A postcard…

Greetings from Bundanon!

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When last I was here, at the height of summer 2014, the days were scorching. Now they are mild and the fields are Irish green.

Life is different in so many ways now – but one constant is my gratitude to Arthur Boyd and his family for the gift of this haven. There are four visual artists in nearby studios, and a musician up the hill. I think we’ve spoken for a total of fifteen minutes in the ten days I’ve been here. The deep silence works its magic and it has been a chance for me to stop and catch breath. I have gone to ground and applied myself, barely putting my head up for air.

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And I have been able to work… 

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Relief floods in…

This little missive is really just a quick hello from me and the wombats, as well as a heads-up to let you know that I was on Radio National’s Blueprint for Living, speaking to Sian Prior, author of the exquisite memoir Shy. We talked about my new home – pics and details in the next post if you keep scrolling down – in the Spirit of Place segment.

You can hear the podcast by clicking on that blue word that says “podcast”!

Wish you were here!

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Saying HI!

 

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Blimey! It’s 2015 and I’ve clearly not been plugged in. Oops.

But here I am, trying to remedy that, though I’m not sure how I will go with being nice. Certainly I am saying Hi. “Hi”, and also thank you for patience and forbearance.

2015.

For this pilgrim, it began with movement. Planes and cars and trucks. Not very much walking, sadly – but that will change. The minute I have sent this note into the ether, I will head out into the afternoon to let my legs lead me. For now, though, the fingers are the only moving part. They must try to capture my wishes for you….

May you have days and days of benign uneventfulness under wide blue skies, broken only by delicious AHA! moments of realising that peace, in self and place, is the greatest gift.

A village full of healthy laughing friends and family to applaud you through your days, sharing the ups and buoying you in the downs.

Licorice allsorts. Plenty.

Possibilities swirling, all of them expansive.

A shady spot under a spreading tree. An umbrella when it pours. Or not, if you like to be drenched.

A mind and heart that say YES to all the right questions, and can say a loud NO when necessary.

The freedom to continue to breathe and walk and speak and live without fear, and the courage to keep on doing those things when fear intrudes. As it does. As it will. As it must, I suppose. That too is life. But I wish you oceans of courage and freedom, that you may wake each day and give thanks.

Gratitude.

I give it to you and I wish it for you.

And love. With every step, every meeting, every parting and every keeping.

Most of all, I hope you can have what I am claiming for myself. While in Ubud recently, I wished a boy “happy new year”. He smiled back at me and said “And you – you have more happy.”

It’s my only resolution.

Have more happy.

2015.

May it be a bright bright bright new year, full to the brim with more happy.

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And a postscript…

I have been remiss. Forgot to let you know about a couple of things during my unplugged days, but there is a show called The Truth About Us on the Foxtel Bio Channel. One episode was a great celebration of my friendship with the beautiful friend Kat Stewart – a remarkable human being for whom I have so much respect and gratitude. It was such a privilege to record it with Angela Pulvirenti.

https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=775815955840476&fref=nf

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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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.

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…

Candlemas


IMG_0622The 2nd February is Candlemas day, when, in the Christian tradition, beeswax candles were brought to the church to be blessed for use throughout the year, in rituals and in homes.

Well, that is one of the results I got from Google when I went searching.

I like the idea of a Candle-mass. I like the idea of blessing candles. They bless me daily.

This morning, waking as I usually do before dawn, I lit the candle by my bed. It had been given to me by a dear friend for my birthday last Monday, and lit up just enough of the space for me to read a few words of a favourite book. Then I put that down and lay, watching gold light fluttering across the walls and ceiling, and inhaling its rose scent.

Such a small flame, and yet it signified so much to me. Wherever I light a candle, I feel at home. As a child, I loved to light them when the generator failed – it was a responsibility and a trust bestowed. Then in churches – a symbol of faith, even when I couldn’t feel it. Somehow I had faith in the light of the candle to show me a way to somewhere brighter. I am never without candles – tea-lights in glass vases, under oil-burners, on tables for shared meals, outdoors by paths…they are celebrations and comfort, hope and promise, history and mystery writ large over all of my years.

IMG_2385I spoke to Tony Doherty about Candlemas this morning, and he remarked on something I had never considered – that even as a candle is shedding light, it is dying. It gets smaller and smaller in direct proportion to the light and heat it emits. Its job is to give itself away.

I loved that.

As I sit here typing this, there is a candle burning opposite me, its flame moving occasionally when a drift of air whirls past. My heart goes out to it in gratitude. I couldn’t even begin to count the number of moments in my life that have been restored or enlivened by those delicate flames.

So today, here in the sacred space of my workplace, I honour and give thanks to candles. Like friends, they are vital to me, and like friends, it’s all too easy to take them for granted in the swirl of these digital, white-light days. This evening, in the home of new friends, I will ask if I can light a candle in gratitude for all my friends, and for my village of readers.

And for hope.

My own Candlemas…

Melbourne April-May 08 044