Writing About Writing

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Lamott’s wise words remind me that to achieve authentic writing, words that are worthy of legacy – we must indeed be prepared to own our past, demand our present and be fearless of our future.

Recently I have been privileged to be connected with other writers, especially those who boldly share their writing fears, hopes and aspirations.  Writers who are willing to write about writing draw me to their authentic voice.

In the past I spent more time talking about writing, than writing – other than years of academic writing.  I always found it much easier to work with words when the motivation was extrinsic – the world of teaching, earning a living, study and assignment completion.  Hundreds of assignments to write and mark!

Owning all that has happened to me gives me a fabulous sense of freedom.  A whole new way of being.  The feeling reminds me of yoga breath – yoga has taught me a new way to do the very thing I have been doing since birth, taking air into the lungs. Lamott’s wisdom tells me that it is perfectly acceptable to take this new freedom and write all of it. Tell it, tell it all – the sweet, funny, happy, tragic, despicable, snippy, wonderful, loving and compassionate little tales and interactions that make up a life.

The rise and fall of relationships – write it.

The joys and losses impossible not to encounter when existing in a family – write it.

The things that make the fingers zing on the keys – write it.

I must continue to think and talk less about writing and aim to write with strength, purpose, with grit.

Lamott gives us permission to write authentically which is always important regardless of how others conduct themselves.  We can only be responsible for our own behavior.

“People will always notice the change in your attitude towards them. But they will never notice it’s their behavior that made you change.”

Anonymous

They are our stories and we shall write them.

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A Moment In Time

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In Western Australia, I stood in an olive grove.  At that moment the sun was out and I could feel the warmth – even as a fresh, coolish breeze swept over me and through the olive trees.  I inhaled the heavenly aroma and felt completely present.  I am able to retrieve the feeling, the smell and the contentment of that exact moment.

That may not seem very remarkable.  For me, those moments of precise connection are rare as I tend to have a head running on everything and everyone around me.  I am actively working to achieve contentment and connection – but on that day,  it simply happened.

The memory, is a gift.

 

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Fiction

The Boy With The Dinner Plate

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I was hosing the front garden of the home we had just moved into when he caught my eye.  A boy, no more than eight, carrying what appeared to be a dinner plate across from one house to another.  It was only when I saw the same boy on a different evening doing exactly the same walk that I observed with more attention.  He was indeed carrying a dinner plate with food as he made his way down the driveway, across the street and up to the front door of what must be the opposite neighbour.  Without trying to, I noticed this same ritual on a fairly regular basis.

He comes from a family of seven, yes seven –  boys.  The eldest has recently moved out but it has only been five weeks and his Mum got a text saying he missed home and was lonely.  They own a generational boat business.  The Dad is home by five o’clock and Mum runs the uniform shop at the primary school.  The boys grew up with Dad down the street and Mum at school, until they moved on to high school.

They built the house when the surrounding blocks were empty.  One by one they were bought up, tradies arrived and houses emerged.  Families moved in.  They were the originals.  Those who built homes, they were and a few still are, the originals.

When there were two toddlers and a baby on the way in the family that would become seven boys, the block across from them sold.  A barrister from the city bought the block for cash when his wife was visiting her family in Italy.  He told her over an international phone call that he had sold their home and they would be building in a very nice new estate near the beach.  She heard, ‘next to the beach’.  She still tells the story.

The barrister built an impressive house with an even grander statue of a jumping dolphin in his front yard and asked the opposite neighbours, the family with boys, “Do you think this will increase the value of your property?”  The Mum of those boys did not have time for the luxury of diplomacy so she told the barrister, “No. I don’t think so.”  She still tells the story.

When the barrister’s wife returned she was not happy – but she moved, after all, their house was sold.  She did not care for the new house which the builders were working on under relentless instruction from her husband.  She was indifferent to the block which was across from the water.  The sort of ‘across’ from the water which eventually meant houses sprouted up to put an end to their view.

Although, there was another ‘across’ the street and over there was the house that had the baby boys that would one day, number seven.  One by one those little boys grew to know, to trust, to love the always ready Nona who lived just steps across the road.  A home with quiet calmness, warm baking smells and the somewhat scary barrister in his big leather chair who read them chapters of novels in his deep, rich voice which made them sleepy.

It began on a summer night with a gentle knock on the door.  The Mum had put dinner on the table for the littles and went to answer the door.  Her neighbour was there, her personal angel Nona, there to tell her that car lights had been left on.  Their chat was interrupted with the eldest holding his plate of spaghetti, asking if he could go and eat dinner with Nona.  The women exchanged sweet glances and the Mum shrugged and the Nona smiled and told the boy,” Of course you can come and have your dinner with us,” reassuring the Mum that she will walk him home, all twenty steps.

That is how it began.  A ritual that has spanned close to fifteen years of a boy taking his dinner over to Nona’s house.  She walks them home but they always get ice cream before they go.  As one boy’s visits began to slow, another was ready to carry on the unplanned but closely held little treat that carried on down to the current boy, the one I had seen. The last boy.

I met the lovely Nona.  She has welcoming eyes, a sweet accent and personifies grace and elegance.  She was the one to tell me the story of her husband selling her house whilst she was away.  One by one the little boys appear to have saved the barrister with their mere presence.

I thought to ask her what would happen when the last boy feels too grown up to trot across to Nona’s with his dinner, but I realized, that was a question not to be asked. Once they moved into their new home, the house that began without her, she told me, “When we came, and I met my family across the street, my boys, well that was it.  I could never leave the boys.”

The barrister had the good sense to keep quiet during the relaying of this family and neighborhood tale.  After all, he must be fairly experienced at knowing full well when someone has got away with something.

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I remember…

Recently I attended a writer’s workshop presented by Rachael Brown, author of ‘Trace”. I loved being in a space surrounded by others who share the desire and need to write especially when so often as writers we are alone and there are times when that creeping self-doubt sets in.  There is nothing like scanning a full room of enthusiastic readers and writers personifying diversity and feeling right at home.  One of the suggestions from Rachael was to perform writing exercises – ‘like lifting dumbbells for your writing’.  I loved that idea and decided to take this one on today.  This warm up to a writing session requires the writer to start with the statement – I remember and then write ten memories.  I decided that I would theme my ten recollections on my mother and mother-in-law.  I did so, as I felt I have been passing on many stories of the fathers in my family and was curious about the memories of the women who helped shape our family.  I wrote the remembrances as they came, in succession and without editing.  I admit I was tempted as I found myself thinking – oh they should be deeper, more revealing.  I resisted and here are the memories intact, as they came starting with Mum, Gerry Johnston and then rolling on to Joan, Patricia Caughey.

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Mum

I remember walking into Myers on Queen street with Mum when the downstairs department baked biscuits and the exquisite mingling of the smell from the perfume counters as the baking aromas drifted up the wide stairwell to the entrance.

I remember Mum waving goodbye before she slipped into Dad’s white ’64 EH sedan. She was wearing a lime green skirt and jacket with an orange and white stripped top. The jacket had wide lapels and white stitching to outline the curves and I was thinking that it was the most beautiful outfit I could ever imagine.

I remember Dad turning the lights off so we could all surprise Mum with a little birthday party in Glasgow.  The table was set with a cream birthday cake and trick glasses with fake bottoms and there was an plastic ice cube with a pretend beetle!

I remember Mum letting me eat cornflakes by the fire as a treat whilst the other kids sat at the table with their porridge.  It is a vague memory but it was because I had an allergy to oats although I loved porridge for breakfast and still do!

I remember bacon sandwiches, coffee made on milk and watching the midday movie with Mum.

I remember Mum singing whilst she peeled potatoes over the sink.

I remember walking through the door and seeing Mum holding a telegram, typed letters on thin paper telling her that her mother in Scotland had died.

I remember buying my mother a new dressing gown and that deep feeling that I could not bear my Mum to ever feel cold.

I remember pushing Mum in one of the centre provided wheelchairs at Logan hyperdome and feeling like she was enjoying being out of the house.

I remember once going to the Shingle Inn, Edward Street with Mum where the ladies wore bavarian style uniforms, the tea was served in real silver pots into china cups and the cakes were made with butter.

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Joan

I remember Joan walking down the driveway with Harry as we arrived in Shane’s yellow ’74 Celica.  I was about to meet my would be future parent-in-laws.  We married a year later.

I remember Joan always having an African violet on her kitchen windowsill.

I remember Joan ironing tea towels and I have done that since just because I miss her.

I remember treating Joan to her first and best I know, only pedicure.  It was in Townsville and she was elderly but the lovely girl and I carefully and gently helped her to settle in the chair.  We chose a girly pink colour and she was excited to show Harry.

I remember coming home and finding Joan watching Australian Rules football in my home in Point Lonsdale.  I teased her about it and she told me and I quote – “But they are rather nice in their shorts!”  My memory is crystal clear on that.  I made us a cuppa and we watched on together until Harry, Shane and the kids turned up from somewhere.

I remember wanting to share every achievement of Shane, Alex, Harry and Annie with Joan.  Not because it made me feel good, although it did, but genuinely because I knew it gave her such enormous pleasure.

I remember Joan watering her hydrangeas wearing a straw hat and how it created a life long association for me.  I never see hydrangeas without thinking of Joan.

I remember Joan raging if dishes were left in the sink overnight after she had cleaned the kitchen for the night.  I thought it was pretty ridiculous when I was a girl in my twenties.  I don’t think that anymore.

I remember sitting beside Alex in the Corowa church the day following Joan’s funeral and losing complete control of my emotions as the loss was so totally unexpected and ended an era of Shane and I having parents and my kids having grandparents.

I remember Joan answering the phone when Shane and I were calling to tell her Alexandria was born and feeling so in awe that she had actually gone on and done this six darn times!

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Dear Great Grandchildren…

 

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I will not know you.  The chance that we may meet will depend on my living to a very grand age and even then, we may meet but we will not know each other.  With a long life I shall know your parents and what a joy that will be.  As for your grandparents, well I do know them very well.  They will be Alexandria, Harry and Annie, along with their dear loved partners.

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Maths shows that we are likely not to share time.  I am heading for 58 with no grandchildren as yet which means even if your parents turn up in the next few years, it would arguably be another 20 to 30 years before they are starting their own families and I know for sure that they will be encouraged in education and training, most likely catch the desire for travel and life knowledge and be successful in careers that I cannot even imagine existing here in 2019.  If I hang around until my 90s we may cross paths! Personally, I am not wishful of that unless I can still walk on the beach, ride a very cool ‘scooter’, cook my own meals, live in my own space with a view of the beautiful Golden Beach and oh — that passage.  I hope you are able to go out on the passage regularly. Shane has a boat he named for his mother, “Patricia Joan” and we love spending time out there.

So let me tell you a little about your grandparents.  In no particular order.

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Harry

Henry Alexander Caughey, although always known as Harry and named intentionally after the father of Shane, old Harry or formally, Henry Alexander Caughey.  I recall a funny but also heart tugging story old Harry told of getting into a good deal of strife on his first day at school for not responding to his name, Henry – being called on the roll.  He was waiting for ‘Harry’.  We made certain that our Harry knew his formal name was Henry!  The name became much more popular due to a certain red haired prince in the UK.  Later, many in-family versions emerged as Poppy/Harry/Henry Alexander Caughey was a wonderful man who was gifted with the ability to love deeply and widely – not always achievable, but he made it seem inevitable.  In this family, we all hope that with the rite of naming – comes the gaining of his beautiful qualities.

In our family, our family of Shane and Carol – Alexander is the name of my father.  No man of greater honesty and integrity existed.  He lived a deeper Christian life than any dedicated church attendee in his every single day existence.  If you by chance have any of his qualities, work ethic, family dedication and the ability to see the best of any situation – you shall indeed be dearly blessed.

My Harry was the tallest of all the grandchildren of Joan and Harry.  On the Johnston side, we are Scottish and ‘wee’ – very small.  I wanted an award for that, as I barely made 5ft 2inches in imperial measure.  I shall leave you to figure that out, but it is – short.  He is 27 years of age as I write and very much in love with his beautiful Heidi, his finance who came traveling from Wisconsin, USA and met our Aussie boy.  Just a few days ago her visa was approved making her a resident of Australia.  Their journey has just begun.

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Harry is exceedingly clever and found the maths and science subjects more to his interest.  He is a medical scientist finding his way in his field of work.  Most importantly he is a great man.  Honest, with strong ethics, common sense and the gift of being able to love deeply.  I believe he will be a wonderful husband and father, should he be so blessed to have children.

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Harry is also very funny and is a fantastic public speaker.  He is good at most things, especially sport and there were a few years where he was a raving gym junkie with abs fit for a billboard!  He loved Harry Potter, was far too interested in video games for my liking (especially when he should have been studying for Yr 12) and he can cook.  I have a wonderful memory of watching him make a rather good chocolate cake (not a packet one) for Heidi’s birthday.  Harry inherited the tragic and intense following of the Collingwood football team from his father, Shane.  They are utterly ridiculous when watching the game!  According to both of them, the umpires are always out to ‘get Collingwood’.  Watching ‘them’ watching the game is more entertaining than the footy.

He is not perfect either.  Although he passed his driver’s license first go (the only one to do so) he crashed our family blue commodore into the rear of a cautious driver who stopped at a give way that was clear (Harry’s version).  His best mate, Charlie was with him as they headed into Canberra.  Cars are just metal and so long as everyone is fine, never be too upset over a bit of scrunching.  He also had to sit in the gutter for some recovery air on the night of his 21st as we escorted his cousin Damian safely to his bed…they are great young men and two of my particular favorite sons – a godson and my son. I hope both of them have children and grandchildren as they are fabulous young men who will make worthy husbands and exceptional parents and role models.

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Alex

Alexandria Johnston Caughey Hutt is our first born.  Early, intense and with a long and complicated birth which looking back forecast her entire life journey up to thirty years of age which is where she resides in the calendar of life as I write.  Alex was one of ‘those’.  That means – the whole package.  Alexandria, Alex, Ally or Alpal is a great beauty, sure she is pretty, but she is classically beautiful, a stunner.  Alex has intellect which served her well and hindered her, as things were just too easy at times.  She is good at what ever she turns her hand to except looking after herself and putting her wonderful person before others, before work, before achievements.  Ally is getting better at this – and I suspect she will ‘one day show’ us all.

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What is really impressive about Alex?  I would bet she has never made a friend cry.  I know she has never let a family member down.  She was never a click group girl – too mature and wise for that nonsense.  She is the best friend anyone could ever wish for and a few very special women know that.  The most admirable trait of Alexandria is her extraordinary capacity to forgive, to master perspective particularly when it comes to the behavior of others.

Alexandria grew up impressing adults.  This has been a theme from young child through teen years to adulthood.  She personifies problem solving and her choice of journalism, law and governance suits this season in her young life.  Watch this space, Alexandria will  be more than worthy of it!

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Alex is married to Greg, a patient, easy going dear young man and they are building their first house.  They want a family and if blessed will be loving, wonderful parents.  It is a rare day indeed that I do not talk with my Alex and she has never not responded to any of my thousand good mornings or nighty nights.  That is just sweetness – you can’t teach it.

I can’t tell you of Harry’s first prang then leave out Alex’s.  She managed to pull in too close to a petrol pump very early in her driving life and scratched the side life out of our white hyundai.  It was a run around car and we never fixed it.  I don’t have any drinking stories although I suspect her friends do.  You may want to ask her about goon bags and hills hoists and doing time at university residence with Amy.

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Annie

The youngest and the only baby who made a full term gestation despite very early signals over a Corowa summer – there is always one to keep you on your proverbial toes whether it’s pushing parental, educational or geographical boundaries – that is where you will find this one, Anne Frances.

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Named partly after seeing the exquisite calligraphy on the screen credit of actress Anne Frances and for the middle names of her parents.  Annie is a free spirited, travelling, talented creative who discovered her potential in an exceptional school thus working hard and graduating with one of the higher scores in the extended clan, an effort well deserved and would not have been expected by the jaded teachers in her junior Catholic school.  Immature and chatty but a nice girl, they reported.  Vibrant, exceptional teachers  with high expectations saw her differently at the Cathedral School in Townsville, Queensland.

Annie is loyal, principled and has a heart that has been dinted by others who do not share her exceptional qualities.  She has her Grandad’s honesty, her Dad’s compassion and all the naughty traits of her mother.  Annie is great fun, messy beyond comprehension, runs late, stretches her social and work self to snapping point and is burning through life without missing a flicker.

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As I write she is an accomplished journalist with her own coloumn and weekly magazine insert.  She is set to travel again, freelance and reset her future goals.  Annie has always had an interest in running her own business.  She loves the idea of teaching teenagers and has a genuine desire for healthy, sustainable living.

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Early on Shane and I became – Annie Caughey’s parents.  You guessed it, “Oh, you’re Annie’s parents!”  This one clipped not one but two of our cars, the green Rav4 changing lanes then the grey toyota ute – situation never fully explained.  Do ask Annie and Alex about petrol and diesel in the ute – for highly intelligent women, these two can be dumb!

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Shane and I are very grateful for our family and are very proud of the manner in which Alex, Harry and Annie conduct their lives.  Not only within the family – which is exceptional but importantly in the world, with their partners, their work and how each one would be the first to step forward, to step in, to step up – that’s why they all stand out.

They are dearly cherished and loved beyond any words I can find and they simply are the blessing of our life.

 

One Year Later…

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One year on and this is where it began.

In his memoir, “On Writing” Stephen King includes two quotes before the foreword.

Honesty’s the best policy. – Miguel de Cervantes

Liars prosper. – Anonymous

So how does this apply to the 90s phenomenon which began as web log and is now globally embraced as blogging?  I wanted to better understand the concept of blogging so started with a definition – “a person who regularly writes material for a blog”.  Ok, so that summary was not particularly insightful so I tapped deeper – “a personal chronological log of thoughts published on a web page.”  I will confess (the honesty part) that I had guessed it might have been a play on the words ‘bragging’ and ‘logging’.  Personal and published – the two Ps, now that makes sense, after all isn’t the intent of all writing to be read, just as we speak to be heard and with both, understood?

New to the concept of blogging because in the late 90s and the decade that followed I was navigating the mothering of three wonders, trying to hold on to a teaching career in the midst of the touch and go life of a ‘military spouse’ which other partners of service personnel and those who must up stakes regularly for employment will understand.  Now that the life bag of excuses is depleted, the old but new to me arena of blogging is sitting right in front of me – literally.

Writing that is compelling and raw with honesty is my blogging choice.  My choice to read, my decision to write.  I do though agree with ‘Anonymous’ in every facet of life, liars do indeed prosper – I am sure we can all dredge up examples as such but in this new domain of blogging, honesty is the best policy, the only point really.

What is my blogging goal?  I do not think that I am very good at goal setting – I tend to rush at things but I am a pretty darn good finisher.  If the blogging is to have a purpose other than to write, to express – it is about gathering and sharing thoughts, ideas, joys, memories, hurts, disappointments, hopes and providing legacy.

So here I begin, blogging on about everything with Miguel’s words ringing in my ears.

How can that possibly be one year ago?  My goal to start was achieved.  Honesty in my words, achieved.  Baby steps – still in progress as my posts reach a small audience as I had intended, small yes – but authentic.  Legacy – well underway.

Love of writing – ever present.  Writing for me – is a must!

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