Photojournalism with Brendan McCarthy no

By Sheree Pratt

What could a photographer possibly have to offer a room, packed full of writers? Our most recent speaker, Photographer and former journalist for the Bendigo Advertiser and Australian Geographic publications, Brendan McCarthy commenced his talk with that exact question.

The first half of the February 21st session was a showcase of some of McCarthy’s notable works, each accompanied with a story, of experiences surrounding the shots’ mise-en-scène, purposes for the shot and short synopsis of the article for which some photos supported.

As a group we explored elements of narrative including character, and situation. Things like where and how to find the story, creating and developing the story and letting the story evolve were discussed.

The group also debated the role of Photoshop in manipulation the story, determining that it often jeopardises the authenticity of the story, the credibility of the photograph and often the integrity and the storyteller, such as journalists, editors and photographers.

The workshop in the second half of the session was an opportunity for writers to unpack the visual elements of a shot to interpret meaning to find or create the story. Who was the man in the photograph with the hat? What was he doing there? What’s going on in the background? Where are they? These were just some of the questions that sparked our written exploration.

The activity revealed the way personal perspective influenced the interpretation of visual stimuli to generate a story.

The commonality, we concluded throughout this exploration, what writers and photographers share is that in our craft we are each storytellers.



Bruizer Vs Donald Trump’s Cat


I will share my favourite couch with anybody, so long as they repay me in scratches behind the ears. I especially love sitting in my spot in the middle, between my two favourite humans when they sit together in the evenings, watching the News.

Today however, I don’t really like the man taking up space and all of Masters attention at the moment. I’m curled up beside my human, resting my chin on his lap. Having just woken up from my recent micro-nap I master is holding Donald Trump. I don’t mean the real Donald Trump of course, just his picture on the cover of Masters book. Master reads a lot but this book surprises me I’ve seen this man a lot lately on TV when my humans watch the News. I don’t know much about him but a lot of people on the News say he is mean and sometimes he sure looks it, too. He must be mean, because the News says he likes cats. This must be true because he lets one sleep on his head, even when people are taking pictures of him.

I don’t really like cats. Even though I’ve only ever lived with one, Princess Puss, I have it on pretty good authority that that they are all as grouchy, demanding and spiteful as Princess Puss. I have no doubt Donald’s cat is equally mean, even when it sleeps. I really think that vile creature is always atop it’s human’s head transmitting it’s mean-ness directly into poor old Don’s head. I mean that would surely explain the mean things the man says and does on the TV and his computer. Naturally the thing is presiding over the man’s head in the picture on Master’s book, as if he was a furry crown on a king.

Master abruptly closes the book and places it beside me on the couch – MY couch. I ignore Donald, vowing to deal with him soon, instead raising my head and nudging Master’s hand. I work my pleading round button eyes, fixing them intently on my oblivious Master.

Ignoring my not so subtle attempts to win his attention, Master rises from the couch and disappears from the room, leaving me alone on the couch with Donald Trump. Now don’t get me wrong I don’t hate the man. I’m a dog. I don’t really hate anyone. It’s just not in my nature. I just don’t want to share my couch with him.

Granting the man, mercy I keep a watchful eye on him as I rest my chin on the couch cushion, facing that wretched book, ensure that neither Donald nor his sleeping cat move from that cover. That’s when my mind starts to wander.

Suddenly I’m on the front steps if a big white house with giant pillars reaching to the the sky. There are millions of people around with pens scratching note pads, handheld computers and phones, squealing microphones and flashing cameras. In the distance I can see large dishes on top of minivans and I wonder for a minute how many bags of my favourite bikkies it would take to fill them. I salivate at the thought.

With all of those people talking at once there is a hum in the crowd like a million bees feeding their Queen, only a thousand decibels louder, cutting through their microphones’ high pitched squeals. Still the frequency of those squeals is hurting my ears and I let out a long howl to relieve it.

I look up at the man standing beside me in his grey suit and red tie and I feel a sudden urge to help this man, especially when I see the speck of dirt on his otherwise shiny black leather left shoe. I try first with my tongue to clean it off, but that only leaves a bubbling pool of drool, which just won’t do. Feeling frustrated and a little ashaned, of the mess I had made, I decide to fix the problem, the best way I know how.

The crowd laughs as I cock my leg, high as I can an proceed to empty my bladder, not realising how much of it is splashing on his trousers. The show is now clean and shiny as his other and I am feeling satisfied that I have managed to solve the first of this man’s many problems.

I fix my eyes on the next big problem in dire need of solving and begin barking incessantly at the sleeping cat, but I figure he must be too deeply entrenched in the Land of Nod to hear me because he does not wake. He simply snores on. Gasps from the crowd turn to loud ‘awwws’ as the cameras snap away at the man, now picking me up and scratching the itch in my favourite spot behind my ears. Soaking up this man’s affections and finding myself starting to like him, I momentarily grant the sleeping cat mercy. Maybe, I think to myself, this man is not as bad as the News says. I tell him so by returning his affections with licks to the face, even solving the minor issue of the ketchup around his mouth. I take care of the spot if it on his cheek.

Then I remember the original mission and decide to take advantage of this new much closer vantage point. I lunge at the cat, who finally awakes suddenly. Of course the wretched thing begins screeching and hissing.

Smack! He strikes my face, claws extended and then takes a flying leap from the man’s head and scurries away, leaving behind a pale balding head, and a shocked, gasping crowd. I try to lick away the wiry bits of stray hairs the cat has left blowing in the breeze.

“Thank you kind, Sir.” The man is smiling broadly as I nestle back in his arms. The crowd is now cheering wildly, since the cat’s quick exit stage right into the bushes. “I thought I would never get rid of that horrid cat.”

He holds me up beside his face and I turn my face to the cameras for my inevitable moment in the spotlight. I wag my tail and flash them all with a big, goofy, tongue hanging out, puppy grin. “Now this is what should be on the cover or your book!” I tell him with more licks to the side of his face while the cameras snap away and the crowd roars with laughter. The man is nodding in agreement.

“Bruizer!” Master’s booming bellow cuts suddenly into my reverie. I find myself cowering on the couch while Master towers over me. He snatches the book away, the pages now completely shredded, and holds it up, while the slobber and wee drip off it. A white cloud is now covering most of Donald’s face and there is no sign of the cat under the second cloud atop his head. “Outside! Now!” I slink off the couch in the direction Master is pointing, with my head bowed low. I give him my best apologetic look. “Naughty!” He shouts, shaking the book in the air as I push my way outside through the small doggie door. Sitting on the freezing cold wooden porch, I spy through the gap of the still swinging door to see Master throw the now shredded book with Donald Trump’s now cloudy face into a nearby waste paper basket.

Of course my remorse is real, but I feel an overwhelming wave of triumph. I really didn’t mean to annihilate the man by ripping his face off or shredding the books pages. I just wanted to chase the cat away and I did that, job done. Master will forgive me I’m sure and I will soon be allowed back inside out of the cold, but most important of all is, the cat no longer sleeps on Donald Trump’s head, feeding him those vile thoughts through his scalp.


A Gilmore Girls Fanfic

She was so incredibly formal that day,  sitting in my office, barely touching the coffee I had brought back for her. The small talk. Questions about Gigi and my girlfriend, Lara. All of it sounded forced. Though I hadn’t much to do with Rory, for reasons no matter how hard I tried I could never justify, I knew my daughter well enough to know there was something going on in that head, something big.

That Buffy reference when I asked how she was doing was the final straw…

Resisting Defeat

Bullying Before Computers – My Story

Some call it ‘triggered’ but I’m going to call it ‘compelled’. In light of the tragic event involving the loss of yet another beautiful soul, with so much potential, to suicide as a result of cyberbullying, I feel as a survivor of relentless bullying over the course of my teen years, that it’s my duty to revisit events in my life that I had put to bed long ago, and share my story.

Bullying was so much a part of my life, growing up that I find it easier to pinpoint the moments when times were good, in a sea of moments I wish no one had to experience. I was teased for everything I did well and everything I did not so well, right from year one. I was teased for the odd occasions I  wearing the right uniform, and then teased for having the best shoes. I was teased for whoever I managed to to befriend because they were also targets for the bullies. It seemed whatever I did or wore, made me a target for bullies. I wish I could say that was the extent of the bullying I endured, but sadly it wasn’t. Exclusion was an everyday occurrence and it was in the form of being told to go away, or sit somewhere else if I tried to eat with a group of kids, never being invited to birthday parties, being made to sit out the game in most sports I tried to involve myself in, having the few friends I made be asked to join in whatever game was going on and then being told that only that friend could join in, not me. I gravitated from group to group of people to sit with in highschool and always I was asked to go find some ‘other friends’ to sit with. As a result I never knew who was my friend, who was pretending to be a friend or if I even had friends.

Then there was the hair pulling in primary school and regular occurrences of having to comb juice out of it after it was tipped over me, then the hair singeing on the bus in high school and food thrown at me nearly every lunchtime. This all made the name calling seem like nothing in comparison, yet still so relentless that I often resorted to excluding myself from the classroom rather than wait until the teacher sent me out for retaliation and the inevitable detention while the bullies got away with their actions with nothing more than a warning. I would either ask to be sat outside before the lesson even started, or ask to be sent to sickbay or the guidance officer to avoid these scenes. As a result, I missed a lot of class and at best barely passed the classes that I already didn’t have a natural aptitude for.

Many times I had my belongings stolen or destroyed. My Ventolin inhalers cost my mum a fortune during the early years of highschool, from always having to replace them after they were stolen.

In the afternoons, after being fed up with the hair singeing I caught a different bus, which meant I had to wait longer at school, walk a longer distance home and subsequently get home later in the afternoon. On my.walks home from the bus stop I was harassed on a regular basis by a couple of boys who caught the same bus. This included being swung around by my bag and thrown in the dirt, being hit and threatened with sticks and being chased by them on their bikes after they had been kicked off the bus. Those boys would ride to the golf course where all this took place and be there to meet me as I got off the bus. And they would chase me all the way to my street. I would often get home with tyre marks on the backs of my legs from when their threats to run me down came close to action. I decided this was the lesser of two evils as this was the better alternative to being set on fire by kids on the other bus.

I was kicked off that bus for two weeks at a time for behaviour that included retaliation, and my only option then was to walk home from school. This meant walking across town.

Needless to say the only break I had from the bullies was when I was at home.

As I reached the final years of highschool, the physical bullying and teasing died down a little but didn’t cease altogether, however I felt that it was at a level that finally I could cope with.

What didn’t die down and was the worst of the bullying by this stage was the exclusion, but by this time it was more subtle. It.consisted of me sitting with a group of people, in my final year of year 12, the year  i reluctantly repeated, who I thought finally accepted me and some of whom even talked to me. Yet in the final weeks of highschool, I was set up for the most heartbreaking form of exclusion ever when plans were made regarding the school formal. It was only when I showed up to school with the agreed upon monetary  contribution that I realised they were plans that were never intended to include me. They were disguised as plans that changed that didn’t have room for me. At least they didn’t take my money, but I showed up to the formal alone that year and sat the table with all the other students that were excluded from other friends tables. It was a night that should have been one to look forward to and that I should’ve been able to look back on with fond memories. Instead it was a night I’d rather forget. The bright-side of all of this was that it signified the hell that was my school years, made that way because of the bullying that filled nearly every day of those years.

Many times over those years I had contemplated suicide, not for a desire to die, but to escape and end the suffering. It was also a time where I felt the most alone and abandoned, through lack of action from some of  my teachers to discourage the bullying towards me. I developed a lack of confidence I my teachers to care enough to act and as a result, I shut down and continued to suffer in silence. It’s only now that I’m thankful that thought rarely became intent or action, that my ‘notes’ were seen soon enough as cries for help that were taken seriously enough that through counselling I got the help I needed to developed ways to cope with the bullying and the subsequent depression, and outward behaviour.

There were a few other bright sides to this story. Avoiding the bullies at lunchtime lead me to pursue singing, school concerts, musicals and the school choir. It was there I found my belonging, talent, passion and confidence to pursue that talent once school ended.

I also developed a sharp wit (which has made me the witty person I am today with a quip or an answer for everything) and slowly the confidence to stand up to the bullies, though unfortunately sometimes in ways I could be not be proud of, disclose nor encourage, and the strength to ignore that which was not important in the way I live my life, including online bullies.

These days I’ve made it my mission to raise awareness of the severity of bullying behaviour, including the effect it has on people who are targeted, such as depression, anxiety, PTSD and in many tragic cases suicide. Because of this I have no problems calling keyboard warriors on their actions even at the risk of their malice being directed at me, and the thick skin and willpower needed to simply put the screen down on my laptop, shut off Facebook or whatever social media it occurs on and switch my focus to something else awhile.

The biggest brideside of all my experiences with bullying over the years is that we mostly grew up before computers and the internet were so readily available. Not contending with the heavy infusion in everyday life as a teen meant I could catch a break from bullying, in the safety of home. It’s this that I am most thankful for, but at the same time am most concerned about for this generation of teens especially. Being connected 24/7 in this way means these days there is no break from the bullies and no time to regroup before dealing with another day of it at school.

At the beginning of writing this, I mentioned that I had long since put to rest a lot of the pain and the memories associated with my school years. I’m in a good place now and have let go of a lot of insecurities that years of conditioning through bullying had resulted in. I finally like myself, something for many years I wasn’t able to honestly say. I finally allow myself to shine without the fear of being exposed and targeted for standing out. I know so many people who are still carrying their pain around them from years of torment, who allow themselves still to let others torment them over the internet. One thing I remind them is there’s a reason we survived. People like us who have lived through it, I believe have a responsibility to stand up, to be a pillar of strength to others, to give advice, to tell our stories no matter how painful, to be a voice for those who aren’t with us and able to share our own, and to raise awareness of bullying. It is the responsibility of others in a position to make a change to do so, to make it a priority to end bullying once and for all. This is by changing legislation to protect people especially those vulnerable and susceptible to bullying. This is also by setting the example for the younger generation by rethinking how we treat others, so that they have better role models to follow and learn how to treat others. This is also by not celebrating those who put others down, who succeed only by pulling others down to get ahead, who spread hateful messages about other humans or subgroups of human beings, or giving those people notoriety and publicity in the media because of the ways they bully others. While we sensationalize those people, we set the example that this behaviour will result in fame, and encourage more people to use this way to seek fame and or success, because they get the message that it’s okay to hurt and put others down.

It is through telling my story that I hope to inspire those going through it now, that there is ‘light at the end of the tunnel’, that they too can get through it and that it’s worth trying to, because life does get better. It is a hope also that telling my story raises awareness of the bullying that has occurred in the past and how it has evolved in the present, to a detriment of humanity. It’s now more than ever that we through our stories, experiences, positions of authority and power and awareness of the suffering and loss of those enduring it that we can create the wave of change needed that will stamp out the bullying behaviour. Zero tolerance needs to be something that we don’t just pay lip service to, that we put strategies in action that ensure that this is more than a buzzword thrown around when stories like Dolly’s reach the attention of mass media, then forgotten when the “hype” dies down, while the families continue to grieve in silence, as the world moves on. More needs to be done to end the cycle of bullying altogether. Awareness is just the start.

The Humiliation Of Raven

Every day is an adventure, when you’re a black cat, living in tis little corner of the globe. Springtime is magical, although in the bottom part of the country where I live, Spring doesn’t fully ‘spring’ until mid to late October. That’s when the flowers bloom, yellow and purple deep red, and the sound of new life rings music to a cat’s short, pointy, alert ears, of baby birds crying in anticipation of Mumma-bird’s next catch.22788781_673020029558156_7263506325864014572_n

I watch from my vantage point, in my now fully bloomed, green leafy climbing tree. I am concealed but for the shaking branch under my weight and falling leaves as I find my footing to climb higher to further envelopment in the foliage. There I will stay, paused, swishing my tail to keep my balance as I watch them flutter around the neighborhood, from tree to tree.  “I see you, birdies!” They chirp as they flutter about to mock me.

Oh the shame of being a ferocious panther, trapped in the body of a domesticated house pet. My ringing bell on my collar sounds at the most inconvenient times, when I am stalking prey., feeling like a winner in this game of cat and well… bird, in this case. Ting-ting! My bel betrays me yet again, giving away my presence, as the birds in a nearby bottle brush fly off, while I skulk in a cloak of embarrassment. 17499144_584493475077479_6008579583057854987_n22555249_673019842891508_4495865639538947310_n

Today is like any other spring day, but what are these things, hanging from the branches of my favourite branches? With my paws, I bat at the soft white tissues with purple bows. Their little faces remain in a horrified expression as they swing from the force of my smacks. “Take that!” MY efforts to chase these strange things out of my tree are futile as they hang there mocking me.


“Raven! Leave those ghosts alone!” That’s Mummy calling to me. I’m in trouble again, damn! Though it’s nothing unusual for me.

“Humph!” I jump from the branch granting the little ghosts mercy, and I land with a THUD on the soft grass.

This is no ordinary day, however. Mum is playing spooky music and running around putting all sorts of scary things in the yard – MY yard. There is a pointed purple hat and gloves sticking up from a piece of black clothing, looking like whoever wore it has since melted and is long gone, and there are grey Styrofoam headstones, with even an arm sticking out of the ground, holding a spade. All, of these god-awful contraptions, lay blocking the way to my favourite cave, which is really a shady spot under a large bush with purple flowers. I guess I can’t get in there today to hide and pounce on the unsuspecting dog, there are just too many things in the way22894030_10155337837604032_851731254158762387_n


Speaking of the dog, what on earth is he wearing? His usually fluffy, though not so recently shorn white coat is covered in a red costume, which looks like a cute devil of some sort, and he seems so pleased with himself in this outfit. “Dobby, you look hideous!” I laugh, feeling lucky that this is one thing Mummy and I have ever reached an agreement on.


I am a cat, a stealth stalker, a fierce hunter and a ‘man’ about town in my shiny black coat. In my urban jungle, I am King. I don’t play ‘dress-ups’!19598767_627274460799380_4990188599752028805_n

I must confess, I once wore a ‘Santa Paws’ suit under duress. I remember feeling restricted and downright ridiculous. Mum, however took pictures, cooing about how cute I was and giggling as she looked in my direction, snapping picture after picture with her camera. Crouching low, I slithered on the floor like a snake until I was out of that retched thing, and onto freedom. It was the most humiliating two minutes of my life, until today.


“Raven!” Mummy is calling me, in a tone that tells me I’m not going to enjoy what lies in store for me today. In her hand, she is holding a small black plastic cauldron and looking determined. I am equally determined that thing is coming nowhere near me. I freeze, knowing Mummy will catch me eventually if I try to run. I crouch low, considering a bolt into my house cave, a place I barely fit into anymore. That’s when I spot the wizard that is standing right near the entrance, wearing a top hat, sunglasses and robes. His wand is poised as he glares through dark lenses in my direction. Dare I brave this being and dive into my cave? Mummy is making her way across the yard and in a split decision I succumb to her, letting her scoop me into her arms. She kisses the top of my head and gives my chin a tickle with her fingers.22852070_10155337837614032_6726230069136890047_n

Now this, I decide isn’t so bad, is it? She carries me to my chair and as she sits, I allow her to nurse me on her lap. I’ve not forgotten what she is holding, but there’s no harm in milking this, is there? I thump the chair with my tail to remind her how unimpressed I am with what’s to come.

Alas! I am back on the ground again, free and wearing… Oh my god, she didn’t. That awful cauldron is attached to my collar and as I skulk away, and though it is lite, I’m tripping over the thing. “Mummy! I thought we had an agreement!” I meow! “No- absolutely NO COSTUMES!”22853044_675653512628141_1949670509474213252_n

“Oh you look so cute!” Mummy is giggling as I try and fail to climb the tree. This thing is too much to endure.

As Mummy continues decorating the yard, I curl up, back in my chair feeling defeated. As I close my eyes, hoping slumber will end my nightmare, I can hear the birds all chirping in their laughter, mocking me in my current vulnerability.  “You’ll keep, birdies,” I mutter and slip away into the land of nod.

When I open my eyes, the dog is perched on the arm of my chair, staring intently at my face through brown, button eyes. He is still proudly wearing that awful costume. Behind him a giant mouse is standing, almost motionless and for a moment I’m wondering if dinner has arrived or if I am still dreaming.22853301_10155338077869032_857971684676991046_n

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“Hey Raven!” It says in a familiar voice, as my eyes slowly adjust.

“Damn it, it’s Mummy, and she’s holding the camera, as my torture continues in the form of the black cauldron, still strapped to my collar and preventing me from my post slumber grooming ritual, and my refusal to take part in Mum’s plans.  Yet again my chin bumps on the cauldron as my attempt to clean my paws is thwarted. “Mummy please end the misery and take this off me,” I plead with my eyes boring into hers. Seizing the opportunity, she clicks the camera giggles. I’m she finds my struggles amusing, NOT.

After a yawn and a stretch to the end of my claws, I stand, arching my back to the sky, determined. Now expecting no help from Mummy, I must get this thing off my neck, any means possible. I try crouching low and slinking off my chair onto the ground, before slithering, snake-like, across the grass, to no avail.

I claw in frustration at the excited dog, jumping in my face, licking my ears and playfully nipping at my face. “This is no time to play, my brother,” I growl, “I mean business!” He just half leaps backwards and starts bouncing from side to side, his tongue hanging out of his useless mouth and floppy unruly ears bouncing on either side of his scruffy head. “You’re no use to me!”


“Well you’re no fun!” he whimpers after me and cocks his leg in a pitiful display of spite on the trunk of my tree. I have bigger fish to hunt. Ignoring him, I brave the wizard and dive between its feet into the hole, to my subsequent predicament.

Sure that the next few minutes would be my untimely demise, I don’t see that my luck is about to change. The retched cauldron and my collar is suddenly snagged on a piece of rotting wood at the threshold of my cave, yanking me backwards. “This cannot be my end! I still have so much to explore!” I am pleading mercy to the wizard, who’s boots shield me from the view of the yard, the dog and the street, and Mummy.  The wizard just stands motionless and I am now astute in my knowledge that he will not help me either. I am on my own in this struggle. This, I am determined will not defeat me. I tug, and tug, and tug some more with all my might until I am just as suddenly released from the clutches of the rotting wood, and my collar, with it’s pretty bow that everyone admires, the annoying bell and cauldron, all laying dormant on the wood, mere casualties of my victory. I relish in my newfound freedom, speculating. Oh, the adventures I can now go on, the places I can explore and the prey I can stalk and catch unaware… “Who’s mocking at who now, tweeting birds?”23130488_675626725964153_7640054174834005318_n

I must think what to do first but I am overwhelmed by possibility. I make a dash, through the space between the wizard’s boots to my chair where I continue plotting my revenge on that wizard, those birds, the dog and Mummy, ALL of them.

The broken collar and my escape to freedom does not go un-noticed. Mummy is only too aware of what has just taken place. After a failed attempt to fix my collar, she disappears into the house. “Have I won this battle?” Moments later she re-emerges holding a new black polka dotted collar in hand, with my name tag attached already with that horrid bell. I must run in a desperate attempt to preserve what’s left of my freedom and dignity, and save myself from further torment. I slip between the arm of the chair and a small table beside it and behind the other chair where the dog is now resting, between the wizards boots back to where this latest horror began. Safe under the house in my cave, I watch as my confused human glances frantically around the yard, this way and that as she begins pacing the grassy strip, jingling the bell as she calls my name. She stops only to hand out treats to passing children in hideous costumes, as the sun sets.

Though I am nowhere near ready to surrender my freedom just yet, I realize it is inevitable. I slink out of my house-cave, and crouch on the nearby step, letting Mummy scoop me up. “Aw, Raven,” she coos, kissing my head, the bell jingling as she scratches my chin. There’s no denying she has the magic touch. My purr defies me, as she sits with me on her lap again, on my chair. All my visions of freedom and bird catching are ripped away as Mummy clips the collar on my neck.22894430_675626729297486_8951398817451827645_n

All in all, I must be thankful for one thing on this peculiar spring day, I no longer have a cauldron hanging from my neck, but to my horror I discover a second bell on my collar. As the last of the sun disappears, from view and the howling wind sets in, the night birds mockingly squawk. As I am carried inside for the night, I chalk it all up to a battle lost but not the war. The night birds and the morning ones, may all live to chirp another day. Tomorrow, Spring will continue its display of magic and beauty and I will climb my tree and enjoy my chair, plotting my revenge on everyone for what took place on this horrific day.


So Unfair

Trying to wrap my head around this awful goodbye.
It’s so unfair!
I wanna fall in a heap in pieces and cry.
It’s so unfair!
Keep thinking about lost time and I wish I knew why.
It’s so unfair!
My dad, my mate, he’s gone away.
It’s so unfair!!
I’m numb from too much pain, I hate this!
It’s so unfair!
I wanna scream, I wanna cry,
I can’t believe its true.
It’s so unfair!
I feel so robbed, hurts to know you’re gone.
It’s so unfair!
My dad, my mate, where are you?
It’s just so unfair!!!

Washed Up

Salt water enveloped my bare feet as the foam cleared away. They glistened in the late morning sun as I studied the sand that lingered in the crevasses between my toes. I dug them deeper into the sand until I could no longer see the chipped jade polish, as I watched the water trickle away back down the beach from where it came, only to be swallowed by the next wave coming in.

I thought of the new girl now taking my place in my old band. How bright eyed and eager she had been, though a little naïve she was, and star struck.  Living the dream, she was, right? Give it time, I thought. That world would swallow her up too, just as it had swallowed me. Of course, she loved it, just as I had, and lived for the buzz of that stage and the lights loved her, as they had once loved me, but I knew only too well how unforgiving those lights could be. She of course showed promise, but I wondered how my girls truly received her. Would they accept her as a Mermaid? Those girls squabbled over the lead spot after I left, but I wondered if she would surpass and outshine them in the spotlight, better than all of them put together? Growing up, they were my best friends, as close to me as sisters, but that was so long ago now. I wondered if they thought of me still in that way. Were they angry, or perhaps even a little jealous? I missed them all but it was no secret I was outgrowing them fast. Everybody knew it, including Ursula, my singing coach and Sebastian Fish, Dad’s assistant who was like another father to me.

Everybody of course saw me growing in leaps and bounds away from The Mermaids, except Dad. He had poured so much money and effort into marketing the Mermaids and managed our rising success, as founder of Triton Records, though I felt in safeguarding me from the clutches of the solo career that was beckoning me, I felt he was holding me back, just a little too tight, and the harder he tried to reign me in, the stronger I dug my heels in, determined to break away from his Label, The Mermaids and everything that kept me from a chance to shine on my own.

I remembered the last words he’d said when I finally left The Mermaids for the promise of a solo career. “You’re not ready, but I have to let you go find your way. I’m disappointed in you, Aria.” Those words stung my heart and to this day would haunt me. We never spoke again.

I pushed on with Ursula as my new manager under her newly formed Label, Silverfish, and rose to the top with my first Number one hit. Sebastian stuck around for a while, but feeling that he was only there to report back to Dad of my success and every failure between, I pushed him away too, not realizing he was the only one who could see what Ursula was doing to my career. Never satisfied with what success trickled my way like the waves on that beach I was now sitting, Ursula pushed me harder than I’d ever worked in my life. Every song I sang required her seal of approval and I was oblivious to my voice slowly slipping away. In the studio, Ursula was relentless.

“Do it again!” She would scream at me after every take and I would sing the track again. “Again!” She would scream and I would lay track after track till I was hoarse.

“Don’t get complacent, girl!” She once told me after I won Best New Single and Female Vocalist of the Year in my first year, as a soloist. Fame was fleeting she told me, ripping away any remnant of joy from the moment. There was no after party for me, no downtime, only more studio time working on the follow up album.

“Hard work! That’s what will set you up in this business.” Longevity was the magic word she threw at me every time, I uttered a syllable of complaint. “In the music industry,” she told me, “That is how you measure success.” The harder I worked, the harder she pushed.

With Dad no longer speaking me and the Mermaids nothing more than a memory to me, and my voice all but gone I had nothing left to lose. Silverfish had everything to gain from my rapidly drying career, and my successes which soon grew fewer and farther between.

Ursula was like a mad woman steering what was left of my career in any direction she could sniff out the smallest fumes of a promise for more success, but really, she was driving my career into the ground fast. All but swallowed up by Ursula’s greed, I’d pushed myself so hard, for so long, for no reward, that even the music was losing its magic for me. In the nightmare of my life, I was losing sight of my dream.

While I pasted on a smile and shone on a different stage every night, sprinkling my song like star dust over an adoring crowd, the feeling was always the same dread. I had forgotten to save some of that magic for myself, no not forgotten, now I realized as I looked back on those times. I had forbidden myself from keeping enough to sustain myself, and as a result I was dead inside. By the time I finally collapsed from exhaustion on stage, I was no longer singing from my heart, just my throat, and it hurt like hell. “Go! I have no use for you now,” Ursula had told me as we severed the contract. As far as she was concerned I was done as a singer.

I sat on that beach in the warm sun that gently burned my flesh, I watched the sea as each new wave swallowed the one before and I shuddered. How caught I felt in rip of a now dead career. The Mermaids would never want me back, and even though I considered reuniting with the girls, I knew deep down I no longer belonged there anyway.

I picked up a small twig and with it I drew a large shell in the wet sand beside me, studying its perfect shape as I brushed away the excess mess of sand, leaving a crisp line. In the center I wrote my name, Aria, and I noted how most of the letters clung together as if they belonged that way, while the A stood alone at the start, as if daring to break away as I had from The Mermaids, in a desperate now failed attempt to shine on my own. Dad was right. I was not ready and now I was sitting there feeling alone on the beach in my grief for all I had lost in my climb to the top of a crumbling ladder, falling hard when I could no longer hang on.

I twisted a long strand of my hair, red as fire, into a thick ringlet, before raking my fingers through it breaking it apart into smaller masses of spring curls over my now glowing pink shoulder, the ends meeting the sand where the water washed over them and the shell till it and my name disappeared.

I extended that same hand I’d been using to comb my hair, and found the hand of the one man who managed to breathe life back into my heart, after Ursula had sucked out my soul and left me for dead. I laced my fingers through Erik’s as we watched the sea together. My turquoise eyes met his sparkling sapphire blues and he smiled. His love washed over me warm like the sunlight in a clear blue sky, and it was then I realized, he was the one person in my life who never made me question his love. With all the warmth he showered me with, he asked for nothing in return, yet until that moment I was always too afraid to open my heart to him, for fear he would eventually spit me out too when he was done. How could I love him? I hadn’t figured out how to even open my heart to myself.

“What’s going on in that head of yours?” he asked as I struggled to return his smile.

“Stuff,” I answered as I dropped my hand and my eyes to the spot where my name had been, scooping away the remaining water that had washed it away. A tear burned its way down my cheek before dropping to the sand where it dissolved. I felt in that moment that I could disappear too.

Erik retraced my name and then taking my hand in his again, he used my finger to draw a heart around my name, where the shell had been and I knew what he was trying to remind me.  “Love yourself, Aria.” He would tell me always. It was something I struggled a lot, to remind myself, but with each passing day I was getting better at it.

Impulsively thinking this was the perfect time to start honouring me, I rose to my feet. Taking Erik’s hand, I helped him to his feet too. Not yet ready to let his hand go again, I raced with him in tow to the sea. He matched my stride by stride as we jumped the waves till we were both thigh deep in the ocean. It was then I let go.

This was something only I could do for me. I dived under the sea and let the waves swallow me as I forged my way forward, clawing the sand beneath me, towards my future. In that moment, despite everything I’d lost, my Dad, The Mermaids, my career and my voice for a while, I realized what I found was more important. Erik was the first to love me for me and he was teaching me to love me also. I would learn to sing again, this time not with the Voice of Ursula, and her team of songwriters and producers, but with my own.

With beautiful Erik by my side, allowing me my own space, his love never faltering, I was finding my strength to stand in that space, and shine on my own for the first time ever. It was in finding me, for the first time in my life, I was no longer lost, but free.