Saturday, December 19, 2015


There is little not to love about a mixtape, especially a well thought-out, emotionally invested one. I think the days of having to press record and play on your trusty tape player made them even more of a gift, but perhaps I'm just being nostalgic. One of my uni assignments this semester was to make a mixtape with words rather than music, to recall songs heard during pivotal life moments and how they made me feel. So I pressed rewind and this is what happened.

Homeward Bound, Simon & Garfunkel 

I am 21 years old and two weeks into an indefinite stay in England when I find myself on a bus bound for the quaintly named Cotswolds. The grey of the sky and surrounding countryside has begun seeping into my bones. In my Sony Walkman I have a cassette, and Simon & Garfunkel are serenading me, in their strange and mournful way, as the bus window frames an endlessly rolling film and the soundtrack plays on in my head. I am heading to a job interview that might keep me here in England, and the thought of that is both slightly exciting and thoroughly depressing at the same time. The job is – again quaintly named – Mother’s Help, which if it were anywhere but the Cotswolds would have me thinking about Mick Jagger and running for the shelter of her Mother’s Little Helper, but I’m not in central London any more. 

I’m sittin’ in a railway station, got a ticket for my destination. On a tour of one-night stands, my suitcase and guitar in hand, and every stop is neatly planned for a poet and a one-man band. Homeward bound, I wish I was homeward bound.  

This music was made for these lonely grey fields, made for this bus ride to God knows where, this exact moment in my life when, not for the last time, things could seriously go either way. But the only way I really want to go is home.

Don’t Stand So Close to the Window, Paul Kelly
The rain has left rivers of salt on the outside of my bedroom window, but I am one storey up and would be risking death to regain my view. Ocean glimpses are nice, but they don’t mean that much to me. 
It’s my first flat – solid brick, Art Deco, a block of four two streets from the beach.  Spinster pad doesn’t have quite the same ring as the male equivalent, but that’s what it is. On summer afternoons I open all the windows and let the sea in. Then I try not to drown. I turn up Paul Kelly on my new stereo and forget that I have to work tomorrow. The window sills are wide enough to sit on and I usually do. Sometimes I imagine falling from here, leaning too far out the open window while I wait for the sound of his car. Oh my love, how we fell. What we’ve done now we never can tell. 
From where I am sitting I cannot see the bars.

Flame Trees, Sarah Blasko
I’m a million miles from a Blue Light Disco and Barnesy’s version of this song when I first hear Sarah Blasko spinning it from bogan anthem into poetry. I am days away from redundancy after holding a job I neither love nor hate for the past twenty years, and the heartache is rolling in and out like coal ships on a far too familiar horizon. This town and I have history, but who’s to say it’s not just sentimental bullshit? She sings these words like they’ve never been screamed by a hundred drunken bodies in a hundred beer-soaked back bars, and when she pitches that line: Do you remember, nothing stopped us on the field, in our day?  I am lost to an emotion with unknown origins. No longer young, no longer wanted on the factory floor, and wondering who will go and who will stay. Which one of us can tell the biggest lies?

Here If You Want, The Waifs

She’s alone on the stage, single spotlight, sweaty from a full set with the band, but there is something else she needs to say and she’s saying it to me. I could hazard a guess, but I’ll never know, why you put these walls up I can’t get through. It’s as though you want to be lonely and blue. There is just her voice in a cavernous theatre but it finds me. Over and over again it finds me. It pierces through the weight on my chest, through the cage that is my ribs, and sets the leaden bird free.

The Unwelcome Guest, Billy Bragg and Wilco
This song is my constant companion on the late and lonely drive back along the freeway from Sydney to Newcastle. I have babies in bed but I skulk through the dark mist and midnight like a robber on horseback. I don’t have a shiny black Bess, like Billy does, but a silver hatchback to carry me home from a night’s work. I’ve been lured by the big guns, The Financial Review, to do some casual work after my longest break from journalism in a decade. Like Billy’s highwayman, I’m doing it for the money and my conscience chooses the midnight run home to get the better of me. 
I don’t know good horse, as we trot in this dark here, if robbing the rich is for worse or for best. They take it by stealing, and lying and gambling, and I take it my way, my shiny black Bess.

Friday, December 18, 2015

write on

There’s an entry in one of my schoolgirl journals, circa 1986, that proclaims the great life decision I made after watching The World According To Garp. I wanted to be a writer, my 14-year-old self said. A real writer. I have done many things since that particular journal entry, but I have never wavered from that desire. Writing is the only thing I do without second-guessing myself, without feeling like maybe I’m in the wrong place and I should give up before somebody figures that out. I do it because I love it, because it exorcises my demons and exercises my mind, which has been known to turn upon itself if it doesn’t get its daily run around the block. This year I’ve been studying writing – my own and others – and I have been compelled to sit down and write when otherwise I might have put it off. It has been wonderful. It has reminded me of my teenage dream to be a real writer, and pushed me to submit some of my stories to places where I hope they might be appreciated. One of those places was the sublime womankind magazine, and although they will not be publishing the five-day meditation journal I wrote as part of their competition, I enjoyed the process of writing it and hope you might enjoy reading it. In the past few weeks I am becoming accustomed to things not turning out as planned. My first instinct is to blame myself for being less than an ideal person, or candidate, or writer. But first instincts aren’t always accurate, and so I have decided to try focusing on the many wonderful things I do have in my life, rather than the few things I don’t. If you are casting your eyes over these words, then thankyou. You are one of the pluses.

Monday, November 22
At a little round table with two seats, on the edge of a footpath at the edge of a busy city, my friend and I are catching up on an absence of a few months. In the fabric that is 30 years of friendship, these dropped stitches are easily caught. Our families, our newest discoveries, our latest endeavours are worked into an effortless conversation that comes from having known one another for three-quarters of our lives. We pick up our common threads and weave them into a beautiful two hours of easy and joyful companionship, a meditation on the changing nature of life and the everlasting nature of friendship that fills me with gratitude.

Tuesday, November 23
The afternoon shade has fallen on our backyard trampoline and my five-year-old daughter is trying out some tricks for me. “Watch me Mummy”, she says over and over until it finally sinks in, into my brain which is beginning to rewire itself for baths and dinner and bedtime. So I stop myself and I watch. Really watch. I see her small but strong legs send her flying into the air, see her arms hold her there for a split second before she lands again. She  asks me to count how many bounces .. 22, 23, 24 .. and there is nothing else but to watch. Watch me Mummy.

Wednesday, November 24
It is the kind of day that signals its intentions not long after dawn, when the air should be fresh and welcoming but instead is a hangover from the unbearable heat of the day before. There will be no respite today, the sluggish morning seems to say. And while I curse the broken air-conditioning in my car, as well as my pitiful reliance on it, I need only wait a few hours to receive my blessing.  As I leave an evening meeting for the short drive home under a celestial full moon and a sky full of stars, it is not artificially chilled air that sustains me but the still, cool evening air blowing in through the open windows.

Thursday, November 25
The warmth of the sun is held in the sheets as I take them down from the clothesline, folding them roughly as a matter of course even though I know they are destined to return to the beds they came from. There is merciful shade over this part of the backyard now, and having gathered my washing I join our six hens in their own afternoon gathering place, though my mood and movement are much slower than theirs. I sit on the cool grass just for a moment to watch them, their eyes intent on every patch of dirt or inch of lawn they happen to be hovering over. I envy them their focus, their innate but somehow effortless work ethic, their simple but admirable life. Watching them makes me feel peaceful, and I can’t help but smile.

Friday, November 26
The meditative act of writing has been with me since I was young, although I have only recently begun to recognise it as such. What began in me as a compulsion and was received by many as a talent has now become so much more. It is a daily practice, a revered process that may not always produce great quantities or uniform quality but is nonetheless a priceless gift to myself and my sense of connection. I am grateful for what it teaches me and expands in me every day, just as I am grateful for the inspiration that comes from reading the words of others.