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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.

No cows were harmed in the production of this blog: Week 15: Blogging for survival

Knee deep in the smoky water of the Ganges they sieve through the earthly remains of every body cremated here. There are teams of six, working in shifts around the clock. Scooping, sieving, flushing, scouring. Their job is to collect the jewelery of the dead. It belongs to the owner of the Ghat. It is the work of the untouchables. Except they don’t exist. Anymore. They say.  

Our jeep hurtles along a dusty outback track. Attempts are being made to seal sections of these roads. By hand. It is women who do the bulk of this work. The dry horizon is dotted with saris in every colour. Labouring in 45 degree heat with baskets of rubble on their heads. Their job is to pave the way of the future. The future that belongs to all people. Because the caste system doesn’t exist anymore. They say.

Returning from a night of feasting, our guide insists on stopping for a Jaipur delicacy at a road side stall. Our tuk tuk pulls over and he jumps out. I move to follow him and see that next to the stall is a small child, naked, sleeping. She is vulnerable and unprotected. His foot lands precariously close to her tiny form. I recoil, hiding in the shadowy darkness. Wrapping my sadness and indignation around me. Because this doesn’t happen where I come from. Anymore. They say.

I’m in the modest kitchen of the Gurdwara Sikh temple in New Delhi. Volunteers move around me. Stirring, chopping, mixing, rolling, serving, washing, measuring. Working. Without clamour, a mountain of food is being prepared and served. It is aromatic and nutritious. I ask how many are fed here on a daily basis. 20,000. Per day. I ask again. I cannot comprehend the arithmetic of this generosity. Because this doesn’t happen where I come from. If 20,000 people needed feeding in one day we would declare a state of National emergency.

And then I’m striking a deal for a beautifully embroidered kurta. It’s a well choreographed dance. He sets an astronomically high price and I say ‘I got two for less than that elsewhere’. He asks me where. I name another Indian city. He says ‘it’s different here’. ‘Not so much’ I say. ‘People are still people. Everyone is still trying to get by’. We move out of the temporal momentarily. ‘Ah yes’, he says, and nods his head. ‘But it’s not really about the money is it’? And he eyeballs me. ‘It’s about the dignity of the exchange’. And I nod my head and say, ‘yes, it is different here’.

And I’m losing my place in the dance. Because like Marion Milner says “Everything that one thinks one understands has to be understood over and over again, in its different aspects, each time with the same new shock of discovery.”

And I’m shocked. That doesn’t happen where I come from.

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.

Never trust an elephant: Week 13: Blogging for survival

I’m on my last elephant ride. The realisation that I will never do this again comes with the  certainty of the sunrise. Staying present in the moment. With a shame that comes from the imperialism of being human. Of killing, eating, enslaving and humiliating animals. She walks with care and deliberation. Each step takes me closer to my pathetic regret.

Elephants have a similar life expectancy to humans. And like humans they can live full and happy lives. Under the right conditions. Lakshmi Kahli is 35 years old. 9 am in Chitwan, Nepal and she is on her second run already. There has been a slight delay because we asked them not to overload her. Serious discussion ensues. Each of these elephants is expected to carry 5 people at a time.    

We are the last to ride. Hoards of animated, excited, overweight people jump, scratch and scramble their way on to the elephants. As each person boards, the elephant adjusts slightly to manage the load.

My first elephant ride was at the Melbourne Zoo. I was 5. In all the years that have followed I have also jumped, scratched and scrambled my way onto the backs of elephants around the world. Loving the view from up high, the gentle rhythm and the mystery of the elephant spirit. On top of an elephant is on top of the world.

I have been told about the vengeful nature of elephants. How they will remember a hurt done to them and wait for an opportunity to retaliate. In Laos, the guide at the elephant camp tells a story of a tourist who teased an elephant by offering bananas repeatedly and pulling them away just as the elephant was reaching for them. After a few minutes of this, the elephant whacked him to the ground. ‘So’, he says, ‘never trust an elephant’.

At 35 years old I was working 3 jobs. Harnessed. And at times I felt like a brute animal, with little value other than the weight of the load I could carry. I retaliated at acts of senseless cruelty. I also retaliated for much less.  There were times when people would say. ‘You can never trust a Lisa’.

These days I choose who, and what, I will carry. I do not carry entitlement, or cruelty, and I brushed rudeness and humiliation off on a low hanging branch some time ago. About the time I developed a deep fondness for bananas. And kindness. This is what it means to be free.

As Lakshmi Kahli stands steady for me to scramble my way off her back I think of all the elephants that have carried people, little and big, safely around the world and through time. Of their huge bulk kneeling to accept a small child and their gentle trunks touching the upturned palms of generations. And I smile.

You can never trust an elephant.



The big Apple: Week 10: Blogging for survival

I hadn’t intended to engage in multinational corporate sabotage. It was purely circumstantial.

I was thinking about meeting my friend, discovering the easts and wests of the New York streets, getting lost and being found again. The Public Library, Grand Central Station, Times Square, shopping, eating and inhaling the life of the city. Today I was Lisa the trashy tourist and at days end I expected to have a full SD card and a plastic statue of Liberty.

We both started the day at different ends of New York, hoping to collide somewhere in the middle. She was in Manhattan and I was in the Bronx. Not so hard for a New Yorker. Mission incredible for us two. We both suffered from being newly arrived and topographically disorientated. She struggled with up and down and I struggled with north and south. Remarkably, we did find each other, breathless from running the wrong way up streets and red faced from getting lost.

I ate a hearty breakfast when I arrived, realising you needed a steak and a protein shake before you head across town. Deb consoled herself with a strong coffee. I threw a bottle of sparkling mineral water in my bag. On reflection I should have taken her lead.  

We stepped out together in weather that wasn’t rated in the Luxe guide. A confection of drizzle and heat which turned New York into moody musical, all damp with not much song. The general air of helpfulness that had infused my interactions with the city evaporated in the steamy angst of trying to stay stylish while being saunaed in your clothes. 

New York first became suspicious of me when I entered the map room in the public library. A beautiful and rarefied space filled with the cartography of history. And people. Quietly considering their place in the universe. Very quietly. Actually silently. And my shoes. Somehow they had managed to trap a greedy portion of the city’s rainfall inside them. And they set up a squeaky, watery addition to the musical just as I stepped into the room. Assuming the benign smile of the overly medicated I walked around the room. It was slightly strained.

Next stop was Grand Central Station. We accosted an office worker on a cigarette break to ask directions. In a Peter Stuyvesant fog she mouthed the word ‘east’ and pointed languidly in the general direction of God.  Sure enough at the nexus of uncertainty and imminent melt down we arrived. And tumbled through the entrance in a festival of ‘we found it’!

It does have an air of grandness. I sought a vantage point from which I could capture the picture that already existed in my visual memory. The moment is poignant. When life meets cultural icon. I breathed it in. This is the electricity that generates future hope. That one lifetime has an endless supply of awesome.

I ran up the stairs. And into the newest Apple flagship store. It is expensively understated. No walls, no garish advertising. Just glass and technology. And the greys and the blacks of the New York uniform. Stylish, well groomed and well heeled. It took me a moment to try and comprehend what kind of post colonial treaty had been bargained with the people of New York to claim this prestigious shop front. But I’ve never been good at world domination.

Now that I had stopped running I needed to catch my breath. I already felt a little conspicuous standing amongst the iPads. Panting. With the large sign on me that read ‘yep, not from around these parts’. I thought I could strike a more casual pose so the laser beams could turn on someone else. I pulled out my mineral water. 

I’m not sure of the physics of it all. How one small bottle of water, when shaken, has a force multiplier of infinity. It was amazing. It just spread so far. Onto so many things. So many really expensive things. One composure shattering drop at a time. My suffering was short lived. Quietly, without ceremony, a cleaner appeared with a large mop. And mopped me back down the stairs.

I guess only some of us are naked in the Garden.

The bearded lady and world poverty

Alligators inhabit this lake. Popping up their gnarly heads and blinking sideways at the sun. I do likewise. Completely still. My breathing mirrors their reptilian cycle. Slow. Deep. I imagine my prehistoric self, swimming, blinking and breathing. I want that existence. To escape the burden of my own evolution. It has become too heavy.

This Florida landscape is unchanging. Evergreen, expertly manicured, colour coded and symphonically syncopated. Left is the Community centre and right is the golf course. This reality is a Tuscan, Naples, New Mexican palette with or without pool. But always with alligators.

The days take on a surreal quality. Time becomes pointless. I start drifting in the primordial pool of precognition. It’s a hospice for my weary consciousness. I am right where I need to be. A retirement community in Orlando. I retire for seven days. It’s not a test or even an experiment. Nor a taste of the future or a joke. It’s a holding cell. And it holds me gently, tastefully and oh so quietly.

My friends serve their meals on time and wash their clothes with the smells of kindness. They offer me tea and whisky at exactly the right moments. They talk of their adventurous past and their country hopping present. Their map of the world has been refolded into the shape of a heart. And they offer it to me. Part story, part hope. Paying homage to the Patron Saint of freedom.

In between journeys they choose an alligator calm. Prowling the perimeter for tasty morsels and living off the fat of the last big feed.  Contrasting colour to their monochrome world is provided by the other free humans they have found in the cell. Sniffing out those who read the Braille of the Trade winds and drawing a circle around them straight from the tropic of Capricorn. With these lofty spirits they tread water in the still pond of their gated community.

An evening of conversation has been arranged in my honour. We will gather together and discuss all things pertinent to the survival of the cell. I will be the evening’s delicacy. Wild grown, organic Australian. I arrange my face into openness and strike a dignified pose as we career along in the golf cart. I can do retirement community chic.

Having been pre warned about the calamitous state of their neighbours’ cellar I take along a bottle of Australian wine as a peace offering. Works a treat. Soon I’m being comfortably arranged at the round table with a glass of something quite palatable and I start to feel, well, almost unguarded. A little prematurely. As I take a satisfied sip of their Californian Chardonnay, 6 pairs of eyes turn and pierce me with an all knowing gaze. I smell my flesh starting to sauté in the juices of expectation. My friends throw down the gauntlet, ‘So Lisa, tell us all what you are hoping to do about world poverty’. I take a long sip of wine. It’s starting to get a bit crowded here in the primordial pool. Time to evolve. Real fast.

After making several  attempts to explain the tenuous relationship between me and the solution to world poverty, the spokesperson of the pod comes to my rescue. ‘I have only met one other Australian’, she says. ‘On a cruise. She had a problem with extreme facial hair. And she was real grouchy’. At this point there are a couple of themes running through my reptilian brain. 1) The interest of the non poor in poverty, 2) The chances of meeting an Australian woman on a cruise with problematic facial hair and, 3) How I can get something stronger to drink.

My long pause has been misconstrued as deep thought and they all continue to wait for me to respond.  ‘Maybe she was grouchy because she left her shaving gear at home’. Pause. ‘I know just how she feels’. Pause, pause, pause. I turn as I hear a gentle clearing of the throat and it is the husband of the speaker. ‘Actually that is only one side of the story. My wife warned me not to speak to this woman, she told me she was unstable and very hostile, but I ignored her and sat down right next to her. I struck up a conversation with her and found her to be quite human. We got on famously after that’.

The gentleness of his tone reminds us all of our human spirit. The very same one that lifts us out of our still ponds and wires us for freedom. The six pairs of eyes look more kindly on me now. The monster has been repelled. ‘Don’t look so worried Lisa’, they say, ‘we won’t bite’.

I blink sideways at the sun.

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