Advent Day 21: I’m grateful for curiosity.

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The last time I made a list of things I wanted to study at university or learn at a good school of some kind, this is how it looked (in no particular order and following no particular logic nor, in the case of economics, sense of aptitude whatsoever):

  • Creative writing (poetry and creative nonfiction)
  • Disaster preparedness and recovery
  • Crisis management
  • Epidemiology and viruses
  • Economics
  • Languages (modern and Latin)
  • International relations
  • Patisserie
  • Jewellery-making
  • Music
  • Food studies/Nutrition

Even then, I felt that a few somethings were missing from the list.

I also want to learn classical European sword-fighting (not just that prissy, skittish rapier fencing in a tailored Darth Vadar suit, real full-on Lord of the Rings go-full-tilt-and-fight-an-Orc type metal-clashing sword-fighting), aikido, archery, Krav…. and be excellent at meditation, too. Oh and shooting! I’ve never held a gun before… I’d rather like to see how good I am on a shooting range, and learn how to reload a magazine of a pistol. Just because.

I love new things; they just fire up my brain like little synapse sparklers. I’m just as happy curled up on a couch for weeks with a stack of books, though.

Ah, thank you dear creator of the universe, if you exist, for bestowing me with terminal, pathological curiosity. (Let’s assume you didn’t accidentally drop the whole bottle on me on the production line). Mind you, it must be guarded against jadedness and depression and what society expects from a “grownup”. I’m grateful for curiosity!

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 1: I’m grateful for an ever-growing to-read list.

 

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If I had to choose an addiction, I’d say “books”; but, also, rather, that they chose me. I don’t even remember a time I wasn’t reading. My first memories consist of torchlight, blanket fort, and stack of books. And, very soon after, prescription glasses. Hey, all addictions have their price. There is something so juicily, exquisitely exciting about a new book by a favourite author arriving in the mail, whether fiction, non-fiction or somewhere in between. I feel all wriggly with delight on the inside.

Mind you, I have never been the fastest reader. I think I might be the slowest reader I know; so much so that I’m convinced I have some undetected attention or learning disorder. In fact, I tend to glare sulkily and jealously at friends with photographic memories who don’t so much read as Xerox pages of books into their minds.

But I love rollicking good fiction and well-written non-fiction. I love having my mind and ideas and fixed points twisted and pulled out of shape and entertained and squashed… I love being carried on new ships and seas and rivers and someone else’s dreams. I think it is one of the easiest ways to come out of ourselves, one of the laziest, one of the kindest.

So many books to get through! All the miles to go before I sleep, to borrow from and paraphrase one of my favourite American poets.

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 random acts of kindness.

I’m pretty sure I’ve already done an entry on random acts of kindness, but I really had to share this. I burst into tears at one point (you’ll see!), I was so moved.

I know I’ve let this blog lag a little, but it’s not because I haven’t been actively being grateful for all the little and big things in my life, because I really have been. It’s just that some days I’m grateful for things I’ve already written about.

When you are as naturally nomadic as I am, random acts of kindness mean so much more because very often, they’ll be carried out by strangers, or by people I’d barely met, by people who haven’t been a part of my journey for very long; and because in new places, life often starts out as a whole series of random acts of kindness. All of that makes these kindnesses so much more precious. Each time, they reinforce my deep, practically delusional, optimistic instinct to believe in the best in people, not just because it gives people the chance to show you their best selves, but also because it makes my own world a much more hopeful one, filled with possibility, connection, love and new beginnings.

I’m grateful for the hurdles. [Or, How to Build Your Bones. (In my opinion, anyway.)]

1. Live in different countries. There’s nothing like building your identity through embracing and rebelling against elements in a few different cultures, including your own– but the only way to see your own culture and conditioning clearly is to get out of it.


2. Make huge mistakes. Fix them. Decide not to fix them. Realise that there are some you can’t fix. Learn to move on from them. Allow yourself to make mistakes.

3. Have huge fights with your friends. Make up. Decide not to make up. Learn to forgive yourself. Learn to forgive other people. Learn to let go. Understand that you can outgrow people and places, or they can outgrow you.

4. Be disliked, slandered, hated, gossiped about, and stabbed in the back. After a while, you realise that you are still standing, or that you got back up again, or that in the end, you must just be you, follow your own convictions, and stand on your own side. Yes, you must consider other people’s opinions, but yours must count the most to you– even against your family’s, friends’, partner’s and parents’. Nobody else knows what is best for you. There is no endeavour in the world worth pursuing that will not have its critics and backseat drivers.

5. Take risks you are uncomfortable with. That’s how you learn that not all risks are suitable for you. Learn which risks, which kinds of risks, and what level of risk is best for YOU.

6. Violate your values once in a while. There’s nothing like having the rug pulled out from under you and having to consciously DECIDE on which values you want to live by, not simply accepting what you’ve been conditioned, trained and brainwashed to believe.



7. Be a part of seeing your organisation through at least one professional crisis or three– a health crisis, an environmental crisis, a plane crash, a failed, public negotiations round, a bank crisis, an Enron. That’s the fastest way to understanding your professional worth.

8. Have at least one deeply personal crisis. That’s the fastest way to understanding just how strong and flexible you are.



9. Have ideals in love and romance. Watch Disney, read Mills and Boon, immerse in the old classics. That way, you have three things: something to aspire to, something to dream about, and something to tear down one at a time and replace with standards. When ideals collapse, in their place stand boundaries and standards, particularly for those of us who do not emulate our own parents’ unions.



10. Confront your fears head on– the fears that hold you back from doing what you want to do in the world. Afraid of public speaking? Do a course in journalism, volunteer to host stage shows, take acting and drama classes. Afraid of heights? Bungee jump, freefall out of a plane, stand on a glass floor hundreds of feet in the air, abseil 100m into a lush tropical cave. Claustrophobic? Go on caving trips and expeditions. (yup, done ALL that.)

11. Be ugly. Be jealous, be bitter, be angry, be frustrated, be weird, be stupid, be “blonde”, be all the dark and erupting emotions that society has taught you were “bad” or unacceptable”. Be ok with that. Whether we want to acknowledge them or not, they are a part of us and each of our unique stories– part of the paradox that is all human beings– strong and vulnerable, generous and selfish, big-hearted and guarded, intelligent and autistic, crafty and stupid, optimistic and depressed, pessimistic and idealistic, and so on. Whether we fight them or not, those emotions are there, and the more you fight something, the more solid you make it. A dear Finnish friend, Tina, once put it this way, “they’re just emotions. Look at them. Watch them. Let them play. Then go on with your life.”

12. Stick your foot in your mouth many times and in different contexts. That’s how instinctive diplomacy and grace in unfamiliar contexts come to those of us not born with a silver spoon in our mouths. You learn to recover, you learn to listen carefully, you learn that sometimes it’s ok to stay silent and be thought ignorant than speak and confirm your ignorance. 🙂

13. Travel until you’re sick of travelling, until you’re so stuffed and spoiled and fat on travel that you go to any city and begin to recognise familiar patterns. Find home that way. Find your best self that way.



14. Eat and be interested in what you put into your body. It is the most primal need we have, goes directly into our system and bloodstream, and we have given over the right to choose what to put into our bodies to corporations, politics and franchises. It is also one of life’s purest joys. Caring about the food you eat is caring for yourself.

15. Experience obsession. Ballet, choir, classical music, rock-climbing, travelling, an organisation, a person, a cause… it shows you the extent of your own ability to be passionate and the importance of passion, and your own capacity to come alive, to breathe and live what you love, and to know what– deep down– you need, you want and you crave, what is important to you. It will also show you what you lack, what you are running from, and what you are covering up.



16. Demand that which you desire. If you get it, well and good– you learn to live with the responsibility of getting what you want, you learn that humans are seldom satisfied with that, you learn to become better at loving what you have. If you don’t get it, you learn to deal with lack and loss. Either way, you learn. But demand it– demand it of yourself, demand it of others. And learn that you are not perfect, nobody is perfect, and therefore that there are no perfect systems in the world, whether that applies to organisations or economic theory or relationships. That way, you slowly begin to understand and put together the best imperfect life for you.

17. Be lonely at least once in your life. Bone-achingly, soul-draining-ly, desperately lonely. So lonely you shiver in the cold because there’s nothing left inside you to keep you warm. You’ll look at the homeless, artists, poor little rich kids, expats and so many other people with so much more compassion when you see them. It’s different from being alone. It’s loneliness. Learn to appreciate how important it is to be ok with yourself and take care of yourself. The only constant in this life is you.

18. Have your heart broken at least once (once is enough, but for some of us, apparently it is not). Learn to internalise and apply all the theoretical good stuff that never got beyond the intellect.

Done all that.

April 2013.

Tiny little cars.

I love Smart cars, little Volkswagen Beetles and the sweet little Minis. Yes, I like fuel efficiency and environmental economy… but, the main thing is, I love cities with little cobblestone lanes and streets. And that means big cars are just a nuisance because they don’t share well; they certainly don’t share those sorts of charming little roads with bicycles or pedestrians well. Also, you could park a Smart pretty easily on a crowded road in a country with more relaxed road rules.

I’m grateful for cute little cars!

Fireworks.

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I know, I know. They’re a waste of (often taxpayer) money, very expensive, pollutive, noisy, indulgent, wasteful, etc.

But the hopeless romantic in me just loves a good occasional firework display, especially when it’s been creatively choreographed, they’ve invented new fire bursts, and it’s combined with other bright fiery showy elements. And rivers. Yes, I just realised that most of the fireworks displays I’ve liked best have been on rivers…. except in cities where there was no real river to speak of.

The most memorable fireworks display I’ve ever seen was one in the late 90s, in Melbourne on the banks of the Yarra River, during a festival called Moomba. It was beautifully choreographed, poetic, quirky, smart, atmospheric, even moody and mysterious with a hint of the Cirque du Soleil at times.

I’m sheepishly grateful for fireworks.

Gazpacho.

Gazpacho

Cold soups weren’t in my vocabulary before I went away to study in a temperate country for the first time, and summers were very, very….well, summery. In my mind, soups were hot: clear and brothy, creamy, or a bit gluey.

But then there were those hot summer days on which meaty or potatoey dishes just made me feel a little bit queasy. You know, beer and beach and barbecue days. Lawn chairs and sprinkler days. Swimming pools and late alfresco dinner days. Sunscreen and hats and hammocks days.

I just love freshly-made gazpacho on days like that. Just enough savoury and sweet; spicy and smooth. Yeah, grateful for gazpacho.


Picture attribution: Photo by HarlanH. AttributionNoncommercial Some rights reserved by HarlanH. Copyright belongs to the creator. Use of this picture in no way indicates an affiliation with the creator of the image, nor does it indicate that the creator shares the views reflected by the text.