I cannot say more now than then what will be

10 February 2019


Dear T. —

Sometimes I think I’ve forgotten all my old ways of being.


The habits, the routines, the format of tasks and days – they’ve disappeared, or slowly dissolved into a formless mist. Like getting in a car after not driving for months, and having to do the double-check: How does this work again? Mirrors, seatbelt, gas and brake. I am the force behind the movement. I have to remember the rules and listen closely to what has become so unfamiliar. This weekend I had to drive North, and panicked. It had been exactly long enough since I’d driven that I was afraid to get behind the wheel. I kept myself up all night with images of a fiery wreck, of never making it home. And it wasn’t just the driving; anxiety was another old friend resurfacing. I didn’t expect it, and I’d forgotten how much I’d forgotten.


I feel this way about language, too. I’m still reading, always reading. Will likely never stop reading until you pry the book away. But I’m not so close with my hands and paper anymore. Most of my letters say the same things: it didn’t used to be this way. I was more interesting. I spoke about more things than bemoaning this wanting. Remember when words just worked?

I asked my running partner: How do you escape the shame of not continuing something?

He said: “You just do it again. Just once. And then you remember the feeling of enjoying it, so you can do it another time again. And you forget the times you weren’t back here.”

It sounds so simple. It’s not. We know it’s not.


I hate that it’s assumed we’ll still recognise ourselves through the years. That we can look back in memory and reminisce remember when. That our habits betray us, even when our worlds age. That we can have the same smile, the same eyes, a turn of phrase from decades ago.

Remember when I woke up, forgetting.

Remember when I worked with words.

Remember when I was the good second half of deeper conversations.

Remember when I didn’t hold a running list of self grudges. Or, I did. And then played the game of counting them and setting them free.

Remember when I thought I saw this coming. Remember when I could thread observations together and follow them deftly to a conclusion.

Remember when I was so brave. When I saw the fears and dove in anyway.


She’s not so different: me, today.

But she’s distinct enough to look like parallel landscapes. Strange enough to have to meet again, and get to know, and somehow find a thread of narrative that sews us up and fixes us together. That makes this all make sense, in its disjointed ness.

Would I come to this time this way

Again, now that I know, confess

So much, knowing I cannot say

More now than then what will be? Yes

– Wendell Berry

Time Has Become a Very Different Thing


Coogee Beach at sunset

17th July 2018
Sydney, Australia

Dear T.,

The most incredible thing about parenthood (to use incredible in its intended manner: impossible to believe) is this: time becomes re-arranged.

Months of creation dwindle down into days and hours of the most physical work: to bring-into-being.

Then, time stops. Everything freezes, becomes very soft and blurry around the edges. Some of this is the residue of pain. Some of this is sheer exhaustion. Some of this is the way the body and mind adjust when a chasm opens up and your new life blooms up out of it. Some of this is how on earth do we know who we are, when the newest human on the planet is in my arms right now.

He’s been here for almost five months, but it feels like five years and five minutes.

Putting on clothes takes hours, since there are now two of us to wake, feed, dress, get out the door (A. can dress himself, thank God). And so many obstacles are the quicksand of time: spitting up, needing to change nappies, locating lost socks, the massive game of memory recall for any one of a thousand necessary objects.

And when all of this happens in isolation from so many of my family and friends, there’s the instant-and-later replay: today he ate solids. Today he laughed. Today he had his first cold. Today, everything went wrong, and he is still the sweetest thing imaginable. Today, incredible. Time has become a very different thing.

When we agreed on his name, it was a compromise of two names we each wanted. I feel like I benefitted the most from it: the compromise is already a name I love, already a poet I love, already a heritage I love.

… holding onto each other —
for warmth, for the sense of I’m yours, the tender claim
it keeps making

… see the rosy redness of cold fingers
as they shift a little, trying to register through fold
after fold, This is my flesh feeling you you’re feeling.

— from “Opposing Forces” by Eamon Grennan

Before he arrived, I had no idea time would bend backwards. That he would enter the world and I would have already loved him for lifetimes.


How daily my life.

View from my desk, at this hour

25 March 2017
1:26 AM
Manila, Philippines

Dear M.,

What a holy mess, my desk is, at this hour. And every day, I suppose, looks like this. I sit at my desk and write and work, and somehow, without looking, the days have turned into another week, and the weeks into months, and it’s my life, the life I make, is what it is.

I am reminded of a part of a poem:

from Otherwise Smooth
Rosmarie Waldrop

How daily my life. How tiny the impurities around which words might accrue. Worlds. Whorls. Pearls? Once I stood in a town where nothing was left unchanged but the clouds driven from the east. Now I learn from the sea. Always the same, always different, brackish body, uncertain. The unusual I hold at bay by taking pictures. To let it accrue to memory without having to experience it? Do we live this way, walking, as if we could, on thin air? But the sycamore stands in the yard all day and all night. And now, though still lifeless in appearance, quickens. Roots gripping farther down.

What is one place do I feel most like myself? I suppose it is before this desk, my holy altar of broken prayers and broken words, where I come to make myself whole again, if at all possible, and if the days are kinder.

It is past one in the morning and I am again wrestling with a poem with no end in sight. I don’t know how long I’ll be working tonight, but this is the kind of work I get out of bed for. The rest—all the rest of it that pays the bills and reminds me I’m still a citizen of a society—they’re something I have to do in order to survive. This work though—the work of my life, our lives, M., the work of showing up at our desks to write with our being—it’s what I do to be alive.

The hour is late. I’m not even sure if I’m making sense. But: how daily my life. Most days I forget and lament, where am I going? What am I doing? I am lost in my own life and I’m afraid I’ve gone and done it, wasted it all away. But I sit at my desk anyway. And nights like this will remind me why. Something I need to keep repeating over and over: it’s a writing life.


I had thought myself frail

Nuhlimkilaka – Koskimo (likely in Quatsino Sound, Island of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada). Kwakiutl person wearing an oversize mask and hands representing a forest spirit, Nuhlimkilaka (“bringer of confusion”). Photograph by Edward S. Curtis, ca. 13 November 1914. (via)

15 March 2017
06:02 PM
Manila, Philippines

Dear M. —

I remember my grandfather and the day he died. Seeing his last breath leave his body was one of the most excruciating moments of my life. Seeing my father howl with pain rendered me helpless and powerless.

The days that followed were surreal: accepting the absence of a person you loved is a difficult task, but one we must all do. I not only felt weak in the knees—I felt it all the way to my soul. That hollowness.

I am thirty-one today. It’s nothing extraordinary—more like a quiet settling, inside myself. Knowing I’m older. Thinking I’m beginning another decade, which will hopefully see myself grow more into the person I hoped to be. I’m melancholy but also anxious, and I’ve yet to get to the bottom of these feelings.

Have you ever wondered about the self you leave behind as you age? Do you ever revisit your past dreams and concerns? And what do you make of them?

I think of my grandfather and the life he’s lived. If I’m being honest, his death, no matter how shattering, was his greatest lesson to me. He taught me how to find the thread of grace amidst the grief. I got to know the recesses of sorrow, but I also wrote through that, and what a gift.

Here is a poem, one of the many that I’ve read during hard times:

from Fragment Forty

I had thought myself frail;
a petal,
with light equal
on leaf and under-leaf.

I had thought myself frail;
a lamp,
shell, ivory or crust of pearl,
about to fall shattered,
with flame spent.

I cried:
“I must perish,
I am deserted,
an outcast, desperate
in this darkness,”
(such fire rent me with Hesperus,)
then the day broke

I wonder what tomorrow brings. What this new year has in store for me. Do I feel nervous? Yes. But I’m hoping I have enough grit, I have enough grace. The thing about weakness is that it’s energy, too. That it can be transformed into something useful, into a thing that belongs to you.


How the light gets in

Over Sea, Under Stone by Martin Johansson

Over Sea, Under Stone by Martin Johansson

14 March 2016
2:16 PM
Manila, Philippines

My dear M.–

I’m not sure I’m what could qualify as a strong person. There are so many things that I’m scared about; I sometimes stop and ask myself, when have I become this human being? Someone who has a lot of anxieties and can scarcely go a week without spiralling into some kind of panic attack. I want to say, I don’t know. It’s so much easier that way, maybe, to shrug my shoulders and sort of helplessly laugh, I don’t know! And then go about my days.

But I do know the hows, and the specific when of it. See, all my life I was living with good days and bad days, until about five years ago when the bad became worse. And then it was simply a matter of letting yourself slide deeper and deeper into the pit because the rest of it—living—was such a shit alternative.

Any one thing can make me strong: the way the sunlight beckons at my desk at eight in the morning, the memory of the sea, the knowledge that I am loved and wanted, finishing writing a poem I think might be worth a read, letters from friends, coming home from a trip, and so on.

But the one thing that has made me stronger: digging into myself and finding the desire to be here. To occupy space, and to know that I can be, just be.

I realise that a lot of it has to do with having a mental illness and accepting that I am not a lesser person because of it. Oh, there are some nights when everything would be inexplicable and I know for certain how broken I am. Some afternoons though, like this one—I can almost live with it, not being put back together as I used to be. I’m chipped and scarred, and who knows how many ways I can still shatter. But that’s the thing: that’s how the light gets in.


Again, Isolated

12th November 2016

T. —

Question two: What’s one thing that’s happened to you in your life that has made you feel weak?

I have to put this out there: I hate the interview question about weaknesses. “What’s your biggest weakness?” I hate it mostly for the sake of the way we have to contort our answers to make us look somewhat positive in spite of talking about perceived weaknesses. Which means that our weaknesses are never actually honest.

“Oh, you know. I care too much.”

“I work too hard.”


Just like the only thing we fear is fear itself, the only things that can make me feel weak are not acknowledging the honesty of my perceived weaknesses. 

When I tend towards stress, I forget to eat. That’s a carryover from my relationship with food in high school. Every time stress approaches, I forget. I honestly don’t see it coming. Until I’m in the middle of the situation, and eating consistent meals takes tremendous effort and attention.

I see a lot of patterns that others don’t see. Which means that I often anticipate work that needs to get done, or things that need to be picked up, assignments that need to be completed. Trends between things that need to be stitched together. I always end up thinking: Because I’m the one who sees it, I’m the one who will have to do it.

I do other people’s work before my own.

I have a weakness in my own awareness of my body. I forget I am a physical being. I am a thinking being, always. Sometimes it eclipses my physical experience.

I get distracted by my own interests. I want to grow skills in so many areas that it can be an immense challenge to rein myself in. To focus.

I get impatient and frustrated when people don’t listen properly. To myself, to other people, to things they’re saying. That all-too-easily moves over into judgment, and I don’t want to do that. I just want to encourage and teach people how to have better conversations. Which means I often have to bypass the frustration and impatience.

I lose myself in books. I sell my heart to books. I escape the world through books. This is often my greatest strength, but the balance of life is in its shadow side. And this absolutely, hands down, has a shadow side. A removal. A denial. An isolation. 

I forget that weaknesses eventually strengthen, that new cracks form, that growth begets entirely different obstacles. I forget to stay vigilant. I forget to change the style of my observations and self-reflections. I forget. I forget the patterns. I forget to recognise things, and I forget to question. 

Which sounds insane to anyone who knows me. Because clearly I pattern, I reflect, and I question during most waking hours of my life.

I have a weakness for creative partnerships. Feeling like I don’t have an active participation in that kind of partnership makes me feel… antsy. Jealous. 

Again, isolated. When alone, that kind of lonely, my mind runs circles around me. And it’s not good for anyone.

I have a strong weakness that tends towards isolation and independence. It has taken me decades to work out how to befriend, how to develop relationships, how to deepen them, how to grow them, how to give them space and let them live.

The juggling of all of these weaknesses, predilections, desires — over the years, these have grown into the roots of all paths I take.

More soon,


How to Bend, Not Break

Victoria Eriksson

11 November 2016

T. –

Question one: What’s one thing that has happened to you that has made you a stronger person?

It’s no one thing. It’s one fierce ride.

It’s three divorces, two countries, airplanes and suitcases. It’s knowledge of multiple local places, homes that keep shifting and changing until the idea of home doesn’t actually have the same boundaries to the container anymore.

It’s the juxtaposition of age and memory. It’s the flux of interpretation, meaning, and experience. It’s sequential memory, and blocked-out memory. It’s the things I’ll never forget, and the details that evolve and grow up to become more than themselves.

The best part of the question is: what does it mean to have something happen to me? Is it a position I’ve put myself in? Is it the journey of a million deliberate steps? Heidegger has this amazing phrase called “thrownness”. But the only things we are thrown into, against our will, is the relationship with the circumstances surrounding our birth and our death. We don’t control where we are born, and to whom, and where, and what surrounds us. Similarly, we rarely have control over the circumstances of our deaths.

Death has come up in multiple conversations I’ve had recently. Today: death as the only thing we can count on. Last week: the way I say “I’ll try not to die on my trip to the US” instead of “I’ll miss you, and things will happen to both of us while I’m gone. I’m joking, but my jokes are pointing to something deeper that I wish we had the time and space to talk about.”

When I was younger, I was so afraid I would die en route to something, that I wrote letters to my friends and family before every flight I took. New letters each time, to my crushes, to my family, to the people I would leave behind if I died. When the flight was successful, when the trip had finished, when I came back home, I got rid of the letters.

I think there’s only one letter in current existence to be given to someone in the event of my death. It’s in the bottom of someone else’s drawer.

What is one thing that has happened to me that has made me stronger? The confluence of events, in the order and manner in which they have happened. The moment I learned how to understand and articulate my own unique ways of being in the world. The day I found Philosophy. The first day I met failure, and decided it was temporary instead of fatal. The first time I admitted a serious mistake I was ashamed of. The night I stay up later to keep writing, to keep driving, to keep the momentum going, to strengthen the muscles that will collaborate and eventually get me closer to where I’m heading.

The first time I walked out on stage and realised that I was no longer shaking, that I had shaken off all of the stage fright, all of the nerves, set all the butterflies free.

The first time I tried on a new view of my life and it fit like a warm coat.

The moment I realised all of us are more than one thing.

The practice of learning how to bend, not break.

The practice of how to come back from the brink, how to be brought back, how to ask someone else to grab my hand and hold the ground until I can re-gravitate myself back into orbit.

More soon,


Remembering and Forgetting

The sky, and only ever the sky

The sky, and only ever the sky (Taken morning of 29 October 2016)

30 October 2016
2:48 AM


I’ve taken a break from work, from the ills of my life, from the dreadful politics of the city, and from the day-to-day of trying to rise above it all in order to remain sane. I want to say, I’ve taken a break from myself, but I bring the whole of who I am wherever I go I suppose (as if I had any say in the matter).

We have a long weekend in observation of all saints’ and all souls’ day next week. A lot of people are going home to their respective provinces, or spending time at churches and cemeteries to remember their dead.

I have a feeling that most of Manila is emptied out by now, a rare occurrence often reserved for boxing matches. Those of us who have loved ones buried or kept in crypts within the city, however, are taking this opportunity to leave, if only for a few days. I think of my grandfather and his ashes, of bones turning to dust. I think of his frail body leaving this earth, seven years ago come November 9th.

I am back in Tagaytay again, this place I’ve been mooning over for years and years. Every time I return it is the same and not the same. I know her face and she knows mine, and yet there’s something different with us both.

The past two weeks I’ve been involved in several conversations about the cities and bodies. How my own body and the city I am in reflect separate and yet similar geographies. The self changes as the city changes, I told someone.

I mean, look: I carried with me the trappings of someone whose head is full of urban concerns. And yet when faced with the bluest sky this morning, and that quiet little volcano surrounded by the bluest lake, I want to weep. How much longer can Manila suit my life, or my life suit Manila?

A book I brought with me—Animal Triste by Monika Maron. Here is an excerpt I’ve been sitting with for the past few hours:

“I like to think about the brachiosaurus. Besides my lover and the brachiosaurus, there is not much else I like to think about. Over the years I have learned not to remember what I would rather forget. I don’t understand why people clutter their memories with mountains of inconsequential events, most of them not worth experiencing in the first place, so they can rummage around in them a hundred times or more and parade them as if they were proof positive of a life well spent. In my life there was not much that didn’t deserve to be forgotten; consequently, the version I deem worth preserving has become a rather condensed life.

…Forgetting is the fainting of the soul. Remembering has nothing at all to do with not forgetting. The whole world had forgotten the brachiosaurus. For 150 million years he had been lost to earthly, maybe even cosmic, memory, until Professor Janesch found a few bones in Tendaguru. From then on, we began to remember him, which means: We reinvented him, his tiny brain, his food, habits, contemporaries, the long span of his species’ life, and his death. Now he exists again, and every child knows him.

Since its passing, I have been inventing and reinventing that night, forty or fifty years ago, when my lover was sitting upright with his back against the wall, surrounded by carnivorous plants, like all the nights I spent with my lover. This way time passes and yet stands still.”

— from Animal Triste by Monika Maron, translated by Brigitte Goldstein

What does this city remember about me? What has it forgotten? I am not the same person I was that wrote you letters from this same place three years ago, although I have been here many times since then. I think this trip is my third time for this year. And yet it is still me, I am still in love with the mountains, I still dream of living here someday.

Remembering has nothing at all to do with not forgetting. I wonder if this is true, or if it only sounds beautiful because it offers me the possibility of rekindling with every little memory I have unknowingly parted ways with.

Here: I am sitting at the balcony, my feet freezing. I am facing the other side of the city, the lights as small as the stars above me. I am wrapped in a hand-knitted scarf I bought on a whim in Hanoi, my hair trying to escape from its braid. Who am I at this moment? I have changed the moment I arrived here, I felt it keenly, and I know it will happen again once I leave. What kind of self will I be bringing back home, and how long will I be able to hold on to her?


Owning Perfectionism

Tyler McRobert

from Unsplash via Tyler McRobert

23 August 2016


T. –

I found an article with 31 days worth of “LifeHacks” to improve daily experiences. I got stuck on Day 3.

Day 3: Stop striving to achieve.

We all have a tendency to work too much, lose our balance, and, ultimately, our joy in life. It’s the unhealthy feeling that if we don’t do something productive every day, we’ve somehow failed. So allow your perfectionism to rest. Slow down, and know that life is okay the way it is, right at this minute. As you eliminate the need to strive and be perfect, surrender to the universe. You’ll begin to appreciate and focus on other, neglected, priorities that bring you joy.

It’s not the concept that stopped me. I completely agree with 95% of those observations. What gave me pause was the sentence: allow your perfectionism to rest.

If I take out that one sentence, the entirety of this paragraph applies to me. Which makes me think: doesn’t that actually mean that the entire thing applies to me as a whole, but that singular sentence is my blindspot, the thing I don’t want to look at?

I thought: I’m not a perfectionist. I don’t have perfectionism.

As I see it more clearly now, I thought wrong.


Perfect was a dirty word. I remember walking down Academic Row at Muhlenberg, speaking to my Philosophy advisor’s wife, who quoted “The good is the enemy of the great,” and even as I scribbled that paraphrased insight down into the back of my notebook, already thinking “yes, but the perfect is the enemy of the good.”

What is good gets done. What is perfect almost never appears.


I took the Myers Briggs personality test three times in college. Each time, I was an E/INFP (oscillating back and forth between E/I, but always sitting within 5% points of each other).

In 2012, I moved from P –> J.

At first, this was a shock to me. I don’t like the label “judging” (J). I resonate with perception (P). But I was also unclear about what constitutes the P/J split.

I’m still not clear on the technical delineations between them. But I know that every single piece of information I read about INFJs fits me like a glove.

“Beneath the quiet exterior, INFJs hold deep convictions about the weightier matters of life.”

“INFJs have a knack for fluency in language and facility in communication. In addition, nonverbal sensitivity enables the INFJ to know and be known by others intimately.”

“Their amazing ability to deduce the inner workings of the mind, will and emotions of others gives INFJs their reputation as prophets and seers. Unlike the confining, routinizing nature of introverted sensing, introverted intuition frees this type to act insightfully and spontaneously as unique solutions arise on an event by event basis.”

“INFJs place great importance on having things orderly and systematic in their outer world. They put a lot of energy into identifying the best system for getting things done, and constantly define and re-define the priorities in their lives. On the other hand, INFJs operate within themselves on an intuitive basis which is entirely spontaneous. They know things intuitively, without being able to pinpoint why, and without detailed knowledge of the subject at hand. They are usually right, and they usually know it. Consequently, INFJs put a tremendous amount of faith into their instincts and intuitions. This is something of a conflict between the inner and outer worlds, and may result in the INFJ not being as organized as other Judging types tend to be. Or we may see some signs of disarray in an otherwise orderly tendency, such as a consistently messy desk.”

I think this was one of my first flares of the internal-external conflict of processes and perfectionism.


During my PhD, I had this constant internal debate: I could be doing so much more.

I didn’t have a good structure, a good organisational system for doing work. I didn’t meet my deadlines. I didn’t practice the type of dedicated writing time I wish I had. I didn’t develop my arguments deeply. I spent the final few months sewing it all together like a fraying patchwork quilt with uneven measurements.

One of my best friends (S.) is doing her PhD right now, and I’m amazed at the amount of knowledge she possesses in her field. Last week, I told her: “You know so much more about your field than I knew about mine.” She said, “Yes, but I’m doing a research degree. Yours was a practical degree.” It doesn’t do anything to assuage the feeling that comes up: I could be doing so much more.


This is the blog post I’ve wanted to write for years. It’s in response to the way I’ve engaged with my undergraduate studies: which is to say, I’ve been detached. I’ve missed deadlines. I’ve stopped caring. I’ve neglected to push myself. I’ve reached for the comfortable conclusions, and have stopped short of the unique perspectives. I’ve dropped a few innovative thoughts in here and there like seasoning, but have never curated them fully enough to bring out the real complex flavours.

I’ve met my deadlines well enough. I’ve skated by.

This is in response to the way I felt during my PhD: this is not enough. This is not what I really want to say. I could be saying so much more, and it could be so much more meaningful. There could be so much more truth.


This blog post is an argument I have built up over years of having to defend myself to other people.


“You’re being too hard on yourself.”

I’m not.

I’m so not.

I’m so absolutely not.

In fact, it has often been the opposite: I haven’t pushed myself far enough. I have let myself get away with murder. I have procrastinated. I have sat on my hands. I have been lazy.

“That’s ridiculous: how can you be lazy when you do so many things? Surely now you’re definitely being hard on yourself.”

Sometimes the doing-of-so-many-things is a way to hedge my bets: To spread my investments in multiple areas so that I’m certain to see return. To prevent getting too attached or too involved. To allow my disparate skills to develop – because I’ve doubted that one area can hold my attention.

More accurately: I’ve doubted that one single area (or job, or role, or circumstance) can hold me – and all of the elements I comprise.

Recently, I’m finding myself proven more and more wrong. But that’s a recent development. And it does little-to-nothing to retrain the decades of muscle memory that tell me: I cannot do justice to my complexities by staying within the boundaries of one single field of focus.

“Maybe you feel like you’re lazy because you’re not focused (i.e. because you do so many things).”


I am always focused.

I am hyper-focused on at least seven levels of awareness simultaneously. What I’m often not is: challenged. When I feel hemmed in, or fenced in, or boxed into a single scenario, I get bored from the lack of challenge. My muscles are not utilised. They atrophy. I get lazy.

“You need to give yourself a break.”

I don’t know what I need. I think I need to slow down, definitely. I think I need to dive deeper. I think I need to be honest with myself about what I need to focus on in order to feel fully challenged, alive, and utilised. I think I need to spend more time with people who ask me questions like: “Are you challenged? What are your zones of genius, and how can we put you there? Do you feel utilised? Let me tell you how I see you adding value…”

I think I need to stop always filling the space. To stop always filling the time. To stop always trying to achieve. Growth for growth’s sake is cancer.

“You have a PhD. Clearly you’re very accomplished.”

I have a PhD because other people deemed my work good enough to graduate with a degree. I have accomplished the task of fulfilling other people’s criteria.

I didn’t graduate with a poetry collection completely ready for publication. I have spent 12+ months deconstructing and sewing together a new collection that I’m happy to publish as my first book.

Just because I’m happy doesn’t mean I’m satisfied.

There is so much more I have to give, so much more I have to do, so much more I have to be. I use “have” here as a verb of possession, not an imperative. I don’t have to do anything. But I possess contributions, and I feel discouraged when I hold back from offering them fully.

“You do so much already. How can you take on more?”

I think this is the crux of my internal dialogue right now.


The more I’m describing is not a measure of volume. It’s a measure of quality.

My investments of energy have a high rate of return in my life right now. But I know the levels I’m investing are not sustainable. And I know they’re stretching me thin. So much of this is in response to my father’s comment when I was nine: “I know you like singing, and now you’re playing the flute and the guitar. At some point, you’re just going to have to pick one. You can’t do it all.”

Even remembering this statement, a throw-away comment, brings up so much resistance in me.

I stopped working last year in order to pursue the possibility of professional performance. I picked up consulting roles because I wanted to hone my strategic contributions. I’ve taken on a directing role because I can no longer listen to a soundtrack without following the visions in my head for how to make it manifest. I am still writing, while working, because there are too many things I can’t keep myself from saying.

There is this impulse to create, to build, to hone, to develop, to learn, to explore. All of this is different than growth for growth’s sake.


I think where things get slippery is in starting to recognise that this is a type of perfectionism. It’s not Type A vs Type B personality classifications (because I am a card-carrying Type B).

I got onto the train and told all of this to S. I said, “It’s crazy, right? I mean, I’m not a perfectionist.”

She said nothing.

“Right?” I pressed. “It’s ridiculous.”

She said nothing.

I know this type of silence. I sigh.

“Okay.” [pause for brain reconfiguring]. “Am I a perfectionist?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Right.” I said. Meaning: fuck.


The insights from S. made a lot of sense.

Speed is a type of perfectionism. When you see something wrong, you want to address it as soon as possible. It’s not just about problem-solving, either. It’s also about when you see an opportunity arising. It’s a perfectionism of process. This is how quickly your processing and reflection happens. You want to get it done as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Speed. Speed speaks to me. I get that. I want to go deep, and I want to go deep fast.

This is also true of any kind of communicating, with other people, or just with yourself. That’s more about efficiency than speed. You have a focus and an eye for accuracy. You want to skip past all the stupid stuff at the beginning in order to get to the good stuff.

Dear B.,

I’m laughing at myself on the inside for writing this letter. Well, not really laughing so much as possibly cringing — but let’s pretend it’s amusement for all intents and purposes.

I have this thing (besides a running count of how many paragraphs I begin with “I”)… I have this thing about friendships. For me, they have never fully landed (or settled, or rooted, or cemented) until both parties can reflect on their friendship from a meta-level. Why are we friends? When did we become friends? When was the first moment you really know that I knew you? The questions vary. It can be as simple as reflecting  where the two people met each other. Or as complex as your survey question: what is my role in your life? What am I to you?

Typically, these meta-friendship origin story analysis moments crop up randomly. Often, when enough time has passed to look backwards. When certain comfort levels have been reached. (“You know when I knew we were friends? When we drank wine out of plastic cups on that bus trip.” “Really? For me, it happened much later than that. I guess I was your friend before you were mine.” –> true story. This happened. I find these origin story inequalities hilariously honest.)

This means, in most instances, the  friendship has to unfold to this moment. That takes time. Which completely pisses me off.

There’s a site called The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, which has an entry for the word “adronitis”:

“Adronitis. (n.) frustration with how long it takes to get to know someone — spending the first few weeks chatting in their psychological entryway, with each subsequent conversation like entering a different anteroom, each a little closer to the center of the house — wishing instead that you could start there and work your way out, exchanging your deepest secrets first, before easy into casualness, until you’ve built up enough mystery of the years to ask them where they’re from, and what they do for a living.”

True letter from April this year.


In the span of 6 weeks between February and March, I met four men who I desperately wanted to become close friends with. Each of them challenged me, each of them felt resonant in a different way. I loved them as soon as I met them. And I spent a large majority of that time period over-analysing everything I said to them. Not wanting to jump too far ahead of myself, not wanting to scare them off, or appear to be too intense. It was a difficult holding-back from saying: “It’s fine. I know we’re best friends. Can we just agree to that destination, and then go through the process of getting there?”

In that same time period, I met with a close friend from Circling for an early morning breakfast meeting. I shared these feelings with him. I’ve probably told this anecdote in so many ways, to so many people, in so many contexts. But it’s going to stick in my personal history as one of the most impactful moments of my life. He listened, patiently, to all of my excitement over these connections, and all of my fears that they would leave, that they would find me “too much,” that they would — at a basic level — be scared off. By everything.

He said: “You are asking for intense relationships. You ask for that, because that’s exactly what you want. You don’t want anything less than that. So why do you presume that they want anything less than that either?”

“You can’t be too intense for people who appreciate that kind of intensity. So stop being afraid that you are.”


I’ve gotten more insight out of that conversation than just cementing those friendships (for the record, 3/4 of those connections are now my best friends in Australia). I also started to reflect on the apologetic nature of being “too much” in other areas: work, life, relationships, writing, ambition, skills, ideas, questions, philosophising.

I stopped over-analysing my conversations with people. When I felt the conversation going off-track, and I felt myself holding back, I trained myself to take at least a 5 minute hiatus. And then return to the conversation, saying “What I really mean to say is…”

Cut through the bullshit. Cut through the toe-ing around. Just find a way to say what you deeply, deeply mean.

I wrote a unreasonably deep cover letter (to a job I didn’t ultimately get) that finally described the core of who I am as a worker, as a creative, as a rational thinker.

I learned to stop molding myself around other people’s expectations. I learned to lead with what I know my deepest skills are. I learned to describe them more coherently to other people.

I learned to stop worrying about being “too much” and to stop the constant pressurised refrain of “not enough” underscoring all of my actions.

I’m learning, instead, to build frameworks and goalposts that are perfectly tailored to me. Not based on any external — or even internal — expectations. But based on a day-by-day process of becoming. Adaptable to what I want to build, to how I want to push myself, and what new areas I want to explore.

I am not “allowing [my] perfectionism to rest.” But I am also not barrelling through growth just for the sake of it.

I am slowing down. I am learning not to fill all of the free space with “achievements.” I am learning to say no to things instead, to allow that free space to open up.

And the things I say yes to — those become the fuel and the burning desire that propels everything else (mindfully, reflectively, gracefully) onward.

More soon. There is still fire in this topic for me.



I am not a localist


2 August 2016


I haven’t read a good book recently. By that, I mean: I haven’t been consumed by a book. I haven’t gotten sucked in. I haven’t gotten captivated. I recently read Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole. The story was captivating. It drew me in. But there, I’m talking about the narrative. I’m not describing the soul of the book.

I’ve been wanting a book like The Book Thief, like the tiny thin volume of “Antarctica Stories” (Regions of Thick-Ribbed Ice by Helen Garner) that made me swallow them whole because I couldn’t tear my attention away from them.

For more than a year, A. has been halfway through reading The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd. My dear E. in Edinburgh and I have been reading through some slim non-fiction nature volumes (by some, I mean one, but the pattern is set in my head now), not unlike this one.

But this one. Oh, this one.

I haven’t gotten to the actual content yet (clearly I’ve stolen it off him). Nan Shepherd has written Twelve short essays about the Cairngorms:

One: The Plateau
Two: The Recesses
Three: The Group
Four: Water
Five: Frost and Snow
Six: Air and Light
Seven: Life: The Plants
Eight: Life: Birds, Animals, Insects
Nine: Life: Man
Ten: Sleep
Eleven: The Senses[1]
Twelve: Being

The book fits nicely in my hand. It’s soft, it’s pliable. It’s short. I know I can get through it swiftly – probably in one sitting.

But so far, I’m not even finished with Robert Macfarlane’s introduction.

Partially, this is due to the quality of the introduction. He’s treated it like a personal essay, as well as a contextual piece. It has its own endnotes. Partially, this is because I fell in love with Robert Macfarlane in a bookshop when I picked up his book on walking.[2]

And partially, this is because almost everything he says in his introduction sparks an association in me which is more fruitful than the linear reading.


I’ve very frequently said: a book may be made to read linearly, from the start to the finish, in one narrative arc. But that’s not what I’m made for. I’m made for so much more than that. It’s been my excuse for cross-reading, for having a book of poems, essays, short stories on the go at the same time as a libretto, a novel (no, three novels), a memoir. At a pub in Redfern a few weeks ago, the bartender jokingly called me “a literary floozy.” I don’t necessarily deny it. I have worn my stack of bedside books as a badge of honour.

But recently, like I wrote in the past entry, I’ve been dealing with an upsurge of anxiety. It has come into my brain like the worst kind of static. It surges through my body like a tightening – like constriction and unstable vibrations at the same time. It is an earthquake of shaking and noise and dissonance, and I’ve had a hard time keeping it at bay and funnelling it where it needs to be redirected.

Yesterday at work, my mind was busy. Busy is not bad. Busy is okay. But when the weight of busy becomes too prominent, busy can trip over into anxiety. Not anxiety about the work. It’s not really anxiety about anything. It’s more: a familiar common muscle, a bad habit, something that has gotten reinforced, and then cracked open, and then healed, and then sometimes resurfaces in times of stress again. It’s not anxiety about the work. It’s just a pattern, a reaction that has gotten triggered recently.

I meditated on my lunch break, and just started writing, straight out of the meditation:


Monday 1st August – 14:06

So many thoughts. Just slow down. Let them crowd in, wash over you. Let them come in like wave upon wave, because the ocean doesn’t stop for anything either – there are just tides, and constant movement.

You are only riding on the surface right now, which is why there are waves and waves one after the other. You are being pummelled by the gift of plentitude. You can’t take a break and a breath yet in order to prioritise, in order to process or make order of any of the ideas.

You need to dive down. Don’t feel claustrophobic. Beneath the surface, the water is just like sky (there’s a great quote about that in Barbara Kingsolver’s book The Lacuna about that. Read it. Dive back into that book).

This diving deep can be in a natural, open air space if you need it to be, if you need to feel the air around you. But once you dive down deeper, the rip tide isn’t pulling you under. The waves are still there, but they don’t dominate your vision.

What is just a little bit deeper than this experience?

What emotions, thoughts, insights, are floating just a little bit deeper than this moment?

Just a little bit deeper.

You can only follow one thought at a time in order to really follow through fully. Each day: pick a thought.

Each day, for each job, for each section, for each hour: pick a thought to follow. Pick one book to read. Pick one letter to write. Pick one priority.

Make a list, make all the lists. The lists can still be there – make a list for the week, and keep migrating things off onto each day. But each day, each moment in time, there can only be one focus.

Just like you can only watch one TV show, one movie at a time, try to choose one project, one idea to follow.

Let it lead you. Let it unpack itself into your life. All of your ideas are like travellers moving through hotel rooms – getting all the experience, but never unpacking, never staying, never settling in. Be like Jack Kerouac, even when the going is crazy, who still had time to sit down and reflect and pin some thoughts down to paper.

Try having a one-track mind. Just for an hour. See where it will go. See where it will take you.

Ruminating on the future? The future unravels like a carpet in front of you. Know that the richness you seek is already inside of you. You don’t need more (more books, more money, more space, more ideas, more presents, more letters, more events, more achievements, more products, more goals) in order to embrace this plentitude.

You need more presence. You need to be in more conversation with spirit, with soul, with the depths below the surface.

Just watch all the craziness as it swirls around you, but don’t hang onto it. Take your hands off. Let it pass. Let it go.

It is not yours.

This anxiety is not yours.

This chaos is not yours.

Similarly, these goals you are building, these achievements you are experiencing: these are not yours.

If you hold onto them and present them to other people wrapped in a bow, you will always have to be the one shepherding them, the one who brings them to other people’s attention. If you grow them up, and let them live, give them their own existence and let them go, they will grow legs and arms and commune their own way in the world. Your name may or may not be attached to them. This is not an exercise in ownership. This is an exercise in how things grow and evolve. This is an exercise in contributing to the world. This is not about possessing things. This is not about medals or congratulations.

Take the idea, shape it, make it, let it go.

Take it, shape it, make it, let it go.

Take it, shape it, make it, let it LIVE.


On the way home, I stood at the bus stop in the rain and deleted all 16 books from my “currently reading” list on Goodreads. I put them back on “to-read,” and added them to “partially-read.” The progress will be saved, hopefully, so I can remember where I am. If not, I’ll just go back and read through until it stops sounding familiar.

I started to dive deeply into “The Living Mountain.”

I started to build out all the associations in my head, to follow them simply, one by one. I stopped myself from rushing through the slight volume.

‘The Cairngorms were once higher than today’s Alps, but over millions of years they have been eroded into a low-slung wilderness of whale-backed hills and shattered cliffs. Born of fire, carved by ice, finessed with wind, water and snow, the massif is a terrain shaped by what Nan Shepherd – in this slender masterpiece about the region – calls ‘the elementals.’ (ix)

I’m jealous of her innate knowledge of the Cairngorms. I love hiking. I love mountains, and rivers, and lakes, and trees, but I can’t name any of them. I read nature-writing and I feel like my baseline knowledge is incomplete: as a writer, as a naturalist, as the person I am, I want to know more. And it’s this trap of competency and knowledge that pushes me into all the areas. I have interest for more content than I could possibly consume. I am not a walking encyclopaedia, nor should I strive to be. My highest skill-set is in the connections and relationships between things, identifying patterns, bridging disparate ideas, holding a space for cognitive dissonance, distilling concepts, articulation. I have to remind myself: you are not inadequate for failing to be the “facts person” for each of your wide range of interests.


‘Shepherd was localist of the best kind: she came to know her chosen place closely, but that closeness served to intensify rather than limit her vision.’ (x)

‘Again and again, Kavanagh returned to the connection between the universal and parochial, and to the idea that we learn by scrutiny of the close-at-hand. ‘All great civilisations are based on parochialism,’ he wrote finely:

To know fully even one field or one land is a lifetime’s experience. In the world of poetic experience it is depth that counts, not width. A gap in a hedge, a smooth rock surfacing a narrow lane, a view of a woody meadow, the stream at the junction of four small fields – these are as much as a man can fully experience.

Shepherd came to know the Cairngorms ‘deeply’ rather than ‘widely,’ and they are to her what Selbourne was to Gilbert White, the Sierra Nevada were to John Muir and the Aran Islands are to Tim Robinson. They were her inland-island, her personal parish, the area of territory that she loved, walked and studied over time such that concentration within its perimeters led to knowledge cubed rather than knowledge curbed.’ (xv-xvi)

I have mixed feelings about the scale of Shepherd’s scope. I admire it, to be sure. I appreciate her keen eye for detail, before I’ve even read one of her observations. I’m still getting all of this second-hand through Robert Macfarlane, and Neil Gunn, and comparisons to Patrick Kavanagh.

But I’m deeply jealous. And that’s because, at the heart of things, I know I’m not a localist.

We’re about to move again: just a few streets over, and around the corner. But A. made the joke to friends at a picnic on Saturday: “We’ve been here for a year. We clearly have a hard time living in one house for longer than a year. Or, least be honest, we have a hard time living in one country.”

It was true. And it was funny, to our friends, because it was true. But hearing this echo in my head while I read about Nan Shepherd, I think of all of the places I have wanted to belong to, as a local. To become deeply entrenched in. To know the depth of, not the breadth of. I am a person with a lot of breadth, but I have a longing for all the places where I haven’t stopped and taken root. The areas of knowledge I haven’t dived into, the skills I haven’t pursued. The places I haven’t stayed.

This haunts me. And that has never been more clear to me than now, beginning to read Nan’s intimate knowledge of a place, where I’m not sure I’ll be able to follow.

Obviously, this all makes me think of Iona. With such a small space: it was easy to know it deeply. With such a thin separation between earth and heaven there, it was easy to connect to the land and for it to be irrevocably ingrained on the spirit. It’s one of the only places that feels like a tear in the fabric of time and reality. It holds itself apart, and it is deeply rooted within me. But that feels more like a quality of Iona than a comment on my ability to know a place intimately.

I know that I know people intimately. Isn’t a person their own kind of landscape, their own map and history?


‘Intellectually, she was what Coleridge once called a ‘library-cormorant’; omnivorous and voracious in her reading. On 7 May 1907, aged just fourteen, she started the first of what she called her ‘medleys’ – commonplace books into which she copied literary, religious, and philosophical citations, and which reveal the breadth of her reading as a young woman.’ (xi)

I love the image of the ‘library-cormorant’: it evokes images in my head of Audrey Niffinegger’s Raven Girl. I have often felt the urge to consume books. I talk about them in terms of ‘eating’ and ‘swallowing’ them. I’ve also recently just gone back to my own ‘commonplace books’. I’ve stopped reprimanding myself for the vast spread of notebooks (I’m back to: bullet journal, Real World notebook, Social Media College notebook, daily reflection book, deeper identity book, Word document, and scraps of poetry and quotes in various other notebooks. I also have an ‘idea’ notebook, just to capture the skeletons of all the projects flying through my brain). Now, I just write. Where and when I can.


‘Shepherd is a fierce see-er, then. And like many fierce see-ers, she is also a part-time mystic, for whom intense empiricism is the first step to immanence. ‘I knew when I had looked for a long time,’ she writes, ‘that I had hardly begun to see.’ (xix)

It’s been over a year since I met the idea for my novel. It’s been slow going capturing the idea into my own words, but I recognise it everywhere. I hear it in music, I see its qualities appear in someone else’s poem. I see the narrative play out in the relationships between real-world people. Every time it appears to me, I jot down more notes. I pick a quote at random and write to it from within the story.

This quote about Nan Shepherd is the closest I’ve been able to describe this process so far. I’ve never written a novel before. I don’t know what the writing of a novel is supposed to feel like. But it feels like a chipping away at the block of marble, revealing what has always been underneath, but what only I have been able to see thus far.

It feels like a vision-ing.

I’m reading for Thailand. I’m ready to excavate it. It has been patient enough for me. Now is the time to double down.


‘Shepherd – like Neil Gunn and like the Scottish explorer-essayist W.H. Murray – was strongly influenced by her reading in Buddhism and the Tao. Shards of Zen philosophy glitter in the prose of all three writers, like mica flecks in granite. Reading their work now, with its fusion of Highland landscape and Buddhist metaphysics, remains astonishing: like encountering a Noh play performed in a kailyard, or chrysanthemums flourishing in a corrie.’ (xix – xx)

Yes. I am so ready for this.

Observation + self-reflection + nature + empiricism + zen koans + the spirit = I have been so ready to find this book.

Note to self: read all these people.


That’s enough for today. Part 2 to come soon. Maybe, by then, I will have actually started to read the book, itself.


[1] I almost wrote “The Sentences” here. Which is kind of a beautiful slip-up. I couldn’t let it get lost in the correction.

[2] I accidentally wrote “when I picked up his book on [writing]” in my first draft of this post. I almost left it un-corrected, because I feel like exceptional books about walking are always books about writing. I’m thinking of Rebecca Solnit. I’m thinking of Mary Oliver.