A message pops onto my screen as I’m scrolling through my phone one day last week. It’s an invitation from my sister, Debbie – an invitation to write a guest post on her blog in a new series she’s starting called ‘person of interest’.
If you’ve been a long-term follower of my blog, you’ll know that I blog for days and days on end, and then go quiet as other areas of my life take precedence, or as I search for something to blog about. Those silences have been known to last for months. I blogged yesterday, for instance, but it was my first post in a month.
Life’s like that. Fits and starts, slow patches where nothing much happens and you wear a dent in the couch, then suddenly it starts to warm up and still moments are hard to find.
At least, that’s what life’s like for me. A burst of energy, blog posts pour forth, images are taken and posted, creative thoughts engulf you and you make plans for projects and then teaching takes over, there are provocations to record, discussion posts to write, ideas to be shared and explored and challenged and questions to be asked, responses to student posts to be crafted to ensure warmth and encouragement and generation of thought, assignments come pouring in and feedback needs to be given that’s warm and encouraging and generates thought, and your daughter falls ill and you fly interstate to support her in her recovery and prepare nutritious and delicious meals like vegemite on toast to tempt her to eat again, and your dog is run over and you spend a week crying in the shower, while you’re walking to the station, in bed late at night, eating breakfast, and your dad gets sick and is taken to hospital and spends days not being able to talk walk eat stay awake and you hold your breath and prepare yourself for news you don’t want but know will come one day and days later he wakes up and is able to feed himself breakfast.
And then stillness, quiet, time for contemplation and an invitation pops onto your screen from your sister, inviting you to be a guest on her blog and you write responses to her questions and think about what those responses say about you but you send them in anyway, in the end knowing that you’re you and you own your responses and the person they represent.
Life’s like that.
And writing responses for my guest post sparks something in me that’s been dormant for some time and I figure if I can do it for my sister, I can do it for me too. So here I am …
… except more assignments have just poured in which means more warm, encouraging, thought-generating feedback needs to be written … and my blog will have to wait just a little longer.
I came across Angelina in the city, sitting on an upturned milk crate, a typewriter in front her and a sign saying “I’ll write you a poem while you wait”.
Now that’s an offer I couldn’t refuse!
Angelina asked me for a word and as I’m doing a Faces of Melbourne project on Instagram, that became my ‘word’. So here is Angelina’s poem:
Faces of Melbourne
A sea of people in the corners
of a chessboard city,
and suddenly – Poetry.
A gift of the briefest meeting
A moment of contact, sweeter
for its fleeting nature.
It is our faces, here
in the place where worlds collide
down the length of the patient Yarra
the ancient dirt beneath
our concrete kingdom,
Today’s topic is a free association one: Write down the first words that comes to mind when we say … home … soil … rain. Use those words in the title of your post.
Title: Farm-earth drinking
I used to live on a farm. We moved to the farm after living in Brisbane for a few years when an opportunity arose that my then husband couldn’t turn down.
The farm was in Tasmania, just outside a little town, population: 400.
The farm had a few cows, fewer fences, a lot of thistles and even more sheep.
The farm was on a hill and on the eastern boundary, halfway down the hill, above the river, was ‘the race’. I didn’t know what ‘the race’ was when I first arrived (I didn’t even know what a race was, let alone the race). I discovered that it’s kind of like an aqueduct, but far less grand.
It used to carry water from up in the hills behind the town to the tin mine at Derby. Even though I lived there in the mid-1980s, I have only just learnt that it was a 48km-engineering feat, built in 1901, and the first release of water took three weeks to reach the mine. Thanks Internet – we didn’t have the internet back then, so there’s no way I could have known that :).
One farmer I heard about used to tie her son to the clothesline on a long line so that he wouldn’t fall into the race when she was milking the cows. Can you imagine the furore that would cause these days? Still, she was keeping her son safe, so props for that, as the hip people say.
Anyway, the race was dry by the time we moved there; it had fallen into disrepair many years before, but was still an interesting feature.
One of the other interesting features of the farm was the sound the earth made after rain. It rained a lot and so I had many opportunities to listen in to the conversation the earth was having with itself when it rained.
It honestly sounded as though the earth was drinking and taking a great deal of pleasure in doing so.
The farmhouse we lived in burnt down a number of years ago and as I happened to be in the neighbourhood (months after the fire, I hasten to add) I thought I’d stop in to see what remained. Only the bath and a chimney remained. But what hit me as soon as I got out of the car was the silence. It was nothing I’d ever heard before. Sure there were the sounds of birds in the distance, and the tinkle of a cow’s bell from the farm across the valley, but the air was unbelievably quiet. It wasn’t something I’d remembered from living there, although with four children at the time, it probably wasn’t silent too often.
And in that silence I heard it again: the sound of the earth drinking.
If you haven’t heard it, head out after the rain, plant yourself on a patch of earth and tune in.
This post should have been yesterday’s post, but I was rushing to get out of the house to have dinner with my son Chase, and so postponed posting this until now.
The theme I have chosen for today is: Take two – Run outside. Take a picture of the first thing you see. Run inside. Take a picture of the second thing you see. Write about the connection between these two random objects, people, or scenes.
The bird is blue and the leaf is green.
Blue and green must never be seen without a colour in between. That’s what my Sydney Nan used to tell me.
Sydney Nan would know because she was a very stylish woman. Her handbag and shoes always matched. When she was younger she wore gloves and a hat. Every Sunday night she would paint her nails, and they always looked beautiful, just like she did.
I argued of course. But Nan, the sky is blue and the grass is green, and they look good together.
Yes, Sharon, they do. But it’s not the same in fashion, always put a colour in between.
Okey dokey. I knew when to stop arguing with Nan.
Pink and green, on the other hand, are fit for a queen.
Pink and green? Together? Hmmm …
Nan didn’t tell me that. I read it somewhere.
We have a proclivity for making connections between things. We see an animal act in a certain way and we connect it with human emotions or actions. We see a puddle and connect it with a painting we once craned our necks to see over the heads of hundreds of cameras in a museum on the other side of the world.
We connect a loathing of maths to our high school maths teacher.
We connect our aversion to wooden spoons to the fearful voice of our mother and finding socks under the bed.
We connect the scent of vanilla to our fridge and then make the leap to food and then realise that you’re writing a blog post and it’s after past nine and you haven’t had breakfast and you’re hungry and your mind is fuzzy and you wonder why you don’t stop to eat.
And you connect the leaf that’s been rained on in Melbourne to the rain coming from Tasmania where the bird was given as a gift.
Between people and things. Some more tenuous than others, but we can make them if we try.
Today’s theme: What’s the 11th item on your bucket list?
This is a strange prompt for me to respond to because I don’t have a bucket list, let alone an 11th item.
I think about things like this from time to time – the ‘where do you see yourself in ten years’ type question, and the ‘who would you have dinner with if you could have dinner with anyone from the past or present’ type question, and the ‘if you could live in any other time in history which period would it be’ type question.
And do you know what I conclude, when I do spend two point six seconds thinking about those types of questions? That I don’t respond well to those questions.
Maybe I should spend more than two point six seconds thinking about them, I hear you suggest encouragingly.
It won’t work. I won’t do it. I have no interest in questions like that. In thinking about them, in responding to them, in asking them of others.
I worry that it’s a failure of imagination, or an inclination for the serious over the fanciful, or a need for certainty over a capacity to speculate.
But who would I have dinner with? If it could be anyone, how do I choose? What if I chose someone who wanted to eat dogs’ breath and cucumber sandwiches? Could I take that risk? And what would we talk about? What if I chose a non-talker? Then where would we be? Sitting opposite each other, chomping away in silence, me wondering how I ever thought they might make a good dinner companion and them wondering why I disturbed their eternal rest.
And which period of history would I choose? On what basis would I make that decision? How much would I need to know about periods of history to be able to decide? More than I do now, obviously. Would I get to choose my status? I mean, living in 1771 would be okay I guess if I could be a landed gentry, but I don’t think I’d like to travel to Australia on a convict ship. Especially if I was a convict. What if I chose a period of history that hanged witches and I happened to be a witch? Or if I went back to the Renaissance period but ended up in South Australia at that time?
So that doesn’t work for me either.
And if I was to put together a bucket list I would have to know an awful lot of things about an awful lot of places and/or activities. Out of all the things that it’s possible to do or see, how do I choose? On what basis would I narrow it down to just ten? Or eleven in this case.
STOP THE PRESS
It’s hit me. An idea for my bucket list! Not the whole list (are you crazy) but the number 11 thing.
So here it is: [big fanfare]
My number 11 thing on my bucket list is to be more like Murwillumbah Nan. If you didn’t meet my Murwillumbah Nan you really missed out. She was funny, and humble, and kind, and generous. She called her grandchildren darling, and had the softest skin. I didn’t ever see her in pants, only dresses. She didn’t like talking on the phone much. She hated having her photo taken, and she loved poetry. She wasn’t stylish, she wasn’t flashy, she didn’t use bad language, and she was warm and loved by everyone. You weren’t allowed to say bad things about your family when you were with Nan – she wouldn’t hear it. She told great stories and loved to laugh and she lived a simple, good kind of life. All 94 years of it. We held each other and cried and cried together when we knew it was the last time we’d be together.
So there you have it. The 11th thing on my bucket list of one thing.
My little oasis was there for me when I needed a place to hide, a place to sort through the thoughts whirling through my head, a place to work out excuses for my terrible, terrible behaviour, or to take time out from the turmoil of life as a ten-year old. It remains an integral part of my childhood, a place of both safety and stomach-lurching glee.
I could swing away my troubles within its white-rail fenced perimeter, feeling that frizz of pleasure as I put my head back as far as I could while swinging as high as my little legs would push me. Dragging my hair along the ground, sitting up suddenly, winding the chains into a tight corkscrew and then whirling like a dervish as it unspun.
I could spin away my troubles on that thing you had to hang on to and run beside then jump on when it was spinning faster than you could run. The thing that was best when it was only you there and not a whole bunch of other kids wanting to push it faster and faster till you knew you were going to have to sit really still for at least three minutes and seven seconds before you could walk coolly away.
I could slide away my troubles on the big metal slide that would burn the backs of your legs in the summer, and take some time to warm up in the winter. I would rush head first down the slide, or feet first on my stomach, ending up in a rather crumpled heap at the bottom and rush around to the ladder to do it all over again. The slide was also great for swinging under. I’d hold onto the slide from underneath, then walk my hands up till my legs were swinging from the ground. Each time I’d try to go higher and higher.
I could seesaw away my troubles on the long wooden boards with a funny handle on either end. Some people think that a seesaw is play equipment for two, but you can do a lot of balancing on a seesaw when you’re the only one there. Or running up one side and down the other. Carefully. I was already in trouble; I didn’t want to get into any more!
The black wattle tree with the sticky sap was the only downside to that oasis of stomach-lurching glee.
A white fence ran around the outside, one rail. You know the diagonal sort that made it difficult to hang upside down from? Paling fences separated the park from the houses that backed onto it, the houses that were on my street where the Bywaters and Brunswicks and Aulsebrooks lived.
The paling fences are still there, but there is no longer any white rail fence, no ugly, sticky, sappy black wattle tree, and no swings, slide, see saw or merry-go-round. Just an empty, grassy space with a single, solitary piece of play equipment.
That play equipment might be safe, but it wouldn’t help any ten year old swing, spin, slide or seesaw away her troubles.
My challenge for today is to set a timer for ten minutes. I have to open a new post. Start the timer, and start writing. When the timer goes off, publish.
It rained today. Just about all day. A constant trickle of water ran from the sky and pooled in inconvenient places, causing great splashes to leap up to my knees when I dared to go outside.
The drip drip drip drip outside our lounge room door continued metronomically into the afternoon, then all of a sudden stopped.
The silence ran to four minutes, then extended to five. We were on the edge of our seats, hushed, breathless, ears akimbo, waiting for the next verse of the drip
I can’t do this. I’ve started five different posts and deleted four of them. I can’t write under this pressure when I have nothing to write about. I should have been more prepared. Thought of something, a topic, an issue, a situation, something, anything to write about before I started the timer.
But I didn’t.
I don’t know what I expected when I pushed ‘start’ – that inspiration would hit me and something would leap into my mind and out through my fingers as if by magic?
I seriously don’t think I was thinking that far ahead, to be quite honest.
And so, a blank page.
This is what some teachers do to children.
‘Alright children, it’s story-writing time. You have ten minutes. Go.’
It’s not right. Writers need more than a time limit. They need ideas. They need thinking time. They need time to craft and organise and structure and develop.
One of my grandsons is in Year 3 this year. That means that late in May he did the NAPLAN test for the first time. In their preparation lessons, they practiced writing persuasive texts. He wrote about burning the school down.
I don’t know how persuasive it was, but it certainly caught the teacher’s attention.
Golly! Today’s challenge is a real challenge. Like a proper, full-on, challenge-y type challenge. It’s so challenging I’ve been putting off writing this post all day.
Today’s prompt is: Most of us are excellent at being self-deprecating, and are not so good at the opposite. Tell us your favourite thing about yourself.
So you can see why I’m having trouble. What’s your favourite thing about yourself? Does something immediately spring to mind? Does me not being able to choose from all the things I could choose merely speak to a lack of decisiveness? Or does me not being able to think of anything at all speak to a lack of imagination?
What’s my favourite thing about myself? Notice that. It’s not, what do you like about yourself?, or what are you good at? It’s what’s your favourite thing about yourself?
To answer that feels a bit unnatural. It’s not that I would rather share the things I don’t like about myself, but it doesn’t feel natural to even think that I would have favourite things about myself.
Aren’t we funny? When I really think about it I wonder what’s wrong with having a favourite thing about myself. Why does it feel unnatural? Where/when did I learn that?
We so easily say things like, I don’t like my ears/eyes/nose/lips/wrists/webbing between my toes, or I don’t like the size of my thighs/feet/hair/spinal cord/kidneys/left eye socket, or I’m no good at singing/drawing/calculus/pole-dancing/braking-as-I-reverse-around-corners-on-two-wheels.
We’re given opportunities – at least implicitly – to say those things, to verbalise those things we don’t like about ourselves, or aren’t good at. But where are we given opportunities to say what we are good at, or what we like about ourselves? Especially if we’re no longer in primary school?
Well, I’ve been given that opportunity now, so I’m going to grab it by the scruff of the neck and shake it till something comes loose. I’m hoping that what comes loose is an idea about my favourite thing.
So my thinking has led me to this point: my favourite thing about myself is my strength.
When I was young it was called stubbornness, plain and simple.
But I can see now that other words add nuance to the stubbornness: resilience, determination, sometimes even courage.
Today’s challenge is to tell us about the most surprising helping hand you’ve ever received.
I’ve been fortunate to have had a number of helping hands over the years but the most surprising one came at a period in my life when I was very down on my luck. It was 1992, I’d been living in a Salvation Army hostel for women with my two-year-old daughter for a few months when I finally managed to get on my feet enough to find a place to rent.
We moved in with our very meagre possessions – a small suitcase full of clothes each. And a beanbag, which was our bed for the first few weeks.
I was working full-time (in a voluntary capacity) at the local community radio station at the time, and a lovely older lady, Nan Walsh, cared for Emma through the day. Nan Walsh lived in a big house opposite the mouth of the river, and looked after children in the downstairs part of the house and lived upstairs. There was plenty of company for Emma, masses of toys to play with, books to read, good food and loads of warmth from Nan Walsh and her old-lady friends.
I’d finish work, pick Emma up and trudge home to our little unit that had no furniture in it apart from a bean bag that was both a bed and a couch – and a play area, a launching pad, an elephant. We had a bowl, a plate, a knife and fork, and a spoon. I think we also had a cup. I’d cadged those from the radio station.
Things were pretty bleak … but not for too long.
Trixie, who worked at the Salvation Army hostel, gave me an old single bed and a mattress. Emma was excited to sleep in a proper bed again.
Neil, the breakfast presenter at the radio station, was getting his mother’s old lounge suite and so he needed to pass his on. Generously he passed it on to me.
Sheridan, the manager of the radio station, gifted me a cutlery set that she’d been given as a wedding present twenty years before. They’d been given two and she felt that she no longer needed the second one. It had never been used.
Nan Walsh dug through her cupboards and found some towels, tea towels and sheets she could live without.
These people were generous and good and have no idea of the impact they made on my life.
Then one afternoon the doorbell rang. On the doorstep was a boxed crockery set and two shopping bags full of food, including a still hot barbecue chicken, fruit and vegetables, and some new tea towels. I looked out to the street to see an old lady walking briskly to her car. I dumbly waved my thanks.
Welcome to day 3 of my weekly writing challenge. The challenge today is to explore the room you’re in as if you’re seeing it for the first time. Pretend you know nothing. What do you see? Who is the person who lives there?
There are two couches in this room: one brown leather, the one I’m sitting on, and the other green and not leather couch. On the green, not leather couch are two camera bags, and an umbrella in its case. A tripod leans recklessly against the front of the couch, looking like it fell after a boozy night out and couldn’t be bothered shifting position. A beanie and a cap sit on the arm of the couch closest to the wall. Happily, the green couch folds out into a bed. It comes in handy when the children come to stay, particularly when those children bring their own children to visit.
Double doors open onto the room from the hallway. One door is propped open with an exclamation mark, a gift from Debbie. Behind the opened door is a small black desk with the sorts of things small black desks generally accumulate: a gas bill, a CD case, an empty envelope, some electronic gadgetry. In front of the small black desk is a big black swivel chair. A tall lamp stands guard in the corner. A black cupboard with a camera bag on it is squeezed into the space between the small black desk and the green, but not leather, couch.
A little bookshelf crammed with books, a torch, an empty water bottle and some bubble wrap is pushed against the wall between the couch and the TV. The TV was quite obviously bought with a different room in mind. To its left is a glass window and a door that leads into the back garden, the sun filtering through the leaves of liquid amber just outside the door. Today there is no warmth in the sun.
The gas heater, an obligatory adornment in Melbourne homes of a certain age, fits between the glass door with sunlight filtering through it, and the other glass door – the one on the other side that is behind the curtain because the curtain keeps some of the cold out. Or that’s the theory.
I sit on the brown leather couch and behind me is another, bigger bookshelf filled with books, the latest batch of school photos, a glass owl from English Cousin Tom, a glass ‘coaster’ from Venice I bought as a memento of my trip, the glass bird that Pervis gave me as a graduation present, and some Dr Seuss looking vases we bought in New Zealand. There’s also an old tablet we’ve turned into an electronic photo frame. I can spend hours watching the various images cycle through, wondering how Izzy will change between now and when I’ll see her again, marvelling at how much Lincoln has changed in just a few months, laughing at Ronan’s cheeky smile, remembering the way Jordy hugged me the last time he was here, shaking my head at Sakye reading her book to the puppies as they sit on the recliner watching her carefully, lingering over the photo of Dad, Ben and Toi – three generations eating ice-cream and strawberries together in quiet familiarity, laughing at Lily as she hangs upside down in Chase’s arms for a family portrait and laughing more at the look on Hunter’s face as he takes in the delight that is his little sister. I marvel at all these children and grandchildren and feel blessed that they’re in my life.
A small table, big enough for two to eat at, is pushed into a corner, placemats that Michelle and Al gave us littered across it, three or four battery chargers plugged in to a power board sending leads curling crazily across the table. A newly arrived book, The visual toolbox: 66 lessons for stronger photographs, lays in wait for Tim to dip into and then share what he’s learnt with me. The door to the kitchen is closed in an attempt to keep the warmth in this room, but it’s a vain attempt. It isn’t warm.
A big crocheted blanket Mum made for me lays across the back of the brown leather couch and as the sun gets lower and the cold deepens, I’ll spread it across my knees like grannies have done since crocheted blankets were invented. In front of the brown leather couch is a brown leather ottoman, with my feet resting comfortably on it. There is music playing from a number of speakers scattered around the room, a Spotify playlist for a chilled afternoon. It seemed fitting.
On the arm of the couch to my right is a Kindle in a red case, a list of rhyming words Sakye wrote out one morning two weeks ago when I shared her bedroom, and a book called Lost Melbourne that Tim bought home yesterday in celebration of the last even day of May. Resting on the book is a rapidly cooling cup of tea. The little wooden table on my right is piled with books with titles like Teacher identity discourses, New questions for contemporary teachers, Teaching selves, and The art of conversation. Oh, and there’s one novel at the bottom of the pile: Nell Zink’s The wallcreeper. I still don’t know if I liked it. I need to read it again, but I seriously think that I’m just too old for it. Not hip enough or something.
On the walls are photographs Tim and I have taken, some framed, some canvas prints; artworks by Lisa Roberts and Katy Woodroffe, and above the television is a reminder, a gift from Alison, to think outside the box.
Who lives here? People who read, take photos, learn, listen to music. Ordinary people with ordinary lives.
Scrolling through the photo frame and thinking about the number of items in this room that were gifts from others, you discover that these ordinary people are part of something bigger – connected to others in far-off places, people who smile and laugh and talk quietly with each other; people who are connected by long, loose lines; people who get together only intermittently but who feel a fizz of warm familiarity and connection when they do.
What do you see when you look around your room? Who lives there?