Unlived lives and unfinished work


I’m writing to you from my new office in Woodstock, Cape Town. From my window, I can see the mountain, the ocean and the buzzing Mother City. It smells of fresh beginnings and newly repainted walls.

It’s funny how new surroundings tend to trigger a squeaky rewinding of my life story. I can’t help but think of how each tiny decision I have made over the years has led me here right now and not somewhere else.

It makes me think of the places I go to, the people I’m with, the things I do. And also the places I haven’t gone to, the people I haven’t met and the things I’m not doing.

What if I’d done something different at any point? Where would I find myself?

“It is easy to mourn the lives we aren’t living. Easy to wish we’d developed other other talents, said yes to different offers. Easy to wish we’d worked harder, loved better, handled our finances more astutely, been more popular, stayed in the band, gone to Australia, said yes to the coffee or done more bloody yoga.
It takes no effort to miss the friends we didn’t make and the work we didn’t do the people we didn’t do and the people we didn’t marry and the children we didn’t have.” 

Matt Haig, The Midnight Library

I recently finished reading The Midnight Library, which made me think of all the slightly similar or wildly different iterations of my life that could have unfolded.

In another version of this life, I could have been:

A concert cellist

The lead of an indie band

A literary translator

A dancer

A writer

An artist

A curator

A midwife

A lecturer

And when I think about it, I have done all these things and been all these people, at least in some way at some point.

We tend to dismiss the things we don’t do at an expert level or in exchange for money. But do these interests and passions not have an imprint on your story and the person you are, regardless of the level at which you pursued them? I know a lot of you reading this identify as artists, and a lot of you can’t quite claim the word for themselves.

What do you identify as, and what impact do the words we choose to describe ourselves have on our choices and behaviours?

Are we putting too much emphasis on the things we do as opposed to what makes us feel alive? 

Are our achievements more important than the company we keep, the books we read, the art we consume, the impact we have on those around us?

Two months ago, a close artist friend of ours passed away. She had been working on a family portrait as her wedding gift to us (and no you didn’t miss anything, we did get married 10 years ago).

That portrait became an inside joke between our family and hers. The portrait that got started, repainted, abandoned, then started again from scratch again. The portrait that grew with our family, evolving from being of Tim and I only, to the three of us, to adding a little Gaspard peeping from behind the door.

The portrait that went from Johannesburg, where we did the initial sitting to Cape Town where we all found ourselves a few years and many life twists later.

She never got to finish it.

It found its way to our home eventually. Unfinished, a monochrome but vibrant memory of every moment spent together. Of her voice, of the way she walked and laughed. Of the food she would serve at one of her lively and eclectic gatherings to the sound of the Hable Con Ella sountrack. 

The bare charcoal outlines telling a story yet to reach its ending. 

A nice wink from Lisa that says “see you just now” rather than goodbye.

In a funny way, I feel that the unfinished nature of this piece says more than the finished piece would have. There’s no way of knowing. Just like there’s no way of knowing what versions of you could have been.

The one thing we do have is today. And hopefully tomorrow. And the choices we make have an impact on the unfolding of our lives moment after moment. Which can either feel like a lot of pressure or a fat big joke from a universe that let us spin around on a tiny planet for the shortest amount of time. Your choice.

I know I made the choice to live a bold, colourful, sometimes unconventional, sometime very ordinary life and be ok with whatever choice I have made along the way. I did the best I could with what I had at that point. I wonder if you can extend yourself the same compassion? And perhaps try and do the thing that feels a little daring? Because what do you have to lose in the end?

Just because we can’t go back and repaint over our less polished strokes doesn’t mean they didn’t make the person we are today more layered, textured and unquestionably, deeply human.

I’ll leave you with a song that will forever remind me of my friend.

And if you feel that you need a little nudge to explore what could be possible for you, these are the ways you can work with me this month. I’d love to chat x

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