Thursday, April 29, 2010

My Creative Space

I've often admired the snaps of work-in-progress posted by the creative folk who participate in Kootooyoo's My Creative Space challenge each Thursday. It's my first time playing along and I think it's a pretty good representation of what I'm up to.

The bag at the front of the shot contains my crochet squares, which are progressing incrementally (with any luck, we'll have that nanna blankie by the end of next Winter!). The stack of books relate to writers and writing. Underneath those are some aerogrammes, trying to tease me into catching up on my snail mail correspondence. The cut up bits of paper are from an exercise suggested by Amy in the Handmade Writer e-course, which was quite fun and surprisingly revelatory. The paints are for two collages, almost finished, gifts for friends.

Playing along with this challenge also gave me an opportunity to let go of the pressure I was putting on myself to keep up, to finish things, to have everything neat and sorted. It was nice just to putter around on various bits and pieces, and take a moment to enjoy each project's progress.

This also made me smile today:

GEMINI: Would you really prefer it if you had no problems? Do you imagine you'd enjoy life more if everything was pure fun and smoothly easy? Here's an astrological perspective: People who have an over-abundance of positive aspects in their natal horoscopes often turn out to be lucky but lazy bums who never accomplish much. So I say, be thankful for the complications that are visiting you. I bet they will make a man out of you if you're a woman, or a woman out of you if you're a man. If you're white, they'll help you get blacker, and if you're black, they'll make you whiter. Catch my drift? As you do your best to solve the knotty riddle, you'll become better balanced and more versatile than folks who are rarely challenged.

[From Free Will Astrology. SO worth a look-in, even if horoscopes don't usually rock your world!]

I don't have aspirations of being "made a man" but for now it's good to unravel the knotty riddle at a less frantic place. And I suspect there will be some things happily left knotted.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What I learnt

Yes, this is me. Having fun with my new toy. The one that I took on about 30 hours of extra project work for. The one that represents one of my Mondo Beyondo dreams.

Like anything worthwhile, the journey to this camera was hard work. And I was forced to confront some difficult truths in the process.

Like when I write something for someone, they are the client. If they don't like it, or they do like it but want changes, then I have no choice but to change it. It's a corporate document, it needs to serve their agenda, and they're the ones who are going to be answerable to it. Not me. So while I know my opinions are respected and will be heard, I can't get too attached and I need to roll with the punches.

Like there are only so many hours in the day, and only so many of those that my little 'un will nap. And while the extra money was great and the professional kudos was a bonus, there's nothing that is worth having my little 'un in tears and pointing at me across the room because I am not watching In the Night Garden with her.

Like now I have achieved one part of one of my dreams, the time has come for me to keep my promise to myself about the other parts. Specifically, my dream was to "Buy a digital SLR, use it every day and take magnificent photos". Believe me, I harbour no illusions about becoming the next Richard Avedon but I would like to learn how to capture with my camera what my mind sees. Given that I know bugger all about f-stops and apertures, I'm guessing I have a ways to go. And I don't want this to detract from the sense of play, or my enjoyment of using it everyday.

Like anything worthwhile, this journey is going to continue to feel like work.

And that's the thing. I'm actually faring pretty well these days. A bit flat, maybe. Out at sea, certainly. But this is because, from where I sit right now, the future looks dauntingly bright. I am witnessing a convergence of thoughts, conversations, friendships, opportunities and ideas, and I am beginning to see how clear the path to my dreams really is. I can see that it is realistic and achievable, and that I am deserving of it, provided I can invest my time and energy wisely.

And I suspect my present restlessness is even further evidence that it is not all meant to happen "right now" or precisely as I think it will.

And that is absolutely heartbreakingly perfect.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Thinking about

... time. How the day, the week, the month, the year are being carved up. Realising that I'll have to be practical about how I claim and harness the space to work towards my dreams. Otherwise, it (and they) will disappear.

... envy. My assumptions when I glimpse other people's lives, particularly those of single young women. Trying to be tender with myself as I imagine their whimsical industrious little creative havens. Gentle reminders that I have nothing to covet, that I have everything I need. That I have few regrets.

... love. How a crying baby can test it to the limit. Wondering who said Love me when I deserve it the least, because that's when I need it the most. Because they were right.

... promises. Inherent in every impulse purchase. When I wear this pendant I will look like a size eight, wearing a vintage floral frock and oversize glasses, with my hair daintily dishevelled. Like I have just stepped out of my whimsical industrious little creative haven for a flat white and a lamington, camera and journal in hand. I am presently a size 16 who never wears floral frocks and my hair is inclined to frizz like a muppet. I always step out with camera in hand (well, in bag) although the journal has taken a backseat to this blog, for now.

... rejection. Real or imagined. Mostly imagined. Hopefully imagined. Silence can be hard to interpret. The scars from primary schoolyard politics never really do heal.

... gratitude. For loved ones who keep me grounded, celebrate my discoveries, inspire me to break out of my rut, understand that my heart is in the right place, hear my stories and share in return.

Monday, April 26, 2010

As promised

1. What has been the best thing about your day so far?

My little 'un "reading" me The Rainbow Fish while she was in the bath.

2. When was the last time you wore a hat?

My green suede beret, a couple of weeks ago. Just because.

3. Red or white?

Red, usually a blend like Cabernet Merlot or Shiraz Grenache Mouverdre.

But my drug of choice is sparkling, either champagne or prosecco.

4. Where did you and your soulmate go on your first date?

Tre Bicchieri, a marvellous cafe in Carlton. I sat at a table outside under a tree, nervously reading The New Yorker, which I cunningly offered to lend my date, just so I could have an excuse to ask for it back!

We went there after our wedding ceremony for a glass of prosecco, to enjoy a sweet quiet moment before the reception started.

5. What's for dinner tonight?

Pizza! Specifically: a small Orlando and a small Ali Baba.

And yes, I have tried the Bumpy Lane. Arteries harden at first bite.

6. What was the first album you ever bought?

I was given my first two cassettes for Christmas, to go with my new pink twin tape deck that had high speed dubbing and everything! The cassettes were Eurythmics "Revenge" and Pseudo Echo "Love an Adventure".

7. Dark, milk or white?

Dark. Lindt 70% or anything by Green and Black's.

8. What's your favourite quote of all time?

"The anxiety is unbearable: I hope it lasts forever." Oscar Wilde, as quoted by Bob Fosse. When I started my first job I put it on my email signature, until a colleague asked me to remove it because it gave her goosebumps!

9. When someone says "childhood" what images and smells come to mind?

Splashing in a blue tarpaulin paddling pool. Orange icypoles. My baby sister's chubby cheeks. Tea and "biddits" with Dad. Cinnamon. Running my fingers through a blue round biscuit tin full of buttons. Our cork floor. Mum letting me lick the bowl after the cake batter had been poured into the tin to go into the oven.

10. When was the last time you had a big belly laugh, tears down your cheeks and all?

Yesterday! I was regaling my husband with the terrible story of the time I was driving along with my Mum and we had to stop at a pedestrian crossing for a boy who was a few years above me at high school. He was tall and redheaded and lanky and he was walking at snail's pace across the road, with this infuriating smile on his face. He was walking slow deliberately so I couldn't understand why my Mum was furious with me when I stuck my head out the window and shouted "Hurry up, poo-finger!", seeing as that's what everyone called him.

11. What posters or prints did you have on your bedroom wall when you were growing up?

ABBA when I was a small girl. Ballerinas in early high school. A Jimi Hendrix collage I made myself and an Indian wall hanging in late high school.

12. What's your magazine of choice?

Frankie. I know it's for on-the-cusp-of-thirty-somethings but the look and feel is delicious.

13. When was the last time you listened to the radio?

Triple J late last week, in the car. Ditto above.

14. What's your favourite thing about your own handwriting?

It is spiky and uneven and looks a bit like my Dad's. My lower case "g" is crazy fun but I don't let it out to play all that often, out of shyness.

15. What was the book that changed your life?

SARK Succulent Wild Woman

16. When your personal time capsule is opened in 200 years time, what five things will be found therein?

The photo of me, my husband, and my six week old little 'un, with my parents and sister and her husband at my sister's wedding this time last year; my journals tied into a bundle; a bound copy of my thesis; my signed copy of Succulent Wild Woman; the cultured/focus ring I have had made and am collecting next week.

17. When was the last time you were part of a standing ovation?

Seasick Steve in January.

18. What's your favourite stationery fetish?

Paper, especially funky notebooks! Then pens. And, since yesterday, aerogrammes.

19. Which of your creations are you most proud of and why?

A crochet square that is loose, asymmetrical and made from horrid cheap blue wool. Last year, I got it into my head that I wanted to crochet a nanna blanket. I asked my Mum (who can crochet, knit, sew, the works) to show me how. She said, and not unkindly, "I bought you a ball of this cheap horrible wool to practice with. So if you get annoyed and throw it across the room, or if you get fed up and don't want to do it anymore, then it won't matter so much." I unravelled and re-crocheted that square a zillion times, determined to explode that stereotype of myself. By the time I got the hang of it, that square looked SO raggedy but I was pretty bloody proud of it... and myself. The blanket is two-thirds done! And there are many more myths of myself I am keen to explode.

20. What are you going to do when you log off your computer?

Pour a glass of red, stretch out on the couch, and watch TV with my husband.

Women of Letters

As I sat there, listening to Women of Letters read our their letter to their "first pin-up", my overriding thought was: I should get out more.

Maybe it's because I was there with one of my dearest friends, whose company and conversation I always enjoy, and an old friend of hers who is really lovely. Maybe it was because we indulged in a bottle of gorgeous Australian sparkling.

Maybe it's because the program was excellent, the contributions were entertaining and earnest and quite hilarious. And there was much head-nodding in the crowd, with gal pals whispering to each other and chortling, "Yeah! Me too!".

Maybe it's because the room was packed full of petite young things with oversized glasses, delicate lace-up shoes, floral-print vintage frocks, porcelain skin, daggy cardies, daintily dishevelled hair and retro handbags. Which made me feel profoundly uncool.

Maybe it's because I was leafing through the Emerging Writers Festival program and found it full of names of people I know, or whose work I'm familiar with. And maybe that left me slightly full of envy, mostly full of admiration, and somewhat incredibly hopeful of future participation.

Maybe it's because the room was full of accomplished writers and other creative souls. And because I found myself listening to each letter read with a "writer's ear", sharply attuned to each story's form structure and form, luxuriating in the beauty of their composition.

Maybe it's because this got me thinking about my own writing and how it is on the ascendant right now, largely due to the projects I've started, the stimulus I've received from the Handmade Writer course, and the incredible support and encouragement I've received from Amy and fellow participants.

Maybe I found myself confronted with the reality that a writing life is open to me, that I am well along the path to cultivating my dream.

But maybe it was also tied to the realisation there's a whole world of stuff that's happening that has nothing to do with the storms in my head. That my life could be said to resemble a cocoon that is contained by the borders of Parkville, Fitzroy, Clifton Hill and, occasionally, the CBD. By stepping out on a Sunday afternoon, I felt like I had emerged from the sweet little submarine of my house, my little family, my weekly and daily routines. The things that provide equilibrium, like a tidy kitchen, freshly ground coffee, answered emails, clean bed linen, a sleeping bambino.

The things that can make or break my outlook on any given day.

But mean little to anyone but me.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

An interview with you

This idea came from a discussion with Jen about hesitation to blog.

I'd like to welcome everyone who visits me in this space to participate! Feel free to post your answers or blog them and provide a link in the Comments, scribble them down in your journal, or just sit and be amused/amazed by the answers that spring to mind.

I'll post my answers tomorrow.

1. What has been the best thing about your day so far?

2. When was the last time you wore a hat?

3. Red or white? (Wine, that is. Be as specific as you like!)

4. Where did you and your soulmate go on your first date? (If you and your soulmate are yet to cross paths, then describe a special place for you and your bff.)

5. What's for dinner tonight?

6. What was the first album you ever bought? (It can be a record, cassette or CD and you don't have to confess which!)

7. Dark, milk or white? (Chocolate, that is. Happy to entertain debates as to the validity of white.)

8. What's your favourite quote of all time?

9. When someone says "childhood" what images and smells come to mind?

10. When was the last time you had a big belly laugh, tears down your cheeks and all?

11. What posters or prints did you have on your bedroom wall when you were growing up?

12. What's your magazine of choice?

13. When was the last time you listened to the radio?

14. What's your favourite thing about your own handwriting?

15. What was the book that changed your life?

16. When your personal time capsule is opened in 200 years time, what five things will be found therein?

17. When was the last time you were part of a standing ovation?

18. What's your favourite stationery fetish?

19. Which of your creations are you most proud of and why? (If you have children, we'll take that as read, so feel free to nominate something else!)

20. What are you going to do when you log off your computer?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Page 37 had all I needed to know


Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.


Two or three times in my life I discovered love.
Each time it seemed to solve everything.
Each time it solved a great many things
but not everything.
Yet left me as grateful as if it had indeed, and
thoroughly, solved everything.


God, rest my heart
and fortify me,
take away my hunger for answers,
let the hours play upon my body.

An excerpt found at random from "Sometimes"
Red Bird
Mary Oliver

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Oh, for a good argument!

I wish I had been taught to argue properly.

In my family, the end of an argument was signalled by the "last word", usually delivered by someone smarter and quicker than yourself. Unfortunately, I suspect that the opportunities to argue as a spouse and a mother will not be all that dissimilar.

At university, arguing was encouraged within the confines of an essay or a tutorial dedicated to a particular topic. Having sampled a range of departmental offerings, it seemed to me that there wasn't a lot of constructive dialogue between disciplines, or even between different factions of the same discipline. Sometimes, it seemed like we were talking about the same thing using completely different languages. Argument was only acceptable if safely confined to the page (then the more inflammatory and incomprehensible to "outsiders", the better), or delivered via pithy rejoinder in the tearoom (precursor to the contemporary water cooler) but never in the presence of the person whose opinion was being systematically poo-pooed.

Professionally, I have noticed that arguing an opposing view tends to see you relegated to the role of the "negative" person in the room. As if you are automatically gainsaying just for the sake of it, or because you are resistant to change, or because you don't want to do more work. Of course, all of these things might be true (and I certainly do know and work with people like this) but it doesn't automatically follow.

You might just be offering a different perspective. You might be advocating for people who may have a different perspective. You may be cautioning that a gently-gently approach would serve the organisation better, as it would help ensure that people with different perspectives are reassured and "brought along" in the change process. You could be justifiably worried that existing systems are not flexible enough to support proposed changes, and that this will mean a whole lot of disruption and extra work for people who are already stretched to the limit. This is not to say that you don't agree with whatever is proposed, you just want to be sure that everyone is comfortable with the consequences, and that problems are received with respect, understanding and a commitment to resolve them.

After all, this will help stand everyone a better chance of achieving those all-important yet nebulous outcomes.

But after a while, people stop inviting you to meetings and start making decisions without consulting you. They certainly don't consider you for employment opportunities, with the result that the upper echelons start to look quite homogenous.

The irony is that the educational institution I work for is going through the change process so that it can offer students a more authentic inter-disciplinary approach, by giving them exposure to different ways of thinking, encouraging them to explore different educational approaches (e.g. by going on student exchange), and by putting mechanisms in place to ensure that the university and the community have greater dialogue and knowledge exchange.

But if we are not practicing what we preach, then how do we hope to deliver? And what chance do we stand, if as a society we are choosing less and less to be challenged and to grow through encounters with people of differing perspectives?

I do not have the answer to this and not modelling the change I would like to see in the world. I shy away from confrontation and am hesitant to deliver or receive criticism, even if it is constructive. I am much braver on the page than I am in person. I tend to play the role of conciliator, pacifier, people-pleaser. When the going gets tough, passive aggression is the first line of defence. Over the years my own friendships have been filtered such that I am surrounded by loyal and encouraging souls who have similar values, even though their world views might be different. The work environments I tend to choose are not dissimilar. How can I criticise my colleagues for forming homogenous cliques?

I feel I should say at this point that I am not in the midst of an argument, and have not been relegated to the negative bench at work. In fact, my world at the moment is blissfully confrontation-free. Which makes me think that it is the perfect time to ponder these things.

Bob Fosse once quoted Oscar Wilde as saying, "The anxiety is unbearable, I hope it lasts forever." I am in no way for creating struggle where none is required, but I do sometimes wonder if comfort leads to stagnation.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The dance between too-muchness and not-enoughness

Most of the time I don't strive for balance in my life. Although it can feel like each week is a lurch from overactivity to recovery and back again, I am increasingly comfortable with the knowledge that this is my cadence.

However. This is not to suggest that each extreme does not bring with it some form of insecurity.

I recently turned down some project work on account of the fact that I am committed to a writing course for the next five weeks, a time which also happens to coincide with my parents going overseas (which means I am one day down in terms of childcare). I was flattered to be asked, and said so, but was keen not to overcommit and let anyone down, given their looming deadlines. I was also secretly quite proud of myself for protecting the precious time I have with my daughter and husband, as well as the little space I have carved for myself to nurture my writing talents.

But then I heard that niggling little voice, the one that politely enquired as to whether I shouldn't have taken it on, and whether I shouldn't be notching up more runs on the board in my day job. Yes, a lot of my work is reasonably high level and somewhat conceptual, and I do have a reputation for "getting things done". Yes, my work energy is more like the short sprints we do in interval training rather than a steadily paced endurance test. Yes, I only work two days a week so can't commit to much, especially when deadlines fall on my out-of-office days. But is this the time and place to confess that much of the time I feel lazy and unfocussed much of the time when I'm at work?

Parallel to this, I have been having so much fun inhabiting the world of an eight year old boy, whose secret is slowly becoming apparent. I have been lapping up the very clever exercises that Amy has devised, and am trying to make the most of her wisdom and experience -- as well as the kind, clever community that is forming -- to push my writing to the next level.

But isn't it a fine line between wanting to participate and being collegial, and acting out a girl-guide-on-acid I'm-just-so-keen-I'm-going-to-read-all-your-stuff-and-post-an-encouraging-comment-on-your-blog-every-single-time role? And give everyone the irrits such that we're back in primary school and I'm the smarty-pants teacher's-pet all over again?

A couple of days ago, Keri Smith posted a rather thought-provoking quote about the Ancient Greek concept of Eudaimonia. Although I'm not quite sure that Derrick Jensen's analysis tallies with what I learnt in undergraduate Classics, it was so long ago that I can't remember what exactly it was that I did learn. But I like the way he draws attention to what the relationship between happiness and "fittingness" has to teach us about how to truly live (i.e. the extent to which our actions reflect our gifts, and represent who we truly are).

Somewhere along the line, I seem to have confused "fittingness" with "fitting in". Sometimes that primary school loneliness does not feel all that far away.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Thursday, April 15, 2010

All in a day's work

I know my days are rich and full but I really have to hand it to my little 'un. She seems to be able to squeeze more learning, play, and daring exploration into a day than I'd ever have thought possible.

Take today, for example. By 1pm she had already:

* read herself three books (albeit upside-down) complete with animated narrative and sound effects;

* taken fledgling steps, holding on to her choo-choo train walker (pictured);

* delivered a veritable poonami that required an unscheduled bath, just so I could scrape half the farmyard out of her armpits (thank your lucky stars that's not pictured);

* eaten a whole apple for the first time, by herself: skin, core and all;

* told me every time a car, bike or "fffff" (i.e. dog) went past while we walked; and

* kissed herself in the mirror, then laughed hysterically at herself, in the pilates studio while I had my class.

This motherhood caper is surely full of wonder.



Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Trusting the process

The cloying woolly smell of the hydronic heating has signalled the start of Winter. Technically, we're in the middle of Autumn: the leaves changing colours, and we are still having the occasional glorious crisp sunny day. But the sudden drop in temperature makes me want to leave all the blinds and curtains drawn, and stay indoors in my jammies, sipping hot chocolate.

It has also got me thinking about the ways in which I am sinking more deeply into the creative life I pledged to this year, and the ways in which my various projects are progressing (or not).

I had a great conversation with Cathy about the lessons of this journey, over coffee on Monday. We mulled over that phase in collaging or painting when you know the piece is not finished and a voice in your head nudges you to keep exploring, but you find yourself stalling, enjoying the perfection of the stage before really messy wild stuff happens. It is a good thing to take the time to recognise and enjoy that moment. But there's a danger in staying attached to it, and stagnating as a result.

We also talked about over-analysing and over-thinking creative projects before we've even started. My mental writing process can tend to resemble various stages of inactivity. For example, I'll look at the pile of publications I've been collecting and think, "I should send a pitch and sample article to each of these editors." Then I'll wonder what to write about. Seeing as I haven't had a lightening bolt of inspiration, I wonder what their readership would like to hear about. (I'm not talking here of the business of writing with a specific consumer in mind, I'm thinking more of relevance in the sense that I'm not going to submit an excerpt of my Doctoral thesis to Frankie magazine. I'm also wondering what it is that only I could convey to them.) In any case, I am starting to question whether it would be worthwhile to bash a flimsy idea into shape -- it sounds like a lot of work and I am already starting to bore with my reluctance to get started on it.

This morning as I was scribbling in my journal, it occurred to me that little boy with the x-ray goggles will be a good experiment in relinquishing control of the journey and not trying to second guess the outcome. One of the reasons I'll confess that I don't see myself as a fiction writer is that I find the prospect of writing a novel (or, at the very least, a well-developed story) exhausting. Not to suggest that writing non-fiction is any less hard work but somehow I have this notion that if you're writing from your own experience/perspective, it's less onerous to unfold the narrative. After all, you already know how your story's going to end, right?

I see now that this is my opportunity to dig a little deeper and watch quietly and closely for story that's trying to be emerge. Maybe if I can nurture it enough, it will present itself more fully formed than I could have ever anticipated. And maybe my role in channelling it into the page will be less daunting.

It's actually somehow liberating to know that this story is nothing to do with me. But the process of realising it is everything to do with me.

If I can just get out of my own way...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A glimpse and a whisper

First day of the course and he finds me. An eight year old boy wearing x-ray goggles. He has a secret and he isn't really keen on sharing it. But he doesn't know that I can read over his shoulder, hear his whispers, and glimpse his dreams...

For someone who hasn't written fiction for a long time (and doesn't really think of themselves as a fiction writer), I am loving the promise of this journey!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Rushing towards the lull... and back again

I've been trying to pinpoint it: the thing that has shifted. The thing that has me breathing easier, sleeping more deeply, laughing more. Finishing things. Noticing exquisite little moments. Starting things. Juggling it all with grace and ease.

What happened?

For the last two weeks I have been dragging my heals, sinking feeling in my stomach, sighing heavily. Tossing and turning, feeling blah, dressing frumpily, skin and hair looking horrid. I've been lazy and unmotivated, and my inner dialogue has been shallow and bitchy.


I could blame hormones, I suppose. I could also blame the weather. Or burnout. Or the fatigue that comes from the restless unpicking of my emotional and spiritual fabric, the relentless quest for understanding and improvement.

Or was it boredom? Or the far more literary-sounding but no less debilitating ennui?

Maybe it is my natural cycle. I always seem to be rushing towards the lull: "Once I finish this, I can relax". A frenetic burst of activity, saying yes to it all, making sure I let nothing slip, trying to do it all perfectly. Then the lull arrives and everything screeches to a halt. I luxuriate and wallow in turns, let things slide, push the limits of letting go. I begin to realise that, far from being all things to all people, I have in fact been intensely self-obsessed and single-minded. I begin to worry about the costs and repercussions of this, and to wonder if it has all been worth it. I am confused about how to make the most of this time: "Now I am here, now what?". There seem to be so many options and none of them appeal.

Then the catalyst arrives -- a glimpse of sunshine, a sweet moment with my boyo, figs and blue cheese for lunch, watching my little 'un's face as she glides to and fro on a swing for the first time, making crochet squares, a quote that makes me go aha! -- heralding the next bout of activity.

Although I resented and resisted it at the time, the lull has seen me rejuvenate and refresh. I have ideas. I know I can see them through.

I also know that this will all lead to a new frenzy of commitments and brain-stretching creativity, followed by yet another burnout and lull. I'm beginning to agree with Danielle La Porte, that striving for balance is not necessarily the answer.

So maybe I'll just go with it, and try to stop questioning, over-analysing and second-guessing each stage of the cycle. It all seems to have its own momentum, and varying degrees of grace.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Yeah. What he says.

Their cries of joy where growing slowly fainter as they receded from me with gathering speed. I felt a stab of anguish -- no, not anguish exactly, but a pang of sorrow -- at the widening gulf between us. They had found a way to redeem what I never could: the utter ordinariness of everyday existence. It's unlikely that they had much in their lives to be contrite about -- and, in any case, outright wickedness is never much of a problem. It's what Dostoyevsky calls the "lukewarm" life that it's difficult for people like me to rescue, all the bits that, in a novel, would be edited out. Last Tuesday afternoon, the whole of October, in fact entire years frittered away n forgotten conversations, tidying up the living room, reading the newspaper, cooking soup, waiting for a bus.

Arabesques: A Tale of Double Lives
Robert Dessaix

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Last refuge of the useless

4 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 egg
3 tablespoons milk
3 tablesoons oil
3 tablespoons chocolate chips (or prunes)
small splash vanilla extract

Add dry ingredients and mix well. Add egg, milk and oil and mix well. Add chocolate chips (or prunes) and vanilla extract and mix again.

Cook in a microwave at 1,000 watts (high) for 3 minutes. Do not allow if to sit if you are impatient, as well as a glutton.

Do not share under any circumstances.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Travelling beyond the bliss

This morning, in typing up some of Joseph Campbell's work to email a dear friend, I came across this little gem:

You must return
with the bliss
and integrate it.

The return is seeing
the radiance is everywhere.

Last night, I decided to clear my desk in my study/studio of the various detritus that accumulated -- books, receipts, flyers, sneaky Etsy purchases -- to make a clearing for art to be made. This has been a weekly undertaking of late, as I seem to be allowing the detritus to pile up, with the result that the art is progressing only incrementally.

One of the main debris-magnets has been a folder crammed full of things that relate to 2010 being the year of LOVE. I'd planned to use it to map out my year, my plans for my creative life. It stared at me accusingly every time I sat down at my desk: the Goddess Workbook planner; the New Year Goal and Intention kit; the compilation of various publications to which I'm thinking of submitting articles... none of which I had taken any action on.

I disembowelled the folder, filed the various bit and pieces, then took it off my desk once and for all. Then I sat and wondered: is that the extent of my progress with my word for 2010?

A quarter of the year has passed since I declared 2010 the year of LOVE. Upon reflection, it has served me well in many areas of my life,: I've witnessed a flourishing in my creative world and my interactions with other creative/intuitive souls. I've been less successful in the area of SELF-LOVE (forgive me, I have no idea why I feel compelled to keep writing this in capital letters) and have been quite despondent to witness the resilience of self-sabotaging behaviours.

On a whim, and in the middle of the great evisceration, I picked up a glittery purple pen and started scribbling in a document that had also been sitting in the infamous folder called Your Word of the Year Discovery Tool. I can't remember how I came across it and I'm not sure it can still be downloaded from the author's website. I mean no disrespect when I say that her approach is not really my thing, but I have to say that the questions she posed in the Discovery Tool were excellent. This one, in particular, blew me away:

If you were to live your word daily throughout the year, how your your life be different one year from today? What would you have created or attracted? How would you feel?

I would feel, I found myself writing, much as I do now. Except possibly a little more comfortable in my own skin. Or perhaps it's more to accurate say that I'd be a more consistently mindful of the things that trigger my self-sabotaging behaviours. If anything, I hope I'd be more practiced at accepting the gifts of discomfort.

And then, just like that, I realised that I am no longer labouring under a misapprehension.

Following my bliss is no longer enough.

Put it this way: when Brene Brown listed "I thought I'd look thinner/prettier/more together by now" among the reasons why she considered avoiding a retreat with her gal pals, I knew exactly what she meant. I realised that I had been equating self-love with some kind of static two-dimensional idea whereby I was suddenly the epitome of glamour and self-restraint who somehow resembled a distant cousin of the First Lady of France.

But, more importantly, I realised that all the things that stand in the way of me epitomising glamour and self-restraint and resembling a distant cousin of the First Lady of France -- and I don't have the energy to go into them here -- are not going to go away.

This might sound like I have given up and, to be honest, I do feel a little deflated (and it's likely that I will consume my own bodyweight in chocolate as soon as I log off). But somehow I feel a little freer.

And I can see a little more clearly how love-in-all-capitals might serve me a little better in integrating some bliss into my everyday reality. I'm even getting a sense of how other words that are meaningful to me might be more rigorously applied to make loving my self-imposed limitations that little bit easier.

That, I suspect, is where the radiance is to be found.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The poetry of romance

Thinking about poetry (again!) while changing the bedlinen this morning.

Musing what a privilege it has been to witness this lovely lass stepping forward and declaring to the universe that she is worthy of an equal, and watching the sweet story unfold. Pondering a recent email conversation with a dear friend about navigating the delicate tapestry of marriage, particularly when children arrive and unravel the carefully woven threads.

Recalling the text message I received from another old pal after my wedding. It had been the perfect day. Our closest friends read Rumi and Khalil Gibran. We shared an exquisite meal. My husband cried when reading his vows, and again when giving his speech. "Thank you" she wrote, "For putting romance back in our lives."

As I stripped back the sheets and smoothed the pillows I found myself wondering if the poetry is always there, you just have to look harder for it than when you're in the throes of the first flush of romance.

I thought it would be fun to issue a challenge to all of you dear souls who read my words in this space: where can you see the romance in your day today? You are welcome to post a comment, but there's no pressure to do so. Just give romance a moment's thought and observe how it heightens your senses.

It might be in the succulent first bite of the perfect poached egg, or in the fifteen minutes your partner plays with your little 'uns so that you can post to your blog. It might be in the decadence of new pyjamas, or the knowledge that you can stay in bed reading a book until 2pm if you want to (even if you don't). It might be in changing your outlook so that all the boxes you've siphoned your life into become early birthday presents when you arrive at your new home, so you can open each one in delight and wonder. It might be in the joy of 500 beautifully crafted words and the relief once you have pressed the "send" button to email them off to their destination. It might be in the butterflies in your tummy whenever you allow yourself to wonder what you'll do when your job contract ends. It might be in reading words of love and anguish in the bath, to yourself or your beloved, accompanied by dark chocolate.

Here's one to get you started:

So that you will hear me
my words
sometimes grow thin
as the tracks of the gulls on the beaches.

Necklace, drunken bell
for your hands smooth as grapes.

And I watch my words from a long way off.
They are more yours than mine.
They climb on my old suffering like ivy.

It climbs the same way on damp walls.
You are to blame for this cruel sport.
They are fleeing from my dark lair.
You fill everything, you fill everything.

Before you they peopled the solitude that you occupy,
and they are more used to my sadness than you are.

Now I want them to say what I want to say to you
to make you hear as I want you to hear me.

The wind of anguish still hauls on them as usual.
Sometimes the hurricanes of dreams still knock them over.
You listen to other voices in my painful voice.

Lament of old mouths, blood of old supplications.
Love me, companion. Don't forsake me. Follow me.
Follow me, companion, on this wave of anguish.

But my words become stained with your love.
You occupy everything, you occupy everything.

I am making them into an endless necklace
for your white hands, smooth as grapes.

So That You Will Hear Me
Pablo Neruda

Sunday, April 4, 2010

My Stories, Your Emails

In listening to Ursula Martinez' stories, I found myself wondering if we were really all that different from the people who had emailed her having seen her burlesque act on the internet. I mean, as we sat there listening to endearing little snippets about her family and the place she grew up, I am sure we were all mentally constructing our own pictures of her. Given her propensity to lampoon and embellish, I suspected she was challenging us to realise that our identikit montages had little to do with her real life.

She was clever, she was funny, and I reckon we got it.

I went to university with a girl whose life resembled a Postmodernism reader. A conversation with her was so steeped in theory as to be incomprehensible, even when we were discussing everyday pedestrian things. One time, we were trying to make a theatre piece together and she was stuck on how to get started: "Should I enter the space subjectively or objectively?" she kept asking. "Should I start walking with my right foot or my left?" I wondered. Our friendship dissolved soon thereafter.

Many years later, I heard that she was working in a strip joint, to pay her rent. On the one hand, I wanted to respect and honour her choice. I knew she had it tough at university, with no support from her family (financial or otherwise). Maybe she figured that it was an obvious choice, given her dance and theatre background, although this was a while before burlesque became acceptable/chic again in Melbourne performance circles and definitely before pole dancing became a mainstream cardio alternative.

I sometimes wondered if she entered her new space subjectively or objectively. I guessed that her ideas about the relationship between spectatorship and gender were making her choices a little easier, allowing her to see her everyday life through a different lens. I recalled our conversations about "subverting the gaze" and pondered the extent to which she could feel empowered, when the people gazing at her did not share, or were not aware of, her views.

If the glimpse into Ursula Martinez' experience was anything to go by, I suspect you can be as cerebral and funny as you like when you are getting your gear off. But odds are, the majority of the population are not going to get it.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Poisonwood Bible

This week, I haven't felt like doing much. To be honest, if I'd had my way, I would have stayed in bed all week alone, reading novels, sipping Earl Grey tea, and munching on crumpets with honey.

I don't think this is a result of reading The Poisonwood Bible.

That said, my awe of Barbara Kingsolver's skill in crafting the most extraordinary ordinary characters, and her dexterity in having them encounter pivotal moments in history, did make me feel like crawling into bed and pulling the doona over my head. Her research, her empathy, her stunning dialogue were truly breathtaking (and somewhat intimidating), particularly given the vastness and sensitivity of her topic.

The journey through the Price girls' observations was not unlike, I suspect, the experience of living on the African continent as an outsider. It was difficult to grasp at first, the milieu was impenetrable and I found myself giving up on a few occasions. But, having persisted, I found myself liking the narrators and feeling a tremendous sense of affection and compassion for their idiosyncrasies and tenacity. The more I learnt about life in the Congo in the 1960s, and the devastation wrought by colonisers and missionaries, the more I absorbed the girls' complicity, shame, and bewilderment, and the more their choices made sense. I couldn't put the book down and I couldn't stop thinking about the exquisite tendrils of story unfolding against the dusk of loss and misunderstanding.

The ending was detached and unsatisfactory. And somehow that seemed appropriate too.

I'm still not 100% certain how I got to read The Poisonwood Bible. I mean to say, I'm not quite clear how each narrator's story reached me the reader, given that only one was witnessed recording her experiences in a journal. This was much more confidently (and cleverly) handled in The Lacuna. Or maybe I'm not very good at suspending disbelief.

Disbelief requires a bit too much energy at the moment. It's a time for regrouping, recovering after a bout of intense activity. Trying to allow whatever it is that happens when I am not reacting, completing, anticipating.

John Lennon once said, "Life is something that happens while you're busy making other plans." You don't need to be flung into a foreign corner of the universe to feel like an unopened Iris.

Friday, April 2, 2010

This afternoon when my Yiayia died, I

had been playing with my little 'un, reading a book on the floor.

was none the wiser as it was 3.30pm on Good Friday afternoon in Melbourne and 2.30am on Good Friday morning in Wales. My parents received the call from my Auntie.

felt profoundly sad and was a little surprised by this. Unlike my sister, I was not sad for my Papou or for my Auntie, as I figured their situation would most likely be a little easier from this point forward (regrets notwithstanding). I did feel for my Dad, all the way on the other side of the world, unable to say goodbye to his mother or support his sister.

found myself wondering whether she knew her time was truly coming. She'd been announcing her imminent departure on a daily basis ever since any of us could remember.

was relieved she went peacefully, in her sleep, in her own bed, in no pain, with her daughter by her side.

regretted lacking the patience to really listen to her stories. My Yiayia lived an extraordinary life: surviving the Fascist occupation of Greece; losing her father during the Greek Civil War; marrying a Welsh coalminer who had been fighting with the Allied Forces in Greece; migrating to Wales and bringing her widowed mother and two small siblings with her; raising her new family, while never quite resolving her severe health problems and severe culture chock. She never quite adapted to her new surrounds, her refusal to learn English being the most obvious manifestation... and another reason why it was hard for me to hear and understand her stories.

struggled to forgive her chronic and debilitating hypochondria, the way she manipulated situations and played people off against each other, her fondness for emotional blackmail and continual attention-seeking, her disdain for the people, language and culture that surrounded her. [Spending time with my Yiayia and Papou was not dissimilar to watching a play by Beckett.]

fondly remembered the songs she'd sing; her funny mixed-up Greek/English expressions that have since become fossilised in family parlance; the Shreddies breakfast cereal she'd buy whenever I visited (because I'd loved it when I was eight and you can't get it in Australia); the way she saved every little card and photo we sent her, and even found the cassette recordings Dad made with me and sent to her when I was three years old; the chocolates and dolls and money for shopping; her delight when I was learning her mother tongue and sent her postcards written in Greek.

wished that things had been different, that we'd lived closer together, that her life had been happier. Then wondered if our relationship would have been worse, the more time we spent together.

finally acknowledged that it's pointless to ponder these things. She had a difficult life, and her way of dealing with it was to make life difficult for everyone around her. In her own way, she loved us. And in our own way, we loved her back.

Hiding behind the words

In today's A2, Cate Kennedy issued the following challenge:

I would love those who do most of their communicating via the blogosphere to try this simple test: if you think your observation or idea stands up to being shared, try assembling an audience and relating it, unadorned. Trade your internet connection for the connection with a live, listening group of real people, and see how you feel about it then.

To contextualise, Kennedy was musing on the terror that comes with reading your own words in public. She considered how writing is largely (and necessarily) a solitary pursuit, and walked us through the vulnerability that comes from sharing your story in public. She ended by celebrating one of Australia's most talented and cherished storytellers, and his power to "show us something more about ourselves, something we knew but had momentarily forgotten".

I suspect Cate Kennedy does not blog or twitter, so she may not be aware of how much courage it can take to put your stories out into the e-universe. And that real live people be reading what you have written in tandem with living their real lives offline. And that their responses will be genuine and range the full human gamut -- delight, compassion, sorrow, anger, apathy -- and they will share them just as openly.

But her piece resonated with me in a different way. I was recently paid one of the most poignant and delightful compliments by a new friend, via email. She complimented me on my skills in observing my life, in drawing my thoughts together, in writing, in sharing, and also in understanding and responding to things that she herself had written. I was so heartened to read her words that I'd challenge Cate Kennedy to disallow them on the grounds that they were not delivered in person.

However, a little voice did whisper in my ear, "There is safety on the page, on the screen. You're never as articulate as when you hide behind your words." Thankfully there were other inner voices that rallied to my defence, followed by some mildly interesting "monkey mind" to-ing and fro-ing about the validity/baseness of the joy I receive from composing beautiful strings of words.

It's true. Although I am quick witted, and an empathic listener in person, I'm probably never going to be as brilliant in person as I am on the page. But I still think it's worth putting my words on the page. And standing behind them, even if only virtually.

It's no less frightening, and it's no less brave. And no less rewarding.