Sep 072017
 

Walk and Write Stephanie Dale on pilgrimage in Croatia

“The longing is the path.”

Anna Davidovich

 

There’s nothing like a long walk to get to know the voices in your head. It’s hilarious really . . . until you realise those voices are shaping every moment of every day of your life.

Some years ago, I walked across Italy and through the Balkans. I was heading to Istanbul – imagine that, walking from Rome to Istanbul (I sure did! imagine it, that is) – but the thunderstruck, snowbound mountains of Macedonia pulled the journey up short in Albania.

I was in my late 40s – 49 to be precise – and in the end I walked a day for every year of my life. That’s 49 years of being hammered and tonged through life on Earth. That’s 49 years of voices clammering for attention over 49 days.

I had 20kgs on my back, far too much for a woman of my stature and age and condition, but there was nothing wasted in that weight – hell, I wore the same clothes for 49 days! My feet were like concrete at the end of every day. My shoulders ached a good deal of the way. My physical state was nothing compared to the mental and emotional exhaustion of the clamouring voices.

49 years of incessant blah blah blah for company – other people’s opinions and judgements and stories and ideas rattling their way through my body, shaping my own opinions and judgements and stories and ideas; my own stories and judgements shaping their world in turn; our interconnected lives a riot of reaction and response.

For 49 days I buckled under the weight of the voices – because on pilgrimage, the only thing you are actually ‘doing’ is putting one foot in front of the other . . . for as long as it takes – the voices that are usually silenced, snuffled, smothered by the busy-ness of everyday life had finally found their moment to shine.

The writer, friends, is also on pilgrimage.

I was following my son’s lead, walking with him for the middle leg of his own, much longer, pilgrimage – from Canterbury to Jerusalem (I mean really, imagine that – 7000kms, 16 countries).

My son led me through countries and landscapes I would not have ventured into on my own, particularly ‘the Balkans’. Once we entered Bosnia, the voices in my head had me convinced I’d tread on a landmine and lose a limb. I peed on flat rocks to avoid treading on unturned dirt and ignored the small splashes on the legs of my trousers. As for Albania – my body was a frozen riot of death as we entered this unknown dark state.

My head was a double riot because of an email my son had received from our couchsurfing host in Albania’s capital, Tirane, an American Fulbright scholar. She had said we should stick to the highway in Albania, which is flat and straight and safer than the mountains. She had said that if we avoided the mountains, however, we may miss out on an ‘adventure’, because ‘Albanian hospitality in the northern highlands is unmatched’. She said that according to the Kanun, the ancient northern Albanian code of customs and ethics, a guest in one’s home takes the form of God and that people would treat us like royalty. Those who break the custom of hospitality would be killed, she added. My son liked the idea of being treated like God.

My mind was full of it . . . the mountains . . . Albania . . . Macedonia . . . strangers . . . fear . . . lives on the line.

And this was the moment I truly understood the power of story. And the unpower of giving credit to the riot.

The fear and anxiety were all made up, products of my head. They had zero substance outside of me. For weeks I had been entertaining made up stories. Fairy tales. I had been giving power to imaginary sagas based on . . . ? Fictions, that were living in my body, defining my life, shaping my experiences, creating what I see around me and all round doing their best to sabotage my fabulous walk from Rome to Istanbul.

In that moment I learned to ask a question: am I safe now? Errrrr, yep. Now? Ummm, yep. What about now? Sure am.

Stories.

The writer faces the same challenges.

Set out on the book writing journey and, not only will your writing lead you to and through places you’d never go on your own, the unmet voices will start up. Their demands will be simple at first: there’s dusting to do (even for women who ‘don’t dust’), the car needs washing (for the first time all year), the garden needs a water (even though it rained yesterday).

Make it to your pen and paper and the voices will begin to get nasty, usually with variations on the following themes:

* you’ve got better things to do (you’re wasting time)

* you didn’t finish school (who the hell do you think you are?)

* who’d want to read it anyway? (I am not worthy of being a writer)

* what I want to write is so bland (only special people with talent should do this).

These voices are standing between you and a deep, deep longing in your heart to write. Like a woman on pilgrimage through foreign lands, you have a choice: go nowhere, do nothing. Or face up, stare the voices down, pick up your pen and paper – and write.

Do it. Do it anyway. Dance with the voices. Invite them to dinner. Entertain them. Ask them questions. Get to know them. And learn to ignore them and get on with your heart’s desire (which, if you are reading this, is to write).

Because here’s what else: every moment of every day in every single thing you do, these voices are shaping your life. They are keeping you small. They are making sure you will never ever ever even try. To do. The one thing. You long to do. More than anything else.

Write.

And here’s another what else: step forward despite the voices to pick up that pen, and you will get brave.

Very, very brave.

 

Stephanie DaleWritten by Stephanie Dale, author, journalist & traveling writer; founder of The Write Road and Walk and Write.

Stephanie Dale is an award-winning journalist and author with a fondness for walking and writing. She is a passionate advocate for the visibility and voices of everyday people and focuses on supporting new and unpublished writers to write and keep writing. The Write Road is dedicated to empowering people to tell their stories, their way.

Walk & Write The Camino

 September 7, 2017  Tagged with: , , , ,  No Responses »
Apr 212014
 

Stephanie Dale Vatican

Rome! I am in Rome!!! I am in a gorgeous city that is warm and friendly and pulsing with the ages. I cannot remember ever being more pleased to be anywhere. Perhaps that is freedom’s colossal high, truth’s freewheeling zenith. Nowhere else to be but here. And it is my good fortune that ‘here’ is Rome.

Getting here took the best part of the day, most of it in slow-mo through security at Gatwick – until the announcement of our flight’s imminent departure compelled us to jump the queue and sprint a mini-marathon to Gate 105.

Puffing and laughing in our seats at the back of the plane, I remind Ben of his furious vow never to fly with me again, after I made him hurry to beat the crowd through immigration on a flight home from New Zealand half his lifetime ago. As it turned out, that was our last flight together, until now. We laugh so hard with the memory our eyes fill with tears. In an act of culinary desperation we stuff our faces with Toblerone for breakfast, taking turns to stare out the window, snow-struck by the white mountains far below.

Rome! Fiumicino Airport might have been forgetful had I not lost 250 Australian dollars to a wheeler-dealer at the exchange counter. The ride in from the airport might have been forgetful had I not insisted on taking the train (robbing Peter to pay Paul for the backgammon board) only to end up having to get a taxi to our room near the Vatican anyway.

The taxi drops us into the traffic on the outside of the vast cobbled plain that stretches to the Vatican steps. From there we lug our packs up the hill on the Vatican’s western flank, to the same apartment where Ben stayed when he walked in from Canterbury six weeks ago.

We dump the bags on our beds, grab the cameras and head straight out for lunch at the little deli on the corner, sitting in a basement at the foot of a small set of narrow wooden stairs, at a table with a red chequered cloth and a mound of white bread. And there the journey begins. We order wine. I order vegetarian antipasto, which comes, eventually, loaded with chunky cured meats. Ben orders spaghetti bolognaise and I can’t believe he’s come all this way for a spag-bol. We practise filming as we wait. We film the elderly waiter as he goes up and down the stairs, bringing food for all the guests but us. We raise our glasses and film a toast for the road ahead. We interview each other for the camera and laugh at our self-consciousness and our Australian-ness, stark against the ease of the Romans. The Romans!

We spend the afternoon walking around the streets, laughing in the heat of the day about the burning in our shoulder blades from the daypacks, knowing that it’s going to get one hell of a lot worse. We return to our room and collapse on the beds, rolling about laughing as we kick off our shoes with tell-tale groans because our feet are hot and tired and the walk hasn’t even begun. And we breathe in the simple pleasure of our small apartment, because come Saturday, September 22, two days from now, when day equals night and the sun turns on its heels for its southbound run, even the simplest of comforts – a clean bed, or any bed; a hearty meal, or any meal – will no longer be ours for the asking. For me, the madness is about to begin. For Ben, the madness is about to begin again. It is a privilege to be sharing this walk with my son. He has a grace and ease about him that is uncommon in our world. The first leg of his journey was a quintessential rollercoaster ride of challenge and fun, filling him with the lightness of being that comes to those who meet life as it presents itself. His is a steady eye and an open heart. This is the gift of the road.

Late in the afternoon, we decide to experiment with night filming at the Fontana di Trevi, the city’s famous Trevi Fountain. We ask around for the bus and board with the workday crowds, oblivious to systemic demands that we buy a ticket first, shrugging with the nonchalance of the stranger who doesn’t know and shouldering the free ride. We roll off the bus into the crowded evening, following our senses with the grace of tumbleweeds into the breezy, fluid night.

As far as I know, the only picture I have ever seen of the Trevi Fountain is in the opening credits of an American sitcom I liked to watch as a kid, ‘ To Rome With Love’. I was captivated by the notion that children could have a dead mother and I’d watch the kids on that show like a tiger in the grass, wired for proof of the impossible. In the opening, the children are sitting on the edge of the fountain. In my memory of the opening, the fountain is big and round and white and dramatic and there’s a busy road running around it. So I’m somewhat surprised to find the Fontana di Trevi is: a) neither big nor round; b) doesn’t have a road in sight; and c) packed with tourists jostling in the dark for viewing space. Of course, that was before I knew that the building behind it, the Palazzo Poli, is, depending on who you ask and what you read, considered part of the fountain.

Here in the company of Neptune rising, sea horses galloping and the berobed virgin who found the source of the gushing water in the first place; in the presence of stone waves, tritons and chariots; among tourists crushed alive with the night and locals fishing coins from the water with long magnetic poles; in the heart of a city that hasn’t missed a beat for three millennia, my world stills and I tilt my head to the night, listening ham-radio curious for the ones who walked this way before. Before me. Before you. Before.

I look to the night sky and come face to face with the colours of antiquity: a gold half moon, crisp and poised on its tip, egged on by an audacious indigo sky. Longing rises within me like sap to the warm sun, and I glimpse the obsessive fervour of the artisans, the crazed desire that commanded them to reproduce the ethereal, to give it form, to make it solid, to arrest God and celebrate their genius – or go mad in the trying. Face to the heavens, I smile at the enormity of the challenge before them: to find that blue on Earth!

My Pilgrim's Heart Australian editionExcept from My Pilgrim’s Heart, by Stephanie Dale

Nov 302013
 
Photo of the campaign: ALP candidate for Forde, former Queensland Premier Peter Beattie, with Labor legend Bob Hawke.

Photo of the campaign: ALP candidate for Forde, former Queensland Premier Peter Beattie, with Labor legend Bob Hawke.

The other day a smart, savvy, engaged woman I know told me she plans to vote informal on September 7 – her decision has as much to do with media coverage as it does with politics.

In short: ” Can’t bring myself to vote for Tony Abbott, can’t forgive Kevin Rudd his asylum seeker policy, none of the small parties have grabbed my attention, underwhelmed by reporting of the campaign.”

Here in the Queensland electorate of Forde, the Inane Question of the Campaign Award goes to one of the young TV reporters down from Brisbane to interview the Federal Health Minister, Tanya Plibersek.

“Kevin Rudd said he has a beer every half hour on the campaign – as health minister would you advise this?”

Really?

The federal health minister is in your face in an electorate of high disadvantage and the only question you have relates to a throwaway line that in any right-thinking world may have made a humorous post-election mash-up – yet in 2013 is headline news?

Really.

Buried in one of my No Fibs stories is the answer to a question the mainstream media have been asking one of the candidates since the election was announced. It is buried not because I am hiding it, and not because I’m being contrary.

It is buried because that is where it belongs in the context of the interview. It is not the news. It is not something that impacts on anything at all other than the candidate’s own life. It was information that was offered to me as a small stitch in a conversational tapestry. To drag it out of its context and make it ‘the news’ would be a ‘gotcha’ moment, the kind that distorts comment, betrays trust and is the foundation stone of the toxic dance between politics and media in 2013.

It is a primary reason why our political representatives are cautious, wary and disinclined to talk straight.

That and the fact we the people are inclined to snatch small inanities from the media tree and swing them high in a merciless wind, baying for blood.

And there we have the third limb of the current cynical climate of disenchantment, disillusion, dissatisfaction and despair: politics, media – public.

Political and media powerbrokers have a lot to answer for – but so too do we the people.

A while ago I was propelled to start The STFU Movement, based on a single premise: if you don’t know what you’re talking about, shut the fuck up.

Take climate change, just as one small example. Rewind to that dreadful 3-year assault on the carbon tax by the opposition leader, Tony Abbott. That offensive resulted in an abominable, abusive, violent public campaign to oust a prime minister and ‘destroy’ (his word) a legitimate parliament.

It triggered ugly protests and hate and ill-informed public comment that to this day is publicly parroted by voters. It lowered the benchmark for acceptable language in our parliament, showcased for all the world a generally good-hearted nation’s inert misogyny and heralded a standard of public discourse that still makes me sick to my stomach. In short, the gloves were – are – off.

And it looks like we’re about to reward this man with the prime ministership. But that is an aside . . . or is it?

STFU – are you a climate scientist? a climate economist? who among the experts have you studied to make up for your information gap? are you informed in any way, shape or form about a complex matter that requires immediate attention?

No? Then shut the fuck up. Clear the airwaves for those who know something about the debate. Shut our witless mouths and don’t speak – listen.

Listen.

Listen to those who know more. Discern the motives of a bitter loser. Listen to the options available to our parliament. Listen to the outcomes of their debate. Ask questions. Comment if you have something to contribute. Argue if you like. Ask more questions. And listen.

In this way, instead of watered down policy designed to appease our collective ignorance and/or animosity and/or hate – we might just get best practice, and elected political representatives who are willing to take their chances on long-term policy initiatives and genuine public discourse.

Hell, they might even be willing to disclose to us their true hopes (‘yes, I do hope to lead this great nation one day’) – and their fears (‘yes, there is a risk that x, y or z may happen if we go down this path – but here is why we believe it’s in our best interests’).

Imagine that, the full picture.

This is the reason there have been no vox pops in No Fibs’ Forde election coverage.

Why would I ask the man and woman on the street one short question and allow their comment to lead my story and thereby influence public opinion?

This is not to question the legitimacy of their opinion.

Just that, in the absence of rigorously testing their response by asking further questions, examining their motives, questioning their qualifications to comment, their remarks are best left where they belong – in the pub. Or, in the modern world, on Facebook (back to STFU).

How often have we heard in this campaign and in recent years ‘they don’t listen to us’?

Reality check: they do.

They listen to our incessant ignorant bleating, they pay attention to our infantile, selfish desires, they bribe us shamelessly to appease our small-minded short-term avarice. Consequently – and unsurprisingly – good policy is watered down to please ill-informed public opinion.

Witness the Top 5 Idiot 2013 Campaign Policies:

5. moving the Garden Island naval base from Sydney to politically expedient Brisbane

4. Gina Rinehart-inspired special economic zone for the north

3. a Minister for Cities

2. Indonesian fishing boat buy-up

1. $75,000 handout to seriously wealthy women who want a baby.

Yay us!

STFU.

Reality check: there is no ‘them’ – there is only ‘us’.

Another friend, a woman in Perth, emailed me recently:

“I have looked in vain for more info about my local candidates. In the AEC guide to Cowan, a safe Liberal seat, one candidate has a shadow profile because he hasn’t even submitted a photo of himself. So, almost no letterboxing, no doorknocking, no presence at local shopping centres, nothing useful on websites – and I’m supposed to pick one to vote for? 

“I’ve been reading more widely through the No Fibs site and was a little sorry that I hadn’t known about it before and put my hand up to write something. (Though that, of course, would have entailed my getting a Twitter account :) which would have recast my universe.)”

Here in Forde, a seat traditionally held by the government of the day until sitting member Bert van Manen turned the tide and held it for the Liberal Party in 2010, 10 candidates have raised courageous democratic hands to compete for a seat in the 44th Australian Federal Parliament. Just three years ago, in 2010, there were four.

At least nine of those 10 candidates have the following in common (I never did find Rise Up Australia’s Jonathan Jennings): they are well-intentioned, they are concerned about jobs, health, infrastructure and education and they are community- and/or nation-minded (Citizen Electoral Council candidate Jan Pukallus and Voice Australia candidate Keith Douglas are focussed on the national agenda).

Only one put the environment at the centre of her campaign in what is one of the nation’s most biodiverse regions, The Greens’ Sally Spain (naturally).

At least seven of the candidates are banking on electoral disillusionment with the two major parties, and a surprising number of those seven truly believe they are in with a chance (in particular 2013′s youngest candidate independent Joshua Sloss and Katter United Party’s Paul Hunter); three of the candidates have no previous political campaign experience (Hunter, Sloss and Brewster).

Ultimately, Forde is a classic contest between the two major parties, Labor vs Liberal: former Queensland Premier Peter Beattie, who stunned political pundits around the nation when he emerged from political retirement to take a surprise shot at Canberra, and sitting member Bert van Manen.

It should have been a tighter contest. But with polling day less than 36 hours away, it looks like the odds are with van Manen. The best Beattie can hope for, in an electorate that according to the ABC’s Vote Compass is one of Australia’s top 10 conservative divisions, is a nailbiter.

The pivotal campaign platform for all non major party Forde candidates is they will ‘represent the views the people’.

Noble sentiment this may be, but in reality this mantra is at best naive and at worst cowardly – because here we reach the juncture of the notion that the sole and absolute role of democratically elected political representatives is to ‘represent the views of the electorate’.

There is a difference between being a delegate and being a representative. And there is a reason we have representatives in our parliament rather than delegates.

Tony Windsor could tell you what that difference is.

In the Australian Federal Parliament you are representing the interests of your electorate – whether or not they voted for you. Those views are unlikely to be 100% in accord. As well, in balance or counter-balance, you are responsible for the well-being and future directions of an entire nation.

To wit, this nation’s asylum seeker policy – held to ransom by less than a handful of marginal seats in western Sydney.

And a fine example of the realities of what it might mean to ‘represent the views of the electorate’, for herein lies the case for leadership in the Australian Federal Parliament – leadership that may cause you anxiety at home as you struggle to put your case before your electorate. And that is as it should be.

Despite current popular opinion, there is also a case for large blocks of the two major parties to take their seats in the parliament – because they have 100+ years’ experience in transforming ideology and vision into practical, workable policies. Government by ideology and inexperience is a nightmare – just ask the good folk of Byron Bay, who endured the world’s first popularly elected Greens mayor and a majority-rule local council weighted with novice Greens representatives.

Like 2013 Forde candidates Joshua Sloss and Amanda Best, I found the recent hung parliament inspiring. Not least because it was a taste of things to come. Yes it was exhausting, yes it was at times dis-spiriting – it also delivered some of the most outstanding legislation/policy work seen in a decade or more (particularly the NDIS, the abolition of private health subsidies, Gonski and tobacco plain packaging).

You want neat lines in the parliament – dictatorships have neat lines. Democracy is messy. It’s chaotic. It’s give and take and fight and lose and win and lose and fight and give.

Healthy democracy demands that we negotiate – and the 43rd parliament, but for the resounding display of wrecking ball loser-ship flaunted by the Leader of the Opposition, was a practice run for a future in which more independents and small party representatives will take their seats in the House of Representatives.

Diversity is vital to strong, modern governance for Australia – yet there is still a robust and convincing place for the major parties in the House.

Labor, Liberal, National and even The Greens party powerbrokers have a serious case to answer in putting self-interest and popularity ahead of the people they claim to represent and the nation they serve.

So too do we the people.

This election has been about trust. About ‘them’ earning ‘our’ trust.

Perhaps, if we are to strengthen as individuals and mature as a nation, it is we who must also earn their trust.

No Fibs Stephanie DaleFirst published on No Fibs.

 November 30, 2013  Tagged with: , , , , ,  Comments Off on TRUST: IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT ‘THEM’: No Fibs 2013 election coverage