Jenni was out having a smoke the first time we really had a chat.
I am not a smoker, but was at a large conference and decided to have a brief time out to think about all the debate that was going on; somehow I ended up with Jenni and two or three others who were having a literal smoko on the steps of where the conference was held.
Something about her manner invited easy yarning. We must’ve spoken about what I was studying in university. She was Arrente and Chinese background with an Italian surname, perhaps to protect her when children were often taken from their Aboriginal families. We were both poets. Yet, we covered all sorts of topics in that first real chat that weren’t just what we had in common. We were after all at a conference on Pacific and Indigenous Representations in media, film and literature.
She had heard me speak, and I her, and perhaps this knowledge of each other’s intellectual and spiritual grounding is what made the conversation take off a lot more than your usual on the steps yarn with someone you barely know. Yet, with Jenni it’s been like I’ve always known her.
By the end of the conference, where we seemed often to be side by side at conference dinners and many lectures, she had invited me to an Indigenous Storytelling camp and to meet several Aboriginal writers.
Since that first meeting we’ve performed poetry in the same spaces. I’ve learnt from her about innovations in glass art, poetry capes and soundscapes. I’ve heard all about her lifelong dream trip to Egypt. She sold her car to help with that one.
She inspires me with the quiet way she teaches without appearing to teach.
Once we drove back from a camp together. She stopped several times along the way to study the landscape, waterfalls, and an old antique shop. There was no hurry, but rather an exploration of the journey and an enacting of the idea that it’s the journey not the destination that is important.
I realise now my life the last decade or so has been stopping in the side tracks to explore and discover who I am – as a writer, artist, mother, human being and photographer.
Jenni has never been far away, always at the end of the phone, and yet it would be up lifting to stand on the steps, outside a conference, or be together around a fire once again.
Even when there is silence we know that we are thinking of each other. I can hear her telling me in the one time she has been on a trip up North near where I live ‘there’s a world of possibilities, and ‘where you live now is truly a brilliant place to write.’
My favourite memory is being with her and several other emerging writers under the stars. We were telling stories about our lives, talking about the colour of the flames, and watching as the fire died down to its final embers.
I remember thinking of eternity spinning in that conversation for all to see and be in, and thinking that people can connect across cultures, ages, time and space.
I see her, a strong woman standing under a big open night sky, whose words and art will have power after she is gone. Often I wish she lived around the corner, or just up the road, in this big vast land we both call home.
Inspired by the Who Shaped Me project for ABC Open, this month’s Pearlz Dreaming blog theme will be about the people who inspire me and there are lots of them! Goal 19 pieces on Who Shaped Me.