I think they call this monkey mind.

I have a regular(ish) yoga practice again. I haven't been all that good at maintaining my practice in recent years, and this is something I'd like to change this year. Barre is great for building strength and flexibility and a great butt, but I find that it's yoga that helps quiet my mind and cultivate more mindfulness in my day to day life. I suspect that's not what the practice is for -- not entirely at least -- but for me, a lot of my problems end up being resolved on the mat. In fact, a long time ago I wrote about coming to the realisation that I needed to end the relationship I'd been in for almost eight years while doing yoga. 

So yeah, turns out I do some really great thinking on the yoga mat. Not quite to the level of shower thinking (google it) but pretty close.

Here's what I was thinking about during yoga class this morning: 

Yoga as prayer --

It occurred to me while I was on the mat this morning that perhaps my affinity for yoga has something to do with the fact that I was raised Muslim and so for much of my childhood, teenage years, and early adulthood, each day was punctuated by prayers. Muslims pray five times a day every day. Muslim prayer is a combination of specific words -- whispered, or thought, one's inner voice uttering the words -- and movements. My late grandfather was explained to me that a benefit of Muslim prayer was its inherent reminder to pause, to step outside the busy-ness of life and re-center oneself, that the movements added a health benefit to our spiritual obligation. Yoga is movement, among other things, and to cultivate a yoga practice is to take the time to come back to ourselves no matter what is happening in the outside world. 

I was thinking all this while on the mat this morning, and wondering if I've found it easier to cultivate a yoga practice over all these years because I've been primed, thanks to a Muslim upbringing, to seek out these pauses in my life to try to get in touch with something bigger than myself. These days I'm not sure what that 'something bigger' is, or if it is something that physically exists, or even that there needs to be something. I'm not praying for anything when I'm on the yoga mat. Mostly I find myself thinking about the ways in which life is, at its heart, a story you get to tell about yourself. Like all stories, it has its tropes. I'm reasonably sure that mine is the one where a woman gives up on romantic love, gets her life together to a point where she feels completely and utterly satisfied and needs for nothing, then immediately meets the man who ruins it all (in a good way) and forces her to re-build her life, only this time with him in it.  

I'm also reasonably positive that when this happens, I'll then proceed to live the trope of the woman who struggles immensely to understand and internalise that her life now impacts someone else's life -- and she has to learn to share now. 

There's this scene in the last season of the Sex and the City series that I love: Miranda and Steve are married, and Miranda has reluctantly agreed to look at a house in Brooklyn, and in response to Steve reminding her that she owes it to him and their son to really give the house a chance, Miranda replies (with some dismay), "Oh my God, I'm married." 

That'll be me someday soon. Dismayed that I don't get to be selfish and live my life entirely on my own terms anymore. 

Yoga as meditation -- 

Today, much to my surprise, I found myself flowing through the various poses the instructor was calling out and meditating on sending love, kindness, and the best of wishes to the arsehole who broke my heart and left me feeling used and manipulated last November. 

I have no idea where that came from. His arse is staying blocked though. 

I also meditated on whether or not to get gelato on the way home from class. It was a hot day, and I was sweating all over my mat at the time! 

I really wanted gelato. 

The gelato place was on the way home. 

I spent the rest of the class thinking about gelato. On the one hand, maybe it's too heavy for such a hot day? I'm older now, dairy sits a little heavier and longer in my belly these days. 

On the other: the class was hot and sweaty, and gelato would taste so fucking good after all that exertion. 

Yoga as opportunity and distraction -- 

There was a shirtless hottie doing yoga on the mat behind and to the left of me. Fucker was doing fucking handstands during his vinyasas -- show off -- and it was a sight to behold. So graceful, so lean and muscly, so ... I was really happy to be in downward dog today. 

Lord God Almighty, what I wouldn't give to feel the heat and sweat of his body just inches away from mine as he holds himself up on those strong arms, his body barely touching mine, teasing ... 

Yeeahhh, I'm a straight, hot-blooded woman after all. Mostly. I definitely was this morning. 


I got a watermelon granita from the gelato place on the way home. It hit the spot better than a gelato would have. Probably not better than that hottie would have ... I'll show myself out now. 

Sundays at age 32.

I baked a chocolate cake today, and while it was in the oven, I put some beef rendang on to simmer. I like my beef rendang thick and gravy-like, so it's usually on the stove for about an hour or so, give or take. I do this sometimes: I spend Sundays cooking a relatively involved dish or baking something, and in doing so I am, as it turns out, merely repeating a pattern I grew up with. I just realised it this weekend: my (still estranged) mother cooked on Sundays too. 

My mother was a career woman, a working mother. During the week, the live-in maid was responsible for feeding us -- for all its sins, the culture I grew up in understood that while a woman may well be able to have it all, she certainly couldn't do it all: ergo, live-in help. Weekends were a different story though. We'd usually go out to eat on Saturdays. On Sundays, she would cook. On Sundays, we would sit at the big dining table together to eat. 

I learned to be comfortable in a corporate office AND a kitchen thanks to her example. 

Today: I don't have a family. The only mouth I have to feed is mine. My weeknight meals are hurried and mildly slapdash and occasionally purchased because of my workout routine: I'm trying to work out five days a week, and the barre or yoga classes don't usually start until 6.30PM or 7PM, and so I don't get home until at least 8.30PM at the earliest as a result. But on Sundays? On Sundays, I spend the entire late afternoon to early evening in the kitchen. Today, on this particular Sunday, I baked a cake and made a beef rendang. I'll take the cake in to the office tomorrow, to share with coworkers (they're very pleased about this hobby of mine). The beef rendang will be several days' worth of lunches -- yes, I actually pack lunch these days. I like this particular Sunday routine. I plot and plan; I shop for ingredients; I measure things out (and make a mess) while listening to one of the podcasts I'd queued up. I was listening to one about Huysman today and I think I may look into his novel. They said it was funny, and I could always use something funny to read. 

A List of Things #13 -- Been a while, huh?

1. It was 41 degrees Celsius in Melbourne yesterday (that's well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit for the Yanks out there), which is enough to make a person seriously wonder why the everloving fuck anyone would choose to return to the blast furnace that is Australia in the summer when she could be enjoying the year-round temperate climate of Northern California. I refused -- absolutely refused -- to set even a toe outside the cool confines of my apartment; instead, I reverted to my Christmas holiday behaviour: I sprawled out on my couch and read. Finished one book, started and finished another. Utter bliss. 

2. It has been so long since I last wrote here that I'd completely forgotten that I had mentioned the move back to Melbourne. I was all ready with details of the move, etc. -- until a quick scroll through to check the numbering of this thing -- this "List of Things" form that I seem to like -- revealed that, oops, I already talked about it here. I already mentioned finding the cojones to admit that I needed to leave San Francisco, already talked about the new job. Which is fine, btw. My job is perfectly fine; excellent, even. I'm apparently doing rather well, and have the (pro-rated) bonus to show for it. 

My personal life, on the other hand ... 

3. Cliches are true for a reason. You can't go home again. In hindsight, and with the benefit of a fuck ton of journalling, thinking, talking to friends who know what the fuck I'm going on about because they've been there too (there was a brief period, early on, when I could not stand to be around anyone who hadn't once been an expat, hadn't had to experience re-entry) -- I now understand that there was no conceivable way for 2017 to not have been an utter clusterfuck of a year. 

You CANNOT go home again. 

People's lives do not go on pause while you go find yourself in another country. Some friends are better than others at making room for you in their shiny new lives. New friends arrive and fold you into their warm, almost parent-like embrace (this is obviously good). Others disappear without a word (this is less good). And then you have men, the utter dearth of good ones in Melbourne, and then there's the one you want -- the one you thought you could love, the one you thought you could be part of a team with because lord knows the two of you were friends for so long, were so close, talked every goddamn day, even: well, turns out he has his own shit going on and he can't seem to work out if he wants you or not, and in what capacity exactly, and then doesn't listen when you say "Well, actually, I'd like a relationship with you", and then you end up feeling manipulated and used*. 

So 2017 kinda sucked. I just know now that it can't have been any other way. 

4. But y'know, that's not entirely true. 2017 was also me and Ika, one of my best friends from childhood -- the woman who has watched in dismay as I made all kinds of mistakes, made an utter hash of my love life over and over again, and still fucking loved me anyway -- chatting and hanging out and laughing together, and me thinking "We'll be laughing like this still as old women". There was that beautiful moment when her husband Olivier walked into the room carrying their son, and Eliot lit up at the sight of me and held his arms out to me and snuggled right in, his head on my shoulder, his breath on my neck. And oh, the way he giggles when I tickle him -- all hurts are healed by the sound of that child's giggles. There's British Boss' oldest child hugging me hello unprompted every time I go round to their place. A relatively new girlfriend coming round the day I threw my back out, telling me to just sit down and rest and let her 'mum' me for a bit, then sweeping the floor and bustling around my kitchen. There's us and the rest of the crew crowded around my coffee table, eating a good homecooked meal, and months later one of them saying "Oh, we don't have to go out this weekend, how about we just go to Rae's and order in? I really like your place, Rae".

I really like it too, actually. Two bedrooms in a really good spot in Fitzroy. I may or may not have overcorrected for almost three years in a studio.

5. The bar for 2018 is set very low. I basically would just like it to suck less. So far, it's been nice. I've been reading heaps. I'm planning to do more yoga. Take more walks. Get back into volunteering, because the older I get, the more conscious I am of my own goddamn privilege, and I was raised to give back one way or another.

I also want to write more. For myself, and for an audience. This is a start.  

Some personal news that you may or may not have already known about.

There is an expensive bottle of wine in my kitchen that I bought over a year ago on a celebratory Napa trip with coworkers, to be drunk on the occasion of my promotion to Associate Director, or in the event of a move to New York City (I specifically imagined drinking it in my newly empty apartment in San Francisco, all my belongings having already migrated into the heart of a truck heading to the other side of the country). 

Neither of these things came to pass. There is no promotion -- after 2.5 years in San Francisco, after over 9 years in total in that singular Big 4 consulting / public accounting world, I have now moved on to what we refer to as 'industry' (or at least I will come late April). And there is no move to New York City because after 2.5 years in San Francisco I finally found whatever it was I needed to finally admit that I need to go home.

Home to Melbourne. 

I made up my mind to move home in early January 2017. Everything fell into place very quickly after that. Of course -- this is how it works with me. Slowly or all at once. 

And yes, I'm excited, but more than that I'm terrified. I worry that this is the wrong move for me professionally, though I couldn't tell you what else I could or would be doing here in the US. I worry that I won't live up to all the expectations of me at my new job because for so long, I was a medium-sized fish in a good-sized pond and I was, y'know, comfortable, and I had a lot of goodwill built up, and people trusted me -- and people trusting me is why and how I got this new job in the first place, and what if they were wrong and I let everyone down? I worry that there isn't room anymore for me in my friends' current lives -- because of course I'm not the only one who's changed: everyone else has moved on, coupled up, had babies. What if I end up friendless? And I worry I won't find an apartment in the two weeks I've given myself before I start my new job. I worry and I worry and I worry. 

And I do what I usually do when I worry: I make lists; I cross things off; I schedule tasks; I make phone calls; I take copious notes. I talk to a glass of wine or two, a willing friend or two. I hide in books. 

I gave bullet journaling a shot the other night and realized that I couldn't see or imagine life beyond April. Which makes sense, I guess. I get on that plane on April 10. I land on the other side of the planet on April 12. 

Then I'll make new lists and cross things off. I'll have a glass of wine or two with a willing friend or two. And there'll be new books to hide in -- I already know I want to pick up a copy of Jessica Anne Friedmann's essay collection (I've been reading her since her Farrago days, and there's a weird sense of pride in seeing how she's turned out). I'm planning to buy my copy of her book from a local independent bookstore -- probably Readings Carlton since it's close to our old Melbourne Uni stomping grounds -- and with any luck, I'll be reading it shortly after while curled up on the wooden floors of my newly acquired, sun-drenched apartment in Fitzroy North. With any luck and a lot of hard work and charm. 

(I've rebooted my life before. I can do it again.)


In the kitchen where I never thought I'd belong.

I told my dear friend Chris during a particularly dim period in my life a few years ago that he would know I was okay again when I resumed cooking. By that point in our unexpected friendship, I’d started having him over for dinner at least once a week but the practice had fallen by the wayside as I found myself having to concentrate on putting my broken heart back together. The last thing I wanted to do was cook. Chris and I went back to meeting at various Melbourne restaurants after work instead. Ours is a friendship formed over bowls of ramen and plates of dumplings and nasi lemak. 

I don’t live in Melbourne anymore (for now). These days Chris is a presence in my text messages -- there when I wake up, and then there again halfway through my work day when he wakes up. And I’m cooking again. I have been for a while -- my San Francisco life lends itself very well to prolonged periods in the kitchen, more so than my life in Melbourne ever did for reasons both physical and emotional (nothing much interests you when you’re depressed). I don’t make anything particularly fancy: spaghetti alio oglio with more garlic than is strictly required, lots of chili flakes, and turkey bacon; seasoned pasta shells generously coated in Boursin garlic and herb cream cheese; a baked potato with sour cream and cheddar cheese, seasoned with chicken salt because I’m Australian, dammit; roasted brussels sprouts; Annie’s organic mac and cheese out of a box. Left to my own devices, I regress into the picky eater I was as a child -- I am not above eating the same dish for days in a row. 

I’ve also been cooking Malaysian food lately. My cousin came back into my life about two years ago not long after I moved to San Francisco -- my best friend Ika is a mutual friend of ours and I think she took it upon herself to make sure that the two of us cousins were kept apprised of each other’s lives: she texted me when Dee delivered her son via emergency C-section, and so it follows that she would tell Dee that her wayward cousin had upped and moved several oceans further away. We’re not communicating with any regularity but the texts arrive frequently enough that I have come to rely on them and the accompanying (requested) photos of Dee’s little boy, who is now three and already half his mother’s height (while Emran’s looks suggest his father wasn’t in the room when he was conceived -- that child is the spitting image of his mother -- his height puts to rest any concerns about his paternity). We’ve repaired the foundation of our relationship -- blood ties and a genuine friendship -- enough that I could tell her that I’d been meaning to ask if she’d send me my favorite snacks from Malaysia, plus some of the fixings required to make rendang, fried rice, and Hainanese chicken rice. I miss the dishes of my childhood. 

Her response: “Why didn’t you ask me sooner?!” 

A care package arrived a few short weeks later along with a phone call from my uncle. It was the first time in over five years that I’d heard the voice of someone I share DNA with and it was a surprisingly lovely exchange. Same old uncle -- he checked in on how I was doing; nagged me about eating junk food for breakfast; asked what I’d gotten up to on a Sunday afternoon. It has been a very long time since anyone checked in on me like that and I was about as awkward and delighted as one would expect after a prolonged absence of anything remotely resembling parental concern. And the care package! Brahims and Adabi pastes for making rendang and fried rice; a jar of whatever that stuff is that one uses to make chicken rice with; two large packets of keropok keping -- a throwback to my childhood as a grandchild of Terengganu. I have spent the last few weeks creating a facsimile of my childhood kitchen, making note of future adjustments to be made to each dish as I read and followed the instructions on the packet and remembered old lessons learned at the feet of mothers both mine and others’: less water added to the rendang paste to make a thicker stew; more attention paid to the dry version of beef rendang in future lest I burn the meat and gravy again (oops); alterations to my schedule so I can have leftover rice and keropok already fried up and ready to go for the next weeknight’s dinner of fried rice. I even made kerisik (toasted coconut flakes) to go into the rendang the other day and on a last minute whim saved some of the coconut milk to make nasi lemak (coconut rice) to go with it. This version of my self who is gleefully trying her hand at the dishes of her childhood would be unrecognizable to the younger woman I once was, the one who couldn’t be lured into the kitchen under any circumstances. 

Which is all to say: I’ve been cooking heaps lately; ergo, I am happy. I’ve felt this way since Melbourne last July -- I spent three weeks there visiting, and it was enough time to finally understand just how loved I am. This, apparently, is what everyone who has had the benefit of a happy childhood full of love and stability feels like. 

It’s pretty fucking amazing. 

I am full of joy these days, so much so that I don’t have the words to describe it and have fallen into silence. I read the words of others -- reading voraciously at that -- but can’t find my own. Because that’s what happiness does to me. I lose my words; I lose the need to find my words. It’s strange. I miss the words. This is my attempt to find them again.

But more importantly -- Chris, I’m happy.

This Reading Life: Helen Ellis and Amber Sparks.

It's probably safe to call now: the short story is my favorite form of fiction. I don't pretend to have the best attention span in the world; neither do I imagine that my ability to focus on one thing and stay the course through to the end is above par -- the short story collection allows me to dip in and out of largely self-contained fictional worlds over a given period of time without necessarily having to go back and re-visit the last few pages to remember where I left off. Considering my book polygamist tendencies: this is crucial. 

Here are some thoughts on two of my favorite short story collections published this year. 

American Housewife, by Helen Ellis. 

I read this one over the course of a single trip (two train rides) back to San Francisco from San Jose. I have fond memories of that Sunday afternoon -- my friend Lanny was hosting a launch party for her photography studio in San Jose and had introduced me to her friend Rayna, a fellow Melbournian. Predictably, Rayna and I got along like a house on fire, delighting in the fact of not having to explain ourselves and our slang thanks to a shared Melbourne background and lexicon. It was wonderful. 

If there is a theme for 2016, it will be this: The One Where I Met All These Incredible Women I Admire and Want To Be Best Friends With. 

Anyway, American Housewife: the blurb on the back of the book is very apt indeed -- "This book is feminism with teeth and a Southern drawl. Red lipstick and a baseball bat." Ellis' characters are older women -- strong, sassy, and steel in their hearts. The stores (and feminism) depicted here are just slightly deranged, yet utterly delightful in its crazy (see: 'Hello! Welcome to Book Club'). In this, there is more than just a whiff of the South, where Ellis is from -- her roots permeate each story from the tongue in cheek 'Southern Lady Code' to the darkly humorous 'Pageant Protection', which is about a kind of witness protection program for child beauty queens. 

There is also a story about a man who has a particular talent for fitting women with bras -- the gift runs in the family. There's also another story about a woman who runs her household with the aid of dead doormen.  

You see what I mean? Just read this book already. 

The Unfinished World, by Amber Sparks 

The title story in this collection is a fever dream or a nightmare -- I still can't tell which. The same can actually be said about all the stories in this collection. The individual narratives are fantastical, spanning centuries and continents, yet at the heart of each story is some heartfelt emotion that just hurts in its sincerity and rawness: longing; loss; love; fear. 

I had to read this one in slow, measured sips. To do otherwise would be emotionally overwhelming. 


Sing it, sister.

I discovered the Hamilton musical about 5 months ago, yet even today I can still find something new about it to captivate me. This time around I am stuck on the track 'That Would Be Enough' -- Hamilton has been sent home from the war and has just discovered that Eliza is pregnant; Eliza is pleading with him to stay by her side and stop seeking glory. The dynamics between the two in this particular song do not sit well with me at all, but I can recognize that sometimes I am Eliza, content with a quiet life of domesticity, and sometimes I am Hamilton, hungry for the world and not content to remain quiet in my little corner of it, and that my discomfort with how the relationship is playing out in this track has everything to do with my not knowing just how much of myself to give up in a relationship and how to find some sort of middle ground between my identity and ambitions vs. the other person's identity and ambitions. 

I keep fixating on these lines: 

Hamilton: "Will you relish being a poor man's wife, unable to provide for your life?" 
Eliza: "I relish being your wife"

And this line in particular: 

Eliza: "But I'm not afraid, I know who I married." 

That optimism and willingness to compromise, man. What's that like? 

Yesterday I walked into my apartment after yoga class and immediately began to play this song, singing out loud along to Eliza's parts. The windows are wide open but I don't particularly care about being overheard -- I know I have a good singing voice. This is one of the perks of being and living alone -- there is no one around to tell me to stop singing, no one around to be disturbed by the volume and enthusiasm of my musical inclinations. I need to do a better job of remembering that singing makes me happy and sing more on a daily basis. 

Then it occurred to me that one day soon I'm going to meet someone -- a handsome, bearded someone, preferably -- and decide that it's a good idea to shack up with him, and then I'll end up mourning the loss of my unfettered ability to sing out loud whenever I want. 

This is such an optimistic thought that I pause for a second in my warbling to consider it. Well, not the part about not being able to sing whenever I want anymore -- the certainty that I'll meet someone. I'm not used to being so optimistic about that


Approximately five years on, that Chloé perfume now smells like the memory of kissing my now estranged mother goodbye each morning before she would go to work. 

Some perfumes need a trigger warning. 

I used to drag myself out of bed in the wee hours of the morning to kiss my mother goodbye before she would go to work. I hated -- HATED -- it if I didn't get a chance to say goodbye. Even if we were in a fight, even if I were mad at her, I would haul my ass out of bed and stumble to the front door to kiss her goodbye, driven by some (likely) irrational fear of her not making it home. 

Losing her was my greatest fear as a child. I used to say to anyone who would listen that you would have had to mop me up off the floor should anything ever happen to her, should she be taken from me. So it's astounding to me now to think that in the end, I was the one who left her. It has been almost six years since I had any regular contact with her; it has been almost five years since that disastrous last confrontation. I have spent the most crucial years of my 20s without my mother. I have moved countries in that time and I am not 100% sure she even knows where I am now. I used to think some divine retribution lay in wait for me for this act of filial disobedience; now I just marvel at how strong and brave I was -- am -- to have done that. Where I am from, daughters do not cut their mothers out of their lives, no matter how painful it is to remain by the mother's side. 

This Reading Life: Disaster Preparedness, by Heather Havrilesky.

My 11 year streak of not crying over a book came to a screeching (sobbing?) halt last Sunday thanks to Heather Havrilesky's memoir -- really an autobiographical essay collection -- Disaster Preparedness. Specifically, it was her musings on her relationship with her mother in the immediate aftermath of her parents' separation and divorce -- a period that featured her mother moving out temporarily "to think" -- that did me in: 

She is not everything, your mother. She's just a person. But while my mom and I could talk about anything, intellectualizing the wrinkles in any experience, picking up the highs and lows, I was never sure about how much I mattered to her. I was fundamentally uncertain. Instead of worrying about it, I decided that it would only be wise to care a lot less.
-- D-I-V-O-R-C-E

Take away the part about being able to talk to her mother about anything and replace "care a lot less" with "hide vital parts of myself" and you basically have my relationship with my own estranged mother. But that's a story for another day (and I've been thinking a lot about re-visiting and re-framing some of these stories, to be honest). 

I first discovered Heather Havrilesky through the New York bestie, Elaine, when she introduced me to the Ask Polly advice columns on NY Mag's website The Cut. The columns filled the gap left in my psyche by the discontinuation of the Dear Sugar column formerly written anonymously by Cheryl Strayed. Much like Wild provided the context / back story for Cheryl Strayed's 'Sugar' persona in Dear Sugar, so does Disaster Preparedness provide clues into the voice and hard-won wisdom of Polly. Polly / Heather spent years playing it cool and keeping all her cards very close to her chest and, as evidenced in her advice column, is no longer here for that nonsense. Disaster Preparedness explains why she was like that in the first place, and what it took to break herself of that habit. 

That fall, I met a funny, smart professor. He was thoughtful and weird and talkative and sweet. Even though I was tempted to gloss over my flaws a little, I told him the truth. I warned him that I was impatient and demanding and emotionally overwrought and sentimental and earnest and exasperating, and I could be a serious pain in the ass. 
"So, in other words, you're a woman," he said. 
And I thought, That's exactly what my future husband would say! 
-- One Ring To Rule Them All

Which isn't to say that Disaster Preparedness is a perfect book. The structure feels a little awkward to me; the progression through time (and from essay to essay) is a little jerky. The essays ramble and meander a touch -- but oh, they're pretty darn glorious regardless. Heather's writing is honest and unflinching in its embrace of life's many messes. Her stories tell us not to be afraid to care about people and things, not to fear less than tidy resolutions or situations that go against type -- all things we need regular reminders of.