Sunday, January 31, 2010

Longings... this evening


This weekend has been: re-connecting with my body, running around Princes Park; indulgent breakfast of poached eggs, pancetta, sourdough, parmesan, tomato and two flat whites; pondering how I could be of service; savouring juicy nectarines picked fresh from my Mum's garden; reading The Age A2 section; listening to an inspiring podcast; luxuriating in Moroccan Orange Blossom, Pink Grapefruit and other sweet sparkling indulgences; adding layers to my gessoed canvases; laughing with the little 'un as we dress Elmo in her jammies; diving into a new novel; putting things in place to step into February, the month of purification.

It has also been: to-ing and fro-ing in my mind about sharing my Mondo Beyondo list in this space, and how much or little to share; eating unhealthy food; doubting how I could be of service; drinking more cider than I should; waiting (im)patiently while my husband spent most of the day on the computer, trying to get wireless broadband to work; bemoaning the rising temperature in the house; an impulse online purchase; getting cross with my Mum for asking -- as she has every time she has seen me of late -- whether I was OK and why I was looking so tired/flat/grumpy; envying the sleek street style of others.

Right now I find myself: lethargic; dreaming of Paris; grateful for this morning's two hour nap; aching all over; thinking about everything I have To Do this evening; wistful for North Africa; still unsure of how I could be of service; keen not to spend too much time online; reflecting on the ways in which LOVE has surfaced and remained hidden in January; excited about finishing my two canvases; aching for the cool change; looking forward to February, the month of purification.

Sometimes I feel too much. Sometimes I feel not enough. Sometimes all at once.

For now, I want to leave it be.

Back to the world of the novel for me.

Longings... this morning


What was said to the rose that made it open was said
to me here in my chest.

What was told to the cypress that made it strong
and straight, what was

whispered the jasmine so it is what it is, whatever made
sugarcane sweet, whatever

was said to the inhabitants of the town of Chigil in
Turkestan that makes them

so handsome, whatever lets the pomegranate flower blush
like a human face, that is

being said to me now. I blush. Whatever put eloquence in
language, that's happening here.

That great warehouse doors open; I fill with gratitude,
chewing a piece of sugarcane,

in love with the one to whom that every belongs!

What Was Told, That
Rumi

Thursday, January 28, 2010

On hats and rings and the throwing of things


When planting that tree, did you make a wish
To grow a big garden of green puffer fish?

My title reminds me of good Dr Seuss
But I really don't wish to be so obtuse.

Now I'll explain my last two posts
And shed some light on my dreams and my hopes.

I applied for a role in a Book Show Blog
Written in one day, it was quite a slog!

And also rewrote a bit of my thesis
In order to give it greater kinesis

With a broader community of readers
Through mentorship by literary leaders.

To do things like this is something quite new
And I feel I ought to give thanks to you

For reading, supporting and cheering me on.
Regardless of outcome, I've already won.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

So I threw my hat in the ring (PART II)




"Wear thermal." What if that was the only advice your father gave you before you left home to study overseas? What if you found yourself in a country where the English spoken in shops, on public transport, on the television, and in the classroom was different from the English you learnt at school? What if you stood up to answer a question in class, because that's what you did at home, and everyone laughed?

If you have ever been stared at because you dress differently, then you have a sense of how students who come from the Middle East feel when they come to Australia.

That said, a lot of international students feel this way when they first arrive. And universities provide a wide range of services to help students adjust, academically, culturally, socially. Special programs that focus on English language preparation, on study skills, on bridging the gap between secondary school overseas and university in Australia, help many international students settle in to their studies. A more recent development is seeing institutions grapple with the conundrum of how to get international and Australian students to mingle, inside the classroom and out.

What's less clear is why international students from the Middle East find it that much harder to adjust. Why many take longer to complete their studies, or give up and return home without really making a go of it. Why university support staff find themselves overwhelmed with incessant and impassioned requests for assistance with English assignments, housing arrangements, assessment results, scholarship negotiation, student visa requirements, in a way that is not representative of other international students.

[...]

Recent research indicates that students from the Gulf States have come to Ausralia because they are keen to obtain an overseas university qualification. They want to experience life in a different culture and, in most cases, improve their English. They are keen to return home and support their country's economic and social development.

They are aware the university life in Australia will be different from their schooling at home. They don't necessarily expect that Australians will bend over backwards or change the way they do things, so that they can maintain the lifestyle to which they are accustomed.

However.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

So I threw my hat in the ring (PART I)


Dear Artistic Director,

Please find the attached sample of writing that might work well for The Book Show Blog.

I'm the young-ish side of 30 (for now) and would like to think that I'd bring a bit of gravitas to the project, albeit with tongue planted firmly in cheek. I hope the attached sample doesn't come across as too lugubrious. I can't help but think that there's value in getting deep discussions about literature -- i.e. how books can help us feel our way through some of life's bigger questions -- out of undergraduate classrooms and into the public domain.

I love reading novels, blog writing, good coffee, The Age A2 section, journal writing, gluing layers of paper onto canvas, and drawing connections between words, art, poetry, music, theatre and the zeitgeist. I've attended the Melbourne Writers Festival every year since 1997 and confess to missing the shambolic atmosphere of the Malthouse.

I'd recommend:

Christos Tsiolkas' The Slap (its moment has almost passed but people are still talking about it)
Barbara Kingsolver's The Lacuna (there's just so much to unpick... and a good way of drawing the Frida Kahlo nuts out of the woodwork)
Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis (as it was published 100 years ago but still has a lot to say about contemporary society)

Thanks for the opportunity -- it sounds like a fantastic project.

Warm regards,
Kat

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Why I gesso


According to Kelly Rae Roberts, in her wonderful Taking Flight: Inspiration and Techniques to Give your Creative Spirit Wings, putting a layer of gesso on your canvas, block of wood or whatever you're working on (I think the posh word is "substrate") helps your collage papers adhere to the surface.

Rice Freeman-Zachary's excellent Living the Creative Life: Ideas and Inspiration from Working Artists includes an exercise recommended by Sas Colby who, in turn, borrowed it from artist Pat Steir. It entails gessoing a sheet of newspaper and drawing lines vertically down the sheet of paper, about 6mm apart, until the page is filled. It's a bit like a dancer's warm-up or an athlete's stretch: it is conscious, meditative and "connects the body with the mind with the materials".

This is why I like to gesso my canvases: it is a gentle way to get moving. It is rhythmic, soothing but, importantly, it doesn't require thought. You can't really get it wrong.

And it's something that real artists do. Prime the canvas. To make real art.

It's a good way to start: acting "as if".

So this weekend I have primed my canvases, and I am starting to think through how my loose, unformed ideas will evolve into messy, textured pieces that will bring some favourite quotes to life (and go into the world as gifts).

I'd mentioned to dear Tinnie Girl that I had planned to get back into artmaking, and that gessoing would be my first task. Thankfully she held me to it: as well as a keeper of wishes, she is a holder of integrity.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Vieux Farka Toure


I confess that I came to Ali Farka Toure's work from that gorgeous scene in The Spanish Apartment when Romain Duris and his cute flatmate sat on her bed, smoking a joint, exchanging tips on how to woo a woman, and playing air guitar to Ai Du. I also confess that I went to see Vieux Farka Toure on the basis that it would be closest I'd get to experiencing his father.

But Vieux was a force in his own right. His music was mesmerising and evocative. And he was an upstart in the best sense of the word. One moment we were transported to the heart of Africa, then next we were being teased for our ineptitude on the sing-along front. In shy English, he asked the audience if they were doing OK then teased: "If you're not happy, it's not good for me. It took me three days to get here from Mali!" I'm pretty sure his suit was made from snakeskin.

His homage to Ai Du was sublime, though I wondered of he played it with a greater sense of force than his father might have. Ali Farka Toure generously shared his gifts with the world, but remained firmly rooted in his home village in Mali. His voice was somehow more measured, centred, like he knew his words would travel but he was happy for them to go on without him. Vieux emanated a greater sense of ownership, of pride, of purpose (though I acknowledge it's somewhat unfair to compare a recorded voice to a live performance).

It was my first night out alone for a long time and it was a rich place to be, on the periphery of a heaving mass of colour and rhythm. People of all ages, shapes and sizes were grinning widely, stamping their feet and beating fists in the air in time to the music. True to form, I left the party while it was in full swing. I did feel a little guilty for not saying goodbye to the young musician sitting at my table, with whom I had exchanged a few words. He'd shared that he was able to make a living playing guitar for local bands, but that he came to see shows like this to remind him of his passions.

And that really summed the whole evening up. Like Anne Morrow Lindenbergh's walk along the local beach, where residents would exchange smiles and words generously, with no need or expectation of anything more. The music, the dancing, the conversation, the love in that strange kitsch ballroom were gifts freely given and freely received, held in mutual trust.

Farka means donkey. Toure senior was the only child in his family to survive infancy, so he was nicknamed for his stubbornness and tenacity. It would seem his son inherited this trait, as well as the nickname. I can't help but think that the world will be a richer place for his sharing of these gifts.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Emotional nudity


Emotional nudity hinges on the revelation of one's weakness and insufficiency to another human being, a dependence on them which strips us of a capacity to impress in any way other than through the sheer fact of our existence. We can no longer lie or bluster, boast or hide ourselves behind fine words [...].

I strip myself emotionally when I confess need -- that I would be lost without you, that I am not necessarily the independent person I have tried to appear, but am a far less admirable weakling with little clue of life's course or meaning. When I cry and tell you things I trust you will keep for yourself, that would destroy me if others were to learn of them, when I give up the game of gazing seductively at parties and admit it's you I care about, I am stripping myself of a carefully sculpted illusion of invulnerability. [...]

I allow you to see me humiliated, unsure of myself, vacillating, drained of self-confidence, hating myself and hence unable to convince you [should I need to] to do otherwise. [...] I learn to accept the enormous risk that though I am not the confident pin-up of everyday life, though you have at hand an exhaustive catalogue of my fears and phobias, you may nevertheless love me.

The Romantic Movement
Alain de Botton

Oh yes.

Then try substituting "you" with "me" and "I" in the last paragraph.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Paging Dr Fraud


When my thesis was passed, a tremendous sense of relief washed over me. Partly, of course, because I don't have it hanging over my head anymore. And partly also because the work is done. But a significant part of the relief was because I could finally put the Impostor Syndrome to rest. My work has passed rigorous examination and my amendments are acceptable. The thesis itself will no doubt be challenged in the academic space at some point in the future, but no-one can crawl out of the woodwork and out me as a fake, or question how I got so far without anyone noticing that I wasn't meant to be there.

Yesterday, I accepted the challenge of clearing space in my outlook. I released expectations of how my day was going to pan out -- particularly with respect to the little 'un's naps -- and committed to going with it. We had a delicious afternoon, graciously receiving all that a lunch playdate and long walk up Brunswick Street had to offer.

This morning was spent luxuriating in the zen moment, all fingers and toes, and sunshine and breezes, and sticky apple scrolls. Not half an hour later, I was so angry and frustrated with the little 'un's refusal to nap that I put her down on her bedroom floor, walked out of the room and closed the door. I figured I needed to step away before I did something I regretted, and assumed that she'd pick herself up and crawl around playing with things as she usually does. Nope. I've never heard her scream like that.

In the meantime, my Mondo Beyondo list is sealed away in my journal and I am assiduously working on forgetting everything contained therein. Except for one dream. That one that I wrote in the second allotment of ten minutes. The ten minutes where I was supposed to go crazy and write the most outrageous things I could think of in areas that I wouldn't ordinarily trouble myself to dream about. And I did. And I wrote a whole heap of stuff, much of it silly. And then there was this one thing. One thing that I can't forget and it is boring through my consciousness like a dentist's drill.

It's a bad thing. Something I don't even really want. Would you believe I found myself panicking that because I had written it down, it would come true even though I didn't want it to? And that the whole fabric of my life, my family, my world would be torn asunder?

Of course, when I step back and take a deep breath I know that it is OK. That it's probably not all that bad, and even if it was I would survive. That no-one will ever read what I wrote and that there will doubtless be the opportunity to revisit the outrageous list and unpick what's there. Most likely, the thing I don't want to happen actually contains elements of other things that I do want to happen. And that these things will be excruciatingly marvellous, because of the emotional pain I have gone through to realise them.

It's this part of me, the sane rational part, that drives the agenda much of the time. It keeps me focused, helps me balance my multiple selves, ensures that I am "on message" (yuk) and don't miss a trick. It also gives me the clarity to take away really powerful learnings from the Mondo Beyondo process and, occasionally, make connections for fellow travellers.

But that damn impostor still demands, "Who are you to make such claims? How dare you dispense wisdom as if you've got it all figured out?".

Sigh! I still have a lot of work to do.

What it's all about


It occurred to me, as we sat in the park sharing an apple scroll, that this is why I did not return to work full-time.

Up until then, I'd been stewing on the fact that I'd left the little 'un's sippy cup at home, and that I hadn't even thought to bring my own water bottle, so I had nothing to offer her to drink.

"Gee, your Mum's hopeless!" I sighed. Then silently berated myself for not modelling more constructive self talk.

I looked down at the icing sugar scattered all over my shorts, the scabs on my legs from where I had cut myself shaving, the small welts of fresh mosquito bites.

Then I looked at my little cherub, happily munching on apple scroll, merrily opening her mouth for more.

There, in the delicate breeze. With sun peeking through the shade. With cyclists whirring past and dogs bounding by. There was that moment that told me all I needed to know.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The gift of the present


We recover ourselves, and we can encounter the beautiful things around us in the present moment. The past is gone, the future is not here yet. If we do not go back to ourselves in the present moment, we cannot be in touch with life.

When we are in touch with the refreshing, peaceful, and healing elements within ourselves and around us, we learn how to cherish and protect these things and make them grow. These elements of peace are available to us at any time.

Peace is Every Step
Thich Nhat Hanh

I feel like I'm finally starting to get it... for now.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

And one for the little boy who lived down the lane...

Little 'un and I had a fun afternoon of meandering down Carlton laneways, posting our secret assignment affirmation notes into random mailboxes along the way.

It was a delicious exercise, selecting which houses would receive the anonymous little messages from the universe. A curious selection process emerged: this house has Tibetan prayer flags hanging from the balcony, they will surely be open to trusting with their whole heart; this house has a pram parked outside, someone in the house would may find peace in knowing that they are not alone; this house has a front garden bursting with succulents and geraniums in brightly coloured pots, maybe they are waiting for a sign that it is OK to say their heart's desire out aloud.

In constructing a little story about the occupants of each house, I found myself wondering whether they would react with joy, shyness, resistance, or skepticism. I hoped no-one would find offense, particularly those who had "no junk mail" or "no advertising material" signs on their mailboxes.

I secretly prayed that, at the very least, the person checking the mail today would feel a tiny jolt of wonder that took them outside of their everyday perspective. I hoped that they would consider the possibility that someone had chosen them to receive that particular message at that exact time. That it wasn't as random as might first appear.

Looking back I see now what a wonderful lesson this was in trusting and letting go. My not-quite-random actions are bringing a little magic to various residents of Scotchmer and Canning Streets. I'll never know who I chose or what they will think.

Could it be that the person(s) whose actions bring me closer to my Mondo Beyondo dreams are unknown to me and acting for reasons not apparent to themselves?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Page 56


Jill Badonsky's The Awe-Manac: A Daily Dose of Wonder arrived in the mail last week. I'm such a sucker for books that are handwritten or have hand-drawn graphics, and also liked the idea of a page of creative prompts for every day of the year.

To be honest, I'm not sure that the cheesy puns are quite my thing, though I'm not complaining: the title was a pretty good indication of what was to come! But there are lots of little gems worth trawling through 1kg of sweet-smelling glossy paper for. Like reframing your attitude towards a given day so that instead of thinking, "Today I have to..." you say to yourself, "Today I get to...!".

In the quest for a little more levity in my life, I decided to give Badonsky's January recommendation for Geminis a go: Open any book in a bookstore and find a message for you on page 56. It's there.

Seeing as I have enough books on my bedside table alone to open a bookstore, I thought I'd start there. So here is the collected wisdom of page 56:

Lisa Garrigues Writing Motherhood "With young children [...] we are rarely alone, yet we feel so lonely."

Anne Morrow Lindenbergh Gift from the Sea "Nothing is demanded of you in payment, no social rite expected, no tie established. It was a gift, freely offered, freely taken, in mutual trust."

Karen Maezen Miller Momma Zen "I hired a part-time nanny. I felt good and I also felt guilty, and I legitimized both feelings by using the liberation to work, writing for others and for myself. Was I free? No, not often."

Julia Cameron The Sound of Paper "List ten activities that you would enjoy but tell yourself you have no time for. Don't these neglected possibilities sound self-nurturing?"

May Sarton Journal of a Solitude "Wholeness does not, of course, necessarily mean being right in a deduction or an action. It does mean not being divided in spirit by conscience, by doubt, by fear."

Natalie Goldberg Writing Down the Bones "And what great writers pass on is not so much their words, but they hand on their breath at their moments of inspiration."

Anne Lamott Bird by Bird "A movie begins to play in my head, with emotion pulsing underneath it, and I stare at it in a trancelike state, until words bounce around together and form a sentence. Then I do the menial work of getting it down on paper, because I'm the designated typist [...]."

I am marinating in these heartening, grounding, exhilarating words. And a little tug reminds me of my undergraduate studies, of learning that "enthusiasmos" in Ancient Greek meant something to the effect of "having the god breathe through you".

I am opening up to the wisdom of page 56.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

This is me today...

This Mondo Beyondo work is leaving me a little undone.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Talismans


I was thinking a bit about talismans this morning. About how certain posessions of mine seem to hold special energies that I like to draw upon when I feel that I need a little extra power in a particular area of my life. I was musing about the little ritual of selecting the right talisman for the right occasion, and wondering what it all meant. Maybe, I thought, I'm just superstitious.

But today's task got me thinking. What if my talismans represent something else? What if they reflect the special qualities in myself that I draw upon in anticipation of challenging situations? What if they reveal deeper values?

So, without thinking about it too much, I gathered up a few things from my study/studio this morning and piled them on the bed. All I had in mind when I gathered them was: things that make me happy. Here is what I found:

The journals are my private space for scribbling wildly and trying to make sense of messy emotions and tangled ideas. I think these represent my desire to understand, to think through, and to grow into a better version of myself. I always write in my journal with a special pen, which is my way of honouring the importance of the work I do there.

The permission cards are always accompanied by the declaration, "I give myself permission to...". (Note that today's random selection was investigate, which is somehow perfect!) These represent my willingness to surrender control, to be open to chance and coincidence, and they also affirm my faith in the power of words to direct my consciousness to where it needs to go.

The Superhero necklace needs no explanation. I wear it when I am know that the day ahead is going to require me to be strong, whole and fully myself. Although I know the beads are infused with love and considerable skill, I think their power is in helping me to draw on my inner strength and to signal that strength to the outside world.

The canteen I had to stop and wonder about. Of course, keeping hydrated is important for anyone to get the most out of their day! I have to say that the beautifully rendered graphics and the sweet quirky words remind me of the kind of art I'd like to make, not only because of the wonderful collage techniques but because they also convey a sense of cheekiness and joie de vivre.

My outrageous orange sunglasses add a splash of colour to my every day. Even when they clash with whatever else I'm wearing. Especially when they clash with whatever else I'm wearing! In this sense they are a contradiction, in that they are something to hide behind but they are also a way of drawing attention.

Last but by no means least, my sweet husband. Caputred dreaming in a sparkly snow-dome, this sweet man is my soulmate, my rock and the greatest gift I ever gave myself. He embodies love.

On first glance, this little gathering of things looks like just that: evidence that I like to gather things! I sometimes wonder if it also represents my desire to connect or associate with the creator, as it by purchasing their art, their talent and success will rub off on me. Ha! I see these things as talismans, as imbued with qualities that make me recognise how lucky I am. They represent my desire for self-knowledge and relentless quest for self-improvement. They remind me that I am open, that I am strong, that I have creative talents. They reveal me as a closet introvert. They also call me out to play and remind me how much I revel in cheekiness and laughter. And, most importantly of all, they remind me that I love and am loved.

[I'm curious that my iPod and mobile phone didn't make it into the little group! I would have said that music and connection with others are vital parts of who I am. But clearly there were more important investigations for me to pursue today...]

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Perchance to dream



I'm being encouraged to think about people in my life who have inspired me to follow my dreams. People who have taken risks in order to follow the path that was theirs alone.

In many ways I am quite risk averse, and I feel I need to start exploring this by acknowledging that I grew up in a safe and loving home, with parents who supported me in all my academic and creative endeavours. They ferried me backwards and forwards to ballet classes, piano lessons, school play rehearsals. They celebrated my successes and were my greatest cheersquad when my doubts got overwhelming.

In terms of my professional life, they were mixed role models. On the one hand, they worked in altruistic professions (education, health) and they worked HARD. They were committed to the bigger goals of their respective institutions, and never lost sight of their top priorities i.e. the wellbeing of students/patients despite the political battles raging around them.

The flip side of this was that they took it all very seriously, sometimes to the detriment of their health. They often "brought work home", often literally but more frequently metaphorically. They were committed to sticking it out, partly because of their altruism, partly because of the security that "working for the man" provided. They have never been appropriately recognised and celebrated for their efforts.
My parents migrated to Australia with virtually nothing. They established a home, a family, their careers. Through sheer hard work and sacrifice. And love.

My sister and I have inherited a strong work ethic that has seen us gain recognition and reward in our professional and creative lives (my sister is a very talented musician). We are committed, loyal and hardworking. But we have often stuck things out until they were way past redemption, despite the costs to our physical and emotional wellbeing. We take our day jobs WAY too seriously, and we always take our feelings about work home with us. Fear of taking the risk and forfeiting the security of "working for the man" has been very strongly ingrained.

This is why my return to work part time, my starting this blog, and my tentative steps towards calling myself a writer and an artist are such big steps for me. I may never be able to support myself in any of these endeavours and I am the luckiest girl in the universe to have a husband to fall back on. (And, very quietly, I wonder if my having a baby has legitimised my stepping out of the rat race for my parents and colleagues in a way that pursuing my creative endeavours couldn't.) And maybe I'll never stop "working for the man" in some capacity. I'm pretty attached to my financial independence. And doing good work for other people does make me happy. It's just not my life anymore.

My earliest and greatest inspiration for exploring this brave new world was SARK. I chanced across her book Succulent Wild Woman at a time when I was feeling very small, misunderstood and unloveable. SARK's raw and glorious words showed me how important it was to celebrate my imperfect self -- the self that was burnt out, bored and worried -- and to share my stories with others. Thanks to SARK I started journalling ten years ago, and now have many books with passionate illegible scribbles to show for it! The risks that SARK continues to take in her art, her business, her family and friendships, and her love relationships continue to inspire and enrich me on a daily basis.

I should also mention that it was through SARK that I came to know of Andrea Scher's Superhero journal. I have been reading Andrea's blog virtually since it started, and it bears witness to a succulent, wild woman in every single entry. I have gained so much from being part of the Superhero journey

Both SARK and Andrea have shown me that WHO I AM so much more than WHAT I DO for a living. I love the way that Mondo Beyondo gives me the space to imagine, to play, and to test both who I am and what I do to the absolute limit. I look forward to surprising myself in the process.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Truth and The Lacuna



I was going to write about The Lacuna. I was going to explain how I thought it is a "writer's novel", that it is beautifully crafted in a way that a writer could appreciate. I would probably have outed myself as a Frida Kahlo nut.

I wanted to try and do justice to Barbara Kingsolver's sympathy for her characters, despite their deep flaws. I wanted to celebrate the graceful story-telling, the wry humour, the subtly executed self-referential signposts. If I'd been feeling really clever, I might have drawn parallels to Plutarch, to Shakespeare, to Cavafy, to Yeats... to the delicate extraction of a pivotal moment in history, allowing us to see Great People at their most vulnerable.

This novel has a symmetry, a balance, a neatness that really appeals to me.

But that wouldn't be the truth. Or, it wouldn't be my truth. I am not about balance and neatness today.

Today is about obsession with the heat. It is 30 degrees celcius (86 fahrenheit) inside the house already at 10am. Today is about looking around and only seeing endless To Do lists. Today is about regretting yesterday's relentless quest for control over proceedings which, strangely enough, did NOT result in a seamless transition from soggy unslept Mum to elegantly dressed office maven. No, yesterday was all about me cussing myself for not opening windows overnight, growling at my gentle husband for daring to ask, and getting frustrated with my beautiful baby for waking up before I managed to shower. I was so hung up about the travesty inherent in all those things that I got to the bus stop before realising that I hadn't left anything for my sweet Mum (who was babysitting) to eat for lunch.

So, this morning I was all set to write about being dishevelled and housebound. About my obsession with trying to control the ambient temperature in the house. About trying to control everything.

But.

There is movement. Clouds are blowing over and a cool change is coming. There is renewal. This afternoon, I am reaching a milestone. Seven years of my life is about to be leather-bound and archived into the sum of human knowledge. There are new beginnings. An opportunity to dream big in a safe environment buzzing with fascinating and creative souls. Already a couragous fellow traveller has reached out to share her bliss.

The truth might not be elegant. Or symmetrical. But its beauty is in its imperfection. And the reality that it can change.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The truth



I was looking for something in my study/studio last night. I flicked through books of poetry, prose, songs: looking for some words of comfort and wisdom for a dear friend. She is currently far from home, and has apprehensions about returning to poignant memories and deep wounds.

Nothing I found was quite right, so I decided to sleep on it. Lying in bed, I glanced at the stack of books on my bedside table and my eye fell on May Sarton's Journal of A Solitude. I read it in 2000 during a holiday in Eden (fitting!) and somehow it seemed like the right time to be rereading it, hence its presence in one of my [several] To Read piles.

I opened to a random page and came across this:

"I feel renewed by having gone down into hell, the Hell of self-hatred, the Hell of war with a person whom I love, and come back to the Heaven of self-forgiveness, as well as forgiveness of the other because in the struggle between us, if we can face it, the truth is concealed, and could be revealed.

For weeks and months I have allowed myself to be persuaded into a frustrated pseudopeace to spare the other. But if there is a deep love involved, there is a deep responsibility toward it. We cannot afford not to fight for growth and understanding, even when it is painful, as it is bound to be."

I want to honour my friend for being brave and doing the hard work. For descending into the depths of the Hell of self-hatred in order to find the truth. For seeing a glimmer of self-forgiveness in that truth. For nurturing that tiny whisper of self-love into a firm defiant voice.

I will rejoice the day I hear it as a roar.

Friday, January 8, 2010

OK... deep breath... you asked for it!



After gentle encouragement from the sweet Creative Beast and the lovely Tinnie Girl, I have taken the plunge.

Here is something I created. [Deeeeeeeeeep exhale]

As I mentioned in a previous post, I had a lot of fun collaging while my little 'un napped last year. I particularly enjoyed making wee gifts for friends (or their little 'uns), as I found it the perfect way to circumvent creative block. That is to say, if I made something with someone in mind, if I held their picture in my mind's eye while I made their collage, it seemed that somehow the paper, glue and paint was infused with my love for them. It was a very freeing experience, as I could somehow take the back seat as I chose colours and textures that I thought my recipient would like. It somehow didn't matter if my inner critic didn't like it -- I wasn't making it for me.

But then I do have to confess that I clung on to "It was made with love" like some kind of shield against criticism or rejection. A number of my friends are creative types, one an artist. The thought of giving her a daggy* little canvas made my knees knock with nervousness. You should have seen me stammer when I gave it to her, "Oh, it's really nothing. I won't be offended, I mean, there's no pressure to put it anywhere. Put it in the back of a drawer if you like. I just had fun making it for your son. It was made WITH LOVE."

I made about six of these canvases for my friends' little 'uns, and all were received WITH LOVE and tremendous kindness. I feel so grateful to these dear souls, for nurturing my timid first steps towards owning my art and calling myself an artist.


* A definition of daggy can be found here for our non-Australian friends! I would like to add that among my friends and colleagues it is used gently, as a term of endearment.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Easy to love



A few years ago, I was invited to speak at a conference for people who teach English as a Second Language. The keynote speaker was Don Watson, legendary author of Weasel Words. He told a number of stories that brought a dying language to life, in particular pre-politically correct Australian vernacular. He recalled how his mother used to say, when he or his siblings were throwing a tantrum, "Don't make yourself harder to love".

Of course, we all laughed. It loses something in the retelling, but this sort of statement really appeals to the dry, self-deprecating Australian sense of humour.

I thought of this at the end of a long, trying day yesterday. It has been a long, trying week. The excitement of getting this blog up and running, the delight of connecting with kindred spirits, the relief and satisfaction of a successful return to work, has been balanced by the wretched exhaustion of a sick baby. Nothing serious, thank goodness. But constant crying and general unhappiness. We pick her up, she cries. We put her down, she cries. We play with her toys or put on a DVD to distract her, she cries. We give her a cuddle, she arches her back and kicks her legs. And cries. Talking her for a walk in the pram seems to do the trick. But was 34 degrees celcius (93.2 fahrenheit) today and the temperature is rising, set to peak 41 (105.8) on Monday. And I can't say I am that keen on walking around the neighbourhood at 4am, having woken every hour, on the hour, to settle the little 'un.

Strangely enough, this is all new for us. Our little 'un was such an obliging newborn, and slept for much of the night from six weeks onwards. She started sucking her thumb and self-settling at three months.

So now, at ten months, we find ourselves at the end of our tethers. Trying to ride it out, trying to find grace, good humour and inner fortitude. Not very successfully.

I was pottering around in the kitchen, having finally got the little 'un to sleep when I caught myself thinking, "She is going to have many more illnesses and difficulties in her life. I need to be stronger." Unfortunately, it was a slippery slope from that (quite reasonable) thought to this, "I am so weak. Why do I always lose the plot when my baby is unwell? Why do I get so frustrated when my attempts to fix things don't work?"

Then it occured to me that a more useful question might be: how can I model self-talk to my daughter so that she will grow up knowing that she is always easy to love? Even when it isn't easy (or even possible) to fix things?

French women don't put a foot wrong


... or so it seems.

I received Mireille Guiliano's Women, Work and the Art of Savoir Faire for Christmas. I did actually ask for it, and my sister sweetly obliged (I bought a copy for her, so we sat there opening the same gift at the same time!). Having read Guiliano's previous two books, I have to confess I opened this one with a slight sense of dread.

In fairness, Ms Guiliano is writing about things that people do want to read about. She stresses on a couple of occasions that she has been asked to write this book by readers of her previous boks. She comes across as a gracious and kind person, who is aware of how fortunate she has been in life, and is keen to "give back" by mentoring friends and employees.

What I struggle with is the pervading sense of smugness in all three books. Perhaps it's a bit unfair, but I came away from reading each book thinking, "Well, that's all well and good but I didn't grow up in the South of France, eating fresh fruit straight off the trees. I don't get to fly business class when I travel for work -- so the odds of me arriving anywhere looking uncreased and untroubled are minimal -- and I am not blessed to spend half the year sipping champagne in Paris and the other half sipping champagne in New York!" I'm not a moderate, disciplined, understated kinda gal, who dresses perfectly for each occasion and juggles shopping, cooking and work with the greatest of ease. I'm not always politically savvy at work, and don't send Thankyou cards as often as I should.

Yes, it's fair to say that Mireille Guiliano inspires a fair bit of envy in me, which triggers some pretty unattractive shame and general ungratefulness for what is actually a life blessed with tremendous abundance.

But, that aside, I did wonder why a book on balancing work and life only mentioned juggling family commitments in passing. Children were not even an item in the index. I'm beginning to thing that I am not the target audience for this book... and that maybe that's a good thing.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Word for 2010


There has been much discussion in blog world (or, at least, it feels like there has!) about framing the new year with a word. Ali Edwards has been the pioneer in this regard: she has used her chosen words to tremendous effect over the past few years, and her musings on the power of story are always worth reading. It was actually a sentence in Ali's book Life Artist which got me thinking about my word, namely she encouraged her readers to "cultivate a life of beauty and creativity". This phrase reverberated between my ears for much of 2009, and it wasn't really until I looked back on 2009 that I realised my word was CREATIVITY.

The big one was that I brought my daughter into the world, the ultimate act of creation! New parenthood required a great deal of creativity on my and my husband's part: I never would have credited how much of your stuff comes to the surface as you "think on your feet" and find you are making parenting decisions! Ultimately, it's been one of the most enriching experiences of our lives. And we are still learning.

As my daughter was a cat-napper for much of her early life, I also discovered the joys of mixed media collage. It was a wonderful new Mum activity: relax while playing with paint, paper and glue during nap times, let everything dry during awake times, then slap on the next layer during the next nap. It was like I was putting all the organisational skills I'd honed through years of work and travel. It's amazing what you can squeeze into 20 minutes if you plan ahead. [That said, the worst days I had as a new Mum were the days when I didn't get through my relentless To Do list and started to resent my baby for refusing to nap... but that's for pondering in another post.]

When thinking about 2010, I was faced with a lot of choices, particularly in relation to the working part of my life. For the past 12 years I have worked full-time for the same organisation, albeit in different roles. Having spent 2009 on maternity leave and doing things that I love every day (enjoying my beautiful little girl but also journalling, reading, taking quick photos on our little walks, crochet, even some baking!) I decided not to go back to my old life of full-time work and over-committment to the organisation. In a move that surprised many (and caused consternation in a few), I decided to return to paid work two days a week and spend the rest of my time investing in my daughter and my self.

SO 2010 is the year of LOVE. Love of my daughter, my husband, my family, my friends. But, importantly, self-love. This is the year where I work up the courage to say, "Yes! I deserve a life of beauty and creativity. I need to do things I love every day." It is the year where I own my dreams and call myself a writer and an artist (working up the courage to post a collage here!).

It is also the year where I am more mindful of my self-sabotaging behaviours -- hasty decisions, impulse spending, quick temper, binge eating, desiring to please etc. -- and work on viewing them as areas of my life where I need to love my self more. I see now that the endless spiral of self-sabotage and shame has not served me well and that there are more nourishing decisions to be made.

One of the big acts of love for 2010 was starting this blog! I wanted a space to share my journey towards an authentic, artful life and celebrate the things I love every day. It was also a tentative way of reaching out to kindred spirits for support and inspiration. I am THRILLED to say that it is already bearing succulent fruit! I received my first comment from a genuine, kind and gifted soul and it totally made my day. My question about community generated a heartfelt and encouraging answer. It can't be a coincidence that our connection was made through Andrea Scher's superlative Superhero blog.

Connection, family, creativity, mindfulness. It really is all about love.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The meaning of community


I'm a little confused about community. About what it means to fully engage with more than one person. What people mean when they talk about their "tribe of soul sisters" or "their family of intention". I don't doubt the existence of these things, and am in no way skeptical about their value, I just don't know what it means for me.

I am blessed to have a small family, to whom I am very close. I am married to my soulmate. I have a handful of dear friends, individuals (and couples) who enrich my life with their love, intergrity and humour. Some of these friends I met at university, some through work, others through family... a small number through ads in the Readings bookstore window, looking for housemates! Even though we don't see each other regularly, the time we spend together is rich and meaningful.

A beautiful book arrived in the mail today. It is all about love, art and community. I started to read and was overcome with joy and sadness. The various contributors wrote about delving deep and doing "the work", about their lives unfolding, about growing into their art and their authentic selves... all the things that are at the forefront of my consciousness, and one of the main reasons for starting this blog. In fact, many of them mentioned that blogging connected them to the community that encouraged and nurtured them through their growth and transition.

It's not the first time I have read of this phenomenon. It leads me to wonder... is it possible for me? As a closet introvert, I usually shy away from groups. Even Mothers Group, a gorgeous group of kind, clever and fun women and their sweet sweet babes. I come home from our catch-ups and beat up on myself for performing and/or withholding, and silently comparing myself (usually unfavourably) to other women. That said, I've been privileged to forge close bonds with a couple of individuals in the group. Even though I've only known them a short time, we've been able to celebrate the the joys, acknowledge the aches and honour our fears in such a powerful way.

So, in a way, I guess I have answered my own question. What I would really value is real and initimate bonds with individuals who are also growing into their authentic and artful life.

Which leads to the real question: do I have the courage to find my community? Do I love myself enough to state my intention to the world? To truly believe that I have something worth saying, worth hearing?

Monday, January 4, 2010

First day back at work


It felt a bit like the first day of school... my nervousness heightened everything, and walking around the familiar space felt quite surreal. I kept thinking, "It's here: the day that felt so far away. It's today."

Actually, it was the perfect day to ease into this next bit of my life. Sunny, crisp, serene.

After a year of maternity leave, I expected to be a bit more unsettled leaving my little 'un behind. But after a slightly wobbly start, talking too fast and rather high-pitched on the phone to my husband, a coffee treat from a dear pal/colleague, and three bandaids for my big toe blister, I knew it would all be fine.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Seasick Steve



Never ever go West
when you know you should go South.
Never ever whisper
when you know it's time to shout.

There are few words required describe the Seasick Steve experience. He is humble, raw, and riotous. His music is pure electricity. He only had a drummer with him, but his sound was like a twelve-part band.

He confessed that it was a bit strange to have a sit-down audience (though graciously acknowledged that sitting down is "nice"). The Athenaeum was an odd, gentrified choice. But somehow it was fitting for the audience, who were mesmerised one moment, howling the next... to the dawg house song... aaaaaOOOOOOOO!

The shaggy old soul emerged after the show, looking a little worse for wear but obligingly signing merchandise. He autographed my CD and, when I told him I had given my Dad his "Doghouse Music" CD for his 60th birthday, he said, "Young man. Tell him I said Hi."

As I was waiting in the queue and rummaging in my bag for my camera, I found a pair of my 10-month-old's socks. Who oh why did I not ask him to sign them?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The first day... and the rest of the poem


I Saw You Dancing

I saw you dancing last night on the roof
Of your house all alone.

I felt your heart longing for the
Friend.

I saw you whirling
Beneath the soft bright rose
That hung from an invisible stem in
The sky,
So I began to change into my best clothes
In hopes of joining you

Even though
I live a thousand miles away.

And if
You had spun like an immaculate sphere

Just two more times,
Then bowed again so sweetly to
The East,

You would have found God and me
Standing so near
And lifting you into our
Arms.

I saw you dancing last night near the roof
Of this world.

Hafiz feels your soul in mine
Calling for our
Beloved.

Hafiz
From The Subject Tonight is Love: 60 Wild and Sweet Poems of Hafiz
Translated by Daniel Ladinsky


I love the shy loneliness of this poem. The secret contemplation of someone else lost in their private ecstatic world. The reaching out.

I love to read blogs that share stories. I agree that sharing stories makes us feel less lonely in our alone-ness. Especially stories that honour the tender, everyday moments that disappear in the blink of an eye. Little windows that show us the divine in the everyday.

So I thought I'd write one too.