is doing a show in town, I’m there, even if I have to buy the cheapest tickets at the time. This is one of my favourite comedians, Danny Bhoy, at the Melbourne Athenaeum (I love it when comedians localise humour!):

I also really enjoyed Maz Jobrani, Russell Peters, Kitty Flanagan, Paul McDermott and his crew, Steve McIntyre…

I’m so grateful for standup comedy, and to standup comedians for being willing to expose their insecurities, vulnerabilities, griefs, sorrows and daily mundane grind to turn them into laughter and perspective, throwing them in such beautiful comic relief.