Archive for June, 2015

All the feels…

1131820Disney Pixar’s latest kids’ flick Inside Out shares the message that all of our emotions play an important part in helping us navigate our lives. Constantly striving for joy—living permanently ‘glass half full’ and not wanting to tarnish ourselves with sadness can have an unintended negative impact. Grasping for relentless positivity will bring us to our knees eventually, unable to function at all because we’re so out of touch with what’s really going on inside that we can’t feel anything at all.

One of the most powerful scenes in the movie occurs when one of the characters loses something important to him. The character representing joy freaks out and tries to ‘jolly’ him out of his despair.

He can’t move, the way a lot of us can’t move when we’re sideswiped by deep upset or disappointment. It’s raw, real, stunned devastation.

It’s not until Sadness sits beside him and lets him feel the way he does without trying to cheer him up or change it, that he’s able to awaken. He’s able to process what’s happened and move forward again, regaining his motivation in a natural way.

I thought of one of my closest friends, who is grieving the loss of her father just over a week ago. She, and her family, have spent much of the last week in tears.

Healing tears.

And there will be many more tears to come, cleansing this open wound…

It can be uncomfortable watching someone you love in pain. Sometimes there’s a selfish desire to ‘fast forward’ a situation and drag it into less tortuous territory. Territory where they’re ‘back to their normal selves’ and things feel less fraught and more predictable. A place where you know what to do and say.

Learning to sit in another’s sadness is a critical tool of friendship. It’s about being able to receive their emotions fully, without trying to deflect what they’re feeling, or tamper with it, or make it yours. It’s about ‘sucking up’ how uncomfortable it might feel to see someone you love upset, and accepting your current powerlessness.

When you can do it like that, being present in another’s grief is, strangely, one of life’s gifts. They’re allowing you to see them stripped raw—the ugly crying, the anger, all of it. They’re sharing themselves with you at rock bottom. At peak vulnerability. This is the stuff of deep human connection.

Grief can’t be conquered by fake happiness. It won’t evaporate with a stiff upper lip.

It can’t be forced or rushed or packaged into a neat, convenient order or schedule. It can’t be photoshopped or ‘face-lifted’ or airbrushed or erased or deleted or trashed. It can’t be compared.

It just is.

And the healing that follows it always involves a surrender to reality—the reality of what’s happened, and the reality of our feelings about it.

One day soon my friend will be ready to get up again and keep going. Until that day, I’ll just sit here with her.

All in. With all the feels.

New level, new devil

COVER_Sally_Whitwell__Vox_-_I_Was_Flying_JPEG High ResWhen I hit the ‘publish’ button with the link to my teen novel, Unrequited, last year, I had to phone my best friend to garner the last bit of courage I needed to actually share the link with my friends on Facebook.

This was a Big Deal.

These were my private imaginings. A story about people I’d created, saying made-up things in a plot that doesn’t exist in the real world.

This book exposed the inner workings of my daydreaming mind. It was like handing in a creative writing piece to your English teacher for criticism, but instead of your English teacher reading it, it’s anyone in the world who can red-pen it.

So when double ARIA-winning Canberra-raised musician, Sally Whitwell, said she needed courage to release her fourth album, I was flying, I knew what she meant.

It’s her first album as a composer.

These aren’t the tunes of others. They’re not tried and tested and loved by generations before ours, making a fairly ‘safe bet’ for release.

This is the inner workings of Sally’s creative mind. These are the musical stories she’s written. Made-up music. Music that anyone in the world can hear and criticise.

“I feel like I’ve graduated or something,” she admitted when we spoke about how scary it is to release into the world something this deeply personal.

“In my music, there are stories inspired by my mother’s immigration story, about being unable to sleep at night, about a weekly commute I used to make from Sydney to Newcastle for a teaching job and about falling in love with my beautiful partner Glennda. All subjects that are personal to me, close to my heart.”

Is it ludicrous to think that someone with two ARIAs and three previous albums—someone who performs all over the world—might still have doubts, professionally?

“Up until now, I’ve always recorded music written by other people,” Sally said. “I felt like I had more to give. So I plucked up the courage to put some of my own work out there. There are so many amazing singer/songwriters out there,” she explained. “I wondered, do I have enough to say?”

There’s a saying amongst the business groups I belong to: “New level, new devil.” Just when you’ve finally grappled with all your old insecurities and “Am I good enough’s”—just as you’re finally in your element and crushing it—suddenly you break through a level and step up.

Maybe it’s a promotion, or a bigger contract or a larger audience or some other marker of a big leap and, rather than know you can handle it easily, the way you’ve been handling what’s now become your comfort zone—you’re plunged right back to Base Camp and have to climb again.

New level. New devil. There will always be challenges if we continually stretch our boundaries.

So yes, a double ARIA winner releasing her first album as a composer is a huge step up. It’s a risk.

And if I was flying’s performance on the Classical iTunes and ARIA charts is anything to go by, it’s a risk that’s paying off…

I’m no music critic, but the album brings tears to my eyes, and not just because Sally is one of my oldest friends. It’s new classical music that’s easy to understand and listen to—with shapes and colours threaded through it lyrically… beautiful tunes, by someone whose tag-line is ‘Making Classical Music Friendly’.

Listen to a sample on Spotify and order your copy through iTunes or the ABC shop.

It never rains…

shutterstock_77233093Okay, I’ve started this several times and don’t know which topic to pick, because there’s so much going on this week…

I could write about the meltdown my teenager had on the weekend about upcoming exams (which reminds me why I never took specialist maths or chemistry). Or about my advice on the necessity of proper breaks while studying/working (but what would Mum know, right?)

I could talk about the way her best friend and her sister pounded on the door on Saturday night with a block of chocolate to cheer her up, offering precious support in direct reverse of the support she dished them in bucket-loads this time last year over a much more serious challenge (leukaemia).

I could tell the story of having handed them my credit card—instructing them to take her somewhere and not bring her home until she’d relaxed (thinking ‘ice cream’, not ‘Prada’)—and how I trust them implicitly to do the right thing. It was trust confirmed when they arrived home without spending a cent after driving around listening to tunes in the car… smiles all around.

Or maybe I’d write about how my only (and favourite, nonetheless) auntie was rushed to hospital suddenly with a heart problem yesterday ahead of probable surgery today, or about my dear friend’s father’s serious illness, or another friend’s sudden loss of her father-in-law last week or another friend’s father’s hospitalisation over something else… and about us being the ‘sandwich generation’ and not necessarily wanting to be this grown up, just yet.

I could write about my four-year-old’s tantrum over the Ninja Turtles HQ toy in Target on Sunday, which resulted in him not only screaming Target down, but almost pulling my track-pants off trying to drag me back to the toy section, only for us to do battle with the pay parking meter and have him screaming beside me while I was trying to hear the instructions of the parking-help guy over the loud speaker with a queue of twenty or more behind us…

Or maybe I could branch into a topic about work. That thing we squeeze in around all of the life and death stuff, and how much of it there is, both here and interstate…

Or I could tell you about the fact that my teen novel was rejected by its third publisher last week.

Or about the message I had from a teenager I don’t know saying she thought it was the best book she’d ever read, which turned that situation around in an instant…

Or about sacking the tutor, and finding a brilliant one, or worrying if I offended the un-subscriber, or about my emails to the school principal re the same-sex marriage booklet, or how a dear schoolfriend has offered to bake brownies and post them interstate to cheer up my daughter mid-exams…

I could go on (and on), but what I really want to say is this:

On Saturday, I spent five hours—five blissful hours—at a yoga retreat. (And just in the nick of time, I hear you say…)

The retreat had been gifted to me late last year by the lovely PJ, from Simplicity Retreats, after I wrote an article about feeling worn down. I’m not feeling down any more, but the retreat couldn’t have come at a better time—although, really, any week would be fabulous, wouldn’t it?

Even when we say ‘no’ and take time out and do all the right things to make our lives easier, life comes at us. Living can be full-on, even when nothing too bad is happening. If it’s not us, it’s someone dear to us. If it’s not them, it’s someone dear to them.

All around us, all the time, swirl ‘all the things’ we can’t control. All the worries. All the steps up to the next level of what we’re good at. All the times we mess up. All the times we succeed but it’s exhausting.

I do have a point but, as Julia Roberts said in My Best Friend’s Wedding – am I going to get to it?

Sunlight on the deck. Herbal tea. Sweet potato and walnut soup in the sun with new people. Long, carefree, guided meditations. Phone off.

No netball scores. No ‘I hate chemistry’ texts. No ‘can you bring the paper please?’

No anything for a few hours, except ME.

I felt like a new woman… and I urge you to take some time out.

ps. About half an hour after the retreat, I took my sixteen-year-old out for driving practice and it was all undone in five minutes… but that’s another story! 😉

Take a break! It’s BRILLIANT!