Ice Broken But Writing Inspiration Harder to Crack!

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Happiness is writing for me but where does the time go and how much do I actually write?

How do I inspire others to write, if I don’t?

Does time disappear more quickly as we age? The days certainly seem to be racing by – January has gone already and February more than halfway through…

I remember Dad telling me not to wish my life away when I was a teenager but I couldn’t wait to be an adult and complete a host of dreams on my wish list.

Life will disappear fast enough,’ he said wistfully, the shadow of melancholy making his dark eyes even darker.

I didn’t listen, of course.  I fitted the cliche – there was no old head on young shoulders. Now, with grey hairs and arthritic bones, any wisdom garnered over the years has me reflecting and regretting all that wishing life away.

Maybe that’s why I am so passionate about encouraging others to write – all those years I thought I had to sit down and write when there wasn’t something more exciting to do…

It is Week Three of Writing Creatively Already

The enticing aroma of Hot Cross Buns drifts from supermarket bakeries and packets of the yummy treats fill the shelves, friends are sharing their camping plans for Easter holidays and pictures of the King and Queen of Moomba, one of Melbourne’s favourite autumn events appears on social media.

This is a short first term – Yikes!

New students are only starting to relax and old students are getting back into the swing of lessons and homework.

However, auditors must be appeased that any government investment in our particular slice of the adult education budget has been well spent and hopefully as the seven weeks roll on everyone will find some inspiration and motivation – and the elusive time to rewrite and edit!

And judging from the writing produced and/or planned from the icebreaker exercises whatever is produced will be a good read. (I could add ‘as usual’ but then I’m biased.)

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Introductions – First Exercise

When I googled ‘icebreaker activities’ I got ‘about 4,620,000 results (0.64 seconds)’ but it took a lot longer to find and adapt ones that would lend themselves to a creative writing lesson.

I chose one that encourages people to think about how they introduce a sense of place.  Encourages the writer to think about how a place may shape you and how they (or the characters) feel a sense of belonging.

The students sat quietly and thought of three clues to describe but not name, either their country of birth (if different from Australia) or their birthplace in Australia: city suburb, country town or interstate.

They then had to think of three clues to see if people could guess a foreign country they had visited, a favourite foreign country, or one they dream of visiting.

Then they wrote what they liked best about their birth country and the favourite foreign country.

I stressed it was not a competition to see who was the best riddle maker and not an invitation to see if people could be tricked.

The exercise designed to look at places and perhaps describe them using an aspect with some creativity. To think of how places are presented or could be presented in a more interesting way, perhaps emphasising an aspect that may define a birthplace and somewhere else that appeals rather than writing a one-sentence statement:

Hi, my name is Mairi and I was born in Scotland but always dreamed about visiting Samoa and managed to do that a couple of years ago…”

I rewrote this to introduce myself to the class while thinking about the writing advice of showing rather than telling!

Hi, my name is Mairi. I was born where lochs and glens adorn postcards and men are not embarrassed to go without trousers, and our national musical instrument was declared a weapon of war.

A few years ago I visited a country and climbed a mountain to visit a grave, went to church and prayed for their rugby team to win, and ate banana pancakes.

I love the sense of humour and hospitality in my birth country and that warmth of welcome and fun was also experienced in the foreign country of my dreams.

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Buchanan Bus Depot Glasgow

Reflection, Rewriting and Road Maps To Fresh Ideas

It is surprising what people came up with when they had to think about their birthplace and what aspects they described to give clues to others – for those writing memoirs it gave them an opportunity to consider a more intriguing or inviting introduction too.

  • Aboriginal name in the address
  • a hospital nearby that is still a medical facility
  • a Mediterranean country
  • not an ally in WW2
  • speak a language as easy to learn as English
  • a Melbourne suburb still regarded as exclusive
  • streets of shady trees nearby
  • it claims Luna Park, the Victory theatre and a huge junction
  • a capital city
  • landlocked apart from the northern border
  • turbulent history but now thriving democracy
  • peopled by immigrants from many cultures
  • some of the most fertile land in the area
  • potatoes the favourite crop
  • part of a soldier settlement deal
  • a hot and dangerous country
  • people speak Afrikaans
  • southern hemisphere
  • third planet from the sun
  • southern cross never sets over hometown
  • mell of Kugloff cake in the air
  • often hear the sound of violins
  • cottage close to the Danube
  • hot and dry but lots of oranges are grown
  • lots of Aussie songs written about this foreign place
  • sung about in Gilbert and Sullivan productions
  • artists’ colony
  • filmed endlessly
  • rocky coastline
  • it’s the end of the world…

Sometimes it is impossible to know where you are headed without reflecting on where you came from. Understanding your heritage, your roots and your ancestry is an important part of carving out your future.

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Technology and transportation today give us the opportunity to learn, often first hand, about the rest of the world. You may not have had the privilege of travelling overseas but had the thrill of talking with foreigners online, writing to pen pals, or working beside people from overseas, or maybe even have immigrants or visitors as neighbours.

The world shrinks and differences are less the more we learn and understand about each other. Everyone is capable of dreaming about crossing borders, venturing into the exotic, trying something new.

In class, we shared stories about dreams of visiting or actual visits to Vietnam, Italy, Malta, Greece, Galapagos Islands, Turkey, Morocco, Egypt, USA, Germany, France, New Zealand, Ireland, Russia, Spain, South Africa, France, Hungary and Sweden, China, Poland, Pacific Islands, England, Scotland, Israel and Chile…

Ideas For Writing At Home

Needless to say that after the first exercise we all knew a lot more about each other and of places that could become settings in our stories and poems.

  • the friendliness and delicious food of Vietnam and how easy it is to hire mobile phones and pushbikes
  • Malta has several islands and lots of churches and is the only country to be awarded a medal of honour for valour during WW2
  • Ithaca, a Greek island has close links to Italy with the people coming and going in ancient times without animosity
  • the delightful birds on Galapagos Islands were made famous by David Attenborough and the Origin of The Species filmed there
  • it is a spiritual experience visiting Uluru and walking around the sacred rock
  • a visit to Gallipoli gives a new appreciation of its significance in the Australian psyche and of war – the terrain, the cove, the rows of crosses commemorating war dead and the statues in the streets of heroic Turkish soldiers.
  • Morocco has amazingly bright, colourful architecture, beautiful places of worship and exotic culture displayed yet marred by the differences between rich and poor
  • Egypt embodies a sense of history and place – the awe touching buildings that have stood for thousands of years
  • the water is blue, so blue and blue in New Zealand and people laid back
  • Christchurch devastated by earthquake and so many beautiful buildings lost
  • Ireland a place to start the history of many Australian families
  • beautiful beaches in Fiji but humid – everyone says Bula – hello
  • Paris may have the most prestigious art galleries in the world but people need to learn to clean up after their dogs
  • The Moscow metro is cheap and a great way to travel around the city
  • when you visit Hungary you may get a feeling you are under surveillance – cameras everywhere
  • the significance and beauty of historical buildings a wonderful reason to visit Barcelona, Spain which is renowned for its architecture
  • beware the risk of getting gastro on cruise ships in the Pacific…

The Task If You Want To Write Too…

Write at least 300-500 words explaining your connection to and love of your birth country and the favourite foreign place.

  • Or perhaps you have a vivid memory to share – good or bad.
  • Maybe travelling advice
  • or write about a character you met

The exercise, or listening to others may have prompted an idea for a short story or poem.

At Longbeach Place in Chelsea where I teach Mondays, they have a wonderful YarnArt group which hosts a community story trail each year.  There is a magnificent knitted peacock in the entrance hall of the centre and I’ll leave you with its symbolism.

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Hi Ho, Hi Ho, A-Writing We Will Go…

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An exchange of emails and telephone calls confirm lesson plans made can now be actioned…

Hallelujah! – I have work…

Schools have gone back but my classes in community houses don’t commence until this week, and as is the nature of being casual, contract, part-time, temporary… confirmation usually doesn’t happen until enrolments are confirmed, and that can be very last moment.

(If lucky, sometimes managers decide to run a class in the hope people will turn up on the starting day.)

An email midweek from one employer confirmed enrolments in tomorrow’s class are enough – the class will run. A telephone call Friday confirmed the other classes have numbers too.

Returning to work, after the long summer break without an income is definitely a cause for celebration – and that good old-fashioned, ‘Hallelujah.’

I’m not alone working in jobs reliant on funding and nearly everybody is at the mercy of the vagaries of the economy. Most workers are hostage to an employer whether it be in the public or private sector. And the courageous few who establish a business spend a lot of time worrying too.

It is wonderful to be told you have paid work – the certainty helps with budgeting!

In the adult education field, many teachers are employed on short-term contracts or a casual basis. Sadly, this even happens within the school system nowadays.

Uncertainty, flexibility, adaptability – the modern workers buzz words. The only guarantee is there are no guarantees.

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Some students are returning and I wonder what they have written over the holidays and if their writing projects and aims have changed. (Or have they shared my struggle to write!)

I’m curious about the new students. Always, the stirrings of excitement a motivation to remember and act upon the Girl Guide Motto, “Be Prepared.”

Despite teaching for 20 years I love the research of planning lessons. Seeking new ideas, books, craft information, a variety of sources, prompts and challenges to ensure we move out of comfort zones.

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Did Anyone Put My End-of-Year Present To Work?

When classes ended for the summer holidays, and because it coincides with Christmas there is often an exchange of presents or an expectation to give a gift.

Gift giving often problematic, if you are someone like me who likes to give a book. Writers are usually avid readers and the chances of giving a book the recipient already has is high.

Print books can be expensive, especially new releases.  I decided to promote writing and wrapped up a pocket notebook and pen for each student.

I asked them to keep the notebook handy and every day write down ideas for stories or poems: observations that strike them as interesting, perhaps overheard dialogue, a memorable smell, unusual sound, evocative texture or taste – all the happenings and minute details that are important to engage with readers.

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Paying it Forward

I first started using a pocket notebook over 30 years ago after hearing Australian writer,  playwright and poet, Dorothy Hewett interviewed on the ABC. She talked about having a notebook and pen in her apron pocket and mentioned some of the stories that grew from her scribbled thoughts.

I’m still old school and usually write by hand before recording onto the computer. Adding words, rewriting, subsequent drafts, plus editing, are all done on the computer, but that initial writing by hand allows me to be more in tune with thoughts, whether brainstorming, a stream of consciousness, or what I call ‘the splurge’ in class, or just musing.

The downside of course is finding it difficult to decipher my writing if I’ve scribbled while on public transport or in the middle of the night (I keep a notebook and pen by the bed) or under the influence of a strong emotion like anger or grief with my mind in overdrive and the hand finding it difficult to keep up.

I’m sure observers the other day thought I was mad as I paused in the middle of Main Street to jot in my notebook. (Maybe I’ll appear in another writer’s notebook as an eccentric old woman.) But I had to note a couple of young girls giggling as they crossed the road arm in arm, one wearing a t-shirt that said, “Mermaids don’t do homework”.

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Uncover or Discover Stories to Record

It’s easy to become stuck in a routine or feel life is ‘same old, same old’, to rely on books, television, movies, and various social media platforms for entertainment, experience, and to extend imagination.

There is an endless amount of stories out there but it’s easy to convince yourself ‘nothing is new under the sun’ and all the original stories have been written by someone more capable or talented.

Writing is hard work, it takes effort – 5% inspiration and 95% perspiration – that’s why it helps if you have other writers encouraging, supporting and motivating your pen to move!

I discovered a poem I wrote after an icebreaker session when the writing students interviewed and introduced each other. I listened (the most important part of any learning process) and made notes to help me remember the students.

The poem takes me back to that class, remembering the students and recalling what they wrote. It may be rhyming doggerel but it also a record of part of my life.

Poetry is great for recording snapshots of life.

Writing Class at Mordialloc Neighbourhood House 2005

Mairi Neil

WW2 was announced on the airwaves
and Heather’s family gathered round
a ten-year-old girl confused
until the air raid sirens sound.
Later, the adult Heather
chose Nursing as a career
a passion shared by Angela
who cared for children three.
Angela’s knowledge of medicine
has stood her in good stead
because she daily battles MS
gallantly facing whatever’s ahead
She’s had environmental change
to Melbourne from the Apple Isle
like Margaret Birch’s Moorabbin memory
gumboots a necessity, not style.

Margaret watched Moorabbin grow
from soldier settlements to busy metropolis
South Road’s dirt track transformed
into a modern traffic terminus.
To escape car fumes and pollution
visit Margaret Birkenhead’s home
meditate in her Edithvale garden
a splendid oasis of beauty to roam.
Sixty years of devotion and giving
mirrored by Marjorie’s journey
a shared vision of contentment
family values central to living.
These two ladies share a thirst for
knowledge and highly value education
Marjorie returned to study at sixty-five
gaining a BA and a new vocation.

She now writes family history,
children’s stories, and rhymed verse,
which strikes a chord with Phillip
whose words forever impress.
He produces poems that inspire,
they also enlighten and amuse
a talent shared by Jeanette
who adores theatre and to choose
serenity listening to classical music
whether operatic or dance
and loves to go to the cinema
whenever she has a chance.
With her beautiful English skin
rosy-cheeked regardless of fashion
She’s travelled from Tibet to Marrakesh
and cites bushwalking as a passion.

Jeannette’s love of reading and writing
shared by Fay, their meeting revealed
how grief’s strain on life’s journey
has oft times their sadness sealed.
These two widows like many others
have made a silent promise
they’ll live life to the fullest
and never a writing class miss!

Ceinwen was born in Wales
and sings as sweet as a bird
she wanted to go on stage
but her Mother said, ‘how absurd!’
Until WW2 intervened and
Ceinwen found the freedom she craved
in the RAF’s Entertainment Unit
performing dreams were saved.

Toula grew up fearful of change
with a Greek father ultra strict
friendless and often oppressed
her husband was father’s pick!
Toula escaped through books,
photography, and painting too
she wants to write her story
migrant women’s voices too few.

Amelia is an artist producing poetic
landscapes with her paintbrush
she meditates every morning
a daily routine she’ll never rush,
each moment must be enjoyed
since meeting the Dalai Lama
his wise words keeping her buoyed.

Whereas Doreen is more practical
divorced for over thirty years
and as a single parent of four
she conquered many fears.
Her Mazda 121 is special
it’s twenty-seven years old
driving gives her pleasure
and walking leaves her cold.
Doreen’s a voracious reader
writing stories that entertain
with characters and dialogue
refreshing as spring rain.

Variety is the spice of life
a well-worn cliche we know
but this group of writing students
have plenty of seeds to sow.
Each Monday promises to delight –
as their pens move across the page
characters and plots coming alive
as if on a Shakespearean stage

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A friend recently commented, ‘Wow, what richness in that class of skills and life experience. I bet they wrote some great stuff!’

They did indeed!

Her observations right – I’ve been privileged to meet some truly inspirational people with powerful stories told well.  The writers who have peopled my classes over the years did produce amazing poems and prose.

Unfortunately, some of the Class of 2005 are no longer here, others attended a short time, but two of the writers are still coming to classes, honing their craft and enjoying their passion for words.

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Not so long ago I was celebrating the lack of timetables and freedom from routine as the summer holidays commenced… but I’ll accept the persona of the female stereotype and change my mind.

Now, I look forward to the beginning of the term and the predictability of the working week to re-establish regular writing practice and share the journey with old friends and new students.

What Price Would you Pay to have ‘All The Money In The World’?

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On Wednesday evening, my daughters and I went to Southland to see the latest film release of Michelle Williams – All the Money In the World.

As I’ve mentioned in other reviews, she is a favourite actress. We love to support her films and this one seems especially relevant for our times when we have supposedly one of the richest men in the world as President of the USA and people divided as to his character.

Are wealth and business acumen an indication of character? Are they the most important attributes of a man/leader? Or is all wealth and power from wealth corrupting?

The film, directed by Ridley Scott, will also be forever linked to controversy because of the #Me Too Movement, Kevin Spacey’s hurried exit, and also the pay inequality exposed by the reshoot when the disparity of Michelle and co-star Mark Wahlberg’s payment made headlines.

Definitely a movie for celebrity-obsessed, social media times!

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The Power Of Story – Does Everyone Have A Price?

All the Money In the World inspired by real-life events and based on a book about the 1973 kidnapping of teenager John Paul Getty 111 (played by Charlie Plummer).

There is the usual criticism from historical purists.

(The latest film about Churchill and WW2 released at the same time and on my to see list suffering a similar fate.)

However, as I said in my review of The Greatest Showman if you are seeking historical accuracy and “the truth”, which, in my view, is almost impossible to ever discover, please don’t expect it from Hollywood, an industry first and foremost about entertainment!

There are libraries, museums, historical documents and research institutes aplenty – seek your own facts but as far as movies are concerned, accept that stories inspired or based on real people or events will be dramatised to fit into a 2-3 hour window and suspension of reality.

Creative non-fiction is a literary genre and movie scripts based on fact aim for authenticity but sacrifice accuracy for the power of story too.

As Entertainment ‘All the Money in The World ‘Succeeds

From July – November 1973, the period the film is set, I was travelling in the UK while enjoying a year away from my university studies in Australia. 

I can remember the newspapers being obsessed by the kidnapping central to the film. At 19 years of age – not much older than John Paul Getty 111, and far from home and family, I could only imagine his terror and how his mother struggled to cope.

I received regular letters from my Mum and every time I rang home (reverse charges!) she would always end with ‘when are you coming home?

How does a family cope with something as horrific as a kidnapping?

How did Paul’s mother, abandoned by husband and powerful father-in-law patriarch negotiate and survive this traumatic turn of events in a world where women were only just beginning to assert themselves? A world, where authority and power were dominated by males.

Michelle Williams as Gail, the teenager’s mother, captures the emotional havoc wreaked by the heinous act, compounded by the seemingly cold, calculated indifference from John Paul’s grandfather ‘the richest man in the world’ and his refusal to pay the ransom.

Her body language, the tone of voice, range of emotion in facial expressions a stellar performance. Believable and engaging.

Her expression in the closing scene, as she looks at a particularly significant piece of Paul Getty Senior’s priceless object d’art collection, sums up how I think every viewer would feel about the billionaire played brilliantly by Christopher Plummer, in an exceptional performance for someone called in as a last-minute replacement for Spacey!

A major thread in the movie is Gail’s ability to stand up to the Getty empire and the powerful Paul Getty Senior. In a divorce settlement she eschews the Getty money for herself and only wants money for the children and sole custody to protect her children from a drug-addled father – hence her dire straits when the kidnappers want $17million for the return of her son.

Money she doesn’t have.

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The tension in the film is all about changing the grandfather’s mind from an initial refusal to pay the ransom because in his reasoning, he had 14 other grandchildren and he would soon have no money if he paid the kidnappers and invited criminal activity.

There is a suggestion that young Paul planned the kidnapping to get back at his grandfather and have a slice of his fortune. A sub-plot that allows Mark Wahlberg’s character, the grandfather’s head of personal security to figure large in the story and have a transformational journey.

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However, when the boy’s ear is sent to a newspaper office to prove the kidnapping is serious and the boy’s life is at risk, the grandfather finally agrees, albeit to offer a much lower sum that is ‘tax deductible’.

The scenes of the frightened teenager shackled in caves and barns, stripped of his wealth and privilege, abused and later mutilated (a harrowing, edge of the seat scene), are visceral and heart-rending and contrast with the luxurious, yet cold and soulless lifestyle of his grandfather.

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There is one kidnapper who develops a friendship with young Paul and nurses him through illness. He is genuinely astounded that a family so rich would value money over life and you wonder if his life circumstances were different would he be a hard-working farmer, factory worker, or professional living and contributing to society or would he succumb to the trappings of wealth and be corrupted… is there ever justification for criminal activity, excuses to be made for bargaining with someone’s life?

Did Marx get the divisions and problems of society right?

We certainly see the lumpen proletariat in action in this movie as well as the capitalists with and without conscience or integrity, and the bumbling, corrupt, brutal and ultimately efficient authorities.

A Movie of Our Times?

In a world still reeling from the effects of the GFC and a rising disgust for what many perceive as the failure of capitalism, the excesses of neoliberalism – this movie doesn’t pull any punches regarding the lack of morality of those who have so much money they become increasingly richer with little or no effort – money makes money if you are prepared to:

  • manipulate stocks,
  • break or manipulate laws or misuse legislation and tax havens
  • ruthlessly buy and sell works of art regardless of provenance or legality
  • ignore family responsibilities and treat people as commodities

The 1% don’t come out looking honourable (or really happy) – although by making Paul Getty Senior their representative, the film makes them larger than life. This richest man in the world revealed to be in a class of his own!

The film also exposes those with an insatiable greed and desire for money – other people’s money – people who don’t want to put in the time, investment or effort to earn a living honestly.

Mafiosi running the networks within the Calabrian underworld who kidnapped Paul Getty 111. They have no honour, no ethics, no integrity and no vision except self-service and dog eat dog.

Economic inequity is not new and All The Money In The World creates the historical background and setting well – Getty made his money by exploiting the Middle East’s oil.

The changing social mores of the 60s turned into the revolutionary and alternative 70s – and Rome was one of the playgrounds of the super-rich.

Hash and marijuana the drug of choice, along with alcohol, soon to be surpassed by cocaine and heroin a scourge of emotionally vulnerable, including the wealthy.

Paul Getty 111, still too young to be an all-out wastrel and bad guy but a rich teenager with more freedom than most. Aware of his status and mixing in adult circles more than the average teenager there is a hint his life will be as aimless as his drug-addicted father.

His kidnapping a brutal shock but not entirely unexpected.

There is the reality of the rise of various terrorist groups, urban guerrillas and ‘freedom fighters’ in the 70s demanding society’s perceived wrongs must be addressed. The Red Brigade operated in Italy and were early suspects in Paul’s kidnapping and although they professed higher ideals their methods just as questionable as the various criminal groups seeking money.

A heady mix of strong characters and action for the movie to handle and it does it well without descending into sensational car chases, shoot-outs, boring stereotypes and gratuitous violence.

Telling a well-known story is always difficult – writers and directors have to find a new angle or techniques to spice up the story to keep people’s interest.

Actors have to capture the essence of the character and try to make them believable but not descend into caricature or be so far removed from reality that those who remember the ‘real’ people reject the story out of hand.

(As an aside, one daughter commented on how busy the wardrobe and hairdressers on set would have been to capture the authenticity of the period so well!)

Through powerful acting and good storytelling, All the Money in The World has focused on what it means to be human – what all art wants to do – confront, challenge, explore the human condition!

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I’m sure this film will generate lots of dinner conversations – least of all the controversies around the making of it, the differences between the script and history, Hollywood’s sexual and pay equity scandals…

However, regarding the actual movie – go see and enjoy.

The production values are top shelf including some stunning cinematography and some memorable acting performances and scenes.

Think About…

What are the most important values for society to adopt?

Why do we revere the rich or cling to trickle down economics or accept the notion that being rich means being successful?

What are our own personal benchmarks?

Regardless of status or wealth is it the choices we make that decide our decency and humanity?

Is the pursuit of wealth in some people’s DNA?

How much is too much wealth?

Is it loving relationships, family, friendship and a feeling of belonging that provide true happiness, respect, and self-worth?

When Paul Getty Senior paid the ransom in All the Money in The World he facilitated the release of his injured and permanently traumatised grandson but didn’t buy happiness or heal damaged relationships – it takes breath and flesh to do that!

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Don’t Refrain From Trying A Cinquain

 

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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.

 

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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…

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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

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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!

 

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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“.

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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

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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…

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Smile and Dance Into 2018 with The Greatest Showman

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I don’t go to the movies as often as I’d like but the long summer holiday is a chance to indulge – if there is something that appeals. Unfortunately, I’m not the demographic most filmmakers try to please so it is often a fruitless search for a good movie at Southlands Village Cinemas, the easiest place for me to reach by public transport.

On Boxing Day, a traditional new movie release day, I went to see The Greatest Showman with my daughters. One of the stars, Michelle Williams, is a longtime favourite of my oldest daughter, Anne, and we have developed a ritual of going to see her film releases as a family.

Michelle plays Charity, the childhood sweetheart and later devoted wife of PT Barnum played by Hugh Jackman, the greatest showman referred to in the title.

The movie has had poor reviews from those who consider themselves professional film critics yet to date my friends and family who have seen it, absolutely love it.

It is not historically accurate (what film truly is?) but does not shy away from Barnum’s character flaws either. We see his selfish and cruel exploitation of everyone to pursue his idea of success. To be honest, I may not have gone to see the release of The Greatest Showman if Michelle Williams hadn’t been one of the stars because what I have read about the real Barnum is not complimentary.

Also, I’m not a great fan of musical movies and like most people, the bad ones (Russell Crowe’s dreadful part in Les Miserables) tend to be more memorable than the good ones. 

As a lover of history, I prefer books and if on screen, choose documentaries or serialised dramas. Inevitably, there will be creative choices made condensing a life into what makes good entertainment rather than what may be accurate, especially if you only have an hour or so to do it.

But, taken at face value as a film, The Greatest Showman is entertaining – well worth suspending disbelief! It is freedom from the bombardment of doom and gloom from current media.

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To sit in a darkened room enthralled by an imaginary world is great escapism. A bonus is a film for family viewing – no gratuitous violence or sex – and no hurt animals because they are CGI or animatronic.

I’m not surprised about the disparity in reactions and reviews – professional critics often look through an academic or superior lens, many demanding standards the movie-going public doesn’t particularly care about.

We bring our emotional and cultural baggage to any art form so healthy differences of opinion should occur but as much as I loved listening to Margaret and David, Australia’s ultimate film reviewers, their ‘star’ ratings never influenced whether I saw a film or not.

Since I was a teenager and reading Jim Schembri’s reviews in The Age Green Guide, I’ve been out of step with mainstream critics of any genre and prefer to make my own judgement. In fact, if some critics dislike a movie or a book, it almost guarantees I love it! (Surprisingly, I’m in step with Schembri on this one.)

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It’s not often I leave a cinema uplifted and with the music and song lyrics in my head, but The Greatest Showman, a biopic on the life of PT Barnum of circus fame, written by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon and directed by Michael Gracey, did just that for me.

Barnum, as mentioned is played by Hugh Jackman – a talented showman extraordinaire using the full range of his acting, singing and dancing skills. He plays a man you want to succeed despite his weaknesses and flaws. You fall in love with the people around him and if they’re prepared to forgive his foibles so can we.

He is ably supported by some stunning performances from a cast who deliver an engaging story and catchy, memorable songs. A couple of scenes in a bar are fabulous.

music quoteAnne went straight to JB HiFi and bought the soundtrack after leaving the cinema – the last time I remember any of us compelled to do that was when we saw The Lion King!

There will be debates about sugar-coating Barnum’s story, but the film portrays a man who came from a poor, powerless family and who rose to fame and fortune by gathering even more disadvantaged outcasts (people labelled freaks) and creating a show that ultimately led to being presented at the court of Queen Victoria.

In the film, visionary Barnum realised he needed someone to help him to appeal to more upmarket clientele and those with money to spend on lavish entertainment. He goes into partnership with a successful young playwright, Philip Carlyle, played by Zac Efron. This character is an imaginary persona not to be confused with James Anthony Bailey, the partner in the legendary Barnum & Bailey circus.

Efron’s character falls in love with Zendaya’s character, Anne, and allows the script to explore the endemic racism and class divisions of the period just as the cast of so-called  “freaks” explores gender, diversity, acceptance of the ‘other’, prejudice, intolerance, mob violence, and the meaning of family and friendship.

All relevant themes in this deeply disturbing time but they are not new. Like all good art, the film attempts to explore the human condition but it is a feel-good musical. If you want historical accuracy please research and read – there is information on Barnum available.

The story has plenty of dialogue that is not singing (one of the failings of previously mentioned and aptly titled film adaptation Les Miserables) and strong performances from others in the cast, particularly Zac Efron and Zendaya’s relationship.

The pacing is excellent and the 105 minutes disappears too soon. My favourite is a cleverly choreographed dance scene on a rooftop reminiscent of Mary Poppins (another musical film I enjoyed). It concludes with a magical light show. Aptly, this scene shows the romantic love between Charity and Barnum and the love they share with their two daughters.

The attention to historical detail regarding costumes and setting captures the essence of another century but the razzle-dazzle, upbeat music and meaningful emotional numbers are the best modern Broadway can offer.

I particularly love the scenes with the whole cast and the bearded lady (Keala Settle) leading the performance – amazing vibrancy and energy with a magnificent voice.

It was a fantastic and fun way to end the year  and in the words of Jackman’s character, Barnum, when accused by a snooty critic (Paul Sparks) determined to expose him as offering fake entertainment with a cast of stage personas like ‘General Tom Thumb’, Barnum pointed to the rapturous audience and said, “Do those smiles look fake?

My smile and enjoyment not fake either – go see the movie because what the snooty critic eventually realises and writes is Barnum’s show is ‘a celebration of life.’

And that’s how The Greatest Showman felt to the cinema audience as they spontaneously clapped at the end.

images.jpgAs the credits are announced, we see the making of the film employed 15,000 people and gave thousands upon thousands of hours of work. 

An industry and movie worth supporting despite the critics!

Nightmare On Albert Street

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The season’s festivities now dissipating, life is beginning to return to routine. I caught up with my walking buddy, Jillian, and as we made our way down to the foreshore we stopped beside probably the ugliest of the many housing developments observable in the neighbourhood.

I can sympathise with one wit who suggests it is ‘Welcome to Hell‘ by the building surveyor ‘Satan Himself“!

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People want to live here because Mordialloc has the historical reputation of a beautiful seaside village but at the rate of development, that persona may soon disappear. Another sign of the horrible development is laced with unintended irony!

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A Growing City Needs Houses

Melbourne’s population has grown and continues to grow at an amazing rate and people need somewhere to live but density development should be sensible and evenly spread. Most planning permission is provided by councils and for many of them, multi-storey development means the multiplication of rates without worrying too much about the quality of life of the people confined to ‘pigeon coops’ which many apartments are unless you are fortunate to afford “luxury”.

 

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I don’t know anyone in my circle of family or friends who can afford to pay this rent in Mordialloc, which is still a considerable distance from the city!

These ‘luxury’ townhouses next to the railway line have a huge concrete wall as a noise buffer and whether occupants will be able to even smell the sea is doubtful because the area just behind is where the trains shunt and park, plus the train line hosts diesel as well as electric trains.

The land used to be a timber processing yard and later a hardware wholesaler – sometimes there is a good reason why land is zoned and used as industrial!

 

 

The Times They Are A’Changing

I realise the quarter-acre block like mine with a house and backyard is rapidly becoming obsolete and the demand for townhouses and apartments increases. However, despite the rising cost of electricity and gas, we still seem to be reluctant to move away from ‘McMansions’- with a lot of them built in Mordialloc in recent years.

A friend pointed out increased development brings jobs, cafes, services… and I know the ideal is to live, shop and work within a 20-30 minute commute.

I don’t disagree with this and it wasn’t luck that brought John and myself to Mordialloc to live within walking distance of Main Street, schools and the train station. (I’ve never driven or owned a car.)

Development, if managed properly and attached to a vision of a decent lifestyle is magnificent. This is how we progress as a community.

But the higgledy-piggledy mushrooming of private developments around what was considered ‘old Mordialloc’ has destroyed any neighbourhood character we can claim as well as a lot of our history.

The horse stables I wrote about in the 90s have disappeared, along with beach ‘cottages’, many Edwardian and Victorian homes, and Californian bungalows. (One of the last of those next door to me. Although it had been renovated it was bulldozed out of existence in 2009 and replaced with two double-storey townhouses. )

Not only houses are lost but trees too. Habitat for possums and birds who must relocate just like their human counterparts. Neighbourhood ambience forever changed.

Sounds Of Albert Street
Mairi Neil 1993

In the morning, at dawn break
in a dream-like state
I begin to wake…

some noises make my senses jar
the electric train’s whistle
the whine of car, after car.

In the distance, a noticeable rumble,
the roar of the sea
as the white caps tumble…

I can picture the waves crashing,
spewing debris on the beach
against pier and rocks splashing.

On the pavement, the horses make
a constant clip-clop
as daily exercise they take…

this familiar, steady tapping
announced in suburbia
by family dogs feverishly yapping.

The dawn chorus as birds begin to sing
curlews, blackbirds, thrushes
all heralding Spring…

twittering, screeching, whistling
magpies, sea-gulls and crows
their dewy feathers glistening…

 

old Mordi house
One of the few Edwardian houses left in Barkly Street – but for how long? ‘For Sale’ signs proliferate from one end of the street to the other along with massive developments. Two beautifully renovated houses now the site of soon-to-be 24 apartments, while another two removed for a large corner development almost completed.

Increased density living also brings increased traffic congestion and new people may decide to eschew public transport and still rely on their car.  The assumption that increased buildings near transport hubs will take cars off the road is a big leap for a society that loves the car.

Permit and resident parking seems inevitable.

People may choose to shop, eat, and holiday locally but they might also go elsewhere and if visitors can’t find a park they may bypass the place too. There is not a lot of capacity for Main Street to expand and in the 34 years, I’ve lived here the variety of shops has shrunk.

In Europe, many places have learnt from the post-war building of Stalinist-type monoliths and there are some nice designs of apartments that don’t look like matchboxes or toilet blocks.

At the moment, in Mordialloc,  it all seems haphazard or potluck – do Kingston Council or the State Government care about the plans they approve? We have two level crossings to be removed at a yet to be determined future date – hopefully there has been thought as to how current development will fit in.

Houses built since I arrived have been or are being replaced!

  • Where are the functional and aesthetically pleasing design solutions?
  • Who is safeguarding standards – not only of decent living quarters but ensuring a quality of life and a balance between buildings and nature?
  • The development pictured above is not where I would choose to live and I haven’t heard one positive comment about it from friends, family or visitors.
  • Why are councillors and politicians allowing dwellings to be built that I am sure they would not choose to live in?
  • Is there enough attention paid to parking and the opinion of residents in nearby streets?
  • What of access to Emergency Service vehicles – even general access to get in and out of the site?

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We need trees to breathe, and flowers to please. We need communal courtyards or mini parks – areas where residents can meet, become neighbourly and grow a community. Yes, the foreshore is nearby but this can be an impersonal space used by residents and non-residents alike.

Since coming to live in Mordialloc I’ve lost count of how many consultations and council workshops I’ve attended over the direction development will take and protecting the Green Wedge. I went to a recent consultation on neighbourhood character just for my local ward and it was attended by hundreds of residents.

Councillors know the pace, style, and consequences of development is an important issue in more than Albert and Barkly Streets…

What is The Future?

This is the 21st century, architecture and design must always be inclusive of people living with a disability. It can also be sustainable and add to the rich cultural heritage of Melbourne that we see on Open House Melbourne weekends.

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I discovered an old photograph I took and a poem I wrote in the 90s – another boom period for developers that soon turned to bust as happens in economic cycles when the pendulum swings. The Crown Casino was being built amid controversy but is now an established part of popular Southbank.

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A young Irish girl living with us at the time and travelling into the city each day with John mentioned an incident on Kings Way and said,

‘It was near the bottle.’

‘Where?’ I said.

‘You know, that big building that looks like a bottle…’

The nickname stuck and as each decade rolls by, ‘the bottle’ experiences makeovers, the surroundings may change but it still looms large and makes me smile.

I took a picture last week and pointed it out to family visiting from the UK.

Developers Can Drive You To Drink!
Mairi Neil (August 1994)

In Melbourne there are buildings
stretching towards the sky.
Great towers of glass and concrete
swaying hundreds of feet on high.

The Rialto being the most famous,
eclipsing well-known Nauru House,
Twin Towers, Menzies on Collins and
the Exhibition Buildings so grouse.

But in 1994 a city development
caused lots of consternation,
when the Crown Casino expansion
exceeded all expectations.

Entering the city through King Street
used to be over a scenic bridge,
quiet Yarra waters muddily flowed,
Polly Woodside’s masts full rigged.

Now an ugly, solid concrete mass
blocks out views on either side,
a neon-lit concrete tunnel
provides a hideously boring ride.

I dread driving into Melbourne
and viewing the Casino folly
but thankfully enroute, King’s Way
still has buildings unique and jolly.

There’s one viewed from a distance,
a recognisable, imaginative shape,
tall and straight for fifteen floors
and topped by wonderful nape.

Grandiose developers like the Grollos
I often could cheerfully throttle
but 222 Kings Way makes me smile
it could be a giant’s bottle!

Perhaps someone will smile and write a poem about the development at the end of Albert  Street when it’s finished – or maybe a horror story!

If you have nicknamed a building or have a special memory attached to a building, please share. I’d love to know I’m not alone in my ponderings.

Unexpected, Unplanned, and Unpredictable but Marvellous Melbourne!

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On Saturday, I met my older sister, Cate at Southern Cross Station. A quilter, she had come down from Albury for the weekend to attend a Stitches & Craft show at the Exhibition Buildings in Carlton. We discussed attending weeks ago but no definite arrangements were made until she knew she could get time off work and a seat on the train.

I’m catching the train at 6.00 am – see you at 10.30.”

‘The weather’s forecast to be hot and humid – don’t overdress!”

In September, when Cate visited for the Dior Exhibition at the National Gallery we experienced a warmer than average spring day and she regretted wearing too heavy clothes while I worried about her increasingly flushed face and a shortage of breath.

Yes, we are both at that age where warnings about blood pressure, heart strain or breathing difficulties loom large and prescription pills rattle in our bags!

Don’t worry,’ she said, “I’m prepared this time.’

Plans, Preparation – and the Weather!

We caught a tram up Collins Streets and walked through the gardens at Carlton admiring the lush greenery and bright blooms. Lulled into peaceful serenity by the azure sky and fluffy clouds, families having fun, and tourists snapping selfies.

We shared pleasantries and the promise of a wonderful day catching up and enjoying the exhibition.

 

The 138-year-old Exhibition Building a new venue for Stitches & Craft but a magnificent setting. Cate and I had last visited here when some of her work was shown at the quilting show.

The Exhibition Building feeds my love of history and depending which entrance used, I learn something new every time – like this snippet of history and the monument I’ve dubbed ‘the protest sculpture’.

I’m sure the debate of the day mirrored many we still have about imports being favoured over local products but how many of our current MPs would put their money where their mouth is like the Hon. John Woods?

 

When we rounded the corner, we were relaxed and comfortable – and surprised the entrance silent and deserted.

  • Where were the queues of excited participants?
  • Where were the clusters of crafters discussing techniques, products, and great bargains?

The beautifully carved doors shut tight and no huffing, puffing or pushing or whispering magic words like ‘open sesame‘ made a bit of difference.

We met a couple of young women who were also confused. At first, I thought they were just admiring the architecture but then discovered they were itching to stitch and craft…

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Cate, who is more computer savvy than me quickly Googled.

The venue correct – the date wrong. ‘It’s next weekend...’

The girls looked crushed. The surrounding water from fountain and lake a metaphor for tears.

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We just felt a little like ‘Dumber and Dumbest,’ but recovered instantly. After all, we were standing beside another fantastic venue and reading the advertising signs, the Victorian Museum offered several new exhibits, as well as the bonus cafe.

Within moments we had cloakroomed Cate’s bag, and clutching entry tickets we enjoyed a cuppa before wandering through what must be one of the most delightful, airy museums in Australia.

I appreciate the improvement more than most because in 1974  I was a research assistant attached to the library at the museum when it was housed in Russell Street.

The modern layout and approach to exhibits and the knowledge shared absolutely amazing compared to the archaic and ancient displays of the dark, drafty building where I used to work.

Weaving A Story

On the first floor as you walk along feast your eyes on The Federation Tapestry designed and made by the Victorian Tapestry Workshop to mark the centenary of Australia’s birth as a nation.

Murray Walker, the principal artist/designer, collaborated with more than 20 artists to develop the tapestry around the theme “One People, united in peace“.

There is a short video that tells the story of how 24 weavers worked an estimated 20,000 hours to create the 10 panels. It was woven at the Victorian Tapestry Workshop in Melbourne 2000-2001.

The tapestry presents some of the great themes of the Australian story: dispossession, settlement, adaptation, the land, celebration, hope.

There are household names to recognise – Patrick White, Henry Lawson, Mirka Mora, Bruce Petty…

The artists set out to trigger memories and inspire reflection about the future of our land and as a writing teacher, I know students could spend hours here using the various frames for inspiration.

My favourite has to be the drawings and words from indigenous children and their aspirations for the future:

  • People should care about each other.
  • I want Australia to be happy.
  • And I want my family to be happy.
  • I want the animals to be free.
  • I want us all to be happy all of our lives.
  • I want all the trees to grow happy.

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The talent and cleverness of the artists and weavers truly a wonder to behold.

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Women Of The Land

A collaboration between the Invisible Farmer Project and Her Place Women’s Museum Australia celebrates rural women who work, protect and heal the land.

We farm to feed those we love and our communities. Within my community, I have an amazing tribe of women that I surround myself with. They’re the ones that buoy me in times of need and celebrate with me. Women supporting one another is a primal and magical thing.

Amy Paul, Ruby Hills Organics, Walkerville.

The Invisible Farmer Project acknowledges and records the diverse, innovative and vital role of Australian women in agriculture. The project involves a national partnership between rural communities, academics, government and cultural organisations.

Launched this year in March, several of the stories feature in a mini exhibition, along with artefacts like one participant’s hat, which embodies the important role she played in leading farming communities and rural organisations.

There is great detail about the first four women interviewed for the project and more information  can be found at invisiblefarmer.net.au

What an invaluable resource for any writer researching contemporary Australia’s female farmers! And the stories a wonderful learning tool for us all, whether we need to use the information or not because the project aims to:

  • Create new histories of rural Australia
  • Reveal the hidden stories of women on the land
  • Learn about the diverse, innovative and vital role of women in agriculture
  • Stimulate public discussions about contemporary issues facing rural Australia and its future
  • Develop significant public collections that will enable far-reaching outcomes in research, industry and public policy

A Gathering was held for women on farms and I snapped Cate appreciating the sewing and design of the squares making up a commemorative banner of those organisations that participated.

Her Place, Women’s Museum Australia

Her Place celebrates the social, civic, and entrepreneurial achievements of Australian women and their role in shaping our nation. Three exhibitions have been curated this year to tour regional and metropolitan Victoria.

Her Place is still working towards the creation of a permanent public space that will collect and preserve women’s records and archives so that the distinctive achievements and contributions of women can be acknowledged and written into history.

(As opposed to herstory being ignored for centuries!)

Four Victorian women strongly bound to the land are honoured. You can listen to them tell their story about living and being committed to the land and their communities, as well as enjoy a display of personal artefacts:

  • Aunty Fay Carter (Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Wurrung Senior Elder)
  • Maisie Carr nee Fawcett (pioneering scientist)
  • Pat Bigham (farmer and firefighter)
  • Val Lang (farmer and agricultural mentor)

Lunchtime came and went and we could easily have spent all day appreciating what makes Melbourne marvellous in an exhibition that allows you to meander through replicas of arcades and streets of inner Melbourne of the past.

I have a little book somewhere bought from Cole’s Book Arcade and can remember being fascinated by the shop.

Well done to the researchers and writers for all the information made available to the general public and presented in such palatable chunks. Thanks too must go to the designers, tradies and staff who helped create delightful exhibits.

Cate and I decided to head down to the city but found ourselves trapped in the foyer waiting for a very heavy downpour of rain to subside.

The marine creature display apt – even to the look of surprise or is it excitement on the shark’s face? And yes, there were people getting soaked voluntarily so they could take photographs.

One little boy ignored the thunder and had a great time splashing in puddles!

Flash Storm Flushes and Flusters
Mairi Neil

Who will be the first to drown seemed the
challenge from the heavens as clouds exploded
and torrential rain cascaded down.
Not me,’ said everyone with umbrellas held high
Nor me,’ said others huddled inside, and dry.

‘I don’t care,’ cried the little boy with glee as
he splashed in puddles, yelling, ‘Look at me!’

Thunder roared and growled –
was that a lightning flash?
Braving the downpour, some people
made a dash – finding cover in bus shelters
snuggled close to strangers – while others
recklessly crossed streets ignoring dangers.

‘I don’t care,’ cried the little boy with glee as
he splashed in puddles, yelling, ‘Look at me!’

‘Any port in a storm’ a cliche so true
as doorways and porches became home
for much more than a few.
Downpipes sagged and gushed
collapsed under watery weight –
surging water made rivers of roads and
too much rain meant every tram late!

I don’t care,’ cried the little boy with glee as
he splashed in puddles, yelling, ‘Look at me!’

Soaked, sodden, and shivering
commuters crowd tram, train and bus
meteorological or seasonal confusion –
‘It’s Melbourne and no surprise, to us.’

‘I truly don’t care,’ cries the inner child with glee
‘splashing in puddles looks really good to me!’

Despite the rain, we managed to get to Spencer Street and catch a train home.

‘I really enjoyed myself,’ said Cate.

‘Me too,’ I said and quoted Dad’s favourite poet Rabbie Burns, ‘The best-laid schemes … Gang aft a-gley…’ before adding, ‘ but our day was rainbow and never grey!’

 

The Gift of Story Creating Care And Compassion

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The Narrative Initiative

On the last day of the Gathering of Kindness Week Dr Lorraine Dickey, Neonatologist from The Narrative Initiative outlined her journey to explain the importance of

Understanding the story – focusing on care and compassion through narrative.

Lorraine is the founder and CEO of The Narrative Initiative and an Advanced Narrative Facilitator as well as being a neonatologist with experience leading a large Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in the USA.

She established The Narrative Kindness Project after she had a catastrophic ski accident and experienced the healthcare system as a patient. Her recovery was slow and arduous with three years of rehabilitation. After she was told she would never work as a physician again because of the traumatic brain injury she did an MBA in Health Care Management.

“She had the privilege of returning to the profession of medicine in 2004 though returning with a vastly different perspective… Armed with the new philosophy of Patient and Family- Centered Care she embarked on leading changes that truly matter to patients, their families, and healthcare staff.”

Health professionals don’t get special care when they’re sick – they have varied experiences like the general public. She changed direction and promoted self-care in the profession after getting burnt out with her new career and developing breast cancer.

She had to personally invest in the culture of self-care! Not necessarily just to be kinder to herself but to understand how it happens.

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“Lorraine works to bring people in health care together to address staff-identified barriers to providing high-quality health care experiences for patients, their families, and healthcare staff using research-based, published, facilitated narrative techniques.”

Some topics include:

  • resiliency,
  • the wounded healer,
  • compassion fatigue,
  • professionalism,
  • dignity therapy
  • principles of Patient- and Family-Centered Care.

Enhancing listening and communication skills through the use of personal story

In 2013, Lorraine entered a second Fellowship in Hospice & Palliative Medicine and now cares for babies and children with serious illness or life-limiting conditions, also their families, facilitating the alignment of parental goals of care and medical goals of care while also providing complex pain & symptom management.

“ It is critical to know what brings a person joy, both as a patient and as a parent. Family-centered care is honored when medical therapies match and enhance the goals a parent has for their child while helping them make decisions under the most difficult of circumstances. Physicians and other healthcare clinicians need to understand that providing therapies that match parental values and family culture IS providing good medical care. Practicing with this philosophy in mind supports what we as physicians got into this profession to do: Help someone do what they cannot do for themselves.”

Dr Lorraine Dickey

In 75 minutes we were given a taste of what is normally done at either a cafe workshop (12 participants) where people attend one or several sessions over a period of time or a half-day for larger groups with narratives focused around a topic of choice.

pond or river.jpg

The experience of care triggers a powerful biological response in the patient… and emotional memories of care last a lifetime.

Lorraine wanted the forum to address the barriers to kindness and develop ways to overcome them. She talked about communication as perceived by the listener and drew a pie chart showing  absorption was

  • 40% from the tone of voice
  • 55% from non-verbal actions (stance etc)
  • 5% verbal – the actual words spoken.

It is emotionally hard to fathom what is said if there is lack of tone and non-verbal indicators but to have people concentrate and remember what you are saying you must tone down actions and how you say it.

People are motivated to achieve certain needs and some needs take precedence over others.

 

Maslow hierarchy of needs
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

 

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a motivational theory in psychology comprising a five-tier model of human needs, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid. 

In a hospital situation, if you need the toilet, are hungry or traumatised, these needs will affect your listening skills. Plus ‘a difficult patient’ may not have coping skills.

The same will go for professional needs – often staff are tired, hungry and stressed.

  • Maslow shows emotion trumps logic every time.
  • People must learn to treat each other with respect.

In a hospital, it may be as simple as staff sitting down beside the patient or family member, not standing over and facing them. Staying calm and asking how the person is doing and remembering to use their name.

You cannot reach people’s logic if they are in pain.  When a patient is in pain, self-actualisation is their logic. Kindness lives in the love/belonging space.

Clinicians sometimes need to act to put patient welfare first even although they may be tired, worried and stressed themselves: 

‘I will smile’                  ‘I will be open-minded’

a smile from Anne.jpeg

People perceive acts of kindness differently.

You see someone in a wheelchair and you open the door for them, a natural instinctive courteous and kind act.

But what if the person in the wheelchair can open the door themselves or wants to exercise their independence? Instead, we should ask, ‘do you want me to open the door for you?’ or ‘would you like me to open the door?’

There are probably many kind acts of omission that are never recognised as such. For example, the doctor is ten minutes late and the patient doesn’t mention or complain about the lateness – and vice versa.

Efficient, effective communication happens when words and logic meet and both parties walk away understanding the same thing. We often don’t realise the collateral damage of our actions or our words.

The importance of writing

The act of writing makes us slow down. Writing gives form and shape to experiences that seem formless and shapeless, even chaotic. Writing helps us translate complex experiences into a form more easily grasped such as an obituary or eulogy.

While some participants are talented and accomplished writers it is important to note that these narrative sessions make use of informal writing.

  • Informal writing is not designed to be correct, artistic or accomplished in any special way.
    Informal writing is designed to capture the writer’s honest reaction to a significant experience.

The simple act of reading this type of informal writing aloud, word for word, to an interested and informed audience can itself be a powerfully validating experience.

Write Read Renew

We were given three minutes to write a personal experience of a kind act: spoken or physical gesture. It could be from a professional experience with a patient, their family member or a colleague or a kind act of omission.

This kind act that was either particularly difficult or challenging or alternatively uplifting or inspiring must then be read without changes to the person sitting beside us.

I shared my story with Angela, a Charge Nurse at the Austin Hospital.

My 3 Minute recollection of an Act of Kindness – written without editing:

When my Mother was dying, a nurse suggested we bring a quilt from home my sister had made to brighten the starkness of the bed sheets. I thought that a very kind suggestion amidst the grief of my very big family (six siblings plus partners and children) and friends crowding the room.

In the trauma of Mum dying in hospital, she realised we would have preferred to have her at home and went out of her way to encourage us to replicate some of that familiarity. She had previously arranged a bed for me to stay 24 hours with Mum.

Angela wrote about her daughter having an unplanned emergency causing Angela to leave work for some time. When she returned to work, staff had left flowers, chocolates and a welcome back card with kind words of support. She had no idea how they valued her up until then.

Angela and I discussed our feelings and the incidents we had written about in closer detail, which transformed us from being total strangers sitting at a table together to human beings with empathy for each other.

Empathy is about understanding each other’s needs and not just smiling sympathetically. It is emotional and thrives on good communication.

gathering of kindness forum

 

Several people shared what they had written with the whole room. Our excellent facilitator, Lorraine pointed out specific use of language and wording plus the images and tone of the narratives, as well as encouraging further exploration of the story.

The experience similar to what we do in my writing workshops and classes, especially Life Stories & Legacies

  • encouraging the getting it all down first,
  • the reading aloud,
  • close listening skills,
  • absorption of story
  • understanding of what the writer wants the reader to take away
  • what should be edited.
  • or added!

It can be painful writing about harrowing or life-changing experiences, particularly when it comes to illness and grief, but often these difficult stories are the important ones to share. You still feel the loss and pain, but it can be a therapeutic release and also help to enlighten others.

A story shared about a young woman’s brother who died of brain cancer was very moving. Her mother did not speak English and the doctor didn’t speak her language but despite a sad outcome, their empathetic relationship eased the pain. She talked of brain cancer ‘winning and an earthly miracle not realistic.’

Lorraine noted that winning is everything in medicine and society doesn’t like losers and often the language we use reflects this attitude.

Everyone appreciated how difficult that personal story was to tell and felt privileged and moved. The young woman’s tone of voice quiet and natural, the simplicity of words and detailed imagery mesmerising. We listened.

The stories made us feel connected to each other – and this is how I feel in my writing classes when people share stories of their life.

Lorraine then drew two columns and in a quick-fire room participation, people said what they thought were barriers to kindness and methods to overcome these barriers.

Perceived barriers:

  • not wanting to be kind, selfishness
  • overwork, overtired, and stress
  • ignorance and misunderstandings
  • lack of humility and bad manners
  • insecurity and task focused
  • burn out
  • vicarious trauma – disoriented
  • busyness and lack time
  • lack of training in how to respond
  • not connecting and/or fear of connection
  • inequity, and custom and practice
  • fear of how it will be perceived
  • pressure from being overwhelmed
  • arrogance
  • lack of a role model
  • friendship – wanting to belong and seeking saviour in silence
  • funding model – cut corners because of a shortage of time
  • not being able to forgive
  • the faker
  • cultural differences
  • not actively listening
  • lack insight
  • lack professional boundaries

Methods to overcome barriers:

  • modelling
  • be kind to staff
  • value and acknowledge kind acts
  • self-care
  • be a role model
  • celebrate the small stuff
  • accept feedback
  • value your people
  • reward kindness
  • pause and reflect
  • educate and model
  • value and celebrate difference
  • forgive and learn

gathering of kindness table deco

Lorraine pointed out there was a tiny origami crane among the flowers decorating each table and attendees could agree who takes it home – her act of kindness to us.

Angela asked if she could have it for her daughter and I said of course.

A small act of kindness at a critical point can have an unimaginable impact. Sometimes we need to be kind by breaking rules. Celebrate kind acts, not kind people, talk with, not to people.

What a wonderful day I had and I left with a challenge ringing in my ears:

Remeber to do something different – kindness to self and to the people around you. Bring joy and a giggle to life. 

Focus on what can be done, not what you can’t do.

What is Gathering of Kindness?

 Kindness matters.  There is a direct correlation between organisational negativity and staff wellbeing and effectiveness.  

 The Gathering of Kindness aims to redress this by building, nurturing and instilling a culture of kindness throughout the healthcare system.

 We bring together people from inside and outside the healthcare sector – actors, clinicians, artists, musicians and innovators – to imagine that kindness, trust and respect are the fundamental components of the healthcare system, and that bullying is unacceptable. We look for creative pathways to a more compassionate model of health care.

 This first public Gathering Of Kindness has encouraged the broadening of participation. I’ll pass on a challenge… Be kind and do random acts of kindness at home and at work.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018, is World Kindness Day

  • Smile at strangers and do kind things for them.
  • Give up your seat on the bus/train to someone else.
  • Buy someone a coffee.
  • Volunteer your time at the local op shop or some other charity.
  • Leave a kind note for someone or send an uplifting message.
  • Kindness should not only be reserved for our fellow human beings. Be kind to the animals and to the environment as well.
  • If you have children in your life, teach them the virtue of kindness by practising it in your daily life.

It truly can be a wonderful world.docklands panoramic

Make ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Repurpose’ Reality – Please!

hard rubbish 1

Organising topics for my Life Stories and Legacies Class this term, I was inspired by the notion that one person’s trash is another’s treasure. What makes some of us collectors or even extreme hoarders?  How does that contrast with the modern penchant for minimalism and a spate of books on decluttering?

There are popular television shows about collectors and hoarders, and government brochures with encouragement to downsize. Information about over-consumption and the need to recycle can be found in many places. And despite our ex-PM Tony Abbott’s delusions, I’ll go with expert scientists and agree climate change is affected by human pollution and behaviour.

We are at a tipping point and need to consider our carbon footprint.

Planet B Doesn’t Exist
Mairi Neil

There only is one planet Earth
and we need Plan A to save it
There is no Planet B for us to live –
no matter how eccentrics crave it!

Mountains of waste at danger level
a throwaway culture created mess
built-in obsolescence’; ‘shop ’til you drop
bad habits to abandon – let’s confess!

Less packaging to be disposed of
Less plastics that poison the sea
Less chemical interference with food
Less consumption from you and me!

More recycling goods stopped working
More repurposing products useful still
More local retail and farmers’ markets
More thoughtful behaviour, the general rule!

Think before buying or disposing
Do you really need to use a car?
Can you grow, compost, and share
homegrown food better than afar.

McMansions a blight on suburbia
and planned density now a necessity
but let’s replace lost backyards and trees
because green spaces, not a luxury!

Pollute and Perish,‘ more than a catch-cry
Climate Change promises an unpleasant fate
concerned effort and beneficial action
needed NOW  – tomorrow is really too late!

mordi p.s hens 2017.jpg

Close friends have died recently and that’s always confronting as well as heartbreaking. Friends not only die but some downsize and may move away. Nearing retirement age, I find talk is not of building, renovating or celebrating new homes, but of shedding the accumulation of years, moving into retirement villages, trying a sea or green change!

 ‘Collector’, ‘hoarder’, ‘minimalist’ transforming  abstract to reality.

What particular description or category suits me?  Hint – minimalism doesn’t get a look in, especially when it comes to books but I have been known to cull some!

Motivated by the annual hard rubbish collection, I’ve made another attempt at cleaning out the shed and other rooms in the house with the encouragement and help of my daughters.

The introspection and soul-searching traumatic as I examine everything rationally, discover long forgotten items,  unachieved dreams, good and bad experiences and try to emotionally and physically discard lots of memories with the mementoes.

old memorabalia.jpg

Memories stirred by old concert tickets, boxes of photographs, postcards, political leaflets, baggage tags and souvenirs.

It’s definitely easier to go through the wardrobe and face the fact that even if the youthful 10-12 figure returns, certain items will never be worn again.

Culture Change Needed To Face Climate Change

A report about clothes and landfill recently made me consider the habit of retail therapy, indulged in at various times.

After my mastectomy, a lot of favourite clothes were rendered useless because my cleavage disappeared, but hanging in the wardrobe are rarely worn clothes bought on impulse, or because they were a bargain.

These statistics from last year make sobering reading:

Australians buy an average of 27 kilograms of new textiles each year and then discard about 23 kilograms* into landfill  – and two-thirds of those discards are manmade synthetic/plastic fibres that may never breakdown.

Sustainability consultant Jane Milburn said Australians are the second-largest consumers of new textiles after north Americans who annually buy 37kg each, and ahead of Western Europeans at 22kg while consumption in Africa, the Middle East and India averages just 5 kg per person. These figures are sourced from north American magazine Textile World

There’s been a transformational shift in the way we source, use and discard our clothing which has major social and environmental implications. Fast fashion produced from global supply chains is driving purchasing of excessive new clothing, often discarded after a few wears

Like many people, I grew up in the era where hand-me-downs were common, mending or altering clothes, darning socks and even fixing shoes, valuable skills many parents or grandparents possessed. At school, we learnt sewing by making practical items such as aprons and pyjamas before venturing to make embroidered placemats and doilies.

Maybe it is time to return to sewing on buttons, replacing broken zips, refashioning garments and thinking twice before grabbing that sale item!

I know many friends and a lot of young people who ‘op shop’ for clothes so that’s a step in the right direction but perhaps the biggest change will come when the people who make the clothes are paid decent wages and the price will inevitably rise. Nothing like ‘the hip pocket nerve’ to drive change or a social conscious.

no sweat shop tshirt

There’s History In Old Writing

I’ve uncovered lost writing notes, scribbled poems and stories, and hard copy from computers long dead and abandoned. The poem below, written after I experienced my first ever car boot sale at Mordialloc Primary School ties in with the theme of this blog.

Car Boot Sales a popular way of raising funds. They sometimes replace the traditional school fete, and for a tiny school like Mordialloc Primary, in an era where parental volunteers are shrinking because both parents work outside the home, inviting the wider community to pay $5 – $15.00 to sell items from their ‘car boot’ is less effort and less labour intensive than organising a fete.

car boot sale.jpg

One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure
Mairi Neil (1992)

For a glimpse of our consumer society
The values some people uphold
Visit the local school’s Car Boot Sale –
And observe what’s bought and sold.

The secondhand clothes and bed linen
Some charities used to receive
Preloved stuffed toys and old hats
Perhaps all harbour nasty disease…

“Spoil Yourself” a sign above decrepit shoes
Makes you wonder at the vendor’s sanity
But no trace of humour marks his face
As he stands proudly beside the inanity!

The dealers arrive when stalls are setting-up
They rummage and poke to find treasure
Greedily grasping valuable items they spy
With their experience of commercial measure.

Mums wander around, children in tow
Conscious of a near-empty purse
Offspring demand toys, or food to eat
Whingeing children every parent’s curse.

Crafty folk proudly arrange their goods
Aware their creativity is on display
But people are hunting for bargains
Not rewarding talented work today.

A spectre-like man haunts every stall
Mr Black Moustache with checkered shirt
Tussled curly hair frames his bald patch,
Trousers reveal shoes caked with dirt.

He fills a black bag with various loot
Purchased at haggled, rock-bottom prices
Videos, cutlery, BBQ tools, chipped Esky,
Jaded jacket; a contraption for making ices!
Disappearing like steam to offload booty
Perhaps to a nearby parked car…
Returning to fossick and buy a sun lamp,
Then quibble earnestly for a pottery jar.

Suddenly, it’s anything on wheels
That catches his discerning eye –
Collapsible cot, battered suitcase,
Ironing board, old heater dragged with a tie!

Mr Checked Shirt returns again and again
Flush with an endless supply of cash
No doubt he’ll sell his purchases
Transformed treasure out of trash.

Sizzling sausages tantalise customers,
And baked potatoes scent the air
Joining musty clothes, potting mix
Perfumed spices strange and rare.

The sun drifts behind spreading cloud
The breeze from sea promises a gale
Startled stall holders little time to pack –
The fickle fortunes of a Car Boot Sale!

discarded vacuum.jpg

Do you like collecting things? Are you ever surprised by the things people pick up, collect, keep?

The annual hard rubbish collection for our area of Kingston was picked up on Tuesday, the regular rubbish collection day.

People were asked not to put items on the nature strip until October 9th, however, unsightly piles of discarded stuff gathered for weeks.

The early piles rummaged through with people taking items deemed useful.

I came across a group of tradies excited over a bunch of toy guns they’d ‘rescued’, exclaiming what good condition the collection of twenty or more was in as they divided the booty up.

plastic gun

It was the day after the horrific Las Vegas rampage and they looked sheepish when I suggested maybe the household had a rethink of the appropriateness of giving children replicas of sub-machine guns, revolvers, rifles et al.

Unfortunately, some scavengers often scatter piles leaving nature strips to resemble the aftermath of the hurricanes in recent news broadcasts.

pile of rubbish chelsea

The comforts of modern society are many but there are drawbacks aplenty

How sparingly can we live?  True minimalism, a balancing act with everyone having a different idea of what are bare essentials. 

What possessions can we reduce that will not affect the basic functionality of our lives?

It never ceases to amaze me what people throw away – wooden furniture whose only crime is being unfashionable or needing a coat of varnish or paint.

Solid sofas that could be refurbished, ubiquitous plastic toys needing a soak in hot soapy water to make almost new, and lots of small items easily disposed of via the bins provided for weekly garbage collection.

A walk around the streets at this time shows we really are a society in love with consuming. Maybe we can lose that reluctance to reduce as well as adopting reuse, recycle and repurpose.

Some would rather buy new and buy more, sucked in by the constant bombardment of advertising, lured by the bargain, and the ‘must have’ latest gear, technology, clothes, design – whatever.

Yet a quick survey of my Life Story Class and the students 

  • have a worm farm on an apartment verandah
  • wear hand-me-downs or op shop bargains
  • grow own vegetables, compost and keep chooks
  • make and repair own clothes
  • refashion, repair and repurpose clothes and accessories
  • buy organic when possible,
  • bake bread and cakes,
  • bottle fruit and make jam
  • recycle furniture,
  • take own shopping bags
  • have already downsized
  • nurture trees and plants
  • have discovered secondhand bargains

 

We may be grey-haired but in our hearts we are green!

Apparently, there is a law (although I’ve yet to hear it has been enforced) carrying a fine for taking stuff from the nature strips because piles of ‘hard rubbish’ are council property.

Others suggest councils hope scavengers will collect as much as they can leaving less for contractors to do because the cost of discarding rubbish is high.

The Council sends out a leaflet with a list of items not to be dumped – old paint and chemicals should be taken to a special recycling depot. Old fencing and building rubble are also not allowed. Yet walk around the streets and it’s as if community literacy is non-existent.

Kingston Council even has a place for old computers, televisions and other bits and pieces of technology. A quick check online shows they are not alone  – many councils and other organisations want you to recycle.

I’m glad of the hard rubbish service, especially the opportunity to be rid of white goods and mattresses – and there are always plenty of those discarded.

The safety message of removing doors from fridges and freezers still stipulated to avoid tragedy, whereby a child locks themselves inside an abandoned fridge and the interior magnetic release is broken, or absent.

Although, not many children play in the streets nowadays or have the unfettered freedom I had in childhood.

In this world of readily available toys,  a mountain of abandoned stuff is not an opportunity to explore and play make-believe games – they leave that to adults!

Council Hard Rubbish Collection 2017
Mairi Neil

Utes circling like crows,
four wheel drives and cars with trailers
dedicated kerb-crawlers…
people out walking, slow to a stroll, stop.
A hungry flock pick over the carrion.
The annual hard rubbish collection
reveals scroungers and scavengers,
is anyone immune?
Under the guise of repurposing,
and reusing, even recycling
we rummage and speculate about
the lives of others – frugality, luxury, stupidity, serendipity…
Hoping in their discarded trash,
we find a treasure!

I found various writing prompts on the subject so be inspired:

  1. Sit down in your character’s office or bedroom. Glance in the wastebasket. What’s inside? A photograph? An orange rind? A half empty bottle of whiskey? What we throw away can reveal surprising things about us. Write flash fiction describing the contents of a character’s rubbish bin and why it’s important!
  2. Discuss and write about bargain-hunting.
  3. Did rampant consumerism receive a shot in the arm with the Internet (eBay, websites like Gumtree) or does it encourage more reusing and recycling? Do you remember the days of ads in the local paper, The Trading Post, garage sales, car boot sales and Swap Meets?
  4. Do you donate everything to the Salvos or give to needy friends and family? Have you noticed a change in attitude by charity organisations?
  5. Are you ‘green’? What steps have you taken to live a sustainable lifestyle or do you think the human contribution to climate change is tosh? sculpture in lake.jpg

 

 

 

Do More Than Pop In to The Pop-up Globe

the stage of pop up globe.jpg

On Saturday, I experienced a delightful day – a magical memory day to treasure.

A belated birthday treat from my daughters, Anne and MaryJane, planned months ago, came to fruition as we enjoyed a matinee performance of Othello, at the Pop-up Globe Theatre, an exciting addition to Melbourne’s thriving arts scene.

This full-scale working replica of Shakespeare’s Second Globe Theatre started to ‘pop up’ in July in the newly christened Shakespeare Gardens adjacent to the Sydney Myer Music Bowl.

A huge thank you to Victoria’s Andrews Government, a great supporter of art and culture for enticing this fantastic enterprise to Melbourne. It is an outstanding success. The season, which started on September 21 to finish November 12, has been extended to January 12, 2018.

This mirrors the success of its New Zealand origins, when it opened in Auckland in 2016 and celebrated attendances of 100,000, including 20,000 school students.

The second season in Auckland garnered 100,000 attendees too and public calls for it to be a permanent feature. Thank goodness they had already committed to coming to Melbourne!

program pop up theatre

 

The Pop-up Globe Theatre Company Making History

If you buy the program, you can read all about the history of the venture, the original Globe and The Second Globe Theatre, the research involved, the director’s interpretation of the four plays performed (Othello, As You Like It, Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing), profiles of the actors, and details of the production team, including costuming and choreography.

My love affair with Shakespeare began at Croydon High School, where I was fortunate to be taught by Dr Saffin. How a public high school managed to retain a Doctor of Literature and respected writer is a mystery but under his influence, Shakespeare’s plays not only made sense but inspired me to want to write.

It doesn’t take much imagination for me to be back in the classroom in 1970, mesmerised as Dr Saffin acted out scenes from the plays we were studying at the time: Hamlet and The Tempest. He taught me English Expression as well as English literature so I had a double dose of Shakespeare in the classes with Macbeth studied too.

Dr Saffin had a bad stutter and warned students not to sit in the front desks or they’d get sprayed but miraculously when he was ‘in character’ his stutter disappeared.

He not only nurtured my love of Shakespeare but made me sit an exam run by the Melbourne Shakespeare Society at Melbourne University. I can’t remember the actual exam (blocked out no doubt because I always suffered horrible anxiety and exam nerves) but I do remember the announcement of the results and prize-giving.

Mum, who always had a profound faith in my academic ability insisted that the ‘only reason’ I came second was the judge was biased towards boys.

‘I don’t think so, Mum. What makes you say that?’

‘I just know the way the world works.’

My ever-loyal Mum, sounding like an embittered women’s liberationist yet she never read Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch just published that year.

Dr Saffin told me I did well against the mainly private school and elite public school entries but somehow I felt I let both Mum and him down.

However, I loved the prize, a book I’d never have been able to afford and a resource that has proved invaluable over the years for writing and research and my love for Shakespeare has never diminished!

The Play’s The Thing – Shakespeare On Stage A Must

In 1970, I saw Shakespeare’s The Tempest performed at a Melbourne theatre with the cast dressed in black with minimum props and no scenery. We were to concentrate on the words and actions of the actors.

I’ve lost count of the number of versions of Hamlet I’ve seen.  The latest being the broadcast of the National Theatre with Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role. And of course, ‘that Scottish play’, Macbeth I’ve seen performed, and Much Ado About Nothing set in the 1920s.

When John was alive, we honoured our mutual love of Shakespeare by attending the Bell Shakespeare productions, his favourite being Henry V.

Bell Shakespeare set their version in the WW1 trenches where the St. Crispen’s Day Speech certainly kept its relevance.

Bell set Coriolanus in the time of the rise of Mussolini – again an ideal modern day choice to discuss Shakespeare’s recurring themes of war, power, loyalty and leadership.

The girls were very young when first exposed to Shakespeare but have never forgotten the spectacles and understood the storylines, if not the dialogue. I think that’s why they were so keen to experience the Pop-up Globe.

 

I will wear my heart upon my sleeve For Othello

I’ve seen or studied many of Shakespeare’s plays but Saturday was the first I’d seen Othello on stage and loved the amazing, energetic, and entertaining performance by an outstanding cast.

O beware, my Lord, of jealousy. / It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock / The meat it feeds on.”

Witness Shakespeare’s ultimate psychological thriller in Pop-up Globe’s production of Othello. Take a journey into the diseased mind of the noble Moor as he’s consumed by ‘the green-eyed monster’; jealousy. The twists and turns in this powerful and dark production will have you on the edge of your seat.

An electric current of joy bound the girls and me as we sat enthralled. We laughed, sighed, held our breaths and teetered on the verge of tears to the thrilling performances and interpretation of a storyline showing the terrible consequences of jealousy and the despair malevolent envy fosters.

Director, Ben Naylor has incorporated the background of the original production and subsequent productions in colonial New Zealand to hint at ‘a darker side to the history of this play about otherness in a colonial context. ‘

Naylor explains that Othello was the first play to be written under King James’ patronage so Shakespeare recognised the King’s ‘interests in the manifestations of worldly evil and the operations of the Devil…’

And now: as nationalism and its attendant demons – racism and xenophobia – again insinuate themselves into mainstream political discourse worldwide, and as the choices of individuals and societies continue to be driven by envy and jealousy, the play asks us once more to confront the lies that sound like truth.

Oh, yes!

This is why I love Shakespeare and why he is still studied and always relevant. He writes about the human condition and explores our behaviour and relationships. His plays are timeless and can be transplanted into modern settings, appropriated, and adapted into novels and movies.

… one that loved not wisely but too well

The International Day of the Girl Child celebrated this week brings into focus issues raised by Shakespeare all those centuries ago. The two main female characters: Desdemona and Emilia are powerless against the physical, emotional and financial control their husbands exercise. The women are friends, even although one is the mistress, the other the servant, however, they live by different moral codes.

This production does not shy away from depicting domestic violence or the consequences of drunkenness and other violence. And society’s hypocrisy.

We witness how those in power enable the subjugation of women and the double standards of so many regarding ideas of ‘womanhood’.

 ‘Thou weigh’st thy words before thou givest them breath…’

All of Shakespeare’s plays you read or watch remind you of how much our language and culture owes to this playwright. Some of the words and ideas may not have been his original thought but because of the popularity of his plays the phrases are embedded in our language, adding to the nuances of English.

No wonder many ESL students have difficulty understanding some of our expressions.

I’ve already highlighted some of the quotes from Othello but list some more cultural references. These may have been altered over the centuries but nonetheless, have Shakespearean roots:

jealousy; It is the green-ey’d monster,

…Jealousy is a monster that gives birth to itself.

… Heaven is my judge, I will wear my heart upon my sleeve

my heart is turn’d to stone

Of one that loved not wisely but too well;

… T’is neither here nor there.

To mourn a mischief that is past and gone is the next way to draw new mischief on.

Men in rage strike those that wish them best.

Our bodies are our gardens, to which our wills are gardeners:

...he that filches from me my good name, Robs me of that which not enriches him, And makes me poor indeed…

When devils do the worst sins, they first put on the pretence of goodness and innocence…

To be poor but content is actually to be quite rich. But you can have endless riches and still be as poor as anyone if you are always afraid of losing your riches.” 

Pop-up Globe Better Than Expected

In London recently, I missed going to The Globe – I did but see it passing by – from a ferry on the Thames, so attending the Pop-up Globe a dream come true. In fact, if the attendant manning the merchandise stall is to be believed the Pop-up Globe is more authentic than the one in London. (Read all about it in that valuable program guide I mentioned.)

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The Pop-up Globe is intimate with a variety of seating options and despite my failing hearing, I only missed a few words but none of the meaning or action.

No matter where you sit or stand in the Pop-up Globe theatre you will be no more than 15 metres from the stage. So wherever you choose you’ll be close to the action.

Pop-up Globe is based on staging of the second Globe theatre as much as possible. There are two large structural pillars situated on the stage and because the actors play in 360 degrees, it is likely that no matter where you sit or stand your view may be slightly restricted or you may miss a line or two!

The action on stage moves quickly so no matter where you are situated you might see and hear something completely different from someone on the other side of the stage.

Apparently, A, B, C Reserve tickets are comfortable backed seats. The girls’ budget bought D Reserve tickets, which are a combination of comfortable backed seats and backless wooden benches with cushions.

We had a good view but sat on wooden benches with cushions already showing signs of too many bums on seats, so if you need to sit super comfortably perhaps take your own cushion.

The cheapest tickets are Groundling tickets in a standing only area, where sitting is not permitted for safety reasons. Nor are any bags and these have to be checked into the cloakroom.

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The play goes for two and a half hours with a short interval.

This is around the same length of time that most performances took 400 years ago. We know this because in Romeo and Juliet, the Prologue mentions the ‘two hours traffic of our stage’.

If you decide to be a Groundling you will be close to the action and actors, which may not compensate for having to stand for a long time.

One young man in a blue denim shirt fascinated me as he pressed so close to the stage he could have been welded to it. Immobile, his nose level with the stage floor, he would have heard every intake of breath, felt the vibration of footsteps, and even seen the hairs in the actor’s nose!

However, he moved with lightning speed when Othello stabbed himself and the fake blood spurted skywards and outwards like lava from a volcano. Outside after the play, there were several people with telltale red spots in their hair, on their face and clothes. The price paid for being close to the action.

Groundlings on either side of the path and stairway to the stage experienced a similar spattering and in some cases drenching when Roderigo appeared ‘from the sea’ spluttering and spitting like a whale (a very funny scene).

Roderigo regurgitated the largest amount of water I’ve ever seen anyone hold in their mouth, albeit done with aplomb and excellent timing.

Fortunately, no one in the audience replicated disgruntled tomato throwers from Shakespeare’s time despite Pop-up Globe’s authenticity.

Groundlings are ‘the pits’ for the common folk but there are Royal Rooms on the Pop-up Globe stage. I could see the occupants of these clearly.

Each accommodates up to six guests. Seats can be booked individually, as a romantic room for two or as a private room for a larger group. “All sixteen seats can be booked as a perfect option for entertaining clients or friends.”

Perhaps some corporates will see this as a unique Christmas outing – if they have a large expense account!

Royal Room bookings include a complimentary premium hamper and a
season programme per person. But it’s not cheap to copy Elizabeth or James 1st, the two monarchs most closely associated with Shakespeare. ($304.67 per seat.)

Othello is one of Shakespeare’s greatest psychological thrillers. In a theatre of war, a great general is brought down by the power of his own love and the prejudice of others.

Othello forces us to confront a timeless fear: does the Devil move among us? Racism, jealousy and envy conspire in Shakespeare’s dark tragedy, in this full production inspired by the Jacobean period, performed by a specially-formed international ensemble in spectacular bespoke costumes.

The Pop-up Globe Queen’s Company is Pop-up Globe’s resident mixed company of male and female actors and musicians, working with world experts to bring you the shock of the old: the effect of Shakespeare’s plays performed in the space for which they were written.

 

The stagecraft of this production is magnificent, as are the costumes and the final scenes are awesome. The main character is Othello, but it is Iago, the villain, who if not present in every scene, makes his presence felt.

The themes of love, appearance and reality, jealousy, revenge, prejudice and despair, exposed and explored in the final dramatic scenes.

When Iago’s villainy is revealed and he is ‘strung up’ the whole theatre is shocked. There is a collective holding of breath and I felt the tension from Anne and Mary Jane, and I’m sure all of us prayed the workmanship and health and safety guidelines met expectations.

Iago was carefully pulled up towards a hole in the ceiling, his arms outstretched crucifixion style, not just symbolically, but to ensure the hoist went smoothly. Smoke allowed a mystic disappearance into ‘the heavens’ and when he was ‘resurrected’ in the final scene he was helped out of a trapdoor in the floor as if brought back from ‘hell’!

The wonderfully choreographed dance of all the cast at the end a triumphant celebratory ‘haka -like’ tribute. Regan Taylor is a great Othello incorporating his experience of innovative Maori theatre, Te Ao Maori in his performance.

The actors used all of the space and opportunities to engage the audience – even acknowledging those ‘in the gods’, the privileged Royal Boxes, as well as the groundlings.

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Shakespeare must be seen and heard to be appreciated. A play on stage, more than the screen, relies on dialogue and how the actors use the stage, props, their bodies and voices.

In Saturday’s performance, there were no weak links and even the ignominious cast members with titles ‘officer’ and ‘soldier’ contributed unforgettable performances as they immersed themselves in the roles.

The range of experience and talent of the actors helps make this production such a success and I can honestly say it’s the best Shakespearean experience I’ve had.

The season has been extended so perhaps if I hint loud enough I might manage a ticket to another play in this marvellous company’s repertoire.  Afterall, Christmas is on the horizon!

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A walk through the Queen Victoria Gardens, lunch at the National Gallery.

Then a fun and successful attempt to negotiate the maze at the House of Mirrors added to my birthday treat.  I would probably still be wandering but the girls got us out in 10 minutes.

On the way home to Anne’s flat for a cuppa and to pick up MaryJane’s car, we walked through the Alma Park.

As we delighted in spring buds, blooming flowers, lush greenery and numerous friendly dogs being walked by their owners, we reflected on the tragedy of gentle, spiritual Desdemona and anguished Othello.

We were glad of the durability of Shakespeare, but more importantly our strong loving bond.

What a perfect day.