I saw this tweet from my colleague Kumi and like many of you, I connected with the sentiment she expressed.
A few years I was doing a Q&A with Rosie Batty at a conference. One of the things that stuck with me was something along the lines of how she had always feared losing her only son, Luke. And then the unimaginable happened; Luke was killed by his father.
The Kelly family, like Rosie has been through the unimaginable.
Hearing about the attack on Thomas Kelly in July 2012 felt sickening.
That his younger brother Stuart would take his own life in 2016 was another incredibly cruel low for the Kelly family. How could such loss strike twice?
At the time I hadn’t followed the events between Thomas’ death and Stuart’s suicide too closely, but I know about these events intimately now, having read Too Late Too Soon, Kathy and Ralph Kelly’s blistering, heart-breaking book which has just been launched.
Two weeks ago I interviewed Kathy for One Plus One which airs this Friday on ABCTV.
When I heard my show had been offered the interview with Kathy, a part of me froze.
How was I supposed to face a woman who had been through the unimaginable. Twice.
First I had to deal with my own dread. What if something like that happened to my family? How would we survive? What would it be like emersing myself into Kathy’s world? How does anyone move on?
I read the book from cover to cover. The first chapter ends with Thomas’ death. It had a pace that puts you right in the scene. And it was utterly harrowing. I put the manuscript down and cried.
But as I progressed through the story, scribbling my thoughts down in the margins, the sense of dread receded. I searched for anchors. There are many experiences in the nearly 500 interviews I've done and the places I've travelled to. I've had friends and family who have stories of great suffering and great restoration. As I crafted my questions, I read poetry (mainly Mary Oliver) about loss and meaning. I read up on resilience, and noted how Kathy said she and her husband Ralph dealt with grief in different ways.
I now had a pathway. I tidied the questions into a neatish road with a beginning, middle and end.
I’ll never be ready, I thought. But then I never think I am.
I’m usually thinking up questions to the last possible moment.
Before I knew it, interview day had arrived and Kathy appeared in the studio. We chatted briefly. She was cheerful and seemed to be in a good place. I liked her instantly.
Did I hit the mark with the interview?
I’m never the best judge. But now when I think of Kathy I don’t think of her as a sad person with incomprehensible loss weighing her down. She is someone with multiple dimensions. I think of her walking the dogs in the park. I think of a partnership she's held together, of nurturing her daughter Madeleine. I imagine her having dark moments as well as times of clarity and lightness and joy.
For me that feels better than the cocoon of sympathy we sometimes wrap people in.
One of the highlights of the Sea Stones & Stories tour, as we prepare to leave Tel Aviv, was the home of former Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion.
Most of the Tel Aviv house is now home to Ben Gurion's library.
The founding Prime Minister was, like many leaders, an insomniac. He collected more than 22,000 books in eleven languages! Our young guide said he taught himself so many languages because he believed it was important to read a book in the language in which it was written.
Other facts about Ben Gurion which I enjoyed, the gnome-like leader practised Feldenkrais and was taught to do a headstand. Apparently he summoned the media to the beach so they could capture him posing. The buff gentleman in the background is his bodyguard.
We heard so many glowing things about DBG I asked whether, apart from being a great Prime Minister, he was a good husband and father.
Our young guide admitted that he was not.
A book about Ben Gurion's private life, published this year by historian Tom Segev, poses the question "if the leader isn’t faithful to his wife, maybe he’s not faithful to his voters, either".
I enjoyed the peek into his shrine former home. It made me think about the creation of myths. They abound in this land.
I recently went to the 2018 Byron Writers Festival as a guest moderator. I planned to use my downtime to write. A children’s novel. Very early stages.
The hotel had a resident dragon to keep us entertained and two of my favourite things for breakfast: sourdough bread and peanut butter.
But something in me shifted. Maybe it was the magnificence of the lighthouse. Or the encouraging warmth of the air. Something was telling me NOT to shut myself in a room and tap away on a laptop.
It wasn’t the time to be a hermit. I was meant to connect with other people and take in their wisdom. This was no time to hide.
Here are some of my Byron encounters:
Selina had the best job title of anyone: New Zealand Poet Laureate. We talked about finding time to write. She talked of gifts, or objects that tell us stories. She left me with ideas and two recommendations:
I met another poet. His name is Lemn Sissay and he took my breath away performing his razor-sharp poem Hanging On, to an audience under the marquee. I like the way he pronounces the 'g' in the middle of 'hanging'.
Alas, I didn’t write my novel, but I met 97 year old Nina who’s a One Plus One fan… she told me that if there’s a stem of roses covered in thorns, she only ever sees the roses. I’m glad I listened to the universe.
This morning I reading two profile pieces which held my attention and moved me profoundly. One was an appreciation of Professor Stephen Hawking, the physicist who died this past week (Cerebral Celebrity, The Australian by Dennis Overbye - paywalled).
The other article was a profile (by Jane Cadzow) of journalist and author Cynthia Banham. Her new book, A Certain Light (which I haven't read), in part details the terrible 2007 plane crash in Indonesia in which she nearly died. More importantly, it details her recovery from severe injuries including the amputation of her legs while she spent three months in a Perth burns unit.
I did not have the opportunity to interview Stephen Hawking. I would like to interview Cynthia, although I'm not sure at the time of me writing whether she's agreeable. I can imagine how difficult it would be to talk about her experiences, so the profile may be the closest I get to her.
What moved me about the stories was a sense of wonder about survival and and an acknowledgement that life doesn't always go the way you want it to.
Earlier this week, I read how Hawking lost his ability to speak more than three decades ago after a tracheotomy. This was related to complications in his condition, motor neurone disease, which he was diagnosed with at the age of 21. He told the BBC that after the operation he had considered committing suicide by not breathing, but he said:
the reflex to breathe was too strong.
Cynthia Banham says in the Sydney Morning Herald profile that she often imagines seeing the two Australians sitting on either side of her, who perished in the crash. They were journalist Morgan Mellish and diplomat Liz O'Neill.
It's like they occupy those places on either side of me permanently now." She keeps in touch with O'Neill's husband and daughter. She often imagines she sees Mellish's face in the street.
And then this about the nature of tragedy.
Actually there is tragedy everywhere you look...you can find it very easily in certain countries overseas but even when you look in your own very privileged country, it is there in every family. Whether it's cancer or mental illness or misfortune of some kind. Losing a child. Whatever. It's everywhere. And actually that's the way life is.
Life as I knew it took a vibrant twist when I left Hong Kong and became a communications student at Mitchell College (Charles Sturt University) in the 1980's. Bathurst was a long way from Hong Kong. At first I kept the curtains in my room firmly shut, because the wide-open field outside my dorm window was too confronting.
Within a few weeks, however, I had friends and that made all the difference to the girl from Hong Kong.
Without a doubt, the most terrifying person at Mitchell was our writing lecturer Peter Temple.
Peering from behind his glasses as if he were gazing out of a window, he had this soft South African accent and a laugh that was more a whinny. Likeable yet fearsome, he was by far the toughest of our lecturers.
Peter Temple used to leave our corrected assignments outside his office. The door was always shut. One day, I arrived to see a student named Tim pick up his assignment. He searched for the mark on the back page of the assignment and then began to shout abuse and kick Peter's door. Clearly, his assignment had failed to impress our writing lecturer.
"You bastard!" Tim cried as his foot pounded the wood, echoing down the hallway.
Suddenly, the door opened. I don't know why, but it had never occurred to me that when Peter's door was closed, he was actually in there.
Tim was taken aback too. He was a tall man, but Peter stepped forward, unafraid.
"Fuck off." Peter said, as if Tim was an annoying fly.
And then the tutor retreated into his room, closing the door behind him.
Years after I left Mitchell College, I started to see Peter's name in the headlines. He quickly rose to become a brilliant crime writer. Many of his books became TV series. I particularly enjoyed The Broken Shore. He was so economical with his descriptions and his stories kept you on the edge. Imagine having to suffer students like me.
It's at this point I have to post some of the pertinent and hilarious comments he wrote on my major writing assignment (on my favourite subject: chocolate) at the end of my first year:
I didn't get a brilliant mark (65% when 55% was a pass, if I remember correctly) but I passed and without that, I wouldn't have moved into Year 2 of my degree.
In 2014, I blogged about the chocolate assignment after reminiscing with my first Mitchell College friend and now crime and romance author Jaye Ford.
A few days after my blog, incredibly, I received an email from Peter Temple.
The subject heading was "chocolate box".
Just when you thought you'd got over it, someone mentions that first assignment ...
I think about it every time I see you on the box.
I was gobsmacked. At the time, apart from presenting my interview show One Plus One, I had embarked on my second book China Baby Love, but wasn't sure I'd make it to the end. This is how I replied.
Great to hear from you Peter.
I’m still a struggling writer, but it’s becoming more important for me to write. I’m not sure why.
Always grateful for the first 65%
All the best, Jane
And then he wrote this drops of magic.
Imagine being remembered only for your face or your voice?
Writing is a puny lunge at immortality.
Nice word, puny. PT
That was our one and only exchange after Mitchell College. I will treasure it. #ValePeterTemple.
The question I get asked most about One Plus One is how do we choose our guests?
We do around forty-four interviews a year. We have a big wish-list and then lots of other fascinating names came forward too, all worthy of attention in their own way which, in our estimation, can hold the television viewer’s attention for 30 minutes. The guests are drawn from a variety of sources selected by producer Barbie Dutter and me.
This week my guest is Indian comedian Vir Das and I was lucky enough to speak to him hours after he stepped of a plane on his first ever visit to Australia. He's on his first international tour, performing in Sydney and Melbourne (May 18 - 27).
In preparation for the interview I watched Vir's hilarious Netflix show Abroad Understanding. I read widely and watched his You Tube channel, where there are some very touching videos. Every year around exam time, he does a video for school-kids. There's a worrying suicide-rate among Indian school-children because of exam pressure.
I was very interested in the movie 31st October based on the anti-Sikh protests after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Via played a serious dramatic role in that art-house film but he’s also a familiar Bollywood actor.
India has always fascinated me. In fact, it was the first country I fell for, even before China. Maybe because I grew up in colonial Hong Kong, I enjoyed books about the English view of colonial life: Heat and Dust, A Passage to India and I particularly enjoyed Sarah Lloyd’s An Indian Attachment (and later Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance).
However, on my first visit to India - when I was nineteen - I was shocked by the poverty. One day my brother and I bought some cakes in Delhi’s Connaught Place. I carried them in a box, suspended in a plastic bag. As we walked around I could feel something hitting my leg, but when I turned around in that tight sea of humanity, I couldn’t see what was knocking me. Something hit me again and this time I looked down. It was a person. A legless person. A legless, handless person whose arms finished near the elbows - in stumps. The person made eye contact with me then pointed to the plastic bag. The one holding the cakes. I handed it over immediately.
Apart from poverty I’d seen in Hong Kong (yes, there was much poverty in the seventies and early eighties) I had not experienced anything like India. And yet I loved it. It was so... alive!
Now the sub-continent is a whole new world from the place I experienced in the 1980’s.
It has 1.3 billion people but still, there are great divisions between the wealthy, the middle-class and those who dwell in slums.
A few hours before Vir arrived for the interview I went to the BBC website to see what was making news in India. Sadly, the main story was about rape and whether Indian doctor would allow a 10 year old rape victim to have an abortion. The 2012 gang rape of Jyoti Singh Pandey still looms large in my mind.
So, mingling in with the research I had done, these were some of the issues playing in my mind when I sat down to interview Vir. He admits he speaks from a perspective of privilege. And I interviewed a comedian for some light relief, right? But my head is still awash with more questions that I need to unravel for myself over the next few days, through books, news, discussion. Vir Das opened a door.
(Photo credits: Vir Das and Jane - Tom Hancock, Sadhu - Jane Hutcheon, Protest - Getty Images)