Sunday, February 28, 2010

For Krissie

And this is why it is so important to be lonely and attentive when one is sad: because the apparently uneventful and stark moment at which our future sets foot in us is so much closer to life [...]. The more still, more patient and more open we are when we are sad, so much the deeper and so much more the unswervingly does the new go into us, so much the better do we make it ours, so much the more will it be our destiny, and when on some later day it "happens" (that is, steps forth out of us to others), we shall feel in our inmost selves akin and near to it. And that is necessary.


For it is not inertia alone that is responsible for human relationships repeating themselves from case to case, indescribably monotonous and renewed; it is shyness before any sort of new, unforeseeable experience with which one does not think oneself able to cope. But only someone who is ready for everything, who excludes nothing, not even the most enigmatical, will live the relation to another as something alive and will himself draw exhaustively from his own existence.

For if we think of this existence of the individual as a larger or smaller room, it appears evident that most people learn to know only a corner of their room, a place by the window, a strip of the floor on which they walk up and down. Thus they have a certain security. And yet that dangerous insecurity is so much more human [...].

We, however, are not prisoners. No traps or snares are set about us, and there is nothing which should intimidate or worry us. We are set down in life as in the element to which we best correspond, and over and above this we have through thousands of years of accommodation become to like this life, that when we hold still we are, through a happy mimicry, scarcely to be distinguished from all that surrounds us.

We have no reason to mistrust our world, for it is not against us. Has it terrors, they are our terrors; has it abysses, those abysses belong to us; are dangers at hand, we must try to love them. [...] Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.

Rainer Maria Rilke
Letters to a Young Poet

Friday, February 26, 2010

Not drowning, singing

I am sipping this bitter sweet notion that has been percolating in the back of my mind the past few days. Actually, it has been brewing for weeks.

It was an exercise in Mondo Beyondo, where we were asked: what can you say YES to right now? In contextualising the exercise, Andrea Scher had shared a story of joining a gospel choir and how overcoming her hesitations about singing in public had opened the way for other acts of courage. After a quick look at my list, and without thinking too much, I wrote, “I say yes to… singing.”


Sure, singing in public is an item on my list. And, to be honest, it’s not all that new or scary a territory for me. I started dance classes at the age of four. I had the lead in several school musicals. I am pretty comfortable with public speaking. I can hold a tune pretty well and belt out something if the occasion – and plenty of alcohol – requires. I’ve never really stopped performing in one way or another

But how does saying yes to singing help me on my way?

Was it just the power of suggestion, because Andrea had described her experience in a choir?

I was pretty sure that I wasn’t saying yes to any of the things I have listed above. That is to say, I don’t think I’ll be rushing out to join the local amateur dramatic society and revisiting my “Hello Dolly” days.

But there was clearly a message in there for me to find: and it was something to do with the role that singing has played in my life.

My Dad immediately sprang to mind. He was (and still is) always whistling or humming a tune. His memory for songs, for theme tunes of the shows we used to watch as kids, for silly little made-up ditties is astonishing. And endearing. And occasionally annoying.

I found myself thinking: how is this different from the oral traditions of my forebears? The little pearls of experience, tenderly handed from generation to generation? A way of keeping memories alive when time has passed and people are gone.

So many items on my list speak to me about love and family. I am swimming in these ideas, knowing that the deep blue watery depths contain fears of time slipping away, of loss, of non-existence. The feeling of treading water is never very far away, although in investigations of my anxieties I am noticing little glimmers of light shine through the water. My dear friend Amiee captured it so well when she wrote about using touch to ground herself, despite the knowledge that she is “losing” her little ones a little more each day.

So it seems to me that singing is a lifebuoy. I am carried by the gifts my father gave me and I, in turn, will use them cradle my little ‘un so that she grows into the wisdom that she is part of something that is timeless and enduring.

Even if we’re only singing “Yes, my name is Iggle Piggle”.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

In my arsenal today

Carrie McCarthy and Danielle La Porte Style Statement
Robert Dessaix Arabesques
Natalie Goldberg Writing Down the Bones
Jessica Gonacha Swift I've never met you zine

These wonderful works have more in common than you might think.

They all speak of self-knowledge. Of following one's true course. Of connection. Of fear. Of the power of words.

A pretty good indication of where I am right now.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Thoughts on hybridity: places

My parents migrated to Australia just before I was born. My father had been offered a job in Melbourne, and they planned to stay for a few years then return to the UK.

They arrived during a heatwave. My Mum was heavily pregnant and her queasiness from the longhaul flight stayed with her for many weeks. I can only imagine how it contributed to her culture shock, her sense of being on the other side of the planet. She has a memory of, soon after her arrival, of being asked to swear allegiance to the Queen of England in a dusty crowded hardware store in suburban Melbourne, in order to have her passport renewed.

I grew up with the tacit knowledge that we weren’t really at home in Australia. We didn't have any other family here. We watched British television programs. We listened to classical music, to Greek music, to BBC radio recordings of
The Wind in the Willows (with a bit of 1960s stuff like Jimi Hendrix and The Kinks thrown in for good measure). We read the classics. And had yoghurt on the dinner table, rather than tomato sauce.

Thirty five years later, my parents are still here.

But, up until recently, our
real home, our real family, our real friends seemed to be elsewhere... fossilised in a memory of pre-Melbourne life. This is the story of all migrants. Where the next generation, like me, grow into the knowledge that they belong in neither their real home or the place in which they have spent the majority of their lives. This can bring tremendous gifts, but it can also contribute to an inescapable sense of vulnerability and cultural fatigue.

Now I find myself wondering, to what extent has this contributed to my constant restlessness? My desire to explore? To connect? To identify?

I feel I should add that my family and I have all since settled. By this I mean that our houses are truly homes. We have treasured memories, people we love, places we feel we can be ourselves. For me, this also means that I no longer find myself envying people who lay claim to the dominant experience of being Australian. I no longer feel the need to name myself with certainty. There is nothing left to justify.

I am here.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Penned while I was meant to be doing something else

A photo, taken in the mirror. She is captured unaware. Leaning against the door frame. Looking down. Maybe picking some lint off her cardigan. Hard to say.

She's smiling gently to herself, enjoying a private dream. Or maybe she's aware that she's being captured.

"Who's the pretty blonde?" Your sister asks.

"Laylah," I jump in. Laylah is actually a redhead. Dyed, I'm pretty sure. Strawberry blonde at a pinch. But, sure, she's looking down and the light is shining through her hair. Which makes her eyebrows look darker.

The picture is nicely composed and I suppose that is one reason why you took it.

In any case, I have jumped in and named her. Laylah. Because if you say her name, then she will be on your lips and it will come out into the open. That she is yours and you want her.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Everything I do supports my dreams

There were four of us Melbourne gals participating in the Mondo Beyondo January 2010 session. We are currently trying to arrange a time to meet in person, decompress, share experiences, support each other through the next steps. As you'd expect with four clever, creative, cosmopolitan women, it is proving extremely difficult to find a time that suits everyone!

One lass expressed concern about this: she was anxious that she'd lose momentum on bringing her dreams to fruition. Although I am taking more of a sanguine approach -- trying to luxuriate in the knowledge that higher powers are working on my behalf -- it did gets me to thinking. I was cycling home from work and it occurred to me: so many things I did that day contributed in some way or other to my dream list. Maybe the relationship between one and the other required a bit of imagination in some cases, but I realised that it was an exciting and reassuring lens through which to view my daily, pedestrian, uneven life.

So, I started a list and called it "Everything I do supports my dreams". On the one side, I listed things that I had undertaken during the course of the day. On the other, I scribbled my estimation of how these actions had brought me one step closer to my dreams. For example:

Rode my bike to work = part of building a fitness regimen
Sent a thankyou email to colleagues who contributed to the paper I wrote = doing a mitzvah
Said yes to extra project work = $$ for the digital SLR I want to purchase
Asked Joe for help with my blog banner = spiffier blog may attract more readers -> wider readership means greater community/support/constructive critique for my writing -> beneficial for my daily writing practice
Didn't buy chocolate = making healthier food choices and losing weight
Took out the trash = making a clearing!

I thought I'd share the template I put together for the above exercise, in case it helps to keep a floundering dreamer on track. If you have found yourself worrying about drifting from your dreams, I'd love to know whether this approach helped!

Supporting Dreams

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Not just another brick in the wall

Every day last week, I cycled past this wall. I usually only pass it on Mondays and Fridays, on the way to my day job. But I was attending a course -- the one designed to give us ivory tower-dwelling tossers a reality check -- on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. So I got to look at it every single day.

Up until Friday morning, this wall boasted the following scrawled words:


Every time I saw it, it took my breath away. And not just because it was situated at the beginning of an incline!

Friday was the morning I promised myself I would stop, get off my bike and take a picture of the graffiti. I knew I had to post the photo here, although I hadn't quite figured what words would accompany it.

Friday morning, the words were gone, painted over.

As I got back on my bike and cycled up the hill, the following things occurred to me:

I always thought that message was meant just for me.

It was.

I am glad that I had the chance to see it every morning for a week.

Nothing lasts forever.

Not even brick walls.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Thank you, Joe!

Notice anything different about this blog? I have my dear friend Joe to thank for my beautiful new banner. It is more gorgeous than I could ever have imagined, and captures so perfectly my hopes and dreams for this little space and community.

Joe has an absolutely splendid blog of his own called My Delicious Blog, which includes recipes, cafe reviews and sumptuous photographs of his culinary creations. Joe has enrolled in the Mondo Beyondo March session, and I can't wait to see how the course takes his dreams of becoming a food stylist and photographer to exhilarating new heights.

I also want to share that I work with Joe. His desk is neat and crisp, replete with black and white photos of his handsome family back home in Thailand, a stylish glass water bottle, and a yappy little battery operated chihuahua that had my little 'un in hysterics when she visited the office with me recently. Joe is softly spoken and is happy to let others do the talking most of the time... then he comes out with something exquisitely profound... or side-splittingly funny.

He brings daintily decorated cupcakes on retro cake stands for morning tea. A Sydney cafe has even named a friand in his honour!

I am only beginning to discover all the layers to Joe. He's not unlike a mille-feuille: lovely to look at; delicately layered; surprisingly complex; and decadently sweet. I haven't known him for long, and I'll really miss him when he moves to Sydney. But I know we'll stay in touch, in our blogs and with our dreams.

[Joe took his self-portrait in Madrid in 2008.]

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Thoughts on hybridity: names

My Papou (the Greek term for grandfather) is Welsh. His name is Llewelyn. The first double L is aspirated and guttural, and it’s similar to the sound a child would make while imitating a saw cutting through wood. His name was often shortened to Llew.

My Yiayia (grandmother) is Greek. She speaks her own version of limited English combined with Greek. She can’t pronounce Llew, let alone Llewellyn. She calls him the closest thing she can manage: Foo.

I am named after my other Yiayia, who lived in Cyprus. There are three of us cousins named after her. Her name was Katerina but she shortened it to Katina. I was always Katerina in school and university, although my family had all sorts of other nicknames for me. When I was three, I couldn’t say Katerina, it sounded more like Karrrrrrina. My first day of full-time work, my manager said to me, “Sorry, Katerina’s too long. Mind if I call you Kat?” And it’s been Kat ever since (with the exception of an Irish boyfriend over ten years ago who called me Kitty).

My family and I had and still have so many nicknames for ourselves, each other and things. Funnily little quirks of language that became fossilised in our story. Like my sister calling books “bups” as a three year old. They have been bups ever since. Or “blayblet” for bracelet. And “biddits” for biscuits. And “tooties” for toes. And so on.

When my husband first met me, he found my habit for not calling things by their proper names silly, childish, and embarrassing, but mostly bewildering. “I’m sorry,” He’d say, “But I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.” Now he makes up names for things too.

When I was pregnant, my family nicknamed my unborn child Ianto, a Welsh boy’s name, even though we knew the baby was a girl. I think this nickname has its origins in a Dylan Thomas story, where a marginal character is described “Ianto full pelt”. That’s what my Dad called my sister when she was in utero: I was in kindergarten and would tell people that my new brother or sister would be called Ianto-full-pelt. I can still remember the responses.

The name we have given our little girl can be shortened in a couple of different ways that we can think of, but I am sure she and her friends will think of many others. It will be fascinating to see which one(s) she chooses.

I hope, like us, she happily answers to all the silly nicknames that come her way, and that she can see little elements of her truth in all of them.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What I am hearing

I have many more thoughts on hybridity in progress, and I will be sharing them soon. But, in the name of authenticity, I need to share where I am right now.

That's a good story, but the people you refer to aren't "somebodies". A reader wouldn't know or care who are writing about. So a newspaper editor wouldn't touch it.

That was nice but you'll have to rethink your pitch. It was a good idea to go with the personal angle and follow the students' stories. But parents just do not buy those sorts of books.

The editor of The Age A2 section has had the same suite of writers for years: they are reliable and they are familiar to the readers. She can count on them to write well, and she likes it that way. I'm pleased that you are smart enough to know it is only a pipe dream for you.

My writing is good. It's clever. It's funny. It ticks all the boxes.

But newspapers and publishers will never pick it up.

Spending a few days with industry experts, the people whose job it is to get good writing out there, has been a sobering experience. I am sure there are some constructive messages in there for me, some more work I need to do, and some thinking about what it is I want to communicate and what I am prepared to settle for.

It's becoming apparent that unless you are already a Melbourne "somebody" the path will necessarily be circuitous. If you are lucky you might leap from one serendipitous encounter to another. I do believe that openings can be found in unexpected quarters, and that one opportunity can snowball into another.

But I'm also realising that university life is sheltered: nurturing, inclusive and socially conscious. Although I know that I am so lucky to inhabit it, I also wonder if I am not being challenged in the right ways. If I do not have thick enough skin.

Because two days in an otherwise instructive and illuminating environment has pushed all my I'm-just-not-good-enough and I'll-never-amount-to-anything and I-wish-I-had-spent-more-time-doing-intelligent-things-rather-than-reading-trashy-mags-and-working-shitty-jobs-and-chasing-after-boys buttons.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Thoughts on hybridity: identity

I am witnessing convergence in my life at the moment, where threads of my past, present and future are weaving together such that I can see a pattern emerging. It was that magic word –hybridity – which awakened a series of memories and realisations.

One of the biggest turning points in my career was the opportunity to travel extensively, mainly around South East Asia but also to the Middle East, Sub Continent and Africa, to recruit international students. I was constantly amazed by the assumptions people made about me on the basis of the way I looked, sounded, dressed. I was the foreigner. White, Western, Christian, wealthy, immoral… drowning in a thick stack of labels that I had never applied to myself.

I was also bewildered by the ease in which people described themselves according to their nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, culture, appearance. In some ways I envied their comfort and confidence in who they were. But mostly their rigid, confining, and reductionist attitudes prevented authentic friendships for developing. Sometimes it led to behaviours towards and assumptions about me that I felt were inappropriate or unfair

It was like high school all over again.

I was born in Australia to a Greek Cypriot mother and a Greek Welsh father. My early years were bilingual but I was schooled in the monocultural North West of Melbourne, where foreign languages were suspect and people who looked different the object of derision. Most of my early life I was teased for being a “wog”. We weren’t part of a Greek community, we didn’t go to church and I didn’t go to Greek school or anything like that. Aside from visiting family in Europe every few years, I didn’t feel Greek at all.

When I did visit family, and found the language that had been embedded in my early memories flooding back, I was called the “Afstraleza”, the Australian girl, due to my accent.

There was a moment in my undergraduate studies when I finally recognised that my experience was not mine alone. I discovered Salman Rushdie, a writer who championed the “universal migrant”, who celebrated what he called the "chutnification" of language, and questioned the validity of adhering to rigid notions of identity and belonging (at tremendous personal cost). I was particularly fascinated by the main protagonist of The Satanic Verses, Saladin Chamcha, and devoted a year to researching and writing about him. Like me, he was someone who was torn between two cultures and identified wholly with neither.

In some ways, I found myself agreeing with Rushdie that belonging to more than one culture and experience was enriching and empowering. I loved to travel and lose myself in situations that were foreign to me. The feeling of displacement was nothing new, as I felt it just as keenly (if not more so) at home. I could relate to people who existed on the margins, who felt "different", who longed for kindred spirits.

Mostly it was just lonely.

Now I realise that loneliness was a home in itself.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Superstition and catharsis

My Mum told me a story this morning about my cousin in Cyprus. "She's now super-religious," She said. Worried that her two year old son was not yet talking, and having consulted numerous health professionals, my cousin decided to take matters into her own hands. She prayed to the Virgin Mary, promising to devote time every week to particular rituals, should the gift of speech be bestowed upon her son. Soon after, he started talking.

My cousin and I share a name.

In the Greek tradition, the day on which you were born is not of great significance. So birthdays aren't a big deal. The name you were given, by contrast, requires annual acknowledgement and celebration. Depending on what you are called, there are particular religious observances to honour the patron saint for which you are named. You can expect to receive gifts and perhaps share a meal with loved ones, though I've noticed that the custom seems to be that the person celebrating buys the drinks!

We are named after our maternal grandmother, Katerina. Our patron saint is Agia Ekaterini: St Catherine. Our name day is 25 November. Our Yiayia (the Greek word for Grandmother) made a pilgrimage to the Agia Ekaterini monastery at Mount Sinai. It is a place where scholars go to study rare illuminated manuscripts and art.

St Catherine was to be tortured on a breaking wheel for her Christian beliefs. She took one look at the wheel and it disintegrated into pieces. Hence: Catherine Wheel. The etymology of our name is related to catharsis, the purification that comes through suffering.

I've always been a bit superstitious. Horoscopes. Affirmations. Wishes. I've always secretly thought that they were secret signs of convergence. A tiny whisper from the universe that I was seen. That I was where I was meant to be. That my story mattered. That it was part of something greater than myself.

Are prayers and rituals really that different?

It would be a bit melodramatic to say that I have suffered, but there has been a certain pain in the shedding of layers. There has been an exquisite raw tenderness that I have carried ever since.

I now now that that wheel looks like. And it is starting to disintegrate.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The perfect Valentine's Day gift

Just sit with this for a while. What would happen if we redefined love as a practice?

Then go and check out more of Brene Brown's sensational work.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Synchronicity (or If I Ruled the World)

If I ruled the world, I would make this book -- Summer Pierre's The Artist in the Office -- compulsory reading for everyone. Even for people who don't believe themselves to be artists. Especially for people who don't believe themselves to be artists.

It's hard to do the book justice in a few words, as it covers so much BIG and important territory. Like kicking the victim mentality in our day jobs, even though we'd much rather be pursuing our creative endeavours. Like acknowledging the structure, validation and contact with other people that day jobs can offer. Like getting over ourselves and our I'm-too-tireds and I-don't-have-times when it comes to pursuing our creative passions. Like realising all the things our day jobs enable us to do, and the ways in which we can choose our day jobs to better reflect our creative needs.

Statements such as these are surely nothing short of revolutionary:

Before we can find our ideal work environment, we must find out what about work works for us. There are a lot of reasons that we work for jobs, but have you ever considered how a job works for you?


When we set out to find our "dream jobs" we tend to look at money, convenience, titles, or industry, but never what kind of people we are or what lives we actually want to live. Rarely do we look for jobs that support the life we want. We instead arrange our lives to support the job we get.

These magnificent gifts arrived in my mailbox from Amazon last week. Their arrival coincided with the last week of Mondo Beyondo; with me putting my infamous list out there; with the realisation that my day job has finally become just that. It also coincided with my little 'un pointing to herself when I said her name; with the birth of a special monthly dreaming space with Amiee and Jen, two beautiful Mondo mamas; with my two dear artful blogging mentors Tinnie Girl and The Creative Beast making their final preparations to attend this magnificent retreat.

Now seems to be the time for stepping forward and naming ourselves. For claiming who we are, where we are now. Even if it's not where we'd like to be. Or where we think we should be.

Mamas know it and artists know it and dreamers know it. We are hybrid beings. We have our feet on the ground and our hands in the sink and our eyes on the horizon and our heads in the clouds. It's OK to be many things at once.

In fact, it's bloody marvellous.

And I really can't say this emphatically enough: please do buy and read this book. It will give you the kick in the pants that you have been waiting for.

Friday, February 12, 2010

New York State of Mind

Today, I decided it was New York. Didn’t matter how or why or what that meant.

Just… New York.

I caught the bus to work (anticipating rain... which actually didn't materialise), brandishing my MoMA bus pass holder. I wore my pink Chuck Taylors, denim skirt, jangly bracelet that I’d bought from Loehmann’s, funky black hat. I bought an anthology of graphic fiction and found a quiet piece of the concrete jungle, munching on a bagel and sipping coffee.

It didn’t matter that no-one else knew. Or that I had to completely rewrite a paper I’d been working on due to miscommunications and institutional politics. Or that the office had flooded the day before, and the trip to and from the printer involved a fair bit of squelching underfoot.

In my mind, it was all about New York.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

On miracles

As I was walking to pilates class with little 'un this morning, this sign reminded me that a humble lass who was born in my suburb nearly 200 years ago is on her way to becoming a saint. Not being Catholic, I am not sure how these things work, other than there seem to be strict protocols around sightings and healings and all sorts of other unfathomable things. I'll confess I am a bit of a cynic about the process (and, yes, the street sign isn't spelt the same way as her name) but I LOVE the idea of a saint from my suburb!

Over the past couple of days, I have been blessed to have so many kind, kindred spirits step forward and affirm my Mondo Beyondo list. I have travelled the full gamut of emotions through this process: from fear, to shyness, to nervous excitement; from embarrassment, to relief, to defensiveness; from hubris, to shame, to gratitude. I have grown immeasurably through this journey and I feel that this can only bode well for my future travels with my dreams.

I should mention that the format of the list was only part of my preparing to put it out there. That is to say, I sat down with my lists and combined them, categorising according to the areas of my life that they related to. I felt I needed to do this in order to see where each individual dream fitted into the context of my life. It was fascinating to see synergies and patterns emerge! For example, there were only two items that relate to work and, in truth, one of them isn't directly related to my day job. So it would seem that I am even less concerned about progressing my conventional career than I had assumed!

But I didn't dream "into" the categories -- i.e. I didn't start with the headings and populate them with dreams -- and I am glad that this was the case. I think it would have been limiting.

I've also been asked whether I have made a start on anything on my list, and which items I might tackle first. Funnily enough, some items self-selected on account of timing. Along came February, the month of purification. A bit of a health kick was in order! I rejoined the outdoor fitness group that I used to exercise with before I had the little 'un. I also dug my bike out of the shed and started cycling to work. And on 1 Feb I started a liver cleanse, which will last for eight weeks. I've done it before and it worked beautifully for me. I have to confess that I am not doing it "perfectly" this time around, but I am persisting, which seems to be the thing that matters.

All these things relate to health and wellbeing and I know that they are less tick-off-the-list destination-reached items than perspectives that I would like to incorporate more consistently into my daily life. I know that I will have to choose these things over and over again before this is the case. I'm sure I will fall off the wagon. But maybe putting them on my Mondo Beyondo list was about making peace with my ongoing conversation with these ways of living: a conversation which is bound to be imperfect and inconsistent because, frankly, so am I.

I've also submitted applications for various programs that will help me develop my writing and broaden my networks, and emailed my thesis to a couple of contacts who may have occasion to think of me when speaking or publishing opportunities arise. I took a peak at my work in-box yesterday and noticed an email from a senior colleague, offering me some extra work. It occurred to me that if I take it up, the money earned would cover most of a digital SLR.

For the rest, however, I now know that it is not up to me to make the first move. I am surrendering to the universe. I have faith that it will send me signs. These signs will act as catalysts for my deep inner wisdom. If I am open, if I am awake, if I listen to my intuition, I will know what to do. And I won't need to think about it.

If saints can come from Fitzroy, so can miracles.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The time has come, the Walrus said...

Without further ado, here is my Mondo Beyondo list, in all its delicious, embarrassing, terrifying, exciting, uninspiring glory. There are one or two items I have omitted (they are for a tiny, private list) and one or two that were slightly edited. But otherwise, that's IT.

It's out there now. I'm sticking my neck out, and trusting that the universe (and you) won't laugh at me.

Art and Creativity
* Make beautiful art and possibly sell it
* Get a Digital SLR, use it every day and take magnificent photos
* Dance and act again
* Sell prints of my art and have it licensed by a company like DEMDACO
* Have a beautiful, light, funky studio/writing space
* Participate in an art retreat
* Hold an exhibition or have my work featured in one
* Find a way of honouring my Mum's creative influence
* Make inspiring collaborative guerilla art that gets the general public thinking and questioning

* Fly in a hot air balloon
* Buy a red Vespa
* Meet Andrea Scher and become friends
* Drink only expensive and/or French champagne
* Sing in public
* Have bubble baths three times a week (when it's cold and not so I flout water restrictions)
* Meet SARK in Melbourne
* See Gillian Welch live
* Get my nose pierced

* Live and write in Paris on my own for a short spell
* Ethiopia, Algeria, Morocco, Yemen, Syria, Jordan
* Visit the child I sponsor in Rwanda
* Go back to Botswana
* Only fly business (or first class) anywhere :)
* Buy an apartment in Paris
* Learn French
* Make a pilgrimage to Frida Kahlo's house
* Travel around Latin America and Cuba
* Visit the Bahamas
* Live part of the year in New York

Family and Home
* Have a baby boy (or two!)
* Raise my beautiful, clever little girl to be happy, healthy and confident
* Have my parents live long and healthy lives
* Renovate the house so that it loses its over-the-top period style and reflects our modern elegant tastes
* Build an extension, if required
* Sign on a cleaner (please please please!) and a gardener
* Never get burgled
* Grow bulbs
* Grow tomatoes
* Make creme brulee
* Make a kite with the little 'un and fly it in the park
* Cook with a tagine
* Pare back belongings and have a garage sale

* Get flown to Oman (biz class, naturally) to present my thesis
* Keep working two days a week, doing work I enjoy, for as long as I want to

* Write the book that is presently in scribble form and have it published, to critical acclaim
* Live the life of a celebrated writer, getting invited to writers festivals etc.
* Win a literary prize
* Have a regular column in The Age A2 section
* Have my writing regularly appear in Frankie magazine
* Research and write a book about my fear of non-existence
* Write lyrics that someone makes into a song
* Make a series of podcasts that discuss my thoughts about writing
* Publish a book of my writing accompanied by my images

Health, fitness and wellbeing
* Lose 20kgs and keep it off
* Run a half marathon
* Have clear, luminous skin
* Go on a spiritual retreat
* Maintain a fitness regimen
* Grow longish thick curly hair
* Feel stylish, quirky, individual, elegant
* Kick chocolate cravings once and for all
* Eat veggies every day
* Build up significant savings of my own
* Live a long and healthy life and die at a time of my choosing, when I am ready

Monday, February 8, 2010

Thank you, Mrs Cross

It has been so many years since I have seen you, yet I feel that I live with the legacy of our relationship every day. You taught me ballet, jazz, tap, character, so many different forms of dance and performance, for over fifteen years. You took me to professional performances, master classes, Summer schools. You coached me through exams, mentored me through performances, gave me the freedom to choreograph for and teach younger dancers.

From you, I learned the love of movement, how to engage my body and navigate its relation to space, my unique way of relating to music. I savoured the famous ballets, the sweet old time show tunes, the hammy character acting.

Recently, my Dad asked whether I’d be sending my little ‘un to ballet classes when she was older. I replied mostly in the negative. I was concerned for her body image, for damage done to growing muscles and tendons, for rigid views of performance and art. “Awww, come on!” He chided, “You had a brilliant time of it!” He reminded me of all the things I’d learnt: commitment, striving to do my best, working as a team, punctuality, multi-tasking, time management, taking responsibility for my contribution to something larger than myself.

I’ll confess I did go through a stage of resenting these sorts of things, the values you instilled in me. It was my angry-with-the-world phase, when I was keen to reject anything that confined me to my high school persona: the high-achieving, responsible, giving individual. I was wounded and lashed out at all the people who loved me, hitting out hardest against myself.

But now I know I'll always be that girl I was in high school – the girl you knew – and I have made peace with her now. She was sheltered and constrained and so thirsty to explore the world. Now that I have explored some of the world, I realise how lucky I am to be able to come home to the little niche you helped me carve. You helped me celebrate the things that made me different from other people, you recognised in me the potential to grow – intellectually and creatively – beyond my surrounds.

It was hard sometimes. You could be ruthless, you could be pushy. You demanded so much from me, and my family. But you never gave anything less yourself. And you never laughed at anyone for dreaming. The ballet school you ran, in the outer North Western suburbs of Melbourne, attracted young people who would never make the grade as professional dancers. But you worked hard to give them opportunities, as if they were as deserving as Margot Fonteyn.

You loved what you did but you never shied away from showing how hard it was, and the toll it took on you physically and emotionally, and how much it demanded from your family.

You showed us the reality of living our dreams and you gave us the love that we needed to bloom.

A memory springs to mind. You were giving me a private lesson in preparation of a big exam, and my Mum sat in to watch. When you thought I wasn’t watching, you murmured something to my Mum.

“Yes, I know!” I grouched, “I need new pointe shoes!”

“That’s not what I said.” You answered calmly. “It was something only a mother would understand.”

Later Mum told me that you had said, “Isn’t it strange to think she will be starting university this year!”.

You had seen me blossom from a cheeky little four year old to an awkward teenager to a fledgling woman on the brink of discovering the world. You let me go with your love and your blessings, and I carry both with me, every day of my life.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

On following conversations

A writer can't arbitrarily decide what to write. We can only do what is offered to us. What comes our way. I like to call it a conversation with the unconscious. Following the prompts of the imagination. But these prompts must offer themselves freely. They won't be forced. That's the nature of the gift. It's what we mean when we say some people are gifted. They receive the prompts and they follow them. Not everyone is so prompted and not everyone who is so prompted follows them. It can be an arduous journey. But contrary to the common belief, writing is not a solitary pursuit; it is always a conversation.
Alex Miller

Alex Miller's homage to love and story was one of the most feted books to be published in Australia last year. It's another "writer's book", a beautifully crafted story within a story within a story, that challenges the reader to think about whose version of history they are reading. It dwells on key tenets of Australian identity: migration; loss; identity; yearning. It is gentle, deep, and lyrical.

I found it somewhat easier to read than his Prochownik's Dream, mainly because the latter had me resenting its constant call to suspend the disbelief that people have such turgid conversations in everyday life.

Given Miller's considerable skill in creating fully rounded, somewhat flawed, inherently likeable characters, I am not sure what stood in the way of me really losing myself in Lovesong. Maybe it was because the moments that really resonated (like the paragraph at the top of this post) were few and far between. Maybe it was because Sabiha's story -- the lament of a woman aching to become a mother and the ultimate cost of her yearning -- didn't quite ring true for me. Maybe it was because, again, I couldn't quite suspend disbelief that Sabiha's inner dialogue could be so told by her husband. Maybe it was because I wanted to know more about the widowed narrator, his late wife, their grown daughter and her new boyfriend (an oafish stand-up comic).

Maybe it's because I am a little distracted, trying to tune in to the prompts being offered to me. Trying to remain open to following. Yes, nurturing my gifts is proving an arduous journey. The conversation is stretching, testing, taxing, worrying. And it is richer than I could ever have hoped.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

On renewal

It was the conversation I didn't mean to have, but somehow it came out. The tension had been simmering away for the past few days. Weeks, probably. Actually, no, if I am going to admit it, it has been the past year that things have been a little awry.

"Since the baby arrived, "I found myself saying, "It's like you are all excited to see her but you don't really care about me."

And there it was: eleven months' worth of I'm-feeling-rejected and I-miss-you, and all its attendant shame.

I should preface this by saying that I love sharing my bambino with the world. She is charming and funny and sociable, even with people she doesn't know.

I love the way she smiles at people. I love the way she waves and laughs and points and plays hide-and-seek and goes "fffffff" (for "woof") every time we see a dog. We often stop to smile and chat with strangers as we stroll around the neighbourhood. Especially if they have fffffffs.

I love the way she has brought so much joy to my family. She is the first grandchild for my parents and the first niece for my sister, and the mutual love has been one of the most healing forces we have ever experienced.

I do not think I am jealous of my mother's love for my daughter. I certainly don't resent my baby for the change in dynamic. But I do miss the closeness and fun we had before the little 'un arrived. We still talk on the phone every day. But it's not the same.

For example, as soon as Mum arrives at my house, the first thing she does is hold out her arms to the little 'un to see if she will reach out for her. I am ignored to the extent that the front door usually bangs on me as Mum lets go to reach for the baby. (It's really quite a funny slapstick movie-like image, but I never manage to see the humour at the time.) Her first question to me is something usually along the lines of, "Why are you looking so sad? What's wrong? Are you tired? You sound very flat."

Unfortunately, that does not engender the most elegant response from me.

"I don't like it when you grouch at me when I am in your home," Mum rejoined. "It makes me feel like I shouldn't be there."

I heard her.

And I finally understood.

I was trying, albeit inelegantly, to say, "Stop criticising me for not looking happy all the time. Everything is actually great. I'm just sad and annoyed that you don't see me anymore."

What she heard was, "I don't want you here."

I apologised, acknowledging that I misinterpreted her good intentions and concern for my wellbeing. She apologised, admitting that she hadn't realised how I felt.

This was a good exchange and our interactions have been much deeper (in that they are more honest) and lighter (in the sense that they are not burdened by sadness and resentment) since.

I'm not sure why I feel compelled to share all of this here. Re-reading what I have written, I fear it sounds pathetic, insecure, whiny and unimportant. Mum would be absolutely horrified to read it, let alone discover that I am sharing it with the universe.

I'm sure I'm not the only person to navigate their way through changed relationships after having a baby. Probably every person in the world has to re-negotiate relationships as life and circumstances change. And it's a scary business. So it's possible that someone might read this and say, "Yeah! Me too!".

I wonder if that reader would also be able to relate to the feeling of vulnerability that stayed with me the whole evening that followed. The realisation that I has been scared to tell my Mum how I felt in case she got angry or annoyed and dismissed my feelings. Or laughed at me and told me not to be silly. I wonder if this same imaginary reader would also feel small and ashamed. Embarrassed for not being stronger. Ungrateful for her Mum, who is in fact a wonderful person and a loving mother. Immature for not discussing things sooner, in a more calm and reasonable way. Afraid that this would set a bad example for her own daughter.

Joseph Campbell wrote: It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life.

I have been learning about clearings. About making space for renewal. I hadn't expected this to be the one to find me. I hadn't prepared myself for the unravelling and now I am glowing raw. I about to crawl into bed, exhausted, head pounding.

When I emerge, my treasure awaits.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Daniel Johnston

This is a promise with a catch
Only if you're looking will it find you
‘Cause true love is searching too
But how can it recognize you
Unless you step out into the light?
But don’t give up until
True love finds you in the end.
Daniel Johnston

In the space of three short songs, Daniel Johnston was able to convey -- and embody -- everything a human being needs to know.

He walked onto the stage and exclaimed, "Where's my guitar?", apparently forgetting that it was an acoustic set and he was to be accompanied. Stooped, greying and softly spoken he endured the Q&A session with cheeky good humour, attempting to wrap it up after every answer with an enthusiastic, "Well, thank you ladies and gentleman, now here's some music!", only to have someone else raise their hand. He read his lyrics from a bulging tattered notebook.

The film that followed examined his life as an artist of staggering genius and the people who loved, exploited and failed him. It was a Johnson named Robert who sold his soul to the devil in order to play the guitar like no man on earth. Daniel Johnston, it seems, was in no position to strike such a deal. The devil dogged him constantly, threatening to rob him of his talent and his dreams. Johnston could not stop running, and creating art and music at such a frantic pace that it precipitated his physical, emotional and spiritual collapse.

He was a reminder that genius can be cruel and frightening. That we can only celebrate the "tortured" and "crazy" artists from the safety of historical distance. Johnston was a man of his time and place but very much outside it. And a heartbreaking testimony to society's limited understanding and acceptance of mental illness.

And yet. Daniel Johnston touched the fringe of an entire generation. Although he was losing the battle with his demons, his songs and drawings told stories of hope and love and the triumph of the broken little man.

That he can tour the world, perform so beautifully and produce new material is nothing short of miraculous. But, on closer inspection, the miracle is not that great a mystery after all. Last night, in Melbourne, in a small warehouse full of people, in the sweltering heat, Daniel Johnston inspired love. Unlikely, confusing, bemusing love.

But love nonetheless.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

If it's not Writing, then what is it?

So I had a five minute "interview" yesterday for the first of a three part program that helps Research Higher Degree candidates bring their research to the general public. I say "interview" with inverted commas because the affable, generous chap who ran the interview mostly talked at me for five minutes. At the end of which I gathered that I'd made the cut.

The question that seemed to get me over the line was, "What was the last thing you read, other than material relating to your thesis or today's newspaper?". Apparently this stumps most people, but seeing as I'd spent my lunch hour lost in Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible (and Alex Miller's Lovesong the night before) I found myself home and hosed.

"Out of curiosity, " I found myself asking, "And not necessarily related to the program you are running, but where do blogs fit in to all of this?"

Before I share his reply, I should point out that he was indeed affable and generous, and clearly cared about the program and its participants. Especially the latter. He chatted excitedly about the appearance of one of the program's alumni in The Age that day, a beautifully crafted and very well-timed piece about philanthropy and feminism (an article that, as luck would have had it, a colleague had forwarded me earlier in the day: the author used to work in our office!).

Above all, his passion for books and writing was heartwarming -- he used to run the Melbourne Writers Festival, back in the good old days when it was held in the Malthouse Theatre and had a slightly shambolic feel. Nowadays, there's no chance of audience members and writers bumping into each other (literally) in the slick corporate atmosphere of Federation Square. No knocking over teetering towers of books, or precariously placed glasses of red. Or precariously placed publishers. Full of red.

So I really shouldn't have been surprised by his answer. Which, if course, was to the effect of, "I bloody hate them. Keep your diaries to yourselves for goodness sake!"


I can't say I was offended, and I certainly wasn't going to try and change his mind. Although I did mention a couple of quasi academic blogs which had done exactly what his program set out to do: translated some high level concepts into everyday language so that a broader audience might enjoy them and benefit. And he conceded that there were a small number which exhibited the characteristics of high quality writing. But the proportion, he insisted, was small.

He doesn't seem to be alone in this opinion. For example, this opinion piece via a link on Gwen Bell's blog seems to concur that great writing is the purview of novelists and journalists (!). The problem seems to be that "anyone" can do it.

Methinks I shan't to protest too much.

But I do want to say: so what?

Blogging can be an impetus to write every day. OK so it's not longhand. But it's still thinking about words and thinking through words. And receiving words back in response.

Blogging can lead to book deals. Maybe not Literature. Or even Writing.

But: so what?

Blogging can inspire connection. Connection between thoughts and connection between people. Connection, intersection, innovation. Ideas that can change the world.

Or just the way one person thinks about it. Even if just for a second.

Monday, February 1, 2010


I expect nothing. I fear no one. I am free.
Nikos Kazantzakis

A soy chai. A break in the sunshine. A chance to distance myself from robust words.

Thinking about professional disagreements and adult-to-adult discussions. Reflecting on how they coax us out of our shells, stretch the way we view ourselves, challenge us to move beyond our default positions.

These conversations are tiring, confronting, intimidating. And make us question what we do, why we argue, where we go for comfort and renewal.

I am trying to remind myself that we work towards the same higher goal. That there is sense in inclusion, in considered compromise. That people are entitled to their political agendas, and that I am no less a person for not having a strong view either way.

This is new territory for me. And for the way I am perceived in my professional life.

There’s the possibility that my way is not the right way. That I don’t have to fight to defend it. That there is freedom in creating something and then letting it go.

This is new territory for me.

I am happy here.

I am free.