Purple Flowers.

It’s been just over a year since I began this blog. The day I actually broke went unmarked in any calendar because I’m not sure exactly what date I would go from. Breaking happened slowly, me fraying at the edges for two years before I tore apart all at once.

And I have gotten so much better. I get up and go to work, assisting other people. I come home and I work quietly, editing for photographers and carefully correcting colours and clearing newborn skin. I take my children to school and their appointments. I lie beside my small children at night and read them bedtime stories. I go with my lover to lunch and he eats the rest of my salad when I can’t finish it. Together we take the children to the beach where my daughter collects and entire basket of shells and we have to convince her to ‘leave some for other people’. I buy myself bedside tables from Ikea and he convinces me to sit on the trolley on the way back to the car and runs with the trolley until I’m breathless with laughter and fear we will crash into a column. I pay bills. I do my hair. I’m blissfully normal.

I sleep.

And this is not something I take for granted anymore. Some nights when I don’t have an early shift I sleep for 9 hours. This time last year 5.5 was normal. This time last year I woke to darkness every day and watched the rising of the sun and tried to breathe and survive. Now days I still sometimes wake before the sun and I watch it rise in my car with a cup of tea in a travel mug as I inch along with the other commuters.

I try to dream.

And my dreams are of fairy lights and lace. My dreams are of plaster dust and lavender. The crown of a newborn head, tiny crescent fingernails. My dreams are of wrinkles and white hairs. I throw the tablecloth of my life out before me and smooth it flat, I am careful to choose what I lay upon it. I watch the wheel of life turn and feel no sadness at it’s passing.

I wake one morning and reach for my camera. My four daughters and I escape the house like puppies set loose and we enter the outside which is different with a camera. Inside the lens everything fits into a box. We find some purple flowers in the grass by the side of a road and we stop to shoot in them. Inside the lens it doesn’t matter that cars are driving past and construction is happening beside us. It doesn’t matter that this spot is actually an overgrowth of weeds. The mosquitos are invisible in the shot. Inside the lens it only matters that there are purple flowers on the ground springing from the grass like hope and that is all I show you. Life is different, so easily distracted by the noise of everything you barely notice the purple flowers. I had driven that road every day but I didn’t see them until I went looking for magic.

That whole year I spent trapped in my own mind, fighting for a way out. Looking for a door.

I was the door.

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Dreaming.

Do you know what I miss about being a child? That feeling that the possibilities were limitless. I never recall a time as a child where I thought there was anything I couldn’t put my mind to and achieve.

That’s probably a credit to the tribe of amazing adults who raised me, my quiet, quirky, hardworking father. My stubborn, humorous, doting grandfather. And the women in my life who I appreciate more and more as I get older. Our family had an over abundance of females, the scales tipped heavily to the second X chromosome. And these women were strong, fierce, funny, clever, creative, talented beyond measure (so much so that I didn’t even realise they were skilled until I went out into the world and discovered these talents were not possessed by everyone). Patient, empathetic women. When we get together in the same room the vibrance created by these women is uplifting. And that’s not to say they have not had heartbreak, disappointment or trials. Because they did. Their strengths show in how they weathered these. Sometimes waiting so patiently, gathering strength in the darkness and then stepping back out into the light and weaving their magic – living – despite those challenges.

So, you see, growing up I believed there was not a single thing I could dream of that wouldn’t be delivered to me should I put my mind to it and decide to do it. I’m not sure at what point I stopped believing this. That I decided to settle for the attainable instead of shooting for what I really wanted. That I became so scared of failure that it seemed safer to try for things I didn’t have to work very hard to get. I think a lot of us do that as we get older. Stop dreaming and start thinking about attainable goals. Which is fine, it’s good in some ways to be realistic. But in other ways it sucks. See, I think dreaming big is like a lot of things – if you don’t use it, you lose it. So when my therapist says, “What do you really want to do?” I come up blank. Literally can’t think of a thing. I can tell her things I can do, or things I plan to do to get from here (point A) to there (point B), but none of those things set my soul on fire. None of them make me excited. None of them make me dream.

And as I get older it’s harder too. I tend to do the math in my head and think, “If I did X I would be Y by the time I finish.” And you know what I read the other day? Someone said the same thing, I can’t remember what it was about but let’s say medicine. They said, “If I studied medicine now I’ll be 43 by the time I finish.” And the other person said, “And how old will you be by then if you don’t study medicine?” And that was an epiphany for me. Because you will be 37 or 43 or 57 anyway. You may as well spend that time doing something you love.

So long story short, I’m going to start dreaming again and see where that takes me. And if I practice really hard perhaps I’ll find something that sets my soul on fire. Perhaps I’ll stop limiting myself with can’t or shouldn’t or sensible, attainable goals and see where I fly off to.

wish

Surprise Me.

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For me, this was a week like any other. I took my children to school, I ran errands, I went to the dentist, I edited photos, I had brunch with my partner, I laughed with my daughters, we discussed a crush my son has.

But this week it just felt like a torrent of horror and grief descended on our state. Amusement park rides killed people, a bus driver was set alight, a woman found dead, two people were shot in the suburb next to me. It felt like the end of the world and I mean that in no small way. It felt like Armageddon coming. It felt like the beginning of the end.

And I had no words.

No words.

I couldn’t express my individual grief about these situations because nothing I could say could fix anything and the problem was bigger than me.

We discussed the US election that truly fills me with fear and not just because someone I am frightened of might win but because the support lent to that individual scares me too.

I don’t know what kind of world I’m leaving for my children.

Sometimes I regret having children for that reason. When I was a teenager – before I was a mother – my family seemed too large to be damaged. I felt like as a child I was more fragile and therefore the worst that could befall someone would surely befall me first. But as soon as a child of my own womb was placed in my arms I realised fear for someone else. For all the times I could not protect them. We talk about sleepless nights and endless questions and even broken hearts but the worst thing about being a parent is realising your own powerlessness in the face of the world. Knowing the only thing standing between them and the cruelties of this place, is you. And you are found wanting. The dangers seem insurmountable, and your own fragility – which seemed a blessing as a child – is now a flaw. From the moment a child is born they are on a journey growing away from you. If your do your job well they will be ready to fly long before you are ready to let them go. My eldest is 18. I’m now not sure I will ever be ready. Is any parent?

That powerlessness is sometimes the reason I lose my breath and think, “Why did I do this?”

The answer, of course, is hope. Disturbingly tenacious, hope outlives us all. We have children even when we are surrounded by cruelties because we hope. I remember one time when I was about 16 my grandfather saying he thought my generation would be the one to fix the world, now that is a hope I pass on to my own offspring. I think every generation must carry that, the silent prayer that whatever we didn’t fix our children may be the ones to do it. It’s an unfair burden and I’m sorry.

I posted on Facebook the other day that cruelties fail to shock me anymore. I’m no longer surprised by intolerance or bigotry. What continually moves me to tears is kindness. The first responders at Dreamworld. The taxi driver who ran towards a burning bus while others ran away to rescue those inside. The people that listen to your story and offer you a gentle word. Always in times like this I have to remind myself that while the world is frightening – people are good too. That I cannot protect my children from cruelties but I can shape them into the kind of people that do surprise me. Our grief always sits side by side with our hope. We have to tip the scales ourselves.

Soul List.

When the school holidays were on I began my Ten Things lists to help me ‘show up to life’. To begin with they were working so well. Great, actually. And they were fun and sometimes contained little things like “collect three shells’. Now, that looks simple. But I was tricking myself because I knew that to collect those shells I would have to leave the house and that was part of the way I exploit myself to get me to do things I would otherwise not do.

The problem became, by week three my list was starting to look a lot like chores. Because…well, basically they were chores. There is literally nothing inspiring or exciting about writing “take kid to dentist” on your Ten Things list. It’s an errand. The idea behind Ten Things was that it would make me find beauty in little tasks. It would make me go, “Hey, this life thing? Not so bad.” Seeing your kid have a cavity filled is not life fulfilling. It sucks.

The issue was that I got caught up in being ‘productive’ when what I started this list for was to try to make my heart sing. Errands we are going to run anyway. By all means put them in a daily planner or diary so you remember them, but they have no place on a ‘soul list’. That list should contain things like, pick a wildflower, handwrite a letter to someone you love, dance along to your favourite song, swim in the ocean, have a cup of tea with a friend. The Soul List is about choosing 10 things each week that is going to create a memory. Soul List keeps you alive. It reminds you there is more to life then dentist appointments, grocery bills and laundry.

Little things. Tiny. Delightful.

(And I just remembered that I pressed a flower on my first week which now feels like a small gift to myself.)

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So this week I was careful to write 10 “Soul List” things. I wrote a separate list for errands and chores but I made sure that everything on the “Soul List” was something I enjoyed or enjoyed once so that meant I probably would find some kind of satisfaction in it again. It’s the only way I can think to make it so I don’t feel like I’m just logging time here but actually living. It’s harder than I thought it would be but I guess no one ever promised it would be easy.

The Recap.

How my week went : A Recap.

Me: I’m a shit human being.
Therapist: You have too much compassion. You should use some for yourself. Do something you enjoy.
Me: But I’m a shit human being who doesn’t deserve to do things I enjoy.
Therapist: Our time is up.

Me: Writes list of ten things to do this week. Sets about to complete all ten things in 24 hours. Completes little. Panics on Friday that hasn’t completed ten things.

Me: Edits baby photos while rewatching Prison Break. Begins to emulate Michael Scofield’s complete lack of tone in voice. Says everything in monotone husky whispers. Drives children mad with disinterested voice. Wonders what Wentworth Miller’s friends call him since his name is a mouthful. Takes question to Facebook. Discovers they call him Wenty. Feels satisfied.

Me: Says can help friend test presets using photos. Realised every photo I’ve ever taken is shit. Panics and sends partner on wild goose chase for newspaper, lollipops and balloons. Takes photos. Panics they’re shit. Sends them anyway.

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Me: Buys lingerie for midweek getaway. Ignores lingerie and wears beige cotton underwear.

Me: Takes children to work. Picks children up from work. Repeat 50000 times.

Me: Forgets to put petrol in car. Partner borrows car and is forced to put petrol in x3.

Me: Tackles rogue bikini line left neglected for two months. Despite having birthed six children without pain relief wishes for epidural during bikini wax. Swears a lot.

Me: Meets up with friend from Melbourne for flying visit so I can coo over her pregnant belly. Sees pirate ship. Finds book in second hand book store explaining hangovers. Feels like I’m reading an excerpt from my brother’s escapades. Reminds me of the time my brother installed security cameras for outside fridge as he suspected neighbour was drinking his beer. Turned out he was drinking his beer.

Me: Cries hysterically because Google Drive won’t upload images. Tells daughter I’m too tired for sleep to fix. Requires mini coma.

Me: Friday afternoon. Drinks.

Chaotic Random or The Universe in motion.

I’m going to preface this by saying this is a long post and I apologize for that and also for the heavy conversation on a Friday night. Bear with me. 

Yesterday I read an article another writer shared about the phrase, “everything happens for a reason”. In the article the woman spoke of her multiple miscarriages and how that platitude was painful and cruel.

I understand that because in the throes of painful life experiences it can feel like someone is discounting the unfairness of the situation or devaluing the pain you feel when they say these things.

Sometimes there is no right thing to say. Especially when it comes to pregnancy loss because “I’m sorry” doesn’t really cut it. Sometimes people want to not talk about it. Sometimes they need to in order to process it.

I have been on both ends of that conversation. The one with the painful raw wound that is being offered comfort, and the person presented with someone in unseen agony and awkwardly realising that of the thousands of words at my disposal…none are going to help. I’ve known when people have offered me a platitude that they’re doing the best they can. They’re at a loss, bereft of words and what they say doesn’t really matter, what they’re offering me is love.

This world is such a strange place. I don’t really understand it and sometimes I wish I didn’t think so much because I think about EVERYTHING and it’s exhausting. I think that despite the differences between faith and science both are seeking the same purpose – to make sense of what the hell is going on. And there are two options here. Everything is guided by some force, which basically means all our major life changing moments are pre-ordained – fate, hand of God, destiny, divinely ordered. Or it’s chaotic random, in which case there is no reason or logic to anything at all.

I can’t live like that.

If everything is chaotic random then does anything really matter? It sends me into existential crisis and I may as well drink poison and be done with it.

Most people I have met are not true chaotic random believers. Even if they don’t believe in God sometimes things will happen they can’t explain and they seek to justify it in some way. I’ve met self proclaimed atheists who believe in karma. Which is a form of faith in itself.

In 2011 I was caught in the worst flooding in Brisbane in decades. I was about 20 weeks pregnant and I was shooting my last wedding for the season. I had taken the five kids to Brisbane with me and we were staying at my grandparents. My ex husband was working away in WA on the other side of the country. I expected to stay for two nights. I left the animals at home, the cats and chickens with enough food and water to last two days. It was raining before I left. I worried the roads would wash out and I wouldn’t make it to the wedding, but the day I left it receded a bit and I made it down. It rained on and off the day of the wedding. Then it poured. I waited an extra day at my grandparents, the roads were cut the way I usually went home. And then I got some texts from a friend that lived near me saying her husband was driving down through Toowoomba. She kept in contact with me and when he made it down I left immediately.

This is when things happened that didn’t usually happen that I can’t explain. Firstly, I had never had a car phone charger before but that day my mother had given me a spare one she had saying she didn’t need two. Secondly, I stopped in at a petrol station and filled not just my main fuel tank but also the reserve – something I never did. Next, I called into shops to buy snacks and for some unknown reason I bought a lot of food for the 2.5 hour drive. Bananas, bread, water etc. I did all this very quickly, as though I was in a rush. I had $1000 cash on me – me, who never carries any cash and lives off cards.

We drove towards Toowoomba, me eyeing the churning water under bridges as we drove over them, following my phones directions because I had never driven that way before. I could barely see through the rain. I followed the tail lights of the ute in front of me, when he swerved, I swerved…he could see the potholes before I could, chunks of bitumen removed from the rain that was relentlessly bearing down on us. Just after Helidon we were near a place called Tomatoland and the guy stopped. Cars in front of him were stopped and we were about 10 maybe 15 cars back. People were getting out of their vehicles. I opened my door and looked out.

You know that scene in Lord of the Rings when Arwen calls the river to wash away the wraiths following them? And the river turns to horses barrelling down the banks? That was what I saw. Crossing the highway, bashing through Tomatoland. There was no river, it was just flooding from what looked like no where.

What I didn’t realise – none of us did – was that Toowoomba had just experienced flash flooding. On the top of a fucking hill. People were being swept away, people were dying. And all that water was rushing down the mountain, down the range and heading straight for us. If I had been 15 minutes earlier we would have been on that range on our way up the mountain. We would have died.

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We waited ages. Maybe an hour before some folks started crossing the highway and turning around. At this point I decided to head back to my grandparents. I turned around and started back. The water was now moving through a gully to our left. It was inundating houses, a boat drifted by, smashing into trees and continuing on. I told the kids not to look. Soon we were stopped again by SES. We were a few cars back. She said the bridge in front had washed out and we had to wait. I asked if we were safe. She didn’t know. I asked if I could get back to Helidon. She didn’t know. There was another bridge after this one. If we made it through this one we would have to wait again before the next bridge. If we got through there, we would have made it to Helidon. I called around to see if there was anywhere the kids and I could stay at Helidon. A pub told me all the rooms were full but if I could make it he could offer me floor space on a verandah.

Right that second while the water rose in the gully beside us and it truly looked like we would not make it was when the situation hit home. I looked back at my kids, I looked at the raging water and I thought, “I’ve killed my children.” I literally thought we were not going to make it out of this. I apologised to them. “I’m sorry, I made a mistake. We should have stayed at Nanna’s. I’m really sorry.”

Soon the SES worker was letting some people through. I started driving down this highway – completely alone. There wasn’t another car in sight. It was apocalyptic. We were supposed to drive to the next bridge and wait to get through. But on my right I saw a motel on a hill. On instinct, I turned around, drove the wrong way up the highway and pulled into it. They had a room, no power though, could I pay in cash? I could.

If I had not have pulled in there and waited at the bridge to get into Helidon we would have been there that night when the rest of the water poured through Helidon and Grantham, decimating property and killing people. Again, we could have died. Not an outside chance we may have died. But entirely likely.

We waited on top of that hill for a few days. Grantham was declared a crime scene, dozens of people were missing. The phone lines were sporadic. The worst thing was at night when you couldn’t see the water and you worried it would be on top of you before you knew. I parked close to the building so we could get on the roof from the car if we needed to. There was no power and the water was barely running. They ran out of food after the first day but people shared what they had. During the day helicopters droned overhead – searching for bodies. We all knew that, but we tried not to speak of it. The car charger was handy. With no power it allowed me to run the car for awhile and get some juice back into my phone. The lines were so congested my mother couldn’t get through and listed us as missing persons. Also, because I had filled both fuel tanks I wasn’t as scared to run the car to charge the phone.

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After another couple of days the water completely ran out at the motel, but by that stage I had heard a rumour they were reopening the range. Leaving and taking a chance I handed in the room key. Before I went up I drove into Helidon, still in shock – we could buy some food if we could pay cash. Which again – I could. We were the second lot of cars allowed up the range and into Toowoomba where we would stay another night before trying to get home. There was no chance of going back to Nanna’s. The flooding had now hit Brisbane and it was a disaster. The police warned us that they couldn’t guarantee what we would see on our way up the range, that they had done their best to clean up. He said it seriously so I knew it was bad. I told the kids to close their eyes on the way up. I watched the road. I did not look around.

The next day I filled up with more fuel, paid cash, no eftpos was working still. We made it home.

If I had been 15 minutes earlier or 30 minutes later – we may be dead. If I didn’t suddenly decide to go to that motel on the hill instead of trying to get to Helidon, we could be dead. If I didn’t fill up both tanks of petrol, I would have run out. If I didn’t have a car charger, I would not have been able to hear reports that allowed me to assure my mother I wasn’t drowned, get home when I did, know I couldn’t go back to Brisbane. If I didn’t buy food we would have been a lot more desperate. If I didn’t have an unusual amount of cash on me, we wouldn’t have had a room, food, fuel, water.

Hand of God?

Divine intervention?

Chaotic Random Luck?

I can’t believe that is chaotic random. It didn’t feel that way. Anyone I explain that too – especially anyone who saw what came out of Toowoomba that day – whistles in appreciation of our sheer luck. They tell me it was God. They tell me it was fate and it was not my day to die. They tell me it was a guardian angel.

But if I had died? If I had been 15 minutes earlier and my car had washed out on the range and myself and five children had died? People don’t want to believe that’s God. They don’t want to believe that’s fate.

People only want to believe that fate brings the good. Everything else – chaotic random.

But it doesn’t work that way. You don’t get to pick and choose. Either EVERYTHING is random or EVERYTHING is pre-ordained. The same God that saved me in 2011 could kill me tomorrow in a five car pile up.

That is life. It’s not all beer and skittles. Some parts fucking suck. Okay, a lot of it sucks. Bad things happen. Why do you think it was ever going to be easy or good? What ever gave you that impression?

In 2011, I nearly died. I nearly killed my kids. People did die. Children died. It was senseless and horrific.

And people lived. A woman drove around with bags of food delivering it to stranded people and checking on elderly folks. A man had his son standing on the back of a ute handing out bottles of water to stranded motorists. A complete stranger offered to pay for my fuel at the petrol station because he didn’t know if I had cash. People shared food and resources – they were good and kind and empathetic. THAT, my friends, is divinity.

I can’t make sense of the bad things. I don’t think anyone really can. Not the way we can make sense of the good things. Sometimes I don’t think there IS a reason or a lesson. What lesson is there in a child dying? Who would ever demand someone learn that lesson? I think it’s just up to us as human beings to provide kindness, caring, empathy and love in our clumsy human way.

It’s a strange world, the way our heartache must sit side by side with our love.

I would love to hear others thoughts about this either in the comments or via the contact page. 🙂