Friday, November 10, 2017

The Peaceful

"My innermost dream?  Initially, it is to be pain-free.  That would be lovely. And to keep taking photographs and making more glass works"...

I have known Tricia for over 9 years now but every single time I visit, I learn something new about her.
Her house is the most peaceful place I have ever seen; yet her life path has known some mighty storms.

She is a very talented artist. When she is not doing glass work or photography, she is attending to her amazing garden.

During one special morning we shared in her garden, she told me about the trying times recovering from cancer and about dealing with personal loss through her art. I have visited her house many times before, yet that was the first time when my eye was drawn to her powerful self- portrait. Naturally, I invited Tricia to wear the hat and join the other dreamers.
- "When I was young, I wanted to be happy.
I don’t remember many stories from that time but I remember our 1st TV program, “the Lone Ranger”. I loved it – I was 8yo at the time.

Coming out of high school, I wanted to be a teacher. I was passionate about learning.  Back then, my biggest dream was to be loved, and to love back. I come from an unhappy childhood. We were 4 siblings – I had 2 older brothers and a younger sister. We were constantly told by my stepmother that we weren’t loved.  My father died when I was 8. Two years later, my mother married my step father and then 3 years later when I was 13, my mother died as well, and my step father married my mother’s sister. Suddenly, we were orphans and our lovely auntie turned into the stepmother from hell. But in retrospective, she was a 51yo spinster; she was probably going through menopause.
Back then, my sister and I became Wards of the Court. We were packed off to a boarding school  - to a Convent actually; worse than a boarding school. It was a catholic school in just outside Berwick Upon Tweed". 

- "Who I am now? It’s very hard to define myself. A loving grandmother, a frustrated photographer and a good friend.  I mostly like who I am. If I were to change a thing, that would be intolerance.  Sometimes I do become intolerant and defensive. I have always been defensive – it’s a somewhat natural part of me.  I guess it goes back to my childhood and to that need of ensuring that no one is going to hurt me. So I’ll keep people at arms’ length.  I’m pretty independent – I wouldn’t say fiercely independent, but I am too independent for my own good. It is very hard for me to ask anyone for help and I want things done immediately".

- "My innermost dream?  Initially, it is to be pain-free.  That would be lovely. And to keep taking photographs and making more glass works. I would love a little studio to continue doing glasswork. I’d love to learn more, to do some kiln work, create more and certainly keep taking my photos".
I always ask my sitters if they have a secret dream, one that they not even confess to their closest friend. Tricia smiles.

- I’d like to find a tall, dark, handsome man – it’s always been a dream. Actually, at this stage he doesn’t need to be handsome. Just kind and funny".
- "The one thing that keeps me going is determination. I have proven that I can cope with life. I find motivation in lots of things. It makes me happy that I can see a beautiful plant or a lovely scenery each day. I am always looking for things to make my heart sing and when I see something that moves me so much, I love to capture it in a photograph. It’s mostly the beauty in plants or in isolated scenery, like a beautiful misty morning.  Music also lifts my soul and keeps me going.

- In 5 years’ time? I’d like to understand the computer side better. I would love to share my photography to a wider audience.  I’d like to progress my art. I’d love to make cards, prints and all sorts of artsy bits. If I had my 15 minutes of fame, I would like to sell a photograph. I’d like someone to like my work enough to actually buy it. I just had an exhibition, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and I would like to be involved in some more.
I was so proud of my degree show at the university, in July 2000. The feedback I got was lovely and very encouraging. I studied Contemporary Photographic Practice at Northumbria University in the north east of England, and looking back, I think I would like to produce more art. I would very much like to work in collaboration with other people, too".

- "My brother Pete was my first role model. He was determined, fun and passionate. He followed his dream. He was a film maker and what I liked most about him was his sense of humour. Pete is still my role model. I listen to my brother in my head a lot. I think about his life. He would have never given up. Even when he was dying of cancer, he was still planning things with a passion.  That was almost 18 years ago. But every day I think about him. We share the same birth date – lots of people thought we were twins but I was his birthday present on his first birthday.

- At the moment, my favourite film is “Hunt for the Wilder People”. It was poignant, funny and full of warmth.


- My biggest regret is not being a better mother to my eldest daughter.  I wasn’t a great mother to her, I was very young and didn’t have a clue but all I knew is that I loved her. I still do.I think that is why I am a really good grandmother now.
If I could go back in time and change something, I would lose my anxieties and I would try hard to be kinder and more loving.
And if I could, there is one big thing I would change. I would look in a very different way at feelings and at the grief process.  When Mum died, she died on a Wednesday and we were told on Thursday. Mum was buried on Friday. We were then taken back to school on Monday, like it never happened. She was never spoken about anymore. Never. She was only 46yo; that was the cruellest blow in our family. If I could go back in time, I would have asked for help; back in those days there was no counselling, no one knew much or talked about these sorts of things, the way we do now.  This is why I don’t talk about feelings; I think that this is where a lot of my insecurities are coming from. If you don’t have a solid anchor when you are a child, I think you flounder a lot. It doesn’t matter how old you are; you are still that little child crying quietly for their mother.


- I feel at peace in my garden. It’s tranquil, peaceful and beautiful. The other place I love is the ocean. I love watching and listening to the ocean. I love walking on the beach. (I am a rubbish swimmer, though!)

- When I look back, 2000 was my most trying year. I graduated from University in July. In August I was diagnosed with the need of an urgent hip replacement ,which didn’t take place till April 2001, because in September I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
I got through using my art. I photographed my journey all the way through, having my chemo and radiotherapy. That culminated in a self-portrait – a powerful and confronting self-portrait. Even the shaving of my head – I documented it all, the hair I found on my pillow, or gathering in the shower plug hole... I rang my friend Tony and he came over and shaved my head. I put on these very glamorous diamante earrings and got my head shaved. I should have probably asked him for a Number 3, not for a full shave, in hindsight. But I did it and to date, this self-portrait, although confronting, is also a great reminder of the adversities I endured, and I am still here !!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Optimist

"My biggest dream is to get off the pension and start living a life; instead of watching it, I’d like to be a part of it".
#ahatofmanydreams is slowly gathering a good collection of stories. They are the stories of the people living next doors, people who lead remarkable lives but we wouldn't know about them unless we stop and listen.
It is not unusual that during the interviews, my sitters have an "aha" moment, they relive a memory or have a sudden revelation. I have seen people in the brink of tears, when some of the memories were too painful.
However, this is the story marking the most defining moment in my project’s journey. Because this time it was me, left in tears.
This is the story to remind us all about the beauty of humankind. And about gratitude. It is a timely reminder about how we tend to take things for granted and we forget how easy it is to go from everything to nothing in the blink of an eye.

It is the story of an amazing person who went from being homeless to becoming a talented self-taught photographer.
Peter’s photography has taken my eye for quite a while, even if I didn’t know him personally. His
Instagram account currently has over 1300 followers; a number he built diligently in a very short time; as he perfected his skills. What won me over was not only the amazing detail in all his photographs, but the lovely, optimistic tone of his stories – even when things went pear-shaped.

I met and photographed Peter during a Floriade Insta-meet organised by Visit Canberra last year. But for a couple of reasons, we didn’t get to sit down and talk until now.

Working on this project is the greatest and most humbling experience. Sometimes I find it extremely hard, when meeting a person the first time, to make sure that I managed to capture their true essence. However, in Peter’s case, I think this is one of the greatest stories to date. Because it holds some truths we all need to accept and know.

- When I was 4 years old, I wanted nothing more than to be a Pilot. My father used to fly full scale gliders before I was born and was also an avid Radio Control Aero modeller. We used to go out to a registered flying field each Sunday to fly some of my father's model Planes. By age 5,I was the youngest registered model-flyer. I was determined that one day, I would be a pilot and I almost achieved my dream of having my own private pilot licence. Unfortunately, an unexpected heart attack at age 20 put an end to that. It took me a long time to recover and I could no longer pass the medical.

- My first favourite story would have to be 'The Watchers' by Dean Koontz. My mother introduced me to that book and I have actually read it many, many times. It is a story about a Labrador that escaped from an experimental science laboratory, where it had been genetically altered to be able to communicate with and understand humans.
The Labrador (called Einstein) was found by a guy who was at the end of his tether and was considering ending his life, when they met in the desert.
He immediately realised that there was a lot more to this dog than meets the eye and decided to stick around to see why this dog was so special. He took him home and his life from that moment on was never the same. The dog was not the only escapee from the Laboratory. Another animal escaped that was just pure evil. It was designed to be nothing more than a killing machine...and it was hunting the dog.
I won't spoil the storyline as it is a great read. Everyone I have lent the book to in the last 20 years has loved every second of it and expressed the same thoughts as I had. They never wanted the story to end.

- When I was leaving High School, I wanted to be an Engineer. I got an Apprenticeship in a Coal Mine and spent the next few years buried in a substantial amount of study, but unfortunately, was not able to complete my qualifications and left the job with only 6 months of study left and 1 more year of 'On the Job Training'. I had a nervous breakdown. I was bullied relentlessly at school and at home. I couldn’t do it anymore.
I was working 2 jobs. I had my car stolen and I owed 30 odd thousands - the insurance company never paid out. I was living with my parents at the time and I couldn’t do it anymore, it became impossible. So I moved out and then I lost my job.
I was living in a caravan and I wasn’t eligible for any unemployment benefits. I never have been taught how to look after myself. I have been thought how to iron, how to vacuum, but I was never thought how to pay a bill. Especially when you never had the money to pay that bill. How do you pay a bill when you don’t have the money?

So I tried and failed very badly. I lived in the middle of Blue Mountains and I wanted to get away, as far as possible. I felt that Sydney was the best chance to get back on my feet but it never worked out that way. I went there and then I lost all my IDs.

Shortly after that, I was homeless and spent almost 3 years living on the streets and sleeping on trains. While I was on the street, (very shortly after) the laws changed on identification and I never had enough IDs to gain new IDs. I couldn’t apply for Centrelink because I didn’t have enough IDs; the System kept rejecting me – I’d reapply every 2 weeks and the system would reject me every time just before paying me.
I survived. I used to approach restaurants – Chinese restaurants in particular, because they were very generous people – and I would offer to clean their kitchen in exchange for a little bit of food. That is really how I survived throughout all that time – through the generosity of these businesses in Sydney. Nothing in life comes for free. I felt that if I was going to beg for food, it was only fair that I would offer something in exchange.

I have had some of the highest training in Australia, as an engineer; it was only 26 people that had qualifications as high as mine. I don’t think I could benefit now from any recognition of prior study – I’d probably be a liability now for them as an engineer. 

I asked Peter if he would consider drafting or technical design jobs.

- I love being constructive, I loved metal and wood works. I would need a bit of refresher, if I was going to be a drafter, but I can design anything: bridges, buildings…I absolutely loved engineering. As a joke, I call it I was “train-washed” – part trained, part brain-washed, to be an engineer. I would never ever forget it; it has been ingrained in my memory. My father was a mechanic. My grandfather was a very successful builder; he built half the town we lived in.

My biggest challenge in holding any job at the moment is my knee – it gets so unpredictable and some days I can hardly get out of bed. Not having a car also makes it difficult to be reliable in a 9 to 5 job. That is why photography would work out beautifully. I can do my own hours.

Back in the times when I was working, I was being paid quite a lot of money that I was going to use to pay for flying lessons. My biggest dream was to become a pilot. The will to be one has always been there; I think I was born a Pilot as I have always been able to fly both Full Scale and Model Aeroplanes proficiently.

The reason I am here today is really the generosity of a friend and his parents. I would always be in debt to them. The ironic thing about Centrelink is that you need to have a registered address for them to pay you. And you need to be paid, in order to get that address in the first place.
After 2 and a half years on the street, I had a friend and his parents said – “look, this is no good, we had no idea. He could come and live with us”. At the time, you needed to be at an address for a minimum of 6 months in order to get onto Centerlink. So I got to stay with them for 6 months, in Melbourne. Then I got to live back into a house and about 3-4 months later I had a heart attack. That certainly backfired a bit. 

If there was a piece of advice Peter could give another fellow human in distress or on the streets, what would that be?

 - It’s a hard one. Never give up, I’d say. There is always someone who cares.
It is so much easier now to end up on the street – people won’t believe that it can happen at any moment in your life; you could be only couple of weeks from living on the street. The patterns will start as soon as you start missing your first bills; before you can miss too many, it will happen. People start to come and take all your possessions and in the end when you have no possessions left, they will take you to court for money you will never have. It doesn’t stop until you pay your debt and if you don’t have money, it never stops. It’s 7 years before any debt is written off. If it wasn’t for my friends, I’d be on the street for 7 more years. And I still worry to this day that I would be chased up for some bill that I might owe all those years ago. There seems to be this misconception that to be on the street, you did something wrong, you are a bad person. But as I said, there is always someone who cares. Not in the Government departments or any organisations, but you will always find someone who will make the difference in your life – almost always you will find that right person on the street.

It’s an awful cycle: being homeless you smell, you can’t wash or brush your teeth for a long time, nobody wants to come near you. It’s almost a common belief that you did that to yourself, you put yourself on the street and if you are still there, it’s because you don’t want to move up. People don’t want to help you; or people don’t feel that they can help enough so they don’t do anything.

 Keep working at getting yourself out of the streets and please, go to the restaurants late at night and ask for spare food in exchange for work. That is really the only thing I can advise – do not give up. I met people living on the streets for 15 years. It’s such a hard situation because if you go to a shelter, they can only take you in for 3 weeks but then you can’t go back for 3 months otherwise nobody gets in, so they have to cycle you through. And it’s a very demoralising situation in life.

 What about the people who do want to help? What can they do to help ease the homelessness situation?

- Don’t give them money. Give them an opportunity. The only time you give them money, make them work for it because working for the money you earn, gives you a sense of good self-worth. Without that sense of self-worth you will stay on the street forever, because you are just a ghost. Nobody wants to look at you – they’ll look straight through you; there is no department that would recognise you. 

Who are you now?

- Now...I would call myself a Disability Pensioner. Not exactly the path I chose for life. But you can only make the best of what you have got. I was walking home late one night when I was 21 and was set upon by 3 guys who robbed me and beat me quite severely.

During this, my left knee was smashed beyond repair and as a result of the damage, I have lost over 20% mobility in that leg. About 20 years ago, I have had 2 surgeries on it, in order to stabilize the knee joint so that I could walk. Realistically, it needs a total joint replacement to make it any better so technically, I still have a broken knee.
Unfortunately, due to my height (6 foot 2 inches), the success rate for total knee replacement was extremely low. The artificial knee joints only lasted about 8-13 years before it would need to be replaced. This made the fact I am so tall and skinny, even worse. Generally (at that time) replacement knee joints in people my height, age and weight had a very low success rate. Often, the bone that holds the joint in place would fail before it wore out, which would leave me unable to get another knee joint put in. The only thing to do then, is to put in a straight bar with no knee joint (walk permanently stiff legged), or have it amputated as the only other choice.
My surgeon recommended I wait until I am in my mid to late 40's to get the replacement surgery done because the success rate was far higher at that point in life, because of a slowdown in personal activities and lifestyle.

I absolutely HATE being a Pensioner. I have tried my hand at countless jobs since my knee was damaged, to try to get off the Pension and back to being a contributing member of Society. It’s hard to get out and about - without realising they do it, many people look at me like I am a fraud and a dole bludger because - upon immediate impression - nothing seems to be wrong with me and I should be working.
I can't blame people for thinking that way because everyone has to work mighty hard for every dollar they get these days; and to see someone just taking handfuls of cash for doing nothing – that’s bound to annoy anyone.
In this life, nothing is free. It always ends up costing somebody down the line. I too would rather be working than handed a small amount of money each fortnight for nothing.

On my income, you just get to watch everyone else enjoy life and be successful, while I had to spend 2 years saving to buy a cheap TV because my old one died 2 years ago. You never eat at a restaurant without tightening your belt for the other 41 meals that fortnight.
No matter what you want to do, you always have to settle for what you can afford, instead of having something nice to be proud of, like many workers do.

I don’t think being on a pension truly defines a person or their dream. So I asked Peter whether he could see other dimensions of himself. Even if it’s simple affirmations like “I like to fly” or “I love photography”. 

- I don’t know who I am. I am me. I take each day as it comes – I am extremely grateful for each day. 

Many times I have been asked to take photos of people and I always got comments like “Jeez, you take nice pics!” even if I was using their camera, their settings. My parents used to have lots of books about Australian Photography, mainly landscape and wild life and I always admired the genius behind those photos. I used to dream about being able to do the same. I never knew who it was until a few years ago I met Steve Parish and it clicked – good God, that’s the guy from the books, the guy who takes those amazing photos. I recognised him from the pictures.

The rare opportunity finally came up – I have overpaid my electricity bill for a few years and they reimbursed the money. Over the last 3 years, I have bought some extremely expensive camera equipment in an effort to get off the Pension. But to do that, I had to make the items I currently own, last as long as I could.
That being said, over the last 2 years, I have watched many electrical items around my home, expire without the money to replace them. I'm now down to a fridge, a washing machine and a PC. And all 3 of them are on their last legs as well.
A disability pension is not a great place to be.

- My innermost dream is actually quite a simple one these days:
Be Happy
Be Helpful
Be kind
Be thoughtful.

And of course, to win Lotto. It doesn't have to be a million dollars. To me $50,000 is the same thing. I could do so much with that amount of money, that I swear I could earn the other $950,000 myself. And if not, I'm sure I would have a lot of fun trying.

-I would have to say that my biggest dream is to get off the pension and start living a life; instead of watching it, I’d like to be a part of it. It’s a very simple dream but after 20 years, I had enough. I would like to move forward in life. That’s my biggest goal. I always believed that if you work hard enough, it would get you there. If you have no talent, no skill, it would be apparent pretty soon and you would need to chance course. But if it starts getting you somewhere, then go hard at it.

I really don't think I have any close-guarded dreams. I'm a pretty open person and I am often not shy to hold back. Other than my lifelong dream of flying, like Peter Pan, most of the achievable dreams I have are pretty much out in the open. I work towards them every day. I may never get there, but I would much rather try my best and fail, than spend the rest of my life dreaming about something and never make a move to get there.
Like my photography. I have dreamed of being a photographer for a long time but never made an attempt because of the huge investment needed and no guarantee of success. Many years I walked away from places, frustrated because I could not capture a photograph to show my friends and family.

But, 2 years ago, I finally bit the bullet and bought a Professional Camera and equipment. Since that day, my life has never been the same. It has been a wonderful journey with so many rewards along the way and I have met some wonderful people who have made this journey much more enjoyable than I could ever have expected.

In many ways, I am the happiest I have ever been in my life, so anything on top of that, is just magic.

What is the one thing that keeps Peter going?

- Coffee, Lots of it. Apart from that, life itself. As I get older, I appreciate the smaller things in life and often think about my parents, who worked their knuckles to the bone so they could retire happy and travel the world. But before they reached the age of retiring, they realised they are not going to be as healthy as they hoped and would not be able to do much of the travelling they had hoped to do. In effect, they regretted not traveling with my sister and me when we were younger.

I have never wanted to get in a position where I regretted not doing something when I could have. It would be so disappointing to retire and be wealthy enough to follow your dreams, but not physically able to do many of the activities you had hoped for.
Unfortunately, I have lived like that for 20+ years and it’s a lot like the movie 'Groundhog Day' with Bill Murray. I want more out of life, than getting up each day, turning on the TV and turning off my brain for the day. So, I do whatever I can to learn a new skill or experience something new. I believe this is the key to a long healthy life and an active mind.

What motivates Peter?

- The thought of one day, being able to throw out my Pension Card, because it no longer applies to me. I certainly hope I do get to see that day.

I always like to ask my sitters a question that gives them a timeline: “Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time”?

- Assuming I am still able to afford camera gear, I would love to be a paid nature photographer. It's a lot of hard work and effort, but that's the way I like it. I am constantly challenged by new scenes and experiences which help me to grow both personally and professionally every day. To me, that is all I would love from life. Travel, work and have an income I can be proud to earn.

How would Peter use those 15 minute of fame?

- I would use my '15 minutes of Fame' to encourage people to follow their dreams. I feel like I was born a Pilot. Instead, I have been a cook, and an engineer, a radio DJ, a car washer, a fruit picker and many, many more. Yet in my heart, I had nowhere near the success or enjoyment as I would have had being a Pilot.
I think we have too many Plumbers who want to be a Doctor, but couldn't afford the costs of training. We have too many shop assistants, who would make great teachers, mechanics and trusted professionals, but they are a shop assistant because that was the only job they felt they could get. Too many people settle for a 9-5 job that does nothing to satisfy their desires, nor compliment their natural skills.
Hardly anyone these days is passionate about the job that they do. And the ones that are passionate, are very successful and happy. I think we need more people to be passionate about the job they are doing to make the world a different place.

Great discoveries have been made in the past because people sank their teeth into their job and did not give up, even when all odds were against them. But these days, we take any job we can get so we don't end up penniless and living on the street, and we just watch our dreams and ambitions drift and fade into the distance.
If that job no longer meets their needs, they move onto another job that does the same thing.

- My first role model would be my Grandfather. He instilled many of the beliefs I have today, just by watching the way he lived. He refused to get older and just never stopped; he was always working on something. He lived until he was 89. At 86, he suffered 2 massive stokes, a heart attack, and septicaemia...and still did not give up, even though he was paralysed. Though his body was failing, his mind was sharp as a tack. He ate nothing but healthy food, did not smoke and never once sipped alcohol. I think these are key ingredients to living a long healthy life.

He was the first man to ever walk unassisted across Australia and back taking 2.5 years, during the Great Depression, and he never once believed that he couldn't do it. Even though, it was thought to be impossible at the time by all medical standards, and is still regarded as almost impossible to this day.
You have to admire anyone with that much courage and commitment. He did it because his doctor bet him 20 pounds he could not do it. That was on a Wednesday; he left 3 days later and didn’t return for 2.5 years.
But when he did, he claimed his 20 pounds and proudly showed his doctor he was wrong.
He is still my hero. He was an amazing man who took on life like he was 10 feet tall, instead of his actual physical size of 4 feet high.

What does Peter like to read?

- Over the last couple of years, I haven't had much time to sit and read anything other than Photography books and magazines (I'm a bit O.C.D in that respect). And I really don't watch a lot of movies as I find they have very little substance and very low morals.
In many cases, they are really just a Get Rich Quick Scheme for the Producers and entertainment for people who don't like to think much.

However, I love Documentaries about anything. If I can't travel the world and learn about these things for myself, I would rather sit and watch a good documentary about it any day. David Attenborough has always been King of the Documentaries in my life and I have to admire his amazing career. The world has learnt so much from this amazing man, that without him, we would still be wondering what the rest of the world looks like.

- My biggest regret is becoming estranged from my family. It was mutual, but still not an easy thing to live with, even after 20+ years.

Is there a place where Peter feels at peace?

- I'm not sure I feel at peace anywhere. Up until I am able to check a few things off the old bucket list and form some sort of career for myself, I don't think I will ever be at peace. I'm quite a socially awkward person which is probably why I hide behind a camera these days. It’s a separation device that allows me to drop my guard and just enjoy the moment. This, in turn, has allowed me to meet many people and have a great time.

But, I can say openly that I am most happy when I am busy and constructive. I can't stand sitting and doing nothing. I have had many years of that and sitting at home all day is not at all what people think it is like. Honestly, it's enough to drive you out of your mind.
I have to stay busy and work hard to be happy. Maybe that is what peace is: just being happy and content with where life has taken you. I'm not sure. But I certainly hope to feel at peace one day. Certainly before I rest in peace.

Perhaps - to some - my story will sound dark. But in truth, my past has been exceptionally dark and withdrawn, and as strange as that sounds, it really only started to improve after I had my knee crushed.
It gave me the determination to get life moving. Before then, I still didn't have a clear path or structure to my life. I was in trouble with the law, hanging out with really bad people and being massively in debt. I never believed I would amount to anything better than that.
After my knee was crushed, I realised that I could end up spending my life crippled and unable to do any of the things I still dreamed of. I made a plan to get out of my hometown before it killed me and start creating a life I could be happy with, before it was all taken from me by an aging body.
I moved to Canberra and my life has improved in leaps and bounds ever since because I work on it every day.
When I think back to where I have come from, I find it very hard to believe that is my story. Many times while re-telling certain parts of my life, I stop and think "Did that really happen to me?" My life is so much better now, that my past seems like a nightmare I had once, but no longer suffer from it.

As we parted, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the next chapter in Peter’s life should be a new approach, offering photo-walks and macro “how-to” courses.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The One with the Sound

"My innermost dream is condensed to “Human Flourishing” I had lots of opportunities to flourish and I hope to have many more. I want to live to be old and knowledgeable.. Peaceful. Content".

We have sorely underestimated that first sunny spring day in a long chain of rainy days. When we arrived at our photoshoot, the sun was already high up in the sky and it had a strength that we were to discover only too late. Usually, I would ask for permission to re-schedule the photoshoot and concentrate on just the interview but in this case, the harsh contrast between light and shadows was befitting to the very things in our conversation. David’s face became a canvas, telling some stories of its own while we were talking about cello, yoga, enlightenment, love, mortality, secrets, mental health and even exchanging parenting perspectives.  

 First time I met David it was purely by chance at the Pink Lady luncheon organised by Breast Cancer Network Australia. The technical director of the event made me aware of David’s presence and when I reviewed the photos I have taken while volunteering to cover the event, I had a candid shot that I just knew I had to get it to their right owners, musicians David Pereira and Isobel Ferrier. 

I set into this “A Hat of Many Dreams” project with no expectations. I just wanted to talk to people and photograph them while we uncovered their stories together. I wanted a collective portrait of our moment in time. I wanted people from all walks of life and I don’t have any filtering applied (at least not consciously) in selecting my sitters. However, it may be that strange intuition when one finds their own tribe, but lately I have been fortunate to find some really remarkable artists.

A renowned musician, composer and cellist. A yoga teacher. A writer and a thinker. A husband, a parent to 7 and grandfather to one. What if I told you they are all dimensions of the same person? It is not an easy task to strike a conversation with strangers and get them to open up to me. It is not easy to get portraits that would do them justice, without knowing them at all. But when I saw David barefoot on the grass, I didn’t need any justification to kick my own shoes off. I did it and I knew we’ll be alright. The dialogue just flowed naturally – and what a memorable experience it was.  

- I have no idea what I wanted to be when I was a little child; I have no recollection of these thoughts because I was completely contempt in my childhood. I enjoyed being a child and I didn’t see past that. Very often, I had no idea what was the time – it was a natural way of being. My mother would say: “come home before it’s dark”; I wouldn’t know if it was 11:00hrs am or 14:00hrs. I was just a child, happy to play and to be a child. 
The first time I had thoughts about my future occurred when I was about 15yo. My father was driving me to Sydney – to the Conservatorium High School for my Year 10; at that time my education already had the musical emphasis. I was so na├»ve; I was not used to think about my future and I remember that day when I thought “if this is not going to work, then I can always go back home and be a teacher like dad. “

- There might have been stories that I liked as a child, but the 1st thing that I can remember from when I was 4, is a song called “the little blue man”. The song is about a little blue man following a woman and telling her “I wuv you, I wuv, you. I wuv you to bits’. In the end she leads him on a rooftop and pushes him down; he then tells her “I don’t wuv you anymore”. I didn’t really understand the narrative of the song, which was a hit in 1957, but apparently I was crazy about it. Now I can think - was he stalking her? Was she psychotic? Who knows! 

- I don’t think I was ready to grow up and I didn’t think about the future. I was a great student – school captain in 2 different schools (in the times when teaches still chose the captains). I was nerdy, but never bashed up, which is quite surprising in those times when schoolyard fights were common. In some real way, my childhood was a very sheltered one and then, there came this time when my whole world changed; my parents split up and suddenly there was no more home to go back to, if things didn’t work. Not the home I knew, anyway. 

Because I saw my parents’ marriage dissolve so catastrophically, I paradoxically embraced the notion of ideal love. Coming out of high school, I always thought I am going to find THE one woman to spend my life with – it became an ambition to find her and be together for a lifetime. I wanted to be the man in a great love and at age 20, when I thought I found her, I would have been happy to sacrifice everything for that. I told her I wanted to devote my life to her. She replied she didn’t want that kind of relationship – she was wise. I was victim of a romantic notion, to think that the core of one’s happiness and whole existence could only come exclusively through one’s relationship. 

- My dream back then was to be a very good cellist. I went to the Conservatory for tertiary music studies. Gradually, I improved. I went to USA; I spent 4 years at Indiana University doing a Master Degree in cello and most of a doctorate as well. I joined the Indianapolis Orchestra and then one day – I must have been about 26yo – the phone rang: I suddenly had 2 job offers in Australia, to play in professional ensembles. So I came back. 

 - Who I am now? I am a parent, a husband; I am myself and a musician. A cellist. Do I like it? Definitely. My existence is a charmed one. Recently, on my birthday, I had to admit that I could not believe how fortunate I am.
Meanwhile I embrace also a life full of imperfections. I am aware of how desperately terrible is the life of so many other people and I am grateful for my existence. I find it remarkable to live so long; how could I complain when I have been allowed to live for 63 years already? I think I was 7 when I first became aware of death. I remember lying in bed, calculating how long I had. I thought I was only a 1/10th or 1/12th towards my death. Then, when I was 40, for a short while I thought I was going to die. I had melanoma and I remember thinking that I won’t be able to see my kids grow. I also remember being upset about not being able to hug a tree – that moment, when facing the possibility of death, hugging a tree seemed like a really big deal. My 5yo at the moment has a phase where she is afraid of dying. So I asked her what made her be afraid. She told me “I am scared that I won’t be able to play with my toys”. In a way, me wanting to hug a tree has the same correlation with her toys.  

- I was married to a Hungarian immigrant and we had 4 children. When our youngest child was 9, our marriage fell apart. After that, I met another amazing woman. The question you should ask me is “why did you decide to have 3 more children with her?” It’s a question I have to answer to my other children – I love all my children and it is important to me that they know how much I love them. The answer to this question goes back to the same quest, when I was 15. I wanted an amazing relationship and I wanted her to be the mother of my children; I didn’t want to be a Sugar Daddy; I just wanted, again, a complete relationship with this woman who came later into my life. So, instead of fancy clothing, cruises and a life of luxury, I chose nappies, parenting duties, meetings with teachers who won’t look you in the eye… All the little things coming with this great task called being a parent. I am happy with my choice. 

You should ask me what is the best thing I learned about parenting. I’ve been parenting without a break for 30 years; you never stop being a parent. I am a student of my own expertise but the best thing I have learned is to trust that my children will turn out ok rather than worrying they won’t. Raising my presently 12yo son, I’ve learned to go on with his enthusiasm even if I don’t always find it exciting (things like computer games). If you listen to the little things, they’ll tell you the important ones too, later on. I place a lot of importance on expressing to my children how much I admire them and how much I trust them.  

- My innermost dream? I think I mentioned almost everything that matters and that allows me continuity. I would love to have the luxury of continuing these narratives; to be a really good father, husband and cellist; and to become more enlightened before I die. If I had to condense it, I’d call it “Human Flourishing” I had lots of opportunities to flourish and I hope to have many more. I want to live to be old and knowledgeable.. Peaceful. Content. How great would it be if I was 100yo and my knees still worked? I am highly motivated by having a 5yo daughter. I would like to be at her wedding and speak intelligently! I would like to spare my children the experience of having to talk about their dead father... while they still are young. I kind of made myself, my wife and my children this promise that I would do everything possible not to die soon.

I told David that without knowing him, I see him as a free spirit. He regaled me with a few confessions. 

- I had my crisis of Christian Faith early – I must have been 18. I wanted a sign that God existed. And no sign came; I figured there was no such sign and that I could not believe with any confidence in a God that hides. I told myself that I would rather believe in nothing, than believe in something that isn’t true. Now I’m inclined to suspect that belief and faith are simply wishful thinking .Life is more than wonderful enough for me… just as I find it.

 - When I was 50, I had a nervous breakdown – I learned so much from that mental collapse; the most important thing being that if I kept doubting myself I would be miserable for life. There wasn’t really an alternative so I picked up my game. I learned not to be superstitious and I drew my wisdom from my own learning; much like Shakespeare’s Hamlet -“To thine own self be true” - I learned to trust myself and absolutely to stop worrying. I don’t think there is enough emphasis on the importance of mental health. In media, so many people disguise it and what a dreadful change it brings, with the world being populated by lots of people who don’t trust themselves. When it comes to artists and obsession, there is plenty of room for misunderstanding. For example, a strong interest in fine detail is not the same thing as an unhealthy obsession.

 - I have never had aspirations that I could not share with my family but I do have my secrets. Things that I wouldn’t tell the others because they wouldn’t like it or because they would get bored. My family would probably be surprised by this, because they are convinced I cannot keep secrets. I think that the human being is built to have a private life too; it’s not against having a relationship with another. It’s healthy, too, to have your own thoughts and private experiences.  

 - What keeps me going? My love for my family. I want my children to know that I love them. I want them to have the confidence that they come from a good father. When kids don’t have confidence, it breaks them. If either the respect or love is missing, it damages them; it’s a scary responsibility. 

 - The most important question you should ask me is what I have learned about love. Because I have learned a few things that make sense.
First of all, it’s very good that I am enthusiastic about the changes in my wife and that I am supporting her. I am against that entire “keep the spark” thing. I find it very unrealistic, to feel the same. The power of a relationship is well served by the way each individual grows and by how each individual accepts their own changes as well as their partner’s. It’s delighting to see how the one you love continues to evolve and to delight you. We can feel grateful, too, when the other encourages us to change. “You’re not the person I married!” - should be taken as a compliment.
Life has taught me that often when there is conflict and misunderstanding, it’s better to let it go and move on, rather than to keep analysing it. I came into adulthood when Freudian analysis was very highly regarded and I was persuaded that the analysis was needed in order that one can become whole. I now think that it is more likely dangerous and unhealthy. I think people love to be regarded as whole and ready for improvement. It might work for a lot of people to let unpleasant things go, rather than analysing it again and again. We don’t necessarily need that closure, the resolution. It’s quite OK to live with not knowing about all things. It’s quite necessary sometimes.  

The most important thing I learned about love is that it enhances my empathy and compassion. I find that my empathy has increased a lot, when I consider that the woman I love, however she is at a given moment, I know that I made her be that; the way she is in relation to me. If she is happy or unhappy, I contributed to that. She paid a high price by being my woman, by limiting her choices. It’s a two-way street, too. I pay my price also. 

I always ask my sitters what they would do with those 15 minutes of fame but since David has already known fame on quite a large scale, I asked him to answer my question from any perspective, be it past, present or future.  

 - I’d be glad if there was a larger recognition of my knowledge and skills as a musician. I would love to become more prominent – it’s again that human flourishing that I mentioned earlier: all things being equal, if I have good things to offer, I would love to offer it on a larger scale. And on a larger stage. Although I am in my 60s, I am more ambitious now. When I turned 60, it felt different being me and I wondered if the others saw me different too. I have been seeing different aspects of aging around me; I was very aware of feeling 60 for a while, but after a year I decided I better get over it. When I was younger, there was a cello element that I thought I could improve. I have the same feeling now. 
At the same time, there is a whole new thing happening, as I became a grandparent and that involved moving. How could I be a good parent without being a good grandparent too? I love the coast and its lifestyle but in the end I opted to move closer; when you live 90 minutes away, you are not lived with, you are visited. I didn’t want to be visited; I wanted to be a parent.  

Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time? It’s a question I ask my sitters for more than one reason. That short glimpse at their own projection of the future it’s a tale of its own.  

- I hope to have as much fun as I can, to be as glad as I can be. I learned that gladness is great; a very underrated feeling and more readily available than joy. You can feel gladness many times a day without needing to win the lottery. 

- My first role model was my father and my mother. Now I am trying to be my own role model. I am still figuring out what I am supposed to be and not try to be like the others. The downside to having a teacher is that sometimes you sit on your teacher’s shoulders and you don’t get to figure out things for yourself. 
My father often expressed his surprise at how similar I was to him, because he never intended me to be like him. 

I’d like to be that father who lets his son figure out how he wants to be and my 12yo son is teaching me just that parenting lesson by being independent. Many times when I ask him whether he needs help he declines. I asked him once ‘Why not? I let my father help me.” And his answer was really great “I want to be unique”.

- One book that I really loved was “Lord of the Rings”; I was about 20yo when I read it. I loved reading it so much and then I felt so sad when I finished it. Then I was looking for another one, then another one…I became concerned that it takes me away from reality.  

 - My biggest regret is that I was so slow in learning some important things. Like trusting myself. 

- The best place to be, the place where I am at peace and I am myself is when I am meditating.  

As a musician, I really like to compose music too, not just interpret it. Composing is a bit like the Venn diagram; I find equal joy in playing, teaching, composing and writing about all these things – I see it all intersecting in many ways. It makes me feel a complete musician. I have a very ambiguous, dualistic relationship to music: On one hand, it’s everything that matters. But on the other hand, it doesn’t matter at all. Sometimes there’s nothing better than silence. 

(And of course, this was the best moment for me to bring into discussion John Cage’s “4.33”; because while David is one with the sound, he also understands silence). 

- My philosophy of life: I don’t think I am interesting; I think it’s quite important to have a speck of recognition that one is nothing. We have no idea what is the game we are playing; we don’t even know where we live and how it’s been constructed; most fundamental questions about space aren’t answered. 
There are these perspectives, like nihilism: there’s no meaning into things and we might die. My perspective is: it’s true that I don’t really know, but I can make 2 choices: I can have the best time I can, or not. I chose to get as much gladness as I can. This is not a hedonistic approach; I just find it silly not finding this gladness that can come to us in many ways, even through serving people. 

With such an ample life experience, in so many fields, I wondered if David can still be surprised by people. And how. 

- The first thing that comes to my mind is that people continue to be moved by their experiences, it touches me that they cry because of their experiences; be it a happy or a dreadful one. I was watching recently “Conviction”, a recent documentary about a journalist killed on her way home. The detective in charge of the investigation is a man who has seen quite a few things in his life. Yet he breaks down and cries. He talks about the sand pit he built but he never played in; about not being at his daughter’s 21st birthday and then he bursts in tears. To me, it is amazing how we cry for joy or for sorrow, in a cosmos that we don’t understand. It gives me hope.  

One of my best friend in my childhood introduced me to an early secret, demonstrating how well music and maths work together and how they complete each other. It’s a symbiosis that I could never try for myself, as I don’t excel at either, but one that I often thought about. Naturally, I wanted to ask David how music and yoga work together. 

- For a long time I thought that music brought humans to a highly desired state of consciousness. If not that, then at least it was a healthy exercising of the emotions. Increasingly, I became interested in finding out what could be a state of consciousness. Is music a distraction from what brings us to consciousness? If there is such a thing as simply being, I shouldn’t be worried about music or about silence as neither of them points to meditation. Meditation I enjoy best leaves out everything it can; the meditative state provides a link between music and silence, a link that I can be conscious of.
There is another link too; a student is likely to wonder what is the best use of body? In my experience, I found while practicing Yoga Asana that the best technique brings positive qualities of the body in playing the cello. When you achieve that, they are married powerfully with each other. I use my body the same way in playing the cello as in practicing yoga. And vice-versa; I practice them to be better at both.  

It was after a couple of years of practicing with an excellent yoga teacher when I finally understood the meaning of what is essential. You know how in music you start with being focused on learning the notes, then as you get better, your focus shifts to how well can you get that “F” out, then it shifts again to your technique, then on the quality of the sound, and so on. In my cello playing, my best moments were when I was no longer aware that I was playing the instrument. I was one with the sound. So I asked my teacher what would it be in yoga, if one day I wouldn’t be aware of the breathing? She said: “that would be Nirvana”. 

All these things we are paying attention to, they are just the means to get there; it allows us eventually to become enlightened. The downside is that maybe we never really needed to do them at all. The greatest spiritualists say that we could have been enlightened at any moment – it was there all along. But the answer is, you can never get to that enlightenment without the hard work.  

There is this book by Herman Hesse, “The Glass Bead Game” that had a great impact on me. Hesse never describes exactly what it really is; we have to imagine the game and be masters at it. The story ends abruptly, with the main character drowning in a lake. In the end, the knowledge suddenly doesn’t matter at all. It is a book that marked me profoundly in many ways. 

I have a paradoxical attitude towards life; on one had I tell myself that things don’t matter but I am trying to be good at it, if I choose to do something. That is why I don’t play golf. 

- It’s a paradox; I don’t believe in anything but I do believe in a man’s tears. And music, potentially, is about human beings. There is a tight relation that we have with nature and habitat. If I had to make a choice between trees and skies versus music, I’ll probably throw the music out and choose nature. 

What motivates David best: Success or Failure? 

- Looking back in time, I would say failure. When I was 40, it was not a great time for me. My marriage was in crisis, I had been diagnosed with melanoma and for a short while I thought I was going to die. Then I developed a shaking in my arm. It started shaking uncontrollably and I had to stop playing. My first thought was that I had a faulty playing technique. It’ was pretty intensive at the time. I felt that if I didn’t continue to be the bread winner I was failing my family. I was convinced that my problem was technical, connected to the use of my body in playing, as I have been diagnosed with focal hand dystonia. So I thought I should change my technique. I remember being on the Black Mountain and thinking of my options: I could go to a trusted colleague and ask them to teach me their bowing technique; I could teach myself all over again, or I could quit. But I wasn’t ready to quit and I realised the best way to get through this crisis was to become my own teacher, observing the differences. It took a long time and my technique changed a lot over the years. I wasn’t even going to be sure of the outcome but I kept persevering. I started when I was 40 and I can only say now that I am content with it. I often see myself as a slow learner.  

 If I had to use only one word to describe myself, I would say “determined”. 

I asked David to describe his teaching style, especially after hearing that he encourages his music students to learn yoga. 

- My teaching style is gentle, respectful, enthusiastic. I learned early that I don’t want to bully anyone. I would suggest things for my students but I would never let myself being the bully. Much like the doctors: first of all, do no harm. I always communicate with my students that I admire them and value them as human beings - that is where the true teaching begins. Sometimes I wish my students were more determined in asking themselves how they could do things better and how they can improve. 

Apart David’s capacities as a musician and teacher, there’s more than meets the eye. Out of modesty, he didn’t speak to me about the books he wrote but I didn’t let him off the hook because I was very curious to know why “The Larrikin Cellist”. 

- Because of the importance of not being a pawn of others; of not giving oneself to just one cause because more often than not it turns out to be unworthy.  
I had deep suspicions regarding institutions and teachers. We humans seem to get the worst when we form in collective and institutions. But how can we not? The trouble is that they become corrupt. So I like my own space, not corrupted, not being part of the collective. Cellists are classical musicians and they tend to be subdued by the institutions. Lots of musicians are disappointed with their experience, being treated as note-producers and not as creative individuals. Universities and Belief systems can be disappointing in that regard; they say they bring what is needed but often they become dictatorial voices. I guess I am a larrikin in maintaining my position and my right to oppose what I don’t think fair. 

In writing books, I was essentially proving myself that I know something about what matters in our field. I think the books got better gradually but I don’t think I have yet written with enough motivation and skill; they are probably just archiving material. I would like to write again about playing cello or about yoga, or – why not – about both.  

 - I would also like to make a real difference in raising awareness about mental health. There is this line between real and imaginary worlds and I learned on my own a lot about the important difference between them. Imagination on itself is healthy and usually it’s a kind of reality that one needs not be afraid of. However the proliferation we recently see in art journals and movies where there is not so much of a blurring line between real and imaginary can be dangerous. I am still guided by my common sense but I keep thinking that if the humanity was starting to doubt this difference, we’d be in real trouble. As an artist, I am ambivalent, of course but the difference is in being guided. Sometimes, I am wondering if one of humankind’s failings is to be seduced by imagination. But it can also be healthy; it has its importance just like the bare foot on grass. Sometimes, I hope religions will disappear forever. It doesn’t mean I am an atheist; it means we could do much better by being ourselves rather than by being disciples.  
I was intrigued about his “Mount Ainslie Raising” composition, so I asked David about its meaning. 

– I had a commission to write about a Canberra element. I’ve run up Black Mountain and Mount Ainslie on foot thousands of times. I chose Mount Ainslie because of Chris Latham. I wanted to write a big, dramatic piece but Mt. Ainslie is just a knoll. So I wrote it as I was imagining it rising. 

As an artist, I have always been fascinated by synaesthesia and the way it works. I spent numerous years trying to explain it to myself as well as employing various other senses to enhance what I offer visually. I love combining images and sounds and I have a genuine interest in discussing it with other artists. I was very curious to find out more about David’s collaboration with Carlos Barrios. Are the sounds and colours spontaneous, or is there any planning involved?

- There is a brief; we discuss beforehand and we try to improvise to each other’s work. One time I took one of his painting home and I made a composition as my response to it. He would also listen to one of my compositions and paint it out. Then we’ll take it out there and see if audience can guess – they did each time. 

5 hours from our meeting, we were still talking and upon parting, I had one last question about “Fish River Improvisation” – I wanted to find out how that piece was born. 

- That was definitely an improvisation on the spot. Someone introduced me to a Wiradjuri man and I didn’t know what to expect. I took my cello with me without knowing whether I am going to use it. We sat there in silence for a while and then the cello came out somehow and I started to play it. Interestingly, only low notes came to life. I and my cello were humbled by Nature itself, I guess.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

15 Lines

"My innermost dream is to become a published author. I hope that I am on the way to achieve that".

First time I met Vesna, we were both taking part in a Mother Tongue workshop lead by the very talented Jacqui Malins and Lauren Klinger. I was instantly taken by her, as she modestly told us her story and taught us the 3 most meaningful words in her language. 
I was also drawn to Vesna because at a very real moment in time, we had been leading parallel existences in neighbouring countries. We had a giggle about how we were neighbours without even knowing it.
I reminisced on my student years in a town where we did everything we could to protect our Serbian colleagues from going back to war. Vesna graciously accepted my invitation to talk and I believe that in the process I have gained a new friend.
The photoshoot itself was quite an adventure; the weather didn’t cooperate and we had to change the location suddenly, to an unfamiliar ground. I am very grateful for having a chance to explore the amazing Hotel Hotel Canberra during our photo shoot. It was an early evening, just before the sunset and I had to resort to a bit of a kamikaze act: manually focusing a lens on very low light. It might have been the magic of the moment, the story of a remarkable woman or the magic of the place. Or everything combined. By the book of rules, it should have been a mediocre shot yet everything worked out so beautifully. It was one of the most rewarding sessions I have done this year. And I got to know better a lady that I admire very much.

- When I was 4, I wanted to be an astronomer. I remember lying on the grass in our backyard and I would watch the clouds pass for hours. Sometimes, I would see the first star appearing: Venus (Danica, in Serbian). Then I would see other stars coming out and then it would be time for dinner. I loved doing that – I think what I liked about it most was feeling grounded. I felt both free and safe. After that, I thought I’d love finding more about the stars – this wasn’t when I was 4, but later on; years passed, but I still kept watching the night sky. My favourites have always been the shooting stars. 
I remember when Halley’s Comet came around in 1986; I was pregnant with my son. I went out under the stars and remember thinking that when he grows up, he will be able – in a way - to say “Mama took me under the open sky, we stood under the Comet’s tail”. 


- My favourite story when I was a child was “Hansel and Gretel”. I liked chocolate, sweets and all that. Then, through this story, I realised that one can go to a house made out of sweets, it looks nice and appealing, but you can end up with a bad witch inside. That was a big, big lesson for me – maybe it wasn’t in these exact words, but it was that gut feeling that children have, that in life you can come across something really nice-looking but very bad inside. So I learned that you can get in trouble by loving ‘sweets’ too much. Through life, I learnt that such thinking can be applied to many different things – people, society and work places; to everything, really. 


- Coming out of high school, I wanted to be a psychologist. I was at that very tender stage where I really wasn’t sure where I was going to go in my life. I was starting to understand that there are many opportunities in front of me, but that I could not do everything. Around that time I also wrote a diary and by doing such ongoing self-exploration I became attracted to the idea to become a psychologist. I didn’t end up becoming one in the end, but interest in psychology as a science of human mind has never really left me; I read a lot of self-help books. I visit a lot of websites that talk about simple techniques – for example just the other day I read about how ‘3 seconds a day’ could help you find joy by recognising and focusing on those nice things in everyday life.
I am aware that there is a lot of suspicion around regarding some of the ‘self-help’ techniques. I am aware that some of the prominent psychologists wouldn’t recognise these techniques from their ‘evidence-based’ pedestals. But I think one should be able to choose how to spend their time, how you want to be; you can choose to be happy or you can choose to be miserable. I was in my 30s when I started to recognise that looking at some people around me - -the lucky ones who live into an old age - they either become really lovely, graceful people or unhappy, angry and bitter people. I thought: I didn’t want to become the latter. It is, I believe, a matter of choice about what kind of people we end up being in our old age. 

 - My dream, back then in my late teens, was to find true, romantic love. And I did. It was really like in a movie; it was love at first sight when I met my husband. I consider myself extremely lucky to have met him; it still puzzles me today how we grew up in the same city - it’s not a big city - but we never met before. He knew lots of my friends; I knew some of his – yet the two of us had never met before. We met in a disco, of course – It was the 80s. We fell in love immediately, that evening. It was the 31st of January 1981. I was 19, he was 24. 
- Who are you now? It is a question I ask my sitters, to place them contextually into our collective Canberra here and now moment. 

 - I am a mother, thinker, poet and knitter.

I was very surprised that Vesna didn’t employ the use of the word “artist” and I expressed my surprise.

- I don’t consider myself entirely an artist. Artists, in my view, are people who live to create. My attachment to art is that I see it as a beautiful addition to my ‘material’ life. Not in a negative way, but in that sort of reasonable, objective approach; I am a bit more pragmatic about it all.
It’s about having the opportunities and then having to choose. For many years, it was about raising a family in a new country; about work, about survival to some extent. Now it’s the first time I can say that I feel free to actually ‘practise’ art. And I love that.
I am pretty happy with my life path. My public service job allows me to pay for my dreams. Thus I believe I am a fairly 'practical dreamer'.


For me, music is the cherry on the cake of life. I play piano very rudimentary and I took up flute recently. Initially, I just wanted to keep my mind fresh and occupied. It requires great finger-mind coordination; I had never touched a flute before but now I find so much joy in playing it. I am preparing for my third AMEB exam at the moment. 

My innermost dream is to become a published author. I hope that I am on the way to achieve that. Recently, I finally opened my poetry to others and that was quite a brave and big thing for me. For some years, I was sitting quietly and didn’t dare to share my poems even with my family. Now, I am slowly opening my little red book to others. I am starting to get critique; I find it encouraging when people tell me how my poems make them feel. I would love to have a book where I will have my original poems in Serbian and their translation on the mirroring page. I think I would like to do the translation in English myself, because I can play with words and their meanings, making them sound the right way in my own way, without them losing their essential meaning. I have seen some pretty average translations and I feel it would be a pity if that happened to my poems. 

The little red book. I was genuinely interested to find out how it came to life.

- It started in February 2014. That’s when I decided to stop writing on pieces of papers that I kept losing. I got this little red book that is of the perfect size. Something compact, not heavy, that I can take it in my little shoulder bag or my travel bag, I don’t go anywhere without it. Even for a quick lunch. I take it with me anywhere I go; it’s with me on a bus, it’s next to my bed when I wake up, then I move it into my bag…It has become my little life companion. Initially, I chose the size because it is practical and easy to fit in my purse. Soon I realised that I can actually capture a moment in 15 lines – that is all that a page in the book has: only 15 lines on each page. That somehow almost forced me to be particular about what words I use; it allowed me to just focus on the moment, on what I had to say. And keep it concise. Then the thoughts just started pouring out. I think only 1 or 2 of my poems go over the page; but you can fiddle and re-format easily. My involvement with poetry at the moment is that this format gave me the freedom to write, finally. Before, every time I was thinking about writing, I was afraid I was going to get lost in that verbose way of expressing oneself. My writing is far from the Japanese haiku, but it gives me a level of freedom to create poems in the way I feel is right, right for me. I start writing and then I feel like I am almost there…once I’ve reached the 4th line, the 6th line, the 10th line, I know what I still have to say and know exactly how many lines I have to say it in - there’s only 5 to go… it’s a challenge I pose on myself. This enabled me to really be precise with an idea. I still write my original thoughts in Serbian only. 
I always ask my sitters what is the one thing that keeps them going and what motivates them. Sometimes the answers are connected. Sometimes, they are surprisingly different and refreshing.

- The one thing that keeps me going is my family.

 I am motivated by a power of beauty. And success. What is that power of beauty? For instance, just sitting here, looking at that fire – isn’t it beautiful? And the sun flickering behind – it draws my eye. I am talking to you at the same time but I still notice the beauty of the fire and the sunset coming on to us. It’s what gives that extra zest to one’s life – taking the time to notice and appreciate everything, just like this golden flickering on the wall. It’s not about ‘defining’ beautiful; it’s just something extra. Interpretation of beauty is varies from one moment in life to another; everything can be very open to interpretation but at the end of the day, it’s about what captivates my mind, my heart, my feeling at that very moment. It can be people as well. Right now, this sun-setting light is beautiful. It’s all in the moment and it’s about finding and appreciating the little things that can and do make a difference. 

One pivotal question to my project is where my sitters see themselves in 5 years’ time. I do not ask it in the cold-mannered way of a recruiting round; I am interested in finding out about their dreams projections and their own self-reflections.

- Going back for a second to that “pragmatic dreamer” concept, in 5 years’ time that’s where I want to be; realising and living those dreams. I would love to think that I would keep publishing, playing my flute, painting… that I would keep practising all these things that bring me joy. I hope I would be retired and in good health, free to be busy with many other things, including being a baka (grandma). I will be creating and definitely busier than today.

- If I was to get those 15 minute of fame, I think I would like to sit quietly and smile. Because it would be a reflection of how far I got along. I assume being ‘at the top’ would be very busy, working hard and heading up there to the top… and if I did get there, then I could take a moment and enjoy it.

- My first role models were my parents and my maternal grandmother. Being a child, one learns by observing. I learned some strong principles from them and I believe it helped me growing into the person I am now. Looking back, I think it was a good balance, having my parents and my grandmother. The parents love you but they also chastise you. My Grandmother let me be me. She was the only person who never got upset with me. It’s extremely important to have at least one person to be yourself with, you can scream as loud as you can and you won’t be judged harshly. Someone able to say “it’s ok, I understand’; someone able to let you behave however you wanted to behave and still love you. 
My role models are in constant change nowadays. I adore watching and learning from people who grow and develop throughout their various life experiences and still remain decent, ethical, fair, strong and loving individuals.

What does Vesna like reading?
- I love anything biographical, I like true inspirational stories. Sometimes I read a few at a time. At the moment I am reading Amy Schumer’s autobiography “The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo” and Ian Hancock’s biography “Tom Hughes QC – A Cab on the Rank”. I have also started a book about Margaret Thatcher and I really enjoyed the book “Hillary”.

- My biggest regret was not to become a famous jurist of some kind, such as a barrister or a judge, or a legal academic. I deeply love the pure, magical essence of law and justice.
The missed opportunity doesn’t really affect me anymore; there is a lot of glitz around it and as a young lawyer I wanted a bit of that, I suppose. I realise now just how many famous lawyers aren’t that great – this is not sour grapes – I just don’t want to be in some of their company. 

 Where does Vesna feel at peace, free to be herself? 

 - At home, alone; but not for too long, as I can become a difficult companion to myself after a while.
 I  asked Vesna to use one word to describe herself. 

 - One word? Awesome. (Smiles and then apologises.) I don’t want to sound full of myself. I am pretty ok with who I am, with what I have. I’ve always worked hard. I haven’t stolen or deprived anyone of anything; I haven’t hurt any people around me. I got where I am through my own , often grave efforts. I still have dreams and I am still working towards them. I never expected anything to fall to me ‘from the sky’.
 Coming to Australia was not a long term plan for Vesna, initially.

 - It was an accident called ‘the Balkan War 1991-95’. Just before the war broke out in Yugoslavia we came here to visit my maternal grandmother. My daughter was only 1yo; my son was 3 ½yo. We were going to stay for a couple of years; save some money and then the plan was to go back and I would open my private legal practice.

Then in November 1990 the war started and everyone back home was worried about our safety; we were getting messages from our parents: “don’t even think about coming back”. So we stayed. A few years after the war, the country was in such a bad state that it was risky and unreasonable taking the children back there. I went (again!) to a law school here. Then I graduated, I found work. My husband had finished political sciences in Yugoslavia – he didn’t have a problem at all finding a job here; he was employed within 2 months after we arrived here.

What motivates Vesna better: success or failure?

- Both. I love being successful, like everyone else. But if I fail, that really gets me going.

We parted that evening with the promise of a friendship in making. And as we stepped out, Vesna surprised me once more with a most amazing desert and sweets for my little family. It is a delicate gesture that for us, Eastern Europeans, has a big significance. It is extended hospitality and friendship at its best.