I’ve had the most wonderful day. It’s been cool and rainy here in Newcastle, much more to my tastes. I am sleeping on the top bunk on the second floor, by a large open window with no screen or bars. There’s no bars on the bed either, nothing to stop me rolling out, falling through the window and down to the pavement below. Which gives me the shivers, but is also wonderfully like sleeping in a tree house, all breezy and up among the lovely tropical foliage. I lay in my bunk at night and watch the stars and city lights and rain and the trees dancing in the wind. Not far is the sea, just a brief walk, and I can smell it and feel the salt in the air. In the mornings it’s very warm and still, and I can’t sleep for the light coming in and the heat. But this morning it was perfect, cool, raining, breezy. I lay under my sheet, waking from nightmares to watch the rain falling through the trees, sleeping and waking and sleeping.
My beloved is napping now with her head in my lap as we rest in the lounge at the backpackers. Today we went again to visit her elderly relative for lunch, and it was sad for her. It’s always painful to see someone you love ill, or old, to be aware of time passing, of mortality, of the cruelty of distance and the inadequacy of words. There’s always so much to say and no words to say it. I’ve been here with my beloved grandma who died a few years ago. I can sit with this sadness, I know how to bear it, how to stay present with it. There’s so much beauty in it, joy within pain, love beneath sorrow. Such a simple thing it is, to be present.
Then we visited the Newcastle art gallery, and were lucky enough to stumble into an exhibition of Oscar Wilde’s The Nightingale and the Rose by Del Kathryn Barton. It was stunning. I spent an hour in front of the huge, intricately painted canvases, trying to shelter that tiny flame of inspiration that lit in me. I find it so hard to keep believing in myself, in art, in the value of my work, in the possibility of success. One of my greatest limitations as an artist is my lack of confidence. Strangely enough, the cause of this; poverty, hardship, is also one of my great strengths as an artist; I have experienced so much and have so much to say. I’m also painfully afraid of the times I shut down and can’t create art, and terribly impatient with myself.
This exhibition was an artists response to a work of writing, something I’ve often thought of doing. The size of the paintings was powerful, and the technique; combining inks, paint and watercolors, was appealing. I was very taken by it all, and found myself blossoming with hope, that if she can make such splendid works, I can also. I’m excited about my projects planned for this year. I so want to keep that tiny sense of hope alive, it dies so easily in me and then everything is such a struggle. I bought a beautiful big art book of the exhibition to take home and display, hoping to keep this feeling alive. Others have walked this road. It is possible.
Once the gallery closed, we sheltered under the eaves on the doorstep and picnicked on snacks and talked about life and cried a little and held each others hands. Then we walked until we found a lovely Vietnamese restaurant and ate prawns and red rice and soft shell crab. It rained and we wandered the streets in it, finding paths around puddles, water shining in our hair. Night fell as we walked.
Sometimes there were loud groups of drunk guys or someone hassling passerbys for money and we stopped holding hands and walked faster. My part who handles violence comes out, walks tall. ‘We won’t be easy victims, leave us be.’ Nothing happens. My girlfriend and I have a rule that either of us can stop holding hands (or anything else that clearly marks us as a gay couple) if we feel unsafe in public, no argument, no recriminations.
We find a store that’s open, and buy exotic icecream; filled with brownies and cookie dough. Back at the hostel, we lay about on a big couch in the lounge, legs tangled, reading Sabriel to each other, sharing the icecream and enjoying the freedom to be a couple in a public space and feel safe and accepted. We laugh and play and talk. It’s so sweet, sweet to be in love.