Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Analysis Paralysis

Allow me to think out loud.

If there is anything I desire from this traveling extravaganza, it is this: clarity of purpose.

Purpose is something that we all seek. It's human nature to long for a reason to get out of bed each day. I've heard a number of times that those who feel they have a role to play in their community claim to be the happiest, most purpose-filled, longest-living people on the planet. (Watch the movie Happy to learn more about these incredible people).

Having a role doesn't appear to be enough, however. Many people get up and go to work, fulfilling a role for 8 hours or more, but that role doesn't fulfill them. The key, then, is not just a role, but a role within a community. Being a part of something greater than yourself. Something that supports more than just your nuclear family.

But my fear, and the subsequent confusion in this role-seeking, is the fact that community isn't what it once was. The earth's population is 7.7 billion, and yet we've never been so lonely. Our independence has led to isolation. Our local communities have been all but usurped by a global community. Neighbourhood hangouts have become digitalised, conversations with market stall owners have turned into text chats with the delivery guy, who's bringing our groceries to us. We used to belong to one or two communities. We had our school folk, or our church folk, or our pub folk. Or all of the above. Now there are hundreds of both real and virtual communities to choose from on a daily basis. How does one choose? Sometimes the choices can be so overwhelming, the only one that seems viable, is Netflix.

The more traditional societies seem to have it easy. Individuals are born into a role. Fisherman. Basket weaver. Farmer. Hunter. But is that better? Perhaps it is better only if you are ignorant to your options. As soon as the options are spread out before you, does what you have no longer carry the same value? After all, a person does not scorn the bread they have to eat, until they see a banquet before them, just out of reach. Suddenly the bread they were thankful to have seems measly and inadequate. Ignorance can be blissful, and too many options can by paralysing.

I don't have the luxury of ignorance. I see my choices, and they are many. I have the freedom to choose, and for that I am grateful.

But if I am so free, why do I feel so bound by indecision? I am suffering from paralysis by analysis. Where to live? What to pursue? Should I study again? If so, what, and where? Where to work? What to write? The options stretch on, endlessly.

All I can say is: thank goodness for Netflix.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018


I love my husband dearly.

However, the joy I feel as I walk, solo, out of our Sardinian apartment is overwhelming. As I step into the narrow, winding cobblestone alley I feel joy bubble up inside of me. Unable to contain myself, it comes out as a squeak, with a simultaneous skip of the feet.

Alone, at last! My introverted soul soars out towards the glittering harbour and up to the blue skies. This moment... is mine. I breathe a deep, satisfying breath. It is just me and my journal, and the waves of the Mediterranean, crashing against ancient stone walls.

I find a stone bench, warm from the sun, with the word "madness" written in green graffiti across it. An old, ivory building with forest green shutters and rust stains dripping from the windows acts as a buffer for the brisk, southerly wind. Perfect. Sitting down, a smile of contentment spreads across my face. I take in my surroundings. The sea stretches out before me, my view of it partially blocked by what was clearly once a wall of defence. Little divots are cut into the top of the weather-worn stone, presumably for brave archers to shoot their arrows through. Catapults and cannons speckle the promenade, an ode to a time long gone.

Now in 2018, a row of apartments face the water. White-washed buildings with turquoise doors, pink fa├žades with blue windows, and yellow buildings with wooden shutters. All of them aglow in the late afternoon sun.

In the summer, this coastal walk must be busting with foreigners. But now, in November, the tourists have left, and the local Sardinians have the quiet, sleepy town to themselves once more. Shops boasting reams of vibrant coral necklaces close at midday, opening again later in the evening, or not at all. Half the pizzerias are shut for the season, leaving about a dozen still open, just a stones throw from our apartment in old town Alghero.

And the sun... oh, the sun! So delightfully gentle. I could sit for hours on this bench and not worry about burning.

This is happiness for me. A harbour full of gleaming masts, swaying and clanking; the percussion for the seagulls symphony. Nowhere to be, nothing to be done. Just me and my journal, and the warm, crinkled smiles of wizened Sardinians, nodding silent greetings as they pass by.

The sun has dipped behind a fluffy bank of clouds, streaming glorious beams of celestial light from behind it. This is my heaven. But it's time to move on.

Following the curve of the promenade, I step into the wind. My skirt whips around my knees as I walk, my cardigan billowing out behind me. The coolness of the salty wind on my face edges on discomfort. It reminds me how alive I am.

Stopping to lean on the ancient wall, I watch as the rugged shoreline entices the deep, azure waters to join it, again and again. Not a stone seems to budge with the relentless chase of the tide. Such bravery! Such fortitude! These rocks and the wall that is built upon them have withstood the waves for centuries, and will likely stand for centuries more.

The birds in the rustling palms behind me twitter with excitement. Twilight approaches.

In a few moments the sun will drop below the bank of clouds and hover above the horizon. This brief time of day is my most favourite, for it's the most mysterious. Shadows stretch, yawning across the pavement. Sandstone buildings glow, almost other-worldly in their luminosity. It feels as if reality hovers on the edge of another dimension. As if now, and only now, I could walk under the nearby old stone arch and be transported to another realm.

The moment shimmers with possibility! But the shimmering is brief. Lamps click on, pouring fluorescence onto the cobblestones. The spell is broken. The moment is beckoned away by the departed sun, now illuminating the other side of the world with early morning light.

All enchantment is not lost, however. The night is a new kind of wonder, a new kind of adventure.

For someone else, perhaps.

For me, it is my queue to head home. I did not dress for the chill that is now present beneath the darkening sky. I begin to walk back. Just me and my journal, and the slap of my sandals on the stones.

As I wander slowly back through the narrow, winding alleys, I ponder the moment that has just passed. Such magic always comes and goes with astonishing brevity. For me, it is a poignant reminder of the nature of life and the importance of presence. Appreciation for what is, and a child-like eagerness for more seems to be the only way to live a joyful existence.

These moments, like grains of sand in our hands, glint golden while we hold them, only to fall through our fingers and be carried away by the breeze, seconds later. Let them fall. Do not try to catch the grains as they fly away, lest you lose sight of the new ones being poured into your palms, ready to be admired.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Accordian blues

The sun is setting over Porto...

The sun shines gold on architectural relics, and silver on cement apartment blocks. The clouds are rippled, like a disturbed pond frozen in time. Each time I blink they are a new shade of tangerine and rose. At first brilliant and eye-catching, then soft and faded, with lavender smudges.

There is an accordion being played in the distance. I saw its player as I walked back to our humble abode in the Cedofeita barrio of Porto. She had a cable-knit sweater on, loose around the neck. It's deep, umber colour brought out her matte, burgundy lipstick, which looked striking against her porcelain skin. She sat on a wooden box, curly hair tossed into a bun. Her denim legs were crossed, capped by black boots that probably used to shine. A cigarette dangled from her full lips. She began to stretch the accordion. She seemed reluctant about it, almost apathetic. In fact, she appeared to care more about getting what she could get out of that cigarette than about what was coming from the yawning instrument in her lap.

Although profoundly melancholic, the whole scene cheered me considerably. It reminded me of how I felt when I first saw the film, Amelie. A sad-sweet feeling. Perhaps she was playing a song about life. Life, after all, is both sweet, and sad; full of joys and sorrows. Just as the push and pull of the accordion creates music, the ebb and flow of happy moments defines our lives. With that thought, need she play a song about life, or need she just play? Thinking about life, it's nature, and its elusive meaning always cheers me a bit. As does blues music. The croon of a broken heart backed by a wailing guitar does wonders for my soul. Maybe I need a therapist.

Or maybe I need to learn the accordion.