Thirty thank yous

In this, the last week of my twenties, I’m taking the time to say thank you for the good things served up by the past decade of my life. I am thankful

1. For physical health and strength.

2. That when my mental health was suffering, I had access to the help I needed.

3. For old friends who stay near and remind me of things I’ve forgotten about my own life.

4. For the man to whom I was married for six years, two months and one day. I miss my friend so dearly.

5. For great novels, especially Middlemarch.

6. That even though I moved house at least 12 times (often not my choice), I always had a roof over my head.

7. For the relief that comes from finally telling the truth. Authenticity and integrity were worth the pain it took to get me here.

8. That I got to see so much of the country where I live.

9. For the songs, some that I wrote but mostly that others wrote, that gave expression to my experience when I couldn’t let it out any other way.

10. For a great psychologist. Find one and hold on for dear life.

11. For a reliable, thorough GP. Get yourself one of those, too.

12. For the humility and healing of hindsight.

13. For Ollie, the best sausage dog that ever lived.

14. For the boss I prayed to have who became the friend I never could’ve dreamed to call my own!

15. That I have photos to illustrate so many stories worth remembering.

16. For the explosion of perspective about God and truth these years have lobbed at me.

17. For the privilege of education – receiving it and giving it.

18. For fire and alcohol, two magical substances.

19. For the friendship and example of my precious mother.

20. For my car. We’ve seen some things together.

21. That my brain is still plastic enough to unlearn and relearn.

22. For bush walks and art galleries, which I hated as a kid.

23. For old stuff. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore.

24. That a good night’s sleep does a world of good at any age.

25. For love. It exists.

26. That I’ve begun to know the difference between loneliness and solitude, seeing both as gift but only one as inevitability.

27. That I found a sense of belonging in a church community during a time when I really needed it.

28. That I got the chance to record my own music in a real studio.

29. That I have kind friends who are older than me, whose empathy has cushioned many a fall.

30. For the enjoyment I get from writing.

The Thank You Series: #5

It’s not Chateau Orquevaux but another beautiful building where I sit to write this long-overdue update on my writing projects for 2020.

This week I’m in Canberra – specifically, I’m in the Main Reading Room of the National Library of Australia – collating, editing and stitching together pieces I’ve written over the course of the past ten months. (By the way, I was shocked to find that this year I’ve written close to 40,000 words in my word processing app!)

I feel very at home in places where trees and books outnumber people. Outside, the sky’s blue over Ngunnawal country, the streets are wide and shady, the roundabouts abound. Inside, the desks have leather tops and silence isn’t forced.

I can afford to take this week to write thanks to my friends’ and relatives’ generosity. Their donations towards the writers’ residency I would have been on this month are funding this time. (I plan to also use those funds for two more concentrated, week-long writing sessions before the end of the year or early in 2021.)

Thank you for supporting me and my writing!

Seeds: Trash trove

Concurrent with my gardening project is my foray into woodworking, using borrowed tools and free timber, like pallets and offcuts.

I’ve got more to say about the thrilling possibilities that the waste crisis holds for humanity, but today I want to tell you about the ‘trash trove’ I discovered in Cobar last month. Cobar is a small town on Ngiyampaa/Wangaapuwan country, eight hours west of Sydney.

Fun fact: This building, Cobar’s Great Western Hotel, boasts the longest continuous iron lace in the Southern Hemisphere!

I was there to visit the site of the Cobar Sound Chapel, an art installation and music performance space housed inside an old water tank, designed by an eccentric Luxemburgish muso (my dad) and his Pritzker Prize-winning friend (Glenn Murcutt).

Couldn’t not post this lovely shot of my dad and me… and a sampling of the local street art. And when I say ‘site’, I mean it more in the ‘building’ sense than the ‘cultural’ or ‘tourist’ sense. But it’s getting there!

While my father, er, supervised the team of local builders (rough-as-guts legends who communicate in a dialect my dad’s picked up alarmingly well) I explored the surrounding scrub.

I saw a story in every piece of rubbish. Flattened ring-pull tins (a camper’s dinner circa 2000?), empty pill bottles that read ‘NOT TO BE TAKEN’, pools of molten plastic, boar skulls with all the teeth in tact, Coca Cola labels with branding they used in the ‘90s, lots and lots and lots of beer bottles (some locals are disgruntled about the takeover of their moon party spot), twisted-up engine parts, a tracksuit, a TV and the city of springs leftover after a mattress is set alight.

I suggested my dad could curate an exhibition of ‘ARTefacts’ found in the area surrounding the water tank. He wasn’t heaps keen.

As a result of my trip to Cobar, my mum’s garden now contains a small rockery with a bird bath made of a large ceramic bowl atop the rusty pipe collar from one of the water tank’s outlets. It also contains a rusty mop bucket that I’ve repurposed as a planter for this spring’s potted colour.

Just after planting native daisies around the rusty pipe collar in the part of my mum’s backyard that I’m still (slowly) doing up.

I made my friend Kat a side table using timber collected on the Sound Chapel worksite, and my next planned woodworking project is to build my dad a table using what I can of the original timber the builders salvaged from the rim of the tank.

Life’s full of paradoxes and, in coining the term ‘trash trove’, I think I just named another one.

Seeds: The parable of the two trees

The following tale no-doubt sprang from the amount of time I’ve been spending around trees. It gets to the heart of my perennial epistemic obsession. I’ve included some photos from recent adventures in nature and a progress shot of the fire pit corner of the garden.

A passer-by looked up at a tree, her attention grabbed by its bright leaves with their scalloped edges and their size, like a man’s hand. She wondered what sort of tree it was. She ran her eyes up the thick channels of its trunk, over the dark boughs that bent up and around, giving the plant that picture-book tree shape, dense and round. Then she spotted the early kernels of a few acorns and she knew it was an oak tree.

Another passer-by, who was shouldering a heavy bag, stopped to catch her breath in the shade of the big tree. Looking into the eyes of the first passer-by, she announced, ‘This is a gumtree.’ Her tone was confident, triumphant even.

The first passer-by looked from the tree to the second passer-by then back to the tree, her curiosity piqued.

Bouddi National Park, looking towards Palm Beach

‘But its leaves,’ said the first passer-by, ‘are they not big and rounded, rather than long and pointy? They don’t look like the leaves on a gumtree.’

‘Oh, I know it’s a gumtree. Its leaves must be deformed.’

‘But its bark,’ said the first passer-by, ‘isn’t it rough and dark, not smooth and fair? It doesn’t feel like a gumtree.’

‘Oh, I know it’s a gumtree. Its bark must be diseased.’

‘But its fruits,’ said the first passer-by, ‘aren’t they smooth with little caps, not flowery or bell-shaped, like the fruits of a gumtree?’

‘Oh, I know this is a gumtree. Its fruit must be bad. In fact, this must be a very unhealthy gumtree.’

The first passer-by quietly considered the possibility that this was a sick gum and not a majestic oak. After a while she ventured, ‘Perhaps it is not an unhealthy gumtree but a beautiful oak tree. That is what its leaves, its bark and its fruit tell me.’

Maitland Bay, NSW

‘You are mistaken. I have told you I know this is a gumtree. Its deformed leaves, diseased bark and bad fruit have deceived you.’

After making this assessment, the second passer-by picked up her bag and went away sad and frustrated because of the ignorance and lack of trust shown by the other.

The first passer-by remained, confused, gazing up at the beautiful tree. When she finally walked away, she was no longer confident in her ability to correctly identify trees. Worse, her enjoyment of the shapes, textures and fruits of trees was tainted by an absurd uncertainty.

Progress, people!

Seeds: Theoretical underpinnings of my current gardening project

For most of last year I lived in a little flat in a suburban backyard. Slabs of bark periodically carpeted the lawn and tiny jacaranda leaves gathered in drifts, everywhere. This is when I noticed a new enjoyment in gardening and it’s why, after two unsuccessful attempts to make something of this year, I’ve taken to horticulture with more intention and focus.

Everyday since I arrived back in Sydney, I’ve hacked and dug and chopped and raked with reckless abandon, mixing sweat and dirt into a kind of salty mud that cakes my limbs and face before disappearing down the shower drain in a satisfying, filthy stream.

Why didn’t I get into this sooner?

As a kid I hated gardening. Following my dad around the lawn binning the leaves he’d raked into mounds felt like punishment, not helping. I think that’s because, when I was a child, I had very little life experience (obvs) and lacked a vocabulary for metaphor. Gardening was just boring and leaves were just annoying. Nothing nuanced or conceptual about it. Now that I’m older, I see the poetry in slashing roots from exhumed clivia in wormy clumps the size of dinosaur skulls. Purge the soil, level the ground, begin afresh. Literally, and figuratively.

Greater appreciation for the aptness of agricultural analogies is another thing I’m unearthing. In a world of abstractions and anomalies, there’s something uncontroversial, concrete about the vegetable realm – a plant is either alive or dead. Much of what Jesus said is cryptic, but I can mostly follow what he says using plant imagery – ‘good tree, good fruit; bad tree, bad fruit’, ‘plants grow well in fertile soil, not in thorny areas’ etc.

And even though a plant might be alive or dead, it can also look dead while being very much alive. Years ago my friend Cate put me onto Mark Buchanan’s book Spiritual Rhythm, in which the author employs the metaphor of seasons to say that constant growth and flowering is neither normal nor healthy. We know from experience that healthy plants need to endure seasons of pruning, fruitlessness, to live their best lives. We also know from experience that constant physical nourishment and expansion is not optimal for human beings, as the phenomenon of obesity amply demonstrates. So too are the times of relational pruning, emotional withering, creative fruitlessness beats in the rhythm of existence. Gardens teach us that death is part of life. There’s a season for all of it. Everything belongs.

Then there’s the way redoing a garden is like my own rebirth-by-proxy. The New Yorker magazine recently featured an article on the therapeutic benefits of gardening. (They didn’t mention the positive impact of gardening for people with anger issues, so I will of course write to advise them of my discovery re: catharsis of root-slashing.) I learned that infantrymen in the First World War grew flowers and edible plants in the trenches, probably because “we gain sustenance from nature’s regeneration”. I also learned that, if your life is fraught with relational conflict, gardening can remind you of your capacity for tenderness and gentle care for another living thing. That’s got to be healing.

So far, I’ve cleared the back third of the garden of clivia and other clumpy stuff, excavated a big stack of bricks (which I’ll reuse to make a raised garden bed and a path), burned mounds and mounds of leaf litter, supervised a team of arborists removing dead branches and grinding stubborn tree roots (with a machine called the Stump Humper 3000!), pulled out armfuls of weeds, chopped down lots of overgrown cordylines, sawed a big pile of firewood, and repotted the arum lilies my mum wanted to rescue.

And whether you read that list literally or metaphorically, we can all agree I’ve already done a lot of work.

Travelogue: Blues

Pretty soon the mist will come in through the windows: it’s been rolling up the hill all afternoon, obscuring my view of Airlie Beach. I’ve been in the Whitsundays for most of the week after leaving Cape Tribulation a day early. I enjoyed my time exploring the Daintree area, and it felt like something I needed to do given that’s where we were going to celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary in April last year.

Thigh-deep in the cold, clear water of Wurrmbu Creek at Mossman Gorge.

But now it’s just me and I’m not in that part of Queensland anymore. And I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been watching too much of the series Alone (which, by the way, I recommend to fellow adventure lovers), but I’ve been spending a lot of time reflecting on this insight about solitude:

The value of solitude — one of its values — is, of course, that there is nothing to cushion against attacks from within, just as there is nothing to help balance at times of particular stress or depression. A few moments of desultory conversation … may calm an inner storm. But the storm, painful as it is, might have had some truth in it. So sometimes one has simply to endure a period of depression for what it may hold of illumination if one can live through it, attentive to what it exposes or demands.

– May Sarton, American poet (1912–1995)
The artistic output of bubbler crabs at Myall Beach. To count all the little spheres on the beach would be some kind of fairytale curse… There are millions!

In my outer life, there’s not much to report. I’m working my way down the gorgeous east coast of this magnificent island, trying to be thankful for the rare opportunity I’ve got – even though lots of attitudes are easier to reach for than gratitude. In my inner life, I’m at the ready for what this time “may hold of illumination…” – but wait for it – “…if one can live through it.” Have you experienced that baffling incongruity between your outer and inner lives? My long-suffering mother has heard plenty about my experience of this dissonance in the past few weeks months…

This was my view as I drank coffee the day before yesterday:

The Whitsundays, Queensland.

Idyllic, isn’t it? And yet, I walked back to my accommodation with a heavy heart for reasons that have nothing to do with my location, but which I hoped the location might help remedy. The blues in my heart are so much darker than the ones in the picture, and, rather than cheering me up, the brightness of my surroundings cast my dim mood into sharper relief. And it’s been like that for a while. And it’s been like that for a while for so many of us, in different combinations of difficult ways, hasn’t it? And I’m ready for the illumination, aren’t you?

Gnarly fig at Mossman Gorge, in the southern part of the Daintree Rainforest.

Travelogue: Elsewhere

Ali Smith has this short story in her collection titled Public Library about the pursuit of ‘Elsewhere’. Elsewhere is why we travel and elsewhere explains the awe-struck envy we feel towards the one who quits her job to do what she was really made for. Blissfully, I am elsewhere.

It’s where I need to be because it embodies my defiance of the “humdrum malaise” that surrounds the defeated. When I was trying to sit still, trying to work in Katherine, trying to write around the edges of the day, trying to make friends in a real way without over-sharing and over-relying, I could feel myself sinking into despair. For once, I listened to the instinct; I gave weight to my gut. (And to the strong advice of my psychologist!)

Normanton in the Shire of Carpentaria, ‘Outback by the Sea’. On the right of this photo you might be able to make out the life-sized statue of the largest saltwater crocodile ever caught; it measures 8.63m. It was shot by a woman called Krystina Pawlowski in the Norman River in 1957. In honour of Ms Pawlowski, the crocodile is called Krys.

I’m in between, heartbroken, disillusioned, humiliated, disappointed, healing, driven, hopeful. Travelling is helping me live into those experiences; it’s giving me the time, the anonymity, the loose rhythm to let those experiences shape me. I can’t, and won’t, bury my head in the sand of work and other busyness, as has so often been my way – to my detriment and others’.

So where exactly is ‘Elsewhere’? Great question!

On Wednesday morning, I left Katherine with everything I own (minus my bed) packed into the back of my car. It was the culmination of a week of chaos: getting back from my Red Centre trip, a horrible depressive slump, resigning, breaking the news about resigning, terrible nightmares whenever I tried to sleep without the light on, becoming ‘officially’ divorced, moving house, packing the car, nursing a broken heart, trying to remember that leaving felt like the only right thing to do.

Somewhere in the mix, I managed to enjoy a day canoeing in Katherine Gorge as a farewell present to myself. And on the morning I left town, I had breakfast and a dip at the hot springs with Kath, a gentle and kind woman I’m so thankful to have met. Then I was off.

That night, I stayed at the Barkly Homestead, 250km from the NT/QLD border. On Thursday, I crossed the border, drove past Bob Katter’s office in Mt Isa, and made my way to Cloncurry, “Queensland’s friendliest town”. I met Grant, a descendent of Victor Hugo, and talked his ear off about theology and spirituality over pizza and beer.

The hostel where I stayed in Karumba is about 50m behind me. I was SO happy to see the ocean!

On Friday morning, I found a delightful shop that served delicious coffee and sold all manner of trinkets and tasteful homewares. Then it was north to Karumba, a barramundi fishing town on the Gulf of Carpentaria. From the west-facing beach tavern, my new friend Grant and I enjoyed a pretty special sunset.

After a lazy start to Saturday, I continued along the Savannah Way towards Cairns, passing through Croydon (the pub does an excellent fish burger) and Georgetown before stopping for the night at Mt Surprise. It’s honestly the most dormant place I’ve ever been, but the lady in charge at the roadhouse said she was ‘overrun’ and ‘all of a dither’ so I was surprised (!) I even got a room in the end. I built a fire, watched it burn, then went to bed.

Mt Surprise. Maybe the name’s supposed to be ironic?

Today’s Sunday and, as I write this, I’m sitting in a backpackers’ hostel in Palm Cove, north of Cairns. Approaching the coast, I watched the landscape palette change from red and blonde to green and shady as more and more trees lined the road. This continent is astonishingly beautiful. I am so thankful that the adventure continues.

Travelogue: The Red Centre (Part 3)

It’s been a demanding few days, but I want to write about the rest of the adventures I enjoyed recently, so, in this final instalment of the series, enjoy the Q&A format.

Day 8: Uluru

Q: Did you see it change colour at sunset?
A: Yes! On the evening I arrived in Yulara (Day 7) I watched the rock change colour from deep orange to fire-engine red, to purply blue.

Q: How big is it really?
A: Let me put it this way – the experience of visiting Uluru and seeing the giant rock firsthand has prompted some broader reflections about the power of experience, over and above testimony and tradition. The pictures and even the stories Aboriginal people tell about its spiritual significance just don’t hold a candle to actually seeing it yourself. It’s big, it’s beautiful, and it’s no wonder it’s such a special place to many.

It might be a monolith, but it’s neither monochrome nor… mono-shaped?

Q: What do you actually do there?
A: You try to stay on the correct side of the road while you drive towards it, marvelling at this shape rising out of the desert; you park and choose one of the ‘bush walks’ open to tourists and then you do said walk. I chose to do the base walk, about 10.5km, because it encompasses all the other shorter walks and detours on offer (an additional 4km or so).

Q: How did the virus affect the experience of being there?
A: It was deserted. Pun absolutely intended! I hear from other travellers that usually the sunset viewing area is heaving with rubberneckers like me, that the base walk resembles the queues at the Easter Show and that National Park’s Cultural Centre can’t keep up with the demand for champagne dinners with Uluru views. None of that this time. I saw ten people on my walk around the base, and had an entire section of the sunset viewing area to myself. It was a little bit eerie, but mostly amazing for this crowd-averse solo road-tripper. I feel very lucky!

Can you see the trail made by the footsteps of climbers pre-October last year?

Day 9: Kata-Tjuta (The Olgas)

Q: What, or who, are The Olgas?
A: A series of rock domes, spectacularly shaped and impossibly huge, about 40 mins by car from Uluru. At a certain point on the Uluru base walk you can see Kata-Tjuta, cloaked in a blue haze, on the horizon.

Q: Why visit?
A: As if it were possible, the silence of the desert struck me even more profoundly here than at Uluru. The landscape is captivating, of course; but being here really did feel like being on holy ground. Speaking of which, at both Uluru and Kata-Tjuta there are areas of such importance to the Aboriginal peoples whose country it is that you’re not allowed to photograph or film them. The stories these rocks tell are like sacred texts whose meanings become distorted when taken out of context.

Had to make a roadside stop because this shot was too good to miss.

Q: Can you fill a whole day just visiting one of these rocky places?
A: Absolutely! By the time I left Yulara just after 9am to drive to Kata-Tjuta, walked from the car park to the starting point of the walks, completed the Walpa Gorge walk (3km) and the steep Valley of the Winds walk (8km), sat for a while, ate something, walked back to the car, visited a lookout, drove back to Yulara, it was close to 4:30pm. I think… I didn’t have much need for clocks during this trip.

Day 10: Yulara to The Devil’s Marbles (Wauchope)

Q: How many hours did you drive each day?
A: Most days I drove between 3 and 5 hours. On this day I drove 7: through Alice Springs and then back up the Stuart Highway as far as a little place called Wauchope (pronounced ‘walk-up’, which is different to the place of the same name in NSW – ‘war-hope’).

The poor car’s taken a beating these past ten days…

Q: What’s there to see in Wauchope?
A: An award-winning wayside inn called The Devil’s Marbles Hotel! It’s named after the nearest major tourist attraction, which is 8km up the road, and has an impressive wall of accolades for its its pub grub and atmospheric beer garden. I paid for a room for the night, went for a sunset stroll among the eponymous marbles, then enjoyed some drinks, dinner and a chat with other travellers stopping there for the night.

How did that even get up there?!

Day 11: Wauchope to Katherine

Q: When are you going back to Katherine?
A: Today! I woke early and went for a jog on some of the trails around Karlu Karlu (the Warumungu name for the marbles) before making my way to Tennant Creek, then home to Katherine via a pit stop in Elliot. I forgot to fill up in Mataranka on account of a captivating podcast series, so rolled in to the driveway on fumes. Phew!

What a time!

Travelogue: The Red Centre (Part 2)

Day 4 (cont.): To Glen Helen
On the short drive from Ormiston Gorge to Glen Helen Lodge, I saw a baby emu cross the road in front of my car and, in the rear view mirror, saw its parent darting after it! A kerfuffle with the Lodge’s online booking system meant I didn’t have a bed and instead set up camp in my car for the night.

It was comfy and toasty, and just as well because it got down to zero degrees overnight.

I made a friend: Nick from – wait for it – Lane Cove! We built a fire, shared some drinks and chatted about life and music for hours. I’m really glad I met him.

What I didn’t know at the time was that this was the beginning of 72 hours with almost no mobile reception or wifi – not a problem, necessarily, but I would like to have warned some of the people who I knew would be worried by my dropping off the radar. I did, however, use use a pay phone for the first time since high school!

What a way to wake up!

Day 5: Glen Helen to Watarrka (Kings Canyon)
The day I tackled the Mereenie Loop road, a 200km strip of bright red dirt that’s part of Red Centre Way. I didn’t know until I was safely installed in my hostel at Kings Canyon and talking to some people at the bar that this road is considered risky for solo drivers, especially those without a 4WD… It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you’re completely ignorant of the harm you could cause to self and others!

Along the way I saw two little cliques of wild horses: one group white, the other chestnut. I also encountered two very brazen camels intent on playing chicken – both of them lost the game, trotting off the road just in time.

Middle of nowhere!

Stopping at a lookout for some Vita Wheats and peanut butter, I witnessed a family reunion of about thirty Aboriginal men, women and children, and offered to take a group photo of them. Much hilarity ensued. It took about twenty goes until we got one in which none of the cheeky young ones were flipping the bird.

Once at the accommodation, I crashed out and napped for a couple of hours, waking to a delightful afternoon breeze over the plains between the resort and the canyon. A chance meeting with a colleague from Katherine High – on a similar road trip with two friends – made for a lovely evening. We shared a campfire and chatted into the night, though were occasionally interrupted by a couple of dingoes doing their rounds in firelight.

Day 6: Watarrka (Kings Canyon)
Prior to beginning the rim walk, I ate an improvised breakfast of peanut butter and grapes rolled up in mountain bread. Sort of an indie PB ‘n’ J, I suppose, washed down with cup of tepid Nescafé Blend 43…

My butt protested the entire way up to the canyon rim but the climb, as always, had its attendant rewards. One of my first thoughts was, ‘This looks like how I imagined Arrakis!’ And for those of you who haven’t read Dune, what I mean is that the canyon could be the set for a film about an entirely different planet.

Nature – it’ll get ya!

Not for the first (or last) time on this journey, I thought about the Romantic notion of the sublime. The scale and starkness and solidness of these ancient landscapes is literally awesome. Emotions I’d been ignoring leaked out through cracks and chasms, rifts and rendings.

A brief detour on the rim walk takes you to the Garden of Eden waterhole, a very sacred men’s dreaming site. The water is so special that not even the traditional owners swim here, and the dreaming stories about this place are too sensitive to be written down on a sign for tourists to read. I sat for a while on my own, watching the dark pool and wondering if anyone knows how deep it is.

A pocket of lushness along the stream that leads to the Garden of Eden waterhole.

Day 7: Kings Canyon to Yulara
Between Kings Canyon and the little township of Yulara where visitors to Uluru stay, there’s a place called Curtin Springs. The main point of interest at Curtin Springs is Mt Conner, which I definitely thought was Uluru on first sighting. It’s a massive mountain but it’s totally flat on top (from a distance at least), as if someone’s taken a swing at it with a giant scythe.

Not much happening in Curtin Springs. Oh, and the flat-topped mountain in the back left of the shot is Mt Conner, not Uluru. Just FYI…

Curtin Springs is also where I had planned to fill up my car, until I discovered the pumps were locked and the roadhouse was closed. With an air of self-congratulation, I emptied the 10L jerrycan into the empty tank and hoped for the best. The rest of the way, I drove sitting on the edge of my seat, leaning over the steering wheel as if my posture might help to propel the car – and maybe it worked because we made it!

The Thank You Series: #4

By this point in the year I’d planned, I would just have finished twelve weeks at L’Abri in Switzerland. The first draft of the manuscript for my bestseller would be complete, and all my philosophical quandaries would have been solved. I’d have a sparkling collection of new friends and, thanks to my diligence in study, finally some room for new additions to my reading list.

Plans change. Please know I’m being cheeky; I recognise with deep thankfulness that I’ve been shielded from the worst of COVID. And I’m not at all certain the bestseller would’ve come together as easily as that… 😉

But as many people have pointed out, there are valuable lessons, both big and small, to be learned in a time like this. One of the things I’ve learned is that video conferencing with family and friends makes me pay closer attention to the people I’m speaking with. Zoom has made me a better listener and a better conversationalist.

My sister, who’s living in London, initiated a weekly chat for the extended family spread across England, France and various parts of Australia. Quite apart from the potential for tech issues, of which there haven’t been that many, I was nervous about how it would go. These things can be notoriously awkward. I’m delighted to say that the format has definitely made us better at talking to each other. Each person is deliberately included in the conversation, invited to share through thoughtful questions and moments of ‘I thought of you this week when…’. Successes receive cheers and applause (real or emoji); concerns are worked through, with promises made to follow up on how things pan out. We also laugh a lot.

Personally, I’ve been touched by my family’s encouragement about my writing. My relatives are all exceptionally clever, highly-educated, wide reading kids and grownups… And yet they like what I write! Knowing that people I love enjoy the experience of reading my words has propelled me onwards on the days when I don’t feel like doing the work required to become a better writer.

The ultimate compliment came from my cousin, Jeffrey. He’s 10. He reads my blog and, at my suggestion, wrote me a very persuasive letter as to why he should be featured. He also drew me a picture: a collage of small drawings with captions in various typographic styles. One of these captions keeps coming back to me: ‘We don’t know what’s ahead of us but let’s hope it’s good’. These words appear beside a bubble-writing question mark, alongside pictures of a hot air balloon and a giant diamond.

We don’t know what’s ahead of us but let’s hope it’s good.

Jeff, I know I’m annoying when I tease you about your World Fact Book trivia and your constant rehearsal of factoids and statistics about all manner of things, but I’m serious when I say that this is profound. And it means a lot to me that you wrote it in your letter.

You see, uncertainty and hope are two things I think about a lot – especially during the hours of driving I’ve been doing recently. I think everyone thinks about them at some point. In life, uncertainty is inevitable (isn’t that ironic?). When you look around, this sparks different responses in different people: some become apathetic, some cynical, others fearful about the future. But you’ve hit the nail on the head when you say that the best option of the lot is hope; quiet optimism that allows you to stay alert to the beautiful things and opportunities for kindness that surround us everyday. Jeffrey, you rock! I’m so glad we get to be cousins.

This post is dedicated to Jeffrey and his whole family in gratitude for Yashwant’s donation to my Writers Residency fundraising campaign. While I won’t be attending Chateau Orquevaux in November as planned, I hope to spend some concentrated time on my writing projects in another setting later this year. I’m planning to get in touch with all the people who generously contributed to my fundraising in the near future, to update you on these new plans. Feel free to get in touch with me also.