A Little Dance Music Before Bed

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Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

The best kind of bedtime is the one I’m able to ease into. I’m not a fan of those frantic days when I work right up until the nth hour, then force myself to stop and get to sleep as quickly as possible. Neither do I like those nights when I get home late and only have time to brush my teeth, wash my feet, face and hands, and schlafen – the way my dad used to instruct me and my siblings when we’d get into similar situations as children. I don’t even really like watching a tv show or movie as the last thing before bed. No, the best bedtimes are the ones where I get an early start: shower, listen to my ‘sleep’ playlist as I put on pj’s, read, and maybe listen to one more song before I really close down.

I developed my sleep playlist in college, when I started having trouble falling asleep and someone suggested to my mum that I create a wind-down routine. The top two songs on there are ‘Solitude’ by Billie Holiday, and Chopin’s Mazurka Op. 17 no. 4. I love them both, but I’d like to wax a little poetic about the perfection that is Chopin’s mazurka.

Mazurkas are Polish dances, though this piece doesn’t exactly conjure visions of people partying in my mind. In fact, I don’t really think of anything while it’s playing; it’s the kind of music that clears my head. I am captivated by its lilting melody, its almost saccharine sweetness. Arthur Rubinstein’s interpretation is perfection: most of the time gentle and light, but with enough vigour and passion to keep the experience interesting. I’ve listened to it hundreds of times, and still marvel at the way he makes the piano sing. I grew up playing the instrument, and even at my most coaxing, delicate moments I felt like the sounds I produced were plonking and clumsy.

As Rubinstein performs it, the mazurka is 4.5 minutes long. It starts with a basic, four bar, four note melody, a little melancholy. There’s a brief pause and then we get into the body of the piece, which takes that same melody and uses it as the basis for a number of rhythmic and melodic variations. It lifts and twirls, with trills, grace notes and little runs, always with steady chords underneath the movements, grounding them. There’s a portion kind of like a bridge in the middle that introduces new material, and then we return to the familiar melody and some more variations. The music ends at the beginning, tidily, with the same first four bars, but with so much more emotion; it’s like we’ve become intimate partners because of the way we’ve seen the melody move.

When the mazurka comes to rest, I feel completely at peace. Rarely am I able to play it just once Рmaybe I never have? And I am always overcome with gratitude for such incredible gifts in this world Рcomposing and performing Рand with amazement at the skill of Chopin and  Rubinstein. The mazurka makes bedtime magical, and reminds me too of the awesome God who made it, and all music, possible.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

James 1:17

 

 

 

 

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The Name My Mama Gave Me

linh-pham-221033Photo by Linh Pham on Unsplash

I was getting ready to write about how people love to shorten my name, and how I actually prefer my whole name and don’t like when they do that…. when I realised that I’ve never introduced myself here. So hi! I’m Gabrielle. ūüôā

I didn’t like my name when I was a girl, and used to pester my mum about the other names she planned to give me – Stephanie or Joy (Matthew for a boy) – and why she hadn’t used one of those. Apparently when I was born she was supernaturally inspired to name me Gabrielle instead. I thought it would have been great to be a Joy. I still really like that name.

My family and people who have known me longest call me Gabrielle or Gigi (which I love). In kindergarten and primary school everyone called me Gabrielle. For whatever reason that shifted when I got to high school, and people started calling me Gabby. There are, of course, a few exceptions to this timeline – some of my oldest, dearest friends call me Gabby – but for the most part that was a name that became more common in high school.

Even then, most of my primary school classmates – my school was k-12 – moved on with me, influencing new students to call me by my full name as they did. ‘Gabrielle’ was still in the majority. That changed when I went to college.

Though I always introduced myself using my full name, everyone called me Gabby. I didn’t mind, until my senior year, when I realised that most of the people I interacted with called me Gabby, and now Gabrielle was in the minority. What if for the rest of my life most people called me Gabby? And I died and that’s what everyone but family and old friends knew me as? By then I loved my name and wanted everyone to use it, but people were calling me Gabby left right and centre! I remember one moment in particular when someone told me they didn’t realise my full name¬†wasn’t¬†Gabby, which no doubt affected my name-for-life crisis.

Now I’m asserting myself as Gabrielle. Gone are the days when I didn’t have a name preference. When I meet new people, if they try and call me ‘Gabby’, I correct them. So many automatically shorten my name without my permission, which is especially irritating when I hardly know them. If we’ve just met, or have a more professional relationship, how are you already comfortable enough to use a nickname?

So yes, I’m Gabrielle, not Gabby.

Can you relate? Do you find people often shorten your name?

It Feels Good to Feel Good!

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I’ve been feeling gradually more light and happy the last few weeks. Nothing has changed in my routine, I haven’t gotten any news in my work or personal life, but there’s joy humming in the background of every day. It feels like I’m getting my old self back, from this new personality where things were all so heavy. In the last couple of years I’ve been dealing with job stresses, multiple moves and relationship transitions. Together they were bogging me down and I had to fight to feel happy, to have peace. There has been a lot of learning – about outside barometers of success I didn’t realise I so thoroughly imbibed, about trusting God, about perseverance – and I knew that I was changing, I hoped for the better. In the process though the sillier parts of me slipped further away, which I don’t fault myself for, but I did remember the way I used to be and wonder if I would ever be able to access those parts of me as easily.

So what’s brought me here? And where¬†is¬†here? I’m wondering now as I write this. I realise this post is really introspective, but it seems like it’s only going to get more so.
What’s brought me here:
1. Time – to learn how to handle life’s difficulties, to wash over wounds.
2. Watching my mother and my uncle – I inherited my silliness from them, and they retain that part of themselves even though they’re middle aged.
3. Spiritual maturity – resting more fully in Jesus, exulting in all of his blessings and goodness toward me.

Where is here:
1. Spontaneous outbursts of joy, manifesting itself physically and verbally.
2. Laughing and smiling all the way to my toes; generally being in a good mood.
3. Not being afraid that my expressions of happiness diminish or disrespect the difficulties I am otherwise experiencing.

On Friday afternoon I visited my friend’s mum in the hospital. She’s very ill, yet in our conversation did not complain about her condition or worry about the future. She was easygoing and we talked about all kinds of things; in fact, she’s like this whenever I see her. I marvel each time at her equanimity and feel comforted and encouraged after our conversations (although I always want to be the one encouraging and giving some comfort to her). Seeing her manage her illness is influencing the way I want to handle my own struggles.

After my visit I spent the night laughing, often to tears, at the storytelling of Evelyn from the Internets. I felt so refreshed afterward, and grateful for her and the work that she’s doing. As with my mum and uncle, she reminded me that I don’t have to take myself so seriously all the time.

I am so thankful to be in this place! I want to continue down this vibrant road, becoming even stronger, and not slip back onto the now-familiar, comfortable, pale-coloured one. This is it, my life, and there’s no reason not to twirl and whoop as often as I’d like, as often as I can. I hope you’ll do the same. ūüôā

Busy Sundays Make for Hopeful Mondays

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It’s dinner time! And I’m just getting started on this post. Typically I like to write in the morning, before the day’s thoughts can crowd out the thinking space in my brain, before I am tired out from chores and To Do’s. Today, I had to work on an urgent editing project that came across my desk, and for which I am so thankful.

Now that it’s done and I have the evening to myself, I can pause and reflect on the hopefulness I feel about the task I have kind of unintentionally set for myself: self-employment. This project is a boon to my confidence, not only because I have spent so long trying to find work, but also because I live in a country¬†where creative work is to varying degrees not considered ‘work’, thereby not worthy of payment.

I am not now assuming that henceforth everything will be peachy, but it felt so good to have a job doing something I enjoy and actually being paid for it. I can more easily envision a future where I am secure and independent, sustained by projects that are fulfilling and stimulating. One thing I’ve learned in the past two years is how much patience and perseverance I need to walk this road. I alternate between patronising smiles and head shakes at the memories of my younger, na√Įver, self. But hopefulness is important too! To fuel that patience and perseverance. So I am thankful for this peaceful, hopeful moment.

May the favour of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us – yes, establish the work of our hands.

~Psalm 90:17

How Many Women Does it Take to Read a Wedding Invitation?

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My childhood best friend got married yesterday; her wedding was a sweet celebration and high energy dance party. I’m so glad I got to be part of it, though there was a bit of a comedy of errors for my mum, sister and I to get there in the beginning.

We started off on the wrong foot because of a combination of: dressing in two different places but riding together – my sister went to a friend’s house to get her makeup done – the current going off in the middle of us dressing, and having to make an unexpected stop on the way to help out my uncle.

After the hustling, hurrying¬†and slightly exasperated sighs we were finally on our way to the church. My sister asked: Where is it, why is it there? My mum and I answered: Kemp Road, friend’s Grammy and mother worship¬†there. We pull up to the entrance, ready to turn in, and my sister says: The parking lot is empty I don’t think it’s here. We all agree. So where could it be?! Thankfully Mummy had us bring the invitation with us, super cute in the style of a passport because half the new family is¬†American, and we look at it closely. We’re very much in the wrong place.

My sister whips out her phone to create a snap video of our mistake, and proclaims that she knew it was in the other place РAtlantis Рall along. My mum and I agree that we too knew it was at Atlantis. So how we all managed to drive in the completely opposite direction Рsouth Рwhen we needed to be going north, is a mystery.

We laugh and pray that my friend’s is a typical¬†Bahamian style wedding – starting at least 30 minutes late – and turn quickly towards Atlantis. It’s a resort on an island almost all to itself, so where exactly the ballroom is that we need to be going to is a bit of a mystery.¬†We decide to confirm with the person at the tollbooth which building¬†we need to go to… and she sends us to the wrong one! We pull up, I hop out of the car and run over to the valet parking desks, shouting at Mummy and my sister to follow, asking why they’re taking so long. I never found out what the hold up was, but luckily it enabled another staff person near them to let them know we were at the wrong tower.

My sister frantically waves me over, I hop back into the car and we speed off – this time with her behind the wheel – to the other side of the island. How could the person at the toll not know that there are absolutely zero ballrooms in the place she sent us? We all wonder, but our spirits are still up. My sister quips that she’s actually right on time, since she’s habitually 30 minutes late to everything. We laugh, repeat prayers for a late start, and keep it moving. Once at the right tower, parking is a problem. No garage. No valet. Do we all hunt together? Mummy tells us to go inside. She takes the last hit for the team and drives off to find a spot and meet us later.

My sister and I slip quietly into the ceremony room and watch my friend’s mum and grandmother give her away, listen to the heartfelt vows she and her husband wrote for one another, and chuckle at the pastor’s advice tucked into jokes. Mummy doesn’t get to sit with us, but we reunite after the ceremony and enjoy punch together before splitting up to talk with other friends. It was a wonderful day all around, despite the hiccups in the morning, and though I initially thought Mummy’s instruction to bring the invitation with us was overkill – we’d all read it! we had the details in our calendars and mental notes! – it’s a habit I just may adopt from now on.

When Your Vote Precipitates a Near-Quarter Life Crisis

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My right thumbnail is stained a reddish brown. The colour is in patchy striations, in harmony with the grain of my nail,  darker in some areas than others. It reminds me of modern art, and if I could somehow lift the pattern onto a canvas it would be interesting, if not beautiful, and belong in one of those hard-to-understand museums.

There is colour underneath my nail too, like a line of dirt. It’s stubborn; it bothers me. I rake my left¬†thumbnail over this line time and again in an attempt to get it off, but it doesn’t lift. It will stay there until it is good and ready to leave.

The entire stain will be there until it is good and ready to leave. Or rather, until my nail grows out and away. On the top I can see the line where it used to meet my skin, a neat, faint U, and beyond that the ordinary purple-pink of my nail bed. The rebirth has already started.

How did I get this stain in the first place? I voted. In The Bahamas we dip our right thumbs into bottles of deep purple ink to indicate that we have cast our ballot. A purple thumb is a mark of pride and participation. People take pictures of them at all angles; they flood our social media feeds after elections. And this purple is tenacious. Some take to bleach to remove it. I am one of the ones who is waiting for it to fade away, though I didn’t think it would take this long. It’s been 11 days since the election.

As long as this colour is on my nail I can’t easily forget that day. This makes me think of the way other things in our lives remain long after we have encountered them. Exchanges and conflicts in relationships, and the sometimes-big sometimes-small choices we make throughout our days, have effects¬†lasting as long and far¬†longer¬†than this ink on my nail, though many times they are much easier to forget. When I think about how each decision I make dominoes into others, how many relationships leave deep, lasting grooves in my life, I get a little overwhelmed.

I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It’s good to be shaken from sleepwalking through the everyday, or from having my nose so deep in the task in front of me that I forget to look up for perspective. This life matters, and¬†so do each of the blocks I use to put it¬†together. I pray that I will make the most of my days, with wise choices leading to¬†positive stains.

Nineteen

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When I was younger cats seemed so boring. Maybe you could play with them when they were kittens but as they got older they just laid around. That plus their reputation for being finicky and headstrong made them seem far less desirable than dogs. Then the summer before my senior year in college, one scary DC night, my roommate got mugged on her way home. We had tossed around the idea of fostering an animal before, but that night, between hugs and tears, we decided it was definitely happening. It was 3am but we looked for an organisation, filled out their form, and our first cat came a few days later.

He was black and¬†very needy, completely turning my idea of what cats were like on its head. He always wanted to hang around whichever one of us was home – and I worked from home a lot so that was usually me – and was always under foot. I can’t remember his name, but I do remember the name of our second foster, Jelly Belly. She was another black cat, but fat and with the opposite temperament:¬†incredibly skittish, running from us when we entered the room, hiding underneath furniture¬†and on top of the fridge. I wondered what trauma might have made her so wary of people. Although I wouldn’t have wanted to live with either Jelly Belly or our first cat for the long term, after that summer I warmed up to the animals¬†in general.

Then¬†came¬†Feliz, my aunt and uncle’s cat, who I lived with when I came home after college.¬†She was sweet, much older and well used to being around people, so somewhere in the middle of the two from DC. I liked her relaxed energy and independence, and the fact that she was indoor/outdoor so we didn’t have to bother with litter. I started to wonder, Hey! Maybe cats¬†are better¬†than dogs! I liked that they could be great companions and also low maintenance.

So when I was moving for grad school and my new roommate asked if he could adopt kittens for our place, I agreed. Remus and Romulus were the cutest grey lion cubs I had ever seen, but they made my life a sneezing, itchy-eyed, swollen-face, sleepless-night mess. After that semester I moved out, my skin slowly cleared, and I resolved to avoid cats for the rest of my lifetime.

Fate had other plans however, and I’m living¬†with a new family cat, Nineteen. We got him when he was a kitten, and he hasn’t caused me nearly as much trouble as Remus and Romulus – probably some combination of the fact that he’s indoor/outdoor and we share a much larger space. We’re almost never in the same room, and he spends a lot¬†of time outside. Today though he came looking to snuggle, right as I was getting ready to write a new post, and I couldn’t resist petting him and letting him lie next to me. I was ok at first. I sighed contentedly and imagined years hence, in my own home, with my own cat. We’d chill sometimes and do our own thing other times, and it would be great. But then my throat started to itch, my nose felt a bit funny, and the spots on my hands and arms with eczema cried for attention. My¬†dream went out the window, and needless to say, I’ve finished writing this in another room. It’s too bad, turns out I’m a cat person after all.