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…

Commonplace miracles…

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I’m still here in Sydney, and it keeps on delivering miracles. They don’t seem at all commonplace to this pilgrim, though. The way the light hits that water. The way frangipanis scent my inhalations, the way blues shimmer and slither, the way the harbour has snuck into my veins as I slide into it in the mornings. The way people have snuck into my heart…

It has been a busy week. Two writing workshops where people were lions of courage, to coin Mary Oliver’s phrase. They wrote and wrote, they skipped, they ached. Then a wide-ranging conversation with Tony Doherty at the church here in Rose Bay. Hard to read some passages from the book within those walls, but so good to step up to the task and to air painful stories. To let some light in and to release them, in the company of mindful seekers…

And now I’m plotting a poetry camino along my harbour walk for next week. I’m selecting poems and plotting walking treats. It will be an hour of celebration and gratitude to that sweep of salt I have come to know and love. It is beloved brine, and I want to honour it.

It has been an age since I put up a poem here – delinquent behaviour! And so I thought I’d share one of the possibilities for that walk with you. Hope you find miracles all around, wherever you are on your road.

Miracle Fair

by Wislawa Szymborska

Commonplace miracle: 
that so many commonplace miracles happen. 

An ordinary miracle: 
in the dead of night 
the barking of invisible dogs. 

One miracle out of many: 
a small, airy cloud 
yet it can block a large and heavy moon. 

Several miracles in one: 
an alder tree reflected in the water, 
and that it's backwards left to right 
and that it grows there, crown down 
and never reaches the bottom, 
even though the water is shallow. 

An everyday miracle: 
winds weak to moderate 
turning gusty in storms. 

First among equal miracles: 
cows are cows. 

Second to none: 
just this orchard 
from just that seed. 

A miracle without a cape and top hat: 
scattering white doves.

A miracle, for what else could you call it: 
today the sun rose at three-fourteen 
and will set at eight-o-one.

A miracle, less surprising than it should be: 
even though the hand has fewer than six fingers, 
it still has more than four. 

A miracle, just take a look around: 
the world is everywhere. 

An additional miracle, as everything is additional: 
the unthinkable 
is thinkable.

IMG_2414If you fancy some walking words, or some workshops or debates or quizzes or conversations or story-telling, or poems and more poems, please have a look over at the page marked EVENTS AND MEDIA in the tab up above. I’m busy in the coming weeks – in WA at writers festivals, and after that, back in Melbourne. The road keeps opening.

Thank you to all the people I met this week at the workshops and the talk. It is such a gift to be given time and talk, and to meet people who want to open things up with questions rather than close them down in certainty. I am profoundly grateful.

Gracias a la vida.

Every day.

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

Sydney dreaming…

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I wake, draw the curtains, and that is the view I see from my refugio window.

Really.

The curving bridge is a distant frame with the harbour winking at me in the foreground.

Good morning sunshine, it says.

My breath catches every day. The beauty of these waters is ancient and natural, but also sculpted by man, bent to the will of creators and dreamers, yet still at the mercy of the winds and the water.

Elemental.

Sydney is working its way into my veins. My blood races as I walk the harbour trails stroking knobbled tree trunks and tracing the layers of paperbarks. My heartbeat speeds as a fish leaps from the water, then submerges for a time, then leaps again.

I’m doing that. Flying then deepening.

I’m here for four weeks of writing. Some of it is preparation for Writers Festivals in WA – Perth, Albany and Denmark – where I’ll be giving workshops, performing a monologue and enjoying conversations. Some of it is the next book – actually, I hope a lot of it will be the next book. I’m teaching a workshop, doing a poetry walk along the harbour, and will be in conversation with one of my favourite minds. I’m also dipping my toes into the possibility of two other projects – collaborations with Sydneysiders.

All that, and yet I get distracted.

IMG_2307On my daily caminos, frangipanis fall about me like scented rain. Bougainvillea drapes itself around my shoulders, a prickling purple scarf. Hibiscus blooms flash gaudy colours at me as I try to walk past with serious intent.

“My desk,” I say to them. “My desk.”

They know they will have their way.

When eventually I get to my office, I climb nineteen carpeted stairs before my feet reach the polished wood floor. It gleams. Gleaming even brighter from the other side of the room is the vista across Rose Bay to the city. It is all blue and white and light, except when it is bisected by the roaring red strip of a seaplane.

My desk is at a sideways angle to the view so I don’t lose myself. That harbour is trying to pour itself in through the open window, and I must resist it if I am to work.

IMG_2312Resist?

How do I resist the fecund, primal vegetation of this place?

It won’t observe boundaries. Tendrils creep over walls and through crevices. Branches burst up from concrete, and trees form sculptures, avenues from my dreamscape. They call to me to wander further, to worship their mystery and history.

Oh, Sydney, I shout. Stop!

IMG_2332Then I round another corner and my knees weaken all over again.

Rocks frame the harbour pool where I swim. They are shaped like great grey whales, but their interiors are exposed to the air, blasted open by the winds and salt, and I stroke the spines, the veins, the coarse gold curves.

Rock and water.

Polarities.

All this beauty. All this wonder.

The new, the other, is always inspiring. But Sydney is not new to me. I lived here many years ago. I swam in the same pool. In the intervening years, I have walked the harbour and sighed at jacaranda time. But this is different. This is a work camino, and I can’t recall when a place last fed me with such riches. If I can’t make something here, then it is nothing but my own sloth.

After walking the Camino Mozárabe, I used to wonder if such intense kindness existed in Australia. Was it simply those roads? Leonardo and Ricardo, my Capitano and Soldato, the ladies pressing food and shelter onto me – was it particular to that experience?

No.

This office, from which I write, has been made available to me by the good grace of Monsignor Tony Doherty and his village of parishioners in Rose Bay.

“Work,” Tony says to me. “Just work.”

I’m doing my best.

The door to my refugio-with-a-view was thrown open to me by Michelle Bartley. We met for the first time when she handed me a key and told me to make myself at home. When I try to thank her, she just shrugs and laughs, and tells me that if more people offered something of themselves, the world would work better. She laughs a lot. She is fair of hair and heart, it seems to me. People speak of patrons. Michelle knew nothing of me – only that I needed space and time. And she gave.

IMG_2325I am made over by their generosity. I am trying with every breath. Their kindness demands to be met with my best; their example calls me to rise.

So here, in my eyrie, I will dream a while.

I work, and it is good – even when it isn’t! I am in safe harbour and I am grateful.

Gracias, Tony and Michelle. Gracias, Rose Bay. Gracias, Sydney.

These are days of wonder.

Sydney rock sculptures
Sydney rock sculpture

Wishing…

For 2013…and beyond…

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I wish for you all that is bright and shining and new, all that’s mysterious and soft yet true. I wish for deep waters and lofty thoughts. I wish for breezes that bring you always always home to your heart.

I wish you peace and acceptance with every challenge that arises.

I wish you fulfilment and feting for every summit achieved.

I wish you work that challenges and stirs you, and lets you serve to your full capacity.

I wish you strength to your formidable heart, so you can shine light on dark days.

I wish you ease and laughter in all your relationships.

I wish you roads that open at every turn, legs that bound along them, a spirit to soar above you, and when required, a compañero whose stride will match yours.

I wish for you to be always coming home. Always on your path. Always free. Always open. Always receiving.

I wish on my star and your star and every other lucky star that your way be made in beauty and your days be made in joy.

I wish you love and love and more love.

I wish.

And wish.

And wish.

 

The year is picking up pace. I’m off to Sydney to spend time working on my new book, and also, hopefully, to make work with two trusted friends and collaborators. Fingers crossed.

While I’m there I’ll be leading a writing workshop on February 6th from 10am to 1.30pm. I’ll also be in conversation with Monsignor Tony Doherty on February 7th. After the talk we had in Melbourne, which was one of my highlights of 2012, I’m looking forward to it enormously. More details are at the end of this post. Both of these events will be conducted at Tony’s parish in Rose Bay, and if you can come along, or spread the word to others, please do. Tony is a true pilgrim – and an inspiration.

I hope such inspiration is close at hand for you all through this year, and that whatever you undertake, it brings you rewards beyond your imagining.

Sunrise at Caparra on the Camino Mozarabe
Sunrise at Caparra on the Camino Mozarabe

Thanks, as ever, for  sharing my road. I’m excited to see where it is leading us all.

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Looking back

Looking back to the meseta on the Camino Frances in 2009

Pride. My sin.

It surfaces in myriad ways. One is that I’ve always prided myself on not looking over my shoulder. I live in the present, I tell myself and others. I move forward, I say, I move on.

Well, today, I have a confession. I’m looking back.

Unfortunately, not entirely without pride!

I’ve been trying to imagine how to honour this amazing year, and those who have travelled it with me – for a day, a week, a conversation, a glimpse, or for the time it takes to read a book. Images swirled: my friends holding up copies of the book; faces shining at beachside festivals; blinking into stage lights at the end of the Sinning monologue; the profile of a hero-writer in conversation beside me; singing Gracias a la Vida when I didn’t know I dared sing; holding hands as a confession was made; laughing as a secret was told; crying as pain was shared; asking other writers to sign their books for me; thrilling at coincidences and serendipity…

 

 

 

 

 It was a glorious mental collage, but I thought I’d best be methodical, so I came here to the blog and made a pilgrimage through the posts to my first entry, written with trepidation, about entering the cyber-world. I was a Luddite and afraid. I don’t know why exactly, but I felt I would be exposed in some uncomfortable way.

Stepping forward through the posts, I marvelled at things forgotten in the melee of the months, and I began to see with clarity how very much the sin-walk has given me, and continues to give. That first inexplicable impulse to carry for others still takes me into wild places, and still introduces me to members of my village – a village that has grown and grown, and asked me to expand with it. “Get bigger,” the book has kept shouting to me as it has pulled me after it down new roads and by-ways.

I’ve tried!

This blog, begun in doubt and nervousness, is now a village all its own. Its history is right here, in the posts, but even more so in the comments, which I think of as the village square where we meet at day’s end to sniff the  breeze and check in on each other. No relationship is one-way. They all require exchange of one sort or another, and it is the richness of that exchange that I see when I look at the comments. Such wealth. Such generosity. Such humour. Such tenderness.

I thought I would compile a list of thanks, but it would go for days. I’ve shared stories in Aireys Inlet and Carlton, the Wheeler Centre and the Grumpy Swimmer, Byron Bay and Eltham, Strath Creek and Hampton, Thornbury and Leichhardt, Paddington and under the spire of the Melbourne Arts Centre. I’ve sung the praise of Spain at the Cervantes Institute and with the Spanish Consulate. I’ve been welcomed and championed and – most amazing of all – given away as a gift. I have been applauded and belittled – and learned that neither matter as much as the moments when someone tells me the book has helped, offered an insight, or illuminated a moment. Nothing thrills me more than that the book has given pleasure to some and been useful to others. It has even been re-read. Imagine!

Every day of this miraculous almost-nine-months, I’ve had cause to consider the road, the sins, and the sin-donors. Every day I’ve been grateful. It seems more incredible to me now, after the book has its own life, that people trusted me with their intimacies back in the beginning when it seemed like lunacy. When people tell me secrets now, they know that I can be a vault. It doesn’t make it any less of a privilege for me, but I’m aware that my first sinners took a leap, and I salute them again for their bravery and trust. The book could not have been a book without them.

To share one’s self to that degree is rare. They didn’t give me their air-brushed, curriculum-vitaed, rubber-stamped glossy selves. They gave me their scuffed, tarnished, worn and wept-over bits. Those stories are the most precious cargo I will ever carry. They taught me so much.

I’ve been asked often whether the road changed me. I think it’s an impossible question to answer, really. I hope it did. It certainly asked me to expand, every single day. It still does. And I hope I’ve been able to meet its requests when they have come to me. I try. I try really hard.

And I fail.

I fall too, as witnessed by a post on this blog!

But I like to think that the sinners, my road companions, my angels from Barcelona, the readers of the book, and my subscribers here, are behind me, propelling me up the hills when they’re steep and watching I don’t fall on the shale of the slippery downhills. When I remember all of them, I know there’s no failure, only expansion. Only growth.

So at this curious time of endings and beginnings, reflection and revelry, I come with no pride at all, only humility and wonder, to offer thanks. Gratitude. Which has the same beginnings as gracias and grazie. And grace. I have known such grace on this journey.

I trust that it will continue next year, when I will be sinning across Sydney, Perth, Albany and Brisbane at festivals and events. I know it will continue to take me in, deeper and deeper, and out, further and further, to my limits. And that is good. I am still a pilgrim.

Grazie. Gracias. Merci.

Terimah kasih.

That is Bahasa for “thank you”. It translates as “receive love.”

So here is the last poem for 2012. It’s an original this time.

 

Terimah kasih. Terimah kasih.

Terimah kasih, terimah kasih, terimah kasih, terimah kasih.

Terimah kasih.

 

Terimah kasih. Terimah kasih. Terimah kasih.

Terimah kasih.

 

 

May your final days of 2012 be peace-filled and joy-full.

May 2013 bring you dazzling roads and shimmering horizons.

May you be loved.

Always and all ways.

Walking near Glenlyon in Central Victoria. Photo courtesy of beloved walker Carl NP.
Muchas gracias!

 

I will write again in about four weeks, and I hope that you will continue to walk with me into the brave new year ahead.

Gracias, amigos. Gracias.

Buen camino…

 

The gift of story

It’s a time of giving, that’s what we are told. Peace and goodwill.

It doesn’t always look like that! People are harried, brows are furrowed and parking spaces are fought over like miners’ rights.

So, in an attempt to simplify your life, and as a means of honouring some magnificent story-tellers, can I make an offering? Here’s a list of discovered – or rediscovered – books I’ve gobbled and loved recently. Give a book and you give a chunk of another person – usually their best bits. All of these are wonder-full “bits” of phenomenal story-teller citizens. Wander into your local independent bookseller (they are the keepers of the flame) and place your order. They will wrap the gifts while you browse for a story to cool your yule.

Helen Garner, Helen Garner 

I’ve been immersing myself in her words again, from her beginnings with Monkey Grip to her most recent book The Spare Room. It’s like taking a masterclass. Helen Garner has given us ourselves, over and over, in intimate, up-close-and-personal portraits that haunt, sustain and provoke. She has also given us places that become sacred sites. When I moved to Melbourne, the first thing I wanted to see was Monkey Grip‘s Aqua Profonda sign at the Fitzroy Pool. I was coming from Sydney, a city of shimmering surfaces, and moving south seemed like a pilgrimage to Helen and her deeper water.

I could go through every one of her books telling you the tattoos they’ve left on my reader’s skin. You could do the same, I know – because whatever Helen Garner writes, fiction or non-fiction, the heart of it will be true, no matter the cost to her. That’s why it is impossible to avert my eyes from a word she writes.

Small publishing houses

My book was published by Melbourne University Publishing under their Victory imprint. None of that means much to a reader, really, but I have learned, in my year as a novice in the world of books, that small, independent houses are vital to the ecology of our reading world, and that they are often the discoverers of new voices and brave stories. Currently I’m loving the clean prose and insider stories in MUP’s latest release Speechless – A Year In My Father’s Business by James Button. Highly recommended if you are curious about the machinations of contemporary Oz politics but have an aversion to the heat and partisanship of so much that is in the ether.

But lest you think I am just going to do a hard sell for my own publisher, please read on…

I’ve recently read several books from Scribe, another Melbourne marvel in the publishing world. Belatedly, I got to Tony Birch’s dark but hope-laden novel, Shadowboxing. Utterly beautiful.   The new collection of stories from genius Cate Kennedy is called Like A House on Fire. Difficult to imagine her topping her previous collection Dark Roots, but she has. And if you want a great poem or ten, Get a copy of The Taste of River Water. Her poems are distilled epics. Pilgrimage by Jacinta Halloran gave me a different kind of journey to my walk, but asked some similar questions about faith and belief. And love. She is a near-neighbour who also presented her book at the wonderful Grumpy Swimmer bookstore in Elwood. All the others in the image are beside my bed waiting. Hooray. Summer bodes well.

Just last week, Wakefield Press in Adelaide launched Mug Shots by Barry Oakley, esteemed playwright and scallywag. It’s a memoir with the same literary qualities as the cover shot – the raised eyebrow, the wry smile and the piercing gaze. I give thanks to a wise compañero for gifting it to me. There is immense pleasure to be had in reading a book simultaneously with those we love.

Meanwhile, I went to the very happy launch of a new book from Brolga Publishing in Melbourne. It has the seductive title Of Rivers, Baguettes And Billabongs, and is the work of a twinkly-eyed writer and winemaker called Reg Egan. He also happens to be the dad of one of my heroic sinners. Reg’s book is delectable, investigating whether it is possible to love two countries equally and to be loyal to both. You can imagine why I might enjoy it, but Reg sings his hymn to France. He makes me think I may yet be unfaithful to Spain….         No. Not possible! But tempting…

Blasts From The Past

First published back in 1973, Lillian Hellman’s timeless memoir Pentimento is a book I’ve owned for as long as I can remember. I lend it, lose it and gift it – then re-purchase it. The opening paragraphs are perhaps my favourite of any book, and the remainder does not disappoint. By the way, my favourite ending to any book can be found in Timebends, Arthur Milller’s exquisitely wrought autobiography. If you have not read it, do. Please. It helps that both these writers have big stories to tell about big people and events. (Apologies for not posting a cover picture of the Miller – it’s on loan!)

The Great Arch, by Vicki Hastrich, was only published four years ago, but it felt like a classic to me. Wise, ambitious, intimate and yet sprawling, it tells the story of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and Ralph, the Rector at Lavender Bay, who falls in love with the great arch. But that is the tip of an enormous iceberg, and the story is told in many voices and forms. I can’t believe I missed this when it came out, but I am eternally grateful to Charlotte Wood for introducing me to Vicki Hastrich’s writing. A gift beyond compare.

I know I have forgotten someone. There are dozens of books I covet, and piles here beside me waiting to be read, but I think it only fair to report on those I’ve experienced. I haven’t jogged your memory about the work of another favourite, Michael Cunningham, or suggested you lash out on some poems by Rumi, or that you get your kids a copy of something by Shaun Tan. I’m remiss. I’m sorry. Please don’t forget there are two earlier posts about books here and here, which do at least supplement my addled blonde pre-Christmas dizziness.

All three book posts talk about giving. Funny, because many of the books were gifts I gave myself! But I always think of a book as a potential gift. Sharing a story has been part of my life since that Owl sailed off with the Pussycat, and Mary Grant Bruce’s Norah of Billabong showed me that a little girl’s bush life was worthy of being a story. Choosing a book to give is as close as I will ever get to being a psychologist, as I respond to my friends’ foibles and fabulousness via the shelves of a good bookstore. I’m elated when a friend tells me they have loved a book I’ve found for them, and intrigued when a friend doesn’t like a book that has sung to me. We don’t have to agree. Disagreement over a book can lead to a deepening of friendship. Why? Really? I never knew that!

And so it goes.

Wherever you are as you prepare for this season, if you do celebrate it with an exchange of gifts, let some of them be stories. They are the gifts that define us; the gifts that expand us. Those black shapes on a page or a screen are the trails left as human hearts were being mapped. Caminos, every one…

Buen camino, fellow readers. Aren’t we lucky to be able to share such tales?

And gracias to storytellers everywhere. Without the books I’ve read and loved – and those I’ve rejected, too – my life would be a barren place, and I would never have dared to try to tell stories of my own.

Thank you to all of you who subscribe or visit.

Thank you for welcoming Sinning Across Spain into the world.

You have been MY gifts in this Year of Wonders.

(Now that’s another great book, don’t you reckon?)

 P.S. Please take a minute to read the comments on this post. More great recommendations. Not that I’m surprised – your comments are always rich with insight and observations.