Snail trails

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Photo courtesy of Anna Chandler. Gracias companera!

 

Just over a year ago, I wrote a post honouring Domingo.

He was a man I met in 2009 in a pueblo called El Ganso on the Camino Frances.

You may recall his story from Sinning Across Spain, but if not, please click here and have a read.

It’s one of my favourite camino memories, and it still fills me with happiness whenever I recall the time I spent with him at the end of a long and dusty plod. I have longed to go back and see him ever since.

For the last month or so, I’ve been getting updates from a smiling pilgrim called Anna Chandler as she made her way along the trail on the Frances. She’d read Sinning Across Spain and contacted me via Facebook just before she left. I wished her well, and asked her to have a vino tinto for me. She did – and also updated me on blisters and pilgrim numbers. I asked her to have a sol y sombra. I think she did, then she updated me on her progress as she edged toward the meseta. I asked her to look up Domingo for me when she reached El Ganso, out there on the plains.

She did. Sadly, she didn’t find him.

But she did find his sister.

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Anna Chandler with Domingo’s sister. Gratitude to you, Anna, for this gift.

This is what Anna reported via the wonders of Facebook…

“She was thrilled to hear her brother was in a book and is going to pass on your regards to him by phone. If my understanding was correct, either him or his wife had eaten too many sweets, got fat and needed a leg operation. One son or daughter lives in America and Domingo and wife were recuperating in Madrid before heading to the US for a wedding.”

I can’t tell you what it meant to me to know that Domingo was alive, even if he isn’t altogether well. To hear that he is able to go and see his son, when he had told me of that young man back in 2009 – well, it seemed like a miracle.

We live on opposite sides of the globe, and are separated by culture, language and time. We only met for an hour or so. Yet our encounter continues to live in me and to light my days. Domingo came to represent a particular kind of kindness, and his generosity called up something of the best in me. He invited me to attend to him and his life. To really and truly pay attention. He did it by offering me his story.

In the last month, as Anna has been walking and updating me, I’ve travelled across Australia. I’ve talked about Domingo in Geraldton in Western Australia, in Melbourne in Victoria, and in Thirroul in NSW. His story always touches people – perhaps because we all yearn to connect deeply, even if only for an hour or so. Perhaps it resonates because we are so busy and move so fast, even though we know that slowing down is something we should be doing. Somehow…we can’t.

Domingo was a guru for me, and I thank the stars of the Milky Way that he is still on the planet, and that I can continue to remember and honour him by repeating his story. Our stories are sacred, I believe. In the end, they may be all we have. I marvel constantly that I am taken out onto the road by virtue of a book about walking a road. A story leads me out to tell more stories, after having borrowed stories to fill the book. It’s a cycle that keeps on expanding. It’s a cycle that expands me. It’s a trail that always leads me deeper into myself.

The other guru given to me on the camino was the snail. They continue to find me, to remind me. Slow down. Keep your antenna up. Move with care and attention. Just this week in Sydney, I was reminded again!

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Wherever you are walking, let it be at snail’s pace for some of the day.

And may you hear every story that is offered to you along your trail.

Gracias, Anna, for giving me another chapter in Domingo’s story.                                        And congratulations on walking your camino with such joy and optimism.

Stories that move…

This is a higgledy-piggledy thought trail.  A bit like one of those roads that twist and turn and loop back and cross over and duck beneath. You get there eventually but you have to trust that the trail is not tricking you.

IMG_3846Firstly, I’m on the road again. Well, more accurately, I’m in the air. I’m off to WA for the Big Sky Festival in Geraldton. This is tremendously exciting. It’s a combined homecoming and discovery. I’ve not been there for decades, and my last trip was on tour as a beginning actress. Geraldton was occasionally a stopping point on the way north to the Gascoyne when we were driving home after a visit to Perth, so I have sketchy memories of it, but I have none of my other destination – the Abrolhos Islands.

Yes, a few lucky writers are being taken over to the Abrolhos, to stay the night. It’s a sanctuary and a wild place. I looked at the expected temperatures, and the maximums and minimums are the same! There are seals and turtles and birds and…wildness. It’s a great privilege to overnight there. Usually only the fishermen who work there are allowed to stay, and under strict supervision. I can’t believe my luck.

IMG_1262Meanwhile, from out on the roads in Spain I am getting missives from pilgrims. September 2009 was when I walked the Camino Frances, my first camino, and so I feel very sentimental about those who are currently making their way. Protective. And a bit envious, if I’m truthful.

Only a bit.

Buen camino one and all, and may the road continue to rise. Gracias for the letters and posts and pictures. I’m coming back.

Yes I am.

And in other news, I’ve decided that I am going to do the Seven Bridges Walk in Sydney on October 27th to raise some money for Cancer research. Next weekend will be the 19th anniversary of my beautiful Mum’s death, and as I approach the age she was when she died, I feel even more keenly how much was taken from her. And from others I’ve lost. I’m also walking in gratitude for those I love who have recovered, and for my own strong legs and heart.

IMG_3993People have given me so much since I put the word out that I was doing the walk. Many of the gifts have been stories. Stories of loss. Stories of hope. Stories of transcendence and grief and euphoria.

I have been moved by accounts of gifted doctors and children’s recoveries, courage and fear and perseverance. We humans, at our best, are truly wonders. We can envision a better future, and that is remarkable.

One such person is Emily Simpson, who was the first to give to my fundraising campaign. Emily is a remarkable woman who has singlehandedly driven a quest to create a permanent labyrinth walk in Centennial Park in Sydney. She is a mighty spirit. Not content with donating to Seven Bridges fund, she also sent me a poem, knowing how much I love a verse hit. And so I share it with you here.

For all of us, on our various roads, heading toward our personal Santiago…

Santiago

The road seen, then not seen, the hillside
hiding then revealing the way you should take,
the road dropping away from you as if leaving you
to walk on thin air, then catching you, holding you up,
when you thought you would fall – and the way forward
always in the end, the way that you came, the way
that you followed, that carried you into your future,
that brought you to this place, no matter that
it sometimes had to take your promise from you,
no matter that it always had to break your heart
along the way: the sense of having walked
from far inside yourself out into the revelation,
to have risked yourself for something that seemed
to stand both inside you and far beyond you…

Excerpt from “Santiago”
From Pilgrim: Poems by David Whyte ©2012 David Whyte

 

Wherever your road is leading you today, may you enjoy the twists and turns, and duck your head when necessary, but remember to look up and make the occasional wish too, won’t you?

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And here is some housekeeping info…

The Events and Media pages are up to date. Click above in the menu bar for info.

I’ll update movements – with Abrolhos pics! – on Facebook.

If you’d like to know more about the Seven Bridges walk, just click here. You might like to put on your boots and join us!

 

Walking home

IMG_3632The 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.

Walking home.

Walking home.

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.

PB083824I 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.

Home.

Home safe.

Home free.

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.

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Generosity = love

Last Saturday, I posted this photo on my Facebook page…

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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.

Byron sunshine = Jesse's welcome
Byron sunshine = Jesse’s welcome

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Walking and writing

IMG_3560It’s 5.49am as I sit down to write.

A good time for beginnings.

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…

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Talismans

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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.

photoThere 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.

Why?

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.Image 2

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.

Gracias otra vez!!!

Small but heartfelt

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…

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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!