A Year at Home and Other Catastrophes

This is an essay that I have been playing around with for a few months. It’s kind of lengthy, but I hope you see that the length is necessary for the ideas that I wanted to convey – namely that a curse can indeed be a blessing; the importance of following your dreams, step by tiny step; the absolute necessity of taking complete ownership and responsibility for your life and how sometimes the longest journeys do not go past your front gate.

The view off my back verandah.
The view off my back verandah.

When I stopped to think about it, I had never really spent much time at home. As a child I went to school five days a week, then when I left school, I went to more school (university and college), as well as working and socialising. I was rarely home during the day, only sometimes at night – and I could count the days or nights I had spent alone at home on one hand.

When our first child was born, I found myself face to face with the prospect of learning to stay at home. In my mind, it was all fairly simple:  I would undergo an education intensive at Mum-versity, before accepting a permanent placement as Mother at my new workplace, The Home. How well I did at Mum-versity and The Home would depend upon how hard I worked and how dedicated and disciplined I was, just like all the other work and education I had done in my life. Of course. The modern woman’s attitude to child raising. Well, I was right about two things – I was certainly going to get an education, and 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for several years was most certainly intense.

Visiting my Dad, 2004.
Visiting my Dad, 2004.

At first, the thought of leaving the house with a new born baby was completely overwhelming. The Bag! The random breast feeding, crying and pooping! Just getting him in and out of the car without banging a head, his or mine – seemed nigh on impossible. That wasn’t the only challenge – I remember blithely reversing through our gate one morning and ripping off the back door that I had completely forgotten to close. You had better believe that I had that smashed door removed and new one ordered and attached by the time the Bear got home from work (with the help of my mechanic brother-in-law).

Still, even the insane seems normal after a while, and the urge to get out of the house was stronger than my fear of packing a bag that needed the mind of a military strategist to accomplish well. Where could I go? The place where I live is not a friendly place to walk. There is just an open country road, hilly, hot like a BBQ plate in summer, wind blustering belligerently off the mountains in winter. There is nowhere to go and nothing to see on foot; so we drove. We visited friends and family near and far, went to the park, the library, shopping, and cafes – wherever I could think of, really. I couldn’t stay at home for longer than a day without getting restless.

Alani and I.
Alani and I, off to a wedding.

Four years later my daughter was born – cue another parenting intensive. Strangely, knowing how to parent one child does not necessarily give you the skills to parent another one. Who knew two children could be so different? My daughter had very specific dislikes – men, especially untidy looking ones, being separated from me by more than 30cm, and sleeping for more than two hours at a time. Her dislike of men made it difficult to socialise – if she saw one that she didn’t like, which was all of them, she would scream, crawl up my face and head for home.

As time went on, I had more reasons to stay close to home, if not actually at home. I had decided that if my community did not have the things that I wanted, then I should go ahead and make them happen. I became a member of the P&C when my son went to school, I helped out with home reading, cooking and craft with the children, I set up and ran a fortnightly Growers Market at the school, organised yoga classes, got funding for a community website, wrote the content – and a whole lot more besides. I had friends nearby who had children of similar ages and we gathered, as women have for time immemorial, to cluck, gossip, scold and remind ourselves that we are not alone.

So, I was busy. My radius had decreased, but my focus was still almost completely external – the school, my community, friends and family. I didn’t really give much thought to what it was that I wanted to do or be, other than of service. Sometimes in the middle of the night I wondered what my future held, but nothing came to mind. It was less a mystery and more a terrifying blank.

When my son was 7 and my daughter 3, a series of events occurred. The first thing that happened was a landslip – after some heavy rain, part of the main road fell blindly off the cliff and lay there like a drunkard out for the count. For nine months, the only way to get in and out of the valley was via the winding, corrugated, dirt back roads while the Council wrangled with the Government to get emergency funding. This made even small journeys a hassle and an inconvenience.

The second thing that happened was a dream. It was such a vivid, colourful dream and the meaning behind it was so potent, that now, years later, I still remember it clearly.

I was floating down a beautiful river with someone from my past and someone from my future. They were having a conversation that didn’t interest me – which didn’t matter because I was captivated by the incredible beauty all around me. There were trees along the river bank, heavily laden with all kinds of delicious fruit, colourful birds and insects were flashing past, and a heady fragrance of blossoms intoxicated me. I was in Paradise, and I was completely spellbound. All of a sudden, I realised that I was wearing all of my clothes, even my boots; I was having trouble staying afloat – and my friends had disappeared. Distracted by all the beauty around me, I had somehow failed to notice that I was all alone and slowly but surely drowning.

I woke up with the images from this dream plastered in technicolour on the walls of my mind and with the sure knowledge of what it meant and what I needed to do. I knew I had to go inwards and focus on myself for a while, because truly, I was drowning under the self-imposed weight of my community. I audited all of my commitments like an accountant with a red pen on an efficiency drive and dropped everything that had I should in front of it – including the Growers Market which had become more and more burdensome to run, especially with the main road closed.

Just in case I didn’t have a full understanding of what I needed to do, the Universe arranged a third situation – our finances dictated that we were only able to run one car, and the Bear drove that to work five days a week. For the first time in my life, I was at home in the truest sense of the word. At 35 years old, I was burnt out, confused, frustrated and disappointed, with no idea what I was supposed to be doing with my life. Add to this a rocky relationship, a smart but emotionally demanding child, stretched finances, and a half finished addition to our tiny house funded with money we didn’t have – and you have the recipe for the perfect storm – from which none of us were going to come out the same as we went in.

I found myself wistfully remembering my childhood dreams of becoming a writer. I had spent all of my teens and most of my twenties studying one thing or another – Environmental Science, Massage, Nutrition and Homeopathy. I had studied part-time for years, spent thousands of dollars and hadn’t finished a damn thing. I could no longer avoid the fact that my life was littered with half-finished endeavours and decidedly lacking in vision, purpose and passion.

Apart from vision, purpose and passion, the other think I lacked was my own space. I was desperate for a room of my own, a place to retreat and regroup. We had a little studio a stone’s throw from the house which we kept for visitors; I decided to make it mine. I launched a takeover bid and set up a yoga space, and then a friend helped me to connect the internet so that I could have my computer set up over there – my first office! Always an early riser, I now had somewhere to be in those tender pre-dawn hours. Here, nobody asked anything of me, and I had only to please myself. It’s hard to overstate the importance of a sacred space.

At about the same time a friend and I went to a 10 week social media course where I discovered blogging, amongst other things. It was love at first sight. As soon as I arrived home after that class I set up my own blog, Smells Good Feels Good, which later became The Practical Mystic (the blog you all know and love <3). The excitement of having somewhere to write that was all mine, to tell my own stories, share my insights and participate in a community of other people who loved to write was beyond exciting. And, get this – I could do it all from home.

I decided that maybe it wasn’t too late to become some kind of writer after all, so I enrolled in a two year Communication and Media course – which I completed, with Distinction. With the help of Kara-Leah Grant’s Forty Days of Yoga, I developed and maintained a regular home yoga practice, something I had never been able to do before. So now I had my own space and I was studying, writing and doing yoga and all of a sudden my life was beginning to develop depth, purpose and passion – all from home.

I began to identify more and more as a writer – along with my blogging I had articles published in online magazines such as The Yoga LunchBox and The Elephant Journal. I joined a local writer’s group and started attending writing workshops and festivals. My writing and social media skills enabled me to find employment as well – I even worked for nine months as an online social media manager until I realised that working in marketing was like having the devil suck the will to live out of my soul with a straw.

Somewhere in the middle of all of that we scraped together some more money and made the extension to our house liveable if not finished, the Bear and I separated and then reconciled and I was offered work at the local school as a teacher’s aide and later as website and media officer. When I look back over the last four or five years, it feels a bit like I have been the recipient of a thorough digestive scan, from top to bottom – enema, scope, scraping and burning away of lesions, another enema and then re-inoculation with healthy bacteria. In the aftermath there is relief that it’s over combined with a feeling of lightness and intestinal fortitude :).

After three years at home, I am now an expert on myself. I know what I like and what I don’t. I know what works for me, what makes me happy and what doesn’t. I am very strict about what I become involved in, making sure that anything I take on is for the right reasons. I am also very strict with myself – I hold myself accountable and take responsibility for my own life. Finally, I have taken my life into my own two hands and am now driving my own bus.

Mainly, I just feel lucky and so grateful to have had the opportunity to mould and shape my life in this conscious way. I look around me and see people rushing around, avoiding their lives with all of their might; and I remember how only four years ago that was me. Now I am standing on the precipice of my next big adventure – a degree in Media and Communications majoring in Writing and Publishing. Who knows what will come next? I know this though – sometimes it takes having your freedom taken away from you to discover that inside your Soul you are always free.

27 comments

    • Lol I know Ardys – uncharacteristically long, for sure. I’m glad you got something out of it – I must admit to having my doubts about this piece, much more than usual.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. What a wonderful retrospective. It has the feel of a celebration! Beautifully and engagingly composed.
    Isn’t it wonderful when you get to that point of gratefulness. You are and do and become and at each stage it’s ok. The process, the journey becomes apparent. What it is – is the point to it. It begins to make sense. And it no longer seems important that its perfect.
    You’ve shared something important, in the entirety of the essay and in the last words. It’s ourselves who have the ultimate say on how much, or even if, limitations limit it us or if they provide us with opportunities.
    Love those pics, and the moments in time they capture that would be otherwise ephemeral.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Dale – retrospective it is, offered in the spirit of the end of the retrograde itself. It was however one of those pieces I was reluctant to publish, my finger hovering above the send button. Was it too long, too self absorbed, too dull, too obscure, too personal? Why was I even writing about it anyway? Lol 🙂 ah well, the torments of a personal blogger 🙂

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  2. I’m somewhat caught in a similar situation at the moment although I do feel like I’ve been waking up for the past few weeks or so. Sometimes it takes but a moment but other times, the waking up is a longer process. But like you said, once you really strip everything away and focus with 100% honesty with what it is that we want, we often find that we already had some (if not all) the answers all along. So, I feel you completely. 🙂

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  3. Beautiful story! I find it fascinating how our lives are never a straight line from A to B. And when we can glean the lessons and learnings from them, we are so much richer and wiser. Here’s to more adventures.

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  4. Wise words, and beautifully written.

    When I look back at my life-so-far it seemed — back in time — that everything was kind of random and even chaotic. And then you look back and see a pattern and a path. Thanks for this story of finding your path.

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    • Thank you Georgia, so much. I think that is the main beauty of writing for me – finding patterns in chaos. Nothing is ever random (i believe) although we may never understand why.

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  5. Sara, today I was in a cafe in a store where my wife had parked me while she shopped for ant traps we’ll use to sneak up on the little creatures who are currently visiting our home. And there on my phone, I read your post about your life. It was so nice to go back with you over the rugged evolution of your new, more fulfilled self, and see everything working out. I loved your dream which made me think of a dream I’ve had since childhood. I am doing the backstroke in the air high over golden cities and blue oceans far below, and I am perfectly content

    Now how could I possibly not comment on your technique and style. What a great beginning to gain the reader’s attention. A reader just has to read on, and as always, the smooth ease of your sentences which makes the reader think, “She has probably edited a good deal, yet I have the impression that it is so spontaneous, she hasn’t.” Thanks for sharing it.

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    • I hope you won’t mind if I tell you that I giggled in delight at your description of my writing style :). Indeed this piece has been thoroughly edited, rewritten and then edited again – and only the previous weekend I had read over it and wanted to bin it! The fact that it doesn’t read like that is thoroughly delightful to hear!
      I also love your dream. I feel hopeful when I read it. A dream that you have over and over is meaningful, of course.

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  6. I love how your writer’s soul made you able to look back over time and see it as a story. In life, things happen one after another without rhyme or reason, but then we can impose structure on those events. That is art.
    I related to the difficulty of getting out of the house with babies and the need to do so. I was lucky to have a circle of friends when my children were young, and we supported each other. They remain my closest friends today (and we are now grandmothers.) I loved hearing about how your identity as a writer blossomed and grew. The story is far from over. I am glad that you write your blog. Your readers can now participate in the story as you continue to live it and shape it. Thank you for that.

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    • Diana, thank you for reading – and I’m glad you could connect to pieces of my story. I love your definition of art – David and I have been having a conversation about artists and what makes a person an artist or not…maybe I am slowly becoming one after all!
      I tell you, my friends saved me when I had children under 5. What Am i saying, they still save me 🙂 I am also lucky to have some wonderful friends with children the same age as mine. I really don’t know how I would have done it without them.
      I love that writing helps me understand and make sense of things, and if it can help other people understand and make sense of their lives, so much the better.

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    • Thank you Elysha – for me, the value of the personal is connection: there is magic and truth there, which is why I keep coming back to this type of writing, although it tortures me sometimes :). Pressing publish on such a personal story is difficult for a private person like me, but it’s always rewarding.

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  7. Awesome essay Sara… so great to read and fully understand your journey over the last few years. Love the quote at the end too… seems very applicable to where I am right now!

    KLxx

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    • Hey Kara Leah, thank you…I have been thinking of you today, so it was doubly nice to see you here. Sometimes, it’s very useful to look back and put together the pieces – make sense of the seemingly random events in a period of time. We writers are perfectly placed to do that in a coherent way, don’t you think? 🙂

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  8. What a wise and lovely read. So many shared truths and resonating images. Thanks so much for sharing. For me, After the early baby years of being unexpedtedly happlily ‘at home’ (but rarely still, or home!) a few summers back the absoulte necesity to step back, go deep within and be with me came shining through. The slowly slowly truths are rich, still emerging and a lovely new compass by which to navigate. Thanks for much for the length, depth, sharing and keeping at the drafts and rewriting. So glad you pushed Publish!

    Date: Thu, 11 Jun 2015 01:55:56 +0000 To: yangoorainthevalley@hotmail.com

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    • Dear Kate, thank you so much for reading. I’m glad that it was a piece that resonated with you. The slowly, slowly truths – a beautiful description! I guess they come as fast as what we can cope with them. It feels like every day I understand more about myself, which is a wonderful thing. I get the feeling that we are being drip fed 🙂 You must be home now…

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  9. Sara, I’ve missed reading your blog! I have recently (since June) started working full time again and am totally exhausted from it. Love the children but the hours are overwhelming! This piece of writing just reminds me of what is important and to be a little kinder to myself. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, I’ve missed you, Lucy! I totally understand what happens to blogging though, when life intervenes. I started a Uni degree in August, and I’m thinking now that I need to put blogging away for a while, or at least decrease my posts. It’s sad though!
      I’m glad my piece helped you a little, that makes me very happy!

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