Year of the Woman

I see Wisdom as a beautiful, elegant lady who lives in a stone seaside terrace in the Mediterranean. She wears a long silk dress, a single pendant necklace, and a dainty slight heal.

The front of her house grows in bougainvillea and she stands at the steps, inviting people to dinner. She has them over, prepares and lays a feast, and people laugh and laugh at the dinner. The wine is good, the lamb is good and the people feel worthy, valued and loved.

Wisdom ponders deep things, she loves beauty, she is strong and she loves to laugh. She prefers a sound statement to silver, she prefers good words to gold. I imagine her as someone who is happy to use her hands herself. She can pot and repot plants, she can mend a sweater, she loves using a workboard.

She knows when she needs to empty out. She knows how to breathe, how to fill her lungs, and how to exhale. She knows how good it is to get sun on the skin, to wash the day in the sea, to sit with a tea and look at the ocean.

She doesn’t need anyone else to grow into who she is. She doesn’t need to pass a ritual to enter her womanhood. She is already there. She takes on responsibility. She understands cause and consequence. Her life feels spacious. People enter her home for breath.

Wisdom emphasises the intrinsic goodness that comes from the simply life. “Better to be ordinary and work for a living, then act important and starve in the process,” she says.

She talks about the value of language. Better speak less, than speak words that do not give life, she says. “Rash language cuts and maims, but there is healing in the words of the wise,” she says.

“Many words rush along like rivers in the flood, but deep wisdom flows up from artesian springs.” The artesian springs neither run dry. They are deeply connected – to the source – and they never run out of water. We can always draw from the wall.

Wisdom says that those who follow their hearts, thrive. It can be easy to get wisdom mixed up with ‘right-doing’, that is a legalistic righteousness that falls upon a cultural framework, rather than pursuing righteousness for wisdom’s sake. Wisdom is far more stunning, far more nuanced and compelling than living out of legalism. The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life.

Wisdom calls for living out of desire. As children, we find it far easier to live out of desire. Somewhere along the road, it gets knocked out of us. We think we have to wear the right things, get the right degrees and read the right books. Not desire. Desire comes from a deep, internal place that is unique to each one of us.

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Thank you for the morning music

Every morning, I have a coffee at a cafe. It feels incredibly luxurious and it is my time with myself. I’m not a late night person and have not been that much of a jogger of late, so in the morning, I take 45 minutes to sit, to think, to write. All within the confines of a cafe.

With reflection as my project, the music in the cafe has a profound effect. I notice it: it makes me happy, frustrated or put my earphones in.

A new study conducted by the University of Hamburg on the impact of in-store music has found that the presence of such music, compared to its absence, resulted in mixed effects on a customer’s mood: sometimes positive, sometimes negative, and sometimes non-significant.

I am the sort of customer for which the impact is significant (which leads me to another study, that of the highly sensitive person for whom any form of music or noise will have an effect.)

So I write this to advocate for the effect of music in cafes. If coarse hip hop is playing at 7am, I feel stressed. If the music is subtle, soft, appropriate for the morning, I am rendered incredibly happy.

And that’s not to say I don’t like in-store Hip Hop music. It’s at 3:30pm and it’s time for a pick-me up, I’m all for it. There is a reason why elevator music is all smooth jazz. And why ColesRadio is generally pop. (It makes shopping more fun!)

There we go: my musing on morning cafe music.

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The abundance

Imagine this: everything I need is right here.

That sentence comes from Rob Bell’s Wisdom series. It’s an idea that has stuck with me over the past weeks. The idea of providence, abundance, divine flow.

I’ve taken back up Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, using it as a springboard for some self-navigated creative therapy. She affirms the idea there is enough, there is room for everyone.

This week she talked about how when after people have been hoping for something for a long  time, upon receiving it or the doors opening towards it, they often self-sabotage. As if we cannot believe it might be possible that our desire be satisfied, if not quenched. She talks about how some people feel so uncomfortable with the early stages of creative recovery that they shun it completely.

I can relate, to a different extent. If it looks like things are lining up, I’m more likely to believe it is too good to be true. It’s as if something within me puts up a wall when it looks like I might just get what I hope for. It’s like I can’t accept it for myself, like I need to expect life to be difficult, hard, more ‘real’.

Which is why I need to believe in the abundance. To believe that goodness comes from a place that doesn’t run dry.

I’ve been captivated by ideas of wisdom for a while now. Proverbs 18:4 talks about wisdom flowing up from an artesian spring (as opposed to words, rushing like a river flood). Artesian springs are geographically-designed as a well-spring; they do not run dry. And that’s more the way of the abundance. It’s more the idea of manna, of daily bread, of taking the thing and asking for the next.

In a month’s time, I’ll be setting up my life such that I’ll ask for my daily needs. I will have a roof over my head, and other daily life items in place, but will be far from the people I have spent time with for a while. I will be without the daily humdrum, though structure, of work, without much more than a couple of leads and a whole lot of desire to roll out the landscape and give space to something I have long deemed unworthy of such space.

In preparation, I’ve set myself Annie Dillard’s most recent book of essays, aptly titled The Abundance, as my reading. She has the observer’s eye and the mind to note such facts as ‘a ton of dust, generated by burned-out meteorites, falls like snow on to our planet every hour.’ To belong to the landscape rather than possess it as owner, is another idea she advocates – and that is the kind of providence we can seize if we open our eyes and ask for it. It can run through us, we can pass it on or pass it down.

Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way) talks a lot about creative flow. Her ideas lead me to believe I am a vessel. My creativity is about something bigger than myself. God has no problem with giving me bucket-loads of creative fodder. He is not anxious that I will get on some sort of conceited high – and therefore close doors or whatever it be to humble me – no, if I believe in the providence, I believe what I am giving not about me. I didn’t earn it.

The famous Beatitudes record Jesus’ counter-cultural paradoxes: ‘blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.’ Christopher Page unpacks it beautifully in his blog so well-titled In a Spacious Place.

It is hard to be gentle when you are responsible for running the show or when you have to look out for yourself all the time and keep your guard up. Gentleness does not work well in a world of anxiety and fear where everyone is fighting desperately for his or her little piece of a pie that feels far too small….

… inheriting the earth means being fed and nourished in the depths of our being so that we can be sustained even when external things let us down.

It is the gentle people who are sustained because they are willing to let go. Having come to the end of striving, grasping, demanding, needing, craving, and longing, they have learned to trust and to live in response to the inner prompting of God’s Spirit.

In my imagination, I see abundance as these deep conical flask that opens into the earth. I can draw out of it, and keep drawing, and there is still enough. It is like the artesian well.

And while I believe in drawing, seeking, asking, I also believe in eyes opening to what is all around. In John Eldredge’s book Desire, he writes of a friend emailing him to state an indescribable beauty he witnessed that week. Eldredge affirms and validates that beauty as an antidote to grief and as a herald of the great restoration.

We need not fear indulging here, he writes, the experience of beauty is unique to all the other pleasures in this: there is no possessive quality to it. Just because you love a landscape doesn’t mean you have to acquire the landscape.

This is what I am coming to know as the abundance.

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The Third Place

A friend recently pointed out that the cafes I spend so much time in function as the ‘third place’. He named something I have long believed in, but never had language for.

In community building terms, the third place is a social setting that is neither the home (the first place) or work (the second place). As an extroverted introvert, or a rather social writer, cafés are the place I feel I can spend time alone in community.

The third place is a home of civic engagement. It’s a place that is neutral – the one thing holding its patrons together is a desire to drink coffee in the same building. (I also have many thoughts on the role of public institutions or free places of being, like libraries, but I will go with the café as the third place for now).

According to Ray Oldenberg’s book The Great Good Place, there are a number of hallmarks that make up the third place: it is free or inexpensive; has food and drink; is highly accessible; involve regulars; is welcoming and comfortable; and old and new friends can be found there.

These are the hallmarks which make up a pub, probably, but I still feel that pub tradition is still very male-dominated. And one of the biggest draw factors of the café as the third place is that it is a place of ideas. It is not uncommon to read the newspaper there. In fact, most people read there, if not invested in conversation. You are allowed to write. It is not uncommon to journal. You can do solitary activities in a public space. And you can talk about your solitary activities in the third place – this is where the germination of ideas occurs.

The third place involves regulars, and that is crucial to a sense of place and community building. The incidental bump-ins are key to building up connection. Its the part of village life that I feel we were always meant to live. But in an individualistic society, dominated by sprawling suburbs and car-dominated cities, we’ve been stripped of the ability to connect.

The café suddenly functions as the third place. And my favourite mornings are spent there. I will arrive early to journal, read, then see a friend. I will be most excited when my activities are interrupted by regulars or old and new friends who have spontaneously visited. The café becomes my extended lounge room where I host people, where I bump into people I didn’t expect. And I love it.

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bourke st

This year I lived on Bourke Street. Much of the year I walked through fragile and fragmented. I often have thrown myself into moving forward: new house, new church, whatever. That was January. In February, I found solace walking the length of the tree-lined street.

My first walk along it, I was so sad, heavy-hearted. I walked slowly, observing every crevice and corner: the police station, the orthodox church, the types of trees. I felt so happy when I looked from my front door of what would be my new view. The jacaranda would blossom in November, the jasmine would herald Spring.

As autumn fell, my walks through Surry Hills diminished. I found myself a little shattered and without structure to fill my days. I went to a new cafe, took my laptop, ordered a large flat white. I sunned my legs in supergas while I scanned the news, looking for stories or jobs. I loved those mornings. I loved my coffee. I loved the autumn leaves in the sun. Afternoons were harder, but for the kindness of close friends, and in particular, the boy.

Soon my walk began again, meandering along Baptist, down Cleveland Street. I listed to Kurt Vile and Max Richter, music we’d danced to at the class by the wharf. Those classes were hard and I got worse instead of better as other things cluttered my mind. But for the music, which I listened to every morning but Tuesdays when my best friend called to chat.

In moments, I felt inspired by the ins and outs of the literary industry. Other times, I’d cry, call him to help me resize an image or learn how to place a file on InDesign. Most of the time I was tired. I walked to Jones St for more coffee and a muffin. I walked it back off on the way home, listening to the songs again.

On Tuesday nights, I wanted to help the marginalised in the city which cast people out who hadn’t made it. But I was often too burdened in myself, and often ended up attacking those closest to me. The late nights praying was what held me together by a thin thread. I began slowly to see in pictures. Steadily, I fumbled trusting my gut; was confused by what ‘the right thing’ was, and ended up having weekly conversations.

A call from someone I knew meant facing some shame – the feeling I was returning somewhere unaccomplished. Elena Ferrante’s books didn’t help, so I set them aside for a time. I referred to the new place as my convalescence, a place where I could rest for a while. My days moved with structure and at ease. I moved cafes, drove my car, and relegated my Bourke Street walks to weekends.

I took them on Saturday afternoons or Sunday mornings, talked to the barista, skipped out on coffee. I was tired of being anxious so decided to try breathing. Every time I thought of him, I’d take a deep breath. Breathing proved fruitful and I turned to self-examination, each morning, conducting ‘gardening of the mind’. Sometimes what I found was hideous, over dinner with my family, it reared its resentful head. My mornings I found grace cupping my hands around the coffee, attempting the most inconspicuous worship.

I began feeling connected to those around me, enjoyed it when colleagues said hi. I felt empowered by all the gardening – I began to feel I was growing. One warm August morning, I walked three suburbs in an hour, thought to myself, ‘what a good time I’m having’. The next morning, I asked if he’d like to go to church. He said yes. We ended up kissing, and trying again.

For consecutive weeks, we met on a Saturday to date. I struggled with the ambiguity and how much to give of myself within these constraints. But even now, when I look back over it, I reflect with incredible fondness. While I got stronger inside, some things did not cease to clash. We were so tired by it all.

In September, we were at hospital, and the grief from years back rolled in, sometimes stronger, sometimes uglier – when I thought I’d moved away from it all. Grief leaked in strange ways and I found myself usually crying to him. I listened to a podcast, found great catharsis, and was reminded of all the people who loved me.

The next months, I tried cultivating wisdom, giving life and relationships their best opportunity. I held back reacting and enjoyed the present. Sometimes it felt like we were trying completely different tactics, I ended up resigning to the fact.

More recently I’ve been thinking of that annoying dog that barks on the end, walked by the old man with a limp towards Cleveland Street. I think of the images I had when I sat at the cafe, when we’d first left. That morning after, how I felt my feet, so solidly on the ground.

The Jacaranda did bloom, and the Jasmine sang spring. I got new slightly-too-big shoes, walked to my car in them, and slowly, felt stronger. My imagination was swept up in new/old pictures, and I walk the street with them, thinking of a river making glad these city streets. Now I lay in bed, my window open to the breeze, I think of the wind, blowing up across Bourke Street; opening the doors, telling me I am somewhere new.

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morning

It’s Sunday morning and the light’s pouring in from the skylight. It makes stripes across the white linen, so bright it’s hard to sleep again. I want to sleep in. It’s Sunday after all. But I can’t, so I walk to the kitchen, make Vegemite toast for two and come back to bed with toast and coffee. Now I’m flicking through the newspaper in bed.

Wil’s been dreaming for some time now. He’s tossing and turning, but doesn’t seem stressed. He’s on a ride of a dream or something.He’s got his eyes closed firmly and I can see his comfortable. Comfortable to create in the void of early morning dreaming.

I’m feeling half alive, flicking through the paper. I put my thumb on pages to mark them. Carefully tabbing the ones I want to come back to. Waves of frustration come through as I read the headlines that the newspapers seem full of today. Lists, how-to’s and trendy gelato combinations. Maybe I should pick up a book instead.

I’m in the in between space again. Classes have wound up for the year. And wil and I are off soon on holiday. Work has become a little monotonous and I’m fighting back from beginning the next thing. Knowing the next thing is coming swiftly and I need not overwhelm myself. One thing at a time.

Wil’s rolling over now. One eye open then two. I go out of the room, pour a second coffee. He’ll be up soon. I walk back in. Put the things down. Sneak under the covers. And he’s up.

“Morning.”

“Morning.”

“How’d did you sleep?”

“Good”

“You looked so happy in your morning dreams.”

“Yeah.” He rolls over. “And now I can’t even remember what happened.”

“Mmm”

“Mmmm. Me either.”

“I love the nothingness of sleep. I love sailing in the void.”

“It’s nice isn’t it.”

“Peaceful.”

“I want to stay there forever. Kind of.”

“Kind of.”

He props himself up on the bed. Rubs his eyes.

“But you know I’m quite comfortable with the void. I’m quite comfortable resting in the nothingness.”

He philosophies slowly, calmly.

“I’m sure if it wasn’t nothingness it would be hard to stay asleep.”

“Mmm. It’s funny. Because I suppose in that time we are also doing a lot of creating. A lot of thought processing.”

“Yeah.”

“Gardening in the mind.”

“Sure.”

“Sailing through space.”

“Is that what you were doing?”

“Maybe.”

“Maybe.”

“It’s nice though. It’s funny.”

“What’s funny?” He sits up and takes a sip of coffee. I crunch on my cold Vegemite toast. Slip under the covers. He puts his cup down.

“It’s funny how we talk about the American dream. And it’s this thing we come up with, maybe while we’re sleeping. Then we wake up and try and get it.”

“Sure.” I’m tired. He’s suddenly quite awake.

“No but it’s funny how like we all think if we have this dream then we can go out and achieve it. Like we dream something in the nothingness of the night. And then we try and make something tangible of it during the day.”

“Yeah?”

“Is that what they talk about when they talk about chasing their dreams? No but like really. I mean we believe them. Think of the impact of Gatsby.”

“Did he get what he wanted?”

“I don’t think that really matters. It’s just that people believe they can achieve what they set their mind to.”

“Sure.”

“But do we really want gatsby? I think the more I think about it, what I want is quite different to what everyone else wants. I mean. Can I trust what I come up with in the early hours of the morning?”

“I don’t think that’s really what they are talking about when they talk about those kinds of dreams.”

I take another bite of my toast. The light pours in, blinding my eyes. I squint.

“Hmmm.”

“Hmmm.”

“But I do think that thinking about something, talking about something eventually makes us accountable to doing something with it.”

“Maybe that’s where it comes from.”

“I’m not sure.”

I readjust myself with the sheets. It’s warm and the covers are too hot.

“Well I think for me right now I just want to rest. I don’t want to dream up to much right now. I think I’m quite comfortable in the void.”

“Comfortable in the void. Hmm.”

“I mean I want things. I want growth and life and movement and stuff. But I guess I just hope that will come. Or maybe that it will self create as I rest.”

“Like dreaming at night?”

“Sure.” I lay back down more comfortably.

“Do you remember a little while ago when we were up on the roof looking at the stars?”

“Yeah.”

“Well I was reading something the other day that reminded me of our conversation. You know, about locking in our movement to the movement in the universe?”

“I remember.”

“Wait, let me find it.” I shuffle through my books at the bedside table to see where I have folded the page. “It says, ‘It is possible, in deep space, to sail on solar wind. Light, be it particle or wave, has force. You rig a giant sail and go. The secret of seeing is to sail on solar wind.'”

“Mmm. I love that.”

“Me too.”

“It’s like that W H Auden poem. You know that one I love. ‘Who showed the whirlwind how to be an arm, And gardened from the wilderness of space, The sensual properties of one dear face?'”

I twirl my ring around my finger. “Yeah. It is.”

“Comfortable with the void.”

“Comfortable in the void.”

“And dreaming in the void.”

“Yes but also resting.”

“We can worry about reality later.”

“Yeah. But I do want to lock into that movement. That sailing on solar wind.”

“Yeah that’s nice.”

“Okay I’m gonna close my eyes again.”

“Okay.”

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an essay on movement.

For those who may have followed my stories on Wilson and Azelea, you might know that the ideas of the spiral, the labyrinth, the garden and the sky have all been common themes. A group of  my friends and I are in the process of putting together a magazine to inspire movement. I felt it was an appropriate space to theorize my stories a bit. I am hoping to write one more story to complete the series. So here is some theoretical background to my creative thoughts. 

 

What is movement? It is growth: longing, reaching and forward motion. It is to stretch out and expand. It is to inhale and contract. It is to die and be reborn. Movement is not in linear progression; in the journey of a to b. It’s not a ladder to climb, or boxes to tick, or weigh down in papers of things achieved. Movement instead is growth. Growth within the circle of time. It is growth in circles and patterns, like the spiral imprinted on your fingertip. It is non-linear. It is continuous.

This type of movement is akin to the pattern of the labyrinth. The labyrinth is a unicursal single path pattern, which leads towards the centre.

In the Greek mythology, the labyrinth was an elaborate structure designed by the legendary artificer Daedalus for King Minos of Crete. Its function was to hold the Minotaur, a mythical creature that was half man and half bull. Daedalus had made the labyrinth so cunningly, and intricately that he could barely escape it once built. It was only when Ariadna provided him with a skein of thread, “the clue” that he could make his way out again, by following it.

Throughout medieval tradition, the labyrinth pattern has been redefined. As opposed to a maze, and even perhaps the cunningly designed pattern of Daedalus, the labyrinth has an unambiguous route that is not difficult to navigate. The pattern has been used throughout history with resurgence in the middle ages. The pattern was carved into gardens, was seen on ancient cretan coins, and was present on floor tiles in cathedrals across France, Scandinavia and England. The labyrinth patterns were designed as routes around a shape, with famous patterns such as the rose and the cross being at the centre.

History tells us that the Jesuits used to walk these patterns in the morning, and in the evening in a process of reflection. Following the pattern was a metaphor for following the path of life. Within this idea, life began at the entry of the pattern, at the foot of the cross, and ended at the centre, at the bosom of the Father.

If we consider movement then, beginning in a garden in the form of a labyrinth, all our ideas about genesis and growth happen within the circle of time. If we believe that man was born a gardener, and his first work was to tend to the earth against the map of the seasons and the stars then life is more cyclical than we in the Greek tradition had imagined.

Indeed it is in the Greek tradition that we take life to be lived as a linear succession: event after event, centred on time. If life began in the Garden, and according to the Judeo-Christian tradition, is moving towards a City, then we can look at time as based on context rather than on event. In the Jewish tradition, events are based on context, the day that the Lord did something, rather than a plotted progression of days. Movement is based on a collective motivation towards something, rather than an individual success.

Yet just as movement is collective: a group of people toward one cause, it is also individual. It is motion in art, rhythm in music. Movement requires the individual action within the scope of time. In 1945, WH Auden wrote his poem ‘in Sickness and in Health’. Herein he wrote,

“Who showed the whirlwind how to be an arm/ and gardened from the wilderness of space/ the sensual properties of one dear face?/”.

Commenters say that Auden wrote this poem at a time when he was making crucial life decisions. The decision to marry. The decision to move countries. The decision to follow Christ. As much as the poetry represents creationism – the mirroring between earth and sky, God and man – it also represents movement. It suggests that movement is not a mere stroll down a garden path, but is an intentional carving of lines and pattern within creation.

Henri Bergson claimed that the essence of time lies in the movement of creation, of life and growth. In his Creative Evolution he argued, “Every living being is cast like an eddy in the current of life.” If you stop for a second to pause on the eddy, you might think of the earth in its orbit, the Milky Way in its spin.

You might think of the clock that turns as babies grow in a round red womb. You might imagine the baby, with milky skin coming out to the cold world, ready to be rocked and swayed in motion. Ready to continue its rounded orbit.

Educational philosophers say that the first shape a child recognizes is a circle. It recognizes the circles in its parent’s eyes, the round corners of their faces. Understanding time then, makes sense moving around a clock, or a sundial rather than up a ladder.

We were born to recognize circles and patterns and seasons.

Bergson says that we are inclined to treat the living being that has spiraled in upon itself as an externally bounded object, or as a container for life. Perhaps to continue its growth elsewhere.

Yet Bergson claimed that life is not contained in all things. It is movement itself wherein every organism emergences as a peculiar disturbance that interrupts the linear flow. These organisms happen to feign immobility so that we are deceived into treating each “as a thing rather than as a progress, forgetting that the very permanence of its form is only the outline of a movement. (1911: 135)” Human beings have their own course of movement within the scope of nature and creation.

Anthropologist Tim Ingold in his essays on Perception put forward the conception of the human being as a singular nexus of creative growth within a continually unfolding field of relationships. This process of growth, he suggested, is tantamount to a movement along a way of life. A peculiar life-infused movement is what exists within a human being, against a background of creation, progress and growth.

And even within this movement, the human was also created to dwell. The Old Testament of scripture talks about the potters that “dwelled among the plants and the hedges: there they dwelt with the king for his work” (1 Chronicles 4v23). You can imagine the potters dwelling among the hedges, like the Jesuits wandering along the labyrinthine garden.

Renowned philosopher Heidegger argued was known for his work on the concept of ‘to dwell’. In his writings, he argued to recover the original meaning of the word. From behind the narrow, modernist identification of dwelling with occupation or consumption, he hoped to restore it to its original and primary meaning as being: encompassing the entire way in which one lives one’s life on the earth.

To then talk of movement, in structural terms under the Greek mindset, one must dwell in order to move or build. Heidegger said, “Only if we are capable of dwelling, only then can we build.”

It certainly feels countercultural to view life as movement and growth, along a garden path where one must dwell, in order to build. There is an emphasis on rest before building. There is an emphasis on understanding the nature of seedtime and harvest. Of stretching out and expanding, then contracting and breathing in.

Yet this is movement and it only takes looking to the sky and the earth to see how the human eye mirrors the nebulae in space. How the wind moves like the spiral galaxy, and how human life exists in this opening and closing.

Perhaps in the eddy of life, the human being winds towards the centre of the labyrinth to the bosom of the father. Or, to the single rose that is left in the garden. And the circle forms, the chapter complete, the spiral narrows like a spring.

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