• Lara Flanagan

Doors that close

Updated: Jul 21, 2021

I have survived my first fortnight of trading of My Notes From High St Gallery & Store! One of the highlights of this time has been catching up with people I have known for a long time on social media and finally putting faces to familiar names. I have had some lovely conversations with visitors to Tenterfield and it has been a treat to share my love of this beautiful town. I was having a conversation with a new friend last week who asked me if I knew how I got to where I was and what drove me. Was it the kids, a dream or a well thought out plan? We were interrupted by someone and I never got to answer the question. However, that one question has made me ponder my navel for many hours over the last few weeks.

I know for a fact that I did not have a plan. In all honesty, I am not a big fan of plans. In the words of Allan Saunders that were immortalised by John Lennon, “life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” There is no way I could have planned my life, I would have said “are you bat-shit crazy – no one would actually plan that life!” I was an over-achiever at high school who chose acting over law. After a year of learning about chakras and how to breathe out of my bottom, I decided that acting school was not for me and became a university dropout. I then pretended to be an actress which mainly consisted of consuming a lot of drinks on Caxton Street in Brisbane. After dulling my senses for a sufficiently stupid amount of time, I jumped on a plane and headed to Japan. I returned some 12 months later after meeting a life-long friend and consuming a hell of a lot of scotch with some semblance of a second language.

A job in international relations at Dreamworld began my tourism marketing journey which saw me a few years later being told by my boss that I was too young, uneducated and female to get promoted. I jumped on another plane and headed to the UK where I stayed for 5 years. I landed on my feet with the most brilliant jobs, the first looking after UK conference marketing for a European Hotel chain and later Europen conference marketing for a group of Caribean and Latin American resorts. Despite how glamorous these jobs sounded, my favourite job in the UK was moonlighting at a little Notting Hill delicatessen café of an evening and weekend. The destruction of the World Trade Centres made me realise that it was time to return to Australia.

I returned to hotel marketing and continued to tread the boards where I met my husband. Flash forward a few years. I had given birth to twins, dealt with postnatal depression, a diagnosis for my husband and the kids and become a single momma. I had taught myself how to bake and moved from the marketing office to the kitchen and had ended up in a kitchen of a Gold Coast café creating cakes and desserts. Somehow, a weekend in Tenterfield helping out with a function at Stannum House saw the kids and I whizzing down the New England Highway some six weeks later with all our worldly possessions to try a different life for a while. Stannum House did not work out, but I fell in love with Tenterfield and we bought our cottage which was to become our home.

I vividly remember the day I moved into the cottage. I had strange sensations on my legs and feet. Those sensations were the first signs of Multiple Sclerosis which I was diagnosed with some months later. I received my diagnosis of MS and returned to working in tourism all in the same year. It was then that I started obsessively taking photos in the mornings. Partly to keep myself moving and to stop falling into an abyss and partly to keep up content for the Tourism Facebook page.

My MS diagnosis made me dark and twisted for a little while but it resulted in me embarking on the most amazing and delicious plant-based journey and education about what it means to be well. My job in tourism worked for a couple of years, but ultimately a toxic work situation saw me chucking caution to the wind and going freelance in 2015.

In 2016 the kids and I headed off on a world adventure as I wanted to give all my neurologists who had provided little hope the big royal middle finger salute. We spent time in the USA, Costa Rica and Italy. In Italy, I both fell in love with my second home and was told of the death of my dearest friend & sister Tiney. We returned to Australia where for a while, I drowned in a dark and twisted grief. Ultimately I dragged myself out of it because I had too much to live for. I had to teach the kids how to live so that at all times the joy and hope of life would override everything else.

Throughout the following years, I continued taking photos and my early mornings became my happy place. 2019 saw me doing a series of plant-based courses and experimenting with an online store. In 2020 I chucked these ideas and others out the window and focussed solely on my photography. To this end, I started selling my photography at the Tenterfield markets. Throughout my life I have been a bit of a chameleon. I have chopped and changed and jumped from one thing to the next. I have had obsessions and passions. I have been lucky enough to do things that make me happy whilst also doing things that bored me to tears. But I have never ever really found anything that stuck or that completely filled my heart with joy.

Last year I realised that all I want to do is take photographs. I have my little online print store and whilst I sell photos to wonderful people, my online sales would never be able to finance a ticket to Italy once the world reopens. I experimented with taking photos of people but it was not for me. I also experimented with taking photos for people but again I was not a fan. The markets and my little Oracles exhibition gave me the confidence to voice the fact that all I really wanted to do when I grew up was to take photos. Take photos of beautiful moments and present them beautifully in a space that was slightly quirky but felt like home. Remembering that sometimes, if you want the universe to catch you, you have to take a leap of faith, I jumped.

So going back to the beginning when my new friend asked me what got me here. It was definitely not a plan. It was a succession of doors. Doors that opened and closed.

I don’t think life is about having a plan. How can we possibly have a plan when we don’t know what is around the corner? Plans and vision boards mean constantly looking ahead and forgetting the here and now. The most important moment is the one you have in your hands. When a door shuts in your face, it is not about worrying or fretting about what we conceive to be behind the door. It is not about visualising what could have been. It is about looking around and seeing if there is possibly another way. It is about getting up, dusting off and finding a window rather than a door. If you are that way inclined, ignore the door and jump on a rollercoaster. If you keep staring at the closed door, you might miss the fact that there is a bannister behind you and if you slid down the bannister it will lead you into a corridor full of open doors.

We all have doors that close, but what makes our lives special is how we get around them and how we deal with them. The closed-door of divorce resulted in a life that is now lived entirely on my own terms. The dastardly door of diagnosis truly changed my life and taught me that so much of the way we live is within our control. Obviously, we can’t control what happens to us, but we can control how we react and respond. The devastating door of death reminds me every day how short and precious life is. That to live well, in the present moment is the most important thing we can do for those we love and the first person we need to love is ourselves.

It is an amazing question to ask yourself, how did I get here? We all get to where we are going by encountering a series of doors. Doors that slam shut and make you cry. Doors that take you to different worlds. Doors that lead you down dark corridors and doors that open up into rooms that are filled with love. Doors will always shut but the magic in life happens, when it is not the closed door that decides where we are going, but rather a brave heart that is filled with hope.

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