Though this is the first year I have ‘lived’ in this little patch of country Victoria, it is my third visit, and the third time I have started a Winter here. I did think that, by comparison, Autumn hung around as long as it could and has made a thoroughgoing effort to keep the town looking lovely. There are still plenty of beautiful yellow and orange trees shaking their little coats down onto the footpaths. It’s delightful. But there are also fewer and fewer hours in the day when one can venture outside and maintain circulation to fingers and toes.

This chilly situation has it’s own advantages for someone as thoroughly and completely uncool as me. I am entirely without any sense of style, I have always known this, but every now and then I feel like I should try. But it’s inevitably disastrous, so winter is a welcome reprieve. When Pri 1 is only to be warm, it seems much more acceptable now to put PJs on straight after work than it does in sunny February. ‘Warm’, in my case, has never equalled ‘matching’, or ‘trendy’, or even ‘acceptable for answering the door’. I don’t mean your Peter Alexander pants and your beloved’s cosy hoodie and cute slippers and a messy bun – that shit belongs in an Ed Sheeran videoclip. I mean ‘these 3/4 pants are the only ones not in the wash, so I’m going to have to pair them up with knee high hiking socks if I don’t want to freeze, and I suppose this old PT shirt with the few holes will do, and I swore I would never wear this sweater again after that airport incident, but hey, it’s cotton, so it’ll breathe when I’m wrapped around the three heat packs and hot water bottle in bed tonight’.

Further to embracing this homely attire has been a prompt to one of my other Winter pastimes – a little bit of a reading challenge. I’ve set myself a few over the years, with varied success. Booker Prize Winners, Non-Western Authors, Australian authors, Books I Bought But Have Never Read, Books People Loaned Me Months (*Years*) Ago And Probably Want Back’, etc. A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled across this Master List, which has many wonderful ideas, and settled on the Alphabet Soup Challenge. A book for each letter, as perhaps is obvious (the rules are a little relaxed – as long as there’s a word somewhere in the title starting with the applicable letter, it’s allowed). I’ve started compiling my list, and am trying to keep a bit of variety in the mix, to reflect the things I love and that help me keep the long view. A bit of post-war fiction, a bit of domestic wisdom, a bit of political savvy, and a bit of fantastical escapism. But as you can see below, there are a lot of gaps in my list, so I’m hoping a few good friends might point me in the direction of the books they’ve loved lately!

Jx

(PS – I’m a big fan of ‘book pairings’ – a little bit of deliberate savouring of the last chapter in a especially good book. I wore the Sorting Hat my brother gave me when I finished HPDH. I was given a parcel of Ceylon Silver Tips with my copy of The English Patient, which was much anticipated by the end, because it took  me a VERY long time to read). The book I’m reading now is set in Prague, so I’m going to try my hand at a Czech dish when I finish it. So… Add those recommendations too, if you have them!)

books&snow

ALPHABET SOUP BOOKLIST

A – Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne

B

C

D – The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby 

E – Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss

F

G – The Girl Who Saved The King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson

H – Heroic Australian Women in War by Susanna de Vries (starting over, after losing and finding in my last move)

I – The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

J – The Judge’s Wife by Ann O’Loughlin

K

L – Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

M

N

O – The Origins of Political Order by Francis Fukuyama

P

Q

R

S – The Satanic Verses by Salmon Rushdie

T – Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard

U

V

W – The Wife Drought by Annabel Crabb

X

Y – Yates Garden Guide

Z

When the calendar ticked over from ‘Such-a-jerk-2016’ to ‘Fresh-start-and-new-adventures-2017’, on the very short list of things I hoped to accomplish this year was a fair bit of walking. It has always done wonders for my sense of perspective, and seemed like a good way to make the most of my less than voluntary relocation to Victoria, which I am increasingly finding to be a very beautiful state. But on my most recent stroll in the outdoors, I realised several times that I wasn’t walking, I was trudging. Glum, downcast, mindless trudging. I suspect that it is an easy habit to fall into for all of us who have been made to move with purpose at 116bpm; the line between a march and a trudge is, after all, a very fine one. Nevertheless, realising how hard it was to slow down, step lightly, and keep my chin up got me to thinking about where the trudge comes from, and when he crept into my life. I used to be sparkier than I am now. What happened to my sparkiness?

I think perhaps it is the case that as we get a little older and life gets more serious, maintaining hopefulness gets harder. There is a quiet but very real (and maybe even compounding) grief that goes with letting go of dreams and expectations that have become plans. For all the wisdom of ‘staying in the moment’ and ‘taking one day at a time’, we are all actually travelling one-way through life, by the sheer fact of the unfolding time and space around us, and at least part of our happiness seems to depend on being intentional about who we become and what we accomplish along the way. There must then necessarily be plans, some of which come together, and some don’t. The smaller and less significant ones can go by the wayside, or be postponed for a better time, without too much pain. But the big ones, the ones that are fundamentally defining of who we are, who we love, what we bring into the world, and what we leave behind… They are bloody heart-wrenching turmoil for anyone, but especially for the more tenderhearted among us. How do you manage when life keeps bloody well moving on, but doesn’t look or feel the way it should?

Just lately, I am wondering if the answer is in the healthy negotiation of vulnerability. This is a new and uncomfortable territory for me, but a painfully necessary one. I am eminently at ease with the heartache and struggles of others, but altogether intolerant of my own. I have lived a very fortunate life in lots of ways, but there have also been enough hurts along the way that I do not find it so easy to trust. But I do not want to become a distant, or unhappy or bitter person either, so I have had to learn some hard lessons about how to remain open-hearted when the potential for further hurt is high. A couple of years ago, the wise words of Brene Brown (which I have written about before) taught me some good stuff about the happiness-depends-on-connection-depends-on-vulnerabilty business. It helped me summon up the courage to leave my blanket fort and put myself back out there, rebuild something resembling a career, invest in a few new relationships, imagine a different, but not inferior, future.

I keep coming back to that truth, but lately I have learnt it has some caveats. Vulnerability is only safe when it is mutual. If it becomes too one-sided, it stops being courageous and loving, and begins to be damaging and lacking in self-respect, which does not make for a healthy future. Risk, likewise, must be approached at a gentle and sustainable rate. My dearest friends have each in their own way lately taught me that one must bravely pursue their dreams, but without putting life on hold in the meantime. One’s future happiness cannot depend on the complete success of Plan A in the timeline that has been chosen for it. Plan B is ok. (Say it again, Jess, Plan B is ok. Plan B is ok. Plan B…) Plans C and D, and even elements all appearing in Plan E might equally turn out to be wonderful. Even in the grief of letting go of Plan A, one must invest in Plan B, learn to love it, and hold it gently and without rushing it, like a good cup of tea.

  
So, back to the question of surviving the waiting game, when plans have been launched but have not yet come to fruition… It’s hard, and has to be deliberate. Without sounding too ‘Eat Love Pray’, the couple of things I have worked out later than I should are as follows:

  • However modest it may be, your home is one of your most safe and stable places. Make it as lovely as you can within your means. In detail. The art you like, the music you like, the wine you like. I’ve said it before, but for real, buy fresh flowers. KEEP IT CLEAN. A messy house is not conducive to good mental health or productivity. Carve out time for your tea/coffee ritual. At the same time, do not be bound by notions of respectability, which should be disregarded in favour of wandering about your home naked, should you wish. As advised by a good mate, this will make it truly yours. Truth. (Friends who for whatever conditions of employment do not choose the house in which they live – do not under any circumstances camp in your own life and neglect the above. DO NOT.)
  • Stop investing in people who only seek you out on their bad days, and only want you on your good ones. This is not friendship. It is certainly not family. Cut it away.
  • Be as deliberate about your leisure time as you are about your work. Invest in hobbies that have no purpose but your own happiness. This should sometimes mean going for a run WITHOUT tracking it (it still happened, truly), or picking up a forgotten instrument that used to help you find your chill. Dust it off. Also go bushwalking. Bushwalkers tend to be nice people.
  • Replace your FOMO with JOMO. The joy of missing out only really happens when you get to shake off a commitment that was based in obligation or anxiety. The people who are actually your people will love you as you are, and won’t mind if you occasionally need to skip a catch up because life/health/weariness has got in the way. Apropos that, learn to love your own company. To sit with nobody but yourself, and like it. Makes it easier to tackle the tough days that must sometimes be handled alone.

If you need a little nurturing, I have been generously pointed in the direction of the following lately, and they are loveliness:

  • Tea: Harney & Sons, Rose Scented. (On that – I was recently discussing with a dear friend her care package requirements as she heads off to do the very important work of defending the nation. I tentatively suggested that teabags might be easier in her austere surrounds than loose leaf, to which she responded ‘Unless the whole world is burning, there’s no need for that kind of savagery’. Hear, hear. If she has time for proper tea making, so do we all!)
  • Book: Four Seasons with a Grumpy Goat, by Carol Altmann. Hilarious!
  • Music: Ben Abraham’s album Sirens has been a favourite since I first heard it. I stumbled back on this song this week, and I do like the honest but happy hopefulness in it. And the Mahogany Sessions are nice and earthy. Sending much love to the treasured friends who deserve the loveliness I hope and believe is ahead of them. x

 

Of my many shortcomings, a lack of any significant musical ability is probably the most disappointing to me. I’ve never really learned an instrument, can’t particularly sing, and lacked the attention span in primary school to make the recorder sound any better than a cheap kazoo. Which is frustrating, because sometimes words on their own just aren’t enough to express what needs to be said, felt, or shared… Whether it’s that exquisite agony of fresh love, or the immense thankfulness that follows an unexpected kindness, or united rage against the man, or the still and quiet contentment of one’s own company.

Perhaps because I am fated to be stuck hearing but not making, I’m particularly appreciating playing my way through the modest little vinyl collection I have been building, now that I have inherited a humble turntable. A few thoughts on that before I move on:

  • Vinyl really does sound better than a CD or mp3 file. REALLY. I’m no physicist, so I don’t entirely grasp ‘the recording is less compressed and therefore the amplitude of the sound wave etc’ business, but there’s a richness and balance that definitely raises the bar.
  • Listening to vinyl is inherently a more attentive experience, mostly because you can’t just hit ‘repeat playlist’ and walk away to do housework or whatever. Rather, hunt through the collection for a record, unpack it from its various sleeves and load it, find that lead in groove (now there’s a band name in the making), gently set down the tone arm… Just for half a dozen songs. Repeat. Somewhere in there – dust is the devil and must burn.
  • Higher end audiophile equipment is becoming increasingly beautiful, and with all the fancy business. Lust territory for sure. Hey there Pro-Ject, with your delicious mahogany plinths to complement a beautiful pair of walnut Ruark active speakers. I see you.

My mismatched wee stash of records is a bit nostalgic – some inherited, some found randomly, some hunted down. Not quite a tune for every occasion just yet, but getting there. So, the albums that have helped this week along its way:

1. Horse Feathers ‘Thistled Spring’

These gentle Appalachian folk are the definition of warm, slightly haunting tunes for when your melancholy needs to be let out. It got a spin because I am firmly of the view that the great United States have contributed more to modern music across a variety of genre than any other nation by far… But aren’t they hurting something fierce at the moment. So in honour of the creative, prophetic, hopeful types speaking truth to power in an increasingly dangerous and bigoted time… You keep on keeping on.

Said it better than I could: ‘There’s a pain in the west, a sinking feeling deep down in their chests… A little town like a lamb. Well a lion came down and took their dam. February was lean, and March came to scream.’ (Vernonia Blues)


(Also you make BEAUTIFUL records. To look at I mean. I heart you).

2. ‘Odetta Sings’

This courageous and graceful lady covers the greats with the best of them. I really like a good reinterpretation of an old hit. And there’s something about a southern dame of Alabama lending her voice to a lilting gospel tune that settles the soul of any old body searching for a little peace and perspective.

Said it better than I could: ‘I don’t build no heathen temples, Where the Lord has laid his hands, there’s a well on the hill. Let it be.’ (Lo and Behold)


(Look at her!)

3. Jamie Lawson (self-titled)

This album has been sitting at the top of my favourites for an unusually long time. I could listen to his honey-coloured voice and soft acoustic guitar for days on end. Well timed reminder; I can just occasionally be guilty of a little attempted self-sufficiency, which has never really been remotely helpful. There are far more good people in my world than I possibly deserve, and I need reminding from time to time that life is best lived in good company, not in safe isolation or deliberate busyness. Thank goodness for gracious friends and better angels.

Said it better than I could: ‘I know I make mistakes and I can let you down, don’t always find the words to say. For all this searching you’re the best thing that I’ve found – I’ll be hoping you stay.’ (Don’t let me let you go)


Thus ends the soundtrack of this week, with all it’s lessons and loveliness. x

Trying to sum up a year in a few sentences always feels a bit awkward, and if I’m honest, a bit self-indulgent. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been dragging my feet this time round! The habit didn’t have illustrious origins, and is still not much more than an attempt to store away lessons learnt, in the hope that they might not need to be relearnt too painfully or often! It also does me good to look back over the highlights reel as an aid to keeping perspective and cultivating a resilient sort of gratitude… Though I do so this time in acute awareness that while I found 2016 to be passable company, it was a right jerk to a whole lot of people, who will be most pleased to have made it over the line. I was mildly disappointed that the replay of my own year was a little lacking in amplitude or achievement, but then perhaps that’s the take home message. Ordinary years have their place, to rebuild after extraordinarily bad ones and prepare for extraordinarily good ones. So to all those who crawled the last few metres of the finisher’s chute last week, I hope 2017 brings an end to the plagues and misfortunes of this year, and shows up instead with plenty of fantastic days to go round, an adventurous road ahead, and unexpected loveliness. I hope you also have a few nice bits of salvage that are worth celebrating. Jx

1. One favourite film: The BFG. Just beautiful.

2. Two favourite books: ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society’ by Mary Ann Shaffer, and ‘Heroic Australian Women in War’ by Susanna de Vries.

3. Three favourite tunes (none of which were written in 2016): ‘Benedictus’ by 2Cellos, ‘Calm and Crystal Clear’ by Miss Higgins, and ‘The Sound of Silence’ by Disturbed.

4. Favourite wardrobe addition: The loveliest pair of Duckfeet Fyns that ever was!

5. Best meal: Madame Hanoi, Adelaide. Outstanding company. Outstanding meal.

6. Best drink: Sullivan’s Cove American Cask. Breathtaking.

7. Best piece of advice: ‘Don’t rush. There are more opportunities ahead of you than you can even consider now.’

8. Favourite view: Newcastle Harbour from Stockton Bridge. I will miss it dearly.

9. Favourite addition to my happy home: The various precious gifts that send me on my way with a beautiful, diverse and most sufficient collection of teas.

10. Plan for the New Year: Work hard. Read widely. Take risks. Make time for kindness. Carefully expand scotch collection, in consultation with friends near and far.

Despite my abiding love of single malt, and my perpetual search for the perfect drop, I have never written tasting notes before. It’s a bit too daunting for me, and I think it’s probably a task best reserved for finer connoisseurs and better writers than I am. What can I say about the product of such long and careful labour over all the perfect ingredients? I’m no expert, I only know that my favourite distilleries take some local grain and a steady, fresh water source and turn out a good barley mash. Also they choose a collection of oak barrels, seasoned to their preference for this or that edition. And then years of some miraculous process turns out the Nectar of Heaven. All of this only seems to work if you also have the right altitude and temperature, an imposing span of wilderness and a very great deal of patience, in the manner expected of fine Scotch. One of the things I love most about whisky is the sense of perspective that naturally emerges from drinking it. There is nothing like realising that the dram you are enjoying has been in the making for more than a decade to help shake off a tough week, or to remind you not to celebrate success too quickly. Another reason why it is hard to sum up the savouring experience!

All of that said, I was recently surprised (and thrilled!) to receive an absolutely beautiful Tasmanian Highland Single Cask from some extremely generous people. The Nant Pinot Noir Wood is just glorious, and deserves an attempt (however inadequate) at a few brief words. As it happens, attempting these notes has coincided over the last fortnight or so with spending much more time on home cooking, which has been lovely, though I’m not sure how much my tasting vocabulary has improved as a result!

Appearance:

The colour is magical. A lovely strawberry blonde in the bottle, but drink from silver instead of glass and it turns to warm and soft gold like late afternoon sun… Not too bright, but gentle, with a very subtle blush, which I guess is thanks to the Pinot in the timber.

Nose:

Inviting, and with a lot happening at once. A rich, woody foundation with notes of pine and maple syrup, blanketed under a comforting layer of almond nougat. A very pleasant first impression!

Palate:

Structured, from a quite a crisp, spicy opening… I’m sure this is not official notespeak, but orange and pistachio ‘tingle’ beautifully at the front of the mouth before melting nicely into hot cinnamon and honey across the palate, with just a hint of apple and raisin as it hits the throat. Water opens star anise, ice opens a hint of brown sugar.

Finish:

Like afternoon tea hour in a country kitchen… A mouthful of baked pear, vanilla and fresh cream.  A toasty, buttery finish.  It doesn’t linger for very long, though you wish it would. The second dram just sort of pours itself. Somehow entices you to stay a while longer, without being too obvious.

Overall:

It is clear from the outset that this is a true Highland… Not big or bold or peaty, but not as light or grassy either. It’s subtle, complex, and generous. I expected quite a sweet scotch from the nose, but was pleasantly surprised at the clear and balanced palate, and delighted by the irresistible finish. This is not a scotch for keeping warm by a campfire, or for sipping solo over a book in the library. It’s a verandah scotch, suited to good company and a good view. In the words of the great Jim Murray on Nant Distillery: ‘Something majestic is going on here.’ I’m quite looking forward to the visit I will have to make when this bottle runs out!

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So ends 2015, with the byline ‘All The Life Lessons’. Here are a few of them in writing, in the hope that they will be properly reinforced and as such not need to be revisited in the near future! Far more important is the thanks owed to those who helped me learn them, in whatever capacity.

1. Lessons learnt from a bit of travel here and there:

Always wear shoes in an airport. ALWAYS.

One does not simply sing karaoke in Nashville.

One should always be willing to try new things, and explore new territory. It is perfectly acceptable, however, to settle on a favourite bar/restaurant/cafe early upon arriving in a new town and frequent it on a daily basis. This is just good sense.

Matching t-shirts are never the good idea they seem to be at the time.

Nowhere in the world does coffee as well as Australia. A drinkable latte turns out not to be a thing we copied from elsewhere… We invented it.

2. Lessons learnt from a day in the life of an ED Nurse:

The human capacity to create new and interesting ways to get into proper strife must sometimes be seen to be believed. Likewise, the human capacity for perseverance in the most devastating circumstances is sometimes beyond understanding, and tends to put things in perspective very quickly.

It’s ok to run out of panadol/pump sets/pillows, so long as there is no shortage of compassion, patience, and energy (or oxygen).

Paramedics are the unsung heroes of the world.

Sometimes the right course of action is to pull out all the stops and try anything and everything to save a life. Desperate times, desperate measures, etc. Sometimes the right course of action is to step back, give the patient a rest, and let healing take place in its own time. This truth may at times apply beyond the ED.

Stay calm.  Keep your eyes open and your wits about you!

3. Lessons learnt from being all too human:

Don’t take things to personally. It really is true that most people are just trying to get on with their own lives, are doing the best they can, and are not trying to be difficult.

I think it would be fair to say that I’ve made more mistakes this year than I have in the rest of my life put together, doubled, then tripled. At times, layering fresh disaster upon still-unfolding disaster. Like Neville Longbottom tripping over dynamite in a Potions Shop, really. I would very much like to forget most of them. Instead, I get to relive them over and over, in near-perfect detail, courtesy of my exquisitely good memory. Cue popcorn and screaming at the screen, ‘Who are you and what the hell are you doing??! Jesus, don’t do that. Oh God. You did that. I can’t watch.’

The aching conscience that follows tends to go one of two ways – obnoxious excuses/blame/crankiness, or overthinking self-loathing pity-party. So far as I can tell, neither of them accomplish anything. An honest but generous look in the mirror, a serving or two of humble pie and a bit of time tends to work a bit better. I don’t know why it has taken me so long to work that out, or why I am still so bad at it, but I’ve at least learnt that there are more important things than pride/reputation/being right. It seems a lot easier to forgive the slings and arrows shot by others in their imperfect moments when I remember that I too live in a glass house, and especially after a year like this, have absolutely no stones to throw.

On the upside….

The especially wonderful gift of a year that frequently feels like it’s raining shit is the greater excellence of the outstanding people who rise to the occasion and  dash out of their own safe shelters with an umbrella and a hug. To those who been there at any and all points of this year, I have nowhere near enough words to say thank you, but you know who you are, and I hope you know that you have my enduring gratitude. I plainly would not have survived this year without you. Acknowledge that I owe a lot of favours/tea/scotch/baking/flowers/chats/laughs/general loveliness. Call them in at your leisure, friends, ‘because 2015’. Yet again, a few of you feature in the following summary of a year that for all its chaos, had some good fun moments:

1. One Favourite Book: ‘The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared’ by Jonas Jonasson.

2. Two Favourite Movies: ‘Inside Out’ and ‘The Dressmaker’. I cried in both.

3. Three Tunes I Sang the Loudest in the Privacy of my Car: ‘Landslide’ by Dixie Chicks, ‘Mango Tree’ by Zac Brown Band & ‘She Keeps Me Warm’ by Mary Lambert.

4. Favourite Outfit: Scrubs.

5. Best Meal: Chicken and Leek Pie courtesy of one of my favourite people, who I will dearly miss in the new year, and not just for her gourmet cooking and impromptu dinner invitations from the next suburb over!

6. Best Drink: Old Fashioned at the finest Speakeasy in town with my fellow whisky woman.

7. Best Day: Epic 17 hour Disney extravaganza in fantastic company, Florida, USA.

8. Stupidest Attempt at a New Hobby: Knitting a hot water bottle cover. I nearly died, throttled in kilometres of tangled yarn. Ridiculous idea.

9. Favourite Addition to my Happy Home: Cheeky Duck.

10. Thought Heading Into the New Year: ‘Don’t rush and never settle. If it is meant to be, it will be.’

HERE’S TO AN OUTSTANDING 2016!!!!!

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A little while ago, over a wee dram of single malt (Glenfarclas, in honour of my Speyside clan, of course), I thought I might read up a bit on a little family history. Out of a fantastic story about burning mountains and defending ‘The Rock of Alarm’, I was mostly glad, but also mildly irked, to discover that our common motto is ‘Stand Fast’. Glad because it’s a nice familiar phrase that’s long taken up residence in my muscle memory. Irked because I’ve never been very good at it. I’m more a ‘take life at a brisk striding pace’ kind of girl. Places to be, people to see, things to do. There is so much that is interesting, wonderful and important in the world, and I am of the view that we should always be getting on with being part of it. My trouble has never been enthusiasm, but rather the finer points of execution. Because I am me, I fall over A LOT. I’m pretty used to it. And just occasionally, I have lost my footing so completely that I’ve ended up in one of those terrible rolling fiascos that are thoroughly undignified, unprepared for, and leave behind more than a few bumps and bruises. I think maybe I am not alone in this…. Most of us have had ‘That Year’… When without warning we are right in the path of an oncoming storm, and before we know it we are waking up miles from where we started, wrung out, and wondering why the rest of the world looks like nothing has happened.  It’s a bloody messy, disorienting, lonely place to be, and very tough to recover. The obviously sensible solution (and path of least resistance) is to cut and run. Those of us prone to bad luck get very good at that. Packing up, moving on, starting again gets to be a faster and faster process.

The flaw in that plan, I’ve discovered, is that along the way you run into  ‘Geographical Error’. She is a most infuriating acquaintance, kind of like the Ghost of Christmas Future. She shows up just when every fibre of your being is convinced that life is in such an irretrievable and ghastly shambles that the only option is to pack your bags immediately, disappear to the far side of another continent, and assume a whole new identity. She hovers around just behind you with all of the problems you are running away from wrapped up in a nice red polka dot handkerchief, slipping them into your new life at the worst possible moment. The long and the short is that you didn’t escape much of the bad stuff at all, you just lost most of the good stuff that balanced it out.

So what’s to be done, when life has you trapped between a rock and a hard place, about that overwhelming instinct to get the hell out of Dodge? I think, having got this wrong, many many times, that the only real option is to take a deep breath and stand still. Don’t fight, don’t try and hold on, just stand still. It’s hard. Instinct kicks in and you will probably reach for the most precious things in the hope of protecting them from the shock. Don’t. If they are supposed to break, they will, no matter how hard you try to save them. Some people, some occupations, some possibilities were only ever supposed to be in the previous chapter, even if you didn’t realise it at the time. Don’t try to rescue them, just stick to damage control. Some of it turns out to be for the better. After all, that kind of disaster only happens when life really wasn’t working anyway. Ignore the crowd that wants to stand around and gossip about your misfortune. It is the cheap habit of people who want to distract themselves from their own faults and failures. Shake it off, make a cup of tea, salvage a bit of dignity, and save your energy for the people who actually reach in and help you out. You might be surprised at who your real mates turn out to be. You will probably be disappointed to discover a few of your favourites aren’t among them. Try to be gracious about both. Learn to forgive yourself when you can’t be, but don’t allow yourself to be treated poorly by people you have treated well, under any circumstances. It’s a toxic combination when your defences are down – they need to go. The ones worth keeping will survive your bad days, even if you have to make significant amends along the way. Extremely tempting as it is, we do not do ourselves any favours in running from people who have witnessed us at our worst. In facing that reality in the company of people we love and admire, we find the way to face it in ourselves. Yes, it will probably involve uncomfortable levels of humiliation, vulnerability, tears. But proper, deep trust is made of that sort of strong stuff. If nothing else, you will learn hitherto unimagined degrees of patience and perseverance. Have another scotch and learn to apologise properly – genuinely, for the things that have caused harm, but not for your own struggle or suffering, and certainly not for your general existence. Avoid walking the road of self-loathing for too long. Chin up. Learn to like yourself again, and enjoy what is good in the new chapter you find yourself in. Seek advice, but make your own decisions – nobody else knows quite what is right for you. Some days it will feel like all you have left is your integrity. That’s a valuable and rare enough possession in itself. Plenty don’t have it. Stand your ground, and as Maggie Kuhn wisely said, ‘Speak your own truth, even when your voice shakes.’ When the sun comes out (and it always does eventually), you will want to be able to live with the way you weathered the storm.

Tenons Ferme, Craig Elachie….

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Like many people, I’ve had more than a passing interest in the public dialogue on same-sex marriage as it has increased in the last few months. Most of us will have at least a few family members, friends or colleagues who feel differently, and the attempt to keep the conversation moderate and respectful is a noble one. But I’m yet to hear an argument from those opposed to same-sex marriage that doesn’t begin in ignorance or paranoia, and some of their rhetoric of late has been unbelievably insulting, so I think I’d rather call it for the nonsense it is.

Marriage now looks nothing like marriage as it was first instituted. Original rules as follows: wealthy tribal leader paid so many camels for pretty daughter of other wealthy guy of approved tribe. In fact, wealthy guy had loads of wives. Wives he could treat like hell, because they were considered property, like the family slaves and the tent by the fire. Over the centuries we’ve drastically changed the definition of marriage as we’ve woken up to how extraordinarily bad that was for everyone involved. You want traditional marriage in Australia? Then bring back the following ‘traditions’: whites cannot marry blacks, wives have no right to financial independence, but their husbands can legally beat/rape them, children born outside of wedlock have no right to inherit, divorce is not allowed. Sounds like a dream, right? Not so much. It’s a pretty sorry state of things if we don’t want something a whole lot better than that for each other.

An obvious caveat before I go any further – I’m not married, but I have taken more than a few weddings, so I’m going to start there. It’s an extraordinary privilege to share such a significant occasion with two people who are so in love. Weddings are every kind of wonderfulness – a celebration of having found what is for many people the greatest search of their lifetime – the match to their own self. Human beings are designed for this – we are supposed to love. It’s innate – from the day we are born we come to know ourselves only by who we are in relation to other people – in fact, we have no other way of knowing. We inherit some of the people we love and choose others… And among all of the people we elect to surround ourselves with, for many of us there will be one, above all the others, who captures our whole heart. It is lovely and terrifying and risky and entirely beyond reason, but it has ever been thus. Having found it, we want it to last forever, hence why weddings involve vows – promises made with a lifetime in mind. Vows are the intrinsic protection of that depth of love. It is not a piece of paper that makes a marriage – it is those words. They carry so much weight that they create a centre of gravity which pulls that couple together. I promise you, the biology of the two people involved doesn’t matter. And that’s all we are trifling over here.

If you think that finding the sort of love that lasts forever has anything to do with X/Y chromosomes, I feel really, really, sorry for you. You cannot possibly have found your soul mate, because if you had, you would understand that other things matter far more… You will notice whether their smile reaches their eyes when they laugh, you will never run out of things to talk about, you will share the same plans for old age. They will be your first thought in the morning and the last before you fall asleep; their happiness will mean far more to you than your own. You do not know yet that the simple act of holding hands can turn more than one world upside down. These are not gender-exclusive experiences.

So back to that piece of paper… Who is it for? I think it’s mostly for the rest of us. It’s the mechanism we have as a society for honouring the deep and enduring nature of that commitment. We are compelled to cherish and safeguard it within something – hence we have developed the legal institution of marriage. It is the extrinsic protection that we as a community add to the intrinsic protection of the vows made by a couple on their wedding day. It’s our way of saying, ‘We are with you, we value what you are together, we will support you through whatever is ahead of you’. Allowing same-sex couples to marry isn’t a revolution that will tear apart the very fabric of society, it’s an affirmation that their love is not inferior, that it is equal in quality. It’s as simple and significant as that. So just to be very clear – opposing same-sex marriage doesn’t alter the nature of that relationship – it is unchanged by prejudice. It loses none of its loveliness through the stubborn refusal of acceptance from anyone else, it just makes them ignorant. It’s about as useful as looking at a northern constellation and suggesting that it is not made of stars, just because it is not the same as the ones in the south.

Love is an art. Very unfortunately, we aren’t born knowing how to do it perfectly. We have to practice and make mistakes and learn from others. I am extraordinarily fortunate to have among my friends some truly wonderful couples, some of whom are same-sex partners who have committed their lives to one another. They have taught me things about love, perseverance, graciousness and generosity that I could not have hoped to understand without them. I am a slow learner, but I am made better just by knowing them.

Some final words on a few of the more ridiculous arguments that have surfaced lately. A postscript of sorts, because that is all they deserve.

‘Someone think of the children.’ There are very few things making me so angry in this whole debate as the suggestion that the children of same-sex marriages are somehow at a disadvantage. It’s incredibly offensive. Children need love, security, boundaries, affection, education, space to make mistakes, someone to pick them back up when they do. They do not need a mother and father at home, mostly because that idea assumes a bunch of gender stereotypes that I hope we’ve long since given up on. When I was growing up, the workbench in our shed was my mum’s, not my dad’s. Mum is also pretty good in the kitchen. Dad helped with homework, taught me to iron, gave me my first driving lesson. The lines in our family tree don’t all meet where the first did, but we get on ok. I didn’t go without strong male role models when I lived with my mum, or female ones when I lived with my dad. Plenty of single parents have done a wonderful job of raising fantastic kids. It also bears pointing out that heterosexuality is no guarantee of parenting ability. Again, let’s not get so caught up on X/Y and focus on being worthy adult role models. This is the 21st century. Honestly.

‘We can’t because no other Asian country has.’ This one smells strongly of picking battles of convenience. Not so long ago, when there were Australians on Death Row in Indonesia, we heard strong moral opposition to the death penalty from every level of our elected representation, and they are our closest neighbour. No individual, much less a free society, should base their ethical framework on what is ok with the guys next door. We’d normally call that schoolyard peer pressure, and encourage a bit more maturity and integrity.

(This last one is aimed specifically at the church…) ‘Same-sex marriage is unbiblical.’

If you are a Christian who is opposed to same-sex marriage, at least have the good grace to acknowledge that your view is based at least a bit on fear of change and a bit on your own self-righteousness, and not on any ancient and unchanging commandment. Don’t you dare defend your prejudice on the basis of a ‘biblical’ sexual ethic that ‘unites one man and one woman for life’. It’s crap, and you know it. Read it again. Polygamy and the keeping of concubines was a societal norm. Lot’s answer to the abomination of sodomy was to offer his daughter for pack rape. David declared Jonathan’s love for him as ‘more wonderful than that of a woman’. Jesus said plenty about divorce. Nothing about same-sex marriage. Any right-thinking person of faith in this day and age is sensible to the fact that our understanding of the world around us is drastically different to that of our biblical forebears. Of course they didn’t imagine marriage equality for same-sex couples – they didn’t imagine an equal partnership between a woman and a man either. Context is not just significant, it’s central to identifying the true intention of the Scriptures. Pretending otherwise is beneath the intelligence with which you have been gifted, so for God’s sake, wise up.

Marriage in a Christian context cannot be defined by the biological facts of the people entering into it, but by the character of the relationship – if it is a relationship that is shaped in relation to God and which seeks in vowed commitment to continue in that life, then it is ‘the thing that is marriage’. People in same-sex relationships who seek to belong to the community of faith can most certainly be damaged by the rejection of the church, but the church is as much, if not more damaged, by that act of rejection. Wherever a boundary is drawn by the church, and blessing is offered to those ‘in’, and withheld from those ‘out’, the blessing that rests on the ‘in’ is also diminished. We do violence to the very nature of a sacrament when we use it as a tool of exclusion. So ironically, a Christian heterosexual married couple who enjoy the gifts of married life but choose to withhold recognition and celebration from loving, committed, gracious homosexual relationships and judge them as invalid are threatening the sacramental foundation of their own relationship all by themselves, they don’t need any help from anyone else.

To those Christians, especially those in positions of leadership, who have done your theological and pastoral homework and are actively supporting some-sex marriage – thank you. Those who aren’t yet – get off the damn fence. If the church you belong to does not affirm same-sex couples and intend to recognise their right to marry as soon as it is legally possible, but you do, then say so. Have the courage to engage in difficult conversations. The pathological niceness that avoids the issue for fear of conflict is completely inexcusable in any community that should be defined by the pursuit of truth. The ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ approach to LGBTI people in your midst is almost worst than outright condemnation – secrets have never led us anywhere good.

Read 1 Corinthians 13 again:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

It is not male or female. It is just love.

“Isn’t it odd how much fatter a book gets when you’ve read it several times?”… “As if something were left between the pages every time you read it. Feelings, thoughts, sounds, smells…and then, when you look at the book again many years later, you find yourself there, too, a slightly younger self, slightly different, as if the book had preserved you like a pressed flower…both strange and familiar.”

Cornelia FunkeInkspell

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Today was one of those good days that starts with a perfect quartet: good brunch and good coffee in the home of good family who have good bookshelves. Perfection, right there. So, as one can when she is in entirely comfortable territory and the conversation is easy, I began to browse the bookshelves. A few things occurred to me.

Firstly… Bookshelves tell you a lot about someone. They are maps, or maybe artworks, that collect together the circumstances under which each book came to be there, whether they were gifts, or deliberate choices, or are ‘borrowed’ books that are still making their way home. They came from this airport newsagency, or that birthday, this lover, or that rainy day in an unfamiliar city where getting lost ended up on a street with a bookstore. Thank God. So all this made me realise how very personal bookshelves are. They’re almost intimate! If you take a look at my bookshelf, you may as well pick up my soul and have a good look through while you’re there, because there won’t be a lot of secrets left. The chapters of my life are very clearly there, just in separate volumes. If I’ve read it, something about it (however small), stayed with me. If I haven’t read it yet, it’s there because I really want to – I’m trying to grow into the person who will have read that book one day. As future considerations go, it got me to thinking about where I will put the library in the home I will have one day. I always thought it would be right by the front door, so visitors know exactly where it is. That way they will know where to seek solitude in a comfy chair with a cuppa when needing to escape company (which will always be perfectly acceptable at my place). But now I’m not sure! Perhaps a little more reserve and privacy. Perhaps in the back room (much more relaxed), where family and close friends are welcome. If you don’t mind me being in my PJs when you arrive and you feel comfortable making your own tea, you are welcome to browse and take from the bookshelf.

Secondly… I don’t just look at nice covers and interesting titles when I’m browsing a bookshelf… I wonder about the authors. Was this their first book? Where did they write it? What are they doing now? I have wondered out loud before about how the authors on my bookshelf felt about the neighbourhood in which I had put them. Of course, this is less of a hassle when one doesn’t bother ordering their bookshelves at all (ahem, DAD*), but it occurs to me – incontrovertible proof that I am an excruciating overthinker. Perhaps it is the consequence of having quite a few history and theology texts on my shelf – whole wars have been fought over the contents, so perhaps those two might not like to live next door to each other. But perhaps novelists deserve the same consideration. He wouldn’t get her sense of humour at all and she won’t understand why he is taking so long to get to the point.

Thirdly… Books are my greatest weakness. I have been given many lovely gifts in my life, but books have almost always been my most treasured (with a couple of exceptions). I have been won over instantly by that little leap that comes of recognising one, two, three books on their shelf that are also on mine. I would forgive just about anything if the offender had a good enough bookshelf. This lovely piece, on why you should fall in love with a girl who reads, is just about spot on. When life gets tough, make tea. When it gets really bad, go for a walk, preferably up a mountain. When it’s heading toward unbearable territory, lose yourself in a bookstore.

* Dad – at least put all the Margaret Atwood in the same room, if not next to each other. Honestly!

Kintsukuroi-photo

Last year, I came across this picture – or I guess I came across this idea. I thought about it a lot, and I still do, which is why there’s a copy in my office now. I don’t have very many conversations about what to do when life is going really well, people don’t pop in to chat quite as often when their relationships are new and exciting  and wonderful. People know what to do with that – admire it, hold it, love it, keep it safe. We work tremendously hard to do that. But the world is not perfect, and we are not perfect, and sometimes our very best intentions are not enough to prevent the occasional chip or crack.

In my experience, very few of us ever intend the damage we cause to others. The bowl wasn’t hurled deliberately at a wall, it just slipped through our fingers faster than we could close them. Careless actions and thoughtless words that got away in the heat of the moment. Even when our tempers flare, and we know our words will hurt, very rarely do we intend the harm they cause.

That gold, though, that precious line of repair – it is very deliberate. When we are suddenly faced with the reality of pieces that we never meant to break, we gather them up and begin the work of carefully and gently repairing them. Those gold lines are the attentive, thoughtful acts, the kind and gracious words, the gentle and patient touch that we invest into restoring what matters to us, because it is far too valuable to let go. They are a far more honest reflection of our love than the unbroken or the breaking ever was.

Is it more beautiful than it was in the first instance? I think so. Is it stronger? I’d say so. Would it have been better not to break it? Yes, probably, but treasured things shouldn’t be locked away so they can never get hurt – they should be looked at everyday, and enjoyed, and repaired lovingly along the way. Without the gold, it’s just another bowl. Valuable yes, but not so precious, and certainly not unique.

Perhaps the same is true for us personally – most of us don’t learn our most important lessons from our glorious, shining moments. We learn them from our heartbreaking ones, from our failures, from our missed opportunities. Some of my flaws still run very deep and wide, and there is nowhere near enough gold in them yet. But they are mine, and they make me who I am.

Quote of the Week

“I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded; not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.”

Khaled Hosseini - The Kite Runner

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