Saturday, December 31, 2016

on failure and courage

It was the last weekend in April when I first fell. Or at least when I first remember falling. I went to Clunes Booktown and came home with three volumes of Virginia Woolf's diaries and two volumes of the Penguin Classics Greek Myths—battered and worn in a manner that only made them more appealing.

Later it would be Kate Tempest's The Bricks That Built the Houses when I saw her speak at The Wheeler Centre and Gloria Steinem's memoir, My Life on the Road, when I saw her speak at the Town Hall. Steinem's book came with the ticket price and how could I give up the chance of a personally signed copy of The Bricks? I couldn't.

A book of Blake's poetry would follow, as would a collection of Warsan Shire's, and more Tempest with The Brand New Ancients. All necessary for my poetry class, or so I told myself. A dear friend would send me some books and I'd pretend that this was ok because I hadn't bought them myself.

A trip to Readings for a Melbourne Writers Festival program and Fiona Wright's Small Acts of Disappearance would come home with me. Later a visit to the underground treasure trove of City Books with the intention of buying a short story collection for a friend saw me leave with two for her and one for me. This trip to City Books also instigated a cross-country purchase of Woman in Sexist Society edited by Vivian Gornick and Barbara K Moran.

A restrained weekend at the Mildura Writers Festival would add a single David Malouf. My second stint volunteering at Melbourne Writers Festival and I would fall hard for Elizabeth Harrower, A Few Days in the Country would come home with me. Trips to second-hand book sales, library sales, op-shops and vintage markets would add Helen Garner, Tony Birch, Margaret Atwood, Roddy Doyle, Eimear McBride, Hannah Kent, Ruth Park, Anne Tyler and Sonya Hartnett. And others. Many others.

There were more beautiful gifts in the mail and the launch of a friend’s debut poetry collection. I wandered through a newly discovered op-shop and brought home my first Agatha Christie. I discovered graphic novels and comics and added one of each. An unexpected gift voucher to a Melbourne treasure added three new names in Ali Smith, Lucia Berlin and Christina Stead. As Christmas approached I gave my Kris Kringle a simple list of a dozen names. Some of them—Vivian Gornick, Julie Koh and Shirley Jackson among them—appeared under the tree.

Earlier this year I had glanced at my tbr pile and decided that in 2016 I would do two things. Firstly, I would read every book in my tbr and post a review here and secondly I would abstain from buying any more books until I'd reached the bottom of that pile.

I did neither.

This week I finally finished putting up some new bookshelves at home. They line the walls on each side of the window in my bedroom. I spent most of an afternoon filling them. At first I tried to arrange them alphabetically, then by genre before deciding that height was the only option—inclined as I am to appreciating aesthetics over logic.

I stacked them side by side, pushing them up against one another as I filled shelf after shelf. Among these books are the remnants of my original tbr pile as well as the books I told myself I wouldn’t buy this year.

On the title page of many of these books is my name, a habit I've taken with me from childhood. On many of the newer books, the ones whose corners are still sharp, I’ve written the city or town I found them in, too. Some say New York or London, others Melbourne or Ballarat. Some list the name of the person who gave them to me, others have handwritten notes tucked inside their pages.

While cleaning out my parent’s bookshelves this past week (I guess I was feeling inspired after doing my own) I found a collection of books that transported me back to my childhood. Stamped inside these books, in either red or blue ink, were the words ‘rejected copy not for sale under copyright’. I flipped open cover after cover, searching for the stamp. I ran my fingers over the long-dry ink, feeling the waves of nostalgia wash over me.

My Aunt and Uncle used to work for a printing company. A spare room in their home was lined on two walls with bookcases that seemed endless to ten-year-old me; shooting towards the ceiling and brimming with books. Whenever I visited, my Aunt would hand me a plastic bag, point to a bookshelf and say take what you like. When they visited us, there was often a plastic bag bulging with books tucked into their car somewhere.

I often wonder if I would be the reader, or the writer, that I am without all those books. Those rejected books that filled my childhood and lined my bookshelves. Those rejected books I forwent sleep to devour, the ones that formed the figurative staircase I climbed to get here.

In an essay in her collection When I Was a Child I Read Books, Marilynne Robinson writes that books give her courage. Courage. When I first read that I wondered what she meant. But I think I understand what she was getting at now or at least I understand what courage in this context means to me.

This year has been punctuated by wonderful, beautiful highs and horrible, crushing lows. There were weddings and milestone birthdays, beautiful new babies and afternoons in the garden with my niece and nephew. There were wonderful new friends and reminders of how important old friends are. There were new beginnings and new challenges. There were unexpected triumphs and there were devastating heart-breaking losses—the kind that punctured my soul, taking something from me that I desperately wanted to keep.

This year was many things. This year reminded me how severe the world can be. It reminded me that a hug can often say more that words can, and sometimes better too.

And it reminded me that the love that was nurtured in childhood by those rejected books is not going anywhere. It is an unwavering, steadfast love that props me up, that allows me to escape when reality hurts too much, that reassures and emboldens me, that educates me. I line my bookshelves with that love, I stack it up on my bedside table and I write lists of potential new lovers.

When Marilynne Robinson wrote of courage, I think she wrote of that love. More specifically I think she was talking about how that love forges a type of courage that you cannot get anywhere else. It’s the courage to see the world through eyes that are not your own. It’s the courage to enter a space that does not belong to you and to sit and listen and begin to understand. It’s the courage to be challenged, the courage to ask yourself questions, the courage to ask others those same questions. It’s the courage to share something of yourself, to let something of those books crawl under your skin and stay.

I didn’t make it to the bottom of my tbr pile this year. I’m further from it today than I was at the beginning of the year when I set myself that challenge. But, sitting here at my desk, surrounded by these books that I love, books that will forever live under my skin, I don’t care.

This year in failing to reach the bottom of that pile, in failing to abstain from adding to it, I haven’t failed at all. I’ve moved through the highs and lows the past twelve months have dealt and I’ve come out the other side: a little older, a little stronger, a little surer of who and what I am. I’ve reaffirmed that love that started so many years ago with rejection and found courage in the books that have left a little of themselves under my skin, courage that pushes me to be the writer, to be the woman, that I am. I may not have stuck to that ill-formed resolution, but I haven’t failed.

Friday, September 23, 2016

journey to the bottom of the tbr pile: Nell Zink/The Wallcreeper

the kirby bee nell zink the wallcreeper book review

I’ve never been much for birds. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate their existence. And I’m aware they’re likely related to dinosaurs so that gives them some cachet. But beyond an occasional glance as one sweeps across my line of sight or flies just a little too close to my head, nothing. 

Maybe that’s why I felt compelled to know what a Wallcreeper looked like. So I googled, and began sifting through the various images, clicking from one to the next until I came across one that caught my attention

In it the bird is in full flight, moving through the air with a bug hanging from its beak. Its wings, spread out wide from its body, are black with splashes of red and the most arresting line of large white polka dots right at the end of the feathers. That picture snuck up on me. I wasn’t prepared for it, wasn’t prepared for the way I sat staring at the screen, soaking up the beauty of this bird. 

In a way, Nell Zink’s debut novel, The Wallcreeper, snuck up on me too. It felt a little like Zink had pulled back a curtain, letting me peek into this strange world she’d created, letting me squirm at the edges of these somewhat dubious character’s lives. I had no preconceived ideas about this novel— except for a recommendation from a friend, I’d not read or listened to a review of any kind. I went in cold. I came out feeling like I’d been unceremoniously pushed back outside the curtain. Dumped onto the cool earth. And yet, I loved it. 

The Paris Review describes The Wallcreeper as a coming of age story, and in some ways I suppose it is. Americans Tiffany and Stephen meet when he interviews for the pharmaceutical company she works for. A meeting Tiffany, the narrator of the book, says this about: ‘It was one of those moments where you think: We will definitely fuck’. They marry three weeks later and Tiffany follows Stephen and his job to Berne, a small town in northern Germany. What follows is a frankly chaotic story. 

Tiffany and Stephen's relationship is at the centre of the book—though it is Tiffany's story—and it's fascinating to watch them exist with and shift against each other. Their relationship is both marred and seemingly strengthened by their multiple affairs and after Stephen abandons his job, they move across Europe and become increasingly engaged in environmental causes—you might even call them eco-terrorists, as Keith Gessen does.

The Wallcreeper though, above all else—marriage, infidelity, birds (there are lots and lots of birds), coming of age stories—seems stridently environmental. Some kind of comment on the human impact on the environment and how the likely best thing for the planet is the cessation of mankind. Which, let’s be honest, is probably accurate. 

However, of the book, Zink says this: 

‘I wanted to communicate vital topics in nature conservation to men and women in their thirties, the leaders of tomorrow, by wrapping them up in sophisticated language and conflicted sex. It worked for the first few pages. After that I had some personal setbacks and continued it as a tortured autobiography in impenetrable code.’

Which explains a lot, really. There are no chapters in The Wallcreeper, with only line breaks to suggest at the movement of time. The story progresses at a brisk pace, which helps with the chaos. And some aspects of the character’s border on absurd. 

That said, Zink has a way with words. And, as is my custom, I found myself underlying sentences that struck me. Zink, through Tiffany (knowing Zink describes it as a tortured autobiography makes it difficult to separate Tiffany the character from Zink the writer, but then maybe she’s supposed to be Stephen or Gernot or Olaf?) makes some startlingly blunt observations in the most economical of language. Of the miscarriage that occurs within the first line of the book, Tiffany says: ‘I rolled over to my side and coughed. I wasn’t pregnant, I noticed’. Later, she will use similarly blunt language to describe another significant event (which I won’t mention here because spoilers etc.) which had me gasping, hand over mouth. 

And yet other times, her characters made remarkable observations that had me sitting back in my chair, replaying the sentences over and over in my head. At one point, after Stephen asks Tiffany to tell him about herself, she recounts her life in a series of sentence long anecdotes and ends with the line ‘I’ve never met anybody I can be entirely sure I’ve actually met’. Well, have you? 

These types of experimental novels can sometimes be hard work, the reader slogging through complicated prose, sifting the words for meaning. And while The Wallcreeper is undoubtedly experimental, I was captivated. Reading it over a single weekend in great big gulps. The characters may have, at times, had me shaking my head in disbelief, but I still found myself thoroughly absorbed in their world.

In a not particularly effusive review, Bookslut describes Zink’s debut as ‘an odd bird’, suggesting both a plot and coherent characterisations are missing. I really have to disagree. Perhaps there is no defined three-act structure here and no particularly redeeming characters, but if you’re reading fiction to find those things, maybe avoid experimental work like this—or just fiction altogether?

The Wallcreeper might refuse to abide by ‘the rules’ but there are real characters here. Complex, infuriating, predictable and unpredictable, confusing and ugly characters that push against one another as they hurtle towards something none of them seem prepared for, or even aware of. Which, when you think about it, seems less experimental and more a simple reflection of the lives we live. 

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

journey to the bottom of the tbr pile: Stephanie Bishop/The Other Side of the World

Stephanie Bishop’s The Other Side of the World begins with a quote from the Russian writer, Svetlana Boym about nostalgia; Boym says that nostalgia is a ‘longing for a home that no longer exists or has never existed’. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about home lately, about what home means, about how it can and must and will inevitably change. I’ve been asking myself if coming back is harder than leaving. If the change we see in our homes is actually a reflection of the change in ourselves. I’ve been wondering if the only way you can hope to answer these questions is by cutting yourself loose from home, from the expectations and the routine and the familiarity. I’ve reached few conclusions, but then maybe that’s the point. Reading Bishops’s book was a beautiful diversion from my own convoluted thinking. 

The Other Side of the World is an emotional rumination on home, on trying to find our place within the world and on the choices we make to find that place. English born Charlotte is a painter, she is married to Henry, an English-by-way-of-British-Colonial-India poet and academic. They live in rural England, in a small house with mould growing on the walls. They have a baby, Lucie. And the novel opens with Charlotte discovering a second baby, May, is on her way. 

Charlotte is struggling with motherhood, with being a wife, with the way these things seem to disconnect her from her art. Though I hesitate to make a diagnosis and Bishop never explicitly says, I think Charlotte is depressed. And in a moment of despair she agrees to move to the other side of the world that the title alludes to. Specifically, to Perth, Australia. Henry, who hates the chill of the English air as much as Charlotte is renewed by it, is joyful to escape to what he assumes is greener pastures. What follows is a gentle unravelling, a slow realisation of self, a chain of events and a series of decisions that threaten to tear the family apart. 

Set in the early sixties, The Other Side of the World moves languidly across the page, the language soft and poetic as it shifts around you. The descriptions of the English countryside evoke feelings of greyness, of a biting cold: 
‘She could never be lost here, but she could disappear, she thinks, as she passes the slow cows chewing frozen ground, steam rising from their flanks. She passes the pond, covered now with silvery ice, the frosted edges of brambles. Above her the sky is mottle brown and grey and the air smells of dung and grass. The leaves on the hawthorns are gone, those on the horse chestnuts are still browning and falling.’
In sharp contrast, those of the Australian bush are brilliant in colour and warmth, although Bishop manages to cleverly draw comparison between the two:
‘Charlotte looks out over the glassy violet water stretching on for miles, and in the back of her mind sees the silvery expanse of the damp fields she left behind. The river begins to glow as darkness falls on the land around it. The rushes and she-oaks that cluster along the water’s edge turn black as the sky shifts from orange then mauve. Beneath it, the river lies smooth as pearl and shines the colour of saffron. Golds and pinks marble its silky length.’
The Australian landscape Bishop paints is familiar to me only because it is the landscape so commonly associated with Australia in a broader cultural context. It is not my Australia. It is a dry, dusty and hot place. A place where one imagines the sky feels high and wide and impossibly blue. A place where the sun forces you to squint so often your brow is permanently furrowed.

Reading Bishop's rendering reminded me of Robyn Davidson's Tracks and the connection I forged to that red and dusty Australia, despite never having lived in, or even visited, Alice Springs. How can you have such a strong connection with somewhere you've never directly experienced?

I felt the same about the landscape Bishop wrote, a strong sense of connection and appreciation, and yet I also sympathised with the England Charlotte missed with a heartbreak I feel like I might understand. Maybe that's because my Australia is cooler and greener with more clouds and more rain; my Australia could almost be mistaken for England.  

Alongside the landscape, Bishop has constructed complex and engaging characters, and though I struggled to like Charlotte, I found myself keenly turning the pages, wanting to know what she would do. The narrative moves smoothly between the couple, and while it does feel like The Other Side of the World is Charlotte’s story, Henry’s desire to carve out a space for himself feels more visceral to me than Charlotte’s longing for home. Maybe that’s because I’m home now, perhaps if I’d read this story in London last year when it first found its way into my life, I’d have felt differently. 

While Henry's inability to really see his wife, to understand her, to meet her somewhere in the middle—while a vital tension in the story—made him frustrating, I did have some sympathy for him. And the scenes where Harry returns to India to be present for his mother’s death were some of the most interesting. 

Bishop holds a doctorate in poetry, so her ability to corral language so poetically is unsurprising. This book is beautifully written, the story engaging, the character’s complex enough to lift off the page, its underlying themes delicately mapped out. That said, it was the ending to this book that lingered, the ambiguity of it. It stayed long after the final page was turned and I still find myself wondering what happened. 

I wondered if it would be remiss of me to not mention the middlebrow discussion that hovered around this book last year, alongside Antonia Hayes’ Relativity and Susan Johnson’s The Landing. In an essay/review for the Sydney Review of Books, Beth Driscoll discussed ‘middlebrow’ fiction and its apparent association with women writers and readers. 

The word middlebrow, and its sibling highbrow, are words that I don't like. I don't like the aspersions created by their use, the way they are used to label books with no thought for what a book means outside of the intellectual sphere. I don't like the way they reduce books and writers, placing them into boxes and deciding what or who a writer, and their work, is. Positing a work as middlebrow—or as highbrow—seems lazy to me, as if deliberately missing the point of telling stories.

But mostly, I don't like the gendered use of middlebrow. And it is this specifically that that Bishop, Hayes and Johnson rejected in their smart and measured response to Driscoll, also for the Sydney Review of Books.

In light of the above, I'm not going to engage in a discussion of whether The Other Side of the World is anything more than a good story. A story that attempts to understand something of our interactions with each other, something of what home means, something of what motherhood and identity and self means in the broader context of our lives. 

If you want to label that as a type of brow, go right ahead. I’m less concerned with where this book fits on some imagined literary ladder and more with how it made me feel. 

What I felt was captivated by the beautiful language, what I felt was thoughtful about the idea of home and the choices we make to find home, what I felt was a delicious appreciation for the uncertainty of its ending. What more could I ask for?

Read more about the journey to the bottom of my tbr pile

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

journey to the bottom of the tbr pile: Cheryl Strayed/Tiny Beautiful Things

Reading Cheryl Strayed feels like talking to a high school friend's wise and cool mum. I don't mean that I feel as if I've been transported back to high school, but that it feels like that kind of relationship. Where someone with mountains of life experience, who shimmers with compassion and empathy, whose words feel wrapped in understanding and patience is chatting to you over the kitchen counter, a glass of wine in hand and a conspiratorial wink at just the right moment. It feels reassuring. 

I often wonder about that desire for reassurance, for comfort. In a way, we’re conditioned to battle on, to persevere, to ignore the obstacles as we leap over them, always moving towards some inscrutable life goal whose achievement will absolve all feelings of failure and sadness and anger and regret.

The reality, of course, is far different. 

Sometimes, as the wind howls around you, as the noise of world becomes too much, as you falter, as you fall, that reassurance is the only thing that keeps you breathing.

Tiny Beautiful Things, a collection of columns written by Cheryl under the pseudonym Sugar for The Rumpus website, is subtitled 'Advice on love and life from someone who's been there' which feels incredibly apt. Because having read these columns, having read Cheryl's memoir, Wild, it's fairly clear that she has been there. 

As someone who is always emotionally invested in any book I read, Tiny Beautiful Things feels like a warm hug - which is how I described the book in a Twitter conversation once. 

The pages of this book are very nearly vibrating with emotion. 

Cheryl's responses to questions about grief and fear and love and envy are all-encompassing; encouraging and understanding and forgiving and nurturing. But also unafraid to point to ugliness and fear and self-pity and ask why?

I found myself underlining so many sections of this book; sentences and paragraphs that resonated, that stuck, that helped me keep breathing. 

I considered just listing them all, one after another and calling that my review. And in some small way, I am doing that. Only, I've slashed the list from multiples of multiples to a few that I found myself coming back to again and again, reading and re-reading until the words almost lost their meaning. Almost, but not quite.

The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of love.

Practice saying the word ‘love’ to the people you love so when it matters the most to say it, you will.

How many women wrote beautiful novels and stories and poems and essays and plays and scripts and songs in spite of all the crap they endured. How many of them didn’t collapse in a heap of ‘I could have been better than this’ and instead went right ahead and became better than anyone would have predicted or allowed them to be. The unifying theme is resilience and faith. The unifying theme is being a warrior and a motherfucker. It is not fragility. It’s strength. It’s nerve. And ‘if your nerve deny you-,’ as Emily Dickinson wrote, ‘go above your nerve.’

The most terrible and beautiful and interesting things happen in a life…Whatever happens to you belongs to you.

Fear of being alone is not a good reason to stay.

Go, even though there is nowhere to go.
Go, even though you don’t know exactly why you can’t stay.
Go, because you want to.
Because wanting to leave is enough.

In the last letter of Tiny Beautiful Things, the question is what Cheryl would tell her twenty-something self if she could talk to her. What follows is both heartbreaking and striking in its resounding simplicity. It is probably my favourite of the columns in this book, and so it makes sense to finish with it. To finish with the words I highlighted and read and re-read until they almost didn’t make sense, almost.

Be brave enough to break your own heart.

There are some things you can’t understand yet. Your life will be a great and continuous unfolding.

You will come to know things that can only be known with the wisdom of age and the grace of years. Most of those things will have to do with forgiveness.

You cannot convince people to love you.

Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realise there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room.

The useless days will add up to something…These things are your becoming.

I've found a place for Tiny Beautiful Things on my bookshelf, one where I can easily reach it. Because this book is one that I'm sure I'll return to again and again, searching for a warm hug, looking for some reassuring words that will help me keep breathing.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

journey to the bottom of the tbr pile: Charlotte Wood/The Natural Way of Things

Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things has lived in my tbr pile for many months now, its beautifully drawn cover pretending at the story inside. I was warned that this beauty belied a truth within its pages, a story that was difficult and rough. I was warned that these words simmered, that they pushed back against a world that too often mistakes ‘woman’ for ‘empty space’. You’ll need comforts a friend said, you’ll need chocolate and tea and hugs. I felt some trepidation. What story had ever come with such warning? And yet, as if fate had placed a warm hand on my back, gently pushing me towards this book, The Natural Way of Things was exactly the story I needed; its words acting as a salve for my burnt skin.

Described as a dystopian tale, The Natural Way of Things is a story of so-called sullied women, shipped off, collected together in a brutal landscape somewhere in the Australian bush. It is a story of their shrinking, of their lives stolen from them. And yet, it felt like a 300-page metaphor for the life of women who are treated so horribly by the men who view them as less then, as disposable; and the society that expends immeasurable amounts of energy explaining to them, talking over them, judging them. Dystopian? Perhaps not. 
‘Finally, some instinct rises. She runs her tongue over her teeth, furred like her mind. She hears her own thick voice deep inside her ears when she says, ‘I need to know where I am.’ 
The man stands there, tall and narrow, hand still on the doorknob, surprised. He says, almost in sympathy, ‘Oh sweetie. You need to know what you are.’
The traumas of these women, the pieces of their worlds that are carefully sketched out for us, are so familiar. These are stories we know, stories we’ve heard and read and felt. That knowledge sits uncomfortably at the base of my spine as I read, as these careful sketches are made, each scene appears before me and I can fill in the details because I know them. That is a heavy load to bear, that knowledge. I know these women and their stories and it breaks my heart. 
‘Verla looks around the table then. Despite the shaven skulls, one by one the girls’ faces clarify for an instant - and then merge, and Verla knows that she and they are in some dreadful way connected.   
Boncer’s words return. In the days to come she will learn what she is, what they all are. They are the minister’s-little-travel-tramp and that-Skype-slut and the yuck-ugly-dog from the cruise ship; they are pig-on-a-spit and big-red-box, moll-number-twelve and bogan-gold-digger-gangbang-slut. They are what happens when you don’t keep you fucking fat slag’s mouth shut.’
But there is more than anger here, more than a sharp commentary on the none too subtle lines of gender based power that define our society, more than the flippancy with which women’s bodies are used and discarded, there is something else here that I latched onto strongly.

There is friendship.

A constant through my life has been the women in it that support and encourage, women who cheer for you, who so desperately want happiness and success and life for you. I have been blessed to have some of these women in my life, to have them now. And as I read this story, as I sunk within its pages and entwined myself with its words it was friendship, it was Yolanda and Verla, that sustained me. It was the moments their hands found each other, the moments their eyes locked, the moments they existed together, that allowed me to push aside the grime, if even just for a little while. 
‘They stand in the dark corner of the dogboxes. Verla smells Yolanda’s animal breath, feels the quick fine skeleton beneath her skin. She feels Yolanda’s speedy heart drumming in the burrow of her chest. Yolanda gathers Verla to herself one last time, then lets her go. She pulls the bulky cape of her skins about her and pads to the end of the corridor, out of the doorway and disappears into the glaring light. Verla sprints from the boxes, scrambles back up to the veranda. She turns to see the low silver flash of Yolanda’s skins only just visible, swift through the grass.’
Charlotte Wood writes this story, writes these women, with something that feels like empathy smashed onto the page with lashings of despair and frustration swirled through. Her language is raw, without pretence. She makes no attempt to smooth the edges. And it is this that makes it rough reading, that makes it feel so visceral, that makes tears pool in the corners of my eyes and forces me to sit upright, a tension wrapped around my body. 

What will happen to these women? Women who have been discarded in the most literal way, dumped in a harsh and cruel environment, stripped of their clothes, their hair, their personhood. Women who have been removed, pushed behind a closed door where their existence can no longer embarrass or confuse or insult the men whose very actions created them. Where will they go? Who will they be? 

I won’t pretend that this story didn’t affect me, that these women didn’t linger in my mind long after I’d finished reading, that they are not still there. 

I said earlier that The Natural Way of Things was like a salve for my burnt skin, I don’t mean to suggest that I was soothed by this book, more that the words on its pages emboldened me. That they recognised me, they fortified me. To live as a woman is to exist with a constant simmering resentment bubbling under your skin; to see yourself reduced, to hear yourself remarked upon, to feel yourself assessed by a gaze you never invited; to pull yourself inwards, shrinking your body and your voice as a defence mechanism against a world that is sometimes too obvious in its disdain. But it is also to survive, to resist, to refuse. This is what I hope will stay with me, this is what I hope I will carry from The Natural Way of Things: that survival, that resistance, that refusal.

Read more about the journey to the bottom of my tbr pile

Monday, April 11, 2016

journey to the bottom of the tbr pile: Miranda July/The First Bad Man

I’m new to Miranda July. Her writing has been on my radar for a while but it wasn’t until late last year that I finally added her debut novel, The First Bad Man, to my TBR. I’m glad I did. It’s an enthralling story - and I say that mostly because of my reaction to it. At times I found myself repulsed by the characters and yet I was also intrigued by them. Often I felt unsure who I was supposed to be cheering for, or if that was even something I was supposed to do? And yet I felt drawn into the tiny world of this book, into the insular lives of its characters. I couldn’t put it down. 

Cheryl Glickman, the protagonist of The First Bad Man, is both incredibly complex and strikingly simple. Unintentionally funny, she is a thinker, tumbling her world and the people in it through multiple levels of consideration - I can relate to the overthinking, and yet I’m still not quite sure if I actually like Cheryl. 

A manager at Open Palm, a women’s self-defence non-profit, Cheryl lives a life made up of rigid systems:
‘It doesn’t have a name - I call it my system. Let’s say a person is down in the dumps, or maybe just lazy, and they stop doing the dishes. Soon the dishes are piled sky-high and it seems impossible to even clean a fork. So the person starts eating with dirty forks out of dirty dishes and this makes the person feel like a homeless person. So they stop bathing. Which makes it hard to leave the house. The person begins to throw trash anywhere and pee in cups because they’re closer to the bed. We’ve all been this person, so there is no place for judgment, but the solution is simple: 
Fewer dishes.’
Cheryl’s adherence to these systems reads like a defence mechanism against a world she seems ill-equipped to navigate, so when her life is disrupted by a handful of situations that later reveal themselves to be loosely linked, I can’t help but feel just a little sorry for her. These disruptions include Cheryl’s crush on a man twenty-two years her senior, Phillip Bettelheim, the connection she shares with a baby from her childhood she has christened Kubelko Bondy, who she often recognises in other babies and the psychosomatic globus hystericus that forms in her throat, forcing her to spit out the saliva that pools in her mouth. But the most significant disruption comes via the overwhelming - for Cheryl at least - Clee. The daughter of her bosses, Suzanne and Carl, Clee comes to stay with Cheryl, and it is the clashing of their characters that becomes the strongest tension of the story. A tension which takes a dramatic and unexpected turn when the two women begin to re-enact the scenes of Open Palm’s self-defence DVDs. 

What I find most fascinating about July’s work is that she is unafraid to draw these seemingly disastrous characters, characters who make mistakes and terrible choices, characters who frustrate you, who you’re sure you don’t like until you read the last page and realise that actually maybe you do. Her willingness to explore the fluidity of sexuality and desire is equally as compelling as her characterisation. 

Miranda July is a controversial figure. It seems you either love her or hate her (there are websites dedicated to the latter) and yet there is simply no doubting her accomplishments. Her collection of short stories, No One Belongs Here More Than You, won the prestigious Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. She has written, directed and starred in two films, The Future and Me and You and Everyone We Know, the latter of which won the Camera d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. And yet her work is often described as whimsical or twee. In her review of The First Bad Man for The New York Times, Lauren Groff discusses this:
‘The word feels unfair, a pejorative masquerading as a descriptor — possibly because the word “whimsy” comes from the noun “whim-wham,” meaning a trinket; possibly also because it carries a connotation of capriciousness. But when you apply the word to any kind of art, it implies that the art is decorative and incompletely thought-through. Not serious, by Jove! Also true: In literary fiction, male writers who use lightness and humor, who spin wildly in the space between one sentence and the next, who push against what’s expected, are described as “wry” or “satirical” or just plain “funny.” Women are bestowed a tiny, glittering bless-her-heart tiara of “whimsy.” Reflexive condescension absolves us from serious engagement. Miranda July is a woman, and a very serious writer who is also very funny. She’s challenging. Feed “whimsy” to the birds.’
Groff nails my feelings about whimsical in relation to The First Bad Man (or really any art produced by women). Because this is a serious book. Despite the seeming impossibility of its characters, underneath the layers of eccentricity this is a story about love. About our desire to be loved, about our desire to love. It’s a book that challenges our ideas of love, of what it can be and how it can look. Cheryl, for all her faults, is not afraid to love, to experiment, to explore. 

I was lucky enough to see Miranda July at the Melbourne Town Hall last month and there was something she said that stuck with me:
‘Until I made space for myself in the world, I felt like I was fighting everyday to be free.’
For the longest time I’ve struggled to call myself a writer, to own the term with any real conviction. My twitter bio still says ‘person who writes things’. I’m still not comfortable with calling myself a writer and while I am carving out that space I don’t feel there yet. I’m still fighting and maybe that pushing against my inability to claim the descriptor ‘writer’ is a part of my fight. 

It feels apt for Cheryl, too. So much of her existence on these pages feels like a struggle to find that space. Maybe that’s why I don’t think this book is whimsical; because that fight is something I identify strongly with, something I feel deep within my gut. Maybe the point is that the need to create a space for yourself is an experience keenly felt and lived by women. And when you paint July and her work, this work, as whimsical, you dismiss that experience. 

There is a complexity to The First Bad Man that demands contemplation; it requires you to let the characters get under your skin, let them chip away at these ideas of love and sexuality and the lives we create for ourselves. But it also requires you laugh. That’s a damn fine combination.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

journey to the bottom of the tbr pile: Robyn Davidson/No Fixed Address

‘In every religion I can think of, there exists some variation of the theme of abandoning the settled life and walking one’s way to godliness. The Hindu Sadhu, leaving behind family and wealth to live as a beggar; the pilgrims of Compostela walking away their sins; the circumambulatory of the Buddhist Kora; the Hajj. What could this ritual journeying be but symbolic, idealised versions of the foraging life? By taking to the road we free ourselves of baggage, both physical and psychological. We walk back to our original condition, to our best selves,’ - Robyn Davidson

Last year, while laying on a beach in Spain, I devoured Robyn Davidson’s Tracks. The story of Davidson’s time in Alice Springs and her trek from the centre of the outback to the West Australian coast in the company of four camels and a dog, Tracks is beautifully composed and compelling. I’d been away from home for a few months by then, and despite the fact that the Australian outback is a completely unknown quantity for me, it served to both foster and sooth the feelings of homesickness that filled so much of my life at that moment.

I’m home now. Surrounded by the people that are the puzzle pieces of my life, but my appreciation for Davidson’s words hasn’t waned. So, when I saw her essay, No Fixed Address, it was a quick purchase. Originally published in the Quarterly Essay, it has been reproduced as part of a collection from Black Inc called short blacks. No Fixed Address is the type of essay you read quickly, consuming it on, say, a train ride - as I did. It’s the type of essay that leaves you wondering about things bigger and greater than what you do on a day-to-day level, it’s the type of essay that encourages you to think about the world we’ve created for ourselves and if maybe, just maybe, there are better ways of doing things, of living, of existing. 

No Fixed Address is a rumination on the nomadic lifestyle, its disappearance and what modern society can learn from a less settled existence. Davidson herself lives a somewhat nomadic life, travelling all over the world and having homes in London, Sydney and India. And while she accepts that a return to truly nomadic lifestyles is simply not possible:
‘There can be no return to previous modes of living, no retreat to the traditional as a way of shoring up identity, or denying rationality and the benefits of science. Such retrogression only lands us in kitsch.’ 
Davidson argues that our settling, our rejection of traditional nomadic lifestyles and embracing of agriculture profoundly changed us, that we became, ‘strangers in a strange land,’ and the act of wandering - the central idea of the nomadic lifestyle - ‘took on the quality of banishment.’

Wandering as banishment seems incredibly apt. Too often embracing travel over establishing a career is derided as irresponsible, as wasteful. Throwing in decent jobs, packing up lives, disappearing over the horizon - these are things we’re discouraged from doing outside the socially accepted window for youthful adventure.

Last year as I attempted to create something of a life for myself on the other side of the world, my thoughts often drifted to the idea of home, of who we were outside of the familiar, of what it is that identifies us or that we identify with. Davidson argues that: 
‘The political constructs of homeland, nationhood, patriotism came into being because of a yearning to belong to a spiritual geography.’
It’s sentence that struck me as profoundly true, I stopped reading for a moment to digest it. And I wonder if what ails our society so much is the lack of spiritual geography. 
‘We move through the world faster and faster, looking at it, but not being in it. And the more mobile we become, the less sense we have of being sensually enmeshed with our world and interdependent with, responsible for, others.’
Davidson attempts to flesh out the spiritual geography as felt and experienced by Indigenous Australians, she ventures a definition of the Dreaming, but acknowledges her own failings:
‘No matter how much I read about the Dreaming, the confidence that I understand it never quite takes root in my mind…Each time I attempt it (to explain it), I have to feel my way into it again, and I am never sure of my ground.’
It is here, in Davidson’s discussion of the Dreaming and of the dispossession of Indigenous Australians that the essay grated slightly. There is language that, while part of the lexicon in Davidson’s youth, is offensive today. And I must admit to feeling uncomfortable with a white Australian explaining and using the culture of Aboriginal people to further a concept, even if I agree with many of her ideas and points about the nomadic life and our modern world. It’s an issue I personally wrestle with. I’m adamant that the responsibility to learn rests with non-Indigenous Australians, and yet I’m concerned that these stories are too often told by non-Indigenous Australians. 

That said, the story of the nomadic life is Davidson’s. It’s a life she lives, has lived - her 2700km trek across the Australian desert, her time with the Rabari people in India - and yet her thoughts on the many ways we have veered away from this life are not romanticised, she is not an idealist (she acknowledges her detractors will undoubtedly label her as such), instead she is mostly pragmatic, though certainly optimistic for world in which the there could be some symbiosis between the nomad and the modern society:
‘But there might be ways into previous kinds of thinking. Pilgrimages, let’s says, to newly imagined territories where, instead of arrogantly dismissing the traditional as useless to modernity, the best of each might be integrated.’
It’s a sentiment that I can wholeheartedly agree with. There is much for us to learn from the past. No Fixed Address provides some fuel for, at least, more significant thinking on these ideas.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

journey to the bottom of the tbr pile: Freeman's/Arrival

In the introduction of the inaugural edition of esteemed writer, critic and editor John Freeman's new biannual anthology, called unselfconsciously Freeman’s, the former Granta editor opens with a story about a flight he took as a child. He uses the flight as a metaphor to explain how books, and the stories within them, can transport us. 

‘Stories and essays, even the right kind of poem, will take us somewhere else, put us down somewhere new,’ he explains. 

And I agree with him. It’s a big part of why I read; that feeling of being transported to another world, another experience, another understanding. You could posit that it’s this feeling of arrival into another world, experience or understanding that we readers chase, and so, fittingly, the theme of this issue of Freeman’s is just that: arrival. 

It is, of course, a loosely held theme; more a feeling, a desire for the aforementioned transportation than a literal interpretation. Nonetheless, Freeman has managed to bring together an impressive and diverse group of writers and there is much to appreciate here. 

I am a big believer in anthologies. Not only do they allow you to dip in and out with multiple exit and entry points, but they can also act as an introduction to new writers; allowing you to glimpse into who and what they are - which is a roundabout way of saying you’ll walk away with some new names to add to your must read list. 

There are at least a handful of names to take away from Freeman’s. A couple of my picks include Aleksandar Hemon, the child of Bosnian immigrants, who writes in the lovely In Search of Space Lost with real affection for his parents and their desire to create a home for themselves and their family, both emotionally and physically, in a place that is foreign to them. 

Israeli writer, Etgar Keret, recounts an amusing story about his first paid reading, featuring a neurotic driver, a joint and a whole cheesecake, in Mellow

In Garments, from British-Bangladeshi writer Tahmima Anam, three young Bangladeshi women make unenviable choices to survive. It’s both heartbreaking, touching on the realities of the lives of women garment workers, and heartwarming as one of the women makes small, but important, strides towards a better life. 

What all three of the stories above share, is an arrival at a particular space of sorts, theirs is a physical arrival. They move between places, between countries, houses, towns. Of course we can also arrive in a non-physical sense, and it’s here where Lydia Davis’ excellent On Learning Norwegian fits. Davis recounts in great detail her efforts to read Dag Solstad’s ‘Telemark novel’, despite knowing very little Norwegian. Her reading becomes an exploration not only of language (some of the similarities between English and Norwegian are, though not particularly surprising, fascinating) but also of the concept of the novel. Solstad’s work is a 426 page account of his ancestors in Telemark from 1591 to 1896. If that sounds dull, if Davis recounting her reading of such a novel sounds dull, prepare to be surprised. Her essay is entrancing and her obvious enthusiasm draws you in, until you find yourself wishing Solstad’s epic was available in English - it’s not, I checked. 

However, when counting the names you will be scrawling in your must read list, chief among them will likely be Garnette Cadogan, whose reflections on walking in his childhood home Jamaica versus his adult homes in New Orleans and New York City in the incredibly rendered Black and Blue are confronting and palpable - his words jumping off the page.

‘When we first learn to walk, the world around us threatens to crash into us. Every step is risky. We train ourselves to walk without crashing by being attentive to our movements, and extra-attentive to the world around us. As adults we walk without thinking, really. But as a black adult I am often returned to that moment in childhood when I’m just learning to walk. I am once again on high alert, vigilant,’ Cadogan writes, as he details his experience walking as a black man.

As I read the last lines of Black and Blue, I had to put the book down. I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. It’s a powerful piece of writing, and is reason enough alone to find yourself a copy. 

There are others whose work appears in this anthology that are also worth mentioning, writers Fatin Abbas and Laura van den Berg and poets Ghassan Zaqtan and Honor Moore among them. 

In his introduction, Freeman says that, ‘Any true reader wants more - more life, more experiences, more risk than one’s own life can contain,’ - he’s right. We do. Always. It’s an insatiable desire. And if the work in this edition of Freeman’s is an indication of the calibre of work we’ll be seeing, I've no doubt I’ll be wanting more.

_ _ _ _

Thursday, January 28, 2016

journey to the bottom of the tbr pile: Rebecca Solnit/The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness

I first discovered Rebecca Solnit through her book Men Explain Things To Me, the title essay being the piece that introduced the term 'mansplaining' into the lexicon and gave voice to an experience that countless women could identify with, an experience I could identify with. I loved Men Explain Things To Me, a distinctly feminist work, it focuses on issues that were, are and continue to be, important to women.   

From there, I sought out Solnit's work online and in print. I read A Book of Migrations last year while travelling between England, Scotland and Ireland and it felt especially visceral given my personal connection to Ireland, one that mirrors Solnit's own. I remember marking multiple passages and making notes to follow up on something she'd mentioned or discussed. I find that's a regular occurrence when reading Solnit's work. She manages to seamlessly knit together ideas and information, producing essays that are alive and engaging, even with, or perhaps despite, the sometimes detailed information. 

The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness is a large book - both in subject and number of pages. Its twenty-nine essays cover topics as diverse as the environmental and humanitarian disasters of Fukushima, New Orleans and Haiti to the political upheaval in the Middle East and Iceland to the impact of Silicon Valley on San Francisco to the laundry habits of Thoreau - I did say it was diverse. 

Throughout the collection Solnit brings together moments in and of history (particularly poignant are the stories of the California gold rush, the impact it had on the Native American population and the devastation it wrought on the environment) with present day political, social and environmental issues in a manner that I have come to recognise as indubitably Rebecca Solnit.  

Highlights include the somewhat experimental Cyclopedia of an Arctic Expedition, an alphabetical discovery of the Arctic, the short and sharp Climate Change is Violence, its title fairly self-explanatory, One Nation Under Elvis, which cleverly links stereotypes about country music and its fans to the often fraught relationship between farmers and environmentalists and Winged Mercury and the Golden Calf which delves into the history of the Californian gold rush.

Notable also is In Haiti, Words Can Kill which discusses the role of the media in covering disasters and how the language they use often neglects to take into account the reality of the situations. It's a subject Solnit touches on again in Reconstructing the Story of the Storm where she discusses some of what wasn't covered by the mainstream media in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Finally, The Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami rounds out the disaster trio, exploring the aftermath of the tsunami that hit Japan in 2011.

Some of the pieces in this collection illustrate Solnit's willingness to experiment with the form, moving the essay beyond the expected, the previously mentioned alphabetical discovery of the Artic and essay as letter among them, and that's something I can wholeheartedly support. Plus, in a collection of this size, the break from the traditional essay is certainly welcome.

Despite their wide-ranging geography and subject matter, the essays are overwhelmingly American at their core. Something that, at times, felt limiting in a way, as if their scope was streamlined, their ideas shrunk. However, given Solnit is American and the essays, which were not written especially for the book but collated from previous works, were originally intended for American audiences, I can certainly cut her some slack here. 

The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness is an interesting collection, optimistic despite its often depressing subject matter. With its publication, Solnit adds to an already impressive oeuvre. She is a writer with a particular talent for a style of non-fiction that I find especially enticing, a style that weaves together ideas and subjects convincingly, that isn't afraid to twist the personal and impersonal together, that isn't afraid to be provocative or passionate or angry. I think they're valuable attributes in a writer.

In On The Dirtiness of Laundry and the Strength of Sisters, one of the final essays in The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness, Solnit writes about Thoreau, about his relationships with his sisters and their involvement in the anti-slavery movement. She meanders, pulling various strands together, moving around the subject and looking at it from various angles.
Towards the end of the piece, she pulls a personal strand:

'Though I am the writer, he (David, Solnit's brother) taught me a word when we were building the home that was mine for a while. The word is sister, which is a verb in the construction industry, as in to "sister a beam." This means to set another plank alongside a beam and fasten the two together to create a stronger structure. It is the most fundamental image of the kind of relationship Thoreau had with his sisters and I with my brother: we reinforce each other.'

As I read that a few weeks ago, as I read that now, I feel a sense of knowing and understanding and connection that I know is impossible without the personal. Maybe it's because I am a sister or maybe it's because I have brothers or maybe it's because of both of these things that I so intensely understand the point Solnit was trying to make. The act of reinforcement, the way we make each other stronger; it's a sentiment that feels profoundly personal to me. And yet I know it's incredibly universal, as well.

It's an example of what makes Solnit's work so great: those strands of the personal and the way she draws them together with larger ideas, with moments in history, with comment and commentary on a vast range of political, social and environmental issues. Because it's the personal that so often is the only way we can really see an idea or understand a point that otherwise feels too large or too overwhelming in its complexity and depth. Solnit did it masterfully in Men Explain Things To Me and she continues it with The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness. 

_ _ _ _

Thursday, January 21, 2016

and so it begins: journey to the bottom of the tbr pile

Last year I made a whole list of resolutions. Inspired by the ending of one year and the beginning of another, I compiled a list of things I wanted to do, things that meant something, that I felt would serve some purpose, would serve me. 

I called them goals because that felt more achievable; resolutions are abstract where goals are concrete. Or so I imagined. I didn’t manage to achieve many of those goals/resolutions. In fact, if I’m honest, barely one was properly and completely crossed off the list. 

So was my 2015 a failure? 

I guess that depends on your definition of failure. And conversely, of success. I’m still working out what those things mean to me. So I’m ill-equipped, currently at least, to know if 2015 was a failure. Or a success. 

What I do know is I only made one resolution this year. Start small and all that. 

There are currently around fifty books in my tbr pile. I say around fifty because I only counted the books that haven’t managed to find their way onto a bookshelf. I suspect my real tbr pile is a little higher, but my ability to buy books at a faster rate than I can read them is really a story for another day. So let’s stick with the piles of books beside my bed.

I've long harboured an appreciation for/small obsession with/insatiable desire to understand what our personal tbr piles mean, what they say about us and who we are and who we want to be. Perhaps that's why I've built such a large pile. Maybe the construction of such a pile is a way to decipher something of who and what I am, to try to find a definition for failure and success that I can use as a measuring stick for my life. Perhaps, once again, I'm attempting to make the tbr pile more than what it is. Maybe it really is just a pile of books. 

My preoccupation with the tbr pile aside, this years single resolution/goal is to not buy another book until I’ve read all the books stacked beside my bed. I’m calling it my journey to bottom of the tbr pile. Which makes it sound like a much more physical adventure than it will actually be. Though I do resolve to get up at semi-regular intervals to make a fresh pot of tea. 

As a way of attempting to keep myself accountable, I’ve decided that I will post a review of each of these books after reading. And as a way of attempting to keep myself accountable to the reviews, I’m posting a list of my tbr pile here:

Chris Kraus - I Love Dick
EB White - Essays of EB White
Fury: Women Write About Sex, Power and Violence
Nakkiah Kui - Kill The Messenger
Grace Paley - The Collected Stories
Sofie Laguna - The Eye of the Sheep
Ariel Levy - The Best American Essays 2015
Rebecca Solnit - A Field Guide to Getting Lost
Meghan Daum - The Unspeakable
Janet Malcolm - Forty-One False Starts
Michel de Montaigne - On Friendship
Annie Proulx - Bird Cloud
Gerald Durrell - My Family and Other Animals 
The Best Australian Science Writing 2015
Noel Pearson - The War of the Worlds
Laurie Penny - Unspeakable Things
E.M. Forster - Aspects of the Novel
Meghan Daum - My Misspent Youth
John Steinbeck - The Harvest Gypsies
Goodbye to all that: Writers on loving and leaving New York
Dorothy Parker - The Collected Dorothy Parker
The Paris Review Presents The Art of the Short Story
Ian Moffitt - The U-Jack Society
E.M. Forster - Collected Short Stories
Los Angeles Review of Books - Summer 2015 Edition
Sapphire - Push
William Faulkner - As I Lay Dying
Judith Wright - We Call For A Treaty
Kate Grenville - Lilian’s Story
Australian Writing Today
Bill Bryson - Down Under
William Golding - Lord of the Flies
Richard Wrangham - How Cooking Made us Human
Rosemary Sutcliffe - Beowulf
Alice Pung - Unpolished Gem
Joyce: A Collection of Critical Essays
Roddy Doyle - The Woman Who Walked Into Doors
Alice Munro - Too Much Happiness
Marjorie Barnard - Miles Franklin
Douglas Hyde - A Literary History of Ireland
Flannery O’Connor - The Complete Stories
Ernest Hemingway - By-Line
Sylvia Plath - The Bell Jar
The Persephone Book of Short Stories

Running down that list is equal parts intimidating and exhilarating. I best get reading. 

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

dust and cobwebs

It’s been so long since I’ve been here I can almost smell the dust, see the cobwebs forming in the corners of the screen. 

Despite my absence this space has been on my mind. A dull ache sitting at the base of my skull, travelling down my spine and then moving into my belly where it sat like a stone. I could feel its weight as I moved. Constantly reminding me that this space sat waiting for me, empty, devoid of words. Words I’d moved to London to write. 

I’ve been confused of late. About my place in the world. About what I want and how I can go about getting it. Confused about how something I always thought I wanted could become everything I don’t. 

That confusion kept me from this space. Kept me from writing the words I so desperately wanted to. London was supposed to be the answer, was supposed to give me what I craved, or thought I craved. And while London has given me much much more than I can ever give back - it has given me distance from what I needed distance from, it has given me sharp focus where before was only fuzziness, it has provided much needed perspective, it has allowed me to find answers to questions I didn't even know needed asking and to scratch beneath the surface of the person I thought I was, the person I saw in the mirror - it has also muddied the waters in other ways that I could never have anticipated. 

- - - 

For the past five months I’ve been writing almost daily in a journal. I’ve been transcribing thoughts as they formed in my mind, scrawling memories and moments and trying to write myself out of the sadness and fear and the kind of thinking that feels like a heavy weight on my chest. Some days it works, others it does not. 

I had envisioned what these months would be like, what being here would be like. I had told myself it would be hard, there would be moments when I questioned myself, my sanity, my ability to push through the shitty to find the gold. I just hadn’t anticipated how much of the shitty there would be.

My reality is nothing like my dreams. This is not unusual. This is life. But here it feels so much more than just life. This city has me questioning everything I thought I knew about myself and it feels like a reality I’m not sure how to traverse.

But amongst the angst and the heightened emotional state of being, there are moments, usually the late evening or early morning when I find myself walking along somewhat empty streets, when I feel like London is filling me up, forcing my ribs out and making my spine straighten and I feel the smile like it's coming from deep within my belly. I feel free and independent and anonymous, alone but not lonely. In these moments the city lets me in, lets me see what there is to see here, lets me feel what there is to feel. These moments are pure happiness, they are joy, they are perfect, they are rare.

- - - -

I wrote the words above last year, in the days before I boarded a plane home. Months ago now, many days and nights have passed since then. It’s much dustier here now. There are more cobwebs. But the space has still been on my mind. Especially as the new year approached and rolled over. What is it about a new year that forces reflection? 

This year will be an important one for me. And while there is still confusion (I’ve come to the realisation that confusion is not necessarily a bad thing and having it along as a companion, albeit a smaller one than it used to be, is something I’m ok with) there is now greater knowledge and understanding, there is now acceptance and a level of self-respect that before had not been. I feel more confident in traversing my reality now, in grasping what is real, what is important and what is worth my time. 

I owe much of this to London, to the emotional trauma I experienced while there, to the insight that being there bought, that leaving there allowed. To the questions it posed, to the answers it demanded.

I feel as if these words have blown out the dust, have knocked down the cobwebs. Maybe it’s not shiny around here (really, when has it ever been?) but I’m ok with that.