Don’t Forget to Look Up / Thinking Big

In a previous blog post many moons (and blogging sites and Internet galaxies) ago I wrote about an occasion when I was walking down Clapham High Street and it dawned on me that, prior to that moment, I had never along that road raised my eyes upwards – to look above the shops and restaurants I was walking past, to notice the tops of the buildings, the art deco flats, the various architectural accomplishments (and, indeed, failures), to simply get a peep inside the windows through which so many simultaneous lives were being lived out above the level of the ground floor.

The point of my sharing that anecdote is that so many of us go through life with blinkers on, failing to see so many of the things that are staring us right in the face. We follow the pattern of getting up, taking the tube to work, trawling through our to do lists with barely a break for breath, let alone lunch. Then, at the end of the day, we drag our weary work-beaten selves to our homes or – if we can muster the energy – to the gym or to the pub where we can re-energise or socialise and temporarily forget that the inescapable cycle will resume again in just a few hours’ time. We are, in short, slaves to our routines, and so rarely take the time or trouble to break from them each day for just a moment to re-engage with the world around us.

On that note, I’m currently reading (or, to be more precise, dipping in and out of) The Artist’s Way, a self-help book by American Julia Cameron written way back in 1992 that promises to help the reader creatively unblock themselves. Whilst some of the book is a bit too spiritually far out for me, one thing I love is the concept of taking time out of the routine each week for an ‘artist date’ – some quality time with yourself and your imagination doing something out of the ordinary. This, Cameron says, is how we artists can fill up the creative wells within us, that are depleted by the daily monotony of our lives.

In light of all of the above today, therefore, I took myself off for a wander down to Borough Market during my lunch break (I’m ashamed to admit it was the first time I’ve done this in a year of working in London Bridge). The moment I arrived my senses were assaulted with a vast array of sights, sounds and smells. I happily snapped away with my camera before settling on a wall in the garden beside Southwark Cathedral to eat a vegetable thali and watch the world go by. I hadn’t been there long when I spotted a woman in a long trench coat wearing a fake pair of glasses with a plastic nose attached. She was standing at the gate pretending to read a newspaper, whilst casting furtive glances all around. No sooner had I approached to take a picture than she was off, disappearing through the gate into the market. But not before I caught this shot of her.

Whether that display was art or madness I’ll never know, but what I do know is this: I’m so glad I went on my artist date today, and so grateful for all that I saw and did there. As a good friend recently said to me: “You’re only as big as the picture you’re in.”  So why not make it bigger?

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Happy Birthday to my Spiritual Twin

Today is a very special person’s 27th birthday, and as I can’t think of a better way to mark this most auspicious of occasions (plus I’ve only just learned of the occasion and therefore haven’t time to do anything else), I thought a blog post in her honour might just fit the birthday bill. Because, you see, this person is special for a number of reasons, and one of those reasons is writing.

Allow me, if you will, the luxury of a nostalgic trip into the past – May 2011, to be precise, on a lazy backwater tour of Cochin in India. That day I met a girl called Jen who hailed from Brisbane and was five years my junior, and with whom I instantly got on. We were both travelling alone, and it was most enjoyable to share our experiences as our guide negotiated the labyrinthine maze of aquatic waterways.

As fate would have it when I arrived at the Sivananda ashram in southern Kerala a couple of days later who should be there but Jen? It turned out we had both booked onto the two week ‘yoga vacation,’ although it quickly became apparent this would be about as far removed from a holiday as could be. Five am starts, ‘karma yoga’ duties and four gruelling hours of yoga a day was an exhausting regime, and if Jen hadn’t been there to laugh with in the moments when it all got too much I’m not sure I’d have lasted the two weeks.

Fast forward to January 2013, by which time Jen had moved to New York after her travels to start a new life, and was making ends meet by waitressing, spending her free time working on her novel. When I sensed from her messages that she was feeling a little flat I felt a strong urge to visit her, and before I knew it April had come around and I was on my way to New York City.

The six days we spent together were amazing, especially considering we didn’t really know each other that well, and almost two years had passed since our last face to face meeting. We were laughing from the second Jen met me at the airport, and we didn’t stop until it was time to say goodbye. We walked sixty blocks in an afternoon, searched for mystical horses in Grand Central station, ate pizza, burgers and cupcakes like they were going out of fashion and painted New Jersey and downtown Manhattan entirely new shades of red. We also discovered a shared passion for cheese, and whiled away a perfect afternoon in Murray’s Cheese Bar over a bottle of quality red.

Leaving NYC was a wrench, because I knew I’d found in Jen something so very rare – a spiritual soul mate, if you believe in such a thing, someone who is so much like yourself you could actually be related. We both love to write, we’re both utterly neurotic (!) and we share an interest in spirituality.

Since New York we’ve kept in touch via a series of endlessly entertaining Whatsapp messages, which often leave me giggling aloud in public (not a good look). And now as Jen prepares to leave the city she has come to love for pastures new (Hawaii, as it happens – not a bad choice of destination), I find myself wishing I could join her on her next adventure, and in ways I can’t explain feeling that in some way I am.

So, on your 27th birthday, here’s to you, my Spiritual Twin. Thank you for the laughs your friendship over the past two and a half years has given me, and here’s to the future and all it brings. Remember that no decision we make is ever wrong – because each one gives us so much new material to enrich our writing and our lives. Love you x