Memoirs

The nest of the Bower bird is an intricate weaving of grasses. I was shown this one recently by a nursing colleague who is also a passionate birder. It’s just on the outskirts of town, a miracle of nature. Looking at it and becoming aware of its’ builder in a nearby tree warning us to clear off made me suddenly aware that whole worlds of life must go on around us all the time and aren’t dependant on humans at all. How does a small bird manage to weave a nest this size as well as collecting his stones and coloured paraphernalia of choice?

I can’t weave a nest like this but finally my Remote Area Nurse memoir has been submitted to a publisher. It has been four years of writing and editing memories, travels and thoughts. Highlights and dark strands of story woven together while living my day to day life; existing not unlike the parallel world of nature that lives alongside us. There may be many more submissions to other publishers yet, or I may decide to self-publish but the creating of it is done.

For anybody writing or wanting to write memoirs or fiction I can recommend a few book companions:

“Still Writing-The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life” by Dani Shapiro. This book got me through the final edit.

“How the Light Gets In-writing as spiritual practice.” by Pat Schneider. The perfect inspiration to put words on a page.

“How Writing Works-A field Guide to Effective Writing” by Roslyn Petelin. The nuts and bolts of grammar which I suspect I will always be learning.

“Writing Without Teachers” by Peter Elbow. Again very inspiring for simply putting words on a blank page and being OK with it.

I will keep you posted on here about publication. Thanks for reading my occasional blog during the writing journey!

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Give up your endless searching

Lay down your map and compass,

and those dog-eared travel guides.

Rest your weary eyes from so much looking,

your tired feet from so much looking,

your aching heart from so much hoping.

Lay down on the soft green grass

wet with morning dew, and watch as

the tree heavy with pendulous pears

bends her long branches toward you,

offering you perfection in every sweet bite.

Give up the weight of knowing,

for the reverence of quiet attention

and curiosity, for the delight of

juice that runs in generous streams

down your chin.

Christine Valters Paintner

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Storytelling

Last May I went to as many events as I could at the Northern Territory Writers Festival in Darwin. The highlight for me was a panel of speakers discussing memoir writing and how family might react to the stories shared. All four women had published a recent memoir.The questions asked ranged from, “Do writers edit out parts to protect feelings?” to, “How much time has to pass before dirty laundry can be safely aired and can it ever be aired?”.The consensus was that you have to tell your own story and navigate the “hard stuff” about who it’s going to affect, the wisest, kindest way you can. There was no easy answer to any question raised. Each writer recognised the problem and each had worked out for themselves how to tell their own story with minimal negative impact on family.

Magda Szubanski reminded us that Aboriginal people are very conscious of not telling a story that doesn’t belong to them.She struggled with writing her fathers story, balancing her words carefully so as not to disrespect the Polish Jewish and Catholic communities the family had been a part of. She taught herself to write by finding her own voice and thus making the telling her own, if not the story itself.The memoir took her eight years to complete.

Each person has a unique story, unlike any other. And to be able to tell it freely enables a person to make sense of their life’s experiences. To clarify their emotions, to heal from losses, to inspire and encourage and to preserve cultural identity and so much more. Storytelling is fundamental to human experience. As listeners or readers we are entertained, we learn, we experience vicariously and we are enlarged by the contact with another person’s world. But, for all the benefits it’s still a balancing act to be honest in our telling and to share our story, without taking away from those closest to us what is rightfully theirs. Their story, their perception, their life. And isn’t that the same compromise we face day after day, whether writing a memoir or living our lives.

 

Belongingness

I don’t think “belongingness” is a real word. But I found an essay with this title on the internet and like the idea of being in a state of belonging. I like the way the word makes me feel, it’s inclusive. I’ve recently begun again to edit my book about my experiences as a remote area nurse. I began it over three years ago and began my blog at the same time, to accompany it visually. I thought I’d have the project finished in a few months but creative efforts have their own timeline and with this one there’s been gaps of months with no writing.

What a writer sets out to write and what a reader perceives are not always the same thing. I asked a good friend who I respect as a reader to read the first draft of my book and he said “oh it’s really a love story isn’t it?” I met my husband during the time I’m writing about and he features in the book but I hadn’t meant it to be any sort of love story. That comment of my friends confused my sense of direction for awhile, probably necessarily so. After a break in writing of many months and after only editing two or three chapters the word “belonging” came to me. And with it a flood of questioning thoughts all around what it means to belong.

In particular I was thinking of what it means for a non-Indigenous person to live and work in an Indigenous community. But the topic is much broader than that. Monty Pryor, an Indigenous Australian writer, in his book “Maybe Tomorrow” tells this account at a school:

White kid: Can you make me an Aborigine?

Pryor: I can’t make you an Aborigine. But I think deep inside you’re asking questions and you’re listening and you’re learning. It’s sort of making you into an Aboriginal person in your heart. Because that’s what everybody has to do, is to be open. Then the learning will come.”

To know what it is to belong we need to listen to ourselves, deeply, and to what’s going on around us, closely, and learn what it is that makes us glad to be alive. The ancient poet Rumi said to follow what we love and it will never lead us astray. I think it will also lead us to the serene state of “belongingness”.p1030137

 

Poverty and Opinions

I’ve been interested in health and wellness for as long as I can remember. My kids weren’t allowed lollies, I made them homemade fruit and nut thingies, my husband wasn’t allowed the skin on his chicken, those were that days of low fat and preferably the Pritikin diet. I studied both popular and natural health books and recipes long before the days of internet and so had a vast paper collection of many opinions, hints and guidelines. And, mostly, for the past 30-40 years I and my kids, and now my grand-kids have been fit and well. But, in the last year my body has taken it’s vengeance on all these ideas and gone off on it’s own path. I’ve been diagnosed with pericarditis, MS and melanoma all in a year. Now, with the aid of Google and books I’ve studied even harder and I’ve found that more ideas and opinions abound than I ever imagined! I am also a Chronic Disease nurse so it behoves me to know a thing or two.

I’ve learnt that the idea doing the current rounds (and it does have it’s basis in history as well) is the benefits of a low (very low) carbohydrate diet with healthy fats (the subject of what constitutes a healthy fat is a whole other sub-strata of opinions). The theory goes like this, carbohydrates, especially simple carbs, are broken down into sugars by the digestive system, insulin is released and turns a lot of that sugar into fat which is stored in the body’s fat cells. That’s the simple version, there are many books on the subject which give careful explanations of the process. What I’ve read so far, plus a phone consult (I’m still living and working in a remote part of Australia) with a dietitian in Tasmania and a naturopath in Queensland, makes sense to me and I’ve been eating like this for a month and have lost 5cms off my waist! Wonderful and I hope it continues.

But I also want to mention something in the book I’ve just finished reading (pictured), it explains the same theory of carbs=sugar=insulin=fat, but makes the observations that poor people the world over, according to his research, eat high carbohydrate diets because they’re cheap, easy and readily available. Foods made with white flour such as breads, pancakes, damper, scones, pasta etc. He then gives examples from American Indian tribes since the early 1900’s of overweight mothers and undernourished babies and children and bases the cause on high carb diets they’ve eaten since colonisation. I’ve seen this phenomena in many of Australia’s Indigenous, and people, in other low socio-economic situations,and  have wondered at the reasons for it.

He writes, “The coexistence of thin, stunted children, exhibiting the typical signs of chronic under-nutrition, with mothers who are themselves overweight…poses a challenge to our beliefs-our paradigm.If we believe that these mothers were overweight because they ate too much, and we know the children are thin and stunted because they’re not getting enough food, then we’re assuming that the mothers were consuming superfluous  calories that they could have given to their children to allow them to thrive. In other words, the mothers are willing to starve their children so they themselves can overeat. This goes against everything we know about maternal behaviour”.

Interesting theory and if it’s true, which it well might be, even though it turns accepted food theories, triangles and advice on their heads. Health professionals and most of us are going to have to think long and hard about our opinions and prejudices and the enormous inequities in our societies, not to mention whats best for our own, and our families health.

One last thing this writer incidentally mentions about the Sioux, one of the tribes studied, in South Dakota, is as follows…’These Sioux lived in shacks “unfit for occupancy, often 4-8 family members per room…15 families, with 32 children among them, lived chiefly on bread and coffee’. This was poverty almost beyond our imagination today.” The writer might be shocked to know that many of Australia’s Indigenous people still live in similar overcrowded accommodation and lived mainly on tea and damper.

An excellent resource is the film “That Sugar Film” and it’s accompanying book “That Sugar Book” by Australian actor, Damon Gameau, who gives carefully and humorously explained, health advice and an interesting story about his own 60 day experiment with “healthy” foods. And, who also continues to do positive work in Indigenous Australia.

 

 

Fragments

Do you enjoy fragments? I do. A glimpse of a strangers face, a remembered line of an old song, a whispered conversation on a bus, a delicious aroma teasing from someone else’s house, the middle of a movie you haven’t got time to watch till the end, a dream that vanishes on waking, a phrase you just have to copy down…

They arouse my curiosity and imagination more than any completed experience.

Australian writer Elizabeth Jolley, wrote fragments  on scraps of paper for years before she was first published in her fifties. She was too busy raising a family and working at an assortment of jobs to have enough time to write at length and at leisure. I was one of her many correspondents whom she  encouraged to write short notes about the weather, landscape, overheard conversations, because I too had a full life with little time. She was quoted in 1986 as saying: “If anybody had asked to see a work in progress it would have been lots of bits of paper with scribbles on.”

A fragment is defined as “an isolated or incomplete part”. But, although incomplete, it is at the same time complete in itself because it contains the potential of what it may become…a story, poem, song, healing memory, nourishing meal, something understood, a puzzle solved.

Fragments allow mystery into our lives and curiosity leads us on….

Surprises

My thought today is simply, that we can be surprised by beauty in unexpected places and what a delight that is!

I saw this drawing in a community hall in Yirrkala a few months ago and was drawn to the expressive movements of the women in dance and how well the art work was executed. When I asked if anyone knew the artist I was told it was a local worker, not someone who made their living from art. It’s not there now, maybe the artist wanted it back, or maybe a lucky person purchased it The day I saw it was a working day for me, driving around in the heat of midday  looking for patients in the community, the passionate dancing image twirled my mind into a place of joy for just a few moments.

Surprises like this give me reasons to smile and remember that days, especially working days, aren’t only filled with serious effort, there’s lightness as well if we’re open to it.