Taking Stock: October ‘17

4CBB3407-6379-4589-A658-A23330ECE0CD.jpeg

Hello, my pumpkins! Happy Halloween, if that’s your thing. How’s your October been? I think mine’s been pretty tickety-boo. Here’s what’s been happening.

Making: a weaving with a bit of a mid-century vibe

Eating: steak, salad, scalloped potatoes – and mango. Yay for summer fruit!

Drinking: tea, tea, tea

Cooking: the steak and potatoes I’m eating

Watching: Jamie Oliver cook with five ingredients, Sunshine – have loved seeing some Sudanese-Australian faces on our tv screen, and it was a cracking story too

Reading: I Am Pilgrim for book group. It’s quite long and not the genre I’d usually pick but I’m giving it the thumbs up at this stage

Wearing: my dressing gown and slippers

Feeling: disgusted by the government’s treatment of asylum seekers on Manus Island

Hoping: the marriage plebiscite comes back as a resounding YES

Noticing: two political answers in a row!

Opening: an Etsy shop! Eep! I did it! You can find it over here. There’s only a handful of weavings at the moment but more will appear!

Wondering: why the seal on my milk bottles sometimes refuses to peel away easily. So annoying! And it makes me feel vaguely pathetic that I can’t lift a little circle of plastic

Wishing: they would finish the gasworks in my street soon. It’s been going on for WEEKS

Liking: that the postie delivered my copy of If You Can Cut You Can Collage today. That was a nice pressie to myself after minding a sobbing child who just wanted to ‘see Mummy’. How to make him understand Mummy was out for just a little bit? Sobbed until he fell asleep under his play table 😩

Hearing: the dog barking at the possums *sigh*. That time of night…

Hoping: my mum doesn’t need to have surgery for a hernia but thinking that’s probably not going to be the case

Bookmarking: a list of shows to watch. Mindhunter is top of the list after recommendations from my boy and some friends

Waiting: for the spring racing season to be over. I don’t get the excitement over a horse.  Why do people want to drape themselves in Winx memorabilia? I figure if the only way to enjoy the races is to dress up and drink champagne and gamble your money away then the horse racing itself can’t be very entertaining. Sorry if I’m being a bit un-Victorian saying that. I love the football!

Thinking: I should buy a bunch of flowers just cos!

Buying: wool on sale for future weavings, and a Frankie which I still haven’t got around to looking at!

Knowing: another year is drawing to a close and the ‘C’ goodies are already appearing in the shops

So there we go. October done and dusted! Did you get up to anything fab?

image

 

 

Melbourne Writers Festival

IMG_0416.JPG

Hey gang! How are you? I’ve just had an excellent week helping out at the Melbourne Writers Festival. How cool is my t-shirt and lanyard? Any fellow Melburnians, did you manage to get along? Are festivals your thing? I’ve been to the MWF the last few years and have heard some wonderfully entertaining and informative chats. When I saw the call for volunteers this year, I thought “why not?”

I had four shifts over the week. Two were full days with kids workshops in the morning and afternoon, one school group workshop, and the other was a session at my local library where Hannah Kent discussed her new book, The Good People. Gosh, she has a lovely speaking voice! It was interesting hearing her speak about her writing process – she writes from 7.30am to 2pm everyday, with defined breaks. She said she started this practice after she read that this was Sarah Waters’s writing routine. She figured that since Sarah was a writer of historical fiction maybe it would work for her too!

The workshops with the kids were great too. One of the nice things about these was that because they were small and pretty informal, we (me and my volunteer buddy for the day) had the chance to have a chat to the authors whilst we were wandering around and helping the kids with the activity.

My first session was with Asphyxia, author and illustrator of The Grimstones, a junior fiction series. She ran a creative art journalling workshop. She brought along some of her journals and, oh my, they were DIVINE! So inspiring! You can get a little taste of them here. The kids were totally focussed on creating their own journals. It was lovely seeing them working away so freely, without anyone judging their work and just embracing their creativity.

Ben McKenzie ran a games workshop based on Dungeons and Dragons. One session was for younger kids where they worked at creating their own story by themselves, or with their parents, and the second session was with older kids who worked in a group creating their game of rescuing their best friend from the monster they had created. Some of their ideas were very inventive.  They had to create an obstacle that needed to be overcome before they could save their friend. One boy’s obstacle was a ‘meme wall’ because encountering the memes would be so distracting it would be impassable!  I heard the same boy, with a big grin on his face, saying to his pal, “Do you think everyone here is a super geek?”!

One of my favourite authors is Maxine Beneba Clarke and I was lucky enough to score a place helping out at her workshop focussed around her new children’s book, The Patchwork Bike. She talked to the kids about how she came up with the idea for the book, how she thought about choosing her words, and how she chose the illustrator of the book, Van T Rudd. Van then helped the kids collage their own patchwork bike using cardboard, scraps of paper and textas. He chatted to the kids about how mistakes can be used to create different ideas and not to be scared of them.

Helping out with with these warmed the cockles of my heart! It was lovely to see the kids exploring their creativity with pens, paper, paints, pencils and words.  And they were all super engaged without a piece of technology in sight!

Alice Pung’s school workshop was at the Immigration Museum and centred around identity. Are you shaped by where you come from? It skewed a little more to the assumptions others make about you because of the way you look, or your ethnicity or religion. She shared stories with the kids about how she has received comments that indicate she is assumed to be a mail order bride when she’s been out with her Caucasian hubby (“How much did she cost?”), and how as a kid she didn’t understand what some boys meant when she was told to ‘go home’ because ‘home’ was the Melbourne suburb of Braybrook, and her house was only thirty metres away! The kids who were attending were from a variety of schools – Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Catholic – and they shared some of their stories too. Lots of gasps and laughs as they told their stories.

I think one of my favourite moments was at the free Hannah Kent library session. A lady barrelled in, breathless, “I’ve just flown in from Sydney and my friend told me this session was on. I don’t have a booking but she said I should try and see if there was a space free.” We assured her there was and that she didn’t need to pay any money and her voice raised excitedly in pitch, “It’s free! Oh my goodness! And there’s tea inside!”. She was a joy!

Everyone was so lovely at the festival – the staff, the volunteers and the  patrons (well, there was one grumpy one but think we managed to assuage her!). And the 10% off at the Readings pop up book shop was an added bonus – added The Choke and Ache to my reading pile! I’ll definitely be putting my hand up again next year!

image

Tell me a story

IMG_1234.JPG

I’ve been thinking about stories a bit in the past few weeks. When I was little I loved reading stories that allowed me to escape my small, conscientious, timid life. I delighted in the rebellious escapades of the naughtiest girl in the school.  I marvelled at what it would be like to be as bold and adventurous as the Famous Five, the Secret Seven, Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden. Gosh, my mum wouldn’t let me play outside in our unfenced front garden, and I was only permitted to walk home from school via the side streets rather than along the main road (okay, it was the era of some strange child abductions but still…). My anxious, pimply, adolescent self longed to be one of the girls in the Sweet Dreams novels. Imagine being asked to ‘go steady’ and wear a letterman jacket! As a suburban Melbourne girl, I’m not quite sure I actually knew what that meant but it was clearly the pinnacle of teenage boy-girl relationships. Stories were for entertainment and escapism. True stories? Blah! So boring! Where was the fun in reading about other people’s lives? It all seemed way too earnest to my younger self. I did enough ‘learning’ at school. I didn’t need it when I snuggled down under my blankets at night or was wiling away the school holidays.

But, of course, as we add more years to our lives, our tastes can broaden and change. I still love reading novels and short stories for entertainment and escapism but I have come to appreciate the rewards of reading about the lives of others. A few weeks back, I went to the opening night of the Emerging Writers’ Festival. Melanie Cheng, who was the winner of the 2016 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, spoke to the audience and she had a great line about writers being the “personal trainers of empathy”. I loved that! It made me think about some of the writers whose stories I have been reading recently, not just in book form but also online, and how they have helped open my eyes and understanding of life experiences different from my own. I have thought about Magda and how societal attitudes contributed to the pain that tortured her as she sought to accept her sexuality, Maxine’s many encounters with racist attitudes in Australia, and why representation of diversity in the media is so important to Carly. I challenge anyone to read the personal stories in They Cannot Take the Sky or to listen to The Messenger podcast and not understand the damage the Australian government is inflicting upon asylum seekers (disclosure: I provide transcribing assistance to Behind the Wire). I have remembered the blog posts Sarah and Amanda have shared about anxiety and MS and how they have reflected experiences in my own life.

Reading – or listening – to the stories of other people’s lives is not about escapism. It is about staring life in the face. Sometimes that can be confronting. At other times, it can be comforting.

There have been times when I have wondered about blogging. What is the point of it all? What am I writing about? For what purpose? Perhaps you have felt that too. Maybe we should reassure ourselves that whenever we write, we are telling a story about part of our life. It is a way to connect with others – and even if that is only with one reader – in sharing our stories we are opening the door to understanding and empathy.

image

 

 

 

 

Have you read…? The year to date in books

It’s been a while since I’ve done a book post so I think it’s time to do a quick round up of what has been sitting next to my bed, my couch, and shoved in my bag and carried around!

IMG_0327

The Book of Hygge by Louisa Thomsen Brits ‘Hygge’, that lovely concept of Danish cosiness, is hot right now, yes? And there are quite A LOT of books in the bookshops explaining to harried souls how they can incorporate hygge into their daily lives. This was the ‘how to hygge’ book that I received in my Christmas pile. It is a lovely looking book. The pics are muted and tranquil and they made me want to spend my days wandering through forests or sitting by candlelight with a mug of hot chocolate. And, to be honest, this is pretty much what the text said – over and over again! There was a lot of ‘hygge is stopping by at your neighbours and sharing a glass of wine on the verandah’,  ‘hygge is a basket of knitted slippers at your front door’, or ‘hygge is lighting a candle and eating breakfast together’. Now I am not averse to any of these suggestions, but I probably only need to hear the suggestion once, not once each chapter.  Reading the book made a long haul plane flight feel a bit more hygge-like, but I’m not sure if I’d been sitting on my couch at home that I would have continued reading it from cover to cover.

IMG_0329

The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North Fairly self-explanatory from the title what this one is about! The story of the wunderkind filmmaker Sophie’s life and death is told by those closest to her – her brother, ex-husband and lover, and those who were part of her working life – film subject, film reviewer and producer. As I read the novel, I was a little unsure how I felt about it. I wondered if I was learning more about the characters who had had relationships with Sophie, than I was about Sophie herself. The focus of their recollections seemed to be how THEY responded to Sophie, how she made THEM feel. But as I read on, I started thinking that in showing how they were affected by Sophie, they were painting a picture of her – a self-contained, distant young woman who was an observer of life (appropriate for a filmmaker!), who,  when she did become a participant, seemed driven by her own desires rather than the desire to share herself with others. For the most part, I found it difficult to warm to her, but Anna North has managed to infuse her with enough victimhood and trauma in her life for her to be seen as a psychologically isolated, tragic young woman. Not sure that I super enjoyed it, but the fact that I am still mulling it over weeks down the track shows it was an affecting read.

IMG_0330.JPG

The Dry by Jane Harper This was a goody! Set in the fictitious sunburnt Victorian town of Kiewarra, this thriller seeks to discover who was responsible for the murder of the Hadler family. Is it a murder-suicide, or is there a killer in the small town? Aaron Falk, a former local, now a member of the Federal Police, returns for the funeral of his old friend, Luke Hadler, and is persuaded by Luke’s father to assist in the investigation. Aaron’s return stirs up the town’s emotions surrounding the crircumstances of the death, years earlier, of Ellie Deacon, a friend of Aaron’s and Luke’s. Were they involved in her death? Had Luke killed her? Had Aaron? This novel had sufficient twists and turns to keep me wondering throughout as to what had taken place, and satisfyingly, kept me guessing until the end on both counts. Recommended!

IMG_0328

Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance And now for some non fiction! Hillbilly Elegy is part autobiography, part social commentary. JD Vance grew up in Kentucky, then Ohio before becoming a Marine and then graduating from Yale Law School. He spent much of his life living with his grandparents whilst his mother battled drug addiction and cycled through one failing relationship after another. Vance shines a light on what constitutes hillbilly culture – its genesis and how it has spread from the south to the Midwest as hillbillies have migrated in the search for work. Alongside his own story of what it was like to grow up in this culture, his time spent in the Marines, and at Yale, he describes the culture of a people who feel hardly done by through the decline blue collar jobs; who feel minorities have gained an advantage over them through Democrat presidencies. Being Australian, I have read this book as an outsider – I cannot judge how accurate his evaluation is. I have read some criticisms of the book; that Vance seems to be saying that because he has become successful, others could too if they’d only put in the work. I didn’t get that impression from the book. I saw it more as explaining why there was a disaffected group in US society ripe for the politics of Donald Trump. And throughout, for me, he was conscious of his good fortune in having a family who despite their violent tendencies, aggressive behaviour and addictions, valued education and knew that he could achieve. They knew he had the ability to choose a path in life, that he didn’t have to accept what was, and it is this that he feels needs to be role modelled for those growing up within the hillbilly culture. An interesting read to learn more about US society.

img_0322

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty I’ve never read any Liane Moriarty before and with Big Little Lies hitting the small screen, I thought it was time to give her a go. I’m not sure if this novel is reflective of her others, but I have to say I was a little underwhelmed by this one. The story revolves around three couples, Erika and Oliver, Erika’s ‘best friend’ Clementine and her husband, Sam, and Erika’s neighbours, Vid and Tiffany. The three couples, plus the daughters of Clementine and Sam, and Vid and Tiffany, gather for a barbecue one afternoon at Vid and Tiffany’s. Early on we learn that something has taken place at the barbecue that shakes the relationship between the couples. The chapters flick between the day of the barbecue and the present where we are made aware of the strains in Erika and Clementine’s friendship, Erika’s mother’s hoarding, Clementine’s cello audition, and Vid and Tiffany’s attempts to maintain a relationship with Clementine and Sam in the wake of the barbecue. For me this was a page turner but only because there was such a heavy-handedness in writing about what had happened at the barbecue – along the lines of ‘if only we’d stayed home’, ‘if only we hadn’t agreed’ – that I was saying through gritted teeth ‘just get on with it!’. I’m not sure that I felt the fallout from the incident to be entirely warranted, and I didn’t warm to the characters sufficiently to be concerned with their stories once the incident had been revealed. As a holiday read, maybe it’s okay. I guess I’d say ‘proceed with caution’!

Have you been reading anything interesting this year? Have you read any of these? Should I try another Liane Moriarty?

image

Have you read…? Any of these!

image.jpeg

Oh dear! I do have some catch up to do! It is a LONG time since a book review popped up here but I promise you, I HAVE been reading! Just haven’t got to WRITING about what I’ve been reading. So. Here we go. A quick run down of what’s been sitting next to my bed and beside my couch!

Reckoning by Magda Szubanski

For any non-Australian readers, Magda Szubanksi is one of our most beloved comic actors and has been a fairly constant presence on our TV screens since the late 1980s. Maybe think of Dawn French or Melissa McCarthy. Her autobiography, Reckoning, is a beautifully written, fascinating, illuminating, touching insight into her life and the life of her family.  Born in Liverpool to a Scottish mother and Polish father, her story of her identity spans the globe and reaches back into history as she tells of her father’s life as an assassin with the Polish resistance during World War 2. As I was reading, I couldn’t stop thinking about how difficult it must be to fit together the picture of the father who is now part of suburban Melbourne with the Polish youth living half a world away, in another time, killing Germans in cold blood. As she says in the first line of the book

If you had met my father you would never, not for an instant, have thought he was an assassin.

Alongside this aspect of her life, she also details the struggle she went through in being able to be open about her sexuality (she was very young when she realised she was gay); how it affected her sense of where she belonged and how it led to battles with food, weight and depression. And, of course, she details her life in theatre, television and film. A wonderful book about an incredibly complex life.

The Paper House by Anna Spargo-Ryan

My heart fell out on a spring morning – the kind that rose coolly in the east and set brightly in the west.

How can you not be captured by this opening line? And such lyrical writing continues throughout the novel. The Paper House tells the story of Heather and Dave as they face the unbearable sadness of a stillbirth, how they each negotiate their grief and the support they receive from Heather’s sister and distant father. For Heather, the loss of her child triggers, understandably, a deterioration in her mental health. As we witness this, we are also introduced, through flashback, to the tragic mental health battles of Heather’s own mother and how this affected their family as Heather was growing up. Spargo-Ryan also introduces us to Heather and Dave’s neighbours, Sylvia, and Ashok. As the three households interact, our eyes are opened to Sylvia’s own grief over the loss of her husband and how she and Ashok fill a hole in each other’s lives.

I loved the writing in this book. It was truly beautiful. My only niggle came from the nature of the mental health conditions suffered by Heather and her mother. I think this is more my own fault rather than Spargo-Ryan’s. Before I started reading, my preconception about the nature of Heather’s mental health battle was that it would be in the nature of depression and/or anxiety which I was interested in seeing explored but, whilst Spargo-Ryan deliberately chose not to name the condition, it seemed to be more a type of psychsosis. Heather’s mother’s condition, by contrast, appeared to me to be bipolar in nature. Related, yes, in that they are both mental illnesses but I think I would have preferred it if they had been the same; a genetic link. I’m trying to let go of this little niggle, because it is such a beautifully written book, but it’s still there, just below the surface!

The Strays by Emily Bitto

The Strays won the Stella Prize in 2015 for first time novelist Emily Bitto. Set in Melbourne in the 1930s, it is narrated by the adult Lily and is a recollection of the time she spent living with famed artist, Evan Trentham, his wife, Helena, their daughters and the various others artists (‘the strays’) who came to live with them. As a young girl on her first day at a new school Lily becomes friends with middle daughter, Eva. After school plays become sleepovers, weekends and then, when Lily’s father suffers a workplace injury, she lives, for a time, with the Trenthams permanently. Lily adores the free spirit of the home which is in sharp contrast to her own conservative home life. The dark side to the free spirit is an undeniable amount of self absorption by the Trentham parents and the artists. There is the desire for fame, acknowledgement, satiation of lust, and along the way, it is Eva and her sisters, and Lily, who get caught up and spat out by the behaviours of the adults in their lives.

This is yet another excellent novel by a female Australian writer. I have read so many recently! The characters and the setting are well realised, and Bitto has clearly been inspired by the lives of Sunday and John Reed in creating the Trenthams. We observe that whilst, in their art making, the artists may be great observers of their physical world, their own feelings and desires, in life, they do not observe the feelings of others or the damage that their actions are creating.

The Eye of the Sheep by Sofie Laguna

Another prize winner. This time, The Miles Franklin Award for 2015. Wow! I adored this book but I’m hesitant to say too much because I don’t want to give away spoilers. The story revolves around a young boy, Jimmy Flick. Jimmy’s condition is not named but I think it is reasonable to assume that he is autistic. He is obsessed with machinery and how things work and this is the way he attempts to make sense of the way people are behaving, including himself. Jimmy lives with his mum and dad and older brother, Robby.  Jimmy’s mum is the only person who is able to cope with his behaviour. His father finds it an enormous strain, and when combined with the work pressures and a fondness for drink, the home environment, despite the affection Jimmy’ parents have for one another, becomes a dangerous one. When tragedy comes to the home, Jimmy needs to learn how to navigate the world on his own.

The writing of Jimmy’s voice is stunning. I loved him and he tugged at all my maternal heartstrings. I loved his politeness and enthusiasm

Yes, Mr Ashworth. Yes, yes, I will. It’s ham, Mr Ashworth. It’s ham and pickle.

and his observations of his behaviour and others

I did what he said. I sucked oxygen through my mouth and down into my air passage until every cell got a portion. Oxygen was the glue, binding me together.

Like gravy and chips, my Dad had magnetic powers.  Mum had no defences for him.  He got in underneath. He was like a slice; she couldn’t give him up.

Really, I could pretty much quote the whole book! A highly recommended read.

 

Taking Stock: July ’16 -The Holiday Edition!

image.jpeg

Yes, I do feel a tiny bit bad! Here I am, away on holiday and writing a blog post. It’s a time when I could be stepping away from the internet and engaging fully in ‘the real world’! But aren’t holidays also the perfect time to take stock, to reflect upon what’s working/not working in life/what to be thankful for? And this has been that sort of holiday – sitting in the one spot, eating, reading, walking, thinking. Bliss! Plus, I wanted to share this cute little creation I spotted on the beach today!

Eating: ice cream from Shakes. The family tends to gravitate to the trusty old chocolate but for me, it’s macadamia, burnt toffee, panna cotta or tiramisu

Drinking: mojitos, wine, tea, coffee

Cooking: burgers for dinner. For me, holiday cooking is about things shoved in bread – burgers, sausages in bread, burritos if I’m feeling fancy!

Hearing: a cacophony of birds singing

Looking: at the tree frog that has taken up residence on the kitchen louvres

Watching: Line of Duty series 3. I feel like I need to go back to the beginning to see how all the pieces of the puzzle are fitting together!

Enjoying: walks on the beach, no commitments, not having to get in the car

Wondering: how I can incorporate more ‘holiday’ into the ‘everyday’. Can I carve out time each day to practise writing, to notice the little things? Do you ever wonder that too?

Absorbing: all the warmth I can before heading back to chilly Melbourne! I don’t mind cold days but it is nice to have a week’s respite!

Wearing: skirt, singlet

Feeling: a gentle breeze on my skin

Reading: lots! Just finished The Paper House, dipping in and out of Everywhere I Look and just started on The Eye of the Sheep which I picked up second hand at the local bookshop

Wishing: I didn’t have to pack my suitcase for tomorrow’s return home!

Marvelling: at the fact that our big kids still seem happy to come away with us on holiday!

What are you up to? Are you having a holiday at the moment? Is it away or at home?  Maybe you have one coming up? Do you use your holidays to take stock or to be a bit of an adventurer? ‘Taking Stock’ posts are the brainchild of crafty lady Pip Licolne. Maybe you could have a go too?

image

Taking Stock: May ’16

image.jpeg

So. Here we are. May. How did that happen? Finally for us Melbourne peeps the weather is starting to climb only to the high teens, as autumn weather is meant to do. I can legitimately think about making soups and stewy things. Yay! Love a salad but adore warming, comfort foods. The leaves are falling and I am doing A LOT of raking up. After skipping past April, it’s time to take stock and see where this autumnal road is leading me!

eating: homemade chicken soup with a bit of chorizo thrown in. Yum!

drinking: green tea

cooking: this chicken bake for dinner

looking: after my boy who has a throat infection. Two in three months is a bit annoying!

making: ginger and honey tea for the sore-throated one. He probably won’t drink it but at least it makes me feel like a nurturing mumma!

listening: to the rain on the roof. One of the best sounds, don’t you think?

hearing: someone mowing the lawn. In the rain. Really?

reading: The Year of Magical Thinking. Thanks Isabel for the lend!

wearing: new jeans and new top. Exciting! Sprucing myself up a bit!

wanting: the current issue of Dumbo Feather. It was too stormy to cross the road to the newsagent’s this morning!

watching: Masterchef. I always say I won’t and then it starts, and the judges are so nice, and it’s such an easy to show to watch, and then someone is apparently cooking the best dish EVER…

giggling: at the amusing messages on my Mother’s Day cards!

enjoying: the prospect of a week with no after-school activities

hoping: to finish my cowl very soon so I can get on to my scarf project

wishing: I could feel some sense of routine about my weeks. Everything feels like it has been a bit higgledy-piggledy this year. People are at uni/not at uni, home for dinner/not home, going to work early/going late, etc. I’m waking up each morning thinking ‘what IS going on today?’

knowing: I’m super fortunate to have spent Mother’s Day with my mum and both my children

feeling: happy Waleed won the Gold Logie. Not that I hold any reverence for the Logies but I do love Waleed. He’s ace. My boy sat a couple of seats away from him at the football on Friday night. He said he was a focussed and contained supporter.

wondering: how we will survive an eight week election campaign? So many on ads on TV already.

pondering: who does deserve my vote?

How are things travelling for you now that we’re nearing the halfway mark of the year? Are you bunkering down for the approaching winter or anticipating the coming warmth of summer days? Taking Stock posts are the brainchild of the ideas queen Pip Lincolne. Maybe you want to ‘take stock’ too?

image

.