I’ve hit a speed bump; a creative block, perhaps–but not a snag that hangs me up completely. I have a slowing down of creative flow. Consistently crowding out the writing and drawing, is the growing presence of other obligations. No matter that I have reduced Christmas to a minuscule event, no cards, only gift is for our daughter, no baking except the normal once every couple of weeks event, I don’t seem to be able to have the time, or perhaps it’s the mental energy, for creative pursuits at the moment. Last week I wrote and wrote, in excess of 10 hours, with no satisfying result. You may have noticed you didn’t hear from me. I have a deal with myself. If I’m not able to produce a piece worthy of your time, I won’t publish. I know you won’t begrudge me the indulgence of not putting that pressure on myself.
The unending stream of Christmas hype on TV, online and in the shops is overwhelming. It is no wonder this is a difficult time of year for many people. If you are a person who loves Christmas and all of the busy-ness of it, lucky you. I was once obliging, working myself to a frazzle with shopping, decorating and baking. I am no longer in that place. It is no wonder incidents of depression, domestic violence and self harm are higher this time of year. In my case it is just the ‘overwhelm button’ that prevents life from resuming its normal service.
‘RUOK’ is both a suicide prevention charity and a national day here in Australia. The national day was in September, but it seems to me a reminder now wouldn’t hurt. We are encouraged to engage people with this single question, ‘Are you okay (RUOK)? in hopes we can make a difference, somehow, some way. There have been plenty of times when I should have probably asked this question and didn’t. I’m always wary of people feeling like I’m prying or invading their privacy. But I’m also pretty sensitive to body language and verbal cues so I do often ask people how they are going? I wait for an answer, and sometimes ask again if it seems warranted.
The weather here had been unusually wet and so I had been using the alternate walking route, turning left out of the driveway. I’m a bit foggy some mornings and I don’t think so clearly at 5.30am, just put one foot in front of the other to get myself going. Somewhere along the 40 minute walk I usually wake up and by the time I’ve had coffee shortly thereafter, I’m hitting on all cylinders.
On this particular morning I turned left and walked about 3 minutes. I had passed an unusual feather laying in the road, and decided to go back and pick it up. As I tucked it safely in my pocket I realised the road and surrounds were quite dry again, and that my favourite route–in the opposite direction, would probably be dry enough for me to not get ‘bogged’*. I continued walking back toward my house, passing the driveway from which I would have turned right, had I been taking this route originally.
Once passed the driveway I noticed some movement up ahead. Eventually I realised it was a neighbour, bent over and working in her ‘landcare for wildlife’ patch of ground. It is actually a second, and vacant, lot next door to the house she and her husband built from homemade mud bricks. She has toiled for years, removing buffel grass, and other introduced species, so that the native flora would thrive. This, in turn, made it a haven for native animals and she had regular visits from wallabies, lizards and many different birds.
She and her husband had invited us for a little barbecue when we first moved to our house across the road 17 years ago. But it wasn’t like we’d moved from another town and knew no one, we had a circle of friends established. We became friendly neighbours, but nothing more. To be perfectly honest, I found them exhausting. He was very self absorbed and she talked a million miles an hour and had no ‘off switch’, so when we had our little neighbourly visits I always had to plan an exit strategy. I hasten to add, this is as much about my own limitations as is about any behaviours they might have. Being an introvert, I often feel very overwhelmed by people and so I need to feel that I can cope with the situation.
I wore my earphones and was listening to a podcast, but cheerily waved and called out ‘Good morning, Karen’(not her real name) as I approached. She jumped to attention and the verbal shower began. First she had me smell a native plant that is good for colds, then she jumped into a sad fact about her son who had been very ill all year with back surgery and recovery, then she was back talking about the landcare for wildlife, then about a small wallaby that sheltered from the storm on her veranda, then things took a deeper turn. I mentioned it had been a long time since I’d seen her around and she said her son was in Melbourne and she had been going back and forth seeing him.
I recalled our last substantial conversation over a year ago, almost two years now. Her husband had left and moved interstate with a young woman he’d been having an affair with for several years, so Karen had told me. She had been shell shocked on that occasion and recalled it briefly in light of the fact that her son had not seen anything of his father during his year of treatment. I was suddenly aware she was wiping tears from her face. Unprompted, she said, ‘I’m not crying, it’s just the weather’. I gave her a hug. Her body was tight and stiff and she scarcely stopped talking as she related the story of losing many family members early in her life, not speaking to certain other family members due to their extreme judgement of her life choices, and finally drawing breath, she said ‘it’s hard when you are different to everyone else’. There it hung, in the humid, warm, silent air of the early morning. More tears. It was not the weather.
I listened for about 15 minutes and finally she said with a slight smile ‘I needed this, I was feeling a bit down this morning’. And I felt it was okay to move on. At least she would know that someone nearby knew her plight. Sometimes just knowing that someone will listen is enough. And sometimes we take the wrong turn out of the driveway, only to find it was the other way we were supposed to go.
I hope you are all OK. xx
* ‘bogged’ is an Australian term meaning ‘stuck’, usually in mud.