things I fail to save

things I fail to save

I haven’t been able to write. I thought it was me and my mind and my migraines, but it turns out I might need new reading glasses.

Banal normality is what happens to us most of the time. I’m worried about tumours and hormone imbalance and what is missing is an appointment at the optometrist. I am plodding towards my destiny of old age, decrepitude and death in the usual manner. Nothing to read about. Cancel the blog post. Turns out I’m not the centre of all things after all, just a participant in that rough-smooth movement of creation through time.

Earlier, before I started writing again on here, I had attempted a few paragraphs describing my grandmother’s jewellery. My Aunty Beryl passed away a year ago, leaving some of the jewellery with my mother. Now it sits here on my desk, in my line of sight, goddammit, just sort of existing and daring me to open up display boxes and again attempt a written representation of Edwardian jeweller’s art. Or mid-century mass-produced bling that had sat so long on the top shelf of my grandparent’s lowboy before Aunty Beryl, in her mid-eighties, finally quit the house in a body bag.

I can’t think where else I can put the old lady’s jewellery, so it sits in my line of sight, a punishment for attempting a description in an unsaved file that my ever-loving husband, even he, described as ‘not your best work’.

Yes, it’s been a while since I have wanted to write, or had the clarity of mind to do so.

I have a friend. A visual artist. Over a lunch of sweetened kale leaves she says, “When you can’t produce art, it indicates that you are not in the best place yourself,” and I think about those hopeless little paragraphs that failed to save. That I failed to save. As if I knew. I can’t remember what I wrote.

It’s been a year since mum has come to live with us.
And writing the above line and I stop dead. I want to abandon my computer and this whole idea of writing an autoethnography.
Why the need to stop?
She guts me, even now.
She’s here.
A Barb we never knew,
But a Barb we all prefer.
Soft, pliable. Decent.
But she hollows me out.
Dreams and achievements on hold. Like I’ve seen and heard nothing. I have never lived my life. I just re-enter hers at the point she needs me and now I am again part of her story.

“She lives a really lovely life now,” I tell people, thinking of the daily outings, the social input. Clean, dry, warm. Sleeping, eating. All of these I attend to so she does not suffer the lack. But I feel split open and eviscerated, stretched like a canvas on a frame. In Chinese, the word for cross, the one Jesus is sacrificed on, is shi zi jia. A cross-shaped frame. We say cross, but we forget we speak of not just iconography but a wooden device to keep people pinned back and held up. Carpentry is involved. And a carpenter, stretched out on a frame in the shape of a cross.

She has been sitting on the lounge for two hours now, ever since the Anglicare worker brought her back from a failed trip to Norman Lindsay’s Gallery. They had got there and it was too dusty to leave the car. The bureau had been expecting 90kph winds, drought’s dusty sands lifted up from the inland and carried over the mountains to the city basin. And now, half way down the mountain it has met a small fire on Bell’s Line of Road, fanning it out of control and I am at home with mum, listening to the updates on local radio and praying for strength, wisdom and wiles for the Rural Fire Service.

For two hours she has been napping. Sitting upright, mouth gaping like Aunty Beryl the day dad found her dead on the couch in the Enfield house. But not dead is my mum, just exhausted from the last-minute change and, instead, a visit to the Museum of Fire in Penrith.

She wakens and I ask her if she wants cake. She says no and I wonder what that means, make a considered guess and cut some just for myself. Armenian Nutmeg cake from the Australian Women’s Weekly Sweet Old-fashioned Favourites cookbook. The cake is not good. Overcooked 5 minutes. My friend, my visual artist friend, suggests that our palates have changed since AWW Armenian nutmeg cake was invented and perhaps it seemed more of a gastronomic sensation in the seventies. I say next time I will use twice as much nutmeg and greek yoghurt instead of milk, but suspect going straight for a more recent Persian Love Cake recipe would be wiser.

One of the jewellery cases is melamine. A hinged, cream-coloured heart, embossed with a bow. It sits on three clawed feet. It is ornate and there is grubbiness in each crevice. Temporarily forgetting what is inside, I place my fingers on the early plastic container. I remember. Inside will be an ornate Edwardian gold ring. What is the stone? My mind says white opal. I open the box and the opal is much bigger than I remember. It is surrounded by little leaves worked in gold. The ring seems just as grubby as the box. I remember I had searched ‘Saunders Ltd’, the name embossed in gold on the satin lining, and discovered the jewellers is still in Sydney. I had been thinking of taking the whole thing in to the store to see what they would say. That’s what I had been thinking. Before I lost the paragraphs. I snap the melamine lid against the base and put the box back on the middle shelf in front of me. I push my reading glasses up on my nose, then drag them back down again when I discover I cannot see.


Of toothpaste skies and male voice choirs.

Of toothpaste skies and male voice choirs.

It is a crisp, clear day in my mountain village and I am shopping on the main street. I have my calico bag which is looking quite haggard from use, and as I go from shop to shop I throw all of my shopping in together.

On the street I find the crisp, clear sky dazzling. It is sharp and fresh like toothpaste.

Just before 9 am, replenishing the cottage’s stock of Stone’s Green Ginger Wine, I suspect I am the bottle shop’s first customer of the morning. The attendant asks me about my plans for the day and I am at pains to assure him my plans involve sensible, responsible activities, not lolling on the carpet with the peppery remains of the bottle. I mention something about replacing the filament in the lounge-room up-lamp. There must be a goodly proportion of his clientele that he doesn’t believe and I wonder if I am one of them.

My husband and I saw the Spooky Men’s Chorale yesterday. They were gorgeously amusing as usual, although somewhat hamstrung by the low house lighting which interfered with that connection to their audience which is the engine of a lot of their non-verbal humour. The first time I saw them was in a bright community hall at Lawson and I loved the way the Spooks would gain eye contact with an audience member and then stay connected until it became a contest of who blinks or looks away first. I lost a few times. The buggers.

The Spooky Men announced on Facebook about a week ago that they were holding auditions for new members and at that moment I was more genuinely upset that I was not a male than you can possibly imagine. I have triangulated these results with other women and I am not alone in my misery. Who would not want to be one of these guys:

That clip was lifted from the Spooky Men’s Chorale page.

The show was doubly wonderful because not only did I enjoy the music and comedy of Spooks, I also got to see my local theatre at close to full house. I’ve got this desire for the Springwood Hub to be such an attractive place for entertainers that I will never have to go into the city to see another act ever again. In this dream, weekends unfold like this: my husband and I walk out of our cottage, along a few streets and then down to the local theatre where we are entertained by world class live acts the likes of which New York, London and Sydney enjoy constantly. And we enjoy these fearsome acts and then, depending on the time, we wander back down the main street of our mountain village for a coffee with cake or a glass of red or a pub meal and then we meander home to the cottage for the donning of my generic Australian ugg boots and maybe the last half of this week’s episode of Dr Blake Mysteries, where I spend the entire time wondering what on earth is going on and why yet again is Dr Blakbeing immediately relieved of his duties as coroner and didn’t that happen last episode and wasn’t that a marvellous time at the theatre that we just had.

This morning I asked myself which Bible verse would go with the mint-fresh toothpaste sky. And I have the answer. It is Job chapter 37, verse 21:

But now, the sun cannot be looked at — it is bright in the skies — after a wind passed and swept the clouds away.

May the clear mint skies blow fresh on you. Or may it rain, if that is what you need.


[I am flogging off my novel, Stroke the Tiger’s Tail to raise money for Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group. Read some reviews here and buy it from Createspace or Amazon.]

It sneaks up on you in a gentle but real way. So beautifully constructed. It got right into me and at points brought me to tears.

Unseasonal Haiku

Unseasonal Haiku


The weather in my mountain village has been all sixes and sevens. Autumn was cancelled for the year, apparently, as we went from summer to more summer and only recently into the recognisable chill of a temperate Sydney winter.

You will remember that my last post had me using a beading session to overcome my fear of writing a project proposal for my graduate research. Well, I finished the proposal off and sent it in this morning! I was so chuffed. Even an unseasonal blowfly in the house was cause for poetic inspiration:

Oh, confused blowfly,
This winter visitation
Will leave you mateless.

How I used therapeutic beading to overcome impostor syndrome for good.*

How I used therapeutic beading to overcome impostor syndrome for good.*

I don’t like to brag, but today while shopping in my mountain village, I had two people randomly compliment me on my earrings. I had only made them the day before.

I’m no stranger to beading my own earrings, but this is the first time I had tried such a complex pattern. My friend Toni is an art therapist and she uses her beads in her work. A few times she has invited me over to hers to make jewellery together. I love it!

Toni and I both worked on the same design, based on a pair Toni already owned. It took four solid hours.**

But being more adventurous than I, Toni sent her work through several morphologies. After creating the full pattern, she squeezed it all into the palm of her hand until it was a tangled mess and checked to see if it looked any more interesting in that condition. Then she pulled it all back into shape and repositioned it until it was sitting on two planes rather than one. Finally, she squashed it flat again, like the earrings in the photograph.

Toni’s experiments were bold and courageous and I was jealous of her disregard for consequences.

How I would like my research proposal to appear.

In the end, we both decided that our earrings would look better if we removed the bead we started with. If you look at the pic you can see that the earring has one focal point: the rectangular green bead. The bead I discarded was a darker green, egg-shaped thing and it would have sat just underneath the hook. But…two focal points was uncomfortable for the eye and disturbing to the mind. And there is more than enough to discomfort and disturb in this life already. The extra bead had to go.


The issue of the unwanted bead reminded me of my writing process. After I have written a piece, I often decide that the first sentence is unnecessary and delete it. Not out of any lack of respect for the sentence. In fact, I am grateful. The first sentence is the tap that I turn to get the story flowing, but only rarely does it remain part of the composition at the end of the day. Yet without it, the rest of the page would never have spurted (or dribbled) forth.

Which leads me to today’s personal issue: I am having trouble finishing my research proposal. All the elements are there, but I am struggling to make myself sound smart and focussed and…

I have flirted with various ways of of tricking myself into finishing. I could pretend that the research proposal belongs to somebody else and I have been paid to write it on their behalf. I could play-act that I am an experienced academic, certain of my positions and expected outcomes, clear on my procedure.

How my research proposal actually appears.

The first earrings I ever made were three little beads on a straight metal shaft twisted into a small circle at the end and attached to a hook. They weren’t much, but they were everything in my developing world of jewellery making. I had taken discrete elements and fashioned them into something enjoyable, beautiful, wearable. The same friend, Toni was beside me on that day, too, cheering me on and being impressed by my fledgling efforts.


If I were to sit down tomorrow and work on my next piece of jewellery, maybe it would be as complex as the piece above, but I hope it wouldn’t be as wobbly. Or maybe it would be even more complex and just as wobbly. I could practice the skills I already have, bedding down my technique, or I could challenge myself with something newer, crazier. I could do whatever I want. And I can accept the stage I am at. The newer, crazier, wobblier stage.

It occurs to me that every graduate research proposal is written about that which the student knows something but not everything and each proposal contains the seed and promise of something new. A kernel of hope.

My research proposal may be as freshly developed and wobbly as my new earrings. But it will contain all the colour, delight and promise of a deftly crafted work to come.


**Including gossip.


[I am flogging off my novel, Stroke the Tiger’s Tail to raise money for Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group. Read some reviews here and buy it from Createspace or Amazon.]

It sneaks up on you in a gentle but real way. So beautifully constructed. It got right into me and at points brought me to tears.


In Absentia

In Absentia

This coming week is Graduation Week for my Arts degree. I’m not going to the ceremony. Not out of any hard feelings, I’ve just decided to save up all those passage rites and go for The Biggie at the end of my Masters in Education.

I didn’t do a full Arts degree, but I did most of one. I made up the extra units from a Masters in Creative Writing from Macquarie University. As a result, my Bachelors degree felt a little piecemeal, like I was just getting the hang of it when it had to end. Sad, really.

At my first high school, a co-educational local number, we had one teacher who would dress in his academic gown at the end of the year assembly. Just one. A languages teacher. In year seven he was my teacher for French, German and Latin. Not much French or German. And really not much Latin, either. But I do remember learning to say I feel like a Tooheys or two:

In animae habaeo en Tooheys uel duo.

If I am remembering it incorrectly, perhaps the more serious Latin scholars among my readers can assist? And while you are at it, let me know how to say Beer O’clock in Latin. That would be really useful down at the Royal. Thanks.

I feel like a Tooheys or two was the jingle for a beer ad saturating the televisual airwaves of our 13-year-old lives.

I can remember our language teacher announcing to us that the beauty of this most modern of Latin phrases was that it scanned so well it could be sung to the music of the beer jingle. And so, after a few runs through to get the pronunciation correct, that’s what we did as a class. We sang:

In animae habeo, in animae habeo, in animae habeo en Tooheys uel duo. 

Try it yourself. I’ve chosen a 1980 cricketing version of the iconic beer ad, which comes from about the time I was in year 7. It’s all historically legit:

When I look at advertising like that I wonder how I survived the levels of masculinity portrayed in media at the time. There’s even a deliberate crotch shot, for those who don’t immediately get the point of what this beer/cricket combo is mostly about. Hint: it is not about the beer.

How outrageous to teach a bunch of adolescents a beer jingle. But…here’s the educational punchline…omg I remember it even now, 35 years on! That language teacher was an educational genius! He certainly knew how to use a repertoire of effective teaching strategies to implement well-designed teaching programs and lessons (thankyou, Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards, NSW).

Now that they have invented the internet, I can tell you beyond any shadow of a doubt that a quick, googly back-translation of the beery Latin phrase he taught is:

“Or two of them, that I have added to Toohey”

I’m pleased with that. It sounds like Yoda said it. Meaning-wise it is close enough, and really quite ancient language-sounding, at least to the likes of me, with my six lessons of local highschool Year 7 Latin.

And as I remember, this language teacher was the only one with enough chutzpah to turn up to our high school Speech Day in an academic gown avec its own furry stole, symbolising his success in, as I remember, several Masters programs. And when I think of my future Graduation Day, what I find myself focussing on is the question of regalia ownership. Will I rent the academic gown or will I buy? Will I buy and wear it at Speech Day, not because I have to, not from an untamed sense of ironic distance but out of deep respect and acknowledgment for the one who taught me my first Latin phrase?

By the way, I google-translated beer o’clock into Latin, and apparently it is nona Bersabee

I’ll make sure I use the phrase next week when I am down the local, celebrating my graduation in absentia. 


[Think about buying my book, Stroke the Tiger’s Tail. All royalties go towards assisting those fleeing war and persecution. You can buy it from amazon or my createspace site.]

Now HECS census date has come and gone

Now HECS census date has come and gone

That’s it now. HECS census date, March 31st, has come and gone. I am financially committed to the course units I am currently enrolled in. No turning back, no turning back without financial disincentives.

The first undergraduate study I did was in Nursing. In 1989. At the time, in other states of Australia nursing was still being taught in hospitals and it was deemed inequitable to be charging us for learning that others were being paid for. We New South Wales undergrad nurses were given a free ride as all around us physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists and ophthalmology students were filed into the beginnings of a beneficiary-pays system. I remember snickering behind their backs. In an empathetic, nursey kind of way.

For those outside Australia, HECS (the Higher Education Contribution Scheme) is a system of paying back some of the costs of your university degree through the tax system, once your income is high enough, i.e. once you are considered to be receiving a financial benefit from your studies. As it stands it is relatively fair, but change a few numbers and the system is primed and ready to disadvantage the poor, the sick, the disabled, the female. As you can imagine, it is the battleground of considerable political struggle, and you can probably already guess on which side of the line I stand. If not, let me remind you that I once wrote something for the Labor Herald.

In the early seventies, then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam shoved Australian society into a large mason jar, screwed on the lid and shook the contents. Really quite hard. The jar was opened and tipped and the contents spread along the kitchen bench of political reform. “Ta da!” said Gough, ending conscription and the death penalty and delivering everything from hospitals for Western Sydney to maternity leave for Commonwealth employees. One of the magnificent changes wrought was fee-free higher education. And the children of Australia’s less well-off were given access to a world of critical thinking and argument that has caused no end of irritation to the priviledged end of town ever since. Oh how I love my country. And Gough. (If you want to spend more time, and I’m sure you do, admiring Gough’s chutzpah you can read about his political legacy at Whitlam Institute, which is part of Western Sydney University.)

Oh how I love my country. And oh how I believe that higher education should remain within reach of people living with disadvantages, because there are more social gains to be made that only today’s batch of disadvantaged kids will be able to get educated on, fight for and win. You go, kiddos.

Maybe that is why I am retraining to be a secondary school teacher. At Western Sydney University. Where yesterday was HECS census day.

Any time before census day, you can withdraw from your unit without the cost being added to your ‘account’ with the tax department. (So that’s four weeks of free higher education for everyone, every six months! #jokes…Although…).

And that’s four weeks for you to make up your mind if you are in the right course, or have chosen units that fit with your needs. Four weeks where you can be ambivalent about your chosen career, or just those language classes you thought would be easy enough (guilty). Then, as sure as Christmas, census date arrives and you are forced to decide if you meant everything you mouthed on about during the last month or if those were just empty promises to yourself.

You have your will I/won’t I moment, and then as suddenly as it came, census date is gone and your life now has a predetermined nature to it that not even the memory of hazy summer holidays can dilute. And that’s why I’m here, right now, composing this blog post. Because nothing gives your hobbies an urgent quality like the pressure to do real, intellectual work.






[Think about buying my book, Stroke the Tiger’s Tail. All royalties go towards assisting those fleeing war and persecution. You can buy it from amazon or my createspace site.]

accidental community

accidental community

A couple of weeks ago I went down to the local pool to do a few laps. They were my first few laps since my belly was round with child. That child has become a certified adult. And I need to do laps again. Just like I prepared my body for childbirth and baby-rearing, I have come to an understanding with myself that I now need to prepare for the next 10 years of life. I want to move into that time with as robust health as is possible. No matter what our age, we all need to be preparing for the physical demands of our future lives. Enter a decade as healthy as we can, and we have a better chance of enjoying that decade in good health. So, laps.

I moved into my mountain village two years ago. I’d done a fair bit of house moving over the previous decade and all of it involved a process of settling in. There is a lot to learn about a new place. Public transport routes, sneaky back roads that only the locals know about, best cafe for a latte. Local information.

Depending on how far you have moved from your previous home, you may be grieving the loss of connections with your community. Perhaps you feel those connections were built up slowly, over the full period of time that you lived in your last place. Maybe you are dreading the idea of starting over, saying to yourself, “I was there six years and had all those friends and acquaintances. It will take another six years to gain back what I have lost in relationships.” I felt very similar. 

But come back with me to the pool.

At the swimming complex that day, I bump into an old friend who has accompanied her son to swim school. I finish my laps and she says, “You’ll have to come over for coffee sometime.”

There is a cafe poolside. “Let’s do it now.” I only have the change from the ten dollar note I used to enter the building. “You’ll have to lend me some money!”

We consolidate our loose change on the plastic tabletop, giggling as if we are back in Year Seven. Between us we scrape up $6.15. Not enough to cover ourdrinks. So it is back to being grown ups and she shouts me the flat white with her credit card. We sip coffee and talk while her son mucks around in the water with some of his friends. We share stories of our recent past and dreams about our future and it is so good and gloriously unplanned. It is accidental community.

But that friend is somebody who moved to this village years ago. I knew her before I got here. How do I get accidental community happening with people I don’t even know yet? Perhaps you have moved somewhere new, unpacked your boxes, filled the fridge and then finally had a chance to take a breath and consider the community living round about you. Perhaps you are asking:

“Here I am. I’m new here. How can I settle-in purposefully?”

We all know that children parallel play when they are young. They might be sitting just a metre from each other in the same room, but they choose to enjoy their own toys in their own space without collaborating with others. That is a function of their development. The temptation for adults in a new place is to do something similar. It is tempting to walk to the shops, eyes fixed on the ground, make an order at the cafe and then spend the rest of the time reading enthralling blog posts on community. Sometimes disconnection feels like the default method of moving through our world. That can be the right and healthy thing for us to do on some days when we need time out of the house but also Time Out from others. But other days are different, and we feel the longing for connection with our fellows. How can we move away from a disconnected interaction with our local environment and into a more present sense of community belonging?

After several significant life moves I have worked up a few tips:

Firstly, this settling-in time is probably not the best time to turn over a new leaf. Children regress when they are getting used to new environments and I don’t think adults are much different. Don’t lash out and join the gym if you were not a gym-goer in your previous life. You’ve got enough changes to cope with.

But take a bit of time to think through your current passions. What do you love to do? What do you spend time feeling passionate about? What floats your boat in terms of recreation or physical pursuits?

Find a local group that does those things and join it for a session or two. You know what the great thing is about joining a group? Other people are there because they like hanging out in groups, meeting new people and engaging in conversation. So more than likely, they will be happy to get to know you, a newcomer. And don’t despair if at first a group doesn’t seem right for you. When I first arrived I joined a writer’s group that met locally. They were a lovely bunch of people but the meeting time didn’t suit me so I didn’t carry on with it. There are all sorts of groups about: dancing, team sports, gymnastics, gardening and land care groups. Playgroups, preschool story-time at the library, groups that run soup kitchens, knitting groups, bridge clubs.

When I thought about what floated my boat I decided the answer was politics, religion and art. (You should have me over to dinner sometime. I am fascinating!)

I joined the local branch of my favourite political party, which meets once a month. “Oh yeah, I totally want to do that,” I hear you all say at once. I didn’t say it was compulsory! Yet if you are a politics tragic, joining a branch is where it is at. At the branch level in Australia you hear feedback from local councillors and news from state and federal representatives about issues that drive the party. And I enjoy being able to greet people near the election booths, handing out how-to-vote forms on election day. Voting is compulsory in Australia so the whole area comes out to cast their ballot. And what says ‘community’ more than Election Day? I may have lost a significant portion of my readership at this point.

Do you have spiritual inclinations? A lot of people do. Try out a few of the local places of worship. And, as I said above, don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work out on the first visit. When we were settling in, one of my friends said to me about churches, “If you want to find your Prince Charming you have to kiss a lot of frogs.” If it is like that for churches, I guess it is the same for other places of worship.

What is your hobby? I joined a local arts group that meets monthly to share written and visual artwork we are currently working on. I love it! I feel like I belong.

Get to know your local shopkeepers. Time for a song.

Not sure where the women were in that video, but alarmingly enough, kale makes an appearance. Do you know what this means? This means in the time between this song being recorded and today an entire female revolution occurred yet kale only became more popular. I think we all know which vegetable is going to survive the next global catastrophic event.

So as I was saying, get to know your shopkeepers, a lot of whom by this stage will be women. (Remarkable!) This suggestion extends to professional services. Find a local doctor, dentist, accountant and physiotherapist. For these are the people in your neighbourhood. Service providers are an easy target when settling in because they are the members of your community that can be found in predetermined places for long stretches of time. Also, they are pretty much paid to be nice to you. And there is nothing wrong with that. Sometimes people need a little encouragement. Maybe for you they need a lot of encouragement. Which brings me to my next point.

Be nice to people. Smile, take time to say “How are you?” back to the people serving you. Lift your head up and look other locals in the eye when you are walking down the street. If you vaguely recognise them, nod your head in greeting. Chances are they’ve seen you about too. If they respond with a smile, smile back, venture a “good morning”.

Greet people working in their gardens. Say hello to council workers and contractors on the street. When you walk into a shop, don’t miss the opportunity to scan around and see if there is somebody that you recognise. Smile at the parents of small children in prams. These are all people that you might meet again on another occasion in another context.

What about some other ideas?

Read the local paper, so you are keeping up with local news and events.

Attend local arts and music shows.

Attend your local farmer’s market. I only wrote that to sound pretentious. (But I still go every month.)

This morning, after a drop off at the car pool, I drove back up the hill to an early morning cafe and ordered a latte. On my way to the table a woman looked up from the book she was reading and smiled at me. I smiled back. Sometime later she leaned over and asked me about my smartwatch and was it any good for tracking exercise. Something she said in that short conversation clued me into the fact that she was a primary school teacher, and we had a good chat about teaching, she with her fifteen years of experience, me just starting out. After a while we left off talking and went back to our reading. When it was time for me to go I stood, told her it was nice to meet her and asked her name. She asked mine. We shook hands and spoke how we hoped to bump into each other again. We might never see each other again. But if we do, it will be a wonderful moment of accidental community.

It was my friend at the poolside that introduced to me the term ‘accidental community’. I am growing to appreciate both the term and the experience.

However you choose to move into your community, I hope that you embrace living locally well. And I trust that you soon come across the delight of accidental community.


[Think about buying my book, Stroke the Tiger’s Tail. All royalties go towards assisting those fleeing war and persecution. You can buy it from amazon or my createspace site.]