Mourning walks

We who claim walking as our salvation do so for myriad reasons, many mysterious even to ourselves. We plod across sand, mud or the dreaded asphalt, carrying water, the ubiquitous dried fruit, and a sleeping bag or tent if we’re fortunate enough to be setting out for a “proper” walk. I’ve shouldered packs as light as air and as heavy as twenty kilograms. I’ve even transported sins. Currently, though, I am laden with grief, and I often find myself in the valley of its shadow.

I’ve been on this path for nine months now – a period of time that usually implies birth. I keep thinking: Shouldn’t I have produced something by now? Made myself over? Haven’t I learned anything? At the many daily crossroads, the way should be obvious, shouldn’t it? But it isn’t.

Mostly I feel I am going nowhere. And quite fast.

IMG_0653On good days I remind myself that after 1300 kilometres under my sin-load, I did make it to Finisterre. I made it to world’s end, to a place where I was free of pain – of my own, and of others. I did it by trudging through flood, snow and searing heat, and never questioning the task. I did it by staying the course when I didn’t want to. I did it by accepting the help of strangers, many of whom became friends. I did it by seeing beauty. Over and over, the beauty of the natural world saved me when my heart or my heels hurt.

The caminos I’ve walked, not just in Spain but back here in Australia, taught me the road can break you. It will. It does. Those long trails insisted that everything has a cost. Even life. Even love. But when I kept walking, in that blind-faith action of one-foot-then-the-other, I came through. To somewhere.

And I was remade.

I’m not sure I would have come through this last nine months without my experiences of walking, or the gifts it has given me: resilience; tenacity; an eye for overlooked beauty; a hunger for connection to the natural world; a village of friends who can do hard yards with me; and the lessons of the snail…

Slow. Slow.

This road I’m walking now is long and flinty. Uneven. Lonely, too. But there are glimmers in the dust, and moments of radiance, too. Look left, look right, look down, look up. They are there for the finding.

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On my mourning walks, continuance doesn’t always feel possible, but when the sun shouts to me, or the rain pelts on me, then life races in my veins, and I stride out, relieved that the world is as I knew it.

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On less flamboyant sky-days, when the world offers mostly grey, I must use my own resources to push forward. Those are days for smaller blooms, shy offerings. I have to work for beauty. But it’s there.

 

 

That’s when I can see that if I do two things, I might get through. Just two little things…

Stay with slow and ask for help.

The same two things. The same two things. I come back and back to them.

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I have never been such a snail before.

My belongings are reduced to what fits in my car, and I frequently pull my head into my shell and retreat from the world, but still I find it difficult not to want to race through days.

 

That won’t help. I must stay present to details, like the droplets of dew on blades of morning grass – maybe then I will see them for diamonds.

IMG_0285I’ve never before needed so much help, either. Yet even after carrying pride for 1300 kilometres and getting masterclasses about acceptance from Spaniards and Italians and Peruvian/Americans and so many others, still I get tangled by those three simple words “Help me. Please.”

So. I’ve confessed!

Now you know my sins. Haste and pride. Hasty pride. Prideful haste. Ergh.

Recently I decided that since my emotional “muscles” are being made over, I should perhaps do the same with my physical ones, so I’m learning to swim. I know, I know. How can I have come this far and never had had a lesson? It’s unAustralian!

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Well I grew up in desert country and on farms, with no pools nearby, and by the time I was in the big smoke of Perth, everyone else could swim, so I just did athletics! But I’ve always wanted to learn the strokes so I could manage more than my ungainly dog-paddling breaststroke.

Swimming is hard. One half-lap of the pool exhausts me. My muscles scream. My chest hurts. And worst of all – I can’t do it without intense focus on kicking/breathing/engaging core muscles/tilting/etc/ad nauseum. I’m not good at this! I don’t know how to do it! It isn’t easy for me! I fail! I am upended! I have to ask for HELP!

Grrrrr…..

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My swimming teacher says I have endurance, and it will return in the water. Eventually. But first I must learn to do things differently and to trust that I won’t go under. I must be a beginner. I must give up and do what the water requires of me. I must know that it will take time, and I must practice. I must not expect too much of myself. I must pay attention only to the action that is required, and I must slow.

Grrrrr…

I sink regularly, but I want very much to float, or at least to be buoyant, so I will keep on.

Being a beginner is hard. Always. Asking for help is hard, and so is being a snail. But I’m trying to take the lessons of the water into my days. I am trying to swim through my mourning walks, and sometimes, on better days, I can see some diamonds in the grass.

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Where stories take me…

I read this little piece on ABC radio’s Australia All Over recently. Jen Dawson contacted me via Twitter and asked if she could access it. I can’t get a copy of me reading it, but here it is Jen, in written form. Thanks for listening. Hope you enjoy it. A story about stories…

IMG_2758Once upon a time, I walked across Spain – 1300 kilometres from Granada to a place called Finisterre. Land’s End.

I carried hurts and disappointments that had been given to me by others. They called them their sins. So did I, back then. But really, they were stories. And those stories became my story.

Along that road, I met Spaniards who told me of pain and of gain. Some told jokes – which are stories with a twist. Some told shaggy-dog tales, designed to keep me guessing. They succeeded. I guessed and guessed for six weeks, out on the Spanish soil.

When I came home I tried to write a play, but the stories decided they wanted to be a book. Sure enough, they had their way. And now that book, called Sinning Across Spain, has its way, taking me down new roads to hear more stories.

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At a festival called Big Sky in Geraldton, on the edge of the Indian Ocean, a man called Gavin tracked me down to tell me that he used to play with my mother when she was a child. He gave me new stories of her.

It was the nineteenth anniversary of her death and he returned her to me with interest.

 

ImageAs a  young actress, I was in a play about DH Lawrence. Thirroul, where he lived for a time, seemed like the most exotic place on the planet to me, living on the west coast of the continent. Decades later, I spoke about my book at the Thirroul library, only a fortnight ago. Stories brought me full circle. They’d transported me.

703884_437981306268635_630632006_oJust lately, I’ve been writing in Sydney, where I’ve been given a home by an actress called Amanda Muggleton. She’s on the road across Australia, touring a play called The Book Club. It’s about how stories can infect you, take you over, make you laugh and weep and make love. And then laugh again. A lot. Her stories on the road are making my new stories possible.

A fortnight ago, in Spain, an Australian woman named Anna walked into a town called El Ganso. She was looking for a very old man called Domingo. Years back, when I was walking that same road, Domingo took me for a tour of his tiny town – an hour – no, more – of intricate details. Losses, loves, chooks and roses. I wrote his story in my book. Anna read it, and in El Ganso she asked for Domingo. He wasn’t there but his sister was. Domingo had gone to Madrid to see his son, she said. He didn’t return often because he was not well, but he was alive. His sister said how happy he would be to be in a book. To have his story told….

On King Island, at the other end of the world, I met a woman in her 80’s. She was wise and funny and seemed to know every story ever told. When I asked her if she liked Melbourne, she said she had never been. She wanted to see Hobart first. She had never left the island, but she’d had books for company all her life. Stories. She was generous with them, too. She gave me tale after tale, laugh after laugh. A tear or two, too.

Stories.

They feed us if we stay at home, and they guide us if we go away. They are our lifeblood and our navigation systems. They are our homing instincts and our lights in the dark. They warm the nights and pass the days. They take us out of ourselves.

They are songlines and dreamings, bush tucker and essential oils. They are our best bits and our secrets. They are our stories, and they keep on telling us. Over and over and over. We might have full stops, but stories go on…

To Land’s End and back.

All over Australia.

Yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Never never.

Always and all ways…

We are our stories, and we will keep on being told…

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I’m thinking of everyone in NSW, and particularly the Blue Mountains, where I was writing last week. Hoping that the rain from the south travels to you and that peace is restored.

Talismans

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Everyone has a talisman or two – in my case, a dozen! They hold memory and meaning; they can be comfort or inspiration; they can take us home when we are away. Their significance can be instant or it can sneak up on us over time.

Locating meaning isn’t always like looking for the grail, and is often found when we least expect it, in humble places and objects, out under a wide sky or nestled at the foot of a burnt tree. To find meaning does require attention, though, and when I look at the talismans on my desk, I’m reminded that not all of their significance was obvious to me when I first saw them, so I’m glad they called in loud voices.

That eraser in the picture at the top, for instance…                                                                  I was in Rome, visiting the Ara Pacis – the altar to Peace. White and luminous and stretching back to 9 or 10 BC, it seemed impossible to me that there were cars whizzing past outside, and mobile phones pinging in the corridors around it. I was transfixed by the life of the characters in the friezes, and the delicacy of the rendering of vines and trees. Someone, centuries ago, had loved the world just as I did, dreaming of the possibility of peace between people, and trusting that we might find it if we learned to live lovingly with nature.

Or that’s what I saw!

At the giftshop I went seeking something to remind me of an extraordinary day when time had stood still and peace seemed possible. What did I find? A humble rubber with a message that seemed, at first, to be nothing more than another Roman joke. I don’t know why I didn’t buy images of the altar itself. Perhaps because I decided that no image could do justice to it. Maybe I wanted something solid to hold in my hand. Perhaps it was the outrageous scale of that rubber – the promise that it would be able to erase my multitude of human errors! Forgiveness might be divine, but for earthly muck-ups, that rectangle would get rid of plenty of mess!

I brought it home where it sat unused on my desk for months, a memento and nothing more. Then, one day, feeling wretched about writing that wouldn’t bend to my will, I picked up my Ara Pacis souvenir, and I let rip. I rubbed and rubbed the page, watching mistakes and false starts disappear, leaving an almost clean slate. There were traceries etched into the page, but it was fresh again, waiting for me to rethink, restart.

And I did.

And it was good and bad and right and wrong.

Something in that feverish act of ridding myself of the work that hadn’t worked was healthy and helpful. I learn things best by experience, and while I had always known intellectually that error is human and vital to the creative process, and that I should forgive myself and move one, it was only when my body enacted the words that I actually “got” their meaning. Rather like when I am following a trail and take a “wrong” turning. I do understand now that there is no such thing, and that I am never lost – I’m just where I am.

I don’t often use the Ara Pacis rubber, because I mostly write in pen, but it travels with me, and when I want to really play and muck up and risk, I will take a pencil and paper, and my talisman, and let rip. It is fun and freeing, and I am grateful. I hope it will travel with me for a very long time, reminding me to be human and to err with gusto in my work.

photoThere are other talismans – the precious Finisterre shell, reminding me that if I can walk 1300 kilometres to collect it, step by step, then I can complete my word-count camino at the desk, sentence by sentence. There are my beads for fingering in times of stress; the stones that are identifiers, reinforcers and weights to ground me; the dragonfly – libellula – to remind me of love and laughter; the postcards from afar that prompt me to do better for those I value; and the fat silver heart that says it all…

And there are the stamps with their tin of red ink.

Why?

Well, they are the things I want to send at the end of every missive – a piece of my best self, and love in all languages. For today, consider this a page of thick white parchment with a piece of me on it, sent to you wherever you are in the world, with love in sticky red ink pressed into the bottom right hand corner.Image 2

Update – 29th May 2013

Thanks to all who came along to the Sydney Writers Festival session with Cheryl Strayed and Caroline Baum. It was such fun, and you can listen to  it by clicking here.

Huge gratitude to Rachael Kohn for inviting me and Tony Doherty to be part of her beautiful programme, The Spirit of Things. Details for listening and download are here.

Gracias otra vez!!!

The Fall

Yesterday I fell.

Hard.

Ouch!

My body crashed against concrete, and all my weight came down on my right hip and shoulder, while skin was dragged from my elbow and hand. The action of falling seemed to go on forever. I witnessed the ground rising up to meet me, taking an eternity before it smashed against my bones. I angled my body to the right as it moved through the air, trying to protect my phone in my left pocket. I entertained a parade of thoughts in the second or two before the ground whacked into me: You idiot. You should have been looking down. Put your right arm out to break the fall. This is pride because you were feeling so bloody clever at having finished your tax. Hold your head away so you don’t smash your teeth. How can the great walker fall? You haven’t fallen since Finisterre. Not concrete. Not asphalt. No. No. You were going too fast. You brought this on yourself. You are an idiot. 

THUMP.

And then the tears.

A little boy approached on his bike. He slowed to look at this unexpected sight – a lady face down on the pavement, crying.

“Are you ok?” he said.

“Yes,” I sniffed.

He nodded. “Be careful,” he said, then pedalled away at speed.

Be careful.

I don’t want to be careful. I don’t want to watch my back and check the path for cracks. I don’t want to pack seconds of everything “just in case”. I don’t want to think of rainy days. I don’t want to walk in a world where every pace is monitored.

But I also don’t want to fall. It’s scary. Something happens when we fall. Something decidedly outside of our normal, constructed, adult world.

There I lay on the ground by the Elwood canal, sobbing into the dirt. I couldn’t stop. I was like a child, choking on sobs as the adult part of me looked around to make sure no-one could see. I knew this was shameful somehow, but couldn’t stop it. Yes, there was pain. Skin had ripped and bones were assuredly bruised. But that didn’t account for the wracking, choking sounds and the tears that would not stop coursing down my face. I tried to stand and could barely drag myself to a sitting position. When eventually I began to move, it was in the gait of an ancient, feet not trusting the earth to hold me upright.

I was old. I was a child. I was ashamed. I was afraid.

What is it about falling that shook me so? A dent to the ego? The realisation that I’m getting  old? Children fall and pick themselves up in an instant, but old people’s lives can be cut short by a fall. Some never recover from the earth rushing toward them in that telescopic fracturing of all that is normal.

Yesterday I fell from a kind of gracelessness – a lack of gratitude. I take for granted that I can stand. That I can walk. That I am strong. I also take for granted that the earth doesn’t betray me, and maybe that is arrogant. Maybe I need to pay more attention. To take for granted is not to love. Maybe I was so caught in my own petty triumph over paperwork that I had forgotten to pay attention to the earth.

Today, everything hurts. Hips, shoulder, elbow, skin, ego – they are all shouting. But when next I walk, I will remember to check the earth as well as the sky. The cracks in the pavement have their own story to tell.

While we are talking about falling, I have been prompted once again to consider modern sins. Caroline Baum asked some pertinent questions about contemporary misdemeanours, and the authors we look to for moral guidance, over at the Booktopia site. Have a look.

She set me to thinking.

Is it a “sin” not to tick the carbon offset box when I book an airline ticket, if I believe in action to arrest climate change? Is it a lie to say that I don’t believe that the airline will do something honourable with that money? Is it selfishness?

And coming through customs, is it honesty that sees me declaring every single thing in my luggage, or is it really just fear? No, there’s no righteousness to be had in that moment! Fear wins every time. I’d like to say I was taking the high road, but fear keeps me true. What does that say about the settings of my moral compass, I wonder?

Thanks Ms Baum for making me ponder again.

If you’d like to see a conversation about how tricky it is to be good, Big Ideas recorded a panel at the Byron Bay Writers Festival. It’s between me, Caroline, Hannie Rayson and Charlotte Wood, and the link for it is below in blue. They are deeply thoughtful women and I was fortunate to share a stage with them. I apologise in advance for my dodgy American accent!

http://www.abc.net.au/tv/bigideas/stories/2012/08/27/3576562.htm

It’s the little things that are hardest, isn’t it? The nuances? As Bertolt Brecht said…

The sharks I dodged

The tigers I slew

What ate me up

Was the bedbugs

May you keep escaping the bedbugs!

I’m planning on being back in form for a couple of bookish Melbourne events in the next week or so, and would love your company at them.

Next Wednesday 12th September, I’ll be at the Grumpy Swimmer Bookstore in Ormond Road Elwood from 7pm, where Clifford is hosting a night of story-telling on the theme of water. Ten people each speak for five minutes. $10 admission includes wine, or coffee, and all the stories. Come along and hear tales of waves and rivers and waterfalls and maybe tears. I promise I won’t repeat this one!

And on Sunday September 16th from 2.30pm, I will be at the Thornbury Theatre for Women of Letters from 2.30pm. Five of us – Sally Heath, Sarah Blasko, Helen Garner, Kate Mulvany and me – have been invited by Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire to deliver a Letter to our Unfinished Business. I’m still wrangling mine, but I have given up on writng to the Elwood pavement! The show is sold out, but Marieke says they may release balcony tickets and she will let me know if that happens, so let me know if you want to be advised – or check on Facebook.

Watch the cracks!

 

Reflecting

I went away for a while.

First to Perth, on the banks of the Swan River, at the edge of the Indian Ocean. Another Finisterre – the most isolated city in the world, they say.

It’s where I went to school, and where I still have childhood friends and a sister; two brothers, a stepfather and a father; and other relationships that are complex and enduring.

It’s where I walk under a sky of a particular blue, my feet locating themselves on known, but now strange, earth. I smell childhood fantasies on the breeze and catch glimpses of teenage willfulness around corners. I taste the longing for movement I’ve known all my life.

I always want to be my best self in Perth, to make an offering that is pure and generous. I have moments of success, but too many of failure. My patterns run deep there. I settle into them without knowing, then try to escape them. I struggle to create new shapes, new ways of being, and to lay those over the old patterns.

I succeed. I fail. I walk away again.

This time I went to Ubud in the hills of Bali, in the shadow of Mount Agung.

Agung…

Three thousand metres of volcano, rising out of the mist and smoke. It last erupted in the sixties, changing the island and its terrain. It is worshiped and revered. It wears pale cloud to great effect.

 I slept in a house made of bamboo, looking across ripening rice and paradise flowers to palm trees and kites. I woke to footsteps on stone, treading a path to the temple outside the window.

 As frog croaks gave way to cock-squawks, and before whirring motorbikes on the road took precedence, they would come, those gliding dark-haired women, preceded by the smoke of incense sticks. They placed offerings at the door, at the family temple opposite, and at the compound gateway. They placed them on the paths to warungs, and at intersections of three roads. Kadek told me that she makes dozens each day. They are like birds’ nests made of bamboo fronds, filled with flowers and rice, fruit and biscuits. The air fills with perfumed smoke as the neighborhood is dotted with these gifts. At every doorway, statue, shop entrance and tree.

They are infinite in variety and content.

 

 

They make me wonder about the offerings I make; the moments when I pause in the day, as they do, to stop and acknowledge ancestors or history, or to give thanks. Kadek told me that the Balinese “work so we can have enough food and make our offerings.”

 Last Saturday, friends cooked lunch for six of us at their home in the rice fields. We sat at their table and ate a mix of Balinese and western flavours. We laughed and told stories. We spoke of gratitude for such beauty and good luck; for peace and generosity.

As ducks went about their business, filling the neighbourhood with racket and making me laugh out loud, we shared news from the wider world. Boats of refugees. Casualties of war. Carping and insults in western politics. Intolerance. Vindictiveness. Such things seemed impossible, at that table. Unthinkable.

 On the narrow path home, the women ahead of me carried tiles and cement to a construction site. They all smiled and greeted me as I passed. A Balinese man who had worked in Dubai for two years spoke of his relief at coming home. In Dubai, he said, they told him not to smile all the time because people would think him foolish, or grasping. For a Balinese, he said, this was heart breaking. He was relieved to be home where his smile could be free.

 Overhead, elaborate woven banners swayed in the breeze, ready for Galunggan, when the forces of good and bad do battle. Good will win, Wayan told me, as he plaited palm fronds into intricate patterns. The tall banners arched like the backs of the elegant women bearing building materials.

I took myself on snail-pace caminos, hours of early morning hills and ridges. Everything thrives there. Grasses sway and palm-trees tilt. The green got higher and deeper as I walked. I kept stopping to marvel at the bigness of their bumblebees, the scale of their snails, and the wealth of species. The density of the undergrowth. The patterns. The beauty. The growth….

 There seemed to be order among all that wild sprouting. As though the winds had worked in concert with the grasses to produce artworks to rival any old master’s. Wisdom at work in the landscape spoke, as it always does to me, through my feet. Again I heard it, the repetition, in all languages, of the mantra I must try to remember….

 Tidak apa apa. No pasa nada. No worries.

Of course there are problems. And things must matter out in the wide world where people are disputing boundaries, rights and entitlements. But for a brief interlude, I de-twitted, read few newspapers and listened to another kind of broadcast. I walked and walked at the pace of a tropical snail, and when I returned to Perth, old patterns could be seen for what they were. Building blocks. Attempts. Offerings. Steps toward understanding – of self, family, friends. Of journeys and mistakes made.

 And now I am back in Melbourne, where the air is chilly and the magnolias are showy. Home. Reflecting…

 In Ubud, I looked into a rice field and I saw the sky. Sometimes, if we go slow, we can look into the past and see the future – or at least a glimmer of what might be possible.

A POSTSCRIPT OR TWO

For Melburnians…

On the 16th September, I will be reading at Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire’s latest Women of Letters afternoon. They sell out almost immediately, and raise money for a wonderful charity, so do get in quickly if you are keen. Marieke wrote…

For your records, the breathtaking lineup is as follows:

Intrepid writer, actor and walker AILSA PIPER
Esteemed playwright, thespian and all-round awesome lady KATE MULVANY
Doyenne of Australian literature HELEN GARNER
Editor of Meanjin and associate publisher at MUP SALLY HEATH
And adored chanteuse SARAH BLASKO.
Doors open at 2:30pm for a 3pm start.  Rock up early and have a glass of wine and marvel at the mirrored walls in the Theatre’s downstairs ballroom.
The topic of your particular letter for September is ‘A letter to my unfinished business’.
Get in fast to get your tickets!
And for all visitors….
If you want to share these posts around, click on the icons below. If you want to subscribe to get them delivered, go to the SUBSCRIBE button up on the top right and enter your email.
GRACIAS. That’s the most important post script.

Beyond Byron

I wonder what a Festival like Byron’s does to the collective consciousness.

We gathered for those three days – hundreds of us – bringing the best of ourselves to conversations, meetings and panels, down the road from the lighthouse at Australia’s eastern-most point. Another Finisterre – land’s end. Under open skies, our bodies unwinding in the warmth, we argued and posited and reflected. We listened to other ways of seeing and possible ways of being. We heard stories and songs. We looked at sculptures. We turned pages. We honoured the word.

And then we left. Many of us, anyway.

Where does all that go, that goodwill and possibility? I keep imagining the site, vibrating, highly charged, humming. I wonder, if I walked there now, would my feet feel the changes? Would I know that this was a place where people had tried to be at their best?

And back home, how are we changed? How do we bring that spirit of openness and curiosity into our everyday worlds?

I’ve struggled a bit.

Like this morning when someone sent me a link to a site because there was a complimentary review of my book. I scrolled down and of course I found another from someone who had hated it, who had not understood my intentions, who clearly loathed my writing.

And what do I recall now? The negative response, of course!

So all those voices of experience at Byron Bay, and all that generosity of spirit, didn’t prepare me for facing down my own ego and hubris, or my desire for the book to be liked. For me to be liked!

It’s possible that it is partly because the book is written in the dreaded “I” voice, so it does seem that someone liking or disliking the book is commenting on me, the person; but in truth, I think it is something else.

Post-Byron, after three days in a bubble of considered discussion and respectfully expressed differences of opinion, it has been a big transition back to the world of blunt opinions in which we mostly exist.

Watching Q and A on the ABC last night, I was struck by the polarising, shouted, argumentative discourse. No-one was heard and nothing of value was said. Reading the daily papers, it’s rare to find an article critiquing a situation where the writer has first endeavoured to see clearly the position of the person being rebutted.

I don’t know how commentators and public figures continue in this environment, but it must be bruising on some level. I was struck, at Byron, by how accessible and warm Bob Brown is. I was bowled over by the grace and generosity of Anna Rose. Both of them have suffered vicious personal attacks and received bags of hate-mail, yet both stay open and engaged; both step toward you with a smile and no caution. This seems to me a miracle, when their first response could be to withdraw and assume that the world is made up of people who will dismiss them or attack them on personal grounds.

Forgive me if I seem to be drawing a long bow. I’m not for a moment comparing one person’s response to a book to the tsunami of hate Brown has weathered, or the battering taken by the elegant Anna. What I’m trying to do is to extend myself out from a personal response to something larger – something bigger than ego and pinpricks of pain. Because that is what Byron asked of all of us. That is what any gathering asks, when the parameters are respect, attention and dignity.

We were invited to be the biggest versions of ourselves that we could be. From what I saw, that meant that all opinions, whether in rabid agreement or disagreement, were then able to be heard. Perhaps readers are more able to do that, but I don’t think so. We are all capable of it, all the time. And it doesn’t have to look like political correctness, or shutting down of discourse. It might just look like respect.

So today I’m going to channel my Byron self, and try to listen harder, to take a breath before responding, and to let some things slide away if they are simply not helpful or comprehensible to me in the limitations of my mind.

Luckily, there’s sunshine outside to remind me of Byron and its warmth.

The sky is helping.

And there are the days to come. Hopefully.

Because that is the other reminder that lodged firmly at Byron – the preciousness of these days, and how we can’t take a breath for granted. Gore Vidal died as I was travelling up there. Today I heard of the passing of Robert Hughes. Funeral parlours and crematoriums are always busy. Flesh dissolves into the earth or is burned to dust. Each breath I take is a victory and should be celebrated. I knew that when I saw a distant spume blurt from the ocean last Friday, just after hearing that a whale had died in Sydney Harbour. I think about that burst of water and air on the horizon now, and try to remind myself that each time I exhale, that is what I’m doing – pushing a celebratory plume into the air.

And speaking of celebrating. Thank you to Jonathon Parsons for the festival and for programming us all so thoughtfully; to those with whom I was lucky to share panels – Jill Eddington, Anna Rose, Jessica Watson, John Bailey, Mike Ladd, Tony Taylor, Caroline Baum, Hannie Rayson and Charlotte Wood; to those who came to the workshop I taught; to those who spoke on the panels I watched (many of them my heroes), and to all of us who listened. Here’s to all of us, readers on the grass.

Gratitude too, to the Duchess of Malfi company, whose run in Sydney ended on Sunday.

And to you for reading and subscribing here, beyond Byron.

Thank you. Gracias.

And looking ahead…

Please check the EVENTS AND MEDIA tab up above, or visit my Facebook page if you are inclined. This Thursday I will be in the centre of Melbourne at a wonderful event where seven writers reflect on their love affair with writing. On Saturday I will be performing a sin/poetry/walking monologue in Daylesford, and on Sunday I’ll be sharing a Spanish celebratory lunch and stories at the mighty Pavilion Cafe in the Valley of A Thousand Hills. Maybe come out and join us for some paella, some hills and some air.

And sky.

I have need of the sky

I’m packing for the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival, trying to imagine what warmth might be like, and covering all bases. In between searching for swimmers and scarves, I’m also finalising the script for my monologue performance first thing on Sunday morning.

This fragment of Richard Hovey’s poem was sent to me by Jenni Gates via the Festival website, for inclusion in my performance. I thought I’d share it here, so you can be part of the fun.

 

…I have need of the sky,
I have business with the grass;
I will up and get me away where the hawk is wheeling
Lone and high,
And the slow clouds go by.
I will get me away to the waters that glass
The clouds as they pass.
I will get me away to the woods…

 

Thanks Jenni, for an introduction to another poet, and for the reminder of the wide blue.

Thanks too, to all who came along to hear Hilary Mc Phee talk last night. It was a glowing evening. Thanks to those of you who have visited the Pilgrimage of Bookstores post over at the Meanjin blog, and to the “likers” on Facebook and even the twitterers who spread the words. Thanks to my pueblo of subscribers here – you keep me honest.

I was such a skeptical Luddite when all this began, but I am coming around, and some days I’m lit up by the sound of a Tweet whistling in or out.

Who could have guessed?

For now though, I’m imagining the sound of waves and picturing a light reaching out across the ocean to greet the dawn – and maybe even whales.

It’s my first visit to Byron. Another Finisterre, at the other end of the world.

I’ll report in on my return, but for now, buen camino, my village.

Paso a paso.

I will get me away to some sky…