Homing in…

In Sinning Across Spain, I made the bold claim that “home” was my favourite word in the English language. It must be special to me, because it’s the word I choose to see dozens of times every day…

IMG_1139When I walk in the front door, it greets me – just in case I’d been feeling lost or displaced. I’ve felt both of those in recent times.

But HOME rescues me. The word and the place.

I’ve been pondering what it is that makes home feel like…well, home. How to pin down that feeling – an exhalation in every pore, that lets the body soften and the mind slow and the spirit lighten – when I know I’ve come home.

It starts before I enter the house. It’s the sound of the bell on the front gate, that particular note I’ve been hearing for almost three decades. The bell is rusty now, but the note is true. Then there is that familiar curving brick path; only short, but somehow more welcoming to me than a straight line. It slows me down. Asks me to focus on it, even though it’s so deeply known. I brush my hand against the rosemary hedge – rosemary for remembrance.

I do remember. How could I forget?

Sometimes there are jonquils and magnolia blossoms. Sometimes scented Mr Lincoln roses. But always, always, the rosemary is there for me to drift my fingers across, and to release the scent of memory. Of those I love and have lost…of those who are far away…of near and dear…

Then the pleasure of the key that fits. It never ceases to amaze me, that little piece of metal carved into a particular shape that slots into one particular space, allowing me to come home. All the technology in the world will never replace for me that simple miracle of ingenuity. Access all areas, Ailsa, it says. Welcome home.

Home.

History. Memory. Warmth. Intimacy.

Decades of laughter and music and food and friends and the little dog that used to pitter-pat toward me down the shiny hall; smells and flowers and guitar chords; rehearsals for shows and half-written manuscripts; jokes, good and bad; birthdays and anniversaries and mourning and carousing; late nights and early mornings; sickness and health; cups of tea and pots of tea and vats of tea and gallons of tea; rose petals between sheets; bad jokes and silly walks and funny dancing and crazy hats; being held when grieving; popping corks when succeeding; reading and sharing the reading and stealing a book and giving a book; lolling in the tub as a fat moon wafts overhead; greedy bees drinking at the bottlebrush blooms; winning the possum wars; late night silences and early morning nuzzles; comfort when comfort can’t help but somehow in the end it does; more tea; making Anzac biscuits at Christmas and eating plum pudding in July; watching friends take over the kitchen and marvelling at the results; listening to a lone cello’s notes hitting the high ceiling; stuffing home-grown vine leaves from our backyard and eating them with wide grins; and poems…poems read for birthday parties when people said they felt shy yet couldn’t be silenced….poems sung to old tunes and new…poems written for the occasion, the ultimate gift…poems in every nook and cranny, perched on every piece of furniture, sitting on every chair and making way as humans approach, tucked under bedcovers and at the bottom of the garden…

Home is a poem. It is one long poem. And it’s a love poem. It will always sing of history and mystery and the wonder of connection. These rooms are a poem composed over three decades of love and laughter, of joy and grief, of stillness and mayhem. The poem of this home is deep in my bones. I will sing it all my days.

And I am grateful.

For home.

 

True North

This blog has never been about my personal life, and I don’t intend to change that focus. Always, the thoughts here have been in some way related to Sinning Across Spain – walking, journeying, poetry, Spain…

But today is different.

As you will know if you have read the book, Sinning Across Spain was dedicated to Peter, my true north.

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Just over two weeks ago, I lost him.

He died of a cerebral hemmorhage. Too soon. Sudden. Without warning.

I want to thank everyone who has contacted me here and on Facebook and by email. Every message means a lot, but please understand that I simply can’t respond individually. Please don’t feel overlooked, or that I don’t appreciate the thoughts and prayers and wishes. I do. So much. I am grateful we are both being held in people’s hearts. Please continue to send him your blessings and wishes, if it feels right.

We were married for 27 years. He was good, truly good. He was kindness personified. And he was funny. A clown, a punster, a wit. He described himself as a flaneur. Peter could always find exactly the right word.

I am managing the days, one tentative step at a time. If I’m absent from here for a time, I am sure you will understand.

This is the poem I associate with Peter. There are a thousand others, of course. We both loved words and poetry. He had his favourites. But this was who he was for me…

 

ATLAS

 

There is a kind of love called maintenance

Which stores the WD40 and knows when to use it

Which checks the insurance, and doesn’t forget

The milkman; which remembers to plant bulbs;

Which answers letters; which knows the way

The money goes; which deals with dentists

And Road Fund Tax and meeting trains,

And postcards to the lonely; which upholds

The permanently rickety elaborate

Structures of living, which is Atlas.

And maintenance is the sensible side of love,

Which knows what time and weather are doing

To my brickwork; insulates my faulty wiring;

Laughs at my dryrotten jokes; remembers

My need for gloss and grouting; which keeps

My suspect edifice upright in air,

As Atlas did the sky.

 

 

U A Fanthorpe

 

 

Anthem at Easter

IMG_4808To close out last year, my friend Louise took me with her to see Leonard Cohen in concert at a Geelong winery.

It was a glorious gift. He has long been a hero, and to have the chance to hear him live was an experience I will never forget. Funny…

We use words like unforgettable and awesome with such profligacy. We reduce their currency in the process.

Leonard, however, reminded me of what it is to be “awesome”. He began exactly on time, showing the performer’s respect for an audience. He expressed gratitude at every turn. He gave and gave until a younger man would have dropped. And all the while, his vast yet gentle spirit reached out across the hills, lighting us up even more than the full moon overhead.

IMG_5580Easter is, for me, a time of walking, reflecting and reading. This year, with glandular fever still making it impossible for me to walk any distances and difficult for my fuzzy brain to hold onto plot twists, I will devote my days to poetry. I’ll dive deep into some old favourites, and delve for discoveries.

So in the spirit of Easter, here’s a poem/song. This is Leonard at his most sublime – and that is saying something.

It feels easter-ly. It feels right.

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Anthem

 

The birds they sang

at the break of day

Start again

I heard them say

Don’t dwell on what

has passed away

or what is yet to be.

 

Ah the wars they will

be fought again

The holy dove

She will be caught again

bought and sold

and bought again

the dove is never free.

 

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

 

 

We asked for signs

the signs were sent:

the birth betrayed

the marriage spent

Yeah the widowhood

of every government —

signs for all to see.

 

I can’t run no more

with that lawless crowd

while the killers in high places

say their prayers out loud.

But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up

a thundercloud

and they’re going to hear from me.

 

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

 

You can add up the parts

but you won’t have the sum

You can strike up the march,

there is no drum

Every heart, every heart

to love will come

but like a refugee.

 

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

 

The birds they sang

at the break of day

Start again

I heard them say

Don’t dwell on what

has passed away

or what is yet to be.

 

Ah the wars they will

be fought again

The holy dove

She will be caught again

bought and sold

and bought again

the dove is never free.

 

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

 

 

We asked for signs

the signs were sent:

the birth betrayed

the marriage spent

Yeah the widowhood

of every government —

signs for all to see.

 

I can’t run no more

with that lawless crowd

while the killers in high places

say their prayers out loud.

But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up

a thundercloud

and they’re going to hear from me.

 

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

 

You can add up the parts

but you won’t have the sum

You can strike up the march,

there is no drum.

Every heart, every heart

to love will come

but like a refugee.

 

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

That’s how the light gets in.

That’s how the light gets in.

 

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May your days be peaceful and may the colours of autumn float about you in all their warm tones, reminding you of the deliciousness of change.

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Starting as I hope to go on

Bundanon window

Bundanon window

Happy, healthy, creative, joyous, surprising, peaceful new year!.

I’ve a private superstition that January foretells the year to come. Sometimes I can shape it. Sometimes I can’t.

This year, it shaped me, I hope.

I’ve been at Bundanon, the remarkable property on the Shoalhaven river that was gifted to the nation in 1993 by Arthur and Yvonne Boyd, for artists to come and work in solitude.

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I’ve had two weeks here, with mostly only wombats and kangaroos for company.

Excellent companions

Excellent companions

Oh, and the characters in my next book…

Work begins on the draft

Work begins on the draft

It is set in two worlds, one red and one green, one then and one now. It is a story about stories and a search to find a home. Isn’t that what all stories are ultimately about?

My then and my now

My then and my now

And tonight is my last night in this breathtaking place. I’m so grateful for the time. The natural world is my paradise, as you know, and Bundanon has fed and fed me.

 

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The cicadas…

the spiders…

the wrens…

the wagtails…

All of them colluding to take me deeper.

IMG_4996The river…

the rocks…

the ferns…

the gums…

Oh those gums, so varied and so true.

My saints, my markers…

Walking my way through and over this land, but being walked by it too.

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The silence of the deep full moon night and the misty early mornings. The intense heat of the first week. The moist mildness of this second week. All, all…gifts. Reminders of the natural world and how it longs to support us if we will only give it time. If we will only pay attention…

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I have produced so much more than I dared hope here. Can’t believe it really. And the miracle is that I get to return in April for a third week.

Tomorrow I leave, but I’m so grateful and amazed to have had this time, just as I am to wake each morning on this beautiful land. It has set me on track for the year, I hope.

May your year be fulfilling and may the way be clear.
May wonder be your default setting, every day.

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Happy new(ish) year.
Buen camino.

Postscripts…

Here’s a link to a recent piece for Eureka Street. I feel pretty passionate about this one.

And if you’d like to get a feel for the studio space I was in at Bundanon, click on this link to watch a short video. I like the sentiment on that little heart!

Blues…

Abrolhos Island Blues

Abrolhos Island Blues

I’m mad for blue.

It might be my favourite colour.

When I was first shown the cover of “Sinning Across Spain”, the ratio of village to sky was different to the final version. My only request, because I thought the design completely beautiful, was for more sky and less village. That was partly because the experience of walking had been much more about sky and solitude than village and community, but it was also my delight in that intense turquoise, chosen by the brilliant designer.

Blues…

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Smoky Katoomba blues

There are so many of them in life’s Derwent pencil box, and all sing to me of horizons and skies, distance and possibility. Of opening, adventure, salt spray and infinity.

Why, then, do we say that we “have the blues” when we are sad or wan?  Why not the purples, which seem to me to be much more fraught? Or perhaps the browns, which are murkier to my eye, and more like the way I feel when I can’t see woods for trees.

My online dictionary suggests that the first to use the word “blue” to mean “sad” was Chaucer, back in 1385.  I wonder why he didn’t choose to say he had the “greys” – the colour I associate with those lowering English skies.

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Serene Elwood Blues

And why do people sing the “blues”? The great B.B. King says the blues are an expression of anger against shame and humiliation, but to my mind, that sounds more like the “reds”. The “vermilions” even!

I’ve had a dose of “the blues” lately. Nothing big. Certainly nothing that compares to the stories I was honouring and hearing as I walked 27 kilometres across seven bridges and through miles of national park in Sydney’s Seven Bridges Walk. It was a fundraiser for the Cancer Council, and I’ve rarely been more conscious of how fortunate I am to be walking and laughing with friends.

The Cancer Council employs a bright yellow daffodil on their logo – surely the colour of optimism and hope. Walkers who were supporting research for breast cancer wore pink – for some, the colour of birth and renewal and hope. I wore white  – possibility, clarity, purity, perhaps. My intentions were pure; I was walking for the possibility of a brighter future; and I was holding clear memories of people who had lost lives to cancer.

But, blue. Why blue?

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Sky Sky Sky Blues

You know, I don’t feel I’ve had the blues. I think I’ve had the beiges, actually. A kind of grubby blah colour. Nothing to write home about, and brought on only by focusing on the minutiae of my own fears and inadequacies. I think maybe I need to go out and get me some periwinkle blue sea. Or some cornflower blue sky. Some perspective! After all, there is so much to celebrate…

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Delighted blues! Grateful blues? The book has just had another reprint, for which SO many thanks to all who have recommended it and supported it – and its author. Thank you so much. xx

May you have all of the blues all day long: the best and brightest of blues, the shimmering shiny blues; the deep naviest of blues; the crisp new blues; and the soft soft babiest of blues. Have them all – and throw off any greasy old greys!

And a postscript…If you feel like celebrating, raising a glass, kicking back and hearing some stories and poems, I’m going to be presenting a scaled down version of my Sinning Monologue at Travellers Bookstore in Melbourne on November 21st. I’d so love it if you came along. Claire is a great hostess and I promise to deliver with every bit of me! There will be French vins and fromages, and Spanish vinos and jamons – and hopefully lots of travel stories shared! Details for this – and several other events – are over on the Events and Media page. So hope to see you before the year closes.

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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!

 

Grounded at Twilight

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Listening Lisa

Here is a guest post by Lisa J Cole.

It was written in response to the conversation last week between me, Bruno Lettieri and Barry Garner, at the Twilight School at Rupertswood in Sunbury.

Welcome Lisa!

 

 

Tell me, what is it you plan to do                                                                                             with your one wild and precious life?

That sentence is from Mary Oliver’s poem titled The Summer Day. Mary is an American poet, and right at the very end of her poem we are left to answer this question. The beginning of the poem, where first she describes a grasshopper cleaning its face with its feet and having enormous and complicated eyes, takes us on a journey, and then we are left with a question to ponder, grapple with, conjure or create with.

For many of us, it’s a tough question to answer at the best of times. But it didn’t seem that way the other night for the Pilgrim and the Verandah Sitter at the first Open House event at Rupertswood Mansion for 2013.

Ailsa Piper, writer, director, actor and graduate pilgrim shared with her captive audience that to live this ONE life is a good place to start. There is no other, just this ONE. Barry Garner, local Sunbury writer and author of Haloes in the Windscreen, shared that he sits on his verandah and reflects where he’s been and where he’s going next with the PRECIOUS people who he loves and respects around him.

These accomplished authors read from their books, laughed together and relaxed over a microphone last Wednesday night but most importantly publicly declared their personal journeys of walking. Ailsa’s pilgrim-style walking took her 1200km across Spain, alone and carrying with her a bunch of other people’s sins. Barry’s life centres in and around his suburb of Sunbury and he retold stories to the audience how he used to walk around the block with his daughter, Kylie, because she wanted to get fit. He discovered a deep connection with his daughter again. Is the importance on the ONE or the WILD or the PRECIOUS? Maybe it’s all of them.

We discovered, as we listened into this conversation that Ailsa’s greatest addiction is poetry, followed closely by walking and the intrigue and unique beauty and slowness of snails. She has a small snail engraved permanently into her skin to remind her to slow down in life.

Barry declared that he’s spent over 55 years believing he’s not good enough, but once he found writing he could express himself to the world and published a piece about his daughter Kylie leaving home in The Age. He had a rough ride last year through the festive season, but a brisk visit to Philip Island with a loyal friend filled his lungs with hope and belief that no medicine could. The room filled with enormous gratitude for two people who simply were brave enough to open up their lives and hearts to us.

The cooler Melbourne weather brought relief and fresh thoughts. As I sat and listened, my gaze fixed out the bay window on the quick, darting black birds moving efficiently and effortlessly from branch to branch. I wonder if they ponder taking on the snail’s slow life. I hear words and then applause. The bay window of the dining room sparkles; clear as if the glass was an illusion.

And in a moment it’s there – life is not a dress rehearsal. Not for a snail, or a grasshopper, or the darting black birds outside or for Ailsa Piper or Barry Garner or for any one of us sitting in that room. We have enormous lives full of potential and possibility, often complicated and too busy. The secrets to answer our question are locked up in the den and they need to be set free, especially the secrets about the ONE WILD and PRECIOUS life we all wish to live. These thoughts need to breathe and grow and walk across countries or around suburban blocks. Set them free.

How about we all start with this ONE moment in our lives and see what happens next.

 

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Pilgrim, Verandah Sitter and Bello Bruno

Gracias, Lisa. It was such pleasure to sit in those remarkable surrounds and to share the stage with two such thoughtful gentlemen. Gentle men who attend to the world about them, and to their place in it. That is what dignifies Mary Oliver for me – the way she pays attention, and in doing so, makes me open my eyes, ears and heart to wonder. Natural wonder, in particular. Her grasshopper is so particular and real for her.

Rather like my snail.

Yes, it was an evening of paying attention and shared humanity. The audience at Rupertswood was welcoming, the stories they shared were inspiring, and the birds sure did sing. My sister Amanda came along with me to take photos of the evening, and life really did feel precious…

Gracias Lisa. Gracias Bruno and Barry.

And as always, Gracias Mary Oliver.

IMG_2883A postscript…of course!

Do take a moment to look at the comments on this post. Very grateful to Darren and Jim for two beauties. A camino and some snail-talk!