Lulu

Lulu
My Lulu, a dachshund x Jack Russell terrier. (Image copyright: Michelle Turnbull)

I bring home one   my number one
a soft-as-velvet fur-son
then I get number two   maharani you
even so       mummy must love Lulu

Number one licks multiple kisses on my nose
and basks in our adjoined shadows
you   though   only come to me when it suits you
even so      mummy must love Lulu

Number one’s meal you try to steal
after you’ve wolfed down yours with great zeal
a terrier you are through and through
even so   mummy must love Lulu

Number one cries if I’m not in sight
but you like to sit bum facing me in the rays outside
this is such a very you thing to do
even so    mummy must love Lulu

Number one doesn’t have the genes
to do what you do by any means
runaway   once    twice    disappear in plain view
what face will I show daddy if I can’t find you

Number one chases my to-and-fro stride
while my vocal cords shred
LUCY    LULU    LUCY   LULU
my munchkin   where have you got to

You are splashing in the creek
mummy’s hopes of tracing your prints are bleak
you are punishing me   too good to be number two
come back    mummy promises to forgive you

At a wit’s end   my heart finally slots back in place
at the sight of your pretty fox-like face
my baby   my Lulu
I  do love you

A left-brainer does poetry

Right brain

I know nothing about poetry. I never read, studied or had any interest in it. I blame my glutinous left hemisphere. And my lack of patience. To read – and appreciate – poems you need to be the type of person who stops and smells the roses.

Yet, here I am taking a short course in poetry.

Why? I don’t know why. But I’ll take a stab. A microscopic crack let a sliver of light seep through in 2017. That sliver was Rupi Kaur. A poet who became famous through instagram. I appreciate Rupi’s succinct delivery of truisms. Plus, her style was easy for my logical mind to digest. And thus a seed was sowed.

Writing poetry, though, is another matter. It started last year, with just four poems. And I have written a handful since. They’re not great. I know this. They might not even be considered poetry.

These poems spilled out organically. I later realised why. Writing in stanza offered me something that writing in prose didn’t: An easier way to express emotions. I found that charged stuff got bogged down in the many words of prose. And I wouldn’t be able to come out with what I wanted to say.

In the first week of the course, I was introduced to a definition of poetry:

Poetry is expressing the inexpressible.

The crack widens each week. Good poetry is, to put it in my teacher’s words, “distilled language”. It also needs to be “evocative, associative and allusive”. And that for a reader of poetry “the beauty of not knowing the meaning makes it alive”.

Verbs are paramount for creating distilled language. To paint this picture, we were given 12 verbs to turn into a poem as a writing prompt:

  • dancing
  • pressed
  • collapse
  • disappeared
  • order
  • worry
  • sliding
  • humming
  • playing
  • raking
  • suturing
  • cauterising

Here’s what I came up with:

Dancing in the sky
I pressed myself against clouds
they did not collapse
but I disappeared
in which order
I do not worry
sliding / humming / playing
I find myself
raking clouds
suturing not cauterising
puffs into a blanket
buffering my being
from all that is dust

I giggled while writing this. I could picture myself having a good ol’ time in the clouds, but at the same time, it does hold a philosophical meaning for me.

My right brain is chasing the tail of my left. It might just catch up yet.

What I know for sure

Community – a sense of belonging – cures loneliness.

Real love – romantic or otherwise – doesn’t demand that I change; it accepts me wholeheartedly.

Seeking love to complete myself is a shade of co-dependency.

My health and happiness is my responsibility.

My thoughts shape my life. “Nothing is more powerful to mould the Human Life that thought.” ~ The Bhagavad Gita (My mum quoted this in my birthday card last year.)

What someone says about me or how they treat me is always about them – never me. And vice versa. While I know this for sure, I forget often.

My purpose doesn’t need to be grand, mind-blowing or something that changes the world. To quote Dr Libby Weaver in Exhausted to Energized, it can be “to simply live each of your moments fully and marvel at it all”.

I am grateful that my basic needs are amply met – it means I have the luxury to live freely and ponder the meaning of it all.

When I am well-fed and well-rested, with time for solitude, I am a much nicer person.

Having the space to do things – with breathing spaces in between those things – makes whatever I’m doing enjoyable.

Cuddling my fur babies in the morning, with the sounds of birds tweeting as the backdrop, is one of my greatest pleasures.

I feel safe, grounded, and warm and fuzzy when I receive a six-second hug. Cuddling my fur babies totally counts.

Play lightens the load and makes life fun, and the unbearable a bit easier to bear.

It takes courage to be myself in a noisy world. I worry how people perceive me. I think I should be a certain way to be worthy (of what?). I’m learning to give myself permission to discover and be who I am, on repeat.

Dancing makes my soul smile.


Inspired by the title of Oprah Winfery’s book What I Know for Sure.

What’s in a name?

Can your personality be shaped by what your name means? Or what it sounds like?

I’ve heard of parents-to-be having a bank of names at hand. So when the baby is born they can choose a name that fits. But how do they know which is the right one? Do the baby’s features decide the name? Or are the parents unconsciously deciding their child’s fate?

I can only talk of my experience. The name on my birth certificate means ‘dear divine’. I don’t know whether I am dear or divine. The people who love me show me that I’m dear. And at one of the retreats I attended, I was told I seem the spiritual type. But this is likely because I have brown skin and a nose ring.

My parents were going to name me Reshma. A name starting with the letter ‘r’ like my dad’s. This was the fashion back then. But by a twist of fate, that wasn’t what I was named.

When I was still inside her, my mother was reading a fiction book written in Hindi. She named me after the protagonist, a Bollywood film star. (Incidentally, Reshma means ‘silk’. Maybe I’d have had silky skin? I would’ve liked that.)

Thirteen years later, there was another twist of fate – a life-changing moment, where, along with it, I experienced the mangling of my phonetically spelled name.

I got Lalesh-ee-ni, Leshlaani, Leeshini… “No, ‘La-lesh-ni’”, I would say to all who made up a new name for me. Until I got jack of it and simply succumbed to whatever came out of people’s mouths.

Finally, three years after migrating to the land down under did a schoolmate offer to shorten my name.

“Laleshni is too long. Let’s call you ‘Lee’ instead,” she said. It punched me in the gut, and I unconsciously stiffened so that ‘Lee’ bounced off me. “No”, I found myself blurting out, “I do not want to be called Lee. Let me think about it.”

And so I did. Why hadn’t I thought of shortening my name before? I was embarrassed that no one could pronounce my eight-lettered, foreign-sounding name. Teachers would stop midway through roll call and develop a stuttering disorder. I’d sink into my chair and meekly call out “here”. An old lady I was serving in my first job as a ‘checkout chick’ took one look at my name badge and asked how to pronounce it. She wanted to name her toy poodle puppy something ‘exotic’.

Here, my classmate was offering me an opportunity of a lifetime. So I grabbed it with both hands. I had tried chewing on Lee a couple of times, but I spat it out each time. May be ‘Lal’, the first syllable of my name? (Incidentally, Lal means ‘dear’). No. I did not like that either. I soon thought of something that lit up my nervous system like a night sky exploding with fireworks.

I loved the sound of my new, self-refashioned name – short, bold and to the point. (Funny. That’s how some people would describe me, too.) It was a part of my full name, and therefore still a part of me. ‘Laleshni’, on the other hand, sounds feminine, pretty – facets that felt foreign, at that time.

With this reformed name, I went to university and lived on campus. Gained the freedom, choice and independence that come with having an education, and the ability to earn an income to stand on my own feet. Opportunities that were not afforded to the women in my family who came before me.

In my early 20s, I got my first corporate gig. After almost two years in that job, I had the opportunity to head across to Europe and present our new safety database. My Belgian contact, with whom I had corresponded via email – professional language is very masculine, no? – did a double take when he met me. “You’re a woman,” he couldn’t stop himself from saying. By changing my name, had I unwittingly chopped off my femininity?

I don’t know what type of person Laleshni would be. Maybe a divine goddess who is loved by everyone. I don’t believe I sold out, though. Shortening my name was a natural, evolutionary response to my changed environment, like how a sea creature evolves to live on land, morphing to survive – and thrive. (Incidentally, my shortened name still holds the syllable that means ‘divine’.)

An animal-to-animal encounter

It’s a bright, sunny morning. The weather app on my iPhone tells me it’s going to be a stinker. So before it becomes unbearable, I take my dogs for a walk.

The three of us make our way onto our habitual route – through the park and onto the shared walk-bike path adjacent to the eastern freeway. I decide to go rogue and stay on the path instead of getting off at our usual spot, to loop back home via residential streets.

This was a big mistake. Of course, I did not know this at the time. Within a hundred metres, coming towards us from the other side of the path is a ball of fluff about four months old. You could tell it was well-loved. It had a floral-print ‘chief around its neck and it momentarily paused taking us in with is black beady eyes.

The puppy doesn’t register me, yet its face expresses elation: oh, here are two of my kind – whoopee! It bolts towards us, crossing over the forbidden white line. Thankfully there were no bikes whizzing by.

But soon a group of men in lycra ride past. I stop walking, so that the puppy stays with us and doesn’t tangle into the bikes. I yell out “This is not my dog” in case I get told off for not having my dog under ‘effective control’. I’m a responsible citizen and the irresponsibility of this puppy’s owner is stressing me out.

The puppy keeps circling us and pouncing in the typical doggie-play position. After over a 100 metres of this, and only being able to move at a pace one would call shuffling, I no longer find it cute or its behaviour endearing. And neither do my dogs. My older one now anxious, continually jumps on me.

The owner is nowhere in sight. And I now I think the puppy might be lost.

With cutesy noises I coax the puppy to come closer and as quick as lightning make to grab its collar with my one free hand. But the puppy is nimbler than me and its collar is hidden under the ‘chief, so on my first go a bunch of fur slips through my fingers.

Second time lucky, I hang onto the collar with my left hand, and stand on my dogs’ leads with my left foot, so I can have my right hand free. I use it take out my phone, and now I only have one limb free.

The collar is leather, beautiful – almost the same colour as the puppy. Its name and owner’s number is etched onto the collar, so it’s tricky to read, but possible were it not for the puppy’s flipping about. It’s twisting, turning – making the collar tighter – and whimpering loudly. With the trajectory of my luck this morning, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone were to report me for animal cruelty. I’m just waiting for it.

The puppy is fighting back, shaking me about as I try to punch the number into my phone with my right thumb, the remaining fingers gripping onto the phone for dear life. I only managed to get in four digits when the phone drops. Now I feel like whimpering too. But my hope gets restored when I see this couple, middle-aged, on their morning walk heading my way.

“Can you help me?” I ask feebly. I’m desperately hoping they’d agree to call the owner, while I held the dog with both hands and read out the numbers. But you know what they said? And very nonchalantly, might I add. “That’s our dog.”

Whaaat?!!!

Whatever was holding me together gave way. “Where have you been? Do you know your puppy has followed us for the last 10 minutes, stressing out my dogs? It should be on a lead! It could get hit by a bike!”

“Oh.”

I let go of the puppy, thinking it’d run back to its owners. Another mistake. It still circles us, and totally ignores the commands mumbled by its owners.

The owners’ limp scramble to control their dog boils my blood. It’s going to be up to me. The responsible citizen.

We are near an opening that makes its way into a residential street. I head that way, hoping the puppy will get the hint and stay on the path. Wishful thinking. It continues to follow us, and now I think a car might squash it. The owners don’t even bother to follow us. So I return to the grassy bit between the road and path.

Despite my lack of inner calm, I find the motor of my mind whirring for a solution. The puppy is simply not understanding hooman.

Before I know it, my lizard brain takes over.

I leave my dogs on the grassy patch. And then I charge. With my arms stretched above, hands curved into paws and fingers clenched into claws, I scream-growl and bare my teeth. The puppy face tells me it understands. That bear is going to eat me! Run! It scampers off to its owners – I hope – who still haven’t shown face.

My dogs, miraculously, have stayed put. I grab their leads and don’t look around to see whether anyone has witnessed this animal-to-animal encounter. My cheeks are hot and I feel perspiration on my back, my heart in overdrive. After a minute or so, we continue on our walk, my head turning from side to side, wary of meeting the puppy again. Instead, we only meet two women walking a greyhound on a tight lead, who say “leave it” as they walk past us.

Love on the freeway

About four years ago, I’m on the eastern freeway and something happens to me that has never happened in the 21 years of my driving: I run out of petrol.

I thought I knew my fuel gauge intimately. But on that day she tricked me, and I putt-putted my way into the shoulder lane with my sweaty palms – damn you hyperhidrosis – and my cheeks the colour of scarlet.

Another fact very unlike me: I didn’t have roadside assistance. So I find myself calling RACV and immediately signing up for two years.

“Someone will be with you within the hour”, the operator tells me.

Great. I’m supposed to be meeting a girlfriend at the Slow Food farmers market. I dial her next. And she makes the right commiserating noises.

Then I call the hubby. “I’ll come,” he says. “I’ll wait for the RACV guy and you can take my car to meet Jacq.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

Less than 10 minutes later, the hubby pulls up into the shoulder as cars pass us at over 100km per hour. To passersby, I’m sure we look as if we’re up to something dodgy. Or maybe that’s just the way I see it?

Because to some extent it is dodgy. It is not a win-win situation. Or maybe it is? I feel guilty about this exchange. Nevertheless, I allow myself to receive the gesture – another thing that often doesn’t happen.

When I meet my friend, hardly a few minutes late, I say, “If I ever grumble about my husband, can you please remind me about this moment?”

The library interaction

I went to the new library branch to pick up a book I had reserved. It was an excuse to check out the new digs. It takes me all of five seconds to meander its circumference.

I easily locate the reserved books section. And I swiftly find my reservation. But I can’t find the self-service counter.

A solitary, silver-haired librarian is sitting at the front desk. She has not looked up from her screen since I walked in. Sensing my approach, she lifts her face and smiles, “Ah, you must be looking for the self-service computer.”

“Yes, I am,” I smile back.

“Well, we don’t have one yet. But there is a plan to get one. In the meantime, you’ll have to speak to me.”

“No problem,” I say, “there are fewer and fewer chances to interact with people these days.”

“Yes, that’s true.”

Then she asks, “Your first time here?”

“Uh-huh. How’s it going?”

Like this, we make small talk. I’m not much for small-talking, but the librarian, I soon learn, is eager to tell me all about the place.

It’s getting busier. It’s small, so we only hold a collection of books, which we’ll rotate. But you can reserve your books, and have them transferred here from other branches. It’s beautiful space to work in, especially in the morning, when the sun shines through the windows. She says “I hope you come again” at least three times throughout our interaction.

I nod, thinking that it’s not really that convenient for me. But I don’t tell her this.

I find myself itching to leave. I could say I have somewhere to be, and I do, but I’m in no rush. My impatience is a personality trait exemplified by the modern era.

But then I think:

May be she is lonely? May be this is the only real interaction she’s had all day? May be it’s the first chance she’s had to feel useful today?

A Kurt Vonnegut piece in A Man without a Country comes to mind. How he needs to buy an envelope and his wife tells him that he can order a packet of a thousand online. He refuses, and ‘wastes’ hours meandering down the street, interacting with a stall vender, and buying a single envelope. He then heads off to the post office to interact with another human being to buy stamps and post off his documents. This interaction includes asking the clerk to weigh the envelope to make sure he buys the correct number of stamps.

Loneliness, Mr Vonnegut would say, is a “terrible disease”.

In memory of a mango tree

My entire family is crammed under my and my sister’s double-sized bed. There are five of us – my parents, who are in their late 30s. I’m 10. And my brother and sister are eight and seven.

We have dragged blankets and pillows with us so we can get as comfortable as possible on the concrete floor. This might seem like it was an indoor-camping adventure, except that it wasn’t.

Outside the gale-force winds are howling and whirling at unfathomable speeds. Inside we’re chanting:

Hare Rama
Hare Rama
Rama Rama
Hare Hare
Hare Krishna
Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna
Hare Hare

This mantra we repeat at the top of our lungs, hoping that God will hear us over nature’s tantrum and save us.

After what seems like hours, but in actuality is minutes, the winds die down, and we crawl out to assess the aftermath.

We discover that the source of many juicy moments that salivated our mouths and dribbled down our chins has fallen – split lengthways into two, one half landing in the front of the bedroom we were in, and the other behind it.

Our home’s landmark, which is at least 100 years old, had survived Oscar a couple of years earlier, but couldn’t weather the double whammy of Eric and Nigel.

We stand in the eerie silence, stunned by too many realisations.

No more climbing her thick trunk, which took three of us kids’ arm span to hug her entire circumference. No more sitting on her sturdy branches, sinking our teeth into her ripe, thirst-quenching gifts. No more tangy mango pickles from home-grown produce.

My father had built his boat with his bare hands under the expansive shade of that tree.

It was the death of a family member.

Perhaps she heard us chanting? And split herself into two so we could live?

Under the tree. Prepping mangoes for pickles. I’m on the right, with a conscious-the-camera-is-on-me smile.
Our basic tin home. You can just see a smidgen of the tree on the top right, full of fruit.

Dancing towards play

I think of play as a loss of self-consciousness in bed with flow, birthing a child-like joy. Like when my 12-year-old, honey-coloured Beaglier – a King Charles Cavalier x Beagle – chases his tail.

I turn to the Macquarie Dictionary & Thesaurus Online to check my interpretation. I discover that for a four-letter word, play has just as many facets as a classic-cut diamond. Well, almost. The Dictionary offers 97 definitions and uses for the word. (A quick Google search also reveals over 340 idioms.)

The first definition listed is “a dramatic composition or piece or a drama”, and the second is “a dramatic performance, as on stage.”

A stage play doesn’t come to mind, but Neymar Jr does. You know, the Brazilian soccer legend renowned for his ‘diving’ antics during the 2018 soccer world cup? Diving is the theatrical falling down and rolling around on the field acting as if you’re grievously injured.

Even if this behaviour isn’t considered outright cheating, I liken it to dirty play. Maybe I have a narrow viewpoint, though. The world at large has played along with the joke, fervently taking up the ‘Neymar Challenge’. With online news headlines proclaiming “The Neymar Challenge has fans around the world dramatically falling down” and “The ‘Neymar Challenge’ is the latest viral sensation taking the internet by storm.”

I just don’t get it. What a party pooper I am.

The third – “exercise or action by way of amusement or recreation” – and fourth – “fun, jest or trifling, as opposed to earnest” – definitions confirm my lack of playful genes.

It’s 1975. A one-year-old baby, almost a toddler, is carefully lifted out of the car. The mother is about to place her on the fresh green grass of the front lawn. Instead of delighting in the anticipated ticklish prickle of the lush blades against her bare feet, the toddler scrunches her toes and bunches up her legs.

About 10 years later, the same mother willingly writes notes so that her precocious daughter – who at the time equates exercise with an excruciating way to lose weight – can get out physical education classes.

Having lived with the daughter for over 40 years, I am realising, rather disappointingly, the seriousness of my disposition. Reviews govern my restaurant choices. And familiarity my repeated visits to the same cafès, with the staff knowing my name and me theirs. Uncertainty sends me to Google in search for an answer, a way. Behaviours such as these allude to a fear of a life lived wrong.

Over two years ago, my five-foot-two self butted against a former model and basketballer turned author, PhD student and business owner – all rolled into a six-foot blonde. She was my boss. And I worked in her business for nineteen months before she unceremoniously pushed me out. I believed it was my continual refusal to put her on a pedestal and apologise for being human. But it was my lack of play that was to blame.

I realise – always too late – that when two strong-minded personalities clash, one must concave to soften the impact. Behavioural experts recommend this concaving come in the shape of play.

In The Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family, and Friendships, John M Gottman (with Joan DeClaire) writes:

“We also discovered the importance of playfulness in people’s bids [for interaction and connection]. For years I have wondered why some couples are able to make jokes and express affection for each other – even in the midst of an argument. It’s an important question because our research shows that such emotional ‘repair tools’ lead to the development of happier, stronger relationships.”

Dr Stuart Brown also concurs, stating in his book Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul that “The ability to play is critical not only to being happy, but also to sustaining social relationships and being a creative, innovative person.”

So, instead of shooting emails at each other about the restructure of my role – my boss from her office and me from my shared space less than two feet away – I needed to get up and walk over to her and say: “Hey, what’s up? Is it my turn to get you coffee or something? Let’s grab one and chat.”  

I still might not have kept my job, but the departure might’ve been less acerbic.

Not long after my demise at work, my life took a serendipitous turn towards play. I got a job with an organisation that has ‘vitality’ in its name, to which it is unabashedly true. As its digital content specialist, I can work from home, but I choose to turn up in the office at least once a week. Why wouldn’t I? I laugh often, hear pet names like ‘precious’ and ‘sweet cheeks’ float through the airwaves, and my mistakes are seen as part of being human – i.e. no big deal!

Both Dr Brown and another behavioural expert, Bowen F White, a medical doctor and author of Why Normal Isn’t Healthy, stress the importance of selecting friends who are playful. I just happened to get lucky with my colleagues.

Work wasn’t the only ingredient to up my play stakes. Roughly a year ago, I took up dance classes. Not ballet. But dance of the street variety – Bollywood and Latin Rhythms – where improvisation and feeling the vibe of the music are keys to loosening up and playful self-expression.

Before each class begins, our Zumba instructor tells us in her thick Venezuelan accent, “I don’t expect you to be a professional dancer. I want you to just forget your problems and have fun.” And my Bollywood teacher instructs the class to “Move your hips so far right, that it’s out the window.” This proclamation is immediately followed by a giggle.

Soon, I discover I’m confident enough to take play off the dance floor and into situations I’m not naturally comfortable.

In a meeting a few months ago, a new client is describing her swanky offices in Docklands, a modern harbour development adjacent to Melbourne’s CBD. Floor-to-ceiling windows. An indoor bridge connecting two buildings. It all sounds glamorous. And I say, “Well, welcome to our humble abode.” We all laugh, the ice broken.

When I google the etymology of play, I find: “Old English pleg(i)an ‘to exercise’, plega ‘brisk movement’, related to Middle Dutch pleien ‘leap for joy, dance’.”

Maybe there’s a hint of Dutch in my bloodline.

Whether I was born with it or not, I know I can dance – not dive – my way onto the field of play. But vital players are necessary.

Dog hair

I often joke with my husband that our dogs travel everywhere. The last time I mention this is just a few days ago – I had found a single, short hair in my bra. I discovered it was because my boob was itchy.

The time before this was two weeks ago, when we were in Chicago and then San Francisco. My husband ran the Chicago marathon and I found stray hairs on my clothes.

When I vacuum, it takes me three times longer than it should. And I must vacuum weekly at the longest stretch, or risk the hair weaving itself permanently into the couch and the rug. Instead of a charcoal sofa, I’ll end up with a tan one.

Thankfully the dogs match the floorboards, and I can retain some sanity –  but not when sun rays stream inside, exposing tumbleweeds all over the joint.

While I doggedly chafe the sofa with the vacuum’s nozzle, sweating my way through the task, our 12-year-old Beaglier stares at me. I’m sure he’s wondering what I’m doing. “Lucky you’re cute”, I say, “otherwise mummy will have to give you away.”

When he continues to stare at me with his big, brown eyes, my heart melts. That’s what they do. When you’re not watching, they creep into every chamber of your pumping organ, leave a bit of hair, and implant themselves into you forever.

I know when they are no longer, I’ll be grateful for every strand I discover in the nooks and crannies of our domain. Saudade will settle into my bones, and, like Lydia Davis, my husband and I will “have a wild hope – if only we collect enough of them, we will be able to put the dog[s] back together again.”