Thursday, November 26, 2015

A word on alchemy

I can't actually remember the day I finished Desire Mapping. But I can tell you that the Core Desire Feelings I arrived at were: Clear. Light. Open.

As someone who worships at The Altar of Danielle it somehow feels heretical to say that I can only sorta explain how and I why I arrived at those words. I did really love and value the process. But somehow, living with these words hasn't been a game-changer. (Though, sure, I've just purchased yet another annual planner in the hope that it will magically stick next year. Sigh.)

What has really struck me, however, is how these three words give me a sense of upward motion. Of clarity. Of levity. Of an invitation to the divine. It all feels beautiful, transcendent... but somehow passively hopeful of something descending on me from up there.

Anyone woman who has given birth to a child -- regardless of the mode of delivery -- will tell you that you can live in your head, look to the heavens, cleanse your Crown Chakra all you like. But neglect your pelvic floor and you're in for a lot of trouble.

I learn that one the hard way, time and time again. When my back goes PING! that's pretty much the end of everything I have planned for the week. And every illusion of control. Or grace.

I'd be truly delighted to live a hermetically sealed life of decadent intellectual and sensory pursuits. This would conveniently obviate the need to bump up against other people, revealing the parts of myself that are murky, broken and afraid.

But life just ain't like that. For me, anyway.

And thank goodness.

So when the word Alchemy arrived, it felt like the perfect counterweight to all the Clear Light Open business. I don't think that alchemy is a Core Desired Feeling. It doesn't feel like something to aspire to. It's just... there. A poignant reminder that there is an unknowable on the periphery of our everyday.

This unknowing can feel dark and dangerous. But it's also where the magic happens.

I share this with you because I felt called to dedicate this year's Reverb reflective writing challenge to the celebration of all things alchemical. As I said yesterday, I live with so many unanswered questions. And I know I am not alone in this. Somehow, it feels important to honour the fact that we're still asking the questions.

I really hope you will join me.

This feels also like the moment to say: some of this year's questions are big ones. The answers may not arrive neatly. It may not be possible to respond every day. If they do arrive in a blinding, intuitive flash, go with it, of course! But I'd also encourage you to borrow one of my Core Desired Feelings and continue to stay OPEN.

Because you just never know...

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Impossible questions

How could it be over a month since I last wrote a blog post?

What happened to all those words that were swarming, fully formed, through my mind?

Since when did every move I made bump up against someone else's stuff?

Why does Halloween feel like a lifetime ago?

It's my patron saint's name day today and a full moon in Gemini. What does this all mean?

Could it be that the week I lost to incapacitation -- because my back went PING! -- happened solely because I needed to stay in bed and read Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic?

How is it that, having read the abovementioned and completely revelled in it, that I am still totally ready to throw the towel in, having had my novel completely savaged over the weekend by a group of other writers?

Will anyone notice that my apparent "openness to feedback" on my writing is not actually for my benefit at all? Surely I can't be the only eldest daughter people-pleaser out there?

How long will it take me to get over the feeling of being other-people'd out?

Will my Glühwein be sufficiently authentic that German/Swiss/Austrian folk attending this week's Weihnachstmarkt will consume copious quantities of it? (As in, 60 litres of the stuff?)

How is it possible that December starts next week?

I don't know. I don't know. 

I. Don't. Know.

But, somehow, I am glad I am still asking the questions.

Join me for three weeks of inviting answers, kicking off on 1 December.

(Yes, that's next week!)

Monday, October 19, 2015

When Kat saw Patti

Last night, I went and saw a tribute to Patti Smith's seminal album Horses by four acclaimed Australian musicians.

My thoughts, while I was watching, went something like this:

1) This is a-farking-mazing.

It was an incredible tribute, where each musician not only paid homage to Patti but also put their own stamp on each song. And each being such phenomenal, authentic musicians, it made for an alchemy that would be impossible to manufacture.

And all of it brought Patti's poetry to shine. I couldn't help but be reminded that Patti was first and foremost a poet. The performance brought her words to life. It was, simply, beautiful.

2) I need to see more live music.

The physics of voices and instruments washing through me. The bodies inhabiting the stage. The bodies communing in the audience. There's nothing like being a part of that (and I was seated upstairs on the balcony!)

Specifically, I need to see more live music with my husband. He loves live music and it's something we did quite a bit when we first met. Actually, we just need more date nights. No, we just need date nights, period.

3) When did I get so neurotic?

This thought followed quite closely from the last. Every time I step out of my home and outside my usual school drop-off/school pick-up routine, I am reminded how big the world is. There are so many people out there! So many different types of people! And they are all leading their lives in parallel to mine. How rarely we connect, outside tightly controlled circumstances of my choosing.

When did life become about To Do lists, getting it all done, doing it all perfectly? When did my number one priorities become to get as much sleep as possible, have as much time alone as I can, seek silence wherever it hides?

When did my world become so small... small enough to fit inside my skull?

When did it all become about safety and control? When did I become the person who worries about everything?

I don't want to romanticise the lives of the other hundreds of other people in the room. And yet, seeing them there, being a part of their experience of this music, reminded me that there's more to life than my little daily world.

There's beers to be drank and songs to be danced to and a lot of slow kissing. There's laziness on lush green grass and sleeping in and late night movies and snorty belly laughs. There's galleries to be savoured and breakfasts to go cold for intense conversation and more, more coffee and perfume bought on a whim.

I used to do a lot of all of these things. And I seem to have convinced myself that they belong to a time that has passed... a time where I was living a life that "wasn't really me." I was trying to impress certain people I knew. Trying to be a bit more like Patti.

And now, almost twenty years later, I am living a life that really IS ME. I don't "work for the man" any more. I wear what I want. I eat what I want. I read what I want and a lot. I love my beautiful family and am excited about our renovation plans. I am living my life's dream, finally putting all my efforts behind my novel. I don't have to pretend anything to anyone (much) any more and can indulge my true introvert nature.

And Patti: she was a loving wife and still is a devoted mother. She's an avid reader, researcher, collector of experience. She has always been hard-working and responsible. Wasn't she one of the only people living in The Chelsea Hotel in the 1960s who did not have to try and sneak past Stanley Bard because she paid her rent on time? And she's nothing if not self-absorbed: in Just Kids, she wrote: "I was there for these moments but so young and preoccupied with my own thoughts that I hardly recognized them as moments." 

So maybe Patti and I are not all that unalike in the scheme of things.

But last night, I became curious.

I mean, really? Isn't there more to me than that?

Because sometimes, you know, I just want to pull on  a pair of tight jeans and shake my hair loose and drink a lot of beer and just DANCE.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Space, time and a computer screen glowing in the dark

"And these years later, when I think of that essay, what I remember most is not the moment I saw my work in New Yorker font, not when I saw the illustration of my father, not the congratulatory phone calls and notes that followed, but that predawn morning in my bedroom, at my desk, the lights of cars below on Broadway, my computer screen glowing in the dark."

Dani Shapiro
Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life

When I first read the above passage, it rang so true it practically deafened me. Of course, it was a timely reminder to get out of my own way (and stop anticipating who/how/whether anyone would ever read my book) and keep focusing on the writing.

But it also reminded me that whatever happened to my novel, it would never be inseparable for me from the act of writing it. Even if it is published to great acclaim, even if it wins awards (as Shapiro's work has done). To me it will always be about a first draft written after wandering home dreamily from dropping my daughter off at kindergarten. It will also be about the second draft incorporating minimal edits, written during a heatwave the month before my son was born. But mainly it will be about the third draft: the total rewrite crammed into every waking hour that was not taken up by domestic tasks and preparing for our trip to New York.

Something I've noticed since (re)submitting my manuscript: it is significant by its absence. And by that, I mean that I am noticing a lot of space in my days. Space that would have been sucked into the vortex of my novel.

In a funny way, I miss it.

But boy, am I glad to have the space. I have been positively luxuriating in that space.

And then... how quickly that space can disappear. Erased by a single thought.

A writing workshop I am attending in November spans for two weekends. For some reason, I thought it was only one. So now I notice that I have a weekend less than I thought I did, as far as preparing for the festive season (and Reverb!) goes.

I am curious about that thing that happens when spaciousness -- and the sense that I do not need to rush, that I can take my time and savour the journey, that everything will be OK -- makes way for gnawing butterflies in the solar plexus and the compulsive need to make lists.

And the thing is: I know it will all get done. It always does.

But the self-talk along the way...

Thursday, October 15, 2015

What I know about...

Do you ever do that thing where you imagine you're being interviewed by your favourite columnist in your favourite publication? Maybe it involves projecting to a time when you're famous for living your life's dream (ahem!) or maybe it's just because the questions are thought-provoking.

As many of you know, The Age newspaper on Sundays is accompanied by a magazine that largely comprises fluff pieces and photos of vapid-looking young celebrities. It'd be a stretch to say it was my favourite. In fact, most of the time, I flick through to the fashion pages or turn straight to the horoscopes.

But I almost never throw it in the recycling without taking a sneaky peak at the back page which is titled What I know about... then followed by Men or Women, depending on the partnership choices/inclinations of the interviewee. They usually start by talking about their parents.

It's hardly world-changing stuff but for some reason, I've been given to think of what I might answer if I were interviewed for this feature. (Which, of course, will totally happen once I am a published and famous author. Ahem!)

Maybe it's because two of my dear friends lost their fathers quite unexpectedly this past week.

Maybe this brings my own dad into sharp focus. And I know how lucky I am to have had such a gentle and loving father who is always thoughtful, supportive and generous.

Maybe it's because I am now the mother of a little boy who is fearless in his joy and affection.

Growing up, it seemed to me being a boy in Australia was about appearing sporty and tough and more than a little cynical. The lovely lads with whom I studied ballet or sang in the school play inhabited the margins of this, often bullied despite their efforts to keep a low profile.

These days, I have so many beautiful men in my life and I am so happy that my children see examples every day of gentle, smart, funny men who love openly and are not afraid to be themselves. Especially their dad, who is attentive and kind and whose love for them is palpable.

It all seems the more poignant as I write this today, having just discovered that one of my actual favourite columnists for The Age passed away this week suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 45. Sam de Brito seemed to me to be the archetypal modern Australian man. Or at least one that modern Australian men could aspire to. He was intelligent, unafraid to have difficult conversations, self-aware and fiercely in love with his young daughter.

And what I know about men is that the world needs more like him.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Savouring what is

About six weeks ago, I was on the cusp of a family holiday. I was also in the thick of rewriting my novel. Both of my kids were sick. I was exhausted and feeling extremely vulnerable and in full control-freak mode.

I wrote:

This is not easy to say when travelling with small kids but I really want some of this trip to just be for me.

You never know, I may even get some rest.

And I might even write more soon.

Reading this now, I am not sure whether to laugh or cry. For reasons I am not quite ready to unravel here, very little of our trip -- in fact none of it -- was "just for me". I did not get a minute of rest: the total opposite. And writing, even in my journal, was the last thing I felt compelled to do. Ditto anything that would have nourished me, body or soul. Including time out or reaching out.

It's funny, the options that evaporate when you are in full anxiety mode.

Anyway, I am home now and decompressing and have been lucky enough to have some really wise and compassionate support as I try to understand exactly what went on for me and why I was in such pain, despite being in one of my favourite cities in the world.

In an effort to coax myself back into writing, I wanted to share some of the things I have been grateful for over the past few days, including:

1. The air! One of the first things I noticed when we got home was that the sky was so bright and clear. And the air so fragrant with the magic of Spring. It was such a contrast to the New York fall and really felt like our neighbourhood was welcoming us home.

2. I also had three handwritten missives in my mailbox, including a comic, a pretty card and a letter detailing fifteen years' worth of news plus photos. Quiet honestly, there's nothing that beats snail mail! Just knowing that someone has taken the time to put pen to paper, you can practically feel the love on each indentation on the page.

3. That said, I am also grateful for the dears souls with whom I am in intense email correspondence. In particular, there are a tiny number who receive my offerings with tremendous grace, particularly when there are huge gaps in my response time. I find equanimity and self-compassion surprisingly difficult concepts to grasp and am so grateful to those who model it for me in their actions as well as their words.

4. My landlord's generosity. I finally took the plunge and gave notice on my beloved writing studio. It was a tough decision but it was also a bit of a no-brainer. The money I had set aside to pay rent has run out. And, realistically, I was only using it once a week and it's unlikely I'll be able to carve out more time to use it. My landlord has kindly offered to give me as much time as I need to vacate the premises and is also letting me use the desk until it is snaffled by the next lucky soul.

5. Taking a moment during nap time. We did not bother trying to get the little dude to nap while we were away -- for better or for worse - but now that we are home, the midday nap has been firmly reinstated. It does limit our flexibility during the day but we are both so much happier for this small window of time. Lately, I have been resisting the urge to run around and attend to domestic tasks and have been just sitting down with a book or magazine and cup of something. It feels so decadent, it's ridiculous.

6. I am going to see Patti Smith! Well, not actually her incredible self, this time around. I was lucky enough to nab a ticket to the extra performance of the tribute to her seminal album Horses this coming Sunday. One of the things I am really looking forward to is stepping out of my daily life for a couple of hours and spending some time alone, soaking it in. And, of course, I am checking the mailbox every day until her new book arrives.

7. Halloween is coming. I am not sure what it is about this particular celebration that has captured my daughter's heart but she has been crazy for Halloween ever since she was three. Spending the last few weeks in the USA was like heaven for my beautiful girl. The pop-up shops! The cards! The decorations! The costumes! The candies! Her delight was every bit contagious.

8. More recently, there have been question marks over my baby son's hearing. So far, tests have not yielded any cause for concern but he will be having more intensive assessment next week. Deep down I know there is nothing to be too worried about but it will be a relief to rule out anything that might hinder his development. His personality is really blossoming right now and I feel so blessed to have this sweet, affectionate and funny little fellow in my life.

9. In the midst of a tough week that included some extremely sad news for at least two of my friends, I have found incredible comfort in stories of hope. One such example is Heather Von St. James, who is celebrating her ten year cancer-free anniversary. Heather reached out to ask me if I wouldn't mind sharing her story in celebration of Healthy Lung Month and I found it so incredibly moving, particularly as a mama (Heather was diagnosed with Mesothelioma right after the birth of her daughter Lily, then told she only had 15 months to live). This is a highly recommended read, including a lot of really useful information and resources.

10. Humans of New York. I know I have mentioned this before but following Humans of New York on Instagram feels like a direct line to the heart of the human experience. I was particularly affected by the recent stories of Syrian refugees across Europe. For my part, I see how easy it is to overwhelmed by numbers and to fear what they mean. And yet, every statistic comprises individual people, each of whom have extraordinary, terrifying, exhilarating stories of their own.

As Muriel Rukeyser once wrote: The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms.

Our stories are our own but, in sharing them, they become universal. And timeless.

Silence kills, my friends.

Tell me: what are you grateful for this week?

Tuesday, September 1, 2015


So, er, yes. What you see below is a collection of quotes that represents my journey of discovery through the sacred feminine.

What you also see is a series of thoughts left a little half-baked through neglect.

If I could fill in the gaps with the detritus from everyday life over here, you would see: the usual round of Melbourne colds; disproportionate anxiety about my children's illnesses; one tired and bloated body hunched over a laptop at every spare moment, racing against time to finish a novel.

It hasn't all been bad. There have been some beautiful email exchanges. Offers of help. Home baked Nutella and choc chip cookies (my sister is the best). Roses returning to cheeks. One phenomenal full moon. Experimenting with delicious smoothies. Handwritten cards in the mail. Tiny pink blossoms on the nectarine tree in our front garden. The most incredible night of escape and awe (if you live in Melbourne then you need to see this!). Exciting meetings with our architects. The promise of Spring.

And, the family holiday that starts on Thursday of next week. Of course, this is the deadline that is bringing everything else into sharp focus. And pumping adrenaline into my To Do lists. And sending my anxious perfectionist into overdrive. It doesn't help that there's a longhaul flight involved.

I've decided that, for the first time ever, I am not lugging my SLR around with me. It's a small detail but one that signifies that I am packing light. I even haven't announced to friends that I am arriving.

This is not easy to say when travelling with small kids but I really want some of this trip to just be for me.

You never know, I may even get some rest.

And I might even write more soon.