Tag Archives: Melbourne

My Best Boy

This will come as no surprise to my friends but in a frenzy about the coronavirus early on, when I rushed to the store to stock up, I bought dog food, poo bags and treats. That’s it. No toilet paper, no hand sanitizer, no canned beans. If the apocalypse arrived, I felt, we would be completely prepared.

Because I love my dog. Of course, I love my dog. It’s an old story, old as domesticated grey wolves brightening the lives of nomadic hunter-gatherers 15,000 years ago. Though I doubt paleo dog-love looked anything like the current canophilia happening in my house. Those wolves probably didn’t have a personal doctor, daybeds in every room, a morning snack of almonds munched in happy unison with their owner.

My dog is a small, hairy Cavalier King Charles—of course he is–who sheds so much his fur floats like hay bales through our house. But my god he is cute. Archie is the pineapple of my eye. He is the spoiled youngest sibling of my two older children and is indulged in a way they have never been. He gets fed when he bangs on his bowl imperiously; his stack of treats is bigger and more expensive; he features more prominently on my Facebook page.

The irony is that I bought Archie for my children. I found him second-hand from an online ad. His owner, the mother of a teenage boy who had bought Archie for his girlfriend at a pet shop in a grand romantic gesture, had to sell. The girlfriend was no longer, the boy had moved out and the mother already had a dog and a full-time job and was not prepared for a puppy.

The reason he’s become ‘my’ dog is that he refused to imprint on my children. It is a common problem among mothers I am told. These dogs are not dumb, they know who is in control of the pantry. Archie ignores my children and follows me from room to room, his chestnut eyes intent, questioning, adoring. As a mother of older children, I am naturally flattered.

On the night Archie arrived, he walked into our kitchen and immediately set up the habit of getting away with things my children never could by lifting his leg to the wall and giving it a good squirt. He never did that again, so I’d like to think it was his way of saying hello. He was only seven months at the time. He soon learned to sleep on a new bed, not make messes, accept everyone’s cuddles, eat a new brand of food, come when he was called. In short, be a good boy. Which he is. Usually.

We got lucky. But he got lucky too. An estimated 1.2 million unwanted dogs are euthanized in the States each year. Millions are abandoned at holiday time by owners too cheap to pay for pet sitting. How vulnerable these little beings are. They pass through our lives, slaves to our whims and natures, leaving only memories of worn collars and love. So I try my best to deserve his love. And of course, he is cute.

The joy and fascination with which I interact daily with my dog is undercut by the worry that such kindness and patience should probably be shared with other humans, say other people’s children. After all, in the US, more than 1 in 6 children experience food insecurity while in 2019, the pet industry was worth more than $75 billion. Though I am not a huge participant in this new economy—Archie’s bowls are cast off plastic childrensware and his balls are tennis rejects—I do feel guilty about owning a pet because I know it takes a certain type of freedom, income and time.

But I could never give up this love. Raising children is too often about the future, about all the things I or they must do to be better, brighter, more successful. But life with a pet is a series of contained moments. Like the one I’m having right now. Archie and I are both wet from running around the block in the rain before coming back, happily panting at the exertion and shaking our coats in the hallway.

Now a computer rests on my lap, a cup of tea steaming on one side of me, Archie on the other, snoring like a sputtering propeller. It is so satisfying, so uncomplicated, so filled with love. Archie is a gift for which I am completely responsible.  Which is why when I glance over at my stockpile of Gourmet Beef and Vegetable Nuggets and the Turkey Fillet Prime Treats, I know that we are prepared.

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WE NEVER SAW COMING

Short story by Nina Killham

(To think I wrote this short story over a year ago…)

I’ve always been very fond of you, my father says and instantly I know we have entered the final stage of good-bye. This is a new language between us now and I know I need to pay attention. But I’ve been at his bedside for two weeks and my boss, back in Australia, who had initially been supportive–‘Right place to be’–is getting a bit more clipped in his responses. ‘You coming back anytime soon?’ Your father’s heart is strong, the doctor says, this could take a while. Reluctantly, I kiss the translucent skin on my father’s forehead, smooth the bulging veins on his mottled hand and walk away.

On the airplane, I smile faintly at the man squeezing into the seat next to me and flick through the on-flight magazine, gazing at beaches I no longer have any desire to visit. I remember when an airplane ride was a big deal, a glamorous capsule that would take you to an adventure. Now the five-hour flight from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles feels like a bus ride: sandwiches and iPads carried in, bags jammed into over-head racks, coffees balanced precariously on seat arms while hands fish for seat belts.

The sleeping pill will have to come later–on the second leg of my trip–the Guantanamo Bay-like internment from Los Angeles to Melbourne where I moved seven years ago to be with someone I met backpacking along the crystal hills of the Annapurna Circuit. I only recently noticed that I’ve led my life like the owner of a bolshie dog who doesn’t know how to heel, following instead of leading, often scrambling to pick up the crap left in my wake. I settle into the twenty-four-hour trip with steely resolve and, a fitful snooze later, wake up with my father murmuring in my ear. I lean to the left, trying to hear the words, but his voice fades. I glance at my watch, amazed. We are not far from L.A. I peer over, past my two seat mates, towards the window to look out. I’ve always loved this moment of the flight—the descent through the deep purple night into the Inca gold city. 

I think of my father, bald and unmarked as a new-born pup, curled like a fetus in his nursing home cot. He is alone now, my mother ten-years gone. I try my best to be a good daughter but that is difficult, especially when I am so far away and my father cannot fathom the technology that was supposed to connect us.

It is one of the passengers who first points out the fire. Look! he cries and slaps his hand against the windowpane right next to the nose of his teenage son who doesn’t glance up from his phone. But I do and catch the flash of scarlet and yellow in the hills around Topanga Canyon. They look like a comic book gunfire against the blackening night.

By now everyone is peering over, twisting and straining against their seat belts which have been ordered fastened for the descent. Even the teenage boy looks up and then immediately shoves his head into my view.

When we touch down, people jump up, intent on the next thing. Bags in hand, iPads in the other, they shuffle past the tightly smiling flight attendant who urges everyone to have a nice evening. Soon, I think as I walk past, they will have robots to do that. They’ll have a smooth plastic-molded machine rolling back and forth along the aisle offering snacks and alcohol, a credit card imprint embedded in its chest.

On my way out of the domestic gate I recognize the shop where I bought my family-size bag of peanut M&Ms for the flight to D.C. two weeks ago. I enter again, defeated by the sugar pull–after all, I will need something to keep me entertained for the next fifteen-hour flight, not to mention something to sooth the fact that I moved a million miles away for someone I have lately realized I do not love. I also succumb to the allure of an O magazine which offers optimism in a quick five-minute read.

I make my well-worn way to the Tom Bradley International terminal and smile at the sight of a hijab-wearing security guard telling a passenger to lose his shoes. I wave my little baggie of make-up but no one is particularly interested in me or my regulation clear baggie. I stand on the painted feet signs and raise my arms like a good girl.

Past security the air is rarified–clean and filtered–catering to the new flying class. Images of icy blue water cascade from 90-foot high screens. Jungles of exotic flowers bloom from others. Gucci, Burberry and Bulgari beckon like children catchers. Inside the shops, customers twirl in their webs.

I stop for a cappuccino and sit next to a family slurping through a hundred-dollars worth of Frappuccinos and muffins. I observe the crowd. There is nothing else to do. I have not coughed up for the exorbitant international roaming charges and so am stuck watching men and women staring at their phones, their heads at a 45-degree angle like oil rigs.

What I really want to do is return to Washington and set up camp in a room next door to my father. I like the other oldies at the home—they make me feel so young—and I could sit quietly in the evenings with a good book, eat at the common dining room—I’m used to old people’s unappetizing skin lesions by now—and just be. Just be a successful daughter. Not the failed girlfriend, lover, partner, whatever you call it, that I am now. In another era I would probably have been the daughter who remained unmarried to stay home and care for the parents. There was always one. No one does that anymore. Children are now tossed from their home like old toys. Or they run from it. As if it were on fire.

I return to my walking, willing my body to expend its energy so that it will consider resting during the oncoming hours of captivity in the economy seat of a Qantas A380. I am rounding my fourth cycle of the entire concourse when I notice the jostling at the windows. Was there an accident, I wonder as I join the crowd and lift myself on tippy toes to see over the three layers of heads bobbing up and down in front of me.

I gasp. A fire burns ferociously just outside the window, lapping at the runway. At first, I think it is a car or one of those vehicles always zipping around overladen with baggage. But I can’t see a car and now notice a similar fire burning a hundred feet further down. And another. In fact, a whole line of them stretches in both directions. It seems to be the same fire as before, only bigger. Much bigger.

“Will you look at that,” the young woman next to me whispers, jiggling a fractious baby in her arms.

My first thought is to be grateful. Maybe I won’t have to go back. Maybe I will be able to stay in the airport hotel, order room service, read my book. I could email my girlfriend/lover/partner from the hotel server and finally tell her that… Suddenly the crowd shifts, its murmur rising in pitch, and heads for the far side of the building. I glance back at the gate but no staff is around and so I trail the swarm as they all run-walk through the hall, eyes glommed to the TV monitor hanging from the wall of the faux Irish pub. This time the gasp is in unison.

Shot from a circling helicopter, the view presents LAX surrounded by a circle of leaping fire.

People shush each other so loudly I can’t hear the anchor and can only watch the text that reads: Fire raging at LAX– Exits closed for containment.

I wonder if Jen will see this on TV. What is the time in Melbourne? I picture Jen curled up in the Egyptian cotton sheets we bought with so much fanfare and lust, snoring in that gentle yet relentless way she has. Between Melbourne and Washington there is a fourteen-hour difference. When I call my father from my apartment in Melbourne I love to joke that I can guarantee the sun is going to rise that day. Is Jen worried about me? Of course, Jen always worries about me. But for all the wrong reasons.

Just then the sprinklers go off. We all duck, some starting to flee–but there is nowhere to go. It is as if the ice water screens have sprung leaks and are now gushing with fury. Then, as suddenly as they started, the sprinklers stop. People look around, three teenagers in identical sports jerseys laughing nervously. A businessman with too many expensed-lunches around his girth swats at his soaked suit arm, cursing.

I look over to catch a flight attendant rushing by, pursued by a line of honking travelers, chanting I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know…

In search of answers, the flow of passengers surges towards the west side of the building. Someone with a determined edge to his voice has declared there is an information booth that way. As we pass the vast picture window, we can see how the fire has made a bee line along the beach past the neighborhoods of Santa Monica and Venice before hopping over the water way at Playa del Ray. It now stealthily circles the LAX, waiting to pounce.

At the info booth where a frightened older woman, staining the under arms of her white regulation uniform yellow, tries to fend off chaos, we learn that the planes are grounded — though a few pilots seem to be making executive decisions and careen down the runway just inches ahead of the flames. Flames that now make assured jumps across the tarmac towards the airport, clutching like rock climbers onto trucks and catering vehicles for support.

Panicky announcements crackle from the PA systems–mumbled, incoherent, something about staying put, advise against…what? I can’t hear. Against what exactly? By now my crowd, I call it my crowd, are separating into clumps — families turning to each other and hunkering down around bottles of water and boxes from Dunkin’ Donuts which unlike the other shops is still open. Still manned.

The newsstands have clanged shut their metal gates and people gaze longingly and angrily at the candy.

“It’s just going to melt,” says one astute child.

I look around. No one is catching my eye. I am going to have to ride this one out alone. I’m used to that. It’s fine. I examine the long line at Dunkin’ Donuts. The staff is already making slashing marks of SOLD OUT against most of the menu. My half bottle of lemon-flavored vitamin water and family pack of peanut M&M’s is going to have to get me through.

A sudden screech and a wave of awe flows through the hall. A plane attached to Gate 148 has just burst into flames. Black smoke pours through the door into the departure lounge like a malevolent ghost.

A swarm of incredulous passengers shove their way past the slower, more infirm, who squeak piteously like cornered mice. I trip over a roll-on that some idiot insists on hanging on to and come down hard on my elbow. The pain shoots through my whole body and I cry out. But no one notices or doesn’t care–they are busy running to the other end of the building–past the shut Petrossian Champagne Bar, the Hugo Boss shop, the Porsche Design.

The travel boards are now black. The info woman has fled and no employees of any airline can be found. I stand in the middle of the panic, alone and feel strangely calm, as if I am watching the whole episode all on Netflix, curled in my duvet, a Boatrocker brew in my fist.

The water sprinklers suddenly switch on again. And this time people don’t flinch. Better than nothing we tell each other. This will clear the air. Heads nod up and down in agreement, eyes stuck in wide open mode. But then again the sprinklers suddenly cease and we now know to brace ourselves for the smoke lurking down the hall towards us.

I blink slowly, carefully as I look around. The lights click off. The TV dies. The cool blue water disappears. The building seems to slump as the pressure of climate acclimation collapses. Outside I can see the helicopters circling–blinding white lights peering into the darkened airport. The girl who lamented the melted chocolate is now struggling to breathe. Her mother rummages in her carry-on, screeching ‘Where is it? Paul, you packed it didn’t you? I told you to pack it!’ Paul sits on the floor holding his daughter’s hand and shaking his head rhythmically as if in beat to a song only he can hear.

The heat rises. People loosen shirt collars. Some women strip down to their bras–no longer giving a fuck. Men lie back rasping too much to give a fuck. One sad soul tries to break the glass of an emergency exit and is wrestled back and clobbered. The general consensus being that what is out there is a far worse.

Not everyone is panicky though. Some have managed to pry open the accordion steel shop gates and are looting the high-end stores. Well, not looting exactly. They are grabbing bags and shoes and carrying them out to the concourse only to waddle back still laden with their gains when they see the thickening air. Some resolutely take selfies.

I glance down at my own phone. With my lack of international plan, I can’t alert Jen in Melbourne and I don’t want to distress my father. I am unsure he is even thinking of me now, so intent he must be with his dying. I suppose I could ask to borrow someone’s phone, but they all seem to be on them, crying or texting rapidly. I assume those who aren’t have run out of juice.

Would a text work, I wonder. They’re different to phone calls, aren’t they? Maybe it will go through, pass through the ether and hit its target in Melbourne like a missile. And so I waggle my thumbs over the screen, spelling out ‘I love you.’ I stare at the screen, unconvinced, until I finally pump at the backward button to delete all trace of my affection. I put the phone in my pocket and sit there, watching. Though soon it’s too hard to see through the suffocating smoke. Even when the glass shatters and the burning embers dig into my flesh, I can’t believe what is happening. To the end, I still think someone will rescue us, that someone will do something and not let us die one by one, snuffed out by a rage we never saw coming.

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Melbourne lockdown: How We Live Now

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Here in Melbourne, we’ve been in Stage 4 lockdown for over three weeks now. I fully back the Premier’s decision to place these restrictions on us though I realise how difficult it must be for so many. I am one of the lucky ones. I have shelter, food and family to talk to. My heart goes out to those who are not so blessed.

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In Brunswick the streets have emptied. People look stunned. For the most part everyone is masked, eyes crinkling with smiles as they pass by.

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The Stage 4 restriction means that we are only allowed to leave our house for four reasons: “shopping for food and essential items, care and caregiving, daily exercise (one hour) and work.” I have started volunteering at a food bank once a week and have been given a permit to go there. We are also not allowed out after 8 pm which is sad for us because we love to walk our dog around the block before bedtime and look at the stars. Still, the Covid case numbers are finally coming down and that is a good thing.

Fingers crossed.

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Slow Reading

I had a gorgeous evening last night. I went to a reading group in Melbourne conducted by bibliotherapist, Sonya Tsakalakis.

The set up was simple: a handwritten sign announcing ‘Literary Salon,’ a couple of chairs placed together, a xerox copy of the short story, ‘The Garden Party’ by Katherine Mansfield, and four strangers.

What took place over the next hour and a half was beautiful.

First a short summary of the story:  The Sheridan family is preparing to host a garden party. Laura, one of the teenage daughters, is excited and happily interacts with the workers hired to put up the marquee. She frets over the excessive order of lilies by her mother. She sinks her teeth into a delicious cream puff that is to be served to the guests. Suddenly into this idyllic day comes the news: a local man has been trampled and killed by a horse. Laura has the good grace to suggest that the party be stopped. After all the guests would walk right by the dead man’s house at the bottom of their path. But no one else agrees. Later Mrs. Sheridan sends Laura down to the dead man’s house with a basket of leftovers for the man’s family. Laura is brought in and shown the dead man’s corpse. She is unable to articulate what she feels, managing only: “Isn’t life…”

We took turns reading, stopping about every two pages to discuss. It flowed easily. Sonya deftly molded the evening around the written text and our conversation.

We chatted about what we thought of this comment, that nuance. We laughed. We discussed intimately what it is to be human in today’s world: How we don’t spend time mourning our lost ones. How very apropos the short story remains about poverty and the cluelessness of so many privileged people (I include myself). How we continue to try to distract young women from important issues by concentrating on their looks.

It was different to a book club where you’ve read the book and then get together to discuss. Often by then your first thoughts are forgotten. You are quick to judge. Sometimes the only real question is whether you liked the book or not. Yes, I quite liked it, you might murmur as you reached for the red wine. But what was different about this was that you read together, you remembered the sentences, you remembered your feelings.

I found the whole experience very soul-nurturing because as an author I tend to read too professionally. Either doing research or dissecting a book, wondering how did they do that. Thinking sometimes snootily, Is this really something that got published? Or more often, Wow I could never do this. I never turn off my professional eyes.

Which is sad because the main reason I became a writer is that I loved to read.

So it was good to relax into the story, to concentrate on the text, to fall deeply into the spell. No thoughts of who the author’s agent or publisher must be or any tricks of the trade. Just a long slow deep reading with new insights and conversation.

Slow reading.

If you’re in Melbourne, check out Sonya’s website. You will never read the same way again.

painting: Charwomen in Theater (1946) Norman Rockwell (USA, 1894-1978)

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I’ve Gone Native.

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Trees, that is. I’ve become obsessed with Australian native trees. Gum trees, especially. Their long willowy trunks which reach high into the sky. Their delicate drooping leaves. Their infinitely fascinating bark.

When I think I’ve done enough writing for the day, I like to swing by my local nursery. I’ve become best pals of a sort with the plant man at Bunnings.

You here again? he says.

Yup.

I walk along the aisles, happy as a pig in potatoes, drooling over the choices: cyclads, tree ferns, native grasses, pandorea pandorana…

Recently I’ve discovered CERES nursery in East Brunswick. Oh how my plant obsession runneth over. Here a treasure of Australian natives awaits: grevilleas, banksias, wattles, kangaroo apples, wattles, lilly pillies, blackwoods, chocolate lillies, lemon myrtle. I love the taste of the words in my mouth.

I want to encircle the hot dry garden of our new house with trees and spend many a waking moment deciding which ones. My first dream is to have a pepper corn tree, the most exquisite specimen, sage colored leaves like fine tooth combs waving beautifully in the wind.

Right now I flirt with smaller shrubs and see how they fare in the soil. At Ceres I found a luscious Grevillea Red Hook. Even the cashier was impressed. She looked longingly it at it. “You found that here? I didn’t see it. I’m jealous.”

I hold on to it firmly. I know a good specimen when I see one.

Same thing happened when I found two statuesque burgundy Agonis. “Wow, those are tall. I didn’t see them,” said another cashier with that same jealous look gleamed in his eye.

I’m starting to realize my competitors are not the buyers but the staff.

Today I came home with a dwarf mandarin for my son who will eat no other fruit, and a Silver Princess eucalyptus.

The Silver Princess eucalyptus is very young, barely a metre high. But I have fallen in love with the species. Tall and delicate, often leaning lopsided like she’s had a touch too much to drink. In season her white slim branches will cascade with pink little gum-nuts.

But I must get back to work now–Revisions await–and try not to think about the kangaroo paws I would like plant along the path. They come in all sorts of colors, salmon pink, orange, blood-red, red and green striped, even black. I’m like a kid in the candy shop.

Princess gum photos by Tatiana Gerus (flickr)

Peppercorn tree photo by macinate (flickr)

Kangaroos paw photo by Linda DV (flickr)

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Basking in Brunswick, Melbourne

We moved to Melbourne at the end of 2012. We moved to Brunswick just north of the Royal Park about four months ago. It is visually one of the most interesting places I’ve ever lived in. The following are just some of my snap shots…..

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Acustico Cafe on Union Street. I walk by it everyday and am amazed each time.

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I caught this girl walking by the Town Hall. Loved everything about her.

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My lovely girl had just spent three months in China. It was our first walk about the neighborhood.

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Right off Sydney Road….

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Cafe culture….

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Beware! Yarn bombing on Sydney Road.

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What will greet you when you go to Ray’s on Victoria Street. Yummy breakfasts, perfect coffee.

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Not in Brunswick per se, but loved its sentiments…..

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Wishing you and yours a profoundly Happy New Year!

x, Nina

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Why I love Brunswick

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House as Character

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My house is a character. She was born in 1905 and has sat on a corner lot in the middle of Brunswick, just north of the Melbourne CBD, being grand. I call her the Baroness. She has seen Brunswick change, from a plantation to a brick making center to Greek and Italian conclave to a downright hipster pad with superb coffee and even better graffiti. Down the street one of the shops is still engraved with the name of one of her owners, a not very nice man I’m told who in the 1920’s made oodles of money from his general store but refused to extend credit.

My house is what’s called here of the federation style. It’s a particular Australian style which overlapped the Edwardian era but embraced Australiana themes. Australian flora and fauna were prominently featured: kangaroos, wattles, bottle brush.  Inside we have smoked doors featuring gum trees and stained glass windows glowing with sand and sea. The fireplaces are carved with Art Nouveau scrolls. The molding around the living room features lyre birds.

My house has so much character I have to resist making her into something she’s not. When we first moved in I had so many ideas.  I wanted to lighten up her dark yellow and green trim. I wanted to plant cool clean hedges in place of the granny-fashioned row of lollypop white roses. I was aching to clamp a frilly verandah on her and make her beautiful. But once I arrived I realized she is who she is. For one thing she’s just not a verandah kinda gal. She’d look ridiculous. I have to respect that.

Do you see a writing blog coming a mile away….

I’ll spare you.

I just wanted to say that I’ve painting some rooms in lighter colors. I even painted the yellow tiles in the bathroom white. I didn’t know you could do that and it worked perfectly. The good thing about painting I’ve found is that your thoughts turn to your writing. In fact I thought up a great blog the other day as I painted, tongue stuck between my teeth, the intricate rose molding above the hall. It was witty, insightful, ground changing. Unfortunately by the time I finished the painting I’d completely forgotten it.

But I’m hoping more thoughts will bubble up about my novel as I try to finish rewrite phase. But some days my brain is exhausted. I have squeezed it dry of anything to do with the subject and it must fill up again. So it turns to bits and pieces and that’s fine with me.

The Baroness and I just hang out, listening to the birds outside the doors squawking their little hearts out. Wiping paint off  our noses, we keep going. Because in the end that’s all that works.

Though occasionally I do feel her shaking her roof at some of my ideas.

x

kangaroo window by PDQPatterns.com

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House Renovating for Writers

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We bought a house. We plunked down a fortune and signed an IOU in blood to our local bank. We received keys and a pile of bricks. We are wildly happy.

But today I stand in the hallway overwhelmed. Renovation, even the mildest, most superficial, is not for sissies.

The first couple of days I was so excited. I sat, pleased as purple punch, deciding paint colors. I obsessively poured over magazine pictures which had no bearing on my house but which I had turned to as a template for my future home. I was determined to create something beautiful, awe-inspiring, Zowie-invoking.

But after a week I have hit a wall. The hallway has taken the life out of me. Two coats primer. Two coats white paint. Endless painting of the molding around the ceiling edge and the two roses above the hanging lights. My excitement has turned to a slight depression.

Will this ever get finished.? Paint drips down the walls and splatters all over the floor. Cans of sticky paint and even sticker brushes lie underfoot. I am now realizing why painters get the big bucks: They deserve every penny.

I am also struck by how much renovating is like writing a novel.

You get an idea. You are so excited. You jump in, words flying here and there, until about a week into it you grind to a halt, words dripping down the page, surrounded by sticky platitudes. And you realize why the professional story tellers get the big bucks….

I smile as I reach out and return to painting. The key, of course, is to paint one wall after the other. Write one sentence after the other. Until you reach the end. And then you get to look back and say Ooooh! Or, as with most feats of creativity, see how different your feat is from what you had envisioned. But still you have done it. And you’ve done it the best you can.

Take a bow.

Take a shower.

Start again.

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Our Ladye of Melbourne

Ladye Chapel, St Francis' Church - HDR by Dale Allman

With all this fuss about the new Pope, I’ve got a confession to make.

I’ve been going to church.

Not to masses per se. No, I’ve starting sitting in the front pew  just thinking.

It started a couple of weeks ago when I was walking along Elizabeth Street in Melbourne and noticed the imposing church of St. Francis. I thought I’d pop in for a peek. Or a stickybeak, as they say here. Inside I found this lovely little chapel called the Ladye Chapel where a painting of the Mother and Child hangs to the left of the altar.

I tucked myself into one of the pews and looked around, mesmerized by the beauty: the rose walls, stained-glass windows, the gold swirls, all shimmering in candlelight. I soon became aware that there were many like me, sitting quietly in the darkness. More people wandered in from the hot, sunny, busy street, in cut-off shorts, in business suits, in tied-dyed halter dresses. Each one  made a bee line for the painting and reached up to touch it like an icon.

I was amazed. In this crazy twenty-first century world men and women  still finding comfort in a 2000 year old tradition of touching an icon.

I stopped being a Catholic long ago. I couldn’t match my feminist ideals with an institution which seemed to have no place in its headquarters for women. (Though I do recognize the lifeline the church has been for the poor.)

But I’ve always loved old churches and the scent of incense and myrrh. And I especially love the idea of Mary.

I guess I really love the idea that someone is listening.

So I sit and say “Hey, it’s me again.”

And in my mind I hear her say, “How you doing, honey?”

Because for some reason– I don’t know why– she’s got this salt of the earth accent. This Seen-it-all attitude. She’s one of those women who is so busy she’s the only one who has time to do you a favor.

I picture her with lines on her face like a seabed and crazy grey hair zinging from her halo. She’s got floppy arms and a heavy belly under that blue robe.

But mostly she has a heart so big you can take yours and tuck it inside hers with all the others who have come in to touch her picture.

And I know– (I also know some of you might disagree with this)–that my not being a practicing Catholic is OK by her. Because love, as the Church agrees, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

So I like to say hello.

And she says hello back.

I chat about my worries.

She listens.

And when I finish she says, “Well, hon, I’ve heard worse.”

Of course, she says it the nicest way.

So I nod in agreement and tip toe out, trying not to bother the ones with the real problems.

photo by Dale Allman (flickr)

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