Faith.

WoodcutSadGirl-04-bwflat600wThe Universe and I are currently not on speaking terms. Well, I’m not speaking to it. Or listening, for that matter. You could say I’m in a sulk.

I’ve written here previously about recent changes in my life and the terrifying travel-away-from-home that goes with it. I took this new job, in part, because I hoped it might force me out of my pyjamaed comfort zone to engage a little more with the world. In retrospect, expecting to show up in the world on day 1 of new job, in cute-but-professional work attire, swish off on a plane, calmly embrace the new and unfamiliar and become the vision of my future Amazing Self, may have been a bit naive. Still, tears and meltdowns notwithstanding, I was determined to break character and remain optimistic, to break familiar patterns and remain open.

Then, last weekend, something happened to one of my two cats.

My cats represent everything that is HOME to me. Pets, in the absence of children or other significant other types, can feel like your children. Only rather less demanding and messy. It’s a pretty good deal most of the time. Until something happens to disrupt that and the ground falls away from under you.

So on Sunday, the pieces I was holding somewhat tenuously together broke apart. Which is when I started getting pretty pissed off with the Universe. By virtue of having any sort of conversation at all with the Universe, I don’t believe in the randomness of events. So while I was trying to climb out of the onesie from within which I’ve been watching the world for the past 36 years, it seemed as though the Universe was throwing everything it could at me that would send me hurtling back into it.

I’m sure there’s a lesson in this somewhere. But lessons are futile when you’ve gone into batten-down-the-hatches-and-stock-up-on-baked-beans mode. It is not lost on me that having to close up my doors and windows to keep my recuperating cat inside is a glaring metaphor for the lockdown I appear to have gone into. The world out there seems darker and more dangerous than it did before. I am having trouble imagining how I am ever going to let my cats venture out there again (how did I ever do it before? it feels terribly reckless now); equally, I wonder how I will ever be able to let them go, or go away from them, and remain intact.

Apparently this kind of thing is normal following a trauma. Running low on toilet paper and canned goods, I was forced to make a trip to the shops this weekend. And I found myself watching people with renewed awe. Mothers who let go of their children’s hands. Who let their adolescents go off with friends. Couples who parted ways to shop more efficiently and meet back in the fresh produce aisle. Men who dropped their families off and went to play golf. All sorts of people walking around as if everything in their worlds would continue to stand upright. How do they not melt into a puddle of terror at all the possible ways that things could go wrong? (and I’m not even talking about stray asteroids or the zombie apocalypse).

The answer I came up with, the one that makes the most sense to me right now, is faith. Not the religion-spirituality-higher-power kind of faith. But the trusting-that-when-you-go-out-into-the-world-everything-is-likely-to-be-okay kind of faith. It’s a faith so easily taken for granted. It’s also a faith I don’t have a whole lot of. And when you have so little of this faith, you tend to balance it out with fear. And you batten down the hatches to close everything in. After all, hiding away from the world offers a terribly enticing illusion of safety.

There is no moral of the story here. No particular enlightenment or happy ending. But the glimmer of hope is this: living faithlessly and fearfully thus, is living small. It’s living under the covers, knitted into your skin, walking carefully between the white lines. And frankly, it’s getting a little tiresome.

I think it might be time to live bigger. I’m going to try out this faith thing for a while. I hope the Universe plays along.

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Travel.

downloadYesterday, I had a small meltdown in an airport toilet. Which is sort of the end of this story, as well as the middle. And the beginning, obviously. It’s a story about travel, literal and metaphorical. It’s also a story about neuroticism and change (there’s that word again). And about attachment.

I have never liked or appreciated the life is a journey metaphor. Perhaps because I don’t much like journeys. I like destinations. Checking-off-the-to-do-list end points. Getting It Done. This applies, in general, to everything I do in life. My PhD must be finished by the END OF TODAY or not at all. My car journey from point A to point B must happen in the shortest amount of time with the smallest amount of detours (and by detours I mean anything and anyone who gets in my way on the road). Dream boards or life lists don’t work out too well for me. They represent daily guarantees of failure. Find a husband! Get published! Run a marathon! Be a professional dancer! Tricky, when one expects to accomplish these things by the end of any given day.

As I said, I like destinations. Not so good at journeys.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I deeply dislike literal travel. Being a nice combination of neurotic, obsessive compulsive and competitive, with an overactive imagination and just the right amount of grandiosity to imagine that the whole world is focused on tripping me up, leaving my home to travel more than 15km away is somewhat excruciating. For starters, before I leave the house, my OCD and overactive imagination kick in. The handy thing about being convinced you are going to die when you travel outside of a certain radius is that your house is left in exemplary condition. The reasons are twofold: a) so your friends and family can walk in and start sorting out your neatly packed, logically filed belongings without the trauma of mess, and b) so that the CSI team can easily map out your life to figure out the events that led up to your death (also, so that the cameras filming CSI do not misrepresent your life to the world as disorderly – oh the shame!).

Did I mention grandiose?

Then the competitiveness kicks in. Must be first in line in check-in queue. Must be first through customs. Must be closest to boarding gate. Must get onto plane first. Must get off plane first. And so it goes. It is exhausting. Someone standing in a boarding queue behind me (obviously) once amicably said to me, “ah well, we’ll all get there together, won’t we?” And I thought, “What on earth does that have to do with anything?” And then, I get there. Because ‘there’ is typically anywhere not-home, I am hopelessly untethered from myself and my life. My home is what grounds me. Specifically, my cats ground me. (Did I mention neurotic?). They are my attachment to all that is safe. Away from home, I feel in constant danger of disintegrating. Every particle in my body and soul/spirit/psyche thingy has one singular purpose: Get. Home. Home has, largely, been the only destination I have ever wanted to reach.

So here’s where this story cleverly comes together. With all the change and whatnot going on in my life at the moment, I made the decision (daily decisions, really) to try and embrace new and scary things a little more. Part of this meant deciding to try and be a bit more of an optimist and believing that perhaps the world is both willing to put good things in my path and not quite willing to deliver everything I want (right now!) unto me. (I’m not sure there can be such a thing as a cynical optimist, but that’s possibly a dilemma for another post). Part of it means enjoying the, er, journey (shudder) and not being solely focused on the destination, with the journey only something to be endured.

And part of it means realising that there are some pretty amazing travelling companions along with me on this journey. The kind who will stop what they are doing on a Sunday afternoon to sit with you on WhatsApp and talk you off the ledge (and out of the toilet cubicle) and coax you, little by little (and with promises of wine), into the world out there. The kind who make you realise that perhaps, one day, you could be somewhere away from home and still feel tethered.