Remember when you were young…

This must be the longest break from blogging I’ve had in years. I’ve been thinking about it the whole time, wishing I could just take that hour or so out and write, but it hasn’t happened. I have good reason for slacking off: we’ve renovated the whole house, painted every room bar one, most of the outside, replaced almost all the floor coverings, every door except one, and all the light fittings. I guess it probably doesn’t sound like a lot. We haven’t gutted the kitchen or anything, although we did replace the bathroom sink and both toilet cisterns. It hasn’t been a complete renovation but it surely has been a huge undertaking and the results are pretty good.  I’ll post some photos at some point.

Anyway, aside from that, which happened in the space of less than six weeks with a week in Thailand in the middle (we had it booked, we had to go!), I’ve also been working full time which has been a massive challenge. The work was relatively challenging although nothing  I couldn’t handle. It was dealing with the internal politics that took its toll. It’s the public service, typical really, but it’s been a while since I’ve worked full time and I’d forgotten just how carefully one has to play the game.

Part of a letter written in 1918 to my great great great grandmother. She seems to have been very kind to a woman whose son was killed during the war. Her own son was too. Nothing to do with this blog post, only that it captures a moment in time...
Part of a letter written in 1918 to my great great great grandmother. She seems to have been very kind to a woman whose son was killed during the war. Her own son was too. Nothing to do with this blog post, only that it captures a moment in time…

So it’s been full on, and I haven’t had a moment to even plan a blog post, let alone write one. I’ve had so many ideas jump into my head but I’ve been too busy to jot them down or draft something short to remind myself, so they’ve gone. I’d really wanted to do NaNoWriMo this year and try and beat my previous pathetic word counts or, shock horror, actually win, but no chance, just too much to do. The good news is that the renovation is done and the house is now on the market. I’ve also finished my contract at work, so in between job hunting and preparing the house for viewings, I’ve now got a bit of time to play with.

I got to thinking this week about the twists and turns life presents us with. Ever since I met Mr Chewbacca, my life has felt a little bit out of control. Not unmanageable or difficult, just a little bit beyond my grasp; kind of like chasing a horse but still holding its bridle. Life becomes complicated by relationships. But life would be nothing without them. The Dude has complicated my life immensely but I wouldn’t swap him for anything.

It’s bizarre to think about the hugely diverse situations I’ve ended up in so far in life. Once when I was 11 I stood around the back of my old primary school dressed as an Arthurian musician and kissed a boy.

When I was 18 I was fiddling with the car radio while driving after having had my license for only three months and didn’t give way at an intersection. The woman I collided with shouted at me and I cried in shock. My best friend’s mum happened to be there at that moment and took me to her place, which I was on my way to. My mum couldn’t afford to fix her 1979 Renault station wagon and we drove it around for months with the entire front panel dented in so far you could see the suspension.

When I was 21 I met a boy and had what can only be described as a religious experience, ending up randomly at his house somehow and not leaving until the early hours of the morning when I crept out past the open door of his parents’ bedroom as they slept. That relationship lasted six years.

When I was 28 I travelled through the Scottish highlands and was invited by an old man to become a weaver on the Isle of Harris. I reluctantly refused.

When I was 29 I met my mirror image, my soulmate, but I didn’t know it, and life has been surprise ever since.

When I was 32 I lay in a pool in the living room of a Vaucluse mansion and gave birth to a baby.

When I was 35 I tried to write and it just didn’t come out the way I wanted.

I am reading the autobiography of the father of an old friend at the moment. It’s not a masterpiece, just a detailed and interesting account of a varied life, a legacy of sorts, and it is quite inspiring. I find myself becoming so envious of other people’s ambition and drive to achieve. I wish I had that. It’s there but I can’t channel it outside of myself. I have my book idea, the main one, sitting right at the front of my mind, desperate to be written, and I know it is good, but it just won’t come out. Or perhaps I’m not making time for it. Yet again, my resolutions for 2014 will involve writing discipline. This time, I must succeed, as I feel I’m running out of time to write this book…

Advertisements

Dynasty (aka why I have slacked off on blogging recently)

Today my grandad would have been 86. The fifth. Always the fifth in our family, so many of us born on the fifth of the month for some odd reason. Grandad died in 2003. On the fifth. In fact it was on my birthday. I turned 25. My boyfriend at the time and I we’re over at my mum’s place feeding her dogs when my dad called to tell me grandad had collapsed and this was probably it. He was crying. As soon as I got off the phone, I burst into tears. Weird, as death usually doesn’t make me cry. It was just so sudden, but that’s grandad, we all knew he’d just pop off one day when it was time. He was 77. Doesn’t sound very old but considering his own father died at about 60, it’s pretty good going.

About a week ago, my dad mentioned he’d drop by to bring me something. It was a memory stick. And on it, are four sound files, between 90 and 120 minutes each. My uncle had digitised them from tapes my grandad had recorded. Finally, I’ve got his story in my hands!

I knew grandad was writing his memoir and I remember seeing a huge ream of typed pages once, which he said was his book. He had an old typewriter, and he’d type with two fingers. There we’re always murmurs about the book, but none of us ever read it. Grandad’s book. After he died, I asked around the family to find out who had it. Denial from all parties. People in my family tell tall stories and are terrified of the truth. Harsh, I know, but it’s genetic, we can’t help it!

Finally I discovered my uncle had the book. But when I quizzed him about it, he said it was just a bunch of silly stories we’d all heard before, nothing really interesting, just a few pages of ramblings. I was disappointed. And angry! I knew that was bullshit. I knew because I’d seen the book and somehow I knew my grandad had something important to say. He never wasted time. He wouldn’t have sat around typing away on that old typewriter, and later an old PC he got from the Salvos,* if there was nothing to be achieved.

But what could I do? I’m one of at least a dozen grandchildren, I love hundreds of kilometres away from my uncle and I seem to be one of the only people in the family who believes grandad had something important to say, was worthy of a voice. I thought about the book and I never lost hope that one day I’d read it and perhaps edit it so it could be published.

And now I have it, in sound form. He recorded it at Christmas in 1996 and he mentions the number of times he’s already written it out. “This is my story.” That’s how he begins. I was going to listen through once and then transcribe but I’ve decided to just transcribe straight away. Lord knows how he typed it out with two fingers! I touch type about 65 words a minute and I’m still not finished the first recording of about 90 minutes. It’s already nearly 10,000 words! There are stories within it that I’ve heard a few times and it’s nice to hear them again after nine years. There is a lot I’ve never heard and it’s giving me such an insight into who my grandad was. And it’s a good story!

So that’s why I haven’t blogged in a while. Every spare moment I have on the computer I use to transcribe. It’s compelling, addictive, and I can’t wait to hear what happens next. I’m right at the end of WWII now, about 1944, so I figure there’s lots more to come in the next three recordings. So exciting! What a story!

*Yes, you read that right, a computer from the Salvos. It actually worked, even though it was some kind if old skool Windows 3.1 OS and grandad couldn’t get the concept of saving stuff to the hard drive, so he became fixated on floppy disks… I wonder what happened to that computer?

True or false: the ethics of writing reality as fiction

Just reading an article from the NY Times http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/17/books/review/Gates-t.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&partner=rss&emc=rss about Janet Frame (NZ author, subject of Jane Campion’s film An Angel At My Table) and her book Towards Another Summer, which has been published posthumasly.  It’s not arbitrary that the book came out after Frame’s death in 2004; she deliberately witheld it, saying it was ‘too personal’ to release during her life.  I think this must have been done to protect the other subjects of the book, who are based closely on real people, as if you’re ever read Frame’s autobiography, you’ll know that she isn’t concerned in the least about being open and honest about her life.

So reading this article (which is brilliant, by the way, check it out), got me thinking about something I very often worry about.  My English teacher in year 11 (second last year of highschool before university, if any non-Aussies are reading this) was instrumental in giving me confidence with my writing and showing me the correct path to follow to improve it.  For some reason, I wrote a short piece about my grandparents and handed it in to Mr P (should I use his real name?  Read on…)  It was about visiting my grandparents, various conversations we had, just giving a snapshot of their life and surroundings, and I remember describing their ‘nicotine-stained hallway’ which I thought was nothing special (they were chain smokers) but which Mr P thought was fantastic.  I said to him that I’d always wanted to write fantasy for young adults, but was always criticised for being to ‘cliche’.  He said I should follow this lead, write from life, as exemplified in the story about my grandparents.  Suddenly I realised, that’s it!  Write about what you know!  Why didn’t I take in that piece of wisdom when I watched that episode of Degrassi Junior High when Michelle has to make a presentation and she’s afraid, so Mr Raditch says, ‘just talk about what you know’.  Genius advice!

I thought I was free and clear and would be a published novelist in no time… but sadly, another more fundamental problem arose.  How do I write about what I know and the people I find fascinating without offending them?  At first I thought the solution might be simply to change people’s names.  But I realised very quickly that the detail with which I wanted to write about people was such that they would be identifiable without their names.  I constantly struggle with this idea of how to make these characters known to others, how to show them for how interesting and entertaining they are, without defaming or exposing the living individuals.  Even dead people are a struggle – I couldn’t write everything about, say, my grandmother, without a member of my family reading it and getting upset; the truth is painful, even if it’s not your own truth.  Most people are more private than me, I’ve discovered, and everyone has their own truth which usually differs from mine – truth, after all, is often heavily influenced by perception.  I toyed with this idea of just using bits and pieces from different characters to create new people, new lives, fictional ones.  But the fact remains, at least in my head, that truth, reality is deeper, more interesting, more relevant and rather more entertaining than fiction.  Why write about a fluffy, cliched fictional creature when the real one is right there in front of you for you to describe in complete detail, whose story you can tell in full, not having to make sloppy assumptions and guesses.

‘Interesting?  Yes, of course, people LOVE interesting writing!’ exclaims Elaine Benes (Seinfeld), upon her sudden realisation that she can write product descriptions without help from her boss.  As funny as it is, it’s so true: so many basic things are realised too late.  So it’s the realisation that makes the impact, provides the impetus to act.  Things are always there, have been there all along, it’s just up to us creators to realise them.  I realised something just as obvious in deciding to write from my own life.  Yet, as I say, I’m still at something of a standstill.

It’s odd though, now I think about it – I’ve been writing from life my entire life.  From the age of 10, I’ve kept a diary.  Not an everyday, ‘Dear Diary, Today I did something incredibly mundane which is of no interest even to me let alone others…’  No, it began as ‘Dear Diary…’ of course, because, at 10, you think this is how it’s supposed to be written, and I had this sort of obsessive idea in my head that made me want to organise my life, record every moment, no matter how seemingly mundane.  I always knew at some level that I’d want to know when I got older, like a sociological experiment.  That’s why I’d make so many different time capsules, write letters to myself in the future, include tiny fragments of my life at that point – a plastic Kinder Surprise toy, an old Yugoslav postage stamp, a silk scarf that used to sit around the neck of one of my small teddies, random keys for long lost locks… In my first year of uni, at art school, we were asked to complete a ‘cultural nexus’ project – something that represented our own personal culture, whatever that was.  I made a life size bust with a long hooped skirt, all thin strands of metal wire welded together, and then the ‘dress’ itself consisted of layers of clear sticky tape running down the contours of the frame with various small objects embedded.  Our old front door key made an appearance there, dwarfing everything else with it’s thick, four inch long body.

So the point is, I want to capture lives, people, how life unfolds through time and circumstance.  I think it’s some sort of desire to prove that nothing is arbitrary, everything is connected and relevant.  But without exposing people’s bare bones, I cannot really do this.  Maybe I’ll write everything and, like Janet Frame, prevent its publication until after my death.