Out and About Is Where It’s At

I’m two weeks in to a two month contract, which, against trend for a short term contractor like myself, will see me working through December and most of January.

I’m glad to be back at work after such a long break, and loving the contract for many reasons, but unfortunately I’m still having difficulty achieving a work/life/writing balance, a problem I first encountered (and wrote about) earlier this year.

That’s the only downside, really. The rest is all positives. The work is interesting and challenging, the people are great (you know who you are!) and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t happy to see some income again, especially so close to Christmas.

Then there’s the incidental positive, the one I wasn’t expecting. I’d gotten so used to being mostly shut away in my own home, at the computer, or in my car, or helping my mum settle into her new home, that I’d forgotten about the kind of experiences you can have when you’re out and about, interacting with your community. Mostly this involves seeing familiar faces on the way to work, or on the train during the daily commute. Experiences that make you feel connected to the people around you and become a welcome, expected part of your day.

Sometimes, though, the experiences can be completely out of the ordinary and completely unexpected.

I had an experience just like that the other morning. I was walking to the station when I saw a young man walking towards me about 50 metres away. He was a man I’ve seen many times before, though not for several months. He’d be in his early 30s, I think, though he looks older.

He has schizophrenia, or at least I assume he does. Every time I’ve seen him in the past he has looked lost in his own world, tormented by his demons and has usually shouted aggressively at the people, cars, dogs or anything else that he passed on the street.

Once I looked up and saw him walking towards me I started psyching myself up. I was thinking, ‘It’s okay, he may yell at you but it’s okay… just be prepared for him to yell at you.’ That sort of thing.

He came closer and closer and then, when he was directly in front of me, instead of yelling at me he said, “Excuse me, madam, would you like me to sing you a song?”

He was polite. He spoke articulately. There were no demons.

I was totally caught by surprise and stammered, “Oh um…um…” and he continued, “I realise you’re probably busy, on your way to work or something, but I just thought that perhaps for a few dollars you’d like me to sing you a song.”

I looked into his clear hazel eyes and said, “Do you know what: I’d love you to sing me a song. But I’m on my way to work, so can you walk with me and sing?” and he said yes, changed direction so he could walk with me and instantly burst into song.

He sang a few lines of what seemed to be a folk song about a blue-eyed girl while I fumbled in my bag for my wallet.

And his voice…his voice was strong, and beautiful and full of warmth. It was husky and smooth. It sounded like velvet.

It was the kind of voice that, had he been on a talent show on television, would have left the audience with mouths gaping open and tears welling up in their eyes because they just weren’t expecting a voice like that to come out of a man like him, and in the end they’d have given him a standing ovation.

I gave him three dollars and he instantly stopped and said “thank you very much” and that I was “very generous” and I said, “It was worth it! You’ve got a gorgeous voice!” He said thank you again and turned and walked away, heading in the opposite direction to me.

I looked back and called out, “You know what: you’ve got really beautiful eyes!” and he turned around, his face beaming, and yelled out, “Thank you!” I was smiling, too.

Exhilarated, I smiled all the way to work. It was an utterly extraordinary encounter. The kind you don’t have when you’re sitting at home alone, on your computer.

The kind you can only have when you get out and about in your community and start interacting with real people.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go out.


Postscript on an Artist

“The Web does not just connect machines, it connects people.” – Tim Berners-Lee

Some months ago I wrote a post on the artist’s voice which mentioned two women that had inspired me: blogger Vy Chazen, and artist Joyce Meier.

Vy follows my blog (as I do hers) and commented on my post almost straight away. I never expected to hear from Joyce Meier, however, as I’d only read about her online.

So you can imagine what a very big and pleasant surprise it was when her daughter, Sue Lovitt, contacted me a couple of weeks ago after coming across my blog.

We corresponded very briefly by email. I was incredibly touched to learn that Sue had read to Joyce what I’d written about her.

Sue also told me that as a result of the article in The Age, the Bridget McDonnell Gallery in Carlton would be holding a solo exhibition for Joyce Meier and she invited me along to the opening, which was on Sunday, 10 November. After participating in many, many group exhibitions, this was to be Joyce’s first solo show… at age 96!

At first I wasn’t sure I would be able to make it. 10 November is the date my father passed away and I wasn’t sure that I should be out and about on the anniversary of his passing. But as the day drew closer I knew I would always regret not going and missing out on the opportunity to meet both Joyce and Sue.

And so I went. The gallery, in an old, narrow, multi-story, building in Carlton, was absolutely packed. Despite the crowd I immediately spotted Joyce, seated and looking radiant, and standing next to her, her daughter Sue. Both were beaming with pride.

I introduced myself to Sue and she warmly clasped my hand and told Joyce who I was. Joyce looked up at me and said, “Well, what do you know!” I could’ve fainted with delight.

As so many of Joyce’s paintings depict children (either as part of broader scenes of everyday life, or as groups playing traditional games), June Factor, author of many children’s books and researcher of children’s play and folklore, was invited to open the exhibition.

June spoke about Joyce’s life and about her art, noting that overwhelmingly Joyce’s art displays a “warm and affectionate embrace” of everyday life.

I couldn’t agree more. As someone who loves writing about the common place and the everyday, what I especially loved about Joyce Meier’s work is her eye for the small details of life. The arch of a back, just so, in The Doorway, capturing perfectly the body of a young girl straining to see. Or the dogs saying a tentative hello to each other in the foreground of Winter, Powlett Reserve.

Painting depicting five young girls, four of whom are standing at a doorway, looking in, their backs to the viewer

Many of the paintings in the exhibition were large group scenes but there were also portraits that captured intimately the relevant detail of their sitter. The focussed, deeply engrossed face of The Surgeon, Atherton, for example.

portrait of a man in military uniform (bust size)

While the portraits are characterised, as most portraits are, by their stillness, the group scenes are mostly action shots: beautifully capturing the movement of life. There is the playful movement of children jumping under a skipping rope, climbing a tree, contesting a mark in a game of football or riding their bicycles. But there is also agitated, urgent movement, most evident in the rally captured in Study for Confrontation and in Confrontation itself.

painting depicting a rally with protestors in foreground waving banner, and police on horses in the background

Joyce Meier is an artist who has loved both the movement and the stillness of life and has painted with her love on her sleeve.

Eventually it was time to go, though not without asking first if I could get a photo with Sue and Joyce, who gratefully obliged me. My friend Joi at the ready with my camera, the photos were taken.

When I look at these photos now I can’t help but think I look a little starstruck. Which is fair enough, too. To be honest, I still can’t believe my luck, to write about an artist who inspires me, and through that writing meet her.

Discontinuing My Brand Loyalty

As regular readers of this blog will know, I sometimes have a problem dealing with stress. It takes me a while to process difficult issues or situations and the resulting stress manifests in a number of ways physically on my body: eczema, migraines, coldsores, back seizing up, and ulcers to name the top five.

When these things occur I have to fight both the cause of the stress and the manifestation, and so over the years I’ve collected an arsenal of tablets, potions and creams in my medicine cabinet to help me attack each specific symptom.

My system has been working perfectly… until recently. I developed a bad mouth ulcer over the last couple of weeks (hope this isn’t grossing anyone out, by the way). When I reached for my trusty bottle of Applicaine Solution ™, which I’ve been using to successfully treat mouth ulcers for over ten years, I discovered the little bottle was completely dry.

No problem, I thought, I’ll just go to the chemist and get another one. But I tried several chemists and no one seemed to stock it. When I took my old bottle to one chemist to show them, they took a quick look and said, “You realise it expired in March 2007? Maybe they don’t make it any more. It’s probably discontinued.”

Discontinued. The very word fills me with dread. I don’t know about you but whenever I find out my favourite products are discontinued I feel as though my life will never be the same again.

Back at the chemist, I was devastated. Applicaine Solution has always been my go-to always-works answer to mouth ulcers. What do they mean they don’t make it any more? They have to make it! I need them to make it!

I was offered options. I bought a new liquid solution that not only tastes awful, it looks disgusting. It’s a grainy brown liquid, which tends to dribble down my chin when being applied. Applicaine Solution never tasted awful. It never dribbled.

The whole episode has made me think of other times in my life when an item that I know and love and trust to be always available to me has been discontinued and how devastated I’ve been.

There was the famous Poppy lipstick incident of the 1990s, for example. In my 20s I wore lipstick all the time. My favourite lipstick, which became synonymous with my look (such that I had one), was a Poppy lipstick in a shade called “Fantasy”. I loved that lipstick shade so much that on an occasion when they were on sale I took the opportunity to stock up and bought about six or seven of them.

Needless to say, they lasted several years. When they finally ran out, I went to Myer to buy more.

“Sorry,” I was told, “they’re out of stock.”

“Out of stock? When are you getting more?”

“Never. I meant to say they’re discontinued. Poppy went out of business.”

“What??? When?”

“Three years ago.”

I was gutted. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever recovered. I never found a shade to replace it and I stopped wearing lipstick except for very rare occasions. It was life changing.

More recently, there was the Tetley orange and cinnamon tea drama. I love herbal teas and in autumn this year I discovered an orange and cinnamon flavoured tea that was just magnificent. The perfect accompaniment to sitting by the fire with a good book on a cold winter’s day (not that I have a fire to sit by, of course, but you get the gist).

I’d only been drinking it for about two months when it suddenly disappeared from the supermarket shelves. I was mortified. I couldn’t believe it was happening again.

After a month of trying various supermarkets I’d given up. It was a short-lived love affair, I decided, but no less passionate for that. Then about a week later I walked into the one local supermarket I hadn’t tried and was elated to discover they still had several packs of the tea.

I bought ten boxes.

When I got home I immediately opened one to make a cup of tea (I’d been craving it all month) and discovered a little note from the fine people at Tetley that said they were changing the packaging of the tea and to look out for new packaging on the supermarket shelves soon.

Yes, it turns out that the tea was not disappearing forever, it was merely out of stock while they sorted out the new packaging. It wasn’t discontinued after all. Praise be to the Gods.

It’s funny that so much work and money goes into researching and achieving brand loyalty these days. My message to companies on this matter is quite simple: if you don’t discontinue my favourite products, I won’t discontinue my brand loyalty.

Meanwhile, wish me luck in applying a dribbly, brown liquid to my ulcers.