Thursday, December 24, 2020

Christmas Card in a Poem

I don't do Christmas cards anymore, but for the last decade or so, I've done a Christmas poem instead as my seasonal message to everyone I care about (which includes all of you). 

The last couple of years I wrote English Madrigals, and before that there was a run of a few Sevenlings. This year, I felt that a Terza Rima, with its sound-echo repeating pattern, best suited the times. (Despite the fact that this Italian form is difficult to use in English because of the relative paucity of rhyme words available in a language which has, in comparison with Italian, a more complex phonology. But then, when did I ever like to make things easy for myself?) 

 So with this, please accept my warmest wishes for a day of peace and plenty tomorrow, whether you mark it as Christmas or simply enjoy a day of pause and rest, of cherishing yourselves and each other. 

 Kurt Vonnegut probably said it best: "There's only one rule that I know of, babies - God damn it, you've got to be kind.” After this difficult year, let us all look for kindness, and give it unstintingly. 

 Lights: Christmas 2020 

 In my hands is a small light, stuttering. 
it is a small light, but is not afraid; 
this hand-cupped star, pale-gold flame fluttering 

 It is a small light, and it does not say 
that every single debt is fully paid 
that all the darkness will be washed away. 

 This hard and hurtful year is now decayed, 
and hearts and hearths call out to bring you home 
all joys grow deeper when they are delayed 

 the festive tableaux set in polychrome, 
the small lights and the bright ones pierce the night 
the year is ebbing, leaving only foam. 

 And with Christmas Day finally in sight 
I wish you all compassion for this end; 
there may be no magic to make things right 

 but there is love, and kindness, here to spend: 
and there are other people; every heart 
carrying its own light; and so we bend 

 all the darkness away; and here, we start 
to put together what was torn apart.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

November Sestina

Now November slips away, half gone already
the spring concedes to summer and the birds call
long into the cloudy warm-pink night.
The city lives and breathes, in days of beer and river water
and, everywhere, the open doorway beckons
and the year that hurt us has laid down arms at last.

So, now, we drink every latte like it is our last
that lesson lodged deep in our guts already
the dice roll of every unknown future beckons;
the chance geometry of shrouded angel’s call.
But here we still are, born and once drowned in water:
here we still are, holding candles to the night.

And now day is renewed, and the night
for us, is over, and fear ebbs now at last.
In joyful mass we all surge back to water
to swim and grow sun-reddened; forgotten already
the other dangers here under this sky. No call
to memory undoes the way life beckons.

Ahead, the season of the solstice beckons
the preparation for our shortest night.
The open shops all ply their siren’s call
in baubles, trees and carols first and last.
Perhaps, this time, the truth is known already;
perhaps we all have been renewed in water.

And here we do not give thanks in November; no blessing water
flows through our hands to wash us clean, or beckons
to bow our heads and own aloud our mercy. Already
we are forgetting the deepest ink of night.
The miracle and the sadness is the way nothing will last:
not joy but not pain either, and not sweet summer’s call.

The year that hurt us ends in a quiet call:
We live, and laugh, and hold each other, the water
sanctified with the release of hearts at last.
For other places, a different passage beckons;
and winter closes in with hard cold night.
With tender hands, we hold our gift already:

This bright blue sky, this future born already
this daily-stronger farewell to the night,
this star-point now from which a new year beckons.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

2020 Ahoy

2020, folks. I mean, what can I even say that hasn't been said? It has been pretty damn terrible here in Melbourne, and we haven't had the worst of it by a long shot.

Here is a poem that I wrote a month ago that sums up what I think about this year so far. (It is far from the only poem I've spun from Our Current Troubles - if there is a silver lining to bushfires, a pandemic, loss of work, huge anxiety and fear, and climate change, I *suppose* it's a renewal of creativity).

I hope all is well with you as can be expected in these dark times. Let's all hope for better days to come.

A Madrigal for the Future We Appear to be Having, Whether We Want it or Not

There were those books that said bad things would come;
the stories and the experts on the shows,
dystopias enough for all, God knows.

And year on year on year the louder hum
the skies all speckled with the warning crows;
Too many ways to look for what's to come
the earth is changing now, and how it shows.

New foes arise to beat the battle drum
the tiny enemies in viral clothes,
the musk and mystery inside the rose.

The future's here: we knew it had to come
the world is weary of us, and it shows:
the past is prologue: everybody knows.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Rest in Peace, 2019

Well, then.

2019 has been quite a year, in just about every possible way. I've completely let this blog lapse, but I really wanted to do a year-end post because I find them meaningful for me and my family (I've done one every year since 2010, and I intend one day to turn them into a booklet for my kids. Maybe when I have 20 years' worth!)

For us, this year is really best described with the word "intense". It has been a year of high highs and very low lows, in just about every aspect of life except schooling (more on that below). There have been remarkably few weeks that weren't memorable, for either great or terrible reasons. I guess at least we've known we're alive!

As is my usual wont, I think the easiest way to get a flavour for our year is to go through in categories. Even then, there will be stuff I leave out - some of it isn't mine to tell, and other things, honestly, will probably just get lost in the mix. To quote the great Inigo Montoya, "Let me explain ... no, there is too much. Let me sum up."

Living in the world

2019 has been a pretty dreadful year for a lot of people both in Australia and around the world. As I write this, on a cool, clear Melbourne day, half of the eastern seaboard of Australia is on fire, refugees are being demonised and tortured by our government, hate speech and hateful
actions are on a rampant rise, and things feel disastrous in a way that I can't remember feeling before.

The kids and I marched for climate change this year, and we all re-evaluated many things about the way we do life to look at where we can make our small stands, be it in volunteering or helping or protesting or writing or making changes to how we eat, create waste, and live.

As part of that, my eldest has moved to a pescatarian diet, and I am mostly joining her, and our whole family's meat consumption has moved to around 40% what it was in 2018. We might not be able to change the world, but we can change
ourselves, and the decisions we make.

Work, Study, Hobbies and Creativity

This has been a really, really good year for us under this heading. Indeed, I'd put it as 2019's Stand Out Category by far :-) With only one stormcloud (explained further under the Hard and Sad Things heading) and one "wish I could have found more time" caveat, everything else couldn't have been better.

My two teenagers both had a fantastic school year (in years 9 and 10 respectively), thriving both academically and personally. Both continued school debating, and my year 10's team made the finals. My year 9 was kept busy as one of the school's Social Justice Leaders, and was also the Class Captain.

Both participated in multiple other extracurricular activities and clubs through the school. Both also did work experience - the year 10 did an Astrophysics program at the University of Melbourne and loved it, while the year 9 volunteered weekly at the local library for 12 weeks as part of her Duke of Edinburgh award. My year 10 also volunteered for a term doing tutoring and mentoring for kids in need, which she really loved.

Both the teenagers also got to go to Japan for 2.5 weeks on a school immersion tour which included a homestay visit. They had the most amazing time, and we were so glad to be able to send them.

My youngest, who started Grade 5 at a new school this year, had the best year she has ever had at school, and I am so grateful and relieved. Her new school has welcomed her with open arms and she has made lovely friends and is finally able to relax, be herself, and really fly academically. I don't think I had realised what a weight had been on us all (but especially her) with the issues she was facing at her previous school, but it has been a joy to see that lifted.

In terms of work, I have had a very good year in most respects, while my husband, who has remained at his long-term job, has had a fairly steady one. I worked with five clients, on an interesting array of projects, and although there were times of overload and stress, overall, I managed my work and my energy much better than I have done in the past. Three of my five clients from this year have asked me to continue for 2020, and I have two new projects lined up. I do feel like I have really hit my stride with my business now,
and it is a good feeling.

An important thing that happened this year, too, is that I started volunteering at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. I donate 6-8 hours a week to my work there and I am finding it extremely rewarding, and it has genuinely helped shift my mindset from one of despairing about the state of the world to feeling like I am playing a part, however tiny, in being the change I want to see. Volunteering is my expression of love (for the world) and hope (for a better one), and I will keep going with it.

In terms of hobbies, my husband has seriously ramped up his photography this year, and is producing genuine works of art now. My second girl's dance and sewing hobbies have gained pace, and she's also heavily into both robotics and chess, including competing in the State Chess Finals in December. My eldest has continued with jujitsu and clarinet, while my youngest has had a bit of a rest from structured activities but has expanded her interests in drawing and gardening.

I participated in January's Month of Poetry as usual, and loved it (also as usual!) I have continued to write poetry throughout the year, but less than I would have liked, and this has been a fallow year in terms of competitions and publication (I haven't submitted anything anywhere). There have been reasons for that, but it is a slight sadness all the same.

Health and Family 

On the whole, our health has been pretty good this year, barring a few colds here and there and a revolting family gastro that slammed us in August.

The dramatic improvement in my youngest's overall health after going gluten free following her Coeliac diagnosis has been very good to see. My Mum's health has been problematic at times, which has been worrying, but seems to be better at the moment; hoping it stays that way.

Mental health has been up and down, but mostly pretty stable, this year. Those of us with anxiety have had highly anxious spells, and those of us who tend towards depression have had very flat spells, but no one has stopped functioning at any point, so overall, I'll call that a win.

One family related thing has been our project to turn our double car brick garage into a study / hobbies room for the kids. Given the lack of bedroom space inside, this seemed like a good idea. We are almost there now - the storage shed built and loaded with all the old garage stuff, the garage doors replaced with walls, the slate floor cleaned and resealed, skylights installed, wiring repaired. Painting is the only thing left to do before we move in!

Holidays, Special Days and Events

This year has been so stuffed full of these that, honestly, dot points are the only way to go!

Mini-breaks: Three mini-breaks contributed to the good parts of this year being extremely good. In January, my husband and I had a night at the Langham and went to the theatre with friends. In July, we went with my parents and my brother and sister in law to Phillip Island for a long weekend in celebration of my Mum's 70th birthday.  And in November, I took my eldest to Adelaide for the Cup Day long weekend, which was extremely fun. (PSA: if you are ever touristing in Adelaide, I highly recommend doing the EcoCaddy pedicab city tour - one of the best tourist experiences I've ever had!)

Holidays: The teenagers went to Japan with school in April (meaning that they got to see cherry blossoms for two years in a row, the lucky ducks), while husband, youngest and myself had 10 days in Far North Queensland while they were away, split between a short stay on Fitzroy Island and a week in Port Douglas. Both were great!

As a family of five, we had 9 days away in September, mostly in the Blue Mountains and finishing with 2 nights in Sydney. That was also great.

Birthdays, Halloween and Christmas: Each kid's birthday was fun, as usual, but the big birthday events of 2019 were my husband's 50th in March and my Mum's 70th in May. It was great to see them both have such a lovely day. We did Halloween as always, and had a lovely Christmas Day at my parents' house.

Hosting exchange student: We hosted our third, and (for now) final, Japanese exchange student in July. It was, as in the past, a wonderful but exhausting almost 3 weeks for us all. We won't continue in 2020, as my eldest begins her VCE journey, but we'd like to do it again later when my youngest is at the right age.

Nerdcons: Once again, the nerd family nerded away, with visits to Supanova Melbourne, OzComicCon Melbourne and Sydney, Animaga, Madman Anime Festival, and both Box Hill and Geelong Japan Festivals.

I took my eldest to the Stargate Atlantis small con as well, which was quite a different (but fun) experience.

I think we need to just accept that this is who we are now!

The Rest: There have been too many to list, but little pops of colour like the Death Cab for Cutie concert (me and a friend); brunches, lunches and dinners with friends; days in the city and the countryside; and yes, even things like movies, books and TV shows (*primarily looking at you, Stranger Things Which We Literally Binged in 8 Straight Hours*) have added significantly to the pleasures of this year.

Hard and Sad Things

This is the heading under which I have to be somewhat vague, as some of the hard things also have ongoing issues associated with them. The hardest and saddest things, though, were the loss of two precious people in my life - our family friend Trish, who was one of my brother's carer's during his lifetime and like an auntie to me, and my dear friend Meralie, whose sudden passing in early December has shaken me so badly.

We have also spent a lot of the year unwillingly embroiled in a legal matter, still not resolved, that caused (and will cause) a lot of angst and stress.

We also had an unpleasant and stressful experience with my eldest's extended Japanese study, which she did via an external organisation (not her school). She, her classmates, and we as a group of parents were treated horribly by the organisation and it was a highly stressful thing to deal with over an extended period of time.

Looking Forward

In most ways, we are seeing 2020 as a home-focused year. We're doing one short family holiday (6 days in Phillip Island in January) and a couple of mini-breaks for selected subsets of us (husband and I are doing 3 nights in Hobart in March for his birthday; I'm taking my middle kid to Sydney for 3 nights in July for a convention) but no long or expensive trips are planned. Instead, we have home renos to do, most notably our two bathrooms, which are years overdue for addressing, as well as some landscaping that needs doing.

Work-wise, I'm actively excited about two of my five projects, and comfortable with the others, which feels very positive as a way to start the new year. Another strong year in terms of earnings will position us well to do our renos and keep making inroads on the mortgage, which feels like a worthwhile thing. 

I'll be continuing to volunteer, write poetry, read books, try new recipes, spend time with those I love, and remember to tell them so. And I hope that, if nothing else, is something that the New Year might hold for us all.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Picture a day: Second month

Here is my second set of Photo a Day collages from Insta! Food features heavily again, as does cat :-)