Catherine Gracey

Living Life, One Misadventure At A Time.

My Orange Balloon

For over three months, a small orange balloon has been chilling out in our living room. We inflated it for a toddler to play with at our housewarming party, and it is still full of air.

This balloon causes me an incredible amount of consternation. I feel compelled to do something with it. We don’t need an inflated balloon in our living room, and the toddler hasn’t been back since. There are 24 other balloons in the packet, so the loss of this one will hardly be a problem.

Almost every day I pick it up, intending to get rid of it. All I need to do is pop it, throw it in the rubbish bin, and be done with it. Despite this clear pathway, I am unable to destroy the orange balloon.

It sits there, mocking me with its inflation. Somehow, it knows that I retain my childhood resistance to throwing away a balloon while it’s still inflated. When I look at it, I am reminded of how happy the toddler was to have it, and my determination to get rid of it crumbles.

Occasionally, I start to wonder what I could do with the balloon. Perhaps I should just find a proper place to keep it, where it can live out the rest of its inflation in peace. I could paint a face on it, attach it to something else in the house, or start researching options on the internet.

When I embrace the idea of doing something with the balloon, I begin to fear that it will pop and be destroyed in the moment where I have formalised its role in my life. My shock and dismay is immediate, and I back away from the balloon. Tendrils of resentment form in my mind, and I glare at it; how dare the orange balloon plan to be popped? It continues to mock me, thrilled that it has an additional avenue of attack, and once again I want nothing to do with it.

I can’t decide if my bizarre relationship with this balloon means I have been working from home for too long. It is my constant companion, and I dread the day when I begin talking to it. The day it begins talking back will be truly terrifying.

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Weight of the World

Last week I was walking home when I met a young woman. She was sitting on some steps, huddled against the flower garden, an unlit cigarette clutched between her fingers. I had almost walked past her when I realised her eyes were bright with tears.

I paused, momentarily torn about what to do. So many memories of being told that no one wants me to interfere in their lives flooded my mind, and the social conditioning to keep walking past a stranger and not get involved was strong. On the other hand, this young woman looked as if she did not have a friend in the world and desperately needed one.

Before I realised I had made the decision, I was walking back towards her. Not sure what I was going to do before I did it, I watched myself reach out to touch her shoulder. She looked up at me, tears streaking down her face.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“Yes,” she choked out.

Ignoring the lessons from an awful lot of people, I wilfully invaded her personal space by sitting down close beside her. “Are you sure you’re okay?” I asked. “Because you don’t look it.”

All of the strength she had mustered to give me the default answer crumbled, and her story poured out of her. I sat there, rubbing her back, quietly listening to her confusion and grief. She had gotten herself into a situation that she considered hopeless because she was clueless how to fix it.

From my external viewpoint, her problem seemed absurdly simple. And yet, here she was, so distraught I feared she would have difficulty breathing.

Not knowing what else to do, I asked questions about how she had gotten into this mess. It was clear from the way she immediately calmed down that they were questions she had not asked herself before. As we talked she began to sit up straighter, her breathing steadied, and her tears stopped flowing.

We talked through the problem, and she saw ways to get herself out of it. Then we discussed the social fallout she was facing from the initial problem, and we talked through how to improve that as well. Before long she had calmed down enough to light her cigarette.

Our conversation probably lasted for less than ten minutes. As we said our goodbyes she asked if she could hug me. I held her for a few seconds, aware that her body had stopped trembling. She suggested that I come by the cafe where she worked for a coffee one day. Then she was gone, confidently leaving to put her new plans into action.

I was amazed at how quickly this woman had gone from hopeless to empowered. It felt as if I had barely done anything, yet clearly my actions had a significant impact. As I continued walking home I wondered how many people had walked past her without noticing, or perhaps just without caring. At least one person had walked down those stairs before me, and it had not looked as if he even glanced in her direction.

I’m glad I stopped when I saw her; it was the right thing to do. I can’t help wondering though how many other people I have walked past in similar situations because they were strangers, because I was lost in my own problems, or because I was simply unaware of my surroundings.

Realising how often I haven’t stopped does leave me with a question I hope I never need an answer to: would anyone have stopped for me in that situation?

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Nomadic Furniture

One of my old habits when I was annoyed was to rearrange furniture. Chairs, couches, coffee tables, it was all up for relocation. The habit almost died when I became sick a few years ago, and was reduced to a few items at a time that were still within the scope of normal cleaning.

Today I swapped two bookcases.

Bookcases are heavy things, especially when they are full size and made of wood. They took two people to get into position when we moved into the house, and moving them around inside was accomplished with a trolly.

I’ll be feeling it tomorrow, but I managed to rearrange the house today by picking up the bookcases. By myself. And then carrying them. By myself. Then I did a whole lot of other stuff around the house.

It has been a very long time since I last decided to change my environment just because I felt like it. My belief about my body has been that if I do things like this without help, I will injure myself badly. Today I put that idea aside, and just did whatever I felt like doing. I listened to my body instead of my fears. I took rests when I needed to, but I still did exactly what I wanted to do.

My environment is now remarkably different to the way it was this morning. It is a thrilling reminder to myself of what I can do when I pace myself and do it in stages. Something that has been irritating me for days is now pleasing, and I have a massive sense of accomplishment.

I hope that I can continue this momentum over the next few days. I would like to see what other mental barriers my body is capable of breaking, just because I feel like it. Sometimes the best reason in life is simply because I can.

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There Might Be 50, But They Aren’t Grey

I need to start going to anonymous meetings where I begin by introducing myself.

The subject of these meetings will be my total inability to stop purchasing books. I will have to detail numbers, places and times. This month would represent a long litany of confession.

There are the children’s books, released in small format and a mere 95 cents. When the same titles would cost me 15 dollars at home, economic wisdom almost mandates that I buy them here. Something about carpe diem.

Then there are the reference books. I would have resisted, but again they are cheaper here, and I need to learn now. Why sit alone because I do not understand the conversation that flows around me? What good will it do me to learn new words, only to forget them from lack of use?

I have a few more books that I want to buy, but I am waiting for an order of books to be shipped to me in Germany. When I have those books and the box they were shipped in, there is the option to send some home.

At that point, I would probably buy more.

The anonymous meetings would be helpful for breaking this pattern of book buying. Perhaps they would give me a special token to carry in my pocket. I could run my fingers over it whenever I ventured near a bookstore, reminding myself of how strong I had been to not buy another. Then I could go to the meetings and tell everyone how many days it had been, how much I had resisted, how well I had done.

When I had reached a token representing a significant milestone, I would feel pride in my achievements. I would open up more in the meetings and share the secrets of my success. People would talk to me about their challenges, and I would help them to solve the obstacles preventing them from breaking free.

Over time I could progress in those meetings, maybe even become a mentor for others. I would be respected for my iron will and steely determination. I would be a pillar of strength, a safe harbour in a sea of new releases.

Then one day I would meet another reader. He would confess a secret purchase. The book would sound intriguing, tempting, a small speck of festering curiosity that would lodge in my imagination.

I would try to ignore the book suggestion. Perhaps it would be weeks, perhaps only days, but eventually it would rust a hole in the fortress of my defences. I would tell myself that I was only going to look, to better understand what had so weakened my informant. The token of my resistance would be set aside, and I would go to the bookstore to stare at my adversary.

Deep behind enemy lines, I would find this wicked temptation. I would hold it in my hand, stare at the cover design, casually read the blurb. I would pronounce it boring, and then try to return it to the shelf.

The book would refuse to go, embedding itself in the flesh of my palm. I would swing my hand wildly, desperate to free myself from its influence. More books would join the attack, and I would be overwhelmed.

My defences would be breeched. Any pride I had felt would be eroded, and my token of triumph would be a mockery of failed achievements. I would cast myself aside, unable to face my peers or see the pity in their understanding. Shame would fill my existence.

Good grief.

Maybe I should just skip those meetings and buy another book.

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The Member for Bowman is Alive

Occasionally I like to entertain myself by writing to members of Parliament. During elections this can even extend to the other candidates. It amuses me to ask totally inappropriate questions, such as “what is your policy on xyz?” Sometimes I go crazy and just ask “what are your key policies?” At least, I assume they are inappropriate questions based on the total lack of response I typically receive.

Today I stumbled across the following speech by Andrew Laming, member for Bowman in Queensland:

I’m a huge fan of giving praise where it is due, and this is one of those instances where I felt it needed to be given. There are two issues within the home birth debate in Australia; the first is the home birth itself, and the second is women’s rights. Depending on how you view the debate, there is also the third issue of infant rights. With approximately 800 Australian women planning a home birth in any given year, this is not a significantly large demographic. It is easy to ignore such a small voting population. It is also easy to allow women’s rights to slide when there is a significant political motivation for fear and misinformation in certain lobbyist sections.

Laming stood up here and presented a researched, carefully considered argument in support of this minority group. He said what women are unable to stand before Parliament and say ourselves. It was reassuring to see a member for Parliament actually plugged in to reality. Also slightly alarming that the improbable has happened, but mostly reassuring.

I decided to write to Laming to express my appreciation for this speech, and to express my hope that his support for this topic has not slipped. And then something amazing happened – he wrote back. Immediately. He even thanked me for my email. Wow! Not only that, but he must have actually read my email because he commented on what I had written and even got my name right. I’ve had employers who can’t manage that.

This is massively outside my sphere of previous experience. I’m not used to members of Federal Parliament actually acknowledging my existence unless they want to hand me a newsletter at a supermarket or train station. I’ve confronted my own member at the train station and asked why he never responds to my emails, only to be presented with the world’s worst imitation of a charming smile and the assurance that of course he would have replied before he turned away and introduced himself to someone else. Douchebag.

Anyway, back to Laming. There is a politician in this country who is alive. He listens to voters. He takes things on board, and provides feedback of his own. He isn’t even in the Greens party (they’re normally the only ones who will talk to me). I wonder if there is a way to spread this good behaviour within the rest of Federal Parliament. Perhaps I will experiment with this tomorrow by sending an email to Gai Brodtmann. Apparently she’s committed to being a strong voice for Canberra; lets see if she can also type a reply.

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A Sugar Free Lent

My boyfriend is Catholic, and currently participating in Lent. For the duration he has decided to give up sweets. No cakes, no biscuits, no ice cream, no chocolate. Truly, I do not understand why any god would be this mean, but it is his religion and not mine, so I guess I can accept this without question.

In a vague notion that I could try to be supportive of this, I have also reduced my consumption. I feel mean having a sugar fest in front of him. He assures me that it is fine, he doesn’t have a problem with me eating those foods, and I should go ahead if I want to. For a few days I stay strong. Solidarity. Viva la resistance.

Then I turn into a dirty saboteur.

Along comes something delicious, and any thought of supporting him just vanishes from my head. Why hello chocolate brownie, you freshly cooked morsel of pure sensory pleasure. My love for him transforms from being supportive of his faith to realising how much he too would appreciate this wondrous item, and I try to share.

Sharing nice, calorie dense food is a challenge for me. It is a sign of supreme love to offer half a cupcake when I only have one. Some days it is even a struggle for me to share one TimTam from a packet of nine. But for him I am willing to make this sacrifice, because he is more important to me than a piece of cake.

Well, he is most days.

Tonight we were at the supermarket. As we waited in line I noticed a freezer beside the registers full of Magnum ice creams. Ooh. Magnum. Ooh. Mine! I hadn’t eaten a Magnum in a very long time, and I worked very hard at the gym today, so I totally deserved one. I even had enough restraint to wait until we had paid for it before tearing open the packet and eating it as quickly as possible.

The trouble with ice cream covered in chocolate is that it tends to make me rather happy. I slide into a place of bliss, where the world somehow becomes a better place. When I’m in this joyful state, I feel more affectionate. And there was my boyfriend, so available for my affection.

Apparently it is very difficult for he who is participating in Lent to kiss a woman who tastes like ice cream and chocolate. I’m a morally bankrupt person of the worst sort for not backing away at this moment, but I couldn’t resist. I wanted to kiss him, and he was more than happy to taste the sugary indulgence on my lips.

He managed to keep it together and resist my snack. I suspect it was a struggle, so he did well. I’m pleased, partly because he stayed strong, and partly because it meant I got to keep the entire Magnum for myself. Lent was saved for another day, and the Magnum has probably been added to the list of foods we’re buying on Easter Sunday. How fortunate that society has already planned a sugar binge for him to participate in.

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