(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.

Friday, 26 February 2016

My Secret Vice

Nobody knows, nobody sees,
Nobody knows but me

It probably wasn't always entirely secret, but anyone who ever knew about it is either dead or we long ago lost touch.  Even back then, 60-odd years ago, I didn't confess it to many.

I've just been watching a B-grade movie on telly with a soundtrack that revived it for me yet again.

It's country music – not the great stuff we have now, but the old country music: mournful, self-pitying, and exclusively blokes' music. Except they'd have been called guys, because they were all American back then. Guys like Tex Ritter, Slim Whitman, Hank Williams Jr.

There was a radio program I used to listen to after school, while I was doing my homework. It was called The Hillbilly Hour – because that's what those songs were called then, hillbillies, not country music. Some time later the name changed to country and western. It was a long time before it was just country.

Deep within my heart lies a melody

I was about 12 when I started listening. What was it I liked? Hard to say. And that's odd, because I still like it. You'd think I'd know why. Perhaps it was the sentimentality. And then, those old songs all told stories – usually about love unrequited, or more often betrayed. Honkytonk Angel. Your Cheatin' Heart. Ruby (don't take your love to town). Men betrayed by cruel, faithless women, women who were nevertheless so magnetically desirable that the complaining men could never break free. 

Or maybe it was just the tempo and the twang. With the wonderful Hank, it was his yodel.

Then came the great Frankie Laine, the apotheosis of that era of country music. The stories changed. It was the male protagonists who became the wrongdoers, albeit self-aware. Ghost Riders in the Sky. Cry of the Wild Goose. Jealousy. (Wild Goose was good because it was basically a paean to freedom, and it needed only small adjustments in my mind to make the narrator female.)

I was 15 when my life changed, and I stopped doing my homework to the hillbillies. In my stepmother's house, the radio was in the dim old lounge room used only for company. That kind of music was never heard on it anyway. Homework, which had formerly been quite interesting for a bookish girl like me, must be treated as a grim, silent duty.

Let me fly, let me fly, let me fly away

I don't go out of my way to hear that old country music now, but if I come across it I always stop to listen – and I do own several Frankie Laine albums.

Well, maybe I don't have to explain or justify this strange taste. Maybe it's enough that, for whatever reason, I just plain like it. 

Only I do regard it as a lowbrow taste, and out of character. For music, I otherwise prefer opera and blues. For lyrics, give me Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, even Gershwin. 

And yet, and yet.... 

It gets me every time. It still has that old, mawkish magic for me, all these decades later. I guess it always will.

Oh I can't get you off of my mind


Thursday, 18 February 2016

Fallible Memory

... and the difficulty of writing about real live people.

In my files I found old emails and MySpace messages between Lorenzo and me, but no records of the many msn chats, nor our public comments on each other's MySpace posts. Also missing were those posts themselves, which had a lot to do with our falling in love with each other. It wasn't only the private exchanges, though they certainly cemented it, but also what we wrote to share with the world.

Even so, some of the emails were long. Once I started going through them, I had a lot of reading – before, during and after blogging our love story here. Though I reported our initial messages verbatim, some other things turned out to be worded a little differently than I'd remembered, e.g. he spoke of older people who might know things rather than 'having a clue'. (But maybe the wording I thought I recalled was somewhere in the missing messages.)

One thing which was much more complex than my recollection of it was the Reiki episode (teaching him long-distance). So I took that out of the blog story altogether. I realised that in any case it wasn't an essential part of that account. 

I at first wrote that we were 'frequently impolite.' I changed it to 'sometimes'. Though it's true there were some hilarious insults and no forbidden words or topics, re-reading the emails I realised that we were in fact very courteous with each other, and careful to address that thing of online communications being easy to misunderstand. 

I didn't want to quote too much of our private conversations; that would feel like a betrayal, a violation. So I feel I am left with an account which tells rather than shows. But so it must be. Writing about real, living people is very tricky as to how much to disclose, particularly when you haven't asked permission. 'Lorenzo' is a pseudonym of course, but it was one he used a lot at that time, known to his friends though not to the world at large.

It's fascinating to me that people seem enchanted by my story, even though it breaks the famous 'show, don't tell' rule. 

I had thought of interspersing the account with poetry. But, after all, I can't share all the poems I wrote to / for / about him at that time. Some of them use his name, and to alter it would muck up things like rhythm and cadence.  (There is also the fact that most of them weren't very good poems!)

And then, without the whole context of our communications, some of the poems would sound over-the-top in their protestations of affection. Although it was platonic, it was also romantic. I have a horror of appearing like a silly old fool. 

When all's said and done, no matter how truthful everyone may think they are being, no-one can really know what goes on between two people, except those two people.

(That last is almost a quote from Downton Abbey. Back in those days, he and I would both have fallen about laughing at the idea of taking anything from such a show seriously. Nowadays I enjoy watching it, and not for satirical reasons.)

Monday, 15 February 2016

Love Knows No Barriers

You've heard that before, of course. But I mean REALLY.

(It's Valentine's day, so my thoughts turn to love. I don't hanker for a new man to sweeten my ageing; I have been lucky enough to experience all the kinds of love I could possibly want already. However, it's pleasant to reminisce.)

One of my most memorable, delightful, though inevitably temporary relationships was a platonic yet intense love affair with a teenage boy who identified as gay (though I think he later realised he was bisexual). Unlike my non-platonic lovers, he even wrote me haiku for Valentine's Day.

I myself was no teenager at the time, but already in my sixties. Harold and Maude, you think? Not a bit of it. Neither of us was so isolated or needy; and we weren't 'in love' like that ... although we were quite besotted with each other for a while.

We never actually met in person. He found me on MySpace in its good old days which I still lament, before facebook, and before it got sold and ruined. I'm still bitter about that ... but I digress.

Out of the blue he sent me a private message saying:

Subject: You in all your glory.

I have no idea why, but I find you completely and utterly fascinating, engaging and generally brilliant.

Yours,
Lorenzo

(The subject line referred to a photo of me in a spectacular purple 'Goddess gown', which I'd just posted.)

Naturally I was intrigued. I looked him up, found out his age, that he lived in a very conservative place where I'd spent some of my childhood, that his interests were artistic, literary and political, he was obviously very smart intellectually, and outrageous in ways that I warmed to (épater les bourgeoisie, you might say).  So I sent a reply:

But of course. *Smirk.*

And thank you!

How does [your home town] cope with you?

Back came:

Haha, it must be your highly emotive writing style that does it for me.
[Home town] doesn't cope with me, it tolerates me and waits for the day when I board the plane to elsewhere...
:-)

And so we were away, sharing life stories, present circumstances, and views on all manner of things. I have just been looking back over our old emails and am surprised by what long, philosophical exchanges we often had. We even waxed somewhat flirtatious – except that it wasn't, of course, a sexual thing but a meeting of minds.

It was 2006. I had just come back from a visit overseas. I'd left behind an unexpected new love with whom I believed there would be no further developments. That was very much a sexual attraction but there was no thought of it interfering with my marriage, my most important relationship and until that point my only relationship for the previous 14 years. Still, I was doing some readjusting. Also Andrew was very busy with a writing project just then. Lorenzo perhaps filled a need.

I perhaps filled one for him, but I don't know if or what. He told me much later that he had wanted to see if any older people 'had a clue', and when he came across my posts among Australian MySpace users, he thought I might. He'd been favouriting my posts for some months before he got in touch. Whatever, we just clicked. We didn't think it was a soul-mate thing; we thought it was a great, if surprising friendship. We had lots of fun via email, Messenger and MySpace. We could be wicked with each other.

Someone once suggested I was being scammed. Not a chance. He was part of a group of friends on MySpace, most of whom were his schoolmates. Others were in his local gay community. I was able to read all their interactions on the site. You couldn't possibly fake anything so elaborately! Besides, why perpetrate an elaborate scam on an Old Age Pensioner? I guess it was pretty obvious my profile wasn't a fake either. I was there mainly to interact with other poets, which is what I did, with high visibility. (Many who are now my friends on facebook first found me there.)

One thing that created a bond was a shared sense of humour. We both loved the quirky, the ridiculous, the satirical, even the downright obscene so long as it was witty.

We swapped notes about books. (Both were devoted to Terry Pratchett's Discworld). He educated me about anime, and Japanese pornography, as well as some finer points of internet use such as the vast range of emoticons available. I was very new to the online world then.

He wasn't a poet, in fact disliked most poetry, but sent me a copy of one he'd encountered at school which he did like. He was impressed by one of mine, The Sword of Archangel Michael. He was an advanced student of Aikido, and he thought my poem 'got it' exactly, despite being metaphorical.

The Sword of Archangel Michael

The sword glows
in my right hand.
My arm swings from the shoulder
wielding blue flame:
sharp light, the cut of truth.

Precise moves.
Economy.  Bite.
These are the qualities.
These and blue light —
a laser that heals where it touches.

In the beginning
the word.
The word true,
the word precise,
the word deliberately aimed.

It cuts to the heart,
my sword in flight.
From the heart of God
to the point of now
exactly aimed,
quick light.

                                      © Rosemary Nissen-Wade 2001  
First published Divan (e-zine) issue 4, Dec. 2001. Also in Secret Leopard: New                                       and selected poems 1974-2005, Alyscamps Press (Paris) 2005

He tried haiku for a little while, because I was running a haiku group on MySpace. He wrote them beautifully but never got hooked. But it was a way of sending each other coded messages. It wasn't a secret friendship, but we were instinctively secretive about its real closeness. Who could possibly understand it, after all? We hardly did, ourselves.

It was on a completely equal basis. Age, gender, sexual preferences, geography, lifestyles ... none of that was relevant. We teased each other a lot, and were sometimes impolite, but never condescended to each other.

We had shared values, both societal and on the deepest levels. We didn't disclose other people's secrets, only our own, but with that proviso we could tell each other anything. We were open about all aspects of ourselves; it felt easy and natural. At times each of us was moved to tears to find another who understood us so well.

He wrote me a letter by hand, scanned it and attached it to an email, so I could see his real writing.

He featured in some of my poems.

We showered each other with endearments. We had special nicknames for each other.

At times I got a bit silly. Late one night I responded in kind to some jokey MySpace exchanges between him and friends his own age. For a minute there, I was right in that teenage mindset. I came to my senses – his friends didn't know me as he did; to them I was some old lady. I emailed him to please delete those particular comments of mine forthwith, before anyone else saw them. 'I forget myself,' I said. He complied without remark, always understanding perfectly, always kind-hearted.

At one stage I became convinced he was the reincarnation of a long-lost friend I thought had died – who later turned out to be very much alive after all. He was basically sceptical about spiritual matters anyway, but longed to be proven wrong. I suppose this episode hardly confirmed that I 'had a clue', but he never said so.

It couldn't last. He grew up and left school, travelled, got work, had real love affairs with in-the-flesh people. I grew older, and became my husband's carer as his health deteriorated. My young friend didn't understand that I couldn't be calmly philosophical about that situation; or maybe was just at a loss how to react. We were no longer so much on the same wave-length. Gradually our contact dwindled.

Once, many months later, I received a brief email calling me by a favourite nickname and saying, 'I miss you'. I treasured it. I missed him as well. But I was run off my feet at the time and didn't reply immediately. Eventually I said, 'I miss you too.' No response. Perhaps we both knew that what we missed was already past.

Many months later again, I found him on facebook and he accepted a friend request. But it was different; our concerns no longer overlapped. He was largely unresponsive to my posts or comments. That was already a long time ago. I don't think he's even on facebook any more. We are no longer in each other's lives; we know nothing of what is going on with the other. And that's actually fine.

It was what it was. There would be no point in trying to create anything beyond that, even if either of us wished to try. It's clear we don't. Nearly10 years have passed. We are not who we were.

But it was a magical interlude. Indeed, I think he kept me sane during a period of my life that was difficult and stressful in other ways. The hilarious late-night exchanges were an antidote.

I love the memory of who we both were at the time we connected, and I love the memory of that connection: delicious, crazy, yet superbly sane.

Love was certainly declared.  It was an unusual love but true, and I still find it affirming.

There is no heartbreak; there is sweet nostalgia. And something deep that doesn't die.

For both of us, while it lasted, it was a source of joy.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Process: Procrastinating

So  many people vowed excitedly to read every excerpt. But what excerpts? Hasn't been happening. My dear friend Helen urged me at the start of the year to begin in earnest. 'Oh all right', I half-joked ... and did nothing. Then she and another friend sent me things about writing every week. Good heavens! Discipline. Commitment. Scary stuff.

Not a problem with poetry, of course. Poetry is my love, my breath of life, my thing I can't not do.  And it can and does happen any time or anywhere.

But I do kinda want to do the memoir. It started tugging at me a little.

Aha – a strategy! A once-a-week date with myself to go out and write. Getting out of the house, where it is too easy to find distractions. Going with the purpose of memoir writing.

I could do it on my beloved iPad, of course. But I want something which reminds me I am SERIOUS about this. (And there are many distractions on a tablet, too.)

So here I am with my even more beloved new 13-inch MacBook Air that my son bought me last month. It's small and light enough to carry in a shoulder-bag. And it doesn't take up the whole damn table, like my old laptop.

I am at Cenzo Café, as usual the only café in town open on a Sunday afternoon. (This is a small rural town.) Even they will close the kitchen soon, at 3pm., but will still be serving coffee and cakes a while longer. I have had my coffee and cake already, to buy my table.

It was very busy here when I arrived, busier than usual. Because of Valentine's Day? That, and being the only option. Luckily their food and coffee are both good.

One of my favourite ways of procrastinating over my writing is to write instead about my writing process. I have just done it again. But Valentine's Day gives me an opening for real journalling: writing about love.

Next post coming up!