I have five pieces floating unfinished within my word press. Time has not been a problem except that every time I open write and pick a piece, any of them – I have ideas that refuse to translate to words on the page. I still feel connected enough to all of them to want to commit to the work it will take to put them through edit, preview and on to publish. Willing enough but wanting in the construction phase.
Having just tried again on this perfect afternoon with a soft breeze blowing from the lake through the open doors and the promise of a quiet house all evening – still not much happening on the screen.
So, I am going to spend a good few days enjoying Reader and all the words from fabulous authors who are not blocked, clogged or flipping from one start to another!
Tonight I flipped open my MacBook Pro and for some reason it made me think of my first experience with a computer word processing program – Bank Street Writer.
I wondered, does anyone else out there remember this floppy disk program?
In 1985 I was in my first year of teacher’s college. When our cohort graduated it was the ‘death’ of the Diploma of Teaching and it was rebranded into a teaching degree. In a handful of years it would become a four year, Bachelor of Education.
However back in the 80s, during the DipTeach, assignments were typed and for a few of us, our papers were created on this early word processing program in the computer lab. Really, it was a converted classroom with eight computers which could take a disk and the concept of computer banks, let alone laptops was a good chunk of years away. In my second year I could always access a computer but one year later, rarely was there a spare seat as the notion of processing was taking off.
My program was a copy. One of the clever tech kids copied his program onto my disk and the wonders of editing and a saving capacity unfolded. Technology was on the move but the Bank Street held on for several years. Can you imagine a time when the cool academics used over head projectors and might have gone to the bother of gathering colored pens. Sounds boring I know, but there were many lively debates and copious note taking!
In the late 80’s James Cook was a small regional university which attracted some young and dynamic academics. I am guessing it helped with the visa process – well, lucky us! The teaching was exceptional and decades on it was not surprising to see more than one of our younger professors in some of the top academic posts in the nation. We were also fortunate to have a dedicated group of successful teachers who came onto the campus for tutorials – ‘they knew what they were talking about’ – says it all really. The practicum schedule in schools started early in our course and fabulously for us we spent far more time in real classrooms than contemporary courses. Our academic subject schedule was greater also – my own kids who have all graduated from rigorous universities are amazed that we had such a heavy study load. That is not a complaint as it went a long way to preparing us for the real deal!
As well as typing assignments (I clearly recall a lecturer stressing that no handwritten papers would be accepted ) the sophisticated system of handing in assessments if the tutor was not in the office (which was rare as most were full time teachers) was to drop your assignment in a cardboard box left outside their door. Guess, we were all trusting and honest back then!
It still makes me smile to recall running through the campus gardens when tutorial listings were put on the notice board as the goal was NOT to have a Friday afternoon tutorial or best of the best, clear the whole day. One had to write their name on the sheet – first in, first on the tutorial. Easy! With our schedule then, uni days were generally eight in the morning (always a compulsory lecture which could not be got out of – there was a roll call back then and attendance was a requirement) until late afternoon. Finishing classes for the day by lunchtime was an absolute treat!
It meant that generally students were on campus all day. We had lunch together, we used spare time between classes to work on group activities and we loved being in the library, the only air-conditioned building on our campus! Northern Australia is relentlessly hot for most of the year so the library was a popular destination. This small college made my experience all the richer. We had no paid parking, no security guards as wonderfully they were not needed, things left behind could be retrieved at the library as someone always handed them in. Small was good, great even.
Some students left, a few changed courses but at the close of this academic journey nearly all of us celebrated as one large group with wood fired pizzas and many, many drinks overlooking the Ross River. It did not escape us that we witnessed a spectacular sunset that evening.
Our teaching appointments scattered us around the state and I commenced my first teaching appointment at Wilston State school in Brisbane.
Many years and an array of educational experiences later I would once again be on campus although this time it was in America and I was teaching – Foundations of Education Psychology. Email had arrived but was still not widely used by many of the professors and my students were delighted that I used this format to keep in touch with them.
My campus experience came full circle at the University of Canberra when for one year I shared it with my three children. Kiddo one and two were completing post graduate studies, law for Alex and diagnostic pathology for Harry and Miss Annie was in her second year of journalism. I was tutoring that year and though I parked beside their cars, caught up for the odd coffee we never all made it to the beautiful university sign for a group photo – one big fat missed opportunity!
That was not so many years ago and by now everything was electronic – phones do just about everything, apps, computers and the online world shape learning and teaching. Resources are incredible! Timetables and tutorials are organized from anywhere one happens to be when they become ‘open’ – no more running across campus! Lectures can be accessed on line and of course, many subjects are taught and completed with great success in this format. No more massive packets of photocopied readings for those doing ‘distance’ studies.
Whilst I have seen a great many changes in campus life, some aspects do remain. On a sunny day the warmth draws students to the grassy areas and the coffee shops are full of chatter and flirting. There is always someone running – literally running to be somewhere. Sure, the phones are out and the earphones are in but that invisible presence of promise is still very much everywhere.
This is a little no through street about ten minutes from the beach. At the far end a pretty fern filled lane connects with a busier street with schools, community centre and several churches. There are playing fields and an old cemetery.
It is usually very quiet and several residents in the no through street are well into their eighties. The houses are modest, well kept and the neighbors know one another.
Around seven o’clock on a Sunday morning several residents were shocked to see a woman in their gardens, naked. She was ranting and insistent upon looking for her children. Gordon, who lives alone and has poor sight became aware of someone inside his house. He tried to call the police but was too upset and was unable to operate his phone. She raged around his house looking in drawers and cupboards before heading further down the street. Nothing was taken.
At least two more houses were entered. The woman left her own backpack in one of them before moving on to another property where she caused significant damage tearing at a screen and breaking window framing.
By the time the police arrived she was back in the street attempting to get into cars and tool boxes trying to find her children.
The woman was known to the police. Her children are in the foster system.
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.”
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.
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.