Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The journey towards a name

Miss Sophie Isobel of Her Library Adventures recently put a lovely little question out there, namely “How did your blog get its name?”

Whenever I thought of myself having a blog (and that was for a long, long time before I actually got one), I kept thinking of myself as The Fitzroy Flâneur. This little moniker stuck stubbornly in my head for a long time but when I sat down to actually launch my blog, I found myself resisting it.

To begin with, I live in North Fitzroy and although this seems like a petty distinction, there is quite a difference to be had in the kilometre or so between 3065 and 3068. But I also found myself wondering if I really was the flâneur type. I mean, I was all for the strolling and the seeing … but the being seen?

I was pretty sure that no-one would ever read my blog, and I was hesitant to draw attention to it. [It is still a secret from all but three “real life” friends, and my family are not aware of its existence. My husband keeps a respectful distance.]

In any case, this
chappy seemed to have the local flâneur market cornered.

So then I thought of personas I have used in other parts of my life and
Literary Lass sprang to mind. Unfortunately, it was taken and considerably/tragically underused.

Books were my next stop: the shelves in my study always have the answer. I alighted on my copy of
Rumi and opened up to my favourite poem. But sadly Constant Conversation was also taken and sadly/flagrantly abandoned.

But sitting patiently next to Rumi on the shelf was Hafiz, and his heavenly
poem opened up a path that I am grateful for, every single day.

I'm reminded of Joseph Campbell's musing that "We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us." For someone who likes to be organised, planned, in control, it has been a tremendous gift to allow this story to unfold without knowing where or how it is going to go.

As my friend Amiee likes to say, "Onward, ho!".

Monday, March 29, 2010

Writing life

William Carlos Williams said to Allen Ginsberg: "If only one line in the poem has energy, then cut the rest out and leave only that one line." That one line is the poem. Poetry is the carrier of life, the vessel of vitality. Each line should be alive.
Writing Down the Bones
Natalie Goldberg

I want to write a letter to Natalie Goldberg. I want to tell her how much her book meant to me, and how beautifully I thought she made some very lofty concepts accessible and inspiring. Writing Down the Bones was originally published in 1986, so I suspect she has had millions or crazed fans writing to her, to compliment her on her achievement and beg for more "cheerleading" and advice.

As someone who practices Zen meditation, and uses writing as her Zen practice, Goldberg is highly experienced in tapping in to her "higher" mind. She uses her book to walk those of us less enlightened through ways in which could use this practice, without romanticising the "starving, tortured, lonely artist"stereotype. She admits it's hard work. She also acknowledges the power of the inner critic and impostor syndrome. But the beauty of Goldberg's work is in her commitment to steadfastly ignoring the "monkey mind", in her own practice and in encouraging her students/readers. To write feels better than all the excuses, she says.

It really is that simple.

Goldberg wrote her book despite oscillating between debilitating self-criticism and overblown self-praise. She feared failure, and she feared success, and she also longed for them both in equal measures. She kept going. She became mindful of who she was writing for and why. Her book gives us the gifts of these stories, and challenges us to relinquish our attachment to the how of it all.

We could try to find a routine that works, try to fit writing perfectly into our hectic lives. But that it doesn't really matter if we don't. The main thing is to keep writing.

There might only be one line of our daily scribbles that is worth anything to anyone. But there might just be poetry in it.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Poetry in motion

The incomparable Patti Digh recently challenged readers to view their life through the lens of poetry. "Everything, EVERYTHING, " She said, "Everything is poetic. If you're alive, you're a poet. If you're alive, you're an artist. Life itself is a creative act."

Having spent the last few days marinating in Cavafy, and thinking about the creative journeys I wanted to revive, I had been revelling in small acts of poetry today. Packing up the laptop to mark the end of my marketing project. Making a clearing in my study/studio. Lighting a candle. Playing my favourite albums of 2000 and 2001 on my iPod, and pondering how much has happened/changed for me over the past ten years. Gessoing canvases. Digging out my crochet squares. And, probably the most unusual for me, baking a chocolate cake.

But now I find myself asking: where were the little moments of poetry in my everyday life today?

There was poetry in my first coffee at 6.30am, as I sat with my little 'un while she munched on her breakfast and watched Shaun the Sheep. It remained with me as I stayed in my pyjamas all day. It was present in the colourful textures plates of goodies I prepared for my little 'un to eat through the day, and in letting her play with a spoon so she could start to learn how to feed herself like a big girl. I can still see it in all those neat dishes drying in brightly ordered rows, and freshly laundered shirts hanging in the spare room.

I am grateful for the poetry in our team work, as my husband and I take it in turns to entertain little Miss cranky pants. I know it will be there once she goes to bed and the two of us are left to flake out on a couch each, reading, channel surfing, and eating chocolate cake.

I can smell the poetry in the delicate rain that is falling outside my window.

Patti Digh is right, as Dorothy Porter was right, as Cavafy was right. Poetry is everywhere.

Poetry is life.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Ithaka (Part III)

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you're destined for.
But don't hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you're old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you've gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvellous journey.
Without her you wouldn't have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won't have fooled you.
Wise as you have become, so full of experience,
you'll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

Constantine Cavafy

Reading Dorothy Porter's posthumous musings on passion reminded me of how much I love this poem. It also reminded me how lucky I am to have had a classical education, and parents who value books, poetry, language and culture.

I should say that Cavafy didn't write or publish the poem in three parts: I just rendered it this way so I could soak in each stanza over the last few days. I really wanted to luxuriate in the journey. Which seemed kinda appropriate.

Ithaka was read at Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis' funeral. Cavafy, its Alexandrian author, was once described by E. M. Forster as "a Greek gentleman in a straw hat, standing absolutely motionless at a slight angle to the universe." These things make me love the poem even more, and make its relevance to me more poignant.

As I step bravely into the Second Act of my life, my destination is so much clearer and my desire to prolong the journey stronger than ever.

I might also stand at a slight angle to the universe, but I am not alone.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ithaka (Part II)

Hope your road is along one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter the harbours you're seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind --
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Constantine Cavafy

[Earrings made by me!]

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ithaka (Part I)

As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon -- don't be afraid of them:
you'll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as rare excitement
stirs up your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wil Poseidon -- you won' encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Constantine Cavafy

Monday, March 22, 2010

Mild discomfort

I did a fitness test on Saturday. Actually, it's more of an evaluation in that each test is measured against the previous one, so you have empirical evidence of your progress. The test comprises a 2km or 4km run followed by a series of exercises like sit-ups, push-ups, and squats; the basic premise being that you try and do as many as you can in a minute. The killer is the plank hold at the end.

It's actually quite a lot of fun. We partner up and cheer each other on, and do our best to beat our scores from the previous time. There's no competitiveness or boot-camp-style shouting, although there is the occasional heckle for those who are known to enjoy the odd cheeky prod.

I opted for the 2km run, given that it had been the best part of two years since I did any serious running. As soon as I started, I realised that the trajectory was the same... as was my inner dialogue.

The first quarter was easy. Easy running, nice pace, even breath. This is fine, I can do this.

The second quarter got harder. My calves got tight, my feet went a bit tingly-numb, I couldn't get enough air into my lungs. This hurts, I feel like I'm lurching, I'm not even half-way.

The third quarter saw things start to settle. Steadier pace, breathing hard, cheeks flushed, arms pumping. Doesn't hurt so much, mild to moderate discomfort, still can't get enough air into my lungs. Maybe this is as good as it gets?

In the last quarter, everything was forgotten as I hurtled towards the finish line. Managed to overtake one person, even a little energy burst at the end! Finish off strong, finish off strong, I can stretch and drink and rest after this.

Afterwards, I couldn't help but think about my third quarter aha! moment. What if mild to moderate discomfort is as good as it gets? What if I learned to live with it for longer and longer stretches?

Maybe, as a mild asthmatic, I'll never find running easy. Maybe I'll never hit that cruisy rhythm that so many of my fellow fitness classmates seem to enjoy.

Maybe there are a lot more things in life that are really worth pursuing that require moderate discomfort.

And maybe it's not a question of striving to overcome it. Maybe it's a question of learning to live with it. And going as far as you can.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

In this moment, I am

... savouring the gifts of taking a different route home.

With thanks to Liz Lamoreux for the invitation.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

On Maturity

One of the privileges of turning one in Melbourne is that you get to experience being a pin-cushion for a day, when you are vaccinated for measles/mumps/rubella; meningococcal C; and haemophlilius influenzae type B. That's one jab in each arm and one in the leg.

Those who have little 'uns and get them vaccinated know: it hurts bambino, and it hurts mama.

But pain can sometimes comes with unexpected gifts.

When we arrived at the Maternal and Child Health Care Centre last week, we were all steeled for our big ordeal. The nurse administering the jabs looked at my little 'un and asked, "How much older than 12 months is she?". Less than two weeks.

"She's just so ALERT!" Yes, she's a bright little button. "And tall." Like her Daddy.

"You know, this will be the challenge for you. Because she is so smart and interested in the world, and because she is tall, people will assume that she's older. And they'll have higher expectations of her maturity. It can be tough for kids like that."

You're right. I really hear you. You wouldn't know it to look at me now (all five foot four of me) but I was one of the tallest girls in my primary school! I shot up early and matured quickly. Most of my friends as a small child were adults. People had similar expectations of me.

My little 'un is indeed quick-witted and sharp, doesn't miss a thing. She has an extensive vocabulary and makes fascinating connections between things. She wants to be included in everything, and I'm often slow to catch on to her developmental leaps. Partly because I don't really know what I'm looking for, and partly because she reveals them at a time of her choosing. Then I realise that her unsettled behaviour is largely frustration because I am not giving her room to show how she can do something by herself.

The nurse's observation was a poignant reminder. That my nurturing needs elasticity. That my little girl will, for a long time, be littler than she thinks. That it's a frustrating and bewildering place to be.

So much to prove, and always in a hurry. Like Icarus, so eager to fly, using wax to seal his wings.

I need to remember. And I need to be there, to catch her when she falls.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Disoriented because

* I knocked my pan out last night trying to juggle two loads of laundry, three lots of washing up, preparing the little ‘un’s meals for the next day, getting my clothes ready for work, watering the plants… so that everything would work seamlessly this morning

* everything did go seamlessly this morning but then my mother-in-law gave me a lecture on the importance of fibre in the diet = implied criticism that my baby’s constipation issues are my fault because I don’t have a clue and/or I am not taking them seriously

* I cussed all the way as I rode to work and was karmicly rewarded by bugs flying into my face and getting stuck in my lip gloss

* I moved offices today and although it took me a grand total of five minutes to pack all the stuff I have accumulated since 4 Jan this year, I am back to square one in terms of not being hooked up to a printer, no voicemail, not knowing where anything is etc.

* it occurred to me that last night’s blog post may have been misinterpreted to the effect that I am all zen and zippy about my present situation. In fact, as I found myself admitting to my pal Cathy, I’ve mostly been feeling frazzled and inadequate… but I have no choice but to keep going, so I may as well try to see the sunny side

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Preoccupied because

* I am at the pointy end of the marketing plan I have been working on (while my little 'un naps) as an extra project

* it was hot (31 degrees celcuis = 87.8 degree fahrenheit) and humid today

* I am behind on reading and commenting on all my favourite blogs

* I am even more behind on my emails

* I am even moooooooore behind on washing up, laundry, cleaning, shopping (anything domestic: you name it, I'm behind on it)

* a writing project is calling me

* there were mouse droppings on the wooden chopping board in the kitchen this morning

* I haven't made any art for ages and I am itching to get messy with paper, paint and glue and probably a bit of glitter too

* my little 'un has discovered the word "NO" and it's so cute that it's hard to keep a straight face, even when she is doing something that she knows she is not meant to

Still, I have been centering myself with the reminder that everything tends to work out OK. And that I am doing my best to be present in each of the things that call my attention, rather than rushing through just for the sake of speeding through my To Do list.

And I am doing what I love: writing every day. Even if it's for my day job. I'm thinking and researching and writing and editing and getting paid for it. And the funds will cover the digital SLR that appeared on my Mondo Beyondo list.

And things will get done, even if I am not up-to-date with everything, or juggling everything with finesse. Finesse is usually impossible when your hair frizzes in the humidity anyway.

And not only is there a mouse in my kitchen, but there is a mouse in the open plan office where I work (as well as a possum in the ladies' loo) so either it's not about me or I need to change my job title to Park Ranger.

And there's coffee and bread and butter pudding to be had.

And wonderful things can happen when you're not noticing. Today I received a wonderful email from a sweet friend to say that I have won my first ever prize in a blog giveaway!

So it's all good, really. And as my pal and fellow Mondo Beyondo dreamer Gill is fond of saying, "This too shall pass...".

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

For Amiee and Jen

Not knowing where to go, I go to you. Not knowing where to turn, I turn to you. Not knowing what to hold, I bind myself to you. Having lost my way, I make my way to you. Having soiled my heart, I lift my heart to you. Having wasted my days, I bring the heap to you. The great highway covered with debris, I travel on a hair to you. The wall smeared with filth, I go through a pinhole of light. Blocked by everything, I fly on the wisp of remembrance. Defeated by silence, here is a place where the silence is more subtle. And here is the opening of defeat. And here is the clasp of the will. And here is the fear of you. And here is the fastening of mercy. Blessed are you, in this (wo)man's moment. Blessed are you, whose presence illuminates outrageous evil. Blessed are you who brings chains out of the darkness. Blessed are you, who waits in the world. Blessed are you, whose name is in the world.

Not knowing where to go
Leonard Cohen

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The valedictory speech I'd like to give in five years' time

I have two things to say you today: "You have something special to say. Tell your story."

Five years ago, I stood in the cloisters of the Old Law Quad, waiting for the academic procession to start. I passed the time exchanging the usual, "In twenty-five words or less, what was your thesis about?" with the woman behind me in the procession. Her research had revealed that there was little by way of educational programs and literature for parents of children of "middle childhood" age. Her thesis filled the gap between early childhood and adolescent education, where the milestones and issues were more obvious.

"But I'll probably go back and take an undergraduate degree in Psychology." She said, "Because people tend to assume that I have a Psychology background when they hear about my topic. And I don't. So I don't feel I can credibly talk on this area."

When originally thinking about pursuing her research topic, she had consulted with a number of teaching colleagues and academics about pursuing an undergraduate degree in Psychology. And "nine out of ten experts" recommended that she pursue Doctoral studies instead. Evidently her topic required the depth of consideration and higher level analysis that undergraduate studies would not provide. And there was a real lacuna in the body of human knowledge that only she could fill.

Now, with any cross-disciplinary studies, you can expect a line of experts just itching to bollock your research on the grounds that you don't use their jargon and can't (or won't) join their professional organisations. But what this woman was saying to me was more to do with something insidious and familiar to many of us in graduate research endeavours, namely, The Impostor Syndrome. The notion that you have no right to be sitting where you are today, that someone is going to find you out, that it's still miraculous that your thesis was passed (I mean, didn't they read your "bloated and uncertain" literature review and your "unconvincing and amateurish" analysis?).

Later in the same ceremony, we were treated to an occasional address by politician, writer and public intellectual Barry Jones. He reminded us of our place in Australia's higher education tradition and lamented the funding pressures on institutions of higher learning. Jones also pointed out that there was plenty of room in the Australian media to engage more meaningfully in issues that would improve citizens' lives. He entreated us to use the knowledge we had cultivated, supported by our newly acquired credentials, to engage in strident public debate which would benefit the community.

But I found myself wondering: if everyone sitting next to me on stage wearing a foofie tassled hat felt like they weren't meant to be there, that they were impostors despite the intensity and importance of the academic journey they had just completed, how would this be possible?

At the time that I sat on the stage, with the foofie tassled hat, my daughter had just turned one. In fact, she was born the day my thesis was submitted for examination. You'll no doubt be relieved to know that I didn't submit the thesis personally: I'd emailed it to my sister in PDF format, and she'd thoughtfully had it printed and bound, and delivered it to the Graduate School on my behalf. So I got an excited phone call while I was in labour, hooked up to all these machines and preparing for an emergency caesarian, to tell me that my thesis had been submitted. Which was all a bit surreal.

Anyway. During the first few months of motherhood, I scribbled in my journal while my little girl cat-napped. After a while, I realised that the kinds of things that I'd been writing were things I was hearing from other new mothers. We felt alone, we felt afraid, we felt unqualified. I'd recently completed a 55,000 word tome on the experiences of a particular group of international students: something that my colleagues in universities, English language centres, and Government departments had invited me to speak on on several occasions, and had expressed interest in reading. In reading about the problems I had investigated, they had seen their own struggles and were keen to know my recommendations for improvement. Could it be that I had the skill and experience to revisit my scribbles about motherhood, coax them into shape, and mould them into something that other people would read and, in it, see their own struggles?

Not long after, I started to blog. My blog was fairly intimate and self-induglent, but enjoyed a niche following of smart, engaged kindred spirits. Mainly women, whom I'd never met, who read what I had to say about motherhood, books, films, and other things I'd been thinking about. And with regularity, and with tremendous candour and generosity, shared the ways in which they'd read my words and thought, "Hey! Me too!". Through this group, I was able to receive constructive and robust but fundamentally encouraging feedback on my writing, such that my scribbles took shape and evolved into a little zine that I called Prayer for a new mother. Also through my blog friends, I made contact with a talented and well-known artist who agreed to bring my stories to life with her exquisite and slightly-offbeat illustrations.

We printed out 200 copies and I put a little link on my blog where friends and relatives could purchase the little zine as a gift for new mothers that they knew. A tiny little talisman that reassured them that they were not alone. It sold out in two weeks. So we did a further print run of 1,000. It sold out in tend days. On a whim, I sent a gift copy of the zine to a former editor of a high-circulation women's magazine: a popular blogger and writer on motherhood, fashion, and body image. Within two days she had called me, telling me that she had forwarded my zine to her agent. The next thing I new, an established and prestigious Australian publisher with offices worldwide was calling me to arrange a meeting. And the rest, as they say, is history. And, possibly, the reason I have been invited to speak to you today.

But what has this to do with you, you might be thinking? Or with graduating? Or with Barry Jones? Well, I think it is all about courage and it is all about love.

The courage is what I want to share with you who are graduating today. Barry Jones was absolutely right. You need to get your thoughts, your ideas, your knowledge out there. It doesn't matter if someone else has said it before, or if you think they have said it "better". Do it. Write to the editor of The Age and tell them that the piece they published yesterday ignored a really critical aspect of the debate, something that you as a new expert in the field can help them address. Start a blog. Call Radio National. Call Triple J. Start a lobby group. Start a knitting circle. Who cares if it's not directly related to your studies. You'll find yourself calling on all those skills you have been honing over the past three years: the organisational abilities, confidence in public speaking, critical reading, team work and so on.

And the love is what I want to acknowledge for those of you who are families, friends and supporters of those who are graduating today. The only way these people are going to have the courage to tell their stories is if they believe in themselves. And the only way they will believe in themselves is if they have grown up witnessing you believe in yourself. And for these young graduates to be sitting here today, it seems to me that you have succeeded. So I thank you for believing in yourselves as parents, siblings, partners and friends, despite your doubts, despite your imperfections. The achievements and the potential of these graduates are testimony to your love.

To the woman who stood behind me in the academic procession, I said, "You know, I think if you did that Bachelors degree in Psychology, you'd find yourself sitting in the lecture theatre and realising how much you already knew. But I also think that getting another degree isn't the thing that will make you feel comfortable that you are the expert in that field."

To her and to you I say: what you have achieved is unique and it is amazing. Only you can tell the world about what you know. Tell it in such a way that they read it and say, "Hey! Me too!"

You have something special to say. Tell your story.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Sogyal Rinpoche

This morning, my head feels like it is full of porridge. And not the subtle salty Asian kind. We're talking Clag here, people!

Maybe it was the non-linear way his thoughts unfolded. Or his habit of punctuating his thoughts with a high-powered staccato "You understand?", which actually didn't sound like a question at all. Or the fact that half the audience of 400 nodded or mmm-hmm-ed in response.

The lesson was deceptively simple. The Buddha said, "With our thoughts, we make the world."

Every child who grew up watching the ABC in the 1980s knows that. (Seriously, ask any Australian Generation X-er at a music festival to complete this mantra: In the worlds before Monkey, primal chaos reigned. Heaven sought order, but the phoenix can fly only when its feathers are fully grown...)

But this was all about the mind. About Samsara, the mind turned outwards, lost in its own projections. And Nirvana, the mind turned inwards, realising its own nature. About looking beyond the chatter and the emotions and realising the mind's true essence.

About not doing, not thinking, not trying to understand. Just being. And letting things become clear in their own time.

Rinpoche warned: "This teaching is not too easy. But it is not too hard, either."

Suddenly it feels very crowded and noisy in here.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Why write?

The super-dooper clever and lovely Summer Pierre asks:

"Why do so many people want to BECOME or BE writers? This is a different question than “why do you write?” Not many people actually LIKE writing that much, yet they harbor a secret dream of being a writer. I am not condemning them, but I am wondering in all seriousness, what IS IT that people are dreaming about and why?"

This is a very good question. I recall the first time I read Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird ten years ago and was struck by her observation that her writing students didn't seem all that keen on sitting down to write per se, yet were rather fixated on the idea of becoming writers.

For me, "Why do you write?" is an easy question to answer.

I write to make sense of my life. I write to redeem the moments that were otherwise bland or pointless. Writing reveals to me that I lead a double life: the one that my physical body encounters and my senses process; and the one in my head, the one that is juicier in anticipation and revelatory in hindsight.

Writing is the spark that gets my synapses going, taps me in to the best version of myself. It allows me to notice things and make connections. It can also make me anti-social and self-obsessed.

The rejection email I received today from The Book Show Blog gave the following feedback:

"The panel favoured writers who were writing about new and exciting topics which were removed from their own personal worlds and more in tune with the broader literary community."

I'm not offended or discouraged, I think it's quite apt. Just because I see connections between what's happening in my head and the zeitgeist, doesn't mean that it's a fundamental truth or, at least, obvious to anyone else.

The answer to "Why be a writer?" presently eludes me. I generally don't agree with the maxim that If you do what you love, you'll never work another day in your life. Writing feels like hard work. Like everything else that's worthwhile. Yes, I have some natural and some nurtured talent, but that will only get me so far.

The closest I have ever come to being "A Writer" was when I was writing up the draft of my doctoral thesis last year. Every week for three months I worked three days in my day job, took Saturdays off, then glued my bum to my seat for three days and forced myself to write. I set myself a target of 1,500 words a day (on the basis that I had to come up with 55,000 words in x number of days!). They had to be "good" words, i.e. words that would appear in the final product or edited versions thereof. If I produced my 1,500 words I had the choice to keep going or take the rest of the day off. But 1,500 was the minimum I was allowed to produce.

Some days were easy but most were hard. Some days I kept on pushing beyond my 1,500. Other days I crawled to the finish line. At least once a week I sat on the floor, crawled to where my husband was sitting on the couch, put my head on his knees and wailed, "I'm not having a good day!".

I lived in pyjamas, drank many cups of tea. It sounds very SARK-esque and glamorous except I smelt, my hair resembled an overripe banana and my skin a relief map of the moon. I did not wear "cute" outfits, go out for walks, do the vacuuming, take bubble baths, shop online, frequent cafes, light candles, drink elegant glasses of red, bake muffins, eat fresh fruit. I felt soggy, spent and boring.

I might, one day, get a book published. I might even live some of the writing dreams I intimated on my Mondo Beyondo list. Or I might just live with the satisfaction that comes from writing every day in this space. But, whatever happens, I have no illusions about what "being a writer" looks like for me.

And pretty it ain't.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Monday mornings can be delightful…

… when you get to sip coffee and watch three consecutive episodes of Shaun the Sheep while your little ‘un bops in her high chair and munches on toasted olive and rosemary bread.

… even when it is a public holiday and you have to work.

… there is leftover chocolate cake from the little ‘un’s first birthday celebrations to have for morning tea.

… you are wearing sparkly eyeliner.

… your house didn’t flood during the weekend’s super-cell thunderstorm (and no, I didn’t make that term up!).

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Imperfection = truth

I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it.

Anne Lamott
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Is this the time to admit that for many years I didn't think of myself as a perfectionist because everything I produce has typos in it? Sigh.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Oh, pater!

In the process of exchanging emails with the lovely Jen about all things decadent bathing, I had to explain the water restrictions we face here in various parts of Australia. In talking through Target 155 I found myself describing our various levels of Government as "paternalistic".

It brought back a memory.

A mountain of sloppy pasta in Pelligrini's on a Friday night. An icy cold Winter night, the windows are dripping with condensation.

"So what you're saying, " My date sternly informs me, "Is that there's an intellectual ELITE who has the right to dictate how the rest of the population should live."

Having been ceremoniously browbeaten for 30 minutes by the aforementioned date, I concede that it's not a position I agree with.

Looking back, I forgive myself.

Hey, if you're perched on a bar stool in a crowded family restaurant, and the cheap red you have been guzzling isn't taking the edge off the realisation that the bloke you have been dating is so conservative as to be an anti-social pillock (which means you won't be able to follow your Mum's advice -- yet again -- and try to shoe-horn him into your definition of a suitable life partner e.g. "just don't talk politics"), you tend to agree with all sorts of things, just so you can make it to the end of the evening without flinging your pasta bowl in his face and bursting out of the restaurant like a fire engine.

Actually, I can't say I am all that interested in politics.

The finer details, anyway. To be honest, I'm actually kinda glad that we have a paternalistic Federal Government. I like the fact that our Prime Minister is fluent in Mandarin and commissions as many White Papers as he wears white shirts (that's a lot). I am impressed that education and health care are so high on the agenda, as is carbon emissions. I'm not blind to the fact that they haven't quite got the first one right, the second is presently in flux and, actually, the state of the third is embarrassingly woeful.

But I'd rather have a popularly elected leader with half a brain who's not afraid of having difficult conversations than the alternative. OK, so I'm not au fait with the ins and outs of this country's political machine or how the economy works. I'd suggest this is the case for the majority of the population, even if they like to pretend otherwise.

And as for my date? The chap who would prefer the country to be left to its own devices while a group of privileged inbreds play polo and shoot pheasant? The one who insisted we spend all our time at his home, as he preferred to be somewhere where he "knew where everything was"? The one who kept a list next to his desk of all the line items in his life, where "girl" was listed under medium priority?

Ummm... it fizzled.

I wonder if it's because he found out that I raided the pack of mint slice biscuits in his kitchen cupboard?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Beautiful Losers

I loved Beautiful Losers and I want to see it again. I loved the way it witnessed the coming together of a motley crew of artists and the way in which their passion for making things flourished in the petri dish of a tiny shop-front gallery in New York.

I loved the way it glimpsed the gentle genius of Margaret Kilgallen as she explored the stories of hoboes and itinerants who wrote their names on the trains they rode. I loved the way it honoured her sudden passing, such that it made you realise that you had been privileged to witness a fleeting glimpse of her luminous life, because that's the way it must have been for those who loved her when all of a sudden she was gone.

I loved the way Stephen Powers aka ESPO talked us through his realisation that, rather than have people look at his art and associate it with him, there was so much more power in them seeing his art and claiming it as their own.

I loved the way it provided me with new insights into things like tagging and skateboarding, even though I continue to have difficulty accepting the former. I loved the way it allowed each artist to claim their own position in relation to difficult issues like "selling out" and "becoming mainstream" and I loved even more that there was no consensus but there was also no defence or accusation.

I loved Beautiful Losers because it was powerful, it taught me many things, it had integrity and it was made with love.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Gratitude is...

... my little 'un choosing to nap for two hours in the middle of the day.

... a surprise parcel in the mail, containing exquisite bathing accoutrements so cleverly chosen by an intuitive and thoughtful fellow dreamer.

... delicious veggie curry made for dinner by my sweet husband.

... the horoscope that gave me a kick in the pants, just when I needed it.

... a rooftop cinema fillum to look forward to (if I can stay awake!).

... freshly laundered sheets to crawl into.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

More on labels

I do struggle when labels are applied to me, without my permission.

But I also go looking for them. There is sometimes comfort to be had. [Belonging?]

I am a Gemini, born in the Year of the Tiger. My favourite number is 5. I find it hard to select one favourite colour but green and blue come pretty close to the top, and I am presently enjoying orange quite a bit.

I have no idea how I come up in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. I did the Hermann Brain Dominance Instrument ten years ago and was fascinated to witness how my behaviours played out on the page. I loved the fact that forced choices gave me insight into my actions under pressure, revealing some difficult and important truths (although I struggle to remember what they are now).

On a whim, and on the back of Mondo Beyondo, I decided to undertake the Style Statement exercise. I have to say: it's really clever! And quite fun. It distills detailed responses to questions on every aspect of daily life into two key principles. The first provides 80% of your self-definition, and functions as your foundation word. The remaining 20% is your creative edge, the filter through which you project your core onto the world.

Here's where I arrived...

Foundation: CULTURED

Spirit: The life of Cultured is a mosaic of experiences, beliefs and aspirations. They are keenly interested in the practices, policies, and sensibilities of other groups and cultures. They love to know how other people live and work, strive and succeed. They are curious about the origins of ideas, motivations of people, and sources of products and materials.
Cultured is the master of "think global, act local". While they're always open to outside sources of wisdom, ultimately they rely heavily on their own life experiences and knowledge. To a large extent, their commitment to honour and create diversity defines them, though sometimes their tolerance and political correctness can keep them from stepping out of bounds and freely expressing themselves.
Cultured is a great listener who is always paying attention to what's going on -- in the world at large, in the local community, and in close relationships -- and derive deep pleasure in sharing helpful findings and contributing to important conversations and endeavours.

Look & feel: Polished and respectful. Somewhat dignified and classy. Refined manners. Well travelled. Mosaics, patchwork, tapestries (I want to add: collage!). Primitive and tribal work. Storytelling, legends, a sense of history.

Creative Edge: FOCUS

Concentration, centred, direct, trained.
Focal point: heart
Clarity, convergence, sharpness, distinct.
A point on which activity or attention is concentrated.
In geometry: a fixed reference point on the concave side of a conic section, used when defining its eccentricity.
Latin: hearth, fireplace.

It was hard work to get there, but somehow it rings true. I wonder where it will take me?


Yesterday I was

A mother, a wife, a daughter. A cyclist, an employee. A consumer, a cook, a cleaner-upperer. A friend, a colleague, a confidant. A funky shoe wearer. A researcher, an analyst, an organiser. A spectator. A participant. A free-Bible-handout avoider. A Leonard Cohen aficionado, a bopper-alongerer to Florence and the Machine. A blog reader, a coffee lover. A book lover, a person in a queue. A guilty junk food fiend. A Gemini. A weary traveller.

Why do I look for labels when one word can scarcely contain me?