Tag Archives: Writing101

That age-old battle of the fur-balls

Tabby cat sitting

“Your cat is such a snob. She totes hates me.”

“She’s not a snob, she’s just picky, like all the best people.”

“Hel-loo, she’s not ‘people’ – she’s a fur ball who’s shedding on the best chair!”

“What can I say, Sis, Peony has good taste.”

“Who calls a cat such a sucky name? No wonders she’s stuck up.”

“Well I’d rather a discriminating beast than a floozy critter that throws itself all over anyone on two legs – or four for that matter.”

“Watch it, Bro, are you insulting my Snoopy?”

“Face facts, that dog has about as much discrimination as the carpet.”

“It’s okay Snoopy-woopy, don’t listen to what he’s saying.”

“Baby talk? Now you’ve really lost it.”

“Snoopy’s so social, if you don’t talk to him he gets depressed.”

“Mmm, not sure how you can tell that, seeing as how you talk to him ALL THE TIME! I think it’s your drivel depressing him. ”

“You wouldn’t understand, we’re positive types, you and that fleabag are the sad sacks.”

“Peony isn’t sad. We’re introverts, we crave alone time. Away from the babble of little sisters and their yappy pooches.”

“Oh my gosh, totes just get over it. You’re just jealous because everyone likes my dog better than your cat.”

“That is not true, and I wouldn’t respect the opinion of anyone who favoured Dopey McDog over quiet feline intelligence. Emphasis on QUIET.”

“You are soooo jealous! Probably because that lump of furry lard never does anything. What is the point of a pet that’s sooo boring?”

“A few moments in the exhalted company of a cat is worth a thousand years with a dribbley dog. No wonder the Egyptians worshipped cats.”

“Well dog’s are human’s best friends. So there.”

“Oh grow up.”

“You grow up! HEY Snoopy – what are you doing over there? You don’t want to curl up with that stuck up kitty!”

“Apparently he does, Sis.”

[Contented canine snores and feline purrs.]


Filed under A humorous life

Excelling under pressure but dysfunctional in the ordinary

Sand dune

One of the most interesting people I’ve met this year has been dead since 1926. I’d heard her name before I really met her, but if you’d asked me anything about her, I would have been very vague. Now I’ve had a window into the inner workings of her life, heart and mind. She’s a lot more human now than when she was just a reputation to me.

A charismatic conversationalist who came to life when conversing about the poetry of the east, travel and archaeology and many other subjects, she had auburn hair and knowing blue eyes. Gertrude Bell was a woman of great energy. She mastered in her lifetime of 57 years 6 languages, mountaineering (summiting some previously unscaled peaks), gardening, cartography, archaeology, mountain and desert travel and diplomacy (developing a network of connections across the tribes living in the Middle East). Some say she was also a spy and she is credited with assisting in the founding of modern Jordan and Iraq. She certainly excelled at extremes and under extremes. Her personal life was tragic – her mothered died when she was a child, her family wouldn’t allow her to marry her fiancé, who died tragically while still young and she later had a fervent, unconsummated affair with a married man who then died at Gallipoli. She fought to defy the set paths unmarried women of her generation would normally have taken – she loved her family, but she threw herself at challenges time and again. She would not be confined or limited.

Why was I drawn to her? Drawn to read her biography? It called to me from a shelf in Dymocks book store, from the moment I saw the desert landscape and the title Queen of the desert. Sometimes I think I wasn’t born for the maintenance of life and its routines and sometimes I think maybe I’m just lazy.  The things that give me life are the crises and the extremes and the times you have to just push yourself and don’t have the leisure of reflecting. What does me in is the day-to-day, the repetitiveness of it all. It’s tedious and soul-sucking. I call myself a project person – someone who finds energy in projects, events and dramas. I think this draws me to other project people – other people who soared in the challenging times, but maybe didn’t do so well in the ordinariness of life – I feel like they’re my tribe.

I had a phase of reading the biographies of early aviators, Charles Lindburgh, Amelia Earhart and Amy Johnson. I love the tales of their early aviation achievements, of how close they often were to death, only saved by chance, or by their own wits. But they were often driven back to the skies when their earth-bound lives failed. Amy Johnson had a difficult family life and a failed relationship, Charles Lindburgh had a child kidnapped and life was never quite the same again. In an aircraft they could block out society and challenge themselves, and travel to the ends of the globes, meet new people in far away places, land in danger or land to the cheers of adoring crowds. Despite Johnson’s and Earhart’s tragic deaths, they died doing what they loved.

In Western society today there are not so many ways to really challenge yourself. I fell in love with Robyn Davidson’s book Tracks long before it was a movie. Her lone travels with camels and dog across the centre of Australia, having learnt to train camels under harsh conditions in Alice Springs, were epic. She too was fleeing family issues, but her achievement and the freedom of that time were great. And like Bell, Earhart and Johnson she broke female stereotypes, something those around her didn’t quite know how to handle. I’m not a risk taker, but travel, living off your wits and responding to crises, taking on challenges and seeing them through – these all appeal to me – and even more when suburban-bound life disappoints or threatens to overwhelm me with the mundane. I’m inspired by those who’ve come before who forged new paths and roles where there were none. Life is short, do the things that make your eyes light up.


Filed under An adventurous life, Travel

The doll in the dumpster & what we leave behind in childhood

Swingset by the sea

Thumbelina was one of those dolls that had a plastic head attached to a soft fabric body and looked like she was wearing a jumpsuit or onesie. When I was six we lived in Michigan for the year and spent all our holidays travelling around the USA. A shy child, apparently Thumbelina was my alter ego. I imbued her with all my six-year-old sarcasm, wit and cheek. They tell me she was quite rude and disrespectful to my Grandmother. After a year of travel, Thumbie was looking a bit dirty and shabby and my mother put her in a dumpster. I remember she told me that some other little girl would probably find her and take her out and only years later did I realise how improbable that would have been. When we returned to Australia my parents bought me a new, bigger doll: Susan. She was all plastic and wore a blue frilly dress but to me she was just a doll. Plastic Susan could never replace the sass of Thumbelina.

Sometimes it is only decades later that you realise the losses you suffered in childhood – toys, books, homes  and significant people that you never got to know, got to revisit, as an adult. The things that were lost or left behind or stolen. And you can’t even trust your memories of them. Why is it that all the good experiences have faded, but the losses and shocks are still strong? One of the losses of a reasonably happy childhood can be a loss of trust in your parents. When you were young you thought they were all the world, infallible. As an adult you realise their failings. And what do you do with that? Blame them or hold it against them? I know I have done that at times. But for most reasonably functional parents, they did the best they could coming out of their own backgrounds, losses, immaturity. Learning to let go of the past and grieve losses and move on is a constant life challenge.

For many life events there are ceremonies, celebrations of new beginnings or closure on endings. I think we need to create our own rituals for the things our society doesn’t recognise. There is something about a formal occasion that focuses grief and signals to us that there is ‘a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance’. Whether it’s burning something or gathering together with others for a meal, or visiting a museum of childhood, sometimes making your own ritual, and sharing it with others, moves you on emotionally. Yes, your doll was left in a dumpster, but there are new changes and challenges to face today, so grieve what you never grieved and then travel lighter.


Filed under A deliberate life, A reflective life

Three songs to warm yourself by


Whenever I’m asked what the ‘most important’ something or other is, I struggle to identify it, so I just have to pick whatever comes to mind and start there. Perhaps if it comes most readily to mind then that is what’s most important to me at that time. Songs have always been important to me – songs of many genres. The first song that came to my mind was ‘Let the sun fall down’ by Kim Richey. Strangely I first heard this song when watching an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the song really struck me. It captured the emotion of the scene that it was pared with and it has captured my emotions at times since then. The theme of the song strikes a chord with me and provides a kind of life principle – to let in the sun – literally or metaphorically. In the song there is a line ‘that old dark cloud, acts like he knows you. He takes up too much time’. The sun is like a beacon to return to in the dark times of life when you need to actually be reminded that the sun is still there and to let it in and let it fill the room. I have never heard this song sung live, but I have had the chance to hear Kim Richey live twice and that is another thing that binds me to songs and their singers. A few singers and groups I had known for years from recordings I had the chance to hear live in the last couple of years and was not disappointed. Hearing Kim Richey’s sweet but strong voice depended my love of her music, I only wished others in the audience would have appreciated it if I’d sung along because I was so tempted to do so.

A few years ago when I went on a small group tour across the Nullarbor plain, we camped along the way near a dam at Afghan Rocks. No-one else was there but our group as the shocking heat of the day turned to the relative cool of the night and we hunkered down in our canvas swags, our heads peeping out at the wide starry sky so vast compared to the city sky interrupted by the lights of humanity and their dwellings. In our Nullarbor tour group there was a mother and her 8-year old son. In conversation I mentioned that I used to sing in a gospel choir and as night fell around our camp fire she asked me if I’d come and sing a night song to her son as he prepared to sleep. I was a bit thrown as I’m a bit cautious about singing alone and unaccompanied and I couldn’t for the life of me think of an appropriate song. Nothing literally nothing was coming to mind except panic. Eventually I thought of a song that is an easy unaccompanied one but mentioned to the boy’s mother that I’d mostly sung gospel and couldn’t think of anything else. She didn’t mind and she also dragged our Dutch male tour mate over to listen – enough to give me more desert stage nerves. The three of us stood in the dark around the lying boy’s swag and I sang ‘Amazing Grace how sweet the sound…’ and there was something mysterious and spiritual in this time. It wasn’t that we all believed the same things but there was something about the music and the night and the stillness and the haunting floating words and melody and people really listening there in the dark. Of all the places I’ve ever sung in that was the most sacred.

A few years ago I reconnected with a friend who goes to live music a lot and expressed a desire to tag along. My friend particularly devotes certain weekends of the year to significant Victorian music festivals and the the first I ever attended with his group was the National Celtic Festival in Port Arlington. A mottled band of musicians and music lovers gathers together with sword-weilding vikings and bagpipes can be heard drifting from the hillside out to the jetty where the tall ship waits to take festival goers on musical cruises. The first year I heard so many jigs, reels, polkas and strathspeys I felt like I’d come home culturally. The energy, the speed of the musicians, the uplifting melodies that somehow bring a joy and make you feel ready for anything. Again there is nothing like live music to really stir you as it thumps through you and echoes around you, as you’re stirred to sing along or tap in time. The Celtic festivals run workshops and one I’ve attended was a traditional Scottish singing one lead by a practitioner who learnt from a dying breed of Scottish singers. I learnt to really appreciate the unaccompanied true voice embracing some difficult timing and tongue twisting words. One song that has stayed with me from that workshop is ‘Mary Mac’s ma’s making Mary Mac marry me, my ma’s making me marry Mary Mac’. Such a tongue twister but also such a whirling tune as your voices are all stirred around in a frenzy of M’s and speed as you try to get your mouth around the words. Hearing about the Scottish balladeers reminded me how far my family is culturally from our Scottish family roots. But hearing and singing all these songs also stirs me to picture the Western Highlands where I once travelled and it pulls some kind of invisible chord that still ties me to Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales and the music that races on fiddle, bodhran, mandolin, guitar and tin whistle.



Filed under A creative life, A reflective life

Rediscovering awe in Paris

Carved figurine in the Sainte-Chapelle

Towering glass kaleidoscope walls twinkle blues, reds, greens, yellows. Patterned pillars guarded at the foot by be-robed bearded figures with fanciful parasols stretch up between the stained glass panels. One wall would be magnificent, but a whole room of light filtered through rainbow stories and symbols brings the humans within to silence. Room is not an adequate word for this building, this Sainte-Chapelle.

How should one behave in such a room? Religious or not, the ancient art, the soaring structure, the light, leads you to sit and gaze in awe. In a knowing society, not much strikes us dumb. For a westerner, who feels (or at least feels the illusion of being) in control of their life, their destiny, it is significant to step through a carved doorway and suddenly feel dwarfed and insignificant in the scheme of things. You’re in the presence of a royal chapel that was built in the 13th century and all the gold mouldings and the rainbow light are ancient and grand. On this  Île de la Cité in the centre of Paris is this soaring, rich interior that belies its grand but grey exterior. You’ve stumbled on a treasure trove, but not a monetary one, a trove for the soul.

Of all the places in Paris that might have been brought to my mind, this is the one that has left the greatest lasting impression, ten years on from my visit. Sometimes when you travel you encounter a series of disappointments: the Mona Lisa is smaller than you imagined; the serenity of the Sistine Chapel is interrupted constantly by broadcasts instructing people to keep moving along; half the Vatican museums are mysteriously closed the only day you’re there. On the other hand, there are places you’d never dreamed about or heard about before that you discover on your adventure. These are the places that lodge in your imagination, that link to positive emotions and are recalled sometimes with a longing to return to that place and time. These are the places you can wax lyrical about given the opportunity, or the opposite: sometimes find yourself without any words to describe the spirit of a place and what it stirred in you.

Ten years ago I quit a job that had become stressful and politic-laden and took off to Europe for three months. A friend met me in Rome and we took a small group tour from Rome to Paris, through Switzerland. The tour group wasn’t all we might have hoped, but the places we saw and the stories we shared on our modern day ‘Grand Tour’ were an education. It’s hard not to feel like a cringe-worthy tourist when you’re in a group. A tourist who tramps through monuments, museums and cultures with barely a care or a context. Looking up at a vaulted vivid blue ceiling-sky storeys above you that glimmers with gold motifs you’re no longer a tourist, but a student of awe and wonder.


Filed under A reflective life, Travel