At the heart of the matter

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I have been thinking a lot about the heart lately - what it does, what it symbolises and what moves mine. With an unusual flutter now and then, mine tends to draw attention when I get too wrapped up in the world.

Over 10 years ago I found myself at the doorstep of a an electro-cardiologist. After I underwent a number of tests and hung out with halter monitor for a while, my cardiologists explained I had a couple of rogue cells in my heart. I was told these mischievous cells were causing around 22,000 ectopic heartbeats a day. To give me a sense of this number, it was explained to me that the average person has only a handful a day, like maybe 5.

Ectopic heartbeats are when the heart skips a beat or the heart has extra beats. In my case I had cells in my heart that wanted to be the ‘big beater’ and so they would jump in with a beat, putting the big beater out of sync, creating lots of additional heart beats - tens of thousands of them a day. Seems these rogue cells were working hard to win the fight to be the boss. When my cardiologist told me what was happening, I couldn’t stop laughing, of course I would have a heart that would go rogue! But not for long, I had a procedure called an ablation, where they burnt those naughty little rogue cells away, and other than the occasional ectopic beat or flutter, my heart now beats to a more acceptable rhythm.

Recently, I had to have an echo-cardiogram, an ultrasound of my heart. Lying there chatting with the specialist sonographer, while the inside of my heart was being examined, I glanced up at the screen briefly and was astonished to see what looked like two little hands inside my heart clapping. The sonographer explained to me it was a valve opening and closing, and he did agree it looked a lot like hands clapping.

I haven’t been able to get this beautiful image out of my head. How delightful to discover that inside our beating hearts are hands applauding us through life. Clapping a rhythm for us to dance. Clapping a rhythm for us to live by.

Pondering this image, got me thinking about the significance of the heart, above and beyond its physical role to pump blood around our bodies to keep us alive (as if that wasn’t enough). I got thinking about what moves my heart. What makes it swell inside with emotion, so much so that it brings tears to my eyes. And I realised when I went through the list of things, they tend to correspond to some of the virtues Aristotle put forward, for people to ‘live well’. Courage. Temperance. Kindness. Joy. Pride. Honour. Equanimity. Friendliness. Honesty. Wit. Friendship. Not necessarily the words he originally used. But you get the idea. I have taken the time to elaborate on a few which stand out for me at this moment in time.

Kindness
An act of kindness will always bring a gentle smile to my face and a long sigh of appreciation. This may sound a little odd, but next next time you notice someone being kind, pay some attention to your reaction, the gentle smile and the long sigh. A particular act of kindness in my memory banks, which sprung up as soon as I typed the word ‘kindness’, was one from about three years ago when my then 11 year-old daughter was running a cross country race. It was a hard slog of a race. Cold, wet and muddy. As she cross the finish line exhausted from the gruelling race, a girl running not far behind her slipped on a muddy patch of grass just before the finish and fell. She was done. She lay there unable to get up, only a few steps from the finish line. It was heartbreaking to watch. She lay there, defeated, with no more in her. She couldn’t move. She was emotionally spent. Beaten. My daughter saw her fall, so she walked away from the finish line, walked away from her own exhaustion. From the promise of water and rest. She walked to this girl on the ground. My daughter bent down and spoke to her and encouraged her to get up. And when she did, my daughter helped her cross the finish line. Walking with her. Guiding her. Holding her arm. Supporting her across the finish line, together. Helping her drag her muddy limbs and face across the line. My heart swelled at my daughter’s act of kindness. At her care. Her generosity of spirit. And as I share this story right now my heart swells, alongside the tears in the very corners of my eyes.

Courage
I am always moved when people are vulnerable enough to be brave. The most recent example of courage that I have come across is the story of Tara Westover. I could not put down her memoir, Educated. I read it with such desperation to turn each page, to find out what was going to happen. So incredibly thirsty for her story. As I collected it from my library just now, and took it to my computer so I could find a quote to share, I notice I was holding it close to my heart, such was the impact of this beautifully written story of a young woman finding her true self at the expense of the love of her family. The book should always be carried beside your heart. When you buy it from the bookstore, walk out with it, cradled to your chest.

Spoiler alert!! Please go to the subhead ‘tenderness’ in order not to ruin your upcoming reading of this fabulous book, as I am about to share something of it from close to the end. A poignant memory Tara shares at perhaps her lowest point.

The moment in the book that broke my heart (which can happen when it swells way too much) where I ended up with my tears falling from my eyes, down my temples and along the edge of my cheek bones into my ears (I was reading in bed, my head in my pillow, and could not get out until I finished her book, and gravity has a way with tears) was the moment she reads the letter from one of her brothers, Tyler, expecting it to be a rejection, but instead it is a moment of acceptance and support, and love.

‘I clicked on the mouse, the attachment opened. I was so far removed from myself that I read the entire letter without understanding it: Our parents are held down by chains of abuse, manipulation and control…They see change as dangerous and will exile anyone who asks for it. This is a perverted idea of family loyalty…They claim faith, but this is not what the gospel teaches. Keep safe. We love you.’ Educated, p363, Tara Westover.

Keep safe. We love you. After I read these words. I sobbed and sobbed for Tara. I know no courage like hers. I was so relieved she was rewarded with love, and not rejection. So relieved that staying true to herself was met with love.

Tenderness
Before my husband became my husband. He was a friend. A photographer, my then boyfriend, who was a graphic designer, hired now and then. I remember the moment I fell in love with him, my future soul mate, although I did not realise that was what he was at the time. We were in Fitzroy, at a rooftop cafe for an opening for something, I can’t remember what. All I remember was it was night time. There were young children there. There was light. A wall. And my then friend, who would one day became my husband, was giving the children attention when no one else was. Entertaining them, with what seemed like a magical trick, but was actually simple hand shadow puppetry. A rabbit. Brought to life on a graffitied brick wall, on a Melbourne evening, on the rooftop of a radio station. The light, behind his hands, bringing to life a rabbit. A rabbit met with wide eyes, gasps, awe, the biggest smiles. The delight of young children. To me, this was an act of tenderness. My heart swelled. Almost to bursting. And I knew in that moment that I was destined to love that man. That man with his shadow puppetry. And I did. And I do.

Creativity and Beauty
Music and art will move my heart. Every time. The beauty of nature, will always expand my heart. The way the sun hits the deck. The way the water glistens from the sunshine. I have spent the day at the beach today. The sunshine, the different hues of blue in the water, the light greeny-blue from the shoreline, the deeper hues of green and blue in the breaking waves, the almost purple blue of the sea where it meets the horizon. The sky blue of the sky from the horizon to above our heads and beyond. It was glorious.

But when I think of creativity and beauty which makes my heart swell, I think of my son playing his guitar. Something he started when he was just 7 years old. Something over a decade later he still loves to do. Sitting in his room or on the couch in our dining room. Playing with such feeling. The guitar almost an anatomical part of him. Not a separate instrument at all. The beautiful blues he plays. The beautiful Spanish guitar songs. The jazz pieces. His favourites. Stevie Wonder’s ‘Isn’t She Lovely’. And Eric Clapton’s ‘Tears in Heavens’, with it’s lyrics inspired by the death of Clapton's four-year-old son. When talking matters of the heart, of what makes a heart swell with emotion, with tears to match. I couldn’t think of a better way to finish, than with these lyrics. Thank you, Eric Clapton.

Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven?
Would it be the same
If I saw you in heaven?
I must be strong and carry on
'Cause I know I don't belong here in heaven

Would you hold my hand
If I saw you in heaven?
Would you help me stand
If I saw you in heaven?
I'll find my way through night and day
'Cause I know I just can't stay here in heaven

Time can bring you down, time can bend your knees
Time can break your heart, have you begging please, begging please

Beyond the door there's peace I'm sure
And I know there'll be no more tears in heaven

Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven?
Would it be the same
If I saw you in heaven?
I must be strong and carry on
'Cause I know I don't belong here in heaven

Sitting with uncertainty

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We live well planned lives. It is pretty much mapped out way in advance. Start preschool or kindergarten at 3 or 4 years of age. Start school after turning 5 or 6 years old. Stay at school until between the ages of 15 and 18. Expectations follow. Graduate. Defer. University. Job. Fall in love. Buy a house. Have children. Know where you are heading. Plan your life. Save for the future. There isn’t room for uncertainty. There isn’t tolerance for uncertainty. Certainty is king.

It certainly is. Shops will be open every day at their set times. The supermarket will have in stock their regular items. Your clothes will gradually wear out. A sock will always go missing in the laundry. Summer will follow Spring. The birds will sing. The dogs will bark. Lunch is around midday. Dinner around six. You will get tired. You will sleep. You will get hungry. You will eat. People will die. Babies will be born. The world continues to turn. And we feel comfortable and safe.

When uncertainty peeks around the corner, there is often no patience for it. We have no relationship with uncertainty other than to scorn it, or try to ignore it. We are shocked when the unexpected happens. When someone treats us in a surprising way. When a friend dies before her time. When illness befalls us. When the weather changes suddenly, or does not match the forecast. When our words fail us. When the TV show is not the one listed in the TV program. When we are confused by the way we are feeling. When we don’t understand why something happened. When there is no logic. When we lose, at a time we thought we would win. When people walk away. When people turn up.

We rely on people to stay with the herd. Follow the herd. Stay within the boundaries of the paddock. Do what others do. Do what we do. Do the accepted. Do the expected. Don’t stray. Don’t be too individual. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t push it. Get a good job and pay your bills. Be at the train on time. Be home on time. Don’t drink too much. Don’t laugh too loud. Act like the herd, or you will be an outcast. Know what your purpose is in life. Run after it.

But a hell of a lot of people seem to be running away from life, rather than after it. Maybe it is time to make some room for uncertainty. To be, as Eckhart Tolle puts it, ‘at ease with not knowing’. Perhaps all this planning, this rigidness, the map of life, the order of things has created an imbalance. Perhaps it is time to let a little chaos in. A little unknowingness. A bit of throwing ‘caution to the wind’. A ‘maybe’ or two. Are we caught up with feeling like we always have to have the answer? When did the words ‘I don’t know’ lose their value?

As young children we run around and play like free spirits, ‘without a care in the world’. Our lives are not dictated by knowing. By expecting. By the plan. The map. We play. Eat when we are hungry. Cry when we are sad. There is chaos. There is unknowingness. There are lots of ‘why’ because we are comfortable in not knowing. Because we are curious, and we like finding out stuff about the world around us. We are pretty fearless. We are open to possibilities. Yet as we grow older, this fearlessness and openness is diluted as certainty cements itself around our hearts.

The relationship between possibilities, fear and uncertainty is beautifully articulated by Eckhart Tolle in his book ‘A New Earth’.

‘When you become comfortable with uncertainty then infinite possibilities open up in your life. When you become comfortable with uncertainty it means fear is no longer a dominant factor in what you do, and no longer prevents you from taking action to initiate change.’ Eckhart Tolle

So much of our lives is driven by fear. The fear of loss. The fear of rejection. The fear of failure. The fear of not quite cutting it, not being good enough. The fear of not doing it right, not knowing the answer. The fear of not knowing. We think of certainty as the hero, saving us from our fears. Certainty fights with the mighty sword the fear of loss, rejection and failure. But with all its action and heroism it leaves no room for possibilities. Too much certainty is more the villain, locking us up in a high tower, to protect us from our fears, but leaving us a prisoner of our own circumstances, where the possibilities of our life are out of reach.

Perhaps it is time to free our hearts from certainty. Maybe the forgotten hero is uncertainty. Perhaps it is time to take a seat on the bench next to our old friend and sit for a while. Sit with uncertainty. You never know what might turn up. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Blog your heart out

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Some people do FebFast, some do Dry July. Raising awareness. Changing habits. Then there are those who love to grow some fur on their top lip for Movember (for some it is a lot of fur) and suddenly we are surrounded by Tom Selleck look-a-likes for 30 days. They do it for charity, they do it for fun. Others do a 12-week body and lifestyle transformation program with Michelle Bridges. Me, well, I am doing Blogtober. I am taking up the challenge to write one blog post a day for the month of October. No moustache or rock hard abs for me anytime soon!

Today marks day one of Rocktober, a month celebrating rock music. It also marks day one of Blogtober. Both of these things I hadn’t heard of 12 hours ago. What a difference a day can make. Although to be honest, I still don’t know much about either of them. Other than Blogtober is about taking on the challenge to write a blog post every day for 31 days. Crazy I hear you say? I know.

My dear friend and beautiful writer, Lisa Wylde, inspired me this morning, when she told me she planned to take on this writing challenge. I was excited for Lisa but my immediate reaction was one of relief - better her than me. As I explained to another dear friend not long after my conversation with Lisa. ‘I don’t write like that. I don’t write my blog to a deadline.’ You see, I have posts collecting inside my head, kind of like, I don’t know, let’s go with chicken eggs in an incubator. They are all lined up. Warming, growing, transforming and waiting to hatch. And when they are ready, when they are first in line, out they come. It is time. I wake up and write. Perhaps I should have thought of a more elegant metaphor, no matter, you get the picture.

But just because I have always written my blog this way, doesn’t mean I always have to. Armed with the words from my wise and encouraging friend that it ‘might be a good exercise to do the challenge and write to a deadline, to see if writing more often makes me want to write with equal pleasure, or if it makes it a burden’. I decided I would give it a go. Run the experiment. See what happens. Make myself the lab rat.

I announced to my family that I plan to join Lisa and participate in Blogtober. My son raised an eyebrow. Elvis style. My daughter’s response, ‘Bye mum, see you in a month!’ My husband, ‘October is my biggest month, you know you will need to do some running around with the kids.’ My daughter’s words are accurate. Damn her! I do tend to disappear when I write and become somewhat myopic. I can’t see much beyond the keyboard and screen. My husband’s response is typical. Bless him and his rational and reasonable thinking. Not one of my strongest points. So, it should be no surprise that my response to them was, ‘Bring on Blogtober!’

Sometimes it is good to commit. And, like any form of exercise, exercising commitment is easier when others are doing it too. This is one reason why Febfast, Dry July, Movember and the Michelle Bridge’s program work. Because people do them together. They don’t face it alone. Curiosity has also got me on this one. I am intrigued to see what I might write over the month. How it will feel. Although, after doing some research I am a little worried. It might be a mountain of a challenge. And it appears some people are a little more organised than me, they have prepared for Blogtober in advance, some as early as July! I have read the tweets, one person has six posts ready to go already! I don’t have any. Preparation, it would seem, is also not one of my strong points. Well, who cares. Let’s see how it goes. Give it a go. This might be my first and last post for Blogtober, or it might be my first of many. We will just have to wait and see. But already, I feel like it has stretched me as a writer. This post was not in the incubator!

What I love about the idea behind Blogtober is that it is about community. A community of writers. A community of bloggers. And it is a way of bringing us together. Yep, nothing like a tough challenge to bring people together. So if you are a writer, or a blogger, or if you are an inspiring writer or blogger, come on board. See what you can write in October. No matter when you find out and if it has already started. There are no hard rules (as far as I can tell), other than - just write! Write your heart out!

I listened an interview with Dr Dean Ornish today. So much great stuff. But one thing that stood out and resonated was when he spoke about what hell would look like to him.

‘If there is a hell it would be to see what my life could have been and not being able to do it.’ Dr Dean Ornish

And although I might in thirty-one days, rewrite his definition of hell to ‘committing to write a blog post each day for a month’, for now it is an inspiration. His words and Blogtober. Another reason to write. Another reason to do what I love every day.

My family have just returned, and are asking why I am sitting in the dark with a possessed look in my eyes. My response. ‘Welcome to Blogtober!’

Hello, goodbye

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When I was growing up as a kid, growing taller in my body and longer in my feet, there would always be, at each growth stage, a pair of shoes, a favourite t-shirt or pair of jeans I felt very sad to have to say goodbye to and let go. Sad because I had outgrown them.

I would pack those clothes in the cardboard box set for storage for my younger sister, and fold them with great care. They were comfortable, held fond memories of some fun times. I was grateful for their service. I was grateful for their witness. With shoes, it was often that I just loved them for how they looked and wished I could squeeze my feet in them still, without squishing my toes into deformed prunes in order to make them fit. Because I knew I couldn’t get that same pair ever again.

The hand-me-downs from my older sister, two years my senior, would fill my side of the cupboard. In perusing through them, there would always be one or two items, usually a dress, which would give me a sense of relief that we would no longer look like twins. My set of whatever two-some outfit my mother had chosen to make for us packed away, and my sister’s version now in my possession. My pair of our twin-set sandals resting in a storage box, her pair now sitting neatly at the base of my cupboard waiting for my feet to place themselves to fit within the grooves she had worn into the shoe’s sole. Grooves reflecting her growth, her fun times.

Brandology Mama

Today, I am grateful for the service of Brandology Mama. She has been a part of me for four years, four years and two weeks to be exact. But with my writing self growing taller, her feet growing longer, it is time to gently fold Brandology Mama up, with great care and send her on her way. I am grateful for her witness. She has served me well. The archetypal sage and nurturer combined. She sought to teach about the science of branding and encourage people to love and care for their brands. The love of your business-type brand or the love of you as a person, being your personal brand. And for the first year or so she did. And then after a pause, a slumber, she woke different. Her voice had changed, and now she is in need of a new name.

I have always loved the greek myth of the phoenix, the giant and powerful bird born from the ashes. But this is not a phoenix rebirthing. I have not had to obliterate myself to nothing, I am not dusting ash from my metaphorical feathers. Nor is this a transformation born from suffering. I have not had to hide away, disintegrate into a gooey mess and force myself from a cocoon in such a way the blood can flow in my wings so I can fly. No. This is more a snake shedding her skin moment. Shedding skin, to allow for further growth. It is a little uncomfortable to shed your skin all at once, in one piece. Wriggling out of it like a giant long sock. Leaving behind, a piece which still holds the form of you even after you have moved away. Its delicate lace-like structure, an external skeleton of your former self. Lying in the long grass, discarded. I am sad to leave her. But it is time.

Curious Muse

My new skin is made from wonder. It is curiosity which drives me to write. It is curiosity which leads you to read. Being curious binds us together, the writer and the reader. And so it seems fitting to call my writing self, the Curious Muse. She is the archetypal innocent and lover combined. She has faith and optimism. She is intimate and authentic, trusting and vulnerable. She is passionate and appreciative. She is the Curious Muse.

And as she comes to life through the words on the pages here. She comes to life also through the symbol of the hummingbird. The smallest of birds. With delicate wings. And a suitable beak to feed her curiosity. The only bird to fly forwards and backwards, up and down, or sideways. To hover in sheer space. A bird who feeds on the sweet nectar of life.

As a spirit animal, the hummingbird represents love and happiness. The miracle of life and all its wonder. The hummingbird flies great distances. Adaptable and resilient, the hummingbird endures long and challenging journeys with joy, playfulness and a lightness of being. In her wisdom, the hummingbird opens her heart to the richness of life.

She is fitting. I am intrigued by what she will have to say.

Life of a fraud: on deceiving myself

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I have been living the life of a fraud. A trickster, an imposter. I have been disingenuous. Lying to myself. Dishonest and deceitful.

This hard cold fact, hit me with full force as I was walking to work and listening to a podcast. Completely engrossed in the story being told, I did not realise what was going on deeper in my mind, behind the scenes. My subconscious was processing a story so completely distant from my own. Yet from the words came a pain for me so great, I almost double over on the spot, onto the pavement, as cars drove by with parents inside; people rushing to drop their children to school.

The instigator of my own undoing in that moment was the incredibly talented Janet Mock, her podcast is one in a series I am obsessed with listening to at the moment: Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations. I have been listening to them in order, working my way down the list from the most recent to older ones, until a new one pops up and then I listen to the latest. I have given myself over to the order and release of new podcasts. They dictate what I listen to. I have let the universe decide what I need to hear that day, and try to be open to whatever lands. On this particular day it was Janet Mock, the director, writer and producer of one of my favourite shows Pose - which I love for bringing to the world the reality and the stories about ‘New York City's African-American and Latino LGBTQ and gender-nonconforming ballroom culture scene’ of the 80s. In the podcast, Janet talks about ‘The Path to Authenticity: Embracing the Otherness.’ When I started the podcast I did not make the connection that she was the director, writer and producer of Pose. Even though, I was excited to listen, because of the title, because I have been thinking deeply for some time about how people find their authentic self, and I believe we are all on this journey throughout life, on the path to authenticity. I have come to the realisation that it is the journey that we must cherish: the moments of wondering lost, the elation of discovering, the peace in finding a checkpoint, the anticipation and excitement of moving on again to continue the search. And I have come to terms with the fact that the destination - authenticity - is simply the pulley wheel or axle designed to support our movement, our change in direction along the taut cable of life.

On a fresh winter’s morning, walking at a steady, rhythmic pace to work, protecting my ears from the cold with my headphones, keeping warm in a scarf and enjoying the soft winter sunshine on my cheeks, I lost myself in Janet’s story of otherness. Her story of being born a girl in a boy’s body; of having her parents ‘express her gender for her’ but knowing from a very young age that the expression of her true self did not align with ‘what those around her deemed normal.’ Janet’s story and her words of wisdom are inspirational. Janet tells her story factually, but with profound emotion. You know a good storyteller when they crack something open deep inside you; where you find yourself sobbing or laughing out loud as you read a book or listen to a podcast. Or when you feel that kick in the guts, the seismic shift in your soul, the fog clearing from your perception, as you suddenly come to a realisation about yourself - through their story, through their words.

‘Telling our stories allows us to connect with one another, but most importantly, it allows us to connect with ourselves.’ Janet Mock

Sliding doors

Perhaps it was her words ‘turned out different’ that held me as Janet spoke about being different to what her parents expected her to be. Perhaps it was Janet talking about her otherness that made me think of my own otherness during my childhood; as a child of parents who were Lithuanian immigrants. Of feeling separate from life at times, almost like I was an observer of life, not a participant. Maybe it was hearing Janet talk about the moment she realised for the first time there was a disconnect in herself, when she took a dare and wore her grandmother’s flowery muumuu, perhaps it was her words ‘it wasn’t funny to me, because it was the first time that I realised that the me I knew myself to be was not right’. Maybe it was hearing her talking about learning to ‘hide who she really was’ which got me. I didn’t have her incredible journey, or anything comparable. But listening to her story, I reflected on how I felt my life had ‘turned out different’ to what I expected it to be; and I felt something familiar when she said ‘the me I knew myself to be was not right’. I knew I was hiding ‘who I really was’. Although her story is her story, Janet doesn’t let you escape your own and tells us we must ‘turn up the frequency of our own truths’.

‘We all do this, we all put up fronts to protect our unspoken and unexpressed self. Sometimes it is easiest to conceal our truths by blending in.’ Janet Mock

It was on Janet’s last line in the podcast, that I felt a sharp physical pain in my chest. A pain which stopped me walking. It sounds so ridiculously cliché, but I felt a ‘stab in my heart’ and it ‘stopped me in my tracks’. There is a reason for clichés, they are often accurate. Standing stiff, grabbing at my chest I felt the grief of a regret spill out of me. A regret and a sadness I did not realise I had been carrying for nearly a quarter of a century. The regret of my 24 year-old self applying for a respected professional writing course, a difficult one to get into with limited spots. Of having to submit pieces to get into this course. Which I did, getting an offer of a place. Published writers have come out of this course. Novels and memoirs have landed on the shelves from this course.

What came home to me, and for me, listening to Janet’s story, was that often we are ‘too afraid to say out loud what we secretly know’ about ourselves. Too afraid, no matter how big or small those truths about our identity might be to the world. Janet’s is big, hers is about gender identity and embracing her otherness. Mine is much smaller. It is about identifying your true calling in life. For me, it is about identifying as a writer. Sitting comfortably with the fact that I was born to write, and I will die writing.

In that instant I felt, physically, the regret of making the wrong decision all those years ago. Of not accepting that course. Of choosing an editing and publishing course instead. Because it was the safer thing to do. Job prospects were better. Because I was too afraid to embrace my true self. My writing self. It was much safer to hide her behind an editor. Or a communications manager or a marketing manager.

I paused, breathed and started walking up the hill. I was surprised at this revelation, which felt like it came out of nowhere. I had no idea I had been carrying the grief of that decision for so long. And it was in that moment that it lifted. And I laughed, with lightness, as I realised I had been living the life of a fraud. I was a fraud. I had been pretending to ‘not be a writer’. I was pretending to be things which allowed me to write, but which did not allow me to call myself a writer. I was not owning my true self. I laughed because in that moment I realised that you cannot run away from yourself, from your calling, from what you are here to do. It follows you. The writer inside me has alway been there, she has been stalking me ever since that day I turned my back on giving it a go because I had already made up my mind that I would fail. That I wouldn’t become a published author. But she didn’t care, she has been incredibly patient. She created this blog. Which was originally about branding, until I came to terms with who she was and the fact she wasn’t going away. She was happy to sit in the back seat while the communications manager and marketing manager sat in front holding the steering wheel of life. But she is here and she is not letting me get away with it. Twenty four years later, she is looking back at me in the mirror. The writer.

Ask yourself the question

My journey to come to terms with my true self as a writer only started when I had the courage to come out of hiding from behind ‘the brand specialist’ and start writing about things I really cared about, and what just spilled out of me. It took speed when others saw me as a writer. When people I knew started calling me a writer. When people reached out to thank me for my writing. When recently, someone asked me not to stop writing. That was when the back door and the front door opened and my writing self had the opportunity to take the front seat. I had to see myself through the eyes of others, in order to give myself permission to be able to see myself as a writer through my own eyes. For those people, I will be forever grateful.

However, I am perplexed by the fact that something which gives me such great joy, I have not embraced proudly. Something which comes so naturally and pours out of my fingers from a source I cannot identify, I am shy about. That I almost feel ashamed to say it out loud. That I need permission from others to own it. I know as I write these words, there are people out there, who will read them and identify with them. They too will realise that they have been running from their true self, from their calling in life. They too are ashamed of saying out loud their childhood dream, the thing that brings them most joy. They too have become lost in the easiness of being someone else. They too are waiting for permission to get into the front seat of life.

Don’t wait for the permission of others. Give yourself permission to be who you truly are. Give yourself permission to be your authentic self. Listen to the voice within you. Set yourself free with a simple question Janet asked herself in order to find her true self. A question we should not shy away from, no matter where we are in our lives, no matter how much ground is behind us.

‘A question we should ask ourselves, whether we are twelve or twenty, or in the twilight of our lives. Who am I? Who am I to me? That is the question.’ Janet Mock.

Your true self

I listened again to the podcast, and Janet Mock telling her story, in order to write this piece. A piece I hope will encourage people to listen to the stories of others in order to find their own truth. For people to have the same experience I had - to be slapped with the reality of the importance to ‘unapologetically embrace ourselves’. In my second listening, I heard consciously the words that spoke to my subconscious that day. Words, which primed me during that half hour to Janet’s closing statement. Words which set me up as they placed themselves somewhere deep inside me, ready to support an awakening, as I walked past the park, along the shops, across the crossing, over the railway line, down the hill, under the underpass and onto the pavement by the school. Janet says it perfectly.

‘My hope is that in hearing my story, you are propelled to excavate that part of yourself that you have been hiding - and you allow others to see you for who you are, without doubt, without shame, without apology. My hope is you step outside the comfort of your boxes, and holy and boldly be your truest fiercest self. ‘ Janet Mock

Discovering the freedom of writing

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Earlier this year, a dear friend pointed me to a beautifully written article sharing Thich Nhat Hanh’s insights on the art of letting go. Little did I know the power of this gift he had just given me and the transforming journey I was about to start. I had no idea this gesture was about to change not only the way I write, but also the way I live - that it would set me free. But I guess, that’s the power of words - and friendship.

I live to write and I write to live. It’s that simple. Writing and life: these two things are inseparable. No arguments. So, I shouldn’t really be surprised that finding freedom in my writing would transform the way I see the world and how I live. Finding the ‘art of letting go’ when I write has changed me for the better in a noticeable way, and as such my husband, work colleagues and close friends are actually commenting on the difference. And I am feeling that difference, big time.

When I first read Christina Sarich’s article The Art of Letting Go, I really struggled with the concept of detachment but really connected with three of the four forms of detachment described: joy, compassion and gratitude. It has taken me some time to understand the power of the fourth: equanimity.

Joy, compassion and gratitude were easy, they were part of my vocabulary already, they were important to me and part of me. I hold these virtues in my heart, they lead me through life. Equanimity, however, was not as familiar to me. The elements of ‘nondiscrimination’ and ‘even mindedness’ I connected with, but I very much struggled with understanding the concept of ‘detachment’ associated with being equanimous. I am so grateful that this is no longer the case as understanding equanimity has been a critical piece in learning the ‘art of letting go’ and finding freedom in my writing.

I laugh at the irony, that I got so stuck on the very term Sarich’s entire article is about: detachment. And that I struggled because I was finding it difficult to ‘let go’ of my long term understanding of this word. I was finding it hard to move past the fact that what I understood ‘detachment’ to be, was exactly what the article described it wasn’t: ‘a form of aloofness, or emotional disconnect from others’. I was so confused. How could ‘letting go’ mean ‘diving in’? Aren’t they opposites? But more on that later, because I want to point out that working through the things I struggled with in this article, served as a good reminder to me that when making a formative shift in life, the initial struggle we face is a critical part of the journey. Without the struggle, we don’t change. And although those words weren’t written in Sarich’s article, this was its first gift to me, and the first step in changing the way I write.

Embrace the struggle

So, if you are looking to write more freely, my first bit of advice to you would be to make peace with the struggle associated with the story you are working on.

When I write, it starts in my head - long before pen hits paper or my fingers hit the keyboard. Sometimes, like today, I wake up with the words forming in my mind and I have to get up and let them pour out. Other times, I walk around for days, with the story slowly building. Accompanying the ‘slow burn’ internal writing process there used to be a certain level of crankiness. Something my family got used to. They knew to get out of my way because ‘mum was writing in her head again’. And they probably couldn’t wait for it to come out; for the relief and calmness that followed. I also looked forward to the respite. I can’t explain why it was so uncomfortable. Perhaps, it was the fear that the words wouldn’t come out right. Perhaps I was just being impatient. I am not sure, but I do know that once I made peace with the struggle of this internal process, the negative emotions surrounding it disappeared (well, so far in most cases it did - for change takes time and practice).

I found this inner peace by letting go and accepting the struggle as part of the writing process. By finding joy in the struggle, being kind to myself during this process and being grateful for the struggle, trusting it would deliver what it needed, in time. I worked on being equanimous during the struggle: finding calmness and composure even if this part of my writing process felt difficult or uncomfortable. What worked for me was learning to detach myself from the struggle, stop trying to own it, or control it, and just letting it take me where it needed. Trusting the struggle to land where ever it needed to. Seems like Sarich’s article was starting to sink in after all.

Remember the joy

As a young kid, I never placed expectations on my writing. I just wrote with great joy and playfulness. Anything was possible. Rediscovering this joy and playfulness in my writing, has been a big part of learning to write with a free spirit again.

In Sarich’s article she explores the concept of letting go through learning to ‘love more completely’ and explains Master Hanh’s four elements of detachment as the pathway to achieve this. Giving joy and happiness to others is the first. So for me, it was about learning to love my writing more completely, loving it for its imperfections, loving it for what it is. And the first step in achieving this complete love for my writing, was remembering the joy it gives me and noticing how happy it makes me, and through this giving it the freedom to give joy to others too.

So, the second gift from Sarich’s article was Master Hanh’s quote:

‘The first aspect of true love is maitri (metta, in Pali), the intention and capacity to offer joy and happiness.’

I always used to say I wrote for me, no one else. I would explain that my writing ‘falls out of my head’, it just needed to come out and that it ‘wasn’t about others’. But what is a piece of writing without a reader? What is a piece of writing that does not think about its audience? As a Communications Manager in a business setting, I always think about the audience. Why wasn’t I doing this with my personal writing? When I used to say, ‘Sure, I write a blog and I write poetry, but it doesn’t matter who reads it, because it isn’t about that.’ I was missing the point. The fact is, people will read it, and regardless of how many people read it, or what people think of it, someone will read it. I realised that even if it is only one person, it is a valid audience. Even if this person is the writer herself, it is a valid audience - when rereading your work, you shift from being the writer and you become the audience.

So from now on, I always start my writing with the intention to offer joy and happiness. Joy and happiness to myself and to others. I embrace my inner child, and remember the joy of writing and allow myself to be playful when I write. That doesn’t mean I can’t write about serious topics or write in a serious way, it means to enjoy what I write, enjoy the process of writing and, just like free-play, to be flexible when I write, embrace change and let go of any rules and expectations.

It is through this that I have become a better friend with my writing and learnt to truly love my writing. Inspired by a poignant quote of Master Hanh’s from Sarich’s article:

‘We have to use language more carefully. ‘Love’ is a beautiful word, we have to restore its meaning. The word ‘maitri’ has roots in the word mitra, which means friend. In Buddhism, the primary meaning of love is friendship.’

So, be a friend to your writing. Truly love your writing. Write with the intent to bring happiness and joy to others, including yourself. Find the ‘maitri’ in your writing.

Show compassion

During this journey of self discovery, I realised how nasty I was being to myself about my writing. How I would put it down and make excuses for it. I would write a piece, share it on my blog and when someone said to me what a great piece it was, I would sometimes say how much I hated that particular piece of writing, or how it was OK but it didn’t say what I really wanted to say. And I would say these things because I believed them to be true. I felt the disappointment, for the writing I had produced, deep in my heart. Ridiculously, I would apologise in advance for my writing before others even had a chance to read them.

My previous blog post was introduced in this way, in my Twitter post: ‘This doesn’t even touch the surface of what I want to say but here it is, a mere wondering about Nietzsche and Eastern thought.’

‘Doesn’t even touch the surface of what I want to say’. Why did I introduce my piece of writing this way? Why did I put it down in the same moment I was sharing it with others? Because it was true, it didn’t touch the surface of what I wanted to say and I was focused on the outcome. I was also frightened people wouldn’t understand it, and that they would see it as a poor piece of writing. Judging my writing is judging me. If my writing is no good, I am no good. I write to live, I live to write. They are inseparable.

Letting go of this fear, showing compassion for yourself as a writer, and showing compassion to your pieces of writing is so important. Learning Master Hanh’s art of letting go, is understanding that after ‘maitri’ comes ‘karuna’ (compassion), which Sarich describes as the ‘next form of detachment’ and beautifully brings to life in the words:

‘The Buddha smiles because he understands why pain and suffering exist, and because he also knows how to transform it.’

I write more freely when I smile with the Buddha.

Be grateful

Sometimes my writing makes me laugh. Sometimes it gives me peace. Sometimes it makes me cry and other times my writing surprises me. I am really grateful for how my writing makes me feel. Whatever the emotion may be. I have also learnt to be grateful for each piece of writing, no matter what it turns out to be. Helping me understand gratefulness in relation to my writing is the third gift from Sarich’s article and came from her words where she explained:

‘In truly letting go you practice gratitude. Mudita, or joy arises when we are overcome with gratitude for all that we have, such that we no longer cling to some other longed-for result.’

I didn’t realise how much I was clinging to a different outcome for pieces of my writing. I wasn’t aware how attached I was to my own definition of what it is to be a writer, until I read these words and let them sink in a little.

As well as finding happiness in whatever I have written, and for the writer I am today, I am also grateful for how my writing makes others feel and for the joy it gives to me and others. I am grateful for the conversations my writing starts and the connections it has given me. I am especially grateful when my writing inspires others to find their inner writer and when they share their stories with me. Stories which then give me great happiness and joy leading to a cycle of sharing and enjoying each other’s creations. It is a delight.

I get the same sense of happiness when reading the pieces of writing my friends write, which are completely independent of me. It is lovely to be part of a community of writers.

Sarich describes the Bhudda’s definition of ‘mudita’, the practice of gratitude, as ‘unselfish joy’ where ‘we don’t only find happiness when something good happens to us, but when others find happiness’.

‘Joy arises when you find happiness even when others find joy–and it has little or nothing to do with you.’

Set your writing free

A conversation some six months ago (although not word for word):

Friend: “I read your latest blog post, I loved it. There was so much in it, I actually printed it out to read it.”

Me: “Really? Oh, I so hate that piece. It just….I don’t know (big sigh). I don’t like it, it wasn’t what I was hoping for. It doesn’t say what I wanted to say.”

Friend: “Well, it’s not yours anymore…”

Wise words. Letting go means it is not yours anymore.

It took me some time to get there. I felt something the moment I heard those words, but didn’t truly understand their sentiment, but thankfully those four words ‘it’s not yours anymore’ kept running over and over in my head after this conversation until they landed and I got it.

Driving to work one day, the things percolating in my head collided. Ideas I had read, Sarich’s article and all its gifts, memories from my life, stories and poems I had written, the recent conversation about my writing and other conversations I had shared all fell into place as I discovered the meaning of the fourth element of letting go: upeksha (equanimity). I was standing on the metaphorical mountain top, the fourth gift from Sarich’s article:

‘Upa means ‘over,’ and iksha means ‘to look.’ You climb the mountain to be able to look over the whole situation, not bound by one side or the other.’

From this psychological vantage point - standing under blue skies in the bright sunshine on top of the metaphorical mountain - I had an epiphany. The words I would use to describe the emotions I felt in that exact moment are, ironically, the four elements of letting go. I felt great happiness and joy, I was full of kindness, I was bubbling over with gratefulness and was suspended all of the sudden in a deep sense of calmness.

I felt maitri, karuna, muditi and upeksha as I realised it was these very four elements I needed to apply to my writing, and as I realised equanimity was to become the fourth pillar to guide me in life - alongside the intent to bring joy and happiness to myself and others, to be compassionate and kind to myself and others and to be grateful in the moment.

Writing more freely is about detaching from your writing. That does not mean being cold and distant from it, but truly loving it. Diving in. Letting it go to be whatever it will be to you and to others, in whatever form it is in. Knowing, it is not yours anymore. Not owning it. Not attaching your ego to it.

My writing is not mine to own, any more than my children are. I have birthed them from my body, I have loved and cherished them, I have guided them, but they are their independent selves, they are their own beings. They may have my genes, but they are unique, we do not share the same fingerprints.

Detach from your writing, let it have its own life and purpose. Accept it is what it is, and had to be written. Don’t put your beloved writing in your pocket.

‘We try to put our beloved in our pocket and carry them with us, when they are more like the wind, or a butterfly, or a stream, needing to move and flow, or risk dying. This is not love, this is destruction.’ Christina Sarich, The Art of Letting Go, May 2018.

My favourite piece of writing, which I have loved since I was 19, captures the very essence of not owning the things we love. Sylvia Plath’s beautiful poem, Morning Song, which she wrote after the birth of her first child Freida, expresses it beautifully in the third stanza.

I’m no more your mother
Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind’s hand.

Rain from inside a cloud form a puddle. The puddle is not the cloud. It exists in its own right for children to playfully dance in, with their gumboots on.

Words from inside my mind form a story. Get your gumboots on!

Making friends with the writer within me

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For years I have shunned her. Pretended she wasn't there. The writer within me. Embarrassed to call myself a writer because I felt like a fraud if I did. Yet, she has always been me; and I have always been her. The writer. 

I was born to write. This is not a bold statement. It is the plain truth. A simple fact. My earliest memories are of me writing. Writing stories in my head as I watched the world unfold. Singing my stories at the top of my lungs as I stood on the compost bin in the corner of our back yard, the autumn leaves falling to the ground around me. Acting out my plays on 'the stage' - our front porch - a thick concrete platform raised to look out at the span of our front yard and the passing cars. Writing in my little spiral notebook on the swing, the sun warming my eyelids. Fully engrossed in my writing as I sat on a tiny chair randomly placed in the front yard under a tree. Writing furiously in my exercise book as it poured out of me under the covers of my bed with my torch as my only light. Writing in the heat of the tent, which Mum and Dad had set up in the back yard. Writing with delight in the privacy of the top level of our cubby house. Writing stories in my head as I fell asleep at night. Typing up my poems, first on Mum's typewriter and then later on our Acorn computer. Waking from my dreams, inspired, grabbing a notebook from my bedside table and, regardless of the hour, writing out whatever was in my head again and again and again - as a small child, as a teenager, as a young woman and now. I was always writing. I am always writing. I am a writer.

As a young kid I wrote stories about ghosts, death, murder, mystery and UFOs. My parents and siblings couldn't understand how their cheeky, happy, fun-loving young girl could have such a fascination with such darkness, such ugliness in the world. These were also the stories I loved to read. An insatiable young reader, I could not get enough of what Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Agatha Christie, Dad's copies of The Reader's Digest and the National Geographic, the UFO books, the books about astral travelling, the books about murder, the newspaper and the novel Jaws had in store for me. If I wasn't writing, I was reading. For me they have always been inseparable. When you write, you read. When you read you write. My reading as a young child wasn't all bleak, I loved the library's copies of Tin Tin, my birthday books - Snoopy, Fred Basset and Garfield. I also loved my sister's Archie comics. But I did not like her Sweet Valley High books. I preferred Virginia Andrew's sad tale of The Flowers in the Attic. 

We lived just outside a small country town. In a house on the corner of a gravelled avenue, with the river a short bike ride away. I wrote many stories on the bank of that river under an old rickety bridge. That bridge once became the greatest source of worry about my writing for my parents. I was around 11 when Mum pulled me aside to have a serious conversation. Immediately, I could tell something was wrong looking at Mum's stern face as she took me into my parent's bedroom to have a private conversation with me. My mind was racing as we walked in and I sat on the bed as she shut the door. What thing was I in trouble for this time? What had she found out? It could have been a number of things. I was shocked by the gentleness and concern of Mum's voice as she asked me about a piece I had written. The relief was enormous, I was not in trouble (this time). Mum was just worried about me.

She was asking about a piece I had written for school. My teacher had rung her. Worried. The piece was about a young girl who, tormented by life, hung herself on a rickety old bridge that crosses a river. Mum was really concerned. At the time, I couldn't understand why. 'It's just a story,' I told her, laughing. And it was. It was simply something that fell out of my head. A story I wrote. Nothing more. Mum took some convincing, but was relieved when she finally came around to see it for what it was. She then shared with me a family secret which she had not told me before, because I was too young. A piece of my family's history. Dad's mother. My Grandmother. Tormented by the war. Mentally unwell. Hung herself. In her garage. In Albury. I was shocked. I had never met my Grandmother, she died before I was born. As did my Grandfather, Dad's dad. But they always felt special to me. A mystery. Then, I was mad. How could Mum and Dad not tell me this before? I would never have written that story had I known this. My story must have been so painful for Dad to read. How horrible for him. And it was in this moment that my resolve for the truth was born. No secrets. Ever.

Except for the secret of self. As I grew up from a young girl into a teenager I learnt, painfully, that to be accepted there were things you should not say, and a way you had to act. Pretending. Surviving. Or risk being deemed odd, crazy or too intense. My creative writing became a place I could go, and be the real me. The me hiding in the centre of the maze. The maze I had to create around me, in order to be acceptable in this world. A maze of pretence, of social norms and protective walls. My writing became very private. When rarely shared, I felt naked. Exposed. Vulnerable.

As a teenager I wrote passionate poems about unrequited love alongside the essays I had to write for school. Often I wrote poetry in the inside covers of my school text books if something came to me in class, or while doing my homework. This was an OK thing to do, since I was the only one to read the text books. Until the guy who turned up and became one of my best friends, started tutoring me in Year 12 Biology after he asked me to tutor him in English. The fringes of our friendship were already laced with sexual tension. He had a long term girlfriend, we were just friends - despite his family telling us on many occasions we were made for each other. We were just friends. Despite our feelings. One day, sitting lazily in the sun on my parent's back verandah, flirting between biology questions he casually grabbed my biology text book instead of his. My heart stopped as he discovered my poetry and read it. Most of it was about him. Although he was not named, I was sure he would know. Our friendship was deeper from that day forward, but as our story played out the heartache became too strong. And with a broken heart, I hid the writer within me a little deeper.

As a university student I wrote poetry about existential suffering alongside the analytical pieces I was writing for my degree. I discovered philosophy alongside literature at university, thanks to the most inspirational thinker who taught one of our literature classes. It was at this time that I discovered writing from the body. Writing from the Anima. The unconscious woman. Writing without the Apollonian form and structure generations had dictated on centuries of writing, since the fall of the matriarchy. I remember in second year uni, receiving criticism on a piece I had submitted for lack of form and structure. Ironically, the piece was about writing from the body, and in writing the piece, I had to be true to what I was writing about and actually produced the essay by writing from the body. Without form and structure. I had to explain this to my linguistics lecturer, post him marking the piece. He regraded it after our conversation. I walked away, please with the high distinction he gave me and with a shift in perception of how things work. Suddenly realising, for the first time, that teachers sometimes learn from their students. 

I started writing with freedom. Writing like I had never written before. The lecturers loved my writing. My classmates loved my writing. And then, perhaps I took it too far. I am not sure. I just remember, one day, walking up to my favourite lecturer's office and hearing her chatting to my linguistics lecturer. As I got closer to the half opened door I realised they were talking about me. I heard one of them say, 'I wonder what is going on. She has lost it as a writer.' And then the other replied. 'I know, her latest piece is terrible. She doesn't make sense anymore.' I turned and walked away. And with a broken heart, I hid the writer within me a little deeper.

I got through university. But no longer with a dream to be a writer. Or a teacher. 

Turning my back on her. I wrote for business. I wrote for my job. And although I wrote poetry and short stories as they continued to pour out of me, they were now just for personal consumption. My public writing was brochures, websites, ad campaigns and business cases. I began to change. I was no longer a writer, or so I thought. I was a marketer. A communication specialist. A manager of a team. For many years the bulk of my writing was for business purposes and it changed me as a writer.

I let her go as I had my children. And fooled myself into believing that I did not have to be a writer to be fulfilled in life. That my creations were my beautiful children. My success in life was my family. The writer was no longer needed. She became the void inside me. Not long after the birth of my second child, I stood in our back yard, the recycled bin beside me and collected all my writing from the past. I spent the hours my baby slept, shredding by hand the pieces from my past. Reducing them to tiny bits of paper and watching them fall into the bin. Broken and disjointed words. I only kept a few pieces that would not let me let them go.

But as those of you who have a writer inside you know. She cannot be silenced. She will not be still. 

One day, after presenting at a conference about digital branding. I started this blog. Because people asked me to share the ideas I had presented that day. A blog for sharing my ideas. I thought. A blog about brands. I thought. A safe place to be. But over time, my blog has become a place to share my writing. Not the poetry and short stories I collect in notebooks beside my bed or the pieces I write in the notebook I carry with me in my bag (incase, inspired on the train or in the car, or at work I have to write). They are still too private. But the pieces about the things that inspire me and the things that often start in my head as I slowly wake up, pouring out of me at the kitchen table as my family make their breakfast around me. Lost in the writing. Not being able to type it out fast enough. This blog has given me the confidence to believe in myself. And today, I am writing about me. The writer.

It has been an interesting journey getting here. I noticed a shift happening a year (and four blog posts) after I started writing my blog. I bravely began sharing poetry with my friends on Instagram and Facebook. A safe audience. A safe place. Sharing with friends who love me. And who will still love me. Despite my writing. The second piece I shared on 6 November 2016 was, ironically, about the writer within me waking up. I wasn't yet ready, at that time, to name her as a writer. So I called her my Gypsy soul. 

Good morning
my Gypsy soul
good to know you are still there

You lay dormant
in domestic bliss
sleeping while dishes were washed
floors vacuumed
and during the kid's 'sports run'

It is nice to have you back
to know you did not disappear
completely

You make me brave
think outside the square
do things I would never normally do

Wide awake during university
questioning the world
throwing out new ideas

I thought the mortgage killed you

Until you bumped into another
I felt you stir
and remembered what I liked about you

Gypsy soul
dancing in my toes
bubbling in my laughter
Hello

Surrender...and watch your inner blogger grow

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I always read my blog posts a day or two after I publish them - man is it a humbling experience. If ever I needed a reminder that I am a mere human who makes mistakes, this is the moment I get it like a slap in the face. Whack!

There is a beautiful satisfying feeling of accomplishment when you hit that save and publish button. I did it. Somehow another blog post has fallen out of my brain. Yay! Time to share. Next, I log onto LinkedIn promote my post and then I do the same on Twitter, Facebook and even Insta (my poor friends).

Even though I have proofread my post several times before publishing it, a day or two later I check the post again - when I have some distance and when I can see things a little more clearly. It might be a good idea to get into the habit of holding off on promoting my posts on social until I have done this distance check, as all those funny little mistakes that make me cringe, laugh and almost cry need ironing out before anyone sees them. Or do they?

I was talking to my husband about my ridiculous errors. 'I cannot believe I can call myself a writer and spell beta blockers wrong! Even with spell check my spelling sucks! I used "undermind" instead of undermine.' 

Yes, that is correct I actually did this. Undermind - you can't unsee that! 

He kindly said, 'It's just because your brain is moving too fast.' Then he made the strangest suggestion. 'You should do a post on your bloopers.' Of course, my first thought was, 'He's crazy!'

And then, it got me thinking...

At the recent Teach Tech Play conference (which was fabulous by the way) I went to a session on blogging with Kathleen Morris . A conference by teachers for teachers, I felt a bit of a fraud being there (not being a teacher) but I am so glad I went to Kathleen's session. I got so much out of it.

Kathleen shared a lot about the basics of blogging with students. The set up, things to look out for, the pitfalls, copyright, quality of writing and how blogs can enhance learning. But the bit that resonated the most was when Kathleen talked about giving students an authentic audience for their writing. She shared a story about a classroom where students were producing a blog and creating it without realising their teacher was going to get them to publish it. When she announced it was time to share and open it up to the world the students panicked with many saying things like 'but it is not right yet' and 'it is not ready to be shared'.

Why are we so worried about things being so 'right' before we share them with others? I get that sometimes it may feel its too early to share your writing, but really, it never is. You can share in a narrow way - showing early drafts to one or two people close to you (my family are subject to many requests to read my posts before I publish them). When your work is more complete you can share more widely. Gosh, even publish it! The process of sharing your writing is what helps you improve your skill as a writer. It doesn't matter if there are mistakes, show people. It doesn't have to be perfect.

The value of an authentic audience cannot be underestimated. Writing with an audience in mind, letting go and throwing your writing out there for an audience to critique and/or compliment is part of the writing process, which is never ending. Writing doesn't end with publishing, writing is perpetual. And writing in a digital format means you can edit or recreate it, if you want to. Other than on Twitter, where you have to delete your Tweets and Tweet again if you see an embarrassing mistake.

Why are mistakes embarrassing? Why don't we celebrate our mistakes? Our failures? Why do we try so hard to hide them? They are so intrinsic to our learning. Mistakes give us a sense of where to focus our improvement, or what Hunter Maats and Katie O'Brien call 'deliberate practice' in their post Teaching students to embrace mistakes. I won't ever use 'undermind' again or spell 'beta blockers' wrong again (beater blockers - yep hilarious). I grew today (after I had a really good laugh at myself).

‘If you stumble, make it part of the dance.’

Mistakes can also lead to surprising creations. Andy Warhol made mistakes which some call his best work. Some of our biggest blunders in science have been our biggest successes. Like the telephone, which came about as the result of Alexander Graham Bell's bad German skills when he misread a book by a German author, misinterpreting a word for 'wire' and, therefore, mistakenly believing you could transmit sound on a wire. Fabulous mistake that one, and shows the power of belief.

The fear of mistakes is what stops people from sharing their work. But as Kathleen said in her session:

'A private blog is like going to a party with a paper bag on your head'

It's time to take the paper bag off and share - even before your work is ready.

Kathleen's session was clearly inspiring to others, not just me. I saw a blog post from ponderingdan today (great name for a blog by the way). Dan ponders in his latest post about his motivation for blogging.

'This is my space to be curious, and share with others'.

So true Dan. Blogs are spaces for us to be exactly what the definition of curious says: to be 'eager to learn' and to be 'strange'. 

I used to tell myself my blog was just a place for me to capture my ideas. Even though it was never a private blog, with that mindset I was basically walking around with my ideas behind a big fat paper bag I had over my head. My blog is not just for me, it is for my audience, whoever they may be. And it is through writing with my audience in mind that makes me a better writer.

So if you are a closet blogger, it is time to stop resisting. It is time to let go. Celebrate your bloopers. Surrender to your imperfections because they are the things that make you lovable! 

By the way... this post will no doubt have some edits in a day or two, after I proofread it with distance and grow from the mistakes I find scattered among these thoughts that spilled out of my head a little too fast.

#areyoukiddingme?

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So how did the humble number sign become such a big part of our lexicon? And why is there sometimes so much emotion around its use? #let'stalkhashtags!

I love a hashtag and use them all the time in social media - sometimes causing ire among friends (#sorry). But before I go on, let's get one thing clear and make sure we are all on the same page about exactly what I am talking about. I think the best thing to start with is the gorgeous Wikipedia warning at the very start of their 'Number sign' entry:

'Number sign Not to be confused with the Chinese character , the sharp sign (), the viewdata square (), the numero sign (), the equal and parallel to symbol () or the gameTic-tac-toe's grid.'

Thank you, Wikipedia. Now that we have that clear, let's get to know this guy before we start analysing him and his role in the evolution of language, and how he has changed the way we communicate. 

#History

The hashtag was more commonly known in the past as the number sign/symbol or the pound sign (yes just take yourself back to all those times you have sat, unable to move, attached to a landline phone listening to a mountain of hold music before the interactive voice response system kicks in asking you to enter your password or reference number followed by the 'pound' key).

This guy's fancy name is the Octothorpe - named by those who invented the telephone. Octo representing the eight points on the sign. (Don't ask me what the thorpe means, and there is some controversy around how this part of the name came to be - after Olympian Jim Thorpe, a nonsense word with no meaning or from an old Norse term meaning 'field').

Use of this symbol dates back to the 1800s, and there is popular speculation that it comes from the Latin symbol which represents 'pound weight' - a small L and small B with a cross above the top (to avoid confusing the small L with the number one). 

#Twitterdebut

According to #hashtags.org - an organisation trying to 'organise the world's hashtags' (yes this really does exist) - the person who first used a hashtag on Twitter was a social technology expert: @ChrisMessina (yes, we now also refer to people with the @ symbol in front of them).

In August 2007 this technology guru tweeted: 

How do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?

Barcamp consists of open workshops and events (for participants not observers) around technology and the web. They are worldwide and Messina wanted to use the hash symbol to connect online exchanges. The dudes at Twitter didn't really feel the love and didn't think it would take off. But it did, although not until a little later during the 2007 San Diego forest fire disaster. After the hashtag was adopted during the Iranian election protests in 2009, where it started becoming an international convention, Twitter finally got on board. They started hyperlinking all hashtags in tweets to Twitter search results and a year later they started reporting topic trends via popular hashtags.

#Hashtagphenomenon

What started as a way of filtering Tweets into topics - aiding search, grouping conversations and creating the ability to easily connect those with common interests - soon exploded outside of Twitter onto all social media platforms and beyond. Infiltrating our common language: in text messages and astonishingly our daily conversations!

This humble symbol's super star status was confirmed when Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon's skit #Hashtag went viral. It has over 31 million views and I never get sick of watching it!  'Hey Justin what's up?'...'Not much Jimmy, hashtag chillin'

#lovethoseguys

Hashtags revolutionalised our language - and that is no small feat. Hashtags have met our need for a more modern version of  "and I quote" (dancing fingers in air) in our conversations. They have met our need for a new short hand - to saliently make a point or to emphasise something at the end of a barrage of words. Excitingly, hashtags have given us a new way of expressing wry humour. Reducing the 'one-liner' to two or three words 'hashtag [sacrcasm]' #winning

Hashtags are the new dot points, and if you order them you can cleverly create a new type of sentence #thatiscool #don'tyouthink #youshouldtryit

#Workingnerves

Not everyone is a fan of hashtags. There are people out there who get very irritated at others using them. People who don't understand them. People who fear hashtags are degrading and diminishing our language. Those who have real issues with the absence of spaces and capitals in the written word. And people who just don't like them.

But to all those people I say:

#getoverit  #embracethehashtag  #theyareheretostay

Full circle - emoji and the evolution of language

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A friend recently asked a group of us at dinner 'Am I meant to read all those little pictures and funny faces that people text me, are they part of the message?' - she received a resounding 'Yes' from all of us.

We then all shared how we used emoji and emoticons to enhance what we want to say, or to say things with more power or humour. This got me thinking. Emoji and emoticons have moved so far from simply being the equivalent of a smiley face that you pop at the end of a message on a sticky note, and are starting to become (or perhaps have already become) a new language. We've come full circle and are going back to using images and symbols as part of the written form of language like hieroglyphs in Ancient Egypt and cave drawings of prehistoric times. I love it. Language has evolved to the point where we are going back to where we started. 😃

Doing a little bit of research on this after dinner, I realised I am not alone in my thinking (the joy of the post modern world) and discovered that there is actually some academic confirmation on what is happening. 

In May 2015, UK linguist Professor Vyv Evans made the papers when he proclaimed emoji to be Britain's fastest growing language (although I am sure research would show it isn't just happening in Britain). According to an article in The Telegraph Professor Evans partnered with TalkTalkMobile and surveyed some Brits to discover:

'8 out of 10 people in UK have used the symbols and icons to communicate, with 72 per cent of 18 to 25 year-olds adding that they found it easier to put their feelings across using emoji than with words'

😱

In the article, Professor Evans substantiates his claim of emoji being the fastest growing language based on its 'incredible adoption rate and speed of evolution' and emoji has 'far eclipsed hieroglyphics, its Ancient Egyptian precursor which took centuries to develop'.  

BOOM! There you have it. 😉

Johnathan Jones has an interesting perspective on these claims made by Professor Evans. In his article in The Guardian, Jones asserts our use of emoji is not progress but 'a step backwards'. I have to disagree. Although this evolutionary step in our use of language may be taking us full circle to where language began it is not a step backwards and is still progress. Language is on a constant evolutionary journey and only has one direction - forward. Like a living organism, it survives by adapting and accommodating changes in the environment in which it exists. Sometimes we draw on something from our past to propel us forward. That is what is happening here.

In his article, Jones links the evolution of culture with language, describing the Egyptians as creating a 'magnificent but static culture' and attributing the leap forward made by Ancient Greece to their 'non-pictorial alphabet'. He also claims there are 'harsh limits on what you can say with pictures' which is why 'there is no Egyptian Iliad or Odyssey'. 

A couple of things to say about this. Firstly, he clearly hasn't heard the idiom 'a picture is worth a thousand words'. Secondly, how does he know there isn't an Egyptian equivalent of Homer's epic poems? Can he read hieroglyphs to know? Most importantly though, it is evident that Jones has missed out on the joy of seeing the emoji version of Les Miserables! 😂

The use of emoji in our everyday lives has not yet evolved to the point where I can write this blog post in emoji only. And it may never. Emoji may always be a 'short-hand language'. Regardless, I prefer to take the more positive view that Professor Evans takes in his opinion piece for Newsweek and celebrate what he calls the 'stratospheric rise' of emoji and the status he gives it as 'the world's first truly global form of communication' which 'dwarfs even the reach of English'.

These are exciting times we live in, to be witnessing such a dramatic change in language - a leap forward driven by globalisation, technology and a progressive society. Such a significant shift has not been seen since Chaucer's time when we moved from Middle English to Modern English (known as the 'Great Vowel Shift'). This evolutionary change took centuries, and perhaps emoji becoming a sophisticated language will also. Who knows where it will take us but the possibilities are endless. Cheers to the power of emoji!  😆