Crazy Wisdom

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What’s on top?

This week I read The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga.  Published in 2008, it won the Booker Prize.  I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a book this much.  Written in epistolary style, in this case as a letter (epistolary can also mean using other documents such as newspaper clippings, diary entries etc to tell a story); powerful, so completely readable, spiritually challenging and inspiring and with violence present but not described in explicit detail- I don’t like reading or watching violence.

I also watched the film Lion which was great, so good to see a film about India in India, and the film The Art of Loving about Michalina Wislocka, a ground breaking Polish gynaecologist who fought to educate women about their bodies, sex and contraception which was also very good.

I also came across this great blog post, which this post is named after, about one’s individual journey and individual wisdom, which was inspiring and reassuring.
I also- at last- finished reading Kim Gordon’s autobiography.  This quote explains everything about how in the UK I managed to survive and enjoy moving to the country:

‘Small town silence almost obliges you to have inner resources, which the racket of New York doesn’t.  New York is all about distraction and what’s next.’

In fact, even now, with so much writing to do about what has happened so far, I often say, I need it to be boring, just so I can catch up.  Otherwise it’s like those cartoons of the rail track being laid as the train is coming, as fast as I get stuff typed, more stuff happens.  (Which is churlish of a writer to complain about really- too much material- rather than writer’s block.

But even with writing the book and this blog, even with reading two books at once, watching films and having in depth conversations with my husband, I do still have moments of restlessness.  My life used to be so pressured, my work was so pressured that I burned out in the end; so that this quiet, delightful peacefulness is still an adjustment.  Rather than rush to fill it with, let’s say, going out or drinking, instead I am sitting with it, using it to reconnect with and build upon my awareness: seeing beauty everywhere, feeling love for my husband, which is after all where and how my awakening began nine years ago.

Travel update

We are still here in Varkala so not much to report.  It has been raining most days although these are pre monsoon rains, the actual monsoon is due on 29th May.  We have bought an umbrella, plus porridge, raisins and long life soya milk so that we can cook porridge at the guesthouse if it is too wet to get out at mealtimes.  We have been eating lots of lovely masala dosas from the cheap local cafe, plus vegetable curries, delicious Indian breads, and fresh juices.  (But yesterday I went to the tourist area and treated myself to good strong coffee and Marmite on toast for breakfast, heaven!)

Writing update

I have maintained my confidence in myself and my writing this week, and worked hard for four days, two sessions a day, on Chapter One, which is all about getting the idea, finding the strength to follow it through, decluttering and letting go of possessions, and escaping the matrix.  In a few days I hope to have a 9,000 word draft that I can show my husband.  Added to Chapter Two, about arriving and Delhi, 4,000 word draft already done, that’s not bad going.  Next up, Goa, then Hampi, and then Varkala (bringing us up to date).

Thank you very much for reading

See you next week

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  I know what to do

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What’s on top?

During random blog reading I came across a beautiful piece of writing, my favourite quote from it and a link to the original piece below:

Stand exactly in a doorway like a cat and try to feel the religious feeling that a cat clearly feels when it stands in a doorway.  Patricia Lockwood

I am reading Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A Heinlein.  (The reading of this has to be prioritised as it is our biggest and heaviest book and my husband is sick of carrying it.)  Written in 1961, if you can ignore the awful sexism, the intellectual, metaphysical and spiritual ideas in it are very interesting.

Discussions continue about the nature of reality (too in depth to explore here, also whatever theories I believe this week will probably change again by next week); whilst at the same time feeling lively and vibrant within this current reality.

Travel update 

We went to Kovalam beach for two nights, an hour’s train journey away.  There were lots of Indian tourists, it is vacation time here, and a very few foreign tourists.  We got lots of pressure from stall holders and street sellers:  tailors services, clothes, scarves, drums, ornaments and fruit.  We even got followed down the road by a man who looked well into his seventies trying to sell us marijuana.

The beach was nice:  black sand, the sea shiny, glassy looking with the reflected light of the setting sun, with big frothy white waves.  Our room was white, clean, with white bed linen, towels* and a top sheet** and was probably the nicest room we’ve stayed in so far.

In the evening we walked out of the tourist area, past chai stalls and tiny little shops which are absolutely packed with everything you could need compressed into the smallest of spaces, some not much bigger than a cupboard.

The train was easy, we bought tickets on the day and travelled in normal non ac carriages.  On the way we had to stand but it wasn’t a long journey.  We had breakfast (masala dosas) in a canteen style restaurant on the station.  We were unsure of what to do but an Indian man came and explained how it worked and even came to check we had got our food okay.

It was very nice to return to Varkala.  We were welcomed warmly and came back to the same room, where we had been able to leave the big backpack and lighten our load.  As much as possible we intend to stay here and just go off to other places in Kerala for a few days at a time.

Photo:  Crow at the edge of the Osho guesthouse’s rooftop yoga space. She/he appeared after my yoga session, stayed quite close and waited patiently whilst I took their photo.  The caw caw of crows is a constant background noise.  On Papanasam beach there are usually lots of crows; they eat rice off banana leaves left from pujas.  However, returning ‘home’ after two days away, there were very few crows but lots of dark grey pigeons.  ‘Look, the crows have been replaced by pigeons,’ I said.  ‘Perhaps there’s been some kind of coo’, my husband said.

A few days ago, on Papanasam beach, during a little walk and a look at the sea after dinner, a man came up to us, ordinary, well dressed, with friends.  He said hello then said: ‘Look, look at the sea, close your eyes, breathe into your chest, hold…  Hear only the sea…  my voice.  There, do you feel comfort?’ I love that this kind of thing happens here.

This week has been about setting and sticking to a strict budget, which  is easy to do whilst we’re based in Varkala as the guesthouse and the local cafe are both cheap.  We’ve been eating masala dosas for breakfast, lunch and dinner, interspersed with channa masala (chickpea curry, good for vegans), beans on toast** (likewise), porridge and banana and fresh fruit and vegetable juices.  We both feel much better for not overeating (and not overspending).

Writing update

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Saturday, session one typing up new ‘meaning of life’ type ideas, session two, typing up Varkala notes from notebook; Sunday, two sessions on Delhi section.  By the second session I saw how to do it, the need to remake it more personal, with emotion, not just like a travel diary.  Monday, two sessions on Delhi; I ended up with a 4,000 word draft which although needs polishing and editing was ready enough to show to my husband.  I was very pleased with myself as I had been scared of that chapter.  Scared of some notes I have written myself, for a book that I am writing for no other reason than my own pleasure?  Crazy but true.  Tuesday, day off.  Wednesday, I tackled Chapter One (how we got here, the background).  I had been even more scared of that chapter than of Delhi, but I sat down and approached it with a (new) calm confidence.

Maybe because I had done Delhi, maybe because of my general confidence and self belief improving?  I took my own advice and reordered it chronologically, breaking it into three sections:  Nothing to Lose But Our Dignity (the original ‘sell up and go travelling’ idea, and some background); No Half Measures (about decluttering and its effects); and The Matrix Fights Back (about all the obstacles we had to deal with in our quest to escape).  It is currently 9,000 words, so I am being kind to myself and acknowledging that no wonder it was difficult to sort out.  But I know what to do, I can see where it is flabby, where it goes off track, where it needs work.  I know what to do, and that makes me very happy indeed.  Thursday, two sessions on this blog post.  Friday, one session on Chapter One, one to finish this post.

*Only a few of the places we’ve stayed have had towels.  Standing on the train, feeling the sweat trickling down my legs, I said to myself, please let there be towels.  I was dreaming of a shower, clean white towels.  Any colour for that matter.  We sat on the veranda while the man made up our bed. When he had finished, he brought…  towels!

**Most places don’t give a top sheet as standard.  Although it’s hot it feels weird to lie with nothing at all, and sometimes in the middle of the night it can feel almost chilly.  We were so excited about the towels that we forgot to ask for one, and when we returned after dinner there was no one around.  Later, at 9.15 at night there was a knock at the door…  it was the man, bringing us a crisp white sheet!  And we hadn’t even asked him!

**Sometimes it’s nice to have something plain and also beans are lacking elsewhere, so I often have beans on toast.  It was lunchtime and they are only on the breakfast menu, but I really wanted them.  ‘I’m going to beg, watch me get them,’ I said to my husband.  And I did (I didn’t need to beg though, just ask nicely).

Thank you for reading

See you next week

I stand by myself and I am not afraid

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Travel update

We are staying in Osho’s guesthouse at Papanasam beach, near the temple.  The beach is a Hindu pilgrimage site and there are little stalls set up and holy men offering puja.  Rectangular mounds of sand form the stall bases and remain there all the time; brightly coloured umbrellas are set up in the day.  On Sunday morning the beach was busy even at 8am with local people on their day off.  We have already seen two pujas for people who have died; people put things belonging to the person, as well as garlands of flowers, rice and other items, into the sea.  This goes on alongside the rest of the life of the beach, no one stares or takes any notice.  The area is very busy with Indian tourists.  There’s only a handful of foreigners in this area, the rest stay on the tourist strip on the top of the cliff a ten minute walk away.  Often the Indian tourists are interested in us, saying hello and asking to take photographs with us.

Our room is inside a stone indoor area and maintains a very comfortable temperature.  Our last room was very hot, almost unbearable to be in during the afternoons.  It was a bit of a shock after the ac in Panaji, which is why we have a no ac rule:  once we go there we might not be able to go back, but here is cool.

It rained for the first time on Friday afternoon.  I stood out in it and thoroughly enjoyed getting soaked to the skin in the thick, warm rain.  The next morning the smell was delicious; fresh and peaty and the rain had made new and different flowers come out.  It has rained most nights since with big storms in the evenings and we’ve watched the sky light up pink and white with huge forks of lightning.

Most mornings I go for a walk along the cliff top above the blue-green sea that gets greener as the day goes on, watching white headed eagles and making sure I don’t trip on the uneven path or worse, fall down the sheer cliff.  At the end of my walk there’s a little bay.  The sand at the water’s edge is sprinkled with a layer of shell, like rough crushed mother-of-pearl or multi-coloured pebble dash.  It reminded me of the flooring in hotel bathrooms, beige with tiny coloured pearly bits, plain at first glance but beautiful if examined more closely.  This is a louder, more beautiful version of course, but still…

Food: Idli and dosas at a local cafe for breakfast; coconuts and roasted chickpeas for snacks; beans on toast, tofu wraps and vegeburgers for lunch; eggplant masala and roti for dinner; plus delicious (soya)milky smoothies and fresh juices; no wonder it’s seemingly impossible to stay on budget or to lose weight…

The internet in theory makes things super easy, to look at maps and research information, but it can’t tell you what to do.  India is really big, trains get booked up way in advance, the monsoon is coming, some places are very hot (okay everywhere’s hot, but some places are even hotter than others).  We need to avoid the heat, enjoy the monsoon, safely travel and get to Chennai in the state of Tamil Nadu (North and on the opposite side of the country from here) for our flight to Thailand on 12th August to meet my stepdaughter.

We had broadly decided to spend May, June and most of July in the state of Kerala (bearable temperatures, good place to be during monsoon) and then slowly travel to Chennai, stopping at places on the way, if that were feasible with trains and buses.  We’d looked up everywhere along the route and looked up different routes but were suffering information overload.  Plus we didn’t actually know what would be best travel-wise especially during the monsoon.  We decided just to stick with the Kerala plan and maybe ask someone, a local with good English, what to do next once we got to Kerala.  Until I wrote that sentence, I had forgotten that we had said that.

We check into Osho’s guesthouse, which we had discovered by accident and booked into spontaneously, and immediately meet Y.  Y is super friendly, Indian, speaks perfect English, comes to Kerala all the time and lives in Chennai!  Within a short period, Y had sorted out all our travel plans (Kerala plan still good, but then go straight to Chennai and use as a base to explore Tamil Nadu rather than trying to stop off along the way); advised us about trains and how to book easily the day before and told us about some good places to visit.  Y wasn’t even meant to be in Kerala, he arrived here on a whim.  He was going back to Chennai the next day, so my husband seized the moment and invited him out for dinner with us that evening.  Evening came, Y said, I’ve invited X, is that okay?  The more the merrier, we said and off the four of us went for dinner.

What’s going on?

In England sometimes, after a couple of glasses of wine, I would try to share my ideas.  Sometimes it would seem promising but then I’d say something more and everyone would go a bit quiet.
‘I’ve gone too far again haven’t I,’ I’d say to my husband, and we would all laugh.
During my ‘spiritual journey’ I tried many different things.  After six years of searching the unifying theory I had been searching for came to me in a dream.  (If you are interested those are links to the relevant blog posts)

On Saturday night the four of us spent five hours in a restaurant, no drugs, no alcohol, discussing all this stuff.  Sharing our experiences.  Recognising each other.  It didn’t feel as exciting as it was.  It didn’t feel ‘Boom!’ or strange or weird, even though it was all of those things.  It felt easy and peaceful.

The lessons and impact of that meeting are huge for me and I am realising new things each day as one day builds upon another.  (Too fresh to write about here, and too much of it, but I will write it up for the book.)

Most of the things I believe in have been theory only, not tested in real life.  I’ve noticed little things, small things appearing when I need them, low-level Law of Attraction type stuff.  But I haven’t really tested it, this stuff I believe in.

What experiments can I conduct on myself to help me realise who I am, to realise my potential, to break free of conditioning and to help me break on through to the other side in terms of my understanding re what all this is?

Writing update

Saturday, one session, typing up notes from the last couple of days; Sunday, two sessions, same; Monday, day off; Tuesday, working on this blog post; Wednesday, same.  Thursday morning, session on blog, afternoon session on Delhi.  Friday, big session on Delhi, little session finishing off this post.  And all the time more stuff keeps happening, more scribbling waiting to be typed, another notebook almost filled up…

The need to get on with editing Chapter Two- Delhi, and Chapter One- How we got here, both for the book proposal, and the proposal itself, are beginning to loom.

But I’ve been doing what I’ve felt like; furious typing of notes and thoughts, covered in red, so that the first session on Sunday was spent laboriously correcting.  Must type slower, but I probably won’t.  And I had fun starting this week’s blog post early, putting in photos, the framework, the title, some bits and pieces and ideas.  Feeling inspired and pleased with myself.  Getting a bit ahead was nice.  It’s got to be fun, at least sometimes!  Or at least, it’s okay to have fun, to do the fun bits; it is all part of the work that needs doing: this week’s blog, typing current notes…

Editing Delhi…  I have been less keen on this, not really having a good session on it until Friday, motivated by this update so I could say I had done it.

Chapter One (I don’t feel like that at the moment, but am working back up to it.  Why?  It’s long.  Break it up, if I can, like I have with the others.  Good idea, tackle next week)

Thank you very much for reading

Thank you for following this blog.  Thank you for commenting.  Thank you for ‘liking’ posts.  I’d probably write even if no one was reading but it wouldn’t be as much fun.  I really appreciate your support.

See you next week

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I want to say I love you

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Photo: Hanuman Temple, Panaji

What’s on top

I’ve really enjoyed going on the internet this week, especially when I haven’t had access to it for a few days.  In Panaji I left the coffee-shop-with-internet buzzing not only with caffeine but with the fun of going on the internet for an hour.  Reading WordPress comments, picking up birthday messages and putting a load of brown rabbit photos on Instagram.

Then yesterday, in my first solid no rush, just do what you want internet session in days, I referred to my notebook where I keep a list of things to look up: (what do Indian chipmunks eat; more Malayalam words, which I practiced later at the shop; how to spell fuchsia; download a yoga class, which I then did on the veranda (on my new bright pink yoga mat!) after we got back; menstrual leave; Indian dress and the names of different garments; which states in India allow the eating of beef; British rule; the political parties in India and who’s who; the caste system).  Along with the smoothie with soya milk, the peppermint tea, the rest and shade after a walk around town, I felt so, endorphined afterwards.

Something else I found out this week, when finding out what to give cows to eat (they often have to eat garbage and sometimes look very thin, I gave the one in Panaji some bananas).  If you are in India, the advice is to put food waste on the ground not in a plastic bag, or if you do put it in a plastic bag, leave the bag open, don’t tie it.  Otherwise cows will eat the plastic bag as well, potentially causing illness and death.

Travel update:

Panaji, Goa:

In the taxi from Arambol to Panaji (both in Goa), I’m trying to write down the colours of the houses we pass but before I can think of the word for the colours of one house we’re onto another and another.  My notebook looks like a list of paint chart colours.  Feeling totally blissed out from the sweet visual sensory overload and my thoughts…  Realisations re writing, use the senses, use the emotions, document scenes, capture in notebook, scribble, take photos, look at my husband and step-son’s films and photos, draw on every book I’ve read, every writing class I’ve ever been to…  Not only that, my spiritual journey before I left, all that meditation, chanting, different religions and philosophies, reading, thinking, discussing, all that, got me here.  Here, in India!

The guesthouse in Panaji was painted baby pink with a maroon trim, exactly the same colour scheme of the first house I had noted down on the journey there.  Our room was big and white and spacious with a large wet room and another little room with a sink and a mirror in, plenty big enough to get dressed in and even to do a bit of yoga in, great as the three of us were in one room.  And the shower!  The shower in Arambol looked like it was dangerous, with bare flex and a plug in the wall right near the water.  It was only a trickle anyway and the water had ran out altogether that morning as it often did and we had arrived in Panaji hot, sweaty and dirty.  It was a power shower, with hot water if we wanted; it was such a pleasure, the best shower by far we had had since arriving!

And it had ac!  We hadn’t booked this, it just did.  The manager laughed about how excited I was about this.  In Arambol we had felt fine in temperatures of 35-38°C but we were at the beach with a strong sea breeze.  In Panaji we were not on the beach and it felt considerably hotter.  The ac was heaven.  Not only that, the local taxi driver had ac, and the restaurant where we went to eat in town had ac; it was almost cold.

Panaji is the capital and administrative centre of the state of Goa.  It does have a beach but it’s not such a destination beach as Arambol or Agonda, and even though we were only an hour or so away, it was a world away.  We noticed the kitchen staff staring at us from inside the kitchen hatch and we only saw one other Westerner in the town.  The restaurant where we went (we chose it as it had good Wi-Fi and we needed to get my step-son checked in for his flights home) was a solid building, very smart, (and cold), a world away from the beach front temporary structures we’d been used to.

We felt we were visitors to an actual town that existed by itself as opposed to Arambol and Agonda, where everything is easy, people have come from all over India just to serve the tourists.  It’s easy, it’s false, it’s set up just for the tourists, everything is sanitised and safe.

In Agonda we saw policeman with sticks threatening a woman who had been asking tourists for money, and early in the morning women would sweep and clear the beach of rubbish and cow dung, as if the tourists couldn’t possibly see anything that might spoil their paradise holiday.  Even the dogs looked okay, whereas in Panaji some of them didn’t look so good.  And we’re still in Goa, when we go to different places, it will be different and more challenging.

Although it felt ever so slightly edgy, it felt really good to be in a real place with real local facilities.  We ate breakfast at a cheap local cafe and my husband got his haircut at a local hairdressers.  And we finally got to a Khadi shop, I bought a kurta (tunic shirt to wear over trousers).

As in Hampi, as in Delhi, it’s on the balcony that I really feel it, where I am, how I feel.  Here it wasn’t even that moment, it was afterwards, looking at a brown rabbit photograph I took for Instagram and noticing how unreal the explosion of green and trees looked in the middle.  On one side was a mosque, on the other some run down residential buildings, on the balcony the red and pink sunlit colours, on the ground below an emaciated white cow… and in the centre this explosion of lush green forest.  As if there’s too much packed into the scene, one thing would be enough; the mosque or the forest or the building or the cow or even the sunlit pink painted balcony.  That is how it feels a lot in India, as if there’s just too much to take in.  As if everything’s been compressed, my step-son said.

It came to the end of my step-son’s time with us.  He’d travelled out with us and been with us for almost five weeks.  We were quiet on the way to the airport.  It was dark.  I saw a house lit up, every alcove painted a different colour.  I want to say I love you.  But like at the beginning of a relationship, where all you see is the good, I’ve barely been outside of Goa, I’ve had it easy.  So it’s too early to say those words just yet.

Food:

In Panaji:  Huge plate of bel puri, biryani rice and dal at the ac WiFi restaurant in town; paratha bhaji (Indian bread and curry) and black tea with lime at the local cafe for breakfast; good strong coffee and beans on toast at WiFi coffee house in town; vegetable masala at a beach restaurant; it’s hotter so we’re back on eating crisps in the afternoon, although for the moment I’ve managed to kick the Mazza (bottled mango drink) habit; iced tea and banana and walnut cake at the beach; big chunky vegetable samosas at the airport.

Varkala, Kerala

We left the state of Goa for the state of Kerala.  In Goa the houses are European looking, villa like with balconies.  Arriving in Kerala the buildings looked very different, more rectangular looking, some with pillars, generally wealthier looking, and still painted lovely colours.
Lots of churches, big, white, clean, lit up, with statues in glass boxes and modern stained glass windows.  We passed a Christian service, lots of people, lots of music, beautiful clothes, lots of white, children in almost party dresses.  Then we saw a mosque, a group of men, on the other side of the road a group of women in white with white head scarves, again, lots of people, lots of music.  A little bit further, more sound, more music, a Hindu temple.  All in the space of a mile or two.

In Kerala it’s nice to see that the men are much more in traditional dress, in Goa the men were wearing Western clothes, here they wear lungis; short and knee-length pieces material, kind of like thick sarongs, some tied at the base, some not.

We booked on-line and are staying in by far the swankiest looking area so far, full of semi deserted ayevedic resorts, totally a tourist area, even though our accommodation is humble and the cheapest place we’ve stayed so far.  We are near the North Cliff area of Varkala, a tourist strip.  Luckily we have one nice local family run restaurant next door.  We are a rickshaw ride away from the town, which is a little way from the beach with little accommodation available.  Tomorrow we move to the temple area of Varkala beach, which is much more lively, full of Indian tourists and with simple places to eat.

Food:

In Kerala: Puttu (rice and coconut turned out from a bowl mould) with a banana and a poppadum the side; dal and chapatis; lots of masala dosas; Keralan food- potato and coconut curry, thoran (shredded vegetables fried, delicious), with rice, roti and fresh orange juice; coconuts.

Writing update:

What I have been doing: typing up all notes (I should also include, scribbling copious notes in little notebooks that I carry everywhere with me, noting down visual observations, ideas, thoughts, etc, so much so that I think sometimes I need to switch off all the excitement for a bit to let me catch up).  Anyway, I have typed up all notes from Panaji, and almost all from Varkala- more keep appearing- and I have been working on the Delhi section, i.e. the first place we went to in India, together with the bit immediately before and the travel out.

I’ve been writing most days, often for a couple of hours.  Tuesday was good, a good writing session followed by a nap, Wednesday was pretty good but I got frustrated; I did a couple of hours solid writing on the book, I had plenty of time to do more but I just couldn’t.  I felt overheated and out of sorts, it was too hot to nap in the room and when I tried to nap on the veranda flies kept landing on me.  Plus I was stuck on the Delhi section, it had turned into a big lump of notes and completed blogs and bits about the travel and before and I wasn’t sure what to do with it.  I tried to look at it again later, and still felt stuck.  My own fear and lack of confidence in my ability to see this through is my main enemy, but luckily I know that it is a very bad idea to keep looking at something that isn’t going well.  So I went to bed and went back to it again yesterday.

If in doubt, I adopt a back to basics approach (if things feel really bad this can be as simple as correcting spellings), in this case, write it in chronological order, which I did, and then it began to flow.  I stopped after a good session and whilst still enjoying it and feeling like it’s going well, which means that when I go back to it, I will do so with joy not a churning stomach.  Then as it was Thursday, a break, and then a session on this blog.  Today, this blog post.

The first month in India notes were all in one document, threatening to become an amorphous mass and overwhelm me, and so I have decided to divide up into places, or main places, for ease.  I have typed up the notes for Panaji and Kerala as new, separate documents and have moved Delhi into its own document.  The others I will do later (so as not to get overwhelmed/distracted).  It is easier for me to work with smaller documents as I am doing everything on my trusty Samsung Galaxy tablet and typing in a free Word app that allows me to type and save into a word document offline, very important as a lot of places we have stayed have patchy or no WiFi.  When online, it can then be saved to Google cloud, and shared via my email, which I do from my Gmail to my Hotmail email, so that it is on both emails (as well as the cloud, as well as in my documents on my tablet, and sometimes I also save it in a WordPress draft and email it to my husband!)

If you read regularly, please ‘follow’ the blog by pressing the follow button which appears on the bottom right of the screen when you go on the blog, before you scroll down.  When you scroll down to read it disappears, and reappears when you scroll back up.  Following helps me build my author profile which will help me when I submit my book proposal.  It also means you can comment and we can engage with each other which makes me super happy!

Thank you very much for reading

See you next week

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Happy Birthday

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20180427_070842Today is my birthday, I am forty-eight years old.  Here is an ‘old person’s selfie;’ no proper attention paid to angle or pose, no filters, no editing, no makeup and no shame (or at least, not enough to stop me).

I like to have some quiet reflective time on my birthday.  This morning I got up early, did some yoga and then went for a long walk on the beach and thought about writing.  Or I thought about life and picked out the bits I wanted to write about.

What’s on top

I went for a long walk on the beach yesterday morning as well, and I have done some yoga every morning for the past few days.  Yesterday (and so far today) I have had no alcohol and no cigarettes.  I had fallen into bad holidaymaker habits this past week, which I cannot do for the whole year.

I knew my last post was exactly a week ago and I had already decided to do one today.  Then I thought that maybe I should do what I have so far resisted, due either to free spiritedness or pig headedness (as with many of my habits and decisions, it could be either), and sign up to the ‘consistency is key’ advice and post on a regular day every week.

I honestly did not know what day of the week it was today, not in the I don’t know what day it is, think for a second, then you do, type of way.  I mean I really didn’t know what day it was.  I had to remember the last time I knew what day it was, what day we left Hampi, what day my step-son arrived here in Arambol, and work it out from there.  I cannot remember the last time I had so completely lost track of what day it was.  It is Friday today so I shall, for the time being at least, post every Friday.  I may work on it earlier in the week and just finish it off on a Friday or I may write the whole thing on the day, depending on travel, time and internet access.

This will help me manage the demands of writing a book and writing a blog.  Having a once a week schedule is manageable and means I don’t have to fret about when was the last one, should I be doing another one, etc etc.  I remember reading somewhere that the more you can turn over to habit, rather than your own fluctuating motivations, interests and energies, the easier it is to get things done.

I feel like the blog will turn into more of an actual blog, rather than having to carry the full weight of any and all writing I do.  This has meant that not everything has been included as blogs are by nature a bit snappier, like short short stories.  Writing the book means that I can write about things that would otherwise be forgotten, and means that the blog can become slightly more chatty and personal.

If ever I think that maybe young people and their selfies are a bit narcissistic, I can just remember that writing about oneself and putting it on the internet potentially puts me in a glass house.  The blog is where I ask myself how I am and check in with myself.

It will also include a travel update and a writing update.  I will put the writing update at the end so it’s easy to skip.  It will be mainly of interest to other writers who are working on something and to people who are cheerleading me through the process of writing the book (thank you very much for your encouragement, it really does help!).

This will help me have a routine; I’d like to exercise in the morning, write in the afternoons and relax in the evening.  I do find no routine, drinking and smoking anytime, sort of fun but it’s easy to cop-out of getting anything done.  And how lucky am I, or rather, what a gift I have given to myself, to have a whole year where I can create a routine like that?  Or, to be on the more negative side, I chucked away my career and my three bedroom house so all that better have been worth it.  (Don’t worry, it totally is!)

Of course, alcohol, smoking, and general lack of confidence and self discipline can follow you almost everywhere.  I have not come here to run away from myself but I am fully aware that whatever it was about me that got in the way of me taking my writing seriously in England, can still get in the way here.

I can just about say this first month with my step-son out with us, is a holiday but not after that.  That said, I am sure there will be phases of falling off the wagon but I prefer to be clean living and with a routine and then fall off bigger occasionally, rather than a little every day.

Travel update:

We have been in Arambol for a week.  Beautiful beach like Agonda but a bit busier, with stalls and shops and alleyways to explore, and much nicer than Anjuna.  Tomorrow we go to Panaji the capital of Goa, for two nights before my step-son flies back to England and we leave Goa to go to Kerala for the monsoon.

Writing update:

It is going well.  I am working on Chapter Two, which is broadly our first month in India.  As usual I get anxious if I don’t write and yet still don’t write for several days at a time sometimes, but yesterday I spent quite a while on it and felt really good.

As long as I don’t get scared or overwhelmed by the length.  I think it’s helped that I have separated it into chapters, in different documents.  Chapter One, how we got here and some background.  My last book, whilst small, was all in one document and became an amorphous mass that would completely overwhelm me.  I remind myself, I wrote a dissertation, I wrote a few small books, I can do this.  Even if I hadn’t, I could just say it’s like lots of blogs strung together.  I have actually put all the India blogs into the chapter and am working around and into them, adding detail, expanding, linking.

A string of blogs is a good starting point but the writing style is different.  I realise that I can slow down, drill down into things, take my time, allow themes to develop.  I have begun by putting all my blogs and notes into chronological order whilst being flexible about some things being ordered by subject instead.  Things link to each other, for example:

Yesterday I thought there should be a food bit, about the different food we ate at different places (hopefully more interesting than it sounds).  Today on my walk I thought, I could do an animal section and then I came to ‘Dog Temple,’ there a sign with a dog’s face in a star, saying, ‘We welcome you,’ (It was an animal shelter).

Things call back to each other.  The people we met in Anjuna told me afterwards that they said to each other, ‘Shall we ask them if they want something to smoke,’ and the other said, ‘No they are too old,’ which made me laugh a lot.  Today, as I walked on the beach, a man stopped me and chatted to me, then at the end of the conversation asked me if I wanted to buy anything to smoke.  I politely declined saying I am being healthy right now but I was quite pleased anyway!  Especially as it was my birthday!

Thank you so much for reading, see you next week!

 

Hampi Heaven

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image3.jpegphoto by Jude Atkinson-Hill

We stayed on the other side of the river to the temples for two nights and on our second evening we walked up the path where people go bouldering.  We walked amongst huge boulders that are somehow balanced securely on the rock slopes, looking as if they might fall but have probably been there forever, balanced on each other like strange rock snowmen.  Walls of sandy coloured boulders and rocks, almost polystyrene looking, like Planet of the Apes or Star Trek, unreal, as if this is where the world started.  Looking around it is easy to imagine that there was a big explosion and everything fell to earth as it was created, (even us, I whispered to myself.)

We sat on huge flat rocks that were so warm that I had to put my feet on my bag to stop them burning, and watched the sun set behind the clouds.  I felt myself absorbing the sun’s energy, as well as the power and energy of those huge rocks.

I had meditated for a second time in the beach hut in Agonda, again dropping into it easily after a little yoga.  I couldn’t help remembering that when I had meditated a few days earlier, the overriding sensation had been of FEAR.  This time though, it wasn’t there and although I may have initially suggested it to myself (it’s hard in meditation to know if an idea has come from my thinking brain or from deep inside me), however it felt right and didn’t change, and this time the word was STRONG.

On the rocks was not exactly meditating, it was more reflection, mindfulness and energy absorption.  But still definitely not fear.

Even though I am in India I am still the same, of course.  I still get anxious and have a bit of OCD, but loads of stuff is okay or much better than I expected.  I coped fine with the heat in Hampi which was my biggest fear.  (The weather reports said it was 39°C but felt like 42°C, whatever that means.  Hot, anyway, hot enough that when I heard it was 32°C in Goa I thought that sounded good).  I have even come to kind of enjoy the feeling of sweat pouring off me, as if I am being detoxified, which I suppose I am.  I also like the sense of languidness that is absolutely essential in the afternoons and often includes a nap.

In the hottest weather my clothes work and I feel really comfortable:  really baggy black linen trousers, white (well, they were when I bought them) shirts, a lilac hat, with a cream scarf draped over the top.  As long as I don’t look in the mirror…  When it cools down a little I do my best to look nice:  shower, brush my hair and put it up into a neat bun, put on a fresh black vest top and black knee-length skirt, ditch the hat, drape my cream scarf over my shoulders.  I have hardly any clothes, but they are all functional and they all go together.

My tummy is fine (although I have a new standard of fine since being here).  I don’t care about products, I don’t seem to need to moisturise as much here anyway, and when I run out of Oil of Olay (which I have used every day for twenty years) I am just going to buy something else, anything.  Likewise even with my beloved Body Shop hemp handcream I only experience mild anxiety re what I am going to do when it runs out.

Maybe it was Hampi, maybe it was PMS, but I found myself feeling so raw, so emotional, so happy I almost cried (well actually I did a little bit, discreetly).  India is obviously so steeped in spirituality, and being here is such sweet sensory overload, that it would be surprising if I walked through it without feeling something.  And Hampi is such a special place.

We got the ferry over the river each day, just a short distance, the man does this back and forth all day.  We were reminded of Siddhartha.  (Later, one of my favourite bloggers SMUT. and Self-Esteem mentioned Siddhartha in a really inspiring post called Atheism and Spirituality).  In a similar vein, we met the man who takes the money at the main temple, he has worked there, caring for the temple for forty years.

At the huge Ganesh statue, carved from a single piece of stone, we arrived at the exact moment that the woman who works there cleaning and minding it arrived and opened the gates so that we could go inside and hug the huge warm belly of Ganesh and walk around him.

It was too hot to walk everywhere so we got a rickshaw to The Lion God Narasimha, stopping for coconuts when we got too hot.

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Meeting Indian people was nice.  We met people in Goa but that was largely a pop up population, there only for the season before packing up and going home to places including Kerala and Nepal.  In Hampi almost everyone we met had been born there and lived there all their lives.  Our rickshaw driver had lived amongst the ruins, before the people were moved out from there and his family moved into the town.  There were lots of Indian tourists who were very friendly and even took our photographs and took selfies with us!  A Catholic nun was concerned about us being too hot and advised me to wear a piece of onion in my hair to stop me getting heat stroke.

We fell asleep in the afternoon with the door open because of the heat, and a monkey came in and took my dearly beloved tablet (the one I do everything on, I decided not to buy a Chromebook after all).  People from the rooftop cafe opposite saw it and a little boy retrieved it for me and came to our room with his father to return it.  (The tablet was in a zip up plastic toiletry type bag, apparently they take things like that in case it is food).  Our room was on the first floor, and the monkeys jump from roof to roof, I am so lucky that they didn’t drop it from a height and break it!)  I was half asleep and bewildered at the time but later, after we had visited the main temple again, this time at dusk and seen all the families there, sitting with tea and food and seen all the monkeys again, we returned home and I bumped into the boy’s father and was able to say a heartfelt thank you and give the boy and his sister a small present.

I did this by myself and then went to join my husband and stepson in the Old Chillout restaurant downstairs (which has lovely seating and lounging areas, great food, super friendly staff, and looks out over the boulders and banana palms), and just, sat…  I didn’t know at first what the feeling was, but it was so strong that after a while I took out my tablet and went on WordPress because otherwise I might have properly started crying.  That feeling, of course, was love.

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The next morning we left at 5.30am.  It was still dark and we drove past people waking up and starting their days, past carts pulled by oxen, past all kinds of temples and shrines, and watched dawn break, feeling the cool night air through the open sides of the rickshaw.  Magical.

We got the train back to Goa, an 8.5 hour journey in 2nd class ac, booked by the man who arranged our coach from Agonda to Hampi.  So far we have been doing things the easy way, later we’ll also use local buses and book trains ourselves at the station, but it is the man’s business and it was nice to support him.  The train was not quite as smart as the one from Delhi to Goa but perfectly comfortable and with a plentiful supply of people selling meals, snacks, coffee, water and sweets.  Although we had booked sleepers people were in our seats/beds and we didn’t have the heart to evict more than one person so we shared a sleeper seat for most of it, not really a problem as it was daytime (although I did go to sleep).

We arrived at Anjuna Beach, which was a bit too holiday maker-ish for us so we decided to find somewhere to move on to.  The next morning we got up early and went to look at Little Vagator.  We didn’t really like that either and so ended up staying in Anjuna one more night whilst we decided where to go next.  Arriving in Anjuna and Little Vagator after being in Hampi was like being pulled out of heaven.  Also, we had experienced probably the best beach in Goa already and been spoilt:  Agonda, with its tasteful beach side restaurants and bars, and beach huts, all of which are situated behind or level with the treeline so as not to spoil the beach.  Whilst of course touristy, it was so perfectly done, and the beach so clean, peaceful and big I don’t suppose anywhere will compete with that.

But it is about the experience, after all, and it was fun, getting up really early to beat the heat and going off to get to Little Vagator, with nowhere open and no rickshaws around.  We met two local guys who shared their cigarettes and drinks with us and persuaded an off duty rickshaw driver to take us, and invited us out to party with them.  That evening we did what you do in Anjuna, which I found quite scary, down the backstreets in the dark, into a house with one, two, then three men appearing.  Back to the guesthouse in a taxi to get cards and go to the ATM, having declined the offer of my husband getting a lift on the back of one of their mopeds and me staying in the house with one of the men and being made tea.  We wouldn’t have done that in England, in fact I am sure that here it would have been fine, but if anything had happened we’d have looked like idiots for taking that risk.  But they were all lovely, everything was fine, and now we can have another experience…

Happy Hampi

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On Saturday night we got a sleeper coach to Hampi.  The sleeper compartments were very cosy and I was excited to be on the coach.  The air con was turned up so high that we were actually cold in the night.  We tried to relish this feeling though, aware that Hampi temperatures were 40°C and higher.  We stopped at around midnight for toilets, and food for people who wanted it (we avoided eating or drinking, no toilets on coach) then it was straight through until around seven am.  We took a Valium and slept for a few hours, waking up desperate for a pee, luckily the bus driver seemed okay with stopping at the side of the road for us.  Twice in the night (friendly) police came on to check for alcohol, as we had crossed from Goa into Karnataka which is a dry state.

Arriving at Hampi sleep deprived and with stomach cramps from having shut down our bodies for the trip, we were met with a big crowd offering us rickshaws to our guesthouse.  We declined and went off to find food; we met a local person who took us to his cafe and told us that we were staying on the other side of the river so would need to move back for the last night as the ferry doesn’t start early enough for us to catch our train out.  He showed us that we could walk to the ferry and walk from the other side to our guesthouse, plus he had rooms for the last night.

At the river the temple elephant was being given a ceremonial bath, this happens every morning.  It’s not just the temples in Hampi that are amazing, it’s also the river, the boulders, the landscape.  Our guesthouse is lovely, with a cool shaded veranda outside the rooms, complete with three cute kittens, and monkeys in the trees that come onto the patio and have to be shooed away.

Today we got up early and crossed over the river to look at the temples, the ruins and the huge boulders, and the many, many monkeys.  By about eleven it was almost too hot to walk on the stone floors barefoot.

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Warning:  Shameless self promotion section

During my flurry of activity before I left, I emailed Hay House (publishers) and asked if they might be interested in my story.  A few days ago I got an email back.  A real, personal email.  They are closed to submissions right now whilst they review the ones they have.  The person who wrote me the email suggested I submit a proposal when submissions reopen on 4th June.  They provided a link to their guidelines and some specific things for me to consider.

One of them dear reader, is my ‘author platform’, which is why I need to start making an effort to build this.  This is why I have been messaging my friends and asking them to follow the blog.  Thank you so much those of you who have done this!  If you follow me, it means you can ‘like’ posts, make comments and most of all, I will know you are reading, or at least might be reading, whereas if you don’t follow the blog I will have no idea.  (This also helps for not repeating myself in messages/emails!)

It is very nice to get new followers, to have people ‘like’ my posts and to see that my posts have been read.  It’s also great to engage with people in the comments section.  I hope that friends will get to know me better, and that I will continue to make new connections with people I don’t know already.

Up until now, its really just been about expressing myself and making connections.  That still stands, of course, but Hay House will look at how many followers I have, views and engagement, or so I imagine.  So if you read the blog regularly and enjoy it, please consider following me.  If there’s anyone you know that you think may like it, please tell them or share on social media!

How to follow me:  On WordPress, in the bottom right hand corner will be a little follow button, it tends to fade in and out or appear and disappear, but when it appears, click on it.  You will then be prompted to enter your email address, you’ll get an email that you’ll need to confirm and then all new posts will go straight to your inbox.

Thank you for reading!

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How to write

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Anyone who has ever had to write an essay for school, a dissertation for uni, a quarterly report for their boss, reply to an email you are not excited about, or write thank you letters as a child, knows how hard it can be to write.  To get motivated to write, to start writing, to have the confidence to begin.  For writers of blogs, short stories or books, procrastination and crippling self doubt can prevent us starting or completing projects.

But writing isn’t always hard.  If your boss sends you an email asking you a straightforward question- the answer to which will make you look good, or praises you for something, that can be easy to reply to immediately.  Likewise a text that makes you cross can initiate a defensive reply before you’ve even thought it through properly.

And sometimes, sometimes writing is easy:  Like this blog; when I have something to say, the words just fall out.  And I’ve been working on my book, and enjoying it.  Yes it is also hard, when it gets long and I am unsure of the order, realise I have repeated myself, have to move things around.  But when I am just writing, feeling well, feeling happy, and writing because I want to, well then that makes me so very, very happy.

Yesterday morning my husband and I had a walk on the beach then breakfast (a beautiful fruit salad) eaten looking out onto the beach.  Then I wrote for the rest of the morning and into the afternoon.  Later my husband read it, we talked, added notes and new ideas, then went out for dinner.  It was so perfect, I felt like one of those proper writers you read about who have a regular routine and everything or like Ian Fleming (writer of the James Bond books) who used to live in paradise in Hawaii and swim each morning before sitting down to write.

Okay so I am back…  ‘Don’t do your boom and bust,’ my husband said.  ‘I won’t,’ I said, ‘Look, I’m fine, I’m having a break, I’m not doing anything…  I’m sitting still…  (But I am super excited!).’  ‘I can tell,’ he said.

Here are some photos of my current living quarters:

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I am making the most of the luxurious, quiet easiness, and the sea breeze, before Saturday night when we will be going on an eight-hour sleeper coach to Hampi, where it is 40°C.  Be brave, Rachel.

Thank you very much for reading.

PS, a word about money.  Our beach hut costs around £10 a night.  Cheaper ones are available at around £7-8, and hostels cost around £4 a night.  My step son’s return flight London to Delhi cost around £525, mine and my husband’s one way flights London to Delhi cost around £735.  This morning my husband and I had a nice breakfast in one of the nicer beach front restaurants for around £7.50.   Last night the three of us ate at a simpler, local place off the beach, we pigged out a bit and had more than we could eat, for about £11.

 

Not just a travel blog

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My new ‘About’ page/introduction for new readers:

Not just a travel blog.  Can get quite personal.  You have been warned!

Hello, my name is Rachel, welcome to my blog.

This is where I reveal my true thoughts and feelings.  This is a kind of coming out, to borrow words from a friend.

With my husband we have got rid of most of our possessions, sold the house and are travelling in South East Asia.

I do write about places I visit and put pictures up.  But I also just write about everything.

I’m more art than science; for me it’s about the experience rather than the thing itself.  It’s not about the travelling per se, rather the effect it has on me.

Thank you very much for reading

Books and stories by me

How to Find Heaven on Earth: love, spirituality and everyday life   The story of my ‘spiritual awakening’ available as paperback or ebook on amazon

Call off the Search: how I stopped seeking and found peace My second ‘spiritual journey’ book, published chapter by chapter on this blog beginning on 8th July 2017

So simple, so amazing: a journey into awareness My third bookpublished chapter by chapter on this blog, beginning on 17th July 2017

Short stories in women’s erotica anthologies available on Amazon

Make it Happy a short book about long term relationships available on Amazon

Self help for the suicidal, a workbook for people struggling with suicidal thoughts available on Amazon

Recognising myself

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Like coming off a motorway and finding yourself suddenly in a 30mph zone, leaving the demands, mental stimulation, pressures and deadlines of my job was bound to be an adjustment.  But it’s also forced me to face up to myself, unshielded from the work role, my thoughts and feelings no longer subsumed beneath the something else that is career.

Also, I like to get things done, or rather, I like things to be done so I write lists and worry about doing things, even if I don’t always get around to getting that much done.  I feel an urge to have things done as soon as possible, even if I don’t usually have the wherewithal or motivation to actually do them.  Plus, in the heat, you are lucky if you get one thing done a day.

So here I am, in paradise, worrying about getting things done.  The most important thing is the writing, so I’ll talk about that.  Obviously I have this blog, and that kind of takes care of itself.  I write when I have something to say, and post when it is finished.  In between I try, and mostly succeed, to not worry about it too much.  On top of that, I am writing a book with my husband about how we got here (decluttering, shedding attachments, mental leaps and matrix obstacles) and about what happens and what we learn about ourselves during our year in South East Asia.  So far so good, right?

We get up early, have a walk on the beach before it gets too hot, then retreat to the veranda/indoors until the evening, with the exception of possibly going out for lunch (which I managed yesterday, my first eaten-in-India masala dosa!) or to get snacks.  So plenty of time for writing, except that the heat slows everything down, plus I have only just got better from being ill.  But the biggest obstacle to it all, as usual, is my own mind.

I’ve been putting myself under pressure, thinking I have to write this book, try and get it published, finish chapter one as soon as I can so we can get onto chapter two about being in India before we’ve been here too long and forgotten things…  Thinking I have to make it a success, to fulfill the destiny of this adventure, to justify it, and to secure us financially.  So no pressure there then.  No wonder writing chapter one began to feel like a chore.  This demonstrates what a brain can do:  cause anxiety about nothing, when one is ensconced in paradise with nothing at all to worry about.

So after a grounding chat with my husband over breakfast this morning, this is where I am at now:  We have a boat to come back to in the UK, overheads are low so we both only need to work maybe three days a week each, I can sign up to agencies and just do whatever, a variety, so as not to get sucked back into the workplace matrix/politics.  That plan is fine.  As for this year, this is budgeted for, so I do not need to earn any money or worry about earning any money this year.  I can just…  wait for it…  relax and enjoy myself.  And write.  Write for fun, write when I want to, write how and what I want.  Write the book, write the blog.  Write without expectation or pressure.  Write nothing at all some days.

But mostly I will write, of course.  As Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat Pray Love, my long time personal bible) says, having a creative mind is like having a border collie for a pet.  If you don’t give it something to do, it will find itself something, and you may not like what it finds.  (This is probably why I have OCD, anxiety, etc etc etc.  There’s no easy answer though, because even when I do keep my mind occupied with writing, I am still capable of getting anxious about that.)

And of course I am still processing what it all means:  Selling the house, packing in my career, abandoning everything and just going off…  It’s not about going travelling, not really.  Or rather, the travelling is a tool.  It gets me away, breaks me away from my old life, from family, and when I return I will be living in a new area quite far away, far enough that no family will ever come and visit probably.

It’s not as if my family was bad.   It’s not as if my life was bad.  In fact it was good by any standard, and way, way better than I would have envisioned as a suicidal teenager or a freakish, teased child.  But, and here’s the but:  It wasn’t really me, or it wasn’t me any more, and the only way I could be me was to get right away from my family; to do something so big and so different that I would become unrecognisable, to them and even to myself.

 

My husband took two Tuk Tuk rides to find a pharmacy for me, and came back with strong antibiotics, gut flora and my thyroid meds, all over the counter, for around £5 altogether.  I started feeling better from the first tablet.  Antibiotics are good and strong here, I think.  My doctor in the UK could only give me three months’ worth of thyroid medication, so I have to buy it while I am out here.  I have a laminated copy of my prescription to keep with my UK issued meds (which are labelled with my name), to show when entering countries, especially Thailand.  I will keep my UK prescription meds for customs and buy and use local meds when I am inside a country for any length of time.

After drinking ginger, lemon and honey tea, and toast and honey whilst I was ill, now I am better, I am on ginger and hot water, mint tea, normal black tea, no honey or sugar in tea, no honey on toast, back to being a proper vegan and to taking care of my teeth.

My capabilities are returning:  I have gone from unable to even think about moving and the journey to Hampi, to talking about Vietnam, Japan, the whole trip.  I am inconsistent, emotional.  Yesterday evening we went out to dinner at a local, simpler place and had a good talk and reconnected.  Talking about capabilities, fears, managing my boom and bust cycle.

So it’s good, we are staying here until Saturday night, almost another week (so two weeks in Goa altogether- twelve nights in Agonda, eleven at this particular high up hut), so I can fully recuperate, get my strength back, and write chapter one (but in a joyful, no pressure kind of way, obviously!).

What I have been reading:

Only one thing, Kim Gordon’s (from Sonic Youth) autobiography.  My favourite bits, paraphrased:  I wanted to be an artist since I was five.  If you track back/observe you can see what it is you are meant to be doing.  (Visual) artists bemoaning that they can’t produce a piece of art that has the impact of a Kinks song.  A lot of artists wish they could produce work that had as much impact as a good song.  I don’t have the answer to that.

What I have been watching:

Only one thing, “Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise” on Netflix

 

Thank you very much for reading

Lots of love

Rachel

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