Dominoes With a Difference – One Day, One Line – A Daring Domino Show

dominoes
Domino event in Marseille France

Over nine in ten Australians, across all states and territories, are receptively engaging with the arts by attending arts events or reading… more people in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland agree that the arts make for a richer and more meaningful life. 

Report on Arts in Daily Life – Participation Across States and Territories, Australia Council for the Arts, 2014

Yesterday, I added excitement to my life by rehearsing for an engaging celebration of public participation in the arts, which will take place next Saturday.  The UK performance company, Station House Opera, will bring Melbourne to a standstill  as a 2km chain of more than 7000 giant dominoes will snake through the city. This will be the first time an interactive domino show has been held outside Europe

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Dominoes takes as its starting point the simplest of ideas—a line of dominoes—and will transform the rhythm of the city for one special day. Thousands of breezeblocks are used to create a moving sculpture, which runs through the city, unfolding over the course of the day. Occasionally disappearing from sight and then resurfacing, sometimes pausing for sculptural performances, the line of dominoes will thread its way through historic and everyday parts of Melbourne.

At the briefing today, Artistic Director, Julian Maynard Smith and his team from England, explained how the project will be set up. There have been meticulously planned shows in 10 European cities and Dominoes Copenhagen – Metropolis festival 2013 can be watched online here.

It will be fantastic to see our line of dominoes start at the Town Hall, snake and fall through iconic buildings like St Paul’s Cathedral and the Nicholas building, but also go underground at Flinders Street Station, across the Yarra River via the footbridge, and eventually end at the Arts Centre.

Enthusiastic Arts Centre staff involved with The Betty Amsden Participation Program have been planning the event for months.  Betty was there yesterday to thank the 300 volunteers and encourage us all to have fun and make new friends. The fund she has created to celebrate the creativity in us all, one of those generous gifts that keep giving.

I saw parts of the Arts Centre I didn’t know existed when we went outside to practise setting up the blocks, in an area aptly named Testing Grounds. An hour disappeared quickly as we were shown how to ‘pack’ the dominoes onto uneven surfaces, check their balance and to judge the correct distance to enable them to fall in the direction required.

A variety of structures will be built to add to the spectacle. Volunteers are divided into: builders (those who set up and dismantle the blocks), guardians (the protectors of the structure before the 5pm start) and promoters (people explaining to the public what the project is about).

The volunteers will be in groups of 20 with section managers keeping us on track. There will be members of the public annoyed at their day being disrupted, but from past experience, most will be caught up in the anticipation and joy of the event. In the cinema or engrossed in a good book we enter another world, suspend disbelief – next Saturday we want the city to embrace and participate in One Day, One Line of Dominoes.

We set up blocks twice – the second time much quicker than the first. Practice does indeed make perfect. How we cheered at achieving the ‘right’ result without any major mistakes. Everyone helping each other, chatting about the aim, aware we were part of something special – a variety of generations, cultural backgrounds, experienced volunteers and newbies.

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Saturday, February 6 will be a long day, but totally worth it. I’m looking forward to being part of a once-in-a-lifetime event. I played traditional dominoes as a child, and it was one of my  Mother’s favourite games. She bought all her grandchildren a domino set and they have fond memories playing with Nana. This is a fun extension – who wouldn’t want to play with giant blocks?

I’m sure there will be inspiration and stories to write – certainly plenty of characters to note – this is Melbourne, after all.

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Melbourne art scene has lots of opportunities for volunteering, and participating in a project like this enriches your life.

For a smashing start to the New Year join us. Have a large dose of arts therapy and release your inner child. As the well-known song tells us, ‘the best things in life are free‘.

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Poetry – a way to release and remember our inner child

You get your ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.

Neil Gaiman

I spend much of my time thinking up writing prompts and triggers to inspire my students and then more time planning lessons around the craft to improve the readability of their writing.

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Often we write for ourselves, but if most of us are honest, we write to share our thoughts and ideas and receive a boost to ego when someone appreciates our words. Competitions or requests for submissions on a particular topic are good exercises to flex writing muscles, move out of comfort zones, find a home for a story or poem, or just enjoy the challenge of polishing a piece to share with others.

For this reason, I make an effort to send work to Poetica Christi Press who, as their latest anthology Inner Child, boasts have been ‘Proudly publishing Australian poetry for 25 years.’ I also encourage my students to send their work ‘out there’…

inner child anthology 1 inner child anthology 2

Tomorrow Poetica Christi will launch another anthology.  I’m thrilled not only to again have one of my poems selected, but also a poem from one of my students, Jan Morris who excels at performing  Aussie Bush Poetry usually with a backdrop of a painting she has done. Her canvas for the paintings, old curtains salvaged from op shops – curtains with special backing to block out the sun.

Jan with her artwork:illustration

Jan incorporates humour in the short stories she writes in class and is an example of someone who makes the effort to ‘Always look on the bright side of life‘. A retired nurse and a widow of a Vietnam veteran affected by Agent Orange, she has an amazing stockpile of sad stories, but chooses to concentrate on blessings, jokes, eccentricities and funny events!

In the Foreword of the anthology the editors say:

…the inner child is celebrated, recalled, reinvented and shared. The poems are a poignant, honest and often humorous reminder that our inner child is only a heartbeat away.

 Jan reminisced about her childhood when milk was delivered by horse and cart:

inner child anthology Jan's poem

Another poet in the anthology is Avril Bradley, whose poetry often wins awards. Avril is widely published. I first met Avril when we were both involved in the Red Room Company’s Poetry about the sea project. (Several of the poems are still online on Flicker and I guess will be forever!)

inner child anthology Avril's poem

Winner of the Poetica Christi 2014 prize was another accomplished poet, Chris Ringrose:

inner child anthology Chris Ringrose

There are many other poets, some with several poems. Each anthology inspiring other writing and giving me something to aim for to improve my own efforts.  As someone who doesn’t consider themselves a poet – rather a writer who tries to write poetry – I’m thrilled one of my poems was included. It tells the story of an object from my childhood, a link with my mother and my children. It’s the kind of poem you can write in a memoir or life story class and as I often tell my students, ‘memory poems’ are a great way of recording the past.

I wrote about a shell that sat by the fireside in Scotland when we lived there, then sat on the sideboard when we migrated to Australia. I have no idea what beach it was first washed up on or its true origins – writer’s imagination kicked in. I may never have written this poem, if the prompt of the competition hadn’t arrived in my email box!

the shell is at least 62 years old- definitely older

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This poem by editor Leigh Hay made me smile, reminiscent of the day I caught daughter MJ trimming Barbie’s hair!

inner child anthology poem by Leigh Hay

I can’t attend the launch because I’m volunteering at Open House Melbourne tomorrow – my fifth year at this event. However, I’m sure there will be plenty of others attending – the wordsmiths of Poetica Christi Press put on a wonderful afternoon tea, great performances by some of the poets and always a lovely classical musical recital. If I close my eyes I can picture the hall and the event, but I’m so glad I have the book to dip into whenever I want to get in touch with my Inner Child!

Child, to say the very thing you really mean, the whole of it, nothing more or less or other than what you really mean; that’s the whole art and joy of words.’

C.S. Lewis

Ten Steps to writing  your own memory poem:

1. Write down in a couple of sentences of the first memory you have as a child when you were outside by yourself, or another vivid memory you often think about.

2. List the words: sight, sound, touch, taste and smell.

3. Next to these words jot down whatever you experienced related to these senses.

4. Write what happened: what were you feeling at the time? Where were you? Why do you think this memory remains significant? Write this in prose so you get everything down.

5. Revisit the words you wrote alongside the 5 senses. What descriptions capture the emotions you have written about in your prose?

6. Cross out or ignore everything else unrelated – a poem, like a short story doesn’t have to include everything and is stronger if you concentrate on the important details.

7.What emotion do you want to convey about the time? How do you want the reader to feel after reading it? It will probably be complex, but no one is going to read your exploration/explanation about what you were trying to do! They’ll be reading your poem and interpreting it from their point of view and experience. However, it’s always a bonus if people “get it” and understand the emotion of the writer.

8. Remember poems don’t have to rhyme, but usually there are line breaks and punctuation so the reader knows the rhythm and captures the mood of the poem. Think of pacing – do you want the words to move slowly or quickly over the tongue.

9. Write your poem now – whatever way you want – remember to include action – strong verbs, concrete nouns, the emotion you felt.

10. Revise your poem by cutting out any words or phrases that don’t fit in with the feelings and mood you decided to create.

Let the poem sit for a few days before final revision – and if you’re anything like me, you’ll revise it every time you read it!!

Happy writing! And please feel free to share your poem or thoughts.

Marking Milestones in a Memorable Way

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

Mark Twain

The above quote is attributed to Mark Twain, but like all quotes circulating on the Internet, or repeated in books, unless you can go back to the primary source, you have to accept it’s authenticity on face value.

However, the profound and philosophical comment sounds like one we’d expect from Mark Twain. Unless you believe in reincarnation, the day we are born is indeed, the first day of our lives. What we learn, experience and do with our lives should, if we’re lucky, provide the answer to why we are here – unless of course you believe in predestination.

Many people believe they have a purpose in life. When they dedicate themselves to achieving this, their life has meaning and seems richer. Most of us will spend our  lives seeking purpose, trying out different  jobs, careers, relationships, developing talents and abilities to find our niche, and with luck discover a sense of fulfilment leading to contentment and satisfaction.

I may not have the definitive answer to ‘why’ I was born and I don’t believe in preordained destiny, but I do believe in making things happen. Knowledge and time can change ideas and achievements, which then allows me to make informed decisions and design aspects of my life, leading me closer to  answering: Why was I born? What meaning has my life? What legacy will I leave?

We can all find something to be passionate about, something we strive to do well, something we want to share with others. For me, it is writing, coupled with belief in community and driven by a desire for social justice and equity.

Yesterday, as part of the Mordialloc Writers’ Group, I met other people passionate about a local community library, reading, access to knowledge, promoting local writers and retaining local history.

Mentone Public Library, established in 1925, celebrated its 90th Anniversary by having an Open Day, a ceremonial cutting of the anniversary cake, kind positive words from local dignitaries, councillors and politicians and presentations by local community groups. A tiny subscription library may seem an anachronism in today’s digital world and where public libraries are provided by council, but it is a testimony to the dedication of volunteers and local supporters that this library is still going after 90 years.

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Veronica Hahn, Mordialloc and District Historical Society

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Dorothy Booth, Friends of Mentone Station and Gardens

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Dr Graham Whitehead, City of Kingston historian

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Blue Chair Poets (Sarah, Debbie and Yvette)

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Mordialloc Writers’ Group (Mairi, Glenice, Coral, Maureen, Belinda and Steve)

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Two emerging writers from local schools (Joe and Jessi)

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Entertainment by the Mordialloc Ukulele Group and circus performer/musician Shannon McGurgan.

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The founders and volunteers over the years who have kept this library thriving had purpose, passion, and acted upon their ideas!  Yesterday a celebration of community achievement as people shared and appreciated each other’s talents. New friendships were made, networks expanded.

At the end of the delightful day, the hard work of volunteer Julia Reichstein was duly acknowledged. There is usually someone in an organisation that goes ‘above and beyond’ their designated duties, or who is considered ‘a mover and a shaker’, Julia definitely fitted the bill on all counts!

A fitting end to a wonderful event. Mordialloc writers excelled, displaying the varied talents we bring to the group and the community. Our brief was 5 minutes each – a maximum of 750 words – and we made it!!

Some shared their writing journey, others memoir, others imaginative short stories – all entertaining. I explained a little of the history of the group because

I can’t imagine a world without reading or writing; or living in a community without a library. The love of words, the diversity and flexibility of the English language motivate and inspire my writing. I’m thrilled when a poem or story finds a home and a reader enjoys my words.

Happy Birthday Mentone Library!

Writer Anne Lamott said, “For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world … worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet, or excite you.”

Libraries are built on books. Schools rely on them and at any given moment there are millions of books on shelves around the world, in homes, in shops and in libraries like this. Books that share knowledge and experiences of life, that share poetry and prose from every genre imaginable, that entertain, inform, inspire and ignite imagination.

Communication, learning, community and living – all begin with story.

This community reaps the benefit of the care taken by the original owners of the land, the Boon Wurrung of the KuIin Nation – without a written language their oral histories and knowledge handed down through yarns, painting, song and dance are living books. Their wisdom helping us preserve this land.

But, in our culture, to write well you must read. A book is a friend and teacher. As a writer I create characters, places and events with words. As a teacher I share my knowledge and love of words to instil the passion I feel for recording stories, putting pen to paper, all voices equal.

Like the City of Kingston, the Mordialloc Writers’ Group celebrated their 10th Anniversary in 2005. Reflecting on our beginnings, I remember how 5 writers met at Mordialloc Neighbourhood House in March 1995, put in $1.00 each to cover the rent and decided to meet fortnightly to workshop writing. Mordy Writers still meet fortnightly. And although numbers fluctuate they have increased over the years – as has the rent!

We decided to host regular public monthly readings on the last Sunday each month, but our foundation rules never changed:

  1. As a community based writing group we welcome writers in all genres, whether beginners or advanced.
  2. We are non-profit , our sole purpose being to encourage and support writers in their endeavours to publish, or just remain motivated to write.
  3. We produce regular anthologies, with any monies received going towards the next book. A collection of personal essays, Kingston My City, our ninth anthology, will be launched at our 20th anniversary celebrations later this year.
  4. We encourage the love of literature and the importance of creative writing in our culture.
  5. Our inclusive group abhors discrimination. Age, nationality, race, gender, religion, ethnic background or writing ability secondary to the desire to write.

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We have enabled 60 writers to be published. Several more to be added this year. We’ve nurtured several successful prize-winners. Glenice Whitting’s unpublished novel was listed for the Premier’s Award in 2004, as Pickle to Pie it later won the Ilura Prize for fiction. Sue Parritt workshopped her novel with us, published last year as Sannah and the Pilgrim.

Many others have been supported and encouraged to publish collections of poetry and prose including: John West, Stan Fensom, Dorothy Plummer, Bob Croker,, Fay Lucas, Jeff Lasbury, Bob Lawson, Gregory Hill ( a successful co-writer of two books now), Dom Heraclides and Steve Davies. Maureen Hanna and Coral Waight have books ready to be published and Lisa Hill’s blog promoting Australian and New Zealand literature won an award at the Sydney Writers Festival.

Plays have been written and performed, one of mine at Kingston’s Write Up Festival. Glenice and Greg were short listed for Varuna scholarships. Writer, Helen Merrick-Andrews developed a publishing business after her involvement in our second anthology. Readings By The Bay attracts writers from as varied locations as Frankston and Mt Eliza, Fern Tree Gully and Northcote, Bacchus Marsh and Oakleigh as well as local bayside participants.

Several of us are published regularly in other anthologies, online and other media. Alan Ward pursues his love of performance poetry in Germany where he is living for 2 years. Along with other ex-pats he posts his efforts on Youtube.

Grants from Kingston Council for professional development enabled the group to host workshops by authors Euan Mitchell and Arnold Zable.

Creativity has no boundaries, our members have ranged from 14 to 86 years, for Mordy Writers it’s not menopausal madness – the headline a local paper chose to use from one of my throwaway lines! Rather, it’s unpretentious voices attempting to make sense of and celebrate our social and geographical place in the world through the experience of life ‘bayside’.

Ningla- Ana, This our Land
Indigenous and Immigrant together.

Colourful Words

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I can remember when Petula Clark released Colour My World in 1966; I had just entered teenage with hormones rampant, aching for romantic love. The lyrics of this song resonated more than Rabbie Burns’ A Red, Red Rose, a poem-turned-song I knew well because of my Father’s  love of Scotland’s most famous bard. However, it was the 60s, transistor radios and pop music aboundedColour My World had a catchy tune to match memorable words.

You’ll never see a dark cloud hanging ’round me
Now there is only blue sky to surround me
There’s never been a grey day since you found me
Everything I touch is turning to gold

[Chorus]
So you can colour my world with sunshine yellow each day
Oh you can colour my world with happiness all the way
Just take the green from the grass and the blue from the sky up above
And if you colour my world, just paint it with your love
Just colour my world

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What is the difference between poetry and song lyrics?

 It is certainly true that poems are taught (for better or worse) in classrooms and made a part of the canon of literature, whereas songs, especially popular ones, usually are not. If song lyrics are studied in school, often it is ethnographically or anthropologically, to learn something about a culture, not as literature per se. What I suppose some musicians want is not to be considered poets, but for their lyrics to be read with the same respect they imagine poems are…

The ways the conditions of that environment affect the construction of the words (refrain, repetition, the ways information that can be communicated musically must be communicated in other ways in a poem, etc.) is where we can begin to locate the main differences between poetry and lyrics.

Matthew Zapruder, poet, translator, and editor, Boston Review 2012

This week in class we had fun using colour in our poems. I went on the Dulux Paint site and printed off their colour palettes to distribute, not only to have many colours and shades as triggers but also to encourage the use of the innovative and descriptive names given to the colours.

Colour is all around us, affecting our mood, it’s a given that it adds to your writing – sight being one of the most important of our senses. Add a colour when describing and the detail makes the image clearer. I have two beautiful books about poetry addressing the use of colour. Written for children, I discovered them in a local op shop and in the words of another song ‘bless the day’ I did.

 Writing Poems by Michael Harrison and Christopher Stuart-Clark focuses on techniques and forms of verse, with examples and exercises encouraging children to experiment with their writing. Poems include:

Colour
Christina Rossetti

What is pink? a rose is pink
By a fountain’s brink.
What is red? a poppy’s red
In its barley bed.
What is blue? the sky is blue
Where the clouds float thro’.
What is white? a swan is white
Sailing in the light.
What is yellow? pears are yellow,
Rich and ripe and mellow.
What is green? the grass is green,
With small flowers between.
What is violet? clouds are violet
In the summer twilight.
What is orange? Why, an orange,
Just an orange!

and

Grey
James Reeves

Grey is the sky, and grey the woodman’s cot
With grey smoke tumbling from the chimney-pot.
The flagstones are grey that lead to the door;
Grey is the hearth, and grey the worn old floor.

The old man by the fire nods in his chair;
Grey are his clothes and silvery grey his hair.
Grey are the shadows around him creeping,
And grey the mouse from the corner peeping.

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In Hailstones and Halibut Bones, a delightful children’s classic, described correctly as ‘adventures in colour’, Mary O’Neill’s magnificent poems, explore a particular colour, the colour spectrum summed up by the last poem in the book:

Colors
Mary O’Neill

The Colors live
Between black and white
In a land that we
Know best by sight.
But knowing best
Isn’t everything,
For colors dance
And colors sing,
And colors laugh
And colors cry –
Turn off the light
And colors die,
And they make you feel
Every feeling there is
From the grumpiest grump
To the fizziest fizz.
And you and you and I
Know well
Each has a taste
And each has a smell
And each has a wonderful
Story to tell…

Unknown

We had wonderful discussions about colours in my classes – we all have favourite ones, particularly regarding fashion and what colour we believe suits us. There were passionate debates about shades and names. About writing reflecting happy and sad moods.

Cheltenham, Tuesday, October 21, 2002
Mairi Neil

Opposite the cemetery
on the bus shelter roof
there’s a drumbeat dirge
this wintry day
in springtime Melbourne.

Grey sky
Grey pavement
Grey faces
Grey tombstones…

A river of vehicles
flowing past
swishing, swooshing
dispersing grey puddles
splashing kerbs.

Roy Orbison’s, Pretty Woman
explodes from a passing car.
Pedestrians pause
eyes a-sparkle
lips stretch into smiles…

At the cemetery gates
a daffodil yellow taxi
ferries a passenger
her pain masked
by rain-splattered windows.

Swamped
in a tsunami of grief
I too, no longer anyone’s
Pretty Woman.

I wrote this poem the day I returned to work, a month after my husband’s death when the whole world did indeed seem grey.  But what of those who are colour blind? Those who struggle with limited colour in their lives. Well, we poets are adaptable and will write about anything!!

The Colourblind Birdwatcher
U.A. Fanthorpe

In sallow summer
The loud-mouthed birds
peer through my hedges
As brown as swallows.

In an acrid autumn
High-flying birds
Splay in formation
As brown as magpies.

In the wan winter
Audacious birds
Besiege my windows
As brown as robins.

In sepia spring
The punctual birds
Resume their habits
As brown as blossom.

At the other extreme, people who hear, taste or smell colour exist. They have synesthesia, a rare neurological condition in which two or more of the senses entwine. I’ve had several student writers over the years with synesthesia and they’ve produced amazing work.

After the class discussion, we wrote a poem together just to get into the swing of thinking about colour before our splurge time of free writing –

Tuesday Class Poem – Godfrey Street, Bentleigh

Tuesday, a scarlet day, like a magnificent sunset
It’s a blushing woman, ‘Gone with the Wind.’
It’s a juicy Victoria plum dripping sweetness
It’s a burning bush splashing golden sparks
It’s the last glass of claret enriching palates
It’s a heated argument getting out of hand
It’s a colicky baby seeking comfort

Monday Class Poem, Mordialloc Neighbourhood House

Red is Monday, in writing class
A happy day full of friendship
An energetic day like an express train
A red-leg day watching doves dance in the garden
A fired-up day flickering like flames
An angry day falling out of bed
A passionate day – beware of love
A taxi day stopping at all the traffic lights
A red-letter day writing in class

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Encouraging each other to ‘think outside the box’  we splurged using the paint cards as a starting point:

What Colour is Tolerance?
Mairi Neil

Green comes in forty shades
The Irish folk group sings
Soft moss by rivers streaming
Tarragon glory of fairy rings

Ireland the true emerald isle
Celtic forests delight and intrigue
Crushed pine perfumes the air
Woodland ferns soften history’s deeds.

When English mist descended
Paradise green became no more
Even Dublin Bay laced with blood
Years of bomb blasts and gore.

Like the famed Amazon jungle
Impenetrable; peace seemed futile
But as spring buds banish winter
Persistence gave reason to smile!

From green felt to cameo silk
Ireland’s metamorphoses proudly displayed
Acceptance of all shades of green and pink
In May 2015, history is made!

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Greening Me

Mairi Neil

I want to be green
Because the grass is green
Grass grows everywhere
I’d travel far across lands
Meet up with different grasses
Grow anywhere and fit in

I want to be green
Because Kermit the Frog is green
A reminder of childhood
Innocence, laughter and fun,
Easy to be green, like Kermit
Revisiting a joyous green

I want to be green
Because many vegetables are green
The ones really good for you
Green vegetables are nutritional
I’m glad to be healthy and alive
A tasty green too

I want to be green
Because my mother was Irish
The Emerald Isle in my blood
Celtic music and folklore
Memories of Mum in my heart
Green the colour of my love.

Unknown

Colours of a Writer’s Day
Mairi Neil

What is blue? Ink is blue
When my pen flows free and true
What is white? My notebook page
Words rolling raw at every stage.
What is violet? My thoughts a jumble
Ideas, emotions, fears all tumble.
What is brown? My desk is brown
Where I smile and also frown.
What is green? My garden’s green
Daily relief from the computer screen.
What is yellow? My lamp is yellow
Evening air oh, so mellow.
What is red? My editing pen…
Write, rewrite, rewrite again!

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Autumn Feast
Mairi Neil

Frenzied and flaming
Leaves flicked in the air
Scattered by a bitter wind
Whistling through the park
From the icy southern ocean.

Falling autumnal leaves
A plush velvet carpet
Colours of a Caribbean dawn
And Moroccan dusk.

Children skip and skitter
Cherry Ripes and Candy Canes
Giggling and rosy-cheeked
Kicking and throwing leaves

Into nutmeg clusters
Roasted pumpkin piles
Sunflower symphonies
Ruby fountains
Grecian garlands
And emerald delights.

The crunch and crackle
Scuff and crinkle
Perfumes the air…
Eucalyptus, pine, mellow maple
Mature oak, liquidambar
Eastern spice and lemon chiffon.

The sky a Damson dream
Angry clouds of volcanic ash
Dissipate and make way for
The marble swirl of autumn glory
Truly a feast for the poet’s eye!

Next week it will be exciting to read the polished poems produced by the writers and any new inspirations they produce.

What role does colour play in your writing life?

Crafting Community at Longbeach Place Chelsea

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I attended the Annual General Meeting of Longbeach Place Inc on Thursday. As one of the tutors, I presented my report for the Memories to Manuscript and Life Stories classes I teach, which have been repackaged this year as Writing Creatively Towards Your Future to encompass new technology.

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The meeting small considering the reach of the community, but not surprising – in my experience, AGMs are deemed perfunctory –  either ignored or suffered unless there are problems to be solved, people to be ousted, or financial mismanagement to be challenged! However, at Chelsea, it was a lovely surprise to experience a great AGM. To hear from other tutors about their courses and to see a fabulous presentation about the craft craze Yarn Bombing. (Renamed Urban Yarn Art in deference to connotations in a world consumed by the ‘war on terror’.) The delicious refreshments afterwards and friendly chatter provided networking opportunities to meet and greet locals, the new ALP member, Tim Richardson MP, and Kingston Council representatives.  The comfortable environment added to the enjoyment of the afternoon.

Yarn bombing, yarnbombing, yarn storming, guerrilla knitting, kniffiti, urban knitting or graffiti knitting is a type of graffiti or street art that employs colourful displays of knitted or crocheted yarn or fibre rather than paint or chalk.

Wikipedia

I learned that the old Drop in Craft workshops are now transformed into Create, Make and Take sessions incorporating skills as diverse as pattern making, sewing, weaving, spinning, knitting, crochet and the Storybook Yarn Art Trail, an amazing community project involving several local schools and churches. My sister, Cate is the crafty person in the family and I’ve recently celebrated her talent in a post about the Australasian Quilters Convention, but when my children attended a local school with a Steiner stream, craft skills were an enjoyable part of our home life. I see craft as a very important art as well as being perhaps the most useful artistic skill. (Apart from writing of course, but then I’m biased.) The guest speaker, Elizabeth Alexandreou, the mover and shaker behind the resurgence of craft at Chelsea talked us through the Urban Yarn Art project, the Storybook Yarn Art Trail and explained the importance of passing skills onto future generations. This project inspiring young people to learn craft skills, adapt them into creative projects, connect with different generations and have fun while learning. Last year the trail included a Retirement Village/Nursing home – a wonderful way of ensuring people still feel valued in the community and helping to break down barriers between the old and young.

Each organisation participating in the project chose one of several books to illustrate with urban yarn art – Alice in Wonderland and The Very Hungry Caterpillar were popular, and The Lorax by Dr Seuss. A local church chose to acknowledge that Jesus was a refugee and used their creativity to make a plea for compassion in the current climate of political intransigence. Yarn Art is international and through a participant Longbeach Place Inc shared art with Ireland and at the AGM a lovely wall hanging was displayed that had been posted from Ireland. It is hoped in the future international and national links will expand. In a world of instant communication, but where many people lament the lack of person to person communication, this project is a gift. I photographed Elizabeth and Longbeach Manager Lorna Stevenson with the wall hanging from Ireland and an amazing butterfly created for last year’s display. This butterfly involved collaboration with a member of the Men and Women’s Shed group – a further extension of community connections and sharing of expertise.

The aim of the crafters is to visually enrich the local environment by celebrating what can be achieved in a culture of community and collaboration. Craft is a fantastic activity to bring generations together and to have fun. Although criticism has been made of wasting materials (wool does degrade overtime exposed to all weathers) to me this is churlish and denies the benefit of art and what creative expression is all about. There are many instances of art projects being fleeting or ephemeral just like so much of the beauty of nature (Mother Earth’s art) is transitory!

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Of course, writing and craft are not the only courses or programs at Longbeach Place and while Computers For Beginners tapped, we were invited to walk through the garden and admire the herbs and other plants cultivated by the ESL, Literacy and Volunteer Classes in their Herbs for All project.

As the Association of Neighbourhood Houses states:

Neighbourhood Houses bring people together to connect, learn and contribute in their local community through social, educational, recreational and support activities, using a unique community development approach. Community development enables communities to identify and address their own needs. It starts from the assumption that communities have existing strengths and assets that make them part of the solution. Neighbourhood Houses welcome people from all walks of life. This inclusive approach creates opportunities for individuals and groups to enrich their lives through connections they might not otherwise make, strengthening networks and building social capital.

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My involvement in neighbourhood houses through learning programs and teaching has enriched my life.  Another thread that has enabled me to continue to do what I love – write, socialise, teach. It has helped me stay physically, emotionally and psychologically healthy by encouraging and nurturing a feeling of belonging. I consider myself blessed and encourage others to take a walk to their nearest community centre and become involved – you can learn, you can teach, you can volunteer – you are community.

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The Writerly Self – A Reflective Essay on a Personal Journey of Professional Development

‘Writing about writing is one way to grasp, hold, and give added meaning to a process that remains one of life’s great mysteries… the moment of exquisite joy when necessary phrases come together and the work is complete, finished, ready to be read.’

writers by the bay - anthology 1, 1997
writers by the bay – anthology 1, 1997

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been engaged with reading and writing. In school, ‘to be a writer’ the first and latterly the only desire expressed whenever asked ‘what career do you want?’ At high school during the end of the sixties the education system, and indeed society, acknowledged females could dream of a career and not a job, however, the proviso ‘until they married to produce the next generation’ was implied.  Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch opened up an amazing new world of questions and ideas.

My working-class migrant home and public high school considered creative writing something done in your spare time; innate talent may lead to ‘discovery’, but rarely a financial success. No courses teaching the craft existed as far as I knew and the feminist rewriting of the male-dominated canon of Australian fiction did not begin until the late 1970s. Parents and teachers assumed ‘journalist’ and ‘writer’ interchangeable.

So, I studied history (another love) at university, travelled, worked at various skilled and semi-skilled jobs, married, had children, started a writing group, became involved in schools and the community, cared for my dying husband, devised courses and began teaching, and always kept writing: academic assignments, articles for magazines, newsletters, stories for family, poetry for myself and others, letters, postcards, haphazard journal entries, lesson plans, even some imaginative creative pieces. Enthralled by the power and beauty of words, I tried to harness the thoughts and stories swirling in my head.

No passion has been as constant, as true as this love‘.

I enrolled in the Master of Arts (Writing) after encouragement from Glenice Whitting, a member of Mordialloc Writers’ Group. A trusted ‘critical’ friend, Glenice finished a novel, won a literary prize and launched her book at the Writers’ Festival after studying a similar course at Melbourne University. This inspiring journey of achievement culminated in a PhD (well done Dr Glenice Whitting) and the completion of another major writing project.

Each fortnight, workshopping at our local neighbourhood house the group gained valuable tips to improve our writing when Glenice shared philosophical and theoretical ideas from her readings. This generosity, found in the Mordialloc Writers’ Group contributes to the quality of each other’s work. The listening, the absorbing, the constructive feedback, the valuing of learning and always striving to be better writers.

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In 2010, with Glenice’s insistent ‘do it,’ I took the plunge and enrolled at Swinburne University: to focus on my writing dreams, to transform entrenched habits and improve my craft, stretch reading horizons, and move out of my comfort zone by seeking help from more accomplished writers within and without, academia. I hoped the experience would make me a better teacher too!

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The online course suited family, financial, and work commitments. However, returning to tertiary study after almost forty years’ absence, a challenge with difficulties I didn’t foresee! The volume and academic style of most set readings confronting and at times overwhelming. Academic texts needed examination, deconstruction and clarification. What did they mean, if anything, to my writing life and style? This deep reflection of my work a new concept, as well as being time-consuming and requiring discipline, but two years in a life of over half a century didn’t seem much of a sacrifice – or so I thought.

I embraced new technology with limited expertise, trusted disembodied relationships with tutors and students, many living Interstate and in different countries. Despite being ‘screen’ tired with a mind ticking over like a Geiger counter, the joy in writing I sought returned, albeit slowly. I began to reflect on the process itself when the initial shock of ‘settling in’ was compounded by a diagnosis of breast cancer. Life is full of surprises, but perhaps the biggest surprise is the strength we find within when needed.

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A new world beckoned. With help and support from family and friends, I adapted my lifestyle, extended boundaries and learnt the true meaning of flexible hours: working into the night, forgetting what television looked like and leaving more of the day-to-day running of the house to my daughters. Although always open to change, this unplanned border crossing was never foreseen for my late 50s. On reflection, the journey not only proved worthwhile but gave me a fantastic focus and distraction through a health crisis I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy! In modern parlance, working towards and achieving my master’s degree a definite ‘game-changer’.

The richness of other student contributions gave new perspectives as well as exposure to a variety of genres. Could I write a suspense novel? A gritty screenplay? A monologue? Poetry? Be a short story writer? What about creative non-fiction? Historical romance?

I had been writing every day but not necessarily the writing I wanted to do. My goal of self-discipline to create time to write every day on a project I desired, and not because a deadline loomed, seemed elusive. The intensity of study, the volume and regularity of the submissions required, left little time for stream-of-consciousness writing or spontaneous creativity, but there was excitement and developing friendships amongst all the learning.

The concepts of dramaturgy and frame theory were new to me, although perhaps I’d been applying frame theory and considering dramaturgy for years without knowing the theoretical name. I visualise each scene before I write and edit – almost as if watching it on television or acting in front of a mirror – the preferred method of Charles Dickens who created characters and acted them out to perfect expressions and voices.

From the beginning there was a very strong connection between the oral and the literary in Dickens’ art.”

I work out the order of the detail in my short stories to help with sentence structure and avoid dangling modifiers. I’m an ‘outliner’, not a ‘pantser’. The dictionary defines dramaturgy as ‘a theory, which interprets individual behaviour as the dramatic projection of a chosen self’. I create characters, put them into situations, and imagine how they walk, talk, and act. I draw on my observations, but also personal experience. Some see dramaturgy as ‘a way of understanding and analysing theatrical performances… to help us understand the complexity of human interactions in a given situation’.

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As a people watcher, I observe and scribble in a notebook, taken everywhere. An event, a smell, sound or person triggers the muse. Later, these pages filled with character profiles, plus ideas for prose and poems become details in stories. Sometimes I’m inspired and start writing the story on the train or in the cafe if I can write undisturbed.

The bones of a story grow. Writers must be curious and record observations because this advice is repeated in almost all articles and books on the craft of writing.

On the city-bound train , two deaf people are having an animated conversation. Six metal bangles on the overweight woman’s right arm so tight they don’t jangle as she waves her hands. The man unkempt, yet an expensive camera hangs across his chest. Are they tourists tired or stressed from travelling? What is it like coping with such a profound disability on public transport where commuters rely on announcements over the tannoy? What if the train breaks down?

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” ‘Playing our parts.’ Yes we all have to do that and from childhood on, I have found that my own character has been much harder to play worthily and far harder at times to comprehend than any of the roles I have portrayed.”

Bette Davis 1908-89

I prefer this quote from Bette Davis to the Shakespearean ‘All the world’s a stage‘. I’ve struggled over the years being dutiful daughter, loving and supportive wife, responsible, nurturing mother, loyal friend and sister, diligent employee, interested teacher… ‘playing’ roles yet aching to be a writer and wondering how well I ‘perform’ when my heart and brain are focussed elsewhere. Everybody is an actor on a stage Shakespeare called ‘the world,’ however, for most people, the stage is a much smaller ‘my life’.

Shakespeare’s gift of using the stage as a metaphor for living clever because everyone is born (makes an entrance); dies (exits) and plays different roles from birth. Researching to find the context for the now clichéd quote I’m sidetracked as usual ( a major failing). So many Internet sites and tomes from bookshelves cite, deconstruct, dissect, and revere Shakespeare.

My ego wonders if in the future anyone will read my writing. Can/will I ever write anything as profound or memorable as the speech by the melancholic Jaques in As You Like It? The ‘seven ages’ of man condensed in cynical terms in a limerick by British poet Robert Conquest:

Seven stages, first puking and mewling,
Then very pissed off with your schooling;
Then fucks and then fights
Then judges chaps’ rights
Then sitting in slippers, then drooling!

When I think of writing Dad’s story and his love of pithy poetry and the verses he made up, I wonder if I should frame each chapter around poetry. Introduce the stages of his life using either a poem or song by Robert Burns, his favourite bard. I reject the last line of Conquest’s limerick. Dad’s dementia and the long period of emotional stress the family experienced will not be reduced to such an image. My Father’s life should not be defined by the changes wrought by illness and ageing.

I want my world to end with a ‘bang’ not a ‘whimper’ to borrow from T.S Eliot. A couple of my short stories work as ‘faction’ so I will keep experimenting. Sometimes it’s easier to fictionalise traumatic events or deep feelings, be the cold observer rather than a participator!

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An article on Dramaturgical Analysis gave me a new perspective and some good ideas on a play about the environment I was asked to write for Grades 5 and 6. An idea to teach the children about environmental sustainability and along a similar theme to Sense and Sustainability: A Fable for our Times. If developing the play, I’ll consider the ideological frame as well as the structural frame. I want the children to identify with the issues and realise they can make a difference. I hadn’t considered using a myth or folktale to provide the organisation for ideas, but appreciate how the reference to well-known stories may add depth to the script and enrich an audience’s understanding. In Australia, because of our multi-cultural population, there are myriads of folk tales to draw on.

It’s a steep learning curve to look through a playwright’s eyes and use dramaturgical analysis as a critical tool, but I enjoyed finding out about the proscenium arch and other terminology associated with theatre; how a play will be presented and the difference images and symbols make. The proscenium arch is the performance area between the background and the orchestra or between the curtain or drop-scene and the auditorium. Many innovative ways to use this space present themselves.

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In a piece of happenstance, I won free tickets to the Victorian Opera’s interpretation of Chekhov’s The Bear. There was a split stage, which gave wonderful visual framing ideas. Aleatory, another new word learned: ‘technology is used to suppress aleatory results‘. Aleatory is defined as ‘depending on the throw of a die or on chance, depending on uncertain contingencies or involving random choice by the composer, performer, or artist.’ Learning to use the Internet for research, it seemed the exact opposite sometimes.

I typed ‘workhouse’ into Google for family history information and came up with 3,460,000 links in 21 seconds. No doubt the number and speed increased since 2010. By only using the word, many irrelevant results and often random associations appear. To save time and get the most benefit out of the Internet I learned to be smarter.

The exposure to other writers in the course led to discussions about books by ‘colonial’ writers revealing heritage and raising issues of identity. I determined to reread many loved favourites as a writer as well as a reader, especially after a tutor asked, ‘to what extent do white writers have to consider their colour as writers?

A difficult question to answer as a white woman, who has always lived in a free society. I agree with bell hooks, there is a ‘link between my writing and spiritual belief and practice… how our class background influences both what we write, how we write, and how the work is received.’

Most white writers don’t give their colour a second thought if they live where they are the dominant culture. However, an Australian writer Harry Nicolaides while living in Thailand was incarcerated for insulting the Thai royal family in his novel. I would think many writers living in some Islamic countries need to be careful. In Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran and even Turkey imprisoned journalists and writers make the news. We tend to think of Europeans being the main colonial powers in recent history and the colonised non-white, but in the 1930s and 40s Japan expanded its empire. Even in recent times, the Indian sub-continent and African continent have more than their fair share of colonial trauma.

To write my family history with an Irish mother and a Highland father the experiences of the Irish and Scottish populations must be considered and the effects of England’s colonial behaviour. Dr Johnson’s view in his journal, Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland,reveals a narrow, disdainful individual, whose sojourns into that which is unknown to him may be compared to the impressions of those first Europeans who penetrated the African interior, socially placing its inhabitants as inferior.’

The Highland Clearances and the aftermath sent many people, including some of my relatives to Australia. They lost their land and came out here to displace the indigenous population. I’d like to explore this sad irony and grave injustice in my writing. You can’t rewrite history, but you can examine the story from different angles and make an effort for a balanced account.

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How does my hybridity affect my writing? I feel like an uprooted tree with memories and attachments to many places. I travelled a lot when younger and hope to do so again. I struggle to keep a journal yet when travelling, writing became second nature, especially letters home. Boxes of paraphernalia sit in the garden shed to be turned into stories ‘one day’.

I found a handful of old postcards after an aunt died and a fascination with a first cousin of my Father’s began. He bears Dad’s name and is buried in Egypt – another nineteen-year-old casualty of Gallipoli. I empathised with Hélène Cixous when she stood and cried at her grandfather’s grave, a person dead long before she was born – a photograph in an album, a family legend.

All biographies like all autobiographies like all narratives tell one story in place of another story.

I wrote a short piece of prose about discovering our family’s ANZAC, but further research makes the story change. I learnt his parents still spoke Gaelic and try to imagine what he thought in the trenches of Gallipoli fighting beside Scots as well as other nationalities. Did he identify as an Aussie? Did he think himself noticeably different?

One tutor asked, ‘What do you think of the idea that writing itself is a process of self-knowing… we come to know ourselves through the things we write? Post examples of your ‘voice’ to illustrate how you use language.’

Are the paths our writing takes us down, paths to self-knowledge? Often I surprise myself when I read a poem or story I’ve written. I ponder: did I write that? Even when I think I’m in control of the pen and words, my writerly self takes its own path!

I’m an ‘inheritor as well as an originator’ and like Bell Hooks, I believe my ability and desire to write are blessings. I am the keeper of the stories of parents’ and family, in particular my mother’s. Mum spoke into a tape recorder for several hours telling ‘herstory’, and I am immensely grateful we spent time together to record the events she thought important. It’s still a painful task to listen and type. Mum’s voice triggers strong emotions; fingers freeze on the keyboard and tears flow. Complicated grief can last a long time, her death still feels raw.

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A sense of ‘voice’ crucial in writing therefore I want to make sure it is Mum’s voice and not mine when I write her story. Yet, as I record extracts for a women’s memoir site in America, and life story classes here, my story is being written too. I know my voice changes depending on what I’m writing, sometimes from a conscious effort because I don’t want fictional characters to sound like me, or all the factual characters either!

Years ago, my brother George rang me after reading a story of mine in Mordialloc Writers’ third anthology, Up the Creek With a Pen. ‘Mairi, I had to read it twice it was so good. It’s very different from your other stories, I didn’t even pick you as the writer.

Up The Creek With A Pen, anthology 3, 2003
Up The Creek With A Pen, anthology 3, 2003

This ‘backhanded compliment’ made me go back and read the story again! What made it so different? The topic? The male protagonist? The language? The pacing? Another step along the road of maturity in the craft; learning to pay more attention to how the words sit on the page?

The craft of writing is what I enjoy the most; it’s my comfort zone and I know this is why I love teaching creative writing because for a few hours a week I share my passion for the English language, its nuances, its flexibility, the chance to experiment, and the fire of imagination.

I recall a student comment about family history, ‘It’s funny though, that the stories we tell the most are often the hardest to put to paper. Sometimes the best stories are the ones we are so comfortable with that they live and grow with us and so writing them is counter-productive.

As I interviewed Mum over four years, I noticed repetition in her stories, yet the telling was different. Dad, an entertaining raconteur repeated the same tales with or without embellishments. I don’t see writing them down as counter-productive, rather I consider the stories are part of our family lore, they’ve made an impression to be retained for a lifetime (in my parents’ case, 80 plus years). I want to record the memorable ones, work out why they remain important. Retain them for future generations because idiosyncratic tales make each family unique. I regret not recording Dad before Dementia robbed his memory.

Another student, an accomplished writer commented on poems I’d written, ‘I suppose I’m looking for you to take it one step further – is this the only side of Mum? What brings you to remember? and similarly, for Journey home – are you there? What’s it feel like? I want some personal insight or big picture analysis.’

For Mum
Mairi Neil
I think of you baking scones,
your floral apron streaked with flour.
Ingredients never measured,
just swirled together
by experienced hands,
used to work. And gifting love.
The soft splat of dough
against Formica,
the thump of rolling pin,
scrape of metal cutter,
and then,
the leftover scraps
patted to shape a tiny scone…
‘For you – this special one,’ you said.

The Journey Home
Mairi Neil

He squeezes past me
on the escalators
at Melbourne Central
overweight and red-faced
wheezing in time
with the clunk
of her strapless high heels
clattering like hooves
on cobblestones of old

He flings a challenge
over his shoulder
‘The train leaves in one minute!’

wheeze kerplunk clunk clunk
wheeze kerplunk clunk clunk

She puffs and pants
heels galloping
breath exploding
the momentary hesitation
as the ticket machine swallows
and reluctantly spits tickets
into waiting fingers
frantic eyes balloon
at more escalators
to be negotiated

wheeze kerplunk clunk clunk!

Mum was not just the cook, nor indeed ‘just a mum’. I’ve spent a long time (perhaps too long!) researching to ensure her time in the army, as a nurse and many other experiences BC (before children), as well as her achievements and contribution to community and church in Scotland and Australia, are recorded. The jigsaw of her life completed so people understand the big picture. We are all complicated human beings.

I wrote the poem about the scones as a special memory to read at mum’s funeral and it struck a chord with others to be published elsewhere.

‘Although I have not written in this journal for a month, storytelling has been an active and dominant part of my life during this time.’

Skywalker Payne

My writerly self understands imagination works overtime, characters and plots in abundance go unrecorded or not shared with writing buddies. Family history/tales come alive when we recount parents’ or our own lives to children and there’s an urge to record them for posterity. That’s what writers do.

Anais Nin, Katherine Mansfield and Henry Thoreau achieved much in their journals. The beneficial aspect of keeping a diary well-documented. It can be the start of poems, prose, and novels. One of my students kept a journal for 35 years before substituting it with a ‘blog’.

I often think of ‘the women writers whose work and literary presence influences me, shaping the contours of my imagination, expanding the scope of my vision.This blog could help me too.

Novels may still be unfinished, stories lacklustre, poetry mere doggerel – some days I feel everything, but a writer. The longing to write what I want instead of what seems to be needed (by deadlines, briefs, other people) exists. A deep yearning drives me to counteract the reality of creative writing as something squashed between other life commitments. To feel gladness, not just relief, when the words are on paper, will probably always be a difficult goal to achieve.

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I’ll keep scribbling and hoping it will gel one day.

Reality versus Dreams of the Writing Life: Choosing Fulfilment over Finances!

The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.

Kurt Vonnegut

In March 1995, five people sat around a laminated table at the Mordialloc Neighbourhood House one Wednesday night at 8pm. We put in a $1.00 each towards the nominal rent, and formed the Mordialloc Writers’ Group. Those first attendees included a singer songwriter, a writer illustrator, a poet, and two short story writers who also presented a community radio writing show. I had arranged the evening and took on the grand title (and job) of coordinator/facilitator, helped tremendously for the first three years by Noelle Franklin who was one of the presenters of the Moorabbin FM writing show Write Now.

The writing show still exists (with a different presenter) as does the writing group, but I’m the only original remaining with the Mordialloc Writers’ Group, although there are several longtime members and others who return for periods to reacquaint with us, like the proverbial boomerang. Such is the writer’s life.

Over the years, the group has remained active because of the commitment and support of people like Glenice Whitting, Maureen Hanna, Barbara Davies, Coral Waight and Steve Davis, not only attending workshop nights, but also hosting Readings by The Bay, our monthly get-togethers to encourage and share writing with the community. I may be the public face and contact person, but Mordialloc Writers is an eclectic, vibrant, active, talented group being renewed all the time by others interested in creative writing!

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The group, like the moon, has waxed and waned – some workshop nights 18-20 people crammed around the table with barely time for discussing any piece of writing in depth. Other nights 3-4 writers talked into the night deconstructing each other’s work, sharing personal joys and woes,  solving the problems of family and the world!

Writing may or may not be your salvation; it might or might not be your destiny. But that does not matter. What matters right now are the words, one after another. Find the next word. Write it down.

Neil Gaiman

Over the years we published eight anthologies with the work of over 66 writers  included  – many for the first time. Some went on to publish poetry books and novels, blogs, win writing competitions and awards, write family history and memoir. Some established other writing and poetry groups in nearby and far away suburbs and countries, and participated in successful events and festivals.

This year, we celebrate our 20th Anniversary and are currently compiling an anthology of personal essays around the theme of – Kingston My City.  Some of us will be moving out of the comfort zone of particular genres we’ve grown to love, there will be first time published writers, regular attendees who consider Mordi Writers and writing as part of their life routine( Ilura prizewinner, Glenice Whitting) , and there will be invited guest writers from the Group’s past: Lisa Hill of AnZ Litlovers blog fame, Sue Parritt, Dorothy PlummerHelen Merrick-Andrews, Dom Heraclides, Mari Iwa and Jillian Rhodes.

The title and focus of the book a small tribute to the community and councils that have supported our growth and development over the years.

We’ll also be travelling into unknown territory –publishing an E-book as well as the traditional printed copy. (As the publisher for the last four books this is another steep learning curve embracing the digital age!) At the moment, the book is shaping up to be a great read as fellow writer Glenice Whitting and I edit the submissions. Variety is definitely the spice of life and we all have different perspectives of living in Kingston or have interacted with the city’s services and people in different stages of our lives.

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Watch this space for updates:)

A Pool Of Memories

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All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

This week, I asked my students to write about summer and gave them a selection of writing prompts. As I reflect on the lesson I remembered various summer activities and memories from childhood.

A few years ago some beancounter or councillor in the City of Croydon looked at the prime land taken up by Croydon Memorial Pool and decided rather than maintain the pool, it could be sold. The public outcry that followed the suggestion, retained the pool, which was built as a memorial to honour those who fought in the Second World War. I have an emotional attachment to Croydon swimming pool, a place that contributed to an idyllic childhood, although,  now living in Mordialloc and in close proximity to a beautiful beach,

Dad’s sister, Chrissie, met us at Station Pier when we arrived in Australia, on December 16th 1962, and the first piece of information she imparted to excite us about our future home was its closeness to a newly opened Olympic-sized swimming pool. Our journey from Scotland, on the month-long voyage aboard SS Orion, gave me my first experience of a swimming pool and along with three siblings, I attempted to swim. Accustomed to the joys of water play and poolside fun, the thought of continuing sessions on land did make our new home more inviting. (I suspect Aunt Chrissie realised this!)

Croydon, eighteen miles from Melbourne GPO and even further from the nearest beach, was considered ‘the sticks’  and for those living in the outer suburbs, summers were long and hot. A public swimming pool, therefore, considered a tremendous community asset for hundreds of children to spend hundreds of hours creating carefree memories.

The egalitarian pool open to everyone regardless of income or generation. Days spent there helped us enjoy adjusting to our new country and to cope with the culture shock of a sweltering Christmas, instead of sleet and snow.

Working class people rarely went on vacation, so the Croydon pool a wonderful alternative to driving the hour or two to the closest coastal beaches of Seaford and Edithvale. No freeways then.

That first summer, we attended the pool almost daily establishing a pattern of regular visits that continued for several years. Each day seemed like a holiday, especially with the crowd that our family and friends made. Fortunately, the entry cost minimal – there may even have been a discount for family groups, I can’t remember. I know we shared a locker, which caused ructions at times if people wanted to go home early and the keeper of the key resented getting out of the water! This sign should probably have been put at the entrance of the pool!

images-1Ignorant of skin cancer people lay smeared with coconut or baby oil, sunbaking on the grass or lying on the concrete surrounds. There were few trees in the early days with those planted still to mature. I recall many sleepless nights with painful burning skin despite mum’s home remedies of vinegar or cold tea compresses. No sunscreen then either.

A few exhausting hours playing at the pool made a walk home in the heat unattractive. We planned visits to coincide with Dad’s shifts or so someone else’s parents could pick us up. With no seat belt rules and few cars on the road, it was amazing how many kids could be crushed into Austin A30s, Morris Minors, Ford Consuls, FJ Holdens or Dad’s Vanguard Utility. We still arrived home hot and sweaty with the cooling benefits of the pool undone, but not as tired if we’d walked!

Mum and Dad were sticklers for ‘no swimming for an hour after you’ve eaten.’ My father’s older brother, John drowned in Corpus Christi in 1927, while serving at sea as an engineer. It was thought he took cramps because he went swimming too soon after a meal.

In addition, my father lived with a personal memory of a traumatic incident from his childhood when he nearly drowned. Therefore, our time at the pool regulated and rules enforced without compromise. Negotiated longer periods for swimming meant going mid-morning and leaving mid-afternoon. We may miss out catching up with chums and went hungry until we returned home; the only sustenance being a frozen Sunny Boy, or Choc Wedge, bought with locker refund money.

Our melting frozen treats held between soft wrinkled fingers, made us fly magnets. We’d sit on the kerb outside the pool waiting to be picked up, competing to see who could kill the most flies with our thongs. Mao Zedong would have been proud of us. Under his ‘four harms’ strategy 1958-62 he urged citizens to kill flies, mosquitoes, rats and sparrows, the four pests that damaged crops. The great campaign almost eliminated the common housefly as the Chinese swatted with zest.

We certainly shared their enthusiasm and aimed a death blow at every fly or mosquito we came across. Dad, who refused to wear thongs, laughed at us, saying, ‘ killing flies the best use for those stupid flip flops!’

Days at the pool hold magical memories: meeting friends at weekends or holidays, mixing with kids from different schools, swimming, diving, playing games and showing off our healthy physiques. Not everyone had the telephone connected, not everyone had a family car, opportunities for meeting and talking outside school hours were few.

Many romances started – and ended –  at the pool. The era of the ‘itsy bitsy teeny weeny’ bikini upon us, although bathers in the 1960s didn’t reveal the flesh of later fashions. However, Speedos were at the height of their popularity and once wet never left much to the imagination. Of course, ex-PM, Tony Abbott has made ‘budgie smugglers’ famous!

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I made my one and only dive from a diving board at Croydon Pool—the small diving board, of course. I lacked the courage to do anything but jump off the big diving board and I only did that once. Through adult eyes, how small those boards look, yet the climb to the top of the ladder and the panic of spluttering chlorinated spume after hitting the water and scrabbling to return to the surface, still haunts me. As does the sting of bellyflops.

Herald certificate 1964

I passed the Herald Learn To Swim Certificate by swimming the 25 yards across the Croydon Pool and even managed to get my Junior Certificate after doing a rather pathetic dive in old clothes from the pool’s edge. Never good enough to be in the school swimming sports, I do remember sitting on the concrete steps cheering my brothers until hoarse. At one stage there were five McInnes’s at Croydon High School and we were all in Surrey House so I would have been waving yellow streamers.

The houses at school named after English counties: Surrey (yellow), Ashburton (red), Guildford (green) and Kent (blue), a veritable chanting rainbow around the pool.

Not a water baby, I preferred the gentle introduction of a dip in the toddler’s pool where the water warmed quickly on a hot day compared to being pushed into the freezing water of the big pool or splashed unmercifully if you tried to ease gradually down the steps at the side.

On some days, Croydon Pool so crowded, that the only safe way to enter the water was sliding into the pool from the edges. Many times an accidental knock left me gasping because I landed in the pool before I was psychologically prepared for the water temperature.

The shallow end of the pool the spot for one of our favourite games – diving for pennies. If we were broke someone would unpin their locker key from their togs and we’d dive for that. We never seemed to tire of playing tag or challenging each other to underwater tricks or races across the pool.

The sensation and taste of chlorinated water bubbling up my nostrils still vivid as we dared to venture into deeper water.  I can recall the ache in lungs as I struggled to complete laps rather than be stranded treading water somewhere in the pool out of my depth. The sandpaper roughness of the sides of the pool and the pain of scraped skin another not so pleasant memory.

Everyone skylarked, even though attendants seemed to really have eyes in the back of their heads and order ‘naughty’ children to take ‘time out’ or ‘be warned’. When bikinis became fashionable there was more than one embarrassing moment as girls were ‘dacked’, or had their tops untied.

Those dolphins who could swim underwater for an amazing length of time played pranks that sent excited squeals and gales of laughter reverberating across the pool, especially if they forced their way through your legs when least expected to tip you over – and under.

Several generations learnt to swim, socialise and have fun at the Croydon Pool. Now more than fifty years from my childhood and many homes have backyard pools, multiple family cars, and the time and money to travel to beaches or resorts. Croydon is no longer considered ‘the sticks,’ but has been absorbed into Melbourne’s urban sprawl.

However, I hope others value their memories of days spent at Croydon Pool and ensure it’s always a community asset.

Today,  schoolchildren, pensioner aerobic classes, toddlers having their first taste of water outside the bathtub, and anyone else cooling off or exercising must be happy the pool is there.

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Photograph by Graeme Saunders

Aaah, summer – that long anticipated stretch of lazy, lingering days, free of responsibility and rife with possibility. It’s a time to hunt for insects, master handstands, practice swimming strokes, conquer trees, explore nooks and crannies, and make new friends.

Darrell Hammond.