2019 Will Be Beautiful

At the start of the year, I made a Spotify playlist called “2018 will be magic”. It was a desire, a decision, a hope. 2017 was a year of trauma, of mental health collapse, of emotional abuse, of the worst sort of suicidal ideation, of conflict, of loss, of feeling the pain was forever and hopelessness was the only truth, of grief, of decisions, of bones and muscles cut, of hope, of hope, of growth, of change, of love.

2018 would be magic, not matter what. Something had shifted within my eternal landscape, with Buddhism teaching me about the ways in which self-awareness and self-compassion compliment one another, with the realisation that generosity, empathy and kindness are not character traits I had to be ashamed of (how strange and sad and sick our society is that somewhere along the line, I eternalised the idea that these traits of mine made me weak) but that if we give our light openly, it only grows. Light only grows.

Emotional abuse combined with chronic pain and depression showed me what the worst sort of self-loathing feels like which nearly culminated in a cessation of my own existence. Learning the skill of self-love was not as a thing of scented candles and Instagram capitalism, but a thing of valuing and caring for oneself with the same compassion and understanding that you would show a dear friend or precious child. Learning the skill of self-compassion taught me to be better at sitting with the pain of others, while also becoming better at understanding my own boundaries and limits of what sort of behaviours I will accept in others. Brene Brown was right, the most empathetic people are the best at practising boundaries. Love the person, don’t love the behaviour.

And I’m learning to practice empathy for my need to hate, also. Learning to value and protect my right to anger. I still think of my ex at times and have these spikes of pain and rage that anyone could ever call me the love of their life and a piece of shit within the same day. I still feel confusion and hurt, sometimes, when a sense memory reminds me of how I felt so utterly alone and abandoned in New York. I still can’t look at photos and footage of the place without feeling nauseous and shaky. One day my heart will heal and let him go entirely, but I am kind to myself about the effects of trauma and if for now, hate is what my heart needs, I hold that emotion gently, carefully, cautiously, examining it, letting myself know what that feeling is and the grief and pain that lies underneath. I honour the child contained in my heart who cannot understand – even long after I feel I’ve processed it on every other level – how eyes that looked at me with love could suddenly burn with disgust and loathing.

2018 would be magic, no matter what. But actually, it’s been the most amazing year of my life so far. There is new love opening up parts of myself that had previously been unexplored and unarticulated, as well as old love deeping, ripening, strengthening. New friendships blooming, others growing as I learn to better open myself to people with personal truth, vulnerability, sublime stupidity and joy. The have been supremely fulfilling artistic collaborations, absurd, colourful, sexy parties and adventures, a reconnection with my love of nature, learning how much I love my friend’s children, exciting new projects on the horizon and clown school.

Holy fuck, clown school. Where I discovered things about my physicality that brought me joy and insight and a love for my body and movement when a lifetime of chronic health conditions had left me feeling disconnected from my body at best and like it was my enemy at worst. Where I learned to be more brave and vulnerable and open to the stuff of myself than I have ever been. Where I learned how to breathe into the energy of a moment, of an audience, of a feeling. Where I learned to take the energy of fear and ride it like a wave. Where I had moments of feeling myself to be utterly fucked up, utterly insane, a complete snivelling, disgusting, abject mess… and instead of hiding away, I stood up in front of my classmates and rode those energies. Not mental illness, not at clown school, just extreme states. Glorious, invigorating, terrifying, exhilarating and addictive extreme states. Clown school, where the teacher confirmed my belief that you can get so much more out of people if you practice empathy, remain open to their energies and critically engage in their art in a way that is generous and open, without treading on their heart and soul. Everyone got a turn to shine at clown school and it further deepened my belief that we shine so much brighter when we shine together.

2018 has confirmed my horror at the capitalistic and individualistic concepts that permeate our culture, attitudes, relationships and souls. It was an antidote to so much of that. It was a year of sharing, of collaborating, of helping and letting myself be helped. It’s been a year of learning all the ways in which I am privileged and how deep the systems of inequality and oppression are and affect so many living beings.  It’s been a year of opening myself, properly, to my joys, pains, fears, darkness, hopes… and of opening myself, properly, to that of others. This process of openness, of not clinging to a fixed identity, of not shutting down to pain or the discomfort of conflict and of growth, it’s a constant one and it requires the right combination of discipline and gentleness. It’s the work of a lifetime, really.

2018 has contained the continual discovery of how my surgeries have transformed my life. The process is imperfect, my structures are still a struggle and the neuropathic pain has become it’s own disease. Nonetheless, my capabilities have been increasing and I have slowly, steadily, been spending more time in my studio. The feelings are mixed, sometimes it’s joy and freedom and an overwhelming sense of gratitude at my unbelievable luck. Other times it’s guilt, anxiety, fear that I’m too far behind my peers after so many lost years, frustration at the ways in which pain still holds me back, fear that I’ll fuck this up and wreck my body again, guilt that I still get depressed and anxious and whingy when my life is so much better than it was. But I breathe, I give myself compassion, I gently move myself back on track. It’s ok, I tell myself, it’s ok.

It’s ok. It’s better than ok. This year has not been without challenges, deep fears, so many tears and I know the way that life works, I know that it isn’t just an upward trajectory. I read the signs in the air, I smell the warnings in the wind and worry for the entire goddamn world. But I’m resolved to keep fighting for the values I have defined for myself, those of light, love, hope and art.

I’ve made myself a new playlist, it’s called “2019 will be beautiful” and it will. No matter what. No matter what waits in store. Even if I have to frame a steaming pile of shit and blood in plastic op-shop gold, 2019 will be beautiful.

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Treading Water

You’re treading water in a vast and dark ocean full of sunken memories and shipwrecked dreams. I’m in my little boat with my little lamp, a carefully protected firelight. Dotted in the distance I can see other boats, other little lights that bob up and down. We communicate with words that float across the water and with body language flickers. Sometimes, many times, our speaking shifts in shape as it travels from one vessel to another, lost in transit our tools for communication are imperfect but necessary and so we keep calling out to each other. We tell stories to share our pain and joy and we cultivate these fierce fragile fires that keep the cold dark at bay.

My eyes are fixed upon you as my mind scans the black, murky water. My body shudders with the memory of the time I too was treading water and how the only thing that got me out was the small cluster of boats that appeared around me. Arms reached down and pulled me out of the water over and over until I had gained enough strength, filled up with enough warmth to once again man my own vessel. I can feel the ghosts of that cold, of those waves, I can remember the fog of my perception, how I saw nothing ahead but the endless treading of water and how I began to close my eyes and let go. Oh the relief of sinking, oh the beauty of surrender.

The horror is bile in my throat. That wasn’t my time. My time will come but that wasn’t it. That would have been unnatural, wrong, ugly. That wasn’t the way I was supposed to go. That wasn’t my time. I still had light to shine in the world.

You’re gasping and choking on icy salt water and you flicker like a firefly. I look down at my hands and see traces of your phosphorescent moonlight which has entered my skin, I watch it travel through the rivers of my veins. I realise that my own light has grown and that the colours and textures revealed can only be observed or occur under the particular phenomena of our light in unity.

My vision of you blurs with the miniature oceans that spill from me and into the infinite everything. I’m calling out to you, imploring you to wait, to hold on, to trust me and to let me help. It doesn’t feel like a choice I have, it feels like I am trying to salvage some precious part of myself.

We only just met.

I pause. Instantly everything is still and quiet and barren and dry like a desert. Who the fuck am I? Who the fuck am I to think I can help? What do I know of the world? Of you? Of your struggles? Is my desire to help you ugly and stupid and selfish? Would it be more humane to let nature take its course? Is this what you actually want? Or is this foolish and naïve? Am I putting my own light at risk? Will I also be sucked down into the murk? Will all of us? What the fuck do I know of anything or anyone besides myself? Who the fuck am I to try help you?

Waves crash across the deck and I am soaked ice cold. My light doesn’t flicker, instead my skin is electrified and my heart pounds and my focus grows more fixed. Who the fuck am I to try help you? I don’t know. I know I’m just one small beacon of light with arms that are weak and easily tremble. But I know that even if I turned around and navigated my vessel elsewhere, every time that I closed my eyes, I would see you treading water and I would never be the same. I don’t know what I am but I know I don’t want to be that.

And I know that I love you.

And as I observe the particular beauty of your flickering light… it doesn’t feel like this is your time to go. Your time will come but I don’t believe that this is it. My heart tells me that you still have light to shine in the world. Phosphorescence, luminescence, moonlight.

So I remain here in my boat that bobs up and down, I remain here with my arm stretched out and my hands open to you. I hope you have the strength to hold on. I hope that I can provide you with enough warmth and light to sustain you and strengthen you so that we can make maps together and navigate us all to warmer places where our fires can grow.

We are weak. We are strong. We are scared. We are love.

Days Like Today

Days like today, days when my life feels so full and so ripe with possibility, days like today I am so fucking glad that I didn’t jump in front of that train.

At those darkest moments, when everything hurt and I felt so worthless, when it felt like the pain and shame was all I had, at those darkest moments I had no idea how much joy and hope and light was just a few steps ahead of me.

The dark days are still there, pain is still a struggle but the shame is so much quieter, my heart feels so fucking full and so I feel strong and resilient. I feel so fucking rich, so gloriously fat on love, sex, connection and art.

At those darkest moments, I thought I knew what I was. At those darkest moments, I thought I knew what my future was. I did not. I could not. Days like today, I am so fucking glad that I didn’t jump in front of that train.

Outback

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I need to find a way to capture some of this feeling before it dissolves in the atmosphere of the city.

It’s flat, the outback. It reminds me of the way the world felt when I was a kid, yanno, big. Big like when you stand outside at night and stare into the universe. That awestruck thing of you being so small, so insignificant, that liberating thing of some getting some goddamn perspective. Oh hey ego, shut up a tic and look at this cool shit, hey?

Over the anniversary of my 10th year living in Australia, we explored Lake Mungo, the ghost of a lake that once was. Now a dry and flat expanse covered in alien vegetation, 50, 000 years ago this place was freshwater mussels, giant marsupials and people. Some of their bones remain around the edges of the extinct lake and our guitar toting tour guide showed us ancient fire pits, fossilised fish scales, preserved footprints and freshwater mussel shells that looked as if they had been deposited on the ground just yesterday. Actually, the mussel shells were perhaps one of the most striking things – the fact that they did not look old gave me a strange sense of vertigo, a connection with the past and a palpable understanding of how recently that lake existed in the history of things.

For centuries the fossils and things have been preserved in a museum of mud and sand but now the wind is uncovering them and slowly they erode and disintegrate, blending with the dust and sand. Poetry like that is the kind of shit that puts a lump in your throat. Mortality, ephemerality, it makes you feel lonely and sad but in a good way, a poignant way. Isn’t everything just so fucking beautiful when you remember that it’s all temporary?

It’s dry, the outback. To an untrained eye it might seem hostile to life but in fact the biodiversity is astounding and you see things that are so alien and specifically evolved to the ecologies which they inhabit. Brilliantly coloured parrots screeching in voices that somehow remind me of Fran Drescher, lumpy turd shaped lizards with giant mouths, Emus that look like dinosaurs and a run like terrified but athletic nerds, beetles with markings that look tribal and might get them entangled in an online argument about cultural appropriation, weird fungus that is the texture of a pavlova filled with black nightmare weirdness and flowers with petals that feel like dry straw.

You have to stop though, you have to stop and stand still and pay attention. That’s a good rule of thumb in general when it comes to the natural world, remembering that it doesn’t exist to entertain you. The animals and plants have their own shit to do and if you take some time to tune into what that shit might be, you realise just how little you know, just how many worlds exist right before your mostly blind and ignorant eyes. It’s humbling.

“Humble” seems like an old fashioned word doesn’t it? I’d love to see a renaissance of humbleness. Can somebody bring it back into fashion? I don’t mean humble as in subservient or lacking in pride. I mean… Remembering how little any one person can ever truly know, remembering there is always more to learn. Always.

It’s bright, the outback. This part will go down as one of the great memories of my life. The part where we got out of the car and clambered up white sand dunes. When I reached the top of my first dune, I let out an involuntary and childish squeal of excitement and I started to run along it. I’m grateful for the times when I forget to be self-consciousness about what a giant dork I am.

I’ve never been on sand dunes before, not proper ones like this. They were a thing of myths, of the books I read in my childhood. It is utterly thrilling to be somewhere that just looks and feels so different from anything familiar and I swear, my heart raced with excitement as I bound down the side of the first dune in giant gravity propelled leaps! I ran through the flat valley between the dunes then up another, down another, up again. I felt a manic, brilliant joy.

When I paused for my breath to catch up on me, I realised that the white expanse seemed to be spinning and flickering just a little, as if my brain couldn’t quite take the exertion, the heat or the brightness of the sun reflecting with such intensity on the white surface. I wondered if I was going to faint and the idea seemed so hilariously pathetic that I burst into laughter. Then I stopped to breathe in the place and listen to the absence of traffic, the wind, bugs and the occasional bird or rare other tourist.

I watched him in the distance, my travel companion who is one of the great loves of my life and who has a thirst for adventure and novelty that feeds and ignites my own. I knew, through the excited grins we had shared all day, that he was finding this as magical as I, albeit in his own way. He looked up into the sky and I followed his gaze, it was a bird. The internet tells me it was probably a nankeen kestrel.

It hovered and wove silently through the sky and as it came towards me, that feeling of awe I had been experiencing all day seemed to reach a climactic peak. As it flew directly above me, I literally fell to my knees and watched it pass in front of the sun, an act which caused its feathers and much of its body to glow. Holy. Fuck.

I have a voice memo on my phone from after that moment. My voice is faint, trembling. You can barely hear it over the wind but I wanted to transcribe my words, rambling, unaltered.

“Today I saw the sun shining through a hawk while sitting on a sand dune… and I’m so glad I lived for this. I wanted to take a photo or a video for the memory and for writing about it but I thought that would be really inferior. And I thought about the shame I feel for taking photos instead of living in the moment. 
But then I thought about how we’ve always told stories, the thing that makes us human is telling stories about the things we do, that’s why we take photos of everything and try to record things… that’s something really special about us… that we… we tell each other stories about what we’ve done, what we’ve eaten, where we’ve been. It’s how we learn, it’s how we relate and I think we should tell all our stories. I don’t think there should be bad stories. I think we should tell stories about the most poignant moments in our lives, the moments when we run across sand dunes but also the time we shit our pants on the tram down Sydney Rd or the sex we had that was just so filthy or… the time we wanted to die.”

Exactly a week before I was running on the sand dunes, I wanted to die. The theme was one I had written of before, unhappiness with my health, sorrow about how significantly decreased my abilities are, chronic pain, lost potential, fears of things worsening, missing painting with the ever-present ache of lost love. I felt trapped, I had temporarily stopped seeing the colour in things. All I could see when I closed my eyes was a recent x-ray of my fucked up body and all the ways in which I cannot have the things I love.

Exactly a week afterwards, I sat in the dark where we had set up camp and though the suicidal inclinations had passed, I was still feeling tenuous. I decided to risk trusting this relatively new love of mine with the story of my sadness and he gave me the generous gift of listening and then just holding me for a little bit. Something lifted after that, it is such a fundamentally human need to have our sorrow witnessed. And our joy. One of the most meaningful things you can give another person is to listen to them when they tell you how they feel. I am tremendously grateful for the people who have loved and listened to me and I hope I do the same for them.

The next day, I was watching the sun shining through a hawk on a sand dune. Then I stood up and went to my love, we embraced and showed one another various treasures we had discovered – old fashioned glass fragments, dead bugs, bones. We both went wandering in separate directions again and I played a game with myself where I walked along the flat sand with my eyes closed until eventually I reached a dune that meant I was now climbing upwards with eyes still closed. Suddenly my foot touched air and, gasping in surprise, I fell onto my arse, I had reached the top of the dune and had fallen onto the other side of it. I laughed, filled with joy over how effective such a simple game had been at delighting me in this magical place.

I made a second voice memo.

“I can’t remember the last time I was this happy. It’s that thing… that thing where you have to tell the stories you don’t want to tell. You have to accept your vulnerabilities you have to (the wind gets too loud here and my voice is too faint to decipher for a moment) … somehow it just frees you up. It frees you up to feel good. It’s that Brené Brown thing about vulnerability it’s…oh my God I just found a little jawbone!”

A week ago I wanted to die. A week after that, I visited a place so special that it unlocked passions for the natural world which had lain relatively dormant within me since childhood. When we got back to Melbourne, my mood dropped and I cried when I walked into my house. But it was nothing dramatic, I’m feeling a lot stronger and my cat has been demanding cuddles which always helps me keep it real, yo.

It’s important to remember that the pain is real but so is the joy. It is so important to be reminded of how incredible the world is and I will hold onto that for dear life.

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