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The circus. Week 3. Blogging for survival

They always burnt the grass after the circus left town. Cauterising the ground. Erasing any evidence of them. Like a guilty, dirty little secret.  I remember. It was in the spare lot on the estate and my sister and I would go there. Later. After the heat was gone. Looking for coins. Or jewelry. Or any treasure that had fallen carelessly to the grassy floor of the big top. And remained. Through the matinees and evening performances, under the feet of the towns children and beyond the reach of the monkeys.

I found a sooty crucifix once. I kept it in my ballerina jewelry box. Feeling a small tingle when I touched it. It’s an old memory. So ancient that it is a relic of a primal and pagan past. A time when wild animals were tamed for our pleasure. Living and working in a relentless cycle of performing and travelling. Not like now. No animals are harmed in the making of the circus. In Australia. Anymore.

No, not anymore. We can watch the circus from the elevated position of our high moral ground. Safe in the knowledge that all is well.  For the animals. That are no longer caged. We can go to the zoo for that. Or the supermarket. Or MacDonalds. Well not caged exactly, vacuum packed really.

I eat chicken Parmigiana. I love it so much, I order it at any opportunity. But something is troubling me. I think it’s my cat. Who isn’t mine. Aside from her carnivorous tendency to predate on frogs, which is an exceptional and unnecessary burden placed daily on my ‘do no harm’ Zen. It’s about her feelings. She has many. 

A man who wrote his thesis on the rights of elephants in Sri Lanka once said ‘I started out writing about the rights of people, studying the loss of humanity during conflict and I gave up, I gave up on people. Now I choose to think about the dignity of animals instead’. Looking at my cat I’m wondering if I’m there. If I’m giving up on people too. I think I’m on a continuum between human rights activist and crazy cat lady, inching closer to crazy daily. Much closer.

So I’m back at the circus. Heading for the big top. The fairy floss. The bench seats. I hurry everyone along. My pagan past is snapping at my heels. I can feel the sooty crucifix and smell the unmistakable scent of caged animals. I nearly trip on my own desire. To feel the seduction of the exotic other. The lure of the time before knowing. Before the burden of awareness. 

As the lights dim and the music starts I glance at the faces of my companions. My family. Up and down the generations. In that dusky light I see them. Rapt. Expectant. Shivering with anticipation. And I smile.

Here we all are. Tamed for their pleasure.

Blogging for survival

Some things endure. Not because they are worthy. Because they are durable. Plastic bottles, bad movies, Speedos, Crocs, fear of others, Dictators, slavery, the smell of mouldy laundry, bad table manners, war and nuclear waste. You get the idea. It’s not a test of value. It’s an experiment in durability. Logic tells me then that some very valuable things have been lost over time, and some real shit has remained. Just saying.

I would like to survive. Even prosper and live a long and wonderful life. The odds? I’m not made of plastic, nor do I have aspirations for a Dictatorship. Not currently anyhow. I may have to add either some luck or some grunt into my chances of survival. For me to prosper I need to maintain my freedom. I also need to increase the chances for others to maintain theirs. So they can also enjoy wearing Speedos and seeing the world decimated by wars of attrition.

There must be a tipping point. When enough energy propels a thing into immortality. How much energy would this be? How much energy would it take to save the Warrup Forest? Or even one species that lived within its safe and loving ecosystem? How much energy would it take to free one single person from immigration detention? Just how much love to remake this world? Just how much grunt for this odyssey?

I think I’m going to have to pitch in. It’s not that the Dalai Lama isn’t fabulous. He is. I just feel I could add a bit of saffron minded support. I really love the colour. It’s the colour of the Australian outback. It’s the colour of ochre. It’s the colour of that fake orange cordial Mum used to let us have as a treat. You know the one that stains your mouth for 3 days? It’s the colour of energy.

It’s not lost on me that it’s New Years Eve. People can be real dicks about this time. Me included. There is little I can do in the way of a cure. I’m looking more at prevention here. So an undertaking is at hand. An energetic blood brotherhood, cross your heart type 99th hour promise. Blogging for survival. Commitment to stain my tongue, my heart and my world with my hope. That what survives 2013 isn’t just the shit.

The bearded lady and world poverty

Alligators inhabit this lake. Popping up their gnarly heads and blinking sideways at the sun. I do likewise. Completely still. My breathing mirrors their reptilian cycle. Slow. Deep. I imagine my prehistoric self, swimming, blinking and breathing. I want that existence. To escape the burden of my own evolution. It has become too heavy.

This Florida landscape is unchanging. Evergreen, expertly manicured, colour coded and symphonically syncopated. Left is the Community centre and right is the golf course. This reality is a Tuscan, Naples, New Mexican palette with or without pool. But always with alligators.

The days take on a surreal quality. Time becomes pointless. I start drifting in the primordial pool of precognition. It’s a hospice for my weary consciousness. I am right where I need to be. A retirement community in Orlando. I retire for seven days. It’s not a test or even an experiment. Nor a taste of the future or a joke. It’s a holding cell. And it holds me gently, tastefully and oh so quietly.

My friends serve their meals on time and wash their clothes with the smells of kindness. They offer me tea and whisky at exactly the right moments. They talk of their adventurous past and their country hopping present. Their map of the world has been refolded into the shape of a heart. And they offer it to me. Part story, part hope. Paying homage to the Patron Saint of freedom.

In between journeys they choose an alligator calm. Prowling the perimeter for tasty morsels and living off the fat of the last big feed.  Contrasting colour to their monochrome world is provided by the other free humans they have found in the cell. Sniffing out those who read the Braille of the Trade winds and drawing a circle around them straight from the tropic of Capricorn. With these lofty spirits they tread water in the still pond of their gated community.

An evening of conversation has been arranged in my honour. We will gather together and discuss all things pertinent to the survival of the cell. I will be the evening’s delicacy. Wild grown, organic Australian. I arrange my face into openness and strike a dignified pose as we career along in the golf cart. I can do retirement community chic.

Having been pre warned about the calamitous state of their neighbours’ cellar I take along a bottle of Australian wine as a peace offering. Works a treat. Soon I’m being comfortably arranged at the round table with a glass of something quite palatable and I start to feel, well, almost unguarded. A little prematurely. As I take a satisfied sip of their Californian Chardonnay, 6 pairs of eyes turn and pierce me with an all knowing gaze. I smell my flesh starting to sauté in the juices of expectation. My friends throw down the gauntlet, ‘So Lisa, tell us all what you are hoping to do about world poverty’. I take a long sip of wine. It’s starting to get a bit crowded here in the primordial pool. Time to evolve. Real fast.

After making several  attempts to explain the tenuous relationship between me and the solution to world poverty, the spokesperson of the pod comes to my rescue. ‘I have only met one other Australian’, she says. ‘On a cruise. She had a problem with extreme facial hair. And she was real grouchy’. At this point there are a couple of themes running through my reptilian brain. 1) The interest of the non poor in poverty, 2) The chances of meeting an Australian woman on a cruise with problematic facial hair and, 3) How I can get something stronger to drink.

My long pause has been misconstrued as deep thought and they all continue to wait for me to respond.  ‘Maybe she was grouchy because she left her shaving gear at home’. Pause. ‘I know just how she feels’. Pause, pause, pause. I turn as I hear a gentle clearing of the throat and it is the husband of the speaker. ‘Actually that is only one side of the story. My wife warned me not to speak to this woman, she told me she was unstable and very hostile, but I ignored her and sat down right next to her. I struck up a conversation with her and found her to be quite human. We got on famously after that’.

The gentleness of his tone reminds us all of our human spirit. The very same one that lifts us out of our still ponds and wires us for freedom. The six pairs of eyes look more kindly on me now. The monster has been repelled. ‘Don’t look so worried Lisa’, they say, ‘we won’t bite’.

I blink sideways at the sun.

Letter to the Expert Panel on Asylum seekers

Dear Very Important people,

I have always had a home. A physical place that I return to at the end of each day, safe in the knowledge that it will still be there, full up with my memories, my life and the people I love. Growing up in country Australia much of the lexicon of my childhood derived from this sense of permanence. When the bell sounded at the end of the school day I knew it was ‘home time’, when our annual beachside holidays drew to a sandy and sunburnt closure I knew it was ‘time to go home’ and when I was asked where I lived, I could always rattle off my address confidently. Accurately. Proudly.

Later when I began to travel the world I became acquainted with the notion of ‘homesickness’. That tenderest and most insistent pull from afar. That indescribable mixture of emotions full of burning eucalyptus leaves, Dads pancakes, the fresh newspaper and the relaxation of the self when it returns to the heartland. I have discovered that the more I journey into the world of others the more I have had to reason, argue and cajole this homesick self into widening the arc of the returning boomerang.

And so I ask. What force of nature, what passionate and counter intuitive purpose would it take to drive me permanently away from everything I hold dear, from the things that have made me, from the people I love, from my home? What doomsday prophet, what nuclear threat, what horror could coerce me to leave behind, without safe passage, to an uncertain future, my life and my heartland?  Forever. I get nervous when I don’t have an airport transfer.

The heart yearns for home. Every heart yearns for home. We all share the same heart. And what a brave and courageous heart that is. To risk never returning to the heartland in the hope of life without fear, oppression, persecution and harm. I am struck by the profound sacrifice of this departure and know, as I have known from childhood, that it is a decision I will never have to make. Viva Australia. A lucky country with lucky, lucky people. And careless with that luck.

So why should we care when our neighbour has no home, when they have no place to rest the body that holds the heart that beats in time with our own?  Because that is our heart. And it’s breaking. Dear Very Important people, the only durable solution is a heartfelt one. Offer a home to those who seek one, increase our humanitarian intake, promptly process applications and process in country and end mandatory detention.

Make us a luckier country.

With all my heart,

Lisa Craig

Crying in four octaves

There is a rare breed of person who can seamlessly scale the Everest of music and sing in multiple octaves. Gifted creatures who reauthor our musical atlases every time they work their vocal chords. Think Kate Bush, Freddie Mercury, Christine Aguilera, Mariah Carey, ummm yes, Whitney Houston, Madonna, Yma Sumac the Peruvian songbird, Michael Jackson, Axl rose and Tim Buckley (father of the soulful Jeff). Moving as they do through the minors and the majors and taking us earth bound brutes with them. And leaving song shaped holes in our hearts.

This musical virtuosity is breathtaking. So expressive is this ripe habitation of the human vocal chords that I wonder if these people really need to do anything else particularly well. Potentially they could get through life just grunting and sniffing. Maybe they do, maybe this very talent creates an equal and opposite deficit in some other sense. Is it possible to have a gift of this magnitude and be ordinary in every other way? I find it compelling to consider if this breadth of expression is shared by other souls. Could we all have a potential for this depth and breadth? How we find this ‘voice’ may be as peculiar and individual as our fingerprints.

The people who are close to me know I am spontaneously moved to tears. Crying for me is a response to life. In all its glory. In all its horror. In all its pathos. I don’t think ‘now is a good time to cry’, I don’t think. I cry and then I think. I cry and think. I breathe and cry and think. I laugh and breathe and cry and think. I cry little and I cry big. A rather pragmatic friend of mine looked at my squished up crying face one day and said “the problem with you is you have too much water inside you. Every time someone presses you, it comes trickling out!” Crying for me is like being multi lingual. I get to express myself in a language that everyone understands. Or recognises at least. Understanding maybe rather more elusive.

Crying is a theatrical and social risk. Upon accepting an academy award. OK. Upon hearing that your dear friend has met the man of her dreams on the internet and is eloping with him. Not OK. Either way, I don’t have a crying permission filter. It happens. Inconveniently, painfully, soulfully. It exposes my private and soft spaces and leaves me to deal with it. Hello. My name is Lisa. If you are interested in knowing me you will have to deal with tears. Not daily. But profoundly, frighteningly, surprisingly. Crying big and small. Hello. Alive equals crying.

When I can, I will have a fairly decent crack at a couple of octaves of weeping in the privacy of my own room, home, car, backyard or movie theatre. A movie theatre is not exactly private however I do feel quite separate from others cocooned as I am in the dark. I’m not sure though if this feeling is mutual. On these occasions I am not really fettered by the concern of how my crying might affect others, how contorted my face may become or whether or not there is something to wipe my nose on. I’m usually prepared. I can then, as they say, open the flood gates. It is at these times when I feel that I truly inhabit my crying self, owning my sadness and bringing that shadowy self in. Into the light.

It is when crying ambushes me that I get into trouble. Meandering through this life, quite ordinarily really. Getting up, getting dressed, going to work, going home, and going to bed. You know. And then BAM! I catch an exchange, read something beautiful, think about someone I love, hear a particular kind of story, remember a moment. I may sniff out a few notes or if I don’t catch myself in time, I may cry a couple of lines of melody, however if all the conditions are right, I move into a full blown aria. At that moment I am not so much inhabited by my crying self as possessed by it. To my horror.

I have tried to reason with this dark twin and it goes something like this……… ‘I acknowledge the legitimacy of crying, the powerful health benefits of self-expression, the emotional wellbeing that can come from such catharsis; I really do understand and believe it is so. However, can we just not do this in public anymore? Please?’ No dice. The ego, the id, the inner child, the past life princess, the other self, they all formed a quorum and voted my self- respect away. One sobbing sonata at a time.

So I have befriended this unruly and unshaven beast. When she makes her uninvited entrance I have started to nervously welcome her in and introduce her around. I’m finding she has become less of a nuisance caller and more like one of the family. One of my family. Unique I think is the word. So it was with a modicum of newly developed control that I read the news report, in a public place, of the drowning off the coast of Australia of a boat full of asylum seekers.

And then I cried my own opus. In four octaves.

Would you like some ice-cream with your Warhol?

Last week I went into my local supermarket to take some photos of ice-cream. Why? Whimsy I guess. There I was, camera in hand, waiting patiently in front of the hokey-pokey while the supermarket person restocked the shelf. Just standing. Waiting. Assembling my arty shots in my minds eye. Hokey pokey here, Neapolitan there, Chocolate ripple on the periphery.

You know that feeling you have when someone is staring at you? Like a heat seeking missile bearing down on you. You know it’s there, aimed at you and you just don’t know quite how to dodge it. I got that feeling. There. And I didn’t think it was because I was wearing my favourite shirt.

I kept standing. Staring. Pretending as you do that everything is as it should be. Peachy. Ice creamy. Ordinary. The staring intensified. I could feel myself being vaporized by the heat of it. I moved a little closer to the ice-cream to maintain my core temperature. I must have waved my camera menacingly in my fright because that’s when she moved in for the kill.

Madam? Madam? MADAM! Are you taking photos? I turned to meet her front on, cornered as I now was between the Paddle pops and the Cornettos. Is it a rhetorical question? I must have given her a particularly Cro-magnum stare because she asked again, sounding the syllables out helpfully for me. Are. You. (Pointing at me) Tay. King. Pho. Tos? And then she did a button pressing motion with her hand.


Then I made a false move. I turned my back to her and looked at the ice-creams again. Clearly in a rather predatory, hostile and uncooperative way. MADAM! Do you have permission to take photos of the ice-cream? From whom? The Museum of confectionery? The patents department of the ice-cream world? Metro Goldwyn Mayer? The Sony Corporation? Weight Watchers? My parents? What are you talking about? Whose permission do I need to take a photo of a freezer full of double chocs?

I hmmpphed. Providing confirmation of my Neanderthal status. More over articulating syllables were jettisoned towards my uncomprehending idiocy. Do. You. Have. Per. Mish. On. To Take. Pho. Tos? More button pressing hand motions. Oh Please. Just stick me in the deep freeze now and get it over with.


Pause. Disbelief.  From. The.  Manager? Of. The. Store?  I must say that by now time had ceased to exist. The entire supermarket community were now holding their breath and had turned their collective, hungry and wolf pack eyes toward the diorama of the perishables in aisle 13.

I gave myself permission. I gave myself permission to take photos of ice-cream when I walked in here and took the photo. I pointed the camera towards her angriness and also did a button pressing motion with my hand. Oh no. No, no, no, no, no.



If you get permission from the Manager, then you can, but otherwise, no. No? No.

I looked around.

Everyone was mouthing “No” and shaking their heads. I retreated. Backing away slowly my exit was aided by the communal sigh of relief, whooshing around me and propelling me towards the rabbit hole I had crawled in through. The trouble was now over. The blip on the supermarket heart monitor had been sorted and shallow breathing could resume as normal. As one, they turned and whispered reassuringly to their small children and iphones; ‘She’s gone now’.

What seems now like scant moments later I found myself in the Western Australian Art Gallery. Staring again at a wall full of supermarket consumables.  Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans. What a delight to be allowed to roam freely and recklessly amongst the masterpieces of my cultural memory. Henri Matisse, Constantin Brancusi, Piet Mondrian, Fernand Leger, Marcel Duchamp, Giorgio de Chirico, Joan Miro, Alexander Calder, Jasper Johns and Jackson Pollock. Biting it off, chewing on it and commenting loudly on how delicious it all was, I joined all the other cultural gastronomes enjoying their first decent meal in a long time.

I found the Warhol that I really like. It’s just so fabulous. Taking the mundane and the everyday, the repetitive and mass produced and convincing us all that its art. Creepy genius. It was a once in a lifetime moment and I sat underneath the painting and asked my friend Ami to take my photo. Click, click, clickety click. Then I felt the eyes again. Not menacing this time, but there. Not really staring but watching nonetheless. I continued posing. Ami continued focusing. Click, click, clickety click.

As I stood, an elderly gallery guard sidled up quietly beside me and whispered………. ‘did you know you are not really supposed to photograph the Warhols?’ No hand motions of button pressing or over articulation of the War or the Hols.  I turned to look at this gentle and respectful man and to gauge the depth of my trespass only to find he had already merged with the dripping Pollocks.

So Andy. Make a Warhol out of that.

The Very Australian Women’s Leadership heist

What was that guy’s name? The great train robber who hid somewhere in South America for years on end and had the whole world on alert for sightings of him? Ah yes, Ronald Biggs. Well I have found his contemporary counterpart. Jonathan Littlest*. The difference is that Jonathan Littlest doesn’t think he has anything to hide. Actually quite the opposite. Jonathan Littlest has stuff to tell us. More importantly Jonathan Littlest has stuff to tell us women.

We read the smoozy flyer, the testimonials, and the quotes from inspirational women. Yes we wanted to be part of that; we want some respite from the often thankless, challenging and relentless work of managing our human service agencies. We want it so bad that we will pay $2000 from our tiny training budgets to get it. Hooray, two days professional development with other women. What could go wrong?

Well just about everything.

Firstly we walked up to the wrong registration booth. I don’t know about you but I don’t think I look like a complete social misfit. I wear clothes. I brush my hair. Mostly. Anyway the woman at the desk lifted her somnolent eyes heavenward and let out an audible sigh and said ‘this is for tax accountants, are you in the right place?’ Well! Doesn’t matter that I wasn’t in the right place. How rude. I could have worked for the Australian Tax Office for all she knew.

I was a bit surprised when I did find the right place. For the whopping big registration fee I was expecting the Palace of Versailles. But no.  A grey windowless room with no heat and jugs of ice water. Maybe it’s thematic. Making us feel right at home. In the gulag.

To complete the scene, every single woman had come dressed in black. Did I miss the bit on the invite that said prison garb required? These women already know stuff mate, they know not to stand out in a workplace in case some tosser like you notices them and decides to give them a few tips about how to get ahead in a man’s world. Thanks for the heads up though. We all know which organisation has a neon sign flashing above it that reads ‘only fuckwits need apply’.

So Jonathan treated a room full of leaders to his homily on good parenting. Well his good parenting. On what he wanted written on his tombstone and on cutting edge research from 2007. And if we weren’t that au fait with how to do research we could ‘Google’ it. Goodie. His tip for championing women in the workplace? Get men talking to men. Better still!

The Jonathons of the world come from a privileged place. Self assured enough to walk into a room of women, insult them and expect a round of applause. And yes Jonathan, the personal is political. So that special place in hell that Madeline Albright said was reserved for women who didn’t help other women? There is room for one man. One Little one.

*Name changed to protect the women who work with him.

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