Knots

Back in late September, when I shared Ben Brooker’s blog, Kate’s Words, I suggested Ben give me a word and I’d try to ‘refresh my writing muscles’. The suggestion is I write for thirty minutes, musing on the word – which in this case is knots – and share what emerges. Okay, here goes …

… R D Laing published Knots in 1970. I tried but failed to read the book in the middle seventies, when I was first married. I failed because … well the text tied me in knots and my life then – as now – was rather knotty anyway, so I felt unable to see the book through to the end.

I wrote a poem a decade and a half later, titled, I think, ‘Rope’. It alluded to the ribald habit ropes have in snapping at your ankles and tripping you up. Maybe I’ll go back to it later this month and turn it into a Flash Fiction, which is something I’ve done with several of my old poems. This is cannibalising one’s writing and has little to do with knots, though it might explain why some of my Flash Fiction lacks a distinct narrative.

Free writing can get knotty too, because when you let the mind wander  – the purpose of free writing – the mind, like a rope, can turn in and around on itself, twisting neurons and crimping axons, leading to nowhere or worse, allowing it to form its own connections, risking aberrant, gratuitous or self-destructive thoughts, like ‘Why am I doing this, I am usually so structured and planned? I don’t like this …’

… See what I mean?

Have you ever tried to undo a knot in a gold or silver chain? It’s not easy (see what I did there?). When I cleaned out my mother’s jewellery drawer I found most of her chains tangled into a ball. The week I cleaned the house, the week my father joined my mother in the ‘Aged Care Facility’, was unseasonably hot at well over forty degrees Celsius. I remember sitting on their bed and looking at the tangled ball of gold and silver and wondering how on earth I could separate them. That the ball symbolised my often difficult relationship with my parents was not lost on me and perhaps I applied myself to the task  because of that; by separating the chains maybe I could prepare myself for my parents’ inevitable demise, something that happened only three years later, in my father’s case, and eight months after that, in my mother’s. I only ever managed to untangle the ball of chains, I could never address the disarray that was our relationship.

I kept some of those chains. I wear them occasionally and admit I am, like my mother, careless when I remove them and put them away. Will my children have to untangle my necklaces when it is time for me to move on?

From the knotted peculiarity of Laing, to my early poems, to the gnarled vagaries of my mind and on to my mother’s tangled, sometimes twisted hold on me I have come, perhaps inevitably, to my own demise, to the day when I must untie the knot that secures my hold on life. Maybe I should find a copy of Knots? Perhaps, at my current stage of life, I will understand it better than I did when I was a callous, untried girl?

Afterword: I could not help myself – I edited this piece but only so I could eliminate any convoluted sentences.

 

A Journey, a Memoir: Staying on Track

I’ve always enjoyed travelling by train. I remember going to the city with my mother, catching the train at the local station, sitting on the worn, scratchy leather seats, watching familiar houses, parks and railway crossings swish by us and, despite the movement and occasional gentle jolt of the carriage, always feeling safe. I think buses have a sense of forced intimacy where, despite their proximity, strangers rarely chat; on trains, people tend to smile and seem more relaxed.  I was pleased, therefore, when we decided to include several train journeys while in Europe.

The first, from Glasgow to Bristol, began at 7:10 am, barely 24 hours after we landed in Scotland. We boarded at Glasgow Central for a seven-hour trip to Bristol Temple Meads, passing through Newcastle on Tyne, Durham, York, Derby, Birmingham, Cheltenham, Gloucester and numerous villages and small towns.  It was a wonderful way to see the lush English countryside, to gawk, as most Australians must, at the verdant, lyrical green we read about as children, but never truly imagine as it really is. 

Just over a week later we had a mammoth four train experience travelling from Bath back to Bristol, on to Stafford, then Crewe and finally arriving, late, in Holyhead where we connected with the ferry to Dublin. It was quite a day. We had reserved our seats but nevertheless had to locate the platform for each train, find the correct carriage, stow four pieces of luggage, locate our seats and stay alert so we were aware of the station preceding the one we needed, and retrieve our luggage (by now beneath the bags of those who boarded after us), in time to scramble off the train (minding the gap as were instructed each time a train stopped), and again find the correct platform and make it (barely, on two occasions) to the next train. The train for the final leg of the journey was delayed so we, and two dozen other passengers, arrived late at Holyhead. The ferry waited for us, so the last mad dash of the day was from the train station to where, in the same building but a five minute walk away, our passports were stamped before we could board the MV Ulysses. Imagine our relief as we settled into the ferry’s comfortable seats and relax during the crossing to Dublin.

On the 22nd June, feeling by then like seasoned train travellers and having arrived in London the day before, we braved the Underground. We shared an evening meal with one of my partner’s friends who later showed us around Regent and Carnaby Streets and then escorted us to Piccadilly Circus from where we needed to travel a mere two stops along the Bakerloo Line. We thanked our dinner companion and descended to the platform where a discussion ensued about the correct train. The train arrived and my partner, certain he was right, boarded the train and turned to check I followed him. I hadn’t. The doors closed and the train departed leaving me stranded at Piccadilly. For a moment or two my brain ceased functioning. Rooted to the spot, I stared at the empty space where a train and my partner had once been. Eventually, the thought occurred that I should climb back up the stairs and find a taxi. It was then a voice behind me said, ‘Don’t worry, stay right on this spot, wait for the next train, get on at the same door as your friend got on. He’ll get off at the next stop and be waiting for you. You’ll see each other and you can either join him or he can get on the train and you can continue your trip.’ Only a part of my brain took this in as I was wondering if I could call my partner, unlikely because my phone was not working properly and my international sim card had developed the habit of capriciously refusing to connect me in certain locations. I doubted it would cooperate on the Underground. I turned toward the voice and saw a young woman with a heavy backpack on her back, long honey coloured hair and hazel eyes, standing behind me. ‘Will he?’ I replied, my brain still trying to take in what had just happened. ‘Yes, he’ll get off at the next stop,’ she said. ‘But we’re Australian,’ I said. What I meant to say was we were unfamiliar with the Underground but revealing our nationality was all I could manage. Unfazed she said, ‘It happens all the time. My Mum taught me what to do when I was ten. My mates and I, when we go out in a group, aren’t always quick enough to get on the train together and that’s what we do.’ I could hear the next train approach. When it arrived my rescuer, sensing my uncertainty, gently marshalled me onto it. ‘I’ll stand with you,’ she said, ‘you stay at this door and you’ll see him at the next station.’ The doors shut and off we went. Still anxious – my default position during much of our holiday – I answered my companion’s questions about where we’d been in the last three weeks and managed to calm down. If my partner wasn’t waiting for me, I could catch a taxi and we’d eventually, if separately, arrive at our accommodation. My rescuer continued reassuring me. If the heavy backpack indicated she was a student, I thought she might be studying psychology or social work, she so deftly handled a panicky, aged Australian tourist. The train pulled into Oxford Circus and stopped. Just as my rescuer promised, sitting on a platform bench exactly opposite the door where I stood was an exceptionally glum looking fellow. He looked up from his phone to see me waving furiously and, when the door opened, beckoning him to join me and my new friend. He smiled, joined us on the train and together we profusely thanked our guardian angel. We were never so glad to see each other as on that night, he because he thought I’d be furious with him (I wasn’t) and me because I wasn’t looking forward to a taxi trip back to our accommodation.

In July, we shared the highlight of our several train trips. We left our accommodation in Montmartre, Paris, early and made our way to Gare du Nord to begin our epic journey to Como, in the Italian Alps. The countryside just out from Paris was shrouded in a light fog, and for most of the trip to Zurich, where we changed trains, the sky was overcast. Tired from our short but delightful stay in a wet and occasionally windy Paris and used by now to travelling by train, we relaxed, took photos from the carriage (despite the TGV travelling at around 297 kilometres per hour), and dozed off occasionally while the train climbed the hills towards the Alps. Once out of Zurich, however, we looked forward to crossing the border into Italy. We went through several tunnels, each one taking us closer to Largo di Como and the next stage of our journey. The sky was still overcast when we entered another long tunnel. We emerged minutes later and light flooded our carriage. It felt as if we had stepped onto a movie set: the sky was clear, the sun shone brightly and the colours of the lake and surrounding mountains gleamed. We both gasped, momentarily distracting our fellow passengers who, it appeared, had witnessed this miracle before. It was truly one of the delightful moments of our adventures with trains; a journey, as the Italians might say, that was ‘bonissimo’, and a trip I’d recommend to the most blasé of travellers.

A Journey, a Memoir: The Cyclist

Journeys imply place: visiting a specific location; experiencing different landscapes; discovering a new perspective. But journeys are also about people. During our trip, we avoided large hotel chains and opted to stay at Bed and Breakfasts or Airbnbs and as a result met several fascinating characters.

After coming off the M5 and, given Google Maps, enduring the uncertainty of England’s narrow country lanes, we were eager to see our first Bed and Breakfast, a classic Georgian home near Exeter in Devon.

It had two storeys, a large dining room and a parlour, all decorated in heavy, late Victorian age-thickened furniture and densely woven drapes in glowering reds and greens. I don’t have a green thumb, but I am sure there was an aspidistra standing in the corner of the parlour. We arrived hungry, tired and in need of somewhere to dine but our hostess was nowhere to be seen. We stood in the wide hall and coughed loudly, opened and shut the unlocked front door several times and eventually called out, to no avail. We could hear the sound of a television coming from somewhere but could not identify which direction. Eventually, after our calls became louder, a door opened and the television’s babble momentarily flooded the hall above us. A male voice called, ‘Coming,’ and we looked towards the stairs to see a thin man with collar length, wispy hair plastered to his scalp and a welcoming smile punctuated by uneven, and in a couple of cases broken, teeth. His manners and upper-class speech were, however, impeccable. He took a piece of our luggage in each hand and ascended the steep staircase saying as he did so that the lady of the house would be back soon. He swung open the door to a room swathed in primrose coloured wallpaper with sheer pink curtains filtering the afternoon sun. We deposited our luggage, which had taken on a pink glow, and he showed us the powder blue and white shared bathroom, handed us the key and told us to make ourselves at home.

Our hostess appeared later and carefully dropped into the conversation that the man who greeted us was not her husband, only the lodger. We met our hostesses’ husband a day later when we almost let their dogs out on to the busy road and only just avoided a doggy tragedy. Our hostess, however, was unfazed; she was a cheerful, hard-working no-nonsense woman who ran several businesses and admitted to us the day before we left that if we were looking for accommodation akin to ‘Fawlty Towers‘ we’d come to the right place. In many ways, it was a little chaotic but we found everyone there, including the lodger, charming and helpful.

In County Clare, Ireland, a conversation with another landlady went amusingly wrong. The decor on this occasion was more muted, but the welcome just as warm. One morning at breakfast I spotted a large battery charging in the corner and commented on how impressed I was with the number of electric powered cars we’d seen in the UK and Ireland. I also described the public electric vehicle (EV) charge points we saw at the Motorway Service Areas (MSA) in England and that we needed more of them in Australia. Our hostess, a competent, bustling woman with an engaging Irish accent, looked a little confused, but the conversation continued amicably. It was only later when I was going back over our discussion that I realised it was not her car that was electric, but her golf cart (which I call a golf buggy), and certainly not something you’d drive along the M5 to have recharged.

Kilchreest Cemetery, Ballynacally, near Ennis, County Clare, Republic of Ireland.

In terms of the rich and famous, we had only one encounter, though sadly not with the real person. At yet another essential ‘comfort’ stop, this time while driving between Dublin and Limerick, we discovered an MSA named after the 44th President of the United States. The Barack Obama Plaza contained a petrol station, food court, toilets and a visitor centre detailing information about Obama’s Irish connections. We didn’t have time to visit the visitor centre or take our photos with the life-size cardboard cutouts of Barack and Michelle Obama standing in the main hall but we were chuffed with finding this little bit of America in the middle of Ireland.

Finally, my favourite ‘character’ of the entire trip was another hostess in Ireland, this time in Galway. I promised to keep her identity a secret so I’ll call her ‘Kathleen’ and like all our hosts she was warm, friendly and helpful. She also had an energy and attitude I immediately warmed to. An hour after meeting her I felt like we’d been friends for years. On the first morning after arriving she described the easiest walking route from her home to the centre of Galway and wished us well.

We spent the day visiting several of Galway’s famous Celtic jewellers, locating the best pub for a traditional Irish lunch and Guinness, watching the local buskers, searching for an art gallery that, sadly, wasn’t open, locating Nora Barnacle’s home and unexpectedly coming across Charley Byrnes’ Bookshop, heaven for any bibliophile.

Charlie Byrnes
Charlie Byrne’s Book Shop

After a long day, we trudged back to our lodgings and were halfway there when we both heard a loud, vaguely familiar voice. We looked up to see a woman in a pink puffer jacket holding, with her right hand, her mobile phone to her left ear and steering her bicycle with her left hand. She was followed by a string of cars, reduced to travelling at her lazy speed. It was Kathleen, happily oblivious to the traffic trailing in her wake. When I later described the scene to her she smiled and said she had no idea who’d do such a thing. I agreed, promised I’d not tell her husband and asked if I could please share the tale as long as I never revealed her identity; and I never will. Kathleen, may your rides through Galway remain safe and true and thank you for making our stay the delight that it was. You and others like you helped me to understand that where place and character meet, memories and stories are made.

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A Journey, a Memoir: The Peace of Unknowing

I wrote barely a word during our recent trip to Europe and four days after turning the key, for the first time in nearly two months, in our front door, I struggle to write about our time away from home. I am determined, however, to share the best and worst of our seven weeks, so I have decided to create, over the next few posts, a memoir of our journey. Somewhere, buried in the image-album of my mind are scenes I want to share; still resounding in my brain are the sounds of unfamiliar but welcomed accents and greetings, tastes I registered, impressions I stored, sensations  I preserved. These and the vast, impromptu, barely stage managed theatre that was my journey across the world, are my sources. I hope I can do them justice. What I record in the next few weeks may not be chronological but grouped into themes: the characters we met; how we travelled from country to country; the delights or otherwise of using Airbnb; the food we tasted; even the places we longed to visit but had to miss; my reflections on what we saw, did and enjoyed.

We travelled, during seven short weeks, to Scotland (briefly) England, Wales, Ireland, France, Italy and Greece. We stayed in seventeen different towns or cities, some for only one night, others for up to six nights. We had accommodation in twenty different Bed and Breakfasts or private homes (Air B&Bs) and one hotel (after I insisted, we leave the accommodation we had arranged and relocate to cleaner, more pleasant premises.) We travelled on a ferry to and from Ireland and again when we were in Greece, to and from Hydra. I cannot count the number of trains we waited for and travelled on but we took to the air, once in Europe, only once. This means some of my impressions are fleeting, while others seem to impose themselves on me as I go about unpacking, opening weeks old mail and choosing how to live the rest of my life.

Let me just say this; I did not like flying to Europe. I liked being there and I hope these posts will share the joy.

Glastonbury and  Cilwen

These were two of the first places we visited and among my favourites, although crossing the border from England to Wales meant we faced another long drive along the motorway. Despite the rain and dark clouds, I was surprised by the complex pull of Wales, the home of my paternal great-great grandparents and my maternal grandfather. It wasn’t a sense of ‘home’ or even a return; it was something deeper, something primal.   The folded green hills, grey skies and road signs bearing unfamiliar, consonant rich Welsh words above their English equivalent helped make the miles slide by. The sense of attachment increased later when I heard inflexions and rhythms of speech of the people I passed in the street.

Before entering Wales, however, we stopped in Glastonbury, Somerset, a half an hour’s drive off the M4. Steeped in legend and befuddled by controversy, Glastonbury Abbey is supposedly the burial place of King Arthur. Some archaeologists believe Chalice Well, at the foot of the Glastonbury Tor, has been in use for two thousand years. The water from the spring contains iron oxide, giving it a reddish hue which, like the hot springs in Bath, is said to have healing qualities.

We parked the hire car and headed for the tourist information service to purchase tickets for the Well; unfortunately, we didn’t have time to climb the Tor. As we located the well and climbed the hill above it, I didn’t know what to expect. I read and studied the myths, legends and spiritual beliefs of the ancient Celts decades ago but my studies often lead me to poorly researched material, misinformed conclusions and occasionally blatant fictions about the ancient beliefs of the first inhabitants of this area. We sat above the well for a short time. The hills were quiet and light rain fell. When it stopped we decided to descend to the well and sit on one of the nearby benches. All was silent and so we did not speak, awed by more than just the beauty of the place. I wasn’t searching for a message or revelation, I didn’t want to impose my confused feelings and beliefs on the peace we had found but as I sat I felt an inner wisdom uncoil: 'I cannot know', I thought or heard or perhaps understood, 'what I think I know, because at the end of all knowing is only mystery.

 

Knowledge dissolves and words uttered or written fade in the presence of a mystery older than human memory. As we made ready to leave, I pondered the ‘message’ and what it meant to me, who so values learning and knowledge. In the following weeks, during the daily routine of catching trains, finding our lodgings and places to eat that was my life, I occasionally reflected on and welcomed this new form of ‘unknowing.’

 

03_UKtours_007_Erin_Chalice1

 

Two hours later we arrived at Cilwen, a place of delicate peace and beauty created by two gracious men dedicated to making their lives simpler and sharing that simplicity with others.

 

Both Somerset and Wales will remain places where I learned the importance of sitting and letting go of expectations and anxieties. By nestling into the stillness of sites sacred to thousands of generations, and refuges built from love, the silence of simply being reveals new understandings and kindles old memories.

Bits and Bobs

My grandmother had a drawer in her kitchen cupboard that she called the ‘bits and bobs drawer’. It held what she deemed important but didn’t necessarily belong in any of the other drawers, either by size, category, design or purpose. The bits and bobs drawer housed used circus ticket stubs, the instructions and guarantee for a toaster bought over two decades earlier, rubber bands so old they had started to perish and were adhered to each other like mates in an old folks’ home, and the ubiquitous short, grubby and blunt lead pencil.  Drawer02

Today’s post is going to be a bit like the bits and bobs drawer: for instance, yesterday was the first meeting of the writing group I and three other women recently put together. We found each other through a mutual friend, we’re all professional women, we all want to improve our writing and publish our work and we’re looking for sensitive, constructive support for our endeavours. Unfortunately, I arrived a few minutes late and the cafe I suggested we use for the gathering was closed for the day, so we had to quickly regroup. Despite the wobbly start, it was a wonderful meeting. My co-writers are talented, articulate, perceptive and sensitive; the writing Gods (Goddesses) were indeed smiling on us when we found each other. By the end of today, however, I need to contact the other members of the group and let them know about the venue for the next meeting and provide some written notes on our discussion…

…I’m working with two other people to organise a writing event (it’s very exciting, so watch this space) and I need to send them some material …

… Cadence has an audition this afternoon, the second this week (which is a rarity) so given we only own one car we have to juggle our schedules because I’m going for a walk with Glory this afternoon. Glory inspired my first post and, partly, this blog. In July it will be ten years since she was diagnosed with breast cancer, ten years of glorious survival, so today I want to discuss where we’ll go for a celebratory dinner. I took her out to dinner five years ago, and I’m looking forward to this coming July, the one in five years’ time, the one five years later and the one after that …

… I need to write a reference for another friend …

… Later today I need to work on a chapter I plan to submit for a book proposal. It’s about mature aged women who have written a memoir for their PhD. I’ve been promising to submit it since the end of last year and I must complete it by the end of this week but I’m not sure it’s possible because…

… Tomorrow I’m getting my hair cut and then babysitting, and on Friday one of my friends is launching her poetry book. Oh, there’s an idea for a future post: I’ll write about the book and maybe ask if I can share one of her poems while I’m about it.

But it’s the chapter that’s commanding my attention today. I need to pull it out from the bits and bobs drawer of my mind and deal with it. I don’t exactly have to ‘write’ it, just modify and reshape a small section of my exegesis. It’s not a difficult task, so why, over the last few months, have I baulked every time I’ve tried to finish it (and, therefore, have a chance to finally be published in a scholarly text)?

An exegesis is a written explanation of an artist’s creative, practice-led, academic research. Universities are finally willing to embrace PhD research that explores the dimensions and significance of putting an idea into action and making, in my case, a piece of ‘creative non-fiction’, specifically ‘life writing’ and, more specifically, a memoir. This means that as well as producing my memoir I was required to describe and analyse how I created it and what informed or shaped the process and the final product. Accordingly, I researched:

  • Women’s autobiographical texts and theories about life writing,
  • Various theories concerning narrative voice and narrative point of view,
  • The origins of the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears and how her tale was adapted and changed.

The most important part of my research, however, was into therapeutic writing and how a person writing as a form of therapy might gain extra benefit if they used both first person voice (‘I did, I saw, I went’) and third person voice (‘she did, she saw, she went’). That’s the section my contribution to the proposed book will describe. It’s also the section closest to my heart, the section where, for me (as I hoped it would), the healing occurred. That’s probably why reworking the exegesis is confronting. I have to retrieve it from the bits and bobs drawer, smooth its pages and read it again, and it feels like picking at a scar that’s puckered and still tender.

GoldBear  Writing my memoir and the exegesis took five years. In that time my marriage ended, both my parents died, I moved house three times, drove into the back of another car and, a month or so later, fell and broke my arm. It’s little wonder I’m reluctant to revisit that time, even though I’m proud of the work I did and of my memoir.

I’ll do it, though, because I’ve committed myself and I always follow through on my commitments. I may not send the blessed thing off this Friday, however, I might ask if I can have yet another weekend…

… and, finally, when I peered into my bits and bobs drawer I found something new, something my friends who have already retired told me I would discover: I am as busy now as when I was working. In fact I’m busier, and I don’t mind at all.

Your turn: Have you got a bits and bobs drawer, either real or metaphorical? What is hidden at the back of your drawer? How did it end up there? Is it time to clean out your bits and bobs?

Seven Posts in Seven Days: Six

Path and Practice

In August 1993 I bought a copy of Deena Metzger’s Writing for your Life. I was about to turn 41 and remember thinking, ‘This is it, I’m going to do it this time.’ Leafing through the pages I see I’ve underlined passages, written in the margins and even in the blank spaces at the end of a chapter. (Yes, I’m one of those people who shamelessly put themselves into the books I own.) I’ve taken the title of this post, Path and Practice, from the first section of Part IV of the book. In this section Metzger addresses the idea of the muse and its connection to spirituality:

The muse is like the angel one sometimes meets on a path while seeking wisdom, peace, and compassion.

She adds that,

creativity is such a path, writing is one of its practices and the muse with her sweet breath or fiery torch stands in the dark place and lights our way.ULN25XYFAP

Now, Metzger is in no way saying that writing is the same as religion, or that creativity and spirituality are the same thing. She claims that  being creative is also a path, one that

has to be carved out by each individual practitioner.

A muse , says Metzger is a boon to anyone on that path and she encourages her readers to imagine and invoke their muse.

For various reasons I was unable to do that in 1993 but I have a muse now, and while I have challenged myself to write seven posts in seven days she has stayed by my side and lit my way with her torch, though a LED flashlight is more her style.

My muse is ebullient, cheeky, assertive and bossy; there’s nothing gentle or meek about her. Like most muses she’s liable to get bored and wander off, she has a critical streak (telling me, of course, it’s for my own good), and is disagreeable when it suits her.

I am talking about Goldilocks, or my version of her. She’s been with me since I was two, when, so the story goes, I insisted my parents read her story to me every night.

Why did I choose her? (Or did she choose me?)

Goldilocks has, to me, always seemed enigmatic, transgressive and marginalised; although I am sure my three-year-old self would not have used those words. She doesn’t prevaricate or postpone, she is curious, sensual and appears to feel no regret or guilt concerning her actions. I was a timid child, but Goldilocks is bold and adventurous. She explored her world,  I stayed close to home. She not only knocked at the door of the three bears’ cottage, she opened it and crossed the threshold without waiting to be invited. I have always hung back. Goldilocks is always alone; she makes her own choices, avoids company and has a positive self-regard born of her strong belief  in ‘just right’.

Is she the ‘just right’ muse for me?  You bet. When I recreated her story in my memoir I had her admit responsibility for what she did because I believe we have to have the courage to accept the consequences of our actions. By choosing Goldilocks as my muse I am validating an otherwise disruptive, anti-establishment, resourceful and maligned girl/woman who  challenges domestic order, social mores and conventions. She is capricious, confident, assertive and fearless, qualities that earn her—as well as other girls with similar characteristics—criticism and censure.

The differences between Goldilocks and the traditionally wild creatures of the forest, the bears, intrigues me. These three  bears are civilised and domesticated; they live in a cottage, eat from a table, sleep in a bed and appear to have a clear sense of right and wrong, albeit with a degree of moral turpitude when it comes to assisting those worse off than them. That Goldilocks might be a wayfarer searching for safety, comfort and shelter is ignored. She is called a greedy, wilful and selfish girl when, she is, upon arrival at the Bears’ cottage, a hungry, tired, lost child seeking asylum. The bears are outraged by her behaviour. They don’t stop and consider that she is simply following her instincts and finding shelter and food. Given this, is there any need for her to feel remorse for her actions? Yes, in one sense there is something monstrous about her behaviour, but there is also something monstrous about bears in human clothing who refuse to provide a child with asylum.

For me, the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears demonstrates that being a ‘good girl’ is the only option available to little girls who wish to be accepted into society, even if that means starving. By trying to discover her ‘just right’ Goldilocks is assumed to have committed an act of transgression. She is banished and the bears are seen as victims.

Above the door of my writing room is the word ‘Imagine’ in large red letters. The Goldilocks I imagine is exactly the right muse for me because she gives me strength.  The Goldilocks I call muse, like any other muse, is a figment of my imagination, but imagination is what all writers, all artists, need and exercise. As Deena Metzger writes,

The imagination is … a real place. And the image is as real as a table or the galaxies. The image matters. Matters as much as anything matters. The image is the prima materia. To respect it, work with it, live with it, act upon it, finally to live with it is the very core of the creative life.

I write for many reasons. One of them is because a capricious, maligned, brave little girl walked into my life over 60 years ago and refused to leave. I am fortunate to have such a tenacious muse because she is the one who insists I ‘just write!’

Do you have a muse? How did she or he come into your life? How does she or he nurture you?  How do you nurture your muse?

OF DRESSMAKERS AND POCKET DREAMS

Last Friday evening my friend Glory and I saw The Dressmaker, a wildly funny and moving new Australian film directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse and based on the novel by Rosalie Ham. After the response to last week’s post, and in the light of the movie, I have decided to share a little more about my mother. There is a moment in The Dressmaker, between Tilly, played by Kate Winslet, and her mother, played by Judy Davis, that reminded me of a moment between my mother and me, one I described in my memoir, Reading Goldilocks. I think the passage captures a little of the thrall she held me in and the complex nature of our bond. I wrote my memoir in both first and third person narrative voice; the following excerpt is from one of the chapters told by the third person narrator, Goldilocks  from the The Three Bears. This Goldilocks has grown up and is assertive, independent, feisty, and opinionated. She hates it when she knocks on a door and no one answers; a bit like the original Goldilocks really, only older, wiser and even more determined. Here is the excerpt:

There was one day when Janet, reading my story, stopped at the page where the little bear was being a cry baby about his chair (he was too big for it anyway),  looked up from the book and watched Sapphire, sitting before her sewing machine stitching together pieces of fabric she had cut from a length of material.

‘These are big pockets,’ Sapphire said as she pinned a pocket piece to the front section of skirt.

‘Big enough for me to fit in?’ said Janet. She put the book down, walked over to her mother and stood next to the sewing machine.

‘Oh, yes,’ said Sapphire. She sewed the pocket to the skirt, clipped the thread, laid the half-finished skirt to one side and lifted Janet onto her knee. Janet gazed at the sewing machine, its shining metal foot with its two toes, the thread carrier that held the white line of thread in its proper place and the needle that moved up and down and made the stitches. Hidden away, Janet knew, below the sewing plate, was the bobbin. She thought that was a pretty name for the round metal donut that carried the bottom thread. Janet shifted her gaze to the tension dial; Sapphire told her she needed to alter the dial according to the thickness of the fabric, a precise adjustment required prior to every new project.

‘Would you like me to make you a dress like this, with big pockets?’ Sapphire’s arms reached around Janet as she picked up the second pocket piece, gingerly plucked a pin from the round metal pin tin and pinned the pocket to the skirt. Janet sat very still, hardly breathing.

‘That would be nice,’ she replied, lowering her voice and matching Sapphire’s dreamy, soft tone. Janet could feel her mother’s heart beating against the left side of her small, tight back. It felt as if Janet had two hearts, one that beat in her own chest and a pilot heart, an original heart drumming her heart into being.

In the part of my story Janet was reading before she stopped to help her mother with the pockets, I was upstairs and asleep in Baby Bear’s bed, so maybe this image of Janet and her mother sitting together at the sewing machine didn’t happen? Maybe Janet’s two hearts are just a dream I had as I slept in Baby Bear’s bed? Maybe every quiet moment between Janet and Sapphire was a dream, like the dream Janet had that her mother was happy instead of sad or angry.

‘We’ll go to the shops tomorrow and look for a pattern and fabric for you, but for now,’ Sapphire gently slid Janet off her lap, ‘I need to finish this dress and then you can help me make Daddy some dinner.’

‘Mummy, until you make my dress, can I get into your pocket and go to parties with you?’

Was it the dream Sapphire or the real Sapphire who smiled her beautiful smile and replied, ‘You are already in my pocket, my love, you already are’?

 

Photo Credit: João Paulo Corrêa de Carvalho
Photo Credit:
João Paulo Corrêa de Carvalho

My memory of this incident is vague, and it may even be a compilation of many moments that passed between my mother and me. My mother taught me to sew and I remember those lessons as harmonious and loving. By writing sections of my memoir in third person narrative voice I was able to be more objective about those harmonious interludes, as well as the difficult times. I was able to appreciate my mother’s many skills and her innate tenderness. Goldilocks helped me see my mother, not as a daughter sees a mother but as one woman sees another. Through Goldilocks and her narrative I witnessed the suffering and struggle of another woman. I think this is one of the reasons writing part of my memoir in third person was therapeutic.

Have you ever written about one of your experiences from a first person perspective and then switched and rewrote it in third person narrative voice? What happened? Did you experience a sense of detachment and objectivity? How did that affect your perspective about the experience?