Acknowledging the Seasons

One thing I loved about my recent time in the US and Canada was the weather. Yeah I know, any Americans or Canadians reading this right now may well be looking out their windows at piles of snow and snickering to themselves and saying “Ha. She was here in SUMMER!”, and it’s true. But it’s also true that the snow will go, the flowers will grow, and from somewhere in the depths of North American basements swimming costumes and sunscreen will be found, and beach umbrellas and big floppy hats, brightly coloured beach towels and perky looking inflatable polkadot ducks. It happens. Every year.

Let me explain something to you, those who still don’t understand me: we don’t do that here. No, not only do Tasmanians not have basements (OMG I cannot BELIEVE American basements! I mean…all that storage, just there, and a furnace! Some people even have attics as well. Seriously!! It’s just like the TV!) but we don’t put things away for seasons because we won’t be needing them. Well, maybe we put the flannelette sheets away – but only sometimes. Sometimes we need them in spring, when the weather is chilly. Sometimes Autumn has a cold snap. Heck, one memorable year it snowed on the mountains in Summer!

See what I mean? We don’t put our swimming gear away for winter because we’ll probably need it. I took my boys for swimming lessons every Tuesday of last Winter, and I probably swam myself at least three times. We don’t put our parkas away in Summer because we know we’ll probably need them – even if it is wearing them over a tank top at the beach (how to pick a Tasmanian by their clothing: tank top and shorts with a down jacket over the top. Hmmm. And yes, I’m guilty).

We don’t rake leaves, for the most part, because most of our trees are evergreen. We don’t rejoice in Spring flowers as much as we could, because we have gardens that flower at odd times of the year anyway. We swim in Winter, pick flowers in Autumn, wear warm clothes in Summer, and we think that’s pretty normal down here.

Now do you see what I mean?

The other thing I loved about North America (probably the Northern Hemisphere in general, although I’ve only been to one part), is that there are celebrations for the seasons, and acknowledging them for what they are. Christmas cards in the Northern Hemisphere have pictures of snow, and crackling fires. Easter celebrations are all about new life, chicks and bunnies, and pictures of daffodils and spring flowers. Halloween, even is in pumpkin season, when there’s a million of them growing. Thanksgiving is about (traditionally) giving thanks for the Autumn harvest. There are seasons, and there are celebrations of those seasons. I like it.

I’ve been through a seasonal change too, just recently, but in my true Tasmanian fashion I didn’t think to stop and acknowledge it. My youngest child started full-time school in February. I’ve been a (mostly – I have a part-time job) stay-at-home mum for ten years; ten years of playgroup and toy library and trips to the playground, playdough and crafts and jigsaw puzzles and “what will we do today?”. I didn’t cry when he went off, I scurried home to try and achieve everything I’ve been wanting to get done for the last ten years…in six hours. It didn’t happen. And, because there was a lot to do, and because I still work part-time, much of it still hasn’t happened. Catching up on ten years is a slower process than I realised! Still, yesterday I did something very needed: I sorted out everything from this last season (colouring books and playdough cutters) and I put them away. I sorted textas and paper, craft and old boxes, and I put THEM away. I bought paper trays, got out my sewing machine, cleaned up my desk.

Once I would have felt a pang of guilt that I’d not been organised before this, or condemned myself for not having achieved so much more during that spring-time of my children’s lives. Now I know better. Life comes in seasons, whether we take time to acknowledge them or not. The better we can learn to embrace them the more content we will be.

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Happy Monday people!

Thanks so much to all of you who took the time to read and/or respond to my post about Tasmania last week. It was so interesting hearing people’s stories and opinions, and it made me proud all over again of my home state, and sad that there’s been such a negative stereotype around it. I think the people who felt it the most are the ones like me, who grew up here but had relatives interstate, or who lived there for an extended time. Tasmanians who spent all their time in Tasmania seemed to be more immune.

I’m glad to see this now for what it is. I’m glad to be able to see outside the walls of my own experience for a little while. And I’m glad to be home.

We went bushwalking (okay, leisurely strolling) on the mountain over the weekend, and ate a mouthwateringly good picnic in the most beautiful rainforest a mere ten minute drive out of the city.

Whatever you think about Tasmania, whatever you say about the smallness of Hobart, this is something it’s pretty hard to beat.

How about you? Had a good weekend? Hope so. Happy Monday Australia! And, well, Happy Sunday to everyone else 🙂

Proud to be Tasmanian?

Back in the day, back when I was about twelve years old, there was a show we all used to watch on TV, called “News Free Zone” (okay, it was a while ago. In the interests of full disclosure I have to admit that Mr. Google helped me out yet again with the name of the show, although he doesn’t have much at all to say about the rest of this post. The rest of this is all my thoughts and memories, so you’ll just have to put up with any inaccuracies).

Where was I? Oh yes.

Back in the day, back when I was about twelve years old, there was this sketch comedy show, and none of it is particularly relevant, except that it had this one regular segment called Australia Street, which chronicles the stories of the inhabitants of a share-house, each resident reflecting a state of Australia. Remember that show anybody? With the prissy Victoria Bitter, and Sunny Queensland with his floppy hat? Okay, it was the 80s. It was a long time ago. But it was kind of funny. And even if I didn’t fully get the jibes about the stereotypes of each state at the time, I did get the bit about Tassie. I was from Tassie. Heck, I was IN Tassie, and one thing I knew was that you don’t get many representations of Tasmania on TV or movies, or in stories.

So in this share-house on Australia Street, Tassie Franklin was a large hippy-ish woman living in a shed out in the back yard. She wandered in from time to time, eating an apple (Tasmania is famous for growing apples), and she’d say dim-witted, random things, and everyone would humour her for a few minutes and then tell her to nick off so they could get on with what they were meant to be doing. Something like that.

Good old Tassie. Left off maps and generally forgotten. Lives out in the back shed. In-bred. Two heads. Something about a convict past.

The other day I asked a friend who was born and raised on the mainland how she’d seen Tasmania while she was growing up, back in the 80s and 90s. I can’t remember the words she used, but the slightly patronising smile is one I remember from mainlanders years ago. The “oh, you’re from Tassie! How…sweet.” Like we were all a bit simple, a bit on the slow side. A bit not quite with it, with the notion that they should slow down their speech and thought patterns a little. My friend apologised, she’s a passionate Tassie advocate now, and I told her thank you, I was glad to hear that it wasn’t just my perception, or my own poor interpretation of memory. I remember visiting my cousins on the mainland and hearing that same patronising tone in their voices sometimes, or those of their friends. “Oh, you’re from Tassie. How…sweet!”

I remember the attitude back then, whether implied or spoken, that anyone with a brain gets out of Tassie as soon as they can. That the obvious step for anyone with some intelligence is to leave for the mainland. And many did. My friend questioned too, what does that do to a place when all the thinkers are encouraged to leave.

When we were in Canada we stopped at a bakery in a little town in Southern Alberta, run by an Australian woman, from Wollongong. We chatted a while, and she said “Tasmania eh? You don’t meet many Tasmanians!” We talked about how long she’d been in Canada (some twenty years now), and how she’d had a Tasmanian friend once, and how expensive it was to get to Tassie, which prohibited a lot of Tasmanians from travelling to the mainland, and limited others from travelling as often as they’d like. I remember the miracle that happened in the early 90s when budget airlines first began their Tasmanian operation, and suddenly poor students like me could travel, some for the first time in their lives.

I remember the feeling of “stuckness”, that of “missing the boat” because the man I fell in love with and married had no desire at all to leave Tasmania in spite of his wild intelligence. I remember feeling “dumbed down” by the sheer fact that travel was such a limited option. I remember resenting Tassie’s smallness, its apples, the vast expanses of treacherous water surrounding it, the attitude still of “Oh you’re from Tassie. How…sweet!”

Tasmania from space (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Tasmania from space (source: Wikimedia Commons)

I never chose to live here. I just…did. And after a while you learn to accept that people are coming now, moving TO Tassie and not just from it, intelligent people, thinkers, and not because they think it’s…sweet.

Here’s an amazing thing though. When I was in the US I met people who thought I was interesting, fascinating, exotic even, because I was from Tassie. I met people from cities wider and vaster than my entire state who thought I was the exotic one–not the simple one, not the stuck one, not the one who’s obviously inbred-two-headed-less-than-intelligent–the exotic one.

It made me think about Tassie differently. It made me see the stereotypes for what they are–stereotypes, from people who had little real experience of the a place rich and beautiful and steeped in history. It made me happy that, even if by default, I chose to live here. And, most importantly, it fuelled my desire to write Tasmanian stories.

I’m doing it now. I’m kicking off on a new novel, a Tasmanian novel, which is partly why I’m exploring these thoughts. I’d love to know how common these thoughts are. Are you Tasmanian? From the mainland? From elsewhere, and never heard of Tassie until you started reading my blog? Drop me a line. Help me with my research. Tell me YOUR Tassie story. Please?

This is My Hobart

I’m tired. Really tired.
I went back to work a few days ago (I work a few hours a week as a distributor for a marketing company). It’s funny being in Hobart again after so long in cities wider and grander and a million times bigger and a million times more foreign.
The familiarity of these places threw me. I think it’s because I’m tired. Really tired. But also because I’m different and they, for the most part, are not.

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It’s a funny place to be in, and I’m very aware that window of observation will be open to me for a very short time. Soon enough I’ll walk these streets and not notice them at all, not think about anything except a thousand memories of walking these same streets a thousand times before. But right now, while I’m tired and while that window of observation is open, I thought I’d show you my city, the places I’ll walk a thousand more times without noticing. It’s a good city, really.

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This is the mall. It rained today, all day, which is unusual for Hobart. Two days ago I got sunburnt. That contrast in weather is pretty normal.

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I got a coffee in town, which is pretty normal, and thought about how many old buildings  there are. Hobart is over 200 years old, which is an infant by European standards, but compared to Calgary, a mere babe at 100 years, it’s an ancient city. We have some beautiful architecture that for the most part I take for granted. I didn’t even get to the older, genteel parts of the city.

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And then there’s the modernist 1950s influence. We have a lot of that, too. Those blue windows you can see poking out the back are the library, by the way.

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And this is it. This is looking down from the street I park my car on, down onto the main road, and beyond that is the highway. There are other, prettier views of Hobart. I wasn’t coming to capture it’s beauty today as much as it’s familiarity. This is My Hobart. Two lanes of traffic. Peak hour that lasts five minutes. The mountain that comes and goes with the weather. These are the scenes that I know like the back of my hand.
To tell you the truth it’s good to be home, but at the same time familiarity makes me a little sad too. It makes me, strangely, nostalgic for places that are different.
I’m tired, really tired. And it’s good to be home. But to tell you the truth, today I’m homesick for America.

The Bridge Over Troubled Waters.

It’s nearly Easter. Or, if you’re part of the more traditional church, it IS Easter – Maundy Thursday, although I forget what Maundy means and I forget why it’s significant these days But I don’t want to blog about that, anyway. I should blog about Easter, but I’ll get to that later. Today it still feels like days…decades even…away.

Because Today I am going on an areoplane (Megan claps hands with joy like an excited toddler)! I LOVE travel. I LOVE airports, and I LOVE adventures. This particular aeroplane isn’t taking me particularly far, just to Melbourne. Well, not JUST to Melbourne, it’s taking me to see Alison, my very favourite sister-in-law (yes of course I’m allowed to say that), Simmone, my long-lost primary school buddy, and…wait for it…Paul Simon.

YES, I said PAUL SIMON. As in Simon and Garfunkel. As in Graceland. Bridge over Troubled Waters. THAT Paul Simon.

I’ve never been to a concert in Melbourne before. It seems to be some kind of rite of passage for Tasmanians. The first step is seeing your first concerts locally, getting all dolled up when big name visiting acts come, and then, when you’re slightly older and slightly wealthier, when the big name artists come to the mainland you fly over and see them there.  Not me though. I missed U2. Didn’t bother with Duran Duran. Didn’t think Pink. It’s not necessarily that the desire wasn’t there, but the cost of the airfare on top of concert tickets was prohibitive. Bass Strait, the stretch of water that separates Tasmania from the Australian Mainland, is expensive. Bass Strait is my troubled waters.

Bass Strait

Paddling in Bass Strait

Some people don’t feel that. Some people travel it all the time for work, for pleasure, for any number of reasons and they don’t think twice about it. I used to be a little bit like that – over for work twice a year or so – I always thought about it though. I always, however much I kept it hidden, felt the joy of freedom, of escape from island living, the awe and wonder and sense of incredible privilege that I was one who could go. Even though I had to come back, even though it was only for a few days at most, I was one who could go.

The feeling is always there, buried deep in the back of my skull. The One Who Can Go. The One Who Can’t. Everything about me defined by those troubled waters.

While this is far from my first time off the island, it’s my first time off the island for anything like this. It feels good. It feels fitting that it should happen on an Easter weekend. I first encountered God on an Easter weekend, many many years ago. And it was every Easter weekend, for many many years that I went away, and remembered that thing that God did for me, that whole death of Jesus on the cross, rescuing me from my island living, being my bridge over troubled waters.

And so, today in the frantic busyness of packing precious little in a bag for an aeroplane and the joy and wonder of family and friends and last-minute chocolate buying and making sure I’m there on time, today I will stop, and say Thank You. And remember.

Stay

For anyone who doesn’t know, we’re doing the insane and slightly radical thing of packing up our family of five and chooffing round the US and Canada for eight weeks or so later on in the year. Needless to say, we’re very excited.

Just to recap, I’ve been dreaming of travelling like this for as long as I’ve known it was possible, that people do such things – since I was about five years old. I’m now quite a lot more than five years old. It’s been a long wait. My first ever overseas trip was November, where I discovered that Americans are, in fact, wonderful, and I didn’t get shot. Not even in Sacramento. Not even walking by myself in a forest in Sacramento. Nor did I see any dead bodies in said forest in Sacramento, which is terribly unusual for anyone who watches The Mentalist as much as I do.

I’ve also now (I’m sorry. True confession time) fallen hopelessly and completely in love with anyone with an American accent. Or a Canadian accent – and (oh aren’t I a clever clogs!) I’m learning to tell the difference.

So that’s the backstory. Most of you knew that…except the bit about me being hopelessly in love with anyone who talks to me in an American accent. By the way, TV doesn’t count. Not even if it’s Kevin Bacon. Not after Sleepers…

ANYWAY…

(This is, of course, why I haven’t blogged for a while. My brain is spitting out random sentences without any kind of art or design. AND I’m drinking tea, and it’s not helping.)

But here we go. Here’s the point of all the backstory (and the tea). My husband said to me the other day something along the lines of “we could have done this years ago, before we had children, but we didn’t know that we could“.

It made me ache with sadness.

I ached because for so many years I held that dream in my heart, the yearning to go, the desperate longing to see a world that was not mine and meet a people that were not like me, and everything in me rebelled against staying. I hated being here. I hated staying.

And then one day there was a day, a voice, a notion, a thought, a feeling. A sense. A word from God, and it was this: Bloom Where You’re Planted. Stay. Grow. Relax. Give it up.

I cried.

I said yes, because there’s nothing else to say really, but I gave the condition of only-if-I-can-go-to-the-mainland-at-least-once-a-year. I live on an island. Sometimes it feels like a prison colony still.

And that was that. I went to Melbourne pretty regularly, usually once or twice a year. Usually for work. I didn’t care why, or what I did there. I just wanted to go, and I did. And then I had kids, and the trips off the island got harder and more sporadic, and the need to go lessened, and then eventually I forgot the need at all, the need to see the world that was bigger than me.

I still don’t like to look at the ache.

We talked about it last night, my husband and I, about what he’d said and about what I felt, and we came to the conclusion that although physically it was true – we could have travelled years ago – mentally and psychologically it’s completely untrue. The walls that held us in were invisible but very, very real.

It was, in hindsight, good to learn how to be able to stay, to bloom, to grow, and to be happy.

Staying so long made walking out so much sweeter. The anticipation mixed with the ache and spiced with memories is, in fact, a delicious cocktail. I can’t say yet that I don’t regret not having gone earlier, but I’m sure one day in years to come I will.

But I never, ever thought I’d love Americans this much.

How about you? Have you ever had to give up a dream, only to have it given back to you? Do you understand the ache? Do you ever wonder if, with all the pain it causes, dreaming is still worth it?

Lost, in story

Grade twelve. Seventeen. Mid July winter night and cold, cold, cold. I’d stayed up too late the night before, hadn’t been home in two days and the wind whipping my skirt around my legs bit into my psyche like a rabid dog’s teeth. Truth is I was so glad to see the bus door open I didn’t care about anything else. Kylie Oakley was sitting at the back. She used to live at the top of my street, was in my class in grade five. I hadn’t seen her for a while, years in fact. I gave her a small smile, she looked at me funny, and I thought maybe it’s been so long she didn’t recognize me any more. I didn’t know she had family in New Norfolk still. Friday night. Must be visiting for the weekend.

I pulled out my book and nestled into the warmth of the contoured seats, lost in story and only vaguely aware that the bus was going in a different direction to normal, was parking outside some old building on the other side of the city. Lost in story. I didn’t think.

Lost in story, then in sleep, and later in winter darkness thinking that this road was awfully long tonight, longer than normal, that I couldn’t see snatches of the river through the reeds like I usually could, and the sudden, chilling thought that Kylie Oakley wasn’t visiting back home for the weekend. She was GOING home. To Dover.

I’d never been to Dover. My parents didn’t own a car, didn’t drive, so we never went further than the city and back on the same old bus on the same old route that I knew so well, and never once took a detour to old sandstone buildings on the other side of the city.

When we drove past the sign for Castle Forbes Bay I knew…KNEW…I’d done the wrong thing. Maybe sleeplessness and cold and lostness-in-story will always be the wrong thing, but we soothe ourselves otherwise all too often with soft velour contours and the comfort of warm. With nothing else to do and the knowledge that I was wrong, I got off the bus.

I kept my voice bright and cheerful when I spoke to the driver. “I seem to have gone in the wrong direction. When’s the next bus back into the city?”

He chuckled. “Wrong direction eh love? Ah, next bus back isn’t till Mond’y mornin’”

I smiled politely at him, I could inquire about hotels, but I had no money and was too young for a credit card. All I wanted was food, and I couldn’t even afford that. I clutched my schoolbag and my book. I was lost in story still, but suddenly one of my own doing.

Over near the now-shut shop was a public phone, so I called my Mum and told her I’d be staying down in town for the weekend, and called my boyfriend and asked if I could stay at his house, whatever time I got there. The wind whipped my skirt around my legs again, but I tried to keep my voice steady while the tears froze on my cheeks.

Nothing else to do. I hitched my schoolbag over my back and wrapped my thin cardigan as tightly around myself as I could, and started walking back towards the city. I prayed. I sang songs, worship songs, pop songs, whatever came, as loudly as I wanted to keep the fear at bay, and to tell you the truth I kind of enjoyed the adventure until the first car drove past and ignored my outstretched thumb, as did the second, and the third. Nice cars, all of them, and I hated them for ignoring a forlorn teenager in the rain on a deserted road, and wished all hell on their heads if I never made it home again.

By the time a car finally did stop, some half hour later, I was soaked to the skin and sobbing with gratitude. It was an old white ute, twin cab I think they call it, with three burly men in the front wearing grimy coats, and a slab of beer and a shotgun in the back. I told them my pathetic story and they laughed like drains until they wiped their noses on their sleeves and asked me to pass them a beer each.

They offered me a beer too. I said no. I didn’t drink, and I wanted to keep my wits about me. They didn’t say where they were going, but the car was warm and heading to my precious north again, towards the city. Too tired to think, I prayed in my head, and tried to answer their questions politely. They asked me about my book, and I told them about the story, about the author, about early 20th century literature, losing their interest quickly, but desperate to keep them thinking about me as a person, and not just as a seventeen year old girl trapped in the back of their car. I tried to calculate how fast we were going, how easily the doors opened, what was on the side of the road and how much I’d hurt myself if I jumped out. They were friendly though, and hurled their empty beer cans at speed signs before politely asking me to pass them another one. I stuck with them. There was no other choice.

It wasn’t until they pulled off the main road that the panic set in. Dirt track, down to nowhere, ute parked in the bushes and in the dark. They three men talked quietly among themselves for a minute, and when one opened the door and got out I grabbed my bag in one hand and my door handle in the other. I wasn’t strong enough to fight, my only choice would be to run, but for now I waited. I shifted my leg, leaned forward to see what the dirty white thing on the floor was. The sky cleared momentarily and the moon shone in the window. It was a child’s toy, a once-plush thing in a red dress. A lamb.

I felt the words rather than heard them. A snatch of a song I loved. A bit of the bible I’d read only recently. “Behold, the lamb of God”.

The third man came back to the car with something in his hand. He passed it over as he sat back down again, and the three men took in turns to bubble the creek water and inhale. They passed the bong back to me more than once, happy to share, although I happily declined. I kept my eye on that lamb, the presence of angels strong.

After their bong they turned the ute back around and drove back up that dirt road, then headed north again. We all fell quiet, listened to the football on the tinny transistor, I handed them beers as they asked.

I didn’t realize it until the paddocks started giving way to houses, and the houses gave way to suburbs, and one of them said “I reckon it’s been about twenny years since I’ve been to the city”. They asked me for directions, and I led them into the city and out the other side, down the highway, tears of gratitude again streaming down my face and not anywhere near enough time to thank them enough. They dropped me off at the bottom of my boyfriend’s street, and laughed and waved again as they turned around to drive the hour or so back home.

Behold, the Lamb of God.

We just never know who’s gonna be the ones giving us a hand.

What about you? Have there been unlikely heroes in your life? Good Samaritans? Drunk men doing the work of angels? I’d love to hear your stories.

Hobart and Southern Tasmania