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Walking on sunshine

Summer finally seems to have arrived in London. Yesterday when I left work, it was so hot and such a beautiful afternoon, I decided to walk home through Hyde Park after catching the train to Victoria Station. As I was walking through the park, I was really starting to overheat, lugging my heavy laptop bag in the sun. I decided to take off my shoes and walk barefoot through the park. I realised when I did that, it was the first time in a long time that I could really remember walking around barefoot in the grass. The last time I can remember doing it for any length of time was when I did a yoga class in Regents Park, as the lock on the studio was broken and we couldn’t get inside. But even then, that was more staying in the confines of one small area.

It’s amazing to me how sometimes little things like this can be so revealing about our nature. While there was a nice sense of freedom I felt wandering around in the grass, I noticed myself looking at the ground constantly to make sure I wouldn’t step on any bees, as there were a few of them about, instead of trusting that they were instinctive creatures and would not want to get stepped on. As I was walking and looking at the ground I noticed more ‘hazards’, like the odd prickle for instance. I noticed that I was hyperaware of these possible risks and was focusing intently on looking out for them, rather than actually just accepting the ‘risk’ (I could get a prickle in my foot or stung by a bee) and moving on and trusting that if it eventuated, it would not be the end of the world. When I finally realised this and looked up, I saw the most amazing view of the sunlight streaming across the pond, with the view stretching to Kensington Palace and beautiful church spires reaching up into the blue sky.

It was a small moment in my dad and they were insignificant risks, but it made me wonder how much else I might be missing out on and might not be seeing in my life because I’m too focused on the risks and what could go wrong. I went to a yoga workshop recently about developing a home practice, and the teacher said it was useful to have an idea or intention to meditate on or to form the basis of your practice, which can change from month to month. I think my intention for the coming month is to practice letting go. While I can acknowledge the risks in life, I don’t need to focus on them. I’m hoping this month I can let go of some of my fears and experience more freedom in all I do, and really open my eyes to the beauty and positivity around me.

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The year of living consciously

I’ve been living by myself a bit over the past few weeks. My flatmate, high-flying financial whiz that he is, has been off in various places around the world, working and romancing, so I’ve found myself living alone for the longest period I ever have, and while it hasn’t been that long, it’s had quite an impact. My mother has always been reluctant to live alone, and hasn’t really done so  for more than a week, I would guess. I never quite understood this fear, as I’m someone who’s always enjoyed my own company and liked to spend time on my own. I’m an introvert, so spending time alone is how I recharge.

However, even the short period of time I’ve been living alone (probably three weeks would be the longest single stretch over the past two months), has opened my eyes to the good and bad of it. There’s nowhere to hide when it’s just you. It creates a lot of space for introspection and analysis, which is good for creativity and self-awareness, and it’s allowed me room to really start thinking about what it is I want from my life, something maybe I would not have done if I was surrounded by other people.

Of course, it also opens up too much space at times. That analysis can start to overwhelm you, and you can become very isolated if you’re not a natural socialiser. There were days when I’d realise that I hadn’t used my voice at all. I’d cook a great meal and find myself saying, ‘Great meal, Ingrid’ just because there was no one else to say it, or I would start complaining to the TV when there some particularly ridiculous news item. It was like I had prematurely turned into a crazy cat lady, minus the cats.

The time alone also made me keenly aware of the mundane nature of life. So much of our life seems to be taken up by personal admin or work. When you don’t have anyone else to break that routine or do those tasks with, it can all become rather mind-numbing. You go to the supermarket, cook meals, take out the recyling, you wash clothes, you fold the washing, make the bed, vacuum, go to work, come home from work, go to the supermarket, cook dinner. On and on the routine seemed to stretch. It just felt like what was the point in all this? I would go to work so I could earn more money to buy more stuff that I didn’t need and on and on.

I wasn’t sure if this was all the result of me not being in a relationship, or maybe it was some weird biological impulse to make me desperate to procreate so that my family could give my life meaning. What is possibly more likely is that it’s caused by the age and stage I’m at in life. In my my mid-to-late 20s (although I’m definitely more late than mid these days) it seems there’s the biggest variety of lifestyles among my peers. Some people are already married with children, some are single, others are engaged, some are living at home with parents, others live in their own home, some are doing well professionally, others are back at university, others are unemployed. There’s such a range of options at the moment, it can be hard to work out where you fit in and where you want to fit in.

Another part of it is that having come to London, I’ve felt a little lost as to what exactly I’m doing with my life. What is it I want out of life and where to from here? I had always envisaged myself moving overseas, most likely to London. Now I’m here. So then what? I hadn’t really thought beyond that.

A large part of that ‘now what?’ is my career. Which I actually feel needs to be referred to as ‘my career’, with the quote marks, because it still feels like a distant, fanciful concept. I don’t really have a career like a lot of my friends do. A lot of them are professionals and have a specific vocation. That’s not to say they’re necessarily any happier, but sometimes limited choices can make life easier, or it appears that way from the outside. When I go to a job website, I don’t know what section to look under. I don’t even know what my keyword is. I haven’t got many hits from ‘really awesome well-paying job that is fun, not too strenuous, fulfilling, in workplace with lots of cute boys’.

I think I’ve come to the realisation that I don’t even know if I want the traditional career. Instead, a patchwork of interests to satisfy everything I want seems a better way to go about it. The job I’m doing at the moment is quite flexible, so I have time to do other things if I want to and I can work from home a lot. It’s created space for me to do other things, like writing this blog, or possibly doing some volunteer work, that I may not have in a typical career-oriented position, but it’s so far affording me a decent lifestyle.

In fact, my current job has opened my eyes to a side of life that while I intellectually knew existed, I never really had to confront. It’s made me realise  how lucky I have been to have the upbringing and lifestyle I have. It’s an incredible privilege that I can sit here and ruminate over the meaning of life and complain about the mundane nature of supermarket shopping.

So my year of living consciously is really about being more aware of how lucky I am to have good friends and family and a place to call home, in London and in NZ; it’s about being more conscious of my feelings, and accepting them, good and bad, and trying to take pleasure in simple things; most of all, it’s about trying to find a way to inject more meaning in my life by finding some way to effect change, to help people. And while this all sounds very hippy-dippy and like I’m about to start singing kumbaya around the campfire, I’m hoping that this year I find a way to make a contribution.

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The more things change…

So it’s been almost a year since I last updated this blog. I only realised it the other day when I started to think about maybe getting back into writing, and noticed that my last post was about Melbourne, which I visited in January 2010. It was somewhat horrifying  to realise that somehow a year had passed in which I didn’t manage to find the time to write anything (or at least to post anything. I had a few failed attempts littered here and there.)

It got me thinking about how easily time passes and slips away, and that it’s not even necessarily about what you prioritise, or at least what you want to prioritise. I know I managed to keep updated with whether RPattz and KStew are actually dating, and I carved out time to watch X Factor. When it comes down to it, is that what is more important to me than writing? I also only managed to read a handful of books last year, but I read my fair share of trashy magazines. I suppose sometimes it’s just easier to be lazy. It certainly takes less effort to watch Keeping Up with the Kardashians than to write a blog post.

The one good thing, or at least enlightening thing, about how I have not posted in almost a year, means that the ‘new year’ posts are close to the top. I was reading over one in which I lamented that my ‘just do it’ philosophy was obviously not being heeded to, that I needed to keep a diary, that I needed to be more organized, that I had started the 100 push-ups programme.

I was hit by how crushingly similar my aspirations are this year. I spent the 2nd of January scouring book and stationary shops in an attempt to find the perfect diary that would somehow manage to transform my life into one of efficiency and achievement; I had downloaded the 100 push-ups app onto my iPhone; I had tried to stop putting things off and just do them when I thought of it.

A lot of things have changed for me in the past year.  I’ve planned trips that I didn’t go on, and gone on ones that I didn’t plan, I’ve dabbled with cancer, I’ve been to a psychotherapist, I’ve said goodbye to my first proper job and wondered if I would ever find anything that suited me so well, I’ve managed to get a new job which has opened my eyes to a side of life that I never experienced and I’ve moved to the other side of the world.

And yet when the new year rolled around, I was still battling with the same issues I always was – that I’m not achieving my potential, that my body is not as thin as it should be, my hair not as long, my skin not as clear, that I still don’t have an idea of what it is I want my ‘career’ to be and that I’m still apparently unable to use a diary for more than a week at a time.

My hopes and dreams for a new year all seemed a bit futile in the face of such overwhelming evidence that my weaknesses remain the same, that my ability to overcome them is limited. Part of me wonders if maybe I should just throw away the diary and accept that, like a friend said to me recently, if something is important, you’ll do it. But at the same time, I don’t know if that’s necessarily true, and maybe it’s just in my nature to take the easy way out, to be a bit lazy, and maybe it’s also in my nature to want to struggle against that. I know in some ways I’m setting myself up to fail. That I will stop using that diary, that I will somehow end up watching a re-run of Everwood rather than going to the gym.

I went to a shambhala meditation group some time ago, (a component of my ideal self is that I would meditate daily, without my thoughts drifting off to consider whether I need a new pair of shoes). The teacher discussed the problematic nature of the idea of self-improvement and progress. I found this quite a difficult idea to wrestle with, as if we don’t want to improve or progress, then it seemed like giving up. But the teacher explained that what they were meaning was to interrogate the impulses behind that improvement. Is it negative or positive? Who are you trying to improve for and what are the true benefits?

While I don’t think I could just let go of feeling like I need to improve, I do think I probably need to switch my focus to what it is I have done right, what it is I have achieved, rather than focusing on what I haven’t, and how I need to do more. Maybe it’s about enhancing what is already there, rather than thinking about what I’m lacking or not doing right.

I may never change in the way I have strived to. In fact, I wonder if I would be recognizable to myself if I did. If I suddenly woke up tomorrow at 6am and meditated and went to the gym t and then practiced yoga and chatted easily to acquaintances and held the gaze of strangers and dressed my lithe body in fabulously minimalist chic attire, read some literary classic on the tube on the way to my as-yet-undetermined perfect job that is enjoyable, but also makes a difference to people’s lives, had cocktails with friends after work, a delicious meal with an intelligent man, who I was not intimidated by, and we have deep and meaningful conversation, I order the salmon, because healthy food is just so delicious and I don’t have dessert, because I’m not much of a sweet tooth, and I was on time for all my appointments and was not indecisive once.

Anyway, back to reality. Who knows whether life would be more satisfying if we were living out our perfect selves? That fantasy is just that, and in the end my weaknesses are as much a part of who I am as my strengths. And when I think of the good people I have in my life, and accept me for who I am (and maybe because of who I am) it serves as a reminder that maybe I’m OK if I never change.

Chances are, I’m 28, and this is what I’m like, but I think maybe I need to start enjoying the attempt at change, and to take pleasure in simple victories, like how I actually sat down and wrote this, rather than thinking about doing it, but reading my Twitter feed instead.

Rather than the goal of unattainable perfection, I think my goal for this year is just to live consciously, the exact meaning of which I’m still trying to work out, but it’s a phrase that keeps coming back to me when I think about this year and what I want it to be and how I want me to be, but that’s another blog post (hopefully!).

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Best of Melbourne

I went to Melbourne for five days recently. I’ve been to Melbourne a few times before and always enjoy it. It’s the type of city that’s fun to visit, but also has a feeling of liveability. There’s some places I love to visit, but I can’t envisage myself living there, or I don’t think living there would be all that great.

Funnily enough, while I still think that, this time that I visited Melbourne, while I still think it would be a fantastic city to live in, I can’t see myself living there right now. I thought that maybe on this trip I would feel that I’d ‘found my place in the world’, but I think my place must be a bit further a field at the moment. I’m definitely keeping Melbourne on my futures list, though.

Anyway, in no particular order, here’s some things I enjoyed when I was there and think you should check out if you get the chance.

Degraves Espresso. I can’t speak about the food at this cafe, as I just went for a pre-breakfast coffee (we got breakfast free at our hotel and I was being cheap), but the coffee was definitely good. So good that when I finished my first soy latte, I felt compelled to order another. Sitting there sipping your coffee and people-watching is one of those quintessentially Melbourne experiences, I think.

Retrostar Vintage. There’s a lot of good vintage shopping in Melbourne, but I found a lot of it quite expensive compared to K Rd prices in Auckland and it wasn’t that much better to warrant the prices. Retrostar definitely has a lot of stuff to choose from and it’s prices are pretty good. It’s a large warehouse-style building that has a huge amount of stock that’s worth a rummage through. I found a fabulous 1960s champagne lace-overlay dress for A$65.

Circa Vintage. I actually didn’t buy anything here, but I think it’s worth the trip out to Fitzroy. It has a small selection of clothes, but all well selected. This is somewhere if you’re lucky, and if you have the budget, you could pick up something truly special. And the shop itself just has a nice 1940s kind of vibe to it, old-fashioned music playing and the shop girl dressed in vintage attire while ironing some new acquisitions.

Little Cupcakes. This is in Degraves St (so goes perfectly with a coffee from Degraves Espresso). I had a mini mocha cupcake and my mum had a lamington cupcake. Both were devine. There are numerous other flavours, and you can get mini or regular-size versions. If I lived in Melbourne, this would be a weekly treat. Mmm.

AIX Cafe Crepierie Salon. This is in Centre Place, which is another little iconic piece of Melbourne. Surrounded by the tables and graffiti and shops and people walking past, this is tucked away, a little hole-in-the-wall kind of place. I went there in the afternoon after the lunch rush so I could get a table (there’s only about three), but it’s well worth finding the time. I had a sticky date crepe with caramel sauce and double cream. It’s as rich as it sounds, and was amazing for about three-quarters of it before I fell into a food-induced coma. There’s a large variety of options for those not as brave or stupid as I. The berries with yoghurt and rosewater sounded nice to me for next time. And there’s also a lot of savoury ones as well. Good value, delicious and filling.

Scarlette & Sly. This is also in Centre Place. It may be best to come here before eating a large crepe, as trying on clothes with a full stomach is never much fun, and I’m sure you’ll want to try something on. From what I understand, this shop stocks local Melbourne designers. I bought a great navy blazer here, something I’d been looking for for a long time, but hadn’t managed to find the right combination of relaxed and tailored, smart and casual. It was half price as well, so only $75, but it’s original price of $150 was pretty reasonable, I thought, for a well-made classic piece. It’s chain store prices, but not everyone is going to have it.

Finally, I didn’t get to do this, but I guess you have to leave something for next time – Rooftop Cinema at the top of Curtin House. And Cookie Bar & Restaurant downstairs is meant to have excellent cocktails, so I’m told.

And just because this is a Melbourne-themed post, this is one of my favourite blogs at the moment, Lady Melbourne.

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You’d find it easier to be bad than good if you had red hair

I’m really into shocking red hair at the moment. There seems to be a few women around, particularly musicians, who are rocking some bright red hair. It seems to be a look that is equal parts delicate and strong, fragile and fierce.

Florence Welsh of Florence and the Machine. I’m also madly in love with her debut album, Lungs.

Alison Sudol, who records under the name A Fine Frenzy.

And while it’s not a new look for her, I’ve always loved Shirley Manson’s red hair.

It’s a look I’d love to have, in theory, but there are some things that put me off –

a) you would have to completely alter your wardrobe. I once dyed my hair black, and it kind of amazed me how it completely changed the clothes you could wear. When I ended up going back to my natural colour, I had to get rid of some of those ‘black hair’ clothes, as I no longer could wear such strong colours. This kind of bright red hair would be the same. There would be some colours that you look amazing in and really pop with the hair colour (like that turquoise in the A Fine Frenzy picture above), but there would be other colours that clash terribly.

b) it would be high on upkeep. To keep that really bright colour, I imagine you’d have to colour your hair fairly frequently. My hair is uncoloured, virgin hair at the moment. After the black hair, I got the colour stripped back to blonde, but it was never quite the same and was pretty damaged. I was trying to work out what colour to go next when my boyfriend at the time suggested a radical new idea – why not just have your natural colour? So I chopped my hair off into an ultra short Mia Farrow ‘do and grew it out (a painfully slow process).

While I can sometimes feel my hair’s a bit boring, because of the lack of colour or highlights, it’s definitely easier and cheaper. I only have to go to the hairdresser a couple of times a year, instead of every six weeks. And I just try to fool myself that it looks very French chic to have natural healthy hair.

c) I don’t think I have the skin for it. Red hair tends to look best paired with a milky white complexion and pretty perfect skin, with maybe just a smattering of freckles.

So I think I’ll just have to admire these ladies and their beautiful hair from afar.

Out of the ash

I rise with my red hair

And I eat men like air.

– from Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath

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Top 5 Records 2.0

Here are some songs I’m enjoying at the moment…

The Pierces – Sticks and Stones. I bought their record 13 Tales of Love and Revenge recently, and am really liking their sound, a bit sassy, a bit coy.

The Ruby Suns – Tane Mahuta. A great band from New Zealand 🙂 This is from their second album, Sea Lion. They’re playing a few gigs around the country at the end of February to promote their third album.

St Vincent – Now Now. This reminds me a bit of the soundtrack to Where the Wild Things Are with Karen O and the kids.

Au Revoir Simone –  Sad Song from their album The Bird of Music. The music video is very cute too.

Vampire Weekend – White Sky. From their new album, Contra, which I’m really enjoying. It reminds me of dancing in the rain at All Points West festival. Always brings a smile to my face.

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A Fresh Start

I love the feeling of a new year. It always feels like you’re starting again somehow, like the world is ripe with possibilities, and that you’re able to reinvent yourself, or write yourself, in some new kind of way.

I’ve mostly managed to avoid the usual excesses of the festive season this year. Sure, there was the obligatory overeating on Christmas Day, and the few days after that involved far too much trifle, and a rather large amount of Pimms, but I think I did pretty well in not completely falling off the bandwagon of the healthy lifestyle I’ve tried to build for myself. This is quite a big achievement, as I was always victim of the snowball effect of eating at Christmas, where I’d eat too much at one meal, and so there was no point trying to be healthy the rest of the day, as it was already too far gone, but then that would linger on into the next day, until you’ve suddenly had a month of overeating and no exercise and you have to start all over again.

But this year has thankfully been different, which gives me hope for my New Year’s resolutions, one of which is to maintain my healthy lifestyle. Another one, which is totally stolen from a friend (thanks, Kim!) is the mantra ‘Just do it’. (Yeah, I think she may have stolen it from somewhere too.) I can’t speak too much as to what it means for her, but in my life, the way I’ve been trying to use it is to stop myself procrastinating.

I always knew I was a good procrastinator when it came to doing uni work. If nothing else, I certainly mastered the art of procrastination while attempting to finish my MA. But it wasn’t until this year that it actually dawned on me how procrastination seems to permeate so many facets of my life, from putting off writing blog posts, (sorry, faithful readers – all three of you) to the stack of bank statements dating back to June that I still hadn’t gotten around to filing, to even taking my vitamins in the morning. Everything for me is something I’m going to get onto soon, rather than now.

I was working over New Year’s, so didn’t go away, but it meant I had a few days off afterwards with few distractions, and I used that time to try to get onto stuff that I had been meaning to do for months, or sometimes years. I filed those bank statements, I got that coat dry-cleaned, I got the tips replaced on my high heels, I backed-up my computer, I went through my iTunes library and deleted the music I didn’t like. I cannot begin to tell you how great all this made me feel. I was accomplishing stuff. I was ticking it off. My whole world felt lighter. I was less burdened by crap that I didn’t even realise was weighing me down.

It’s something that I totally need to work at. I still catch myself thinking, ‘Oh, I should take my vitamins,’ or ‘I must pay my phone bill,’ without any real intention of getting on to it right then. But more and more I think, ‘Just do it’. And unless I’m in the middle of something really important, I do it. It’s done. I forget about it. I’m also trying to keep a diary, as part of this new-and-improved me. I still often forget to look at it until the day is almost over, but I hope that I can use it to make me more efficient at utilising my time.

The results of all this, I’m just starting to see. I finally finished a book that I’ve been reading since July. I’ve started another book, The Book Thief, which I bought probably a year and a half ago. I’ve been meaning to read it, but I just wasn’t in the reading zone in 2009. I felt like I didn’t have the attention span. I suddenly feel like I’ve got it back and that I can enjoy reading again, and that feels like such a gift.  I’ve not only cleared space on my desk, I’ve cleared space in my mind and in my life.

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