Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Pink sandals and miniature trains

Strands of hair attached themselves to my lip gloss, leaving faint and sticky coral lines on my cheek as I tried to whip them away.

The children’s red plastic plates flew off the table, sending pink sandals in pursuit.

Great grandmas looked on with curiosity, pride, regrets… who knows? Grandmothers are notoriously hard to read.

The cake was in the shape of a train - fat and moist and with one of its chocolate biscuit wheels dropping off - fatigued, like the mother who’d stayed up ‘til 2am baking it.

Baby Brown Eyes darted around the table offering up shares of her cheezels and cupcakes. Her white dress was just like a bride’s. She told me so.

At pass-the-parcel time, everyone wins a prize. Those who come last in the process look at me balefully when the music keeps playing, the parcel moving on to other hands. Is this just one of many disappointments in their young lives? Will coming last be a regular occurrence for them?

The miniature steam train is coming into view. The driver wears overalls and a peak cap – good for keeping his flowing locks in place … if he still had any. Great grandma gets her leg over as she calls it, crouching to sit on the train with her 60-year-old baby perched in front of her. She waves like all the others as she passes. We’re all wearing pink sandals deep down.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Doctors in the house

“I kept my eyes down; I could not face the fluency of her hands.”

These were the words that had me weeping as I drove to work this morning. They came from Dr Frank Brennan, a Sydney-based palliative care physician who was speaking on Radio National, on Dr Norman Swan’s fabulous Health Report Program. Wow, such amazing stuff. Brennan has released a book of recollections based around his palliative work.

In the quote above he was describing the experience of explaining to a family that their father/grandfather/husband was no longer able to deal with his chemotherapy and that he would now begin the quiet march towards death. A couple of the family members were deaf. One of the young daughters had to ‘sign’ the words that Brennan was delivering. These words were ones he had uttered many times before but, slowing them down to accommodate the signing, they took on new resonance in his head. The family’s dignity, the love for the dying man, the plight of all his patients hit the doctor and he found himself in tears at the end of the experience.

Other stories told by Brennan dealt with the bond of love between husbands and wives, the disturbing effect regrets have when it comes time to die and the continually present reminder palliative work provides that we must live a full life, living out our talents and dreams and pursuing love. “A well lived life” as Brennan and others before him have described it.

The voice of Brennan and his words were powerful, moving and deeply human. I respect and appreciate – so very much - the work he and others in the field do. I wish I had had someone like him in my life at times when it was required. Perhaps I will in the future.

I love Dr Swan too. Thank you, thank you, thank you Norman Swan for constantly looking that bit deeper into the liquids, cells, motors and neurons that make the human body tick. And thank you for giving credit to the uncelebrated lives of the people who make a real difference to how we experience life. They’ll never make it on to Australian Idol or the front page of the Women’s Weekly.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Hey True Blue

Hippopotamus and Crocodile Hunt. c.1615-1616. Oil on canvas. Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Germany by Paul Rubens

Well the Steve Irwin memorial was just on the telly and I have to say it was a pretty moving experience and a remarkably tasteful and inclusive production. What an impact that fella had.

Who knew funny old Kevin Costner would come up with the corker description of why Steve really had such appeal? He pointed out that Steve was himself, unafraid to be himself, despite the fact that such honesty often brings with it derision and mimicry. Costner would know, the poor lamb, how many TV comedians took the mickey out of movies of his such as The Postman and that waterworld mess?

You look at an event such as the Irwin memorial, you look at the impact one man had on so many lives and you wonder how one person can so swiftly rise above the rest, how one person can live a life so much larger than the majority of us will ever achieve.

Qualities of the Croc Hunter – passion, sacrifice, deep love, inclusiveness, hard work – we can all express them in our lives; they don’t have to be held up on the telly. But, strangely, by allowing certain individuals to rise to great prominence, the universe is able to point our attention to certain areas, issues that need to be examined, qualities that need to be respected and nurtured. With the passing of Steve Irwin Australians, and others around the world, may actually be even more attentive to the natural world, may go just a little bit further than they would have previously in order to protect and embrace the environment. They might do this simply to make Steve proud, simply to ensure his hard work was not wasted. That is an amazing legacy. It is not one that I, if I were his wife or child, would think was worth losing this man over but, if I were a supreme being and not a human, I would have to put some faith in that.

Humans – we have to put our faith in something don’t we?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Dream a little dream with me

Ever heard of Lori McKenna? I just saw her on Oprah with US country/cross over singer, Faith Hill. Ok, don't roll your eyes just yet. She's some stay at home mother of five who got married at 19 but kept on writing songs, just to remind herself of her dreams. I don't know how old the Oprah show was that she was just on here in Oz but, there she was, bigger than life, up on stage with Oprah and Faith (who sells squillions of albums year after year), crying over dreams coming true. Faith used three of Lori's songs on her Fireflies album - making one of them the cover track.

It was quite moving to hear this story, see this young woman rise above challenging beginnings, pursue a dream and have to work hard and suffer along the way but, eventually, to get it.

Oprah's a big believer in dreams. I'd say she's one of those folk who contends that if you can see something - really see it - and are willing to hang on to that vision, prepare, work and believe, believe, believe, that you can make that dream a reality.

Life can get in the way of dreams. We should probably stop calling them dreams. Dreams are something that take place when you're asleep. These things are visions and goals - they're the palace on the horizon. We've all heard of creative visualisation - seeing yourself achieving something (from being a non smoker to accepting an Academy Award) and using that image to help you achieve the reality. This is a very active pursuit, you have to be very vigilant, brave and focused to keep that vision close to you in life. Every day concerns will get in the way. Obstacles will muscle in, to the point where the vision doesn't even seem relevant to you anymore. That's the challenge: actually seeing the vision in full colour, surround sound clarity and then keeping it within easy reach, not letting the rain and sleet and tearing winds reduce it and reduce it and reduce it until there is nothing but a darkened patch left where it used to be, some rubble left where the palace used to stand.

Friday, September 15, 2006

“I want to feel serene”, she said. “I don't want the turmoil anymore”.

Feeling better
Concentrating on the positives
Not comparing myself to others
Mindful thinking. Mindful living. It’s more than just yoga you know
Acknowledging my own flaws, fears and thoughts and simply living with them
They’re not so humungous after all
Acknowledging that my dream lover is one that can be turned on and off at will
Facing the person I think I should be, as opposed to the person I actually am
Accepting the reality … of myself … calling a halt to the battle
Pretending takes a lot of effort. Fake it ‘til you make it is dangerous business. Spend too long pretending and there will always be repercussions – such a sinister word hey?

Today’s insight: I am the tennis umpire, always watching myself on court, critiquing and criticising. Get off the high chair. Just freakin play!

Today’s hero: Andre Agassi

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

there's a hole in my heart

The television is on in the other room and a native New Yorker is lamenting the effect that 9/11 has had on her: "There's a hole in my heart, in my family's heart, and it just can't heal" she's saying.

Man but there's a lot of public grief around at the moment. If you can take a step back it's actually kind of interesting to observe. Of course, if you're directly involved ... hmmm... not so interesting.

Loss is such a complicated thing. It sits on your chest like a heavy, hot hand. Sometimes it's weighed up, compared to the loss of others. Is there such a thing as loss competitiveness?

Here in Australia we've lost a couple of high profile residents recently. The outpouring for the crocodile hunter in particular has been of biblical proportions. My mind can't help travelling - to the knowledge of other dads, brothers, sons and husbands who die every day, not in risky situations but at the hands of others - drunk drivers, mad men, politicians. I mean imagine the families of men (and women) who got on the buses in London to go to work, to earn a crust, to do their bit, who never came home.

Don't listen to me though. I'm the girl whose heart does NOT go out to the rich yachtie types who get stranded in the sea in their high powered sailing competitions every year. I find myself saying, 'Yeah they should bloody well pay for your own rescues, even if it's through entrance fees to the race. Your rescuers risk their lives trying to save you."

If someone makes their living every day of their life by taking out-of-this-world risks, should we really be so shocked when those risks grow teeth and snatch at a loose shirt tail, dragging them down?

Anyway it's not just me. Bruce Shapiro ( was on radio national (Late Night Live repeat this afternoon. He'd been to New Orleans in the past week or two, said he was surprised by how bitter some of the Katrina survivors were in regards to how much cash and attention was given to those involved in 9/11 (people and buildings) and how, after the passing of 12 months, many of them had not even seen a cent from the government to help them rebuild their lives. Loss competitiveness? I'm not wise enough to say. Human nature? Definitely.

Interesting comment Mr Shapiro made: Those affected by Katrina had received $8 million to date. Apparently that's what one day at war in Iraq costs the United States; a completely different kind of loss hey?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Between friends

Pity the creature who has no friends.

I wanted to think about friends and friendship today and I am - CONFESSION CONFESSION - a sad and over zealous user of famous quotes so I am not even going to start looking up ones to do with friendship because I know there will be so many and they will be so good. Although it's killing me, right now, not to do it.

A card arrived in the mail last week, out of the blue and just for me, from a friend. She told me I was a goddess, HER goddess. I shed a little tear in my tiny white Toyota as I read those words. Poor lamb, she must be in a bad way if I'm her goddess. Although I did start thinking about the shrine she might want to start building for me. The Argonaut used to say he'd build a shrine to me. Been a long time coming is all I can say!

Ooops, a real goddess probably doesn't think petty thoughts like that.

So, anyway, the card arrived and it was just full of love. It was sent because of love and it carried within it a simple message of love. Though miles away this friend was thinking of me. I was being remembered. It felt like someone had quietly put their hand on my shoulder and breathed in my ear, 'Hey, you're okay'. It altered my whole day. I want to pass that feeling on this week. I want to share that simple pleasure.

I have been particularly blessed in the friendship stakes. Friends burst forth in my life like the lemons on my over active lemon tree. I try not to let the friends spoil though. I can't say the same for the lemons.

Today's painting is a nod to a particularly special friend of mine who honoured our relationship this weekend by sharing some very important news with me. She's a friend of the highest order, one who never ever judges, who treads so lightly on the world that she should pay less taxes because she's such a positive influence on the people in her emotional neighbourhood. This is a gal who gives friendship freely and without strings. Her generosity is real, it's of the deepest kind. She actually gives of herself and her emotions. She'll listen to your crap and never say 'I told you so'. She puts her own needs aside and pops yours on the front seat next to her and makes sure they're buckled up tight and are getting enough to eat.

Now she really needs the friendship - she really needs and deserves the kindness, attentiveness and acceptance she gives so freely to others. After all, in a few months times she's going to be bringing a whole new friend into the world.

Good girl!

Friday, September 08, 2006

If I was Jean

How gorgeous am I? I just couldn't help posting my own photo today. Okay it's Jean Shrimpton but if I did look like this what would life be like? Well I suppose, in reality, it would be exactly as Jean's life has been, after all, I'd be her. But, for a moment, it's going to be my face and Jean never had dibs on it.

I'm definitely able to look people straight in the eye, particularly men. I'm able to say, 'Look at me. Listen to me. You know you want to.'

I'm quite bright and intuitive. You can see it in my eyes. But I am young too, though my confident air might deceive you a bit. You can't forget how young I am. You have to remember that when I shock you with my misjudgements and my heartless moves. And you have to remember it when you hurt me. You may only find out about it from someone else. I may seem fine to you but, as time goes by, you'll get the mail. I was a mess. I was distraught. You really damaged me. The after shocks pulsated for months. You'll never hear it from me though. Look me in the eye. You'll never hear it from me.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Powers of persuasion

Golly gosh but language is an interesting beastie. Today I was party to a conference call with an advertising and publishing 'expert' in the USA. This gals' been in the business for 20 years and boy does it show. She could talk a snail into a garlic sauce. She knows how to 'handle' people.

Every time she launched into 'feedback' on one of my ideas or views she did so with incredibly positive language ... "That's a great idea Contessa", "I really see where you're going Contessa" ... she used my name a lot. THEN she would kick in her completely opposite point of view or her 180 degrees spin on the subject. Tres amusing.

Nevertheless, I was energised by her drive, her expansive thinking and her occasional zap of straight talking. I think I can have fun with her.

Working in publishing with people who are commercially minded but are also open to trying new methods has always interested me. Today I realised I almost - a little - missed it. I want to put all the ideas that we discussed on a big table like a jigsaw and solve the puzzle. Perhaps I even want to impress her. God I have popularity and Best Girl issues!

I'm boring myself with my blogplodding today but that's because my head is spinning and my To Do list has been turned upside down. The smart thing would be - to get back to work.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Things we miss

There's a little black bird in the yard right now pecking away under the lemon tree, seemingly oblivious to the rain that is falling. How nice it must be to be a little black bird, to feel at home in the rain and to know that, at least while the sky is falling, the household pussycats will remain house bound.

The giant tree next door got cut down yesterday. All of a sudden I really don't like the view from my office window. I don't know what kind of tree it was, now I feel a bit like the person who didn't tell a loved one how special they were before they passed away. I feel like I should have known the species of that tree. It would be the least I could do. The disappeared tree gave a wild aspect to the view from our back yard, made it seem a little less like we were in a boring suburban spread and more like we were free. The tree was like a high rise for all kind of birds in the neighbourhood. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed listening to them chat chat chat to each other at various points in the day. And don't even get me started on the shifting light through that tree and how beautiful it was.

Now there is no missing the awning on the house over the back fence, to the right. Before I couldn't even see that house. Now the next door neighbours seem to stare directly at us, a child bouncing on a trampoline is practically on top of us. It's like the gap where a tooth has been pulled. Is it really so ugly?

As I was pondering this the phone just rang. A friend's grandmother is gravely ill, the family is being called to the hospital. The friend lives thousands of kilometres away, she has children, work, financial considerations ... and she has a grandma, who means the world to her. My tree issues have suddenly retreated to their appropriate place.

I have strong memories of this particular grandmother - Nan - as she was called. Her house has floral carpet and my friend and I let her canary die while she was on holidays once. (Not a proud moment). She's the worse cook I have ever known. What she called spaghetti bolognese was a travesty yet she was a true character. Her husband is Poppy. His real name is Rupert. They were very funny together when we were kids, always having digs at each other. He's a dry wit that old fella. I wonder how he's coping now. My friend and I stayed in Nan and Pop's house when we were in our very late teens. Hmmm, that was a nasty period. Poor old Nan, if only she knew what happened in her bed.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Which hat today?

Hmmm, an interesting time is upon me. I make my living from writing and the words I spit out are little workers in their own right. Some of them wear business suits and carry brief cases and have to trudge off to places where they are required to sell and convince and bear news. Others like to slip on a cardie, they have a cuppa in hand and they gossip over the neighbour's fence or whisper in the reader's ear like a good friend who wants to swap news on shared hobbies and interests. Others are adventurous, complete with pith helmets and maps. They like to dress up and they try anything. Currently they're being asked to try and capture the hearts of kids, to bring little animated critters to life and to keep wandering minds entertained.

Of course others had to flit over to Paris to take a peep at a man who hangs couture fashion on butcher's hooks, there's still a few in the city looking for a parking spot and a quick latte, others are meant to be in America introducing themselves to creative folk. That lot seem to have got lost at the airport. SOS to them!

To get the words into their right camps, I have to put on different hats. At times my hat stand has only had a few items on it; lately it's looking like it might tip over. There's a beanie, a reporter's cap, a clown's cone and I'm sure I saw a miner's helmet, complete with flashlight, hidden somewhere beneath the layers.

Today's hats are lined up in front of me. The flashlight beckons first but there's a trilby that definitely needs popping on at some point. Then there's the clown's cone, I must get that one fitted properly. Excuse me while I go and try them on.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Thank you Mr Bedford

Yesterday was spent in an all day workshop with British author, Martyn Bedford, as part of the Melbourne Writer's Festival. Does life get more decadent? Could I be a luckier gal?

Housed in the grandeur of the Old Treasury Building at the top of Spring Street, our group of 16 wanna be writers scribbled, talked, pondered and listened as one of those rare beasts who has 'made it' shared his knowledge about writing, the industry and the practice. Martyn Bedford’s previous novels, Acts of Revision, Exit, Orange & Red, The Houdini Girl and Black Cat, have been translated into 12 languages. He's just finished a stint teaching creative writing at Manchester University and is a fiction critic for the Literary Review. His new novel is called The Island of Lost Souls.

He was a seemingly modest chap, a man who had swapped journalism for novel writing and seemed to be enjoying the journey. He gave us respect which was probably his kindest gift. As someone who had dabbled in writing courses while still working, before finally biting the bullet in his early 30s and giving up paid work to study creative writing full time, perhaps he knew that, though the odds were against us, maybe someone in the class could make a go of it.

An activity relating to a childhood experience had me returning to one of the more eccentric and special aspects of my formative years - it may perhaps even lend itself to a short story. Whereas an exercise in writing simply about a road evoked a response, both in style and emotion, that I have not touched upon in almost 20 years. Interestingly - to me only, I am sure - recent discussions in my life have centred on my shunning of this old style and subject. Yet here it was, popping to the surface again as swiftly as an unwanted chin hair. Maybe, through my writing, I am ready to face a few old foes.

Thank you Martyn.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

A day for pleasant rambling

Such a lovely day, and it's not over yet.
A walk along the beach from Elwood to Brighton and breckie at Brighton Baths was a much appreciated change of routine. Spring is here with a vengeance in Melbourne. The smell in the air, particularly in the evenings, is quite distracting. I had promised myself a walk by the beach this week and, though it took me until Saturday to make it happen, it was well worth the wait. Having the Argonaut with me was a bonus; a break from his routine, some fresh air and some exercise.
Sharp beaked little birds (I am NOT bird watcher) were dive bombing the water and picking out small fish, the succulents along the walking track have sprouted yellow flowers and every dog in the State was out for a swim and some rear end sniffing. Bless em!
No plans is a joy isn't it although whenever I think of that I also think of those people who never have plans, have nothing to plan for, no one to plan with. A different kettle of fish altogether. For us, however, we made a pilgrimage to Hampton Market where some delicious lamb, baby carrots and pontiac potatoes were snapped up for a simple but - fingers crossed - tasty roast dinner tonight. Being away from the house so much this week means the nesting bug has bitten me, leading to patio cleaning, reading in the garden and good intentions to get the spare room spick and span for the Argonaut's mother who arrives again tomorrow.
I read a David Sedaris short story last night, one I have read before but this time it is in a collection of authors' favourite writings called 'This is my very best'. It is interesting to see how successful authors view their own work. Some are incredibly tentative about choosing their best, some refuse outright, one apparently claimed it was akin to being asked to isolate his favourite child.
I have picked up a few good books at the library this afternoon - including The Book of Revelations which has recently been made into an Australian movie.
Tomorrow I have an all-day MasterClass (wanky name for it!) with Martyn Bedford at the Melbourne Writers Festival.
Does a girl get any luckier?
10 minutes are up - off to see how the lamb's cooking ...

Friday, September 01, 2006


Well the original intention of my blog has been lost. Today I will begin anew with a commitment to give 10 minutes to my writing every day, to specifically chart moods, influences, activities, inspirations and realisations. I am excited!

Today has started with a bang. A session at the reassuringly daggy gym I have joined could affect me in two ways. It was extremely busy, full of women talking about their kids and their busy days ahead. I kept my head down, not keen to start chattering and particularly aware that I am struggling to keep up with my good friends at the moment so nervous about entering into even more new friendships. How conceited is that? As I watched us all jiggle and strain, each of us with our different lumps and curves, I took pause to think about how we all beaver away, consumed by our own lives, our lists of things to do, our private concerns. Pushing and panting and throwing stupid pink balls in the air I felt like a cog in the wheel but I also felt united in purpose. I'm not going to dwell on this old topic - why do we all bother? Who gives a shit anyway? This is an old, worn out thought pattern, if it was a towel it would be too threadbare to even keep as a polishing rag anymore. I think my shrink would call it ruminating.

I have interviewed a scarily motivated artist this morning. Just scribbling the dot points of her life left me exhausted. My immediate reaction to this kind of experience is traditionally to start comparing myself - why can't I produce 400 paintings a year, raise two kids (with a nanny), travel the world to paint live in front of various Asian royal families, call my husband the "wind beneath my wings" and still have time to put my hair in plaits before I start work in my studio looking over the rainforest?

You know what though? Today I am thinking about how impressive and joyful that woman's energy is and how rich and varied her life and that of her family must be. But I am happy with my need to sip a cup of tea in the backyard this morning because this is the first warm morning I have seen in months and it has been a hell of a busy week. As happens for me every time winter steps back to let summer have her turn, I can barely remember when it used to be hot. It's like a revelation once again. I will have my tea, write this blog, think about tidying the house and get ready for a 1.30pm appointment and I will bloody well enjoy the whole process.

Today's realisation: I am getting better at not comparing myself to others. It is an ugly habit.

Today's other realisation: I have gone past my 10 minutes and not even begun on my other topics of discussion. That's great! I'm not going to push it. Off to the dishes.