Australia, life

A dinkum Aussie by tomorrow arvo

Morning in the mangroves

It’s finally here! The day I’ve been hanging around for, for the past 8 months or so, and the penultimate ‘loose end’ that stands between me and my man: my Australian Citizenship ceremony is tomorrow!

I thought it would be a perfunctory thing to go through and get over with—I’ve lived here 10 years—but, now that it’s about to happen, I have butterflies in my stomach. It’s one thing to be born a particular nationality, take that for granted and live with an unclouded sense of entitlement in that country, and quite another thing to move, as an adult, to another country, and ask them to accept you. Vulnerability. I’m an outsider, asking to be let in. Also, it’s like burning a bridge and building a road to the interior.
birdbathLuckily, a friend has asked to take me to the event, as well as attend the ceremony as my “one permitted guest”. It’s too big and momentous a thing to have to go through alone, like an orphan washed up on the shores! This country has been very good to me, and I have carved a little niche of my own since I first arrived as “Mrs. Kris” (which some waterfront old timers still call me!) I have my own set of friends, my own tribe, my own pursuits and interests. There’s nowhere that I feel is more Home to me, now, than Darwin.
A little sorry that Kris isn’t here to attend it with me…after all, he’s the Aussie for whom I have gone to all this trouble! LOL But we’ll celebrate my belated Aussie-ness together, soon. Real soon.

I’m really excited, now. Things are happening.
Darwin CBD

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aboard the M/V sonofagun

Dude looks like a lady…

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I finally stopped by Cathy’s boat and asked her how she and Dude were getting along. She said she was delighted, they’re good mates now. Dude sat on deck, watching me but not making a fuss, and looked pretty contented. Then Cathy dropped a bomb:

“You know Dude is a female, don’t you?”

Oh. My. God. We never thought to look! We were told Dude was male, and accepted that without question! Suddenly, everything made more sense…the gentleness, the quietness, the cat’s docile and homey nature. I roared with laughter, looking at the poor kitty on deck, all these years she’d been misunderstood. I laughed all the way to the shore. I thought of how Kris only ever wants to have male cats, but he also says that Dude was the best-natured cat he’s ever had.
Laughed till I cried. Best joke the universe has played on us, ever. That was a good one.

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aboard the M/V sonofagun, paints and pens, stuff i've made

Dude

spectrum birds in colourwheel treesI made a rather happy painting for a journal today…did this in the morning, and in the hours after lunch, before I went to visit a neighbour on her boat. I’m glad I got it all finished before I went, I don’t think I could paint something so happy now.

I went to have tea this afternoon on Cathy’s boat, just next to ours. Was just trying to be a bit more sociable, and spend a little time with all the folks who have been so nice to me, before I go. While there, I brought up the subject of Dude coming to stay with her, and she told me she had rather hoped I was going to bring him over when I came for tea, and had been very excited. I felt rather abashed…she has been waiting a long time now for Dude…I have been putting it off, first telling her to wait till August, then till September. Now September’s at an end, and it suddenly seemed very selfish of me to keep her hanging on for another month or two. I guess I kept hoping for ‘the right moment’ to announce itself…for when I finally felt ‘ready’ to give Dude up. I realised, sitting with her, that I will never be ready. Now is as good a time as any. So I left her boat an hour or two later, promising to come right back with the cat.

I took my time preparing a crate for him to travel in…weaving two ropes in and out of the holes so they wouldn’t slip, and preparing the loops on the ends so that I could quickly tie the lid onto the crate once the cat was inside.

I picked him up, and started to sob, feeling his silky, soft fur and plump warm body for the last time. The silly sausage was purring…he is such a docile and gentle cat. He didn’t fight when I put him in the crate, and didn’t go wild once he was sealed in. I tied the crate up, and he sat quietly inside, wondering what the game was. He didn’t start to complain until he was in the dinghy. Every plaintive meow brought another flood of tears. I rowed him over to Cathy’s boat, because I didn’t want to traumatise him with the sound of the outboard.

We got the crate aboard, and I handed a bag over with his plate, his water bowl, his biscuits, and his brush, snuffling the whole time. She waited until I had rowed away before she opened the crate up.

I had to go back a second time, with his cat litter. Dude got very agitated, and Cathy and I swapped things—she handed me back the crate and ropes, I handed her the litter—via her dinghy, so that I wouldn’t come too close to the sailboat. As I rowed away a second time, he seemed to be looking for a way to jump over the guard rails and into the water. Cathy distracted him, and then he just sat on the back deck, watching me row away. Since I got back on board, i have tried not to look out the window at her boat…I don’t want to see him looking across the water. I think I’ll sob all night, tonight.

A part of me feels breathless…I surprised myself by just up and doing what had to be done, and it’s only starting to sink in now that Dude is not with me. I’ll miss his purring by my shoulder in bed, the adorable way he likes to sleep with his head high up on a pillow like a person, the considerate way he has learned to ‘massage’ and claw at the bedclothes just next to me, and not into my arm or head, and the sight of him stretched lazily out on the carpet at my feet.

I’ve been reduced to a leaky, snuffling mess. Cats, of course, are not like humans, they are practical and resilient creatures that live every moment fully in the present. He is not suffering the way I am suffering. He’ll be a bit put out, and he’ll look for me and the boat he used to live on, for some time. But on the whole he will settle into his new life with his new human, I think, much faster than I will get used to living without him.

I have got another two months of living here to get through, and my biggest fear is that Dude will one day try to swim across if he sees me on board. I hope, hope, hope he stays at his new home, and that the sight of me coming or going doesn’t make things difficult for Cathy.

This is just one of several tearful separations coming up…October is going to be a weepy, emotional, difficult month. Lots of advice about following your dreams will mention the pulling up of metaphorical anchors…it sounds romantic, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to do. At least, not when the other end of every anchor chain is fastened firmly to the center of your heart.

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aboard the M/V sonofagun, travel

many moons

Maun

photo taken in Maun, Northwest Botswana, by Philip Milne

Kris wrote last night from Maun, Botswana…it took him a while to get there from Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe because he had to make a detour around Chobe National Park for two reasons:
1) The park is mostly soft sand, very difficult for a bicycle, and 2) “Meals On Wheels (i.e. cyclists) are not allowed into the park, as big cats are part of the park’s animal population.

Despite not going on any paid safari tours, he’s seen a huge number of African animals just by cycling from country to country…many, such as elephants, range far beyond the borders of proprietary parks, and wander the salt pans in between Botswana and Zimbabwe. Looking for a place to do his laundry and have a wash after the day’s cycle, he noses out the nearest culvert, creek, or river, and has encountered hippos, giraffes, and more elephants who have come to the water for much the same reason that he has…a drink and a splash. I just hope he never meets with crocodiles like the ones in Philip’s photo!

Meanwhile, I sit and count the passing moons…still no word from Immigraton about my citizenship ceremony, and until I have a date for that, I can’t really say when I’ll be leaving. Please let it be soon! I miss my wandering love so much.

The last full moon was a big one. Here it is at dawn, setting behind Darwin’s remarkably ugly skyline…

moon at dawnTaking the moonrise was harder…even with a tripod, the boat itself is always moving, however imperceptibly, and the long exposure blurred the moon and its reflection…

moonrise

A bit like two moons in a sky the colour of sea glass, these spotted rays floated slowly past the boat in the morning…

two rays 3

Antidote to all these murky or misty blue moons is my happy truss tomato vine…popping with hot orange suns. Summer is coming…the dry rasp of cold mornings is gone, and the sky that was, only a month ago, as cerulean and flawless as a Wedgewood porcelain bowl, is filling with small puffs of cloud.

boat tomatoes

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life

Picking up where I left off…

Yikes, it has been a very long while since I posted…even by my lackadaisical standards! Let’s see, what’s happened since I watched dolphins playing around the boat at sunset?

The Magic Garden

Better Homes & Gardens“Better Homes & Gardens” is one of the two larger canvases (2′ x 3′) that I finished for The Magic Garden group exhibition. It started as an abstract painting, but before long I was putting in hills, houses, a #%$ rainbow, flowers, birds…ARGGH! the sort of art I admire most is the abstract expressionism of painters like Cy Twombly, or Fiona Rae, or Squeak Carnwath and Emily Ball…but it doesn’t matter how I start, with bold expressive strokes and abstract marks, in the end my inner painter takes over, much to my dismay, and Oh, hello, my inner artist is a #%&$ smurf. The only thing missing from this painting is a damn mushroom with red cap and white spots. Bane of my creative aspirations.

Pink HouseAnd here’s what eventually happened to the painting “Pink House” that I was having some trouble with, a few weeks back. I still felt unsure about the colours when I went to hang; ironically, it was among the first to get the little red dot of a sale. The lovely lady who bought it wanted to know what the ‘story’ was behind the painting, and it was only as I started talking about it that I realised that the pink, flowery land is being visited by a masculine ship from the blue sea, and the ship is flying a bee flag. So, uh, maybe the theme is “Boy meets girl”? Or “The Artist Misses Her Lover”? I made her laugh by putting on a French accent and energetically declaring “Le sujet, donc, est PUR et ´EVIDENT: c’est SEXE!”

Kris in Africa

It took Kris another 21 days to sail from Pembas, Mozambique to Richard’s Bay in South Africa. He spent a few days repairing the sailboat, and assembling his bicycle, then 12 days ago he took off for the interior: Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, and who knows where else he will decide to visit, once he’s on the road? I don’t expect to hear from him much, as internet cafés sare few and far between in the countryside.

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20131119 162559b” by ClaudireneOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

He wrote from Hazyvieuw, Mpumalanga Province, two days ago. Nothing after that e-mail, he must be rolling along again. He is loving every kilometre of the trip, and tells me he “wouldn’t trade it for the world.” And I wouldn’t trade his delight in traveling for all the world, either. His joy is my joy…I am almost sorry to be joining him, for traveling alone is a richer experience than traveling with a companion. I prefer being alone in a new country, myself, even though it can be nerve-wracking at times, because it pushes me to talk to people and make friends, and I am free to go where I please, do what I  like. You pick the language up faster, too, when you aren’t constantly speaking your own language with a compatriot. The experience is more likely to change you, if you aren’t in the constant company of someone who thinks they know you, and expects you to play a certain role or exhibit habitual behaviour.

that’s about it for news, although The Magic Garden exhibition is ongoing until the 14th of September, and many of the amazing works by the 6 other artists are still available! I will be posting the works of the other members of the group in my next post/s.

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aboard the M/V sonofagun, Darwin, Australia, life

Pack-down

dolphins at daybreak

And the night shall be filled with music,
And the cares, that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away
—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, excerpt from The Day Is Done

That my last post ended the way it did wasn’t meant to indicate despair or anything…I just realised as I was writing  it that even that soul-baring post was a form of procrastination, another devious way of putting off the more important things that, unpleasant as they were, really had to be done. So I shut down and started the pack down.

I’m, oh, maybe 75% through it now…spent the last 3 days doing nothing but. I’m glad I did; it was a pretty big job. Until this morning, it didn’t even look like I had accomplished anything! I moved 13 cubic feet of books, 7 large storage chests of fabric, craft materials, and paper into storage, looked back into the ‘den’ they’d come from, and was confronted with overflowing shelves of stuff that didn’t seem to have thinned one bit. Seemed like it would never end!

I would have hated doing this in a mad rush, say, the weekend before departure! With 7 bags of rubbish taken ashore, and 50+ books put on the yacht club’s ‘library’ shelves, and all my books, paper, and fabric hoards put away, I am flooded with relief and calm, at last. I only stopped because I ran out of rubbish bags, cardboard boxes, and plastic storage boxes, but I don’t need too many more of these, and am confident that I’ll get the rest sorted next weekend. If I get everything done by next weekend, I’m going to play with some last few paintings and bookbinding projects, knowing that I can just throw these last few things into the hold, put the paints and other perishable things in a box for artist friends, and steal away.

The newfound calm allowed me to just sit, at daybreak, and watch these dolphins playing in the creek. There’s a mum and bub pair, and then a third adult dolphin, and they were hunting, but also stopping now and then to just slide over each other and…well, it looked like play to me. The little one sticks very close to his momma. They come lurching and blowing up the creek quite often, at  night or very early in the mornings.

dolphin at daybreak

Sadgroves Creek dolphins

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Darwin, Australia, life, philosophy

Notes from inside a pressure cooker…

I wanted to be sure to reach you;
though my ship was on the way it got caught
in some moorings. I am always tying up
and then deciding to depart. In storms and
at sunset, with the metallic coils of the tide
around my fathomless arms, I am unable
to understand the forms of my vanity
or I am hard alee with my Polish rudder
in my hand and the sun sinking. To
you I offer my hull and the tattered cordage
of my will. The terrible channels where
the wind drives me against the brown lips
of the reeds are not all behind me. Yet
I trust the sanity of my vessel; and
if it sinks, it may well be in answer
to the reasoning of the eternal voices,
the waves which have kept me from reaching you.

—Frank O’Hara, “To the Harbormaster” from Meditations in an Emergency

I have until late October to disentangle myself from this life I am living, and hie myself off to South Africa in time to sail with my beloved round the Cape of Good Hope, Brazil-bound. I wake into each new day with a sense of urgency, now. I have known for at least a year that this was coming, but recently caught myself sabotaging my own plans…living in complete denial, procrastinating, snuggling even deeper into my burrow, willing myself blind and senseless to the looming deadlines. Even after Kris sailed on ahead, and his absence brought our plans into sharp focus, I have managed to push them out of my mind for days, weeks, whole months at a time. I continued to make plans that contradicted The Big Plan. Instead of sloughing my life off, I took on more commitments, more projects, invested even more in my Darwin life. I signed up for craft markets, for exhibitions, agreed to a few commissioned bookbinding projects, bought more art materials, ordered prints of my work, on paper and fabric (that I will now have to try and sell). In a completely unrealistic fog I have managed to convince myself that I can get everything done before departure, orchestrate some kind of ‘closure’ to my Darwin life, and slip away cleanly, all my if-onlies fulfilled.

I will be gone for some years and, whatever I could, I packed and loaded onto the sailboat that left two months ago. What remains here, with me, will have to stay here: packed away, to age and rot or somehow survive until our return. This thought sends me into a panic of greed and attachment. Suddenly, my stuff has become this heady drug that I am convinced I will perish without…never mind that I have had most of this stuff around me for years and years, and never did anything with it; now I want to use it all, pursue all those projects, make all those ideas come to life! Some days I feel like I am drunk…flailing, grabbing mindlessly at the things around me, desperate to somehow consume, absorb, take it all into me. My ego has associated itself with The Things I Own and The Things I Do for such a long time, that leaving all this behind is threatening it with annihilation. Without my arsenal of art and craft materials, without the labels ‘bookbinder’, ‘artist’, ‘crafter’, do I continue to exist?

It feels a lot like dying. When my best friend was diagnosed with cancer at 21, and given 6 months, at most, to live, her family and friends flew into action: suddenly she was getting guitar lessons and art lessons, lavished with new experiences, surrounded by doting relatives and friends. She, and everyone that loved her, was trying to make up for lost time, and cram as much of a rich, colourful, idyllic life into her last days. Not the grey, dreary stuff that she—like the rest of us—had been caught up with for 20 years: university, the struggle to stay afloat in the world, the little projects to generate some spending money, the daily stresses of rent, family troubles, relationships. In the end the Self reached out, at last, for those untouched dreams that had been locked down, kept in storage, awaiting a better, more opportune time, and brought them all out into the light. Desperately, greedily, fearfully—with death no longer just an abstract idea, but something close and palpable and very, very real—we finally find the courage, the focus, the desire to drop everything but the few things that our hearts, kept on a metaphorical diet of bread and water, have hungered for all their sad lives. Perhaps a little too late…and yet, not really too late. Even those things: the beloved, longed-for, dreamed-of things—even the joys of a Perfect Life spent only doing the Things That You Love—fall away, reveal themselves as unimportant, as inessential, as mere add-ons to a person’s true essence. “No regrets,” she said, over and over, the last time we could be alone together (and she not drugged up to the eyeballs nor in debilitating pain). “Today. I have today..”

When I say that packing up and leaving my home for I-know-not-what-lies-ahead is like dying, I am not trying to trivialise dying, but point out that there are lessons for living that can be learned from dying. There are lessons I come back to, over and over, from the way G. lived, and the way she died. I lose track of them often, dazzled by the color and variety of the world of form. I become attached to things, to situations, to ideas about myself or about anything else, that I then fight to preserve and hang on to, even when they are doing more damage than good to my life as a whole.
But sometimes, by grace, I am granted a moment of lucidity, and catch sight of myself scrabbling to hold on to shadows like a madwoman, hoarding and coveting imaginary treasures, fully caught up in the illusions. Sometimes the illusions are like Russian matryoshka dolls…one nesting within the other, so that I think I have popped a bubble of unreality and all is well, only to find out later that I and the first bubble were simply inside a bigger bubble.

Two weeks ago I was so sure that I had finally broken out of all bubbles when my job went back to just three days a week, and I had four whole days every week to throw myself into art-making and bookbinding and self-expression and all those things that I love and enjoy and associate with Who I Am. I could finally get down to tackling all those projects: each one hugely vital to my life, each one an absolute Must-Do on the list of Things To Do before I leave Darwin. I was going to use up all my Spoonflower fabric as well as paper and make 40+ hand-bound journals, that I would then sell at craft markets and in my ETSY shop over the next two months…along with some 500 postcards of various designs that I still have, and 50-60 giclée fine art prints of my work. I was going to try and produce another 6 paintings or so for the group exhibition “The Magic Garden” that is opening at the end of this month, as well as stitch half a dozen art dolls for another group exhibition happening in September. On top of that I was going to squeeze in some brilliant little earthenware and porcelain sculptures (to use up 45 kilos of clay, along with jars of underglazes and glazes, that I bought over the year…before it all dries out and goes hard as rock) that I have been dreaming up, plus make some one-off artist books…with lino printing, pop-ups, painting, embroidery, and mixed-media covers in high relief. I hadn’t even started to think about the time I would need to clean the houseboat and move my stuff into storag,e to make it liveable for the friend who will be moving aboard and looking after the place for us while we’re away!

Completely in denial, as I said, of what is possible, what is coming, and how much time I have left. Convinced that I don’t have to give up anything, that I can have it all, get it all done, use it all, somehow incorporate it all into my sense of Self, into a monument in honour of my talents, my aspirations, my ideas. Hubris, in other words. Not just any inflated ego…Egozilla.

This morning I got up and, filled with energy and ambition, primed new canvases to paint. While they were drying I folded and punched enough paper to make a dozen books. I started to stitch, calculating that it would take me a mere 8 hours to stitch up all 40 small book blocks. Then the thread snapped. It snapped again. And again. I spent half an hour splicing threads on just one book block. I looked for more thread and found that I have enough linen, here on the boat, to make just four books. Add to the To Do List: go ashore, cycle to Spotlight, buy 5 spools of linen thread for $70. I make a pot of coffee, discover that my stove gas is out. “Get LPG,” I add to the list. Lunchtime comes around, I only have 4 books stitched, I am out of thread, I’m starving but don’t have gas to cook lunch on. I have a headache. A guy who wanted me to make a huge 9 x 12 inch full-leather guest book for $70 dollars has told me he’d like to double the number of pages (from 100 leaves to 200 leaves) and wants me to throw in embroidering the title “just in some pretty, curly lettering” in gold thread on the leather covers…like this is just a little extra eye-candy that I should be able to manage without dramas. I send him a message saying I want $120 for the book, now, because it is heavier, will need to be made stronger, will prove difficult to fit all on one little piece of kidskin leather, adding that I have to embroider fancy letters through the rubbery skin of a dead animal with a needle and get it all positioned and centered perfectly for when the covers are made…all-in-all, a job that wouldn’t attract a sane person if she was charging even $350 for it, bearing in mind that this is starting to look like a 12-hour job, and I can earn $140 in 8 hours at Jacksons, putting tubes of paint in paper bags, smiling, and ringing them up on the register for customers. I’ve had no reply. Yet. The day gets old, the sun is on its way down the sky, now. I needed THAT commission like a hole in the head!

Like the linen bookbinding thread, something in me snaps. What am I doing this…ANY OF THIS…for? My beloved is in Africa, “living for a living”, while I try to plough my way through all my art materials and bookbinding stock so that I can maybe sell some at a craft market and be, at the most optimistic, a thousand dollars richer before I leave this place? In the meantime things run out and more spending is required simply to keep going, to keep getting up on free days in order to paint more things that may or may not sell at exhibitions? I’d have more money if I just stopped trying to make money and sat here, watching the dolphins hunt in the shallows for shadowy barramundi…

How could I have deceived myself like this for so long? What did I think lay in these last few months in Darwin that was so damn precious that I had to stay behind for it? Was it just the ego-fest of being included in a couple of group exhibitions (where you make 8 paintings in the hopes of selling two)? Was it fear of the unknown, and of going into it with very little material possessions? Was it the smug satisfaction of loading table, chair, boxes  into the dinghy and then paying a taxi $40 to get it all to the craft fair, where you stand on your tired feet as idle shoppers drift by, touch everything you make with hands that were, moments before, engaged in the eating of ice-cream or cupcakes, then toss you the ego-stroking (but otherwise worthless coin) of a compliment before moving on to the next stall (because they are just bored and have come—with their prams and their rugrats and their grumpy husbands—to be entertained, but don’t actually want to pay the money that someone—who punches and sews sheets of paper together by hand—is asking?

 

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This is EXCELLENT. Adam keeps a blog, Man vs. Debt.