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Once upon a time people used to write letters to each other. I can remember setting aside whole afternoons to respond to letters Iíd received during the preceding couple of weeks. Iíd re-read them, ponder their contents and my response and then write my replies. If it was an aerogramme Iíd lick the edges and close it up before writing the address. If it was an envelope Iíd choose a nice stamp and for overseas mail Iíd add a blue airmail sticker. Then Iíd walk down the street and drop them in the letterbox.
I rather miss the old days.
The year 2014 used to be so far into the future it was all but impossible to imagine what the world would be like, yet here it is and here we all are. Itís been 100 years since the Great War erupted. Itís also been 100 years since Mum was born. Since then the world has changed beyond all reckoning. What it will be like in another 100 years is anyoneís guess. I wonít be around to see it but many of the kids I teach will live to see the 22nd century and that really is something to contemplate.
I used to measure my life in weeks and months. I used to pack so many different experiences into what now seems such short periods of time. Being separated from someone special used to feel like an eternity. Trying to imagine a year or two into the future was like trying to imagining another world.
These days nothing much changes from one year to the next. Sure, Iíve built a house, moved country, written a book, establishes myself in a new job but the memory of life surprising me and setting my pulse racing increasingly feels like a distant dream.
I still hate our builder. Weíve managed to win the latest battle of wills. The necessary rectifications that he kicked and screamed about and refused to do are largely being done but the leaking roof has become as issue once again. Remedial work is being done and some damaged hatches are being replaced but I canít help thinking the problem is more fundamental than that. It begs the question: are we ever going to have closure on all of this? Every time I think weíre finally over the line another line appears in front of us.
When I lived in London I would often arrive home exhausted and emotionally wrung out from working in such a highly strung environment with difficult and damaged children. Ironically, these days when I arrive home from work here in Melbourne feeling wrung out itís from working with such energetic and enthusiastic children. It takes a lot of effort to keep them trundling along at such a level and the energy they bring to each and every lesson can sometimes be a mixed blessing. Iím certainly not complaining. Every day brings so much delight but at times Iím left feeling depleted.
Iím really not the best judge of character when it comes to obtaining quotes.
Weíve had a few people drop by to have a look at our small rear courtyard and give an indication of what it would cost to have it paved. The first guy to visit was a real old grouch but he came in at just under $5K. A couple of others came in just under $6K. The last one, who I thought was very genuine and switched on turned out to be the most expensive at $12K.
Needless to say, he wonít be getting the job.
Read, write, paint, draw. These words came to me today as I was sitting drawing a pewter jug whilst my year 7 girls practiced their observational drawing skills. It wasnít anything special, just the top of the handle where it connected to the main vessel and the perimeter of the top of the jug. I was using watercolour pencils and enjoying the soft sensation as they glided so effortlessly over the paper. It reminded me of two things - three in fact. One, I like to draw; two, I hardly ever daw and three, I need to make time to draw.
A passenger airliner carrying 239 people crashed into the sea just off the coast of Vietnam today. 14 nationalities were on board, including six Australians. For anyone who has flown, stories such as this resonate powerfully. Weíve all imagined the scenario and rehearsed our own response. Questions that arise in my mind concern how long people had to endure knowing their fate, the horror of realising they were all about to die and could do nothing about it? What is that kind of collective death experience like? In a world of horrors, this is one we can all relate to.
Iím beginning to think Iíll be able to finish painting the house by the time my next school break rolls around in four weeksí time. Iíve finished the three bathrooms and by tomorrow Iíll hopefully have the final coat of paint on all of the doors. That just leaves the third bedroom and some touch up work on the ceilings and cupboard doors in the sunroom. Itís all achievable within the timeframe. Then the real painting can begin - the creative kind. I need to source some very large canvases for the purpose. The paintings are going to be very large.
Tomorrow morning I fly out with the Year 6 girls to Canberra. The last time I was in Canberra was 15 years ago with my partner to secure his entry visa to the UK. No doubt a lot has changed there since then, as it has done everywhere. Iím looking forward to being somewhere else for a few days, even if it is with a group of school girls. The good thing about my school is I donít have to worry about poor behaviour. Iíve no doubt theyíll be hyped but I also know theyíll be on their best behaviour.
Itís 9:30pm and Iím exhausted. This is the first trip to Canberra that the school has organised and the itinerary is proving to be quite gruelling. Weíve literally run from one guided tour to the next and while the girls are having a great time thereís no down time factored in for the staff. Itís going to be a long week! That said, itís refreshing to be somewhere else with a completely different routine. Thereís no free wifi in the motel here so being offline for four days will no doubt do me good, as will getting some decent sleep.
You know youíre getting older when Canberra seems an interesting place to spend a few days. Itís a city that many people like to bag but the things they tend to knock are precisely the things I now find attractive. It has a small population (350,000) but as an example of urban planning itís really quite stunning with huge open spaces that hug Lake Burley Griffin and more parks and gardens than youíd likely find in most other cities. It also boasts a modest but not insignificant collection of cultural artefacts plus itís only a two hour drive from Sydney.
The only way to fully appreciate Jackson Pollockís
is to stand in front of it and drink it all in. Nothing else can compare because nothing else can compare! It is the experiential nature of great art that has the power to move and affect, which is precisely what happened today when I sat with a group of students in front of it and listened to their feedback and responses. They were entranced, every one of them. Each had something to say about what they were seeing and what they thought about it. Put simply, they got it.
Four days with 44 year 6 girls on a tightly packed tour of the national capital has left me feeling knackered. Itís been a successful trip despite the lack of downtime but Iím looking forward to a weekend with minimal demands. If I choose to do some work on the house I will but if I choose not to then Iím not going to put myself under any pressure. One of the reasons Iíve felt so tired these past few days despite the fact Iíve slept well is because of how little rest and relaxation Iíve had for so long.
I had lunch with a really special friend today. While chatting together she reminded me of the day we went to Paris on the train from London and within seconds we were both laughing, tears rolling down our faces as the memory of our antics that day and the following week in Amsterdam came flooding back. Memories such as these are the glue that binds such special friendships and enriches oneís life. We both agreed we need to catch up more often and that what we share is a very special bond that leaves us both feeling reinvigorated and reaffirmed.
I awoke this morning knowing what needed to be done but it took until late afternoon to do it. I knew March would be the month and so it is. Thereís a degree of scepticism involved. This isnít the first time. But itís not a question of how many times. Itís about commitment, and the willingness to stay the course. Funny; willingness almost seems like the wrong word to use but in fact, itís precisely what this is all about. Iíve been here before and Iím getting too old to blame anyone or anything other than myself. Therefore, Iím willing.
Iíve been feeling heavy and headachy all day. Iím not entirely surprised. Itís often like that when big decisions are made. Itís part of letting go of the tension. It doesnít dissipate straight away. It can take a while. That said, Iíve also been feeling upbeat and Iíve been thinking more about the idea of willingness. Itís powerful because itís the complete absence of drama. It negates the need for the vacuum, and I canít deny one exists. But I know itís only temporary. Beyond the vacuum lies endless possibility.
And itís the endless possibility Iím now willing to entertain.
Thereís something powerful about the idea of embracing life. Itís been resonating in my mind for the last couple of days. It first emerged at work while I was thinking that my timetable this year seems a little light, despite the fact Iím teaching across eight year levels. I even find myself thinking that sooner or later Iím going to be ďfound outĒ. Then another idea came to me, the idea of embracing my current circumstances and I thought, Yeah! Why
embrace it? That put a whole new spin on things.
Maybe the flip side of embracing is letting go.
They still havenít found any trace of Flight MH370 which vanished into thin air over a week ago. With so many conflicting reports and wild theories abounding one can only begin to imagine what it must have been like for those on board. Even if the plane was hijacked and subsequently landed itís unlikely any hijackers would have been able or willing to house and feed 230+ passengers and flight crew. Whichever way you look at it theyíll have all met with a traumatic end. My heart goes out to the friends and relatives for whom closure may never come.
I washed one of the old courtyard chairs and took it upstairs onto the roof deck this evening just as the sun was setting and the sky and clouds were awash with glowing hues of pink and orange against a deepening dark blue. I took a photo of it but couldnít do it justice. Itís the first time I've sat out and admired the view in this way since we moved in, which after nearly eight months seems incredible. It was yet another of those moments when I take stock of whatís been achieved and the value of appreciating it.
I began writing again today. By this I mean I started keeping a journal again. I havenít kept one for quite a while now. A journal for me is an extension of what I do here and the act of creating a new one marks an important and healthy milestone. Iím getting my life back on track, piece by piece, bit by bit. Iím finding parts of me that for a while have atrophied though thankfully havenít dropped off. Iíve started painting again, too. Iím only taking baby steps but baby steps are really important and not to be discounted.
A guy called Charlie came to fix the leaking roof today. Whether or not heís been successful remains to be seen. We wonít know until we have a torrential downpour and thereís no sign of one of those on the horizon. He had to pull back large tracts of the artificial turf to do the job and the roof deck is in a sorry state as a result. We can lay it back tomorrow but it will need to be re-sanded and re-worked to return it to its former pristine condition. And that will be another cost for the builder.
I went along to see the Melbourne Now exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria today. Itís the most comprehensive exhibition of contemporary artists and art practice in Melbourne ever staged and today was the last day. Iím glad I didnít miss it. Not everything was engaging but there were many really exciting works with some 170 artists represented. It was a real shot in the arm. I especially enjoyed some of the video installations. Given that weíre a cultural outpost as the bottom of the world itís encouraging to see weíre capable of such innovation, imagination and social commentary.
A good friend of long-standing has flown in from Japan and is staying with us for a couple of days. We go back a long way and, despite many years of living in opposite hemispheres and/or opposite ends of the world, whenever we catch up itís rather like relaxing back into a nice, comfortable armchair. Having him here has planted the idea of going to Japan later this year. While itís not somewhere Iíve had a burning desire to visit itís nonetheless an interesting prospect and one made all the more practical knowing Iíd have someone familiar to stay with.
Spending time with those whoíve known you a long time but with whom youíve not spent much time with in recent years can provide insight into all sorts of things: choices made, achievements, changes of opinions that were once held dear. Life is fluid and so is human nature, which makes it all the more important to maintain links with the people who really matter. Itís not always easy to do and there are casualties along the way but perhaps the casualties can serve to heighten the value of those of stay the course and remain true no matter what.
I canít say Iím especially drawn to the idea of travelling overseas in September. My trip back to the UK last year was somewhat underwhelming. I feel a lot more drawn to hiring a car and going inland. Iíve not explored rural Victoria and Iím thinking a week or two lost in the country might be just the tonic I need. The idea of renting a cottage or a caravan somewhere and being a recluse for a while is far more appealing than gallivanting across the globe and sleeping on other peopleís couches and would be a lot cheaper, too.
I feel as though Iíve been sleepwalking through today. I used to be able to get by with so little sleep but not anymore. I really do need my beauty sleep. Admittedly I was up late drinking wine on Monday and Tuesday and while I donít regret it thereís a cost which Iíve been paying today. That said, Iíve kept my head above water at work making sure the essentials are covered. Thereís only another week until the end of term and I can muddle through until then. Once Iíve had a proper break Iím sure the enthusiasm will resurface.
Trust. Itís powerful. It enhances and provides a sound base upon which to build. Or grow. Or develop.
All of the above.
Thereís the trust between myself and my partner that has allowed us to build and grow and develop in our own, shared and respective ways for the last 20 years.
Thereís the trust the children place in me. Itís unswerving and, Iím pleased to note, well placed.
Thereís the trust that exists between myself and our little dog which, as with children, is unswerving.
And then thereís the trust in oneself.
And thatís the most important of all.
You reach a certain age whereby you begin to appreciate and accept thereís not one running your life but yourself. External influences and circumstances notwithstanding, we have an ongoing daily choice: go forwards, stand still or go backwards. We can thrash about all we like looking for excuses, people to blame, so-called things beyond our control. Itís not always easy. It can seem downright impossible at times, but like the Dice Man clutching at strawberries, when we come to take our final breath (if weíre still compos mentis) weíll finally appreciate we were in the driverís seat the whole time.
One of the consequences about having been so preoccupied with the house building project for the last five years is Iíve not really clocked the passage of time. Iím now five years older. In a few months Iíll be 55. Time is quite literally evaporating before my eyes and what that serves to do is sharpen my focus on what really matters. It places a premium on the time I have left, however long (or not) that may be. If Iím wanting to achieve something, anything, I need to make sure Iím working on it, or towards it, right now.
Iíll be honest; I havenít achieved all that I set out to achieve for the month of March but Iíve definitely made a good start. Iím painting again, and I donít mean walls. I finally find myself in a different headspace. Itís an attitudinal shift but thereís still a lot to do. Iíve been feeling really tired, although I think thatís symptomatic of a general lack of consolidation. Iíve changed course but Iíve not consolidated any new coordinates. Iím moving forward but I need to determine where Iím going and what Iím going to do in order to get there.
The Tip Jar