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.

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!

 

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 on earth

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…

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People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle.

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But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth.

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Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize:

IMG_1087a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves,

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the black, curious eyes of a child —

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our own two eyes.

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All is a miracle.

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IMG_3355IMG_3360IMG_3277_2Thanks 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.

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!

Friday Goodness

IMG_1170Late afternoon Good Friday.

Not a breath of air. A bird chirrups. A plane drones somewhere.

Out the window are grey clouds and the tin roof of next door’s house.

The sounds, and that view, feel remote from me.

Muffled.

Other-worldly.

Inside my study, I’m struggling. My childhood as a Catholic taught me that Good Friday is a day to commemorate a death – a solitary and agonising death, one that must have felt endless, given the way that pain can stretch time.

If I sit up straight, I catch sight of the top of an elm. Its branches form a skeleton against that grey sky. Autumn will finally have its way, it seems. Summer has been holding it at bay, but the season of the dying fall will be victorious. All week summer tried, pushing temperatures and tempers over the top, but the southerly buster came, and the rain with it. Woollens were snatched from cupboards and night closed in earlier. Leaves swirled from the trees and huddled against fences. Puddles formed in ditches and canals. Summer dusted off her skirts and took her leave, giving autumn centre stage.

And now, the world hangs in suspension. All is cool and still. In limbo. And my thoughts are of endings and deaths.

IMG_2529Three years ago I was in Rome for Good Friday, traipsing the streets of the eternal city with my friend Susan, trying to see if we could find an easter vigil to attend. There, Good Friday is a day of commerce and busyness, as you’d know if you have read Sinning. It was a shock to me to see all the activity and the spruiking. But now, I see that it makes sense for them. The focus in the northern hemisphere is on Easter Sunday. Resurrection. Why ever not? It is spring, and flowers are thick on the ground, their scent wafting from grasses and gardens. Blossom bursts from branches and wisteria droops. All is renewal and birth, in line with pagan celebrations of the season. Persephone returns, bringing new life and possibility. Spring gets sprung.

IMG_3007But here, easter falls in autumn, when the world hunkers for winter. Maybe that’s why my easter focus has so often been on Good Friday – and why my mind dwells on death.

It’s not an unfamiliar place. I go there often, and don’t find it frightening. But it is sombre. The contemplation of endings is serious business, and for me, must be undertaken in stillness and silence. I tried to play music just now, but to no avail. Not appropriate, even Arvo Part.

A crow caws. Again. He is insistent.

He seems appropriate.

Mortality. Death. Ending. Closure.

One day I will die. It’s good to have at least one certainty. I know of no other.

But I do hope to be given time to make over more days in beauty. I hope to be given hours to walk. I hope to be given days to work. I hope to be given months to live more consciously and with more compassion. I hope to be given years to continue to explore what it is to live “the good life”. To do better.

Maybe that is the goodness to take from today. The awareness that this will end makes me commit to love each minute to the full – even if the minutes are melancholy. I will give myself over to that autumnal emotion, and not judge it as less worthy than the summery smiling days. I will sit with it and honour it, knowing that it too holds promise.

And if I’m honest, I think the leaves of autumn are more beautiful than the summer greens. Maybe later I will go and collect some, and put them in a bowl on my desk, to remind me of the lessons of endings.

But for now, I will still my legs, and my mind, and be with autumn.

This is Friday, and it is Good.

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Grounded at Twilight

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Listening Lisa

Here is a guest post by Lisa J Cole.

It was written in response to the conversation last week between me, Bruno Lettieri and Barry Garner, at the Twilight School at Rupertswood in Sunbury.

Welcome Lisa!

 

 

Tell me, what is it you plan to do                                                                                             with your one wild and precious life?

That sentence is from Mary Oliver’s poem titled The Summer Day. Mary is an American poet, and right at the very end of her poem we are left to answer this question. The beginning of the poem, where first she describes a grasshopper cleaning its face with its feet and having enormous and complicated eyes, takes us on a journey, and then we are left with a question to ponder, grapple with, conjure or create with.

For many of us, it’s a tough question to answer at the best of times. But it didn’t seem that way the other night for the Pilgrim and the Verandah Sitter at the first Open House event at Rupertswood Mansion for 2013.

Ailsa Piper, writer, director, actor and graduate pilgrim shared with her captive audience that to live this ONE life is a good place to start. There is no other, just this ONE. Barry Garner, local Sunbury writer and author of Haloes in the Windscreen, shared that he sits on his verandah and reflects where he’s been and where he’s going next with the PRECIOUS people who he loves and respects around him.

These accomplished authors read from their books, laughed together and relaxed over a microphone last Wednesday night but most importantly publicly declared their personal journeys of walking. Ailsa’s pilgrim-style walking took her 1200km across Spain, alone and carrying with her a bunch of other people’s sins. Barry’s life centres in and around his suburb of Sunbury and he retold stories to the audience how he used to walk around the block with his daughter, Kylie, because she wanted to get fit. He discovered a deep connection with his daughter again. Is the importance on the ONE or the WILD or the PRECIOUS? Maybe it’s all of them.

We discovered, as we listened into this conversation that Ailsa’s greatest addiction is poetry, followed closely by walking and the intrigue and unique beauty and slowness of snails. She has a small snail engraved permanently into her skin to remind her to slow down in life.

Barry declared that he’s spent over 55 years believing he’s not good enough, but once he found writing he could express himself to the world and published a piece about his daughter Kylie leaving home in The Age. He had a rough ride last year through the festive season, but a brisk visit to Philip Island with a loyal friend filled his lungs with hope and belief that no medicine could. The room filled with enormous gratitude for two people who simply were brave enough to open up their lives and hearts to us.

The cooler Melbourne weather brought relief and fresh thoughts. As I sat and listened, my gaze fixed out the bay window on the quick, darting black birds moving efficiently and effortlessly from branch to branch. I wonder if they ponder taking on the snail’s slow life. I hear words and then applause. The bay window of the dining room sparkles; clear as if the glass was an illusion.

And in a moment it’s there – life is not a dress rehearsal. Not for a snail, or a grasshopper, or the darting black birds outside or for Ailsa Piper or Barry Garner or for any one of us sitting in that room. We have enormous lives full of potential and possibility, often complicated and too busy. The secrets to answer our question are locked up in the den and they need to be set free, especially the secrets about the ONE WILD and PRECIOUS life we all wish to live. These thoughts need to breathe and grow and walk across countries or around suburban blocks. Set them free.

How about we all start with this ONE moment in our lives and see what happens next.

 

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Pilgrim, Verandah Sitter and Bello Bruno

Gracias, Lisa. It was such pleasure to sit in those remarkable surrounds and to share the stage with two such thoughtful gentlemen. Gentle men who attend to the world about them, and to their place in it. That is what dignifies Mary Oliver for me – the way she pays attention, and in doing so, makes me open my eyes, ears and heart to wonder. Natural wonder, in particular. Her grasshopper is so particular and real for her.

Rather like my snail.

Yes, it was an evening of paying attention and shared humanity. The audience at Rupertswood was welcoming, the stories they shared were inspiring, and the birds sure did sing. My sister Amanda came along with me to take photos of the evening, and life really did feel precious…

Gracias Lisa. Gracias Bruno and Barry.

And as always, Gracias Mary Oliver.

IMG_2883A postscript…of course!

Do take a moment to look at the comments on this post. Very grateful to Darren and Jim for two beauties. A camino and some snail-talk!

 

Indulgences

According to Wikipedia – digi-bible of our days – in Catholic theology, an indulgence is the full or partial remission of temporal punishment due for sins which have already been forgiven. According to the Free Dictionary – second on the Google search list – an indulgence is the act, or an instance of, indulging. According to me – pilgrim and self-confessed fool – an indulgence is a favour granted.

Which is what I’m asking of you.

Indulge me.

Anyone who has read Sinning Across Spain, or who has browsed here, will know that my chief delight, other than walking, is poetry; the lusher the better, particularly if it is Spanish.

IMG_2297My lesser known delight is my feet.

I love them. They are my best, my favourite, bits. They have never given me blisters or pains or bunions. They make no complaint when hot or bothered, cold or wet, bruised or swollen.

They just go on.

And on.

And on.

IMG_2695This summer they have had some excellent times traipsing about in sand beside three great oceans – the Pacific, the Indian and the Southern. They have walked me far and wide on both sides of the continent, keeping me grounded but also kicking me through waters and over waves. They have skipped and they have played.

They’ve had a chance to loll, too; to rest and be admired. They’ve even had their toes painted red in celebration of their reliability and fortitude.

So what of the indulgence?

Well, tonight I found a poem by Pablo Neruda – one I’d heard before but had somehow forgotten. A bit like my feet. So in honour of the greatness, and the romance, of feet – indulge me. Please.

Here is a poem from the Spanish master. An indulgence if ever I saw one.

 

Your Feet

When I cannot look at your face
I look at your feet.
Your feet of arched bone,
your hard little feet.
I know that they support you,
and that your sweet weight
rises upon them.
Your waist and your breasts,
the doubled purple
of your nipples,
the sockets of your eyes
that have just flown away,
your wide fruit mouth,
your red tresses,
my little tower.
But I love your feet
only because they walked
upon the earth and upon
the wind and upon the waters,
until they found me.

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Gracias, dear feet. You who are closest to the earth, you are my rhythm-makers. You are my markers of miles and smiles and tears. You are the quellers of my fears, dear feet that achieve such feats. You are my best bits.

Gracias.

 

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Road tripping

IMG_2630I’m writing this from Albany in Western Australia, where a gusty southerly is shaking the treetops outside my window. Tiny honey-eaters flit from branch to branch, seemingly unfussed by the tumult. Whitecaps chop up the surface of the bay beyond and clouds race across the sky. The world is whirling, remaking itself before my bleary morning eyes.

I’m told that Albany is the oldest permanently settled town in W.A.

Old. Permanent.

The weather patterns today seem intent on reminding me that everything is new and changing. The town wraps around King George Sound, which opens onto the Southern Ocean. Next stop is Antarctica. This is a place of extremes and edges.

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I came here after three days at the Perth Writers Festival, which took place on the University of WA campus. While I was there I performed my Sinning monologue on a stage I last trod thirty years ago. Big time palimpsesto. It was privilege to be back, surrounded by family, friends, new friends, and a few heroes too.

IMG_2602I had the oddest sensation at the opening of the monologue. I was sitting in my “Spanish cafe” section of the stage, wrapped in a bubble of warm light, as the audience filed in. Gracias A La Vida was playing. I wrote in my journal. I sang along under my breath. I was introduced to the audience, my biog read out, the music came and went. House lights dimmed…

All normal. All to plan.

Except that I felt something completely new: I was in Spain and Australia simultaneously. I was in a bar on the road, and I was in Perth in my student days. I was a pilgrim and a writer/performer. I was present to both, yet also, curiously, outside of both, writing about the experience in my journal. Later, I realised that it was not unlike what happens to me sometimes when I’m walking – that sensation of being out of body, watching the small dot moving along the road.

Whatever it was, it was right. The monologue had a life all its own. Maybe it was happy to be on a stage, or to be back where it all began, or to be given to such a welcoming crowd. No matter. It was joy. The whole Perth experience was joy. Days of laughter and talk and folly and wisdom.

And then, a group of writers was flown south to Albany for the Write in the Great Southern Festival. A gift, because Albany sits at the end of the Bibbulmun Track, a 1000km bush path I’ve long fantasised about walking.

IMG_2661On Monday, I lead a workshop along a stretch of it. Sand got into my boots, salt spray into my lungs, and I was claimed. I’m not sure how or when, but I think I must return. Thank you to those who braved the workshop. It was a little unbalanced – rather too much time spent on the outward leg, because I didn’t know the track – but it was magnificent to watch you all out there writing.

Writing and walking and working. What else?

On Tuesday, I was fortunate to be lead in conversation by Sue Lodge-Calvert, the local Anglican Minister, a deeply thoughtful, light-hearted woman. On several occasions I was surprised by turns in our talk, but never more so than when she asked me to read the following section from the book. I’ve not looked at it since publication – I’ve always read other sections. On Tuesday, it shook me. It is a journal entry, immediate and unshaped, and maybe that is why. Or maybe it was just that it felt very true, here in Albany where I have walked with such gratitude and hope. Regardless, I am glad to have been reminded…

 

For me, prayer is walking. Every step is a prayer. And if there are sacred places, then the ones I have seen are roads that stretch to the horizon, empty of all save perhaps a fellow traveller, dotted in the distance, walking a separate but connected way.

 

A saint is a tree beside a road, the branches wide enough to

give comfort and solace in equal measure.

 

A sermon is a story told at sunset, two spirits meeting to pay attention, to listen, and to learn.

 

Divinity is the moment when heartbeats and footsteps

align, find each other, and mark miles together.

 

Miracles ask little and give much. Like a woman tucking homemade food into a stranger’s pockets, miracles quicken the step, light the way in the early morning dark, and are the first star of the evening cool. Miracles are journeys from emptiness to fullness, from heartbreak to heartache to heartburn to heart’s ease. And back again.

 

And heaven?

Heaven is a place where good people do bad things and bad people do good things and somewhere out on the miraculous road, good and bad people look into each other’s eyes and realise there is no separation. They are the same.

 

And ‘buen camino’ is a blessing.

Good road. Good path. Good way.

Perhaps it is the only blessing.

 

Now, this morning, I am off to Denmark!

No, not Hamlet’s place! I’m going about 40 minutes down the road to another festival, where we will share stories in the wetlands, and try to crack open some of the mysteries of words. I hope I will walk, too.

Meantime, the wind is still howling, crows are cawing, a pelican soared overhead, and those clouds keep racing from right to left across the windows. Out on the cliffs above the Southern Ocean, the wind farm’s mills will be whirring. Nothing stands still. Time is on the road, stepping out, calling us forward.

Buen camino, my village. I’d better get packing. Gracias for walking with me.

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I’m indebted to so many people for these last days: Katherine Dorrington and Del Robinson at Perth Writers Festival; Jo Smith at Write in the Great Southern; Anne de Courcy for friendship and shared stories; Sue Lodge-Calvert for waking me up; Jon Doust for catching me when I swooned; Maree Dawes for walking and poems; Phillip Adams for the hero moment; all at the Stella Prize for the laughter…too many people. Too much kindness. It has been another master class in generosity.

Gracias.

OK. Hi-ho. Close the suitcase and wash the dishes. The road is opening…