Monday Morning: A True Story

She sways slightly.

One girl on a train carriage filled to the brim with over-heated, down-jacketed commuters.  Those sitting pretty around her look up in horror.  They register the bloodless face, the sway becoming deeper and know they have to break the commuters’ code of non-communication.  

The two women sitting closest share a pregnant glance.  “What do we do?” and “Do I really have to stand up on this blasted train?” and “Which one of us is it gonna be?”

One takes the lead.  “Would you like a seat” she says, falteringly.  As the girl’s sway becomes deeper and she appears on the precipice of becoming wholly horizontal, the woman jumps up.  “Here, sit down, sit down” she says, guiding the girl downwards to safety.

The girl sits, head cast down, pale and fearful.

Others pipe up.  

“Has this happened to you before?” ventures a classic paperback reading fellow dressed older than his years.

The girl looks up, huge brown eyes confused.  “No” she says.

“Do you feel dizzy or faint?”

“Both” she says.

The man returns to his book.

One woman, the one who did not stand, fumbles in her bag for some water.  “Here have some water.  Do you want a granola bar?”

The girl’s arm reaches out for the water and she takes a few slow sips.  “I have a granola bar in my bag” she replies.

She sits quietly.  The man continues reading.  The other women go back to their phones.

The carriage relaxes back into comfortable silence.

As the train draws into the city, the girl rises with the throng and continues her way to work.

 

A Sydney-sider in Chicago

4 months ago, my family flew into Chicago, arriving on a hot and steamy evening. It was a big day for my little family as we had just tied up a hundred loose ends in Sydney and were now en route to our new home in the grand old dame of the midwest for two years.

Chicago was a lush green sight, the trees lining our street almost creating a canopy and complemented by thick green grass underfoot. Three days after we arrived it was our street’s annual block party, an event where if Big Bird had wandered over to say hello, I would not have been surprised (much). Our girls spent 12 hours out playing on the street, the culmination being a talent quest and movie projected onto a sheet hung between two branches. A magical day, only slightly tarnished by the continual warnings of our neighbours, as we sat cradling beers in our t-shirts and jeans: “Winter is coming” they warned, “enjoy this while it lasts, it won’t be long.”

“Bah” we thought, cold weather being impossible to imagine when you’re sitting outside in the evening with bare arms. But, not so strangely enough, our neighbours were correct. It was only a couple of weeks before short sleeves were abandoned, seemingly forever.

We fell into a blurred time of furnishing a house and starting school and work and finding a doctor and where to buy food and finding friends and having a look around and working out how to get understood… and it was exhausting. Homesickness was similar to a grieving process, you’d be fine and marching along and then then, UGH, it would hit you in the guts and you’d be washed over in a wave of “I miss my friends, my family, my house, everything”. And then you’d be OK again. The tricky thing being that we all went through this process simultaneously, it was a delicate time.

So now 4 months on, where are we at? The girls have settled into school and have made friends. They are happy. Our house is set up and work is heading where it needs to, and we’ve met some great people. So all is well.

Yesterday I flicked through my Facebook account from the last 4 months to see what I’ve been posting. There are a few sightseeing pics, but the majority document the weather because, boy, does Chicago have weather. Coming from Sydney where we really have only two distinct seasons, hotter and cooler, the Chicago seasons are incredible.

From our balmy introduction, we flew into Fall. And Fall can only be called Fall over here, because it does indeed fall, and it is so beautiful. The landscape transforms completely from the green lushness into a blaze of colour. Red, orange, yellow and brown leaves, and at its peak, there are leaves everywhere. The ground is blanketed and if you drive your car down a street as a breeze picks up, the sight is breathtaking.

Fall segued quickly into Winter with the early arrival of snow. Now I may be slightly obsessed with snow. Snow in a big city is almost inconceivable to a Sydney-sider and again totally transforms a landscape in seconds. With the trees bare of leaves and white snow on every surface, the landscape becomes stark. The trees however have a delicacy I didn’t expect, the small twigs creating an outline, a defined halo of fine filaments above the trunk of every tree. They still look beautiful.

Chicago skyline &copy D Oxley

There are many types of snow: there’s my favourite, the fat fluffy powder snow which dances around you in the air and lands gently on your arm; wet sleety snow, cold and most unwelcome; and large pellet snow which feel like little hailstones on the hood of your jacket. It’s amazing. And once it’s on the ground, it’s like walking on white soft sand, although it can turn within days to patches of super slippery ice.

And then there was the Polar Vortex. And Polar it was. You’ve probably read about it so I won’t harp on it other than saying that it was inhumanly cold. The powdery soft snow on the ground turned into blocks of impervious ice and walking outside was unbearable. But it was only a day and a half and then we fell back into Chicago’s normal winter of subzero temperatures. Which is totally bearable once you’ve invested in the right coat and gloves and hat and scarf. And you get snow, which is a bonus!

And other than the weather?! Well that’s another post in itself but to summarise, I’m loving: The architecture – Frank Lloyd Wright’s work is stunning, as is the Chicago CBD, rebuilt after the fire in 1871; the Midwestern hospitality where people who don’t have to help you do and gladly; the enormous and with colours ever changing Lake Michigan; my favourite Museum ever, the Museum of Science and Industry; restaurants and cafes and bars for days; the devotion to their sporting teams including the Chicago Cubs who haven’t won since 1908; ice skating and sledding outside; the music scene though I haven’t had a lot of time to enjoy it just yet; and the fact that you can walk into a bank, open an account and walk out with a new bankcard with your name on it in minutes! Oh and the Target stores where there’s a separate escalator for your trolley. Ha!

Things I’m not loving? Well this is love/hate but the Americans do bad bad food that is so damn good, such as Creme Brulee Doughnuts and succulent barbecued meats. Then there’s the never ending pharmaceutical drug ads on TV; coaxing children into the requisite coats and gloves and hats every day; and the far more serious issues like the large homeless population and the cycle of poverty and gun violence in many communities.

There’s so much more to say however this little post has turned into more of an essay!

So perhaps I end it here and come back with another postcard soon.

Bye y’all! x

On Wardrobes with Coats in Them

Do you ever, now, as an adult, when staying in the spare bedroom of a friend’s house, open the wardrobe to find it full of coats? Coats used rarely so hung up in an empty room mothballing and waiting… and when you find it full of coats do you ever push through them with your hands just in case it happens that you will push through and on the other side will be (you know, I know you know) a land of snow and ice and Aslan and magic?

I do.  I really do and I really have pushed my hands through just in case.  I haven’t found Narnia yet but am ever hopeful that it does exist.  I am 37.

I speak of this because I am halfway through Neil Gaiman’s new book and it is liberally sprinkled with the magic of his (it has to be his) childhood.  The scale and mysteries and characters of childhood and I am absolutely loving it to the extent that writing a post which usually comes last on my list, has come up the list, because I want to try and eke this book out instead of devouring in one which glumph.  I don’t care if that isn’t a word.  Having said this, I know that I will be entirely unsuccessful as I’ll be straight back at it after this is done and dusted.

A quote from the book, it’s called The Ocean At The End Of The Lane:

“Adults follow paths.  Children explore.  Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences”.

I like to think that I have retained a little of the child even though I am now a bona fide grown up with a truly serious job, career even, and three children, one of whom has grown-uppedness starting to bite at her heels (poor love).

Not losing the wonder, getting excited about small things, finding different paths, noticing the dust of the fairies on the everyday.  It’s harder and harder to do once you have your own little people to care for and a mortgage and responsibilities and all that, but I think it may be one of the most important things to keep.

I’m still looking for the tiny door in a tree which leads to………, I might even write about it one day. But for now, I’ve procrastinated enough, it’s back to Lettie and… Neil. 

 

 

A visit to MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) Hobart, Tasmania

MONA

The one thing you are guaranteed to get out of MONA is an emotional response:  it can make you angry, make you laugh, shock you, scare you, sadden you and astound you.  For MONA is an artwork in itself.

You enter MONA at the top and from there it’s a down the rabbit hole experience, down down down, wondering what will be at the bottom.  A circular core in the earth takes you to the depths of MONA from which you wend your way, with no clear directions or order, back up to the top.   You either travel down in a circular lift, or, as I did, walk down a corkscrew staircase around the lift on stairs that never seem to end.  You are left standing in what feels like an open sandstone cavern, and from here you begin your travels.

There are no directions at MONA, no signs on paintings, so you self-navigate with the help of your iPod Touch guide (called an “O”) and Sennheiser headphones, which allow you to centre yourself whereever you stand in the gallery.

And now the adventure starts.  With its themes of Sex and Death, MONA is not for the faint-hearted or easily offended.  If you are neither of these, you will love MONA.

Some works made us snigger behind our hands like naughty school children.  Others shocked or saddened us: the too lifelike wax girl in a cage in her pink tutu, and her neighbour; a suicide pinball machine adorned with images of young girls.  And some simply took our breath away: for one colleague it was brilliantly yellow gold coins, the Aureus of Caesar, bringing Roman times to life; for me, an Egyptian coffin with artwork so lightly wrought and beautiful, it could have been painted yesterday.

The Death Gallery, which only two can enter at a time, captures your imagination (and makes you wonder how you’d react if the lights went out while you were in there).  This is what I think MONA is all about.  MONA in itself, its construction, design, and the art it has been filled with, has been executed with such imagination, creativity and humour that it brings back your child’s sense of wonder and you simply get lost inside.

Blutclip, a video installation of a woman seemingly smeared in menstrual blood together with much vajazzling raised the ire of a colleague we met outside.  “How is that art?” he bellowed. “I don’t get art!” As I said, MONA evokes emotion.

The wall of records (LPs), with three dimensional faces in their centre which proclaim “I love you, I love you” in eerie little voices.

The Cloaca Professional, patiently digesting food all day, both fascinates the mind and disgusts the senses.

A beautiful Emily Kngwarreye, in its own little room through a low height door, was heralded by me to my colleagues as the work of the best ever Aboriginal artist, and dismissed by them “But I could do that”.

The amazing drawings of Yannick Demmerle, so innocuous from a distance, up close are a riot of penises ejaculating the feathery spears which adorn the majority of the artwork, while cloven hoofs suggest the devil is ever near (“he’s very fond of doodling” suggested one of my colleagues, which made me snort with laughter).

I could go on, you can tell can’t you?

David Walsh has created something that no group of administrators could ever envisage let alone accomplish.  MONA is a masterpiece, a must see.  I would go back tomorrow.

Dorothy

You know how it never rains but it pours?  Well instead of siphoning these out gradually, here’s one more little ditty, for a dear friend who got me onto reading Dorothy Parker properly recently, The Portable Dorothy Parker in fact.

Evening y’all! x

 

Dorothy

It is all your fault

that I picked up this pen.

Your acid tongue

your shrewd remark

has inked my

wanton writer’s heart

and makes me speak my mind.

Big Blonde Doozie

a.k.a. An Ode to Johnno

A day home sick in bed has helped me to publish a couple of things I’ve had waiting in the wings for ages (there’s MORE!!).  I wasn’t sure whether to pop this on the blog but what the heck!  This is a little poem that maybe no-one will relate to as it is so many years too late – but it is an Ode to Johnno….

An Ode to Johnno who called me a Big Blonde Doozie

when I was 20 and impressionable.

An Ode to Johnno

who died too young.

He whom I fell head over heels for

despite him “batting for the other side”

as he gently told the 80 year old Aileen.

He who was good,  thirty-something and wise

and so so beautiful.

With the biggest hair,  lankiest body

and best throaty head thrown back laugh this side of Texas.

An Ode to Johnno

the thought of you still brings an ache to the back of my throat

you listened to my idle complaints and ills when I had had an oh so smooth path

listened to them over and over with interest, compassion and always humour.

Johnno I miss you.

An Ode to Johnno.

Memory of a life: the digital edition

Memory is a slippery thing is it not.  The older I get the more I am faced with the fuzzy edges and complete blanks of thousands of recent and not so recent moments of my life.

One of my favourite ways to dust off a memory and hold it tightly in my mind’s eye, if only for a little while, is to look at the books and CDs from my past.

A glance at the cover of an old book can convey a hundred tiny details.  The seat you sat on in the bus when the dog died unexpectedly  in House of the Spirits and you struggled not to sob.

The pages of Patrick Suskind’s Perfume bringing to life the 20 year old you who was so painfully in love with he who gave you the book.

The swollen pages of a Malcolm Gladwell bringing you back to a post-pool read on a sunlounge in Bali with your children’s ages cemented in a beautiful time as they squirmed next to you, begging to be let back in the pool.

And the signed CD from a friend of a friend who was in a (not great!) band when you were 19 and who remembered seeing you in a red suit in Martin Place a year before you met him.

Would I stumble upon these memories as easily if I didn’t have the physical memento; would they be lost in the minutiae of my everyday life……. and never seen again?

What will be the Memory of a life: digital edition?