Anything but ordinary…

This was originally written just to be shared on the site for my new little project, Ordinary People, Extraordinary Stories, but some kind words from my sister and her saying that it was “relatable” encouraged me to share it here, too. And the more I thought about it, the more I realised she was right – relatable is exactly what I was hoping for, and relatable is what we need more of. While I was writing, I believed I was writing for the sole purpose of encouraging more people to join the project and contribute their stories. I see now that it was much more than that; as I typed it up earlier today, with a dog napping on my lap and a pot of green tea steaming in my face (ahh, the perks of working from home occasionally), my subconscious clearly had a lot of feels stewing inside of it, and consequently, a lot to say…

 

 

Despite what everyone’s social media accounts might have you believe, it’s not all rainbows and sunshine. This time that we’re living in right now is the most unique in history; we’ve never been simultaneously more and less connected to each other before.

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With a tiny little computer we can carry around in our pockets, we can send a photo of our birthday celebrations to the family member on the other side of the world who can’t be there, and we can just as easily send anonymous abuse to a stranger who we’ve decided that we just don’t like. We can see what our best friend is doing while they travel around the world as they’re doing it, and at the same time get so wrapped up in what they’re doing that we ignore the friend we’re having a coffee with in real life. This constant connection truly is a double-edged sword.

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With being constantly connected and observed comes another issue; the pressure to portray constant perfection. We’re acutely aware that the whole world is watching us, because we’re watching everyone else as well. And the more we see perfectly edited and filtered images of other peoples’ lives, and their carefully worded (and re-worded) captions, the more inadequate we feel unless we can curate our lives in the same way.

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So we show our perfect new shoes that we wear out to eat our perfect brunch with our perfect partner that we gush about so that everyone knows how perfect things are. What we don’t show is the hours of nightshift work that went towards being able to afford those shoes. Or the anxiety attack over going out to brunch with an eating disorder. Or all the fights and hard times your relationship has survived to make it to that weekend brunch. We all work so damn hard to keep up the shiny veneer of exciting and extraordinary, for the fear that we will be irrelevant and left behind if we show how “ordinary” we really are.

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The irony is that the ordinary stories (the nightshifts, the eating disorders, the fights) are what truly connect us. They connect us so much more than the new shoes and fancy smoothie bowls. Human beings have an innate desire to be understood and accepted and acknowledged. When all we see is perfection, it’s no wonder we feel so misunderstood and inferior.

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So here we are. A little space where we can be raw and honest in a scarily “perfect” world. Let us “ordinary” people share our extraordinary stories, so they all of the other “ordinary” people out there will feel less alone. And let us realise how extraordinary we really are.

Are you ready to share your story?

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Ordinary People, Extraordinary Stories

I’ve been sitting on this for a while now. Like, over year. I’ve been working on it and getting really excited, then doubting myself and letting my fear of failure get the better of me, which has seen this project shelved nd revived several times.

Long story short, after a bit of a rough time, I came to some big realisations, one of which was that I love to document life and stories, and not just my own. After thinking about how many things fear has held me back from and then talking to my sister about it, I thought I’d just give it a go; say hello to Ordinary People, Extraordinary Dreamer.

https://ordinarypeopleextraordinarystoriesblog.wordpress.com/

 

Developing as an offshoot from this blog, I wanted to find a way to not only tell my story, but to give a voice to everyone else’s, too. This is, pure and simple, a platform for every ‘ordinary’ person to voice their extraordinary stories. Because we all have them.

Taking inspiration from modern documentarians and projects like Humans of New York and NoLa Beings (who give a real voice to the every day faces of their cities) and Seph Lawless (who captures with brutal honesty the state of once-great cities and monuments that have now fallen from grace), as well as photographers like Zoe Leonard and (much older) Eugene Atget (who have been able to authentically capture ordinary moments forever), this is my way of contributing to the documentary of this time that is my present and will some day, inevitably, become history.

And the most important thing to preserve, I think, is the every day, ‘ordinary’ people, who we find out actually aren’t so ordinary after all…

 

The site will be launching soon, but in the mean time, I’m putting the call out to anyone who might be interested in contributing their story 🙂 If you think that might be you, click on over to the new site for more information about how to submit your story!

Read this: The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk

The Museum of Innocence
by Orhan Pamuk

I came across this book a few months ago while reading a travel magazine that mentioned a few books worth reading that were set in certain cities. Considering we’re planning to visit Turkey next year, and it was described as being a beautiful look at Istanbul over the past few decades, I thought I’d add it to my reading list without looking too much more into it.

How to describe this book… I really have no idea. There are a few aspects to it, for me…

1. I guess on the surface it’s a bit of a demented love story. Kemal, the gentleman telling his story back in this book (beginning in the 1970s), is from a very well-off family in Istanbul society. He’s engaged to another society darling, Sibel, but manages to fall in love with a not so well-off, younger, distant relative (before anyone starts thinking this is more incestual than it sounds, it’s a relation by marriage, not by blood), Füsun.

The book starts when they first meet, and follows an incredibly tumultuous number of years; not to ruin the story for those also wanting to read it, but basically, he’s madly in love with Füsun which costs him his engagement to Sibel, and it seems, ultimately, his happiness. Star-crossed lovers, heart break, romance, etc, etc.

 

2. At several points while reading this (very long) book, I was ready to throw in the towel, because I am not a fan of romance novels. I don’t care for love lost or “The Notebook” or star-crossed lovers or any other crap like that. At those points, it just felt like a sad romance novel. But then I’d read parts like this and I realised that it actually wasn’t just a love story after all; it was a story of melancholy, of loss, of confusion, of someone trying to find meaning in their life. That, I could relate to.

“‘Don’t worry, it will pass,’ he said softly. ‘You’re still young. It’s still very early for you to be losing sleep over this kind of pain, so don’t fret. But when you’re my age, if you have some regrets in life, you’ll have to lie here counting the stars until dawn. Beware of doing things that you might regret later.'”

 

 

3. It was also a really interesting study of Istanbul as a city, with Pamuk noting how the city evolved as the characters did over the years. As someone who was already looking forward to seeing the city, I was really fascinated to read about how it had changed. And, as a woman, I  really enjoyed reading about the changing roles women played in society, and how families and groups of friends interacted. The book was written in such an effortlessly descriptive way that you almost felt you were right there when they were dining in a noisy restaurant or eating at the family dinner table.

 

4. I’ve never had an unrequited impossible love story of my own, yet parts of this novel were so scarily relatable in other ways, and just so, so beautiful…

“In fact no one recognizes the happiest moment of their lives as they are living it. It may well be that, in a moment of joy, one might sincerely believe that they are living that golden instant ‘now,’ even having lived such a moment before, but whatever they say, in one part of their hearts they still believe in the certainty of a happier moment to come. Because how could anyone, and particularly anyone who is still young, carry on with the belief that everything could only get worse: If a person is happy enough to think he has reached the happiest moment of his life, he will be hopeful enough to believe his future will be just as beautiful, more so.

But when we reach the point when our lives take on their final shape, as in a novel, we can identify our happiest moment, selecting it in retrospect, as I am doing now. To explain why we have chosen this moment over all others, it is also natural, and necessary, to retell our stories from the beginning, just as in a novel. But to designate this as my happiest moment is to acknowledge that it is far in the past, that it will never return, and that awareness, therefore, of that very moment is painful. We can bear the pain only by possessing something that belongs to that instant. These mementos preserve the colors, textures, images and delights as they were more faithfully, in fact, than can those who accompanied us through those moments.”

Reading this hit home and made sense to me. I’m a journaller, a recorder of details, a hoarder of memories. I am prone to melancholy, nostalgia, quiet sentimentality. I spend a lot of time analysing life and it’s meaning, trying to understand who and what and why I am. So does Kemal, in this book.

 

5. Following on from that sentiment that mementos have the power to preserve memories, Kemal’s character collects bits and pieces throughout the story that remind him of his love, Füsun. Cigarette butts, hair pins, pencils, a shoe, restaurant menus… He collects these things to bring him back to moments that remind him. At the end of the book, he decides to open a museum to display these memories of his life and love, and the author of the book actually opened a real life Museum of Innocence in Istanbul a few years ago.

“Sometimes, thus consoled, I would imagine it possible for me to frame my collection with a story, and I would dream happily of a museum where I could display my life… Where I could tell my story through the things that Füsun had left behind, as a lesson to us all.”

 

It was such a strange book, and it seems that people either love it or hate it. I can understand why; I kept thinking I’d hate it when I got to the end, but actually, I absolutely loved it. It was beautiful, and so worth the read. You can grab a copy here – really looking forward to visiting the museum in Istanbul now!

Read this: The Dinner by Herman Koch

The Dinner
by Herman Koch

Happy Monday, friends 🙂 Now that you’ve got some great places to chill out at over lunch this week, you’re going to need a good book to read, too! I heard this book was a pretty good read a while ago, and to start off with, I was a bit disappointed. A few dozen pages in, I almost gave up on it, but before long, I realised I’d been completely drawn in to it; I ended up finishing it in a few days, because half way through, I couldn’t put it down!

Without giving too much away, you’ve for two couples who meet for a dinner, and the story is relayed by one of the guests. While it starts out simply enough, we find out that they in fact have some serious stuff to discuss over dinner. You get the idea from the get go that the dinner probably isn’t going to be the most enjoyable or relaxing of evenings…

“I didn’t feel like doing this at all, I realized again. My aversion to the evening that lay ahead had become almost physical – a slight feel of nausea, clammy hands and the start of a headache somewhere behind my left eye – not quite enough, though, for me to actually become unwell or fall unconscious right there on the spot.”

 

Each section of the book starts with another course of the dinner, and the descriptions of the food by the waiter are well explained…

“‘The crayfish are dressed in a vinaigrette of tarragon and baby green onions,’ said the manager: he was at Serge’s plate now, pointing with his pinkie. ‘And these are chanterelles from Vosges.’ The pinkie vaulted over the crayfish to point out two brown toadstools, cut lengthways.
It was a well-groomed hand, as if established while the manager was uncorking the bottle of Chablis Serge had ordered… For the hand of a stranger, though, I felt as though it was coming too close to our food; it hovered less than an inch above the crayfish, and the pinkie itself came even closer, almost brushing the chanterelles”

 

As the dinner unfolds, course by course, so do the secrets and betrayals. They’re there to discuss an event involving their children, an event that’s sparked national interest and a police investigation. The characters develop quickly with their histories plainly laid out on the table, if you will, but you still feel like you’re really getting to know them and what makes them tick quite well. The story teller jumps back and forth between the dinner as it happens, and past events that relate to the incident that brings them all together on that fateful night; it’s obvious immediately that he’s the sort of character that overthinks things, notices the small details, and reads deeply between the lines – this was one passage that really highlighted that for me, and sums him up pretty well…

“I saw something in his eyes that I hadn’t seen there before: something neutral, or rather, something non-committal, as non-committal as his herringbone suit.”

 

I found that, while I’ve never been in the situation of the characters in the book, a lot of it was very relatable – a lot of the characters in the book are like people most of us know, and it really does make you think about what you would do, what lengths you’d really be willing to go to to protect someone you love… Absolutely fantastic read; do yourself a favour and pick up a copy now, dig in, and enjoy!

Through my eyes: New Orleans, 10 years post-Katrina…

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It’s hard to believe it was 10 years ago to the day that Hurricane Katrina tore apart New Orleans; 10 years ago I was half way through my university degree, still living at home, in a relatively new relationship with the guy that would become my husband. When we first started dating, we spent a lot of time talking about all the places we wanted to travel to (and it was a bloody long list), the places we wanted to see and, more importantly, experience. New Orleans was a city pretty high up on both our lists, and we were both equally surprised at the others’ desire to visit. New Orleans, pre-Katrina, wasn’t exactly a big ticket city; at least not for 2 Aussie uni students. It wasn’t a Paris or a London or  a New York. But we both wanted to go. He wanted to go for the music, the night life, the care-free atmosphere in a city that seemed to be built on fun. I couldn’t actually put into words why I wanted to go; it was one of those bizarre, inexplicable, “I don’t know why, but I know I belong in that city” things. Something about the music, the art, the voodoo, the cemeteries, the literature, the food – I just knew that any place there was a coalescence of all those things was a place I needed to be.

But we were still kids. We were both full time uni students. We had big dreams, but no money to fund them. When Katrina hit the city, we were both devastated; for some still unknown reason, we felt a strange connection to this mysterious city on the other side of the world. We debated over and over again whether it’d still be a city we’d want to visit post-Katrina. Would it be somehow tainted? Would the recovery effort have taken away all of the magic and the charm we wanted to visit for? Would they, a people so fiercely proud and protective of their city, still accept visitors as openly? We weren’t sure, but we were both determined to visit anyway and find out for ourselves.

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Ten and a half years after we started dating, and nine and a half long years after Katrina hit, we finally made it. We finally visited this city we were both so strangely drawn to. And while the spirit of the people was so strong, the physical effects of Katrina were still so punishingly visible.

This storm caused damage on a scale that can’t be accurately understood through words. We’ve all read the numbers, the statistics, but even they seem completely unreal.
80% of the city under water.
Almost 2000 lives lost.
Close to $110 billion in damage.

There have been hundreds of articles written about it all, and nothing I write will be as meaningful as some of the first-hand accounts written by the residents and survivors (I’d especially recommend watching  HBO’s Treme and reading Nine Lives by Dan Baum). What I can say, as a complete foreigner and outsider, is that New Orleans changed the trajectory of my life. Even post-Katrina, it was still magic. All of the imperfections made it so perfect. My soul was different for having visited. And all of our reservations were completely unfounded; the charm was still there, the recovery effort was incredible, and the people couldn’t have been more kind and welcoming. Instead of writing about the recovery ten years on, because (let’s be honest) I really don’t have the insight into it like the locals will, let me show you New Orleans through my eyes almost 10 years on. And I’m not talking the pretty touristy sights. Let me show you some of the more real, less brochure-worthy, genuine places and things I saw.

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Read this: Nine Lives by Dan Baum

Nine Lives
by Dan Baum

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Being less than a week out from Mardi Gras, I thought now would be a good time to post this review about an amazing book I read about New Orleans, while in New Orleans last month.

Dan Baum’s book starts back in the 1960s with the occurrence of Hurricane Betsy, and ends not long after the more recent events of Hurricane Katrina, as told by nine New Orleanians who lived through one or both events.

Ronald Lewis, John/JoAnn Guidos, Anthony Wells, Joyce Montana, Frank Minyard, Billy Grace, Belinda Carr, Wilbert Rawlins Jr and Tim Bruneau are the voices behind this book, a truly beautiful biography of a people and a city unlike any other in the United States of America. Through countless interviews with Baum, these men and women told their stories, candidly and truthfully, to weave an amazing story that really captured your heart and imagination from the start, more so than any work of fiction could have.

The stories in this book were real and raw, and true to New Orleans, touching subjects and walks of life dear to the hearts of many New Orleanians, such as the musicians, the police, the Mardi Gras Indians, the poor single mothers, the working professionals and the criminals. The stories were told without judgement, and it was hard not to form a bond to the characters in those pages.

I found it really hard to read the last chapters of the book, the stories that came from Katrina. I remember, vividly, seeing those images that everyone else saw on the TV when it happened back in 2005 (was it really that long ago??); the crying woman sitting on a roof, holding a baby, water lapping at her feet. The men wheeling shopping trollies through the water, trying to rescue babies on their way. People crammed into the Superdome. The markings on surviving homes, indicating the number of dead found within. Seeing it all on TV, in papers, online, is horrific. Reading about it, however, in the stories told by the survivors, is infinitely more powerful.

It wasn’t all about the hurricanes, though. It was about every day life. About the same struggles people all over the world face. Finding a job, getting through a divorce, trying to live a good life without getting into trouble with the law, doing something meaningful with your life. It might be the same stories all over the world, but the way New Orleans does things in the face of situations like this is different. It’s not something you can explain or describe, there was no one passage or quote that could sum it up, it’s just a beautiful piece of work that you should be reading. Pick up a copy here and enjoy the journey.

Read this: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
by Maya Angelou

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Like probably a lot of other young women of my generation, I was familiar with the name Maya Angelou. I knew she was a revolutionary lady, I knew she wrote beautifully, spoke eloquently, and inspired a race, a generation, a gender. But, admittedly, I didn’t know much about her story until she sadly passed away earlier this year. A quote I remember being attributed to her that has stuck in my mind ever since that day is “if you’re always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.”

I finally read her book “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings;” I wasn’t sure how or even if I’d relate to the story of a sweet young Negro girl growing up under the strict hand of her grandmother in Arkansas after having been abandoned, along with her brother, by their parents back in the 1930s. Her story starts when she and her brother are sent off by train to stay with their paternal grandmother when she was only three years old, and ends when she unexpectedly becomes a mother at the age of only 16; right from the very first page, she had me hooked. She had me, utterly and completely under her spell.

I was surprised to draw some unexpected parallels to my life from Maya’s story, mostly in the fact that she was a quiet and withdrawn child, who found her solace and spirit in reading book after book after book; I did, too. I also related to her tender-heartedness, not understanding why it was so that some people had and others had not, not understanding why people had so much hatred and contempt, not understanding the reasoning behind racism, or why one “race” should be “better” than any other. Are we not all people?

The journey I took with Maya through the 1930s and 40s across America, in times where racism and segregation were incredibly real, was a confronting and heart breaking one. I got some strange looks while I read on the train to and from work each day, finding myself smiling, frowning, gasping and shaking my head throughout the book. It’s really hard not to; the way she writes can’t not draw out an emotional response from you.

It was crystal clear to me that Maya was a special lady right from her first day. Despite the numerous, soul shaking and horrific hardships she faced, she really never wavered. She remained strong, proud, determined, curious, good, kind. She worked hard for everything, she educated herself when she didn’t know, and didn’t show off what she did. I thought class, humility, genuine honesty and dignity shone through on every single page, and that’s what kept me turning the pages so quickly – I expected to take a while to read it, but I was done within 5 short days of commute and lunch time reading.

I’m going to stop here, because, honestly, nothing I write about this book could possibly do it justice. It’s one of those stories that you notice your soul shifting whilst reading, and you should start reading it soon if you haven’t already. Get a copy right here or at your closest bookshop.