Blending In or Standing Out

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Just because I feel like a local in Udaipur, India, doesn’t mean the locals think I’m one!

I’m at ease here, relaxed and bouncy as I walk the alleyways and say Namaste to shopkeepers. I smile and they return the grin. My head wobbles in reply to theirs, a conversation in itself. But I know I stand out. They’re looking, watching to see what I do, hoping I’ll stop to buy or give them a chance to talk about the cricket or tennis. They love us Aussies! They’ve all got a relative or an Australian story.

When I sight-see like a tourist, I mingle with the Indian tourists. They’re having a good time, always: couples, young families, extended families. Their language is soft. They chatter and laugh. We admire each other, for once again, I stand out. Sometimes I ask, may I take your photo? The girls pose, just like in any other part of the world. The men proudly hold their children – and the kids are so cute! But they often approach me first: can we have a selfie? I always oblige and grin at the camera. I’ve even been passed their toddlers for a special photo, as if I’m royalty.

I’ve been to two pujas, Hindu prayer ceremonies. I like to integrate and immerse myself in the culture and I’m rewarded for my efforts. I buy a garland for 50 rupees ($1), a tiny price for such an intricate floral work. I take it up the stairs, leaving earth behind, and barefoot, enter the temple. I sit on the floor, cross legged and try to get comfortable. I return the looks of worshippers and smile. They smile back. I copy their actions and stand when they do. I clap and line up to give my offering and accept the holy rosewater in my hand. I act like I sip it but I don’t. I do pour it over my head and run it through my hair. I enjoy the bells, the chanting, the drum and the finger-cymbals. And the people love that I’m there. I can see it on their curious faces. When I go outside, I get the rock-star treatment. Grown men are the most bold: can we have a selfie? What can I say but, of course!

Cows are sacred here and roam the streets. In some areas, there’s too many and I feel sorry for them. They’re thin and eat rubbish – literally; I saw a calf eating a cardboard box. People throw out food scraps for them but it can’t be enough. Here in Udaipur, though, they look okay. Today I saw a pile of chapatis in a feeding spot. I touch my fingers to my lips and pass the kiss to the cow, as I’ve seen locals do. I wish it well! It doesn’t look too sure!

It’s harder for me to cope with the dogs. There’s so many street dogs and hierarchy is everything. The tough ones, the intimidators, get the little food that there is. Small fights can be heard too often. Last night I was watching a dog from the steps of the temple. He was pressing forward onto the street, clearly terrified, with his tail wrapped firmly under his bottom. He started to bark at nothing in particular, but facing the traffic. I so wanted to comfort him but didn’t dare.

This morning I took the toast from my breakfast in the hope that he’d still be there and I could offer some kindness. He was curled up in the sun on a platform at the temple. I broke the toast and handed him a piece, moving and speaking as gently as I could. He was looking at me dubiously when a beggar-child approached. She looked at the toast and pointed, then touched her mouth. I understood this language and asked, do you want this? She looked back to her mother who was sitting on the steps. The mother nodded at me. I handed it over. A man came over and softly said to her, thank you. She turned to me and said it with a smile. I was glad to give her some coloured pencils and notepaper I carry for this purpose, as well. The vast difference between me and that child’s mother does not escape me.

Fortunately, beggars are greatly reduced in this country. The prime minister, Mr Modi, is doing a fine job. Education, including the removal of false teachers, health, including free care for those on the poverty line, jobs, including bringing in villagers to clean up the roadside rubbish, and free food from vans parked around the hospitals, are all a part of his programme. Let’s hope he gets voted in again, despite the corrupt forces gathering strength to get him out and renew their own power. See, I’m even interested in the politics! I really do feel like a local!

But my time here is temporary. I’m an observer and I’m observed. I’ll never know what effect I might have on someone’s day or path, just by the interaction. And vice versa!

Namaste.

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.

Perfectionism, Procrastination or Research

When is RESEARCH just another form of PERFECTIONISM or PROCRASTINATION?

“Perfectionism is the enemy of creativity,” says Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love and Big Magic. It’s been said by many different writers, motivators and teachers. It’s the writer’s biggest obstacle to getting anything done. The fear of the work not being good enough prevents it from flowing and growing. Perfectionism is the little tyrant that sits on your shoulder saying, the work is crap, so you better make it better before you move on!

‘Making it better’ can demand a lot of editing along the way. It demands that you stop what you’re doing and Google that idea or go to that place or do that thing. Research. The only thing is, it doesn’t make it better because it interrupts the flow of the idea and stops you from ever getting to the end.

Research is obviously important for authenticity and detail but there’s a time to do it and that is not in the middle of the writing. Fiona McIntosh, masterclass teacher and author, says do all the research first, then sit down and write from start to finish. This makes sense when you’re trying to get the story down. It also prevents the research from becoming a form of procrastination.

The first draft of my first novel has been smattered with research. Word choice has me reaching for the dictionary. The suggestion of a place has me sucked down the internet tunnel. Both, most definitely, are the combined forces of Perfectionism and Procrastination.

And then I downed tools and went to Ireland, to research a County, a culture and a nursing home. For a chapter of my novel! Of course it was useful. Of course it was enlightening. Of course it will make my novel better. But was it necessary for what I was writing? Probably not! It was the Perfectionist and Procrastinator that made me do it!

Procrastination will find us an endless list of things to do before we can possibly start that important project. Whether it’s washing the dog or writing a blog, we can rationalise that it was essential before we get onto the task. Make sure that research isn’t just another excuse.

Research becomes another form of perfectionism and procrastination when it interferes with the writing. Do it before you start the first draft. Do it before you start the second draft. But don’t let it be the excuse that stops the flow. Don’t let it be the scene on the side of the road that slows and jams all the traffic.

Let research be interesting. Let research be fun. Let research take you to places you’ve never been before. But don’t let research gobble you up. Don’t let it be the wolf in sheep’s clothing!

 

 

Research

Researching components of the novel is important and tricky. The main reason I’m here in Ireland is so that I can write the Irish component authentically. I did my preparation before I left home – wrote out my questions, things I needed to find out, places to go etc. Google was helpful in giving preliminary details and opening up more questions.

So yesterday, I set off in the car from Galway to find out where my character’s brother lives. I found the perfect spot, took photographs, screen shot the location and drove on to the next point. This was an airport over an hour north. Braving the perpetual rain, I parked and ran inside. I got out my phone camera and it was dead. It wasn’t just battery dead, it was dead-dead! The dive into the toilet the night before had done its damage, water insidiously working its way through to the mother-board while I remained ignorant of the impending destruction. (“Feck” as the Irish say.)

Once I reached Donegal, the hope I’d maintained vanished as the mobile-phone repairer opened it up for surgery. Feeling inexplicably desperate, I bought a new phone and hoped the cloud would find my photos. Nope – hadn’t backed them up to the cloud! Fellow researchers – do this!

Drowning my sorrows in wine and chocolate, I slept on it and started today with renewed vigour. I had to find the nursing home I’d selected in Donegal for my character’s mother. Coughing up to pay for data roaming was a decision not taken lightly, but I couldn’t find a specific address or location on a map. This seems to be typical of Ireland. Apple map sent me off to a weird place and spoke to me in Irish. Google map sent me on a wild trip up a pot-holed tiny laneway. I kept saying to myself, this can’t be right. I stopped at the closed gate with the patrolling donkeys. Getting out to pat them made me feel marginally better.

Giving up, I decided to sight- see for a while. Getting back on the highway (all roads have a speed limit of 100km/hour) I sped past a sign that my shrunken brainwaves recognised as the name of the nursing home. Calmly, I pulled over and went back to follow the sign, finding that it was another narrow, tree-covered, gravel road. Nevertheless, I persevered and found myself at the nursing home. This was a great reward.

Finally, I had to find where my character’s mother lived. The young chap in the tourist information centre was so into helping me, I’ll name him in the novel. He Google-mapped and street-viewed and came up with a solution which I was able to check out in the afternoon. Perfect!

What great fun! This is sight-seeing with purpose and even the deviations and frustrations lead up other laneways. I’ve now found out a new word too – boreen – little road. How many can I explore?