Friday, May 27, 2011

Thank you all...and blessings abound...

Just a quick post to thank everyone for the beautiful comments.  If anyone has taken comfort or found understanding for a friend or loved one through my words, then I am so very happy for that is why I write.

Today I went over to a friend's house to do a simple meditation, just sitting back and relaxing and listening to a CD of words and music.  At one point, the guide on the CD asked us to think of all the things that we are blessed with in our lives.  And I thought of my beautiful girls.  Yes, I should have three little girls...but I have two here with me to fill up my heart with love...and fill up my life with chaos and laughter (and the odd tantrum), and Hannah Montana posters (aaarrgh!) and refusals to eat cooked carrots (although oddly, tinned ones are fine), and a fringe that I am absolutely NOT allowed to trim (I've threatened to sneak in and cut it when she's asleep!), and half eaten biscuits under the beds along with dirty socks (always odd ones), and soggy dolls in the bathroom (and something that left a bright pink stain on the white grout)......and hugs and cries of "you're the best mummy in the world!", and impromptu interpretive dance performances (usually at bedtime) and singing loudly while climbing trees in the front yard, and two note recorder playing, and "I have to be a monkey for today's assembly item!", and "I don't have any clean knickers (have you looked in your drawer?)", and homemade Mothers' Day Cards with enough glitter to make Tinkerbelle sneeze.........well, you get the picture!  Life is full to bursting, and my precious little ones are growing so quickly it makes my head spin sometimes.  But they are my blessings, and so you see, I am blessed indeed.  There is a Morgan sized hole in my life, but how can I be sad for long, when I have faeries such as these shining like rainbows in my garden?!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Lullaby for a lost mermaid...

It hardly seems possible that a whole year has passed since I wrote THIS.  But my little mermaid would be 11 today.  Time passes so quickly.  When I was pregnant, I had great plans to write a lullaby for her, her very own special song, and sing it to her to welcome her into the world.  But I was so busy getting ready for the new arrival, I didn't have time.  I thought, 'it's OK, I'll write one when she arrives.'  I thought I would have all the time in the world, that when I brought her home, I would be able to sing it every night, for many years, to send her off to sleep.

When she arrived I knew there would be no singing her to sleep, no years of kissing her goodnight, that I could never take her home.  I wished I had written that song, so I could welcome her...and say goodbye.  Instead, I sang what I could remember of an old gaelic lullaby...and lament...late one night in the hospital, just her and I together.  I didn't want anyone to hear me singing.  I didn't think they'd understand.  But it was something that I needed to do, the instinct was very strong.

Months later, I did write her lullaby.  It's not a lament, it's the song I might have written if she had come home safe and well.  But I don't have a reason to sing it very often.  So I sang it tonight, and it's rough and painful, but maybe she hears it and knows it's her song.  And it's here if you want to listen too.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Meditations on home....

I've been thinking a lot about 'home' over the last week or so, after Terri Windling wrote not one, but two evocative blog posts about home, belonging, and how where we are relates to who we are.  I meant to pick up the conversation thread earlier, but better late than never, as they say.  I was reminded of a strange short film I saw on TV years ago.  In his 1991, "I dreamt I woke up", filmmaker John Boorman (Excalibur) created a dreamy meditation on the notion of home and finding a place to belong.  This paragraph jumped out at me, because it's how I feel, how I've felt as long as I can remember.  That I'm not quite in the place I should be, in order to be really me.

And the world itself has never looked quite right to me.  But when I came here to Wicklow in Ireland twenty two years ago, I felt I had come to a place that had always existed in my imagination.  That here I could somehow come to myself at last.  Is that what home is?  Finding in the outer world a place that coincides with an inner landscape?  What makes a landscape?  Is it the contours, the colours, the light, the rock, the things that grow upon it?  What is the mysterious thing that touches us and says 'This is your place'?

As a descendent of immigrants from another, very different land, I’ve always felt as if I had a foot in two worlds and belonged to neither. This country is the only home I’ve ever known, I know its rhythms, its seasons, its beauty and its frustrations. But culturally, spiritually...this land remains a cipher, a mystery that I cannot take part in beyond a superficial level. This land has a people whose deep and abiding affinity with it has survived against all odds. But I am not of this people, and I cannot truly share in the knowledge they have. I can learn aspects of it out of intellectual curiosity, but I can never embed myself within their culture, I can never belong to it or learn its deepest secrets. I will always be an outsider.

As a child growing up, the stories I read, the cultural traditions I learned, the spiritual teachings I was given were all imported from somewhere else. They did not arise here, out of the soil of this country, in a symbiotic relationship between people and land. They rose out of a different landscape, they were the tales of my ancestors, stories that spoke to my soul, things I seemed to already know even as I was discovering them for the first time. Myths that made my heart sing...and ache. But they did not fit. There was a huge and impassable gulf between the land in the stories and the land beneath my feet.

Great stories, the ones that survive and are most loved, I believe are not created out of the aether, but rather they grow out of the land. They are embedded in it, linked inextricably to it. They have a sense of place and their role is to teach each new generation what that sense of place is. How to behave with respect for the land and its spirits (be they ancestors, or animal spirits...or faeries), how to belong, how to honour the earth beneath your feet in the place where you live so it will continue to sustain you, the place your ancestors have lived for generations. Stories like this hold vital lore. In oral societies it is the only way to pass down from generation to generation the important information that is vital for the survival of the community. Stories are the living library preserving knowledge of what plants are good to eat and when best to harvest them, or which leaves and flowers cure headaches or toothache or soothe a fever. When the animals that are hunted for food or fur will be on the move and what signs to look for. Everything you needed to know.

But what happens when these stories are cut from their roots and transported thousands of miles? Rather like cut flowers they live for a time, but deprived of the soil that sustained them, they eventually wilt and lose their vitality. They no longer speak secrets of the fields or forests they came from, but become something pretty and meaningless to put on the mantelpiece and nothing more. As a child I revelled in stories about faeries and bluebell forests, old magic oak trees and hedgerows, standing stones and King Arthur. But it was all abstract.  I’d never seen a bluebell...or an oak tree...or standing stones. I had no idea what a hedgerow even was. And King Arthur was a name. There was nowhere I could go to see where he might actually fit into the landscape. I knew of Elderflower wine, but I didn’t know what an Elderflower was. And conversely, though I know there are many edible native plants, like most Australians I haven’t got a clue which ones they are. If I was lost in the bush, I wouldn’t know what I could eat and what I couldn’t. I have no LORE passed down about them.  If you blindfolded me and waved a distillation of ‘the bush after rain’ under my nose it would make me hopelessly homesick. But if you said “what is that plant, what is that animal?” I probably cannot tell you. If you point to a wallaby, I can tell you it’s a wallaby. But I can’t tell you which particular kind, what it eats, or its habits. And, more than that, I cannot tell you its stories. I know quite a bit of folklore and mythological associations of animals like foxes, ravens, deer, wolves, cats, dogs, horses, cattle, bears, salmon...and so on. But I don’t know the stories of the wallaby, or the dugite, or the redback spider, or the pink and grey galah, or even the magpie (probably my favourite Australian bird). I can probably find out but they won’t be MY stories. Not the stories of my ancestors. They won’t belong to me and, perhaps even more important, I won’t belong to them. They might be in my head, but they won’t be deep in my bones.

As I grew up, I wanted to be many different things, but I suppose even more than an artist (which I took as a given), I wanted to write. I wanted to write stories like the ones I loved reading, the stories of oak trees and standing stones. But isn’t the first lesson of being a writer, ‘write what you know’? Every time a story bubbled its way into my brain, I’d be stymied before I even started because I didn’t know how to root it in a landscape I could only imagine. And the other possibility is even more fraught with danger. To take Australian indigenous stories and rework them could be considered ‘appropriation’ of the worst kind. How can I give my stories roots in this land when the traditions I grew up with don’t work here, and the ones that do I’m not permitted to use?

Many customs and traditions and folklore didn’t survive the journey across the oceans. The traditions of Easter and Christmas did arrive with my ancestors, but they’re empty of a great deal of meaning here, they are celebrated in seasons that make no sense. Easter is filled with bunnies and chocolate eggs and baby chickens...just as autumn is beginning to kick in. Christmas is celebrated with plastic pine trees, the original symbolism of an evergreen tree completely lost in a land where leaves don't fall even in autumn, let alone summer. I remember the excitement I felt as a child when spray-on fake snow appeared in the shops...we could make our windows look like something out of ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Dickens.  Just like a REAL Christmas! Except of course our houses didn’t look right and it was too hot to even pretend it had snowed. It’s no use just swapping the seasons around, celebrating May Day in October for example. Our winter is short and mild...a pleasant respite from the harsh summer. I don’t feel at all like celebrating when it’s on the way out and summer is rushing headlong in. Yet spring brings with it a burst of colour as even the desert blooms, and summer is our harvest time. But again, it is harvest time for imported species. I don’t know what is fruiting among the native flora.  Spring brings daffodils out, and in November every street nearby is awash with mauve as the jacarandas bloom.  Summer here is cherries and peaches, apricots and grapes. These are my indicators of seasonal changes. Aliens to the land I live in. Nothing I know fits.

And yet I love this land deeply and I don’t know if I could ever live anywhere else. Perhaps for a while, but my heart would always be where the sun sets over the sea by white beaches, where the smell of eucalypt trees after rain is like a magical essence powerful enough to wake the dead. Where the first flush of green after the long, brown summer makes my heart sing. The smell of peppermint trees down by the Blackwood River, the utter beauty of Green’s Pool near Denmark. The sound of the dawn chorus...could I live without the sound of magpies warbling?

So what can I do? I want to find a way to live (and perhaps even have a go at writing) that roots my traditions, my ancestors’ stories, into this land so that they truly live and breathe and grow in this landscape, a way that harmonises with but does not in any way compromise the traditions of the people who have been here for more than forty thousand years. It’s got to be possible, somehow. Because I honestly believe that until we late-comers find a way to truly belong to this country, we will carry on misunderstanding it, exploiting it, destroying it, and denigrating its first people and their traditions.  We need to create lore (rather than law) of this land in a way that roots us here, making us part of the intricate web that binds everything. Because until we do that we’ll only ever be visitors, temporary residents scratching the surface. We will never truly be home.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

If music be the food of love...........

I've been thinking a lot about music lately, how powerful it is, how it makes you feel, how it can elicit such a deep and almost instinctual response.  How it can take you by surprise and totally undo you and leave you in a sobbing mess.  My mum tells me that when my brother and I were little, she thought I would be the musician and he the artist.  It turned out the other way round...but not entirely, my multi-talented brother can still draw beautifully.  And I wonder sometimes whether music is actually closer to my heart than painting or drawing.

But...that's all a thought (and quite possibly a much longer post) for another day.  I've been sewing the last couple of days, making aprons for moi and for someone special's up-coming birthday (I don't think she reads my blog, but you never know).  Also today, the munchkins begged to be shown how to sew with the machine, so I gritted my teeth, tried to breathe calmly and deeply (they probably can't really sew their finger by accident...I don't think), and showed them some basics.  Pictures of aprons may follow in a couple days, but biggest munchkin wanted to put a CD on while I was sewing and chose a favourite I haven't listened to for a while, Loreena McKennitt's "An Ancient Muse".  Listening to 'The English Ladye and The Knight' made me want to put down the sewing and pick up the guitar.  So I did, and had a fiddle around trying to work out the chords, and which fret to capo, to be in tune.  Took about half an hour of playing it over and over, but I finally found a combination that seemed to match well enough.  Had a whack at recording it a little while ago.  I'm just too impatient, I don't want to wait till I've practiced it properly I want to do it NOW, so the chords are very dodgy, and I was reading the words off the screen as I sang...and my nose is rather stuffed up.  Not the best conditions, but what the heck.  Here it is, and the gorgeous original is posted below!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What I did in the hols...

Did you ever have to write an essay on that at school?!  Here's a 'photo essay' of the last couple of weeks while the girls were at home for the long Easter break.

Ink paintings with biggest Munchkin while littlest was at a birthday party.

Lovely things in the post.  Cards from my girls posted from their Nanny's down south.  And 5 tiny ceramic robins make by Makiko Hastings.  Makiko is endeavouring to make 1000 robins to sell to raise funds for Japan.  You can read about her HERE.

The munchkins have lately been pestering for a treasure hunt.  Hmmm, what could this be on the old dining table?

Goodness me, could it be?  An ancient map, hundreds of years old, surely?!  Hmm, looks like a pretty dangerous place to be, what with dragons and wolves, witches and goblins.  But where does the map lead?

Ahhh, a long list of clues that must be followed to the letter!  I probably got a little carried away with the clues, I wasn't intending for them to rhyme all the way through, but they just started off like that and kept going, and I was having fun.  So the munchkins packed lunch, and their invisibility spells and Goblin spying stones, and set off like two intrepid explorers.  Kept them amused for all of an hour (they did it twice and I had to go back and hide the treasure the same spot!)

And while I was playing about with paper and tea...and tea bags...

I've never cut open a tea bag before...that's what they look like.  Tea and some added Sepia ink.

Makes an interesting kind of print.  I rather like this, but what am I going to do with it?

All just playing around with no thought gone into it, so I made a little book of nothing, just for fun.

I really like it, but there's something in me that says a book needs words...or pictures.  Or it's not really a book.  I don't know, do you think it's finished?!

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Wildwood comes to the City, and the Gypsies carouse in the 'burbs....

Oh the tangled and wonderful paths the web pixies lead us away on...........

I watched Art Nation last night.  The program ended with a song by a group I've never heard of, but I'll be looking forward to hearing more, called The Tiger and Me.  Gypsy music is sweeping the world it seems, and the accordion has become cool (all those chunky little boys in velvet tuxedos with ruffles, competing on Young Talent Time in the 70s, have finally got the last laugh!)  I want to play in a band like that!

So this morning, I thought I'd do a web search for Tiger and Me, and see what I came up with.  Beloved has the radio in the studio permanently tuned to Triple J, and as I was searching, some very cool gypsyesque/punkish fiddle music came on.  Wow, I thought, that could be them!  So I turned it up to listen and catch the name of the band at the end.  No, it wasn't The Tiger and Me, it was a group called The Crooked Fiddle Band.  So while I was at it, I looked up them too.

Found both of them on Youtube (yay, I love Youtube).  How cool, I've discovered 2 brilliant new Aussie bands!  Then, as you do, I scanned the column down the right hand know, the 'suggestions'.  One caught my eye, because the tiny still showed a man wearing a wild, almost 'greenman', looking mask. A song called 'Rabbit Song' by a band called Boy and Bear.  So I clicked on it and watched.  Oh I just love this's every frustrated 9-5 (or more like 7.30 to 6.30 these days) office worker's dream come true.  It made me think of Bordertown, which I've been discovering recently (having missed it as a 'Young Adult' reader).  And then, I noticed another video of theirs that looked off I went again!

So here you are, for your pleasure, 4 videos by 3 cool Aussie bands that I didn't even know existed 24 hours ago!  Ahhh, the magic of the world wide web!

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