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Regrets of the living: Week 20: Blogging for Survival

Gosh there is a whole whammy of self-help out there.

Also lots of lists. Of the ‘five things you should know’ variety. But clearly don’t.

I have paid these lists a little more attention than is good for me. Particularly those hideous masochistic ones like five ways to tell if your partner is cheating on you and five things you should never eat again and five things not to say to a person in crisis. Unfortunately I read all of these after the fact.

I’m taking an interventionist approach. So I read ‘five regrets of the dying’ and perpetrate a new level of guilt warfare on my psyche. After reading it through a couple of times I realise it isn’t really about regrets. It’s about wishes. ‘I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, I wish I hadn’t worked so hard, I wish I’d been brave enough to express my feelings, I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends and I wish that I had let myself be happier’.

And wishing is a state of hope, even if takes us to the saddest, darkest places. It is for the living to have regrets, so if we are good at time management we can get to work on them with a reasonable chance of return. A regret investment.

Channeling the self help counter culture, not embracing the ‘have no regrets’ part of me, I get to work on my list. I chew through a block of chocolate and most of my Zen in the process because I’ve called my self delusion in for a show down.

I cut. I edit. I rearrange until I realise I’m still doing one of the things I regret. I look longingly at some of the regrets in the recycle bin. Some of them look longingly back at me and whisper seductively, ‘you want us, in all our melancholy stickiness, you know you do’. And I do. I know I do. One in particular won’t go without a fight. I was 7. I teased a girl named Wendy Breany. I called her a fatty bombardi. She cried. But there it is. In the bin.

I settle on the final five;

I regret eating animals,
I regret believing in a hierarchy of forms,
I regret not noticing pain. Mine, my child’s and my worlds,
I regret not chasing beauty to her lair and
I regret only discovering Florence and the Machine last week.

Tonight I’m letting myself go. I apologise to Wendy Breany. I have been tormenting her with regret for way too long. She needs to be free. Likewise the chances to be kind, brave and just. And to be an aerobics instructor. I savour the taste of this glorious nostalgie. But before I get too comfortable I remind myself that this sweet romance with lament cannot go on forever. At some point I will have to start thinking like a good economic rationalist and get to work on my investments.

I start making another list. Tofu, soya milk, lentils……

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.

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.




The weakness in me

I sweet talk myself into the car after sweeping the kitchen floor for the fifteenth time. Maybe a piece of dirt strolled in and plonked itself there to make a fool out of me. All the way to the airport I reason with my ego and cross examine myself. The young self of many years past. What kind of person were you all those years ago? What if you have morphed into some fringe dweller with a culture deficit and no one’s told you? When was the last time you did an all-nighter in the room of mirrors?

And what of her? What if she’s acquired attitude or she wears ghastly shoes?  What if she’s accustomed to the good life and expects to drink Moet? What if she doesn’t laugh at my jokes or I make her cry? What if she likes Television? What if she doesn’t care that people are not free, the environment is in peril and Australia’s human rights record is an abomination? What if, heaven forbid, she is reading ‘Fifty shades of Grey’?

It’s been twenty five years.

In that time Mother Teresa and Princess Di are dead, mobile phones have been invented, Chernobyl saddened us, Tiananmen Square angered us and Aung San Suu Kyi mobilized us with her beauty and sacrifice. Mandela prevailed but the Birmingham 6 lost sixteen precious years of their lives for naught. The Soviet Union and Monica Lewinsky met the same fate, one we can all read uncensored, unedited and unreferereed in Wikipedia, or if we Google it on the World Wide Web. We have a special hell now for bad guys at the International Criminal Court where punishment is meted out to the victims and the accused, taking suffering and trauma to a whole new level. And I have mourned the demise of the Drive-In movies and eternal love.

On the way to the airport I stop at a car wash. Double foam, double rinse, double sparkly shiny stuff, double vacuum.  I suck up a whole box of KFC someone left on the back seat.  $30 of spare change later and my matchbox sized car is so clean, so neutralized, so sterilised of me. Great. Now I’ll be driving her home in a sanitation unit on wheels. Yum. A dab of air freshener anyone?

Arriving at the airport I take a deep breath. Floral bouquet fills my lungs. I’m at low and glassy eyed ebb. Does she still like Joan Armatrading? Do I still like Joan Armatrading? We were drawn together through a shared love of music and our telling recognition of a kindred social outcast. With teenage elasticity we pulled each other from the perilous purgatory of our Janis Ian suffering. Right now though it pales in comparison. Teenage angst has nothing on mid life torment. She waits. Composed. I’d forgotten that about her. Stillness. We embrace. I let myself glance quickly in her eyes. They shine. Excellent. We are both still alive.

The days together become seamless, new narratives blending with old, remapping past memories with the verdigris of time. In the evenings she invites me into the new world of contemporary music and explains popular culture to me with her refined sense of quirkiness. I’d forgotten that about her too.

On the way somewhere an observation is made about my love of the word fabulous. ‘You would love my local Mayor, he also thinks everything is fabulous’ she says, and smiles. ‘Yeah’ I say, ‘I use Fabulous and Fuck in equal measure’. She laughs. The sound comes bursting forth from her teenage self. Bold. Rich. Musical guffaws of joy breaking around us. Ah yes. I had  forgotten that also.

And so the two versions of us merge. I still see the kid when I look at her, but her words are from an ancient place. Chiseled from the Jurassic period. I take them and I put them in my museum of beautiful things. So I will never forget. It’s the weakness in me.

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