The Bridge Less Travelled



My book is launched! Pieces of North Shore. I say ‘my’ but the book is a collection of short stories from seven writers from Stanton Library Writers Group. Here is my presentation at the event in which I share the background to my story The Bridge Less Travelled. The book can be purchased on Amazon and Google and independent bookstores in Sydney.

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2 April 2017

Can I have a show of hands, how many people crossed the harbour bridge to get here today or came from outside the North Shore? When I finish my speech you will understand why I asked this question.

When I first arrived in Australia I went to live in the south of Sydney. I knew nothing about Sydney’s suburb rivalry and every area looked just fine to me. Then one day, I was waiting for the train at Riverwood station and started chatting to another commuter. With such a strong accent, I always get asked an inevitable question: “where are you from?” When this gentleman learned I was from Brazil he said: “wow, you crossed the pacific ocean! I’ve never even crossed the harbour bridge.” – I thought he was joking, I didn’t think it was possible for a Sydney sider to have never crossed to the other side, so I asked: “Are you serious?”

He answered: “Sure, am. There is nothing to see on the other side.”

My train was approaching so I left it at that but I took a seat next to the window thinking that there is a lot to see and experience on the other side of the harbour bridge or any bridge for that matter. And that’s what The Bridge Less Travelled tries to explore.

My story is about a beautiful Australian icon that connects places and people. But, as I show in the story, the structure that joins can sometimes separate and isolate people from change, acceptance and inclusion.

When you cross a bridge for the first time you leave behind the familiar and comfortable to enter the unknown. The more you do it the more used to difference you become. I’ve met people on both sides of the bridge that were pretty comfortable to live within the very well defined boundaries of their suburbs. But by limiting their lives by geography and excluding others from getting in, these people can only see the world through a very narrow template. My character, Sarah is one such person:

This is how the story begins:

‘Oh, you were brave to cross the bridge,’ says Sarah looking more immaculate than the unit she is trying to lease.

‘What’s a bridge when you’ve crossed the Pacific Ocean,’ I reply referring to my pilgrimage from Brazil to Australia just a few months prior.

‘True,’ she concedes, while tucking her straight dyed-blond hair behind her pearled ears. ‘But the North shore isn’t just like any other place in Australia darling,’ she pauses, ‘the North Shore is the Promised Land, home only to the “chosen few”.’

My character’s stereotyping is shameful and we are quick to look down on her but what strikes me though, is that if we really stop to take stock of our own attitudes and behaviours we will find that we all have lots of bridges to cross.

There is an old proverb that says “Don’t cross the bridge until you come to it” – after moving to Australia I learnt that the problem is that many times we don’t event realise we’ve come to a bridge. When we are blinded by stereotyping we normally only see the gap. To close the gap it takes effort and courage. In this respect, I agree with Sarah, you have to be brave to take a step in the other direction.

Apparently, I’m a writer.

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Last week my son’s school teacher invited me to speak to her class about being a writer. While she was making her request I was squirming in my seat, completely taken by surprise because I don’t think of myself as a writer. I have, however, spent a good chunk of my time penciling down words this year. My children often see me in front of the laptop typing away or in bed with a notepad, my mind lost in another world. So I guess that’s the behaviour my son has observed and he matched my actions with his words. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy that my little one sees me as a writer but at the same time, I feel a bit like a fraud. There are so many excellent writers out there who have crafted wonderful stories. I don’t have a journalism or literature degree, I don’t get paid for writing. I question if I’m entitled to use the word writer to refer to myself.

The Oxford dictionary has two definitions for writer:

  • A person who has written something or who writes in a particular way
  • A person who writes books, stories, or articles as a job or occupation

The Free Dictionary has a few more definitions including:

  • a person who is able to write or write well
  • a person who commits thoughts to writing

Using the definitions above, anyone can be called a writer so I guess to segregate the proper writers from everyone else new words were introduced: blogger, storyteller, wordsmith, communications consultant, the list goes on.

I’m often wondering if I should I accept the honour to be called a writer or choose one of the other alternatives.  Then on Saturday I received the copies of my book (Pieces of North Shore, an anthology from my writer’s group). I was sitting in a cafe with my friend sipping a latte and flicking through the book’s bounded sheets, smelling the beautiful scent of a freshly pressed book, staring at my name in the top of the pages and it hit me that hey, I have a book, I must be entitled to call myself a writer.

I guess you don’t have to get paid to use the title. We don’t do it for money or glory. We write because of the things we notice in the world and to make sense of it all. We do it because we love the art and the craft or to fill up the time when a story does not let us sleep. It just feels right to spend hours scribbling down ideas and sometimes we even find an audience to read our stuff.

A year ago this would have  been an unlikely story. I had written a couple of things but wasn’t sure how to progress, what next step to take. At that time, a friend invited me to attend the writer’s group at North Sydney library and here I’m being called a writer and wondering if I should accept the accolade.

I still don’t feel confident in my ability as a writer, it’s a work in progress and it probably will be for the rest of my life but I think now I have found my calling. I don’t really think we need a label to describe the pursuit of a dream but for practical reasons, next time I’m asked if I am a writer, I’ll nod in agreement.

A Day in the Life of a Working Mother

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I wanted to whinge about this crazy week but ended up penning down a story instead. I plan to slow down but here I’m 1am and still going. One day. Soon.

“Kids get your bags and get in the car.”
Amelia recites this phrase every morning, except the days she works in the office. Those days her husband deals with the morning chaos.

“Being late is a bad habit.” She says running upstairs, two steps at a time, almost tripping over the last step. Steadying herself she glances over her room, looking for her bag. It must be in the wardrobe. Amelia notices the kids’ flannelette pyjamas still on the floor and squints. They never pick up their clothes. She wonders if it’s worth yelling again asking them to come clean the mess. Why bother, we will be even later. This is just an irritation, a minor irritation. Her spacious bedroom looks small with all the clutter. She walks over the jumble of clothes and stops in front of the sliding mirrored doors of her robe. Before she slides the door open she notices the face starring back at her. Her eyebrows climb, there is no spark in those eyes. She looks tired and her hair hasn’t seen a brush yet. Amelia pulls an elastic band from the pocket of her blue Nike jumper and quickly ties her short, unruly hair, into a ponytail. That will do.

Amelia races downstairs, this time holding the rails.

“Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go.” She instructs the kids, who don’t seem to hear, they are totally absorbed in their game of Pokemon cards. Amelia always repeats ‘let’s go’ three times. A single ‘let’s go’ doesn’t express her sense of urgency.

“There is no canteen money if we are late.” She warns them and this time the kids get moving.

They drive to school talking about Pokemon and the upcoming birthday party that she hasn’t started planning yet. She printed extra copy of the invitations to send to their family overseas but unknowingly to her Steve distributed every single invitation to his friends at school. She is uncertain of who or how many kids have been invited.

“Mum can you pick us up early?” asks Steve.
Her heart feels heavy every time she hears this question. She wonders if she is giving her children enough quality time. Is car time quality time? She read somewhere psychologists saying that car time is part of the equation. She finds this reassuring. She is focusing on the traffic ahead but notices Steve is still staring at her.
“I’ll try.” Amelia says unconvincingly, she knows she won’t be able to.

She finds a spot in front of the school.
“This is our lucky day!” Amelia cheers up.
“A school day is never a lucky day.” Steve mumbles.
“Common, you enjoy playing with your friends, don’t you?”
“Mum, no child likes going to school. We just go because we have to.”
“Ok but you have to hurry now, the bell will ring in a few seconds.” Steve’s mouth is a horizontal line now. She immediately regrets saying the word hurry and gets out of the car to kiss them good bye and straighten their hats.
“I love you.” She shouts as she watches them climb the fence. Her boys never use the school gate.

Amelia drives off waving at some parents chit-chatting at the gate. She sighs. She doesn’t want to be a stay at home mother but she wishes she had time to chit-chat sometimes. Her days start early and are full. Here she is, not quite nine in the morning and has already done one hour of work, before the kids got up.

The school traffic steals a couple of minutes from her morning. As she waits at the pedestrian crossing, she notices the blue sky dotted with a few specks of fluffy clouds. The thermometer in the car’s dashboard displays 18C. The perfect weather for a run. But she has so much on at the moment, she has to resist. She is hopeful that she will have a break for a run later in the day. That’s why she is wearing active wear and her GPS sports watch.

But the day doesn’t go as smoothly as planned. There were no pit stops. The only break she’s had was to scramble some eggs for lunch. She spent the whole day staring at the screen in her computer. It’s already time to pick up the kids and she still has emails to reply. She will have to return to the computer at night. Her eyes are red and sting. Amelia puts her elbows on the desk in front of her, holds her head with her hands and massages her temples with the tips of her long middle fingers. I’m working too hard.

On the way to school she sights runners pounding the pavement and wonders how they find the time. Don’t these people have mortgages to pay? For a moment she wishes her life was different. Amelia stops at a set of red lights and spots her birds. The common birds that are always there performing a synchronised dance across the sky, in perfect harmony. Amelia thinks they are pigeons but she isn’t certain. It doesn’t matter what they are and it doesn’t bother her that she has to stop at these lights for two whole minutes. She enjoys the show. She tries to count them, 25, 30, more. More than a messy sum of birds. This is a self-organised dynamic system showing cohesion and movement of a group without a leader. A show of competence and cooperation among birds, qualities she admires.

She arrives at after school care and from a distance she spots the boys playing soccer. Amelia worries that her kids don’t spend as much time at home as they would like to but she is watching them play in the soft rubber field, they tackle, they dribble and they don’t seem in a hurry to leave. This makes her feel better.

Amelia signs them off and they walk to the car talking about Pokemon and the homework that still needs to be done. But not tonight. They are now heading to music lessons and she will be there replying to emails while she waits at reception for thirty minutes. If the lessons were longer she would go for a run instead. She is still in active wear and wearing the GPS watch. She is not the only mother waiting in the tiny reception at the music school but she is the only one working on a laptop. The others are reading Women’s Weekly and those types of magazines. She wanted to reach out for one too, just for a bit of entertainment but she knows her night will be even longer if she doesn’t deal with the emails now.

Thirty minutes go by and the boys are back at reception before she sends the second email. “Just a minute boys.”
“Mum I’m hungry.” Whinges Jack.
“Just pressing the send button… now.”
She looks at them. “Ready to go.”
“Mum, can we stop for hot chips, I’m starving.” Jacks insists.
Stop? Stop? Who has time to stop. “We’ll have dinner shortly at home.”

They are walking across the footpath of the quiet shopping village. By now a cafe and a take away shop are the only stores open.

“But mum I am hungry now!” Jack doesn’t give up.
Amelia raises her arm to check the time and calculate how long it will take to whip up dinner, quickly read the kids a story, have a shower and go back to the computer. She feels a drop of sweat running down her back.

“My stomach is grumbling mum, please?”

Amelia stops walking and stares at the trees at the end of the road soaking up on what’s left of the sun in this gorgeous spring day. Even trees do a better job of looking after themselves. She wonders if she will ever finish reading the book she started last month. Amelia doesn’t give her kids junk food very often, she thinks this is lazy parenting. But she is too tired today.

“I just had an idea.” She says putting her arms around the kids’ shoulders. How about we go to Macas and grab a take-away dinner and you can eat in the crèche at the gym while I do my exercise?”

The boys don’t like going to the crèche. They say creches are for pre-schoolers.

“Only if I get a milkshake with my meal.” Jack tries to negotiate a deal.

“Ok, you choose your dinner tonight.”

The kids arrive at the gym carrying a brown bag in one hand and a clear plastic cup with a cold drink in the other.

“I’m sorry but the creche no longer opens on Thursday nights.”

Amelia gave the receptionist a blank stare, she could not believe it. Maybe she didn’t hear the girl properly with the thumping sound coming from the treadmills behind her. The girl showed Amelia a copy of the gym’s timetable, circling the creche’s opening times.

“Really? I rushed so much.” She didn’t mean to say that, the words just came out of her mouth, she could not hide her frustration. It was her fault, this is what happens when you are too busy, sooner or later you make mistakes. Why am I cramming in so much? Why do I have to be so productive?

She turns back to look at her boys and they smile.
“Mum, now this is a lucky day for us. Can we go home?”
“Ok, let’s go.” This time she only said it once.

Action and reaction [short story]

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My feet got tangled and I went tumbling down.


I had just parked the car and was walking to my favourite coffee shop this morning when something got hold of my foot. I turned my head down but before I could see what was restricting my movements I realised I was tumbling down. I probably fell over in two seconds but it felt like I was falling in slow motion and I could foresee the damage of the impeding impact. Images of my upcoming half-marathon flashed before my eyes. No training today that’s for sure. I went down on my left knee first,—no, not my knee—then the right, then my wrists swung forward to protect my face and finally the rest of my body hit the unprepared surface. I wanted to get up but the forces of gravity and pain were keeping my body stuck to the pavement.

“Are you all right?” I heard worried voices hovering above me. The good samaritans that came to my rescue grabbed my arms and helped me get up. “Are you okay?” someone asked again. I was a bit disoriented and dizzy from the sudden jerk of my head, all I could muster was “I hope so”. They held my arm and walked me inside the nearby hairdresser.

“Please have a seat while I get some water” said a concerned hairdresser. I took a seat next to the window and a deep breath, “what a way the start the day” I joked, finally starting to come to my senses. “If you can laugh about it you might still have a good day ahead” the hairdresser said passing me a glass of water.

“Ouch” I felt a sting when the broken skin touched the water droplets outside the cold glass. I turned my palms up and saw blood and grit from the floor. I looked at my legs to assess the damage and noticed wet spots halfway down the black running pants I was wearing. I tried to roll them up but they were too tight, I had to wait the check my knees when I got home. I sipped the water slowly trying to digest how this happened to me today.

“There was something stuck to my feet,” I said putting the empty glass on the coffee table.

“You don’t know what it was?” asked the hairdresser.

“No, but I’ll find out now,” I said trying to rise up from my seat but my knees ached and trembled and my bottom landed back on the chair. I tried again, this time I placed both hands at the edge of the chair,  pushed down through my arms and began straightening my legs. A sharp pain traveled from my head to toes. That’s the moment I realised I might not be able to run the race. I didn’t just fall, I had a fall. When you fall you get up again and move on with your business but a fall is a beast of another kind, it is an unprovoked attack, a serendipitous act of violence that finds you unprepared and inflicts grievous bodily harm. And it knocked me down really bad.

The hairdresser followed me to the crime scene for our forensic investigation. We found narrow straps of white plastic scattered around the parking. These are the straps used to bundle magazines and stack them in piles. Someone, maybe a delivery person, must have slided the magazines out and mindlessly tossed the used straps. “There are garbage bins everywhere, why couldn’t he or she have walked ten metres to dispose the plastic straps properly?” I squeezed my eyebrows together.

“People can be so thoughtless” the hairdresser sighed.

“If I were an elderly person I’d be in hospital with broken bones” I continued.

“I know,” she said with a tone of concern, “I’ll throw the straps in the bin so no one else gets hurt.” She said walking to the trashcan.

“Thanks heaps for rescuing me today.” I waved to the hairdresser and started limping to the car. I opened the door, squeezed through the opening with half-bent knees and started the engine. My legs felt heavy, it was tricky to operate the pedals and with every new movement I discovered a new pain. Eventually I got home and rushed to the freezer to get the ice packs. I put them in my sore knees, ah, finally a bit of relief.

Every action has a reaction—the pressure of the cold bags of ice in my skin made me think of Newton’s 3rd law of physics. Newton wasn’t referring to human behaviour but I kept thinking of how the actions of the delivery person resulted in pain and suffering to another human being. I’m sure he or she didn’t intend to harm anyone but being unaware of your behaviour is just as bad. I wriggled in the couch trying to find a conformable spot. One of the greatest crimes of our civilisation is the offence of mindlessness, that’s why there is so much pain and suffering in the world. If we were conscious of the consequences of our actions, we would be better equipped to change our behaviour. But we are too busy or preoccupied with our everyday lives and keep on going on auto-pilot, we don’t pause to ponder.

I noticed that with every new trip to the kitchen to replace the ice packs the pain worsened so I decided it was time to inspect my knees and apply some antiseptic cream on the wounds. But there was an obstacle on my way, the stairs. I had to go upstairs to get the first aid kit and a new pair of pants. I grabbed the rails on both sides and swung my legs forward, one at a time and with every step images of people whose physical abilities do not correspond with the demands of their environment flashed in my mind. I felt privileged I was only carrying a temporarily broken body.

By school pick up time my legs were as stiff and heavy as iron bars and I started to move like a robot to keep my legs as straight as I could. The drive to school is literally painfully slow but luckily most of the route is within school zones so the other cars are going slow too. When I get there I have to explain my robot moves to the parents at the gate and one of the mothers asked: “are you going to sue the council?” Hum, I hadn’t thought of that.

“No,” I replied with a pause, “I don’t even know who the tosser was.”

“They might have caught the fall on CC TV” she insisted.

“Good point,” I reply, “but I don’t want to put my energy on a litigation.” The glares of disappointment from the parents made me feel like justifying my position so I said “I might send a letter to the council though, to alert them to be more vigilant.”

“But they’re more likely to do something about it they feel the pain with their pockets.” stressed another mother.

“That may be true,” I said slowly trying to calculate the impact of my words, I don’t like the blame and sue culture that has developed in our society but I didn’t want to offend anyone so I carefully added as limped over eggs shells on the way to the car park: “but I don’t think every accident should be a case for litigation.” They didn’t say anything back and continued to walk at normal pace so I was left behind wondering if because they found me too slow or too righteous.

On my way home I was in so much pain I was thinking of driving to a medical centre but I pulled over at the chemist instead and asked the pharmacist for her opinion. I rolled up my pants and she frowned. “Looks quite nasty.” Drops of sweat run down my shoulders, maybe I broke something. “But I don’t think you broke anything,” she said as if reading my mind, “I don’t think you would have been able to drive here otherwise.” Phew. She recommended an anti-inflammatory tablet and a visit to the doctor next morning “if you don’t wake up feeling better.”

As the day progressed the pain got stronger and my knees stiffer and I started to get cranky at the possibility of breaking my tradition of joining the Sydney running festival. I’ve been doing the half-marathon for five years straight, now thanks to that mindless delivery guy I might have to give it a miss.

I was picturing the fall over and over in my head and what I could have done differently. I was cursing whoever tossed the rubbish in the parking. I wanted to stomp to my room and start the day over but instead I had to gently swing my hips from side to side to move my legs, sit in the edge of my bed and carefully lay down and place ice packs in both knees.

But staring alone at the ceiling I started to think about how I was reacting to the situation. I was joining the mindless mob. It’s not the end of the world if I missed the race and being angry at the world was not going to make me recover faster. I was not able to run but I was capable of taking a step back and turn off the auto-pilot. Instead of continuing ruminating my story, I put my headphones on and played some soft music. It did not take away the pain but by the time I got up to change the ice packs I was counting my blessings, the accident could have been much worse.