Wednesday, 25 October 2017

treasure: the year that was 31

I wrote this last week, and then I got all caught up in cake and champagne and didn't post it. 

Here it is, with some final edits I couldn't help but add, for that is my way.

It’s the eve of my 32rd birthday. I haven’t written half as much publishable writing as I’d have liked to this year, but I’m a fan of the retrospective of a Year That Was Something, and boy was this one a year just like that. 

I like to take a breath and mark a moment before the next year starts - tomorrow, I will be into my 33rd year on the planet, and that will be another story entirely. Maybe. 

It’s been a real bitch, this 32nd year - and yet. And. Yet.

I’ve pulled myself together to write a Distinction-worthy Masters dissertation in a little short of a month (not counting reading and crying time), fighting those motherfucking Imposter Syndrome whispers all the way to the submit button. I can write! I have actual, honest-to-goodness original ideas. The sweet relief of it - I can’t begin to tell you. I even fell back in love, just a little, with the power of delivering a good strong sentence to a blank page. To let that certainty flow through me and to recognise it, however fleeting - a joyful miracle.

Another gorgeous happening, the strength of which I am only truthfully starting to grasp - the unexpected friendship of two warm, well-dressed (I believe this is fashun, Hamish?) and ridiculously goodlooking men. With open and well-muscled arms, you both pulled me in your separate and special ways out of some spectacularly deep mud, and into a space carefully lit up with avocados, drag queens, memes, wine, whisky and c-bombs, as well as (whether you admit it or not, Dan) good old-fashioned love. In a world that often feels like bits are missing, inexplicably you’ve become those bits. You’re a safe space to yell, nap, scoff mexican food, drink cups of tea. I’m endlessly grateful for it. 

I’ve been let in close to friends in tough places - I’ve shared the chance to chase away the shadows in city concert crowds, I’ve shared bottles of scotch in the height of unspeakable minutes that turn the world upside down. It’s an honour to be close and trusted with every part you’ve chosen to share, and a privilege I have done my best not to take lightly. I wish I could love all of you as much as you deserve to be loved every damn day - I’ve done the best with the love I have to give, and I thank you for letting that be enough.

I get to live in a houseful of flowers with possibly the best woman I know (besides my mum) arranging them into beautiful perfection, appreciating my cooking, encouraging the brand of self care that calls for movies and puppies. You have turned a house into a home, and I do not care how cliched that sounds, because it’s true. You’ve kept our glasses full of wine and are always, always there knowing just how I feel and then occasionally paying for my therapy. I love you, Mikaela Ingvarsdotter.

Each year I seem to get a little closer to knowing something good, and I feel like this year has taught me plenty, although there’s been less good to know than I’d have liked. I’ve been quiet for a while, and it’s because of how sad I’ve been. Bloody goddamn sad. A person I really quite liked stepped out of his story much earlier than any of us were ready for, and it sits with me every day, the way I know it sits with all of us. 

The thing nobody tells you about grief is how quiet it is. It lays itself in your bones so they’re just a little more dense than they were before. It lines the pockets of your clothes; it rests just a little heavy on your tongue. The thing nobody tells you about grief is how you’re alone with it so much of the time, because of the way people forget. The way people forget is sort of important too, to keep the world moving. The thing nobody tells you about grief is how it slaps you in the face; sucks the air from your lungs; drops you from a great height. It’s also nothing shocking - there, tucked underneath other piles of loose papers until the stone weighing it all down is shifted and it’s away.

There’s nothing to do but keep breathing, so on we breathe. 

There’s more, of course. There’s knowing my family are all coming home this month; that my brothers will be nearby for beers whenever I’d like is something so impossibly good I am waiting to be sure it’s really happening before I believe it. They bring with them two pretty great women that I can’t wait to have around. 

I did a lot of thinking, doing and feeling to the accompaniment to a pile of tunes this year - here's 31 I picked for that year that was. Special mentions go to Dan and Hamish for reminding me about Roxette, to Clare Bowditch for inspiring my dissertation and to Kate H for showing me how Bowditch's music was meant to be heard. Thanks to Sampa the Great for getting me through it, to St Vincent for existing (same goes Holly Throsby, Bec Sandridge and Asgeir, all of whom I managed to see live this year). Music is life, and it's the encouragement of Jordan, Elle, Alana and Dylan that put a good pile of these bangers right in front of me this year. Many thank yous, friends.

I start this 33rd year a little tired but a lot hopeful. I think 32 year olds get to have their feet on the ground but their heads still in the clouds, and even if that’s self-proscribed, it’s advice I’m going to take.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

secret: new parts, hidden under old parts

4 July 2017

It’s cold today, and dry where I live, on the top of a mountain range. I keep chewing at my dry lips, peeling off their skin with my teeth – there are smooth new lips underneath, I know it, I just have to keep peeling til I get there. 

Once I get there, with my new lips, maybe I will be ready to find someone to kiss. Maybe then I’ll be a smooth-lipped clever-mouthed lover-in-waiting.

Maybe then.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

treasure: writing grief

Today, I wore makeup for the first time since I heard you had died. My bare face was intended as a symbol of grief, but nobody has noticed. My mascara was not waterproof, in any case; impractical. I decided to trust myself not to cry unexpectedly; I hoped the majority of tears had been wrung out of me by now. 

There’s not a way to write an ode to you, Daniel. Each word you’re over my shoulder, knowing a better way to make a sentence sing. Your ghost is a literary monster shadow, and the thorough way I resent you for this is what I’d love to capture in words. 

I’ve made you laugh out loud with things I’ve written, your laugh inflating my ego every time. I’ve laughed at and loved your work, right before your eyes (or almost - you hid while I read and returned for the compliments, your cigarette smoked). 

I’m so tired. There’s only one night I can chalk up to sleepless grief, and that’s the night we had the news. Just so you know, I still don’t believe it. It takes the breath out of me and makes me wish to sleep a thousand years. I’m tired of feeling so very out of control - a whole planet, out of orbit. 

Today is a day I’ve been floating through; bumping into small parts sadness and distraction. I don’t know how to miss you. I don’t know what’s right - what you’d think made sense and what you’d scoff at.

Today is a day built on the fragility of our skin and bones. 

I’ve made a point of telling a story of my tears, to admit that most days lately I’ve cried the very tears I’m trying to manipulate into comic effect, somehow. I want to see how far I push this before they stop believing or responding. 

I wanted to tell the short story of us, to frame some of my sorrow in justification - see, we were close, he meant something - but also I mostly want very keenly to keep this close to my heart. I keep trying to take it out to look at it, to build some perspective, but my eyes beg to slide past it to focus on the middle distance. When does it go from being raw to being something to use? I’m trying to use it now, and getting nowhere.

The thing nobody tells you about grief is how quiet it is. It lays itself in your bones so they’re just a little more dense than they were before. It lines the pockets of your clothes; it rests just a little heavy on your tongue.

The thing nobody tells you about grief is how you’re alone with it so much of the time, because of the way people forget. The way people forget is sort of important too, to keep the world moving. 

The thing nobody tells you about grief is how it slaps you in the face; sucks the air from your lungs; drops you from a great height. It’s also nothing shocking - there, tucked underneath other piles of loose papers until the stone weighing it all down is shifted and it’s away.

The thing nobody tells you about grief is how it makes you look. Today, I wore makeup for the first time since I heard you had died. My face has been a mask plenty of other ways since then, but I have allowed space for the tears to fall away.

Monday, 21 August 2017

treasure: Stuart Lind Taylor, 30 year old person


I forgot your birthday card, but I hadn't written it yet, so it's ok. This way I get an extended word limit.

Stuart Lind Taylor. It’s your 30th birthday today, and I have known you since before I remember. You (I imagine) were the first person to help me to realise there were other people in the world as important as I was. You burst that only child bubble I lived in, in (most likely) the best possible way, and forced me to grow up and be better, to lead you and boss you into shape, to defend and protect someone else.

I like to imagine once I got over the shock of you, I boasted about you constantly; an extension of me after all, and between the two of us a force to be reckoned with. There’s actual video footage of me not sharing my toys with your curious hands - now, I choose to spin that into a valuable life lesson about pushing hard for what you want, because in the end you did have that one wooden block in your determined grasp. While it’s strange to imagine a world without our third part, Hugh Lind Taylor, that time did exist, and you (probably) taught me some of the most important things about loving someone without wanting anything from them. About good company that comes guaranteed, free of charge.

We’re so glad for Hugh - I'm sure that his arrival taught you the same things you taught me. This short love story I’m telling is almost as much about Hugh and me as is it about you, Stu, because we’re all different bits of the same thing.

We grew up and learned ways to stretch each other’s arms, legs and imaginations - where I bossed you into reading, your bravery forced me onto bikes down hills with no hands, and up trees without thinking about what girls were meant to do. We produced short films and dramatic recreations of Titanic, and you willingly obeyed my direction on countless weekends. You and Hugh were my favourite people to boss.

When I try to remember you as a teenager I honestly mostly draw a blank - that was the time I was facing inwards, and taking for granted you’d appear at the dinner table every night. I’m sure we were both cause for the other’s eye-rolls on more than one occasion, but I’m also sure we co-existed (mostly) pleasantly. With my fiery self, I’m sure this peace was down to you, because it’s the peace we all still find in your company; the peace that holds power, and acceptance, and patience.

Stu Taylor, you sort of amaze me. You’re always there, even when you’re 12 hours deep in night shift, or on the other side of the world on adventures. You’re there with us, talking shit and building the base from which your two (slightly less peaceful) siblings can launch into whichever rant we choose. You let us be exactly who we are, and you love us for exactly that. You allow us to celebrate all the victories you’ve arrived at. We get to hear your stories, to know more and more about you, and it’s treasured knowledge.

I’m biased, but you’re golden, and I won’t be challenged on that point. I keep learning things from you, and when I’m not quite sure about anything, there you are. Setting the earth straight.

Stu Lind Taylor. All three of us share that middle name, the one that used to embarrass me to explain or say out loud. I love that we all have it now - you and Hugh are my best friends and the ones most likely to be held up in the shape of an example by which the rest of the human race are measured.

I really can’t hope for more than for you to know how well loved and admired you are - by me, forever, and by everyone who’s lucky enough to know you. I hope you know, Stu, and feel that love as the world turns to wish you a happy 30th birthday.

If this is what you can do with 30 years, I can’t wait to be there with you for the next 30.

Lots of love for all the days

Helen Lind Taylor

Saturday, 15 July 2017

treasure: writing from when I was learning to write

A collection of notebooks left carefully in storage was recently returned to me, including a workbook from a creative writing subject I took in Semester 1, 2006. I thought it would be cringy and pretentious but I actually don't hate Past Helen's work. Thought I'd share.

A self portrait, 7 March 2006

a cactus and prickles
body full of smooth pebbles
head's got two bricks in it keep grating together
in cotton wool (and snot and nausea)
just a little bit like a hidden corner
eyes rolling over each other not working together
marbles make a heavy forehead greasy lips
clunk clunk 2 year old playing piano
the slow drip of glue without a lid on
limbs held together by rubber bands and prayers
edges of the smile flattened down by the weight of tired cheeks
lips full of lies
unpolished eyes

a body and a self almost less than the next self
achy doughy weighted
head out from and observing body
see the way my thighs cling together
for emotional support.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

treasure: today is one of those good days

Today is one of those good days they speak about.

I'm writing this here as a souvenir, so when there are the less good days I can remember that there are good days like this. It's a good day in the best way. It's calm and sure with guest appearances of euphoria. I luxuriate in the feeling of being both safe and powerful. Yes thankyou, planet. I'll take it.

I slept, flanked by the warm bodies of small dogs who most days seem to exist just to ply me with love. I watched a beautiful interview between Elisabeth Moss and Riz Ahmed, laying in bed - I woke up to artists I admire speak about their art while my brain put its day together.

I had my milky coffee and my vegemite toast just the way I like, with tofu on top, warm and crispy.

The puppies slept in while I got ready to work - they never sleep in, but today they loved my bed more than anything, and if I hadn't had to work I would have been right there with them. Sleepy kid-dogs watching my get-ready routine with the bemusement of those who know they're going right back to sleep when I've left the house was a small and precious treasure.

I wore the pretty skirt with flowers. I wore a pin that says "Born to Read". I shared my pin to Instagram. I wore new lipstick I bought last night when I got my hair cut. My haircut gave me that 'in control of my destiny' feeling.

I started my drive to work with the 'One Love Manchester' playlist. There was a little Mumford and Sons, then I skipped through Take That and Robbie Williams to Pharrell's 'Happy'. The crowd sang along, and I imagined the feeling of being in Manchester, after everything, and listened to those voices singing, and imagined, and then teared up. Still driving. I switched to my newest love, St. South - I got my shit well and truly together by the time I got to work.

I spoke about a project that's going to be awesome when we pull it off (we talked through the doubts and milestones to meet in the next week, and agreed on things).

I did my first academic speaking gig, and I didn't suck. I spoke more quickly than I wanted to, but I let myself off, because people had suggestions and questions and good things to say afterwards. I ate vegan cake my supervisor baked, and I soaked up the rest of the good ideas. I had emails from people with more ideas! They liked my ideas and suggested things for me to read next!

I helped my boss wrap gifts for upcoming international travel, and we talked on and around about the things I'd just talked about in my seminar. My heart was full of warm thoughts and ideas - the lived reality of research and ideas, all those exciting juicy bits. The world is open and full of possibility.

Monday, 15 May 2017

secret: the feelings we feel when we're not feeling feelings

do not for one second think I am not
collecting, categorising and filing away
each word you say to me.
each second of eye contact sits
in a file
in my heart
for me to feast upon
during extended periods of absence.

do not for one small moment
believe your jokes and slips of the tongue
(see: there; another one)
are not painstakingly checked over
and inspected for tone
do not fool yourself that I do not know
what you're doing, or
what I'm doing
that it goes nowhere
that our truths are different.

do not for one brief instant
allow yourself to entertain the notion
that I am yours. Not any more than
   you are mine, but
somehow you are - your words and looks
and breaths are my private collection
forgotten in 12 months, or never.

secret: a poem for this week, and this heavy weight

suddenly, the world is so small
& it's quiet
   like living alone is quiet
   like being nobody at all
      can get very quiet

when somebody made you
almost with bare hands
when you were clay
& you're shaped in their image
despite absences & gaps?
I cannot imagine. The words
   slow me down,
because I love you & somehow, still
leave absences & gaps of my own
when I wish that this whole time
since we started
I'd been more.
suddenly, now is the time to be more.

secret: on worshipping, idols, and teen girl obsessions

A little more than a year ago, I saw Miranda July and Carrie Brownstein at the All About Women festival at the Sydney Opera House. I wrote about it.

I don’t know what you call it when you’re not a teenage girl anymore, but you see artists you admire, who have made you feel something, somehow, and your heart gets full. what’s that called? because I am 30 years old and I have lived and breathed some years in the world, paying tax and driving to work for 9am starts, I have realised some things about how humans are and how systems work and what parts of these systems can be made to work for me and what parts just suck.

but I can sit 3rd row from the front of a talk at 10:30am, and listen and listen and feel like I’m remembering things I’d forgotten about how I’m meant to live and be and work and make and do, and my heart gets fuller and fuller and I start to know myself for sure again, and I just refuse to call that simple inspiration; I can feel it, I can feel something the same way that dancing and wine and skies full of moon and stars make my heart pound right up to bursting. I can feel like this feeling is falling in love the way I’d thought perhaps I never would (love always seems to be so practical and awful even when it’s lovely) and possibly I never will, not with a human, not quite in the open way I fall in love with everything when I am reminded of myself.

That feeling of all things being not only true but truly possible: that’s the feeling we could aim for when we work with others to pull forth their full potential. I can’t see any harm in wanting to fill rooms of people with excitement over everything they might do with their lives, and everything they might look like. There’s a rush of creating and of making that does not have to be boxed into the arts on their own. It could be about anything, a drive to make people feel that feeling.

It could be about making people laugh. Laughter means a lot of different things. It means happiness and it means amusement and it means relief; it might meant surprise, the shock of a penny dropping where you and me are all ok just the way we are, and we already know we are powerful and have everything to offer.

Being engaged as a member of an audience is a treasure to behold, and it is never really just about being able to recite lessons back or checking a box or a follow-up test. Leading is showing people how to care in a way that moves us along; that helps us to tread the earth in a confident forward motion. Working and not caring seems such a waste.

Imagine being the kind of person who inspired the feeling Miranda July inspired in me in the Sydney Opera House on Sunday morning: I walked out of there knowing that I was right to think I could do better than I have been; that what I have to give, once I roll it out flat and name its parts and sort it out so other people know where to put it or want to roll their own selves out flat alongside, that what I have to give is every bit as good as I already know it is.

poem: black denim

god bless you skinny legged
black denim encased
boys in bands

I imagine you’ve grown your hair long since you were a private school boy
you’ve grown a moustache and you mean it
I’m laughing at your jokes and calling your eyes over
you cannot see me in the crowd through the lights,
but still I’ve made a cosy story for us

let us never speak;
by 24 you’ve read just enough philosophy to be dangerous.

there’s no way I can oversell the fact that
you’re not smiling at me, even through the lights, you’re not smiling for me
and I’m not the one you pursue to take home
girls like me
never girls like me.

god bless you boys in bands and your
skinny black jeans

After the show
I leave suddenly, because
it doesn’t matter how good you look behind a keyboard in those black jeans if you’re a dick.

that’s a lie, because I am powerless before black skinny jeans
the cockiness of youth.

Let us speak, I can teach you something
beyond the music lessons your parents paid for that have you here, fodder for women
as well as girls
as well as me
as well as all of us.

us, we’re 
all scrabbling for 'cool enough’; 
you are unironically wearing a full moustache.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

secret: New Year's Eve, 2016 to 2017

Last time there were fireworks it was New Year’s Eve and I was dangerously close to going home with an unfamiliar boy from whom I’d felt an unspoken pull; that draw you get to a beautiful stranger; that tingle of mystery and recognition that can be endlessly romanticised, made all the more tantalising by virtue of the woman he had ignored on my behalf until she chased us down the street some time long after midnight.

I’d sat in the middle of one of the main streets of my hometown at 12 midnight, traffic be damned, with a clear view down the hill to those momentary and momentous bouquets of light and sound that meant something to those of us with resolutions, a year of shit to put behind us, dogs at home quailing at this faked thunder. 

I’d sat with a friend and his wife, our arms around each other by default, wishing each other all the things you’d expect of a New Year’s Eve. I’d steeled myself away from those "be better” promises, but I was pleased to see the back of a year that had dragged me with buckling knees into commitments, right past failed relationships I’d never given more than an “I wish” to. 

There’s a melancholy all of its own to realising you’re not even feeling particularly caught up in the sentiments of ringing in the shape of a new year. I found myself drawn into a long conversation with my friend about the nature of our friendships, which was telling of the year I’d been planning to have, but not of the year our friendship subsequently shaped up to look like. I worked to be heard over acquaintances and strangers singing hits from the 90s; we abandoned our important chat to sense-make snippets of conversation floating by us. 

Being made carefree by the hour of the morning, with the year still so new on my fingertips, I touched the shoulder of this beautiful stranger to launch myself into a back and forth on horoscopes. I laughed right into his face as he made a sparkly-eyed case for us two being an excellent match based upon the months we were born, as though we somehow knew each other quite aside from the basic facts we were missing. He asked my age, I asked his age. He asked if I liked girls or boys or both, and I asked him the same, and we smiled, complicit in our elusive answers and mutual interest.

Last time there were fireworks in my town, the night’s love story ended almost there, with a few small additional details in the shape of his female companion’s heartbreaking chase down the street (and my cluelessnes, or lack of finesse with pickup lines, or both). I am not one to steal someone out of the warmth of someone else’s heart where I can help it (no matter my fantasies). I am not one to wait to be chosen, either. 

There’s a story that goes something along the lines of, the way you spend the first hours of your new year determines the look and feel of the whole year ahead. For me, being wanted, and wanting, and then walking away on my own steam to my own house - that is my year, and perhaps more years to come. This is not a story of a pity party. I chose this, and I have power (that comes with the being wanted) and I listen to my heart (that comes with the wanting), and I reach to take the exact parts I want. 

All this is to say no more than that I remember the last time there were fireworks in this town; I remember the way they made me feel, which is really no more or less real and human than I’d already learned to feel. I remember the colours and the shapes, and the noise they made; I remember they went for longer than I’d expected, and I remember feeling the open space left over when they were done. 

Sunday, 8 January 2017

poetry 2017: 8 Jan

it is exhausting to find a place to sit
in my world of one or the other
as though a person can't be
sad but overjoyed
sunburned with a vitamin D deficiency
starving with a full belly.
they forget to balance in the precarious in-between
& they push their forgetting into my hands
expecting me to happily take hold.
I am bored by the broad world
having stumbled into a party uninvited
filled to the brim with people I know.

it's the happiest heartbreak to want both
but to also want neither;
to believe in standing up for your beliefs
while sitting quiet and wordless.
yes - exhausting,
to find a place to sit
in a seatless party
toasting failings; grasping straws
pushing past your handshakes.