Hello world!

IMG_3610I’m an April Fool in a rush.

Deep breath in. Exhale. Start again….

Today I fly to Rome. It’s the fourth anniversary of the publication of Sinning Across Spain. It’s six years since I last arrived in that city, about to begin the sin-walk. And, amazingly, it’s a year since I inspected the apartment that became my new home – my place of refuge and safety. Clearly, I’m a natural-born fool.

But to the journey.IMG_3630
I wanted you to know, because I’m going to be walking. Only about 300 kilometres, but the challenge for this camino is to walk slowly, like the snail. I have set a strict limit of 25 kilometres per day, which will be exceeded only once, when I cross the Pyrenees toward the end of the walk. I will stride out with my poles and pack for part of the day, and then I will be a flaneur in a village for the rest.

I will take time. I will sit.

I will listen.

I’m going to be on the southern section of the GR65, or the Le Puy chemin, and will end at Pamplona. My pack is once again ready. My last pair of Merrell Sirens are itching to walk, and my heart is beating a little faster. It has been a topsy-turvy month or two, but when my doctor said to me that what was wrong was anxiety and that maybe I needed to go and do something brave again, I knew he was right, though he was joking. It’s time…

So off I go. Out to greet the northern spring with its bluster and blossom, and its tricky little surprises and its gentle embraces. I had taken a French course at the start of the year to refresh my grey cells, so I’m not too rusty. Mind you, I’ve also been learning to swim and taking some dance classes, and if those skills are anything like my French, I might be having some very mangled conversations. But I’m getting there. This morning I did 50 strokes of freestyle without stopping…IMG_3674

 

I’m getting there.

The other big news to share is that my next book, which I’ve co-written with Tony Doherty, a Catholic priest and natural pilgrim, has been picked up by Allen and Unwin and will be guided into the world by Jane Palfreyman. It will be out next year. I couldn’t be more thrilled and grateful. It has been greeted with such generosity and affection. Only a year ago, I thought it was dead and that I wouldn’t write again. Such is the power of anxiety and the dark days…

But today is light.

There is more news to share too. More GOOD news. I’m so grateful when the news is happy.

On my return, in mid-May, I’m hosting four conversations at the upcoming Sydney Writers Festival, with seven extraordinary writers. If you want to know more, go to their website and scroll to my name and you can see details. Go to the website anyway, because there are astounding riches for readers. The reason I mention it here, aside from my excitement, is to tell you that one of those sessions is with a remarkable man called Jean-Christophe Rufin. He is a co-founder of Medicines Sans Frontieres and a distinguished writer – one of the youngest members of the Académie Française, when he was admitted. And the book he is bringing to the festival is a tale about walking the camino to Santiago! It has been a best-seller in France, so we will be taking that, and his whole life, for a walk in our one hour conversation.

So there is much to be grateful for and much to ponder as I set off to walk. It’s a golden morning here and I’ve just walked out to my lighthouse to farewell it. I hope it will stand tall in my absence, and I hope it will light my way home…

Because I am home. I know that because there is a tug when I think of leaving. That has to be good doesn’t it? A little separation anxiety?

Walk strong. May your autumn days be mellow and fruitful…

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Small steps

With some fear, and not a little trepidation, I’m getting back on the road.

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This weekend, I will be back in Aireys Inlet for the Melbourne Writers Festival. The session is titled Journeys of Self Discovery.

Of course, that relates to Sinning Across Spain, and the camino. But when I was booked for the talk, months and months back, I don’t think I could have guessed that I’d be on a longer, tougher and more demanding journey now. This camino of grief tests my mettle every day. Every breath.

What keeps me upright is the monumental outpouring of support from those I love, and from people who don’t even know me but have read the book. That is a strong hand resting along my spine. It is strength and tenderness together.

I’m so grateful.

I was last at Aireys for the Lighthouse Festival. Peter was with me, and he was one of the readers for the weekend. We had such fun. I will walk the beach for him. Aireys is a place he loved from childhood…

And I will remember every person who has helped me walk this road so far. Thank you. I will try not to let you down.

 

POSTSCRIPT….

Amanda Smith, producer of The Body Sphere on Radio National, has made a wonderful programme about walking. You will LOVE baby’s first steps! And you might recognise the pilgrim voice at the beginning and end of the show…

You can podcast/download here.
http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bodysphere/talking-about-walking/5694562

 

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.

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!

 

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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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!!!

Hace tres años…

IMG_2993Three years ago I was in Córdoba.

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.

IMG_3012It’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.

IMG_3043“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.

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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