#76 – thankful

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When I first met my best friend I thought she was the nicest girl in the world. She invited me to celebrate her birthday with her even though we barely knew each other, and even gave me a hug when I wished her happy birthday. I spent all day with her and her friends at our school swimming carnival, eating the food the others had brought and envying how awesome this group of girls was. On the way home, the two of us sat next to each other on the bus and I learnt that she spoke fluent Polish with her mum. I thought it was the coolest thing ever and I knew that I wanted to be her friend.

I’m not the only one who thinks she’s nice – ask anyone and they’ll tell you how lovely and sweet and kind she is. It’s the first thing that comes to mind, for most people. She’s the girl who makes handmade birthday presents, who does that favour no one else will do, who listens to your problems and then solves them without even blinking.

When you dig a little deeper, though, you find all sorts of quirks. She blows on her ice cream before she eats it. She likes to smell everything. She’s a bit obsessive – get her talking about Harry Potter and she’ll never stop. If she makes a list she likes to see it through to the end, even when it takes her years. If she sees a sausage dog she melts into a puddle of happiness and incoherency.

She’s quiet in a large group, not because she’s shy but because she’s listening and remembering all the facts and thoughts people offer up so that she can get a complete picture in her mind. She knows people well and she uses it to her advantage – and to theirs.

She can be mean. She can be detached from herself and from everyone else. She can be manipulative, when she really wants, and selfish. She irritates me to no end sometimes, for a million tiny and insignificant reasons, and none of them are important enough for me to ever want our friendship to be over.

She can say just one thing and have me dissolve into hysterical laughter. She’ll sit on the other side of the computer screen while I cry and she won’t say anything because she knows I just need her to be there. She puts up with me better than anyone in the world, and she probably understands me better as well.

I think it’s great that people say my best friend is nice, but if they really got to know her they’d realise there are so many more interesting words to describe her. Nice only skims the surface

#14 – affection

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I was born in London and lived there until I was eight, and despite having now been in Melbourne for more than half my life I still maintain a strong link to the UK – I come back regularly and I’m at the tail end of a seven month study exchange in England. I feel a connection here in the country of my birth that makes me feel like I could quite happily stay forever.

But one whiff of the wattle trees on a sunny Melbourne day and I am an Aussie through and through. The smell of wattle is the most uniquely Australian smell I can think of and it instantly takes me back to more innocent days when we first moved to Melbourne and everything felt like an exciting adventure. Wattle smells like summer, like going to the milk bar and buying icy poles. It smells like going down to the coast for a holiday, the hot hot days and the cool evenings with the cicadas making a racket outside. It smells like barbecues and family and taking your time and that vibe Melbourne gets when the days are long and sticky. It smells like home.

Whenever I leave Melbourne (which is often) it’s the smell I miss the most. The way the air smells on a crisp morning before the sun has chased away the chill. The way it smells when it rains and the way it smells after the rain – clean and fresh and new. Sometimes I miss that so intensely that it amazes me. I’m always surprised when I miss Melbourne because surely someone who’s desperate to be somewhere else shouldn’t miss what they’re leaving behind.

But Melbourne is family. It’s friends I’ve known for years. It’s school and it’s university and it’s work. It’s coffee in the city and drinks at the pub.

It’s home.

#87 – content

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I’ve had this song, and the rest of the album it’s from, rattling around in my head for days now. I’ve never met anyone else who likes this band, or even anyone who’s heard of them, and I only know them because their first single was a free song on iTunes a few years ago. Nonetheless, this is one of my favourite albums – a dreamy, laid back record that makes me think of summer and doing what you want in your own time because you haven’t got anywhere better to be but right where you are.

The other thing this album does is remind me of one of my favourite books. When I was about 11 or 12 my teacher asked me if I’d ever read Cynthia Voigt and I said I had, but when I showed her what I’d read she shook her head and told me I should try her earlier books instead. She handed me the book Homecoming and I fell in love. The book is about a family of four siblings whose mother abandons them somewhere in Connecticut because she thinks she can no longer look after them. They embark on a journey to find their mother, or family of some kind, and end up with their initially reluctant grandmother in Maryland. It’s a book about family and truths and finding out who you are and where you belong, and alongside that is the main character’s love of sailing – which is where this song comes in.

This album was written after the the couple who make up the band decided to quit their jobs and sail around the east coast of America, and that’s what connects Cape Dory to Homecoming in my mind. The music doesn’t necessarily fit the novel – it’s too dreamy for that – but the lyrics especially always bring to mind how I felt when I was reading this book, when I’d been lured into this world that was so completely different to mine.

It was harder than I thought to write out the connection between Cape Dory and Homecoming – I’m not sure that I’ve made my point, which is that for me the two are inextricably linked even though they have nothing to do with each other. I love them both independently but recently they’ve both been on my mind, one leading to the other, and I feel like revisiting those days when I re-read Homecoming at least once a year because it taught me something new each time.

#47 – longing

It’s not like I think I need you to complete me
but it would be nice once in a while to
wake up with you in the middle of a thunderstorm
and know that we’re safe and that if it ever gets really bad
you’d build a blanket fort with me
and we could hide from the world for a little while.

I can do it on my own, I know I can
but that doesn’t mean I want to have to do it without you
because you know when to make me laugh like a fool
and when to give me a cat and a cup of tea and let me be
by myself for a little while.

I need people even when I don’t need people
and that people is you because we fit together and
our crazies match so really it’s safest for everyone if we stick together
because we’re better for each other than for anyone else
and I just want to be weird with you forever.

#13 – confused

Sometimes I am so homesick for the smell of wattle and warm laziness of a Melbourne summer that it hurts.

It’s easy to romanticise when my days are snowy and bitterly cold, but this is my second summer away from home and it’s making me sad. I miss having real holidays, having lazy days with my friends and being able to wear shorts and leave my feet bare. I miss going to the milk bar for an ice cream when it gets too hot to think, and then having to eat it quickly so it doesn’t melt all over my hand. I miss lying under the fan trying to get the breeze to hit me. I miss having watermelon in the fridge constantly, and freezing grapes for pudding.

My time in England is almost over and I know I should be making the most of it, because eight weeks today I’ll be home and that will be that for a while. And sometimes my heart aches that I won’t be in this beautiful place forever, and the time will come when I have to choose between the country of my birth and the country where I truly grew up.

I want to go home so badly purely because I want to be home, not confined to one room in a flat of eight other students, all sharing a tiny kitchen with dodgy appliances. I want my bed and my tupperware and my pots and pans and my dishwasher.

I want my parents, I want my cats, I want my friends.

As usual, my dad came to my rescue and reminded me that it’s okay to be homesick. It doesn’t mean I don’t love it here and it doesn’t mean I’m not glad to be here, it just means that I’m reaching a point where I’m okay with this experience ending because the non-permanency of my life is driving me nuts.

I think the problem is I feel like I should be loving every second. I can’t say to people back home that things can be a bit crap here because all they say is how lucky I am and how jealous they are and it makes me feel bad for complaining. I am lucky, but I’m also tired and a bit lonely and pretty homesick.

Eight more weeks and this will be over and I will be glad and also devastated because nothing will be the same. If I’ve learnt anything in the last three years, though, is that nothing ever is.

#3 – love

Sometimes I think we collect all the mundane little things about a person
and we call it love.

The way you take your tea.
How you tap your fingers when you’re thinking.
The way your sentences trail off when you’re sleepy.

These are the things about you that make me want to keep you tucked up forever
in my heart.

Sometimes I catalogue my quirks, my own little oddities
and I hope that someone will find them as precious as I find yours.

The way I take my tea.
And how I twirl my hair around my fingers when I’m thinking.
And how quiet I become when I’m sleepy.

I hope someone looks at these things and decides to keep me tucked up safe
in their heart.

#98 – reflect

The other day, during a conversation with a friend, I mentioned that I was pretty much an atheist. It was a side note to what we were talking about but a few minutes later, she asked me about it. It was a funny moment, because not many people ever ask me straight out about my religion – often, it comes up in conversation that I’m Jewish and people will assume that that must mean I believe in God and go to synagogue. So I had to stop and think about what to say, even though I know quite definitively that I’m not religious, that I don’t believe in a higher being or creationism and that my connections to Judaism have more to do with the culture, traditions and food than anything else.

I wasn’t brought up religious in any way. My dad is a lapsed Catholic from a big Irish-Catholic family, and my mum is Jewish but not practicing. All that meant for me was that we lit candles every year for Hanukah and had a family Christmas, and that we did Easter and sometimes Passover if there was a Seder held somewhere. Where I grew up in North London was a melting pot of religions, ethnicities and cultures and my religious education at school comprised of learning about a new religion every week. It was almost a non-issue for me – I knew I had a Jewish and Catholic background, but to our family that wasn’t hugely meaningful.

Things changed a bit when I moved to Melbourne. The suburb I moved to was typically Australian – white, conservative and not very diverse. Religion there meant you were Anglican, Methodist or Catholic – not Jewish, Hindu or Muslim. It was a culture shock – I didn’t fit as the pale, bookish, Jewish girl with the funny accent and this made me cling to Judaism more than I ever had. It became another way to define myself, to make myself different. At first I wanted desperately to fit in, to not be asked questions like “why would you bother being Jewish, it’s just the same as being Christian” and, memorably, “what’s Jewish?” but over time I became defiant. I was different and I was Jewish and I was going to own it.

Maybe Mum had the same idea, but around the time we moved to suburbia she decided she wanted us to become involved with the local Jewish community. There was a progressive synagogue nearby and when I was ten we started going to the Friday night services every month. This was the first time I’d really practiced my Judaism, the first time I’d heard Hebrew, the first time I learnt about Shabbat and lighting the candles and sharing a meal with friends and family to celebrate the end of the week. I started going to Sunday school and decided when I was twelve, with the encouragement of my parents and our rabbi, that I would do my Bat Mitzvah.

To this day, it’s probably one of my greatest achievements. I studied for nine months to be able to stand in front of my congregation, my family and my friends and lead the service. I read from the Torah by myself, and I presented a sermon, and I did all this despite my general fear of public speaking. During that time I tried to figure out what it all meant for me. I tried to figure out whether I believed in God and whether I believed that the Torah was an instruction on how to lead my life.

I don’t. I’ve tried, and I can’t. I just can’t believe. My mind is too rational and no matter how I sometimes wish there was more to the universe than matter and dust, I don’t believe that there is.

My lack of faith in religion has nothing to do with Judaism, because for me being Jewish is my culture. Keeping up with the traditions when I can is my way of remembering and expressing one of the richest and most vibrant cultures in existence. But for many, Judaism is synonymous with religion, hence my friend’s baffled face when I said I was an atheist (or close enough – I hate labels, and atheism often seems like a political declaration these days) and I find it unsettling that others may have the same thought when I say I’m Jewish.

It’s taken me a while to reconcile being Jewish with being non-religious, and its taken me a while to be able to arrange my thoughts coherently to answer the questions I inevitably get on the topic. It’s also taken me a while to realise that having faith in things is different to having a faith, and that I can still believe that things will work out for the best even if there’s no higher being making sure of it.

Religion is not for me, and neither is spirituality. But engaging in my culture and placing importance on where I come from is. And believing in myself and the people I love is better than believing in a God that has never been real to me.

#35 – delight

I woke up to bright blue skies and frost on the ground, and the only appropriate response was delight. Days like this make you forget the cold and mist and the rain and the clouds. Days like this make you forget that it will be dark before tea time because the light is so perfect and golden and warming.

We decided not to waste this gift of a Sunday and went on an adventure to the woods to take photos. We spent a lot of time being ‘artistic’ and took so long on our way in to the woods that we were a bit embarrassed to find how little ground we’d actually covered. We made friends with some ducks and a very wet dog, and basked in the late autumn sun like lizards on a rock.

It’s hard to say why, but days like this make me feel content down to my bones. My troubles seem distant and trivial and my mind wanders from thought to thought like a lazy cat. Even when the sun sinks down in the sky, I can’t be anything but happy that I took the time to appreciate this day.

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#88 – feelings

Sometimes I just want to sink into myself and retreat from other people because they’re so confusing and changeable and I can’t keep up. I feel like I missed a class or forgot to read the handbook because I haven’t learned to interact normally in society and it makes me worried that eventually everyone will leave me because I’m too difficult. There are days when I am convinced that no one knows I exist unless I forcibly remind them I do, days when no one texts me or emails or talks to me to check I’m still okay, when I feel too fragile to make the first move because I think I’ll just be bothering them. I’m so worried I’m imposing on other people that I miss chances and they think I’m not interested in knowing them, when in fact it’s the opposite.

I don’t know why asserting myself and stating my opinion feels like I’m overstepping the mark. My mother hates the fact that I don’t voice my thoughts when I’m having a conversation but wait until later to say how I really feel. I don’t know how to tell her that I’ve spent my life being told in subtle, unconscious ways that I should keep my thoughts to myself if they don’t fit with what everyone else is saying.

I always imagined that by the age of almost-twenty-one I would have this all figured out. I would be the life of the party, happy and confident in my own skin, proudly displaying my randomness and being loved for my oddities. But I’ve found myself struggling, swinging wildly between loving that I’m not the same as everyone else and hating that I’ve never fit in. There doesn’t appear to be a happy medium and I worry there never will be.

It’s not all doom and gloom. There are people in my life who love me. My parents seem to be proud and bemused and amazed by me, and my friends tolerate and join in with my idiosyncrasies by turn. As always it comes back to me – me not being able to see that if I maybe stopped freaking out about how weird I am, I’d realise that no one else particularly cares either. When you think about it, we are united in our weirdness – that’s what makes us interesting.