Flashback Friday – On The Same Frequency

I had such a good time recently on air on The Arts Program on 99.9 Voice FM as a guest presenter, that I’ll be doing it semi-regularly. Sitting in the studio is always a beautifully nostalgic place for me, because it takes me back to my formative years and reminds me of how connected I am to my parents.

I first did community radio in my early teens. I spent three hours every Sunday opposite my dad Bill Elder in the studios at the local community radio station for the better part of two (or maybe three?) years.

Our show was called ‘That Sunday Feeling’, a nod to Jethro Tull’s song ‘My Sunday Feeling’, which also served as our intro theme tune. We made our own promos, which usually featured a stupid and funny sound bite from films like ‘Cable Guy’ or shows like ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ or ‘Rocko’s Modern Life’. We talked and laughed about anything and everything, and played music from Steely Dan to Sade, Billy Joel to The Beetles. I introduced my dad to Alanis Morissette, Evanescence and Jamiroquai. We often played long Prog Rock songs so we could have an extended afternoon tea break, and once we played Jeff Wayne’s ‘War of The Worlds’ in its entirety.

It was in these years that I also wrote a musical with my Dad. It was about cryptic crosswords, which we completely religiously at the dinner table every night. My Dad taught me to play Tenor Horn at the age of 8 and we continued to work together at the local Concert Band. He was the Band Master, and I became the Librarian for a stint, spending weekends sorting dodgy copies of sheet music in a dingy back room of the Band Hall.

I would lie to my friends and say my parents were strict and wouldn’t let me go out to that party or let my out-of-towner friends sleep over. I usually just put the phone down on my lap for a minute while I “went to ask”. I told my parents later what they’d supposedly refused just in case. I would then happily spend my Saturday nights watching The Bill, Poirot or a David Attenborough documentary. Or finished the cryptic crossword or playing Solo, or Canasta, or Scrabble.

I’d still rather hang out with my parents than most other people I know. They’re my kind of people. It’s their love of music, words and humour and their dedication to community  and family that has shaped my own values and also my career path. I’m so grateful to have their support as my parents, and as my children’s grandparents, but I also count them as my best friends.

Where my heart is
There are four people in whose company
I would rather spend my time
Than anywhere else on earth
As a girl I would lie to my friends and say
My mother wouldn’t let me play
Because I would rather be at home
Where my heart is
As a woman I am thankful to say
I cannot come along for my children are sleeping
Because I would rather be at home
Where my heart is
Why search for it in some man, some girls night out, some party noise
When it’s right here
It was never missing
We are bound forever by more than blood
By a sing-a-long and seven across, native grass and muddy boots
Sticky dough, british tv shows and laughter
I am the sum of their parts and more
I am me and what have I been put on this earth for
If not to love them
My mother told me that I cannot ask too much of her
And I give my children to her
Because she too is their mother
And my father is the only father here
One day when we three are old
My children will return the favour
And so we link arms to face the day together
Why waste another day alone when I could live in this village
Where all my efforts count for everything
Where I am free to love and be loved
I will be healed at the centre of the universe
Where my heart is
January 2018

As Pretty As Flowers And As Funny As A Clown – Thoughts on Mother’s Day.

In the past I’ve been very against Mother’s Day. The marketing machine dictating that mothers like all things fluffy, pink and scented annoys me. It’s a cop-out to give the woman who you should really know very well a off-the-shelf on a certain day of the year for doing a job and maintaining a relationship that she is obligated to.

I would argue that very small children do not appreciate you, but rather simply rely on you. Or at the very least they cannot articulate their need of you into the concept of appreciation. So until this year, it seemed a bit off for some adult to manufacture Mother’s Day on my children’s behalf.

This year, my son is in Prep and my daughter is in daycare, and so there is a lot of talk about mothers, what they do, and why we love them. The school facilitates a mother’s day lunch and a stall from which the kids can buy gifts, and daycare encouraged the kids to make cards and gifts.

So as fake and tacky as the day can be, it’s nice to see my son articulating things he appreciates about my – both as a Mum and as a person. He wrote: “My Mum is sweet, loving and gorgeous. My Mum can cook, drive and do washing. My Mum is as pretty as flowers and as funny as a clown. I love my Mum.” It’s clear my son is increasingly aware of the enormity of my job as mother since separating from their father. I’m everything and I do everything. It’s tiring but necessary. It’s just rewarding enough to not give up.

Dissonance
My music blaring to fill the empty house
The sound bouncing off the walls
Resonance
In my empty chest cavity
My heart left home with my children
Their absence sorely overdue
I need time to refill my near-empty cup
Time for silence to not be so suspicious
And yet it is
I’m jumping at shadows
The kids absence a festering wound
This dissonance
Because I miss them
Because I can’t seem to love them this much
When they are at home
Bouncing off the walls
My little shadows
This cup has a slow leak
And is spilled across the table at every meal
I cannot imagine how it is ever filled enough
And yet it is
12 May 2019

 

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Flashback Friday – Poem – “Mistress of The House”

This poem about my Nanna, who passed away in October 2016, was written shortly afterwards. It was then part of the Minerva Speaks project in March 2017.

A performer read the poem as Minerva from the highest balcony of the Ballaarat Mechanics Institute while audience stood in the Titanic Bandstand and listened to the live broadcast of local literary works.

 

 

The Mistress of The House
A poem for my Nanna.

A yellow brick house called Remuera
Full of wonders
Silver bells and tiny shells
For playing bridge
We use as money for a shop
Stop and hide the thimble now
Go and look with nimble fingers
Turning over precious things
And sneaking through the Den
Getting warmer
Warmer still
Our hearts fill up with love
For our Nanna
Calm and safe and a little bit stern
But a twinkle in her eye
Tiddly-winkle
And so many wrinkles
I take her hand
And pinch her skin to see how quickly
It falls back into place
She commands her space
From a brown chair
She is always there it seems
At Clairmont Ave
Baking rock cakes
And making cumquat jam
Squatting in the garden
And popping up to Bentleigh shops
Gently guiding us and showing us
The best way to be kind
The be funny, to be bold
To be thankful and to be old and wise
In this guise it’s harder to see
That in her youth she was a beauty
But more than that
She was courageous
Her stories tell of places far away and foreign
Of black boys and lost boys
And little graves on islands out to sea
Of colourful hats made beacons
And of four sisters dark and bright
We cast our minds back to a beach
Where Nanna dives into the surf
And smiles ruddy-checked and sticky with salt
We can taste that curried egg
And soup and bread
And at the back of our throats now
A lump is forming
All the ferns and camellia are still
Adorning her front door
But the mistress of the house is there no more.

Starting School

Yesterday, my eldest child started school.

I’ve been counting down for five years until this moment. I thought I would skip off merrily after dropping him on the first day, and with a big sigh of relief have myself a mid-morning cocktail and a rest. I was sure I wouldn’t cry.

 

But there I was on Sunday, alone in my house while the kids are with their dad, balling my eyes out.

And there I was on Monday, in the school kitchen, listening to some other Prep parents chat about how drop off hasn’t affected them, watching my daughter and ex-husband eat slice and weeping into my tea.

I was crying not because I’ll miss him being around during the day, although I will. Not because I’m proud of him, although I am. Not because he wasn’t ready or seemed too little, because he was raring to go.

I’m upset because it means the hardest five years of my life are over. There is a sense of achievement, and yet this celebration is bittersweet because I still feel like a failure.

Firstly, my identity as a mother of two preschool aged children shifts again and I am one step closer to the reality of what I will do with my time when both of my children are at school. In the next two years, I will need to ensure that my chosen line of work reaps enough financial rewards to fund my life – and meet my children’s needs – and I’m terrified because it probably won’t.

Being a mother of two children at home is really tough, but it’s still a luxury because my life is funded (to the bare minimum, don’t get me wrong) by the government. Thanks to that, I’ve been able to be more artistically prolific than ever in the past five years. Looming on the horizon is the day I am no longer eligible for Parenting Payment and my efforts in making a living from making theatre and writing will be tested.

Secondly is the fact that the family I thought I was bringing this child into no longer exists. While we were able to wave goodbye and wish him luck at the classroom door together, the nuclear family portrait only has a passing resemblance to our dreams and plans of five years ago. After we drop off our son, I will take my daughter home and their father will go his separate way until the next co-parenting event.

This moment of shared parental joy will forever be underscored by our failure as a couple. I think I did more to nurture and prepare him for school, and I resent that burden of the uneven load enforced by our separation. I’m sure his father feels like he has missed out on moments of his childhood and resents that too.

So in my moment of pride, I am distracted by worry – not that our son will be bullied or find the work difficult or have separation anxiety – but that our failure will mark him somehow.

Buddhism says that if you are sad, you are living in the past, and if you are anxious you are living in the future. I find really hard not to follow these thought paths – one into the past and one into the future – at pivotal moments like this. It’s hard to just concentrate on how proud my son is of his new uniform or excited he is at the new books and pencils waiting for him at his desk when my head is a whirl of future worries and past regrets.

So I am starting school too. I’m committing one evening per week to attend drop-in meditation classes. They start tonight at the Ballarat Mechanics Institute. Unfortunately I will have to wait until next week as I have another event on tonight! But as of next week, I will invest more in my own mental well-being, and hope to break this habit of following negative thought patterns. I’ve found reading about Buddhism to be helpful so far, and now I’m keen to learn about actually practicing it. I hope that my learning means that I can fully appreciate the moments in my life for what they are – full of joy, pride and love.

Christmas Is Now

I hope everyone had a good day yesterday although I’m aware that this is absolutely not “the most wonderful time of the year” for a lot of people. And despite my attempted avoidance of all things Christmas (see my previous blog post), I did end up opening presents under a tree with my children at seven am and Santa is definitely gaining a foothold in reality. I had lunch with extended family at my grandmother’s house. The food was delicious, we spent the afternoon at the beach and the kids were enchanted by new toys and books given by generous members of my family.

I’ve been reading about Buddhism lately and thinking about the principles of Impermanence and Emptiness. Impermanence is about how everything – and everyone – changes all the time. Emptiness teaches us to actively challenge your biased thinking when approaching situations and people, because they will have changed since last time – and so will have you.

So with all of this in mind, I was less comfortable than ever at this annual family event. It seems odd to lunch with strangers once a year, pretending we all know each other based on an increasingly distant shared past. On that train of thought, a poem sprang to life.

Christmas Is Now
If I lunched with strangers
They’d ask me how I was
What I do for a buck
What fires me up
Where I got that dress and
Who does my hair
But these familiar strangers
Think they already know
So comfortable is their cushioned bias
They sit deep in the memory of me
Like the soft middle of the matriarch’s well-worn chair
I’m so strangely familiar
A ghost of Christmas past
My ageless form keeps getting invited back to lunch
My reality becomes the uninvited guest
Who refused to bring their platter of
Sweet-toothed custard-covered past
Nothing is the same since I was first brought here
Swaddled
I’ve had my heart broken
I’ve fallen down, and got myself back up again
I’ve grown two people inside my belly
I’ve lived a life they haven’t seen
But Christmas is now
Lift those paper crowns that obscure your view
Embrace the false gunshot pain
As paper crackers never stop delivering change
I’m sitting at the head of the table
Chewing too loudly
Asking to be treated like a stranger
Refusing to be the little girl who used to be me

25 December 2018

I Wish I Was Boycotting Xmas.

I wish I was boycotting Christmas, but I can’t.

I’ve threatened to “go bush” over Xmas for a few years now (both metaphorically and literally). This year, I naively thought I might really do it. No tree, no presents, no family, no food, no cakes, no carols. I was all for being the biggest Scrooge-Grinch and flying my anti-Xmas flag in the face of popular convention but it’s too hard.

I’ve been told that I’m obligated to “do Christmas” for my kids. My skin prickles about that. My son is 5 and my daughter 3, and boy, do they love a celebration. But to be honest, they’re just as excited at the prospect of hosting a BBQ with friends, getting a new lunch box, going to the Lake or riding on a train. The wonder and joy elicited by all the Christmas traditions can easily be sought by other means. A bush walk where we stop to wonder at tiny insects camouflaged on the tree. A trip to the swimming pool in NEW OCTONAUTS BATHERS. Making, and better, still eating jelly. But I guess we do those things all the time and Christmas is a once a year special event.

While I maintain that Christmas is only as exciting as we make it, when they’ve created a new play area at kinder resembling Santa’s workshop and they are learning carols, how can I win? It’s all-pervasive. I can’t avoid shopping because we have to eat. There are decorations in the street and ads on the radio. Every child’s television show has a Christmas special, and they are already starting to air. My friends have Christmas trees in their houses. People in the street ask what my kids want from Santa.

I hate that entitlement Christmas breeds in children. I just buy things that we need when we need them, and give my children (or anyone else for that matter) presents whenever I feel like it. There’s something weird to me about pretending presents we buy for our children come from a magical stranger. I don’t like buying into the capitalist messaging rife at this time of year. I don’t want to feel obligated to buy someone something. I’m definitely not a Christian, nor do I make a habit of celebrating a festival for religions that I do not follow. So I just don’t get it.

I’ve always maintained that tradition is a bad reason to keep doing something. A lot of what “doing Christmas” entails flies in the face of logic. Maybe I’m a cold emotionless cynic but I don’t understand wanting to cook and eat a roast dinner in the height of the Australian summer. Or putting up an incessantly annoying carol-playing light show that skyrockets your power-bill and you can only enjoy at 10pm at night thanks to Daylight Savings. Or using your hard earned money to buy every person you are blood related to a gift even though you hate them and/or barely know them. Or travelling cross-country with infant children so you can visit two different sides of your family in a single day.

We all know that Christmas is one of the most stressful times of the year, every year. Considering in the last 12 months I’ve moved house, broken up with a partner (on top of already being separated from the father of my children), have unresolved health concerns including an anxiety diagnosis, and I’m a single mother trying to make a living from being a writer, I really don’t need the seasonal stress.

But not doing Christmas is like banging my head against a big tinseled brick wall. And I don’t need that stress either.

So I struck a deal with my kids today. We agreed to disagree about Santa’s existence. I maintained that people can believe different things and enjoy stories that aren’t really true. My son maintained that his kinder teacher knew Santa and my daughter was reliably informed that he would be coming to her daycare. We agreed that Santa couldn’t physically bring presents to our house (no chimney, Mum), and we didn’t really know him. But we did know and love each other so we would get each other some presents instead. I asked if they wanted a surprise or to choose their own. They wanted to choose so we went off to Kmart. We already have a home-made play tree which I agreed they could make decorations for. Nan offered to get her box of supplies down from the cupboard too.

We might still go bush. Take that walk, look at some insects. We’ll probably eat jelly (while I try not to gag on my aversion to it) and we might find a quiet watering hole to take a swim in. But we’ll end up creating our own weird little Christmas traditions based on a compromise between Mum The Cynic and the logic-free wonderment of little children. And I guess if it keeps me calm and my kids happy, then who the hell cares?

Merry Christmas, or whatever this is.