The suitcase was completely unpacked, the memory-foam neck cushion had its cover stripped for cleaning, the travel wash was flapping on the line, even the adaptor plugs were stored away.
Why did I feel so discombobulated and not quite here?
Travel is always a bit like that for me – scenes of places I have been flit and flip through my mind, waiting to be sorted into a memory box for future rumblings. Conversations and discussions with people I’ve met and re-met require reflection and integration.
I love to immerse in European culture, experiences and memories, and make new memories with loved ones. I love the feeling of being a “citizen of the world”, able to negotiate different terrains. But the pangs I felt in the arid house at Kew Gardens on seeing Australian plants with their incomparable shapes and smells tells the whole story for me. Australia is my beloved home.
But it turns out that it was not an existential crisis creating my befuddled mental state on my return to Perth. It was the spicy cough, which got me, most likely at Heathrow or on the packed flight home. I have done so many RAT tests over the years, but this time I was right.
I have taken to my bed with a clear conscience to rest and reflect.
I’ve had such wild dreams about this holiday. I’m hoping it will… slough the layer of apathy off the layer of calm, and allow me to look many fears in the face… But I suppose the closer I get to the destination, the more I mistrust romantic notions of a clean sweep I am, after all, still the same person, even the 14-year-old who last trod the moving walkways of Heathrow.”
14th June 1990 – diary entry written in Moscow Airport before I was due to land in London for an extended working holiday.
It’s always rather sobering to read old diary entries. The one written above was in Moscow airport, because in 1990 Aeroflot was a very cost-effective way to get from Australia to London. Obviously we stopped at Moscow airport en route and well I remember the grumpy staff at the airport who refused to serve non-Russians. I sat down to journal some of my confusion and fear while waiting to board the short flight to London.
My early London diaries are full of realisations of the Moscow entry concerns. Was I in the wrong job? (yes) Would I stick to my wellness goals? (nope, but eventually I would find yoga). They are also seeped in loneliness, occasionally interspersed with tales of unrequited love or disastrous romantic entanglements.
How wonderful it has been to come back to London and dabble in the nice things, and celebrate how the difficulties are long, long behind me. What a blessing to acknowledge all the good things London delivered for me. An investment. Career experience albeit completely unrelated to what I do now.
But how quickly London can envelope you in its enormity, and lure you into its embrace of anonymity and loneliness. The best bit of all about this trip to London has been connecting with old friends and visiting old haunts. Giving a nod to the 14 year old me, and the 25-35 year old me across the chasm of time, and letting them know all is well.
Recently I stumbled across this interview with Hilary Mantel from a couple of years ago where she asserts that writers can be productive by carving out just two hours per day. Admittedly these need to be golden hours where your energy is high and you’ve had enough time to warm up to your writing project. So not two hours with 25 tabs open and a regular check of your facebook feed.
I have lost count of the number of times I have read articles that tell me I have to write every day. I have baulked at this advice even though it has meant me dragging out my current writing project for seven plus years and umpteen drafts. It was not until The Mantel set it out in her interview that it just resonated for me and at last I was committed.
As I was on a self-guided writing retreat last week I decided my key focus was embedding the habit of my two golden hours of writing per day. I was pootling along very well (and who wouldn’t with the incredible surrounds of Hydra and the house we were staying it??) Then came the shocking news that this multiple Booker Prize winning author died suddenly of a stroke on Thursday – at just 70 years of age, with so many awesome books to be written.
I just have to stick to this new routine now. Do it for Hilary!
Last Sunday was blog day, only I had just arrived in London the day before, and was due to head off to Paris the next day, and what with one thing and another, it just wasn’t possible to get the Sunday Blog done. (There were some cheeky work deadlines in there as well I will just bleep over, because no, I didn’t get everything finished before I left Perth for this trip!)
As James Clear says though, missing one day of your habit is not a deal-breaker – but never miss more than one. So here I am, Sunday Blogging, having been to Paris, Rouen and now safely landed in Hydra, Greece since last Sunday.
Transition days. They’re a lot. Yesterday’s transition day involved a donkey too.
There is something so mysterious to me about travel. That me, my body, my personality, can be back it the same place perhaps many years apart. Am I the same person, is it the same place? Is it possible to step into the same river twice? Apparently not, but it feels like a vast and endless mystery that I am able to come back to a place and meet myself or selves from when I was there before.
I first travelled overseas at the age of 14, spending time in the UK and Europe. I went with my sister who was 15 nearly 16 – we are pictured at the top on our first morning in London, looking over the London rooftops. I know I was experiencing a great awakening from a very sheltered and suburban Perth childhood. Travel pushed out the walls of what life looked like and what it could be.
It would be another 11 years before I would return to London as a 25-year-old and make it my home for six years, working at Greenwich Maritime Museum for that period of time.
But it was another 43 years before my 14 year-old-self was once again joined in London by my sister. Here we are on the right at Embankment, London, me on the left, she’s on the right. We just had about 48 madcap hours to wander through London together before heading to France and now Greece, talk through the hours, the days, the years, the decades. Inside I feel 27 but outside time is marching…
After making London my home, as much as anyone can make that vast city a home, I in 1996 aged 32 and moved to Greece to teach English as a foreign language. I left Greece for good in 2000, by then a mother of a beautiful half-Greek girl. It’s an understatement to say there had been many twists and turns between 1996 and 2000.
To be back in Greece today once more is a complicated joy. It’s fair to say I have mixed feelings about Greece. I will never forget having my beautiful daughter’s plump baby’s cheek squeezed by a woman at an incomprehensible wedding I found myself at with my daughter and her father. He was never much given to explanations so I didn’t really understand who the relatives were but I was under no illusion how punished he felt by having to attend the family event. He sulked and raged as he put in an unfamiliar formal outfit. This woman (presumably a relative) said to me in Greek, “Never mind, you’ll have a boy next time.”
She didn’t know it, but she was part of the fuel I needed to leave the very unhappy life I was leading in Greece and bring my daughter back to Perth for good to raise her in my home country. Perfect it’s not, but there is more of a place for women.
I made lentils for lunch today and found myself signing a song I wrote a while ago about my daughter’s YaYa and her son and their dynamic — she cooks him lentils for lunch. He eats, ignores her and leaves. But damn those Greek lentils are good.
No matter how mixed my feelings are about Greece I always want to come back.
You read right, Sunday Blog 52 – which means I have been writing Sunday Blogs for one year of Sunday! I was initially inspired by the quote from the Seth Godin book Shipping the Work which is all about the concept of getting your creative thing (whatever it is) out into the world:
We don’t ship the work because we’re creative. We’re creative because we ship the work.
Seth Godin, Shipping the Work.
This week I shipped a video of a song I had written recently, accompanying myself on my awesome kangaroo skin drum that I made since I finished up my Executive Director role at the end of March this year. Back in those early weeks when I swam around luxuriously in all the spare time I had. When I posted the song I noticed that wow, videos do resonate. I have only read that about fifty million times in every single social media course I have ever taken. Blow me down if it isn’t right.
So I thought I would celebrate my one year Blogiversary with a bit of a flash back through all the images I have made for my 52 blogs. Since I drew my line in the sand on 29th August 2021 and committed to Sunday blogging. To sharing musings, podcasts and books, the stumbles and the wins. Turning pro.
Now there is one more line to draw in the sand. Daily writing. As Hilary Mantel said in this excellent article:
I feel shy of saying this, because to non-writers it sounds so lazy—but if, seven days a week, you can cut out two hours for yourself, when you are undistracted and on-song, you will soon have a book. Unoriginally, I call these “the golden hours.” It doesn’t much matter where I find them, as long as I do.
The sound of my darling husband emptying the dishwasher always puts me in mind of this description. The bashes and crashes of the mugs being returned to their spots, the plates slid into the drawer all summon up visions of chipping. (I know, just shut up already, he’s emptying the bloody dishwasher!)
But hear me out. When we married nearly 14 years ago I was gifted a set of six wine glasses and a matching water jug from my workplace at the time, and within six months every single one of the glasses had been broken. To be fair, the set had been bought by the Executive Assistant who barely knew me, but still.
I first heard this description of someone’s dishwashing abilities in 1979, when my eldest sister spent some time in Ireland living with our Irish grandfather’s relatives.
I have been watching my social feed awash with images and stories of Ireland as a friend of mine has been touring there this Summer. I’ve been reminiscing.
Back in 1979 my sister was staying at the ancestral farm with our second and third cousins twice removed or something – I can never keep track of these things. She was 22 and single at the time, and our relatives were casting around for potential suitors for her in their small town. A diminutive 50-year-old man with not much in the way of beauty or charm was suggested by one of them. It took some creative embellishment to dream up a selling point for such a bizarre (and ewww) pairing. But with some confidence, my sister was advised that “he has a fine hand with the delft.” She was not convinced, and it was not to be.
As a young person, this anecdote to me was just screamingly funny. But over time, (and my match-making relative was mature and so presumably had some life perspective), a find hand with the delft seems to be something not to be so quickly overlooked.
But on reflection, I didn’t like those wine glasses that much, whereas the husband, who perhaps does not have a fine hand with the delft, is a keeper.
The month was November, the year 1997, and in Thessaloniki, Greece’s biggest city where I lived at the time, it was already getting bleak and cold. Many people find it hard to picture a cold Greece but believe me it was – and November was the beginning of months and months of winter. I was struggling with the technology – a phone card and a stubborn phone box – to ring my eldest sister for her 40th birthday. So often I would traipse down to the phone box and find it wasn’t working. Or that my phone card would run out of money just when the conversation was warming up. Or the phone card I had just bought didn’t work.
I was well into my second year living in Thessaloniki, and this was one of the many moments I wondered at the wisdom of returning for a second year. I Missed My Family. I missed the milestones, the get-togethers, the regular birthdays that would mean a family meal, hugger-mugger in my parent’s house, a cake, candles and a harmonious warbling of the Happy Birthday anthem from my many relatives.
It is now almost inconceivable to imagine life without a mobile phone, but that was largely the norm in the 1990s. So for those living abroad in the sort of places like Greece where a home phone connection was not feasible on an English teacher’s salary, there was only one option – The Phone Box. The birthday call to my sister was limited in time to the amount my wretched phone card allowed for. It was too far away, too short a time, too poor a substitute for being there to mark her birthday. I hung up the phone and sobbed.
I look back on the dark times of Greek phone boxes and telephone cards and am weak with gratitude that I have so many ways to connect instantly with people anywhere in the world. By video if I want! As we speak another sister is currently holidaying in France. She can call me as I wander around Bibra Lake for my evening constitutional and I can share the evening’s beauty with her and she can show me the charm of lunchtime Rouen.
For all the dreadful faults of social media and mobile phones, this gift of communication is, well, a gift.
I met a dear friend for coffee on this crazy full moon Friday. It was not me who said this, but it very well could have been. I had to say “me too, me too”. We both solemnly agreed that it wasn’t in fact the job, it was our own lamentable propensity to say yes to everything that meant we had once again pushed writing to the margins.
With painful irony I saw a journal entry this weekend that I had written in my diary of February 2021; “You can in fact only do one thing at a time. That is difficult for me with my weighted-down to-do list. Perhaps a forced exit from this role is the only thing I can do to truly interrupt this pattern.”
I left this laden-down role in March 2022 and enjoyed several blissful weeks, almost amounting to 2 months, of feeling foot loose and fancy-free. But like the poor old Ancient Mariner, the albatross of not being able to say no has followed me to the other side. And here I am, too busy again. A freelancer with no free time.
Wherever you go, there you are.
But my friend and I clinked coffee cups and agreed that we would exercise and write before doing any freelance work, and if that meant we didn’t get to our desk before ten, so be it!
Another writerly friend and I had coffee on Saturday and she advised me it is actually a lot easier if you just work on the damn book every day, rather than on the weekend.
Something in this just made sense, so this is me, day two of working on the damn book every day.
It will be late, but that goddam book will be done!!
Trigger Warning: This post begins with mention of sexual assault – please take care when reading.
I remember my very first time giving my all as a citizen to an Inquiry in my home state of Western Australia. It was the Inquiry into the Prosecution of Assaults and Sexual Offences, shortened to PASO. At that time I was attempting, with very limited funding and many hours of volunteer work, to establish and grow a group of women impacted by sexual violence to provide a strong, independent systemic voice into the system. Hell, I even dreamed of women being able to access legal support when giving evidence in sexual assault crimes because in this instance the victim is as much, if not more on the witness stand than the accused.
A submission was done to PASO, and we were invited to address the Inquiry Panel. At the time it felt positive, empowering, like the effort and energy of telling my story would help to create change. I pressed the button in the lift, went into the important bland building, sat and answered questions. People were kind.
Perhaps I wasn’t as aware then as I am now of the many layers of privilege for me as a victim of a single incident trauma in my mid-thirties. I had access to Managers of services in health and justice, and readily shared my feedback and suggestions for improvement. Like anyone, I had no idea about so many things until I experienced first hand what it is like to lose your power like that, and find your way back to the light through the darkness. My path was short and straight from dark to light and I realised very soon most people’s paths were not short, they twisted and turned and getting back out to the light was not always a possibility.
After the PASO Report was written, I was invited onto the Committee that would oversee its implementation. This also felt promising, until the government changed, and the incoming government indicated that it wouldn’t be bound by this Report, created through tax payers dollars. I vainly hoped that any way maybe something would happen. I sat on that Committee, year after year. As I describe in my memoir Not My Story;
I am the only person who is volunteering their time to attend; everyone else is getting paid (often rather handsomely) by their usual employer to be there. As well as being a victim, my day job is working as a not for profit professional. Victim representative, not for profit professional. You stand out for all the wrong reasons.
It’s like I am the only one at a black tie event; but I didn’t get the memo and have come dressed up in a fancy dress costume – in a bunny suit. It’s not just the discomfort of being conscious of my metaphorical bunny suit as I sit at the table; I’m also constantly shrugging off nagging doubts that I’m not doing enough, that I’m not representative enough (who is?), that I’m providing the appearance but not the substance of victim engagement. But if I decide that I can’t quite stomach continuing to attend this meeting, I know the victim voice will be completely absent.
Not My Story memoir, page 189
In that particular case, the matter was taken out of my hands when I missed a meeting, and the Terms of Reference were changed, conveniently removing Victim Representative from the membership list. I think it’s safe to say that not much happened in terms of real change for victims after the 2007 Report.
Back in the world of health, where I have spent much of the last twenty years, there have been too many reports to mention. But I will not forget the morning of April 2019 when the Sustainable Health Review Report was released. The Report had consumed more than 18 months of my life as I was on the Panel. It had briefly broken my heart when in some extra optimistic flight of fancy I thought we might be able to convene a Citizen’s Jury about our health system. Working question – “How can we afford the health system we want?”
Needless to say, that did not happen, but in the endless compromises that followed a great report was generated.
So in April 2019 there was a fancy breakfast launch with a room full of our finest health professionals. Showing admirable courage, the health department had invited me to be as a Panelist for the launch event. I was asked what difference the report would make to our State. “None if it isn’t implemented. This is a diet plan, not lost weight.”
I battled it out over a couple of admittedly very disrupted years, but trying to create change through the right channels no longer felt right for me. So I left after thousands of hours of meetings and spreadsheets all aiming to show some kind of imaginary progress that the newspaper headlines would beg to differ about.
The fiendishly difficult task of getting shit done is never facilitated by an absence of any funding to do the actual work.
Creating a report is a finite, doable task. Staying the course for actual change is another matter altogether. We can all draw up a diet plan with great feelings of virtue and determination. But losing that weight and maintaining a healthy weight is incredibly difficult.
I think Leigh Sales is on it. Creating reports appears to have been colonised by those determined to maintain the status quo.
It’s Sunday morning in a Wheatbelt town and we’re closing out a Song Writing Retreat with a voice lesson in the church next to the Quindanning Hotel. The acoustics are amazing. We are doing vocal warm-ups, just singing sounds but no words. The magic that comes from voices joined overtakes me and the shivers start.
Then we start singing the word “Home” our voices swirling around in harmonies and my voice thickens until I can’t sing.
Home. My house and darling husband. A sudden piercing yearning to be home.
Home. My childhood home and how I had to leave it in order to become a fully realised adult.
Home. My adult daughter still at home – just – but moving on at some time in the next six months or so.
For ten years I lived in Europe and wondered where is my home? But I’ve been back two decades and the thought of living anywhere other than Australia is now foreign. But still, the song lines of Europe are so strong.
Whenever I stay I always make my hotel bed room so it is always inviting and ready for the Muse. I thank my hotel room before leaving it for good. My Quindanning Hotel Room gave me a couple of good-ish nights sleep and somewhere to retreat to when banging out a song (quite literally, on my recently created drum) for the evening’s performance. It was a little temporary home I got to stay at.
Now I am home.
I say a prayer for those with no home, with a broken home, a stolen home.