creative writing / poetry / articles
One by Calleen Shirley

There are moments in life when the ticking of time goes by slower.
No matter how hard you stare at the clock, it doesn’t beat to the thump of your heartbeat.

But if not for this moment, you would have missed the simple joys.
On Monday, going to a coffee shop to relish the scent of freshly brewed coffee beans.
On Tuesday, taking a very long and relaxing walk in nature.
On Wednesday, enjoying the bracing breeze on a sandy beach.
On Thursday, spending the entire day doing favourite things that have been neglected.
On Friday, crying and laughing over tv dramas on the couch with popcorn.

But if not for this moment, you would have missed the simple days.
On Monday, a heart to heart talk with mom.
On Tuesday, a soccer ball game matche with dad.
On Wednesday, a tea party play with younger sisters.
On Thursday, an exhilarating conversation with best friends.
On Friday, a honest conversation session with yourself.

If not for this moment, you wouldn’t have been able to get the opportunity to embrace the slower times. Just like how life doesn’t always give you a second chance for everything, grasp what you can appreciate. What you have and don’t have right now, hold on. Take a good ride on what life has to offer.

Text: Calleen Shirley
Image: Photograph by Cottonbro (Pexels.com Free use)

Metamorphosis and Grief by Maria Varghese

I dreamt once that I was in the airport and I was going back to Australia and even though I could not see them clearly , I saw the outline of my friends and classmates that I have known at school; and when me and this one friend in particular locked eyes we both started crying. We both had a common sense of understanding and a common fear: what if this is the last time, I see this’. This being my family, my friends, the place I grew up with. We were grieving & we just didn’t know it yet.

So, here is a little background: I came to Australia at February 2020 for university and with the isolation that has been imposed it seems that I have no form of escape. I stay with my grandparents and my new home [that I still feel at certain days I haven’t gotten used to] are the 4 white walls around me and the window that is parallel to my door that has little to no view {privacy laws}.

There is little comfort with rushing cars and there is some comfort that no matter where I am, I always am fascinated by pretty clouds , the breathtaking colour of the sky , the sunlight that manages to escape and sit at the opposite walls of my room -it looks hopeful.As naive and optimistic it sounds , I came here with the idea and the intention that I will make my life somehow , I will find the pieces in my university ,that life will begin & that maybe I will get clarity of what I want and what I should be- its what gave me courage to walk alone out of the plane and into something unknown.

But instead, I go for online classes with the idea that it will or might get me from point A to point B. But that’s it, there no ‘ oh ’ moment where I come into some form of realisation on what I want, it is now a bitter acceptance, a more ‘this is it I guess’ moment. It is still odd trying to find some comfort in this mess , this isn’t purgatory in my own making .The more I think about finding out what I want, the more uncertain I get with everything; And what this situation has taught me is that: everything is unpredictable.

What was in-fact quite surprising is how much I surprised myself, I always thought myself as someone who wouldn’t compromise. someone who would fill the blank spaces in the white walls with art , postcards, letters from my friends , manifestos I wrote for myself, someone whose entire room told you what type of person they were , there is this constant reminder that lives in this space that says ‘ I exist, I live here’. Instead I have made peace with a lot of things, I have 2 pieces of wall art and one small preinstalled boomerang that was seen as ‘decor’.

When I think of home, it was always a place of constant noise – my father playing old Indian songs that he says is what ‘real music is’, my mother’s conversation with her colleagues of how her work was, the faded noise of the show that my brother is watching on Netflix. Here miles away it’s a different story, despite the ongoing traffic its very silent and I am painfully reminded: I am alone and if all of my belongings could fit into a box, it would fit in the two suitcases that I brought with me.

I found out that I enjoy having some structure [even though there is the lack of it at certain days] and I’m a bit of a neat freak, I like taking the lead despite being so scared of any form of disapproval. I found out I’m not so close to a lot of people and that I prefer only to have a small amount of people involved daily in my life. I always imagined a future where there were crowds, people constantly rushing in, where there is little room for silence and constant noise that fills up the entire house indicating life.
But instead I have this: a version where I slowly have made comfort with my routines, the conversation with my friends and family that keep me sane, the loud silence fills my room that seems impersonal and sometimes feels empty to me. ‘This is where I can exist’ Is what I think to myself ,when I curl up in my bed on my bad-days and try to take little room, life is all about adjustments and compromises and this is one I’m willing to make.

I try not to think of home too much: the last days before I came to Australia , my last hug with my family , a random Saturday in December last year where I basked in the warmth of the sun , the loud and open laughter that escapes from mine and my friends mouth , the feeling of arrival when me and my friends visit our coffeeshop that’s a 15 minute walk from where I live. I avoid it all costs as it seems going back is an idea that is far too out of reach, something that needs to be buried and forgotten. I am on this cycle of grief: mourning what’s lost, the idea of what I pictured myself and my life; As now something that I have known all my life and for so long tastes as something foreign.

I don’t know how to process grief. I never did. When I think of grief I think of the quote by Anne Carson which goes like : “Why do tragedies exist ? Because you are full of rage. Why are you full of rage? Because you are full of grief.”

Theoretically, I can understand that the stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Theoretically I can understand all of the stages except for acceptance. What are you accepting exactly? The life that you once had, the life you wont or the life that you are having?
On the days that I do grieve I always end up thinking of different versions of myself. The past versions of myself that seemed optimistic and seemed brave in retrospection. The life that I currently have and despite its normalcy and the lack of unpleasantness, there is something constantly missing, and it gnaws right at my chest. And whatever it is, it seems out of reach and unattainable. The future self is now someone far calmer, maybe a bit tired, certain and confident but always understanding and kind.
So when I think of trying to explain what happening now to a younger me, someone who was tired and drained and just wants some sense of clarity and hopes that things don’t go wrong. I don’t know how to comfort her , I don’t know how to lift her spirits with far too much false hope or ruin her naivety.

But despite the grief, I try to be something or someone that my future self can look back at smile and has this look that says ‘this was the point where it all changed ’. Someone that my past self-admires or runs to at the face of difficulty. It’s difficult to be comfort of someone who knows so little or doesn’t understand.

But mostly, I try to be hopeful, Like the sunlight that manages to illuminate my room despite the barrier. It has given me so much hope and comfort than I have ever known and it’s a good reminder and one that allows me to get out of bed and come into terms of some form of acceptance ; after all it’s difficult to provide comfort to something you still haven’t fully understood yet.

Text: Maria Varghese
Image: Photo by Isabella Mariana (Pexels.com free use)

Lesson from Quarantine by Isabel Vilchez

Its not a competition.

Over the last few months, I’ve seen added pressure from social media to do certain things– bake a 3-layer cake to perfection, read a 500-page book cover to cover or lose 15 pounds of body weight and do 100 push-ups as part of the process. As much as it’s great to learn new skills and improve in the areas we need work on, it’s not a productivity contest. At a time like this, added pressure is the last thing we need. So if lounging around, eating an ice cream or two or watching a feel-good movie is what makes you happy, do it!

Its about connection.

Connection at a time of isolation. With physical isolation all around the world, it’s important to avoid being emotionally isolated as well. People will joke around here and there and say that introverts are thriving during this time, but as an introvert myself, I’ve definitely relied on keeping in touch with friends and family. With all the technological tools available to us, it’s so easy to pick up the phone or message a friend. I think it’s important to use this time to check up on each other and send our loved ones virtual hugs from wherever we are in the world.

Its about structure.

We’re all taking these circumstances differently but I’m sure it’s taken it’s toll on our mental health one way or another. But let me tell you this, I don’t need a medical degree to remind you that all your feelings are valid. Allow yourself to actually process what’s going on and don’t be ashamed if you’re in a funk some days. One thing that’s helped me mentally is keeping some structure in my daily life. Even with the limitations, there are still heaps of things that  we can keep doing at home even if our setting is a little different. Try to find things you did regularly that you can still do at home– plans have been cancelled but your happiness doesn’t have to be!

Its not permanent.

These are without a doubt, unprecedented times. My thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by this pandemic whether it’s in the area of health, finances, employment, loss, fear or anxiety. But no matter how tough it’s been, it’s not permanent. I am wholeheartedly looking forward to the day we can enjoy each other’s company, celebrate milestones and share experiences together. The world will never be the same, it shouldn’t. But I’ve had the pleasure of virtually watching the world share in grief, in joy, in kindness and in thanksgiving. One day, this will be a part of history. But until then, we have the privilege of staying home and being a a part of the cure.

Text: Isabel Vilchez
Image: Isabel Vilchez

I Know Coffee by Hà Nhật Duy

As a Vietnamese, I know how a good cup of coffee should taste like.
I do admit that Melbourne offers the heavenly taste I look for in the morning. But it will never be as good as the cup I have back home. I say this not because I’m defending my country, not at all in fact, it’s simply just different here.

In Melbourne, when you have your coffee, it’s either take-away or consumed inside the place. Personally, I hate take-away coffee because of how rushed the process becomes– you stir your coffee so aggressively that it makes the flavour of you black gold bland. I’m a full believer in the idea that to enjoy coffee at its full potential, you have to have it at the place. Coffee isn’t just coffee. It comes with an experience. It must be enjoyed within the walls of a cosy atmosphere, surrounded by soothing music and among the warm company of others. Although most of the coffee shops in Melbourne allow you to have this intimate experience, one problem remains. They are all too…… modern.

But enough comparing from me because all I really want to talk about is the Vietnamese experience. There are a lot of factors that amplify your cup of coffee and it’s all based on personal preferences. I respect other people’s opinions and ways of doing things but let me give you a free trip to a Vietnamese coffee shop and educate you on how we Vietnamese enjoy our coffee. Almost every Vietnamese has packs and packs of coffee lying around their home, but they are rarely ever consumed. Imagine a pack of instant ramen in a wealthy man’s cupboard, and you can imagine how scarce it’s ever touched (or if it’s ever touched at all).

You see, the Vietnamese prefer to go straight to a coffee shop each day, and I must say, these shops look nothing like the ones you would find anywhere else in the world. Most of these gems look very old and quite frankly, dusty– like an abandoned home. They typically refurbish aged pieces and furniture and turn them into more practical things for the store. You will usually find old trolleys turned into coffee stands.

Typically, you come in with a newspaper in hand and order a cup of iced coffee (since it’s 40°C the whole year), sit down on an old, short stool and slowly have your first sip of the day before putting the glass on the “table” (which is just another stool). Slowly, you sense the coffee kick in– feeling awake and calm at the same time. All this while the smell of a new hot cup of coffee that the old lady at the counter is preparing balances the smell of your ice cold coffee like yin and yang. You then hear the classic Vietnamese music playing on the small radio that the lady brings with her each day as well as the coffee trolley that sounds like bikes passing through the place as it is pushed across the place.

For others, the sound is noise pollution– torture to their ears, but for me, and for us Vietnames, it’s a good morning melody that gives us life. This is the coffee I experience I know and love. Having coffee this way gives me chills. It’s a moment when time stops, reality fades and I get to escape to my own little world. A place where I can find piece. There’s so much more to tell, but due to my limited vocabulary and the basic nature of English I can’t fully describe it. It’s something you simply have to experience yourself. And I hope one day, you will.

P.S. Starbucks doesn’t count! It’s not a coffee shop but a modern bitter-liquid store.

Text: Hà Nhật Duy
Image:Hà Nhật Duy

Melbourne Surprises by Isabel Vilchez

5 Things that have surprised me most about Melbourne

I’m not someone who is easily surprised. I research. I plan. I prepare. I mean, Google and I are basically besties. But after just a few months of living in Melbourne, this place has surprised me in more ways than one.

The weather. It’s a fact that Melbourne is known for experiencing four seasons in one day but I never thought the weather could ever change this rapidly. It’s almost as fast as an Asian parents’ mood swings– one minute you’re the apple of their eyes and in the next, you prepare yourself for battle. The upside is that walking uphill with the wind going against you is by far the best cardio workout you could ever do!

The walkability. Back home, you only ever experience the scorching heat or the destructive rains so naturally, I was never much of a walker. But each time I walk the streets of Melbourne, I feel like I can finish a marathon! Somehow, places just seem closer and the distance between places fade. And when the weather is just right, it feels great to be able to enjoy the outdoors and get your steps in to make your Fitbit proud.

The fashion. Here in Melbourne, black is the color of the day 365 days each year. No matter the weather, people will dress up in all-black-everything from head to toe. You might see pops of color here and there but on any regular day people choose to wear black. It’is basically the city’s uniform by now. Funeral fashion for the win!

The diversity. Demographically, Melbourne seems to have changed a lot since the first time I visited years ago. International students all seemed to have gotten the same message to flock to Melbourne. Sometimes it still feels like I never left Asia but on the upside, there’s authentic Asian cuisine in almost every corner.

The balance. I’ve come across so many people who talk about how “laid back” and “chill” Melbourne is. I mean, it’s so “chill” that everything closes early but what many people don’t realise is that it can also be lively. It can be fun, loud, awake, busy, and oh so alive. Melbourne creates an atmosphere for real friendships, raw moments and indelible experiences.

Text: Isabel Vilchez
Image: Stephan Hitchins (used by permission)

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