Happy Birthday, Lover

It’s a weird time to be a human. The death of George Floyd, Black Lives Matter, the continued fight against racism. Then we get zombie fires. Murder hornets. And a virus that has gripped the world. People are arguing about the ferocity of it, the origins of it, the meaning of it. But while we argue, the virus continues its course, infecting whomever it comes into contact with.

Australia has had relatively restrictive lock-downs, many of which have eased in recent weeks but with the easing, we’ve seen a rise in infections, particularly in my home state of Victoria. Travel bans that have been in place for months were rolled back at the beginning of June. At the same time those restrictions eased, so too, did the number of people allowed to congregate in people’s homes. It’s this family gathering that has seen infections spike, soaring back into double digits within the state.

This seems low when compared with somewhere like the United States of America, or the United Kingdom, or Europe but when you consider that until a couple of weeks ago, national infections were in single digits, it’s a worrying rise. As a result, last Sunday night, the Victorian government reduced the number of people allowed to gather in a single home from twenty back to five.

Chronic health issues and an autoimmune condition mean I have a moderate – high level of risk of complications should I become infected. I’ve been living in a bubble since March and have no real interest in leaving it. But it’s G’s birthday today and I had insisted he not revoke the week of annual leave he’d booked in November last year. It’s not our normal overseas holiday but it’s a much-needed break from work.

So we’ll make the most of it while we can and I’ll go back into isolation on Sunday. It’s his birthday today but I’m the one celebrating because on this day my favourite person in the world was born. Happy Birthday, lover!

A Birthday
By Christina Rossetti
My heart is like a singing bird
                  Whose nest is in a water’d shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
                  Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
                  That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these
                  Because my love is come to me.
Raise me a dais of silk and down;
                  Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
                  And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
                  In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
                  Is come, my love is come to me.

Music Monday | White Rabbit – Jefferson Airplane

Someone I love(d) sent me a photo with a message the other day that said “remember this place? xx”

And I do. It’s my old apartment building. Nine years ago, I lived in the far middle apartment with a view of the beach. I miss this place. It was small but cozy. And it took me less than fifty paces to put my feet in the sand.

Back then, I’d sit on my balcony and smoke. And listen to Jefferson Airplane.

Warm White

He shivers, hunched in the underground walkway between Berlin Schönefeld Airport and the train station, holding up a sign, an A4 sheet of paper that has been folded and unfolded one too many times. A lower corner is making a bid for escape, only held in place by frayed paper threads. Large block letters scribbled on it in blue biro read: I’M LIKING A TICKET PLEASE.

“Home,” I hear him whisper in English as I pass, “please, I need to get home.”

Me too, I sigh, I’m liking a ticket, too.

At his feet, a shoebox contains a handful of scattered coins in different currencies. There’s not enough change in there for a meal much less a ticket. He babbles in a language I cannot make out. His words catch in the whine and whir of the nearby jet engines and run away on the wind.

The icy air weaves its way into my bones. I pull my hat down to my ears and squeeze my gloveless hands into little fists deep inside my pockets, the crook of my elbow hauling the wheelie suitcase along behind me. My boots scuff the concrete as I drag my feet towards the terminal. I don’t stop to ask where’s home. I have no money to help. But his words continue to haunt.

Home. I’m liking a ticket, please. I need to get home.

Home, I scoff at the idea, what is that anyway? I’m more than 10,000 miles away from where I live but that isn’t home either. Not by any metric you’d normally use to gauge these things. ‘Home is where the heart is’ according to the adage but my heart is a restless wanderer. An aching nomad. Rootless.

My best friend from high school lived in the same house from the time she was born until after she graduated from university. If a house was supposed to be home, I had none. By the age of ten, I’d lived at seven different addresses. Mum and Dad renovated houses, doing almost all the work themselves to earn some extra money and just when one started to feel familiar, they’d sell it and buy another cheap dump in need of repair. At two in the morning, I’d find myself squinting into a dark kitchen with bleary eyes wondering where the toilet had gone before my sleepy head would register that we’d moved again. I’d bump into walls where there used to be doors. Do a double-take when I saw windows that used to be walls. Even after I moved out on my own, I couldn’t stop. Twenty-eight houses and three countries in thirty-one years. Each relocation a reorientation.

The first question you’re often asked when travelling is “where’s home?” My reply is always the same. “I don’t really have a one.” But always present, a feeling of searching, seeking, wanting, needing. The Germans have a word for it, the inconsolable longing for something unidentifiable; sehnsucht, they call it, the desire for a far familiar land one identifies as home. I’d felt it, sehnsucht, staring at the stars on a clear night.  But my heart is an itinerant with no fixed address.

***

It is a warm sticky evening at the end of summer when the nights are beginning to cool. I am seven and a half years old, sitting on the back steps of the latest house my parents are renovating, with my dad and a pair of binoculars. We are looking for Halley’s Comet. In my memory, I see it clearly, a soft warm-white incandescent blob with a fuzzy tail alone in the black void of space. Without binoculars, it looks almost the same as all the other warm-white blinking blobs that surround it. Dad has borrowed the binoculars from a friend. We don’t have enough money to purchase our own. But he wants me to see it. “You’ll probably still be alive when it comes back,” he says, “I won’t.” I can’t imagine what seventy-five years means, to live ten times longer than I already have. I can’t imagine being an adult in my own home because every time I look at the warm-white glow from other people’s windows all I feel is sensucht.

***

The thin concrete path that runs from the laundry of the house to the clothes line is warm. The heat it’s absorbed during the day seeps into my skin as I lie on my back staring at the sky. More stars appear as I watch it fade from a deep midnight blue to black. It is almost summer and I’m in yet another house in another part of the country. They’re catching me; thirty-two houses, thirty-four years. And none of them home. I’m waiting for the warm-white of the shooting stars; every year in October, Earth passes through a stream of particles that Halley’s Comet dumped into our inner solar system on its last orbit to give us the Orionids meteor shower. Every time I look at the stars, I am reminded of my father. He instilled my love of the sky, incited my curiosity of the cosmos. And every time I look at the stars, I feel more at home than I do on this planet.

***

I am thirty-six when I move into my thirty-fifth house with G. A few years later, we stand together in a friend’s driveway in Angwin, California staring at the sky. We are at her family farm for her wedding. Howell Mountain rises in front of us, the oaks and conifers silhouetted against the deep blue. Silver pinpricks appear above the treeline.

“I don’t know which one is the North Star,” I say, scanning the skies, “do you know what it’s called?”

“Really?” he replies, squeezing me as he wraps his arms around me from behind.

I can’t see his face in the dark but I know his expression from the tone of his voice. His eyebrows will be raised wrinkling his forehead, a half-smile spreading across his lips, a small curl in the top one. I know all the lines on his face.

The night sky is different here. I recognise Mars, bright and orange-red but I pull out my phone, hoping for cell service and Google ‘What is the North star called?’

Polaris.

“We need to find Polaris,” I say.

“Yeah, sure,” he chuckles, “that makes it easier.”

As it turns out, we are staring right at it. “That one.” I point to a group of trees, “the one above the third tree from the left. On the end of the little dipper.”

He squeezes me again pulling me tighter, burying his face into my neck and for the first time while looking at the stars, instead of feeling sensucht, I feel safe.

Six months later, when the electrician replaces all the lights in our home prior to our wedding and asks what type of bulbs I want, I don’t need to think before answering warm white.

Perhaps home is not the length of time in one place as much as it is knowing all the lines on someone’s face.

The stars belong in the deep night sky, and the moon belongs there too, and the winds belong in each place they blow by, and I belong here with you.

M H Clark

 

WIP (Work in Progress)

A few years ago, I sat down to write a book. And I did it. I wrote “the end” and everything. Now, I am editing that manuscript, my WIP. Which sounds like I’m close to finished. But a terrible truth in writing is that you can finish a draft (or several) and never be finished editing. I could probably drag it out for several more years if I wanted to.

The reason I’m not finished, though, is because the story has changed since I started. As it does. With understanding. Acceptance. Experience. Perspective.

But I’ve set my intentions for 2020. And while I won’t reveal all of them, one of them is to finish finish the book. Finish amending. Finish editing. Finish changing the story. Not because my memory of it won’t continue to shift but because it no longer belongs to me.

As we approach the end of the decade the customary comparisons are surfacing. The way I live my life is completely different. So is the way I love. But the deeper shadow parts of myself still lurk in dark corners, waiting for an opportunity. In 2010, my eating disorder had such a hold over me, the doctors didn’t think I’d see the end of the year, much less the decade. Yet here I am.

I once thought that if I wasn’t different at the end of all this, I wouldn’t be better. And while much has changed in the last ten years, plenty hasn’t. Who I am at my essence is entirely the same. Some days, I’m not sure what that makes me.

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It’s impossible to tell by looking at someone how they are feeling. The picture on the left was taken in 2010, eight months into recovery. I had been re-feeding and gained quite a lot of weight, almost 25 pounds. The picture on the right…? March 2019. I weighed quite a bit more than I did in 2010 and had been back in treatment for three months. I’m still in treatment now. Perhaps this fight will always be a work in progress.

But the story of the last ten years no longer lives in me. And next year, ten years after I almost died, I will let it go entirely.

Music Monday | Nocturne – Blanco White

It’s the 23rd December 2019.

I tell you this, not because you asked me what the date is – I’m sure you’re capable of reading a calendar – but because today marks five years since I packed up my VW Golf, drove from Sydney to Gippsland one last time, and moved in with G.

It’s forever and five minutes, all at once. And it always will be.

And time fell away
With the sound of each step
If the stars align then
For us they were meant in the lunar sky

Music Monday | Here With Me – Dido + a Bonus Track

It’s late. Monday is almost over and I’m trying to squeeze this in before midnight. I’d planned to do it earlier in the day but I’ve been sick, procrastinating, hoping I’d improve instead of getting worse.

In the early 1990s when Beverly Hills 90210 was released, my parents deemed it “inappropriate” television for me. There was sex *gasp*, drugs *the horror*, and domestic violence. While all my high school friends were following the lives of Brenda, Brandon, Dylan, Kelly, Donna, David, Steve and Andrea, I could only watch it in secret at friends’ houses, or listen to the stories around the school lunch table and try to piece together the episodes.

It may have seemed like “just a tv show” to my parents but not being allowed to watch it excluded me from fundamental group bonding between the ages of 12-17. I missed out on popular tv culture that not only provided entertainment, but that also dealt with some serious adolescent issues. Date rape. Eating disorders. Racism. Teenage pregnancy. Suicide. They may have been trying to protect me from the world but the world insisted on making itself known to me through direct experience, even if I hadn’t seen the preview.

Later, when I was living on my own in my late teens/early 20s, a new teenage drama began. I started watching it the first night it aired, not because of the show itself — it was on by accident — but because of the opening theme. The show, Roswell, didn’t last long, a few seasons only; sci-fi teen drama isn’t really a popular genre. But the opening credits rolled with a style of music I’d not heard before. An eerie swooning song, it captured my attention from the first bars. When Dido sang the opening lines, “I didn’t hear you leave, I wonder how am I still here, I don’t want to move a thing, it might change my memory,” I was swallowed whole, into their world.

Roswell wasn’t renewed for a fourth season but my attention was drawn by another show that was starting — The OC. I was married now but Ryan, Seth, Marissa and Summer were living the type of teenage experiences I’d missed out on. Except for the sexual assault. To this day, I don’t know many women who’ve avoided it completely. I inhaled all these shows; the characters with their complicated angst and their ability to act out their emotions so assuredly. The theme song for The OC had an entirely different impact on me; I longed for the seemingly simple, nostalgic American teenage years.

It took me years to realise I was always trying to be somebody else; to escape my own life for something else, somewhere else.

And it’s taken many more to build a life I no longer want to escape from.

Music Monday | Outside the Lines – Birdtalker

After running a Spotify account for about two years, I’m finally starting to use it in a way that doesn’t involve just searching for my favourite songs and listening to them. Lately, I’ve been paying attention to the recommendations and last week stumbled onto this gem.

Birdtalker’s debut album One was released last year after an EP in 2016, and a new single came out just over a week ago.

When I met G, I sent him a list of my flaws; number nine of fifteen said “I listen to too much indie folk music.” Birdtalker’s debut One may not fit as neatly into the indie folk music genre as their EP Just This but it is still largely reminiscent of that soft, folksy Americana that draws me in.

But what Birdtalker has, in addition to sweet sweet sounds, is something magical in their lyrics. There is an existential heartache in their songs; the search for meaning and purpose by a couple who’ve deconstructed from Protestant religion. Perhaps it’s their rejection of exclusionary dogma, a mirror of my own trajectory, and the unpacking of the baggage of religious narratives that I resonate with. Perhaps it’s the way they challenge traditional hierarchies while they examine their role in maintaining such systems. Perhaps it’s that their songs sit in a liminal space I’m far too familiar with. Whatever it is, I love it.

In an article with Billboard prior to the release of the song I’m posting tonight, songwriter Dani Green said: “I was pretty angry when I wrote it, but I don’t think you would know that from listening to the song.”

Dani, who co-fronts Birdtalker with her husband Zack Green, tells Billboard about the gentle, harmony-laden folk song. Organized religion was Green’s intended target, but “Outside The Lines” carefully encompasses hypocrisy on a broader scale.

“I was tired of feeling like people in that arena could — because they say they’re believing in good things — treat people really poorly,” Green explains. “That just stirred up a lot of anger in me. The language of the song, the words, are very flowery and elevated to poke fun at the elevated, flowery language of religion, the ancient texts. It feels like it’s deceptive. That language, because it’s so nice and flowery, is like a shield you could put up in front of you, but then you go and treat people in ways that’s not at all reflective of the things you said.”

“Outside The Lines” is, however, representative of Green’s lyrical approach on the album’s 11 tracks. “It’s sort of a snapshot of a period of deconstruction and having a lot of open-ended questions,” she says. “It feels pretty open-handed and like it asks a lot of question and sort of targets mainstays or institutions, things that are kind of an unquestioned part of your life — until you decided to start questioning them. So it feels like a lot of questions, with a little bit of resolve.”

Music Monday | Ultralife – Oh Wonder

Before I found you
Days passed slowly, lost and low
You gave me hope and now there’s only
Blood running in my veins
I’ve never been here before
And I got love falling like the rain
I never could’ve asked for more
I got so much soul inside my bones
Take a look at me now
I’m young, forever in the sun
Ever since you came, I’m living ultralife
I’m living ultralife

The Last Exhale

You breathed out slowly
longer
softer
than a sigh.

And as you did you wondered why
I don’t know why you like me, you said
But it wasn’t a question.
Instead
it was a statement. (A feeling of regret?
Did you think you were breaking my heart? You weren’t. I’d need to have one for that.)

Would you rather I didn’t? I replied, thinking you wanted to end that non-thing we had.
No. (You stop. Whisper, softer, again.)
I just know it will evaporate one day and I need to not rely on it.

You’ve said more since about friends and other lovers (not that I count myself as such)
who were there, then weren’t, or weren’t enough or, probably, just couldn’t be bothered
and left.

But it was all too late
I’d breathed you in
and haven’t breathed out since.

So now I pretend that we’re just friends
with nothing to convince
me otherwise
as we scramble round the edges of half-made thoughts and silent glances.

You’re complicated. You’ve said. I know. It doesn’t scare me.
But love does. Love hurts. (Apparently.) And you’re the first I’ve found who might, maybe be able to break me.

So I’ll hold this breath for as long as I can and you’ll have to leave me, not the other way around (but you’ll like that too, I know full well.)
I’m not going anywhere, no matter how hard you make it, too bad, so sad. (Ssshhhh. Don’t make a sound.)

And in the end when I finally breathe you out (turns out I do have a heart)
that last exhale
will be
my
last.

2 December 2011