Category Archives: friends

Another year

Wicket_cardAnother year down, and all is well! I’m still here and my numbers are still nice and low – 12 last time we looked. For this, I thank modern medicine and the wizardry of my two surgeons. I’m happy but never entirely out of the woods. I walk in the wooded valley of the shadow of the Rainbow Bridge. People think the Rainbow Bridge is just for pets but it’s not; it takes bookings from anyone. Actually none of us ever gets out of the woods. There’s always more woods. And woods are beautiful places, buzzing with life…

Anyway, I’m getting carried away by my own metaphors, so let’s move on.

While last year was all about taxol, carboplatin and long stretches of time on the couch, this year was a bit of whirl as I got back into Life at 100km an hour. Teaching was weird. I’m probably a bit like Samson, taking strength from my hair. I felt I didn’t have quite enough hair to stand in front of a room of 19 year olds and hold my own.  Meanwhile, I was sewing three giant turquoise dresses and learning my steps for the Invisible Body performance in May, where three of us did nifty moves on stage while someone else read out our personal accounts of living in bodies. We did this twice and then on the last day of the Bathurst outpost of the Sydney Writer’s Festival I got to be on a little panel of bloggers talking about our blogs. I said I blogged every Thursday, no matter what. This commitment has now begun to unravel, as you may have noticed.

What else went on this year? Check the photos on the computer. Oh, a LOT! There was a little campaign to save the Tremain silos in Keppel Street (saved!); Tracey Carpenter’s campaign for the state seat of Bathurst (retained by Paul Toole); the giant Diffenbacchia pot plant reached the level of the ceiling fan and then FELL OVER. I cut it off to its stump, leaving its two daughter plants to replace their mother (they are going very well); we had an Afternoon Teal to raise money for ovarian cancer at which Deb and Bernie, Max and Joey auctioned small items and we made lots of money (and Larissa baked cakes using the neighbour’s stove because ours was on the blink); there was the trip to Kandos to help Karen Golland poke pom poms into the ground, and then a day at Cementa; a school hols visit including nephews and a random kid they brought along; a trip to Shelley beach with Bertie and his cousin Wicket; painting ring-pulls for this year’s Waste to Art exhibition; an attempt to make sauerkraut (it looked the part but we never ate it); making Nicole Welch’s promotional video; getting more hair; going to TASMANIA (Maria Island and Hobart and a bit of the east coast) with Ranger Steve; experiencing a day of snow in the streets of Bathurst; experiencing, with all of Bathurst, the shock of the murder-suicide of cafe proprietor Elie Issa and beautiful real estate agent Nadia Cameron; more hair; following along as Mum constructed a separate wing at the back of Deb’s place to move in to; and then the grand flurry of the 200 Plants and Animals exhibition in the Bathurst CBD, followed by a battle to stop a gold mine sucking water out of the Macquarie River. Steve’s sudden obsession with kayaks. Whoa! No wonder I’m tired! And that’s not to mention the first steps into a PhD and the most amazing thing I haven’t mentioned yet but will mention now.

Over the last half of this year, I was mentored by the totally amazing and brilliant Charlotte Wood, author of The Submerged Cathedral and The Natural Way of Things as I made one last charge up over the trench and into the enemy lines of Finishing This Wretched Novel for Once and For All. (I’d finished it before, a couple of times, but not really. It still had essential problems, problems I was hoping some editor, somewhere, would help me fix.) Charlotte gave me some big guns. Howitzers. These will be handy in future battles. So as 2015 comes to a close The Lucky Galah, the novel I’ve been working on forever, is now really, truly, ruly finished, except for some typos and tiny touch-ups. And I’m so glad I didn’t settle for faulty earlier drafts. This novel is not quite the perfect thing I had in mind, but it is as good as it’s ever going to get, so that’s that. Done. Line ruled under. All over.

Meanwhile, out in the bigger picture, I just want to take a moment to savour the moment Tony Abbot was ousted. I know all the stuff about Malcolm carrying on most of the same policies, only in a more smooth-talking way, but I tell you what, that moment of waking up the next day was pure bliss. It was like a weight dropping off the shoulders of the nation.

Finally, little Wicket the long-haired dog really did step over the Rainbow Bridge recently. Vale Wicket. And Vonnie, my sister’s Mother in Law, with whom I spent many Christmas days. And thinking of Dad, too, who is sitting on a chair on a deck somewhere over the Rainbow Bridge, with his big white Maremma dog at his feet, looking through his binoculars at all the native Australian birds in the tree canopies.

This (invisible) body

It’s ten to eleven pm on a Thursday night. Am I really going to start my post at this late hour? I suppose the answer is yes. I’m still limping around, Googling “meniscus”, rubbing my right knee. My moment with the 422 bus continues to haunt me. It’s funny – having survived much worse bodily assaults over the past year or so, it’s this minor injury that’s getting me down. I don’t like to limp. I like to dart. I like to dart across the room when a student calls me over to their computer so we can peer at the thing that won’t work together. I like to dart from one end of the house to go and get the thing I forgot to bring from the other room, and dart again because I got distracted and still didn’t bring it. I like to jump into the car with nine seconds to spare, get there, slam the car door and hurtle into whatever it is with no seconds to spare, breathing hard from the exertion. All of that has been impossible over the past ten days or so. I have to move slowly and limp. This body. This &^%$# body. This temple, this vale of tears, this jewel, this England. Nar, not England. Just knee. Stiff. Sore. Making me limp. Making me feel more like the other slow, stiff, limping people of the world. They come out after morning rush hour to do a bit of slow shopping, a bit of slow post office and bank.

I walk slowly across campus and meet two juvenile magpies who don’t bother to move because such a slow-moving being is unlikely to be dangerous.

A lot of other people have bad knees. They’re all over the Internet, next to pictures of knees with red halos of pain.

Meanwhile, I’m supposed to be rehearsing for Invisible Body, a short  performance piece three of us are doing for the Bathurst outpost of the Sydney Writers’ Festival. I’ve been learning my part by sitting on a chair, doing the movements from the waist up. If worst comes to worst, I’ll do it on stage like that, on a stool. But I do want to be up on both legs for this one. And then on the Sunday, I’ll be part of a panel titled The Joy of Blogging. Note that blogging isn’t always a joy. Sometimes it’s oh-hell-it’s-Thursday-and-I-have-to-write-something. But mostly it’s a joy.

Oh yes, and not one but two people in my Thursday morning TAFE class have only one knee. Both have prostheses for their other leg. There’s always someone worse off, as they say. But then, there’s always Arlo Guthrie’s last guy. The one for whom there’s absolutely nobody worse off. Here it is on YouTube. He starts talking about the last guy at about 2.22 minutes in on this clip.

Nine is nice; 422 not so much.

nine_from_sesame_streetI think I’ve written before about the joy of nine. Nine is the nicest number. It’s lovely when you have a blood test and wait, shaking in your boots, for the results, only to be told: “Nine”. I couldn’t actually wait for the appointment with my chemo doctor. I got on the phone and asked a nurse to give me a sneak preview. She came back on the phone and said nine very casually, in passing, as though it would have been all the same if it were some other number. Great wave of relief. Another two and three-quarters months of getting on with everything until the next blood test and the next set of results.

That sorted, I set off for Sydney for my three-monthly checkup, which would now just be a matter of just going through the motions. I got myself to Sydney and set myself up in my temporary lodgings in Newtown amongst the kelpies (actually two kelpies, a kelpie-border collie cross and a visiting whippet) and then set off for the city. I discovered a 422 bus was coming shortly – all good. But then, talking to my fellow bus-stop person, I realised I’d forgotten something. I needed an Opal Card. You can’t just get on a bus and give the driver your small change any more; you’ve got to go to a nearby newsagent and get this card, which is all very wonderful but not if you want to catch THIS bus right NOW. I dashed half a block down to the newsagent, got hold of my Opal Card and saw that the bus was just arriving. I darted for it and my knee went into a spasm. I limp-hopped as fast as I could but the bus wasn’t waiting for me. The driver’s head was deliberately turned the other way. People on the street were sympathetic. One woman thought I’d actually been hit by the bus because all the events – run, bus, limp – seemed to clash together. I said no, my knee just went, all by itself.

So I limped away off, expecting that any minute now, my knee would shake itself back into position. But it didn’t. I went on limping. I went on fuming about the 422 bus when really it was all about my darting and dashing and not proceeding in the proper stately manner. I’m still limping but my Bathurst GP tells me I just have a minor medial meniscus tear, aka Sore Knee, and it’ll right itself over the next week or so. Anyway, here’s another fave tune from Sesame Street:

Back on the Hobbytex fumes

I’ve just arisen from the sofa, where I had a glorious two-hour nap (2pm to 4pm) all snuggled up in a pudgy doona listening to the rain patter endlessly on the roof. I thoroughly enjoyed this interlude and only feel a little bit guilty about it. It was a bit of mental time out from the great pile of things I should be doing/could be doing. I’m going around with this pile stacked on my head like a woman in Africa carting water or a girl in a grooming and deportment class. It’s nice to sometimes just shake my head, stand to one side and let all those titles (the books of Marking, Reading Serious Things, Writing Serious Things, Organising Stuff) fall to the floor. And step over them and lie down.

Besides the doona/sofa combination I do love a bit of craft. Craft is the gift that goes on giving. I have no professional credentials in craft. I’m a naive craft artist, like Grandma Moses was a naive painter. I do it the way it’s done in middle childhood. With gusto and lumpiness.

Hobbytex_WIPOver the past few days I’ve returned to my 2015 Waste to Art entry (deadline at the end of this month). I’ve had the Hobbytex out to paint my collected vintage ring pulls. I’m painting two reds to every black to make up my series of carbon dioxide molecules. These are hanging from the framework of an old macrame pendant lamp, bought off eBay a few years ago for the Lost Arts of the 1970s exhibition. I skinned it down to its skeleton, saved the wooden beads and threw away the dusty layers of thick, cream synthetic cord. All those hours of finger-straining work, unraveled, hacked up, dumped in the wheelie bin. Sorry.

Hobbytex paint, as some of you may know, is pungent stuff. This is pure petrochemical twentieth century toxin. To revive the almost-hardened paint in vintage tubes, I’ve been twisting off the nibs and dribbling in drops of thinners. Hobbytex thinners are the most extreme thinners imaginable. Virulent. Approach in full body gear. They work beautifully. The paint softens and glistens, forgetting its age, instantly reverting to its pliable, dazzling youth.

Hobbytex is so cool, I’m amazed it has never been hipsterised. If the company could just rework itself for a new age – like Tom Jones did, finding a new audience among the children of his original fans – then there might be a way for it to survive. Hobbytex’s soul sister, the paint-by-number phenomenon in the United States, has had something of a revival. And colouring-in for adults is big at the moment. But no. The Hobbytex company appears to be sticking to its stolid dagginess (bless its cotton socks). I fear the day they finally do what I did to the macrame pendant lamp shade.

Hobbytex_WIP_2Anyway, I’ve used up a bit of my precious Hobbytex on a found toy car to create an impression of the Marlboro livery of Peter Brock’s famous race winner. It will sit under the dome of the skeletal lamp shade, representing the contribution to greenhouse gases of the internal combustion engine.  It’s all coming together, slowly.


In the meantime, I’m slogging through a project initiated by my friend Fiona Green, called Invisible Body. I say slogging because I’ve had to drag myself through it the way this person drags a cat who does not want to go for a walk on leash. Invisible Body will be a ten to fifteen minute performance during the Bathurst chapter of the Sydney Writers Festival. Three of us will read out pieces about our own bodies and perform things, on stage, physically in front of people. This is where the dread comes in. I’m happy to write, I’m happy to read things out, I’m happy to do bits and pieces on video that can be edited later but I’ve managed to avoid doing live theatre since about the age of 14, when I was a fairy in a pantomime put on in the Carnarvon Civic Cente. All memory of this performance has been lost without trace and even the building it happened in has long been demolished and replaced. That’s how much me and live theatre are not a thing. I’m doing this project out of an idea that it’ll be good for me and maybe for others (I’ll be talking about my illness and surgery, so it counts as an awareness activity). It’s good to stretch out of my comfort zone and participate in original theatre being created in my own town. That’s what I’m thinking. What I’m feeling is Reluctant Cat on Leash Being Dragged Across Floor. If I can just get on top of doing the skippety hops in time with the others (skippety skippety forwards, skippety skippety back) without losing it on the backwards skips, I might feel better about it. We’re giving two performances at the BMEC on May 22 and 23.


Damon_writingJust looking through the pictures I’ve taken over the past couple of weeks. So much going on! I particularly love this piece of creative non-fiction by Damon, young friend of my nephews, who was here for one night during the school hols. Pure Kerouac, I think.


Cockatoos, mushrooms and feral children

Crafty mushrooms in a quiet moment, Kandos Community Hall.

Crafty mushrooms in a quiet moment, Kandos Community Hall.

Yesterday I spent three hours companionably in the company of crocheted, knitted and otherwise crafted mushrooms. They were poked into a mesh bed, and under the mesh, it was a tangle of white string that made me think of neurons in trouble – the sort of image used to show to illustrate the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. The mushrooms were made during a community craft workshop led by Liz Day, and they were part of the Cementa 15 contemporary art festival in Kandos.

The tangled network below the mesh represented what really goes on in in nature. Plants talk to each other via the fungus internet.

I was scheduled to mind these mushrooms for three hours from 1pm to 4pm yesterday afternoon. Before I headed off to the community hall for my shift I picked up a Cementa 15 counted cross-stitch kit. I imagined sitting quietly beside the mushrooms, stitching contemplatively, nodding or chatting to the visitors coming through.

But when I got there it was all as noisy as a PCYC hall in full swing, with children shouting, people shouting at the shouting children and lots of other colour and movement. This was art outside the “white cube” of the art gallery. This was art in amongst it. Would it hold up to the thrashing? My job was to keep the kids off and out of the mushrooms. Two feral children (where the hell were the parents?) spent the afternoon going near, near, near, over, over, around, around but not quite touching. Apparently they’d been there all morning, too. They’d taken up residence near the mushrooms. This was their spot for the day. In a faintly aggressive manner they offered visitors wrapped Starburst lollies. (Lucky they were wrapped, because the fingers were grubby.) Some accepted the gift, others frowned. Eventually the kids spilled half a bottle of no-name Cola over the wooden floor and were sent out.

Merciful quietness.

One of them came back, hovering in the doorway. “Out!” I said, having had more than enough. But he had in his hand a fragrant double delight rose, obviously pinched from a nearby garden, which he handed to me. So I took the rose and let him walk quietly across the floor to the back door.

The room at the back of the hall also contained Christine McMillan‘s great big pile firewood. It looked like an ordinary woodpile except that each piece was nice and smooth on one side, showing off the grain. Men in particular liked this one. Women gravitated towards the mushrooms. For whatever reason – nature or nurture or an interesting combo – that’s what I observed.

There was a robot down the far end of the room that wasn’t working. “Robot’s off,” I’d say as people entered. This box, made out of pallets, the shape of a tardis or phone box, stood silently, unmoving. Some people, having read that it was supposed to follow you around, spent time with it, doing hopeful antics around it. But it stood there, blankly, offering nothing.

Before that, my friend Jacqui and I sat on a pew in the little stone church on the other corner to experience Jason Wing‘s sound installation. The sound was of cockatoos and other birds recorded in Blacktown and Kandos. The piece related to how stolen Aboriginal children and their parents would try to communicate with each other using bird sounds, because the missionaries forbade them to use their own languages. The screeching got louder and louder until we were all completely absorbed in this sound and then, as it tailed off, you heard the monotonous raspy cries of baby birds calling for food, and the beautiful carolling of magpies. Cockatoos speak directly to my soul.  “My true church”, I scribbled in pencil as I listened. I looked at the empty wooden holder for HYMNS and listened to the hymns of this country.

And then, after the cockatoos and the mushrooms and feral children, I went back to Karen‘s pom poms planted in the vacant block with the majestic escarpment behind them. Leanne, who lives in the house opposite, had composed a poem about them. She read it out so I could record it on my phone. As she finished reading, a small flock of parrots flew across the sky.