”Poetry is a ruthless muse.” Alice Walker at the Sydney Writers’ Festival, May 2014

This series of essays on belonging is all about me trying to find out where I belong or how I can make myself feel like I belong in Australia. Well last week I made progress. I found out where I belong. It’s at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. For three days last week I felt at home at the Walsh Bay Wharfs crowded with people carrying books and pencils and sitting on warehouse floors to hear others read.

I met up with a couple of writer friends, including my new friends I met at Varuna in February. Standing in line was an opportunity to connect: I talked to people I didn’t know and listened to others and I met Myra and Geetha and other kindred spirits.

The unusual Indian Summer helped but I also had an in-between feeling, to borrow a thought from author Robert Dessaix. I was having an Indian summer of my own: I was not tethered to my children or appointments or deadlines or responsibilities. I was free and yet I was free in a city I know with people interested in books and reading and thinking. Amazing.

So I want to share with you the quirky quotes from the intellectual explorers, the quotes that made me smile or sit up straight and listen more or nod in affirmation.

”My sweetheart and I have a new motorbike.”  Alice Walker (age 70), the first African American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for her novel The Color Purple.
On storying the self:
”It’s not about the loneliness of gazing at one’s own cultural navel.”  Merlinda Bobis, a writer, performer, academic from the Philippines who lives in Australia.

”Why write in English?’’
”Because my mother cannot read it.”  Kyoko Yoshida, Japanese writer and translator who only writes in English.


”When people ask my what is my background, I say it is loving and suffering,’’ Nha Thugen, Vietnamese poet, writer, photographer and filmmaker.

”When I travel it’s like being free. It’s like being in my 20s except I know more.’’ Robert Dessaix, Australian writer, translator, broadcaster.

”I like you Sandi because you, like me, are not a specific shape.’‘   Danish-British writer and comedian Sandi Toksvig on what an older woman said to her once in a service station.

”Come back tomorrow and we’ll have something good for you to eat without lamb.’’ Rob at the pop-up eatery freely offering to go to the trouble to make me something gluten-free, dairy-free and lamb-free.

It was all delicious by the way. The brain food, the soul food and the real food.

My favourite quote upon returning to my family: ”I love you maman.’’