Archive for February, 2014

Get in front of the camera more…

February 24th, 2014 | no comments

shutterstock_64712308And 5 other things I learnt about life at a funeral

Every so often, if we’re lucky, we’re handed a wake-up call. My latest was on the weekend, at the memorial service of a beautiful woman, Marlene – and the occasion taught me six important things about living.

Get in front of the camera more

I seem to have nearly 8000 photos on my computer. I’m in maybe 50 of them. I’m nearly always behind the lens or, if I’m dragged in front of it, I’m grabbing a child or two to hide behind, because I’m ‘not happy with how I look right now’ the way I was not happy with how I looked when I weighed 10kg less, which was similar to how I felt when I was 32 and a size 10.

The slideshow of images shown of Marlene at the service was full of photos of her looking ‘real’ with her family, which they now have to treasure and remember her by – just as she was. Just as they loved her. I won’t leave my kids scrambling to picture what I looked like – so that’s resolution #1.

Create, create, create

Marlene was an artist and designer and the church was literally draped in her creations. Everywhere we looked, there were her pieces. Pieces of her. Things into which she’d poured her heart and mind. Tangible reminders of who she was and what she loved and how she thought.

I’m not ‘artistic’ in the same way, but I do love to write. Others cook, or paint, or build or make music or sew or indulge in the myriad other ways that we can leave our mark on the world and, if you haven’t found what you love to create yet – keep searching. We don’t need to be brilliant at it – but to leave something we made, that loved ones can hold is really priceless.

Do it now, regardless

When she was diagnosed with a chronic health problem Marlene was given around 10 years to live. So she enrolled in university. A degree and another diploma later, she continued learning and expanding her mind for the 25 years that she lived after her initial diagnosis. My favourite photo in the montage shown at the service was of her receiving her second degree in a wheelchair.

Sometimes things seem hopeless, and we wonder whether we’ll bother, because ‘where is it going?’ and ‘what is the point?’ Sometimes the point is ‘just because’.

You need more for your eulogy than your CV

At every funeral I attend (which, sadly, currently outnumbers the weddings!) I notice this: Someone who loves the person who died, reads a eulogy in which professional achievements usually figure.

They tend to hold it all together while they read through the more ‘CV-ish’ aspects of the story of the person’s life. It’s only when they get to the ‘heart’ stuff that they seem to struggle to maintain composure, and it happens every single time.

  • She was compassionate.
  • She made the best Christmas lunches.
  • She was always there for her friends.
  • She was funny, and confusing and irritating and dependable and gave amazing hugs.
  • We loved her, we loved her, we loved her.

At the end of the day  – our lives tend to be remembered more like a trailer for Love Actually than as a job application. Achievements are good. They can be mind-blowingly impressive. But life, when it’s stripped right back, is about much more than that.

Say what you need to say

All the ‘best’ funerals are the ones where there’s little regret. They’re the ones where the family and friends had a proper chance to say goodbye. But it’s rarely about ‘saying goodbye’ and nearly always about saying ‘what you need to’, when you have a chance.

And that’s right now.

It’s not ideal to be ‘scrambling the jets’ to get there at the very last second and blurt it all out with a person who is struggling to be alive, who may rather you just sit there, holding their hand. It’s even worse to lose the opportunity altogether. Just say it all now.

It’s all ‘small stuff’

We delve into angst, often over things that just don’t matter. They don’t. End of story.

So I’m off now, to take some selfies with the kids and tell my parents how much I totally get how hard it is to raise children, and thank them for doing that, then write more of my novel and enjoy the sunset and Downton Abbey. Because I can. And that’s an immense privilege.

Just add colour

February 16th, 2014 | 2 comments

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When kids watch adults, they tend to see a lot of ‘meh’. They see us frowning at bills and sighing at washing and dragging our feet out the door to work. They hear us complaining about mess and queues and politics and prices. They watch us struggling and sinking and whinging and procrastinating, and must wonder sometimes what the point is, of growing up.

Unless they spent Sunday morning with 12,000 of us in the Colour Run, where there was none of that. There was glorious mess and laughter – dress ups, dancing, music, bubbles, paint bombs and then fast, fat splodges of rain that drenched us and made the colours run and added steam and mud and gorgeous chaos.

There was nobody ‘old’. Not one person. No tantrums, no ‘hurry up’, no ‘not now’, no ‘be careful’, no ‘be quiet’, no ‘don’t get dirty’ – not a single ‘no’. Just celebration.

Afterwards, there was hosing down. There was showering and shampooing and washing and more shampooing – but it didn’t matter, because twenty years from now, we’ll be saying ‘remember the colour run?’ and smiling.

Now it’s over and it’s Monday and there are school lunches and traffic and deadlines and housework and we’re clean and tidy and normal again (with the odd purple highlight in our hair).

Ever since Mary Poppins sang “A spoon full of sugar”, we’ve been making medicine go down, and unpleasant things more palatable, by adding a dash of something nice.

Maybe we can’t throw corn starch around the office and stand in the rain in our rainbow-stained work suits, dancing, but we can splash colour liberally through our adult lives and bring the fun back.

Where are things beige now?

  • Work?
  • Relationship?
  • House?
  • Health?
  • Social life?

What would it take to add colour?

  • New job?
  • Weekend away?
  • De-clutter?
  • Different food?
  • Girls’ night out?

Sometimes all that’s needed to brighten the blah and emerge from a rut is some tweaking. And tweak we must, because there’s fun to be had. There’s colour to be found. There’s mess to make…

There are kids in the wings, taking their lead in life from us. Let’s show them how it’s done.

Getting it wrong

February 8th, 2014 | 2 comments

shutterstock_67978366About a week ago, the Sunday Times ran an interview preview in which J.K. Rowling threw a cat amongst the love birds. As part of a long discussion with actor Emma Watson, she said that Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger were together in the Harry Potter series as a form of ‘wish fulfillment’ for her.

She went on to say that – although it may trigger ‘rage and fury’ for some fans – ‘distance has given me perspective’. She paired the characters up for ‘personal reasons, not for reasons of credibility’.

Cue a public outcry and screams of ‘No-oo! Don’t say it! Don’t suggest that Hermione and Harry should have ended up together!’ (duelling with the other camp, who were delightedly ‘telling us so’ with: ‘YES! I knew it!’)

I paid little attention to the hoo-haa, for two reasons:

1. I can’t believe I’m about to admit this, but I haven’t read Harry Potter yet. Gah! I know! I will!

AND

2. My brain was comprehensively scrambled by the idea that the most successful author of our time was still doubting and second-guessing herself and her work, years after she has more than ‘made it’.

As an author with one book published and two novels on the go, I say thank you, JK. Right now, I’m grappling with a love triangle that could go either way (NB: I am talking about my characters here, not my life!)

What a gift her admission gives us:

  • To know that it’s okay not to know what we’re doing
  • To know that we might never know if we went in the ‘right’ direction
  • To be reminded that there are always options and multiple possible outcomes in every situation
  • To know that, no matter how successful someone is, they’re still plagued by the same doubts that we are: “What if I’d done it differently?” and “Could I have done it better?”

It’s immensely comforting and powerful because, underneath it all, so many of us feel like we’re a ‘fraud’. Imposter syndrome (Am I really good enough? Surely it’s only a matter of time before I’m found out?) is alive and well. At least, it is in my life.

Rowling has been criticised for saying anything at all about her plot doubts this late in the piece, and there’s a bunch of people who subscribe to the ‘fake it til you make it’ philosophy who wouldn’t dream of going public on something like this.

I find it refreshing, and admire her more because of it. I admire anyone who can celebrate their success and enjoy what they’ve done, with a little room to look critically at their work and say ‘Hmm. I wonder…’

Let it go…

February 8th, 2014 | no comments

shutterstock_79054540Help! Demi Lovato’s “Let it Go” from Disney’s Frozen is stuck in my head on continuous loop. In fact, the entire movie seems lodged in there. I keep mulling over the storyline: carefree girl has talents so powerful that she’s locked away and urged to suppress them.

Don’t let them in, don’t let them see,
Be the good girl you always had to be.
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know…

I don’t know if it’s something to do with turning 40 now-ish, but half of my acquaintances could relate to that. The other half have had enough of doing what’s expected and have already bolted. They’ve burst out of the confines of their castle bedrooms and are building the ‘ice castles’ they’ve been wanting to create for years: new jobs, happier relationships, tree-changes, sea-changes – ch-ch-ch-changes.

I was one of them, a little while ago, and WorkLifeBliss is one of the products of that.

What held us back so long?

  • Approval?
  • Safety?
  • Comfort?
  • “What will people think?”
  • “Can I really do this?”
  • Or this: “What if they see what I’m really capable of? Will they still like me?”

*Spoiler alert*

In Frozen, the Ice Queen learns that she doesn’t have to lock herself away to enjoy what she’s best at. She doesn’t have should do’s anymore. She finds that she can be herself – all of her – without having to suppress, or self-deprecate, or apologise, or down-size or hide or ‘fit in’.

Isn’t that the definition of ‘happy?’ Being real?

If you’re still trapped in a castle of someone else’s making – or if you’re holding yourself captive there …

Let it go.

Wisdom hits us in the strangest of places. I was in Madame Tussauds in Darling Harbour on the Australia Day weekend and, on the back of a toilet door, I read this quote from Angelina Jolie:

“If you don’t get out of the box you’ve been raised in, you won’t understand how much bigger the world is.”

Sometimes we can learn this lesson without even leaving home. We can open the box and understand how much bigger we can be, once we take our inner ‘good girl’ and show her the magic that’s right at her fingertips, once she lets go…