And let’s face it, if we tried to keep up with the fashion of beauty as it’s changed over centuries, we would have been plucking our hairlines in the Renaissance (yes, a high forehead was considered beautiful). In Jane Austen’s era it was all about the ‘stays’ – corsets that helped separate your boobs for the ‘heaving’ effect (and if you don’t believe me, believe the Jane Austen Centre…) A quick look at the last half century would see us doing everything from wearing Spanx to getting implants in our lips and bottoms, to starving ourselves to look like Kate Moss, drawing on that beauty spot that Cindy Crawford charted her career on, and in the past ten years, trying to match that whole so-athletic-but-still-sexy thing that’s all over the gram (you know exactly what I’m talking about). By the time we’re 80, who knows what mad aesthetic will prevail? But being pulled from pillar to post like this trying to anchor ourselves to the current trend is only not bad for our mental health, it’s not that great for our physical health or sense of self either.Read More
Hi I’m Athanae. Welcome to my blog. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved forms of creative expression, including dance and writing. Growing up, I thought I’d be a ballerina…but somehow I ended up at law school instead (!) After a little bit of travel in Europe and a decade of working in the super high-pressure environments of journalism and federal politics I found myself completely disconnected from the person I knew I was as a kid - before I learned what I should be doing; before my perfectionist tendencies kicked in. By my late twenties, I was stressed to the max and suffering chronic illnesses, trying to work a full-time job, run a business (that’s another story), and keep the rest of my life going too. It was impossible. After many, many months of soul searching (that included some very bad drawings in my journal of what I wanted my life to look like…) and a village of family and friends supporting me I gently allowed myself to start coming back to the things I loved doing. I decided to take the first step by going back to movement, starting with training as a barre teacher (it’s kind of like ballet, right?) I subsequently trained to teach yoga and pilates too.
The next few years were tumultuous to say the least. Change isn’t easy: it requires hard decisions and commitment - and not everyone will come on the journey with you. But if you lead with your heart, you can’t go wrong.
I started learning my ‘first’ second language, Italian, when I was five. That set me on a path I’m still travelling today, with homes on two west coasts: Tuscany, and Western Australia. I work mainly as a freelance writer and yoga and pilates teacher - skills I can take with me wherever I go and can find a wifi connection.
I’ve been accused of oversharing my personal life (probably true…) but whenever I publish something heartfelt, or that I know is tapping into a bigger conversation, unmet need or unwanted feeling among the community of women I share my life with (both online and offline), the messages and responses I get tell me I’m doing the right thing. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that we need to take life less seriously anyway…so what’s a little vulnerability between me and all of you?
The bicycle-policing-roadworker looks over at me. He’d finished smoking his last cigarette at 8.07am and was back on the job.
‘You know what should be illegal?’ he says. ‘Middle-aged men in lycra.’
I laugh agreeably despite pretty much wholeheartedly believing the opposite: that anyone – but especially middle-aged men – could benefit from some time on a bike, both physically and mentally; and in spite of the fact that they really do give me the shits when I’m stuck behind them in traffic.
‘Slow down, mate,’ he says as another whizzes by, this time already suit-clad. Navy blue.Read More
‘Do you know how to make pasta?’ he asked, but I didn’t have to do the mental gymnastics to realise he meant ‘do you even know how to make pasta?’ He taught me to save the starchy water the pasta is cooked in, and add it back in to the sauce to help the pasta bind to it, making it creamier and more delicious. Looking back, that was the beginning of me truly healing my relationship with food. He would never let me give him credit for it and I would never try, but it was time and he was there. He showed me what it meant to live simply and fully, by example and in practice. He cooked - even just for himself - with integrity, with care and with joy. Less ingredients meant more.Read More
This day a year ago I boarded a sticky, crowded train in Vienna. We rattled through the night en route to Rome, but my stop was Florence. I didn't sleep.
Since our first hike in John Forrest National Park (‘she didn’t realise there’d be mud, but she did pretty well’ – he would say later), I thought there’d come a time where I would make this trip. For months it had been lingering in my mind. First as a sort of vague possibility while Nicola was on his 40,000+km odyssey around Australia: that quiet, vast, flat burnt land, full of snakes and sharks and spiders; concreted when he came back to Perth.
Tuscany was the first place my feet touched earth outside Australia (the airport at Rome, for the record, doesn’t count). This would be my third visit and, after all, non c'e due senza tre (there's no two without three).
I remember stepping onto the platform: I was overcome by the noise, the whizzing and whirring of people around me, looking up and seeing a green cross, lit up, signalling pharmacy. In the midst of chaos I had a strange and overwhelming sensation of being home. I was enchanted and soothed, fascinated and delighted, and I felt my feet root into the earth and my smile grow wide.
I was 16-and-a-half.
I never could have known that at double that age, just after my 33rd birthday, I would step onto that same platform to meet a man I’d known in person really, not very long at all, but who I’d been slowly dancing circles around for all that time. When I was 16 and sitting politely with my all-girl school group with our impeccably-groomed and super-organised teacher on the train to Viareggio, he was there too: long-haired and ripping up the backstreets on his scooter.
‘Are you sure?’ some of my friends said. What could I do except say ‘yes’? I didn't need to justify it.
I was leaving my job, my family, my friends; my security and my home.
What could I do though: not risk everything?
Play safe, play small, stay home? What would the point of any of it be if I did that?
I’d spent the better part of my life not listening to the little voice (you know the one). I’d done what I thought was right, what I thought might make me happy; I’d made some decisions that had set me apart from my peers, like quitting law, leaving journalism, starting a small business. But the safety net was always there. And I’d still ignored my gut instinct: the one that said be truly brave, then follow through; none of this matters anyway.
It was only when I lost everything that I started being honest about myself, to myself. And it took work. It still takes work. It’s like a fricking onion: you peel one layer of bullshit back, have an aha! moment, feel pretty good about yourself for five minutes then realise the next layer’s right there waiting for you to learn to let go of.
That I’d always wanted to live in Italy was true. That I met Nicola when I did was divinity.
You're supposed to sort your shit out then meet someone. You’re also supposed to be the hero of your own story. And don't get me wrong - I am. But like that wise man Thich Nhat Hahn said, no mud, no lotus, and I was definitely still standing in the mud (metaphorically, not just in John Forrest or Cape Le Grand National Park or anywhere else we went) when we crossed paths. But since then I've been hand-in-hand with a man who has been next to me all the while.
The girl seeking perfection, lacking self-compassion, expecting the world of myself; seeking out ways to berate myself for perceived failures while opting out of tapping into the ever-present joy in life (like focaccia), is mostly not present any more. She's fading out a bit, and that's a good thing.
It took a patient person to take my hand and stand with me. But every time I put myself on the line, he was there. If there is one thing underscoring our relationship, it's kindness and compassion. Especially when sometimes I think it would be better if we just used emojis to communicate, rather than words. As anyone who doesn't speak the same first language as their partner knows, the struggle is real! But it also means you learn (mostly) not to fuss or fight over semantics; rather to notice intentions and actions.
The Tuscany of previous visits, that first trip with school; then a return after university to go back to language school and live in Florence for a couple of months; that had been the warm up. This was the real thing.
It was the pace and rhythm of life that knocked me in the beginning. I felt like a pinball in a machine, banging and crashing from one corner to another. I was literally covered in bruises for the first few weeks because I kept misjudging the dimensions and furniture placement in our little place; or riding my pushbike into a fence (seriously), or, once I learned to ride the scooter, dropping it on my leg or foot because I hadn’t worked out how to use the stand properly. It was noisy! Everywhere! Frogs, dogs, kids, cars, radios, simple conversations that were so loud and enthusiastic I thought they were fights...I remember telling Nicola to stop yelling at me so many times in those first few weeks. I'm not yelling, I'm just talking, he'd say.
I didn’t understand how people could be so relaxed (hint: relax). I was confused about how to schedule my time (hint: stop scheduling). I wanted to know what the plan for the day was. Nobody thought about dinner until 7pm. This was flat out weird for me. I thought I’d ‘done the work’ to ‘let shit go’ in Australia: but this was like being hit over the head with a frying pan. I was dazed and baffled. My reactions were visceral, instinctive. Sometimes they were wild, sometimes they were poetic, sometimes they just came from a place of exhaustion or frustration.
All the while I was being supported and fed and welcomed and loved not just by Nicola's family but by everyone, everywhere. I had stepped instantly into a community of people who just said 'cool, you're here now. You're part of the gang.' All I had to do was learn to go with the flow. Anyone who knows me will appreciate the irony in that.
It took me ages to work out that it wasn’t that complicated at all. Things were pretty much what that seemed at face value. I know, right? Life was (and is) more honest, more simple, more community and family and socially-oriented. I’m melting right into it now. I’m learning how to be more of myself at the same time. I’m getting better at being peaceful. And that’s a good thing too. Nothing is rushed: every meal is communion, every coffee a moment to enjoy; every piece of work finished is celebrated and every conversation a genuine one. I am learning to express myself more, fight more, love more, feel more and be more.
I own close to nothing, compared with say five years ago. I don’t have a car. The food I eat is simple. Instead of constantly feeling a lack of enough and a paralysing fear that I would never do what I was meant to do; that I’d never fulfil my potential (whatever that means); that I couldn’t tick all the boxes and that there was always something lacking, something missing, something to be done, some chore or workout or project or other distraction to attend to, I have space.
It's the quiet and deliberate cultivation of a life that is of my creation. I'm going back to remembering what I wanted before I created the idea of the life I thought I should have. I have days in the mountains and days working and pottering around and I don’t always have a plan anymore. I have fun, I have laughter, I have adventures and an abundance of love.
And that’s everything.