Did You Know 35% of 15-Year-Olds Are NOT Digitally Literate or Proficient in Technology?

laptop

As mentioned in a previous blog, I attended a conference on Adult Education in the community sector where I’ve worked for two decades. This was a great opportunity to consider how learning has changed and what it will look like into the future.

The Foundation For Young Australians was represented by Shona McPherson who is passionate about redefining the role of young people in our society, as well as her belief that the not-for-profit sector can drive social innovation in Australia.

The Foundation has produced detailed reports and these can be downloaded or read on their website. The shocking statistic in the title for this blog is one of them.

Before saying, “Oh, that can’t be true,” it is worthwhile reading the research.

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Teenagers may be big on using Facebook, gaming, and texting but that is not necessarily literacy.

  • Can they use more than Google’s search engine to find information and when they find it can they verify its provenance?
  • Can they format a document?
  • Can they write and send a coherent email?
  • Do they know the difference between various types of files?
  • Do they understand about security on the Internet?

In 2018, we have more than one generation of digital natives, but not necessarily literate ones yet 90% of jobs will require digital literacy

Digital literacy involves:

  • basic skills
  • getting online
  • communication knowhow
  • navigate online
  • create documents

digital-literacy-for-common-core-educators-44-638

What Does Being Literate Mean?

Shona focused on digital literacy and building a different mindset for the future but another speaker, Sally Thompson, the Deputy Director of the Future Social Service Institute, who is an education analyst and leader with a background in adult literacy, challenged us to think about how we view literacy and what it will mean for future adult learning needs.

What do adults use literacy for and how do they learn?

Why do they learn?

  • How do we apply reading and writing in everyday life? 
  • In this world of globalisation, many people speak read and write variations of English.
  • It is also a digital world.
  • The main game for us in the community education sector is building a network so people can live meaningful lives.
  • This is complex.

A project by the Australian National University mapped literacy in an Aboriginal community where indigenous language has been retained.

What is reading and writing to them and what did they use their literacy skills for?

Researchers discovered the church, community radio, and other shared hubs for community life were where text was generated.

  • making of culture was the aim,
  • also interacting with other groups
  • and there was extensive use of literacy mediators.

For example, in the Aboriginal community, there were a lot of fly-in/fly-out service providers. When people encountered new texts they didn’t try and master all of it but sought help from the Christian pastor, retail workers in the shops (mainly young women) and those permanent workers or volunteers at community hubs like the radio station.

We all use literacy mediators!

If you have a new mobile phone you don’t read the manual you find a teenager.

If you buy furniture or any other item that needs assembling (think Ikea) you may call a friend or check Youtube.

If you want to understand the prospectus of a tertiary institution, health information, public transport timetables, and numerous other pieces of information that may be delivered in an unfamiliar or detailed format, you ask a friend, a family member, an employee, a receptionist… even a passing member of the public who looks as if they are knowledgeable or confident!

workstation Toronto.jpg

Globalisation has made literacy a patchwork.

It takes a village to be literate in the modern globalised world.

The image we have of someone illiterate is confirmation bias. We think poor, disadvantaged, miserable but research has proven this is NOT TRUE!

  • Researchers discovered the majority of those traditionally regarded as miserable actually live fulfilled meaningful lives by relying on networks to navigate texts.
  • They don’t see themselves as dependent nor do they usually employ someone to read and write for them.  If they do, a lot of trust is required.

However, Sally said the cliches still exist.

If you have no mates you’re in trouble, if low literacy and no friends you are in diabolical trouble.

In the community sector, we often deal with the cliches (those in diabolical trouble, friendless and illiterate, or with poor literacy skills.)

We work incredibly hard in the adult education sector to ensure people can return to education or continue lifelong learning.

However, regardless of our position, we are all literacy mediators especially administration staff who are the first responders to people coming in and needing brochures/leaflets interpreted.

Similar scenarios occur in medical facilities, retail establishments and many government or banking offices. 

There are numerous social interactions and explanations where staff are entrusted to help people or where people help others understand a map, a guidebook, operating instructions etc.

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The research into various communities showed that:

Tradesmen’s wives, parish secretaries, administration and reception staff – these people often have bi-cultural experience or knowledge.

The work they do is invisible. Comfortable in their environment, available, non-judgemental, and not in a position of authority, they will share their literacy skills.

Reflect on the number of times you have asked someone to decipher instructions, explain a form to be filled in, even translate a menu!

Literacy today is a complex issue. 

Especially financial literacy.

There are lots of mediators necessary because who can say they understand superannuation and the taxation system?

Not many as the current Royal Commission into the banks is revealing.

And as more and more services go online digital literacy is necessary to pay bills, pay for goods, issue accounts and quotes.

Sally suggests that there is a policy disconnect because the government thinks you can only teach and examine levels of literacy in a particular way and so there is a political origin of the tests we use to judge skills.

Isle of Arran 2017

How do you measure literacy?

The current tests are too narrow because we are dealing with human beings, not problems to be solved. A competency-based assessment doesn’t necessarily help.

  • We are not prepared for the modern globalised world.
  • We need to make what is needed visible and encourage the government to change its attitude to funding and other measures because technology is here to stay and in every aspect of our lives.

A conference member told a story of her 17-year-old son who wanted her to play a game on his iPad. She couldn’t understand the technology, or ‘language’  used nor the rules. He became so frustrated with trying to explain that he gave up playing with her.

When getting into the city building where the conference was held we confronted technology.

A keycard with your unique code had to be collected from a central reception area, the card was swiped to go further into the foyer and gain access to a lift to our particular building and floor.

The card had to be held in a way that the barcode was read, not swiped or tapped, which was the first instinct for most people and caused a bit of confusion.

To leave the building was a similar process – a bit like tapping on and off a Myki for the trains and trams (and this was a new experience for country members).

The use of barcodes and scanning is increasing.

I remember when I volunteered at MIFF (Melbourne International Film Festival) a few years ago only a few patrons downloaded movie tickets onto their mobile phones and the scanners we had were unreliable and didn’t always work.

Today, most people print off tickets or download them onto their phones. If you don’t, you suffer long queues at venues where less staff are employed to deal with the “digital dinosaurs”.

However, navigating websites for information or to buy products can be a nightmare because of poorly worded instructions.

Southland Shopping Centre has introduced paid parking since the train station has opened. Shoppers get the first 3 hours free and movie-goers get an extra hour if they ‘scan the barcode on their ticket’.

What is not clearly understood is that you must take your downloaded ticket to the box office and exchange it for a barcode because just scanning your printed ticket won’t give you that extra hour free. It would be helpful if these instructions were on the website or added to the ticket.

To “get out the carpark free” you have to scan the collected barcode, key in your car number plate and wait for a confirmation.

When I went with my daughters to see the latest Marvel movie (fantastic by the way!) there were a lot of confused customers, a queue at the ticket machine, and most people had to try several times to get the instruction sequence right.

Digitalisation is increasing but so are frustration levels and those not competent with new technology will be increasingly isolated.

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What does it mean to be smart?

Shona  McPherson asked the conference who was the smartest person at school and why did we think they were smart.

A quick discussion around the tables revealed we judged people’s smartness in different ways but usually who got the highest marks in a test or performed better at a sport.

On reflection, we know this is a bad perception, but we still look at who gets the highest TER at VCE.

We carry these perceptions into adult life and yet it should be challenged – employers are usually not interested in high school scores.

But, we still think in numbers when we judge success. In workplaces, it is the ones who have the best sales figures or best results who are considered the smartest.

 A truck driver may not think he is good at maths and may not be able to write well and yet he can look at a truck and know exactly how many pallets it will take, its capacity and weight and fill out relevant forms.

For us, it’s about working out the student needs and directing energy to what they don’t know, not what they already know, and giving them the confidence to see what skills they already have and to build or adapt them to the digital future.

The perception that high test scores are the indicator of smartness is now outdated in workplaces and should be challenged. Other skills are more important and not necessarily quantified by numbers

  • financial literacy, personal initiative, enterprise skills, computer coding, communicating via email etc
  • the practical application should be building those skills in schools, looking at the VCAL system to improve outcomes and adapting to digital workplaces
  • intergenerational learning – using young people skills for older learners

Accreditation will be different – individual and acquired skills will be judged holistically.

Watching 3 TED Talks you have completed learning but how do you measure it? The motivation for learning must be the number one priority but how do you provide the carrot to excite students?

And talking about TED talks these ones by Sir Ken Robinson are worth watching:

What will learning look like in the future?

  • On-demand learning, e-Learning, just in time, and m-learning (mobile learning).
  • It will be modern and contemporary, MOOC, in-bundling and less sitting in classrooms
  • Learning will be done when you want to do it.
  • It is the era of the individual – what do I need? How do I get it?
  • Less structure, more independence and embracing technology.
  • Increasingly there is the attitude ‘get on board or get out of the way.’
  • Don’t reject it because it’s everywhere like SMART phones!
  • Learning is not just face-to-face anymore but we are still connected whether through videos, podcasts, webinars, Skype, Messenger, closed Facebook groups…

Our city is changing rapidly and so must we – I was struck by how isolated Bunjil, the Great Eagle sculpture looked – almost swamped by high-rise and high-tech – and yet Aboriginal culture survives, has adapted, adopted, and influenced…

People look insignificant from the top floors of the buildings too. The future, like our city, will look different but that doesn’t have to be negative.

Teachers in the Sector have been Called to Action

  1. Challenge what you think you know
  2. More important work out what you don’t know
  3. Make a plan for the future
  4. Planning meets opportunity = luck
  5. Ask questions of mentors and others in your professional network

Lifelong learning will look different

  • Risk being foolish and making mistakes with technology.
  • Learning programs must be co-designed – sharing technical knowledge and talent.

Skills are transferable

  • behaviour management
  • confidence building
  • navigating your way around work

Don’t be a Digital Dinosaur!

How Do Writers Benefit?

Mastering digital technology has empowered writers to publish their work and keep all the income for themselves. Some writers have embraced this control and thrived, but many more still struggle striving for elusive success.

Not every writer wants to, as the latest buzzword insists “monetize” their creativity, some just want to publish their poetry, short stories, family history or novel for the joy of writing and sharing.  Even so, skills and quality control are needed.

There are many steps in the process of writing and publishing – each one important:

  • good editing
  • design formatting
  • ISBN
  • quality covers
  • copyright
  • launching – real and/or virtual
  • publicity and marketing – blogging, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube…
  • financial matters such as how will people pay, downloading, invoicing and taxation responsibilities

At every step, you will encounter technology – be prepared and learn – and I can think of no better place to upgrade skills and confidence than at your local neighbourhood house.

The following are just a selection of what is on offer at Godfrey Street in Bentleigh (9557 9037), but similar classes will be found at Longbeach Place in Chelsea (9776 1386) and other community houses around the Victoria.

Understanding and mastering the new technology in a sensible, ordered way will assuage fear and frustration, limit mistakes, and save valuable writing time!

And you never know – you may be more digitally literate than you think. 

A fun lesson is writing a poem, short story, even a novel in bite-sized sentences of no more than 140 characters – the standard number for a Tweet – good luck!

Penultimate by M C Neil
The writing class complained
Digital tools are not for them
Pen and ink and even type
Will outlast this Twitter hype!

Nevertheless, they wrote some great poems and flash fiction.

 

 

 

It Will Be A ‘Happy Earth Day’ If We All Care

to plant a garden

I received a couple of emails today from newsletters and blogs I subscribe to wishing me “Happy Earth Day.”

I’m ashamed to say, I didn’t know much about this celebration despite the fact it’s been happening for 48 years and is celebrated every year by more than a billion people in 180 nations around the world!

A Plea for Earth Day 2018

Mairi Neil

Earth, our planet, may be unique in this vast universe

And yet, we take its bounty for granted

Really, we are running out of time

To heal and save this damaged miracle

How foolish we are to ignore the signs

 

Do nothing’ is not an option… Reduce Reuse Recycle

Act now to save ecosystems like the Great Barrier Reef or

Year in year out, climate change will wreak havoc

greenery mordialloc

What Is Earth Day?

In 1969, U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, recruited activist Denis Hayes to organize a teach-in on April 22, 1970, a day chosen to raise awareness among the American public of an environment many thought was in ‘visible ruins’ and to put green issues on the political agenda.

It wasn’t uncommon in some cities during rush hour to be standing on a street corner and not be able to see across the street because of pollution.

Nelson and others decided to use the consciousness-raising awareness methods from the anti-Vietnam Movement and organised protests and teach-ins, which today some people credit for launching the modern environmental movement.

“The American people finally had a forum to express its concern about what was happening to the land, rivers, lakes, and air—and they did so with spectacular exuberance.”

The day still provides a benchmark for reflection among people in the environmental community although the movement now involves many other special days focusing on different aspects of “being green” and is not just USA-centric.

By the end of 1970, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had been born, and efforts to improve air and water quality were gaining political traction. And as we all know, the USA is a world leader and many countries followed their lead but not Australia – we are still waiting for a national policy!

children at gardenworld

What Can We Do For Earth Day?

For me, every day is Earth Day and I really do try and limit my environmental footprint. My garden is a work in progress. I try and choose trees and plants that are indigenous to the area, although I do have ornamental and introduced flowers, but always I consider the birds, bees and butterflies!

butterfly on rosemarymagpies in front garden

We can all plant trees and flowers or encourage our local authorities to do so.

Be a dendrophile!

“Planting a tree, morally and poetically, requires taking care of it for a really long time, not just sticking it in the ground.” 

slide of tree presentation

 

Earth Day Facts

Although the idea for Earth Day began in the USA, activists can claim environmental victories that have impacted globally.

National Geographic lists 48 changes in the USA since 1970 and of those the following have made changes internationally:

1975 Global Agreement on Endangered Species

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species was drafted for signatures in 1973 and went into effect in 1975. Signatory countries agree to ban or restrict trade in endangered species and their body parts. Although black markets arose for such products as tiger skins and elephant tusks, countries have also worked together to combat such trafficking.

 

1982 Saving More Whales

In 1982, the International Whaling Commission finally adopted a moratorium on commercial whaling around the world, in response to more than a decade of protests and pressure from scientists. Although pirate and controversial “scientific” whale hunts continue, the end of large-scale whaling marked a big turning point for the animals, and most species began a slow recovery from the brink of extinction.

 

1986 McPackaging Improves

In 1986, McDonalds started using biodegradable packaging, in response to criticism from environmentalists over mountains of Styrofoam containers littering roadways and choking landfills. Campaigners declared a major win, and the effort helped usher in a new era of companies both working with advocacy groups and acting on their own to reduce their environmental impact. The effort also helped raise consumer awareness about the impact of their own daily choices.

 

1987 Plugging the Ozone Hole

In 1987, many of the world’s nations came together to agree on the Montreal Protocol, which outlawed a series of chemicals that had been destroying the Earth’s protective ozone layer. Most famous among these were chlorofluorocarbons. Scientists were concerned that the loss of the ozone layer could lead to blistering rates of skin cancer and other problems. The ozone hole is now healing.

 

Thank goodness for that piece of news because Los Angeles has some of the most contaminated air in the country. … In 2013, the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside area ranked the 1st most ozone-polluted city, the 4th most polluted city by annual particle pollution, and the 4th most polluted city by 24-hour particle pollution…the American Lung Association’s recent “State of the Air 2017” report, has labelled the state and region a leader in air pollution, with the highest ozone levels.

Here is a poem I wrote when visiting the USA in 1997 when the emissions from cars and industry were choking the cities and I read in the newspaper that it was “marine layer”:

The Veil Lifted on L.A, USA 1997
Mairi Neil

It was like peering through a veil
each day –
not a pea-souper London fog,
nor a Melbourne winter smog,
no this was California, USA,
El Nino blamed for the
atmosphere being grey
and so, we peered through this veil
every day.

The citizens of Los Angeles
told it was the marine layer…
We breathed much easier knowing
government statistics kept showing
that in 1985 over 200 days
Los Angeles spent in ‘marine layer’ haze,
yet in 1997 there were only
twelve such days!

Some misguided tourists
(me included – and called deluded)
thought that veil each day
may be poisonous air pollution,
authorities struggling for a solution,
but no, ‘they’ said not so
and it’s so good to know
L.A.’s twenty-two lanes of traffic flow
only produces marine layer.

Tourists can breathe much easier knowing
that government statistics are showing…

Oops….

since then Climate Change revealed
and what big business and governments concealed…

 

1992 Rio Earth Summit

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development was a major event in Rio de Janeiro that helped focus the world’s attention on big environmental problems. It spurred all kinds of solutions, from government to civil society and business. It was there that countries agreed to start working together to address climate change. Countries also committed to increasing their use of renewable energy and to respecting the needs of indigenous people, efforts that were amplified when the UN met again in Rio 20 years later.

 

1993 Protecting Biodiversity

In 1993, the Convention on Biological Diversity went into effect after being ratified by enough countries. Nations pledged to work to protect biodiversity around the world, in a decision that is often seen as the foundation for sustainable development.

 

mordialloc creek
inner Mordialloc Creek 
bridge hotel and creek
commercial part of Mordialloc Creek

 

 

1997 Early Climate Agreement

In 1997 the Kyoto Protocol was adopted by some countries (although not the U.S). It marked an early serious attempt by world leaders to address global warming in a coordinated way.

2002 Cradle to Cradle Is Published

The book Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart helped introduce their concept of biomimetic, clean design to the public. This helped kick off a new movement to rethink all manmade processes to be more in-line with nature, including the idea of ending the concept of waste and replacing it with the idea that everything can have a use as a material for something else.

 

2003 Electric Cars Get Cool

Tesla Motors was founded by Elon Musk in 2003, helping make electric cars cutting-edge again (after they languished in obscurity for a century). Other manufacturers also pushed forward with a new round of innovation, helping ramp up a technology that many pundits think will be a boon for the environment.

 

2006 Al Gore’s Movie

Love it or hate it, the documentary An Inconvenient Truth helped raise public awareness around the threat of climate change.

2007 Rise of Walking

Walk Score was founded in 2007, rating cities, neighbourhoods, and more for how pedestrian friendly they are. The company helped raise awareness of the growing walking and biking movements, which aim to get people out of cars and into more liveable communities.

I’m a great believer in walking and using public transport. Walking your neighbourhood helps you value and protect it!

2015 Climate Agreement

In late 2015, nations came together in Paris and agreed to a new plan to limit global warming. The deal opens for formal signatures on Earth Day, and it will require countries to reduce emissions according to their pledges. Environmentalists are cautiously optimistic that the agreement represents a global turning point.

2018 Species Show Recovery

In April, the lesser long-nosed bat became the first bat to be taken off the Endangered Species List. After decades of conservation work, including working with agave growers to harvest tequila in a manner more friendly to the bats, the species has recovered its numbers to an estimated 200,000, up from just a few thousand. In June 2017, Yellowstone’s grizzly bears were removed from the endangered list, while the American wood stork was removed in 2014. These examples show that the Endangered Species Act is working, conservationists say.

The Earth is fragile and many parts need healing but Mother Nature is resilient and with our help we may not need to find planet B!

little boy and ducks Mordialloc Creek

 Happy Earth Day!

Quilters Quell Feelings Of Despair And Piece Together Stories To Impress

1. the earth without art is just 'eh'
THE EARTH WITHOUT ART IS JUST ‘EH’

This impressive quilt was just one of many on display at the Australasian Quilt Convention, held at the Exhibition Building, Carlton Gardens, April 5-8, 2018.

It is the largest dedicated quilt event in the southern hemisphere and again I used it as an opportunity to catch up with my “quilter” sister, Cate, who came down from interstate for the event, and our younger sister, Rita joined us.

The event is a wonderful celebration of creativity, craft, and community with international participation and recognition.

If you tell stories with a quilt (as many people do), express yourself through hand-crafted clothes and gifts, or adorn and decorate with embroidery, then the convention was the place to be. And, if the day we attended was anything to go by, the organisers will be thrilled with the numbers!

3. closeup bridges over bombs quilt
PEACE – entered in AQC Challenge – Borders & Bridges

Tragic Coincidence

I’m writing this as President Trump and his allies, UK and France, are bombing Syria and so have chosen the above quilt to showcase first.

Each beautifully stitched panel expressing sentiments dear to my heart. If only quilters and writers had political power…

The quilt maker’s statement will resonate with others, I’m sure:

Every time I hear the news it is filled with atrocities and cruelty… it bruises my shadow. I want to tightly shut my eyes, like a young child wishing not to be seen, in the hope they do not exist… but they do. perhaps shining a light on it through the graffiti of tomorrow will prompt us to see… to discuss… to understand… and to bridge the chasm of disinterest and inaction. By adding one reasoned, empathetic voice to another we will steadily erode the borders between us and achieve what we seek and can earn… a Peaceful World.

Maria Mason

What Do Borders & Bridges Mean To You?

This challenge was one of several given to quilters here and abroad and one Maria addressed.

Quilters from the USA also exhibited quilts responding to, and exploring, two fascinating opposites – Turmoil and Tranquility.

A group of South Australian textile artists explored the hashtag symbol. They interpreted the theme in textiles.  “Originally, a typewriter key symbol for ‘number’, the hashtag is now widely used as a means of connecting targeted audiences on social media platforms.’ (Another ‘topical’ topic!)

The Van Gogh Cherrywood Challenge, Dutch Gallery Tour, also came from the USA. The latest exhibit a predominantly blue swathe of exquisite quilts inspired by Vincent’s life, many of his artistic motifs, and even some fun play on titles and his name.

There was an exhibition Met In Melbourne, from eight Australian textile artists who had dinner at the AQC in 2016 and decided to create ‘pieces of/for 8’ – choosing to make quilt panels focusing on a concept of words ending in “ate” as their theme. (Grab your dictionary – concatenate, undulate, ameliorate, rotate, migrate, pomegranate, decorate and ornate.)

Like the variety of responses in writing class to prompts and triggers, the quilters didn’t disappoint. Their thought-provoking, inspirational, and brilliant interpretations, whether of word, theme, or concept absolutely delightful. 

 

4. violin bridge quilt.jpg
Who would have thought of the violin’s bridge?

 

Another quilt maker asked, “Is this Paradise?”

I looked from the tour bus and saw them, Syrian refugees, huddled on a street in Athens, mattresses bundled under tarps. They all had a look of abject misery, here in a place barely able to support itself, let alone provide them with the future they had risked so much to find.

With this thought in my mind I scanned the Internet for more information about borders and bridges, there were so many stories of people crossing bridges and unmanned borders from war torn lands throughout all the world. Did any of them find their Paradise?

Sue Mobilia

5. is this paradise quilt.jpg
Is This Paradise?

I liked quilt maker Jeannie Henry’s declaration that “Borders and bridges are artificial constructs created by man but ignored by nature.” Jeannie and a couple of other quilters used bridges bordering Victoria and NSW, or over the Murray River as subjects.

Linden Lancaster declares, ” I grew up in the border town of Echuca… spent many hours on the river – a scruffy, suntanned girl – swimming, fishing and riding my bike up and down the goofies with friends. Sometimes we would construct cubbies in the shadow of the bridge when the river was low. My first kiss was under that bridge, bridging childhood into adolescence. Forty years later, the painted graffiti of first crushes are still being proclaimed from the bridge pylons and framework.”

Shirley Drayton trips down memory lane too, ” The Echuca Moama Bridge… originally a road and rail bridge with the Fruit Fly Inspection a stone’s throw from the bridge, to stop the fruit from coming over the border from NSW, to prevent the spread of fruit fly. Mr Ron Hicks (my uncle) the fruit fly inspector… The cars had to stop and wait for the train to come across the bridge. Cattle were taken across for market day at approximately 6.00am, again cars had to wait until all stock and stockmen were completely across.”

How Writers can be Inspired

In my writing classes, particularly Life Stories at Godfrey Street, I’ve given Crossing Borders as a topic and ‘burning bridges’ – something most of us have done in our lives. However, many of the quilts focused on a sense of place, not just for the Borders & Bridges Challenge but even those addressing other themes.

“Place” (or setting) is a great writing topic to make a lesson around – not just for a memoir. A sense of, or focus on, a place can trigger all types of creative writing.

There were many fascinating interpretations of the Bridges & Borders topic. The quilts created were striking – geat for inspiring a writing class, especially poetry.

Topical issues, whimsy reflections, emotional reminiscing and gut-wrenching observations. Quilters love words too – some even incorporate them in quilts.

quilt marriage equality.jpg
Marriage Equality 2017

 

Marriage equality is the bridge across the heart of human love and understanding. Negative emotions and thoughts make up the sea of negativity that border this act of love.

Ronda Hazel

 

12. young woman and body not to be abused.jpg
The World Awaits #TimesUp

 

Fear of or caused by sexual assault causes restrictions and confinements in lifestyle and thought. These borders are internalised, held within the model, stitched in text. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements are exciting bridges, for the first time ever women are being heard and believed. The onus is starting to be on men to change – and not on women to curtail their lifestyle, to dress conservatively, to not provoke. Stitched into the background are words of empowerment and hope. This quilt can be hung either way up. the model in bridge pose or flying through the sky, free.

Neroli Henderson.

 

16. koala quilt.jpg
Bridge To Extinction

 

‘Bridge To Extinction’ highlights the conflict between humans and nature. Koalas create borders within their eucalypt habitat. Logging in Southeast Queensland forests shrinks these borders and threatens their survival. Using dyes, printed text, paint and stitch on fabric, I wanted to turn the dry words from the newspaper into imagery that couldn’t be ignored. As human ‘progress’ destroys its habitat, the koala escapes on a log bridge to wasteland. I reflect on the irony of providing koala bridge crossings whilst fragmenting the bushland that serves as their only food source and home.

Marie Mitchell

 

 

13. rosellas and galahs quilt
Bridging The Borders

 

conceptually linked to the theme… by its very title. The borders are the empty husks of the gumnuts on the right, symbolising youth and as such empty of knowledge and the full, flowering gumnuts on the left, symbolise old age and being of wisdom and experience. The bridge is represented by the birds arching in full flight across the sky, connecting one side to the other and symbolising the flight of time between youth and old age. Leap from one side and trust that your own momentum shall carry you to the other side.

Kathryn Harmer Fox

 

11. masking ptsd - bulding bridges quilt
A Hidden Reality

 

P.T.S.D. is an insidious and debilitating disorder. Every part of your life is affected. Enduring workplace harassment and bullying led to devastating consequences for me. I was told to ‘build bridges and get over it’. Physically and mentally I was unable to cross the border from NSW to VIC for several years. My career was shattered. I learnt to mask emotions in order to function. Emotionally and creatively I felt dead for several years. the theme resonated immediately for me. The image flashed into my mind and stayed there. Creating it was cathartic. I am a survivor – speak up about bullying.

Julie Evans

 

9. looking for the edge- two generations bridged
Looking For The Edge

 

“Taken from a photograph of my daughter and granddaughter as they gaze out across the sand towards the open ocean. The sand is the border between land and sea. My daughter and granddaughter bridge the generations as they hold hands sharing the moment. They do this often in a silent communication of their shared love for the beach.”

Di Tramontana

 

14. love bridges all borders
LOVE BRIDGES ALL BORDERS

A great display of heartfelt offerings with memorable and thoughtful designs produced by deft hands and artistic minds.

Van Gogh In Stitches

The Cherrywood Challenge was in Australia from the USA for the first time and the exhibit displayed textile art inspired by Van Gogh’s life and masterworks. It was an extensive tribute to the much-loved artist.

Participants from all over the world with 200 out of 450 entries selected. The quilts will travel throughout the world. Participants win fabric prizes, receive extensive exposure and have their work published in a book.

Not surprisingly, there is a growing interest in the Cherrywood Challenge and I think it is appealing to a younger audience than is usually associated with quilting. The next theme being Prince, the musician – cherrywoodfabricsbigcartel.com

 

 

Tradition Versus Technology

There were plenty of traditional quilts on display but I overheard a couple of older ladies lamenting the introduction of “too much technology” – for them hand stitching still the mark of a good quilter.

There may be some resistance to technology, a fear it is ‘overwhelming’ what many proudly boast as a craft were needlework and handmade were the keys to excellence.

Others were ecstatic about the new sewing machines, embroidery attachments, printers that process photographs and material, computerised design and stencil cutters and numerous other offerings from the stall holders, teachers and workshops at the convention.

The digital divide is everywhere – those that embrace and those that resist.

It may be a case of move over or adapt Baby Boomers if you don’t want the Millenials to needle you! Times change – and often for the better…

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Generations Explained

And in case you wonder where you fit in, here is a potted version of The Atlantic’s explanation – believe what you will:

  • Greatest Generation, 1930-1946 – they fought and many died in WW2 for ‘our freedom’.
  • Baby Boomers, 1946 – 1964 – freedom from fear because the war was over and relaxation of sexual mores means the name is self-explanatory.
  • Gen X, 1965 -1984 – because it fits a nice 20-year time span, spoiled, apparently they think they’re ‘cool’.
  • Gen Y, – mid-70s to mid-2000s – but considered a made-up generation, so really fake – skip to Millenials…
  • Millenials, 1982 -2004 – the digital natives who apparently want it all.

From a Baby Boomer With Millenial Daughters

I like traditional quilts and know how much time, effort, and expertise is involved – I’ve observed my sister and had many discussions with her and listened while she has explained in great depth the intricacies of various methods of applique, patchwork, dramatic designs, embroidery, paper-piercing and fussy cutting techniques.

However, she belongs to a quilting group that is open to new methods, technology and new ideas – caring, sharing and learning a great philosophy.

I have two creative daughters totally comfortable with new technology and pop culture.

Below is a minute selection of traditional quilts on display – there were even rows of the ‘Best in Australia” with award winners from every state.

I love the inclusion of non-traditional articles and adaptations. We met a young lass who loves cosplay. She was promoting sewing machines with attachments that did specific embroidery and lace effects.

We chatted about cosplay and I mentioned some of the memorable costumes I saw when I went to a convention in Sydney a few years ago.

Her anime costume a gorgeous pink layered dress with rabbit ears headgear. She wore the dress recently as a volunteer at the Children’s Hospital at Easter and attends events and does other promotions when she has time.

The dress took several weeks to make and has over $400 worth of material. A marvellous example of dedication to popular culture using centuries-old crafts.

There were two other costumes on display – one a la Jane Austen and one from the Lord of The Rings.

While I was engrossed in reading the stories behind the quilts my sisters met up with a writer and academic who has just published a book Towns and Trailblazers.

Rita was particularly impressed with Jen Wulff ‘s research of local women from the 18th, 19th or early 20th centuries, some renowned, others unknown.

‘Each trailblazer and her town have inspired a quilt block which combines to create an Australian inspired textile providing a tangible connection to places and the women remembered.’

29. quilt of forgotten women

The quilt blocks relate to the far North West coast, through to the Red Centre, across to the East Coast and down to Southern Tasmania. Short stories about the women, quilt templates and construction tips are included in the book, which Rita, bought.

Jen is a quilter too and ‘greatly values the lasting friendships made through local quilt groups and she hopes her recently published book increases awareness of both quilting and the role women had in shaping Australia.’

The Melbourne Exhibition ‘8’

 

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CONCATENATE

 

“To link together, to unite in a series or chain.” Quilter Lee Vause drew inspiration from childhood games: Scrabble, Barrel of Monkeys, Snakes and Ladders and Twister.

 

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DECORATE

 

Using thread and free motion stitching, quilter Raylene Richardson decorated face shapes emphasising different facial elements.

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ORNATE

Showing wonderful use of texture and design and manipulation of materials, ‘Ornate’ is self-explanatory, but for ‘Migrate’ the quilter chose feathers and fish to represent the large migrations that occur in nature.

 

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MIGRATE

 

Our world is constantly turning, slowly spinning and rotating around the sun. Inspired by the marvels of the natural world Brenda Wood is fascinated by the way the sun peeks over our horizon in the east and we catch ‘the trails of its warmth and beauty, until each evening we rotate away from its heat and light…’

Sunlight travelling through our atmosphere scatters colours, stronger beams during the day than in the evening – depictions of the varying strength of colour in sunrises and sunsets represent the concept of rotating.

 

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ROTATE

Instead of an adjective, quilter Sally Westcott chose a noun. The pomegranate is beautiful to eat, cook with, and to paint and draw. She enjoyed exploring its texture, shape and colour.

 

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POMEGRANATE

Internationally, award-winning, Melbourne based Neroli Henderson chose the word ‘ameliorate’ – the process of making something bad or unpleasant better. Her panels “focus on the vulnerability of the female form, and its power and ability. Creating personal, explorative works such as these helps to ameliorate the past. An artistic catharsis. These pieces seek to take memories of physical pain and loneliness and transform them into moments of beauty.

 

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AMELIORATE

 

I wonder how many people have heard of Neroli ( eiloren.com.au ), quilter, writer, editor of Textile Fibre Forum magazine (2014-16), a group owner of the popular Facebook Textile Arts group, and an artist ‘who combines art quilting techniques and materials with traditional media and digital approaches.’ She believes ‘in the use of textiles and stitch as a valid fine art medium and can often be found using this traditional “women’s work” to create feminist, political, and other social commentary based artworks.’

As my first image implies – I can’t imagine a world without art – in all its forms!

 

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UNDULATE

Kim Boland’s chosen word ‘undulate’ transformed into four colourful and charming panels. “Undulating, curvy, wave-like lines, found all around us, are peaceful and calming.”

 

Her depictions: blue ocean waves, rolling green hills, red desert dunes and yellow fields of canola. Specifically shaped pieces portray the movement of air and water across flowering fields, sandy dunes, grassy fields and ocean waves.

Carolyn Sullivan’s Retrospective

Mairi Neil (a found poem from AQC 2018)

Australia’s climate captured
cool and hot, clear and misty
searing heat, sleet, and storms
flat plateau country and
eucalypt and deciduous forest,
garden parks and deserts of
thousands of kilometres…
changing environment evoked
and expanded on cloth canvas
lovingly dyed with colours
of plants from Aussie desert and bush.
Plainness transformed
into earthy and warm
tantalising textures,
tree trunk tracks of insects,
lichen, leaf and fungi patterns,
depictions of diversity –
native animals, trees, birds,
and beautiful grasses…
hand stitched close, straight,
the vastness of the landscape
and love of country
honoured in every stitch.

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There was another evocative reflection of the world by quilter Gillian Travis which if I was talented with a needle, on any level, I’d love to do!  She has created quilts from her travels to exotic, and not so exotic, places like Uzbekistan, India, Sri Lanka, Guatemala, South Africa, Europe, Israel and Jordan.

These quilts focus on people and place and beg for stories to be imagined and written!

Observation and attention to detail important for quilters, photographers and writers. At the convention, you could do a course on turning your favourite photograph into a quilt and intrepid traveller Gillian’s work offered walls of inspiration.

Journeys In Stitch

 

Turmoil And Tranquility

“Presented by the Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA), this museum-quality exhibition features quilts created specifically as art pieces. Work brought from the USA explores two fascinating opposites…”

Again, what was fascinating was how each artist interpreted the words and I loved reading the stories behind the quilts.  Just as we become comfortable or can relate to particular stories or genres in our taste of books, so too how the artists depicted the theme is influenced by our ideas of what the words could mean.

Sometimes what the artist was trying to do resonated more than the finished piece, and at other times little explanation was required.

Jill Kerttula from Virginia chose the turmoil of a woman’s first pregnancy: ‘physical, emotional, cultural, and mental changes and challenges, both internal and external.’ Jill used sketches from ancient medical texts, copies of cards her mother received and original images to portray turmoil and angst.

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BABY QUILT

Jennifer Day from New Mexico chose Donald as her subject for Tranquility. He has ‘led a life full of twists and turns… his adulthood serving his country in the French Indonesian War in 1956 – almost 70 years ago. He later served in Korea, and in another war that he will not talk about. He has had cancer numerous times and is still fighting lung cancer.’

Jennifer took a photo of Donald as he sat in the window of an old barn in New Mexico. She captured the light of the setting sun gracing his face and “his expression leads us to believe that he is content. At age 86, I believe that he is satisfied with life and that his future holds promise.”

I was charmed by this quilt, by the subject matter and outlook of the artist and my photograph does not do it justice – each strand of hair is stitching – the artistry seamless connectivity in this work truly impressive.

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DONALD IN THE LIGHT

Carol Capozzoli from Connecticut captured the insidious spread and effect of cancer. “From the first pathological cell division, turmoil begins… (it) spreads to surrounding tissues and possibly other body parts. With a diagnosis, the turmoil spreads to the person’s emotional and spiritual being, and to those close to the person.”

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  A CANCEROUS TURMOIL

Lots of the pieces celebrating nature or the seasons understandably focused on tranquillity. Judith Roderick from New Mexico chose the endangered Whooping Crane.

“There is something very compelling about a human-sized, ancient bird who has been on the planet since the dinosaurs. the Whooping Crane, one of the two North American Crane species, is the world’s most endangered crane with about 600 now in existence. This quilt was hand-drawn from some of my own photographs. It reflects my hope, intention, and prayer that they may continue to grace our skies and landscapes for ages to come.”

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Whooper

Illness is probably the most common disruption many of us experience and as our population ages, statistics reckon more of us will be living longer and coping with Alzheimer’s.

Diane Born from Oregon seemed to reflect from personal experience when she wrote, “That fine, immaculate woman is now mismatched and muddled. She withdraws from loved ones, snarls at children. plaque invades her brain, erupting in tangles, robbing her of memories. She mutters and mumbles, rarely smiles. paranoia stalks her, evident in mood swings, delusions, and apathy. Her sewing, hand or machine, fragments and disintegrates. Brain waves slow and falter, losing a rhythmic pattern. the lady vanishes into the disease.”

My father succumbed to dementia. It too was slow and insidious and painful to watch. Occasionally, flashes of the father we knew and loved appeared – the effect on the person and their family is indeed turmoil!

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A SLOW DEATH BY ALZHEIMER’S

Another piece that resonated was by Michele Lea of Ohio. who admits to constantly searching for peace and tranquillity.

“Trying to find a place of light, rather than focusing on the cloud of darkness that looms over me, is a daily ritual. I suffer from chronic mental depression, which is a disease with no cure. More than 40 million people suffer from it and suicide is an ongoing threat for those of us who want to escape. The image of me floating, with butterflies draping over me as a blanket, is tranquillity. For me, it is an end to torment – a place of safety and peace; my original home where I could join my creator and become whole again.”

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TRANQUILLITY THE END

It is a reflection of the times and the pervasiveness of the 24-hour news cycle that the turmoil of the world refugee crisis is never far from our screens or minds. Sandy Gregg from Massachusetts observes:

Since the beginning of time, people have left their homes to begin lives as refugees for a myriad of reasons, including war, discrimination, crop failure, and religion. This piece represents borders crossed, obstacles faced, and the turmoil that these brave people face during their travels.”

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CROSSINGS I

Another quilt that appealed to me used vintage postcards (collecting postcards a hobby of mine) and image transfer a technique I’d be tempted to use if a quilter.

Patricia Kennedy-Zafred from Pennsylvania is doing a series portraying women from all over the world with ‘strikingly varied concepts of beauty‘.

The images are of Japanese geisha who ‘despite the typical connotation, true geisha were highly trained in dance, music and various forms of art.‘ Their calm facial expressions ‘part of their allure, as their rigorous training was designed to create a presence of subtlety, strength, and grace.’

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A SEPARATE REALITY

I have to feature Donna Deaver from Idaho who although we are living on separate continents, we have a similar way of relaxing and finding that elusive tranquillity.

I have a deep love of the sea. It draws me in an unexplainable way, calling to me when I least expect it. Even though I no longer live by the ocean, I feel at home whenever I return. One of my favourite times of the day is early morning when the beach is empty. Listening to the infinite rhythm of the surf is a form of meditation.”

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MORNING WALK

Believe it or not, the images featured are only a tiny selection of what was on offer at the AQC 2018. I’ve written about some that caught my eye, or touched my heart as a writer and haven’t done any justice at all to the array of fabrics, threads and techniques the artists applied.

Suffice to say the convention has lots to offer to those not expert or involved in the art of quilting, and from what I’ve observed the few times I’ve attended it is only going to expand and become more eclectic.

If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read and seen in this post, I hope you attend one day, you won’t regret it.

Having firsthand knowledge of the quilting community via my older sister I know they have a sense of humour too and I love the self-deprecating quilts like this one – the three women are staring at the latest super duper sewing machine and asking “But does it make the coffee?”

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After this marathon writing effort, I’m heading to the kitchen to make a cup… but will leave you with one of my personal favourites from the convention with a message for all those who struggle to achieve their dream…

 

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A tribute to Senator Elizabeth Warren.

 

Writing Creatively About St Patrick’s Day

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All of us are influenced by everything we have experienced in our lives but like a gigantic sponge, writers absorb more than most.

The small details, the unusual objects, the striking character, the overheard conversation, the beautiful sunset, the changing leaves – the possibility of story everywhere –

like the pub dedicated to Sherlock Holmes and Baker Street in the heart of Melbourne advertising St Patrick’s Day that I discovered on Friday!

Many writers worry they are regurgitating ideas seen or read somewhere, ideas that have been written up ad nauseam

I remember when this was mentioned at a workshop I attended years ago, the presenter said, ‘Don’t worry there’s no copyright on ideas and whatever you write will be from your perspective, you’ll have your own take on it.”

Just as the owners of The Sherlock Holmes at 415 Collins Street have done – creating their version of the famous character’s story.

history sherlock holmes pub

Do they worry about appropriating ideas from Arthur Conan Doyle’s masterpiece? Worry about cashing in on the desire of the Irish (and on March 17th it seems a worldwide desire) to celebrate St Patrick’s Day?

Not at all.

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I tell my students – even if the idea isn’t fresh, still write the story or poem because you can change everything (names, place, people or events) after you have let your creativity loose.

The finished work is yours – a unique perspective – an original manuscript!

Ideas are free and flexible.

Focus on writing your life experience, your dreams and fantasies, adding your research, your interpretation of what you’ve absorbed and your thoughts…

… and whatever results will be a new work of art.

The recipes listed in Mrs Hudson’s Pantry below are just a variation of well-loved British or Australian delicacies. There may be a pinch of a special spice or sauce that makes it ‘original’ like a story that is enhanced by wordplay, metaphor, flawed character, or exotic setting to vary one of the acclaimed seven basic plots authors keep writing!

Do you know the what, why, or when of St Patrick’s Day?

Brush up on your history of St. Patrick:

‘ before him, there were no farms, sheep, or deer, but there were saintly women who slew dragons and performed miracles’.

(This quote from an article St. Patrick’s Day Facts: Shamrocks, Snakes, and a Saint by John Roach in 2010, available from the National Geographic magazine online quoting St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography.)

  • Can you write about St Patrick from a position of knowledge?
  • Do you know anyone called Patrick (are they saint or sinner?) that you can write about or make a character in a story Irish and called Patrick – or why not Patricia!
  • Write a story around the theme of immigration, or slavery (sadly, still two very much alive and contentious issues)
  • Or perhaps religious zealots, or cults – or maybe how important partying and having fun is to health!

There are many stories waiting to be written from a variety of angles… who would have thought Ireland, a staunchly Roman Catholic country would vote for marriage equality long before Australia got its act together?

What Colour is Tolerance?
Mairi Neil

Green comes in forty shades
The Irish folk group sings
Soft moss by rivers streaming
Tarragon glory of faerie rings.
Ireland the true Emerald Isle
Celtic forests delight and intrigue
Crushed pine perfumes the air
Woodland ferns soften history’s deeds.
When English mist descended
Paradise green became no more
Even Dublin Bay was laced with blood
Years of bomb blasts and ghastly gore.
Like the famed Amazon jungle
Impenetrable; a hope of peace deemed futile.
But as spring buds banish winter
Persistence gave reason to smile ––
From green felt to cameo silk
Ireland’s metamorphoses proudly displayed
Acceptance of all shades –– green and pink
In May 2015, history indeed made!

bunch of red roses

10 Things You May Not Know About St Patrick

  1. The apostle and patron saint of Ireland wasn’t even Irish! He was born in western Britain, probably West Glamorgan circa 389AD. His father, Calpurnius, was a Roman official and deacon.
  2. As a boy, Patrick was captured in a Pictish raid and sold as a slave in Ireland. he escaped to Gaul, studied in a monastery and returned to Ireland to spread Christianity.
  3. Although landing at Wicklow, Patrick travelled north and converted the people of Ulster first!
  4. He died in 461AD and is buried in County Down, Northern Ireland.
  5. There are many stories ascribing miraculous powers to Patrick, including one that credits him with ridding the island of vermin (snakes) Slowly, mythology grew up around Patrick until centuries later he was honoured as the patron saint of Ireland.
  6. No native snakes exist on the island today, but they never did so the story about St Patrick casting out the snakes was fake news in his time. (However, snakes symbolically represent evil and Patrick was the power of good.)
  7. St. Patrick’s Day was basically invented in America by Irish-Americans. (I can hear my Irish mother groaning and saying ‘typical Americans claiming everything!)  However, the first St. Patrick’s Day parade did not take place in Ireland. Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through New York City in 1762. As the years went on, the parades became a show of unity and strength for persecuted Irish-American immigrants, and then a popular celebration of Irish-American heritage. 
  8. Patrick used the three leaves of a shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and sometime in the 19th century as St. Patrick’s Day parades were flourishing, wearing the colour green became a show of commitment to Ireland.
  9. Until the 1970s, St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland was a minor religious holiday. A priest would acknowledge the feast day, and families would celebrate with a big meal, but that was about it.
  10. In 1962 the show of solidarity took a spectacular turn in Chicago when the city decided to dye a portion of the Chicago River green. Similarly, pints of Guinness, the famous Irish stout brand are dyed and consumed. The party went global in 1995 when the Irish government began a large-scale campaign to market St. Patrick’s Day as a way of driving tourism and showcasing Ireland’s many charms to the rest of the world.

So, if you are like me, with a partial or full Irish heritage, you can be forgiven for thinking all the fuss and ‘green’ everything around St  Patrick’s Day, is a modern phenomenon because it is!

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Today, March 17 is a day of international celebration, as millions of people around the globe put on their best green clothing to drink beer, watch parades and toast the luck of the Irish.

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What’s your experience of St Patrick’s Day in Australia – after all, we have lots of Irish immigrants?

Writers, especially if they want to be journalists or write blog posts should have eclectic tastes and always seek to improve their general knowledge.

In this day and age of instant news and a proliferation of people competing online and in print to be writers, those who want to see their name in lights and/or earn a living from writing need to be up-to-date and in fact, with the 24-hour news cycle, they need to be up-to-the-minute!

If you are writing family history you may just have a touch of the Irish in you because Ireland is a country with a long history of exporting people.

Or perhaps you have an Irish Setter? This dog breed falls into the category of ‘love them or hate them’ and as an ex-owner of one of these lovely dogs, I challenge the stereotype that they are stupid. Our Orla was indeed the queen of dogs.

Did you learn or love Irish dancing, Irish music and songs?

My music collection ranges from wonderful tenors like Father Sydney McEwan to The Dubliners folk group and Eithne Pádraigín Ní Bhraonáin (anglicised as Enya).

When you hear a particular song – When Irish Eyes Are Smiling or Its a Long Way to Tipperary – what memories are evoked? What about The Unicorn song or Lily The Pink by The Irish Rovers?

Have you visited Ireland or is it on your travel Bucket List?

To get more inspiration wear something green, or sit in the garden — perhaps the luck o’ the Irish will heighten the muse!

Grab a stout and join the craic at a celebration – visit The Sherlock Holmes, or even Ireland itself!

 

The Richness of Celtic Culture Can Be Mined For Stories

Before the introduction of Christianity, Ireland was largely pagan. However, with the arrival of early Christians, missionaries preached where people already worshipped and folded pagan places of pilgrimage, including holy wells, into a new faith. Saints replaced pagan deities and existing places of prayer were given a Christian flavour.

Despite Anglo-Norman attempts to replace veneration of Irish female saints with the veneration of the Virgin Mary, and later efforts to suppress rituals and beliefs around wells, dedication to the saints persisted, and they remained regionally significant. 

The endurance of particular saints became connected to the success of dynasties that were attached to certain territories and their endowment of land for churches and abbeys.

(Did you know that professions have patron saints? St Matthew for accountants and bankers, St Genesius for actors and for secretaries, St Jerome for librarians, and writers have two saints, St John the Evangelist and St Francis de Sales – is this because we may sin more than most or need more looking after?

What happens to those saints of professions no longer prolific or even existing? St Crispin (cobblers), St Sebastian (pin-makers), St Hubert (huntsmen) – do they get reassigned to the new professions created by technology?)

For many wells, their mysticism extends beyond their connection to a saint. Known for their healing capabilities, some wells were believed to specialise in treating diseases such as tuberculosis and whooping cough.

Today they are sought out more for maladies like sore throats, head, back, stomach, and toothaches, warts, and other skin-related problems, anxiety, and even cancer.

Researchers’ studies determined that some wells are rich in specific chemicals, for example –

  • waters associated with skin remedies are often high in sulphur, an effective ingredient in acne medication.
  • Wells connected with “strengthening weak children” are generally iron-rich.
  • The wells in County Kerry’s “Valley of the Mad” contain lithium and were effective in treating mental illness.

    …a few hours into the dark of night, an intergenerational crowd encircles a large, smoky bonfire near the sites of two holy wells dedicated to St Brigid. Just over 100 participants have gathered outside Kildare town for an annual event celebrating both the ancient Celtic holiday of Imbolc (the beginning of spring) and St Brigid’s Day (February 1st). Led by sisters of the Brigidine Order, they bring lanterns and candles to welcome “the light of Brigid” and the end of an unusually cold winter.

    Quite literally in spite of the cold, the crowd is sprinkled with water from St Brigid’s nearby healing well. A woman sits by the fire and begins weaving a large St Brigid’s cross of local rushes. As the crowd falls silent— her actions are explained as symbolic ritual labour; she weaves into the cross the dreams and worries of those present…”

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  • This practice of observing a modern religion and a pagan precursor is known as ‘syncretism’. You can find it all over the world among former slaves and indigenous peoples who are nominally Catholic, but who identify their saints with pre-Christian gods.
  • In parts of Latin America, Indians in the more remote regions especially, observe rituals that are derived from both Latin Catholicism and their ancient animist traditions.

Story Ideas

  • Write about a saint or someone who turns up at the well to be healed.
  • What story can be written about the failure to keep the sacred feminine well?
  • Do you have a ‘miracle’ cure story?

BelleGibson

Did you Know These facts about The Shamrock?

Trifolium dubium, the wild-growing, three-leaf clover is what some botanists consider the official shamrock.

However, many refer to other three-leaf clovers, such as the perennials Trifolium repens and Medicago lupulina but according to the Irish these plants are “bogus shamrocks.”

The custom of wearing a shamrock dates back to the 17th and 18th centuries, but there is no evidence to say what plant people used, therefore, the argument over authenticity is purely academic.

Botanists say there’s nothing uniquely Irish about shamrocks. Most species can be found throughout Europe so is this just another example of the Irish ‘gift of the gab’ and great marketing?

Spiders are supposed to be lucky too – so I guess my run-in with this greenery cocooned in webs in Northern Ireland was extremely lucky!

STORY IDEAS ABOUT IRELAND &  ST PATRICK’S DAY

Think of words associated with Ireland and St Patrick’s Day – list them and see if a story or poem is triggered:

WORD LIST TO GET YOU STARTED:

Ireland, luck, leprechaun, a pot of gold at end of the rainbow, Guinness, stout and beer, blarney (kissing the Blarney Stone), brogues, dancing, bagpipes, the fiddle, Gaelic, Erse, potatoes bread, Irish Stew, scones, shamrock, shillelagh, limerick, poetry, jigs, faeries, banshee, pints, poteen, marching, clover, green, Irish, happy, St. Patrick’s Day, holiday, myths, legends, stove pipe hat, buckles, shoes, surprise, superstition, seventeen, Dublin, Belfast, magic, four-leaf clover, tradition, celebration, family, emigrants, Emerald Isle…

  • Pretend that you have found a four-leaf clover that will bring you extraordinary good luck for exactly one day. Write about that lucky day.
  • What does it mean to get a “lucky break?” Write about a time when you got one.
  • James Garfield (the 20th US president) said, “A pound of pluck is worth a ton of luck.” What do you think he meant? Do you agree? Why or why not?
  • Draw a mindmap in the shape of a large four-leaf clover. In the centre write: I am lucky because… Then, write a different way that you are lucky on each of the four leaves. Use the words to make a poem.
  • Do you have a good luck charm? Describe your lucky keepsake and how it brings you luck. Do you have a lucky number? An item of clothing that you wear that always seems to make you happy or good things happen when you wear it?

Writing About Leprechauns

  • Do you believe in leprechauns? Why or why not?
  • Write the Legend of the Leprechaun. Create a story about the lucky Leprechaun (or one who lost his magical powers).
  • What do leprechauns do all day? Make a daily schedule for a leprechaun – what will happen if one leprechaun tears up the timetable?
  • You have caught a leprechaun (how?).  He/she gives you a pot of gold in exchange for freedom. What do you do with it? Or maybe you are granted 3 wishes… but there are rules/consequences
  • A mischievous leprechaun paid a visit to your garden during the night and caused all kinds of trouble. How do you cope/ fix it?
  • Make a list of the advantages or disadvantages of being as small as a leprechaun. Can you write a story?
  • You are a leprechaun who is tired of the old-fashioned hat, suit, and shoes and you’ve decided green is not your colour. You want a new, updated look for today’s modern leprechaun. Write a letter to the leprechaun fashion designer explaining why you think an update is a good idea and what the new leprechaun outfit should be. Or write the dialogue between a grandmother/mother and teenage leprechaun daughter or grandfather/father and teenage leprechaun son.
  • Describe a magical land “over the rainbow.” How do you get there? Do you stay? Is it really Nirvana/Paradise/Heaven?

Acrostic poems can be written about anything…

You can use one word for each letter, create a full sentence, have it rhyme, or just write random phrases. Acrostic poems are whatever you want them to be – I’ve used GREEN and LUCKY from the word list above.

Grass is always greener somewhere else
Really you make your own luck
Each of us can pay it forward
End the myths about magic
No leprechauns just as there were no snakes!

Leprechauns are too small to see
Unlucky for some, but not for me
Can a rainbow grant wishes, or promise gold?
Kids love these stories and beg they be told
You can see the ‘wee people’ if you’re bold!protest outside parlt.jpg

Are you Green?

Today ‘Being Green’ has everything to do with the environment and recycling, or having a ‘green thumb’ in the garden.

But perhaps you were ‘green’ once upon a time when you were learning something new?

Or perhaps ‘green around the gills’ from a wave of nausea?

recycling Groomsport NI

Mairi Neil’s attempt at St Patrick’s Day Limerick

Have you ever tried writing a blog
Through a St Paddy’s Day partying fog?
The brain is numb
Words don’t come
Until you sample ‘the hair of the dog!’

May your muse function better than mine – Happy Writing and feel free to share!

Rekindling The Desire To Write

desk

The other day, I received an email from a young man who wanted to write – not a book or novel but ‘perhaps for the screen‘. He believed his future was to write stories and present them in a way people understand just ‘not in paper format‘…

Unfortunately, Mordialloc Writers’ Group is no more but his desire to tell stories and write made him seek guidance from other writers.

His request rekindled memories of why I founded the local writers’ group in 1995 and maybe he and several others who have contacted me will be motivated to establish their own support group.

I remember that ache to be with people who understand the desire to write.

I remember wanting to not feel isolated or alone; needing to be with others who understand the fascination with words.

Sometimes I wonder where that eager, passionate writer has gone.

empty beach

It’s Easy to Become Jaded

Over the years, through my involvement with the group and my teaching, I’ve managed to keep writing, but not always, writing what I want – and sometimes not from the heart. There have been periods of avoidance or dissatisfaction with whatever I’ve written. Periods of feeling overwhelmed by the expectations of others.

At times it took a conscious effort to remember and appreciate the sheer joy of stringing words together into a meaningful sentence, a memorable metaphor, a funny rhyme, an interesting character or setting…

When there are workshops to organise, deadlines to meet, lessons to plan, and editing of other people’s writing, the passion and pleasure, spark of imagination and fun are often smothered, spontaneity lost.

george orwell quote.jpeg

  • I’ve never had ‘making money’ as the main aim or motivation for writing – just as well because few writers ever become wealthy like JK Rowling.
  • My ego has never been so demanding that celebrity status or becoming famous kept me motivated to write.
  • And unlike George Orwell, I have never been so driven that I could neglect family responsibilities or my friends.

However, I do want to be able to respond proudly and without hesitation,  to the questions, ‘What are you?‘ or ‘What do you do?’

I want to respond with, ‘I am a writer.’

I believe I am, and I do – even if not as successful as many others in the field.

laptop and desk

  • I still want to record my own stories and help others record theirs.  Let their voices be heard regardless of whether they have a university degree or dropped out of high school.
  • I want to meet anyone who enjoys playing around with and understanding the power of words, whether it be writing ditties, letters to ‘the editor’, romantic and creative cards, bookmarks, popular or literary short stories, healing personal stories, or the ‘one novel everyone has inside them’.

Mordialloc Writers Group produced nine anthologies between 1997-2016 and gave 66 writers a voice and an opportunity to be a published author. Many have gone on to write novels, poetry collections and memoir.

I have a shelf of class anthologies from paid teaching positions at several places, including the Sandybeach Centre 2002.

Writers gather to workshop
Read their prose, poems, and plays
In the Studio
Tuesday morning
Each week at Sandybeach

Mairi Neil 2002

blue moon rose

The anthologies from classes at Mordialloc Neighbourhood House, Godfrey Street Community House and Longbeach Place, remind me to appreciate the privilege of meeting so many different women and men of varying ages and abilities, all with a desire to write.

I have pages of imaginative, poignant, amusing and serious poems and prose from so many different writers.

What a privilege to share their stories, poems, plays, songs – even an opera – as they delighted in being with like-minded people with a passion for words.

Writing groups and classes bring together people from all walks of life writing what they want to write, but also valuing the techniques and tools of the craft.

Some write as part of a healing process, recovering from accident, illness or grief. Exercising their imagination not just therapy but a glorious release of ideas perhaps not revealed before.

Some write with the aim of helping others recover or learn from their journey, or impart knowledge and ideas they care about.

Some write because at long last they have the time or the courage to nurture their desire to write that novel, or book of poems, or rhymes for children, memoir, autobiography, family history or screenplay for Television, Holywood, or the Web!

Digital technology opening up choices not dreamt about when I first started writing creatively.

The young man who wants to tell stories by writing but not on paper an example of the digital revolution and the future. Maybe he’ll find an online group…

What Am I?
Mairi Neil 2004

I’m a writer.
A phrase with connotations galore –
author, biographer, journalist, poet,
columnist, editor, dramatist, copyist,
novelist, playwright, reporter,
essayist, wordsmith, hack ––
Need I name more?

Writers write!
Unless up against the dreaded block.
They author, communicate, compose, pen,
scratch, sign, autograph, indite,
correspond, create, draft, inscribe,
note, pencil, record, scrawl ––
Scribble frantically around the clock!

The literati boast lucubration at escritoire,
manuscripts cause graphospasm,
and corpus oeuvre fill posterity’s chasm,
from palaeography to grammatology,
stenography preparing bibliography ––
Pseudonyms detected by graphology!

Whether freelance or fabulist using
nom de plumes, ghostwriters or epistolary,
thank goodness people of letters
still continue orthography.

Scriveners scribble in scriptoriums
producing poetry and prose to fascinate,
enlighten, entertain and have their say!
Words that uplift, educate –– or challenge,
even offend –– to promote a cause célèbre!

5 Ways to Rediscover or Retain Writing Mojo & Spirit…

Number 1:

Write something for fun or like me vent your frustration. Form poetry is a good place to start – maybe a limerick or two.

Current Affairs But Who Cares?

Mairi Neil

Barnaby’s no longer Deputy PM
No longer the National’s gem
But tone-deaf Tony
And Bernardi the phoney
Both agree he’s not one of them!

Meanwhile, Malcolm’s losing the polls
Trying to dodge social media trolls
Tony keeps sniping
Ol’ Barnaby’s griping
Mal’s struggling to hold the controls.

Yet, who wants Bill as the boss?
Both the left and the right are cross
Bill tried to be canny
Lying about Adani
Now Labor may face electoral loss.

Aussie politics seems such a joke
Weekly stuff ups by bloke after bloke
Time for the choice
Of a strong female voice
The glass ceiling again must be broke.

Number 2.

Keep a journal or maybe a blog – experiment with poetry, flash fiction, citizen journalism…

Searching for Words and Meaning…
Mairi Neil

In writing class
we explore language
seek living words
lively words
alive words
volume high
sentencing each other
to work it out
or perhaps not
just listen, absorb and be
explore the language
search for words
taught in childhood
read in books
overheard on the train…
volume doesn’t matter
one sentence or two
from me or you
language exploration
job description
happiness prescription
research for a living
search for meaning
out-search a life
my sentence
to teach
writing in class…

Number 3.

Make the time to read a book or see a film, visit an art gallery or a museum – it may inspire you to write a review.

Haiku Book Review by Mairi Neil

Crime and Punishment
Dostoevsky challenges
ethical nightmare

Number 4.

Be creative – sew, knit, garden, paint, take photographs – find pleasure and satisfaction in other projects and free your mind to return to writing.

Number 5.

Dance, listen to music, walk, meditate, enjoy the silence of nature.  Nurture your inner self, the words will come when you are ready and your creative energy returns.

writing quote.jpg

Good luck – and wish me luck too!

 

Don’t Refrain From Trying A Cinquain

 

card from Iona.jpg
The original card a fundraiser for the Isle of Iona

 

When I first began teaching creative writing it was a volunteer in my children’s schools. A steep learning curve for me as well as for them!

But it did encourage me to do more with my desire to write including a return to university aged 57, to achieve a Masters in Writing.

The early experiences in schools and community groups inspired me to become qualified to teach in Neighbourhood Houses. I have been privileged to be with and help other passionate writers for over 20 years.

A wonderful journey, exploring the power of words and learning new ways to express feelings, observations, and thoughts – playing with genre and form and having fun with the flexibility of the English language.

And So I Discovered The Cinquain!

  1. The cinquain is a five line poem that follows a pattern.
  2. Cinq is the French word for five.
  3. Cinquains do not rhyme.
  4. The most commonly found is an American derivative of the haiku and tanka.
  5. It consists of five lines, of 2, 4, 6, 8 and 2 syllables respectively.

 

unsw image barry eggleton.jpg
UNSW image Barry Eggleton

Although this form appears simple, it isn’t necessarily easy to write well, or with the subtlety or nuance, many people expect from poetry.

However, it is a good starting point for anyone intimidated by ‘Poetry’ – perhaps harbouring feelings of inadequacy (or nursing a dislike) – because of what or how they learned at school.

Form poetry like the limerick and haiku provides a useful framework for the inexperienced writer to experiment with words and experience some early success.

It doesn’t matter if the lines don’t have exactly the right number of syllables – what is important is that the writer has created a word picture and has had access to a framework for support.

I use pictures for inspiration, making it even easier! Another way of recording memories…

shetland coastline.jpg

The traditional cinquain may be based on a syllable count but modern cinquains use a formula of word type.

  • line 1 – one word (noun) a title or name of the subject
  • 
line 2 – two words (adjectives) describing the title
  • line 3 – three words (verbs) describing an action related to the title
  • 
line 4 – four words describing a feeling about the title, a complete sentence
  • 
line 5 – one word referring back to the title of the poem

iconic poppies.jpg

Writing A Cinquain

  •  On the first line choose a subject
  • On the second line, write two adjectives describing the subject
  • On the third line, write three action words (usually ending with ‘ing’) to describe what the subject might do
  • On the  fourth line, write a phrase describing what the subject may mean to you or others
  • On the fifth line, write a synonym for the subject

It can even work for personal stories, themes or special days like Mother’s Day!

 

img075.jpg
Mum and me 1953!

 

If you Google “what is a cinquain” it will say:

A cinquain is a five-line poem that was invented by Adelaide Crapsey. She was an American poet who took her inspiration from Japanese haiku and tanka.

A collection of poems, titled Verse, was published in 1915 and included 28 cinquains.

Originally, Crapsey created the form for the American cinquain with five lines.
There were stresses per line –
• The first line has one stress, which was usually iambic meter with the first syllable unstressed and the second stressed.
• Line two has two stresses.
• Line three has three stresses.
• Line four has four stresses.
• Line five has one stress.

Following the invention of this form, Crapsey made changes and included a certain number of syllables per line. The most popular form I mentioned above of 2, 4, 6, 8 and 2 syllables.

Even though iambic feet were typically used in these cinquains, it was not a requirement of the structure.

Aaron Toleos hosts a cinquain blog and for his master’s theses studied Crapsey and the various forms of cinquain that existed prior to her “American cinquain” –

Adelaide Crapsey did not invent the five-line poem. The Sicilian quintain, the English quintain, the Spanish quintella, the Japanese tanka, and the French cinquain all predate hers. What she did invent, however, is a distinct American version of the five-line poem. Inspired by Japanese haiku and tanka and based on her advanced knowledge of metrics, she believed her form “to be the shortest and simplest possible in English verse…

Her interest in Japanese poetry has also led some critics to link her to the Imagist movement that became popular shortly after she died and was led by the likes of Ezra Pound, H. D., and Amy Lowell.

Louis Untermeyer, editor for many years of Modern American Poetry, for example, called her “an unconscious Imagist.” Although her untimely death precluded any chance for her to collaborate with these poets, Crapsey was undoubtedly influenced by some of the same factors that fomented their movement including a desire to pull back from some of the excesses of the Georgian poets. Like Crapsey’s cinquains, Imagist poetry is characterized by the precise use of imagery and economy of language…

Although modeled after Eastern forms such as the haiku and tanka which are almost never titled, Crapsey titled all of her cinquains. Furthermore, her titles were not casual but usually functioned as active “sixth lines” which conveyed important meaning to the poem

Although it was likely a matter of fashion rather than a meaningful poetic decision, Crapsey used initial capitalization exclusively for each of the cinquain’s five lines.

Aaron quite rightly asks – How could the Crapsey cinquain be the American cinquain when no one is writing cinquains in a way that is consistent with the formula she established?

The form has devolved into something much simpler: a verse of a 2 / 4 / 6 / 8 / 2 syllabic structure or a simple form based on word type, ‘an exercise in metrics regardless of meaning“.

cat in Kremlin grounds.jpg

Variety Spicing The Writer’s Life

The term cinquain is also used for any five-line stanza, along with quintain, quintet, and pentastich.

John Drury’s, The Poetry Dictionary, second edition, by Weiter’s Digest Books 2006, defines key terms helpful to every would-be poet:

quintain – a five-line stanza, sometimes called

a cinquain (although the term is now usually applied to a stanza developed by Adelaide Crapsey),

a quintet (although the term suggests a musical ensemble), or

a pentastich (especially if the stanza is unrhymed). Various rhymed schemes are possible.

Examples are given of aabab, ababa, ababb and a reminder that the limerick is a quintain!

IMAGISM – a poetic movement invented by Ezra Pound around 1909 and intended as an antidote to the rhetorical excesses of Victorian poetry and the pastoral complacency of Georgian verse.
Pound, along with Hilda Dolittle and Richard Aldington announced three principles:
1. Direct treatment of the ‘thing’ whether subjective or objective
2. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation
3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.

Imagist poems strongly influenced by haiku and other eastern verse, were short, written in free verse, and presented images without comment or explanation.

Amy Lowell later led the movement, which expired near the end of WW1

In her own cinquains, Crapsey allowed herself to add or subtract a syllable from any given line. (That’s what is great about making the rules – you can break them!)

And really the resemblance to what is generally regarded as the cinquain seems tenuous…

Niagara                                                          
Seen on a night in November

How frail
above the bulk
of crashing water hangs,
Autumnal, evanescent, wan,
The moon.

Snow

Look up…
From bleakening hills
Blows down the light, first breath
Of wintry wind…look up, and scent
The snow!

Adelaide Crapsey 1878-1914

storm off Mordialloc.jpg

shell fossils.jpg

To Sum Up

At the most basic level, a cinquain is a five line poem or stanza.  The poem has one topic and the details describe the topic’s actions and feelings.

A Cinquain can be written about any topic, unlike traditional haiku which focuses on nature or seasons.

Choose any of the methods mentioned above – or follow Adelaide Crapsey’s style – and perhaps create a book of verse of memories, travel experiences, observations of daily life… most importantly just ‘have a go’… you’re a poet and didn’t know it!

Share a memory, make a statement, express yourself in a simple stanza…

uluru.jpg

You Too Can Haiku

globe theatre melbourne

What is Haiku?

Haiku is a Japanese poetry form using a few words to capture a moment and create a picture in the reader’s mind. A tiny window into a much larger scene or event.

The poet’s eye like a camera, the words hinting at the emotion or thought felt at that time – not telling the reader what to feel but hoping they understand or sense what that moment meant to the poet.

Traditionally, haiku is written in three lines, and when I was first introduced to the form I was told to have words making five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line. ( 5,7,5 = 17 syllables)

Poets writing in Japanese do not count syllables – they count sounds.

The most important content is a strong image or an imagistic moment, therefore, we shouldn’t (and modern poets don’t) get fixated on the syllable count.

spring blossoms

However, to many poets, a haiku is still a Japanese poem with 17 syllables, written in 3 lines. They find having that definite structure helpful:

  • First line — 5 syllables               a frozen puddle
  • Second line — 7 syllables          a trip back to my childhood
  • Third line — 5 syllables             worth wet socks all day

A syllable is a part of a word that’s pronounced as a unit, usually made up of a single vowel or a vowel with one or more consonants.

‘fragile’ has 2 syllables: frag-ile
‘secluded’ has 3 syllables: se-clu-ded

However, many English-language haiku do not follow this exact structure and concentrate more on the poetic power or essence of the form rather than the syllable count.

This allows a freedom to express thoughts and feelings and not be shackled to word or syllable count. An unnecessary straightjacket when you consider the difficulty of being able to translate exactly the nuances of any language into another.

dead bird and dandelion

Typical qualities expected from haiku may be –

  • A focus on nature.
  • A “season word” such as “spring” telling the reader the time of year. 
  • Somewhere in the poem a shift of focus from one detail to another. The relationship between these two parts perhaps surprising.
  • Mindfulness is a word that has become a popular concept translated to ‘living in the moment’ – essentially what a haiku can be: a moment; a vivid image that seems to make time stand still for the poet and hopefully transmitting that feeling to the reader.

I’ve been having fun writing haiku inspired by random photographs I’ve taken. The images help jog memory as to what I was thinking and feeling at the time.

I don’t always get it to work the way I would like, but ‘practice makes perfect’ is a good maxim or the childhood advice ‘if at first, you don’t succeed, try, try, try again’!

potted plants

Haiku does not have to rhyme and many today are on any topic or about any subject.

They don’t have to have a title either, but you can give them a title if you like.

Postcard from the Park

Petals fall from trees
like pink ashes and the wind brings
the smell of dog poop

Guillermo Castro in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing Poetry

 

Tanja's dog

Words can make pictures in your mind

Think of haiku as a snapshot – a piece of time frozen forever. A snapshot can freeze people, places, objects, creatures, events, feelings, even random thoughts.

london panorama

The haiku … was an important influence on the imagists – poets like Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams and H. D. – and later, the Beat Generation, in love with Zen…

Children are very good at haiku. They naturally achieve that freshness of perception necessary for all poetry, and for haiku in particular. (They also like the fact that they don’t have to write very much.) Economy and observation are the two main qualities of the haiku – and these are good disciplines, however old you are…

… it is also possible to write one, two or four-line haiku, and that the syllable count can vary enormously. The extreme minimalism– absolutely no unnecessary words – and the presentation of a defining moment are the most important requirements.

Linda France, Mslexia Guide To Poetic Forms

christmas beetle upset 2017

Traditionally, haiku always refer to the natural world and present the human relationship to that world.

The season, an essential context suggesting an association with time passing and continuing.

However, in contemporary Western haiku, this is no longer necessary and the form easily adapts to be terse verse focusing on the world around you – the weather, your mood and observations.

Remember The Senses

The first most obvious sense is sight – writing what you observe.

flaming sky

But it also can be touch or sound.

gannet at parkdale

More Advice From Linda France

  • The first line usually establishes a time or a place, a setting for the subsequent action, which usually takes the form of a powerful sensory impression.

polluted water

  • Brevity requires the language to be succinct, striking and accurate. No rhymes, similes, or excessive ornamentation should be used – and few adjectives.

colchester castle july 2017

 

  • It is important to present the thing itself, the simple truth. No tricks.
  • The line-endings reflect the neatness of the form.
  • Each line is self-contained, evoking a new image.
  • Punctuation is kept to a minimum. The dash is used to establish settings without a preposition and link them to what follows.

 

 

NGV Gallery wall

All of these haiku are on disparate themes. But if they were related in some way – via subject, mood or setting – they would form a haiku sequence.

The haiku is the perfect form for journeys and visiting new places, recording all those powerful moments that would otherwise evaporate.

I’ve talked about this before in another post and used haiku in a longer poetic form called haibun.

woodland walk Aberdeenpaths diverge

Keep A Notebook And Practice Haiku

There are cultural differences that can make a haiku in English seem the very opposite of natural and authentic. 

Linda France

Take the opportunity to practice writing haiku – forget about syllables – concentrate on the idea of a snapshot of what you see and feel, and write three lines.

Each year in my class at Godfrey Street in Bentleigh we collaborate with the art classes and do just that – write our poems to their pictures and the calendar is sold as a fundraiser.

calendar 2018.jpg

With today’s technology, this is a project anyone can attempt – adding a poem to special photographs and making a calendar or a diary.

I often take photographs walking around the neighbourhood and later write the fleeting thought or emotion.

gallipoli monument St Nicholas Mordialloccarnival at mordialloc

Writing The Detail

Think of how you experience the seasons – how does it differ each season?

  • What do you do?
  • Where do you go?
  • Think of your daily routine
  • Choose a setting:
    What sounds are specific to this place?
  • How does that sound change according to the season?
    How does that make you feel – how do you react?
    How do you feel emotionally?
  • How are you or the place transformed?

When we examine each work of art for the calendar – we put ourselves in the scene – we respond/react as in the scene or the one creating the scene.

If you don’t have a calendar for inspiration, look at postcards, or an album of travel pictures.  Write a short, dramatic, poetic response but most of all enjoy immersing yourself in trying to find the right words, play around with nuance, move out of your writing comfort zone.

flowers from Anne

haiku of night sky

Sitting at my desk

captured memories recalled

in haiku dreams…

Please feel free to share your haiku because ’tis true – you too can haiku.

 

 

Poetry In Motion Captures Daily Joy

 

Tinsel Aurora
 Aurora loves Christmas tree decoration time!

 

I love Mary Oliver’s poetry and have been enjoying sharing the poems from Dog Songs, published by Penguin in 2013 a gift from the USA from my daughter, Anne.

Fortunately, most of the students in my classes are pet lovers and on the last count, the dog lovers outnumbered cat lovers.

Regardless of preference, the keen observations of the talents and quirks of dogs and owners in Mary’s poems and prose, the detailing and expressions of love, the bonds created, and how dogs capture your heart can be appreciated by everyone.

Because of the dog’s joyfulness, our own is increased. It is no small gift. It is not the least reason why we should honor as well as love the dog of our own life, and the dog down the street, and all the dogs not yet born. What would the world be like without music or rivers or the green and tender grass? What would this world be like without dogs?

page 119-120

In a lovely short short story, Ropes, about Sammy, an escape artist known for chewing through ropes and a dog Mary ‘inherited,’ there are a few tales about his wandering and the consequences. The reflection in the punch line a beauty: –

This is Sammy’s story. But I also think there are one or two poems in it somewhere. Maybe it’s what life was like in this dear town years ago, and how a lot of us miss it.

Or maybe it’s about the wonderful things that may happen if you break the ropes that are holding you.

page 45

spring bush purple.jpgEach day is a precious gift and like most writers, I carry a notebook to jot down observations, ideas and feelings. 

I’m lucky to have a job I love teaching in community houses and to be passionate about writing.  However, I’ll be the first to admit I don’t always sing “Hi ho, Hi ho, it’s off to work I go” as cheerfully as the seven dwarfs in Disney’s Snow White!

But I do try to be a glass half full person…

Here’s one of last week’s jottings, influenced of course from absorbing the lessons from The Gathering of Kindness

Feeling Joy – The Small Stuff Matters
Mairi Neil

Friday morning, on the way to work
I kept a lookout for some joy, and
it wasn’t long before I witnessed –
the love between a father and his boy.
Two peas in a pod’ they dressed alike –
matching smiles, strolling side by side.
The loving bond between the two
seemed as strong as a rhino’s hide.

The child’s face lit up at a noisy digger
munching and crunching on concrete,
and the audience of fluro-vested men
standing mesmerised by this feat.
But the toddler refused to be side-tracked
‘It’s the trains he’s after,’ said Dad.
They followed me to Mordi Station
where trundling trains made him glad.

Aboard the train approaching Parkdale,
a clump of ‘red hot pokers’ delight,
planted to greet weary commuters,
the orange sentinels glow in sun’s light.
The next stop was Cheltenham Station
how uplifting and joyous to see
beautiful art brighten graffiti-free wall –
possum, parrot, and magpie trilogy.

Highett Railway Station the next stop
along a track lined with grey-green trees
until a bottlebrush blooms blood red
and Noisy Minors serenade to please.
The tunnel into Moorabbin is next
a dullness failing to darken the day,
momentary shadows before sunshine
a courteous student a smiling ray.

Not long to reach Patterson Station
passing homes simple and grandiose
traditional backyards disappearing for
townhouses that house the most.
And right at the Station’s doorstep
from a third floor balcony, quite unaware
a sleepy man plumps blue pillows
we watch him inhale morning air.

Too soon, I’m at Bentleigh Station
and striding along busy Centre Road.
There are shoppers, school kids, workers
negotiating others in relaxation mode.
Old men gathering outside cafes to chat
over Turkish coffee and sweet cakes
weekly reminiscing, current politics too –
get-togethers a community makes.

Benn’s Bookshop appears on the horizon
and I turn into Godfrey Street
delicious aromas of chicken and coffee
at close quarters my regular greet.
An octogenarian shuffles her walker
a shopping bag ready for weekly refill,
guarding fiercely her independence
a faithful fox terrier follows at heel.

Turning into the Community House
prepared for the delightful writing class
spring flowers a brilliant scented rainbow
amidst freshly-trimmed green grass.
A young mum pushes an empty stroller
her daughter dancing fantasy behind
in a lurid pink tutu and glittering tiara
a more joyful princess you’ll never find!

fairy ring.jpg

Please share any daily moments of joy or note them down to savour for later.

Seeking Inner Peace in Outer Mongolia

cairns 2017.jpeg

I freely admit to not being in harmony with my spirit for a long time.

I find Maya Angelou inspiring but whether experiencing delayed and complicated grief or just burn-out, a growing melancholy is difficult to shake off and so I am an expert in masking how I feel. Last year, the pretence life was okay became harder to mask.

I felt broken; fatigued and shattered.

How to fix broken me a difficult conundrum, but not new.

All my life I’ve been accused of over-thinking, being too sensitive, too serious, caring too much. Even primary school teachers wrote “highly strung” in reports when personality assessments sat beside grades.

Weary, disillusioned and disappointed in myself I wondered is it just coming to terms with ageing, or is existing rather than living going to be the norm?

Were the fast approaching ‘twilight years’ affecting me as they did my father who often recited the cynic’s song:

Twas always thus since childhood’s hour, I’ve seen my fondest hopes decay, I never loved a bird nor flower, than the darned thing died or flew away!”

The Physical and Metaphysical

There were physical aspects to how broken I felt.

I visited my oncologist because I wanted to come off Tamoxifen. Her reaction to my complaints about joint pain, rashes, and palpitations, “it’s not just cancer, you’ve never got over losing John…” and while writing a script for anti-depressants,  “I’ll give you these but I know you probably won’t take them…”

She was right about the pills – I didn’t fill the prescription, particularly after researching the possible side effects, mirroring some of the symptoms, which motivated me to make the appointment!

Symptoms I believed from Tamoxifen, the drug keeping my breast cancer under control.

She was also right about my grief for husband John, who I loved passionately and miss every day, but conflating that with the visceral effects of Tamoxifen didn’t help my anxiety.

When I left the specialist’s rooms that day, instead of catching the bus, I walked for an hour, my mind in overdrive and future uncertain.

Decisions to make.

To ignore the prescription for anti-depressants and also come off Tamoxifen. (And when the most worrying physical symptoms disappeared, I was vindicated!)

But what to do about the cloud of depression shadowing me most of my life and now threatening thunderstorm proportions?

Throwing myself into work whether paid or volunteer often an effective distraction. I’ve always been a great believer in focusing and helping others as a way of minimising personal problems.

It sometimes works, but deep down distraction is the right word. Also, it’s a solution that’s often temporary.

Peter Sarstedt in his hit song of the ’60s sang:

But where do you go to my lovely
When you’re alone in your bed
Tell me the thoughts that surround you
I want to look inside your head

No one would want to look inside my head – not even me! Where is the off button?!

The 24hour news cycle and social media with its emphasis on tragedies take a toll on heart and soul too. There are always external factors as well as internal factors feeding melancholia and as a person interested in politics and social justice I know the constant barrage has made it worse.

Going Travelling instead of Going to Pieces

Active solution?

By planning a holiday to places on my bucket list, I hoped travelling and a rest from the everyday would give time to think and heal.

I sent an email to Flower Travel, Trans Siberian journey specialists, plus emails to friends and relatives overseas in the UK, a place not visited in 20 years. I decided to travel where I’d never been and tour Orkney and Shetland.

“The discipline of writing something down is the first step toward making it happen.”

Lee Iacocca

I plundered superannuation and took a term off from teaching…

As a solo traveller, there would be plenty of time for soul-searching, especially visiting Mongolia and Siberia, places as different from my lifestyle as the proverbial ‘chalk and cheese’!

Day Two In Mongolia

I’m scheduled to stay in a traditional ger at Buuviet Ger Camp, Terelj National Park, 65 kilometres northeast of Ulaanbaatar.

The ideal opportunity, at the beginning of my travels, to start that soul searching and a walk at dusk provides time to be quiet and still.

dusk in ger camp - poem.jpg
Dusk in the Ger Camp

“The National Park Gorkhi-Terelj includes the southern Khentil mountain range. Terelj is one of the protected areas most frequently visited. It offers naturally beautiful scenery, interesting rock formations and is covered by forests, wetlands and alpine tundra…”

entrance to campsign to camp

The Buuviet Ger Camp is open all year round and the information listed facilities to include:  220 V electricity, deep well artesian water, 70 gers with guest beds for overnight stay, 16-bed winter houses, ger restaurant with seating for 60 and information ger with Mongolian national games, modern bar in a ger, souvenir shop, fully equipped restrooms (summer only) and an outside BBQ and bar – not the isolated wilderness some may think!

However, I’m not the first and won’t be the last traveller to discover a discrepancy in what is advertised and reality, but I didn’t mind. In fact, the experience probably more authentic because of it. I wasn’t looking for “Glamping” as one travel site described: 

Go glamping

Sleeping in a rough-and-ready Mongolian ger is a quintessential grassland experience, but a growing number of tour operators are establishing sustainable, nomad-run ger camps that target the posh adventurer with innovative luxuries. Nomadic Journeys operates ger camps at pristine wilderness sites that feature heated eco-showers, hand-painted beds with thick yak’s wool blankets, and even a sauna ger. For the truly adventurous, they’ll open up an airstrip and fly people into the great Mongolian void – 365 degrees of pristine emptiness, and it’s all yours.

The spacious and comfortable ger was cosy and I eventually settled to sleep… although that was a long time coming…

Staring at the shadows from the starlight shining through the roof, I relived the minutiae of the day, tortured myself with past imperfect scenarios, tried to imagine perfect scenarios…

… the wee hours never easy for what my mother called ‘an overactive brain‘. Nighttime rarely a relief from the busyness of the day.

The silence in the ger “deafening’! There are none of the sounds I’m used to – machinery, cars, trains, footsteps on pavements, crickets, pigeons cooing, sirens, dogs barking….

At times the wind whistles through the roof but I could be the only person on earth although the faint buzz of security cameras and an outside light just discernible. Once I heard distant barking – dogs warning of wolves?

But there was no insect noises or hum of an electricity generator. The ger cocoon the perfect place for ‘endless musings and ramblings, recriminations and replayed conversations.’

The writing ‘mojo’ I hoped to rekindle struggled to appear, and energy absent, but regrets, remorse, resentment, recriminations, fears, fantasies, grief and even giggles took their turn before I gradually dropped off to sleep!

When we arrived at the camp, snow still lay on the ground. The weather of the last few days just beginning to allow for maintenance and preparation for the spring and summer tourist season.

Being the only guest, I understood why the electricity (stored in batteries) was not switched on, and the ‘fully equipped restrooms” still shrouded and protected from winter.

It was pleasing to see signs explaining efforts to marry environmental awareness with tourism.

A love of travel motivates me, but I readily admit it’s a privilege and carry first world guilt about my environmental footprint.

Cultivating an attitude of neutrality, I consider most people to have good intentions, are not out to be bad or destructive.  The majority are kind and helpful and so I do my best to be trusting, suppress suspicion and hesitation, and extend friendship.

There are myriad cultural and ethnic stereotypes promoted in movies, comedy routines, novels, and plays. Lazy writers thrive on stereotypes and cliches and the success of soap operas and pulp fiction show there is a market. But I hope to absorb and capture the vibrant and fascinating Mongolia that has stunned me, albeit with only two days of experience.

I prefer to take people as I find them and form opinions based on personal experience and observation.

A large sign explained Buuviet Camp’s mission to be an “eco-camp”:

Idopt a tree

Buuveit camp of Tsolmon Travel LLC was nominated and certified as the first “Eco Camp” today we are working to bring you close to nature by developing beautiful garden at our camp.

Goal:

  • save and preserve the endangered species of plants, trees and shrubbery
  • increase the number by replanting
  • provide botanical education

Our garden is dedicated to the collection, cultivation and display of wide range of plants from Gorkhi Terelj National park and Khan Khentii Protected Area.

Thousand Trees Every YEAR
Please join our effort to give back to the nature by planting trees and flowers any help would be appreciated
For more info please ask the camp manager.

I saw the area mapped out for a vegetable and fruit garden, still empty of growth because of winter.  However, Jemina, my host excited at seeing a tiny shoot of green and bent down to examine it.  New growth means his horses and cattle will have more feed. 

Traditionally, Mongolian nomads raise five species of livestock known as the five muzzles or snouts: horses, cows or yaks, sheep, goats, and camels. Reindeer are raised by the Tsaatan people who live in the northwest areas around the lake Khovsgol bordering Russian Siberia. 

A life of wrestling with the vagaries of the seasons evident on Jemina’s face, skin, and wiry body. This vast almost limitless space, a tough place in winter.

first sign pf spring

I saw living proof that Mongolia is one of the least densely populated countries on earth when standing in the centre of camp:

  • no sight or sound of another person,
  • a panorama of unfolding pastures, dusty paddocks,
  • and hilly peaks draped with snow.

A wonderful gift to experience, I’m in awe at this wilderness and appreciate the lifestyle enjoyed in Mordialloc.

Ada had been worried and apologetic about some facilities being closed. But why would I mind using the squat toilet on the edge of the site, or top and tailing at the wash basin rigged to be fed by a bucket of water?

I thought of an old Monty Python skit ( Four Yorkshiremen) – these facilities luxury indeed compared to how some people have to live, without shelter, clean water or decent food!

Because of the nomadic lifestyle and the climate, Mongolians have always played a variety of games and are skilful horse riders.  I saw where outdoor games could be played but had to make do reading about the cultural heritage developed over many centuries to suit nomadic life.

Likewise, the restaurant and other communal buildings, BBQ and bar remained closed for my one night, but I could imagine the delight of tourists in peak season.

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After a wander around and peeking in windows, I’m sure would-be guests during peak tourist season could consider it ‘glamping’!

Looking at my notebook, I read “has it only been a day since I flew into Mongolia?”

“I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m on my way.”

Carl Sagan

An Awakening of the Land – and Me…
Mairi Neil

From the plane, I spy brown, dry earth
and undulating hills
peaks dotted with snow
the iced mountains and streaked steppes
like shattered shards of glass
nomadic houses – gers
could be iced buns or polka dots
instead of circles of civilisation
and isolation

The plane manoeuvres around mountains
and patchwork dark green shadows
forest in a land famous for no trees
Thick cloud envelops
accompanied by an ominous grunt…
the landing gear drops
we hover over mountains
panda seat display announces
two degrees on the ground

river tributaries appear
flowing free
or perhaps just melting snow
as isolated gers multiply
blend to suburbs of Ulaanbaatar…

A long straight highway glimpsed
high-rise buildings glint in sunlight
seat upright, seat belt fastened
alert and nervous
I anticipate the adventure ahead…

 

me with hosts at ger camp
Jemina and daughter Aruna run the Buuviet Ger Camp

Notes By Candlelight…1

Tonight I’m in a ger – the only guest in the village because winter is not quite over. Aruna and her father Jemina run the place. Although only 22 years old, Aruna is extremely competent. She had to step up when her mother died 6 years ago. Her father is 59. An older brother and sister have moved away with their own families.

Aruna told me she has a pony, also books and television as relaxation and entertainment. She writes in her journal. Like young people everywhere she has a mobile phone and loves the Internet.

Our conversations stilted and difficult because of the language barrier. How I wished we could communicate better – I’d love to know what she reads and writes… and of her dreams for the future.

I can imagine how busy it will be in the summer – a lot of work for a young woman. I feel guilty at a fleeting moment of regret that the new washing and toilet facilities are not operational. No luxury hotel comforts for me. Not even electricity in the ger because it’s not worth connecting the battery for just one guest.

On the plus side, I’m experiencing a more traditional lifestyle as I read by candlelight, use the squat toilet, and sponge myself down at the tiny sink with water from a bucket!

I told Heidi at Flower Travel I wasn’t “precious” so in modern day vernacular I’m “sucking it up”!

When we migrated to Australia in 1962, the house we rented for four years had no septic tank or sewer. We trekked down to the bottom of the backyard day or night and used the ridiculously named “dry toilet” or dunny in Aussie vernacular. (My father and brothers often peeing in the bushes or ‘by the lemon tree’!)

The pan emptied each week by the “night man,” who actually came during the day. And what a grump he was too, but with such a “shit” job, no wonder!

My Aussie Childhood
Mairi Neil

I grew up at Croydon
when the bush was thick around,
milk and bread delivered
to a tuneful clip-clop sound

kookaburras laughed and swooped
to steal our pet cat’s food
it wasn’t Snappy Tom, of course
but ‘roo meat, raw and good.

Streets were mainly dirt tracks,
collection of potholes and clay,
most people walked or cycled
and strangers said, ‘G’day!’

Our weatherboard house peeled
paint – the tin roof leaked too,
verandahs sagged under honeysuckle,
rooms added as the family grew.

Mosquito nets caused claustrophobia,
possums peered down chimneys three
but the dunny banished down the back,
the most terrifying memory, for me.

Electricity only brightened inside,
so torch or candle had to suffice,
night noises from shadows in bushes,
and the smelly dunny – not nice!

The path to the toilet lined with trees
growing tall to seek the sun
but in the scary, dark cloak of night
branches became arms from which to run.

But during the day, our block was heaven
definitely a children’s Adventureland
blue tongues, geckos, tadpoles, and frogs
all shared my world so grand.

A snake was the greatest danger
or a bull ant bite on the toe,
a rule carefree wonderful time –
my rose-coloured glasses show!

Notes By Candlelight…2

More often than not it was outside squat toilets when I visited communes and factories and some tourist attractions in China in 1979 – the unforgettable smell of human waste reminiscent of the latrines we dug at girl guide camps.

That ‘farmyard’ smell triggers many memories just as staring at the flickering candle flame does!

Sipping a cup of Nerada tea I’ve brought from Australia I wonder how many others have sat in this ger?

The teabags and a tube of Vegemite brought along as emergency rations. A cup of tea does wonders and Vegemite on bread or cracker biscuits as good as a meal!

Deep breaths and I imagine the eucalypts in the garden at Mordialloc, the sweet smell of Mary Jane’s favourite incense that permeates the hall, the smoothness of Aurora’s fur as she cuddles me each night.

Will this trip invigorate me or just emphasise my aloneness – or make me lonely ?

A big drawback of solo travel – not having someone to talk over the day’s experiences – the joys, upsets… the wonder.

My first published poem in the form of a bookmark resulted from a writing workshop where the teacher lit a candle in the centre of the table and told us to pause, reflect and write…

is it just tiredness or feeling overwhelmed that is blocking inspiration tonight?

There were several hours to walk and explore the camp and beyond. I discovered a prayer site of shaman ritual. Shamanism deeply rooted in nomadic Mongolia and lives happily with Buddhism. You often see the circles and cairns where rituals have taken or will take place and memorial stupas.

People ask to be healed, for good crops or to do well in an exam or job interview – many reasons to thank the gods – and ask for guidance from ancestors.

Buddhism and Shamanism coexist in Mongolia and are often interconnected. 

Stalin’s purges led to religious orders being decimated. At the time 25% of the male population were Buddhist priests so you can see why he considered them a threat and you can also understand why people clung to shamanism. 

In the solitude, I felt relaxed, daylight drifted away as a veil of serenity fell.  I discovered a spiritual sanctuary amidst ancient stones. I could be sitting in an empty church – sitting quietly in contemplation without sermons or fuss.

The rocks materialising into shapes –  eyes, faces, figures – as if ancient folk still live.

Three monks in their cowls with heads bent in prayer, a mother, and her child, a grandparent squatting with a child leaning on his shoulder; animals too – crouching, lying, poised and cowed.

Who comes here? Is the discarded bottle Jemina’s? Is this where he comes to grieve? Or do people gather for spiritual salvation? 

Secret cavities leading to where? Did Mankind begin here? Do ancient souls still hover?

I see brown open landscape, miles of emptiness
I hear the cry of a crow – a kite circles
I smell aromatic herbs and woodsmoke
I taste the tang of unfamiliar meat sauces from dinner
I touch textured rock scarred by time and weather

I imagine the endless universe… the circle of life

ger camp from hill.jpg

There are only two faces to existence – birth and death –
and life survives them both, just so sunrise and sunset
are not essentially different:
it all depends on whether one is facing east or west.

Joy Mills, Release into Light

Nature called…

The toilet was far enough away to be disconcerting in the dark even although I had a torch.

There were holes and uneven ground caused by the marmots coming out of hibernation and despite knowing I was the only one booked into the camp, a walk across open land amongst shadows and the silhouettes of buildings, conjured the fearful (although unfounded) sensation that people were watching, perhaps even wishing me harm! 

Imagination a curse at times and never more so in a strange place in the dark.

No wonder I took Ada’s suggestion and snuck behind the tent and peed – it was about 3 or 4 am, absolutely freezing, the only sound my stream of urine scalding and steaming tufts of dead grass and melting thick frost.

Of course, I did have a middle-class moment – what if Jemina was up and about? But that was fleeting and made me smile at my own ridiculous thoughts.

What about ticks?

Ada told me a story about her friend being bitten on the head and contracting Lyme Disease. It was tick season and according to Ada, they love the wind and your hair, but will also go up your leg.  I dutifully wore hat, scarf, and boots when outside.

Fear made me check the bedclothes and the wheels of my luggage – just in case!  When a fly got through the door with me, I watched where it flew as if an enemy ready to attack. What a relief to see it leave via the circular gap in the roof dome. 

No windows in the ger but starlight, moonlight, sunlight, first light, all through the hole in the roof for the chimney.

And what about wolves? The wolf pelt in the corner of the office a stark reminder they exist.

wolf pelt

Jemina crept into the ger at midnight trying not to wake me, his torch flickering as he fed the fire with coal. He must have watched for smoke or lack of – and his timing spot on. (Ada had warned me Jemina would need to stoke the fire when we had an explanatory tour of the place before she returned to the city.)

This is bizarre, I thought as I watched his silhouette from the comfort of the bed. What will the girls think when I tell them I agreed that a man who couldn’t communicate with me, could come into my unlocked bedroom in the middle of the night, albeit to stoke the fire. (Another middle-class, western moment?)

The torchlight bright and blinding and Jemina’s face masked with a scarf against the bitter cold as he concentrated on his duties. Hunkering in front of the fire, fiddling with fuel to encourage flames, poking and rearranging with expertise. The wood stirred, flared and crackled to life.

There’s a talent to lighting a fire and heating a stove. Mum had it. So did Dad, although no surprise there because he was a fireman and later steam train driver. Not much Dad didn’t know about fires. Maybe he taught Mum, but since she was brought up on a farm in Northern Ireland where creating heat for cooking an important element in the skillset for country living, perhaps their expertise mutual.

In the modern world, push-button electric, gas or oil heaters ensure generations have no idea how to make or regulate a wood or coal fire.

  • Before John and I renovated our home in Mordialloc, the only hot water came from a wood-burning Raeburn stove. Every weekend John sat for hours in the shed chopping enough kindling for me to use during the week. When Anne came along, it was easier to boil kettles for her baby baths. I recall the joy of instant hot water when a gas hot water service installed.
  • I  remember my parents spreading a newspaper over the fireplace in Scotland to block out air (except for what came down the chimney or ‘lum’ as we called it) until kindling caught. I can see and smell sandalwood tapers used to light the fire – a present from a childless aunt who could afford to travel to exotic places.
  • Images of the coal man surface – heaving and emptying a large hessian bag full of coal into a bunker next to the kitchen. The smell of lanolin, the pink barrier cream Mum massaged into her hands for protection before she handled the coal, and set the fire.

As I skipped down memory lane, Jemina gave the fire his complete attention, but when he realised I was awake, he mimed that he’d return at 2.00am.

Earlier in the evening, the inside of the ger became unpleasantly hot – the coal and wood heater did too good a job in the well-insulated, enclosed space so I mimed to Jemina not to bother returning; I’d be warm enough.

He nodded, and before leaving placed a bucket near my bed.  I assumed it was to pee in if needed.

Jemina crab-walked to the door and braved the cold. I hoped, he understood I didn’t want to be disturbed at 2.00 am. The door of the ger tiny, and crouching definitely the best way to get in and out or earn a bump on the head like me when I forgot to duck coming back in after my peeing expedition!

The fire nearly out so I rekindled the flames and added more wood. I wonder if Jemina is watching for smoke from his ger…

A traditional yurt (from the Turkic languages) or ger (Mongolian) is a portable, round tent covered with skins or felt and used as a dwelling by nomads in the steppes of Central Asia.

Traditional gers consist of an expanding wooden circular frame carrying a felt cover. The felt is made from the wool of sheep, goat or yak and the timber, to make the external structure, is obtained by trade because of the absence of suitable trees on the steppes.

Gers traditionally did not have solid doors. These fitted as camps have grown and the people don’t move as often. Traditional doors were heavy carpets or appliquéd quilts.

ger door

A Visit With A Nomadic Family

Earlier in the day, there was a quick stop with a traditional nomadic family: Mum, her son, and daughter-in-law, plus two kids of 6 and 7. A brother was visiting with his two children and another relative and her children. 

The place packed. Everyone, apart from our hostess, sitting along one side of the room while Ada, Bemba and myself, sit on the other.

A washing machine is churning because it is Sunday, the day they wash their clothes. In between entertaining us, the mother hassles the children for dirty clothes – well I assume that’s what she is saying as they search under chairs and behind boxes and produce items of clothing. The domestic tasks of parenting and managing a household universal – no translation needed!

It’s ingenious the way the ger is built, to be collapsed and packed up at least four times a year. Sometimes they only move 20-25 kilometres, other times 50 – 100 kilometres, depending on where the family’s cattle and horses graze.

This family has horses and display medals they’ve won at Naadam, the great summer festival in July.

They are Buddhist and a shrine sits next to a giant flat-screen TV, the children and some adults engrossed watching Shaun The Sheep!

A traditional musical instrument with horse handle proudly displayed, although no one plays. It sits beside a traditional saddle and ancient costume of hat and whip. They are important symbols to show pride in Mongolian culture and heritage and have been passed down through the family.

musical instrument horse handle

The various ‘sides’ of the ger are designated: woman’s area – kitchen gear (what a surprise!), a symbolic or ornamental area, sleeping area, bathing and washing area.

Gers may look the same from the outside but like our homes are different inside – this one elaborate and heavily furnished. Bright carpets insulate the walls as well as woven hangings.

As an honoured guest, I’m given milky tea swirled in a large steel basin. Milk drained – I have no idea if it was from a horse, yak, cow, goat or sheep. They use whatever is available and make milk, cream, butter, cheese, and yoghurt.

 sweet tea in ger

I ate little round shaped bites like doughnuts, the other plate is dried yoghurt, tasty but so hard you need strong teeth. A sweet/salty butter treat. Mixing salt and sugar common here. The children suck on slices of dried butter as if icy poles.

The tea an acquired taste – sweet – and leaving an aftertaste. Since teenage, I’ve preferred unsweetened black tea and because Ada knew what to expect she asked the hostess to pour only half a cup for me. 

Not wanting to offend, I drink the tea and taste everything offered. Taking food with an acquired taste, not something I cheerfully volunteer for. I’m not an adventurous eater and rarely eat out, rather I eat to live, not live to eat and never watch cooking shows currently popular on television.

There were plenty of smiles and friendly looks and my visit is an income stream for the family, especially in winter when there are not a lot of alternatives.

When they settle in an area like the National Park there is a government school closer to town and the children board there. When I visited, it was the week of school holidays a time when lots of families visit each other. (Not that different from us really.)

To the Mongols, the family unit is everything.

Having to communicate through Ada limiting and because it was a special and busy family day, I felt like an intruder and didn’t want to subject our hostess with twenty questions.

The children too interested in the television to care about visitors, but one woman (family, neighbour?) never took her eyes off me for the half hour or so of our visit. Her intense stare disconcerting and when we left, I could hear daughter, Mary Jane’s voice, “Well, that was awkward!

On reflection, despite the generous hospitality, it was indeed! Perhaps a group visiting makes the dynamics different or maybe I just wasn’t prepared for all the distractions under one roof – this is where having a separate room for guests may have advantages.

Getting to know someone and being invited to their home different to this organised visit. I remember experiencing the same embarrassed reaction after a visit to a commune in China. It just seemed a discourteous intrusion – maybe if it had been a longer visit, more relaxed and we could communicate better I wouldn’t feel so bad.

However, in the morning, all negative feelings disappeared as I lay in bed trying to identify sounds –

Dawn

‘Peeho, peeho’ the call of a bird?
Persistent and guttural like a pigeon but not ‘coo coo’
Silence after 30 seconds.
A soft whish, swish – flapping?
A peek outside –
an eagle or kite swooping, catching breakfast
an unlucky marmot fails to escape
a magical Mongolian moment I won’t forget!

Despite a disturbed night and strange bed, I feel relaxed… a step towards serenity and inner peace?

Vale – Frank Jones – Thank You For Pausing and Sharing Your Poetry…

 

Mordialloc beach & pier.jpg

There was joy in the return from my travels, but sadness too when I heard that Frank Jones had passed away on 9th of May, aged 92 years. His funeral held at St Brigid’s Mordialloc on 18th May 2017.

As a longtime member of Mordialloc Writers’ Group, Frank’s poetry and stories have graced eight of our nine anthologies. Another broken link with the group I founded in 1995 and although I am no longer active at Mordialloc workshops, I’m sure there are many Mordi writers who grieve Frank’s passing.

 

FrankJones 90th birthday celebration.jpg
I was privileged to attend Frank’s family celebration for his 90th, 2015.

 

Frank celebrated his 90th birthday at our regular Readings By The Bay and was the oldest writer in our last anthology, Kingston My City, contributing a marvellous reflective essay on his 65-year relationship with Mordialloc and the City of Kingston.

A natural born writer, Frank loved poetry – especially ‘bush’ and rhyming poetry – ‘the old -fashioned kind’, he said to me when he first joined the group. He wrote from the heart, a kind compassionate heart.

 

Pale Green Walls of Innisfree.jpeg
From Casting A Line, Mordialloc Writers’ Group  2000.

 

I’ve never forgotten when he and his wife Joan turned up at the inaugural Readings By The Bay. Frank stood up and recited from memory, a poem he had written to Joan on their wedding day 50 years before! A romantic at heart too.

Frank reading at his birthday copy.jpg
Surrounded by friends and family Frank reads at his birthday celebration, held Parkdale Footy Club.

When Joan was diagnosed with breast cancer Frank suffered deeply and was shattered when she died. He, of course, used writing to share their story.  Another poem showing his love for Joan as she struggled with treatment.

Breast Cancer revisited.jpeg
From Up The Creek with a pen! Mordialloc Writers’ Group, 2003.

I lost my partner, John in 2003, and also had a breast cancer diagnosis in 2010. These shared sorrows added a depth to my relationship with Frank I didn’t have with other writers in the group.

Frank and I lived a street apart and sometimes bumped into each other when he walked to U3A, or latterly to his acupuncturist in McDonald Street. He’d often ring me and ask for help editing or to give an opinion on a writing idea, or to share the joy of publication.

My daughters knew who was calling before Frank offered his name – he had a distinctive Aussie twang and spoke at the level you’d expect from someone going deaf.

Mairi, is that you? It’s Frank Jones,’ he boomed.

When Frank had bouts of illness that kept him from workshops or readings, I still included him in any anthology project because he always produced a memorable poem or story.

He was a writer who understood deadlines, listened to and appreciated any feedback. Also that rarity – Frank accepted the editor’s suggestions and decisions. A boon for those who helped edit the anthologies.

Frank referred to me as his ‘writing teacher’ although he never attended any of my classes!

short story The Test Flight.jpeg
Eleven O Four, Mordialloc Writers’ Group 2004

Frank used his life experiences to produce interesting and contemporary pieces: –

  • growing up in the country (Kyneton area),
  • serving in WW2 in the RAAF
  • working in the building trade (a brickie)
  • and newsagency business,
  • his love of family,
  • his British heritage
  • love of swimming – he was in the icebreaker club
  • love of golf,
  • his love of dogs, especially a particular pet
  • his determination to continue to learn the craft of writing – he wrote stories, poems and a play
  • his commitment to his Christian Faith and volunteer work for St Vinnie’s
St Vinnie's mob.jpeg
Casting a Line, Mordialloc Writers’ Group 2000.

A prolific writer, I can remember how proud Frank was when his family collated his poems into a beautiful leather bound volume. He brought it to Sunday Readings to show us.

What a wonderful gift for a writer – your life’s work in a gold-lettered book!

The book was for one of his significant birthdays. Frank said it was after he became an ‘OBE’, ‘over bloody eighty’!

Frank’s honesty and sense of humour will be missed too. I have many photographs of Mordialloc Writers’ events over the 21 years but only the last few years are digital and easy to add to this blog post. Below is a selection from the last five years.

In Mordialloc Writer’ eighth anthology, Off the Rails, 2012, Frank wrote about attending an interstate swimming carnival – he had a pool in his backyard and swam every morning – perhaps a key to his longevity.

To Albury Grand Railway Station

Frank Jones

Hurrah! I proclaim we’re away on the train
Without fanfare or celebration
We glide down the tracks and never look back
As we leave old Spencer Street Station.

Our journey profound, we are Albury bound
In their carnival, we’re listed to swim.
We’ll strive to be best as our bodies protest
Even though we are taut, fit, and trim.

Onwards on time through a mesh of train lines
We view backyards tightly compacted
We wonder amazed, some even quite dazed
By urban plans neatly protracted.

We pay no heed as the train picks up speed
The wheels clattering faster and faster
No one complains as we head for the plains
Where drought is a common disaster.

Soon a voice loud and clear announces
!e cafeteria is ready to serve us
!reading through seats to sample the treats
The swaying train a challenge, if nervous.

Cars on the roads and trucks with their loads
All head for unknown destinations
!e train’s horn blasts every crossing we pass
No cause for great consternation.

Wangaratta and snowfields well passed
Signposted Canberra a further location
The Murray in sight and Wodonga’s delights
We are nearing our destination.

Speed now declines … it’s the end of the line
We’ll get on without hesitation
You won’t read in the papers about our capers
Or the fun of our jubilation.

We savoured the home, of ‘Albury’s Own’
So many sacrificed for this nation
On the hill high, their memorials lie
To overlook Albury’s historic Grand Station.

 

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Albury Railway Station – grand indeed.

 

Frank wrote from the heart expressing himself in a language he understood and used daily – the best qualifications a poet can have – he was himself!  He didn’t try to emulate another style or be ‘poetic’. His words authentic. Frank Jones, the poet, writer, and raconteur will be missed.

One of the first poems of Frank’s that our group published is one I have never forgotten and is alluded to in the title of this blog post. It is one I mentioned to others when on my recent travels.

I spent a lot of time overseas visiting cemeteries. Not just chasing information about relatives but because I find them fascinating historical records. Discoveries are inspiring and intriguing, headstones holding so many stories.

Sadness too – all those people who have lived and by the state of some graves, are forgotten, or the family line has died.

 

pause between two dates.
Up The Creek with a pen! Mordialloc Writers’ Group, 2003.

 

Frank Jones – a rich legacy indeed – thank you!

You will be remembered as more than a pause between two dates.

 

Frank at Readings By The Bay 2016
Frank enjoying my apple cake at Readings By The Bay – the main reason he attended he’d say with a grin.