Monday, July 20, 2015


June was a mixed bag of a month. I had a bit of a relapse with the black dog returning for a few weeks, quite possibly not banished as far as I had thought. He's still lingering, but it's all about the bounce back and I am doing ok. This unfortunately has led to a rise in my anxiety also, so you know I have felt like a bit of a mess. However I always manage to pull myself together at work, because I feel strongly about that, I come home and kinda melt down. Having my bad foot start to improve has been a great help in getting back on track. I've gotten back into gentle walks and even the gym once a week. This really helps my state of mind. Anyway, I am sure we all have these moments, and I think it's important to acknowledge them, and get to the bottom of them, and hopefully learn something. I learnt - and I knew this anyway - I am not superwoman, and I cannot do it all, all by myself.

So work has been busy and good, working on quite a range of projects on top of the usual and it's been great. I also was privileged to attend a great two-day course on mentoring which was one of the best courses I have been to. Our Movie Night this month was LA Confidential, which received a rousing round of applause at the end. We read the wonderful Jane Eyre for Book Club, our small group loved the book and a great discussion was had over these beloved characters. I hadn't read Jane Eyre since I was in my teens and was pleased to love it possibly more than I did then. There are parts of it that still leave me perplexed, I am still not convinced Rochester is Jane's best choice, but it is very romantic. And what a feminist and ahead of her times Charlotte Bronte was!

We had double celebrations for Mum over the month with a belated Mother's day dinner at our local pub, The Royale Inn. Mum and Dad had been holidaying in Queensland as usual hence the later get together. We also celebrated Mum's birthday at The Exchange Hotel.

I caught a few movies during the month. Entourage was good, pretty much a shortened series in the form of a movie, I think it has probably had its day but I do love Jeremy Piven and Kevin Dillon's characters. I also saw Avengers, which was fun, but probably not as good as the first one. Both of these movies are not my usual fare for sure, but sometimes it's nice to leave your brain at the door...sometimes...but, not often!

I ended the month seeing the sublime Far From the Madding Crowd with A and L. Lush and lusty, this was the perfect period drama, beautifully shot, and well acted. We swooned through the entire movie.

Getting back into walking, I was back at my beloved Green Point walk many times this month and also took a lovely long walk along the breakwater at Nobbys. I haven't done that in years and pushed through the discomfort in my foot. It was a glorious day and dolphins were hanging out at the very end which was a lovely reward. I treated myself to a burger in Pacific Park afterwards.

We celebrated S's birthday with drinks at The Delaney, and J, L & I caught the Travelling Film Festival with a fabulous dinner at our favourite Vietnamese, Saigon Feast afterwards. Highlight of the month, socially, was seeing the superb amateur production of Lady Windermere's Fan at Newcastle Theatre Company in Lambton with A. It was a beautifully produced and very well acted production, complete with old fashioned sing-alongs in between acts. I haven't been to NTC for years and this was my first experience in their new theatre, which was great.

And of course, I got a new car, which really, was just the newer model of my old one. But it's nice to have new things, especially when you work so hard for them and well, it is just you!

So a quieter month socially, and it gave me plenty of time for my reading, watching, and listening, and as usual photography:

Sunday, July 12, 2015


What I've Been Watching 
The Sixties – this is a great series about the 60s and all that happened, it is an American production, so mostly concentrates on that, but was still an excellent watch. Music, television, politics, Kennedy, King, race riots, the space race and on it goes. It is informative and entertaining.

The Blacklist S1 - I really enjoyed this when it was on tele, but as always the station fucked around with the scheduling and I missed episodes and eventually gave up. So with the DVD I could start at the beginning and really appreciate it. It's a basic crime of the week scenario but the criminals are part of a Blacklist, the worst of the worst. The very worst being Raymond Reddington or Red, played most deliciously by James Spader. He appears in the first episode and turns himself in saying he will help capture those on the Blacklist if he can work with Lizzie Keen (Megan Boone) a rookie detective who happens to be starting that very day. The criminals caught each week are interesting, but really it's about Spader's character and what is he really up to and why he chose Lizzie that makes the series intriguing, a few minutes each week added to the mystery, and of course nothing was resolved and now I need to see S2! Stat! (my theory is that he is her supposedly dead father)
Orphan Black S1/S2 - I've heard good things about this series but wasn't sure what it was about. Sarah Manning is returning home after a brief stint in gaol, and when someone who looks remarkably likes her jumps in front of a train at the subway, Sarah, a hustler, decides this is the break she needs and decides to impersonate the deceased. But it's a case of being careful what you wish for when she finds out she is a detective, who is in a bit of trouble and has people trying to kill her. But that's just the beginning...and I do love a show with a strong female character as it's lead, kicking's very much in the vein of Buffy...but instead of vampires there are...well I won't give it away!  S2 was as good, if not better than S1.
Parks and Recreation S6 - I love this show so much, every character is just perfect, and Amy Poehler is fabulous as the winsome local government worker come councilor. Oh how I relate with her at times. But it's Nick Offerman's Ron Swanson I love the most in this penultimate season. 
Nurse Jackie S6 - I think Nurse Jackie is getting tired, I read there is only one more season and I am pleased. I hate it when good shows feel stretched. This one certainly did, Jackie is still up her old habits and really crossed some boundaries this time, it is awful to watch, which I guess is the point, possibly the writers needed to have taken her here sooner. I still enjoyed the show and it's fabulous cast of interesting characters but it's lost a little of it's spark.
Modern Family S5 - I've also been slowly making my way through this one as I always forget when they show it. It is light entertainment for sure but it never fails to make me laugh.
Mad Men final season - This is my favourite show. I love everything about it, and I've written about it before. The stunning attention to detail, the costumes, the perfect choices of music, the historical nods, the characters, the actors, the stories, and the writing, the amazing writing! I wanted a fine ending for this fine show, but I wasn't quite so sure what that would be. I think all I really wanted was for Don and Peggy to be together (working) as equals, at least one more great scene between those amazing actors, I wanted to see Pete get some kind of comeuppance, and Joan to get some kind of peace of mind and happiness. Not of that really happened, yet I am not sure it is that that has left me feeling so meh about the ending. It was almost like nothing really happened., and I guess sometimes that is life. Everyone got an ending of sorts, but it just didn't feel satisfying. I think I need more time to ponder it all. The final scene was actually good, but it was everything leading up to it that felt like something was missing, but I just cannot put my finger on what. Maybe I am just sad there will be no more, and that also means no more Don Draper...sigh.
Skeleton Twins - the trailer to this film looked good; funny, dry, a little melancholy. It never actually turned up at the cinemas so I guess that should have been a sign. This was dull, depressing, and only mildly amusing in parts. An interesting cast (Kristin Wiig, Bill Hader and, Luke Wilson) but it just didn't gel.
The Immigrant – set in New York in the early 1900s, Ewa (Marion Cotillard) is an immigrant, escaping from Poland with her sick sister. Upon arriving at Ellis Island, her sister is quarantined and Ewa is told her family who were meant to be receiving her were not there. Ewa is ‘rescued’ by Bruno (Joaqin Phoenix) a hustler, and her so called new life is not looking good. But Orlando (Jeremy Renner) arrives, he is Bruno’s cousin and a magician and falls in love with Ewa. Will she get her happily ever after? This is beautifully shot is a glum and dreary part of New York in the prohibition era. Cotillard shines as the down on her luck Ewa. She has this chameleon style of acting that is stunning, I've yet to see her do something bad.

The Babadook - I am not a fan of horror or scary movies, but I had heard good things about this so I bravely gave it a go. Of course I couldn’t watch it at night, that would be crazy! It is an excellent film and scared the absolute bejesus out of me. Amelia (the fabulous Essie Davis) is a single mum to a challenging kid, Samuel (Noah Wiseman). His Dad died in a car accident taking Amelia to hospital to give birth to Samuel. Whilst he has always been challenging, something strange has started happening, and he is certain there is a monster in the house. Amelia finds a book, The Babadook, and it is chilling, unsure where it came from, she hides it on the top of the cupboard. But when things from the book start to manifest into her subconscious, she is certain she is imagining things, but rips up the book and tosses it in the bin all the same. Then really strange and creepy things start to happen, and she wonders whether it is all real. The Babadook is very clever, though I got dejavu watching it in parts (It reminded me of something I’ve seen before but cannot think what). The acting is excellent, it’s basically Davis and Wiseman, and they are amazing, especially the kid. It’s shot very well, and the tension builds from huh to creepy to scary to horror quite beautifully.
RocKwiz - my favourite Aussie show is back and this time trying something new, and tackling the decades. Starting with the 50s, guests (young and old) sang songs from that period and the quiz focused around questions. The 50s was by far the best, the 60s and 70s disapppointing, I think with decades so large and varied in terms of music it was really difficult to get an even mix, the 80s was a close second to the 50s with bright performances by Dave Faulkner and Kate Ceberano and loads of fun questions.
The Secret River (two-part series) - this was a shortened version of the book. It had a LOT cut from it, but worked ok, I think the bits cut gave the piece it's depth. It was well acted and I think if you hadn't read the book the impact would still work. For those that don't know the story, it's one every Australian should read (or at least see the series). It tells the story of a convict freed from his shackles and is now settling on the Hawkesbury River with his young family, but the 'natives' keep hanging around and upsetting the settlers. Things give way to traumatic circumstances and history is made.
What I've Been Reading
Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins - Rachel catches the same train every morning and night, and it almost always stops by the same house and she watches the lovely young couple who live there and fantasises about their lives. But one day as she is watching, something is amiss and very wrong, she must see if she can work out what is going on. Around the same time much is revealed about Rachel's life which is slowly unraveling, can helping solve the mystery of the young couple help her resolve her own issues or will she unravel even more. This starts fast and you are swiftly turning pages, but it becomes very predictable very quickly. No one in the story is likeable, which doesn't normally bother me, but there is no real redeeming features. It's a schlocky read in my opinion, but sometimes it's good to read something quickly that clears the head for better literature out there.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte - I read this for work bookclub, a favourite since I was a teen, I had not read it since then. I always worry about re-reading favourites later in life for fear of them losing their value, but I need not have worried with this. Once I got into the rhythm of Bronte's prose I was back in that time and loving every minute of it. A gothic romance for sure, but more detail and depth than I originally remembered. Also a lot longer than I remembered, giving me pause for thought that I may have read a shorted edition back then. Jane Eyre is equal parts romance and equal parts fierce feminism and whilst the cynic in me thinks her ultimate choice of Rochester in the end goes against some of her feminist ways, the romantic in me sobbed. Cause that's how well it is written. A masterpiece and a true classic.
We’ll Always Have Paris: sex and love in the city of light by John Baxter -John Baxter writes a lot of books on film stars and Paris, and he is entertaining and informative. This is an older title and about all things love and sex in Paris from his point of view. It was an easy read and an absolute joy.

New treehouses of the world - my love of trees knows no bounds, but, that's another thing altogether! This was a glorious book of different treehouses built all over the world, and it was the stuff of dreams.

Songwriters on Songwriting by Paul Zollo - this was a huge but delightful read, borrowed from The State Library for me especially. Zollo, a musician, photographer and writer is mostly known for writing about songwriting. In fact his work on songwriting is so universally loved his books are called bibles and used as texts for songwriting in universities. And when you read this, his biggest anthology (almost 800 pages), you can see why. It is a stunning read from to Pete Seeger to Meshell NdegeOcello and also includes Lenny Kravitz, Lou Reed, Madonna, REM, Susanne Vega, Tom Petty, David Byrne, Dave Brubeck, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Brian Wilson, Carole King, Jimmy Webb, Laura Nyro, Randy Newman, Frank Zappa, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young and that only tips the iceberg!

I love hearing about how songwriters work at their craft and everyone is different. The format of the book are shortish essay style chapters, starting with a few pages of information about the songwriter by Zollo (Zollo himself is a superb writer), then a question and answer style with the actual artist. Some of the things I learnt was Tom Petty actually met Elvis, his uncle worked on his films and the young Tom got to meet him and it really impacted him. Also about how Stevie Nicks harassed him to write a song for her, he finally gave in and gifted her Stop Draggin' My Heart Around. David Byrne likes to write lyrics on graph paper, he likes that he can write whole song on one piece of paper, that Heaven was about New York, and he has no idea why people like Psycho Killer as it was written as a joke.

Susanne Vega said all the mysteries of life come in A minor! Amen Susanne! Neil Young said, "Usually I sit down and I go until I'm trying to think. As soon as I start thinking I quit." I love that so much. k d lang says she struggles with words, she will take hours sometimes on one word, she says she hates it but when she gets it right it's rewarding. Jimmy Webb loves titles, he is always gathering great titles and seeing what he can do to work a song around them sometimes the title changes, but he feels if he starts out with something more tangible the whole song stays focused.

Of all the songwriters mentioned by other songwriters in the book, this is the top five in order Bob Dylan, Randy Newman, Paul Simon, Paul McCartney, and Jimmy Webb - as it should be! Dylan loves Newman (everyone loves Newman, I do too!) and says he writes very good songs and there are not many in his class, which is high praise indeed. Dylan also says Brian Wilson writes great melodies, Morrison was a poet (Dylan is very particular about poets, when suggested he is one, he made all sorts of jokes about that, basically proclaiming he isn't...I think most would beg to differ), and he likes Madonna.

This books was a sheer delight to read, I smiled my way through it and marveled at the beauty behind these masters. Songwriting is beautiful, an artform, great lyrics are pure forms of poetry in my mind. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Kundera on spoken word - I've been listening to some of Milan Kundera's essays on art (film, photography, art, music, literature) on spoken word. Intensely intellectual, fabulous concepts, and beautiful you would expect.

What I've been listening to
How big , how blue, how beautiful by Florence and the Machine - I do love the sweeping drama of her voice, and I enjoyed this. It did seem a bit quieter and more still than previous albums, but worth listening to all the same.

Wilder Mind by Mumford and Sons - with so many other bands seemingly copying this original band it was lovely to hear new music by them. This new one also seemed like it had been toned back a little but was a great listen.

Shine on by Sarah McLachlan - The first few songs are a little more pop and whilst fun, don’t suit Sarah’s stunning voice, but after that her usual sweeping ballads come into play and goosebumps rise as her voice takes on its stunning angelic sound.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Cathy is present: experiencing Marina Abramovic and her residency in Sydney

When you mention performance art to people, you get interesting reactions, mostly 'well, that's not art.'

And well, it's not a Monet, a Picasso, a Warhol, or even Dali's lobster phone.

But it IS art, like theatre is art, like music is art, like anything creative is art. 

Art can come in all forms, and it can touch your soul or irritate the shit out of you.

Like beauty, it is in the eye of the beholder.

Yesterday, on a gloriously sunny winter Saturday, I headed to Sydney to participate in some performance art.

I was definitely well out of my comfort zone. I don't like participatory exercises, they make me cringe and irritable. If I am at the theatre and instructed to participate my initial thoughts are I paid YOU to entertain ME, not the other way round. I am not even a fan of clapping in unison at concerts (although I will always join in vocally), mostly as I am a rock snob, but that's a whole other story.

So why did I head all the way to Sydney to participate in something that would most certainly make me feel uncomfortable?

Marina Abramovic.

Marina, at 69, is up there with Yoko Ono as a avant-garde performance artist. Over the years she has pulled off some crazy feats in the name of art. But she also has contributed great heart and soul to the world of art. There is something enigmatic and charismatic about her, and I find myself very drawn to her and what she does...even if some of it makes me feel uncomfortable.

When I heard she was doing a residency as part of the Kalder Public Art Projects I was intrigued. Reviews I read were sketchy, it sounded almost completely interactive, and Marina may or may not even be there. Would I go?? As awkward as it made me feel, I felt I really had to a way I couldn't exactly explain.

My friend R kindly got me a VIP pass, which I presumed would get me in ahead of crowds given the whole experience was free. So I decided to go. Unsurprisingly no one was too keen to accompany me! But that is ok, sometimes things are to be experienced alone, and hey, if anyone does alone well, it is me!

Each day the residence begins at midday, so I headed towards Pier 2/3 at Walsh Bay around 11.30 in case there were queues, and there was. I headed gingerly to the front of the line...even doing that made me feel uncomfortable, lol! The guy there had no idea what my pass meant but directed me to the other side of the building, I almost gave up and just jumped in line, which probably would have taken forever and I would walk away. But there was this determination in me that pushed through the fear. I headed around to the side entrance and was greeted and put into a small group of other VIPs.

We moved through the big sheds with a guide giving us loads of background information about how the residency was going, Marina, participants etc. Marina was in and out of the main section all the time but tried to keep a low profile. She was also working with the other artists in residence on the top floor of the building. The artists in residence had all struggled settling into their spaces, but were now working more comfortably. Some people were coming back multiple times and staying all day. Marina had noticed some of these, and would approach them, and talk to them, and ask them to do 'homework' overnight and bring it in the next wasn't specified what the homework was. The guide wouldn't let us into the area until it had filled a little, to ensure the room had the right vibe for that. At that point I must admit I was thinking the whole thing was a bit of a wank.

We were finally allowed to enter, probably only 5 mins or so after it opened.

We were asked as we entered to read Marina's statement about the residency, and then asked to put all our gear in lockers, including phones and watches. Then we were asked to go to the warm up room, where about 50 other participants were warming up to a video of Marina talking us through physical activities. None were strenuous, but some felt ridiculous, but the vibe of the room was just give it a go, and people were either quietly intense or friendly and happy. Exercises included rubbing/massaging various parts of your body to wake them up, eg lips, chest, heart etc. Also a great breathing one which really seemed to clear my sinuses (going to do it regularly I think).

I didn't do the whole thing, most didn't, the room started to fill more and I moved on to the next room where you were given a pair of headphones to wear. This blocked out all sounds.

I then walked into the main area which was open plan but divided by a few walls. Everyone was quiet and wandering slowly, everyone wearing headphones were participants and then there was heaps of young, beautiful people in black not wearing headphones. They are the facilitators who can guide you through the experience. As I walked slowly looking and wondering what I was going to do a gorgeous young male facilitator took me by the hand and slowly walked me to the area where large wooden framed chairs were facing each other. There was a man in the chair facing me. We smiled. This exercise is based on her famous, The Artist Is Present, exhibit from 2010 at The Moma.

The lovely man and I sat opposite each other for some time. Initially it was excruciatingly painful and embarrassing for me. I couldn't hold his gaze completely, but neither could he. We smiled and kinda laughed but it was incredibly confronting, but eventually we got into a groove and it was very intense. Initially my internal dialogue was freaking out, I'd love to hear a recording of what was going on in my head! I got a point where I calmed down and was comfortable but felt spent and moved to get up and he did the exact same thing at the exact same time, we weren't reacting to each other, it just happened. It was surreal.

I had hardly moved from that when another facilitator took my hand, this time a happy looking young woman. She took me to an area where lots of camp beds with pillows and blankets were set up and with a sweeping gesture suggested I lay down. Remember no talking, can barely hear any noise, all silent. I lay down on the seriously comfortable camp bed and she pulled a grey blanket over me and gently tucked me all the way in and then massaged my temples for a bit. At first I was a little embarrassed, but that left me fairly quickly. After she left I lay there staring at the ceiling, feeling warm and relaxed and completely comforted. I thought about the experience thus far and what else I would I participate in. I thought about the anxiety that had returned the past 6 months after decades of lying dormant. I wondered if I was subconsciously compelled to attend this to assist the anxiety as I felt more calm and still and present than I had been in a long time. I say subconsciously as I didn't know enough about the experience to know it would sooth my soul. Eventually I must have fallen asleep as I may or may not have woken myself with a little snorty snore. Thank goodness for the headphones.  How long I laid there I couldn't tell you, I had completely lost the concept of time, it could have been minutes or hours, I had no idea.

I headed towards the next activity when a facilitator took my hand and led me back to the gazing chairs...sigh. I was seated opposite a lovely young South American woman with an infectious smile that helped ease my discomfort. We smiled and it was amusing and funny. Slowly her smile left her face and we were eyeball to eyeball, the intensity and drama of her eyes were palpable, I felt incredibly moved, like she had some grave sadness behind the smile, my eyes filled with tears and hers became glassy. The moment passed, I looked down to clear my head, we stayed a little longer, then she got up put her hands together and bowed before leaving. I sat there to collect my thoughts.

The next activity was large pieces of cardboard pinned to pillars with a chair directly in front. I chose a lovely blue, even though I wanted the purple, but it was taken. I love to meditate, but don't think I ever completely clear my head of thoughts, my internal dialogue is pretty strong, lol, but I came close this time. I almost fell asleep I was that still and calm, the blue was soothing too. In front of me another activity was going on, one I knew I wouldn't participate in, so I watched it for a bit while sitting there. People were walking incredibly slowly in a large oval, some singularly, some holding hands. And when I say slow, think about walking as slow as you can possibly go, and then slow down a hundred times more and you might get how slow they were. I knew I couldn't walk that slow and would end up laughing or disturbing others. They reminded me of that scene in Plan 9 From Outer Space, where they are running from the aliens (if you know that scene you will know what I mean), that thought made me smile and worried I would get the giggles I moved on.

This time I was led gently by another lovely young man to a platform where many participants stood still with their eyes closed. People were close but not touching. He led me up, it was only a few inches off the ground and motioned for me to close my eyes, all the while holding my hand. Then he gently massaged my shoulders for a little while and tapped me and left. Standing so close to all these other zen, still people with ears blocked by the headphones and eyes shut was surreal. I cannot begin the explain the beautiful energy I felt from standing there and I cannot begin to tell you how long I stood there, I have no idea. After a while I felt a little rocky, so I opened my eyes and stood down. I then sat in a chair close by and watched that for a while before moving on to the last activity.

The last activity was separating grains into colours and counting them. This simplistic activity is to help clear your mind by concentrating on something simple, the area was full and I waited for a while and eventually decided to leave.

I handed my headphones back, collected my stuff and slowly walked out. There was a debriefing room where you could talk about your experience, but I wanted to hold it close and continue to be quiet. I walked slowly through the back area of the experience and up to the top floor where the other artists in residence were, I walked around there but eventually moved on.

I left the building, and wandered slowly around the pier catching the sun. A few memories were triggered by being there and along with my experience I found myself in tears. Not sobbing just tears, I sat down and eventually felt this calmness wash over me, the moment had passed. I guess it was a release after such an intense experience.

I then ran into one of the ladies who came in with me, an older lady in her 80s I think, we spoke for a little while about it, she was quite moved but had had enough, the people she were with were still inside. I left her sitting there contemplating it all and moved on. The rest of the day I walked slowly, I wouldn't call myself a fast walker, but I never walk this slow, but it felt right and comfy. I knew this zen would hang around and possibly be difficult to shake, not that I wanted to anyway. I had planned on some shopping, but I no longer had interest in that, I mostly wandered The Rocks and The Quay, sitting and thinking and watching the world pass by from time to time. I felt calm and quiet and present.

A day later I still feel like that, my life isn't changed, my anxiety is probably not banished, and I am sure at some point the calmness will move on, but I feel from all I observed and did that afternoon, if I take the time - and I sure will take the time - I feel I can return to that state when I wish.

How long was I there? I would have said a little less than an hour, but it was double that time, not quite two hours. It all sounds a bit airy fairy and a bit wanky possibly, and that's ok, the cynic in me was prepared for that, but you know, it never really felt like that. The whole exercise was definitely about shedding inhibitions, being still, being in the present, affording those you are with the time and presence and energy they deserve, and to heal. Because we all need love and healing, no matter how well we are feeling in our lives.
I particularly loved the hand holding, touching, tucking into bed etc. This was a revelation, cause I am not at all good with complete strangers touching me. But it was incredibly comforting, and as an adult, when was the last time someone tucked you into bed? It may sound childish, but what is wrong with that, I highly recommend it.

And the thing I took with me the most was how wonderful each and every participant was. Kind, considerate, generous, and respectful. I mean, people could have been arseholes, disturbed the zen, laughed crassly, been rude, but I didn't experience or see that.

And finally Marina!! I think I caught a glimpse of her holding someone's hand and taking them to the camp bed, she was in a hooded jacket and I am certain it was her face. I guess that makes sense, to be sort of hidden, if she was brazen and out there, it would break the vibe of the room. I thought I would be disappointed not to see her, yet when I did - and I cannot even be certain I did - I really didn't care at all.

So, yes it was uncomfortable and confronting, but once I got over that it was such an experience of transcendence and beauty, I kinda wish I could do a little of it every day.