A strange visitation but I’m not crazy.

My earliest memory is of my parents reading me a story: narrative is my first conscious memory of the world. It’s something I treasure, and I’ve been writing stories since I could write, and telling myself stories since even before that.

About five years ago, one of these stories got serious. I was regularly catching the bus to work at the time – about a ninety-minute bus-ride either way – and I’d spend each of those one hundred and eighty minutes frantically typing away on the small blue Toshiba laptop with the conversations of suburban school children ringing over my head, creating a world, and events within it, and the characters – one in particular – who peopled it. For three hours every day, I’d inhabit that different world, a world taking shape under my fingertips and in the small universe contained by my computer.

Then everything changed. I moved, with my ex, and suddenly didn’t have a wonderfully long commute to work. Writing was something my ex begrudged me – he, not I, was the writer in the family – and it became impossible for me to write in a war-zone. Suddenly, far from having seemingly unlimited time to put into my writing, it became sneakily snatched in small, furtive moments. Attempts to prioritise my writing led to things I still don’t want to think about; the final argument about it led to my computer being smashed and hard copies of my writing torn up, right there in front of me. I put it aside, and resigned myself to the unmourned death of my writer self.

In the two years since Emancipation Day, I’ve occasionally wondered what happened to the main character, the gutsy, strong stranger I’d birthed from within my own mind. I thought about her in the past tense – like an old friend who I’d once known well, but with whom I’d lost contact, and with whom there was no chance of reconnecting. I thought of her with regret, but resignation.

And then, all of a sudden – and travelling seems to be the common denominator here – driving home from work, I found myself thinking of her, not with regretful past tense, but in the present tense. In my mind, she was out in the rain for a run, something she’d always enjoyed, found peace in. In the present tense. Then and there. Suddenly, in the weirdness of my creativity, she was alive again.

I’ve only had that one glance, and I’m a little apprehensive about the process of regaining connection with her – what if that fleeting glimpse, that fragment, is all I’ll get? But if nothing else, her sudden presence in my mind is a reminder of the indomitable nature of my creativity: yet another thing, precious and stalwart, which couldn’t be beaten out of me.

I’m grateful. And, strangely, I’m looking forward to re-acquainting myself with a person who doesn’t actually exist.

A sudden appearance and being a writer.

About a thousand years ago, I used to catch the bus to work. It was an hour bus ride, from Melbourne’s inner western suburbs into the outer north, and it was fairly spectacularly tedious, until I developed the bright idea of taking my laptop with me, and spending the daily two hours of enforced inactivity doing some writing.

I started writing without much idea of where I was going with it: only that there was some unformed character in my head, nothing more than a vague outline of a person and a hazy understanding of where she had come from, what she had experienced. It took weeks of writing before I even learned her name: Sophie. Weeks more before the outline of a plot concreted itself in my mind, became firm enough to be drawn out on paper. Crisp black ink on white printer paper, and a list entitled “things to research” which covered more pages than the plot outline…but it was there, it was something, and the more of myself I poured into it, the more real it became. The more real Sophie became.

Until we moved to Newcastle – and suddenly I wasn’t spending two hours of each day on a bus, and writing at home had always been discouraged – there was only one writer in the marriage, apparently, and it wasn’t me – and impossible: have you ever tried to write narrative over the constant din Foxtel sports channel? To say nothing of trying to hold onto the tenuous whisps of creativity in a war-zone of domestic violence. And so writing was something that was – along with almost everything else in my life – compromised to the point of non-existence, and I ceased to be a writer, and Sophie slowly faded until one day she was simply a part of my past – somebody I once knew, and had been fond of, but from whom I had drifted apart.

Even in my freedom, in the re-birth of my creativity and of my writer self, I’ve missed Sophie. I’ve wondered, absently, whatever happened to her – the way you wonder about the fate of someone you went to high school with, whom you’ve not seen since. I’ve been a bit sad about that – her story had potential, and to me she was real – but I put it down as just one of the many, many things I’ve lost and had to let go of in the last years.

Until, suddenly, in the middle of my weekly meditation group, there she was, in my imagining. Running through rain around the streets I created for her, wearing the red shoes I once imagined on her feet, the small cross pendant I wrote for her bouncing with her steps, her hair just slightly too long and needing a trim a few weeks ago. Suddenly, from thinking of her in the past tense, I was thinking about her here and now, and suddenly she existed in my mind once more.

I didn’t get a chance to write that image until now and I may choose not to pursue it, not to try to pin her down – to see what happens, whether she continues to solidify in my writer’s mind, whether she comes back to me. But she’s been there, all along, somewhere in the dark places of my mind, just waiting.

And weird though it is to have a whole person fully formed suddenly making a guest appearance in my mind, it’s kind of nice too. I’m a writer again.

Talking and writing and the unfolding of my story.

I’ve had almost a fortnight off work, and I’ve spent much of that time in the library (conveniently located in one of Newcastle’s two restaurant- and coffee-shop-dominated streets), writing. I’m working on a book – the ship’s pretty much sailed on keeping my big scary secret (me? a book? who do I think I’m kidding?) to myself, so I may as well announce it here. I’m writing a book, a poetry book about violence, healing and recovery – death, mourning and resurrection – and I’ve spent a great deal of time with the book on what has essentially been a working holiday.

I’ve loved it, (almost) every minute of it – plunging my thoughts, my heart, my soul into words, playing with them, selecting sounds and phrases, savouring the taste of them in my mouth and the feeling of the pen in my hand, my entire world reduced to the contents of a pink ColourHide notebook and the volume of ink in my pen. Even the air of the library – the hum of minds moving – is different to the air anywhere else. Two weeks of work, and my mind is nourished.

It’s been hard too, though – because I’m writing about some of the most harrowing experiences of my life. I’m writing about assaults, fear, the betrayals I was forced to commit, the loneliness of life when that life is dominated by violence. I’m writing about the sickening, terrifying shame of panic attacks, and those small horrible triggers – meaningless to anyone who isn’t me – which set them off. I’m writing, calmly and mindfully, about my own rape. And I’m deliberately doing it using the most descriptive language possible. No more laconic line-sketched diagrams of what happened; this writing’s in colour, emotion and violence and bloody terror spread out across a neat blue-ruled page.

Because I can’t talk about this stuff. The word “rape” still sticks in my throat, right between my collarbones where tension often tightens the muscles to a chokehold. Even with friends – close friends, friends who I trust, who I’ve trusted in the dangerous past with secrets that literally could have killed me. Talking is hard, almost impossible. But I can write. I can write about rape, about betrayals, about the timbre of fear coming home every evening to the volatile unknown. I can write what I can’t talk about.

It’s not enough, not quite. This stuff needs to be talked about; these stories are ready to be told. I’m not sure how yet, and I’m not sure how I’ll make the opportunity. But forming these narratives into poetry, sculpting them with my beloved words, each one lovingly selected, and knowing that they will see the eyes of readers – that’s a pretty bloody good start.

Pretty bloody good start, she writes. Can you tell I’m a poet?

 

 

 

Statistics and stories, and being counted.

I was in Melbourne over the long weekend. It’s interesting that media coverage seems to run in themes, and, coincidentally, there was a great deal in Victorian newspapers over the weekend about domestic violence. Sympathetic, most of it; some of it even went as far as to be empathetic. And, like a person fingering a bruise, or prodding a scab to discern the healing beneath, I read every word.

It triggered feelings, of course it did. But it also made me think. Because the statistics that were mentioned – one in four women will be the victim of a physical or sexual assault perpetrated by a man – were the same statistic that I raised at a dinner party, long ago. The same statistic that was shot down by a disbelieving dinner guest: it was made up by someone pushing a feminist agenda; it was a mis-print or a mathematical aberration. Not something that could happen in his world, to people like him. To people he knows, both perpetrators and victims. Not something that could – and should – touch him in his genuinely well-meaning and respectful innocence.

I remembered, reading these articles, the challenge around the table: let’s prove it. Raise your hand if you’ve been the victim of domestic violence. And the shock, painful and abrupt, of experience’s penetration of innocence.

I also remember something else: pride.

Shame goes hand in hand with victimhood: shame at being unable to protect yourself. Shame at being unworthy of safety, deserving of the pain that’s inflicted. Shame at the fear you still fear, the vast chasm between a victim of violence and the real people who can’t possibly understand what it’s like, who are somehow unsullied by such filth. Not that night, though. That night, I stuck my hand high into the air, in the solidarity of friendship, of mutual survivorhood, two strong, brave women either side of me also with their hands raised. But I think that even if my hand had been the only one to lift to tell my story, I still wouldn’t have been ashamed. Because that night, there in my friend’s kitchen, I broke the stereotype. I told my story: in that action, I shared just a small part of my narrative without even needing to open my mouth. In that action, I was counted. In acknowledging myself as a statistic, I became so much more than that.

Also, I’m no longer a victim of domestic violence. I’m a survivor. And you’d better believe I’m proud of that too.

Neat narrative and forgetting the end of the story.

Today is Palm Sunday, and the beginning of Holy Week, the journey of the church towards Easter. Holy Week will take us through betrayal and abandonment and torture and death, the bleakness of numbing grief and then the shattering, incredulous joy of resurrection.

And here’s the thing: it’s pretty easy for it to be hum-drum.

We all know the story, at least those of us who do this every year: Jesus enters Jerusalem, is lauded as a hero and then betrayed into the hands of those who use the power of the day to get rid of this threat to the status quo. He is betrayed, abandoned by his friends, tried and flogged (none of the gospel accounts go into detail about this most barbarous of punishments, designed to humiliate and break a man as well as hurt him) and then executed: tortured to death, over hours. And then the waiting: the grief, the disbelief, the fear, the darkness before – what a surprise! – the story ends with resurrection, and we get to sing an orchestral Mass and then go out to lunch.

Knowing the narrative so well, it’s easy to see it as a clear, cohesive step-by-step: entrance, conflict, development, climax, and then the nice twist at the end, a perfect plot. What I often forget is the chaos in that story: not the clear, focused narrative we’re used to, but events spiralling out of control – the pillars of Jesus’ life crashing down around them all. Was there a point at which it could have been salvaged, a point at which the river rushing an itinerant preacher to a hill just outside the city walls, to torture and death, could have been halted, averted? A point at which the story could have been changed?

This Holy Week I want to remember that: I want to remember that these were real people, not characters in a story I know almost too well. I want to remember that these are real emotions, real fear, real suffering, real blood, real death. Because life is not a neat narrative, and the God who set in motion the songs of the planets dwells too in the chaos and the darkness of life: under the bridge where the homeless sleep, in the riot and the house fire, in the home of the beaten woman and the abused children, in the tents and holding cells of Manus Island. The God who holds the world in love is vulnerable. The God who created the universe suffers and dies.

After Good Friday and Holy Saturday comes Easter Day, and everything’s ok in the end. But I want to live Holy Week this year, and I kind of want to enter it forgetting that I know the end of the story.

Releasing the burden.

And here’s what I’ve realised about having a blog: I’ve been struggling for a long time to lay the burden of what I have been through, of what I still go through, at the feet of the most Compassionate One. At the feet of the Source of love and life, the Ground of my being, the Creator and Universe. The God of storm and silence, of strength and vulnerability. The God small enough to suffer and die, and yet big enough to surround me.

And that’s scary, and I haven’t been able to do it very well. Partly because releasing the burden is so difficult when it runs so deep; partly because in laying down the burden I have to face that great, unknowlable compassion, and acknowledge just how much it all hurts at times – and I’m not quite brave enough to do that. My hunch is that God’s ok with that. God is big enough, and small enough, to understand my human smallness, and to love me through that, and in that.

But, in telling my story in little black letters on this bright computer screen, and then hitting the “Publish” button, I am in a way releasing the burden. In writing part of my story, in releasing these narratives to the Universe, I am also releasing them to the God of the Universe. In letting them go, I am handing them over. Partly because they are being read by people whose mission it is – known and unknown – to be God in the world themselves. Partly in a way that I can never fully understand, the words I write and send off into the virtual world of the internet – to penetrate the very real world of the individuals who will, amazingly to me, read them – are also sent deep into the Force of love and good that we call God. Metaphorically, I am laying these words at God’s feet.

It’s up to God now. I’m comforted by the image of It cherishing these narratives, this offering of honesty. Challenged by it too – I’d rather these distressing realities be thrown in the bin, swept out of sight of polite society. Otherwise I have to face them. But I’m comforted in the fact that the best and worst things that happened to me, that I still go through and struggle with, are cradled in the very heart of the Heart of the world.

Kind of an unexpected by-product of writing a blog.