i belong in this milk and honeyed place, this gentle story i’ve crafted for myself, where no-one raises their voice except in giddiness and joy, and there’s just the right amount of sweet solitude that doesn’t slide into dangerous isolation. there are no hard edges or sharp corners in the places I belong, only soft warm blankets and smooth printed pages, and ink that flows on both palette and paper.
i belong beside the ocean, in the thunderous crash of saltwater on sand; a place to settle my thoughts when my powerful emotions frighten even myself. i inhale and exhale with the push and pull of the tide. it is not in the stillness of the sea that i belong, but in its deep and terrifying roar.
i belong inside the day-lit dreams that offer respite from the reality of pain and overwhelm, cradling the first of many hot teas in my favourite mug and imagining a different sort of day ahead in the moment before i swallow the cocktail of pills (in the way my grandad taught me when he witnessed the panic of my throat closing against them), that allow me to function.
i belong here in the country that is often but not always home, yet it and its people adopted me despite my yearning for the other country, for i belong there too. i belong in the house that frequently needs mending, beside the man who loves me no matter the cost, or squashed beneath the long-limbed teenage daughters who still want to hug and sit in my lap, and the oversized dog who thinks she belongs there too.
i am an acronymous and inedible alphabet soup of mental illnesses and syndromes and disorders. i wish it wasn’t so but what it is, it is, and today i scooped the letters into a pile on the table before me and built a wall around them with my two arms, the way a small child protects the toys he doesn’t want to share, and tried to make a new word from them, a word that was mine and made sense. but no matter the cerebral acrobatics i performed, there were still too many consonants and not enough vowels, which was somewhat disappointing and made my head ache, so instead i made a palindrome.
Want to make your own Paint, Plan and Chronicle planner using an altered composition notebook? Go see Suzi Blu’s How To videos here.
i found a feather today and thought to bring it to my daughter who collects the things she finds along her path and presses them in her journal, but then i looked closely at it and wondered how could i lay such an offering before someone i loved so dearly, with its dirt and dark grey brown-ness, weighted to the uneven patchwork of the patio by heavy rains. they say that to find a feather on your path is to receive an answer or confirmation to the question you’ve been seeking and all i can think is if this dirty matted thing is my answer then i worry about the state of my mind.
i want to happen upon vibrant, clean, smooth feathers and tumbled turquoise sea glass, a whole and sturdy pine cone or a blossom, pink and perfectly petalled. i could make a mandala of those pretty trappings and construct an agreeable caption as proof of a magical life lived, which i’m sure is true for someone somewhere in the world today, but the coastal paths i walk deliver only the gifts of lazy dog walkers and chewed gum, and even if i grubbed around in the dirt of my garden for hours i would unearth no more than chips of concrete or a tulip bulb that failed to start or the roots of a flower no longer flourishing because my thumbs are soot, not sage in colour, and the things that grow here do so in spite of me, not because of me. there’s a wrangling of robust vines and hardy shrubs, fighting for space across the graves of lost pets and i can no longer tell which is winning, though i’m not sure it matters much as long as there is green and there is life.
there is green and there is life, and though i may not make a mandala of pretty things, or even the unlovely, the unruly or the feathers of dirt and dark grey brown-ness, i can gift them to my daughter who collects mementos and know she will make space for them beside her pressed petal assemblages, and i can weave poetry from the sticks and stones and broken bones of words they said would never hurt me and we will speak endlessly and openly about them for there is value in the things that fall apart too.
my hair and its never ending procession of styles has always been a reflection of my internal landscape, or a reaction to an external event or stressor.
just experienced a major life event such as getting married? get hair cut the very next day.
*manic phase? great idea – cut own hair off with rubbish scissors in the dead of night, fuck it up and have no time to visit hair salon, go to work, have everyone point out seriously bad self hair cut.
exam? public speaking? chew ends of hair until soggy and split.
bored of beautiful long hair and fancy a change? get drastic pixie cut, bleach hair and dye pink. leave salon looking like frilly kawaii cupcake.
spend too much time on Pinterest and decide that life’s purpose is to be fabulously grounded earth mama artist. get dreadlocks.
so, I’m kidding (mostly) about that last one. i will never be fabulously grounded. i’d wanted dreads for the longest time but until a few years ago, the only installation methods I’d heard of sounded extremely damaging and there were horror stories around that really put me off.
i went through a massive Bob Marley phase when the Legend album came out. on vinyl. not because I’m an ironic hipster but because I am actually that old. my friends and I wore marijuana leaf necklaces (but didn’t smoke it), green, gold and red headbands, and wrote ‘together we are one under Jah’s sun,’ on everything as if we knew what it meant. oh boy, did the 80s have cultural appropriation down to a fine art. but with the music, came the rumours that would be meme-able in today’s society.
“did you hear they shaved Bob Marley’s head when he died and there were cockroaches living in his hair?”**
to be honest, I’d be more inclined to believe there are things living in Bob Geldof’s hair over Bob Marley’s.
but the horror stories that put me off having dreads were the ones about damaged hair, mould and the inevitable shaving of the head due to poor hair care practices.
eventually i discovered the perfect system, where the hair is crocheted together using a hook – minimal damage, no wax products, easy to maintain, so i went for it. at the time my hair was growing out of the kawaii cupcake pixie phase so I had to dye it back to a more natural colour, and it was asymmetrical so only one side was long enough to dread. I went back and forth to my locktician several times, adding extensions until my whole head was finished. i’m not the most patient of people so the waiting was simultaneously frustrating and exciting. i removed the extensions after almost 2 years.
i loved having my dreads for the most part.
i felt real with them. confident. i had hair peace for longer than i ever had in the past.***
i enjoyed the conversations with strangers that came my way because of them. most people admitted they were afraid to ask questions because of their preconceived notions about the types of people who have dreadlocks (lazy, dirty, dishonest!)
but the truth is, I have very fine hair and no matter how much I tried to tame it, the fly-away fluffy hair at the roots wouldn’t stay locked in. I’d get my maintenance done every few weeks and within a week, out the hair would pop again.
i persevered for 2.5 years before the frustration outweighed the love i had for my hair. i admitted defeat and my eldest daughter**** and i began the long process of combing out the dreads, one by one.
you know when your kids bring barbie with her matted synthetic hair to you and demand you detangle that shit and make it look the way it did before they ‘played hairstyles’ with it and dragged it through the mud and you wonder if you can get away with buying a new barbie to replace it instead? well that’s how much it sucked. it took two of us something like 60+ hours to complete. if I didn’t have a five-head and a lumpy skull I’d have given up around the oh my god I look like Tina Turner i’m your private dancer, dancer for money, kill me now phase and shaved them off instead.
there was a Robert Smith of The Cure phase too but that was less kill me now and more oh wow, I remember the early 90s when i had this hairstyle on purpose…
after 7 long and excruciating days, we made it.
granted, i had (still sorta have) a professor trelawney going on.
i wish i’d had this much volume in the 80s
and it feels a little draughty up here.
but it’s done.
*in the process of changing meds so i REALLY hope i don’t do this during the transition.
**just because it’s on a meme, people, doesn’t make it true.
***i suspect this is because i’ve also had medication peace for a few years too.
****youngest daughter also attempted to help briefly and I love her dearly but she’s never allowed near my head again for as long as i live.
she is a landmine that i haven’t yet learnt to defuse. weeks may pass, sometimes months where i tread my terrain with ease, i dance a complicated choreography over, under and around those hidden munitions with precision-like timing. i’m the artful dodger, dodging artfully. as artfully as a dodger can dodge. on those days when i tell our story and sing the songs that were ours i do so with a melodious intonation. i’m a rockstar rocking in my rockstar car.
until i’m not. step and stumble and click. the radio torpedoes a song i’m not prepared for. i’m reminded again why i only listen to my playlists. playlists are predictable. i know what’s coming next. there are no latent surprises on spotify. i’d stopped listening to the radio the day i fell apart doing a hundred on the freeway, the freeway that didn’t exist when she did, because when she existed life here was small and there were no roads taking us away to other places. doing a hundred through the sting and blur of tears is chancy at best, an invitation to dance with death himself at worst and who’s to say that’s a bad thing.
my car was once a cocoon of cigarette smoke and fast food trash. she sat beside me, making waves on the warm breeze with the passenger window down. the scent of her, stale tobacco and impulse – the purple one – a blanket to tuck around and under me when the world threatened to unravel us both.
sometimes i spy her in my peripheral vision, but if i turn my head to ask her why, she dissipates into the upholstery and i figure it’s because she can’t really give me an answer that would readily satisfy me.
there are streets i can’t drive down. familiar streets where she waits for me in her long black coat and sad red-lipstick smile by the kerb i once collected her from on her way home from somewhere that belonged to another part of her life, a secret part that she kept from me because she had her reasons and it’s too late for me to ask her what those reasons were.
i can conjure so many things about her. the way she squinted when she smoked. the way she fell on me when we were both wrecked on the tequila with the tiny sombrero cap and told me that she loved me, that i was the sister she wished she’d always had and she smiled her sister-smile just for me. the way her hairspray smelled and made her hair crunchy and i could feel its coarse springiness on my skin when we bent our heads close in cahoots with one another, when we’d pass a pen and old notebook back and forth over cappuccinos paid for with the loose change we scrounged together, and tell our story to each other even though we both already knew it by heart.
i can conjure so many things, but her voice? her voice is nothing more than a whisper deep in the soft marrow of my bones that i can’t quite hear, saying, goodbye i’m going don’t try to stop me i won’t take you down with me your place is here.