(I'm not a musician.) I was taught as a child that I must not 'blow my own trumpet' as in talking about myself – especially not to say anything good about myself. I was also taught that much of what I could say about myself was nonsense and I needn't expect anyone to believe it. If I myself believed it, I must be insane. If not, I was obviously a liar. Telling my story, therefore, became a very confronting task. I am now in my late seventies, as I begin this blog, and it is only a preparation – things I write on the way to writing the memoir.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Pain

1.

Read my pain, she begs me, I want someone to understand. 

And I understand, with anguish, that longing of hers for someone – if only one, ever – to understand.

If I dwell on it, I say, I will be incapacitated, unable to help you. She tells me that I am afraid. I wonder how she can so misunderstand.

Pain, she explains, creates compassion, and that creates love. She wants one of her friends, at last, to care for her as she does for all of us: someone to know her depth and magnitude of love.

Do you think I have not known pain? I ask. Do you think I have no love for you, no compassion? She laughs, and says she knows I have. But not enough yet, nowhere near enough. Please read it, she begs again. I promise.

I always ask, she adds, that it be for the greater good. She REALLY wants me to know that. I try to tell her I do know that about her (for I do) but I'm not sure she hears. 

Scared I ain't, I tell her. Good, she says, then do it, please. 

I imagine myself destroyed by pain, huddling, unable to move. Soon, I say, but not now – not when I have to go out and drive my car. 

Have a lovely afternoon, she says.

2. 

What pain does she want me to read, I wonder later, the physical or emotional? Or all of it? I tell myself she doesn't know anything about what I've done or who I've been in the decades before we met. 

I know she has constant physical pain, and often can't even move. I have never had pain for such long periods at a time, and can only guess how debilitating – but I have had times of constant, long-lasting pain and times of extreme pain, and sometimes both together. 

The persistent migraines when I was a child, so severe that doctors one time thought I had meningitis. Lying in a darkened room with a hot compress on my forehead while the agony pierced my brow and throbbed throughout my skull and I couldn't think, didn't know my name, focused on not screaming, on keeping still. That took all my effort.

The various broken limbs – pain so acute I knew each time that the bone was broken, instantly, before anyone confirmed it. The broken rib, when I collapsed on the floor as my breath cut off, and couldn't even whisper let alone yell, and my family watching television three feet away didn't notice because I made no sound. The broken rib for which there was little treatment possible, so for weeks I avoided hugs. Even a light, friendly, pat on the shoulder caused me to gasp as the pain stabbed through me. 

The gall bladder attacks when, uncontrollably, I writhed and shrieked. Oh, and the birth of my children, particularly the first – twelve hours of yelling and swearing to cope with the pain; and that last huge contraction when I thought I would split from crotch to throat.

Now it is only arthritis, and when I take my medication that's not severe. The twinges in the fingers are occasionally sharp, but usually brief. No, there is not only arthritis; peripheral neuropathy sometimes twists my feet in painful spasms. But it's mild as far as peripheral neuropathy goes; and the spasms, though scary, are over soon. (I know the tricks of breathing deep, rubbing, adjusting my position.)

My Dad had ongoing pain, from an injury to his leg when he was ten. It never healed. He was in bed for months after it happened, my grandmother said. Twice a day, for the rest of his life, the white exposed bone and surrounding suppurating flesh were dressed with deep pink mercurochrome, and re-bandaged. It stopped him running, jumping, climbing trees, swimming, going out on boats.... But one good thing, it also stopped him being sent to war. He walked with a limp. When the pain was bad, which was often, he leaned heavily on a stick. When it was at its worst, he stayed in a chair all day. I lived with this until I was 17 and left home. I know chronic pain very well at second-hand.

My husband, Andrew, in his last seven years of life, had peripheral neuropathy in both legs. It was much more acute than what I experience. Like my Dad, he was brave and uncomplaining. But his legs felt as though they were burning all the time, and it was hard for him to walk – though he did, as much as he could bear, fighting the pain. In the end he had a wheely-walker; it was the only way. There was no cure and little relief. Capsicum ointment eased it somewhat, an external sting to set against the underlying fire. When he was dying, and lost mobility below the waist, I was glad that at least, at last, he must be free of that constant burning – years of constant burning. Oh yes, I am intimately acquainted at second-hand with severe, ongoing pain.

3.

Is it emotional pain she thinks I have not felt enough? There is so much about my life before we met that she doesn't know. She doesn't know about the stress of a troubled home life, that made me scratch my scalp continually, compulsively, when I was eight, making bald spots. (Alopecia areata, it's called.) She doesn't know about my parents' divorce, the shock of that, and of being taken interstate, away from all my friends because my father got custody in school term and my Mum, thinking he would look after us, didn't fight it. (We'll have lovely holidays, she thought, and that much was true.)

The stepmother who was alcoholic, sadistic, crazy. The adored, trusted father who turned out to be too weak to protect 15-year-old me and my 11-year-old brother; instead blamed us, openly and vocally, when his second marriage rapidly became a nightmare. My deep sense of betrayal. (And it WAS a betrayal.) 

My pathological shyness in my teens. My conviction that I was ugly.

Later, my own two divorces, one after three years of disastrous marriage to an alcoholic, bipolar, compulsive gambler; the other after 27 years with the father of my children. Each traumatic in its own very different way, and the occasion of many tears. The full-scale nervous breakdown as my first marriage disintegrated, leading to six years of psychotherapy. That was a good thing, but the trigger was painful; and much more pain needed to be uncovered and worked through in those six years.

The time I worked as a writing tutor in an institution full of sad and traumatised individuals, and fell in love with one. Entirely reciprocated, and completely against the rules. Always in public, no chance of even a kiss. We did manage to exchange a few furtive words of love, that's all. And we exchanged letters and wrote each other poems. (The letters were not openly romantic and the poems were ostensibly not written to each other, but....) 

We both knew that our minds were somehow, improbably, perfectly attuned. I don't subscribe to the theory of one true soul-mate, but if I did he would have to be a candidate. But it wasn't going anywhere. I was married with young children; he was in no position to enter into a normal relationship anyway. And the secrecy was more and more stressful. I ended it by leaving the job and breaking off our communication.

That was sad. I was also desperately concerned for his wellbeing, as he was in a potentially life-threatening situation. But I tried to put it all behind me. Then, one Saturday morning, I sat down with a cup of coffee, opened the newspaper and saw a headline. He had committed suicide. It was not only the greatest grief I had ever experienced, it was combined with shock. 

I found out later from people who knew him that it was not because of the ending of our friendship – which, to be honest, I never thought, because it wasn't in character. He would not have put that guilt on me. It was because of the prognosis of what his life would be from that time on, which he decided to avoid. 

Nevertheless I went through all the stages of grief for many months, and I went through them largely alone and unsupported. It was a relationship and a loss that was private, unknown to most people, and it was one of the biggest events of my life. I have never cried so much or so long about anything. Then for many months I was numb, dead inside. For about twenty years there was not a day I didn't think of him. Eventually it became every other day ... every few days…. Still, 34 years later, he is often in my mind.

There were of course other romances, when I was young, which ended. Some of them were very important too (one came close to marriage) and the endings hurt. I love deeply and long. 

I thought of the man who suicided as the greatest love of my life. Then, late in life, I married for the third time. Andrew and I were together twenty years, in much love, compatibility and happiness. For the last few years he became increasingly frail, more and more incapacitated. He had had diabetes and cardio-vascular disease for many years, well-controlled. Now both conditions deteriorated, and he also had a series of very small strokes causing falls. 

He developed Alzheimer's Disease. Fortunately it was fairly mild, but even that was increasingly difficult in all sorts of ways. I was his carer for those last years. It was arduous and distressing for us both, though it was also the time when we entered fully into our unconditional love. There were sweet and treasured moments. Was this, then, a case of pain leading to compassion, leading to greater love? I don't know. It may be so. I think it had a lot to do with the increased intimacy of that level of caring. 

A final fall sent him to hospital, then to a nursing home. He died fairly soon, before the deterioration became extreme: a blessing. We suited each other beautifully, loved each other dearly, and four years later I still miss him very much. My journey of grief and widowhood is ongoing, though it does ease with time. Since then, in quick succession, I also lost both the cats we had raised from kittens, whom we referred to fondly as 'the children.'

I have lost both my parents, all my husbands and many old friends, several in circumstances tragic and shocking. My first deaths, of course, were those of my grandparents. The hardest to cope with was my beloved Nana, when I was four. And I have lost various beloved dogs and cats. 

My brother loves me, but because of the trauma of that long ago time with the Wicked Stepmother, he cannot bear to have much to do with me. It brings back far too much pain for him. I understand this. I am the one person in the world who understands perfectly, because I was there. I am not hurt by his sparse communication, but it still hurts that I could not protect him better at the time. I don't blame myself now – I was only 15 – but I carry emotional scars. 

And then there is my youngest child. An enchanting little fellow he was, long ago, As a man, he became such a nightmare that, after many years of tears – to rival the quantity I shed for the man who killed himself – I am permanently estranged from that son. People imagine this must have been his doing, his decision. Oh yes, often and often – until the time I didn't accept the kiss-and-make-up overtures yet again, but said, 'Enough'. 

That is a pain there is no working through, no resolving. I have learned to shut it away instead. Everything you can imagine I might have thought or felt about that, I have, and a great deal more. I won't say any more than that. It is a thing I don't talk about, even as much as this, as a rule – or else, get me started, I can't stop until I tell every horrible detail whether the listener wants them or not. His older brother's reaction is like mine only more so. We have stopped mentioning him even to each other, the hurt goes so deep. We both know it's there. We both know there is nothing to be done about it, but to go on living our otherwise happy lives.

There were the girls at school who bullied me. I was ‘different'. I was bookish, non-sporty, and I shone at lessons. And because no-one realised for years how badly I needed glasses, I got the reputation of being ‘stuck up’.  I couldn't recognise anyone I knew, to greet them, until they were right up close. It looked as if I was snubbing people. That was punished. 

There were the uncles who tickled me in very private places with rough, thick fingers, and told me it was 'just a game' and I was supposed to like it. 

The friends who turned out to be false – not many, in the course of my life, but some, and those were deep and shocking disappointments. 

I could go on and on and on, remembering pain. 

4. 

I have not experienced her pain, though, the friend who wants me to understand it. I didn't have a father who beat me in the belief he was saving my wicked soul. I didn't have excessively religious parents – quite the opposite, mine were agnostic. My mum wasn't very warm and huggy, but she didn't have the hard, unrelenting coldness of my friend's mother. 

And I have not had her long, chronic, potentially fatal illness. I can hardly imagine what it must be like to keep on living through that; to keep on defeating it, with her will as much as anything; to be physically limited and reliant on others, even while soaring in her mind.

A memory returns from fifty years ago, of telling my psychiatrist some of my own hurts, then adding, ashamed, that I shouldn't complain. 'I know there are a lot of people worse off than me.'

'But pain is subjective,' he said. 

5.

I find a quiet part of the afternoon. I sit and close my eyes. I open heart and mind to read her pain. I promised. 

Immediately I feel immensely sad. I am surrounded by vast, amorphous grey. I myself am that grey, outside and in. Tears fill my eyes. 

She does constant energy work for the planet. I think she perceives all the pain of the Universe, all the pain that ever was. 

Then, in my own body, her bodily pain begins. The worst is around my head. I think of a crown of thorns. I feel pains in my palms, and think of nails and a crucifix. Is she sacrificing herself? Is she being sacrificed? I recall that in the story of Christ they were the same thing. 

I wonder how long I should stay with her pain. Then I realise she asked me to read it, not experience it. I decide I have stayed with it long enough. I feel that any longer might destroy me. I am not built to withstand such pain as that, not while I live in a physical human body. And yet she does, without surcease.

Gradually, I detach. The physical pain leaves me. The dreadful, oceanic sadness remains.

6.

Does it matter? she asked, when she asked me to read her pain. Is what I do important? And if it is, how? 

I pull four cards from my Voyager Tarot. Yes, I tell her. What you do matters. It brings about joy, equilibrium, and a compassion of divine quality. It has made a brilliant new beginning in bringing about harmony.

That night she texts me a spell to give me a peaceful, restorative sleep. I sleep sweetly and wake refreshed.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Refusing Magic

Magical Journey 1. Seeing is Believing

It was a lie I told. I wrote this blithe little poem about my habit of not refusing the calls I receive from the Universe, but rather leaping to embrace them with cries of delight. I included magic in the list of those I'd embraced. And I did in the end embrace it, so long ago already that it feels as though I always had it. And yes, I did always have it. Nevertheless, for most of my life I tried very hard to refuse that calling. There were formidable gate-keepers barring the way.

For me, magic is an extension of the psychic abilities I was born with; or they are inclusive of each other. It's difficult to write an account that keeps the two things neatly separated, because that was not how I lived my experiences of acceptance, refusal, embrace. So I'll tell it as it was.

When I was a small child, my world included experiences others didn't share. But I didn't realise that at first. It was all normal, unquestioned, just the way things were. I saw spirit children (I know now) whom my parents called 'imaginary playmates'. I saw fairies, which I now know as nature spirits; but at the time I identified fairies as magical beings – as indeed they are, by some definitions. I had a grown-up friend too, who was like a nice uncle you could talk to; many years later I identified him as the Egyptian god, Thoth.

When I was little, I spoke openly about seeing these things – to learn that other people apparently couldn't. My parents put it all down to my 'wonderful imagination'. Other children were not so kind. They told me I was mad, or a liar. Some adults credited me with 'making up stories' – which they did not regard as bad in itself. Only my insistence that the stories were true upset them. I didn't understand the upset, and it was hard to believe other people were really so blind. I thought they must be the ones making it up, that they were having a nasty joke on me. 

Yet my parents were clearly not doing that, and they couldn't see as I did either. So I learned fairly early not to tell anyone any more. I laughingly denied the truth of my experiences and agreed they were just stories, so as to fit in better with the other kids and seem more normal to the grown-ups. (Though any precocious, bookish, dreamy, non-sporty loner of a child is never going to seem very normal in the Australian suburbs, nor fit in easily with most other children.) I went even further, and not only denied but firmly shut down that whole aspect of myself, to the point of losing all conscious remembrance.

Much, much later, when I had at last re-opened, I discovered there are many people keeping very quiet about things they think others won't understand. When someone starts tentatively talking, it's amazing what is revealed. It first happened in a poetry workshop I conducted, an adult education class. Something in the discussion sparked one young woman to open up a bit. So I did too – and suddenly we found that everyone in the room had had experiences we might call 'spooky'. But we were all keeping them to ourselves for fear of being thought deluded or just plain deceitful – because that was what we had been taught from an early age. It made me wonder if everyone is keeping a whole dimension of reality secret – in many cases, even from themselves. (Or are poets especially open?)

I think that many people are scared by psychic or paranormal experiences, whether they have them or are told about them. We are taught to fear ghosts, demons, and anything 'otherworldly'. Also, the rational, scientific age which preceded this one (in which more people are starting to 'wake up') was characterised by a contemptuous dismissal of anything that could not be scientifically proved.

You might think that psychic abilities are more a gift than a calling. But I think our gifts are our primary callings. After shutting this gift down in childhood, so hard that I, like most people, believed such stuff was fictional, however did I re-awaken?

It was like being blown open! But it began gradually. I was the mother of young schoolchildren when I read Colin Wilson's massive books, The Occult and Mysteries. It was exciting to contemplate the possibility that the paranormal could be real. I was fascinated and at the same time scared of it. My husband, Bill, read them too and his reaction was much the same. So we allowed of the possibility, but we didn't explore.

In the seventies Bill and I and our little boys made several visits to Bali. We fell in love with the place. When we first arrived I kept bursting into tears at the things I was seeing – not at all in distress, but because in some strange way they moved me deeply. I couldn't understand it! Finally Bill twigged: 'It's the Indian in you.' Bali then was exclusively Hindu, no Muslim population. My mother and her mother were Anglo-Indian. The family migrated to Tasmania when Mum was 15, bringing many artefacts from their life in India.

'Oh yes,' I said. 'That makes sense. I'm seeing all these things I remember from childhood, when my grandparents were alive.' And it was so – but I now wonder about past-life recall. It is common for people suddenly confronted with physical reminders of previous incarnations – revisiting the place, for instance – to burst spontaneously into tears.

On our last visit to Bali, in 1979, we met an elderly Javanese couple who invited us to visit them in their town of Semarang. We had plans to go to Java shortly after this couple's return home, to visit Jogjakarta. We were delighted to add Semarang to our itinerary. We hired a taxi, not realising how far it was from Jogja: from the south to the north of the island, hours each way. It was lucky we set out early!

At one point we passed a small house by the side of the road, little more than a shelter, where I saw through the open door two small children playing on the dirt floor. Their mother, a slim, tired-looking young woman, gazed curiously at our passing taxi. Her eyes and mine met for a moment. Suddenly, in that moment, I knew everything about her life – not details like her name and age, but what it was like to be her, the sort of things she did daily and how she felt. Simultaneously, I knew exactly what it was like to be a small child playing on that dirt floor. At least, these many impressions washed over me in just a few seconds, so vividly that I can re-experience them now, 37 years later. I can't, of course, know in any evidential way if they were accurate, but it felt as if those experiences and memories briefly became mine.

It was, as I said, a long trip; and in an old, uncomfortable vehicle, on a road that was often in bad repair. I thought that the headache I developed as the hours passed was due to all that. For some reason I felt impelled to keep quiet about the headache, just grit my teeth, breathe deep, and bear it. I closed my eyes, pretending to doze. Conversation through the pain would have been too much effort. Then, as we came into Semarang, the headache left and I opened my eyes to take in the town.

What happened next I shut up about, too. I saw in my mind's eye the scene around each bend, before it was physically visible. When we rounded the bends, there it was each time, exactly as I had seen before I saw it. I couldn't have mentioned it; I could barely cope with it. I am one who goes very quiet in situations of stress, never more so than on that journey into Semarang. Then all of a sudden the pre-seeing stopped and I didn't know what was to come.

We had a nice visit with the old couple we'd met in Bali. They took us for some sight-seeing, in the course of which they pointed out 'the old town' and 'the new town'. Their house was in the new town. Yes, you've guessed it – the parts I saw ahead of time were in the old town, and the new town began just where that seeing had stopped. 

One place they took us to was the wharf. I looked out over the harbour and 'saw', as if physically, two long grey warships, World War II vintage. But I knew they were not physically there because I could simultaneously see the scene without them. (Yes, it's hard to explain.) Again I shut up about it. But later, over afternoon tea back at their place, I asked casually, 'Did the War ever come to Semarang?' The old man smiled and shrugged. 'The War came everywhere.'  When I was back home, I looked up the history of the town in Encyclopedia Britannica. There was a photo of the harbour during World War II, with several American warships similar to those I had seen, though more of them and positioned differently.

I said nothing to anyone about any of this. When I got home, I tried very hard over a period of months to figure out a rational explanation for what I had experienced. The warships in particular were hard to explain away as my 'wonderful imagination'. I did briefly wonder if I was having past life recognition, but dismissed that pretty quickly because I was born just before the start of World War II and was alive as a child in Tasmania when American warships were in Semarang harbour. So I was left trying to explain it to myself rationally. I thought and thought, but couldn't find any workable rational way to account for these things. I had headaches most of the time. I thought I was going mad. 

Eventually I realised that I was still functioning in my life, and was doing nothing destructive to myself or anyone else. If I was building some delusional construct in my head, it was at least fairly benign. In the end, I exhausted all attempts to explain away the phenomena in rational terms. One day I decided, 'Well, if I can't find a rational explanation, I may as well believe the irrational' – i.e. that I had experienced some kind of extra-sensory perception, as it was called in those days. 

Well! The instant result was that the headaches stopped, my stress and fear melted away, my mind calmed down, and I realised that it was the effort to resist the truth of my experience that was driving me mad. Finally I felt able to tell Bill and a few other people what had happened. None of them pooh-poohed it. They couldn't explain it either, but they believed it was real.

I went on to make a lifetime study of the esoteric, in the course of which my understanding of reincarnation changed. I came to believe the soul is much bigger than we usually imagine – that it is pushing one fragment of itself out into this reality, and other fragments into other realities, perhaps simultaneously. In this view, it is not so much the individual personality which gets reincarnated, but rather that it rejoins with the soul and then has access to the memories of all the other personalities or soul fragments. On this understanding, reincarnation is not necessarily linear in chronological time; also it is possible that one soul might have incarnations that overlap in time and even place. On that basis, I thought my soul could have experienced lives in both Java and Tasmania during World War II.

With the young mother, another possibility is that it may have been a kind of telepathic connection. Or perhaps something about her or her children triggered a past-life memory too? (I suppose I should say 'other-life' rather than 'past-life'.) I can only speculate.

There was a third thing that happened on that trip to Semarang. We passed through the town of Malang. As we drove through the main street leading north, a man stepped out of a shop doorway and stood a minute, checking the street. With him, too, I locked eyes a few seconds. There were no psychic impressions. Instead I just gazed at him in amazement. He was the handsomest man I ever saw, then or since. He was brown-skinned like an Indonesian, but taller, and his black hair was curly. I couldn't tell what nationality he was.

He was dressed in slim-fitting pants and an open-necked shirt. He looked like a pirate, I thought, or a film star. He gazed right back at me, with the same sort of expression I must have had. (I was never considered a great beauty in my own country, but my very fair skin and hair made me one in Indonesia.) Then our car went past and that was that. Nothing very remarkable about staring at an attractive man, you might suppose, but he made an indelible impression on me. And there was a sequel.

We didn't know then, being away from news sources, that the Indonesian invasion of East Timor was just beginning. When we returned to Melbourne a couple of weeks later, we discovered what was happening. Two days after we got home, I saw a photo on the front of our morning newspaper, with the headline: 'These men missing, believed dead.' There he was in the middle, my man from Malang. No mistaking him. They were Portuguese engineers who had been working in East Timor, and apparently hadn't got out fast enough when the country became independent of Portugal and the Indonesians swiftly moved in to take it over.

Or had they got out? Was he visiting Malang on business that day, or on holiday, and did he afterwards go back to East Timor and get killed by the invaders? Or was he already making his escape – through Indonesia! – when I saw him? I'll never know. 

Was that encounter a psychic experience? Perhaps not. He was a VERY handsome man. And yet, after that eye contact it was as if his essence was imprinted on me. With no reason to give him any more importance than any other good-looking stranger glimpsed briefly in passing, I found myself dwelling on him – and not on his good looks so much as that deep, swift gaze into each other's eyes. It seemed that there was something even more compelling than our mutual admiration – as though some deep knowing was exchanged in that fleeting instant. But what that might have been, my conscious mind still doesn't comprehend.  

One thing I wonder is whether there was something about the energy of Java itself that made me particularly prescient? Could that have accounted for all these experiences? 

Perhaps they were all sent to wake me up to the fact that our everyday understanding of reality is limited. Once I accepted them –  as valid, if mysterious – I could no longer return to a state of ignorance.

That was only the beginning.


To be continued

Monday, 10 October 2016

A Call to Adventure

The wheel turns, the seasons change, the student becomes the teacher till it's time to learn again. – Sussy Moore Mickle

Magical Journey. Prologue


In my life there have been many callings, and I have answered them. Always, they lead to adventures. I enjoy adventures of the mind – for instance the long journeys into poetry, healing and magic – and there are also physical adventures, such as upping stakes and moving to a new home and new lifestyle in my mid-fifties, with a new husband (Andrew) who was already at retirement age.

Why do I say that was a call, more than a happenstance or even a decision? Because it was forecast by various psychics and seers, over several years before it happened, beginning when I was still married to my previous husband, Bill, and had no expectation of ever being married to anyone else. 

In fact some people 'saw' Bill in the picture, or thought they did. I suppose that was because my second and third husbands were somewhat similar in height, breadth and colouring – not if you saw them side by side, but in a general way, so that a quick, vague image of me with Andrew could be mistaken for one of me with Bill, particularly if the person had always known me with Bill and had never seen or heard of Andrew (as I myself had not, then). 

They all assured me the change of residence they foresaw would be for my good. And so it has been. 

'I see you driving alongside the ocean,' said one. 'You turn and face inland, and see a strange-shaped mountain. You will live on a road between two mountains, a place of power.'

'You don't belong here,' said another (meaning Melbourne, where I was living at that time). 'You need to go north-east. That's your home. I see a lot of big black birds flying past the moon. You belong with them.'

Even the I Ching told me I should avoid the south and the west, and go to the north and east. That was a pretty vague location, though.

Our friend Doug, a well-known spiritual healer and clairvoyant from whom Bill and I both had regular treatments, started asking me – was our home on stilts; did we have a big room, like a classroom, or perhaps a dormitory; was our house situated between high hills or mountains?  If not, he thought we should get such a place. At that time we lived in a hamlet called Three Bridges, near Yarra Junction in country Victoria. I told him we did have a house at the bottom of one big hill, looking across to another. It did have a very big room, and it was off the ground on short stilts. 

Doug seemed unsure if that was what he had seen, but anyway he advised that we should be running some kind of spiritual classes, perhaps residential. He had seen what appeared to be a teaching situation in a big classroom, but then he had seen the students on what seemed to be a row of beds, as in a dormitory. In both views, there was a big window behind them. He questioned Bill in particular as to whether that kind of thing was on his agenda. Bill was open to it, he said, though he and everyone else seemed to think it would be more my kind of thing.

Our big room did have big windows, and eventually we started hosting Reiki classes for my friend Ann, who had recently completed her Master (teacher) training. That involved Reiki tables, similar to massage tables, with sheets and pillows, so students could practise what they were learning. Depending where in the room you were standing, the window could be behind them. So I was of course convinced that Doug was describing that house.

A little later, he and his wife Rita had an earnest, private conversation with me, telling me that sometimes, on one's spiritual journey, it was necessary to lose things one already had in order to go further. Doug told me that he himself had lost his relationship with his first wife and their child, along with fame and a high paying career (he'd been a successful Australian pop star).  

He must have been foreseeing that Bill and I would go bankrupt and then divorce, and was trying to prepare me. When that did happen, it was reassuring to remember this conversation, which gave me the context of a spiritual necessity. Or rather, confirmed it for me, as it came down to a choice between continuing in my marriage or continuing my studies to become a Reiki Master – an ultimatum which Bill gave me, not long after I started my training.

This was the man who had initially declared emphatically, 'I support you 100% in your decision to be a Reiki Master!' Only two months later, the volte-face: 'Either you stop your Reiki Master training or the marriage is over.' I was shocked and devastated.

Stunned as I was, I didn't give him an immediate answer. I told him I wanted time to think about it. I guess that should have told both of us how important the Master training was to me.

I phoned my training Master, Ann. I was booked to spend a long weekend in Sydney with Phyllis Lei Furumoto, then the Grand Master of the Reiki Alliance, on her first visit to Australia. She had called for Master candidates to meet and study with her for those three days. It was about to happen. Ann said, 'Defer your decision until after you've done the weekend.'

I arrived at the venue in Sydney and walked into a room of Reiki Master candidates of different genders and ages. I walked into peace, and a collective energy that matched my own. I experienced a beautiful freedom and relief. Here were my sisters and brothers; I was home. In that instant my decision was made. Or rather, there was no decision to make.

I have thought since that perhaps Bill was bluffing, though at the time that didn’t occur to me. If it was so, then I called his bluff without even realising it. I told him I was not prepared to give up my Master training. 

'There have been so many compromises,' I thought but didn't say (because I didn't trust him to even understand). 'So much of me has been gradually whittled away. I'm not giving in on this one.’ And so we parted, painfully. 

To my surprise, quite soon I met Andrew, and we quickly became a couple. (Thank you, Bill!) A little over a year later, I was divorced and re-married. A year after that, soon after Andrew and I left Melbourne, Bill died of a heart attack. But we didn't know or expect that then.

First I had to create a new life, back in Melbourne on my own. I had been there a long time before the move to Three Bridges, but that was with Bill, and when our sons still lived at home. Bill and I had been in a weekly meditation group with some good friends for several years. It was in Melbourne, and we continued to attend after we moved. It wasn't just about relaxation, but had the purpose of contacting 'higher intelligences' for personal and planetary healing. We did contact them, and we learned extraordinary things in that group. After Bill and I split, I stopped going. I thought it would be too hard on all concerned if we both continued to attend. I had my Reiki Master training then, to fulfil my spiritual needs, so I left the meditation group to him.

Soon after moving back to Melbourne I was led to a new meditation group which connected with various guides, and also to the Nature Spirits and the Devic kingdom – for personal and planetary healing! I became one of three core members of that group. After a time (when I was already with Andrew) we three were directed to visit Murwillumbah to do some energy work at Mt Warning.  Some of Judi's family members had a holiday home nearby, where she was able to stay; Raeline was about to take a new job in that part of the world; and I had a friend who had recently moved up there, so I arranged to stay with her.

I thought I might give some psychic readings and/or Reiki treatments while there, to help pay for the trip. I sent some brochures to my friend ahead of time. She phoned me: 'While I've been putting your brochures around town, I keep seeing this ad for a house to rent, and it sounds like you.' She read out the description, and I said, 'Yes, it does sound like me. But Andrew wouldn't want to leave his new job and his new grandson.'

I told him over dinner that night just as a matter of interest, not as a serious plan. But he said, 'It sounds wonderful. At that rent I'd be able to stop work and go on the pension. Ring her back and tell her we're interested.'

Next day my friend phoned again. 'I spoke to the lady, and she said her phone's been running hot – but as soon as she heard you were a Reiki Master, she said she'd hold it for you.'

When I arrived in Murwillumbah and my friend met the bus, she told me, 'Your prospective landlady is your first client for a Tarot reading. I'm taking you there tomorrow morning. She just lives around the corner from me.'

She dropped me off next morning, I walked up the driveway, a woman I'd never met opened the door, we took one look at each other and spontaneously fell into each other's arms. This was not customary behaviour for either of us! I guess we both had a flash of intuitive knowing. I realised later she was the woman my late friend Ridge, magician and clairvoyant, had described to me 10 years previously as someone who would be important in my life. He not only described her physical appearance and approximate age accurately, but also a distinctive piece of jewellery she was wearing. And yes, she has been a dear friend ever since. Of course, she was also important in bringing us to this part of the world.

The reading I gave her made it clear she should not let her property to us for very long. She had bought it impulsively while visiting the area, only a few days previously. She thought of using it as a holiday rental most of the year, and a holiday house for herself and her children occasionally. Instead she decided to wind up her affairs in Sydney and return in 12 weeks to permanently occupy her new home.  I phoned Andrew.

'The property's wonderful, but we can only have it for 12 weeks after all.'

'That's OK, it gives us time to find somewhere else.'

'Er – it's very hot here. I'm not sure how you'd cope.'

'That's OK,' (cheerfully) 'I'll sit in the bath all day!'

He wouldn't be put off. (And I didn't really want him to be.) And so the deal was done. I went back home after finishing the energy assignment with Judi and Raeline, and Andrew and I made arrangements to move.

We drove north from Melbourne to Murwillumbah, taking two days for the journey. On the second day we took a wrong turning, so we ended up coming through Moree in north-west New South Wales and Beaudesert in southern Queensland, and having to then drive back south, alongside the ocean. As we drew nearer and turned to face inland, we saw the towering shape of Mt Warning, aka Wollumbin, with its three distinctive, uneven peaks. 




Our 12 weeks on that first property were a beautiful hiatus, a magical interlude. We had no TV or radio, no internet at that time, and were a little way out of town in beautiful countryside and beautiful weather. However, it wasn't isolated. Our landlady had asked various neighbours to make us welcome, and we were invited to a number of parties just in the first week or so. Also there was my old friend just around the corner. And although we were out of town, we were quite near a little village.

Our landlady was what I would call a shaman, though she didn't label herself. She had created a stone circle near her house, for meditation and ceremony. She asked me to look after the spirit of the land, not only the practical matters. I used the stone circle myself, for ritual and meditation. One night three indigenous elders appeared to me there, in spirit. They seemed to be from an ancient time. They questioned me, and I them. (It was a very profound conversation, and I'll keep the details private.) Eventually they gave their blessing to my custodianship during our landlady's absence.

Knowing we would only be at that place 12 weeks, we had arranged to spend the next three months in nearby Mullumbimby, looking after a market garden whose owners were going overseas for three months. Mutual friends in Melbourne had put us in touch; it seemed like perfect synchronicity. We visited them soon after our arrival, and everything seemed good.

But after only a few weeks, we knew – we had fallen in love with Murwillumbah and its people, and didn't want to go anywhere else. We phoned the couple in Mullumbimby and apologised; then we had to find somewhere else to live. We did the rounds of the estate agents and found nothing suitable, so we put a notice in the village store, saying we wanted somewhere in the surrounding hills.

Meanwhile we had conducted a Reiki I class, using my old friend's house as a venue. (The one where we were living was a bit small for such an event.) To my astonishment, not only locals enrolled but also people came from Sydney and Brisbane! Most of them enrolled in the follow-up Reiki II class a few weeks later. At lunch time on the second day of Reiki II – nicely timed! – there was a phone call: 'I believe you're looking for somewhere to rent.' 

And so it transpired that for the next four years we lived on Pinnacle Road, between Mt Warning and a peak called The Pinnacle. It was a place of power indeed, and very good to us. 

At the end of our road lived two families of Hare Krishna devotees, part of a big Hare Krishna community in this area. They had been looking for a resident Reiki Master to come to Murwillumbah – so when I turned up, they figured I was the answer to their prayers. No doubt I was. For my first two years here, 90% of my Reiki students were devotees. I was designated 'a friend of the devotees', and I am on affectionate terms with many of those students to this day.

The house we rented on Pinnacle Road was on a steeply sloping block. It was placed backwards on the block to take advantage of the spectacular view of the Border Ranges. The entrance, which was really designed as the back door but doing duty as front door, was at ground level. For the rest of the house to remain level, it was propped up on rows of long stilts, lengthening as they descended the slope. When Andrew and I walked in to enquire about renting it, I couldn't conceal my grin as I saw the great big lounge-room with a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows. ‘Reiki classes!’ I thought at once. And yes, we did hold many there, which did involve several Reiki tables being set up in a row at certain times, with people lying on sheets and pillows, as if in a dormitory, with those huge windows and stunning view behind them. It became obvious that this was what Doug had foreseen.

Eventually we moved from that house – but not before we had so successfully brought Reiki to Murwillumbah, and to the devotees in particular, that some of my students went on to train as Masters themselves. The time inevitably came when the devotees no longer needed me to teach them, preferring to learn from Masters in their own community. I in turn went on to teach more widely, and although the demand and the class sizes have dwindled over the two decades since then, and by now I have more or less retired, I am still sometimes asked to teach. When I am asked to, I do.

In this area I also came into my own as a psychic reader, working the Sunday markets for many years and making a name for myself locally. Andrew used to work with me in the markets, giving people quick Reiki treatments and Indian Head Massage. This high profile led to my working some years on the psychic lines (phone-lines) mainly for the late Simon Turnbull and his wife Hiromi – good people who ran a very ethical line. Now I am finally retired from both markets and psychic lines, but word of mouth still pertains and people sometimes seek me out for private readings. When they do, I oblige. 

We arrived in November 1994. Andrew died in September 2012. In those years he wrote and published a beautiful children’s book; we started writers’ groups and meditation groups; I taught Creative Writing for local adult education colleges; he did a University course in Professional Writing (with a number of subjects credited because of his previous experience as both a journalist and a film editor); in 1998 we went around the world; I was a guest of the Austin International Poetry Festival, Texas, in 2006; we embraced the internet; we made many new friends here, and kept in contact with the old ones elsewhere too. Even without Andrew, this is a good home for me, a great place to fulfil my goals and dreams.

I love small town living. This is like the Launceston (Tasmania) I grew up in until I was 15, only without the cold climate. I have mountains and river, forests and ocean. I can't go shopping without being greeted by several people I know – usually with hugs. The shop assistants know me by name, too. I'm very glad I didn't stay in Melbourne! I go back now and then to visit family and old friends, which is a joy, but I am always glad to escape the traffic and pollution again.

And what were those black birds flying past the moon? It’s open to interpretation. At night, at certain times of year, the fruit bats fly out in great numbers to raid the trees. They are big and black. I belong with them? Perhaps that was just a way of saying I belong here, where they too live.

But if you think of pictures of black silhouettes flying past the moon, what else comes to mind? How about witches? It was here that I finally understood and accepted that I had always been a witch, from earliest childhood. It was here that, in time, I met a number of others and even ran a coven for a few years. Andrew soon joined me in that spiritual path. It seems obvious, now, that we were both always Pagan; we just didn’t have the label. Yes, witches exist in other places too, but it was something about being here which made it easy to understand it in ourselves and then to find the like-minded, with whom I do indeed belong.

Yet I didn't always answer every call, not immediately – and particularly not the call to magic (including the recognition of my psychic self). There was a long inner journey prior to this fateful move interstate, which I'll tell you in forthcoming posts.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

The 'I Can't Draw' Story

I am just, finally, exploring drawing in a way that is free and pleasurable – like it was when I was a very little kid.

I was thoroughly put off in primary school, by art teachers who said, 'Well ... the IDEA's good' and other kids who said, 'THAT'S not a tree!' Needless to say, I didn't make it one of my ongoing subjects. I dropped it as fast as I could.

I had various brief attempts later. I was in late middle age when my Mum showed me some outline sketches of leaves I'd done in my early teens, which she'd kept ever after. I looked and thought, 'Oh – impressionist.' Also they were beautiful, in a very simple way.

Soon after that revelation, I had fun with an intuitive drawing class I was invited to attend, using chalk pastels – well no, not fun, it was a struggle, but I produced some things I still like.  I took a somewhat similar class some years later again, with a different teacher, using both chalk and oil pastels.

Those classes taught me techniques I'd not have dreamed of – rubbing with a rag, scraping with a palette knife....  I even sold aura drawings in the Sunday markets for a number of years, done with pastel pencils. They were not shaped like a human outline; a more accurate term might have been energy portraits.

With the intuitive drawing classes and with the aura drawings, I was channelling. I just 'knew' what colours to pick up, and what they should do on the paper. With the aura drawings I got simultaneous psychic readings for my clients, which I spoke aloud to them as I drew – spiritual readings rather than fortune-telling.

By the time I came to the intuitive drawing classes, I was at ease with channelling in other contexts – well, as easy as I'd ever get (it's still basically astounding to me). I knew how to 'get out of the way', and that I must trust what came through and keep going or else the input would pause until I resumed. So I could do that, albeit with much astonishment that I drew things which were recognisable. Faces, even!

But I still thought I couldn't draw in the more mundane way, picking up pen, pencil or charcoal and making marks on paper just as myself. And guess what, I don't have a lot of evidence yet that I can! But I have had a breakthrough all the same.

Firstly, I was recently inspired by some of the painter-poets I met online, particularly Claudia Schoenfeld of dVerse, to try water colour sketching. I realised I didn't have to mess about with washes, which we were taught in the first year of primary school. Oh, how I failed to master washes! Oh, how I hated them! I now realise it is quite a sophisticated technique, probably most inappropriate for little kids – and not something I have any hankering to try again.

The water colour sketching has been fun. I have done one or two a year for the last three years or so, with big gaps between. My time is mostly taken up with writing. I have told myself that the sketching was 'just mucking around'. The first one I did, a neighbour's roof and foliage seen over my back fence, I thought actually quite good. Others have not been very representational, to say the least, although that's what I was trying for.

Then my friend Sharyn Williams, a lovely artist and sometime art teacher, published online some of her lessons (versions of which have inspired many children). I tried a few, and enjoyed them. I learnt things about what one can do with paint.

I still carried around my story that I can't draw.

It's Natalie Goldberg, my favourite writing teacher, who has finally completed my breakthrough. I hasten to add that I only know her through her books – and what wonderful books they are.

She is not only a beautiful writer, but also a painter – of quirky, happy, colourful works which she sometimes exhibits and sells. (However, I gather it's been a less public pleasure than her writing.) Now she has written a book, called In Living Color, in which she tells her readers how to do it too, via chapters of memoir interspersed with lessons.

It's like her famous books for writers, Writing Down the Bones, etc. It gives me permission. I don't have to start from a place of 'good'; I can just pick up the pen (or in this case pencil) and start. It doesn't have to be a photo, she tells me, and points to a cup she has painted that's a bit wonky, non-circular.

I don't know why I never got this before – even knowing all the experiences I had that militated against it, and even despite all the new starts I made from time to time. But anyway, it finally got through. I don't have to draw well from the word go, I just have to pick up the pencil and draw.

The lessons don't explain formal techniques. They tell us to draw the contents of an open drawer, or items on our messy desk – just some of the objects there, and add a few that aren't, too. She turns it into play.

I can't tell you how often I have seen writers 'learn by doing'. If they keep doing it, keep being interested, keep wanting to communicate as well as they can, and keep wanting to make something that can be called art – above all, if they play and enjoy – they improve willy-nilly. It's a side-effect.

I expect that will happen with my drawing now, though it might take a long time. Even if it doesn't happen, no matter – I'm only doing it for me, for no better reason than wanting to.

I am struck, though, by how MUCH I want to, how much I have always wanted to. Yes, writing is my great love – poetry, to be specific – but, now that I have put all this down here, I notice how I keep coming back to the drawing, in one form or another, all my life, despite the obstacles and the wounds to my confidence.

It's never too late!

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

A Facebook Meme

(which could be expanded upon at some time)

1969:
Age then: 29 most of the year. (Birthday in November.)
Age now: 76
Relationship status then: Married to second husband, Bill Nissen.
Relationship status now: Widowed, from third husband Andrew Wade. (Have outlived the others too.)
Where I lived then: Beaumaris, Melbourne, VIC
Where I live now: Northern Rivers region, far northern NSW.
Job then: Mother of one baby, born March that year, and one pre-kindergartener born Sept.1967; foster-mother of teenager; carer of dog and cat. Voluntary work as typist for Save Our Sons (a protest movement of mothers against Australian involvement in the Vietnam War).
Job now: Light Worker. (Well rewarded.)
Was I happy then?: Too busy to notice.
Am I happy now?: Well content, with joyous moments. (Have I been happy in between? You bet!)
Kids then: See above. Two young sons, one teenage foster-son living with me, another foster-son by then living elsewhere (but we still claim each other as family).
Kids now: Adults! Including three step-children I didn’t have then. Also several step-grandchildren, mostly girls. (Current beautiful cat is not so much child as friend.)

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Looking for Ordinary

(on being asked to find a section of my life to which the word applies – and failing)


Ordinary, ordinary, ordinary, what is ordinary?

I say I love the ordinary. I say it is there that true importance resides. But when I examine my timeline for a period of life I can characterise as ordinary, there is none. No wonder I cherish the idea! 

It's in me, this lack – I have always been strange, odd, peculiar, different, out of the ordinary. It made for a lonely childhood, an awkward, self-conscious youth, and an uncomfortable adulthood. Confidence and self-acceptance only finally came with the don't-give-a-damn of age, from the late fifties on, my Crone years. 

So ordinary doesn't live in me; neither does it in the events of my life. Magical, poetical child (and youth, and adult). A family with a secret mixed-race heritage that my mother feared being known. When it was known, she had suffered for it; she didn't want that for her children. And we all looked so fair, no-one could tell. 

On the other side, a family with an obscure religion (Swedenborgian) and my father the rebel free-thinker from an early age. Seven children brought up on a tiny island, educated by reading, home-schooled so well that when I was a schoolgirl, my friends assumed my Dad was a University graduate. 

But his family was dirt-poor, and his father a charming alcoholic. It was my strong-minded Grandma who did the teaching. (I have a moment of realising that my own inner determination probably comes from her.) My Dad left school at 14. He had his father's charm (so did my brother) and became a good car salesman. By which I don't mean a shonky one. He loved cars and driving, and was able to impart that to customers and make sure they got what suited them. I guess there's a touch of ordinary – an ordinary job.

And my mother might have seemed like an ordinary housewife. She cooked and cleaned and had afternoon tea with her neighbour wives. But her background hid not only the racial mix (Anglo-Indian) but also bastardry. Daughter of an Anglo-Indian mother – my darling Nana, great love of my earliest years; and great loss, dying when I was only four – and an unknown grandfather, whom much was known of: Scottish, army bureaucrat, with the pointed ears my brother has, and whom we must thank for the fair skin. 

Our cousins, descended from different grandfathers, were fairly dark. My brother said once, after we were grown and knew the truth, about a photo of our cousin Richard with his work-mates: 'There were all these Aussie blokes with this Indian in the middle of them.' (But we couldn't have said that to Richard. Aunty Franki, his mother, my Mum's younger sister, always said the true stories Mum finally told us – which documents, photos, and other extended-family memories bear out – were 'a lot of rubbish'. And never mind their shining black hair, deep brown eyes, and sallow skin.) 

No ordinary adolescence for me, either, alternating between parents; and between Wicked Stepmother and Rich Stepfather. (Well, he seemed rich. Now I'd call it very comfortable. And he was kind.) 

As I got older, and all through life: unusual, even bizarre relationships – with men a lot older, or a lot younger; with unconventional men; with daring, adventurous men. Not the doctors and lawyers, dentists or accountants my elders would have liked me to love. (Oh, how those safe men bored me!) 

A life of jumping sideways. Yes, I did (after a false start) get the well-to-do husband, the nice house in a good suburb, the lovely kids. So long as you didn't look too closely. I did get the university degree – during which, at least I met a few others who didn't fit in. I got the excellent career and rapid advancement – until I threw it away to write poetry full time instead. 

Oh, and there was the nervous breakdown, the two divorces, the eventual widowhood. There were the explorations into personal development and esoterics. The foster-children and the steps. The sister who died when her house burnt down. The son whom I still can hardly bear to mention. 

Ordinary? Everyday? Normal? I can't find a slice of my life that's like that. 

But I start to see that 'ordinary', if not in the main events, is always there in the details. Those are the things I most love to remember about my years with Andrew, husband number three, who died four years ago. 

Yes, I love to recall our adventures in Peru, Italy, Scotland, Nepal ... but, yet more, I cherish moments in front of the telly, or cooking or shopping, playing with our cats, going for walks, reading and eating in bed. 

I cast my mind back, and find this thread of 'ordinary' through all my life. Does anyone live an ordinary life? Maybe for a day or week, surely no longer. But we all have a background of those customary details.

Driving the kids to school. Taking them and some of their team-mates to weekend basketball matches. Eating in the kitchen. Birthday parties with candles in the cake. Watching them grow out of their clothes. Listening to their homework. 

And now, little old widow lady with her cat, putting the washing in the machine, hanging it out on the folding clothesline. Remembering the long lines of wire the length of our backyard lawn when I was a child, propped up by big wooden sticks with forked ends. And the clothes boiled in the copper, fed through the mangle, and finally hung with wooden pegs. All that was ordinary then; normal. And many things I do are ordinary now. 

It's an ordinary Sunday here in suburban Australia. Quiet, almost somnolent except for some neighbouring radios. In younger suburbs there would be lawnmowers blaring, as fathers do the weekend jobs. Here, we are mostly elderly. That stuff happens during the week; we hire men to do it. In all the outward ways, I suppose, I am living an ordinary life.

My wild adventures now are private, unseen by the everyday world. The neighbours see me empty my mailbox, bring in my shopping from the car; sometimes they see me weeding or hosing my plants. My closest friends are aware of the witchy rituals in the back yard at full moon, the energy healing and psychic mediumship; even, some, my indoor altars and the offerings I have on my windowsill for the nature spirits. 

Only my fellow poets can glimpse the wild excitement of choosing words, crafting them. Only my fellow mystics understand the journeys into non-earthly realms, as well as deep penetrations into earthly lives not human. 

I cherish the ordinary – the alive, earthed, cosy, workaday moments; the continuity of an everyday human life. I realise I also cherish all that in earlier days I so often tried to run away from – the light that shines from all things, the beings who guard and guide me, the adventures of mind and heart, the being here. The being here. 


Sunday, 24 July 2016

Jumping Sideways

I'm thinking that's what to call this memoir, if it ever gets written. Because that's what I've done throughout my life. Just when people think they've got me all summed up, I suddenly go off in a different direction. I don't do it for the sake of confounding expectations; it's just where my path takes me. I guess I'm not much motivated by the goals of most people – success in worldly terms – so I don't feel constrained to follow the steps that would lead there. Not that I'm a butterfly either, dipping in and out of things. I go where I'm guided – and it seems that my life was meant to encompass a number of different directions. Poet, librarian, union official, Reiki Master, editor, Tarot reader, professional psychic medium, lecturer in professional writing, witch, teacher of Qabala....  Island dweller, city slicker, traveller, small town/rural.... (Not to mention all the husbands and lovers.)

There was only one time that I did it as an intellectual rather than spiritual choice. That was in a mood of defiance. A woman in the Melbourne Branch of the Poets Union took a dislike to me. I'm still not sure why, but I think she was jealous of my friendships with people she saw as the 'in crowd'. Eventually she became so unpleasant that it was no longer a joy for me to attend the PU meetings. 

'The trouble is,' said Bill, 'You and she both need the Poets Union.' 

'Oh do I?' I thought. 'I don't need anything so badly that I have to put up with being treated like that.' And I resigned immediately – which left me free to accept an invitation that happened to come at the same time, to join a poetry theatre group. Perhaps Spirit was guiding me after all, with a big push. Word of Mouth Poetry Theatre turned out to be one of my most exciting experiences in poetry. 

Anita Sinclair – poet, artist, mask-maker, puppeteer and theatrical presenter – was our director. The others were performance poets Ken Smeaton and Malcolm Brodie. Anita had a performance space called Living Room. We would meet there every Monday, Anita would give us a topic, we'd all think, 'I haven't got any poems about that!' but because they were all archetypes, we'd then go through our work and find we had dozens on that. We'd select, craft a theatre piece around our selections, rehearse all week, and present it on Saturday night, complete with costumes and props. We always played to full houses! We also took some of the shows out to fairs and festivals, or presented them as street theatre.

It was wonderful for its own sake, and the bonus was that it didn't look as if I'd crept away from the Union licking my wounds. Rather, I'd gone on to better things.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Around the Dining Table

Yes, we had one of them when I was growing up – a big, rectangular wooden one – and a dining-room too. 

 The dining-room was in the very centre of the house. One door, a corner door, opened into the kitchen, which was at the back of the house, overlooking the big back yard from high up. On a sloping block, the house was one storey in front, two at the back. Up the hall, at the front of the house, opposite my parents' bedroom, was the lounge-room, with sofa, armchairs and fireplace. 

My little brother's bedroom and mine were in the middle. His opened off the dining-room, and was always called The Sunroom, from a time before there was a little brother, as it got the afternoon sun. It was a playroom for me then, for quiet play involving blocks or coloured pencils, and a sewing room for my mother.

My bedroom was the other side of the house, across the hall. I got the morning sun and the rising moon. I got our next-door neighbours' yellow roses showing above the fence.

The day was fine
With bright sunshine
And as I looked from out the window of my room
I saw a golden rose in bloom

... I wrote when I was eight.

We used all the rooms. Meals were indeed around the dining table. There was no television then, so no eating on laps in front of it – though sometimes on cold nights we might have soup on our knees in the lounge-room, in front of the fire. When Grandpa was staying, which was often, we played word games around that fire. Sometimes we roasted chestnuts. They were special occasions. When, as usual, we sat around the dining table to eat, we played word games there as well.

The bathroom was at the back of the house, behind my bedroom and opposite the kitchen. There was a passage between bathroom and kitchen, across the back of the house, with the big dining-room window looking into it. It was wide enough for a built-in bench where my Dad had his pot-plants. (No, not THAT kind of pot. This was the 1940s.) I remember the primulas most of all: delicate, pretty and profuse.

Alongside the passage, at the very back, under a row of high outside windows, was the stairwell going down to our lower storey. That was only half the length of the upper. It housed a woodshed (also opening onto the outside), the laundry, and a small spare bedroom where Grandpa stayed on his long visits after Nana died.

When other visitors came, more briefly, my brother moved into my big bedroom and the visitors took the sunroom. That was also where Nana used to sleep when she stayed with us before my brother was born ... before she was dead. 

My brother arrived when I was four. That was the other thing, besides my Nana's death, which made four such a crucial year for me – the year when everything changed. He seemed to me pale, miserable and boring, and he took up a lot of my parents' attention. He was born with an extreme squint in one eye, necessitating a longer stay in hospital after the birth, and going back for medical visits later. He had glasses at eight months, the youngest child who had ever been prescribed them at that time – 72 years ago – and possibly since. 

I had been the adored daughter, the firstborn, the focus of all the attention, whether good or bad. Too much attention, my psychiatrist thought, 20 years later. 

I didn't like my little brother. 


The Crime

I was four when my brother came.
Only weeks before that, my Nana –
with her warm, gigantic lap,
her long hair never cut,
her soft brown laughing eyes,
her voice like dark honey –
became quiet and pale and still
and gone, forever gone.

"A death, and then new life,"
I heard a grown-up neighbour say
as if it was a good trade,
as if it was cause to rejoice,
as if we could at least
take some comfort in it.

The babe too was pale.
He came from the same hospital
where she had been, where I last
saw her blanketed in white
and speechless – the hospital
where my mother too disappeared
in a sudden flurry one night
and only my father came back.

But my mother did return. Finally.
She carried this bundle.
Everyone acted glad.
I only stared
at its meaningless face
protruding from the white shawl.

There must have been pleasure
I suppose, for my Mum and Dad.
I remember it cried a lot,
and the way they shrugged
and made helpless faces at each other
in the long nights of wailing
that  nothing would appease …
until exhaustion won.

"Good enough to eat,"
an aunt cooed over the cradle.
And I remember the hot taste of flesh,
my mother screaming behind me:
"You bit your little brother!"
and the purple marks on his arm.

© Rosemary Nissen-Wade 2007 


I didn't like myself either, for doing that. I felt mean and hateful. But I didn't want a brother; I liked the playmates I already had. 

For one thing, there were the nature spirits. That's what I call them now. Then I called them fairies. Most people, I soon found out, didn't see them, or even believe in  them. Or said they didn't – which I in turn found hard to believe, though I only saw them briefly myself; one minute there and the next gone, then back again, then gone again.... By now I have reached the conclusion that they flit back and forth between dimensions. 

They played with me in the garden, naturally. That big back yard was mostly taken up by a huge lawn, and around the edges of that were flowers and bushes as well as some berry vines – raspberries, loganberries, red currants and black currants. Up near the garage at the end of our driveway were some clumps of gooseberries, as well as a big black wattle just right for climbing. I could use the railings of the back fence to start my way up, then almost immediately arrived in a big, comfortable fork in the branches where, all through childhood, I could sit and read my books. Reading was always my favourite thing.

At the far end of the lawn were a rockery with flowering cacti growing among the stones, a stand of (rather small and thin, I now realise) bamboo, some man-ferns, and a trellis summer house. Just the other side of all this was my Dad's veggie garden and strawberry patch. 

There were two great willow trees at opposite sides of the veggie garden. From the one behind the summerhouse hung a swing made of two thick ropes and a flat wooden seat. My Dad made it, and if I was lucky he would come and push me in it. Mostly I swung in it myself, surrounded by long curtains of willow fronds. I swung and dreamed, in a private haven with pale green walls. They were particularly pretty in Spring, when the new leaves were lightest green and tightly curled.

As well as the fairies there were some children who came to visit. Other people couldn't see them, either. They not only joined me in the garden but also in the house. They liked to sit up at the dining table with us, and I was so keen for my mother to set places for them that she did. My parents called them my imaginary friends, when they thought I wasn't listening. 

Sometimes my Dad pretended he could see them. He talked about them as if they were real, and even spoke to them, but it was obvious he was just pretending. He would say things like, 'Maudie's finished her toast,' when we hadn't given her any; or would address a particular chair by name, but it would be the wrong name for the child sitting in it. 

I saw them perfectly well. But now, decades later, I wonder – was it just like physical seeing, or did I perceive it as being ‘in my mind’s eye’? 

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

When Nana Died

Four was the pivotal year in my childhood. It must have been a week or so after my fourth birthday, in November 1943, that my Nana died. I know she died just a couple of months before my little brother was born, in January 1944, because my mother always lamented that fact. 


Dear Nana —

I was just four
when you went to Heaven.
How could you leave me 
so tightened down, 
so shrunk …
so cold my air,
so strange and fogged 
my home garden
in which I wandered
every step uncertain,
missing your held hand
your warm contralto laugh?

I still remember
the songs and tales
in that haven, your lap.
How did you change
to a white lump
in the hospital —
in the high bed
where I could not reach you
and you were so silent?
I hung my head,
gave silence back.

You were Florence,
daughter of Jane
the famous beauty.
My aunts remembered her.
To me, beauty was you —
old fat woman from India.
Your long hair
brushed out for bed 
unfurled like a princess’s
all down your back.
Then you rewound it,
plaited and coiled
as your crown.

I tried to findyour big hotel
on Puri beachfront,
your life before:
the life of the stories.
I travelled all that way —
the other side of the world —
old woman myself by then.
Nana, where were you?
Without your old photos 
from the family album
I couldn’t be sure.

Hotelier, hospital matron,
young mother, wronged lover —
these I knew not.
In the apple orchard
trailed by your dogs,
and the birds lilting,
I place you forever:
in Spreyton, Tasmania.
From the cottage doorway
you smile welcome
– dear Nana.

© Rosemary Nissen-Wade 2006


I loved my Nana more than anyone – and felt more surely loved by her than by anyone else. 

My mother was seven months pregnant with my little brother when Nana died, her grief at the loss of her mother, whom she adored, compounded because Nana hadn't lived long enough to meet her newest grandchild. 

It seems in memory that Mum was mostly in bed during those last weeks before Denis was born, alternately weeping and sleeping. My Dad tiptoed around, preoccupied. When I cried for my Nana being dead, he shushed me quickly, saying, 'You mustn't upset your mother,' and shooed me outside to play.

So I wandered slowly up and down our vast back lawn, not feeling playful. Anyway, my usual playmates (whom I now identify as nature spirits and deceased children) hovered at a respectful distance on this occasion. I was vaguely aware of them in the background, but I had other things on my mind. I needed to brood.

I looked at the ground as I walked, but gradually became conscious of the sky, sensing it as having a quality of aliveness, presence. That was the first time I felt what I describe as 'a white feeling' – having no words to label it more precisely – which has come to me a few more times over the decades since. It happens soon after someone very special to me dies. It is beautifully peaceful, while at the same time clear and aware, and is accompanied by the calm conviction – indeed, I would say knowledge – that the dead person has come to visit me, and is giving me a message. The message is never in words; it's an inner knowing. But I can translate it into words. It says Love, All is well, and Goodbye. 

Sometimes it happens before I know the person has died; then I get the news soon after. It was that way many years later when my friend Fran, who was going through a very troubled time, crashed her car in the early hours one morning and killed herself. An unconscious suicide, I've always thought. I came suddenly awake and sat straight up in bed, both alert and peaceful, my mind full of the idea of her but without any of the concern I'd had for her in the previous weeks. On the contrary, I felt a relaxed happiness. A few hours later came the phone call to say she had died just before the time I woke. That was shocking and distressing despite what I’d experienced, but later the experience was some comfort.

When, some years later again, my dear Aunty Katy went, we knew her death was close but not yet that it had happened, when that feeling came. I was married to Bill then, and Katy knew him well. They were fond of each other. He picked up the feeling too. In this case it was mixed with playfulness, as the curtains fluttered without a breeze, and we almost heard her laughing. Katy had motor-neurone disease late in her life, and hated the restrictions it forced on her. We could tell she was having so much fun as a spirit, with total freedom to move, no physical restrictions at all. Half an hour later, one of my cousins rang to say she'd gone. 

With my Nana, though, I knew she was dead as I walked that lawn, under a sunny sky with sweet white clouds that I didn't want to look at. I wasn't allowed to cry for her, and didn't (until over 40 years later, when another death occasioned so much weeping that it finally triggered that old grief too); instead I felt numb and sullen. I was only a little girl, but we don't think of ourselves as little when we are, do we? We are always as old as we've ever been, and feel as wise and perceptive as anyone. Or was it the not crying that made me feel stolidly adult? 

When the white feeling gently suffused me, as if descending from the sky, it released me. Then I knew my Nana wasn't really gone, even if she wouldn't be with me in the same way she had been. I was assured of her eternal love, from that moment on. 

I told no-one.