Writing this, I am beginning to realise I've had an eventful life. I wouldn't have had it any other way, but it's startling to perceive just how packed with incident it has been – particularly in those Three Bridges years. Some of these events held the seeds of the new life that was to come for me. The adventures into Reiki and professional Tarot reading, for instance, and the work with the Andronicus Foundation and the Master Game. Also, some strikingly important friendships began at that time.
Denise, who had contacted us via the Andronicus Foundation, became a close friend. She learned Reiki I and II from Ann in classes held at our house. Eventually, heavily pregnant, she phoned one night to say that her partner, who had a drinking problem, had turned violent. Could Bill come and get her and her son Luke? He did, and she came to live with us. We had plenty of room. After her baby daughter was born – by emergency Caesarian, with me as Denise's support person, giving her Reiki throughout – they all continued to live with us for a time. When we tuned in to this babe, before and after her birth, Denise and I both got that she had incarnated to be with both her mother and me. It was mostly to be with her mother, but apparently there were things she would learn from me. (When we did some past life regression work, it appeared that Denise had been my daughter in a Scottish lifetime, a long time ago.)
At this point, let me backtrack to my friendship with Ridge, and a time when he 'saw' certain figures around me, dressed in shining robes. One, a female, spoke to him telepathically and told him I knew them, had known them all my life. He asked for her name, and said she showed him a coin, a very bright, shiny coin. 'Penny?' he wondered aloud, then said, 'No, it's silver.' Suddenly I knew.
'Sylvie!' I shouted. That was the name of one of my 'imaginary playmates' from when I was little. Then I remembered them all: Sylvie and Maudie had been my closest friends of the group, but there were others. I particularly recalled a long-legged boy named Andy. Ridge said they were spirits of children who had died, and that they must have grown along with me. As an adult looking back, I realised their clothing as children (not shining robes then) indicated different historical eras and social classes. They were all English-speaking, which makes sense as I wouldn't have been able to talk with them otherwise. It seemed they must have been assigned, as guardian angels.
Fast forward to Denise and her new baby. One afternoon she was in their bedroom, the baby asleep in her bassinet and Denise sitting beside her doing 'absent Reiki'. Not that the baby was ill, but Reiki is not only for treating illness; it enhances wellbeing in general. Obviously the baby was present in the room, not absent, but using that method meant Denise didn't have to disturb her sleep. Reiki II, the technique for 'absent healing', allows for telepathic contact with the client; useful in many circumstances, including when treating an infant too young to talk.
I was in the living room. Denise suddenly called out, 'Was there ever a TV show called The Mavis Bramston Show?'
'There sure was!' I said. 'I always used to watch it.'
Denise said, 'This baby is telling me she used to watch it with you!'
The Mavis Bramston Show was a wonderful Australian satirical comedy show which aired from 1964 to 1968. Denise had obviously never heard of it, which is not surprising as she was probably not even born at the time, or at most would have been a very young child. The year of this conversation was 1991.
We both assumed that the baby must have had a past incarnation with me. Yet that didn't quite fit. I watched the Mavis Bramston Show with my immediate family, not usually anyone else. Denise then tried asking telepathically what the baby's name was when she used to watch it with me.
She said, 'I can't quite get it. Oh, wait a minute, she's trying to show me. I'm getting an image of a shiny coin. Penny? No, it's silver...'
'Oh my God,' I said, 'Sylvie! She's my imaginary friend come back to life.' Then I had to explain to Denise about the so-called imaginary friends, and the conversation with Ridge, so like the one I'd just had with her. While we were still gob-smacked about that, she added,
'She's telling me that she used to help you write your poetry.'
'That was HER?' I said. I remembered times when I was writing late at night, and felt a presence looking over my shoulder, taking an interest. It even seemed this being was making occasional suggestions. I once tried to ask who it was, and thought I got the name Sylvia. I was right into Sylvia Plath at that time, and dared hope the great Sylvia was mentoring me from Beyond. But of course Sylvie would be an affectionate version of Sylvia.
Denise found a place for herself and her family when the baby got a little older, but the friendship continued for many years, in various places, as we both moved house several times. There was a time we shared a house, when her daughter (my god-daughter) was 12. The girl asked me to teach her magic, so I gave after-school lessons to her and a school friend, with parents' permission.
Denise died too young, from cancer, some years ago. Her daughter has come through the loss of her mother at a young age to become a beautiful, strong young woman. She loves animals, the outdoors and travel, shows no great interest in poetry, and is in a relationship with a fine young man. Recently they visited me and I finally told her the story of her birth, and of her time with me as Sylvie, my friend in spirit. Denise was psychic, also she eventually trained as a Reiki Master; so her daughter, who had grown up with all that, was able to deal with this kind of information.
She was actually the second god-daughter I acquired in those years.
It was while I was teaching at Box Hill TAFE that my friend Jennie Fraine was running a poetry workshop and used my first book of poetry, UNIVERSE CAT, as a teaching aid. One of the students fell in love with the title poem:
I AM the cat
with silent eyes
I mark the fall of the leaf
and the grasses glistening
I listen to life
and both together breathe.
I sleep in the warm
I am tied to the loves of my house.
I come untied.
Wild in hail or rain
electric to thunder
voluptuous for sun
I am chameleon
old wise woman
the child on your lap
I am a universe.
© Rosemary Nissen-Wade 1981
from Universe Cat, Pariah Press (Melb.) 1985
First published Luna
Also in Secret Leopard: new and selected poems 1974-2005
(Paris, Alyscamps Press, 2006)
She was a cat lover, of course. She asked Jennie if she could have my address to write and tell me how much she liked the poem. Jennie didn't think I'd mind. She thought, quite correctly, that I'd be thrilled. And so Helen Patrice wrote me my first (and to date only) fan letter about poetry. It was charming, she included a terrific cat poem of her own, and of course I wrote back to thank her. I met her in person when Jennie invited me to her group as a guest workshopper. Helen and I were something of a disappointment to each other, we found out many years later. She couldn't believe this plumpish lady in late middle age had written all those fiery, uninhibited poems. I couldn't believe this meek, mousy little girl hardly out of school was the strong, frank, charming letter-writer.
I don't recall how we got past that, and why we stayed in touch, but we did, via letters and phone calls. (This was before we all had personal computers, and used emails.) I guess we had so much in common that we could dismiss the superficialities. Besides our shared passion for cats and writing, we were both starting out as professional Tarot readers, and we had similar literary tastes, socio-political views and senses of humour. As Helen once said, we ‘get’ each other at very deep levels. Somewhere along the way we became ‘best friends forever’ despite a roughly 20-year age gap, and she is still very much in my life
She was newly engaged to her first husband when we met, and was married soon after. Her daughter Susan, my first god-daughter (now herself a mother of three) was born late 1989 and her son David, my god-son, mid-1992. There were visits back and forth during those years, Helen came and stayed with us for a brief ‘retreat’ at one time, and in 1991 she did Levels I and II Reiki in Ann’s classes at Three Bridges. We practised our Tarot readings on each other, and read and critiqued some of each other’s writings.
Both her children were born profoundly deaf, which demands a big commitment on the part of parents, e.g. managing and constantly cleaning the complex hearing aids required. Helen recently reminded me:
‘With me drowning in oceans of nappies and hearing aids, you suggested, in a letter, that I write small poems to keep my writing alive.’
I think she’d have found a way anyhow, but as she’s one of my favourite writers I’m glad for whatever part I’ve played.
I’ve mentioned the writing workshops I held in the local community. After they finished, I became inspired to run a one-day writing event for poets, and invited some old cronies from Melbourne. That was before I knew Helen, but Jennie Fraine attended. So did a young woman called Leah Kaminsky, a poet and fiction writer, whom I hadn't previously met. A mutual friend asked me to invite her, feeling she needed that kind of contact.
We all had a great day, and Jennie and I so clicked with Leah (whom Jennie hadn’t met before either) that we arranged to get together again, just the three of us. Not only were we very much on the same wavelength as women and writers, we were all graduates of powerful self-development courses with an organisation now known as Landmark Education. This had given us increased ability to confront things, complete things, maintain commitment and integrity, and stand for whatever we intended to accomplish. It also meant that we could communicate from that shared background, without having to explain the concepts to each other. It was a great basis for encouraging each other’s writing.
We began to meet regularly at each other’s homes to eat lunch, write together into the afternoon, and encourage each other’s projects. This in itself was quite a commitment, as Leah lived in a Melbourne suburb, I was up in the hills out of Melbourne, and Jennie was outside Melbourne in a different direction, on the Peninsula. So we took it in turns whose home we used, and only two of us at a time had to travel long distances. Later we found a school vaguely in the middle, willing to let us use a room in return for doing some poetry workshops with the students. (To the best of my recollection, Jennie, who was was already working with schools in that way, fulfilled this commitment on behalf of us all.)
This association continued for many years. We soon named ourselves the WIGs, short for Withhold Identification Group, as we discerned that when there was something not working in our writing, it usually involved some kind of withhold. We still sometimes address each other as 'Wiggie'. We also became inspired by Natalie Goldberg’s book, WRITING DOWN THE BONES. It was then a new publication which Jennie discovered on a trip to America, and she brought back copies for us all. Some little time later Leah visited America and brought us back the just-published sequel, WILD MIND. We christened Ms Goldberg 'Saint Nat' amongst ourselves, and adopted her ‘timed writing’ practice henceforth.
Eventually Leah got married to an Israeli and went to live in Israel; Jennie, who already had a young son, got pregnant (with my third god-daughter, as it turned out); Bill and I broke up ... (more of this anon). Through these and many other adventures, including a time Jennie lived and worked in New Zealand, we stayed in touch – by email, eventually – and continued to write together on designated days, in our respective countries. We shared the results by email.
A New Alliance for Bill
Rewind to Three Bridges. I started teaching the Poetry section of the Professional Writing Course at Box Hill TAFE in 1989. Some time during that year we invited class members and the Head of Department, Izzy, a brilliant woman whom we all loved, to come to Three Bridges for a writing weekend. By then I had a lot of innovative and fun ways of sparking pieces of writing. Later Izzy pointed out an ad for something similar at a country venue, for which a fee was being charged, and said, ‘You could have made money!’ But we did it for the enjoyment.
I think people brought food to share, and their own bedding. We had enough rooms, beds, couches and bits of floor. We gave two students who were a couple a room to themselves, and another to a single mum who had to bring her little daughter.
Bill really clicked with this young woman and her little girl. I thought nothing of it. He was a very paternal man who usually related well to kids, and we had always thought it perfectly possible to have platonic friendships with people of the opposite sex without endangering the marriage.
But the years at Three Bridges gradually eroded our marriage. I continued to work at Box Hill, and we maintained friendships with a number of my students from those years, even after they graduated from my classes. Bill’s friendship with (let's call her) Annette was a bit different, though.
Gradually it became more of a friendship between him and her, excluding me. I still didn't pay much attention to that. I was busy with my various interests and commitments. If Bill happened to bump into Annette somewhere and they had a cuppa, or if she was moving house and he was helping her shift furniture, so what? She was a single mum with a young child; we had both always helped people when we could. It was only later that I realised it’s a bit strange when you rush home from work, shower, and change into your good clothes in order to go and help someone shift furniture!
After we split, they did have a very close friendship, and went out on what looked like dates. But she was in the ‘off’ of an off-and-on romance with someone else, whom she eventually went back to and they have been together ever since. She invited me out for coffee one day, I accepted from curiosity, and she assured me there had never been anything sexual between her and Bill. I didn't contradict her – but it wasn't what Bill had confided to others, who saw no reason not to tell me, since we were split up by then and I wasn't pining.
However, Annette was not the ostensible cause of our break-up when it finally happened, though I’m sure the thought of what might be possible with her gave Bill some secret impetus. The official catalyst was my Reiki Master training.