Writing on Writing? Somewhere in Perth, Part 3

In response to last week’s post, a friend made the very reasonable suggestion that readers may be more interested in my retreat than my reaction to Miranda Seymour’s biography of Mary Shelley.

While I agree,  work on my novel has stalled due to recurring anxiety and another problem I’d rather not have to deal with. While I can handle both, they have interrupted my work. In the meantime I’ve diligently maintained my version of a writer’s most important tool: the ‘Daily Pages’, or my version of it.

person holding blue ballpoint pen writing in notebook
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In 1992, Julia Cameron published a book recommending artists practice various techniques and exercises to help them become more self-confident and access their creativity. Cameron’s ‘Morning Pages’ are ‘stream of consciousness’  reflections written in longhand, on any topic that may help an artist


 clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the [working] day at hand.

Cameron was not the first to recommend this practice (nor did she claim to be). Writers in particular use various methods to ‘kick start’ their writing sessions; open any book on writing and you will invariably find a section on keeping a ‘writer’s notebook’, ‘writer’s journal,’ or similar. My own journey as a writer was encouraged when reading Steinbeck’s Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters when I was still a teenager. Maybe that’s why I find writing about writing easier than writing a novel?

There is no one way to keep a writing diary, morning pages or daily pages; my problem, born of writing a personal journal for over thirty years, is my daily pages often lack any reference to my novel, how I structure it, develop my characters or explore my themes. I tend to focus on my private life when I’d be better served planning and shaping my work, and thinking about what I am doing and why. This is important during the writing process, and more so at the editing stage.

What I needed was ‘technical’ prompts to help me think about my novel and how it might develop. Earlier this week, while struggling to work on my novel, I created the following list of prompts to help stimulate my process:

Record of Current Writing Project: ideas, influences, inspirations, mythological themes or structures to explore; prompts used; proposed and modified schedule; which stage I’m in (in terms of pre-writing, planning, drafting, crafting, structural and micro editing); work to do on genre, plot, conflict, character, setting, theme, dialogue, symbols, sharing/seeking feedback; time frame (drafting, editing, ready to read, ready to go); feedback from readers…

I now have a focus for writing about my writing. For example, the theme I want to explore is that of the lost or wandering child: what or who does she encounter that helps or hinders her journey and how am I expressing that? Where am I in terms of my time frame and do I need to return to the planning stage before I can continue?

woman wearing beaded white necklace
Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

I hope these prompts will ensure my daily pages won’t just be a rant about my current problems but a way to think about and re-engage with the work I’m here to do.


Your comments: I’d love to hear from other writers on how you reflect on your work in progress. Do you keep a writer’s journal? If so, why? If not, why not?

The Rights of Women: Somewhere in Perth Part 2

The first week of my retreat did not go as well as I planned or imagined. This is understandable. Very little in life meets our expectations; one of life’s crucial skills is learning to adapt and be content with what we can achieve. In my case I managed over 4,000 words, not bad considering I failed to stick to a writing routine. Perhaps I am not a writer who can follow a routine? Then again, if I stick to my routine in the coming week I may achieve more in terms of word count. The point is, I have been writing. My novel boasts more words today than this time last week, though their quality will be tested during the first edit.

I have also been surprised to learn that my imposed solitude has not been as pleasant as I hoped. My accommodation is excellent, I am eating well, I have access to the internet and a mobile phone but I never sleep well when alone and this week has been a challenge for me. I am positive this will settle down, but in the short term those 4,000 plus words might be the result of a tired and occasionally overwrought mind. I’ll let you know how I have coped with this challenge next week.

The real pleasure of this first week comes from reading Miranda Seymour’s Mary Shelley. It’s been on my shelf for years and I am glad I had the sense to bring it with me.

Mary Shelley, nee Godwin, was the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, an early feminist and author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women, and William Godwin, a political philosopher. Godwin_Wolstonecraft

Best known as the author of Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, Mary Shelley started writing the book when she was only eighteen, barely two years after she ran away with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley in July 1814. Percy Shelley, mercurial and impulsive, declared his love to the sixteen year old Mary, a love she ardently requited, despite his marriage at nineteen to the then sixteen-year-old Harriet Westbrook. Harriet had one child, a daughter, and was pregnant with her second child when Percy ran off to France with Mary and her sister Jane (also known as Claire Clairmont).

When Harriet committed suicide in 1816, Mary and Percy were free to marry, albeit reluctantly. Early in their relationship Percy Shelley hoped to create a commune ‘in which sexual freedom could be practiced,’ and, like Mary’s parents, they were both religious skeptics.

Mary and Percy were together for only eight years. From the begining the relationship was severely tested, particularly prior to Percy’s death in Italy in July 1822. The couple were always short of money. Percy Shelley’s aristocratic father refused to support him and they had to move constantly to avoid their debtors. Mary gave birth to four children, three of them lost in early infancy, but despite this Mary wrote and published one novel, started another, made ‘fair copies’ of Percy’s poems, taught herself Italian and Greek, entertained her husband’s many literary friends and endured the tantrums of her intemperate sister Claire.

A well-educated, erudite woman, Mary was stoic despite, like her mother, suffering from periods of depression. It was not being Mrs Shelley, however, that gave Mary cause for grief, it was her husband’s continual philandering. It is almost certain Percy and his sister-in-law Claire had a passionate love affair, which possibly produced a child. There were several other ill-conceived passions on the part of the poet, mostly with younger women, women he expected Mary to welcome into her house as friends.

Seymour’s detailed biography is scrupulously even-handed. Where facts about, for example, Percy’s love affairs or Claire’s antics (incuding a brief affair with Lord Byron, another famous poet and pursuer of women) are not known or lost, Seymour suggests plausible scenarios. This allows the reader to draw reasoned conclusions about events and Mary’s attitude towards them. Seymour is also searingly honest about Mary’s depression and occassional bad temper while at pains to demonstrate Mary’s extraordinary intelligence, warm humour and her love of learning and the theatre.

As a result of reading Seymour’s biography I decided to adopt Mary Shelley as the patron of my small retreat. Her resilience, love of literature and witty, intelligent conversation, plus her moments of dissatisfaction and despair at the thoughtless, lascivious behavior of her husband, are admirable. I do not see her as a victim, despite the fact that well after his death she championed a man who did not deserve her. Mary Shelley raised her son alone and supported her aging father with her writing. While in later life she may not have been accorded the respect she earned with Frankenstein, she never gave up doing what she loved.Mary_Sh

And neither will I

Retreat to Advance: Somewhere in Perth Part 1

I flew to Perth, Western Australia, late last week for a writing retreat and to house sit for one of my sons and his wife while they are overseas.

It’s an interesting combination. To retreat is to pull back or move away for privacy, as well as to withdraw after a defeat. House sitting involves accommodating oneself to different household appliances, neighbourhoods, shopping centres and traffic conditions. Together they imply  domestic, personal and social restructuring, albeit temporary.

I chose to combine the two because a novel I’m working on has stalled. I also need to step away from my ‘normal’ life, to reflect on my feelings and thoughts about many complicated but essential aspects of my world.

On arrival in Perth I immersed myself in the pleasure of catching up with my loved ones and helping them with preparations for their trip. Then came the reality of an unfamiliar, suddenly quiet and seemingly empty space.White_room

Except it’s not empty. I’m here, and although I’ve not started writing I have planned my ‘program’, organised a writing space and learned to understand the suspirations and limina unique to this house.

Part of my plan is to ‘report’, via Elixir, my progress. Every Sunday I will share what challenged me; what I achieved; how I achieved it; how I stayed, or failed to stay, on track and what I did when I took time off.

person woman desk laptop
Photo by Breakingpic on Pexels.com

Writing is a solitary activity; retreating from the demoralising interruptions of daily life, combined with facing down the inner (and outer) demons that sabotage a writing practice, needs time and a comfortable living space. Thankfully I have both, and find the prospect and challenge of the coming weeks daunting and beguiling.

Footnote: I contacted my Facebook Writing Group for tips, hints and ideas for getting through a solitary writing retreat and received some amazing support. If you have any tips about writing while in retreat, I’d be delighted and grateful if you could share them with me and my readers. Thank you.

Goldilocks on the M5, and Down the Lane.

By tradition, Goldilocks is a golden-haired child prone to wandering off alone and intruding on others’ space. In fact, she was originally ‘Silverhair’ a cantankerous old woman who took umbrage when her new neighbours, the Bears, neglected to invite her to tea. In the tradition of adaptation, my Goldilocks is neither a crotchety old woman or a mischievous girl but a mature aged adventurer with feminist leanings and, as mentioned in the last post has metaphorically ‘accompanied’ me on our trip to Europe to shore up my wavering confidence.

The twenty-two-hour plane trip and the first night in Glasgow was as exciting as my partner and I thought it would be as was our train trip from Glasgow to Bristol via Edinburgh, passing, among other places, Newcastle, York and Birmingham. Our journey provided tantalising glimpses of the English countryside, as well as factories, parking lots, back yards, an odd castle or two and numerous railway stations.  DSC_0044 It also gave us a chance to meet several passengers who, as they alighted the train greeted us, chatted amicably and, when they disembarked, wished us well on our journey. Once in Bristol we collected our hire care and headed for the city of Exeter.

That was when we were confronted, finally, by difference, by peculiarity and by our foreignness; the M5, even the M4, is not a place for the faint-hearted. Australia’s population is over 24 million, which is about 3.1 people per square kilometre, though we tend to cling to the coast so traffic can be frantic and confronting, particularly in the eastern states. Britain’s population is 62 million, or 255 people per square kilometre, and on the day we drove to Exeter it seemed double that number wanted to pass us as we tentatively motored through Devon. Every other motorist was familiar with their destination, the road rules and the road signs. Even Google Maps chiming in every so often, telling us to ‘leave the roundabout, take the third exit to the A4976’, a location we had not heard of but a destination Gaynor Google-Maps (as we later dubbed her), assured us would lead to our Bed and Breakfast, left us perplexed and wary.

We misunderstood several of Gaynor’s instructions and misread road signs. My partner, who’s doing all the driving, countervailed my (and Gaynor’s) instructions, accused her of confusing him, or me of wilfully misinterpreting his questions. When we arrived at our first Bed and Breakfast we were shaken and exhausted.

The next day more ‘fun’ was had finding the magnificent Exeter Cathedral – or, in fact, a free car park nearby – and the following day, Powderham castle, which has been in the same family for one thousand years and houses the young earl, his wife and their two small children.  P1030294Both these and other venues were more than worth the hassle of locating them and even though English country laneways are narrow and lined by high hedges, we quickly learned how to pull over when confronted by a car coming in the opposite direction and the correct form for acknowledging drivers who needed to pull over for us. The lanes are no less discombobulating than the M5, but are certainly more stately in terms of speed.

In the meantime our holiday has begun, Goldilocks has returned to the land where her story first appeared and we cannot help but agree with William Blake; England, despite the M5, is a ‘green and pleasant land’, and her people are charming, generous and kind.

(This blog was written in the full awareness of the tragic events in Manchester and, more recently,  London. Our thoughts and sympathies go to the families and friends of those whose lives were tragically taken and we bear a deep respect for the spirit and valour of the people of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. May peace come to all citizens, residents and travellers who love this verdant land.)


Chicago the Movie and the Australian Election

Counting today (a cold Wednesday morning here in Australia), it’s four days until citizens of Australia troop off to polling booths (usually known as school or town halls) to vote for the next Federal Government. I’m not going to bore you with the whys and wherefores of the federal system of government or the fact we had a double dissolution (sounds delicious, doesn’t it, like what happens when you add extra sugar to a pot of bubbling jam, but believe me, it’s a lot more complicated than that)., If you want a quick lesson on the Australian system of government, try this site. Suffice to say on Saturday Australian voters will do their best to elect the best women and men to represent them in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. darwin-voter-2010-sml

How, I hear you ask, can a blog about creative and reflective writing, a site that spruiks the benefits of therapeutic writing, shift into politics? In answer, I suggest my country is feeling poorly and I’m writing about the election in the hope I might help make us feel better. I know it will help me.

How is Chicago the Movie like the Australian Election?

The election campaign has lasted for eight weeks, making it one of the longest we’ve endured. That means light relief is in order. One of my favourite musicals, Chicago, was a feature of last Saturday’s movie program on the SBS. I think it ably illustrates the election campaigns of the major parties as they attempt to win voters to their side.  (In some ways Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, an avowedly Australian movie, might have been a better choice, though I’m not sure Malcolm Turnbull could have played Bernadette Bassinger as well as did Terence Stamp. I think Bill Shorten, however, would have been a splendid Adam Whitely). So, dear reader, please bear with me because, as Billy Flynn (played in Chicago by Richard Gere) says, the aim of the game that Malcolm and Bill are playing is to…

 …Give ’em the old razzle dazzle

And that, folks, is what we’ve had. Electioneering means photo opportunities; policy launches (late in the campaign, which make no sense to me and many of my compatriots); media interviews ad nauseum; and, if you’re lucky a chance to speak to your candidate (although, as my Dad used to advise, I won’t hold my breath waiting for them to knock on my door).

I did attend a forum last week, organised by the nascent Arts Party (created, in part, as a response to radical cuts to Arts funding). Four local candidates (excluding one from the current government) answered questions and talked about their parties’ policies concerning the arts. It might be hard to believe, but despite a goodly number of arts practitioners in the audience, there was no razzle dazzle; most voters don’t appreciate being beguiled into voting for a particular candidate. At the forum, each candidate obviously respected the articulate, well informed audience and each other. They used clear language and made thoughtful, considered contributions. It was an example of how I believe election campaigns ought to be run. Billy Flynn says,

Long as you keep them way off balance,

How can they spot you’ve got no talents?

But does that work? As well as resenting the razzamataz of modern campaigning, many voters dislike being spoken down to, treated as if they’re ignorant, harangued, berated and, as has been a feature of the last week of this campaign, exposed to scare mongering.

Because the System works, the System Known as Reciprocity

One of my favourite Chicago songs is ‘When you’re Good to Mama’, sung by the splendid Queen Latifah. Mama’s morals are, like almost everyone in the story, questionable but her song is a perfect opportunity to discuss the double-sided nature of politics.

First, like many countries, Australia isn’t immune from shonky political deals that undermine the well-being of the community. Hidden donations that exploit the system are rife. This system of reciprocity means those with money become default decision makers who influence both policy and candidates, including how those candidates vote once they win a seat in parliament.

Reciprocity has another facet: it’s about relationships characterised by mutual interdependence and interchange. It need not imply ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ but how two or more parties negotiate difficult situations. Democracy relies on understanding reciprocity (from the Latin ‘reciprocus‘, moving backwards and forwards). Nowhere in this definition is money mentioned, though reciprocity implies exchange, which, in a democracy, is vital. The party who wins the majority is, it could be argued, beholden to the minority who, in turn and as an act of faith have to believe their rights won’t be disregarded when significant decisions of state are made. If this form of trust is broken, democracy fails. Too many Australian politicians believe the ‘other side’ don’t deserve a voice. Those voters are indirectly seen as losers, or worse, they ‘wasted’ their vote. I don’t believe this combative, oppositional attitude is an inherent feature of democracy but is instead simply arrogance and hubris.

Mister Cellophane

One of the more moving songs in Chicago is performed by John C. Reilly who plays Amos (not Andy!) Hart. Too many Australians feel like Mr Cellophane:

Everyone gets noticed, now and then,
Unless, of course, that personage should be
Invisible, inconsequential me!

Mister cellophane
Should have been my name
Mister cellophane
’cause you can look right through me
Walk right by me
And never know I’m there!

In Australia Mr (or Ms) Cellophane includes our indigenous people, LGBTI voters (who may have to suffer the devastation and ignominy of having their relationships analysed, criticised and pilloried should Bernadette Bassinger, sorry, Malcolm Turnbull’s, LNP win the election and spend our taxes on a pointless plebiscite), people with disabilities, and people living  in poverty. And then there’s the inmates of Australia’s offshore concentration camps, asylum seekers whose blood is on the hands of both Australia’s major political parties.

I Can’t Do it Alone

Which brings me to my penultimate point; we mustn’t forget the two main protagonists in Chicago got away with murder, and they didn’t do it alone. There is an old saying that we get the politicians we deserve, in the same way the good citizens of the Chicago depicted in the movie got the justice system they deserved. This is where, as a writer I could trot out tiresome conceits about apathy, voter fatigue and the lack of education that keeps the electorate ignorant of the possibilities and drawbacks of democracy. But none of these excuses go deep enough, none of them really address the malignancy that seems to be spreading through Australia’s body politic. Nor do I have an answer to our problems; better minds than mine struggle to find a cure and political commentators resort to hyperbole, metaphor and exaggeration in an attempt to understand Australia’s malaise. They are no closer than our politicians to building a better democracy and a more compassionate and reciprocal Australia.

What I do have is story: back in the 1990s I worked, during several elections, as a polling officer. This involved managing the queue, ensuring voters understood why they were waiting, assuring them their turn would come and ensuring the elderly and disabled had ease of access. I also checked voters off the roll, handed them their voting slips and directed them to voting booths. I counted each precious vote at the end of the day, tallied numbers for our polling place and delivered the carefully packed box of completed voting papers to the local electoral office. It usually meant a 10 hour day, but it felt like I was doing something useful for my country; only once did a voter swear at me and, without filling it in, throw the ballot paper back in my face. I’m not sure who he confused me with because electoral officers are not politicians; they are usually retired teachers, public servants or, more recently, university students looking for work.

During one election I saw a small group of young voters had their names checked at another table and were heading towards a booth. This was unusual; it’s expected voters mark the ballot paper in private. I noticed an old woman among the group. She walked slowly towards the booth. She was Vietnamese, probably one of the many ‘boat people’ who fled Indochina and managed to reach Australia in the late 1970s. In order to vote, possibly for the first time in her life, she had become an Australian citizen. She walked into the booth like a woman who had crossed a desert in search of an oasis. One of her grandchildren explained the voting slips to her and then left her to cast her vote. The pride she and her family displayed as they left the polling place was palpable. It seemed, that day, as if the machinations of our democracy, our electoral system and the vexations of finding the time, on a Saturday morning, to vote were stilled so that one dignified, proud voice be heard.

Our politicians can’t do democracy (and can’t ruin democracy) alone. In Chicago Velma makes a desperate appeal to Roxie to join Velma’s once double, now single act. The performance, says Velma, is ‘swell with two people’. So, I suspect, is democracy but there are more than two people in Australia and for our act to work we need to dance the democracy tango together.

At the end of the movie, after she and Velma present their double act, Roxy says,

 Thank you! Believe us, we could never have done it without you.

It is a telling line. We need our politicians to represent us and they need us to tell them how we want to be represented. Democracy is more than just voting. It’s asking those we vote for to stand in for us and act on our behalf. But we need to make sure they do so in the best possible way. If you’re an Australian and can vote on Saturday it’s worth thinking, as you approach the oasis that is a polling booth, about who will represent you. It’s not about, as the media seem to want us to think, who is the best at politicking, it’s about who can advocate, over the next three years, for our beliefs and needs. If you can do that, I imagine even Bernadette Bassinger would approve.  T_S

Not Just an Hour, Not Just a Day: Meeting Your Needs

There are days when a woman needs to embrace what is important to her; a beloved child, a parent, her partner, a friend.

This is not one of those days. Today I wish to meet the needs of someone else. I take my cue from Brenda Ueland, who said meeting the needs of other people is …

… why the lives of most women are so vaguely unsatisfactory. They are always doing secondary and menial things (that do not require all their gifts and ability) for others and never anything for themselves. Society and husbands praise them for it (when they get too miserable or have nervous breakdowns) though always a little perplexedly and half-heartedly and just to be consoling. The poor wives are reminded that that is just why wives are so splendid — because they are so unselfish and self-sacrificing and that is the wonderful thing about them! But inwardly women know that something is wrong. They sense that if you are always doing something for others, like a servant or nurse, and never anything for yourself, you cannot do others any good. You make them physically more comfortable. But you cannot affect them spiritually in any way at all. For to teach, encourage, cheer up, console, amuse, stimulate or advise a husband or children or friends, you have to be something yourself. […] If you would shut your door against the children for an hour a day and say; ‘Mother is working on her five-act tragedy in blank verse!’ you would be surprised how they would respect you. They would probably all become playwrights.

Brenda Ueland

and from Michelle Obama:

Women in particular need to keep an eye on their physical and mental health, because if we’re scurrying to and from appointments and errands, we don’t have a lot of time to take care of ourselves. We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own “to do” list.

Michelle Obama

 Sky_Light_Cloud Today I am going to meet my needs. I am going to sit in my chair and absorb what little sun  there is. I will probably doze off over a book. I might knit another square for the blanket or I will meditate. Maybe I will just sit and do nothing.

Today I put myself on top of my list.

What will you do today, or tomorrow, to meet your needs, fulfil your dreams?

This post was, in part, inspired by Calensariel, over at  Impromptu Promptlings ~ and peculiar ponderings. Pay her a visit, you will be well rewarded.

The Creative Connection

Dino Reichmuth Do you yearn for connection but cannot fulfil that need? I once felt that ache, that emptiness, but the more I write, the more I immerse myself in the world of words and how to compose them, the less lonely I feel. Have I made that longed for connection? Maybe. What we long for, what is denied, what we often deny ourselves, scours our soul. When we stop denying it the hollow begins to fill.

When I write, I replenish the scoured sections of my soul.   Andi_Mai

Why is it so many people believe they aren’t creative? What if that belief was nothing more than a story we tell ourselves, a narrative we cling to? What if Virginia Woolf believed that narrative? J. K. Rowling, Margaret Attwood, Helen Garner? Maybe it’s what our parents, our lovers and our society want us to believe, because creative woman are dangerous. Creative women question the world, they challenge accepted social mores, they laugh at rules and regulations, they defy convention, they see problems and devise solutions and when those solutions don’t work they seek another solution and another and another.

Creativity is an inherent aspect of every single man, woman and child on this blighted little rock spinning in a vast, terrifying universe. I believe playing, creating, is the only way to vanquish the existential terror of being human.

I have a friend who claims she isn’t creative, but I have watched her play; I was there when she challenged herself, and others, to create innovative and meaningful solutions to a problem. She is creative, and I cannot understand why she refuses to believe it. Is, however, my inability to understand why she refuses to accept her creativity any of my business? Surely she has the right to believe what she wants and the right to put her energy into something else? Only she knows why she believes the narrative that she isn’t creative. Only she can decide to accept her creativity and what form it will take.   Origami_Flower

Maybe people baulk at claiming their creativity because creating a poem, a painting, a business or a unique piece of furniture is hard work. I didn’t realise how hard, how painfully hard, being creative is but I’d rather write than not write. Dishonouring my creativity is more harrowing than sitting for hours trying to fix a messy sentence or make a paragraph do what I want. My hard work might mean one story, one essay or one blog post will worm its way into the heart and mind of another who will read my words and think, ‘She’s right. I need to look deeper into myself, I need to change my narrative, be the creative person I am meant to be.’

Luca_RIf I can do that for one person I will, for a moment, be happy. And then I’ll sit down in front of my computer and try to do it again because I am, like you and every other person on the planet, creative and because, after too many years of longing, I can not be anything else.


Tell me about your creativity; have you yearned for connection or have you always honoured your creative gifts?

On Gratitude 01: Panic and Anxiety.

Several weeks ago I introduced Barbara, my first guest blogger. She taught me a valuable lesson about gratitude and as a result of her post I decided to find ways, through this blog, to practice her philosophy.

Regular readers will be aware I try to post twice a week, usually on Wednesday and Sunday, but I missed last Sunday. It was a busy weekend, a holiday weekend in fact. I didn’t manage to post anything by Sunday evening and we were out all day Monday. It’s that Monday, its conviviality, its treasure house of memories and its challenges, that I am grateful for. We spent the day showing interstate visitors around one of South Australia’s beloved wine regions – not beloved just because of its wines but because it is one of the most beautiful spots in Australia.

Back in the 1980s I lived in the Barossa Valley. One of my children was born there, I learned to drive along its narrow back roads and I survived several long hours one night, alone with three children under four and a dog and a goat, sheltering in our farmhouse as flood waters lapped at the veranda. Thankfully, the rain stopped and my husband arrived from out of the night, having found an alternative route that bypassed the swollen creeks so he could be with his family. I’m so grateful he didn’t turn back to the city and leave me alone with our children that wet and wild night. I would have coped if the water had continued to rise, and he knew I would, but we coped better together.

Years later, children grown and my marriage over, I was living alone and often drove for two hours to the Barossa to visit my parents, who by then were living in the Barossa Village Aged Care Facility. I will always be grateful for the care given to my parents, the gentle way the staff dealt with my mother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, and my father, who grieved for his wife’s deterioration but who always shared a joke with the staff and tried to find a way to make their day less wearisome.

After my father, and eight months later my mother, died, I cleaned my mother’s room, said goodbye to the staff who cared for my parents, and didn’t return to the Barossa for many years except to drive through the Valley on our way north. Monday was the first time I’d been back for a whole day and now I had a chance to share the Barossa with friends.   DSC_9757The weather was glorious: the sky an uninterrupted blue; the breeze chilly but tempered by the sun; the vines golden in the glossy winter light. I was the designated driver; after all, the main purpose of the visit was to taste the delicious wines made in the Barossa, enjoy a long lunch and then visit one more winery. It’s imperative, given this, that someone abstain from alcohol and be capable of driving home.DSC_9750

There was a small hitch, however. I used to love driving, and my solo trips to the Barossa, made over five years ago now, were a pleasurable routine. But lately I’ve experienced a deal of anxiety and even mild panic attacks, many of them associated with cars, traffic and driving.  My partner, of course, was aware of this, but our friends did not realise their chauffeur was, to be frank, clutching the steering wheel as if it was a club, periodically taking long, deep breaths and telling herself she was a competent and safe driver. It was not, for me, a pleasant drive back to the city, but I did it; we arrived safely, deposited our passengers and later that evening opened a bottle of fine Barossa Riesling to celebrate.

I’m cannot say I’m grateful for the panic attacks and the anxiety. I neither appreciate, nor am I thankful for, the physical and emotional sensations the attacks engender but I suspect there is a gift, one I have yet to discover, inherent in my current affliction. Maybe these attacks are an opportunity for me to develop compassion for others who are likewise affected? Perhaps they are a chance for me to get to know myself better, or develop more refined planning and coping strategies when faced with life’s problems? Maybe it’s a chance for me to reflect on life, how precious it is, how tenuous our grasp on it is, how important our loved ones are, how strangers can become unlikely allies in caring for those we love.

Right now panic feels like the only response we’ve got to what’s going on around us. The natural, psychological and physiological response to war, terror, destruction, abuse, anger and hate is, and probably always will be, panic;  to flee, to freeze or to fight. We are after all, animals, albeit of a particular and peculiar species, and survival is our strongest instinct.

Saying, ‘Don’t Panic,’ doesn’t help. Telling us to panic more and who to blame for our fearful reaction, doesn’t help. Admitting to feeling panicked, to being anxious, to being petrified, does. When we name and accept what ails us we can address the cause of our fear and construct a reasoned response. We stop reacting and we think.  DSC_9769The reason why we are such a particular species is because we can stop and think. It’s not easy but it is the one truly powerful and positive gift we have. Our ability to think, to solve problems, to find ways to cooperate, to resolve issues is surely a gift for which we must always be grateful.


What do you think: Is panic something we can learn to be grateful for? What does our anxiety tell us about who we are and what we value?

Muses, Metaphors and Sunlight.

‘It started with a flash but will end with …’ What sort of prompt is that? Flash_01

This is so boring, like swimming towards a lifeboat while fighting for your last breath.

Hardly boring; more like survival. It might be futile but she’ll never give up. She lives on hope and she has a manuscript.

A half baked, self indulgent, weirdly structured memoir she spent five years writing and researching.

But it IS something.

What kind of something?

A finished something.

And now she’s back where she, where we, started.

Except this time she’s investigating the flash.

The what?

The prompt, above.

That was just a prompt. It’s of no consequence.

It might be serendipity or a message from the unconscious. She should let it agitate, let it develop. Something could come of it.


Oh, for goodness sake. A flash. Or what the flash means.

Calm down. Let’s go back to the prompt: ‘It started with a flash …’ I’ll look up the word … Ooo, this IS interesting. It says here, ‘Origin: Middle English,  a marshy place …’

… Let me look at that. I suppose the dictionary can’t be wrong, but is it relevant?

You’re the one going on about messages from the unconscious. Marshes mean water, flow, creativity, you know, all that stuff. Pisces.

Pisces? A marsh is more Scorpio than Pisces …

… ‘a burst of light,’ but not necessarily from an explosion … Marshes can explode … so can flashlights, and there’s a newsflash, or … here … a ‘flash in time,’ or ‘a flash in the pan.’ It’s an adjective too. ‘Pertaining to thieves and prostitutes. Sporting and betting men. Gaudy and showy. Counterfeit. Sham. Knowing. Cheeky.’ Hee, hee, ‘a flash house is a brothel.’ And it’s a verb as well.

A verb?

‘The wave flashing … the roaring surf flashing up over … he flashed me, officer.’

Be serious. Our job is to provide inspiration and …

… Don’t you think we’ve done that? 

I know, I know, but think of the triumph when she’s finally published.

That’s not what she wants, and you know it.

You’re right. She wants to ‘say something’, she wants to save us, them – her kind. She wants to change things.

As if that will happen.

It might.

Has it ever? ‘This is the way the world ends, this is the way the world ends, this is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a …’

You automatically reject anything that’s good. It stresses her.

You’re too soft on her. She enjoys it. Granted, she doesn’t enjoy how slow the process is but she’s finally got the idea of shifting between flow and … what is the opposite of flow?


That will do. Tedium: attending to every word, monitoring every full stop, every apostrophe. 

Flash_02  Hmm. Like watching the sunlight on gentle waves compared to sunlight striking the corner of your eye; contemplating beauty while having to peer through and around the shaft?

Well, I wouldn’t put it that way, but alright, it’s all about the light. So why the impatience? Instead of enjoying the process she’s forcing it.

Oh, I agree. Nothing happens if you push too soon, too hard or too late. She’s pushing instead of doing that shallow, puff puff breathing that releases the child. Deep breathing is the light on the waves; the newborn’s scream is sun hitting your eye.

Isn’t she a bit old for the childbirth metaphor and isn’t it time we had a cup of tea?

How about a hot chocolate?

It looks like it’s going to be a long day. Gin and Tonic?

Just the thing.



On Haibun and Markets

As well as flash or hint fiction, I’ve been studying and writing haibun, contradictory snippets of descriptive narrative (i.e. flash or hint fiction containing poetic images and heightened language, or an an unabashed, self declared  prose poem) accompanied by a haiku. Sometimes wry, often serious, always finely crafted, haibun is a blend of image and observation that appeals to the senses and the intellect. This unorthodox form also plays with structure; the haiku usually appears at the end of the short piece of prose but it sometimes appears at the beginning and, depending on the writer,  can occasionally break into the middle of the prose.  In other words, haibun refuses limitation and restraint. If you’re interested in learning more about them try the links below or check out this book:


I wrote this haibun yesterday, after a trip to the market:

Adelaide Market, June

Porcini balls, kangaroo and rabbit meat, buffalo milk mozzarella. A world of smiling people, Indian, Pakistani, African, Lebanese, Chinese, Korean and more, slide past, their shopping bags rustling with intent. Students, eastern suburb matrons with severe haircuts and, from the west, the scrabblers, their kids in footy jumpers and gnawing on lollipops, amble past Persian love cakes, gluten free protein balls and plush warm planks of lavash. Teenagers watch a bearded chef spread batter on a slightly domed, counter top pancake griddle. The cooked crepe, wrapped around fruit or filling of choice and folded into a paper cone, is handed into the care of eager, still chubby, fists. Bright green, chocolate filled, peppermint sweets; cappuccino, latte, chai; shopping trolleys, pushed or dragged by greyed baby boomers. A middle aged woman croons quietly in the aisle of multiple choice pasta; a man lifts his baby, warm in a furry brown all-in-one, from the pram, raises the smiling cub above the sauntering crowd. A popup book store; a busker plays la Vi’en Rose on her accordion and I am in an antipodean Paris. Wine merchants, jewellery from Nepal, indigenous art, the ardent smell of ripe cheese and, when we return to our car, in the Mercedes next to us, nestled in the cup holder between the front seats, a delicately flowered china mug.

At the market
We walk along aisles of memory,
Feed our spirit.


If you live outside of town and fancy a virtual visit to the Adelaide Central Market, follow this link.