When the big feels too big and the small feels too small. Or: Let the big boys piss. I have my own toilet to clean.

I’ve been sitting in front of my laptop for a little while now, trying to come up with something to write about. I didn’t sleep very well, I have a headache, and I’m cold. I’m tempted to drag my blanket and hot water bottle to the couch and watch crappy TV all day. It feels a bit odd, to just to sit here and write about the little things when so many big things are going on in the world. When two grown men have entered a pissing contest to see who can piss the furthest while seemingly forgetting this one minor detail that their little game could end up wiping out part of the world. When in Sydney homeless people are considered a nuissance by the government and are having that which has brought them a sense of community and safety destroyed. When it’s not only our addiction to single-use plastic that is poisoning our oceans and therefore marine life and our bodies, but also the fibres in the clothes we wear without most of us ever having considered this. Today, I’m a five year old who wants a cuddle and someone to stroke my hair and tell me it’s all going to be ok.

Well, that was depressing. I actually felt my mood sink even lower as I wrote that paragraph. I’m tempted to delete it because I don’t want it to do the same to you.  At the same time, it also shows the powerful effects of thinking about big bad things on my sense of wellbeing. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think about them – on the contrary! It’s so important to know what is going on in the world, and we can’t just hide and pretend everything is perfectly fine. It should, however, not result in the kind of paralysis that makes us want to crawl under a blanket and never come out again. These are big issues, too big for anyone to fully comprehend, which often means that we feel powerless. We can’t just pick up the phone and call one or two little boys and tell them to stop it. We can’t make every single person reconsider their buying habits and their love of cheap fast-fashion. We can’t conjure up an invisible protective wall around the Martin Place tent camp nor bring down Sydney housing prices and fix the deeply rooted gender and other inequalities that are the root of the problem.

I’m not doing too well shifting the mood of this post to be non-depressing, am I? Let’s try again…

What we can do is craft a life that reflects our values. A life that, on a very small-scale level, constitutes a protest against the big things that horrify us. A life that, in very minor ways, helps us to resist the paralysing effects of the ‘too big to comprehend’ and the ‘too messed up to be able to do something about’. It’s important to know and to be reminded that this is something we can do, even though it feels pointless and self-absorbed. What I’m really doing here is reminding myself. Telling myself not to drag my body, my blanket, and my hot water bottle to the couch and lie there all day watching crappy TV. (A cuddle would still be nice, but I know that’s not going to happen today so I’ll just have to learn to live with that.) I care about slow and about simple, about people and about caring, about creating and about learning. I know this, yet too often the things I do and say don’t reflect these values. I get swept away by fast and easy, by my own emotions at the expense of others who don’t deserve some of my responses, by laziness and complacency. Once again, writing a blog post here is about reminding myself of what is important to me and about setting intentions.

20638184_10155546621416168_1124061607223839572_n

This weekend I don’t have a jumper to crochet anymore. I finished it last Saturday night. That makes me a little sad. That said, I’ve worn it every day this week and it’s perfectly imperfect, it’s warm and soft and feels like wearing a giant cuddle. I’ve been working on a blanket for a couple of months now, which is a great mindless project, but I want to work on something more challenging too. I found these little squares stashed away in a bag. I crocheted them when I was first learning and had forgotten about them. I might see if I can make them into a cardigan, even though I doubt I’ll have enough yarn for it. Focussing on the process of making and creating, not on finishing. Slow ‘fashion’ and all that. Reminding myself that clothes are valuable items, take time to make, and shouldn’t just be bought nor thrown out with little consideration.

IMG_9976

The lip balm I made last weekend is excellent. Even though I always used ‘natural’ store-bought lip balms before, I had to apply them several times a day. With this one, once or twice a day is all I need. The recipe is ridiculously simple: one teaspoon of beeswax beads, one teaspoon of coconut oil, and one teaspoon of shea butter. Melt it all together and pour into small containers. I also added a few drops of peppermint essential oil to the mixture.

I almost didn’t bake the cake I said I was going to bake last weekend, but jumped into action on Sunday night. I’m glad I did – I’ve enjoyed a slice of pineapple pound cake with my coffee for breakfast every morning. It only took 10 minutes to whip up and shove into the oven, but it’s been such a wonderful start to the day!

There were moments, however short, of lying in the sun. Feeling the wind stroke my face, the grass tickling my fingers, the warmth filling my body. Squinting to try and take in my surroundings, but ultimately deciding to just let it be, close my eyes, and drift off.

IMG_9953

Earlier this week, I found some cutoffs from a very thin white curtain in the back of a drawer, and I’m going to make it into produce bags. I’ve never really used the plastic bags at the shops for fruit and vegetables except for small items like round beans or Brussels sprouts, but it’s time I stopped doing that too. It’s simply not OK. I considered buying produce bags because it’s easier, but ultimately it doesn’t make sense to pay for something I can easily make myself, and to justify the production of more material with all its environmental consequences when I have fabric lying around that’s not being used and that is perfect for what I need.

In other single use plastic-fighting news, I started carrying a small metal pencil case with a fork, spoon, and cloth napkin in my bag so I can refuse plastic cutlery and paper napkins when I need to get some food on the go.

This one is going to make me sound completely insane – but before you send over the nice people in white coats, please bear with me. On Tuesday, for some reason, I got very annoyed and agitated when I opened the mirror cabinet in the bathroom. I don’t have a lot of stuff in there – I don’t use all that much, and one of each is plenty for me – but somehow it felt like the labels on every single one of the items I have in there were screaming for my attention. There were so many different colours, each one brighter than the other, so many different fonts, so many flashy names. As some sort of possessed lunatic, I got to work and tore off every label that would come off. The end result: QUIET. I walk into my bathroom now, with or without opening the cabinet, and I’m overcome by a sense of calm. It’s an interesting feeling, and it’s made me wonder about how the rest of my home influences how I feel.

I’m still struggling to shake my ‘wake up – check phone – waste too much time before even getting out of bed’ habit, but I have been reading before going to sleep every night. I’m currently reading Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller, and while it’s nothing earth-shattering, I do like it and there are some absolutely beautiful sections. I’m also listening to the audiobook version of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. I thought I would hate it, but I don’t, which is quite shocking. There are parts where I can’t help making a face – she’s a little way too floaty at times – but her thoughts are the gentle and caring kick in the bum I need.

In terms of music, I’ve been slightly obsessed with Judee Sill. I heard one of her songs on the radio a couple of days ago and haven’t stopped listening to her music since. Her life was short and what you’d call tragic, and it’s a little strange her music hasn’t made more of an impact. There are the songs like the one below, but also much more intimate songs like Emerald River Dance. All equally beautiful.

That’s it for my week, my mood, my thoughts. A lot of words for someone who didn’t know what to write. You might be bored out of your mind by my ramblings, but it’s been good for me. I’ve regained some sense of purpose. Let the big boys piss. I have my own toilet to clean.

Saartje

 

An exercise in making time last longer

It’s hard to believe it’s Saturday again. I didn’t expect it to be this way, that sitting down to write this blog at a set time every week would make me realise how quickly the days go by if you let them get away from you. In some strange way, writing this blog is an exercise in making time last longer. Not because writing little notes here makes me re-experience what I did in the past week, but because it reminds me to experience future moments as they are happening. As I’m writing this, I’m reminded of Gretchen Rubin who in her book The Happiness Project writes, “The days are long, but the years are short.” My reading of the quote is this. The years get away from us, perhaps they’re too long or too big to fully grasp or comprehend and therefore, paradoxically, they seem short. A day, though, is short enough for it to seem manageable to make a commitment to experience it to the fullest. A day is long, it’s filled countless little things that we shouldn’t just allow to pass us by. Life is happening, right here, right now.

All of this is easier said than done, of course. When my alarm went off this morning I didn’t feel like getting up. Instead of turning it off or changing it to a later time, I just lay there, trying to fall asleep again with shitty, loud music and too many ads yelling at me in the background. (Yes, I use an alarm clock, not my phone. So 20th century of me!) After about 25 minutes it finally turned itself off, but instead of going back to sleep properly or getting up, I reached for my phone. On Facebook I commented on some funny memes and sighed at the ridiculous news stories that popped up, and I peeked into people’s lives on Instagram. None of these things made me particularly happy, but I kept scrolling anyway. Before I knew it, half an hour had passed. It’s not that there’s a problem with unstructured time or getting lost in what you’re doing. What bothers me is that this mindless scrolling through social media for the possibility of a chuckle at a funny picture that I could easily live without or an interesting news story that I would’ve come across anyway later in the day has become an automatic response to empty moments.

The interesting thing is, I rarely ever feel the urge to check my phone when I’m spending time – structured, or unstructured – with other people. I should clarify here that I live alone, don’t have a partner, and don’t have children. Perhaps I’m not as good at being by myself as I like to think I am? Or maybe I used to be, and social media has changed this, has conditioned me to crave the constant presence of others, even strangers, in my life? In front of all of you – accountability and all that – I’m setting myself the task to think about this more and to come up with ways to fight this mindless, often mildly unpleasant, habit in the next couple of weeks. More to come…

IMG_9759

Life’s been more than bad habits this week, though. I went for a very nice walk at sunset earlier this week. I sometimes forget how beautiful the area I live in is, and so forget to go outside and soak it all up.

I had a wonderful evening at a Christmas in July party last Saturday. It was one of those nights where I felt fully present. I wasn’t thinking about the day I’d had or the week ahead. There was only ‘now,’ the right people, and lots and lots of laughter.

Yesterday, for the first time in forever, I ticked off every item on my to do list. As you may have gathered from last week’s post, I’m terrible at to do lists. They’re a list of expectations, which means I’ll fight them. That means I don’t get anything done, so I’ll feel like a failure, which means I’ll get even less done because I’ve lost all confidence in my abilities. The funny thing is, yesterday, as I was working, I didn’t even worry about getting everything – or anything – done. I just did. This is a huge thing for me. Maybe things are changing?

In other news, I’m about halfway through Emma Cline’s novel The Girls. I picked it up because it got some excellent reviews but I’ve struggled to make it this far. There’s something in it, definitely, but I’m not convinced. When I started reading it I dreaded picking it up again after I’d put it down. I must admit that since I made the commitment last week to read at least a couple of pages every day I am enjoying it more. The story is still quite repetitive and lacking in depth, but I do feel a little more connected to the characters and the setting than I did at first. Overall, though, I wouldn’t recommend it.

IMG_9761

For this weekend, I plan to finally finish the jumper I’ve been crocheting for the last couple of weeks. I’m going to work on not thinking about finishing it, but on the part where I’m making something with my own hands out of what is basically a piece of string and a thin metal stick. I’m going to enjoy the process of trial and error that comes with crocheting something for the first time without a pattern, and the creativity and resourcefulness that requires. Once it’s finished, I don’t want to feel happy about having finished it. I know this might sound odd, but it’s not about achieving goals or completing tasks. What I want to be happy about is the process of wearing an item of clothing that I made, to see the stitches I carefully crafted one by one, to feel the material on my skin, to take care of it.

IMG_9758

I’m also going to try my hand at making my own lip balm for the first time. I bought some shea butter and beeswax earlier this week, which I’ll melt with coconut oil and pour into some tiny containers I’ve collected over the last few of months. Simple, but exactly what I need. Nothing more, nothing less.

I’m going to bake a cake, and if I get around to it, I might look up recipes to make bread. If you know of any simple bread recipes, feel free to leave them in the comments!

Making the things I need instead of going to the shops to buy them is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but I always manage to come up with some sort of silly excuse not to do it: it’s easier, faster, doesn’t require planning, it’ll be better quality, look more perfect,… These are instant, automatic responses that I want to unlearn. They’re learnt behaviours, acquired over years and years of living in a world of always more and always faster. 

And so to tie all the separate pieces of this long post together, making things with my own hands makes me feel more present in the now, in my own life, in the world I live in. It makes time last longer.

I hope you’ve had a week full of wonderful, little things, too.

Saartje

 

Together

And so a week has passed. It’s Saturday morning and I’m still in bed. There’s a steaming hot cup of coffee on my bedside table and layers upon layers of blankets are keeping me warm. I’m excited about sharing some of my thoughts in this space. To be perfectly honest, I’m surprised that I’m sticking to my plan to write here on Saturday mornings. You see, I’m really bad with expectations. It’s only recently that I’ve started to recognise this pattern. If there’s the expectation that I do something, I will fight it, almost automatically. Even if it’s something that I enjoy doing or that I really want to do. It doesn’t matter if it’s an internal or external expectation, or whether it’s work, hobbies, or catch-ups with friends. Expectation equals fight. The interesting thing is that I also love routine. What makes me feel good are set things at set times. Routine makes me feel less anxious, more confident, and generally turns me into a much more functional human being. As an expectation-fighter I find it hard to maintain routines, though, because routines are like expectations. Yet here I am, trying to retrain my brain one blog post at a time. Convincing myself that this is not an expectation, but that it is merely something I like doing. I’ve yet to figure out how to combine these two things in a bigger way, so if you’re a fellow expectation-fighting routine-lover, feel free to share your strategies in the comments!

I think that’s enough rambling about how shocked I am that I’m actually writing this today. What I want to write about is the thing that pushed me to finally start this blog. It happened two weeks ago. Every Thursday morning, I teach a Primary Ethics class at a local primary school. That day, I was on my way to the cafe where I had agreed to meet with two new Ethics teachers before they were pushed in at the deep end and taught their first class. Our little group of volunteers is growing, and that in itself made me happy. People giving up a little bit of their free time every week to work towards a common goal.

It was a crisp, cold morning, and there was quite a bit of wind but not a cloud in sight. I was listening to this song I’d had on repeat for most of the week. As I walked past the park, I saw a group of people sitting on milk crates in a circle. They were talking. Almost instantly I found myself smiling at the beauty of it. At the time I didn’t know what they were doing. For all I knew, they were having an AA meeting, planning a bank robbery, or discussing optimal meth injection methods (not as impossible in my area as you might think!). Maybe they were just a couple of friends who got together for a chat. But they were sitting there, together.

A little later, I was forced to move to the far left side of the footpath to make room for six old men who were coming from the opposite direction. All six of them walking in a long row. Usually that would’ve annoyed me, a group of people taking up the whole footpath. Not this time, though. They had their hands crossed behind their backs, in the way I’ve only ever seen my grandfather’s generation do. I felt a pinch of sadness, thinking that’s something that will be lost soon. But it was a beautiful sight, these six men, quietly walking in a row, wearing dress pants and woollen coats, hands behind their backs. It looked like this was something they often did. No need to talk. Just walk, together.

Later that day, on my way to uni, the train stopped next to a sandy patch where a group of people were playing bowls. They were all rugged up, and they all seemed to know each other quite well. Concentrating one moment, laughing the next. This time as well, I didn’t know them, what their histories were, or whether they even liked each other at all. But from a distance, it looked beautiful. These people, doing something, together.

That moment on the train, after a day of noticing seemingly unrelated things and realising how they filled my whole being with joy, how it energised me to the core, is when I decided I wanted to open my eyes more to the everyday, every day. And to write about it. To share it. To hold onto it tightly and to not just let it slip away.

Saartje

 

Little matters

Go on a big adventure, step out of your comfort zone, travel far, jump out of a plane, dream big, reach for the stars, own more, do more, run a marathon. Messages like these are everywhere, and it feels like yes, of course, that’s how to live a full life! If this works for you, great. Go you. I’ll come and meet you at the airport, I’ll cheer you on from the sidelines in my best cheerleading pom poms and I may even learn a cheer or two for the occasion, I’ll scrape your body off the ground if your jump goes wrong. And I promise I’ll do it without a hint of sarcasm.

But I’ve come to realise that all that big-ness and more-ness and new-ness isn’t making me particularly happy. I don’t want to travel. I don’t want to push myself in big ways. I don’t want to learn to fly. I like being at home surrounded by what I know. I take pleasure in little things, in little matters. For me, the big things matter little.

It’s the little things, every day. The routines, the habits. Feeling, seeing, hearing what is around me. I’m talking really small things here. Seeing the play of light on the wall when I wake up in the morning, the feeling of soft fabric on my skin, a steaming hot cup of tea with just the right amount of milk. Overhearing a conversation on the train, watching people laugh together as they walk past me on the street.

None of this means that I can’t value bigger things – even though my bigger things might seem quite small to others. What makes me happy, though, is not the achievement of these bigger things, but the little things on the way there. They might not feel pleasant as I’m experiencing them, but looking back on the process, they’re what fills me with joy.

I’m starting this blog as a way to focus more on these little things, because it’s so easy to get caught up in the constant stream of opinion pieces, memes, inspirational quotes etc. that yell at you that you’re doing it wrong, even when you know you’re not. I want to notice the little things even more, to live the everyday with intention, to find joy in the less pleasant things as I’m experiencing them and not only as I’m looking back on them.

I intend to set aside some time every Saturday morning to reflect on the little matters of the past week, probably in bed, in my wonderfully fluffy yet horrendously ugly and therefore stunning bathrobe, cup of coffee on the bedside table. It’d be nice if you came along for the trip.

So here it is, my ode to the everyday. Because when in the grand scheme of things little matters, it is the little things that matter.

Saartje