A Millionthousandzillion Minutes

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In some ways it’s obvious and beyond our control: time is linear and finite, the sun rises and sets, the seasons change, businesses open and close, and, if we are to be a part of society, we fit ourselves into the pattern of everyone else’s routine.

But time is so much more interesting than ticking clocks and the turning pages of calendars. The more I think about it, the more I understand time to be a bending, compressing, stretching thing; still mostly out of our control, but unique to every one of us.

How else do you explain the way some moments seem to last forever – living on as a detailed memory long after they have passed? And that there are months, perhaps years, you don’t remember at all?

Am I the only one who feels there is never enough time, lying awake at night wishing I could be three people so I could do all the things I want to do in this life, hang out with all the people, see all the movies, read all the books, learn all the things, absorb all the places and cultures, spend all the time with the people I love, train parkour and capoeira, walk the dog, watch the stars, write a book? And do all those other things, like eat and sleep?

I think back on the slowest times in my life, the ones I remember most clearly, and they all have one thing in common: I was fully present. I remember a lot of my parkour training over the years because it requires me to be present, or else I risk serious injury. I remember all those teenage firsts. I remember sitting alone on a plane to the other side of the world, unsure of anything but the fact that I was unsure. I remember being in a bus crash when I was nine. I remember conversations where I’ve connected with people on multiple levels, some of whom I only met once, briefly, and I never even got their name; conversations where the rest of the world melted away, and I learned something about them, about myself, and about the way of things. I remember dancing with my husband, tipsy and barefoot, on a beach in Boracay. I remember laughing with one of my best friends till we cried, about a shoe. I remember times my heart was full to bursting, and times it felt torn apart. I remember curling up in the middle of the courtyard on one of my first days of school, in tears, completely alone surrounded by people for the first time in my life.

And then: I pick up my phone for five minutes, and an hour disappears into the internet.

In the hours between two and four am, I lie in a daze, not quite awake, certainly not asleep, considering giving up on sleep altogether. The minutes stretch on for eternity. My stomach rumbles. My eyes hurt. And then, somewhere between four and eight am, time slides away.

I sit down to write, and the first twenty minutes is like squeezing words from an empty toothpaste tube. Then, on the best days, two hours disappear and when I ‘wake up’, there will be pages of words that didn’t exist before, not quite in that way, in that order. Like magic.

There’s a trick to this: do one thing at a time. It makes time slow down, and multiply. When we try to do many things at once, we never finish anything, we don’t realise how much we’ve actually achieved, only what we didn’t, we’re left frustrated, and dissatisfied, and incomplete, wishing we could be three people so we could do it all. We try to have dinner with our partners, look out for an incoming work email, partake in our friends’ messenger conversation, and comment on someone else’s Facebook post, at the same time, and every one of those exchanges becomes meaningless and thus forgotten.

I used to give the kids this exercise: write about the longest minute of your life. I had them think about what makes time move slowly (anticipation, boredom, tension, fear), and what speeds it up (excitement, fun, routine). Of course, it was nonsense, in a way: time moves on at the same pace no matter what’s happening for you in any given moment. But your perception of it changes, and this makes all the difference.

What if we all realised the power we have to bend, compress, and stretch time? That we can take notice of all the details when we’re at our happiest to make them last longer. And not dwell on the things that bore us, scare us, worry us, so that they don’t take over, as they tend to do (at least for me).

Time would still go on as it always has – the sun will rise and set, we will grow older.

But maybe less time will disappear into internet.

And more time will unfold in the presence of people we connect with on multiple levels.

Sometimes, partway through a workshop, one of the kids will ask: “How many more minutes?”

I say, “A millionthousandzillion.”

They laugh, and look at the clock.

“Only ten minutes!”

And they write faster. As soon as they’re focussed, even they know ten minutes can disappear in the blink of an eye. But in its place is something that didn’t exist before, not in that way, in that order. A story.

And stories last forever.

A Plan of Action

I’ve only ever followed politics to a point. After that point (which will be different for everyone) it becomes background noise, two kids fighting for your best friendship just so they can share the chocolates your mum always puts in your lunchbox. I’ve felt guilty feeling this way, because, despite uninspiring options, it’s something I should care more about. Don’t you care about the economy? About your rights? About the country you live in and the people you share it with?

You think other people will take care of that. You assume they will exercise common sense. You think it doesn’t make much difference who you vote for, or which of these loud-mouthed kids is leading.

But you are wrong.

For the first time, in the lead-up to an election, I felt genuinely worried. Months ago, it was, “Are you kidding me? No one is going to take him seriously.” And now here we are.

I’m not American, but because it’s America, we’re all affected. That’s what makes this even more painful that our vote really doesn’t count, we don’t get a say. We can only watch in disbelief as state after state makes their choice.

For the first time, because of an election, I wanted to curl up in a ball in bed and stay there. Like someone who had personally disrespected me and hurt me the day before, I didn’t want to give him my time or energy – he didn’t deserve it – but then I felt that guilt again. It’s because of people who might have voted differently not caring enough, not knowing and understanding enough, not even voting, that these things happen.

Earlier this year, I was in London the day of the Brexit result. Everyone I spoke to was outraged, upset, disappointed. But clearly my ‘everyone’ was not the majority; at least not the majority who actually voted. Soon after, I learnt that in Australia, Pauline Hanson was back in the senate. Pauline ‘White Australia Policy’ Hanson. She was around when I was in high school, when I was just starting to get over wishing I was ‘normal’ and white, getting  comfortable with and even proud of being Asian-Australian, feeling like I belonged. Her wanting ‘us’ out hurt. And the fact that she had any public voice at all, no matter how easy she was for the media to mock, she had supporters. ‘My people’ supported her wanting ‘us’ out.

Not to mention it made the changing of our refugee policies, and the opening of our borders to asylum seekers who are not only being held in limbo for years but tortured under our government’s watch, having escaped desperate circumstances only to find themselves in equally desperate circumstances, feeling further away than ever. Never before have I felt so ashamed to be Australian, part of a privileged Western society, as I have in recent years.

In school we learnt about Hitler, and the horrors of wars that happened before our time. I had nightmares about living in cupboards only to have my family and friends killed anyway. We learnt what can happen when the majority of people lose all reason, deciding only to look after ‘their own’, brainwashed into living in fear of the ‘other’. We learnt what can happen when the wrong people are given too much power. In class, we shook our heads and thought, “Thank goodness we live now, when people know better!”

But clearly, more voters than not don’t know better.

I’m taking solace from the fact that my social media feeds are flooded with posts from friends who are just as disgusted, shocked, saddened, and disappointed as I am. That some of those posts are reminders of our need to band together and, now more than ever, speak up and fight for what is right. I’m taking solace from the fact that I don’t associate with closed-minded idiots people who pass judgement and make decisions based on fear, ignorance, and hatred.

Right now, I feel small, powerless, and afraid. I feel like this kind of behaviour, and other hurtful, unjustified, uneducated and inhumane behaviours and views, have been validated. I feel like the way I feel doesn’t matter. I feel like the child-version of me was right to wish she was ‘normal’ (a.k.a. white), that I can’t go back and tell her, “Hey, you are just as Australian as anyone else. You belong, you are wanted, what makes you different actually adds to the beautiful, diverse, proudly multicultural Australia you are lucky enough to live in.” I can’t tell her how lucky she is to be born into a time of openness, acceptance, peace and freedom. And it looks like I won’t be able to say that to my future children either.

I don’t share this blog much/at all, so if you’re reading this, you probably know me, and we’re friends because we’re both not bigoted assholes good people who care about other people – and not just those who look like us, behave like us, and have grown up with similar circumstances and privileges. You’ve probably contributed to the social media feed I’ve been taking solace in. So I don’t need to convince you. And what we need now is not more venting and despairing (thank you for reading though), but a plan of action.

Here’s mine:

  1. Bury my head and weep for a few days.
  2. Re-group. Remember that the day before yesterday I was on a mission to live a full life and contribute positively to the world I want to live in. I believed, and still believe, we essentially all want the same things. To be happy. To be free. To feel safe. Even though fear and hatred are the driving forces at the moment, this can, will, and must change.
  3. Continue on that mission. Continue calling out bigotry, homophobia, sexism, racism. Even – especially – when it’s a ‘joke’. It’s never, ever a joke. It’s never ok.
  4. Continue to take solace from the fact that the people I know and associate with are intelligent, compassionate people with good hearts, many of whom are actively driving conversations and initiatives towards greater understanding, love, empathy, and acceptance. Read, talk, and remember how many more of us are out there. We are on the same side, and together we can effect change.
  5. Dont lose hope. Ever.
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An amazing tree I found in Bali, Indonesia about a month ago. I’m going to assume it’s survived a lot of tough times, but has stayed strong, kept going, and has only grown more and more amazing. This is my hope for humanity.

Belated.

I often scribble things down and forget about them, but some thoughts are worth holding onto.

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19/8/16

I don’t know what distance I covered. I don’t know how much time I spent. All I know is that after a day of feeling overwhelmed (there were tears) I felt infinitely better after going outside to just quadrupedal alone under the moon and stars. I could achieve that, the more I pushed the more natural it felt, the stronger I felt. And now I feel like I could conquer anything.

London, June 2016

i saw a fox walking towards me in the darkness.

it stalked up the street, we shared a footpath.

headlights swept sparkles across wet concrete

i reached for my phone, knowing i didn’t need an Instagram picture to prove anything

the fox froze, and disappeared through a fence into the night.

*

on the tube, a boy sat down with his young mum.

she sat hunched over him, spoke in whispers, and when she smiled it was quick, forced because he waited for it each time he said something to her

the boy chatted and rummaged through the shopping for a snack

he didn’t know or care about the unspoken tube-oath of silence

he stuffed his face with chocolate popcorn, grinning at the couple beside me with rainbows painted on their faces

ssh, his mum said

he pushed more popcorn into his mouth, then painted arches in the air with his hands

in the reflection, the rainbow-faced boyfriend smiled back

the boy’s mum shuffled in her seat. fixed the boy’s hair, pulled him closer. pressed a kiss into his head.

‘mummy,’ the boy said loudly. ‘do you know chocolate is my favourite of all the fruits? but actually you are in front of any foods is how much i love you. even more than chocolate.”

*

this city is laced with memories of the most unsure years of my life.

the triggers are everywhere –

this was when

here was where

i want to reach through time and hug myself

tell that girl,

you did the best you could.

everything is going to be ok.

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I have a favourite feeling.

Image via lilacsunandsea

Image via lilacsunandsea

I have a favourite feeling. It’s wading through mountain streams with my shoes stuffed in my pocket. It’s climbing over boulders and squeezing between trees, sliding down muddy slopes, getting somewhere in a way that requires awareness of every step, every muscle in my body, dirt in my fingernails, and probably a scratch or bruise (or two) just to remind me that I’m not that different from the girl who used to dream of a tree house in the backyard. It’s Matty putting his arm around me wordlessly while we walk Nala through the park after dinner. It’s watching sunrises unexpectedly, quietly, because I woke up, or someone woke me up to watch it with them. It’s writing when the words seem to know who comes next all by themselves. It’s daytime catch-ups with the girls that I grew up with. It’s lunch dates with my mum. Dad sitting opposite me to talk about his day. My brother calling to ask for advice on one of his first days away from home. Nala climbing into my lap and trying to fit the same way she did when she was small.

My favourite feeling is sitting on the cool sand of a beach, feeling the sea breeze messying my hair and filling my head with endorphins. It’s candles that smell like somewhere else (lemongrass, coconut, oranges, vanilla), Early grey tea with milk and honey, a single square (or two) of dark chocolate, a moment to myself to write something that is not necessarily for anyone but me. It’s cold days indoors under a blanket, with a book I can get lost in. It’s a hot shower on a cold day. A cold shower on a hot day. It’s remembering that for all the small things on my mind, the list of things to do that never seems to be entirely crossed off, I have actually crossed off more things than I ever imagined would even be on that list.

That I am shaping the life I want to live, that I’m getting there.

And my favourite feeling is not being able to sleep at 3am, knowing tomorrow (today) is going to be a struggle. But also knowing it’s ok because an urge to write pulled me out of bed, and I wrote this, and it feels like everything good that has ever happened.

Truck Driver

Two days ago, I walked around the corner from my studio to go to Foodworks. I saw the truck parked outside, and I saw the fat, middle-aged man sitting alone in it with the window down. Instinctively, I kept my eyes forward and hoped not to hear anything.

“Hey!” I heard him shout. My eyes flickered just enough to know he was talking to me. “Hey, honey! How are you? I’d like to take you home and – ”

I kept walking. It was a sunny mid-afternoon, but there was no one else around to see me duck into Foodworks as planned. On my way out, I chose the opposite entrance.

Yesterday, I was at the studio again. I didn’t realise I was playing the scenario again in my head until it was already happening. In the replay, I turned back around. My head stopped thinking and my legs carried me straight towards the truck driver, his expression already altered to one of surprise.

“Do you have a mother?” The words shot out of my mouth like bullets.

“Of course I f-ing have a mother,” he scoffed.

“How would you feel if you knew men were speaking to her that way?”

To this, he put his hands up. “Hey, I have a wife and daughter, ok? I was only messing around.”

“That’s even worse,” I added. “You should be ashamed of yourself.”

I turned back around and continued on my way. Later, I thought, I’d write a blog post about this. I’d share it on Facebook and Twitter, show how I had been one of those girls who didn’t take this sh*t.

If anyone asked how I got the courage, I’d say I was thinking about the little girls I teach who would one day grow up to be spoken to like they don’t deserve to be respected as a whole, emotion-fueled human being. I was thinking about the boys I teach who may or may not one day grow up to be one of those men doing the disrespectful speaking.

I’d say I remember being beeped and whistled at, and called out to from the open windows of passing cars while I walked my dog when I was fifteen. I’ve been slapped on the arse by cyclists who sped away faster than I could turn around and open my mouth, even if I had had that instinctive reaction. I know how common it is and that much worse happens than what has happened to me, but what hurts is feeling uncomfortable walking back to my car alone at night. What hurts is not wanting to train parkour alone because apparently just being female and walking normally draws too much attention. What hurts is seeing a truck driver with his window down and before he says anything, I’m already bracing myself and putting the invisible blinkers on.

Then the replay fizzled out, and there was nothing to be proud of. The truth is, I wasn’t ‘courageous’ because I’d rather feign ignorance than risk further – worse – harassment.

I hate feeling like I need to walk with blinkers on, and play deaf while a stranger thinks it’s ok to speak to me like I’m a walking image.

I hate that it makes me want to fold into a shell like a hermit crab, only to emerge when it’s ‘safe’.

I hate how much this can effect me, when I know so many kind, loving, respectful guys.

I hate hating so much.

Most of all, I hate being put in a position – because I’ve heard enough stories to know worst-case scenarios can and do happen, all the time – where I feel helpless.

Two months ago, I wrote a fictional piece about a woman who loves to run alone at night. I wrote it on a night I wished I could (there is no such night, it seems).

Here it is.

***

She runs at night. When her husband and children are sleeping and the off-lead dogs are in their kennels, and ribbons of clouds streak the navy blue sky; when the moon is a pale, dusty coin, she changes in the dark and tip-toes to the front door. Slips permanently-tied shoes on. There is the softest click of the door; a slight tinkering of metal as she pushes the house key off the ring and into the zip pocket of her running top. As the door clicks shut behind her, she holds her breath, listening for the pat-pat-pat of small, bare feet on tiles (“Mummy!”) – but there is nothing. She breathes out. Turns towards the end of the driveway, the street, the main road she must cross to get to the track.

It’s so quiet she can’t resist the smile that curls up the edges of her lips. The open space, the shiver of night air, the taste of all you need to do now is run.

Quietly. One foot after the other, focussing on her forefoot strike, breathing in through her nose and out through her mouth. It feels good to move with no one watching; no girls in short-shorts and fluoro crop tops zipping past; no men pretending not to notice the way her breasts bounce; no truck drivers beeping their horns (“Hey, baby!”); no children on tricycles with long handles for their parents to hold, something in the grown-ups’ eyes saying, Shouldn’t you be somewhere else?

She runs at night, when possums scamper across power lines and disappear into the trees. When foxes dart across the track so quickly she questions whether she really saw one at all. On the other side of fences, she looks out for the yellow glow behind windows, the late-night flicker-flash of TV screens – signs of people still awake. Because you never know. Because just in case. Because you shouldn’t be out here, running alone at night. What were you thinking?

She runs faster.

Stars

By Michael J. Bennett (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A friend once told me that when they were a kid, they would camp out on their grandparents’ farm and sleep under the stars.

‘You’ve never seen so many stars,’ they said. ‘It was like sleeping under a dark sheet with a million pinpricks in it, letting the light in.’

I still love the way they described that sky, and I can still imagine the kid-version of them lying in a tent with their siblings, talking and laughing with the door unzipped so they could see out. My friend described so perfectly a sky I haven’t seen nearly enough in my life, growing up so close to a big city, in a suburb mapped with streetlights.

There were school camps out in the bush, cooking marshmallows on the fire while one of the teachers strummed a guitar and tried to get us all to sing along. There was one camp at Mt Buller, where one night I walked around with another friend after lights-out, treading carefully through the icy sludge that was trying to pass as snow that year. We turned a corner behind a cabin and stopped because the whole world in front of us became that pinprick-sheet of stars.

There was a family trip when my brother and I were kids – I can’t remember when or where it was – but we took a night tour into some caves to see the glow worms, and when we emerged, that same sky enveloped us like a majestic dome.

I’m sure there have been more occasions when I’ve seen it … or perhaps not.

I haven’t seen that friend who used to camp out on their grandparents’ farm for years. But I can still hear them talking about the stars.

That’s all I wanted to write, really: a note to myself, and perhaps to you, as another year draws us swiftly, head-first, into another:

See more stars.