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Future Unfolding October 18, 2009

Posted by Anna in Exercises.
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Writing prompt: “Your future starts here.”

 

‘Your future starts here.’

Really?

I toss the scrap of paper from inside the fortune cookie across the table and let my friends get all excited about who got what inside their little, sweet, baked and shaped wafer cookie.

Ah! Fortune cookie never wrong! No idea what that quote is from, but I vaguely remember that it’s famous. Maybe it was a line from a television commercial or something. Who knows?

In this case, however, I seriously believe that the writer of fortune cookie proclamations was having a bad hair day. It’s kind of a stupid statement, isn’t it? Your future starts here.

The future doesn’t have a beginning and an end. It doesn’t stop and start. My future wasn’t on hold when I walked into the Chinese restaurant tonight to have dinner with friends, any more than it leapt off a cliff and committed hari kari when Steve walked out of the church in the middle of our wedding ceremony last year. I nearly performed the ceremonial suicide in reaction to the utter humiliation of what happened, but my future didn’t. It continued to unfold, moment by moment, one day at a time.

In the darkness and despair of the moments, hours, and even months that followed the disappearance of Steve’s cowardly carcass down that beribboned and flower-festooned aisle, I did seriously ponder the failures of my life. I did wonder if the world wouldn’t be better off without me after all. It’s been the message of my life, really. Siblings bemoaning their diminished quality of life because of my existence. Parents sighing their displeasure at the failure of my life to glorify them before their friends. Steve’s flight to freedom no clearer statement of his belief that his life would be richer without me.

It would have been really easy to allow all that rejection to dance itself into a ceremonial frenzy in my head, until it was so powerful that I had no choice but to shed my own blood as the only worthy sacrifice in homage to the truth of it.

But.

Three little letters.

B is for Bullshit.
U is for Utter Drivel.
T is for Total, Absolute, Downright LIE.

Even worse than the fortunes inside Chinese baked goods.

When it comes down to it, it really doesn’t matter who else does or doesn’t value my life. All that matters is that I do.

That horrendous day last year, with the priest hyperventilating with shock, my bridesmaids wailing their dismay on my behalf, my father fuming at all the money he’d wasted, my mother wringing her hands and my siblings telling each other that they’d told each other so, Steve actually did me a huge favour.

I didn’t get to say “I do” to the bloke I’d thought of as the man of my dreams for so long. Instead, I got to face things that I’d believed about myself: that I wasn’t worth anything; that I was a waste of space; that I contributed nothing to anybody’s life of any value … the list went on for quite some time.

Moment by moment, though, the mists cleared, my breathing resumed, and the sun came up. It wasn’t a single moment, it was just an unfolding – like the slow unfurling of a red carpet inviting those who choose Living to live – to take another step, to investigate more broadly, explore deeper, move further away from all that poisons.

So there was no formal “I do” to a man. So what? Instead, there was a smiling acknowledgement, a quiet agreement of “I do” to myself. I do believe that I’m a worthwhile human being. I do believe that I am worth knowing. I do believe that I contribute, both to society and the relationships in my immediate life. Most of all, I do believe that my life is worth living.

“Mandy!” my friend Imogen exclaims. “Was this yours? What do you think? Your future starts here.”

I laugh across the table at her. “Yes, but does it start now, because you read it out loud, or did it start five minutes ago when I read it to myself?”

Imogen’s boyfriend Greg laughs at the consternation that my question provokes, particularly amongst my girlfriends. He leans across the table and says to me, “Would you consider going out with my mate Jack? I reckon you and he would get along like a house on fire.”

It’s funny, but nothing could have surprised me further. “Thanks, but no thanks,” I hear myself saying to Greg. “I’m really just enjoying being me at the moment. I don’t really want to date anyone right now.”

It’s a good feeling, that. Knowing that you like who you are, and that you have every right to step along with your future in the way and at the pace that seems right to you. A very good feeling indeed.

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Back in the Day October 12, 2009

Posted by Anna in Exercises.
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Writing prompt: “In those days …”

 

In those days Gina walked a lot. She walked from home to the bus stop, from the bus to the train, and from the train station up the hill to work. Occasionally she caught the bus for the last leg of the journey – when it was raining or she was just tired – but mostly she walked.

Those were the days when she went home to an empty flat, cooked a small meal just for one, and pondered the inconvenience of having a cat. She never took the plunge and bought one, though. She liked her independence.

Then came the days of being a newlywed, walking the stretches between public transport to and from work, but also walking hand in hand with Paul through parks and on beaches, or even walking holidays through bush land with packs on their backs. They’d discovered so much in those days, as much about each other as about the countryside and the forests and the cities.

Of course, parenthood followed, and walking was replaced by running. Running behind a pram, running behind a slippery toddler, running around after a thousand schedules, running kids to ballet and football and drama classes and shopping trips and interviews and jobs. She certainly hadn’t put on any weight during her full-time mothering years – she’d been too busy!

These days were different, though. They’d moved from their busy city life to ‘retirement’ in the country. Paul had his longed-for back shed, where he could play with model planes, and a paddock where he could fly them. Gina didn’t.

Gina didn’t have her children, or her grandchildren, or her friends, or her committees. She just had Paul. Who was already happily occupied. She had a lovely home, and a very beautiful garden, but still she felt empty.

That’s when the weight began to creep onto her hips, and her thighs, and her arms – oh dear Lord, those arms! Gina heard Oprah call them ‘angel wings’, but to her, they were ‘bat wings’. That’s what she felt like – a cranky, ugly, fat old bat.

Of course she tried to talk to Paul about it, because they’d always talked about everything. It wasn’t very useful, though, because now, without the pressures of work and children and juggling finances, he didn’t have distractions to keep his head out of his models, so that’s what he thought about pretty much all the time.

Gina wailed about the loss of the old days – the children growing up and getting their own lives, the grandchildren not needing her, the committees replacing her easily, the friends who still caught up without her.

Paul did pat her hand and nod sympathetically, but all he said was, “These days are not those days, Gina. These days are these days.”

She watched him head back out to his shed, anger welling inside her so that she didn’t know whether to scream at him or cry. Instead, she had a flashback. She and Paul had had almost the very same discussion when she’d first given up her job towards the end of the first pregnancy. She was bored and lonely then, too, and he’d pointed out that she had to figure out how to make this phase of her life work. Just like he was doing now.

Gina knew she was a go-getter. She always had been. She wasn’t a wallower, and she wouldn’t allow herself to be now, either. It took her a few days, but the next time they drove into town, Gina pinned a brightly coloured notice to the community board outside the supermarket.

GRANNY’S WALKING CLUB  the heading proclaimed. Beneath, Gina elaborated. New to the area granny would love regular guided walking tours with other local grannies, or if you’re like me and you haven’t yet discovered the hidden treasures of this wondrous part of the planet, come with me and let’s do it together. Coffee and cake afterwards, my place, your place, or the café in town. Of course she put her name and phone number too, and by the time she and Paul got home with their groceries, there were already three messages on the answering machine.

Gina’s club became a regular thing, and it wasn’t long before half a dozen grannies or more knew that when Gina was just a young woman she’d loved walking, and those days had sowed the seed for the camaraderie and laughter that they were now starting to share together.

The Grannies Walking Club proved to be the beginnings of some very beautiful friendships indeed. Oh, and fitter grannies too, although their shared enjoyment of cakes didn’t do much do diminish any waistlines.

Call Me Names October 12, 2009

Posted by Anna in Exercises.
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Writing Prompt: “Names”

 

Names? Oh, I could call you some names, let me tell you! None of them would be polite enough for mixed company, though, so I’ll maintain at least some sense of dignity and restrain myself. You might not think I’m quite up to your standard, but thankfully Your Standard isn’t the one I’m striving for.

Now your attitudes – well for them, I have names. Supercillious. Pompous. Patronising. Condescending. Oh, there are others too, but for the sake of dignity again, I won’t utter those. They would most likely cross the line between reaction against how you are and instead attack who you are. That wouldn’t be right. To my mind, there is a big difference between how a person is and who they are.

Which brings us to the real issue here, doesn’t it? What a person likes. You don’t like that I don’t like the same things you do. If you find a similarity, you praise me because I’m ‘growing’. What you mean is, that I’m becoming more like you. Not something I have as a personal goal, I’m afraid. In all those myriad areas where we are disparate, you condemn me for being wicked and wrong. In fact, I am only different. From you.

To my mind, who a person is speaks of their core being – their beliefs, their morals, their conscience. How a person is, though, is the external working of those internals. Sometimes the conveyance of our inner workings reveals truth and justice, and sometimes it reveals our confusion or presumption about life. What a person likes, however, is just personal taste – nothing more, nothing less. That side of me is no more your business than that side of you is any of mine.

‘Respect.’ Now there’s a word I like. The dictionary defines it as: esteem for, or a sense of, the worth or excellence of a person. That accurately names the attitude I think every human being longs to receive from another. The same attitude that every human kicks against the lack of. We all want our inner worth or excellence to be recognised and esteemed, and we are unfailingly hurt or angry when it is not.

All this pondering has become oppressive to me – moreso, the more I ruminate. Recognising that you really don’t have any respect for what I like or how I am, let alone who I am – well, that’s just made me angry all over again. I don’t want to be angry with you. I have considered you my friend. I have loved you – recognised our differences and rejoiced at the patchwork of diversity that weaves itself together somehow to make life into a rich and beautiful place.

I don’t like the taste of this thing, you know. It’s bitter, and I don’t want that on the inside of me.

There is a Sanctuary – a place I go when I am hurt and despised – and in that place, miracles do happen. They aren’t instant, because there are no quick fixes in life, but they do happen. In this place, this Sanctuary, I can spread my anguish, my disappointment, my devastation out to be examined. As I expose my grief, there is a flood of empathy. I am no longer alone. I am surrounded by love, acceptance and forgiveness that is powerful and real.

When I emerge, nothing is changed between you and me, but my pain has somewhat subsided. Who I am is intact and affirmed. How I am, I’m sure, will continue to bumble along, sometimes wise, sometimes foolish. What I like and what I don’t like will continue to displease many others, probably most of all you. Because I do not aspire to become like you. It wouldn’t be healthy if I did. And thereby hangs a tale.

If the name you ascribe to yourself is ‘Perfect’, then you and I will not stay friends. I am not perfect, and I know that this side of Kingdom Come at least, I won’t be. The name I choose to ascribe to myself is ‘Maturing’. Better today than I was yesterday. More tomorrow than I am today.

A friendship cannot survive if one person assumes superiority over another. The one I call my Friend is one who loves me and is at peace with who I am. Whether that is you or not is a choice only you can make. I will happily wear the name Friend for you, if you can accept me as I am. If you can’t, I will love you still, but only from a distance.

My Fair Lady September 22, 2009

Posted by Anna in Free Range Ideas.
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After completing this week’s writing exercise, I had another idea floating around in my head. I wasn’t going to post it to the blog because it’s so long, but then I kinda wanted some feedback, too. It will make most sense to those who are familiar with the musical “My Fair Lady.”

 

Slouched at the breakfast table, Lizzi hunched more protectively over her bowl of cereal as her brothers and their mate slouched into the room. They’d already been out in the front yard, working on the Monaro’s engine before the summer heat became unbearable for the day.

Paul, the eldest, went to the pantry and started handing out boxes of cereal to his mate Chook, who put them on the table opposite to where Lizzi was huddled. Trent got the bowls and flicked on the kettle, while Bevan, his twin, got the spoons out of the drawer and the milk from the fridge.

“How’s the princess this morning?” Trent enquired with a private grin as one by one the boys got seated at the table and began piling their bowls with muesli, rice bubbles, Weeties and cornflakes.

Lizzi glanced up at him, glowering. “I’m not a princess.”

“You sure looked like one last night,” Bevan pointed out, exchanging a wink with Trent.

She had looked beautiful, heading off to her Year 12 formal with her hair all done and in a dress it had taken her six months to save up for. Coming home, though, easing quietly through the front door after 2am, well after the curfew her father had given her, the four boys had seen for themselves how dishevelled she looked.

“Must’ve got lucky,” Paul had grunted, giving Chook a nudge beside him on the lounge, where they waited for the twins to hand over the game controllers for the Playstation game the four of them were playing.

Lizzi didn’t reply to Bevan’s breakfast comments. She knew very well that anything she said would elicit teasing. They couldn’t help themselves, and she just wasn’t in the mood. Gulping down the last of the milk direct from her bowl, she flung herself away from the table, put her bowl and spoon in the dishwasher, and just about ran out of the room to hide away under the comforting deluge of the shower.

The four older boys all exchanged dramatised glances, arching their eyebrows at each other and widening their eyes, spoons all poised somewhere between bowls and mouths. It was their cue.

“What in all of heaven could’ve prompted her to go?” Paul asked, his tone conveying shocked amazement.

“After such a triumph at the ball!” Bevan confirmed, his own voice full of petulant dismay.

“What could’ve depressed her?” Trent enquired with mock concern.

“What could’ve possessed her?” Chook echoed, understanding that he was required to play along with this, and knowing the musical lyrics as well as Lizzi’s brothers did.

“I cannot understand the wretch at all!” the three Peirce sons chorused in pretend justified indignation.

This kind of scenario had been played out over and over again in the Peirce household since Lizzi was in Year 8 at high school. The twins were in Year 9, and Paul and Chook were in Year 10. Every student was required to try out for a part in the school play that year, and Mrs Peirce had dropped them all off at the auditorium together, for the M to R auditions.

When she got to the Peirce teenagers, Mrs Delahunty took great delight in calling out ‘Eliza Peirce!’, which always made Lizzi cringe. Lizzi just about cried when the teacher insisted on calling her ‘Eliza Dolittle’ and even though she really wanted the lead role, she sang off key because she was so nervous as a result of the teasing.

When she got to Chook, Mrs Delahunty of course refused to use his nickname to demand that Henry Pickering present himself on stage. It was quite lost to her that ‘Chook’ was the right thing to call him – Henry, Hen, Chook – it made perfect sense to all his mates.

“What a shame your surname isn’t Higgins, Mr Pickering!” Mrs Delahunty smiled ironically. She suggested that she would pair him with Lizzi as Eliza Dolittle just because of their names, and that was enough for Chook to muff his lines completely and utterly disqualify himself for the lead or any other role.

It was news to everyone in the room that Henry and Lizzi shared an amusing array of names from the characters of My Fair Lady, the play which would be performed that your. It was delightful fodder for many.

 

Lizzi returned home from her first year at university a much more confident young woman than she’d left. She had learned a number of skills useful in the fighting off of unwanted male attention, and she rather hoped she would also be more adept at handling her brothers. In her whole year away, she hadn’t walked home once, and although she had a reputation as a total prude, she preferred that to the options elicited by certain other behaviours.

Trent and Bevan were both doing apprenticeships in their home town – one as a builder and the other as a butcher. Paul was doing a Business-Law degree at the same university where Chook was doing Civil and Mining Engineering, and Lizzi had made sure she wasn’t even in the same city as them. The two of them shared a flat, and Lizzi had declined every invitation to party with them, no matter the excuse.

They were all home for Christmas, though, so she took a deep breath, put on a big smile, and fronted up to the breakfast table on her first morning home.

Her father laid a big plate of bacon and eggs down in front of her, and her mother poured her a coffee. Both her parents were beaming, having all their flock home under their roof again for Christmas. Even though Chook’s parents lived just down the road, Lizzi wasn’t surprised that he was at the table too. He was like one of theirs in so many ways.

Her parents asked Paul and Chook about their studies and their sporting activities.

They asked the twins about their social lives, even though both boys still lived at home.

“Have you met any nice young men?” Lizzi’s mother finally asked her.

Lizzi coloured. She hadn’t expected her mother’s preoccupation with seeing her married off young to carry on after she’d got all high distinctions in every subject of her education degree.

“I’ve met a lot of nice young men,” she answered tartly. “But none of them special enough to take precedence over my studies.”

“Well, that’s very commendable,” her father said, patting her hand comfortingly.

Lizzi watched the flow of conversation around the table, with all the major attention focused on the boys. Even Chook got more attention than she did. He caught her eye at one point, and winked at her. Sometimes she wondered if he knew how overlooked and unnecessary she felt.

“So what are you up to today, Busy Lizzi?” Paul asked as she closed her knife and fork on her empty plate, placed her empty mug on top and got up to put them in the dishwasher. “Lots of shopping with the girlies?”

Aiming a ground-disintegrating glare at her oldest brother, she exited the room with as much dignity as she could hold together.

Behind her, as she headed down the hallway to her bedroom, she heard the predictable chant start up.

“Women are irrational, that’s all there is to that!” Paul exclaimed in overly-theatrical dismay.

“Their heads are full of cotton, hay and rags!” Bevan agreed vehemently.

“They’re nothing but exasperating, irritating, vacillating, calculating, agitating, maddening and infuriating hags!” Trent confirmed with relish. He always loved getting all the words right in that line, and in the right order.

The last thing Lizzi heard before she closed her bedroom door, was her father laughingly demanding “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” She hated that their father had joined her brothers in their lyrical taunting of her.

She didn’t hear Chook say, without any characterisation at all, “Why the hell would you want them to be?”

The tears were shed behind her closed bedroom door, and Lizzi’s make-up was immaculate by the time she eased her way out the front door to catch the bus into town to do her Christmas shopping alone.

 

Lizzi dressed with care in her hotel room. There was nothing in her that wanted to attend Paul and Henry’s graduation ceremony, but her mother insisted that she simply had to attend. “I know they tease you unmercifully, darling,” she soothed, “but they do both love you, and they’d be awfully hurt if you weren’t there.”

The twins both whistled at her when she joined the family downstairs in the hotel lobby.

“Wow, she doesn’t much look like a country girl any more,” Trent commented to Bevan.

“So have you met any nice young men?” their mother enquired of Lizzi as their father negotiated the old family car through the city traffic.

“Actually,” Lizzi said carefully, wondering what can of worms she was about to open up, “I have been seeing someone.”

Either side of her in the back seat of the car, the twins leaned forward and looked at her with interest.

“Really!” the twins said, in perfect union with both their parents.

“What’s his name?” Trent wanted to know.

“Fred,” Lizzi said quietly, examining the paint job on her fingernails nervously.

The whole car went silent. She glanced up in time to see Trent and Bevan squinting eyes at each other. “Not sure,” Bevan said. “We’ll have to do some research.”

“I wish you lot would get over your obsession with that stupid musical,” she mumbled, her mouth tightening with frustration.

“No way!” Trent and Bevan retorted together.

“How else would we express our adoration for you?” Trent added, giving her knee a squeeze and making her yelp. She hated being imprisoned between them like that.

“You’re actually a Pickering for the day,” Henry’s younger sister Georgia told Lizzi when they met up in the auditorium. She linked their arms together, giving Lizzi’s arm an affectionate squeeze. “The boys get four tickets each, and we only needed three, but your family needed five.”

“That’s fine,” Lizzi smiled back at the fifteen-year-old, grateful for the acceptance the girl was bestowing on her. The relief she felt at not having to sit with any of her brothers was almost overwhelming.

The graduation ceremony passed without incident. Afterwards, Lizzi noticed that the twins were involving Paul and Henry in a number of secretive huddles. They all had their mobile phones out at one stage, and Lizzi, despite the happy chatter of Georgia at her side, felt her heart sitting heavily in her stomach. There were photos and banter, but Lizzi smiled dutifully and said as little as possible.

Of course there was dinner that night. The evening was cool, so Lizzi, like her mother, Mrs Pickering and Georgia, wore a different outfit for the occasion.

“You’re looking lovely again tonight, Lizzi,” Henry said amiably as she walked past him to take her seat, thankfully between Mr Pickering and Georgia at the dinner table. She nodded her acknowledgement of the compliment, and eased into the safety of her seat.

Desserts were being served when Paul turned to his sister and asked her in a voice so innocent the hair on the back of her neck bristled in alarm, “So who’s this bloke you’ve been seeing, Lizzi?”

She didn’t want to answer.

“Oh, are you seeing someone?” Georgia asked, her tone an odd mixture of horror, dismay, delight and intrigue.

“Yes,” Lizzi answered her newest friend, unable to be rude to her, even to defend herself against her brothers. “His name is Fred.”

Immediately, with hastily rehearsed precision, Trent began the chanted lyrics that she’d known would not be far away.

“Marry Freddie!” he exclaimed in pinched and pompous outrage. “What an infantile idea.”

“What a heartless, wicked, brainless thing to do,” Paul added, mimicking Trent’s vocal inflections seamlessly.

“But she’ll regret it. She’ll regret it!” Bevan continued with tremulous, hammed-up certainty.

“It’s doomed before they even take the vow,” Henry added with mortician-like foreboding.

Lizzi, who had begun to eat her pecan pie, laid her dessert fork back down on her plate. “Are you serious?” she said calmly across the table to her brothers and their collaborator, stopping them before they could plunge any further into their planned taunt. “Are you really serious? You haven’t seen me for two years, and you spend your whole afternoon figuring out how to humiliate me. Again.” She laid her napkin on the table, got to her feet and left the table with her clutch purse in hand.

“She’ll be back,” her brothers said to each other, and the others at the table.

“Oh, of course she will,” Mrs Peirce agreed, taking another mouthful of her sticky date pudding.

Nobody said anything for an uncomfortable moment. Then Georgia piped up. “Well, if I was her, I wouldn’t!”

“Georgia!” her parents said in unison.

Georgia, however, was glaring across the table at her big brother. “How could you do something like that to her, Henry?” He didn’t answer her. “You’re always telling us how nice she is and how pretty she is and how beautifully she’s growing up … and you treat her like that!”

Paul turned his head and opened his mouth to say something to his friend, but no sound emerged. Trent and Bevan also looked shocked.

“Oh, she knows it’s all in fun,” Mr Peirce told Georgia soothingly. “She knows that’s how the boys express their love for her.”

Georgia, quite used to expressing her opinions at home, turned to him and raised her eyebrows. “That’s an expression of love?”

“Yes, of course it is,” Mr Peirce replied, though less comfortably this time. “The boys have been doing this for years. They put a lot of time and effort into learning these songs, so they can amuse her with them at appropriate times.”

“Well, I don’t know if you noticed or not,” Georgia told him with patient firmness, “but she wasn’t amused. She was hurt.” She looked across the table again and engaged her eyes with her brothers’. “And if that’s how you express love to a girl, you’ll die a sad and unhappy old man.”

“Oh, don’t say that, love,” Mrs Peirce sighed patronisingly. “It’s an expression of love,” she added, reiterating the point her husband had made earlier.

Georgia shook her head firmly. “No it’s not. If Lizzi doesn’t understand it as love, then it isn’t love.”

Around the table, nobody said anything. Everyone looked at their plates.

“I should go talk to her,” Henry said, scraping his chair back.

“You won’t catch her,” Georgia told him certainly.

“Oh, she’ll just be sulking back at the hotel,” Mrs Peirce said knowledgeably.

“If I was her, I wouldn’t be,” Georgia said quietly to her parents.

 

Lizzi was back at her own university by morning, in her own room, packing boxes. By midday she had met with the Dean, and within the week, she was driving north to finish her degree at a different university.

Phone calls came, but she declined to answer them. She got a new sim card for her phone and threw the old one off a bridge somewhere.

Letters followed her – she tore them up.

Fred came to visit her. She told him not to come again.

“You’re a lovely girl, Lizzi,” he told her sadly, hugging her goodbye. “I hope you get this rubbish with your family sorted some time.”

 

After she graduated, Lizzi took the remotest posting possible. Nobody would look for her in Broken Hill.

She quite liked living amidst the red dirt and intense heat of the mining town. Teaching in the primary school wasn’t always easy, but she made friends amongst her colleagues and neighbours. After a year or so, she was even able to purchase a lovely old house, with lots of help from the bank, of course.

When her third year at the school was drawing to a close, she threw a party at her house for her colleagues. It was part house warming, and part birthday party for her friend Lydia.

The house was festooned with balloons and tinsel and streamers, and as the guests arrived, two piles beneath the Christmas tree grew, with Secret Santa presents for everyone on one side, and a separate pile just for Lydia.

Lizzi was having a wonderful time, carrying trays of food around the place amongst her mingling guests. Most of the men had beers in their hands, and most of the women were drinking either white wine or shandies. Out under the awning in the backyard, Lizzi found a group of people who were standing around empty handed, and hurried to bring them out something cool to drink, as well as a fresh tray of food. As she handed the last stubby from the carton to the last man standing, she looked up at him, saying, “Hi, I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Lizzi.”

She didn’t know everyone there, by any means. Everyone had brought somebody with them, and she only knew a few of her colleagues’ partners anyway.

“Hi Lizzi,” the man said, smiling down into her eyes. Her blood ran cold. “I’m Henry.”

She blinked at him. “No.” She shook her head. “No.” Mining Engineer. Broken Hill Mining. “No.”

The next thing she knew, Henry and another man were helping her down into a seat, and Brenda, the librarian, was bringing her a glass of iced water.

 

They met for brunch in the café of one of the town’s art galleries.

“They’d love to just know that you’re okay,” Henry told Lizzi gently.

“I don’t want them to know where I am,” she said flatly. “I’m the happiest I’ve been in my life, away from all that ridicule.”

Henry nodded. “I can see that.” He couldn’t just then because she was pale and nervous seeing him, but he’d watched her from a distance for an hour last night before he’d had to introduce himself. He’d never seen her laugh like that, ever. She was lovely.

The waitress brought them cool drinks, and then food.

“They thought it was loving, teasing you, you know,” Henry braved.

“It wasn’t. It was cruel. The joke was always on me. It never included me.”

Henry chewed his lip. “You know that it was supposed to be on me at the start too, do you?”

“What do you mean?”

“The joke started about Eliza and Henry, didn’t it?”

“Yes, but you joined in!”

He shrugged. “Survival. It’s what blokes do. You figure out how to be one of the boys.”

“By chanting show tunes to make a vulnerable adolescent girl feel even more worthless than she already does.” She snorted. “How very manly and gentlemenly of you.”

He pulled a face, not really managing to suppress his grin. “It was funny, Liz. Honestly. Seeing those boofy blokes learning how to recite poetry so they could stir up their kid sister. It was actually kinda cool to be part of it.”

“I’m pleased for you,” she said drily.

The waitress brought them more water.

Then she brought them the dessert menu.

“Just an iced tea for me, please,” Lizzi said without looking.

Henry ordered a coffee, and settled back to look at her across the table. “I’m here for a year,” he said amiably. “I met Shonna at the pub last week.”

“Well, I hope you two will be very happy.”

“Don’t be so damned stupid, Lizzi!” Henry shot at her.

She raised an eyebrow at him in a way that reminded him, oddly, of Georgia. “I’m a lot of things, Henry. Over-sensitive, too serious, humourless, etcetera. But I am not stupid.” She eyed him steadily. “Why would you think I was stupid?”

“Shonna’s some chick I met in a pub. You are …” He couldn’t say it. Not yet.

“I’m what, Henry?”

He didn’t answer. He was remembering that Georgia had spent the two weeks of each of the last three years out in Broken Hill. She had photos of all the local tourist attractions. Rocks. Pro Hart. She had been fervent in her encouragement of him taking the Broken Hill offer, rather than the Queensland one or the Western Australian one.

“I’m what, Henry?” Lizzi repeated, sounding like her patience and her presence were both nearing their end.

He was about to open his mouth to out Georgia as the match-making little minx he’d just recognised that she was, but had to stop himself. That wouldn’t be smart.

Lizzi was on her feet. “Thank you for breakfast Henry. It’s been nice seeing you again. I’m sure Broken Hill is large enough that we don’t need to bump into each other very often at all, really. Shonna and I aren’t particular friends, so feel free to continue doing with her what she’s been so happy about for the last week!”

He watched her stalk off, realising that he’d known this meeting would end like this. He was too well trained by her brothers not to antagonise her still.

 

“Hi Mrs Peirce,” Henry said from the lounge room of his single bedroom company-owned flat. “Yeah, settling in well.” He paused for a moment while she responded again. “Mrs Peirce … can I ask you something?” he asked in all seriousness.

She gave her assent.

“Mrs Peirce … you’re a woman.”

“Well, yes …” she responded uncertainly. It wasn’t an observation he usually bothered to articulate.

“Well … why can’t a woman be more like a man? Men are so decent. Such regular chaps. Ready to help you through any mishaps. Ready too buck you up whenever you are glum. Why can’t a woman … be a chum?” His tone was full of ignorant bewilderment, but void of melodramatic affectation.

“Oh Henry!” Mrs Peirce laughed. “You’re such a goose!”

“Why is thinking something women never do? Why is logic never even tried? Straightening up their hair is all they ever do! Why don’t they … straighten up the mess that’s inside?” He had the teasing chant in his tone now, but Mrs Peirce hadn’t picked up on it yet. The serious edge in his tone had distracted her.

“Henry! That’s a bit rough, darl!”

“Why can’t a woman behave like a man? If I was a woman who’d been to a ball … been hailed as a princess by one and by all … Would I start weeping like a bathtub overflowing? Or carry on as if my home were in a tree? Would I run off and never tell me where I’m going? Why can’t a woman … be like me?”

Mrs Peirce was crying softly now, as his utterance began to make sense to her. “You’ve found her. You found our Lizzi.”

“Yes,” agreed Henry gently. “But she’s not your Lizzi any more. She’s even more wonderful than she was, and if she ever comes home again, you’ll all have to meet her as the woman she is, rather than who you all just assumed she was.”

 

The children had been dismissed on the last day of school, and Lizzi was just doing one last check of her classroom, making sure that no fish remained in the tank, and that Ellery Peters really had remembered to take Bertie the Bunny home with him from the hutch.

A knock sounded on the glass of the open door, and Lizzi straightened from stowing a box of books in the bottom of the cupboard. “Come in!” she called cheerily, sliding the aged cupboard door closed and wondering how much longer they’d have to wait for the promised refurbishment funding.

When her eyes made it to the door, she stood stock still. Henry stood there, holding a massive arrangement of native flora in his hands. “Merry Christmas,” he said, chancing a hopeful wobbly smile.

“What are you doing here?” Lizzi asked tersely, heading for her desk to collect her handbag so she could get out of there.

“I’m here for lessons, please Miss,” Henry told her pleadingly.

She looked at him angrily, expecting to see that he was teasing her. He didn’t seem to be. “Lessons in what?”

“Lessons in how to really know Lizzi Peirce,” he suggested. “Lessons in how to be her friend, and …”

“And what?”

He pulled a face and twisted his head, neck and shoulders awkwardly. “Maybe more?”

“Oh! Now you’re being ridiculous!”

Henry didn’t move from the doorway. He shook his head. “No, I’m not.”

“What about Shonna?”

“Shonna knew even before the party at your place that I wasn’t interested in her. When she heard I was new in town, she asked if I’d like to come to your party to meet some people. She mentioned your name, and I asked some questions to make sure it really was you. I told her I was an old family friend.”

Lizzi stared at him. He really was very bold.

He twisted his upper body again, clearly not wholly comfortable under her scrutiny. “She told me even before we left the party that she could see that we had a thing for each other, Liz. I’m not cheating on her. I was never with her. She was happy because she knew she was helping me, and she hoped she was doing something nice for you, because you’re a good friend, she said.”

“I’m not going home for Christmas!” Lizzi exclaimed abruptly, as if she suddenly thought all his motives had to be ulterior in some way.

He laughed softly. “God no! I’ve got to learn how to stand up for you and not sing any more My Fair Lady songs at you, just cos your brothers are around!”

She nodded slowly. “Those are some very hard lessons you’re signing up for, Mr Pickering.”

He nodded back. “Yeah. I know.” He already knew she was worth it.

 

They were married during the September holidays the next year. Henry made it very clear to everyone that this was a public declaration of where all his allegiances lay from now on. Lizzi watched her brothers warily.

While the packed church waited for the bride to arrive, a barbershop quartet serenaded the congregation with strains of Wouldn’t It Be Loverly and Get Me To The Church On Time.

During his speech, Henry told everyone the story of how Lizzi had hated him because he conspired with her brothers, and how the Marry Freddy serenade at his graduation had been the undoing of her, but that in truth he really had Grown Accustomed To Her Face, and thanks to Georgia, Lizzi was at last able to share in the joke that she’d never got before.

When Mr Peirce made his speech, he stood nervously for a few moments without speaking. The entire reception hall was in a hush, waiting for him. He cleared his throat. “It’s a frightening thing for a father,” he said finally, his voice shaking a little bit, “to see a fifteen year old boy look at your thirteen year old daughter in a certain way … and to be whisked in a moment down a corridor of time to see their future spread before them, and know that it’s right. Then, to come back to reality, to where she is only thirteen, and know that as her father, you just can’t let it happen yet.”

He cleared his throat again. He turned to look softly as Lizzi, who had never looked more beautiful in her life. “I’m sorry you got hurt, honey. But when those boys started singing those songs to my fair little lady, they served to protect you from meeting your destiny too soon – before you knew who you were. Your mum and I, we’re glad Henry found you now, and we’re very proud of the woman you’ve become.” He didn’t sing or recite any verses, and when he returned to his seat, Lizzi intercepted him with a tight hug.

“We have one last gift for you,” Paul said, almost nervously, having given his best man speech and raised glasses to Georgia and the other beautiful bridesmaids. Trent and Bevan came to stand with him, and looking directly at Henry, he began, quite seriously: “Tonight, old man, you did it!”

“You did it! You did it!” Trent and Bevan chorused.

“You said that you would do it and indeed you did,” Paul affirmed.

“We thought that you would rue it,” Trent added solemnly. “We doubted you’d do it.”

“But now we must admit it,” Bevan assured them, “That succeed you did.”

Together the brothers chorused, “You should get a medal, or be even made a knight.”

Henry, knowing his part, grinned, “Oh, it was nothing. Really nothing.” He smiled softly at Lizzi and squeezed her hand, hoping she wouldn’t mind too much this parting gift from his old mates.

“All alone you hurdled every obstacle in sight,” the brothers retorted, but that was where Henry left it. He didn’t go on to insist that some of the credit was due to his new brothers-in-law. Lizzi wasn’t at ease any more.

“Thanks guys,” he said, getting to his feet and pulling Lizzi after him, he moved to go and hug his mates. “Thanks for the parting words, guys. I … we … appreciate the gesture. But it’s over now. There will be no more musical recitations from you Peirce boys. Understood?” Everyone saw that they did, even as Henry and Lizzi hugged them all.

Henry and Lizzi cut the cake to On The Street Where You Live, and danced to I Could Have Danced All Night.

“So that’s it, huh?” Paul sighed, obviously with some sadness, having helped Lizzi get into the back of the limousine that would bear Mr Pickering and his fair lady off on their honeymoon.

“Yes it is,” Lizzi said firmly, smiling fondly at him and giving his cheek a parting kiss. A lot had healed.

“Yes it is,” Henry affirmed, even more sternly, when Paul said the same to him. “You’ve already seen that she’s strong enough to leave if it isn’t. I’m not risking that, ever again.”

“So that’s it,” Paul sighed to Trent and Bevan as the limousine cruised down the driveway and away from them.

“Yeah,” the twins exhaled in unison.

“Well, except maybe for special occasions like birthdays,” Trent said.

“And anniversaries,” Bevan added.

“And christenings,” Paul grinned. “After all, uncles are a very important part of kids’ lives. Even if it’s only sometimes.”

A Judgement Call September 19, 2009

Posted by Anna in Poetry.
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I came across a man* today
With whom I am acquainted,
And as we spoke of common things
The atmosphere was tainted.

The pleasantries were quickly done;
We talked more personal,
Yet as I listened for response
I felt quite criminal.

Our conversation was about
The pitfalls of the journey;
The treachery along this route
Of whom so few are worthy**.

His words did not betray his heart
Nor yet was it his silence,
Yet judgement oozed from every pore
And censure was his parlance.

Does he know more than me? I thought
When able to escape.
Perhaps he does, I must admit,
But we are not his shape.

This path we walk is ours alone,
With companions on the way.
Some help, some harm, some radiate
Turning night time into day.

The friends I treasure most are these:
The ones who respect my call**.
They love their call and honour mine:
Together we give all.

These friends allow me most of all
To be honest, real and human.
They stand beside me, hold me strong:
We are each other’s crewmen.

Those who won’t permit the smallest hint
Of human frailty,
Omit themselves from warm inclusion
Great fun and loyalty.

Please understand my dearest ones
The path might seem to be wide,
But when you sit in pious judgement
You create your own divide.

 

* “a man” is a generic term and does not apply to anyone specifically
** “the call” and “for whom so few are worthy” is about parenting parenting – not one of us would be picked on merit at the start, none of us do it like another, and our efforts can take a lifetime or more to be proven one way or another.

 

Tensions August 31, 2009

Posted by Anna in Exercises.
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This week, my sister Ada chose the subject of our writing exercise.
emotion: tension
colour: turquoise
place: town
word: tree

Again, I value your opinions. Feel free to critique.

 

Arms folded, eyebrows puckered, Gregory is glaring from the picture window from Skye’s living room. Outside is a mess of rampant garden which flows without definition into the chaos of the bush, and beyond that somewhere the untamed ocean beats mercilessly against defenseless rocks and sand.

He can hear her in the kitchen, humming to herself as she makes a pot of chamomile tea and places home-made delicacies on a plate. He’s here because she’s kind. He’s here because she thinks that afternoon tea in her artist’s retreat will unblock him from the inabilities that imprison him in his own stark city studio apartment.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” she calls, and Gregory ponders his answer.

“In a sense,” he concurs reluctantly. “I suppose it is.”

To Gregory, beauty has order. There is neatness to beauty. Roadways have lanes, traffic has protocols, days have schedules and painting is a discipline.

Almost as if she has heard his thoughts, Skye says softly from his shoulder, “What time of day do you paint?”

He doesn’t want to answer. He’s heard her eulogies: the inspirational trill of the birdsong, the chatter and life of the bush; the colours of the bay and the flora.

“Between gym and dinner, and between dinner and dawn,” he concedes, recognising that she will wait patiently for his answer all day, if he needs to consider it that long.

“So you have not yet been to bed,” she smiles lightly, taking a seat in a battered tapestry chair and placing the tray on a rustic low table. She does not invite him to sit.

“I have slept two hours. I will sleep two more later if I need to.”

Skye looks up at his back and sees through his tee shirt just how tight his shoulder muscles are. She pours the tea and stands to hand him a mug. He takes it and nods his thanks.

They are very different artists, Gregory and Skye. She is a botanical artist, working with oils to capture every intricacy and pollen speck of a single specimen. He uses watercolours and sometimes ink to create cityscapes in gentle, lively colours, but in an avante garde style.

Gregory likes the surprise element of what he does. An aging, lithe muscle-builder who produces gentle, lively works with a subtlety that belies the harshness of his subject. There are so many tensions within his work that he loves. To him, these are not tensions to be despised – these are the tensions that create interest. The medium of muted watercolours contrasting with the harshness of the city. The defined shapes of the skyscrapers softened by the inclusion of a tree in the foreground. The endlessness of cement broken by a weed flower in the pavement.

He turns to discuss the ideas of tension within artwork with Skye and eventually sits to do so.

She is his antithesis in every way. They would be similar ages – within the same decade at least. She is soft and pudgy and wears flowing hippy-style garments and catches her long, unkempt hair in a ribbon at the nape of her neck to flow recklessly down beyond her waist. He is lean and vain, his casual jeans and tee shirt carefully laundered and pressed, his short white hair regularly trimmed and his face clean-shaven.

Gregory finishes his second mug of tea and acknowledges that their lively discussion has indeed buoyed his spirits. They have discussed many tensions, within their art and within life. They have acknowledged that their personal differences could fuel an obvious tension between them. They agree that careful respect for each other’s skill, admiration for their contrary styles, and allowance for personal preferences may just fuel a pleasant friendship.

Rising to take his leave, Gregory does the artistic air kiss on each of Skye’s rosy pink cheeks and smiles his thanks into her twinkly blue eyes. She laughs and hugs him, warm and strong, but only for a second before pushing away again and leading him out to his car.

“Will you paint today?” she asks as he unlocks the car door. He nods.

“Yes, I will.” He smiles at her and nods again. “Perhaps next Saturday, you would care to join me in town, at my favourite café, for brunch?”

“Ooh! That sounds lovely!” Skye claps her hands like a delighted small child. “Tell me … is it the glorious turquoise of the bay that has inspired you?”

“No,” Gregory replies. He is already negotiating his way down her chaotic, rutted driveway before he admits, “It is not the turquoise of the bay, but the turquoise of your eyes, my dear.”

Momentum June 8, 2009

Posted by Anna in Vision.
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This was actually written on 22 July 2003, during a particularly difficult shift in our lives – and I had quite forgotten about it. Back then, I (especially) felt as if something of myself would be lost with the change that was beyond our control. This describes a vision I had, which has proved to be very true. Usually when you rewrite something you’ve written previously, you make at least a few little adjustments here and there. In this instance, I haven’t. It didn’t seem right. This what what I saw; this was what I wrote. 2003.

 

A truck sped towards a destination, and although the driver was not in control, both the vehicle and its load were quite safe. There was a sense of tremendous momentum about the speed and trajectory of the truck, yet the driver was quite calm and trusting in the Force in charge of everything.

Suddenly an external force impacted the truck severely. The potential for a horror crash was extreme. The driver, however, did two things that averted such a catastrophe. Eyes remained fixed on the destination, and trust remained steady in the governing Force.

For a time, all remained steady and the truck seemed unstoppable. But the bombarding from the external forces continued. The driver couldn’t help but notice the noise and the impacts on the vehicle.

“What do we do?” the driver asked the Force. “Do we maintain momentum, or would you prefer to do this another way?”

“Maintain,” was the answer at first. “Calmness can lay great errors to rest.” So the driver remained calm.

It was the Force who applied the brakes.

“I don’t understand,” commented the driver. “I thought we were maintaining.”

“We were,” the Force replied. “And we are. But differently.”

The truck began to judder under the application of the brakes, and for the first time the driver experienced genuine fear. It no longer felt like a safe ride, and it took all the drivers will to remember the unshakeable truth of the Force’s character.

“You need rest,” said the Force in the midst of the juddering. “Not from your work, because you’ve been resting in your work. But the unrest around you has caused your focus on our destination to become too intense. If you keep staring ahead so fixedly, you’ll lose focus completely. Like snow-blindness.”

The driver understood. Too much fixation on the destination, the Light, would bring infection and deteriorated vision. The Force was slowing the truck, devising a Plan B, in order to keep the driver’s sight clear for the days ahead.

“Thank you,” said the driver.

“I love you,” said the Force.

“I know.” The driver stopped clutching the steering wheel, even though the truck was still moving. It was irrelevant in a sense – just a place to hang on to while things were so rough. The bombarding was still going on, but the driver sat back, relaxed, in the seat.

“It was your word and your presence,” the driver told the Force. “That’s what held me steady … not what I could hold onto.”

“Only partly true,” the Force replied. “While you held on so tight, your faithfulness revealed your certainty that our destination was true. When you let go, you affirmed your trust in me to get us there. I need your faithfulness and your trust as the conduit for my grace and power.”

The big rig began to slow more steadily and the driver began to think about stopping.

Stopping wasn’t a bad thing. It was resting, as the Force had promised. Like a winter season for a tree. The only visible signs of activity are the letting go of leaves so that the tree simply stands in faithfulness, trusting that spring will come.

“I can do that,” thought the driver.

The truck would be cleaned and maintained, tuned, refined and refuelled, and the driver would watch the Force oversee everything, enjoying his presence, learning from his words.

“Do you have any instructions for this time?” the driver asked as the truck slowed right down.

The Force nodded. “What three things do you know I’ve called to do?”

The driver needed no thinking time for that. The first was to love people wholeheartedly. The second was to stand as a pillar, strong in principles. The third was to speak words of life, in season and out of season.

“Let these things flow naturally from you,” said the Force. “Do this and no more. It will sharpen your vision for when we get going again.”

“Our destination is unchanged?” asked the driver.

The Force smiled enigmatically. “Don’t try to see for now. It is higher than before, so you can’t see it yet. Rest and let what you know flow from what already exists. When spring comes, I will show you a little bit, then, as we journey, you will see more and more as the seasons unfold. Just rest now.”

The driver nodded and listened as the Force slowed the eighteen-wheeler down through the gears.

As always, the Force was sure of the destination, sure of the process, and sure of the outcome.

Every life needs a driver. May the Force be with each one.

Pierre's Rough Week April 4, 2009

Posted by Anna in Exercises, Poetry.
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This exercise, entitled ‘a week of days’ didn’t come from a book. It actually came to me in the shower, along with a series of words, and I wondered if I had the ability to convey the idea of someone coming to terms with something about themselves in a light-hearted, poetic kind of way. I don’t write much poetry, so this was something quite out of the ordinary for me. What do you think?

 

On Thursday Pierre was smacked in the face
By a hard and horrible truth.
It just wasn’t possible, he cursed and he swore,
Though he knew it deep down in his core.

On Friday Pierre was deep in denial.
He avoided, evaded and shunned.
It couldn’t be true. He refused to believe.
In excesses, he drowned and deceived.

On Saturday Pierre just took to his bed,
Where he wailed and waffled and moaned.
How dare it be true! It just had no right!
He, a piteous, desolate sight.

On Sunday Pierre went wandering alone.
In the wind and the storm and the rain.
Perhaps it was true. But why would it be?
With the likes of him? What with he?

On Monday Pierre was a happier man.
He chortled and whistled and sang.
It was nice, to be true, this scurrilous thing.
This odd, inexplicable, heart-filling, king-making thing.

On Tuesday Pierre went to a nice little shop
Where things glittered and glistened and shone.
When this thing is true, it requires a swift act
To ensure a true covenant pact.

On Wednesday Pierre turned up for his date
His heart fluttering, anxious and odd.
“It is true,” he proclaimed. “It is true, I love you!”
The ring slid, their lips met, right on cue.