25 November 2013

Life lately

Life's good. And I have writer's block. Does this happen to you too? Does your writing flow stop when your life feels full?
I saw Paul Kelly talk about songwriting and play a few songs yesterday. He's so smart, funny and generous. It was a privilege to see him in an intimate setting. He said that songwriting can be like fishing - you just show up and wait for something to happen. I feel like that sometimes.
Life's full, I feel like I have not stopped for two weeks. There's been social events, travel, friends, adapting to life with a boyfriend, trying to fit the gym in and working at learning a new day job.
I've had Fridayology stay with me for three days - we met blogging and it seems like we've knowneach other forever. It was so great to spend time talking to her in person, finally.
Found a great restaurant on Saturday night - Miss Katie's Crab Shack - amazing American food. We had the crab broil with corn, chorizo and garlic butter, plus corn bread and chips with blue cheese sauce. It was wonderful - cheap and fresh. The seafood is sourced from Queen Victoria Markets.
Dinner is served on newspaper and there is a complimentary bib to save clothing from crab spills.

Miss Katie's Crab Shack on Urbanspoon

Also, these sunglasses came in the mail. I think they're a little bit cool and a lot ridiculous. I feel like Dame Edna and Elton John. Hello possums! (You can buy these from ASOS.)

Life's good and I'm happy. I'm getting plenty of hugs and he's making me smile.

What about you? How's life for you?


22 November 2013

I won a Yooralla Media Award!

On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week I was in Canberra for a very special event. My Mum was my guest. I was one of the winners of the Yooralla Media Awards. The awards were held at the National Press Club, and hosted by The Project's Charlie Pickering. The awards were attended by the shadow Disability Minister Jenny Macklin and Disability Commissioner Graeme Innes. Following the ceremony, Senator Mitch Fifield gave the National Press Club address.

I was a joint winner of the best online commentary for a body of work (I won the text category).


It was such an honour to win in the company of talented and socially conscious journalists from the ABC, SBS, Channel 7, Channel 10 and other publishers. I felt like a real journalist! And I made some great new friends there.

Graeme Innes reiterated one of the winners' comments that "disability reporting has moved from adversity to diversity". The winning entires showed honest, moving and inspirational reporting, yet never pitying or heroifying.

It's lovely finally being able to tell my editors - from Daily Life, Kidspot, Essential Baby, The Guardian and Mamamia - about this award. They've been so encouraging through my writing journey.

The support I've received from the judges, media colleagues, family and friends has been wonderful. I am overwhelmed with love right now. Thanks to everyone who has sent messages to me, especially those who do great work in the media.

It was a happy surprise when I met Debra Cerasa, CEO of MS Australia, and her colleague Lee at the awards. We sat in the airline lounge and I taught her some social media afterward. Debra wrote a great summary of the awards on the MS Australia blog.

It has been such a whirlwind week - a new romance, a new (temporary) day job and this award! Life's good!

Here is my acceptance speech:

Thank you for this award – and thanks to everyone who have helped me along the way – my editors, parents, friends, mentors in my day job, RMIT University, and to Yooralla and the judges. Graeme Innes has been reading and retweeting my blog posts recently and I’ve squealed in the same way as when I found out my idol Darren Hayes read my blog.

Also, thanks to the people who have said stupid things about the way I look - while there's ignorance and rudeness, I'm never without writing material.

I’m so proud to win this award today, especially among esteemed journalists. Almost all of articles I’ve had published this year have been republications from my blog. It's wonderful that blogging is recognised, valued and paid for by the maintream media. I can't believe I'm recognised as a real journalist today - my career goal since I was at primary school.

I believe there needs to be more people with disabilities telling their stories across all media - in online publishing, print media radio and TV. Telling our own stories educates, reduces stigma, pity, exploitation and sensationalism, and raises the level of expectation that society has about people with disabilities. It normalises difference.

My break in media started because of my blog. Online media has given me the chance to tell my own story in my own words – and has had a reach that I’ve never imagined. When a reader writes to me to tell me my story made them feel that they’re less alone and helped them to accept their or their child's visible difference or disability, I know I’ve done a great job.

For those of you in the room who want to break into the media to tell your story, or if you know of anyone with a disability who wants to, my biggest piece of advice would be to start a blog to get your voice out there.

Thank you.

Congratulations to all the winners. You can view their winning entries here.


20 November 2013

On 'normal' and cures and pride.

Sometimes people compliment me when my skin looks paler than usual. It's as though I'm five shades closer to a white complexion. (Ichthyosis-less, my South African heritage would probably mean that I'd have pale brown skin.) What they're not seeing (or feeling) is the pain on other parts of my body and the itching. And while these compliments are well meaning - and who doesn't want to be told they look great? - I can't help wondering whether looking paler is the path to being normal.

Normal. What's that?

It's as though the path to 'normal' is the expected path I should want to take. When people tell me that I'm normal just like everyone else or that I'm doing things that normal people do, they don't understand their good intentions are quite othering. 'Looking past' my face or coming to some sort of epiphany that I'm really quite 'normal' is naive and shallow. It's as though someone thinks they've done a good deed for not lumping me in the other category - the one where people are not 'normal'.

My blogging acquaintance Roni - a proud woman of colour - writes about the phrase "I don't see your colour". She writes: "When you tell me you don’t see my color, you are basically telling me that you don’t see a huge part of who I am and that doesn’t help me. What I want you to say is, 'I see your color. And it’s beautiful'." I identified with her post from a visible difference perspective. By someone saying they don't see colour they're saying they don't see your identity. They're not wanting to associate you with belonging to the other category that they are not comfortable with.

Earlier this year someone I had dinner with asked whether I'd want a cure, even just a treatment, to look more normal I guess? The conversation was uncomfortable; telling of their perceptions of a life lived looking different. They went on to say that by changing my appearance, it would be so much easier for me - fewer questions, comments and stares. I'd be being kinder on myself, they said. Their rationale, while not considering the pain aspect of Ichthyosis, was partly compassionate, and partly because they admitted not being able to cope looking like me. "I'd do myself in", were their exact words to me.

This conversation was full of beliefs and personal insecurities being pushed onto me. My dining partner may as well have been asking "wouldn't it easier to be straight?", or "use a little face whitening cream, it'd be kinder on yourself in this white society?".

Once I picked my jaw up off the floor after realising they'd alluded to the idea that a life like mine isn't worth living, I answered no. I wouldn't take a pill to cure or drastically treat my Ichthyosis. I have written a little about this before - during Ichthyosis Awareness Month and also my rant about pyramid selling - but since that question I have thought about it more deeply.

There's currently no cure for Ichthyosis. There are treatments to lessen the redness, scale, and pain. There have been since I've been alive. Retinoids, topical and oral steroids and infusions are the main ones that my doctors have recommended - treatments that will severely impair the quality of life that I currently have.

I see two sides to a cure: a medical cure and an appearance cure. I don't want either. A medical cure (or treatment, as things stand now) may hold worse side effects than Ichthyosis itself. And I think that an appearance cure is conforming to what society expects of me - the expectation that I would want to look 'normal' and de-identify with a condition that I've become accustomed to and accept. I see it as a bit vain, even.

This isn't to say I don't believe in cures, nor do I think striving for one is a bad thing. I can understand the yearning for a cure, especially if your life has been changed significantly by an acquired disability. You'd want a cure to get your previous life back, to be free of pain, to be ambulant, to live life 'normally'. I have a friend who is undergoing stem cell therapy to one day walk again - the work he puts into his rehab is admirable - and it's working for him.

When I was young, my family and I were in search of a cure. This was tiring - going to various skin specialists and herbal practitioners, the side effects were awful (not being able to go out into the sun, giant pieces of skin peeling off, lots of time off school, fatigue, weight gain, lack of sleep, the prospect of foetal defects...). I also met a number of adults with skin conditions who were also in search of a cure - they were tired too, and their conditions had not improved from the treatments they'd tried. And so of course I wondered why I had to visit another naturopath when these new acquaintances were not cured. In fact, they told me stories of how their skin was a little better, but their lives were impacted significantly, in a negative way.

Living with Ichthyosis has been tough. The pain is the worst. And then people's reactions. Those are two things I could do without. But it's also brought many good people and opportunities into my life, which I am very grateful for. And I'd be weighing up the impact on my capacity to live my life now versus the time spent and side effects of treatments.

Leah Hobson writes about being comfortable with her disability - not wanting to escape it. She mentioned the "faux compliments" people give her, telling her they could almost forget she's disabled. She doesn't want a cure for her blindness either - it has shaped her. There's an idea lurking behind them that everyone with a disability has the need to appear as non-disabled as possible." Leah writes that out of niceness, she's thanked people for their faux compliments. "I've actually thanked people for saying something that made me feel at best unintentionally devalued." She makes no apology for being comfortable of her disability.

Jax Brown also writes about the disempowerment that comes with de-normalising: "I am also routinely disempowered and disabled by a society which views my non-normative body as less than the ideal, the less then the so called normal." But like me she has pride. As Jenny Morris writes in Pride Against Prejudice, physical characteristics of disability or visible difference are seen as "not right and not admirable" and there's an expectation that "we wish to be normal or treated as we were".

But it's ok not to want a cure. and it's ok to be proud of having a visible difference or disability. This is who I am and this is what it is. It's not a life worth doing in, or a face to look past. I'm proud. This is my normal.


18 November 2013

Relationship status.

I've got a boyfriend.

After quite a bit of thinking (and a little hesitation) on my part, and lots of persistence on his, we have decided to make a go of this. It's nice. He's so different to me - which perhaps was a part of my hesitance - but the important thing is his kindness. He's cute, a good hugger, and he holds my hand in public.

Dating in the digital age - even if the dates were a result of online dating - is so strange. Everything becomes so public. While I'm a blogger and do share so much of myself with the world, I also realised just what a private person I am. Blogging doesn't mean I share everything, but it does mean that truth is concrete when it's written down. I've been used to being in control of what I share about myself online - how my life online is curated, I suppose - and so I didn't feel comfortable being tagged on Facebook after our second date. It was a little suffocating. Especially when I am so independent and I was not entirely sure of my feelings.

Curation of our digital spaces means we often share what we are proud of and happy about in our lives. Sometimes we can be too quick to reveal something - explicitly or through subtext - though our social media statuses. Regrets, luckily I've only had a couple. And sometimes, sharing something about ourselves online can make someone else uncomfortable, especially if that person is either not a big social media user or has prominence on social media.

A big part of my hesitation was about my tendency to fall for people through words alone - and especially words on a screen. His words have been very few, and I needed to be shown feelings, rather than just have them written to me.

I didn't even know whether I'd blog about this. What would it prove? is it too soon? Would it set things up for failure? Is it an invasion of his privacy? (I've spoken to him about my blogging and the permission I seek to write about people in my life - he's ok with it.) When I was younger, I imagined when I did get a boyfriend, I'd sign-write it in the sky. I thought I had something to prove. Now I know I don't have to prove my worth to anyone, and I've also found myself with a bit of a public online persona, careful of what I project. So my words here are measured.

There's a sense of pride in finding someone that you like or love. There's also a sense of pride from protecting it from the world. That changing your relationship status on Facebook, it just seems so public. But so is holding hands, isn't it?

(We've been doing some fun stuff on our dates, and yesterday we saw some animals at the Collingwood Children's Farm. Here he is with a tiny baby goat. Nawww!)


15 November 2013

Appearance diversity: Andy Jackson - a body shaped like a question mark.

I've known Andy Jackson for around nine years now. I used to perform poetry in cafes and pubs in Melbourne and he was either organising the event or performing poetry, or both. He's an accomplished and celebrated poet - published in Australian and international publications, his book of poems was shortlisted for the 2010 NSW Premier’s Prize for Poetry, and has performed locally and overseas including The Age Melbourne Writers Festival, Prakriti Poetry Festival [in Chennai, India], Goa Literary & Arts Festival, Australian Poetry Festival, Queensland Poetry Festival, Newcastle Young Writers Festival and Overload Poetry Festival. Andy also runs writing workshops.

Andy and I reconnected in February this year when I read out a piece at Quippings - a disability arts event at Hares and Hyenas in Fitzroy. Andy was in the audience. We've been emailing back and forth and met up again recently before he went off overseas for the second time in a month (lucky guy!).

I've always been curious about the curvature of his spine, but never asked him.

He tells his story here today.

Andy Jackson and clay puppet representing Andy

"In the last twelve years, I've had the pleasure of quitting four positions – the Commonwealth public service(Child Support Agency, would you believe?), a cafe-venue-bar I co-owned called “Good Morning Captain” in Collingwood Melbourne, Medicare Australia (yes, in a call centre), and a claustrophobic admin job for a micro-managing tax lawyer. And I've lived in eight different houses in the last twenty-five years (though, yes, all of them in Melbourne). But there are two things that I could never leave, even if I wanted to. They define me. I'm as inseparable from them as wings from sky, pith from fruit, thought from words.

Those two things are Marfan Syndrome and poetry. Marfan is a genetic condition that affects the functioning of connective tissue – it can affect the heart, the eyes and joints, but each person with it is affected in very different ways. The most critical of course can be the aorta, which can tear suddenly if put under too much pressure. Quite a few people who didn't know they had the condition have died from an aortic dissection. Being one myself, I'm beginning to feel I can recognise someone with Marfan – they're usually quite tall, very long-limbed, with fingers you'd expect from a pianist. Many of us have some kind of skeletal irregularity. For me, it's a very noticeable spinal curvature. I have what you might call a stareable body.

Most of the time, of course, I live my life and people relate to me as they would anyone else. There is certainly a lot of typically-Australian furtive staring, along with the open-mouthed curious children (and their uncomfortable parents). But now and then, something memorably bizarre or unsettling happens. At a Job Network (which shall remain nameless), I was called in to attend a mock interview – there was a position going and they might refer me for it. I thought it all went well, until I was called back afterwards and told that it probably wasn't a good idea to wear a backpack underneath my shirt. I was too stunned at the time to realise what she was talking about, but I did send off an assertive and educational email afterwards. I've had fundamentalist Christians and New Agers say they can heal me, who keep persisting with their offers even when I say I'm fine as I am. A few people have wanted to touch my back (as if it will feel any different to their own). I've had words and bottles thrown at me from cars.

When I step onto a stage to perform poetry and dozens of expectant eyes are on me, I can't say it's uncomplicated. I suspect I got involved in reading poetry because, subconsciously, I wanted to be in control of how I was seen. I made myself visible on my terms, and spoke words that complicated people's experience of me. One of my early poems begins “I have a hunch” (long pause) “that curvature can be aperture”.

Andy Jackson performing poetry in front of an audience

After performing and publishing poetry for over fifteen years now, I know it's not actually about me. It's communal. And poetry holds an incredible power, regardless of its low public profile (perhaps even because of it). Poems have their roots in intensely subjective and often private experience – the inarticulate and compelling bodily reverberations. Like trees, these stirrings reach for the light, for the nourishment and transformation of language. So, we write and publish and recite. And in that public space, the audience or reader's empathy or affinity is activated – the poems cross over from the self to the other, from “I” to “us”, shining the light of language on the bridges that connect us. I have no doubt that poetry and Marfan will continue to lead me into some amazing territory, to meet familiar strangers, new confidants and friends.

Oh, and just so you know, my heart is regularly monitored and is fine. Perhaps for that I can credit poetry, or my other “inseparable”, my partner Rachael, with whom I travelled with to Ireland to perform our puppetry-poetry collaboration “Ambiguous Mirrors”. Which is another (poetic) story..."

Andy Jackson blogs at Among the Regulars.


11 November 2013

The Undateables - creating awareness or stigma around disability and relationships?

When you have a visible difference or a disability, you may spend a lot of time noticing how society reacts to you looking different to the masses. There's curiosity, exclusion, horror, patronisation, encouragement, inclusion, rudeness, surprise, honesty, fear, ridicule, and great compassion and kindness. I think I've experienced the full range of human reaction living with my visible difference.

While it is so important for awareness about disabilities to be raised, the media often doesn't present visible difference and disability in a positive way. We are the villains (think Two Face in Batman or Freddy Kruger), a person to be ridiculed (remember the short statured person, repeatedly described as a dwarf by the media, who was hired for entertainment then set alight by a footballer on Mad Monday?) or described as 'wheelchair bound'. People without disabilities play us on TV - there's Artie on Glee and Dustin Hoffman on Rain Man, and prime ministers have been known to pat people with disabilities on the head - maybe through condescension or misplaced kindness?

Social media can be just as bad as the mainstream media - with the heroifying and ridicule of people with disabilities. I can think of a lot of social media memes that picture people with disabilities playing sport, and an accompanying caption "the only disability is a bad attitude". There is also the audience reaction that is no longer limited to discussion in the privacy of one's own home - I cringe when I see people clicking and commenting on photos of sick babies on Facebook - there's a sense of nativity that a click for a prayer will donate money for a cure, and also the cruel reactions to the pictures.

I have a great problem with not being in control of my story. That's why I write and speak my own. I want it told in a respectful, non sensationalised, non patronising way. And I don't want my condition to be labeled exploitatively by the media just to draw in readers. Since I've had my blog, it's given me more confidence to tell my story across a range of publications and on a community TV program called No Limits, and also for me to consider approaches from the media to tell my story. In July 2013 I was verbally abused by a taxi driver - and I wrote about this on my blog and for Daily Life. It was also reported (very fairly and sensitively by a journalist on News.com.au. I found it interesting that when I have told my own story, the readers' responses have been far more empathetic than when a story was written about me.

And that brings me to participation in disability related media when you're not in control of your own story.

Last year my blogging colleague and friend Carly Jacobs, who blogs at Smaggle, discussed how the TV program The Undateables had moved her and restored her faith in humanity. At that stage I had not watched it - I was reluctant to do so because of the way I feel about Embarrassing Bodies (I have a big problem with the title and viewers' gross out reactions to Embarrassing Bodies - see my commentary here and here - and I also get frustrated when people defend the show, the contestants who take part, and the viewers who ridicule the show and contestants), but after reading Carly's thoughts on it and asking me what I thought. I watched The Undateables on iView.


The Undateables shows the stories of people with visible differences and disabilities trying to find love. The participants have many disabilities and visible differences - Tourette's, OCD, short stature, facial differences, Down's syndrome, autism and Aspergers, learning disabilities, brittle bones and paraplegia (in season 2 alone). They sign up to a dating agency and are matched with potentially compatible dates. The program highlights the struggle people with visible differences and disabilities face with self esteem, being accepted and also the discomfort that society sometimes has around being in the company of a person who looks different.

I found it very similar to Beauty and the Beast - The Ugly Face of Prejudice which pairs up self obsessed, vain beauties with people born with disabilities or acquired disfigurements, and helps the 'beauty' do away with the importance placed on image. (I wrote about it in detail here). The premise of both The Undateables and Beauty and the Beast is to showcase the reality (if a reality TV show can be deemed a reality) of the prejudices faced by people with disabilities and disfigurements, and change peoples' perceptions and value of appearance. Both programs were very sensitive, allowing the viewer to feel empathy with the participants (I think anyone could relate to the situations of the participants - both those with visible difference and disabilities and those without), and I felt like they invited less ridicule than Embarrassing Bodies.


However, I completely disagree with the term 'beast' or 'undateable' used about someone's appearance. It is these labels that create negative perceptions and exclusion towards people with visible differences and disabilities. And I believe the titles create a sense of othering - a divide between people with disabilities or visible difference and those without. The TV shows become curious case studies of how the different live.

Twenty one complaints were made to the British Advertising Standards Board after the ad for The Undateables was aired. Complainants said the title was offensive and derogatory towards people with disabilities, suggesting they were "inevitably dateless and incapable of having a personal relationship".

Raymond Johnson, a participant in The Undateables, told The Guardian that he has received a great response from strangers since appearing on the program (he feels like a celebrity!), and he believes the program has helped change attitudes towards people with disabilities. "It was done really impressively, apart from the title", Raymond said. "If there is going to be a third series, they should change the title", he told The Guardian. A friend of mine, Nelly, also with Ichthyosis, has written on my blog about the positive experience she had on Beauty and the Beast. "[Beauty and the Beast] helped me to get more confidence and I wanted to show people what I had to do keep my self healthy and alive", Nelly said.

It is a relief to me that both Raymond and Nelly have had positive experiences participating in these TV programs. Their experience and watching the programs also shown me that just like with meeting people with a visible difference or disability and forming an initial judgement based on appearance or a label, I need to get to know the program by watching it rather than judging it by title alone. And I encourage people without visible differences and disabilities to watch these shows with an open mind too.

The UK's Channel 4 has made a commitment to disability programming - and these programs have filtered to the ABC in Australia. I hope the Australian media has the same level of commitment to disability programming in the not too distant future.

This post was originally published on Smaggle.

Edit: since I wrote this post for Smaggle, I've been watching season two of The Undateables on iView and have enjoyed most stories featured. At times I do think that the relationships shown developing have been very simplified, and there is a strong tone of "just like everyone else" throughout, but overall, I'm more impressed than I expected to be.


08 November 2013

Conversations with creatives - M'agapi

When I was at the Finders Keepers market in early October, I came across a stall with the most beautiful dresses, perfect for a spring wedding, a high tea or even the races. The brand was M'agapi. In my post market research, I saw that the brand sources fabrics from local Melbourne industries, as well as supporting charities. In September, M'agapi donated 50% made from online sales to Cerebral Palsy research.

I emailed Jackki the designer and dressmaker - at that stage we hadn't met - and asked her if I could feature her and her beautiful dresses on my blog. I was thrilled she said yes - and even more thrilled when she agreed to doing a giveaway of one of her dresses!

She invited me to meet her a few weeks later at the North Melbourne Thread Den market, and I tried on a dress. It was absolutely perfect, and so I bought it. It's called 'The Marilyn', this one is a mini, which is perfect for my five foot one stature (dresses come in three lengths), and I am so excited by the collar! The back of the dress features a sharp tipped collar, dipping into a deep v. Dresses come in 8,10 and 12 - the 10 is what in wearing in this photo but I chose to size up on purchase as I knew I'd be layering it over a long sleeved tee, and that meant I was a tad too busty for the 10. The dresses all have a limited fabric run - Jackki told me she had no more material left in the dresses both she and I are wearing. (In the interests of disclosure, I received a discount for the dress I purchased.)

Meet Jaccki from M"agapi!

What’s your name?

"Jackki Ngo"

What’s your business name?

"m'agapi [it's Greek for "with love"]"

Who works with you?

"I do all the sewing my husband and relatives lovingly help me out at the markets :)"

What do you make?

"I started out with woman's clothing, now I also do baby and kids clothing and accessories, and basic home wares like cushion letters and quilts."

How long have you been making your art?

"The concept started in 2009 but officially launched in 2011."

Tell me about your creative process? Where do you get ideas from? Where do you source materials?

"I have a passion for pattern making and have always been obsessed with multifunctional uses so I tend to design pieces that are versatile and practical. I design for my family and friends - what they would want in an item. For example, the latest summer dresses were inspired from a friend who wanted a 1950s dress for her wedding. Because the cut is fairly simple and classic; I added self facing hem band to give the dress a bit more weight and bounce. I also added pockets because well every girl needs pockets :) I make baby bibs (designed for my 8 months old son) which have three layers of fabric for super absorbency. I make reversible sun hats for my almost three years old daughter to play in the sun. I've made large cushion letters to decorate sofas and chairs and a friend suggested for me to downside them to hang in her daughter's room. So you see, a lot of ideas come from friends and families."

Do you balance a day job with your creative pursuit? Is this hard? If your dressmaking is your day job, did you have to consider making a jump from a day job?

"I have a full time job as a production manager for a wonderful australian made knitwear company. I have two beautiful kids which also means late nights sewing after fighting them for baths and bed. But I'm very lucky to have a very understanding and supportive husband and in laws who cook us dinner and baby sit when required. I don't think I would be able to manage doing what I love without their help. Sometimes I wish there were more hours in a day!"

What drives you to create? I grew up around sewing machines and made my first dress at age 11.

"I love to challenge myself and think outside the square. Sometimes I would design the hardest piece just to see if I can sew it up! If it can be done on the sewing machine, I will attempt it."


What’s the hardest thing about being a creative?

"When you're excited about coming up with an (original) idea but someone else launched it before you it's a bit disheartening. Even when you tweak it further to make it your own it still feels second best therefore you don't promote it as it deserves."

What’s the best thing about being a creative?

"Buying fabric! Where people normally buy shoes and bags, I have an obsession with fabric. It's exciting to see what can be done with them especially when it turns out exactly like how you've envisioned."

What advice would you give to up and coming creatives?

"Love what you do. and I mean LOVE it without question. When you love what you do, it's very endearing and it shows in your work. Buyers are more appreciative of your effort and tend to return just to see what else you've made."

Tell me about the creative community? Are you a part of it? Online/offline/markets/classes?

"I sell my wares online at MadeIt and I'm a regular at North Melbourne Market."

How can we reach you? What’s your website, store, social media platforms?






Jackki is kindly giving away the "burnt out dress". She describes it as a "super cool dress that will take you throughout the day by adding a few statement accessories. Wear with heels or boots for a fantastic day/night out! This dress is one size (8-12) Designed to be loose fitting. Has binding around neckline and babylocking at the hem. Fabric is 100% Rayon and is slightly see through (you may choose to wear a slip underneath the dress) Model is 172cm tall, belt is not included."

To win this dress, tell Jackki and I where you'd wear this dress to?

Entries close 5.00 pm 15 November 2013. Please leave your email address so I can contact you if you win!

Read more conversations with creatives here.

PS: the winner of the birdy necklace by Rulitos was Emily from Have a Laugh on Me. Congratulations Emily! And the winner of the Zac and Mia book was Mary Preston. I'll be in touch soon:)


06 November 2013

Ten things I learned about furthering my speaking career at Problogger

I went to the speakers session at Problogger because honestly, I'd like to expand my speaking career. One of the things I'm hesitant about is negotiating a fee - I never know how much to charge, what others are charging, and whether, if I am speaking at an event for a cause, it's fair to charge a fee? Many events don't have a speakers fee, or have a very minimal fee. But like freelance writing, speeches take time - in writing and thinking, and I believe the event organiser should place a value on experiences and information shared by the speaker.

Experienced speakers Yvonne Adele (formerly Ms Megabyte) and Trevor Young gave some great tips for speakers that are easy to implement.


"A keynote speech is 3 main headings and 9 speaking points."

"If you're not confident to speak alone, get a trusted speaker friend to interview you in a conversation or panel."

"Your bio on your blog and for speaking engagements should be in first person. It should be about the effect you have on others."

"Your personal brand is your blog, your voice on twitter, a personal interaction. Be mindful. Your brand attracts business."

"Create a speaking section on your blog, telling readers you're available to speak. Upload a video of a full length speech online for future clients to see. Or create a show reel of best speaking engagements plus testimonials for future clients."

"Take your 10 most popular blog posts, turn into a Word document, brand & PDF it. Now it's an ebook. It is value adding to your speech."

"Capture your audience at your speaking events by connecting with them immediately. Ask them to leave your cards on their seat and add their details to your mailing list."

"If you're speaking for a cause, charge no less than $500. If you are the draw card for the event, charge $7000."

"Become an authority in your area of specialisation. People will ask you to write and speak."

"At the point when you know you're speaking/bureau agency ready, you'll probably get a call from them. They charge 30% commission."

Thanks Yvonne Adele and Trevor Young for the valuable information.

Read more of what I learnt at Problogger here.


04 November 2013

I am writing a book. A fellowship with Writers Victoria and Arts Access Victoria.

A few weeks ago I was thrilled to receive the news that I'd been successful in my application for a Write-ability fellowship with Writers Victoria and Arts Access Victoria. I am being mentored by Sam Twyford-Moore, the director of the Emerging Writers Festival. I have two goals for this fellowship: to get started writing a book, and to explore publishing options.

So over the past two weeks, I've been writing a book. A memoir of sorts. There hasn't been much writing of the manuscript thus far, but I have got a plan which includes a chapter summary. And I've been reading Writing Your Life by Patti Miller, as well as looking into doing a PhD in creative writing when I return from overseas next year.

I plan to use some of my blog posts for this book, and write a lot more in addition. It's an introspective process, a lot like doing my Masters thesis really. I'm thinking about the blog posts that have connected with readers, and also those that have shaped me.

I'm excited and overwhelmed at the same time. If I can write a blog, I can write a book, yeah? And if I can write blog posts that get published elsewhere, I should be less daunted about pitching to book publishers? Blogging about this little (big!) project keeps me accountable right?! So I will be writing about my Write-ability fellowship journey here. Wish me luck!

Thanks for the great opportunity, Writers Victoria and Arts Access Victoria :)

Now, over to you, readers: do you have any tips? Have you ever written a book?


01 November 2013

Mary Meets Mohammed - interview with the filmmaker.

Every so often I watch Compass on ABC - it's a program about religion. I love it because it shows people doing good for the community, and explores many cultures. My Dad and I somehow got talking about religion, and we both recommended that each other watch Compass. Turns out we both do! Dad told me he saw an episode that featured an excerpt of Mary Meets Mohammed, a Tasmanian-made documentary about an elderly Christian woman who befriends a young Muslim man - an asylum seeker from Afghanistan. Mary and Mohammed became unlikely friends.

I went back to watch the episode on iView.

In 2011, the Australian government announced the development of Tasmania's first detention centre for 400 male asylum seekers - mostly from Afghanistan - at Pontville, outside of Hobart. Mary, and the majority of the community, opposed the development, believing the refugees would be a risk to public safety. would live in luxury and receive entitlements far greater than their own. The community, including Mary, had strong negative views about asylum seekers which were informed by the media and hearsay.

Mary belongs to a knitting club, and when a suggestion was made for the knitters to make beanies for the asylum seekers, not everyone was in support. Mary and many other knitters were strongly opposed to the asylum seekers, but were curious all the same. She and four other knitters delivered the beanies, and soon became regular visitors when the saw the conditions the asylum seekers lived in, and how much they had in common. The knitters learnt so much about the culture of these men, what brought them here and their hopes for making a good life in Australia. Their perceptions soon changed and friendships flourished.

At one point, Mary told her friends outside the knitting club about visiting the detention centre, and how she and the knitters have befriended its detainees. Her friends' reactions are uncomfortable, embarrassing and heartless - naively informed by the media. The film does signify many Australians' attitudes toward asylum seekers, but it also represents the great levels of compassion that many other Australians have. I believe Mary Meets Mohammed is instrumental in changing people's perceptions of asylum seekers.

After six months Mohammed was released from detention and Mary continued to see him. He regards her as his "Australian Nanna". They said they have so much in common, finishing off each other's sentences. It is a beautiful friendship. And Mary has a new found respect and appreciation for religions other than Christianity.

I talked with my Dad after watching the excerpt on Compass. He wrote:

"Any person that is suspicious of Muslims & how they are portrayed by the media etc. should watch this. Please, let's live together regardless of where we were born & what religion we were born into. I like the way the attitude of those sceptics changed once they met Mohammed & realised he was a wonderful human being."

I was so warmed by the excerpt of the film that I wrote about it on Facebook, tagging the film's Facebook page. Filmmaker Heather Kirkpatrick contacted me asking if I could do some promo of the dates the full length feature is screening, and I asked her for an interview. She told me that Mary Meets Mohammed was one of four finalists for the ‘Outstanding Documentary Talent Award’ for 2013 and she and the film were selected in the six finalists for the 2013 Walkley Documentary Prize. Congratulations Heather, Mary, Mohammed and all involved!

Carly: Why did you make Mary Meets Mohammed?

Heather: "I was looking for an idea for a documentary and had only been home a week after working overseas for a while. That week the news of the detention centre was announced and I saw a strong hostile response to this at a public meeting on my own television. Then I saw a visitor group emerge two weeks ater who wanted to make friendship visits to the asylum seekers. With these polarised views in the community I thought it would be a good starting point for a documentary. So the idea really fell in my lap as it was all happening close to home."

How did attitudes towards asylum seekers change - both those of the participants and the viewers'?

"The knitting women who visited the asylum seekers to deliver some beanies had a huge transformation in their attitudes as a result of meeting the asylum seekers face to face. They became weekly visitors and have remained friends with the men since. Viewers have commented how the film is real eye opener and shifted their views."

What are some of the messages in the film?

"Listen to Sally Sara's interview with Mary, as the film is an observational documentary of her journey. It does help bridge cross cultural and cross religious barriers. Mary and the knitters discovered a common humanity with the asylum seekers and that their prior beliefs on asylum seekers and Muslims had been based on mythology and political spin.

When I came in contact with the women at the local knitting club at Brighton, I felt their diverse views on asylum seekers, was somewhat representative of the Australian community at large."

How are Mary and Mohammed now?

"They are still great friends but Mohammad gained a full time job interstate so they are only able to maintain phone contact."

What did you learn from making the film?

"That it was worth persisting making it over two years with no funding aside from a spent inheritance from my father. I learned to become a Director, Producer, Editor and Distributor along the way. The film was just selected as a Walkley finalist which is very exciting. I hope this can be inspiring to other independent low budget filmmakers."

Mary Meets Mohammed is screening around Australia now. Click here for screening times. There are a few Q&A sessions with the filmmaker Heather Kirkpatrick and leading composer David Bridie, but book quick as these sessions are selling fast.

You can donate to help the film be screened more widely.

You can also visit an asylum seeker in your area.

I'm giving away a double pass for the Sydney screening which is happening on Monday 4 November. Email me if you'd like to go! I need to know by 4.00 pm today 1 November.


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