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

One star, less if I could…

Humans are a funny bunch aren’t they? Sometimes they blow you away with their compassion, generosity, intelligence and kindness. Other times, you feel like you couldn’t be more disappointed in them. The bushfires in Australia have yielded examples at both ends of the spectrum. On the one hand, the firefighters and volunteers have sacrificed everything to protect us, Australians have banded together to donate, create, collect and deliver as much money and goods as they possibly can, artists have auctioned works and some journalists have covered the whole tragedy tirelessly and with fidelity.

And then on the other hand…well the other hand is just empty. Empty of leadership, of compassion, of truth. The other hand is worthless and useless but thrusts itself loudly into the path of others, insisting on handshakes. It also sprinkles a fair helping of misinformation and blame around. The other hand is a constant source of disappointment and shame.

The bushfires have certainly highlighted the entire spectrum of humanity in Australia from the uplifting, inspirational humans, to the self-serving, fear-mongering trolls. The good news is there’s many, many more of us who care and feel deeply about showing kindness and compassion, and those who don’t seem to be a sad but powerful group of ageing men.

But this post was not meant to be a scathing critique on the woeful leadership this country is currently enduring, though I’m sure you’ll forgive that it cannot be helped when one turns one’s mind to the situation. This post was intended to be a light-hearted look at one of the other ways humankind shows just what a bunch of jerks they can be, and that is through online reviews.

When I started working in retail at the ripe old age of 14 years and 9 months I was told that if a customer is satisfied they’ll tell one person about their experience but if they’re unhappy they’ll tell nine. NINE PEOPLE! Woah. That was a lot! So for the most part I was the cheeriest checkout person at Woolies, before I upgraded to the cheeriest ice-cream scooper at Cone and Cup in Myer Melbourne. (I did have one run in with one customer who was vile and actually said to me ‘Don’t you know the customer is always right?’ to which I replied ‘Well if you’re such a soft-serve expert why don’t you strap on an apron and come do it yourself.’ Unjustly I got in trouble for that).

Nowadays though we have online reviews and your audience is unlimited. My partner and I often find the comments people bother to write incredulous, particularly the one star ratings. Now for me, to leave a one star rating anywhere, I’d have to be verbally abused, or a severed finger turn up on my plate, or some other such horror. But not so for many of the ‘HUGELY DISAPPOINTED’ reviewers out there. I particularly enjoy the reviews that read something like this, ‘everything was amazing, but…’

‘Cafe was cosy, nice ambience, the food was excellent and the staff attentive, but when I asked the waiter to tell a breastfeeding mother to cover up they refused! Can you believe it? I had to eat while someone was flashing their breasts around the cafe like a stripper. It was as though I was being breastfed. One star, less if I could.

I understand that sometimes people have legitimately bad experiences, for instance if the cafe in my fictitious example had’ve asked the breastfeeding mother to cover up then, yeah, one star. But if you read any of the one star ratings they’re generally a great big pile of self-righteous nonsense, often with some racism sprinkled in for good measure.

Recently on a holiday in Malaysia my partner and I decided to create a list of reasons whinging punters might write ‘One star, less if I could’ reviews about the hotel we were staying at. Here we go:

No hot chips available by the adults only pool – one star, less if I could

The water recirculating through the pool pumps was too noisy! Spoiled the ambience – one star, less if I could

Too much lime syrup in the Gin Fizz cocktail. Made my mouth tingle in a bad way – one star, less if I could

The sand on the beach was too course, needed to be much finer – one star, less if I could

The haze was too hazy, couldn’t see the view properly – one star, less if I could

No ambient music by the pool, could hear the children laughing incessantly – one star, less if I could.

I love lists like these. They’re fun and you can add to them at any time. I can absolutely imagine myself creating a character who is perpetually disappointed in experiences and leaves ‘one star, less if I could’ reviews ad nauseam.

Grab your writer’s notebook and have a go yourself if you fancy. Perhaps make a cup of tea and give yourself a ‘one star, less if I could’ review for poor steeping, premature bag removal. Until tomorrow xx

A Barber Cuts My Hair

I had a lot of time to think today. I was bag-holder-in-chief at Luna Park. I’d like to say that I smashed all the rides with the kids but, since riding in the passenger seat of a car now gives me nausea, hurtling myself in every direction in a small, metal bucket may actually be the end of me. So there I was, perched on a seat near the Scenic Railway, or on a seat near the Enterprise, or on a seat near the vomit inducing Power Surge, just thinking all the thoughts one thinks while watching the microcosm of life at Luna Park go by.

And there is quite a lot to see. If you’re anything like me you can happily people-watch for an obscene amount of time, falling ever further down the rabbit hole of ‘what’s their life like?’ and creating infinite backs stories for these strangers.

What caught my attention today though was a young boy, perhaps a teenager, and his hair was remarkably similar to mine. Super curly on top and shorter around the sides. It got me thinking about the journey I’ve been on with my hair and the way hair seems to be so caught up with a woman’s worth.

A few years ago I shaved my head to raise money for the Leukemia Foundation’s Greatest Shave. I’d done it once before but this time was different because I was using my platform at the school I worked at to raise more money. It felt different in another way too. This time it wasn’t just about raising money for cancer research. This time I felt compelled to do it to show people that absolutely nothing important about me is visible from the outside. My hair, face, weight (my teeth!). That is all superficial and inconsequential.

Everything important about me is visible through my words and my actions. My hair does not make me a ‘better’ person, or more worthy of attention, praise or love, but society tells us that it does.

K Portier

In the lead up to shaving my hair countless people told me how ‘brave’ I was. I understood what they were getting at but I didn’t think it was brave. Why should it be ‘brave’ for a woman to cut her hair or shave her head? The fact that so many people saw it as a brave act only served to highlight my point – that a woman’s hair is irredeemably entwined with her worth and without it we’re somehow less than we were.

The day arrived, my head was shaved, and the students cheered. I raised somewhere over $5000, and loved the feel of the wind on my scalp. For about 2 years I kept my hair at number one or two length. I got used to the ease of it and I liked it, much to the surprise of many who couldn’t help saying things like: ‘Oh you’re keeping it shaved? You like it then?’ Um, yes. I do. But thanks for letting me know you don’t.

When I decided to grow it out, or at least try to (the possibility of me hating the awkward middle stage meant I was likely to strip it all off again) I decided to visit a barber. I wanted to keep the curls that had grown back on top, but get a fade on the sides. I found a place, local to me, that was reasonably priced. As I expected, all the barbers were men and I found the experience intimidating. I have begun a poem in an effort to capture my discombobulated feelings. It’s not finished or polished, but I needed to write it. It’s called ‘A Barber Cuts My Hair’

Entering the barber shop

No one looks up

Shavers dance across mens heads

And I sit down

A man waiting next to me

Sniffs and snorts loudly

Scissors trim wiry beards

And I sit quietly

A poster watches over me

She winks from behind her cascading curls

Dark, discarded hair makes patterns on the floor

And I sit timidly

There’s no one left but me now

A barber calls me over

‘Does your husband like shaved heads?’

And I sit straighter

‘I don’t have a husband,

But my boyfriend thinks it’s lovely

Not that I asked him’

And I sit thoughtfully

‘I guess you wouldn’t like it then?

If your girlfriend shaved her head?’

‘Oh no I prefer it longer’

And I sit bravely

Clippers shave my wooly curls

I feel it coldly skim my scalp

His fingers gently move my head

And I sit calmly

People’s eyes are on me now

A woman in the chair

I wonder if he resents me?

The barber that cuts my hair.

I haven’t decided whether I’ll keep growing my hair or go back to the delightful, wash ‘n’ go ease of the shaved head. I guess at some point, no doubt on a scorching hot day when my hair is irritating my neck, I’ll fly straight back to my barber and have him shear it all off again.

Until then, it’s time for a cup of tea and a rest for this weary Luna Parker xx