Lessons from the lighthouse

IMG_1538.JPGIt’s exactly a year since I drove into Sydney, my black hatchback crammed with hastily-packed belongings.

I’d left Melbourne in a rush, grief propelling me up the highway on a quest to make a life where I could choose the memories I played on my internal screen, while seeing new vistas.

Well, that was the plan! Memories, of course, will have their own way…

 

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It was a year of hopes dashed and dreams fulfilled. A year of struggle and of miracles. A year of tears, fears and ultimately, cheers.

My focus for the past twelve months was simple.

Find a home.

Find a home.

Find a home.

 

And I did!

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With a lot of help from an unlikely angel in the form of a Sydney real estate agent, I came to rest in the lee of a lighthouse. Nicholas Charles said to me, the first time I met him, “I will find you a home.” I smiled, thinking it was empty rhetoric; the talk of a salesman. But he did. He listened to my incoherent mutterings, heard what mattered, and tolerated my mood swings and heartbreaks. He consoled me and urged me on as we traipsed all over the city, never charging a cent for his time or expertise, and eventually he led me to a new nest, within easy walk of the barber-pole lighthouse on the tip of South Head.

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This image was commissioned for an article I wrote about Nick Charles for Slow Living magazine. Thanks to editor Tim for sending it to me.

I thank him every time I walk out there, and I walk out there almost daily. It is a pilgrimage. A camino, if you want. It is my own Finisterre – land’s end – with a sheltered harbour village on one side and the wild ocean on the other.

And I love it…

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Now for a confession…

I am an Instagram addict.

It is the one social media thingy of which I was an early uptaker. I love it for community and beauty, and for peeks into the lives of others. Mostly, I love it because it taught me new ways of seeing, and when I first spied the red and white lighthouse, I decided I would photograph it every time I visited, as a way of teaching myself that it is possible to look at anything – a lighthouse, a person, a problem, a grief – in myriad ways, and yet always to see it anew.

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My lighthouse has taught me much. I look at it from above and below, from left and right, from up close and personal and from the other side of the harbour, in all weathers and at all times of day.

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I try to do the same with myself. I’ve come to think of those who guide me through rough patches as my lighthouses. I have many. I have learned to look for the ray of light when the going gets tough. I’ve taught my mind and my heart to understand, in a visceral way, that things are in a constant state of change, even as there are constants that can be relied upon to remain the same.

IMG_0911.JPGSuch are the tensions a lighthouse embodies.

It stands sentinel while all around it swirls – yet it also changes, depending on the conditions.

Some days it is cherry red and gold. Some days crimson and harsh white. Some days it is cold and lonely. Some days it is proud; some days humble.

But it is there.

It is always there.

 

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I am grateful for the lessons of the lighthouse. In my way, I’ve been a sailor being guided through rocks, and it has brought me home.

Many times.

It did that for me from the moment I first saw it, and it does it every time I visit.

 

It always shows me another side – invites me to see things in a different light.

IMG_2813This year, as I approach my birthday and consider the things I would like to create or invite into the coming year, my focus is on calm. It’s a humbler goal than finding a home, and yet I suspect it may be harder won. It is not my natural state! Regardless, I feel pretty sure my lighthouse will continue to teach me.

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My sister Amanda took this pic of me and my lighthouse – both a bit scarred!

 

In my birthday wishes for the year ahead, I send light to you, and a hope for smooth sailing. May you never feel you are becalmed or stuck, but may you know deep internal calm. And may you have a lighthouse…many lighthouses…to bring you home.

 

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Thanks to my sister Alanna for making this image – beyond my skills!

An offering. A gift.

I had thought I’d write a blog post for Christmas, but then was given the opportunity to pen a festive reflection for the Australian newspaper, so for now, all I’m going to do is direct you, via a simple click on this blue link, to that piece.

I hope some part of it resonates with you.

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I will be back here with fresh words before year’s end, but for now, Merry Christmas.

May it bring peace.

Peace and more peace…

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

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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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.

A floral clock

IMG_3854Sometimes I feel I’m living a version of Groundhog Day.

I can predict, almost to the moment, when the first jonquils will peep through in the front garden.

It can make me feel a bit anxious, wondering if I’ve lived too long in the same place, or I’m becoming entrenched. I worry I’m in danger of letting my thinking get stale or my behaviours set.

But then I let myself drift back through time, to other occasions when those intensely perfumed white blooms have caught my attention: coming home from the camino, reminding me there was beauty to be had in my own patch; after the death of a friend, shaking me into seeing new life; late at night as guests walked out into cold night air, the fragrance linked to laughter and shared stories.

IMG_3736Wattle takes me to childhood. There were different strains of it, of course, in Western Australia, but that spicy honey scent and the certainty that sunshine, exactly that wattle-colour, will track me down, makes me feel six again. Sticking a sprig of wattle in a bottle brings instant optimism to my desktop. Brushing pollen tips as I step out onAustralian trails has always lifted me. They say there’s at least one species of wattle in bloom somewhere all year. How comforting that is. Spring all year.

IMG_3779I inhaled my first whiff of jasmine for this season in Sydney a week ago, and time-travelled to 1994 when my mum was dying. Jasmine, with its promise of warm spring nights, is associated with her death for me. But there is beauty and happiness in that, too. With the passing of time, I recall her smiles and embrace, so jasmine is now a reminder to live large. To suck in the moments. To inhale bigger breaths of scented air and optimism. Jasmine is a call to expand.

 

IMG_0437Roses are fat, lush memory-vessels.

Opening nights and well-wishes.

Swooning in June.

Birthdays and farewells.

Buckets of them. Bud vases.

Trysts and mists of time.

Pink roses are also my mother – her instruction to remember her whenever I see one trailing against a stone wall.

 

IMG_3498Love like a red red rose…

But oh, surely also an apricot wonder and a yellow sunburst and a Mr Lincoln with a scent to stop anyone’s tracks.

Even mine.

IMG_2299Surely those roses do  make the heart skip.

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And sunflowers…flowers of the camino. Nothing brings back Spain like them. Nothing makes my toes itch so. Nothing makes my lips twitch into a smile like a sun sun sunflower. The roads lined with them, my memories dotted with them. Sun fun sunflowers, you have mapped my happy heart.

And the daffodil! How could I forget that easy-grow blessing that can be had for a gold coin. Generosity on a purse-string. What more?

Yes, I know already what comes next in my city wanderings…honeysuckle and tulips and cherry blossom peeping over fences and scenting back lanes. Does knowing of their arrival make me love them less? Will I greet them without joy, simply because they can be predicted? Or will I thank them for mapping my days and marking my ways?

I walk along and through and inside and outside of time and space and the floral clock of my years, and staleness is a choice, and patterns are for making as much as breaking…and flowers are a gift I must never fail to meet with love.

So have a bunch. From me.

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A couple of postscripts…

There is a new article I wrote over at Eureka Street. Here is a link.

Also, I’ve updated the Events and Media page. A few talky things and some travel.

Bloom!

A Trust Exercise

IMG_0020I love that image.

It feels exactly like my last few weeks, when I’ve been groping toward a light I’m not even sure exists. Sometimes, I call this activity pleasure. At other times I call it madness. Occasionally it’s like pain, but really, that term is indulgent. It isn’t real pain. It’s only frustration – a sense that I’m not big enough or smart enough for the task.

The task?

Writing.

The problem?

Trust.

I have to learn to trust that the ladder I’m climbing, flimsy as it might be, will ultimately lead me to my destination. I have to trust that the light shining from that window up there to my right is the one that will illuminate my story. I have to trust that when I look in that window, it will be just as I imagined – even if I didn’t know what I was imagining. I have to trust that I am writing my characters home.

So the destination – if it actually exists at all! – is trust.

And what I need is trust.

It’s a conundrum, this writing caper. Its ways are mysterious and oppressive, expansive and solitary. It’s a kind of lunacy sometimes. And tonight, they’re predicting a Super Moon. Maybe I’ll go out into the dark and howl at it!

It couldn’t hurt…

Could it?

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May you be standing on a clear straight path in bright sunlight, with a map in your hand and plenty of stamina in your legs.

May the roadsigns be clear and the going easy.

May you find your way home before dark.