Colours of Harmony Work Towards Peaceful Co-Existence​

 

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sunrise over Albert Street Mordialloc

 

This post about a wonderful event is late, because as my husband John, used to say, you can never budget for ill-health – it strikes at any time.

He wasn’t just talking about finances, but also the time lost when yourself or a family member is sick. I’ve experienced both recently with the emergency hospitalisation of my youngest daughter and then becoming ill myself with labyrinthitis, a condition I’ve had before and often recurs because of stress.

To top the unfortunate week off, the family dog Aurora had to be taken to the vet and is now scheduled for an operation and treatment we hope will be beneficial for the eleven and half-year-old, who has been remarkably fit. She is lying beside me as I type, still sulking after the visit to the vet! 

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Colours of Harmony Art Exhibition

Therefore, apologies in advance if I don’t do justice to an inspiring local art exhibition I was lucky to be invited to attend as Kingston Citizen of the Year. The Mayor, Cr Tamsin Bearsley, spoke at the Colours of Harmony Art Exhibition sponsored by the City of Kingston Interfaith Network and held at St Nicholas Gallery, Mordialloc.

Interfaith Network in Kingston

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Despite heavy rain drumming on the pavements, and outside becoming the ubiquitous “dark and stormy night” the venue oozed light, love, and harmony.

The title of the art exhibition apt.  I walked through the door to the buzz of conversations and laughter contributing to a feeling of harmony and happiness. I spied a couple of faces from my past association with the church and years melted away.

There is a special aura around people comfortable in their faith, regardless of denomination or creed, as well as those without a religion but who believe in humanity’s goodness.

Kindness, compassion, and spirituality warm and encompassing, like the sunrise and sunset’s predictable beauty of benign light.

sunset USA

It was the first time I had been inside the renovated church and ‘new’ gallery (renovations occurred 2011!), although many years ago, I attended services regularly, helped out with the children’s program (the J-Team), and Father Tony, the priest at the time, officiated at John’s funeral.

However, 2007 was the last time I attended as a parishioner when we took Mum to the midnight mass on Christmas Eve, a service I adored. It’s a memory the girls and I treasure for many reasons, particularly since Mum died in 2009.

For me, a  special ceremony in the calendar of any religion is a spiritual experience and celebrating the birth of Jesus at St Nicholas is always joyous. Even for those who don’t profess a deep faith, Christmas can be special.

The thousands who attend Carols by Candlelight events(or watch them on TV) throughout Melbourne, including events in Kingston, and most notably at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in the city proper, often discover a sense of community and of peace.

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Renovations and Transformation…

I was impressed by the transformation of the inside of the church building and the addition of the gallery. The sanctity of the church building enhanced and inviting the public to come in and use the space. A link to the world outside and recognition that symbols and ritual have value because meaning will come from interaction and thoughtful contemplation.

St Nicholas will be celebrating 150 years soon and a member of the congregation is researching and writing its history. I understand the commitment he has undertaken because I put together the history of St Aidan’s Anglican Church, Carrum for their centenary. What a wonderful addition to Mordialloc’s history Colin’s research and the resultant book will make.

Little church on HIll
Published 2004

The beauty in the renovated church, especially of the restored brick archways, the polished wood and the lovely baptismal candle and wall hangings, illustrate the care of the congregation in retaining the essence of the original church.

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Given the multicultural nature of the Australian population sometimes the needs of faiths other than Christian are forgotten and so interfaith networks are important.  

I’ve been fortunate to have many life experiences meeting exceptional human beings in places such as:

  • a ceremony in Japan on the Buddha’s birthday,
  • in a Hindu Temple in Singapore,
  • at Harmony Day and Eid celebrations in Mordialloc
  • and countless workshops and events where people gather to advance equity and social justice without professing a particular faith.

It was good to hear the Chairman of the Interfaith Network thank two long term members taking retirement from active involvement in an organisation committed to tolerance and acceptance of other religions. He also encouraged some of the artists to come forward and share their practice and inspiration for the theme of Colours of Harmony.

retiring committee
flowers of appreciation
art teacher
art teacher from Parkdale College

The enthusiastic art teacher from Parkdale College bursting with pride at the magnificent display of students’ efforts, admitted she could have filled all the walls of the gallery and it was difficult to choose just a few works to display such was the response to the topic.

parkdale college
the wall of art from Parkdale College

The students found inspirational quotes or thoughts and went where their imagination and artistry led and produced a variety of responses to Colours of Harmony. Their efforts a comforting balance to the mainstream media’s ‘shock/horror/outrage’ news-bites designed to either keep us all in a constant state of fear and/or ignorant of any in-depth analysis of national and international affairs.

Sadly, the digital age and proliferation of social media contribute to a reduction in quality journalism and as I considered the thoughtful responses to this exhibition’s brief,  I pondered all the challenges the younger generation face. How lucky we are to have teachers like the young art teacher who embraced this opportunity to get her students involved and share their creative responses.

(Sadly, last year was the final year of a creative writing competition I judged involving Parkdale College and Kingston U3A, which initiated the project. Mordialloc Writers’ Group provided the Encouragement Award for the ten years of the project but alas all good things come to an end and Kingston U3A has decided not to continue.)

However, we are lucky to have teachers who embrace opportunities to get students involved with community groups and share their creative responses. Parkdale College has a good track record of doing this.

we dont have to be ordinary
We don’t have to be ordinary
dont get harmony etc
You don’t get harmony when everybody sings the same note
do not judge
Do not judge my story by the chapter you walked in on

 

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It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day, and I’m feeling good.

We live in troubled times and Australia is having many difficult conversations around tolerance and multiculturalism and a recent incident where a group of people calling themselves patriots dressed as Muslims and invaded the progressive Gosford Anglican Church last Sunday, indicates we have a long way to go to reach harmony. 

Congratulations to a local school with no problem embracing the topic and producing insightful artwork like the ones in the exhibition.

The Gallery and Exhibits

Artist/Photographer Suzanne Ashton spoke about seeing the tiny details of life in the ‘big picture’ of the natural and human world. The beauty and wonder others may miss.

Diana Muller’s art is eclectic and her card and crochet pieces depict the soul inspired by poems of Keiko Takahashi. Her message profound, it is in our hands – we can change the future. Her piece The Source reminds us:

We come from the Source, we go back to The Source, and we are The Source.

Felice Cortese in Moordi Walk uses Melaleuca broad-leaved paperbark with water base paint and pigments to create a spiritual piece on prayer and reflection.

Colour on an indigenous tree background inspired from my walks along Mordialloc Creek. Its spirituality and natural beauty.

Richard Newton captured Harmony of Buddha with oil, acrylic, bitumen, gold and silver leaf and layers of resin/mixed medium.

The Thai images of the Buddha are very spiritual and I have attempted to counterbalance the image with a harmonious abstraction… there is an unnatural harmony between the classic old image and the use of colour and line.

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Harmony is about coexistence, and interfaith harmony is a reality when people respect each other’s right to believe and worship their religion without discord and violence. This calls for cooperation and a level of understanding, which may require education and effort – moving out of our comfort zones, reaching out and looking within.

Exhibitions like the Colours of Harmony supported and encouraged by council and community help us grow towards what may seem elusive – an achievable world of mutual respect and appreciation of all cultural traditions so that interfaith and intrafaith dialogues are guided by love and tolerance.

 

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Mother Earth in Harmony by Charmaine Crisp

This idea encapsulated by artist Charmaine Crisp, in her work depicting the Tree of Life and all its nuances. The ethereal glow and exceptional detail in her painting not done justice by my photograph!

“We wake under the one rising sun, which provides warmth and light for all. May love, hope, and charity be our guide in life.”

The Exhibition lasts until August 30 so I hope as many people as possible make the effort to enjoy the 41 pieces of work by talented artists.

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And for those interested in learning more about other faiths in Melbourne we have The Interfaith Centre, which organises World Interfaith Harmony Week. A Multifaith Calendar is available so that organisations can plan events and be mindful they don’t clash with or inadvertently exclude other faiths.

I studied at the ANU in Canberra in the 70s  and often return to visit friends.  I love this statute of Ethos by Tom Bass,  in Civic.  It embodies how I feel about humanity, the world and belonging to a place where people work for harmony, peace, and reconciliation.

Ethos sculpture canberraEthos speaksnew ethos sculpture ed 2

Acrostic by Mairi Neil

Healing words soothe
A heartfelt hug or sincere smile
Reason, not racism
Multicultural vibrancy Australia’s style
Outsiders no more
Not only tolerance but acceptance
You are welcome – we are enriched

Plunge – Contemporary Dance Theatre – a Review

On Saturday night, I went to another fabulous event of Frankston’s Anywhere Festival. The advertising blurb intrigued me as well as the venue, Yoga-MeStudios specialising in Yoga, Pilates and Barre.

What better place to view storytelling through contemporary dance!

Buddha's profile through the window of Yoga-Me Studio Frankston
Buddha’s profile through the window of Yoga-Me Studio Frankston

Yoga’s physical activities and movements can be challenging for many physiques, but it promotes a balance between mind and body with exercises geared to the individual.  I wondered how the artists would use the venue and if it would have a bearing on the work.

I soon discovered that the movements expertly performed by Joel Fenton and Jean Goodwin in Plunge are more than challenging to any ordinary person – the flexibility and control they demonstrated truly awe-inspiring. The polished boards and spartan lines of the studio perfect to showcase their performance!

I was green with envy – not just for their youth, but their talent.

A striking pose from Joel & Jean
A striking pose from Joel & Jean

The promise of the promotional advertising blurb:

“Playing out the many possibilities of the single moment when eyes meet, desires peak and you make a move, ‘Plunge’ examines the short and long term impacts of romantic advances that are reciprocated, rejected or unrequited.”

Intrigued, to say the least – I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Warmly welcomed at the door, I joined a small group and listened while Darren Vizer, Director/choreographer of Devize Co introduced the show.  He requested members of the audience stay behind and give feedback to the performers and share their opinion about the show. This is one of the pluses of arts in the community – artists and audience conversing, discussing, sharing ideas and opinions – the constructed barriers of being ‘in the audience’ of a traditional theatre non-existent. Instead, up close and personal, genuine rapport can grow.

‘Plunge’ , developed from a workshop at La Mama where performers were given two words: sex and bullying and asked to develop an original piece of theatre merging contemporary dance with narrative. The result, a  story told through movement and words exploring attraction, lust, love, pleasurable and unpleasant and/or unwanted touch.

Darren explained there were several variations on what we would see, the work organic and continually developing.  The performers would be featured at the up-and-coming Fringe Festival, therefore our feedback welcomed.

The show began with appropriate mood music and for the next 45 minutes we watched two young adults (Joel and Jean) enter the uncertain world of romance the way most of us do – an initial physical attraction or desire.

We stayed engaged as Joel and Jean put on a riveting performance with a seamless action replay showing different reactions to a young man’s attempt to ‘hook up’ with a girl.  The first scenario showed acceptance of the advance, then switching stage position, we saw the rejection. The prop switch a clever way of making the audience change the physical focus as well as the alternate scenario.

Joel Fenton (Australia’s Got Talent, Grand Finalist 2012) revealed his acrobatic as well as dance abilities with some moves breathtaking. Without words he illustrated a range of emotions from shyness, reluctance, fear of rejection, joy, frustration and desire, anger, sorrow, despair, defeat and pride. At times almost flying across the floor or letting his upper body and facial expressions display whatever emotion or attitude Joel wanted.

Actor Jean Goodwin (ANZACs Victoria’s road to remembrance) the perfect companion, believable as the willing partner and stunning as the angry long-suffering woman dealing with body image issues and unwanted male attention. For many women it begins in adolescence, continues through womanhood and can result in damaged self-esteem, injury and even death. Jean manages to evoke the full gamut of emotions, moving her body with flexibility and ease.

The Victorian Royal Commission into Domestic Violence and a spate of high profile rapes and murders has focused attention on inappropriate male behaviour: from minor harassment, through to stalking, violence, and persistent misogyny. The home and workplace dangerous places for women, as well as jogging through the park, or walking home late at night. In fact women  can be targeted anywhere!

Plunge dives into the many realities of  sexual attraction, declarations of love or desire, ‘hooking up,’ fleeting or permanent romantic encounters, appreciating and enjoying time with that special someone, and how quickly the ugly flip side appears to become an abuse of power.  The body language and timing of Joel and Jean exceptional, evocative, explicit, entertaining.

We are told so much without words and it’s impressive, especially for someone like me who deals in words. Writers know all about the senses, the sensual, and also the importance of silence, but dance, like film, expresses all of this instantly and effectively!

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Different interpretations or motivations shown right at the beginning. Is Joel, the shy suitor or obsessed stalker penning a note declaring his admiration and dropping it into Jean’s handbag. She sits absorbed, unaware reading her kindle or is she really unaware of her attraction, and of Joel’s attention?

This opening scene interesting – what does the digital age mean for relationships juxtaposed with the handwritten note and traditional ‘rules’ about boy/girl approaches?

Physical attraction or revulsion? Devotion or obsession? Bargaining love or lust?When does no mean no?  Some of the story subtle; your interpretation, emotional engagement determined perhaps by life experience or prejudice. A man can be just as devastated and hurt as a woman, have similar body image issues.

Unwanted advances can take some effort to reject, a tirade of abuse or a physical attack can explode from either the giver or the recipient.

When Jean must cope with unwanted advances: hand on shoulder, hand on hand, attempt at footsies, hand on knee, too close a hug… the shrugs, the pushing away, the attempt to walk away, the grabbing and escalating violence of unnerving embrace… movements so aesthetically calculated and cleverly executed they pack a punch.

A heartfelt confession of dissatisfaction because of body image issues and how it can damn both males and females into a spiral of self-hate and unsatisfactory relationships or loneliness is a very powerful ending.

Plunge a memorable performance doing what all good art does – touching an emotional core, confronting important issues, provoking deep thought and leaving the audience in awe at the talent of the artists!

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I sincerely hope they get the audiences and adulation they deserve for the remainder of the festival and at The Melbourne Fringe.

And to think the innovative exploration was sparked by two words: Sex and Bullying. Two words with traumatic implications regarding relationships.

Yoga-Me, Frankston host to Plunge
Other guests leaving Yoga-Me, Frankston after experiencing Plunge – a bright spot in a dark and dreary night!

Go along to Yoga-MeStudios, Crn Beach Street & Olsen Street, Frankston – and catch a performance of  Plunge and see how great Joel and Jean are for yourself:

Sept 3-5 at 7:00pm.

You won’t be disappointed – and remember they welcome feedback – young artists honing their talent and craft. Fabulous!

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

inner child anthology my poem

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.

A Creative and Cultural Conversation

creative industry strategy logo

“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

This quote is appealing, but why shouldn’t creative people be entitled to ‘make a living’? One of my dreams, and I know I’m not alone, would be supporting myself from my writing, I’ve never had that luxury. I teach in several different places each week and always chase money to pay the bills. I’m fortunate to teach creative writing and be in the company of those who value words, but to be able to spend unrestricted hours writing what I want is an unfulfilled desire.

At the end of each term I publish the work from the class.
At the end of each term I publish the work from the class.

On Friday, I attended a consultation session at the Melbourne Town Hall convened by the new Victorian Government to consult with those in the creative sector to contribute towards developing “a creative industries strategy that increases the benefits that flow to the State from a vibrant creative and cultural sector.

The strategy will take a whole-of-state approach to enabling the creative and cultural industries to thrive and make a major contribution to Victoria’s future as a liveable, inclusive, prosperous and vibrant society.

Those present at one of the many consultations that will be held were invited to contribute views, ideas and aspirations in a spirit of innovation and collaboration with the facilitator adamant Martin Foley, Victoria’s Minister for Creative Industries is open to new ideas and new approaches and wanted feedback on ten themes:

Fostering creative excellence
Building audiences and markets
Enhancing creative spaces and places
Cultivating skills, entrepreneurship and innovation
Harnessing the opportunities of digital technology
Increasing participation and social impact
Supporting Aboriginal arts and culture
Advancing regional Victoria and outer metropolitan Melbourne
Enhancing international engagement
Increasing tourism

In the discussion paper it was noted:

The creative and cultural industries are a broad but interconnected field spanning arts, culture, screen and design. They encompass disciplines as diverse as game development and graphic design, fashion and filmmaking, performing arts and publishing, architecture and advertising, media and music, comedy and craft. They include activities that are commercially-driven and community- based, experimental and export ready.”

In the room, a dozen large round tables accommodated ten – twelve people. Each of us had a piece of butcher paper and coloured Textas and a scribe with a whiteboard sat out the front to collate.

Halfway through the morning some people swapped tables to ensure the maximum mix in discussion time. My table had a theatre director, a theatre/gallery owner, a university lecturer, a costume designer, a freelance HR manager in the arts industry, Federation Square’s arts project manager and her assistant, an arts council representative for City of Yarra, and an arts and sports event/festival organiser for the City of Bass, a youth music organiser, and an independent artist.

All of us agreed that our greatest challenge was having a decent income to support our art; to allow us the breathing space and time to start and finish projects. We lamented the churning out of graduates in the creative industries who can’t get jobs in their field, haven’t the workshop or studio space, and can’t afford the equipment or technology to pursue their artistic endeavours.

The devaluing of art or creativity starts in schools when there is no designated art teacher. It is carried through to art subjects being marked down at VCE and even in government when Martin Foley is the Victorian Minister for Equality. He is also the Minister for Housing, Disability Services & Ageing, Minister for Mental Health and Minister for Creative Industries. (Mr Foley previously served as the Shadow Minister for Water, Shadow Minister for Arts and Shadow Minister for Youth Affairs.) How important is ‘the arts’ if the minister has to multitask between a variety of sectors?

Everyone desired a model for economic security – the time spent chasing, securing and retaining funding a problem, especially if bureaucrats have a concept that creativity can be switched on and off and run to a timetable.

Perhaps we need to look at funding in other sector models like those used by charities and social services, but most of all the Minister for the Arts/Creative Industries needs to speak to the Minister for Education!

The TAFE system is hands, Universities the head – lots of crossover in creative industries, so both systems need to be funded adequately.

A sculpture in RMIT - which has a university and TAFE sector
A sculpture in RMIT – which has a university and TAFE sector
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Mural on wall at RMIT

There needs to be more collaboration between government sectors and artists: the three tiers of government (local council, state and federal governments) make finding and funding resources a nightmare. The lack of affordable space to develop and present new work, whether it is sculpture or performing arts, can be an almost insurmountable challenge for artists who need to meet and engage with an audience.

The discussion and debate made the air thrum and hum with diverse voices, intense exchanges, shared laughter and plenty of storytelling. Archaeologist, historian, writer or industrial designer –  all have a story and ideas to share – although some people took the view of a narrow definition of ‘professional’ artist.

Indeed what is art – a definition could be debated all day! Even referring to creative industries upset some people. How do you identify as a creative person? What label do you wear?

The sustainability of the creative sector recognised as important – presenting a challenge and opportunities. Participants agreed there was a need and often demonstration of entrepreneurial skills, but many in the sector lack business and marketing skills.

The survival and success of independent artists can be a role model for the wider community, however, we need the arts to be considered across all government portfolios like environmental impact is now considered. All government departments need to embrace funding the arts.

Embed creativity in lifestyle just as coffee is embedded.

This comment reminded me of a cafe near Brighton Beach Station where the work of a NZ poet is chalked on the eaves outside the shop!

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Artistic hubs should be encouraged in outer suburbs and regional areas and when infrastructure is considered for new housing estates an arts hub could be included in the design. Art and culture should be part of building a community. Hubs would facilitate this connection. If space can be allocated for parks and gardens why not the arts?

How do you measure the value of art and culture?

Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.” 

Stephen King

We must stop using the language of economics and business-speak – we have our own language in the arts. Why does there always have to be a dollar value? Is it true if you want to be an artist in the afternoon you must be a business person in the morning?

Isn’t investment in equity, diversity, people, and the community’s wellbeing enough? Celebrating diversity and instilling confidence in the creative community important for society’s progress. As is valuing history and heritage. Victoria must be seen to promote cultural literacy and education – sector funding needs to be appropriate as well as directing support to individual artists.

There should be investment in regular programs that work, but also risk taking to encourage innovative projects. If recurrent funding the programs must be accountable and prove their worth. More cross generational programs and culturally diverse ones are needed for balance.

Should culture be free ?

A gasp went around the room when someone asked: If people pay for attending the Grand Prix, why should White Night be free?

Put a bunch of creative people in a room and you stir up a hornet’s nest!

“The creative and cultural industries are central to our identity, to the liveability of our communities, to our social cohesion and to our productivity. They are an essential part of what differentiates Victoria from other places, and have a role to play across virtually every area of society – from education and health, to justice, science, innovation, business and community development.”

The creative and cultural industries contribute to the cultural, social and economic fabric of societies.

  • What can we do to embed creativity in our everyday lives?
  • What can we do to ensure the next generation will be both consumers of, and practitioners in, the creative industries?

Check out the government’s discussion paper and please have your say. It invites your contribution to the development of Victoria’s first creative industries strategy. You may choose to respond directly to the issues and themes canvassed. Or you may choose to make a general submission that addresses other issues.

Responses close on Friday 17 July 2015

“Why am I compelled to write? . . . Because the world I create in the writing compensates for what the real world does not give me. By writing I put order in the world, give it a handle so I can grasp it…”

Gloria E. Anzaldúa

Have you an opinion or ideas for the future of creativity in Victoria? Please spare a few minutes to let the government know.

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?

Prompts as Inspiration – Writing Classes help Creativity and are FUN!

“Writing will fill your heart if you let it… will fill your pages and help fill your life.”

Julia Cameron

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I received The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron as a gift from a student after my husband John died. The student empathised with me, understood the effect John’s death was having on my writing ability, even the desire to write. Philip lived with schizophrenia and depression – he understood trauma and grief well, albeit  from a different perspective than mine.

He turned up early one morning with a much-loved, dog-eared copy of The Artist’s Way saying, ‘This helped me through a tough patch.’  He thrust the book into my hand and left like a gust of wind. My surprised thanks followed him down the driveway. ( Still in pyjamas trying to shake off the exhaustion of yet another sleepless night, I wasn’t in a fit state to receive visitors!)

The book and subsequent ones I’ve read by Julia Cameron, kept me engaged with writing and more importantly teaching writing. I needed to have an income, to make my plan to give my teenage daughters a choice of  educational opportunities, a reality. To regain enthusiasm for teaching writing meant I had to regain the passion for the written word and the energy to write!

Julia’s book did the trick and the rest, as they say, is history. I’ve been teaching for over fifteen years and have become more expert at creating prompts or ideas to help people write in class regardless of whether it is fiction, non-fiction, poetry or memoir.

Here is my piece of flash fiction, or slice of life and a poem from the prompt

The scraping sound got louder…

“Mum… Mum,’ Anne’s voice rose an octave on the second ‘mum’. I hurried into her room. ‘What’s wrong?”

She’d been complaining of a headache earlier and I wondered if some other pain had manifested. I wasn’t expecting her reaction.

‘Shh, shh. listen…’

‘What…?’

‘Listen to that…’

‘To what?’

‘The scraping sound – there’s possums in the ceiling.’

I froze, strained to hear the noise, silently praying it wasn’t possums. I remembered the stories friends related about dealing with possums taking up residence in the roof and groaned.

‘Shh,’ Anne hissed, ‘do you hear it.’

Sure enough the scraping sound got louder. ‘Those three little possums nesting in the jasmine weren’t there this morning.’

It was my turn to shush and signal Anne to be quiet. Scratch… scrabble… silence. The scraping inconsistent and intermittent. I stared at the offending corner of the ceiling, tried to envisage the colour-bond roof and eaves. Where could a possum get in?

Scratch… scrabble… silence.

‘Mice,’ I said, ‘it’s a mouse – there’s not enough room in this extension for possums to get into the roof. This part of the house has a flat roof.’

‘It’s too noisy for a mouse, mum.’

‘No it’s not, they climb up the inside of the walls – probably where your room adjoins the old part of the house – they use the lathes like ladders.’

Scratch… scrabble… silence.

‘Your Nana always said mice in the ceiling wear hobnail boots.’

The ceiling fan whirred and hummed. Doves cooed outside.  Anne smiled, and resumed working on her laptop. I returned to the kitchen to finish baking for my writing classes, but the scraping noise triggered fear – not of mice in hobnail boots, but of a rat gnawing through electric wire – or perhaps plaster.

I’d ask Mark next door to check the roof – just in case. An electrician, heights or small spaces never phased him. Since John died, he’d often come to our rescue. I sighed and stirred the cake batter with more vigour than intended; mixture splashed onto the bench. Rats indeed!

A conversation from years before in the school canteen sprung to mind. Carolyn Plattfuss regaled me and other mothers on duty with details of a frightening experience. One day, although her baby was asleep in his cot, she had an overwhelming urge to check he was all right. She tiptoed into his room just as plaster started to crumble and fall from the ceiling in the corner where the cot hugged the wall. The lumps missed the now crying baby by centimetres.

Carolyn rushed to the rescue as two large rats fell, coupled together and squirming; they landed in the cot scattering plaster debris. Carolyn grabbed her son with  trembling arms and raced from the room. She slammed the door, but  had the presence of mind to jam a towel underneath the door before ringing pest exterminators, who caught and removed the rodents.

I shuddered. Standing silent and still, I craned my neck towards Anne’s bedroom; holding my breath I listened.

Scratch… scrabble…scratch…

Mice having fun on the lathes? Please let it be so. I picked up the phone and dialled Mark’s number. Maybe he’ll be free tomorrow to go up into the roof and check. Until then there will be little sleep in this house tonight!

Aurora snuffled at my legs, wagging her tail, hoping for a treat. Love you to bits, I thought, but sometimes it would be helpful if you could morph into a cat!

Scratch… scrabble… scratch

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Night Visitor

Mairi Neil

Oh, little mouse, I sit here sewing,

The children are in bed.

I was seeking relaxation,

Now I’m listening to you

Instead!

You’re scrabbling in my roof, I hear your feet

Against the ceiling.

Are you on a family outing –

Is that a baby I hear squealing?

Now you’ve run into the kitchen

And put on your hobnail boots.

There’s scraping noises

From the chimney

You obviously don’t mind the soot.

Is that a clatter and a bump?

Perhaps I’ll get a cat –

I’m sure I hear a gnawing

Little mouse,  are you a RAT??

Students came up with a variety of possibilities for scraping sounds and everyone had several stories of different genres about mice, rats and possums – including me!

window open and a cool breeze, window blind scraping intruder at the window man on roof painting and preparing spouting possums on a tin roof exhaust pipe loose concreter/plasterer working tree branch on door

They utilised various settings – why not ‘have a go’ too? Have some fun exercising your creativity.

The Poetic “Ees” have it! Elemental, Emotional, Exciting, Experimenting, Entertaining, …

el·e·men·tal  (adjective)
1. fundamental; basic; primal: the elemental needs of man.
2. motivated by or symbolic of primitive and powerful natural forces or passions: elemental rites of worship.
3. of or relating to earth, air, water, and fire considered as elements
4. (Physical Geography) of or relating to atmospheric forces, esp wind, rain, and cold
5. (Elements & Compounds) of, relating to, or denoting a chemical element
“a thunderstorm is the inevitable outcome of battling elemental forces”

elemental forces” (of an emotion) having the primitive and inescapable character of a force of nature.

“the urge for revenge was too elemental to be ignored”

noun: elemental; plural noun: elementals
6. a spirit or force that is said to appear in physical form – a supernatural entity or force thought to be physically manifested by occult means

Definitions online

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This week in writing class we’ve tried our hand at elemental poems – using poetic devices to write about the weather, or other elements. We explored personification to bring subject matters to life and combined the two ideas.

Choose any subject, search for dramatic or inspirational images online or make up your own elemental subject matter. Any subject that takes your fancy will do! Try to write lines using a mix of metaphor, personification or simile.

The idea is to learn a new poetic device, or how to apply the device to enliven your words, extend the meaning, improve the emotion and engagement for the reader. (Even if the reader is yourself!)

Begin by brainstorming, using a thought cloud, outlining, mind mapping – word association, memory triggers…

Be playful with the language – enjoy creating and crafting an image or idea into a poem to be shared and enjoyed.

The Wind
Mairi Neil

A whispering lullaby
serenading soothing sotto voce
scattering seedlings with abandonment
An explosion of fresh mint
unwrapping a tempestuous embrace
storm warning trumpet blast ––
beware of changing climate!
An ogre howling in the dark
snatches trees, pelts rocks
reshapes the earth
as he huffs and puffs
to blow Man’s house down.

The Snow
Mairi Neil

Misty mother breaths
soundlessly wrap a cub
in comfortable crocheted shawl.
Lying ‘neath snowflake patterns
curled and asleep
dreams of spring and summer…
A safe white cocoon
soft stellar soundproofed
unaware of the deadly grenade
of melting icebergs…

The Train:
Mairi Neil

Silver snake slithers
through suburbia
pausing  engorging  disgorging
passengers trapped in conformity.
Surprising transformations
darting along the rails.
A glowing worm wriggling
through the darkness
Hooded eyes winking and blinking
Commuters carried
to destinations known and unknown
Pioneers and adventurers
or settled colonists

The Train:
From fire breathing dragon
to harmless python

Serpentine serendipity…

Quintessential Quilters With an Abundance of Talent.

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This could have been my beloved Aunt Chrissie’s motto as well as my older sister’s! Both talented artists displaying brilliance with needle and thread and sewing machine. Aunt Chrissie taught sewing, Cate takes what she absorbed to prize winning levels beyond basic dress-making and design …

I was privileged (and gobsmacked) to attend the Australasian Quilt Convention on Sunday 19, 2015, at the  Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne. A memory day with delightful company ( thank you DF and CG) plus unforgettable images. I left with an increased appreciation of the amazing talent of many people – my older sister, Cate included!

In a world where we are bombarded daily with doom and gloom, it’s important to seek joy and immerse yourself in beauty and see the constructive side of humanity, whenever possible.

Motivated to see Cate’s entry in the Lest We Forget Challenge organised by the AQC to commemorate the centenary of the ill-fated WW1 Gallipoli Campaign, D and I caught an early train into the city and walked up from Parliament Station. The free travel for seniors on a Sunday a price hard to beat. There is no excuse for Melburnians not to explore their city by public transport on the weekends because even for others the travel is cheap.

Arts and Crafts really grew as an arts movement in the 19th century, but sewing patchwork and quilting has been around a lot longer. As a skilled activity it is growing in popularity in our society, probably because people have more leisure time and disposable cash, to turn what were items of necessity into beautiful works of art. These slide shows of the other entries in the Lest We Forget Challenge show just how creative and beautiful quilts can be.

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Talent Exhibited 2015
Mairi Neil

A salute to Australasian Quilters
their art worthy of the Tate
Delightful treasures to enjoy
Sighs of envy at  awesome talent…

Sewing a skill forever developing
begin early or late
stitch by hand or machine
tackle projects big or small

Quilts on display perfecting
the importance of the artist’s eye
Colour and perspective creating
visions beyond the mundane

Nuanced narratives revealing
words as stitches
stitches as story
story as history …

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The grand venue perfect for the convention. Magnificent 19th century architecture surrounding and complementing the designs displayed. How wonderful for these high-domed ceilings and ornate walls to echo with the buzz of chattering visitors, exhibitors and enthusiasts explaining and discussing the delightful work on show.

Paintings of cherubs and angels smile benignly at modern art and craft suppliers spruiking their wares.  Experts in their craft conducting seminars and workshops, companies advertising the latest machines, demonstrating kits and finished products.  Rooms off the main area filled with keen learners and experienced quilters glad of the opportunity to indulge their passion.

And it is a passion.

I loved hearing my sister’s expert commentary as she discussed the merits of exhibits, the level of difficulty, the immense skill necessary to achieve the desired result – and of course the difference between hand sewn quilts and machined quilts. I appreciated her enthusiasm because that’s what I feel about words and writing.

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Cate has experienced complicated grief like me and as I turn to pen and paper, she picks up needle and thread. Many of the quilters submitted pieces they had started when diagnosed with breast cancer or were experiencing other trauma. Just as writing can be therapeutic, so can any form of art and craft. To ease pain by focusing on a project or labour of love instead of the grief or challenge is a good start on the journey of healing.

In 2009, when Mum was dying in Maroondah Hospital, a nurse suggested we place the beautiful quilt Cate had made for Mum on the bed, to remind her  of home, and to brighten the harsh whiteness of hospital bed linen.

Memory triggered, I reminded Cate she had started making me a quilt to comfort me through chemotherapy in 2010. However, life can intervene, projects can remain unfinished or lose their focus, other priorities occur. If it arrives, it will be treasured, but as a writer I know all about the dips and curves and changing nature of creativity!

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 sewing defined

A Stitch in Time
Mairi Neil

She sits sewing by dim lamplight
embroidered threads by her side
Contented, happy, eyes shining bright.

In the stillness of evening light
needle and thread silently glide,
As she sits sewing by pale moonlight.

Cross stitches pattern small and tight
new techniques taken in her stride
Contented, happy, eyes shining bright.

Her creativity in wondrous flight
imagination flows like the tide
As she sits sewing by candlelight.

Machines embraced despite Luddites
mass production becomes her guide
Contentment gone, eyes no longer bright

History records seamstresses’ plight
workers stripped of all but pride
Many still struggle in shadowed light
Exploited, sad, eyes no longer bright.

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No sign of sweat shops at this convention and plenty of laughter and intense conversations as people took respite in several cafes sensibly placed in corners. We too succumbed to the enticing aroma of fresh coffee, toasting bread, naughty fried food and sweet scrumptious desserts.

Because of the record crowds we nipped across the way to the Museum thinking their cafe would have smaller queues. However, it was the opening of their WW1 exhibition so it didn’t take us long to rush back, flash our butterfly stamp at the gatekeepers and grab something to eat with other quilters.

Of course, there was another gallery of quilts to show the spirit of the ANZACS and honour those who sacrificed their lives at Gallipoli. Jan Irvine-Nealie, one of the world’s most talented quilters honoured those early soldiers in beautiful quilts presented as a retrospective and Lucy Carroll’s Gallipoli Quilt honoured all soldiers moulded by the ANZAC tradition.

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But the exhibition wasn’t all about the Gallipoli Centenary – thank goodness – because in the last year we’ve been into overload in Australia with every aspect of the campaign and WW1 dissected and projected on our screens, at festivals, museums, on stage, at book launches, photographic exhibitions… You name the media and it’s been done.

There were magnificent examples of work representing various interpretations of “True Blue”. I loved the variety. They reminded me of the astounding varied responses from the same writing prompt! To think these pictures are created by scraps of material and wool, hand stitches and machine – what patience and persistence, what talent!

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There were quilts that made you have a double-take and ones that immediately inspired verse or a story – many of course a complete narrative in themselves:

The Connection
Mairi Neil

The glance
Has lingered
Emotions soar

Caresses and whispered words
Open eyes; feed a receptive heart
Natural laws of attraction at work
Nuances of touch press flesh tenderly
Ephemeral or eternal memories,
Casual coupling or
Ties that bind?
In a moment of passion
Our lives change
No turning back time…

There were plenty of quilts showing a sense of humour as well as social commentary and one that poked fun at the judges:

the judges are so particular

Intricate designs passed down through centuries and reinvented by modern quilters, William Morris influenced panels,  interpretations and  new creations showcasing the boundless expertise of Australasian quilters. A comfort to me who has difficulty threading a needle nowadays never mind planning a masterpiece!

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A truly inspiring day and one last look outside at the wonderful trees in autumn finery and my pocket notebook works overtime.

Autumn Leaves
Mairi Neil

autumn leaves and tree exhibitob bldg grounds

Autumn, a time of contemplation; leaves
Underfoot, scuff and swirl
The wayward wind encouraging dance
Unaccompanied by music…
Maroon, magenta, green, gold, burnished brown
Never dull. Colours raked and piled
Light fades early
Easter celebrations and
Anzac marches ensure
Valour and sacrifice remembered at
End of day fireside reveries
Smoke and thoughts wafting skywards

Some days we are truly blessed to be with people we love and to experience the inspiring and creative qualities within our community. The following witty observations spot on!

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Literary Non-Fiction – Marrying Creative Reminiscing with Factual Events when Writing Memoir

Nonfiction is a very old genre. Go back to The Confessions of St. Augustine. For so long, individuals have attempted to understand how one lives and what one is to make of one’s life…

There is a bit of self-congratulations in “literary nonfiction.” One reason I prefer it is because it embeds the work in a tradition and a lineage. Instead of implying this is something new, it says this type of writing has been around for a long, long time. In English literature, there is the great tradition of the English essay, with Samuel Johnson, Hazlitt and Lamb, Robert Louis Stevenson and de Quincey, Matthew Arnold, McCauley, Carlisle, Beerbohm, and on into the twentieth century, with Virginia Woolf and George Orwell. By saying you write literary nonfiction, you’re saying that you’re part of that grand parade.

Phillip Lopate, 2008

This week I’m struggling to write a piece for the celebration of the life of a dear friend, Margaret who is not expected to survive much longer, in the palliative care ward of Calvary Hospital. Too frail to be moved as planned, to Canberra’s hospice, Clare Holland House, she has been shuffled in and out of  ICU, but is now in a private ward crammed with flowers and cards, where she can say goodbye to a constant stream of visitors, the attention and outpouring of love a tribute to how many lives she has touched here and overseas.

We flatted together when I  lived in Canberra attending ANU, we waitressed together at the Staff Centre on campus, we shared tragedies and triumphs, attended demonstrations for Aboriginal Land Rights and Peace, shared a love of reading, history and travel.  I’m eternally grateful for some of the memories we created together including some valuable life lessons on my road to maturity.

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Always practical, Margaret helped me through a devastating crisis offering more than sympathy and emotional support. A few years older than my twenty years, her wisdom and care saved my life and sanity.

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Her friendship, one of Life’s blessings, as was the opportunity to fly to Canberra recently and spend four days with her and some other friends, before her health deteriorated.  Three friends have been stalwarts since I was eighteen, now they have a bedside vigil of indeterminate length. Thankfully, in the digital age, I’m kept informed daily – sometimes more often – via text, email, and long telephone conversations as we try to make sense of this time in our lives.

When a group of friends of many years face the disintegration of their circle, it’s like facing the imminent death of a sibling – sometimes worse because most families grow apart, develop separate lives whereas friends can be constant and consistent. My Mother, who was fond of quoting her own father used to say: God gives you your relatives, but thank God he allows you to choose your friends. 

And so, living in a surreal time-zone, waiting for the inevitable telephone call, I’m frozen with indecision, grieving the loss of Margaret already and yet nurturing a minuscule fragment of hope that somehow a miracle will happen and the last six weeks have been a bad dream. It is déjà vu – my friend Caroline’s death 2001,  husband John’s death 2002,  Dad’s death 2005 and Mum’s death 2009 – with myriad funerals in between of friends and distant relatives. I seek solace by the sea and visit Stony Point where we’ve scattered John’s ashes and where, when it’s time,  I too will feed the fishes, travel with the tides… a quiet, serene place of solitude that never seems to change…

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I often visit Mordialloc foreshore and find an early morning or evening walk the most beneficial – an unsurpassed meditation time.

Mordialloc Beach 2013

Mairi Neil

The day is calm. Tranquil. A great-to-be-alive day. Eucalypts and pine trees compete with salty air and the whiff of abandoned seaweed.
The blue-green sea a mirror for fluffy clouds of whipped cream. Dainty dollops on a pale blue plate. Gulls sit or glide atop this glassy sea. Bathed in white sunlight I imagine I too drift and dream.
In the distance palm tree fronds tremble casting lacy shadows on hot sand. The clink of moorings and creak of masts drifts from the Creek and a sudden gust of wind whips sand stinging legs and face. Airborne seagulls now screeching origami kites.
A dark veil unfurls from the horizon shattering the grey-green mirror and my peaceful contemplation. Waves lap and soap around my feet as I retreat to the shelter of eucalypts and pine, the taste of salt now bittersweet.

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At this point in time, creativity is at an all-time low.  I’m so grateful I have students and classes to encourage and inspire me to shake out of the doldrums.  Whether it is memories stirred or the confronting reminder that my breast cancer could easily metastasise like Margaret’s, or facing ageing and worrying about unfinished business, or the reminder of past losses and grief – my spirits have been depressed with energy levels just enough to complete necessary tasks – the inner well dry and desolate.

Several years ago, I started teaching memoir and classes to encourage others to record life stories and think about their legacy. In the process, I’ve written thousands of words reflecting on my own life, family history and my parents, along with poems and short stories. This blog is another way of  leaving a legacy for my daughters – writing down thoughts and events, ideas, memories and dreams in essays, short stories, anecdotes and poems – like an online journal, but not just stream of consciousness or venting – more focussed on what I want to express at  a particular time, or about a particular experience.

All the reading I have done about the memoir genre explains it can be about anything personally experienced, or a life event significant enough to want to retell, or it can simply be a snapshot of a moment or a description of a person, place, or thing in your life –  that’s what I tell my students  – and so it is true for me too!

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I hope I can do justice to Margaret’s legacy when the time comes and be privileged to hear what she means to others.  Eventually, the sun will shine inside me and I’ll feel joy because the sun rises each day as Mother Nature reaffirms life each morning.

The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again, but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and John Kessler