The Write Life

So, here I am at the end of Term 1 and what has been achieved? So far (and I know this is looking like a diary entry but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that), I have done the following:

  • found a job to tide me over the school holidays (working at an English Language college)
  • joined a choir (which I really love)
  • done various write-ins with friends and made new ones in the process
  • left an artistic group I thought was collaborative, to form one that is a cooperative
  • gone on a writing retreat with Dev and the Gunnas
  • begun the 4 seasons journey year-long study
  • left an over-work situation and survived
  • gone snorkelling a few times

There are things still to do / work in to everyday life, but I’m pretty happy with what I’ve done so far this year. 2018 is looking good.

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Gunnas Writing Retreat Poems

Here’s some of the poetry I wrote last weekend at Catherine Deveny’s Gunnas Writing Retreat by the sea.

The most important thing is most easily forgotten.


Just breathe.

Don’t look.

Don’t judge.

Just breathe

Don’t find flaws

Don’t look for cause.

Just breathe.

And when you’re struggling

When there’s nothing keeping you here

see the space around you

And swallow it as air

To revive the tiny voice inside

That asks you to push on

To run until that little spark

Begins to burn full song


The most important thing is

The thing most easily forgotten.


Inhale, Exhale




Just keep going.

Just keep swimming.



Story Cubes:

The bewitching hour

When dusk turns incrementally

To dawn then day

The women look as though they’re laughing

Shaking with skin on faces pulled tightly.

It is only when I approach, to ask directions or for assistance

I see

They are flipping between laughter and crying.

I ask them if they’re okay.

They respond they’re not okay, I’m not okay

That this world we live in is not okay.

That everything is about to crumble.

That life as we know it (or think we know it)

Is about to morph almost unrecognisably

And they are laughing because what the fuck –

what a crazy cosmic joke this all is.

And they are crying because –

what a sad waste of energy and effort it has all been.


And they ask me

What I want to do with the last

dying embers of this life

This world

This little crazy beating heart on this planet

And I shrug and say.

I think I want to love just a little bit more.

They disappear in a puff of smoke,

Leaving the cauldron bubbling on the fire,

in the woods.



This heart

pounding away for the last 49 years

often pounding ready for flight, fright or freeze

and when resting

barely moving

this home I carry within

this more than mechanical pump

this locus of tidal waves of blood



and, strangely,

some barely audible knowing

this is where that part of me

whom no one knows


that part of me that

the microscopic spirit babies knew and relied on

the one who tells me I’ve drunk too much coffee

with its insistent fast-paced throbbing

telling me it wished by Christ

I had not had that drink, coffee, joint, wine

this home

where the tears live

and the fears live.

Everyone has one.

I think. I hope.

It has been broken at times

And felt like it wanted to give up entirely

But then, in the midst of the gasping awake from a nightmare

And being called upon to furnish the body with blood

Realises it is no longer in danger, as the nightmare fades.

This is home.


Just like the song

“In every heart

There is a room

A sanctuary safe and strong

To heal the wounds of lovers past

Until a new one comes along”


This heart

Beating longer than perhaps it should

Has found a pace

a rhythm all its own

And sometimes,

In the quiet moments

It murmurs disquiet


If I listened

It might say

“Are we there yet?”

“Is that enough now?”

“Surely I am cleft in two

Or three,

Or ten.”


I drag it to bed


The loneliness seeping into it

From unmet expectations

Or just self pity

Or exhaustion

That beast of drains

And shadows

And cold, damp, dark places.


But still it continues.

Through dreams

Both realised and broken

And when I wake

There it is again

Reminding me that there is still more

That I’m not done yet

And if I would just listen

And just be brave enough

To face those shadows


It may be able to rest a little more comfortably

In the internal neighbourhood.

(Oh and would I please not trash the place?)

(And if I could just listen more often

The whole community would be more pleasant for everyone).





The one who has been my constant companion through all these years

All the illnesses

The stress

The worries

The joys

The loves, full to bursting,

The belly laughs

Thank you from the very bottom of my being.


Home – (not really sure where that is apart from in my rib cage, surrounded by lungs, beset by arteries and maybe some calcium, and a little fat, spine behind and two large, pendulous breasts either side on top).

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You’re dead a long time…

The birds have been singing the last couple of mornings, even though it’s cold and has been rainy and windy. They know something’s in the air. Perhaps I’ve inhaled some pollen but what started as restlessness morphed this morning, beyond the usual dilemma of which habit I’m wanting to get going on – walking, meditation, yoga, a cooked breakfast, writing…and at 5.30am in this little shared house making music is pretty much out.

Tossing a few things around, I settled on the Melbourne Writers’ Festival. Sundays I usually catch up with Mum. Being the last of her brood here in Melb, it would seem a wasted opportunity not to hang out with her. So today I surprised her with some tickets to see Tom and Megan Keneally (she’s a Keneally fan), and this was one of my better spontaneous ideas (the dreds and henna’ed hair in the 90’s, not so much!).

It was raining so I ditched public transport and drove in, scrambled to Fed Square and found a cosy spot in a cafe and got chatting to the woman I was sharing a table with. Food ordered. Check. Coffe. Check. And in our chat, she mentioned Julian Burnside was speaking later today. I’ve wanted to see / hear him talk for a while, and this was no exception. Turns out she is a paralegal and knows someone who worked with him. All reports is he’s a kind and interesting man with a social conscience. Of course this only made me more determined to see him.

The huge breakfast arrived and I thought I’d plough through what I could manage and leave the rest. Enter stage left (or through the doors of the cafe), Mum. She was hungry, and polished off the breakie. We chatted for a while, while the table woman looked a little nervously at her phone. I asked if she was going to go to JB’s talk and she mentioned she had housework to do and that her mother had died 3 years ago at 57 from a rare blood cancer which gave her a brain hemorrhage. We talked for a while longer, and she gave more details. Made me realise how lucky I am to still have time with Mum.

The Keneallys were fascinating and their new collaborative book sounded so interesting, full of historical research, and the the intriguing lives of settlers, convicts and the layers of understanding of nuanced historical writers. Mum was wrapt. I was surprised and warmed by their banter.

After this we walked around the Ian Potter gallery – for free we saw some amazing art. Mum at one stage perched in front of the Tom Roberts triptych, The Pioneer, which was right on topic. I think by then she was flagging so we headed back to her place for a quick nap.

Revitalised by a rest and a chat through some old photos Mum had collected from the nuns my aunt who died at the end of last year had left for her, we headed back for JB. Initially Mum was lukewarm about it but, once past the huge queue and into the auditorium we both relaxed. I looked to the stage and noted the loud paisley shirt, the white hair and the dark-rimmed glasses. The hands slightly awkward, occasionally flapping then self-consciously being sandwiched between his knees. The crowd was hushed by the mc’s amplified introduction.

I was fascinated by both his ability to discuss some of the legal, political and social flaws in where Australia is headed, but more, how he is able to remain optimistic – a question raised at the end. His response – “With my last breath I would prefer to say that I tried rather than I wished I had done something.”

It’s not that he’s dramatic so much as he really knows how to tell a story, to link it empathetically to the larger story of humanity, dignity, power and human rights, all with candour and humour, from the mentally ill client who asked him to look after her diary as she believed her psych was out to kill her, through to the desperate plight of people he knows or knew of on Manus and what that says about Australia today, he understands what makes us human – dignity and fairness.

I end today with a heart bursting with excitement at what the written and spoken word can do, and the difference a day makes.

This diem has definitely been carpe’ed.Screen Shot 2017-09-03 at 9.20.09 pm

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The artiest week on record!

*Warning – complete enthusiastic rave about an arty week I’ve had, follows…

So in the last 7 days I have been a complete art glutton, and Wilburesque, I have been luxuriating in the arty stuff going on in my favourite town in the world, Melbourne.

It started last Friday with a friend’s Facebook share of two musicians, Phia and Georgia, who were playing at the Toff In Town in the CBD. I thought, “Why not?” and rocked up on my own. This giving no fucks thing is fabulous! And so were the lovely PnG. Really gorgoeus harmonies, an unusual combo of instruments and moving lyrics. Just perfect.

Next up on Saturday as one of Catherine Deveny’s Journalism Masterclasses run by the Age Green Guide journo, Michael Lallo. Great food, a really diverse group of people and the best, most current and useful tips on how to run an interview and the whole process from beginning to printed. This has to be one of the most accessible ways to get yourself trained, writing and published, in fabulous settings with great people, and no reliance on the old school approach of pleasing the teacher. Writing revolution in a day.

Sunday was a day of getting to it and completing the art project “Giving Form” to an idea I have for a young adult novel. This was so much fun but took more time than I had anticipated. There’s nothing quite like the immersion in your own ideas. Yes, you can fly away into Neverland and there are institutions full of those stories, but dragging ideas from the ether into reality is a high I could become quite addicted to (if I didn’t have to adult).

Monday was great – a bit of work followed by almost forgetting about going to the night of performative storytelling – The Moth (on the first Monday night each month, at Howlers in Brunswick). I had arranged to meet friends there and had completely forgotten, in a frenzy of cooking all afternoon. It is truly inspiring seeing people get up, and on a theme, tell their lived stories based on this month’s theme – A Cautionary Tale. Cal Wilson hosts it (cracking belly-laugh-inducing gags as she goes), and there was such a range of experiences and ideas. I secretly keep promising myself I’ll get up next month. The theme for next month is “Schooled” so I may write something for it – we’ll see….

And Tuesday was a crazy whirlwind of half a day’s work followed by catching up with a teaching friend and two students to watch them compete in the secondary schools Poetry Slam hosted at the Wheelers’ Centre. I just missed the girls’ performance, but watched in amazement at the depth of talent across the schools (both state and private) and the passion with which the slammers delivered their messages. What a treat! (The girls got in to the next round of the competition, though they were all kinda brilliant).

And yesterday! Worked all day and then went along to the opening of the exhibition “Giving Form” as part of the collaborative exhibitions hosted at trocadero Art Space – where The Artists Guild – a circ leof women artists I belong to – has a studio. Talk about rich pickings! From vidoe and multimedia exhibitions, through to paintings, sculptures and a performance piece, it was a real eye-opener and there was so much to digest (the exhibition is open from 12-5 Wed – Sat till 26th August at Trocadero Art Space in Footscray if you fancy a peek).

So now I’m planning a rest day tomorrow – sleep, calm down a little, and perhaps a bit of a go at writing. Still feel like I’m digesting all of this!

PS I competely forgot I’m also in an exhibition called Co.Lab – a collaboration between visual artists and writers, in Bendigo as part of the Bendigo Writers’ Festival this coming weekend. Both Co.Lab and the Bendigo Writers’ Festival are well worth the trip if you are looking for something good to rock along to.

AND I’m going along to the exhibition of an old friend of my sister on Sat (after sitting the gallery for “Giving Form”).

Am full to bursting about all of this, and have to say that Nikki Smith’s idea of mini experiments is one of the best things I’ve tried. Look her up on FB – she’s all kinds of brilliant if you are feeling stuck and want to change but are unsure as to how…

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Ahead of schedule – change is here

Wow, and just like that, after a series of odd illnesses, and plenty of rest time, I had to admit to myself, this work-life balance wasn’t working. What could I do? I’d been talking with a career transition coach and general wonderful human, Nikki Smith who had helped me come up with a bit of a plan. However, the plans I had made to give myself some time to make the changes gradually crumbled under the weight of my body’s need to rest, and my observations that I wasn’t managing with the “wait until I have the money, feel safe enough, can build other income streams, feel (something) enough”.

And then, it came to me that I would never feel safe enough, good enough, accomplished enough, financially independent enough, to make the leap out of full-time employment because I was giving too much to my work, and didn’t know how to give less without feeling like a fraud, or feeling like a callous bitch. I realised I’m not comfortable with half-measures. So, in between rests, and panic attacks, I started imagining, like a cartographer, how I might get from this place of frightened confusion, to a more comfortable place of transition, not letting anyone down INCLUDING MYSELF. Not having to compromise my own happiness and well-being, to satisfy my own standards at work (which have often meant sacrificing the feeling of switching off, of “done enough now”).

And so, in this place of change, I have pushed off from the shores of the known, for the weirdly frightening and simultaneously exciting sea of “don’t know what the fuck I’m doing”, in my trusty ship of “do casual work to stay afloat”, until I bump into the new lands of “curiosity”, “wonder”, “possibility”. No matter what I encounter, the dense extreme gravity of the land of “safe and known” with its “not-good-enough” quicksands has completely disappeared from sight. Occasionally its mirage can be seen, but now I’ve left it behind, a new energy is appearing, and I can see my sails starting to billow out (hope the masts hold up).

I have no idea where this might lead (and a certain part of me, like a parrot on my shoulder, keeps warning of overreach, of starvation, of lack). I just know it cannot be worse than the place I have chosen, on some level, to leave. I’m observing myself, my ways, and all the choices I have made which led me to get stuck, become exhausted, and so depleted, and realising that they were choices I made, rather than the way things are.


I’m afloat. And that is enough for now.


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Creative Experiment #1

So I’m 3 weeks into a shoe-making course and loving it! At the end of last year I was pretty sick. Finally I had an operation in November, and since then I’ve been clawing back my health and well-being. In amidst all of this I sought some help from a counsellor and friend. After 2 sessions it became clear that I needed to build my health and also work on work-life balance. So, armed with this not-fully-new info, I looked at what I already do, and what’s missing from life. And in the process I’ve been conducting mini experiments. At the moment it’s shoe-making, which I am totally loving and look forward to every week. It’s a short course which will end in a bit over a week’s time. And I’ll walk away with the loudest looking pair of funky derbys ever! Which fit me perfectly (I hope). Do I do another course in this ? Not sure yet.But it has made me realise how much I could be doing but haven’t been….

In that vein, I’m planning my next experiment; jamming with friends or other musicians with a view to creating a band. It’s been sitting there in the back of my mind for quite some time and now I’m thinking, why not? Why the hell not? I’ve seen bands and musicians who haven’t been as skilled as they should. And I think I could probably do all right having a go. And I’m middle-aged and have no more fucks to give about what others think so now seems like a good time to try it.

The weird thing is, I really don’t know how to go about doing it. So I’m Googling it. I know. Really square and nerdy, right. But what else to do…..?

Meanwhile, I’ll practice up some pieces and consider who I’d like to listen to, and what sorts of instruments I’d like to play with. And who might make good band members. And hopefully I’ll be able to update you on the progress…..


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Earliest Memory

The wooden dog is white, with black ears, and dangles from the strings held by the man in a white coat. He is very tall and watches me as he dangles the wooden cross to which the strings are attached. And he watches me.

I only notice this afterwards as I am totally enchanted by the this dog, and the strings attached to it. At first I think the dog is animated by itself: alive. Then I realise that each time the man lifts his arm, the dog jumps and all its legs seem to go in different directions. The rest of the room is quite dark, and I think it has wooden panelling, or just poor light.

My older sister is quite excited by the dog too, though the man’s focus seems to be on me. Mum has left the room and it is just the man in the white coat and my sister, Phil, and me. I feel like the man’s gaze suggests I should be reacting in some way, like there’s an answer he is looking for from my face. I want to give some answer but am not sure what the right one is. Then I get distracted by the dog again. After he has played with it for about 5 minutes and we have watched the show, he calls Mum back into the room, and asks her to lift me onto the white-sheeted bed on wheels at the back of the room. She does and he gets a torch-like instrument and shines it into my eyes, one at a time, and asks me to look at his finger as he points it up to the ceiling.

“At this age, eye tests are more a measure of her development or intelligence, but she’s fine. No astigmatism, no problems with short or long vision. You were worrying unnecessarily, but plenty of mothers do, Mrs O’Brien.”

I looked at Mum, who demurred to this man in the white coat, thanked him and hurried us along out of the room.

43 years later, having a conversation with Mum about getting some prescription glasses, I mention this first experience with an eye doctor.


Mum’s jaw drops.


“No. You can’t…Really? You remember that?”


I describe the room, the doctor, the white wooden puppet dog and mention that Pip was there.


“So she was,” Mum exclaims. “You were only 18 months old. I had no idea you remembered that. That was 1971. I can’t believe it.”


Oh, believe it, Mary. And there’s plenty more I remember….

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