Stories that move…

This is a higgledy-piggledy thought trail.  A bit like one of those roads that twist and turn and loop back and cross over and duck beneath. You get there eventually but you have to trust that the trail is not tricking you.

IMG_3846Firstly, I’m on the road again. Well, more accurately, I’m in the air. I’m off to WA for the Big Sky Festival in Geraldton. This is tremendously exciting. It’s a combined homecoming and discovery. I’ve not been there for decades, and my last trip was on tour as a beginning actress. Geraldton was occasionally a stopping point on the way north to the Gascoyne when we were driving home after a visit to Perth, so I have sketchy memories of it, but I have none of my other destination – the Abrolhos Islands.

Yes, a few lucky writers are being taken over to the Abrolhos, to stay the night. It’s a sanctuary and a wild place. I looked at the expected temperatures, and the maximums and minimums are the same! There are seals and turtles and birds and…wildness. It’s a great privilege to overnight there. Usually only the fishermen who work there are allowed to stay, and under strict supervision. I can’t believe my luck.

IMG_1262Meanwhile, from out on the roads in Spain I am getting missives from pilgrims. September 2009 was when I walked the Camino Frances, my first camino, and so I feel very sentimental about those who are currently making their way. Protective. And a bit envious, if I’m truthful.

Only a bit.

Buen camino one and all, and may the road continue to rise. Gracias for the letters and posts and pictures. I’m coming back.

Yes I am.

And in other news, I’ve decided that I am going to do the Seven Bridges Walk in Sydney on October 27th to raise some money for Cancer research. Next weekend will be the 19th anniversary of my beautiful Mum’s death, and as I approach the age she was when she died, I feel even more keenly how much was taken from her. And from others I’ve lost. I’m also walking in gratitude for those I love who have recovered, and for my own strong legs and heart.

IMG_3993People have given me so much since I put the word out that I was doing the walk. Many of the gifts have been stories. Stories of loss. Stories of hope. Stories of transcendence and grief and euphoria.

I have been moved by accounts of gifted doctors and children’s recoveries, courage and fear and perseverance. We humans, at our best, are truly wonders. We can envision a better future, and that is remarkable.

One such person is Emily Simpson, who was the first to give to my fundraising campaign. Emily is a remarkable woman who has singlehandedly driven a quest to create a permanent labyrinth walk in Centennial Park in Sydney. She is a mighty spirit. Not content with donating to Seven Bridges fund, she also sent me a poem, knowing how much I love a verse hit. And so I share it with you here.

For all of us, on our various roads, heading toward our personal Santiago…

Santiago

The road seen, then not seen, the hillside
hiding then revealing the way you should take,
the road dropping away from you as if leaving you
to walk on thin air, then catching you, holding you up,
when you thought you would fall – and the way forward
always in the end, the way that you came, the way
that you followed, that carried you into your future,
that brought you to this place, no matter that
it sometimes had to take your promise from you,
no matter that it always had to break your heart
along the way: the sense of having walked
from far inside yourself out into the revelation,
to have risked yourself for something that seemed
to stand both inside you and far beyond you…

Excerpt from “Santiago”
From Pilgrim: Poems by David Whyte ©2012 David Whyte

 

Wherever your road is leading you today, may you enjoy the twists and turns, and duck your head when necessary, but remember to look up and make the occasional wish too, won’t you?

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And here is some housekeeping info…

The Events and Media pages are up to date. Click above in the menu bar for info.

I’ll update movements – with Abrolhos pics! – on Facebook.

If you’d like to know more about the Seven Bridges walk, just click here. You might like to put on your boots and join us!

 

Walking home

IMG_3632The other day I was on the mobile, talking to a friend, when she asked me what I was doing. Perhaps the heavy breathing made her curious!

“Walking home,” I answered.

I kept striding along the bayside trail and talking to my friend, both activities at a pretty hectic pace, but one part of me had stopped, rolling those two words over and over in my mind.

Walking home.

Walking home.

I’m always walking home, I realised. It’s what I do every time I set out for a stroll, a wander, a saunter or a pilgrimage. It’s what I do when I walk out the front door or into the wind; away from someone I love or toward a challenge; and even when I sit here at the desk, tapping at these keys, I am walking my self home. I’m not sure where that home is, but it’s located somewhere within, I think. It’s the part of me that is still and quiet; the part that grins like a loon when I’m loping along an open road; the part that remembers the rhythm of camino days; the part that knows I need nothing other than air to be happy. To be whole.

When I can locate it, it feels like what they call grace. But it eludes me too often.

I was not walking home when I sat on the phone for an hour yesterday, reporting a faulty telephone line. The call centre staff were doing their best, so why couldn’t I keep my breathing even and my tone calm? I’m not walking home when I wake at 2am panicking about failure or the uncertainty of the future. Of course the future is uncertain. I know there are no guarantees, even for those who have contracts and salaries. Why should that wake me in the night?

At those times, I forget that I am walking home; that every heartbeat, every in-breath and every out-breath is a reminder that if I choose to be, I am getting closer.

PB083824I must choose.

I can’t always expect to know I’m on the path, as I do when I walk out on welcoming, shaded roads.

I must actively choose to see every step as a step toward home. I must hold the memory of that in every cell, and trust that I am getting there. That we are all getting there.

Home.

Home safe.

Home free.

That’s something to write home about, isn’t it?

Coming home. Going home.

“Walking home,” I said, when she asked what I was doing. Even if I never make it, the journey will be beauty-filled if I can only keep that simple mantra close.

Walk home. Walk home. With every breath, may you walk yourself closer to home.

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Walking and writing

IMG_3560It’s 5.49am as I sit down to write.

A good time for beginnings.

On the road, setting off before sunrise always bodes well. It makes me mindful of my footfall. It makes me listen, when too often I get lost in the delirium of sights.

But still, there’s nothing quite like watching the sun peep over the horizon. My stride lengthens and my spine lifts, like a sunflower reaching for its vitamins.

Well, I’m seated, and there won’t be any light for a while yet, but nonetheless, I feel hopeful about my work for the first time in a few days. I’m on a long camino, currently. There are two books being walked, and both of them look to have long distances still to travel to the end of first draft.

Last week I had a roadside meltdown about one of them. Well, about my ability to follow it to its Finisterre.

I lost my way. Lost direction, lost stamina, lost my footing. I lost faith – in the project, and worse, in myself. The only good thing that can be said about this meltdown was that at least I wasn’t carrying a pack when I fell.

Or perhaps I was. Expectations are a burden. We need our goals, but they are different to expectations. A goal keeps us on track, pulls us forward, draws us on when the spirit flags. But expectations…well, they seem to be different. They can buoy us, oh yes. But they can also turn, in a second, into stones underfoot, or thorns to block the path. They can bruise and bite and sting. They can weigh us down down down…

And they are self-made.

When I walk, I rarely have expectations. I just step out. Yes, I might aim to make it to a particular place by nightfall, but I don’t hold that thought as I walk. I’m just wherever I am. That’s why I can have my impossible but real flying-walking days.

And I do have such days at the desk, very occasionally. But mostly it is not flight or weightlessness that I experience as I write. It is plodding. Plodding in faith. A particular kind of faith that is stolid and rhythmic and silent. A kind of faith with few moments of euphoria or achievement. A kind of faith that lets someone or something else lead, because I have to acknowledge that when I write I don’t even know the location of my Finisterre. I’ve no idea where I am being led. I just have to keep the faith and turn up – even more than when I’m on the road.

When I lose faith and try to guess the road ahead, or worse, look back to see where I’ve been, there is strife. I stumble. I crash. I fall. And getting up is hard. The expectations crush my spine and push me into the dirt. Getting up can be nigh on impossible.

Or it was last week.

But this morning, for some inexplicable reason, I am back on my schedule, waking pre-dawn and whirling to the desk. Letting the keyboard lead the fingers and not worrying about the mind, that slippery little sucker that can play such dirty games. This morning, faith returned. Or at least, hope did. Maybe it is hope that keeps me going. Only hope. Maybe faith is a bit too big an ask. But hope will keep me here today, my spine curling and straightening, my eyes blinking at the screen, and my fingers making the soundtrack that is not entirely unlike the sound of feet on a road. I will think of them that way. It will help.

This journey toward draft’s end is about fixing my eye on the horizon and keeping on. On and on.

So what’s new? That’s what we are all doing every single day, isn’t it?

May your road be straight, your day be clear, your spine rise up and expectations fall out of your pack to be replaced by hope.

Have a sack full of hope, and forge on. Here comes the sun…

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Walking on earth

I have written of Thich Nhat Hanh before, and I know many share my gratitude for his writing and teaching. Patty Fawkner is among his admirers, and she sent me these words of his. I’m indebted to her, because I hadn’t read them before, but feel they could have been penned just for me. Straight to the heart. I hope you feel the same way…

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People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle.

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But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth.

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Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize:

IMG_1087a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves,

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the black, curious eyes of a child —

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our own two eyes.

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All is a miracle.

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IMG_3355IMG_3360IMG_3277_2Thanks to Patty for the reminder of everyday miracles.

And thanks, as ever, to my feet, for taking me to see so very many of them.

PS – I’ve updated the Events and Media page, so there are links to recent podcasts and videos etc. It has been a busy time. Gratitude for that too! For so much.

Hace tres años…

IMG_2993Three years ago I was in Córdoba.

Rather like this morning in Melbourne, I woke to rain, but back then, I dressed in a rush and stepped out across cobbles made slippery by fallen orange blossom, to attend a service at the Mezquita.

If you’ve read the book, you know the rest of the story of that day…the marvel of poetry floating overhead, wonder at the city’s history of inter-faith tolerance, sorrow at the way it ended, hunger for the faith of the Spanish ancianos, gratitude for the sunshine that arrived to release the scent of neroli, pleasure at sweet treats in an Arabic tea shop…

And the breakdown suffered by my theologian.

“I am so afraid,” he said more than once.

Some readers tell me they found him difficult company, and were glad when we parted. I’m sorry for that. I suppose they’re experiencing him through my eyes, feeling my wish for solitude and freedom from his sadness. His breaking.

I’m grateful I was there to be with him that day in Córdoba. For all that it was hard, and I was not having the solitary camino of my dreams, what passed between us was honourable. Decent. He broke. I bore witness – and gave some small comfort. It was an exchange that cost us both, but also enlarged us, I hope.

IMG_3012It’s not always easy or pleasant to bear witness to the fullness of another person. It’s also hard to allow someone else to see the fullness of ourselves. The “Facebook selfie”, selected to give just the right airbrushed impression, has become ubiquitous, and we are in danger of becoming less and less able to sit in the discomfort of another’s full humanity – their contradictions, errors, ugliness and frailty. Also, and this may be more of a “sin” than we care to acknowledge, we become less and less able to reveal our own frailties and ugliness.

Or is that a confession?

I should know by now to be wary of speaking for “we” and “us”. Generalisations and sweeping claims are dangerous, and all I know is the compass of my own limited experience. Lately I feel that diminishing. Fear and doubt sidle up to me more often than I’d like. There are days when I can’t listen with care or patience as I did in Cordoba. There are days when I am not true to myself – to the person I was in Cordoba, for all her shortcomings. And there are days when I will only serve up the tidy, edited version of myself. For all of that, I’m sorry.

I suppose that does make this is a confession, then.

And I will try to do better.

Funnily enough, I’d intended to write of “good news”today, because there’s plenty of it.

IMG_3043“Sinning Across Spain” has just come out in a beautiful scaled-down B version that sits in the hand perfectly. It was released on April Fool’s Day, exactly one year after the original publication date. I think of that fool’s day as my day, so the serendipity pleases me.

And there is more to celebrate! I’m going to be at the Sydney Writers Festival on May 23rd, in conversation with the luminous Caroline Baum, and the remarkable Cheryl Strayed, who wrote “Wild”. Details are on the Festival website.

My intention when I sat down was to write about those two pieces of news, but somehow it didn’t seem right to pump out “publicity” here. I strive for something real in my community of subscribers and commenters, and feel I owe something to this village – fidelidad. As I learned with my amigo, it is in fidelity to self and others that we expand.

So on this rainy Melbourne day, let me confess that I’m not always walking with a sure step just now, and writing eludes me at times, but I’m doing my best and trying to live up to the faith that people have in me. That faith spurs me on, and lets me believe that the sun will reappear, and with it, perhaps even the scent of neroli.

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A very belated heads-up, if you didn’t see it on Facebook…

Here is an article I wrote recently, turning some of these feelings into something like sense – for me anyway. Hope it resonates: The Gift of Sadness

Road tripping

IMG_2630I’m writing this from Albany in Western Australia, where a gusty southerly is shaking the treetops outside my window. Tiny honey-eaters flit from branch to branch, seemingly unfussed by the tumult. Whitecaps chop up the surface of the bay beyond and clouds race across the sky. The world is whirling, remaking itself before my bleary morning eyes.

I’m told that Albany is the oldest permanently settled town in W.A.

Old. Permanent.

The weather patterns today seem intent on reminding me that everything is new and changing. The town wraps around King George Sound, which opens onto the Southern Ocean. Next stop is Antarctica. This is a place of extremes and edges.

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I came here after three days at the Perth Writers Festival, which took place on the University of WA campus. While I was there I performed my Sinning monologue on a stage I last trod thirty years ago. Big time palimpsesto. It was privilege to be back, surrounded by family, friends, new friends, and a few heroes too.

IMG_2602I had the oddest sensation at the opening of the monologue. I was sitting in my “Spanish cafe” section of the stage, wrapped in a bubble of warm light, as the audience filed in. Gracias A La Vida was playing. I wrote in my journal. I sang along under my breath. I was introduced to the audience, my biog read out, the music came and went. House lights dimmed…

All normal. All to plan.

Except that I felt something completely new: I was in Spain and Australia simultaneously. I was in a bar on the road, and I was in Perth in my student days. I was a pilgrim and a writer/performer. I was present to both, yet also, curiously, outside of both, writing about the experience in my journal. Later, I realised that it was not unlike what happens to me sometimes when I’m walking – that sensation of being out of body, watching the small dot moving along the road.

Whatever it was, it was right. The monologue had a life all its own. Maybe it was happy to be on a stage, or to be back where it all began, or to be given to such a welcoming crowd. No matter. It was joy. The whole Perth experience was joy. Days of laughter and talk and folly and wisdom.

And then, a group of writers was flown south to Albany for the Write in the Great Southern Festival. A gift, because Albany sits at the end of the Bibbulmun Track, a 1000km bush path I’ve long fantasised about walking.

IMG_2661On Monday, I lead a workshop along a stretch of it. Sand got into my boots, salt spray into my lungs, and I was claimed. I’m not sure how or when, but I think I must return. Thank you to those who braved the workshop. It was a little unbalanced – rather too much time spent on the outward leg, because I didn’t know the track – but it was magnificent to watch you all out there writing.

Writing and walking and working. What else?

On Tuesday, I was fortunate to be lead in conversation by Sue Lodge-Calvert, the local Anglican Minister, a deeply thoughtful, light-hearted woman. On several occasions I was surprised by turns in our talk, but never more so than when she asked me to read the following section from the book. I’ve not looked at it since publication – I’ve always read other sections. On Tuesday, it shook me. It is a journal entry, immediate and unshaped, and maybe that is why. Or maybe it was just that it felt very true, here in Albany where I have walked with such gratitude and hope. Regardless, I am glad to have been reminded…

 

For me, prayer is walking. Every step is a prayer. And if there are sacred places, then the ones I have seen are roads that stretch to the horizon, empty of all save perhaps a fellow traveller, dotted in the distance, walking a separate but connected way.

 

A saint is a tree beside a road, the branches wide enough to

give comfort and solace in equal measure.

 

A sermon is a story told at sunset, two spirits meeting to pay attention, to listen, and to learn.

 

Divinity is the moment when heartbeats and footsteps

align, find each other, and mark miles together.

 

Miracles ask little and give much. Like a woman tucking homemade food into a stranger’s pockets, miracles quicken the step, light the way in the early morning dark, and are the first star of the evening cool. Miracles are journeys from emptiness to fullness, from heartbreak to heartache to heartburn to heart’s ease. And back again.

 

And heaven?

Heaven is a place where good people do bad things and bad people do good things and somewhere out on the miraculous road, good and bad people look into each other’s eyes and realise there is no separation. They are the same.

 

And ‘buen camino’ is a blessing.

Good road. Good path. Good way.

Perhaps it is the only blessing.

 

Now, this morning, I am off to Denmark!

No, not Hamlet’s place! I’m going about 40 minutes down the road to another festival, where we will share stories in the wetlands, and try to crack open some of the mysteries of words. I hope I will walk, too.

Meantime, the wind is still howling, crows are cawing, a pelican soared overhead, and those clouds keep racing from right to left across the windows. Out on the cliffs above the Southern Ocean, the wind farm’s mills will be whirring. Nothing stands still. Time is on the road, stepping out, calling us forward.

Buen camino, my village. I’d better get packing. Gracias for walking with me.

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I’m indebted to so many people for these last days: Katherine Dorrington and Del Robinson at Perth Writers Festival; Jo Smith at Write in the Great Southern; Anne de Courcy for friendship and shared stories; Sue Lodge-Calvert for waking me up; Jon Doust for catching me when I swooned; Maree Dawes for walking and poems; Phillip Adams for the hero moment; all at the Stella Prize for the laughter…too many people. Too much kindness. It has been another master class in generosity.

Gracias.

OK. Hi-ho. Close the suitcase and wash the dishes. The road is opening…

 

A Tale of Three Cities…

IMG_2560Hola amigos!

IMG_2562I’m back in Melbourne for a fleeting visit, just long enough to plant my feet in the familiar sand of Port Phillip Bay, and dunk myself in waters bordered by bathing boxes.

It has been hot. Egg-baking-on-pavement hot.

But today there is an Irish mist, the temperature has dropped, and I’m donning scarves and warming my hands on my teacup.

That’s my Melbourne.

Never assume you know her. Never get complacent!

IMG_2514My Sydney stay came to a poetic end. To say gracias to those who made my work there possible, I lead a poetry walk along the Rose Bay foreshore. Paperbarks, sandstone and the harbour’s depths inspired me to reinvent the protagonist of my next book, so I dreamed an hour of rhythm and rhyme, and offered it to the beaches and sky in gratitude.

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We were pilgrims walking a camino – joining for a verse and separating to play I Spy, alone to make a wish and united to strew the water with flowers. We made our own bay of roses!

It was a camino of gratitude, and a chance to salute a remarkable piece of land, with its history of plenty and pain, beauty and loss. Rather like all camino roads…

Pentimento, again.

And this poem, this beloved poem, was at the Rose Bay camino’s heart.

Just as it stays at my heart. Every day.

GRATEFULNESS

by Rainer Maria Rilke

If the angel

deigns to come

it will be because

you have convinced

her not by tears

but by your humble

resolve to be always

beginning: to be a

beginner.

And now, in this brief Melbourne hiatus, I’m prepping for Perth, Albany and Denmark, and their festivals. I’m going back for a celebration of words, writers and the wild west.

IMG_5203Perth was where it began for me.

I was born there, on the edge of the Indian Ocean, where the sun waves a final salute before it drops off the edge of the world. Wherever I walk, if I see a body of water, I expect the sun to dive into it at day’s end, leaving a trail of fire glistening on waves.

Sunrises over water still seem strange to me, as though the world has upended itself. Sunsets without oceans seem wasted – they can’t admire their reflected glory.

Considering that my early years were spent in the red desert of W.A.’s Gascoyne, it’s ironic that water has come to be so significant to me. Like this country I love, I am all duality and contradiction.

IMG_2570But aren’t we all, those of us who love this land with its wind-etched rocks, its salt-sculpted cliffs and its blasted desert centre? We live on the edges and dream of the heart. We cling to the wet and sing of the dry. We are flood and fire, drought and drowning.

And we are home, even if we don’t understand its ways. We come home over and over, for it’s in the not-understanding that we live fully. For me, anyway. That’s where mystery lies, and mystery is full of possibility.

Mystery is for beginners. For fools and children. Mystery is humility and softness.

Certainty is hard and unforgiving. Perilous.

Give me the mysteries of this ancient island, with its wide skies that send messages of love in all languages – if we just remember to look for them.

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If you are able to come along to any of my sessions at the WA Festivals, please stay and say hello afterwards. They are all listed on the EVENTS AND MEDIA page, up there on the top of the blog. In particular, my monologue performance on Friday morning means a great deal – I last performed at the Dolphin Theatre when I was a Uni student, back in…well…another lifetime!

May your days be spent under a loving sky…