In the haze that is death, and perhaps because I’m reaching for something that is hopeful, and holds the promise of creativity (read: life?), I wanted to tell you that I’m starting a thing on the 22 May 2017 – the 100 Days Project NZ.

The 100 Days Project has rules (so it’s very serious), to wit:

  1. I will repeat a simple creative task every day for the duration (of the project) i.e. 100 days.
  2. I’ll record each day’s effort.

The recording of each day’s effort will happen on Instagram, here and on the 100 Days Project website, here. Feel free to follow the creativity. 🙂

What will I be creating? Miniature costumes – period or fantasy costumes for dolls, more specifically.

As to the ‘why’. I’m stuck. I’m hoping this will be the start of me creating stuff; of me making stuff; me tapping into that long-held love of period and/ or fantasy costume, whilst relishing the happy feeling I get when working in small-scale. I’m hoping something shifts, and I can begin to feel connected to this strange place I’m now calling home.

I also have a lot of dolls that need clothing.

I chose that heading because my uncle has passed away. (He was born in Madeira, so something in Portuguese seemed fitting.)

I found out about his passing when I saw a status update on my brother’s Facebook timeline. I then noticed that my brother had tried to contact me on WhatsApp. Although I’ve had a brief conversation with my brother on WhatsApp, I haven’t spoken to my parents yet. I haven’t heard their voices yet. It’s times like these where I fully appreciate how the time difference between Johannesburg (South Africa) and Wellington (New Zealand) makes having a conversation so much more tricky; how it makes connection difficult.

There has been a lot of death lately… I’ve experienced it through friends who have lost their mothers this year.  I have witnessed the loss of family before – a cousin when I was maybe 17 years old and an aunt when I was in my early twenties. The hollowness that I’m feeling today at the news of my uncle’s passing should not come as a surprise.

But it does. It’s a strange heaviness. A numbness. A foggy presence. I’m not altogether here. Willing myself to do mundane stuff is near impossible. Staring out into nowhere in particular feels comforting.

A friend on Facebook put it so eloquently: “I feel like I need to hug everyone but my arms are cut off.”

I wish I could hug everyone.

 

I want to write about something happy, because I think that’s what people want to hear about. I’m in a beautiful country that still feels like it could be just a little bit wonder-filled. My mind tells me I should be out there exploring it all, and telling you all about it. Because there is magic out there. I know there is.

But here’s the thing. Walking around with an aching heart has become my normal. I can’t put a time and date to when my heart broke, but I think it’s been broken for a very long time. Coming to New Zealand did not break my heart. It has made the hole in my heart more discernible, but it did not break my heart.

I want to be able to phone my family in Johannesburg and tell them about this interesting thing I did. But I don’t. Because I know they miss us. And I know that the conversation will slowly turn to how we miss each other. I don’t want to talk about that anymore. Because it hurts. It hurts more than the joy of doing the interesting things.

I am skilled at closing the heart. I find myself contorting again. Bending, holding. Waiting. Waiting to exhale.

More than anything else, I know Sophia is missed (very much so). Her stories, her laughter, her curiosity. Her playfulness. All of it. I know they wonder if she will forget them.

I know I made holes in their hearts. I know I made a hole in her heart. She misses her family. She misses her Caity and Madrinha, her tio Luis, avô and avó, nana and grandad. Her Peyton. She wishes they’d come for dinner. (And I wish I could make it so.)

It’s difficult finding the joy in this adventure. Because creating this adventure also created holes in hearts.

People will tell me, no doubt, that I do need to find the joy in things. And they’re absolutely right. But…

…when your normal is an aching heart, joy feels strange. Foreign. Invasive. Guilty. I don’t know how to hold all of that in a fractured heart. Not yet.

I am an immigrant. With immigration comes a period of adjustment, of reorientating one’s self in the world. It’s bittersweet – because there’s so much to explore and experience, but I’m doing it on my own. (One wants to share the excitement, I suppose.)

Thoughts and emotions present themselves, and it’s in my nature to have a conversation with these thoughts and emotions. Me talking to myself. My Roman Catholic upbringing, and the gift of a vivid imagination, taught me that things (gadgets, contraptions, stuff) can ‘hold’ a feeling, a thought, or a concept. An invisible thing can become manifest. So it’s with this in mind that I made a list of things that would, perhaps, make settling easier; things that would make navigating my new world a little less terrifying, less complex.

 

To remedy the thought I feel vacant and a little stupid a lot of the time, a pin badge that I’d wear wherever I go. It would read: “Hello. I’m new here. I don’t know what I’m doing. Please be patient.” Such a pin badge would facilitate interesting conversation (perhaps?), and it would help people to understand that the vacant expression on my face doesn’t mean “I’m ignoring you”, it means “Please be patient with me. I’m creating a new synapses in my brain that remembers how to do this new thing; whilst simultaneously retiring a synapses that is no longer relevant to my life. This may take a while. Sorry. (and wince)”

To remedy my sense of awkwardness, a read-o-matic. I never really know if I’ve inadvertently offended someone by saying or doing a thing. This contraption would read those around me, and glow purple whenever I made a faux pas. We could then laugh about it. “Oh look, it’s glowing purple. Did I offend someone? Terribly sorry. Please read my pin badge,” I’d say.

To remedy my feeling of invisibility, a teeny-tiny, real-live bable fish. Often, although we’re both speaking English, I have no idea if people understand my meaning, if they see me. I appreciate that I have an odd way of putting things sometimes, but the dim light I see in peoples’ eyes is perplexing. My read-o-matic would probably be glowing a stunning purple at that point. I’d laugh, point at my pin badge, hold my finger up as if to gesture “please wait a moment”, insert the little bable fish into my ear and repeat what I’d just said. Instant clarity. I’d suddenly be visible.

To remedy the mental fatigue that comes from doing mental gymnastics all the (bloody) time, a ‘how-to-adult-in-a-big-messy-complex-world’ guide. Meh. If I’m honest with myself, this is a thing all adults could use. Not because adults are stupid, but because navigating the world is hard (regardless of whether or not you’re an immigrant. Being an immigrant just adds another layer of complexity to daily life because there’s so much more mental gymnastics involved. And there’s more mental gymnastics involved because there’s so much that’s unfamiliar, too new. Until it’s not.)

People tell me to give it time. And they’re right. Time.

But what do you do with all the thoughts and emotions that crop up in the meanwhile?

Bleh.

 

Today is my father’s birthday.

I’ve only ever seen or heard my father cry twice in my lifetime.

The first occasion was at a family wake when we lost a dear cousin to a freak car accident. The memory is faint, I was young and I didn’t understand what had happened. I didn’t understand the sense of loss that was being expressed by the entire family.

The second occasion was on the day we left Johannesburg for Wellington. I knew my father wasn’t coming to the airport to see us off. I called from my sister’s house to say my farewells. There was the usual superficial chatter about how we were, the weather and if were all packed up and ready for the flight. Deep conversation has never been something we do, mostly because we don’t have a common language with which to express complex ideas and feelings. My Portuguese is rudimentary at best*, and my father’s English is a charming mix of odd words and expressions that he’s picked up having lived in South Africa for 40 years. Also, my father isn’t good with expressing emotion of any kind. That’s just how he is.

After wishing us well, he began to cry and he said in a choked voice: “I’m going to miss you.” He spoke in English as if to impress upon me his meaning.

Today I miss my dad. I miss that we won’t be going over to my folk’s place for lunch in celebration of his birthday. I miss that he won’t sweetly chastise me for giving him a present instead of saving the money for something ‘more important’, and yet he’ll be smiling so broadly because I remembered. I’m sad because we won’t gather around the table to eat my mom’s roast chicken, and he won’t pour a straight whiskey on the rocks for my husband and brother, even though they object a little too much. He won’t offer my mom, sister nor I a tot of aniz**.  We won’t eat too much, and then an hour later have coffee with a thick slice of my mom’s bolo de laranja***. And just when we’re about to leave, my daughter won’t take a little walk with my dad down to the spaza shop and help herself to a little chocolate, a bottle of bubbles, and a packet of chips. My dad won’t absolutely insist that we take some pimpinela or couve from their garden, or leftovers from Sunday lunch, home with us. And I won’t stand outside with my mom and siblings, hovering at the car doors, having one last conversation that lasts 45 minutes whilst my dad darts in and out of the house gathering more food to send home with us. None of that will happen.

And I am sad for it.

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*we were never formally schooled in the language

** a traditional aniseed liqueur made in Madeira; each bottle typically contains a dried aniseed stem with lovely crystals that form around it.

*** bolo de laranja = ‘cake of orange’; this is a recipe of my mother’s making. pimpinela = chayote. couve = collard greens.

The committee living inside my brain has gone back and forth, considering the killing of this blog, or its resurrection. It’s been a good four years since I’ve posted. A lot has changed.  Perhaps the most significant change is our immigration to New Zealand. That happened in April 2016. Somewhat rather by accident. Or not. The Universe is weird that way.

Obviously the committee decided to resurrect the blog. Why? Simple answer really: I still like the idea of ‘The Life of a Forest Wife’. I thought to delete the older posts, but a) I can’t be bothered to figure out how, and b) maybe keeping one’s history is a good thing. (The idea of a clean slate is seductive. But… I don’t know that there is such a thing as a clean slate. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you, right?)

Being true to my nature, I’ll probably want to organise posts. But I get the sense as I’m writing this that things are going to get messy. Maybe really messy.

My dear friend Ilonka said “Right now your new life is a blank canvas and you can paint it exactly to your desires.” She’s right, of course. I hate that she’s right – because it implies that I have to show up. Me. The woman who likes hiding and playing small. I’m brilliant at that. I suck at showing up. Showing up is hard. Being present is hard. Being the ‘creator of one’s magnificent life’ is friggin’ hard a lot of the time; largely because it’s up to me – it’s all up to me. The shitty stuff and the magnificent stuff is all of my making in some way, shape or form.

The committee does not like this. They feel very uncomfortable with this idea because it implies ‘taking responsibility’ and ‘having courage’ and ‘overcoming one’s demons’ (or sitting apprehensively with them) and ‘stepping into the arena’* and… stuff.

Of course, it probably doesn’t help that there’s so much about my personality that makes leaning into change and the ‘creating of one’s magnificent life’ complex. It really isn’t as easy as stepping out into the unknown, exploring and ‘having cheerful adventures’. Adventures freak me out. Completely. Mostly because I can’t control the outcome, and I don’t have faith in my ability to figure out things as I go along. And (cough) I’m an awkward perfectionist.

Believe me, I’m very aware of the paradox in that. No one can know what will happen, what they will experience, from moment to moment. No. One.

But Fear is real. I feel it choking me a little as I step outside the perceived safety of my little cocoon. Every. Day.  Fear is cruel.

 

(and deep breath in. and exhale.)

The committee is currently trying to figure out how it’s going to invite my demons over for tea. Invitations will go out to Fear, Anxiety and Slow Painful Death, no doubt. I’m considering an invitation to Self Compassion too. I’m told she’s kind.

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* If you have no clue what I’m talking about, have a look see here, or  watch this TED talk, from about 12:12.

As I explored Pinterest for activity ideas for Sophia, ignoring the dishes and the laundry and the fact that I have a writing assignment due, I came across two talks on TED given by Brené Brown, one about vulnerability and another about shame.

You’re probably wondering what vulnerability and shame have to do with activity ideas for Sophia.  Truth is, not much… but what Ms. Brown said struck me… and I had to record it…

“Shame feels the same for men and women, but it’s organized by gender.

For women, the best example I can give you is Enjoli, the commercial: “I can put the wash on the line, pack the lunches, hand out the kisses and be at work at five to nine. I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan and never let you forget you’re a man.” For women, shame is do it all, do it perfectly and never let them see you sweat. I don’t know how much perfume that commercial sold, but I guarantee you, it moved a lot of antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds. (Laughter) Shame, for women, is this web of unobtainable, conflicting, competing expectations about who we’re supposed to be. And it’s a straight-jacket.”

There’s something in her words that are poignant and it strikes me as odd that I’m so moved by these words.  Please bear with me whilst I wrestle with my psyche and attempt to understand exactly what this is about…

It was a little chilly this morning, you understand.  So, being the mother that I am, I thought it a good idea to cloth my child in a light jersey.  Sophie decided otherwise.  After struggling with her for a moment (mother tries making funny sounds to distract baba whilst attempting to slide jersey over fingers and up arm, and baba puts arms to forehead in a ‘I don’t want that’ gesture.)  But mother knows best, right?  So I persisted a little.  Then she said it, in an adorable baba voice and a cute scrawled face: “Nooo”.

‘No’, she said!  Amazing! My baby girl is

  1. expressing herself verbally and
  2. making up her own mind as to what she does or doesn’t want. 

At an age of a year and a half, I find that incredible. Yay baba!

Jemimah Appleby III

This is Jemimah Appleby III, and Sophia loves her to bits! Seriously. Jemimah is often held tightly to Sophia’s little breast whilst Sophia sighs with happiness.

Blankie

Sophia loves Jemimah about as much as she loves Blankie. Blankie is Sophia’s ‘going to sleep’ blanket. It’s a beautiful little blanket – made of soft wool and in such lovely colours. Sophia has had it since she was a little sprogling. It was a gift from a dear friend in celebration of Sophia’s arrival. (My mother tells me I had a blue blanket when I was a little person… apparently I, very stubbornly, gave up said blue blanket when I was about five. I wonder if Sophia will do the same… She’s very attached to Blankie, you see.)

Oh! Did I tell you that Sophia is walking? (Actually, it’s more of a wobble.)

It’s a beautiful sight to to see… little Sophia with Blankie clutched in one hand and Jemimah in the other… waddling down the hallway… Sophia smiling from ear to ear. It makes my heart turn to mush, it does.

I recently came across this post by Jeff Bridges (yes, the awesome actor dude), on his website.  I found it so very telling that I decided to reproduce it here.

PERCEPTION

. . . Something To Think About. . .

Washington, DC Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007. The man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time approximately 2000 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After three minutes a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule.

four minutes later:

The violinist received his first dollar: a woman threw the money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

six minutes:

A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

10 minutes:

A three year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children.. Every parent, without exception, forced their children to move on quickly.

45 minutes:

The musician played continuously. Only six people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

1 hour:

He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

This is a true story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people’s priorities.

The questions raised:

*In a common place environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty?

*Do we stop to appreciate it?

*Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this:

If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made – how many other things are we missing?

I found it curious that some people gave money but continued to walk at their normal (hurried) pace… they didn’t stop to listen… to appreciate…  Where is the value exchange in that?

Furthrmore, and perhaps more importantly, I found it intersting (amazing) that it was the children that wanted to stop and listen… but the parents tore them away… It’s a poignant reminder that life isn’t just about schedules… it’s also about being still… and listening… Perhaps the world would be a brighter place if children had louder voices.