Thursday, 31 January 2013

Cue circus music, fluff your hair - it's time to commute in the rain!

There are some things in the world that are meant to be fluffy: kittens, toys, towels, dandelions, bunnies, Santa's beard.  You will notice that my hair is not on this list; especially when I've spent some money to have a sleek, smooth blowdry.

Yet here I sit, fluffy haired, exhausted from the epic nature of my journey from work to home - if "epic" can appropriately be applied to traversing a mere 10 kilometres.

All week, people have been complimenting me on my smooth locks.  Curls and ringlets had been framing my face for the last month.  The first appointment I made upon my return to the big smoke was with my hairdresser.  Urgent magic was required to cover my - ahem - grey.  I decided that straight hair would be a nice change.  With the weather in Melbourne being bone dry and all the rain falling in the north I thought my investment would last a week.

Today as I was sitting at my desk deeply engaged in a telephone conversation, I looked up.  I suddenly panicked, thinking I had been swallowed into some kind of fluorescently lit hell where time has no meaning and it was actually midnight.  It wasn't.  It was 5:10pm.  It just looked like midnight.  Ah, the gods were playing with us for their pleasure, causing a downpour and throwing in some wind right on going home time.

My journey home involves a short walk to the unsheltered tram stop through many lanes of cars; a ride on a tram; navigation of one of the busiest tram stops in Melbourne to walk across to Flinders Street Station; a train ride and then a seven minute walk home from the local train station.  It sounds like a lot when written like that, but usually it's fine.

Today it wasn't fine.  Today my hair went fluffy.

In my handbag I always have a compact umbrella.  My rationale is that I'll always be prepared in the event of unexpected rain.  Melbourne's reputation for changeable weather has been well earned, so this is a good thing to do.  Except for one thing - compact umbrellas are useless when it does actually rain.  This level of incompetence is elevated to pointlessness when the rain is accompanied by wind.

Now my hair is fluffy.

If that wasn't enough to deal with, I arrived at Flinders Street station with soaking trousers and feet.  Luckily, I also travel with a pair of thongs in my handbag so my beautiful, expensive shoes are not ruined in heavy rain.  According to the information provided on the screens in the station, I only had to wait about 8 minutes for a train home.  I entered the station at about 6:10pm but only boarded the 6:32pm train at 6:38pm.  I had been waiting on platform twelve for the train that never came.

Then we had the opportunity to participate in one of the practical jokes that Metro Trains likes to organise occasionally. I've been in this one before: the screens tell you to go to platform ten.  After a couple of minutes, an announcement tells you that the train will now be leaving from platform 12.  The commuters heave a sigh and scramble over to the other platform.  Upon arrival there, an announcement says that the next train leaving from that new platform is to a completely different destination from the one you were expecting.  All staff have disappeared from this platform.  The screen has gone blank and there are no announcements being made.  As you confer with other commuters, you hear the faint sound of an announcement being made back on platform ten informing any passengers who are left on platform ten that the train there is in fact the train that everyone who is now on platform twelve is expecting over there!

To make it even more fun, you organise this prank to occur during a downpour so everyone is wet, cold and cranky and the platforms are super slippery.  If you only make announcements at the last minute this adds excitement as people ignore the warnings not to run and run to catch a train.

As I finally walked home from the station I was grateful for my thongs but also struggling to keep them on my feet.  There was so much water I thought they might float away from under my feet.  This is what I experienced in Darwin during a tropical downpour.  At least the rain there was warm.  The rain in Melbourne is not warm, even in the middle of summer.

At least my house isn't flooded and I have a warm shower, clean dry clothes and a warm bed for the night. hair is fluffy.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

A better class of bottom - euphemism gone wild

This week I'm spending time in the office.  I spent a few days there at the end of last year, but that's a foggy memory after over a month off.  It's funny what you notice when you're being super observant.

Today I noticed, and contemplated, the toilet paper in the women's toilets.  Here's why:

Executive toilet tissue
© divacultura 2013­­
We don't just have toilet paper.  No bog roll for us! No!  We have "executive toilet tissue".  Wow. This is an extension of euphemism into an area already well-populated. I'm not entirely sure what this means, but if I don't spend too much time thinking about it, I believe it means that my bottom is elevated to executive status when I'm at work.  I went to the loo several times during the day.  I didn't "borrow" a roll to bring home so that I can also be executive at home.  I just have plain old toilet paper at home.

Honestly!  What does this mean?  The quality is nothing special - I don't think it's even 2 ply.  It doesn't quite dissolve on contact, but...I'll leave that thought with you.  It's not quite sand paper, but...and that one.

The other benefit of going to the office every day is that I get to observe people on public transport, which you know is one of my favourite things to do.

Travelling on the tram from the office to Flinders Street today we had the company of a rather animated fellow.  At first I thought it was someone engaged in IMC, or Inappropriate Mobile Conversation.  He was yelling at someone called Wayne telling him, repeatedly, that he, Wayne, would not be paid.  Ever.    Then there was an emphatic statement about the need for no more laminating - "there will be no more laminating".  I pictured the hapless Wayne working in some dungeon somewhere doing repetitive collation tasks and filling staplers for so long he had been driven to compulsive lamination.

When the subject abruptly changed to the speed of tram travel and the availability of myki public transport tickets and the volume rose to a shout, I looked around.  I saw a man without a mobile phone speaking directly into his myki card.  He was clearly on another plane from the rest of us.

So tomorrow I shall take my mantra of "no more laminating" to the office and give thanks for the executive toilet tissue.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Practising the art of creativity

That title is a bit unusual.  Practise creativity?  Huh?

During my summer break I had the privilege and luxury of attending Summersong music camp.  I did lots of things everyday that I really enjoy - sang a capella, sang Motown, explored body percussion and rhythm and turbo-charged my song writing with a lyric writing class.

I learned a lot of things about my creativity.  Here are some of them:

1. Regular writing really does help.  One of the main purposes for creating divacultura was to reestablish a daily writing habit.  I knew that this was an important part of being a writer.  Well I was right!  Regular practice has sharpened my writing instruments and made me "match fit" when it comes to writing.  I was never stumped or blocked or hesitant when approaching the exercises for this class.

2. Free writing is valuable.  Anyone who has ever read anything or talked to anyone about writing has probably come across the concept of "morning pages".  Perhaps you've had a few valiant attempts, but found it unsustainable or wondered what the point is.  It was demystified for me.  Ten minutes each morning, written upon waking before anything else is done, does uncover some gems.  There's something that's accessed by the brain when it's not fully awake.  The new bit is to immediately read what I've written and circle the diamonds in the dust.  There are always some and they are interesting. I've discovered an amazing ability to link things that my waking self would never think to put together. These gems may spark a song idea or another piece of writing.  I either write unprompted or use an exercise from The Five Minute Writer.  Although, once you start, you never know where you will go.  This practice of writing without judgement or editing really allows your critic to get out of the way.  This sits well with my idea that in creative and artistic endeavours, even bad work is still work

3.  Ten minutes is a very small investment to make.  I used to strive for five pages; then I tried 20 minutes.  It was all too long.  Ten minutes is a good amount of time.  If I want to keep going when the 10 minutes have expired then I do!

4. Silliness and playfulness is the root of my creativity.  I know this, but somehow in the hurly-burly of serious, important life, it is overshadowed.  The beauty of living in a creative, supportive community is that people don't think you're weird just because you're playing.  The final product need not be silly, but often that playfulness allows me to access a deeply original place.

5. Explore! Do different things and find ways to break out of your patterns.

6.  Observe the details of life and what's around you.  Use more than just sight.  We have at least four other senses!

7.  When people give you feedback that says "you have a real way with words" or "I just love how you turned that phrase" say thank you.  People's reactions can be interesting and valuable.  I learnt that writing I considered to be mundane was heard as original by listeners or readers.

Having learnt these things - again! - I share with you now two pieces I wrote during that class.

In the first exercise I was given a single cherry to eat.  My task was to really experience that cherry and then write a poem about it.

Perfect and small
I want to eat it all
There is but one
I place it on my tongue.

My teeth close down
The cherry weeps
As the juices seeps
My face does frown - 

It's ecstasy and agony
Just one

Not a masterpiece, but a satisfying little piece.  This encapsulates the idea of point number 6 above.

The second exercise illustrates point number four above.  Our task was to explore metaphor.  Metaphor is something I use easily and unconsciously, but when charged with the specific instruction, I had to really think.

One night I was wearing a string of bright orange beads.  The string broke and the beads rolled everywhere.  A gallant gentleman brought me a plastic cup in which to gather them.  I became rather silly as I claimed, preposterously, that the cup of beads was a metaphor; for what, I did not know.  I wrote some silly things and then came out with this:

Life is like a bowl of beads:
full of tiny parts
some insignificant
all waiting to be made magnificent.

Progress is piece by piece
on the path to be made whole.

occur along the way - 
a join will break
a string will fray
some of what's already strung
will fall and roll away.

Choose between gathering
                           kicking away.

Whatever the choice
there are limitless possibilities
with naked string
and a bowl of beads.

And then it was a metaphor!

How do you practise your creativity?

Monday, 28 January 2013

Weather events - from one extreme to another.

As I write, news of the floods in Queensland and New South Wales fills my lounge room.  Poor Brisbane is going under again.  I lived there for twelve years and didn't see a flood.  Parents warned about checking the historical flood levels whenever a house move was contemplated.  Even in times of relentless rain and humidity, a flood seemed distant and unlikely.  My war was waged against mould.  Now it seems to be the time of year when Victoria suffers the threat and reality of bushfires while our northern neighbours are under water.

I try to steer clear of bad news.  I can not bear the saturation coverage.  My thoughts are with my friends and family who are affected, but I do not need to know every detail.  What's the new story anyway?  Every year, the stories are the same.  Journalists in high visibility vests interview people in evacuation shelters.  The questions are the same: "what did you lose?" "how did you get out?" "when was the last time you saw this much water?" And let's not forget the dreaded "how do you feel?"  Then the local business people community volunteers will be asked variations on the same questions and the additional ones: "how fast was the water moving?" "how many more times can you go through this?".

When this misery and despair has been paraded across the screens, they'll interview the politicians - everyone from the Prime Minister to the mayor and the President of the local Rotary Club.  They'll sprout the usual platitudes of sorrow and promise help which everyone knows will be gratefully received, despite its inadequacy.  Next will be meteorologists explaining the weather systems that have caused this "rain event" (when did rain become an "event"?).  Finally they'll tack on speculation about the links to climate change.  The editorial line will determine whether or not there is a link.  Days will pass and the stories will include news of disappointment and frustration with insurers.

I just heard the radio journalist ask a woman "How is the town now?"

The woman responded:  "Flooded," with the words "you idiot" implied.

The closest I have to come to experiencing a flood was when I was at university in Brisbane.  My family was living in western Queensland at the time (the late 1980's) and I travelled home for the Easter break.  I drove with a distant cousin who lived nearby.  It rained for the entire journey.  It was a race against the weather to see if we would get through.

It was dark and we were close to home.  The water was lapping across the road.  A vehicle was parked on the other side of the water with its headlights on.  My father appeared, wading across wearing his hat and oilskin coat.  He carried my luggage across and then carried me across.  It seemed thrilling and dangerous at the time.

I can't remember the details of the journey back to university but I know that it was delayed.  Queensland was under water.  Finally we heard that it was possible to get through and preparations were made that day to drive back immediately.

A couple of years later, we lived near Nyngan in NSW.  The town of Nyngan went completely under in the 1990 flood.  I wasn't there for that and my family home was far enough away to avoid being directly affected.  I was in  my third year of my journalism degree and looking for a story to write an extended piece about.  I wrote about the flood.  I gave away journalism - it seemed relentless and inane - but I was very proud of the piece I wrote.  I might even dig it out and publish it here.  It was actually shortlisted for the Independent Monthly's Young Writers Awards.  I wonder how my path would have been different if I had won.  Perhaps I'd be somewhere wearing a high visibility vest examining misfortune.

I've spent today culling.  I've just put a huge pile of clothes in one of the charity bins.  Perhaps some of the clothes will be useful for people who have lost theirs.

***My normal daily publication schedule has now recommenced.  Thanks for your patience while I've been on holidays.  Look forward to hearing from you.***

Monday, 21 January 2013

Last week of the summer holidays.

Here's how I spent the last week of my summer holidays...

Swimming in a bush lake.

Walking on the beach in the morning.

Singing a capella with other wonderful people.

Making harmonies - planned and impromptu.

Exploring rhythm - body percussion, playing the bush and being silly and playful with a variety of percussion instruments.

Sharing secrets in the dark from a bunk bed in a dorm.

Accepting love and appreciation for my work.

Connecting with old friends and making new ones.

Writing songs.

Finishing and performing one of these songs (that I really like!)

Appreciating the beauty of the world.



Making music.

Writing.  A lot.

Listening to music live - every night.

Being humbled by the talent of people around me.

Being blessed by their generosity in helping to create.

Reconnecting with good creative habits (morning pages).

On the drive home, I was amazed to find the artist at a the Barking Dog ceramics gallery in Uralla (between Armidale and Tamworth) had posters in her work room for concerts performed by Kristina Olsen who is one of the long standing teachers at Summersong.

I then stopped to see the Cash Only show at the Tamworth Country Music Festival on the way home on the spur of the moment - one of my favourite ways to experience music.  It was at the Longyard Hotel which I think is the greatest pub name in the world.

Summersong is where I was, and have been every year since 2005 (except for 2012).  How's that for a great way to finish holidays!

© divacultura 2013

© divacultura 2013

© divacultura 2013

© divacultura 2013

© divacultura 2013
Leaving my mark.
© divacultura 2013

Jostling for power.  Impressed by the cabin mate
who packed a power board!
© divacultura 2013

Back in the bush. View from the back verandah.
© divacultura 2013

My normal daily publication schedule will recommence shortly.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Summer holidays - second leg completed.

I'm off to Summersong tomorrow.  Summersong is an adult music camp that pretty much changed my life.  I'll come back inspired and ready to tackle a very busy and promising 2013.

While I'm away, I'll be "unplugged" from the digital world.

See you on the other side!

In the meantime here's a few photos I've taken in the last few days.

Coal miners' memorial - Gunnedah, NSW
(c) divacultura 2013

Night tree
(c) divacultura 2013

Tim Burton landscape
(c) divacultura 2013
Sunset reflections on a wet deck
(c) divacultura 2013

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Summer holidays - end of part one.

The first leg of my holiday finishes tomorrow.  I arrived at my brother's house five days before Christmas and have had a lovely time.  In between Christmas and family visits, I've been working for my brother catching up on his accounts, cooking, knitting, reading, enjoying having animals around the house.  I have also been to see a couple of movies in Tamworth since Boxing Day.

Family portrait - mother and foal.
Some of my brother's patients.
(c) divacultura 2012
Tomorrow I head over to spend a week with my folks before I head off to music camp.  The house is empty except for me and three cats. The other humans have gone out with my brother for a day of veterinary work.  The chickens are wandering around (I just thanked them for the two eggs they had layed). I occasionally hear the horses talk to each other.  I've put my ipod on shuffle and have just put a large quantity of oven baked bolognese sauce in the oven.  It will be turned into lasagne for this evening's dinner (good for when you're not sure what time everyone will be home for dinner).  It smells divine!  (Wish I could link to a smell for you...)

I'm in a very pretty spot here and the only other sounds are the drone of tractors cutting the lucerne for hay.

On the film front, I went and saw "Les Miserables" by myself a couple of days after Christmas.  I had been so looking forward to it, but I was a little underwhelmed.  I love Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe and thought they were excellent choices to play Jean Valjean and Javert respectively, but something was wrong.  Hugh's singing was a bit overblown and nasal at times and I know he can do better.  Russell did a fair job of Javert.  His singing was better than I expected.  It was tuneful but a bit wooden and plodding.  Still, I cried my eyes out several times!

The two stand outs for me were Eddie Redmayne playing Marius and Samantha Barks playing Eponine.  Eddie is my favourite actor of the moment.  I loved his work in "My week with Marilyn" and also in "Pillars of the Earth" which was screened recently on ABC television here in Australia.  (Shhh, don't tell me the end! I haven't seen the last two episodes.)

The other film I saw was "The Hobbit".  My brother and his wife chose this when I offered to shout them tickets as a thank you for having me to stay.  I had enjoyed The Lord of the Rings films so was happy to go along.  It's spectacular in parts, but is a fairly endless journey that the dwarves, Gandalf the wizard and hobbit Bilbo Baggins are on.  I was a little bored by the whole thing and was annoyed to discover we're only a third of the way there at the end of the movie!  I felt the same way about the book.  (I was supposed to study it for a speech and drama exam.  I couldn't get past the first chapter and still received an Honours grade!)

Yesterday I went to the creek with my brother and found two yabbies in the yabby trap.  They are now living in one of the horse troughs for the time being.
Up close and personal with a yabby
(c) divacultura 2013

Watch those claws! Love the spectacular shade of blue.
(c) divacultura 2013
The oysters we had on Christmas Day were also very good - even if they weren't plucked
from the water immediately before eating.
(c) divacultura 2012

When I took my four year old nephew to collect eggs during his visit, he was so excited to find two waiting for him, he clapped his hands together when he was holding them!  I noticed quickly and swooped before too much damage was done.  He looked a bit surprised and disappointed that they had cracked.

When I said goodbye to the same four year old I asked him who his favourite Aunty is.  Usually I'm on a winner, but today the answer was "No" as he pointed at my sister-in-law.  I'm okay with that.

The full moon rising over the hills was spectacular the other night.  Trying to photograph it with my iphone reminded me why taking possession of a proper camera again is on my list for 2013.

See that speck? It's the full moon peering over the hill.
(c) divacultura 2012
(c) divacultura 2013
The first email I received in 2013 was about how to insert a zip into a knitted article.
The first text message which wasn't about wishing me all the best for 2013 was from Metro Trains telling me that the 4:32pm Williamstown train from Southern Cross Station is cancelled.  Looks like some things won't change in 2013.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

We made it to 2013 - the Mayans were wrong.

Imagine that.  The world didn't end.  Who knows what the Mayans were up to?  The world could have been spared numerous B movies, apart from any angst which may have arisen from the looming end of the world.

I like milestones.  I like to take the time to think about what's next and get my mindset right for whatever is next.  I'm not really a goal setter, but I do like to be purposeful about actions that I take.  My experience over the last few years since I finished full time employment for other people in October 2008 is that things work really well for me if I think positively, don't get tense and worried and continue to act on opportunities.  I also look for opportunities.  They can be sneaky things and can easily be missed if you're not actually looking.

I just checked my New Year post for last year and am very pleased with the alignment I achieved between intention and achievement.  I am pleased with what I achieved.  I haven't tackled my lace knitting yet, but I have signed up to an online class and have the yarn wound and ready to go.  Development as a performer didn't really happen last year, but I'm okay with that.  I've been spending a lot of time developing my skills as an improviser and actor in a teaching and assessment setting.  It's not performance as such, but I'm still exercising my acting muscles.

The spare room is still a disaster - perhaps smaller and a tiny bit more organised than it was this time last year.

I'm very pleased with how my business is developing.  Bookings and interest is very strong right through the first quarter and prospects are already looking very good beyond that. I'm feeling good about 2013.

On a personal level, one of my major achievements in 2012 was quitting sugar!  I made it through the eight weeks of having no sugar at all, just in time for Christmas.  Over Christmas, I have allowed myself to share a small portion of Christmas pudding and last night at dinner I had a dessert that was far too big and far too rich, given that I'm off sugar.  It's interesting that previously I would have been fighting the urge to have seconds, but that doesn't happen anymore.  The quit program has worked and my habits and palate have both changed.  Congratulations to anyone out there who has achieved the same thing!  And if you haven't quite made it yet, keep trying - it's worth it.

My main focus for 2013 is to continue to build my business, using networking and good work as my main advertising tools.  On a concrete, practical note, I do want to get my website up and running.

Incorporating volunteering into my life while I'm working freelance is quite challenging.  Because I am only paid when I work, I need to prioritise paid work over volunteering.  Contributing to my community  is very important to me and I'm feeling a little frustrated that I haven't found a way of volunteering regularly in the way my life is currently running.  I solved that problem in 2011 by knitting for charity.  This worked because it was easy to incorporate into my usual leisure activities and didn't compete for priority with my paid work.  In 2012 I started to crochet a granny square a day and these will be turned into a blanket for someone.  I will explore further charity avenues for my knitting this year.

Floating around in my mind is the idea of going unplugged for a day a month.  I need to think about this idea more and gain clarity about what I mean.  At this stage I'm thinking about it in the context of being offline - that is, not dealing with email, social media and using the internet generally.  I feel like this would be a good thing to do to clear my mind and make sure days aren't sucked into the web vortex.

On the practical side, the spare room has made it onto the list.  I know that I need to be more specific in thinking about this as making a broad statement like "tackle the spare room" really hasn't worked.  At this moment I'm thinking "turn the spare room into a useful, welcoming space, so that it is more than a storage room".  And of course, I need a timeframe.  By 31 August 2013!

I've done fairly well with saving money during 2012, but with no real plan other than to have money to tide me over during the dead period of December and January.  I'm going to put a firm aim in place and put aside 10% of all invoices (after I've taken out tax and GST).

And I want to dance more!

My plans for divacultura are to continue to write daily as much as possible.  This is no longer a chore and I find that most days the inspiration is readily available and the writing happens fairly easily.  If I'm travelling it's often difficult to post each day, but I've decided just to acknowledge that and communicate with my readers.  Given my work schedule I may need to cut back to five posts a week, but I'll let you know if that happens.  With the development of my website for this year, I need to think about the relationship between my business and my blog and make sure I seize opportunities for cross-pollination.

Here are the top 10 most read posts on divacultura:

1. MYKI: it's your key to bureaucratic frustration
2. Quitting sugar - two weeks down
3. That's how you handle a complaint!
4. Emergency services call - communication failure
5. Missing in action
6. Photo a day June - from a low angle
7. If myki is the solution, what the hell was the problem?
8. I've got the public transport ticketing blues
9. Photo a day - June round up & July list
10. 2 Days in New York - giveaway

Post numbers 2 through to 10 were all written this year.  The top post was written in 2011.  There's a strong theme of public transport and community service being subjects of these most popular posts.  And my photos have also received lots of comments and compliments, both here on the blog and on Instagram and facebook.  The one I'm puzzled about is "Missing in action" at number 5...

Phew!  That's a great list and I'm excited about what's to come.

What are you thinking about for 2013?  What's your intention?