I love a good family story or tradition, especially one that gets etched into the conversation patterns and banter for years to come. A moment of humour or a funny experience becomes part of who we are, both individually and collectively.
One of those stories half belongs to our great friend, Lindsay. He is a super nice person, and we’ve been friends for at least twenty years.
On one particular occasion maybe fifteen years ago, maybe more, he and I were outside doing some work on the farm that my husband and I were living on, and where Lindsay was a regular and most welcome visitor. I can’t remember what were talking about, but I remember this part of the conversation vividly.
We laughed. We told my husband the story. And it stuck. We still “do the routine” at least once a week. It honestly never gets old.
Monday was one of those days. After the lines were said and the laughter was had, I thought for a while, as I have often done before, about how clever a comeback it was.
I also thought about exactly what I am full of. It wasn’t much of a surprise to me when those thoughts began to turn into a poem. That’s what my thoughts do.
I had to go out today. There was sunshine. There were people. It was traumatic.
My driver’s license expires on Thursday, so my husband agreed to take me to the next town where I could get the photo taken, sign the form, and give a chunk of my cash to the government for a new one.
I did my hair, put on real clothes instead of pyjamas, and put on some makeup.
I thought I was doing okay for someone recovering from surgery, so I sent a snap to my best friend.
Naturally, she was both encouraging and completely understanding of why I made the extra effort. She is consistently awesome like that.
Let’s face it, you don’t want to be thinking “Oh yeah, that was that month where I spent two weeks nearly dying from a mystery chest infection and then ended up having spinal surgery after screaming non-stop for four days!” every time you look at your license photo for the next ten years, do you?
The drive to Camperdown wasn’t too bad. I had the seat reclined a fair way because I still can’t sit comfortably for more than about eight minutes, and my husband was pretty good at missing the worst of the bumps.
I walked from the car to the shire offices without too much trouble. I didn’t have to wait long, thankfully, and everything went smoothly so that the license renewal was taken care of in just a few minutes.
Then my husband suggested we call at the supermarket to pick up something for dinner. My approach to grocery shopping is quite pragmatic: get in, get what you need, and get out. I thought I could handle that, even at this stage of my recovery.
Of course, it’s never that simple when you really need it to be. I wasn’t two meters through the door of the store when an acquaintance stopped me for a chat. I had the cart to hold onto – what a clever disguise for an disability support walker that was! – and it was a very good thing, because just standing there, I could feel myself fading and the sweat breaking out on my skin as I tried to pretend there was nothing wrong. In the end, I told her I had to go and staggered off to find my husband, who had been gathering the things we needed and had his arms full of stuff. We went to find the last couple of things, and that was when he pointed out the Harry Potter Quidditch Match LEGO set.
That may not seem significant to you, but Harry Potter and LEGO are both big-ticket items in my world. I didn’t have to rationalise anything. It was coming home with me. I left the set with Aragog behind, though, because while Hagrid may love giant spiders, I do not.
We got through the checkout and back to the car, and my lower back where I had the surgery last week was really starting to hurt.
The road seemed longer and much bumpier on the way home than it had on the way there. I was really thankful that I wasn’t sitting upright, and tried not to complain but couldn’t help making those awkward little little grunty noise that you make when something hurts and you try to just grit your teeth but the sound gets out anyway.
When we got home I had to take some ibuprofen and lie down. I didn’t even take a moment first to look at my new LEGO set. And once again, I am writing a blog post on my iPad while lying flat on my back.
The good thing is that my driver’s license is good for another ten years.
The not-so-good thing is that I know I am nowhere near ready to use it.
Sometimes I wonder what people think when I say I write poetry.
Cute little greeting card verses? No.
Lofty, unintelligible, old-fashioned rhymes about flowers and oil paintings? No.
Trite rhymes that talk about love and sunshine? No.
I have to admit, I’m very tired of the “That’s nice, dear!” kind of responses.
I’m also more than weary of the sensation that I have to just about stand under a red light on a dimly lit street to get people to take my poetry seriously.
I’m not talking about my readers here. I’m talking about people I interact with in my daily life, be they co-workers, acquaintances, family members or friends. Other than a very small number of individuals within those circles – for whose support I am ever grateful – it feels like most people in my life prefer to pretend I’ve never written a word.
I know they’re not my main audience. I don’t expect them all to love everything I write. In all honesty, most of them have never even picked any of my work up to read it.
The question remains, though: Why aren’t they more willing to support me? Do I mean so little them that what matters to me is of no value, either?
I have commented on numerous occasions that there is a part of my soul in every poem. My poems speak my pain, my love, my joy, my life lessons, my resolutions, my fears, my anger, my insomnia, my restlessness and my contentment. Some of them are the very essence of my desperation to survive and my will to live. Some of them could only be more “life and death” if they were actually written in my blood.
Do people not understand the bravery that it takes for an author to put their words on paper and unveil them in front of the whole world? That kind of vulnerability is, quite honestly, terrifying.
I experience this far more profoundly with my poetry than I do with my fiction. It’s far more personal, and it’s definitely more revealing of what’s in my own heart and mind than any of the stories I write. That’s why I am so committed to crafting each poem to say exactly what I want it to, in a way that is beautiful to read, and with careful attention to the music and structure of each poem. If I’m putting my soul out there for other people to read, it’s going to be the best that I can make it.
My readers tell me that my poems encourage and move them. The ultimate satisfaction as a poet is knowing that my words matter to the people who read them. They get it. And thank God they do, or else I’d be feeling more dejected than ever.
The other weirdly encouraging thing is that this isn’t something that only I experience. These are thoughts and feelings that are remarkably common among the writing community, and I have come to learn that they are common to all creative people, whatever medium they work in.
It’s why I am so thankful for my community of fellow authors and poets and other creative people who encourage and celebrate one another’s creativity and the courage that goes with it.
It’s why I am doubly grateful for my “additional family” that are known as the Indie Fabs – they’re my posse, my constant encouragers, and my soft place to fall when things are hard.
It’s why I am doubly grateful for those few family members and friends who support everything I do, read everything I create, and cheer me on relentlessly.
It’s not overstating things to say that I am still here because of my writing, and I am still writing because of them.
If you appreciated this post, please leave a like or a comment below to help it be seen by other readers.
Yesterday I signed a paperback copy of my latest book for my best friend. I have written something personal and unique to her and our friendship in her copy of every one of my books.
Yesterday’s effort was by far my favourite.
You should understand that this is not a promise I’m willing to make to just anyone. Anyone who has read ‘A Poet’s Curse’, for example, will have worked that out very quickly.
Jokes are frequently made about authors putting people in a book and killing them, but most don’t realise just how satisfying and therapeutic that can be.
Oh, we change the name and some minor details, but the important thing is that we know who we’re finishing off, even if the rest of the world doesn’t. And you know, it is important to conceal the true identities of our victims because, in the end, nobody wants it to backfire or get ugly.
I have, in fact, had a number of people ask me if a particular poem or story was about them. Rather than confirming or denying anything, I’ve gone the “self-examination” route. Each of them received the same answer: “If you think that’s a possibility, I suggest you to take a long, hard look at yourself and how you treat people. It might be time to do some repairs.
As an author, I can have my macabre little cake and eat it, too. And as an extra reward for good behaviour, I get to keep my best friend. Bonus!
In the course of my life, I’ve had – as we all have – friendships and relationships that have faltered, grown distant and faded away.
A couple of times, I have had someone say to me that they never want to talk to me again. Once, and only once, it has been my decision to completely shut off contact. On those three occasions, I have had no difficulty slamming that door and leaving it that way. Nobody does a door slam like an INFJ, after all.
Last night, I read the equivalent of those words again. “Nice knowing you. I won’t ever talk to you again.”
It’s different this time. Even if I wanted to, I don’t think I could slam that door.
What I really want to do is reach through that door, grab her and pull her back through it. I want to hug her, and see for myself that she’s okay, and tell her I love her. And I can’t do any of those things.
I’m locked in by her decision. She’s 16 and has asserted her independence and her right to do whatever she wants. Check mate.
As with many of the decisions she has made lately, I have no choice but to wait and see what happens. I do hope that she will come to understand exactly what it is she has asked for – sooner rather than later – and decide that it’s not what she wants at all. In all honesty, I don’t know if that’s realistic or not.
I am not her mother, but as her “other mother”, I have lived with her and loved her as my own since she was nine years old. Any influence I may have had over her or her decisions in the past is well and truly a thing of the past. She is quite obviously able and free to decide who she wants to have in her life. What she doesn’t realise is that my care and concern for her do not shut off simply because she wills it, as though it were some kind of emotional tap. She doesn’t get to decide that the time we spent together means nothing. And she cannot stop me, or the rest of her family, from loving her, missing her, or worrying about her.
Rejection is never an easy thing to experience. It really, really hurts. Even so, I know that my hurt is nothing like what her mother is experiencing— it’s a mere fraction of that.
Today has been an emotionally messy day in a succession of similarly messy and fraught weeks. I know we will get through this somehow. I have to keep telling myself that.
Like everything else life has thrown at me, I will face this head on. Maybe I can’t change anything, but I will not let this drag me down and defeat me.
Expect more poetry, though. It’s the only therapy I can afford.
My friend and colleague Kath and I went to the city yesterday for a professional development seminar.
As it finished late in the afternoon, we decided to break the 230km trip home with dinner. We stopped at a place we both enjoy, and had a great burger and fries, and some brilliant onion rings.
Leaving the restaurant, we waited at the lights outside to cross the street. That little red man stayed red for ages, and we must have stood there for at least five minutes waiting for the lights to change. As it turns out, we’re not such law-abiding citizens as all that: it was cold, so in the end we just crossed because there was nobody around. We were expecting the lights to change when we were half-way across, but they didn’t.
I made jokes about him being a very angry red man who was no longer doing anything for anyone.
Kath made jokes about the next car to come along sitting at the lights, which by then would have changed, and the driver shaking their fist at waiting for a red light when there was nobody wanting to cross the street.
Our levity changed direction a little when we got to the car, and found that the car parked behind us had been parked really badly, which has been a pet peeve of mine lately, because I know you actually have to learn to park a car properly to get your licence. Having snapped a photo for posterity, and possibly for Instagram, we got into the car and pulled into the street for the drive home. There was no traffic to merge with – just us, so that was easy.
As we approached that very same set of traffic lights, they were still green. And right before we got there, they changed.
We sat in the car waiting for that red light for another five minutes. And we laughed and we laughed, because we’re English teachers, and we understand irony.
Today is ANZAC Day: the day on which Australians and New Zealanders stop to commemorate and reflect on the sacrifice of all those who served our countries – very often side by side – in World War I, and ever since.
113 years after the ANZAC forces stormed the beaches and clambered up the cliffs at Gallipoli, we stand in sombre silence and remember the enormous losses of life suffered on that day, and every other day, during major conflicts like the two World Wars. Every year, attendance at dawn services, ANZAC Day marches, and commemoration ceremonies around Australia grows, even though all the soldiers who fought in World War I, and many who fought in World War II, have passed away.
Peter Rock, the MC at this morning’s ceremony at the cenotaph in my local town, made a profound observation in the early moments of his opening speech: “Those who are surprised by the fact that ANZAC Day commemorations continue to draw record attendance understand very little of our national character.” He went on to speak about how and why we remember those who fought and sacrificed themselves for our freedom. Their bravery is renowned, but so is their commitment despite adversity, their mateship, and their love for their country. He’s absolutely right – those are qualities that have indeed become part of our national character. Our freedom and our mateship are the rewards of their courage and service.
That’s something my town has been reminded of in recent weeks. This time, our enemy was fire, and our battle was fought with water and fire retardant foam, not with bullets and mortars. Those who faced the danger and fought to keep the rest of us safe did so knowing they were putting themselves at risk, but that didn’t stop them. Behind the fire front, they were supported by others who worked tirelessly to supply and feed them, but also to care for those who had to flee from the fires, and for all those who were traumatised by them in various ways. Of course, it’s a very different scale to what was experienced by the soldiers who went to war, but the selflessness and the determination to serve and protect is the same.
Thankfully, no lives were lost in that particular war, although there were numerous casualties in terms of homes and livelihoods. It has been relentless and exhausting, yet our community has come together yet again to help, support, and defend. People may have lost their houses, but they are not homeless: we are their home, and we will make sure they have what they need to start over and keep going. In true Aussie fashion, our local community has been incredibly generous, as have many people from beyond the local area. There really is no better place to live.
Today’s ceremony was, as always, very well attended. Representatives from service groups, churches, local government organisations, school students and professional organisations laid wreaths in memory of the fallen. Families stood together, some wearing medals that belonged to fathers, uncles, or grandparents who served in the military and have since passed on. The flags of both Australia and New Zealand were flown at half mast until after the minute of silent reflection, and the national anthems of both countries were sung. Tears – whether of sorrow for the fallen, of thankfulness for the freedom we enjoy, of patriotic pride, or a combination of all those factors – were shed.
This afternoon, there’s a big concert being held on the local football ground, not just to raise funds for fire relief, but also to give some joy and celebration back to a community that has done some really hard yards over the past six weeks. Talents from both the local area and further afield will be performing. Local businesses are providing catering, entertainment, and every other service that’s needed.
And you can bet your bottom dollar that the locals are going to turn out in force to support that concert, and each other, because that’s what we do. We stick together in times of trouble, and we cheer each other on in our victories. In doing that on ANZAC Day, we will continue to remember the lessons we learned from the ANZACS and all our other diggers.
At the going down of the sun, just as we did in the morning, we WILL remember them.
‘The Artist’ is one of my favourite poems from ‘Leaf’, my first published book of poetry.
The inspiration for this poem came from my long-time friend Nicky, who is an gifted artist.
Nicky was one of the people who really pushed me to pursue publication of my poetry. She is an infinite source of encouragement and support, but more than that, she is a loyal and constant friend and confidant.
I should preface this story by pointing out that I’ve never been good at drawing or painting. My grandfather was an artist. My sister once painted a brilliant life-size portrait of Charlie Chaplin that covered her bedroom door for years. My mother could draw animals, people, and groovy designs with a ball point pen and make them look fantastic.
And then, there’s me. The only thing I can draw is cash from an ATM, and the occasional stick figure.
One day, Nicky showed me one of her beautiful paintings, which she had just completed. I gazed at it for a while, and sighed,”I wished I could do that.”
Without missing a beat, she replied, “You do. You just do it with words.”
That came as a real revelation to me. At that point in my life, I just wrote poetry for myself, and shared the ones I liked with a couple of friends. I didn’t really consider myself a poet as such, nor did I think I’d ever be published.
With those words, she inspired this poem.
As a poem, I believe it hass integrity. It feels and sounds good when reading it aloud, and the rhythm works well with the ideas of making brush strokes and splashing a bit of paint around. At the end, it’s a reflection of that moment when the artist stands back and is surprised by what she finds on the easel in front of her.
The artist in the poem is definitely me. Like the artworks in the poem, some of my writing is vivid and colourful, while other pieces are dark and tear-smudged. Even a poem that appears to be fictional, like ‘Misery’ – which has been included in a fairy tale anthology! – is deeply rooted in my own reality.
I have very great affection for ‘The Artist’ for the truth it tells about my own experience as a poet, but I also love the fact that it will always be about my friendship with Nicky, too. Without her inspiration and encouragement, I might still just have a bunch of notebooks full of poems that nobody else would ever read.
I first told ‘The Artist’s story when Nicky spoke at my book launch for ‘Leaf’ in June, 2016. Completely unaware of the story behind the poem or the fact that she had inspired it, Nicky chose ‘The Artist’ as the poem she would like to read to the guests. When she finished her reading and speech, I followed with the account of the poem’s inspiration. It was a beautiful moment in time that highlighted the wonderful thing that we share in our friendship.
I hope you enjoyed ‘The Artist’ and the story behind it. If you appreciated this post, please click “like” below so that others find it more easily. You’re also welcome to leave a comment. Thank you in advance.
Writing about family can be fraught with danger. The last thing you want to do as a writer is offend or alienate your family, especially if things are already fragile in some way.
That poses a challenge: what happens when there’s something you desperately want to write about? For starters, writers should know to always, always change names and details. If possible, don’t mention names at all. Even when writing about positive feelings or experiences, people who aren’t used to putting themselves out into the public eye might hesitate to have something written about them and published. A great idea for a story or poem should never be pursued at the cost of an important relationship.
When I do write something about friends or family, I make sure they’ve seen it first, and I tell them I’m going to publish it. That way, they can’t say they didn’t know.
For example, I recently wrote a poem after two completely separate events: one was the wedding of my nephew, the other was a conversation with a friend who had recently lost her own nephew in tragic circumstances. The poem, titled My Child, does not mention anyone by name, nor does it mention those particular situations. It is an expression of my feelings – and my friend’s feelings – for those whom we have loved, held, and helped to raise. This is what I sent to “my children” and to my friend, well over a week before I posted it. That same text is what I posted on my writing blog where I published the poem today.
The other alternative, of course, if you feel you must write about something or someone, is to disguise the situation and details enough so they don’t know it’s about them. I’ve written plenty of poems about broken friendships, people in my life who have been determined to cause me trouble, and others who really deserve some special treatment from Karma, but it’s always been presented as me facing an invisible, unnamed challenger or enemy… or a certain black cat named Friday who metes out justice to people who really deserve it. It is not possible for anyone to identify who I was writing about at the time, and that’s a very good thing.
As a writer, it’s important to protect oneself. The last thing you want is something coming back to haunt you.
And if you’re a friend or family member of a writer, remember that age old piece of advice: Never annoy a writer, or they might put you in a book and kill you. It’s true.
Today I accompanied my school’s Middle Year students on a trip to the cinema to see ‘Wonder’, a new film based on the bestselling book by the same name about a boy who has facial differences.Jacob Tremblay plays August Pullman, alongside Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson who play his parents. The stage is set when the Pullmans decide that Auggie should start 5th Grade in a mainstream school, having been homeschooled by his mother until then. Mandy Patinkin plays a very wise and empathetic school Principal, Mr Tushman.
What a sad world we live in when a kid gets less attention walking through the city or a park wearing a space helmet than he does when wearing his own face. It’s human nature, I know, but that doesn’t make it okay. This film challenges that “default setting” in a very compelling way.
Auggie’s teacher, Mr Brown, challenges the kids to ask themselves: What sort of person am I?
This movie challenges every audience member to ask themselves the same question. How do I deal with difference? What does my face tell them? What kind of friend am I? What monuments do my deeds leave?
The audience feels sympathetic to Auggie long before they see his face. When he says, “I know I’ll never be an ordinary kid ordinary kids don’t make others run away from playgrounds” it’s like a punch in the stomach that leaves you winded.
As the movie rolls on, we also see that the “regular” kids like Auggie’s sister, Via, have their own challenges with acceptance and friendship, even without the extra challenges that some kids face. Over and over, this film reminds me again just how cruel kids— and people in general— can be, in so many ways.
The journey of discovering who is real and who is not is often painful and traumatic. Together, Auggie and Via realise that they are each other’s best friends, and lean to rely on each other for the support and love that they need to get through each day.
The development of genuine friendship reminds us that looking past the surface to really see someone is what makes a crucial difference to anyone, but especially those who are so aware of that surface. There is also a painful reminder that even the nice kids can make mistakes when they focus on appearances instead of who someone really is.
This movie delivers so many powerful lessons about accepting others and even more about accepting ourselves. In both cases, we need to learn to live according to the precept established by Mr Brown in Auggie’s first lesson in 5th Grade: “When you have.a choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.”
It sounds simple— perhaps too simple. But is it?
The hardest part may be in finding the willingness to step out of our comfort zones and open our own minds to each other and the possibilities that our differences bring.
Everyone old enough to understand the difference between kindness and judgement should see this film.