FROM THE ARCHIVES: Of Writing & Pigeons

This post was originally written on 14 December 2015.

It is the blessing and curse of a writer to forever want to know why.

pass pigeon logHaving thoughts that are not always anchored, which follow their subjects around like airborne bits of dust. Having thoughts that vacillate between the world, the cosmos, the very nature of existence, and then the next moment – being part of something else, the world of another creature, and noticing in sharp detail the curve of a pigeon’s foot, how many rings are around its eyes, and how nature conspired to put flecks of royal purple and emerald green on its little wings. How it must feel to waddle, move its head, rush for a crumb, and then – too dangerous! Too much! It’s curved little orange claws lift off the ground, and wings flecked with royal tones beat quickly at the air, and now it projects overhead, searching, knowing, that there is another patch of ground, another fossicking place.

Not too close to the humans. Shuffling, little crest bobbing, head moving constantly, eyes ever watchful. Waddle, startle, beating of wings. Waddle, startle, beating of wings. And then one might narrow one’s lense even further down then, to take in the composition of it’s feather’s, the thousands of original little patterns, which are commonly unremarked over by anyone, for this is a humble pigeon, an airborne rat of sorts. And to the mite who lives in the feathers of a pigeon – how big the bird must seem! How royal, how all-encompassing. And the child rushes at it, the impatient businessman flicks his boot towards it, and it lifts, escapes every time, just a silly little character that makes up the beige backdrop of the all-important human life.

Take the thick, sunshine-coloured enamel cups, and what it might feel like to be the flow of milk that is poured into it, swishing around against the yellow, sloshing, undulating, rising and falling with the wave of new milk pouring down, rising steadily to the top – never merging with the yellow, simply being contained within its brightness, supported, smooth, still appearing virgin after every sip.

Consider where time goes. Not just the years, but also the moments – this moment, and then the next one, and then the next. One is not always present to them; one might be, for example, in one’s own mind, in one’s imagination, and yet life is occurring with flawless consistency around us, be we are away, someplace different, and at the end of it all the moments slip away, invisible, unaccounted for, and lost forever.

Then suddenly, one sees something – a flower, or a leaf that is a particularly brilliant shade of green, or a bell tower, seen from a certain angle as one walks up a hill, with the afternoon sun setting the sky behind it all aglow. And at that moment, beauty strikes like a bolt, and one truly becomes alive, and then one thinks to oneself, “Where have I been all this time? Where have I been existing, and conducting my life before this moment?” Inside of one’s head, and not in the world around it, although there are great minds that would argue that there is no difference between the two.

This is how life is lived. It is not a stage, on which we must walk, ever mindful of our parameters and boundaries. Life is a series of moments, each one occurring with enough rapidity to evoke the illusion a long and continuous passage; to simulate timelessness, when really, life is in all of its enormity exists, albeit precariously, in this fleeting moment, and then, majestically, in that one, and then, with any luck, in the one that follows that, and the one that follows that.

And we all have something special, something which kindles an immediate glow of love, of joy. Every being, every species, and every living thing that has been consciously aware of its own life – it has had something. For me it has been Brisbane, always shades of Brisbane. And, right now, Mount Cootha. And it is particularly painful to realise that not everyone has had that. Not everyone has seen the way the sun sets behind it, and watched the lights atop it flash with a sense of awe and wonder. Not everyone has seen the flying foxes speckle the sky for miles at dusk, nor heard the lorikeets screech in their hundreds, thousands. The unchanging shapes of the roofs, houses, streets, seen from a certain angle at dusk, whilst in a tiny school uniform, and sitting on cold brick steps in your grandma’s front yard. This sight, which I am seeing now – she has seen far, far more times. And felt – I don’t know what she felt. I can’t know. It is there, for everyone to see. But what people feel, and what it means to them – that will always be different.

And then a person might ask about it, and say, really – is this really your thing? And does it really mean that much to you? And in the words that tumble out, you hear yourself say, carelessly, no, no, of course it doesn’t. Because what one likes and dreams of and cleaves to are not “things”, nor can they be described or readily understood. They are mysteries, an expression (one of trillions) of beauty and profundity that one attempts to make known through talk of mountains and sunsets and flashing lights and birds slicing through the sky, because those are the things which most often elicit that pure and sacred feeling. They are messengers, harbingers of that feeling, but not the cause of the feeling itself. They are reminders of what is possible for a person to feel; representatives of the universal, lulling voice, which whispers about unspeakable beauty in one’s ear, yet cannot ever take a form. And so we assign things to it – the silhouettes of a bell-tower, leaves with particularly brilliant shades of colour, a feeling of poignancy when we watch the evening colours meld and transform.

One wants to capture these things, all of the rushing torrents of life streaming around at every moment, but it is impossible. There is simply to much to look at and feel and wonder about. Too much to possibly hope to understand. But that is the job of a writer – to watch, to imagine, to absorb and to turn it all into a snappy piece of prose that a person can glance at on their lunch break, or over their morning coffee, and say, “Oh yeah….I kind of get that,” before going to the next thing.

The leaves keep on falling, and the pigeons keep on wobbling, and same breeze which is touching my face right now will no doubt whip around the planet and touch the face of a far more important, interesting person that me.

And so it all keeps moving, occurring and reinventing itself at every moment, and I will sit back and watch it all, pondering the endless curiosities of the humble pigeon, and marvelling at the identical curse and blessing of being a writer who always needs to know why.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Choosing Balance Over Positivity in 2015

This post was originally written on 18 March 2015.          life shits

Western culture has enjoyed resurgence in positive thinking over the last few years. Thanks to the advent of social media, positive ideas are being spread with unprecedented rapidity. Inspiring memes, poignant quotes attributed to the Buddha, Jesus, Steve Jobs and ancient historical figures who probably couldn’t write their own name let alone pen the moving strictures we attribute to them. Fitness brands such as Lorna Jane bid us to NEVER give up, to always believe something positive is just around the corner, and to live a life of love and positivity.

We have been told through many new-age gurus that we can think ourselves happy, that we should always look for the good in every situation, and that we should love life. In theory, these premises are meant to inspire. Like anything, however, the key to a happy life is balance.

Balance is the key to good physical, emotional and mental health. Nature models balance to us on a daily basis. There is day, there is night. There is death, there is life. To live and thrive, nature relies on balance. When there is a lack of balance, we start to see a decline in the good health of nature.

It is no different for human beings. There is a diverse spectrum of emotions in the human psyche. Happiness is one of them, but it does not stand-alone and it is not more important than any other emotion. It is one, part of team of emotions necessary to being a balanced human being.

It is not natural to be happy all the time. And to accept the premise that we should be places an immense pressure on us to not be authentic.

Happiness is a by-product of a balanced life, and of self-acceptance. As a Mindfulness Meditation teacher, it is my belief that self-acceptance must be practiced in order for a person to be truly happy. Self-acceptance means being aware of your faults and flaws and all of the things that make you feel uncomfortable or ashamed of yourself. It means sitting with them, not judging them, and keeping them company. It means not making yourself wrong, or trying to cover up your feelings with a better, happier or more convenient feeling.

I recently did some backpacking overseas. When I arrived back home in Australia, it was with a new sense of appreciation and gratitude for my country and for my life.

But my life is not amazing every day. It is not awesome every day. There are ups and downs, good times and hard times, and that’s what tells me everything is OK – the fact that I am human, and that I experience the full spectrum of human emotions. If you approach life negating what’s real in lieu of some perceived ideal way of feeling – you’ll become an emotionally constipated person who has trouble related to other people and their regular, “non-ideal” emotions. And that would be an alienating situation to be in.

So next time someone looks at you with that manic gleam in their eye and asks you why you’re not happy or smiling or sprinting a marathon whilst simultaneous baking a vegan, gluten-free carrot cake in a Thermomix – ask yourself whether you’re balanced. Happiness is not a show or a performance or a PR stunt, and you don’t have to force it or prove it to anyone.

Sometimes it’s the private moments, the little realisations or our own inner landscape, which make us happy. It’s not always discernable to the outside observer. And nor does it have to be.

There’s nothing positive about fake positivity.

We don’t have to look much further than nature. A tree may shed leaves and experience disease but still grows. Autumn time isn’t “wrong” because all the trees have lost their leaves. They are not failures for not having retained their foliage. It is all part of the cycle of life and growth.

I believe one of the best things we can do for each other is make a commitment to being real, not ideal. A mentor who I admired immensely once taught me the value of “speaking the unspeakable” – making visible that thing which sits in the no-man’s land between people and prevents their true and meaningful connection.

#lifeismainlygood #butsometimesitsshit #livingeveryday #butnotalwaystoitspotentialbecauseimnotsuperhuman #Ilovethemajorityofpeopleinmylife #butsomepeoplecanberealc#nts #butthatscoolbecausesocanI #typingonalaptop #haveneverusedtwitterorinstagram #hopeimdoingitright #butifimnotwhogivesashit


FROM THE ARCHIVES: Fleeting Weekend Impressions

This post was originally written 19 July 2015.  

First full moon for spring

I’ve wanted to devote more time to this blog, and into crafting a little online expression of my world.

There were so many things this weekend that popped into my mind to write about. Things which I found interesting, memorable, funny or weird. And I also don’t really have the energy to go about arranging a really careful piece of prose to describe it. So some impressions of my weekend in no particular order were:

A brown paper bag of Black Star coffee beans, sitting on top of a small sunbeam espresso maker.

Stencilled birds – four of them – painting onto the kitchen walls of a friend’s new rental property.

A cat that I named Poochy darting through the garden at home and evading my advances.

Tightening the screws on my bed frame, and feeling surprised at how easy it was, and how little my bed now creaks.

Noticing my car steering isn’t as smooth as it once was.

Eating a Seattle Hotdog at Death Valley’s Red Robin Supper Truck.

Feeling peaceful in the gardening section of Bunnings.

Leaving my pyjamas in the dryer for too long and noticing they’re now shorter at the wrist.

Feeling alarmed driving through the Valley on Saturday night.

Losing my hair tie.

The pleasing texture of slightly undercooked pasta.

Tears of tiredness, sadness and PMS.

Hiding in my room.

Thoughts of the past.

Drinking a Coke.

Afraid the coats on my clothes rack will come alive in the night.

Dreams which feel real and recede like waves upon waking.

The skin on my face drying up and stinging.

The blue lighting and smooth silver dials of a new Samsung washing machine.

The moon, enormous and jaundiced in the early evening sky.

Hills that look like blue shadows behind Brisbane.

Hysterical giggles.

Feeling cold in a Queenslander.


FROM THE ARCHIVES: What Starbucks Means to Me

This post was originally written on 17 January 2015.

I heard a rumour that Starbucks is closing all of its stores in Australia. starbucks

In an admission that awaits the scorn and ridicule it predictably attracts, I’m taking a punt to say the following: I don’t mind Starbucks. In fact, I rather like it.

Why, why, why?

 Because I like coffee. A lot. And I like coffee served in cafes that have dark wooden furniture. And I like coffee served in cafes that have dark wooden furniture and a reliable method for making the coffee. You know, a formula which is backed up by training and guarantees that your coffee will be made within a few minutes and taste basically the same every time.

It doesn’t really matter to me that it isn’t the best coffee I’ve ever tasted, every time. When it comes to coffee, sometimes I value institutionalised consistency over the whims of the deeply creative yet commonly misunderstood barrister. Too often, the quality of coffee is compromised by the mood of its maker and, depending on their nocturnal activities from the night before, you can either wind up with a cup of pure heaven or a grande serving of skinny, half-strength sick.

I also like what Starbucks represents to travellers.

When overseas and homesick, Starbucks embraced me in its warm, aromatic fold of Western familiarity and rocked me like a baby. I was lonely and it gave me an instant community. It was a haven from the mean streets of New Delhi, and gave me all the internet access I required to blog and spend hours on Facebook – for free.

 Yet whenever I suggest meeting up there with someone, I am sure to get judgement heaped on me quicker than flies racing to a dying Delhi street dog. What? Why would you go to Starbucks? I didn’t think you were that sort of person. What about the Organic Osho Eco Vegan Green Recycled Conscious Paleo Hole-in-the-wall coffee wheelbarrow down the street that grows their own fair-trade hand-crafted coffee in the local, donation-only community pre-loved compost heap..?

 Firstly, that place doesn’t have dark wooden furniture.

Secondly, Starbucks has everything I like and value in a coffee shop. Free Wi Fi. A consistent menu and service. Comfy couches. It looks good. It’s clean. The coffee doesn’t taste like Satan’s urine because someone is in a bad mood or distracted and has let the grinds burn in the machine. I can give them a name – any name! – and they will call it out for everyone to hear. Twice, if I’m tardy.

Thirdly (and perhaps most importantly), I simply enjoy it. There won’t be wailing or gnashing of teeth from me once Starbucks packs its bags and takes leave of our fifteen-year hospitality towards it (whew, time for a cuppa!). But I can’t deny that I’ve enjoyed their coffee, their cheesecake, their WiFi and their lowest-common-denominator marketing appeal. It gets me every time.

So hands up for the unashamedly base coffee drinkers amongst us, with low ideals and little social conscience. And Starbucks, thank you kindly for catering to us.


Coffee: A Massively Dysfunctional Love Story

espresso-roast-coffeeI can’t remember the exact moment I tasted my first cup of coffee. It was sometime in high school – maybe grade 11? – and the coffee was by no means a single origin latte made on full-fat, organic milk. It was a filthy instant, swirled together with raw sugar and tepid billy water in a tiny styrofoam cup, stirred by a wooden paddle pop stick.

What I do remember – vividly – is the impact coffee had on me after that initial cup. To put it mildly, it immediately became my drug of choice. It was cheap, legal and gave me the most crazy-ass highs. A relatively susceptible person, coffee and its side effects became one of my defining characteristics for a very memorable period of time. During my senior year at high school, I drank a lot of it. I ordered it from the tuck shop every day (that this was allowed now strikes me as decidedly odd). Friends and I would also visit the groundsmen’s room at lunchtime where, under the pretence of saying a friendly hello (if they were even there), we would help ourselves to a cup of Nescafe.

The caffeine made me incredibly hyperactive, but also sharpened my mind, made me think more creatively and helped me pump out assignments and do relatively well at school.

An innocuous fixture previously unnoticed, I now became drawn to the large jar of freeze-dried Moccona at home. I was by nature a night owl and now, fuelled by regular influxes of coffee, I revelled in staying up until 2, 3, 4am most nights. It gave me a buzz and a feeling of power and control from having pushed the edge. Needless to say, I would struggle massively to get up in the in the morning, and would float through my school day looking as pale as  a ghost (and I was already a very pale person). Then I didn’t perk up until – you guessed it – I had another few hits of coffee.

To add to the already sizeable assault on my body from too much coffee and not enough sleep, I’d taken up smoking. You know, to rebel against life. Between these two habits, I wasn’t eating much. So I was pale, hyperactive, edgy, and malnourished. Oh, and addicted to junk food. Who am kidding, I probably looked like a meth addict.

My obsession reached a dramatic climax one night in grade twelve, when I was forced to experience a different side to my love affair with coffee.  In this pre-Google era, I didn’t have the luxury of Googling whatever random question came into my mind, and thus I was blissfully unaware of pretty much everything. More relevantly, I was completely unaware of what having too much coffee could actually do to a person. I didn’t know caffeine poisoning was a thing. I just knew coffee gave me a buzz and made things fun, and I assumed I could push that as far as I wanted with no real consequence or impact to my health.

So this one night, I was up late typing out an assignment in my room. I had an old PC with no internet access (standard back then), so it was actually possible to be focussed on an assignment and not get distracted by Facebook. I’d prepared a large, picnic-sized thermos of coffee to see me through. I had no idea about serving sizes, and so my coffee was generally quite strong. Over the course of a few hours, I consumed the whole thermos of coffee – about six cups – and was on to my second flask. Of course, I wasn’t smart enough to drink water to offset all the caffeine, and because I was a smoker I also hadn’t eaten much that day. And far from being milky and soothing, the coffee was strong enough to jump-start a car.

As I was typing, I suddenly started to feel shaky. Really, really shaky. And nervous. My heart started beating double time, and my breath caught and I started to hyperventilate and sweat. Oh god, I thought, I’m having a heart attack.

I tried to calm myself down and breathe normally, but guess what – after seven cups of rough-as-guts coffee and no food, my body didn’t feel like playing ball. Parts of me started to go numb – my hands, my face, my arms. My heart was racing uncontrollably. I completely freaked out, and started calling for Mum. Mum appeared in my room, bleary eyed and in pyjamas. I explained as best I could what was happening and said I thought I needed to go to the emergency room as I may be having a heart attack. I was hyperventilating so much that I couldn’t talk properly – my tongue had gone numb. Mum and Dad got dressed and buckled me into the car. I couldn’t use my arms to do up my own seatbelt because they were completely dead. I later found out this was because my blood was over-oxygenated from all the hyperventilating.

The emergency room scene went something like this: Dad drove to the private hospital, and dropped us off while he found a park. We waited a little while to be seen. I explained my symptoms. Someone – a nurse or doctor, I can’t remember – took me to a curtained-off bed not too far away and left me alone. Like, for several hours. By the time a doctor came to see me, I was decidedly calmer. The conversation we had went as follows:

“How are you feeling now, Julie?”

“Um…..a lot better.”

“Good. Now tell me, are you in grade twelve at the moment?”


“And have you been up late studying?”


“And drinking coffee?”


“I thought so. Next time, don’t drink so much coffee.”


Aside from my parents being slugged with the hospital bill, that was about it.

Of course, it didn’t stop me from drinking coffee, but it did instil in me an awareness of my limitations (the word respect is too much of a stretch here). It  also showed me the shadow side of my beloved caffeine, which I was generally quite ready to overlook.

My love affair with coffee would continue on-and-off over the years. After high school, I wasn’t so rabidly desperate about it. When I was about 21, I got a job in a cafe that roasted its own coffee beans in house and sold a variety of its own blends, ranging from light to dark roast, and various flavours of bean – French Vanilla, Irish Creme etc.

I adored several of their darker blends, and the owner, Vlad, was always happy to slide an exquisitely-made latte my way. He took pride in making exceptional coffee, and was happy when people appreciated it. Later on when I transitioned into barista work, the personal coffee glasses would stack up beside me as I worked to churn out coffee after coffee. I was an absolute speed demon once I’d had a few double-shots in me. Usually an efficient yet meticulous worker, the proprietress (an extremely shrewd business woman and entrepreneur at the tender age of 24 who I was petrified of) had figured out that she got twice the value out of me when I was pepped up on caffeine. So even on the days when I was “trying to be good” and abstain from coffee, she would get impatient and leave and beautiful cup of my favourite blend out next to me. If I demurred, I was goaded into compliance. It wasn’t hard. I loved the stuff.

The cafe was incredibly popular and, in an exclusive waterside location, was the creme-de-la-creme for its post code. Weekends were insane and we churned through hundreds of customers, who mainly came for breakfast. One Saturday, there was chaos in the kitchen. I can’t remember exactly what happened, but I think we were in between chefs and regular staff were trying to make up the difference. With a fancy menu and hundreds of customers per day, it was a disaster. My usual job at this point was delivering orders to tables, and clearing dishes. This particular day, I had drunk waaay to much coffee, and, caught up in the adrenaline and pressure of the environment (which I always loved), was off my chops. Everything was incredibly clear but sped up at the same time. In this state of heightened awareness, I remember entering into the kitchen and seeing that it was fucking chaos. There were dozens of paper orders on the rack, nothing was moving, and everyone was overwhelmed by the stress. Meals weren’t going out, despite the yelling and moving and running about.

Without even really knowing what was doing, I ran over to the grill and started cracking eggs, flipping pancakes and plating up like a crazy woman. Snatching up a docket, I threw together a breakfast order, put it up in the window, hit the bell and then snatched up the next docket and repeated. It was so simple and clear. Coffee had sharpened my mind and brought immediate clarity to the chaos. We started to work through the backlog of breakfast orders and restore control to the kitchen. I was sending things out with my bosses and barking out orders to people. For a few hours, it was my kitchen.

Note, I have absolutely no commercial kitchen experience, and this is not my usual personality. I mean, this stuff is inside of me, but it’s usually inhibited by an overactive mind, a conscious deference to social etiquette and fair amount of uncertainty. Coffee unleashes my kick-ass alter-ego. Unsurprisingly, my boss was so surprised by what she thought was an overlooked, hidden talent, that she made me a short order cook immediately after that day. It worked out for a little while, until I got bored with the monotony and she got tired of seeing responsible, methodical Julie when she wanted crazy, speed demon Julie. But the alter ego always came at a cost. After about six months she booted me out of the kitchen and put me back where I belonged: behind the coffee machine.

At this same job, we received proper coffee training from the other owner, Vlad, who used to roast the coffee. We would stay back on a Monday evening and gather around the espresso machine. Vlad would show us the basics of making coffee, frothing milk and adjusting the coffee grinder. Then we had to practice. Once we’d mastered the basics of tamping and frothing, we got into more detail. We would note the colour and texture of a good shot of coffee as it poured (thick and honey-gold, pouring out smoothly and plumply) versus a bad one (pouring out too runny, quick, thin and dark, or super-constipated and slow-dripping from overpacking coffee into the basket).

Vlad would pour shots of each of these scenarios and make us taste them. He wouldn’t tell us which was which – we had to taste them all and then declare what was wrong with the shot, or say it was acceptable and why. He did the same for his range of different blends. We had to be familiar with all of them and their nuanced tastes so we could recommend them to customers. He would pour shot after shot, and we would pass it around, each taking a sip, and pronouncing which blend we thought it was. There were over twelve different blends.

One night driving home after training I had to pull over due to a full-blow panic attack, which had no doubt erupted as the result of the dozens of shots of espresso I was required to taste in order to improve my professional knowledge base. Already a fairly wired person, my ability to drive calmly has been impaired many a time from too much coffee.

Those early years were definitely the worst for my caffeine addiction and the batshit reactions that came from drinking too much of it. There were several years when, with the intention of mastering my meditation practice, I didn’t have any caffeine or stimulants (black tea, cola etc) at all. That lasted for about five years, more or less.

These days I drink coffee daily, but not in such a gross, intense way as when I started out. There is no instant coffee, nor is there an exuberant orgy of espresso. Until recently, I was making a nice, light plunger of Montville Coffee each morning before work, and having it in a regular-sized thermos with full-fat Maleny Dairy milk. It’s a favourite. It’s been years since I’ve had instant coffee, and I’ll take tea or water over bad espresso. I’ve been transitioning over to green tea lately, as it seems to have both a cleansing and energising effect without the rapid onset of crazy that is part of my coffee high.

I’ve had a break from coffee and black tea recently as I’ve been on holidays and have been doing a little detoxing. I broke the drought  by having a couple of cappuccinos at one of Brisbane’s best coffee houses, Reverends in Fortitude Valley. It had been a while since I last visited (2014?) and had fond memories. They used to shave shards of fresh Belgian milk chocolate onto the cappuccinos instead of chocolate powder, and I was very much looking forward to experiencing this again. Alas, times have changed and they used a type of chocolate syrup instead, which I’m not a huge fan of. Nonetheless, the coffee was as good as ever, and I even ran into a friend.

Sitting there thinking about coffee inspired me to write some notes and blog about my terribly dysfunctional love/hate relationship with coffee. We all have one of these relationships, whether its with banned substances or food or a person, or even a stuffed animal……. And those who cannot relate to the sublime highs and devilish lows experienced from such addiction and dysfunction – you are winning at life, don’t ever change.

So that is the story of my highly dysfunctional and often tempestuous love affair with coffee. As for the future – who knows what will happen? It is my hope that coffee and I will be together always, and when I’m old and crippled and shitting myself, fate will intervene and ensure I am regularly supplied with good coffee ,and not in any danger of being too methodical, too orderly and too boring. Which, let’s face it – coffee or no coffee – will never happen. A glance at my bedroom floordrobe, which is a living, breathing ecosystem of it’s own, will convince anybody of that.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: “Coffee” is not a pseudonym for ice, speed, heroin or any other hard drug. Nor does it to refer to any other kind of drinking problem – only the kind associated with drinking a shit tonne of coffee. I smoked socially for a couple of years after high school, just to make sure life fully received the message that I was cool and my own kind of person and could do whatever the fun I wanted. It got the message that I was badass. Now I have a desk job and occasionally get referred to as “Ma’am” in the supermarket. Winning!