22 December 2008

stuck in punxsutawney

As I grumblingly accept my lot in the big wheel of the wage economy and bemoan the loss of free time, I’ve noticed a dangerous little feeling brewing. The feeling that this existence – for all its family-sized upside-down fridges and missed lunch breaks – is somehow comforting. Like the progression of a clock: the tick-tock repetition, while illustrating your dwindling years/weeks/hours, is also oddly soothing. Call it a whacked biological need for regime, but this knowing-what-you’re-doing-tomorrow bizzo has definite - albeit mysterious - appeal. Maybe it’s because I’ve been seriously deprived of structure/trivia and the ego-entrapment of office life. Whatever. About the same time I began musing over this little irony, my ping-pong relationship with Bligh’s Army was formally and publicly acknowledged. Last week I took out the Groundhog Day title in our unit’s frivolous awards bestowal. I am so Bill Murray with a microphone in the snow waiting for a furry animal to forecast the weather. Luckily, I've moved through re-integration wobbles and a protracted bout of cultural alienation. Now I'm going to have some fun with the Punxsutawney locals.

--

Savouring domestic novelties:

DVD watching – the whole first season of Love My Way. That’s ten episodes in one week... a couch-sitting personal best. I blame it on the cult of Claudia, who I have loved since she celebrated all the good bits about
share-housing in St Kilda.

Small talk with the cat.

A proper bed. A big bed. Soft sheets. Totally underrated. I would give it all up for just this… if only the birds and sunshine didn't start at 5am.

15 December 2008

i love it when a plan comes together

Last week I moved house - again! - and moved in with Mr T, a cat pushing the ‘aloof’ edge of the feline sociability scale. He is also rather accident prone. The night before his mum departed the country, he had an investigative encounter with a long piece of wire and got horribly tangled, and then horribly anxious to get free, cutting his lip and back leg in the process. Thankfully mum (who is probably at this moment drinking gluwein for breakfast in Prague) whipped him off to the emergency vet before leaving.

Mr T's general post-traumatic narkiness has not helped us to bond as house-mates. He has generally avoided my company, and despite offers of fresh meat, has preferred instead to spent large amounts of time amidst the fabric mounds in the linen cupboard.


Yesterday afternoon was round two at the vets. Off we trundled for a check up, after several attempts at going in the box and a close encounter between claws and a long necklace. I should have made like Hannibal and drugged him in preparedness for travel. But I didn't. (Pity the fool.) He growled about going in the box. He growled about going in the car. He growled about the dogs in the waiting room. And then silently complied as the vet ripped off his scabs ("to check for abcesses"), doused the open wounds with Betadine and jerried a thermometer up him.

What the...?

From Wrestlemania-style defence to complete and total submission? And all I did was show him the door to a small box, purportedly one of his most favourite places! Oh to bottle the magical powers invested in the vet's table...

When we got home, things got even more bizarre. I opened the box. He sauntered out, rubbed at my heels and purred deeply. He even let me scratch his neck for FIVE seconds. I know better than to question feline behaviour. But I think I can venture that we have begun to bond...

05 December 2008

parable of two worlds

Oh dear. Paid work is so uncool for my blogging. Anyway, here's a small parable. As the rain falls in Brisbane and grows my Black Russians like beanstalks...

---

I know of two worlds. One I live in but don’t believe in. The other I believe in but can’t quite reach.

One has mobile phone towers and kept lawns, suburb to city commutes and satellites orbiting through space to get us there. It breathes air-conditioning upon us, which stealthily sucks our lifeforce. It has a strange obsession with plastic packaging, which it goes to greath lengths to manufacture, only to immediately throw away. It squeezes us through a series of institutions designed to crush our uniqueness, creativity and spirit, so that we may become full and conforming participants in the Economy. With its high demands on our time, the Economy keeps thought trimmed inside little boxes. This world relies on insulating constructs that remove us from our humanity, that deny our relationship with the earth, that impose falsity at every turn and propagate rampant unwellness. This world is a bubble of unreality. Inside the bubble there is only the bubble; it is difficult to imagine an outside to the bubble. Perhaps this is because, for the most part, we don’t see the bubble, let alone recognise its delicate nature.

The other world has none of these things. It has land and sea scapes and natural abundance and diversity and community and art and stories and ideas. It lacks disposable income but has bountiful simplicity and mass wellbeing. It has a different kind of knowledge. It knows about growing, building, sharing and looking after people. And it is not just one world, but many. They are the many small, purposed and felt traditional worlds of humankind.

These small, bountiful worlds once held us all, to varying degrees, in their embrace. But then agriculture was born in the Fertile Crescent. We domesticated plants and animals, stored food and became settled. Well-fed populations trebled. Land was put under lock and key, and with it, the freedom to feed your family by the sweat of your brow. Many peasants were ‘freed’ from food production to toil in trades. Labour was divided, giving us artisans, who were later replaced by experts. One of whom invented the modern steam engine, giving birth to Industralisation and exploding us into a new age of mechanised largesse. The bubble blew bigger and bigger. With our armies of well-fed experts, technology bounded ahead and distributed knowledge to the masses – which told us to buy, buy, buy. And so the bubble bulged until it was bulbously magnificent.

Now grows a small movement that can’t make sense of the bubble. Some intuit the bubble’s wrongness but are caught in its maw. They believe life is inherently combative and destructive. They believe in the inevitabilty of our culture: you can hear them teach it to others by saying things like ‘such is life’. Such believed impotency makes them sad. Through this immobilised sadness they press on with air-conditioning and kept lawns and the distraction of new dresses, growing ever more deeply indebted to the bubble they can neither make sense of, nor escape. They are the anxious and depressed.

Some others – artists, landholders, marginalised liberals – increasingly muse that the bubble is precariously inflated and not at all magnificent. Their worldview is unrelentingly at odds with the bubble. They sing of those other small worlds of bounty. Their voices grow in volume and number. Somehow, whilst living in the world that shoehorns thought, they are able to imagine real and beautiful alternatives. Some of them have gone beyond imagination, beyond the bubble. They are true visionaries, who have the sense of self to play what they hear in a world that is largely tonedeaf. They inhabit the world I believe in... those worlds beyond the bubble.

17 November 2008

carrots on toast

On a good day I have trouble deciding what to put on my toast. But today, when I really could have used it, my well-thumbed handle on indecision deserted me.

I was presented with the kind of challenge I knew would eventuate when I rejoined the salaried life… though didn't quite expect so soon. My manager asked if I wanted to relieve in her role for a couple of months. I’ve done this job many times. It really doesn’t have that much to recommend it. Other than more money.

And ... I ... bit ... the ... carrot.

It was the kind of moment when the world slows down and you feel yourself saying something you can’t quite comprehend you're saying, but can't quite stop yourself from saying either.

Like yes.

And that was BEFORE I found out the position has been regraded up a level during my absence. I will shimmy up two pay brackets. Quite phenomenal if you could see my last tax return.

Three weeks ago I was crafting my resignation letter. I had a valid health care card, confidence wobbles and a dream. I am supposed to be finding a way out of communications. Not burrowing further into it.

Maybe it was all that leftover electricity in the air.

I feel dirty. I feel compromised. I am going to hate myself in the morning. Every morning. For at least the next two and a half months. I’ve just discovered my price.

13 November 2008

acronym-phomania (is a disease of people in offices)

Here is a list summarising the first week back in life and desk. Seems I can only think in lists and dot points this week. Strange. Hmmph. Think I need one of those website counters - the ones that count down the days til some important event – in my case, the end of my ‘gap’ year back behind the desk.

1. Freaking acronyms. They should all be hogtied, painted with honey and stuffed in a small cage with a hungry brown bear. Except TOIL and ATL, which are quite dandy acronyms which I hope to become better aquainted with. So far I’ve acquainted myself with lots of zzzzzzzzzzs and gotten friendly with a few G&Ts. I would also like to retain the many-purposed WTF in my arsenal. It’s come in handy several times this week.

2. WTF is with the sudden profusion of white – yes, WHITE – hairs????? Mysteriously this little jab to the jugular coincided with my return to a lifestyle I deem to be in contempt of life. Maybe it's not the profusion but my noticing that is sudden. Perhaps my renewed compulsion to preen after a lull has afforded me a fast-forward from ‘before’ to ‘after’, otherwise denied by continual attendance to mirrors. Either way, WTF??

3. Sports shoes that pretend they’re office shoes: it is my week’s mission to find some. After three blisters on day one in my formerly comfortable flats, I am starting a homy-peds facebook fan club.

4. Quietly freaking out after re-reading points two and three in succession. Moving quickly to convince myself it is not a sign I’m upon old lady days, merely an indication of my slide even further to the left… and, well… I can’t think of any positive reinterpretation whatsoever for WHITE HAIR.

5. Ah Brisvegas. You have Campos coffee. You have Avid Reader and the awesome West End markets. You have cute Queenslander houses (albeit now totally unaffordable) and mango trees and sunshine. You even have a smattering of decent cultural institutions and events. But you are also painfully thin on the ground with the good stuff. Why do I always forget how small and unsophisticated you are? I am bemoaning the demise of your cheap-ass Dendy, which is clearly a ploy to get us to drive to the upmarket one in a posh suburb in a bling retail development on the river and pay more. Pfff.

6. Had also forgotten how small Bligh’s Army is. And how postively miniscule is Bligh’s Army of Spin. I like the sound of that, we could almost be a cricket team. Except I don't like cricket. Almost made it through one week without an urgent request for speech notes from the Office of the Lesser Grand Poo-bah. Am taking rehydration salts to work tomorrow after spending a week dying of thirst in the stupid airconditioning. WHINGE.

7. Someone asked if I’d planted the herbs and black russian tomato seedlings I brought with me from Vic. Let's see... arrived Friday PM, spent weekend getting self into new lodgings/retreiving work things from storage, started work Monday... When would I have done that? I’d forgotten how close to impossible it is for a desk hound to have time for much else other than work during the week. Sob.


8. A couple of points in opposition to my general brooding cynicism: I am secretly amazed by the little ripples we unknowingly make. I am also running away with Leunig this week.

9. Back to the brooding. I sense that with my return to desk-bindings, the part of my brain disposed to ideas and deep thinking is involuntarily shutting down. It – which thrives on idle time – is being usurped by the (still sluggish) part that has been called into action to juggle multiple compact chunks of information. Like lists and bullet points.
I want to scream that these little information snacks are useless to me, they are merely functional, inconsequential snippets of trivia, unrelated and meaningless to my place in the world. But no one is listening. So I am running away with Leunig, he understands.

10. A concentration of sympathy and wellness vibes to all the poorly kitties and all their mums and dads. I fear it will be my turn soon and the little blighter’s in a different state.

03 November 2008

34 things

Tonight I stumbled across bugheart, a blogger (who also has a great idea for a photo blog) who made a list of 34 goals on her 34th birthday. Spooky, since tomorrow is my 34th birthday. It's probably unwise to ignore such blatant/weirdo prompting from the universe, and I've kinda been in renewal mode anyway, so here's my to-do list for the coming year...

1. Find a job in policy (and change blog subtitle to Life And Desk).
2. Save save save and buy some land.
3. Research and design my little sustainable house.
4. Persevere with a potted herb garden.
5. Sell my photos.
6. Sell my cards (or at least give them to family and friends on card-type occasions).
7. Eat more ethically.
8. Buy goods in bulk in own containers.
9. Continue making all my own bread.
10. Stick to pilates and walking 3 times/week each.
11. Do a first aid, safety at sea and sail training course.
12. Investigate Indigenous kitchen garden idea.
13. Read about transition culture.
14. Knit R a beanie in time for Japan.
15. Send a krama to N.
16. Blog more regularly. Post more for streeteditors. Keep writing for Dumbo Feather.
17. Get my typewriter fixed.
18. Do more creative work.
19. Do something eco-preneurial / creative with R.
20. Make and give away recycled notebooks.
21. Redevelop Pelican’s website.
22. Start giving blood again.
23. Learn the violin. And pick up my guitar more often.
24. Visit the Bunya Mountains.
25. Go for bushwalks.
26. Get a bike and ride it (and this time, don’t give it away!)
27. Do more for others.
28. Get an address book and keep track of friends/family contact details and birthdays.
29. Apply to become a foster carer.
30. Find out about rent a chook and herdshare.
31. Go to Sunday comedy & jazz @ the Powerhouse again.
32. Try to be more open to the possibility of meeting a single/available/adjusted boy with similar interests/values/goals.
33. Accept the journey, where ever it goes, and trust myself more.
34. Do one thing that's not on this list that I would normally say ‘no’ to!

30 October 2008

empty is the tao

My enviro-mentors from the Strezleckis came for lunch today. (The enviro-mentors who I planted a walnut grove with, who henceforth have looked upon me beamingly as their little green disciple. They who shall now be known as 'Gifted With Asparagus & Artichokes' for their bestowal of two shopping bags heaving with the season's best from their garden. I will be weeing green before the week is out!)

Ahem.

So after emptying several glasses of champagne - ten days til I clink the desk shackles back on & damned if I'm going to let the opportunity for daytime carousing pass - I told Gifted about my plans re work. He replied with a parable from the Tao Te Ching. Something about a cup of water being valuable, a cup of wine being even more valuable, and a cup of diamonds being more valuable still. But what trumps them all, he said, is the empty cup, which can be filled with anything.

Me: ......................


Hopefully I looked very zen. And not at all like someone experiencing mild panic over a recent and fairly life-altering decision after being ambushed with the Tao. And DEFINITELY not like someone wondering if the empty cup could be filled with champagne and that was why it was the most valuable.

No. I think the little parable turned something in me. When I was a desk hound, no one would've recited the Tao in response to something I said. Never. Nor would they have brought champagne and home-grown asparagus for lunch. I think it’s an achievement that I’ve trotted on my idealistic high horse back to reality. But it's still a way from the saddle to the 40-hour grey-walled commute-consume pantomime which I've philosophically divorced. For a long time before I left work, I felt like I didn't make sense in that world anymore. It's not just a different drummer thing. I feel like I'm on tour with the whole freakin' band.

Hrrrmmmmppph. Empty cup. Empty cup. Empty cup.

28 October 2008

life and desk

Finally, an outcome: I’m submitting to the desk shackles for one more year to get my long service leave. I have a week in Bingi before I will drive (again… hrrmph) back to Brissie.

Some very excellent things about the move: 1) sunshine 2) return to urban life including Campos coffee, West End markets and impossible-to-get-in-the-regions-fare like tofu 3) totally ace friends who don't desert me when I desert Brisbane, and 4) reclaiming my life in boxes. Eventually. Like next February, since I’ll be couch-surfing in November and cat-and-house-sitting during December and all of January. Which will bring me up to TWO YEARS of inhabiting other people’s spaces and/or couchsurfing.

Of course there’s also the excellent matter of $$$ and its central role in the procurement of real estate and attainment of grand plan.

Fortuitously it looks like there'll be no boat work to miss out on in the first half of next year and hopefully by then I'll be able to negotiate leave.

The other excellent notable is that my stupendously supportive and selfless manager is assisting in my search for work outside her area since she knows that the work inside her area will bore holes in my soul if I have to do it five days a week for a year.

Thank you to everyone who offered advice and support re the resign/return dilemma. After mentally prepping myself for the 'resign' option for a year it would have been difficult to change tack without some appeal to rationality!

22 October 2008

freak.

Freeaaaak! FREEEEEAAAK!

I'm having a minor freak out. [Cue golf-ball sized hailstorm - really.]

Last week, after about 14 months leave, my work asked me for my decision: return or resign. An 11th hour thought about long service leave has thrown me into the guts of a stinkng I-wish-I'd-never-asked type dilemma. If I return to work for one more year, I will get about 12 weeks paid leave. Which is a lot. At least from where I sit in under-employed povertysville.

It is very freaking tempting. I could squirrel my ass off and actually realistically be able to afford some land. Which is Step One of the oft-alluded to Grande Planne (something along the lines of the Hobbit House but somewhere sunny and with permaculture gardens and chickens and a boat).

And. AND. I could potentially negotiate extra leave to continue sailing type adventures. But I would pretty much have to return to work… NOW. I'm seeing my tax guru on Friday, which could also influence my decision. But of course I need to let work know... TODAY since there was a stuff up with the dates.

Just when I thought I'd made my decision, along comes this dastardly little carrot.

GAH! Help! All you non-commenters, speak up now or forever hold your peace. I need some advice. Lest it be curtains for Life After Desk. Gracias.

19 October 2008

master of unravelled plans and small detours

Ah Byron. A two-day detour into green rolly hills, rainbow-glimmery waterfalls and surf, where land prices make you cry and German snowboard instructors make you want to learn to surf. Again. And then go to Tibet. (After I just narrowed the focus of my wanderlust down to Western Australia. And India.)

There’s something frivolous about taking the long way home. And unravelling plans into the wind.

I was in Byron 15 years ago, pretty much to the day. (Before it was completely besmirched by the likes of Dominos and Supre, promulgating their cheap-ass chain-store mediocrity to affluent city-slaves searching for something they don’t realise is long since gone and which they have effectively helped kill off. Not that this was intended, nor that I can separate myself from them. But back to topic...)

I’d dropped out of uni for a semester and headed, for the second time, to Byron, to think and be. OK, there may have been some cavorting too, of the kind that it is natural for an academically focused 19yo to do when unchained from her small world. I hung out with loads of people from all over the world. I tried to surf. I sailed a hobicat. I stole a hubcap/ashtray from the Railway pub. I tried … a lot of … um, different stuff for the first time.

Oddly, I feel closer to my 19yo self than my 19yo self would have liked. (If my 19yo self could see me now.) Crazy to think that I knew back then that I was on the wrong path. Crazier still that it took me 15 years... 15 YEARS GODDAMNIT!! to alter course. Even more pathetic is that I still don’t have a clue where I’m going!

But maybe that’s OK, in some small, skewy, not-the-Hollywood-ending kind of way.

On my 19th birthday, I hitch-hiked from Byron to Nimbin with an English lad. I remember not quite knowing whether we would make it there, and if we did, where we would stay. We made it to Nimbin. That night I stayed in a little house which belonged to friends of friends, and fell asleep under a window of stars, stoned to the eyeballs, as two girls made love in the next room. It remains one of my most spontaneously lived birthdays, and one of the few I actually remember.

15 October 2008

the poverty of affluence

Today is Blog Action Day, a day where bloggers of conscience are encouraged to talk about issues of poverty.

Poverty, by definition, is a lack of the necessities of life. As well as the pressing forms of poverty caused by war and the failure of government policy and global markets, there’s a growing form of poverty that is so sneaky as not to be immediately recognisable as poverty. It is the poverty of affluence, now pervasive in Western society. In exchange for our material wealth, we have a diminished freedom of choice in how to live – freedom of choice being an assumed given in this culture. We are shoe-horned into wage slavery, into bondage to the markets, and sold the illusion of choice, convenience, status, mobility – all things that are certainly not poverty.

Since we no longer have free access to land, we must obtain the provisions for life within a market economy, where our wants – which we mistake for needs – grow in proportion to our ability to meet them. The lure of 'more' is reinforced at every turn. And so we experience life as the perpetual tension of desire.

Robert Dessaix wrote in the recent Weekend Australian magazine that “cacophonous emptiness is the postmodern condition”. Emptiness usually stems from a lack of purpose and meaningful human connection. It manifests as anxiety, frustration, depression – all normal responses to loss of control. These symptoms are never attributed to the all-powerful capitalist-democratic culture; the link between symptom and disease is so heavily obfuscated by glitz, and the power to change one’s circumstances so limited, that ignorance and denial succeed. Besides, to question the foundational assumptions of your own culture is anarchic.

These thoughts are not new. Leunig has despaired the “fake mass wellbeing and prosperity” and identified a “Western deprivation – a new kind of famine”. Bill McKibben in Deep Economy argues the need to pursue a broader prosperity – one that values community, environment and human happiness and chooses localism over globalism and ‘hyper-individualism’. Buckminster Fuller, Henry David Thoreau, Bill Mollison, Daniel Quinn, Tom Hodgkinson, Carlo Petrini and Derrick Jensen are a few others.

Every time I return to a city after time spent in uncluttered landscapes, I’m struck by the busy purposelessness, the excess of consumption and waste and the denial of community that defines the urban lifestyle. The more I become removed from this way of life, the more keenly I sense its artifice. Its smells are always the first thing I notice. The deodorants and perfumes, laundry powders, handwashes and hair products. We are masters at disguising reality, dressing up the truth til we no longer recognise it.

I am happy to be bumping along the road out. Real freedom, real choice in how to live, to be able to use one’s skills and interests in a way that is self-sustaining and not harmful, to live in a community… these are the necessities of life. And necessary not just for an ethical existence, but for existence. For biodiversity. It is not a cultural imperative, but an environmental one.

--

“The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it…” Henry David Thoreau

08 October 2008

the next part

Freedom. So elusive. Perhaps fortuitously so. Its attainment forces a very personal issue. How to use it? Given every liberty, what should we do? How to start tomorrow? These thoughts taunt me right now. For tomorrow I must answer them.

The Hope Vale project has finished. There’s loads of cool stuff that I could relate (eating turtle, kayaking from North Direction to Lizard Island, the impossible cuteness of a wordy two-year-old, meeting people living the cruising life, all the cool places I've seen/been, etc). But I’m sort of consumed at this late~early hour by crisis-of-purpose thoughts. After an exhausting but happy month, that now familiar blank canvas stretches out before me. Uncontracted infinitum. I know myself better than ever. But there is the interminable tension between wants and needs, habit and change. Between possible paths, divergent values. And of course, between two (geographic) states.

There is no rational reason that I should be so nervy about not knowing what I’m doing beyond next week, and where I’ll be doing it. So why is it doing my head in? Exhaustion? The perpetuity of uncertainty? I wish someone would bloody hire me to do something fantastically cool for the next few months and I could just put these stupid thoughts to bed. For now.

Since I'm asking, a sleep-in without a wordy two-year old who awakes at sparrow fart would also be grand. Please. Thank you. And now, me to bed...



--

Looking forward to:

Spending overdue time with friends in Brisvegas (and having the next 10 days sort of planned)
Officially resigning from my cushy permanent gig for the still wide unknown
Clean hair, clean fingernails, clean clothes, clean bed, etc.
Retaining inspiration aka a sense of infinite possibility

28 September 2008

mayi dupbar*




It's always about the food.

Up early on our day off. Can’t sleep in (damn diurnal rhythms). Pelican’s tech-guru N and I prep pancakes on the barbie with fruit salad, yoghurt and honey (the maple syrup went out in sympathy for the armies of bananas which have fermented on this trip). A lovely long brekky with coffee and tunes.

It’s a fitting start to our Sunday after Pelican's four huge days supporting a group of Hope Vale community members to retrace, by kayak, a sea route used by the Guugu Yimidhirr Aborigines to Lizard Island to collect (you guessed it) food: wild arrowroot and yam, clam shell, sea gull eggs, turtle, wangay, fish, dugong and pigeons. The original inhabitants paddled in dugout canoes from the main camp at Cape Flattery to Lizard, via Rocky Island, South Direction Island and North Direction Island.

Our first night’s anchorage is at Rocky Isle, a protected rookery for Torres Strait pigeons. We have time for beachcombing before picking up the kayakers who will arrive after their first day's paddle. The shoreline is paved with flat white stones and the sand is spangled with driftwood, prongs of bleached coral and manmade flotsam. We return to the boat with the kayakers and an armful of rubbish and rouse a few hands to help prepare the meal: freshly-hooked barbecued fish, jacket potatoes and salad. Camping is not permitted on Rocky so Pelican sleeps with 29 people under her wing.

On day two, the kayakers paddle from Rocky Isle to North Direction Island, which rises like a pudding from the sea. Our mooring there is tenuous, with gusts bulleting the boat, and reefs surrounding us. So after unloading support people and camp gear, Pelican and crew depart for the sheltered waters of Watson’s Bay at Lizard for the night and a quiet meal of ganguruu (kangaroo) and mediterranean vegies on the barbie (with thanks to E and crew for giving me the night off!).

We motor back to North Direction on day three to pick up all the kayakers. With 25-30 knot winds and a messy two-metre swell, some paddlers are not keen on completing the last leg to Lizard Island. With them aboard, we sail back to Lizard and moor at Mermaid Cove, a secluded bay where a rock ledge shelters a lively reef. It's decided that we'll wait to see if conditions ease enough to complete the last leg tomorrow. After a tiring day of loading and unloading people and gear, N and I squeeze in a late afternoon snorkel. Sunlight streams through the water onto bright blue, fat-fingered starfish. Giant winking clams and baby clam nurseries ogle us from below. Neon reef fish duck in and around coral bommies. We stick our heads up just in time to catch a sunshower. As we return to the boat a turtle swims by. What a world! After visiting the shore camp we enjoy a late dinner of baked spangled emperor, rice, cucumber salad and coconut-lime sambal.

Day four and we are three paddlers short. The kayaks must all be returned to Lizard. In the interests of logistics, I, along with two other Pelican crew, put my hand up to jump in a kayak. Not without nerves, as the instructors focus us on how to handle a capsize and our skipper talks about retrieval procedures. Conditions are still rough, with 25-30 knots, frequent gusts and lots of chop, but we're paddling downwind and have Pelican close by. As we launch the kayaks from North Direction Island, an eagle circles us overhead. I'm too busy staying upright to notice, but those remaining on Pelican declare goosebumps. This is the final leg of an historic voyage. After an hour’s paddling, we approach the shallow waters of the lagoon at Lizard, all eight kayaks with sails up, cruising the rest of the way in. A welcome party of three ngowia (turtles) greets my paddle honcho J and I as we are among the first to arrive.

What a journey. Kudos to the kayakers who completed it, and brought to life part of their cultural heritage. It is hard to imagine making this voyage in pursuit of food, as the Guugu Yimidhirr once did.

--

*Yummy food in Guugu Yimidhirr

18 September 2008

postcard from cape flattery



At last... back where the sun shines! We are anchored at Cape Flattery, at the southern end of the Cape York Peninsula.

We sailed from Cairns a week ago, arriving that evening in Cooktown for a community sail the following day. We took a group of school students and marine scientists out to the reef to undertake water quality monitoring. After last dash provisioning in Cooktown (including an all-important last icecream for a month), we sailed to Cape Bedford, where we anchored for a couple of days, doing sail training. We've had five Hope Vale fellas aboard for the first week, undertaking training with us towards their coxswains certificates. Great bunch of guys (that's them above in celebration mode as we arrive at Flattery).

Bit of a perk for me to sit in on most of the training and beef up my boatiness.

On Tuesday we sailed north to Cape Flattery, where the Hope Vale community will set up camp on the beach over the school holidays. This will be the base for a whole bunch of activities, including digital storytelling (there is a whole media tent with computer editing facilities), a kayaking trip following a traditional dugout canoe route to Lizard Island, music and dance workshops, basket-weaving, spear-making, turtle and dugong research... and of course sailing!

S
ailing north from Cape Bedford, we had a bumper catch off Low Wooded Isle, a favoured fishing spot of skip's which always provides. Northern bluefin tuna, spotted mackerel and coral trout: five in all. We have since feasted amply on sashimi and barbecued fish, rice and salad.

The only food issues so far have been frostbitten greens and fermenting fruit. Since we are quite remote and catering numbers are a bit 'fluid', I've been swallowing my tongue every time I see space appearing in the fridges! Have
also been helping with meal planning for the community camp – up to 120 people for three weeks with only eskies, a simple woodfire grill and gurramah (underground camp oven) to play with. Luckily there is a cook in charge of the camp kitchen (I had been wondering!) and he used to be a chef in the navy.

Today was our first community sail at Flattery, with the marine scientist involving Hope Vale kids in seagrass monitoring activities. Privileged to have a traditional owner aboard. We are learning lots. Many dugongs sighted, one curling up through the water close by the boat.

Will write more soon - my battery's dying!

04 September 2008

prorogue

(pro-ROHG) verb tr.: 1. To discontinue a session of something, for example, a parliament. 2. To defer or to postpone.

Sometimes new words come along at just the right time.

Spring has sprung and we are into our second week of continuous sunshine! Those of you living beyond the reach of proper winter will probably not understand my unfettered crazy-woman bliss. Suffice to say, it is like falling into a very deep mire of fetid baby-poo-like sludge while you’re sleeping and wondering, when you wake up, why everything is suddenly rank and it’s difficult to move without clenching inwardly against the tide of crap… until five months* later you’re miraculously hauled out of the baby-poo-like sludge, whisked to a day spa and washed, pummelled and spruced back to life, whereupon robed courtiers who look very much like Jemaine from Flight of the Conchords escort you to a candy-striped sunchair where a glass of bubbles awaits your pleasure as wardrobe, hair and nail attendants get to work on further sprucing.

Well, it is very much like this. Of course it isn't actually this. That would be stupid. Or very amazing.

But back to my main reason for posting. Tomorrow I leave the country. (Not Australia, Gippsland, aka the country. Ha!) For Cape York, via Cooktown, via Cairns, via Melbourne, via bus, train, J's place, train, skybus, plane, car, boat, etc.


I can almost smell the salt air! Yippee! does not even come close. Business as usual (winter, under-employment, everything in my life that doubles for baby-poo-like sludge, etc) is hereby prorogued for a month.

Spring has also returned my kitchen mojo, courtesy a genius creation of barley, mushroom and mozzarella burgers. Which are so meaty that I’m toying with getting the kids (the ones I’ll be working with, who only eat meat – and then only the lips-n-a$$holes kind) to make and eat!


Hehehehe. I am pure evil.

--

*because that is how long a real winter lasts.

28 August 2008

score one, the regions

Last night the relics shouted me to dinner and a movie. Which on its own would be notable, given the extreme notability of any type of cultural excursion I make these days.

But this occasion belongs in the realm of Wonderful.

By some bizarre act of mercy, Son of a Lion came, for one night, to Yarram’s Regent Theatre. Which despite its potential arthouse allure (balcony seating, pressed metal ceilings, Bud Tingwell photographs on the walls) generally only shows crap.

Not only is Son of a Lion not crap, it is a beautiful story with stellar acting, gorgeous one-liners and a brilliant soundtrack. (And the story of its making by an Aussie paramedic is facscinating.)


That this subtitled flick featuring jellaba-wearing Pashtuns shooting guns and praying to Allah in Al Qaeda country screened the day before it’s national release, in the land of dairy farms where ‘F OFF, WE'RE FULL’ bumper stickers prove your manliness, was unfathomable.

--

I am further impressed to be able to label this post 'bingi' AND 'movies' (who woulda thought?)... and possibly creating a new category for my recent favourite list discovery: Stuff White People Like. (Think sushi, indie music and threatening to move to Canada/New Zealand.) I don't think there's a post yet for Middle Eastern Tribal Culture!

24 August 2008

potatoship to the camembert moon

Two weeks before departure for Cairns. Less, actually.

From my bolthole in the virtual Antarctic (aka southern Gippsland), I can’t quite grasp the subtropics. My disbelief starts somewhere around my ugg boots. And tapers off around my beanie. T-shirts and shorts sound about as appropriate right now, as, well… flying to the moon in a hollowed-out potato.

[Gah! Potato rocketship + moon-as-cheese = brain preoccupied with stodge! I know those moon mythologists have dibs on Swiss but I'm going for camembert. White rind. I think it works. Mmm, camembeeeerrt…]

Which brings me to my next challenge: getting my head around summer food.

To explain. I’m joining Pelican again (as cook) for a project with the Hopevale Aboriginal community. The itinerary goes something like this: Cairns-Cooktown-Cape Flattery-various islands-Cooktown-Cairns. Four weeks, a bit of sail training, a splash of kayaking, some turtle/dugong monitoring, digital storytelling, traditional craft-making... and boatloads of cooking.


So. I’m kind of hoping my kitchen mojo reappears. Soon. And in summer mode. About a month ago, some kind of evil winter slump repossessed my food inspiration. So I’ve been getting by on tofu stir fries and steamed vegies. Which I love. But not in a daily way! I suspect the mojo walk-out was in response to the freak-it’s-cold/regional-food-supplies-are-crap/why-am-I-in-this-puposeless-pit blues.

Am also hoping the four-hour flight triggers a reversal of hibernation-lethargy and reinstates former physical glory in readiness for the slog that is four weeks of creating food-love bounties from a rockin’ sweatin' galley.

But I guess this is all small fry. I'll be shootin’ for the camembert.

22 August 2008

nuts

I’ve just returned from two days at Churinga, where the Relics and I lunched last week. Churinga’s guardians are part of the WWOOFing fraternity and had invited me to come back for a bit of hands-on. I was told I’d be planting walnuts. Naturally, my rose-coloured urban brain imagined me begloved, kneeling in dirt, sunshine beating down, digging a few holes with a trowel and asking, ‘What next?’ with the satisfied glow of a woman who has just planted walnuts.

Naturally, it wasn’t like that at all. What it was like, was plotting an entire orchard of walnut trees. No, cancel that. A plantation of walnut trees.

Two of us spent the best part of one and a half days measuring and staking out where 50 walnut trees should go on a very large, steeply sloped, bracken-covered plot of land. We couldn’t even get a proper line of sight since there were trees to be felled. We got 26 in the ground. There were no trowels in sight.
Clearly, I still have a way to go on this urban to country curve.

But for now, you can call me Walnut Queen.

17 August 2008

inspiration and anti-kindness

Last week the Relics and I made an inspired house call. Up through the hills of Jack River went the little van, dodging wallabies and wedgies*, to Churinga: 85 acres of bush and home to a couple of Landcare-Greens renegades.

The vegie garden overflowed with artichokes and mountain pepper and raspberries and garlic and chestnuts and warrigal greens and rosemary and kaffir lime and grapefruit. Its views and bounty made me green. After a tour of the river, during which we released an anti-kindness**, witnessed the pulling apart of the turbine which provides them their power (!) and stuck our heads in on the nearly-complete cool storage cellar and fire bunker… we were fed an amazing home-grown lunch in a house made from reclaimed materials! Warmed by a glass of red and a kick-ass woodstove with a fandangly system which pumps hot water underneath the concrete floor!

We left with a heaving bag of lemons and grapefruit and John Ralston Saul's On Equilibruim, which is kind of like brain-citrus: a little hard to get down but good when you know to just approach it in small bites.

I have been invited back next week for some hands-in-dirt experience.

--

*Wedge-tailed eagle, an Australian bird of prey.

**A small native mouse. I suspect this is not its real name but this is what I repeatedly heard.

13 August 2008

old-school cool

When Safeway publicly apologises for its short supply of brocolli due to extreme cold weather, when the entire world around you scarfs sausage rolls for lunch, when the best thing about waiting for a train at Flinders Street is the passive ingestion of potato cake/salt-n-vinegar smells… perhaps it’s time to ditch that halo and get thee some old-school comfort.

Sometimes in life, the only correct answer is:

1. Risone with tuna and loads of melted cheese. My conscience was lurking from the sidelines so I had to put some green things on top – freezer peas are old-school good.

2. Butter-licious jaffles with baked beans. From a can.

3. Hot chocolate. With a choc royale on the side.

4. Peanut butter on toast. Forget chicken soup. This is the old-school antidote to just about anything.


5.
Nanna blanket. Hottie. Couch and ... (still thinking old-school?) the Sesame Street Classics DVD set... which I won from the very cool folks at Three Thousand! It came today!

An excerpt from their review: "
A mood-disordered green hairy homeless person hanging out with a gay worm, a bird who lives in a vacant lot in Harlem, hallucinating that his best friend is a woolly mammoth, children going home with a strange man named Bob for "milk and cookies". A monster smoking a pipe while hosting a TV show - then eating the pipe."

The inhumanity of it is that Bird et al will have to wait, since I must make a hastily arranged day-swoop to Melbourne tomorrow - a seven-plus hour return trip. I will be a mood-disordered green hairy homeless person by tomorrow night.

12 August 2008

oh glorious productivity

Yesterday was about the most productive day I have had in aeons. After dropping the pee-anywhere cat off to the vet bright and early, I had three whole hours to fill before my knitting class. After a quick look in the opp shop (and another el cheapo woollen jumper score), I headed to the Federal Coffee Palace and plonked myself by their open fire. With laptop and caffeine I proceeded to work like a madwoman. At home, despite being stationed behind a closed door, my day would be about one part work to two parts tending fire and sixteen parts engaging with domestic life that refuses to believe in my ‘absence’ (a Snuffle-upagus case in reverse?). Then there’s time spent in the thrall of the kettle, which, thanks to its perch on the always-on woodstove, graciously affords a constant stream of little breaks. (Much like the always-on internet.)

FCP is my saviour. I did a full 'Bingi day’s' work in two hours. I will come back often. So what if it’s a 40km round trip? So what if they don’t have wifi (actually that’s a good thing, since internet access would’ve thwarted my blitzkrieg). At the very least, I will move my homebound workspace to the big caravan on the property.

But that’s not all. Yesterday I also finished my beanie – my first knitted project EVER! (Every time I enter her orbit, my knitting yogi apologises for starting me off on such a not-quite-straightforward project.)
See here.





On the whole, I'm quite chuffed. I'd like to wear it with the roll-up bit rolled down, but because it's got a bit more headroom than I can use, wearing it like that makes me look Smurf-headed. So I plan to tweak the design and make another.
After I finish the scarf I also started yesterday.

10 August 2008

one

Today is special. It may lack the ring of 080808, but today is my one year anniversary of Life After Desk. Woohoo! I have survived a WHOLE YEAR unrestrained by desk shackles! Before I march off to knitting class - it is also 'd' day for the beanie - I thought I'd share a few kernels about the quest for meaning, purpose (and income)* beyond the desk. Forgive me, this is about five different shades of nerdy. But I am in high celebration mode.

1. Do what you love (but don’t plan too much!). Never before has the universe responded so well to my lack of life direction and planning. I leapt into the fresh unknown with the unshaped idea to do what I enjoy. There were vague dreams of star-lit skies and open spaces. I bought a guidebook to Western Australia. Then mysterious planetary stuff happened and I stumbled onto Pelican. Literally. I spent almost the rest of the year at sea. Sailing. Travelling. Working for Indigenous and environmental issues. And of course, cooking. Kooky! All I did was fire off an email and two weeks later stepped aboard. The important lesson was to take the leap. You need to make room before new things can grow, etc.

2. Amazing starts are just that: starts. Equilibrium is nature’s genius. It's not all croquet and cloudwatching. I guess the past few months’ battles to gain a toehold in the freelance world were inevitable after such an effortless start.

3. It’s difficult to turn a lone cog. Come with me on this journey: we’re all cogs, we were born to turn. As a lone cog, you can no longer just turn up and submit your jagged little edges to the wheels of the great machinery. No. Like all cogs, you must turn, but you must find a way to turn yourself. And in the depths of winter, when you’re bogged in philosophical quandries about the purpose of cogs, when there are no other cogs for miles around, when you’ve been rejected by the big cogs, when you’ve exhausted your self-turn talk and even your cog-mojo gets disgusted and leaves… being a solo cog is No Bloody Fun.

4. Prosperity has little to do with numbers. (Beyond a certain point.) My income is a sliver of its former self. As is my consumption. Not to mention my ‘productive output’ aka the number of widgets I have birthed in the past year. But I have become so much more rounded, I am the essence of BALL.

5. I’ll have the …………………………………….. ? Too much choice confounds decision-making. For me, anyway, who can barely decide what to order for dinner (when I used to go out for dinner). Choice is like money (see above): you only need so much to be happy; the surplus conspires to remove your happiness. (It’s like we got smitten by money and choice and suddenly forgot about the law of diminishing returns.) Anyway, removing myself from a widget job was cake. Compared, that is, with choosing an alternative… and pursuing it with intent to attain self-sufficiency. Though I've narrowed it down a whack, I’ve been bogged of late in philosophical quandries about the purpose of work. Sometimes I think the answer is lurking at the other end of the sentence: what the world needs now is…

6. The nomadic thing sucks. Unless of course you have your own yurt, which would be cool, though not without its troubles if you wanted to pitch it in, say, Collingwood. After 18 months of living in other people’s spaces, what I miss most is my own. Life After Independent Habitation (I started cohabiting again six months before the desk divorce, for anyone paying attention) has flung a latent dream to the fore: to build my own house. Out of reclaimed materials. With my own hands. Where I will sustain myself by the freelance life and the bounty of the land. There is a bit more to it, but that’s the nutshell version. This is the oft alluded to Grande Plann.


So there you have it. That's what I learnt loosing the desk shackles. Maybe it doesn't look like much. But it's more than I had a year ago. And this is just the start. Now, where are those bubbles?

*My first learning should have been: 'Never Put Income in Parentheses', it is alphabetic feng shui. Or was my lack of income a result of my giving away my jade (aka money) plants when I purged myself of accumulated material crud?

06 August 2008

blog and a hard place

I find myself in an awkward position. And not just because I’ve forced myself to resume pilates – after a lull – against the every scream of my wintering body. There are roughly four weeks until the next Pelican job begins. And my need for purpose (or in its absence, something to do next) grows kind of desperate. You will heed my desperation when I say...

I’ve been reconsidering a temporary return to The Desk.

I know. I know.

I could not have planned this to be any more ironic than it is. Next week is the first year anniversary since Life After Desk began (timekeepers can be assured the desk-shackles were shed after the first week in August 2007, I was just a bit tardy setting up the blog). And what do people usually mark first year anniversaries with? Paper! Which, to the desk hound, is as nails are to the chippy. I am sitting amidst so much irony I could be a laundry-wench.

There is no question that I will still be liberating bubbles to mark the occasion. Even though it is not bubble drinking weather. And even though I may will have to drink them on my own, since no one here is fond of bubbles, and this could will be messy.


And I will still be sailing with Pelican. (For as long as they'll have me.)

I am not giving up the quest for an alternative existence. This is just me rationalising my need to squirrel away a few more acorns for Le Grande Plann (I will share very soon), by submitting to a temporary return to that forgotten shiny world where you can wear a dress and order coffee. Where you have somewhere to be and people expect stuff from you. Where it is not OK to wear ugg boots every day.

Maybe it will be called Life And Desk. Hehe!

04 August 2008

ding! dong!

The orchids are out, the wood ducks are a-nesting, the mornings are lighter. This can only mean that winter is on its way out. Ding dong to that! Both rain tanks are full and I harvested my first handfuls of coriander – planted from seed aeons ago – for a bowl of pho ga. Small things worth celebrating. I thought I would do so by sharing some recent finds/surprises:

1. Cousin J’s home-made bircher muesli, replicated by me but not as good as the original. Oats, dried fruit, water, fridge. Genius!

2. Yacon: like a crunchy, super-sweet potato. Perfect for my fave fast food: bowl of steamed veg.

3. Kangaroo simmered in a dashi-soy-mirin-sake combo with stir fried vegies and brown rice. How did I get into my fourth decade (ARGH!) before tasting dashi?? Probably the same way I left it until my second last day in Vietnam to discover jackfruit.

4. A 100% Shetland wool jumper in the throw-out bin at the opp shop, 50 cents. Hooray for the regions.

5. A sheath of dusky meringue light falling on the peak of St Paul's Cathedral with the boldest, thickest rainbow I have ever seen arcing over the building's side. Lines of people taking photos. Me? No camera! One of those 'I don't have my camera so I'll just have to appreciate the moment' moments.

6. The tax office rocks. These words are a meaty surprise, no? They have just rescued me from taking another slice off the top of my acorn stash. Never before have I witnessed the heaving cogs of bureaucracy work so swiftly in my favour. Never.

7. Someone I used to work with has packed up his family for instalment two of We Do Love to Sail Around the Med. Their modus operandi seems to be work for six months; sail for six. I do like it very muchly!

8. Natasha Pincus interview in the winter issue of Dumbo Feather (call me a nerd if you will, I'm rationing my reading to prolong the joy) which has made me think even more deeply about callings and creativity. Anyone seeking Purpose Angst resolution should read it. Though it may cause further angst. But you’ll be much better informed. Or something like that.

9. Always smile when there are cameras around. You never know when a previous employer will
stick your mug on a website banner.

10. Who the? What the? Gggghhh! Mwow. I was dreaming about moths and celery stalks...



How cute is he with his face all twisted like that? And I am posting this after cleaning two puddles in one day... one of which I unwittingly pushed a broom through and walked in. Ick! Either I am extremely forgiving... or I find this photo highly amusing.

a name for swollen knuckles

I may have been harping on about the cold. In case you missed it, my first southern winter in six years has been debilitating to any kind of forward momentum. (Except the forward momentum required to repeatedly reach into packets of chocolate covered Butternut Snaps.)

My acclimitisation has been made more tricky by certain household philosophies concerning wood and fossil fuel consumption. Philosophically I am the Queen of Conservation. I recognise the forests of timber required to keep the house warm. I try to participate in its getting. But I am physically struggling with limiting its use.

Since my return to Victoria, I’ve been the owner of several extremely swollen, extremely tender, extremely blue knuckles. Which have been recently accompanied by an itchy skin thing. The knuckle thing has been an on and off concern for a few years, but never this bad. Thinking I’d acquired a nanna disease to go along with my nanna hobbies (oh my god she can knit and drink beer AT THE SAME TIME), I trundled off to Melbourne to see a rheumatologist who did a good job of channeling House. With powers of deduction executed at the speed of light, I left with the happy verdict: not arthritis, but a legitimate aversion to the cold which manifests in swollen joints and chilblains. Raynaud’s disease – repeat, DISEASE – can be managed by maintaining one’s core temperature and avoiding exposure to the cold.

Let me say it another way.

I paid a very large sum of money to learn that after donning my indoors attire of beanies, scarves, multiple layers of thermals and armies (not quite fingerless gloves-not quite socks for arms), I have a medical reason to make greater use of the household’s available heating systems.


I also suspect that the management of my DISEASE might also require a minimum daily intake of chocolate. Chocolate being the food of choice for mountain climbers and extreme cold weather adventurers and all.

03 August 2008

on justice and coffee

I have just ploughed through The Tall Man - intelligent and restrained reportage of the 2004 Palm Island death in custody and resulting inquest and trial. The telling of these events is a small victory against the heavy sadness of their fact. It is an important book. I won't critique it for fear of doing it injustice, except to say that it is a must-read for anyone interested in the state of this country. Now, before you start imagining me in long socks and sandals hoisting a flag in my yard, I will segue into a little lounge-room boogie to mark another national triumph: this one of local culture over global corporate blandness. Goodbye Starbucks, you don't make sense here. Thanks be to little victories.

30 July 2008

bumps, lumps, watersheds

Under the influence of the needles, I've begun to muse how my current knitting jag is a metaphor for my life right now. I’ve been clinking along something like this: knit a row, gather speed and confidence, blink, mysteriously lose the bundle, get dispirited, give up and slunk off in the direction of the habadashery. Two days ago I tried carrying on from the point of give up. Somehow, miraculously, I resurrected the critical mess I’d made. A watershed.

Since then, I’ve been knitting like a steamtrain.

Though riddled with errant purls and unidentifiable stitches, beanie is swiftly evolving into something that resembles the beginnings of a garment. And I am snowballing. For example, I mysteriously completed a row with 103 stitches instead of 100, and then identified and ditched the three extras in the following row. Just like that. For two nights in a row I have corked my needles because it was time to go to bed… and not because I’d done my blink and lose it trick.


I will try not to gloat, since the task before me now requires changing to a new pair of needles. Then knitting a whole row and purling a whole row, instead of knit one, purl one, and I'm afraid that if I can schwing the needle swap, my hands will revert to autopilot. I smell doom. (Feel free to jump in here with any advice - please!)

Anyway, perhaps the metaphorical stuff is a little subtle. Suffice to say that learning to knit, with all its bumps and lumps, is spookily similar to the pursuit of life after desk. And perhaps by the time I finish the beanie, I’ll have found the warmer climes of my dreams and can lay my hat. (Literally, because I won’t need its woolly warmth!)

27 July 2008

a-ha!

It’s been an a-ha! kind of weekend. Revealing. Satisfying. And not.

A-ha moment #1... Like someone with a rare disease who finally stumbles upon a name for it, I can finally, belatedly, satisfyingly, explain my current bent for baking, knitting, herb-growing, etc. (Today’s etc being learning, sort of, to prune fruit trees at the Toora Heritage Pear Orchard.) I owe this one to Michael Pollan, whose food ethics titles I’m working my way through, but specifically, to the account of his experience building his own writing studio. With his own hands. Pollan being about as tool-handy and buildery as … well, my 19-year-old arthritic cat. As a writer, Pollan mused, he is invested to his armpits in thoughts and words and purposeless abstraction. Often not even creating new purposeless abstraction, but reconditioning other people’s purposeless abstraction so it better serves its purposeless... purpose (aka editing). So when he needed a work-from-home space, he decided to build it himself. With his own hands. He explained the impulse as a lust for something grounded in reality. Like wood and hammers and chisels and sweat. (Or flour and seeds and wool and pear trees.) To create something with his own hands that he could touch and walk into. (Or eat or wear or grow.)

A-ha. As you can probably guess, after spending years writing and reconditioning purposeless puff that often as not ended up in recycling bins, many bells did ring in my general vicinity.

A-ha moment #2... Yesterday was unbelievably sunny and warm. It registered 22 degrees outside. (About ten more than usual.) I read in the sun all morning. I thawed out. I even took off my socks and rolled up my jeans. Then I went for a walk (after failing miserably for weeks to goad myself into a decent forest tramp). I walked and sang. I felt light inside. What was this strange sensation? Oh dear. Or should I say, a-ha.

You see, for months now I've been denying the significant influence the cold weather is having on me. (But this is my home state!) A little swab of sunshine and I'm able to function without internally bracing. Frolic instead of waddle (it's the 13,001 layers). Smile. I guess this is what a real winter, after six years without one, feels like. So I’ve realised – belatedly, grudgingly – I cannot function in this part of the world in winter. A far less satisfying realisation than the first. And one I must do something about. Grrr. Maybe I'll do my tax first...

23 July 2008

knitting for dummies

I’m writing in the flush of learning a new skill… knitting! (Not the most intuitive segue from the chainsaw, but a segue nonetheless, by a former desk-drone endeavouring to become at least mildly practical.)

Recently a friend in Briswegia sent me a granny pack - four balls of yarn, a pair of needles, photocopied instructions and good luck vibes. I quickly discovered that knitting is a left-brain activity and submitted to the wisdom and white hair of the Yarram Spinners – the local spinning/knitting/crocheting group.


That was last week. I emerged from their clutches with two new sets of needles, some grey tweed wool, the suggestion of a grey tweed beanie and a contact list including two Beryls.

When I got home, I set straight to work in a determined attempt to maintain momentum. That's when I discovered the super-meditative qualities of knitting and got into a positivity thought-loop that went something like: for $3 a pop, I can learn to knit, make something to keep me warm AND enhance my inner calm! I was so deep 'in the zone' that when something house-bound hoiked me back, I must've blinked and dropped a stitch… or something equally dire. Pursuing the buzz, I continued in denial, only to discover ten minutes later that my ‘knit one, purl one’ was completely out of whack. I was purling where I should have been knitting and my beanie had turned all poo-shaped. My zen calm shot to bits, I corked my needles and noted the need to learn how to un-knit.

During my Melbourne interlude, my knitting nanna called to check my progress. Since the group only meets once a month, she suggested I seek help from the local habadashery. Which I did today. The beanie is back on track. I feel confident. Because next time I fluff it, I have my knitting nanna's phone number. And the amused attention of the local habadashers. Who, I suspect, don't yet realise they've just become my personal
Knitting for Dummies support group.

22 July 2008

weekend in the big smoke

dawn smudge and a bleary-eyed bus ride.


small glitch at my accomms: no one home to let me in!

gawd how I miss this place. real coffee and real food on every corner.


light and shade. rain. sun. rain. sun. ah, must be melbourne.


tree baubles


upside down palm tree shadow in lake


laneway commissions... bah!


cheek and jowl

sport enough for me

maybe i could live here again?

16 July 2008

cousins rock*

Oh. My. Lordy.

You know your whinings about cultural/financial states have reached a new kind of pathetic when your cousin who has just returned to Melbourne after a long expat stint and is living with one of her relics and her lifelong housemate who she left back in Queensland send you a care package. With really expensive wine and six ‘every day’ wine glasses (one for every day of the week minus one dry day), Ethiopian organic fair trade chocolate, fluffy polka-dotty bed socks, Full Terry socks – exactly who is this Full Terry? – latest editions of Grass Roots and other “vego-leso”** reading material and incense specially brewed to ward off depression!

The booty came in a big box, masquerading as a water-saving shower-head. Naturally I paused to consider last week’s flurry of internet trawling but couldn’t recall ordering any shower-heads. Come to think of it, I can’t recall ordering anything online since Operation Tightwad kicked in.

My reaction upon knifing open the box went from befuddlement to glee to guilt: "This is not a shower head. This is wine and chocolate! I am not worthy!"

You see, I, dubious cousin that I am, have not called J to support her through the return to Melbourne in winter and moving in with a relic phase. I, dubious cousin that I am, even got a twitchy lip when she called last week to chat to Mum and not me... it was amidst the swathes of bubble wrap that I realised she had called Mum to check our postal address.

[pause for emphasis]

I feel like someone who drank an awful lot, made a right ass of themselves, forgot what an ass they were because they drank so much, then got a really bad hangover and whined loudly about it til someone bought them a year’s supply of Berocca to shut them up.

I love the care pack. I am so not worthy. J and L: you can ride on this for a very long time.

--

It’s been cousin-central around here. We just spent a lovely weekend with my Long Lost Cousin, her boat-building beau, their cute little z and my uncle. There was food. There was wine. The Wombles theme song even made an appearance. Read about it on boat-building beau’s blog or b's blog... (exactly how did two people with a small child beat me to blog it?).

Well that’s it for a bit… I’m wambling off to Melbourne for a few days to imbibe by a fireside amongst fellow editors, stalk the Slow Guides publisher, drink wine with old friends, run amok at festivals and trawl op shops and bookshops.

*housemates, partners and babies of cousins rock too, it just didn't fit so well in the title.

**kudos to J and L, this is their genius catch-all for minority groups like vegetarians and lesbians.

10 July 2008

de way forward

It’s been like a dirt bike buzzing up behind me for a while now. (An actual scenario happening with irksome regularity during forest walks of late.) The realisation, that is, that I have far too many interests to keep a proper handle on any of them. Now, I know that’s probably a very slow realisation since for the past year I have been making a conscious effort to de-specialise and diversify… that is, in a way, the whole point of Life After Desk. A few income spinners, more de-light, less boredom, greater durability.

Eggs in baskets, fingers in pies, irons in fires... I got ‘em all: blogging here, blogging there, pitching saleable writing, spreading the freelance word, doing stuff for free, filing rejection notes, photo shoots, photoshopping, card-making, notebook crafting, keeping an eye on job ads, playing Bingi help desk, keeping fires going (actual ones), tutoring, reading the gazillions of emails I subscribe to, dreaming of new ways to sustain Life AD, etc. And I haven’t even mentioned food yet. Or the other secret squirrel Grande Planne which I’m yet to commit to the page here but am squandering hours on nonetheless.

I’m not sure how I managed it all whilst chained to desk. (Though I’ll admit to doing a bit of blogging here and a bit of online banking there. During lunch breaks of course.) This diversification bizzo is also a bit scattered. Whole days get de-railed. (Though I guess that’s not so different to a morning email from the Minister’s office requesting a parliamentary statement on the reforms to social housing in discrete Indigenous communities by COB along with dot points on something else and figures on a third thing… but at least then I had someone else to blame for my day going skewiff).


It's also kind of de-pressing. But if I light enough little fires, and run in circles fanning flames... and hope and beg and PLEEEAAAD and hope and cross all crossable body parts and sing to the moon… that one will eventually catch.

--

Since I’m on the topic, has anyone been watching the Passionate Apprentices doco on SBS? I was completely transfixed by the baker on tonight’s ep who makes all his stuff by hand, built his own masonry woodstove and supplies his own garlic/parsley/eggs etc from his garden and whose dream is to grow his own grain, mill his own flour and bake it by hand...


De-specialisation. De-lovely. De way forward.

08 July 2008

lucie's drawers

I’ve never quite managed the whole online social networking thing very well. Born in the wrong generation or something. People must think I’m immune to their free beers, baked cakes and thrown sheep. I try, but I’ve always felt time spent Facebooking etc is time not spent doing real stuff. But this morning, something turned. I spent a good half an unplanned hour ambling through a friend’s Flickr photostream. While I should have been doing other things. It was like peeking through Lucie’s drawers. My, she has style to burn. I was so inspired (and ashamed of my own disorderly drawers) that I spent the rest of the morning organising and updating my photostream. Well, it’s a start. Since that dispensed with the morning, and I'd remembered Donald's last name, I did some more trawling and tracked him down to either being a traffic consultant in Perth or a minor league baseball player!

07 July 2008

newspaper neck

Monday morning. Still a free woman. (By the skin of my teeth.) I should be more impressed than I am. But I’ve arisen with newspaper neck after spending a very large part of yesterday hunched with my snout in the papers. (With any luck, there won’t be much call to look/turn/swivel to the right today.) And I’ve got no idea what to do about the competition (possibly the worst idea I’ve ever had, along with drawing in black pastel on the carpet in Prep*) since one MOTH has started pretending that the rest of the household does not exist. Oh the extreme joy of living with one’s parents. Those stores of positivity I boasted are threatening to leave the building. And I, too. For it’s high time to get cracking on something new. Somewhere new.

But let me recount the MANY reasons to be positive: 1. I’ve started tutoring. 2. Dumbo Feather winter issue is out, featuring two small pieces by moi. 3. Surprise gift in the mail from Ren – knitting needles and wool! 4. Op shop thermals from M. 5. Wangling myself a coffee introduction with the Slow Guides publisher. 6. Upcoming trek to the city for the Melbourne Festival of Travel Writing and Melbourne Design Market, on the same weekend... I may need an oxygen supplement. 7. Anticipating the ONE year anniversary since Life After Desk began (not to mention the fancy bottle of fizz that’s been patiently waiting in the back fridge for an occasion).

I’ve been very much admiring Leunig’s meanderings of late. Especially since he meanders so well about frustrations with modern life and the interminable depths of a southern winter. I marvel at his ability to muse so gently and endearingly about the stupidity of contemporary social conventions and the impossibility of human relations and the bristling cold, etc. And sound deeply sensitive and intelligent while getting his gripe on. At the risk of adding envy to the list of unbecoming traits I’m airing… I want to be him!

--

*Dear Mrs Walker. That big black mark on the carpet in your Prep year in 1980 was my fault. I don’t know what came over me but I do recall feeling kind of demeaned by being asked to get on my hands and knees and pretend to be a vacuum cleaner and pick up craft litter from the carpet. And the pastel remnant was just there. Apologies to Donald (can’t remember your last name), the snot-licking class clown who copped the blame for it. But you are now probably some hot software entrepreneur with a little off-the-grid pad up in the Daintree where you grow mangoes with your woman while I envy from so very, very far away. (For international readers: the ‘preparatory’ year is in between kindergarten/pre-school and school.)

04 July 2008

week one update

I’ll start with a small clarification, since my thought loop (a few posts back) went directly from a gripe about Life After Desk to an apology to Members of the Household – the link between which was probably not sparklingly clear. Probably because my brain seems to have frozen over in the struggle to continue functioning through my first proper winter in six years.

For some time now, the relics and I have been nudging the maximum duration for successful offspring/parental cohabitation. Noted through excessive grumbling, sniping, etc and aggravated no doubt by my growing frustrations with Life AD. Hence the cartwheel from general gripe to apology to MOTH. Which then kind of tumbled with a half pike into a competitive bid to calm domestic relations.


So, now that is all clear, an update. All MOTH willingly entered the competition, though with not quite the enthusiasm or robust start I imagined. Day One began with strong winds, a power outage and Domestos-clean floors. My hard won Domestos-clean floors, the icing on the previous whole day's cleaning binge. I crawled out of bed in the dark and got the woodstove burning. The elder relic arose and (in the dark) fetched buckets of water from the tanks. Creeping through the kitchen like an overgrown hairy Vietnamese woman, he promptly spilled a bucket all over the kitchen bench, chairs, chair pillow things and... my Domestos-clean floors. And every inaccessible, unlit crevice within a three metre radius. (And, since my bread-making efforts began, I have been astounded daily by the inordinate number of flour/water/seed-retaining crevices in this kitchen.) Naturally, this was followed by much grumbling and mop/bucket action by us both. Then, instead of giving up like any normal person and retreating to his cornflakes, he went to fetch wood (still dark), and shimmying back through the house, dropped a log... sprinkling bark and log dust all over my increasingly un-Domestos clean floors.

Since he had not yet read and accepted the invitation to compete – and I was still too bleary-eyed to be aware of the date – we turned a cheek on the morning’s grumblings.

I'm loathe to admit that the household has turned many cheeks since then. Grumblings have continued with much the same frequency and force, but are now followed by earnest murmurs from at least one MOTH of "but the competition". We are all supposed to be judges in this quest, and as we are each reluctant to annoint anyone else a loser, our lenience in this regard indeed reveals highly sophisticated diplomatic skills.

See? Silver lining, or what?! I have stores of positivity! Stores, I tell you!

27 June 2008

the mc-what?

I use web-based email. I know: pleb. Anyway, it’s free, I've had it forever and I find the celebrity gossip - that I must dedicate half an eyeball to as I log in - mildly amusing.

This afternoon though, I almost inhaled my chai when I saw an ad for McAfrica. That’s right, McAfrica!

As in, the continent with more starving people than anywhere else on Earth! Brought to you by the corporation almost singularly responsible for promulgating a 'food culture' (much licence taken) resulting in mass rates of obesity in the west.

But why McAfrica? Are they using zebra patties? Is this a cunning new alliance with World Vision to get those of us with half an iota's flea of a social conscience through the automatic doors? Perhaps I’m clinging to stereotypes of place-based poverty. Anyway, I was compelled to investigate (note to relics: this is precisely why we’ve exceeded our download limit every month since my arrival).

Like any McInteraction, I felt instantly sick and regretful. (The site has apparently been revamped, and is all wobbly and intuitive.)

Anyway, there are no zebras in the patties (though I doubt there’s much real cow in them either, despite the listing of 100% beef in the ingredients list, which I’ve always thought to be a more innocuous way of saying ‘we use all the parts of the cow’). Apparently what makes this burger a McAfrica is that it’s “dressed with an exotic African sauce of mayonnaise and spices”.

Spices? What spices? Mayonnaise? Isn’t that a European condiment? Granted, the French influence in African cuisine is strong. But when were burgers ever part of a traditional African diet!? I’ve been to one African country and there were lots of pastries (hail the French), lots of tagines, not so many burgers. (Though I did pass one McFoodhall on my two-week Moroccan circuit.)

On closer inspection,
it appears the "African sauce" is actually “Harissa Mayonnaise”, though what makes it “Harissa Mayonnaise” is indecipherable from the ingredients list, which between all the numbers, refers to chilli puree and vague listing of “spices” and “herbs”. So by waving the "exotic" wand, they’ve absolved themselves from giving any particular reason why this maketh an African burger!

At 2000 kilojoules and over 40% fat, they should load up a few plane-fuls of McAfricas and set off for Zimbabwe, where inflation is running at 100,000 per cent (or was in April,
according to AFP) or to Sierra Leone where the cost of rice has risen 300 percent. Just aim the plane somewhere at the continent and you're bound to find a country that's been affected by food/fuel riots in recent months/years.

My investigation got stranger and stranger. The Olympic colours billowed across the website burger. Marketing spiel attests to this being a “Limited Edition Olympic Games Burger” (sic - and sick too).

Daft I may be, but the link to the Games is lost on me. If they had half a bland marketing brain at their global disposal, they might’ve dreamed up some sort of - just thinking wildly here - Chinese dish, perhaps served in a cute cardboard takeaway box. Which, benefit of the doubt etc, I’m sure they’re saving for the actual Games and working their way there with a continent a month or something midly strategic.

Anyway, sorry for ranting, I just had to share.

apologies to MOTH

I cringed as soon as I clicked publish on the last post. I know, my whingeing is unbecoming. And repetitive. Thankfully, I’ve moved on. But not without a (very lame) apology to the household.

(See how I hold myself up for public ridicule in an effort to repent? Well you will, read on...)

[queue trumpets, dervishes]


Open Apology to Members of the Household (MOTH)

Sorry sorry sorry
for shooting bristles and splinters
‘Tis the devils within and the lurgies of winter

I’ve laundered my manners
and found a stash of good cheer
In fact, I’ve got stores to last me the year!

Well may you say:
“This sounds grand on the page,
But the terminally impatient can’t wait the next rage”

“That sounds like a bet!,” I decree
“Let’s see if we can spend a month sans hostility”

I’ll corral my opinions
not shout at computer bumblings
While reciting serenity mantras to his rants and mumblings

And you’ll save multi-part technical questions
for when I’m done juggling pots,

serving dinner and offering wine suggestions

He’ll be all joy
Delighting blackbirds a-twitter
And rejoicing the cat when he misses the litter

The victor’s due?
A fine pinot and a block of dark* too!

*Victor may nominate alternative booty to similar value, but as you see, I expect to WIN!

Rules of the competition: hostility includes, but is not limited to, any grumbling, mumbling, growling or detectable ill-will in the company of, or in the audible or visual range of other Members of the Household (MOTH), whether directed at MOTH or not. This includes inanimate objects. Multiple winners and multiple losers allowed. All losers will furnish or contribute to furnishing booty for all winners. In the case of dual victors, the total pool of booty shall be doubled and split equally between each victor. In the case of a single victor, the nominated booty or alternative of similar value shall be awarded. Entry to the competition is limited to MOTH, is not required of MOTH and may proceed with two or more MOTH. The competition commences on 1/7/2008 and closes at midnight on 31/7/2008.

Told you it was lame.