Tag Archives: memories

Writing from trauma

I am taking a break from my novel set on the Camino. The ms was never intended to be autobiographical though it drew on my experiences and encounters walking across France on the Via Podiensis and across Spain on the Camino and drew on a personal interest in dying with dignity and assisted suicide. Not to mention experiences of madness and death and all the other stuff of everyday life.

It was not until I received editorial feedback praising some parts of the ms and criticising others, that I realised how intensely personal and introspective the novel had become. It seems astonishing now that I never realised how entrapped I was in old wounds/traumas and their working out in fiction.

So I am putting the ms aside for a year to gain distance and perspective, maybe to undertake workshops on writing about the past. The novel, I repeat, is not ‘my story’ per se and is not a memoir except in a psychological and existential way I was too blind to see until I was poked in the eye from editors. While I let it lie for a year, I am contemplating attending ‘memoir writing’ workshops to learn skills of perspective and especially of extracting the universal from the personal.

In case you think you’re now safe from my scribbling, not at all.

I have begun writing a novel about universities and commercialisation, a topic dear to my heart for 10 years. See my next blog post for further information.

When the past walks in your front door

It has been a dramatic few months. It is a cliché to say that we can never truly escape the past, but you don’t expect it to enter your house. Literally. This is what happened to me.

This is not a confessional, gut-spill post, not my style, however I can tell you it was a shock and it got a lot worse in the following days and weeks and I was obliged to face memories and issues long buried [deliberately or simply the passage of time]. Mainly good old repression…

Let’s move to the good news. The situation is resolved and digging up and discussing memories and emotions has been ‘good for me’ as they say. No, seriously, it has been good for me – not like dad giving me a smack around the ear being ‘good for me’. It has shifted a truck load of crap.

And so to my novel writing with apologies for my long silence on this blog – did you miss me? Correct answer is ‘yes’.

So, I pitched to 3 publishers and duly submitted 3 chapters as requested. I have heard nothing from the 2 big publishers = rejection I presume, whereas a small local publisher expressed interest and wanted to see the complete manuscript. This was good news and I went back to my ms and read it AND HATED IT. I had not written for 2+ months [other matters more pressing], nor looked at it. Like my PhD long ago; when I submitted I thought it was the best I could do. Six months later I thought it was rubbish.

I decided not to submit my ms to the publisher because I know I can do much better and this is the point where the past hitting me in the face [like a clown throwing a pie] met the present and opened up new possibilities.

A few days ago I began a total re-write. Not a re-draft, completely new. Writing in the first person, which I have not done before, to give more impact and immediacy. I feel that my writing is freer, stronger, less restrained and going into places where previously I had not dared and for which I lacked the skill.

Yes, confronting what I thought was ‘all in the past’ – as if – has been good for me and I’m optimistic it will be good for my writing.

Ever onwards and upwards!

Her spirit returned last night

She came to my house last night, uninvited, unwanted, unseen. Fifteen years gone. The moment I opened the front door, I sensed her presence as the faintest trace of perfume of a long ago lover. Graveyard chilled yet unable to turn away, I entered and followed her trail up the stairs, the marks a phosphorescent glow in the dark where she had stopped and run her hand along the bannister, touched her photos on the landing and hesitated by the painting. Our painting, that day at the beach.
The air tingled, vibrating like a high voltage power line as I followed her scent into my study, the buzzing deafening where she had opened my latest book and dropped it at mention of Anna, fleeing from my new life. The trail vanished at my bedroom door, as though she had not dared to enter what was no longer hers.

An unquiet soul on unfinished business.

I walked back downstairs, scared, cold, hair bristling and at the same time, entranced as I had been for so long by her. In another place, in another life. I turned on the lamp from the old house, lit the oil burner with her favourite, sat and waited. Listened to our music.
She had loved me, hated me, loved me, died.
The journey to forgiveness is long and hard.
The journey to self-forgiveness is without end.

a dog, a jacket and a fine memory

Yesterday I took Rosie for a walk, Rosie being the dog we’re fostering for a dog rescue organisation until someone adopts her – and if anyone has a farm or acres of land and/or wants a working dog, she is a 9 month old 18 kilogram dynamo of energy who needs more space than is available in hipster Brunswick. Rosie is super friendly and super cute [and super chewing, biting, digging etc].
Australian cattle dog/Staffordshire cross. The body of a blue heeler and the heart of a staffie.
2015-06-10 14.36.01
So, yesterday was cool and wet [again] and I dragged out my red waterproof jacket and had a rush of recollection. It is almost exactly one year since I did the Coast to Coast walk across England, starting at the Irish Sea, into the Lakes District, through the Yorkshire Dales and Yorkshire Moors until reaching the North Sea; 310 kilometres in 13 days. A lovely walk with a lovely group of people, through sun and fog, grass and bog. And, you see, I had not worn my red jacket until today and the memories and emotions flooded in. It was a brilliant experience.
This year I have only one six day walk in October [Kangaroo Island], next year hopefully will be the hike down Italy from Saint Bernard Pass to Rome.
2015-07-06 09.22.57
In the words of the inimitable Leonard Cohen – ‘If I’ve got to remember, that’s a fine memory’, inspired by my old red jacket which has covered thousands of kilometres with me.
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Isn’t is strange and wonderful how life throws up these connections and loops as long as we are open to them?
Oh and the gorgeous Rosie is lying at my feet as I write, more memories of the dogs who came before her. Shep, Beau, Bruce, Max and Geoff and not forgetting the lovely Matilda, going strong in Sweden.
Soon it will be time for another walk; I do 5 kilometres per day, but it is not enough for a working dog….

Talking to strangers

strangers on a train
I love trams and trains, not so keen on buses and I’m an avid people watcher, especially these days with passengers’ social media habits. Who hasn’t enjoyed listening to someone’s mobile phone conversation delivered at the top of their voice, detailing how they have just been dumped by/dumped some %^$&hole who ^&(*&^% them? Or how they fucked over their boss? Classic. Or enjoyed seeing some jerk walk into a closed door or miss their stop because they were too busy checking the stalk book status of some person they met somewhere sometime and about whom they don’t give a rat’s clacker, but – MUST CHECK NOW.

Given where I live, hearing such a variety of languages, on occasion even another language which I know enough to understand. And simply the general weirdness of social interactions in a culture where private and public boundaries have dissolved and people interact and speak as though in their living rooms or bed rooms and not in a public space surrounded by strangers. Mind you, most are too immersed in their own social media bubble to notice whereas, being a relic from an earlier age, I do notice as I read my book (or pretend to) and daydream and look.
And sometimes check my phone, I confess it. MUST BE CONNECTED.

But I digress. How do I attract them, the strangers who are happy to share their intimacies with me? Okay, I am not sitting in a private bubble of music and/or text and I am genuinely interested in people’s stories [writers are ruthless collectors, aren’t we?]. Also if I see someone ‘weird’ ambling along, I do not automatically lower my eyes; only if they look weird and dangerous. Maybe they can see my own secrets etched in the lines of my face?
Sometimes I leave the tram or train and reflect. Yes, I reflect how lucky I am to have survived what life has thrown at me, but more than that.
Like a few months ago, last tram home from Saint Kilda, the tram of the drunks and the loners and a few couples absorbed in each other. A clearly mentally distressed and aggressive guy sat across from me and a space cleared around him in an instant. He barked and yelled and glared at me and I looked and said nothing and as he staggered off, he looked me in the eyes and said with utmost clarity ‘You’re cool, man.’
Did he see? Could he tell? I have seen much worse.

And I become the receiver of stories of exes (none of them any good, surprise, surprise), drugs, mental illness, crap relationships, how they’re ‘doing much better now’ or rants about *#^+$# politicians. The last is fair enough: political discourse in Oz is the pits. I will not listen to racist or sexist rants or political rants. All else, let it rip! They come to me like seagulls to a chip – how grateful are the other passengers as they see the weirdos’ radar lock onto me as soon as they step aboard and shuffle their way towards me.

What brought on my musing today? Coming home on my Brunswick tram a couple, both heavily tattooed, she anorexic skinny and twitchy, he all muscle shirt and bravado, told me (she articulately, he with grunted agreements) how God had saved them from drugs and prison and how he/she could save me too (good luck with that, mate) and how the guy hoped one day to get access again to his son. She told how she was learning to cook and how she was getting him to ‘stop eating shit’. It was fascinating to see how the skinny woman was the dominant personality and muscles followed along. Sad stories. All true? Maybe. It is their version of reality and for now it serves them well.

How many of our own stories are true? Don’t we all continually re-invent our past? Don’t you? Talking to strangers, safe in the knowledge we will never see them again?

How do you react to strangers on a train? Avoid them? Or listen and reflect? What stories have you heard and what stories have you told them?

I’m glad they chose me and I’m glad I listened.
trams

No, I do not want to be your ‘friend’

Last week you sent me a ‘friend’ request on Facebook. Seriously? After five years?
We were lovers in your little apartment, sex and alcohol our rocket fuel. Perhaps we were in love a little for a time and then we weren’t and I flew home.
You sent me a ‘fuck you’ email six months later saying you were married; was that number 3 or 4? I forget.
I did not answer, there was nothing to say.
I moved on, as they say.
Now you want to ‘friend’ me? We were never ‘friends’; I loved you, not sure I ever liked you.
Click ‘decline’.

Ghost story: an ending

He was so cold and alone and her gaze so fixed and he could bear it no longer.

He reached out to her and took her hand and she gave that slow half smile he remembered and embraced him and once more they walked hand in hand as they had done in another life as the dawn light grew stronger.

There had never been a choice since the day he first saw her in her navy blue silk dress and she laughed and said ‘I always fall for the wrong men’ and his world tipped over and was never righted until this moment.