Includes book reviews and bits from writer's journal. For the professional stuff, see website link below left.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Blessings of the Season, Dear Readers

I'm grateful for all who take the time to read this and my other blogs — particularly those who have waded through Shifting Fog and The Widowhood Chronicles this year, and have left kind, caring comments, which made a big difference. I think especially of the Six Word Saturday crew, and also one or two others. (You know who you are.) And also, of course, all the people who have looked at my poetry blogs. You, too, have helped with encouraging comments from time to time; some of you very often. It's all much appreciated!

I hope you have an excellent holiday season, and a splendid new year!

Just for the record, I never thought the world was going to come to an end in dreadful annihilation — but I do hope for a new beginning into a more golden age, as soon as possible and maybe a bit sooner!


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What is the Measure of Success?


A friend asked on facebook recently, in a poetry group: 

'Dear Writers: what, for you, is success?'

I answered:

1. Touching people's hearts. 
2. Applause (as performance poet). 
3. The respect of my peers. 
4. People remembering particular poems for years. 
5. Respecting myself / my work. 
6. Publication by reputable publishers/editors. 
7. Money. 
... In that order. All of which I have experienced. But it's poetry, so not all that much money. Just as well it's bottom of the list.

To the writers amongst my readers, I'm curious now. What is it for you?

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The Next Big Thing

A few years ago I came across Banana the Poet, author of some of my favourite wickedly funny poetry. Her Fifty Shades of Blue, a verse spoof of a certain novel, topped poetry sales on Kindle recently. She followed it with the illustrated version, also in paperback, Fifty Shades in Clay. She is aka Michele Brenton, who writes very good serious poetry too. If you haven't discovered her yet, give yourself a treat.

She says her next big thing is a novel for young adults.

And, as part of a literary web chain, she has interviewed me about mine:

Michele: What is the working title of your book or project?

Rosemary: Life After Death.

M: What sparked it off?

R: I found myself widowed — which I knew was inevitable given my husband's state of health, but I hadn't expected it quite so soon. Writing is one of the ways I'm trying to deal with it.

M: How would you describe this project?

R: It's a chapbook of poetry about loss and grief, but also about finding that life — my own, and life in general — does go on ... and the ways in which it does. At present the manuscript is being workshopped by my trusty writers' groups, WordsFlow which meets at a local Neighbourhood Centre, and Poetry Design Studio on facebook.

M: How long did it take you to find your own style and voice?

R: Maybe I always had my own distinctive voice. I didn't know I had one until other people told me it was recognisable, but now when I read back, even as far as to poetry I was writing as a child, I think it was always there. Style is another matter, and has altered over the years. It is now quite plain, I think, as a result of engaging with haiku for the past six years. I wanted to learn how to write in that powerful, economical, understated, evocative way. I love haiku, and the attempt to master the form will surely be lifelong — but I embarked on the exercise primarily to bring those qualities to my other poetry, and I think I'm getting there.

M: In what ways do you think 'writer you' differs from or has similarities to the everyday you?

R: I'm a little more polite in my everyday persona. My writing is no-holds-barred. Not that it's always rude or outrageous by any means, but if that's called for it will be unequivocal. Everyday me is not in the least bothered by blunt language, but does take some account of what others consider appropriate. Writer me also has fewer qualms about hurting people's feelings. Writer me will say anything! Everyday me then decides when, how, why or whether to publish the more outspoken or controversial pieces.

M: Who or What makes you pick up that pen or start typing at the keyboard?

R:  1. Maybe it's God, or my Higher Self. It's a calling, a vocation, the thing I can't not do. Come the Apocalypse, part of my mind will be composing some lines about it as I disintegrate.

2.  If for some reason I don't write often, I get mighty cranky, and that in itself can be enough to take me back to it. If I don't have any immediate inspiration, I use a prompt or try a form.

3. Going for a walk out in nature is a sure source of inspiration — even when it's a path I've taken many times before.

M: Imagine someone waved a magic wand and you were only able to write one book in your lifetime and you knew it would be perfect and say exactly what you intended and be understood and appreciated by everyone; what would you write about?

R: This reply would astound everyone who knows me, but it would be prose rather than verse, although it might possibly include some poems. It would be about other-dimensional realities and universal energy, written in such a way that everyone would finally get it and see the light. (Which presupposes that my own understanding of these matters is perfect, lol.)


To continue the chain, I've put the same questions to two other writers:

Poet and activist Odilia Galvan Rodriguez is also a translator and editor, a creative writing teacher, and the author of three books of poetry. I first met her on MySpace in its heyday, and fell in love with the beauty and passion of her work. 

Poet / novelist / columnist / memoirist Helen Patrice is one of my closest friends. I would adore her writing even were that not so. And I'm not the only one. Her extraordinary verse novel, A Woman of Marswhich deserves to be much better known than it is, carries an admiring blurb by the late, great Ray Bradbury.

On December 11, at their respective blogs, Odilia and Helen will tell you about their next big things. 



Friday, November 09, 2012

Philip Martin, Poet


After I moved away from Melbourne in 1994, many people I'd known lost track of me. In some cases this meant that I did not learn until later of the deaths of friends (even some I was still in communication with) because no-one knew where to contact me to let me know.  One of those was Philip Martin, who died in 2005. I had not been in communication with him for some time. His health had declined and he was in a nursing home — but before that he had a rich, full life. He was a good friend to many, and I'm honoured to have been one of them. He had, as his long-time friend Keith Harrison noted in his obituary, 'a gift for friendship'.

When I was growing up, my Dad used to bring home every issue of Meanjin Papers, as it was then called. It was started by Clem and Nina Christesen, and quickly gained (and kept) the reputation of Australia’s foremost literary journal. It was devoted to poetry, and chose its contributors with impeccable taste. I remember the excitement of reading the latest poems from Judith Wright or Gwen Harwood — two of our greatest poets ever — and many others who became famous names, but then were just getting their start. (Gwen Harwood, for one, was acclaimed back then as a promising newcomer.)

One name I started noticing was Philip Martin. I loved the sensitivity and cadence of his verse. I had a notebook in which I used to copy down my favourite poems wherever I found them — an eclectic collection from many eras and countries. Some of Philip Martin’s poems went into it. Then, in the sixties, when I went to university — the University of Melbourne — I was delighted to find his poetry featuring repeatedly in its literary journal, Compass. I think he must have been on the faculty by then, perhaps as a tutor. He would still have been quite young.

By the time I met him in person nearly 20 years later, when he joined the Melbourne Branch of the Poets Union, he was a lecturer at Monash University, in the English Literature Department of the Arts Faculty, and had published two volumes of poetry. (There would be three more and he also published works of criticism.) I was, by then, already an ex-librarian, wife of an abalone diver and mother of young schoolboys, just beginning to make a name for myself as a poet. Imagine how overwhelming it was for me to be hobnobbing with someone whose work I had so greatly admired for so long! Philip was the nicest man, and over the years we became good friends. 

When the Poets Union decided to compile a Directory of Australian Poets (published in 1980) four members of the Melbourne Branch did the work on behalf of the Union: Philip Martin, Bill and Rosemary Nissen (my then husband and me), and Lyndon Walker. Philip and I did the proof-reading together, working nights and weekends in my home office, while Bill cooked meals for us all and served endless cups of coffee. Philip christened him ‘Jeeves’, and in return Bill dubbed Philip ‘Squire’. There was a lot of laughter, and sharing of confidences — such as his rekindled love with the romantic partner of his youth, Sydney academic Jenny Gribble.

He suffered a severe stroke quite early in their subsequent relationship (in 1988). They had been flying back and forth between their respective cities, where they were engaged in responsible and fulfilling careers; but after that he was unable to continue in his job and went to live with Jenny in Sydney. He did in time recover sufficiently to resume writing poetry, attended at least one poetry festival that I know of (at Montsalvat in 1992) and did some teaching at the University of the Third Age. It must have been in 1992, probably during that same visit to Melbourne, that I last saw Philip in person, and introduced him and Jenny to the new man in my life, Andrew Wade, whom I married in 1993. We corresponded for a while after Andrew and I moved to northern New South Wales, but gradually lost contact. When he died, no-one would have known how to get in touch with me, or even that I was unaware of his passing. 

Jenny's eulogy for Phillip follows. When I did find out about his death and contacted her, with the idea of writing something about him, she kindly made it available to me. That was some years ago, but I found it difficult then to write anything. One reason for doing so now is because I am featuring Philip in my weekly online column 'I Wish I'd Written This' for Poets United. I like to include, in those necessarily brief articles, links to other online material about the poet concerned. In Philip's case there's not a lot, although he was an important poet. There is the wonderful obituary by Keith Harrison, an Australian poet long domiciled in the United States; a blog post by Warrick Wynne; a very brief Wikipedia entry; and an interview conducted when he was at Penn State University, USA in 1987. (A link to poems by Philip Martin turns out to be very inferior verse by someone else of the same name.) This eulogy gives a fuller sense of the man than I could do. I had thought to cut it a little, removing references to personal friends — but after all, the context of those references provides insight into the person Philip was.

Reflections on the Life of Philip Martin

It’s hugely comforting to be with this gathering of our friends in this city, this university, this Chapel, so much the right place to celebrate Philip, the miracle he was. I feel that I, too, have come home. He would want me to begin by saying thank you for being the precious friends that you are.

 Many who would want to be here have sent messages of love and grief: Keith Harrison from Minnesota, Patrick McCaughey from Yale, David and Laura Gribble and Marie and John Finnis from Oxford, Jenny Sanders from Cambridge, Patricia Samson from Inverness, David Robarts and Helen Dallimore and Margaret Walters and Deirdre O’Day from London, Chris Wallace-Crabbe and Liz and Robin Grove from Venice,  Don Bowak and Mardi Reid, Fr John Eddy, and Janice Tynan from Canberra, Margaret Fulton, Caroline Jones, Geraldine Doogue, Joe Castley, Jane Adamson and Fr Daven Day from Sydney, Bruce and Liz Dawe from the Gold Coast, Gemma O’Callaghan from Hobart, Maggie O’Callaghan from San Francisco, David and Jocelyn Bradley from Philip Island, Bett Collings from Port Fairy, and in Melbourne, Barbara Tucker and also Peter Hollingworth, whose Companions of the Brotherhood of St Laurence in the1980s sustained Philip’s commitment to social justice and to ecumenism.

But it’s just as well that no one seems to need the Jesuits. Their strong presence is a reminder of all that they have done for Philip: at Xavier, in the Newman Society, and for us both, here in Melbourne, and in Sydney, in our parish of St Mary’s North Sydney, and the Riverview Community. I thank each one of them for coming, and in some cases flying, here today. To quote one of the happier typos in the Death Notice as it appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Jesuits have been our ‘Refuge Service.’ It is an appropriate blessing that Fr Peter Quin could come down from Brisbane to celebrate with and for us: Peter, who has walked through the dark tunnel with us every step of the way.

Well: the late Philip Martin! A joke he much enjoyed, being invariably and incurably late. It would always be ‘Sorry! Just ran into a friend’ or ‘much business with the passing hour’. ‘A creature of excess’, he liked to say. Long before he read Henry James he took to heart Strether’s advice to Little Bilham: ‘Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.’ Stories of Philip’s late nights or early mornings abound: the Nossals are fond of his exit line about just going home now to read the Russians before morning. The Gribbles like the one about Philip and Jim at dawn in Stirling Street, disputing the exact configuration of the milky way, inadvertently kicking over and breaking the morning milk bottles.  Just to contemplate what Philip fitted into any working day, from the morning write in his journals, to the teaching, the phone calls, the consultations, the reading of manuscripts, the meetings, by chance or by design, the performances, the letters to friends or to complete strangers, here or anywhere in the world, made you aware of how exhausting it could be to be a person on whom nothing was lost. Philip responded to, and recorded so fully, the concerns of his personal and historical moment in his conversation, his letters, his poems. At the same time, he was a one-man party, though he really did need an appreciative audience for his best performances. Patrick wrote from Connecticut in 1988: ‘we needed you bounding around with your instant fizz of friendship and warmth’. Fiona Bury, who rode away more than fifty years ago now, meeting Philip again in 1986, wrote: ‘You haven’t changed much, I’m glad to find – instantly the hub of some convivial circle, constantly aware of what was going on at the periphery, waitresses and passing strangers drawn into orbit. I did wonder whether such a constant outpouring of nervous energy ever drained you or whether you can recharge reciprocally.’

 Philip was generous with his energies, monitored them closely and was disappointed whenever they seemed to be running low. Magnanimous himself, he was hurt by perceived lack of magnanimity in others. But he always told his wrath, and pretty quickly, it did end.  He needed, as he gave, much encouragement. He liked to quote the young Mozart: ‘I will play for you, but first you must love me.’ I think particularly of the encouragement given, over so many years, by the three graces (whose graces include caring for Philip while I took holidays): Joanne, Heather and Kate who will say Philip’s prayers for us: Joanne of the generous imagination, the intelligent heart, the endless patience and wicked sense of humour, the long and deep knowledge of Philip and love for him; Heather back from London, bringing with her all her resources of insight and love, her just, always being there. And Kate Llewellyn, muse, fellow poet, unfailingly dear friend, who has sustained us with fruit cakes, poems, intuitions, laughter. In recent years there has come a second Kate, also a poet, my student and friend Kate Flaherty, to be Philip’s research assistant and companion and reader, whose response to news of his death was to write for ten hours. How he would approve of that! Here’s part of what she wrote:

Philip died yesterday morning.

When we cry at the death of another, we cry for lost parts of ourselves – for parts that are quickened only by that other light, that particular presence. Philip’s company was spacious. In my hectic October weeks I came and sat quietly with him for an hour or so on several occasions. There is no-one else in my life whose company is of just that kind. I told him this: that it was lovely to come and sit and read a story and reflect. He said he was glad because he ‘never knew’. I asked what he meant and he said he never really knew what people thought of his lectures. This made a sense to me because I had just been talking, nervously, about a paper I was about to give. There was always a shared undercurrent.

We read short stories by Muriel Spark; small, amusing ones. Philip laughed out loud at The Snobs. Carefully forming his phrase he explained ‘Well…I’ve known such people.’

With Philip there were many shared points of reference, points of light, lying just under the surface. His imagination turned constantly in worlds that I cherish. While some days he was unsure of the way to his room, he was never at a loss to append the final lines to ‘…Riding Westward’. He had his compass. He knew what was pressing and what was passing. I too am confused by corridors and most happy to collude with his priorities.

Poetry was his basic unit of meaning. Reading his poems aloud with him revealed the lucid, self-effacing joy of communion. He was knitted to the middle of life by a weight of well-ordered words. I think that, early in life, he must have dropped fathoms into the deepest sea bed and never lost anchor.

I wish I had time to name all the people and events that made our years in Balmain not only workable but stimulating, open, still on a varied scene. Helen Noonan is here to sing to us, reminding me of her dedication to the project of collaborating with Philip and Di Campbell, inspired research assistant and devoted companion and carer in the nineties, on a libretto based on his play for voices, ‘Saul and the Witch of Endor’.

It will come as no surprise to anyone here to know that Philip planned this funeral, down to the last detail, in the mid 70s. He was particularly clear, you’ll notice, on the matter of  translations. Preparing the Order of Service has kept him ‘coming constantly so near’. His absolute confidence in the resurrection of the body is the large theme of this mass.

He answered to many names: to Phil in the family. At Xavier he was, of course, Bones. To Chris (Wallace-Crabbe) he was ‘Horse’, prolonging one of the funniest jokes in Philip’s entire career as wit. To Patrick he was often, with affectionate irony Mr Martin, in honour of their early teacher-pupil relationship. Kate Llewellyn called him Phillipos, always. There are many Philips we remember now: the often troubled darkly romantic young poet, the eloquent lecturer and broadcaster, the post-stroke Philip with his light diminished but never dimmed, learning to read and write and walk again and to enjoy life on different terms, wheeling around Oxford and Ireland, sketching the harbour from our eyrie in Balmain, and finally, as vascular dementia encroached, the old self  flickering in and out, the old mad sense of fun, the sharp delighted observation, the uncanny prescience.

He rejoiced in community and belonged to many. Born in 1931 to Harry and Lorna Martin, Philip learned his love of words  from his father (also a poet) and his grandfather Frank Talbot, flamboyant, gregarious and proudly Irish, a theatrical entrepreneur who brought to Melbourne performers of international calibre and opened the Atheneum Theatre as a venue for the flowering of British films in the 30s and 40s. The separation of Philip’s parents shortly after the birth of his sister Janice caused lasting trauma, especially for Janice, and her estrangement from him remained a source of great sorrow and some guilt. Its effect on Philip was to make him permanently wary of marriage, and it was not until the 70s that he formed the close loving relationship with the sculptor Rozsi Lados that gave him such intense happiness and a new confidence. It also opened up a rich vein of creative engagement with Europe, in particular, nourished by Roszi and her family in Budapest, with Hungary and Hungarians. It is no accident that this period of his life marks the access of his maturity as a poet. His poetic preoccupations broadened, making ‘lines between the hemispheres’. But though he was enchanted and enriched by the Scandinavia of his friends Lars Gustafsson and Tomas Transtromer, friends and collaborators, and the New World liberation he always experienced in the academic community in Northfield Minnesota, his travels helped him to recognize how Australian he was, how committed to ‘an Australian poetry which reflects a wide consciousness of human experience.’ His passion for music, about which he was discriminating and knowledgeable, led him further to explore that wide experience. The writing of his unfinished poem based on the Romanian conductor Celibidache brought a somewhat stormy relationship with Celi, and took him more than once across the world in pursuit of performances, tapes, new friendships. His enthusiasm for the Axion Esti of Theodorakis prepared him warmly to welcome the Greek members of our family, the late, wonderful Nellie Tsouyopoulos and her daughter Laura who became our daughter-in-law, Laura’s  father the composer George Tsouyopoulos and his wife Flora, and, in due course, our grandchildren Anna and Timmy.

The birth of Simon and Rachel to Janice and Don Bowak brought great joy. He delighted in Simon’s early inventive contributions to the language of the tribe, and his later brilliant stories and drawings, and in Rachel’s emergence as a major sculptor in steel. Immersed as she is in Philip’s poems, Rachel finds herself often influenced by their themes, as the stunning piece on the cover of this Order of Service shows. Philip’s move to Sydney enabled us to see more of Simon and Rachel, and I thank them, and Don and his wife Mardi, for their loving support of us both over the years. Philip brought me also many new  cousins, and the Lawsons and the O’Callaghans are represented here today. Jim’s and my children, David and Helen Gribble (or Dallimore as she became when she took to the stage) were also very precious to him. The last thing that brought a smile to his face last week was a photo of them horsing about in a punt on the Cherwell. David was always up for any mimicry, word game or verbal joust launched by Philip and Philip often found himself in the audience for Helen’s honing of her craft in the domestic performance space.

Philip was a devoted son to Lorna, his exacting but most loving mother.‘Well, dear son, at last we’ve found the right one’ she’d say as they moved house yet again: ‘twenty houses in forty years’. The family life of Philip and Lorna was enhanced in the 1950s when Bruce Dawe, then a postman and part-time university student, came to live. Comic routines from those days remain in the repertoire, and the friendship forged then is abiding. Bruce was still flying down from Brisbane to see Philip as recently as last year, until his own health made it difficult for him to travel. But he’s here, now, and we’ll be hearing from him later in the mass.

 Philip’s family life extended well beyond the nuclear, of course. The Nossals, the McCaugheys (who took him to their capacious heart when he was a resident tutor at Ormond), the Lee Dows, (Philip seemed to spend Christmas with you all: I don’t quite know how this was managed, but I do believe it) and the Minchintons, my sister and the late much-missed Ken, and our nieces Katie and Sarah. Minchinton hospitality overflows, as ever, and will take us through to the end of this long day (please see the invitation inside the back cover.) I shall never forget, in fact I remember as though it were yesterday, each vivid detail of the support you all gave us, in the six weeks Philip spent in Monash hospital after the stroke in 1988. Nor indeed shall I ever forget the constant presence of that other family, the Monash English Department , so dear to Philip, and he so dear to them. Somehow, you all got us through it.

At this stage of a public performance, Philip would usually indicate that he knew he’d gone on quite long already, and was in fact winding up, though the process could still take some time. Quick notes now from material he prepared for a Robyn Williams broadcast in 1983. ‘Brought up a Catholic, and still a Catholic, in a European or Post-Vatican II way. My teachers at Xavier were mostly Jesuits, but one was a layman, the poet Joseph O’Dwyer. But for him (and of course the Grace of God) I may not have started writing poetry…University of Melbourne, 1951-62: first in Law (dropped out of that at the end of ’52), then Arts 1953-59. Publications Officer on the Registrar’s staff 1956-60, finally tutor in English 1960-62. That University, in those years, was an excellent place to be: poets (especially Vincent Buckley), intellectuals who didn’t hide in their rooms but gave tongue to their ideas, the Newman Society and its emphasis on integrating the intellectual and the Christian-spiritual life. Buckley I greatly admired, not only a poet but an example of what a Catholic who was a poet and an intellectual might be, must be, seen as a unity. He preached, almost literally, a Christianity in which the Incarnation was central. I’m very much a product, no, a child, of this house and its values….A.N.U, 1963: on A.D. Hope’s staff. Formed a lasting friendship with him. Monash 1964. Especially since 1968 I’ve been glad to be there and no longer at Melbourne: I needed to ‘leave home’ and spread myself.’

 Melbourne in the fifties produced poets  in abundance (that extraordinary burgeoning and interchange between Buckley and Jones and Wallace-Crabbe and Simpson and Steele and Dawe and Harrison and Martin and Strauss and Kemelfield and Deacon) in the fertile and disputatious ground of an English department cannily held together by the late Ian Maxwell, who descanted for us on ‘the supreme themes of art and song’ and including not only Vin Buckley, but Sam Goldberg, Maggie and Jock Tomlinson, Pippa and David Moody, Bill Scott, Tom Dobson, Hume Dow,  Keith (‘ah-what shall I say’) McCartney, who gave us all so much and so unstintingly. And Melbourne meant us, the fourth year honours class of ’59, which included Joanne, Margaret Walters, Germaine Greer and me, and Philip and Chris who joined us as MA qualifiers. Germaine kept a salon in her loft in Grattan Street, and a score-board on which she mimed the runs that were taking any one smart one of us closer to a tutorship. In the end we all became tutors, Germaine in Sydney, from which place she more or less kept on going until she ended up in the fens. We mimicked, satirized and fed from our teachers, ‘loved each other, and were ignorant.’

I met Philip when I was a nineteen-year old second year student, and, as my circumstances changed, so did the nature and power of my love for him. I have also admired him, but never so much as in these last seventeen years in which, without a word of bitterness he endured the deficits left by the stroke, the broken hip that followed shortly after he’d got on his feet again, the increasing discomforts and indignities of six years in the nursing home after he began to need twenty-four hour nursing care (though he found great comfort there in the reassuring presence of my dear mother, in the last year of her life). Yet these seventeen years of leave-taking in Sydney have been a bounty: ‘there was no winter in’t.’ I have had ample time to prepare for this day.

‘What’s behind it all’, we would all ask ourselves, back in ’59, in the words of a graffito Philip found somewhere. Philip and I wrestled with that question a bit more strenuously, post-stroke. But we generally came to rest in the simple, infinitely complex words of Dame Julian: ‘Love was His meaning.’ And just before Philip lost consciousness we were able to convey to each other a large measure of what we understood by that. Luke the beloved physician, patron saint of physicians, surgeons and painters, was looking out for us, I reckon, in this merciful transition from the old life to the new, on the Feast of St Luke.


Jenny Gribble



Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The first Mindful Writing Day - join me?

This Thursday the 1st of November is the first ever Mindful Writing Day, organised by Kaspa & Fiona at Writing Our Way Home.

To join in simply slow down, pay attention to one thing and write it down (making a small stone). Read all about it here.

Small stones are easy to write, and they will help you connect to the world. Once you've started, you might not want to stop... You can read more about small stones and find out about Lorrie with pea-green eyes in Fiona's free ebook, Write Your Way Home.

If you visit Writing Our Way Home on Thursday you'll find out how to download your free kindle copy of the new anthology, 'A Blackbird Sings: a book of short poems'.

You can also submit your small stone and see it published on the blog, and be entered into a competition to win one of five paperback copies of the book.

There's a Facebook invite here if you'd like to invite your friends, and feel free to repost this blog on your own blog. You can tweet this:

Connect with the world through mindful writing - join the first Mindful Writing Day on the 1st of November: bit.ly/VjzRKe #smallstone See you on the 1st!

Writer's Journal: Suddenly I'm Poeming Again.

(After Andrew's death I dried right up for a while.) The e-course (Journalling Our Way Home) must have something to do with it — the discipline of journalling, the attempt to focus inside myself for making small stones — even though the poems are on personal issues. I have been doing a bit of a Buddhist thing, of observing my own thoughts and feelings, my own process. Also my new hobby of going out and photographing flowers may well have helped. But basically I think it's the journalling. And the new one-line haiku group, which intrigued me enough that I have been able to contribute a couple of entries. I think it is that writing begets writing. Needless to say, I'm glad of it.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Power of We: Rallying to the Cause



The topic for Blog Action Day this year could suggest global and regional events such as the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement. Inspiring and dramatic as those are, my concerns are closer to home — though with wide relevance. I certainly hope that community action is powerful!

I think Coal Seam Gas fracking is the most important issue facing Australia at present. I know it is of concern in other countries too. Rural Australia feels so strongly against this practice which is so dangerous to our land and water that an organisation called Lock the Gate Alliance Inc. has been formed and has gained widespread support around the nation. The name refers to the fact that mining companies have had the right to come onto people's properties, explore, and sink wells without having to gain the owners' permission — as detailed in this 60 Minutes report

Fracking has already been happening all over the country, notably in the Darling Downs in Queensland, one of our largest agricultural areas. To quote one source: 'The farms of the Darling Downs grow the grain that feeds most of the beef, pigs and chicken (including for eggs and dairy products) that we buy in supermarkets. “If you eat pork or beef or eggs you can almost guarantee it’s been fed on grain from the Darling Downs.” '  The implications are that if this food supply is irretrievably contaminated, we might have to start importing our food from overseas!  Once the land has been ruined by this practice, it stays ruined. The Springbok Aquifer in the Western Darling Downs has already been accidentally polluted by the miners drilling too close.

There has been such an outcry from the people that our State and Federal Governments have had to take some notice. There have been moratoriums on fracking pending further investigations. However the State of New South Wales, where I live, has now lifted the ban in this State and renewed 22 coal seam gas exploration licences. One of the areas under threat is the beautiful Northern Rivers where I live.











Two days ago I took part in a big anti-CSG rally in my home town of Murwillumbah. The picture below, from a brochure, depicts a similar event. Check the Murwillumbah.com.au article for excellent coverage of Saturday's rally, including DVDs.




People also came from surrounding areas, and the march was estimated at between 3,000 and 4,000 people. Many passing motorists honked, cheered and waved in support. News cameras were there, and I thought we made a colourful display with our banners and placards. It was a warm day in Murwillumbah; most wore dark glasses and sun hats, or carried umbrellas used as sunshades. I stupidly left my hat at home but luckily had a brolly in the car. Later I wished I'd written some slogans down its red and white panels. Many people, as requested by the organisers, wore yellow, the colour of the Lock the Gate signs. (The one above is from the afore-mentioned brochure, but you get the idea.)

We wanted to send a message to the politicians via the media. However, on TV that night the event, together with a 1,000-strong rally in Sydney, rated barely two minutes of coverage. (City people tend to be much less aware of the dangers, so that wasn't a bad turn-out for Sydney, I thought.) Our local Daily News gave it quite a good write-up though, with great photos and DVD.

Even here, there are people who don't get it. When I asked, at my writers' group (in a different but nearby town) on Friday,' Who's going to the rally?' they looked at me blankly. When I explained, several people voiced the feeling that activism does no good; things don't change. Perhaps they were too young to remember the anti-Vietnam war moratoriums. No doubt they had forgotten the history of the Suffragette movement in England or the de-segregation marches in the USA. Not to mention the role of Gandhi and his followers in freeing India from British rule.

People in my birth State, Tasmania, succeeded in stopping a pulp mill which was to be built on the banks of the river Tamar, where I grew up. The resulting pollution would have devastated the river itself and the river valleys. After five years of active, vocal and highly organised opposition from concerned citizens, the company that wanted to build the mill went broke. TAP (Tasmanians Against the Pulp Mill) succeeded in causing delays by legal means, and discouraging proposed financial partners by acquainting them with the level of community opposition. Activism can work — and sometimes we have to persevere. 

One woman assured me that where she lives, in a pretty valley outside Murwillumbah, it's a CSG-free zone. 'Everyone's got the "Lock the Gate" signs up,' she said. 'And the gates are locked.' She also said she never watches the news — which may be why she imagines that those measures are enough. The people who have those signs up are not so sanguine. They say they'll also block the gate if necessary — and they expect it will be necessary.
  
I was well taught by an extraordinary father that if you want people to stand up and be counted, the only person you have control over is yourself — YOU have to stand up. 'If everyone did that, and no-one waited for anyone else to be first,' he said, 'You'd have a movement. At the very least, you'd have a clear conscience.' (Or words to that effect.) Well, we had and have a movement, and it is important to make the politicians listen to the people. Perhaps my next step is to write to the TV channels and tell them how disappointed I was at the brief coverage. I know one thing: activism might not achieve the desired goal, but inactivity certainly won't. Giving up in defeat is guaranteed to permit or perpetuate the things we don't desire.

Not everyone can march — the sick, the elderly, those too far away from the rallying points.  But there are other avenues. We can sign petitions, we can write to our Members of Parliament, we can lobby our local councils, we can send letters to the editors of newspapers.

We may well need further initiatives to stop Coal Seam Gas mining in this part of the world. OK, if thats what it takes — it's worth it.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Attention, Aussies! Writing Awards

The Stringybark Humorous Short Fiction Award 2012

What's funny?  You tell us!  The Stringybark Humorous Short Fiction Award is presented to the writer whose story entertains our judges the most.  That means anything goes — satire, slapstick, farce, comedy, murder mysteries, love stories, adventure tales, erotica, character sketches, outback yarns or whatever and wherever your fancy takes you — just make us laugh, smile, guffaw or giggle in 1500 words or fewer.  The story must have a link (no matter how tenuous) to Australia.  The competition is open to anyone over the age of 16 and living on planet earth.

There is a total of $770 worth of prizes in cash and books available — plus publication for place-getters and highly commended authors.  There is an entry fee of $9.95 (discounts for multiple entries).  Closing date 24 November 2012.   Details: http://www.stringybarkstories.net
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Results of the Seven Deadly Sins Short Fiction Award 2012

On 6 August 2012, the judges announced the winning stories in the Seven Deadly Sins Short Fiction Award 2012.  South Australian, William Mildren, won the competition with his intriguing and clever story, The Seven Deadly Sins.  Graeme Simsion (Victoria) came second with his ultra-short but ultra-clever story, Eulogy for a Sinner.   Third place went to Queenslander Julie Davies who found new ways to link gluttony with the Russian Space Program.   The winning and highly commended entries are now available in a new anthology The Seven Deadly Sins.

A full list of the place-winner and highly commended authors  can be found on our website: http://www.stringybarkstories.net

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Magickal Moment

I was feeling a bit down today — missing him. (I know he's around in spirit, but it ain't the same.)

Sorting through his stuff, I came across a note he'd written to himself, wondering  how to get me some $30 earrings for (last) Christmas. The money would not have been the problem so much as actually shopping for them without me knowing, when he could no longer drive and could barely even walk. Anyway, it didn't happen.

'You should have conspired with one of my girlfriends,' I told him in my head.

Coincidentally, I had recently decided I'd look better in stud earrings than the dangly ones I've worn for so long. I went hunting for some plain silver studs today, but ended up with zircons, a little under $30, and decided to regard them as a present from Andrew.

Later I was loading my shopping in the car when I heard someone call my name, and there was a lovely friend beaming at me. We don't bump into each other all that often, as she lives out of town. She gave me a wonderful hug. I admired the full-blown, pale pink roses she was carrying.

'Would you like them?' she said.

'Why?' I asked.'Aren't they for you?'

'Well,' she said, 'It's a funny thing. Someone just gave them to me and I've been wandering around, thinking, "Why have I got these? Who are they for?" Then I saw you.'

So I accepted with pleasure. I wonder if Andrew had a hand in it somehow. He liked to get me flowers. Even when he couldn't easily go shopping himself, if we were out together and he saw roses for sale, he would order me to go and buy myself a bunch.

Not that I mean to diminish my friend's generous impulse. She was in the middle of an assignment about citizenship. I told her I thought giving a bereaved friend roses was an example of good citizenship!

Here they are at home in a vase, viewed from above. (I sat them on the floor for the photo, to avoid distracting backgrounds).




Friday, September 21, 2012

THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1)The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn't want to see the movie or read the books, because from what I had read about them it seemed as if they would be kinda nasty. I said so to members of my writers' group, who were enthusing about the books. They told me I was right, but that the stories were all about rising above and overcoming the nastiness. On that basis, I acquired them as ebooks. I'm so glad I did.

This first volume got me right in with the opening pages, and took me on a wild ride to the end. It's fascinating and inspiring, and the characters very engaging. I totally loved it and am now deep into the next in the series.

I'm still not quite sure if I want see the film. I'll wait untiI finish the books, anyhow.

One day later.
I weakened and got the DVD. They did a good job of it.

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TRUE BLOOD OMNIBUS (The first three Sookie Stackhouse books)

Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse, #1)Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I came to the TV series first, and have now viewed Seasons 1-4. I wasn't sure about starting to read the books, because I had heard that the TV show departed considerably from them. However, I was wanting some escape, so I took out Trueblood Omnibus, the first three books in the series in one volume, from my local library. So this review is treating them all as one, and also covers Living Dead in Dallas and Club Dead.

I wasn't disappointed. They are well written (ever so much better than the Twilight series — not that I didn't devour that). The main character, Sookie Stackhouse, is particularly appealing on the page. I was surprised that two of the main characters in the series are not developed that way in the books. The TV people knew what they were doing; these interesting characters deserve the further development they are given in TV. However, as a writer myself, I'm able to accept that different media require different emphases. The differences from the show mean that I can't predict too closely what will happen next, which is always a bonus for me in reading or viewing. Taking the books on their own merits, I enjoyed them very much and look forward to reading all the rest. They served well as the absorbing escapism I required, and while not Great Literature, I found them a very good read.

I also like the way Harris writes sex scenes. I find them very hard to do in prose (though OK in poetry, where one can wax metaphorical). She manages to be convincing, and finds the right balance between suggestive and explicit.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Strange Journey of Widowhood Begins

It feels weird, surreal. Well, it's only been 16 days since he died, 10 since his commemoration ceremony. Sometimes it feels as if he's still here, just resting in the bedroom as he did more and more in recent months. At other times I'm acutely aware that he's not here. At least not physically; sometimes I'm aware of his presence in other ways, but it's not the same. And that has good and bad aspects. I can still tell him stuff, but I can't hug him. I just have to be glad of the 20 years of hugs we did have. I am not accountable any more; I can please myself what I do when, what I eat, where I go ... only it is hard to get used to taking even the simplest pleasures alone, for instance not preparing a meal with his enjoyment in mind.

I can't believe it was all so quick in the end. 'Only a few weeks ago we were soaping each other in the shower!' I thought yesterday, as I turned on the taps. We didn't always shower together, but it's a big enough space that we could and quite often did. That last time, I think my ulterior motive was to keep an eye on him. With our non-slip floors and substantial railings, when he was at home he was always able to shower himself despite problems with his legs and his balance. He seldom even used the shower chair. He could still shave himself too, but sometimes needed a hand with drying and dressing himself. But he was frailer, that last week at home. Nevertheless, he managed just fine.

I didn't mind any of the nursing I did for him; I wanted to help as best I could. But I must say I don't miss it. I have a lot more time to accomplish other things. And now, when I look back, I realise how much I was doing in the way of practical care. His body was breaking down, inexorably. When I feel lonely and weepy, I only have to bring back the image of him shuffling about painfully with his wretched wheely walker, and I can't wish him back. 

Not that I thought his walker wretched until now. It was a godsend, a valuable tool, the only thing that enabled him to get around. At first he only needed it for long walks outside the house; in the end he couldn't do without it anywhere ... until at the very end he could no longer walk at all. We went through a few different models, actually, to find the one that suited him best. I bought the first brand new, the rest second-hand from Palliative Care. I used to think that if he died before me, I'd keep the walker stashed away somewhere in case one day I should need it. Not at all — I couldn't wait to get rid of it. (I donated it back to Palliative Care.) Though I hate, now, to think of him shuffling along behind it, at the time I admired his guts and patience. As a friend said to me today, he kept going as long as he could, with great determination. As our doctor said, he was a fighter.

These last months were more and more difficult for us both. Yet there was also great sweetness and much love. As my poet friend Joyce Lee said to me of someone else, long ago, 'His soul was showing, like light through a crack.' When I remember those times of enduring, unconditional love, I am calmed. And then I want to weep all over again!

I see some things he has used, and feel not the least bit sentimental about throwing them out or giving them away.  'You don't have a body any more,' I tell him in my head. 'You don't need these.' Other things I feel revulsion for, angry with the poor, inanimate objects for the fact that he is no longer here to enjoy them. And others again I hug to me because he cherished them, or simply because they have felt his touch. 

It seems I can't talk of widowhood without talking of the marriage partner. In a way it is as if I am just in another phase of the marriage. And I haven't yet changed my relationship status on facebook. I still feel that we are husband and wife, and I rather expect I always will. However I shall change the status at some time — soonish — when I feel ready — so as to acknowledge the external fact.

It's lucky I have two cats dependent on me. They keep me grounded. It's time to go and feed them now. (They are getting extra cuddles these days, because they miss him ... and because I miss him.)


PS (Sept. 25) I have decided to create a new blog, The Widowhood Chronicles, and start it with this piece.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Merry Meet and Merry Part ...

Andrew's Commemoration

People who have been reading my poetry blogs and/or the 'Shifting Fog' blog (see sidebar) will know that my darling husband Andrew passed away on September 3rd after 18 days in hospital and 11 in Heritage Lodge nursing home. In both places he was beautifully looked after. Basically his body just broke down, quite rapidly, and it's a blessing that he is now free of its restrictions. His last days were comfortable, peaceful, without pain, and full of love.  This is what I posted about it in various places online:

My beautiful man passed away today about 3.40 in the afternoon. The nursing home phoned me just after breakfast so I went straight there and our dear friend Maureen joined me there, and we sat with him all day. The nursing home fed us, and we reminisced about him and his life, and talked to him too, and held his hands, knowing he could feel and hear us although he was unable to respond. He was very peaceful and comfortable all day, and went quickly and easily. He did wonderful things in his life, and was a treasured friend and mentor to many. I have been very blessed to have 20 years with this incredibly loving man.

He and I weren't into funerals. We have been to a few, because that is how things are usually done in our culture, but we agreed that we didn't want that for ourselves or each other (being anti-gloom, and considering a body to be just an empty shell). His body was cremated at the funeral home. The ashes have been shipped to his children in Victoria, who will hold a memorial for his many friends living there who wish to pay their last respects.  

Here in the Mt Warning Caldera, in the Northern Rivers region of NSW, where we have lived for most of our marriage, we had a gathering of his closest local friends, by invitation. Here are the details —

The invitation said: 

Dear Friends

We are not holding a funeral as such for Andrew. His body will be cremated privately and the ashes shipped to his oldest son in Victoria. His children will arrange a memorial service for his family and his many friends down there. 

You, his dear friends and soul family in the Caldera, are invited to a commemoration at noon on Sunday September 9 at Kouranga Hermitage, North Tumbulgum (the home of our friends Maureen and Alan). It will be a simple gathering of friends, to celebrate Andrew's life and acknowledge his place in ours. Please dress pretty, bring a small plate to share, some wine or whatever else you would like to drink, and a flower for the altar.

Love, Rosemary

My niece Ellie came up from Victoria for a few days to be with me. She drove me to Kouranga on the day. We arrived ahead of time to finalise the preparations, and later she helped organise the food that people brought.

Alan and Maureen, with other old friends Nik and Julie, had already prepared the space, putting chairs, benches and cushions in the temple and flowers on and around the low altar. We used the candles that were there, and these three photos — this one taken on our wedding day in 1993: 

















this one in the winter of 2005:





















and this on 26th August 2012, 8 days before he died:

















Alan blew them up and printed them on photographic paper; Maureen found frames for them and Julie did the framing.

I put a plaque from our friend Gail on the altar. It said, 'Live Simply, Laugh Often, Love Deeply', which she felt summed up Andrew. I placed Andrew's magickal tools on the altar too, in the appropriate places according to Pagan practice. Twenty-five people came, despite short notice. As they entered the temple (shoeless) they each placed a flower of their own on the altar. 


I didn't speak from notes, but from the heart, thanking everyone for coming, and saying something like: 

'Andrew identified as Pagan. He understood, as I'm sure we all do, that religious distinctions are artificial and man-made. When we updated his facebook status recently, for 'religion' he chose to say only, 'I believe in God'. However, in the way he expressed his spirituality, he was Pagan — albeit one who loved Jesus, whom he regarded as an Ascended Master and his own Patron Deity. His magickal tools are on the altar: his pentacle, which probably very few people knew that he always wore, as he kept it tucked under his shirt; his wand, his dagger and his chalice.' [I said 'dagger' rather than 'athame'  as some people present might not have been familiar with the latter term.]

'We're going to start by playing the Circle Casting song by Wendy Rule, one of Andrew's favourite singers and an out-of-the-closet witch, whom we were lucky enough to see in concert twice at the Castle in Uki. In fact several people here were with us on those occasions. This is from a recording called Live at the Castle.'  

Maureen operated the CD player with a remote switch and we listened to Wendy's beautiful, soaring voice singing:

The East the air the sword the mind
The gate that leaves the night behind

The North the sun the flame the fire
The gateway to our souls' desire

The West the womb the water's flow
The gateway to the world below

The South the star the silent Earth
The gateway to our souls' rebirth

The circle is cast and outside of time
The circle is cast and outside of space

The circle is cast and outside of time
The circle is cast and outside of space

and saying: 

'Welcome and Blessed Be'.

I said (something like): 

'We're here to celebrate Andrew's life. 

Many people seem to expect me to be devastated by grief. I'm actually not. It's when I think of how difficult life had become for him that I get upset, but I also have moments of great joy that he's now free of all those restrictions.' 

I shared a beautiful email received that morning from my stepson Adam, which read in part:

'Never was Dad happier when he was with you for these last 20 or so years.  The way he looked at you, even in his last few days, was a look of indescribable love.  I have never seen another man look at a woman the way he looked at you.  I can only hope that one day I am blessed with meeting someone I feel that deeply for.  You were his world, his inspiration, his reason for waking up each day and doing things he only ever dreamed of doing - writing a book, studying screen-writing, being part of other people's lives in a meaningful way, exploring new ideas, and searching for an inner truth.  When he left us, I truly believe he was finally at peace with himself, his life and the world.  You were the reason, his reason.  

Dad also left me with a gift, a message.  One that I will carry with me always; love is all you need.'

I said that indeed, by the time Andrew and I had completed our time together in this lifetime, I felt utterly loved and appreciated, as I know he did too. Even on his last night at home, before he landed in hospital, he gave me Reiki because I had come down with a nasty virus. I always told him he had 'the best Reiki hands in the business' and I reiterated it then, because they still were.

I told of that last day at his bedside. When I first went into his room, I said in his ear, 'I'm not only your wife, I'm also your Reiki Master, and you have my permission to leave when you choose. That's the greatest healing for you now, to make that choice.' Later on I said, 'Don't stick around on my account.' I also had the Reiki II channels open between us the whole time, allowing for telepathic communication. 

About 3.30 I said to Maureen, 'I haven't given the cats their lunch' and then, realising my neck was hurting from all that stooping over the bed, 'I need to take my arthritis medication. I might just dash home. It's only five minutes away.' But I was torn. To Andrew I said  telepathically, 'I want to be here when you go. Please don't leave while I'm away attending to those things,' meaning, 'Please wait until I come back.' Maureen was just about to phone her husband to come and drive me, and I was reaching for my handbag, when she suddenly said to me, 'Look!' I did, and saw Andrew's eyes, which had been shut all day, wide open. Even more dramatic, I realised there was complete silence; his breathing had stopped. It had been loud and laboured all day — what nurses call chain stoking and the rest of us refer to as the death rattle. After some minutes of silence he gave a big gasp, and after a few more minutes another, then that was it. We buzzed for the nurses, who confirmed it. Afterwards Maureen and I exclaimed that he was considerate to the last. I needed to get home, so he chose not to linger any longer. (Of course it was then some time before I could get away — but that's all right.)

I spoke about things Andrew had done in his life before coming to this part of the world. People here knew him as an author of children's stories, and as a gifted Reiki Master working in the markets (combining it with Indian Head Massage) and supporting me ably in teaching Reiki. Many didn't know that in Melbourne he had been a film editor for ABC-TV and for Crawford Productions, his greatest claim to fame being his work on the very popular police series, Homicide. And they didn't know that he was the moving force behind bringing to Australia an accelerated learning program for teenagers, called Discovery. They didn't know that he'd been an investigative journalist, and that because of that he was hired to front an organisation called Watchdog which investigated the then draconian powers of the Australian Securities Commission which victimised many innocent people, and that he ended up giving evidence before a Senate enquiry which led to urgent reforms.

For this part of my talk, I used as a prompt a list of his life highlights which he made for his 80th birthday party, at the request of Dinah, who was the MC on that happy occasion. You can read the list at this link. I also spoke of the genesis of his book, Jorell, which you can read about here.

Maureen read an email message from our old friend Marg Watson in Sydney, who was unable to attend the event:

Dearest Rosemary

My thoughts have been with you all week since Andrew’s passing and of course, remembering Andrew as I have known him the past 12 years since we first met.  I am so glad that John and I had our visit with you and Andrew in June when he was still at home.

Even though I could see his health deterioration since my last visit  in December, there was still much of the real Andrew present. His laugher, his entrepreneurial streak and his humour still shone through.

My memories of  Andrew are and will be enduring. His wonderful clear blue eyes which so easily filled with tears of compassion for others, his rich, deep-throated laughter, his ability with the written and spoken word and his deep feelings for others and most of all, his constant and enduring love for Rosemary.

Andrew, along with Rosemary, made every event important and meaningful. I remember the times they attended Kouranga, dressed in their best colourful outfits and Andrew usually in his suit to mark any and every occasion. 

Rosemary without Andrew will be like bread without butter. Yet we know that Andrew will be available to Rosemary whenever she whispers his name in the loneliest darkness of nights, when the memories and tears visit her as well as the times when peace and tranquillity will settle on Rosemary for the love shared and memories made with Andrew.  He will live on in your heart and soul Rosemary and will walk and be with you every step you take in your new life without him.    

Be at peace Andrew and Rosemary, know that the love of your friends encircles you with support, kindness and presence.

Much love, Marg and John 

Some other people spoke about Andrew, while the rest listened with smiles or even laughter. Kay spoke of him 'rediscovering' her in recent times and rekindling their friendship. (What she didn't say was that when he was so ill that I couldn't leave him alone even for a few minutes, she would come and sit with him every Wednesday afternoon after work, so that I could go out for a short walk. Some other days I had in-home respite carers, and could fit in a walk while out, but for minimum fitness I needed the extra time Kay provided. It was during those times that they talked and renewed the long friendship. His in-home carers, too, always mentioned how interesting he was to converse with.)

Del reminisced about a series of singing workshops where we met many years ago. (A number of lasting friendships originated there.) The teacher had some innovative methods to get us to free our voices. Del particularly recalled an occasion when we became 'goddesses' and stripped off to sit in the creek and sing from 'the fishhook in our crotch'. She decided to keep her cottontails on, and Andrew his Y-fronts. She was affectionately amused that he, the only male, was willing to participate as a goddess.

Dinah said Andrew had given her a message to bring some rosemary to put on the altar, which she did. She also said he wanted us to name a flower after him, as there was no Andrew flower, and to make up a song for him. We didn't take up these suggestions, but it occurs to me now that because Maureen had put so many azaleas on and around the altar, in future I will always associate azaleas with Andrew. (Which is doubly appropriate as we had a huge azalea bush growing in the first home we shared, in Brighton, Melbourne. Andrew transplanted it from somewhere else, I nurtured it successfully, and we saw it as something of a symbol of our relationship.)

I remarked that Andrew was evidently enjoying his new freedom. Already a number of people had reported seeing visions of him, receiving communications from him, or feeling his presence. I told them that, when I'd shared this with one friend, he said doubtfully, 'But I don't think he's trapped on this plane,' and I said, 'No, I think he's flying free. But as a psychic medium, I believe he can be in many places simultaneously. I know the dead are only a thought away.'

I was sure that, as soon as he died, he rushed home to see our cats. They were vaguely pissed off all the time he was in the hospital and the nursing home before he died, but when Maureen and Alan brought me home that night, they were frisky, playful and happy!

Feeling a little daring, but trusting those present, I then shared that, during his final illness, when I wasn't visiting him I had distracted myself in various ways, including catching up with Season 4 of True Blood, an outrageously gory and sexy vampire series which I absolutely adore. The day after Andrew died, I watched the final episode, in which one character is killed. His lover, a psychic medium, is visited by the spirit of the dead man and bemoans the fact that the guy was killed. The spirit says, 'Dude, I'm dead. You're a medium. You'll never be alone.' I reminded myself, 'I'm a medium!'

When everyone who wished to had spoken, we played Wendy Rule's song to open the circle, in which she again evokes the elements, repeating each time, 'Hail and Farewell and Blessed Be'. It finishes, 'Merry meet and merry part, and merry meet again.'

Then we went out to a deck with tables set up, to enjoy the food and drink that everyone had brought. Maureen had baked a cake and Julie had iced it with the word ANDREW and the red outline of a heart. We all sang 'Happy Birthday' and shouted 'Hip, hip, hooray!' and I cut the cake. So if we didn't make up a song for Andrew, at least we sang to him. (It was a bonus that we happened to be celebrating Andrew's rebirth on Eddie's actual birthday, so we sort of nodded at him as well while singing, and Maureen snuck his name in too.)

Alan had provided a book for people to write in, and many lovely things were written. There is still room left in the book, so I am going to add tributes which have come in on facebook or by email. One person who attended was our three-year-old god-daughter Flo. Her father wrote in the book: 'I asked Flo what could we say to Andrew, she said "Goodbye". '

It was a joyful celebration, as intended — and some people did get a little weepy at times. Maureen choked back some tears while reading Marg's email; and as we left the temple, I saw others who looked emotionally affected. Young Cosmo, who came into our lives when he was 14 and is now 21, regarded Andrew as a surrogate grandfather. He had never been to such an occasion before and was taken by surprise to find himself in tears as we went to eat. He kept apologising for it. Marian and I hugged him and told him it was natural. 

A couple of invitees begged off on the grounds that they always weep buckets at funerals. I did try to tell them it wasn't a funeral like that, but I didn't push the point. I didn't want anyone to feel uncomfortable. Another dear friend who lives some distance away got a flat battery and didn't make it. It was probably just as well, as she had been ill and the long drive would have been taxing for her.

If we'd had a more conventional observance, I expect other people who knew Andrew would have wanted to attend. He touched many lives over the years, and I learned afterwards that people had been asking, 'When is the funeral? When is the service?' ("What funeral?' said Maureen to one person who asked, which caused some temporary confusion until she explained that we weren't doing that.) But I wouldn't even have known what paper to put a notice in: we have so many local papers here! And we definitely didn't want a conventional observance, with everyone looking serious, and that awful business of the coffin sliding behind a curtain and down a ramp to be burned. 

People have said since that it was a beautiful and profound occasion. One person who was there likened it to a wake. It was certainly closer to that than a funeral, but not as boozy and boisterous as I imagine wakes to be. It was, to me, a softly Pagan ritual celebrating my beloved's life and his current transformation.

Andrew and I had a long association with local Hare Krishna devotees, as when we first came to the Caldera the devotees had been praying for a resident Reiki Master and I turned up. For the first few years here, most of my Reiki students were devotees. I was in Coles the other day and one of my old students rushed up, saying, 'Hello, dear lady,' and gave me a hug. I thought he must have heard about Andrew's death, but he hadn't. When I told him, he and his wife said they would hold a private fire ceremony for Andrew after they had worked out the most auspicious date.

So, with the memorial in Melbourne, that will be three wonderful send-offs, a magick number!




Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Review of GUANTANAMO by David Hicks

Guantanamo: My JourneyGuantanamo: My Journey by David Hicks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Many people say of David Hicks, 'Well what was he doing in Afghanistan?' implying that he deserved his imprisonment. You only have to read the introduction to this book to understand that that's not the point — it was the conditions of his imprisonment, which nobody deserves.

After the intro, the book's early chapters deal with his childhood and young manhood. They're very readable. It becomes perfectly clear that he was just a young bloke in search of travel and adventure, not a terrorist by any means. There was a lot of mis-reporting at the time.

The chapters about Guantanamo are not sensationalised — they don't have to be. The mere facts are horrific. The man — along with many others — was tortured for years. Astonishing that he survived, albeit not unscathed. It's a book that needed to be written, a personal story with much wider implications.

Hicks dabbled in writing from an early age, and the book is well-written.



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