Memo to a Younger Self

Toastmasters has been a fun activity for me for the past few years. I tried it out because I’d heard great things about it from friends and I thought it might help my writing – you have to write your own speeches. Speeches are essentially stories about how you feel (an opinion like wildlife conservation), an experience you’ve had (like travelling solo), or something you know (like floristry). Quite often you end up researching something you’re curious about and becoming even more interested.
There are lots of other opportunities too. This week I’m presenting the Salute to the Theme. For two minutes I’ll talk about the theme, What advice would you give your younger self? There are plenty of ways to tackle this and I could talk about studying more, listening to your father or backpacking through Europe. Maybe don’t get a perm. But I’m going to talk about doing things that build self-confidence and self-reliance and being part of a group or team.
Learning new skills gives you a sense of achievement which makes you feel good about yourself. Mixing those skills with other people makes you feel integrated, useful and joyful. Toastmasters includes all these things.
The group encourages you in every task, whether it be a speech or preparing morning tea. Everyone has a role on the day. There’s plenty of praise and evaluations involve the sandwich technique: point of praise, point for improvement, point of praise. So, you get better all the time.
I’ve read that one of the key indicators of longevity is sociability. People who talk to their neighbours, volunteer in community activity and join clubs, live longer.
My advice to my younger self would be Join in! Have a go! Learn something, don’t be afraid to make mistakes or worry what people will think. If you’re mixing with like-minded people, they’ll want you to succeed as well. Not being reliant on others, emotionally or physically, but being happy to give, share and accept help, as in a team, means you’ll be a stronger happier person; one who’s achieving what they want in life and who others are attracted to.
When it comes down to one line, I’d say join Girl Guides.

Conversation and Music

Once a month, a bunch of wise old birds, girlfriends of mine, gather to talk philosophy! Sort of! There’s a lot of eating of cake, as well. And the philosophy is on a minor level – our own! We talk about things that interest 50+ women: issues that need a bit of thought over the month before the next meeting.

It’s intriguing to find out about our earlier lives, what we believe affected our values, paths and decisions. Once, we brought in a photo of our young-self and asked, What was your dream and how did that go? Another time, What did your parents try to teach you that you ignored? There’s often a lot of laughter.

We might talk about something more current like, How does Procrastination affect your life? We’ve also handled big issues as a group. One month, we discussed and filled in an Advanced Care Directive, helping each other think through our answers.

I’d highly recommend this kind of gathering to anybody with a group of friends. To me, it’s like a more personal kind of book club.

Sometimes we just have fun with it.

This month’s topic was, What music did you listen to and love in your youth that makes you feel young again now? It was the most animated meeting we’ve had. Everyone had a list of music and it gathered volume as we took turns around the room. In the end, we were throwing names into the space and they were bouncing off the walls. We had playlists and vinyl records to show. Ladies were telling stories of father’s taking them to rock concerts, dancing with first loves, crying over special opera moments and driving through Europe with three cassettes.

Commonalities had us breaking into song with music from the sixties to eighties winning in our hearts. However, it was the seventies that reigned supreme. Was it our age or was it the music?

I’ll share my list and then throw in some of the others. See what you think.

Mine: Carole King, Janis Ian, Fleetwood Mac, Bee Gees, The Jacksons, Michael Jackson, Leo Sayer, Bread, America, Melanie Safka, Roger Daltrey, Neil Young, Meatloaf

Others: Dire Straits, Split Enz, Maryanne Faithful, The Supremes, The Beatles

And so many more.

What was your most loved music from your youth?

Life sucks…..I don’t think so!

My writing journey has involved many sweet indulgences: writing courses on Sydney Harbour, workshops in Tasmania and retreats in Ubud. I love meeting other writerley people, talking writing and doing the work set. It’s challenging, rewarding and fun.

My current experience is an online course run by the Writers Studio at Bronte. Called Unlocking Creativity, it’s designed to help loosen me up, shove off the perfectionist-nag on my shoulder, get the flow of thoughts going, and get me writing every day. There’s daily homework and feedback to give and receive. It’s hard work.

One of last week’s writing prompts was Life sucks! I had successfully written on Standing in the rain, Coughing fit and Love hurts, but when it came to putting pen to paper on Life Sucks, I was stumped. That doesn’t say much for my imagination, does it? I thought about various hardships like the farmers struggling with drought or living in war-torn Syria, but they didn’t fit with the flippancy of the term. So I struggled with various catastrophes like losing your pack while hiking in torrential rain. That was the best I could come up with. Wow, what did that mean?

Fiction may be made-up but it comes from truths, and obviously my truth isn’t Life sucks, it’s life doesn’t suck!

I’m a very lucky girl. I was born in Australia, so I have an advantage. It’s pretty hard to say life sucks when you live in a country with this climate, beauty and level of safety. The culture is generally to look after your mates and be kind to animals. We love the great outdoors and barbeques. Every day, I feel blessed to call Australia home.

I have health, the love of friends and family, shelter and sustenance. These are the foundations for a happy life.

Of course, there’ll be shitty days, months, or even years. Things will go wrong. Life is chaos and we can only try to control it. Have you noticed that when you have bad luck, it happens in threes? I’m not sure about that but I can say, once something goes wrong, there seems to be a clump. Maybe that’s purely attitude. If you get the shits, you often notice the negative.

I have bad things happen to me like everyone else. My car breaks down, I’m going through divorce and my dogs got old. But that’s not life – that’s stuff! If you have the necessary foundations, the key to never having to say life sucks is attitude.

We alone are responsible for our responses.

‘Everything can be taken away from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way.’                               Viktor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning.

Next time you spill coffee down your white shirt, miss a plane connection, have a washed-out holiday or get a pimple in the middle of your forehead, don’t think life sucks, think that sucks. But if you have tales to tell that can prove me wrong, please do, because my imagination sucks and I could use them to do better writing.

‘Things always seem to turn out best for those who seem to make the most of how things turn out.’ Rod Junkins The Art of Creative Thinking

 

 

A good Series is like a good book

Since I started spending swags of time in my house down the south coast of NSW, I’ve adopted the habit of watching DVDs of TV Drama Series. This is a far more satisfying way to spend an evening than trying to find something to watch on TV.

Being selective about what I watch means I don’t waste time scrolling through what’s on offer and then settling on something that isn’t very satisfying. That isn’t a great way to relax. Enjoying what I’m watching, especially a Series, means I’m engaged, entertained but also invested in a story.

A good Series is like a good book. Each episode starts with a CONFLICT, some obstacle that a character has to overcome, and that means ACTION. We are engaged most when we become involved with the CHARACTER, whether you love them or hate them. The personality of the character affects how we feel about them, as in real life. Great characters have multiple facets: they have good traits, interesting quirks and flaws. We relate to them and want to know what happens to them. We watch the interactions with other characters. We feel more engaged if the stakes are high. We want some resolution but to keep watching we need another conflict or complication to lead us into the next episode. What will be the character’s reaction to this dilemma? Sometimes we can’t wait to find out.

The visual also needs to be captivating. The SETTING, the time and place, adds to the entertainment. It needs to look good. In a book, we create pictures in our heads, but on a screen, the visual is there for us to see. Costume for me is also important. What are they wearing? Is it fabulous or awful? Of course we’re all judges!

Exploring THEMES is essential too. I love a point for discussion. My own opinion can be broadened or firmed up by watching a discussion between the characters or watching how they behave. Which brings in DIALOGUE. It’s essential that this is engaging, real and succinct. One-liners that catch my attention, whether hilarious or poignant, can make my night. Downton Abbey’s Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith) made me laugh out loud on many occasions but she was also full of good advice like: “You are a woman with a brain and reasonable ability. Stop whining and find something to do.” Sex in the City has shocking one-liners flying out like corn popping.

My current Series-watching is the Australian Drama, A Place to Call Home. This ran from 2013-2018. It’s set in pastoral Australia in the early 1950’s. The characters are all multi-faceted: they are complicated, loveable, sickening and joyful. The setting is a magnificent house full of antiques, countryside that makes you want to run out and buy a farm and an arty apartment in Sydney. The costumes are gorgeous and appropriate to the characters. The young Anna Bligh (Abby Earl) in later series has the most fabulous dresses but manages to look like an angel even when riding a horse. There is a lot of visual appeal.

But it’s the themes that are the stand-out component in this show. The lead character, Sarah Adams (Marta Dusseldorp), is the catalyst for conflicts, complications and resolutions. The spin off from this character displays and explores the prejudices of the time including fear, hate and misconceptions towards Jews, Gays, Italian immigrants, experimental farmers and Aboriginals. Each episode reveals issues of the time: women’s health issues, ‘ownership’ of women by men, Bohemian lifestyles, assisted dying and unmarried mothers. It’s also about giving people a second chance, learning, changing, and the journey of self-improvement. It’s full of insights and like all good fiction, especially historical fiction, based on a lot of truths. Watching the show reminds me that we are evolving and becoming better people, but also that tension and prejudices lie just beneath the surface and should be remembered. It’s not a light or funny show but it’s entertaining nonetheless. The issues are often deep and therefore the insights are commonly earnest, like this one from Sarah Adams to George Bligh: “Loving children is not a quid pro quo transaction.”

So don’t waste your relaxation time. Get into a good Series. If it’s lasted past a few, it’s likely to be a compelling story with interesting characters and thought-provoking themes. It’s likely to be a world you can immerse yourself in, an escape from your day to day reality and an enjoyable experience.

Who knows, you might even learn something!

What TV Drama Series do you watch and enjoy?

Aussie Road Trip

My Blog covers four categories: Matters of the Heart, the Creative Well, the Writing Journey and Take a Trip. This Post is going to cover all four.

My most recent adventure was last weekend when I took four days to drive 1200km in regional NSW. I stopped in Goulburn, Gundagai, Leeton, Cowra, Bathurst and Lithgow before returning home to Coogee.

Firstly, I’m in love with Australia so my heart was feeling warm and full as I drove past bone coloured grasses, cereal crops, green-manure crops and woodlands. Iconic  gum trees, bark hanging off their trunks in long strips, lined the roads. When I was close enough, I watched the funny antics of the sheep, terrified, as my vehicle slowed, into a mass migration of a field, tiny lambs in tow. I felt sad that these sweet creatures have had to suffer so much on the live-export ships and glad that my voice has joined with so many to stop the barbaric practice. Obviously, I feel the same way about the cows; Black Angus’s dotted green hills, calm and still as a Gruner painting. Somewhere between Gundagai and Leeton I had to stop to let cattle cross the road: not in a frantic bunch but one by one, as they grazed by the side of the road, looked at me as if to say, ‘What are you doing?’ and casually stepped in front of my car.

All these images fill my creative well, giving me inspiration and recharging my delight in my surroundings. One of the three characters in my novel-in-the-making is an Aussie woman who derives great joy from exploring her Australian environment and captures it through the lens of a camera. I wonder who she takes after! I’ll be doing more of these trips – in the name of research – so that I can develop this character in full.

There was another reason for this trip: this same character loves the show McLeod’s Daughters. She’s watched every episode, laughed as the girls fell in muddy dams saving a calf, cheered as they sheered sheep through the night and cried at the breaking of their hearts. So, when I discovered that some of the actors were gathering for a reunion at the Roxy Theatre in Leeton, I felt I had to go and check it out. It had very little to do with Aaron Jeffery the man, and a lot to do with my character being in a fantasy romance with Alex Ryan, the character!

Following your heart and your curiosity, exploring outside your normal field, and going on a trip anywhere, opens your mind to look outwards, learn and expand your view of the world.

I learned on this trip that Gundagai has a whole lot more history than a bronze dog sitting on a tucker box. The sculptor, Rusconi, was gifted in masonry work, developed and promoted the marble industry in the area and made a model Italian Palace that stands 1.2m tall. It sits in a room in the Tourism Office and is an astonishing masterpiece. I also learned that the aboriginals, the Wiradjuri people, warned the early settlers not to build on the plains near the river as they were prone to flood. The settlers ignored the advice and in 1852, the town was swept away overnight by a huge torrent of water. A group of Aboriginal men in their canoes, saved about forty people from the branches of giant red rivergums and roof tops. I’d recommend Gundagai as a place to stop for a day.

I learned that Leeton, a place I’d never been to, has a wetland that is important to the Wiradjuri people and is an essential stop for birds that migrate all over the world. Leeton is also full of citrus orchards.

Driving from Leeton to Cowra I discovered that you can drive for hours in regional NSW without passing through a town big enough for a coffee shop. I was glad to have my emergency thermos full of hot water and my own tuckerbox, Aussie traveller essentials.

I learned that I’ve been to Goulburn so many times that when I arrived for lunch at my favourite café (Harvest – next to the park) it felt like home and I was reminded that I love staying in country motels and having breakfast in bed, something I did with friends’ families as a child.

In summary: I went on the trip because I LOVE regional Australia (and maybe Alex Ryan). Also, because to be more creative, I need to step outside normal life. To develop more ideas for writing I need to research, and to go on a trip is to wander and wonder, and that’s one of the most rewarding parts of life.

And then to write about it, is to add to the joy. Writing a Blog means I get to re-live my journey and think about some point to it all. The point is, to suck every skerrick out of the life you’ve been given. And to have a reason to keep going.

First day in Ireland

I’ve travelled to Ireland to immerse myself in Irish contemporary life: the culture, climate, feeling of place and rhythm of the people. The novel I’m writing has only a small section of it set in Ireland but for it to be authentic, and for my Irish-born, Australian character to be authentic, I had to come and feel it, see it, smell it, hear it. I hope that I can absorb enough of it to pass on the detail in my story.

So today, I’m filling the creative well. I went to The Portrait Gallery in the National Gallery of Ireland to see the portrait of  Graham Norton (Irish broadcaster, comedian, actor and writer) painted by the winner of Sky’s Portrait Artist of the Year last year, Gareth Reid. I enjoyed watching this art competition so much I just had to follow up. I was secretly hoping the artist might be there too as I’m slightly in love with him (those dreamy artist eyes and all that Irish talent).

I thought a bit of history and architecture might help too, so I checked out the Christ Church Cathedral. Wow, there’s an amazing amount of royal history there, which I won’t go into but did you know that Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus was first performed here back in 1741, or thereabouts, by the top choir in the land? I felt like I was really touching history with this fact as I could imagine the emotional charge in the sound of all those voices and the organ filling the vast space.

The rest of the day was pretty much a walk in the park and along the busy streets full of cafes, pubs and boutiques. The city of Dublin is a thriving modern hub set in predominantly old buildings with short doorways. It’s city of charm and character.