True magic lies not in doing something well, but in being enchanted, breathless in the face of discovery and learning. Anything becomes possible, not because the natural laws of the universe have changed, but because you have become connected to what it means to be alive beyond anything you might otherwise experience. You become engaged in a conversation that transcends all known limits. For a brief moment you are vitally aware that the universe speaks with your voice, sees through your eyes. You are the creator and the created. You are life. Unfolding.
You fill your cup with the very best ingredients you have, applying all the love and skill within your possession. Then comes the time when you must release it all, sit back and watch the universe unfold in its unearthly "random" freedom, creating a unique, one-of-a-kind glory that is yours alone. And you realise you were a unicorn all along.
I went to work early today in order to attend one hour of Finance training. I was totally unprepared for the outcome: I felt really glad to be there. Finance is definitely not my idea of high excitement so my reaction was entirely unexpected. Except that it shouldn’t have been.
Learning something new and useful took me back in time to another life, one where I loved my job and felt proud of the work I did. It was an environment in which new staff were carefully and methodically trained, with skill and competence slowly built with a wonderful balance of independent learning and mentored support. And we never stopped being “new” - we continued to train as a matter of course in areas both directly and indirectly related to our roles, leaving us feeling strangely strong, confident and empowered.
It felt like doing just the right kind of workout at the gym, the one where you leave feeling tired yet energised all at the same time. You leave feeling like you own the world and could take on just about anything. That’s how I used to feel about my work, once upon a time.
Today I was struck by the sharp contrast between then and now. I am reminded that work really can be enriching, empowering and conducive to learning and skill development - all without overwhelm. We worked fewer hours with less stress, and yet we achieved so very much more, both professionally and personally. I mourn the loss of staff morale, teamwork, enthusiasm, dedication, innovation and pride. Death by “efficiency”.
There is something miraculous in the mixing and shaping of colours, every time unique and unexpected. They blend and combine to form something entirely new or else hold to their original hues in an interweaving lacework that is as mysterious as it is beautiful... To witness the birth of something entirely wild, unpredictable and infinitely joyful is a breathtaking journey into the unknown and beyond.
I waved goodbye this morning,
lightly - trying to pretend it
didn't really matter.
She gazed back wistfully, reproachfully,
a little incredulous that I would so abandon her.
She didn't really believe it;
right to the end she held out hope before her
like a flag.
Her lips parted,
eyes wide and innocent, disbelieving,
her hair a halo of virtue and perfection.
She was doll-like in her beauty,
this girl who never really lived,
except in my own imagination.
She was the girl I thought I would become,
thought I should become.
Kind and funny,
generous and giving,
perhaps a little insipid
in her selfless dedication
to the welfare of her friends
and of the world at large.
She was really rather lovely.
But I had to create space you see,
open myself instead to the woman I actually am:
messy and self-preoccupied,
introspective and more enamoured
of solitude and beauty than of good works.
The hardest part was to admit that I like her better,
this woman who will never save the world
nor even her own tiny corner within it.
The world will never know her,
never fall on its knees before her.
She will pass through unremarked.
She does not care.
I do not care.
We are too happily absorbed in the fascinating business of living.
And so this morning I waved goodbye.
The birds did not cease their conversation,
nor the trees to rustle in the breeze.
The world did not care;
somehow I thought it might.
So this departure was a quiet affair
and I continued to listen to the birds,
my steps a little lighter,
my heart a little more buoyant.
Thank you for the softness of the rain,
for the sweetness of its lullaby
as it sings the world to rest.
Thank you for the night that dawns,
looming vast and limitless
as it opens up its heart:
There is an intimacy of knowing
beyond all that may be illumined
by the prosaic march of sun.
Thank you for the giddy, weightless freedom,
for the ability to see beyond
and to offer up ourselves
to a touch that burns
with an ache of intensity
than the rain.
There are times when I ask nothing more
than the feel of a pen in my hand,
smooth paper beneath
and the miracle of colour on a page.
Yesterday I was given the opportunity to attend training on “unconscious bias”. I eagerly snapped it up, for two reasons:
What did I hope to gain? I sought the opportunity to reflect on the way I view the people in my workplace. I wanted to think about some of the factors that might be influencing my reactions (both positive and negative) and explore what I might do with that information. Instead, due to time constraints, we never made it anywhere near that depth. Instead we skimmed the surface, sticking to the already well-trodden paths, focussing mostly on gender bias in the workplace. Interesting, but repetitive and hardly earth-shattering or conducive to genuine self reflection.
Or was it? In fact, I probably learned more in one morning than I ever thought was possible. Even as we discussed how to call out inappropriate behaviour, I became aware of a growing sense of discomfort. Within a largely female group of participants, all talking gender bias, discussion soon headed south in the direction of male-bashing. Of course it was good-humoured, but still very real. I quickly identified the epicentre of the new framework for our discussion. And I agonised. If not in this context, then in what situation would I ever find the courage to discuss the problem of a dominant but harmful point of view, when the speakers are comfortably secure and confident in the “rightness” of their opinion?
Again and again I started to open the conversation within my own small group. Just as often, I hesitated, unsure how to raise the topic in a way that the person could hear, understand and also not perceive as a personal attack. Every single time I failed and the conversation moved back to a place I was finding increasingly hot and sticky. I decided to instead raise the subject more generally and less pointedly, within the larger group. But we were rushed for time; the opportunity never arose. And I remained silent.
Only after the session concluded did I quietly mention my challenge to someone and learn that I was not the only one to experience it. Even the facilitator was aware and, for reasons of her own, chose only to offer a quiet, private apology to the men in the room. For whatever reason, she chose not to draw attention to our behaviour as a group.
In the break between sessions, someone shared a story of bullying in which it later transpired that everyone knew, no one spoke. Until finally more people, and possibly the “right” people, got hurt, and it became politically impossible to continue to ignore the problem. When I heard that story I wondered if I’d been approaching my own dilemma in entirely the wrong way. What if my responsibility was never to magically change the view of the person talking, but instead to point to the elephant in the room and give it a name, for the benefit of all?
Sounds great, but there’s a problem. I now better understand my hesitancy of the moment. What might have resulted if I had spoken up within the larger group? One possibility is that I would have been figuratively shouted down and excluded. Told I was “over-reacting” or “misinterpreting”. In other words, trivialised and marginalised. Clearly not fun. But a potentially worse outcome might have been the opposite. What if I had spoken up and actually succeeded in swaying popular opinion – against the leader of the “female power” discourse? In one way I would have achieved something positive, but at the great cost of excluding and shutting down the original speaker. In an environment like that, where the talk centres on our “responsibility” and on “social justice”, to be outside the dominant discourse is to be unsafe. It is a place of censure, a place of being morally “wrong”. We talk about condemning the behaviour and not the person, but in practice, it is very hard to separate the two, at least at the level of perception. The leader of what I thought of as the “male-bashing” discourse was sincere, considerate and passionate about embracing diversity. She no doubt has very good reasons, firmly grounded in experience, for her views. Certainly, whatever her motivations, they are none of my business. I am more concerned with not setting up an either / or dialogue. As a group we had moved scarily far towards creating an “in” and an “out” group based on moral righteousness. I would love to consider how I might have entered that debate without risking a swing of the pendulum, reversing the position of who was “in” and who was “out”. I would love to have indeed created a safe place for genuine debate.
Yesterday I witnessed derogatory discussion. I was hurt. Others were hurt. I said nothing.
So, I bought a doll. I would be embarrassed to tell you how much she cost; I’m a little bit stunned myself. Why did I buy her? I don’t know. And yet I somehow do. I do know that she is enhancing my life; I feel like I’ve stepped that little bit closer to bringing my dream world into my everyday home.
I’ve always been a doll person. I was a serious Barbie freak as a child. Not to mention a paper doll enthusiast. I pretty much had a doll habit going on. The only explanation I can offer is that they allowed me to bring my fantasy worlds to life, tell stories with them and take action to make the world a little bit more like my ideal. Of course, if you had asked me at the time, it’s fairly likely that wouldn’t have been what I would have told you!
I never got over my obsession. One of my favourite things about the classic British TV series, Thunderbirds, for example, was the marionettes. They looked enough like dolls that I could pretend they were. While others watched with envy, wanting to fly in the amazing aircraft and participate in daring, impossible rescue scenarios, I wanted the dolls. Thunderbirds provided me with an aspiration for a level of detail, quality and manoeuvrability I would spend decades hoping to re-encounter. As for their wardrobe of outfits...
Over time I would pay frustrated attention to dolls and action figures, seeking, but never finding, my ideal. My absolute ambition was to own a perfectly detailed, beautifully clothed and fully articulated Gandalf. Every comic shop I’ve ever been in, my eye has been surreptitiously cast in the hope of spotting something it seemed simply didn’t exist.
And then, one day, I encountered the Smart Doll, designed by Danny Choo. It turned out that, if you were privileged and obsessed enough, you could own the doll of my dreams. I have since been on a whole voyage of discovery and discovered a surprisingly densely populated niche hobby, with astonishingly rich and fantastical doll possibilities, mostly crafted of resin. But my heart, for now, remains stubbornly attached to my first big discovery: the Smart Doll, with her anime / manga features and light, flexible, vinyl body.
I wasn’t going to spend the money of course. That would be silly. Irresponsible. Until the day came that I asked myself what “sensible” actually means, once I have paid the rent and the bills. I have the privilege; it was only my moral code that created the barrier. There is absolutely nothing sensible about the many things I love; they are whimsical, fictional and totally lacking in utility or benefit. Except that they make my heart sing and the world come alive for me.
So I did it. To my own very great shock, I carefully saved the money and yesterday, Kanata arrived. It will be a while before I can afford to add to her wardrobe, but she seems happy enough. And I know I am! I am building my fantasy world, one friend at a time. Who knows, I might one day even find Gandalf - wouldn’t that be incredible? Are you up for the challenge, Danny Choo?
D a r k l y d a r k l y , d a n c i n g s h y
O u r w h i s p e r e d s e l v e s b e n e a t h c l o s e d e y e s
M i s t e d s h a r d s a g a i n s t t h e s k y
D a r k l y d a r k l y , d a n c i n g s h y
"Only that day dawns to which we are awake," wrote Thoreau. This blog, in words and pictures, is my attempt to be awake: to be alive to the mystery of life. It is an exercise in gratitude and wonder, and an open invitation to beauty.