Empathy: what it’s good for

morning lightI’ve been having a bit of a clean out, moving things around and going through boxes of saved papers to see what I can do without. I found this piece of writing in one of those boxes. It was typed on an a word-processor that is long gone, so I wrote it well over ten  years ago. Evidently this has been on my mind for a long time!’ George Bushism’ would refer to the elder of the two – I decided to let that stand, however dated, as only the labels have changed.

Empathy, empathy, god grant us EMPATHY!

Empathy could save the world.

Empathy could destroy – militarism, terrorism, George Bushism.

Empathy is what Tibetan Buddhists cultivate in order to grow in compassion.

Empathy could destroy – xenophobia, war, greedy banks.

Empathy would make babies happy and grow them into happy adults.

Empathy prevents depression.

Empathy is more precious than any commodity you care to name.

Empathy can be taught.

And it’s high time it was.

Empathy, Empathy! Empathy is what makes us human – humans being – being in relation to others, and if we are not in relation to others, what are we?

Empathy allows others inside each others heads and hearts.

Babies die without empathy, and with not enough, they grow up to be psychopaths – incapable of feeling, of understanding – or caring – how anyone else is feeling.Seattle sheep graf


I also found this quote, scribbled on the back of a recipe…

“Living with hybrid identities and multiple cultural affiliations breeds a bottom-up cosmopolitanism and empathic extension. By incorporating diverse cultures, individuals become multicultural in their own identity; and therefore more tolerant and open to the diversity around them. A multicultural identity also gives an individual a richer reservoir of personal experiences and feelings to draw upon in expressing empathy to others.”

Jeremy Rifkin

‘The Empathic Civilization.’

What he is basically saying there is – everybody needs to get out more, literally and figuratively, and we’ll all be much better off personally and socially.

Empathy is one powerful way to Counter Dominator Culture!chair shadow

Weekly Photo Challenge: Forward

hungry fox

This week’s challenge is ‘Forward’, moving forward being the idea suggested.

This little scrawny fox was forward in a different sense when it came up near the house in the middle of the day to feast on fallen plums.

I guess it was really hungry, but it was so casual about it.


kangaroo thornOne spring following the Mt Lubra fire, we went on our favourite bush walk, only to find that there was no way forward where the track used to be. A fine dense crop of Acacia pycnantha aka Kangaroo Thorn aka (your choice of swearwords) completely covered the track.

As in the children’s rhyme, there being no way through, we had to go around.

We still went forward, just not the way we planned.travelling

I took this picture with my phone, whilst moving forward on a bus.

It’s somewhere west of Ballarat, late in the day.

The sky was serenely beautiful, the sun moving forward towards the west, to light up India and beyond.

(Actually, the Earth is rotating etc, but we all know that!)off to school

I’m guessing by the size of the kids that I took this one about 21 years ago.

They were going forward down the lane to school.

Since then they’ve all grown up and moved forward out of home and into the world.

In life we are always moving forward, even when we have to go around, or feel like we have been forced out of our comfort zone, like the plum-eating fox.

I learned this poem in high school, and after forty years, I have it almost word-perfect.

However, I had to Google it to find out the Cecil Day-Lewis wrote it.

It’s all about moving forward, and I love it!

Children look down upon the morning-grey

 Tissue of mist that veils a valleys lap:

Their fingers itch to tear it and unwrap the flags, the roundabouts, the gala day.

They watch the spring rise inexhaustibly –

A breathing thread out of the eddied sand,

Sufficient to their day; but half their mind

Is on the sailed and glittering estuary.

Fondly we wish their mist might never break,

Knowing it hides so much that best were hidden:

We’d chain them by the spring, lest it should broaden

For them into a quicksand and a wreck,

But they slip through our fingers like the source,

Like mist, like time that has mapped out their course.itty bitty

I am also looking  forward to a small person, one of these days,  who will wear these itty bitty clothes, and go on to call me granny, and on whom I can be a bad influence, teaching him/her to question authority and listen to the Melvins/Meatpuppets/Mudhoney…

Another Trio of Quotes: Addendum

donationsNo more quotes, just another weird coincidence-

when I found the poster of Kurt Cobain converted into a cupboard door  in my local Salvos,

cupboard door

I was wearing the tee-shirt I bought in the Aberdeen Salvos in 2011.

That’s Aberdeen, Washington State, where the boy in the cupboard was born and bred.

Salvos, AberdeenThat seems to me to be a weird coincidence.

That’s my workplace up top, but we’ve got most of that stuff sorted now!

Aberdeen’s store is bigger than ours.


They had a sale on.

I bought the aforementioned tee-shirt and a green hemp shirt with pearl shell buttons, and a plastic bear holding a bunch of bananas,

and paid the grand sum of $3.75.

I love thrift stores, they’re so thrifty!

And you just never know what you’ll find…

Another Trio of Quotes.

White Lily“If one advances confidently in the direction of (ones) dreams and endeavours to live the life which (one) has imagined, (one) will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”


How true is this statement? I don’t know, but I’m still working on it.delight

“Happiness is the freedom and capacity to enjoy who we are and what we are doing.”

Robert Anthony

I’m pretty sure that one is right, but I’m also pretty sure it’s easier said than done.

It can take half a lifetime to start enjoying who we are – although most of us had it nailed for at least a few years as children.


“But it isn’t Easy,” said Pooh… “Because Poetry and Hums aren’t things which you get, they’re things which get you. And all you can do is go where they can find you.”

Winnie the Pooh

‘The House at Pooh Corner’

I know that’s right. One way to let them find you is to read poetry often and widely.

A copy of ‘Leaves of Grass’ by the bed is an excellent way of inviting Poems and Hums into my head. (I have to open it up and read it, of course. Osmosis doesn’t seem to work.) What about you, dear reader, do have somewhere special where ‘Hums’ can find you?

Young Kurt CobainI work one day a week at an op shop/ thrift store. This morning when I arrived, the dress-ups cupboard door was open. The door was made, I suddenly realised, from a board-mounted poster of the young Kurt Cobain. It’s upside down, but I put it right side up, because it’s OK to be sloppy, but only if “it’s good”.

It was his birthday only a day or two ago – so was the open door this morning synchronicity or just an odd coincidence?

He looks like he was enjoying being himself just then, and he lived the life which he had imagined for a few years as an adult.

I guess he forgot to go where the Poetry and Hums could find him.


Creativity II: Altered Books

'How He Died'I love making altered books – these tend to be ongoing projects over months. Initially preparing the book is done over a few days and from then on, bits a pieces may be added at random. If there was no theme to start with, one will begin to develop over time.Make Way For Tomorrow

For some I have chosen an old hardback for its title, which has suggested the theme. With others, the theme has developed organically – perhaps from a collection of bits and pieces of paper detritus – stickers, postcards, labels, sugar sachets – anything that carries an appealing image and which can be stuck down.Deep edge

When I prepare a book, I remove pages to make room for inclusions, and if the paper is a bit fragile, I glue two or more pages together to make a stronger ground to work on.pages I might also glue a stack of pages that I have cut into, creating a niche inside the book. niche Text can be obliterated with paint, blank stickers or plain paper, or pictures glued in. Words of text that may fit into the theme, or have appeal for some other reason, are left uncovered (redacted). Or the unwanted words can be crossed out with a black marker pen, or white correction fluid, or bits of stickers…home in my heart

Then I add quotes, pictures, stamp, doodle, paint etc etc until I am satisfied that the book is finished, which can take weeks or months, depending on how much time I can spend on it.



The two books I have used to illustrate this post are

-“How He Died”, which was a book of indifferent colonial poetry, and which I filled with a collection of snippets, quotes and cuttings about Kurt Cobain. When I started out, I didn’t think I’d be able to fill up a whole book , but I was wrong. Copy of may 2011 052

-“Make Way For Tomorrow”, an indifferent mid-century novel, which I made over as a gift for my elder daughter. Although the title is suggestive, I started out with some random images and went from there.

cup of cheer


Making altered books is a lot of fun, and requires patience and glue more than any great artistic vision. Being raised to value books, I initially had trouble trashing them, even for such a worthy cause. That’s why I pick books that are pretty bad – I figure no one would’ve wanted to read them any way!
hero 1


Today is Kurt Cobain’s birthday. He would have been 46.

He was a hero.

He was ordinary.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Kiss

amorous frogsThis weeks Photo challenge theme is “Kiss”.

There are many kinds of kiss, but for some reason I don’t seem to have taken pictures.

So I took my camera for walk in the house and garden.

Here are the kisses I found.

First the very romantic frog kiss.

feathers and kiss

Then the Dutch couple.

The cocky feathers make it look like a really good kiss!

improbable kiss

Then there’s a couple of flying pigs, in an unlikely , tail-curling kiss.

Chip and RattyIn the lounge room, on top of the TV unit,

Ratty from Ikea in Richmond and Chipmunk from Port Angeles in Washington State

enjoy a long and toothy kiss.

It’s been about one-and-a-half years now, and they still really like each other.

turtle kiss

Under the window in my studio, two tiny turtles sweetly kiss.

One Christmas, almost every cracker contained one of these, and I collected them all at the end of the day.

The rest of them are asleep in a box.turtle embrace

Back in the garden, two much bigger turtles embrace among the alyssum.

They’re not kissing, but you know they will, the minute you turn away.

I fell in love with this loving pair in a garden shop in town, and went back for them equipped with a granny trolley,

so that I could carry them for blocks without injuring myself.

In spring, the flowers around them grow so tall, they virtually disappear.

They probably kiss unseen all day in the spring!

Last of all, not a photo but a poem-

A Fig For Kisses

Packed with blind unfinished flowers

Bruised purple on the outside

Thickened and plump with promises

Figs invite invasion by my teeth and tongue.

Then with lips fig sappy sticky

I kiss you ah so sweet and tender

As the insides of the fig were sweet and tender

As your naked soul is sweet and tender

Though hidden in your bruised skin.



Weekly Photo Challenge : Home

I’m running late with this post, thanks to having to go to work followed by thunder storms that make using the computer inadvisable. Hopefully I can finish before today’s storms arrive!

The theme is ‘Home’, what that might mean to different people.My Old Home

I didn’t take this photo!

This is the home my young parents took me to when I was born, and we lived in it for more than four years, moving into the ‘proper’ house Dad built with his father just before my second brother was born.

It had a kitchen-come-living room and one bedroom, plus a laundry with a shower in one corner, and a small veranda  That tiny building you can see in the background holds the pan toilet. I can remember helping to tear newspaper into squares, to be hung on a nail close-handy to the broad wooden seat. When the ‘pan’ was sufficiently full, Dad took it into our bush block for burial.

Ah, the good old days!

We could have all three, she said.

I imagined this wonderful home in a tree, and I took a photo of the painting.

My favourite fantasy home is a cabin-in-the-woods, among pine trees and down by the coast, in view of the sea.

Such places exist, between Aberdeen and Ocean Shores in Washington State. I saw them from the bus, but I have no photos to prove it. Next time!Aberdeen Mansion

So here’s Aberdeen Mansion instead, built by a man who made his fortune by cutting down trees and sawing them up for houses and boxes.

Maybe someone has bought it by now. It wasn’t me.home/studio

Here’s a bit of home – my studio, or one shelf and the things on it. This is a place where I feel at home and enjoy myself!

cup of earrings

Making a few pairs of earrings feels like coming home.

Tix 1Live music also feels like coming homeTix 2

A good movie can feel like home, too. And any song of Leonard Cohen’s is a homecoming…book page

I made an altered book, and filled it with quotes and notes-to-self about creativity. It could just as well have said ‘home‘ as ‘workspace’.

Home is where the heART is!

And it has an inside toilet that flushes… just sayin’…


Opuntia 1“Living in a state of psychic unrest, in a Borderland, is what makes poets write and artists create. It is like a cactus needle embedded in the flesh.”

Gloria Evangelina Anzaldua,

“Borderlands/La Frontera”Opuntia 2

If creativity is like a cactus needle in the flesh, I presume she meant by that that it is something that must come out, sooner or later, no matter what. A cactus needle hurts when you press it, and festers if you leave it. Not an attractive image, but apt!

The idea of the creative process as birth is  more familiar .There is the image of conception, of something growing , unseen until it is ready to emerge into the light of day. Again, there is an urgency, an inevitability at getting it out. Maybe the creative process can also be brought forth too soon, and needs to be nurtured – put in intensive care even, before it is ready to be taken ‘home’.

There is a common belief that an artist must suffer in order to be creative, and that if life is flowing too sweetly, no poems, songs or pictures will be generated – or none worth having. Maybe it’s true that the artist or poet must have gone through some experience of grief, exclusion or trauma in order to have the creative urge.  But given that background of suffering that allows for a different viewpoint, must one necessarily  continue to suffer? Does getting one’s shit together spell the end of a creative life?

I don’t believe so – although the tenor of what one creates must necessarily change.packed pages

If art making is a therapeutic activity (and it is), then one will grow and change because of that process – and also move on from whatever problem started it. Even if the same old issue is driving the art, it must be from a fresh perspective and bring new light. Some creatives can be intensely and unconsciously driven, and for them the matter may not be resolved through their art. For myself, I hope that a creative life leads me to a fresh understanding of myself, if not life, the universe and every thing.

And if the products of my creative life bring some joy to others, then that’s a bonus.

fresh tags


I do not write poetry;

Poetry writes itself through me.

It becomes what it is

In spite, as much as because of me.

In the same way I birthed my children:

Though I sought them

They came of their own volition,

And they became what they are

Despite and because of me,

Just as poems do.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Unique

featherUnique? That could be anything!

Somewhere there is a bird with a lot of feathers much like this one, yet each one is unique.

I wish I knew what kind of bird makes such extravagantly lovely feathers!dry leaf

Every leaf on a tree is unique, and this one more so than most. Some sort of insect has chewed away parts of the leaf, revealing the unique pattern of the veins,. Photographed in front of a curtain, back-lit by the summer sun shining through coloured glass, it becomes something new and strange.

yellow yarnbomb

Melbourne’s City square is currently embellished with colourful yarn, each piece of knitting or crochet as unique as a feather or a leaf.

Different people have made their various squares, before joining them together in an harmonious whole.

Yarn-bombing has spread rapidly and wildly throughout the world in only ten or so years, but no matter how often the theme is repeated, each one is unique.

ink painting: Kurt

Quite a few years ago, I did a one day class in Chinese brush painting. Anyone who has tried it will know how difficult it is to guide the brush stroke with the whole body instead of the wrist. We spent much of the day painting more or less recognizable fish.

One day not long after, I took out my moon-palace paper, ink stick and well, and my brush, and by some unique accident, and absolutely no forethought, I produced a recognizable drawing of Kurt Cobain. I think it reveals a little of his unique humanity, which is not really much different from anyone else’s.

We are all unique in the part we play in the harmonious whole.


A Trio of Quick Quotes

It’s a busy week and I’m sharing the computer, so I’ve decided to just post some interesting quotes to be going on with, and next week, I will have lots of time to spend …

The first quote concerns the value of solitude –

” Today, more than ever, we need to recognize,that the gift of solitude is not the acquisition of strange contemplative powers, but, first of all, to the recovery of one’s deep self, and to the renewal of an authenticity which is presently twisted out of shape by the pretentious routines of a disordered togetherness.”

Thomas Merton, from “Contemplation in a World of Action”


The second concerns Empathy.

“Sympathy occurs when we can objectively identify with the plight of another: empathy occurs when you perceive another to be yourself. Empathy is at the core of our most serious relationships in life: it only occurs when we have fused ourselves to something external to ourselves, leaving ourselves exposed and vulnerable.”

W. Ray Crozler + Paul Greenhalgh, from “The Empathy Principle”, “CRAFTS” magazine

Love graffiti

The last concerns art.

“Art is the flower – life is the green leaf. Let every artist strive to make his flower a beautiful thing – something that will convince the world that there may be – there are – things more precious – more beautiful – more lasting than life.”

Charles Rennie Mackintosh from “Seemliness”.