Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.
On October 6th, 1727, English poet Alexander Pope wrote these words in a letter to a friend. Almost 300 years later, his words sum up perfectly the attitude of many Melburnians after two months of stage four lockdown.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that prolonged periods of lockdown aren’t good for the human psyche. Being confined to our homes, our suburbs, even our state can be claustrophobic. We stare at our four walls but dream of faraway places.
I’m on the train to Flinders Street Station, heading for my first silent reading party and already I’m nervous. The STFU (Shut the Fuck Up) Reading Society’s official Facebook page reads: ‘We host silent reading parties because we want to allow for […] introverted or anxious people to join a no pressure social activity with zero expectations of social interaction or conversation if it’s not wanted!’
I began to wonder why the verb that goes with ‘attention’ is ‘to pay’. Is it a debt? A duty? A tax? An outlay of energy? Work seems to be involved in the phrase, or perhaps sacrifice. And what do we get back, if we pay it?
A Melbourne poised to go into stage four lockdown is probably not the ideal place to be in mid-winter.
Icy blasts of wind from the snow-dusted Dandenong Ranges whistle down the deserted streets as masked shoppers scurry along in search of final supplies before the expected announcement from Dan Andrews of further closures.
Who was it who said ‘Living with your adult children goes against nature’?
Oh yes, I think it was me.
It was long before the financial implications of choosing a life in The Yarts had hit home to two generations of my family: my muso son and me. But we wouldn’t have it any other way. The writing/music life fixes you in its gaze and you are powerless to look away. So here we are in lockdown together.
This online dating story was the catalyst for a piece ofmine that appeared in The Guardian this week. It led to a second pitch, a whole new focus and a home in one of my favourite newspapers. It’s a lesson in perseverance and sheer bloodymindedness.
Here is the original…
An English friend of mine, now in her late 70s, introduced her husband to me by saying ‘This is Bill. I advertised for him in the Guardian.’
One day last week I looked around me at the piles of newspapers, manila folders, books and binders scattered over the floor in my bedroom/study and took a deep breath. I’ve been sleeping, working and eating in this room for the past few months.
My brain is a lockdown-induced jumble of broken resolutions.
The freedom of working from home has turned me into a combination of jellyfish and goldfish – lacking in backbone and unable to retain a plan for more than three seconds. I can’t put it off any longer. I need order in my life.
Kids, I’m going to IKEA. If I’m not back by midnight, send out a search party.
A bonus long weekend post in honour of my nephew Tom and his mother – my friend – Anne
A gift like Anne comes along once in a lifetime
An in-law who becomes a close friend, confidante and partner-in-crime. From the day we met, we got the point of each other. We laughed at each other’s jokes, shared each other’s pain (including a common mother-in-law), went on holidays together and shared a brood of children who were best mates and just happened to be first cousins.
Since lockdown began six (or is it seven?) millenia ago, I have begun to realise how reliant I am on the companionship of sound, and of classical music in particular.
I wake up to Russell Torrance and his gentle Scottish brogue on Classic FM, then move on to my late father’s classical music CD collection for the rest of my working-from-home day. Once meticulously filed in alphabetical order in his study, it’s now a jumbled pile in his old bedroom – my current retreat. I sift through it for old favourites – the B for Bach, H for Handel and M for Mozart sections were always heavily weighted on Dad’s shelves – and spend hours every day of this 21st century pandemic immersed in 18th century music.
Being a long distance grandmother has its compensations. Every morning since corona-lockdown, I’ve woken to images of my son and his young family managing their splendid self-isolation in northern NSW. There are five of them and they’re in this together: mother, father, toddler, newborn and Norman. (Norman is a greyhound but try convincing him.)
Love was a terrible thing […] Not perhaps my cup of tea.
So says Mildred Lathbury, self-proclaimed spinster and one of the ‘excellent women’ of Barbara Pym’s 1950s novel of the same name. The setting is post-war London – the start of the baby boom – when early marriage and motherhood are the norm. Little wonder that thirty-something Mildred thinks she’s missed the (love) boat.
I used to be one of those people who always finished a book, even if they weren’t enjoying it. These days I regard it in the same light as eating everything on your plate: some meals just aren’t worth the calories.
Today’s post was meant to be a review of Julia Baird’s Phosphorescence, a beautifully written paean to nature’s ability to inspire awe and wonder. But five chapters in, I’d read enough to sustain me.
The first DIY Woman book review – I hope it will open up a discussion about books that helps create a connection for those who love to read.
I’ve wanted to read The Weekend – Charlotte Wood‘s latest book – ever since I heard about it on Radio National’s The Bookshelf. Its basic premise – the 30-year friendship of four women, a weekend away after the death of one of them – was one that appealed to me.
A few Saturday nights ago – a lifetime away – I had an epiphany.
I was in a form of self-imposed isolation due to a cold I had picked up from some visiting relatives. It was early on in the unfolding of the coronavirus catastrophe to come. According to the Nurse-On-Call, I didn’t tick any of the boxes that would have entitled me to coronavirus testing. So I was erring on the side of caution. And there was something seductive about cancelling all social engagements and staying in on a Saturday night. Especially with Hugh Grant for company. A Very British Scandal was showing on iview, so my pyjamas and I settled in for episode one.
This year would have marked the 65th anniversary of Eurovision.
Sixty-four years of big hair, wind machines and pyrotechnics up in smoke. For this year anyway – the year I made the decision to experience firsthand the highs, the lows, the costume reveals and the money notes. The year I sweated over three laptops simultaneously logged in to the second round of ticket sales and won and lost tickets in less than five heartbreaking minutes. And won again.
Amidst the hardship and heartbreak of the recent bushfires, acts of kindness restore faith in the future of this wide brown land.
It was wonderful to read about the generous responses to the bushfires of sports people like Nick Kyrgios, international celebrities like Leonardo di Caprio and Elton John, as well as local heroes like Chris Hemsworth.
When I was four years old, my parents moved their young family from the bottom of a park to the top. My parents never moved again.
Half a century later, my mother still lives there, surrounded by all five of her children within a ten kilometre radius. Her dreams are of forays into her beloved garden, not of travel adventures abroad. Everything she needs is within her castle walls. She left Australian shores only once and didn’t see any benefit in doing so again.
I spent the first 25 years of my working life as a caterer.
In my mid-40s, I simultaneously lost the passion for my cooking career and gained a love of writing. I decided to use the skills accumulated throughout the previous quarter century to work for me in my new writing career: the ability to match menu to client, the organisational skills to run a small business and a willingness to learn.
Conversations that start like this can go one of two ways: they can leave you feeling deflated or they can spur you on to greater things. My friend D doesn’t shy away from difficult conversations. She’s the one who tells it straight when you ask for her opinion. She’s also the one who gives you her undivided attention and support when you need it. And the best home-made scones.
Speeding down the Calder Highway on a scorching Friday in February 2009, I wondered briefly whether this long-awaited weekend away was such a good idea. The brown fields on either side shimmered and the road ahead looked molten. The words ‘bushfire weather’ hovered in front of my eyes like the steam rising from the bitumen.
What happens when shared memories are no longer shared? When – even as you are living a wonderful moment with a loved one – you know you will probably be the sole keeper of its memory?
Lately I’ve been spending precious time with family at both ends of the age spectrum.
The Christmas break has given me the opportunity to see more of my eight-month-old granddaughter and my 87-year-old mother. Sometimes both at the same time. Along with my daughter, four generations spanning 87 years sitting on the same couch in the same room. It’s a privilege not everyone is lucky enough to have.
There is a story in Helen Garner’s 2016 collection of short stories Everywhere I Look titled ‘The Insults of Age’. She rages against the condescension masquerading as kindness directed towards her: ‘Are you right on those stairs, Helen?’, ‘How was your shopping, ladies?’ and the final un-take-backable ‘Helen. You. Are. Seventy-one.’
I have written about tending friendships as you would your garden, but my DIY credentials in the actual gardening department are non-existent. My mother, however, is a Daisy Lady: a member of the Native Australian Daisy Study Group. For the past 40 years, she has met regularly with other Daisy Ladies, not all of them ladies (in the biological sense). Sadly, there are no longer any men in Mum’s posse, but the four remaining Daisy Ladies are as passionate about native plants – and native daisies in particular – as they ever were.
Dividing the assets of a marriage is complicated, especially when those assets are precious friendships. Deciding who gets custody of mutual friends can be one of the most heartbreaking tasks of separation and divorce.
After enduring months of offline episodes and ‘Not secure’ messages popping up on this website, I made the decision a fortnight ago to change host servers. My previous server – a lone wolf operator in NZ – failed to send the correct passwords to allow this to happen. That is the most charitable way to describe what he did. Or failed to do.
The cathedral at Amiens is a soaring Gothic monument that was once a place of pilgrimage.
In the early 13th century, it was thought to house the skull of St John the Baptist. In 1218, a lightning strike of biblical proportions destroyed both church and contents. The construction of a new church began in 1220. Despite fire, faulty engineering, revolution and two world wars, it has survived intact for the past 800 years.
The transition from writer to author is strewn with rejection emails.
Being proactive, resilient and willing to learn from your mistakes will serve you well on your path towards publication. A healthy dose of optimism doesn’t hurt either. I have just completed my first career plan at an age when some of my friends are considering retirement. Here I am, sweating on my CV, while they are swanning around in their four-wheel drives with golf sticks in the boot and a caravan attached. How I pity them.
I only know where a country is if I’m planning to visit it, and I retain the information for about five minutes. My friend Megan got top marks in geography at university. Twice. She can yack on for hours about cloud formations and the movement of sand along a shore. I try not to let my eyes glaze over. I like to gaze skywards as much as the next person – especially if the clouds are pink and fluffy and maybe have cute little sunbeams emanating from them – but I don’t really care if they’re cirrus or cumulonimbus.
I am a recently separated sixty year old male with a sixteen year old daughter who lives partly with me and partly with her mother. I have dipped my toes in the dating scene and found things going swimmingly until I mention my daughter and then suddenly found that things have gone frosty.
On 25 April 2015, I left Australian shores for rural France.
I chose the date – Anzac Day – on a whim, a symbolic recognition of the culmination of a lifelong dream to run away to France. I made 25-4 my suitcase pin number. For six months, I house-sat my way from Normandy to Provence, mostly on my own, and lived like a local.
The raspberry canes in the vegetable patch yielded masses of delicious berries from July through to September. I would come up from the garden with my mouth and fingers stained deep crimson – ‘crushed raspberry’ – and my bowl full to overflowing with garden produce.
I have never been especially keen on the idea of being a grandmother.
Periodically my children would threaten me with it just for fun. I’m way too young, I’d say. Turns out I’m not as young as I thought. Or as immune to the lure of a newborn: first born of my firstborn, unwitting trailblazer of a new generation of my family, tiny repository of untold hopes and dreams.
My father used to like his hot drinks hot and his cold drinks cold.
He preferred his soup to be at palate-blistering temperatures well beyond normal human tolerance. But that was the way he liked it and that was the way it was served up to him. No skin off anyone’s nose – the roof of Dad’s mouth was the only potential victim here.
It’s the kind of milestone that attracts commiserations rather than congratulations. I don’t see it that way. I held a Sunset Soiree between the senior-friendly hours of 5pm and 9pm to watch the sun set on my youth.
I came across this sentence the other day while looking up material for my ‘gap year’ memoir. It was in an email I had sent to a friend in February 2015. I didn’t know it then, but it marked the start of my career as an occasional compiler of funeral music. Occasional as in ‘infrequent’. Funeral music is always ‘occasional’ in the other sense.
It’s not the first time I’ve done this. During my two years in the emotional wilderness following my separation, I regularly cried in front of people I’d only just met. Real estate agents, bank managers, municipal officers, shop assistants—no one was safe. Some of them – the consequential strangers – made a lasting difference to my life.
No matter the size of a family, the role of each of its members will be unique.
If the firstborn is a dictator, the second will be something else. Once a job description has been filled, another must be created. One might be the high achiever, the next might be the peace-maker and so on. I was the third of five children; the good girl; the little sister who knew her place; the older sister who indulged her younger brothers; the good student who wanted to do well. Let’s face it – I was the pleaser. My twin desires to do well and to please instilled in me a rather suspect work ethic. Combined with my ‘look at moy’ attitude, I must have driven my school friends crazy.
It would seem Harvey Weinstein has left a trail of destruction in his wake following the revelations of his unbridled sexual predation. Survivors are coming out of the woodwork at such a rate of knots there is nowhere for Weinstein to go except therapy and – possibly – gaol.
Forming new relationships after a long period of being single can be hard enough without jumping into co-habitation. Living full-time with your new partner’s children, pets and habits takes some adjustment for both of you. Fear not: Apartners are the latest trending alternative to live-in lovers.
Friendships – like gardens – require time, effort, the occasional bit of pruning, and boundless love.
The harvest you reap will sustain you throughout bountiful spring times and miserable winters. Luckily for me, my garden has been lovingly tended and has produced the best assortment of flowers a girl could wish for.
For some separating couples, the prospect of no more Sunday dinners at the inlaws is almost enough to make up for the pain of separation.
Not so for the lucky ones among us who count the family we partnered into as friends. Harper Lee could have been talking about ex inlaws in this passage from To kill a mockingbird:
‘Atticus says you can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family, an’ they’re still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge ’em or not, and it makes you look right silly when you don’t.’
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen, a single woman who knew a lot about semantics.
In her day, Jane Austen would have been described as a Spinster (gasp!) or worse, Old Maid (smelling salts!). In recent times, her unfortunate marital status may have been softened to Unclaimed Treasure.
Despite this, it cannot be denied the woman knew quite a lot about love.
This story –the result of a writing exercise – illustrates the connection sometimes made through a chance encounter between people of good will. My thanks to Camino conqueror Pat Boxall for coming up with it.
On a crowded Sunday afternoon at the Brunswick Heads hotel, you’re lucky to find a surface to put your beer, let alone your backside.
An unexpected detour during a six month stay in France links three generations of my family to a village in the Somme.
On Anzac Day 2015, I left Australian shores for six months travelling solo in France. Unlike my grandfather a century before, I wasn’t destined for the muddy fields of the Somme. My destination was another part of rural France altogether – Cinais in the Loire – the first of a series of housesits courtesy of a housesitting website called MindMyHouse.
A cautionary tale of superannuation, mortgages and sharks.
A year or so after I’d taken on a mortgage, I got a call from a financial adviser— let’s call him Ken—who said he was affiliated with my bank. He offered me a free consultation to look at ways I could make my money work better for me. How timely! I collected my paperwork and arrived at the bank at 5pm the following day.
There has to be an alternative to doing time on the slush pile on the rocky road to becoming a published author.
I’ve already likened my passion for writing to the urge to reproduce. I could say the same of my relentless pursuit of a publishing deal. I am guilty of every crime in the self-promotion book. Schmoozing. Pitching at a minute’s notice. Imposing on the goodwill of strangers. It’s a litany of misdemeanours.
The past two years have been the best I can remember.
I have consummated my passion for France and my passion for writing in one 24 month period. First I ran away to France for six months. Then I applied for the professional writing course of my dreams. Then I got in! I’m more than halfway through and I never want it to end. This story was first published in the February/March issue of The Victorian Writer. David Brooks, columnist for The New York Times, once said:
people who live with passion start out with an especially intense desire to complete themselves. Continue reading →
A classic DIY tale of fixing something that’s been broken.
An edited version of this story first appeared as ‘Not Drowning, Waving’ in The Big Issue in December 2016.
On the second Saturday of every new year, the waters around Lorne heave and churn like a deep fryer of boiling oil with a wire basket-load of chips tossed onto its surface. People pay money to be one of those chips.
The Lorne Pier-to-Pub is the world’s biggest ocean swim race with entries now capped at 5000.
The race has been going for thirty-six years. Organisers introduced a ballot system after 2008, when all available places sold out on the first day of registration.
The car crash that left me with a sardine-can car and a broken neck happened seven years ago. I thought I had avoided cameras for the three months I was in that Minerva brace. Until this photo arrived in my inbox —–>
It happened just this afternoon in Seuilly. Yes that’s Seuilly. France. Two days ago I moved from one slice of French paradise to another just five minutes down the road. My current abode is a light-filled self-contained apartment off the beaten track with a view to die for and a cute little bakery van that drops in twice a week with a fresh baguette.It is the perfect setting for a runaway writer except for just one thing: no wifi…
We used to laugh a lot…. My oldest friend Lindy and I were always best friends at school, and little has changed. We still act like 17 year olds in each other’s company and have a language that no one else in the world understands. With a word or a look we can set each other off – into gales of laughter or on a trip down our own long memory lane. Continue reading →
It was only when I heard the talk back caller announce that she was a white witch that I gave the radio my full attention.
Transfixed, I listened to her sing the praises of her car parking goddess Asphaltia, who never failed to provide her with a parking spot whenever called upon to do so.
The only proviso was that the Benefactress must be thanked. And that the lucky recipient of Her bounty must attribute the procurement of the parking space to Her, and not to Luck. To do otherwise would be considered ungrateful, and the driver an unworthy candidate for future good parking deeds.
A quick look at the Notes app on my phone reveals all the usual stuff: outdated shopping lists, blog topics, ideas for Christmas presents, music for the Absolute Lizzie Funeral Selection Volume 2. (Just me? My children and I joke about the fact that at this rate, my wake is going to have to take place over a weekend. Could be kinda fun.)