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Doing hard time déjà vu: Week 17: Blogging for survival.

I can’t predict the future. When it arrives, I know I’ve seen it before. Lately, this road trip, with long stretches without a petrol station, has got me looking at the empty gauge. Unable to tear my eyes away lest the little wavering dial finally drops below the red E. And I’m stranded, in this lifetime, like a Cyclops. With no vision of the future, except the moment of its ending.

Hindsight is awesome. I have used it to make myself feel superior on many occasions. Like when my friend invited me to join her on a holiday and I said I would rather drive a stake through my foot. In hindsight I decided that I would phrase that differently next time. Although I suspect she may have her own brand of hindsight on that. And then there was the wedding video, and my Mother in law and my voice carried and the video had sound and I didn’t realise. Yeppers. In hindsight. No more Mothers in law. And the Sambuca. A whole bottle. On an empty stomach. Hmm. Yeah. In hindsight. Lots of cheese sandwiches next time. Then there was the time share, the yellow hot pants and those liquid blue eyes….

So. Hindsight. Thanks a million. You didn’t save me from myself at the time, but you enabled me to reauthor the events so adeptly that I came out smelling like roses. In my mind at least. Except for the hot pants.

Prescience, precognition and déjà vu need another alphabet of analogies to begin to describe. How there is no chance to return and rewrite. How there is no second and third person narrative. How the experience pushes the override button on ego, logic, reason and natural inhibition. How it demands that you be so fully present in the moment of living something twice that you wonder how you survived it the first time. And just how much life is distraction.

Sometimes it’s the small things. The sentence you can finish for someone else. The person who is knocking at the door. The clothes you knew they would be wearing. Why someone is sad. The name they will call their baby. The lover they are yet to meet. The secret they haven’t told you. The wish they haven’t made. The hope they dare not give voice to. Moments. Insights. Slicing into the space between hearts.

I take these in my stride. An added bonus on the perception spectrum. Generally a handy enough talent.

Recently, however, the safety switch malfunctioned. After a trip to Nepal. Becoming one big prescient present. Memory, feeling and foreknowledge coagulating on each half spoken word. Dulling any sense of curiosity and deadening the lightness of being. For a lover of divination, and clairvoyant junkie, this is a bad trip..

The one who knows me well suggested I attempt a simple logic puzzle. You know. To try and activate the non functioning side of my brain. After two days I asked her to send me the solution. ‘No’, she said, ‘there is still plenty more for you to try in the book’.

And that’s the problem. I have the solutions. A lifetimes worth. No idea what to though. How do you work back from the end?

Heavy with my own importance I’m half watching the man on the beach with lanterns. It’s a blue-black sky. He approaches and holds a lantern aloft. ‘Do you want to make a wish?’ Pfftt. I’ve seen this before. Pay the money. Light a candle. Let the lantern go. Go back to self satisfaction. He looks again with smiling eyes. ‘Not you. Your daughter’. So I turn to her. Do you want to make a wish? And she is running onto the beach. The woman child I knew before she was born. The moon girl. And she holds the lantern as it warms. Then releases it to the night, craning her neck to watch it take her wish heavenward. She is tingling and talking singing.

And I take a long, deep gulp of that wishful night air. I’ve never seen this moment before. And I’ll never see it again.

This train is bound for glory: Week 14: Blogging for survival

Overnight train from Varanasi to Agra. Going to sleep with the memory of the haunting ghats and waking to the anticipation of the Taj Mahal. Our little band of travelers quivers with excitement. We have been advised to bring our own food onto the train. The journey will be long. The food inconsistent and of dubious quality. We ask the hotel. They make us good food to go.

I cradle my carefully packed falafel and fruit salad during the tuk tuk ride to the station and guard it from harm as we push through the throngs on the platform. As we wait for our train I nurse a feeling of ‘I’m just so pleased with myself right now’. Having negotiated the physical and emotional territory of India during my journey I feel that really, I can rest smugly on my resilience and probably spend the long train journey writing a blog about how I have ‘found’ myself in India.

Our group is a source of curiosity. A little theatre within the larger drama of public transport. People watch us. We watch our bags. The gods watch the trains. And I watch my falafel. One of my travel companions has been valiantly attempting to get a mental foothold on the family tree of the Hindu gods. All 3 million. I wonder which one is present today.

We all turn towards each other, forming a loose boundary. Staking our little bit of personal space. Space that we have no claim to. In India. Space that we surrended when we chose. To travel. To ‘meet the local people’. ‘To see the real India’. Space that we each cling to. In our own way. Mine is in the shape of my falafel. Everything could go to hell in a handbag, but it’s OK. I have my supplies.

One brave soul makes a border crossing. Standing next to me in a green sari asking for something. Quietly and insistently. I feign indifference. And deafness. I avert my eyes. The epic horror of giving money to one needy person in India and being trampled to death on a train station flashes before me. She continues to ask. Only me. I continue to look away. And then she takes my hand. Gently. It’s the law of love. Compelling you to turn to those that touch you. She is beautiful. But her hands are a disaster. Burned and clawed. She isn’t asking for money. She needs food.

The falafel moves seamlessly from my hand to hers. She makes a small sound of pleasure. There is no stampede. One million starving kids don’t run me down looking for falafels. Life moves on.

Later we board the train. Indians are excellent travelers. They can make themselves into whatever shape is required. Compacting life into a cameo. And yet we struggle with our bags, ipads, travel blankets and sanitisers. We create impasses wherever we stand. Desperately seeking space and not finding it. Seizing it from others and not meaning too. Trying to share and not knowing how.

The night passes. Along with the many vendors. Bearing tray after tray of aromatic and exotic delights. Masala tea and enticing snacks. Offerings from the 3 million gods. Who are surprisingly alive and well. Riding the trains of India. And blessing the food. And the people. Even the silly ones. Who bring their own falafels.

The Alchemy of Goodbye: Week 12: Blogging for Survival.

It is early morning. I hear magpies. Calling the day into consciousness. Singing up the souls of the dead. Heralding yet another goodbye.

There is choreography to the pain. The busyness of packing luggage into the car, shuffling cases around, numerous trips into the house for forgotten dolls and shoes. Lengthening the moments, making small talk. There is a conversation about the planned route home and the likelihood of inclement weather, where we will stop for lunch and what time we might arrive. Then, we the children are delivered into the nauseating clutches of the family car, being told not to fight and to put our seatbelts on. Vainly attempting to draw our eyes away from our Mother. And her sadness.

The goodbyes of my childhood are infused with pathos. My Poppa, unable to find words, would cry each time he and my mother parted. My father, lying sobbing, on the body of our Labrador, dead from snake bite.  Jacky Utley. My childhood friend. Waving to me from her Dads’ station wagon. Heading to Canberra. Never to be seen again.  Myself at 15, leaving for a year abroad, with the youthful expectation of being able to return, in time, and pick up where I left off. And my first love. Each one, indelibly changing the structure of my memory.  

Today I’m on my way to the airport. My son is driving. And talking. A deeply understated human being, he uses words like semi precious stones. With care. I catch them. I hoard them. Greedily. My lucky charm for the days ahead. Future proofing my memory. With the chemical compound for goodbye.

In the lead up to my departure I listen for the words that signify the start of the sequence. They come. They are cast toward my retreating self. An amalgam of End Game statements and opening gambits. You are leaving again. This makes me feel alone.  You are leaving again. This makes me feel anxious.  You are leaving again. This makes me feel excited.  You are leaving again. This makes me feel your absence. 

The alchemy of all these goodbyes has distilled the raw elements into a powerful elixir. One that frames the present, capturing the beauty of those I love, urging me to love them more, in this moment, than ever before. The baby learns to say my name and the cat that isn’t mine decides to sleep on my bed. These little faces are unbearably soulful. And maybe they always are. It’s just today I am saying goodbye. Again.

The awareness of how much it all matters makes me wonder if I am the subject of a bad chemistry experiment by fourth grade extra terrestrials. There is an entire living planet in the throes of death and rebirth. Hellos and goodbyes. Now and forevers. For all that, I might as well be a brand new species. From the unbearable pathos genus. With no collective noun. Because it consists of only me. Racing toward extinction anytime soon.

To each goodbye I say, ‘that hurts’. ‘Damn that hurts’.

 And so, like the experiment I am, I yield at the thought of a scientific breakthrough. For if I discover the formula for unbearable pathos, I will market it to airports to put alongside the Chanel and Dior. ‘Unbearable pathos – Enhancing your preflight emotional overload with flashbacks to your childhood. Bonus scenes of you crying in a range of exotic locations’.     

In honour of the Alchemists of old, I board my plane.

I’m heading towards goodbye.




Crying in four octaves

There is a rare breed of person who can seamlessly scale the Everest of music and sing in multiple octaves. Gifted creatures who reauthor our musical atlases every time they work their vocal chords. Think Kate Bush, Freddie Mercury, Christine Aguilera, Mariah Carey, ummm yes, Whitney Houston, Madonna, Yma Sumac the Peruvian songbird, Michael Jackson, Axl rose and Tim Buckley (father of the soulful Jeff). Moving as they do through the minors and the majors and taking us earth bound brutes with them. And leaving song shaped holes in our hearts.

This musical virtuosity is breathtaking. So expressive is this ripe habitation of the human vocal chords that I wonder if these people really need to do anything else particularly well. Potentially they could get through life just grunting and sniffing. Maybe they do, maybe this very talent creates an equal and opposite deficit in some other sense. Is it possible to have a gift of this magnitude and be ordinary in every other way? I find it compelling to consider if this breadth of expression is shared by other souls. Could we all have a potential for this depth and breadth? How we find this ‘voice’ may be as peculiar and individual as our fingerprints.

The people who are close to me know I am spontaneously moved to tears. Crying for me is a response to life. In all its glory. In all its horror. In all its pathos. I don’t think ‘now is a good time to cry’, I don’t think. I cry and then I think. I cry and think. I breathe and cry and think. I laugh and breathe and cry and think. I cry little and I cry big. A rather pragmatic friend of mine looked at my squished up crying face one day and said “the problem with you is you have too much water inside you. Every time someone presses you, it comes trickling out!” Crying for me is like being multi lingual. I get to express myself in a language that everyone understands. Or recognises at least. Understanding maybe rather more elusive.

Crying is a theatrical and social risk. Upon accepting an academy award. OK. Upon hearing that your dear friend has met the man of her dreams on the internet and is eloping with him. Not OK. Either way, I don’t have a crying permission filter. It happens. Inconveniently, painfully, soulfully. It exposes my private and soft spaces and leaves me to deal with it. Hello. My name is Lisa. If you are interested in knowing me you will have to deal with tears. Not daily. But profoundly, frighteningly, surprisingly. Crying big and small. Hello. Alive equals crying.

When I can, I will have a fairly decent crack at a couple of octaves of weeping in the privacy of my own room, home, car, backyard or movie theatre. A movie theatre is not exactly private however I do feel quite separate from others cocooned as I am in the dark. I’m not sure though if this feeling is mutual. On these occasions I am not really fettered by the concern of how my crying might affect others, how contorted my face may become or whether or not there is something to wipe my nose on. I’m usually prepared. I can then, as they say, open the flood gates. It is at these times when I feel that I truly inhabit my crying self, owning my sadness and bringing that shadowy self in. Into the light.

It is when crying ambushes me that I get into trouble. Meandering through this life, quite ordinarily really. Getting up, getting dressed, going to work, going home, and going to bed. You know. And then BAM! I catch an exchange, read something beautiful, think about someone I love, hear a particular kind of story, remember a moment. I may sniff out a few notes or if I don’t catch myself in time, I may cry a couple of lines of melody, however if all the conditions are right, I move into a full blown aria. At that moment I am not so much inhabited by my crying self as possessed by it. To my horror.

I have tried to reason with this dark twin and it goes something like this……… ‘I acknowledge the legitimacy of crying, the powerful health benefits of self-expression, the emotional wellbeing that can come from such catharsis; I really do understand and believe it is so. However, can we just not do this in public anymore? Please?’ No dice. The ego, the id, the inner child, the past life princess, the other self, they all formed a quorum and voted my self- respect away. One sobbing sonata at a time.

So I have befriended this unruly and unshaven beast. When she makes her uninvited entrance I have started to nervously welcome her in and introduce her around. I’m finding she has become less of a nuisance caller and more like one of the family. One of my family. Unique I think is the word. So it was with a modicum of newly developed control that I read the news report, in a public place, of the drowning off the coast of Australia of a boat full of asylum seekers.

And then I cried my own opus. In four octaves.

Signs of life

As I drove out of my town this morning I saw a sign on the main street, some hometown prophet had chalked, ‘It doesn’t matter what you believe, what matters is how you behave’. We have started telling each other things. Although it’s not talking exactly, more like proclaiming. These proclamations take a variety of forms. Sandwich boards adorn the doorsteps of restaurants, real estate agents, even private homes. Many, it seems, would like to tell us something.

I guess I’m wondering just how to take this thrust of roadside soliloquies, coming at me relentlessly as I attempt to go peacefully from A to B. I buy books, or borrow them, or even steal them from hospital lending libraries. I turn on the radio. I sign into the internet. I answer the phone or not. I engage in conversation. Verbs for choice. Verbs for permission. Verbs for consent. I didn’t agree to have your homily to optimism, your take on the war of the sexes, or your Pollyanna platitudes distract me as I try to do a U turn. Thanks.  

Maybe, however, I have mistaken the intention of these proclamations. Perhaps they are a middle class form of literary exhibitionism. ‘We know stuff’ they might be saying. And we are going to let you know that we know we know stuff. Maybe? Or perhaps they are a goodwill gesture, like the Olympics, so everyone will drop their guard and not run as fast as they know they can. Perhaps then it is a speed moderating device, having drivers career to a snail’s pace so that they can catch the last two words of that epic saying about why men are the same as mobile phones. Who knows?

I am confounded for a rational explanation. Or any understanding of why, now, we have chosen not to speak in direct and intimate terms to the people who comprise our world. Hello, how are you? Could be a useful opening gambit. Again maybe it is because those who comprise our worlds are now faceless, far flung, amorphous or maybe they aren’t there. Perhaps we speak volumes to the air that once held the shape of real people we knew or hoped to know.

I have a picture in my head. Me stopping. Pulling over in my car and walking to the sign. Upon reading the content of the daily epistle on life I will pull out my chalk. Underneath I will write, ‘It doesn’t matter what you believe, what matters is how you behave’.


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