“I thought you’d be a writer by now!”

Ever get the feeling you’ve been handed the title of your memoirs on a platter?  I groaned internally. Story of my life.  
I hadn’t seen Bunny in roughly eight years. We were sitting upstairs at Shakey’s, waiting for the pub grub buzzer to herald the arrival of our chicken schnitzel, swimming in sauce. Shakey’s has to be one of the only pubs in Sydney where you can buy dinner and still get change back from a a $20 note.

Everything about the situation was familiar.  The kitschy pastoral paintings and ruby red velveteen couches were reminiscent of our suburban upbringing. The drama room we shared in high school had been decked out in a similar fashion as well as the incense-imbued drapery of her living room in Valley Heights.  It was there we had bonded over angst dancing to the Cure/the Smiths and there where at 15 she turned my head upside down in the bathroom and chopped all my gold locks off with the sewing scissors and dyed the pixie cut darker.

I remember emerging light headed from the shower after rinsing away the dark dye to face the change I felt I was standing at the brink of.  I had felt like the anti-sampson, all the stronger for my lost locks.

“What does that even mean?” I cocked my head at her incredulously.  I contemplated the possibility that I had yet to live up to the expectations of my old friend.    
I know of only one or two people who identify solidly with the title ‘writer’, and like ‘poet’ I feel like it belongs more to a bygone era.  It certainly sounded awkward (and awkwardly idealistic) at Shakey’s, in the midst of the 6 o’clock post work swill, on an idle wednesday night in the city.
I had toyed semi-seriously with the idea of pursuing professional writing as a career. I had certainly written prolifically in my adolescence, and not too badly either- according to teachers and others whose opinions matter to teenage flightiness not one whit.  I had thought ‘I can always come back to it.’   

I was pleased, secretly.  Her statement was a vote of confidence of sorts, and a much needed wake up shake up call.

Eight years is a long time, particularly in best friend time.  But as it does it had gone by in a flash.  We were 25 now and had found our separate ways to the city. Old enough to have old friends and to be old friends.  

In the aftermath of trials and the lead up to the HSC she had disappeared.  Something about doing Year 12 part time at TAFE up the mountains.  Trouble on the home front.  I’d disappeared down and into myself, my relationship and a multitude of other preoccupations.  God knows I can’t remember any of them now.

I haven’t stopped writing. But I haven’t been a writer.  I certainly haven’t done enough to earn that title.  I’ve been a lot of things and I’ve stopped being a lot of things.  I’m still figuring it all out and still becoming okay with that.
Kahlil Gibran said we choose all our joys and sorrows before we experience them.  I wonder if he would also say we choose the characters and identities we play in our own life before we become them?    
I haven’t played the writer because she is the one who eludes me.

How can you reconcile creating something and being it at the same time?  It is difficult and lonely.  Rilke says you have to go inside yourself and be prepared to not meet anyone for days.  

Yet in a way, here was a character straight out of a potential collegiate novel of rebellion and coming of age sitting right before me, asking me why she wasn’t written yet.  Brideshead Revisited stuff.  Capital, capital.  My response?

“I’m still writing.”


*Shakey’s is a Surry Hills pub and a Sydney institution.  It nourishes everyone from hipster to hobo to old, old friends with it’s $10 menu 

The ‘I’ Factor

Thanks to Nat Miller for the use of her images in this post. Find her at :

I know this is a blog about cities- but I want to diverge briefly and write about a whole country.  I did say that this was going to be an overly ambitious urbanism blog from the get go didn’t I?

What is the Italian equivalent of a Francophile? An Italian-ophile?  Is there any such term? I’m not sure.  For now let me tell you a story about how much I love Italy.  First of all I loved Italy long before I had ever even been there.

I loved it through the dusty blue and white picture of Venice that hung in our living room in the 50’s fibro house where I grew up.  I wondered how a city could meld with the water so convincingly- so differently from the harbour city I knew dotted with its coves and impenetrable cliffs.  I loved it through the stories of my Mother and Father, who eloped and were married in St Peter’s Basilica in 1986, the year the Challenger went down, the year the UN designated as the International Year of Peace.

Italy became a country that was embedded in our family mythology- not just the birthplace of the Catholic Church but of our own little gene pool.  I loved Italy through the mini Pieta that sat on my father’s bookshelf, through the Virgin’s face, through the hand that said ‘look, here is my son’ to the entire world.  Later I learnt that Michelangelo had smoothed the wrinkles from her face and sculpted her young, against contemporary convention and biblical logic. I loved Italy even more when I started to love cooking, when I came to understand flavour and simplicity and ‘temple food’- and the moments of quiet standing at the stove simmering.

I loved Italy when I came to study Art History at University, some 500 odd years of Western tradition dominated by the workshops of Florence, Venice, Rome, Sienna and Bologna.  Our class sat on the cusp of the transition from slide to digital but even well into the 21st Century the institution I attended clung to such traditions. Only in first year were we treated to a lecture using slides.  In the dark,  the mechanical rolling of the changing images was mesmerising.  Granted, I wasn’t always listening intently to the professor, and my mind wandered just as I’m sure trecento pilgram’s minds would have wandered standing under a Giotto ceiling- across the angular faces and elongated hands to my own hands and the lines and marks I might make myself- on my page, on my life, on the people around me….

And then almost two years ago I went to Italy with my parter.  It was the last country of a long journey together. We flew into Rome, jumped into a taxi complete with a handsome young Italian driver, arrived at our accommodation in the dead of night, exchanged whispered “Bongiorno”, glimpsed red bedspreads, stone walls.  Again, the quiet.  When morning came we entered the breakfast room to the sound of a young Australian chef and a 60 year old Napoli woman bantering about bread. Light streaming into windows that looked out on a large interior courtyard.  Crooning pigeons.



What happened over the next few weeks was fairly incredible.  Italy exceeded all my expectations, and that is surprising in itself because my expectations were very high.  But it also opened some floodgates in me.  I drew and wrote more in my short time in Italy then I ever have in my life- bar only the last minute scrape to the finish line trying to complete my HSC Visual Arts Body of Work.


queuing leads to thinking




Side effects of the ‘I’ factor

Since coming home life picked up around me and swept on, leaving little to no time for such pursuits.  I’d dearly like that to change and I’ll write a bit about what I am trying to do to make those changes over the coming weeks.

I have often looked back and wondered what it was about the country, the people, the built and natural environment that so emphatically dissolved my artistic inhibitions as well as all the unwritten boundaries I had invented for myself around drawing and writing.  Like when you can do it/what it should look like/what materials you should use/what music you should listen to and most importantly: What will everyone think of it! I just let go of all that.  A big part of it was not having the luxury of picking and choosing where you could something and when.  I drew in cafes, in courtyards, on trains, in bed, on the floor, on church steps.  I drew from life, from memory and from the back of the camera looking back over the shots of the day.  And let me say this: If you think a photograph is a great way to remember a place in all it’s rich layered detail…definitely try drawing it.    

So reading over what I have just written perhaps I have answered my own questions about the ‘I’ factor (‘I’ could stand for Italy, Inspiration or just be a new way to look at the first person pronoun).  Visiting or revisiting any place that plays an important part in your own mythology becomes a pilgrimage of sorts- one that is bound to inspire you to the core of your being.  Where do you get your ‘I’ factor?

A/N Two things in particular inspired this post.

  1. Looking at my friend Natalie’s pictures of her recent trip to Italy.  Pangs of jealousy coupled by our inability to produce photos like this on our crappy 2mpxl point and shoot have prompted me to include them here.
  2. Re-reading Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet which I discovered online here just the other day, many of which are penned from Italy where Rilke sought solitude and respite in order to write.  And definitely a bit of the ‘I’ factor.

Til next time,

Emma x