Horses for courses…

I love writing. As you know if you’ve read any of my previous blog posts. I love it but it’s hard. It’s work. Sometimes it even feels like really crappy, dumb work that you wouldn’t wish upon your nemesis. Urgh the slog. But then, at other times, words just seem to fall out of you in the right order. Not only do you not hate what you’ve written, you actually kinda like it. Oh those are the moments! Writing is made up of all those moments plus more. The slog and the crescendo. The dirty and the bright. The uphill battle and the downhill thrill.

Recently I registered for an online writing course about ‘unlocking creativity’. From time to time I enjoy participating in a course to learn new skills, refresh old skills, meet new people, read the work of others, and generally just continue to practise the craft. This particular course has thus far, been enlightening. There are lots of exercises to do that take you to places you may not get to on your own. It’s also a requirement that you leave feedback on the writing of others, which is a skill unto itself, and for teachers, something that is useful to practice. This course also includes tutors who read your writing and give constructive feedback which is supremely helpful. Their insights are thoughtful and beneficial.

Recently in this course I had to write a short piece in response to the word mother. It was a timed exercise of about three minutes. This is what I wrote:

Mum’s room still looks the same. Except for the dust. She’d have hated the dust. The intricate glass trays on the antique bedside tables still hold perfumes from 18 years ago. Chanel No. 5, Amarige; scents that I can never smell without being plunged through the wormhole to 1996. Clothes still hang in the cupboard, most bought on a tab arrangement from Shoppe 336 where she was friends with the owner.

I searched the bedside drawers once, looking for who knows what? A letter from a clandestine lover? The drawers have a particular smell now. That special smell when jewellery, papers, trinkets, buttons, threads, all share a small space for many years. Tiny memories of a life, held within each item, slowly seep out and bond, until the time when you finally, finally open the drawer again and it hits you, in your face and in your heart.

Kristine Portier

I quote Robert Frost to the kids in my classroom all the time:

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.

Robert Frost

I believe his words with all my heart. If you, as the writer aren’t moved in some way, then you can never expect to move your audience. That little piece above, that means a lot to me. I can feel it and smell and see it. As the author I hope you can too.

This course has already helped unleash ideas and motivate me in ways that I hadn’t contemplated. I’m grateful that I took the plunge to join and I’m going to use this opportunity and get the most out of it. If you’ve ever considered doing an online course to kick start your writing journey, or reinvigorate it, I would highly recommend it. I’m also a regular at Catherine Deveny’s Masterclasses and Writing Retreats which are phenomenal.

Courses, (of course) are not necessary in order for you to write, just having a writer’s notebook handy and noticing the world will facilitate that. But sometimes courses pop up at the right time for the right reason and give you that swift kick up the bum you need to just write. The slog and the crescendo.

In the meantime, have a think about the quote from Robert Frost. Perhaps it’s something you can also connect with? I hope you’ve had a lovely day full of writing and tea. xx

Dear fellow educators, please stay the course.

With the new school year only days away, I know that most teachers are busy preparing classrooms, resources, planning documents and a host of other things, in order to at least start the year feeling on top of work. I also know that it won’t take too long for the administrative duties, meetings, emails and phone calls to start to erode that feeling preparedness and control.

On top of all this, I know how a lot of teachers feel when they see something like this:

Despair. A lot of teachers feel despair. That all the hard work and energy they put in to this incredibly challenging, and rewarding job, really boils down to how the kids perform in NAPLAN. This was a display that confronted me at the entrance of Costco today!

The sad reality is a lot of schools do teach to the test. They know that parents will be looking on the MySchool website and if the school up the road has better NAPLAN results then those parents will choose that school. Forget the fact that the kids at the school up the road may hate writing, because it’s so prescribed, or may feel no passion for reading, because they can’t choose what to read. That all comes a distant second to NAPLAN results.

It really has just become a tool for comparison. School comparison. And I can see the principal’s are stuck in the middle. They may dislike NAPLAN as much as the rest of us but if school enrolments drop, then classes are cut, and teachers lose their jobs. It’s a very sticky situation.

All I can say is this: stay the course.

  • Keep teaching students in a way that makes them love literacy (and maths if that’s your jam).
  • Don’t start teaching to the test. That is a sure fire way to suck the joy out of learning.
  • Keep using your writer’s notebook and modelling what excellent authors do.
  • Keep immersing your students in different ways to write genres so NAPLAN assessors don’t read thousands of persuasive pieces that all read: firstly, secondly, lastly.
  • The ‘ideas’ component of NAPLAN is worth much more than spelling or paragraphing for a reason!
  • Remind the students that this test fails to show what truly matters; their love of learning, compassion, and persistence, among other things.

NAPLAN doesn’t help teachers one jot. By the time the results come back (many months after the test is taken) they are no longer relevant. Students have learnt so much in that time, their marks from a test months ago are completely redundant. We know that in order for feedback to be of any use it needs to be timely and NAPLAN is far from that.

It’s a shame that it is still in operation but while it is we have to manage it.

Good luck to all you glorious educators out there as you in to the 2020 school year. You do an incredible job that isn’t given half the recognition it’s due. But when NAPLAN rolls around again, don’t despair. Stay the course and remain true to your teaching philosophy. And if it ever all feels too much – have a cup of tea (or several). xx

Cartoon Courtesy of Cathy Wilcox

Practising Gratitude

Like everything good in life that’s worth learning, gratitude takes practise. It’s all well and good in theory, ‘yeah, yeah I’m grateful for my friends and family etcetera’, but when you actually want to feel a shift in your being; real meaningful change, that’s a different thing.

I’ve always been a pretty happy person and by that I mean, I love to laugh and make people laugh. But over the course of my life I found myself leaning further into the ‘this is all rubbish, why does the world hate me?’ camp. You know, deaths and divorces, moving homes and challenging jobs, awful world leaders hell bent on killing us all. These things take their toll.

All of a sudden I found myself feeling perpetually sorry for myself and wondering what I could do to change the situation. I’m still working on this of course, but I feel there are a few things that have certainly helped me begin to acknowledge and appreciate the joy in life.

The first, and the most important for me, has been to change the things that I can change to improve my situation. I needed time away from a stressful job and more time with my children. Done. I’ve taken a year off and I’ll do what I have to do to pay the rent. I once listened to Nelly Thomas speak about being a stand up comedian and she said this which I’ve never forgotten:

In order to do what you really want to in life, you have to understand what you’re willing to take on to make it happen. I decided that I’d clean houses to make up any shortfall in income I had from comedy.

Paraphrased from Nelly Thomas

For me, I’m willing to make up any shortfall I have from writing by doing relief teaching and consulting. Though I may not make as much as I did from my full time job, I will make what I need. This decision has allowed me to feel a much deeper sense of gratitude towards how I spend my days. I feel grateful to be able to read more with my kids. I feel grateful every time I sit at my desk and churn out another solid writing session. Last night as my kids ate their dinner on our back patio and my partner and I sat next to them, I looked out over our rented property and for the first time I did not feel sad that we weren’t in a home that we owned. Instead, I felt gratitude at the memories that our family has made in this house and the memories yet to come.

Another important learning curve I’m going through on the path to gratitude is from Tony Robbins, who I’ll admit I’ve steered clear of for a long time. I’m not sure why except to say that I thought he was a bit of a charlatan. Apologies to everyone who’s a fan. Anyway, someone pointed me in the direction of his discussion on blame. Imagine, if you will, you have a partner, or boss, or friend, or colleague, or parent and you feel deep resentment towards them for whatever reason. You blame them, to some degree, for the bad things that have happened to you. It can be all-consuming can’t it? Well Tony’s advice is this: if you’re going to blame them for all the bad stuff they’ve done to you, you’d better blame them for all the good stuff too.

For example, if your Mum was cruel to you and you blame her for that, you also need to blame her for the strength you now have to ensure no one else is treated that way. If you feel let down or injured by a friend and blame them for hurting you, you also need to blame them for showing you how to behave in a friendship. What it means to be a good friend. I had a boss who fired me once and I hated him for the longest time. Instead I could’ve been feeling gratitude towards him for teaching me exactly what a leader doesn’t look like. You get the idea.

I am very aware that this thinking has limitations in some spaces but for run-of-the-mill blame games it is quite liberating to be rid of that bitterness and instead be grateful for what that person has taught you.

Finally, I have found that taking time everyday to reflect, and write down what I’m grateful for, has helped me to be more aware of the little things in life we often miss. Lighting a beautifully scented candle, taking a walk alone, having time to make a green smoothie; these are all moments that disappear without a trace unless we take a moment to appreciate them.

I know many people who use gratitude journals and write in them daily. I was gifted one for Christmas that I’m learning to use every day. I also believe you could use your writer’s notebook for this purpose because to me, being grateful is just another way of noticing the world. Perhaps you could write down some moments or people you’re grateful for today?

Right now I’m eternally grateful for tea. And words. Until tomorrow xx

Scotty from (sports) marketing

Guess who’s back? Back again.

Scotty’s back. Tell your friends…

In the third instalment, Scotty from (sports) marketing has released another poem to explain to the ‘loud’ Australians how good sports grants are.

Well hi there my friend,

My cobber, my pal,

I’m back to remind you

It’s all going well

The fires have stopped

Well most of them anyway

And we’ve said that we will

Give the volunteers pay

But only if they worked

Between 8 and 6

And only if they wear

A gold crucifix

And only if they didn’t

Then go on to work

And get paid for that

Woah! I’m not a jerk

I’m generous, I’m kind

I’m unreasonably fair

No one could say

I’m not doing my share

Now back to the weather

How good is that rain?

It’s just what we prayed for

To ease all our pain

And now that it seems

It’s all under control

You wanna rip in

About a soccer goal?

Do me a favour

And give me break

Bridget’s alright

She aint no snake

And nor for that matter

Are me or old Josh

We gave money where needed

That’s not hogwash

Yes it may seem that

We favoured some places

Where the LNP struggled

But by God’s good graces

You’ll see that’s not true

I firmly deny it

This did not help us

Win the election (or buy it)

Sure there’s some suspect

Aspects about things

Like Lilli Pilli v Coledale

They both fought like kings

But Coledale, well

They didn’t have the right stuff

In the end they weren’t quite

Marginal enough

So Lilli Pilli

Got their fair share of the cake

Just ’cause it’s my electorate

Doesn’t mean it’s a mistake

Coledale and the others

They’ll all be fine

A nice little chook raffle

Will raise a few dimes

People are generous

Haven’t you seen

How much was raised

For the after fire clean?

It seems like Australians

Are desperate to part

With their hard earned cash

In the aftermath

So why should the Government

Spend taxpayer money

On fires or sports club

In any way impartially?

Well, quite right, we shouldn’t

You’re much better off

With us in control

Trickling down from the top.

The end. It seems I had a lot of pent-up Scotty from Marketing issues that needed an outlet. I hope you all have a wonderful day that includes plenty of tea and plenty of writing. xx

Picture courtesy of AAP: Mick Tsikas

Poetry Arsenal

When I started teaching I was fortunate enough to meet two literacy consultants, Alan Wright and Vicki Froomes. They guided me, and a host of graduates, through our first, terrifying year of teaching, encouraging us in our use of writer’s notebooks, conferences, and book boxes. Alan shared his writer’s notebook often, and I’d regularly find him in the staffroom at lunch time, busily recording his thoughts in it.

He also introduced me to his poetry suitcase and it made such an impression on me I immediately bought an old case from the op shop, and began my poetry collection for school. I couldn’t remember reading much, if any, poetry at primary school. At home I was obsessed with Spike Milligan’s Silly Verse For Kids. My Dad would read his poems to me and I found them hilarious. But at school? I couldn’t even recall a poetry section in our little school library.

These days I am fully aware of the importance of poetry. As Ralph Fletcher explains in his book Poetry Matters, poetry is always what we turn to in important times. When we want to say something beautiful and succinct, at a wedding or funeral or birthday, we turn to poetry. We need our students to feel the importance of poetry too, and write it! We need them to experiment with rhythm and rhyme, alliteration, imagery. All the clever devices poets use to make their audience feel something.

I’ve observed that students find the technical freedom poetry presents as a key that unlocks their writing passion.

Whenever I’m at an op shop or a bookstore I am always on the hunt for poetry books to inspire our young writers. I have developed quite a collection that I’ll share parts of over the coming months. Today however, I think it’s poignant to show you this beautiful example. As you are aware Australia has been in the grips of a bushfire crisis and many of us have felt a sense of helplessness in the face of it. This magnificent book: I Am The Seed That Grew The Tree, has a beautiful environmental theme by offering a nature poem for every day of the year.

Selected by Fiona Waters. Illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon

Imagine starting each day in the classroom with a nature-inspired poem? Poetry would become a regular fixture for your students, rather than just a topic you look at once and then move on. As I read through this book I found poem that I think would be perfect for the beginning of the school year. Forget the boring old ‘write a recount about what you did on the holidays’, read the kids this poem and see what they make of it. Then see what they write in a similar style.

Russel Hoban

So many interesting conversations to be had here about the way the poem is structured, how not all the lines rhyme and how that adds to the music of it. The details that the poet has included could be a fabulous launching pad about noticing the world around us. You can tell I love this poem!

I am excited to continue adding to my poetry suitcase and if you don’t feel as though you have enough poetry in your school or library (or life!) perhaps think about starting your own poetry suitcase. The students love them! All it takes is a trip to the op shop and an eagle eye.

Right. That’s all from me today. Cup of tea time then off to the land of nod. Until tomorrow xx

Getting out of the comfort zone

Yesterday I spoke about conferencing with students and how important a tool it is to know your students more deeply and understand them as writers. Today I’m continuing on with that thread and writing about how to give useful feedback to students in order to encourage them, as well as identifying areas they would benefit from focusing on.

Have you ever faced this situation? You’re conferencing with a student, you’ve noticed there are parts of the story that are less coherent; the audience would feel confused, and you discuss this with them. They look at you, listen, and repeat the words, ‘yep, yep, yep,’ to everything you say. You try to open the dialogue so it’s an actual conversation, you use all the open ended questions, but they still reply, ‘yep, yep, yep’. As though they already knew what you were telling them.

Sound familiar? It’s happened to me as well. For a while I beat myself up, thinking, ‘wow, I really mustn’t have given them enough opportunity to speak. Perhaps I was just ‘telling’ them what to change rather than discussing the passage with them’. But no, on reflection I had tried my utmost to make it a two-way conversation. Maybe then they just can’t take feedback? Perhaps they’re the kind of kid who always has to be right and gets their puss on even discussing the possibility that their writing has room for improvement? Again, no. They’re not like that in class usually, or out in the yard.

And then it dawned on me. Receiving feedback can be really hard. If you’ve put a lot of effort into a piece of writing and then hear there’s an area where the audience might be confused, that can seem quite confronting. Of course, it’s all in the way it’s delivered but it is also a skill that needs practicing. Learning to take feedback in the spirit in which it’s offered, is as important as many other areas of learning.

I wonder how often most teachers receive feedback on their own writing? Sometimes? Never? It can be tricky to navigate and if you don’t have a lot of experience in it yourself you can leave a student feeling wounded, or, equally as harmful, as though their writing is perfect.

I am a big believer in being willing and able to participate in the same learning as your students, and the writer’s notebook is an excellent way to begin. Keeping your own shows an authenticity to the students. If their teacher uses a writer’s notebook to keep ideas in then it must be important to do.

Another, less comfortable avenue to take is to do some writing yourself and ask for some feedback. Ask your students for feedback, ask your colleagues or another trusted adult for feedback. Focus on the conversation that is had about your hard work and how it makes you feel and why? This experience can only serve to help you converse more thoroughly with your students during conferences.

The NYC Midnight competition is fabulous fun for any teachers (or anybody) who would like to have a go at writing a short story and receive feedback on it. It’s prompt-based, which may not suit everyone, but again, all our students have to sit the prompt-based NAPLAN writing test, so why shouldn’t teachers have a go at how that feels? NYC Midnight gives you 8 whole days to write a short story and all entries receive feedback, which is unusual for a writing contest.

The first time I entered I was deadset nervous. Would the judges think it was rubbish? Did it make sense? Who knew? But when I received the comments from the panel I was able to identify where my piece needed additional information and which parts had left them laughing. It was an illuminating experience which helped me understand how some students may feel when they engage in a writing conference.

The NYC Midnight contest starts again today. I’ve entered, and I know some of my colleagues have too. Wish us luck! But the process is always more important than the outcome. Until tomorrow friends, tea and writing xx

To be or not to be…a great teacher

In his highly instructional and engaging book Everything I Know About Writing, John Marsden’s dedication page reads:

In my primary, secondary and tertiary schooling I had some terrible teachers, a lot of mediocre ones, and a few who were wonderful. Among this last group were: Mrs Marjorie Scott, Mr Tom Baddiley, Mr Robert Parker and Mr Nigel Krauth. This book is dedicated to them, with thanks for their encouragement, support and inspiration.

John Marsden

I would hazard a guess that most of us had a similar experience. I can remember the names of all my terrible teachers and how they made me feel, and I look back fondly on those very few teachers who treated me like a person, and saw something in me beyond a loud, but terrified teenager. All the mediocre teachers have seeped from my memory leaving barely an imprint.

As I wrote in the ‘About Me’ section of this blog – I remember two of my high school English teachers as being in the ‘wonderful’ group; Mrs Panayotis and Mrs Nikolades. I often think about what it was that elevated them into a truly special group of educators who helped me become me. I believe it was because they took the time to see beyond the facade that I, and no doubt countless other teenagers present at high school. They actually read my writing and saw some positives in it, even if there was technically more to work on than celebrate. Oh how I wish more teachers did this.

Now, as a teacher in the classroom, I realise how challenging it is to juggle the needs of 28 students and give them each enough of my time to make a difference.

Writing conferences are not a new idea but I know there are plenty of schools out there who haven’t yet adopted this critical practice. To create the time and space for a one on one discussion with a student about their writing and about them as writers, is just about the richest data you can obtain.

By creating a routine, where teacher and student can work together, with the aim of improving the writer, rather than a particular piece, everyone benefits. Teachers learn more about the writing habits of their students, their passions and challenges, and students have a golden opportunity to talk about themselves, without having to cut through the noise of 27 other kids. Together they can establish goals for the student to think about and work on, and at their next conference, reflect on how they’ve progressed.

Without writing conferences, I wouldn’t have begun to understand the needs of each individual student across the years. I may’ve missed the incredible poetry of A, because she was terrified of making spelling mistakes. I may’ve been blind to the dedicated revisions made by M, who was able to write coherent parallel storylines in year 4, or I may never have told L how her experimenting with structure lifted her piece from good to incredible. I was able to do these things though, and share in the triumphs of these young writers, because I made time.

I was fortunate enough to work in a school who valued the opportunity to conference. I can see how difficult it would be to implement in a school that did not. It does take time and organisation, but it is without question the richest source of information you can gather on your writers.

In another post I’ll examine the importance of being a teacher-writer in order to better help your students. I think it stands to reason though, that it would be challenging to have a meaningful conference about the effort and struggles of a student writer, if the teacher is unfamiliar with those struggles themselves.

Quite often teachers question whether or not they are, in fact, having a positive impact on their students, or if they might instead be one of those mediocre teachers John Marsden refers to. (The fact that you’re bothering to read a blog about writing automatically elevates you from the ‘terrible’ category 🙂

A few days ago I received a message from a parent that made me teary.

H loves writing, she loves it even more than reading now…She has you to thank for this, H was never a writer until she met you.

Parent

I’m nothing out of the ordinary as a teacher. I’m no John Keating from Dead Poets Society. But I do try to remember how those two great teachers made me feel about writing, and offer the same courtesy to my students. By conferencing with them regularly, listening to them, and reading their work, I am making time for them.

I hope you all have a few teachers that bring back fond memories for you? Why not write about them and what made them so special? Or the reverse and write about how those evil, swamp-dwelling teachers made your life a misery. Either way, write something, drink some tea, and enjoy. xx

Writing at Super Zu and other oxymorons.

Recently I posted about some of the restrictions we place on our writing, such as needing the perfect, conducive atmosphere; maybe a studio space and hours of uninterrupted time. These restrictions only succeed in one thing and that is curtailing our writing.

In an effort to demonstrate that it is possible to ‘write in the cracks’ as my friend and legit fabulous author Catherine Deveny says, I am writing this post from the seventh circle of hell – Super Zu.

For those of you who have blessedly avoided indoor children’s playgrounds let me give you a bit of an illustration. Upon entering Super Zu all of your senses are instantly assaulted in every way. Your eyes are blinded by the overwhelming scale of primary colours – how can there be so much blue, yellow and red in one space?

Your ears are swiftly overcome by the screeching of a thousand children, not in fun it would seem. Surely some blood-curdling terror must be befalling them to elicit such pained cries.

As you wind your way through the shrieking, oblivious children your olfactory senses are the next cop it. What even is that smell? A fart? Actual poo? It’s also a bit sweet, like maple syrup. You look around trying to identify the source so you can set up base camp as far from it as possible. But it’s no use. All the children are either pulling out wedgies or pulling out boogers and eating them. Any one of them could be the culprit.

You find a table as far from the masses as possible. Naturally it has been relieved of all its chairs since it seems to be a rule that you can only enter Super Zu with a minimum of 15 children. So you beg pardon and interrupt all the parents group chats to see if there’s possibly a spare chair. ‘Oh gosh sorry, we need all 35 of these’. Ok.

Eventually you find a seat that’s been squirrelled away up the back, along with a broken high chair and some random plastic balls from the ball pit. You take it, knowing it’s either going to collapse under your weight or it’s been pissed on.

Finally you sit down on your pissy chair at your miserable little table for one. Your solitary kid is long gone, elbowing their way through the crowd to get to the big slide. You take out your laptop and place it in front of you, rest your wrists on the edge of the table and…wait. What’s that? Why are your wrists sticky? You look down and realise the remnants of a milkshake are gently oozing their way out from under your laptop and onto your arms. Perfect. Do you have a wet wipe? Do you bollocks. You mop up the mess with the wafer thin serviettes from the cafe and curse your decision to come to this den of squalor in the first place.

The only sense that has yet to be abused is that of taste and you’re likely to escape unharmed there since no morsel of foulness from the ‘cafe’ will cross your lips.

Oh well, as Meatloaf sang, One out of Five Ain’t Bad. I’m going to finish off with a little poem about everyone’s favourite indoor play centre:

Super Zu, Super Zu

What have I ever done to you?

Why is it so freakin loud?

Why is there such an unruly crowd?

Why does everything smell so bad?

Why do kids scream like they’re sad?

Is there any food to buy

That hasn’t been in your deep fry?

Tell me is there any chance

That that kid hasn’t wet his pants?

At the top of the giant slide

That’ll make a slippery ride

And would it be ok to buy

A seat for every bum inside?

Oh Super Zu, Super Zu

Honestly, it’s me, not you

On the whole you’re really great

To take the kids for a play date

But overall I think you’ll find

It’s very hard to write inside

Although it seems that’s not quite true

‘Cause here’s a poem from me to you

Ah Super Zu. What a special place. And in fact, it is possible to write while you’re here! I hope you all have a wonderful day, wherever you are and however you can fit in your writing. I definitely need a cup of tea now. Until tomorrow xx

Women of words

I was perusing an op shop the other day, as I frequently do, when I discovered a gem of a book hidden in the overcrowded shelves. ‘Women of Words’ revealed itself to me and I snatched it up to determine the premise. ‘A personal introduction to more than forty important writers’ the front cover read. Edited by Janet Bukovinsky Teacher.

I am deeply interested in reading female authors, watching female written and led movies and TV shows, so there was no doubt this book was right up my street. I paid the princely sum of two dollars and made my way home, rather impressed with my find.

Reading the work of other writers has always been a great source of inspiration for me and having my writer’s notebook nearby as I read has been critical for my recording of words, sentences and ideas that appeal to me as I go. I knew this book was going to yield an abundance of literary treasures, so I sat down, pen and notebook at the ready and began to read.

The first author to be examined was Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) who was, quite scandalously at the time, a huge advocate for women’s rights. In 1792 Wollstonecraft published A Vindication of the Rights of Women, which is considered one of the first feminist works in modern English literature. She had revolutionary views on abortion and divorce, and was, by all accounts, a woman of formidable intelligence. She died soon after giving birth to her second daughter – Mary Shelley, who went on to write the incredible novel, Frankenstein. What a family!

Women of words goes on to share an excerpt from one of Wollstonecraft’s works; a letter included in her book titled A Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark. The letter and her journey show her to be an adventurous, forthright woman who lived her life the way she wanted to. One particular passage stopped me in my tracks as it seemed to be still so relevant today. However I hasten to add that in today’s world, both women AND men, fall victim to this:

My clothes, in their turn, attracted the attention of the females; and I could not help thinking of the foolish vanity which makes many women so proud of the observation of strangers as to take wonder very gratuitously for admiration. This error they are very apt to fall into; when arrived in a foreign country, the populace stare at them as they pass; yet the make of the cap, or the singularity of a gown, is often the cause of the flattering attention, which afterwards supports a fantastic superstructure of self-conceit.

Mary Wollstonecraft

Oh what a line – ‘which afterwards supports a fantastic superstructure of self-conceit’. It makes me think immediately of people at the gym, who stare longingly at their own selves in the mirror palace for extended periods of time, while others, who may glance at them from time to time, do so out of sheer wonder, rather than envy or attraction.

Here again you can see the power of the writer’s notebook – scratching down incredible lines like that one and allowing it to lead you in your own direction, is a gift that writer’s really can’t live without.

I am going to keep reading Women and Words, learning about remarkable writers and expanding my writer’s notebook as I go. The next author is Jane Austen and, I’m not shy to say, I am a superfan. I love her writing, her descriptions of the social intricacies of the time, the humour in her words. I shall keep you posted on the women I encounter throughout the book and will share some of my particular favourites as I go.

As for you, are you reading anything at the moment? Do you keep your writer’s notebook handy to save those all too fleeting thoughts? Feel free to share any wonderful words, phrases or ideas that bloom as you read the work of another writer. Until next time, enjoy some tea and some writing xx

Smoke gets in your eyes

Today I got up and checked the EPA air quality rating, which is normal now. Can we go outside or is the air too hazardous? Nope. Too hazardous today. Change all the plans you had that involved outdoor time. Change your mindset. Because it’s not about ‘what do you want to do today?’ it’s about ‘what is it safe to do today?’

I live a reasonable distance from the fires that are razing our country, so I can only imagine the horror of living near to, or within the path of, one of these insatiable monsters. I used to live in a country town that was surrounded by forest. It was stunning, but it terrified me in summer. When the thermostat reached 40 degrees I would pack up the kids and drive to my Dad’s house in the suburbs of Melbourne, just in case. Perhaps that sounds alarmist, but I’ve always been pretty cautious where my kids are involved.

Driving to a lunch date today, the sky wasn’t visible, as it hasn’t been for much of January. Just a grey haze, that resembles a sea mist, but instead of the refreshing, salty, sea air, we’re trying hard not to breathe in the putrid smoke.

And it’s just so sad.

So much about this summer has been sad. The fires, obviously, the loss of life, both human and wildlife, the choking air, the fact that there’s still a discussion about whether climate change is real. It all just seems so sad. And yet, we cannot allow ourselves to succumb to what feels like an unbearable sadness. We have to continue donating, creating, sharing and helping in any way we can, not only to aid the fire-affected communities, but also to give ourselves purpose in the face of such desolation.

As I drove home from my lunch date I started to think about what I’d be willing to give up to meaningfully change my life for the sake of our planet. I started a poem:

Would you park your car for good?

In the garage of forever

And ride your bike instead?

Would you cease the unceasing consumption?

Of things and clothes and stuff

And make do with what you’ve got?

Would you put the convenience of the shops

In the back pocket of your memory

And grow your own fruit and veg in the yard?

Would you allow the taste of eye fillet

To gently ebb away

As you embrace a vegan life?

Would you forgo the European vacation?

Because the carbon footprint is bearing down

And take the kids on the train to the high country?

Would you do these things in the face of

Those who cry

‘It won’t make any difference’?

Would you secretly wonder to yourself

Will it make any difference?

When your neighbour still waters their driveway.

Would you do all or some or none of these?

When push really came to shove

And the country was on fire?

I’ve given my own self something to think about today. How do I want to live my life? How do I contribute to the catastrophe that has been unfolding in recent years. In order to contemplate these questions I most definitely need a cup of tea. I’d be very interested to hear how the fires have been affecting your thoughts and life? Until tomorrow xx

Photo Credit: Yarra City Council