This week

By Vita Forest

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This week I have been

READING Those who leave and those who stay by Elena Ferrante.

WRITING

VISITING the Vivid Festival at Chatswood with my children.

SEEING one of my old students and her family there too…

WALKING the labyrinth at Centennial Park.

STRIDING through the bush near my home (aren’t I lucky?)

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RUGGING up as the first chill hits Sydney (it is nearly winter…)

COOKING spicy pumpkin soup.

 

 

 

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Into the Labyrinth

By Vita Forest

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I was looking for the labyrinth.

I had parked in Centennial Park beneath an oak tree, grinding acorns into the dirt as I walked away, past the joggers and the promenaders, the dog walkers, the horse riders, and the soccer games with their shouts and piercing whistles.  I looked across the ponds, noting moor hens and ducks, and turned down the avenue of paperbark trees.  The noises of Saturday sport gradually receded behind the thicket of Lachlan swamp, I checked the map on my phone, I was nearly upon it.

It is hard to see the labyrinth from a distance.  At first I looked straight over it.  Then I noticed the large flat disc, like a giant coin lying in the green.  The stone labyrinth.  It is a replica of the famous labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral, the same pathway, the same pleasing geometry.  This Sydney labyrinth opened in 2014 and anyone is free to use it.

Labyrinths are different to mazes.  Mazes are designed to trick and baffle, to confuse and unsettle.  With their single pathways, labyrinths are instead a calming journey where you don’t need to solve problems to find your way through.  Instead, by following the path, your mind calms, allowing you to see more clearly, be more present.  It can be a walking meditation, a way of moving into the present moment as you move toward the centre.

I walked closer to the labyrinth.  There was a group practising tai-chi further off, but apart from them, I was alone.  I found the entrance and began my journey.  The path looped back and forth changing direction, so unless you are constantly looking up, you lose track of your orientation in the park.  I guess that is the point, you are focusing on where you are in the journey, not where you have come from or where you are going.  By locating the labyrinth in a clearing, you also don’t anchor directions to particular trees or other features in the landscape.  It began to rain lightly as I walked, and all I was aware of was the surface of the stone, the turns in the path and the light fall of rain on the brim of my hat.  It brought the focus to a smaller and smaller point.  Suddenly a couple of noisy groups descended toward me, breaking my focus.  I reached the centre and left them to it.

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The labyrinth had quietened my mind.  I walked around the swamp in the light shower, noticing the luminous green of the ferns, the stillness of the paperbark trees.  Then I came across a track going through it and entered the thick foliage.  It too brought to mind the labyrinth, the sense of enclosure, the blocking out of the world outside.  I watched spiders spin silent webs beneath shady leaves, I saw signage covered with splatters and realised the swamp was home to a colony of flying foxes, hanging upside down from the tallest branches like giant black seed pods.  I walked on, aware of the screeching of the few creatures up past their bed times, into the centre then out again.

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I emerged near the labyrinth and decided to walk it again.  The gentle rain fell and the tai-chists had moved beneath the shelter of a fig tree, silently stretching, turning and bending in unison.  I entered again, this time aware of the honking of a flock of geese that were pottering around the clearing.  My focus came down again, to my feet, to the path, to the gradations of colour in the stone.  I soon lost track of where I was, what point of the journey I was at.

You move toward the centre then away again, you travel on a familiar path but further in or further out.  Like life, I suppose, you never know exactly where you are on your journey – the beginning, nearing the end, retracing something that feels familiar, but is seen slightly differently through a altered lens of time or experience.  You don’t know if you are going forward or backwards, sometimes it feels like you are moving further away from your goal, only to find you swing back towards it again.

I guess sometimes we need to surrender and let things take their course.  You will land in the centre where you were aiming for all along.  You just have to take the journey.  You just have to give it time.

 

 

 

 

 

This week

By Vita Forest

Barangaroo

Barangaroo

This week I have been

READING (voraciously, finishing one and immediately picking up the next.  My head has been in turmoil…)

  • The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante
  • Those who leave and those who stay by Elena Ferrante

WRITING

WATCHING The Princess Bride with Lucy. Ah Inigo Montoya!

REMEMBERING Year 8 Algebra with Max (exams this week).

TEACHING in front of my Professional Learning group – we agree it’s always a little unnerving having anyone watch you…

EATING slow cooker roast pork after a tiring day at work – love coming home to the smells of dinner!

VISITING Barangaroo for a Sunday picnic.

A big space full of nothing

By Vita Forest

View from Barangaroo

View from Barangaroo

“Smog is a mixture of smoke and fog,” Lucy informed me today as the train sped into the city through the smog.  They are doing a lot of back-burning around Sydney at the moment and the smoke was thick again.

We walked down to Barangaroo to meet our pals for a picnic, the smell of smoke in the air.  But over the course of the day, the air cleared, the sun shone, the sky was blue.  Another summer day at the end of autumn.

“Is this north?” Lucy asked, pointing forward.  When I answered in the affirmative, she observed, “So we are walking towards the Arctic circle.”

Which we were, I supposed.

We waited near The Cutaway.  Lucy saw something bright and yellow floating in the water and bounded down the sandstone blocks to see what it was.  When she reached the sometimes-submerged rock, she kept going, despite the green moss, despite the slipperiness, and so slid and fell.  She stood up gingerly and inspected her hands and her seat as she climbed up again.

“It was a lemon,” she announced as she watched the heel of her hand swell and purple into a bruise.  She’s a tough one.

We sat in the sun and waited for Sui-Sui and Alessandro, for Saskia and Rowdy the dog.  The phone pinged, updating us on their progress, closer and closer.  Sui-Sui and Alessandro arrived first, hauling treats in an esky.  It was their first trip to Barangaroo.  I advised them to check out The Cutaway while we waited on Saskia, and in they went.

“What’s so good about The Cutaway?” asked Lucy, “It’s just a big empty space full of nothing.”

“Like my life… ” she added,  “Just kidding!”  Brat.

They returned and the phone rang again, Saskia was around the coastline minding a shady picnic spot by the water.  We joined her and Rowdy, spreading out picnic rugs and food.

Our colourful lunch

Our colourful lunch

We lazed in the sun or shade and watched the boats streak past around the headland and caught up on news.  We ate quinoa salad, tuna and corn fritters, mandarins and grapes and my new favourite chocolate cake that Lucy and I had made yesterday.

Rowdy made friends with the steady parade of promenading pooches and their owners that passed by.  Lucy recovered from her fall and climbed trees, leaped on rocks and did cartwheels.  She took Rowdy for runs around the headland and up and down stairs.  In the process she earned a fourth piece of chocolate cake (it was very tasty).

We talked about books and movies, parents and friends with babies, markets, studies and future trips.  The cake got smaller and smaller.

That pretty salad

That pretty salad

“Look!” shouted Saskia pointing behind us, “A native mouse!”

“It’s a rat!” corrected Alessandro.  But we agreed it was still cute.

The thermoses were empty, the tea was drunk, the last slice of cake disappeared.  We rolled up the picnic rugs and said our goodbyes.

“Now we are walking towards Antarctica,” said Lucy.

And we were.

Barangaroo

Barangaroo

Nothing, not much

By Vita Forest

Inner turmoil

Inner turmoil

“How was your day?”

“Fine.”

“What happened today?”

“Nothing, not much.”

But it was not fine and much had happened.  But not so anyone else could tell.  Only inside Sonia’s head was a tempest, a storm, a whirlpool, a tornado of emotions that miraculously stayed contained inside the box of her skull.  She wanted to tell her mother what her friend had done.  She wanted to tell anyone.  Was Mia a friend anymore?  Everyone thought so, even Sonia.  But was that really what friend’s did?

Sonia wished she could go back to when she was five years old when she told her Mum everything.  Every new sound she had learned at school, what other children had told for news, what Mrs Carroll had worn to school that day and if her nails were painted red or pink.

Sonia wished she could go back to when friends were easy to read, when they knew how to say to each other, “Stop it, I don’t like it!” when the other did something wrong, when their feelings were hurt, when they wandered off the “kind” path into “meanness”.  Back then it was OK to like the same thing – the same sport (soccer), the same books (Tashi), the same kind of lollies (Lemon Sherbets).

Perhaps it would still be OK if the “same things” were not boys.  When your best friend didn’t end up with the boy you liked.  And she knew!  How could she not know?  Sonia had kept it secret, she had told no-one, not even Mia.  It had been a strange maelstrom of suppressed emotions that bubbled to the surface whenever he was near, whenever he was mentioned.  For a while Sonia hadn’t even known herself, didn’t link the way her body seemed to react violently for no apparent reason when she thought about him.  The sticky tangle of highs and lows that were all to do with whether she even saw him.  Whether they spoke.

But Mia knew.  Like Sonia knew that Mia liked chocolate ice-cream but not mango sorbet.  Without being told.  Just by watching.  Just by paying attention.

She would have known.

Why had she done it?  Why had she chosen him?

Today at lunch they had suddenly appeared together, hands linked, laughing. In front of everyone.  Mia hadn’t even told Sonia first.  Mia and Ryan.  Ryan and Mia.  The whole group had stopped talking, stared at them.

“You all know Ryan,” Mia had announced in a new voice.  A simpering voice.  A sly voice.  A betraying voice.

“Yeah, we like, all go to the same school!” said Sam in a sarcastic voice as he checked his phone.  “We know Ryan.”

Sonia had been grateful for his response, her lunch turning to cardboard in her mouth.  She concentrated on chewing the bread, on her jaws mechanically opening and closing, her teeth pressing and grinding it into paste.  She had let her hair fall forward over her face so the others wouldn’t see the shame of this announcement, the shock.  How long had it been going on?  She and Mia talked everyday, all the time, yet she hadn’t even thought to mention it, to her best friend, hadn’t confided in her, hadn’t thought her worthy of anything more than this public announcement on the school oval after Maths.

Sonia hadn’t spoken to Mia after that.  She had walked through the rest of the day in a daze and had wondered, how many people out there were like her?  How many people were trying to adjust to major disruptions, catastrophes, while they went through the motions of everyday life.  Write down an answer.  Pack up a bag, Get on a bus.  Walk home.  Looking normal, looking like everything was under control.  When inside they wanted to scream and rage and tear their friend’s hair out.  How many people swallowed it down, kept their voice at a reasonable level, continued on their path that suddenly didn’t mean anything anymore?

How many people said it was nothing, not much?

 

 

This week

By Vita Forest

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This week I have been

  • READING
    • Troubling Love by Elena Ferrante (a compelling but disturbing book).
    • The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante (the second of the Neopolitan novels).
  • WRITING
  • MAKING glamorous costume jewellery for our dance group costumes out of bits and pieces of last year’s costumes.
  • EATING a picnic of veggies, flatbread and houmous by the water of Sydney Harbour.
  • WATCHING Season 5 of Game of Thrones (I know – I am behind).
  • RESTING after feeling a bit poorly.

Good for the Giver

By Vita Forest

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This week in class, I witnessed something again that I have known to be true for a long time.  Giving is good for the giver.

One of my students who struggles to “keep everyone safe” (by not flailing about and accidentally hitting or kicking someone else), who struggles to “let everyone have a chance to answer” (by continually calling out and giving the rest of us a running commentary of every little thing going on in his head), was given the chance to interact with his classmates without causing exasperation.  We are running a program at school where we publicly acknowledge when others help us.  This child was able to give a couple of his peers a small token of gratitude for helping him in the playground (when someone else was flailing about and accidentally hit him).  I watched as the helpers were surprised and pleased to be acknowledged, but also at the transforming quality the action had on the giver.  He was so proud and so pleased to be giving something of value to someone else.  He seemed to sit a little taller and hold himself together a little longer.

With great synchronicity, during Fruit Break we watched The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister on Storyline Online.  In this story, a beautiful fish finds fulfillment, not by being admired for his stunning rainbow scales, but by giving them away.  It reminded me of another favourite story, The Quiltmaker’s Gift by Jeff Brumbeau (a book that made me cry), where a selfish king finds happiness by following the lead of an eccentric quiltmaker and giving away all his riches.

And I remember years ago, hearing an interview with actor and director Rachel Ward, and her response to the question of why she was involved with a number of charities.  Her answer was honest and surprising.  Or perhaps not.  – She did it to feel good.  I’m sure she also wanted to make a difference, and the work was important, and a need was there to be met, and lots of other worthy reasons.  But it was also about how it made her feel.

That is the secret of giving.  I have experienced this myself in contributing time or effort or money to various causes, children and endeavours.  It makes you feel happy, connected to others, part of something bigger than yourself, looking out rather than in.

Giving is good for the giver.  Perhaps we need to spread this news to the more selfish amongst us.  That if they give, they will receive something too.

What do you think?