Friday, September 26, 2008


In love with a monk

Have you ever heard only the voice of someone and fallen instantly and sweetly in love? Voices can have an amazing effect on us humans. You just have to look at the scope of the phone sex industry throughout the world now to get the idea. I mean, really, what other animal could fall prey to this concept? Can you imagine a tom cat getting a little furry hard-on by just listening to a lady cat purring in another room? Well … maybe

Anyway, I digress. Listening to a Canadian Broadcast Commission program, I believe it’s called Tapestry, I heard the voice of the Benedictine, Father Laurence Freeman, and within one lap of the oval I was walking at the time I was deeply besotted.

As someone brought up in the Catholic faith who has ended up deeply suspicious of its modern form (let the poor African folk pop a condom on for God’s sake!) I am always, frankly, surprised when I hear someone from the Christian tradition speaking sense. It’s so easy these days to feel more sympathetic to Buddhism or other Eastern traditions. They tend to seem so much more gentle and wise … and I suppose fashionable.

I’ve written before about my meditation gum tree. I like pursuing a little stillness but I had no idea there was a thing called the World Community for Christian Meditation. Christianity does, in fact, have a history of meditation stretching back thousands of years. Who knew?

Father Laurence, he of the calming, wise and soothing voice, runs the John Main Centre for meditation and inter-religious dialogue at Georgetown University, USA. John Main was a Benedictine monk and priest who presented a way of Christian meditation which utilised the practice of a prayer-phrase or mantra. He only died in the 1980s. Father Laurence continues his work.

“Every day at 12.30pm and 6pm …in the centre of a highly competitive modern university, the students come pouring in,” said Father Laurence on the podcast. “They come with all kinds of experiences of faith or a lack of faith … and what meditation can do in this simple way is bring them to their own centre … to self knowledge …unity … to their own truth.”

I don’t know. He talked about how he teaches classes on love, using Jane Austin and other texts as source material. He talked about modern life, he talked about everything which such remarkable common sense, compassion and wisdom. I just really dug him.

Asked why humanity has, throughout its history, sought out this stillness and silence (in Australia Father Laurence said he met an Aborigine who explained his people’s term for this mediation was something that sounded like ‘digiri’ and they’d been doing it for 40,000 years) the monk said, “I think it is our true nature … that stillness is not static … building meditation into your daily life is simply respecting the law of nature (like accepting you must stop to rest before you can work again).”

In the end, he believes, we are programmed to search for transcendence. So modern marketing – the ads for fast cars or deep blue pools, even the otherworldly buzz of the AFL Grand Final – is just another kind of attempt by marketers and so forth to achieve that transcendence. Hmmmm!

“In a normal health society we need to pass on a way to open the heart,” said Father Laurence. “The mind and the heart need to be in balance … our culture/education system really neglects this heart dimension.”

He told the story of how, whilst travelling in India, a local guide told him that we, in the West, lack heart. “Meditation offers us a way to let go of thoughts and allows the heart to open like a flower … to experience silence … these days we are suspicious of silence but silence is revealing and purifying and nurturing,” he said.

Both Main and Freeman recommend using the prayer-phrase Maranatha, which is Aramaic for "Come, Lord". They say Jesus spoke Aramaic. Regardless, it’s a nice word, a nice thought hey?

* If you're interested in listening to the cast go to:

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The view from my perch...

Is it possible that, because so many words are running from one’s fingertips and brain, there are none left to invest in flights of imagination?
I have beamed into my blog regularly over the last week or so and have simply not been able to find anything to say. Thank God says Mr Underhill! I have also NOT been working on my book project. In the weeks leading up to and following the Melbourne Writers Festival I was incredibly hyped. I’m disappointed now to find that I have fallen off my perch. Instead I am sitting on the old newspapers lining the bottom of my cage, surrounded by shredded paper and bits of crud, and looking up forlornly.

Of course a lot has been happening that has absorbed my creative juices but shouldn’t I be able to keep on writing creatively? All the bloody experts seem to think so but perhaps one has to follow one’s own light. Or perhaps one’s own light is a particularly dim and lazy one and needs a couple of new double-A batteries inserted up its jacksy?

Yes the double issue of the magazine took an inhuman amount of effort to get out the door. It even has a couple of good stories in it, especially the one about a 70-year-old woman in Queensland who teaches craft classes to troubled school girls for absolutely nothing. They all call this gorgeous old cancer survivor ‘Nana’ and she bakes them cakes once a semester because some of them have never seen home made baked goods before. Ha! They could be my kids.

And I have been to some wonderful social events where people have passed on their books about Nashville for the trip which is four sleeps away, where I have completed two laps of The Tan (Botanical Gardens) and discussed everything from childlessness to ideal 40th birthday parties and where I have discussed sex over Hong Kong style roast duck at Pacific House in Toorak Road (thanks for that one Mr H!).

And – ding ding - I have devised my 40th and sent out early invites. It’s been keeping me up at night – sad but true – but I think a weekend in a drug lord’s palace sounds like a pretty good idea.

And I have heard reports on my divine goddaughter’s 5th birthday party which I couldn’t attend in the flesh.

And I have finished a couple of books, one being ‘Harry, Revised’ by the chap whose class I attended at MWF. Did I say he linked to my blog from his? (See for proof.)

Plus I have been having loads of fun working on a travel piece on Melbourne for a new UK website (thanks to many helping hands giving me tips) and, of course, I have been working on my Austin wardrobe. Okay, and trying to tee up a few interviews along the way.

Yes, when I think of it, it’s all pretty engrossing and creative. It’s even kept me away from my newly arrived October issue of Architectural Digest which, may I say, is the ‘inside the homes of the world’s top architects’ issue … one of my faves.

If I can miss that I must have been busy.

So perhaps I will have to take the writing thing at my own pace, fully aware that, when I return, I need to start being disciplined, perhaps even callously mean about the whole thing. Author Pat Barker tells her family not to knock on her office door when she’s writing unless an “ambulance is involved”. And she’s got at least 12 books to her name since 1982 and one of them won a Booker.

Of course, did I mention I might be going to Zambia two weeks after I get back from Nashville, New Orleans, Austin? Don’t ask.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Cicciolina gets international coverage in TIME

Southern Accents
Go to this week to see Marion Hume's story on dining in Melbourne. She includes the best restaurant in our town - Cicciolina - in her run down. Mrs U even gets quoted hee hee.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Where the magic happens

This week Ms F, author of Spiritual Business, declared her unending interest in other people's workspaces. Apparently people send her photos to feed the appetite.

Funnily enough, only last week, completely out of the blue, a couple of gal pals mentioned how much they like my office. Coincidence of topics hey?

This week, as I struggle to file 18 stories for the double issue of the magazine (Dec/Jan combo), my office ain't so pretty. As I look around it I see a couple of cardboard boxes laden with some beads one reader is meant to be winning along with eight copies of a jigsaw puzzle based on an award winning Australian quilt design.

Of course there is STILL my orange HUNTER $200 wellington boots that I am meant to be putting on eBay, paperwork from the weekend's yoga workshop, a stack of books I'm using for a give-away, not to mention a growing collection of bills, (a speeding fine! argh, don't tell Mr Underhill), notes from The Bank Job that I have now completed and (sigh) invoiced for, random business cards and event invitations and you name it.

It's bedlam.

It doesn't help that I am completely distracted by plans for the USA trip. I've been checking the weather in Austin every day ... it's still 30 to 35 degrees. Yikes. I've just been to buy leg tan. I know, very callisthenics concert circa 1979 but it must be done. I am not ready for hot weather. My efforts to cut down on alcohol intake have gone swimmingly but, for three weeks during the acclimatisation process, comfort eating was the replacement hobby. Comfort now lies around my stomach like an ever expanding safety vest. I am changing the blog name to MrsMichelindotcom.

Alas I am waffling. I do this when I should be writing about the wonderful girls at The Thread Den in North Melbourne. Check them out ... It's a retail store and sewing lounge with a thoroughly retro twist. Adorable!

I've been up since 4.30am and had three stories filed by 9am. Now I should REALLY be knuckling down to capitalise on such a commendable work ethic. Instead I am looking at photos of a recreation of (the Showgirl) Kylie's dressing room. So let's pretend it's my work space ... a spot where leg tan fits right in.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Getting your news online

In recent days Prime Minister Kevin Rudd came out and said his wife and children haven’t read the ink and paper version of a newspaper in a few years now. They do all their news reading online. This intrigued me as I have not taken to online news dissemination, possibly because I still need to get a sense of how ‘big’ a story is physically … how much space it actually took up … and where it appeared within the paper. That’s very old school of me, I know.

Anyhow, I jumped online this week at and was bloody well rewarded for the effort. Two headlines jumped out at me. One was ‘Mouth to meow’ about a firefighter reviving a house cat (a a tiger angora if you’re interested) with the ‘kiss of life’. Come on! I am still laughing about this now. Can it be true? The best of this story was the closing line about how the fireman-to-felines responded when asked what resuscitating pussy tasted like. His answer: “fur!”

The other headline was simply this:
‘Man gets stuck in window - suffocates.'
I mean, that was it. How depressing. Someone’s hideous end, the snuffing out of a life, distilled into five words. The story proves, though, that truth is stranger than fiction. Some bloke in Ohio was found dead, his legs sticking out of one of his apartment windows. He’d locked himself out, tried to break in and, somehow, had his diaphragm crushed in the process and couldn’t breathe. Saddest was that someone had seen him and not reported it because they thought he was a burglar. Someone else finally reported him, a neighbour I believe, when they realised how long it’d been since he moved. Please nominate a more embarrassing, useless way to die than this.

Gotta go … am hooked on online news now!

Photo: A video screen grab of firefighter Al Machado giving a cat mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Monday, September 8, 2008


My friend, sometimes known as Dreamweaver, also known as Ms F, has a new book out. It's called SPIRITUAL BUSINESS and it is remarkable. See it at her new website and be enthralled. What an achievement!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Goodbye Melbourne Writers Festival, hello cowboy!

Gruel, Fay Weldon and Mark Sarvas

Some good information was picked up during my recent foray into the world of the Melbourne Writers Festival.

Tutor and first time novelist, Mark Sarvas, was particularly good value. This author of Harry, Revised ran a workshop about getting started for would-be writers. It was a very practical class which I think is crucial when you’ve shelled out $200 and are not just there to hear someone’s life story. If you want that you go to a panel discussion or a reading but sometimes people don’t really seem to ‘get’ that.

Mr Sarvas has a website – - and is the man behind a respected literary blog called ELEGANT VARIATION. I’m going to beam in and give him some feedback as he requested during class. Although he did work in LA as a scriptwriter in the past I think novels were his real passion and he’s attended a lot of workshops and classes himself, making it easier for him to distil what’s required to actually make them useful.

A newcomer to the festival scene, I think he also enjoyed meeting other authors and slipping into that world. I took it as a sign of how social and engaging he is that he was able to tempt a few other authors to drop by our 10am to 4pm session to share a few pearls of their wisdom with us also. Or he could have bribed them ...

Nam Le (, from Melbourne, sat in for a brief while. His is a name on a lot of lips currently. The hosts were raving about him and his short story collection – The Boat – on 3RRR’s Aural Text programme (Wednesdays 12pm - 2pm) this week. By the sounds of things this Vietnam born Australian chap has an international career ahead of him. Funny to hear the 3RRR gals mention that he was good looking too. I am thinking launching a new magazine – don’t tell anyone – called Literary Hotties.

Hannah Tinti from the USA also visited us. Her new (first) novel is called The Good Thief. She was interviewed on 'The Book Show 'on Radio National this week. I purchased her book at the Festival bookstore at Fed Square (I also picked up Harry, Revised which is burning a hole next to the bed but, unfortunately, the library emailed to say Fay Weldon’s Spa Decameron had arrived so I just HAD to swoop on that first. Eeeek and I still haven’t finished Salman’s Enchantress of Florence. Ah the reading joy of it all!).

Hannah's particularly interesting because she’s one of the founders of the US literary magazine called One-Story. Every three weeks one short story is published in this tiny, lovely publication. I won’t go into details. Check out if you’re interested. Suffice to say a) I think they have around 8000 submissions a year and can publish only 18 stories and b) the mag is getting some serious attention from editors around the world looking for new writers.

As you can see I’ve been enveloped in bookish thinking. I’m surprised I’m not dreaming of reams of words, scribbled on blue-lined paper, swirling around me at night. Instead I’m dreaming of creatures like those hideous monstrosities from M. Night Shyamalan’s film, 'The Village'. Go figure!

Anyway, I digress in a monumental way … great advice picked up from Mr Sarvas included reading like a writer. This involves being aware, as one reads novels day in day out, of the mechanics being employed by the author … the construction of the book and the way the story is being moved along and so forth. Part of me always thinks such examination or analysis takes the fun out of activities such as this but, committed to a home made 'Mrs Underhill Masters of Creative Writing in the sunroom' for the remainder of this year, I am going to knuckle down and give this a bash. Mr Sarvas also gave EVERT student a copy of his favourite novel, The Great Gatsby. Bless!

In the spirit of “thinking like a writer” as was also discussed in class, I am going to buy a specific tiny notebook to record all manner of intriguing dialogue I hear between airports and luggage carousels between here and Nashville, New Orleans and Austin in October. I will probably end up using it to write lists of perfumes and booze that I want to purchase but, hell, it’ll come in handy either way. Maybe when Mr Underhill’s not looking I can get down a few cowboy’s phone numbers too.

Of course I am also going to put the finishing touches on my big bank job, write the double issue of the magazine that is hovering before me and pull off a terribly chic and amusing Melbourne travel piece for one of the editors of Tatler or some UK website. I’ve been commissioned, accepted the price, floated a deadline and still am not sure who I am writing for. Crazy!

But, as everyone who has shared insights into writing with me in the past months has said, life just cannot get in the way of the writing. There are, apparently, no excuses – save death – which can be accepted. And, if I am going to us Ms Weldon as even a token role model – she has four bloody sons and I think step-kids as well – she probably had a spot of ironing and plenty of gruel cooking to distract her. Didn’t stop her from pushing out something like 30 novels. Bitch!