Encounter

20170818_172606-01.jpeg

I remember the first day we met. I was standing in the shelter of a closed shop doorway, waiting for the rain to pass because I didn’t bring an umbrella and I wasn’t in a rush. I was scrolling Facebook on my phone, holding my coat collar up against my neck. The evening was blue; car lights swept past like sunbeams, the sound of tyres on wet concrete rolling by. You stepped in like you were running from something or someone – I stared at you for a good few seconds before you noticed me.

‘Hi,’ you said.

‘Hi.’ I pressed closer to the wall, turned to face the road.

‘You ok?’ you asked.

It was a weird question from a stranger. If I’d been crying or something, sure. But I was just trying to be alone. Why did that suggest something was wrong?

‘Yeah. Are you?’

‘Uh,’ you laughed, rubbing the back of your neck. ‘Funny story.’

Somehow I knew it wasn’t going to be funny.

‘So I’m kinda…’ you continued, ‘in trouble.’

I was reluctant to offer help. Trouble could mean anything – drug money, crazy exes, stolen goods, an overdue power bill, forgetting to call your mum. But I couldn’t help it. I asked, ‘What kind of trouble?’

You said, quite matter-of-factly, ‘These guys wanna kill me.’

I stuck my head out of the doorway to look in the direction you’d come from. ‘Which guys?’

‘Don’t look! Just … some guys.’

‘Are they looking for you now?’

‘Probably.’

‘What do they look like?’

‘I dunno. That’s the worst part. They might not even be guys. It could be you for all  know.’

‘Is this some weird pick-up?’

‘No! God … I mean – not that I wouldn’t – ah, so … no, not – it’s not. It’s real.’

‘And why … ?’

‘I may … have something they want.’

‘Which is … ?’

‘I can’t say. If you know, you’re as good as dead as well.’

The sky opened further and poured more rain, torrential. We could have been standing behind a waterfall.

‘I’m Jacinta,’ I said, sticking out a hand.

‘Really? You’re doing this now?’

‘You’re supposed to tell me your name and shake my hand now.’

You looked at me like I was some kind of poisonous creature, unsure whether I’d choose to sting you or not. But slowly, cautiously, you stretched out your hand. ‘Jake.’

‘Nice to meet you.’

‘You … too. I guess.’

‘You guess?’

‘I just … a lot is happening right now! Sorry.’

‘Look,’ I said, putting my phone away and facing you now, but still leaning my back against the wall. The rain felt like a fourth wall, enclosing us in an echo chamber. ‘No one else knows you’re here.’

‘How can you know that?’

‘Whatever you’ve got … stolen … whatever. Do you have it with you?’

‘No.’

‘Is it dangerous?’

‘In the wrong hands, yes.’

‘How do I know the wrong hands aren’t yours?’

‘Why do you want to know? Trust me, you look like a nice girl, you don’t wanna get involved in this mess.’

‘What if I do?’

I realised I’d taken a step closer. I realised the rain had let up, that the evening sky had lightened and a faint setting sun was beaming through the heavy clouds. We didn’t know each other then, didn’t trust each other. But in that moment I felt your walls coming down.

Footsteps came and went, but no one killed you that night.

 

[A 20 minute writing exercise inspired by the following phrases: I remember, the telephone rang, when it all changed, an important meeting.]

Characters

I’ve had these characters floating around my head for more than a year

At first it was like looking at them through frosted glass, but as each day goes by the glass gets clearer, and soon it will thin and become nothing at all

*

I’ll be able to reach out and touch them;

sit beside them and feel our shared bench shift under their weight;

ask them questions and see the truth of their answers in their eyes, rather than only hearing the words themselves

*

Soon, I’ll know them – as well as anyone can ever know another

As well as anyone can ever know themselves

(they are, after all, a part of me)

And I won’t have to say, ‘Tell me your story.’

Because it will already be written.

I have a favourite feeling.

Image via lilacsunandsea

Image via lilacsunandsea

I have a favourite feeling. It’s wading through mountain streams with my shoes stuffed in my pocket. It’s climbing over boulders and squeezing between trees, sliding down muddy slopes, getting somewhere in a way that requires awareness of every step, every muscle in my body, dirt in my fingernails, and probably a scratch or bruise (or two) just to remind me that I’m not that different from the girl who used to dream of a tree house in the backyard. It’s Matty putting his arm around me wordlessly while we walk Nala through the park after dinner. It’s watching sunrises unexpectedly, quietly, because I woke up, or someone woke me up to watch it with them. It’s writing when the words seem to know who comes next all by themselves. It’s daytime catch-ups with the girls that I grew up with. It’s lunch dates with my mum. Dad sitting opposite me to talk about his day. My brother calling to ask for advice on one of his first days away from home. Nala climbing into my lap and trying to fit the same way she did when she was small.

My favourite feeling is sitting on the cool sand of a beach, feeling the sea breeze messying my hair and filling my head with endorphins. It’s candles that smell like somewhere else (lemongrass, coconut, oranges, vanilla), Early grey tea with milk and honey, a single square (or two) of dark chocolate, a moment to myself to write something that is not necessarily for anyone but me. It’s cold days indoors under a blanket, with a book I can get lost in. It’s a hot shower on a cold day. A cold shower on a hot day. It’s remembering that for all the small things on my mind, the list of things to do that never seems to be entirely crossed off, I have actually crossed off more things than I ever imagined would even be on that list.

That I am shaping the life I want to live, that I’m getting there.

And my favourite feeling is not being able to sleep at 3am, knowing tomorrow (today) is going to be a struggle. But also knowing it’s ok because an urge to write pulled me out of bed, and I wrote this, and it feels like everything good that has ever happened.

Wombat

PO-FP03-giant-wombat-and-banjo-boy

Giant Wombat and Banjo Boy, by Flossy P. This poster is available from Lalaland.

The night was quiet, like there was nothing else stirring in the whole world. Eli wriggled his bare toes in the grass. He had his banjo over his shoulder, and he was wearing his favourite striped t-shirt and jeans, with his dad’s vest over the top. He’d been wearing his dad’s vest a lot lately.

He waited, leaning against a tree with only one green leaf clinging to a low branch. The moon was the shape of a banana. Eli searched for constellations. His dad had been so good at finding them, but Eli hadn’t inherited that skill.

Suddenly, he heard the gentle padding of large footsteps coming his way. Eli turned around to see the wombat, which seemed even larger than it was yesterday, looking at him as it stopped and bowed its head. Eli reached forward to pat it hello, and as his hand brushed its coarse, chocolate-brown coat, he could swear he saw it smile. A moment later, they were both sitting on the grass. Eli was playing his newest song, humming a tune that didn’t have words yet, while the wombat closed its eyes and went to sleep.

Eli curled into the warm folds between the wombat’s belly and its right front leg, the music still playing in his mind. He had met the wombat every night this week, since the first day he saw it walk past his bedroom window. He followed it all the way to the park. When it noticed him, it seemed frightened at first, trying to dig a hole to get away. But Eli approached slowly, sat down not-too-close, and started playing. Eventually, the wombat lay down, and in that moment, Eli felt they became friends.

The downside of having this friend was that he worried about the wombat all the time. Where did the wombat go during the day? Where could it have a hole big enough to live and sleep in, but not be suspicious to people – people who feared difference, who chose to see it as out of the ordinary, instead of extra-ordinary, because that was safer?

Eli woke as the world around him began to brighten with the sun. The stars were gone, but the banana-shaped moon was still visible in the clear blue sky. His shirt was damp from the dewy grass. The wombat was gone, but he could see the giant, flattened patches of grass where it had walked gently, softly, away.

[a 20-minute writing exercise inspired by the image above. We have this poster framed at the Creative Write-it studio.]

Stickman

You know those days when you feel so fragile you wonder if the wind might break you. When one thing after another seems to go wrong and even though you acknowledge that individually they are not worth falling apart over, together they become a cloud around you; a cloud that starts to solidify like concrete, tightening your chest and shortening your breath. It’s that feeling you get when your to-do list gets longer as the remainder of the day gets shorter. When you feel guilty because the dog hasn’t been walked and you have no idea what you’re cooking for dinner and your husband’s going to be home before you to find your unwashed dishes in the sink.

Those days when you feel like you’re failing at being the kind of person you want to be. When you would love nothing more than to jump into your car and drive to the nearest beach, to sit on the cold sand, barefoot, breathing, watching the waves lick the shoreline as the sky transitions through a dozen shades of purple and pink.

Days when the only words you seem to be able to articulate are, ‘I can’t.’

It’s been one of those days. They happen, and they pass, and the world keeps turning, and I’ll be ok. But I wanted to say goodnight with a conversation worth remembering; a conversation I’m so grateful found me before this day lost me.

This morning, as we were about the start a persuasive writing workshop, a Year 2 asked me, ‘Can you draw?’

‘No,’ I laughed. ‘I can write, but I can’t draw.’

Unfazed, he asked, ‘Can you draw a stickman?’

‘Well … yes. I can draw a stickman.’

He shrugged and smiled, because the answer was so simple: ‘Then you can draw.’

Processed with VSCOcam with b1 preset

The Myth of Growing Up

Parkdale2012

I used to think that ‘grown up’ was a place you arrived at when you reached a certain age and began a certain job. When you started buying dinner for your parents, shopping for groceries, and checking bank statements. I guess I just assumed I’d wake up one day and know I was grown up. That I had to act responsibly now and not walk on the walls next to footpaths anymore.

I knew the day was coming, as I neared the end of high school, and then graduation from my arts degree. When I found myself applying for ‘real jobs’ at publishing houses, universities, and even law firms. My boyfriend (now husband) baulked at the idea of marriage talk in our early twenties, but all my friends were asking, ‘Haven’t you talked about that yet?’ and so I felt like we should.

My heart used to sink at the idea of growing up. Like time was running out to decide how I was going to spend the rest of my life.

Somehow I got into my head that you ‘grew up’ and that was it – your path was chosen, decided, set in stone. Perhaps it was the talk our teachers gave us at the end of Year 10: “Choose your VCE subjects wisely, they will determine the rest of your life…” (or something to that effect). Perhaps it was simply the phrase so often said to children: “When you grow up…”. Or the way we were asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” as if you have to choose one thing and be that forever.

No one told me I had to have a full-time office job, and be married with a house and kids by the time I was twenty-five. No one said I had to choose one career and stick with it until I retired. But from what I could see, this is how life played out for every adult that I knew. And while the only relative who ever said the words, “Why don’t you become a real professional, like a lawyer?” was a grand-uncle-in-law (is that even a thing?), I always felt, as the only one in the family who seemed to have been born without a maths compartment in their brain, that I had more to prove.

I was lucky enough to have this wonderful lady as a creative writing tutor in my first year at Melbourne University. She had long, auburn hair and wore loose clothing and no make-up, and her pale blue eyes were lively, as if in a permanent state of wonder. She spoke softly and wrote ‘beautiful’ in her comments at the end of my assignments. I wrote in my journal that there was something childlike in her genuine interest in our ideas, and the ways we conveyed them in the pages of our notebooks. She was a kind of grown-up I’d never encountered before: a grown up who openly did not have all the answers. A teacher who found our ideas just as valid as her own.

Since then, I’ve met a number of other grown-ups who have maintained, through the wisdom of life’s lessons, a constant curiosity about the world and the people in it. They are excited by the nature of small things, and their ears are always open to new stories. They love exploring physical landscapes, the literary possibilities they can imagine, and the ideas they can talk about with anyone who is willing to think with them and talk back. I never noticed the ‘childlike’ characteristics my parents never lost – how could I have missed them before? The way dad can laugh at a lame fart joke till he cries. He didn’t care that he was the only one in our family who lined up for the Mad Mouse roller coaster at Luna Park; he screamed his heart out. And mum. My sweet, quiet, unexpected one-liner deliverer mum, has always found time to disappear into the pages of novels, no matter how many ‘more important’ things in life there are to do.

In my short working life, I’ve been (deep breath): an ice-cream scooper, a noodle server, a jewellery maker, a luggage sales assistant, a lingerie sales assistant, a bookseller, a waitress, a slush-pile reader, a proofreader, an editor, a copywriter, a ghostwriter, a performance writer, a marketing officer, an English tutor, a circus trainer, a parkour instructor, an author, a creative writing teacher, and a small business owner.

All have been with the one goal in mind – to make the writing I love possible – but still. If you had told me at 16 that I could pursue so many professions, often more than one at a time, and lead a life that ‘makes sense’, and still call myself a ‘grown up’ (whatever that means), I wouldn’t have believed you. I wouldn’t even have understood why you’d want to be so many things.

The truth is, ‘grown up’ is not a destination, a stage of life you arrive at once you don’t have ‘teen’ at the end of your age anymore, or even a ‘2’ at the beginning of it. The word itself is misleading, because growing up is a never-ending process.

I climbed a tree for the first time when I was twenty-five. It taught me that if that makes you happy, as long as you are able, you will never grow too old for that kind of thing. You don’t stop wanting to walk on walls next to the footpath; you don’t stop wanting to play, and you don’t need an actual small child with you as an excuse to watch the latest Ice Age at the cinema. We’ve been taught that certain activities are for kids, but they’re really not. If you want to climb a tree, you should. And you shouldn’t feel like you need to explain yourself (unless that tree is on private property and that property isn’t yours!).

So next time you’re feeling weighed down by the responsibilities and pressures of being ‘grown up’, I hope you remember to give yourself a bit of playtime. Do whatever it is you would do if those pressures and responsibilities weren’t there. Make time for it – it’s important. And remember that this isn’t it; that it’s ok not to know everything now (or ever) and it’s ok to change your mind. You’re going to keep on growing, for as long as you live, no matter what life throws at you. I think that’s the most exciting thing of all.

Keep growing. Keep learning. Keep your ears open to new stories.

Hope to see you walking on a wall next to a footpath sometime soon.

Why do you write?

pages

I write because it makes me feel better. I write because the words I want to express are so much prettier on the page than when they tumble out my mouth, in broken sentences, in the wrong order, and sometimes – often – as the wrong words altogether. I write because sometimes I feel a blank page is the only one in the world that can not only understand me, but just stand me. I write so I don’t forget. I write to make sense of the world. I write because it makes some things last forever and something things disappear and I will never have more power than that in any lifetime. I write because it’s physical, connecting my mind to my arm, my wrist, my fingers that grip this pen. Because I can see words appearing where there were none before, and now they are a tangible thing to be seen, and this gives me the opportunity, when I stop, to step back and see my mind. How strange and beautiful and surprising it can be. And I can remember who I am and why I’m here and that all of the moments up until now have led me to this point. And for that I am grateful. I write because it is a privilege, because I can and I want to and I must. I write because it feels right. I write because it’s the best thing I know how to do. I write because it’s the best thing I have to give back to the world, and I write because I will never tire of finding words to describe the beauty in the bookends of each day.