I admit

For the last few weeks, I’ve struggled with my reading and writing.

I’d borrow an interesting-sounding book, riled up and motivated after scanning three of a five-line blurb, smiling at positive words that jump out at me, only to set the book down a few pages in, never to pick up again.

Like most of us would, I too blamed the book. It was dull and monotonous. The pacing was off, the print was too small, the page too tattered, or the story unrealistic—

Excessive excuses rained in my brain, as I told myself lie after lie for why I couldn’t get through a book.

As for writing an article, a poem, or a short story—stuff I used to do daily—I got nowhere with them. My mind drew blanks every time I determined to roll up my sleeves and create something worth sharing with my writers’ group. And for every meeting, I’d turn up empty-minded, to sit there and listen to wonderfully strung words, tap-dancing in my head even hours afterward.

It wasn’t the block—reader’s or writer’s.

I was just lazy.

I spent so much of my time volunteering, having fun, chatting with people, laughing, baking banana bread and cookies and muffins for no reason, and whiling away all day doing anything but reading or writing.

In other words, I was avoiding doing what I had to do. Reading and writing, my greatest passions, had become more strenuous than before. It was hard to sit down and focus my mind on one thing. As a result, I began using volunteering (which I enjoy just as much) as an escape mechanism.

The reason: I’m starting to understand the difficulties in writing meaningful work. When I’m in the groove, writing is easy for me. It feels so natural that I get a lot done without feeling tired or worked up. However, I’ve also come to see that it’s not always the case.

Effective word chains don’t always flow from the mind and ebb through the fingers on to the screen. In reality, writing is a draining, time-consuming task. You need to be active and present in the situation. Reading is the same. It demands more energy than thinking about baking or looking up random, irrelevant recipes.

We all go through this phase. It’s not that we’re no longer dedicated or involved, but it’s just that sometimes, even our most innate hobbies and interests can overwhelm us. To run away—or at least trying to—is common. But we should, at some point, admit it to ourselves.

I love writing and reading. But sometimes I don’t want to read or write. I’d want to watch a crappy TV show instead. That doesn’t mean I no longer love writing or reading. It just means there’s temporarily a screw loose in my head. Accepting that allows me to fix it and come back, strong as before.

Of running

When I arrived in Canberra about ten months ago, I was stumped at how much physical activity people did daily. I stood baffled at people huffing and puffing, running regardless of the weather changes—the chilling breeze, the falling leaves, the sweltering heat. Along with them were bikers, dog walkers, pram pushers, and general walkers. Not to mention the pre-teens skateboarding, rollerblading, and scooting away, laughing at their jubilation, sneering at friends falling behind, and a few stopping midway, waiting for their mate to join them.

As someone who does yoga and exercises within the closed comfort of my room, it was new to see everyone else getting out and about, showcasing their muscled arms, toned calves, and rock hard abs. Reservedness is non-existent. With AirPods nestled comfortably in their ears, people seemed to know where they were going and what they wanted to achieve in their workouts. As if they had a goal and an immense motivation to keep at it.

I was motivated, too, of course. I’ve been following my routine for over three years and was quite pleased with myself. Except, watching others made me feel quite small.

As I went about my life, I came upon conversations about the difficulties of running and the incredible power of those who run 10 km every so often. Celebrations and congratulations rained when someone hit a milestone.

I felt intimidated. As if everyone did something noteworthy, and all I ever did was stretch for a while every morning. It soon became unnerving and annoying to be the only one in a discussion whose proudest achievement was often walking 12 km a day.

I’d had enough. So I started running. Without any experience or an official trainer, I took to the street, stamping my way down the footpath. For the first few weeks, I ran three short sprints, of about 200 metres each, on a 4 km route.

Most runners I’d spoken to didn’t enjoy the process. They ran, nevertheless, because they liked the rush afterwards. That was weird to me. When I ran, I enjoyed it—I loved looking around, observing the trees swaying, sidestepping the lines of ants carrying meals on their heads, and smiling at the brave birds flying across my path, so low that they’re on my eye level.

Then I told myself: I’d never stop running because I had to. If I stop running on a particular course, it’d be because I wanted to. That’s how I’d avoid it becoming a chore. For as long as I had fun, I’d wake up wanting to run that day.

It’s been just over two months. And now, I can run longer distances, and even after crossing the 10 km milestone, I keep running. Because I want to.

The times

When Dickens began “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times”, he must’ve imagined something worse. If that’s even imaginable.

When Frost said he held with those who favoured fire as the cause of world’s end, he must’ve envisioned something more gruesome. If that’s even possible.

For over the past few months, this country has been ablaze.

When Australian winter gave way to spring, as it does every year, gently sliding away into the darkness where it hibernates until next June, summer barged in, as the uninvited plus one of your second cousin twice removed. What should’ve been the sweet celebration of blossoming season, of wattles dancing on sidewalks, of white gum trees waving as you ride past, quickly turned sour in the scorching heat. Overnight it went from whiskey weather to ice-cold rieslings, leaving no chance for temperate rosés.

Dark clouds retreated, much further than they’d ever before. Sunshine glistened on afternoon beverages, shooting hopeful rainbows through clinking glasses, as if wishing for a pot of rain at its end. Magic.

As Floriade ended on a heatwave, summer thrusted herself on stage well before spring had had a chance to take a bow. It was all so sudden. No one had the energy to mourn for spring. Half the country was on fire already.

For summer, in all her glory, with all her vitamins, had brought with her along with the cancerous touch, a flame thrower. And she didn’t hesitate to use it. Day after day, the nation awoke to news of decreasing houses, wildlife, and vegetation. Stranded on highways, truck drivers slept in their vehicles, comfortably and safely parked in traffic that remained unmoving for weeks. In their carriers, food rot and fuel sat. Full and useless.

Volunteers strode into flames, rasping, gasping, metaphorically bleeding as they hosed down beloved backyard branches—plants they’d once lovingly pruned and cared for. They didn’t care anymore. When our love burns and turns against us, hatred and distain drives us to extinguish it. It becomes a disease. When dry and angry leaves scorched their roofs, dogs, and horses, people retaliated, brandishing a gush of precious water, desperate to contain the disaster. This wasn’t a barbecue. It wasn’t as easy as turning a knob or pulling a log off. This was bush fire, and we were nature’s BBQ.

Humans ran. Birds fled. Koalas slept on, most never to wake again. Gum trees leaked as they shot up in blazes, taking with them the sweet smell of comfort, of home, of Australia. Native plants, insects, and animals watched as death leapt at them, future doomed to destination unknown.

Tourism suffered. Economy hurt. Politicians spoke.

People… rose.

Baked beans, cereal, milk, and bread; soaps, shampoo, sanitary napkins, and tooth paste; clothes, and millions in money shipped off from unharmed areas to protective shelters. Donations and fund raisers rained as people’s hearts overflowed with the moisture this land had been deprived of.

It’s the worst of our times. Also the best. I wonder if Dickens knew.

Rider

“How hard could it be?”

After all, I’d ridden a bike before. It’s been a while, of course, but I wasn’t a novice at the balancing act. Regardless, the last time I’d got on a bike was at my workplace. It was a Saturday morning, and having spent Friday night working a bit and then binge watching movies before I’d passed out from fatigue, I woke up at my desk and decided to ride around the office campus on one of the free office bikes. And so I went round and round our circular building. It was called the tower building for its shape. I wound my way like moon around the earth, making sure I stayed at a respectable distance, just enough to avoid an ugly crash.

That was about three years ago. That was my second time on a bike. The first was about 15 years ago. Desperate to learn, I borrowed my neighbour’s bike, which she never rode. It sat there, grappling in dust, gathering rust, its potential draining away, pointless. Since I didn’t know better, and it was a loaned bike, I couldn’t leave our building. I went up and down the front yard, which at less than hundred metres, still seemed rather lengthy at that frivolous age of 10.

And so when I moved to Canberra and realised everyone rode, to work, to parks, to the pubs, to climate protests, I craved to get myself a bike. Except, it was such a difficult decision. facing me was a gigantic world of wheels and tyres and handlebars in sizes, colours, and models I’d never heard of before.

I used to think gears were appropriate on motorcycles. Turns out, when you’re riding uphill—which is quite a bit in the Canberra region—you’d go nowhere without gears. I found out the value of gears the hard way Riding on a friend’s bike today for the first time since doing those office rounds, I stopped midway on a bridge and gravity snarled as it dragged me backwards. I had to get off and push.

Going down a slope, I wobbled before crashing right into a bush, scratching my knees, bruising the bike, and tearing my jeans. I fell again, scraping the same knee a little later. Never mind, I thought as I cruised down the serene bike path, as the lake expanded on my right. You can’t expect to be unscathed when you’re learning almost from scratch.

When I grazed the ground a little later, I was pissed. Shaken, frustrated, and embarrassed. But still determined. Despite an abundant lack of confidence, I rode home on a bike path my friend suggested. Loved every bit of it.

Non-existent rain and over exposure to heat has left the bush capital parched and yellowing. And yet, as I rode past them, a gentle breeze rode with me, assuring me that all would be well, that plants would recover, that I would recover. It caressed my jeans, sending cold shards of comfort through the hole onto my bleeding knee. Glorious.

As I unlocked my door and gingerly stepped into my home, I smiled. Happy and satisfied with myself.

I too can ride.

The 1st of January

New year celebrations in Opera House, Sydney
Opera House, Sydney

While the rest of the world awed and dropped their jaws at the extravagance erupting from high-rise buildings, the fireworks prancing across the skies, and as the earth slowly wound its way towards midnight and crossed over, Australia was burning.

As waves of flame and smoke toppled over farms, bushland, helpless cattle, homes, cars, light poles, and traffic signals, the world’s tallest building, the Burg Khalifa in Dubai, was plastered across people’s social media feeds, it’s slender figure lighting up, plush, colourful streaks chasing their way to the top. It was the new year. It only made sense for everyone to celebrate the birth of a new decade.

Why even the Opera House in Sydney burst with bubbling joy and glory. To keep up with the tradition and the expectations, organisers had spent months mulling over creative ideas together, contemplating, creating, testing, and synthesising to put together a 15-minute show that the entire world would speak of for weeks.

However, amidst all of this hoopla, many Australians had to witness a lifetime’s worth of possessions and passions slip away through the cracks of nature’s devilish dance.

Since early August, bushfires have ravaged throughout New South Wales, and yesterday, with temperatures going up to 49-degree celsius, many small towns across Victoria were engulfed in the fires as well. Ghastly winds didn’t help, feeding the flames, testing volunteer firefighters, killing residents, and melting road signs. Major highways were closed. Zoos and wildlife sanctuaries turned to social media to recruit volunteers to host animals temporarily, and some of the wildlife we’ll never know the predicament of.

When new year’s eve came to a close, I was home watching and inhaling the smoke riding into Canberra on the wind. Overnight, many fire alarms in establishments in the city went off just from the smoke. The sun rose reluctantly, puffy and swollen with redness, searing through the orange cloud cover that’s now become the new normal. The air quality recorded this morning was 16 times more than the hazardous. As the day progressed, it grew to over 23 times more than safe breathing conditions.

About two years ago, before relocating, as I researched lifestyle here, my heart skipped every time I read an article or a Reddit thread broadcasting Canberra’s envious blue skies and expense of light. And now, I walk outside and feel my heart sink deep into the haze that clings to the peeling gumtrees, envelops the croaking cockatoos, and shatters dreams.

It’s a new year. I hope it’s not too horrible.


Photo credit: Twitter account of the City of Sydney.