Beach run

At dusk, a boy and his dog run on the beach at low tide.

A cool gentle breeze ruffles hair and fur as they fly over damp sand, huge beaming grins erupting on both their faces.

‘C’mon, girl!’ the boy calls over his shoulder. ‘Let’s go!’

The dog bounds up beside him, her ears flapping, her legs moving in perfect unison. She cannot remember ever having more fun than this, in this wonderful moment with her boy.

The early morning sunlight glistens on the blue sea like diamonds, and the salty scent of  water and weed fills their nostrils. The beach seems to flow on forever in one continuous sandy stretch – both boy and dog long to reach its end, to find out what lies at the tip of the boundary of both their worlds. But, nature has made them fallible.

The boy stops, out of breath, and rests his hands on his knees. The dog comes to a rolling stop at his feet.

‘Sorry, girl,’ he says, as he gently scrubs at her ears. She peers up at him, panting, her pink tongue flapping out of her face.

‘I just don’t have as much energy as you.’

After a brief moment of rest, the boy turns back to the dog.

‘What do you think, girl? Race you home?’

Tail wagging, with the boy’s laughter splitting the sky behind her, the dog races away back towards the beach’s entrance, water lapping at her paws.

As always, she’s the first one home.

The Gentle Last Song

At dusk, the breeze

blows gently through leaves

and the sun shines light orange

in a pale blue sky.

 

Everything is gentle, calm.

Even the birds; singing one last sweet song

before the great flutter of wings taking flight

seeking

a safe place to roost for the night.

 

The sun is at once more and less

than it might be at noon.

The sky at once bigger and bluer

and yet stiller,

as if waiting for the onset of millions

of tiny pinpricks of light

and the pale rocky face of the moon

that keeps sentry over all

sleeping things.

 

Dusk is the gentle last song of day,

the last orange burst of flame,

before night tenderly

snuffs it out.

Byron Bay and the Long Weekend Getaway

Last weekend, I took a Saturday off work and made the 3 hour journey south from Brisbane to Byron Bay. For those who’ve never been or never heard of it, it’s a famous beach side town in northern New South Wales held fondly in the hearts of surfers world over.

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Having never been before, I still had an expectation of what I’d find when I got there. You assume it’ll be laid back, pretty, and full of people with relaxed views of the world and tough views on people who care nothing for the planet or the environment. I think I can safely say I was right.

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The local community is a strong force in Byron. Everyone is concerned with the impact that tourists are having on the beautiful local beaches, the cleaniness and busyness of the town’s picturesque streets, and the unsavouryness of some of the people who holiday there. There have been arguments put forward about a bed tax, and then counter-arguments about the fact that the money never goes back into the local community and they see little to no benefit from it. It’s a quandary all areas high in tourist numbers face, and one we’re only going to hear more about in the future.

I think my favourite things about the area are the lighthouse and its extraordinary views, the adorable rock wallabies, the vegan restaurant called The Beet and it’s amazing menu, and the relaxed, surfy vibe that permeates the entire town. Who wouldn’t want to live there? And that’s 80% of Bryon’s problem.

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The glorious freedom of travel

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had this innate  burning desire to travel. To experience places I’ve never been, to do things I’ve never done. To go far outside what’s comfortable and familiar, and discover the new and the wonderful. It’s a joyous kind of freedom, the ability to travel, that’s only really a relatively new phenomenon when it comes to human beings.

But I think it’s about more than simply travelling to a new place – it’s a journey, and it involves learning so much about yourself that you’d otherwise never know. It’s about discovery, sure – the discovery of places, cities, history, and geography, but it’s also about self. You learn so much about who you are and what makes you you while travelling, since you’re put in different situations with different people and in places you’re unfamiliar with. You’re given the freedom to put the day to day bullshit aside and just learn to be you. To put it simply, to travel is to learn.

I think one of the most important lessons travel can teach you is to be true to yourself and the people you’re travelling with, and if you don’t think you can do that, you shouldn’t be travelling with them. You also have to adapt quickly and wear so many different hats. I’ve learned how to be a photographer, a cartographer, a budgeter, a planner, a life coach, a list maker, and so many other things. I’ve learned about compromise, about the value of honest, open discussion, and the beauty of simplicity.

On a recent trip to the UK, Ireland and Paris with my mum, I learned that generational gaps can be even more pronounced when travelling. I love to take a map and just walk a city, since it allows you to stumble upon tiny worlds known only by locals that are often overlooked by tour guides or pamphlets. You can get to the heart of a place, and discover what it is that makes people fall in love with it. This is made harder by taking your mother who has 30 years on you and tires much more easily. The lesson there? Next time I travel with mum, we’ll do a river cruise.

The healing power of books

If you’re a bibliophile, there’s no doubt that in times of stress or sadness, you’ve turned to books for solace.

Of course, there’s that obvious bit of reassurance you’ll get from reading about someone who’s been through what you’re going through, but it’s so much more than that.

When you’ve had an extremely shitty day and your life sucks beyond the telling of it, revisiting an old favourite and living awhile in that world you’ve loved for years is the ultimate form of escapism. For that short time, your problems are put to one side. You almost forget about finding that job, or that you’ve been single since the dawn of time. You can forget about your boss giving you a hard time, or that idiotic thing you said in a professional setting. Life gets a tiny bit easier; you’re with old friends now, who won’t judge you, who’ve known you all your life. Your problems might still be there when the book is finished, but you’re stronger for having read it, and maybe you’ll be better equipped to deal with them now.

Books are the ultimate refuge when other humans just won’t cut it.

I have a rotation of refuge books that help me, right across a spectrum of emotions.  They live on the bookshelf closest to my bed, right near where I lay my head at night. I have no idea if I thought I’d absorb the goodness by osmosis as I slept, or if I just wanted them within easy reach, but they’re all there, nice and tidy. Going into all of them would take probably a full decade, so here’s just a tiny snippet of them, in no particular order.

The Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling.

I’m betting this one is on a lot of lists of books people read when they’re undergoing some kind of emotional issue. The world of Harry Potter is just pure escapism. The drudgery of everyday life can really wear a person down, especially when you’re the type who loves a bit of magic, and has been searching for a source of it their whole life. Hogwarts was there for me as a teenager, which on its own is difficult enough. It’s been there through breakups, the end of friendships, problems with uni or job seeking, and just plain awful days. It’s also been responsible for the development of some of the best friendships I’ve ever had. I know I’m going to continue to revisit Harry and his wonderful, beautiful world well into my dotage.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

The Book Thief never fails to make me cry. It’s such a beautifully written book, full of gorgeous imagery and wonderful similes involving colour. Cloud-spat blue, for example, or the lemon of Rudy’s hair, or the silver-grey of Liesel’s papa’s eyes. You can lose yourself in the language, the unique perspective, or you can marvel at the bravery and resilience of a young girl who loves books and lives in Nazi Germany. That, or you can feel your heart break for the umpteenth time for Rudy, the best friend a girl could have. Plus, having a good cry sometimes can just be cathartic!

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will forever hold the title of funniest book ever written for me. Douglas Adams had a truly wonderful sense of humour – his writing was whimsical and ridiculous, but also incredibly intelligent. If ever I needed a laugh, the Hitchhiker’s Guide was there to provide smiles or just a witty, hilarious escape.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

The ultimate old favourite, about a plain girl who works hard and does actually get her happy ending. It’s a comforting book – there’s a lot of injustice to relate to and rile against, and a lot of insight into the life of a poor female in Victorian times. Jane herself is a wonderful character – despite her upbringing and her circumstances, she’s strong in the face of people of higher social standing who want to bring her down. She knows her own mind, and she has worked hard to better herself and put her mind to use. She knows her limitations and her strengths – she’s not beautiful, but she is smart, and she is willing to put in the work to make a decent life for herself. It’s admirable, and it definitely helps when inner strength is something you’re striving for yourself.

Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier.

Juliet Marillier is a writer of retold fairytales, and this version of Beauty and the Beast is one of my favourites. Caitrin is flawed but strong and smart, and running from her recent past when she meets Anulan, the supposed beast. He’s been isolated for so long due to a physical deformity and some supernatural goings on that he has no idea how to act around her, but the two form a friendship based on honesty and books, and eventually something more. It’s a powerful tale when you need to feel hope.

Which books do you feel the need to revisit when you’re sad, angry, or depressed? I’d love to know – I’m always after new recommendations!

Synesthesia: A New World of Colour

What colour appears in your mind when you think of the word mandible?

For most people, such a question has probably never occurred to them. Why would a word have a colour? Couldn’t mandible be any colour I wanted it to be?

The simple answer is no.

For 1 in 2000 people, this is just one of the many ways they process information and the world around them in general. It’s called Synesthesia, and it’s really quite fascinating.

What is it?

People who experience Synesthesia associate one type of stimulus (such as a number, a letter, a word, a musical note, or even a person) with something that may seem unrelated to everyone else (like a colour, a taste, or a scent).  They can’t explain why something has a certain colour or taste; it just does.

Interestingly, I’ve always noticed that I tend to associate people I know well with certain colours. That colour just appears in my mind when I think of them – my closest friend is a vivid purple, while another is a bright aqua blue. I’ve also done the same with my favourite words. For me, mandible is always red. Chocolate is purple. Magic is silver. Wonderful is a lime green. It’s not something I have to think about – whenever those words pop into my mind, the colour is there as well.

Why does this happen?

According to the University of California, Synesthesia is a result of cross-activitation between parallel centres of the brain that are involved with processing sensory information. Basically, two areas of the brain that lie closely together and that both work with sensory information get their wires crossed, producing a whole world of colour, scent, sound and taste. If, for example, a person with Synesthesia looks at the letter F and sees the colour green, it’s because the green colour perception area of their brain is being stimulated at the same time as their letter recognition area. They literally process one type of stimulus two ways. I think it’s amazing, since there are so many ways that people with Synesthesia experience the world around them.

Who has it?

There are actually a number of famous people, both living and dead, who have Synesthesia. A famous case is Franz Linszt, who would tell members of his orchestra to play notes ‘bluer’, or ‘deep violet, please!’ Geoffrey Rush, the Australian actor, sees numbers and days of the week as colours, while Billy Joel, Tori Amos, and Mary J. Blige see musical notes as colours just like Linszt did. Marilyn Monroe had a unique kind of Synesthesia, where she saw vibrations whenever she heard a sound. Finally, (and my favourite!) Vincent Van Gogh had a type of Synesthesia called Technique-timbre, where he associated the timbre of an instrument with colour or shape. He wrote letters to his brother Theo about this ability, and other artists with Synesthesia have been able to notice these shapes in his work.

It’s all wonderfully fascinating, especially since so many creative people seem to experience this, albeit in different ways. According to researcher Vilayanur Ramachandran, Synesthesia is 8 times more likely to occur among artists and other creative types of people than in other members of the population. Processes similar to blended sensory output might even underlie our general capacity for metaphor and creativity.

I’d love to hear more about other people who have Synesthesia, or at least think they might. How does it present itself for you?

 

 

Art and Mental Illness

I’ve always had a fascination with Vincent Van Gogh.

I know, it’s a little obvious – everyone loves his paintings, and his tragically short life makes for a moving story. Self-harming at 36, ending his own life at 37 – all the while creating an amazing body of work that amounted to nothing during his lifetime. It’s incredibly sad, and it’s been the inspiration for countless artists and writers.

What fascinates me most about Vincent though is his bravery.

Vincent spent his entire life moving from one occupation to another, from one woman to another, never finding whatever it was he was searching for. He came by painting honestly – his mother was a painter of watercolours based on nature – but he never obtained any sort of fame or acknowledgment of his talent. He suffered his entire life from depression and what we now know as Bi-Polar disorder, so any professional or personal set back hit him harder than most.

Despite all of this, despite never receiving anything remotely like positive feedback or celebration of his immeasurable talent, he continued to create.

To me, that’s incredibly brave. It takes a lot of heart to continue to pour so much of your soul, and so much effort, into something and receiving almost nothing in return. It takes a lot of bravery to continue to pursue art when so many have told you that what you’re producing isn’t good enough. When you’ve been told that you aren’t good enough. That definitely resonates with me.

As ever, his art seems like a compulsion.  He had all of these turbulent, violent emotions inside him and instead of raging at the unfairness of it all, he used them to create astounding works of beauty and colour. As a coping mechanism, it’s probably one of the best.

Recently I visited the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. There was a wonderful landscape exhibition near the entrance where a few of Vincent’s paintings were displayed alongside pieces from other artists like Paul Gauguin, Maurice Denis, Ferdinand Hodler, and Wenzel Hablik. Wandering around amongst the art, you couldn’t help but wonder what Vincent would make of it. His art had been belittled his whole life – would he be thrilled to finally have the recognition he deserved, or would he feel that his work wasn’t good enough to be presented alongside artworks from his more successful peers?

Whatever he might have thought, his Starry Night Over the River Rhone had pride of place in the centre of the exhibition, with every visitor stopping for as long as they could to take in what was, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful paintings in the entire building.

There’s a beautiful episode of Doctor Who entitled Vincent and the Doctor, where Amy and the Eleventh Doctor travel to rural France a year before Vincent’s death, to meet him. They find a brilliantly creative man prone to fits of violent emotion and deep despair, and take him into the future, to the Musee d’Orsay in the 21st Century, to show him how he’ll be remembered. It never fails to make me cry, but it also fills me with hope. It’s such a hopeful episode, and it’s everything that makes Doctor Who wonderful. What’s more, it’s a tiny window into what Vincent might have been like had his talent been celebrated like he deserved. It might not have changed anything for him. It might have made him a tad happier, or maybe a little braver in his choices.

In the end, Vincent was mentally ill. His mental illness was a huge part of him, and might have had a big impact on his art, or the way he created. Whether mental illness and creativity are linked is something often argued – in my experience, a creative person with a mental illness often uses their creativity as a coping mechanism and their illness as a motivator. With Vincent, the two are inexplicably linked.

New Starts and Storytelling

Introductions are always so awkward, aren’t they?

Instead of the usual boring block of text introducing myself and this blog, I’m going to begin as I intend to go on – by telling a story.

I was five, and had just started year one in primary school. I had a fascination with stones – smooth polished agate, amethyst, or smoky quartz. If it was pretty and shiny, I loved it. Being five, I also liked to put the stones in my mouth.

One weekend, I was hanging upside down from my swing set like the tiny little monkey I was. I had a pretty polished stone in my pocket, and I decided my mouth was the perfect place to keep it safe. Obviously, I swallowed it.

After the prerequisite trip to the doctor, I went back to school, where we were encouraged to write about what we had done on our weekends in our journals. Instead of sticking to the facts, I wrote a really simple story about swallowing the stone, how at its centre was a seed, and that seed grew into a tree in my belly, which in turn produced more and more trees. Instead of a stone, I now had a forest in my stomach. I drew a picture underneath of a tiny brown-haired girl with a giant tree in her middle.

It’s the first clear memory I have of properly writing down a story. I’ve since written and discarded so many ideas that might have eventuated into something more, if I’d had a little more patience. This blog seems like the perfect way to keep track of what I write, of patiently collecting ideas and snippets of prose, and maybe turning one of those ideas into something worth publishing.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, welcome!