Well, it happened. The breakdown that has been threatening to crash and overwhelm and consume me finally happened last night. And you know what? I am still here. And contrary to the first sentence of this piece, it does have a happy ending.
Eyes are swollen and sore, my hair desperately needs a wash and I am not wearing a bra today because it hurts my back, it doesn’t fit me anymore and kookai makes those tops with those crop tops inside them and my boobs are currently big enough to prop themselves up. So – that’s where we are at today.
Before I get into what happened last night, I want to talk about a conversation I had with my boss yesterday. I was talking to her about how tired I have felt even aside from the fact I am pregnant. We got to talking about what my days look like. Up before 6am, head to the café for a coffee, drive to work far too early, write for half an hour, go on a half an hour walk, work for eight hours, go home, cook and bathe myself, attempt to pack up my apartment and in bed at whatever time my body gives out.
Needless to say, she was not impressed by this.
Why does it take for someone else to tell you something as simple as, “Rest” for us to actually listen? She said to me that it is no wonder I keep wanting to faint every day, it has been my body telling me to slow the fuck down and I simply haven’t been listening. Her simply telling me to stay in bed for half an hour to an hour more each day (which I can do and would still get to work early) was like her telling me the greatest secret ever told.
“Instead of getting up as soon as you wake up before six,” she instructed me, “just lie there. Rest.”
“Instead of busting your ass of a night to make sure you have lunch,” she continued, “you can buy it sometimes.”
“Instead of getting into Newtown at 7am,” she mocked playfully, “get into Newtown at 8am.”
My mind exploded and the undue stress that I have been placing on myself every day came into seriously clear focus. Things seriously needed to change.
Now, as I have mentioned before, Man and I have a huge month coming up. Moving is an ordeal in and of itself. Never mind the fact that I will be sixteen weeks pregnant on moving day, both of our car regos are due, I have to inevitably deal with Telstra and Energy Australia, and I also need to make sure my apartment is spick and span for the next tenant. Man and his family are also about to start building up at the property, and he has a bucks weekend coming up and then we have to go away for a wedding. Don’t get me wrong, all of these are good things (besides the car rego and Telstra and Energy Australia), but it is just a lot for a couple that is already exhausted physically and completely drained emotionally.
So, it all came out last night.
All those really hard thoughts that we keep to ourselves, “I don’t think I can do this anymore,” “No, I really can’t do this anymore,” “I just want this all to end”, well, all of those thoughts were verbalised. And they were scary. I felt ashamed to have felt so overwhelmed. I felt really sad that I have not been able to be stronger for myself, my partner and my bubba. It got really ugly and there were a lot of tears and heaving sobs.
This morning though, doing my writing as I do, I found myself writing the words, “I feel like I am missing my own pregnancy because of my own sadness.” And no truer words have I ever written; no words from my own pen have ever hurt me so much. How did it all get to this? Because I really have been happy, even on those low days, but I shouldn’t have to search for those joyful moments. Not ever.
It was a really powerful and clarifying moment.
Breakdowns are never nice but the torrent of words that spilled from my mouth also means that there is none of that negativity left circulating my body or my brain. It is all out there, and now I can move forward in my pregnancy happily. All of the worrying and stress that I have been placing on myself and, in turn, on my relationship has done absolutely nothing positive for us.
All I can do though, is continue to learn throughout this process. I have always been a very fast-paced person. You can quite literally ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you that I am constantly on the move. I can’t even lie in bed of a Sunday for fear that I should be doing something else. One of my most favourite things is drinking coffee or tea in bed and until this morning, I cannot remember the last time I allowed myself to do that. I’m not reading anything at the moment. I haven’t done the bay walk or visited any of my favourite markets.
What I have done, is completely isolate myself from myself.
I don’t want to be sad any more. And I don’t want to have any reason to apologise. I don’t want to continue down this path and miss all the fucking glory and happiness and joy and love of our bubba. I want to focus on those lunch times that I walk to the park and talk to Bubba about everything I see as opposed to waddling through the door complaining about my back pain. WE ALL KNOW YOUR BACK HURTS LEAH, PUTTING WORDS TO IT DOESN’T HELP. Seriously.
I apologise to you all for rambling on about my woes instead of my wins.
Here is a win recap of all the things that have happened recently that I haven’t shared with you because I was too busy being a victim:
Stay strong lovely ones, and know that I’ve got your back.
Up until the weekend just passed, I had never seen a shooting star.
Much to the shock and horror of my in-laws, even though my childhood was spent beneath the Southern Highlands sky, not once in my twenty-seven years on this earth had I seen a shooting star.
Man’s family recently bought a property in Coolah, north of Mudgee in inland New South Wales. Knowing how busy the next few weekends (months, years, etc.) are going to be, Man thought it would be a good idea that we head to the property so that I could see it and for a cheeky little camping getaway.
We packed up our things and drove the five-and-a-half hour drive to the property on Friday night. Now, I have done a lot of long drives including snow trips almost every year since I was five. Never before though have I experienced a length of road that was so littered with roadkill, but also on a happier note, also one that was more scattered with living wildlife. I am talking packs of kangaroos bounding alongside the car (Man told me that the pack we saw was a small one, but you guys weren’t there so – IT WAS A HUGE PACK). It was phenomenal. Also, it was as if every single wombat to have ever trundled this earth was on the Golden Highway last Friday night.
Look, all cards on the table, I was not a happy camper (note the pun) when we arrived. My back was sore, I was exhausted, I had a headache, I felt annoyed for no reason whatsoever and my back was sore (it deserves mentioning twice as it was seriously painful). I felt better when I crawled into the bed that Man’s mum, Louise, had made up for us in one of the two caravans that came with the property. Though I didn’t sleep well, I was warm and tucked deep under the doona with Man curled around me and I was at least horizontal.
I woke up the next morning to an already crackling fire, a wide, bright blue sky and campfire breakfast. There really is nothing quite like sitting around a fire, it does something to one’s soul; it settles me. After breakfast, Man unloaded the trailer and started up the quad bike. Let me tell you, that thing absolutely hauls. The last time I was on a quad bike was when I was about twelve and Mum and Nan took Jack and I to Nelson Bay and we went four-wheeling over the sand dunes. But nothing compares to when you are on your own property, arms around your partner, your bubba in between you and a dirt road before you.
It wasn’t long before the conversation turned back to the fact that I had never seen a shooting star and every single member of Man’s family, almost in unison, guaranteed that I would see one if the sky was clear that night. There was not a doubt in any of their minds. Me on the other hand? Not convinced. Not even a little bit.
Then the chainsaws came out.
Following the conversation about the conditions that the sky must be in for proper shooting-star gazing, Man decided that some pretty large trees that surrounded the fire pit area had to go so as to have a completely uninterrupted view of the sky.
In the bush, out in the country, Man is absolutely in his element. When he was wielding that chainsaw he really did look as if he were filming a commercial for it. Seeing him do all the man things that he loves to do was complete and utter bliss for me. I just sat there and stared (ogled, really) as he fell trees and hacked them up and sweated and all that good stuff.
The rest of the day passed happily; the boys continued playing lumberjacks while Louise, Indi (Pete’s niece who called me Aunty Leah and I cried) and I tidied up the caravans and made them feel more like home. I prepared lunch on the barbecue and it further solidified in my heart how much I love camping and being in the outdoors. After all the foliage from the trees was cleared, Man got the fire going again and we all eased into the night. As day turned to night, the clear blue sky turned to an overcast one with about 98% cloud coverage. Man couldn’t believe it.
“I wasn’t going to do any work this weekend but I wanted you to be able to see the sky – that’s the only reason I cut those trees down!”
Now he wasn’t a happy camper.
We sat around the fire for hours, well after Man’s parents had gone to bed. Man looked up towards the sky at one point and excitedly grabbed my arm – the clouds had (partially) cleared. The Milky Way shone down on us, gloriously illuminating the property. He leant back into his chair and looked up, instructing me to do the same. He took my hand and said, “Just look up, okay? I promise you will see one.”
I did as I was instructed. I looked up, at nowhere in particular. I was hopeful but completely unconvinced that I was going to see anything more than I was already staring at. Ten minutes passed when, directly above me, a shooting star. I tightened my grip on Man’s hand.
“You saw that too?” Man asked me, and I could hear the smile in his voice.
Finally, after almost twenty-eight years on this planet I saw a shooting star. Not only that, I saw it while pregnant, holding my partner’s hand while we were being warmed by a fire.
That moment? That was everything I could ever and will ever need in life. It was poetry, it was infinity in a single fleeting moment. It was all-encompassing and overwhelming.
I don’t even care admitting that he was right (he always is).
Last weekend, Man and I began our search for a family home.
2 x bedroom
1 x bath
1 x garage
1 x yard
We drove around and looked at a handful of houses. We loved two, but fell in love with one in particular. If any of you have ever gone to an open house, whether you were renting or buying, you will understand when I say: as soon as we walked into this one particular house, it felt like home.
Immediately, we could each picture ourselves within the house’s walls. As we walked through each of the rooms, what we could see for each of them was as clear as if our furniture was already making divots in the carpets.
As soon as we got home, we gathered all of our required information and applied.
This morning I can very happily and excitedly say that our application was accepted and our deposit has been paid and we now have our very first family home.
At first I considered us very ‘lucky’ to have secured this rental property after only one weekend of viewings. However, it isn’t luck, Man and I have both worked really hard over the last few years – separately in our own lives and together as a couple – and that is why our application was accepted straight off the bat. I have worked tirelessly to be able to keep my apartment over the last two years, and have taken great care in looking after it. Man works extremely hard and is an absolutely ideal candidate for a rental property on every single front. We were audacious enough to apply only a few hours after seeing the place, and we put a lot of effort and hustle into our application.
Luck has absolutely nothing to do with it.
After what has been a difficult year (and I promise that I will stop mentioning that soon, in time), getting this beautiful home is a huge win for us. Since we found out, Man and I have been messaging each other with the ideas that we both cannot wait to implement. And, no matter what he says, I know that he will appreciate the fairy lights I want to string up above our deck – it will look fucking fantastic. PLEASE NOTE: the title image of this piece is our new deck and you are lying to yourself if you say you can't picture fairy lights hanging on and around that frame.. LYING. TO. YOURSELF.
And don’t even get us started on the nursery. Seriously, I don’t think I have ever been more excited about decorating a room before – and the only thing stopping me from heading to Kmart this exact moment is that we are still five weeks away from CONFIRMING that Bubba is, in fact, a boy.
As you can imagine though, I already have a mental list of things that I would like for the new place. We definitely need new plates and bowls. I would like one of those city road map play mat carpet rug things for Bubba’s playroom. As we are having a brand new deck installed, pot plants will be required (and then all responsibility relinquished happily to Man as his thumbs are green and mine are most certainly not). And, for said new deck, a simple outdoor setting where we will host barbeques and dinners and lunches, as well as being my most favourite spot to sit in the sun and read the paper of a weekend. Yes. Are you starting to see why we are both so excited?
Though I love my apartment, I am very much done there. Over the last two years it has been such a sanctuary for me. No matter how messy life got, I had my own space to simply sit and be. So far, it is where I have done the most growing, personally. I have had breakdowns and breakthroughs there. I have hosted book club meetings there, and constructed and baked my first ever gingerbread house from scratch in its kitchen. I brought home my first ever pet to that apartment. I will miss waking up to the sounds of the gum trees directly outside my window, bending tenuously in the breeze, leaves rustling loudly. I will miss the twenty-odd cockatoos that populate my windowsills and balcony every afternoon as the afternoon sky burns a brilliant orange. I will miss standing at the sink and looking out towards the water that glistens beneath sunlight and is a dull, murky green on an overcast day. I will my gas cooktop (like, really miss it) and my oven that was way too efficient (seriously – just a few short days ago Man had to disable the smoke alarm temporarily because our grilled cheese burned to a crisp in a few quick minutes) (my hair smelt like carbon and broken dreams).
What I am gaining does not even compare to those small details I am going to miss. Man and I have our first family home. I am gaining a new roommate whom I completely adore and a German shepherd who is just about the most beautiful creature on this Earth. I am gaining a beautiful yard that will soon be filled with gurgled laughter, followed closely by Man’s and my own I’m sure. I am gaining our very own internal laundry. I am gaining a bathtub, something that I haven’t had the luxury of in years. I am gaining a new address, a new suburb, and a new beginning of sorts. Most importantly though, Man and I, with this new venture are stepping into our new lives as a family, as a couple and as the people we have grown into since coming into each other’s lives.
Today? Well, today is a damn good day.
I must apologise for the lack of #WCW last Wednesday. I was three days into my Dream Job (but that is a story for another blog post) and exceptionally exhausted with almost no down-time. Even more devastating though is that last Wednesday was State of Origin – Game One, and it would have been the PERFECT Wednesday night to introduce to you our #WCW for this week (and last week). Ladies and Gentlemen, Mary ‘Kaye’ Konstantopoulos of Ladies Who League. Mary is the Founder of Ladies Who League, a blog, podcast and all-round destination for all things women in sport. So, now perhaps you understand my dismay that I was not able to post on Origin night – like I said, perfect.
I was first introduced to Mary through a mutual contact, Danielle Warby of SBS, just after my interview with Michelle Heyman went mental. I received an email from Danielle introducing us over our mutual love and swooning of dear Michelle, and we organised to have coffee that very same week.
When I met Mary, her smile was the first thing that I noticed about her. It is quite possibly the most honest, radiant, widest smile you will ever come across in your life. Mary beamed, she shone. She was someone that I got along with instantly, though I definitely put that down to how fabulous Mary is as she is just one of those souls that gets along with absolutely anyone and everyone. We ordered our drinks – a chai tea with soy milk for Mary – and got to talking about women in sport, life, dreams, goals and everything in between. We sat there for a few hours chatting effortlessly, all the while Mary’s excitement and lust for life were making me giddy with inspiration and renewed energy.
This was another one of those interviews where literally everything that Mary said, I have highlighted for inclusion. When I received Mary’s answers, I cried and was riddled with goosebumps. The standout trait of Mary for me – and I am unaware whether she knows this or not – is that every single time you talk with her, you are left feeling like a goddamn fucking goddess who can take on the world and anything that life throws at you. Seriously, every time. Whenever we have caught up over dinner, or at a sports game, or with a quick “Hi, how are you?” type email, I come away from it feeling like I am glowing. Mary will awaken dreams in you that have lain dormant for years – like a swift little life dream wonder ninja. She has so much enthusiasm and passion and zest and she listens to everything you have to say. Not only that, she will believe it and realise it for you. She is a huge part of this project and my blog as a whole because at that first little coffee date that we had, I ran past her everything that I envisioned Don’t Ask Leah and The #WCW Project could be as was met with a resounding YES! Mary is someone that is excitable and whose energy penetrates you deep, DEEP into your soul.
If you have never heard of it, Ladies Who League is – or rather, started off as – a blog, podcast and online community for all things women in sport. When we met, Mary blew me away when she told me that she was a lawyer and that LWL was her side-gig, her love-child. LWL was a beast even back then and saw her writing and recording and interviewing and attending games in her spare time. But to learn that she was a full-time lawyer as well? It blew my fucking mind. I could barely find the time to write a single blog post and there she was, every luminescent inch of her running her own business and working full-time. She sure showed me.
So ladies and gentlemen, yes, this is a long post; it is a long post because this woman deserves all of my words. All of them.
“I tell people that I have a wife at home – my mum who makes sure all my basic needs are met and that I am clothed and fed,” Mary said to me when I asked her the all-time-cliché question that we ask women, How Do You Do It All? “Sometimes I tell people that I am like Hermione Granger and have a time turner,” she continued - a woman after my own heart, “but how I do it is quite simple. I love it. Ladies who League is the thing that gives me the twinkle in my eye and I absolutely will not stop until women in sport are appropriately recognised. Even then I probably won’t stop either.” I have spoken and caught up with Mary when she has been in a slump of busyness and overwhelm, and even then, her sparkle and her glow does not dim. Simply being in the presence of such determination and pure joy, sparks the very same in me.
Though we bonded over our mutual love and respect of women in sport, it wasn’t until I met Mary that I was able to put words as to why it was so special to me, and why I felt it was so important to share with the greater population. “I often say that I carry women in sport around like a beacon of light inside of me. Because for so long so many women have played sport simply for the love of it, there is a sense of it being really genuine and authentic,” Mary articulated. PREACH. “Mainly though, it’s that they play sport because they love it. They have also, in so many cases, had to juggle sport, a job, study and kids – so they remind me of the importance of living with purpose and always chasing what you love.” And then, being the professional and afficianado that she is, Mary once again opened my eyes as to the deeper and inner workings of what it actually means to be a woman in sport in a way that I had not even thought of, “women are often far less media trained than the men so they often share wonderful stories too.” Now, I realise how simple that sounds, but it is so true. Take Michelle Heyman for example. She is one of, if not the most popular and well known female footballer in this country and even still, even with that behind her, she was open and vulnerable and so very willing to share every part of her when I interviewed her. You get to know them as who they are beyond the sport, which then lends to who they are as an athlete. It’s fucking poetry, really. “I hope that as women’s sport continues to grow that our athletes will not lose their genuineness or their authenticity – because it’s magic.”
Mary is a genuine woman, she really is. When you meet her (and I really hope that everyone has that absolute privilege one day) you immediately feel like you have the permission to be exactly who you are, because Mary is exactly who she is. Through and through, completely and utterly. Mary attests a lot of who she is to the journey that she has been on with Ladies Who League, “it has taught me so much about embracing who I am and celebrating the achievements of others. It has also taught me about being independent and backing yourself. Because it is my own business, if I didn’t back myself back in the beginning no one else would. This meant I had to have confidence in my brand, but more importantly in myself.” Something that I loved when I interviewed Mary, was how confidently and unapologetically answered the question that trips up everyone, What Do You Love About You? Like I have mentioned before, it is always the question that stumps women, but Mary answered humbly and honestly and I fell in love with her all over again, “So many things! Physically, I love my hair which I liken to a mane. When I was younger I used to straighten my hair a lot, but now I have embraced the curls. They are very much part of who I am. I also love my smile and that my body is strong and supports me physically.” And then she said this, and I get goosebumps every time I read it because the conviction in her voice is EVERYTHING, “I love that I am stubborn and fiercely passionate about equality and diversity. I love that I have a ‘say yes’ attitude and that I try to help as many people as I can. But most of all I love that I have embraced vulnerability and use it as a guide in my life. It has truly helped me to pursue a genuine and authentic path, which is something I am truly grateful for.” Queen. Fucking Queen right here. What I loved is that she answered the question with the love and the respect and the humility in which it was asked. And then she said this, and it made me laugh, “Of course there are moments in all our lives when we look in the mirror and want to look different and especially when I was younger, I wanted to be thinner. But a couple of years ago I read an article and one of the quotes in that article stuck with me – ‘there is nothing more boring than hearing a group of women sit and talk about their weight and their diets’. And I agreed. I haven’t weighed myself since that day have simply focused on eating well and exercising.” Ever since I read that, it echoes within me at least once every day. There is nothing more boring than hearing a group of women sit and talk about their weight and their diets. Yes, yes to that ten million times over.
Ladies Who League has morphed into something really big and vitally important. Ladies Who League is something that we all need right now, every day, for eternity. In our #WCW’s words, “Ladies who League is about embracing women in sport exactly as they are – our female athletes are so good at embracing who they are. I have learnt to do the same.” Mary channels her happiness and her passion into the beast that is Ladies Who League and has managed to manifest an insanely strong following; more than that, Mary has successfully formed a beautiful, supportive community of people whose focus is all things sport, all things equality and all things LIFE. Mary confirmed this, “I’ve also been exceptionally fortunate that I wanted to create a community where women could come together to talk about sport. What I’ve also managed to create is a family that has also embraced me and my joy as it is. It’s remarkably beautiful and I am incredibly fortunate to feel so supported by people in the work that I do.” Mary always talks about being fortunate, which I love as it proves time and time again just how humble she is. Not only that, but the work she is doing is IMPORTANT and RELEVANT and it just so happens that being a woman in a field that is very much male-dominated is a bit of a plus! “To be honest, I think that my gender to this stage has given me an advantage. Because I am a woman I offer a different perspective and I think that is refreshing.” And her efforts have not gone unnoticed, “Another day that was really special for me was when the NRL finally announced its Women’s Competition last year. The announcement was made and I cried at my desk. Later that day I received a call from the NRL to say thank you for all I had done to contribute to that moment and announcement and it was truly one of the happiest day of my life. I cried for women like Kasey Badger who never had their opportunity, I cried for women like Ruan Sims who have waited so long for their opportunity and I cried for the next generation who I don’t know yet because they will get their opportunity. But mostly I cried because we finally got there.” Goosebumps. Right? RIGHT?
Mary repeated, “As I said earlier, I carry women in sport around me like a beacon of light.” Well Mary, I want you to know that I carry you around me like a beacon of light. So thank you, thank you for being my strength in moments throughout each and every day. Honestly, thank you.
I first met this week’s #WCW, Ellen Macintyre, when I started at Riverside Girls High School in Year Eight. We were in the same P.E. class. The teacher asked us to stand in groups of our birthday months as a way of making new friends, because that has everything to do with Physical Education. I then joined the local soccer team outside of school and Ellen’s dad was our coach – still, to date, one of the nicest humans I have ever met (GO KENNY!). I quickly learned that there was a lot more than meets the eye with Ellen. Tall, slender and gorgeous, with the most beautiful blonde hair (seriously, Ellen doesn’t know this but ALL through high school I was envious of her hair. No one else’s. HERS.), it wasn’t until I saw her run like a bloody gazelle down the wing of the soccer pitch and send a ball screaming towards the goal that I realised how deep this girl went. She had a grit that she didn’t wear on her sleeve, but that ran through her, powerful and silent. Her laugh was always punctuating conversation throughout our years at high school, and I never recall anyone having an issue with her. Instead, Ellen was kind. She, to me, was always the friend that no matter how close or distant you may be, she would always be there for a chat when you needed one - and she may or may not remember it, but I can attest to that in a very real way. I don't even feel like I am doing her person justice because it is more the feeling you get when you are around her. You feel grounded.
I ask all the women I interview what they like most about themselves - and, even after years of this project, it remains the question that every single woman finds the hardest to answer. Ellen answered me, "Oh that's a tricky one!" See? Told you. She then said, "I like to think of myself as a compassionate person." The woman must know herself better than she thinks, because that is her. Compassion. Ellen Macintyre. It just fits.
I had seen Ellen’s talent during our Visual Art classes in our senior years. I was awful, she was incredible. And the teacher knew it too – both about me being awful and Ellen being brilliant. It wasn’t until she launched Ellen Macintyre Illustrations that I truly appreciated just how talented she is. Her illustrations are not only technically brilliant and wonderful and amazing, but whenever I come across one of them, I am overwhelmed with a sense of calm and pure joy. You can see, in every brush stroke and every letter that she pens, that it was created with patience, enjoyment and love. And I am sure that everyone will agree with me that ANYONE who can inspire such glee, is the kind of person this world, this universe needs.
What I admire most about Ellen is the perseverance when it came to her creative pursuit. It is incredibly hard, and some days it can feel as though it is completely impossible, to land employment in a creative role. There aren’t many job openings, the competition is fierce and the pay is meagre. When Ellen was unable to find employment in her field, instead of giving up, she forged her way into the market, and into people’s lives. “There were a lot of graphic design graduates around when I finished studying, and not a lot of jobs in comparison,” Ellen told me, “So I just didn’t give up, even after lots of initial knock backs when looking for work and instead, decided to start my own freelance business so I could pursue my passion regardless.. I had to pick up part time jobs along the way to keep me going and it meant working a lot of stuff out alone!”
“I'm not sure I'm quiet at a recognisable brand stage yet, nor do I quite feel I've "made it", I still feel like I have a long way to go but it is important to celebrate each little win to feel like you are making progress.” ELLEN , HOW WORNG YOU ARE (in the best way possible). I remember walking into Gertrude and Alice (my favourite bookstore which, if you haven’t been to, you must go) one day, years ago and casting my eyes over the display of gift cards. I was about to move on, further into the depths of the bookstore when I recognised one of the illustrations on the card. It was Beyonce, and it was undoubtedly Ellen’s. I excitedly picked up the card and turned it over to confirm and there it was, Ellen Macintyre Illustration. My heart swelled with pride as I gathered hr other cards that stood next to Bey and made my way over to the register, “She’s my friend you know!?” I gushed to the woman behind the counter.
Prior to that I had only seen Ellen’s work when it lit up my Instagram feed, but seeing it in the flesh made my heart swell with pride. I remember thinking, “She did it.” Unbeknownst to her, seeing her work on those shelves served as such inspiration to me, and I took that feeling with me right through the day and onto the pages of my notebook. Her work calms me – it seriously does, it also leaves me furiously happy. I can’t explain it, but surely now that you have seen some of her work you totally get what I mean. I asked her what it took for her to turn her hobby into a career – because I want the information for completely selfish purposes – and she said something that made me cry:
It is a simple sentence, and it seems obvious – but coming from her in that moment, it was one of the most powerful notions I have heard in a long time. And again, it reminded me of why I love The #WCW Project; I get to explore the minds of fabulous women, whose stories and setbacks and triumphs all lend the most invaluable knowledge I (we) would not be privy to otherwise. “The works that have become most popular of mine are the pieces I did just for fun, without a commercial goal in mind,” she continued.
Ellen also awakens in me a deep desire to CREATE. She inspires me to create that which I have never even thought to try. Ever since I saw the first lot of wedding invitations that she designed, I have wanted to delve into calligraphy and hand-lettering. I, all of a sudden, wanted to create something that pretty too. I asked who inspires her and Ellen said, “I think this is constantly changing” which I totally love. “But at the moment I would say Sydney-based illustrator Sha'an D'Anthes. I love her work, and how she has gotten to where she is, and I am constantly inspired by her passion for her work and her commitment to her audience. She has recently released her first picture book as well which is an achievement I hope to one day fulfil further alone in my career,” she continued. Now, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that very soon we will be seeing her name all big and shiny on the cover of a new release. I bloody guarantee it. Ellen, you hear me? It is happening. But again, that is another thing I love hearing - women supporting women, women looking up to other women, women INSPIRING women. It's what it is all about, people.
Ellen now works as a Graphic Designer for The Starlight Children's Foundation - and seriously, could that be any more perfect? Ellen has successfully navigated her way through what is a very saturated and difficult field to get into and now has a career that resonates closely with her passion, her "hobby" if you will. Not only that, but the wonderfully compassionate woman that she is lends itself to the employer, and truly, they are damn lucky to have her on board. I have always been someone who flees when things get tough, and perhaps that is why I don't have a steady career at twenty-seven. The same goes for my creative work - when I find things are overwhelming or things seem too tough, I simply stop (because that will totally help). But no, not Ellen. She did the hard yards and the part-time jobs, she did what she had to do so that she was able to live creatively, even if it wasn't to be full-time yet. And now look? Now look at where she is. On a personal level, that to me is one of the most incredible things that we as humans can do, work hard and with passion to achieve whatever it is that we desire. "I am very lucky now to work in a largely female dominated work place where I am constantly inspired and amazed by the women around me!" Ellen says of her work. Again, GO LADIES.
So Ellen, I want to finish this piece by thanking you. I want to thank you, sincerely. I want to thank you for all the times you have inspired me over the past few years without even realising that you have been. I want to thank you for the little moments in my day where I get to lose myself, even for a moment, in the world of your beautiful work. I want to thank you for the years of friendship - no matter the capacity. I want to thank you for being a source of joy and for creating all that you do, because without it I am telling you, the world would not be as bright as it is. Not my world anyway. I thank you.
There are nowhere near enough words or phrases to aptly describe our first #WCW of 2018. I doubt that I will be able to properly honour this woman today, as she is hands down the most loving, caring, nurturing and truly impressive woman I have ever met. Shari Nementzik – known lovingly on my blog as Soul Sister – is the Features Editor for Cosmopolitan magazine, a Seinfeld aficionado and a keen aperol spritz enthusiast.
I met Shari in the midst of my life upheaval but a few short months ago through Man – Shari is marrying Man’s older brother Jay in Thailand this coming July and it is all very, very exciting. I will never forget some of the first words she said to me, “You don’t know me, but I am Man’s future sister-in-law and he tells me that you could use a friend right now.” Swoon. I already adored the woman. The first time we met was, to date, one of the most special nights of my life. She had brought with her this HUGE bag full of skincare products and books for me; and it was there, in the middle of a loud Mexican restaurant that we discovered we were soul sisters. Both of us Jewish, both of us with weird surnames that we constantly have to spell out, a love of pizza crusts, chilli and amaretto sours, similar confusing, disjointed childhoods that we both look back on fondly. Shari knew what Man and I had been through and I don’t know how she did it, but the whole night she made me feel like the most interesting, sane and capable version of myself than I have felt in years.
Shari is the kind of woman that great novels and films and plays are written about. She is equal parts effortlessly glamorous and utterly hilarious. When she walks into a room, you cannot help but be drawn to the energy that emanates from deep within this woman’s colourful soul. She is the kind of woman who has, in the past, copped third degree burns to her forehead after she tried to poach an egg in the microwave. She is the kind of woman who called up pet rescue centres when she decided she wanted a fish, and who then takes her pet fish to the vet in an open fish bowl in the back of a cab in the middle of the night. Her sense of humour is without a doubt one of her defining traits; her self-deprecating style, her anecdotes, her intelligent wit that is forever catching me off-guard.
Shari is the single most fabulous, real and selfless young woman I have ever met. She is the woman you dream of becoming one day – the woman whose success you celebrate right alongside her because you know she worked fucking hard for it.
It isn’t just where she is at in her career that impresses the pants off me, but it is the courage and absolute grit that she embodies each and every day in everything Shari does that makes me swoon. It was only a few short weeks ago that we were sitting at a bar in the Opera House overlooking the harbour, a bottle of French rosé between us, when we were discussing her flourishing career prospects. Now, it was at a time where I had just been offered a very small salary and my world was imploding, so I could have very easily felt jealous or envious or even saddened by the options spread out before my dear friend. Instead though, all I felt was pride, and awe. I felt more and more inspired with each and every word that she spoke because it came from such an honest, humble place.
The woman has worked hard, people. She has done the hours as junior copywriter and she has overcome career obstacles that would have seen others crumble, and she stands before me – and before all of us – a woman in the media industry to be absolutely reckoned with. Shari eats, lives and breathes her job and you cannot help but be swept up in it all, so much so that you feel a part of it also.
“I believe the only pressure to look, behave or act in a certain way comes from ourselves. I think we tend to be quite hard on ourselves, whereas I don’t feel pressure from the actual industry - aside from expecting me to do the best job I can and produce good work,” Shari answered when I asked her about what it was like to work in the media, particularly being a woman. “I’m really lucky because the magazine industry tends to be female-dominated, especially at a brand such as Cosmopolitan. At Cosmo we advocate for closing the gender pay gap, which still sits at 15.3% and that’s unacceptable, so despite how far we’ve come, we still have a long way to go.”
Shari singlehandedly changed my opinion of Cosmpolitan magazine and I don’t think she realised that she did it either. For the longest time I have chastised and blamed women’s magazines for the self-esteem/body image issues women face today. I have only ever focused on the damage that these magazines can do to young women whose resolve may be fragile. Shari told me over dinner that working at Cosmo was her dream job because growing up as a young woman in many different countries, alongside many different cultures, Cosmopolitan was where she turned to learn. Reading Cosmopolitan was her way of connecting with the world, was a way of learning about things about herself she may otherwise not have had the freedom or opportunity to know and it was a way of opening her to what lay beyond her. She completely changed my way of thinking - and I had forgotten what it was like to be challenged, in the best way possible. So Shari, for that moment, I thank you.
One of the things I took away from the first time I met Shari was how full, and whole, and incredible her sense of self was. We talked well into the night – and we were actually that annoying table that is the last to leave a restaurant and all the chairs are already stacked on all the other tables and the waitress passive-aggressively hands you the bill with a single raised eyebrow – and what sung through to me was the time and effort she has put and continues to put into the relationship she has with herself. For someone who has been pretty co-dependent most of my life, it was amazing to hear and bask in.
She is a proud South-African woman.
That sentence needed to stand alone, and I know she will appreciate me having done that. Though she is a citizen of the world, the gold pendant that hangs forever around her neck is a testament to the land she hails from. “I love my home and am so proud to be South African, but I grew up in Zimbabwe, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand as well and they all shaped me in some way to be who I am today.” Shari is one of those people who is always surrounded by other people. A keen socialite with more than a handful of friends, it is no wonder people feel drawn to her. She is supportive – and I say that from experience. You feel completely heard when you are with Shari, and you feel not only that you are allowed to be yourself, but being around her you actually learn who you are. “I got to grow up surrounded by so many beautiful cultures and learnt from a young age not to discriminate. We should not only celebrate our similarities but our differences too because we can learn so much from one another.”
I asked Shari who her greatest female role model was, because Shari is my greatest female role model so surely her role model should be mine too? I looked into it, the logic checks out. Shari said about her mum, “She’s kind and empathetic and has an unfaltering sense of self which is infectious and something we could all do with. Self-confidence is a rare commodity these days and we doubt ourselves far too often. My mum tells me every single day that who I am is enough and I think we can all do with hearing that more - and actually believing it.” YAS QUEEN!
Shari said to me, “Jane Fonda once said that she thinks the reason women live longer is due to female friendships and I’d have to agree. My friends are incredible and I feel so lucky to have a group of women in my life as supportive and inspirational as they are.” Now, on a personal note, something that I have shared time and time again over the years is that I have never had strong female friendships. It is something about me that I used to be truly ashamed of, and something that a lot of people have used against me. I didn’t believe, for a second, that female friendships were anything worth pursuing. Shari has singlehandedly turned my entire universe upside down with her unwavering friendship, care and selflessness. Shari is the kind of woman that every single other woman deserves and –quite frankly – needs in their life.
But back off, she’s my soul sister, ‘kay?!
Circe by Madeline Miller at its core is a celebration of female strength in a man's world – so it is pretty obvious why it’s on the list. Not what I’d normally go for however, this magical, mythical story follows Circe, the daughter of Helios, the Sun God who overcomes banishment to transform herself into a witch.
Set in London in a small stationery shop, Robyn Cadwallader’s Book of Colours, three strangers are drawn together around the creation of a magnificent book. Each of their own desires and ambitions threaten the book’s completion and will change everything they understood about their place in the world.
Recently released as a major motion picture, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows is a book I remember shelving when I worked at Angus & Robertson. I remember wanting to read it THEN and just never got around to it. It is the story of an English author living in the shadow of World War II and the writing project that will dramatically change her life. A writer as the main character? SOLD. Well, not sold, because I have no money. METAPHORICALLY SOLD.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I love a good parallel story line. The Jade Lily by Kirsty Manning is set in Australia in 2016 and casts back to 1939 Shanghai. Alexandra is returning to Australia to visit her dying grandfather, and with only a few weeks left together, family mysteries are revealed and she is forced to question everything she thought she knew about her family, and herself.
So there is definitely a theme happening here. There is definitely a heavy presence of strong female protagonists in the list thus far, and Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce is no exception. It’s London in 1940 and Emmeline wants nothing more than to be a female war correspondent. Instead, she ends up writing for Mrs. Bird of Woman’s Friend magazine where she fixes problems of lovelorn, grief-stricken readers. With too many problems going unanswered, Emmeline takes it upon herself to respond – in secret.
With her mother in a coma and their family’s quaint bakery failing, Elettra is distraught at the thought of never knowing the woman her secretive mother was. With a necklace inscribed with the name of an island as her only clue, Elettra sets off to find answers, and herself. Plus, with a title like The Little Italian Bakery, it was like Valentina Cebini wrote this for me. Exclusively.
Excuse me? Three generations of women? Elusive Australian town? A CAFÉ?! Is this my life story? No. This is The Kookaburra Creek Café by Sandi Docker. One small town, three lost women, and a lifetime of secrets. Need I say more?
Disclaimer – I love Paris. I love everything about it. Enter, The Yellow Villa by Amanda Hampson. Mis and Ben, an Australian couple in their early thirties have just sold their Sydney flat and purchased an old yellow house in the picturesque village of Cordes-sur-Ciel in South-West France. It is only when they meet their new neighbours that secrets start to be revealed about a scandal they had hoped to leave behind.
First of all, this cover makes me happy. Tangerine by Christine Mangan is a gripping psychological literary thriller (YASSSS). Running into a friend you were once close to is always hard – especially after Lucy had that horrific accident. So when Alice runs into Lucy, and then her husband goes missing, she starts to question everything – her friend, her surroundings, and her state of mind.
You Me Everything by Catherine Isaac is a heartfelt story about the lengths we are prepared to go for the ones that we love. “You and me, we have history. We have a child together. We have kept secrets from each other for far too long. This summer, in the beautiful hills of the Dordogne, it is time for everything to change.” Yes. Love it already.
The Lido by Libby Page is an uplifting novel being called the feel-good debut of the year. 86 year old Rosemary has been swimming at her local lido all of her life. Kate, 26, has just moved to town and her career as a journalist is waning. So when the lido is threatened to shut down, Kate sees it as the story that will save her, but for Rosemary, it could be the end of everything.
I love a good thriller just like I love my easy reads. I know what I am getting my into – no more, no less. When a small group of mothers head out for a night on the town, none of them expect it when Winnie’s six-week-old-son is kidnapped. When the investigation hits a dead end, the mother’s take it upon themselves to bring baby Midas home. I’m just waiting for Netflix to make a mini-movie from The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy.
Like most of you probably did, I first learned of Shannon’s Kitchen by Shannon Kelly White when Zoe Foster Blake posted something about it on Instagram. My kind of cooking book, Shannon’s Kitchen is rife with swear words, easy meals that you will ACTUALLY make and just the fucking cutest illustrations I ever did see.
I do not read non-fiction. It is a thing. I have never enjoyed it. BUT – lately, I have been read two fiction books that are based around the language of flowers (apparently every flower means something different, and I love the idea of that) and it has only sparked my curiosity. Picardy by Marian Somes is a memoir about how she created a French idyll in an Australian backyard, and how the garden changed her life. France, flowers and a pretty cover – I’m all in.
Now THIS book, Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown, was brought to me from a reader of Don’t Ask Leah. She emailed me yesterday – and now we are pals – and mentioned Brown and how she calls vulnerability the antidote to shame. I love that. So I looked her up and read an excerpt of this book and IMMEDIATELY wanted more. 'True belonging doesn't require us to change who we are. It requires us to be who we are,’ writes Brown, and at a time where I haven’t felt like I belonged anywhere, this one is up there with books I most definitely NEED (it goes beyond WANT).
I didn’t plan on having two books about missing children, it just happened. Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey seems eerie as fuuuuck. Jen's 15-year-old daughter goes missing for four agonizing days. When Lana is found, unharmed, in the middle of the desolate countryside, everyone thinks the worst is over. But Lana refuses to tell anyone what happened, and the police draw a blank. As Lana stays stubbornly silent, Jen desperately tries to reach out to a daughter who has become a stranger.
Again – cannot stress how much I lust over a great book cover. I am PARTICULARLY excited about the sound of Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. Check this out: “Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend. Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.” YES TO THIS. Mainly yes to the image of the two bottles of vodka. My kinda’ woman.
I surprised myself when I felt intrigued by Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday because it isn’t the kind of read I would normally go for. In NYC, Alice, a young editor starts an affair with world-famous and much older writer, Ezra Blazer. At Heathrow, Amar, an Iraqi-American economist finds himself detained in the airport for the weekend. How is it that these two strangers’ lives intersect? KEEN.
The blurb for Tin Man by Sarah Winman speaks for itself, so I’m just going to leave it right here: It begins with a painting won in a raffle - fifteen sunflowers, hung on the wall by a woman who believes that men and boys are capable of beautiful things. And then there are two boys, Ellis and Michael, who are inseparable. And the boys become men, and then Annie walks into their lives, and it changes nothing and everything.
Jessica Knoll writes the kind of book whose TV equivalent is probably Gossip Girl (which I am unhealthily obsessed with). So sure, they aren’t a challenging read, but they fucking get into your bones. The Favourite Sister is a thriller starring competitive sisters whose dark secrets and lies end in murder when they sign onto a reality TV show. Judge me all you want, but I am reading this bad boy and will thoroughly enjoy it.
After escaping from a private sanitarium, Adelaide Blake arrives in Burning Cove, California, desperate to start over. In Burning Cove, no one is who they seem. The Other Woman Vanishes by Amanda Quick takes readers back to 1930s California where psychic to the stars Madame Zolanda becomes a victim to her own dire prediction and is killed. Where does Adelaide fit in with all of this?
Another magical/mystical/mythical title that I wasn’t expecting to add to my TBR list, What Should Be Wild by Julia Fine follows a highly unusual young woman who ventures into the woods at the edge of her home to remove a curse that has plagued the women in her family for millennia. The women are born with the power to kill or resurrect at even the slightest touch.
I was browsing GoodReads earlier and saw that this title that I had never heard of, is being made into a movie starring Rachel McAdams. So obviously, I investigated. Disobedience by Naomi Alderman stars Ronit – an ex-Londoner who has become a cigarette-smoking, wise-cracking, New York career woman, who is in love with a married man. When her father dies and she returns to her childhood city she is forced to face everything she left behind, including her childhood friend Esti…
So there you have it my little bookworms – a nice, long, detailed list of all the books that I cannot afford. And seriously, has there been a BETTER month for New Releases? Seriously. Of all the fucking times in my life, NOW all the authors are like let’s all release GREAT books at the same time.
Again, please send money.