The Road to Character

So we’ve been in this town for 4 months now. It can feel longer like with any immersion experience, but also no time at all. And from asking others ‘how long did it take for you to feel settled, like a local?’ the answers vary but the ball park is around 2 years.

The routine of school and work seams our lives. The kids are settled into classes and soccer teams. We are starting to recognise faces on the street and frequent the local gig scene that supports artists from Maleny and down the Coast. The Upfront Club was an institution for local acts and really rocked a Monday night but closed last year after 22 years due to financial difficulties. But luckily a local cafe took over the premises has now started live music twice a week. We bustled 3 minutes down the road after dinner, had a drink and a chat, Tim got coerced into a song for his friend’s birthday and then recited The Man From Ironbark for a lark. And we were back home by 8pm. Good wholey fun for a Monday night.

The school had a Cafe night awhile back and did a call out to families keen to perform together. It didn’t take long before Beau and Tim were on the list. Here is a video of the song they performed. Beau’s favourite, one he learnt at his old preschool.

Sorry, cut short hit some technical difficulties… Beau has taken up piano and is writing songs. This week he wrote ‘Sad Song For Pat’ about our dog who we are all missing a lot. My mum is minding him because our rental has no fences.

But not for long, because our grand news is that we have purchased a property here. So we are staying to get our hands dirty in the soil and watch the misty skies pass over head. I’m in awe that my childhood dream of green rolling hills will be our reality. The block is 34.5 acres, partly cleared with paddocks and the bottom end of the property has a waterfall with a hefty drop and a rainforest that is quite impenetrable at present. Quinn and I have visions of getting into it with machetes. Walking trails is what we want to create.  The neighbours have told me an Aboriginal stone axe was found in 1950s as the tribes used the creek on their way to ceremonial grounds at Lake Baroon dam, 10 km north east in pre colonial times.

Life has a way of working its magic. We hope to have a cabin built soon-ish for folks to stay. The neighbouring property is named ‘The Space Between’, a name I really dig. And it got me thinking about that place we often find ourselves in- between jobs, holidays, projects, life stages….And our tendency to mentally jump on to the next thing before the current thing has actually finished. Or even if the current thing has ended, the desire to latch on to something else immediately to calm our anxiety or quieten our busy mind, instead of waiting in that fertile space of uncomfortable unknowing until the next thing rises gently out of the ether.

We move in August so this is a space I’m wading in, looking at the sharp greens of the foliage and fog breath mornings here in the treehouse. It’s prettier than the ticking watch.

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How I found sisterhood in a sweat lodge

 

 

Heating stones for ‘sweat bath’ in Supa. Circa 1924. Grand Canyon National Park Museum Collection

It’s a work day and after blowing off a meeting, I drive out of town where lantana rambles on the road’s edge. The first sign of smoke comes from a fire started at daybreak on a flat terrace. I stop by a Balinese-esque building and walk through wooden doors, stepping into another world.

Though it’s Thursday, a group of women have managed to claw some precious time to come together for a “sweat.” My first, and I’m feeling intrigued with a mixture of reverence and rebellion about a daytime meeting when I could be taking care of other duties.

We change into sarongs, the only clothing we will be wearing for the next few hours. I look around at the other women—a yoga teacher from the city, and a Spanish mum of three young kids down from the coast “who’s not sure why she’s come, but she has,” and other faces I’ve met before briefly. We sit and gather in a comforting circle.

Laurel, our Shamanic facilitator opens the ceremony with her flute. We each pick up an instrument laid out on the floor and begin to drum a beat. A tune forms quickly, energetic and curious.

After a light safety induction, we walk in silence toward a domed structure lined with thick canvas. Think of an igloo with a flat top, willow saplings holding up its walls. We pick mugwort and set intentions for what we wish to get clarity on during our sweat.

Native American cultures have used sweat lodges as a sacred ceremony for purification, however, there is evidence of other indigenous cultures practising similar rituals. It symbolises a kind of birth, death, and rebirth, much like a snake shedding its skin.

I crawl through the small opening, the sand surprisingly cool under my palms. The air is stale and so different from the vibrant wind whipping the tarpaulin outside. In single file, I find my place opposite the door. Our firekeeper, a practical lady called Luna brings the hot rocks known as the Stone People and places them into the pit. Sweetgrass incense sizzles when thrown on top. The four directions are noted. I realise I am due north, the place of moving into and through difficulty. I puff out my chest trying for courage and endurance as I feel stirrings of nausea.

It is very dark, and I can’t see anyone next to me. We take turns acknowledging ancestors and sharing sorrows. I am unsure who is speaking, nor remembering what is said—it is like a long trail of emu footprints across a desert. My back screams from lack of yogic fitness or just plain revolt. I feel the pull to lie down and surrender. Blackish sand marks my forehead as I curl up like I’m inside my mother again.

We welcome the last round of rocks mottled black and red as the older rocks cool dark. Drinking water is shared around the circle. I slurp hungrily out of my hands; forgetting to wash the sand off, I get grit in my mouth. I don’t care, I’m saved by its sweet relief. Gratitude rushes over me—I have never been this thirsty and lucky.

Photo credit: Valerie Everett

As the drum beats slow, Laurel begins to walk us safely home. We all lay together on the sand. I feel a hand reach for mine that awakens vague alarm, but I don’t pull away. Firmly our fingers close around each other and love washes over me. We stay like this until the end of the ceremony when the daylight pierces us from the door.

Michelle, the yoga teacher, swore she heard the prompt to hold hands inside the lodge though no one else did. But by reaching out her hand, the Spanish mum uncertain about being touched after a rocky start to life, felt her heart burst out of her chest. I also felt touched deeply by sisterhood and how we are never alone, no matter how hard it can get.

A Lakotan saying, “Mitakuye Oyasin,” which is loosely translated as “all my relations,” meaning all plants, animals, minerals, and humans are interconnected. This philosophy sits snug with me as I emerge feeling lighter, clearer and profoundly quieter.

As I retreat back into my routine, I feel more gratitude for my sparky family and thankful for a clean shower and a yummy salad. I may not see Michelle or my other sisters again though I hope I do,  I’m left feeling connected and realise by reaching out to others we can lessen any feelings we may have of loneliness or isolation.

This piece was featured on Elephant Journal

Move over Plan B

 

I am a uni drop out again. I enrolled in a masters of social work in a hope to find some certainty to that perennial ‘what do you do‘ question in this far from sure world.  There’s dysfunction dripping thus demand for social workers is high and I wanted to find a ‘secure’ profession.

But life had a trail of little wakeup calls. I was shaking after a colleague downloaded about her abusive boyfriend and hearing yet another stress leave story, found me in bed contemplating:

What is driving this decision? And for whom am I doing it?

I am a slow learner. It takes me several times around the block over the same terrain for things to become clear. This current vocational plan (there has been many..) is yet another time I’ve placed onus on Plan B as a protection from owning up to my true desires, Plan A. It gets exhausting trying to hoodwink your soul. This conflict is something many artistic creatures face as following your passion in the arts is a hard, bloody road, not helped by society perpetually questioning its relevance, legitimacy and economic prospects.

But is it really a choice?

I lay there quietly asking the deeper parts of myself, and the answer was no.

After years of feeling like I need to find a career- an answer tied up with a pretty bow,  it was there all the time.  When I stood at the photocopier at my graduate job for a multinational, a poem licked my face. From the recovering heroin addict with a PhD in mathematics who helped change a flat tyre on my courier bike to the elderly lady who asked me (a support worker) to collude with her by hurriedly changing her spotted blood dressing gown so she could look ‘put together’ before the resident nurse came to do an in home assessment, stories have coloured my life. As I tidied away the decay in her Mosman apartment, we chatted early days at Women’s Weekly, her role as editor and laughed about the wickedness of life. I stood poker faced when asked if she was fit enough to remain living alone. Later I got a call from Deirdre’s son with a heartfelt thank you and news that she passed away peacefully in her own home weeks later.

I remember being asked ‘What do you want to be?’ upon graduating from high school for our school magazine. With ‘unthinking’ speed I answered

A constant Kombie cruiser

I have lived up to that. I have found by seeking new places, experiences, jobs and people- I find endless material, stimulation and variety that feeds my writing. Not good for a CV per se but when you are called to write and reflect on what you see in the world, you can’t turn it off.  Where do you learn how to be a writer? Yes you can do university and always get something out of it. But the qualitative research comes from living life. And maybe that’s what I have actually been doing, even when I felt I was ‘failing’ at this career game.

In Maleny, I am waiting tables, gathering dialogue and indulging in voyeurism. Chatting with customers and asking questions to tap into threads that hold opinions together. Moments that may find another life one day now I’ve fired Plan B.

I’m sitting here naked ready for Plan A-rse in the chair work of dancing whispering ghosts with grit under my keyboard.

Wish me luck and thanks for reading thus far.

Love Amy

 

 

 

 

Ode To A Soft Man

Inspired by a podcast this morning where Missy Higgins spoke about being a strong woman and being a soft man is a hope she holds for her young son.

And my thoughts rest on my own soft man.

A man who shows to be soft is to be strong

A man unafraid to feel emotional rainbows, their full range of colours

Some times the dark comes but with patience we can find our way back to the light

A man who holds the hands of elders in his work

A man who feels others pain

Some times we bark and snap but can apologise

A man who rubs his kids’ backs when they cry

A man who says it’s ok to cry

A man who can be firm and clear, and hold the world up for his kids to see

A man who changes wet beds and treats his kids’ knits

A man who isn’t in to makeup sex

A man who can bake sourdough and fix a fence

A man who can build a castle and create a home

Here is an ode to all the soft men out there. Thankful that we live in a time where beautifully supple men are hands on raising soft bamboo children.

Modern masculinity has evolved into a bridge between the masculine and the feminine. To be articulate emotionally and nurturing are not sissy traits but right up there on women’s detective lists when looking for a partner. To be a slob or refuse to engage in child rearing is not acceptable. As women work outside the home and garner new skills, menfolk evolve within it.  We are bombing away at the foundations of past gender roles.

This is the ultimate partnership, not his or her, but our and us. That in the end we are all human, both the yin and the yang.