“Does a love of leopard print, flamenco dancing, and cats constitute a life well lived?”  she asked herself.  Looking at all the years reflected in her face, she wondered, not for the first time, at how lucky she was and how strange it all was.  How the variances and vagaries of her journey could be traced if you got back far enough to see it all.

“Tell us,” they urged.  She’d struggled her entire life to imagine her life, her story, as being interesting enough (even after they made a short slice-of-life documentary about her).  But since they’d asked…

“Of my years on this planet…. Quite a lot of them were happy, some very happy.  But here’s what I know about happiness – you notice it best when you aren’t actually focusing on it; you’re doing your thing, doing this, doing that, and one day you turn around and look and you see it and you tilt your head and say, ‘Hey, guess what? I’m happy here, now.  Whatdayaknow.’  That’s a good feeling, better than a wet fish in the face.  Which I’ve also received a share of.”

“At other times I found myself in one form of turmoil or another… ah, the turmoil.”  Hand tipping back and forwards indicating the light and shade of it.  Always one side then the other; never the white line down the middle of the road.

“You know what it feels like?  Like I’ve lived deeply – always, always feeling deeply… Even when it looked like nothing much was happening in my life, beneath the surface it was always a hullabaloo of activity.”

An expressive sigh.  A wry smile.  A foot tapping quickly.  A quick rolling of the fingers.

“Some of it felt planned and organised, and equally much of it unfolded as I followed each step as it appeared to me, as the ‘road rose to meet me’… I always loved that phrase. There were moments of feeling in control, feelings of stability, even safety.  And then those periods of lurching and stumbling and trying to find a foothold or a handhold or something that felt firm under my hands and feet.”

6

“Awareness?”  A quick arch of the eyebrows, a tilt of the head.  “Well.”  There’s a story here.

“Some of it I was unaware, living in the dark, not connecting dots or realising important lessons, making mistakes I didn’t know were mistakes at the time… Oh – the mistakes!  How do you learn to live with them?”  The pain of it still real, like yesterday.  Running fingers over the memory of mistakes, a stone worn smooth.

“The awfulness of moving into self-consciousness – when did that start? Early teens probably; I remember being twelve and my mother pointing out me in my new jeans to my dad – ‘Get a load of short stuff in her new denim’ -  and how strange it made me feel.  There was Uni and someone referring to me as ‘cool’ and not knowing what it was they saw, then thinking it was probably a joke. Ripped and bleached denim, slogan -t-shirts, makeup every day by choice.  My 20s in Sydney and trying to find my style – and a career, and a place to live.  That’s still the bravest thing I ever did – catching a bus through the night and arriving 2000 kilometres later in Sydney with no job, no connections, and only temporary accommodation lined up.  I couldn’t go back – it was sink or swim.   May not have won any swimming competitions, but I made a go of it.

I was glad when I could look back and realise I’d moved on from self-consciousness into the more rewarding and fascinating landscape of self-awareness.  Now there’s an intriguing place, which has no end point or exit, not that I can tell…”

A small smile.  You know she’s claiming those wins, those triumphs.

“I fell in love with leopard print in my 20s, committed to it in my 30s, and have worn it every day since then.  Every single day - even if you can’t see it, I’m wearing it.  I have a photograph of me at age 14, wearing a leopard print item someone gave me – I had no idea then of course that it was to become my signature style then, but I knew I loved it. I still have the first leopard print item I ever purchased for myself – a small chiffon scarf I wore to my very corporate and serious and proper job as a tiny accent, perhaps a small rebellion, and definitely a step in the direction my style would take me years later when I claimed leopard print as My Thing.”

How can it be that this makes her so happy?  Unbidden, a hand moving to the leopard print du jour.

“I always like what I see when I look in the mirror and I’m wearing leopard print.  Not a small thing when there’s so many messages telling us what we should wear and how we should look… especially as the years roll by.”

19a
1a

“Some of my journey has been travelled in the company of others… I’ve known some amazing people, some beautiful souls. I’ve been lucky - I’ve loved and been loved.”  Eyes filling, mascara running just a little bit.

“And then there have been the periods of feeling alone… occasionally very alone…”  Looking down,  you know she’s seeing those big, dark clouds of aloneness.

“For those who have travelled along with me, all have brought gifts.”  A quick laugh.  “Some brought more thorns than roses, but there is always a rose in there somewhere even if you have to look hard to spot it...”  She still bear the scars of the thorny ones, the fragrance of the rose is harder to conjure up.  A few dead petals scatter as mementos.

“I’ve been lucky enough to have had some relationships which have been a fragrant, nourishing garden.  Still have some of those, fortunately.”  She’s connecting now, so strongly, with the feelings of those gardens.  Hand raising to sit lightly on a hip, a half smile on the lips, a full smile in the eyes.  Knowing.  You can see her cherishing the very special ones.  The ones who made her feel her best self, who lifted her up, who cheered her on, told her “Go, go! You can do this!”, who touched (sometimes ignited) that magical place most people don’t even know is there.  Each precious, cherished face is passing across the screen of her life.

30

“And flamenco.  Flamenco!  There’s life Before Flamenco, then life After Flamenco.  It bisects my life like a river.  I chose flamenco in my twenties because I could dance it on my own without a partner and I got to stamp my feet in high heels – it was better than aerobics. But rediscovering it in my forties was a gift from the heavens - the older I get, the better I can become. Flamenco isn’t ballet – only for the young and thin.”  Eyes twinkling, shoulders squaring, chin lifting just a fraction.  Stomach most definitely not being sucked in.

28

“This mad crazy thing called life, I’ve lived it with a sense of optimism… mostly.  Sometimes hope and joy slipped from my view, but never entirely disappeared (once for a few dark years but eventually I caught sight of it again and it guided me back).  Yes, there’s been some dark days and nights.  But there’s been many more days of sunshine and nights of stars.  I love this quote - ‘in the midst of your deepest winter may you find within yourself an invincible summer’.  We need more than one season.”

17a

But summing it all up? How to do that?  The story isn’t over, after all.  Maybe the best is yet to come.

“You know what?  It has all been rich and interesting and curious.  It’s been awesome and awful and amazing … I have been lucky.  Oh so lucky.”

So what now?  Inquiring minds want to know.  They lean forward, faces open, minds and hearts, too.

“A creative life.  That’s what I hope and reach for every day.  Writing – I have so many ideas and enjoy the delight of bringing to life something that simply did not exist before; that’s the magic of writing, it’s a conjuring act.  More flamenco dancing – nourishing my body and my soul, developing my flamenco aire and estilo.  And always, always creating – making and fabricating, bringing things to life that are useful and beautiful and wanted and needed.  Loving and living - deeply, truly, beautifully.”

A Claimed Life