Let me contextualise from where I write. It's a little past midday, the day before the year comes to a close. I've got Beirut playing, record 'The Gulag Orkestar', and those upsy-downsy rhythms and brass flourishes scream Europe and richness and the Bedouin lifestyle. Cross-legged on my bed I sit, hair out and reaching my shoulders. A little sleep-deprived but feeling alive and feeling good, about life and progression and the year gone by and the year to come.
And just like that, I'm breaking my 2 year silence on this white space in cyberspace, covered in dark pixels, forming shapes which form symbols- which humanity names letters- which combine to create words, which form sentences and paragraphs and, ultimately, shaping themselves as a platform conveying meaning and expressing and articulating the goings-on in the mind of a twenty-something year old girl, who kind of knows what's up in life, but kind of doesn't, and, is therefore torn at the seams- confusion bursting all over, but is content with the pieces that lay scattered across the globe, because variety is the spice of life, and monotony suffocates creativity, and creativity is the exercise of the powers of divinity, and that's the ultimate goal, now isn't it?- to discover our identity- and the nature of it: which is regal, and to stretch ourselves right from our fingertips to our toes to fulfil the potential we all hold.
I'm going to be honest with the world and with myself now, though, and say that I've really struggled to string words together of late. Both the spoken and the written word. I guess it's because being a full-time voluntary Mormon missionary, in Germany, for 18 months long without any breath of air in-between, kind of changed my life in ways a million and one. And some more. And to write from the now, without acknowledging said experience and resulting said changes, feels fraudulent, and I'm not about that at all. So I've avoided it. For too long. And now I'm here to face it. And to share it. The smallest portion of it, anyway. And while I know that no amount of words will ever suffice, to be able to truly express what I saw and what I felt there and then- at least just a few will be able to say just a little. And then with a head clear and a slate blank, I'll begin to fill it again, with words from the present. So here goes. This one's for you, my sanity:
Selections from my final weekly email of my 18-month missionary service, sent home to close friends and family, penned October 25 2015. All names have been changed.
When I was but a child, my Dad always shared with me that the world was once black, white and every varying tone between. But then one day, he looked my Mum direct in the eyes and they began to turn blue, blue like the stretch of sky that sits directly above the horizon on a Summer's day. The world then followed suit, colour bursting beautifully through the grey like a drop of ink in a cup of water, and now here we are, in a world with hues countless- a world technicolour.
My world wasn't grey before my mission, it never was. I have my Heavenly parents above and my earthly parents on our mortal level to thank for that. But now, upon reflection on the hardest, most challenging, but equally and exceedingly as joyful and glorious time of my entire life, I look around and all I see, feel and hear is a land of colours- intense, vibrant, rich and deep, more intense, more vibrant, richer and deeper than I could ever curate into a collection of words. The injection of technicolor took 18 months to complete from full to empty, glittering my world from monotonous to its opposition. At times, the transition- painstakingly slow, others- a pressured push from the finger of Divinity causing colour to burst like fireworks, like a drop of ink in a cup of water. And now here I am, living in a world and with a mind literally exploding with hues countless- a world technicolor.
Let me take you on a little walk through the heaviest and hardest, yet most beautiful and most joyful week of my entire life to date, and I will show you the life I am leaving here, or at least a small percentage of it, a curated collection:
Blink back to one week ago and there I was, rummaging through shelves and shelves of books ancient and books just old, at the tiny second-hand book store in the oldest part of Zwickau's city centre. It smelt like old and used and timeless and worn, and the musty scent got me excited about life, because it reminded me of the thousands of years of thinking and recording people upon people upon people have done, and how I'm one of them too. I was reminded of the perfect quote from Carl Sagan, who once stated that writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs.
I presented my little stack of children's books, written, illustrated and printed here in the heart of East Germany itself, back in the days of communist GDR, on the over-crowded counter of our friend, the shopkeeper. With an orderly moustache poised above his top lip and rounded glasses propped daintily on his nose, he typed some numbers into his grey calculator and showed me a 25. 25 Euro. And, 'ich schenke Die dir', 'I gift you these', he added with a cheeky smile, placing a little collection of hand-picked books on top of it too. My heart first leapt with joy, and then danced, as I poured over the pages of the ones he chose out just for me. They were perfect. There's just something about the way the pages curled and the illustrations moved that made me nostalgic for a time I never knew, and I left with a bag heavy and a heart full.
That evening, a swarm of deep darkness fell over us as we sat on a wooden bench outside the Krüger's home, in the cold and without any form of light, talking about life and everything in it, bearing testimony as part of normal passing conversation, in hushed tones, with Schwester Krüger herself. With every word a stream of visible air exited our mouths, as the warm met the cool and collided in all its whispy wonder.
Schwester Hartmann on her 2 walking sticks, hobbled to the door the next day and swung it open, a wide smile on her face and with eyes creasing at the edges alongside it, to match the joy she expressed moments after greeting us, that we had come. She pressed us each warmly into her hand-knitted cardigan, reminding of the time she did so at church and then told me that when she sees me, ‘the sun goes up’, on a day I felt like a thunderstorm inside and needed to hear how I could be. We ate cold meat and salad with far too many sour gherkins inside, and a piece of bread with butter thick, slapped across the surface, for lunch. We were seated around their tiny wooden table in the centre of their living room, abundant with hand chiseled wooden furniture and decorative pieces, made by Bruder Hartmann, of course. His wife talked forever and he muttered only a few short words, chuckling to himself at his own jokes. He offered us a massage and a kiss too- that's what his wife has received after every single meal for the entire 50 years they have been married. Concurred on the massage. Passed on the kiss.
We laughed as we ran to the bus stop, fingers crossed inside our pockets that we'd make it. It was raining and we were running late, and we hadn't the flexibility to shuffle any of our planned appointments around, because every minute was already accounted for. We made it with a split-second to spare.
In the home of our Persian angel, Frau Terrani, we talked about how God looks like us- how he's certainly almighty, but he's not unknowable, nor unimaginable. Through the language-barriered conversation, we walked behind the spirit, following his every move. I closed my eyes and poured out the best prayer I could when the lesson came to a close- blessing her home and her family and especially her husband, that he'd open his heart and set the uncertainty inside free.
As I packed my bag to go, Frau Terrani walked daintily to her dining table made from thick, tinted glass, picked up a tiny, pink-bowed package and handed it to me. Bitteschön!, she said. Inside was the most perfect ceramic egg-shaped, floral-patterned trinket box. It rattled as I handled it, and she prompted me to look inside, with a sparkle in her eye. I lifted the lid and found a pair of silver earrings, with pink stones dangling from the ends. They were perfect. So, totally Frau Terrani and therefore, so, totally me.
We hugged at her doorway for a very long time, after pulling on our jackets, and as I walked down those stairs, I looked back up as I always do, to catch a one final glimpse at the lady I love so dearly, blowing a kiss at me.
Out of breath, a day slipping between now and Frau Terrani, we'd made it up the hill. There was a pointed white house and it read 'Schäfer' on the mailbox. My German equivalent family. 4 daughters, 2 sons, with matching age differences to my own, but 10 years younger.
A black cat curled his body around my legs as we stood at the door, waiting to be welcomed inside. He purred and I reached down and patted him as gently as I could- hoping the care taken would double the happiness he felt.
The door swung abruptly open and I looked down at the welcomers, 5 year old Lisa and her 5 year old cousin, Anja. They giggled hysterically and pulled a face at us, we took off our shoes and followed the sound upstairs- the sound of life and families and kids everywhere, embracing mortality with their all.
The two of them decided it'd be best if they took off their pants and ran around in their tights instead, then decided holding both my hands, climbing up my legs with their own, and doing backward somersaults was a brilliant idea. I complied and after 15 minutes, my arms and my legs ached like no other. The sound of laughter filled that home and I thanked my lucky stars that I could be there.
Treated to a meal of burritos, each of the kids chose their desired toppings, accused others for taking too much of this, or not enough of that, or folding the wrap wrong. Lisa poured half the bowl of cubed cucumbers onto her dollop of sour cream, wrapped it all up like a baby in a blanket made of tortilla, and began to stuff it in her mouth, before growing bored of it all, and leaving the dinner table, little Anja tagging behind.
An hour later, we almost ran up the hill, in the dark and the wet and the cold, hair tied back and up high, clad in our sport gear, ready for our weekly sport class with a group of local ladies, to take place in the attic of our church building. We burst through the closed door and Frau Peters's face stretched into a smile. 'Sie sind doch da!' (oh, you did come! are there!). She'd arranged specifically to have ABBA playing for this 45 round of 'exercise', just for us, because we wanted it. Carrying out the class burns perhaps a total of 4 calories. It's an intense time. Not.
With a steam of air flying through the window I'd cracked open myself, we lay on our stomachs, all 10 or so of us, turning our lifted ankles in time to Fernando. I couldn't help but to laugh out loud, as I thought about what the heck we were doing. But the highlight was during Dancing Queen, when the instructor said we have the next 30 seconds to 'Tanzen wie sie Lust haben'- dance how you want, and we all moved our arms and swayed our hips and cha-cha'd with our feet, however we wanted to move. It was beautiful and fascinating and hilarious and I looked over at Sister Johnson and she was bursting with the same joy that I was feeling too.
I sat by my sweet, perfect, dream-of-a-German-lady, 77-year old Frau Scholz, on her pillow/towel/blanket/soft toy pile, and we sung together for the final time, her quaking, melodic tone dancing in harmonies with my own. She had her arm around my shoulder for part of it and I rested my head in her neck. She's somehow my best friend out here, and I'm 'die Ann-et-te' to her. I reached into my bag, pulling up the sleeve of the sweater she'd just gifted me, and pulled out the hand-drawn card I'd crafted for her. She put on her perfect 60s reading glasses, and began to read out loud, slowly and beautifully. Halfway through, she burst into tears, and cried her way through the rest of it. And I did too. My heart broke in half as she told me she'd never forget me and will miss me every single day. She held the photo I'd glued inside of the two of us smiling outside her home up to her cheek and closed her eyes.
From the bridge crossing the river back to the bus stop, far off in the distance I caught my last glimpse of Frau Scholz, her perfect red shawl pulled over her head as always when she goes outside- who stood on her driveway, waiting for us to reach the bridge so she could wave us goodbye until she could see us no more. I waved with both arms and she did too, and the moment was glorious.
I lay in my bed wide awake at midnight, following the same pattern my body has followed for 2 weeks straight. Thoughts and memories and ideas and thoughts and memories and ideas again, like a surreal merry-go-round, flying through my mind with jovial, tantalising music to match. Decided I'd make use of the awakeness for the first time instead of sending myself insane, and sat on my favourite corner couch and penned my best friend Amy a letter. My head pounded from crying at the end of every appointment in the arms of similarly crying friends and congregation members, one after the other, the whole week long, stress levels were running high, lack of sleep was catching up, and feeling overwhelmed with things to do assisted nobody. So it felt good to write something nonsensical to someone I love as a release.
The night turned to day and my heart felt heavy as we hiked the hill for the final time to my final Sunday in the Zwickau congregation, and in Germany overall. Surreal. We swung the first door open and pushed the second, and were greeted by people I love dearly. My bag filled quickly with gifts wrapped in bows of varying colours, and my eyes filled with tears with every warm hug from the arriving congregation members. Schwester Hahn held my face in her hands and just looked at me, and with a sigh she told me that we'll see each other again. Someday, somewhere. Jasmine handed me a little envelope and inside was a long note from her, written in perfect 15-year old German girl handwriting. Schwester Werner laughed with me as she lent casually on the wall outside the young women's room, dressed in her short, denim pencil skirt. She told me that missionaries come and go, all the time. But there are some that will never be forgotten. 'Sister Wilson', she said 'Sie sind eine von denen'- you are one of them.
With the chapel still under construction, church was split into two again, and each of the departing missionaries had to bear their testimonies twice, once for the elderly sitting downstairs and once for the younger, stair-climbing capable generation in the pointed, wooden attic. It was perfect. Every time I've ever had to do any form of speech, I'd returned to my seat, head buzzing with things I wish I'd said, and I always wanted a second chance. I got it.
We began downstairs and halfway through the opening hymn, it hit me. I'm going home. I cried my way through the rest of the song, and Heike sitting by me put her arm around me and cried with me too. 'You'll be okay', she whispered in my ear. 'It's the hardest thing you'll ever face, but you'll be okay'. She arrived home from her mission in Romania a week before I arrived in Zwickau, and I have watched her adjustment right from the beginning. She pushed my head gently into her neck and rubbed my arm. Sister Johnson said her goodbyes, expressing her love for a congregation and a people she only had 6 short weeks to learn. But the love was real. She cried and then when it was my turn, I cried too. Almost the whole way through, but my words still came out clear and heavenly help made it possible for me to really pour it all out in German correct. Schwester Fuchs looked at me from the 5th row, face red and tears streaming down her face. My stinging eyes bounced around the room at all of the old, gentle, loving members of my sweet Zwickau town, and the vast majority had crying eyes as well. That room felt heavy but simultaneously sweet, and so came the time to climb the stairs and repeat.
A fresh wave of life washed over me as I opened the door to a packed-out attic, filled with all the young families. Crying babies and laughing children and husbands with their arms around their wives shoulders. Sister Johnson went first again and then I followed suit. I told them how I loved them so, how I'll miss them deeply and how my mission changed my life. When I bore my testimony of the truthfulness of this Gospel, the room went quiet and all the babies stopped crying, and the children stopped laughing, and a sweet spirit settled over the room.
Bishop said his closing words and invited Elder Clark and I to perform the piece we'd prepared, as the closing hymn. Schwester Schmidt played the introduction slowly and sweetly on the keyboard, of Wie Gross Bist Du- How Great Thou Art. We sung the first in unison with piano, the second in harmonies, with piano too, and then skipped to the 4th and the piano dropped out. Our voices tangled together in sweet, melodious, harmonious partnership, and I told myself in my mind to sing out all the love I have for mission, all of the gratitude, all of the everything. It worked and I hadn't an ounce of nerves, I could control my every note and we ended perfectly. We simmered in the hushed silence, closed the Gesangbuch gently and walked back to our seats, passing by a sobbing Schwester Hartmann, a weeping Schwester Wagner with her teary-eyed teenage daughter Jemima nestled in her arms on the way back to my seat. The closing prayer was said and afterwards the members took turns squeezing me for the final time, I cried on and off, handed out all my hand-drawn and hand-written thank you cards and gifted the 66 Australian animal-shaped cookie cutters I had my sister order me to Germany, to the kiddies. Words of well-wishes and gratitude and then a bawling Schwester Fuchs grabbed me by both shoulders and accused me for singing so beautifully. 'Warum!' she said, Why! I'm sorry, I said. She embraced me and the rest of the day was a blur, of eating appointments and spiritual thoughts and crying and hugging and crying some more.
Bruder Weber stood at the bus stop with us at the final of my appointments of my whole entire mission, in the dark and the cold, and I opened my gift his family had wrapped for me in Christmas paper. A Räuchermann dressed as Santa, a real one, made of precious smooth wood reigning from the home of Christmas and Zwickau's next door neighbour. It was perfect.
We sat on the back seat of the bus on the way home and I rested my head on the window, trying to keep everything that happened that day, that week, this month, this year, everything inside. I cried only a tiny bit, because that's all the tears I had left.
So. There we have it. The tiniest percentage of what my week consisted of. Are you feeling it how I'm feeling it?
My mission has drained, strained and rearranged me. And completely changed me. I can see and feel and think more clearly than ever before. My perspective has shifted to the eternal and it lifts me, every single day. My intellect has expanded immensely and I learn things of both heaven and earth through the greatest teacher on earth, the Spirit, gifted me when I was 8 years old by my Father holding the Priesthood power of God. He was the best birthday present I've ever received. These shuffle-arounds of my world's understanding and life-approaching came through ways varying and through ways plentiful. I have seen fires ignite in the eyes of those coming to a realisation of their divine potential, held the hand of a struggling companion in her darkest hours and visited the lonely. I have witnessed the celestial power of music, cleaned windows and homes and chapels in the service of our Father in Heaven, learned how families truly work, understood more completely the reaching blessings of the temple, and faced the darkest parts of myself and in so doing, came to a very solid understanding of one of the most basic doctrines sung by the smallest voices in the primary: that I am, indeed, a Child of God. Through having a 24-hour companion, I have learned about the deep, inner workings of the natural man and have grown to understand his enmity toward God more than by any other means. And I have learnt to control and to overcome him. I have been privileged to love and teach not just people with German blood running through their veins, but children of God who reign from all four corners of the earth, gathering them home, as per the prophecy I am required to fulfil as a member of Ephraim's tribe. I have come to a very deep knowledge that the adversary is real. He has worked his hardest on me, as he does anyone engaged in this work, and I have never been so aware of his reality in my whole life. He is real. He is the destroyer of all happiness. And he will kick his followers when they are down. But in saying that, I have come to an even deeper knowledge and testimony that light truly does have the power to dispel all darkness, and I think that's one of the greatest truths I'll be taking home with me. Light, for me, and answers to my pleading prayers, have taken countless forms, forms I never even knew light could take prior to this wild adventure. Other missionaries and members and complete strangers on the street. Wildflowers bursting in unorthodox places and breathtaking sunsets painted across the sky. A favourite song playing in the supermarket, or a handwritten letter in the mailbox. Placed perfectly, timed perfectly, exactly where and when they were needed, to get me through, every time. Testifying to me, that I am known and I am watched and I am loved, by my Heavenly Father. And so are you.
I had two goals for my mission. The first, to leave with a broken heart because of the deep and abiding love I have for the people living there. And the second, to go home changed. Whatever that would end up meaning.
And I can tell you, that I have reached and exceeded both goals: I am going home with a heart torn in two, right down the middle, because I love this land more than I ever knew possible, I love this language more than I could ever comprehend- it is the language I will sing my children lullabies to sleep in, and I love these people more than words will allow me to articulate. To me, the rewards of missionary work are the relationships one builds and leaves with. And I can tell you, that I will be boarding the plane a rich girl. I have met people here that I can't fathom, and refuse to accept, a life or an eternity without. And I love them. Deeply and unfeigned.
And as for going home changed, I aways knew my mission would change me and would change my life. It was inevitable- there can be no other way when one is dislocated from all forms of familiarity, thrown into a strange place with a foreign language and a people new- with a schedule shaped by the hands of the prophets and experiences orchestrated by the master composer himself, for 18 months long without a breath of air between. Right from those first introductory moments of consideration to even go in the first place, I knew the change would come. But I never knew how, or just how much. But now I do.
I expected so much from my mission. And received one-hundred fold in return. To say it was a sacrifice in any regard, would be a lie. The opportunity to serve a mission is anything but a sacrifice. I have done nothing to deserve all that my mission has given me, and I will be forever indebted for these matchless experiences.
I will ponder deeply, with a gratitude-filled heart, upon my mission for the rest of my life- and right through the rest of eternity. Because the northern region of Germany is my very own sacred grove. It is where I came to know, that the heavens are indeed open, powered by the prayer of pleading desperation spoken by a 14-year old boy in a grove of trees on on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty. It's where I came to know, with a surety, that we can return to our Heavenly Home through a combination of our own best efforts, and most importantly, through the Atonement of our Saviour. Though without Him it would not be possible. That we can not do anything on our own, and we don't need to, because we have a Father in Heaven who loves and knows us completely and personally and perfectly. And as Bruder Schäfer said to me in the middle of a big, loud conversation with all 6 of the Schäfer kids, with his finger pointed to the sky and with an Indian-flavoured accent speaking English, as he served there on his Mission, he said to me in his deep, booming voice, 'He will provide.'
He will provide. I know it. I have felt it. And I have seen his hand too many times to deny it. And I won't. Ever.
The work of salvation doesn't end when I go home, when my favourite accessory needs to be unclipped from my collar and held in my palm, a perfect token of a life I'll never forget. The goals will be slightly different, but the gospel is the same and so is our God, and every day for the past 18 months has prepared me to deal with these next ones.
“The Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done”
My dear, sweet, faithful everyone: It was an absolute pleasure to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, and to do as he'd have done, had he been here. At the same time it was an absolute pleasure to run in the pathway before His- the Bridegroom's- return, rolling out the red carpet and tying strings of wildflowers to the orderly pews with silky white ribbons, sounding a cry of warning with my loudest trump and calling the people to repentance- by inviting them to change. And to prepare the righteous to receive their crowning glory, when the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done. A pleasure. Truly.
I have absolutely loved my mission. And I will treasure it, forever.
Signed- with tears literally streaming down my face as reality hits home, because it'll be my last time signing as a full-time, proselyting missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints,
Your Sister Annette Sarah Wilson
Germany Berlin Mission
6. May 2014- 27. October 2015.
Blink forward 9 weeks from the date of this letter's penning to the present, and just like that, a great weight has lifted itself from my shoulders and the cage my word-filled mind has been sitting in for weeks has been unlocked and reopened. Here's to freeing oneself through the act of sharing, and to a new year of expression to come.
The ferry glided across Sydney’s harbour. I was the only passenger left on board. The deckhand asked if I was getting off at Circular Quay. The same place I got on. Yes, I was. He nodded in reply because he understood. He understood because he’d come across my type before, the type that is on the boat just because they want to be. Enjoying the least expensive cruise around. And the only one sitting outside under no cover, despite the sharp wind and tiny drops of rain falling from above. After nodding, he went back inside and attended to his duties, respecting my lonesome desire.
The boat heaved forward, its base breaking the otherwise perfectly calm body of water. A flock of seagulls raced alongside. I looked out to the skyline of glittering city lights and smiled to myself. And then I took a breath deeper than the regular. Filling the very depths of my lungs, until every tiny space was occupied. This is something I like to do when I’m somewhere I love and am happy in and don’t want to forget. The hope is that this air- this perfect air from this perfect time, will linger inside me a little longer, dividing itself amongst air circulating through my body in regular life, improving everything else always. I am almost certain it has worked, so far.
The winds of change have started to blow. I am really starting to feel it- every day becoming increasingly aware of it. I have started to say my first goodbyes, my first lasts. Each time I go somewhere, subconsciously I am wondering whether I won’t see it again for a long time, if ever. It’s exciting, but it’s scary. Life feels surreal, almost all of the time. It will surely only skew more as the deadline of the now, the ending of this season of my life, draws nearer. And for this I am excited.
At one stage I was adamant on creating a very strict time schedule for myself. To train me up, you know, some self-discipline. I can do it, I can have complete control of me! Or so I thought. It didn’t work. And I ended up feeling guilty every time my head hit the pillow after 11pm, or if I arose beyond 6.30am. This was no way to live. So I gave that up. And am living life to its fullest daily instead. Sleepovers with my best friend almost every night. Trips to the supermarket at 11.30pm, all the time. For silly things, like batteries, and olive oil spray. Patting the dog for an hour straight, wrist aching but smiling because I love her. Laughing out loud on the bus this evening because a girl put her ticket in the machine and it never came back. The bus had to be turned off entirely, then the machine reset, in order for it to spit the red, printed cardboard rectangle back in to her palm where it came from.
The pile of washing in my laundry grows taller every day. Maintenance bothers me. I would rather build up mess and spend an entire day cleaning, than do a little all the time. Maintenance is a chore, spring cleaning is an adventure!
I have bruises on my arms and legs and I don’t know where they came from. Probably swinging on my chair at work or moving my furniture around in the middle of the night, for fun and a sense of newness.
I have a newfound appreciation for living but a few kilometres from a myriad of beautiful beaches. Each week I endeavour to be there at least once. These days its every few and sometimes couple days instead. There’s an openness that lies there, it can’t be replicated without physicality. It’s somewhere I feel I need to be often. So that’s what I’ve been doing.
My skin is thankful for the salty remedies of the often ocean. But not so much for the additional sunlight. I feel the roses of my cheeks are permanently coloured by it, but looking in the mirror I am reminded constantly of my friendship with the sun, so that makes it okay.
I stay up late to think. It’s the best activity in the world. I drink from the same cup I water my plants with. Half a cup for you, half a cup for me. My peace lily has grown exponentially since its purchase. I haven’t closed my balcony door in over a month. Rain sometimes comes through the windows but none of my things get wet. I learnt that lesson the hard way. I play violin music with my viola. Nobody has time for alto clef! My oven doesn’t work- right now I’m making brownies in the grill instead. For a friend who lent me his car yesterday, to photograph one final wedding. Within 5 minutes the top went black. So I scraped off the black parts, mixed the half-cooked rest and put it back in. This time at a lower heat, so hopefully that’ll work.
The first of the lasts, a weird section of time and of life. But it forces a readjustment- of priorities. People priorities, time-using priorities, spending priorities. All of the priorities.
If the glittering lights in the harbour were turned out, all that would be left is a boat gliding across the dark ocean, no end in clear sight but a journey to be enjoyed no less. Icy droplets on a sunburnt face, perfect air filling every space. A new season is on the horizon and my arms are stretched wide open to welcome its embrace
A dog at the hostel in Rotorua. Probably the best friend I made while there.
Rain piercing the otherwise flawless river.
My Aunty Diana, New Zealand. She is a whirlwind of creativity and excitement and individuality.
Lights on my balcony. Taken on New Years Eve. I'll share the story of that night soon.
Lately I have wondered about a few things.
One, I would be rich if every single person attending a stadium show gave me a dollar coin each. I have thought about that one ever since I went to my first concert in 2007. The Red Hot Chili Peppers fans filled the seats like nothing I’d ever seen and it was then and there, as they all cheered and screamed and waved their shining mobile phone lights around, that I recognised my love for and fascination of masses, of people or things, matching, doing things in synchronisation and sameness. I could watch choreographed anything all day and never become bored.
Two, I don’t give animals enough credit for being incredible. An impromptu trip to the zoo made me realise this. They are so intricate and so beautiful. Moving and living and breathing. Fast and slow. With cold blood or warm. Amazing.
Three, are our brains different to the brains of people hundreds of years ago- I mean, what were those people usually thinking about? It would be interesting to shrink myself down and go inside their thoughts just to find out. Times like these I wish the Magic School Bus were a real thing.
Four, fireworks. I don’t understand them. But I love them. I don’t want to understand them and will never delve further into the internet to do so, because there is too much beauty in the mystery.
Five, dreams. Last night I dreamt that I looked out across my balcony into the windows of all the apartments surrounding mine, and every single person was playing a stringed instrument. My local community were independently an orchestral collection. I wish it were true. As part of my job I do a few errands. Once I was walking down the street and heard waves of glorious musical sounds come from the top level of one of the tiny townhouses there. A genius at work inside their home. I make detours now just to walk by that house, and have since had multiple private concerts unaware of who the musician is or what they are playing. And they are unaware of me, an audience, as well. This is something I love.
And six, and of slightly more value, or at least more brain power, a trend all too familiar: and that is of the pending life livers. Surely there’s a better wording, but it will do for now. I mean the thoughts we all have, myself included, about the future. Always thinking about the future. One day I’ll do this, and that, I’ll know that person and this person and we’ll do this and that. Being excited for what’s to come. Always. There is nothing wrong with that.
Then I started to think about the now. This present time. This year. This week. Today. Did we long for this day to come, back a few years ago? Do we know him or her as we intended to, and do we do that which we always thought we would? Contemplation is a fickle thing. It gives you something to do but gets you nowhere. Except a free ride to the land of fun inside your brain. And to me, that has value. And so much of it.
I read on the wall of the recording studio belonging to my best friend’s dad, a quote by Albert Einstein. ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge.’ And while this is true, to me, knowledge can expand imagination and vice versa. Knowledge and imagination are the perfect companions, walking side by side between reality and a super reality- life as we know it and life as it could be. Imagination is the motivation to bring current reality to a higher place, a better place. Or at least a different place. If we had no imagination, I don’t think we would be a developed race in the slightest. Imagination is the base of foresight, or prediction, of anticipation. It is crucial to expansion.
Future aside, here are some things, some observations, some life livings. From now. Today. This week.
Australian beach culture. We live in one of the most multicultural lands on Earth. How cool is that? Yesterday, a Fijian family bobbed in the water near me, their dark skin glistening in the 6pm sun. A group of Tongan boys buried their friend in the sand, his bald head the only visible thing. They were laughing, a lot. On the packed bus on the way home, a mum used her elbows to push through to the exit, protecting the sleeping toddler in her arms. That night, a taxi driver slowed down beside innocent walkers as they strolled down the street- hopeful to provide a service. Then there was the security guard at the supermarket, always checking the bags of the ‘interesting’ people from around here. But he has never said anything to me besides many friendly hellos and goodbyes. Apparently I don't look suspicious enough. A whispered ‘thank you’ from my friend Luisa’s 2-year old girl, as her Dad zipped her into her pyjamas. Her voice soft and sincere, her face smiling and celestial. Staying up stupidly late with siblings to watch entire seasons of the OC, belting out ‘Cal-i-fooorn-iaaaaaa, here we coooome!’ at the start of every new episode. Watering the plants. Closing the window. Filling up the kitchen sink. Striking a match. And then lighting a candle. Plugging in a phone charger. Finding the separation tear between garbage bags on a roll. And then getting the correct gripping to shake it full of air. Spreading a blanket. Then tucking it in. A door closing. Or a cupboard. Or the lid of a washing machine. Scooping the washing powder and sprinkling it inside. Texting with two thumbs. Running for a bus. Walking home in the rain. Switching off the light and going to sleep. Then dreaming of apartment orchestras. And imagining what will happen tomorrow. And with that, imagination and reality meet once more, holding hands and dancing in the moonlight of life.
If this isn’t living then I don’t really know what is.
Australia is a powerful land. Often I ponder on this conclusion, but on occasion I do forget. A little camping trip down the very bottom coastline of Victoria reminded me of its truth.
I washed my hair in a rock pool, which was filled like a cup by the ocean's tap. The water was cold- the voice of ice calling out to our skin, our goosebumps sounding a response. The rocks around everywhere looked like burnt honeycomb and we had to be careful of European wasps who used them as walls of their homes. One evening we watched the sun set from the top of a mountain overlooking Johanna beach. The firey mass of glory beyond our comprehension turned 8-bit in our eyes- it somehow looked digital, and we wondered how so? Contradictions were in abundance.
Another evening, we spotted a lonely koala pounding its way up a bushland road, so we slowed the car and followed alongside it. We marvelled at the creature our country is so well known for, yet we see next to never. It's funny how perception and reality rarely align.
But what I loved most was the sound of Australia's bushland at night, right in the middle of it. The middle of the night, I mean, as well as the middle of the bush. Far from roads and streetlights. Emily was sleeping quietly next to me in our tiny tent, and all that was left to hear was the soft hum of Summertime bugs and night birds hovering in the sound waves surrounding us.
Pressing pink on our cheeks, the sun and its high season made itself known to us as we walked, slowly, down the streets of Baulkham Hills.
Amy fell asleep on the grass moments after flopping down on to it, soft brown sunhat over her face. Soph and Claire sat on the swings side by side, discussing exam notes as they rose and fell into and from the sky.
Earlier that day we drove Josh to the train station, in a car with not much power. It heaved around corners and even moreso up small hills, but the music blasting through the speakers and the seats filled with scream-singing 20-year olds gave it enough energy to complete out the trip.
This is life, my life, the life of a female 20-year-old living in Sydney, Australia, and while it feels normal and commonplace, I know that to someone living elsewhere, it is the furthest thing from that. These are the thoughts that today consume mine.
Tonight I was running late, really late. I took it from just a figure of speech to something in the real world, and ran right up Crown Street to make it to my meeting on time. The running slowed to a brisk walk, as I powered down Oxford.
And then the wind picked up. I crossed the road at Hyde Park and coming towards me were 10 or so others, crossing from the other side, holding their clothes tight and shaking their heads as their hair swept and plastered across their faces, from the force of the wind. I laughed, out loud, as a boisterous 20-something year old lost his hat, shouting ‘my hat! Nooo!’, as it flew across the bustling intersection. The wind was so powerful, it blew rubbish out of the bins and down the streets, metal signs hanging above stores made wallowing sounds and I really couldn’t walk, or even power walk, in a straight line. And I really, really loved it, and my cheeks hurt a little from smiling so much.
Extremes remind me to live with fire, burning fire, lighting things and watching them ignite with glow and warmth and a little bit of fury. And to watch and take part in the warmth and glow of others who light fires too, and together the smoke from our fires twist and twirl and make dark shapes and shadows in the sky, darkening the dark and lighting the light, so that all the world can see.
Onlookers onlooking.. through their phones.. as the sails of the Opera House were lit in fluorescent technicolours.
This little lady wouldn't stop looking at me, maybe because I wouldn't stop taking photos of her looking at me. It was a vicious cycle.
Blinding flash on the faces of her children.
One final stroll through the bush by Siris mountainside home, just before she was due to leave for her flight to Iceland.
Siri is now in Portugal after travelling around Europe for 4 months, and most likely at an airport again- as today she heads to Kathmandu for a month trekking in Nepal. I recognise that our friendship will never be the same again when she returns and moves away permanently, but I am so thankful for everything we have shared.
My cousin gives tiny puppy Nollie Crooks his first ever bath. For some reason we thought a red sarong was the equivalent of a rubber bath mat. It really wasn't, and poor Nollie didn't have a fun time, but I'm sure he was grateful to be all clean and nice afterwards.
Picking up a ceramics class at uni was one of the best things I ever did for myself and my life. This week, I sat quietly crafting a small section of my hand-built vase, for 7 hours straight, and though I left covered in white from the clay and my skin drier than ever, I also left with a peace I haven't felt in a long time. I am excited to know that at some point in the future, whenever that may be, this beautiful, cold, organic medium will occupy a relatively substantial part of my world. I just know it will.
Up there with people-watching at the arrival and departures gates at the airport on my 'most favourite things to do in the world', is being asked to photograph concerts of bands I barely know, that have fan-bases beyond the imaginable. In particular, teenage girl fanbases. The emotional rollercoasters they all seem to be on, are wonderful things to watch. I can't help but feel left out, because I don't think I ever really was that crazy about anything. Besides the time I met Teddy Geiger, and cried. But we'll leave that story for another day.
Picnics in the park with the greatest of all friends. When you find real friends, you know they are real, because something is different about a real friendship that you can't explain but you can feel. There really is so much I could say about this shining, glorious soul dwelling inside the beautiful slender form that is Amy. I don't know where exactly she came from, and why at this time, but I promise it was part of the grander plan. All that needs to be said is that I am SO grateful, because I needed Amy, now.
Raena & Anna, the most wonderful small business owners of all time. Such a joy meeting people with so much self-contentment.
An afternoon spent inside the genius mind of Jonathan Baker, the man behind Anatole, made me feel inadequate but mostly just really, really alive.
Musical odes and shivering soldiers at the Dawn service. I wrote a little about this morning here, Chapter XIII.
Beautiful Kate in the Mountains of Blue, during an extra long day of collaborative productivity.
The most kind-hearted 5 year old you could ever meet, Bella.
Bella and her 4 older brothers. I love that they're all wearing Hurley jumpers, apparently it is the 'cool' thing at the moment. And I love and cherish the fact that they will look back on this photo in the coming years, and laugh at themselves for caring about things that hardly matter- but matter so much at the time.
Their sister cats, coming out from under the house only because Josh's hand held a little bit of ham.
A marshmallow in dog form, a walking cloud. This teeny, tiny puppy appeared at Taylor Square after another of Imogens shows, and it was the fluffiest thing we ever did see.
The girl who sits by my side at work. We spend so much time together that we end up speaking complete nonsense, in between themed music-listening days (once it was 'Jessica day'). This was taken on 'cute hat day', where we both wore 'cute' hats. I love Desiree so much.
Chels overlooking the Tasmanian seaside, Darby in the leaves of an Australian native, Arliss making a sandy mess of Conningham Beach, and Rosie bewildered by a found starfish.
A girl I know will be in my life until the end. She hadn't heard of Carmen Sandiego until I pointed out to her the alikeness of her outfit to Carmens.
Honestly, Elize has unknowingly played the hugest part in my little journey toward photo-taking and word-writing and world-seeing the way I really do. I haven't quite made it yet, but one day I will get there.
She is the kindest in the land.
A candlelit collaboration show in an upper level of a secret building in the heart of Sydney.
Just before dusk, the sun shakes the brightly-coloured leaves of the trees in Emily's backyard, as we set up fairy lights and stuck vinyl planets to the windows of her home. A time travel themed 21st birthday party saw Em dress as a zombie Mexican (I think..), so I made her a wreath of found flowers (literally taken from plants on the side of the road on my way to work), wound in coloured ribbons. It also included some small red chillis, which burnt my eyes a little.
Baby Ivy and the most loving of parents, visiting from Canberra. Kylie reminded me of a Disney princess, and she sung like one too.
It's days like these, when the light is like this, that I think even more about the fact that my livelihood relies so heavily on something so natural- the sun and its qualities, and I really, really love that.
Siri in front of the towel cupboard after dinner with both our families sitting around a big, square wooden table. Our last meal before her departure.
Imogen's Nan at Imogen's show, told me some things I will hold dear to my heart for a long, long time.
Kelsey and Sam, they will marry in November, and I am SO excited.
Emily makes an appearance. She'll be a bridesmaid, and I will have the best day photographing familiar faces and the celebration of a lifetime.
Kelsey's smile lights up the world.
Matty and the day he sold out the Enmore. The last one in this series reminds me of tie-dye and mixed berry smoothies.
Jatz, Bubba and Emma... /Jasmin, Benjamin and Emma. The blue-eyed half of my siblings.
It isn't often that we travel anywhere as a family, with so many of us our schedules rarely align. So it was the best, when we all hopped on a plane and flew to one of my favourite places, Tasmania. It was the first time my younger two siblings had been on a plane, and I watched their faces as the aircraft sped uncomfortably fast before hovering in the air.
Rosie, a face displaying the calm before the storm. Moments after this picture was taken, she furrowed her brows and growled at me.
Bethan helps Paris show me her handstand. A feat I will never achieve, and will never try to achieve. Being upside down doesn't feel nice.
Laughing girls after netball training- 45 minutes which brought me back to feeling like my 10-year old self like nothing else.
A bow-tied boy, just after his primary presentation. Pear in mouth and a nose needing to be cleaned.
A tiny girl in a tiny dress, from the outside looking in.
The young children at church put on a little presentation every year, and rehearse for the weeks leading up to it. As such, our usual meeting room was switched to one much smaller. Piled into a classroom were thirty or so ladies, with smiling faces and all different sorts of hairstyles. As the teacher taught, my mind got caught in its own world, and I started to really think about people. And breathing. Human bodies with lungs and hearts and oxygen circling throughout. I watched each lady individually, their bodies rising and falling as breath filled and exited their lungs. An hour later, as I walked home, I began noticing the people who walked by me: that they, too, were heaving up and down, a million and one different things happening inside of them to make them work. And I don’t know why, but it really intrigued me, and I went home feeling like I had discovered something new, about people and living and being, even though I had known it most of my life.
Joe came and picked us up from outside my home, inside his cars cupholder was a plastic tumbler filled with water and a little cutting of a jasmine plant. I knew it would be a good day from then on.