U is for… Unconscious

By Vita Forest


How much of what Nicola did was unconscious?  Was it an unconscious decision to apply for that job?  In that other world she thought she lived in, Nicola didn’t have to do that.  It had not been part of her plan.  They had more than enough money for a comfortable life and she had time for contributing to her children’s life, to her family’s life, to the community.  But somewhere down deep, a tiny hand had tugged at her shirt tail and told her to put in the effort and apply for that job.  Told her that even though she didn’t have to, she should.  Called back to her from the future that it was an absolute necessity.

And she got the job.  Started building her career again.  It was good to feel useful, to be good at something, because she was unconsciously beginning to get the message that she wasn’t good at being what Joe wanted anymore.  That little hand again, tapping at her side, pointing out the way he winced as she spoke (shrill), the way he sneered at her achievements (small), the way he stayed out more and more (Important meetings).

Was the swimming unconscious too?  Was the building up of her strength and stamina just something that she happened upon?  Afterwards, she would charge up and down the pool, screaming into the water, as her fingers clawed and her feet thrashed and her whole body beat out her frustration.  Up and back, up and down, back and forth, following the black line on the base of the pool, hypnotised by that thick black line, her world reduced to getting to the end, then slapping the side and doing it again.  Turning herself into a warrior.  Strong.  Flexible.  Resilient.  And smelling a little of chlorine.  But it gave her a place to go.  It gave her something to do.  Something regular.  Something calming.  Something slightly more wholesome than turning to the drinks cabinet (which was also tempting).

Nicola liked the way swimming made her lungs burn, her arms ache, her temples beat in time with the blood pounding around her body.  She liked the way the water blanketed and obscured the noise of everything outside the pool.  She was a fish, a dolphin, a stingray, communicating through clicks and squeals.  There was no language.  No words.  No betrayal, just survival.  And that was unconscious too.  Nicola could go through the motions, let herself be carried by the water, by her body, by her routine, until the time came to emerge from the pool and get back on land.  Among the living.  In that new life that she had had no inkling of, except in her deepest unconscious.

That place that seemed to know everything.


This week

By Vita Forest

A to Z challenge April 2016

A to Z challenge April 2016

This week I have been

T is for… Train

By Vita Forest


“This tastes like Snow White’s apple.  It’s been sprayed with poison,” said the girl sitting behind us.  Lucy, Max and I were on the train going to Canberra to visit our friend Fleur.

I like catching trains for holidays.  There is time to look out the window and watch the world go by.  On my first trip to Canberra by train, I looked out the window the whole way – no book, no phone, no music was needed.  (This time I was taking notes and finding food for children and reading, as well as looking out the window).

Trains, although moving along at speed, are also slow. There is time to notice the expansive views of the countryside narrowing down to trees flashing by, to look out from the ridgeline of hills, from bridges crossing rivers, to see how we weave across from town to countryside, from roadside to field to bush, to watch sheep running away from the speeding vehicle that has broken their peace.  There were birds to be seen too – flocks of white cockatoos spiralling over freight trains, pigeons returning to swing on electric wires and darting crimson rosellas that flapped and floated beside us, as if racing the train.

We ate lunch, wraps filled with salad and chicken.  Lucy complained about the pepper.

“Next time don’t put any pepper on it.  Pepper makes it bad.  It looks like nit eggs.  (“Nits are the eggs!” Max interjected, Lucy ignored him).  It’s disgusting!”  she tried to scrape the tiny black sprinklings from her wrap.  I made her eat it.

“No chips if you don’t.”

Finally, she finished, grumbling all the way.  But then she glared at me in horror when she pulled out the chips to share, waving them in my face.  I had forgotten the flavour that Max had chosen – Lime and Black Pepper!  Lucy managed to tolerate the pepper on those however.

Max too, wanted to move on from his wrap.  And when a train employee came walking down the aisle carrying a garbage bag in front of her and asking for “Any rubbish?”, Max grinned at me and tipped the remnants of his wrap into it.  There would still be no chips until he ate six pieces of vegetables.  He counted them out into his palm, 4 pieces of carrots and 2 of cucumber.  I drank tea from a thermos I had prepared earlier, with milk carried in the tiny plastic jar that used to contain vanilla pods.  And read My Brilliant Friend, a book I had been saving for this trip, a book I suspected would be a Reading Event.

The train passed through towns beginning with “B”, bringing me memories of trips past.  Bowral, Bungendore, Bundanoon.  Bowral – where I had met Fleur for the day, Bungendore with the great woodworks, and Bundanoon, where I had holidayed as a teenager with school friends and where we kept losing members of our gang, one by one – two to sprained ankles going down to Glow Worm Glen at night and one to a bike accident in the middle of a pine forest (she needed surgery on her knee and has never ridden a bike again.  We cancelled the planned horse riding after that and contented ourselves with a picnic… nice and safe.)

There were autumn leaves to be seen in the Southern Highlands, a lone yellow popular leading a row of dark green pines in a field, a line of bulrushes growing in a thread of creek winding through bare stubby hills, ruined houses without roofs with only the stone walls remaining, land-coloured lambs, their wool coloured a dusty-tan from the dirt, a lone cow resting under a lone tree, black cows solemnly grazing like blocky quadrilaterals, kangaroos, a stag stumbling across a creek and a windfarm on a hill.

And through it all the throaty gurgle and shriek of the train, rattling from side to side, as it sped forward on the tracks.  We sat inside our metal capsule and looked out at the world and relaxed.  We did not have to concentrate on driving, or what we would do when we got there, or when we would come back.  We could simply unwind and take in the changing view as we headed Canberra-ward.



S is for…Skyspace

By Vita Forest


While visiting our friend Fleur in Canberra, we made a pilgrimage to the National Gallery to experience once again James Turrell’s Skyspace. 

It is an art work but also an experience.  Although it is open during the day, it is best visited at dawn or dusk, as that is when you get the extra dimension of colour.

In the fading light of sunset, Fleur, Max, Lucy and I passed through the gate behind the gallery and across a paved bridge over some water.  The paved path continues across grass and descends down, becoming a ramp, down below the level of the tiny lake that encircles a grassy pyramid (nicely reflected on the surface of the water).  If you walk slowly, you can look out across the water at eye level – a vantage point I don’t normally see, so of course I stop and look and admire.

You descend below the water level, below ground level and pass across another boundary and enter the pyramid.  It is grassy on the outside, but inside, surprisingly coloured in a chalky, pink render, it’s sloping walls opening to the sky.  At this point, the feeling of passing into another zone is encouraged by the increasing sound of flowing water, which completely blocks the noise of outside, as the walls of the pyramid completely block the sight of it.  Inside the pyramid, the path splits and you walk either left or right around a turquoise-coloured infinity pool, over whose edges water pours continually.  And in the very centre of the pool, (again not visible until you have crossed the threshold and entered the pyramid) rises a domed building, completely enclosed within the pyramid.  It is build from shards of stone, slotted together cunningly without any obvious joining materials, like a dry stone wall or a ancient cairn.  You marvel at its walls, rising and curving upwards as you walk around the pool, before coming to another “bridge”, this one crossing the pool and leading you into the dome.

Another surprise.  You enter a large but cosy room, walls white with a generous ledge running the entire length of the walls from one side of the doorway to the other.  This is for sitting or even lying on.  You sit down on the bench and lean your back into the comforting curve of the dome and look up.

There appears to be a hole in the smoothly arching roof (or wall – where does one end and one begin?) or is it a disc?  But then a plane streaks a white line across the blue, and you realise that you are, in fact, looking up at the sky.

It’s very lovely at any time, but if you go at dawn or dusk you will also be treated to a subtle light show projected onto the roof of the dome, that changes as the sky outside lightens or darkens.  You have to slow down and watch and be right there to see the colours change from pink to blue to green to purple.

Max leaned his phone of the side of the bench and took a time-lapse film of it, but when you are there, you hardly see the change until it has happened.  One colour slowly and imperceptibly fades into another.

The changing colours of Skyspace

The changing colours of Skyspace

James Turrell’s art is all about colour and light.  He strips away all other distractions so you can focus on these elements.  Depending on who else is in the dome, it can be serene and spiritual or voluble and excited.  (Saskia was frustrated on a previous visit when she wanted the former and got the latter…)  Our experience this time was fairly silent – I took “silent” photos on my phone, raising my hand in salute every few minutes.  Fleur was amused and sent me a text –  It’s almost religious, even though we sat only a couple of metres apart.  Lucy wandered in and out of the dome, comparing the colour of the sky with and without its ring of colour.  Max slouched back against the wall and checked the progress of his filming.

Some of the colours of Skyspace

Some of the colours of Skyspace

All the mechanics are hidden.  The light source enclosed in a tiny lip that ran above our heads, the water draining away into a hidden cavity beneath the walls of the pool, and our way out lit by strip lights shining from deep in the recesses beneath the walls.  Best of all, in winter you are not distracted by the bitter temperatures because the bench inside the dome appears to be heated or insulated…  You feel warm and cosy despite sitting inside a stone building whose roof opens to the elements…

R is for… Red

By Vita Forest


Scarlet, cherry, ruby, burgundy… there are so many words that call themselves red.  And my world is festooned with it.  In the garden, the tomatoes swell and hang heavy on the vine.  Ripening from green to red in the hot summer sun.  The chillies are little streaks of scarlet too, concentrating their fire inside each tiny cone.  The capsicums positively glow, and underneath drooping leaves, the prickly skins of magenta strawberries hide.

And flowers!  Nasturtiums send their snaking tendrils across the gravel path, gold and orange and cherry red.  At the centre of each petal, the colour deepens to burgundy.  I hold a flower up to the sky and watch how the light glows through the fluted skin of each bloom and pick a bunch for my bedside.  Each morning, the nasturtiums have colonised the path even more, stretching, reaching, flinging across the gap, trying to get to the other side.  Occasionally, a wheelbarrow will slice through a strand and end its progress, but I will not have them cut back.  Ramsey sighs and presses his lips together at this instruction.

“They will trip you Madam,” he predicts pessimistically.

“They will not,” I retort from deep within my vortex of happiness.  I need the colour, I need the wildness, I do not want it tamed.

Rory noticed my fondness for these radiant jewels and passed me one of their speckled, round leaves.

“Eat it,” he ordered.

“Truly?” I frowned.  Sometimes I feel I know nothing.

He folded one up and crammed it between his teeth chewing slowly.

I followed his example, my eyes widening at the peppery heat in my mouth.

He laughed and handed me mint to cool my insides down.

I can practically see the garden growing, practically hear it.  The sun sending beams of light and heat down to the upstretched greenery, until seed pods pop – insides bursting free, fruit swells and strains against its tightly stretching skin, buds are peeled open, petal, by papery petal.  And insects hover and swoop and suck and drown.

Each fallen peach is crawling with drunken wasps and bees, drawing up the nectar, fighting the birds for each precious drop.  (Have you ever eaten a warm peach fresh from the tree?  It would send you wild with desire too.)

All my senses are heightened.  My eyes are drawn to every bead of red amongst the cooling green of the leaves, the colours singing against each other.  There is even a bird that carries this contrast with it – the king parrot.  Green and red, red and green, they fly in pairs and chime to each other through the trees.  The sound seems to ring through my head.  And who can walk through the garden without sniffing the rising scents in the air, dizzying me as much as the insects that zigzag ecstatically amongst the fruit trees.  And eating!  I hardly need dinner after sampling the harvest, the cornucopia we work amongst, a warm red tomato here, a streaky-skinned capsicum there, biting into it, crunching into it, juice dripping off my chin.

If I close my eyes and sit very still, I can feel the sun working its magic on me too.  Coaxing out new shoots, unclenching all the knots and tightness in my back, expanding my chest.

I am a seed carried on the wind.  I am a fruit splitting in the sun.  I am a tendril uncoiling.




Q is for… Quentin

By Vita Forest


I was waiting at Central when he approached me.  A young guy, articulate, clean, homeless.

“Can you spare some change?  I’m hoping to get some accommodation.”

I thought for a moment.

“Yeah, ok.”

He smiled and nodded and I fished in my bag.

“How is your day going?” he asked.

“Pretty good,” I answered, “How about you?”

“OK,” he said, “I’m tired.”

I nodded, “Well, hope that helps.”

“Cheers,” he said and raised his takeaway coffee cup to me.  “What’s your name?”
“Olivia,” I answered, “What’s yours?”


“Nice to meet you Quentin.”

“Nice to meet you.”

He moved away, flashing his smile at the pedestrians waiting for the lights.  Adding to his housing fund before the lights changed.

I waited, leaning on a column.  Looking for the people I was supposed to meet.  Looking at my phone to see if there were any messages.  Checking I was in the right spot, checking the time.

Quentin came back.

“Are you waiting for someone?”

“Yes,” I answered, “They are late.”

“Are you from Sydney?”

“Yes, are you?”

“No, Wollongong.  South Wollongong.”

I nodded and watched the stream of people ascending from the depths of the station.

“Do you work?” he asked, pulling his cap down over his neat hair.

“Yeah, I’m a teacher.”

“Oh!  You like kids?”

“Yeah, most of the time.  It’s school holidays now, you know?”

“Hmm,” he was looking out at the crowd too.

“English or History?”

“Primary,” I answered, “So – everything.”

“I work too, when I can, labouring, building, that kind of thing.  But it’s hard to get a break.  I’ve been trying to get accommodation for a year and a half now.  You know, a room. A bit of privacy?  But the wait is so long.  So I get a hostel when I can, hopefully soon.  I’m so tired.  My eyes are killing me.  I just want to sleep,” he flashed me his smile again, his perfect teeth.

“What was your name again?”


“I’m Quentin.”

“Good luck Quentin.”

And he went back to work, looking through the faces of the people that streamed up the ramp and stopped at the lights and caught his eye for a moment.  While I slouched against a column and checked my phone for any new messages.



P is for… Peak hour

By Vita Forest


After visiting the Museum of Contemporary Art, I had emerged from the building into the city at dusk.  The sun was setting over the Opera House, tingeing all the windows around the harbour an apricot pink, a busker with tight black curls and ripped jeans sang Bright like a diamond into a microphone, and the sharp salty sea-scent tickled my nostrils as I walked closer to the water.  I people-watched and moseyed along, past the tour groups with their matching badges, past the neon signs flickering to life and into the station.  Into Peak Hour.

This was the second time that day I had forgotten the time, forgotten the place.  I would not have chosen to leave at that exact moment if I had thought about it.  The museum was staying open late, I could have gone and looked at another floor.  Or perhaps had a picnic outside on the lawn, looking at the city lights and enjoying the balmy autumn night.  But no – I was at Circular Quay station, in the thick of it all.  Peak Hour on public transport in the city is something I don’t experience anymore, so it’s something of a novelty.  I felt something of a tourist in my own town, or an anthropologist observing a fascinating foreign custom.  There were so many people and they were so BIG (my class are all tiny folk who make me feel quite gigantic).  There were strange conversations to overhear.  A man near me was talking in an authoritative voice about “strategizing” and “calibrating”…. something to do with government agencies.  It all sounded terribly impressive.  There were lots of people in suits, lanyards hanging out of pockets, women in very high heels (which are also extremely foreign to me).

And they all had iPhones…  Something else that is absent from the schoolyard (if they are there, they have to stay in bags on silent, out of sight, until after the bell rings).  This was something I had noticed earlier on my sketching expedition.  I had almost thought I could start a new blog entitled “People on phones” and just upload different sketches of people on phones (maybe I still will…)  Everyone was looking down at their own private screens, some listening to private music collections, others surfing radio stations.  Some people were checking the share prices, others were skimming through their Facebook feeds – wedding photos, holiday snaps, unbelievable offers.  They were disappearing into their own private little worlds, they were blanking out.  There were very few of us aware of the people around us, aware of the view out over to Balmain as the train went over the Harbour Bridge (I do try and notice these things).  Their hands were clutching their phones like security blankets.  I suppose they are in a way.  If you ever find yourself alone, waiting, or too early, you don’t have to look awkward or anxious anymore.

You can just pull out your phone and disappear into it.