Wednesday, November 23, 2011


And around my neck could be a flaming Christmas wreath,
And I’d be smiling under, smiling underneath.
Ani DiFranco

In the past week I’ve become highly aware of things that make me involuntarily smile. Of course, there are the usual things like seeing someone you love; a child doing something cute; or something that tickles your sense of humour. And then there’s icecream and chocolate (Or does that come under “seeing someone you love”?) But other things too make me grin like a goon, often to myself.

I’ve become aware of these other things that make me smile—ones that don’t necessarily make a lot of sense if you think about the fact that we smile (and produce a myriad other facial expressions) primarily as a mode of communication.

While watering my vegetable and herb garden two days ago I noticed that I couldn’t help smiling whenever I turned to face a plot of dwarf sunflowers growing there. Unlike the other plants in the garden, some of which I’m very proud of, the sunflowers give me a feeling of pure joy which has very little to do with feelings of achievement in growing them because they weren’t exactly a challenge. The seed of these sunflowers were a gift from a friend who is now living interstate and whom I miss terribly so, if anything, they should have prompted a feeling of sorrow but the beauty and colour of the sunflowers overcame anything negative and made me smile to myself, hose in hand.

My involuntary smiling at the sunflowers made me more aware of what can produce these smiles and feelings of joy so last night as I was driving home from Melbourne and had come over the Dividing Range into some wetter air I saw a rainbow and it made me smile. The day before I had seen a hot air balloon and it too had made me smile.


These things are interesting things to smile at but I think it comes down to how I feel about them. I’ve never been ballooning and I’m not sure that I’m particularly keen to go (although if someone offered me a ride, I wouldn’t say no) but I like the ‘idea’ of hot air balloons—there’s a certain romance to them. And the rainbow? Well, that’s probably a hangover from childhood and the fascination I had with them then. It wasn’t silly stories about pots of gold that caught my imagination, I just liked the colours.


So, in the interest of smiling more often, I’ve planted more sunflowers in and around my garden and I’m going to keep an eye out for hot air balloons and rainbows.

What makes you smile?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

"Geek" is the new "Cool".

When I was in school they hadn’t even invented “geek” yet, those who fitted the bill (and I did) were referred to as “nerds” (and I was). And it was most definitely an insult. I was the studious type who followed rules, used manners and didn’t swear so the best I could hope for was when Michelle Rippingale said of me, “Debra’s kind of a nerd but she’s okay.”

Michelle followed up this initial comment with the affirmation, “Besides, it’s the quiet ones you’ve got to watch.” These words transfixed me because the idea of being mysterious far surpassed the reality of the fact that I was, indeed, up to nothing at all. It was the edgy kids, like Michelle, who were “cool.” A nerd could never hope for that kind of acceptance, it only happened in movies like Grease and Can’t Buy Me Love. Films that I devoured, as any nerd would, savouring for 90 minutes the fictional world where the whole high school ecosystem could be unraveled and somebody like me could get the guy and be gorgeous and/or sickeningly popular by the end of it.

Welcome, the internet, new information technology, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, and the social structure of being a teenager doesn’t seem quite so hierarchical anymore. Of course, this perspective could be due to the dulling effect of viewing the system from the outside but the structure seems less rigid and the lower castes of “nerd” and “geek” have been somewhat elevated to “IT nerd” and “computer geek” where their sought-after knowledge and skills imbues them with an importance and acceptance that nerds of my time could never have hoped for. But it’s not limited to IT either, this new perspective on nerds has established itself in mainstream television too. Take, for example, Matthew Gray Gubler’s character of Dr Spencer Reid in Criminal Minds or Jim Parsons as Sheldon Cooper from Big Bang Theory. In my nerdy days, all we had was the annoyance of Steve Urkel who was designed to make us all cringe. The interesting difference between the nerdy heroes of the likes of Grease and Can’t Buy Me Love and the newer television manifestations, is that these modern-day nerds are also cool in their own right without having to change or pretend to be anything else.

When I went away to university, I broke away from the labels that had been assigned to me in high school. I shook off the dowdy cloak of nerd-dom and put on the cheesecloth and op-shop fashion of the broke environmental studies student. The luxury of going to university where I knew nobody and nobody knew me was that I could re-invent myself to my heart’s content. I was careful about it too—I tried to be honest with myself and others without being pigeonholed into a stereotype I wasn’t comfortable with. I was still pigeonholed, of course, but at least it was into a pigeonhole of (vaguely) my own choosing.

The luxury of age is that these days I don’t feel tied to or hampered by the labels, past or present, no matter how bad they may have seemed in my youth. I’m quite happy to be a nerd or a geek—although nobody could really accuse me of being an IT nerd, I did write the first draft of this post by hand, with a fountain pen. How old-school nerd is that?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


I wrote the story below while I was in Edinburgh last year and the post I was writing about my garden reminded me of it so I thought I would put it up.


When Blue come back from the big smoke, ‘e was getting’ ‘round with a stick up ‘is arse. Mick said it was a pity it wasna sticka dynamite, we coulda really given ‘im a blast an’ it woulda served the snotty bastard right.

Blue ‘ad some big ideas these days, kept talkin’ ‘bout change. “Agricultural reform” ‘e called it as if ‘e gave it a big enough name, it’d make ‘im more important. That’s when ‘e decided we should all go organic. Mick misunderstood and got all huffy thinkin’ Blue had gone all queer and poofter on us,

“Wot-the-fuck did they do-ta-ya in th’ bloody city? Wotaya talkin’ ‘bout that kind of thing in the pub for? Me beer’ll bloody go flat, mate,” he tried ta laugh away ‘is shock.

“Nah, ya dozy bastard,” said Blue, “or-gan-ic, growin’ stuff without fertilisers and sprays. It’s big bucks in the city grocers.”

“Ah, sure,” Mick calmed down a bit, “but who’s gunna go ‘round and catch all the bloody locusts by hand? And howaya meanta grow anythin’ if you can’t spray for the little fuckers?”

But Blue ‘ad ‘is big plans and some’ow convinced ‘is old man ta let ‘im try a crop in the back block. Mick and me hadta laugh, we couldn’t help pitcha-in’ Blue out there in ‘is singlet and strides collectin’ up locusts to save ‘is precious patcha strawbs grown ‘orgasmically’ as Mick like ta say.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The things unseen.

I read this post by Claire Askew, who I met when I was studying at a summer program in Edinburgh last year and she was writing in response to this post by Harry Giles, a writerly colleague of hers. I decided it was time to ‘fess up myself and ‘out’ my demons in the interest of a healthier, happier and more honest world.

Since, well forever really, I have suffered back pain which results from a malformation of the L5 vertebrae. This is something I don’t like to talk about and generally have dealt with quietly for my whole adult life (the scoliosis caused by the dodgy vertebrae was diagnosed when I was 16 years old). Towards the end of 2009, the pain started getting much worse and was beginning to impact on my life – by which I mean, I could no longer walk for the length of a block without pain, and a lot of it. This increase in pain coincided with my grandfather’s diagnosis with cancer and I found myself in a particularly bad place.

I had suffered from depression and anxiety before; had sought some counseling at the insistence of my fantastic partner; and had made some changes in my life. When I think about it now, I have possibly always been anxious, even as a child and particularly in relation to being thought ‘good’ or being liked by others. While I was depressed and suffering anxiety attacks, I didn’t sleep well and I lost interest in things I generally liked to do, like going out and seeing the people who are dear to me; and talking to friends and family on the phone. During the night I would regularly wake, short of breath and with my heart fluttering far too fast for what should be resting. I would sometimes wake up Nic and tell him I was scared, he initially asked, ‘Of what?’ but I generally couldn’t come up with an answer. But not having a thing to be afraid of didn’t make the fear any less.

So when the sleeplessness; inability to make decisions; dread of speaking on the phone; horror of being responsible for anything; and panic attacks started up this time, I knew I needed to do something about it. It took me just as long to find the courage to act, though, because we had moved and I was not yet completely comfortable with my new doctor. I also didn’t feel that I knew anybody well enough to ask for advice regarding medical professionals and mental illness.

My work was always tough, but coping with it became even tougher. Eventually I went to the doctor and to his introductory question of, ‘What brings you in today?’ I burst into tears. I knew there was something wrong but I felt really stupid and didn’t really want to admit that I wasn’t coping. The one thing I was clinging to was that I was shocked and upset by my grandfather’s illness and by the fact that he was going to die – but I felt stupid for this too. I recall trying to explain to the doctor that I felt that I was being ridiculous for being floored by the fact that Pa wasn’t immortal, I mean, what was I thinking? The man was ninety-two years old and it had never occurred to me before that he wasn’t going to be around forever.

Of course, it wasn’t just Pa, or just the daily back pain, or just stress from work but they all played a role and had an impact. This time, I spent much longer in counseling sessions and made some rather big changes, not so much to my life but to the way I think. I have acknowledged just how much time and energy I expend trying to make sure everyone likes me and thinks I’m a good person. And when I say everyone, I mean even people I don’t like. I’m trying to keep things like that in perspective these days and focus my energy on making sure that I think I’m a good person and that I like me (it’s not as easy as it might seem).

In keeping with the posts by Claire and Harry here are my lists of things that make me scared and anxious and things that make me feel safe:

being judged
confrontation (even if I’m not involved)
making decisions (in tough times, this can even include what to have for dinner)
thinking that I will lose people I love
submitting my writing
trying to make new friends
talking on the phone
running late
being unsure about a new situation eg turning up to a reading for the first time
being part of a reading
people who treat me as inferior (because I generally believe them)

Nic & being held by him
study (the noun & the verb)
making a new friend who I can talk to without effort
writing stories
getting something finished

I think Harry and Clare have started something amazing with their honesty & I challenge others to speak up as well. Write your own post or comment on one of the others.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Speak Now

I know, I know. It's been ages! I'm a terrible blogger and I don't deserve you. What if I buy you a pony* to make up for it?

In the meantime, I do have some exciting news. A little while ago I wrote a guest blog for Same Same about how disgusted I am that we are still having the debate about legally recognising same-sex marriage. They printed it then it caught the attention of Victor Marsh who is editing a collection of thoughts on Australian Marriage Equality. Victor asked to include my piece and it has made it through the publisher's cut & I'm in. For more info about the book, you can go to the blog which is also linked to the title of this post.

The Melbourne launch is on the 30th October at 2pm in Hares & Hyenas Bookshop, Johnson St, Fitzroy. I'd love to see you there.

*All ponies mentioned in this post are fictional.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The best coffee is fair trade

A fair cup

Where does your morning ‘cuppa’ come from and is it socially responsible? Deb Wain explores the importance of fairtrade tea and coffee.


It’s 6:38am on a Saturday morning. I’ve given up fighting my body clock on weekends; I need coffee. I cup my hands around the hot mug and gain more comfort there than from the newly lit fire. I look into the reddish-blackness of my coffee, inhale deeply of the earthy aromas and think about how I got to this point. My history as a coffee drinker has been a series of awakenings, and I don’t just mean the jolt it gives me in the morning.

The beginning ~ my discovery, Europe's discovery
When I discovered coffee as a way to stay awake and complete assignments during first year university, sobriety and alertness was my aim. Upon its introduction to Europe, at a time of scientific rationalism, coffee replaced the tradition of a small beer or wine at breakfast and created a sobering effect on the society as a result. It was noted in 1660 by an English observer that “This coffee drink hath caused great sobriety…” and that the men were now comparatively more capable in the workplace compared to when they took “…a morning draught of Ale, Beer or Wine, which, by the dizziness they cause in the Brain, made many unfit for business…” Likewise, coffee made me fit to string enough words together to pass first year. Thank you, coffee.

The 'good' stuff ~ Moving on from Instant
There is always an epiphany; love is sometimes responsible. I fell for a man of Dutch heritage who introduced me to “real coffee” rather than my previous version: the now much-maligned "instant muck". Every morning we would make plunger coffee with breakfast and, before too long, mine actually looked like a cup of coffee rather than the weak-cappuccino-dishwater I used to order when I was out. It took us until relatively recently to understand how our coffee drinking impacts worldwide. In 2005, we took a trip to Peru where we assumed we would easily find great coffee. That was not the case. When we asked local people about it we found out that Peruvians grow the coffee but don’t drink it. It is simply a cash crop.

The 'bad' stuff ~ Exploitation in the Coffee Trade
The coffee industry has a long history of exploitation and thanks to the tropical climate in which that exploitation occurs it is far enough from most of our breakfast tables, cafés and restaurants for us to successfully ignore it. When coffee took Europe by the jugular in the 1600s, reliance on supply by Arab nations became an issue. The Dutch were the first to break into the market by establishing plantations in the East Indies in the 1690s. Of course, this meant the usual colonial bad manners of displacement, land theft and slavery of local people.

Unfortunately, little has changed since then. Big coffee corporations such as Nestlé and Kraft have replaced the Dutch and French colonial governments but the local coffee farmers are still suffering unfair treatment, amoral trading agreements and, poor wages and conditions. That is, unless they are part of a fairtrade agreement.

The 'better' stuff ~ Fair Trade
Fairtrade is more than the ‘fair’ price for the product that the name suggests. The fairtrade set-up includes a premium that is paid to farmers so they can collectively establish social or economic development projects.

In rural East Timor, the Café Timor Cooperative identified access to affordable healthcare as a major issue facing their communities. They decided to apportion a substantial share of their fairtrade premium to establishing the Clinic Café Timor organisation in order to develop healthcare initiatives in the far-flung coffee growing regions of East Timor. Through this project, the Clinic Café Timor organisation has become the largest provider of healthcare in rural East Timor. Utilising ten fixed clinics and twenty-four mobile units, they bring healthcare services to 115,000 coffee farmers and their families; treating 18,000 cases a month. And all of it free to the patients.

Sometimes premiums go towards improving roads so that workers can drop off their coffee and have it picked up by truck rather than walking long distances carrying 20 kilogram bags of coffee beans on their backs. Other projects relate to education. Books, buildings and desks are provided to local schools to help improve the learning conditions for students in places such as rural PNG.

In addition to the premium, growers are paid a set minimum price per weight for their coffee beans. This helps to alleviate concern about fluctuating markets and encourages farmers to re-invest in their businesses. Willington Wamayeye, managing director of Gumutindo Coffee, PNG says that the higher price means that “…they can invest in their farms, they pay school fees for their children, they build better houses and they have a better living.” This is the stability so many of us, in the coffee-drinking Western world, take for granted.

What can we do?
Throughout its history, coffee has caused problems, threatened governments and created debate. The controversial new ideas of Newton’s Principia being sparked in one of London’s coffeehouses in the 1680s is one thing but do we need to have poor wages and miserable working conditions hanging over our morning ‘cuppa’? Even now, when we are thinking of ‘tightening belts’, ‘hip pocket nerves’ and the recent Global Economic Crisis, it doesn’t take much to be mindful of our privileged place in the global village and make a some careful choices.

So, now I look for the Fairtrade logo on my tea and coffee because thanks to the dedicated letter and email writing of Oxfam’s Supermarket Campaign, the major supermarket chains in Australia now stock these fairtrade products. (Next on the campaign list should be fairtrade chocolate, because it's almost impossible to find outside of specialty shops.)

I try to keep my hands cupped around a guilt-free blend. When you’re out, think about asking if the coffee is fairtrade. If you want to be sure, Hudson’s coffee chain has a fairtrade option but you need to request it when you order. BP’s Wild Bean Cafés have recently changed over to using 100 percent fairtrade coffee. If we all keep the pressure on and share the importance of fairtrade with our coffee-drinking friends, we will all be on fairer footing.



Fairtrade Association of Australia and New Zealand,,  accessed on 30/4/09

McNamee, G., Moveable Feasts: the history, science and lore of food, Praeger, Westport, USA, 2007

Oxfam Australia,, accessed on 30/4/09

Pendergrast, M., Uncommon Grounds: a history of coffee and how it changed our world, Basic Books, New York, 1999

Standage, T., A history of the world in six glasses, Walker & Co, New York, 2005

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Another blog altogether?

I've been thinking about ways of tracking my year 'off' and was contemplating starting a whole new blog which, in my caffeine-fueled enthusiasm, I had decided to call, "The Year of Living Aimlessly"... Did you see what I did there? In a moment of clarity, I thought to google my chosen title, just to check, maybe there are other brilliant people out there who are as witty and aimless as myself. And lucky I did too.

My google search delivered unto me a novel of that title by Steve Myhill. The tagline of said publication is "The life and loves of a he-devil" which doesn't really sound like my kind of thing. The same author has also written a book called Men are from Wagga and Women Wish They Weren't so it seems he has a sense of humour but I'm not sure if it should be read that the women in question wish they weren't from Wagga or the women wish the men weren't from Wagga. Regardless, I was now less-than-impressed that my spiffy title was taken.

On further inspection of the google search results I discovered a blog post also using this phrase as its title. The blogger in question seems to be using a picture of a light bulb sticking out of a bum as his profile picture. Is that a metaphor?

This is not the first time I have been shocked to find that somebody has beaten me to the punch. A few years ago I entertained the idea of a cafe/secondhand bookshop and I thought I was the embodiment of brilliance when I decided that I could call my shop where people would thumb through a book while eating cake and drinking coffee "Bookuccino." Isn't that witty? Aren't I amazing? Hmm, but apparently so was somebody else and they were a bit more snappy about it than I was ever likely to be. Cafe Bookacino in Church St, Whittlesea. *sigh* Maybe I'm just not cut out for the cutting edge...

So, without a catchy title for my intended 12 month long blog, I have returned to Written in Ochre and decided instead that this blog must be all things to all people (unless, of course, you're interested in the progress of the strawbale house we're building and if so you can go there or if you want to see me as a wedding celebrant rather than aimless writer of blog content and on-leave teacher.)

Monday, January 10, 2011


I'm taking a bit of a leap and have decided to try to take this writing game a little more seriously than I have in the past. 2011 will be a year of words. And I've gone with a new background for the new year.

This year I'll be focusing on being a marriage celebrant and writing, I've taken twelve months leave from teaching so that I'll have the time to actually focus on something other than school. Ridiculously, I already miss the students but I won't miss the correction and reporting.

Being a teacher (in the past), I've decided I probably need a timetable or I may end up frittering away all my time shopping on or chatting to other time-wastey people on facebook. My list for daily inclusions is:

  • coffee (not sure it needs to go into the timetable since nothing happens until coffee does anyway but I'll slot it in, that way I can tick something off my things to do everyday even if it all goes pear-shaped from there)
  • shower (again, it's about ticking off things - I promise I would have a shower even if it wasn't on the timetable)
  • reading time
  • writing time
  • editing time
  • celebrancy time
  • household jobs
  • jobs at Lady's Pass (when the house is done this will include becoming a painter since we are doing all the internal painting)
  • lunch and coffee breaks

Now all I need is somebody responsible enough to sort out the timing of these things so I don't end up with 90% of the day dedicated to drinking coffee and eating lunch... help!