Connection is work

We're returning from the Coromandel, heading back towards Auckland,
and I'm in the back seat, staring out the window.
Blurs of green and yellow and bitumen blue. 
In the rear view mirror I can see Tracey, just her eyes,
and in the side mirror is Rach, just her collarbone, which I adore.

This landscape is so beautiful.  Wide grassy plains, with occasional tightly gathered cows,
heads all together like they’re planning a coup.

It’s the horizon that is the most striking now.  These fields could belong to my own Australian landscape except for their horizon.  Volcanic misty peaks, layered and foliage’d and quietly exciting.  Patches of sunlight drift over the trees, like golden jellyfish ghosts.

Our lively conversation of the morning has dropped off now, replaced with a comfortable peace.  Tracey reaches for her coffee, her eyes in the mirror are distant, contemplative.
I start thinking about connection, how we do it and why.

Out here in the vastness, it’s easy to feel insignificant, small, distant.

As if she saw my thoughts in her side mirror, Rach reaches a hand back behind her seat, fingers reaching, her palm a question,
“Will you connect with me?  Will you bridge this gap?”

My fingertips find her palm, and hers find mine, and we share a moment of no words, conveying soul-thoughts with the lightest touches, telling our heart stories to each other with tiny pressures and traces and piano taps.

I think connecting is work, and it’s risking rejection,
and it demands a sacrifice of our time and our comfort and our independence.
And the more we connect, the more these stakes rise.
We sacrifice our reputation for vulnerability, hoping and trusting that this other soul will be a safe place for all of that.  And we do it again and again, in so many forms, even after being hurt.

What’s the payoff for all this connecting work?
Nothing tangible, really.  Just feelings and self-worth and something we call “community”.
And that intense heat in our souls that make us want to give and sacrifice even more,
even if it costs us our life.

And maybe, also, when we connect we are voicing a solidarity -
That us humans, in all this wide open infinite, are doing ok, and are worthy of being here,
and are not alone.
 

Nostalgia feels like Regret

I’m listening to songs I haven’t heard in fifteen years. 

Thoughts and feelings and sensations from that era tumble past my consciousness.  

And when I stretch out my hand, and run my fingertips under these waterfall memories, I feel such a curious mixture of laugh-out-loud joy, and crashing loss.  I miss all the people I’ve loved.  And I loved all the people.

Peter Rollins says that you have to let them go, those loves.  He says, in order to remember them the best, in order to hold them in your heart in a way that’s healthy, you have to let them go.  Set them free.  Give up the ownership, and the pain, and the grudges, and the hurt.

So then, when you meet them again, or when you have to talk about them in the future, you won’t be pouring out your bitterness, anger, victim-ness.  Instead you can speak openheartedly:
“I’m really sorry for my part in our distance..”
“I’m so proud of you…”
“I miss you, but you’d be proud of me..”
“I care about you, and want you to be happy..”
“I forgive you..”

Pete Rollins says, if you don’t do the work of letting them go, then
you won’t be able to have that healthy encounter in the future.

I think he’s right, too.  I can’t cup my hands and hold on to all these memories, as they cascade over me.  It would be a life’s work to hold it all, and I’d never get anywhere myself.

So, I stand here with palms open, letting the nostalgias and losses splash through my fingers, releasing them to keep falling through space, eventually to hit a surface far below me with a roar, like each memory was worth celebrating,
like the world is applauding.
 

Conversations About Care, Melbourne AU

We landed at 5am this morning in Melbourne.
Rach is an amazing sleeper.  She sat right next to me, eyes closed and face down, completely zenned out.  Like a monk in prayer.

I’m not so successful at the sleeping thing.
I spent the flight staring at the back of my eyelids, and exploring every other sensation my body had running.  I imagined being blind, and how all my other senses would grow stronger, like a superhero.

I could hear the low rumble of the engines, and a few muffled conversations two rows forward.  I heard every snap and click of the bathroom doors.  I heard so many coughs I lost count.  I wondered if I could influence dreams, up there in the sky with all these sleeping souls.  So I pushed thoughts of courageous generosity out into the ether, but, no one woke and gave me 20 dollers, so I guess it didn’t work.

One of the things I love about Rachel Callander is how she does this:  The travelling, speaking, training, listening thing.  She hustles so strong, but at the same time she’s not grasping at all, not chasing the spotlight, even when the spotlight chases her.  The learning, the studying and thinking is hardcore, but the delivery is kind of effortless.  

Not EASY effortless, but, more like, joyfully determined.
Like, she’s been told her future, been given that certainty, so now, no matter what the journey looks like, or how hard it gets, she’ll lean in to it with a cavalier openheartedness.

Psychologist Angela Duckworth would call this “grit”, I think.
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Abbortsford Convent is a peaceful ancient thing, straight out of a Harry Potter novel.  I swear I saw some kids just finishing up a game of quidditch in the courtyard when we arrived.  I laid some books on a table in the hall and enquired about coffee, and Rach stepped up to the stage.

This is the third year North Richmond Community Health has run their “Conversations About Care” symposium, and it has become something quite beautiful and powerful.  It feels like a summit of elders, a gathering of altruism where the conversation isn’t about personal gain, money, justice or excuses, but instead, we hear ideas about transforming the customer experience, flattening the hierarchy of ego, building equal respect for both the patient and the professional.

Rach is alive here - Softly buzzing with questions, empathy, warmth and strength.  She’s taking notes and sketching models into her Moleskine, and remembering every name she comes across.

I’m terrible with names, and have to write everything down:
Susan Alberti AC - A powerhouse of forward motion; 
John McKenna - The Yoda of the Health System, reminding us of our limitless potential in life; 
Dr Ajesh George, Prof. John Aitken, Dr Jonathan Silverman, Lucy Mayes, Dr Ioan Jones, Dr Katy Theodore, Dr Martin Hall.  
Incredible humans, investing their lives into healthcare and relationships.

Rach whispers to me in passing, “These are our people, Nath!”  

And I close my eyes, and again push my thoughts out into the ether; and I see a room full of people invested in humanity and cultural change.  

Looks like I found that courageous generosity after all.

today we have no plans

I am sitting cross-legged on an excellent chair.  Drinking coffee, typing words.  Today, we have no plans.

The foyer of this place is beautiful.  High arches, wraparound internal balcony on the second floor, domed opaque glass for a ceiling, all lit up by the sun, without any of the heat.  The only other soul in this palacial retreat is Rach, curled up and surrounded by her journals, like an intellectual cat.

This week had it's moments.  Two nights ago I rode my bike out of work at 3am.  Last night I had clients until 9pm.  This week had deadlines and bills and walls.

But today, it's all done.  The muscle of life contracted, clenched, choked, but has now released again.  Breathing free.  

I suppose this is how everything happens:  

Tense.  Release.
Breathe in.  Breathe out.
Conflict.  Peace.
Pain.  Healing.

I suppose, if I'm being completely honest, today wouldn't mean anything to me without the preceding conflict.  It would just be another day.  Boring, even.  But, because of the perspective afforded by conflict, I can truly appreciate the zero.

Today, we have no plans, and I am joyfully grateful, and I am being in, and enjoying every second of, this moment.

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between the problem and the solution

The way a problem works, is that it arrives out of nowhere, we scramble to find a solution as fast as possible to avoid any discomfort, and then when we have the solution, the problem goes away and we move on. 

Which, unfortunately, means we’ve learnt nothing about ourselves.   

If we are truly going to grow in life, if we are going to actually transcend our “normal” into a life we’d be proud to live, then we need to step back and notice what’s happening between the problem and the solution.

We need to see ourselves, watch how we react, consider why we are doing what we are doing.  No judgement, just compassionate honesty.

Is it fear?  Chasing comfort?  Ignoring the obvious? 

If we are not aware of ourselves when a problem hits, then we’ll just automate our response to it, and it will cycle back again.

Being aware allows you to move forward.  Grow.  And when you’re done, you might even be able to thank the problem, instead of fearing it’s return. 

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Australia Day

Tonight the sky exploded.
There was so much smoke, it felt like someone lit a floating bushfire right there in the sky above Elizabeth Quay.  Dense grey ghost-clouds yawned their way through the city,
like ancient spectres roused from slumber and already bored.

I think I love fireworks, but not for the reasons you’d think.
These celebrations are always monstrously expensive, and often bring out
the worst in humanity.  Thousands of humans mass themselves on the foreshore and
shout drunken patriotic slogans at each other all night.
All of that I don’t care about at all.

But tonight, I really only saw the lightshow in reflections off our balcony doors, over Rach’s shoulder.  She was watching them, and I was watching her.
She was telling me stories of festivals back in her hometown, back in New Zealand.
Her face would light up with every firecracker, and in her eyes, there were sparks and experiences, little explosions of whimsy in the deep pools of life’s memories.

It reminded me of the first time I brought Sebastian to a firework show.
He was barely two years old, and he sat in my lap and laughed at the sky.  His tiny hands reached out, grabbing at the fireflies, and on his face was naked wonder and delight.

That’s why I like fireworks.  For the soft splashes of wonder on all the faces.
The droplets of eternity on our lashes.

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work

It just hit midnight here, and I’m alone with the city.  All the tall buildings, the great ventricles of the city, have pumped out their last suited human, and are in a cardiac rest until the morning.  Their lights have been left on, to compete with the stars, I think.

But the stars still win.  The Southern Cross constellation is right in front of me, close, like it’s strung up between the Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton buildings.  Like we missed a decoration when we were clearing out Christmas.

Rach said the moon was close tonight too.  She texted me three hours ago, and said it was exceptional, that it sat in profile, all proud of itself for shining beautiful.

I missed it completely.  

I think this is the part of life that breaks us.  Not the late nights.  Not even the deadlines.  It’s not the hard work.

What breaks us is the pouring of our best hours into a vision that is not our own.  It’s giving our best to something that doesn’t love us.

I’ll happily work all night for those whom I love, and who love me.  I’ll pull an all-nighter to unpack an exciting idea onto a page.  I’ll hustle so hard for those things in life I consider meaningful.  

But, to put in hours of my day into a generic job?  That is like death.  That’s like pumping tiny suited bodies into my cubicles and letting them use up my best resources, only to leave at the end of the day without a word of thanks.

I’m with you, city buildings.  I get it.
Sometimes you just want to fill yourself with inspired meaningful work, hey?
To know that worthwhile progress has been made this day.  Progress towards a better world.

I think we should do work that matters.  We should put a bouncer at the door and be selective about who will work within our walls.  

“Joyful optimism?  Come on in.  Your desk is over by the window.”
“Grit?  Take the top floor.”
“Prideful comparison?  Sorry dude, there no space here for you today.”
“Love?  Right this way.  Take the boardroom.”

If I were that building, then at the end of the day, when all my people have emptied out of me and I was at rest again, I would turn on every light I had.  I’d be so energised, I’d give the stars a run for their shine.  And the great exhausted buildings beside me would start asking whether, maybe, they could borrow my bouncer for a day or two.

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I never wanted to be a photographer.

I never wanted to be a photographer.
I wanted to be a storyteller.  I wanted to tell people stories about themselves.  The kinds of stories they should already know, but had somehow lost along the way.

Stories like, 
“You are amazing.”
“You are resilient.”
“You are broken, but also whole.”
“You are love(d).”

So I picked up a camera, and stepped into the world of weddings, and showed these amazing couples the sparks between them.  I wanted them to know that the most magic thing about their wedding wasn’t the party, nor the vows and promises.  It wasn’t even that they were loved.  
The most magic thing, was that they themselves, were love.  That’s the story I’ve been telling in every wedding I’ve every shot.

You.  Are love(d).

chasing ourselves

“Rachel Callander, award-winning photographer, gives up wedding photography to evangelise the Health System.”
“Nathan Maddigan, award-winning photographer, gives up wedding photography to persue authentic story craft.”

It doesn’t matter, really.  What the papers say.  What the fans say.  What the critics say.  

What matters, is that we chase ourselves.

What I mean is, every day of our lives, we are learning more about ourselves, what we love, what we believe in, what we despise.  And the more we learn, the greater the responsibility to act.  

We need to chase down our authentic core.  Every time we unearth a clue, every time we discover a piece of the puzzle that is “us”, we must chase it.  We can’t just ignore what we know to be true about ourselves.  If we do that, then eventually we’ll become that person that Viktor Frankl describes who “cannot find meaning, so, numbs himself with pleasure”.
 

twenty eighteen

It’s almost midnight, and I can’t sleep just yet.  I wish there was a great inspired reason, but to be honest, I probably had a bit too much caffeine too late in the day.  So, instead of sleeping, I’m out here on the balcony of our 6th floor apartment, watching conversations on the street, and drinking whisky, and writing.  A truck just drove by, loaded up with Christmas decorations.  Like a giant tinsel-spider, folded up and put to rest for another year.

The world is getting back to work.

And so are we.  Rach and I.  We took some time out, drove 400 kilometres to the southernmost tip of Western Australia, and made our plans.  
We said, “Life is not long.  We have to do meaningful work”.  
We said, “No matter what, we need to do work that matters.”
We took stock of what we have, and what we need to get our message out.  We pooled all of our stuff, everything of value.
We climbed a mountain, and talked about Love.  
Rach said the clouds felt closer up here.

Tonight Rach sold her piano.