Monthly Archives: April 2014

Postcards from California – Conclusion (Guest Post by Helena Hann-Basquiat)

DON’T READ ANY FURTHER if you haven’t read PART ONE and PART TWO

From Sara: “It’s a delight to have the lovely Helena Hann-Basquiat at Right Ink On The Wall. Her stories have charmed me from the moment I met her and I’m honoured to host her as my first ever special guest. I’m so happy she’s found her way here to make a mark. Without more ado, I’ll let her conclude her journey…”

From Helena: “The honour and pleasure are mine, darling.”

Dearest Helena,

I am very sorry for leaving you the way I did. I was a very selfish person – this is the repeated refrain of my life. I look back at the person I was with loathing, and consider her like vomit. I have spent the last few years doing my very best to kill that person, erase her from my memory, and some days I even feel like it has worked, but then I’ll remember someone like you, or my ex-husband, and know that I have left bodies in my wake, and the ghost of the old me laughs at me from the mirror.

I’m not here to make excuses, Helena, nor to make amends – it’s too late for that and I’ve learned that empty gestures usually end up being just that – empty. No, I’m just reaching out to you as a way to tell my story, and I thought you would be pleased to know that I’m not just flitting from place to place anymore, just taking anything I want and never giving back.

If you don’t ever read this, well, I suppose it is enough that I wrote it down. But I do hope this reaches you, and that some day I can wrap my arms around you and thank you and say good-bye properly. I owe you that, at least.

You may not have realized this, but I was ever so lonely, but I didn’t have the time for making real friends – well, of course I had the time, darling, but I just couldn’t be bothered. And so I collected… pets… like I collected shoes or cars or purses, and when I was bored with them, or they started getting too close, I tossed them away.

I’m afraid that is what happened to you, Helena, but believe me when I tell you that you are not even close to the worst. I have treated others far worse. Ask my ex-lovers or my ex-husband what it is like to live with someone, to wake up with someone, who is cold and dead and self-consumed.

Of course, you’re asking yourself what caused my transformation. Well, I didn’t have a near-death experience or join a cult, in case that cynical mind of yours is rolling its eyes right about now.

I can tell you that it wasn’t just one thing. I didn’t just wake up one day and see things as they really were and do an about face. No, my life was stripped away a bit at a time. What I didn’t realize was that while I was busy playing wife and mother and socialite, people around me were tiring of me. I was too self-absorbed to notice it.

I moved back to Malaysia and was actually trying to play at being settled and domestic – can you believe it? But my selfish excess remained, and I drove my friends and family insane with my whimsical choices and erratic behaviour. I had everything every girl ever dreams of – I had the big princess wedding, a handsome prince, a castle and eventually a family.

I almost lost it all. First, the prince got tired of being alternately abused or neglected by me, and left. But not quietly. I don’t know if you’ve ever gone through a divorce, Helena, but they are a particularly ugly experience, especially if a child is involved. Mine was brutal, drawn out, and incredibly painful.

Then my grandmother died, and I shut down. I went inside my room and closed the door behind me, and it was there that I began to change.

Go ahead and make all the butterfly/cocoon jokes that you want, Helena, but it wasn’t like that at all. I didn’t emerge a better person. I didn’t suddenly come out with my mind enlightened and face shining like some sort of prophet or saint. I spent that year depressed and suicidal, and forced to face the real me. And I hated her. I began to plot her murder. I wanted to smash her head in and bury her under some daisies; put up a tombstone, reading HERE LIES A COLD, SELFISH BITCH – GOOD RIDDANCE TO BAD RUBBISH.

So no, I didn’t emerge a better person, just an empty, angry person, disappointed in myself – I can honestly say that I am probably the least accomplished person I know – I haven’t DONE anything. You were right about that. And so when I opened my door and stepped back into the world, it wasn’t as a butterfly, but as a prisoner set free. I had come to realize that I’d been living in a cage of my own making – that it was fear that kept me there. Fear of living. Actually living, and forming relationships, and trying to express myself – my actual thoughts and feelings – and having them be rejected. I was afraid that if anyone knew my desires, my dreams, that they would either laugh at me or hate me – a good Asian girl is not supposed to feel such things, not even supposed to THINK such things.

When I opened the door, the one thing I did have was a new credo – that I was going to be fearless.

What a joke, Helena! As if I could just declare something to be so and it would be so. It would appear that I had some growing up to do; some learning. I had some personal issues to work through, and no idea where to start. So yes, I did seek spiritual guidance. I spoke to a great many spiritual leaders, trying to understand myself, and eventually, discovered that I needed to look outside myself for the answers I was looking for.

Don’t get me wrong – a life of asceticism is not for me. I embrace my desires, not shun them – but I needed some sort of balance. I was not prepared, Helena. I fully admit that now, but at the time, I thought that I was ready for anything. I had years of practice showing fake confidence and bravado, and so I charged right in. I began working with non-profit organizations in Malaysia, caring for women and children rescued from the sex-trade. I have seen terrible things, Helena. Things that I can never un-see.

At first I just thought I could throw money at the problem, and that it would go away, thus easing my conscience. I thought I could feel good about myself. But it wasn’t enough to expunge my sense of guilt. I kept thinking how my priorities used to be getting my hands on the latest handbag or shoes, and it made me physically ill. I was in a position, or so I thought, to do something about the things I had seen, and not just by throwing money at it. Someone introduced me to an organization called Gawad Kalinga, and so I went to the Philippines to fight the good fight against poverty.

If you can sense the sarcasm and disillusionment dripping off my words, than my writing is not in vain.

I wasn’t going to change the world. In many ways, this was still my enormous ego acting up. Directed at a noble cause, to be sure, but still an exercise in vanity. It took me quite some time to come to that realization, though.

Don’t get me wrong — Gawad Kalinga is doing great work trying to rebuild a nation — you really can’t believe the poverty, Helena. This isn’t people without jobs, people with not enough to eat, people living in the streets, sleeping in bus shelters. This is people without clothes, people squatting in the mud, entire cities full of people living and dying in the street. Literally millions of people without regular food or shelter – entire generations living out their short, miserable lives without hope of anything close to what we take for granted.

I am no hero. I never was, and I never will be. But I have met heroes, and so I took it upon myself to try to document their work, going as far as helping start a film company to make a documentary about NGOs working to rebuild communities and eradicate poverty – specifically focusing on Gawad Kalinga. I thought that I could bring attention to the work that they were doing, and by doing so, add hands to the cause. It was a good idea, Helena. I swear it was. But again, it was unsuccessful. It seemed that the more I tried to do, the less I accomplished. I realize now that I was trying to wipe out the great debt that I felt I had amassed after years of selfish decadence with a single grand gesture.

In the end, the film industry brought out the worst in me – my vicious ego came forward to insist that things were done my way or not at all, and eventually I knew I had to walk away or again become consumed by that evil, dead thing that once I was.

So again, I went into self-imposed exile. I clearly still needed work. I needed to conquer my ego, face my fears, and battle my demons.

I know, right. Sounds trite, or cliché, but the fact of the matter is, the old Maya would never stoop to something as common as self-examination or self-improvement. I was my own, perfect, flawless goddess, and the world should change to suit me, not the other way around.

So what does that mean, anyway? Battling demons. Well, I cried. A lot. I stopped wearing make up, and tried to accept that I would never be movie star or model beautiful. I started writing. I’d always written poetry – sometimes depressing nonsense, sometimes, erotic fantasies – but I’d never taken it too seriously. I was proud of it, but it was just for me. But that year, I started writing, examining myself, taking a sharp blade to the deepest parts of me. I allowed myself to think about things I’d long buried, and to examine my role in the train wreck that my life had become. I came out of that with a renewed sense of purpose and understanding.

I expect that you’re waiting for the big Hollywood finish here. The story of how I opened an orphanage and saved the lives of hundreds of starving children, or how I became a motivational speaker, taking my story from stadium to stadium and changing the lives of millions.

Sadly, no. The truth is, neither of those things would be a good idea for me. I know how my ego works now, and how poisonous it is to me. No, I’m still just me. I’m still marginally involved with local relief organizations, and I’m still an avid supporter of Gawad Kalinga, but these days I focus on being a mom – my little girl is not so little anymore, and she needs me more than anyone else in the world. If I can instill better values in her, then maybe, through her, I can find my redemption.

Wow, did I really just write that? Sorry, darling, I fear sometimes my poetic nature gets the best of me.

So I’m taking it from day to day, trying to remain free of that cage I spent years creating. I’m writing a blog, and sharing my thoughts, my experiences, and even my poetry. I think you’d be glad that I am actually doing something for a change.

I once told you that I did whatever I wanted – went where I wanted, ate what I wanted, took what I wanted, spent time with who I wanted. That was my definition of freedom.

I know now that was just wild, unreliable and irresponsible. No wonder I found myself constantly alone, cut off from the people I said I cared about. The truth is, I didn’t know how to care for people. When we really care for people, and when we truly learn to care for ourselves, we can never be so wildly careless and casual about our presence and responsibility. To be there – to be really present – for the people we love, and to be reliable for ourselves and for the people that depend on us, we need to rise above our own issues. If I want to be someone who can achieve great things, I have to be able to let go of the pain, the anger, and the baggage of the past.

And how do I do that?

God, I don’t know, Helena. One day at a time? Isn’t that what the alcoholics say?

Anyway, I don’t know if you’re reading this, or if I’m just practicing for my writing portfolio. If this does reach you, and you care to get in contact, I’ve given you my current phone number and email address. I’m actually going to be in Los Angeles in a few weeks – are you still in the area? I really would love to see you, if you don’t think it would be too awkward.

I won’t hold my breath.

I wrote this as much for me as it was for you (see, I’m still a bit selfish) and so as I close this, I suppose I do feel a sense of accomplishment. I wanted to reach out to you and apologize, and tell you what I have tried to become, and now I have done that, and it will have to be enough.

I wish you true happiness, with the admonition to not look for it in fast cars, fancy clothes, and bright lights.

Much love,



By the time I finished reading, I was mentally exhausted. Penny was putting postcards in chronological order on the table, sketching out a timeline out of some sense of obsessive compulsion or else just a natural tendency for finding the narrative in things. There were plenty of gaps – some lasting years. I was a bit flattered that I came to mind at all, to be honest. It seems like she was trying to convince me that she was changing.

Look, here I am in the dangerous slums of Mindanao interviewing ex-rebel leaders.

Here I am clothing children rescued from a brothel in Ampang.

This is me making a movie about relief workers in Tanauan.

Postcard portraits of attempts to prove to herself – and me, it seemed – that she could do something. There was an insecurity and desperate need for approval in it all that I immediately recognized and related to. I found myself hoping that she was further along the path to self-acceptance than I was, because I could echo the last few lines of her letter to the very word.

I don’t know how to let go and move forward.

I just keep trying. One day at a time, like the alcoholics say.

“You should call her,” Penny said, reading my mind.

“I know,” I agreed, but I wasn’t sure that I would.


3eb88ad4-d00b-4cbe-a902-8022a9a45745This is the third and final part of a larger story, Postcards from California, by Helena Hann-Basquiat. It is part of what will become Volume Two of Memoirs of a Dilettante. Volume One was published April 1st, and is available in paperback HERE  (if it’s not available in your region, try HERE) or for Kindle HERE

For more Helena, go to

A Post About Postcards And A Very Special Guest

cover“I’d long ago stopped being angry with her, but seeing her handwriting, reading the messages in her delicate script sent me spiralling backward through time.” – Helena Hann-Baquiat

Something rather special is happening here soon. On May 1st, not only am I hosting an enchanting writer, I already know that I’m presenting you with the conclusion to an incredible story. Helena Hann-Basquiat is the author of Memoirs of a Dilettante – and if you don’t know what a dilettante is, darlings, go to her delicious blog to find out.

I love postcards. I hoard them. I also write them a lot. I’ve travelled heaps, so some lucky people have postcards from yours truly from all over the world. I write in tiny script and sometimes send multiple cards to the same person when I run out of room. Do you ever do something *you* love in the belief/hope that other people feel the same way? Receiving postcards is one of my favourite things, so I send them often. Postcards don’t just tell stories – they map out journeys… I’m so glad that I have a collection to dive into – snapshots of different people at different times and places, frozen in that moment.

I hope you’ll enjoy your snapshot of Helena’s journey – and join me tracing back through the blogosphere to find the rest of the tale. As with many things you glimpse – a photograph, a blogpost, a face – you’re probably not seeing the whole story in a postcard. I’m always interested in what came before and what comes after. What really happened? What makes someone the picture they present to the world? History becomes what people choose to write down… Who really knows the truth? But, then, what’s life without a little mystery?

Mt Cook & Kea Point: 10 Years Of Pilgrimage – Part Three


“You don’t have to be a fantastic hero to do certain things, to compete. You can be just an ordinary chap, sufficiently motivated to reach challenging goals.” – Sir Edmund Hillary

The pilgrimage started here, two days and ten years ago. We continued here, yesterday, when I’d grown up a little. We finish here, today. I don’t know when I’ll next be at Mt Cook and I’m excited to think what may have happened by then – going from history, something will have…

I missed Bella the van when I got to Queenstown, however hard it had been to get rid of her. I also missed Partner-in-crime – we were parted for a couple of months while I tried to sell Bella on the Gold Coast. Cai went to work in Adelaide and I went to stay with our pal, the late and loved Kade, and his family, after an abortive attempt to live alone in Bella, in Byron Bay and off bread & butter (alliteration unintentional). I wasn’t sure when or even if we’d be together again.

But we were 😀 Cai’d been in Auckland for the world cup semis, because Wales were doing so well (we’d even been in the same bar the same night without knowing it), but had never been further south than Auckland. So when he came to join me, I gleefully hired a wee camper van and picked him up from Christchurch. First stop – the hot pools of Hamner Springs. Second? Mt Cook. 

We walked to Kea Point and stared at… well, where the peak should be. We were shrouded in mist, the mountain in cloud. You couldn’t see the landscape but I knew it was there. Remote and overwhelming, the sheer magnitude of the place surrounded us. “This…” I said, “This is New Zealand.” 

That was winter 2012. Come summer, we had a place of our own and were road tripping every weekend, exploring, fishing, loving life. We went back to Mt Cook. This time we had bluebird skies. Only a year before, I hadn’t known where I was going – this time, I’d arrived. 

Last weekend, Easter 2014, our good friend came over from Sydney. The last time we saw him in New Zealand, we’d road tripped to Ohau with Kade & co. Since then, so much has happened. We lost lovely Kade, one of the wonderful ones who, along with his whole family and girlfriend, wrote us letters to help us gain the passport stamps declaring us NZ residents that arrived last week. I’ve moved house, written a book and planned a trip back to the UK to visit. It’s been a crazy few months.

It was so good to be together again. We reunited in the pouring rain, but it cleared the next day and the cloud slowly swirled around Mt Cook like a halo as we trekked to Kea Point. The sun even popped out, warming our backs and lighting up the glaciers. We played peekaboo with Coe’s new camera (which brought us the above view) and yarned while we tramped about. Perhaps it’s not just been Mt Cook, but the company I’ve had on every visit there that has made it such a special place in my mind.

I’ve been awed by nature so many times now in that national park – and I’m sure I will be again. I’ve gone there for beauty and wonder and wanderings. But I’ve also lived and laughed and loved. It’s people as much as place that can call fond memories to mind. I feel lucky.

Do you have a place you visit by which you can measure the changes in your life? What makes you take stock? If you’ve not already, I hope everyone finds their Mt Cook. 

Mt Cook & Kea Point: 10 Years Of Pilgrimage – Part Two


“It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” – Sir Edmund Hillary

Our journey began here – yesterday and ten years ago. Having spent three years studying theology and philosophy, I naturally spent a further four years training as an accountant. Qualification under my belt, I elected to leave the big smoke far behind me. I travelled Asia for a month and a half, visiting family and enjoying epic adventures with my sister, who has no equal on land or sea. I then hopped over to America and drove the West Coast, top down and volume up, freedom flying through my hair again and scratching the itch under my skin. Then, finally, I made it back to the land that first sang to my soul. Just in time for the start of the rugby world cup 2011.

No amount of mediocre performance from England could dull the joy of being back here, nor the happiness at finding the country much as I’d left it all those years ago. I felt like it had been frozen in time, untouched, just waiting for me to return. I delighted in taking my travelling companions back to old haunts, including, of course, Aoraki Mt Cook. I went twice during that world cup, in between matches, taking the different friends I was with just to witness them soak it in while we tramped about together. I marvelled all over again, treading the track to Kea Point each trip and breathing the wonder of the snowy mountain scenery. September and October saw flakes in the air and a bite in the wind. Dramatic to say the least.

Also dramatic was witnessing the All Blacks take it home at Eden Park and win the world cup – just epic. I was pretty sure this was where I wanted to be. But I’d started this madcap mission after a secondment to work in Australia fell through – so to Australia I went. I loved Sydney. I unashamedly followed the beaten path and moved to the beach. The Northern Beaches deserve a series of posts unto themselves. Two things of moment happened there in the first 2 weeks – I nearly died from anaphylaxis and I met my partner in crime, who’s been a part of my adventures ever since (watch this space for a blog post titled Life of Cai).

Much as I loved Sydney and becoming Tom Cruise in Cocktail, shimmying Boston shakers on the beach, I still itched. It wasn’t just wanderlust-  somewhere else was calling me to call it home, and I knew where it was.

January of 2012, my mother chose to join my cousin on a trip to New Zealand for her sixtieth birthday and I flew from Sydney to join them. I jumped in a car as soon as I landed, driving through the night to reach Queenstown, where I now call home. We had less than a week, but I wanted to show Mum the best of New Zealand and try and communicate just why I was wandering – why I was out here. Our road trip took us to Marlborough… via Mt Cook. We walked to Kea Point. In the rain. Myself in flip flops (/jandals – and yes, after several trips there, I should have known better). Mum loved it despite the lack of view. The scenery was still as seductive as ever. 

I went back to Sydney and picked up my beach life. But it seemed a little pale compared to the mountains and lakes I’d been loving the week before. I agreed to meet a friend back in New Zealand for the snow season, and I decided I’d stay. But first, there was an Ozzie road trip and, of course, Bella… 

Have you ever felt a call to a particular place? Known where you belonged? Travelled far just for a particular feeling? Stand by for part three tomorrow – I seem to have a lot to say (here’s the ending) 🙂

Mt Cook & Kea Point: 10 Years Of Pilgrimage – Part One

299384_952657130680_1286931103_n“It is an act of worship just to sit and look at high mountains.” – Sir Edmund Hillary

I’ve been neglecting you all, and I’m sorry. Time isn’t just flying – it’s a peregrine falcon in a dive. I don’t know where it goes. It did stand still for a moment, however, and let me make an escape on the Easter weekend. I hope you all managed to take a break too. I’ve missed a couple of posts, so here’s a two, no, three-parter. I did a lot of thinking on the weekend, and it wants to come out in words.

Aoraki Mt Cook (‘cloud piercer’ in Maori) sits majestically in the middle of New Zealand’s South Island. It’s the tallest mountain in the country, at 3,754 metres, and a four hour foray from my humble abode in Queenstown, through breathtaking scenery. Sir Edmund Hillary cut his teeth there – he’s the one famous for climbing some other mountain and being the only New Zealander to appear on a bank note in his lifetime (he insisted it be Mt Cook that appear on its background).

As I skipped along the track to Kea Point and a view of the peak, I realised I’d first stepped on its slats ten years ago now, almost to the month. I counted the number of times I’d visited this sanctuary in that time, hoping to count to ten (much as you might raise an eyebrow, I do appreciate a little order and symmetry in life). Although I tried to distort the stats by counting times I’d driven past and enjoyed the view from afar, the number of times I actually went into the wilds of the national park and trod to Kea Point came to eight. I realised both how much my life changed in between those trips and how little my experience of Mt Cook did. No matter how many times I’ve dropped by to say hi, the mountain has always taken my breath away. The glacier may be receding and my life may be ever-changing, but the important things don’t change. Nature reigns there, in all its glory, and the national park remains a place you can find beauty seeping through all your senses.

My first visit was during my gap year, around this time back in 2004. I’d finished school, spent six months living in Singapore with my cousin’s family, working for a shipping company, and was now with one of the best travelling companions to be found, scrambling across the islands without a care in the world. 2004 was the first time I’d truly felt free – New Zealand was the first place. That trip to Mt Cook we couldn’t afford to both eat well and sleep in a bed, so we decided to share a buffet dinner and to drive through the night. First, we walked to Kea Point. Darkness fell as we approached the end of the track and you could see the stars standing out above the monarch’s snowy silhouette. The bad news was that my camera battery died the moment I called upon it. The good news was that I already knew I’d be back someday. We hit the road after midnight, the plan of driving through the night slightly railroaded by running out of petrol and having to camp outside the nearest town’s petrol station until it opened at 7.30.

I didn’t return for seven and a half years. In the meantime, I went to Cambridge, gained a degree, and transitioned easily into the big-city-life of London Town, working for Ernst & Young. But both freedom and New Zealand remained on my mind. When I decided to change career and country / quit, there were many who called me crazy. There were some who accused me of wanting to relive, or at least recall, the glory of my gap year, and who warned me it would never work. There were others who couldn’t believe I was swan-diving off the corporate ladder and into oblivion. Even I wasn’t sure what I was doing. Initially, all I knew was that I wanted to be in New Zealand for the rugby world cup, so I went…

Have you ever stuck to a decision that made other people call you crazy? Do you have a place of peace you can always go and find beauty / a boost? I’ll be back tomorrow – I’ve found ten years is too long to squeeze into one post (here’s the second) :p

There Is Another World, My Love

Something a little different today. I wrote a poem for a friend and I’d like to share it. He’s losing his soul mate to cancer and I wish there were something, anything that could be done. My heart is full. It goes out to them and everyone who has been through or is going through the same heartache of losing the one you love.

543367_10100428965122620_1396549994_nFor Robert & Eileen

There is another world, my love

A world that’s free of pain

Hold me in your heart, my dear

It’s where we’ll meet again

Life is cruel you see, my sweet

Who knows it more than we?

But hold my hand, my darling one

In no time you’ll be free

I’ll follow you, my soul’s delight

Don’t ever think I’ll fail

Trust that thought, my dearest heart

I’m not the sort to bail

There is another world, my love

A world that’s free of pain

Hold me in your heart, my dear

It’s where we’ll meet again

Sara Litchfield © 2014 All rights reserved.

How Time Flies

Screen Shot 2014-04-06 at 11.41.35 AM“How did it get so late so soon?” – Dr Seuss

Today (and I stand by this, despite the detractors who claim we don’t gain or lose anything, just adjust our watches), we gained an hour. I was deliciously triumphant to turn the clocks back. For some reason, it always takes a few goes before I get which way it’s going, why and what it means for the days to come. Every time. Maybe that’s tied in with my terrible sense of direction and my distress when trying to calculate time differences and foreign exchange. Daylight savings is a funny old thing.

Part of the reason I was so happy to save some time today is that I feel like time is running away with me. I try to stop and pause and enjoy the gift of the present etc etc… But I too often feel like I’m on a roller coaster, trying to juggle everything I want to get done while attempting to cling on for dear life. And so often wondering at the end of the day/week/month where on earth the time went, even when I’ve lots to show for it.

Time is of the essence at the moment. I’m rewriting The Book To Be before sending it off to an editor this month. I’m also putting wheels in motion to try and attract more fiction clients to my editing business so I can build on the foundations I’ve laid in the last year. Then there’s the never-ending, ever-growing list of accountanty things to do now financial year-end is breached to tie everything down and address tax time. I’m heading back to the UK for a month in August, and there’s lots of admin required – now it’s April, it doesn’t seem too long at all to get a lot of affairs in order, including negotiating moving out (sad face) and getting our passports back from immigration (who tend to move with the speed of sea monkeys). I’d also like my money back from the TradeMe guy (yes, I am an eternal optimist).

I can’t believe how time has flown since writing posts on these events. Overall, I do seem to be doing the things I plan to and enjoying the ride. Or at least trying to put a positive spin on the twists that turn my stomach. I just wish I could cage time. My school’s 10 year reunion is this month (how? Just, how?!). 

How do you stop time running away with you? How do you feel about daylight savings?! I particularly enjoyed The Bloggess’s take on the matter, and the notion of a daylight savings week, ‘so that everyone can catch up on TV and get a one week extension on all deadlines.’ Show me the petition and I’ll sign it.