Wednesday, December 22, 2010

trying on fragility this Christmas

My colleague, Andy Calder, hosted the brilliant Lorna Hallahan in Melbourne a while ago. (She has a wonderful essay 'On Being Odd' in the recently released Best Australian Essays 2010. I can't recommend it enough.) On the day she was with us she spoke a sentence I've been thinking about ever since:

"our obsession with perfection has inoculated us to the fragility of humanity."

I am grateful to have that sentence to sit with this Christmas.

I am also grateful that yesterday Cheryl reminded me of Tim Minchin's song "White Wine in the Sun".  I listened to it three times in a row.

And most of all, I am grateful to be heading for Adelaide tomorrow to spend time with my beautiful family. I want to remember to be thankful for them more often.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

the precariousness of home

This is a photo of my house taken by my friend Ben who visited our farm for the first time on the weekend. He said while he was sitting on our lawn drinking a glass of wine: “You guys own all this. The grass, the garden, it’s all yours. You won’t ever have a landlord come over and inspect your house again.” It’s a weird feeling to come to terms with, owning a home, and I don’t think it has become any less weird in the past nine months. This is the first time I’ve ever lived in a house that’s been owned by me or any member of my family. I was always hesitant about the idea of “home ownership” and have never really able to articulate my unease around questions of place and belonging.  

I spent time with a group of Chaplains yesterday as part of my work with schools. One Chaplain spoke of her interest in the sacred within Australian literature and this encouraged me to do some thinking today about notions of a spiritual home within the Australian context.

A few years ago I did part of a Graduate Certificate in English at Melbourne Uni and took a subject with Jennifer Rutherford called: “The Uncanny in Australian Literature”. She completely broke my brain- in a good way- and it has changed the way I relate to Australian film and literature. The course explored the haunting of the Australian landscape found in much colonial fiction and poetry and questioned this country’s sense of the sacred, of home, of place, of identity….

I came across this essay today by Lyn McCredden from Deakin University entitled 'It's a hungry home': postcolonial displacements, popular music and the sacred. It is continuing to provoke my understanding of home and strangerhood being in constant negotiation with each other. I wanted to share some of the essay here:

“Is this oscillation between home and homelessness – experienced differently by colonisers and colonised - able to be seen as dialectical, or are we dealing here simply with contradictory and necessarily antagonistic motions? Can the human desire for home, belonging, land, place – so powerfully voiced by Indigenous and diasporic peoples, and differently by colonisers – hold at its heart, in reasoned, social human practices, its opposite, a significant acknowledgement of homelessness, rootlessness, journeying, and the exclusions, expulsions, barriers caused by defending home? What can this dialectical epistemology of home promise to achieve? And what distinctions need to be maintained in regard to colonisers and colonised when thinking about this doubleness?....

…what is the particular dynamic that needs to be acknowledged and worked through for white Australians, now? Is it possible for white Australia, looking into the distorted mirror of Australia’s history, to see both the ongoing Aboriginal dispossession and to see its own face reflected, but differently, transformatively? The argument of this essay is that to do so, and to continue the processes of renewal and justice, it is necessary for non-Indigenous Australians to learn to think and practice “home” and “dislodgement” together…”

McCredden later goes on to reference my brain breaking lecturer:

“…Australian critic Jennifer Rutherford is interested in intervening in monolithic understandings of home and nation…. she seeks to disrupt unified mythologies that paper thinly over deeper, psychic struggles for home. In her cultural and literary analysis of Australia, The Gauche Intruder, she focuses on “the way that fantasies of the good provide a camouflage for aggression at both a national and local level: an aggression directed both to an external and an internal Other.” (10). For Rutherford, following novelist Patrick White’s infamous 1950s description of Australia as “the Great Australian Emptiness”, she argues that the good, homey, egalitarian nation of Australia needs to recognise the spiritual dimension of its emptiness, an emptiness which is…

'an aggression towards the Other that has been endemic in white Australian history; the fantasy of the good neighbour and the good nation that has sustained this aggression; and a certain experience of emptiness, of a symbolic fragility or inequality to the task of representing this nothingness, that fantasy has never been able to occlude. (12).'

The Gauche Intruder is alive to the power of national myths, and of the rhetorical and political mechanisms actively constructing such myths. Rutherford places in linguistic, literary and psychoanalytic terms what happens when we buy our own rhetoric, when home becomes the monolithic, protected, expulsive refusal of others, even as it dresses itself up in the very terms of protection of the nation, home, kith and kin; in other words, when home is mandated as this “splitting of humanity into natives and strangers,” (Levinas 232), rather than the double, dialectic sense, for post-colonial citizens, of homelessness within all understandings of home.”

Levinas, Emmanuel. Difficult Freedom: Essays on Judaism. Trans. Seán Hand. Johns Hopkins Jewish Studies. Eds. Sander Gilman and Steven T. Katz. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP, 1990.

Rutherford, Jennifer. The Gauche Intruder: Freud, Lacan and the White Australian Fantasy, Melbourne: MUP, 2000.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

when there's too much to say...

I got home from the UK almost three weeks ago, and I haven't been able to write anything down in coherent sentences since then. I blamed jet lag for a while, but that excuse is getting a bit old, so I might just write down some partially formed thoughts...

I was in England on Cheryl's oxygen tour. And it really was oxygen for me: it came at a time when I really needed to breathe some fresh air. I can't express how privileged I feel to have been given the time and space to listen, learn and explore with an insightful group of people. Our group spent time observing the role art plays in public spaces and had the opportunity to meet with some incredibly generous artists and thinkers. We spent time in Liverpool, Leeds and London and reflected on the contexts we were visiting by asking:

 "Which spaces leave room for the possibility of transformation?

"What spaces do we find transformative and what do we mean by transformative?"

"Which spaces are invitational and why?"

These questions have complex and multiple answers but I will try to give some personal reflections and examples from some particular places. I think, for me, the most transformative spaces allowed me to experience a different way of knowing. I find safety in thinking with words and mulling ideas over in my mind. For the first part of the trip, I found myself distilling an experience into a single word. Our time at a beautiful sculpture exhibition at the Gloucester cathedral was summarised in my mind as "holy", after sitting with an Antony Gormley piece in the same exhibition I was left with the word "surrender". I was moved by these works, and I was blown away by the quality and the curation and the space. But it wasn't until a week later, when we had been at the Hayward Gallery in London, that I realised the power of a space that can leave you with no words at all.

We were very lucky to be at the Hayward on the last day of the Ernesto Neto exhibition The Edges of the World. Cheryl wrote about the space beautifully on her blog, and I will add some personal thoughts below.

This sentence still sends shivers down my spine: "Be gentle with the edges of the world". The space embodied the word gentle. The installation was immersive and invited experiential knowing. We were allowed to touch, to smell, to live into the space. Everyone changed when they were in this place: people were smiling at strangers. It was only later that I could describe this exhibition using words...Neto's work spilled out of the walls of the gallery and into my world. I felt invited to be my whole self- all of my senses were engaged. The space lingered in me, and encouraged me to think in unfamiliar ways. My body knew that something had changed in me, but it took a while for my body to tell my brain about that shift.

It was only after a day that I started thinking about the violent language we usually use to describe our attempts at pioneering new ways of being. We talk about "cutting edge", "forging ahead", "pushing forward", "breaking new ground". We try to force others into new places...and then we are confused when these violent approaches are not embraced by the people in our worlds. Neto's work shifted something in me, and helped me to acknowledge the violence in my own approach to change. Being in this space, I was able to feel, see, smell, taste and try on a gentler world.

Neto encourages us to:

"...breathe through our pores,
close our eyes to see,
smell to listen,
dance to levitate..."

After four weeks I can still feel the softness of the space, evoke the calm smells, the vibrant colours. It takes a poetic moment to remove us from rhetoric, from cerebral understanding, and to allow a space to transform not just our thought patterns, but to challenge our entire being to live differently.

As I move between strangerhood and welcome
sister and friend,
wife and daughter,
colleague and mentor,
I must not forget the edges of these worlds
I must try to be gentle

monday morning wake up call

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

where strangerhood and welcome meet

Below are some images I used for an installation space at Scots School in Albury last week. We spent time wondering about notions of strangerhood and welcome. The phrase "where strangerhood and welcome meet" was shamelessly stolen from the beautiful artist (beautiful work and beautiful person) Shaeron Caton-Rose. We were very lucky to meet with Shaeron in her home in a village near Leeds while in the UK. Her phrase prompted some questions about home, longing and belonging. I sat with a group of the boarding students and some questions for an evening:

Where do you feel like a stranger?
Where do you feel welcome?  

there was a chance to spend time with some stations:

as we travel through life
people stop and welcome us in
take a seed
and a piece of paper
make a prayer/hope/wish for someone who has welcomed you
and plant your prayer and seed so they can grow

what does it feel like to be a stranger?
when are you a guest?
where has strangerhood given you comfort?

where do you feel comfort?
what do you long for?

who do you welcome into your life or home?
what would you like to give a stranger or friend?
take a metal tag
write your answer with a pin
attach it to a gift
we welcome the stranger

the students were incredibly generous in joining me in these explorations and made some beautiful contributions to the space. One of my favourite moments was when one of the students went around "labelling students with love":

the boarding students at Scots are a really special group of people and I will really miss the group in year 12 leaving at the end of this year. They have allowed me into their space, their home, on a number of occassions this year and I'm really grateful for the welcome I receive from the Chaplain, students and staff. I am incredibly lucky to be working with such a gracious school.

thanks to Scott and Frontiers in Photography for making beautiful music for me to play in the space. It worked perfectly.

Monday, September 27, 2010

maps and power

I have recently returned from the UK, and am still finding words to describe my experiences there. Today it seems appropriate to post some reflections I had after I saw an exhibition at the British Library: ‘Magnificent Maps: Power, Propaganda and Art’. It was an incredible exhibition, made up of historical maps from across the globe. This one was my favourite, Fra Mauro World Map c.1450 by William Frazer, 1804, considered by many to be the first 'modern' world map:

I wrote after I had visited the library:

“Maps have largely been used for the power and influence of rulers throughout history. They depicted actual and aspirational dominions of the ruler….The actual power they held, and the power they hoped for…"

This exhibition made me think a lot about my own spheres of influence. I wrote:
"What propaganda does the map of my world hold? Where are the new edges for me to draw? What hopes can I portray in the map of my world?”

These questions continually surface, as I consider the power I hold, and the powerlessness I often feel. I need to respect and recognise both my power and my powerlessness to be truly human today.

what is it we are doing here?

After twighlight,
At her desk,
She ponders the implications of signing in crayon.

(I saw this poem on a train the other morning as part of Melbourne's Moving Galleries. And I liked it a lot.)

Saturday, August 7, 2010


Last Friday was the 65th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. I was asked to give a reflection at the Educating for a Purposeful Life Conference at Kingswood College on this important historical event, and how it might have ongoing meaning in our lives today. Greg Beck reminded us of the atrocities of the bombing, and showed excerpts from a powerful movie called: White Light Black Rain. I then went on to speak about how the shadows left on the pavement of the city of Hiroshima can act as a reminder of the personal shadows we carry with us everyday. A few people asked for the text from this presentation and I have made it available below:

“The city of Hiroshima was reduced to ashes”

“A person who sat on the step evaporated, leaving only a shadow.”

A shadow, permanently etched on the steps of the city of Hiroshima, reminding us of these painful memories.

When I see these photos, I feel a deep sense of dread. A fear that I can’t really explain. How do we get our heads around the fact that humanity is capable of such atrocity.

I am terrified,
I look away,
I avert my eyes.
What are we capable of?
What am I capable of?

I know I’m capable of many things, both good and bad. My personal story contains pain and joy. Helen McGrath and Julie Perrin both reminded us yesterday that grief and pain are part of each of our stories. My story has made me afraid of things. Some of these things seem small and inconsequential:

1/ I’m scared of heights.
2/ I’m absolutely terrified that my husband will beat me at board games.

These concerns are indicative of some of my larger fears:

1/ I am scared of my pride being hurt.
2/ I have a fear of abandonment
3/ I fear the damage I could do to those close to me. I worry about what happens when I act in my own self interest. There are small examples of this – (eating the last bit of chocolate) to large examples (like finding myself letting down those close to me or skewing the truth of a story to paint myself in the best light)

“Everyone carries a shadow…and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the bigger and darker it is.”
Carl Jung

We rarely share our fears. It’s not the most popular opener in the staff room or at a café:

“What’s your deepest darkest fear about yourself?”...
"I'll tell you about my shadow if you'll tell me about yours"

We are terrified.
Are we bad?
We stop ourselves from speaking our own inner truths
We fear our own feelings
We push down our struggles, but they don’t go away
We can’t run from our own shadow

I came across an artist recently who makes large scale murals in which he lists his fears. These pieces are part of an exhibition called "Visions and Fears", currently found at a gallery in Barcelona. The artist, Brian Rea says that he had realised that his fears had started to define his behaviour. His fears fill up a 7-meter-by-3.5-meter chalkboard. He says the time it took to write all these words made the process particularly rhythmic and reflective.

“What seems bad to you within yourself will grow pure by the very fact of you observing it.”

We must discover our shadow as well as our gifts in order to become effective and whole. Our fear is interconnected with our deepest longing.

When we stop to consider our shadows, our fears, we start to better understand ourselves, our capacities and our limitations, our longing, and can live the lives that we are called to live.

“If we are to live our lives fully and well, we must learn to embrace the opposites, to live in a creative tension between our limits and our potentials.”
Parker Palmer.

And then:

As educators, we can encourage fragility as well as success in those we teach. We can allow the spaces we create to encourage vulnerability as well as zest and passion for life.

“What happens if I do not welcome some aspects of myself and banish them to a life outside? How can I find wholeness if some of the pieces are missing?”
Michael Lindfield (Psychologist)

“I’d rather be whole than good”
Carl Jung

It is only when I come to terms with my own shadow, my grief, my fears, my mistakes that I can even try to understand others. My shadow loses its power over me. Compassion for others only comes when we find compassion for ourselves.
we join our grief, our pain, to the larger story.
to each others’ stories.
we yearn for wholeness, for peace, for meaning, for home.

today we stop.
we acknowledge the shadows left at Hiroshima.
we remember the people who were ripped from this world.
we turn around and face our shadows.
the shadows found in all humanity.

The reflection ended with a piece of spoken word and a song by Pádraig Ó Tuama . His CD can be purchased for download here. A huge thank you to Cheryl for giving me his CD a few months ago. It is earth shattering.  

Please feel free to email me if you would like a copy of the power point that I used with this presentation. More than happy to send it on...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A brittle life (in haiku)

this strange existence
in order to shift, change, shape
I must surrender

I had lunch with the very wise John Allison again last week. We spent a lot of time discussing the scary notion of surrendering into our own lives. John continues to leave lasting impressions on me; his reflections on story-telling sparked this blog entry on our Drop Bear Theatre blog last year.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Embrace a chaotic world

Social commentator Douglas Rushkoff wrote these words 11 years ago but they spoke loudly to me this morning as I read them in the snug cabin of my country Vline train:

"Our children, ironically, have already made their move. They are leading us in our evolution past linear thinking, duality, mechanism, heirarchy, metaphor and God himself towards a dynamic, animistic, weightless and recapitulated culture. Chaos is their actual environment."

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Right blog, right time

Today seems to be one of those days when people send me links to blogs that make me simultaneously happy and weepy.

Two of them are: Daily Poetics (thank you Cheryl) and Before I die I want to... (thanks Eddie and Bri). I am also addicted to thxthxthx which makes me smile nearly every morning.

I'm not sure if it's the blogs or the cold and flu tablets, but I'm feeling calm and warm right now.

Monday, June 28, 2010

One Hundred Languages

The Reggio Emilia Approach is inspiring me in my work today. It strengthens my belief that the arts is not a subject area, but a means by which children can create and communicate meaning across all learning areas. It also reminds me why we need to encourage all kinds of spiritual exploration with young people. The hundred languages poem says this much better than I could ever hope to:

The Hundred Languages

No way. The hundred is there.
The child
is made of one hundred.
The child has
a hundred languages
a hundred hands
a hundred thoughts
a hundred ways of thinking
of playing, of speaking.

A hundred always a hundred
ways of listening
of marveling, of loving
a hundred joys
for singing and understanding
a hundred worlds
to discover
a hundred worlds
to invent
a hundred worlds
to dream.

The child has
a hundred languages
(and a hundred hundred hundred more)
but they steal ninety-nine.
The school and the culture
separate the head from the body.
They tell the child:
to think without hands
to do without head
to listen and not to speak
to understand without joy
to love and to marvel
only at Easter and at Christmas.

They tell the child:
to discover the world already there
and of the hundred
they steal ninety-nine.

They tell the child:
that work and play
reality and fantasy
science and imagination
sky and earth
reason and dream
are things
that do not belong together.

And thus they tell the child
that the hundred is not there.
The child says:
No way. The hundred is there.

-Loris Malaguzzi (translated by Lella Gandini)
Founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Advance Australia

Last night I went to see an art exhibition curated by a friend of mine called "The Australia Project". Many artists were invited to respond to questions about the Australian identity and I was overwhelmed by the diversity of the artwork. People from across Australia are now invited to answer the question, "what makes you Australian?" and send in their postcards. You can download your postcards or order some here:

Some of these postcards were hung up around the gallery last night. One 12 year old student had answered:

"What makes me Australian is cultural diversity...My mum's parents moved to Australia in the early 60s, to have a better future and quality of life than they would've in Southern Greece....My dad moved here (from France) in 1970 when he was 22. My friend came up with the term "Freek" (half French, half Greek) for me, and I'm Australian too, so for fun I'm a Freekalian. So watching Japanese TV, and American Movies, while eating Indian takeaway is why I'm proud to be 100% Aussie."

another 11 year old student wrote:

"To live in Australia means a lot to me because it is a kind of country that doesn't kick out people from other countries and cultures. I am thankful for that because my family comes from a different country and I have a different culture." 

Contrast these hopeful messages with Pauline Hanson's comments yesterday, saying she would not sell her house to Muslims because they are "not compatible with our culture". Click here to put in $100 to collectively buy Pauline's house for a group of Muslim refugees. Let's embrace diversity and be the Australia that the school children believe we are.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

my husband is a cartographer

I think I might be the only person in the world who gets into bed next to someone reading an atlas. I find novels relaxing, or perhaps a spot of poetry before goodnights, but not Tadhgh. Nope. He is- well- he's a cartographer. When I first met Tadhgh I had no idea what that was. "OOOHHhhhhh....." I eventually realised: "you make cool!"

"Well, not really", is his standard reply. Tadhgh also thought working with maps would be "cool" back when he started studying Geomatics. Surely map making involved adventure, risk taking and sailing through dangerous, unchartered waters. But it wasn't long before ideas of wild seas and impenatrable terrain were replaced by a clicking mouse, a quiet office and too many hours in front of the computer screen. Tadhgh loves maps: the possibilities and the information, but the realities of map creation aren't quite like they would have been in the 18th century.

Maps intrigue many of us (I mean, I don't take them to bed with me, but they are pretty amazing.) So much information fits on such a little page...and WE ARE STANDING ON THE BIG VERSION! Woah. It answers so many questions about the space we inhabit, while also opening up conversations about that very space. Maps have a part to play in a variety of spheres, from the political, the geographical, the historical, the metaphorical...

Years ago I was driving with friends to a rehearsal in an outer suburb of Adelaide, over an hour from where I lived at the time. We pulled up at some traffic lights and looked over to the next car to see my brother and one of his friends sitting in the car next to us. Never surprised to learn about the antics of my brother and his friends, we heard that they were heading to- "end of map"- the last page of the Adelaide street directory in the northern direction. What would they find there? What happened after "the end"? These guys are truly the Burke and Wills of our age. Turns out that when they got to the northern edge of the UBD and stopped the car, there was a mobile phone lying on the ground. Weird. But good for my mum because she used that phone for a couple of years. I love that these guys went on this adventure. It illustrates to me that we are all exploring the prescribed boundaries of our world, blending the metaphor and the physical in our own delightfully strange ways. (I think they did south and east 'end of maps' at later times too)

Cheryl Lawrie wrote a blog post a while ago that explores some of these ideas in a style that goes more for the poetic and less for the absurd. She writes of the space beyond the map;

as it turns out
every map has an artificial edge
prescribed by those
who define its scope
who draw the thick black line,
however arbitrarily,
around the edges of the world.

Beautifully said.

Thanks Tadhgh, for increasing my appreciation of mapping life. I look forward to learning more...

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

garden eating

On the tram tonight I was reading an article in Dumbo Feather (a “mook” published four times a year about inspiring people- and lovely to the touch). The article is about a Sydney-based chef, Holly Davis, who encourages us to consider the origins of our food and how our ancestors might have eaten. I was thinking about going to the shops when I got home, but was reminded to step into Tadhgh's magnificent garden and harvest this:

Our first tomato! How lucky am I? and stuffed zuchinni flowers and garden salad: delicious...and the corn is on its way...

Friday, January 29, 2010

taking risks

Alicia sent me this quote last week. Jess and I are thinking about using it as the basis for the interfaith film festival we have started organising together with students from schools in Victoria and Tasmania:
"Filmmaking is a matter of asking questions and holding yourself tenderly open, ready to come across new questions at any moment… It is not about moving from confusion to clarity - for the actor, director or the viewer. Getting lost is the goal - being forced to break old habits and understandings, giving up your old forms of complacency. The way to wisdom is through not knowing".
-John Cassavetes

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


Many things confuse me in life, but my need for friendship has always been a given. And I'm incredibly lucky to have extraordinary people continually bounce into my life. Until recently, I have been terrified about the impending move away from my community of friends in Melbourne. But in the past few days I have started to get excited about moving to Kyneton (it's only one month away!). The "leaving Brunswick grief" is easing a bit and I have the "happy butterflies in pit of tummy" setting in. Today I am looking forward to:

1. having the space to host large dinners around our new table
2. time to sip tea in the sun on our new front porch with friends

Friends. They rock my world. Sometimes they even make me a musical documentary. Hilarious bliss.