CHANGES

I’m back… I wrote the following in January this year, but left it unposted:

Sitting out on the deck in the late afternoon, the cicadas starting their great chorus and the white cockatoos screeching over the lake, I had plenty of ideas for getting the blog going again. Now I’m at the computer – what?

Several months on since writing, much has happened. I’ve decided I’m not a writer’s bootlace. I’ve traded for years on calling myself a writer, but aside from poems, the occasional short story, and buckets of journalling, the BOOK eludes me. Or maybe I avoid it… I faced the reality that I’m not a writer: I’m a householder. It’s a good life, but not a writer’s life. Thinking back to the grandiose plans I had, it’s embarrassing – but OK.

I’ve found, am finding especially lately, that whatever plans I make usually have to change. This is particularly apparent when it comes to writing. The wonderful schedules I made for fitting serious writing into my days looked great on paper, and I found them impossible to implement. I sabotaged the neat pattern, or events did: one cannot force creativity.

It’s a relief to cast the shoulds from the shoulders. There was plenty of angst on my part about not actually getting on with the work, not yet producing even one of the several life stories I have to tell. They’re interesting stories, and I often tell them verbally – and maybe that’s enough.

And yet, and yet: what is really worth doing in this life? One of my stories is still unfolding, which is about what it’s like having a daughter who’s lived in Indonesia for the last 14 years. (The answer is, it’s pretty amazing! But I missed her too.) Around last August I decided that I’d go and spend several months with her and the Indonesian family and get on with writing that story. I’d be away from the responsibilities and distractions of the householder. On other long visits there, perhaps because of those conditions, I’d found I could write, and nothing pleases me more.  And then, dear reader, she decided to see if she could find a job in Australia, and she did, and I’m going to join her in a couple of weeks.

So: I’m leaving home. And that’s what I thought to write about when I sat on the deck: the decision to leave my vegie garden (a rampant mess of weeds at the moment); the tree outside the bathroom with its deep red leaves, lush against the greens of summer; the snail vine on the railing with its convoluted flowers; the waterhens on the lake; the friends calling in; my solitude…and I don’t know if I’ll be back, except for visits.

I had to have my old cat put to sleep on Christmas Eve, and though we’ve had many a spat, we’d reached a comfortable agreement. It felt like I was burying an aspect of myself and I howled as I haven’t howled for decades. Change is inevitable; it’s the only constant we have, and I believe it’s better to be creatively in control of change rather than have it hit you like an express train (which of course it still can). The old cat dying, a big dead tree gently crashing to the ground one evening, and the breakage of a beautiful white glass tear-shaped lightshade I used to put over a tea-light, all seemed to signify how this stage of my life is going.

I don’t particularly believe in signs – or at least I don’t run my life by them – but I chose to see these things as correlational with the need to make room for the new.

Now, on February 24, I’ve been in Cairns six weeks. I’m still in shock at the massive changes in my life, after ten years in the most idyllic spot. Where I’m living in Cairns is pretty nice too but it’s on a street, in a house with locks on the doors and security screens on the windows, air-conditioning and ceiling fans, a dishwasher…I begin to see why people’s eyes glazed over when they visited my place.

I now live with daughter and two granddaughters (8 and 13), I don’t at this stage have my car, or most of my belongings. I miss rainwater and the whipbirds, my books, rain on the lake, my kitchen, and my friends. A few times I’ve wanted to bolt back home – but I feel I’m in the right place, for the time being anyway.

And I love the butterflies – the Ulysses butterflies!

rain loud on the roof

the butterflies fold their wings

grateful for the trees

Posted in How I live | 4 Comments

Writers and readers

Writers need readers. We’re fooling ourselves if we say otherwise.

All right, I’m speaking for myself. How very heartening when someone does you the courtesy of reading what you’ve sent, and further, making an intelligent comment on it. THANKS ‘Fat Andy’! Even though you’re my nephew, you’re definitely of my clan.

How very true what Andy says: why aren’t we getting off our tailbones and using our brainbones? Why do people either politely agree when one starts ranting in this vein, or rant with you, but nothing changes? History will judge this self-indulgent culture harshly, and rightly so.

I haven’t watched TV at all for nearly two months now. In that time I’ve listened to a lot of Radio National programs, to the point where I realise I need to turn that off sometimes, too. Last night though, on Rachel Kohn’s The Spirit of Things, I listened to Marion Maddox talking about ‘mega’ churches and how they work. It was terrifying.

The part that particularly horrified me was how one line about richness in the Bible has been interpreted literally, so that these people believe that amassing wealth is what God wants us to do. It’s never enough; wealth must be continually sought, and seen to be had.  Rampant consumerism follows, of course, never mind the planet. And get this: wives must also be seen to exhibit the signs of wealth: the latest fashions, facelifts, and ‘designer vaginas’ most likely too, I kid you not…

How I came across this concept I don’t remember, but on the same night as I heard Marion Maddox speaking I looked up ‘labia surgery’ on the net.  I’ve been a nurse so am used to seeing the various bits of the human anatomy, inside and out. This was more horrifying than anything I’ve seen. I’m not speaking of the appalling mutilations inflicted on children in African countries, which I haven’t seen.

Women pay money to gynaecological surgeons to have their fannies reshaped. Dozens of before and after pictures attested to pretty, individual twats with pretty, frilly labia, sliced into uniformly boring slits. It’s called labiaplasty. The inner labia seem to have been removed altogether, so the vulva looks more like that of an adolescent; the impossible body image women aim for with diets.

WHY? Who is responsible for this fashion? One of the reasons given for this surgery is the discomfort of pendulous labia. Surely a scrotum is even more pendulous? Men are constantly adjusting them! No one to my knowledge has insisted on scrotal surgery for the reason of discomfort or looks. The truth is that women are too easily manipulated by false ideas of how we should look.  And a terrible side effect of labiaplasty must be the loss of sexual pleasure, for labia are renowned for their delicious sensitivity.

Back to the mega churches, that program (check the Radio National website for repeats) helped me make sense of an experience I had going to a garage sale a few weekends ago. There were two saccharine sweet teenage girls in charge, who simply wouldn’t respond with anything but a sweet smile to any of my oldwoman jokes. Determinedly modest, they insisted on holding up a skirt so I could try on some jeans. It was late, nearly dark, and at the back of a garage, with no chance of being seen; I was wearing a long top and knickers.

It’s only skin, I joked, even potatoes have skin!

Lead balloon. I just couldn’t get a flicker of recognition from them. The Christian tract in the bottom of my bag of purchases which I found when I got home said something like: Anyone who isn’t in our church is actively in league with the devil. When I left the garage sale I noticed a beautiful old 50′s teacup, saucer and plate. $2? The girls said. It had belonged to their grandmother. Don’ you want to keep it? Again the saccharine smiles.

One can only surmise what has been inculcated, and what lines grandmother didn’t toe, so that a lovely old teacup with such provenance should be tossed out for $2. I’m glad to house her treasure. And I bet she didn’t have a labiaplasty.

Posted in Rants | 4 Comments

freedom and the rebel

I have great measures of freedom.  The last week, I’ve spent an hour or so in the late afternoons in the tangled mass of lantana and molasses grass, blackberry and bluetop at the bottom corner of what I call a garden. Hacking, hauling, breaking, dragging great swathes and lengths of prickly leafy sticks and herbage. The chooks came and helped but since I wasn’t digging they lost interest and wandered away, as did the kookaburra on the fence. Hard-nosed realists: where’s the worm? (Or in a joke my sister tells, ‘Show us yer willy!’) Nobody minds whether or not I do this gardening; I WANT to do it (thank you neighbour Kathy for your comment on WANTING to write – so true). I enjoy clearing out a mess, making a visible difference. And part of the freedom lies in living alone: I don’t have to be thinking about a meal for anyone but myself, so can stay out there as late as the light lets me if I choose. T’was not ever thus, dear reader.

Maybe I’m allowing myself to reach my own level; if so, the bottom of the garden is a good place to start. Besides, it’s letting more of the sparse winter light on the vegie patch. Writing seems a long way off, up there in the house, in the black hole of the computer corner. I’ll get there if and when I’m ready.

I like change. I like moving furniture around, transforming things. I like having the challenge of this bit of acreage I’ve been loaned. Maybe for now, as Suzy’s comment suggests, that’s enough. By now I should remember I can trust my instincts, even if at the moment they seem to be leading me away from my highest dream. The wheel will turn, writing will take its turn, in its own good time. Don’t push the river, it flows by itself – so said Fritz Perls, who instigated Gestalt herapy.

Two weeks ago I bought Stephanie Dowrick’s In the Company of Rilke. The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke,  and Rumi, the 13th century mystic, are for me the greatest poets (have I mentioned this)? Spiritual yearning is articulated by both in superbly simple language – or should that be in brilliant contemporary translations – a topic discussed this week with Stephanie Dowrick on Radio National, about this very book. It’s a wonderful piece of journeying and writing; I fondly imagined secluding myself with the book each night as bedtime reading, and attempting a line or two…

The rebel allowed me a few days of this, then said NO, she wanted to read the Jack Dann science fiction collection (Jubilee) I’d found at the op shop. And as Deb says, the rebel always wins. Mind you, it’s a good read. I wouldn’t bother otherwise.

Deb concludes, in her gloriously sane ‘rant’ of a comment:

Freedom is the ability to choose. Do we dare use this freedom for our own highest good?

If this topic interests you, I refer you to her comment in full. The only way I differ is that stuff happens when I write, though the actual writing is usually picking up on a cue from the subconscious; call it what you like, the back burner of the right brain; there’ll be a thought that floats up, like an ingredient in the simmering stockpot that rises to the surface and subsides, unless you choose to lift it out and pick off the meat. What Deb calls ‘imagining, thinking and pondering’ are what I’d call allowing the space to listen for what may come. And if I’ve scheduled myself to the nth degree, that’s not freedom.

Two more things: one is a feeling of panic that I don’t have forever (I’m 66, cholesterol’s high; so what! says the rebel). The other is how doing what I damn well feel like can get me into trouble: eg, eating too many potato crisps and thereby putting up said cholesterol. With a glass of red in me, I’ll risk posting this haiku I wrote the other night:

                                   Reading Les Murray,

eating too many potato crisps -

where’s the difference?

I like a lot of Les Murray’s early work, but this was inspired by a book called Poems the Size of Photographs. I read the whole thing through, and not one made me gasp with recognition. Sorry to say this about a fellow poet, but I guess he has broad shoulders.

I haven’t touched the issue of the ‘good girl’ – volumes could be written there. (Is this the memoir I should write, could write, WANT to write?) Right now she’s telling me ‘Come on,  time for your bath, washing up to be done, you can talk about the good girl next time’. But let it be said that for most of my life, the good girl mould I was poured into was made of strong stuff. Thank the goddess there were cracks here and there.

All right. To be continued.

Posted in Books, How I live, Writing Goals | 3 Comments

the rebel

The rebel in me says she doesn’t want to be a writer. “I” have been positioning myself as a good girl, who wants to write her book, who wants to order her days into tidy routines with a time for everything. The free flowing rebel hasn’t been allowed a look in, so she does what rebels do: she sabotages.

(Note: I’m still distancing myself from this rebellious creature;  I’m talking about “her” as a problem.)

Where to go from here? I’m a fraud, telling everyone I’m writing, that I want to get serious about writing, but I’m not doing it. I’m gardening, looking after the chooks, looking after friends, sorting out the ongoing mess. Anything but following that tidy routine.

I think one has to surprise oneself in the act of writing. Let it happen when it wants. I know many writers set a routine for themselves; that’s not going to work for me.  Maybe I need to stick to poetry as a better form as poems will come unbidden, and give me the most satisfaction of anything I know. But on the few occasions when I’ve aimed to write a poem, the result doesn’t have that authenticity; it’s like the difference between battery chooks and free range.

Speaking as the rebel, I need freedom. I need to let my words have freedom too. If they come to me of their own accord, how much sweeter the visitation than if I forced them to appear on schedule. I rarely sleep well if I have something scheduled for a set time the next morning. Left alone, I’ll probably have a decent night’s sleep and wake up in good time; but if the alarm clock’s set, part of me is alert for half the night.

Perhaps this has to do with nursing training, where everything ran rigidly by the clock, where I was taught to be a good girl from 16 years old. I was responsible as a child too, being the oldest; and went from nursing into marriage, another good girl habitat.  Now, I’m giving myself permission not to be a writer. I don’t have to produce a book, or anything else, to justify myself. Emerson wrote this:

My life is not an apology, but a life. It is for itself, and not for a spectacle. I much prefer that it should be of a lower strain, so it be genuine and equal, than that it should be glittering and unsteady.

Posted in Writing Goals | 4 Comments

winter day

 

                                        wind waves its baton

                                          on this chilly winter day -

                                        leaf orchestra plays.

 

 

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Poet habitat

It’s hard, shifting from being a nice sociable and helpful sort of person, to being a writer. I’m getting there. Slowly.

Yesterday I made a list, an orderly routine to follow, ideal if I’m to maintain the needs of the body to service the life of the mind. A beautiful list. It allots an hour a day of walking, the housework to be done first thing, plenty of space for writing, gardening in the late afternoons. So what happened? Last night I didn’t get to sleep till all hours, meaning I slept in this morning, meaning the day was lost. I didn’t go walking; I didn’t get the place cleaned up (how can one person make such a mess?) and I did very little writing.

Maybe the trouble is that the list is ideal on paper, but I don’t fit into boxes. I have trouble with forms. There never seems to be the space where I fit, so what ends up on the form isn’t representational of me. Every time I try to organise myself, something comes along to mess it up. Sometimes I’m that something. The free spirit rebels, refuses to be shaped into the neat little woman writing in neat sections of the day. Here it is now, after 10.30pm, and by that list I should be tidily in bed sleeping, so I can get up early enough to get on with my tidily arranged day. It’s like putting yourself into corsets; I can’t even stand wearing a bra.

Writing – I did begin a poem and was lost in it, when a friend arrived. I knew she was coming but had lost track of time, as you need to. She’s a dear friend and happily I picked up the poem later and finished it tonight. I’ll sit with it a week or two and see how it looks then. Judith Wright reportedly put her newest poems in a drawer for months; it’s a good idea, as one is always in love with them when brand new.

 The season has turned; tonight is the longest night of the year. I lit candles and will write till they’ve burnt down.

I was talking to another woman who writes and we agreed that first drafts are better written longhand. Maybe this is why I haven’t written prolifically for this blog, yet.  BUT…getting rid of my TV habit, reading more poetry, is working. I had an idea for a poem today directly out of reading; this would have been much less likely a month ago. And I’ve stopped the writing class for the time being. It took a day out of my week and already my sense of time is flowing, like a river untrammelled with dams and bridges.

For me, free-flowing time is essential. I like to go deep, and I like to stay there; none of this multi-tasking nonsense. I’m well past the days of balancing a baby on hip, dinner in the oven, hubby coming home soon better freshen up, and all those myriad womanly tasks. I’ve washed the nappies, cooked the meals, wiped the bottoms, let the world cry on my shoulder, sorted out its messes; I’ve paid my dues.

There are endless good and worthy deeds to be done out there in the wicked world. I’m not doing them. I believe in doing what I can where I am, and letting the rest go. You go crazy otherwise. Maybe I’ve got my head in the sand, but as I see it I live in ideal circumstances for a writer, so why not maximise that? Moreover, ideal poet habitat. I live near the end of a no through road in a quiet part of the Sunshine Coast hinterland. The only machinery is the sound of mowers and whippersnippers in summer. I look out onto a decent body of water where native birds abound: waterhens, cockatoos, ducks, brush turkeys, wrens, to name a few.

Rilke and Rumi are the greats, in my book. When I talk about poet habitat, they’re the ones I have in mind. Maybe they didn’t live in a beautiful place, but that’s my fantasy. I can only read Rilke and Rumi in translation; even so, their poetry moves me deeply, expressing spiritual yearning through language, putting soul into words. If I can write one line anywhere near the quality of their work I’ll be heaven-high. I bought Stephanie Dowrick’s In Company with Rilke the other day, a study of why his poetry is so popular today. I’m so glad I spent the $35…I said earlier about the body servicing the life of the mind; yet the mind is surely there to express the heart’s journeyings.

Somebody has to stay home and be a poet. I’m trying.

Posted in Books, How I live | 2 Comments

Winter Solstice

 
 
Winter solstice eve,
falling liquidamber leaves -
ancient star patterns.
 
 
Posted in Poems, Uncategorized | 1 Comment