Andrew James Whalan

Poet Blogger Writer

Category: Personal (page 2 of 18)

Never Unknown Again

You know I'm staring at you
Though you won't look at me
Your head is bowed low
Over Candy Crush or TV

I can wait with my empty cup
You'll remember, you'll see
You'll bob your head up
And stare full back at me

And when our eyes meet yet again
We'll create our own serenity
Only for another three seconds
That last another eternity

Never unknown again.


The Bitter Sea

Mine is a lost soul that swims in a bitter sea
Overlayed and swamped by waves of jealousy
Caught and held under by a rising tide of night
At the mercy of winds of animosity

Until I lose my strength  and drown ashore
Foundered now ocean’s false martyr
Suns may rise, storms may  fall
A light shower  washes my tears away

More Than A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald

As a recent and still temporary resident of Sydney, I wanted to meet other writers. And of course to pick up some writing tips from a real-life author. Naturally, the best place and time to do both is a book launch.

So there am I, on a pre-east coast low cold and rainy Wednesday (31st May 2016) at the launch of a Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald, by Natasha Lester at the Australian Writers Centre in North Sydney. I introduce myself to a few writers, have a drink and find a seat to listen to Natasha Lester be interviewed by Valerie Khoo.

And it was a fascinating interview : how she writes, the path to publishing this novel, the inspiration for the book and how she researched.

And it gave me comfort,  inspiration and encouragement. Firstly, that I should let the story tell itself, for being a writer is an imperfect listener. Secondly, that with patience and persistence, all things are possible, that I could write more than a series of interlinked short stories. Thirdly, that even a geek like me can master Scrivener, a complex but powerful piece of software.

But I was in for a surprise.  The lady on my left was an integral part of Natasha Lester’s story, Rebecca Saunders, her publisher from Hachette. And once introduced to me, suggested with no prompting whatsoever, that I should enter writing competitions. “But I haven’t even told you that I write or what I write,” was my reply.  Maybe publishers have a level of intuition that I don’t yet know about.  It is true that I had entered the Big Issue competition last year with hopes until I saw who had been published. I felt like plankton in a vast ocean. Still often the most unexpected advice is the best to take.  Funnily enough I received the same advice later that night but I did mention I wrote.

And so as one does, on impulse, I bought the book and had it autographed by the author.  And during my conversation with her, I entered the confessional (much as many audience members do when a speaker reveals themselves) and mentioned my plan to expand these short stories (which has already started to happen). I was again gratified and encouraged by the response. Here is someone who wants everyone to write that can!

But the biggest surprise awaited until the weekend. I read the entire A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald in a day. This is a delightful book, both a historical novel and a story oriented towards women yet one that is accessible to male readers too! This well-written and well-thought out story takes the reader back to New York in the 1920s with beautifully described scenes, especially the clothes of the day and carefully drawn characters including the nuances of speech and slang.

It is the story of a woman who has an ambition to be an obstetrician which was then a completely male-dominated profession. It touched me as I have an ex-partner and also a sister who is a nurse and a sister-in-law who was a nurses’ aide. Through them I do know that as of now the medical environment has some way to go to fully accept women. But I was shocked at the latent hostility and deliberate ignorance towards women whether they were patients or medical colleagues. And this is where Natasha Lester delves into the dark places where men are knowingly cruel to women.  But that is not where the story stays…

A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald, is the story of a woman’s struggle to find true love and fulfillment against the odds. And that is  why we write.

 

 

 

Light, Inspiration and Chocolate : Vivid Sydney 2016

On a reluctant impulse, I went to Vivid Sydney on a Sunday night (29th May 2016). I would have preferred to stay home. I would have preferred a movie. In either case I was too tired for both and decided against falling asleep for money at the Dendy Cinemas.

Rather than feeling sorry for myself too much, I took the train to Vivid.  Once the sun departed, Vivid announced itself as a post sunset dance of light. The Harbour Bridge lit from end to end glowing and flashing to a new rhythm.

The Opera House patterned in colours and pictures. I managed a sideways glimpse.

Crane your neck to see Vivid at the Opera House

Crane your neck to see Vivid at the Opera House

I managed to take two photos before my phone ran out of battery. Worse, than that, I checked my pockets and I had left my spare charger behind me. Fate was against me that night it seemed.

Which meant I had to watch Vivid without a camera. Which meant too that I was in the minority. Most people were snapping and selfieing? and I thought to myself ruefully, they are welcome to it.

Which meant I had to knuckle down and enjoy the experience. And have fun.  So  I had fun, though reluctantly at first.

I first noticed the parents oohing and aahing over the light shows to their children. They had put aside their cameras and phones to create a moment instead of capturing one. Then I noticed the cathedral in the Botanic Gardens! It was beautiful and mesmerising.

I retraced my steps and watched the people queue up for a mini sound light show. And noted their bemused expressions as they exited. And children playing music by foot at an interactive exhibit.

And then I recalled randomly a house-sit I did for an artist. Her house was that eclectic mix of colour and shapes that attaches itself to an artist rather than the other way around. It had an ambience that flowed through to me. And Vivid was doing that to me now.

I wasn’t tired anymore. I wasn’t reluctant anymore. I didn’t want to go home.

Martin Place : Gotham City to the Bat Cave

And in the midst of that new atmosphere, it happened. While walking from the Botanic Gardens to Martin Place, a story I had sent away returned to me.

I had attempted to expand this story. But I was dissatisfied with every possibility and have given up. All that was left were some pages of scribbled lines.

As I’m walking up Macquarie Street, it is now being told to me in its entirety. Which annoys me somewhat as it is too much to remember. I have neither phone nor pad nor pen to record it. Luckily I find a convenience store and buy what I need.

Yes that’s me crouched over a pad, scribbling furiously while eating a Drumstick : inspired by chocolate and Vivid.

This Teleconference Has Been Postponed…

At last! Another opportunity to catch up on the backlog of outstanding work.

A teleconConference Call Phoneference! I dialed in, entered the meeting identification, my pin and spoke my name.

Then I placed my phone in hands-off mode and muted myself.

I knew I was safe because:

  1. I wouldn’t be asked to contribute
  2. I had very little to contribute
  3. I didn’t want to contribute
  4. I had a document to compose.

As people signed into the teleconference, I started to listen absently. As it continued, my attention wandered even more. Meanwhile people were dropping in and out. This meeting I thought was starting to resemble Tripp & Tyler’s  A Conference Call In Real Life.

But once the momentum resumed, I every so often stopped what I was doing and jot down a few notes. I thought to myself this was a very unfocused conversation indeed. Perhaps a facilitator or mediator might help. Besides nearly everyone else was on a higher level than me. And as I discounted that idea chaos struck.

My phone began to blare hold music. I looked carefully at the console. No. None of the lights were flashing. I still was on mute and still connected to the conference.

As the participants realised what had happened, a dull and boring meeting had become a hunt for a culprit. Much like school roll call, one by one we re announced ourselves over the continuing hold music. I took two attempts as I had unmuted and then muted myself.

One person failed to respond. He had received another phone call mid conference. And in answering that call  had placed the current call (us) on hold. He had to be contacted as soon as possible to continue the conference and save our sanity.

One of the participants suggested calling him. Which sounded contradictory until he added the words “on his mobile.” The meeting collectively held its breath (as best you can over Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries) and waited for the call to put through. No. He wasn’t answering his mobile either.

Which meant a physical intervention was required. Somebody must find this person and physically remove him from his phone. We waited a few minutes until this was organised.

“Are you near his desk? “Can you see him?” “Can you catch his attention?”

No to all questions.

“Can you go to his office and speak with him?”
“I’ll see what I can do.”

Once more we collectively held our breath (Ride of the Valkyries is a long piece of music) and waited.  Upon his return the hold music still continued. The culprit was in his office on the phone and couldn’t be disturbed (in another teleconference).

This teleconference will be postponed until a later date and time…

 

Waiting for The Sequel

A Not So Crowded TrainOn a not-so-crowded train. She is the only one standing. Back pressed against the only space that is neither seat nor door. Light brown curly but wiry hair, clear open face, same colour eyes (my best guess as far as I can see), all fully engrossed and engaged.

The bumps and lurches of the train don’t bother her. She just doesn’t lose balance. She sways slightly to the rhythm of the carriage. She is not dancing though. Perhaps inwardly.

Her head is bowed. As if in prayer or contemplation.  And her forehead is smooth. Her face serene. And I watch to see if she will raise her head. It’s not just to look at her face.  For I’m curious as to her quiet calm and innate peace. Now she is even more fully engrossed and engaged. With her hands held up in front of her.

Not a newspaper. Not a smart phone. Not a magazine. Not even one of those slate-sized flickering whispering mini TVs.

For a second, time stops and everything around her is removed. So much so that I stop and wonder and look again.  Yes, now I know what it is. It’s like she’s behind a lectern. She’s reading. A tattered dog-eared hardback with yellow threads fraying the red cover. No title that I can see. The Story

I wait to see if she’ll read what holds her so aloud.

For the last person that held out a book like that let me read it.

And I wanted to read it aloud : it was that good…a children’s book too…

Perhaps I’m waiting for the sequel.

Walking Through Pendulums

A few weeks ago, I checked out Sydney Biennale‘s the Embassy of the Real at Cockatoo Island. Cockatoo Island is a now heritage listed former factory and shipyard and is fascinating in its own right.

Cockatoo Island Sydney

Cockatoo Island Sydney

But what I found fascinating were some of the exhibits of the Embassy of the Real including the dirigible on the left.

 

But then I walked through pendulums. Created by William Forsythe, Nowhere and Everywhere At the Same Time, a n open factory floor was filled with suspended plumb bobs (pendulums) slowly swinging from fishing lines. Mostly in the same direction and mostly in unison.

Walking Through Pendulums

Walking Through Pendulums

Which sounded innocuous at first and then looked foreboding upon second thought : I didn’t really want to be hit by those things.

Despite my misgivings, I nodded to the attendant and entered the open space. I really felt that I would spend the next few minutes or so dodging, ducking and weaving. But I was wrong.

The effect for me was like walking through light rain. It was as if I couldn’t get wet as I avoided each and every raindrop. And yes avoided the people going forward and backward. But for some reason that extra imposition wasn’t a worry at all.  And time stood still, until I found the exit.

In truth my overall sense of the experience was meditative : choosing your own destiny no matter what happened. I left with a gentle quiet surprise which still returns to me!

And perhaps some pendulums did change their swing for me?

From Melbourne to Sydney

One often says of oneself as a child, this is where I grew up.  But to me, at least, one doesn’t realise that one has grown up until one leaves that place and returns.

Yes I grew up in Canowindra (New South Wales). I grew up too in Kiama (New South Wales). And then Canberra and Brisbane (although I will never make it as a Queenslander!). And now that I have returned to Sydney that I realised I had grown up some more in Melbourne. And for that much like Mary Queen of Scots feels towards Calais I will be forever grateful.  For Melbourne will be forever in my heart.

 

That’s not to say I have lessons to be learned. I’ve learnt about the love and honesty (sometimes searingly so) of family and the support whether near or far of friends. I’ve learnt about friendship found false and true. I’ve learnt more about my own heart. I’ve learnt about resilience and faith. I’ve learnt how true it is that the universe both conspires to hinder you at every turn and consummate your hidden wishes once you turn towards it.

 

The last year or so has been difficult, financially, career wise, mentally and spiritually. Yet in the midst of those not so good times there was joy to be found, comfort within myself and people around me ultimately leading to a path of hope. The secret for me at least was to find out what was most important to me and step by step (in fact fingernail hold by fingernail hold) move towards it everyday. And in doing so, I had to be prepared to lose everything to gain that hope. For faith isn’t mere belief or suspended disbelief: it’s progress towards an unseen goal with absolute certainty that it’s the correct course with absolutely no certainty that it will happen.

 

But in the past four or so weeks I’ve seen my close family again, changed jobs, moved house, gained a glimpse of a new direction professionally and continued a current direction personally.  But I still have much to learn and still so far to journey.

 

The Instant Facilitator

Apart from school debating and one lecture presentation, nothing prepared me for my debut as an instant facilitator.

I was an attendee for a computer user conference at the World Congress Centre Melbourne at Crowne Plaza. As part of the Queensland branch of the group, I had been asked to introduce each speaker and then ask for questions once they had finished. This was easy. Usually there were no questions and I wrapped it up quickly. Or with too many questions, I left everyone to continue the conversation out the door after the presentation finished.

Which meant I was completely unprepared for the last session of the conference.

Participants in plenary sessionFifteen minutes beforehand, I was taken aside and asked to lead. I almost went into apocalyptic shock. This was a plenary session. Me in the middle, five geek gurus on my left and several hundred system managers, developers, engineers and sales people in front of me. I was outgunned and more than a little overwhelmed.

And my preparation didn’t help either. I quickly scanned the names of the experts. I saw that one of them had worked on an previous incarnation of the currently popular operating system. That old clunker had a command called show stardate. I thought I could use that as my icebreaker.

I turned around and the fifteen minutes have disappeared in seconds. I walked to the podium. I waited for the geek gurus to sit. Then I wait for the audience to file in.  I made sure to keep my hands behind the podium. If exposed they would be glistening from sweat.

I introduced myself. Then the experts. I make my joke about the show star date command. And I die. I received a dirty look for my failed joke.

I had no choice. I had to go on. Then it didn’t matter. I opened up the session for questions. And then I stepped into a different space and time. I’m suddenly aware of who was asking questions and what they really meant. Every so often, I would take a question and then ask for more information. Or paraphrase the question back to them for clarity. Both I found helped the experts with their answers.  I’m not sure but I may have asked questions of them myself : I now know I tend to do that if no one else is asking.Andrew Whalan Facilitating

It worked brilliantly. I was relaxed. I even apologised to the man at the back dressed in black sitting in front of a dark wall who I couldn’t see too well.

It went so easily. Except I’d never facilitated before and had only spoken in public on one other occasion. So what happened?

Laughter Yoga

It was the photo of the kookaburra that reminded me. But it wasn’t the kookaburra’s laugh!  Our kookaburra laugh : the one we did as a group…

CC BY-SA 3.0 File:Blue Winged Kookaburra - Berry Springs - Northern Territory - Australia.jpg Created: 18 April 2014

CC BY-SA 3.0
File:Blue Winged Kookaburra – Berry Springs – Northern Territory – Australia.jpg
Created: 18 April 2014

At laughter yoga : a group activity where people gather and voluntarily laugh until they don’t have to!!!

But how did I find it? By accident. It’s 2004 and I’ve hurt my back. With little relief in sight, I discover that my work is providing free massages and I sign up.

After a few sessions, my back came good. But then the masseuse started talking to me (isn’t it usually the other way around?).

I mentioned I was separated and wanted to meet new people. And she had an idea.

 She suggested I take the ferry to New Farm Park  in Brisbane and try laughter yoga.
I checked the web site. I set my alarm early that Saturday morning. And sidled to the ferry at South Bank. And alighted near the second Moreton Bay fig tree.

I had already passed the people practising tai chi. And the  group wielding sticks instead of light sabres. My first thought was somehow laughter yoga can’t be out of place at all.

When I arrived a small group of people had gathered. I couldn’t tell the regulars from the new starters.

When the leader arrived we began. By introducing ourselves…with a laugh. And each time it was the same for me. I felt silly at first. But then the awkwardness passed. And then, I don’t care what anyone thinks, I’m laughing anyway.  It helped that every so often people would walk past and start laughing for no reason too!

Terms of Use: 1/ All users of this image are required to attribute this work to "Nambassa Trust and Peter Terry" and the URL: " http://www.nambassa.com " is to accompany all use. 2/ Attribution. You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor. 3/ For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of this work. Statement by Nambassa Trust and Peter Terry Mombas 13:33, 25 August 2006 (UTC)

Laugh

The exercises would vary week from week and are too many to mention.  One of the most notable was the belly laugh. The aim was to laugh so deeply that the laugh went to your belly and feel it as you did so. If done right, your whole body quivered! 

 

But the one I loved was the kookaburra laugh. One of our regulars would lead this. She would stand in the middle of the group. It sounded just like the far away cackle. As she continued she would lean over and you could just hear her laugh. Then she would stand up and extend her arms high as she laughed louder and louder. The best part was that she was the perfect mimic of a real kookaburra. In the end it was contagious. And it worked everytime.

 

 

Every so often I hear a kookaburra. And start laughing for no reason. For the lesson I learnt was you can (and should) laugh anywhere and anytime regardless of circumstances. That was priceless.

 

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