A year to remember

I created this meme several months ago and it turned out to be a perfect foil for the despondency I felt when the Premier of Victoria announced that we were going into the strictest pandemic lockdown in the world ― and not for a pre-determined amount of time, but (seemingly) indefinitely, until we reached zero cases for two solid weeks.

It seemed impossible ― impossible ― that we would ever achieve such a lofty goal, something no other city, region, state, or country had achieved after having such a proportionately high number of daily cases of COVID-19.

Like many others, I felt trapped, claustrophobic in my home, my city, even in the state of Victoria. I started house-hunting online, seeking a rental property in coastal and/or regional Australia ― for when they let us out.

But as we emerged from Winter, as the days started to get longer, and as we started to see results from our compliance with the newly-enacted laws, hope started to show its face again.

I had some saving graces during this time, aspects of my life for which I am extremely grateful, and I wanted to share those with you. I do want to say that I write this post knowing exactly how fortunate Ben and I are. Throughout 2020, we have remained healthy, our loved ones are (as I write this) safe and healthy, despite many of them living in hot zones, such as the UK and the US, and we retained our income and, subsequently, our home.

Space

Our apartment is in an older building in downtown Melbourne (older meaning 15+ years) and that means an expansive floorplan and enough separate spaces for two people to cohabitate 24/7 for months on end without getting (too much) in each other’s way.

I have a super splodge work station for my day job and writing (I commandeered the guest room after realising we would have exactly zero guests for the rest of the year), and we have a stunning view (2 angles, 2 different times of the day).

Exercise

I need to exercise ― it is critical to my mental wellbeing and with our gyms closed and time outside limited (or just super shitty weather in the dead of Winter), I relied on home workouts and riding my spin bike (so glad I bought it in March!). I’d tee up back seasons of The Great British Bake Off and ride and ride and ride ’til I was a sweaty mess. Pure escapism. And when I ran out out of British Bake Off I watched the Aussie version. When I ran out of that, onto the Canadians. Oddly, it’s highly motivating to cycle while watching people make cake. Don’t ask me why.

When the gym opened back up, I was there ― mask and all.

Date night

Once we realised we would be in lockdown for months, not weeks, we committed to a weekly date night. When you can’t leave the apartment, this means dressing in nice clothes (and makeup for me), putting on some music, cooking something special or ordering in from a local restaurant, opening a nice bottle of wine, and eating at the table (how novel!).

Date nights reminded us that although we saw each other all day every day, we are still each other’s person. He’s the love of my life, the man who makes me think and smile and laugh out loud, who thinks of me and cares for me and lets me do the same for him. I chose him and he chose me and that doesn’t go away, no matter how much time we spend together.

(I love you, babe)

Getting out and about

We were allowed out. We could walk together for up to an hour a day (with masks). We could bike ride (without masks!). And at one point, we could have a socially distanced picnic in the park with our besties. And we took those opportunities to get outside, breathe fresh air, get a different perspective, and just be out. And, I have to say, our ‘hood, Docklands, is just gorgeous, which is great food for the soul.

Consuming creative content

People are clever ― really clever ― and a massive saving grace for me this year has been watching, listening, and reading other people’s creations (and not just Bake Off). I’ve watched entire television series from the beginning ― new, new to me, and old faves. I’ve watched films, concerts, plays, documentaries, and cast reunions. I’ve listened to podcasts, concerts, pop, classical, rock, techno ― really, just name it. And I have read a few dozen books this year ― mostly chicklit, some histfic, and (my fave) crime thrillers.

Busy, busy, busy!

For me, this year was not a time for much introspection. Perhaps 2021 will bring me the mental and emotional space to look inwards, but as well as voraciously consuming content, I’ve been creating it. I’ve published 3 books since the start of lockdown (including all the editing, marketing, and social media that go along with publishing a book). I’ve finished a work-in-progress and have nearly finished a book I started in August (my 5th and 6th books).

For me, lockdown meant ‘head down’. I threw myself into my work ― the ultimate distraction from a world on fire. I know this was not the case for a lot of authors, but for someone unwilling to spend much time on proper introspection (something I tend towards when the world is not on fire), it was an excellent panacea. With my fulltime job in online learning (and didn’t our industry pick up exponentially this year?) and authoring, it was typical for me to be at my desk 12 hours a day and most of the day on weekends. Work was an excellent distraction.

Publication day celebrations:

I’m in WA now (Western Australia), where we’ve been fortunate enough to travel to for the holidays. Spending time with our family and friends in my home state has been our ultimate reward for what has been an unforgettable year.

And when they ask how we survived it, there is one simple answer: together.

Catching up with Author Daisy Tate

Today I welcome the lovely Daisy Tate for an author catch-up, whose latest book is A Bicycle Built for Sue.

We’ll find out more about Sue later. First let’s catch up with Daisy

Tell us what inspired you to write A Bicycle Built for Sue?

In all honesty, I came up with the title first. I’ve been on a couple of cycling tours myself and found them incredibly difficult, not just because of the physical challenges, but because of the thinking time. I’d also been on a charity run recently (I promise you, I’m not a gifted athlete, just too up for a challenge!) and everyone had on shirts saying why or who they were running the race for and I was in floods of tears for most of the race because I was making up stories for absolutely everyone. I don’t want to give anything away, but I narrowed it down to Sue (fictional, of course), and her story is about a woman reeling in the wake of a personal tragedy. She finds help and support from a trio of women she least expects, who crowd round and keep her head above water. It’s something I have found to be true on numerous occasions when you’re blindsided by loss or heartache of some variety. And yes, sometimes the people you expect to help do, but sometimes they don’t and it’s always interesting to see who steps in to lend a hand when you need it most.

When did you start writing seriously?

I started writing seriously about six years ago. I’d had lots of stop/starts along the way, but my husband and I had moved out of London to a farm and I found, particularly in the winter, I needed some intellectual stimulus. So, I thought, ‘Get yourself to a keyboard!’

What do you love most about being an author?

The surprises that blossom along the way. I love writing dialogue and sometimes something will come out of someone’s mouth and I’m all … whaaaaaaat? You’re saying that now? To them? I write almost every day but those moments definitely stand out as extra special ones. I also LOVE hearing from readers. I read a review recently where the reader thought she wasn’t going to like the book because it was ‘too relatable’ (the dark parts) but she persisted and said by the end she’d actually felt more hopeful about her own situation. Those kind of moments are amazing.

What are you working on now?

I have an alter ego – Annie O’Neil – who writes Christmas books, and I’ve just put the finishing touches on this year’s book, A Miracle on Christmas Street. It’ll be out later this month. I also have, and I’m not kidding, about ten pitches I’m polishing up for my agent and editor to see if any of them appeal. I love them all and can’t pick, so I’m definitely going to need an outside eye to help me home in on just the one.

What do you hope readers will take away from A Bicycle Built for Sue?

I hope, most of all, that they know they’re not alone, that no matter how sad or lonely or desperate or isolated someone can feel, there is ALWAYS someone there. They may not come in the package you expected, but they will be there. It’s not a mandate to join a charity cycle ride, but I have taken part in a few charitable events (even wiggling a tin in front of a grocery store) and it’s always rewarding. Most of all, I would like readers to take away a belief that everyone is stronger than they think they are and deeply, deeply lovable.

That is lovely, Daisy, and such a good reminder to us all.

Here’s the blurb for A Bicycle Built for Sue

Sue Young has never asked for much apart from a quiet life. She’s always been happy with her call centre job and dinner on the table at six o clock; that was until a tragedy tore her tranquillity into little shreds.

With her life in tatters, Sue is persuaded to join a charity cycle ride led by Morning TV’s Kath Fuller, who is having a crisis of her own, and Sue’s self-appointed support crew are struggling with their own issues. Pensioner Flo Wilson is refusing to grow old, gracefully or otherwise, and a teen goth Raven Chakrabarti, is determined to dodge the path her family have mapped out for her.

Can the foursome cycle through saddle sores and chaffed thighs to a brighter future, or will pushing themselves to the limit prove harder than they thought?

Get is here: Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Amazon US

Follow Daisy: Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | Website

Thanks for the catch-up, Daisy! Looking forward to your (Annie’s) Christmas book too!

Cover Reveal: The Christmas Swap

So, the cat has been out of the proverbial bag for a while, but today is the official cover reveal for The Christmas Swap my next novel with One More Chapter.

And here it is!

The Christmas Swap

Yes, I love it too. 😉

I had so much fun writing this book. Here’s the blurb:

Chloe, Jules, and Lucy meet at a Maui resort kids’ club, aged 11, forging a lifelong friendship spanning two decades and three continents.

Twenty-two years later, they decide to swap Christmases, none of them expecting the hilarity and romantic escapades that will ensue.

Chloe from Melbourne spends her Christmas with Lucy’s mum and dad in a sleepy village in Oxfordshire, England, stunned to the core when she discovers who grew up across the road from Lucy.

Lucy, who has jetted off to snowy Colorado for her dream-come-true white Christmas, is taken into the fold of Jules’s loud and brash family, discovering more about herself in a few short days than she has in years.

And Jules leaves the cold climes of Colorado to spend a balmy ‘Orphan’s Christmas’ with Chloe’s friends in Melbourne, finding that time away from her mundane life is just what she needed.

Join these three lovable women as they each get a Christmas to surpass their wildest dreams.

And here’s an excerpt from my acknowledgements:

It’s hard to believe I am writing the acknowledgements for my fourth book, but here I am. I have dedicated this book to my parents―my mum, Lee, my dad, Ray, and my step-mum, Gail. I am extremely fortunate to have parents who not only love me, but champion me and inspire me. They have also instilled in me the importance of family―including the family members we choose―as well as having a sense of adventure and following your dreams.

Family is a prominent theme in this book and as I write these acknowledgements amid the second round of COVID-19 lockdowns here in Melbourne, ‘family’ has become more important to me now than ever. And for me, a person who has lived on three continents, that word encompasses all the people I love, all the people who inspire me, lift me up, confide in me, and ease my path. Thank you, family―wherever you are. Stay safe and we will meet again someday soon.

Preorder now! Out October 16 (ebook) and November 26 (print)

Amazon AU | Amazon UK| Amazon US | Kobo | Dymocks(AU) | Booktopia(AU) | A&R(AU) | Waterstones(UK) | Foyles(UK)

Writing the “unlikeable” character

LB
Initially unlikable, but utterly loveable―Elle from Legally Blonde

I’m currently writing my fifth book and my sixth main character―the maths doesn’t add up, because one book has three main characters and two books have the same main character. Anyway …

I am hyper aware that my current main character is, based on her role as a supporting character in another book, “unlikeable”―so much so, that when I mentioned to a friend who I was writing about, she cringed.

So, why write this character? Why give her a whole book?

In short, it’s because I love her.

I love the hard, prickly exterior she uses to mask a lifetime of being terrified of vulnerability. I love that, once she does care about someone, she is fiercely loyal and generous. I love that she is feisty and bold, independent and resourceful.

I love that, just like the rest of us, she is complex and a mass of contradictions, and that there are clear reasons why she is like she is.

I am about 80% into the book, and I’m enjoying watching her grow. There are moments she has, where she realises something about herself, or where her heart fills, and I am proud of her―this imaginary person.

And I’m realising as I write, that the through-line of this book is compassion―for oneself, for others. She may not be likeable to every reader right away, but as the layers strip away, she is/becomes a beautiful human being. How many times have we met someone who irked us, and through compassion, we’ve realised that there is more going on than their exterior, that we could love them or let them into our lives?

I’ve said before that I know my books won’t be for every reader. My first three books are about the Parsons sisters, Sarah and Cat. For some readers, these characters read as “immature”―”how can these women be in their thirties?”―and for those readers, Sarah and Cat are unlikeable because of their immaturity. But I stand by them as believable, because in many ways, Sarah is a lot like a thirty-something Sandy―sometimes whiny, often witty, confused about love, and trying to find her way.

But what’s important to me as a writer, is that these realistic, perhaps unlikeable women, transform. I want my books to be about growing, learning, opening the heart, and transformation.

And in real life, imagine how dull it would be if every person we met was instantly likeable, if no one rubbed us up the wrong way, or disagreed with us, or challenged us to see ourselves in a new light. How would we grow? How would we develop compassion and understanding? I posit that we wouldn’t.

So, even if you initially find a character unlikeable, give them a chance to reveal themselves, to become their true, loveable selves―just like Elle.

 

 

A love letter to Australia

It is Australia Day 2020. January 26th is a contentious date, because it marks the arrival of the First Fleet―the first European settlers who arrived in Australia in 1788.

Of course, by commemorating this date, Australia ignores that in 1788 we were already populated by hundreds of nations of Indigenous Australians forming the world’s oldest civilisation. January 26th marks the date of an invasion and the beginning of a genocide.

This post isn’t about whether or not we should change the date of Australia Day, although we absolutely should. This post is a love letter to my home, my country, my Australia.

My Australia

My Australia is the person at the tram stop who sees that you’re lost and points you in the right direction with a smile. My Australia is the person at the party who draws the introverts into conversation, and makes sure everyone is heard. My Australia has a hearty sense of humour―often bawdy, always self-deprecating, and sometimes a defence mechanism.

My Australia has skin, eyes, and hair of every colour, and is all genders, faiths, and identities, for My Australia is all of us. We have lived here 60 000 years and 6 days. Our roots are deep and just starting to grow. What we share is beyond cosmetic; it is a connection―to each other, to our land, to our country.

My Australia bears scars―from when we went to wars and defended our shores, from being ravaged by fires, floods, cyclones, and drought, from dark times of hatred, anger, and entitlement, bearing those scars with humility, pride, or shame.

My Australia reaches out when someone is in need. We rally, we show up, we dig into our pockets―we care. We weep together, lean on each other, support and cajole each other. We extend our hands willingly, not afraid of the blisters or back-breaking pain we’ll incur as we rebuild.

My Australia is not the scurrilous and self-serving politicians who banter obscenities at each other and extol the virtues of ‘clean coal’. It is not the hatemongers or nationalists or the bigots. These people are the minority, one that is slowly dying out.

My Australia is adventurous and intrepid, both at home and abroad, with well-stamped passports and battered luggage, with postcards that loved ones have sent from the corners of the earth taped to the fridge, with plans for trips and getaways and long weekends and stay-cations. We must go, see, and do.

My Australia loves the sea, the sun, and the sand, we love the deserts and sunrises and sunsets, we love the rain forests and eucalypts, our native animals* and red, rocky monoliths. We love the bustle and energy of our cities with their sky-scraping towers, and the warm friendly welcome of our country towns, where the local pub feels like home.

My Australia is brilliant, with an intelligent mind, a creative spirit, grit, athleticism, and the ability to see the future. We are doctors, scientists, artists, teachers, communicators, technicians, builders, athletes, and change-makers. We are on the edge of the future, speaking up, taking risks, saving lives with medical breakthroughs and art that feeds the soul. We build, create, and solve. We are―as always―batting far above our average on the world stage, a tiny nation of 25 million achieving wondrous things. We also make the best wine and coffee in the world.

My Australia is home―my home, our home.

And though she is being ravaged as I write this, I have to believe she will recover, wearing her scars with pride as we come together and rebuild.

And on our current bushfire and climate crisis, this image by artist, Melina, evokes what I struggle to put into words.

tribute-art-to-australian-bushfires-1-5e1c2df324674__700

*Except maybe the spiders―we have some really, scary spiders.

A love letter

Cabo 2011

How do you thank someone for being the love of your life?

How do you thank someone for truly seeing you and bringing out your best self – your authentic, brave, beautiful, intrepid, generous, creative self?

How do you thank someone for loving you because of – not despite – your myriad of contradictions, flaws, and infuriating habits?

How do you thank someone for seeing the wondrous possibilities, even when you can’t?

How do you thank someone for trusting their heart to you, for letting you see them in their most vulnerable moments?

How do you thank someone for believing in you when self-doubt asserts itself, for championing your efforts as much as your successes?

How do you thank someone for holding you when the pain is extreme – in body, soul, or mind?

How do you thank someone for sharing an in-joke with just a look, for making you laugh so hard you can’t breathe?

How do you thank someone for sharing their family, their childhood memories, their oldest friends with you, making you feel like you’ve always belonged?

How do you thank someone for challenging your mind, for questioning things you’ve always believed, for the mental jousting that makes for great fun?

How do you thank someone for loving your family, for welcoming them, for knowing they must sometimes come first?

How do you thank someone for being your home?

How do you thank someone for being the love of your life?

 

Lessons of a Proud Aunty

I am the proud aunty to Alexander, who is now 20 months old (I started to count out my age in months and quit when I got to 500). This is him:

P1000124

Yes, I completely agree. He is adorable. Even in a photograph with a cute bear, he is the cute one.

These are the aunty lessons I have learned over the past few weeks, while I stayed with Alexander and his parents, Mummy and Daddy.

Lesson One: The Third Person

It is remarkable how quickly Aunty Sandy adapted to speaking about herself in the third person. After only hours in the house, I was saying things like, “Aunty Sandy is eating her breakfast too, Alexander,” and “Aunty Sandy is going upstairs. She’ll be right back,” and “Aunty Sandy loves you, darling.”  Aunty Sandy noticed that Mummy, Daddy and Grandma all do the same thing.

Lesson Two: Narrate Everything

No task can actually be accomplished unless accompanied by a toddler-appropriate commentary.”It’s dinner time! (be very enthusiastic about everything – see below) Let’s get you into your high chair. Tuck your feet in. Good boy! (praise often – see below). Let’s get your bib on, so you don’t get food all over your clothes. Here’s your dinner. Would you like Aunty Sandy to help feed you?”

Tone is very important, as he does not fully understand all the words yet.

Lesson Three: Everything is Amazing

In the world of a toddler, everything is amazing. They are still quite chuffed when they get from the couch to the table without falling down, and think that choosing their own socks is an incredible honour. As an adult in close proximity to a toddler, everything should likewise be amazing. This manifests as enthusiasm for things you otherwise would not find that amazing. Example: “Yay, Alexander, it’s time to watch Peppa Pig!”

This is Peppa, by the way. If you can draw a whistle, you can probably draw Peppa.

peppa pig

That said, she is an inquisitive little thing, giggles a lot, and the show follows Lesson Two: Narrate Everything. Alexander loves it so much that he started saying “Peppa Pig” long before he could say ‘pease’. Ahem, I mean, ‘please’.

Lesson Four: Praise Often

The ratio for praising behaviour to correcting poor behaviour for a toddler is about 20 to 1, which is the exact opposite to what most adults experience in the workplace.  It means that you spend a lot of time seeking out ways to ‘catch them being good’.  So, “Great job eating all your peas!” rather than “Well, it took you 45 minutes to eat your peas and more of them ended up on the floor than in your mouth, so work on that, will you?”

A toddler loves praise, so will actively seek out ways to earn more. This can backfire a little when they are super funny or cute while they are doing something you would rather they didn’t – and they know you are laughing at them. They will see the laughter as praise and keep doing whatever it is that you want them to stop doing. If in this situation, put your hand over your mouth, turn your head or leave the room. But even then, they tend to know when they are being hilarious. Clever little buggers.

Lesson Five: You will be surprised by how much you can love a small human

I am completely blown away by how much two Marmite-covered hands reaching for me tugs at my heart. I love this little boy more than I ever thought it possible to love a child.

While I was staying with them, Alexander started saying ‘please’, although he adds his version of the sign language Grandma taught him and he says, ‘pease’ with a long drawn out ‘eee’ sound. He worked out pretty quickly that ‘pease’ is a magic word, because Aunty Sandy gave him everything he asked for when he used his manners. Just call me a smitten kitten.

And when people say, “Oh you love being an aunty just because you can hand him back when he gets cranky or messes his nappy,” I reply that I am a full-service, hands-on aunty. I do screaming toddler. I do poopy nappy. I do runny nose and chapped bum. I do three Peppa Pigs in a row. (My friends will attest to the fact that I have always been hands-on with my honorary nieces and nephews.)

So, Alexander, when you are old enough to read this, just know that I love you (always) and can’t wait to see you again soon.

Couple Meme

I stole this from Charlotte. Borrowed? Appropriated? Anyway…

What are your middle names?

Mine is Michelle, his is James. I have always preferred my middle name to my actual name, but because he calls me ‘Babe’ more than anything else, I don’t have to hear my actual name very often. James and Ben happen to be two of my favorite male names. His parents did good.

How long have you been together?

First date was 2 and a 1/2 years ago, but before we started living together two months ago, we had only spent about 3 months together in the whole 2 and a half years – the long distance thing. Still, it is a hell of away to forge a strong friendship – email and phone calls.

How long did you know each other before you started dating?

A week. On a boat. 24/7. So, in ‘social time’ (the hours you spend getting to know someone you meet socially, usually spread out over months), about 3 or 4 months.

Who asked who out?

We didn’t realize we were on a date until we were half way through it. It was our first outing together without the other 5 people on the boat, and we wandered through the town, up to the church, bought some Greek Delight and ended up at a bar. It then became a date. I even said, “We’re on a date,” because it wasn’t by design, and happily surprised us both.

How old are you?

I am 39 and he is 29. Both have Big-0 birthdays this year.

Which situation was hardest on you as a couple?

Being apart for the majority of the time we’ve known each other was hardest – especially the times just after parting.

Are you from the same home town?

Ben and I were raised a decade apart on opposites sides of the world. It is completely random that we met when and how we did, and that two people with such different upbringings would have a meeting of the minds.

Who is smarter?

Ben has a highly analytical mind, and watching him navigate complex computer processes blows my mind. On the flipside, I hold my own. I know some stuff about some stuff. I can form an intelligent opinion – oh, and would totally kick his butt in Trivial Pursuit if he would ever play – but that is less about intelligence and more about how my memory works.

Who is the most sensitive?

I am when it comes to letting things get me down – like my fruitless job hunt. I tend to take the knock- backs personally. He is when it comes to being right about stuff.

Where do you eat out most as a couple?
I was treated to a special meal at a favorite restaurant just last week: Flying Fish, which I have blogged about I love it so much. We had the grappa brownie again.

Where is the furthest you have traveled together as a couple?

We met in Greece, which is the furthest point from our home towns of St Paul and Sydney that we have traveled (together), but have each traveled to the other’s home town in the past couple of years. Our planned trip to Italy later this year will likely be the furthest together (thus far).

Who has the craziest exes?

When we met we had both been single so long, this has never really some up or been an issue.

Who has the worst temper?

Um, him.

Who does the most cooking?

Me – happily. Living alone in Sydney I thought of dinner as a tin of tuna and some steamed vegies. Having someone to cook for – who is truly appreciative – has meant that I have enjoyed being in the kitchen of late.

Who is the most stubborn?

Him. Me. We lock horns sometimes.

Who hogs the bed most?

Me. I steal the covers. Which is weird because I never ended up with the doona on my side of the bed and on the floor when I slept alone. Hmmm.

Who does the laundry?

Me. I don’t mind. It smells a lot better than the garbage, which is Ben’s job.

Who’s better with the computer?

Um, him, I guess. Seriously, what I know about computers wouldn’t even fill his little finger. But I can cook! Did I mention that?

Who drives when you are together?

Mostly him. But I pick him up from work sometimes, so then it is me.

Compelled

I never do this – post twice in one day – but the first of today’s posts I started last night, and I have just read something that compels me to write again.

Charlotte Otter is a South African woman living in Germany, and she write Charlotte’s Web, which is on my blogroll (check it out – she is lovely and clever). Charlotte, too, is a writer, and in a recent entry she posted a few paragraphs from her novel. Her heroine, Sanet, is a South African woman living in London. She feels displaced, as is understandable when not living in your home country, but there is more to her feeling than that.

Charlotte writes this about her heroine:

What is becoming clear to me is that if you are alienated from yourself, you are alienated from everything, and that will become the core of Sanet’s crisis: she will be offered the opportunity to be true to herself. The question is, will she take it up?

That is the statement that resonated so deeply with me.

Two years ago I was so completely unhappy in my own life. I had moments I enjoyed, I laughed enough that many people would not have really known this about me, but I felt like I was living someone else’s life. When you live that inauthentically, you cannot access any kind of inner peace. As a result, I discovered that I didn’t really like this person that I was. I isolated myself frequently, and not out of the need for ‘alone time’ that I have now, but to prevent others from having to put up with me. I became increasingly disagreeable, sullen, and felt a deep sense of loneliness – even when amongst friends.

I got to a point where I knew things had to change.

Then I went on a trip. A long trip. Across the world to two other continents. Greece-London-Peru and back home. The trip provided so many catalysts for change that my head was spinning by the time I got back home.

It literally changed my life.

I met people who loved life. I met Sheila and Deb and Geraldine.

Sheila is sixty-something, and gorgeous. I met her and her equally lovely twin Sharon, in Peru. Sheila has an insatiable thirst for knowledge, a love of adventure and am unwillingness to succumb to nay-saying. Sheila broke open my heart. She saw through the cracks and just stuck her hands in and pulled apart that hard casing. Then she encouraged me to pursue the impossible.

Deb, who I met with her husband Marty onboard the yacht in Greece, is smart, and career-minded. She knows what she wants and because of this, she has the life that she wants to live. She does all this with a broad smile and a hearty sense of fun. She and Marty have a sexy, joyful marriage. When I met them, I knew that it was entirely possible to have what I truly wanted.

Geraldine, our guide in Peru, is the most pure-hearted and kind person I have ever met. Her gentleness and kindness humbled me. When I was sicker than I have ever been before, she looked after me rather than visiting her own family, whom she hadn’t seen in months. Her selflessness made me want to stop being such a selfish, moody cow.

And then there was the cute American guy who stood on the dock of Tinos and said, “I want my life to be bigger.” I thought, ‘Me too’, and I wondered at that early moment in my big trip if I would have the courage to do anything about it.

I had no idea then that we would embark on parallel – and more frequently, converging – journeys that would bring those wants to fruition. And at that early moment in my big, life-changing trip, I had certainly had no idea that I could actually meet someone, a man, whose wants and dreams and goals would compliment mine, and challenge me to live that ‘bigger life’. I was, however, starting to see glimpses of my authentic self.

I met many others on my trips and visits and they all added something unique to my shift in perspective. Jaime and Paul, from Halifax, never want to miss an opportunity. Lara from Vancouver lives with such beautiful hope in her heart. Patrick from New Zealand and Liliane the Brazilian, crossed oceans and cultures to create a life together. And on that trip, I got to see my Little Sis in her natural habitat, London. (It is ‘home’ for her, even more so now that she is loved up.)

I had left home in want of something. Then I had gone around the world (literally), succumbed to illness twice, laughed until I couldn’t breathe, and cried as I said goodbye to new friends and my oldest friend, Vic. I saw lots, I did stuff, and I collected souvenirs from my travels, but the most important thing I brought home from that trip was my authentic self.

I made big changes after that, and some of those changes were painful because they involved breakups with people close to me. Mostly the changes were about shedding heavy burdens, such as obligation, fastidiousness, isolation, and a couple of unwanted kilos. I reconnected with those I had neglected, I moved house, I booked more trips and I took on more responsibility at work, all in the space of months. I took care with the new friendships I had forged, and apologised to those people who had endured my ‘funk’. I learned (again) to appreciate all that I had, especially the incredible people I call family and friends.

The tattoo of a butterfly adorning my lower stomach took on more meaning, as I emerged from my chrysalis and felt truly happy.

I still try to honour my authentic self. Big decisions, and even some small ones, are about the inner peace that comes along with serving that goal. Sure, I have had moments of doubt and sadness, and even fear. But never again will I let myself shelve what I truly want. I want to live a big life, and that’s what I am doing.

Long Distance Relationships

I have said before that no matter where I am in the world, I miss someone I love.  Because I have lived in three countries and have spent my adult life being a traveller, I am fortunate to have forged lasting relationships world over.   Of course, many of those I love are travellers themselves, and are scattered to the winds.  It is somewhat corny, but highly appropriate that the ‘world wide web’ is my primary tool for keeping the threads of these relationships intact.  I may not be able to make last minute dinner plans with these loved ones, but these threads are as important to my life as the relationships with those close by.

First thing every morning, after the wake-up-make-the-bed-visit-the-bathroom thing, I greet my cat, Jessie, and switch on my computer.  Throughout my getting ready routine, I check my inboxes (yes, there are several) to see who on the other side of the world is doing what.  Jessie does her yoga at my feet while I fill her in on the lives of my loved ones.  Sometimes I laugh too loudly for her sensitive ears, and she glares at me and skulks off.

While world news bleat from the television, I flick between several web pages and catch up on the news that matters to me more.

Facebook brings the latest escapades of my American, Canadian and European comrades (plus Geraldine in Peru and Christine in South Africa), pics from my interstate friends, the latest ass-whipping from my Scrabulous opponents, and a poke from Darion.  (I once asked Darion to ‘Quit poking me!’ but soon took it back, because I suspect it is a sign of affection.)

Inboxes bearing emails from far-off loved ones, bring as much happiness as a fruitful mailbox did 20 years ago.  And when I see my mum or sis on IM, I know we can have a quick chat just to touch base.

I love getting an international sms – even those that come at 3 in the morning, as every text I ever get from Sharon, my Irish friend, does.

I indulge in interstate text messages daily.  I will zap a ‘must see’ message to Dad and Gail about a program we all like.  Dad sends me footie scores, or an update on where he and Gail are having a fabulous lunch.   I will tell Mum I hope her day goes well.  And she always replies with an ‘I love you’.

As well as the web and the mobile phone, there is a device that sits in my living room on its very own table, and is connected to the wall by a cord.  It rings from time to time, and the cat and I look at each other and wonder what that sound is.  We then realise it is the telephone, and I rush to answer it, knowing it will be my mum, my dad, my friend Mich (who now lives in OUTER Sydney, and has become one of my long distance loved ones), or Suzi in London.

Actually Suzi called the other night, and although I haven’t seen her since this time last year, and she now lives in London, she still feels close.  She is my doppelganger in life, with parallels and likenesses in numbers too great to name.  Even though she is literally on the other side of the world, when she calls our conversations are like those I have with friends I see all the time.

Threads.

And most importantly, there is the actual ‘long distance relationship’ I have forged with Ben since October ’06.  Because we met overseas and live in different countries, all of these forms of communication have become the lifeblood of our relationship.  We see each other as often and for as long as we can, but when we can’t physically be together, we still feature heavily in each other’s daily life.  Phone calls, emails, sms, IM sustain us as a couple while we’re apart.  We can can fill hours of air time talking about, well, anything and everything.  And nothing.  Sometimes, it is nonsense, which is hellishly fun.

None of this, of course, means that I do not want to defy the laws of the natural world, and move the homes of all these distant loved ones – everyone – into one land mass where we can all live close to each other.  Nothing, nothing (!) beats being able to hug someone you love, or looking into their eyes while they talk to you.  But, we have all these wonderful tools to keep us together when we’re apart.

P.S.  I head west next week for some brilliant face to face time.

P.S.P.S.  Ben and I are working on being on the same land mass.