tell the people you love that you love them.

Tell the people you love that you love them. And I don’t just mean declarations of love for the person you’ve been pining over. In fact, I don’t mean romantic love at all.
Existing on an everyday basis is hard. But there are people who make it easier to bear, with their laughter or smile or touch on the shoulder that says, I’m aware of you.
Either by making you tea just the way you like it, or the mere act of remembering something you’d told them a couple of weeks before. People who buy the chocolate you like, or sending you ‘thinking of ya xx’ texts, or tell you when your hair looks nice or a moment they thought of you.
People who have created a space where you can be comfortable, as talkative or as silent as you need to be. The people who give you that warm honey feeling in your chest.
I have a bad habit of assuming people know how I think of them. We see inside ourselves and assume others see it too.
But I’m trying to be better. More open. Purposeful.
Tell the person you think they look pretty. That their offhand comment stayed with you and made you smile for two days after. That the people you have dinner and read the bible with once a week on a tuesday night make you feel love and supported. That the security of friendship and love of wine club makes you happy on hard days. Binge sessions of British panel shows and feeling so comfortable you’d fall asleep on the lounge afterwards.
Tell the person that their friendship sometimes saves you. Their existence makes yours easier.
Tell the people you love that you love them.

The Testing Tree

Someone asked me recently why I read, and why I write. For me, those are the two ends of the same piece of thread. I do it in order to come to a greater understanding of myself. To read and to write is to understand ourselves more, and to realise that many others have felt as we have. F. Scott Fitzgerald said it first, or maybe he just said it best, “that is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.” Others have gone before us, and have felt all the happinesses and sadnesses and all the melancholy that we think is so uniquely our burden.

The epigraph at the beginning of Kate Di Camillo’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is an excerpt of Stanley Kunitz’s The Testing Tree. I have it memorised:
the heart breaks and breaks
and lives by breaking.
it is necessary to go
through dark and deeper dark
and not to turn.

It is Kunitz who tells me so beautifully that pain is necessary. That the only way to grow is to endure hardship, that a heart that has never known sadness will never truly appreciate how good it is when life is all sunshine and warm breezes. Terrence Malick in The Tree of Life tells me that “the only way to be happy is to love. Unless you love, your life will flash by.” To harden myself to the world is not to live, if Malick is correct. Emily St John Mandel in Station Eleven says, “[life] was very difficult, but there were moments of beauty. Everything ends. I am not afraid.” It is through the words of others that I have learnt to find the beauty in life.

I have these little notebooks that I nearly always have on me, that fit into my wallet (the Notes app works in a pinch but its so much less romantic). In them I write whatever comes to mind: beautiful lines to use in a larger story, moments of reality I want to remember, quotes I like, memorials of times in which I felt really and truly happy. I’m onto my 7th now, the first one started in Aug 2018 on my travels.

To write is to open yourself up. To crack open your ribcage, tear out your heart and put it on a museum pedestal for everyone to look at, to examine. To try and to convey thoughts and feelings and emotions with mere words.
In my first notebook, on the fourth page, I wrote:
Love and friendship and happiness and human connection. The strive to not only analyse and understand but also summate. The desire to both comprehend and articulate these most basic tenements. Basic in that they are at the root of all things. They are definitely not basic in that they are easy. To create something that affects people. Something that will resound. Staying in their heads for days and days … I want to change them.
To make yourself a gallery, a testing ground. Here is the way I have experienced life. Here is how it has broken me. Please learn from it.

I flip back through them constantly, remembering how I felt in those instances, or what moved me at that time in my life, the things I thought were worth penning down forever. To read through them is to see how I’ve grown, how I’ve changed. To be able to recognise what moves me, and if it should. To look back on myself and decide if I’m happy with the route I’ve taken, with what it’s made me.

I love to write, even if it sometimes pains me. I like to learn from myself. And for others to learn from me, if they so choose. Even if it is the most basic lesson: I am not alone in this. Others feel as I do. I will survive this. It will make me more beautiful.
And to emulate the gift that authors before me have given me. Kazuo Ishiguro said in Artist in a Floating World, “when I am an old man, when I look back over my life and see I have devoted it to the task of capturing the unique beauty of the world I believe I will be well satisfied.”
And I think there’s a quiet courage and dignity in that.

We must all go through dark and deeper dark. But we must learn from it. Maybe others can learn from it too.

art galleries.

Kazuo Ishiguro, quite rightly, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2017. His acceptance speech is a beautiful thing. In it, he wrote,
“I’ve been emphasising here the small and the private, because essentially that’s what my work is about. One person writing in a quiet room, trying to connect with another person, reading in another quiet – or maybe not so quiet – room. Stories can entertain, sometimes teach or argue a point. But for me the essential thing is that they communicate feelings. That they appeal to what we share as human beings across our borders and divides. There are large glamorous industries around stories; the book industry, the movie industry, the television industry, the theatre industry. But in the end, stories are about one person saying to another: This is the way it feels to me. Can you understand what I’m saying? Does it also feel this way to you?”
Someone recently asked me why I write. And it’s for this reason. To be able to put the mundane feelings into words, so that someone can say, ‘I had no idea others felt this way too.’

I love being a writer. I like doing it, and I think I might even be good at it.
But it’s hard too. They say to write what you know. And all I know is myself. Which doesn’t leave me a lot of wriggle room.

So I have made myself an art gallery for you to walk through. Going through, piece by piece, spotting the inconsistencies, the inspirations. You can look at each work and delineate where it came from, learning what you want to take home with you. I’ve painted myself on these walls saying, ‘I hope this speaks to you’. And I really hope it does.

sometimes I forget this isn’t my diary.

Adapting to loss is strange. Learning what the ‘after’ is like.
No loss is the same – mine is different to yours is different to someone elses.
[Mine is my Dad’s affair coming out earlier this year. We are not currently on speaking terms.]
In the moment it breaks you. There’s less behind the eyes, an emptiness in the chest. A shadow of the former self. It is your day to day reality, a constant blackness.
But then you slowly piece yourself back together, putting the parts of you back in order. Maybe you sigh less, maybe you’re less angry, maybe smiling is no longer a concerted effort.
And everything goes back to normal.

But its not, is it? This is the new normal. It can never be the way it was.

The hurt, months later, will surprise you. A Saturday night in watching Justified, tears come out of nowhere. The emptiness is a shock, a wound reopened. Realising that this is how it is now.

Because you can never be the same. I don’t know if anyone warned me about that. You can’t ever go back to the person you were before, you cannot take knowledge out no matter how much you may want to. It is a wound you will carry always, a hurt that will shape who you continue to become.

To strive for the past is aimless. I guess all we can do is hope that we carry our hurt well.

I wrote this piece years ago for a class. It’s funny how truly cyclic life is, hurt repeating hurt.

You will feel sadness most of all. Sadness filtered through loneliness. You will spend your days wondering why. Retracing all your steps, picking apart everything you’ve ever said or done. Trying to pin-point exactly where it started – was it leaving clothes on the floor, or the sarcastic comments you made? Replaying the moment over and over, when your phone first chirped and you looked over to see a message that read:
There’s someone on my bus that is so beautiful it makes my heart hurt and I’ve just never felt that way about you. I’m sorry .

You will look back on old memories, and things will go all beautifully foggy, like a camera lens covered with Vaseline in the romantic scenes of old movies. You’ll picture how things were, back when you were in love. And it’ll surprise you, the memories which stick. It won’t be your first kiss, or the first time they said ‘I love you’. It’ll be the simpler things that last.

You’ll remember early mornings, they will have been your favourite times. Once you’d untangled yourselves from the bedsheets, rolled out of bed and into the kitchen, making cups of tea and boiled eggs. Standing around the oven and using it as a heater. Moving around each other, packing lunches and coordinating schedules. Or dancing to warm up, whirling around to Miles Davis, to what will have been ‘your song’. You always said nothing beats jazz in the morning. They will have complained that the kitchen was too small. You thought it brought you closer together.

​Or afternoon toast-a-thons, when you had both gotten home from class or work or whatever daily errands that were being run. Dinner was still a couple of hours away, so you’d make cups of tea and toast. Some afternoons you’d go through an entire loaf, two slices popping up, and another two going straight down. Butter slathered on, and whatever topping took your fancy. And you’d sit around the island bench, legs intertwined, the afternoon sun coming in through the window, crumbs everywhere, talking about your day.

​But now , you will not want to eat, no matter how much you know you should. “It’s been days since we’ve seen you eat a meal,” your housemates will say.

And you will know they mean well, but they just won’t understand. You’re not choosing not to eat, there’s just no desire to. You will have both loved too many of your favourite things, a lot of the meals will remind you of them. You’ll have to fight to enjoy cooking again, something you’d done together. Licking the spoon, their fingers. Blanking that out will take months.

​Living in a small coastal town will make this harder. Everyone will know everyone, and everyone’s business even more. Walking down the main street, you’ll avoid everyone’s eyes, sure they know. People will come up to you and say that they are sorry. They’ll tell you that they knew you’d never last, that you’re better off without them. You will write them letters that ask: (a) why they never said anything; (b) if they are fools, because you’re meant to be together; or (c) who in the name of all things holy do they think they are giving their damn opinion. You will stamp these letters but never mail them.

​Conversations with your best friend will go around in circles. “I’m worried about you,” they’ll say.
“Don’t be. I’m fine. Really I am. I don’t think this will last. I think we just need some time apart. Absence makes the heart grow fonder you know.”
“It doesn’t always. Some things just aren’t meant to be. And I’m sorry to say that. But I just don’t want you to hang all your hopes on this.”
“I appreciate you saying that. But I think you’re wrong.”
“But what if I’m not? What if they find someone else, move on. I don’t want to have to be the one to put you back together again. God, they’re your entire universe. And I’m worried that you aren’t theirs.”
You won’t know what to say back.

​Sitting on the bus going to and from classes, pop music will play through your headphones. Sad-alt music is for people who want to exacerbate the mood, and the word ‘jazz’ can no longer be uttered. You’ll have to find a new favourite genre. No one will warn you about this side of break ups. You’ll stare out the window , and realise you can actually feel sadness in your eyes. You’ll go home and go straight to bed.

​You’ll fall asleep thinking of them, maybe you’ll still be together in your dreams. Go on long drives and stare out at the sea. It’s a cliché, but you’ll do it anyway. You won’t know quite what you’re looking for in the crashing waves. Maybe they’ll remind you of your heart, both constantly breaking. You’ll think about all the times you had laughed over this scene together in movies, the overworked ‘lonely lover stares out to sea’ trope. How you had thought you were lucky, because that would never be you. You will wonder how much God is laughing.

​When you break your favourite tea cup, you’ll cry for a week. Getting a tea cup that you find aesthetically pleasing, has a good hand grip, and is both the size and shape that you like, is harder than it sounds. Someone will say it’s a metaphor. You won’t like their Instagram pictures for a month. You’ll put hours of effort into finding an exact replica. It will break your heart when you don’t. You’ll wonder if that someone is right, if you’re trying to distract yourself from the existential crisis looming in your peripherals. You’ll consider getting a fringe or a new car. You wonder when you became a cliché.

​So you’ll start to read more and talk less. Try and understand who you are through comparisons to Elizabeth Bennett, Jay Gatsby, Holden Caulfield and Sal Paradise. See if you can learn from how the Greasers dealt with loss. You’ll try your hand at poetry, and start writing long sad letters after reading too much Virginia Wolff. You’ll realise that other people have gone through this: love, heartbreak, confusion. You’ll also realise this doesn’t make it any easier to bear.

​But, for the most part, you will go on existing, trying to live a normal life. You have always prided yourself on not needing people to be complete, so this will hit you hard. You’ll go to work, classes, whatever extra-curricular activity you choose to kill your time. You’ll laugh harder than normal, you always do when you’re faking it. You’ll tell people you are fine, because you are – on paper. On paper, this doesn’t affect you as hard as it will.

​Then, on an ordinary Tuesday, you’ll laugh and not fake it. You’ll be sitting in the lounge room, and the sun coming through the front door will bring that nostalgic joy, like the smell of earl grey or a tea cake in the oven. You’ll see the dust motes meandering around, nice and lazy, and you’ll realise for the first time in a while that you no longer feel like the human personification of a clenched fist.

And you will see them, maybe with someone else, and they’ll be happy. But their happiness will no longer make you want to crack open your ribcage, and give your heart to someone, anyone, else.

Other things will become your favourite thing. The smell of a new book, or how the sound of hot water getting poured into a cup sounds different to cold water somehow, the ritual of tea. The way the sky looks when the sun is setting behind you, and for a split second the whole world is pink.

​You’ll decide you’ve had an epiphany. You’ll get a hobby, and go for runs. You’ll make a habit of looking up at the sky, even if it hurts your neck. You’ll use the space in your brain where their favourite book was to remember the names of the five closest stars. You’ll still go for long drives, and sigh deeper than you used to, but the plant that is your heart will start to grow new leaves and get taller.

somewhere in between and a little to the left.

Life is hard.
No one really warns you of that when you’re younger. I mean, it’s alluded to, but I just thought they meant paying rent or finding a comfy couch in your price range and discussing private health insurance.
But I guess that’s for the best. Because maybe if someone told me just how hard, I don’t know if I would’ve gone through with it.

There are times in our lives we think we won’t survive. Existing, in its simplest form, is heartbreaking. The idea of having to get up everyday, and be a human, and to go on doing that forever. (And I just want to say, it’s not suicidal. It’s just…not wanting to be living. There’s a big difference.)

You’ll feel less whole. Like you’re holding onto existence with only the briefest of fingertips. It turns out you can feel emptiness behind your eyes. Sadness is a physical feeling, below the ribs above the stomach, the black hole that defines you.

It seems insurmountable. Having to put ourselves back together. Picking up all the different parts strewn all over the floor, trying to assemble it all, what place fit where. Remaking the parts of ourselves we gave to other people.

But it can be done. It’ll take many cups of tea, and days spent just walking around the apartment, rearranging all the galaxies inside you. The neighbours will probably think you’re crazy. A pink sky will both make and break your heart. But the people who love you will tell what stars of yours they love, what to keep and what to remove. They’ll make your tea just the way you like it without having to ask, make you dinners and tell you that the sun will continue to rise everyday and it’s up to you to make peace with it.

But you’ll start sighing less and the notes you write yourself will get happier and happier. The people you love will become the centre of your universe and moments spent sitting around a table with make you feel the closest you’ve felt to whole in months. And one night you’ll be sitting at home having a cup of tea and you’ll realise that you feel at home in your skin again and it will make you feel something thats not happy and its not sad but somewhere in between and a little to the left. It’s nice.

a love letter to ABC Evenings.

This morning I am feeling nostalgic. I think it’s the winter air, being cold somehow always makes me look back. Or maybe it’s because we’ve gotten the space heater out, and every once in a while I get a whiff of the gas. The internet tells me that, “scents bypass the thalamus and go straight to the brain’s smell center, known as the olfactory bulb. The olfactory bulb is directly connected to the amygdala and hippocampus, which might explain why the smell of something can so immediately trigger a detailed memory or even intense emotion.”[1] The smell of the heater, paired with a cup of tea, perfectly blended to remind me of years ago when we’d heat our towel up on the space heater to warm us after a shower. Flannelette pyjamas and fluffy socks and crowding around the heater, rotating turns. This was before the days of air-conditioning, or when we could afford air-conditioning. The nights started earlier, the cold came quickly.
We didn’t have a TV growing up – religious reasons. We had homework and books to keep us company. And the radio. When we were younger it was the Christian radio station and ‘Adventures in Odyssey'[2], but I look back on that less. Once we were passed the age of receiving moral lessons with dinner, we switched to the mainstream. We eagerly awaited 7PM, for James O’Loghlin and ‘Norman the Quiz'[3]. I’ve been trying to find archived episodes, hunting for that theme song, or the way they said: ‘multiple, multiple, multiple choice. A, B, C, D.’ We tested our knowledge against it, “we would’ve won if we’d called up for this round.” Listening to people on a winning streak, only to get the final question wrong and someone swooping in to steal the win.
And then there was ‘PM with Mark Colvin'[4]. This morning I’ve had Wil Anderson’s Wilosophy episode with Mark Colvin on in the background. Colvin has one of my most iconic voices – iconic to me. A British journalist who moved to Australia and became arguably the most iconic radio journalist on our airwaves. He passed away in 2017, and can now only be listened to in past podcasts and interviews.
It is strange what we find comforting. What we put an onus on, what we ascribe meaning. ABC Radio has been thus chosen. It gives me the warm and fuzzies, it takes me out of a temporal present, negates ephemerality. I guess that’s the beautiful thing of memory, nostalgia, tea and space heaters. It’s almost … anachronistic. It’s outside of time, outside of the present. It’s nice.

[1] Hamer, Ashley. ‘Here’s Why Smell Triggers Such Vivid Memories’, Discovery.com, 01 August 2019, <https://www.discovery.com/science/Why-Smells-Trigger-Such-Vivid-Memories&gt;, (accessed 28 May 2020).
[2] 99.7 Rhema FM.
[3] 1233 ABC Newcastle (frequency changes depending on location).
[4] ibid.

i am easy to like but hard to love.

I like Dilmah. Extra strength. Teabag left in. I need to be there when the water boils, the click of the kettle when it’s done. Even if it means flicking on the kettle four times. The sound of boiling water being poured is one of my favourite things. For that reason, I never milk first.
I always use the same mug, ‘my’ mug. I used to be real specific when it came to milk amounts, embarrassingly so. Two milk-cap fulls. But I’ve eased up on that … partly as I don’t use milk bottles anymore. But also growth and acceptance. Anyways, it’s just a dash. Stop pouring almost as soon as you start. Then give the bag a couple of jiggles, get it nice and strong.
The first sip needs to be taken pretty much straight away, while it’s piping hot. Wait too long and miss that first sip and you have to make a whole new one. It’s not worth losing that first sip.

I like my tea in an (evidently) specific way. And everyone does. White with one. Black with three. Super-weak, using someone else’s teabag.
This is a long and boring metaphor all to say this: you are never going to be everyone’s cup of tea.

I end my showers on straight cold, and always scream because of it, even though I know it’s coming. I have to have my shoes of equal tightness, even if that means retying my laces 2 or 3 times. I am not fragile with my books, there’s tea stains and chocolate stains and I’m dog-earer. Words only make up about 50% of my communication, I am a huge utiliser of sounds and hand gestures. I have no inside voice and an inability to whisper. For a long time I prefered handshakes to hugs and the tide is only recently changing on that. I send 7 texts when one will do. I run perpetually late but only by a couple of minutes. I’m incredibly vain, and always need to look nice when leaving the house – I’ve faketanned once a week and we’re in isolation and I’m not seeing anyone. I am easy to like but hard to love. I don’t take anything seriously and don’t take criticism well. I am incredibly stubborn and struggle to concede being in the wrong. I would cut off my nose to spite my face, proud to an absolute fault.

I am a tumultous conglomeration of flaws and foibles, strengths and weaknesses. I am oddball, I know that. I was once out to dinner with a group of friends and just one person I’d never met before. He said to me at the end of the night, “you must be weird as you did a myriad of strange things tonight and nobody batted an eyelid.” I laugh with my entire body, head thrown back bending low to the ground. I have no control over my facial expressions, you can always tell what I’m thinking. I say the wrong thing all the time and constantly putting my foot in my very large mouth.

But I’d consider myself kind. Generous. Easygoing. Always good for a laugh – just watch me exist. I don’t embarrass easily. I try and remember people’s names. I’ll always be too friendly as opposed to not friendly enough. There is good with the not-so-good.

I am easy to like but hard to love. And that’s a hard thing to come to terms with: I may not be everyone’s cup of tea. But I now know that. And I am not ashamed or scared of it.

living in isolation.

It’s a strange time we live in. Leaving the house only for essential services or exercise. And while we’ve never been here before, it has felt quite familiar.
I wouldn’t say I have depression. I’ve never been clinically diagnosed, nor do I know whether my periods of sadness warrant the name. But I do go into depressive states, instances of emptiness that I sometimes worry will swallow me whole. I’d spend hours just walking around my apartment, treating it like a therapist. Walking around its rooms, or quietly fidgeting on the lounge, voicing all of my thoughts and problems, my questioning of the universe and why it is the way it is. I’d laugh and I’d cry and I’d crack open my chest and lay everything out, spilling out every part of me saying, “here it all is”. But my voice would just echo back at me saying, “honey there’s no one here. we have to put this back together ourselves.”

2020 was already lost to me. Heartbreak – mine. An affair – not mine. Both connected and separate. Struggling with the realisation that life is fickle. That decisions made on a whim have still been made, you can’t reach out and put the words back in your mouth, swallowing them up again. I’d never really known the weight of it till now. But I had taken that pain, laid it all out, covering the table and dining chairs, the lounges, the coffee table. Stacking it up against the bookcase and covering the hanging artworks. It spilled out over the balcony. But I’d examined it all, one by one, piece by piece. Arranging it, placing complementary works side by side. And I named them all, after every storm that created it. Understanding the why and the how and the who.

But playing gallerist for weeks on end resulted almost in an epiphany, my chef d’oeuvre, magnum opus, piece de resistance. I had patched together all the different parts of me, intertwining it in all its complexities. Appreciating its intricacies, ready for the acclaim.

But then came the arrival of COVID-19. The weeks of tearing at my own skin and getting rid of the necessary parts, prying open my chest with a crowbar and removing those inside. It all felt for nothing. Curtailed, extinguished.

And I am still here. In this same apartment. Walking the same rooms, sitting on the same lounge. Sometimes I feel trapped. I broke down my own home to rebuild myself and now I feel forced to live in the wreckage. There is still comfort here, though. It has given me time to arrange all the leftover parts of me, to examine with neverending cups of tea. Because it is also the place of my greatest achievement, and with it the knowledge that it is I who made myself whole.

The world is no longer what it once was. I fear the change is irreversible, glimmering and unattainable in the past, forever beyond our reach.
And now we must adapt to this new normal. Time feels to move slower, or maybe it is I that is no longer moving through it, standing now at attention, glued to the spot. I feel like a visitor, like I’m not supposed to be here.
But there is still comfort.
The faces I have surrounded myself with bring me joy. I love the people in my life and the days we spend walking up and down the high street are highlighted by that golden haze of summer afternoons.
If two hearts break together will they heal as one bigger heart? And what of four hearts? Or ten?
The world is full of uncertainties but there is a consistency in us. In the ‘I love you’s’ and the ‘let me know if you need anything’ and the ‘I’m thinking of you’. In the mornings drinking tea and the evenings drinking wine. In the shared meals and common laughs.
The world is no longer what it was.
But we are the same.