Nourished Life: Small Great Things

All of my life I have wanted to do great things. I have felt that somehow my life was only worth measuring by impressive feats and grand achievements. I felt that I needed to ‘make something’ of myself in order to prove that I was worth being here, worth the love and support that my family and friends have always given me. I had to do great things: be famous, be out there, be a leader, be an overachiever. In high school I was ‘the smart girl’. I achieved academically and I was lucky because I love to learn. As my sister says “studying is what we know how to do.” I was doing great things in my little arena, my little community of students, teachers, and parents.

When I went to university that community grew exponentially. I struggled. I was now average in a group of people who excelled. I went through some difficult adjustments during those university years. I was lost when I wasn’t the one who was being held up for doing great things. Who was I if I wasn’t doing great things to the applause of the people I looked up to? Was I ever going to achieve great things again? Those were difficult years and it was only through the love and support and intervention of my friends and family that I survived.

When I left university I found work that I loved. I was helping people, making a difference in their lives, and that made a difference in mine. I was confident again. I was doing something great for the world.

I had adventures overseas. I had stories that were worth telling. I felt like I was doing great things.

Last year I lost the job that I loved. I was adrift. I am still adrift. Who am I if I am not doing great things for people? Who am I if I am not making a difference to the world? Who am I now that I sit in a cubicle from 8 til 5?

I am not doing great things if you measure my life against the great people of the world. I am living a small, simple, and mostly happy life. I struggle with my new reality sometimes. I want to stand up and say things and be counted, but who am I to make a fuss, I am not doing great things.

When I saw this inspiration on Clementine Daily it was like a message from the universe. A message to relax, to see my life as valuable and worthy even without the ‘great things’ that I feel I should be doing instead of what my life is now; a message to understand that doing small things with great love, great commitment, great passion, is just as important.

I feel this is the key to a settled heart. To live my life doing small things in a great way. I may not be winning an Oscar, but I can win a smile from my sister with a well-timed joke; I may not have my own cooking show, but I can bake something to warm the hearts of my workmates; I may not be on the New York Times Bestseller list (yet, I’m still holding out for that one) but I can write here, share my passion for words and storytelling with the world on my little space here on the web.

I will do small things in a great way. Because these are the things that touch the hearts of the people you love the most. And that is a great thing.

(I promise I will be back with some cookies tomorrow)

Twenty-Seven Thoughts for Twenty-Seven Years

Fair warning: this post is long. Read it in chunks. Read only a little. Read the whole lot. Let me know what you think.

Yesterday I turned twenty-seven. That’s only three years away from thirty, and a whole decade since I graduated high school. Scary, huh?

Last night I finished the last page of the journal I have been writing in for the past two years. A lot has happened since I turned twenty-five; those pages are weighed heavy by the highs and lows of a woman-in-progress. And though some of the events left scars on my heart, others have turned me into a firework sparking through the night sky. I would like to believe that none of those moment, those highs and lows, have been in vain. I would like to believe that I have learned from each of them and used that experience to inform my choices as I moved through my life.

Twenty Seven Thoughts

My birthday always gives me a lot of pause for thought and today to mark the beginning of my life as a twenty-seven year old I am sharing with you my twenty-seven thoughts about life.

1. Take care of your family. Let them know that you love them. ‘Blood is thicker than water’ does not mean you can ignore or mistreat the people closest to you on the DNA tree and then expect them to support you when you come running home. Be careful with their hearts and show them how much they mean to you every day.

2. Keep your heart open – love is waiting in unexpected places. Someday that person might just pull up a barstool next to you and sweep you off your feet with their sense of humour, quick wit, and sparkling green-eyed smile. You need to be open to that. Take a chance on love because you never know where it might lead.

3. Read. Lots of things. All the things. Never stop. Words and knowledge are power. The right words will cripple you, tear you down, and build you back up again. Be greedy in your consumption of words and nourish your soul and your mind.

4. Eat well. Eat all the things. Eat cookies and kale. Eat in celebration and in moderation. Eat the healthy and the not-so-healthy. Eat the way that feels right to you. Eat kindly to yourself and the planet.

5. Adopt a dog (or a cat or a goldfish or heck, even a salamander). Give life to someone who has been rejected and they will return the love ten-fold. You have never known unconditional love until you come through the door to someone who is happy because you just showed up.

6. Run or walk or swim or cycle. Let your heart pump blood through this body you have been gifted.

Twenty Seven thoughts 27. Be thankful. For the big things and the small. Say it out loud – people don’t hear it enough anymore.

8. Be grateful. Find something each day, even the smallest thing on the worst day, and be grateful for it. Write it down and read over the list on the days when gratitude is the hardest.

9. Be humble. Don’t live your life simply in the pursuit of praise. Live your life in pursuit of making someone’s day easier without them even knowing.

10. Be boastful. Shout your loved one’s and your friend’s achievement from the rooftops. Tell the world of their amazingness.

11. Hold on tight. We are nothing without each other. We are everything together. The world will try to tear you down enough with its ebbs and flows. Hold on tight to those around you and we can weather any storm.

12. Know when to let go. Anger, humiliation, grief, and pain all have their place in life, but don’t let them become your whole life or you will wither from the poison they send forth.

13.Make friends. Fall in love with your friends. You will know amazing, awesome, creative, caring, intelligent people when you come across them. Make them your friend and never let them go (see number 11).

14.Create something. Write a book, paint a picture, plant a garden, rebuild an engine, make a person – leave the planet a little richer than you found it.

15. Save your money. Extravagance is not always the right thing. Sometimes you just need a kitchen table, a pot of pasta, and the best people you know in order to have the best night of your life.

16. Spend your money. Give to charity. Be independent of your parents. Pay your bills. Buy a little something for someone to brighten their day, sometimes that someone is yourself.

17.Find something to believe in. Is that God? Is that science? Is that other people? Find a belief in something outside yourself that will keep you here when everything else fails.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

18. Get outta here! Travel. Place yourself firmly outside your comfort zone and watch yourself thrive. Learn how others live. Listen to their stories. Take the lessons back to your own life.

19. Love where you are. Home is where the heart is, but sometimes loving the place takes time. Invest in where you are. Seek the hidden treasures and the path less travelled in your own hometown. I am still working on this one.

20. Be the change you wish to see in the world. You don’t have to end all the wars, but you can spread peace in your own life, your own community. Imagine if we all made our own little corner a little better. Now that’s crowdsourcing.

21. Learn the rules. Learn which ones to break and which ones to make a fundamental practice in your life. Colouring inside the lines? Overrated. Saying thank you to a waiter? Essential.

22. Respect the humanity of everyone you come across. The person cleaning your office deserves just as much respect and dignity as the person who signs your pay cheque, and in some cases, so much more. Would you walk a mile in their shoes? Show some respect for the road they are on.

23. Laugh. At yourself, with other people, at the funny, the not so funny, and sometimes the sad. Just never lose your ability to laugh. Life really is funny if you let it tickle your funny bone.

DSC01515

24. Cry. Sometimes there is nothing to do but let the tears wash away the blues. Let yourself feel the feeling and let it flow.

25. Take big walks. This is slightly different to number 6. Big walks aren’t just for exercising the body: they are for exercising the heart and soul. Big walks are where you tackle the big questions you are afraid to ask yourself in the confines of a room. Big walks are where you stride alongside your sister and pour your heart out and listen to her wisdom. Big walks are where you hold hands with the one you love and stare at the sky in awed silence that in this vast universe you found your heart’s match. Big walks are where you plot and plan what you want your life to be and where you want to wander.

26. Work hard for your dream. Find something you want to do with your life and do it with all your might. Stay up late, get up early and keep hustling in pursuit of your dream.

27. Make time for rest. Put your feet up, lay your head on someone’s lap and look around at your life. Be mindful of the moment when you stop and just let yourself float into the atmosphere chasing the nothingness of a lazy afternoon. Let yourself have a Sunday.

These are things I have learned, that I am learning, that from my twenty-seven year old perspective seem important for living an authentic life: a thoroughly nourished life.

The Truth about Thoroughly Nourished Beauty

Yesterday I forgot my make-up. I was halfway to work when I realised that I hadn’t put a single thing on my face that morning but some very simple vitamin e cream to soothe my winter-running chapped cheeks. I felt naked. I felt exposed. I am not ashamed to admit that I even pulled into two separate service stations/ convenience stores on my way to work just to try and find some mascara.

Let me pause for a moment here to establish the baseline for this beauty-centric story.

I do not usually wear much make-up, in fact, my definition of my “work face” is just mascara and some translucent powder – see not much. I have gone days without brushing my hair, and the only regular beauty regime that I stick to is ensuring I wash my face every night and apply vitamin e cream. No fancy jars of things to plaster on my face; I don’t own concealer or blush or even foundation. My little sister still has to apply my eyeliner for me when I put on my “fancy face” (otherwise known as date face, wedding face, girl’s night out face…you get the picture).

So I was disturbed when I found myself sitting at my computer yesterday morning with a low level of panic racing in my chest because of the absence of my barely-noticeable beauty routine.

How had I become a woman who worries about having make-up on before she goes to work? Where did this deep-seated need to apply artificial colours to my face come from?

The Toilet of Venus ('The Rokeby Venus') 1647-51, Diego Velázquez. The National Gallery, UK

The Toilet of Venus (‘The Rokeby Venus’)
1647-51, Diego Velázquez. The National Gallery, UK

I don’t think that I can place all the blame on society. I gave up buying and subscribing to fashion magazines over a year ago. I threw out all the old issues that had lined my shelves and the cut-outs that had at one stage been my ‘thinspiration’ when I was trapped deep within the web of an unhealthy relationship with my body and food. But still, how can we deny the evidence that everyday woman (and men too) are bombarded with advertisements, magazines, ‘current affairs’ shows, and packaging that tells us if we only bought the product, followed the diet, paid money to someone to inject plastic or neurotoxins (looking at you Botox) into our faces/butts/who-knows-where, then we too could be beautiful and happy. Notice that the beautiful always comes before the happy.

Why on earth should beautiful come before happy? Beautiful people are not always happy; in fact, some of the most beautiful people on earth are the most miserable in their hearts. Happy people however, are nearly always beautiful. Why should we not work on happiness, inner beauty, the worth of our soul and connection to other people before we start worrying about how the veneer looks? Buildings are not constructed facade first. Foundations are laid. Deep pools of cement reinforced with steel are poured into the earth, strong struts of steel and stone and wood climb high into the sky laced with crossbeams and girders that share the weight and the pressure.

Woman Plaiting Her HairPablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881–1973). MoMa Collection

Woman Plaiting Her HairPablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881–1973). MoMa Collection

We should build ourselves in this way. This is the true beauty secret: thoroughly nourished beauty. Pour your soul deep into the loving earth. Connect with the very heart of yourself. Be strong in the love you have for your own person before you start reaching for the sky. Join hands and hearts and lives with the people around you. They will keep you strong when the winds howl and the earth shakes and your very foundations are in peril. They are the ones who will see the beauty in how strongly you are attached to life, how caring you are to other people, and this is the beauty that shows on your face, on your heart. The beauty that never fades despite line and times and forgotten mascara.

This is the beauty that makes your beloved turn to you in the morning and tell you how gorgeous you are even when you have bed hair and your glasses on and are wearing nothing more than a smile. This is the beauty that is a platinum patina on your heart. This is the beauty that is shared between people, not the beauty that separates based on aesthetics. There is no foundation in the world that can mask the scars of an ugly heart. No lip-plumping gloss that will make up for unkind words and disrespect of another’s viewpoint. No implant for a soul that never learned to love and accept and hope and seek and dare and fail and try all over again.

Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau) John Singer Sargent  (American, Florence 1856–1925 London) Metropolitan Museum of Art

Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau)
John Singer Sargent (American, Florence 1856–1925 London)
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Let this be our new beauty regime, our new beauty secret, or our aesthetic philosophy, whatever you wish to call it: beauty starts within. Learn to be happy. Learn to give to others. Learn to forget what your face looks like and worry about the shape of your heart. Learn to nourish yourself and others: heart, mind, body, and soul. Learn to put happy before beautiful and apply liberally every day.

Writing: The Dragon of Creativity

Over the past six months I have been interning at a not-for-profit writer’s organisation. I have absolutely loved my time there and I am sad that I only have two weeks left with a great team and helping out with whatever tasks they have thrown my way.
One of the best things about this internship, other than getting some valuable industry experience for my master’s degree, has been just spending time around other writers – people who are passionate about the craft of writing, and the beauty of words and story.

I come from a family and group of friends who value books. I grew up in a house where the walls are covered in bookshelves, and there isn’t a room that isn’t decorated with some sort of published material. My Mum and Dad have always used words like ‘facetious’ (OED: Treating serious issues with deliberately inappropriate humour; flippant.) and obtuse (OED: annoyingly insensitive or slow to understand) even when we were too little to understand, let alone spell, these words. They fostered in me a love of the depth and breadth of the English language, and to this day I love to use words to illustrate my experience of the world we live in. I see no point in playing down a well-rounded vocabulary, or ignoring a word because it might make you sound like you swallowed a dictionary. Some days you aren’t merely happy you are jubilant or ecstatic; other days sad isn’t going to cut it because really you are just melancholy, or you have really descended into depression and become disconsolate.
These words have purpose, they came about for a reason, and that is to express how we feel, what we see, what we think. So use your words.

I loved words. I love to sing them and speak them and even now, I must admit, I have fallen into the joy of writing them. 

Anne Rice

While I have been interning I felt like I have found another tribe I belong to – alongside my running tribe, my baking tribe, my blogging tribe, my English murder mystery TV show tribe. I feel that I have found a creative tribe: people who love words and storytelling and believe in the power of being able to write and create worlds and characters and then send that out into the great published void for others to enjoy.

When I went back to study last year I woke the sleeping dragon of creativity that had been dormant within me for some time. Now, she is hungry. Everything is a possible story. Every landscape begs to be populated with characters or stripped down to its essence and rebuilt as something entirely new. I feel the buds of new beginnings, stories to be told, growing beneath my fingertips or at the blunted tip of my pencil. I have spoken about my deeply-held desire to be a writer, no not just a writer: a storyteller, a dream-weaver, someone who plucks possibilities from the air and creates something, someone, entirely new with only the border of a page to limit me.

My long-term, one day, maybe someday, dream is to write full-time. For now I know every writer must serve their apprenticeship. There must be time to chip away at the coalface and haul up buckets of rough stone before you reach the diamonds concealed below. I am at peace with this. I feel the need to write, to be creative running through my veins, but I am a willing apprentice.

What would I write? Oh, everything: fantastical stories of human courage and magic; romance and reality and the power of love over everything else; cookbooks and food memoir and enchantment of the simplest dish; perhaps a screenplay one day…who knows.

The main point is to not wait until that one day, maybe someday, to start writing today. The point is to write now; to stretch my creative muscles and build their strength just as I strengthen my body while training for half marathons; to use my grey matter to help those story buds to mature and burst into beautiful bloom on the page. My goal is to write every day. Write something: a blog post, a recipe, part of one of the stories I am working on. My major goal is to hand in a manuscript by March next year. My goal is to be creative because chaining down the dragon that lives inside me is futile. She must roar, breathe her creative fire, and devour what she sees, and bring to life the stories that live inside.

Those who fear the imagination condemn it: something childish, they say, something monsterish, misbegotten. Not all of us dream awake. But those of us who do have no choice.

Patricia A. McKillip

A Small Life, Small and Valuable

Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life – well, valuable, but small – and sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven’t been brave? So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn’t it be the other way around? I don’t really want an answer. I just want to send this cosmic question out into the void. So good night, dear void.

Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan’s character in ‘You’ve Got Mail’)

I live a small life. I move within a tight circle of familiar faces and well-worn roads. I can tell you the colour of the flowers in the front yard of the houses that I walk past on the weekend. I know the way the leaves change on the liquid amber tree across the road as well as I know my own breath. I re-watch old movies and the dialogue runs through my mind like white noise discarded by my brain like overheard conversation in a restaurant. I enjoy routine in a visceral way. I like filling the pages of my diary with appointments and plans to workout and shopping lists and little chores that are the inescapable minutiae of daily life – these things make me feel useful. I like feeling useful, even in the smallest of ways.

happy now

I do not think that a small life is reduced to an existence. My life is valuable. My coffers are full, overflowing. I have the riches of family and friends, the love of a good man, my health, a brain that never rests, a roof over my head and shoes on my feet. I live in a country free of major conflict and boundless opportunities for the brave and enterprising soul. My whole life is laid out at my feet – a blank slate ready for me to take up the chalk and sketch out my own path in bold and brilliant colours.

At this point in time I feel as though I am in the waiting room of my life. I am back in the pre-graduation period. Back in the searching for work period. Still here at the same desk where I completed my high school studies ten years ago. I wonder how I can be brave and take the steps into my future. How can I make this life? How can I create myself?

creating_yourself

I believe in being proactive in my life. I believe that when one door closes another opens. I have come to realise that you can be super proactive, but sometimes when that door slams shut you have to wait in the hallway for a little while before the next door opens. When you are in that waiting room it’s so easy to sit quietly and look for cracks in the paint. But you need to keep knocking on those doors, sing in the hallway, explore what happens at the end of the corridor. You can’t sit idly by and let opportunity go rushing past.

I have been knocking on doors and trying every day in some way to live like there is something of value for me to do. Some days it is hard. You can understand why people give up and sit on the couch and decide not to go out into the world that keeps rejecting them. You’ve got to keep wanting to find what your something more is. You have to push on, push through, keep reaching, just…keep…going. I have dreams. My dreams are five sizes too big, and that’s good because I know I am capable of growing into them. I have plans, and ambitions, and a future that I want to make happen. I don’t want fate to drop things into my lap. I have broad shoulders and a capable mind. I am prepared to work. Nothing worth having comes without work and sacrifice.

So I hustle, and then I sit. I write, network, email, connect, search, tread the pavement…and then I wait. Waiting is hard for someone of limited patience like me. I like results. I like clear channels of communication. I need to be kept busy because these hands lying idle are wont to do the devil’s handiwork. For now I will keep pushing, keep pursuing, keep chasing.

I will keep living my small and valuable life. I will be thankful for the bright and beautiful blessings that I have been afforded. I will keep creating, keep striving. Because my life is valuable, and whatever I have inside me will find a home somewhere so that I can take all the good fortune I have been given and use it to set the sky on fire.

Tell me dear reader, when have you felt like you were in the waiting room of your life? How do you keep hustling?

What makes you life valuable? How do you set the world alight?