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You slid into this world in the early hours of the morning, your skin like curdled milk. raw milkThey placed you on my chest and you burrowed, sure of your place. A part of me leaked out, and they mopped it up with strips of cloth soaking with my blood. You were so floppy, a baby made of dough, your dark eyes peering into me, into the fear and darkness gathering inside.

You knew me.
I didn’t know you.

You searched, found my breast, sucked. You were clumsy and desperate. I was desperate for you to stop. Every time you sucked, my stomach contracted, as if being cleaved by knives. It’s normal, they said, your womb is inching back to place. I squeezed my eyes shut until you stopped and became a lump on my chest again. We lay there, long after the room cooled down and the obstetrician left with his shiny tools that stitched me back together, but not whole.

We got you home, twenty-five grams heavier, with their warnings ringing like sirens. We were to raise you in three-hour blocks, to fatten your lanky body with formula and colostrum that we scraped off my nipple with spoons. Feed. Pump my breasts. Put you to sleep. Feed. Pump my breasts. Put you to sleep. You wouldn’t latch on the right way when my milk came in, and my nipples cracked, my ducts got blocked. Cabbage leaves cupped my inflamed breasts. My body was raw tissue renewing itself without me.

Your daddy held you with a certainty that I should have had. You and I had fed off each other for nine months, after all, the two of us connected. We were skin and bones and awkward angles. Yet when I held you, my hands shook, as if you were going to slip through my fingers. The fear of losing you was a tangible thing. It stalked my days along with the loss of your sibling who flowed out of me at ten weeks gestation.

They will take you away from me.

The thought squeezed my throat one morning when your daddy was downstairs washing dishes, the chink of cutlery rising with the shadows in the room. You were sleeping in the bassinet beside my bed, safe. But what if you weren’t safe with me? I gasped for breath, reached for my notepad, spewed out my thoughts. What if my milk wasn’t enough for you to grow? What if they thought I was crazy? Why would they trust me with a baby when I couldn’t trust my own thoughts? I plunged rebuttals onto the page, pierced the fear with truths.They’re just thoughts. They’re not real. They’re just thoughts. I had overthrown them before, I would again. My fears would not destroy the miracle of you.

But the thoughts were still there at night when I called my psychologist. You are at your most vulnerable, she said. I cradled the phone in one hand, and you in the other. You were sucking again, my nipple up in flames. We knew this might happen, she continued. This is uncharted territory, but you are prepared for it. You are equipped to handle it.

I can handle it.

I held onto that thought, held onto you in the shifting fog. I breathed in your foreign smell. Instead of lullabies, I sang you questions and affirmations. “Zara, are you my baby? I love you, you are my baby,” familiarising my mouth with your name. I breathed you in until your musky scented hair filled my lungs. In two three. Out two three. I inhaled you until my heart rate decreased and your smell seeped into my skin.

When your daddy went back to work,we clung to each other on the couch, our days moving to a familiar rhythm. My fatigued eyes searched yours for an anchor but it was the crease on your forehead, the same frown that punctuated my brow since the day I was born that loosened the fear in my gut. You were a piece of me, foreign yet familiar, the same curiosity and bewilderment etched onto your skin. My singing became assured, my words firm, unyielding. “Zara you are my baby, I love you, you are my baby.” I sang until the fog scattered and I came up for air. I gathered you in my arms, held you to the new part of me, the one that slid into the world beside you the day you were born.

 

First published in The Big Issue’s 586 edition.

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He doesn’t want to go.

His eyes are slightly open when he sleeps, leaving the windows to his soul ajar, so death can escape. His eyes are slightly open, letting the light in so his heart does not beat in the shadows of the tumour that’s rising like a boulder, hardening his belly.

 

He doesn’t want to go.

His rosary beads dangle from his branchlike fingers, a purple lifeline he winds around him. He turns breath into prayers and they bubble silently from his lips, seep into the air we all breathe.

 

He doesn’t want to go.

He holds my daughter’s hand, walking her around the lounge room, their feet shuffling. Grounding them in a moment that will fade from her memory but not her skin.

 

He doesn’t want to go.

So his body is on trial. His veins flow with new medication, testing his limbs while hope burrows inside him, promising one more day. To breathe his wife in as they lie on the makeshift bed in the lounge room that does not close in on him.

 

He doesn’t want to go.

So he eats with his mouth but he tastes with his eyes. He imagines the flavours bursting on his tongue as he spoons my plain fried rice into his mouth. He remembers the streak of spices that he washed off plates in Paris restaurants when he was a new groom, and the leftovers he packed in containers to share with his wife.

 

He doesn’t want to go.

His wife goes to Mass and brings home the Body of Christ wafer in a gold rimmed box. It melts on his tongue.

He wheels my daughter around the lounge room on the seat of his walking frame, his wife shadowing his fragile steps.

 

He doesn’t want to go.

His son massages his head, his skin collecting like grooves in the sand.

His daughter makes chicken vegetable pie that he eats with enthusiasm. It tastes of love on his tongue.

His son in law listens to him as he speaks of his childhood in Pakistan that smelt of worn out plastic shoes.

His wife dusts his worries and his fears and collects them inside her.

 

He doesn’t want to go.

His beanie keeps his head warm as the nurse sits beside him in the lounge room and drains fluid from his stomach.

He swallows the pain as his belly deflates. I massage baby oil onto his skin and it sucks it up like chapped earth.

 

He doesn’t want to go.

His smile lifts his tired eyes as he gives his family hoarse instructions on how to make Nihari, his signature dish. He directs us from his bed with gloved fingers. We scramble about, writing down his recipe, frying the meat, letting it simmer for hours, so that once a year we can recreate a piece of him.

 

He doesn’t want to go.

So he swallows the medication, knowing it will get caught in his throat.

We rub his neck, lift him up, knead his back to coax it down.

 

He doesn’t want to go.

He clings to his son’s neck as he lifts him up off the bed and onto the couch. The heat pack loosens the knot in his stomach as he writes his own prayers in a yellow A4 notebook. We are penciled between the pages and he breathes us out every night when he prays, even after his mouth stops producing sound.

 

We don’t want him to go.

“I’m tired,” he mouths, his hand caressing his face in slow motion. He signs the cross on his chest and lays his head on the pillow. We sit by his side, hold his hand, and wait, the air thick with our tears and singing.

 

In loving memory of Stanley Lobo

RIP – 29/12/1946 – 13/8/2018

 

 

Footscray childhood flavours literary award winner

AWARD-WINNING AUTHOR DEMET DIVAROREN WITH HER WINNING NOVEL.
PHOTO BY CONNOR TOMAS O’BRIEN

 

Growing up in Footscray, Demet Divaroren was an avid bookworm.

Yet there was one story she never came across – her own upbringing as a Turkish Australian.

Divaroren set out to create a story that rang true to her own multicultural childhood.

The result – a novel called Living on Hope Street – last week was named the winner of the Young Adult category of the 2018 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards.

“I can’t wrap my head around it,” Divaroren said of the win. “It just feels like it’s happening to someone else, but it is very exciting.”

Her love of books meant Divaroren always intended to work with words.

“I was inspired to write through words and through other people’s stories in novels,” she said. “One day I just thought, ‘This is what I want to do, this is how I want to make people feel’.

“I like to work with identity and explore identity, especially in multicultural Australia, because there really is no one way of being Australian – our diversity is our strength.”

Divaroren said the voices of her characters range from seven to 70 and she hopes her stories are accessible to young people and adults alike, but when she starts writing the voice that appears in most of her stories is a young voice.

“Those years for me are so still alive and a part of my everyday life, I kind of identify and feel those vulnerabilities and insecurities and fears, all of those things that shape us when we’re younger and are part of who I am now,” she said.

Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta was the first book to come close to her own world, but Divaroren suggests there is still a big gap in diversity in fiction in Australia.

“I have tried to fill that gap as best I can, not just through a Turkish Australian voice, but through diverse voices… I’m trying to raise the voices that haven’t previously had much exposure in the mainstream.”

Divaroren said she had seen some improvements in society’s understanding of young people from diverse backgrounds, but she said the panic around the so-called “African gang crisis” was quite damaging for innocent youth tarred with the same brush.

“Regardless of background, we need a stronger dialogue, we need to be listening to what they’re experiencing,” she said.

“I just feel like dialogue is everything, language is everything, so we really need to be careful how we speak to the youth and be careful that our language doesn’t alienate them and make them the ‘other’.”

As I write this, you are kicking and shimmying inside me, stretching me out of my skin, preparing me for your birth and mine.

Your moves are jerky and random like your father’s dancing. You may or may not inherit his cinnamon skin or my crazy hair but I know that we will inherit much more from you.

I promise to try and not look for pieces of us in you. You are your own person. While you’re a part of our flesh, you are not us.

You are human, and have within you the wisdom and knowledge of the universe and I will help you uncover who you are while you teach me what you know.

I promise to help you unfurl your wings but won’t push you to fly.

I will show you that happiness can be found in doing what you love but will be your cheer squad if you go searching for it elsewhere.

I will lead by example and show you how creativity and passion can set fire to the soul and light the way to a fulfilling life.

I will teach you that kindness is a form of prayer and it starts with the gift of your smile.

I promise to keep these promises. But if I slip up or lose my way, if I smother you with unconditional love or add some conditions, please be patient with me. Mum’s learning too.

I was recently interviewed by the lovely Nadia L King as part of her Writer Talks blog series about the turbulent yet wonderful journey that is writing.

 

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“Self-belief is everything. It’s the hand that mends your broken heart after a rejection. It’s the glue that keeps your butt on the seat to finish a first draft then rewrite it again and again. Self-belief is infectious. Once you believe in yourself, others believe in you.”

 

Demet Divaroren was born on a couch in a small village in Adana, Turkey and migrated to Australia when she was six months old. She is a Melbourne-based writer, editor and creative writing teacher. Her writing has appeared in ‘Griffith REVIEW’, ‘Island’ magazine, ‘The Age Epicure’, ‘The Big Issue’ and ‘From the Outer’. She is the co-editor of the ‘Coming of Age: Growing up Muslim in Australia’ anthology which was shortlisted for CBCA’s Book of the Year award. Her first novel ‘Living on Hope’ will be published by Allen and Unwin in 2017.

 

NLK: How did you get started as a writer?

DD: I came to writing through reading. As a teenager I was obsessed with books. I had a book hangover nearly everyday and would turn up to school still floating in the worlds the writer had created. When I was 24, I spent a month reading Jean M. Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear series. I remember finishing the last book and feeling so inspired by her writing that I jumped out of bed, ran to the lounge and declared, ‘I’m going to be a writer.’ I knew right then and there that I wanted to create worlds, characters, voices that made people feel; that were hard to ignore. So I enrolled in a Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing at Victoria University.

 

NLK: What was the biggest obstacle you faced in becoming a writer?

DD: My biggest obstacle when I was first starting out was that there were no Australian writers in the mainstream world from a Turkish background. I had to give myself permission to be out there and carve myself a path and a place. It wasn’t long before I realised that the main prerequisite to becoming a writer was to love the craft, which is what all writers have in common.

 

NLK: As a writer, how important is self-belief?

DD: Self-belief is everything. It’s the hand that mends your broken heart after a rejection. It’s the glue that keeps your butt on the seat to finish a first draft then rewrite it again and again. Self-belief is infectious. Once you believe in yourself, others believe in you.

 

NLK: Identity is an important theme for you. How much does it shape your writing?

DD: Identity is an organic thing. It changes over time. I love to explore the many layers that shape who we are, who we were and the fixed core attributes that define us. I especially love to explore the Australian identity. In a multicultural country, what is it that connects us as Aussies beyond the many labels? In 2014, I co-edited an anthology titled Coming of Age: Growing up Muslim in Australia (Allen and Unwin) a collection of twelve stories about the complexities of growing up with ethnic and Muslim backgrounds and forging an identity in multicultural Australia.Coming of Age strips back the stereotypes to give young people from all faiths and cultures tools to help them in their own journeys of reconciling their identities.

 

NLK: What’s the most important thing you teach your creative writing students at Victoria Polytechnic (VU)?

DD: Besides from make writing a habit, I’d say create characters from the inside out. Characterisation is the key to writing an authentic story. A character with an internal world and a past, a character who has wants, fears, dreams, hopes, disappointments and aspirations is multidimensional, relatable and believable. Knowing your character inside out will help you uncover the story’s plot.

 

NLK: Tell us a little about Living on Hope.

DD: Living on Hope is the third novel I’ve written but the first to be published. I was sitting at the hairdresser when I first heard my main character’s voice. ‘When Dad broke Mum,’ he said and that was enough of a hook for me to work backwards and ask questions to understand his world and find his story. Living on Hope started as dual narrators and grew into a multi-perspective story set in working class Melbourne. It follows the struggles, clashes and connections of seven residents of Hope Street. It delves beyond stereotypes to explore themes of intergenerational violence, cross-cultural friendships, class and multiculturalism.

 

Extract from Demet’s short story Hindsight.

The colds are here.

The windows rattle and there’s a whistling coming from the hole in the plastic covering. I wipe snot from my lip and follow the heat to the end of the room. The wood crackles in the stone hearth. I smell Grandma Farah’s wet hair fresh like mud. She chinks a ladle against the pot, her whispering mixing with the snapping of twigs in the fire.

I stand in front of her hunched body and warm my hands over the pot of milk. She is fuzzy, like everything, but I make out two blurred plaits on her chest. They are long, the size of three of my hands connected. I hear her quick stirring and smell the milky breath of her whispers.

“You left us too soon,” she says to empty space.

She is speaking to Baba. I know he’s here. He is the warmness that tickles my neck. Her words paint him; they are his arms, his legs and his heart that no longer beats.

© Demet Divaroren

 

Website: www.demetdivaroren.com

Instagram @demetdivaroren

 

 

Blog picBroadmeadows Shopping Centre was packed with bargain hunters the day Barbie moved in. Prams and trolleys dodged human traffic and people rushed past oblivious to the twisting in my guts. In the left hand corner of a brightly lit shop, plastic limbs cluttered the space where Angus and Robertson’s top 100 books used to be. Barbie and friends now lived where Jean M Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear series had lured me into a fictional world and inspired me to write. A sense of loss tailgated me for the rest of the day like a shadow.

Things were changing.

Younger cousins were balancing alternate realities, their bodies firmly planted in the lounge room, their eyes and ears immersed in IPads. “Hi Demi,” they’d yell when the colourful devices were miraculously absent. “We’ve missed you!” Hugs lasted till IPads beeped. “The pie’s ready!” they’d say, flying out of my arms and into artificial restaurants. Just like smartphones have changed the way we communicate, printed books are facing a similar challenge. While Ebooks are portable, light, cheap and accessible, some things are irreplaceable. Curling up with a printed book, coffee in hand, staining it in your haste to get to the next page. That surge of excitement upon entering a bookshop or library where worlds and possibilities surround your physical space.

Reading is an intimate act that requires physical, emotional and mental connection. I choose to have no technological barriers in my experience and I’m not the only one. There’s a big digital readership but that doesn’t necessarily mean that printed books will be forced into retirement. E-books offer readers wider access to books. As a writer, I couldn’t ask for a better agreement. As a reader I choose stained pages and curled ends.

 

 A version of this post first appeared in Verity La.

 

I found a heart in Melbourne city. It was red and shiny, painted on a black door on a grimy wall. “Everything for Love” was etched at the bottom near a keyhole. I ignored the man fiddling with his camera, inched closer, felt around for a key. Nothing budged. I moved away, fascinated. I’d left home that morning wanting to be inspired by our city’s street culture. What I found was the heart of Melbourne beating in a little gothic lane called Centre Place. Tucked between the labyrinth of congested streets, this lane is home to cosy cafes, inspiring street art, and the Sacred Heart.

The rusted metallic sign at the entrance of Centre Place offers an eerie welcome to a gloomy lane full of contrasts. Once you walk down the narrow path, past the cafes reeking of coffee, the pretty boutique stores, the metallic apartment balconies, it’s hard not to be awed by the diversity cramped in such a small space. Centre place is pretty, it’s warm, it’s gothic with charcoal walls. But once you reach the adjoining lane at the end, Centre Place explodes with colour. The lane’s gloominess is swallowed by green, orange, pink graffiti that cover walls and garbage bins. Orange milk crates are scattered around like marbles providing businessmen and women a place to rest at lunch. Here, image is a mess of colours and pictures on a backstreet wall. We’ve reached the “the heart of the city” as the graffiti dictates near a giant green fist. But look carefully because it’s easy to miss. It’s there on the opposite wall near the entrance of Centre Place Arcade, the heart on a black door. “Le Sacre Coeur,” the Sacred Heart was made for Melbourne architect Paula Birch by jeweller boyfriend Kane Greenhatch. Kane created 12 clues, gave Paula a key and sent her on a hunt around the streets of Melbourne that eventually lead her to this heart fixed among graffiti, colour and peeling posters.

An orchestral revolutionary concerto suit in 12 movements, darling, my opus to you. I have raised my hands to conduct. Keep close the key or the many doors will not open. With this message, Kane launched Paula into a two week hunt for the Sacred Heart. “When Paula moved to Melbourne she felt like she didn’t belong so I created a place for her,” Kane said, as we cramped around a small table opposite the heart. “This is her place.” I settled on the creaky stool near a garbage bin, awed by his gesture. This lane with its eccentric shops and groovy cafes was more than a canvas for street artists, it whispered stories.  Embedded on the wall near words of peace, balance and harmony is a door cementing a place for a friend and lover. “It’s a beautiful symbol of love and hope,” I said, nodding towards the heart. I fiddled with the clues I’d found online at Paula Birch’s website and was itching to decode them, to follow them around Melbourne the way she had a year and a half ago. The first clue led Paula to South Melbourne. Clarke and York Streets…Keys to lock things in, keys to lock things out. There Paula found a locked cupboard door. Her task was to find the screwdriver and take the door to Mario’s Cafe on Brunswick St Fitzroy. You and your door have a booking at the front bar. You must order a drink. You must leave the door behind you. Leave the key in the lock. Be exactly who you are and all the painted veils you will always see through. This is movement number two.

The lunchtime crowd rushed past, and a girl settled in a shabby archway near Centre Place Arcade. Kane’s sixth clue transported me to Toorak Road where Paula had to pick up onyx, silver, ivory, gold and diamond hearts from a jewellery shop and put them in a vial. Find the shop and the total weight of these hearts you must. Sometimes the most precious things we have we cannot hold or see. Movement number seven this shall be. From glamorous Toorak Road to grungy Brunswick Street, Kane enveloped the city with his love. When Paula finally got to the Sacred Heart and opened the door, she found a silver chain with a container for the vial of hearts. Carry safe my hearts and key was Kane’s concluding line. “It’s so romantic and creative,” I mumbled, taking notes, “so rare these days.” Kane shifted in his seat, sipped his beer. “No it’s not,” he said, “it’s a tragedy. We’re not together anymore.” Oh. Just as quickly as they’d arrived, the love hearts that were colouring this lane scattered like confetti. The gloom returned like a dark fog. Kane’s smile was thin and heavy with emotion. “I’m sorry,” I said, eyeballing the heart. I was no longer tracking a love story in a Melbourne laneway; I’d trespassed onto someone’s heartache and disappointment. I was so seduced by the Sacred Heart that I didn’t stop to think that hearts can break.

An awkward silence muted the noisy lane. Centre Place kept shifting. A part of me was pissed off. I felt cheated. I looked around, at the worn typewriter keys stuck haphazardly above the bin, at the cartoon of men parachuting down the walls, at the political propaganda staining the lane, at the painting of an Asian girl nuzzling a boy’s cheek. Centre Place was not the perfect setting for a love story. It was rough, it was ratty, and it was real. Just like the Sacred Heart. Kane looked at the door, shook his head.  “They vandalise it sometimes.” His hands curled around the beer bottle. “But we fix it up with paint and nail polish.” I smiled at these words. The surface of the heart was not smooth, it was patchy with maintenance. “We both still have a key,” he said, with a hint of a smile. “We leave random gifts for each other sometimes.” And once again, Centre Place flooded with hope. Faith crept beyond the cracked walls and peeling paint to bind two people together. This tattered heart wasn’t sacred for its shiny surface but for its courage. Here’s a heart that wasn’t afraid to see beyond the flaws, to take a risk, to have the guts to explore love and nurture it.

When I left Centre Place it was with a little more courage. Here’s a lane where risks are taken with the stroke of a brush, with words, with pictures, with open hearts. Centre Place is gritty, stinky, and beautiful. It’s dark, it’s light, and it’s grey with untold stories. I uncovered the Sacred Heart, and in a way, it uncovered me.