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

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Daily Practice

Natalie (Goldberg, my favourite writer for writers) says (in The True Secret of Writing, her most beautiful book to date):

"There are many ways to meditate. Whatever opens us, softens the heart, makes us alive to this human world and helps us to bear it is our path."

I do sit and meditate in the usual way, most days, at some point. Ideally it's early in the day, and now that the weather is rapidly warming up, that will have to be the case if I want to do it outside. I love to do that, in my cherished back yard surrounded by greenery. Meditating indoors just doesn't feel the same.

Journalling afterwards opens me too. But today I wasn't early enough. Already it's getting too warm out here to be quite comfortable. 

I was up early as usual, thanks to the cats. They wanted breakfast at 5, but I told them to wait and turned over to snooze. They're very good. They stopped miaowing and cuddled up next to me on the bed until I roused again at 6. After I fed them I went out and watered the garden, thankful that we have no water restrictions here and that it's a quiet cul-de-sac where I can go outside in my pyjamas and it doesn't matter. Usually no-one sees me at all, and if they did, it still wouldn't matter. 

I am still in them. That's part of the trouble, part of the discomfort. I need to shower early these warm mornings, and get into a sarong if I'm staying home, a caftan if I'm going out. The nights are still a little cool — though I removed two blankets last night and packed them away — and my tween-seasons PJs are soon too warm as the day goes on.

Still, it's pleasant here. I began this habit of meditating and journalling last year, when Andrew was already booked into respite care for a fortnight, as part of the 'Writing As Spiritual Practice' course. It began the week before he went in. I continued through that fortnight and after he came home. Coincidentally the final day of the course was the same day he ended up in hospital and never came home again.

I interrupted this writing to check on the dates. That led to re-reading some of those journal entries, which made me cry. But it is salutary to remind myself of those times, when life was so very difficult for us both. I don't know how we got through it all so well, but we did. We were both extremely brave, I perceive, rising to the immense challenges, fairly good-tempered most of the time in the face of it all, and sustained by our love.  

And yes — as I keep coming back to — it could not have gone on. The timing was right.

It was also wonderful timing for me to take that course — to meditate, journal, and engage with my spirit. These practices helped me in that saddest of times, and since. Thank you, Universe. I am well looked after.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

At Sunset

I'm sitting on my front veranda for a change. It's nearly sunset, and the back yard is already too shadowy to see well to write, with its surrounding trees and overhanging roof.

This spot in the front is where Andrew often used to sit, but not the same chair. After he died, I had time to notice how rusted that one had become from being out in the weather. I've replaced it with a nice, solid wooden one I found in a hard rubbish collection. The wood was already weather-worn to grey when I found it, but not broken or crumbling. It's more comfortable than the old chair was. 

I've been out all afternoon, and went for my evening walk after I got home, so now my feet are relaxing in my fluffy purple slippers.

The cats have come out to join me. They like lying on the front steps, with or without human company. I, too, enjoy surveying the street from on high. This is a slightly sloping block; the ones either side are flatter. Mine is the only house built up off the ground. It's like the house I grew up in, in Launceston, one storey in front, two at the back. But here it's the other way around: the high part is in front, overlooking the street. What is under it, though, is just the space under the house, where tradesmen can crawl to check phone lines and drains, and where a very shy, quiet possum lives. The house in Launceston, on a steeper block, had rooms downstairs, giving onto the huge back lawn and beyond that my father's veggie garden.

When I went down the hill just now for my walk, a kid was playing a recorder inside one of the houses, practising for homework. How many Aussie kids are doing that after school tonight, in how many suburbs all over the country? I like the sound. It takes me back to my little brother practising his, and then to my sons piping away on theirs. They had the music, my brother and my sons. It skipped me, but I still like to listen.

The crickets have started up. The mountains opposite have gone from indigo to dark grey-blue. There's a faint, thin line of pink light along their tops, barely distinguishable from the whitening sky into which it fades. A notice comes up on my iPad: I have updates for the evening edition of the Sydney Morning Herald. Time to go in.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Walking and Breathing

I set out for my walk half an hour ago, and relished the clean air which my lungs took in so effortlessly. At the end of the day, it was pleasantly cool yet with a hint of sunlight: the air of early Spring. What a delight, this sensation, this easy act of drawing in breath. 

Somehow everything settled down into place. Past, present and future came together. I recalled Andrew and me arriving in the Caldera 19 years ago, full of anticipation; our joy in the surroundings, the lifestyle, the people we met. How well we settled in! How easily and sweetly it all happened. How boundless was our joie de vivre.

It certainly was the right place for us, then and ever after. He'd always been a city boy, but small town life suited him too, as much as it did me, who grew up that way. Being here was never boring for us. How could it be, with such a thriving community of creatives, healers and spiritual folk; and such powerful natural beauty everywhere? 

We were more adventurous then than later, particularly him. We used to go all over the place -- up to Nerang to meet with the creator of a new energy clearing product; down to Lismore for a night of theatre, or to the Gold Coast Art Centre or Brisbane's South Bank; to Byron Bay and Mullumbimby to shop, as well as Tweed Heads and Coolangatta. We had two favourite restaurants in Coolangatta, and another favourite in Kingscliff. We attended the Brisbane Writers' Festival and the one at Byron Bay. We belonged to two different library systems at the same time. We saw great musicals and art exhibitions. We swam. We walked in the bush. He climbed Mt Warning. 

Somehow, walking this evening and breathing in Spring, things came full circle for me in a strange kind of way. I felt all over again the rightness of our coming here to live. It was as if the air carried it into me, reminding me -- no, taking me back to that beginning and reconnecting me to it. Even though I am now alone, it is still the right place for me to be. And I know we played out our lives together here in a good way, with more delight and excitement than we would have found in Melbourne (though we did all right there too).

So many couples retire to this part of the world and then find themselves isolated and lonely without their familiar surroundings and established support systems. It wasn't like that for us. But of course, those others retire to Surfer's Paradise and the like, not to daggy little old country towns. We came to this small community and found so many new friends that now, 19 years later, I find people I know everywhere I go. I'm always bumping into people to hug!

And I go on in this community as connected to Andrew, in other people's perception as well as my own. When people ask how I am these days, they mean, 'How are you coping since losing him?' They are glad I'm doing OK, and they remember all his good years, and us as a couple. It's nice to know I am not the only carrier of those memories.

I am on my own but not alone.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Meditation with Lizard

I'm late to meditate today. Luckily I am well-trained, not to empty my mind but to step back and be the observer of it — and to stay in meditation mode despite extraneous noises. It's a loud, busy afternoon in this usually quiet corner of the suburb. The man over the side fence is coughing, someone nearby is slamming a door, a bird is shrieking repeatedly. 

I meditate anyway, observing all this dispassionately, and observing my thoughts when they wander away from focusing on my breath. (Yes, I have a mantra, but after decades of use it has become stale. Instead of taking me deeper, it allows the monkey mind to become very active. So I am using a different focus now.) I observe how calm and happy I feel, and have been feeling all day.

That's so good, I think. I am able to have the sense that Andrew is nearby and not be upset by it but just think of him as being 'in the next room', as they say. Then, as soon as I contemplate his closeness in spirit, I start to cry about his physical absence. This always happens. Better not to become too conscious of him, even in happy ways. Better to let such awareness be a background to my life. I observe these thoughts and reactions and bring my attention back to my breath. I feel calm and happy once more.

When I come out of meditation, the bird shrieks and there's a sudden flurry. I see what I think is a coocal bird flying onto a branch. But then it stays so still for so long, I realise it must be one of the big lizards that live around here. It's light brown and banded, and must be at least as long as my arm — perhaps a Monitor, or a very big Water Dragon. It lies along the branch, and I take a number of photos with my iPad, hoping it will show up in them — it's so well camouflaged. [Later: No, it doesn't, even after editing the photos to try for greater clarity.] After a while I begin to wonder if it's really a branch and I'm deceiving myself. Maybe it was a bird, that flew through the branches and away. I stay in my meditation chair to write. If I shift to my writing table I won't see, if it is indeed a lizard and it moves.

I look up, and it's gone! I didn't see or hear it disappear. Clearly it was a lizard; the branch looks very different now. While I stare, it takes a sudden hop along a lower branch. I see it in that moment, big tail swaying slightly as it jumps, then it is hidden behind a thick clump of leaves. OK, I move to my writing table. 

Then I realise it's time to stop writing; to take in the washing; to go for my late afternoon walk. I lead a quiet, ordinary life. I relish it.




















Perfectly camouflaged lizard on branch, approx. centre. 
You might just be able to make it out.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Pleasing Myself
















I dreamed we would sit out here together, him and me, in our peaceful back yard. If we ever did, it wasn't often. Maybe once or twice, early on — since moving here at the start of 2010. But that's why there are two chairs. Now there is only one small coffee table between them; there used to be a long, low one in front and the chairs were side by side. I think we did do it, once or twice.

He needed to get some sun, for his Vitamin D, after he started resting indoors so much of the time. The back yard is shaded. For a dutiful 20 minutes he would sit out on the front verandah instead — a tiny space at the top of the steps. There was room for one chair, which either one of us used if we were out there singly. If we were both there, I gave him the chair and I sat on the top step, my back against the railing. Usually the two cats would join us, each taking one of the lower steps.

Now the cats and I are sad, but adjusting. They do still join me if I sit out the front, but seldom when I'm here out the back in the mornings, meditating. Mornings are sleep time for them, after breakfast. They wake up at lunch time, and may then decide to make their stately way outside.

In the summer, which is coming fast, I'll be glad this back yard is well shaded. I sit here alone — as I did, too, when he was alive and keeping to his bed — and relish the beauty. 

Yet I feel wistful that we never got to sit out here together very much, with cuppas and books, companionably. Nor did we, come to think of it, at other houses. We thought we'd do so at our second Pottsville home; it had a lovely back verandah with garden. But we had neighbours who, despite being nice people and good neighbours, used to converse mostly by yelling, and couldn't get the idea of toning it down. It was fine when we were indoors, but sure ruined pleasant times on our verandah!

And in the other homes, I would as like as not use my verandah-sitting for free writing, as I'm doing now — well, not quite as now; I used a paper notebook and a pen (iPads had not been invented) — while he would be at his desk, working on his computer, writing too. 

'You are both very driven people,' our psychologist once observed — not judgmentally, but as descriptive fact. Yes, we were: always driven by the urge to write, to network, to advance spiritually, to heal and empower others, to leave the world better than we found it — all those things, but above all the writing. And of course I still am.

I don't now experience it as bring driven, however. It's just what I do. Now that I am on my own, it's not quite so hard to squeeze it into the time available. Also I am more relaxed about it now, and about everything. A year after his death, I am still recovering from the stress and work of those last years. My body and psyche have slowed right down. And I finally have the realisation that I don't have to rush and push and bust a gut. If I don't write a poem today, I might write one tomorrow. Heck, I'm so prolific, I've got hundreds of poems already written. I never have to write another. I shall, though, when I feel like it. The only urgency will be the poem's demand to be created.

Life has become about enjoying myself, doing what I like. I have long held to the 'follow your joy [bliss/excitement]' rule for living. Now I am even freer to do that. 

This principle guides me well.

Coming Back

I haven't posted here very much over the last coupla years. First I was immersed in caring for my husband, who became less and less able to look after himself — losing mobility and also developing (thankfully mild) Alzheimer's. I created a special blog to record that journey, Shifting Fog. After he died (a year ago) I blogged about my new journey in The Widowhood Chronicles. And now, a year later, I have finalised that blog too.

I may well have more to say about being widowed, but it's no longer new to me and I think all the revelations have been covered. So I am bringing myself back here, to my first blog at this profile. The others can remain as archives, and I do plan to turn The Widowhood Chronicles into a book — perhaps not with that name.

My poetry blogs have continued during this period, and I have recently amalgamated most of them into the main one, The Passionate Crone. The only one that is still separate is Stones for the River, which is specifically for 'mindful writing', mostly but not necessarily in verse.

And there are a few others — a writer's journal, a memoir, Andrew's old blogs which I now manage and have plans for....  SnakyPoet, though, is my all-purpose personal blog, for the stuff that won't fit into a facebook status update or a tweet. I hope you're still interested, dear readers!


Monday, September 09, 2013

The Barbarians Are at the Gates

In fact, they're inside them and running the country.

Australia has a new government. Can you tell that I didn't vote for them?

In fact I didn't vote for the previous government either — I voted Green. But the Greens don't have enough support to form a government, and the government that's just been kicked out had somewhat better policies — most of them, anyway — than the one that's just been elected.

It's enough to make me question (if only for a moment) the sacred principle of compulsory voting.