The other day I was on the mobile, talking to a friend, when she asked me what I was doing. Perhaps the heavy breathing made her curious!
“Walking home,” I answered.
I kept striding along the bayside trail and talking to my friend, both activities at a pretty hectic pace, but one part of me had stopped, rolling those two words over and over in my mind.
I’m always walking home, I realised. It’s what I do every time I set out for a stroll, a wander, a saunter or a pilgrimage. It’s what I do when I walk out the front door or into the wind; away from someone I love or toward a challenge; and even when I sit here at the desk, tapping at these keys, I am walking my self home. I’m not sure where that home is, but it’s located somewhere within, I think. It’s the part of me that is still and quiet; the part that grins like a loon when I’m loping along an open road; the part that remembers the rhythm of camino days; the part that knows I need nothing other than air to be happy. To be whole.
When I can locate it, it feels like what they call grace. But it eludes me too often.
I was not walking home when I sat on the phone for an hour yesterday, reporting a faulty telephone line. The call centre staff were doing their best, so why couldn’t I keep my breathing even and my tone calm? I’m not walking home when I wake at 2am panicking about failure or the uncertainty of the future. Of course the future is uncertain. I know there are no guarantees, even for those who have contracts and salaries. Why should that wake me in the night?
At those times, I forget that I am walking home; that every heartbeat, every in-breath and every out-breath is a reminder that if I choose to be, I am getting closer.
I must choose.
I can’t always expect to know I’m on the path, as I do when I walk out on welcoming, shaded roads.
I must actively choose to see every step as a step toward home. I must hold the memory of that in every cell, and trust that I am getting there. That we are all getting there.
That’s something to write home about, isn’t it?
Coming home. Going home.
“Walking home,” I said, when she asked what I was doing. Even if I never make it, the journey will be beauty-filled if I can only keep that simple mantra close.
Walk home. Walk home. With every breath, may you walk yourself closer to home.
Sometimes 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.
Wattle 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.
I 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.
Roses 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.
Love 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.
Surely those roses do make the heart skip.
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.
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.
Last Saturday, I posted this photo on my Facebook page…
Underneath it I wrote –
Down a deep tunnel, working away. But here’s some Saturday love in lieu of news. X
I’m not much chop on social media. I’ve let go of my claim to being the “world’s most connected Luddite”, but I’m still not across it all as I’d like to be, and I’d been absent from my Facebook village for quite a time. Working, working. Writing and immersing. Wrangling – confidently on some days and blindly on others. Normal.
Anyway, I wanted to wave hello to my village of support, so a little love was despatched into the Facebook ether, and I went about my day.
Some time later I got a message to say there was a comment waiting for me. It was from a writer colleague called Jesse Blackadder. She left these words –
In lieu of news can I report that my partner Andi just finished Sinning Across Spain this morning – adored it, and cried at the end xx
When I saw them, I lifted – and not just for the words about my book, although they meant a great deal, particularly as they came from a writer I admire. What struck me even more than Jesse’s kindness in leaving the message was the history I have with her. It’s a history of generosity.
We “met” in the lead-up to last year’s Byron Bay Festival, when Jesse was doing some social media work and writing for them. She was always available and encouraging to me as I began my journey into the world of Festivals and writing appearances. By the time the Festival came around, I had that weird sense, via online connection, that I knew her.
In the throng of the opening party, Jesse made a point of seeking me out to say hello. In person she was smiling and curious, attentive and funny. I watched her later, spinning around the dance floor with Andi, and thought what a vibrant spirit she had. That feeling only grew as I followed her adventures on Facebook and via email in the following months. Jesse has been all over – from Antarctica to NYC, and several places in between. She was writing, researching and getting awarded. In Paris she bought an excellent coat!
When I went to the Perth Writers Festival at the beginning of this year, I was chuffed to learn Jesse would be there. Unreasonably happy, really, given that we don’t actually know each other. But then, what is knowing? We are both engaged in the precarious and occasionally disheartening business of wrestling with words – and we both feel incredibly grateful for the privilege of doing it. That is certainly a point of connection. But we’ve not spent great chunks of time, or had lengthy correspondence.
Anyway, there she was in a mini-bus in Perth, greeting me with her sunny smile, asking after all my news, and wishing me well. When I mentioned my nerves at performing the Sinning monologue in a theatre where I had acted almost thirty years earlier, she said “Oh, I’ll come along and watch you.”
She was in the middle of a hectic programme of events of her own, but she was as good as her word, and sat in the centre of the auditorium beaming at me all the way through. I could feel her willing me on and wishing me well.
In May, I was at the Sydney Writers Festival, and was a bit off-colour health-wise. In the foyer of the hotel, all the writers and publishers and agents were mingling – waving to one another, buying drinks, shouting jokes. Normally such a scene would have been enticing, at the very least as an exercise in learning who is who. That afternoon it looked a bit daunting. Then, over at the bar, I saw Jesse. We waved. I wandered over to say hello. She asked after me, told me she was off to New York for an awards ceremony and enquired about how my next book was progressing. Little things. But as always, I felt that Jesse’s welcome and interest were genuine. She is completely present in conversation, and has that particular gift of being able to make people feel they are the only one in the room.
We wished each other well and went about our days, but again, she had left me feeling better for that chance meeting.
Generosity is many things. Often it’s made into something rather grand – bequests and donations, pledges and promises. Those things are vital, but fiscal generosity is only one aspect. In some ways, generosity of spirit is harder. It can cost more than signing a cheque. It requires more intimate things of us. Personal debits on the ledger…
Time. Stopping and giving of oneself when the clock is ticking or the day getting away, or there is someone more “interesting” over the shoulder.
Seeing. Paying attention instead of cash. Observing, not just noticing. Looking for signs that another person is vulnerable or uncertain.
Extending. Going out of the way to be present, whether the other person can yield up a reward to us or not.
Generosity is the welcome to the stranger out on the road. I’ve known that. But it’s also profound in moments that are easily overlooked – the ordinary ones that occur in workplaces, in families, among friends and colleagues, at parties, on minibuses and in bars. There are strangers to welcome there too.
Jesse has been like sunshine for me on all those occasions, and I’m pretty sure that she might not have had any idea of it, or of what her smiling welcome has meant. She simply acted out of generosity. When I looked up the derivation of that word, it told me it came from Middle English and suggests “nobility of birth”. I reckon that sums it up. Jesse has nobility. She might be amused or appalled at that word, but she does. I’ve experienced it first hand, and am profoundly grateful.
So this is a kind of love letter to Jesse. And a thank you note. And a song of praise. She reminds me to pay closer attention (not a bad thing for a writer), to take a breath, to listen intently, and to stay present with whoever appears. To extend myself. To take one more step along the road with those I meet, even when I think we are done.
Amor is Spanish for love.
Gracias is Spanish for thanks.
I send both to Jesse.
If you’d like to know more about Jesse and her wonderful books, duck over and spend some time at www.jesseblackadder.com. Think of it as meeting a new chum.
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On the road, setting off before sunrise always bodes well. It makes me mindful of my footfall. It makes me listen, when too often I get lost in the delirium of sights.
But still, there’s nothing quite like watching the sun peep over the horizon. My stride lengthens and my spine lifts, like a sunflower reaching for its vitamins.
Well, I’m seated, and there won’t be any light for a while yet, but nonetheless, I feel hopeful about my work for the first time in a few days. I’m on a long camino, currently. There are two books being walked, and both of them look to have long distances still to travel to the end of first draft.
Last week I had a roadside meltdown about one of them. Well, about my ability to follow it to its Finisterre.
I lost my way. Lost direction, lost stamina, lost my footing. I lost faith – in the project, and worse, in myself. The only good thing that can be said about this meltdown was that at least I wasn’t carrying a pack when I fell.
Or perhaps I was. Expectations are a burden. We need our goals, but they are different to expectations. A goal keeps us on track, pulls us forward, draws us on when the spirit flags. But expectations…well, they seem to be different. They can buoy us, oh yes. But they can also turn, in a second, into stones underfoot, or thorns to block the path. They can bruise and bite and sting. They can weigh us down down down…
And they are self-made.
When I walk, I rarely have expectations. I just step out. Yes, I might aim to make it to a particular place by nightfall, but I don’t hold that thought as I walk. I’m just wherever I am. That’s why I can have my impossible but real flying-walking days.
And I do have such days at the desk, very occasionally. But mostly it is not flight or weightlessness that I experience as I write. It is plodding. Plodding in faith. A particular kind of faith that is stolid and rhythmic and silent. A kind of faith with few moments of euphoria or achievement. A kind of faith that lets someone or something else lead, because I have to acknowledge that when I write I don’t even know the location of my Finisterre. I’ve no idea where I am being led. I just have to keep the faith and turn up – even more than when I’m on the road.
When I lose faith and try to guess the road ahead, or worse, look back to see where I’ve been, there is strife. I stumble. I crash. I fall. And getting up is hard. The expectations crush my spine and push me into the dirt. Getting up can be nigh on impossible.
Or it was last week.
But this morning, for some inexplicable reason, I am back on my schedule, waking pre-dawn and whirling to the desk. Letting the keyboard lead the fingers and not worrying about the mind, that slippery little sucker that can play such dirty games. This morning, faith returned. Or at least, hope did. Maybe it is hope that keeps me going. Only hope. Maybe faith is a bit too big an ask. But hope will keep me here today, my spine curling and straightening, my eyes blinking at the screen, and my fingers making the soundtrack that is not entirely unlike the sound of feet on a road. I will think of them that way. It will help.
This journey toward draft’s end is about fixing my eye on the horizon and keeping on. On and on.
So what’s new? That’s what we are all doing every single day, isn’t it?
May your road be straight, your day be clear, your spine rise up and expectations fall out of your pack to be replaced by hope.
Have a sack full of hope, and forge on. Here comes the sun…
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.
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…
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.
I have written of Thich Nhat Hanh before, and I know many share my gratitude for his writing and teaching. Patty Fawkner is among his admirers, and she sent me these words of his. I’m indebted to her, because I hadn’t read them before, but feel they could have been penned just for me. Straight to the heart. I hope you feel the same way…
People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle.
But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth.
Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize:
a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves,
the black, curious eyes of a child —
our own two eyes.
All is a miracle.
Thanks to Patty for the reminder of everyday miracles.
And thanks, as ever, to my feet, for taking me to see so very many of them.
PS – I’ve updated the Events and Media page, so there are links to recent podcasts and videos etc. It has been a busy time. Gratitude for that too! For so much.
Everyone has a talisman or two – in my case, a dozen! They hold memory and meaning; they can be comfort or inspiration; they can take us home when we are away. Their significance can be instant or it can sneak up on us over time.
Locating meaning isn’t always like looking for the grail, and is often found when we least expect it, in humble places and objects, out under a wide sky or nestled at the foot of a burnt tree. To find meaning does require attention, though, and when I look at the talismans on my desk, I’m reminded that not all of their significance was obvious to me when I first saw them, so I’m glad they called in loud voices.
That eraser in the picture at the top, for instance… I was in Rome, visiting the Ara Pacis – the altar to Peace. White and luminous and stretching back to 9 or 10 BC, it seemed impossible to me that there were cars whizzing past outside, and mobile phones pinging in the corridors around it. I was transfixed by the life of the characters in the friezes, and the delicacy of the rendering of vines and trees. Someone, centuries ago, had loved the world just as I did, dreaming of the possibility of peace between people, and trusting that we might find it if we learned to live lovingly with nature.
Or that’s what I saw!
At the giftshop I went seeking something to remind me of an extraordinary day when time had stood still and peace seemed possible. What did I find? A humble rubber with a message that seemed, at first, to be nothing more than another Roman joke. I don’t know why I didn’t buy images of the altar itself. Perhaps because I decided that no image could do justice to it. Maybe I wanted something solid to hold in my hand. Perhaps it was the outrageous scale of that rubber – the promise that it would be able to erase my multitude of human errors! Forgiveness might be divine, but for earthly muck-ups, that rectangle would get rid of plenty of mess!
I brought it home where it sat unused on my desk for months, a memento and nothing more. Then, one day, feeling wretched about writing that wouldn’t bend to my will, I picked up my Ara Pacis souvenir, and I let rip. I rubbed and rubbed the page, watching mistakes and false starts disappear, leaving an almost clean slate. There were traceries etched into the page, but it was fresh again, waiting for me to rethink, restart.
And I did.
And it was good and bad and right and wrong.
Something in that feverish act of ridding myself of the work that hadn’t worked was healthy and helpful. I learn things best by experience, and while I had always known intellectually that error is human and vital to the creative process, and that I should forgive myself and move one, it was only when my body enacted the words that I actually “got” their meaning. Rather like when I am following a trail and take a “wrong” turning. I do understand now that there is no such thing, and that I am never lost – I’m just where I am.
I don’t often use the Ara Pacis rubber, because I mostly write in pen, but it travels with me, and when I want to really play and muck up and risk, I will take a pencil and paper, and my talisman, and let rip. It is fun and freeing, and I am grateful. I hope it will travel with me for a very long time, reminding me to be human and to err with gusto in my work.
There are other talismans – the precious Finisterre shell, reminding me that if I can walk 1300 kilometres to collect it, step by step, then I can complete my word-count camino at the desk, sentence by sentence. There are my beads for fingering in times of stress; the stones that are identifiers, reinforcers and weights to ground me; the dragonfly – libellula – to remind me of love and laughter; the postcards from afar that prompt me to do better for those I value; and the fat silver heart that says it all…
And there are the stamps with their tin of red ink.
Well, they are the things I want to send at the end of every missive – a piece of my best self, and love in all languages. For today, consider this a page of thick white parchment with a piece of me on it, sent to you wherever you are in the world, with love in sticky red ink pressed into the bottom right hand corner.
Update – 29th May 2013
Thanks to all who came along to the Sydney Writers Festival session with Cheryl Strayed and Caroline Baum. It was such fun, and you can listen to it by clicking here.
Huge gratitude to Rachael Kohn for inviting me and Tony Doherty to be part of her beautiful programme, The Spirit of Things. Details for listening and download are here.
Today was a day for small mercies and vast gratitude; for basking in the wonder of friendship; for being amazed at the view when I look back; for being hopeful about the possibility of the future; and for being profoundly glad of the present. It is always a miracle. Here and now is the best place to be, and I want to be in it fully.
So this post is short but – hopefully – very sweet. Who better than Mr Michael Leunig?
The pen is mightier than the sword
And mightier than the literary award;
Without the pen we’d be unable
To leave those notes on the kitchen table;
With three small crosses at the end.
Made for no one else to see,
The literature of you and me.
For all my subscribers, dropper-inners and new visitors, thank you. Your kindness and encouragement spurs me on, and buoyed me through some challenging days lately. We walk together, even when apart…
A few videos have popped up in the past few weeks – for rainy days when the TV has blown a gasket!
This link will take you to a video of me reading a beautiful piece by Michael McGirr.
This one will take you to a talk I shared about Summer of the Seventeenth Doll at Melbourne’s Wheeler Centre, one of my all-time favourite plays.
And here, you can watch me read my piece for My Enduring Love Affair With Writing – a bit dysfunctional, but there we are!
Yep, me, me, me…
Forgive the bonfire of my vanities. The real message of this day is THANK YOU!
Rather like this morning in Melbourne, I woke to rain, but back then, I dressed in a rush and stepped out across cobbles made slippery by fallen orange blossom, to attend a service at the Mezquita.
If you’ve read the book, you know the rest of the story of that day…the marvel of poetry floating overhead, wonder at the city’s history of inter-faith tolerance, sorrow at the way it ended, hunger for the faith of the Spanish ancianos, gratitude for the sunshine that arrived to release the scent of neroli, pleasure at sweet treats in an Arabic tea shop…
And the breakdown suffered by my theologian.
“I am so afraid,” he said more than once.
Some readers tell me they found him difficult company, and were glad when we parted. I’m sorry for that. I suppose they’re experiencing him through my eyes, feeling my wish for solitude and freedom from his sadness. His breaking.
I’m grateful I was there to be with him that day in Córdoba. For all that it was hard, and I was not having the solitary camino of my dreams, what passed between us was honourable. Decent. He broke. I bore witness – and gave some small comfort. It was an exchange that cost us both, but also enlarged us, I hope.
It’s not always easy or pleasant to bear witness to the fullness of another person. It’s also hard to allow someone else to see the fullness of ourselves. The “Facebook selfie”, selected to give just the right airbrushed impression, has become ubiquitous, and we are in danger of becoming less and less able to sit in the discomfort of another’s full humanity – their contradictions, errors, ugliness and frailty. Also, and this may be more of a “sin” than we care to acknowledge, we become less and less able to reveal our own frailties and ugliness.
Or is that a confession?
I should know by now to be wary of speaking for “we” and “us”. Generalisations and sweeping claims are dangerous, and all I know is the compass of my own limited experience. Lately I feel that diminishing. Fear and doubt sidle up to me more often than I’d like. There are days when I can’t listen with care or patience as I did in Cordoba. There are days when I am not true to myself – to the person I was in Cordoba, for all her shortcomings. And there are days when I will only serve up the tidy, edited version of myself. For all of that, I’m sorry.
I suppose that does make this is a confession, then.
And I will try to do better.
Funnily enough, I’d intended to write of “good news”today, because there’s plenty of it.
“Sinning Across Spain” has just come out in a beautiful scaled-down B version that sits in the hand perfectly. It was released on April Fool’s Day, exactly one year after the original publication date. I think of that fool’s day as my day, so the serendipity pleases me.
And there is more to celebrate! I’m going to be at the Sydney Writers Festival on May 23rd, in conversation with the luminous Caroline Baum, and the remarkable Cheryl Strayed, who wrote “Wild”. Details are on the Festival website.
My intention when I sat down was to write about those two pieces of news, but somehow it didn’t seem right to pump out “publicity” here. I strive for something real in my community of subscribers and commenters, and feel I owe something to this village – fidelidad. As I learned with my amigo, it is in fidelity to self and others that we expand.
So on this rainy Melbourne day, let me confess that I’m not always walking with a sure step just now, and writing eludes me at times, but I’m doing my best and trying to live up to the faith that people have in me. That faith spurs me on, and lets me believe that the sun will reappear, and with it, perhaps even the scent of neroli.
A very belated heads-up, if you didn’t see it on Facebook…
Here is an article I wrote recently, turning some of these feelings into something like sense – for me anyway. Hope it resonates: The Gift of Sadness
So I went to one of my old notebooks, opened it, and found this. It cut through my internal clamour. Only trouble is, I want more of it, but don’t know where I got it. The notebook is ten years old, and I didn’t credit the quote. Any ideas? At least if I knew who penned it, I’d be baffled about one less thing…
There are, it seems, two muses: the muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the muse of Realisation, who returns again and again to say “Is it yet more difficult than you thought?”
The muse of Realisation works with us best when we welcome these obstructions – this is also the muse of form, and form serves us best when it works as an obstruction to baffle us and deflect our intended course. Why? – because when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work, and when we no longer know which way to go we have begun our real journey…perhaps…perhaps all this is, is a play of words – though the mind that is not baffled is unemployed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.
Even if you don’t know it, I hope it feeds you as it has me. Or at least gives solace!
And while we are on the subject of solace, this is what was written on the next page of that notebook – the words of the gifted and tender Nick Enright, who died ten years ago. We lost a great writer and a great spirit when he passed, and this says it all.
I’m grateful for the experience of love, it is the only reality. Love is the only reality and everything else is the negation of that.
All the horror and stupidity of the world is the negation of our capacity to love and care for each other.
There can be no doubt about who wrote those words.
A postscript – do scroll down through the comments if you are a poetry hound. Some beautiful stuff has been left here, for which I am very grateful to my subscriber family!