Bogged Blog

Travelling around India researching my novel, exploring only for the joy of it and seeking a stronger connection with the place, I thought I’d write a lot on the blog! Unfortunately, I was too busy being in the moment and enjoying myself! I was so happy, my blog got bogged!

It’s ironic, isn’t it?

But it makes some sense. When we’re low, we’re generally not as active. We withdraw into ourselves and spend more time thinking. For me, I spend more time in my journal. My journal is how I vent and work through my problems, come to resolution or decide on action.

My blog is an online, next level journal. I express my resolutions and the conclusions I’ve come to while deep in thought. But it’s also a place to express appreciation of my world and share my joy. It seems though, if there’s too much joy, there’s no time for this!

I’m sure excerpts of my India trip will filter through now that I’m home.

I was partly in India to see how I went travelling alone in a place so crowded and different from the world I know in Australia. I’ve learned that by pushing my boundaries and doing something I’m a little unsure about or even fearful of, I get stronger. I see that I can do it and that makes me more confident. The India trip certainly did this.

I’m pushing my boundaries in attempting the novel I’ve set out to write. Disciplining myself to write Draft 1 last year was a big start. I found I had great discipline when focused on the goal. I was proud of myself and shared my dream with friends and family, making myself accountable, saying, I’m writing a book! I’ve done many courses and read craft books in order to keep the learning process going. I’ve found new friends amongst people who share the same dream.

This year I’ll be writing Draft 2 and 3 in the first half and second half of the year. I aim to have something good enough to share with beta readers and publishers by the end of this year. I’ve embarked on a course at the Faber Academy called Write Your Novel. The intention is to learn, commit to constant writing and be with a group that all has the same focus, something I’ve found is invaluable in keeping me going. It will be a challenge. I’ll have to treat it like a job if I’m going to achieve the 5000 words I want to complete each week.

And my blog will be part of that job. It was started to give me an online presence, find my voice and get known as a writer. I’ll share what I discover: my deep level thoughts, what I find funny or what makes me emotional.

I’ll end this Post with a quote from the movie Grace of Monaco (not a great movie but this advice from the priest-friend to Grace, is superb!)

“You are the fairy tale, the serenity to which we all aspire, and peace will come when you embrace the roles you have been destined to play: devoted mother, loyal wife, compassionate leader. Up against a task larger than yourself, you will overcome your fear.”

If only all women* who choose to be the support person, carer and life-facilitator to the children and income earner, had such recognition! Don’t you agree? (*some men choose to be this person these days, and Bravo to them!)

 

Get Out There

The benefits of facing your fears and pushing yourself to go outside your comfort zone, are exponentially rewarding. Each time you achieve something on your own, you buoy up your confidence and your ego, and that means you can go on to to do even more adventurous things.

Visiting a foreign country on your own seems to be something most people are afraid of, or maybe it’s just women. But as I’ve said before, the advantages, like being adopted by strangers and following your own interests and timetable, outweigh the disadvantages. Once you’ve done it, it gets easier. I’d recommend going somewhere similar to home first then stepping up the ante. I started with domestic travel in Australia, then moved on to Ireland, and now it’s India.

Exploring on your own, day or night, seems scary to some, as well. I know I’ve talked about this before but I want to reinforce that it’s worthwhile. I want to share some examples I experienced in India to convince you.

Catching the train from Mumbai to Goa, nine hours on my own, was far easier than I anticipated. I did need help finding the platform but that wasn’t bad. I brought my packed lunch and mini-thermos of masala chai, and found that tea, snacks and lunch were provided! Mind you, I wouldn’t eat it, but that’s pretty convenient.

Hiring a driver is essential for safe and time-efficient site-seeing in a place like India but it’s not necessary for short trips with a purpose. I could have opted for hotel transport to and from the Jaipur Writers Festival but choosing to take the auto rickshaw was fun and gave me some of my best photos. And a real taste of being a local. Apart from motorbikes, this is one of the key ways for locals to get around. They’re really cheap and give you an authentic experience.

On my first night in Varanasi, I went along the promenade of the Ganga to survey the area before dinner. Being sensibly cautious I first asked the hotel staff if it was safe to do so, since it was dark. Their answer was absolutely. There were so many people going about their business: chatting, bathing in the holy river or sending candles off in little foil trays with a prayer. A young man started walking alongside me asking, where are you from? The usual conversation starter! Did I feel threatened? Not at all. Was I wary? Of course! When he asked if I’d like to see the cremation site, I said yes, but it wasn’t like I was following him up a back alley. I was in plain view of everyone and he offered pieces of information which were helpful. When he offered to guide me the next day, I firmly told him that I already had a guide, gave him 100 rupees (AUS$2) to make him happy, and left. It was a positive start to the trip.

The next night, I attended a religious festival, which happened to coincide with my being there. There was a huge number of people and a lot of noise. As a single, I could climb over people that were seated at the front to perch myself in a tiny spot. I squeezed in to cross my legs next to a dark, sari-clad lady who smiled, made a bit more room, then helped me put red paste on my forehead. She even shared flower petals with me. I was delighted and I think she was too. Returning to the hotel, a kilometre walk along the Ganga bank, I got even closer to the cremation site than the night before. About five pyres burned, flames reaching metres high and smoke billowing, stinging my eyes while my ears and chest vibrated with the loud beating of drums. I finished off the evening with feeding a mother dog and her four puppies, and three cows, my left over dinner of naan bread and vegetable kebabs. (I’d asked the restaurant to pack it in a takeaway bag for my lunch!) This whole experience, which I wouldn’t have had if I’d been too anxious about going out, will always stay with me as a highlight.

Finally, in Kolkata, I left my lovely hotel, a cocoon of peace and safety (but also rather un-thrilling for dinner for one), and discovered a buzzing hive of brightly-lit activity, just outside the gate. Night markets were right there and as I stepped through the crowd of buyers and sellers, I watched as locals examined the clothes, stainless steel pots and embroidered tablecloths. I even bought a couple of things myself. Young people gathered around food stalls and stood eating dishes that I now recognised. The aromas of sweet spices and garlic made me hungry so I pressed on to the rooftop bar and restaurant recommended to me by my guide earlier in the day. I was thrilled that the atmosphere was both vibrant, enhanced by contemporary (Bollywood-style) music, and comfortable, with white cane chairs, orange cushions and marble table tops. And the food was tasty and inexpensive. It was another authentic experience that I wouldn’t have had if I stayed in the hotel.

I want you to understand that these moments not only enhance my travel experience but also help me grow as a strong and curious person. These are the building blocks for developing a joyous and purposeful life and I hope I can encourage you to take the first step towards doing this for yourself. We can all do it if we start with baby steps. It’s taking a leap of faith, even if it’s off the bottom step first.

“Be brave. Without bravery, you will never know the world as richly as it longs to be known. Without bravery, your life will remain small – far smaller than you probably wanted your life to be.”
Elizabeth Gilbert.

PS Adventures don’t always run smoothly. Things do go wrong and they can hurt. But whether they’re negative experiences or learning experiences is how you view it. I’ve had worse but I’ll tell you this tale because I see it as funny!

On my last day in Varanasi, I decided to see an Ayurvedic doctor, as much for the experience as a curiosity about advice he would give me. I followed a hand-drawn map scribbled on a napkin by my guide the previous day. This was challenging and fun, a bit like orienteering. I had to catch a boat first, a ride of 30 minutes, and get off at Assi Ghat. Then I turned left at the steps and right at the chai shop and past the ATM and up to a big house on the right. On the way, I was stopped by a thin woman carrying a toddler and an empty baby bottle. ‘No money,’ she said. ‘Baby formula, milk!’ And she waved the bottle at me. ‘No money, milk for the baby,’ she begged again. Well, what could I do? I asked, ‘Where do I get the formula?’ ‘The shop, follow!’ she said, beckoning me with a wave of her hand. I followed her to a shop twenty metres away and she requested the formula from the shop owner. ‘Two,’ she suddenly appealed, touching my arm and leading my gaze to the toddler. So again what could I do? Okay, two! I was surprised at the cost and exclaimed it. The shop owner showed me the box and the price was printed on the packaging. ‘Okay!’ I nodded, reaching into my purse, mumbling to myself, No wonder she can’t afford it! The baby pinched my arm, a little painfully, in gratitude. He was quite strong!! I took their photo, which was reverse begging really. I love my people photos.

So….I went to the doctor. I stepped past the lazing cows and into his house foyer. He spoke English, was kind and intelligent and basically told me I was going to be fine. Ayurvedic doctors are free so of course I believe him. This was a truly positive experience.

Back to the lady and toddler. I sent a message to my guide saying how helpful he’d been in his recommendation of the doctor and map drawing. I said something brief about the lady and buying milk. He replied that I’d been ripped off, that she would take it back to the shop and get a refund. 600 Rupees (AUS$12) it cost me! I sent the photo and he sent back, ‘Ya, I know dis bloody leady.’ This made me laugh at myself so hard, I may have looked crazy. Really, did it hurt? No! Did I learn something about life in a hard world. Yes. About myself. Yes! So end of story. Another great experience!

Blending In or Standing Out

af5836b3-10ec-4abc-9f19-84fe30bb5ee0

Just because I feel like a local in Udaipur, India, doesn’t mean the locals think I’m one!

I’m at ease here, relaxed and bouncy as I walk the alleyways and say Namaste to shopkeepers. I smile and they return the grin. My head wobbles in reply to theirs, a conversation in itself. But I know I stand out. They’re looking, watching to see what I do, hoping I’ll stop to buy or give them a chance to talk about the cricket or tennis. They love us Aussies! They’ve all got a relative or an Australian story.

When I sight-see like a tourist, I mingle with the Indian tourists. They’re having a good time, always: couples, young families, extended families. Their language is soft. They chatter and laugh. We admire each other, for once again, I stand out. Sometimes I ask, may I take your photo? The girls pose, just like in any other part of the world. The men proudly hold their children – and the kids are so cute! But they often approach me first: can we have a selfie? I always oblige and grin at the camera. I’ve even been passed their toddlers for a special photo, as if I’m royalty.

I’ve been to two pujas, Hindu prayer ceremonies. I like to integrate and immerse myself in the culture and I’m rewarded for my efforts. I buy a garland for 50 rupees ($1), a tiny price for such an intricate floral work. I take it up the stairs, leaving earth behind, and barefoot, enter the temple. I sit on the floor, cross legged and try to get comfortable. I return the looks of worshippers and smile. They smile back. I copy their actions and stand when they do. I clap and line up to give my offering and accept the holy rosewater in my hand. I act like I sip it but I don’t. I do pour it over my head and run it through my hair. I enjoy the bells, the chanting, the drum and the finger-cymbals. And the people love that I’m there. I can see it on their curious faces. When I go outside, I get the rock-star treatment. Grown men are the most bold: can we have a selfie? What can I say but, of course!

Cows are sacred here and roam the streets. In some areas, there’s too many and I feel sorry for them. They’re thin and eat rubbish – literally; I saw a calf eating a cardboard box. People throw out food scraps for them but it can’t be enough. Here in Udaipur, though, they look okay. Today I saw a pile of chapatis in a feeding spot. I touch my fingers to my lips and pass the kiss to the cow, as I’ve seen locals do. I wish it well! It doesn’t look too sure!

It’s harder for me to cope with the dogs. There’s so many street dogs and hierarchy is everything. The tough ones, the intimidators, get the little food that there is. Small fights can be heard too often. Last night I was watching a dog from the steps of the temple. He was pressing forward onto the street, clearly terrified, with his tail wrapped firmly under his bottom. He started to bark at nothing in particular, but facing the traffic. I so wanted to comfort him but didn’t dare.

This morning I took the toast from my breakfast in the hope that he’d still be there and I could offer some kindness. He was curled up in the sun on a platform at the temple. I broke the toast and handed him a piece, moving and speaking as gently as I could. He was looking at me dubiously when a beggar-child approached. She looked at the toast and pointed, then touched her mouth. I understood this language and asked, do you want this? She looked back to her mother who was sitting on the steps. The mother nodded at me. I handed it over. A man came over and softly said to her, thank you. She turned to me and said it with a smile. I was glad to give her some coloured pencils and notepaper I carry for this purpose, as well. The vast difference between me and that child’s mother does not escape me.

Fortunately, beggars are greatly reduced in this country. The prime minister, Mr Modi, is doing a fine job. Education, including the removal of false teachers, health, including free care for those on the poverty line, jobs, including bringing in villagers to clean up the roadside rubbish, and free food from vans parked around the hospitals, are all a part of his programme. Let’s hope he gets voted in again, despite the corrupt forces gathering strength to get him out and renew their own power. See, I’m even interested in the politics! I really do feel like a local!

But my time here is temporary. I’m an observer and I’m observed. I’ll never know what effect I might have on someone’s day or path, just by the interaction. And vice versa!

Namaste.

New Year Fireworks and Goals

The new year has begun. 2019. It started with the explosion of fireworks, live and on the TV, the abrupt bangs and crackles heard over the low roar and whoosh of the sea, cheering voices and music. The windows were wide open, letting the heat out and the cool breeze in, and the sounds were indistinguishable, the reality from recorded.

New Year’s Eve was a quiet one for me and I couldn’t have been more content. Sharing Australian prawns, Sydney rock oysters and French champagne with an old friend. Cooking up a Thai chicken curry and eating alfresco, glad that the humidity had been washed away by the rain shower. Walking a breezy kilometre along the cliff to the park that overlooks Coogee Beach and the headland.

The fireworks at 9pm attracted families, locals and holiday-makers. The crowd was cheerful and festive. Kids had glow-sticks, parents had picnic blankets, cheeky people had sneaky drinks. Brave dogs paced next to their families, as excited as their humans. The fireworks were varied, colourful and constant for twenty minutes. Everyone seemed happy. (Presumably, those who don’t like fireworks or crowds and those whose animals are frightened, stay at home.) Fireworks were followed by a walk along the promenade and giant serves of salted caramel and double chocolate ice creams in a cone.

The simplicity and ease of the evening, along with friendship, community vibe and foodie indulgence, were what brought on the feeling of contentment. I was in a happy place. And it was the close of a big year. 2018 had its challenges: ongoing divorce proceedings, the death of my beloved chocolate Labrador, and breast cancer. But there were also many wonderful things: the road trip up the north coast to Lennox Head, the writing workshop with author, Fiona McIntosh, in SA, another road trip in Donegal, Ireland, doing research for my novel, and the completion of the first draft. All the while I had the support of caring, loving family and friends. All that deserved fireworks, and my gratitude!

So, to my goals for 2019: take better care of my body, feeding it champagne and ice cream in fewer doses; finish a polished manuscript, one good enough to present to a publisher; write every day and continue this weekly blog; maintain and enhance my relationships and give back to those who love me; have fun travelling; move house; find another dog to love; be kind, to myself as well as to others.

Considering I have a good chance of achieving my goals, I figure I have a lot to be content with. I wish you all good health, good fortune, and good goals to go after. Have a happy 2019.

 

Thanks to Randwick City Council https://www.randwick.nsw.gov.au/community/whats-on/coogee-sparkles and my own many blessings.

 

Christmas Cheer or Cheerless

‘I have a love-hate relationship with Christmas,’ one friend says at the wise-old-birds meeting we hold once a month. While we feast on sponge cake with cream, strawberries dipped in chocolate, rocky road and fruit mince pies, we discuss such important matters of the world – our world. Looking at this indulgent spread, I couldn’t agree more!

Each one of us takes turns in re-living our best and worst memories of Christmas. When we get half-way through the group, someone declares, ‘No one really likes Christmas. It’s always a debacle.’

This is countered enthusiastically by another who says, ‘That’s not true. There are people that like Christmas and have normal Christmas gatherings. We’re just from dysfunctional backgrounds.’

I look sideways at my friend, you know the way you do when you don’t turn your head? We’re all getting a bit red-faced. Someone else pipes up, ‘What’s normal?’ Maybe the meeting is getting out of hand. It must be all that sugar. Or pink champagne.

The question remains; what’s normal? I don’t know many people like that. Or Christmases. (Even that word looks abnormal.)

Maybe, it’s just Christmas in Australia isn’t normal. We’re all too hot and we’d rather be swimming. The flies, swarming in through open windows, litter the prawns and potato salad, looking like tasty currants until swatted away, to be swatted away again every three seconds. We’re too irritable to be joyful.

The conversation of the group settles when one woman declares her Christmases have always been nice. Okay, there is hope! But I don’t remember what she said next. I only remember the bad stuff. Which was sometimes quite funny. But usually a bit sad.

Best and worst Christmas presents was a safer subject.

There was much laughter over the worst, but sadly, the worst was tainted by malice, lack of thought or ineptitude. (Ineptitude: haplessly incompetent – don’t you love that?) For example, a plain pair of socks to each child, every year, from an aunty. A bolt of cloth, also to a child, the colour of baby poo. Toe separators and Russian Matryoshka Nesting Dolls.

The best presents were delightful: a holiday organised by a husband including a babysitter to stay at home with the children, a doll’s dress made by mother but ordered by Santa, a bathing suit of aqua and pink, a home-made letterbox designed like a ladybird, and mine – a giant fur koala.

For me, there’s one definite highlight to Christmas. And that’s the pudding: fruity and rich with a dob of brandy butter and lashings of vanilla pouring custard.

The conversation left us with full heads of memories and hearts full of emotions. We decided that trees, decorations, pre-Christmas gatherings, families and friends getting together (despite the drawbacks) and Christmas food, made it all worthwhile.

Having eaten more than my share of special afternoon tea, my belly felt like it was getting a practise run in for the day when we don’t stop eating. That’s Christmas. It should be called Indulgence Day.

The Power of Now

I need to learn to meditate! My mind races around like static. One thought bounces into another and pushes it out of the way. Is that why I’m getting forgetful? Often, there’s a load of rubbish or dirty washing going around – on the repeat cycle.

I believe this is a common problem; it’s just about universal. But some people achieve the stillness and peace that comes with successful meditating. It sounds appealing!

According to the book The Power of Now by Eckhardt Tolle, you start by learning to be more present, by paying attention to this moment and that’s all. Not the past. Not the future. But Now. He advises that you can start with paying attention to your breath or the nature around you, not broadly, but very specifically, like one flower. He talks about noticing and feeling the space between things and the silence between the noises.

As I’ve revealed in this blog, I’m a nature lover. I like to walk or kayak on my own, admiring the bush and waterways. I also like to walk at night and look at the stars. The following passage from the book resonated with me:

“Presence is needed to become aware of the beauty, the majesty, the sacredness of nature. Have you ever gazed up into the infinity of space on a clear night, awestruck by the absolute stillness and inconceivable vastness of it? Have you listened, truly listened, to the sound of a mountain stream in the forest? Or to the song of a blackbird at dusk on a quiet summer evening? To become aware of such things, the mind needs to be still…

Beyond the beauty of the external forms, there is more here: something that cannot be named, something ineffable, some deep, inner, holy essence. Whenever and wherever there is beauty, this inner essence shines through somehow. It only reveals itself to you when you are present. Could it be that this nameless essence and your presence are one and the same?”

In other words, put down your personal baggage of problems, of past and future, put aside your judgement and running commentary, and just feel the Now. SO EASILY SAID, SO DIFFICULT TO ACHIEVE! Except for Zen masters!

As a writer, this skill would be very useful to me. I’d notice more. And I think I’d be more productive if I made space in my mind by removing the clutter. Also, according to Mr Tolle, “Only if you are able to be conscious without thought can you use your mind creatively, and the easiest way to enter that state is through your body.”

If you want to understand that, you’ll have to read the book. I’m still working on it!

 

I’d highly recommend the App Insight Timer for guided meditations and meditative, relaxing music pieces. My favourites include chimes and nature sounds.

For further study – http://www.EckhartTolle.com

Memo to a Younger Self

Toastmasters has been a fun activity for me for the past few years. I tried it out because I’d heard great things about it from friends and I thought it might help my writing – you have to write your own speeches. Speeches are essentially stories about how you feel (an opinion like wildlife conservation), an experience you’ve had (like travelling solo), or something you know (like floristry). Quite often you end up researching something you’re curious about and becoming even more interested.
There are lots of other opportunities too. This week I’m presenting the Salute to the Theme. For two minutes I’ll talk about the theme, What advice would you give your younger self? There are plenty of ways to tackle this and I could talk about studying more, listening to your father or backpacking through Europe. Maybe don’t get a perm. But I’m going to talk about doing things that build self-confidence and self-reliance and being part of a group or team.
Learning new skills gives you a sense of achievement which makes you feel good about yourself. Mixing those skills with other people makes you feel integrated, useful and joyful. Toastmasters includes all these things.
The group encourages you in every task, whether it be a speech or preparing morning tea. Everyone has a role on the day. There’s plenty of praise and evaluations involve the sandwich technique: point of praise, point for improvement, point of praise. So, you get better all the time.
I’ve read that one of the key indicators of longevity is sociability. People who talk to their neighbours, volunteer in community activity and join clubs, live longer.
My advice to my younger self would be Join in! Have a go! Learn something, don’t be afraid to make mistakes or worry what people will think. If you’re mixing with like-minded people, they’ll want you to succeed as well. Not being reliant on others, emotionally or physically, but being happy to give, share and accept help, as in a team, means you’ll be a stronger happier person; one who’s achieving what they want in life and who others are attracted to.
When it comes down to one line, I’d say join Girl Guides.