Happy 10th Birthday, Melbourne UNESCO City of Literature!

It is 2018 and it is Melbourne UNESCO City of Literature ‘s tenth birthday!

And since it’ll officially be summer on the 1st of December,  here’s a #ThankfulThursday and #ThrowbackThursday blogpost :  my contribution to #SummerCityofLit posted on Facebook on January 2017 : an illustrated cargobike tour through the city.

(Facebook Text edited by Elizabeth Flux)

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Summer! \O/

The best time to slow cycle in flowing summer dress, unhampered by extra layers of clothing like jumpers, jackets, thermal wear, scarves, and gloves.

For the past five years, I’ve slowly cycled on my Christiania cargo bike—a Danish-made, heavy-duty trike with a solid, wooden box in front—to and from Melbourne, the coffee capital, the most bicycle-friendly city, and—for the sixth year in a row (2011-2016)—Most Livable City in the World.

And only this past year have I viewed Melbourne in the literary sense, as a UNESCO City of Literature.

*

[9:00 A.M.]  After dropping off my canvas (a work-in-progress since April 2016) at the Footscray Community Arts Centre in preparation for the next day’s Advanced Painting art class, I set my sights on the city, ready to travel there by cargo bike. 

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[10:00 A.M.]  After an hour of slow cycling, I made my way to Higher Ground to tweet-up with @ChocChilliMango.  Located at the corner of Spencer Street and Little Bourke, the award winning care was the perfect pit stop for sharing coffee with an artisan chocolatier and fellow foodie

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[11:15 A.M.]  Cargo-biked to All Star Comics on Queen Street. @ascmelbourne tweeted their weekly newsletter and the newest issue of my favourite monthly comic book was ready for pick up.

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[11:45 A.M.]  Nearly noon and my mobile phone needed a quick charge, so I parked my cargobike outside @Library_Vic.  I sent a DM (Direct Message) to a couple of Twitter friends to see if they were keen to meet up for lunch.  While waiting for a reply, I was drawn to @ReadingsBooks bookshop inside the state library.

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[12:30 P.M.]  I met up with @JasmeetSahi, Creative Producer of the @MelbourneWritersFest  Jaipur Literary Festival Melbourne. We found a vacant bench under a shady tree for a quick lunch. It was the perfect day to be outdoors: sunny with a touch of warm breeze. 

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[1:00 P.M.]  After changing my cargobike’s plastic hood to a flat cover, I wheeled down to the @wheelercentre at Little Lonsdale Street, the footpath barely wide enough for my cargobike.  As soon as I found a place to park, I hurried up to reception for an afternoon workshop at @Writers_Vic.

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Parallel Universes

Last month I had the privilege of performing at Melbourne Writers Festival. In ‘West Writers: In Parallel Universes’, I was one of ten performers to delight the audience with our stories.

This is a transcript of my performance.

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Before I begin, I would like to acknowledge that as a writer of colour, a migrant, I am an uninvited guest who lives and on the stolen, unceded lands of the Wurundjeri and Boon Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation. They are the first storytellers. I pay my respects to their Elders past and present, and emerging, and to all those who are with us this afternoon.

In Australian Sign Language (AUSLAN) : 

Hi! My name is cubbie.  

I am Hard of Hearing.  

And I am slow in learning AUSLAN.

———————–

I write essays, non-fiction about the lived experienced, of topics which make you, the reader, uncomfortable.

As a writer of colour—and because hashtag #RepresentationMatters,

I write about disability—the invisible kind, the kind that you would even say ‘I don’t look disabled enough’.

I write about mental health, that beyond cognitive behaviour or mindfulness therapies, I take medication to get through the day.

And I write about being a carer of colour. I have a child with Down Syndrome and I fought gatekeepers for Inclusion.

In Victoria, with hashtag #EducationState, my child is now in Year Three, in a public mainstream school, where the school’s Language-Other-than-English or LOTE Subject is Auslan.

With non-mainstream topics, I am ostracised, pushed out of the ableist narrative.

And when everything is too much, when I need self-care, I leave spaces which are no longer safe.

I step into my parallel universe.

(video appears on stage's screen without sound)

I write fanfiction. I deep dive into a fandom community about five pilots and their five robot lions, which combine into a giant robot.

In a safe haven, women change the stories that were initially written by men decades ago.

In Voltron fanfiction, women re-write the stories. We save the universe as pilots, paladins, battle-ready warriors, with alchemist knowledge, and magical powers, with alien bloodlines.

In this parallel universe…

(wears Keith’s jacket)

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I am Keith.

I could be Princess Allura.

I could be anyone, regardless of my colour, race, and gender.

I defend the universe with the help of Voltron Legendary Defender.

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Broken

My last blog post from 2015 remained frozen in time, back when I learned about Melbourne’s literary community. During that time, I was a fanfiction writer and a carer with an e-cargobike, who slowly cycled around the inner west suburbs of Melbourne.

Since then, my fannish behaviour moved from fandom to meeting authors in real life. I found myself pedalling outside my comfort zone, fangirling local authors & attending literary events. I even followed them on social media. Eventually, by 2016, I joined two local writing groups.

Because I don’t drive a car, my cargobike was my everyday transport.  Equipped with a battery and a pedal-assist motor, I easily cycled to and from writing groups and writers’ events with ease.  My published works (non-fiction and artwork) reflected how integral cycling was in my writing life.

But there were limitations:  I couldn’t put my cargobike on to the train (due to its bigger-than-usual wooden box) and regional train operator V/Line would not guarantee a place in their cargo hold when I was keen to attend regional literary festivals.

 

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Christiania cargobike parked across the new Braybrook Hub

In 2017, the unexpected happened: my e-cargobike broke down and none of the west-side bicycle shops could fix it. To make matters worse, the distributor had moved interstate. Even a highly recommended, specialised bicycle shop located northside of Melbourne was unable to locate the fault.  I ended up only using the cargobike for school runs two blocks from home; and an old trike (which had sat in our garage for the longest time) became my kid-free ride.

My trips to attend different literary events became limited – I would cancel at the last minute when I realised I wouldn’t make it on time with my trike.   Share rides (Uber and Shebah) were options, but they ate up what little money I received as an emerging writer and carer—money that could have gone towards other necessities instead.

Braybrook Hub’s library became my sanctuary, my haven.  It was where I would write while my kids were in school, which was two blocks away.

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view from the state-of-the-art Braybrook library

I hope one day to own a step-through e-folding bicycle, to make my trips to writing group sessions and local literary events easier and more accessible.  I could even attend regional literary festivals, loading the e-folder with ease onto regional trains without worrying about space.

And as a writer of colour, regular attendance to different literary events would add diversity and representation (woman of colour/carer/disability/mental health) to a usually homogeneous audience.

For now, loading the trike on the local train during non-peak hours help me get to West Writers Group sessions at Footscray Community Art Centre just in the nick of time.

 

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Gomier trike

Cargobike and Writers Festivals

Thanks to Twitter, attending writing festivals began as an accidental affair.

It all started when I won a pair of tickets from bicycle magazine Treadlie for an event called Paperback Riders,  where books and bicycles, two of my favourite things, came together in an event so close to home. I couldn’t resist the lure of a fun, slow ride along Melbourne’s Maribyrnong River.

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23rd August 2014. Maribyrnong River, Footscray.

A couple of months later, I won a one-year subscription to Writers Victoria

An awareness of local writing events slowly bloomed; an attraction that was palpable, inviting, alluring even.  There were different writing festivals spread throughout the year, and ticket prices were very affordable, were heavily subsidised by generous event sponsors, and even offered concession rates.

In February 2015, Digital Writers Festival   offered session attendees the opportunity to participate from the comfort of their own homes, using their own computers and stable internet connection.
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Because I write romantic, shippy FanFiction, I signed up for their session “Writers’ Night School: Sex Writing” that helped fine-tune one of my het fanfic stories.

Around the same time, I began attending Life Drawing classes at Footscray Arts.  It was my dream to learn how to draw people. However, midway through the school year, I struggled to find a balance between writing FanFiction and drawing.  Why was it so difficult to find time practising my new drawing skills versus writing FanFiction, while parenting two young kiddies? Was this normal among parents with the creative streak?

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The answer to my constant confusion and struggle came in the form a tweet. My favourite artist Lily Mae Martin, whom I follow on Twitter, tweeted she would be in a panel discussion at Williamstown Literary Festival for a newly launched book edited  by Rachel Power, called Motherhood and Creativity: The Divided Heart

Without hesitation, I prepped my cargobike and pedalled my way to the seaside suburb of Williamstown.

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I never imagined I’d find answers to one of life’s questions through a writers festival. Armed with new insights (and a newly-signed book), the discovery that day was interesting, fascinating even.

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By August, Melbourne Writers Festival (MWF) had an amazing list of events that were either free or heavily-subsidised, concession priced tickets.  They even had weekend sessions that fit my schedule perfectly.

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With the recently-completed bicycle lanes in the west side of Melbourne, cargobiking all the way to Melbourne’s CBD was finally stress-free and easy.

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Parking the three-wheeled cargobike without the need for a bicycle rack / hoop.

One of the MWF sessions “The Art of Storytelling” piqued my interest straightaway. Not only was was the session led by memoirist Lee Kofman, the event was at a new library located at Docklands.

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22nd August 2015. Lee Kofman at Melbourne Writers Festival, Library at the Docks, Melbourne
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Cargobike parked outside Library at the Docks, Docklands, Melbourne

Also, I couldn’t miss the clever collaboration of MWF, Writers Victoria, and Romance Writers of Australia (RWA). Coinciding with RWA’s annual conference in Melbourne this year, MWF included sessions about the Romance genre.  I attended an event session “A Romantic Career” at the Wheeler Centre‘s Performance Space.

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22nd August 2015.  Romance novelists Australian Anne Gracie and American Mary Jo Putney in conversation with Kate Cuthbert. Wheeler Centre, Melbourne.

By November 2015, I’ve gone full circle.

Emboldened, I signed up to attend a series of writing workshops at Footscray Arts called “West Writers – Our Stories

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It was where I had my first taste and introduction into the world of literary journals, thanks to their workshop session led by Ellena Savage, editor of The Lifted Brow.

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The beauty of all these writing festivals was that even a carer / stay-at-home-mum, with minimal discretionary budget, could attend such intellectually stimulating events, without hurting the hip pocket; and all a cargobike ride away.

Thank you, Melbourne. You’re not only the most livable city in the world from 2011 to 2015, as a UNESCO City of Literature, you’re also a city for writers.

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I look forward to 2016 with more writing adventures beyond FanFiction.

My sanity

Today’s the last day of two weeks’ worth of school term break here in Australia.  All my bears are in bed now.  Finally, I have a bit of me-time, some quiet time, before another round of organised chaos begins tomorrow.

xoxoxoxo

When the first term of the school year concluded just before Easter holidays, we couldn’t believe we’d survived it.  The journey of firsts was epic:

Miss4yo started kindergarten.  She got sick first week of kindergarten.

Miss8yo, now Grade 3 / Year 3, is in an accelerated class.

And me, on the cargobike, shuttling two kids, with two different schedules in the local Kindergarten and Primary School.

Oh, and miss4’s multitude of appointments, with her different sessions from the Early Childhood Intervention Service providers, and medical appointments.

The bright spot in all the organised chaos, was my art therapy, my sanity.  Every Wednesday, I attended @FootscrayArts Life Drawing classes.

I’ve never done this before, and I shakily started drawing.  And when I got home, I would often find myself in tears.

Because I could never have imagined I would be drawing like this. Ever.  Not at age forty-one.  Not when all I’ve dreamed of since after finishing high school was a degree in Fine Arts (i was relegated to a business course at a prestigious catholic university instead)

But oh, the relief, the swelling of emotion, the joy, to get lost in the art, like time stood still for me.

Art was my sanity…

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…from a terrible federal government that reduced benefits and funding for families, children with disabilities, and carers.

We were told there wasn’t enough money / benefits / funding to go around.

Miss4yo, who despite being accepted in a normal / regular kindergarten, was granted only half of her kindergarten hours for a teacher’s aide.

Miss8yo’s primary school had their funding reduced (is it true that government schools only gets $100 per child?) and the Educational Maintenance Allowance was removed.

My respite hours were reduced. According to care service provider Mecwacare, the local council, City of Brimbank couldn’t any fund my extra hour of travel time to-and-from art school.  I emailed both council and service provider, appealing to maintain my meager four hours of respite, and the email replies I received left me in utter disbelief and despair: Brimbank denied they were paying the funding, mecwacare insisted otherwise, and they can’t do anything about it.

The final nail in the coffin, so to speak, was food budgeting. With the new Centrelink mobile app, we are now stringently required to report to them fortnightly, our family and carer benefits were reduced drastically, and the battle to stretch hubby’s once-a-month paycheck has – to put it mildly – gone critical.

The last few days before the fifteenth of every month seem to stretch on forever.

And as the millennials would say…

I can’t even. 

During the dark days when I feel I can’t even breathe, even after taking my SSRI meds for my mental health,

I turn to my inner fangirl, for that moment of escape, to push away the despair, madness and tears,

and draw Voltron Force   Fanart and write Voltron  FanFiction.

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My wonderful social worker Kate O, through her amazing resourcefulness, found a generous organisation to fund both my art class and my extra hour of respite. Thank you so much, for the much needed respite and relief, for that lifeline.  I am eagerly looking forward to Life Drawing Term 2.

Because #Melbourne

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I love Melbourne.

World’s Most Livable City, fourth year in a row

World’s Friendliest City 2014

voted as having the World’s Best Coffee 2014

I love my city, where I cargobike on its fledging, imperfect bicycle lanes;

I love my my local Twitter community, where we share common hashtags #wefo #Footscray #melbswest and #Melbourne:

they are all amazing and beautiful individuals:

those who cycle and advocate bicycle infrastructure;

fellow fangirls;

those who love coffee and chocolate;

 the local (cargobike-friendly) cafes

and their cafe owners who follow back on Twitter

and their scrumptious local food and superb coffee,

where I meet for tweetups, or have some me-time to write my fanfiction;

the amazing farmers and stall owners at the local farmers’ market.

I love fellow Melbournians, we can easily strike up a conversation with anyone, ask directions from anyone and openly help (especially when I get lost on many of my cargobike rides).

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Yes,

I have all the fluffy, lovely feelings right now, because of all the support I  received throughout this difficult year, that:

despite the current Australian government being a total arsehat 
by reducing carer, family, and disability funding, 
the effects of which we immediately felt in August 
when my respite hours were slashed without any warning;  

despite the threat of Medicare co-payment 
which raised my anxiety and blood pressure levels sky high; 

despite my daughter continue to battle 
the long-term effects of chemotherapy: 
her constantly low immunity levels 
on her second year of remission
from blood cancer;

despite my constant worry that she would 
relapse each time she struggles 
to get better and overcome any infection
And despite all the Twitter trolls and the nerd rage,

there is kindness in my world;

there are beautiful, amazing, and generous people whom I barely even know,

who send empathic tweets and direct messages during my mercurial days;

who are so supportive and even take time to tweetup despite my mercurial tweets.

who showed so much generosity in many different ways;

we say,

Thank you.

And finally, just want to share the art pieces I made this year,

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and an artwork I made for my first fanfiction editor @AHLondonTX

based from a handcrafted teapot by

Sydney potter Tanya Bechara @HopnFrogPottery

Thank you @CarersVictoria for funding this year’s art classes at @footscrayarts

Thank you @mecwacare for finding amazing carers for our smallest bear.

Thank you to my support worker from Specialist Children’s Services for finding funding for my respite hours.

Thank you.

Not done yet…

June 28, 2014 is not only our 12th wedding anniversary, it is also our younger daughter’s 2nd year of remission from cancer.

We’ve had a couple of close calls this year, as her blood counts remain ever so low.  This week was our toughest challenge to date:  she is battling a common cold/cough virus since winter started.  And despite antibiotics, it has been a slow crawl to recovery.  She also just received her first set of hearing aids.

So, we’re not done yet with cancer and her other special needs.

Which leads me to my art project, my beloved art therapy at @footscrayarts, funded by @carersvictoria.  Still not done.

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It’s getting there, but you can’t rush art.  I know I will eventually finish, and I’m already envisioning my next art project.

So, art…we’re done yet.  We’re still a work-in-progress.

And finally, fanfiction. (WTH is fanfiction anyway?)

My writing therapy. My multi-chapter fanfiction is nearly done, one more chapter and an epilogue.  But the fanfiction universe I’m building, is not yet complete.  Will eventually complete the story arc.  But, like everything else, it’ll take time.

I know…I’m slow.  I love slow.  There’s even a slow movement out there, if you’d like to know.

I can only do one day at a time, I don’t even know what tomorrow will bring.

All I know one thing.

I’m not done yet.

 

#WorkInProgress

One more art class / session left and my two girls are still nowhere near complete.

ooooo

Love constant learning.
Subtly adjusting,
slowly
steadily
you’ll see two siblings.

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This project is different,
they’re my children you see;
I love them both so tenderly.
I know them by heart
thus i’ve chosen as
models for my art:

A toddler with Down Syndrome
who has gone thru open heart surgery,
has hearing impairment and cancer.
And despite all that,
little miss3yo is such a trouper.
She especially loves and adores
her big sister.

ooooo

Looks like i need go to back to for school year Term2 to complete this art project.

til next update,

let’s make good art.

Art is back!

Aaaaand we’re back!

Thank you @CarersVictoria for funding Term1 school fee for Advance Drawing and Painting at @FootscrayArts

and

thank you @mecwacare for respite while I mindfully savour / relish and enjoy my art therapy.

This school term, I began once again with daunting blank page *gulps*

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My project this term will be “Two Girls”.  But they are not just any two random girls. These two bears are my daughters (ages 7.5yo and 3.5yo when the photo was taken).

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And this year’s muse (aka inspiration to draw) is straight from my favourite fandom Voltron, from the ongoing Voltron / Robotech crossover comics. The bright anime-style art by Elmer Damaso continues to make #KeithAndAllura fans and shippers around the world swoon.

Here is my latest anime art selfie (giggles)

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Apart from drawing, I continue to write Voltron Force fanfiction with hubby Chris (who continues to draw #Voltron Force fan comics / fanart)

And while our littlest bear has Down Syndrome and cancer,  she was officially declared with hearing impairment late last year and currently required to wear a hearing aid headband.

Both drawing and writing are helping to keep me me sane with littlest bear’s bazillion medical appointments and home sessions with Aurora School for the Deaf.

Two Boys were framed

We took time off this third term from art class as bub hasn’t been well much of winter (June-August is winter in southern hemisphere).

And my two boys have been hanging around for nearly two weeks now at @FootscrayArts Gabriel Gallery

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So, bub and I cargobiked our way to Footscray

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(with stunning view of the Maribyrnong River and Melbourne)

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visited ‘lil Keith and ‘lil Lance and saw their handsome cheeky faces all framed and on exhibit.

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My very first art exhibit ever (^o^)

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Thank you @carersvictoria for art therapy.  Hope bub will be well enough by springtime so i can continue do make good art (^o^)