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.


Intuition as a new extra.

Part of the process of re-discovering my creativity, and writing a whole book, is that I’ve had to learn a lot about how all this happens. Not just the practicalities of book publishing, I mean – although that’s been fascinating. But I have had to learn how a book forms itself into an entity, and I’ve watched my own creativity at work.

I went from the quiet terror of oh-shit-I-have-six-months-to-get-fifty-odd-poems-to-publication-standard-what-on-earth-have-I-got-myself-into? to the utter incredulity of how-on-earth-did-this-happen?, standing in front of a bunch of people at my own book launch. And while I’d like to say I know exactly how it happened, how this written entity was formed, I don’t. I watched its theme and structure form itself in my head. Each poem created itself on the page, right there in front of me. I was in charge of the words, of the language and the choice of metaphor and simile, and it wasn’t as though I didn’t work hard, but even as my mind was occupied by technical details, the poems themselves took on their own form and structure as I watched, almost passively. The poems knew what they wanted to be: all they needed was for me to provide them with the paper and the ink.

And it struck me that this is intuition at work. If there’s one thing I learned from writing the book, it’s the strength of my creative intuition. That capacity beyond rational thinking, that I can’t quite put my finger on, which allowed me to hear what the poem wanted to become. Which helped me to know when to wrestle with the poem to pin tit down, and when to let it mull itself over and form itself in its own time. Which enabled me to trust the poem in front of me, to let it find its own being.

It’s my intuition, too, that saved me: my actions on Emancipation Day, that day of flight and freedom from the danger of my marriage, were unplanned and based entirely on gut instinct. Without reasoning, without rationality, I knew I had to leave, and that I had to leave that very day. I knew without thinking about it what I needed to do; just as the poems formed themselves on the page, just as the book’s structure grew into its own reality without conscious effort from me, my escape plan formed itself in front of me, and it was that – my sudden unthinking realisation of the path out of darkness – to which I owe the book, and to which I owe my life.

I have intuition. I’m more than just rationality. I feel like I’ve gained a whole extra half of a person.

Maybe that particular half will make me taller.

An old(ish) journal entry, a slightly-older poem, and a new(ish) realisation.

I’m a very logical, structured, ordered person. More than one person in my life has used the term “anal-retentive pain in the arse” to describe me, and I’m one of those people for whom everything must be in its place – neat and tidy – preferably alphabetised and colour-coded. There’s a reason I’m the Cathedral music librarian.

Which is why it’s pretty amusing that my desk at home – where I spend most of my time – is quite untidy, covered in the detritus of constant use: pens, post-it notes and bits of paper, notebooks, an unpaid bill (oops) and an old shopping list, a bottle of blue nail varnish and two drawing pins and my almost-empty beer bottle, a buy-one-get-one-free voucher for a pizza place I will never patronise and a small lump of black, porous lava which was a joking, and beautiful, gift from my dad.

Some time ago, I discovered, in all this mess, the draft of a poem. It had obviously been crazy-busy, and between writing it and re-discovering it (judging from the date written on the top of the draft, a couple of weeks at the most) I’d pretty much forgotten about it. Of course, it was familiar – I’m absent-minded, but not yet senile – but my head was obviously full enough that I’d not kept it in the forefront of my consciousness.

I re-read an old journal tonight, and I discovered the note I’d made, just after finding the poem: Ha (I’d written). Just found the poem I started the other week. Who’d have thought – it’s actually quite good! Maybe they’re right, I am actually good at this!

The journal entry then moved onto the stress of being busy, and essentially became a running to-do list (retained for posterity in a purple notebook which is now carefully filed away in a striped cardboard box which contains a number of old journals and notebooks). I don’t think I’ll value having a list of daily tasks immortalised in a narrative of my inner and outer life, but I certainly value the realisation that I came to in that entry: I can write, I am good at this – and that makes me really, really lucky.

Creativity is weird.

Perhaps a year ago, I sat at an outside table at my favourite cafe in Newcastle (it’s called Ground Floor, the coffee is amazing, and they let me sit at one of their tables for hours most Sunday afternoons when I really don’t buy enough food to justify my long occupancy) and wrote a short story. The story was about St Peter, in the hours after making his famous denial of Jesus in the tumult and turmoil of his trial and execution. I wanted to tell the story from his point of view, to explore why he might have done such a thing, how he might have even begun to live with the weight of those words riding his conscience forever afterwards.

I never finished that story – I ran out of time that afternoon, and life got busy, and I never came back to it. It’s probably still sitting in a notebook somewhere. Apparently, it’s been sitting in the inner layers of my mind.

I think I might have mentioned on this blog, but at the moment I’m writing a book. It’s a poetry anthology, due to be published soon-ish (I’m still oscillating between incredulous disbelief and mindless terror), and it’s about death and resurrection. Partly it tells my story, of domestic violence and escape and healing (me, me, me – I am a soprano, after all!) but there are also poems about death and resurrection in nature and the passing of the seasons, and there are poems about the fundamental story of death and resurrection: the story of the execution of a travelling rabbi on a hill outside Jerusalem two thousand-odd years ago, and what happened three days later.

It occurred to me on Sunday while I was sitting in the choir stalls at the Cathedral (I was listening to the service, I promise!) that the short story I started writing a year ago might end up being a poem, but I didn’t know what that would look like. Then I got distracted, and the week has been overwhelmingly busy, and I never really followed the idea – until tonight.

I got the feedback, from someone whose opinions I trust implicitly, that the book’s a little light-on when it comes to poems about Holy Saturday – that day of loneliness and bleakness and grief and fear between the horror of Good Friday and the amazement and euphoria of resurrection on Easter Day. And all of a sudden, there was the short story that had apparently been biding quietly in my mind for all this time. And there, fully formed, was the poem which had murmured so fleetingly in my thoughts during Mass on Sunday.

I’m learning to trust my creativity, my intuition, in this process of writing. I’m learning to trust the narrative to unfold, the poetry to draw its own form. I’m learning to trust that sometimes my conscious, rational mind needs to take a step back, and to let creativity swirl in that space which exists beyond reason. I know it’s worth doing, and I know that capacity is strong enough to trust.

It’s still weird though.

The bleak is back…

…and I’m tired.

I don’t know why it’s been hard these last few weeks – I still don’t know what triggered it, why there’s such fragility in my capacity to cope with the things life throws at me, with the vicissitudes (I do love that word) of living with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Right now, writing is hard. I’m still putting a star on my calendar for each day that I do some writing: one star for writing my three daily Haiku, one star for journalling, and one star for any other sort of writing – poetry or prose. But right at the moment, there are fewer stars on my calendar.

And I’ve decided that’s ok. It will get better, and I’ll get some sleep and this week will end and I’ll enjoy singing on Friday and Sunday, and each time the bleak comes back it will last for a shorter time, and it will be a little easier to deal with. And there’ll still be some stars on my calendar, and I’ll get through this. And if I have to eat my own body weight in chocolate to do that, then that’s what I’ll do.

And I might get to use the word “vicissitude” again.

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?