Tag: books

Book Review: Phosphorescence by Julia Baird

I will never forget the drunken teenage magic of bathing in midnight phosphorescence with friends in the shallows of The Basin at Pittwater in the late 80s.

The miracle (it was still a mystery to scientists and researchers well into last Century) was lost on us, of course, as we shrieked with glee and splashed each other, swirling the luminescence into little whirlpools with outstretched arms. But my memory of the momentary joy of the experience has remained.

As an adult, the magic and mystery remain. And like most things magic, sometimes it appears when you least expect it. Phosphorescence is, simply, a discovery – and relishing – of the extraordinary in the ordinary.

I loved this book. Part memoir, part self-help, part journalistic investigation into what it takes to grow, and discover, resilience and hope and compassion for self and others in what sometimes feels like a Class A bitch of a world (my words, not Julia’s!) and the complexities of continuing to do all that as a midlife woman in that world.

It’s the simple things.

Midlife women aren’t the sole target for the book, obviously, but I am one, and Baird is one, and she openly acknowledges her privileged ‘white’ perspective in that sense. But she thrives on ocean swimming and the magnitude of nature, and quiet, and evolution of self too. And the coastal world she inhabits and which brings her so much solace and gratitude, and within which her community has grown and is growing, looks also remarkably like mine.

They’re all carefully, but naturally, woven squares in the patchwork of life.

Phosphorescence was a scientific mystery for centuries. Sailors and fishermen could barely describe it. It’s true, it’s bloody hard! As I mentioned, my schoolmates and I were camped at The Basin at Pittwater as teenagers. Playing in the shallows late at night, we suddenly noticed we were all dripping in it, like liquid diamonds. Every stroke of a limb through the blackness cast out these mercurial plumes of phosphorescence. I’ve never forgotten it!

Baird is right. Life is tough. It’s far from perfect. And we see that more and more as we age. But contentment is possible. It’s what I’ve clung to from the depths of despair in which I’ve lived most of my adult life, and when anxiety has coiled my heart so tight it feels like it’s clenched in a vice grip. Life is worth it.

It’s worth it for – truly, if nothing else – the glimpses of ‘awe and wonder’ you experience in between. That is life. If you keep looking. Actually, even when you’re not looking. Especially when it’s dark.

Phosphorescence is a beautiful, remarkable book, inside and out. Thank you, Julia.