I was probably only going 20 mph but it felt like 100. The chalky red earth caked my trousers and motorbike as I revved the gears and dug my heels into the pedals, racing up the hill and into the open paddock as the fire red sun made its way toward the horizon. It was 2008 in outback Queensland Australia, and the only things I needed in life were my bike and that sunset.
Ambling along the lively east coast from beach town to beach town was a worthy journey for a twenty-something, but after life in Sydney and the constant buzz and extroversion of coastal living, I longed for the dry air and red skies and quiet, for the long empty roads stretching out all the way across what seemed like the universe. The outback sounded like a last frontier. Like a departure from all that was ease, comfort and modernity, and an arrival at something more pure, raw and ultimately more hard work. I wanted a piece of it. I said goodbye to my apartment, my roommates, the ocean and the friends I’d made in the previous weeks on the road and boarded a bus inland.
After several hours on the road staring out at sunburnt fields, I arrived at a sprawling outback ranch in early evening. Turning into the dirt drive I quickly scanned the property; stables, a tractor, a pickup truck, a modest house and miles and miles of nothing. The sun was low in the sky but still beat down harshly on the land, painting a yellowish hue and long shadows over all it touched. This was the outback I’d seen in my mind.
My host Bill welcomed me to the property and showed me my quarters, a room full of bunk beds in one of the outhouses nearer the stables. They were modest but clean, with pillows and blankets folded neatly at the bottom. I threw my backpack onto one of the top bunks and quickly followed Bill out as he carried on with the introduction. The stables were full of horses, and before I’d even had a chance to look from one end to the other he’d thrown me a saddle and said to follow him outside. She was a beauty, maybe 5 or 6 years old, with burgundy coloured hair and a soft black mane. Brushing her was easy, but the saddling was new. Bill walked me through the knots, ties and tugs and within a few minutes she was ready. She was also mine. For as long as I was staying at the ranch she would be my ride.
The next morning, I woke up to sunlight bursting through the window and the faint scent of frying bacon. I was greeted outside in the garden by a table of fresh cow’s milk, granola, fruit, buttered toast, bacon, eggs and an abundance of strong black coffee — a rancher’s breakfast. Hearty and heavy on the caffeine, we fuelled up and headed out to the field at the side of the house. Clocking a dirt bike ahead propped on its stand, I was told to get on it. Bill said there were only two real modes of transport on the ranch; horse and bike. If I didn’t master them both I’d have to settle for walking, and that was a hell of a lot of ground to cover. I’d never ridden a motorbike before but I jumped on and did as instructed. It was trial and error as I practiced switching gears, accidentally stalled, and repetitiously drove around the field one lap after another. After the 20th lap, I was good. Feeling comfortable enough with the gears and clutch I followed Bill out of the field as we raced up a dirt track and deeper into the property. We were flying now, but I was keeping up just fine as we rode along the perimeter fence past the livestock. I’d always loved driving back home and the free feeling it gave me, but this was different. This was so uninhibited. I understood why people chose two wheels over four. There’s something carnal and liberating about riding out in the open, exposed to the elements and always only one wrong move away from danger. It was thrilling.
We spent the next hour driving around the property over fields dotted with Baobab trees and through wooded enclosures where the cattle took shelter from the relentless midday heat. Bill shouted from a few meters ahead that we needed to get back and start on the afternoon chores. We ditched the bikes where we found them and I hopped in the back of his pickup truck. If this was how each day started I thought, I was excited to see how it continued. As I made a seat out of the bales of hay, I looked down at my arms, now a shade of dusty brown. It could have been mistaken for a tan except for the beads of sweat leaving my paler complexion trailing up and down the length of them, my socks stuck to the surface of my skin and the back of my neck stinging from the grit and sun. I untied the bandanna hanging from my neck and let the breeze cool me as we road further into the paddocks. “Get the bails ready” Bill shouted over the driving wind. He made a signal and I threw one over the side, leaving it for the horses to find. We went from one end of the property to the other, dropping hay bales every few hundred feet.
When we returned it was midday and one of the other lodgers had arrived. She was crouching down next to the chicken coop at the side of the house wearing tan khakis, a light flannel shirt, a wide-brimmed hat and sturdy ankle-high boots that looked like they’d seen a mud pit or two in their time. She was oblivious to my approaching as she called out for the chickens, watching them as they clucked and pecked.
“Hello” I said as I stopped beside the coop.
“Oh hi! I’m Casey” she said as she stood up and held out her hand.
“I’m Annie. Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too,” she said as we shook one another’s hands.
“Did you just get here?” I asked.
“Yea about 20 minutes ago, but I’ve already been clothed and shown around this part of the ranch.”
“Yea they don’t waste any time here do they. So those aren’t your clothes?” I asked.
“Nope, haven’t you seen the gear shed?”
“No. Bill must have forgotten to give me that part of the tour” I said.
“Well I’ve never seen so many khakis, dungarees, and cowboy hats in all my life. It’s amazing. Want me to show you?” she asked.
“Yes!” I shouted as we walked over to the shed just beside the living quarters.
I opened the creaky wooden door into a small room full of shelves, crates and boxes. The dust particles floating around the room were glistening like fireflies in the shaft of sunlight now pouring into the space. As I breathed I could taste the air, thick with earth.
“Where are you from?” Casey asked as I walked nearer the shelves.
There were at least a half of a dozen pairs of khakis and twice as many button-up shirts.
“Chicago” I said as I grabbed a pair of trousers.
“Canada. Vancouver. And what brings you to this dusty middle of nowhere on the other side of the world?” she asked.
“Everything,” I replied while slipping on a pair of old boots.
“Me too” she said with a smile as we grabbed a couple of work gloves and walked out of the shed.
As we strolled towards the front of the house for lunch, we saw three girls sitting at the table chatting as they picked at a spread of cold meats, bread, boiled eggs and salad. We sat down in the empty chairs and introduced ourselves.
“Hi” one of the girls said in a thick Nordic accent, “I’m Marja and this is my friend Olga. We’re from Finland.”
“And I’m Hanna” said the other girl, “from Germany.”
We talked for the next hour in between mouthfuls about each other’s travels, each other’s countries, and how it was that we all came to be here, at an outback ranch miles from civilisation and a world away from the well-trodden scene of the Sunshine coast.
“Mostly I just wanted some peace” said Hanna.
“Us too” said Olga.
“There’s only so much surfing and socialising a person can do!” said Hanna laughing.
“I know what you mean” I said. “Wasn’t it tiring? I wanted to break away and find some head space, do something with my hands, go to bed feeling exhausted from a day’s work, maybe go to sleep with the sun and wake up with it too.”
They all nodded their heads in agreement as a dark-haired girl wearing jeans, riding boots and a white straw cowboy hat approached us, about our age, early twenties, carrying a soft and long-strapped shoulder bag.
“Gday. How’s everyone doin?”
We nodded and smiled.
“I’m Mia, the ranch-hand, and this right here is Roxy” she said as she hung the bag up on one of the wooden posts.
The lilac coloured pouch wriggled and bounced as a tiny furry face poked out.
“She’s just a young joey, found her a few days ago alone out by one of the boundary fences. We think her mother may have been hit by a car. Isn’t she a beauty? You can hold her if you want.”
We all held and coddled her as we finished up lunch, and placed her carefully back in her pouch bag, ecstatic in the realisation that lunchtime activities would include kangaroo cuddles.
“Well that’s about enough of that for now, who’s already done their morning chores and been given a horse?”
“I have” I said as the other girls informed her they’d just arrived.
“Alright then, I’ll let Bill get you four started with some chores and some horses, and you can come with me.”
The afternoon sun was hot and bright as we sat low in our saddles, sauntering out to the southeast expanses of the ranch. Our hats and the occasional shade of a bottle tree were the only things keeping us from sun stroke. Mia pointed out toward where the boundary fences end and briefly explained the workings of a modern cattle station. As she spoke she held the reins loosely in her right hand and kept her left hand casually on her thigh, hat tilted back off her forehead as she scanned the horizon, a look of comfort and ease on her face, and the distinct look of someone who was raised on a saddle.
“Are you from the area?” I asked.
“Yep, born and raised, on a small horse farm not too far from here.” “And yourself?” she asked as she took her eyes off the trail and turned towards me.
“From the states, Chicago more specifically.”
“Ohhhh the Windy City right?!” she shouted with a proud smile.
“That’s the one.”
“I’ve always wanted to go to America’s big cities, but I’ll admit, city life intimidates me” she said.
“Yea, me too, and I’m from one” I said as I readjusted in my saddle.
She laughed as she gently picked up the reins to guide her horse left, mine following closely as we continued at a slow and unhurried pace.
“But what’s brought you all the way to Australia? And to an outback cattle station nonetheless? Chicago sounds a lot more exciting than this.”
“Well I’ve been traveling, and decided when I got to Australia that I didn’t want to leave so soon, so I moved to Sydney. But life in the outback intrigued me, and I wanted a taste of it myself.”
“What’s so intriguing?” she asked.
“The relative discomfort, the necessary focus on each task at hand, the work required to merely exist out here. I suppose I’m looking for novelty, something completely different to the world I’m from, something closer to the dirt, and animals, and I guess, myself.”
“Well, you’re definitely getting closer to the dirt out here” she said with a grin.
“But I understand, because I guess I feel that same way about the rest of the world. I’ve been here my whole life, aside from the short trips I’ve taken to Brisbane and Sydney. I’ve never really gotten a taste of something else” she said as she wiped her brow and pulled her hat lower onto her head.
“My life has been horses and cattle ranches and rural Queensland. I dream of places like New York and London and Singapore. I’m a country girl, but sometimes I feel that I’ll never know another side of myself unless I leave.”
We both went quiet for a few moments as a breeze swept through, cooling us as we let these thoughts resonate.
“Let’s stop for a drink just over there” she said as she led us into a small area of woodland.
She hopped off her horse and tied him to a tree. I jumped down and did the same as we perched ourselves on a log and I drank hastily from my canteen, letting the water rush down my throat until I had to take a breath.
“Well, can you?” I asked.
“Can I what?” she replied.
“Leave, travel” I said.
“I hope so, one day. I’m trying to save money and my folks still expect me to be there to help out with the farm. But I’m hoping the right moment will present itself, and then I’ll go.”
I looked over at the horses happily grazing on the grasses at the base of the tree, and as I took a bite of my granola bar, sweating, hair matted to my face and my filthy, oversized trousers now partially wet from the water that had dripped from the canteen, I thought, life is funny, and I couldn’t help smiling as this notion bounced around in my head.
“Go on then, what is it?” she said.
“It’s just interesting how I’m all the way over here 10,000 miles from everything I know, envious of your exotic lifestyle and how you spend your days, and maybe you’re sitting over there thinking the same about mine.”
She paused for a moment, and then laughed at the thought, nodding her head in agreement that it was indeed a strange contrast.
“You ever met a Redback?” Mia said.
“The spider?” I asked.
“No. Not close up” I said.
“Well then you’re in luck — come take a look at this beauty.”
A few paces further into the woodland was an old safety cone hidden amongst the dried shrubs. Now a dull orange, it perched next to the trunk of a large tree. Mia slowly tilted it over on its side as we peered inside the conical nest, crouching down to see the web near the bottom of the cone.
“You see her?” she asked.
There it was, the bulbous black body with long spindly legs and menacing red stripe painted on its back.
“Geez — you’re a little bit close for comfort. You’re kneeling right next to it. Couldn’t it move pretty quick and bite your leg if it wanted?” I asked.
“Well yea, I s’pose it could. We’ll just have to hope she isn’t in a nasty mood today” she said.
“Aren’t Redbacks one of the deadliest critters in the country? They kill people don’t they?” I asked.
“Yea they can do some real damage. You definitely don’t want to find out. Would ruin your afternoon that’s for sure” she said laughing.
I gave the spider one more look and stepped away as Mia lowered her head closer to it.
“What’s the safety cone for anyways?” I asked.
“I don’t know, it’s been here for ages, and once we found out the old girl was making a home in it we let it be. Don’t wanna go evicting her now do we?” Mia said as she placed the cone right side up again and walked back towards the horses.
We hopped back on the saddles and settled into a slow saunter as the minutes passed silently.
“Awfully quiet there Chicago, what’s on your mind?” she asked.
“Just thinking about how fearless people in the outback seem to be about things. Like death doesn’t scare you or something.”
Mia was quiet for a moment and turned back towards me in her saddle.
“It’s not that we’re more fearless or brave or something, I think we just realise that death is a natural part of life, ya know? It happens every single day around here. We’re close to it. And we don’t try to sanitise it. It just is what it is” she said.
“The other day I took a group of city folk around the ranch, just like this on saddleback, and we came across a kangaroo carcass on the trail, still fresh enough that it looked like it might jump up and hop right past us. As we approached, they all screamed. I turned around and asked if everything was ok. I thought one of them had fallen off the saddle, but no, their shock was in seeing a dead animal. I couldn’t understand it. They all went on about how sad it was, and poor kangaroo this and poor kangaroo that. It’s as if they’d never seen anything dead before. I went on about how it’s not sad when you think that this body might provide food for another animal, or that maybe it’s the natural world’s way of controlling the population, but they just looked appalled.”
“It’s nature. It’s not sad. It just is” she said.
I thought about how I might react coming across a dead kangaroo on the trail. And though I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t have shrieked, I do think I would have reacted with a slight pang of sadness, which made me feel foolish.
“I understand that if it’s not something you have to confront everyday then it’s easy to pretend like it doesn’t exist, or that it doesn’t happen to us all, human or animal, but out here we don’t have that luxury. Death is a part of life here. It happens and we move on” she said.
Knowing the truth in what she was saying, I wondered in what other ways growing up in a city had softened me. I desperately wanted to sharpen some of those smoothed edges, dust off the disinfected layer of comfort and see things from a different angle. I suppose it was exposure I wanted most; to different thoughts, different lives, different ways. I felt happy in that saddle, closer to the marrow than I had in a long time, or maybe ever.
“I’m glad to be here” I said, feeling that the sentiment should be expressed out in the open air.
“Stoked to hear that Chicago, and I’m glad to have you here” she said as we picked up pace into a trot.
“I guess there’s no one right way to see things is there? And there’s certainly no perfect place. Not here, not Chicago, not Timbuktu. You’re appreciating things here because it’s in direct contrast to where you’ve come from, but you’ll use it to add more depth to what you’ve already learned from your own world” she said.
“Yea, absolutely. I suppose that’s it — just taking bits of each experience that resonate within us to cobble together a deeper, more textured lens from which we view the world.”
“I really like that” Mia said.
“Nothing like sorting out life truths during a casual afternoon ride eh?” she said.
“Yea, I should ride horses more often” I said with a smile.
We spent most of the long ride back to the main house in a relaxed saunter, but knowing sunset would soon arrive we picked up the pace and made it back to the stables while the sun was still casting long shadows on the ground.
“The other girls must have taken their bikes up the hill for sundown already, come on let’s get moving” she said as we ran towards the paddock to pick up two of the motorbikes. We revved the engines and sped up the dirt track back along the livestock fence and up into the open field where the sun was slowly making its way down toward the tops of the hills.
We walked over to the group, everyone silent and smiling, cross-legged on the grass in their muddied boots and trousers as they watched the sky change colours. Mia and I sat down next to them. Minutes passed as the air got cooler and the sky got darker.
Casey shuffled a bit in her seat and said with an even-tempered sigh “I don’t ever want to leave here, surely this is as good as it gets.”
Mia and I glanced at each other with a knowing smile as the clouds turned a deep shade of purple and the fire red sun disappeared from view. There was just enough light left for us to make it back to the house safely, but none of us seemed concerned enough to want to move. Instead, we sat there quietly as the darkness enveloped us, our faces turned up at the sky and the faint sound of howling animals our only immediate thought. We’d make it back somehow.
I’m not sure what I love most about the desert; the warm days spent scrambling over golden hills or the cool evenings spent gazing at the starry skies or the hot dry air that makes the skin tingle and burn anew or the way the sand sounds like thousands of tiny whispers as it blows across the dunes and erases all trace of life, or how, in the dusty wilds of the Middle East, you’re as likely to come away smelling of shisha and spices as you are of woodfire, and that same thick layer of red earth that dirties the body also cleanses the soul.
Salvaged 19th century sketches stacked atop dusty anthologies, antiquarian journals, philosophy, medicine, geography, history. One doesn’t so much browse as stumble; into the bygone, the foregone, the lost and unremembered. Rare leather bindings with sturdy spines and hand sewn silk endbands simultaneously holding together pages of the already familiar, and the as yet undiscovered.
There are moments in life that acutely remind one of their mortal transiency, and while a feeling of youth and vibrancy might be reigning vigorously on the inside, externally one is, matter-of-factly, decaying.
The funny thing about finding your second grey hair in a bathroom at 35,000 feet is realising you’re now actively in the process of dying and you can’t even make a scene about it.
Grey, formerly quite an agreeable colour; the perfect Winter wardrobe palette, the pigment of the majestic elephant, the perpetual shade of an English sky, and now a menacing symbol of my fading youth and imminent death. My previous enjoyment of the colour grey has now reached its swift and acrimonious end.
Standing there prominently at the front of my head just where the landmass of hair begins, my second grey is acting as some sort of filamentous lighthouse, only instead of courteously guiding me to safety, it’s blinding me with its ‘thereness’ as I crash up against the rocks, seawater rushing in from all sides as I choke up mouthfuls of my own salty vanity.
Finding one’s first grey hair is novelty. Like bird poop on a shoulder. It’s random, a fluke, good luck perhaps. Afterall, one isn’t evidence of anything. It’s just one. Inconsequential. Even fun. It’s not a sign of one’s ageing, but of one’s maturity.
Two is an entirely different matter.
Two is a priority telegram typed in all caps and hand-delivered by reality to inform me that I am now fully engaged in the ageing process, to communicate that which one grey hair does not: that my position on the pendulum of life is now firmly in the downswing.
If finding one grey hair was a fun paintball shot to the left bum cheek, finding two is a much more unpleasant battle axe straight through one’s steadily overripening skull.
Right now, actually.
It’s not so bad that the thought of alternatively shoving a fine point Bic pen into my eyeball would seem like a walk in the park, yet not so harmless that I can continue to walk on the pavement upright like a fully evolved member of the human species.
While everyone around me seems to be producing human offspring, I’m producing uncomfortable cysts on my ovaries. Well, one to be exact. But it’s not one of those gentle, water-filled cysts that shows up every now and again to read you bedtime stories and tell you that you’re smart, pretty and capable and then leaves out the window with her flying umbrella and spoonful of sugar. But the dark, bloody and brooding kind that shows up for good with an itchy trigger finger, a bad attitude and a fetish for holding you hostage in your bed while bludgeoning you with a sledgehammer. Yes, my cyst is Kathy Bates from Misery in case you were wondering. She’s a shape-shifter and is living inside of me. As is Ellen Page’s character Juno from the seminal film of 2007 Juno, which is ironic given the premise of the film, but I have a real affinity for anyone whose native language is deadpan sarcasm, so it actually may be that I’m holding her hostage. I can’t tell anymore.
If you’re stood directly in front of me, the cyst is sat on the left side, or stage right for you theatre folk. Its location is not altogether surprising given that the right side of my brain seems to be the only living part of my whole brain, the other side, the left side, is just an ornament, helping give balance and a kind of feng shui to the interior of my cranium. Not that this observation has any scientific basis whatsoever, but for all intents and purposes, my left hemisphere is not an actual living thing. Come to think of it, I haven’t used the left side of my brain since 2003 during a statistics lecture when the professor asked me to find the probability mass function of Y=2x. What instantly followed were the contents of my head exploding all over the lecture hall seats and my asking if I could turn in an essay about feelings instead. So I suppose the left hemisphere wasn’t used then either. But the ovary, it’s a mutinous insurgent. It’s an organ whose existence I never thought nor cared about until the age of 30. Other organs I’ve not thought about: gallbladder, spleen, pharynx, appendix. Well, I did concernedly think about my appendix for a few minutes last month but it turns out the acute discomfort was just accumulated wind from my brussel sprout phase. Perhaps my cysty ovary, Kathy Bates, is simply taking a stand against the norm and has decided that growing a membranous sac on herself is the best way to achieve this. And, after what I can only imagine was a careful pro and con analysis, she is self-destructing as a kind of defense for me against ever having to utter the words “poo poo or tinkle.”
Can you blame her?
You know how at Santa’s workshop if the elves come across a faulty toy in the factory they snatch it from the pile, put it in the bin, and replace it with a better one? I mean I assume this it what goes on it seemed to be the case in Elf. Well, I’d like to do that for my ovaries. I’d like the elves to snatch them from inside of me and refashion them into something better. Or I’d at least like to get back in the queue and trade them in for something jazzier, something that would really enhance my quality of life. Like a pair of in-utero castanets perhaps, so whenever I feel the urge for an impromptu flamenco dance all I need for musical accompaniment is to shake my hips from side to side and the soft percussionist clapping will accompany me as I bring shame upon the entire Andalusian culture. Or maybe a set of kettlebells. I heard regularly swinging those things around works absolute wonders on the glutes, so imagine what having them permanently affixed to you would do.
An NHS gynaecologist, a fertility doctor, a clinical psychologist and an acupuncturist all walk into a bar. That’s it. They all go to a bar and do diddly-squat for me. Except maybe the acupuncturist. I do get to take a very expensive 45 minute nap every two weeks while he sticks needles in me. Bargain.
But really, there are so many more interesting topics to talk about than the furthering of the human race am I right? Is there anything duller than a constant and steady stream of inquiries about one’s reproduction, or lack thereof? As soon as one enters their thirties all anyone wants to know is the potential of your uterus to birth a living humanoid. As if when you become 33, are in a stable marriage with full time employment and intact anatomy, the rest of yourself, the so many different parts of yourself that you’ve worked so hard to become, have literally evaporated into thin air. You are now a one-dimensional walking talking (potential) womb. It is the foremost subject in all conversations, or speculations, regarding your existence. Um, what about my thoughts on the current state of US democracy? What about my opinions on the works of my favourite authors, what about my work, and my recent findings in experimenting with permaculture and my theories on a multitude of subjects that have nothing to do with my uterus and can we talk for a second about Lucovido Einaudi as a classical composer? His song “Divenire” literally gives me life especially at that part where the bass and violi—sorry what? You want to know if me and my husband want kids? Oh ok, weird segue there as we were just discussing the majesty of contemporary classical music but sure let’s get into it. I’ll make it quick. Yes, no and yes. Yes we want kids, I mean I think. Not sure I’ll ever have clarity on whether volunteering to have dependents is a wise thing to do, but no, it’s not happening for us and yes, we’ve been looking into it. Now, back to those glorious violins.
I miss the days when people didn’t see me and secretly wonder what my reproductive situation is. Not because it upsets me greatly or something, but more so because I like to think of myself as inclusive and none of my other organs are being thought of as much and maybe that’s unfair. Maybe someone should ponder how my pancreas is holding up? Or how my translucent epidermis is dealing with all the sunshine we’ve not been having lately here in southeast England. I’d rather they not think of my reproduction at all and instead think of my respiration, or my digestion. I bet not one person has looked at me lately and thought “I wonder whether she’s having regular bowel movements, I hope she is, afterall, a healthy colon is a healthy body.”
Despite all our years of voluntary attempting to produce an heir, I’ll admit the idea of parenthood terrifies me. Almost to the degree a shark would a lone swimmer in open seas; vulnerable, open to attack, life as you know it likely over. Either mangled irreparably from the trauma or swallowed whole, is there any hope of escaping a neverending vortex of school runs and pushing buggies of screaming children through grocery stores and sitting alone in the coffee shop with the pram in the only peaceful 20 minutes of the day when the newborn sleeps and the constant and unabating sacrificing and the relentlessness of it and I feel bad because not only is this what my worst nightmares look like, I also fear it’s in that very space where my dreams might go to die. I don’t want to lose me, or my quiet. Or the space I have to pursue my dreams. That’s what scares me the most. Maybe it’s not that I’m being deprived of something here, but that I’m being saved from something. Maybe it’s not for me. Or maybe it is. Because I realize I can never know intimately all of the light that accompanies the dark, or the good that outweighs the bad, and unfamiliar territory can tend to surface fears more readily than enthusiasms. Life is such a paradox. I want and I don’t want. I don’t want the very thing that I want. Or is it the other way around?
If one is being thoroughly and objectively analytical about it, I’m not even sure I’m mother material. I once snarkily told a toddler on the Southbank of the Thames he was selfish as he screamed throughout the entire encore performance of a Charlie Chaplin impersonator. Why don’t children understand the beauty of mime as a theatrical medium? Is the art of silence dead? I also hate mashed fruit. And those child leashes give me the creeps. Though admittedly if I had to chaperone a small human around all day this would most likely be my accessory of choice. I might like to acquire an adult-sized one for my husband. Sometimes he impatiently walks so far ahead of me in public places it looks like he’s my bodyguard. So then I pretend to be Kristen Stewart or some other brunette actor even roughly my height. One time I was Juliette Binoche and at the Pret I ordered a croissant in the way it’s properly pronounced, not croy-sant, and was feeling pretty Cinéma français but then stuffed it up when the cashier asked “Oh très bon accent, parlez-vous français très souvent?” Anyways I don’t have a lot of toddler walking experience but I was always pretty below average at dog walking, and with those you can pretty much just leave them at the park when they act up, so this probably isn’t a good start.
Or maybe I’m destined to be a mother of dragons, like Khaleesi, Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, first of her name, the unburnt, Queen of the Andals and breaker of chains. Dragon children seem like they’d be a lot more fun than human children. They fly, fire breath is incredibly useful I would imagine and you don’t have to clothe them. So if that option is still on the table I’d be very keen to explore it, especially if ruling the seven kingdoms is part of the deal.
I don’t think I’m responding to this in the way people, and society, might expect me to. I’m supposed to be sadder, tense, more anxious. Like the way a Chihuahua always looks. But maybe I’m getting high off of knowing how much this phase is teaching me about myself and the world, that I’m in the process of becoming, and maybe I don’t want to rush out of that. Maybe I want to be so fully in this process of becoming more than I even want the result. Maybe that’s selfish, I don’t know. Maybe I want the idea of children, but not the actual reality. Maybe maybe maybe. Maybe I’m my own worst enemy. Probably. All I know is I’m ok. And I don’t pin my every hope and dream and fulfillment on my body’s ability to reproduce. I don’t think that’s the best thing that I as a person can offer the world. Maybe it’s one thing I can offer the world, who knows, but certainly not the only thing. And so maybe that’s why I live in this valley right now, this valley of uncertainty. I think it’s kinda pretty here, in an unconventional way. Even though the sun is a bit hot and it stings my feet and most other visitors want to leave as soon as they get here. But I’m not lonely, I always sort of enjoyed my own company, and maybe when you’re alone and feeling a bit uncertain you tend to look up at the sky more, and the way the sky looks from this valley is unexpectedly pretty special.
I just want to gather the wisdom and learn all the things that these situations are meant to teach. I’m being the studious pupil at the front of the class scribbling notes and raising my hand and using office hours and maybe smoking the occasional cigarette behind the gymnasium because nobody’s perfect, geez. I guess I’m trying not to rush through it as quickly as possible and risk missing the lessons. I’m trying to feel my way through. Trying not to scramble for the exit door out of fear and choose my closest possible lifeline. I’m trying to calmly sit in the burning intensity of it, like dipping your fingers into hot wax at candlelit restaurants and then, like a psychopath, slowly and deliberately peeling the wax off knowing that every second of the hot pain was worth it, because now you have a cute collection of dried wax clumps in the shape of your fingertips. But not just any dried wax clumps, like the ones you eventually put back into the candle because you’re afraid the waiter will see them on the table and think you’re an adult-sized toddler, but the kind of clumps you store away for later in life. Clumps full of wisdom and emotional fortitude and perspective. I am being given time here, and yet more space in the unknown, and I wouldn’t take that back for anything. I’m stronger and better able to see that happiness is relative and is not linked to some idea about what the future is meant to hold; it is simply and straightforwardly a choice. And my reaction to, and not the result of these circumstances really might be the more significant thing. Maybe it’s never been about the getting or the arriving, but just the becoming. Maybe everything, always, has just been about the becoming.
And so I’ve arrived at a juncture. Where old ways of thinking no longer serve me. It’s at this type of juncture where I finish thinking particular outcomes are in my control, and instead a peaceful surrendering process begins. Rucksacks and suitcases full of preconceived ideas are unloaded onto the side of the road before continuing the journey, and what’s left is just me. Which feels highly trepidatious, as I am naked, no longer clothed in my certainties and assurances, no longer superficially protected by false notions. But it is on this road, at this juncture, naked and utterly present, that I decide to hand over the reins. To whom I’m not certain; to the test tubes, God, Santa Claus, Robots, probably Oprah. The very act of passing them on has made me a lighter traveler, because I’m now free. Free of the baggage of expectation and comparison. Free of the weight of fear and self-doubt. I’m split wide open and walking into an uncomfortable abyss. And yet, I’m entirely whole and comforted.
It’s Oprah’s problem now anyways.
What if we were all content with our lives? If everything was just enough, right now, it was enough.
No following trends, no upgrades, no keeping up, no hearing that we need more, should want more, have to have more. No fear of inadequacy, no avoidance, no making up for our past or anxiety about the future.
What if a dusty old bottle of something hard and earnest human company were the only prerequisites for our entertainment?
If this were the collective reality, they wouldn’t be able to control us. We’d be so powerful they’d have to sit back and watch as we created the most vibrant communities. They’d try to tell us we’re not good enough and that we need this kind of product and that kind of lifestyle, but we’d just laugh.
We’d calmly tell them our self worth is not measured by corporate ladders or house size or social standing, but in our creative pursuits, our compassion, our willingness to express ourselves without fear and in our courage to be openly fallible out in the world. We’d wear our self-doubts like we wear our fashion and we’d show off our problems like we show off our Rolexes. Only the real would be visible and the empty and hollow would fade into oblivion like a dying ember. We’d be walking beacons of truth and sincerity, and they wouldn’t like it one bit.
We’d sit at our creaky old kitchen tables and they’d tell us we should get the newest one of these, it’s on sale, and we’d say, but a new table doesn’t have the names of our friends etched into the bottom of it. A new one doesn’t have the first coffee stain we made on it. And we’d comfortably sit at that old table with our insecurities laid bare and the messiness of our lives draped around us like a warm quilt, and everyone we know would meet us halfway across that table with their own beautiful messy quilts and together we’d drink what we find in the cupboard and eat vegetables from the garden and talk about who’s going to chop the logs and make the fire and most days we’d all smell of woodsmoke and pine and herbs.
They’d keep telling us that more is the answer and we’d say, what I’ve got is just enough. And with those six simple words, we’d probably take back the whole world.
When something is so perfect and beautiful that it’s actually achingly painful. Like reaching the top of a mountain and what you see before you is so astounding it resembles more a divine celestial realm than any comprehensible earthly physical place and your limited human brain needs a moment to process because you’re certain this must be the end of one existence and the beginning of another.
Old friends are like sipping hot tea on the sofa with the blanket wrapped around you and the dog curled up at your feet.
Like wandering through a creaky old bookstore and stopping in the quietest most private corner and knowing you could live right there in that little nook forever because somehow it feels like home.
They’re like a familiar song instantly transporting you to your past and your heart literally swells and then breaks at the very same time because you’ll never be able to physically go back there, to rewind and relive those shared moments that were so bursting at the seams with youthful, carefree, joyful perfection.
But then you realise that while you’ll never be able to repeat those perfect moments, you’re constantly making new ones, and these moments too will become the moments that are remembered longingly, and life is really just a string of these memories we look back on and discover that while we were busy looking back on all of the already-lived moments, we were living and creating different ones at the same time.
Maybe the magic is in learning how to be so present and aware inside the moments as they happen that time stands still enough for you to grab it and hold it tightly in your hands, hearing its every sound, seeing its every detail as clear as a crystal glistening in the brightness of a midday sky.
And as we turn our heads always looking at what’s behind us searching desperately for those perfect moments that once were, those objects in the mirror that are closer than they appear, I reckon they’ll never be as close or as real or as perfect as the moments right in front of us.
Navigating busy concrete streets that carry the weight of human ambition and restlessness, riding an overcrowded Piccadilly line so full to the brim with bodies it’s difficult to discern where your own limbs end and a stranger’s begins, hearing an urban soundtrack on repeat whose melodies sound like screeching car horns and creaky double decker bus brakes and the whir of countless voices as they each blow past on the pavement their thoughts hurtling out into the atmosphere in frantic bursts. As much as London can fascinate and inspire it too often tires me to the point where I urgently need to exit, to strip off the city-ness of it all and escape to somewhere more exposed, a place that’s filled with just as much possibility as it is nothingness. To scrub off the noise and movement and friction that has stuck to me like tar and walk directly towards a horizon where the sky opens up and the ground falls out and I am floating, completely alone with my thoughts and abstractions, and no one else’s limbs but my own.