My Long Dalliance

A writers journey

80,000 steps

Rachel sat on the cold kitchen tiles, Mrs. Dalloway resting beside her turmeric stained fingers. She was sinking just like Virginia, she thought, blissfully unaware but acutely knowing, like large pocketed stones. The chicken tenderloins had found their way from her hands to the wall, sticking momentarily before sliding to the floor in front of her. How Virginia came to be beside her, she cannot remember. Perhaps she was holding her, fingers coiled between the binding and pages in one hand, while she worked the meat and spices with the other? It didn’t matter. She knew she wasn’t hungry anymore. When she had been, 10 minutes earlier, she took advantage of the chance to stomach more than coconut water. He didn’t like coconut water, so she made it something she could own without the thought of him. But he liked chicken, and turmeric, and her cooking.

There is nothing more delicious than losing yourself in a man, she thought. Nor is there anything less appetizing than losing yourself completely when he leaves you. She picked herself up like a puppet, cleaned the mess and took another shower.

The water had barely a chance to reheat. She sighed at the thought of this month’s utility bill on one paycheck and shrugged off the concern with nonchalance. Letting the hard stream penetrate her state of melancholy, the water diluting her salty tears before they entered her mouth. Her thoughts darted, from deciphering which errands could be put off for another day, to the Peace Lilies that caught her eye at the Homemakers Depot, when things were pure and clean in her life and not tainted by deceit and versions of her self she never thought capable of manifesting. She decided to go back and buy them one day, until she remembered how friendly the staff were. She only ever visited the store when she was with him. They always gave them an endearing, ‘oh it’s you two again!’ look. Maybe she would wait. Or perhaps she would never go back there again? She turned the tap off, tight enough to avoid the drip he promised to fix. One last cry, she told herself, and turned the tap back on.

The force of the water almost drowned out the chime of her phone message, but not enough. Disappointed to be interrupted, at the same time thankful somebody cared enough to contact her, she turned the tap off for the fifth time that day. She was hoping silently it would be him, but knew that this was impossible. He was 40’000 feet above somewhere far from her by now.

79,565 steps to go.

To be continued

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Black Lines

My father used to tell me that art was unnecessary, that it has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival. I think he may have borrowed these words from somebody, as his tongue usually spoke a little less refined. But the origin of the words was not relevant to me, and although I remember them clearly, at the time I did not understand what I thought to be just another one of his riddles.

My father’s words would twist and turn and dart in places that were foreign to me and sometimes I found it hard to keep up. When he took my mother to Paris for a holiday, far from the coast and Pandanus Palms, he returned with many riddles like this. He told me he had found them in the Louvre and that as my legs grew and stretched beyond the perimeters of white sand and theme parks, and his hair greyed, I would understand.

He was never a rich man, but called himself the richest man in the world. He would tell me that life was always on the up and as his family grew, so did his pot of gold. I once tried to find the elusive pot. I even had Timmy help me empty the garden shed while dad was at work. I had convinced him that it was the best hiding place, and if we could find the pot, imagine the lollies we could buy! He agreed that our dad would probably not notice a couple of coins missing. It took us all day and we slept that night craving sweets.

Since the car drove dad over the bridge and into the deep where metal sinks fast, and dads don’t return, his riddles had become screams in my dreams. The confusion of the deep, the wet, the sinking, the metal and the death in the air that hung heavy clouds of thick lava after we all wore black was unshakable, and at night when mum cried behind her locked door, the riddles would play on repeat until I would finally drift to sleep.

“Your mum will need some extra hands April” her friend Helen had told me. She said the shaking in mums hands would not stop for a while, and because mine were not so shaky, mum would need to borrow them when she had things to do. So I started lending mum my hands. To wash the dishes and feed neglected chickens. To pull weeds from earth where weeds were not welcome anymore. The riddles sometimes made my hands move faster, I thought.

I hated the day that she needed my hands to put my dads belongings in boxes. She needed Helens that day too as hers were not working at all anymore.

As I balanced on wardrobe shelves that were only strong enough for little people like myself, I passed down the remnants of my father’s life to Helen and her hands.   Things that he had collected and felt the need to hold on to. She placed each item carefully on the bed and told me to choose something that I may like to keep. I felt strange, as the pieces of memorabilia that held no memories for me suddenly became my everything. My connection to the dad that sunk in the deep.

I shuffled through each item uncomfortably. Nothing looked like my father. Not the fridge magnet from Dunk Island, or the menu from his favorite takeaway Thai restaurant. The belt buckle of heavy silver only reminded me of the weight and the car, and the sinking, and his Scout Leader badge sent a tinge of jealousy through my body thinking of the hours that those boys spent with him, away from me. I liked the wooden box though with etchings on the lid that he had carved out himself. I placed it to the side carefully, away from the pile of belongings the Salvation Army would soon relish in.

I would leave the box under my bed along with broken memories of my dad until a day when my hands were no longer busy and I could sit and think about himAs years past and the sun shone more, I began to piece my memories of him together with strong thread, determined to double the stitches as to never lose them through avoidance or time.

Driving over the bridge that played a role in my loss became easier, and I became proud of the black in the road that bore his tyre marks, evidence that he went out with a fight. The Currumbin River no longer looked as black, and I began to see reflections of silver in fish instead of metal. Life came back to the river instead of death and my mum no longer needed my hands.

When my legs had grown to their full potential, I returned to the box. As I pulled the weight from under my bed, I realized that I had been so intrigued by the box itself, that the contents of postcards that bore no ink had gone unnoticed. Lifting the small pile from their sleep, I ran my fingers over the prints. A collection of postcards from artists exhibited at The Louvre. I tried to find value in the images before me. The busy Chagall fairytale bewildered me, Picasso seemed to box me in, and Monet’s water lilies reminded me of the Brisbane Botanical Gardens, beautiful but typical. My young eyes searched to find the value in survival that my father explained I would find in art. Then I found Matisse.

In a handful of simple lines, he had drawn the nude. These simple black lines danced together to produced the perfect combination of life, in its simplest form. The woman that lay before me had born children perhaps. Maybe she was an artist’s lover, or a scorned wife. Maybe she died young. I did not know if her hair was red, or if she had freckles on her face. I found value in a line that her curves inspired and wept at the clarity that she provided me. My life was becoming settled. I owned my hands again and things were simple. I lost my father and I also loved him. There was nothing complicated about it. I missed him everyday and at times the pain seared through my chest, like poking an opened wound. But the value in life that his loss had showed me became my mantra. My loss had taught me how much I had to gain. I finally understood his words, and it took Matisse to explain it to me. This is why art adds value to survival.

The War Artist

It felt like a contribution to my country. A way of saying, yes, I too am embedded in this fight, here is my support. I would wear army green and sweat beneath a hard hat, barricading myself behind a protective vest that left me top heavy, the solid inlay compressing my lungs with each breath.   I would stand tall above my children, as I said goodbye to my wife Sarah and watched her jade eyes fill with wet fear as we shared a final embrace. And my new boots would steer me towards a brotherhood, under contract to die on my behalf, if necessary.

But I would not carry a pistol in my belt, or hang a rifle over my shoulder. And I would not carry maps and meet with Sergeants to discuss tactics that we were to encounter in the dry Afghan heat. My choice of weapons: a belt of brushes, not ammunition, a bottle of Indian ink and 300g stock Italian paper, a gut full of anguish and a head full of ideas. One thing my wife convinced me not to pack, were my expectations. I left them behind at her request, replacing them with bravery and steel grey caution.

I felt pride to be chosen, the heavy burden at first masked by my inflated ego. Humbled by a country that acknowledged the responsibility to document a conflict for those at home and for generations to come. Proud of the support that my country offered. I wish I still felt this way.

Arriving was a battle in itself, logistics were scrutinised and the seriousness of what lay ahead swam through the ranks down to me. I began to question if my comrades were playing games for the sake of this battle virgin man with such clean boots.   It was not long before my naivety was realised and I felt the harsh reality of their honesty. None of this was light torment one would expect from his brothers.

In the days that followed, I learnt to sleep through the deep belly sounds of distant bombings that broke through the earth. My vest began to feel lighter as the stringy muscles in my back strengthened. Once suffocated by the weight of hot air, each breath now filled my lungs whole. I no longer referred to name badges to identify men, and I began to feel like ’one of them’, as the brotherhood relaxed and dropped their guard and my boots collected dust.

Then we lost Captain Stevens. I was still collecting dust at the barracks, deemed ‘not ready’ to venture from camp when they bought in his charred body. Silence fell over the base that night, and my brothers retracted again.

In the weeks that followed, I settled for quick sketches of these men. Slowly as I became more familiar to them, they began to talk. I asked them questions, prompting information.   At times they walked away, too scarred to answer. I soon found that talking under the curtain of night was best. Perhaps they felt safest there. I drew Sergeant Manner. As he spoke, I worked quickly, limited by his unease. When we parted, he shook my hand and called me Brother.

My first day on the field came 3 weeks after my arrival. I was prepped like a soldier and then put back in my place. Adrenalin flooded me before I left the gates and time felt slower that the reality of day. I recognised the town that welcomed my arrival before they shut me behind watchtowers and fencing 3 weeks earlier. ACDC played from the SUV at a strangely low volume, ears still listening on alert. I watched the men beside me approach checkpoints hesitantly, faces hardened with suspicion. Radio talk of code and war slang replaced ACDC at each approach. We picked up supplies of wool blankets and dry biscuits from local men with steel eyes, which seldom smiled.   When we returned at dusk, I felt strangely unsatisfied with the lack of events. We ate, they talked, and I drew.

The days that followed were all patterned in habitual undertakings. But nightfall offered me stories of bravery, loss, victory and despair. As I became more acquainted with the checkpoints and creamy hills, my brothers’ stories took shape and formed colours in my mind, and I began to construct the painterly descriptions in my sketchbook.   They no longer felt fiction. I continued to draw only the men as they spoke. I drew them as their words fell and their faces softened with the relief of sharing. Each man carried an epic saga, kept internally safeguarded behind a wall of masculine pride and courage.

I never saw fresh blood in my two months at Kandahar, or suffered from the temporary deafness that came with close conflict. Although the opportunity was there, my brothers kept me sheltered, not wanting me to suffer any long-term effects, like they all had. But I did.

When I returned home to my wife and children I arrived deflated. I felt a failure. With my vest removed, my chest felt empty. When my children laughed, I scorned them for no reason under my breath. And when Sarah could not understand, I blamed her for being ignorant. I was a changed man, and without my brothers and their stories, and with a blank canvas in front of me, I felt pathetically lost. I was a war artist, with nothing to show but a pad full of Indian ink sketches of broken men.   I could have absorbed many things in Afghanistan. Days spent joining forces against an evil whose veins spread throughout a baron land. But I absorbed the men and took home with me their shattered lives.

Finally, after 2 months had past I began to paint. As my pallet knife smeared oil paint of flesh and splintered dreams, I recognised the creamy Afghan hills in the primed linen beneath. It spurred me on. At night I dreamt their tales and sent myself mad with the loss of men I had never met, and limbs I still had intact. But my body of work would lack in action and landscape. I would paint the men, as the effects of war had shaped them. Proud, but broken.

6 months later my returned brothers attended my opening exhibition at the Australian War Memorial. I felt fear when they arrived. I had opened wounds and painted them in overwhelming size. Men forced to leave their battle scars on the field were now living larger than life, surrounded by the excitement of television cameras, which did not fit.   I watched them walk the circumference of the room and lift their heads in forced pride. Sergeant Manner approached me and I warily offered him my hand. He shook it firmly as he congratulated me on painting the truth. I had no words to offer him in return, dropped what little facade I had still clung on to, and openly wept.

I was asked to paint a body of work that expressed a war-torn land and celebrated the men and woman who kept us safe. However, I was unable to celebrate. Painting these men was my therapy, but I will always be tormented by their stories. Perhaps they are able to find therapy in the reflections I have painted?

When we send away brave men to safeguard us, they leave with pride and they take with them our praise. When they return broken, we turn away, unable to empathise with the unknown. My paintings are there on the walls of the Australian War Memorial. They are there so that we can no longer say, “we did not know”. They are there so we can share the damage that is done to our men, through the actions of war.

Yes…commitment is compulsory

It has been almost 12 months since my last post, having been caught up in the belly of it all.  Study, family, moving, travel, tantrums (usually mine), love, loss, and forgiveness (also usually mine), along with other life happenings that every one of you would relate to.  I must be honest, when I signed up for this blog, one of the first things I noticed when scrolling through other emerging, established and praise worthy writers blog’s was the incredible amount of “sorry I haven’t written in so long” posts, smothered with excuses all similar to mine.  Life.  It just get’s you sometimes right?  Pulls you into a hot/cold habit of comfortability: even when it feels icky.  Like I said…the belly of it!  So, I won’t apologise for my hiatus, however, I will apologise for my lack of commitment!

Commitment is one of those funny words that either makes you squirm, or it makes you believe in a possible dream.  A chameleon of sorts.  It’s also a word I love to hate and hate to love.

“He is such a commitment phobic”

“I am so committed to finishing this story”

“Sorry I can’t make it…too many commitments”

See what I mean?  But when referring to my writing, I need to get a little more stringent with the level of commitment I give to it.  So, moving forward, I aim to write more, live more so I can write more, and then write some more again.  I’m back! And a big THANK YOU for sticking around x

Rebecca

Suffering for Love

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“I think someday you’re going to be a great writer,” he said. “But” he added maliciously, “first you’ll have to suffer a bit. I mean really suffer, because you don’t know what the word means yet. You only think you’ve suffered. You’ve got to fall in love first.”
― Henry Miller

Passing Time

My granddaughter tells me without words that I have grown bitter in my old age. I can see it in the roll of her eyes and the giggles she believes I am unable to hear. But I do hear. I hold my tongue, as I cannot expect her to understand my nostalgia. She was not there. When the Rue’s of the 5th stirred together like a hot stew of brilliance and rhetoric. When we pushed our bodies onto one another not out of lust, but purely for warmth. The winters were brutal then, without the luxuries we have today.   But the company was sweet enough to bear it.   And I preferred it. I try to enjoy my last days in this world. But the only enjoyment I find is when I sit and remember these years.  This is where I prefer to sit and wait for god’s hand to take me to another world. Perhaps he will take me to another 1929?

A Writers Role

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“The role of a writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say.”
― Anaïs Nin

Broken

He had forgotten how she broke and how easily she fell from grace. Her sensitivity magnified under her inability to cope. She now bore cracks buffed over with a longing to forget. Her light had been dimmed to a foggy dull glow, only a small glimpse left of the bright spark he once adored. He had forgotten how she crumbled when he threw his weight at her heart. How his disregard pushed her under a wave of mistrust, a whitewash of despair and emptiness.

When he saw her again, he noticed a slight tremble in her hands. Her smile no longer lit up the room, only penetrating the corners of her quivering mouth. She tried to speak but her words became muddled and fell all around him in a stupor. She seemed smaller, as her shoulders sat lower on her frame and her presence felt hollow, but harrowing.

It was only then that he remembered what had happened. He had chosen to forget, a temporary convenience. But now as he watched her still breaking, he began to feel the crumble, the once hidden cracks had now reappeared and her eyes looked like empty oceans, distant from him. How could he forget?

Home

She had dreamt of far away exotic locations since her maiden voyage into her adult years. Colorful opportunities the shelter of home had denied her, a gloss she had longed to entertain.  The pallet of languages and foreign faces was so appealing, that everything else that fell around her, the day to day doings and responsibilities, were just too beige to hold her concentration.   Friendships became typical and family made her feel restrained.  She chose to leave.

When she stepped onto new soil, her heart felt a sense of indulgence that made her feel giddy.  She visited overwhelming markets and museums, cathedrals and melancholy cemeteries.  She walked down buckled streets and empty stretches of cold grey sand.  She sailed to islands of translucent blue swells and jungles thick with distant creatures she thought impossible.  For 2 years, she pushed her way through the upper class pedigrees of dazzling cities, and the tangled web of third world slums.  Time began to move slower than her feet and a cloud of nostalgia, which had always been there filled with lead weight and a slow presence.

Her neck tensed as the array of mattresses she slept on were no longer able to cushion around the alcove of her body.  Transient relationships had no grip and she began to hold tight to the letters from home.

Home.  Home.  She found herself looking over gloomy spaces to the east, always to the east. As she pushed through her travels she began to miss the familiar smells of the pacific air and the sound of the birds as the surreal Dali skies dropped at dusk.  The easy roads that extended like veins, through the rolling hills south of her home.   
Reliable ears that longed to hear even the most mundane daily news she had to share.  The world had given her a sample of distant pastures and priceless experiences, but it had also taught her that there is no place quite like the habitual comforts of home.  So until she again felt the urge to stretch her legs beyond the coast of her birth, she would head east.  She would head home.

Changing the World With Paulo Coelho

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“Everybody has a creative potential and from the moment you can express this creative potential, you can start changing the world.”

Paulo Coelho