Camp Bliss

Last November I rented a villa in the rice fields of Ubud, Bali and invited over twenty creatives from all over the world to join. I named our coming together ‘Camp Bliss.’

There are parts of me that would love to unravel the entire story of that intense, life-altering month, but for now you’ll have to forgive my silence and let the photographs do the story-telling. I left my camera untouched, but thankfully I was surrounded by talented photographer friends.

I will leave you with just one of my favourite memories.

It was in the beginning of Camp Bliss. I was always giggling, europhic and in disbelief at the way everything had come together. Here I was surrounded by new friends in paradise and our days together felt like a dream.

This starry night we decided to go skinny dipping in the pool. Music played and crickets chirped as we snacked on fresh papaya and watched the night sky. Warm water slipped and swam around our bare skin.

A sense of awe was shared by us all. Us wide-eyed children. Together we spoke of the immense beauty that surrounded us, of being good humans and artists, of being alive. Our words felt powerful, as though they were more than words. We put our arms around the shoulders of those beside us and we spun laughing in circles. When we stopped the stars were still spinning.

We were all more grateful than we could put to words that night.

By Bella Kotak

 By Jess Hay

By Savannah Daras

 By Chrissie White

 By Dominque Felicity

 By Melanie Ziggel

 By Clare Alice Young

California Sun

I write this in many places. In my head as I’m walking the palm-lined streets of LA. In our garden in a notebook filled with Alba’s scribbles. Late at night in M’s parents’ home in Perth while everyone sleeps. By the pool in a Balinese villa, thunder and rain hanging in the air. It feels like a collage of mismatched paragraphs. Something has been holding me back. I have a feeling this will be my last entry like this.

In a hazy way I understand the influence my blog has and how many read it, but it all feels too unreal. Now and then someone recognises me on the street and the reality shakes me. My most personal thoughts have been tattooed on stranger’s bodies and it’s not unusual to introduce myself to someone new and realise they already know my life story. But despite it all I feel completely ordinary, because in everyday life I really am.

Once upon a time being well-known was what I wanted. But now, apart from the ability to make positive change and connections, I wish I wasn’t. My family are too exposed and it’s unsettling, the poison of negativity leaks into reality and I know I need to step back for them.

But that power I have to bring good into the world is too important to give up. How lucky and grateful I feel, I want to help others and I have this way to reach so many! I can’t even comprehend how blessed I am to have you all. So although I’ve decided not to document our lives so intimately after this, I will keep giving what I can.

LA welcomes us back with open arms, but it doesn’t feel quite the same as our last trip. When our family is together life seems easy. It’s us three in symbiosis. Life flows. But here it is just Alba and I and life feels tipped off balance.

It isn’t a bad thing, even the loneliness and frustration are blessings in disguise. When I’m content lessons don’t hit me this hard or sink this deep, the highs don’t knock me off my feet. I needed this.

Zelda has her birthday party at a mansion in Beverley Hills. I wear an incredible swimsuit she bought me a few days earlier and a long dark dress that kisses my feet. I think I might look as though I belong among all the movie starlets. Like I am another version of me for a few hours.

There are colourful Macaws on stands all around the yard and Alba is mesmerised. The pool and the lawn are full of people. Jojo comes up behind me and hugs me and I remember when I was young and listened to her CD over and over on the long walks to school. I talk to boys whose characters I had crushes on in TV shows and I see Zelda walking around glowing like the sun.

It’s another world. A world I never thought I’d be immersed in. And now that I am here I see that we are all just human beings. We all feel joy and pain and imperfection. There is no need for envy, we all have our own bliss and own battles. None of us really have it all together.

When we walk inside a lady sweeps me and Alba away to visit a cat named Snowy. She leads us through a series of rooms until we come to an extravagant bathroom. Purring gently is a fat cat, soft as a cloud but kept immaculately groomed. A cat right out of a dream. Alba feeds Snowy while the lady coos and pats Alba’s hair and life feels totally bizarre.

One night we all play laser tag. Alba and I run around hand-in-hand in the darkness, shooting and hiding and shouting with glee. Another night we play mini golf and everyone is in fits of laughter because Alba is taking the balls and putting them in the holes herself. It feels so good as a Mama to see the joy Alba brings to others, especially here where people need the optimism and purity of a child.

We’re all family in this Hollywood palace. In the mornings Zelda is writing scripts, I’m answering emails and Alba is playing with Alfy the dog at our feet. At lunchtime Josh comes home to spend time with us, Alba squealing as he lifts her into the air and tells her how much he missed her. When Brooke gets home from work in the afternoon she brings green juices for Alba and I from the juice bar where she works. Some evenings Mark is cooking dinner for Steph and I hang out in the kitchen talking with them. The routine is nice.

It’s not easy being both a Mama to a toddler and an artist. Sometimes I can feel my potential bursting within my chest with nowhere to go. I quieten my passion while I focus on my girl, but I never let it die. Now I realise the preciousness of time and how fleeting life really is and soon nothing will stop me. I quietly make plans.

My friend Landon throws a dinner party at his home in Beverly Hills. The food was delicious, Alba is fast asleep and there is a bonfire dancing on the lawn. But I am not really here, I am in the past and the future. I am overthinking and my mind is loud with thought and worry. I look outside the windows to the fire and the pool beckoning and I tell myself: Stop living in your head and start living in the world.

It is 1am but I slip quietly outside and out of my dress. When I dive into the pool I expect the sharp stinging cold of the lake, but the water is heated. It hugs me as I swim at the bottom. I remember being 8 and believing I was a mermaid and the bliss of naivety floods back to me. I feel the insignificance of all my worries. I embrace all I really have, the present.

After a long time I break the surface. There is too much pollution to really see the stars but I am happy to watch the moon, to know it is the same moon I have always known. Inside the house someone sees me and smiles. I know I am loved here. The heat of the fire spreads all over my body when I dry, prickling my skin.

All of the joy is interspersed with moments of hardness. Though I sleep beside Alba I still feel alone when night comes. Not having M around and having no breaks (but for her short naps) takes its toll on me. I took for granted just how much he takes care of us.

I may not have the patience of two, or the strength to throw her in the air over and over like her Papa does but I give her all the love I have and then more, so I can make up for his absence. The hards nights melt into peaceful mornings of kisses and cuddles in bed, Alba and I talking softly about the things we’ll do that day. Sometimes I look at her and love floods me, like it is all I am.

Back in Australia my half-brother takes his last breath. Once Alba is asleep I curl up under the bed and try not to feel. I have never felt so distant from my family. Guilt creeps up and I know I will never see him again. I am lost here. My Father’s heart breaks on the other side of the world, he has outlived two of his children now. I won’t let myself imagine losing Alba.

After a long day Zelda throws a games night. Her friends come over and we play running charades and cards against humanity. Alba is busy playing with friends so I slip into a bedroom with my headphones and iPod. I listen to “Bravado” by Lorde with the volume up and I dance with the lights off and no space for thoughts in my head. The feeling is sensational. I feel like I am flying through space. It doesn’t matter that I’m a terrible dancer or that I mess up the lyrics as I sing, I am free.

I decide I want to be able to dance that freely in public. I want to stop analysing myself through other’s eyes and start being free to be myself. I want to say yes to more experiences and not be afraid. I want to choose good thoughts to play in my mind. I want to stop the negative thoughts about my body and accept I am healthy and beautiful and happy to be alive. I want to see the world like I did when I was a child, full of wonder and magic. It’s still the same world after all, it’s just my perception that has changed.

So this trip I write these things down and more to read every day. It’s difficult and I know it will take a long time to shed my fear, but it begins to work. I tell myself I’ll never get to be twenty years old again. I skip down streets and share cheerful hellos to strangers, I listen with an open heart and I sing aloud to the songs playing in my head. Alba and I sit near a patch of flowers by the sidewalk for a while just watching the insects that live there, no need to be anywhere but there. I just be the person I want to be, and it was that simple all along. Simple, but not effortless.

Usually goodbyes are easy because I’ve grown used to them but this time I am struggling not to cry. My vulnerability on this trip left me open and I connected more fully to everyone I met here. Nick drives me to the airport, I watch Zelda and Brooke wave as we pull away and I say silent goodbyes to familiar places as we pass. Nick kisses Alba for a long time when it is time to go and I know she has touched his heart.

Alba sleeps against me on the flight and I am happy to hold her in my arms. She is beautiful beyond anything I could have ever imagined and I watch her face closely, knowing it will change. It already has.

When I was younger I thought having a child would be constant magic. I wondered how I’d ever be able to take my eyes off someone I’d created, how I’d treasure every sound they made and spend all day long playing with them. At times it does feel just as I’d imagined, but mostly parenthood doesn’t feel magical. I am guilty of being impatient and distracted. We all adjust to things, good and bad.

So I take time, whenever I remember, to be conscious of how wonderfully mind-blowing it all really is. Not just Mamahood but life too. Life may have taken over 4 billions years of evolution to design us and here we are on a planet floating in the Milky Way, surrounded by billions of stars and other galaxies. And this is it, the very moment I type these words, the very moment you read them, this is us being alive. The thing more precious and mysterious than anything else, so fleeting it is only a flash in the lifetime of the universe.

I had a funny feeling flying over Brisbane before we landed, looking down on the rivers like trickles of water and cars like beetles, humans only grains of sand and their little box homes. I had a sense of just how small we really are. Then we were home again and everything breathed peace.

Another Summer in Lake Tahoe

I lay on my stomach on the bow of the boat, my hands dipping into the cool water when it surges. I am riding the gentle waves of the lake and all feels perfect. The sun is hot on my back and Alba is fast asleep. The patterns of the waves put me into a trance. I am smiling at everything.

The lake house where we are staying is a mansion of a cabin. Our bedroom window overlooks the woods and as I lay with Alba I watch for grizzly bears. The backyard dips down into the lake, reflecting the bright blue of the sky. It is cleansing after the last few days of smog in LA, and the stressful flight from Australia before that.

Alba runs across the lawn after a butterfly. She is quick on her feet now, I watch her and I see flashes of the little girl she is becoming. She pulls me into a hug and my eyes close tightly as our faces touch. All of her unexpected affection reminds me to be deserving and good. I know I am not always deserving. Doing this trip alone seemed a small thing back at home, but I’m quickly realising I was wrong.

It’s strange to think that I am here because of my passion. Because a young actress in Hollywood fell in love with my photographs when I was still in highschool and her Mama flew me over to visit. Now that glowing girl is Alba’s Sunmother and her family are like my own family. The luxury of this lifestyle is a contrast against the world of my upbringing, and I can appreciate both worlds.

I spend a lot of time watching the chefs cook. They are a beautiful pair who make the most beautiful food. There are always delicious dishes in excess for every meal and I give my appreciation in excess too, because I understand the hard work that goes into creating it. I eat slowly, savouring everything, remembering where it came from. The bags of organic produce from the markets on the counter, the berries being washed gently beneath the tap, the kale being massaged, the radicchio being peeled layer by layer, the dough being kneaded.

Nick and Alba dote on one another here and I am thankful for it. Alba traces the colourful tattoos on his arms, asking “drawing?” and he says “yes baby, drawing”. When she falls over he scoops her up and kisses her better and tells her he loves her. One afternoon she falls asleep on his chest on the trampoline on the lake and the moment is bursting with tenderness. He leaves earlier than the rest of us, and that day she runs to his cabin and stands outside his door calling “Nih” over and over but he’s already flying home to LA.

Alba takes a while to warm to everyone. I can understand her shyness, everyone and everything is new. But I still long for her to be trusting. To have my own space to breathe. Thankfully, at the end of the week she is completely at home, running around making everyone laugh, picking flowers to give away and talking in her own language to her new friends.

She’s learning new words every day, like strawberry and drawing and boat and cuddle and water, and it is amazing to hear her speak. When we skype with her Papa she spends the whole time covering the screen in kisses meant for him. How can it be that she is only one? It feels like she has been with us for so many years.

We take canoes out on the water. From the middle of the lake I take pictures and as I watch my friends through the lens I realise how important they are. They are so different to me in many ways, but I love them. I feel accepted here. I wish I could have a circle of friends this strong with me always, but instead they are scattered all over the planet.

One night I am particularly lonely. Alba is asleep and I am sitting on the grass by the water. It is late, the air is cold and my skin is goosebumped beneath my jacket. I am surrounded by beauty but I am too overcome with longing to notice. I miss my love and parenting alone has been tough.

Whenever I am feeling down I remind myself that I have the power to change it. So I run inside and see if anyone wants to go swimming with me. Most think I’m crazy, but two boys and Zelda’s Mum say they’ll come. We run down the dock and strip off. I throw myself into the cold air and then the icy water hits me hard, chews me and swallows me.

The water is so cold it feels incredible. I can’t stop giggling. I swim out in the blackness, laughing and feeling totally alive. After a while everyone gets out and I swim to the trampoline on the lake and jump into the night sky. When I join the others in the spa afterwards my teeth are still chattering but all my sadness is gone.

Everything is always so peaceful at the lake house, just like I remember. In the evenings Marsha is doing puzzles on the deck, the chefs are busy making dinner, music is playing and my friends are talking around the fire with glasses of wine. Being around them reminds me that I am 20, that the yearning for experience and connection is still unsettled in my chest. I am the youngest here and it’s strange how I can feel like a Mother and a child at the same time.

I hug Marsha for a long time when we leave. I can’t find the right words for how grateful I am to her so I try to put it all into my embrace. I don’t want to say goodbye so I tell everyone I will see them again soon. Alba kisses her tiny palm and blows a kiss goodbye.

We fly back to LA, sunkissed and happy-hearted, with more adventure to come.