The Consumption Assumption

I was reading an article the other day that suggested we have two main functions as human beings. We are either consuming or creating.

It’s a simple enough notion, and yet, in a world where everything is content, everyone is a journalist and the data of our everyday lives is a for-profit business, the line starts to get a little blurry.

Am I consuming or creating on Facebook if I comment on a friend’s cat meme? If I write an impassioned rant about the plight of heel-shod humans in a cobblestoned world? If I stalk a friend’s new Tinder match on LinkedIn?

When I read a book I am consuming, but when I have a richer, better conversation at some future time because of it, am I creating?

When I bought the ingredients for dinner I was consuming, when I prepared the ricotta gnocchi I was creating. Then, I consumed the gnocchi. Later that evening, I created- okay let’s stop the food analogy there..Ahem.

My point is, maybe it isn’t an either/or, an on/off switch.

Perhaps we must consume in order to create.

We must nourish ourselves, both literally with food and water, and figuratively, with art and music and poetry and love and walks beside waterways on cool sunny days. As Julia Cameron insists, we must ‘fill the well’ if we intend to draw on it.

The oft-cited image of the reclusive writer holed up in a remote cabin with nothing to do but work, work, work, work, work has long appealed to me. And yet, would the isolation, the lack of stimuli, the relative lack of consumption actually be stilting to creativity?

In our noisy, first world it is so easy to consume. We have an app for everything, a 3am burger to our door, a soundbite of truth via Twitter. But perhaps we don’t need more articles making us feel bad about that, rather ones that push us to do something with the thing that we’ve consumed.

If reading Whitehouse press releases gives you high blood pressure: get involved in the solution. If watching Australian drama television makes you cringe: write a better script. If you’re sick of eating average takeout: give cooking a go.

I think the problem isn’t necessarily with consumption, it is with the assumption that consumption is the opposite of creation.

Perhaps we’d do better to see it is a cycle, that we consume to create. That our creation is consumed by others, who then use it to fuel their own creative fire. And so on and so forth.

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Night / Fight / Light

It was about a week out from Christmas. I was do / did / DONE with 2016. And I was especially done with talking about how bad 2016 had been. I felt like a broken record. I felt like people were sick of me, sick of my vulnerability, sick of my neediness. One friend had adopted the habit of taking a deep breath in and visibly preparing himself every time I opened my mouth to speak.

2016 was loss. The loss of my marriage, of money, of my wisdom teeth. The death of hope, of AA Gill, of “Manuel”, of Leonard Cohen, of Gene Wilder. Of Alan Rickman, of Muhammad Ali.  Those who inspired me to write, to laugh, to feel, to dream. To forgive, to fight.

But the bad guys won, and we were told if we couldn’t be perfect then there was no point in trying.

All I wanted was for 2016 to slip away, to go gentle, into that good night.

In the dying days of 2016, I decided to dismantle the only remaining stability in my life. The thing that had allowed me to leave my marriage, and allowed me to stay in France. Like everything else this year, it was messy and underscored with tears, but wholly necessary.

Later that same day, I escaped the overwhelming festivity of the office Christmas party for a few moments of much-needed solitude at my desk. As the music ebbed below my feet and the war cries bounced off the blow-up toboggan – I breathed out.

THIS is how 2016 ends, I thought, opening the file that held my “you had to be there” CV.

I’d barely updated my address when my book-and-wine partner-in-crime rounded the corner with two full glasses in hand.

“Ça va?” he asked, knowing full well what the answer was.

Bit by bit others dropped by: first glasses, then bottles in hand; until the usually solemn space was filled with a glorious hodge-podge of people who’d somehow made this year bearable, fun, even.

My friend’s phone rang, and in the raucous way of people who’ve enjoyed the open bar a little too much, we answered on speakerphone.

A moment of serendipity in the middle of chaos; that led to an afternoon I skipped home from.

And out of the blue two days later, an interview that inspired.

Neither this job nor this person will ‘save’ me. Neither could cancel out that which came before them. And they may both yet turn out to be castles in the air.

But as 2016 slips through our fingers, like the sand from a beach holiday long-forgot, I make one last request: Do not go gentle into that good night. (Let’s) Rage, rage against the dying of the light.*

 

(*Dylan Thomas – Do not go gentle into that good night)

Where does the good go? 2.0

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: 2016 was balls.

On a personal, national and international stage.

You’ve heard most of it before: I got divorced, struggled with money, adopted and de-adopted a dog, lost friendships along with the will to do anything other than sleep and watch Netflix.

Then BREXIT passed, Trump was elected and Le Pen drew ever-closer to a Presidential term. Hope for the future was replaced by a sort of desperate nostalgia for years passed.

Professionally however, I led a full scale HR Transformation Project in a change-averse environment. In a foreign country, in a language that was not my own. If you’re not passionate about HR, this will not mean much to you. If you are passionate about HR or are looking for people who are passionate about HR, you know where to find me… (Kidding, kidding!)

Anyway, we called it Project Phoenix, and set about burning sh*t down and rebuilding from the ashes.

Amazingly, the parallel with my personal life escaped me, until now.

The burning down of stuff was easier than I imagined. A marriage without children or real estate or real personal wealth is surprisingly simple to end. (On paper, that is.) Moving out of our shared apartment (thanks to a bunch of amazing friends) was relatively easy.

The rebuilding was harder. Much harder.

I had to figure out basic stuff like how to manage a budget and how to cook for one. I had to work out how to stay legally in the country, and how to sleep alone. I’d lived in France for over 4 years but I’d never dealt with tax forms on my own. I had to learn how to be alone, and how to be lonely. How to fill my weekends, and later, how to love the quiet un-structuredness of my Sundays.

I had to decide what my life would look like.

What I would eat for breakfast, who I would drink wine on Monday nights with, what hobbies I would try or abandon. The ways in which I’d occupy my hours and days and weeks. The principles I’d live by. The degree of flexibility I’d permit myself. The number of fuck-ups I was allowed. The things I’d fight for, not back down for. The battles I’d pick. The ideal amount of sleep I needed in order to be a whole person. The things I’d spend my money on. If buying flowers every week was frivolous or crucial. If I had the stomach for casual relationships, if I had the audacity to look for more. What that would even look like. If I’d even want to.

And the biggest decision of all: who am I?

If we can leave relationships (and our status as ‘wife’), if we can change jobs and titles and friendship groups and postcodes and our opinion on cats, what then, defines us?

If we thought we were good (good friend, good wife, good employee, good eater, good runner, good egg) but then it turns out actually we were bad, and we loved our friends and our husbands but it wasn’t enough to stop us hurting them, and ourselves: then who do we become? What adjectives remain?

Yearning

As the years go on you learn

That many people you want will not want you

That this not wanting doesn’t have the decency to be active

More an absence of thought

When all we can do

Is sing your name in our head

All day

As the punches add up you learn

That things can get worse

That there are no guarantees

Of lighter days to come

That there will be times where

The smallest of things

Will make you weep, slumped against the wall of a stranger’s bathroom

As the days turn into weeks blur into years you learn

That loneliness is palpable and tangible and that

Nobody actually cares to speak of it

Lest it consume them too

As the silence rings out clear in the night you learn

That your words are not enough

Were never enough, perhaps

Who what where when why

I’ve always looked for answers.

“Why” has been my catch cry, with “How” found just behind.

Understanding for me is like air. Without it I can’t survive; or won’t. 

And yet, this year, my questions went unanswered. 

Why turn left instead of right in the forest? Why leave when you promised you’d stay? How do you live when nothing about your life is familiar? How will you manage, alone? Why couldn’t you just be happy enough with what you had? 

Who are you, now?

I looked for answers in the predictable places. In other people’s opinions, at the bottom of wine bottles. I said yes to every single event that came my way, lest the answer be found ‘out there’. 

I stopped cooking and ate perfunctorily. I pushed aside books, once my world, for late nights and second-hand cigarettes. 

I didn’t run, I took the metro instead of walking. I was in a hurry. To get places, to see people, to be in the after. Moving on. Moving forward.

Never standing still.

Today was a wholly unremarkable Sunday. I woke early, dressed warmly, and walked to the Bois de Boulogne. I fought the urge to check the map, and wandered where my feet and my heart took me. I’d packed a sandwich, and a book I’d been meaning to read. 

It was colder than I’d realised, and I started to head home. I’d eat lunch by the heater, after all. 

I came to a small river and a quiet voice said ‘jump it’. I said: why?

‘Who cares why?’ 

Checking to make sure no horse-riding, trail-running, dog-walking other people were in sight, I did. 

Beyond the scrub, a clearing stood. Sunlight streamed onto a log-bench and autumn leaves carpeted the floor. 

Here, before me, was the answer. 

How do you live in the after?

Read the books, nourish yourself with food and words and kindness. Walk in the forest on cold, clear days. Jump the rivers, and if by chance a sun-lit spot reveals itself, sit awhile. 

A park or something like it

“Park” was probably overstating it.

“Slightly-taken-care-of-weeds-and-one-lone-bench-beside-a-disused-railway-track” was more like it, but probably too long to fit on the regulation Mairie de Paris sign.

The name didn’t matter, though, what mattered was the fact that dogs weren’t forbidden here. Gleefully we trotted down the iron stairs, Noisy leading the way. 

I was hopeful that day, you know. I thought maybe finding a secret park was a sign that things were taking a turn for the better.

You were early. I liked that about you.

We were supposed to go to a bar but filled with new-park-promise I took you there instead. I wanted you to feel what I felt. To see what I saw. 

The unexpected beauty in the midst of everyday despair.

We sat on the bench and tried not to laugh at the passing foot traffic.

“Drug dealer?” I ventured, as a well-dressed old lady hobbled past.

“Hunting Pokemon more likely,” you replied.

It was warm, that summer seemed endless, didn’t it? But then I guess all things do, until they end.

But where I’d brought hope, you had only resignation. Where I was vulnerable and seeking, you were distant. You sought nothing.

I blinked back tears and you swallowed words. You always did. A breath. A start. A stop. A change of course. Your truth (or something else?) buried, not for general consumption.

When there was nothing more to say, we stood. Me, reluctantly.

On the way out I noticed a sign, rusted and half-hidden in the overgrowth.

“No Dogs Allowed,” it read. 

The Year of Failing Bravely

2016 was the year I got divorced.

It was also the year I bought a kickass pair of second-hand overalls from the vintage store on rue Tiquetonne.

I ran three marathons, two halfs, a 10km and an ultra. I set and missed my objectives for every serious race among them.

I got a promotion and lost the sense of purpose for my work.

I adopted a dog that I couldn’t handle, and will have to rehome.

I lost friendships and I still don’t know whose fault that was.

I rode on a motorbike for the first time and it tasted of freedom and pure joy.

I cried. Oh, so many tears.

I travelled to Barcelona and Oslo and Stockholm. To the Dominican Republic and Belgium.

I stayed in a chateau wallpapered with love letters.

I read, and read, and read.

I cooked rarely and lost my appetite, along with the joy I once felt for food.

I was jealous. Hideously, miserably jealous. So jealous I thought I’d disappear under the weight of all the things I was not.

I struggled with money, I put off basic adult things like dentist appointments and haircuts.

“I just need one, fucking, win.” I would say, exhausted and desperate, to friends.

Just one thing to go my way this year.

But nothing quite ever did.

2016: the year of failing.

Failing to do enough.

To be enough.

To love enough.

But the funny thing about failing is that it’s hard to do from your sofa. Failing generally involves some sort of showing up to begin with. 

I wouldn’t have failed at Royan had I allowed a myriad of circumstance keep me at home this weekend.

I wouldn’t have failed in friendship, in love, had I not been vulnerable, and transparent and devastatingly real.

2016 could well have been the year I stopped trying. And maybe it would’ve held less tears. I guess I’ll never know. 

But surely there is something brave in continuing to try, continuing to love, continuing to put yourself in situations where failure is a real possibility. 

Surely this, the ability to hope, despite all evidence to the contrary, is bigger than any one failure.

And so I’ve decided, 2016 is the year of failing bravely.

Hazelnuts and Heartbreak

We meet, as planned, outside the train station. It’s an average Wednesday in August in the middle of what’s been a pretty rough year.

I’d been tossing around the idea of adopting a rescue dog from a shelter towards the end of the year, once my life had stabilized a little. I wasn’t ready yet, emotionally, financially, logistically.

And yet there I was, crouching in the street, falling in love with a German Spitz who was in need of a home.

Afterwards, I couldn’t sleep, a combination of adrenaline and awful nightmares stealing the night away from me.

In the morning, I was decided. Noisette needed a home and I had one, even if the timing wasn’t ideal. But come Thursday morning, I learnt that there was a couple who were also interested in the dog.

A couple, two people, twice as many hands and hearts and time to take care of him, almost certainly a bigger apartment. It was obviously in his best interest to live with them.

And yet.

All Thursday morning I couldn’t concentrate. I felt this awful, heavy sadness that I couldn’t shake off. The last thing I felt like was going for my lunchtime run. I trailed after the overly enthusiastic crossfitters for the first shared kilometre and grunted out loud. I ran, the fine drizzle of rain insufficient to hide my tears. I cried because I no longer trusted my intuition. The smallest of decisions tormented me, exhausted me. I no longer knew what was right or good, or how to get there. So I’d retreated, more or less. Into myself, into running, into endless pen scrawls that would never be read. I’d decided that in the absence of clarity and direction, and a sound internal compass, I’d do damage control. Limit the blast radius. Make do with unsatisfying interactions rather than run the risk of hurting anyone else.

I’d done enough damage for one year, I esteemed.

A week earlier, I’d come across this quote from Louise Erdrich:

“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.”

That night, I lingered in the bar with friends. Aimless, distracted.

“You know he looks a lot like the dog in that old photo of you,” one of them says.

And I can’t believe I didn’t see it before.

Noisette, despite being a different breed, bears a striking resemblance to our beloved childhood Sheltie, Chloe.

And that’s when I know.

Maybe healing isn’t the result of a slow, carefully curated process. Maybe solitude and silence aren’t the only mediums to find peace. Maybe bottling up your love lest it end up hurting someone is the greater crime.

Maybe, sometimes, when you’re busy looking everywhere and nowhere for meaning; life sends a mischievous, overly vocal, orange fluffball barreling into your pristine apartment and organized life and you have no choice but to open your arms, and your pantry, (and your wallet) and your goddam heart and say: ‘FINE. I FUCKING LOVE YOU, OKAY?’

noisette3

On Feeling Safe

Sonia Kruger wants to feel safe.

And there is nothing wrong with this. It’s what we all want isn’t it? To feel safe and free to go about our lives, in relative peace. To enjoy the freedom to say what we want, to believe what we want. To live in the cities, the countries of our own choosing.

As Australians we’ve enjoyed an abundance of this particular brand of freedom.

The lucky country.

I’m an Australian who lives in Paris.

Who lived through Charlie Hebdo and the November mass shootings. Whose colleagues were in the airport at Brussels, whose friends were in the crowd in Nice.

It has become, if not normal, no longer exceptional to wake to a Facebook prompt to mark ourselves as safe. To be patted down at the entry to theatres. To place candles at the Place de la Republique.

I didn’t enter the fanzone in front of the Eiffel Tower during the Euro 2016. Because I didn’t feel safe. Not from the threat of a terrorist attack, but from everyday soccer hooligans. Drunk, (white or otherwise) Europeans passionate about their ‘team’.

I didn’t go to the fireworks on the 14th of July because I was hungover, and venturing too far from my sofa is what seemed most perilous.

Australia is the fifteenth safest country in the world according to the Global Peace Index. France sits at number 46.

And yet, in a world where nightclubs and theatres, café terraces and seaside promenades have become killing fields, and white delivery trucks weapons of mass destruction: feeling safe remains a choice.

For the record, the things that make me feel the least safe in 2016:

  1. The possibility of a Trump Presidential term
  2. The support for Brexit
  3. The popularity of Marine Le Pen
  4. Pokemon GO players

Stopping Muslim immigration to Australia (or France, for that matter) does no more than breed hate and suspicion and fear and create divisions in a time where, more than ever, we need unity.

I respect your right to speak freely, Sonia, and I understand your fear. But this is not the solution. Perpetuating hatred and practicing selective exclusion, are never the solution.

Let’s work together and find something that is.

Inconsequential or Infinite?

The other night started out like most Thursdays do, with a few beers at the café on the corner. As always, the evening stretched out before us, filled with possibility. What conversations will be had? Which confidences will be shared? How, by force of our collective interactions, will our tiny corner of the world become a better place?

Four beers later, the possibilities had narrowed to:

a/ McDonalds on the way home; or

b/ Fridge leftovers

The metro vs. taxi debate had been long settled and as I battled to stay awake on the short drive home I wondered what the point of any of it was.

Inconsequential.

I couldn’t get the word out of my head. It taunted me and haunted me and tore my heart in two.

Nothing we (I) do or say matters. Nothing ever changes. Not significantly anyway. The system, this ‘organized’ world. The structures and limits and categorizations we insist on boxing everyone and everything in with. The norms. The acceptable behavior. The dampening, the watering down. The endless choice and the no-big-deal attitude. The prevalence of ‘chill’, not caring as the new caring. Appearance over substance.

All of these thoughts swirled around my head and smashed into one another and brought me down with them.

Why am I so obsessed with finding meaning and purpose and pursuing truth and authenticity? No one else seems to give a shit. And where has it gotten me anyway?

What if my whole dogma, my whole life philosophy, the idea that I am Different; that I am ‘special’, that I was placed on this earth to fulfill a purpose is just bullshit? What if, I’m not, actually, destined to write books and essays that will one day do their part to help change the way we think, the way we live? What if I’m just another brick in the wall, another link in the chain?

What if I’m just a person in the room?

Inconsequential.

The thought crushed me and robbed me of air and hope and I felt smaller than I ever had in my life. I sunk to the floor and wept for my own futility.

I would like to say that there on the floor I found the way forward, but I didn’t, not then at least. I crawled into bed, tear-stained and drained.

I woke the next day, heavy-hearted.

I sat down to the same breakfast I eat every morning and almost didn’t pick up my pen.

I started writing, the ink and my words staining the page with their darkness, their heaviness. I wrote and I raged and I cemented my bad mood for another day. But, as sometimes occurs, the pen took on a life of its own, my subconscious and it bypassing my brain and writing something I barely understood, let alone believed in:

“Be as infinite as your possibilities.”

I’m not sure the sentence even makes sense, but its timing was perfect and its sentiment unprecedented.

Maybe we are inconsequential. But maybe we’re also infinite. Each and every morning we wake to a new day, a clean slate, a billion different paths we could take, things we could say or do or be.

The possibilities for my day are infinite.

And so am I.