ten days

One year. Feels like ten days.

Missed, loved, cherished.

I don’t know if it’s linked but I have simply had nothing to say, much, since my Dad took his hot air balloon ride, first into the sky and then into the multiverse.

It must have been all about him … I don’t think he’d mind.

The good news is creativity takes the same amount of forms as the multiverse; it’s infinite. Well, that’s my guess, I could easily be wrong. If not, it could be a theory.

I hope you are all well! I am and have been – which is the past in reverse, sorry – even without a word to press. If my guess is right, it’s all because of the creativity and the multiverse.

One thing about guessing; it takes the pressure off having to be right. If you declare, up front, “it’s just my guess” or something equally unanimous, people are more likely to assume you know what you’re talking about.

One of the inexplicable things about the multiverse is it is law unto itself, which partly explains everything. Luckily, it is joyous law, a good one, a multiverse where all in the same day, if not the same hour – well, maybe in the same hour but perhaps not all in the same breath – we can, at once celebrate and grieve and open our hearts. Open them to the unknown, especially the unknown in ourselves. That’s exciting. Hearts generally are, my experience is they offer up treasures.

And all on a daily basis.

But where was I? … Trekking through this multiverse, poised to discover that my writing, the things I want to write,

that everything that is important, and everything that is not (for example, the ridiculous) is all about love.

It’s purely subjective.

But I hope you have lots of it in your life.

My beautiful father. With love.



A Map for around the Milky Way


At eight o’clock, I decide to call. I hate having to ask Sheilagh to hold the phone to him, I hate having to interrupt her. But I want to say goodnight. I don’t care that he won’t respond. I know he can hear me so I just need someone to please hold the phone to his ear.

I call the hospital, not sure if it is too late. They close at eight, which is now or in about two seconds.

The phone rings and someone picks it up.

“Oh, you’re still open,” I say to the woman’s voice at the other end. “May I have room 20 B please?”

There is a pause, just a slight one.

“Who’s calling?” she asks.

“It’s his daughter” I say.

Another pause, this one minute.

“There’s no one there” she says, ” they’ve all gone home… Call your mother” she says, meaning Sheilagh, my step mother, meaning my father’s wife.

“Okay” I say “thankyou very much” with absolute politeness because I’ve got a thing about it but especially anyone looking after my father deserves it.

Except now I know.

“Pete” I say but I can’t finish what I need to express, my thoughts are tumbling out so thick and so fast and Pete hasn’t understood.

“There’s no one there …” I say, but he still hasn’t understood, has ideas about where they might be, why they’ve gone home.

“No”I say because I need him to stop.

“Please, can you just call my sister,” I ask and read off her number.

I watch him dial the number. But there’s no answer, he says.

I don’t want Pete to say anything, to ask me anything. I just need him to keep calling, call someone else.

“Call Sheilagh” I ask and he does but there is no answer there either.

My mind is swirling, running fast through a list of who to call and who not to. Who have I annoyed lately most and can’t? Who have I not and still can?

“Call Rob … call my little sister …” married to Rob. I can call both of them.

But no one is answering.

Email, I think, maybe I’ve missed an email today and so I ask Pete to check my email because for some reason, I need to keep one step back from everything, one step removed from every piece of information.

He picks up my device and scans it. “There’s one here …” and he starts to read.

“Don’t read it! Don’t read it, please! Stop!” I scream. Although he is not reading aloud, his eyes are still focused on the screen so I scream again, “please stop reading! Don’t read any of it, please! I don’t want you to read it! I don’t want to find out through email!” and he puts it down.

I sit where I always sit, or most often, on a chair that I painted and upholstered. It’s placed sort of nowhere in the house, sort of in the foyer although I’m not sure that we have one. We have got a lot of space though. It’s opposite the kitchen and my device sits on a cabinet next to it. That’s why I am mostly always here, because of the device. I am device ridden.

I painted the chair white and recovered it in an apple green, light blue and white fabric. I left the fabric raw around the edges because I don’t know how to upholster – but I figured it didn’t matter if you said you did it on purpose. I think it’s a love seat, it would fit two, very lovingly, but hardly anyone sits next to me when I am on my device. Not unless they want me to bash them with it. I usually like to concentrate uninterrupted.

Pete still has the phone in his hand and is waiting.

“Can you call my sister again, please ?” meaning the first one, meaning my older sister.

Pete takes the phone and walks into the next room, which is not really another room either, just an extension of this one. It’s one, big foyer at our place. That is, presuming we have one.

I watch him hold the phone to his ear, ten feet from where I sit, sort of pacing. And then it answers.

I hear my sister’s voice on the other end of the line, as clear as if I am holding the phone. Then I watch Pete speak.

“Oh hi, Jenny,” he says “we were just wondering what’s going on. We haven’t heard anything and are just wondering …”

“Oh” I hear my sister say, sadly, “didn’t you hear? Dad **** at 5.25 this evening.” 

I can’t write that word. I can never write it, I don’t think. 

But I swear that’s what she said.

I swear that is what she said yet she couldn’t have. It didn’t fit. The words didn’t fit in my ears. I knew he was going, I knew that he had used nearly all the life in him. I knew yesterday that he had had a lovely day, a very special day because he told me, he said so, he was already halfway around the Milky Way but he found a tiny bit of air and mounthed those words, I heard him.

I knew he was going because I said goodbye, we all did.

But I couldn’t take in my sister’s words. Not Dad. You can’t say: Dad ****. You can’t put those words together, so close. You can’t.

I check, my brain running it over, checking, about five times.

I don’t think I can ever use that word. 

We had a service for him the next week – of course, I can’t say what the service was. I don’t like that word either. But it was beautiful.

I find lots of ways to not use that word. I make them up as I go along. I don’t believe in it anyway; I mean, I don’t feel any end. I don’t know where he is, I only have partial directions: far away and very close at the same time. They’re a bit rough. I wish I had a map.

The day after he went I wrote a post and put it up on Pete’s social medium. I wanted to proclaim the important thing.

The social medium went abuzz. It’s always like that, of course. But this time it was for my Dad.

“Keep talking to him, honey” said my Buddhist friend “he’s only slipped into the next room.”

Beautiful artwork, Lieke van der Voorst

The Dali Lama next door

In these parts, when the sky crackles and chops with the sound of helicopter, you know something is up. “A bushfire or an accident on the highway?” you wonder, hoping neither, craning your neck, arms folded, pacing a stretch outside your house, your neighbours dotted up and down the street doing the same because the best view of any arial expanse is street-wise. Now you are part of a congregation.

Many times, I have longed for it to be a runaway criminal, a bank robber in striped pyjamas with bandits mask and a sack-full of jewels over one shoulder.

Once, it was Prince William and Kate, all the way from Cambridge which they now own, but that was a one off. I mean, they could come again, they may do and they would be very welcome. But I never imagine it is them returning for a second visit when the helicopters start up. It would be my last thought.

Sometimes, in fact, too often, someone has trekked too far into the bush. Then the sound crackles all day and night, especially at night because the choppers have infra red, heat sensitive lights that only work in the dark, although I’m not sure how they distinguish between a large wombat, for example and a small bush walker, someone from a country whose residents are mostly small, like … I don’t really know but I’m thinking of the difference between a large wombat and a smallish, adult person and it is not much.

Anyway, I am sure they know what they are doing. I mean, it would be a surprise for a wombat to find itself winched to safety in the middle of the night when it was only out picking berries, for example.

In that case, you have to wonder whether any of these examples are worth it, but I’m sure the training is not wasted.

When the sound is at crescendo, you go to sleep with it – brrr, chop, grunt, grunt, grunt – you wake up to it. “Have they found them yet?” you wonder. It must be agony for the loved ones.

Sometimes, the same noise is merely your partner.

Today, however, the helicopters are here for a small miracle: the Dali Lama is here. The real one, the one with the giggle. Almost unbelievably although it is true.

Last night, we all slept under the same blanket of stars, a small blanket, particular to our street and a few others, more a like rug. I’m sorry for sounding so exclusive but I’m trying to lap up the fact that the Dali Lama is here, not only here but five streets from our house, five hundred paces from the letter box.

It seems so unlikely but maybe that just goes to show. It seems even more unlikely given that when we learned of his visit last year, we assumed he would be in the big town, which is small, not even a city, so even this was a surprise. So far, everything is, starting with his agenda and finishing with his sleeping quarters. Neither of us gave a moments thought to that.

Just now, returning home from shopping, I was unloading the car, going to and from it and the house, when I thought I heard an echo of a mutter coming from around the corner. On closer listening, I realised it was the sound of a chant, floating over the valley, probably only five streets away.

I dropped the rest of bags inside the front door and got back into the car. My only abiding thought: I want to go to that sound, and I can!

A minute later I was there, to be met by a small and dedicated political protest group who had set up chant.

“Oh, that was the chant” I thought.

A couple of policemen in fluorescent jackets crossed the road to survey the scene which was only me as I was the only newcomer. Nothing else much was happening so I turned the car around and started back.

And then I saw a peacock.

Suddenly, it was there, ambling down the same street on the footpath – an enormous, dazzling, blue and green bejewelled bird, looking to cross the road.

Two passers by on the other side of the road, one holding a bunch of daintily, knotted grass which made me think they had been to the Dali Lama, had slowed to guide traffic around the bird, the man gently shooing, trying to make it walk a bit faster.

I pulled over, thinking to help from the other side of the road.

“It’s not a lyrebird is it?” I asked because lyrebirds are native to Australia and similar to peacocks but smaller and with less vivid colouring.

“No” said the girl and we all three wondered aloud the same and only question, ” What the …?”

With the peacock safely over the road and waddling in the direction of the Everglades gardens, the most spectacularly beautiful sanctuary it could have chosen, we got to chatting.

They had come from the Dali Lama’s talk. And I don’t know whether it was that or the mountain air or whether they were just super lovely and sweet but I was so happy to be part of the new little group.

I remembered that I had been to see him in London many years ago and told them how we all waited with baited spiritual and serious breath in some landmark London building right in the centre of the city but when he walked on stage, he was nearly bent over double and giggling.

“He did that here!” the girl said and pointing to her friend, said that somehow, he had got stuck right at the back of the room, right in the corner and while everyone was peering at the stage, waiting for His Holiness to come onto it, he suddenly appeared at the back, right behind her friend, saying “Hello, hello, hello!” and smiling and giggling. Then he spotted the top-knot, pony-tail on the top of her friend’s head, and pulling at it gently, started asking “what’s this, what’s this?” all the while smiling and giggling and pulling at his hair.

As far as this piece goes, I had only got as far as the title and now there is a peacock.

Meanwhile, my amazing leonine father continues to surprise as well; he is very loved in his personal kingdom and so well looked after. Some days, it occurs to me that he may have found the elixir to life but that is unlikely. At any rate, he’s very happy and funny as ever, which is all any of us could want.

Beautiful illustration, myvintagebookcollection by Art Seider (1963)

The Dali Lama, tibetanreview


The Formula of Invisible Gardening

I have just come in from another three hours gardening although I don’t expect you to believe me. There is nothing to show for it. Three hours, three seconds. It is all the same. There is nothing to show.

“I pulled out a lot of weeds today” I tell Pete as he steps off the train. Later I will give him a tour of the garden and he won’t see a thing. Yet that is the nature of invisibility.

“Ah …” he says, pretending to be interested. Even though I know it is a pretence I continue. Sometimes it is harder to stop.

“Yes and there’s more. Much more! I also cut back some branches.”

“Ah …” he says but his tone of voice makes me feel as though the work I have done is as important as designing a universe.

Besides, weeds don’t pull themselves out nor do branches lop themselves from their trunk – although if they did it would reduce the need for gardening by about ninety percent, given that these are the main tasks. It would also be amazing.

Pulling weeds out, lopping branches, constitutes a typical day in the garden. It also constitutes a typical day because it is impossible to avoid a garden when it is the moat of the house. No matter what my day involves it involves gardening since in order to do anything I cannot not cross the moat.

Here is a very basic example, written to cause you to feel you could be at the cinema watching a film. Nobody can classify the film since it doesn’t seem to fit in any genre. It remains unclassified. Nevertheless the usher lets you in:

We have run out of milk. There is no milk in the whole house and we do not own a cow. Therefore we are milk less.

I know I can get some milk from the supermarket which is up the road. It should take a matter of minutes.

I delay putting on the coffee until I return with the milk because it will be better with it. It is still morning but the day is already turning out to be beautiful; a little bit of sunshine here, some clouds there. What a pretty day! The thing that would make it perfect is some milk. It is the only thing I really want.

I find my sunglasses, keys and grab my wallet. It is all too easy. It is relaxing. It has the feeling of a wonderful day yet it seems to getting more wonderful with each moment.

Shoes – I really need some new ones but never mind, it is not a glamorous town and these embarrassing ones will do. Probably no one will notice. If they do, since it is not a glamorous town, they might even like them. My hopes are high, not just for the observations of the townspeople but for the whole day.

Outside everything seems normal – with the addition of wonderful since that is how the day is shaping up.

A few steps later, I estimate two and half or three, I am about to unlock the car by remote key when I notice a few branches on the ground. The wind has brought them down during the night.

I decide to pick up them up, thinking to chuck them onto the pile next to the car on my way to the supermarket. I should be back at any moment.

At ground level, next to the branches (like it is some sort of trick!) there are a few weeds. A few isn’t many, it’s only a few and since I am already there I move toward them to tug them from the earth.

 A few weeds turns out to be about an hours gardening. There will be more in the afternoon when I try to cross the moat again for another, unrelated reason.

“Bloody hell …”

It is turning out to be a terrible day.

This is the beginning of the formula which says (simply): there is no end.

If you have a garden … Actually it’s the other way around, your garden has you.

“Here’s where I cut back some branches. It was like a jungle …” I tell Pete because we doing a tour of the invisible work. It’s tricky because there is nothing to see. But that is also part of the formula.

The formula has three parts yet as I am just the actuary, maybe don’t quote me. Well, you can quote me but then we could both be wrong.

It existed way before me; I am only it’s voice. The difference between everything that happened prior to you reading this is that people have been too shy to speak of it.

Anyway. The second part of the formula is this: all hours spent in the garden will be available for none to see. No one will see any work you have done because … they just won’t.

“You don’t need to show me” Pete is saying. “I believe you.”

“Yes but, three hours … three hours!” I say because there is not a thing to show for it. It is the same every time.

Weeding is invisible – no one can remember where the weeds were. Cutting back is invisible – branches, shrubs, anything. All invisible. Unless you fell the whole garden, none of us can recall what it looked like before. As the gardener, you may as well have slept through the whole day.

“I did something there …” Even I can’t remember what it was and there are no clues to tell me.

The final part of the formula is to do with belief: that all work in the garden will be lasting.

Here is an illustration. “Pete” could be anyone. But in this case he is Pete:

A short time ago Pete removed the weeds taking over the brick paths. It was one of those jobs that you wouldn’t want to repeat too often; tricky – plus there were quite a lot of them.

“There!” he said when he was done. “That should do for another year.”

It might be kinder to stop here, mid sentence, which is sort of what I did with Pete. I didn’t really say anything. I think I just checked that he had said “year.” Definitely. I mean …

” … a year?”

“Yes” he said. “I pulled out quite a lot. They’re gone now.”

But I need to finish the formula.

Pete may be a blind optimist – but we are all optimists, holding to the belief that the work we do in the garden will last. It looks like six months work. Six months is common.

Here is where the formula can help: the six months is divided into the actual amount of time that will pass before you need to redo everything.

The actual amount is less than six weeks.

Times that by everything you do is invisible.

Times that by the fact that plus or minus, there is no end.

That is the formula.

It goes for absolutely everything.

Which is why I wanted to screen it as a film. Because at least you might have some popcorn.

Beautiful image, untraced artist: Pinterest 

Secrets and surprises


This is by way of hello because I haven’t seen you in ages, haven’t seen the words and images you have pressed. I’m sorry. I’ve been doing other things, secret things. I will tell you about the secret things in a moment.

Life was simpler when there was only the post and the telephone. You could call and say: I haven’t called in ages because I’ve been doing secret things. Or you could send a letter with the message. You could send a telegram, I suppose, but it would have to be an emergency: Hello, hello? – stop. I’ve been busy doing other things – stop. Secret things – stop. I’ll tell you about them later – stop. Hope you are well – stop. Happy New Year – stop. Stop – stop.

Also there was this: “Who wants to read another story about me?” I wondered. And then: “And who wants to write one?”

That happens sometimes. It’s a good thing because maybe if it was getting boring – if only to me – it puts a halt on the boredom and it is a fact that life is more interesting when it is not boring.

Here is what I have been doing. It’s not even a secret. It’s a list. The rest was smoke and mirrors to get your attention. I am like a lady magician.

There are two items on the list and neither are secrets.

The first is that I have been up-cycling stories. I have been up-cycling stories in order to make them longer, mostly. I have been making them longer, mostly, in order to enter them into short story competitions.The competitions usually want long short stories. Longer than in my collection, often three times the length.

On the other hand, there is no minimum word limit so you could enter a one word story and still have a chance, theoretically. Hardly anyone works on theories alone these days, so I imagine everyone is using guesses as well as logic in their calculations. But it would be interesting to read the winning entry if it was only a word. It wouldn’t be interesting for very long but it would for the time it took to read it. It would be amazing. But it would be short lived.

Anyway, I am not taking any chances so have been upping the numbers on my word count, fluffing them out to make them fatter as well as to give the stories context and sense, since each is now a little universe, no one having read of any of the characters I write about before, least of all me. Plus, you are not allowed to write your name on the story or identify yourself in it in any way, so there is a task.

“Pete? Who is this Pete?” they might ask, for example. So I am having to find ways of identifying who Pete is in relation to the writer, without boring them or myself to death. So far, the only thing I have come with is: Pete, my husband. Or: my husband, Pete. Let me know if one excites you more than the other.

Also, for major relevance in one story, I had to find a way of letting the reader know that we had been living elsewhere for a long time without actually saying it lest they fall asleep in that part of the sentence. It took about two or three hundred words. I prefer subtlety although it is wordier. Maybe it would have been easier to write a one word story.

The second item on the list are the photos of the kitchen, now finished! We finished it on Christmas Day which tells you how much else was going on. Never mind, we had a busy Christmas Eve with everyone from the portrait clan in Sydney so in some ways we were still resting from that. That was great fun actually. Only I thought there was a no present rule but I was way off because we came back with a car-seat load of gifts without reciprocating a thing. Talk about the spirit of Christmas. That’s all we took, aside from food, more food and flowers (some from our garden.)

“You are learning to receive” said my friend later, maybe because she was not among those who didn’t get anything from me. Well, she was, but it was reciprocated.

In the photos of the kitchen you might note there is no wallpaper, no silver swallows soaring behind open shelving but that is because it looked awful so we took it down. Oh well. It was one of those backwards surprises but since it was quick to put up, quicker to remove, we lost nothing.

Tonight: may the fireworks that you see or sleep through light your creative fire for the year to come, at least. May you feel love and peace in your heart. And may you invent a one word story, or something equally amazing!

Beautiful artwork by Marta Orlowaska







Anna Silivonchik Autumn leaves horse

He is getting sleepy. I wish I didn’t write that.

Maybe he is not too sleepy, maybe he is just sleepy this month, this week.

“I don’t think there is anything wrong” my sister-in-law says. “I think he is just getting tired.”

“Oh” I say because I am kind of not expecting it.

I am not expecting it.

I see him on Sunday at the family gathering. He looks well although his throat is a little sore which is worrying when someone is frail. But he looks the same.

We have been called together for a family portrait, a clan photograph. I am not sure why we are doing it. It has been arranged suddenly and in my mind I am wary.

Everyone is supposed to dress in earthy or neutral colours without patterns because the photographer has said it will look better in the final photo. She sends us some sample photographs to help guide us as well as lots of tips.

“It sounds a bit American” she writes “but it works.”

Later, when I hear her voice, she is American. Probably that’s where she gets the hot tips from.

I study the sample photographs and fall in love with a family dressed entirely in tones of cream, denim and tan. They look very American. “That is the family I want to be” I decide.

I send out emails to try to rouse people into choosing between one and three colours because that is the hot tip. But no-one responds. It is going to be hard to look like the American family.

As much as I admire them – and if they asked me, I would run away with them as long as I could bring Pete (although I don’t know what his act would be) – my fear is that we will end up looking like the cast of Cirque du Soleil.

Actually, I don’t know what my act would be either. I suppose it would either be dancing or singing. Or both.

I send out another email at the last minute and title it “Final time and clothing encouragements for Sunday.” This time I am simply stating what the encouragements are: 12.45 for 1.00 o’clock. Any earthy or neutral colours, including black and white, if you must. Layers, sleeves, dresses to the knees. It comes out like a poem.

That night I have a nightmare that everyone is wearing grey and navy and we look like convicts.

The photographer has counselled us not to stress too much because “families will be families” she writes.

“Yes” I want to write back. “Don’t you hate that?”

My father has excelled the brief and looks lovely dressed in emerald coloured shirt and oatmeal trousers. He has not dressed himself. I realise this because when I arrive, Sheilagh, his wife, is half way through dressing him. He doesn’t dress himself anymore, I realise.

Sheilagh has also excelled the brief and looks glamorous in tones of charcoal, layered with a vintage cream, lace bolero.

I like to think I have also excelled the brief although I try not to compare. But I don’t try hard enough because it is difficult not to come to the conclusion that I am one of the best. I am layers of cream and don’t even mind if I look like a cake. I like this new, American look.

Then my niece arrives (in shorts) (tailored ones) (she looks a million dollars but I can definitely see her knees) and her boyfriend seems to have dropped straight out of an Armani catalogue, immaculate in perfect, neutral tones. He also looks like he shaved five seconds ago. They are Hollywood in Sydney.

Nearly everyone is wearing grey and navy. Oh well; it is hard not to. Along with black, they are the go-to colours (without patterns) of our age. All the outfits look great but we are missing more beige.

Some of us are wearing vague patterns, so vague it doesn’t matter. People mutter about wanting to feel like themselves, wanting to dress like themselves. Fine, I think, I would rather dress in a new nationality.

We look handsome, a little motley at the edges maybe, but like ourselves.

“I brought you some flowers from our garden” I say to Sheilagh. “Shall I put them in the bedroom?”

“That’s a good idea” she says and I take them in to my father who is sitting on the edge of the bed.

“These are from our garden” I say because he came up to see it in the winter but it was too cold to go outside so we mostly saw it from the window.

“Is that your protea tree?” he had asked, pointing to the giant, mass of pink lightbulb blossoms. It looks like a UFO but friendly.

“Yes!” I say.

The pink lights have faded so today we have brought him roses, honeysuckle and star jasmine.

“Oh!” he says, as I push them into his face to smell. “They’re lovely!”

A few days earlier, on the telephone, I check: “Sheilagh says you’re a bit weaker than when I saw you.”

“A bit weaker, where? In the head?” he asks.

“Yes, of course” I answer and he laughs loudly.

“You need more energy, that’s all.”

The photoshoot over and the next day there are some loose wires, the normal amount.

My sister-in-law and I are debriefing on the telephone. It is amazing how the technology has not gone out of fashion although I would say that.

After the big photo, there were mini groupings and mini portraits that not everyone understood.

“I hope you know you are one of the sisters” I say – or I try to. I wish I had now – it is what I meant. But she gets what I mean and tells me she wasn’t hurt by anything, in this case by being last invited for the sisters photo. It sounds so awful in print. It was worse in person. And it is why I have called her.

“We were just trying to make sure my older sister felt included because she had been left out of the redheads photo and she was photo-bombing it like crazy.”

“That’s okay” says Rose. “I saw that. I thought the redheads photo was cute.”

“So did I” I say but don’t offer the real reason I invented it. It’s so complicated. It always is. But that is how families are. We may look American (on a good day) but underneath, we are chaos and affection, dodging slings and arrows, sending forth others, their heads poisoned with love. It’s a dart game only the very brave or foolish would play, except we all play it, mostly, because mostly we all have families. That is, if we are lucky.

“But he’s not ready to go” I tell Rose because we have got onto the topic. And because I know he is not. Because I checked with Sheilagh. And because his face tells me.

“Yes, I’m sure he will be okay” says Rose because that’s the other thing, she’s very good at saying motherly things.

We hang up and am glad it is the last thing she has said. I go over it a few times, pull every piece of strength from it. It is extra generous of her because she lost her father last year.

I know he is tired. But I will make him a nice bed so he can sleep. So he can rest and be comfortable. So he can conserve his energy.

And please stay with us.

Beautiful illustration by Anna Silivonchik