The war of letting go

Island life

Island life

Yesterday, my coach shared Friday’s post on Facebook and commented: “One of the most appealing bits of Tash’s original story was the getting rid of all the possessions. We have to travel lightly in this world if we are to travel at all.”

I agree and I thought it warranted another post. I think I had no trouble doing it then because I learnt very early on in my life that it was ok to lose everything. Thinking about it now, it seems reasonable to assume I also learnt that it can be dangerous to try to hang on to things:

When I was but a wee sproglet, we lived in Vanuatu, a South Pacific archipelago known at the time as the New Hebrides – a condominium jointly administered by France and Britain. We lived on the island of Espiritu Santo and it was a rather idyllic life I have very fond memories of.

That is until the so-called Coconut War. When Papua New Guinea stepped in, it was the end of life as we knew it. My mum and a friend of hers had run a pirate radio station supporting the rebellion. They would drive around at night and broadcast from different locations to avoid getting caught, but of course their identity was known in spite of the aliases they used.

One morning she received a phone call from a representative of the French government: “The French government can only guarantee your safety here for another 24 hours. Tomorrow morning you must take your family and one suitcase of belongings to the airport and the French army will transport you to the closest French territory.” New Caledonia.

I was only 5 or 6 at the time, but I remember it like it was yesterday. The next day we all piled into the car and on the way to the airport I remember feeling tense as we drove past troops and blockades. At the airport we joined the queues with other French families who were being evacuated, and Mum was told that she had been blacklisted by the new government and would never be allowed to return.

As we prepared to board the plane, my father bent down to say goodbye. Goodbye? Wasn’t he coming with us? No, he said. He had to stay behind to try to save some of our belongings. I was terrified for him and really thought I would never see him again.

My two sisters, Mum and I boarded the army plane. I will never forget it. It was a parachutist plane with two rows of steel bucket seats facing each other. The cabin wasn’t pressurised and my sister Kat suffered terribly from pain in her ears. She spent the entire flight screaming and crying. We were powerless to help her.

When we got to the airport in Noumea, we were rushed off to a hangar where journalists from all over the world were waiting to gather our stories. Once the interviews were over, we were ushered into big buses. Escorted by police cars and motorbike police, we were taken to our refugee camp. We weren’t in tents or anything; from memory, two or three families had to share a sort of small house/cabin. The French army would come and deliver our meals and we would queue up behind the trucks to collect them.

I have no idea how long we actually spent in that camp before we were moved in to low-income apartments. I just remember that one morning there was a lot of hustle and bustle around the camp and the rumour circulated that the men were returning.

I was really excited, because I hoped I would see my father. When the time came, we all rushed up to the camp entrance to greet the buses as they arrived. I could see my dad in one of them! The men alighted one by one and I wondered why there were ambulances waiting.

When it was my dad’s turn, I saw that he was crying as he looked over at us and his body would no longer carry him. He crumpled out of the bus, landing on his knees, and before we could even go to him an ambulance whisked him off to hospital.

On the way home from dropping us off at the airport in Santo, he had been stopped and captured by Papuan troops. Other friends of his had been taken also. I have never asked for full details of what happened there, but he did tell me they had been deprived of food and beaten, sometimes with chains. A friend of his had later lost an eye as a result of the violent treatment and their ordeal.

And our belongings stayed where they were meant to.

That was the first time – and certainly the most dramatic.




With Ella

With Ella

If you could have any career at all in this life, what would it be?

Me, I would be a singer/songwriter.

I love to sing. It’s essential to my well-being and happiness and the one thing I just can’t help doing. All the time. Except when I’m deeply unhappy.

I knew I had to leave my ex when I realised that my song had left me. I mean, I would sing along to songs on the radio, sure. But I had stopped singing randomly and spontaneously.

Sometimes the first thing I do when I open my eyes in the morning is sing a little song. Standing in the checkout queue at the supermarket, I sing. Walking down the street, I sing or at least hum. With him I had stopped doing that. Crying in the shower on a daily basis should have been a pretty good clue for me, but I wasn’t sure I had to leave him until he went overseas on a 6-month work assignment and two days after his departure I began to sing again. And it was always the same song:

“For this queen you think you own wants to be a hunter again. I want to see the world alone again. To take a chance on life again, so let me go” (Dido)

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention: I also get messages from the deeper part of me through the words and songs I sing. That’s a pretty nifty gift and one I’m very grateful for.

When we split up, finally, I bought myself something I’d been wanting for years: a guitar. That’s her in the picture up top – Ella. (Yes, I have a tendency to name inanimate objects. My first car’s name was Lucy, my second Mimi, and the latest is called Charlie. I also once had a peg bag called Peggy Sue).

I could picture myself writing songs, strumming away my pain or my joy and singing – all very bohemian, wouldn’t you say?

I started taking guitar lessons and found playing really difficult. It’s difficult enough for a healthy person, and hard on the fingers. But I discovered that my squidgy lupus fingers wouldn’t allow me to put enough pressure on the strings for certain chords and my arthritic wrists were suffering too. I reluctantly gave it up. But I still have Ella and can’t bear the idea of parting with her. I wonder now if I should try again?

When Mum died in May 2012, I was grief-stricken for the third time in a little over a year and this was The Big One. The one I had spent years preparing for. My sorrow was so deep that I couldn’t bear it all. I needed to channel it and all I wanted to do was sing. I felt it was the only thing that would keep me sane. It was an unstoppable urge from the very core of my being. It was physical.

But years ago I developed nodules on my vocal cords from all my singing and presumably having the wrong technique. It had taken me 2 years of speech pathology to re-learn to speak and get my voice back. For 2 years I had to make do with whistling. It was torture and years later I didn’t want to subject my voice to that again, as it had never fully recovered.

If I wanted to sing, then, I had to do it properly. I researched singing teachers – good ones are expensive. I found a good one and an option I could afford: a group class of 4 people, every Monday for one hour. It was great at first, simply because we got to sing at each session and were free to pick our own songs. My main problem with it was that we weren’t all at the same skill level: two of the group members were completely tone-deaf and it became excruciating. I felt like I was being held back. One day a girl from the Wednesday group came on the Monday to make up a missed lesson. She pulled me aside and said “Natasha, this group isn’t for you. It’s like karaoke in there. You should switch to the Wednesday group”. Unfortunately, just as I had made my decision to switch, my teacher had to stop lessons for a few months due to health problems. By the time she was ready to resume classes, I had found a different outlet and decided that preparing a new song each week was just too stressful and demanding. Imagine it : each week you had to spend time deciding on a song that was right for you, then find the music, then learn the lyrics, the melody, rhythm, timing, and then actually practise singing it… properly. All that in one week, on top of all other commitments. It was too much.

So the next thing I did was join a musical melee, where we sang and learnt a bit about stage performance. That was fun, but due to my knee injury last October I had to give it up. I found out a couple of months later that the teacher had to stop the group because of professional commitments, anyway.

Now, I’m pushing 40, so these lessons were never meant to lead to anything professional. I had to give that dream up years ago. But were all these hindrances there to test my commitment to singing? Or to tell me this wasn’t right for me?

I don’t know. But I do know this: The Voice started again here a few weeks ago and, the first time I watched it, there was that all-too familiar longing. And it was so strong that the tears just flowed out of me as I watched other people sing.

I don’t think that’s something I should fight. So I’m back to square one and exploring my options.


Brave enough to stay?



I realised something the other day: in just a couple of months it will be ten years since I gave away or sold most of my belongings, put the two or three remaining boxes in storage, and left Australia for my big adventure.

Ten years.

I had no real plans. I just had a Canadian working holiday visa valid for one year. I had to be there before my 30th birthday, and I had decided to try my luck in Montreal so I could work in a bilingual environment.

There’s more to this story, of course; there always is. But today I want to focus on one aspect of it in particular: at the time, everyone thought I was so brave. They all yearned to do the same, if only they could find the courage. A girl? Travelling alone with just a backpack and no real plans? Giving up all your belongings? Your job? Your security? Leaving your family and friends behind?

I didn’t find it scary. Well, I don’t recall feeling scared. I remember feeling exhilarated; filled with new hope and the promise of endless possibilities. I could breathe again! I just couldn’t wait to be on my way.

When people asked how long I was going for, I had one standard reply: “If I hate it, I’ll be back in a couple of months. But really, I’d say I’ll be gone anywhere from one to four years.”

I would tell them that even though I had no plans whatsoever, I wondered if I might make it to France after Canada, as it seemed a pity to have been French all my life and never have set foot in my ‘mother country’.

Little did I know.

So it’s nearly 10 years now and at the end of August I will have been in Toulouse, France, for 9 years. That’s almost the longest I’ve lived in any one country or city. Actually, it is the longest I’ve ever lived in any one city.

And in June it will be 4 years since I moved into this apartment. By quite a margin, that’s the longest I’ve ever gone without moving. My whole life.

When I was born, my parents lived in a caravan and that set the tone for a nomadic life.

So I got to thinking about all this because I have itchy feet. Again. That all too familiar feeling of the world closing in on me. A feeling of suffocating. I have been wondering whether I could ever just stay in one place. I’ve so desperately wanted to try, but I wonder if I can really do it.

You see, when all those people talked about needing courage to just pick up and go, I didn’t realise that what requires the most courage for me is staying.

There is a constant battle waging inside me over this and I won’t lie to you: it’s tough. It’s even tougher now because the stakes are high.

Are you familiar with this feeling? How do you cope with it?


The trouble with communication

(Translation to follow)

“Entre ce que je pense,

ce que je veux dire,

ce que je crois dire,

ce que je dis,

ce que vous voulez entendre,

… … ce que vous avez envie d’entendre,

ce que vous entendez,

ce que vous croyez y comprendre,

ce que vous voulez comprendre,

et ce que vous comprenez,

il y a dix possibilités qu’on ait des difficultés à communiquer.

Mais essayons quand même…”

– Bernard Werber –



“Between what I think,

what I want to say,

what I think I’m saying,

what I am saying,

what you want to hear,

… what you’d like to hear,

what you hear,

what you think you understand by it,

what you want to understand,

and what you understand,

there are ten possibilities that we will have trouble communicating.

But let’s try anyway…”


No wonder eh?


The meaning of grey


What do I mean when I talk about grey?

Grey = stagnant

As an onomatopoeia it would be ‘blah’ or ‘meh’

It’s not comfortable, yet it’s not really uncomfortable either

It’s being passive and reactive instead of proactive; letting yourself be carried along by life’s events instead of steering your own course

It’s being an extra in your own story when you should be its author and protagonist (see that little sneaky pro- prefix there, again? Uhuh!)

It’s rolling with the punches and going with the flow when you should be standing tall, fierce and proud and letting your roar resonate loud and clear

It’s letting practical and sensible trump fun – pretty much every time

It’s choosing instant gratification over long-term reward (Care for another piece of cake?)

It’s compromising but always feeling like you’re on the loser end and resenting it deep down

It’s trying too hard to fit into someone else’s life/lifestyle

In a grey world, spontaneity becomes uncomfortable and even scary

You forget to do things you used to enjoy – because they seem like too much… hassle? Effort?

After writing the above, I typed “grey meaning” into Google and came across a colour psychology site that had this to say about grey (well actually, being American it had this to say about gray…):

“The color of detachment, indecision and compromise

Gray conforms – it is conventional, dependable and practical. It is a color of maturity and responsibility, associated with the gray hair of old age. It will never be the centre of attention, the dynamic leader or the director – it is too safe and toned down.”

Oh no no no, that definitely doesn’t sound like me! Fortunately, the page also eventually gives us some good news about grey: “The color gray can stifle and depress energy but it is also the stable base from which the new and positive can come

Phew!! Bring on the new and positive! Let’s have it in magenta, please. With some complementary green for good measure :)

How about you? What colour would you like your new and positive to be?

“Be the change you wish to see in the world”*

I once read somewhere that it was a good idea to start off a new blog with a post declaring your intentions and aims, generally stating what readers could expect to find there. As a blogger, this is a great way to track progress and ensure you stay on topic, and as a reader, a good way to figure out whether or not it’s going to appeal to you.

I really wanted to do that with Burst to Bright. I spent some time identifying the main themes I thought I wanted to write about and tried to keep a common thread tying them all together. I chose a tagline that encompassed the things I wanted to focus on, whilst still leaving room for variety and experimentation.

I had set a goal for this week to write (and publish) one post on this new blog. I figured I would give a brief overview of each of the themes I had chosen and the reasons they were selected. I had anticipated that the writing part would be hard at first, but I hadn’t expected it to be THAT hard. Several times this week I sat down to write this first post and failed miserably. Nothing flowed. I struggled. One of my problems was that each theme came with a story and I didn’t want to write a novel or even an essay. The biggest problem, though, was that it just didn’t feel right.

Yesterday being Saturday, I could feel the week galloping to a close with my goal still unachieved. Panic. Disappointment. Frustration. And also, I must admit, a sense of letting the team down: I was sure my fellow accountability group members were all cruising along nicely at warp speed to reach this week’s finish line.

I didn’t want to fail in my mission, so I decided to change tack; to go back to the beginning, to the seed of the idea behind Burst to Bright. It started with the realisation that through a series of external events and personal choices, I had slowly and unwittingly become too passive in my own life. I knew I was fortunate. All around me there was clear evidence of this fortune and I could see the signs of a good life. Yet inside me was a dull ache; a feeling that something was slowly dying and that that thing had to be brought back to life, restored back to its full vibrancy.

When I spoke of this dull ache to other women, so many recognised the feeling and could relate. Too many. I wanted to help remedy this in some way and I figured a blog was a good way to start. But the blog at this stage was going to be for advice. And all over the interwebs I could see blogs sprouting up claiming guru or expert status and shouting out advice, telling women how they should be. I didn’t want to be just another one of those. I’m not an expert in anything. And I certainly never want to be a fraud.  Who was I to be giving other women advice when I hadn’t actually done the work myself? It felt all wrong and my procrastination and resistance were clear signs that I was not ready to walk the walk. So forget about talking the talk.

Fast forward to the present day. The time for change is now and I am ready. I felt the quickening in December. With the promise of a bright new year ahead, I began to make room for change, possibilities and opportunities. My journey has begun… I guess I’ll figure out where I’m going when I get there.

For now, I’m going to fly in the face of all the advice out there that says your blog shouldn’t be about you, it should be about your readers. You see, this blog can’t be about my readers until it has been about me. And that’s what it shall be. Until I decide otherwise, I’m going to change the tagline from “Exploring colour, play, creativity and self-expression” to “One woman’s journey back from a dull grey life of her own making”.

I am going to document and share my journey in the hopes it inspires you to embark on your own. So there you have it. My intention :)

Let’s see where that takes us!