Open letter to facebook friends

Dear FB friends,

It’s time we had a little talk. Face to face. I want to chat to you about friendship – about sharing and boundaries. I want to remind you what real friendship means and to ask you to get out of my face, facebook friends.

What defines a friend? Of course there’s no one type of friend. There are those good, old mates we’ve known forever. They’re the ones who’ve seen us at our best and worst and still remain true. They held back our hair when we threw up at that New Year’s Eve party thirty years ago. This friend didn’t tell us not to marry the man even though they couldn’t stand him and knew it wouldn’t last. And they were there when it all fell apart. This friend brings kind words and casseroles when we’re sad or sick.

There are work friends, best friends, newly minted friends, and friends from our various ‘tribes’. (Think Book Club, bushwalking group, pilates class, tennis pals).

Then there’s you, facebook friend. Now you may be a friend to me in real life, in which case, depending on the depth of our relationship, I will take the time (not much time, to be honest) to check out the photos from your recent trip to Croatia, or the cute costume you gave to your latest grandchild for their birthday. I may post an amusing or slightly insulting quip just to show I’m interested. Or not.

If we are real friends and I’ve had a great breakfast somewhere, chances are I enjoyed that meal with you and I was able to point out to you in real life the fantastic presentation, the freshness of the avocado and the vivid yellow of the egg yolks. I may have even given you a taste.

But if we’re unlikely to share a meal in the real world I wonder why you think it appropriate for me to post a photo of said meal on facebook? Surely no one is interested in seeing a photo of what I just injested? After all, there’s a reason I didn’t ask you to come to breakfast with me (my shout). We’re not real-life friends. OK?

And why do you think I want to see pictures of what you ate at St Louis Café Noir last night? You’re sharing something you think is amazing which just makes me feel bad because I didn’t get to eat it.

To share is to have a portion of something with others, to enjoy something with others. It’s real, not vicarious. So much of what you ‘share’ with me on facebook is really bragging dressed up as sharing.

I believe some areas of our lives call for privacy and restraint – boundaries. Relationships, health issues, family losses – to me these things are private and for a restricted audience. Real friends talk in person about these things and we really share our empathy, wine, or drugs (prescription only you understand).

Sure, you can complain on facebook about poor service, people annoying you in traffic, or your dodgy health. But what do you want me to do? All I can do with you, facebook friend, is to ‘like’ what you’ve written (seems weird) or write some naff comment.

Don’t get me wrong. I too am a facebook user. I occasionally post about gigs, and photos with short and pithy or poetic (I hope) captions.

But if you really want to be my friend, you’ll need to meet with me in real life. Together we’ll share the losses and joys; we’ll listen and value each others’ experiences.  We’ll share … face to face.

It’s got to be perfect

This is a work in progress folks:

For as long as I can remember I’ve been searching for perfection.

To be specific, I’m seeking the perfect dishrack. One that drains. One where the utensils don’t fall out, kerplunk, into the sink. One which doesn’t rust or go mouldy. Is this so very hard to find? Well, yes as a matter of fact. I’ve tried many styles over the years.

And somehow the current dishrack is never the perfect one. We are talking about dishracks, people. Or are we?

I wonder (not for the first time) if this quest for dishrack perfection is simply a metaphor for my life. Where is that perfect haircut? Why can’t I find it? I ruefully trawl websites for ‘the one’. When I was working I was always seeking that perfect job. And the perfect partner? Don’t get me started.

I’m not that person who finds one clothing brand and sticks with it for the rest of their lives. There’s a restless questing for ‘something else’ … something better. Oh, yes. The grass is always greener ‘over there’ … in fact, maybe it’s the wrong kind of grass altogether. After all there’re so many to choose from.

I remember being shocked when I looked in my mum’s dressing table to see that she had hundreds of lipsticks. They were all slightly different shades of coral. This gave me an insight into my own restless searching. I now have a drawer full of pink lipsticks (ever so slightly different from one another).

to be continued …

Ashes to Ashes

‘Ashes to ashes, dust to dust’ or as the Bible (Genesis) says ‘… for dust thou art and to dust shalt thou return’.

Scattering my parents’ ashes was on my mind but I was wary. For starters, I think it might be a tiny bit illegal. Plus I saw what happened to Donny in The Big Lebowski (a bad case of bereavement blowback) and to Ricki Gervais’ character’s dad in Afterlife.

Neither my mum nor my dad was especially religious or spiritual in life, but my brothers and I wanted to make some kind of statement about their passing. It seemed like scattering their ashes (mixed together … I know, a bit creepy and presumptuous) at the beachside suburb where they grew up, met and fell in love would be, well, appropriate. Touching even.

Days earlier, like any conscientious criminal, I’d done a recce. I found a pleasant spot with a seat where the grandchildren could rest quietly looking at the ocean, checking their iPhones and contemplating their dear grandparents.

Task number one. Release Dad from the receptacle. I was emotional when I put the box of my dad’s remains on the table on my back deck, ready to liberate a respectful portion of his ashes for our little ceremony. Miss you, Dad.

I’m not sure what these boxes are made of. Maybe kryptonite? Or the stuff they use for black boxes in planes. Talk about hermetically sealed! I tried to open the plug thingy. Impossible. After about ten minutes, an oversize screwdriver and a hammer, Olympic swearing and sweating, and more tears (of frustration this time) I was no longer wistful and sad. I was mad. Damn you Dad! Why must you be so difficult?

One last frenzied attack (think Netflix serial killer) and I’d made a hole the size of a tennis ball in the receptacle. Small gusts of my father were starting to escape. Did I mention the wind? The weather had become unseasonably blustery.

I carefully tipped a small portion of dad into the jar of mum’s ashes (Mum died in 2000 – we buried her ashes under a tree in Dad’s back yard, so her portion dug up from the base of the tree was mainly gravel and rocks. Sorry Mum). Then I unceremoniously closed up the original container with gaffer tape. Oh well.

Next, my brother, daughter, nieces and I head off to the beach to do the deed. There was a definite sombreness, a gravitas about what we were about to do and my family doesn’t really do gravitas at the best of times. Or should that be at the worst of times? By the time we reached the designated spot the wind had really picked up. Let’s face it, it was blowing a gale. The sea was angry-grey and whipped into a maelstrom.  

We all got out of our cars, hugged, removed shoes and yelled greetings at each other over the howling wind. My brother had brought a bottle of Guinness to add to the ceremony. I shyly showed the pickled cucumber jar that contained Nana and Papa. This would be their last trip together.

Down to the water’s edge we stagger, the mighty wind almost blowing us all over. I stumble into the grey, roiling waves, my brother beside me with the opened bottle of Guinness. By this stage all sense of decorum was lost, as we struggled with the cyclonic wind, the wild water and uncontrollable laughter.

On my count the contents of the jar along with the Guinness were hastily tipped into the ocean. The willful wind scooped up the ashes and the Guinness and blew them across the water (we had the sense to empty the contents upwind … or is it downwind?) and we all stumbled back up the beach overwhelmed by the wild weather, the stinging sand and the absurdity of it all.

We face-timed our brother Chris, in Cairns and a lovely niece in Melbourne and all sang our parents’ favourite duet, ‘Quicksilver’, the weather making hearing our harmonies and keeping in time near impossible. Pathetic.

We couldn’t wait to get back into our cars and into the calm and warmth of a local Italian restaurant. It was here that we finally reflected on Mum and Dad, sharing our favourite memories, a few tears and funny stories.

The irony of this whole sorry affair? Dad really loathed the wind, and Mum hated the water.

Ashes to ashes. Seriously, what was I thinking?

Elsie’s Hair

My mum (Elsie Wighton nee Martin) died in 2000 aged just 72. Way, way too young and we still miss her.

Mum had many attributes – a calm and lovely presence, a great sense of humour, which could be deliciously wicked at times, terrific legs, and a magical singing voice to name just a few.

But her beautiful hair! Now that deserves a special mention. It seems the Martins have all been blessed with abundantly thick and wavy hair.

Mum’s hair was a gorgeous strawberry blonde. When, as a child, I looked at photos of her as a twenty-something posing shyly, coquettishly squinting into the sun on Suttons Beach, I thought she looked like a film star. I still do.

And that beautiful golden hair with its soft full curl – she surely was the envy of all her be-permed friends.

The story goes that when the adolescent Elsie Martin sat out in the sunshine on the steps of her Redcliffe home, drying that beautiful hair, boys from all around suddenly found themselves passing by Shields Street. And who could blame them?

Mum passed down her curls to me and I passed them on to my beautiful daughter Katie. Though I struggled to accept my inheritance as a teenager, I now embrace my curls, as does Katie.

One of the pleasures we shared when Mum was dying was when I was able to wash her lovely hair – still beautiful in spite of the ravages of the ruinous cancer that took so much from her.

As I get older people tell me I look more and more like Elsie … and I couldn’t be happier.

Hammocks and other disappointments

Some things promise the world and then deliver very little. Take hammocks. Please. There’s a reason you see them in op shops. My daughter was waxing lyrical about the relaxation possibilities of a hammock the other day as she wistfully eyed the hooks on her back patio. She spoke of how wonderful it would be to lie cosily cocooned in the hammock, lazily swinging in the breeze.

Who was I (the much older, wiser one) to burst her bubble? I’ve rocked a few hammocks in my day, desperately hoping not to tumble out. Trust me, they’re not all they’re cracked up to be. Ask nineteenth century sailor Paul Roesler, who, when attempting to crawl into his hammock at sea, fell straight out again. This has happened to me many times. There may have been alcohol involved. Or another human. I reckon Herr Roesler probably had a couple of Liebfraumilchs on board as well.

Blame Christopher Columbus for introducing Europe to the humble hammock. He brought hammocks back to Spain from the Bahamas and they became de rigeur on board ships.

Apparently they were considered safer than the filthy, lice-infested, water and urine-sodden bags of straw previously masquerading as beds. The suspended sleeper was protected from snakes and rats, as well as water, dirt, and their own excrement. Although you wouldn’t want to be in the hammock below. Thanks Senor Columbus!

Oh yes, I have no problem getting on board with the ideathe hope – of a hammock. The reality though is something else. Getting into the damn thing is an act of Olympic-level gymnastics, requiring determination and an inbuilt gyroscope. Once you manage to get yourself entangled in the not-so-tender embrace of the hammock, one slight move could send you hurtling groundward. Trust me: this is about as relaxing as a bout of diarrhea. As soon as you wrestle your undignified way into the blasted thing, you realise you forgot your book/ipad/glasses/drink. And where do you put that drink once you’re well and truly hung? And have you ever tried reading in a hammock?

I discovered that some South American tribes did everything in hammocks: slept, ate, nursed children, dreamed and, yes – made love. Have you ever tried to share a hammock with another human being? No wonder these tribes are extinct.

I’m sorry but the hammock falls into the ‘it was a good idea at the time’ category. Reality trumps hope.

Other things that seem like fun but always disappoint are school reunions. Each time one comes around (now these functions require wheelchair access) I seem to develop amnesia about the previous times. What school did I go to again? Did I enjoy it?

These occasions elicit the five stages of grief, only backwards. Stage one is acceptance, and dare I say it, hope. Yes, I will go. It will be fun. Depression sets in when I read the bios of the school pals who are attending. They all seem so much more successful than me. Stage three is bargaining – where I ask an old school friend (who is still a friend) to come with me. I’ll pay.

Once we get there I start to feel angry. What? Twenty-six dollars for a chicken parmigiana? Plus I’m sitting next to the class clown I couldn’t stand fifty years ago? Good grief. Get me outta here.

Then there’s the denial phase. Old school friends tell hilarious stories of my exploits – none of which I recall. In fact, I categorically deny them. ‘Really? I absolutely did not: egg the headmaster’s car/ kiss you behind the netball sheds/ sing the lead role in The Pyjama Game!’

Once again, I assert I will never go to another school reunion. This is a moot point as I feel the stealthy, inevitable approach of Alzheimer’s.

Some foods promise lots and deliver little. Strawberries for example. They look luscious in the shops. So, full of hope and anticipation, you buy a punnet and some cream of course. Only to discover these beautiful, red, babies are woody and tasteless. Avocados, ditto. Promising on the outside, good in theory, but nasty, brown and tasteless in reality.

Perhaps the two best tips for dealing with life’s promising disappointments are 1. Lower the bar and 2. Never give up. So, at my upcoming school reunion, you’ll find me swinging in a hammock (close to the ground) strawberry daquiri in one hand and avocado dip precariously balanced on my stomach.

Hope springs eternal. Just please, don’t rock my hammock.

Christmas seasons

Christmas is coming and I need to resist the world view of scratchy old Ebenezer Scrooge from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: ‘ … every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!’

Bah! Humbug! How can this have happened to me? Somehow over the years, the spirit of Christmas has become a little more elusive. Like Scrooge I’m pondering Christmases past, present and future.

As a child of course I loved Christmas. All kids love the anticipation, the rituals, the sights and sounds of Christmas. The early morning rise to the sibilant shimmering of cicadas, the thrill of the bulging, bottomless pillowcase fairly overbalancing on the back of the kitchen chair at the foot of the bed. Then the tumbling, leaping about on Mum and Dad’s bed, urging them to get up and start this most joyous of days. The excitement of opening of endless mysterious parcels, ham and eggs for breakfast and neighbours popping in for rum balls and cake. Ironically childhood Christmases – Christmases past – are all about possibilities and the future.

When I had a child of my own and when my nieces and nephews were small, Christmases once again were a time of wonder and childish squeals of delight. It’s hard not to wallow in nostalgia for those Christmases past.

Today … my ‘Christmas present’ is tinged with a different cast. The children are grown, some things have been lost and I’m older.  Now I find my pleasures in other ways. Dickens’ narrator nailed it: ‘There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.’

So Christmas now becomes a time for celebrating life itself, for putting aside the pressures of work, relaxing, and convivial communing with family and old friends. This Christmas I will reaffirm dear friendships and we’ll all remember with affection past Christmases we’ve shared.  This Christmas season we will poignantly set a place for and drink a toast to absent friends, those who left our table far too soon.

I wonder what will future Christmases hold for me? Will I ever recapture the unabashed innocence and pure delight of those childhood Christmases past?

As I write this I realise with a jolt that Christmas is really a time for children. After all, children are the best at giving and loving freely, without reserve and surely this is the Christmas spirit writ large.

 So I offer a quiet thanks to all the children in my life – past, present and future. Thank you to my happy, childish self. I thank my beautiful daughter – a woman now, but still full of the enthusiasm and joy of childhood. I’m grateful for my delightful nephews and nieces and indeed, their sweet babies.

Scrooge reconsidered the meaning of this special time after his ghostly visitations. ‘I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me.’

Now there’s a philosophy to embrace. So let’s all ‘open our shut-up hearts freely’ kiss the children soundly and say ‘Away with ‘Bah! Humbug!’

Merry Christmas to all and God bless us, everyone.

Are we there yet?

I’m sick of ‘the journey’. I’m like that annoying six-year-old in the back seat whining, ‘Are we there yet?’

Where? I hear you ask. To a land where the word ‘journey’ may no longer be used in polite company. In this land, should you utter or write this word, soap and water or a writ will surely come your way as night follows day.

Once upon a time, ‘journey’ was a respectable workman-like word, deriving from the distance travelled in a day. But I’m afraid this fit-for-purpose word has been elevated way above its station and tragically overused. Sadly, it’s picked up a lot of baggage along the way, becoming over-burdened with sentimentality and gravitas to the point of exhaustion.

It’s time for ‘journey’ to be put out to pasture for a while to graze among other similarly abused and exhausted words. I’m thinking here of some personal non-favourites, ‘trope’, ‘facilitate’ and ‘utilize’. I’m afraid ‘leverage’ and ‘pivot’ are right up there too.

How did ‘journey’ fall into such a desperate situation? Until the likes of celebrities started bandying it about, a journey was simply a trip from a to b. Somehow thanks to reality television and rampant over-use this humble word has become suffused with a hero’s suffering – more akin to the journey on the road to Damascus or perhaps Homer’s Odyssey.

‘I’ve learnt so much on my journey,’ declares the latest overwrought singing star (substitute any reality television participant, recovering drug addict, celebrity chef, wellness guru).

The awful thing about words like ‘journey’ and other horrid words (like American ‘butt’ for bottom) is that they seep into the language like some sort of noxious run off. At first, they’re unremarkable but pretty soon the stench is overpowering and I just want to taser the next person who mentions their amazing (awesome, life-changing) ‘journey’.

The thing that sucks the life out of all words is either abuse or overuse and sometimes both. In this case journey has been stuffed with corn and overly dramatic hype, then used so often in tearful confessions and reflections that it becomes meaningless and hackneyed.

And don’t we humans love to travel – on a spiritual journey, holistic journey, breastfeeding journey? Just take any qualifier and add the word journey and it will elevate whatever you’re describing to heroic proportions – my scrapbooking journey, my journey through tinea, my incredible irritable bowel journey.

Some authors obviously believe the word journey will give their book title depth and reverence: Of Mystics and Mistakes – The Journey from Confusion to Clarity, from Error to Enlightenment, from Self-Deception to Self-Discovery. Kill me now.

Why can’t people be a little more imaginative? Let’s get creative and bring back the colour. You could just say, ‘I’ve come a long way and I’ve learnt a lot!’. Or what about, ‘This whole experience has been a real trip.’ Admittedly you’ll sound like some sort of acid-affected hippy throwback, but at least it’s a colourful expression. And if you’ve come a really, really, really long way, then, frankly, it’s an expedition you’ve been on.

So forget the journey folks. The Buddhists got it right: ‘If you are facing in the right direction, all you need to do is keep on walking.’

Trust me you’ll get there.

Choose Life

It’s hard to believe it’s twenty years since my mother died. Twenty years since my family and I nursed my darling mum in the last five weeks of her final encounter with cancer – secondary melanoma. She was just seventy-two.

I understand for many people, euthenasia is a bridge too far. They cite improvements in palliative care.

In my humble opinion, those who have never spent each minute with a loved one dying before their eyes have little authority to judge the actions of those who help someone they love to some sort of dignified exit from the horror of a terminal illness.

When I first moved into my parents home all those years ago to nurse Mum, I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t understand the indignities and distress of enemas, and morphine-induced hallucinations. I didn’t know about melanoma and tumours multiplying (daily it seemed) – tumours I could feel through my mother’s nightdress – large and hard as grapefruits.

Or the unseen and hateful malignancies behind her pretty eyes that robbed her of her eyesight and made this lovely woman appear cross-eyed and strange.

I wasn’t prepared for the terror calls in the night to her beloved husband, or her children, and the intense anxiety and restlessness that allowed her no respite from this nightmare of her dying.

I didn’t realise that all the drugs in the world couldn’t ease my mother’s bone-deep physical pain and what was for her a truly palpable fear of dying.

I didn’t understand that the wonderful GP and heroic visiting palliative care nurses couldn’t work miracles. Not for my mother.

I didn’t know that my brothers and I would have to take turns wiping away the dreadful liquid that came out of our mum’s nose and mouth as she struggled to breathe in those last days. This was the harsh reality of my mother’s dying. And if she were a dog, we would have whispered our loving goodbyes and put her out of her misery, with dignity and compassion. 

Some people define life as mere existence, the faint breath of simply being. My definition of life includes other more qualitative attributes – ideas of dignity, animation, appetites and soul. According to my definition, the last part of my mother’s life was barely life at all.

While I am so glad it was her family’s loving hands that did the bathing and the soothing and the feeding and the toileting of my mother in those last awful weeks, and while I don’t regret our time together, I deeply regret the suffering my mother endured.

Because of this intense and confronting experience, I would never condemn the loving hands of others who use whatever means at their disposal to ease someone they love with compassion and respect into their last long and peaceful sleep.

Australia France: la solution

Quel dommage!

I’m thinking about Australian-French relations in the light of the latest ‘spat’ over nuclear submarines. It would be a shame to sabotage (French word) our relationship with La Belle France over a few petite boats. I’ve been wondering how I can help. Firstly my mind drifts towards French cuisine. For example I’ve already resolved to eat more croissants and pain au chocolat. And I suggest all you real men out there wrap your chops around a quiche Lorraine. It’s the least we can do.

After all, we owe a lot to the French. Think of any aspect of life and you’ll find that France has made a huge contribution. Thanks to the French we have liberty, equality and fraternity. Democracy, in other words.

We use many French words in everyday English. It’s these thefts and borrowings from other languages that are our linguistic heritage, bringing colour and nuance to our sentences. And we do it without thinking. How much more interesting to be a dilettante than a dabbler. And what could be more intriguing and exciting than a liaison, or perhaps a rendezvous, in lieu of a meeting?

Mais oui … the French language is the haute cuisine to our meat and potatoes. Even the delightful, if barely-educated, Kath Day-Knight from Fountain Lakes was au fait (parfait?) with the odd French phrase. She could oft be heard admonishing the lumpish Kimmie or the hapless Kel to get a move on “toot sweet” (tout de suite).

They’re a risqué lot too – the French. Think soixante neuf and menage a trois.

And, guess what? Being bilingual is good for your brain. Apparently this mental work-out is great exercise for the cerebellum, building one’s cognitive reserve. I’m not sure what that is, but I know I could definitely use more of it. Another really exciting fact about being bilingual is that it seems to postpone the symptoms of dementia.

I took beginner French lessons (French for Travellers) before a trip to France some years ago.  My travelling companion and I thought it would be apropos to ‘ave a little, ‘ow you say, tuition de Francais.

Our teacher Anne, which she pronounced “Ahnuh”, was a Paris-born French Polynesian. She always burst into the classroom  in a manner tres jolie, in the most feminine of frocks, suitably exotic and complete with flower behind her ear.

Anne’s accent was syrupy, musical – so delightful to the ear, in fact, that I remember finding it hard to concentrate on my part of our contract, which was to learn how to speak the language. Instead I revelled in the beauty of the French language and marvelled at the gifts this and other languages have bestowed on my own rather dreary and stoic mother tongue.

So, to mend our friendship with France, let’s all eat beaucoup pate and croissants and try to pepper our speech with more French. Let’s say ‘je suis desole’ to our French friends, raise a glass of champagne and declare ‘a votre sante’ as our toast. Let them know we think their language, and by association, their government is tres magnifique.

Our enduring amitie will surely then be a fait accompli.

Eyebrows

Have you noticed young women’s eyebrows lately? A good percentage of millennials seem to have a permanent expression of surprise on their faces. Their eyebrows are enhanced and shaped to look like large, sleek caterpillars. There are even people who call themselves eyebrow technicians for goodness’ sake!

I was pondering the weighty issue of eyebrows the other day. So I did what any person living in the 21st century does. I googled it. And what I discovered made me raise these ancient, unenhanced eyebrows.

People who have their eyebrows ‘done’ kindly leave reviews for stickybeaks like me to pluck apart (if you’ll excuse the reference).

Here is a small sample:

‘She knows my eyebrows so much that I’ve never had to ask for any changes.’ It never occurred to me that a stranger could come to know one’s eyebrows in such intimate detail. Other body parts … maybe. But eyebrows?

‘I had my brows done by Taylah a few days ago for the first time … So happy with my new brows …blah blah’ and this one: ‘I highly recommend Sherrill for an eyebrow shape’. Or ‘Krystal is amazing and very professional’

So, I’ve learned that all beauticians are called Krystal, Taylah or Sherrill. Note to self: If you want to become an ‘eyebrow technician’ change your name or at least come up with a new spelling.

This comment intrigued me too: ‘I’m so glad I took the risk to try somewhere and something new!’ No, Sharon. That would be bungee jumping in the Galapagos or public speaking in the Sydney Opera House. Not having your eyebrows ‘transformed’.

A lot of reviews gush that ‘It looks natural!’ No it doesn’t. It’s a grotesque parody of the natural eyebrows that were bestowed upon you by your genes.

Why oh why can’t we women be satisfied with our natural gifts? What is the attraction of all the plucking and painting, the lifting and separating, the lengthening and extending that social media seems to encourage us to do?

Is it any wonder young women suffer body dysphoria – this terrible unease and distaste for their own bodies?

Mothers – please encourage your daughters to love their bodies as the amazing machines they are. These machines are strong and diverse. They can attract a mate, make a baby, heave large bags of shopping, hammer nails, ride a bike a hundred kilometres, lead a multinational company, soothe a friend in need, create a vege patch, write a song and bake sourdough bread.

There is so much more to being a woman than eyebrows.