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Charting a Course

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Penpals, write! From #Penpalooza to #Postcrossing and beyond.

I’m gazing into a postcard of the mountains of Massachusetts, a bookmark with an Emily Dickinson quote in my other hand: ‘It’s all I have to bring today…’ the quote says. But there’s more. Before me are four pages of a handwritten letter, from a stranger in Birmingham, Alabama. For privacy reasons, I won’t be sharing what my new penpal told me of her life, but I know I urgently need to write back to her. Letter writing has become a way for people to connect during lockdown. Penpaloooza was started by New Yorker writer and editor, Rachel Syme, with an Instagram call-out that has grown from an initial 100 participants, to more than 4000 people, writing letters, collecting stamps, sourcing small gifts and sharing words. There are writers in more than 30 countries, and people post their treasures at the hashtag #Penpalooza.  When my first piece of mail arrived, the excitement I felt was beyond reason. The pure thrill of a package, holding pieces of a person–a bookmark, a sticker and words

The Things we Call Essential

When I heard a woman remark ‘I’d rather die than not have my hair done,’ I wrote the words down, stunned. It's strange what has been deemed ‘essential’ in the time of Covid-19. Shopping for food, sure. Medical appointments, yes, if necessary. Exercise, OK. And until recently, a trip to the hairdresser. What? As a person who usually gets a haircut once every 12 months, it was beyond me. But soon enough, Melbourne’s stage four restrictions ripped this ‘essential’ service away, along with other things we had taken to be ordinary aspects of our lives: going out between 8pm and 5am; being outside for more than an hour; and going further than 5km from our homes. And then it came back to me: going to the hairdresser had been a sort of lifeline for me last year. Yes, me of ungroomed locks and untended knots. It seems a hairdo can offer people so much more than a tidy and trim.    Hannah McCann, Lecturer in Cultural Studies at the University of Melbourne, notes that "in Western cultur

Shine a Light

On a recent sunny Sunday, I walk through the park on my way to get Nan’s lamp fixed. Families are having picnics on the grass. ‘Can we fix it? Can we fix it? Can we fix it?’ drums in my head as I crunch across the gravel towards the Repair Cafe , a little hub where volunteers work their magic on broken stuff.  In my bag, I’ve got a lamp that’s dodgy and a globe that works. My fear in bringing the lamp for repair is that when they plug it in, it will blow the powerboard up. My nerves sizzle. The world seems to be short-circuiting. Repair Cafe volunteers help repair things, from toasters, to cushion zips to stereos. They keep rubbish out of landfill; save consumers from buying new products; and cross-pollinate a community of people who tinker, rebuild, deconstruct and recreate objects.   Around the world, there are over 1500 Repair Cafe centres, working towards reducing waste, sharing knowledge, repairing items and fostering communities. The first cafe started in 2009, and The Repair

A Golden Thread

From my bed, propped up with cushions and with my fancy headphones on, I sip gin and watch the screen as I sing an arrangement of Ball Park Music’s Surrender. “It’s OK, it’s alright, true terror in the middle of the night, give in if it makes you feel better. So surrender, so surrender.” On the Facebook livestream members of our choir make comments and jokes, or poke the emoji button until we are swirling in a sea of hearts. In my little house, my family stack the dishwasher and play with the dog. But I’m “at choir”, singing while ginning, connecting to voices, virtually. Sophia Exiner has run Melbourne Indie Voices for the past three years with technical director and guitarist, Josh Teicher. Starting out in her front room with a small group of 30, there are now more than 250 of us, rehearsing over three nights in a Collingwood studio. “We’ve tried to build a community with the choir,” she says. “It’s a unique space for connection and also a chance to let go.” But now the world is shu

Rinse & Repeat

Festivals serve up more than bands, martinis in mugs and craft beers in custom-designed bottles, so in the spirit of risk-taking and surrender, I decided to submit myself to an ‘artistic experience’ in a silent hair salon at last year's Mona Foma festival . But to what was I surrendering? And why? The Terhairium offered an indulgent immersion, leaving the customer at the hands of the silent hair stylist in a foliage-filled caravan. There would be no speaking and no mirrors. Limited stipulations could be given in writing before the appointment, the example given being: ‘no shorter than the jawline’. I wrote: ’no fringe please’, then, a bit more insistent: ‘no more than a trim, really’, and finished with a somewhat more desperate plea: ‘I don’t like hair around my face!’  The Terhairium. Image supplied by Chelsea de Main But I began to wonder: what could happen to me, while I’m in there, voiceless, in the stylist’s hands? I liked my shaggy, sea-stained locks, the twiste

Bright Beams of Birdsong

The magpies used to greet me as I arrived at the beach shack, and as we left, they’d re-assert their place once more, striding back into the front garden. But they seem to have moved on down the road these days. In their place, we have the bullet-proof bodies of the currawong, beady-eyed, tough-beaked, sleek-winged, with their flash of white at the tail. They clatter like earthmoving machines on the tin roof and watch fiercely from the gutters. They might be black and white, but they’re not my magpies. It seems our magpie family has moved on down the hill, and closer to the ocean, scared away by the bigger birds. I try not to take it personally, but I can’t help it. I want the magpies back, sharing some land, as part of my family. My love of magpies is not based on any ornithological knowledge or scientific curiosity. My attraction is relational: an interaction of beings and emotions; a sense of connection as to how to place myself in the world. They pick me up and sweep me away in