Sunday, 27 July 2014

Capturing real moments

A good friend of mine has a camera: a vintage camera that only takes film. She takes photos, often of people, with that camera. Real people, real moments. None of it is made up, none of it is carefully posed. There are no edits, and there are no filters.

Not everyone is smiling in her photos. She just captures what's happening at the time, whatever it is.

She has taken photos of me, too. Really candid photos that at first feel private, because they're so candid. They show bits of me I'm not used to seeing in a photo.

I like the photos because in them I see the way she sees things, I see her approach. She does this great thing, my friend, she believes it's all okay. Whether we're laughing or bawling, angry or all gooey, none of that really matters, it's just all part of life and we all eventually stop laughing or crying or whatever. Or maybe we don't which is okay too. We just hang out, whatever's going on.

And sometimes it's more than that. Sometimes she reckons it's worth capturing those moments. On film. Unedited.

And it's breathtaking.

I know a number of people who believe that too, some of my good friends. Friends who I love and accept and who love and accept me, just as we are - even when things get intense or uncomfortable - and not just when things are happy and easy.

It's a privilege to have friends like that, I'm honoured to know them. They're connections I value so dearly, these people I love come-what-may.

It's not always happy. It's not always fun. It's not always rosy. It's not always comfortable.

It's not perfect.

No, it's better than that, it's real. It's sincere and honest and it's more joyous and more loving.

And sure there are hilarious amazing wonderful moments - but if there's a different kind of moment, that's okay too. It doesn't ruin the rest. Somehow there's less pressure.

Because it's true what my friend believes - I guess that means I believe it too - it is all okay. Joy and sadness and laughter and tears. Love and frustration and resentment and exhaustion. We're all going to feel all of these things at some point. This is life. This is living.

It took me a really long time to really fully understand that. Maybe it's obvious to everyone else. But me, I fought against the painful uncomfortable stuff for years, for far too long. Picture me crying or feeling slightly anxious and kind of yelling awkwardly "ohhh my goodness what is wrong with me what is happening to meeee?". In fact (*tries to accurately recall) I'm pretty sure in one of my first therapy sessions I asked the therapist if it was possible to fix me, as if I were broken.

I had so many people encouraging me to just surrender to it all. And honestly fear really stopped me from doing that. Terror, maybe is a better word, I was terrified of surrendering to the uncomfortable stuff.

Eventually though, with a bunch of little tiny itty bitty steps, and then a few more, and then a few slightly experimental larger ones, and yes some backwards steps in there too... I slowly started getting there. And as my confidence in this process of just embracing all of it has grown, my steps have grown too.

I still have no idea what I'm doing, I'm still bumbling my way through the whole shebang. But now just making a conscious effort to live as fully as is possible - with everything that comes with that. And I've still a long way to go. But now not worrying so much about taking a step in a direction I might not otherwise have been comfortable taking. Getting more comfortable with feeling uncomfortable, getting more comfortable with fear, getting more comfortable with just letting myself enjoy the nice moments too.

Another good friend of mine recently sent me this quote. It's Friedrich Nietzsche, what a dude. He says:
“What if pleasure and displeasure were so tied together that whoever wanted to have as much as possible of one must also have as much as possible of the other. You have a choice in life: either as little displeasure as possible, painlessness in brief or as much displeasure as possible as the price for an abundance of subtle pleasures and joys.”
And for me that sums it up nicely.

I used to make an effort to avoid pain and discomfort, not realising it may have prevented me from enjoying an abundance of subtle pleasures and joys.

*throws (sensible amounts of) caution to the wind



Monday, 14 July 2014

Angel

Last year I went through an anxious patch. During that time, and for completely unrelated reasons [cough cough], I stayed with a dear friend of mine and her partner at their house. They have two cats. Muggles and Angel. I'm usually more of a dog person, but Muggles and Angel are two pretty lovely cats.

There is nothing like hanging out with lovely animals when I'm anxious. They just sit there with you and you don't have to say anything, there's no pressure to be anything other than what you are. It's wonderful. Lovely people are the same, although I do find myself much less apologetic towards animals. With people (no matter how close I am to the person) I tend to do the whole "awfully-sorry-if-this-is-annoying/confronting-for-you" thing and then feel stupid amounts of guilt.

So often it's nice to spread it out a bit. Animals. Alone time. Knowing your mates are there if you need 'em.

Anyway during that anxious patch I ended up staying at that house for a decent 6 ish weeks. Night times were spent downstairs lounging around chatting or watching telly, and of course hanging out with Muggles and Angel. Angel would come over and sit on my lap and I'd give her (we called it) "touching". Muggles is more of a fetch the twisty thing and gimme-all-your-strawberry-yogurt kind of cat. But Angel was and still is very affectionate and a total sucker for any kind of touching.

At first my friends would coax her, "Angel, Mary needs a cuddle" and point at me. She'd come over and sit on my lap or near me, get comfy, and I'd ruffle her fur and kind of give her a kitty massage. My friends taught me her favourite kinds of touching, "she LOVES it on her face". Etc etc.

One night, she was on my lap and I must have brushed somewhere close to her stomach. She liked it, and sort of started leaning over to one side. I did it again, a bit further under, and she leaned further to the side. Pretty soon she was flat on her back, legs sprawled open, across my lap. And I was giving her a new kind of touching. Belly touching.

My friends did a bit of this, "oh we didn't realised she liked that" and "ohhhh hahaha that's so funny look what she's doing now". Funny night.

After then she needed no coaxing. Sometimes I'd get home after work, sit on the couch to remove my shoes, and Angel would sprint over to me and LEAP up onto my lap, almost twisting mid air to get into position. And I'd be gently trying to get her off my lap so I could finish getting my shoes off etc.

Sometimes, after giving her belly touching for aaaaaaages, I'd get distracted in conversation or whatever and my hand would go still. Nope. Angel's paw would find my hand and guide it back to her tummy.

Hilariously cheeky.

And I love cheekiness. It's one if my favourite character traits ever. And Angel is a really cheeky cat.

I would go to bed quite early most nights, watch something light on my lappie, and always have to get up to pee before falling "asleep" (I use the term sleep loosely there). 

One night, after I'd been there maybe a few days, I was laying in bed trying to fall "asleep" when I felt a little something get on my bed. I was startled. It moved and - oh my goodness! - my arms shot out towards the thing and hit something very soft. 

"Oh Angel?!"

A pause and then a really loud purring noise. She was coming over trying to find a place to plant her butt. The room was very dark, and I was on my side. The purring kept approaching (prrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr) until I felt Angel's little wet nose touch mine. 

"Haha Angel! You're so sneaky... okaaaay come 'ere."

It was a tricky situation. Angel wanted touching. I was trying to fall asleep, torn between having her there (which was nice) and getting some quality sleep. Every time I would start to drift off, she'd purr or nudge at my hand with her paw to wake me for more. Given sleep was a pretty important factor for me to deal with the anxiety, after a little while of this, I carried her out of my room and returned to bed alone.

Well, it was on.

Every night, Angel would wait outside my bedroom door (around the corner so I couldn't see her waiting) for me to take my bathroom break, then she'd sneak in (I must have been a bit distracted by the anxiety). She'd hide behind my clothes basked (I later discovered), wait until after I was in bed with the light off. Then she'd jump up onto my bed and purr super loudly, her little face coming over to mine.

I always imagined her saying "pleeease giiiiiiiive meeeeee bellly touching".

I would give her belly touching for a while, then have to carry her out to get some sleep. She eventually discovered that if she didn't wake me up for more touching when I fell asleep - I wouldn't kick her out. And I would wake every few hours anyway and give her more when I did, so she would stopped waking me.

And so it went. After a couple of weeks, we had a pretty settled "arrangement". She'd always sneak in and hide though - but maybe she knew I knew she was doing it. I'd get into bed, turn off the light and say into the darkness, "come on Angel" pat my bed twice, and she'd jump straight up.

[Chuckles] Cheeky girl.

It was a hilarious game, and an awfully nice way to fall asleep.

It's funny how during the most anxious times of my life, I tend not to remember the yukky parts the most. I mean, sure, I can recall the anxious parts - but those memories have much less energy than the other stuff I can remember. Like Angel sneaking into my room at night, the comical side of what my body does when I'm anxious, and all the love my friends and family generously bathed me in during those times. There is always so much of that.



"Why are you taking a selfie when you could be giving me belly rubs?"
(And WOW my hair was long there).

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Why I write

I've been totes MIA lately. Earlier this year I was writing quite often, almost daily there for a while. My head seemed so full of ideas and epiphanies. So many stories. Often when I write, it open parts of me that are kept kept inside, linked with other things I haven't pondered for some time - writing triggers memories, if you like. But for a moment there it got slightly intense, so I've been taking time out to just stare off into space, rather than focusing so much on expression. Mulling over my thoughts, reflecting and making room for quiet.

It's important for me to do that sometimes.

Anyway this week a friend of mine asked me if I would participate in something. An explanation on why I write.I love the "why" in everything, so it's obviously a big yes from me. There are a few people participating in this online, and so here is mine...

Why I write...

An awful lot goes on in this brain of mine. My thoughts often get all jumbled up, intertwined in a complex ball of tangled mess. I enjoy clarity of thought - but that clarity comes after three things have happened. 1. Time. 2. Mulling. 3. Conversation, both external (with other people) and internal (often through writing, sometimes I just talk aloud to myself).

I've always written. When I was younger, I wrote letters to people, mostly friends. I thought I couldn't write stories or essays (or anything else). I honestly didn't know I had it in me - but I had just never really given it enough effort. (And whether I do or not is subjective - you decide that part).

But I reckon anyone can write. For some it comes naturally. For me, it did not and often does not - but often I can only enjoy things that challenge me. I bore easily, I guess. Writing is a craft that is refined and developed over time. It's challenging to find the right words, and order them in the right way, but so rewarding.

When I initially started my online writing, this blog (formerly the beauty within it) - I was writing to try and un-complicate those complicated thoughts, to untangle the messy ball of string that is my life.

Eventually I realised (thanks to some gentle nudging by my former therapist) - that the idea is not to untangle it, but fall in love with the mess of it, with all the complication. That accepting that part of myself and embracing it - is far more effective than trying to "fix" it (for lack of a better expression). And in any event, wasn't it possible that, given I love a challenge, un-complicating my life would mean it would bore me senseless? Interesting.

Anyway, happily for me, language is such an incredible tool for me to explain the mess and complication. To put words to these often wild and wonderful things I experience - to give them a home outside my heart. To free up some space in my head - but put it somewhere safe that I can return to later.

I do it for myself privately. If I suspect my musings may benefit someone else, I post it here.

What am I working on?

I am working on a number of things. Always...

In my day job I am a property lawyer. 90% of my job is writing, maybe more... lucky me! Even though the style and the approach is different I still enjoy the process of legal drafting and writing, and still find ways to incorporate my writing style into my work. The more complicated the issue, the better, obviously.

[grins]

For the past 5 years or so I've also been working on writing a book, a memoir. I feel I'm too young to write one, and so it hasn't been a constant thing. I go through phases of not looking at it, and then for a brief window of time it's almost like I cannot stop the words and I must write, and sentences quickly start spilling off multiple pages and into multiple chapters.

The name of the book has changed around 6 times, in line with changes in its theme. And I don't know if I'll publish it. I'm enjoying the process more than anything.

How does my writing differ from others in its genre?

I think the biggest thing I struggle with is focus of subject matter. The complicated mess of tangled wool makes it difficult for me to limit my writing to one or two somehow-related topics. Often my posts are philosophical in nature. Sometimes my posts are nothing more than something I've found amusing. I've also posted about my political persuasions and personal views.

For me the only singular subject matter genre I can narrow it down to is everything in life, because - my life is my life and to me it's all relevant. I no longer have a desire to untangle the mess. I've worked hard to not separate it all, or "fix it" and so it makes sense that my writing would reflect that.

It's all there, intertwined. It evolves over time, depending on what's going on. I go with it.

[throws a handful of (environmentally friendly) confetti in the air]

I'd like to think this gives my writing space an authenticity, or a rawness. I try not to self edit too much.

If nothing else, it's real. Realness is important to me. It's all I have.

Why do I write what I do?

People I know are often puzzled (and sometimes critical) of the openness of my writing style.

Honestly, I feel as though I'm not open enough. And I do it consciously, in a bid to cut through the bullsh!t, something I despise. I've weighed up the pros and cons of being open or closed. I've tried a few different communication approaches.

This one resonates with me the most. It's not the most comfortable. But it's the one I'm satisfied with, holding myself to the same expectation I hold others to.

I've been through a couple of patches in my life where I didn't have a scrap of internal hope to hold onto. Periods of bleak depression (to varying degrees). During one in particular, the absence of hope was so black and hollow and empty I gave a lot of thought to oblivion (living the way I was somehow seemed impossible). Some say depression is the complete absence of hope, and I can relate to that.

What got me through those periods was reading other people's stories of how they found their way through it. Found their 'hope', if you like. Actually I couldn't read for a time (*chuckles) - so my mum would read stories to me, or I'd listen to audio books.

The stories that helped the most, were stories courageously told by people who were open and real enough to admit the big and scary things that had happened to them. Their bravery was so empathetic, so accepting and non judgmental. There was no stigma in it, just raw honesty.

It was a relief to hear I hadn't been the only person feeling that way. And I connected so strongly with the courage they showed by writing their inner most thoughts.

And so for a time, I lived on hope, borrowed from the pages of other people's stories.

And so, on the off chance my story could give someone hope - I've done my best to write it here as honestly as possible. With some funny stories thrown in to break the intensity, and to give context on who I am and the cheeky sh!t I get up to.

Putting my thoughts on paper is often scary, honestly.

Sometimes when I click "publish", or "send", my heart races. I have to catch my breath.

But truthfully, I have never felt regretful for allowing other people to read my thoughts. Not once.

If anything, I've been pleasantly surprised by some of the things that people have said in return. Not so much about the writing style, more about the content - and how they could relate or how it gave them hope or a new perspective.

It has easily been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

How does my writing process work?

My writing process varies depending on my subject matter. But broadly speaking, I first outline what it is I want to say. This is my 'message', if you like. I usually try to cushion it with some personal philosophy and a story or two. I am most receptive to ideas through hearing people's true stories, and so that is the process I've adopted.

I generally attempt to challenge my readers to adopt a different view point, or even just to see a different viewpoint - perhaps as an exercise in empathy, or spreading the love. And throughout my own life, I am always most engaged with a person or an idea when I am challenged. And so I carry this into my story telling in one form or another. Sometimes directly, other times subtly so (although...subtlety is not my forte).

Once I've outlined my message, or my story, and the challenge, I attempt to resolve it through clarification. I find it difficult to post anything without some sort of resolution for the reader - even if that resolution is simply acceptance of something that cannot be resolved. But this is as much for me as it is for the reader. It is difficult to resolve everything, and so often the challenge or message is scattered over multiple posts, with the resolution slowly growing or altering over time.

Introductions 

The final part of this post is to introduce you to one or two people who write, like I do.

But also, to point you towards a blog I read often. Eden Riley is a woman I do not know personally. But her stories are real. And I love reading her words. She is possibly the most courageous person in online writing land. Raw and honest. No bullsh!t. I love it.

And finally, my friend, Kate Moore (who is also participating in this sharing of the why).
Kate is passionate about life. She coaches others in work, life and health to master and love what they do, live intentionally, design the life they want, build a healthy lifestyle and feel at their best. You can find Kate over at Lift Coaching where she blogs about all things life, love, health, work, motivation, mastery, passion, values, gratitude and inspiration related. Kate takes a very practical and action-driven approach to … well, everything and loves helping others get ‘unstuck’ by identifying their personal strengths and using real life skills and tools to change habits and behaviour, and get people where they want to go. You can also find Kate on Facebook where she shares daily quotes, interesting reads, recipes, workouts and lots of other bits of pieces to brighten your day.