Via Podiensis: The first week is for the body

I read in the book, Paris to the Pyrenees, that it is said the first week of a long walk is for the body, the second, the mind and rest for the spirit. Well I have spent the first week of my walk sacrificing my body to the mountains of Saone-et-Loire, Loire and Rhine regions of France.

What I thought would be rolling hills, turned out to be high grade hiking trails but not nearly so well maintained. I’ve scaled a 1,000m mountain and counted more passes than I care to list. I’ve walked too many kilometres each day (35kms one day) and at the wrong times (leaving in the afternoon and arriving at 7pm or on one occasion 9pm). I’ve not drunk enough water. I’ve stubbornly followed GR waymarkers that clearly weren’t mine to follow. I have been hopelessly lost, wailing to the creatures of the forest in despair.

So what have I learned from all this?

Don’t begin in the middle

I mistakenly thought that I knew what the deal was with this walking thing. I’d finished the 800 km Via Tolosana in 2015, how different could it be? I had some recommended itineraries, and decided to compact the first 3 days of walking into 2 – meaning very long days of walking. Maybe this would have worked in the middle of my trip when I was over jet lag, and my body was accustomed to the road, but not in the first days.

You rarely remember the first parts of a long walk, the aching muscles, the blisters, the results of acclimatising to daily long walks with a backpack. Instead you remember he exhilaration and sense of accomplishment of getting so far and not quitting then the feeling that you could walk on forever.

It is important to start from where you’re at with the terrain that presents itself – for me on the GR765, this should’ve seen me do no more than 15km days for at least the first three days and get up to 20kms gradually.

Always begin at the beginning, as a novice and be gentle with yourself and relax expectations.

Being lost is frustrating, but mostly because at some point you were wrong.

It is deeply humbling to realise that the reason you are lost is because you weren’t paying attention, didn’t see the signs, or didn’t check your map – maybe all three. Even more frustrating is when there are multiple routes indicated by the same signs, and you’re following blindly for many kilometres and assuming they are pointing you in the right direction, but they’re not. If something feels like the wrong way, check! The route straight up for a kilometre out of a town that is not described in your guide book, is probably the wrong one. And girls on horses shouldn’t be trusted! They might not know the way you need to go. Putting your trust in signs is important, but keeping a healthy skepticism is vital. The route between Cluny and Le Puy has multiple GR routes crossing. Pay attention always.

From lost moments come unexpected surprises

After getting hopelessly lost in the forest on one day, I reasoned that I should just keep walking as eventually I’d find a main road from which to get my bearings. The unhelpful voice in my head continued, “What if you’ve walked all this way in the opposite direction to where you need to go and have wasted all this time?” (We were now talking hours of the wrong route). This was a possibility but when I did finally reach a main road, I found to my great surprise, that I’d cut off several small towns and was further along the day’s journey than expected. How amazing. It was confirmation that no effort is wasted.

These lessons all came at a toll on my body. A nasty blister on my left foot; two un-trimmed toenails digging into their neighbour toes; stretched ligaments on the side and back of my right knee; and a swollen right leg. But maybe they are just symptoms of the combination of the physical terrain and one’s state of mind. Once the body has been sacrificed, as the saying goes, maybe I’m now set to lose my mind!

Via Tolosana: The longwalker’s packing list

I have been practice-packing for months. It can only mean one thing – my next long walk in France is long overdue.  I’ve booked it and July approaches. In preparation I have reviewed my Via Tolosana packing list, and have come up with a list of items I’m happy with for today. It might change tomorrow, and my inclination always seems to be to add more, rather than subtract. The just-in-case syndrome.

I’ve read somewhere, that you can walk with only one spare change of clothes, and that all the small things, first aid kits etc and things you don’t absolutely use every day, can be bought if you need them. I agree with this for clothes, but for first aid, I think it is handy to have it with you. I attempt to keep my packing to what for me are (mostly) the bare essentials. Whilst this is a long list, many things don’t take up much room.

Ideally, you don’t want anything in your pack that you’re not using every day. But on the other hand, if you’re walking for 60 days, you may want to go out to dinner in a dress one night instead of your daggy walking clothes. So I compromise with finding the lightest/most compact version of anything I won’t use every day ie. an umbrella.

If you find you have to take everything out to re-pack every morning, it is actually a good thing, because it means you’re using everything in your pack.

Pack/Accessories

  • Backpack – North Face Terra 30 litre (purchased in 2008)
  • Pack cover (came with the pack)
  • St Jacques shell
  • Walking sticks (I didn’t use these, however the going is easier with them – other people loaned me theirs to try out)
  • Aluminium clips
  • Plastic bags (or pack liner or large zip-lock bags – for the 2-3 days you may walk in heavy rain, plastic bags are plenty – especially if you have a pack cover – which I’d highly recommend)
  • Waterproof bags (for technology/passport/phone) – Kathmandu
  • Water bottles (Take a drink bottle plus buy 1.5 litre plastic one when you’re there)
  • Swiss Army knife (make sure you pack it in the bag that gets put under the plane otherwise it will be confiscated)
  • Money belt (It can come in handy on planes and trains and where you feel security is not great, but mostly I didn’t need it along the way)
  • Compass (didn’t use it but it may be useful one day)
  • Compact umbrella (IsoToner make tiny ones that weigh only 250g)

Although my pack is heavy (even without anything in it), I really like it for its compact design and comfort. All straps are adjustable, and there are great outside zipped and open pockets to store things for easy access.  I love the top ‘lid’ which was great for carrying the day’s quiche or flat peach and it has a zipped section inside, so I could keep my pocket-knife and small things like salt/pepper and the compass in case. You won’t walk using an umbrella, but I found when looking around towns at the end of a day of walking, it is very uncomfortable walking around in the rain – handy to have a tiny umbrella.

Shoes

  • Hiking boots – Salamon
  • After hours light sandals (I couldn’t successfully walk on cobblestones in flip-flops) – Teva
  • Flip-flops (for shower) – Havianas

Clothes

  • 1 waterproof jacket – Kathmandu
  • 1 inner jacket shell/lightweight polo fleece – Kathmandu
  • 2 t shirts – Bonds
  • 2 long sleeve t-shirts – Bonds
  • 2 pairs long pants/shorts (depending what you are comfortable in) – Kathmandu
  • 3 bras
  • 3 pairs underpants
  • 2 pairs socks (thick Wool/synthetic blend hiking socks)
  • 1 dress (light-weight and compact for evenings)
  • 1 pair leggings
  • Pyjamas
  • Hat
  • Lightweight shawl
  • Bathers/swimmers/togs – whatever you call ’em. Yes there are some swimming pools.
Washing/Sleeping
  • Sleeping sheet
  • Quick dry towel
  • Stretchy clothes line
  • 5 pegs
  • Eye/sleep mask
  • Ear plugs (if you need them)

If you stay mostly in pilgrim accommodation – gites or Chambre d’hotes, pillows and blankets are mostly provided, so I found carrying a sleeping bag was unnecessary, and it freed up a lot of space when I posted it home.

Paper/Technology
  • Journal
  • Morning pages (A4 notebooks if you’re a writer)
  • Miam miam dodo (Food and Accommodation guide)
  • Phone (and charger & extra battery)
  • Electrical adapter
  • Pencil case – small round-blade scissors, small glue stick, pens for journalling
  • Purse
  • Passport/plane ticket
  • Pilgrim credential
  • French phrasebook

Being a writer, I pack paper, and it weighs a lot. But this is the price I pay for being able to write about my trip in great detail while I’m going, and I’m not about to give it up. Same goes for scissors and glue stick. I stick all my tickets etc into my journal as I go, and also prepare town maps and information about the route before I leave and stick it into my journal as I get to each place. It makes a beautiful record of the trip and I figure I’ll be wanting to remember my trips when I’m 90 and in a nursing home.

Encouraged by Alissa Duke and her gorgeous sketches, this time I’m going to try water-colour sketching – more to carry, but more memories!

Toiletries/First Aid

The other area I don’t economise on is toiletries.  I like carrying lotions and potions in the smallest sizes available, because at the end of long day of walking, after I’ve showered, I like to have a little tube of peppermint foot balm at my disposal or some arnica creme to massage my legs. OK, I might only use the paw-paw ointment once or twice, but I’d rather have it than not. A little block of ‘friction block’ instead of lots of bandaids for feet is a must that was loaned to me by my friend Isabel. I only used it once, but it worked by stopping a blister coming, and I was so glad I had it.

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I also carried a little portion of Salvital last time, and I was so glad I did on the hot days.

  • Soap (in a mesh bag you can peg to the washing line to dry overnight. Wash yourself and your clothes with it)
  • Shampoo
  • Toothbrush/paste
  • Baume de St Bernard (muscle liniment)
  • PawPaw creme (these come in mini red containers)
  • Jojoba oil (JoJoba make mini travel sized bottles)
  • moisturiser/aloe vera (mini version)
  • Sunscreen (Avene make a cute-sized tube)
  • Nivea Lip balm
  • First aid kit (small)
  • Bandaid – or any other ‘friction block’ blister stopper – excellent (so much better than any sticking plasters and it really works, but difficult to find in Australia)
  • Large safety pins
  • Small amount of real wool – excellent for shoving between your toes to prevent blisters
  • Salvital
  • Tampons/pads – can’t quite bring myself to go on the pill just to walk, but it would certainly make it easier from a packing perspective
  • Toilet paper – wind your own without the cardboard tube

What not to take

  • Sleeping bag (I found I didn’t use it on the Via Tolosana – may yet be proved wrong this time)
  • SLR camera (still deciding on this) and charger
  • Heavy sandals – don’t take Keens unless you’re walking in them (they’re too heavy to carry for after hours wear)
  • iPad (next time I won’t try to blog while on the trip)

Other useful notes

Space for food

  • Leave enough space in your backpack to pack the food you need each day. Sometimes you might have to stock up for over 24 hours worth on the Via Tolosana as there are not always epiceries/boulangeries in the smaller towns. Ask about the provisions of food in the towns ahead from Office de Tourisme/hostelliers you stay with.  Other pilgrims are a also a good source of info about this. Miam Miam Dodo is a good resource, but may not be up-to-date or accurate.

Use space on the outside of your pack

  • Use large safety pins to dry your socks on the outside of your pack if they don’t dry overnight.
  • Buy aluminium clips to clip drink bottles and other extras to the outside of your pack
  • I carried two posters in a post-pack carton strapped on the outside of my pack for the last 6 days – not recommended, but it is possible for those must-have souvenirs.
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After the rain

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Pack cover

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All the necessary – chocolate, coquille shell and Miam Miam Dodo guide

 

 

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St Jacques coquille shell. Pin socks to pack if they don’t dry overnight. Drink bottle attached with clip

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Beech walking stick, hat and post-pack tube with plastic bag

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Swiss army knife

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Rest break

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Acoustic Motorbikes or Le Tour de France

As you know, I will venture to France again for more walking soon, and while I’m at it, another marathon effort will be undertaken by lots of crazy cyclists in the feat known as the Tour de France.

Someone asked me this week whether my route will take me anywhere near the race, so I checked. It doesn’t, thankfully.  Finding accommodation would be mission impossible if the Tour went even close to my route.  Instead, I’ll just be competing with thousands of holidaying French walkers.

It was such a treat to be able to see again the lush, yet brutal, Triplets of Belleville, at the Adelaide Festival in March 2018, with Le Terrible Orchestre de Belleville conducted by Benoît Charest live on stage. I’m hoping this year’s tour entrants don’t have the same kind of family background, training regime or become the victims of gangster kidnappers. It seems this is as close to the T de F as I’ll get for 2018.

However, the route goes to several places I have visited on my many travels, and I thought it might be nice to re-visit my diaries and provide some guidance to Tour entrants about the must-see things to do (after their brief and completely non-exhausting daily rides – ha ha)!

Stage 3, July 9: Cholet – Cholet (TTT), 35km

Should there be any tour entrants with Huguenot ancestry, I can thoroughly recommend the Le Musée de La France Protestante De L’Ouest, in the middle of nowhere (like Cholet, incidentally and near to it).  I can also highly recommend the train and two buses it takes to get there from Angers. My friend Seb called it ‘deep France’. The connections will be perfect – a train, bus then if you’re lucky like me, you’ll also get a lift from a helpful stranger, when you thought you were going to walk to the chateau. While in nearby Angers, make sure you visit the beautiful Apocalypse tapestry.

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Stage 7, July 13: Fougères – Chartres, 231km

Chartres cathedral has to be visited because it holds the ancient labyrinth, on which the Sydney Labyrinth in Centennial Park is modelled and which I wrote about here on my way to my last walk.  So if the riders are still able to walk, and the design is not covered by chairs (which it sometimes may be if you visit at the wrong time), then a lap through it would probably put competitive minds at ease or make them dizzy, depending. Or it could be considered a warm-down. Devotees used to do it on their knees – that’s also an option after an invigorating ride of 231kms.

 

Stage 8, July 14: Dreux – Amiens Métropole, 181km

Whilst I’ve been to Amiens, I have not visited the notable cathedral there (gothic and UNESCO listed), but just saw it in transit on my way to visit Villers-Brettoneux to visit the ancestors commemorated in the famous Australian memorial park there.  The Richards brothers both got their names on that list for lives they gave for God, King and country.  The memorial is a big drawcard for Australian WW1 tourists these days and ANZAC day services are held there and our armed forces bands play. My advice, don’t go in April.

Rest day, July 16: Annecy

One year, I did French lessons at Alliance Francaise, and one night we spent the whole lesson learning about directions in a little town called Annecy.  They always like to make the exercises practical, so by the end, we all pretty much knew our way around this cute town in the mountains near the Swiss border.

One of the wonderful benefits I had of hosting many Couchsurfers, was making friends who I have visited on my French trips.  One such lovely visitor was Celine, and I was thrilled when I was going to meet a person who came from that charming town. I visited her at Christmas time and she put me up for a few days and introduced me to the wonders of this pristine town.  We drove up to get the view of the lake from above, where snow had fallen – only one of the few times I’ve seen snow.  The swans on the lake, the museum/chateau and a traditional fondue dinner in wooden-chalet-type restaurant are all lovely memories.  It is great the riders get to rest in Annecy – it is worth soaking up.

 

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Rest day, July 23: Carcassonne

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Carcassonne – a place I had built up so many idealised versions of, only to find when I got there on my 2015 trip, that it made me feel a little sick.  I don’t know whether it was the commercialisation, the difficult accommodation experience I had, being there on THE busiest national monument day of the year, Assumption, or a past life as a Cathar nun, but it disturbed me.  The ancient (but heavily re-built) medieval cite is spectacular and would look right at home in the Game of Thrones, but playing the boardgame is as close as I want to get until I walk the GR78 Voie du Piémont.  I don’t know how much rest the pedallers will get, I just found the whole thing unsettling.

 

Stage 18, July 26: Trie-sur-Baïse – Pau, 172km

Pau is a most interesting city.  With a balustraded promenade that overlooks the Pyrenees, which on a humid day, look hazy in the distance. There is a tangle of subterranean roadways that make you feel like you’re in an Escher  picture. It is full of history – being the place Henry IV was born. I didn’t get to see it, but would have liked to visit the Chateau. What I did see was one of my favourite things on wheels, a funicular – very short, very steep, and straight to the point – breakfast. It is a a great entrance to the next town on the list, just a short trip away by train. I passed through Pau three times on my Via Tolosana adventure – here, here and here. Jemais deux sans trois. Never two without three.

 

Stage 19, July 27: Lourdes – Laruns, 200km

I wonder whether any contestants will take the healing waters in St Bernadette’s town? Maybe there will be masses in their honour.  There will certainly be a premium on accommodation – it is difficult enough when there are just pilgrims, but add in the entourage of en velo support crews, and the deep peace of the place will likely be thrown into chaos. Lourdes is second in tourist popularity only to Paris, quite a Mecca – excuse the mixed religious metaphor. I also wrote about Lourdes during my Via Tolosana adventure and reviewed the film here.

 

Stage 21, July 29: Houilles – Paris Champs Elysées, 115km

I’m a bit of a strange Paris tourist – I’ve not spent any time at the Arc de Triomphe or much on the Champs Elysees, although I have walked along parts thereof once or twice. Probably the closest I’ve got to the feeling of being on it was singing Joe Dessin’s version at French classes at Le Café Flo. Does that count? Probably not.

So I’ll leave you with a sound-track for your consumption of le Tour de Fromage, the best arm-chair drone/helicopter tourism you will ever experience courtesy of Luka BloomThe Acoustic Motorbike.

Pedal on.

And I’ve never known why they’re called pelotons, not velotons. Maybe someone can enlighten me.

Enjoy the trip!

Another long walk in France

You may remember last time I walked in France, I eventually blogged my 46 days. Well this time, I’m only going to hold myself to 100 words a day plus a photo … on Instagram. If you want to walk with me – head on over.

bronwhy2018 on Instagram

I’ve had several conversations with people in the last few weeks about being outside, and what draws me to this type of walking. There is a beautiful freedom and ironically, a sense of security in being outdoors, and I think Rebecca Solnit captures it with her words:

“Many people nowadays live in a series of interiors…disconnected from each other. On foot everything stays connected, for while walking one occupies the spaces between those interiors in the same way one occupies those interiors. One lives in the whole world rather than in interiors built up against it.”
Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking

This idea also dovetails well with some material our philosophy group is working through at the moment,

“The whole world is pervaded by me yet my form is not seen”

It is worth pondering where our limits lie, and to also acknowledge that the whole world lives in us. William Blake’s words are brought to mind,

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour”

William Blake, Auguries of Innocence

I’ve added to my original post – it just keeps getting longer … where do your limits lie?

Civil by name and nature: Tom Civil, Melbourne artist

“Community consultation has influenced me as an artist – it has been an unexpected consequence”.  Tom Civil

Melbourne public art is a major tourist draw-card with visitors spending hours in the inner-city suburbs photographing artworks that could rival Archibald Prize entries.  Suburbs further from the centre don’t miss out.  Mural artists like Tom Civil are experiencing a popularity they couldn’t have dreamed of ten years ago.  But what happens when the artist gets drawn to a different ‘canvas’?

I caught up with Tom as he was prepping a private commission, the façade of Farouk’s Olive on High Street, Thornbury.  He appeared quietly confident yet humble in his flannelette shirt, with an ease that hinted at long periods spent in the country. This is the mundane, non-creative part of his job and he often gets confused for a commercial painter. But hang around more than a few hours, and you’ll see, his skills would be wasted on pelmets and architraves.

He eventually added stylised olive branches and his signature stick folk to the wall surrounds of the bar windows.  He likened them to those other famous bush-inspired characters, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie but his version of sprites seem more nimble.  “I started out doing stick figures because I wasn’t confident with drawing” he said. They are two-dimensional characters with stick legs and arms, walking, running, squatting and lazing. Some wear hats, some ride bicycles and others play drums or trumpets. But they are almost ant-like in their dotting around the wall canvases, busy with their activities and tiny by comparison to the natural surrounds they inhabit.

On this day, Tom was working just metres away from the Darebin Council commissioned mural, The Wanderers.  Familiar monarch butterflies flit around gum branches and leaves on the side wall of the Crisalida Child, Adolescent, Adult and Family Therapy service.  Look closer though, and you are enchanted to see little stick figures, his “stick folk” also hanging around in the branches.  The chrysalises and butterflies are a gentle reference to the work of transformation going on behind the wall.  His work has been sought after by a number of local kindergartens and other places of learning at all ends of the spectrum.

Deakin University also commissioned a mural in 2014 that sits opposite the Student Centre covering a “boring concrete wall” as described by Deakin University on Twitter.  The University of Life is hidden from the main promenade, but large groups of stick folk meet in circles to make their presence felt in the student services precinct. There are no pens, no technology, no books, but due to their context, they must all be students.

The University Of Life Mural Tom Civil Artist  2014 Burwood Mutant Way

The University of Life photo courtesy of Tom Civil

Just as authors sometimes manage to trick their friends into thinking they’ve portrayed them in books, the skill of a mural artist is in capturing the sense of a place or community so that anyone wandering past finds a representation of themselves in the work.

Tom sees his creations as fun fairies, characters from a spirit world, yet even in their whimsical environments, they seem to speak of some serious issues: environment, community, inclusion and identity. It is precisely for this reason that he is called on to undertake these murals around Melbourne, and crossing town I visited his latest commission.

Jacob Stammers has been running the Pocket Café, a little hole-in-the-wall coffee shop on Melrose Street for four and a half years. He asked a street artist friend where he might find someone to paint a mural opposite his little shop.  When the City of Melbourne also got involved they suggested the same person, Tom Civil.

Early in 2016 the community held a Really Good Day.  Residents gathered and talked about their ideas for lightening up the drab tunnel between shops that leads into the housing estate. Jacob said that the rainbow that was drawn in chalk a year earlier, was painted over by Tom in the weeks during the Marriage Equality Survey.

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Melrose Street Mural, North Melbourne, photo courtesy of Tom Civil

Yet the rainbow is a universal symbol. “Kids love rainbows,” says Tom.  Kites, banners, dogs and bicycles all join the rainbow in a hillside scene that melds into the driveway onto the estate, “every element that was suggested by the community became incorporated in the final product”, said Jacob.  He said many people stop to look at the mural, and it has lifted a previously neglected space.

Community commissions can be complex and involve consultations with council, residents and local traders extending over many months, if not years. While Tom enjoys the feedback he gets while out in public doing a mural, the organisation and consultation required can be tiring when balancing the creative aspects of painting.  He was happy to put this on hold to work on his Life Together: New ‘Stick Folk’ Stories exhibition at No Vacancy Gallery, QV Building, Melbourne during April.

For this exhibition Tom has exchanged paintbrushes, rollers and spray cans around the city for drawing with pencils and paper, etching tools and lino in his Collingwood studio. It necessitates travelling an inward, more solitary path, developing his ideas and building a body of work using the same stick-folk and natural themes in limited edition prints. These are more intimate versions of his pubic murals, and he’s relishing the new possibilities, “I personally think that my prints are much better than my murals.  But that might be because it is rare to do murals purely for yourself, and you’re always needing to please people”. He has achieved listing with Port Jackson Press, so he seems to have a realistic view of the value of his work.

There are many aspects he enjoys about creating smaller pieces of art, “Print-making is an accessible art form – it is multiples, one of twenty, not a stand-alone expensive artwork. I love that thought of my work going out there, getting out there”.  He produces work in many price-ranges, “people like small things, finding special spaces in their homes”. In the studio he also enjoys pushing past the edges of his creative practice.

Tom found a stack of old mirrors in a second hand shop and it prompted work with a new medium.  The drawback is getting glass dust everywhere, but the process of etching on mirror has opened up new horizons, “As soon as I finished that mirror, I wanted to do another one because I hadn’t mastered the craft.”  He has also begun working with another new technique, oil-stick painting, and he seemed to still be deciding whether he was happy to have these go on show. Perhaps it is his humble, self-taught artistic beginnings that keep him experimenting, yet also leave him uncertain about their merit.

Tom Civil was born in Waverley, Sydney but at the time his family were living on a farm out of Willow Tree, near Tamworth until he was about two years old. Until he was five, his family “did the farming thing” near Walcha, then spent 5 years in Uralla in an old run-down hospital/nursing home with a derelict pool and tennis court.  The cheap $40K price tag was said to be because it was haunted.

When he was 10 years old, his parents split and he moved with his mum and brother, Ned, to live in Bronte, the beachside suburb of Sydney. He is unashamedly a “city kid with a country heart”.  Some of his best memories were the trips he made with his brother back to visit his dad in Uralla each school holidays. And maybe the freedom, space and ability to run off by himself have prepared him well for the life of an artist.  He has taken inspiration from his dad, who, having worked in the disability sector, also writes and is an artist who makes sculptures with “beautiful junk” sourced from the tip and elsewhere.

He credits his school days with being the type of person who can talk with anyone, starting at Rocky River Public School in Uralla then Bronte Public School, then with financial support from his grandparents, the private boys school, Cranbook School.  His mother, a psychologist and filmmaker, supported his move in year 11 to the Australian Independent International School that was established in the 1970s, but has now disappeared under a freeway near Macquarie University. This was the beginning of social activism for Tom.  Students were on first-name basis with teachers and all could contribute to assemblies.

After school, he moved to Newcastle where he completed a degree in Environmental Science in 1999. He was living in share houses and immersed in environmental activism and independent media by this time, and had also just met his partner, Lou.

It was Lou’s connections to Melbourne as well as visiting for the World Economic Forum Protest, S11 with a bunch of friends in a van, which prompted the couple to move.  It wasn’t a long-term plan, but they have lived in Melbourne ever since.  Tom got involved in the local activist, street and stencil-artist scene. He designed posters, flyers and worked on graphic design and the art section of the independent publication, The Paper.  He published political poster series’, zine anthologies learning this trade working with other artists.

About 10 years ago, he began to be approached to work on larger community commissions. He loved the idea that his art might take up more space and be seen by more people. His first large-scale commission was 3CR’s Collingwood studios. It was a challenging brief, artistically representing the diverse membership of the radio station community with their different stories. Still finding his style, he settled on the stick figures, “I like that the stick folk people they are so simple and have their own language so that lots of different people can connect with them.”

It is the ephemeral nature of the street art form that interests Tom.  Whether it exists for months or just a day, it isn’t meant to last, like a sand mandala that the monks spend huge amounts of time making, that’s just part of it. “You get used to people telling you they hate it or it’s rubbish. You need a thick skin because people paint over it”. But it is this transience of life that Tom knows personally as well.

Tom’s brother Ned was a fellow street artist who shared many of his passions.  They were very close. You get the impression they ‘got up to all sorts of mischief’ together. They worked together as The Evil Brothers, but also apart – Ned in Sydney and Tom in Melbourne. Ned also spent several years at the remote Aboriginal community, Warmun, two hours from Kununurra, working in the art and youth centres.  Tom visited Ned over the years and later did mural projects in the community, “I couldn’t have done that without Ned”.

Ned had found out when he was 21 that he had cystic fibrosis, an unusually late diagnosis.  “He thought a lot more about his art.  He was a bit like an old man, he always thought he was going to die at 30”.  In the month before he died in 2010, the brothers drove to Alice Springs to mount an exhibition of giant cardboard cutouts, playing with light and shadow puppets, like an installation they’d done at Redfern in Carriageworks.  Ned was sick the whole time, and found out he had bowel cancer.

The end of Ned’s life was full of frustrations for Tom, “I wanted to pick him up and carry himhome out of hospital … It was like seeing myself die because he was so similar to me – like being at my own funeral”.  For six months Tom couldn’t look at a spray can or pencil.  The loss of his best mate and accomplice was devastating but when he finally started drawing again, he couldn’t stop.  “I started to look at death in my art in a beautiful way, the ancestors are always with you”.

Tom says his loss gave him more direction in his own art and gave him confidence to do the work he wanted to do. He drew more. Whereas before he made more collages and modified images, now he’d found the confidence to create from scratch in his mind and made a lot better art.  It is a bittersweet realisation though, “But I’d really rather make really s**t art and have Ned alive”.

Tom’s work holds many symbols of his childhood and family, the New England landscape, the childhood homes in Sydney, and memorial objects but he has found an acceptance of this now, “I’m not embarrassed to celebrate the things I enjoyed in childhood.”

You can follow Tom on his site – Tom Civil and his work is available Civil Prints and for up-to-the-minute Tom activities, follow him on Instagram @thomascivilian

Incubating a writer

Yesterday, I had this small chink of a realisation. The life of sitting in my garret, feeling like I’m not doing anything, getting anywhere or achieving anything is THE WRITER’s LIFE.

The writer’s life is lonely, unforgiving, tedious, boring, sporadic, moody, uncertain, disconnected, unfocussed and I could go on. All of these become so much stronger when I think it shouldn’t be this way. The writer’s life is also reflective, contemplative, connecting, solitary, breathtaking, simple, beautiful, mindful, deep and free.  And these become amplified when I accept the reality, in full.

My battle to not accept what I perceive as the down-sides has been relentless. I have been fighting very hard and it too often ends in tears. I have always thought describing the feelings writers suffer as ‘self-loathing’ was a little melodramatic, but I now understand it perfectly and would say this pretty well sums it up.

Instead, yesterday I realised what I have been battling and how hard I have fought with the reality that is writing and I decided (and fully expect to have to keep deciding), that I don’t want this fight with myself any longer. I want to get on with the work, not complain about the reality of it.

I chose to be compassionate with myself, and realised that my problem is that all of the invisible work of writing requires great patience and resilience and is completely different yet enveloped in the joy of an outcome. Much of it isn’t actually writing, but simply living – being, observing, absorbing and becoming. It requires sitting in the uncertainty, even doubt sometimes, and just accepting this is all there is and yet this is what it takes. The growing, developing, changing, opening, allowing and surrendering require trust and faith that the outcome will come. And rather than resistance, what will help is constant self-encouragement.

So today, just now, I re-read some post-it notes I’d shoved in Anne Lamott’s, Bird by Bird including her noting of Geneen Roth’s sage observation,

“Awareness is learning to keep yourself company. And then learn to be more compassionate company, as if you were somebody you are fond of and wish to encourage.” p. 31

 
Lamott says it herself,

“The problem is acceptance, which is something we’re taught not to do. We’re taught to improve uncomfortable situations, to change things, alleviate unpleasant feelings.” p. 178

I read Bird by Bird back in January and wrote this post-it only two months ago, and yet it has taken this amount of time for my sub-conscious to bring it to the attention of my consciousness.  How could writing be any different.  This is the time it takes.

How then can I not treat myself with great compassion in this time when it feels like nothing is going on, but when actually the writer in me is incubating and needs my warmth, love and appreciation.

Maybe this small realisation, this chink, is how the light gets in.

Somewhere in between, Kate Bush

Tara the Liberator

I’ve always avoided White Night.  It seems like the perfect storm to me. Bright lights, hundreds of thousands of people, packed public transport.  It’s all too much for this sensitive soul. However this year was different.

I was meeting a friend visiting Melbourne from East Gippsland to go see a movie in the afternoon, and decided to do my occasional Degraves brunch to read the papers. I hadn’t realised that this day, Lunar New Year, was one of those when I avoid being out in public, but I spied a small story in The Age about a White Night experience with a difference, an audience with Tara the Liberator.

After our movie, Phantom Thread , Daniel Day-Lewis’ supposed last film and a slightly disturbing period piece with LOTS of amazing dresses, I suggested to my friend that I’d like to see Tara. I was pretty sure it was on at Hamer Hall, from memory, but I confirmed by stealing the article from Tiamo, aided by a couple of customers sitting in the window, “take the whole paper,” they said.  I just took the article and we set out to meet some other friends and drag them along too.

My Christian up-bringing focussed on ‘only one God’, but my comparative religious education also included spending 18 months of my childhood in Bangladesh where I danced for Saraswati (Goddess of Knowledge and Wisdom) pujas and witnessed the ornately decorated clay and bamboo Durga (Mother Goddess) being dropped in the river, a portent to the quality of crops for the year.  So why have one God, when you can have many to cover all the challenges of life? And why not have some female ones? Given the year that 2017 was, it seemed an auspicious opportunity to spend some time with a female one.  I found my goddess of choice on White Night, sheltered in the cave that is Hamer Hall.

Descending the three flights of escalators, we entered at the stalls level of the recently updated hall and there she was in her glorious green, radiant translucence.  Tara is joined by 21 others depicted on this 15 metre high by 9.5 metre wide canvas painting made in three sections.  She sits cross-legged in a dance posture, right leg slightly extended – ready to jump into action.  Her left leg is close to her body, indicating her full control over subtle inner energies. My question is what to do about the not-so-subtle inner energies!

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Tara the Liberator is the representation of “profound wisdom that is the mother all the Buddhas with constant and unconditional BIG LOVE for all beings, without exception”.  Don’t we all wish for that.

Azriel Ferro post FB

Photo: Azriel Ferro

She reminded me of the character from Norse mythology, Erda, who I first me in Wagner’s Adelaide Ring Cycle in 2004. In the rendering of that spectacular version, Elke Neidhardt (who sadly passed away in 2013), had the earth mother contralto, sing the role with a costume that appeared to leave one breast exposed. What a powerful portrayal of feminine power and energy.  Maybe she was fashioned on Tara.

We sat for some time in the subdued lighting usually reserved these days for The Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries at the Cluny Museum or Van Gogh’s Haystacks visiting exhibit at the NSW Art Gallery.  We bathed in the eastern sounds of Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s mantras with gentle music. Some closed their eyes, some read the laminated card descriptions and I wept. Over 3,000 people visited during the night, moved by the scale of this artwork and the deep peace and calm that the experience brought. We left to have dinner, at the cheap and cheerful, Om Vegetarian but part-way through the meal, I felt a strong urge to return. My companions were similarly drawn back so we returned for more contemplation and meditation before retreating from White Night relatively early.

There were several other activities that one could busy oneself with in the foyer including making origami lotus flowers, signing petitions and learning about other up-coming events (March 17th, 7pm – 2am at White Night, Ballarat) and the final resting place (Buddhist Tara Institute, East Brighton) of this beautiful art work.

The artist, master thangka painter, Swiss man, Peter Iseli and his Tibetan wife, Jangchub worked on this piece for over four years at a Buddhist centre in Toulouse.

If you live in Melbourne, I’d throughly recommend a visit to see Tara the Liberator/21 Taras Thangka in Ballarat this weekend or at East Brighton (although I’m not sure of whether it will be displayed or just housed and brought out for special occasions).

It was certainly liberating.

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Yarra River with Melbourne Skyline: White Night

Planning my passions and the year of firsts

… or why choosing a diary is the most important decision I make each year.

People don’t usually get gushy about their diary, however mine has always been very important to me, and selecting my partner in crime each year is a case for careful consideration. I hold my potential suitor in my hands, imagining my year panning out and vacillate about what colour to get.  Last year I found out for the first time what choosing the wrong one feels like, and it strengthened my resolve to not let that happen again!

The other diary

I went out on a limb in 2017, leaving aside my usual Moleskine to buy a small, but chunky peppermint-green leather-bound diary from Kikki-K, because I thought it looked cute. My new crush. Well, the branch broke. Not only did the weeks not ‘run’ the way my usual Moleskins had (resulting in me messing up ticket bookings for Saul at the Adelaide Festival), but I also couldn’t see to write in it without my glasses.  This partner was cute but it sent me confusing messages.

The weekly quotes would’ve been great, but I didn’t even realise they were there until half-way through the year because they were so tiny I couldn’t read them. This little book completely discombobulated me! I could even go so far as to say, it stuffed up 2017 good and proper (well, it’s a good excuse).  What amazed me was that I stuck with it, being the loyal diarist I am, and limped on with a substandard item for the whole year, not even considering separation, divorce or even an affair with a more inspiring squeeze.

My soulmate

So when a discussion on a Facebook group began in earnest amongst business-minded misfits centring around people’s choice of non-digital planning tools, I pricked up my eyes. One little gem that was mentioned and seconded by many on the thread was a Passion Planner. Users sounded delighted with their significant other. I googled, watched YouTubes, downloaded the templates, tested them out, and purchased one that day!

Organising time is one of those things that is crucial for someone like me with days of unstructured time stretching before me like a magic carpet.  It is easy to get carried off to some crevice of the internet and get stuck down there for hours, so any tool that assists one to keep on track is really important.  A central place to keep all of one’s intentions, personal and business, is key. Like a friend who constantly asks you about your latest pet project, I am finding that a Passion Planner is really keeping me honest.  I haven’t been able to stop raving about this little bible since I received it in the new year, and two friends have already gone ahead and bought one after they’d seen mine.

When I’ve told people about my new flame, they’ve told me it seems a little like a bullet journal – the first time I’d heard of one of those was at a Melbourne Writers Week Moleskin Coffee and Create session in 2017. Madeleine Dore of Extraordinary Routines hosted Sam van Zweden and Karen Andrews to discuss their creative routines. Even after that conversation I was none the wiser about a bullet journal, and besides, I think I’ve found my perfect match, so I’m not too sure I’d even want to contemplate another.  I’m sure though that their conversation left me ripe for a change of heart from my little peppermint brick to my light blue dreamweaver!

How do you use a Passion Planner?

Well, the premise is: writing down one’s goals is the first step to achieving them. You begin by setting out your Passion Roadmap – your wish-list for today, 3 months, one year, 3 years and lifetime goals. Then you create from this a passion plan and then insert these steps into your monthly and weekly openings.

Each month, there is an opening for the month-long planner. There are boxes allocated  to define the month’s focus, the people you want to see, the places to go and the most important thing for me so far – the ‘Not to do list’. Also there are personal and work project spaces in addition to the month-long planner. Finally there is a space for a mind-map of this month’s game-changer. I’m using this space to use some cute little ship stickers I bought in France. They symbolise 2018 – full steam ahead!

Monthly Planning

Passion Planner Monthly Opening

Heading into the weekly openings, once again you can choose a focus, fill in Personal and Work ‘to do’ lists,  let your creative drawing run wild in the Space of Infinite Possibility and progressively list the good things that happen. An extra bonus is the inspirational quote for the week plus a little activity to do based on the quote.  Mine last week was Maya Angelou’s, just when I needed to hear it!!

“When someone shows you who they are believe them the first time”.

If this isn’t amazing enough, each day’s column is headed by a box for the day’s focus, and then proceeds in half hour increments from 6am – 10.30pm. And this goes every day. For freelancers like myself, this is vital.  A diary that only considers you work on weekdays is like a boyfriend who gets grumpy when you catch up with your girlfriends – problematic and it cramps your style! And while on the topic of girlfriends, I have noticed a new and helpful capacity for tracking my monthly catch-ups and social outings. I have been grateful for the way this diary is showing me what wonderful women I know and what a rich social life I have – all through the process of listing good things and taking stock of each week. A Passion Planner is much nicer company than a grumpy boyfriend.

Weekly Planner

Passion Planner Weekly Opening

There is lots of space to give your Passion Planner your own special creative touch. A friend looked on Etsy for stickers she could use, but instead of buying the stickers, she copied the little icons, and it looks just the same, giving her pages an arty/graphic designer kind of feel. You can get lots of wonderful ideas on YouTube from expert and passionate planners who go to town with Japanese washi tape, fluoro markers, stamps, stickers etc. There are so many ideas for tracking new habits, lists, holiday planning etc. And one of the things that tells me I’ve got my mojo back, is that I’ve re-discovered my penchant for decorating my planner with cute or pertinent cut-outs from magazines – something I began doing in the 1990s!  So here are some of my pages to give you an idea.

Once you’ve had your month, there is an opening devoted to your Monthly Reflection. You look back and note the most memorable aspects, biggest lessons, how you are different this month to last and what you’re grateful for. You take stock of your priorities, and note the things you want to improve and the concrete steps you’ll take to get there during the coming month.

Monthly Reflection

Passion Planner Monthly Reflection

Then once you get past the diary itself, you’re into 20 blank pages followed by 23 pages of graph paper.  There are no maps, no holiday calendars, no world holidays, no international dialling lists, no international paper sizes, no conversion tables, no weights and measures table, no Staff Leave charts (who has staff???), within cooee of this little gem of a book.  Nothing exists in this diary/journal that you don’t either need, or design yourself.

I have been using blank pages to write lists – 2018 Books I’ve read, 2018 Books I want to read, Things to Remember about 2017 etc.  The whole reason for writing this post though, was to celebrate one of my pages – Year of Firsts. There have only been six weeks so far, but I have delivered a Webinar, began aqua-aerobics and presented at an outside broadcast on radio for 3MBS Bach Marathon at the Melbourne Recital Centre.  What a great way to celebrate my passionate firsts.

Other benefits

Another useful tip the planner suggests is to share your passions. Find that in-real-life friend who will keep you honest about your goals and tasks for the week.  This has been a great source of inspiration, motivation and solidarity. We talk by phone once a week for much longer than our allocated 20 minutes, but that’s the nature of good, supportive friendships, isn’t it!

Drawbacks

Just to keep it real, there is one drawback for me. Just as your steady, sweetie pie or darling might have a few things you’d like to improve, the Passion Planner is no exception. Although, unlike the real version, this little dreamboat has only one. I’d love it to have the beautiful cream-coloured pages of my ex, the Moleskin. But I’m willing to compromise, as is important in any ongoing relationship.

What version of diary is your beloved for 2018?

PS: I haven’t been given anything by Passion Planner for spruiking how great they are … YET! If anyone wants to purchase one, if you mention you heard about it from me, I might get a free one next year. Just saying.

Woman with Altitude or, I am woman hear me draw

For years and years, I have kept a box of cards and letters that I have received from my friend Helen.  The cards began before the letters: birthdays, Christmas and just ‘cos exchanges, that morphed into longer letters when Helen got her first job in the country, 400kms from Adelaide.

They tell of a time where we were both testing our ideas, becoming adults with opinions, sharing jokes and quotes, extending and showing off our vocabularies, and of course revealing the inevitable love stories.  Here I’d found a friend that ‘got me’ and while I missed her not being in Adelaide, our friendship via correspondence was always a source of great joy and continues, albeit less frequently, until today.

One of the cards we exchanged (I can’t remember whether I gave it to her, or she to me or whether I’m making it up completely) was by Judy Horacek, Woman with Altitude.  Judy’s work was always appealing – it charted our conversations, the personal and the political.  It acknowledged the inequalities women faced, with sometimes a not-so-gentle, cheeky, raised middle finger to patriarchy.

In the intervening years Judy has also been skilfully creating art for children’s books and worked with Mem Fox (coincidentally Helen’s university lecturer, and mother of Chloë, whom I sat next to in Year 9) on her books Where is the Green Sheep, This and That and Ducks Away.

This history all came together one chilly day in 2017 when I decided to visit Judy Horacek’s exhibit in the Melbourne Rare Book Week.

One of the welcome additions to the week-long rare-book fest is the celebration of art in books. Mini exhibitions have been hosted by the Melbourne Athenaeum Library (worth a visit if you’ve never been there).

So it was a serendipitous moment when I pushed through the wooden framed, glass doors of the old reading room, and walked up to a spritely woman who greeted me enthusiastically,

“Hello, I’m Judy”

“THE Judy”

“Yes!”

So we had a writerly exchange and she did as all authorpreneurial authors should – encouraged me to buy her book, Random Life.  How could I resist with all that history, an autograph and a very poignant foreword by John Clarke? Actually I couldn’t and I bought a couple.

The exhibit was small, consisting of a few limited edition prints and two displays in glass cabinets, of books and ephemera, but I was on top of the world, so size didn’t matter.

Look out for the 2018 instalment of the free Melbourne Rare Book Week – one never knows who one will meet!