Merry Christmas and happy holidays!

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To those of you who are following Life’s Little Mercies: Thank you all so much for following my blog. I’m full of gratitude to you for reading and all your responses.

I wish you and yours a merry Christmas and a very happy New Year!

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Advent Day 15: Idealism and the audacity of hope.

So, The Newsroom ended. *lower lip trembles* And aaaaallll the retrospective commentaries tumbled out. Some people hated it, some people hated it even more, and some, like I, loved it so much it was like saying goodbye to a fantasy, alternative workplace with colleagues you’d go to jail for contempt trying to protect. Or whom you’d follow to a war story in Equatorial Kundu.

I think that the people who most vehemently disliked The Newsroom were those that… well, just didn’t get it. I know critique is an art, and I strongly believe that everyone is entitled to their opinions, and that that should be respected. Nonetheless, I think that panning it for its delusional idealism, its “preaching from a pulpit”, its sanctimony… takes away from the vicarious deliciousness of getting a “do-over”, or a do-better, or even the warm-and-fuzziness of empathising with that colleague, or that moment. Not to mention its crunchy moments and timing, snappy scripting (not always, but most of the time).

I loved almost every episode of The Newsroom right from the get-go. Mind you, I think I might have fit the perfect audience profile for it, given my professional background and personality… but I think the reason that I most “got it” was the in-between time in which I went to J-school.

My first year at university, the computer labs had dos-based dialup internet connections and text-based forums. My cohort still had to look up journals for our Psychology major via CD-Roms, and then physically locate them on shelves and photocopy pages and pages of text. We learnt from brilliant, sharp old-school journalists for whom their role as the Fourth Estate was not a debate but a job description, and who would have understood Mackenzie McHale’s “speechifying” that, “there was a time when journalism wasn’t a career– it was a calling.” We took ethics training and obligations as par for the course; there was a code of conduct. Of course there was: in a functioning democracy, power came with responsibility. I wrote essays on the what the rise of the internet would do to or for the “gatekeepers” of information, on what it would do to personal identity. I worshipped at the doors of broadsheet newspapers. By the time I finished my first studies, I was reading my news entirely on the web.

It was another lifetime, with many lifetimes that came after it, but our first degrees shape our first frameworks, the first filters through which we understand the working world. (Ok, if you’re a liberal arts student, the world itself). So to this day, like Sloan Sabbith, I don’t believe in the term “citizen journalism”, because, to me, “journalism” is an institution that involves checks and balanced coverage and accountability and culpability. It’s citizen-something, but it ain’t journalism.

Almost everything that I’ve done in my career up to this point has been driven first by passion and idealism (sometimes bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and outright delusional). So MacKenzie slapping down the novel Don Quixote in front of Jim Harper to bring home the point that there was someone who was ready to fight windmills to build something extraordinary and that he wanted them to be a part of it, was one of many heart-leaping moments for me. As was Will’s “America can be great again” speech, and, one of the many that really resonated within me:

“The Greater Fool is … a patsy. For the rest of us to profit, we need a greater fool, someone who will buy long and sell short. Most people spend their lives trying not to be the greater fool; we toss in the hot potato, we dive for his seat when the music stops. The greater fool is someone with the perfect blend of self-delusion and ego to think that he can succeed where others have failed. This whole country was made by greater fools.” (Sloan Sabbith). 

I’m grateful for the continuing existence of idealism and whatever fires up the audacity of hope. 🙂

Advent Day 13: I’m grateful for beaches.

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Beaches do something to our frequencies, I’m sure. Apart from teeming with negative ions pulling away all those pesky positive ions we all apparently generate that make us stressed and twitchy, the waves and wind make these wonderful calming noises. Seagulls. Coconut trees. Soft, crunchy sand.

I think that if you grow up near the sea, it sort of works itself into your DNA. I am very uneasy landlocked; I’ve never had an overwhelming desire to visit Switzerland, nor Canberra, and I didn’t really like the claustrophobic feeling of being inland on continents more than an hour from a beach by fast train. It didn’t have to be a swimmable beach, just a beach. A coastline. Somewhere I could dip my feet into the seawater, even if it was very cold water. I can remember every single beach I’ve been to in my life– the colour and granularity of the sand, the temperature of the water, the colour and clarity of the water. I just love them.

I’m grateful for beaches.


Picture from Wikimedia commons.
 

Advent Day 6: I’m grateful for choice.

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Choice. We take it so much for granted, we who choose each day our outfits, what to eat and with whom, how we want our tea and coffee, what to watch on the TV or Apple TV. We choose our universities, schools, government representatives, where to take our holidays, where to rent or buy a house, what car to buy. But it’s a privilege that we were accorded by virtue of where we were born, into what circumstances, and sheer dumb luck.

One just has to look around the world not just at those who live under the poverty line or at its margins, but also at those running from conflict zones, from totalitarian regimes and dictatorships… just for a moment… to realise that external choices are afforded to the privileged of the world.

So, needless to say, I’m grateful for external choices. But I’m also grateful for lessons that came with learning to recognise and make internal choices. Older, wiser souls might not have to earn these habits, but I did, and I was pretty frikkin’ irritated about it too… because turning inwards tends to happen only when you’ve run out of places to run, so to speak, when you’re exhausted and when the old way just wasn’t working any more and you’ve really milked it dry.

It’s choosing how to feel at any one particular time. Choosing your emotions and thoughts. Not pushing them away or controlling them or twisting them into the shape you’d prefer them to be. Just choosing which ones to entertain. You know, like you’re the popular kid and you decide to whom you deign to give more attention.

On a related note, it’s also the power to choose your story, your narration. Like in the movie A Beautiful Life, only sans the sheer effort that would have required in concentration camp circumstances. It’s as Viktor Frankl said, that you have to have meaning, and you can choose your meaning, craft it (I am very broadly paraphrasing here).

Finally, I am grateful to have had enough confrontation, enough opportunity and enough freedom to choose myself. That means both choosing who I want to be at any given point (and the attendant failures and successes) and choosing to stand on my own side.

It can be as much of a burden as a privilege, because choice, like power, comes with great responsibility. But I wouldn’t have it any other way, because learning to bear that responsibility with grace, integrity and compassion in a world where nothing is sacred any longer is a worthy life goal. And I’m grateful for it.

 

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 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 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. 🙂