Week 2 of Self-Isolation in the Viral Era


The days seem to blend into one another; time and dates have blurred edges. It is becoming harder to recall our lives before everything changed. All the things we took for granted! Meeting up with friends… Restaurants… cafes and hugs, travel and visits from loved ones. Classes are grieved, as are extracurricular activities. Who would have thought toilet paper, masks, sanitiser and disinfectant would be such hot items?

I attended my first online funeral earlier this week. It added to the sorrow of the life lost, seeing eight people gathered in the large chapel, the chairs spaced so that even a husband and wife weren’t actually sitting together. There were no hugs, and no huddling together. A person who had hundreds of friends and family scattered throughout Australia was sent off by eight people, and those of us who watched online. It felt strange; disconnected from reality. It’s our new normal, I’m afraid.

The next evening, a group of us were invited to sing Happy Birthday to a four year old on Zoom, as she cut her birthday cake. As I saw the squares light up with familiar faces, my heart swelled. We have to be distant, but we certainly aren’t alone. It was joyous, getting together from the confines of our home for a little girl.

I had to go up the street to have my flu shot. After two weeks of confinement, it really hit me, seeing the places I usually frequent, shuttered and empty. I thought of my friends, who work in these places (or own them), and the sole traders who supply these shops. It was a melancholy feeling; how could it be anything but? It’s all the little things that you miss. I miss the chatter amongst patients as they sit next to one another, whilst waiting for the doctor. I miss the smiles of the staff, now hidden behind masks. I miss catching up with the friends you bump into down the street. The few people I saw were guarded, hurrying about their business, so that they could get back home.

This update from Bill Crews just about broke my heart. The most vulnerable sector of our society, made to eat their meals out in the rain. Surely we can do better, Sydney? This tumultuous period reinforces the absolute truth that we are connected. What happens to one, can ultimately, happen to all. Unemployment and homelessness, poverty and being at the mercy of this wretched virus. Why can’t we put up the vulnerable in accomodation, now that the city is devoid of tourists? Now is the time to soften hearts, rather than harden them.

 

I am thankful for the wonderful souls who have delivered food and groceries to our door. I almost cried, when I saw that the service I used was able to purchase toilet paper for me. It’s the little things that mean so much! I am thankful for the concordant birdsong outside my window, and the sun filtering through the myriad of trees outside my door. I am thankful for teachers who are doing double-duty, organising online lessons, whilst also teaching in a classroom. I am grateful for those who check up on each other, ensuring that everyone has what they need.

There have been involuntary tears, and moments when I feel helpless. Not being able to see loved ones is tough, particularly when they are going through so much, for a myriad of reasons. I worry about those in quarantine with toxic family members. Not being able to escape into their job, or through a social outing, is excruciating, when trapped inside a chaotic household. Life has contracted in. We need to uncover small joys, where we can. Whether that be going for a walk, or by having coffee on the porch. It may mean listening to music, or watching a comedy. Our movements may have been limited, but free pleasures remain. Your thoughts belong to you, and can’t be contained within the four walls of your home. They can see you making plans for when this time is done, and help you to clarify the future you yearn to build.

I keep thinking of what it must have been like to go through the era of the Spanish flu or Bubonic Plague. Without phones, internet, television, running water, sanitation and Netflix! No updates forthcoming, and with limited resources. I can’t even imagine how cut-off each household must have felt from one another.

We are in the early stages of self-isolation, and still have Winter to come. Winter; the season which ushers in frosts and bitter cold, grey skies and barren trees and gardens. It seems to drag, and then one day, Spring arrives. We can get through this harsh winter, if we work together. All this shall seem like a distant nightmare; one we shall recall for the young, in fifty years’ time. They will ask us what it was like, and what we did. Let’s ensure we have ripping yarns to share with them. Tales of how we looked after each other, connecting online, and sending messages to old friends. Tales of getting back to basics, and making do with what we had at our disposal. Stories of mateship and making the best of a bad situation. We are making history, each and every day of 2020.

 

 

 

Characters on Public Transport


I like to take public transport whenever I can. Not only is it better for the environment, but I find that my day is uplifted when I engage with strangers.

Over the years, I have caught ferries, trains and buses with a litany of characters, all of whom taught me a great deal.

There was Dawn, resplendant  with her toothless grin, colourful dress sense and fascinators. She befriended me when my daughter was a baby, and was my companion on many a bus adventure. She would borrow money, and return it to my letterbox as soon as she could. I remember one time at the bus stop, she proudly showed me what she had gotten on sale from the chemist shop. There was makeup, but also a tube of Vagisil. When she pulled it out of its container, the man next to us on the seat was noticeably alarmed, and more so when this older lady went into great detail about she and her husband’s sex life! “My poor old vag!” she shrieked, then roared with laughter. I was taken aback when I saw a parcel in my letterbox, wrapped in a bag from the chemist’s. I prayed that she wasn’t sharing her tube of Vagisil with me, and was greatly relieved when it turned out to be a bottle of perfume! It was around this time that she invited me to a party at her place for her birthday. I was touched by her invitation, and dutifully arrived at kick-off. I rapped on her door, and her husband gruffly called out to “come in!” I did as he asked, only to find him sitting on the toilet with the door open, his trousers around his ankles! I asked after Dawn, and he said he didn’t know anything about a party, and that she was down the street, drinking beer and playing the polkies. I made a hasty exit, I can assure you! She passed away a few years ago, and many folk she’d met on the bus came to pay their respects.

There was another lady, Jean, whom I met during an hour-long ride to our local hospital. She was in her 80’s and volunteered there, taking the trip a few times a week. It kept her active and agile, she said. After her shift, she would walk for kilometres to keep her bones healthy and her mind sharp.

I met a woman in her 90’s, who’d been a dancer at the Trocadero in Sydney, over seventy years ago. She was quite well known back then, she assured me. She still had the composure and essence of a showgirl.

I met men who were widowers, and wrote instructions as to how to prepare easy and nutritious meals for themselves. I learned about their partner’s, and about their life together. Unforgettable stories of love conquering all. Even death itself couldn’t destroy the legacy of the life they’d shared.

I’ve chatted to teenagers, and taken notes (or should have), as to what music and fashion is in, and what their thoughts are on certain issues. It is always enlightening.

Today I met a dear lady, Madeline, who was waiting at the stop to get home. Radiant in a purple dress and glasses, she held an electric-blue walking stick. She is on the public system’s waiting list for further surgery, and in a lot of pain. This little Italian women told me of her family, and her place out at Orangeville, where she grows all her own vegetables and fruit. I could almost taste the tomatoes, as she described serving them with balsamic vinegar and basil leaves for lunch.

I have met performers, who entertained a carriage full of weary train travellers. There is nothing a performer likes better than a captive audience. My daughter practiced crying on queu in crowded trains for her drama class. It’s a great training ground for a career in the arts! I have been captivated by a songstress singing opera, and young men singing spiritual’s.

Last weekend, I travelled with two mothers on the train. One mum brings her daughter to a class in Sydney each Saturday from Bathurst, and the other brings her teen from the Central coast! Huge dedication from these mums, and quite inspiring. They would do anything to fulfil their child’s passion. As a parent, there is nothing quite like the joy of your child finding something that feeds their soul. Lunches and snacks are packed, as are books. They told me that it’s a luxury to be able to daydream whilst looking out the window, or have a nap after a busy week at work. It is indeed a gift, to be able to slow down for those precious hours and connect with their child. To just be, instead of do.

I have sat with new (and exhausted) parents and their babies, frail travellers, heartbroken lovers, the homeless and those in business suits. I have made eye contact with a reluctant girl who just wanted to disappear, and also those whom have wanted to be seen.  At the end of the day, I guess we all want to be visible. To have courtesy extended to us, and have our stories heard. We all crave a smile and kind word. Public transport allows us the opportunity to have an impact on a stranger’s life. We may turn their day around with our actions. Every where I go, I look for the Dawn’s; those with raucous laughs and fabulous tales. I also search for the recalcitrant, the lonely and sad. People are complex… People are amazing. Life is hard at times. We need each other. A community can come into being on a train carriage or bus. Community can be brought to life on a ferry. Every journey is an opportunity for connection.

Ratbags and Rogues


Step into working-class Sydney in the 60’s through to the 90’s. These ‘ratbags and rogues’ saved public spaces, historic buildings and homes. They even took over the building of the Sydney Opera House, at one stage! This is a story about the union movement, and what it takes to stand up to powerful figures, whose deepest desire is to squash you underfoot. Told with humour and wistfulness, it also has it’s share of tragedy. Given the current climate, it is also a call to arms. To purchase from Apple iBooks, here.
To purchase the paperback, click here.  For the Kindle version, click here.
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The Ozy Youth Choir-Sydney Peace Project


OJ Rushton, musical director of the Ozy Youth Choir Honouring Defence Service, had a dream. She invited kids from the Southern Highlands and bush to come together and join her fledgling choir. Some of the kids had parents in the military, and all immediately felt a sense of belonging. The lessons are completed online, though the choir regularly meet up for rehearsals and camps. I heard about the Ozy Youth Choir via another parent. My daughter and I went along to a performance to see what it was all about. Within moments, I had been embraced by OJ, and my daughter had been given a choir shirt and was singing! We experienced a home-coming, as though are souls had been searching for these very people. It felt as though we had landed on a puffy cloud, surrounded by alto and soprano tones.

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OJ Rushton

Throughout the last three years, my daughter has had the honour of singing at Government House, at the Australian War Memorial, alongside Damien Leith and Harrison Craig, Ian Moss, Laura Wright, Kate Ceberano, the Australian Army Band and many others. The highlight would have to be singing at the opening ceremony for the Invictus Games at the Sydney Opera House. It coincided with our camp, and what a week we had! Concord RSL kindly offered us the use of their old bowling green to set up our tents, and went above and beyond, gifting use of a kitchen and showers and providing us with food and transport to and from rehearsals. The heavens opened up on the second day, and the camping ground was flooded! All we could do was laugh and try our best to keep dry! The choir worked hard, returning to our base late most nights.

Finally, the day of the opening ceremony arrived! The parents looked up as an ominous clap of thunder sounded over Sydney Harbour. Then, the lightning came, along with torrential rain. The massive storm delayed the start of the show by an hour, and then it departed as swiftly as it had arrived. The memories of the opening ceremony shall remain with me always. We cheered on the athletes, listened to sublime music, and everybody stood and gave Prince Harry a standing ovation after he delivered his powerful speech. The kids understood how pivotal this event was for the athletes, and all who came to support them, and felt deeply honoured to have been there.

 

The choir got back to camp shortly before midnight, and woke at 5am the next morning, to prepare for a breakfast at the Australian Museum to honour the families and dignitaries connected to the Invictus Games. My daughter still talks about Elisabeth, who is a member of an organization called TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors). My daughter had sung with the choir outside the Sydney Opera House, and had held Elisabeth’s hands. This dear lady explained to me at the breakfast, how much this had meant to her, showing me a photo of her son, Toby, whom she had lost in Iraq. Singing helps to heal; it reaches into the core of a person, assuring them that they aren’t alone. It is a way of telling stories, and uniting people. Here is a video, detailing our time at Concord RSL and the leadup to the Invictus Games. After the breakfast, we walked down Art Gallery Rd to cheer on the athletes competing in the road cycling. We were in awe of them beforehand but nothing prepared us for how we felt afterward!

We were also honoured to have joined with Invictus as a Peace Partner to launch the Peace Project at Government House two week’s ago. Several schools joined us, both online and in person. Here is some footage of the wondrous day! Last year, the Ozy Youth Choir reproduced an iconic photo from a century ago, on Bondi Beach, in honour of the Centenary of ANZAC. On Friday 2nd November, we shall be gathering at Government House in Sydney, to do it again! We shall sing as one to honour the end of the Centenary of ANZAC and to welcome in the Centenary of the Year of Peace. His Excellency, the Governor of NSW and Mrs Hurley are hosting the  Sydney Peace Project on the Parade Ground. Join us at 1pm, either in person or online. Registration is essential. Follow this link to join!

Studies have shown that those who engage in singing enjoy better health. I can understand why, particularly when you sing with others. Coming together to sing unites us as one unstoppable, unflappable, powerful force.

 

 

Frida, Tomatoes and Giving Pain Meaning


I had a hard time holding my newborn. When I was pregnant, I practiced carrying  a string bag filled with oranges, and a sack of potatoes. Weights and hydrotherapy also played an important role. When my daughter came along, I found it very difficult to hold her, and wrangling her as an active toddler was a challenge! Breaking my back again when she was three, saw me unable to carry her; even navigating a roundabout in the car would see me bite my lip to avoid screaming in agony.

I am a planner and think a great deal of the future. I guess when one has had so much out of their control, you grip onto that which you can have power over. My spine is a case in point. Working with weights each day and walking are things I can do to prepare for the future. I had researched spinal cord stimulation, and sought experts in this particular field. I was excited about the prospect of being able to cope as my back pain became more challenging (the fusion sites are already wearing out with age). I was so young when the damage happened, which means that preparations and reparations have to be considered now. I thought of my daughter as a teenager and young woman. I want to travel with her, and maybe one day be a hands-on grandmother to any children she may have. I want to be able to hold those babes in my arms. Unfortunately, a site of major damage is the thoracic region. Holding anything in my arms is agonizing. For a year, I harboured hope that spinal cord stimulation would help. It was to be my insurance policy; a nod to the next decades of life.

Last week, my daughter and I saw Evita at Sydney Opera House. It was a spectacular production, which left us spellbound. Tina Arena as Eva Peron, was stunning, and deserved the standing ovation which she received. My girl asked lots of questions about Argentina, and we researched it’s history online after we left. We stayed in Sydney overnight, having a leisurely brunch before seeing my spinal specialist. Armed with my latest test results,  I followed the doctor to his rooms, unaware of what was to come. I assumed we would be arranging to have a trial device implanted.  Spinal stenosis and fibrosis at the site of former surgeries meant that there isn’t adequate space to weave the wires through. I can’t even have epidural injections to manage the pain. Having surgery to place a stimulator would be far too hazardous, as it turned out. It was a lot to take in. It means I have to reimagine my future, and my daughter has to reimagine hers. Simple things like sitting or carrying luggage, going on long treks or long-haul flights will be that much more difficult.

I went home and cried. I watched the movie Frida, as I laid on my Frida cushions. It will be a reimagined future. I am doing everything in my power to keep my bones and muscles, kidneys, lungs and mind strong in preparation. There will be no hope of relief nor reprieve from the merciless pain. It shall always be there, a constant reminder of the brutality of my youth. It will limit what work I can take on, and how far I am able to drive. I will be damned if it limits what I can do with my daughter. She stubbornly took my suitcase off of me the other day, on our way to our hotel room, giggling as she ran ahead, despite my protestations. She reaches out her arm to me, and carries my backpack on her strong shoulders each and every day.

 

We shared the bus ride to RPA with an eloquent middle-aged gentleman who was homeless. He was Italian, and ate a tomato as though it were an apple. He reorganized his bag, and when he stood, he rolled deodorant under his armpits, before gifting the family opposite a drawing. He read a book on philosophy as he sat back down, finishing his tomato with relish. As we departed, he tipped his hat. I would love to know his story; I’m sure it is brimming with pathos and triumphs. The most remarkable stories are.

I have always been fascinated by birds, butterflies and dragonflies. How wondrous it would be, to have wings. For over half my life, I have been fused from my shoulders down, with  limited range of movement. I am grateful that I have been able to walk, and if my mobility were to cease tomorrow, there would be no lamentations. I just want (and need), to be well enough to see my daughter through to her adulthood.

For a moment, I regretted the time and money spent seeing specialists and having all of the tests done. What a monumental waste of a year! Then there was the matter of the space all of this took up in my brain. I had put things off ‘until after I had the device fitted.’ Ironically, as I reflect, I see that these days had only brought my daughter and I closer together. We had stayed in the city, walking and laughing in the rain. We brunched and cheered on street performers. We had been together, smart phones displaced from our hands. I found myself outside the Downing Centre courts, a place I had avoided since the court case I endured at sixteen, trying to get a bad man to pay for the vile things he had done. I stood outside for fifteen minutes, waiting for our bus. Lost in my thoughts, the Italian gent, tomato in hand, tipped his cap and we talked. Mental illness had robbed him of a lot, but not his heart. Physical injury had robbed me of a lot, though not my heart. For a moment, we were in simpatico. He gestured for my girl and I to board the bus before him, and I glanced out the window at the imposing courts. I had come back to retrieve that girl.

Perhaps, none of it was about a spinal cord stimulator. Perhaps it was to give me leave to spend quality time with my daughter. Maybe it was also about facing another piece of the past. Maybe it was to show me that I can organize travel and hotels and that I am enough for my daughter. I am the mum that she needs. Perhaps it was to affirm that I need to let go of fear. The worst has come and gone and I am still here. Maybe I was meant to meet the Italian fellow, and be encouraged to eat vine-ripened tomato’s as though they were apples. He even ate the stem, and I realized that nothing is ever wasted. The same is true with lives.

I have been referred to a physical therapist, and my specialist is going to review my case at the next practice meeting. As I reflect on the year gone by, I see no wastage. My daughter and I had experiences we would never have had, and seen parts of Sydney that we wouldn’t have. We have met magical people, been in magical shops, had magical food and stepped out of comfort zones. The only thing left to do is eat a tomato as though it were an apple.

 

The Physiotherapist


I have spent thousands upon thousands of dollars on physiotherapy in the twenty-plus years since my fall. I have done weights with physiotherapists, been placed on stretching racks, been in body braces, calipers, body casts, had my muscles shocked, been in hydrotherapy pools, and so much more. I still have the initial regime on paper, that I was instructed to do ten times a day, on top of swimming, hydro and physio sessions. It went on for years. To be honest, I was now full of hubris, believing I knew all there was to know, and could do the required moves in my sleep.

When my doctor set up a health plan for their physiotherapy department, I procrastinated. I was too busy for such indulgence, and besides, I knew everything there was to know! In spite of myself, I made a booking. My, how I laughed at the new patient form I was required to fill out, with minimal space in which to answer how many operations I have had, and what my injuries were. I had to resort to miniscule writing, to make it all fit.

The physiotherapy department really knew their stuff, massaging and kneading and coaxing trapped nerves to yield with subtle movements. They explained how the various muscle groups had compensated for my injuries, and what the plan was. Of course, they asked how on earth a teen had managed to obtain such injuries in the first place, and I told them in a matter-of-fact manner about the abduction and attempted murder. There was shocked silence, until I broke the ice, and then we all laughed as I regaled them with tales of the characters I met throughout the months I was in the rotor bed. It is a hell of a tale to lay on a stranger!

One of the fellows has a partner, and this week, I asked what they had done for Valentine’s Day. I was expecting the usual; that he had ordered red roses and chocolates and that they had gone out for dinner. Instead, he replied that after work, he had met his partner in the city, and they had purchased crates of fruit and water. They had then handed out bags to 200 homeless gathered near Central Station. “We don’t need gifts,” he explained. Apparently, they did this every birthday as well. “We don’t spend money on useless stuff, we buy things that will really help someone else.”  I said in reply, “that my friend, is real love.”  Not only have he and his colleague gifted me with their knowledge regarding my spinal column and neck, but he also revealed  what real romantic love can be in this world. Sacrifice, kindness, humility. I could picture this gentle man and his equally lovely girlfriend smiling as they handed out water on a blisteringly hot evening in Sydney. We talked of the lack of affordable housing in our city, and wondered aloud how greed has been allowed to become master and major consideration in all things. If he were to run for office, I would be his campaign manager. Imagine if everyone repurposed a fraction of their wants and put those resources toward others. Miracles could happen, just as surely as muscle groups yield to a physiotherapists’ masterful hands. I left buoyed with the thought that hundreds of people in this city felt loved on Valentine’s Day because of this dynamic duo.

After more than twenty years, I still have a thing or two to learn from physiotherapists. I rediscovered the difference they can make as to how I manage my pain. I have also rediscovered the gold one uncovers when you have nowhere to go and nothing to do but be in the moment.

Sanctuary


I was fortunate enough to find a few sanctuaries around Sydney in my tumultuous youth. I find that if I neglect my visitations, I can’t settle. The first time I discovered this place, I was fourteen years old. I had run from the institution of where I had found myself. It was summer, and I looked longingly through the gate, incredulous and transfixed by the fun and frivolity I saw. These people had not a care in the world as they reclined on the sun lounges and waded in the water overlooking Sydney Harbour. I was both enchanted and detached from the spectacle, a few minutes by foot from my own nightmarish existence. A bird in a gilt-edged cage, put outside to witness other birds flying free.

The place where I was living cared little for me, and I later discovered that they hadn’t even noticed I was missing, such was their lack of interest. The next time I wandered, I had managed to scrounge up the modest entry fee to the baths. I was safe here. No monsters laid in wait, just fish, weaving between the people. The salt water cleansed my body, as it did my mind. I floated, I waded and I reclined. I could plan a future here. I could dream big, and imagine living to sixteen. I could imagine I lived in one of the lovely homes nearby and had slipped out for a dip. I would cry as I left to go up the hill, back to my prison. The baths were sacred ground, untouched by evil.

My sanctuary never left my thoughts or heart, and when I had my daughter, I couldn’t wait to bring her here. I had a moment, when I first saw her as a toddler, playing in the sand, and swimming in the water. I survived, and had introduced my daughter to my paradise. As nonsense once again rained down on me, I took my daughter back to the baths.

We found shade under a grand old tree, and ate the most splendid chips. We swam with the great-grandchildren of the fishes I had once encountered, and experienced the reunification  only a sea breeze can offer. I was home.

Looking Back on 2017


As I look back on 2017, images and memes peek out at me.

There were fireworks over Sydney Harbour, a celebration with 1.6 million people.

There was exhaustion on every level, and grief for a young lady who passed before her time. Conversations have been more open as a result, and many a brave demeanour has slipped. It is time for us all to be transparent, and to let it be known when we find it hard to face another day. It has rattled me to the core, the falling of people who can seemingly do anything, face anything and survive anything. We have our limits. It is time to practice self-care. This can often mean rebelling against that which we feel primed to do. Isolate? Seek out company instead. Depression is a liar, please remember that.

There has been wildlife and adventures, and extraordinary days that I am glad I survived to see.

There was this extraordinary daughter of mine. I knew when I had her that I had been given a luminous gift. Some days when I find it hard to conjure energy for myself, I find it for her.

There was Sydney and marriage equality.

There was my  home town and traveling to NZ to be at my beautiful friend’s wedding.

There was grieving our friend, the bird-watcher; changes in image, and getting up close with Meerkats.

There were Wuthering Heights enactments…

There was glorious Melbourne.

There were Memes. How can something so small, say so much?

 

Marriage Equality, Sydney Rally and the Plebliscite


Oh Sydney, I have fallen in love with you anew! You have a way of enticing like a siren’s call. I love the egaliterian spirit, witnessed a few day’s ago at Circular Quay when a businessman and local character playfully teased each other. I love the Vietnamese family who run a takeaway at the station, where my daughter buys her strawberry donut each week. They put it in a bag as soon as they see her approach.

Hopping on a ferry will take you to numerous islands around the Harbor, and a day spent walking around the city will see you stumble upon magnificent gardens and street art.  You will see lovers and love in all its forms on the streets of Sydney. Today, a rally is taking place for marriage equality, in preparation for the upcoming plebiscite, a staggering and demeaning waste of over a hundred million dollars. It is ultimately a human rights issue, and the community is demanding equal rights, as well they should. The turnout is astounding. It is time, Australia. Love, that is what it comes down to. That is what makes a family.

 

 

Vivid, Wirrimbirra and how to talk with kids about terrorism.


Psychologist John Blythe has the following advice on how to talk to kids about the latest horrors. I was grateful to read it before I sat my daughter down to answer her pressing questions. My heart is with all who have suffered as a result of these atrocities.

There is evil in this world, the energy denser than tar, and yet there is goodness, shimmering and light as gossamer. There is also beauty, and thank goodness for that!

We had a little walk around Vivid last week. Sydney can get bitterly cold this time of year, and the food trucks supplied us with chilli bowls, hot chocolate and tea. Scores of volunteers of all ages cheerfully directed the crowds, and strangers chatted and greeted one another. I would suggest going on a week night, rather than the upcoming long weekend, as it is far less busy!

Waratah

We also went to Wirrimbirra Sanctuary, where we met the following characters.

There is evil, but there is also light and beauty.